Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Encouraging, the Bizarre, the Awful!

Dear Friends,

The young woman had left her megachurch to become a regular attender at ours. One Sunday, she told me that she didn’t like the way I sang our worship songs. She said that our songs didn’t sound like the way the worship team did them at her last church. I said, “You mean to tell me that this one old guy with a guitar doesn’t sound exactly like a professional mega-church praise and worship band?” She also informed me that I was doing Holy Communion all wrong.

Many years ago, a member approached me to tell me that she and another woman didn’t approve of the “fact” that one of our church members was my “concubine.” I told her that, in the Bible, a concubine was a woman who had voluntarily become a man’s sexual slave and I asked her if that was the word she intended to use. She believed that she was a prophet sent by God and firmly stated that God had spoken to her and told her that the church member was my concubine. I told her that she may be listening to voices from the "spirit world" but it was not the voice of God. Both the two “concubine” accusers and the young “mega-church” woman were constantly critical of me and New Hope Family Church. I felt a huge sense of relief when these women left our church!

Few people are truly aware of the constant requests, complaints and criticisms that pastors receive, and so a church consultant recently asked pastors to share what some of those were:

“We need a small group for cat lovers.”

“You need to change your voice.”

“Our expensive coffee is attracting too many young people.”

“You should know that the Bible says that preachers who don’t wear suits and ties aren’t saved.”

“Your socks are distracting.”

“You shouldn’t make people leave the youth group just because they’ve graduated from high school.”

(To a pastor’s wife) “Would you ask Pastor Jeff to buy me some panties and bring them by on his way to church?”

“I don’t like the color of the paper towels in the women’s restroom.”

“We need to start attracting more normal people at church.”

“I developed cancer because you don’t preach from the King James Version.”

“Your wife never compliments me about my hair or dress.”

“Not enough people signed up for the church golf tournament because you have poor leadership skills.”

“If Jesus sang from the green hymnals, why can’t we?”

(To a pastor who married interracially). “You are living in sin. You shouldn’t be married to a colored woman.” 

“I don’t like the brand of donuts in the foyer.”

“You didn’t wrap the hot dogs in bacon for the church picnic.”

“You shouldn’t drink water when you preach.” 

“The toilet paper is on the wrong way in the ladies restroom. It’s supposed to be rolled under.”

“You don’t have ashtrays in the fellowship hall.”

“Didn’t you see me waving in the back of the church? You preached too long. It was time to eat!” 

“The eggs were not scrambled enough at the senior’s  breakfast.”

“We’re leaving the church because of the red cross on the building. That’s the color of the devil.”

“Sorry I was late to church. My dog Rambo and I have been witnessing to people.”

“Are you the one who keeps taking the beer off my daddy’s grave?”

“We never had hurricanes until you moved into our town.”

“You need to turn all the lights up during worship. You can’t worship God when it’s dark because He is light.”

“Can you perform a ceremony for just living together since we don’t want to get married?”

“I really appreciate the content of your sermons, but I can’t stand to watch you as you deliver it.”

“You don’t have the anointing of God. My cat agrees with me.”

“You blink too much when you preach and your skin is too pale.”

“The donuts and cakes you bring every Sunday are not enough. You need to make sandwiches and bring salads for after each service.” oh wait a moment.. that last comment was made to me..

We can easily laugh at some of these until we think about how they were received by the pastors. Were these all laughed off or was there discouragement? Were these no big deal or the final straw that ended a ministry career? Here's the secret that pastors don't want you to know. A 2016 survey showed that 80% of church pastors have experienced burnout. 77% regularly deal with unrealistic expectations from their congregation. 85% have seriously considered leaving the ministry and 75% consider doing that on a regular basis. 60% believe their church is a toxic environment because of some of the church members. 61% fight depression and an astounding 83% say they take prescription drugs for anxiety or mood disorders. And that survey was in 2016 and long before Covid-19 emptied out churches and reduced offerings to an unsustainable level.

When I read the submissions from the pastors, I laughed. I cringed. One made me angry and I hope it made you angry too. Like every pastor alive today, I can remember the wonderfully encouraging things, the absolutely bizarre things and the incredibly awful things that church people have said to me over the years. The AMEN Corner is sent to people from many different churches and I encourage you all to pray for your priest or pastor. Your prayers are what we need more than anything else!

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Unanswered Prayers?

Dear Friends,

I have an audio clip on my computer that’s one of the three Stooges (Curly) saying, “I’m trying to think but nothin’ happens.” I laugh every time I hear it because too often that’s how I feel when I sit down at my computer to write a sermon or an AMEN Corner. That’s even how I feel sometimes in my spiritual life when I’m trying to pray and nothin’ happens! Sometimes it’s difficult to pray. Our mind wanders. We find ourselves repeating the same things, using the same words and praying in the same way that we’ve always prayed. Maybe God just feels too far away. When we pray, we want to think of God as bending down to us and inclining His ear to carefully catch every word. Psalm 116:2 NLT But sometimes it feels as if God has His hands over both ears as He turns away. Our prayers are not answered. Nothing is going right. Are God’s ears closed? If you’ve ever felt that way, here’s a Spiritual Truth: If God’s not listening, it ain’t His fault. 

Augustine of Hippo was born in the 4th Century and was a Church Father, a bishop and theologian whose writings influenced the development of Western Christianity and Western philosophy. From St. Augustine’s “Confessions” comes a Latin phrase “onerhi mihi sum” meaning “I have become a problem to myself.” In these days of entitlement and affirmation that we are all pretty and perfect, the shocking idea that we could be our own worst problem is absolutely unacceptable. But the honest realization and acknowledgment of “onerhi mihi sum” is the first step towards repentance and a change for the better. And a truthful self-examination might even lead to an improvement in the efficacy of our prayers because Augustine also said that, “When we pray, it’s not enough for the mind to be in harmony with the voice. A person’s works have to be in harmony as well.” Meaning that when a person’s sinful behavior is out of harmony with their saintly words, God may indeed be covering both ears with His hands when they pray.

Psalm 66:18-20 says: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear. But certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, Who has not turned away my prayer, Nor His mercy from me!” Now this doesn’t mean that God turns a deaf ear to sinners! If He did, He’d never hear our prayers. A better translation reads: “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Psalm 66:18 NLT The prophet Isaiah speaks of this Kingdom Principle directly and plainly: “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, He has turned away and will not listen anymore.” Isaiah 59:2 NLT 

There can be other reasons that God is not answering our prayers, but the first thing we need to do is to make sure that we have not become a problem to our self. If we have, we need to repent. It may be difficult to hear this, but the only prayer from an unrepentant Christian sinner that God hears is the prayer that goes, “I repent of my sins, Lord God. For the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ, forgive me.” We can pray fervently for God’s favor and that He gives us our wants, needs and desires, but if we are holding on to iniquity in our hearts, the only thing God wants to hear from us is our confession and repentance.

Some of us have unsaved loved ones or backslidden loved ones who tell us, “I’m trying to pray but nothing happens.” They’re praying for God’s favor, provision, healing and for His wondrous miracles but it feels like God “has turned away and will not listen anymore.” He probably has. Someone once told me that their adult daughter had loved the Lord when she was younger but stopped going to church and had walked so far away from her faith that she’s now an atheist. The only reason I have ever heard for someone to walk away from God is that either God or the church failed to meet the person’s expectations so I asked what had happened in the woman’s life. Her father told me that she had prayed that God would save her marriage and it didn’t happen. She had been living a life of unrepentant sin while praying for God’s favor on her life. When God ignored her prayers, her conclusion was that God doesn’t exist. It’s what I call “Genie Theology.” If you rub the magic lamp and the genie doesn’t appear and grant your wish, you just need to rub harder and longer. If the genie still doesn’t appear, then obviously the genie never existed in the first place!

God does not shower blessings and His favor on atheists and those who reject Him. The only thing God is interested in giving to an unsaved person is salvation. People ask me to pray for family members and friends who are not Christian. They ask my prayers for the person’s healing, financial needs, a job, for their criminal sentence to be overturned so they can get out of jail etc. I always pray for their loved one, but my prayer is that, “they will come to know and love the Lord God, accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and live their life according to the will of God.” Then as they open their arms in worship to Him, He will bend down and incline His ear to hear their prayers. For “..God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him.” John 9:31  Amen?

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Beware The Kryptonite!

Dear Friends,

It’s a Bird..It’s a Plane..It’s Superman! I loved that old black and white tv show as a kid and more than anything else, I wanted to be like Superman when I grew up. While Sunday School flannel boards were teaching me the biblical stories, Superman was teaching me Christian behavior and values. 

Using his powers to help others, Superman fought for “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” I practiced my flying at an early age. Jumping off the back of the couch with a little blue blanket around my neck like a cape, I could fly the entire three feet until I hit the floor. After I “flew” off a high-top dresser, my mom made my dad lock up the ladder with a chain so that I couldn’t get up on the roof. 

Superman had been given incredible powers: superhuman strength, superhearing and of course the very cool “x-ray” vision. And his powers were never used for his own selfish needs. They were only to be used to help others. Strong Judeo-Christian elements are woven through the Superman story. His birth name was Kay-El, Hebrew for “Voice of God.” The creators of Superman in 1930 were inspired by Samson, the strongest man in the world and Moses, who freed and saved the Israelites. Superman is an analogy of the Messiah - Jesus Christ - sent to earth as a Savior of humanity.

But alas, unlike Jesus Christ, Superman had a nemesis. Something that could strip away his superpowers and leave the Man of Steel weak and helpless. That one thing that could destroy Superman was the green, glowing crystal called Kryptonite.

As a child, more than anything, I wanted to have superpowers so that I could help others, and it was many years later that God answered those prayers. I never received superhuman powers but did receive supernatural powers. I still can’t fly but I can use my supernatural powers – my God-given gifts – for the good of others. (May God forgive me when I don’t) And, I’ve learned that I need to watch out for the Kryptonite.

When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we receive the whole Triune package: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. When we subsequently receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we receive one or more of the spiritual gifts that Paul lists in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. Perhaps words of Wisdom or Knowledge. A gift of Faith or Healings. The working of Miracles or Prophecy or the gift of Discernment of Spirits. Maybe even Tongues or the ability to Interpret Tongues of others. 

But none are given for our own use. The New Living Translation probably says it best: “A spiritual gift is given to each of us as a means of helping the entire church.” 1 Corinthians 12:7 When the Holy Spirit activates these gifts - our “superpowers” - God desires that they flow strongly within us and that they are always used for His purposes: for the good of others. That’s why we need to watch out for the Kryptonite

The early church called them the “SEVEN DEADLY SINS” and they will indeed deaden your ministry to others, rob you of your supernatural gifts and may even weaken you to the point of depression, discouragement, despondency and despair.

Our Christian Kryptonite is one or more of those seven sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. Wrath is our uncontrolled anger that leads to self-destructive bitterness and unforgiveness of others. Greed is the pursuit of material things. We laugh and call it “shopping therapy;” God calls it “sin.” Sloth is more than just physical laziness, it’s spiritual laziness. And Sloth is anytime we fail to do what God wants us to do. When we don’t use our gifts of the Holy Spirit for others, we are practicing the sin of Sloth. Pride is the deadliest of the seven. Pride caused Lucifer to fall from Heaven and become Satan. Our Pride delivers us into the Enemy’s hands. We think of Lust in the context of sexual desire but it is actually an intense, ungodly desire for anything that is spiritually unhealthy for us to have. Envy is biblically defined as the feeling of any discontent towards that which is possessed by others. Envy is coveting what He has given to others. Be thankful to God for the blessings He has given you. Gluttony is an unhealthy overindulgence with food and drink. Sadly it is the only sin accepted by the church. A 2006 study showed that Christian men and women were more likely to be overweight than non-Christians. The study found that Christian women who were Baptist or Black or married had a significantly higher BMI than the general population and far more likely to be obese. 

We all sin daily in thought, word and deed and all fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23 but we don’t give place to those sins and quench our “superpowers.” We pick ourselves up, confess our sins and constantly strive to live our lives according to His will for us.

Identify the gifts that the Holy Spirit has activated within you. Use these spiritual “superpowers” wisely for the good of others. And if you ever start feeling flattened by life and spiritually weak, check yourself for the deadly presence of Christian Kryptonite. Amen?

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

San Fernando Valley Flood Kills Thousands!

Do you remember the shocking headline news twenty-four years ago? What became known throughout the world as the “Friday the 13th Flood” back in 1997 was  subsequently documented in twenty-seven books written on the history of our Valley and gave the horrific details of this devastating flood. 

Okay...This is obviously absurd. It’s fake news. And you know that because we are all eye-witnesses to what takes place during our own time in history. And if history books with this factitious flood story were really published and widely-circulated, you and everyone else would know it’s fake news and the books would be dumped in the trash. 

About twenty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter that was circulated among the Christian churches. He said that Jesus died for our sins, was buried and rose again the third day. He was seen by Peter and then the twelve apostles and then He was seen by over five hundred “brethren” at one time. Paul says that some of those five hundred have died but most of them are still alive. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 

The point Paul is making is that there are many hundreds of eyewitnesses that a person could talk to if he/she had any doubts about the Resurrection. Paul himself had talked to the disciples and the eyewitnesses and now he’s inviting people to check it out for themselves. Paul says that Jesus Christ appeared to a large crowd of five hundred men. At that time, only men could give testimony in court; women were not considered by government authorities to be reliable witnesses. But in a crowd of five hundred men, there would have most likely been hundreds of women and children present. Paul is not being dismissive towards women. He is simply making the statement that there were over 500 legal eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ. 

We need to remember that Jerusalem was a major metropolitan center. Can you think of think of anything more shocking and newsworthy than having the government publicly execute the most popular and controversial religious leader and then having the guy turn up live to a massive crowd of people?  So let's do some math here, and to keep it simple, we’ll just say it was only 500 men. This was the hottest news ever so let’s reasonably assume that each of the 500 men told ten other people. If those ten people told only five other people, in the days following the Resurrection, about 25,000 people would have heard the news either first hand or second hand. Fifty days after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Peter and the disciples were still in Jerusalem preaching the Gospel message and telling people that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead and was alive. How did they get away with preaching this crazy message about Jesus being alive? Why were they not stoned for preaching “fake news?” Because people had already heard it was true from the eyewitnesses!

There is no way that a person could write a history book today about Los Angeles and give details of the Great Flood of 1997 that wiped out vast portions of the Valley. It would be absurd. Ridiculous. Laughable. In the same way, 2000 years ago, because the witnesses to that period of history were still alive, there would be no way the four Gospel writers and both Paul and Peter could write about the Resurrection if it were not true. It would be absurd, ridiculous and laughable. It would have been immediately exposed as fake news. That's why the strongest and most tangible evidence that we have for the resurrection is the complete lack of any historic, credible denial of this the most shocking event in the entire history of the world. That’s why we can say: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!” 1 Peter 1:3