Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Alone No More

Dear Friends,

My heart breaks for those struggling through the quicksand of life and just trying to make it on their own from one day to the next. I’ve been there - done that. Most of you know my story. Born into a church-going Episcopalian family. Acolyte at age nine. Heard God’s call on my life as a teenager to be a priest. Disturbed by things happening in the church and walked away to focus on the world. Believed in God. Jesus had always been my Savior, and still was, but now He was no longer the Lord of my life. I was in charge now. I was still a “Christian,” but I was living my life without any input or interference from God! I was strong, independent and self-reliant. I was in control and stumbling through life my way.

I never had the nightmares when I was a child. They started when I was in my 20's and were terrifying dreams. Always the same. I dreaded them. In the dreams, I’d be grieving over a loss, an emptiness. I don’t have the words to adequately describe the gut-wrenching emotional trauma I was experiencing in these dreams. This over-whelming feeling of loneliness was so intensely deep and pervasive that I would sometimes wake up sobbing. My whole day would be ruined by the residual of the dream which just seemed to permeate my soul. I couldn’t shake it off. The dreams of this vividly intense loneliness were so horrendous that there were times I didn’t want to fall asleep at night because I was afraid I’d dream it again. I had them on and off for two decades and I’d obsess about its meaning. Was it the loss of something or someone that I was still processing? Were the dreams a prophetic projection of a future loss that would absolutely destroy me?

Then in 1994, I walked into an Evangelical Pentecostal church, gave my heart fully and unreservedly to God and the Holy Spirit seized my soul, and to this day, has not let go of me. Many years later, I suddenly remembered those nightmares of loneliness and realized I had not had one of those dreams since fully giving my life over to God. In the very next moment, I heard the small, still voice of God. He said, “That was your life without Me.”

In my sleep, my soul had been crying out to connect with God. It’s been said that we have a God-shaped vacuum in our heart that only God can fill. When that space where God should be is empty, we experience a spiritual aloneness. As did I for too long, many feel that emptiness but are unaware that the only One who can fill that void is waiting for them to ask Him into their life. That’s why my heart breaks for those struggling through life without the presence of God. They’re trying to make it on their own from one day to the next and doing everything they know how to do, but it’s just not working. Even those who go to church, believe, pray, recite the creeds, sing the hymns... 

Many people believe in God, go to church and check the “Christian” box under the “religion” question on the survey. They intellectually “believe” in Jesus, but because they’ve never accepted Him in their heart, they experience a spiritual aloneness without the One who makes life complete. Years ago I did a memorial service at a mainline liturgical (Lutheran) church. At the end of the service, I said, 

“Some of you have been going to church all your life. You pray the prayers and recite the creeds yet there’s an emptiness in your spiritual life. You know the truth of God but He feels distant and you’ve never truly felt His love for you. You’ve never felt a personal relationship with Jesus. Some of us love our church but after the last notes of the final hymn fade way, we again feel spiritually empty because our soul craves not a ritual, but a relationship with Jesus. If I’m speaking to you, you can invite Him into your heart right now. Everyone close your eyes and if you are willing to fully accept Jesus into your lives and truly give yourself to Him, raise your hand and look up at me.”
Of the seventy in attendance, twenty-seven looked up at me including the Lutheran pastor’s mother and brother. (I was not invited back to that church.) That response would be no different in many Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches today. Many Christians are like I was. Yes I was “saved,” but was floundering in life and feeling spiritually alone because I had never fully accepted Jesus into my heart. During that time, my soul grieved in my dreams because we can be “religious” in belief and practice but still have that God-shaped void in our lives that only He can fill. 

If any of what you’ve just read has resonated in your soul, then He’s reaching out to you today. God is persistent because of His unconditional and never-ending love for you. Until you accept Him as the Lord of your life, He will unrelentingly beckon you to give yourself fully to Him. Poet and Catholic nun Joyce Rupp calls Him the “Beckoner.” 


You tap at the window of my heart. 

You knock at the door of my busyness. 

You call out in my night dreams. 

You whisper in my haphazard prayer. 

You beckon. You invite. You entice. 

You woo. You holler. You insist: 

“Come! Come into my waiting embrace. 

Rest your turmoil in my easy silence. 

Put aside your heavy bag of burdens. 

Accept the simple peace I offer you.”

If you’re living life your way instead of His way, life may seem to you like that “heavy bag of burdens.” Run into His waiting embrace. He’s right here. Waiting for you...

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Are You A Rescuer?

Dear Friends,

Please don’t judge me or be too quick to make assumptions about me, but I have a confession to make to you today. When I was a young boy, I played with my sister’s Barbie dolls. I’d sneak them from her room and my sister and parents never knew about that. Until the day of the fire and I was caught...

When I was ten years old, my favorite TV show was RESCUE 8. It was an exciting, real-life action series based on a fire rescue squad at the Los Angeles County Fire Station 8 in West Hollywood. The cool thing was that we lived just a few blocks away from the real Station 8 where the interior and exterior shots were filmed. I loved RESCUE 8. I outfitted my red wagon with a rope, hose, shovel and a pry bar. I took a red bicycle taillight and installed it facing forward on my wagon so that I could respond Code-3 to any backyard emergency. 

When TV firemen “Wes” and “Skip” rescued the little girl who had fallen into the well while looking for her kitten, I recreated the rescue. The mud washed off the Barbie doll and my sister never knew. After I saw the show where the nun was trapped under the collapsed roof of the old mission, Barbie suffered only a couple of minor scratches after being rescued from under the pile of lumber in the garage. But when Wes and Skip rescued the actress after the escaped mental patient and deranged pyromaniac had set fire to her home, that’s when I got into trouble. The next day in our backyard, the cardboard box that was the movie star’s “house” erupted into flames which were quickly and effectively extinguished by the hose in my RESCUE 8 red wagon. But who could have guessed that Barbie’s polyester blonde hair would explode into flames like that?

Men and women “rescuers” are drawn to the helping professions in life. Firefighters, police officers, doctors, nurses, nutritionists, social workers and psychologists are among those who have dedicated their life to helping others. Rescuing others from situations caused by bad decisions or unfortunate circumstances. Helping them to fix the difficulty they’ve found themselves in and giving them the resources to improve and even excel in their physical, mental and emotional health. And those in Christian ministry are God’s spiritual rescuers, rushing to wherever they’re needed with the message of the Gospel to save souls, change lives and provide the Biblical resources so that others might excel in their spiritual health.

Spiritual rescuers reach out to help those who have fallen into the pit of despair and become mired in hopelessness. When a well-ordered life suddenly collapses and someone finds themselves trapped under the crushing weight of life’s circumstances, spiritual rescuers respond with the saving grace of Jesus. When a person’s unrepentant sins have caused separation from God, the spiritual rescuer leads them to the Living Water of Jesus that quenches forever the terrifying fires of Hell.

God appoints and empowers believers as “evangelists” and the job of an evangelist is to simply tell others the good news about Jesus Christ. We are all evangelists. Jesus has given us the gift of evangelist Ephesians 4:11 or we are called to “ the work of an evangelist..” 2 Timothy 4:5 &  Col 4:5-6. We tend to leave the spiritual work to the priests, pastors and evangelists but God says that all believers are called to be spiritual rescuers. 

All followers of Jesus are called to be ambassadors for Christ and implore others to be reconciled to God. 2 Cor 5:20 We are called to turn people away from their unrepentant sins and toward God so that they may receive His forgiveness Acts 26:18 and their soul may be saved from death. James 5:20 You are a Christian, called by God to bring the Good News to others and yet many of us good Christians are too caught up in the business and the busyness of doing “church” to do that.

In Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn," Huck and his friend Tom Sawyer are hatching a plot to liberate the runaway slave, “old Jim.” Tom’s uncle has imprisoned old Jim in a cabin and the two young boys spend their time planning the elaborate rescue operation. Tom fantasizes that the rescue of Jim will be comparable to some of the great escapes in history! But while the boys are dreaming about being heroic rescuers, poor old Jim is chained to his bed in the dark lonely cabin without food and drink. He seems to be forgotten. The rescue operation itself had become more important than the person to be rescued. 

Jesus established the church for the primary purpose of rescuing lost souls and changing lives Matthew 28:19-20, and we’ve turned His church into a religious system of rules and rituals. In our church today, has the rescue operation itself become more important than the people who need to be rescued? What do you think?

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

A Verse Most Loved, Most Used, Most Misused...

Dear Friends,

For Christmas in 1997, my mom gave me a boxed set of the first three Mitford books and during that Christmas vacation I read all three back to back. Father Tim is an Episcopal priest living in the fictitious North Carolina mountain community of Mitford. This highly likable priest and the town of fascinating characters keep us engaged as the author folds back their lives to reveal their struggles, flaws, victories and faith journeys. With a strong Christian theme, the Mitford books subtly weave theology and the Gospel message into this seven novel series, but the books never preach about how to live a Christian life, they just show us how a Christian life is lived. As the characters experience the typical hardships and uncertainties in life, they are often reminded by Father Tim to hold onto Paul’s statement that, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 It would be difficult to read the Mitford books and not come away with an infusion of encouragement and hope in any circumstance we might be facing.

In “Girl Meets God,” Lauren F. Winner described herself as a devout Orthodox Jew and bookworm intellectual who came across the Mitford books as a young lady and found herself longing for the Christian life as portrayed in the books. She was overwhelmed by the truth and promise of Philippians 4:13 and fell in love with a Christ (Messiah) who would give her that strength and hope. Her journey toward the Gospel truth started in the pages of these Mitford books and today she’s a professor of Christian Spirituality at Duke Divinity School and an ordained Episcopal priest. 

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and I would suspect that many believers have used this verse as a lifesaver when it feels like we’re at the end of our rope and barely hanging on. We can find this popular verse on wall plaques, coffee cups, tee shirts and bumper stickers and we’re encouraged by this biblical truth. But too often we’ve taken it out of context to “proof-text” an unbiblical concept such as prosperity theology. No..we can’t do all things. I can’t be President of the United States, become a billionaire or fly like Superman. Perhaps you can’t either. 

Context is absolutely vital to an authentic, Biblically-sound interpretation of God’s Word and there are three aspects of context when interpreting scripture: the book (in this case, Philippians), the verses immediately preceding and the verses immediately following. Paul is in prison and the Philippian church sent him a gift. His response is to write a letter to exhort them for a few things, thank them for their gift and for their concern for him while he is in prison. Always the preacher, Paul uses the horrible and discouraging conditions of imprisonment to teach an application of the spirit-filled life. Let’s now read Philippians 4:13 in the context of the preceding and following verses:

“How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.” Philippians 4:10-14 NLT

Many Christians have misused this verse and believe it as: “Through the strength of Christ, I am physically and spiritually empowered to do anything and everything I want to do.” But Paul is saying, “I can live in either humble means with great need or I can live in prosperity through Christ who strengthens me, and because of Him, I can be content in whatever circumstances I am in.” 

Because of Christ Jesus, Paul is content when he’s hungry, in jail, on the road – cold, dirty, in the rain, laughed at, spit at, beaten, and falsely prosecuted. At the same time, when Paul is abounding in life, receiving all that he desires, when he’s prosperous with a full stomach, when he’s sitting by a warm fire, healthy and with money in his pocket – he can simply be content with that too and not become prideful about what he has. Paul remains content when times are good by knowing that all good things come from God and that knowledge keeps him from becoming self-sufficient and self-reliant. Like Paul, we can survive our own good times because Christ Jesus strengthens our humble hearts and keeps us real. 

You and I got through Covid because of Christ Jesus who strengthened us. Hang on tightly to Philippians 4:13, memorize it and encourage yourself with it. Jesus will give you the strength to survive whatever life has thrown at you, and in the most difficult of circumstances, His Word gives you a Biblical perspective of hope for our future and the spiritual contentment that we all long for. And this verse of encouragement is not just for you and me. One of the endearing things about the fictitious town of Mitford was how often Father Tim and the town people would often use this verse to lift up and encourage others, even strangers. 

Some Christians have heard others, even preachers, use this verse out of context, and thus through no fault of their own, believe that it means more than God ever intended it to mean. But when we truly understand its meaning, the beauty of God’s Word is revealed to us in all its glory. God is promising us that in all of our good and all of our bad circumstances, Jesus is right there by our side giving us His strength. Without Jesus, our circumstances can lift us up one minute and flatten us the next. With Jesus, we can find His peace and contentment in all that life brings to us.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Growing Up Black, With God..

You met my good friend John Allmond in a recent AMEN Corner: “Critical Race Theory and the Bible.” John is a strong man of God, a registered nurse who is an Operating Room Director, and who is also currently developing a Christian Film Project. After last week’s AMEN Corner on Pastor Miles McPherson, John wrote me the following response. John is a bold, outspoken witness for God and has some things to say that I wanted you to read... 

GUEST POST by: John Allmond
Racism is such an uncomfortable and controversial topic these days and my hat’s off to any brave soul that desires to even broach the subject. Pastor Miles is one of my favorite people. I sat under his teaching at his church and it was at one of his sermon conferences that I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to pursue the woman who became my wife. I’m planning on attending one of his conferences this summer. I believe Pastor Miles to be a true follower of Christ and he and I share several similarities. 

I didn’t play professional football, but like Pastor Miles, I was born Black with a bi-racial heritage. My grandmother was half Cherokee Indian – half Caucasian. Her mother was a Native American slave and was raped by her White slave owner. My great-grandfather was a Black slave. Pastor Miles and I both grew up in Black neighborhoods but were educated in White neighborhoods. I was rejected by both Whites and Blacks and repeatedly called the N word both as a child and up throughout adulthood. As a Christian and a Black man who has experienced racism all his life, I know that the antidote to the poison of racism is the love of others that Jesus calls us to in His second greatest commandment. Matthew 22:37-39 Love not as a platitude or a nice thought, but an authentic Christ-like love that is intrinsic to who we are and governs our thoughts and actions towards others. 1 John 3:18 Loving others is the litmus test of a follower of Christ. 

Loving others is the second greatest commandment for a reason. It’s the only way to move our focus from self and truly put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. All this division we see today is the work of Satan. The Bible says that in the last days, “..the love of many will grow cold.” Matthew 24:12 Regardless of what side of the political spectrum you’re on, that prophecy is being fulfilled today, and a pop song from the sixties says it well, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” Our ability to truly love others is the only thing that the world will use to identify us as Christians. Remember, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love”. John 13:34-35 If you call yourself a Christian and don’t possess love in your heart, then God doesn’t dwell within you. Full stop. He says it in His Word. 1 John 4:7-16 

I know that’s a tough pill to swallow, but if you want to get well and heal any sin of racism, you have to swallow the pill of truth and ask Jesus to fill your heart with love, not only for Him, but mankind. I’m not preaching as though I’ve mastered love. I haven’t. I think that we all innately possess some form of the sin of prejudice in our hearts. However, the difference between the non-believer and true believer in Christ is that the believer recognizes and identifies these sinful feelings in juxtaposition to the Holy Spirit and the Word of God and allows love to overshadow our carnal nature. 

I believe that just like love, hate is both learned and is a choice. Once we see every individual as one who is uniquely created in God’s image and we understand that we all belong to the same race, it becomes a lot easier to allow the Holy Spirit to activate love in our heart. Based on my experiences, it would be very easy for me to harbor hatred for the White man in my heart. But the thing that gave me encouragement and brought healing was the knowledge that God was much bigger than what it was that others had perpetrated against me. Because He had brought millions of my ancestors through literally hell on earth, then He is big enough to bring me through these small afflictions. I learned early on that I couldn’t look to man to influence my heart and actions and make right the wrongs. 

My influence was in the person of Jesus Christ. Sometimes you have to walk alone on this righteous path, but God alone gives us the strength needed for each step. The Bible says that God places the awareness of His existence in the heart of every man Romans 1:18-20 and even as a child I had felt the presence of God in my life. As I experienced the difficulties growing up Black, it was His presence that kept me strong. When faced with life’s difficulties, it’s a simple matter of focusing our attention on Him and allowing Him to flood our hearts and minds with His presence. 

As a Nation of people, we must realize that there are consequences for our actions. Throughout the pages of scripture, there are countless accounts of people and nations that committed sin and they reaped consequences, sometimes generations later. Israel not excluded. I believe that’s what’s happening in America today. The turmoil that we’ve been experiencing over the last few decades regarding race wars is a direct consequence of America’s foundation being established with the stain of the blood, sweat and tears from her African brothers and sisters. 

As a Nation, we are just now coming to a greater awareness and acknowledgment of our shared heritage and pain-filled history. This is a necessary but bitter pill that has to be swallowed if we are ever to mount up with wings of eagles and rise above the stench of hatred and inequality.

“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 I will hear from heaven,
and will forgive their sin
and heal their land.”
2 Chronicles 7:14