Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Are You A Sapiosexual?

Dear Friends,

I was reading last week that some schools are teaching their youngest students that there are no longer two genders (male/female); there are now 100 genders. And for those confused or simply wanting to spice up their life, you can be “gender and sexually fluid” meaning that some days you’re the macho man and the next day you’re singing the Helen Reddy song, “I Am Woman.” Back in the good old days, a couple of decades ago, there were two sexualities, heterosexual and homosexual, but today there are many politically-correct terms we can use to describe our sexuality and you can imagine my shock when I found that I am no longer considered to be a “heterosexual” (someone who is primarily physically attracted to a person of the opposite sex). So, I’ve decided to take a major step and make a bold confession to all my friends who are readers of the AMEN Corner. At this point in my life, I’m just too old to care about what people think of me. It’s time for me to come out of the closet and admit to you that I have been a life-long Sapiosexual.

A Sapiosexual is someone that is attracted to the other person’s intelligence more so than their physical attractiveness. Hey..I’m a guy.. so of course I appreciate a woman’s beauty but it’s in the category of “nice but not necessary.” What is most important for me is that she’s smart and someone I can talk to and banter and joke with. Someone who is articulate, both verbally and in writing (meaning they can communicate with actual correctly-spelled words instead of a string of emojis.) Someone who can beat me at Scrabble. Someone who would prefer to read a book than watch “Dancing With The Stars.” Psychologist Dr. Nikki Martinez says that “If two people are intellectual equals, their longivity is much more likely, and their interest in each other more likely to remain strong.” For those of us “Sapiosexuals,” communication and connection are the most important elements in both romantic relationships and friendships. But really... Aren’t those the two elements that form the intellectually and emotionally intimate relationships that we all intrinsically crave?

Jesus said to love your neighbor and then He goes on to show us how to do that. Everyone He came into contact with, He came into relationship with. That’s the first step in loving our neighbor and yet we can find it difficult for us to do that even in church. Last week I had breakfast with a pastor friend of mine and we were talking about how to encourage deeper and more meaningful relationships among the people that we have been called to pastor. Too many connect only superficially after the service as we comment on the sermon and catch up on what the grandchildren and our painful bunions are doing. We crave deeper, more meaningful friendships but we just don’t know how to get there. Let’s look at some suggestions.

Parents become rightly concerned about the relationships their children have, knowing the power of “peer influence” on those still young and easily molded. But as adults we also continue to be influenced by those in our own tribe of friends. We are warned to avoid the bad friends that will corrupt our own good character 1 Cor 15:33 and those flaky and unreliable friends. Proverbs 18:24 NIV We can be easily ensnared by the bad habits of others Proverbs 22:24-25 and that’s why we need to be honest about our friendships. If your good habits are influencing and changing their bad habits, praise God. If their bad habits are influencing and changing your good habits, then set that relationship aside and choose wise friends who will influence your character for the good and encourage you to be a better person. Proverbs 13:20 NLT

Chief Ten Bears (Will Sampson) cuts the palm of his hand with his hunting knife and holds up the hand. Clint Eastwood as the “Outlaw Josie Wales” does the same and as they join hands, Ten Bears nods and says, “So will it be.” They have become blood brothers. Some Native American and African tribes still do this today as a solemn ceremony between two men that symbolically combines their blood to create an unbreakable bond. 

While you might want to leave the hunting knife in its sheath when you're at church, we can create that same covenant “blood brother” bond through communication and connection. We need to be kind, thoughtful, honest, encouraging and perhaps most of all, be other-centered. Hint: If you want a better friendship with someone, and all you know about them are the shallow things that float on the surface of their life, you may need to do less talking and more listening. I talked to a church friend every Sunday for five years and then she told me that her parents had been murdered when she was 38 years old. That was a devastating, life-changing event in her life and for five years during our shallow “church” conversations, I had done too much talking and not enough listening to hear the unspoken pain in her broken heart and be the safe person she could share her story with. And yes, I’m embarrassed to tell you that I was also her pastor. 

Our covenant friends who love us enough to listen through, and over, and under our words, are the intimate friends who truly care about us. My definition of a covenant friend is one who has unconditional (agape) love and is committed to the other person’s personal and spiritual growth. A covenant friendship starts with deep communication that develops into connection. Those are the friends who are close by our side in the good times and the bad. When Job lost everything, his three friends came running to offer him their sympathy and comfort. Job 2:11 Those are covenant friends – the “blood brothers” – that we can count on. The ones who know that they can count on us.  Amen?

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Are You A Worshiper?

Dear Friends,

She sits quietly, listening to the relaxing smooth sounds of her favorite worship music. Eyes closed, head nodding in time with the rhythm, a sweet smile on her face. The resplendence of the music is bringing warm, pleasant thoughts and feelings of love for her Holy Father and she weeps. She is feeling connected with God. The music has taken her into the holy of holies. She sits reverently in the Presence of God. But is she really worshiping Him?

The pastor stands on the stage partially hidden by the drum-set as he scans the mega-congregation during the opening songs. His praise and worship band just released their third album and every Sunday the church is packed with a young and excited crowd. Only a few of them are singing. All are drawn to the charismatic lead singer and the band’s rock sound – the guitar riffs and the drum solos. They love the music! It’s like going to a Christian concert every Sunday! Is this church worshiping?

At the cathedral-sized church, the congregation reverently listens as the 100 member choir flawlessly sings sacred music from the 12th century. In church jargon these are known as “performance choirs.” The music is ethereal, elegant and exquisite. Is this church worshiping?

A mainline congregation opens their service by singing two “contemporary” praise songs from the 70's. Some people are quietly singing while others are greeting each other and talking. A woman turns to the back of the bulletin to find something to read. Some of the older people are shifting restlessly in the pews – they only sing the hymns. Some younger people are playing video games on their phone. Is this church worshiping?

We can self-define worship to be whatever we want it to be, but if we are relying on our Bible to define authentic worship and allow scripture to provide the framework for a worship service, then the answer to the above scenarios may surprise you.

It might help to separate what is worshipful from what is Biblical worship. “WORSHIPFUL” is a feeling of reverence and adoration. Listening to worship music may engage your senses and take you into a worshipful place in your spirit. So may reading scripture, burning incense, lighting candles, walking into an old California Mission or seeing a spectacular sunrise. Biblical “WORSHIP” is something entirely different. In the Bible, worship is always participative. It is never passive. It’s not a performance or a programming element in a church service. It’s not singing a couple of songs to warm people up for the service that follows. Worship is not seeking a feeling or experience but is expressive, authentic, heart-felt worship directed to God that will take you into His presence.

In the Bible, “worship” is always an action verb. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word “Shachah” translated as “worship” is used over one hundred times. In the New Testament, the Greek word “Proskuneo” translated as “worship” is used fifty-nine times. Both words mean the same thing: to bow down, kneel or prostrate oneself before a Superior Being while verbally expressing our reverence to Him. To engage in biblical worship, you must actually be doing something. Remember, by definition, worship is always participative. Read the four scenarios again and ask yourself, “Is this person/church worshiping?”

Worship is not our good thoughts, warm feelings or groovin’ to a guitar riff. Worship is using our voice and our posture to express the worthiness of our triune God. “Make a joyful shout to the Lord..Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise!” Psalm 100 is not an instruction to the priests but to the people. Singing out loud, verbally praising Him, bowing, kneeling, shouting, standing with hands raised – that’s worship! And when we worship, the glory of the Lord will fill the house of God! 2 Chronicles 5:12-14

Worship is using our voice 
and our posture to express 
the worthiness of our triune God.

Some traditions teach that proper worship can only take place in a clergy-led church service with other believers. So we hire worship leaders, choir directors, priests, pastors and praise bands and then sit back to enjoy the service. In doing so, we have, in essence, “out-sourced” our worship which was never God’s plan for you. God created you for worship. “This people I have formed for Myself; They shall declare My praise.” Isaiah 43:21 You were created to worship God and praise Him in church, out of church, in your home, your car, your backyard and walking on the beach.

What happens when we praise God and worship Him? St. Bernard wrote that “through desire we already possess the object of our longing.” How much this rings true for us when we express our heart’s desire for the Lord in our worship. We long for Him and reach out and touch Him as we speak forth His worthiness to Him. And in that moment of intimate worship, as we possess the gift of His love, He reaches out and possesses us. We are owned by Him. We belong to Him. We are His.  Amen?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Wacky Religious Beliefs

Dear Friends

“There is no God,” said Ron L. Hubbard, the science fiction writer and inventor of the “religion” called Scientology. Scientologists believe that you and I are all immortal extraterrestrial creatures called Thetans. Lord Xenu is the creator of the “Galactic Confederacy” and Xenu rules and reigns today over a galaxy which includes our planet earth. Scientology teaches that 75 million years ago, Xenu brought billions of aliens to Earth in spacecrafts resembling Douglas DC-8 airliners. He stacked the people around volcanoes and detonated hydrogen bombs in the volcanoes. The life force “thetans” then clustered together, stuck to the bodies of the living, and continue to do this today. Your goal is to become “clear” by  isolating your body thetans, neutralizing the negative thetans and accentuating the positive ones. Ron L. Hubbard is quoted as saying, “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.” (No thanks, Ron... I can see that creating a comic-book religion called Scientology worked out well for you but I’ll stick with my Bible!) 

Democratic Presidential Candidate and New Age teacher, Marianne Williamson, recently posted a tweet saying that we needed use our collective consciousness to harness “the power of the mind” and use “visualization” to turn the direction of Hurricane Dorian away from land and back out to sea. (If elected, perhaps she could achieve world peace by appointing Shirley MacLaine as Secretary of State!)

The Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan is one of America’s most prestigious universities for fashion design. A few years ago when New Age guru and actress Shirley MacLaine gave a commencement address, she urged the graduates to focus on their “psychoactive energy centers.” She then warned the future fashion designers to not design clothing that would be too tight or restrictive and explained, “When the clothing is loose, the skin begins to become loose, and the soul has more room to roam around.” She said, “The looser the skin, the wiser you will become.” (I’d never before seen a correlation between the tightness of clothing and one’s mental acuity and wondered if Shirley MacLaine’s next new-age, best-seller would be entitled, “Your Mind Ain’t Right When Your Underwear’s Tight”)

Another eccentric and misguided celebrity is actress Drew Barrymore who described her special morning wake-up routine. She said, “I try to stay in bed for ten minutes to get my surroundings going. I ponder my place in the universe. Then I wash my face and tune into my psyche. I check my karma and get my balance for the day. Then I go out into the universe with a positive attitude and a strong shield of love.” (And you thought that all you needed was a strong cup of coffee!)

At my former job, a co-worker (also a high-level manager and division head) asked me one day what I “did for fun on the weekends.” I told him that I was a pastor and my church ministry was what I did for personal fulfillment. His face lit up and he told me that we had something in common! He proudly told me he was an ordained priest in a religion called Eckankar and, with the assistance of spirit guides, he teaches people how to astral travel. Astral travel is when you have an out-of-body experience where you go into a trance-like state and your soul leaves your body to travel to a different point in time or place. He told me that anyone can astral travel, but first we need to discard our “karmic debt” in order to free our soul. (Just think of the frequent flier miles this guy has!) 

These may seem like extreme examples of wacky religions, but as people have become more open to exploring non-biblical spirituality, our pluralistic society has found new-age, wiccian and occultic beliefs to be as acceptable as Christianity. Jesus calls us to take the Gospel to all people, but how do we communicate with those whose beliefs are so very different from ours? 

First, know that Christ died for all people so that those who believe in Him will have eternal life. John 3:16 Second, realize that everyone intrinsically recognizes the need for God in their life. Romans 1:19-20 (NLT) We will fill that “God-shaped” void with the genuine Creator or a creative counterfeit. People innately long for the real thing, but Satan slips some of them a substitute and blinds their eyes to the truth. 2 Cor 4:3-4 (NLT) Third, before you can communicate with them you need to connect with them. We need to build a relational bridge to a person before we can rescue them from spiritual danger. Col 4:5-6 (NLT) Fourth, once that connection is established, show them how God loves His children and give them the reason for your faith. 1 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT) When you show God’s love in a manner that compels them to seek what you have, you can often break through the most deeply embedded doctrine and allow God’s seeds to be planted. And Fifth, know that the battle for their soul is spiritual. Ephesians 6:12 The hard truth is that sometimes the Holy Spirit wins and sometimes the devil wins. Some will embrace the reality of God and others will reject Him. Our job is to just plant the seeds of the Gospel message, and then step back and let God do the rest. 1 Cor 3:7  Amen?

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Living By The Cowboy Code?

Dear Friends,

A few weeks ago I saw a couple of young boys at the Ventura Harbor walking with their parents. Not sure how old the kids were but probably about the same age I was in the photo. One of them had a cell phone on a cord around his neck. His brother, a year or so older, had both a cell phone and a flash drive on cords around his neck. Most of you probably know that a flash drive is a little device to which you can download vast amounts of data from your computer so that you can carry around the most important digital details of your life with you at all times. These little dudes were most definitely cool. Of course, I was the coolest kid on my block at that age also. I wore a skate key around my neck on an old shoelace. (see photo) Even when I wasn’t skating. Yeah.. I know that you’re wishing you’d known me back in the days when I was one of the cool kids...

The milkman would come first thing in the morning so the last thing you’d do at night would be to put out the empties on the front porch along with the little printed card where you checked off what you wanted the milkman to leave. I’d get up before my parents, sneak out to the front porch, check off “Chocolate Milk” and sneak back to bed. My mom would get angry because the milkman kept delivering something that she hadn’t ordered. One time she was up early when she heard the clanking of bottles outside and rushed out to confront the poor guy as he was delivering my chocolate milk. Once she saw the order card for the morning, the scam was revealed and the little chocolate-loving, criminal master-mind had been caught. Not cool... 

I spent the best summers of my life in that neighborhood. It was filled with young kids and we’d gather with our Roy Rogers cap pistols in the vacant lots to play Cowboys and Indians (today of course we would be playing “Cowboys and Indigenous Peoples”). Today, children take their bullet-resistant backpacks to school and afterwards wait behind security fencing for their mother or legally-authorized adult to pick them up. It was different back then. I walked the two miles home and often stopped at the corner soda fountain for a root beer. There was very little crime and strangers said hello and people were nice to each other. My career goal back then was to be a cowboy and I’d spend my days at home dressed like one of my TV heroes. But my mother insisted I dress nicely and forbid me to wear my Roy Rogers cowboy bandanna to school. Of course it was easy to hide the bandanna in my Lone Ranger metal lunch box, but I was busted when my mom saw the fourth grade class photo and I was the only one wearing a genuine Roy Rogers cowboy bandanna. Yep. Too cool even in school!

Okay.. Sure I was an altar boy from the age of nine but I was far from the perfect child. I suppose the worst thing I ever did was to become addicted to coke. Yeah I know what you’re thinking but it was surprisingly easy to do in those days. All of my friends knew where to get it. No secrets in our ‘hood. We’d tell our moms we were going to a friend’s house but we’d meet at the corner gas station. You had to go into the dark corner of the garage where you couldn’t be seen from the street. We’d nervously look around to make sure no one’s mom was pulling into the station as we took the dime out of our pocket and slipped it into the slot. The “Vendo” machine had no choices – there was only one lever to push down on. The heavy, thick glass bottle skidded down the chute and made a loud “clunk”as it hit the end. It was icy cold and condensation would immediately form on the bottle if it was a hot summer afternoon. You slanted the bottle into the opener, pushed down and heard the metallic clank as the cap dropped into the red, sheet-metal cap holder. You may not understand my addiction because Coca-Cola today tastes nothing like it did fifty-five years ago – not even like today's “Mexican” coke. We’d place the empty bottles in the special wooden bottle holder and sneak back home hoping our moms wouldn’t smell the coke on our breath. Since I’m confessing my bad deeds to you, I also used to chew Black Jack Chewing Gum which my mom prohibited me from doing because it would “rot my teeth.” But sometimes those of us rebellious bad kids were the coolest. Of course you could argue that because I really wasn’t all that bad maybe I wasn’t really all that cool. You might be right about that... 

What a different world it was in the fifties in comparison to today. I was thinking about this last week after coming across the Gene Autry Cowboy Code. This hung above my bed when I was a child, but I’d forgotten about it. Gene Autry, the “Singing Cowboy” was raised by his grandfather who was a Baptist preacher. Autry wrote in his biography that he was “not a devoutly religious man” but I can attach Bible scripture to Autry’s first nine Cowboy Code values. (Not the 10th because the Bible tells us that we are first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of God.)

If it were up to me, the next president of our United States would not recite the “oath of office.” On Inauguration Day, he or she would place their left hand on the Bible, raise their right hand, and recite the Gene Autry Cowboy Code. Can you imagine an America where we no longer hated each other, but treated each other with respect and kindness? I think our County would be a better, much nicer place to live in if our next elected president and all of us in American would agree to live by the Cowboy Code!

To Print the Gene Autry Cowboy Code,touch or click HERE For a PDF Version