Wednesday, April 24, 2019

What If Jesus Came To Beverly Hills Today?

Dear Friends,

Two thousand years ago a major celebrity came to town. Riding on a donkey. The multitudes cut down palm branches to spread on the road and cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! Hosanna in the highest!” Matthew 21:1-9 In the time of Jesus, the population of Jerusalem was about 30,000 people and the City of Beverly Hills is about that same size today. What if after doing miracle healing services all throughout California for three years, Jesus rode into Beverly Hills as a modern-day celebrity on Palm Sunday?

The first thing is that massive crowds would trigger an L.A. County Unified Emergency Response and law enforcement agencies from all over Southern California would be responding to Beverly Hills. People cutting down the palm tree fronds along Sunset Blvd and laying the branches in the road would be arrested for vandalism of City trees, littering, and obstructing traffic. 

If Jesus rode in on a donkey, P.E.T.A – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals would be protesting against the cruel and inhumane use of a domestic animal for transportation purposes. Protesters would splash red paint on Jesus as punishment for violating the donkey’s rights and humiliating the animal by riding it. Jesus and the disciples would finally make their way to the Beverly Hilton where they would spend the week and on Thursday, celebrate Passover in the Upper Celebrity Suite. 

Trouble begins when a bishop from one of our largest mainline denominations, rebukes Jesus for using problematic patriarchal language when referring to God as “Father” and “He.” She calls Jesus a misogynist and demands He use their denomination's politically-correct, gender-neutral terms for God such as: "Holy Life Force," "Higher Power," or "Divine Being."

After Jesus appears on Sunday’s “Face the Nation” and announces that He is the only way to God, John 14:6 House Democrats pass an emergency resolution condemning the Islamophobic remarks of Jesus and former president Obama breaks his customary silence to once again remind us that America is not a Christian nation. The following Tuesday, in a segment on CBS Good Morning, Gayle King, invites Mary Magdalene, a Muslim Imam, a New Age Guru and a Wiccian Princess to explore all of the various pathways to Heaven and to find the greater enlightenment.

Dr Phil McGraw rushes to book the woman at the well on his show and surprises her by bringing on her five husbands. He confronts her with her past, and shows how she constructed Jesus as an imaginary, metaphoric father figure while she continues to seek reconciliation with her own father through destructive relationships with men.

In the news, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reports that Jesus’ healing miracles are fictitious stories invented by Republican politicians as an attack on the progressive “Medicare for All” plan, and on KNBC, weatherman Fritz Coleman presents a special report showing how a weather anomaly could have made it appear that Jesus walked on water. 

But the real trouble starts on Thursday morning when Jesus appears on “The View.” Jesus is asked about transgenders, gender non-conforming people and same sex marriages. Repeating His own words as recorded in the Gospels, He reminds them that God created “male and female” and describes marriage as being between a man and a woman. Mark 10:6-8 Joy Behar shouts, “That’s transphobic and homophob..” “Wait..!” Whoopi Goldberg interrupts. “Ten years ago we all believed that nonsense about marriage and gender but don’t you believe, Sir, that the Bible must be rewritten and changed to conform to what we believe today?” Jesus gently says, “Heaven and earth will disappear but my words by no means will pass away.” Matthew 24:35 There’s outrage and pandemonium as Joy Behar screams an obscenity at Jesus and Whoopi Goldberg storms off the set. They cut to a commercial.

That night on ABC Nightly News, a progressive presidential candidate denounces the words of Jesus as an example of the “Christian hate speech” that will no longer be tolerated in America. The clip from “The View” goes viral on social media, and on Friday morning, thousands of people with political signs stage a mass protest in front of the Beverly Hills Courthouse and yell, “Crucify Him..! Crucify Him..!”

Would Jesus be treated any better today than He was 2000 years ago? What do you think? And, if the events of Holy Week took place today, perhaps even more importantly for us to consider is what would we do? Would we stand with Jesus to face the violent mobs or shrink back into the shadows to deny Him like Peter did? Matthew 26:69-75 

It’s comfortable for us to grab the hands of the person sitting next to us in church and pray for them, but are we comfortable grabbing the hand of a neighbor and praying for them on their front lawn? We sing praises to His Holy Name at church on Sunday, but are we ashamed to even mention His Name at work on Monday? Do we wear that cross around our neck on Sunday for our church friends to see but hide it in the jewelry drawer when we go shopping on Wednesday? It can be so easy to shout out “Hosanna in the highest” on Palm Sunday and so hard to even acknowledge our Christian faith when the hostile world is shouting “Crucify Him, Crucify Him” on Good Friday.. or a good Tuesday..or a good Wednesday..or a good Saturday..

When you read the above story, you may have laughed and cringed at the truth of it or you now may be angry at the way that our Nation’s media and culture have been depicted. But the fictitious story portrays the unprecedented attacks on the Christian faith in our Nation today by many in the media and in the political, educational and entertainment worlds. In response, we need to stand with the Son of God and not be ashamed of our faith. Jesus was the one true “celebrity” in the first century. He still is! And our broken world today needs Him more than ever...

NOTE: This AMEN Corner was originally published in 2013 and one of our most controversial. Readers either seemed to enjoy it immensely or were highly offended. It is expected that this revised version will elicit the same response. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God, according to
    your loving-kindness; *
    in your great compassion blot out
    my offenses.

Wash me through and through
    from my wickedness *
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, *
    and my sin is ever before me.

Against you only have I sinned *
    and done what is evil in your sight.

And so you are justified when you speak *
    and upright in your judgment.
Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth*
    a sinner from my mother's womb.
For behold, you look for truth
    deep within me, *
    and will make me understand
    wisdom secretly.
Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure *
    wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

Make me hear of joy and gladness, *
    that the body you have broken
    may rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins *
    and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, *
    and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence *
    and take not your holy Spirit from me.

Give me the joy of your saving help again *
    and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

I shall teach your ways to the wicked, *
    and sinners shall return to you.

Deliver me from death, O God, *
    and my tongue shall
    sing of your righteousness,
    O God of my salvation.

Open my lips, O Lord, *
    and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

Had you desired it, I would
    have offered sacrifice, *
    but you take no delight in burnt-offerings.

The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; *
    a broken and contrite heart,
    O God, you will not despise.
PSALM 51 [Book of Common Prayer]

Psalm 51 is a Penitential Psalm and King David’s prayer of confession after the prophet Nathan confronted him with his sin. 2 Samuel 11-12 When we are weighed down by our own sins, this is a prayer of renewal, for it is with our broken and contrite heart that God comes to us in His mercy. For over two thousand years, the church has said this Penitential Psalm every morning during the 40 days of Lent. 

In public and personal prayer time, priests, pastors and monastics from the Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox traditions (even from many Protestant traditions) pray this Lenten prayer every morning. 

David’s cry for mercy is our own cry for release from the power of our sins that we so deeply feel and for which we humbly repent during this season of Lent. 

We reach out to God for His forgiveness, mercy and love.. 
He hears our prayers.. and He gives us Good Friday...

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Declutter Your Life!

Dear Friends,

Okay. I know that many of you will be shocked to hear that I am not a man who is madly in love with his socks. They bring no joy to my life. But I was recently reading about the wildly popular, organizing guru Marie Kondo and found that I should repent for the shameful way I treat my socks. I buy Costco’s industrial-sized packages of black socks for church and white socks for everything else. On one side of a dresser drawer, both black and white socks are jammed in and intermingled together because integrating both the sacred and secular socks is what I think Jesus would do. Marie Kondo highly disapproves. I learned that I am disrespecting my socks and when they are carelessly dumped in a pile, I cannot expect them to bring me the joy that I deserve to have when I gaze into my underwear drawer. I learned that I should match each sock with a partner and then lovingly fold them together into thirds. Carefully nestling them upright in a small box and then putting my special “sock box” in my drawer would allow my socks to breathe and rest and be happy once again after they have been worn on my feet. Of course, if Marie Kondo was as personally acquainted with my “size 13's” as I am, she would not recommend “rest” to my socks but a night at the neighborhood bar to knock back a few and try to drown out the horrors of being wrapped around my feet for over 24 hours. 

I learn that I must show my respect and appreciation for my socks and all my clothes, and when it comes time for them to be thrown out, I must first bow to and thank the apparel for the service they have given me. Kondo had been an assistant at a Shinto shrine so, once the item is thanked, she highly recommends a Japanese parting ceremony for the clothes and things I’m discarding that involves the burning of incense and a purification ritual that uses a sprinkling of salt. I prefer to toss the discarded item in the black bin and roll it out to the curb on Mondays.

The decluttering evangelist preaches going through every item in your home and holding it in your hand to experience your feelings towards it. Marie Kondo says, “If you ‘love’ it, keep it.” If the item does not inspire great feelings of joy in your heart then you must discard it or give it to a thrift store. In doing so, you will find yourself soon surrounded by only those material things that you love and cherish.

I don’t have strong feelings of love for material items but I love it when I’m sitting in my chair and my cat Cody climbs on me and curls up on my chest. He stretches his head up and presses the back of his neck against my nose so that he can feel my warm breath on his fur. Soon he is purring in time to my breathing and my cat is bonding with his human. I love it when I’m walking on the beach at Carpinteria and hand-in-hand with the blonde woman I’ll be spending the rest of my life with. I love brilliantly colored sunrises that display the majesty of God’s handiwork. I love my Bible with its leather cover now softened through many years of use. I love serving Holy Communion to those hungry and thirsty for the Presence of God in their life. According to Marie Kondo, those things that I love to have and love to do are all the things I should keep, and of course, I will. 

But there are some things I love that I need to limit or completely discard. I love cheese, chips, chili dogs and chocolate mint ice cream but when I step on the scale, I can see that  those are not good for me. I love spending afternoons reading mystery stories that are not helping me grow spiritually into the man God wants me to be. I love reading news and devour both the conservative and liberal news sites that leave me upset, sad, angry and raise my blood pressure. Paul tells us that there are things that are not sinful and are okay for us to do but they’re just not good for us to do. “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” 1 Corinthians 6:12 

That scripture always comes to mind in the winter when I’m pruning my rosebushes. A carelessly maintained rosebush will become congested and unattractive. There are misplaced stems that are rubbing together or just growing in the wrong direction. They are healthy and growing but the plant is being shaped into something I don’t want it to look like and I need to determine which branches I want to thin out. I can choose the direction in which the rosebush will grow by what I prune out of it.

This season of Lent is a good time to take a close look at our own lifestyle and habits and thin out what is taking your life in the wrong direction. Marie Kondo has an excellent method for decluttering the closets in your home to make space for the material things you love but the Holy Spirit will help you declutter your life and make space for more of the presence of God. Pray that He will reveal to you what those things are that are okay for you to do but are just not helpful for you. If we’ve carelessly maintained our life, priorities and leisure time, there may be things we do that are not spiritually helpful for us. Things that are not sinful but just not good for you. Use this time of Lent to declutter your life and discard all that which keeps you from growing in spiritual maturity and living in the presence of God. Amen?

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Are Miracles For Today?

Dear Friends,

When I was a little boy, Superman was my hero. I loved that TV show! Superman could fly through the air and catch Lois Lane as she was falling off the top of the building. He could use his super strength to lift a locomotive off of a pinned car. He could burrow through the ground using his body like a drill to rescue a little boy in a cave-in. He could use his X-ray vision to see what the bad guys were doing and use his super hearing to hear what they were saying. Superman stood for Truth, Justice and the American Way. He always used his powers not for his own benefit, but for others. But of course Superman was a fictional character. A fantasy. A fairy tale hero. And now today, in some countries, belief systems and even in some Christian denominations and churches, the miracles of Jesus Christ are no more real than Superman’s X-ray vision. To a growing number of those in our younger generations, the Son of God is just another fictitious super-hero.

The State Hermitage is the most famous of all Russian museums and is one of the world’s oldest. Located in Saint Petersburg Russia, it has one of the largest collections in the world of religious paintings by the old masters. The religious works of Michelangelo, El Greco, Rembrandt and many others just as well known are displayed in this museum. There is one famous painting by Rembrandt that is of Lazarus being raised from the dead by Jesus. The plaque on the painting reads, “The Fairy Tale of Jesus Christ Raising Lazarus From the Dead.” In fact, all the paintings that depict the miracles of Jesus in this government-run museum are labeled as “fairy tales.”

And sadly, there are many people in our own Nation who would agree with the Russian museum. Many in America’s progressive liberal church movement read their Bible and love the Lord. But their desire to conform to secularized  cultural beliefs about the Bible requires that they put the miracles of Jesus Christ into the category of “biblical fairy tales.” Some conservative Reformed churches do believe that Jesus and His disciples did perform miracles but conclude that all of God’s miracles ceased after the New Testament was written. They teach that a so-called “miracle” today is nothing more than our wishful thinking. 

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever Hebrews 13:8 and the miracles of God are also unchanging. The early Church Fathers wrote extensively about the spiritual gifts and the miracles that were continuing in the ancient church. It wasn’t until 1500 years later that Protestant churches denied their existence. Miracles are defined as God’s intervention in the natural. It is not the hand of man that brings about a miracle. It is the sovereign super-natural power of God. And, despite what some churches teach, miracles happen every second of every day!

I was talking with a City attorney I know. We were talking about medical records and he told me about his mother. She is alive today, but she should have died when her son was six years old. That was when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It had rapidly grown and there was a very large tumor in her breast. Her doctor told her it had to be operated on immediately or she would soon die as the cancer spread. That night before the surgery was to take place, she couldn’t sleep. She was going back and forth in her mind whether she should have the surgery or not. Her doctor had told her the cancer had advanced to the point where there was a good chance of her dying even if the surgery was performed. She tossed and turned not knowing what to do. Sobbing and crying out to God, she begged Him to tell her what to do about the surgery. Suddenly, she heard a knock at the front door. She looked at the clock and her heart began to pound. It was 2:30 AM.

She opened the door and found the pastor of her new church standing there. He told her that God had woken him up and told him to go and pray for her and she would be healed. The pastor anointed her with oil and prayed for her healing and she went back to bed. The next morning she called her doctor and told him she was not going to have the surgery. She didn’t tell him about the pastor. Just that she was canceling her surgery. The doctor was angry with her and told her to come into his office the next day. She kept the appointment and the doctor was astounded. This very large tumor was gone. It had completely disappeared. That was when she told the doctor that the pastor had prayed for her healing. 

This took place about fifty years ago and this attorney’s mother is still alive and healthy today. She is in her nineties and never had a single tumor again. Her cancer didn’t go into remission. It disappeared as if it were never there! Not only did her doctor become a Christian believer after witnessing this healing miracle, but his entire staff also became Christians. The attorney’s mother has a Bible that the doctor gave her and tucked inside is a letter he wrote giving the details of the miraculous healing. 

During this season of Lent, we prepare to celebrate on Easter Sunday the most astounding, life-changing miracle the world has ever known. The Son of God risen from the dead is immutable and He is still our super miracle worker.
When I was young I used to marvel at Superman who could fly. Now that I’m older, I marvel at SuperJesus who can make a large cancerous tumor disappear from a woman’s breast overnight. Governments, atheists and some Christians call the miracles of Jesus “fairy tales” but the Word of God is not a fictitious fantasy, it’s real life. And in your real life and mine, that’s where we find our own Super-Hero. His name is Jesus Christ.  AMEN?