Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The NEW Prosperity Gospel!

Dear Friends,

Have you ever walked out of a dark theater or dimly-lit restaurant and been overwhelmed by the brilliance of the mid-day sun? The contrast brings a greater awareness of the darkness we’ve exited from and accentuates the light that we’ve entered into. I recently went to Sam’s Club and saw both evil and good displayed right next to each other on the warehouse shelves. Both darkness and light are on sale at member’s-only special prices during the upcoming holiday season, and as we cycle through Fall and Winter holidays, perhaps the one good thing we can say about Halloween is that when it’s over, we step out of the darkness and celebration of evil and into the brilliant light of Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

I see displays of harvest baskets with the brilliant, golden colors of autumn. I see gravestones, skulls and skeletons symbolizing death, alongside Nativity sets signifying life. I see animatronic demons with flashing red eyes and I see fire-breathing dragons. I see Mary kneeling next to the baby Jesus lying in the manger. I wonder what possessed the store manager to display the demons right next to Jesus. What a contrast between darkness and light when we transition from Halloween to Thanksgiving and then to Christmas!

But I wonder if we should also be transitioning from a season of Thanks-Getting into a season of Thanks-Giving. We love Thanksgiving and celebrate it as a day to feast! But do our prayers sound like this? “Thank you Lord for Your bountiful blessing of this Thanksgiving Feast, as we consume turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes smothered with gravy until we are bloated with Your blessings.”

We express our thanks and gratitude to God throughout the year: “Thank you God for Your generous financial provision,” we pray as we quickly deposit that check safely in the bank where no one else can get their grubby hands on our money.

“Lord, thank You for all your good gifts this Christmas,” we pray as we add another cute, red top to the twelve red tops we already have hanging in our closet. Or unwrap the latest, ergonomically-correct, computer-balanced, miracle putter guaranteed to improve our golf game. (Okay..maybe we do need that...)

“Thank you Lord for all You have blessed us with,” as we survey our packed garage or storage rooms filled with expensive things we will no longer use (and perhaps never did?).

And many years ago, during this season of giving thanks to God, He put on my heart that I needed to start practicing and preaching the Prosperity Gospel. No, no, no. Not that Prosperity Gospel! I’m talking about an entirely NEW Prosperity Gospel. 

The doctrine of the old Prosperity Gospel is not based on scripture and was developed by American Protestants in the 1950's. That doctrine says that financial blessing is the will of God for all believers. You must confess that, believe in it, use positive thoughts and speech to affirm it and of course you must give a “seed faith” to your church or to the prosperity preacher’s ministry to “activate” your “blessing” of material wealth.

But the NEW Prosperity Gospel is not based on self-centered desires; it’s based on God’s Word and the Lord’s desire that His kids share their things. The old PG takes “authority” over what I don’t have and commands that God give it to me; the NEW PG looks at what God has already given me to see how I can use what I have to bless others. 

The NEW PG is not based on my getting more, it’s based on my giving more. It’s not coveting what you don’t have and “Naming and Claiming” it. It’s naming what you do have and giving it away to someone who needs it more than you do. If that sounds shocking to you, open your Bible and read Acts 2:41-47 paying special attention to verses 44-45.

The old Prosperity Gospel, preached in many churches, says that God wants you to live in affluence, wealth, opulence and luxury. But the Bible says: “Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry. You should help the poor and remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Luke 12:33 NLT; Luke 3:11; Acts 20:35

Have you become swept up in a swirling tsunami of things? On a first-name basis with the Amazon Prime driver? Bloated with blessings that are rusting away and attracting moths? The NEW Prosperity Gospel says, “Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness..” Isaiah 58:10 If you practiced the NEW Prosperity Gospel, what would your priorities look like? What would you be doing differently in your life? With your money? With your things? With your time? Are you willing to turn this season of Thanksgetting into a season of Thanksgiving?

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

How To Thrive Spiritually In A Pandemic!

Dear Friends,

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I snap at her, “I have the patience of a Saint.” She rolls her eyes and calls me “Saint Impatient” for the rest of the day.

She and I seem to have a misunderstanding about my wonderfulness that we’ve not been able to resolve. When I take a selfie, I’m always surprised that I don’t see a golden halo over my head as portrayed in the icons of the ancient saints. She and other loved ones see me as a cranky old Christian curmudgeon and I fail to understand how our perceptions can be so different. I pray that their eyes will be opened to the truth.

Okay.. The truth of course is that, from time to time, we all suffer from the sin of impatience. We confess that we sin daily in “thought, word and deed” and it’s those minor sins of gossip, anger, pride, an unloving attitude, desiring what others have, etc. that disqualify us from wearing the golden halo. But it’s the minor sin of impatience that’s creating major mental health problems during the pandemic.’s the minor sin of impatience that’s creating major mental health problems during the pandemic.

Impatience is a lack of tolerance and acceptance in any given situation. The “Closed” sign in the above photograph was funny six months ago. No more. We were willing to tolerate a Covid lock-down for a month or so but we’re now at the end of our patience as nothing has changed and there is no end in sight. Hairdressers, restaurants, retailers and even pastors have run out of patience and reopened when it was not safe or legal to do so. I have no tolerance for masks. They severely test my patience as I hurry through the grocery store, lifting up the bottom of the mask every so often to take a breath of fresh air and then ripping it off my face as soon as I’m outside.

We can’t blame our lack of patience on the pandemic – we’ve become a culture of impatience. We honk our horn at the car ahead of us two seconds after the red light turns green. We’ve lost interest in detailed news stories and prefer summaries and sound bites. I know people who won’t read anything longer than a text and a good friend, who is even more impatient than I am, doesn’t use those tedious and unnecessary things called “words.” His texts to me often consist only of acronyms and emojis. Our cultural impatience demands instant gratification, creates our sense of entitlement and we are only happy when things are done our way and in our approved time-frame. Our impatience is what’s causing our stress and unhappiness with the “stay at home” restrictions that interfere with our day-to-day lives and personal freedoms!

But it’s this very lack of tolerance and unacceptance of our temporary circumstances that’s causing our mental health problems today. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that as a direct result of the Coronavirus, the percentage of men reporting depression rose from 7% to 22% and depression among women jumped from 10% to 33%. The number of adults considering suicide has doubled in just the past few months. Younger people (18-24) are in a time of great crisis with nearly half reporting depression and in the past 30 days, 25% of them have seriously considered suicide because of the pandemic. Many report the “prison-like” conditions of stay-at-home and social distancing restrictions being the cause of their anxiety, depression and feelings of hopelessness.

What both prisoners and monks have in common is that at some point they made a life-changing decision that resulted in their strict living conditions. Whether their day-to-day life is tightly controlled by an abbot or a prison warden, they must accept the consequences of their choice with patience, tolerance and acceptance or their mental health will be greatly impacted. 

Of course our Covid restrictions today are not the consequences of a personal choice, but our living conditions are now tightly controlled by government authorities. When we can leave our house, where we are allowed to go, how we eat meals outside our home, what we can and cannot do, whose house we can visit, how we worship at church, what we must wear on our face, where we are allowed to walk, stand or sit outside our homes are all under control of State and County health officials. And for the betterment of our own mental health, we need to embrace our temporary circumstances with patience, tolerance, acceptance and grace.

The obvious difference between the criminal and the monk is that one went to the ugliness of a prison against his will while the other went to the beauty of a monastery according to the will of God. We may protest our perceived “prison-like confinement” at home during the Coronavirus but perhaps that perspective would change if we were to welcome the monastic-like living conditions in which we find ourselves. The closest experience any religious person can have to live in God’s house would be a monastery or convent. A place of peace. A sacred, holy place where we come into the presence of God. 

Few of us would describe our homes as a place of peace. Fewer still would describe where we live as a sacred place. That’s because we compartmentalize our lives and schedule our worship for a specific time in a specific place that we call “church” on Sunday morning. But we haven’t been able to do that for the past six months and some of us have become spiritually dry. Without our church to nourish our souls, some of us may even be starting to feel distanced from God and what will always close that gap is our return to our worship of Him.

Our soul cries out for worship and watching YouTube church services may be interesting, edifying and even entertaining but it’s not what the Bible describes as worship.(see footnote) Scriptures referring to “worship” always describe it as active participation by a person. Worship is what you do. Not what you watch someone else do on your phone or computer. When was the last time you worshiped your Lord in your home? Sang hymns or songs of praise and worship? Knelt down to pray? Stood and raised your hands to pray? Danced to the Lord? Spoke to God aloud and gave Him your words of praise and thanksgiving? These are some of the actions our Bible describes as "worship." In the monastery, worship and work are inseparable and flow together intertwined throughout each day. Community prayers take place at certain times but individual prayer becomes the background music of the monastic’s life as they “pray without ceasing.” 1 Thess 5:16-18 

Moving from a Coronavirus home-bound prison environment to a sacred monastic environment in your home requires nothing more than a change of heart and the welcoming of a time in your life to become closer to God. In His presence, any anger and impatience at our living conditions fade away and we accept these new circumstances with grace. Hope rises and overcomes feelings of despair as we now wait with patience and look forward to what God is doing in our lives during this new season.

“Patience is a virtue,” we’re told and patience (also translated as longsuffering) is listed as one of the FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT. Galatians 5:22-23 Patience has been defined as “waiting without complaint” and when we do so, we inherent the promises of God through our faith and patience. Hebrews 6:12

While we’re patiently waiting, we don’t want to waste an opportunity for personal and spiritual growth so we ask ourselves: What is God showing me during these temporary circumstances? Is God showing us the ugliness of our anger over trivial things that used to be only mildly irritating? Are we seeing our lack of patience with our loved ones? Are we willing to work on those minor sins in partnership with God? 

Is God redeeming the scourge of “social distancing,” and showing us through newly opened eyes how important our family and friends are? What do we miss about those who don’t live with us? Meals? Conversations? Hugs? When the pandemic is over, how will your relationships be permanently changed? With both church and shopping mall doors locked for the past six months, which doors are the ones you long to see reopened? What’s God showing you as you think about that last one?

Perhaps the most helpful thing for us to do during this time of patient waiting is to keep reminding ourselves that these present restrictions of our freedom and lifestyle are temporary. Redeem these many months of waiting by allowing God to make this time a teaching moment for us. As we journey down the path of becoming more like Christ and less like us, what are those minor sins that God would like to help you remove from your life? Confess those sins of thought, word and deed at the end of each day and receive His forgiveness. When you slip up during the day, confess that sin immediately to God and you will find that those “sin slip-ups” become less and less frequent.

And every day come into His presence with your worship. During this time when you can’t go to church, bring the “church” into your home. Intertwine your worship with your work and pray without ceasing by keeping God in your thoughts throughout the day. Sit down with your Bible at least once a day and feed your soul by immersing yourself in the Word of God. Tune out the negativity and chaos of the world and focus your thoughts on the goodness of God. Worship Him by expressing our words of thankfulness and gratitude to Him. Turn off the news media that fills us with stress, anger and sadness and fill your home with wall-to-wall Christian music. You can rename your home by calling it your church, your monastery, your cathedral or you can even call your home: “SAINT ________’s CHURCH OF THE REDEEMED” (insert your first name in blank space). 

The social distancing that keeps us at home is our opportunity to spend more time in God’s presence and feel His peace. And as we respond to the present circumstances in the rhythm of the divine, we will wait without complaint and respond with His grace.  Amen?


1 What the Bible Says About Worship

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Do You Speak Christianese?

Avast me Hearties! (Dear Friends),

This coming Saturday (Sept 19th) is INTERNATIONAL TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY which 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. Shiver me timbers! ‘Tis a foul storm approaching that be sending ye to Davy Jones Locker! Arrgghh!! (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 we 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 Christian clubhouse doors and trying to get in. If you've ever 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, our relationship is then 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 with whom you are speaking. 

“Aye! When ye parley with yer Matey, speak smartly that they savvy!” Colossians 4:6 APV (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 9, 2020

Be Quiet And Listen...

Dear Friends,

There was that one Sunday morning during my prayer time, that God told me to “shut up.” Of course He said it nicer than that. I’d been praying and thinking about a couple that we had dinner with the night before. These are not their real names but we’ll call them Denise and Bob. You don’t know them but I have a suspicion that you may know a Denise – most of us have at some point in our lives. A top salesperson for a large nation-wide company, Denise is a dear lady but talks non-stop and dominates and controls every conversation. If you were ever so bold as to try and interject a comment to join the conversation, she will simply raise her voice over your unauthorized attempt to interrupt her monologue.

We had joined them for dinner at a restaurant and the two main topics on her agenda were her recent trip to Germany and her attempts to learn the German language. No detail, no matter how insignificant, was deemed too trivial for our entertainment. She has the amazing gift of being able to actually talk while eating, and when I say she talks nonstop, I mean that literally. At one point, she had finished talking about her vacation and asked me a question about the church. But before I could reply, she immediately switched her gaze back to Rhianna to clearly signal to me that she was not interested in my response. I had the audacity to answer anyway and gave her a ten second sound bite which, judging by the expression on her face, was twice as long as was warranted. She didn’t acknowledge that I had spoken but immediately switched the conversation to the remodel of their Big Bear cabin. I glanced at Bob as he thoughtfully chewed his burrito. He had mentally checked out more than an hour ago and seemed to be happy and content in his non-speaking, support role of husband to his extroverted wife. Dinner was over but we were now hearing about her adventure at the paint store while selecting colors for the new cabinets and Denise didn’t seem to be in any danger of losing her momentum. I signaled to the waiter for more chips...

Back to Sunday morning. I’d prayed for her salvation but as I thought about last night’s dinner, my thoughts about her were becoming far more critical than kind. I was feeling a sadness for Bob and thinking that because Denise’s only area of interest is her, just how dysfunctional and one-sided any relationship with her would be. I’m thinking that the biggest bore has to be the thoughtless, selfish person who can talk at you for an hour and a half non-stop without a shred of interest in what you have to say...

And at that exact moment the quiet still voice of God interrupted and said: “That’s how you pray to me.” And, that was when He told me to “shut up.” Actually His exact words to me were: “Be quiet and listen..” 

The church often does an outstanding job at teaching us how to pray. We’re given prayer guides and acronyms like A.C.T.S. to remember “Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving & Supplication.” In many Evangelical churches, “prayer warriors” and intercessors are lifted up to a place of honor as we covet their articulate extemporaneous prayers. Many of us have been taught that the purpose of prayer is to ask for His help for us and for others, and we present our list of wants, needs, and special requests to God as if He were a cosmic vending machine at the ready to do our bidding. Churches publish prayer lists of people’s needs which can be helpful, but not if our prayer time is simply checking off the items on our list as we tell God what to do.

And yes, of course God wants to know the desires of our heart because He loves and cares for us. And our prayers of petition are efficacious. Remember James tells us, “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” James 5:16 NLT But it’s worth noting in the A.C.T.S prayer guide that adoration, confession and thanksgiving are the priorities that come before our supplications. 

And while many of us are good at praying, we’re not so good at listening. Churches often do a good job in teaching us how to speak to God in our prayers, but it’s a one-way conversation. And many of those same churches forbid, discourage, or mock those mystics among us who meditate on God’s word to hear His voice. And yet we read in the Gospels that Jesus often went to the mountaintops and withdrew to the quiet places to pray and then to hear from God. The prophet Samuel said, “speak God for your servant is listening” 1 Samuel 3:10 and Jesus often said to His disciples, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”  

Meditating on God’s word is to read scripture, or pray to Him and then just quietly sit still in His presence and open our ears. We may sense or hear that quiet still voice of God. We may feel His peace. We may be filled with a Holy Spirit given conviction. God has always desired a two-way conversation between Creator and His creation and He has things He wants you to hear. His life-changing words to me may also be His words to you.. “Be quiet and listen.”

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Are You Blocking Your Blessings?

 Dear Friends,

Descanso Gardens in La Canada-Flintridge is a sensational, verdant oasis in our valley foothills. The Tulips are amazing in the Spring. The Camellia Garden is cool and green in the Summer and the evergreen Oak Tree Forest is still welcoming in the desolate winter months. For the first time in six months we visited Descanso last week and appreciated the lush green gardens, green trees, green Camellia bushes and a green lake... A green lake? Yuck! 

For years the lake has been choked with a thick, green layer of rotting algae. Once pristine blue, you could stand on the observation platform and see hundreds of brightly-colored fish and large colonies of turtles swimming and sunning themselves. The lake was known for its variety of birds and ducks. But for years now, my favorite place in the gardens has turned into a cesspool. The only fish present seemed to be the floating dead ones that had suffocated under the thick layer of stinking algae. The turtles had survived by being able to stick their head out of the slime, but the few left were coated with green sludge. What happened? New environmental laws no longer permitted the lake run off into the county storm drain system, and the inflow from the natural springs had been restricted to a trickle to just maintain the water level. With a blocked outflow, this once healthy body of water teeming with life, was now a stagnant pond of what could have easily been mistaken for industrial waste with its dead and dying plants and wildlife.

Have we restricted the inflow of God’s 

blessings into our life

 because we’ve blocked the outflow?

We desire and pray for God’s blessings to flow into our lives every day, but have we robbed ourselves of what He wants to give us? Have we restricted the inflow of God’s blessings into our life because we’ve blocked the outflow? The Lord calls us to live unselfishly and generously. But can we do that if we are unwilling to give to others what we receive from Him? Will God reward us if our only focus is on what we can get from Him? We may piously declare that “It’s more blessed to give than to receive,” Acts 20:35 but if we were honest, we might have to admit that’s not how we live our lives. Humans are hardwired to acquire and hoard stuff. The caveman stuck that antelope haunch behind the rocks; we ransacked and pillaged Costco for toilet paper. In the beginning of the pandemic, we selfishly filled our shopping carts overflowing with foods we didn’t really need and deprived others of food they did need.

And when we hoard the blessings given to us by God, like the lake at Descanso, our blocked outflow can cause our spiritual life to become stagnant and start to stink. When we become a “Christian,” meaning "a follower of Jesus," we also become His ambassador. We become His personal representative to a lost and hurting world. He has assigned us this temporary home we call “earth” in order for us to minister to His loved ones and we are to follow His example. Jesus said, “I am among you as the One who serves.” Luke 22:27 

The life of a Christian is far more than just an hour watching a Sunday church service. If the Son of God’s life was centered around encouraging, teaching, service and giving, that’s to be the life of His followers. I mentioned in last week’s AMEN Corner, that when I was in the Bible University, it was my senior pastor who taught me how to pastor a church. He told me to follow him and do everything he did. I learned how to be a pastor by following Jack Duitsman, but I learned how to be a Christian by following Jesus. He shows us a lifestyle of service, giving, compassion and mercy and then tells us to go and do likewise. Luke 10:37 In essence, living out our faith is simply blessing others with what God has already blessed us with.

You have a unique gift mix of talents, abilities and gifts. You can make things, bake things, read things and do things. You may know the computer or medical needs, how to fix an old car, help with financial planning or with programming a TiVo. You can make that phone call to lift the spirits of someone lonely and struggling. You have at least one spiritual gift that the Holy Spirit has given you for the use of others. 1 Corinthians 12:7 Our God-given abilities, gifts and talents have not been given to us solely for our own selfish enjoyment. Blessings that God has released into your life are to flow out of you and into the lives of others.

During this time of a pandemic, when people are more needful than perhaps ever before, we are surrounded with opportunities to do unto others as Jesus would do. And while we help others not for selfish reasons, God does reward us and the more you give to others, the more you will receive from Him. Luke 6:38; Luke 14:13-14; Colossians 3:23-24 Don’t choke off the outflow of His blessings and become like a spiritually stagnant lake. Open up the floodgates and let His Living Water flow through you!  Amen?