Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Be The Dog! Be Happy!

Dear Friends,

Excerpts from the diary of a dog:
6 am
Hallelujah! I’m awake! What an awesome day! I love going outside first thing in the   morning. Hey it’s raining. I love the rain! I love to run through the mud! Wheeeeeee!
7 am
Yipee! Here’s my dog food! How awesome it is that this is the very same dry food I’ve had every day for the last 12 years. I love this food!
8 am
Hey look! There’s a cat in the back yard! Let’s chase it! BARK! BARK! BARK! Dang! Over the fence. Missed it again. They’re always too fast. I love cats!
9 am
Time for my morning nap. I love my morning nap!
10 am
Wahoo! A car ride? I love car rides! They’re my favorite! To the vet? Thanks Dad! I love going to the vet! Deworming and a Parvo shot? Yay!!
11 am
Oh boy! I’m back in my yard again. I love my yard!
1 pm
Awesome! Here comes my Dad with the dog brush. I love to be brushed!
1:30 pm
Wow! A dog biscuit! With poultry by-products! Can my life get any better than this? I love dog biscuits!
3 pm
Whoopee! I’m in the house again. My Dad’s the most wonderfully awesome, most perfect person in the entire world! I love being with my Dad!
4 pm
Hooray! My favorite dog food again! This is sooo awesome! I love my dog food!
9 pm
All right! It’s time to go to bed! I love going to bed!

Excerpts from the diary of a cat: 
“I nearly succeeded at killing the prison guard this morning. I ran between her feet as she was walking into the kitchen. She almost went down but grabbed onto the counter. I must re-attempt this technique in a more open area where there’s nothing to stop her fall. I’ve been held against my will in captivity for eight years and three months. My captor continues to taunt me with bizarre little plastic things on the floor she calls toys. She also apparently gets a perverse sort of amusement out of tricking me into chasing a red dot that she shines on the floor. She thinks I can’t hear her laughing when I fail to catch the dot. I am subjected to this ridicule and diabolical cruelty every time she thinks I need to exercise.” 

“For the entire time I’ve been confined to her house, my captor dines lavishly on freshly cooked meals while I am forced to eat dry cat food. My only hope is to eventually escape. She guards the doors to the outside, and to the freedom I so long for, but one day success will be mine.” 

“The only joy in life is for the minuscule payback I am able to devise to make the guard’s life miserable. Last week when she left her underwear drawer open, I was able to jump into it and hack up a hair ball. I ran under the bed when she found it. I have done everything possible to show how I feel about being held in this prison. When I caught a mouse, I bit off its head and left the carcass on her pillow.” 

“I did that out of spite, but she read a book on cat behavior, thought I was lonely and so she brought more cats into the house for me to “play with.” The prison conditions are already overcrowded as is, but the new cats do give me someone to torture while she’s at work. This miserable confinement is unbearable, and my only relief is scheming of ways to torment the other feline prisoners. Today, I’ll destroy the side of the guard’s antique couch with my claws and when she comes home, I’ll pretend to be asleep on her bed and look all cute and innocent. She’ll blame it on those clueless cats playing and racing around the living room...” 

Have you known people who were like the cat? Feeling captive in their circumstances, they grumbled about everything in their life. Oversensitive and passive-aggressive, they saw themselves as victims of their spouse, boss, the government. Their only hope was to dream of the day when they could escape to a better job, a better house, a better  spouse. They could find no good in their circumstances. They had no peace. During a time of sharing at a Thanksgiving church service, I once asked a woman what she had to be thankful for. She hissed into the microphone, “I have NOTHING to be thankful for!”  (I love being a pastor!!)

So what if we were to live life like the dog? 6 am: Oh Boy! What a wonderful day that You have made God! Let me truly rejoice and be glad in it! All Right! Time for my coffee! I love my coffee! Time to clean the house! Thank you Lord for giving me the safety and security of a roof over my head when billions of people don’t even have water and electricity. I love cleaning my house! Lookee here! A traffic jam on my way to work! That just gives me more time to relax and pray! Lord, I love these interruptions in my day when I can come into Your presence with prayer. Oh Boy! I get to go to the dentist today! A root canal? You’re kidding me, Doc! That’s awesome! So you can save that tooth and I can keep eating crunchie munchies and I can eat ice cream on that side of my mouth again? That’s wonderful news, Doc! Yes, please..I’d love a root canal!

Make a pledge this Thanksgiving. If you’re the cat, repent! Become the dog by being grateful in every circumstance. When you replace grumbling with gratitude, your entire life will be changed and God will be pleased! “In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (We are not thankful for all things but in all things we can always find something to be thankful for.) Psalm 118:24 says This is the day that the Lord has made, rejoice and be glad in it.” Wagging your tail is optional.

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On a Personal Note: The dog and cat diaries are based on an old joke I remembered and rewrote to describe my dog Elysee. When she was alive, I used to tell people I lived at Saint Elysee’s Monastery. That’s still how I think of my house. Today I have three cats who are each practically perfect in nearly every way and are the exact opposite of the one in my version of the cat diary. (Please understand that I have to say that for my own protection. They know where I sleep at night.)

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Surviving Thanksgiving With Your Family!

Dear Friends,
Sometimes the worst dinnertime disaster at Thanksgiving has nothing to do with the turkey – it’s the family. Does your Thanksgiving look like a Norman Rockwell painting where the entire family is practically perfect in nearly every way? If so, don’t waste your time reading this week’s AMEN Corner. Does your Thanksgiving look like a Jerry Springer grudge match with flying metal folding chairs? If so, I still have some coupons left that I would be more than happy to give you – I’ll explain more about the coupons in a moment. Or does your family Thanksgiving look like something in between practically perfect and perniciously psychotic? If so, this AMEN Corner may be helpful...
I’ll never forget the year that we were trying to logistically plan things out for Thanksgiving dinner with our own extended family. For a few years, we had it at a person’s house who doesn’t cook and he orders Thanksgiving dinner from a restaurant. Kind of like an upscale Turkey Box Lunch. But that year he had a new girlfriend who wanted Thanksgiving at her house. She lived in a small house with a huge undisciplined dog and her own tradition was to invite eleven of her closest relatives and friends. Even though she was engaged to this member of our immediate family, we still didn’t make the cut and were not invited. Then the family matriarch intervened and her son’s fiancee extended a reluctant, last-minute invitation to us, but we were told that because the house was too small, we’d have to sit outside on a small patch of grass and dirt next to the dog house.

The second-tier guests like us were going to be confined in the tiny back yard with the 120 pound dog and I didn’t want to be wrestling with a Rottweiler over a turkey leg, so I was hoping that maybe we could just park in their driveway and they could serve us a Turkey Box Lunch in the car. At this point in the Thanksgiving planning, the tension increased pushing us even further away and so we rebelliously did something that we had never done before. We drove to Carpinteria and bought two turkey Subway Sandwiches. The sun-warmed beach was devoid of people and it was like being on a deserted island. It was Thanksgiving in paradise! We sat in the shade of a palm tree, enjoyed the fresh ocean breeze, ate our turkey sandwiches and the pumpkin scones I had made for dessert. It was the best and most meaningful Thanksgiving day that we’d ever had.

I’m obviously going to encourage you to spend Thanksgiving with your family, but I did get some Subway coupons in my mailbox last week so just let me know if you’d like to have them. (We’ll thankfully be with our family this year, so I won’t need to use them.) Family is important to us and God made us that way. We were created to be in relationship with those who God has given to us and to whom we have been given. We were created to live in a family relationship with others, but today’s families face a minefield of trigger topics where even the mildest remark about the weather can unleash a diatribe on climate change or a niece’s newborn baby boy can trigger a heated discussion about the child’s right to choose its own gender.

Last week HuffPost called for the elimination of Thanksgiving because of its environmental impact on climate change and an MSNBC host described Thanksgiving as a “problematic food holiday” while giving advice on how to mock and denigrate the character of any Trump supporters at the table. Many in our Nation have been indoctrinated to hate any person who does not conform to their political doctrine, but the media’s agenda to provoke our rage does not have to provide the context for our Thanksgiving family dinner. This is a season of thanksgiving! Time for us to thank God for the grace He has so lovingly given to us. Time to let that grace flow through us to others in our circle of family and friends. Time to see other people not through our own eyes but through God’s eyes. Thanksgiving should be a time of warmth, harmony and peace with family and friends, but in a fractious family, how do we do that?

click to enlarge
If the host/hostess knows there are those present who are outspoken and have strong beliefs about an issue, (see above wordcloud) they should announce that those discussions are not welcome and that the focus of the time together is on what everyone is thankful for. If conversations turn political anyway, then do what you can to avoid triggering discussions about today’s hot button issues while knowing that others may still use just the fragment of a conversation to transition to the issues they are feeling most passionate about. When that happens, simply don’t engage – just listen without replying. We foolishly think that we can change another person’s opinion by our persuasive arguments, and when we can’t, we may feel that rage building up until we become hostile, resort to verbal violence and say things that may potentially cause irreparable damage to a family relationship. But what if we’ve chosen to not engage and another person still becomes verbally combative: “So why don’t you hate Trump?” The best response may be a mild, “That’s not a conversation to have while we’re enjoying this day together, maybe we can talk about it later.” And if you’ve been mocked or belittled by another, immediately start to work on your forgiveness, remembering that one definition of forgiveness is “Simply no longer holding against a person what deserves to be held against them.”

On Thanksgiving day and everyday, we are  responsible for what comes from our own mouth. “The tongue has the power of life and death” Proverbs 18:21 meaning that our words can either speak life, or our words can speak death. It is not Christ-like for us to let rage build in us to the point that we damage or kill a relationship with a family member by the words we use. The words from our lips, pour out of our heart and form the image of how others see us. A friend recently told me about a message she had seen on a church sign: “If the words you spoke were written on your skin, would you still be beautiful?” This Thanksgiving, let’s make sure that our own words are kind and filled with the grace of God. “Kind words are like honey..sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” Proverbs 16:24-26 NLT Amen?

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

A Theology of Immigration

This AMEN Corner has been previously published but the issue of immigration is sadly more volatile today than ever before. We can simply align ourselves with liberal or conservative dogmatic beliefs and echo our favorite politicians or we can develop our own Immigration Theology that is prayerfully based upon the Word of God. For what it’s worth, here is mine...
Dear Friends,

A family member once asked me one of those truly great questions so complex and confounding that it forces you to wrestle with it for a spell until you are comfortable articulating your thoughts.

On the issue of illegal immigrants, she wrote, “I would like your opinion as a Christian and as a law abiding citizen (which comes first??)” She then wrote, “Some Christians say, "what would Jesus do"? How far are we supposed to extend our freedoms to those less fortunate??”

In the interest of full disclosure: I’m a law-abiding, red-blooded American Conservative Republican who went door-to-door with my father to campaign for Barry Goldwater in 1964. Our house in West Hollywood was the only one in the neighborhood with the American Flag on a 20' flagpole. And today, I’m also a born-again, Bible-thumping, washed-in-the-blood, Spirit-filled, unabashed and unashamed follower of Jesus Christ. 

So what I loved most about her email was her asking me, “..which comes first??” Because that answer determines my thoughts, not just on immigration, but on everything that America struggles with today. What does come first? Do we look at politics through our faith based on God’s word in the Bible? Or do we read and interpret our Bible through the filter of our adopted and ingrained political beliefs?

“Exegesis” is the rendering of scripture to determine the original meaning of what the writer intended to say. When looking at Old Testament scriptures regarding “foreigners,” “strangers” and “sojourners” we need to do our exegesis to understand the practices in Biblical times before we can even attempt to extrapolate those Godly principles that we can apply to America today.

We flag-waving Conservatives enthusiastically point to passages of scripture that refer to foreigners. Anyone from outside the nation of Israel was inferior and possessed restricted rights. There was legislation concerning their limited rights in both civil and financial matters. Deut 15:3 Deut 23:20 They could not eat the Passover Exodus 12:43 intermarry Exodus 34:12-16 become king Deut 17:15 or even enter the Temple. Ezekiel 44:9 In the New Testament, we read that the very presence of foreign Greeks (meaning the Gentile, non-Jews) in the Temple defiled the holy place. Acts 21:28 

It’s easy for some to cry “Yes and Amen” and use those verses to show that we need strong regulations to limit the rights of immigrants today. But then we remember that we too are the “Gentiles,” and that means that we were the “inferior foreigner” that the Old Testament speaks about. Of course that puts a little different spin on things here...

We love to quote Jesus summing up Old Testament law in what we call the two great commandments: “Love God with all your heart... and love your neighbor as yourself.” But Jesus quoted the “loving your neighbor” part from Leviticus 19:18 and in verses 33-34 we read: “And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:33-34 And in the New Testament we read that we are to welcome strangers as if they were Jesus. Matthew 25:31-46 
“And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Those are the verses that tell us how to welcome and treat the foreigners in our country. But it would be a mistake to claim that those verses in our Bible are why all immigrants should automatically receive the full benefits of an American citizen. The foreigners needed to assimilate into the Hebrew religion and culture before they could receive all the blessings and benefits of an Israelite citizen. Only by obeying and accepting the law and becoming “Israelites,” could the foreigners be included in the nation. Only when they were willing to give up the ties to their mother country and learn the traditions, the language, laws and customs of Israel, could the male immigrant be circumcised into the nation of Israel and bring the rest of his family with him.

And while we may not want to require the ritual act of circumcision as a prerequisite for citizenship in America, it is required that everyone living here obey our Nation’s laws and, if they want the benefits of citizenship, they must take an oath of allegiance to the United States. Immigration has always been a controversial issue. God rebuked the Hebrews for their hostility towards foreigners and He may be just as unhappy with the way some of us Christians are responding to the issue of immigration today. That’s why, as our government decides what to do with immigrants, you and I just need to love them like Jesus. Yes, I am a flag-waving American. But above the flag, there’s a cross.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Beautiful In His Eyes!

Dear Friends,

Jesus never called God “mommy.” The Son of God gave His Father a male identity and so have His followers for the last 2,000 years. The Old Testament refers to God by name (Yahweh) but Jesus referred to God as “Father” and He did so 165 times. In Mark 14:36, Jesus used the Aramaic word “Abba” that was an even more intimate and familiar term of endearment closer to our word “daddy.” 

There is a strong movement taking place in the mainline denominations to remake God into a “politically correct” genderless deity. This recent and increasingly militant crusade has been removing the male pronouns of both God the Father and God the Son from their liturgy and prayers. One denomination suggests that pastors edit out any hymn lyrics that refer to God as a male. They’ve used the name “Mother” to refer to God and have even stopped referring to Jesus as a man. 

This movement to theologically castrate God makes the point that God as Spirit has no gender, but then they quickly reveal their true agenda by calling Him “Mother.” Their explanation behind the feminization of God and their distaste that Jesus was born a male is because those with “father” or “men” issues and who were subjected to patriarchal, abusive males are offended by the male “Father” and “Son” gender-based terms used for God and Jesus. They correctly identify our tendency to see our Heavenly Father through the experiences we had with our earthly father but the answer is not to neuter God but to know Him. Childhood issues with rejection, family dysfunctions, pain and abuse are healed in the presence of our Heavenly Father. And in His presence, we experience His total, committed, genuine, unconditional, never-ending, astounding love for us.

The Father God takes the messiness of your life and molds you into a masterpiece of beauty. He created you in His image and when you accept His Son you will have eternal life with your Father forever. John 3:16 And thanks be to God that His love for you is not based on what you do or don't do. His love for you is based on who He is. 

And He loves you so much that as soon as He created you in the womb, Psalm 139:13-16 He placed a crown of glory and honor on your head. Psalm 8:5 Men and women look in the mirror and see flaws. You see the cracks in your character. You see the physical and psychological scars. You see the fat and the zits. The sin and the failures. Your Heavenly Father looks at you and sees only the beauty of His created one. That’s your Abba. That’s your Heavenly Daddy. You are covered with His fingerprints and you have intrinsic value in His eyes. God has crowned you with His crown of glory. You may look in the mirror, and through the lies of your past, you see ugly. But beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and your Beholder sees only your beauty. Abba. Daddy. 

Let me show you how much your Father loves you. Did you know about God’s tattoo? In the ancient times, nearly everyone had tattoos. They were used to mark family ties or slave ownership. Women tattooed their stomach and breasts with magical symbols during pregnancy to guarantee a safe birth. Tattoos were most commonly used to show devotion to a god or gods. It’s no different today when we tattoo on our bodies that which has captured our own devotion. Whether it's the word “mom,” a butterfly, pagan symbols, a cartoon character or Harley-Davidson wings, we display our devotion for the world to see. But because the ancients used tattoos in pagan rituals and to declare allegiance to other gods, tattoos were prohibited by God. Leviticus 19:28 Then God turns right around and gets one of His own. Go figure.

And God’s tattoo is not a temporary one that can be washed off. No heavenly laser can eradicate it. It's permanent. And now prepare to be astonished. Because God’s tattoo is you. It's your name. God has written your name on the palms of His hands! That’s how much He loves you! The prophet Isaiah gives us that wonderful metaphor that describes God’s devotion to you! God tells the Israelites then and tells us today that He has inscribed us – meaning to cut in or carve onto something. God has engraved your name on His hands. Isaiah 49:16 It can’t be erased. It’s eternal. It shows God’s devotion and head-over-heels love for you! His love is not based on the good things you’ve done or the bad things that you didn’t do. It’s based on what God has done for you. And that, dear friends, is God’s grace. You look in the mirror and see “messed up.” He looks at you and sees His priceless jewel. Then He looks down at His hand, sees your name and rejoices over you. Zephaniah 3:17 Your Father loves you not because of what you’ve done but because of who you are. You’re His son. You’re His daughter. He’s your Abba.  Amen?