Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Soul Friends

Dear Friends,

The ancient Christian Celts sought out the “thin places” where the spiritual realm of heaven was so close it seemed as if it were a footstep away. The Celts were profoundly aware of the presence of God and sought to live their life in the manner that we today call “walking with Jesus.” The Christian Celts in Ireland and Scotland, (my own family roots) suffered through famine and disease in an incredibly harsh climate and yet, in their struggles, they managed to live in peace and harmony with each other. In communities of faith, what enabled them to find joy in the gray winters of their life was their anamchara.
The Gaelic word “anamchara” [ah-num-KAH-ra] is translated as “soul friend” and originally referred to those in monastic life. Men who entered the Celtic monasteries were assigned an older brother in the community who would shepherd them through their early days in religious life and would often become a lifelong friend. Celtic scholar Edward Sellner says that to be a soul friend is to provide a place of sanctuary to another where, through acceptance, love and hospitality, both individuals can grow in wisdom and in depth. In the sixties, when we found a person of the opposite sex whose soul seemed to be intertwined with ours, we called them our “soul mate.” But the anamchara is closely associated with Christianity and flows out of our relationship with God. It’s been said that, “Friendship is the nature of God. The Christian concept of God as Trinity is the most sublime articulation of otherness and intimacy, an eternal interflow of friendship. Jesus is the secret Anamchara of every believer.”

A soul friend is the person with whom you can talk about anything. The relationship is safe and trustworthy. You can reveal the secret sins that your lips tremble to name because you know that your anamchara can be trusted. You can remove the masks of pretense, of egotism, of pride and unshutter the window to your soul. 

Jim was the head elder in a mainline megachurch and we were each other’s accountability partner many years ago. We met weekly and God used us to help each other stay on the straight and narrow path destined for every Christian man. We supported and encouraged each other through difficult times in our marriages. We were each other’s anamchara. Brain cancer took Jim from this temporary home on earth and he is now spending eternity with Jesus. I still miss him.

In Celtic Christianity, your anamchara was someone of the same gender. In our Bible, the close friendship between Jonathan and David exemplifies the anamchara between two men. “..the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself.” 1 Samuel 18:1 The Hebrew word translated as loved is the same word used to refer to the love that people had for God and the love that God had for His people. In an anamchara friendship, both people grow into a greater love for God and a fuller and more rewarding sense of His presence in their lives.

Too many of us live our lives mired in our secret struggles and we wrestle alone with our finances, job issues, marital problems and with questions and doubts about our faith. But a soul friend provides a sanctuary (a holy place) where the worst parts of us can be acknowledged. And then, through repentance and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, our lives can be transformed and genuine change can occur.

In a loving relationship between soul friends, when there is no physical attraction or co-dependencies, what remains is a godly love for one another – an  unconditional commitment to the care of another’s soul and to the person’s spiritual growth. To be in an anamchara relationship means being a good listener. Being noncritical, compassionate, trustworthy and safe. It also means telling the truth when it needs to be told. It’s being spiritually mature and maintaining a humble spirit – knowing it is the Holy Spirit who is guiding and directing the relationship.

A 12th century Celtic monk, Aelred of Rievaulx, in writing about the soul friendship said,“Here we are, you and I, and a third is also present–Christ Himself. Since no one else is here to disturb us, open your heart and let me hear what you have to say.”

Is God calling you to be the soul friend of someone that He has brought into your life? Is He calling you into relationship with someone with whom you can walk on a mutual journey of faith and share the innermost secrets of your heart? Someone who will speak the truth in love and love you unconditionally as you will love them? Someone who will help you in your pursuit of God? 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Authorized Christian Jargon

Avast me Hearties! (Dear Friends),

Shiver me timbers! ‘Tis a foul storm approaching that be sending ye to Davy Jones Locker! Arrgghh! 

Today (Sept 19th) is INTERNATIONAL TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY which I’m certain you are all celebrating and this just so happens to be one of my favorite holidays! When I was a young lad, my career goal was to become a pirate and while things didn't work out like I'd planned, it's probably for the best since it would be difficult for me to type this with a troublesome hook in place of my right hand. But I still love watching the old Errol Flynn pirate movies; I live my boyhood dreams on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland and every September 19th I can thoroughly annoy my loved ones by talking like a pirate. Aye, me Beauty, whars me grog? (Singing) Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a pirate's life for me..

What does all this have to do with our Christian faith? Pirate jargon uses antiquated and obscure words with unclear meanings that make people laugh. Christian jargon uses antiquated and obscure words with unclear meanings that make people confused.

While us believers don't yet have a secret handshake, the secret language that we use to communicate with each other can be just as exclusive and alienating to those who may be outside the clubhouse doors and trying to get in. If you've been with other people who unintentionally excluded you from their conversation by speaking in a language you didn't understand, you know what that feels like. 

Our “Christianese” can exclude the very people we are trying to reach. If I invite someone to “ask Jesus into your heart,” she may have no idea what I'm talking about. If I tell her that, “Jesus was the propitiation for her sins,” she'll need a dictionary to understand me. If I tell her that “Jesus made atonement for her so that she'll be justified, redeemed and sanctified,” her eyes will glaze over. 

But what if I tell her that “Humans have been separated from God by our rebellious nature and that’s what we call sin. And, Jesus, through His sacrificial death upon the cross, paid the penalty for our sins. When we accept and believe in Jesus, then our relationship is restored with God and we will have eternal life.”

There is absolutely nothing wrong with our using the beloved words and phrases that describe our  beliefs and how we live out our faith. It's all biblical and it's the language that we use to effectively communicate with each other. But when we're speaking to a non-Christian, or a new believer unfamiliar with Christian jargon, we need to speak their language, not ours. 

Whether giving someone driving directions, talking politics or matters of faith, communication has not taken place unless the person we’re speaking with has understood what it is that we’re attempting to say.

When speaking to others about your faith, and communicating the “Good News,” always try to think about what you are saying from the perspective of the person to whom you are speaking. 

“Aye! When ye parley with yer Matey, speak smartly that they savvy!”
Colossians 4:6 (Authorized Pirate Version) 

“Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone!”
Colossians 4:6 (NLT)

Until next week, me Hearties! Arrgghh!! 
I mean.. Amen?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

How To Have The Relationship You've Always Wanted

Dear Friends,

God created us to be in relationship with Him and to be in relationship with each other. God intersects our lives with the lives of others and has handpicked those other souls to be the ones  with whom we share our lives. He has chosen them to become a part of who we are and to walk with us for awhile on this journey called life. By birth and by happenstance, God gives us loved ones – family and friends – those who have been given to us and those to whom we have been given. And here's the way it seems to work. God creates our relationships with others and then we go and mess them up. Trust me in this. I consider myself to be an expert in messing up relationships.

If I close my eyes, I see a kaleidoscope of faces. Ghosts from my past. I whisper to my ghosts a plea for their forgiveness and can only hope they have done so. Not for my sake but for theirs. I tell my ghosts that I messed up our relationship because I wasn't following the rules.

From my first teenage crush on Kris Busch, the red-haired girl at church, I've messed up more relationships than I am comfortable thinking about. I've also had to helplessly watch far too many times as a friend or loved one messed up their relationship with me beyond repair. But no matter who gets the credit for muddling it up, every single one of my messed up relationships got messed up for the same reason. We weren't following the rules.

Here's the interesting thing that sometimes happens to people who have learned from their own messiness: God uses their experience to help others. He comforts (and guides) us in our troubles that we may comfort and help others. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NLT So, at a previous church, many, many years ago, God transformed the expert at messed up relationships into a counseling pastor and gave me the opportunity to help those who were trying to repair their own wounded or broken relationships. 

My pastoral job was to help them understand how they got there in the first place, show them how they might be able to restore their messed up relationship and have healthier relationships in the future. Of course, whether it was between two spouses, parent and child, friends, co-workers or even themselves and their boss, the dysfunctional relationships had become fragile and fragmented for the exact same reason. They weren't following the rules.

On Amazon there are over 150,000 books on marriage and dating relationships, but you need only one book and it's already in your home. You know the book I'm talking about. It has everything that you'll ever need to know in order to have successful and fulfilling relationships with others. But it's a big book and I'll simplify things for you. You'll find the list of rules at the bottom of this post. (If you are the person who resists following “rules” because they interfere with your personal freedom, then this AMEN Corner isn’t for you.) But if you do want the blessings from living out your relationship God’s way, then these One-Anothers will help you to do that.

Every relationship...Without exception...Every relationship gets messed up when people don't follow the rules of the “One-Another.” If any two married people made a three-way covenant with each other and with God to follow the biblical One-Anothers, and both sincerely worked at doing that, they would divorce-proof that relationship and it would truly be a marriage made in heaven. That’s guaranteed!

But in a marriage, we sometimes find ourselves “unequally yoked” 2 Corinthians 6:14 due to circumstances or decisions when we married or because we and our spouse have found ourselves on two different spiritual life-paths. If a spouse is unwilling to commit to following the One-Anothers with you, many times we can use the list as a diagnostic tool to see if there’s something we can do differently in order to improve the relationship. God tells us to imitate Him and walk in love Ephesians 5:1-2 because our own Christ-like behavior can inspire others to be like us.

The biblical One-Anothers are directed to all Christians and show us how to be Christ-like in all of our relationships with each other, but I’ve found this list to be especially helpful for a married couple working to restore or rejuvenate their relationship. And, it takes both husband and wife! For example, we are not told to submit to the other person out of reverence for Christ. We are told to submit to "one another" meaning a mutual submission. Ephesians 5:21 Two people are to accept one another, love one another, encourage each other and pray for each other and there are 25 One-Anothers in our Bible!  Relationships can be incredibly easy and fulfilling and free of contention and strife. All you have to do is to follow God's rules. Amen?


in Scripture hold a wealth of guidance for our relationships with loved ones, friends and all those who God has brought into our lives – those who have been given to us and to whom we have been given. If we practiced these “one–anothers,” we’d have far fewer problems in our relationships.
“Be at peace with each other.” Mark 9:50 
“Love one another.” John 13:34
“Be devoted to one another.” Romans 12:10
“Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10
“Stop passing judgement on one another.” Romans 14:13
“Accept one another.” Romans 15:7
Instruct one another.” Romans 15:14
“Greet one another.” Romans 16:16
“Serve one another in love.” Galatians 5:13
“Carry each other’s burdens.” Galatians 6:2
“Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2
“Be kind and compassionate to one another.” Ephesians 4:32
“Forgive each other.” Ephesians 4:32
“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Ephesians 5:19
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21
“In humility consider others better than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3
“Teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” Colossians 3:16
“Encourage each other.” 1 Thessalonians 4:18
“Build each other up.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11
“Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24
“Do not slander one another.” James 4:11
“Don’t grumble against one another.” James 5:9
“Confess your sins to each other.” James 5:16
“Pray for each other.” James 5:16
“Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” 1 Peter 5:5

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Laughter. It's Good for the Soul.

Dear Friends,

At the risk of sounding heretical, and offending us pious Christians (me included), I’m thinking that maybe we need to lighten up a little. Sometimes it seems as if a grim, teeth-clenching, joylessness is in our Protestant DNA. We wring our hands over the future of the church in America as attendance declines and an entire generation walks away from their faith. Those reasons are complex but I wonder if it’s, in part, because our Christian demeanor of perpetual constipation is off-putting to those seeking a church to join. 

There are church traditions that look with disdain upon any expression of joy. A few years ago, I was in a mainline church on Easter Morning and hearing the congregation stoically singing CHRIST THE LORD IS RISEN TODAY as if it were a funeral dirge. Christ had risen indeed, but looking at the grim faces that morning, it was obvious that no one was very happy about it. I’ve been in mainline church “contemporary” services where upbeat praise songs were sung in the same slow and somber cadence as a sedate hymn. We’re told to “rejoice always” 1 Thess 5:19 but we’ve added the Pharisutical rule: except in church.

How did Jesus and the early church worship? Let’s quickly look at their “church song book” as we compare our style of worship to theirs.Shout joyful praises to God, all the earth! Sing about the glory of His name! Tell the world how glorious He is.” “Come, everyone! Clap your hands! Shout to God with joyful praise!” “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, And bless the LORD.” “Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song. Sing His praises in the assembly of the faithful.” (Psalm 66:1-2) (Psalm 47:1) (Psalm 134:2) (Psalm 149:1) 

One time in a church I was visiting, I guess I was singing a little too much like Jesus because the pastor’s wife turned around and gave me the evil eye. “Don’t you go singing His praises and worshiping like that in MY church, young man!”

The Church stopped all exuberant praise of the Lord thousands of years ago and developed the practice of the liturgical monotone. Many Protestant churches grimly soldier on in the same tradition and their ministers look with disdain and suspicion at the other church down the street as if fearful that someone, somewhere, may be happy. They could be right. Those Evangelicals can worship with such exuberance that you quickly realize how much they really do love God. Could that be why, as other churches decline, the Evangelical churches are the fastest growing Christian movement in America and in our world today? 

Some mainline churches do have the joy of the Lord. Arguably, African-Americans are the people group in America that has historically suffered the most. But go to an African-American Baptist Church and you’ll be over-whelmed at seeing and hearing the transcending joy and happiness that explodes out of their worship! A Jesuit priest wrote that, “..genuine joy does not minimize suffering. Rather it arises from facing it and, with God’s help, overcoming it.” 

But the joy of the Lord comes from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and is not a performance to please a crowd. A mainline church was trying to increase their attendance by offering “clown-led” worship and one can only hope that they drew the line at randomly-placed whoopee cushions on the pews! Of course we want to draw people to our church, but the house of God is not a circus or a Sunday Comedy Club. Our church service is a joy-filled celebration of our Lord in a sanctuary where God is reverently worshiped. Communion is a personal time of intimacy with Jesus Christ and all that takes place during those holy moments in the service should usher us into His presence.

We strive for balance, with times of reverence during Communion and then times of lightness when appropriate. Laughter is good for the soul and that’s why appropriate humor during the sermon or announcements can be that moment’s salve for one’s life-weary or stressed out soul. A German Theologian said, “The lack of humor into which we in the contemporary church have so often slipped is perhaps one of the most serious objections which can be brought against present-day Christianity.” When the final blessing is pronounced, we should feel spiritually refreshed, recharged, renewed and ready to face the world!

Our joy is contagious. I smile every time I look at the top photo of these three church friends. They are joy-filled Christians! In "Between Heaven and Mirth" a Jesuit Priest, James Martin, writes that:

1) Humor and joy evangelize others by showing our hope. 
2) Self-deprecating humor reminds us to not take ourselves too seriously. 
3) Joy, humor and laughter show Christian courage in the face of adversity. 
4) Humor and laughter welcome others into our church. 
5) Laughter helps in the healing process. 
6) Humor fosters good human relationships. 
7) Laughter relaxes us and is God’s gracious gift for us to enjoy.

The Apostle Paul said to “Rejoice always!” And let’s add: especially in church. It’s okay to be filled with the joy of the Lord! Let’s show others that our Christian faith is filled with life, love and laughter. “We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy. And the others said, ‘What amazing things the LORD has done for them.’” Psalm 126:2 NLT