Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Your Sacred Space..

Dear Friends,

I was born an introvert. Given a choice between spending the evening at a loud, high-energy party or in a quiet room with a comfortable chair and a book, I’ll take the book every time. When I was a small boy, I loved it when my mom set up the card table in the living room for me and covered it with a bed sheet. Like a cat crawling under the bed coverlet to shut out the world’s distractions, I’d crawl into my living room “tent” and find a restful peace. I’m now too big to fit under a card table, but I still crave that sacred peace. 

I know God is omnipresent. He is everywhere. He’s in the boisterous party, the Sunday service and He’s in the squalor and poverty of the homeless encampment. He’s in the busy workplace, the crowded mall and the chaotic hospital emergency room. Never in my life have I been to a place where God was not present, but I connect with Him best when I meet Him in my “tent.”

As the people of God wandered through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, every time they came to a place and set up their camp, Moses pitched a tent that he called the “tabernacle of meeting.” The word tabernacle comes from the Hebrew that describes a dwelling and in this context it’s the dwelling place of God. Exodus 33:7 tells us that Moses set up the meeting tent far outside the camp. Away from the bedlam and noise. Far from the distractions of the day-to-day. This was where the people could go and meet God. And when Moses went to the tent, the “Shekinah” – the glory of God – His divine presence, would descend on the meeting tent and “the Lord spoke to Moses face to face as a man speaks to his friend.” Exodus 33:9; Exodus 33:11 And when Moses left the tent, God told him, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:14

The way through the wilderness was uncharted and the people had no idea where they were or how they were going to get to the promised land. Their leader was Moses who was just as clueless as the rest of them. But Moses didn’t need a roadmap as long as he stayed close to God. 

Our own journey through the wilderness of life can be confusing and in the middle of overwhelming circumstances we can sometimes even feel hopelessly lost. But like Moses we have an official GPS – no, not that one. I mean a God Positioning System that will keep us positioned on His path and will prevent us from getting lost. 

And as did Moses, we need to keep our GPS activated by meeting frequently with God and staying close to Him. We may not know the way when life throws us challenges, but God does, and when we follow Him, we will be on the path to where He wants us to be. Whether you’re struggling today or just need more time with God, maybe it’s time to establish your “meeting tent” and create your own sacred space.

Your meeting tent can be pitched anyplace and at anytime. But creating a sacred space where it’s quiet and restful is helpful for us introverts as well as you extroverts. As Moses set up the “tabernacle of meeting” far away from distractions, perhaps we should do the same and find our own quiet place. Does having a sacred place in your home dedicated to the worship of God seem a little extreme to you? We have a special room in our house in which we prepare our food. A special dedicated space for us to sleep in.. A room used only for our personal hygiene.. We even have a special place in our house where we store the clothing that we are not wearing. But with all these special dedicated spaces, how many of us have a unique place just set aside in our house for God? Where we worship and pray? Do you have a sacred space that quiets your spirit and brings you into a sense of anticipation that you will be meeting God at that place and in that moment? 

If you were to consecrate, sanctify and set apart a sacred place in your home, what symbols can you think of that would designate this as sacred space? Many of you know that there’s a place in my house that looks like a church. There is an altar, a cross and candles. The earliest known icon of Jesus is on the wall. It’s where I worship and pray. It’s my sacred space. My “meeting tent.” God meets me there every time. Eighteen years ago, God told me to turn my home into a “monastery” and to live a lifestyle that keeps me in the presence of God. 

But you don’t have to turn your house into a monastery or a church to have a sacred space in your home. You may not be able to have, or not want to have, an altar table in your home with a cross and candles. You may or may not want to have icons of Jesus on your walls. Your sacred place will look different than mine. You may simply have a single candle next to a comfortable chair. A mom working from home during the pandemic with three children in “zoom school” sits on her porch for a half hour each day with her Bible. It’s her “tabernacle of meeting” where she comes into the presence of God. Her children are not allowed to be on the porch during that sacred time unless they are there to join her in prayer and worship. It’s her “church” in the middle of her day. 

Your sacred space may be the chair overlooking the garden. Or it may simply be the chair in the bedroom facing the cross on the wall. When we establish our sacred space – our “meeting tent” – wherever it is and whatever it looks like, that’s the place where we always meet a holy God.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Are You Living Off Your Hump?

Dear Friends,

Camels were the “18-wheelers” in Biblical times. They were called the “Ships Of The Desert” and were used for both transportation Genesis 24:61 and carrying freight for long distances. Genesis 37:25 They could carry up to a half ton of goods and travel up to 30 miles a day. They drank 25 gallons of water at one time and could go on long journeys without food by living off the fat stored in their hump. On a long journey, the hump would shrink in size and the nutrients absorbed would then need to be replenished. The health of a camel on its journey always depended on how much nourishment was stored in the hump. 

And when it comes to our spiritual journey,
you and I may need to ask our self:
“Are we living off our hump?”

Like the camel, we can live off our hump for only so long before it needs to be replenished. And perhaps, for some of us, we’ve been living off the spiritual nourishment we stored in our hump a long time ago.

I read the Bible cover to cover many years ago and there are some obscure and maybe not so obscure parts in the Old Testament that I’ve not read since. Some of you may be like me. We remember Jacob (or was it Joseph?) and something about an Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat or was that just a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber? We remember the misfortunes suffered by Job but can’t remember what he did to deserve them. We remember Joseph – was Jacob who wrestled with an angel after Jacob refused to sacrifice his son..or was that Abraham? And who was that guy Melchizedek? Gosh! I used to be able to remember that!  Am I living off my hump?

We Christians replenish our spiritual nourishment by the daily reading of scripture. One of my professors in Bible college was asked why people need to read the Bible continuously and why they need to go to church and hear the same Gospel message again and again. He smiled and replied, “Because we Christians leak.” Megachurch pastor and nationally-known preacher John MacArthur put it a little more cynically. He said “Preaching is like taking a bucket of water and pouring into the thimbles of those who hear. Only for them to spill it out as they walk out the door of the church.” A terrifying thought if you’re a pastor who spends many hours laboring over a sermon, but it’s undeniably true! 

If we are an “average” churchgoer, we will have forgotten the sermon within four hours after hearing it. That’s why if we are not constantly refreshing and replenishing our souls through the daily reading of scripture, our spiritual gauge will be pinning on empty.

It would be inconceivable to eat one meal on Sunday afternoon and starve ourselves with an absolute fast until next Sunday’s dinner. We would not permit our stomachs to go without life-nourishing food for six days in a row year after year! Yet, if we are “Sunday Christians” only, isn’t that what we are doing with our souls? 

One in five churchgoers never, ever reads a Bible! The majority of churchgoers (57%) read their Bible less than four times a year. So when someone asks us about Noah, we struggle to remember what was on that flannel board when we first heard that story in Sunday School... They ask us about why we hold onto a certain Christian belief and we don’t know how to answer them... (Read 1 Peter 3:15) We quote something spiritual we liked that the pastor said last Sunday or no..wait..maybe we heard that on Dr Phil... The most commonly quoted “scripture” by Christians is “God helps those who help themselves.” A well-known saying but it denies God’s grace and it’s not scriptural. It’s not in your Bible. We too easily fall into error and can even lead others astray when we’re living off our hump.

God knows we need daily spiritual food for our soul as well as food for our bodies. Whether it’s our stomach or our souls, we cannot thrive if we are being fed only 52 times a year. We eat food because we enjoy it and it sustains life. For those same reasons, we need to feed our souls every day! “..the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today when you hear His voice, don't harden your hearts’” Hebrews 3:7-8 Hearing the voice of God today through His Word keeps our hearts soft and open to Him. And like the “manna” given by God in the desert, there is only enough nourishment for one day. But the next day, God will give us enough for that day too. And the daily manna points to what is truly nourishing for us. “So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.” Deuteronomy 8:3

We live by the Word of God! Reading His Word daily maintains a healthy level of spiritual nourishment in our soul. His Word gives up-to-the-moment, life-changing instruction and encouragement for the things that we’re dealing with right now. If you’ve been feeling lost or spiritually empty, you may be living off your hump and your soul needs to be replenished. If so, could this be a good time to begin a daily practice of reading God’s Word?

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

How Much God Do You Have?

Dear Friends,

There was a time in my life, back in my twenties, when I had too much God. Honestly. The Deity was really making me very uncomfortable. I was technically a born-again Christian believer but seldom went to church. I was barely getting my feet wet in the shallow end of the spiritual pool, and there was still too much God in my life. My difficulty with God was that in order for me to live the good life my way, I needed a little less of Him in it. I wasn't what the good Christians called “walking with the Lord” and my problem was that the Lord had not walked away from me. That whole “I will never leave you nor forsake you” promise to us? Hebrews 13:5 God really meant it. And it's uncomfortable when you're trying to live a nice, carefree life of unrepentant sin with God watching over your shoulder. 

We seem to fall into one of three categories of relationship with God. The first category is what we’ll call having “too much God.” It may be that He's calling us to a more righteous way of living and we don't like the cost of that call. There are things we say, do and think that we don't want to give up. Let’s face it. Most of the sins we commit are those we enjoy doing. And let’s get real here. If we were honest, most of us would admit that we would much prefer to ignore or hate our neighbor than to love them. And despite what Jesus said, there is just absolutely no way we're going to forgive those people who have done us wrong. And that whole Matthew 25:31-46 thing about doing for the “least of these”? Forget it! And then suddenly, we're painfully aware of the pesky Holy Spirit convicting us of our sins and calling us out to live like a Christian. See what I mean? Too much God!

Then there are those Christians who honestly believe that they have “just enough God.” Let's do the math: You spend two hours in church on Sunday including the hospitality time. There are 168 hours in a week so two hours in church is 1.2% of your time engaged in a religious activity. But if you watch an hour internet service, that’s only 0.6 of your time. You’re like most Christians who pray for about 4-5 minutes a day which we’ll average at 30 minutes a week. Few Christians actually read their Bible, but you’re an exception and you spend 30 minutes each week reading God’s Word. So let’s see now.. An hour or two of church, another hour of prayer and Bible reading and we’re up to two or three hours a week practicing your Christian faith. Whew! Let's see.. That's about 1.2% - 1.7% of our life that we’re doing a religious activity and that's just about enough. Don't need to be a fanatic about it! Hey.. I’ve got a life to live! So I’ve got enough God now, thank you very much!

Of all Christian believers, the second category of having “just enough God” is by far the largest. The first category of “too much God” is the second largest group of believers. And then there's that small group of radical Christians...

Those who just “can't get enough God.” They long for more of Him. They thirst for His presence in their lives. God is never far from their thoughts. Prayer to Him is not a brief, compulsory religious ritual but an on-going conversation with a friend that they periodically enter into throughout their day. They are spiritually refreshed through prayer and filled with the peace of God. They also find themselves singing hymns and worship songs; sometimes not even aware of it. Hymns and worship songs have become the intrinsic background music of their lives and often spring spontaneously to their mind throughout the day. They read their Bible daily, not as a spiritual discipline, but because they hunger for that connection with God through His Word. In every disturbing, stressful or worrisome situation, the first thing that they typically will do is to pray for guidance and often a Bible verse will come to their mind that is specific for what they are experiencing and feeling. They find themselves being effortlessly thankful to God in all things for there is always something in every situation to be thankful about. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 If you were to call them a zealot for God, they’d blush at such a high compliment. Their faith is their passion and priority, and if you were to ask them, they’d answer that they never have enough God and wonder if it is even possible for them to have “too much God” in their lives.

Let’s put the rubber to the road as the old expression goes. Think about it.. Which category are you in?

❑ Too Much God.
❑ Just Enough God.
❑ Can’t Get Enough God.

Which category does God want you to be in? Do you have a faith that’s alive and powered by the Holy Spirit? Are you enthusiastically walking on a spiritual journey with Jesus becoming more like Him every day or are you just napping by the side of the road? Too many good church-going Christians have left their love of God behind and simply become dedicated patrons in the museum of religion on a Sunday morning. Do you have a “church” relationship with Jesus or a deeply “personal relationship”? Or maybe you’re like me back when I had too much God and wanted to just be left alone, and now you’re the one annoyed that Jesus persistently stands at the door knocking! Rev 3:20-21.

Too much? Just enough? Not enough? Take a moment now.. Give yourself a gentle timeout here and seek God’s presence.. I believe that God wants to say something to you...

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

He Calls You His Friend..

Dear Friends,

We read in last week’s AMEN Corner about having a “personal relationship with Jesus” and, depending on your church tradition, you may have found yourself confused or doubtful about a “personal relationship” and perhaps even distressed or offended by my narrative of what took place at that Lutheran memorial service. (Why I was the one who had to do a memorial service for a Lutheran in a Lutheran congregation is a long sad story.) If you attend a mainline Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal or Lutheran church, having a close, personal relationship with the Lord is not the orthodox doctrine (teaching) of your denomination and you might have heard this denigrated as heretical doctrine.

Many years ago after recounting the memorial service experience to an ELCA (Lutheran) pastor, who at the time was a close friend, he told me that Lutherans do not have a personal relationship with Jesus and their relationship with Him can only take place through their church. He explained that we can only become a Christian by baptism into the church and it’s through the liturgical church services that we are then relationally connected with God. A Lutheran theologian addresses this personal relationship “heresy” and explains mainline Christian doctrine: “(God’s) people are washed together into a body by baptism and we are shaped by Him into a community of believers. Here’s the thing: Christianity is not about a personal relationship with Jesus. The phrase is never found in the Bible. Christianity is about a church relationship with Jesus.”

In the past few decades we’ve seen mainline churches wither and die while Evangelical churches have experienced healthy growth. While there are many reasons for the diminishment of mainline churches, most of those who left have joined an Evangelical church in their search to find a vibrant relationship with God through Jesus Christ. In the Evangelical tradition, the emphasis is not on liturgical rituals but on a personal relationship with our God who transforms us into becoming more like Jesus and less like us. This concept of a personal relationship with our Lord is even expressed in Evangelical contemporary praise songs as we sing to God and declare our worship of Him. (Church hymns were written to teach us about God). An Evangelical theologian writes: “I believe the phrase ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ correctly expresses the biblical idea of an ongoing life of discipleship that includes the gradual transformation into the image of Christ.”

Like the Evangelical church, the Catholic church teaches that our faith is more than just attending church. From a Catholic theologian at the St. Paul Center of Biblical Theology: “Those of us who have heard and accepted our Lord’s summons to follow Him are invited to an intimate, personal relationship with Him. Unfortunately, some Catholics may be put off by this “personal relationship” terminology. Yet, Christianity is not a mere moral code, ethnic club, or cultural phenomenon; rather, at its very core is the acceptance of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as our personal Lord and Savior. At the heart of the Gospel is the clarion call to follow Jesus, to become His disciples.” 

My Lutheran pastor friend also told me that the phrase  “personal relationship with Jesus” is not mentioned in the Bible and my response to him was that the word “Trinity” or the accepted historical doctrine of the Trinity is not specifically stated in the Bible either. But the doctrinal concept of the Trinity is embedded throughout the New Testament as is the concept of having a personal relationship with our Lord. In fact our entire Bible shows our Creator as One who desires to abide (dwell) within and with us. Our Heavenly Father desires a close, loving relationship with us in spite of our messy sinful lives, and a significant aspect of our salvation is having that personal relationship restored through Jesus Christ on the cross.

Would you describe your relationship with the Lord as “personal” or “distant”? Let’s see which one Jesus would choose to have with you. He said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” John 14:23 “..he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest (show) Myself to him.” John 14:21 “ received God's Spirit when He adopted you as His own children. Now we call Him, "Abba, Father.” Romans 8:15 NLT “So now Jesus and the ones He makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them His brothers and sisters.” Hebrews 2:11 NLT 

Can you really have a personal relationship with Jesus? That’s the only kind of relationship with our Lord that’s described in our Bible. Don’t get me wrong. I love the church. But the church was created by Jesus to teach and encourage our personal relationship with Him and, several centuries later, the Church and clericalism imposed itself between us and our Lord. Look up Psalm 23 and reread this beautiful Psalm that describes, not a relationship through a church, but a close personal relationship with the Good Shepherd who is ever tending to those for whom He deeply cares and loves. That’s why Jesus calls His followers (both then and now) His “friends.” John 15:15

If you believe the words of Jesus and would like to experience an intimate relationship with Him, then just open up your heart and tell Him that you desire a close personal relationship with Him. You don’t even have to join an Evangelical church! When you fully give yourself to Him, He will reach out and enfold you in His arms right where you’re at!