Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Rejoice Always?

Dear Friends,

I was Cleo’s last pastor and every September I remember the day we celebrated her 105th birthday five years ago. Since then, she has left this mortal life to live out her timeless existence in Heaven with her Lord Jesus Christ. But if you had been with me on that day she turned 105, you would have been shocked at how vital, lively and full of life this wonderful woman of God was. For many years, we had been holding a Wednesday service at Cleo’s assisted living home and she had not missed a single service. She’d park her wheelchair in the front row directly in front of me and everyone knew that was Miss Cleo’s “reserved” space! Church was what she looked forward to all week long. The residents knew that Cleo was the person to go to if they needed to talk to someone, had a question about God or needed prayer. Cleo was the oldest person I’d ever known and was the happiest person I’d ever known. When people would ask her what the secret was to her long life or ask how she could be so filled with joy all the time, she always gave the same answer to either question. She would tell you the answer is that she was always grateful to God, for everything, all of the time. And she really was!

One of the most troubling scriptures is, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Troubling because it seems as if God is telling us to do the impossible. Rejoice always? Pray constantly? Give thanks in everything? Impossible we say! But God never asks us to do the impossible and Jesus reminded His followers that in the Kingdom of God: “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” Matthew 19:26 And for us pessimistic naysayers who pin the word “impossible” on God’s commandments to us like a badge of defeat, we would only have to look at the radiant smile on Cleo’s face to see that with God, it really is possible to rejoice always!

Much of our unhappiness comes from stress and anxiety that’s created by circumstances outside our control. We are angry, sad, fearful. Today’s level of political and cultural hatred of those who do not share our political beliefs is astounding. Surveys are showing that 70-90% of the people in major cities no longer feel safe living there. Putin is threatening to launch a nuclear warhead and this week we’re reading about newfound major earthquake faults in Southern California and a major hurricane is headed toward Florida. Life in these United States can be scary and stressful and yet God says to rejoice always? Really? 

Yes! Because in the middle of the worst and most fearsome circumstances, when we know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, all is well with our soul. But we still may have no internal peace if we live with one foot in the sacred and one foot in the secular. Of course we’ll be unhappy, fearful and stressed during our week if our only time in the presence of God is for an hour and a half in church on a Sunday morning. 

That’s why God says we are not to rejoice just on Sunday morning, we are to “Rejoice in the Lord always..” Philippians 4:4 And here’s how to do that: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 Do you want to “rejoice always”? Then we need to pray “without ceasing” and give our cares and worries to God.

Born the granddaughter of a freed slave, Cleo grew up in the poverty of the South, but as a young girl in church, she learned that despite life’s circumstances, in everything you can find something to be thankful for. We don’t give thanks for everything. We don’t thank God for that devastating diagnosis we just received from our doctor. We don’t give thanks for earthquakes, fires and floods, but the word of God tells us that “in everything give thanks.” The morning after hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New Jersey in 2012, a woman was interviewed by a news reporter. As she looked at her flooded house and ruined possessions she said, “We were blessed. It could have been worse.” 

According to the Harvard School of Medicine, being thankful is one of the simplest ways to feel better. According to the Harvard Medical newsletter:

“The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means gratefulness. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.”

Cleo showed us that when we are constantly grateful to God and are thankful in all things, we will find ourselves rejoicing always. Do you want to feel better than you do? Do you want to be happier and healthier? Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.   Amen?

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Got A Sin Sticker?


Dear Friends,

I had stepped on a “goat’s head sticker” in my dining room. I was wearing just socks and the sharp pain took my breath away. As I extracted the quarter-inch sticker as sharp as a hypodermic needle, I sent a silent thank you to God that it embedded itself in my foot and not in one of the soft paws of my cats. This time of year I have thousands on my property and because they stick to shoes and clothes it’s easy for them to accidentally get tracked indoors if you’re not careful. If a cat ingests one while trying to remove it from a paw with their teeth, it can kill them.

Years ago when my dog Elysee was alive and she and I were outside, if I saw her freeze in place and not take another step, I knew that she’d picked up a sticker. I’d immediately go to help her, but she’d limp away from me as fast as she could. A sticker in your paw is painful, but she knew how much it would hurt when the sticker was being pulled out. And she associated me with the pain of its removal and not with the absence of pain that would occur as soon as the sticker was gone. She’d be terrified and would tremble as I lifted her paw. But she eventually learned that when she had a sticker, I could make that pain go away. She learned that when the sticker embedded itself in her paw, she needed to just stop, lift her paw, stand there on three legs and wait for me. I’d grab the sticker and it would be gone. One second she could hardly move because of the pain and in the next, she’d be running and dancing around the yard again, instantly healed. I was her miracle worker!

Kind of like the process of sanctification. So many times we are limping around with sin stickers stuck in our soul. We can’t avoid them. We are imperfect humans falling well short of the glory in this life that will be ours in the next. So one moment we’re running joyfully through life and the next moment we’ve succumbed to a temptation, picked up a sin sticker and we’re skidding to a stop. If we fear the painful removal of that sin sticker, we will find ourselves settling for a flawed and compromised relationship with God. The process of sanctification can be uncomfortable. It can be confrontational. In fact, many of our real encounters with God are somewhat painful. And knowing that the Holy Spirit will confront us and convict us of our sins, we too often limp away as fast as we can to avoid Him.

Many of us just pretend the sin stickers aren’t there and we’ve learned to limp so artistically that none of our friends have noticed. And some of the best “church-going” Christians have become experts in “sin management.” We walk painfully through life and know that we’ve fooled others. And, we can only hope that we’ve fooled God as well. So in our whispered nighttime prayers, we hide the sins that our lips tremble to name because we cannot bear to bring them before Him.

We find ourselves running from God instead of running toward Him. We tremble at the approach of the Lord and fear the pain of removal when He reaches down and pulls those sharp little sin stickers out of our soul. But when we submit to God and allow Him to do so, as soon as we have been cleansed of our sin, we are now running and dancing and joyfully thanking God for pulling out our sin stickers.

The word “Sanctify” means to be set apart and made holy. Sanctification is the process of growing in Christ through divine grace following salvation. Once we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, we begin to spiritually grow as we learn how to live and love like Jesus. And in our humanness we stumble, fall and pick up a sin sticker and once they’re there, they don’t fall out on their own. They have to be pulled out. Sanctification is the process where both you and the Holy Spirit are working to remove the sin stickers. That’s the on-going process of our repentance and His forgiveness. But you can’t be pretending the sin stickers don’t exist or try to run away from God. You’re going to have to stand still and lift your paw so that He can get to it.

Be honest with God. Remember, you’re not telling Him anything about you He doesn’t already know! Don’t ever be afraid of deep and abiding intimacy with God. When your Heavenly Father looks at you, He sees right through your mask. Psalm 139:1-7 He knows who you are. He can see each one of your sin stickers, and He loves you too much for you to have to carry those around and limp through life. 

At the end of each day, ask Him to show you where you’ve missed the mark. Psalm 139:23-24 Name the sin. Take responsibility for it. Own it. Confess it. Then ask Him to show you what you need to do to change that habit or avoid that temptation. John 14:13-14 And finally, receive His forgiveness Isaiah 43:25 and thank Him for His mercy and grace. Feel the peace of God. The sin sticker’s gone. Amen?

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Arrgghh!!


 Avast me Hearties! (Dear Friends),

This coming Monday (Sept 19th) is INTERNATIONAL TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY which just so happens to be one of my favorite holidays! When I was a young lad, my career goal was to become a pirate and while things didn't work out like I'd planned, it's probably for the best since it would be difficult for me to type this with a troublesome hook in place of my right hand.

But I still love watching the old Errol Flynn pirate movies; I live my boyhood dreams on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland and every September 19th I can thoroughly annoy my loved ones by talking like a pirate. Shiver me timbers! ‘Tis a foul storm approaching that be sending ye to Davy Jones Locker! Arrgghh!! (Singing) Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a pirate's life for me..

What does all this have to do with our Christian faith? Pirate jargon uses antiquated and obscure words with unclear meanings that make people laugh. Christian jargon uses antiquated and obscure words with unclear meanings that make people confused.

While we believers don't yet have a secret handshake, the secret language that we use to communicate with each other can be just as exclusive and alienating to those who may be outside the Christian clubhouse doors and trying to get in. If you've ever been with other people who unintentionally excluded you from their conversation by speaking in a language you didn't understand, you know what that feels like. 

Our “Christianese” can exclude the very people we are trying to reach. If I invite someone to “ask Jesus into your heart,” she may have no idea what I'm talking about. If I tell her that, “Jesus was the propitiation for her sins,” she'll need a dictionary to understand me. If I tell her that “Jesus made atonement for her so that she'll be justified, redeemed and sanctified,” her eyes will glaze over. 

But what if I tell her that “Humans have been separated from God by our rebellious nature and that’s what we call sin. And, Jesus, through His sacrificial death upon the cross, paid the penalty for our sins. When we accept and believe in Jesus, our relationship is then restored with God and we will have eternal life.”



There is absolutely nothing wrong with our using the beloved words and phrases that describe our  beliefs and how we live out our faith. It's all biblical and it's the language that we use to effectively communicate with each other. But when we're speaking to a non-Christian, or a new believer unfamiliar with Christian jargon, we need to speak their language, not ours. 

Whether giving someone driving directions, talking politics or matters of faith, communication has not taken place unless the person we’re speaking with has understood what it is that we’re attempting to say.

When speaking to others about your faith, and communicating the “Good News,” always try to think about what you are saying from the perspective of the person with whom you are speaking. 

“Aye! When ye parley with yer Matey, speak smartly that they savvy!” Colossians 4:6 APV (Authorized Pirate Version) 

“Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone!” Colossians 4:6 NLT

Until next week me Hearties! Arrgghh!! 

I mean.. Amen?

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

How To Not Mess Up A Relationship!

Dear Friends,

God created us to be in relationship with Him and to be in relationship with each other. God intersects our lives with the lives of others and has handpicked those other souls to be the ones  with whom we share our lives. He has chosen them to become a part of who we are and to walk with us for awhile on this journey called life. 

By birth and by happenstance, God gives us loved ones – family and friends – those who have been given to us and those to whom we have been given. And here's the way it seems to work. God creates our relationships with others and then, too often, we go and mess them up. Trust me in this. I’m an expert in messing up relationships.

If I close my eyes, I see a kaleidoscope of faces. The ghost relationships from my past. I whisper to my ghosts a plea for their forgiveness and can only hope they have done so. Not for my sake but for theirs. I wish I could tell them that at the time, I was clueless about God’s relationship rules.

From my first teenage crush on Kris Busch, the cute, red-haired girl at church, I've messed up more relationships than I’m comfortable thinking about. I've also had to helplessly watch far too many times as a friend or loved one messed up their relationship with me beyond repair. But no matter who gets the credit for muddling it up, every single one of my messed up relationships got messed up for the same reason. Someone wasn’t following the rules.

Here's the interesting thing that sometimes happens to people who have learned from their own messiness: God uses their experience to help others. He comforts (and guides) us in our troubles that we may comfort and help others. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NLT So, at a previous church, many, many years ago, God transformed the guy (me), who was proficient at messing up relationships, into a counseling pastor and brought me into the lives of those who were trying to repair their own wounded or broken relationships. 

My pastoral job was to help them understand how they got there in the first place, show them how they might be able to restore their messed up relationship and have healthier relationships in the future. Of course, whether it was between two spouses, parent and child, friends, co-workers or even themselves and their boss, the dysfunctional relationships had become fragile and fragmented for the exact same reason. They weren't following the rules.

On Amazon there are over 150,000 books on marriage and dating relationships, but you need only one book and it's already in your home. You know the book I'm talking about. It has everything that you'll ever need to know in order to have successful and fulfilling relationships with others. But it's a big book and I'll simplify things for you. Take a look at the enclosed. (If you are the person who resists following “rules” because they interfere with your personal freedom, then this AMEN Corner isn’t for you.) But if you do want the blessings from living out your relationship God’s way, then these One-Anothers will help you to do that.

Every relationship...Without exception...Every relationship gets messed up when people don't follow the rules of the “One-Another.” If both in a marriage made a three-way covenant with each other and with God to follow the biblical One-Anothers, and both sincerely worked at doing that, they would divorce-proof that relationship and it would truly be a marriage made in heaven. That’s guaranteed!

But in a marriage, we sometimes find ourselves “unequally yoked” 2 Corinthians 6:14 due to circumstances or decisions when we married or because we and our spouse have found ourselves on two different spiritual life-paths. If a spouse is unwilling to commit to following the One-Anothers with you, many times we can use the list as a diagnostic tool to see if there’s something we can do differently in order to improve the relationship. God tells us to imitate Him and walk in love Ephesians 5:1-2 because our Christ-like behavior will often inspire others to be like us.

The biblical One-Anothers are directed to all Christians and show us how to be Christ-like in all of our relationships with each other, but I’ve found this list to be especially helpful for a married couple working to restore or rejuvenate their relationship. And, it takes both husband and wife who are told by Paul to “..submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (meaning a mutual submission). Ephesians 5:21-33 NLT (see note) Two people are to accept one another, love one another, encourage each other and pray for each other and there are twenty-five One-Anothers in our Bible! Relationships can be incredibly easy and fulfilling and free of contention and strife. All you have to do is to follow God's rules. Amen?



THE “ONE-ANOTHERS” 

in Scripture hold a wealth of guidance for our relationships with loved ones, friends and all those who God has brought into our lives – those who have been given to us and to whom we have been given. If we practiced these “one–anothers,” we’d have far fewer problems in our relationships.
“Be at peace with each other.” Mark 9:50 
“Love one another.” John 13:34
“Be devoted to one another.” Romans 12:10
“Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10
“Stop passing judgement on one another.” Romans 14:13
“Accept one another.” Romans 15:7
Instruct one another.” Romans 15:14
“Greet one another.” Romans 16:16
“Serve one another in love.” Galatians 5:13
“Carry each other’s burdens.” Galatians 6:2
“Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2
“Be kind and compassionate to one another.” Ephesians 4:32
“Forgive each other.” Ephesians 4:32
“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Ephesians 5:19
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21
“In humility consider others better than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3
“Teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” Colossians 3:16
“Encourage each other.” 1 Thessalonians 4:18
“Build each other up.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11
“Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24
“Do not slander one another.” James 4:11
“Don’t grumble against one another.” James 5:9
“Confess your sins to each other.” James 5:16
“Pray for each other.” James 5:16
“Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” 1 Peter 5:5


 Note: The Biblical teaching of submission in marriage has been sadly misunderstood and misused and, in some marriages, has resulted in un-Christ-like behavior and abuse. I strongly recommend reading this entire passage of scripture in the New Living Translation for a clear understanding of what a Godly marriage looks like.

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God's word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. And we are members of his body. As the Scriptures say, "A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one." This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5:21-33 NLT


Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Do You Need a Rescue List?

Dear Friends,

There’s a story of an old country parson who was always filled with the joy of the Lord and unrelentingly thankful even during the worst of circumstances. That Saturday an unexpectedly huge snow storm swept over their town and they awoke Sunday morning to downed trees, no electrical power and collapsed roofs. As a few hardy parishioners gathered in the church for Sunday services they grumbled out loud that there was certainly nothing for the good reverend to be thankful about that morning. “MERCIFUL FATHER!” bellowed the pastor, “WE COME INTO THY PRESENCE AND THANK THEE THAT NOT ALL DAYS ARE LIKE THIS ONE..!!”

Thanksgiving day is three months away, but as Christians, we have so much to be thankful for, one day is not enough for us. We have a season of Lent to prepare us for Easter Sunday and a season of Advent to prepare us for Christmas Day. Perhaps we need a “season of thanksgiving” and maybe the season should start today and never come to an end. Because as Christian believers, everyday should be a day of thanksgiving!

G.K. Chesterton said, “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” And that's why the Apostle Paul said, “..in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:18 

As the country parson found, there is always something we can give thanks for even in the worst of storms. But how do we remain thankful for all things in the middle of our personal life-storms? We were talking one time with a good friend about how easy it is to pray, keep encouraged and have hope for our future when life is going well and how difficult that all is when we are down and discouraged. When our circumstances have plunged us into the pit of despair, it can seem like there’s nothing we can be thankful for now or ever again. We may find ourselves desperately searching for something good to hang on to, but positive thoughts are elusive and gratitude is beyond our grasp. And, that’s why we need a rescue list.
If my computer crashes, I have a “rescue disk” that I can use to reboot my computer and bring it back to life. If my day crashes, my “rescue list” will bring it back to life. I read those things which make me happy and a positive perspective will be restored; my thankfulness will be re-booted. I will be reminded of how good life really is and how much hope I have as a Christian believer. I am reminded that no matter what circumstances I find myself in at the moment, as the hymn goes: “All is well with my soul.” 

I’m sharing my list with you in the hope you will be inspired to make your own rescue list that will lift you out of the storms of life, fill your heart with gratitude to a gracious God and restore peace to your soul.


This list is very personal but I wanted you to see what I’m talking about. For the past six years it’s lived at the very front of my Bible so that I always know where it is and can quickly find it. These are just some of the things for which I am most thankful. Some may sound spiritual to you and some you may think are just plain silly, but they all bring a smile to my face when I read these.

I would encourage you to make your own “rescue list.” Make it personal and don’t worry if it’s serious or silly. Write down those things that you are most thankful for right now. What brings a smile to your face? What brings joy to your heart? Write those down; tuck the list in your Bible until you need it. The friend I mentioned has a sign in her kitchen that says, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” When your life turns sour, reflecting with gratitude upon the things in your list that bring joy to your life will be the sweetener for your “lemonade.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Are You A Hypocrite?



Dear Friends,

I had cooked up a large 12 quart pot of Broccoli and Cauliflower Soup for a group of church folks one night. (Not our church, but the church of a pastor friend of mine) Sensitive to the fact that some people do have food allergies, I made a sign that carefully listed all the ingredients. Organic chicken broth, butter, flour added as a thickener, seasonings and five different vegetables. A woman read the sign, stared fiercely in my direction and rushed on over. She looked up at me and declared in a cigarette-thickened voice, “I'm lactose intolerant and can't have any gluten, sulfites, msg, nitrates, nuts or potassium. Can I eat this?” I repeated the list of ingredients that she had just read off the sign and she gave me an accusatory look as if she had just caught me in a murder plot most foul. She glared at me and said, “This soup will make me deathly ill.” Later on, I noticed she was enjoying my “toxic” soup so much that she had gone back for thirds...

We were inviting Bill and Sally (not real names) over for dinner and she informed me that she was strictly vegan. She went on to tell me that she never eats anything that “has a face” and told me that all animals have souls just like people do. I didn't have time to get into that theological discussion but did want to clarify the menu I was planning. “Okay, so you never eat anything but vegetables?” I asked. “Well, I love Sushi,” she replied. She saw the grin slowly spread over my face and quickly explained, “Well that's only a fish but animals should never be killed.” I looked at her standing there in her red leather Nocona boots with her leather Coach purse and sequined leather Brighton belt, and wondered if she had given any thought to those “faceless” cows who gave their lives for her outfit...

When our walk doesn’t match our talk– when we claim to have moral standards, ideologies or beliefs and our behavior doesn’t conform to those standards, ideologies and beliefs, we are a hypocrite. The word “Hypocrite” comes from a Greek word meaning to “pretend” and in the Gospels, few sins are denounced as strongly as hypocrisy.

Non-believers ask, “How can I trust Christianity when so many Christians are hypocrites?” Yep.. I know what they're talking about because honestly, a lot of the time Christians are embarrassing to me. They give Jesus a bad name. I don't blame people who look at Christians and decide to not follow Jesus. Brennan Manning in “The Ragamuffin Gospel” put it like this: “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

Like I said, Christians are embarrassing to me and I have no tolerance for their hypocritical behavior. Then I catch myself standing in front of the mirror and looking at the guy who has been negative and critical. The guy who can be angry, impatient and rude. The dude who’s sometimes inconsiderate and unkind. I see this cranky old curmudgeon who has not always practiced what he preached. And I want to point my finger at the image in the mirror and yell accusingly at him, “And you call yourself a Christian!” So the hypocritical guy in the mirror is an embarrassment to me also. And then God reminds me that the guy in the mirror is just another sinner saved by grace.

So what do we tell the skeptics? The late wife of Billy Graham, told a story about a young woman from India who had said, “We of India would like to believe in Christ but we have never seen a Christian who was like Christ.” Ruth Graham told the young lady, “I'm not offering you Christians. I'm offering you Christ.” That needs to be our answer to those put off by the hypocrisy of Christians. We are not asking skeptical family and friends to follow Christians and do what they do. We are asking them to follow Jesus and to do what He would do.

Here's the one important thing for a skeptic to understand about why there are so many hypocrites in church. It's because all humans are hypocrites. There are times for all of us when our behavior does not match up with our values and beliefs. A PEW Survey even found that 18% of all Atheists have prayed to “God” when they've gotten into a real jam! 6% of Atheists pray daily. 11% weekly and 17% say they pray at least monthly. And 5% of those who are Atheists have said that “God,” a “Higher Power” or “Supreme Being” answered their prayers. Think about that for a moment...

The antidote for hypocrisy is authenticity, and it’s only when we lead repentant lives that we can become authentic Christians. Authentic followers of Jesus will describe themselves as “works in progress” so it should be no surprise to anyone that at times we fail to live up to what we know is the right thing to do. The evidence of our Christian life is not when they see our perfect saintly behavior, but when they see us constantly striving to follow Jesus and live like Him despite our occasional failures to do so. That’s authentic Christianity.  Amen?


Wednesday, August 17, 2022

A Protestant Saint?

Dear Friends,

Julian of Norwich. A mystic? Theologian? Medieval Cat Lady? All three accurately describe this intensely religious woman of God who is a Saint, not only of the Catholic Church, but of Protestant churches as well. This nameless woman is a much beloved Saint with a day of commemoration in the Anglican, Episcopal and Lutheran churches and she’s even considered the “Patron Saint” of Christian cat lovers! Who was this fascinating woman from the 1300s and why is she so loved by such a diverse yet ecumenical collection of people today?

We don’t know her baptized name. After she became an “anchoress” at Saint Julian’s Church in Norwich, England, she abandoned her given name and took up the name of the Saint that the church was named after. Saint Julian’s Church was built in the 11th and 12th century and has been both a Catholic and Anglican (protestant Church of England) church. A lithograph from 1829 shows what it looked like before it was destroyed by a direct hit during a wartime bombing raid in 1942. It was rebuilt in the early 1950's and exists today as a church chapel and shrine for Julian of Norwich. 

“Anchorites” were deeply religious men and women who were called by God to spiritually and physically attach or “anchor” themselves to a particular church and dedicate their life to prayer for that church, the priests and those in the surrounding community that the church served. A “cell” – a small room – in the church or on the church property would be given to the anchorite. In some cases, once the anchorite committed the rest of their life to the church, the room would be sealed up except for a small opening though which food could be passed and the chamber pot also passed through to be emptied and returned. You and I cannot possibly imagine a more intense and dedicated religious experience than living the life of an anchorite! 

At Saint Julian’s, a cell was built for “Juliana” in the garden that was walled off from public access. (Juliana is the female version of the male saint’s name and that’s how she was called.) She could leave her cell but not the small and enclosed garden and she saw no one but the woman caretaker who brought her meals. The anchorite rules prevented Juliana from seeing people, but an opening high in the garden wall allowed her to converse and pray with people who sought her wise spiritual counseling. While the Benedictine Anchorite Rule prevented relationships with people, it encouraged the anchorites to have cats that provided needed companionship when living the hermit’s life of solitude and prayer. We know nothing about her cats other than that she had at least one living with her during her life at Saint Julian’s.

Juliana lived in her cell when multiple plagues carried by rodents swept through England with each new wave killing tens of thousands of people. Isolated from the virus in her cell and living with only her cat, Juliana stayed healthy and lived a long life. During our own recent coronavirus “plague,” when I thought of the older women I knew who were isolated from the virus by living in their “hermitage” homes with only a cat for a companion, I’d wonder if they knew they were living the life of Julian of Norwich. 

Born in 1343, Juliana apparently had a husband and children who had been killed in one of the early plagues which also nearly ended her own life. That’s when at age 30 she lay dying and a priest was called to deliver the Last Rites. As he held up a crucifix over her bed, she went into a state of spiritual ecstasy that she later wrote about. She described visions that God showed her and saw a “different” God than how He was described in the church doctrine of that time. 14th Century Catholic teaching focused on sin and preached God as judgmental, harsh and condemning. But Juliana’s visions were of a God who was compassionate and loving and who protected His beloved by His providence.

Inspired by her mystic visions, Juliana felt called to be an anchoress and she entered the cell at Saint Julian’s where she wrote a short manuscript describing what God had showed her in the visions. Twenty years later she wrote a longer version "Revelations of Divine Love" that was the earliest theological book written in English. It could not be published because during the time of reformation a “woman theologian” was an oxymoron – no such person could possibly exist! The most interesting fact and our take-away is that "Revelations of Divine Love" was also the first book ever written in English by a woman. The first published copy of her book was in 1670 – over two hundred years after she had died in her 70s.

“And I saw full surely that ere God made us he loved us; which love was never lacking nor ever shall be. And in this love he has made all his works; and in this love he has made all things profitable to us; and in this love our life is everlasting... in which love we have our beginning. And all this shall we see in God, without end” (Revelations of Divine Love)

While there are entire books filled with Julian of Norwich quotes, perhaps her best known words come at the end of a prayer she wrote: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” 

When we find ourselves today drinking the news and social media poison that emphasizes all the hysteria, hype and rage in the world and increases stress, conflict and, for some, even panic about the future, it might be helpful to remember that God is still on the throne! Our Sovereign God still has the whole world in His hands and no matter what is happening today, as Julian of Norwich put it:

“All shall be well, and all shall be well
and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Looking Weird For God?



Dear Friends,

A few years ago I was having lunch with a co-worker at a family restaurant. He's a Fire Captain and at that time was in charge of his department's Chaplaincy Program. The food arrived and we both just automatically bowed our heads while one of us said grace to bless the meal and our conversation.

But before we could dig into our lunch, a thirty-something woman sitting alone across the room, bounded over to us and enthusiastically gushed about how wonderful it was to see two men praying together in public. I'm normally receptive to an attractive women telling me how awesome I am, but she was going on and on and my fries were getting cold and I wished she’d soon end her accolades. 

She paused and I saw the big smile on her face begin to falter as her eyes glanced quickly away from us and back again. In that instant, I saw pain flicker across her face and knew that she had not come over just to compliment us on our public piety. She was trying to say something and wrestling with how to get it out. I slid over on the bench seat and said, “Why don't you sit down and tell us why God sent you over to us. Tell us how we can pray for you.” Her demeanor instantly changed and the giggling was gone. She sat and begin to weep as she told us a horrific story. 

Our burgers and fries were now cold as we ministered to her and prayed for her. But we didn't mind a bit. God had providentially brought us into this particular restaurant at this particular time so that we would intersect this woman's life just as she was running out of hope. 

We were where He needed us to be at a time when she didn't know if she should still hang on to life or just let go.. This was at a time when she had just lost both her parents to a violent death and had no one to turn to.. At a time when she was desperately searching for the God she vaguely remembered from Sunday School.. And now at the time when she knew that she needed to reconnect with her Heavenly Father and was unsure how to do that, God brought her into a restaurant and sat her down between a Fire Department Chaplain and a Pastor.

We both thought that our conversation with the woman would have gone unnoticed by anyone else in the restaurant. But as soon as she left our booth, the waitress appeared at our table with her own eyes filled with tears by what she had just watched take place, and she silently took our untouched food back to the kitchen to warm everything up for us.

It was not until much later as I thought about that day that I realized it was not the "prayer" that had earmarked us both as Christians to the young woman. It was the posture of prayer. Heads bowed in reverence before God. Eyes closed to momentarily shut out the world and come into His presence. An unhurried moment of giving thanks to God for His provision and asking for His blessing. But had we not been willing to assume the risk of disapproval of others by praying in public view, God's plan for that woman would have been thwarted that day.

Of the 83% of Americans who identify as Christians, only 37% pray before a meal and less than 17% would say grace in a restaurant. Christians have told me that they would be mortified to pray in public and said that they wouldn’t want to offend those who were not religious.

But a former atheist writes: “Even when I was an atheist, I recall being quite moved on the rare occasions that I saw people pray before meals in public. I thought it was interesting that God was real enough to these people that they were willing to stand out and look weird to acknowledge him. In general, I had a low opinion of anyone who believed in God - Christians especially - but it was touching to see people pray before meals, and I respected the gesture in spite of my cynicism. In fact, those were some of the few occasions that I thought about God with an open mind.”  

I love the way this former atheist put that because it becomes a thought-provoking challenge. The next time we’re eating in a restaurant, we have to ask ourselves: Is God real enough to me that I would be willing to stand out and look weird in order to acknowledge Him and thank Him for all that He’s given me?

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Ten Years!

Dear Friends,

A Little AMEN Corner History:

It was the first week of August 2012 that the first AMEN Corner (AC) was published and it had been a very full year. Some personal history: I had been an ordained pastor in a Pentecostal denomination since 1997 but always worked bi-vocationally with my church work and my secular job as an administrator at a city. In January 2008, I became the associate pastor at Erwin Street Foursquare and in November of that year became the interim senior pastor. 

In February 2009, New Hope Family Church was born out of the denominational dysfunction at Erwin Street Foursquare and we became a non-denominational Evangelical Charismatic church. Between both “church and state” jobs, I normally worked seven days a week but the city did give two Fridays off every month and that’s when Rhianna and I would go to the beach. I loved everything about both jobs, but after three years of working 341 days in a year with only 24 days off, I was done with the grind and I retired from the city in September of 2012. Hmm.. gotta lot of extra time on my hands now.. maybe write a weekly newsletter..?

Being a small church of 20-30 people, we rented from churches and had our service on Sunday once their service had concluded. That worked perfectly for Sundays but eliminated a Wednesday night service or any gatherings on days other than on Sunday. My decision to write a weekly newsletter was so we could provide that mid-week connection with our church members and the AMEN Corner was intended to provide a “thought” for the week, church announcements, items that may be of interest to our church members etc. 

The first issue was dated August 8, 2012 and was mailed to about thirty people. I also sent PDF versions by email to another dozen people. The AC began to evolve into more of a weekly devotional that had a wider appeal to those who did not attend our church, and in July 2013, this online blog was developed. People could subscribe to the blog and many switched from the mailed copy to the online version. Today about ten people receive the mailed, printed AC and about fifty people receive the automated email that has a link to click on that week’s AC.

Some AMEN Corner Highlights and Lowlights:

The response to the AC was completely unexpected. People have told me that they save every one so that they can read them again and several have asked me to publish the back issues in a book. The most popular AC on the blog is an old one from August 2013 titled “Compassion - It’s What We Do” and has been read 1,633 times. 

At the top of this page are tabs with twenty-one AMEN Corners that I thought were interesting or important enough to be available, not just for one week, but every time the blog is opened. Out of those twenty-one special AC’s, fourteen of them have been read between 600 and 1,000 times. Years ago when I saw how many times our weekly online AC’s were being read, I realized that, through the grace of God, our little family church of 20-30 was ministering to many hundreds of followers. 

One of those special AC’s, “The Forgiven Cowboy” has been read 929 times and last year I was contacted by a publisher who wanted to publish it in a book of Christian western short stories. They also wanted to buy the copyright from me so that they would own it. I told them I would not sell the copyright, they were free to publish it without charge but they would have to name me as the author and copyright holder. They would not publish it unless they could buy the copyright and I was amused that a publisher liked this old sermon well enough that they wanted exclusive ownership rights so they could pretend they wrote it.

I believe in and preach the Word of God and often quote scripture in the AC’s. I’m always surprised when Christian readers are offended by God’s Word and become outraged when I quote verbatim the words of Jesus Christ! One of the most offensive things I’ve written in an AC was in 2016 when I wrote, 

“If we find ourselves participating in the cultural tornado of hate and destruction that’s swirling around our Country and we are a Christian who hates those who don’t share our political beliefs, please know that there’s no “righteous” hatred for those with different beliefs. Jesus said to His followers, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:35 NLT Does that mean that our hate for one another will prove to the world that we are not His disciples? According to the Word of God it does: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don't love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters.” 1 John 4:20-21 NLT 

When I wrote that it was wrong for Christians to hate each other for their different political beliefs, it so offended our more liberal readers, that one third of all the weekly readers cancelled their AC subscription. For the first time, I was discouraged and questioned if I wanted to continue writing the AMEN Corners. How do you write a devotional for all believers when so many find the Word of God offensive? But a progressive Lutheran pastor friend was actually the one who said something that strengthened my resolve to continue to preach the Word of God as it's written and not as some might wish it would be. When I asked my pastor friend why he cancelled his email subscription, he told me that he hates Republicans because “Jesus hates all Republicans and conservatives.” He also told me that “unless a person hates Trump, they cannot be a Christian.” Alrighty then.. I guess that explains it..! And then I remembered something Christian author Anne Lamott wrote: “You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

Every so often, an AC reader will become angry at something Jesus said and transfer that anger onto me. Today when people tell me they are disturbed or offended by my quoting some of the hard sayings from Jesus about marriage, gender or salvation, I remind them that they are allowing themselves to be offended by something Jesus said, and if they are truly upset about it, they need to take it up with Him.

Ten years of AMEN Corners times 52 weeks is a lot of weekly devotionals but I'll continue to write them if.. (as the old Hank William's song goes) "if the good Lord's willing and the creek don't rise!"

From the AMEN Corner Archives:

If you'd like to cruise through some of the most popular AMEN Corners, you can check these out:

The Very First One Published

The One Most Read

A Personal Favorite

What I've been told was the Funniest One

The Funniest, Saddest, True Story of Romance Gone Bad

A Very Personal One (that was most difficult to write)

Thank you for reading the AMEN Corners!

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

God: Our Navigator


Dear Friends,

I was in my first major car crash when I was only seven or eight. I saw the terror on the other driver’s face right before the impact and I know he could see the terror on mine. We were both frantically trying to steer our way clear. Forcefully yanking our steering wheels from one side to another had no effect. Our cars had quickly accelerated out of our control and we smashed head on into each other. The high-pitched whine of the electric motors was silenced upon impact, and now other cars smashed into our stalled cars. We had caused a multi-vehicle pile up and the operator had to turn off the power and run over to untangle us.

I grew up in Culver City and my favorite place in the whole world was Beverly Park on La Cienega Blvd. Also called “Kiddieland,” this theme park was close to our home, inexpensive and was a defining part of my childhood. I loved going there with my family. My favorites were the boats, the Ferris wheel and the pony rides but the “Dodgem” cars were the highlight. They were loud, fast and totally out of control. Loud, fiery sparks flew off the steel brush at the end of the car’s pole as it moved along the electrified ceiling and powered the car. Most of the steering wheels were useless and even Dodgem admitted, “until you have learned how, you go somewhere, but you don't go where you intend going.” The steering wheels were just something to hang onto when you crashed into each other. The operator kept turning the ride on and off so that one moment you were sitting peacefully in the middle of the small building then, in an instant, sparks would fly and you’d be once again hurtling out of control into another exciting smash-up. Kinda like life.

Things are going well. Life is good. There is peace and harmony. Maybe even good health and prosperity. Then the unseen hand of fate flips the switch, sparks fly and your life is headed out of control to another spectacular smash-up. And once again we tried our best to avoid it. But frantically jerking life’s steering wheel back and forth has no effect and like a Dodgem car, “until you have learned how, you go somewhere, but you don't go where you intend going.” And the problem is that we are not on Earth long enough to have learned everything we need to know about life. That’s why we so often find ourselves in circumstances where we never intended to go. 

A few years ago, on the first Sunday of the year, I asked everyone a question, “In this coming year, where is it in your life that you most need God?” A long-time member, John Fredricks, answered and told us that he needed God to be his “Navigator.” As a pilot and flight instructor, John knew that in military aviation, a flight navigator’s primary job is to determine the best way to get you to where you want to go, maintain the course by keeping you headed in the right direction and safely get you to where you need to be. Today all non-military planes are flown by a combination pilot/navigator alone, but our journey through life is a lot more complicated than flying a plane. That’s why we need a Navigator.

When we think about our past circumstances, situations and relationships, the first thing we may need to do is to admit that our own attempts at navigating through life have led to some pretty spectacular smash-ups. That’s why God says to us, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5 NLT Like King David we must submit to God and pray, “Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; Your Spirit is good. Lead me in the land of uprightness.” Psalm 143:10 

Imagine the foolishness of a military pilot on a critical mission turning off the headset communication system with the flight navigator and just cluelessly flying in a random direction on his own. And yet that’s how the majority of Christian believers go through their days by failing to ask the Navigator to show them His way. We can do it our way, or we can believe in Him, submit to Him, pray to Him, ask His direction and wait in patient anticipation for His answer. Then once we have that sense of His direction for us, He will show us when and where to step out in faith.

When we are no longer relying on our own understanding and we fully trust in God’s direction for our life, then His promise to us is that He will be our Navigator, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.” Psalm 32:8 NLT God has sent the Holy Spirit to “guide you into all truth” and give you “the direction for your future.” John 16:13

And best of all, when God is our Navigator, even when we encounter the normal turbulence in life, we know we will not crash and burn because His hand of protection is on us and, no matter what happens, all is well with our soul. “The Lord will deliver us from every evil work and preserve us for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!” 2 Timothy 4:18

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

On The Moon



Dear Friends,

They become the “pictures” that are permanently etched in our mind. Some happy. Some sad. Some absolutely horrifying. Thanks to live television, I watched the Beatles debut on the Ed Sullivan show and remember the moment perfectly. I watched in shock as the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded and looked on in disbelief as O.J. Simpson’s blood-soaked glove “didn’t fit.” There’s a “mental video” forever in my brain that I wish would go away. I saw it on live TV like perhaps you did. It’s the plane flying into the second World Trade Tower and then both towers collapsing. I still remember the emotional impact of that moment. You have your own vivid “mind pictures” – some you hope will never fade away and some where you wish that you had a delete button you could push to permanently erase.

Here’s another permanent memory that you may also have if you’re around my age. It was exactly 53 years ago (July 20, 1969) that the Apollo 11 Lunar Module landed, and six hours later my dad and I were sitting on the family room couch watching a live television feed broadcast from the moon. Commander Neil Armstrong said: “One small step for (a) man, one giant step for mankind” and took the first step onto the moon. Buzz Aldrin then also stepped onto the moon and both men spent the next 2 ½ hours walking and exploring with our Nation transfixed in awe as we watched the camera feed and listened to the live broadcast.

That was arguably one of the most important events in the history of our world and I am grateful that it happened in my lifetime and I watched as it took place. In a recent survey given to over 2000 people younger than me, it was asked “Which major event in the sixties would you most liked to have witnessed” and the number one choice was to have watched Armstrong walk on the moon. 

When Neil Armstrong died in 2012, all those memories resurfaced of when my dad and I watched Armstrong take that first step, and I went to the internet as I reminisced about such an enormously important event in America’s history. As I scanned the various published articles about the voyage of Apollo 11, I read something that I had not known. After the lunar module had landed, but before Armstrong’s historic moment, something happened of even greater importance that was not broadcast. What we did hear was Buzz Aldrin saying: “This is the lunar module pilot. I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.”

What we didn’t know was this. During that time when the audio feed was cut off, Aldrin later described what happened next: “In the radio blackout, I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the scripture, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.’ I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements.”

Aldrin had wanted to broadcast the communion but NASA had refused for fear of lawsuits by atheists. Aldrin was an elder at Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, Texas and his communion kit was prepared by his pastor. Webster Presbyterian possesses the chalice used on the Moon and commemorates the event each year on the Sunday closest to July 20. This astronaut – this man of God – took the Presence of Jesus Christ to the moon. The first supper served on the moon was the Lord’s Supper. Some of the first words spoken after the lunar landing were scripture – the words of Jesus from John 15:5 (underlined above) and also these portions of Psalm 8:

“You have set Your glory in the heavens.. When I consider the heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which You have set in place.. Who are we that You are mindful of us.. human beings that You care for us.”

You and I will never go to the moon, but there are places we do go to that are perhaps even more needful of the presence of Jesus Christ. Is there someplace we should be taking Jesus that we’ve never taken Him before? To our work? Our school? Our neighbor’s home? Our home? Lord, forgive us when we’ve rushed off to go somewhere in our cluttered and chaotic lives and left You behind. For without You, we can do nothing.  AMEN?

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Seeking The Will Of God



Dear Friends,

I’ve had my birthday for the year and you either have also had yours or, if God continues to keep you on this side of the dirt, you’ll have a birthday before the year’s end too. Birthdays are times of celebration! And, every time we celebrate the day of our birth, we are celebrating another year of life that God has so graciously given us. We are thankful to Him! From the first moment God created us in the womb Psalm 139:13-15 NLT and then gave us breath, all that we have received is from Him. And, our birthdays can be a time for thoughtful reflection. We may feel various degrees of satisfaction when we look back to see how well we’ve used God’s gift of life. But how are we doing now?

How are we doing today? Are we tracking with God? Are we truly following Jesus and trying as hard as we can to do what He would do if He were us? Are we on His path or on ours? And that brings us to the big question today. Do we really know the will of God for our lives? Because that right there is where we can get befuddled or “puddingheaded” as my grandmother Betty would say. So.. How do we discern the will of God for our lives?

As Rhianna and I continue on our journey in life together, we’ve been looking at our future and seeking God’s will in order to keep our feet firmly planted on the path that He has ordained for us. When making crucially important decisions, it was so much easier when we were young – heads it was a “yes” and tails were a “no.” Now that we’re slightly more mature Christians today than when we were ten, flipping a coin is no longer the easy answer and the process of discernment to determine God's will means a whole lot of time spent on our knees.

When we are faced with any decision and seeking the will of God, there is no method or technique that’s 100% guaranteed. But, there are some time-tested, Biblically-based general principles that may be helpful to know...

To know the will of God for your life, you must be a believer and by that, I mean a Christian – a “Christ-follower” as we talked about in last week’s AMEN Corner. Our sin keeps us separated from God, and you are unable to know His will for your life until you confess your sins and put your belief and faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior. 

And.. even after becoming a believer, any unrepentant, continued and intentional sin may cause our Lord God to put His hand over His ears when we pray. The prophet says, “Listen! The LORD’S arm is not too weak to save you, nor is His ear too deaf to hear you call. 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 59:1-2 NLT If it feels like God has turned a deaf ear to our request to discern His will, we need to do a sin check and confess even the most minor sins that may be coming between us and God. As King David said, “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Psalm 66:18 NLT

Then read your Bible! It has been said that: “The will of God for the people of God is in the Word of God.” All Scripture is inspired (literally: breathed out) by God 2 Timothy 3:16 ESV and is infallible – meaning that His Word is never failing and always effective in teaching us what is true and showing us what is wrong in our lives. It corrects and convicts us when we are on the wrong path and teaches us to do what is right. The Word of God prepares and equips us with all we need for life, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and His will for us will always line up with His Word.

But while God’s Word gives very detailed teaching, for example, on our attitude at work, it doesn’t tell us which job to take. And while our Bible tells us the type of person we should marry (Spoiler Alert: “a Christian of the opposite sex”), it doesn’t tell us who to marry. That’s when we need specific directions, and when we do, God wants to reveal His will directly to us. Here’s how to receive it:

Pray. Pray again. Pray some more. Contemplative prayer brings you into the presence of God. Intense, focused and continuous prayer often results in a stage of discernment and clarity of vision. If I am faced with two or more options, I ask God to give me a holy discontent–a strong feeling of discomfort –about the direction or decision He doesn’t want me to go in or make. At the same time, I pray that God will give me an increasingly strong sense of His peace about the option that He does want me to choose. After a few days or weeks of prayer, the contrasts between the options often increase until God’s will for me becomes very clear, and I have a strong sense of peace about the direction in which to go.

Often we might receive a general sense of His will without knowing all the details we’d prefer to have. The Holy Spirit doesn’t show us more than we need to know. I’d love to have a complete report of what my tomorrow will look like. Actually, I’d be content if He would just mark down all future key events in my Goggle calendar, but instead I’m told: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.” Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT

Believe in Him, submit to Him, pray to Him, ask His direction and wait in patient anticipation for His answer. Then once we have that sense of His desire for us, He will show us when and where to step out in faith. And, while we don’t always know where we are being led, we walk with confidence into the mysteries of tomorrow because we love, trust and know the One Who is leading. Amen?