Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Not a "Happy" Day

Dear Friends,

My father was a proud member of the American Legion which is the nation’s largest wartime Veterans service organization, and I was a member of the Sons of the American Legion. For many years, as a teenager, I was in the color guard – they are the ones who carry the American flag (the “colors”) in parades, patriotic events and Memorial Day ceremonies. Among the memories is standing before many hundreds of Veterans at the West Los Angeles Veteran’s Administration Medical center. Our color guard was presenting the colors at the Memorial Day service in the 114 acre Veteran’s cemetery that is now the Los Angeles National Cemetery. There was absolute silence from the large crowd as our color guard came to a halt in front of the granite monument erected in “Memory of the Men Who Offered Their Lives in Defense of Their Country.” The silence stretched on until two trumpeters positioned on opposite hills far away began to play “taps” with one echoing the other. I stood there at attention holding the American Flag with tears streaming down my face.

Forty years later, I was standing in front of an angry assistant city manager demanding to know why I had just stopped a public works crew from putting a large banner on the front of our City Hall that read, “HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY.” The banner had been ordered by the Armenian mayor of this city that I worked for, and I explained to the Armenian assistant city manager what Memorial Day was, and told her how offensive that inappropriate banner would be to those mourning a family member or friend who had lost their life in service to our Country.

Decoration Day was first observed on May 30, 1868, when the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers were decorated with flowers and it became known as Memorial Day in 1967. On Memorial Day, we honor all who have died while serving in the Country's armed forces, but like the foreign-born leaders of the city I worked for, even many of our churches confuse this solemn day of remembrance with “Veteran’s Day.” Do you think it would be strange to attend a memorial service where instead of the focus being on the dearly departed, all those who were still living were invited to stand so that they could be honored instead? But in many churches on the Sunday before Memorial Day, the  Veterans will be asked to stand so that they can be honored for their service to our nation. I was even in one church where the pastor’s wife had decorated the sanctuary in red, white and blue streamers and patriotic bunting had even been hung on the cross! The pastor’s prayer was eloquent in its expression of thanks for all the men and women who were serving our Country that day. The well-intentioned  pastor had misunderstood the meaning of Memorial Day.

Memorial Day has become the first holiday get-away in the vacation season and has become a day of joyful celebration instead of a day of reflection. If we’re not traveling, we’re firing up the backyard barbeque, and more beer will be sold for our Memorial Day celebrations than any other day except for the fourth of July. The Sunday newspaper was crammed full of Memorial Day sale ads so that we can truly honor those who gave their lives for our freedom by buying a big screen TV or a new washing machine. When retail clerks wish me a “happy holiday” at this time of year, I’ll tell them, “’s not a happy day, it’s Memorial Day.” 

The men and women we honor this day took an oath to uphold the Constitution and then sacrificed their lives so that you and I can enjoy the freedom we have in this Country. And that freedom comes at a great cost that you and I did not pay. They gave their life for you and me.

There are 325 million people in America and unless you are one of the 2.9 million Native Americans, you are a immigrant or your ancestors were. The reason that the United States has a larger immigrant population than any other country is because they are desperate for the freedom and opportunities that those of us born here have taken for granted. Most of us have never given a thought to those who gave their lives in the American Revolution and in all the battles and wars since that time. And instead of giving thanks for them, we’ve turned the one day to remember their sacrifice into a festive day of food and fun. We need to remember the fathers and mothers and sons and daughters who have fought and died for our liberty because they believed in America, what it stood for and found it worth fighting for. It’s been said that soldiers fight not because of hate for who is in front of them but because of love for who is behind them. We honor that solder’s sacrifice on Memorial Day when we pray for their families and turn our thoughts to all the men and women who paid the cost for our freedom and quality of life that we enjoy.

I’m writing this on Memorial Day and most of you will not read it until sometime around the middle of the week. Memorial Day for us is over but it will never be over for the millions of people in our Nation who remember and grieve for loved ones who died in battle. From now on, let us always remember what this day commemorates and the men and women that it honors. It’s not about the barbeque and the beer. It’s not about the terrific sale at Target. It’s about standing in a Veteran’s cemetery and listening to the mournful sound of taps washing over teary-eyed family members and echoing over thousands of little American flags so lovingly placed at each grave marker...

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Real Fairy-Tale Wedding!

Dear Friends
we still love the Fairy Tale! 
That was the headline on the cover of a recent national magazine. The cover story gushed on and on about Britain’s fairy-tale weddings that have captured the hearts and imaginations of those of us living on “this side of the pond.” Prince Charles and Diana’s marriage was described as the “wedding of the millennium” and then just last Saturday, Americans were all a flutter as Charles and Diana’s son, Prince Harry, married one of our local girls, Meghan Markle, who grew up in my own hometown of Hollywood. “Royal” couples have their unique marital challenges and I wish them well.

Fairy-tales often feature princesses, princes and castles but not all fairy-tales have happy endings. Miracles are when God intervenes in the natural and God’s miracles always have happy endings. You could call the wedding of Denise Washington and Willie Eckles a genuine fairy-tale wedding and you can also call it a miracle because it was the hand of God who brought them together at Abbey Road Villa, the residential care facility where we hold our Wednesday services. It was a whirl-wind courtship. They both came to Abbey Road in February and met each other in the patio area where many of the residents go to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. A month ago, Willie came up to me after a church service to tell me they both wanted me to marry them and I was absolutely delighted to do so. A few sessions of pre-marital counseling were planned so that I could get to know them a little better.

Denise is 71 years old, had never been married before and had no children. She was born and raised in Los Angeles and went to Manual Arts High School. She chose a career in dentistry and became a dental assistant and then a dental technician. She told me that when she was younger she loved to play tennis and then laughed and said she was never any good at it. She is at Abbey Road because she has a pacemaker to regulate her heartbeat and needs assistance from caretakers. I teased Denise about her capturing a “younger man” to marry and she giggled. 

Willie is 58 years old and also had never been married before. He was born and raised in Louisiana where he went to school and then had a variety of odd jobs. When he was twenty five years old, he moved to Las Vegas where he worked for casinos until he had a recent stroke. Willie is in a wheelchair and the entire right side of his body is paralyzed. While both he and Denise have physical challenges, their minds are sharp and their love for each other is very much real. Denise has no need for a wheelchair but she often sits in one so that they can move through life together. She sits by Willie’s side so that they can hold hands and look in each others eyes. At a point in life when many people become discouraged over their circumstances and are ready to give up, these two wonderful people are living life to its fullest and have fallen in love like two giddy teenagers.

As soon as they’d arrived at Abbey Road, and before they met, they started attending our Wednesday services, she in the front row and he in the back, but about a month ago they started sitting in the front row together. Denise is Catholic, Willie is Baptist and they both love God and have a strong faith. They wanted to be married in a church ceremony and exchange their wedding vows with God as their witness. On the day of their wedding, Thursday, May 3rd, the multi-purpose room at Abbey Road had been beautifully decorated by the staff and caretakers who were overjoyed to plan a very special day for this couple. 

How many times have we given up on our own heart’s desires? It’s too late for us we think. Too old. Too tired. Too sick. Too poor. Too depressed. And then we stumble around life’s corner and come joyfully into the miracle that God had waiting for us all the time. If at the beginning of the year, I’d told Willie and told Denise that they would meet the person of their dreams and would be married in three months, each one of them would have laughed in my face at such a foolish and outlandish notion. It was obviously far too late in life for them to find such joy and happiness with another person. But God had a miracle planned for them and He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think! Ephesians 3:20-21 I don’t know what you desire, pray for, long for, hope for, but don’t ever give up that hope. You have absolutely no idea of the miracles that God may have waiting for you around the next corner!

That afternoon with over eighty residents, staff, caretakers, social workers and friends in attendance, the handsome groom didn’t arrive in a horse-drawn carriage but in a wheelchair. The beautiful, beaming bride wore a pink satin dress with a white shawl and on her head, a tiara sparkled in her silver hair. It was the traditional Christian wedding ceremony and then I pronounced them husband and wife. Denise gave me a huge smile. Tears of joy streamed down Willie’s face. They were the prince and princess of Abbey Road Villa that day. God’s miracle for Willie and Denise was a life-time partner and a fairy-tale wedding. May God richly bless their days together.

Denise Washington & Willie Eckles
joined in Holy Matrimony on May 3, 2018 

To joyfully receive each other as God's perfect gift; To have and to hold from this day forward; For better and for worse; For richer and for poorer; in sickness and in health; To love honor and protect one another; Forsaking all others as long as we both shall live; So help us God.

"I now present to you 
Mr & Mrs Eckles!"

Signing the 
Marriage Certificate

At the party with their social worker
and with Pastor Manuel beaming in the background. They even had a Wedding Singer at the party!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

4 Keys To Healing Prayer

Dear Friends,

One of the most important things we do at the Abbey Road residential care home is to pray for those after the service, and in the photo, Tita, Meltonia and Leo pray for Kenneth. Praying for the physical healing of another person can be one of the most rewarding and yet one of the most difficult things for us to do. Among some of the reasons we hesitate to pray for the healing of others are that we’re just not sure what to say, we don’t believe we have the “gift” of healing or perhaps we are not even sure that healing prayer works. Probably the most freeing truth, when it comes to praying for another’s healing, is that you have absolutely nothing to do with the outcome! 

I do not have the “gift” of healing and yet God used my prayer to reverse the process of death in a man who had been given only a few hours to live by the ICU doctors. God could have also used your prayers just as well. Our prayers for another’s healing simply connect the other person to God’s grace. Our job is to just plunge on in and pray with “shameless audacity!” Don’t worry about using the “right words” or trying to imitate the prayers you may have heard in church or on TV. There is no one right way to pray for healing.. No formula.. No magical incantation that will add power to your prayer.. Let the Holy Spirit guide you and any healing that takes place in response to your petitions will not be because of your awesome prayer, but because of His amazing grace. If you are not certain that we should pray for the healing of another person, go fetch your Bible and read what James says and then make up your mind. James 5:13-18

If you make yourself available to God, He will use you 
and here are the four keys to healing prayer:

PREPARE: We sin daily in thought, word and deed and that means that daily we need to confess, repent and receive His forgiveness. But if we are carelessly or cavalierly wallowing in unrepentant sin, God won’t hear our prayers. “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Psalm 66:18-19 NLT and John 9:31 The first step is for us to get “right” before the Lord. The sincere prayers of a righteous person are powerful! James 5:16 I need to care for my own spiritual health first! When I’m going to visit someone who needs prayer for healing, I’ll prepare by praying for that person ahead of time. But many times we are asked to pray for another without any warning. That’s why we need to always be “prayed up!” Those times when I’m unexpectedly asked to pray and don’t know what to say, are when I am most conscious that the Holy Spirit is giving me the words and just using me as a conduit between God and the sick person. 

DISCERN: Listen carefully to the person and be alert to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes what the person has asked prayer for is not what God would have us pray. A woman asked me to pray that God would heal her of cancer. As I began to pray, God gave me words that prayed for her to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. She instantly received the Holy Spirit and was strengthened and comforted by Him as she lived the last six months of her life.

LAY ON HANDS: Jesus said, “..they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Mark 16:18 Lay hands on the affected part of the body if the person gives you permission to do so. Laying hands on the head, shoulder or arms is often both comfortable and comforting for the person being prayed for but use wisdom. Most of the times when I pray for a woman, I’ll only lay hands on her head. People will often say that they feel a tingling or a warmth radiating from the hands. What they are feeling is the healing power of God. 

PRAY: Intersperse praise and thanksgiving to God throughout your prayer. Don’t worry if you are not verbally articulate or that your words may be theologically imprecise. Thou dost not even have to prayest in the Elizabethan English that was popular in the late 1500's! God doesn’t care about any of those things. But do call on the Holy Spirit to give you the words to pray. Pray that God will miraculously intervene and heal the person or that He will use doctors and medication to successfully treat the illness. Pray that doctors are given the wisdom to determine the right diagnosis and treatment plans. Pray that surgeries and hospitalization would leave behind no infections. Pray that any negative words spoken by doctors, well-meaning family and friends are cast off and do not give place to fatalistic thinking. God always has the last word! Pray that the person would come to know and love God more each and every day. Pray for God’s blessing, strength and comfort. Pray words that create trust in God and hope. Prayer works and God still heals today. That’s why we pray boldly and with shameless audacity for the person’s healing! Amen?

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

How Do You Pray?

Dear Friends,

All three daughters absolutely love and adore their father. He loves them unconditionally with all his heart and has told them that he will take care of anything they need. All they need to do is to ask. Shy Tracy comes before her dad and timidly bows her head. “Dear father, if it would be your will for me, I’d like to go to Disneyland..” She leaves and never mentions Disneyland to him again... 

The extroverted daughter, Ashley, runs to her father and shouts, YOU dearest daddy are the KING over this household and in your NAME daddy, as your beloved ANOINTED and APPOINTED daughter, I take AUTHORITY over my vacation!” Ashley fervently declares, “And by the POWER you have given me daddy, I CLAIM this vacation trip to Disneyland!!” Ashley’s left hand begins to tremble as she points to the sky and she cries out, “And I take AUTHORITY over and against any ADVERSARY and STOMP ON any evil opposition and BELIEVE and CLAIM this trip to Disneyland for my family...”

Rebecca comes into the presence of her father in full confidence that he loves her dearly. She boldly tells him how much she would like to go to Disneyland. He listens attentively but does not answer. Every night, she comes before him and reminds him of just how much she would like to go to the Magic Kingdom. She knows that her dad’s word is final and that he is in absolute sovereign control over everything that she and her sisters can do. She continues to ask with boldness and persistence, knowing that at some point either he will take her to Disneyland or he will give her a feeling of peace that the amusement park is simply not where he wants her to go...

Are you a Tracy, an Ashley or a Rebecca when it comes time to talk with your Heavenly Father? I love Tracy’s reverence and deference to her father but she has not learned that many times we don’t have because we don’t ask James 4:2b or we lack faith and ask passively. But the Bible is filled with promises relating to the power and efficacy of prayer when we pray with boldness. James tells us: “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” James 5:16 NLT 

Here is our entire biblical theology of prayer in one sentence: Our God is Sovereign and yet He allows our fervent prayers to effect the circumstances of our personal lives and the world around us. That’s it in a nutshell. It’s why we pray! It’s because of God’s goodness and His love for us that He hears us speak the desires of our heart, and He willingly makes His Creation pliant to our prayers. But if we don’t believe that our prayers are efficacious, then we pray uncertainly and passively like Tracy does.

I love Ashley’s passion and fervency but she is saying to God, My will be done!” Her prayer language is from the prosperity movement taught in the majority of Pentecostal and megachurches today. I’m pretty sure that when I’ve arrogantly expressed my demands in “name it and claim it” prayers, that God just rolls His eyes and snickers.

Rebecca comes boldly and persistently before her father with what might be called a “shameless audacity.” And you may be surprised to hear that is exactly how Jesus said we should pray to our Heavenly Father! “But I tell you this..if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.” Luke 11:8 NLT What an interesting way for the Son of God to put that! The Greek word that is translated as “persistence” means an impudent audacity! We fall on our knees before Him in awe and reverence and then Jesus tells us to boldly “go for it” as He invites us to pray to our Father with an energetic and impertinent assertiveness!

We come before Him knowing that “ able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Ephesians 3:20 NLT That means that even when you struggle to express yourself in prayer, God hears your heart and gives you exactly what you need. Romans 8:26-27 NLT

Like “Rebecca,” we are to boldly, specifically and persistently ask for God to fulfill our petitionary requests while, at the same time, we need to be open-minded and willing to receive whatever God has for us that’s according to His perfect will.  AMEN?

Next week: How To Pray for Healing

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Religious Fanatics?

Dear Friends,

Those of you who are a better Christian than I am may be horrified to hear that there have been times in my life when I've said or thought unkind things about another person’s faith and made fun of them. Let me embarrass myself by giving some examples.

Several decades ago, I used to make fun of an older woman in my family who was Catholic. She had married into my extended Protestant family and she went to mass every day. Every single day. Her priority was not her family but her faith and we all had lots of unkind things to say about how she cared more for church than she did for her husband. She prayed her Rosary three times a day. What a crazy old religious fanatic she was! She loved her Lord with all her heart. She adored Jesus. She was absolutely devoted to God. What a nut, we all thought.

And there was that time we went to the San Fernando Mission. In the back, there's a small private cemetery in a walled-off garden area where the rich and famous, like Bob Hope, are interred. We had noticed a private security guard in the little garden when we first walked in and as the mission bells began to ring at noon, he took out a prayer carpet. He gave us a glance then carefully unrolled it on the ground facing East and got down on his knees to pray his Muslim prayers toward Mecca. 

What a zealot! To be obsessively controlled by your religion to the extent that you publicly embarrass yourself like that was just bizarre. Can you imagine if we Christians were at the food court when the mall clock chimed noon and we had to stop what we were doing to say our prayers? Like that would happen! I was critical and made fun of that Muslim security guard for the rest of the day.

When I was young, I also used to make fun of monks and nuns. I used to believe that the only reason a woman or a man chose monastic life was that they were so unattractive or had such an unacceptable personality that no one would want to marry them. Now I certainly wasn’t the most attractive guy in town, but I did want to live a normal life. Because a normal guy could have a job and earn lots of money to buy really cool stuff. He could go wherever he wanted and pretty well do whatever he wanted. He could marry a beautiful woman, buy a fast car and live the good life that the good Lord intended for him to have! 

Or a guy could trade it all to live the rest of his life in a small room with just a bed and a Bible in a monastery. He'd have to wear a heavy brown wool dress with a hood and live with a bunch of old guys and spend all his days for the rest of his life in church praying. When I was young, the idea of becoming a monk would have been like volunteering for a life-sentence in prison.

I made fun of the Catholic woman, the Muslim and the monks, but now I want to be like them. I don't want the Catholic woman's religious traditions added by her church but I do want her devotion to God. I want her deep committed faith. I want my adoration of Jesus to be as strong as hers was. I don't want the Muslim's skewed doctrine in the Qu'ran but I want his commitment to prayer. I want to have such a strong commitment to God that whenever and wherever I am, I would interrupt my day to pray. I don't want the monk’s physical lifestyle but I do want their spiritual lifestyle. Like the monk, I want to spend the rest of my life living daily in the presence of God.

At some point the Catholic woman, the Muslim and the monk crossed a spiritual line in their lives. From a normal faith to an abnormal faith. From a cursory and casual relationship with God to one deeply meaningful. They crossed that line where they moved from the secular into a sold-out, God-centered lifestyle. And, when they crossed that line, they made God so important to them that they began to structure their life in a way where they would set aside times in the day to intentionally come into His presence. I used to make fun of the super-spiritual. Now I'm trying to learn from them.

Who have you admired for their faith? What is it about their spiritual walk that seems to be different from others? If you could sit down with them and ask them to tell you the one thing you could do that would make the greatest difference in your spiritual journey today, what do you think they’d say to you?