Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Your Easter Service At Home..


Dear Friends, 

As incredible as it may seem, this will be the second Easter Sunday when most of us will not be going to a church service. Last year, just a few weeks before Easter Sunday, attending church was made illegal by the pandemic lockdown. This year, some churches are still closed out of fear and confusion over how to safely reopen, some have closed permanently, and some will have services but the “new normal” church bears only a passing resemblance to the pre-covid church. Masks and outlandish face shields. No singing and no saying together the Creeds or the Lord’s Prayer. Other than perhaps standing and sitting, there is no longer any participation in the Liturgy. There is limited or non-existent contact with each other. A manufactured industrial-looking plastic container of a wafer and grape juice is handed out by the priest/pastor wearing sanitary gloves to prevent accidently touching another person. The church service has always been a time and place where we are lifted up into the presence of God, but the strange and unusual bizarreness of today’s covid church brings, for some, a disconnect with our faith and an empty sadness as we miss the church we so dearly love. Hopefully and prayerfully, our church services will someday look like they did before the pandemic, but until then, could there be a more spiritually fulfilling way to celebrate Resurrection Sunday and experience the joy of the risen Christ?

As we did last year, we’re suggesting that you consider something “radical” this Resurrection Sunday. Or maybe the better word would be “reformational.” As the reformer, Martin Luther, urged a return to the practices of the ancient church, perhaps this is good advice for us today. The early church met in houses, maybe just one family, maybe others. But for the first 300 years of Christianity, it looked nothing like our church looks like today.

What the ancient apostolic church looked like is what a gathering of your family in your own “house church” would look like. But what if we are a single adult with no family to gather? We don’t hear Jesus directing people to pray in the temple, He tells us to go into our prayer room, shut the door and pray with the implication being that we are praying and worshiping alone with God. Matthew 6:6 

The Resurrection Sunday house church service I’ve prepared is for those worshiping on Easter alone or with others. Our County’s guidelines now permit an indoor gathering of three families in private homes. Those not fully vaccinated still need to wear masks, those who have been, do not. It is recommended that masks be worn by all if vulnerable people are present. Whether your Easter Service is you alone or with others, read the service out-loud and slowly. It’s okay to pause in silence and reflect on what’s just been read. Actually sing the hymns and worship songs – God loves the sound of your voice! Let the leading of the Holy Spirit incorporate appropriate scripture, exhortations, prayers and songs into your service as it was in the ancient church. If your house church is with others, you can appoint a leader and make sure that others, including the children, take turns reading scriptures and prayers. 

For over a year now, we’ve allowed ourselves to become centered on the coronavirus and it’s been mentally and emotionally exhausting for some of us. This Sunday, we need to change our focus and become centered on the risen Christ. The risen Son of God is our only hope! You are in my prayers as I ask that I would be in yours. And now may the grace of God, the love of Jesus and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you now and forever.






Resurrection Sunday
                             in your House Church



HOUSE CHURCH SERVICE:
Opening Prayer
Hymns & Worship Songs
Psalm Reading
Old Testament Scripture
Prayers
New Testament Scripture
Gloria (Doxology)
Gospel Reading
Nicene Creed or Apostles’ Creed
Hymns & Worship Songs
Lord’s Prayer
Closing Prayer

View or Download a PDF 
of this House Church Service HERE


Opening Prayer

God of life and hope,
we praise You for the miracle of Easter. We pray for great joy for ourselves and for all who come together in their churches and homes to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray especially today for those whose lives are filled with pain, loss, or deep sadness. May they sense how the resurrection is a source of great hope and be drawn closer to You by the power of Your Spirit. Amen.


(Select and sing one or more Hymns and Praise Songs on the last page of 
this House Church Service or choose any favorite that is appropriate for Easter)


Psalm
(The Psalm may be read by all family members in unison.)

“Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation. I shall not die, but live, And declare the works of the LORD. Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, And I will praise the LORD. This is the gate of the LORD, Through which the righteous shall enter. I will praise You, For You have answered me, And have become my salvation. The stone which the builders rejected, Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:1; 14;17;19-24 BCP


Old Testament Scripture
(Old and New Testament scriptures should be read by different family members – especially by children old enough to read. Note that while the following may or may not apply to today’s plague, the entire theme of the Old Testament was God bringing hardship, plagues, earthquakes etc. to turn the hearts of His rebellious and unrepentant people back to Him. You may eliminate the bracketed words if they discomfort you.)

“[When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among My people,] if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.” 2 Chronicles 7:13-15 NIV


(Choose one of the prayers that have been written by different 
Christian denominations for use during this pandemic)


A Prayer for Evangelical Christians 
(or use as an outline to inspire Extemporaneous Prayers):

For the sick and infected: God, heal and help those suffering from the coronavirus, keep them from experiencing any complications and restore them to full health. Sustain, Lord God, their bodies and spirits and fill them with trust in You and the assurance that You will never leave nor forsake them.

For those vulnerable: God, protect those who are older and all those suffering from immune deficiencies and from chronic disease. Protect those in crowded nursing homes and assisted living centers and protect their caretakers.

For the young and the strong: God, give them the wisdom and desire to keep from unknowingly or inadvertently spreading this disease. Inspire them to help.

For doctors, nurses, paramedics and all medical workers: God, keep them safe and healthy as they care for others while exposing themselves to this highly contiguous disease. Help them to stay clear-minded in the midst of the surrounding panic and deliver them from anxiety for their own loved ones. Give them compassion for every patient in their care and for those health care workers who are Christians, help them to exhibit extraordinary peace, so that many would ask about the reason for their hope and would give them opportunities to proclaim the Gospel of Your love, peace and salvation through Jesus Christ.

For local, state, and federal government leaders: God, help our elected officials as they make decisions and recommendations that will combat this pandemic.

For the medical scientists: God, help them as they work to understand this disease and give them knowledge, wisdom, and a persuasive voice as they communicate to us through the media.

For the media: God, help them to communicate the facts without causing panic through sensualization or causing divisiveness through politicalization of the stories and commentaries.

For the homeless: God, protect them from disease, provide for their needs, and help them to be responsive to those outreach workers attempting to assist them. 

For all those who have lost jobs temporarily or permanently: God, keep them from panic, provide for them financially, give them courage during these dark and anxious times and inspire your church to generously support them.

For owners of restaurants, small retail stores and businesses: God, give these men and women the wisdom to make the difficult decisions during times of forced closures. Protect their business and investments and their employees.

For families with young children at home: God, help family members to partner together creatively for the care and flourishing and continued education of their children. For single mothers and fathers, grow their networks of support. For parents who must work, present them with creative solutions for their childcare needs.

For pastors and church leaders of closed churches: God, help them to creatively imagine how to pastor their congregants in this time of spiritual need and provide a “safe” church. Keep Your pastors and priests strong and encouraged that they may give strength and encouragement to others. 

Lord God, we trust that You are in the very center of this plague tending to the needs of those ill, suffering and dying. We give you all the praise and glory for You are good and do good. When we are frightened, build our faith in You during this time of crisis assuring us that no matter what the future brings, all is well with our soul. We lift up all Christians in every neighborhood, community, and city for Your protection and may Your Holy Spirit inspire us to pray, to give, to love, to serve, and to proclaim the Gospel, that the name of Jesus Christ might be glorified around the world.  Amen.


A Catholic Prayer

Most Heavenly Father,
send the protection of your holy angels,
to our family and loved ones
that we may be spared the worst of this illness.

For those already afflicted,
we ask you to obtain the grace of healing and deliverance.
Hear the cries of those who are vulnerable and fearful,
wipe away their tears and help them to trust.

In this time of trial and testing,
teach all of us in the Church to love one another and to be patient and kind.
Help us to bring the peace of Jesus to our land and to our hearts.

We come to you with confidence,
knowing that you truly are our compassionate Father,
health of the sick and cause of our joy.

Shelter us under the mantle of your protection,
keep us in the embrace of your arms,
help us always to know the love of your Son, Jesus. Amen.



A Litany Prayer for the Mainline Church:
 (may be said by a leader and family)

Most merciful God, Holy Trinity, our healer, our rock, our refuge; We come to you with open hearts and hands, lifting up those whose lives are most at stake, knowing that we are only as strong as the weakest among us.

For those who are sick: help them recover in good health and restore them in body, mind and spirit.  Lord, hear our prayer.

For the elderly, those with underlying illnesses, those without health insurance and sick leave: keep them healthy and free from all sickness.  Lord, hear our prayer.

For those who are forcibly contained in unsanitary jails and detention centers: protect them from all sickness and provide for their needs.  Lord, hear our prayer.

For all hospitals, doctors, nurses, and first responders: protect them from all sickness, relieve all stress, and provide them the resources to meet everyone’s needs.  Lord, hear our prayer.

For those experiencing financial loss and uncertainty of resources: alleviate any fears and provide for them daily bread and wage.  Lord, hear our prayer.

For those for whom “home” is not a safe place, and for those without a home: protect them from harm and provide for them a safe home.  Lord, hear our prayer.

For all parents: build in them strength and fortitude, and give them the words and witness to be wise counselors and compassionate caregivers.  Lord, hear our prayer.

Stir up in us a spirit of compassion and tenacity; move us to check in with loved ones. Ease our fear and anxiety, that we may share our resources rather than hoard them. Inspire us and all who gather to worship around the world to be beacons of your love and hope.  Amen.


New Testament Scripture for Resurrection Sunday

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Colossians 3:1-4 


Gloria in Excelsis (all say together)

Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth.
Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father,
we worship You, we give You thanks,
we praise You for Your glory.
Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God,
You take away the sin of the world:  have mercy on us;
You are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer.
For You alone are the Holy One, You alone are the Lord,
You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father. Amen


The Gospel of the Lord According to Matthew

Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.” So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.” Matthew 28:1-9 

(Here may be said, by all, the Nicene Creed, 
which is the traditional creed for Easter Sunday, 
or the Apostles’ Creed)


Nicene Creed

I believe in one God the Father Almighty, 
Maker of heaven and earth, 
And of all things visible and invisible: 

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, 
Begotten of his Father before all worlds, 
God of God, Light of Light, 
Very God of very God, 
Begotten, not made, 
Being of one substance with the Father, 
By whom all things were made; 

Who for us men, and for our salvation 
came down from heaven, 
And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost 
of the Virgin Mary, 
And was made man, 
And was crucified also for us 
under Pontius Pilate. 
He suffered and was buried, 
And the third day he rose again 
according to the Scriptures, 
And ascended into heaven, 
And sitteth on the right hand 
of God the Father. 

And he shall come again with glory to judge
both the quick and the dead: 
Whose kingdom shall have no end. 

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, 
The Lord and giver of life, 
Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, 
Who with the Father and the Son together 
is worshiped and glorified, 
Who spake by the Prophets.

And I believe one catholic 
and apostolic Church. 
I acknowledge one Baptism 
for the remission of sins. 
And I look for the Resurrection of the dead, 
And the life of the world to come.   Amen.

(original 4th Century version)


Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day He rose again 
from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand 
of God the Father Almighty.
From thence He shall come to judge 
the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.  Amen.


(Select and sing a final Hymn or Praise Song from the 
song sheet or choose any favorite that is appropriate for Easter)


Lord’s Prayer (to be prayed in unison)

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name. 
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 
Give us this day our daily bread. 
And forgive us our trespasses, 
As we forgive those who trespass against us. 
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. 
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Closing Prayer

God of our salvation,
You have restored us to life,
You have brought us back again into Your love
by the triumphant death and resurrection of Christ:
continue to heal us 
as we go to live and work
in the power of Your Spirit.
As people of the resurrection, we will serve You with joy.
Your glory has filled our hearts.
Help us to glorify You in all things.  Amen.



Hymns and Praise & Worship Songs


CHRIST THE LORD IS RISEN TODAY!

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia 
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia
Sing, ye heav’ns, and earth reply, Alleluia

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia
Dying once He all doth save, Alleluia
Where thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia



BECAUSE HE LIVES

God sent His son, they called Him, Jesus;
He came to love, heal and forgive;
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove 
my Savior lives!

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

And then one day, I’ll cross the river,
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to vict’ry,
I’ll see the lights of glory... 
and I’ll know He lives!



JESUS IS ALIVE!

Hallelujah, Jesus is alive
Death has lost its victory
And the grave has been denied
Jesus lives forever, 
He’s alive, He’s alive

He’s the Alpha and Omega
The first and last is He
The curse of sin is broken
And we have perfect liberty
The Lamb  of  God has risen         
He’s alive, He’s alive

Hallelujah, Jesus is alive! 
Hallelujah, Jesus is alive!



ALL HAIL THE POWER OF JESUS NAME!

All hail the pow’r of Jesus’ name! 
Let angels prostrate fall.
Bring forth the royal diadem, 
and crown Him Lord of all,
Bring forth the royal diadem, 
and crown Him Lord of all.

Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race, 
ye ransomed from the fall,
Hail Him who saves you by His grace, 
and crown Him Lord of all, 
Hail Him who saves you by His grace, 
and crown Him Lord of all.
Let every kindred, every tribe,
on this terrestrial ball,
To Him all majesty ascribe, 
and crown Him Lord of all,
To Him all majesty ascribe, 
and crown Him Lord of all. 

O that with yonder sacred ones, 
we at His feet may fall!
We’ll join the everlasting song, 
and crown Him Lord of all,
We’ll join the everlasting song, 
and crown Him Lord of all.


+  +  +

Resurrection Sunday Liturgy 
compiled and prepared by Rev. John B. Hickman

New Hope Ministries
P.O. Box 33841
Granada Hills, CA 91394

www.nhfc.la

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Beverly Hills Jesus

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the real trouble starts on Thursday morning when Jesus appears on “The View.” Jesus is asked about transgenders, gender non-conforming people and same sex marriages. Repeating His own words as recorded in the Gospels, He reminds them that God created “male and female” and describes marriage as being between a man and a woman. Mark 10:6-8 Joy Behar shouts, “That’s transphobic and homophob..” “Wait..!” Whoopi Goldberg interrupts. “Ten years ago we all believed that nonsense about marriage and gender but don’t you believe, Sir, that the Bible must be rewritten and changed to conform to what we believe today?” Jesus gently says, “Heaven and earth will disappear but my words will never pass away.” Matthew 24:35 There’s outrage and pandemonium as Joy Behar screams an obscenity at Jesus and Whoopi Goldberg storms off the set. They cut to a commercial.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

A Life-Changing Lesson..


Dear Friends,

The most important lesson I ever received in Christian forgiveness wasn’t in church or Sunday school. It was in a stable. And I’m not talking about a metaphor for something real spiritual here. I’m talking about a real stable. I met Emile Avery about 40 years ago when I ran a horse stable in the Griffith Park area. No one called him Emile, not even his wife; he was just Avery. He ran the stable next to mine and we both trained horses and taught people how to ride. Avery was 75 years old, tough as nails and still rode every day. He was a grizzled old cowboy who had been a wrangler, western actor and stunt man in hundreds of the 50's and 60's television westerns and old movie westerns. And then one night he committed the unforgivable sin...

I had a big ex-race horse appropriately named “Fury” who was in a stall right next to his house. The high-strung thoroughbred had gotten nervous that night and was making noise so Avery climbed over our fence and tied up my horse. That morning, as I read the note that Avery had left telling me why he had tied it up, I almost choked on my chew I was so mad. I was enraged. Furious. The cowboy code was that you never messed with another man’s wife and you never messed with his horse (and I’m not sure those were necessarily in that order). 

I was a little different back in my cowboy days. Between my boots and the top of my hat there was about 6'6" of tobacco-chewing, cussin’ meanness. Ten gallon hat, blood-splattered chaps from vet’en horses, manure crusted boots, shiny silver spurs. I was a believer but wasn’t what you’d call “walking with the Lord” at that time in my life. 

I could hear some rattling around in his barn and I hollered, “Avery, get over here, you (blankity) old son of a (blank).” He came over to the fence and I cussed him out something fierce. I had every right to do so. When a horse is going wild in its stall, the last thing you would want to do is to just tie him up and leave him alone because he could panic, fall and asphyxiate himself. Avery knew I was right and said he was sorry, but there was no way I was going to let him off the hook and forgive him. I walked away with my parting words something about breaking his scrawny old neck if I ever saw him in my barn again. “Hey John...” he called. “Come here and wiggle my little finger.” I turned and saw he was standing right at the fence. His property was about three feet lower than mine and he was a short guy too. So his head was at about the height of my knees and he was reaching up and poking his old bony little finger through the chain link fence. I bellowed, “WHAT did you say?”

He said quietly, “Come here and shake my little finger so you’ll forgive me.” I said, “Avery, you’ve gone crazy. I ain’t shaken nothing of yours” and I turned to walk away again. “Hey John...come here...” I kept on walking and yelled back, “I’ve got to get back to work.” He said, “John, I’m going to just stand here until you come over and wiggle my little finger so I know you’ve forgiven me.” 

I turned and stomped over to the fence. I had no intention of forgiving him but I just needed him to go away and leave me alone. I had students coming soon and I didn’t want them to see this old guy sticking his little finger through the chainlink. I reached down but his finger was too low to the ground. I kneeled down on one knee in the dried manure and wiggled that old man’s finger. That was when God intervened. The grizzled old cowboy grinned up at me and I felt all the anger, resentment and bitterness drain out of me. I felt so silly wiggling his finger that I started to smile myself. And then, there we were – two cussed-mean, tobacco-chewing cowboys, one old and one young. Both grinning at each other with tears in our eyes. At that very moment I forgave him completely and the relationship was immediately restored.

It’s the way of the world to hold grudges and harbor unforgiveness, but it is the way of those forgiven by Christ to freely forgive others for the wrongs they have done to us. Avery and I talked about horses, not about religion, but I suspect that he was a man of faith. He certainly knew the principles, importance and the power of forgiveness. He knew that if I’d walked away angry and unforgiving, our relationship would be forever changed.

If I were to ask you, “Who is the one person you struggle the most to forgive,” what name comes to your mind? Unforgiveness changes our relationship with the other person and with God. Jesus emphasizes the sin of unforgiveness in our Gospels because no other sin causes us greater separation from God. “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Matthew 6:14-15

Who is it that you need to forgive this Lent? Whose little finger do you need to wiggle? Or are you the one who needs to poke your finger through the fence and ask for forgiveness? No matter how scary that may seem, no matter how intimidating the person might be on the other side of the fence, through the power of God and the miracle of forgiveness, even the most stubborn of us can be brought to our knees and relationships can be healed.


♰  The Five Principles of Forgiveness  ♰

Forgiving is not excusing. 
It's not okay for the other person to have done what he or she did. It's been said that “Forgiveness is no longer holding against someone what they deserve to have held against them.”

Forgiving is not "forgetting" about an offence. 
The Bible tells us that God forgives and then forgets. We forgive and still remember, and yet, after awhile those old hurts will begin to fade from your memory because they just won't seem so important anymore. Our other choice, to hold on tightly to our unforgiveness, keeps the anger, resentment and bitterness fresh in our mind.

Forgiveness is not blame-shifting the responsibility back on us. 
Forgiving another does not require us to accept responsibility for another's wrongdoing.

Forgiveness is not always associated with remorse or repentance on the part of the offending party. 
In fact, we may be needing to forgive someone who is no longer in our lives or perhaps is no longer alive. Forgiveness is for us, not them. Forgiveness is for our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Forgiveness is so that we can sleep better at night.

Forgiveness does not always, nor should it always, bring reconciliation between people. 
Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same. Reconciliation always requires forgiveness but forgiveness never requires reconciliation. Reconciliation should only take place after the offender proves trustworthy of the relationship.

Forgiveness is made easier when we fully understand the reality of our mutual human fallenness. When we comprehend our own human weakness and propensity for evil, we become better able to keep the sins of others in perspective. Then as we dwell on the pain others have caused us, we see the pain that we have caused others. 

Forgive us our trespasses Lord 
as we forgive those 
who trespass against us.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Feed The Good Wolf..


 
Dear Friends,

Mental health professionals are concerned about a self-infatuated generation raised on the idea that they are special and obsessively take photos (“selfies”) of themselves with their phone. According to a clinical psychologist, “If someone is obsessed with taking selfies, it is most likely because the individual is self-absorbed and narcissistic.” Selfies have become an early warning sign of Narcissistic Personality Disorder which involves a preoccupation with self and how one is perceived by others. Many who struggle with this disorder are obsessed with receiving recognition and gratification from one’s physical appearance and they are driven to create the “perfect” selfie to post on social media. Sadly, their self-worth and “celebrity status” among friends is determined by the amount of “likes” received.

Wherever we go these days, we see people taking photos of themselves. It is often annoying and sometimes inappropriate. I can still remember the photo of Michelle Obama’s icy glare when her husband was goofing around and taking selfies during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service! And then there was that church pastor who took a selfie of himself and some church friends after a service that he put in an AMEN Corner that he wrote about “selfies...”

But unlike sharing the perfect selfie today that makes you look hot, cute or handsome, the Apostle Paul shared a “selfie” with the world that wasn’t very pretty. Paul’s selfie is authentically raw and deeply honest. He throws off all pretense and admits that he is “all too human, a slave to sin.” He confesses, “I want to do good but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.”  Romans 7:14-25 NLT Paul knows that he is “in Christ” and is no longer defined by his sins but deeply rooted within is his struggle with sin. It’s as if Paul is saying, “I’ve been following Jesus for twenty five years and I’m still messing up.” If you can’t relate to that, just know that the rest of us can. 

We are in our season of Lent that has evolved into a trite “giving up chocolate or ice cream” type of fast but in the ancient church it was so much more than that. It was a period of soul-searching and self-examination. It was not a guilt trip, but a spiritual time of remorseful repentance that is healing and life-changing. 

Paul was not probing into his struggles with sin in order to emotionally beat himself up. But he knew that there’s power in the unfiltered assessment of our life. Paul shows us that when we take off our mask of awesomeness and take a raw and unfiltered spiritual selfie, we set our “self” aside and invite the healing power of Christ to come within. Paul said, “..I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Use this time during Lent to take a “spiritual selfie.”  An internal review of where you are doing well and where you might be missing the mark. Ask God to reveal even the slightest and seemingly innocuous sins that are offensive to Him. Use this time to ask the Holy Spirit to help you clear out whatever is getting between you and God in order to allow more room for Him in your life. 

It’s only when we take that authentic spiritual selfie that we can see all our warts and blemishes. And that’s when we can truly come to love and appreciate the grace of God. It’s when we show our ugly spiritual selfie to God that He reaches out and gathers us in His arms. So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to Him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. Romans 8:1-2 NLT

Through the resurrection of our Lord, sin no longer has a choke-hold on us. Through Christ Jesus, we are freed from the power of sin but never from the struggle with sin in this earthly life. It’s still a battle. And, we can choose righteousness or we can yield to evil. 

There is a Native American story about a conversation between a Cherokee grandfather and his grandson. The grandfather said, “There is a battle between the two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealously, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies and ego. The other wolf is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy and truth.” The little boy thought about it for a minute and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?” The wise old man looked at his grandson and replied, “Whichever one you feed.”

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Those 20 Second Prayers..

Dear Friends,

At the risk of offending my liberal progressive friends, I describe myself as a biological male (your gender nowadays is not how God created you but is based on how you “feel” about yourself) and I’m physically attracted to women. Always have been. Always will be. (Another dicey admission to make in these #MeToo days particularly if you already have one strike against you by being a white male). But that’s how God created us. Two biological genders attracted to each other and VoilĂ !; here we are today – 80 billion humans later. God’s plan obviously worked! But many decades ago, I was struggling, as so many Christian men do, with God’s gift of having a strong natural attraction toward women but what the heck.. I’m not actually lusting; I’m only looking! Right? Then one day I came to a red light. 

I had stopped behind a white van and paid absolutely no attention to it because over to my right, an absolutely gorgeous woman in a very short skirt stepped off the sidewalk to cross the street. As my eyes followed her, she disappeared out of my sight when she walked in front of the white van. My vision started to sweep past that darn van in front of me so that I could see her as she continued to cross the street. My eyes froze. Centered high on the back of the van’s doors was a bumper sticker. White with a blue border. There was just one word in red letters. “JESUS.” At that very moment, I heard the still, small voice of the Lord, “Keep your eyes on Me.” I didn’t look at the woman. In fact I could barely breathe. 

Those words came at the very instant I saw the bumper sticker and didn’t come from my mind or my imagination. To those of us who are spiritually sensitive, God can whisper to our soul and we know that feeling or thought that we have is from Him. For the rest of us, who can be a little dense, God sometimes needs to give us a holy smack-down and do something so dramatic that He gets our attention and we know it’s Him. He most definitely got my attention. From that day to the present, when I find my eyes drawn toward an attractive woman, I look away and pray for them. For their family, their health, that they will come to know and love God, or if they already do, they will come to love Him even more and that they will experience His grace.

My prayer life changed at that red light. In my Evangelical Pentecostal church tradition, a “Prayer Warrior” who would pray fervently for extended periods of time every day – sometimes for many hours – was the coveted goal for those of us who admired these spiritual giants. And for me, especially as a pastor, I was embarrassed to admit that, when it came to sustained, fervent prayer, I was a spiritual midget. As little as ten minutes of prayer was even difficult. I’d pray for the needs of all those I knew and then simply ran out of things to say. 

After my “red light” experience, I had asked the Lord to show me how to keep my eyes on Him when attracted to a woman and was convicted in my spirit that I needed to pray for them. I soon began to pray for others I encountered during my day as well. I was also desiring to simply be with Him more on my day-to-day journey. We Protestant Christians are not taught and encouraged (like the Orthodox and Catholic) to live our life in God’s presence during our day. Even for highly-engaged Protestants, church service on Sunday, a short daily prayer for family and friends and we’re good. But more and more of us are tired of just being a “Sunday Christian” and hunger for living our days in the presence of God. We’re not sure how to do this since it’s not something normally taught in a Protestant church and some of us have even had pastors who scorned and discouraged any of the ancient devotional practices because they looked “too Catholic.”

The prayer practices of the ancient church drew His followers into the presence of God, and I found that as I would talk to God, worship Him and pray throughout my day, it was becoming easier and easier to keep my eyes on Him and walk in His presence. I pray the Orthodox Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me) and sing worship songs as I clean the horse corrals. I pray the Jesus Prayer working around the house. The sirens remind me to pray for the sick and injured who are in the ambulance driving past my house to the hospital. I wave a hello at my postal carrier and pray for him. I see my neighbor across the street with her year old baby and pray for them. She’s a nurse and I pray for her health and safety. This morning I prayed for Mike, the normally upbeat checker at Smart & Final, because when I asked him how he was doing, he sounded down and depressed. My prayer list is in “Google Keep” that syncs to all my devices. If I know you personally, your name is in there somewhere along with pretty much everything you’ve ever asked me to pray about. Answered prayers have checkmarks – praise God for all the checkmarks! 

A Greek Prayer Rope – a “Komboskoini”– is in my pocket. Made of wool with fifty knots, the Orthodox use it while saying the Jesus Prayer much in the same way a Catholic uses a rosary. I seldom use the prayer rope that way to “count” my prayers but keep it in my pocket because when my hand touches it, I’m reminded to pray. Before that, I carried a small smooth stone in my pocket that I’d found at Saint Andrew’s Abbey, that reminded me to pray and brought me into His presence when I touched it. Some people wear a special bracelet for the same reason. The cross I always wear is a constant reminder of His presence and His love for me. My phone plays the sound of a church bell at the ancient church prayer times of 6 am, Noon and 3 pm. I pray at the sound of the church bell. 

We were created to love God and live in His presence and the things we do during our day will draw us closer to Him, or keep us spiritually sluggish and stagnant, or pull us further away. Paul says to “pray without ceasing” and these short ten or twenty second prayers throughout my day keep me centered in Him – I’m keeping my eyes on Him.

Jesus keeps it simple for us pilgrims who are on this journey to a holy place. He gives us two commandments, “Love God and Love Others” Mark 12:30-31 In this AMEN Corner series on how to spiritually flourish during this pandemic, our focus has been on prayer practices such as the Prayer of Examen, the Jesus Prayer and the Lenten Prayer of St Ephrem. These focus on ourselves and foster spiritual growth that bring about “theosis” – a process of transformation that helps us to be less like us and more like Jesus. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, “theosis” is union with God which starts with truly worshiping Him. Here’s why loving God was the Son’s first commandment. Because without having a solid relationship with God and living in His presence, I’m spiritually impotent. If I have a feeble faith, I’d be out of God’s will for me, complacent with my sins, my prayers for you would have little effect or actually..to be honest..I probably wouldn’t be praying for you at all. 

But we would err by obeying only the first commandment. We are not monastic hermits living in a mountain cave who direct their thoughts and prayers only on themselves. We also err with a militant focus on the second commandment that’s encouraged in social justice churches which often produce strong activists but ambiguous Christians. 

Our faith is a well-balanced focus on 1) God and 2) Others. We must develop an ambidextrous prayer life, moving effortlessly from prayers that unite us with God, like the Jesus Prayer, to 20 second intercessory prayers for someone and back again. In this series on spiritual growth, I’ve shown you some of my personal prayer practices that I’ve gleaned from the ancient church and which may be unfamiliar to most Protestants. Look at what works for this one imperfect pilgrim and if you think something might also work well for you, give it a try. As I study and learn, my prayer practices are ever evolving. Yours should too. Growth can only take place in change and I heard a cowboy pastor say one time, “if you ain’t changing you ain’t growing.” Hopefully these five AMEN Corners have encouraged you to try some of these new and ancient biblical practices as you continue on your own journey to “theosis.”

“..but grow in the grace and knowledge
of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 
To Him be the glory, both now and forever. Amen”
2 Peter 3:18

☩   ☩   ☩


FURTHER READING:
If praying throughout your day is of interest to you, I recently came across a book that may be helpful. Very detailed but easy to read with a lot of examples that show how to develop a prayer life that becomes the undercurrent of your day. THE TEN-SECOND PRAYER PRINCIPLE – Praying Powerfully As You Go.