Wednesday, December 21, 2022

What It's All About!


Dear Friends,

There was a time in my adult life when layers of Christmas traditions had obscured the meaning. As a young boy, I knew it was about the miraculous birth of Jesus, but it was also about the miraculous coming of Santa Claus. Christmas was a time of mystery and wonder until someone punctured my belief about Santa with the truth and all the mystery and wonder leaked out. As I grew into adulthood, my Christmas became a sloppy mixture of sentimentality and materialism. It was a time of year when things in the world became nice again. Nice decorations, nice songs, nice movies, nice dinners, nice gifts and the miracle of Jesus’ birth was overshadowed with the miracle of people actually being nice to one another. 

We long for the hope, peace, joy and love that we often find in our sentimentalization of Christmas. We express our love for each other by giving gifts and the more the merrier. And sadly for too many of us, that’s the true meaning of Christmas. But those of us who are believers know that Christmas is more than nice, warm thoughts and what we got at Walmart on Black Friday. 

Christmas is about a Creator entering into His Creation to redeem us and bring us true hope, peace, joy and love. Christmas is about the incarnation, literally meaning “God in the flesh.” And when we return to the spiritual riches of Christmas, the sentimentality and materialism of the season is now eclipsed with the majesty and mystery of the incarnation. Our childlike wonder has returned. Thank You God!

Advent is the season of expectation. The word Advent is from a Latin word meaning “coming” and we celebrate the first time Jesus came to earth in that Bethlehem manger as we look with full expectation to His second coming. ‘Tis the season to decorate, shop, cook, bake, give, receive and spend time with family and friends. That’s what we love about Christmas, but none of those wonderful holiday traditions has anything to do with Christ. That’s why we need Advent to remind us to take a timeout from the holiday busyness and spend time with Jesus.

I love the Christmas movies. I laugh at the immature and irreverent humor in "National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation" and cry at the same sappy places you do while watching "Miracle on 34th Street" and "It’s a Wonderful Life." But of course those classic Christmas movies are about an eccentric family, the “real” Santa Claus and guardian angels. Nothing about Jesus.

That’s why my favorite Christmas movie is a animated movie (cartoon) that was introduced to the world on December 9, 1965. Its overt religious theme was out of place on TV then, and no major studio or television network would even think about producing this today. The miracle is that, not only was it made, but that networks must still show this very politically-incorrect animated movie every Christmas because it’s so immensely popular! I’m talking about "Charlie Brown’s Christmas." Here’s an excerpt:

Charlie Brown: Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?

Linus Van Pelt: Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.  [moves toward the center of the stage]

Linus Van Pelt: Lights, please. [a spotlight shines on Linus]

Linus Van Pelt: "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"

[Linus picks up his blanket and walks back towards Charlie Brown]

Linus Van Pelt: That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Having a Christ-Centered Christmas?

Dear Friends,

In the fourth century, the church established a liturgical service (the “Christ Mass”) that would celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th. And while the exact date of the birth of Jesus is unknown, the earliest known reference to His birth being on December 25th was in a commentary on the Book of Daniel that Hippolytus of Rome wrote in 204 A.D. Some time after that, a pagan festival honoring the sun god “Sol Invictus” began to be celebrated on that day and it was later claimed that the church then formally established December 25th in the fourth century as the birthday of Jesus to counteract the influence of paganism. But in 320 A.D., one theologian answered this criticism by noting, “We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of Him who made it.”

If we were to objectively look at our own pre-Christmas activities, preparing for parties, setting out snowman inflatables on our front lawn, stringing colored lights, “Black Friday” and a frantic shopping for gifts, we might see that what we’re doing is far more “secular” than “Christian.” That’s why we might want to spend these remaining few days preparing for a Christ-Centered Christmas and here are seven things that may be helpful:

Read a Christmas Devotional Book. 
Read as a daily devotional or ignore the designated days in Advent and just read until the words reveal something that stops you and fills your thoughts with what’s personally meaningful for you. Spend some quiet time meditating on what the Holy Spirit just called to your attention and ask God to speak to your heart what He wants you to know.

Be Bold with Your Faith!
Say “Merry Christmas” to everyone. If you are genuinely worried about being politically incorrect and offending someone, recent surveys show that 96% of people in America celebrate a traditional Christmas! Even many Jews, Muslims and Atheists!

Read the Christmas Story in your Bible.
Isaiah 7:14; Luke 1:5-56; Matthew 1:18-24; Luke 2:1-20.

Surround Yourself and Family with Visual Images of the “Reason for the Season.”
The focus for Christians and non-Christians alike is a decorated tree. Rhianna and I have had trees with lights and brightly-colored painted glass round ornaments. Trees with only country-cute wood ornaments but our tree today, with the exception of a few religious ornaments, is nearly all crosses – it’s our “Jesus Tree” (see Rhianna’s photo above).

In the Interest of Full Disclosure: I confess that I do insist on hanging my plastic "Jack in the Box dude riding a reindeer" on the tree. Our yearly tradition is that I put it in the front and Rhianna later hides it in the back.

And no Christian home should be without a Nativity scene. That’s because the Holy Family with Jesus in the manger, always has been, and always will be, the most Christ-centered image of Christmas. We love to decorate our homes at this time of year, but if you invited a family, who didn’t know you well, into your house, would they know that you’re a Christian by the images depicted in your seasonal decorations? This may be an uncomfortable thought, but others can always tell who or what we worship by the things in our home that are important and meaningful to us!

Fill your Home with Christmas Music. 
And I don’t mean “LAST CHRISTMAS” by Wham! or Mariah Carey’s hit holiday song “ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU” (Spoiler Alert: She’s not singing to Jesus). There’s more and more secular “Christmas” music on our radios and being streamed, but to keep Christ in Christmas, we need to listen to and sing along with the traditional Christmas hymns we remember from our childhood. There are also many excellent contemporary Christmas albums with Christ-centered lyrics in genres from Gospel to Country.

Watch a Biblical Christmas Movie.
Enjoy the sentimental Hallmark Christmas movies or “It’s A Wonderful Life” but also watch “The Nativity Story.” Dove Foundation reviews said “The cinematography in this film is breathtaking and the acting is solid throughout.” The film was also acclaimed for its historical and biblical accuracy and shows the viewer what life in those times would have realistically been like. “The Nativity Story” is THE Christmas movie.

Go to Church. Attend a Christmas Eve service. 

Many of us have focused this Advent season on Christmas-centered activities – the tree, outside lights, shopping, decorations, gifts, cookies, greeting cards and we finally got the inflatable snowman working again on the front lawn. These are all well and fine, but now for these next twelve days, let’s transition from a Christmas-centered mind set to a Christ-centered Advent that will prepare us for the coming of the Lord and our celebration of Him on December 25th. When we do so, we set aside the stress-inducing crowdedness of our days and give Jesus the space to move fully into our lives.

When we make this holiday season Christ-centered, we are rewarded with His grace and with the love and warmth of His presence in our hearts. And then dear loved one, that’s when Christmas becomes Christmas...

Thursday, December 8, 2022


Dear Friends,

Please don’t get me wrong here. I love Santa Claus. I’ll never forget the year he brought me a genuine Red Ryder BB Gun and I still have my old Structo steel toy truck he left for me under the tree. I even have the Gilbert Erector Set that Santa gave me, but the Gilbert Chemistry Set disappeared shortly after the incident involving the stink bomb in my sister’s bedroom. 

As I grew into my teens, Santa apparently became very concerned over my personal hygiene habits because my stocking would be filled with deodorant, toothpaste and dental floss. Instead of finding an exciting new toy under the tree, I’d find a shirt and a package of underwear from Sears. In my middle-age years, Santa brought me books, knowing how much I like to read. But today, as I’ve transitioned into my senior years, Santa brings me industrial-sized packages of toilet paper and paper towels from Costco. No. I’m not kidding about that.

But the Santa I knew and loved as a boy never overshadowed the Baby in the manger. The focus of our celebration was not on the tree in our living room but on what took place in our church. The Nativity set my grandmother gave me when I was nine is on the bookshelf next to me as I write this. She gave it to me to keep the Christ child in my thoughts during the Christmas season – it still does. This was the 1950's and our family was typical of the believing, church-going families of those days. 

Times are different today. We’ve enhanced and expanded the Santa legend today until he has morphed into God. He sees you when you're sleeping. He knows if you're awake. He knows if you've been bad or good. So be good for goodness sake. Santa Claus is omniscient – all knowing. He knows when you've been good or bad. Santa is omnipresent – he’s everywhere on Christmas eve. Santa fulfills the wishes of good little boys and girls because he is all powerful – he’s omnipotent. Santa brings miracles! All you have to do is to believe!

Those three underlined characteristics are the attributes of God and God alone. But when we’ve imprinted God’s characteristics onto Santa Claus and elevated Santa to be our Christmas deity, we can’t blame our children or grandchildren for praying to their Santagod for toys and other cool stuff. Take a moment and look up Exodus 20:3. Maybe we need to turn the Santagod back into his human namesake: Saint Nicholas. 

In the 4th century, Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra which was located in the territory of Lycia. In New Testament days, Lycia was a province of the Roman Empire and was visited by Paul on one of his evangelistic journeys. Acts 27:5-6

Saint Nicholas has been remembered as a man of great faith and his compassion for others. His parents died when he was young, leaving him with a large amount of money. Many bishops in those days used their position in the church to gain great wealth and property. Nicholas used his position as bishop to give away his personal wealth to those in need. He used his money to redeem those sentenced to death for their failure to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor and was known for giving gifts of food, clothes and shoes to children.

During the reformation, the Protestant reformers rejected nearly all the saints but kept Saint Nicholas, and in remembrance of this Saint at Christmas, children received gifts. Sinter Klass” is Dutch for Saint Nicholas, and Dutch settlers brought Sinter Klass to the English-speaking world where we spelled and pronounced it as “Santa Claus.”

At about the same time in Victorian England that Sinter Klass was introduced, a popular phrase “cast your bread upon the waters” was in vogue. This is Ecclesiastes 11:1 and because of the vagueness of the Hebrew it has been translated several different ways. In the context of the scripture the best translation may be “Do good wherever you go. After awhile, the good you do will come back to you.” (CEV) Casting our bread upon the water seems to be an exercise in futility resulting in a waste of good bread, but Solomon’s imagery tells us to give in faith not knowing what the actual results will be but knowing that you can expect a return in this life or the next. Proverbs 11:18; Galatians 6:9 

We joyfully and liberally give of our time, efforts, finances and our material things to others even when we don’t see results and even when our generosity does not seem to be doing any good. Matthew 5:44; Luke 14:13-14 That is not “Santa” giving. Thanks be to God, that’s Christ-like “Saint” giving.  

Santa Claus says: “Ho, Ho, Ho.”

Saint Nicholas said: “The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic God’s giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022


Dear Friends,

I've always loved Advent. My grandmother would give me and my sister an Advent Calendar right after Thanksgiving day. I loved those cardboard calendars with the cutout for each day of December that lead up to the illustration of the Nativity on the 24th. I would look forward every day to the ritual of slowly and carefully opening another cardboard door to reveal what was printed inside. I savored every day’s illustration. The Advent Calendar heightened my anticipation for Christmas and drew me closer each day to the celebration of the birth of Christ. I resisted, of course, the temptation to “peek” at the hidden illustrations under the closed doors that would be opened in the days ahead. But as soon as my sacrilegious seven-year-old sister got her Advent Calendar, she would run into her room and tear open every door. This was back when I was a young, God-fearing lad who was practicing to be a pastor by baptizing my sister’s Barbie dolls in the “creek” that ran through our backyard. So when I discovered her Advent Calendar desecration, I loudly proclaimed to our parents that it was an act of blasphemous rebellion against the church and everything most sacred.

It was the day after Thanksgiving a few years ago, and I was ranting to Rhianna. We had just come from visiting our favorite mission in San Juan Capistrano and were walking from the Mission Gift Store to the car. You don’t find “Christian-cute” merchandise in a Catholic Book and Gift Store. They are filled with seriously religious items such as prayer cards, statues, jewelry, holy water bottles, crucifixes, icons, rosaries and prayer books. We were looking for crosses to hang on the Christmas tree when we both noticed what was on the store’s overhead music system. Michael Jackson was singing, “You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry.. You’d better not pout, I’m telling you why.. Santa Claus is coming to town.” And the next “Christmas” song was “Last Christmas” by WHAM! I won’t bother giving you the lyrics, but trust me – it’s most definitely not a “Christian” Christmas song. 

As I’m wrestling with the dichotomy of listening to the Jackson 5 and WHAM! in this very religious environment, the smiling salesclerk rang up my purchase and then cheerfully wished me, “Happy Holidays!” Seriously? A Catholic employee is wishing me a politically-correct “Happy Holidays!” in a Catholic-owned store on the sacred grounds of this 240 year old church? I’m buying crosses and she doesn’t want to offend me by saying Merry Christmas? I may as well have been at Target. Thus the reason for the rant.

But it reminded me of why even we good church-goin’ Christians so desperately need Advent these days. Last Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent and comes at the perfect time to interrupt the political hostility that has seized our Nation. We need a timeout from today's cultural hysteria, but instead of a time of peace and joy, our Christmas ritual often starts with an appropriately named Black Friday.. Credit card debt.. Jingle Bells and jangled nerves.. Frantically dashing toward Christmas day in a one horse open sleigh.. Then finally, it’s Christmas! Da Da! It’s showtime!! We did it! And yet in the Christmas rush, the manger is still empty. We got it all done, but we’ve left someOne behind.

That’s why we need Advent. Advent means “coming” and these are the days that we anticipate the coming of Christ. Advent is the spiritual speed-bump that slows us down in our race toward Christmas and allows us to savor the journey. When we are tempted to speed up into the Holly Jolly Christmas pace, Advent takes us into a contemplative place. During this “holiday” season, we can meet Santa at the mall, but Advent reminds us that we’ll meet God in the quiet sacred places.

On the Advent journey, we find our peace and joy not in what we buy, plan, decorate or cook, but in the expectancy of His coming. Find what works best for you that turns down the noise of your fast-paced life and allows you to spend time in silence with Him – just you and God – alone together. Spend some time each day in quiet prayer and contemplation. There are many good Advent devotional books that may be helpful for you. Read Luke 1:5-2:20 and Matthew 1:18-24. Meditate on these scriptures by thinking about what they mean to you. Pray about them and then just rest in His presence. You may hear Him speak to your heart, you may be filled with His peace or you may just find yourself sitting there with God and enjoying His Presence. 

Resting in His peace will bring a joyful attitude. Then when others are stressed, anxious and angry in the weeks ahead, you can bring the joy of God into their lives. Practice graciousness, patience, and kindness with family members and frazzled store clerks alike. Be especially aware of friends and neighbors who struggle this time of year and be compassionate. Be Christ-like. Show them the love of Jesus this Christmas and do what you can to relieve their distress, suffering and loneliness. Let them see, through your love for them, the Child in the manger. Amen?

Wednesday, November 23, 2022


Sometimes the worst dinnertime disaster at Thanksgiving has nothing to do with the turkey – it’s the family. Does your family Thanksgiving look like a Norman Rockwell painting or a Jerry Springer grudge match with flying metal folding chairs? I’ll never forget the year that we were trying to logistically plan things out for Thanksgiving dinner with our own family. 

For a few years, we had it at the home of a person who didn’t cook and he ordered the dinner from a restaurant. Kind of like an upscale Turkey Box Lunch. But that year he had a new girlfriend who wanted Thanksgiving at her house. She lived in a small house with a huge undisciplined dog and her own tradition was to invite eleven of her closest relatives and friends. Even though she was engaged to this member of our immediate family, we still didn’t make the cut and were not invited. Then the family matriarch intervened and her son’s fiancée extended a reluctant, last-minute invitation to us, but we were told that because the house was too small, we’d have to sit outside on a small patch of grass and dirt next to the dog house.

The second-tier guests like us were going to be confined in the tiny back yard with the 120 pound dog and I didn’t want to be wrestling with a Rottweiler over a turkey leg, so I was hoping that maybe we could just park in their driveway and they would serve us a Turkey Box Lunch in the car. At this point in the Thanksgiving planning, the family tension increased and so we rebelliously did something that we had never done before. 

We drove to Carpinteria and bought two turkey Subway Sandwiches. The sun-warmed beach was devoid of people and it was like being on a deserted island. It was Thanksgiving in paradise! We sat in the shade of palm trees, enjoyed the fresh ocean breeze, ate our turkey sandwiches and the pumpkin scones I had made for dessert. It was the most wonderful and meaningful Thanksgiving day that we’ve ever had!

(I’m obviously going to encourage you to spend Thanksgiving with your family, but I did get some Subway coupons in my mailbox last week and if we don’t use them this year, just let me know if you’d like to have them.)

Family is important to us and God made us that way. We were created to be in relationship with those who God has given to us and to whom we have been given. We were created to live in a family relationship, but today’s families face a minefield of trigger topics where even the mildest remark about the weather can unleash a diatribe on climate change or a niece’s newborn baby boy can trigger a heated discussion about the child’s right to choose its own gender. And don’t even think about saying the word, “Trump!”

A segment of our culture has called for the elimination of Thanksgiving because of its “environmental impact on climate change” and an MSNBC host described the day as a “problematic food holiday.” The celebrated entrée – a turkey – is now, according to progressive activists, a white supremacist symbol of racist, colonialism. An editorial in today's LA Times reminds us that Thanksgiving "commemorates" the genocide of the indigenous people and is not a day of celebration but a day of mourning. 

Many in our Nation have been indoctrinated to hate any person who does not conform to their political doctrine, but the media’s agenda to sustain our rage does not have to provide the context for our Thanksgiving family dinner. This is a season of thanksgiving! Time for us to thank God for the grace He has so lovingly given to us. Time to let that grace flow through us to others in our circle of family and friends. Time to see other people not through our own eyes but through God’s eyes. Thanksgiving should be a time of warmth, harmony and peace with family and friends, but in a fractious family, how do we do that?

If conversations turn political, simply don’t engage – just listen without replying. But what if we’ve chosen to not engage and another person becomes verbally combative: “So why don’t you hate Trump/Biden/DeSantis/Musk?” The best response may be a mild, “That’s not a conversation to have while we’re enjoying this day together, maybe we can talk about it later.” And if you’ve been mocked or belittled for your Christian beliefs and values, “turn the other cheek” and extend the grace to forgive, remembering that a good definition of forgiveness is “Simply no longer holding against a person what deserves to be held against them.” 

While we cannot control the behavior of others, we can control our own. On Thanksgiving day and everyday, we are responsible for what comes from our own mouth. “The tongue has the power of life and death” Proverbs 18:21 meaning that our words can either speak life, or our words can speak death. As Christians, our words are to strengthen, encourage and comfort others. 1 Corinthians 14:3 NLT The words from our lips, pour out of our heart and form the image of how others see us. A friend once told me about a message she had seen on a church sign: “If the words you spoke were written on your skin, would you still be beautiful?” This Thanksgiving, let’s make sure that our own words are kind and filled with the grace of God. “Kind words are like honey.. sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” Proverbs 16:24-26 NLT   Amen?

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

God's Property! Conclusion

Dear Friends,

We read last week that Christians cannot be possessed by the Devil because when we’re a follower of Jesus Christ, we are owned by God. We are God’s Property! So we cannot be “possessed” by the Enemy but we can be harassed, hounded and tormented by demons as they exert outside pressure on us. They’ll use every trick to do that because they want us back, and yes, a Believer can, through their free-will, reject God and lose their salvation. Hebrews 10:26-27 NLT The Blood of His Covenant is what sets us apart and makes us holy. When we turn away from God and reject His Covenant as no longer sacred, then we have disdained and rejected the Spirit of God. Hebrews 10:29 NLT When we reject God, we’ve sacrificed our soul to Satan and opened ourselves to his possession of us.

I used to work with a woman who was an on-fire for God, “Baptized-in-the-Holy Spirit” Believer. She loved to talk about Jesus and witness to her co-workers. She’d come to my office and we'd always talk about our faith. Her entire countenance lit up every time we talked about Jesus. She truly loved the Lord! But there had always been an undercurrent of negativity, resentment and unforgiveness in her heart that she had held onto and had justified as simply who she was as a person. Then one day, two of her co-workers sought me out to tell me that they were worried about her mental health as she was becoming increasingly mean-spirited and viciously cruel to others.

I asked her to meet with me and after asking her how life was going, I was surprised that her negativity had taken on an even darker tone. She began an obscenity-filled rant about how bad her life was. Even her face looked different that day. A few weeks later we saw each other while walking through our city plaza. I smiled and waved. She turned away and avoided me by climbing up a grassy embankment so that she wouldn’t have to pass by me. I emailed her and asked what was going on. Her reply was: “The only thing you and I talk about is God and Jesus and I am so done with that.” This was a woman who had been saved for over 30 years and had been a worship leader and women’s ministry leader for many years. She wrote: “I am over the Jesus phase of my life. You're probably going to want to email me or talk to me about this but don't.” 

I’d been friends with her and her husband for fifteen years and for many of those she considered me to be her pastor. The next day I tried to pray for her and my mind was a blank. I struggled to find words to pray and suddenly God lifted the burden I had to pray for her and I felt a release in my spirit. The spiritual responsibility I’d always felt for her as her pastor was now gone. Did she cross a spiritual line? “..there is a sin that leads to death, and I am not saying you should pray for those who commit it.” 1 John 5:16 NLT

What happened? I believe that through her continued and unrepentant sin, the Devil was given a legitimate foothold in her life. Her strong faith eroded to the point of rejecting God and Jesus tells us that the unforgivable sin is when we speak out against God and reject Him.  Matthew 12:31-32 

We know that God's children do not make a practice of sinning, for God's Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them. We know that we are children of God and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one. 1 John 5:18-19 NLT That scripture, along with others, tells us that by avoiding habitual sins, we remove ourselves from the reach of the Devil. But our continued and unrepentant practice of sin invites the wicked one to attach himself to us and that’s why demons are relentless in their harassment of believers. They want us back! Satan has a plan for your life – to steal your faith, kill your soul and destroy your relationship with his enemy, God. John 10:10 And the Devil does his best work in covert darkness. The Devil loves it when we disbelieve in him and in the demonic realm and then whine about how bad our life is.

Remember what Dr. Charles Stanley said, “Each day, we live in the midst of a real, personal battle that we must fight.”  We need to become warriors!

1. Affirm Your Faith in Jesus Christ. If you are not an authentic, born-again believer, you have no authority over the demonic. Read Acts 19:13-16.

2. Submit to God. Ephesians 6:10 says that when we go into spiritual battle, we need to be strong in the Lord with His power. We can’t fight this battle with our own earthly strength. The power of God is not available if we keep Him on the sidelines and are proudly in control of our own lives.

3. Confess and Repent. Those habitual, continued and unrepentant sins provide an open entry-way for the Devil to worm his way into our lives.

4. Forgive Others. You will continue to struggle without the forgiveness of God. If you don’t forgive others, God will not forgive you. Jesus made this clear in Mark 11:26 and Matthew 6:14-15. There’s no getting around it.

5. Renounce Occult Involvement and All False Religion. Go to Steps to Freedom In Christ or contact me for a handout.

6. Renounce the Enemy! Take a firm stance. Take up the battle. God is already on your side. James 4:7 tells us to “resist the Devil and he will flee from you.”  Amen?

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

God's Property ~ Part 2

Dear Friends,

Fifteen year old Ethan Boldizsar* was possessed by demons. His mother Eva had been fired after exhibiting some very troubling behavior and her co-workers had become concerned about her. They suspected that there was something strange happening in her home and they were afraid for her. I was asked, as a pastor, to go to the house and talk with the mother and son. I agreed and took along one of Eva’s former co-workers - a Christian woman. (*names have been changed)

I knew we were going to be dealing with something spiritual. We had prepared by praying and fasting. I was filled with confidence that we were going to help this woman. And then... Walking up the steps to this house was like walking into a cloud of darkness. I started to feel dizzy and stepping onto the porch became an effort. It felt like I was walking up against a force that was trying to push me back. My confidence was immediately replaced with a feeling of apprehension. I started praying. Eva opened the door before we could knock on it.

The living room was dark. Filled with photographs, dried plants, scarves draped over large overstuffed furniture. Crystal balls. Strange little boxes with indecipherable writing. Small brass statues. Oddly shaped silver objects. The air was heavy. Oppressive. It was hard to breathe in there. Eva brought in her son, Ethan and when he walked into the room, I could feel an intense dark force enter with him. I asked him how he was doing. He didn’t answer and just stared at me. His body tense. His face expressionless. His eyes glazed over and lifeless. Eva became flustered and told him to go play in the garage. 

When he left, she told me he often gets like that. I asked her about the dozens of old black and white framed pictures of her ancestors and I learned that she was descended from a long line of fortune-telling, spiritist Hungarian gypsies. The scarves, silver statues and other objects in the room had been used by her parents and her to contact dead spirits. That explained the suffocating darkness. This place was a stronghold for the demonic.

I felt a powerful evil force coming from behind a closed door and was told that was Ethan’s bedroom. Eva’s mother and father had owned this house and that had been their bedroom. While lying in bed, her mother put a gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger. A month later, Eva’s father lay in bed and used the same gun. The day her father shot himself, Eva was at work and Ethan was home. She came home to find Ethan in bed cuddling the body of his dead grandfather and talking to him.

The day after his grandfather’s suicide, Ethan changed rooms so that he could sleep in his grandparent’s bed. Ethan insisted on keeping the door shut at all times and didn’t allow his mother in that room. Ethan wanted to keep the room exactly like it was when they died so that their spirits wouldn’t leave and he could still talk with them. I looked in. The grandfather’s dried blood and brain fragments had been left splattered on the wall behind the bed.

There was nothing I could do. The demons had a generational license to be there. The evil one had owned that gypsy family for generations and their occult beliefs and activities had given permission to the demons to possess that house. Those of us who are Christians invite Jesus to come into and “possess” our lives and our homes. We give our Lord God “ownership” over ourselves. It works the same way when a person, gives their “lord” Satan possession and ownership over their life and home. You can’t “exorcise” or cast out demons that have a “legal” right to be there.

I was very happy to finally leave that day, but much to my dismay, God wanted me to go back. You can understand why the last thing I wanted to do was to return, but God persisted and after more prayer and fasting I knew what He wanted me to do. This time I went alone. (Eva’s former co-worker understandably refused to go with me!) Eva and I sat outside in her front yard because I knew that the demonic stronghold had only the right to possess the house itself and I wanted to talk to her about something without the demonic interference. Away from the demons, I spoke to her about Jesus. I told her about the generational curse, how Satan operates and that a demon spirit of suicide was in her family. I told her that only Jesus could break the curse. We talked for a long time and she did pray to accept Jesus as Lord and Savor that afternoon. Hope was now invading the darkness. God had accomplished through me what He had sent me there to do.

I tell you this because we need to understand what demon possession actually looks like. I’ve been asked by too many Christians if they are “possessed” by demons. Absolutely not! If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are owned by God. That means you are possessed by God. God has legal right to your spirit. You belong to Him. You are God’s Property! When you accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit comes and takes up residence in your spirit. Christians cannot be possessed but we can be oppressed. We can be harassed, hounded and tormented by demons as they exert outside pressure on us.     To Be Continued...

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

God's Property ~ Part 1

Dear Friends,

From the very beginnings of the AMEN Corner ten years ago, I’ve been writing every October about the spiritual dangers of “fellowshipping with the demons” on Halloween and have been asked many times if I actually did believe in demons and the demonic world. According to a YouGov survey, 57% of all Americans and 86% of born-again Christians believe in the existence of the devil and 51% of Americans and 72% of born-again Christians believe that a person can be possessed by demonic spirits. I believe because the Bible tells me that Satan and his demonic spirits exist and I have personally encountered evil spirits and demonic possession too many times to disbelieve. 

Long ago I gave up trying to be young and handsome but there was a time in my life about 30 years ago when I went to a gym on a regular basis. This was a popular health club for both men and women and that afternoon I was in a large room of workout machines. It was a light day and I'm the only one working my way around the room on the various machines. I'm about half-way through when a beautiful woman enters and starts her workout on the machine by the door. She's about my age - early 40's - or a little younger and has one of those perfect, gym-toned bodies. As a good Christian husband, I just noticed her and looked away. She was wearing a very small tank top and she had fresh, brightly-colored tattoos on the arm that was nearest to me. There was one tattoo that looked like the face of a woman with long-flowing blonde hair.

Like I say, I'm being good so I ignore her and focus on my workout. But the workout machines are arranged in a circle, so that as we are going around the room, she is constantly in my line of vision. I notice that every time I look up, she is staring at me. When our glances meet she smiles but it's more than a smile and the problem is this: I'm trying to be a good Christian. I'm a committed married man. I'm a pastor. But the honest truth is that it’s difficult for any man under the age of 100 to completely ignore a gorgeous woman starring at him in an enticing manner. So I'm getting these uncomfortable guy-type thoughts in my head and I'm thinking it sure is getting hot in this room and I need to leave.

It was at that point that she stands up. But instead of moving to the next machine, she starts walking toward me. I'm on a weight machine bench where I'm half sitting and half laying on my back. My legs are moving weights up and down and my arms are pulling down a bar with weights. As she gets closer, the smile on her face is getting bigger and it feels like her eyes are boring right into mine.

I’m having an increasingly strong feeling of discernment that something is not spiritually right with her. The closer she's getting, the more I'm feeling as if the Holy Spirit is putting me on full alert. She moves to take the machine next to me. She's now standing directly over me. She looks down at me as she opens her mouth to speak. Instantly, her smile disappears. 

Her eyes blaze with hatred and her beautiful features contort into a horrible and ugly sneer. What comes out of her deformed mouth sounds like a guttural snarl. She spins around to stomp out of the room and that was when I saw the tattoos across her shoulders - symbols that I later found out were Wiccan and on her back a large tattoo of a pentagram in a circle. I also later found out the tattoo of the blonde woman was a goddess. This woman is a Wiccan or a Satanist and she makes a low growling sound as she runs from the room.

It wasn’t until she was close enough to stand over me that she was able to see the tee shirt I was wearing. (see photo) And by her instant, uncontrolled reaction it was apparent that one of the demons that possessed her had manifested itself. I later realized that her enticing behavior was from what our Bible calls a “Jezebel spirit.”

I'm thankful that God has allowed experiences like this because it's hard to ignore the reality of the powers of darkness when you're confronted by a snarling demon at the health club. And what God clearly showed me that day was that when you are God's property, you are Satan's enemy.

Dr. Charles Stanley is not your typical impassioned deliverance minister. He's a theologian and Bible scholar who wears a bow tie. Dr. Stanley has said: 

“Every morning when you and I wake up, we are at war. Many believers simply fail to take this reality seriously. When we talk about spiritual warfare, however, we must remember that each day, we live in the midst of a real, personal battle that we must fight. Failure to recognize this vital truth results in painful defeat time and time again. Dedicated Christians feel confused and downtrodden because they don't understand why they continue to experience failures in their spiritual lives. Just when they think they have something conquered, it rises back up to defeat them.”

In next week’s AMEN Corner:
A House Possessed By Demons.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Ready To Celebrate Evil?

Promotional photo of a Haunted House at a Methodist Church

Dear Friends,

There is evil so shocking it cannot be forgotten. A few years ago, a 26 year old man crossing the street just a few hundred feet from my house was hit by a black BMW racing around the corner. It was a hit and run. He was found lying on his back after being flung into the air. Covered with blood. Unable to shout, he moaned, “Please help me” to some passing horseback riders who at first did not see him by the side of the road. They called the paramedics who took him to the hospital where he died. What was illegal was that the street racer didn’t stop. What was immoral was that the driver didn’t help the person he hit. What was evil was that my Mexican neighbors heard what they described as a “grito” – a celebratory yell from the driver after the impact as he burned rubber to speed away. A celebration of your own evil when you think you’ve just killed someone? We’re all getting fed up with street racing fatalities, shootings, stabbings and the pervasive wicked evil that’s suffocating our Nation today. And yet it’s now once again time for our own October “fun-filled” celebration of evil.

In order to emphasize the horrors of the war in the Ukraine, the media – even the Christian media – has published jarring photos of dead and mutilated bodies of both soldiers and citizens. Bodies scattered throughout cluttered debris. Some in body bags but some missing limbs, lying in puddles of blood and surrounded by grieving loved ones. What Russia is doing in its targeted bombing of Ukrainian citizens is pure evil, and it’s now time for us to celebrate evil on Oct 31st when front yards will be decorated with “dead bodies” laid out among the clutter of props. Covered with blood. And yes I do know what some of you are thinking. “Oh but that’s not one and the same, Pastor! You’re comparing real, harmful evil with something fun that’s just pretend and harmless evil..!” You’re right. It is only imitation evil but we’re told “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil.” 3 John 1:11

As our Nation has been struggling with a revival of racism, we’ve been recently and appropriately reminded of the lynchings of over 4,000 Black Americans. A permanent stain on our Country’s history. Pure evil. Next week, people will decorate their yards by hanging mannequins by the neck from their front yard trees. But of course pretending to hang someone is fun and harmless evil... “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil.” 3 John 1:11

Throughout the Mid-East, Muslim extremists behead Christians in accordance with the Qur’an command in 47:4. “So, when you meet (to fight Jihad in Allah's Cause), those who disbelieve smite at their necks.” Mohammad’s teaching that it is God’s will for Christian believers to be beheaded is absolute evil. On Halloween night, the “fun” evil of graphic beheadings will be featured in front yards throughout our Nation. “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil.” 3 John 1:11

We had been renting the sanctuary from a mainline church where we held our services and I was on the phone with the congregation’s president. I’d heard that  they were going to convert their sanctuary into a house of horrors to celebrate Halloween for the neighborhood children. I told her that if they desecrated God’s holy sanctuary with scenes of gore and evil, we could no longer worship there. I told her that their sign out front should read: “TRIGGER WARNING: This Church Celebrates Evil and May Terrorize Children.” I’m not sure if the sign suggestion gave her a pause for thought or the loss of our monthly rent check made a difference, but they decided to not do a house of horrors in the church. 

But next weekend, many American churches will be holding “haunted houses” in their church as they attempt to reach out to the unchurched community. Arranging “lifeless” bloody bodies for a terrifying fright fest to show how culturally cool they are. Walking dead “zombies.” The gorier the better! Just pretend and harmless evil. But after the slaughter of twenty-six worshipers in the 2017 Texas church shooting, survivors said it looked like a house of horrors. Should churches really be imitating evil with their own bloody house of horrors?  “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil.” 3 John 1:11  

The dictionary refers to the Devil and his demons as it defines evil as “profound immorality, wickedness, and depravity, especially when regarded as a supernatural force.” The Bible uses the Greek word “poneros” that is translated as “evil” and means being wicked (ungodly) and doing wicked deeds. Evil is vicious, sinful, corrupt malevolence. Evil is an exuberant shout of celebration as the body of the young man you just hit is flung through the air and you leave him to die in the dark. 

There is no “fun” evil – no “good” evil. Evil is directly or indirectly caused by supernatural demonic forces and God is grieved by our casual participation in Halloween when evil is celebrated as good, safe and fun. 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. “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 6:12-15   Amen?

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

What Season Are You In?

Dear Friends,

Some people believe that Syracuse, New York is one of the most beautiful places on earth when the thousands of trees display the brilliant colors of Autumn. Aunt Helen certainly did. At age 92, she still went bowling every Wednesday and in the Fall, she raked up the red, yellow and orange leaves from her Syracuse front yard. I was reading that a New England mail order company will send you three genuine hand-selected autumn leaves for only $19.95 plus shipping and handling!  If Helen was still alive today, she would have laughed her head off at the thought of selling the leaves on her front lawn to someone living in a “condo” in California!

In Sylmar, I’m seeing a change of color in the deciduous trees and as I breathe in the morning air, there’s a freshness in the breeze that portends the passage of a season and prepares us for the next. Autumn is a time of beauty and peace for contemplatives, photographers, writers and artists. The brilliant tapestry of autumn colors feeds one’s soul and heart with such a dazzling display of God’s handiwork that we just need to go outside and play in it.

One of my favorite places to go this time of year is the picturesque town of Oak Glen nestled in what is called the “Little San Bernardino Mountains.”  Oak Glen is known for its abundant apple orchards and rolling hills covered with vivid autumn reds, oranges, and yellows. It’s as close as you can get to a spectacular New England autumn without getting on a plane.

Seasonal transitions of “nature” in God’s Creation remind us of seasons in our church and in our life. Autumn also signals the arrival of ADVENT – that season of anticipation as we prepare for the birth of the Christ child. ADVENT leads us to the CHRISTMAS celebration which includes Epiphany– the manifestation of the Savior Jesus to the Gentiles. Soon the chill of winter gives way to the warmth of spring and a season of spiritual growth. LENT is a time of reflection and recommitment to a renewed relationship with God. We approach Good Friday with our ineffable gratitude for the ultimate gift of God’s grace and salvation mixed along with a sense of sorrow for the suffering that Jesus endured. Easter– RESURRECTION SUNDAY– is truly a glorious day and the most important of all Christian Holy Days (“holidays”). Fifty days later comes PENTECOST, marking the day that God’s presence became actively working in believers through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to enable us to become a witness of His glory and grace to the world. After PENTECOST we enter a season of what the church calls ORDINARY TIME. But the time quickly passes and before long, we sense a freshness in the air and soon the autumn colors are bringing us once again to the season of ADVENT. The journey through our church seasons reveals the mystery of God’s plan as it unfolds for us in the life of the church, and we are reminded that in the Kingdom of God, with each transition, there is something new again. 

In God’s Creation, there is a rhythmic cycle with the organic flow of our four seasons. Every three months, a transition to the next. Depressed by the gray, gloominess of winter? The warmth of spring is right around the corner. Tired of spring showers and eye-burning allergies? The long, hot days of summer are ahead. Worn down by the relentless heat and smog? The cooler glorious world of autumn awaits you. Bored and weary with autumn and those Santa Ana winds? Grab the winter coat, gather the firewood and prepare for those long, frosty winter nights. We are reminded that with each transition from one season to the next, there is something new again.

So it is with the seasons of life. You may be in an exciting springtime season of new birth and growth. You may be feeling as if you are caught in the dry, oppressive days of what seems to be an endless summer. This may be for you a contemplative, peaceful autumn time of thanksgiving. Or you may find yourself in the cold, dark, discouraging loneliness of a long winter season. I've got news for you. Get ready for it. A change is coming!

Seasons of life. Each with its own set of experiences and the passing of each season leaving behind memories of what was. For many of us, our photo albums are the pictorial autobiography of our life. We look back and remember the seasons of life that were filled with great joy and our happy memories bring gladness to our heart. 

But some seasons of life are filled with pain, sorrow and anger and those seasons can embed bitterness, uncertainties, fears and doubts into our soul. We will stay mired in our pain-filled past if we dwell on those memories and relive those circumstances of that season in our mind. And God says: “But forget all that-- it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?” Isaiah 43:18-19 NLT Praise God! For He reminds us that with each life transition, God will give us something new again!

Remember that no matter what season of life we’re in, there are three guarantees we can count on:1) This present season will come to an end. 2) God has already begun to do something new for you in the next season. And, 3) The one unchanging constant that we can trust in and count on is this: God is standing with us in this season and He is waiting for us in the next.  Amen?

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Armageddon? or Armageddon!

Dear Friends,

Last week at a private fundraiser, President Biden warned a gathering of elite democrats about the very real possibility of a nuclear “Armageddon” as a result of the war between Russia and the Ukraine. Both his staff and the liberal media were caught off guard by his statement and other world leaders were immediately critical of his “imprudent” and “provocative remarks.” 

Our own Nation’s defense officials were quick to disagree with the president. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that, “We do not presently see indications about the imminent use of nuclear weapons.” And as it so often does after the president speaks his mind, his administration rushed to tamp down any fears resulting from what appeared to be Biden’s fund-raising hyperbole. The White House said that there is “no reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture” and that there was “no new intelligence that nuclear use by Russia is imminent.”

Russia has long-range “strategic” nuclear weapons that could  annihilate New York city and has much smaller “tactical” nuclear weapons that could take out, for example, a Ukrainian army training camp. Biden said at the fundraiser, “I don’t think there’s any such thing as an ability to easily use a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up with Armageddon.” The implication was that if Putin targets the Ukraine with a small tactical weapon, the U.S., or another country would respond with a larger nuclear weapon which could lead to the nuclear holocaust that ends the world. People have told me that they are now fearful that a nuclear war will break out, and I remember all too well that fear.

This coming Sunday is the sixty year anniversary of the first day of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was 13 years old and terrified of the near-certainty that my family would be killed. For years, a nuclear war with Russia had been on everyone's mind. The wealthy families built bomb shelters in their backyard during the fifties. Other families like mine were sure to die. We had weekly "Duck and Cover" drills in our schools and monthly Air-Raid Siren testing that were constant reminders that a nuclear warhead could be dropped on us at any moment. 

I remember my father talking at church with the other men about those being our "end times." But what I remember most of all was the fear that I was going to die soon. That's why I have such a negative reaction to those creating that same fear in our Nation today and within families and among children. And yet, for me personally, I have no "Armageddon" fears. This is why... 

Yes, we do have two unpredictable, aging world leaders threatening each other with nuclear annihilation but I’m not worried and I sleep well at night. Only a certifiably insane (Russian or American) president with a death-wish for the entire world would generate a nuclear holocaust that brings civilization to an end. (Remember, this is real life, not James Bond vs. Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of SPECTRE, scheming for world domination) Both Biden and Putin have the typical narcissistic egos of a politician but they are not clinically “insane.” 

And, it’s been said by some in Putin’s inner-circle that if Putin ordered a nuclear strike that could lead to World War III and the end of the world as we know it, his generals would refuse to do so and most likely assassinate him instead. If Biden were to overreact and recklessly order the world-ending nuclear holocaust, we trust that American generals would also refuse to do so. There is no “button” the president pushes to launch a nuclear weapon, he gives an order that travels down through a chain of command. 

While I’m not worried about nuclear warheads striking L.A., I really don’t like when politicians use Biblical words out of context for political purposes – especially to create fear among the American people for fund-raising purposes. Now let's look at our Bible:

“And the demonic spirits gathered
all the rulers and their armies
to a place with the Hebrew
name Armageddon.”
Revelation 16:16 NLT

Actually, no person knows exactly what “Armageddon” is, least of all the president. Bible scholars have two views of  “Armageddon.” 

1) It does not refer to a military conflict but to a spiritually decisive conflict between good and evil and uses apocalyptic language to describe the final overthrow of Satan by the power of God. 

2) Demonic spirits under the control of Satan work deceptive miracles and manipulate the rulers of the world, causing them to gather in a great show of military strength against Israel for “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.” This battle will take place at a location called Armageddon which is possibly a biblical city called Megiddo. 

No matter how we interpret this mighty war, it is a battle of good over evil. But the world does end in the battle at Armageddon. Right? Who knows..

The book of Revelation, with its apocalyptic visions and metaphors, results in eight formal viewpoints of the End Times. How about this one? During the mighty battle over Israel, Jesus appears and slays all the evil people and takes the good Christians to heaven. Or all evil people are killed and only good Christians populate the earth. Or the earth is wiped clean of every living creature and God creates a new world filled only with good Christian people. Or Judgment Day takes place during Armageddon and Jesus will save the true believers, while non-believers left behind on the earth will face enormous suffering. 

Take your pick of what Biblical Armageddon means but it’s not as our president portrayed it – our world leaders launching nuclear warheads at each other! Whatever happens at the "end of the world" (as we know it) is spiritual and will be centered around the return of Jesus Christ. We’ve learned that Armageddon is a Hebrew word, meaning either a literal place or a metaphor. We can only guess at which one. 

But we know well the meaning of the Hebrew word, “Shalom.” Shalom is translated as “peace,” and the Hebrew word signifies not simply an absence of turmoil, but conveys complete wholeness, well-being and contentment. 

My prayer is that we replace any fears of Armageddon with God’s assurance of our own eternal life, and with the peace of Shalom, and then just trust and rest in the Lord.

“The Lord is in His holy temple.
Let all the earth keep silence before Him.”
Habakkuk 2:20

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Be The "Nordstrom" Church!

Dear Friends,

Melissa was in her favorite Nordstrom store in the upscale part of the San Fernando Valley. She was browsing on the floor where the most expensive dresses cost thousands of dollars. The elevator door opened and out-stepped a woman obviously homeless. Dirty, cast-off clothing that had been slept in.. Matted hair.. The odor of life lived in back alleys.. The picture of despair and hopelessness. Melissa cringed when she saw the woman and fully expected store security to converge on the bag lady and quickly hustle her out and back to the street where she belonged. 

Instead, a tall, sophisticated saleswoman approached the bag lady, smiled at her and said, “How can I help you, Ma'am?” The bag lady said, “I'd like to buy a dress for a party.” The saleswoman said, “You've come to the right place. We have some of the finest dresses. Let me show you some.” Melissa couldn't believe what she was seeing and hearing. After the bag lady selected two that she liked, Melissa was shocked to see the saleswoman take the expensive dresses into the dressing room so that the bag lady could try them on. The beautiful dresses would be ruined once they touched her open sores and unwashed body.

In a few minutes the two women came out and the bag lady said, “I've decided not to buy a dress today.” The saleswoman replied, “That's quite all right but here take my card and when you come back to Nordstrom, I'd consider it a pleasure to wait on you again.”


The man and woman walked hand in hand toward the gleaming, white Protestant church in the San Fernando Valley. This was their first visit and they were immediately confused about where to go. The front doors at the top of the trash-covered steps were closed and seemed to be unused. Everyone was going in the propped-open side door so the new couple followed some people into the church. An usher with an annoyed expression came hurrying down the aisle toward them, handed them a bulletin and went back to sit in the darkened lobby by the front door. It was clear that the new couple had upset the usher by coming in the “member's” door when they should have entered through the front “visitor’s” door. They were surrounded with about thirty people talking, greeting and hugging each other and carefully ignoring the visiting couple. Not a single person spoke to them or acknowledged their presence. Had they suddenly become invisible? 

After standing awkwardly in the aisle for a few minutes and hoping to find someone to talk with, they began to feel like they were uninvited intruders who had stumbled into a private family function. The couple sat down quietly in a pew and waited for the service to start. After the service, light refreshments were served on the outside patio and a few people welcomed the couple, shook their hands and then immediately walked away to join their friends. The couple stayed there nearly a year and remained the “outsiders,” welcomed to worship alongside that church family on a Sunday but never invited to join the family. When the couple finally gave up and left, no one called to find out why. Did anyone even notice they were no longer there?


And the question is this. Who was more Christ-like in welcoming the stranger? That church family or the Nordstrom saleswoman? Which one was demonstrating God’s unconditional love? My understanding is that the Nordstrom story is true. Both Rhianna and I can attest to the truth of the church story because we were that couple. 

The church pastor and leadership were puzzled why they were not growing. But they had become an ingrown church family, and while they would have never posted a sign that said, “Go Back – You Are Not Welcome,” that was how they treated their visitors. Their church vision proclaimed that they were “a lighthouse beaming the love of Jesus out to the sinners.” The reality was that they had become an exclusive private social club for the “saints.”

I'm not picking on this church but using them as an example of how the majority of small to medium-sized churches “greet” their visitors and why they find their church growing smaller. Sadly, Rhianna and I have experienced this at every small to medium church we’ve ever visited and I would find it was the lament of the pastor that their church was not growing. They sincerely believed their church was friendly and welcoming. It wasn’t. 

The church of Jesus Christ needs to be the “Nordstrom” church welcoming everyone unconditionally. Because if our visitors don’t feel the love of Jesus radiating out from the body of Christ, there is no reason for them to return and stay. I love small churches because they epitomize the family of believers that provide love, fellowship and support to each other, but if they are not sincerely welcoming the stranger into that family, their church will die. 

With people not returning after Covid closed churches for well over a year, and with the majority of those in the younger generations turning away from religion, small to medium-sized churches that have been able to remain open are facing great challenges. Their only possibility of survival is to become the “Nordstrom” church. That's the church that Jesus always intended it to be. Amen?

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?