Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Be Good!

Dear Friends,

For many years now the most popular New Year’s resolution has been “Be a better person – be good.” But as a result of Covid, lockdowns and inflation, the most popular resolution for 2022 is “Better finances.” My prayer is that God will provide for all of us in this coming year, but as we one day stand before Jesus, I’m thinking that He won’t be judging us based on our financial investments and the cash value of our Estate that we just left behind. That’s why for those of us who are Christian believers, being sanctified (made holy) by God and becoming less like us and more like Jesus, the resolution I believe God would want us to make is still “Be a better person – be good.”

According to a recent survey, only 44% of us will make resolutions this year, and of those who do, only 10% will stick to them. That means for those who decide they want to be a better person, as soon as February rolls around, the vast majority of these well-intentioned people will have thrown up their hands in despair, decided that it’s futile to become a better person and “being good” is an elusive and unattainable goal! But is it? Not if the power of God is active in your life! 

We’ve seen that in our culture today, right and wrong have morphed into subjective opinion and there are many contradictory beliefs about what is good. We know that only the true and immutable (unchanging) word of God can define what’s is “good” for the believer and if we want to be a better person, we must read our Bible to find out what God’s definition of a good person really is. Then to be a “better person” we need to next place God first in our life and make it our passionate desire to do the will of the Father. Only then can we look forward to the day that Jesus says to us, Well done good and faithful servant.

While we all sin daily in “thought, word and deed,” for many of us, it’s our words that can cause the most hurt in others. There is life and death in the power of the tongue Proverbs 18:21 and our words can crush the spirit of another. We’ll use as an example a sinner I know all too well. Because I have been, thus so far, unsuccessful in convincing my own loved ones that my sarcasm is a spiritual gift from God, this is one area of my personality with which I do struggle. When I pray the prayer of self-examination at the end of the day, the Holy Spirit will replay the tape of any unkind words I’ve used. Many years ago I was convicted by Ephesians 4:29 and I began to pray that scripture every morning and throughout my day: “Lord, let no corrupt or unwholesome word proceed forth from my lips but what would be for the edification of others, according to the need of the moment, that it would impart grace to the hearers.”

But my flesh still occasionally pulls me toward thoughtless and graceless words, as evidenced by a certain loved one giving me a book for Christmas: “TAMING THE TONGUE – How The Gospel Transforms Our Talk.” I wish of course that I didn’t need to read this book, but those of us who are human beings still sin, and the biblical concept of “sanctification” is not a one time event but a process of change that takes place during your lifetime journey. 

How we change to be a better person is through reading the Gospels and allowing the Holy Spirit to change our heart as we read the words of our Lord. If we want to change our words to be words of grace and life to others, we first need a heart transplant. Jesus said that, “What you say flows from your heart,” Luke 6:45 NLT and what we think and how we behave flows from our heart as well. We need God to transplant in us a heart passionate about following His will.

In a recent survey, 48% of those who did not carry out their New Year’s resolutions confessed that it was lack of motivation to succeed. Our passion is the most powerful motivation for success that we can possibly have. My brother wanted to be a bull rider. Seriously. We grew up in Los Angeles, but he went to every rodeo in Southern California. He studied the moves and techniques of the famous, top-money-earning, celebrity bull riders. They were his mentors and he wanted to be exactly like them. And yes he rode bulls until God gave him a holy smack upside the head to knock some sense into him and he got a job with the DWP instead. But his passion for learning how to ride bulls by studying those at the top of the game shows us the passion we must have to become a better person. 

God already created you to be a good person and do good things with your life. Ephesians 2:10 You thought it was a New Year’s resolution, but it’s been God’s plan for your life all along! It’s your God-given destiny! But how do we turn that promise into a practice that changes our lives? Whether you’re a ballet dancer or a bull rider, you’ll need a mentor to emulate and look up to. You and I also need a spiritual  mentor to study and only one Person fits the bill – His name is Jesus Christ. We are told to “be imitators of God” Ephesians 5:1-2 and “walk in the same manner as God does” 1 John 2:6 and then God sent His only Son as the perfect image of the God we are to imitate. Colossians 1:15 

Become passionate about seeking out your mentor Jesus Christ and becoming like Him! Know Him. Study Him. Meditate upon Him. Follow Him. Seek His will for all things in your life. Give Him your heart and let Him change you from the inside out. Let’s all be a better person in 2022. It’s not just a resolution. It’s a promise from God! It’s our destiny!

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Ponder the Majesty and Mystery!

Dear Friends,

“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” 

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 

Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:8-19 

I like the imagery invoked in the painting of Mary by Henry Ossawa Tanner who was the first African-American painter to gain international acclaim. Our Christmas cards often show a brightly lit stable crowded with cute animals and packed with shepherds, wise men with gifts, angels and the Holy Family in a party-like atmosphere. Tanner, known for his religious paintings, particularly ones of the Nativity, always shows Mary in a quiet, dimly lit place in deep contemplation – pondering the incarnation of God. I’m wondering if perhaps we should be doing the same.

The incarnation is the divine Son of God, existing from the beginning of time, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was made a human being. Just ponder that miracle for a moment. And yet in our Christian worldview, we’ve developed this odd dichotomy between the glory of the incarnation and the celebration of Christmas. Let me show you what I mean.

It was many years ago that I asked a coworker how he’d spent his Christmas. The night before Christmas, he and his wife and their two young children had gone to his in-laws for a Christmas dinner and gift exchange. He told me that his mother-in-law goes all out for Christmas and her house looks like Santa’s village. The next morning his kids rushed into the living room to find that Santa had filled their stockings and left presents under the tree. His wife made their family’s traditional Christmas breakfast and then it was time to open the huge pile of Christmas gifts. Later that day, his parents came over and his wife made a crown roast with all the fixings and a traditional Christmas yule log cake for desert. More gifts and a very special time between his parents and his step-children. He told me that he and his wife love Christmas and said that his family had a wonderful time together on Christmas day. I marveled at this because everything he told me, even down to the crown roast and traditional Christmas yule log cake, was almost exactly how my own family had just celebrated Christmas. I was thinking this family definitely knows how to do Christmas right! Because of last minute Christmas preparations, we had not gone to a Christmas church service but I asked my coworker if he had. He laughed and told me that he, his wife, his parents and his in-laws were all atheists. Oh. I see. Have I mentioned to you yet that my Christian family had spent Christmas nearly the exact same way that his atheist family did? I spent a long time pondering that...

The danger is how easily we can get caught up in the preparation and pageantry of Christmas while leaving the manger empty of Christ. For too many of us, Christmas Day is not an experience of glorious joy at the birth of Jesus, but a feeling of relief that all our work to prepare for this day is finally over. 

On Christmas morning, let’s look to Mary to show us how to make the day Christ-centered. As Mary pondered the birth of Jesus in her heart, we may also need to give ourselves a time out just to sit and dwell on the mystery and majesty of the miracle. December 25th is your salvation story. Ponder the wonder of God who loved you so much that He sent His Son to you personally. As the angel said on that night, “..a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” And our only response to that can be to raise our hands to heaven and give praise to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, all the glory be from now until forever.  Amen.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Have A Christ-Centered Christmas!

Dear Friends,

In the fourth century, the church established a liturgical service (the “Christ Mass”) that would celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th. And while the exact date of the birth of Jesus is unknown, the earliest known reference to His birth being on December 25th was in a commentary on the Book of Daniel that Hippolytus of Rome wrote in 204 A.D. Some time after that, a pagan festival honoring the sun god “Sol Invictus” began to be celebrated on that day and it was later claimed that the church then formally established December 25th in the fourth century as the birthday of Jesus to counteract the influence of paganism. But in 320 A.D., one theologian answered this criticism by noting, “We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of Him who made it.”

If we were to objectively look at our own pre-Christmas activities, preparing for parties, setting out snowman inflatables on our front lawn, stringing colored lights, “Black Friday” and a frantic shopping for gifts, we might see that what we’ve done so far may be more “pagan” than “Christian.” That’s why we might want to spend these remaining two weeks preparing for a Christ-Centered Christmas and here are some things that may be helpful:

Read a Christmas Devotional Book as a daily devotional or ignore the designated days in Advent and just read until the words reveal something that stops you and fills your thoughts with what’s personally meaningful for you. Spend some quiet time meditating on what the Holy Spirit just called to your attention and ask God to speak to your heart what He wants you to know.

Be bold with your faith! Say “Merry Christmas” to everyone. If you are genuinely worried about being politically incorrect and offending someone, read last week’s AMEN Corner: Do The Math!

Read the Christmas Story in your Bible. Isaiah 7:14; Luke 1:5-56; Matthew 1:18-24; Luke 2:1-20.

Surround yourself and family with visual images of the “reason for the season.” The focus for Christians and non-Christians alike is a decorated tree. I’ve had trees with lights and brightly-colored painted glass round ornaments. Trees with only country-cute wood ornaments. My past trees were filled with beautiful, heartwarming secular images but our tree today, with the exception of a few religious ornaments, is nearly all crosses – it’s our “Jesus Tree” (see Rhianna’s photo above). 

And no Christian home should be without a Nativity scene! That’s because the Holy Family with Jesus in the manger, always has been, and always will be, the most Christ-centered image of Christmas. We love to decorate our homes at this time of year, but if you invited a family, who didn’t know you well, into your house, would they know that you’re a Christian by the images depicted in your seasonal decorations? This may be an uncomfortable thought, but others can always tell who or what we worship by the things in our home that are important and meaningful to us!

Fill your home with Christmas music and I don’t mean “Last Christmas” by Wham! or Mariah Carey’s hit holiday song “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (Spoiler Alert: She’s not singing to Jesus). There’s more and more secular “Christmas” music on our radios and being streamed, but to keep Christ in Christmas, let's listen to and sing along with the traditional Christmas hymns we remember from our childhood. There are also many excellent contemporary Christmas albums with Christ-centered lyrics in genres from Gospel to Country and from Rock to Rap.

Watch a biblical Christmas movie. “The Nativity Story” was released in 2006 and received the highest rating from the Dove Foundation. The film portrays the birth of Jesus in a warm, loving manner and the Dove reviews said “The cinematography in this film is breathtaking and the acting is solid throughout.” The film was also acclaimed for its historical and biblical accuracy and shows the viewer what life in those times would have realistically been like. 

Attend a Christmas Eve service in person or on-line. 

I hope that some of these things that connect us with the true meaning of Christmas will be as helpful for you as they are for me. Many of us have focused this Advent season on Christmas-centered activities – the tree, outside lights, shopping, decorations, gifts, cookies and greeting cards because we love the Christmas season. But for these next weeks, let’s transition from a Christmas-centered mind set to a Christ-centered Advent that will prepare us for the coming of the Lord and our celebration of Him on December 25th. When we do so, we set aside the stress-inducing crowdedness of our days and give Jesus the space to move fully into our lives. When we make this holiday season Christ-centered, we are rewarded with His grace and with the love and warmth of His presence in our hearts. And then dear loved one, that’s when Christmas becomes Christmas...

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Do The Math!

Dear Friends,

“Happy Holidays!” said the sales clerk as I walked away. I turned back to her and looked in her eyes for a moment. “Merry Christmas!,” I responded. Her face lit up and she said, “Oh yes. Merry Christmas! Thank you for saying that to me.” No other customers were in line so I asked if her  company told her that she should say happy holidays and she looked a little confused. She said that they hadn’t told the employees what to say but everyone said happy holidays and she assumed that was just what she supposed to say. We had a nice conversation about our Christian faith for a few minutes...

I have no qualms about saying “Merry Christmas” to people after they have just wished me a happy holiday. It always frees people to then tell me, “Merry Christmas.” I do not hesitate to say “Merry Christmas” because I understand the math. The most recent surveys show that 96% of people in America celebrate Christmas! That number may surprise you but even 81% of non-Christians in our Nation celebrate Christmas. 

That means that eight out of every ten atheists, agnostics and people of other religions celebrate Christmas. One third of American Jews have a Christmas tree in their home. 76% of Buddhists and 73% of Hindus celebrate Christmas. On Al Abrbiya News, a commentator complained about the increasing number of American Muslims who are now celebrating Christmas. Of course most non-Christians view Christmas more as a cultural holiday than a celebration of the birth of Christ, but they are certainly not offended when we wish them a “Merry Christmas.”

When you do the math, you realize that if you say “Merry Christmas” to one hundred people, you may say that to four people who don’t celebrate Christmas. Who are those four? Atheists who prefer to sit out the holiday. Wiccans and other Pagans who prefer to celebrate the winter solstice. And the one million Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Christ denomination who don’t acknowledge Christmas. But of those four percent, only a very small percentage admits to being actually “offended” if someone says “Merry Christmas” to them. 

According to some atheist websites, most atheists who do not celebrate Christmas, are not at all offended if someone wishes them a “Merry Christmas.” They just say “Merry Christmas” right back. I was unable to find actual statistics on how many people are genuinely offended by someone saying “Merry Christmas” but a conservative guess would be that 1-2% of Americans might possibly be offended. And that would mostly be those who are obsessed with being politically correct.

Some call it a “war on Christmas” but it’s a very powerful movement by those on the politically far left to normalize Christmas as a non-religious secular holiday. While recent polls show that the self-described “liberal progressives” are only about 6% percent of our society, they are the ones most offended and outraged by Christians and Christmas. Because they control much of the media and our Country’s educational systems, they are most effectively leading our Country in its secular direction, and I’m personally not worried about offending them since they are already offended because I’m a white, Christian, male.

If I say “Merry Christmas” to one hundred people and one or two are possibly offended, I’m okay with those odds. That’s because you and I offend people all the time. That’s life. To offend means to cause another person to feel upset, annoyed, or displeased. 

Let’s just take me as an example. I offend others just because of my gender, skin color and faith. Polls show that 32-34% of non-White Americans will not like me because of my race. Some women will instantly dislike me because they simply don’t like confident males. I’ve offended “woke” friends who have “canceled” our friendship because I believe in the Bible that they say contains “hate speech.” I’ve even offended fundamentalist Christians because of my beard! When I order a medium-rare hamburger in a restaurant, I no doubt upset and offend the animal-lover vegan (5% of all Americans) who’s picking the bacon bits out of his/her salad at the next table. 

And you my friend, offend (upset, displease) people simply because of your skin color, race, religion, economic status,  etc., and you really upset them when you remind them of that dreadful ex-wife or ex-husband! Knowing how offensive I am for just being me is why I’m okay with wishing someone a Merry Christmas and potentially annoying 1-2% of them for doing so. You and I both offend a greater percentage of people just by showing up and breathing!

Even some dedicated church-going Christians have succumbed to the politically correct movement that celebrates Santa as the reason for the season. We need to deflate the family of Snowmen and put the Nativity back on our front lawns. We need to stop being ashamed of our faith. We need to remind people that Christmas is about Jesus. We need to boldly tell people “Merry Christmas,” because  when we do, they are then empowered with the same boldness to tell others “Merry Christmas.” It’s time to let people know, “Hey, it’s okay to say Merry Christmas!”

Thursday, December 2, 2021

An Atheist In Advent!

Dear Friends,

When I was young, one of my favorite things at Christmas time was when my mom and dad took us kids to Olvera Street for Las Posadas. Olvera Street is considered to be “the birthplace of Los Angeles” and is where you’ll find the oldest house in the City. The Olvera Street adobe and brick buildings were restored in 1930 and today you’ll find a block-long, tree-shaded, brick-lined market place that ends at the historic plaza. “Las Posadas” is a Catholic-Mexican tradition that commemorates the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem and the search for a place where Jesus would be born. You could feel the excitement all along the narrow, colorful street as we waited for Las Posadas (The Inns) to begin. 

You first heard the singing and then saw a teenage Mary riding a small donkey lead by a teenage Joseph. There was a bunch of kids, about my age, dressed as either shepherds or angels and all were singing and carrying candles. As the crowd passed us, we joined the procession as it made its way down the street. “Mary and Joseph” stopped at every shop entrance asking for shelter and were turned away until they reached their final destination. The “innkeeper” invited them in and everyone was served a Mexican hot drink and cookies. Things were far less inclusive in the early sixties, but it never seemed odd to me that we were one of the very few non-Catholic, non-Mexican families who took part in this Christmas tradition on Olvera Street!

Las Posadas is the perfect metaphor for the Advent season. Jesus knocks on the doors of hearts and He’s either rejected and turned away or He’s invited in. Jesus invites us to come and live within Him and He will live within us. John 15:4 You can ignore Jesus the rest of the year, but He’s in your face from Thanksgiving day until Christmas. That’s why this is a very tough time of year for atheists. Immanuel means “God with us” and while Jesus is with us year-round, you definitely can’t escape from Him at Christmas time! 

Even atheists cannot hide from the “God with us” for He is with them too. Two days ago, on the speakers over the pumps at the gas station, I heard “Joy to the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive her King..” The songs, Nativity scenes and images of Jesus Christ are everywhere we go and that means that the atheist must be constantly and continuously rejecting the Son of God.

A few years ago, we were at our favorite beach restaurant on a very cool, overcast December day so we were happy to find that the outdoor patio heaters were working. The only other one braving the outdoor patio was Peggy and her small dog. She’s a regular at the restaurant and we had talked with her before. This time, we asked what she was doing for Christmas. She said that she and her grown children were taking a trip to South America. After sixty-four years of a happy marriage, her husband had died a year and a half ago and she began to talk to us about the loneliness and emptiness of her life without him. We heard her sadness and saw her eyes fill with tears.

God prompted me to turn this conversation toward Him and I asked about her faith. Peggy said, “I know I’m going to disappoint you both because I always see you pray before you eat, but I’m an atheist.” She said that she had been uncertain about God throughout her life and at the age of seventy-two decided that she just didn’t believe. She told us that one of the hardest things about being an atheist, and not believing in God or in an afterlife in Heaven, was that she had no hope of ever seeing her husband again. I asked her if she ever prayed. She shook her head “no” and I told her that we would start praying for her. I told her that we were both strong Christian believers who believe in the efficacy of prayer and I told her that I was also a pastor. She said she hoped that we would still like her even though she didn’t believe in God and we assured her that we still did. We all finished our lunch at the same time and the three of us stood to leave and said goodbye. Peggy started to walk down the steps toward the street but then stopped and turned back. “Don’t forget to pray for me,” she said. “I’m leaving Wednesday and pray for my plane trip. I’m not afraid of terrorists but bad airplane mechanics. Please pray that I have a safe flight.” We assured her we would. 

The Advent journey is the journey of Las Posadas. But in the spiritual realm it’s Jesus Christ knocking on the closed doors of hearts all across the world and inviting us to come and abide in Him. It started with us asking Peggy how she was going to spend her Christmas that year, and she apologetically but firmly explained that she did not believe in God or prayer. But then as she was leaving, she not only asked for our prayers to the God she “didn’t believe in,” but she asked specifically for God’s protection of her and a safe flight. At some point during our conversation, the Holy Spirit intervened and Peggy opened that door to her heart just a little crack. Perhaps just wide enough to wonder if she had made the right conclusion about God. To maybe even find a longing for hope again in a Savior who offers eternal life. The Advent season before Christmas, immerses believer and non-believer alike in God’s presence and in the reality of Jesus – God with us. No one can make Him go away...

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Give Thanks!

Dear Friends,

Those of you who know me may have noticed the scar. About an inch long, it runs vertically through my eyebrow and down to the very top of my right eye. It’s where I was hit in the face with the sharp edge of a shovel when I was six years old. If the point of the shovel had been ½ inch lower it would have been embedded in my eye. If you hadn’t noticed the scar, I typically don’t either. In fact, for the longest time, I’d forgotten it was there. Then one Thanksgiving morning, a few years ago, I looked in the bathroom mirror and saw that old scar as if for the first time. At that moment, I realized that I had never thanked God for saving my sight and began wondering what else I’d never thanked Him for. I thought of when I was young man and engaged to the hot-blooded Sicilian girl who broke our engagement by trying to kill me with a butcher knife. I realized that I had never thanked God for saving me from a marriage to her!

And then like a slide show, face after face from my past appeared in my mind and I realized that I’d never thanked God for Father Barnes, the rector at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, who believed that I needed to start serving God as an acolyte when I was only nine and who started me on the path to God that I’m still on today. Many other faces came to mind and I thanked God for them. I still do. And perhaps you are now remembering your own scars and the times God bailed you of a bad circumstance. Or maybe like the country song “Thank God For Unanswered Prayers,” God didn’t give you what you’d prayed for and gave you something or someone better. Are you seeing faces of people you’ve never thanked God for?

Every Thanksgiving, I think of an Episcopal priest named Father Tim. He was a fictional character in a series of books written by Christian author Jan Karon about life in a small town called Mitford. And in one story, Father Tim wondered: What if God took away from him everything that he had not thanked God for?

That’s something to just stop and think about. What if God did take away from us everything we had not been thankful for? Would I have my right eye? For over sixty years I had never thanked God for saving it from the blade of that shovel! What if everything God gave you, that you never thanked Him for, disappeared in a flash? What would you have left in your house? Would you even have a house? What would you have left in your life? Would you still have your health? Your hearing? Would you still have your Bible? How about your clothes? Would you still have the unique personality that God has gifted you with? 

If God deleted what you never thanked Him for, would you instantly become as dumb as a rock as your intelligence vanished into thin air? Would you still have your sense of humor? Would you still have the ability to discern right from wrong? Would you still have your salvation? Would you still have your love for God? Have you ever thanked God for those things? Maybe even more importantly than what you would have left in your life is who you would have left. If God took away everyone you had never thanked Him for, would you still have all your family? Your friends? The people at your church? Would you still have your dog? Your cat?

When I realized that if I thanked God for everything He has ever given me.. Everything He has done for me.. For every meal I have ever eaten.. For everyone He has sent to bless my life.. Every time He healed me.. Every time He protected me from illness.. injury.. death.. Every time He protected me from my incredibly foolish decisions and actions.. I realized that if I thanked Him for everything He had ever done for me, I’d be thanking Him unceasingly from now until the end of time. And in that “ah-hah” moment, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 immediately came to mind: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

But how about those circumstances when it just seems like it’s impossible to be thankful? Because let’s face it. We don’t just cruise through this life on easy street. The truth is that Jesus said: “In the world you will have tribulation..” and I think that all of us can say “yes and amen” to that. But then we rejoice as Jesus goes on to say, “..but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 

All of us have experienced immense pain and grief in our past. And, here we are today with thankful hearts praising the Lord. How did we get through the trials and tribulations we’ve experienced so far? Because God is always right there in the midst of the worst thing that can ever happen to you.

We can only be truly thankful when our thankfulness is no longer a condition of our circumstances. We are not thanking Him for all things. The scripture says we thank Him in all things because no matter what our circumstances, there is always something for which we can be thankful. And then when we are thankful in all things we find ourselves rejoicing always. And, when we rejoice always, we find ourselves being thankful in all things. 

So let’s enter into a season of Thanksgiving by asking God to show us all the things that we never thanked Him for. Give thanks to God for all that He has given you and done for you. Give thanks even in the tribulations. And as you gather with family and friends, let your loved ones know how grateful you are to God and show them that Thanksgiving is not about a turkey dinner and it never has been. It’s about giving thanks to God. Amen?

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Thanksgiving Grace!

Dear Friends,

When I was a kid, we said grace at every meal and our family tradition was for us to take turns. My mom and dad said the traditional prayers of the Episcopal Church that were found in the back of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and my dad would solemnly intone: “Bless O Lord, thy gifts to our use; And us to thy loving service; And make us ever mindful of the needs of others; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”  

While I would like you to think that I was a deeply spiritual lad, the truth is that in my haste to eat, my prayer was a fast, three second one-word ritual: 

My sister’s grace was “Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub! Yay! God!” which was definitely not found in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.

Saying grace before the meal was so important to my family that on Thanksgiving and Christmas they even called in a professional. Well, sort of.. My mom's cousin was a Congregational Church minister so when their family came to dinner, he always became the designated “prayer.” His church was the oldest (founded in 1867), largest Protestant church in Los Angeles and I looked up to and admired this man of God. He didn’t just say grace. He would incorporate a three-point sermon into a Thanksgiving prayer with words of thanks for everything and a word of blessing for everyone. By the time he was finished, the turkey had grown cold, a fatty layer had congealed on the now-chilled gravy and his own children would be looking at each other and sneaking glances at the dining room clock. But when you said “amen,” the meal had been sanctified and so had the family time. Our dining room had become a church and God had been invited to join us at the table. 

Giving a blessing after a meal comes from Jewish Law: “When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you.” Deuteronomy 8:10 But in the New Testament, we find Jesus giving thanks to God before the meal. “And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples...” Mark 6:41 And then when Jesus met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” Luke 24:30 Jesus’ prayer of thanks to the Father before meals became a Christian liturgy taught by His disciples and we read, “And when he (Paul) had said these things, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat.” Acts 27:35

Saying grace is the spiritual time-out between the flurry of activity before the meal and the meal itself. It's the quiet moment at home when the food has been brought to the table. We pause and bow our heads in prayer. We ask God to bless and sanctify our meal in remembrance that all that we have, including all that we eat, is from God, and we are thankful to Him for His good and perfect gifts to us. James 1:17 

It's also the pause to remember that our meals are not magically transported to our plate after being created in the "StarTrek Replicator." Someone grew, raised or caught your food. If you are eating vegetables, someone spent all day bent over at the waist in the hot sun to handpick them for you. In the grocery store, a minimum-wage produce clerk carefully arranged those veggies on the chilled shelves and perhaps someone other than yourself prepared and cooked your meal. We are thankful for them. And as we sit down to an abundant meal, we are also mindful that according to Christian agencies, 925 million people in the world will go to bed tonight still hungry. We pray for them. Perhaps we even pray for God to show us how we can help someone in need.

If you don't normally say grace, start a new tradition in your life and express your gratitude to a gracious God before your meals. Extemporaneous prayers from the heart are wonderful and so are the timeless traditional prayers. You just read the Episcopal prayer in the first paragraph and a traditional Catholic prayer is “Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ, our Lord.” Methodists pray, “Be present at our table Lord. Be here and everywhere adored. These mercies bless and grant that we may feast in fellowship with Thee.” A beautiful Eastern Orthodox prayer is “O Christ God, bless the food and drink of Thy servants, for holy art Thou, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.” A traditional Lutheran prayer is “Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed.” (Unless you’re a youth pastor at a Baptist Bible Camp you may not want to pray my sister’s prayer and I know you can do better than my childhood grace!) But no matter how and what you pray, this Thanksgiving make sure someone says grace before you tuck into that plate of turkey because “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Secret To Staying Young!

Dear Friends,

Clint Eastwood recently directed a western film that he starred in and was asked how he stays so active at the age of 91. His response was, “I don’t let the old man in.” Good advice for all of us once we start getting the invitations in the mail to join AARP. Full disclosure: One way I “don’t let the old man in” is that, because I am only in my early 70's, I have refused to join AARP and will not do so until I have become “old.” This week’s AMEN Corner is intended to be read only by those of us who qualify to be members of AARP.

Three 15 year old girlfriends decided to eat at the McDonald’s across the street from the Sea Side Restaurant because they only had $6.50 between them and McDonald’s was where that cute boy in science class, Bobby Bruce worked. 

Ten years later, the same girlfriends now 25-year-olds, decided to meet for a night out at the Sea Side Restaurant because the bar had free snacks, the beer was cheap, the band was good and there were lots of cute guys. 

Ten years later, the now 35 year old girlfriends discussed where to meet for dinner. Once again they decided on the Sea Side Restaurant because the combos were good, it was near the gym and if they went late enough, there wouldn’t be whiny little kids. 

Ten years later, these 45 year old girlfriends met for dinner at the Sea Side Restaurant because the Strawberry Margaritas were huge and the waiters flirted with them. 

Ten years later, the 55 year old girlfriends chose to meet at the Sea Side Restaurant because the prices were reasonable, the cool breeze on the patio was helpful for their hot flashes and the fish special was good for their cholesterol. 

Ten years later, now 65-year-olds, the girlfriends agreed to meet at the Sea Side Restaurant because they had an Early Bird Senior Special and the lighting was good so the menu was easy to see. 

Ten years later, the 75-year-olds decided to keep their tradition of dinner at the Sea Side Restaurant because the food wasn’t too spicy and it was handicapped accessible. 

Ten years later, the same three girlfriends, now at the age of 85, discussed where to meet for dinner. After some long phone conversations, they agreed to meet at the Sea Side Restaurant because they wanted to try someplace new and none of them could remember ever being there before.

We all know that diet and exercise keeps us physically healthy, but recent scientific studies are also showing that those are the two things we can do to keep us mentally healthy as well. In fact, studies show that the number one thing we can do to “keep the old man (or old woman) out” and keep our brain young is to stay physically active and exercise. Walking for exercise can reduce dementia risk by 30-40 percent and more strenuous exercise can even restore some memory loss according to a recent article on aging.

To stay mentally young, we also need to eat like Jesus did. The research has shown that the best anti-aging diet is the “Mediterranean Diet,” and since that’s what Jesus ate, we’ll call it the “Jesus Diet.” That’s a diet primarily consisting of Fish, Vegetables, Fruit, Nuts and Beans. Studies show that older people who eat the most fruits and vegetables have a lower risk of dementia than meat-lovers. Along with our exercise and diet, our relationships will also keep us young and it’s important for us to build and maintain a network of friends. That’s one reason why our church family is so important to us. A recent 15 year study showed that a vital social life provides emotional and mental stimulation that fights off dementia. Also, learning new skills will keep you sharp. Learning spurs the growth of new brain cells and neurotransmitters (the connections between those brain cells). 

One of the interesting things that the scientific studies tell us we can do to keep our brain sharp is to meditate. MRI’s have shown that meditation actually increases the density of brain matter and meditation reduces harmful stress hormones that lead to higher blood pressure and other physical problems. For Christians, meditation means reading our Bible – the Word of God – and then meditating on a sentence or a few words that we’ve just read. Meditation not only keeps our brain young but it also quiets our spirit and makes room for God’s presence. Psalm 19:14 

A recent article on aging said that having a plan for your life and keeping a positive focus on your future will keep your brain young. Aging Christians can retire to the recliner or we can turn to what God’s given purpose is for us right now in this season of our life. God created us to love and worship Him and to love and help others. Mark 12:30-31 When my mom was in her eighties, she was a volunteer worker in the surgery waiting room at St Joseph’s Hospital in Burbank. She provided a comforting presence to those who were anxious and upset when a loved one was in surgery. She helped people in their time of need and her volunteer work was her living out the second commandment of Jesus to “love others as yourself.” 

As long as you’re on this side of the dirt, God ain’t done with you in this, your earthly existence, and He still has a plan for you at this point in your life. You have acquired a lifetime of skills, abilities and gifts given to you by your Creator. This week, ask Him to show you how that you can use those God-given gifts to help and serve others. And then, if you’re of the age where the restaurant you go to is determined by the size of the senior citizen discount, go for it, but stay young at heart and listen to Clint. Don’t let the old man or the old woman in. Amen?

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Sharing Food. Sharing Love.

Dear Friends,

My mom didn’t just teach me how to cook, she showed me that there is joy in feeding others. Some people prepare food out of a necessity to eat. My mom prepared food for others as a way of showing her love. Nothing made her happier than having the whole family over for dinner or preparing a gourmet meal for friends. My mom loved that I shared her enthusiasm for cooking and she and my dad would give me cookbooks for birthdays and Christmas. A certain loved one in my life today is not showered with diamonds, perfumes and untold riches but she does get homemade pizza, pink lemonade cookies and her favorite fresh-baked pumpkin scones! 

My mom taught me well and in past years, one of the ways I have shown my love for my church family on Christmas is when they came to my house and I cooked up a giant pot of Jambalaya – my mom’s recipe of course. The scent of baking bread would fill the house and before the meal, we took communion together with a loaf of bread fresh from the oven. I think that’s what Jesus would do...

We read throughout the New Testament how Jesus used food to serve others and show His love for them. On one occasion, He fed many thousands of His followers. Scripture tells us there were 5,000 men but there may have been just as many women and children who were also present. On another occasion, He fed a megachurch sized crowd of 4,000 followers. Mark 8:19-20 NLT 

The Jewish leaders complained bitterly about Jesus dining with tax collectors and other assorted sinners. “Why do You eat and drink with such scum?” they asked. Luke 5:29-30 NLT Jesus replied that it was in the context of fellowship with those who were lost and struggling that He could offer them a changed life. Luke 5:31-32. Jesus didn’t come to save the self-righteous; He came to save those who were lost. Those who had messed up their lives. Those who were among the marginalized in society. He ate with them. He talked with them. He blessed them.

Jesus knew that food feeds hungry stomachs and that it also feeds hungry souls. “On the night in which Jesus was betrayed, He took bread and after giving thanks, He broke it..” 1 Cor 11:23-25. Jesus’ last supper was shared with His disciples and then after His crucifixion and resurrection, one of the things He did was to light a campfire and cook breakfast for some of His disciples before ascending into Heaven! John 21:9-14 NLT

A few years ago, the offices of our City Councilmember and County Supervisor combined with LAPD, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and local clergy to plan the County’s first Homeless Connect Day. Sylmar was chosen to hold the first Connect Day event because of our large homeless population and I was the sole clergy representative on the committee. I reached out to a pastor friend and the event was held at his church – our community’s only African-American church.  It was a perfect Autumn day. Over two hundred men and women were fed a delicious lunch. Professional caterers had prepared sandwiches made from croissants piled high with deli-sliced turkey, roast beef and cheese. Huge bowls of fresh fruit. Salads. Pastries. Faces lit up with joy as they enjoyed a meal prepared and served with love. We set up a tent where both men and woman were given haircuts by professional hair stylists. There were portable showers and fresh clothing. They received backpacks stuffed with life’s necessities. They were also connected with those who could provide them with long-term assistance and opportunities to turn their life around. It was a “government event” but because I wore the black shirt and clerical collar, many approached me to ask for prayer. Those who live a life of struggle and despair on the streets were loved and cared for that day. I think that’s what Jesus would do...

Food connects us with others. It builds a bridge on which a relationship can be formed. Whether feeding the homeless, baking brownies for a church potluck or taking a meal to a shut-in, giving food provides a tangible way of imparting the love of Christ to others. And the best thing about it is that you don’t have to be a gourmet cook or a five star chef to prepare a meal for another person. If you’re sufficiently able to feed yourself, you’re qualified to prepare a meal for others! When Jesus cooked breakfast for His disciples, the Son of God tossed some fish on a campfire and baked some flat bread on a hot rock! Jesus didn’t spend hours over a gourmet meal, He cooked for His disciples what we might today call, “fish tacos!”

Do you know someone who is going through some tough times? Think about what you might do to help. Going to the grocery store and filling a couple of bags with pantry basics and frozen food for those who may be struggling with illness or difficult circumstances can be a huge blessing. Sharing food is a perfect opportunity for you to put your faith into action. It’s what we can do to show our love for others. It’s what Jesus would do...

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Be Good?

 Dear Friends,

Thursday mornings usually find me at Smart and Final having a nice conversation with Mike the produce manager. We talk about politics, faith, his family and some of his struggles with life. Last week, as I left his department to continue shopping, he said, “Be Good!” and I began to wonder just how we can do that. Because today there’s no agreed upon good or bad or right or wrong in our society – not even within our church traditions. We can’t depend on society, politicians or pastors to determine what’s good and what’s bad. So how in heaven’s name can we “Be Good” and become a better person if there is no agreed upon moral truth that would define for us what “good” looks like?

But of course we actually do have a Book that contains the absolute moral truths that we need to know in order to become a better person. The problem is that so few of us Christians actually read it. Like the rest of the world, many believers have let the progressive “woke” and “elite” ones in our society (the large majority of whom are atheists) determine what is “good,” “right” and “correct” for us to believe. But does it make sense that we’ve ignored the Word of God and have let non-Christian politicians, educators and the media determine our beliefs and values?

Polls show that 100% of churchgoers read news, watch TV commentary and/or engage with news on social media, but only 19% of them read their Bible on a daily basis. In fact, 40% of churchgoers never read a Bible or do so just a just a few times a year. And yes these are the churchgoers! For self-identified Christians who do not attend church, the statistics are even more depressing. But if we do go to church, are we not taught what is good and bad and right and wrong? Let’s see. 

There are two large branches of the Lutheran church in our Nation. One preaches that same sex relationships are “bad”–that homosexuality is a sin. The other branch preaches same sex relationships are “good” and they proudly have a bishop and his husband, a lesbian bishop and a transgender bishop to promote their new doctrine. The “law of non-contradiction” means that one of those two Lutheran denominations is teaching Biblical truth and the other is teaching heresy. One preaches the Word of God while the other preaches the politics of the Woke Elite. Many Christians today cannot tell whether it’s the “Woke” or the “Word” being preached from the pulpit because they have yet to read and discover the absolute moral truths that can only be found in our Bible.

If the Word of God is indeed true and immutable as we claim it to be, then everything we need to know about good, bad, right and wrong is written in our Bible. So, in order to “Be Good,” we need to find out what God defines as good.

And if we are sincere about obedience to God and making a good faith effort to avoid sin, we also need to know what sin is. That’s why you need to read your Bible. Everyone who has ever told me they don’t understand their Bible has a King James that they’re trying to read. We all need to get a Bible that uses common English words. The New Living Translation (NLT) is a literal, accurate translation in English that you and I can easily understand. The NIV and ESV are also easy to understand Bibles.

We need to find a Bible that is readable and then, we need to read the New Testament. That’s where we find the good, bad, right and wrong stuff for those of us who are Christian believers. The Old Testament is the Jewish law which is not as helpful for us in determining what is “good” unless you’re looking for the right way of presenting your sheep for sacrifice at the Temple. We’ll read the Old Testament later.

Once we know how Jesus, Paul, Luke, John and Peter describe core Christian beliefs and a righteous way of living, we then need to take a hard look at ourselves. Many years ago, I was at the funeral of a co-worker where the priest attempted to preach one of the most malefic humans I have ever known into heaven. I knew the guy. Baptized Catholic, this now self-described atheist was abusive to his family and to those he supervised at work. But out of consideration for the grieving family, the priest selected three good attributes (loved his two dogs, loved his motorcycles, was a good provider) and the dude was on his way to glory. We need to make sure that when we’re self-evaluating, we’re not just looking at the good things. We don’t want to pat ourselves on the back for dropping the dollar in the beggar’s cup and overlook the shabby way we treat our family members. Like the priest working hard to promote the deceased to sainthood, we tend to brush aside our sinful behavior and spin the highlights of our own existence into something close to angelic. 

Steven Covey once said that we “judge ourselves by our intentions while we judge others by their behavior.” And our behavior, or more specifically, the “fruit” of our lives is what we need to look at. We are saved through Christ alone by faith alone, but the evidence of our salvation is our good works and changed life. As Jesus said, we are to judge others by the  “fruits” of what their words and actions produce. By using the metaphor of a good tree producing good fruit, He gives us the metrics to measure our own life as well. Matthew 7:18-20 

We need to first read our Bible to understand what is Biblically “good” and what’s Biblically “sinful.” Then it’s time to get on your knees. Self-examine. Remembering that God loves you just the way you are, but He loves you too much to let you stay that way. So “Be Good.” Okay?

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

But.. It Was Only An Apple!

Dear Friends,

We’re approaching one of my favorite seasons of the year. There’s a cool crispness in the morning air. Trees in my neighbor’s yard are starting to turn orange and red. It’s nearing the time for our annual Fall journey to Oak Glen – apple country! I love apples and one of my best memories from elementary school are the “Red Delicious” apples. Every afternoon someone brought to each classroom a box of deep-red, chilled apples. My friends craved Hostess Twinkies and I craved apples.  My friends thirsted for soda pop; I loved ice-cold apple juice. From the sweetness of the Fuji and the Gala to the tartness of the Pink Lady and the Granny Smith, I’ve never bit into an apple I didn’t like. 

If you offer me the choice of a candy bar or an apple, I’ll take the apple every time. My point is this... I know why Eve did it. But put yourself in Eve’s place. Would you have yielded to that same temptation in the Garden? “Of course not!” we emphatically state. “No way!” “Not me!”  Really? Are you sure about that?

How can we be so certain, when we so readily yield to the temptation of that second bowl of tortilla chips at the restaurant, or the Starbucks Venti CafĂ© Vanilla Frappuccino with whipped cream that’s 610 calories and 91 grams of sugar. (That’s a sugar bomb of 23 teaspoons of sugar!)

How can we passionately state “No way would I yield to Eve’s temptation” as we too quickly finish that bottle of wine or double the dosage of the little pill that relaxes us and brings freedom from the day’s worries? How can we so easily say “Not me!” when we quickly yield to the temptation to repeat that delicious bit of gossip to our church friends or fire off that angry email?

Now of course we know something that Adam and Eve didn’t. We’ve read the Book and we know that the consequence of yielding to that tempting apple* was the fall of mankind. They didn’t know that, but they both knew what God had said about the forbidden fruit. Both Adam and Eve knew that eating the fruit off the tree was being disobedient to God. But let’s give Eve a break here! This was not a major sin! It was just a little snack! It was only an apple...

You and I might wish that we didn’t give in so easily and quickly to harmful temptations, and I don’t know about you, but if that had been a chilled Red Delicious apple, I’ll admit I might have pushed Eve out of the way and snatched the apple off the tree for myself. After was only an apple.

What are your “apples”– your temptations? Worrying or being anxious? Procrastinating or putting things off? Eating too much or eating foods that are not healthy for you? Spending too much time on the internet or watching television? Spending more money than you can afford or obsessively shopping for things you don’t need? Being lazy or not working as hard as you should? Gossiping or saying unkind things about others? Being jealous or envious of others? Lying or cheating? Letting grudges escalate into bitterness and unforgiveness? Expressing anger or going “off” on someone? Drinking too much or misusing prescription medication? Depending on your branch of Christianity, these may be described as “minor sins,” “venial sins,” or in some of the more progressive churches, not sins at all.

Why worry about those seemingly insignificant sins in our life? Because, as it was with the first family, there will always be consequences when we yield to even the most minor sin. We worry about the dangers from our environment and from other people. We are obsessed over the Coronavirus. A recent poll showed that 63% of adults of all ages are “constantly concerned” about their health. But it’s yielding to temptations that manifest in destructive behaviors and habits that are the most dangerous to us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

We too easily blame God for our temptations but He tempts no one to sin. The source of temptation lies within. James 1:13-15 The place in which all temptation originates is our own thoughts and desires. We make the decision to yield to the enticement and when the Holy Spirit convicts us of our indiscretion, that’s when the Enemy whispers to us and says: “Hey don’t worry about it – it’s only an apple.”

God has given you an awesome destiny for your life and then we allow the temptations of our flesh to distract from that destiny. We know we shouldn’t yield to those temptations but we snivel, “I just can’t help myself..” 

Yes you can! God said, “I have set before you life and death.. therefore choose life..” Deut 30:19 When we are faced with temptations to engage in even the smallest sin, God gives us a choice. And in the "Cloud of Unknowing" a 14th century monk wrote: “On the path of purity and spiritual growth, you can't afford a reckless attitude toward even the smallest sin.” Whenever we’re faced with temptation, we have a decision to make. Let’s learn from Adam and Eve, be obedient to God and “choose life..”  Amen?

* Genesis 3:2-3 describes this only as a “fruit.” Christian tradition calls it an apple.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Happy Samhain?

Dear Friends,

According to a Wiccan website: Samhain, known most popularly as Halloween, marks the end of the third and final harvest, is a day to commune with the dead, and is a celebration of the eternal cycle of reincarnation. Samhain is the most coveted sabbat by the Wiccan religion and plain and simple is our favorite time of year. A true time for witches, Witchcraft itself, and Wiccans alike who feel that on this night the separation between the physical and spiritual realities is its least guarded and its veil the thinnest. It is a time for dimensional openings and workings, it is a somber holiday, one of dark clothes and thoughts for the dead, it is said to be the time when those of necromantic talents can speak with the dead...”

From another Wiccan website: “The wall between earth and the underworld is thin at this time of year. On Halloween night, the wall opens and the Lord of Darkness (Satan) rises up from the underworld. It is an evil and wicked night..”

From “Samhain, is one of the two spirit-nights each year. It is a magical interval when the mundane laws of time and space are temporarily suspended, and the Thin Veil between the worlds is lifted. Communicating with ancestors and departed loved ones is easy at this time of Halloween, for they journey through this world on their way to the Summerlands. It is a time to study the Dark Mysteries and honor the Dark Mother and the Dark Father, symbolized by the Crone and her aged Consort.”

Anton LaVey is the founder of the Satanic Church and author of the Satanic Bible. According to their bible, “the two major satanic holidays are Walpurgisnacht and Halloween.” 

Okay, you may be thinking that the celebration of the dark side is just something fun to do and has no spiritual meaning for you. But if you’re a Christian, your participation in this major Wiccan and Satanic holiday means something to God. Setting aside a special day to celebrate evil, darkness, witchcraft, death and the demonic brings a mocking contempt for God because it is all so highly detestable to Him.

The Old Testament contains different categories of laws some being “legal” (civil/criminal) or “religious” or “moral.” The only Old Testament laws that apply to us today are the moral laws for righteous living with one example being the Ten Commandments. Another moral law is found in Deuteronomy 18:10-13: There must not be found among you anyone who...who uses divination (fortune teller), or uses witchcraft (black magic and white magic), or an interpreter of omens (astrology), or a sorcerer (calls forth supernatural powers), or one who casts spells (Wicca), or a spiritualist (psychic) or an occultist, or a necromancer (those who communicate with the dead through rituals or spells). For all that do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God will drive them out from before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God.

To better understand the significance of Samhain (Halloween) to Wiccans and Satan worshipers, we need to compare this most important holiday in their “religion” to the most important one in ours. In our Christian faith, the most holy day of the year is the one on which we celebrate the resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ. To a true, practicing Wiccan or Satan worshiper it is unthinkable and perhaps even repugnant for them to celebrate the risen Christ on Easter Sunday! It would be the most profound and grievous violation of their “religious” beliefs for them to do so! On the other hand, I read a Wiccan blog written by a warlock [male witch] who found it both “amusing and delightful” that so many Christians celebrated Samhain along with the Wiccans. Please stop reading and just think about that for a moment...

Those of us in the church love to add non-biblical rules and regulations to the practice of our faith. We all have a little bit of Pharisee in each one of us! For some, it’s a sin to dance, wear sleeveless dresses or go to the movies. For others, it’s a mortal (serious) sin to not attend Mass on a Sunday. But my job as a pastor is not to tell you how to run your life. That’s Jesus’ job. My job is to just remind you what it is that God tells you to do through His Word. Then it’s up to you. You can follow Jesus or not. God always gives us a choice! Paul talks about that choice...

A very similar situation was occurring in the church at Corinth. The question had come up about eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. Paul says that the idols are really demons and goes on to say that the “food” is not the issue but their  participation in the ritual was the problem. Satan and his demons were being lifted up and worshiped. The Christians were not worshiping demons but even their casual participation in the event was wrong for them to do. Paul says “I don’t want you to be participants with demons.” 1 Cor 10:20 NLT The NKJ says “I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.” 

On Halloween, the issue is not the “food,” i.e. the candy, pumpkins or the princess costumes. What grieves God is our casual participation in the one special day that the devil and his demons are lifted up and worshiped. Because when we fellowship with demons, we provoke the Lord to jealous anger. 1 Cor 10:19-22

You can dance with God or hold hands with the devil but you can’t do both. Paul asks, “..How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil?” 2 Cor 6:14-15 It is a rhetorical question because to all first century Christians, the answer was obvious. Amen?

✟ ✟ ✟

Dear AMEN Corner Reader.. 
Please don’t become angry with me when I quote the Bible!  I never receive “hate emails” in response to the AMEN Corners except for when I write about the importance of Halloween to Wiccans and Satanists! That’s when I’ve always received some surprisingly nasty on-line comments from my fellow Christians.
If you are drawn to the occult, you must determine for yourself, based on the Word of God, if wicca or witchcraft is compatible with your Christianity and if casting spells honors the God of the Bible. 
And I am not telling you that you should not fellowship with the demons on Halloween night! I’m just letting you know that something dark, evil and unholy takes place in the spiritual realm on Halloween night and your participation in the spiritual darkness is a choice you must make. 
If today’s AMEN Corner is disturbing to you, please direct your anger toward God and tell Him how upset you are that He doesn’t want you to participate with demons on their one special night. Please don’t write hostile emails when God’s Word discomforts you. If you don’t like what the Bible says, please complain directly to the Author. That way, you and I can still be friends!

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Conquering The Maze!

Dear Friends,

I have Google Maps on my phone. Many of you do too. We know where we want to go, we just don’t know how to get there. So Google Maps shows us the way. It gives specific directions. It tells us how long it will take to reach our destination. It tells us when accidents or construction will delay our progress and shows detours to take to get us to where we are going. I don’t know about you, but I sure wish I could download a “LifeMap” application that would give me those same clear directions for my life! 

When I was sixteen, my grandmother, who was a teacher, took me to London to spend the summer. While she was taking classes at the University of London, I was left on my own to explore the city of my ancestors. When my grandmother wasn't in class she'd take me to the really cool places and one day we took a boat down the Thames River to a famous royal palace called Hampton Court. 

My grandmother loved the royal collection of art and  furnishings in the palace but to me the coolest thing was the maze. This covers about a third of an acre on the palace grounds and is the most famous maze in the world. It was designed and planted in 1700 and still looks today like it did then. For you horticultural types, the hedges are “English Yew.”

The maze is so difficult that there are little seats so that when you get tired you can rest. Every so often an attendant walks through, and if you've given up, you follow him (in those days, it was always a man) and he will show you the way out. I told my grandmother to go ahead and have tea with her teacher friends because I was going to go into the maze. Of course, being a smart teenager, I knew it would only take me just a few minutes to figure it out! Yeah...

It really wasn't that big but it was extremely disorientating. The hedges are so thick that you can't see through them. They are so high that you don't see anything that allows you to get your bearings. After awhile, you become not just physically tired but psychologically beat down, and I remember even starting to feel a little claustrophobic after walking endlessly on the narrow paths that seemed to lead only to dead-ends. That’s when you sit down and wait for an attendant to show you the way out.

Life can be like that too. One moment life can be amazing and in the next it can seem like we are stuck in the maze. We think we have it all figured out until we look around and find that we keep going down the same dead-end path. We turn around and try again. We're covering a lot of ground and taking a lot of steps but we're just not finding our way out to where we need to be. We keep getting stuck in the same places. The unexpected twists and turns of life can be disorienting and sometimes it's hard to get our bearings. If we get to the point of feeling hopelessly lost or trapped by life, like in the maze, we can even feel a bit claustrophobic. It’s overwhelming.

That’s when we need to just sit-a-spell and take a deep breath. When we’re lost and trapped in the circumstances of life, we need an Attendant who knows the secret paths. We need someOne who can help us and point us in the right direction. To navigate though the maze of life, we need to follow the Man who can show us the way.

It was in the Upper Room during that Passover Supper that Jesus had started talking about heaven and said that He was going there to prepare a place for His disciples. He told His disciples, “And where I go you know and the way you know.” One man was getting frustrated with Jesus for talking in vague, generalities. We know him as “Doubting Thomas” but we should call him “Inquisitive Thomas.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” John 14:5 And now Jesus was going to make his response as candid and forthright as it could be. No allegories, analogies, or metaphors. Nothing to translate, figure out or think about. For Inquisitive Thomas and for the entire world, Jesus stated the bottom line – the clear, direct and plain truth. Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6

When we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, our eternal destination is established. But Jesus is not just the Way to eternal life, He’s the Way through our earthly life. When life becomes overwhelming, and we keep running into the same dead-ends, the Attendant has given us His written Word that shows us the Way through the maze of life. Our Bible is God’s “LifeMap” application that leads, guides, and directs us on our life journey. We just need to read it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Wired For Worship

Dear Friends,

A few years ago when I was doing a sermon series on the original twelve disciples, I discovered that in 1964, the head of the Apostle Andrew had been a thoughtful gift from Pope Paul VI to a Greek Orthodox church in Patras, Greece. The body of Saint Andrew had been cut up and distributed as relics to other churches who claim Andrew as their patron Saint. Relics are typically a body-part of a Saint and it is believed that their presence consecrates (makes holy) a Catholic or Orthodox church. The faithful are to venerate the relics meaning they bow down before them, kiss them and revere them with ritual actions. Catholic Church teaching is that when you venerate a human relic, “..many benefits are bestowed by God on men.” 

In actual practice, there is little difference between “venerating” and “worshiping” and the veneration of human relics is practiced by Catholics, Orthodox, Buddhists, Shamanism, Hindus, Santeria, and Wiccans. Whether Christian, pagan or atheist, we all have an innate and intrinsic need to worship something or someone.

In the early days of Hollywood, movie stars and singers were described as “goddesses” and “gods” with spell-binding power over their audiences. If you’re of my generation, you might remember hysterical, screaming girls watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show or the Farrah Fawcett poster that hung in nearly every teenage boy’s bedroom. If you’re younger than me and can’t relate to the worship of John, Paul, George and Ringo, then think of the young girls (and their mothers) still screaming at Justin Bieber concerts. The only thing that’s changed from one generation to another are the faces of the celebrities we worship.

We even collect their relics with the same fervor as the early Christians sought the relics of Saints. In 2002, a former barber of Elvis Presley sold a clump of the singer’s hair for $115,000. A lock of Justin Bieber’s hair was a comparative bargain at only $40,668. A piece of bubble gum chewed by Britney Spears sold for a more affordable $160. And a tissue used by actress Scarlett Johansson went for $5,300. Lady Gaga’s autographed toilet seat was auctioned for $460,000 and one of her broken acrylic nails sold for $12,000. Perhaps the best celebrity relic was a kidney stone passed by Star Trek actor William Shatner that sold for $25,000 which was probably a good deal considering the price of celebrity kidney stones these days! 

We are wired for worship. It’s in our DNA. That’s why we have that intrinsic desire to worship something or someone. Yet, only someOne can truly satisfy that desire. Blaise Pascal, a famous French mathematician and philosopher, put it like this: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.” If we try to stuff anything but God into that God-shaped hole in our lives, we'll end up dissatisfied, restless, and  discontented. But when we fill that God-shaped hole with God Himself, we will always find the completeness that we had been seeking all along.

Listen now to the Apostle Paul debating in Athens with the philosophers and polytheists about God: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I'm telling you about. He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since He is Lord of heaven and earth, He doesn't live in man-made temples, His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him – though He is not far from any one of us.” Acts 17:22b-24,27 NLT

Paul told them that God does not live in temples, He lives in our hearts. In the 4th century, a bishop named Augustine wrote, “Lord, You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find You.” We have an emptiness inside us that cries out to be filled. “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for,” sang the Irish band U2. We have an aching loneliness without God. A restless search for something to fill that void. We try to fill that void with New Age or pagan religions, material things, shopping, drugs, alcohol, eating too much or unhealthy eating, parties, pets and other people. And yet we remain empty and find ourselves restlessly seeking. We may even religiously and faithfully attend a church and still find that something seems to be missing in our lives.

God said, “You must not have any other god but Me,” Exodus 20:3 NLT and then our Heavenly Father designed and created us so that only the one true God clicks into that God-shaped void. And when we say “Yes God, fill my heart with You!” and we then truly desire and worship Him alone, our searching for that missing piece is over. Yes, it really is that easy!