Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Be Good?

 Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

But.. It Was Only An Apple!

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Happy Samhain?

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Conquering The Maze!

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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