Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Be A Blessor!

Dear Friends,

Several years ago, I wrote to you about the “Chinese Blessing Scam” and every so often the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office releases warnings that “religious seniors” are still being targeted. Here’s how it works. The con artist posing as a “spiritual healer” encounters a well-dressed older victim in a public place and “sees” that a curse of illness and impending death has been placed on the person or the person’s loved ones. The only way to “break the curse” is to have something of enormous value blessed by the “healer.” The person goes to the bank to withdraw large amounts of cash and places it in a paper bag along with jewelry to be “blessed.” Bags are switched and you can guess the outcome of this spiritual swindle. One senior recently lost $70,000 in the Chinese Blessing Scam.

Those who are not Christian but are “spiritual” are most vulnerable to this scam but even Christians occasionally fall victim. The scam started among the Chinese population because their religion is composed of pagan superstitions and folk beliefs involving the worship of numerous gods and goddesses who bless or curse people. Chinese spiritual healers are paid to “heal” people of major illnesses by using magical talismans to break the curse of a deity and con artists take advantage of these cultural beliefs.

But God’s blessings are not for sale! They are free of charge, and in fact, He loads a heap of free blessings upon us daily. Psalm 68:19 His blessings and mercies are even so vast and endless that they are renewed every morning! Lamentations 3:22-23 And then He appoints people like you and me to be His “Blessors.” Pastor/author Charles F. Stanley has said that “God blesses us so that we can bless others.”

It’s asking for God’s favor on another person that changes us from just being blessed to being a Blessor. Invoking God’s favor on another brings a renewed awareness of God into their thoughts and the reality of His presence into their lives. Our spoken blessing over another, commends that person to God through our petition. We bless in the name of God because we acknowledge Him as the source of the blessing. When we say, “Bless you in the name of Jesus” we are invoking the fullness of His love and grace. When we say, “May God bless you today,” we connect that person to their Creator and open him or her up to receive all that God has for them that day. Our blessing of others can sometimes even knock people off their feet!

She and I used to regularly go to a women’s boutique consignment clothing store in Ventura. When the owner wasn’t there, a friend of hers was who we would see from time to time. The friend was an extroverted woman who told me she was a new-age healer. She did aroma-therapy, read people’s auras and gave spiritual readings. Every time we saw her, we’d talk about spiritual and faith-related things and she knew I was a pastor. I was struggling with how to tell her that the Almighty God was so much more powerful than the gods and goddesses she was seeking. How do you tell someone that “my God is better than your god!” Then one time she asked for prayer.
I lightly touched the top of her head with my hands and quietly said, “May God fill you with His blessing.” Her entire body convulsed as if she had received an electric shock. She took a couple of steps back, but her legs were buckling under and she grabbed the counter to keep from falling backward into a clothing rack. She put a hand to her chest and said. “Wow. I could feel that inside me!” She stood there looking dazed like she was trying to figure out what had just happened. She said, “That was so powerful. I’ve never felt anything like that before!”
I knew immediately what had happened and laughed. While I was trying to figure out the best way to tell her about God, He showed her the power of the Holy Spirit and nearly swept her off her feet! She thought she knew what spiritual energy was, but the power from her “spirits” were puny in comparison with the power of the Holy Spirit. She said I was a “gifted spiritual healer” and I told her “No, I’m not” and that I was completely powerless. I told her it was God who had just blessed her by showing His true power and I told her that knowing the One True God would now forever change her life. We never saw her again. God had brought us into her life that He might reveal His reality to her through that one blessing.

I have found that when a person is experiencing anxiety or grief over something, blessing that person with God’s grace and peace will have an immediate and noticeable effect. You will often see an instant transformation. Their facial expression will become more relaxed and they may say something like, “I feel so much better now!” They feel better because they have just felt the sensation of God’s peace in their spirit. When God’s blessings are given in His name, the healing power of the Holy Spirit can be immediate.

You are all blessed indeed! But I believe that God wants more for you. He wants you to be His partner in the blessing business. He wants you to be an authorized distributor of His blessings to others. He wants you to bless your family and your friends. God wants you to bless the strangers that He sends to you. God wants you to be the one who intersects the life of the clerk in the produce department when he’s stressed and depressed. When you ask him how he is and he says “fine,” and you know he’s not. God wants you at the side of the co-worker who’s struggling that morning and He wants you to be at the hairdressers when the stylist’s son has a high fever. God wants you to speak life-transforming blessings into the lives of others! Be blessed. Be a Blessor!  Amen?

This is one of our most popular AMEN Corners -- Updated and Republished.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Is Prophecy Real?

Dear Friends,

I was once asked by a Lutheran pastor friend why our church believes that spiritual gifts are still active today. That was a good question! The short answer is that the original apostles established a church that was fully “charismatic.” Nothing’s changed. For those not familiar with the spiritual gifts, the following may be helpful in understanding the gift of prophecy

Spiritual Gifts: The ancient church had been taught by Paul and the other apostles that each sincere Christian believer received one or more of the spiritual gifts that were to be used in ministry to help and serve each other. 1 Cor 12:1-11 For the first few hundred years, the church taught that believers should fully expect to receive spiritual gifts that were imparted and empowered by the Holy Spirit. In the 4th century, when Christianity became formalized under the Roman Pope, the church began to elevate the clergy above the “laity” and taught that only the ordained and “holy” men of God were meant to receive spiritual gifts. The Church believed that Christians no longer needed the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts to guide them because the believers were now under the control and guidance of a priest.

The reformation was split down the middle on the issue. Like most monastics, the Catholic priest and father of Protestantism, Martin Luther spoke in tongues according to German church historian R. Kuntze (1859) and in Luther’s own words, “How often has it happened and still does, that devils have been driven out in the name of Christ, also by calling on His name and prayer that the sick have been healed.” But spiritual gifts can be messy and that’s why some reformed churches decided they didn’t want anything to do with the gifts. They developed a doctrine that the spiritual gifts ended in the first century with the deaths of the original apostles. But that cessation doctrine requires that one must ignore the ancient church historians such as Justin Martyr, Eusebius, Tertullian, Augustine and others who witnessed the presence of spiritual gifts and miracles in the early church many centuries after the apostles died. 

Prophetic Word: This refers not to a single word but to a prophetic statement. A prophetic word can be for the church or it can be a “personal prophecy” for a person. There are two types of prophetic words: Forthtelling and Foretelling.

Prophecy Can Be FORTHtelling. Forthtelling is when God uses you to speak forth His word. It’s being the empty conduit for the voice of the Holy Spirit to speak to others. It’s when the Holy Spirit uses us to speak God’s Word into particular circumstances at the right moment. Last week I used an example of a personal prophesy to a co-worker. Here’s another example of “forthtelling.” My first experience with prophesy was many decades ago when my (then) wife was struggling with something that involved her father. I didn’t know anything about their family history. She never talked about it. One night I woke up and heard her weeping. Before I was fully awake, words immediately began to come out of my mouth that were from the Spirit of God speaking directly to her. The presence and grace of God was overwhelming. There was a spiritual cleansing that took place as the Holy Spirit brought her to a place of forgiveness and her relationship with her father was subsequently restored. The next morning I remembered very little of what God had said through me to her. She told me what I said and we both marveled at it because there was no way I could have known or even guessed the content of this prophetic word from God. These were family secrets known only to her, her parents and to God. That was the first time I’d experienced what it was like to give a prophetic word and like any encounter with the Spirit of God, it left me humbled and shaken.

Prophecy Can Be FOREtelling: Foretelling is when God gives a prophetic word containing a warning about the future. Here’s an example: It was shortly after I’d returned to church following a long absence. I woke up one Sunday morning having just had a very vivid and detailed dream about the church I was going to. I dreamed there was a windstorm that blew down a large oak tree that fell onto the walkway from the parking lot to the church. A creek separated the parking lot from the church and a footbridge was the only way to get across. In my dream, the tree was blocking the access to the footbridge and the associate pastor and the groundskeeper were cutting up the tree with a chain saw. I woke up and as I was wondering what the dream meant, God gave me a prophetic word for the church that had to do with cutting out dead and decaying roots that were in the foundation of the church. God showed me in that dream that, once the “decay and rot” was cleared away, the “pathway” would once again be opened for people to come to the church.

Two hours later as I drove into the parking lot, I saw there had been a windstorm that had blown down an old oak tree on the walkway and it was blocking access to the church. I was stunned. It was exactly like I had just dreamed it. The associate pastor and groundskeeper were cutting it up with chain saws just like in the dream. I asked the pastor why the tree had fallen. He told me that the roots had just rotted out. 

Why did God orchestrate it like that? Because the dream and the actual event, confirmed the prophetic word about the church needing to clear out some things that were rotted in the foundation of the church. When I stood up that morning and told the congregation about the dream and the prophetic word from God, it electrified the church because each person had just walked past the rotten stump of the fallen tree. God created a spectacular drama to confirm a prophetic word of warning because He wanted to wake up that church. He did.

Like all Christian believers, I do have some of the spiritual and ministry gifts 1 Corinthians 12:7-11; Ephesians 4:11-12 but I don’t have the “gift of prophecy.” That’s why I use these examples from my own life to show how God uses ordinary people like me to speak His word into a person or situation. And, when you develop a prophetic voice (see last week’s AMEN Corner), He can use you!

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Prophesy - Real and Fake

Dear Friends,

The Apostle Paul said to “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” 1 Cor 14:1 The word prophesy means to “declare forth” and speak to people on behalf of God using the words that God puts in his/her mouth. Of all the gifts, this is the one most often counterfeited because this is the money maker! Not all prophetic ministry is false of course, but this is the one most misused for personal gain. 

The Holy Spirit gives the gift of prophesy 1 Cor 12:4-11 and there are some authentic, gifted prophets today. But we must always use our sense of discernment to determine if what we are hearing is true or false. Paul says “Do not scoff at prophecies but test everything that is said.” 1 Thess 5:19-21 NLT 

One red flag is when prophecies are being sold. There is a huge prophecy business on-line and on television. Please someone just show me one internet prophecy site where I’m not asked to buy something or click on the “ministry partner” button to give them my credit card. Every internet prophetic ministry site markets prophetic books, DVDs and/or personal prophesies and the bottom line is that money is being exchanged for the alleged manifestation of a gift given by the Holy Spirit. It’s a red flag anytime money becomes involved because the Holy Spirit gives us the spiritual gifts to minister to others, not to sell to others. 

Many years ago, a co-worker, who knew I was a pastor, came to see me. His father was in his eighties with some severely deteriorating health conditions. The employee told me about an issue he was having with his father and asked me to pray for him. I knew nothing about the father, but I immediately began to speak a prophetic word about something in the father’s past that related to the present issue. This was a word from God and its effect was immediate. The man had been sitting forward and he was thrown back in the chair as if he’d been punched in the chest. God showed him something about his father that he’d never seen before and the man was now weeping and thanking me. I told him to thank God, not me. 

How appropriate would it have been for me to pass him a shiny gold plate at that moment to take up a love offering or ask if he’d like to support my ministry with automatic donations from his credit card? That’s of course ridiculous and laughable, yet it’s what takes place in some churches today. We are given Holy Spirit gifts for the purpose of glorifying God, not as an enterprise opportunity. 1 Peter 4:10-11 

I don’t consider myself a “prophet,” but many times I’ve been given prophetic dreams and words for people that have been detailed and accurate. These have been unexpectedly given to me from the Lord for that person at that moment. But don’t ask me for a prophecy because I cannot conjure up a “word” for someone at will. No one can. 

I’ve seen itinerant “prophets” invited to a church to give personal prophecies, sound like a psychic giving “readings” and then take up a “love offering.” Prophecy does not work like a vending machine. You can’t put in a dollar and out comes a prophetic word. Every authentic prophetic word is given by the Holy Spirit and there is no way that anyone can invoke a word from God at will. If we try, we join the ranks of fortunetellers and “sooth-sayers.” Deut 18:10-12 

Prophecy is a Spirit-given gift that you may not have been given, but when we sincerely desire to speak forth God’s word to others, the Holy Spirit will, at times, enable us to do so. We may never have a prophetic ministry, but we can develop a prophetic voice

I’ve known older couples who have been married for so long that they look, act, speak and even smell like each other. They’ve been walking hand in hand through life for so long that they are not just married to each other, they are joined to each other. They’ve crested the heights in life together and survived the greatest pains and suffering together. They have the same dreams, desires and dislikes. They finish each other’s thoughts and speak each other’s words. They have been living in the presence of their spouse for so many decades that they don’t know where the voice of one leaves off and the voice of the other begins.

Do you want to have a prophetic voice that God can use to speak words of edification, encouragement and comfort to others? 1 Cor 14:3 You need to immerse yourself in the presence of God. You need to start walking hand in hand through life with Him. Like the old married couple intrinsically joined together, you need to live so closely in God’s presence that you don’t know where one leaves off and the other begins. And that’s when God’s thoughts become your thoughts and God’s words become your words. And you are declaring forth God’s words of edification, encouragement and comfort to others. That’s prophecy. Amen?

to be continued...

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Fear Not Tomorrow!

Dear Friends,

When I worked in Glendale I took my Tahoe to a small family-owned place that just did oil changes and routine servicing on vehicles. There was no rack that lifted up the vehicle and instead, you drove your car over a long narrow concrete pit. A mechanic worked in the pit draining the oil, tightening and lubricating things while two other mechanics worked on your car at ground level. The first time I used this place, as I stopped over the pit and got out of my car, I heard a deep voice with an Armenian accent booming out from below, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.” I laughed and said, “You know your Bible!” He had seen my license place HEBW 138 and knew the scripture. The disembodied voice and I had a conversation and we found that for both of us it was one of our favorite verses. For years I had my car serviced there, and every time I stopped over the pit, the employees, customers and passersby on the sidewalk heard the thundering deep voice echoing from below, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever!” 

We’ve just come out of a stressful, tiring year highlighted with Covid, masks, lost jobs, diminishing incomes, lock-downs, crime, riots, politics, and a “woke” progressive culture which determined in 2021 that all White people are racists and white supremacists. Politicians and the media predicted just a few weeks ago that we are in a “winter of severe illness and death” and that the expected result of the 2022 elections will end democracy in America as we know it! With this doom and gloom, it’s no surprise that last month the CDC reported a significant increase of mental health issues (anxiety and depression) in our Nation. We are overwhelmed with negative news; and worse, some of us this past year have suffered severe illness and the illness and deaths of loved ones. But if 2021 was a bleak year for you, know that this year is a year of new beginnings and God’s light will shine in the darkness! John 1:5 

If we find ourselves dragging our anxieties and fears along with us as we step from 2021 into 2022, we need to grab on to Hebrews 13:8 and hold on tight. The only guarantees we will have in 2022 is that things will change. Nothing ever stays the same. Things in our Nation will become better or worse depending on your perspective from where you sit in the red pews or the blue pews. Things in your personal life will change. 365 days from now, you will not be the exact same person physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Growth and loss. Things a little different a year later. 

We change, circumstances change, the world changes. But there is someOne who is immutable and unchanging and He’s the One in whom we put our trust. He does not and cannot change. He truly is exactly the same yesterday, today and forever. Jesus Christ has been by your side from the moment you took your first breath, He is with you right now, and He will be with you, not just tomorrow, but for all eternity.

Ten years ago I came across an obscure worship song that I taught to my church. Called FEAR NOT TOMORROW it was written by a worship leader in a church which released it on an album of their own music and the chorus goes: “Fear not tomorrow, God is already there...” Isn’t it funny how just a few words of God’s truth can change your whole perspective on something? Somewhat ironically, we can become overwhelmed with gratitude when we look back at our life to see that God has brought us through all the worst things that have ever happened to us, and yet we don’t trust Him to bring us through our tomorrows. And, have you noticed how it’s never our past that scares us, it’s always our future? It’s never the known of our yesterday that weakens our knees, it’s always the uncertainty of tomorrow. And your uncertainty about the changes that life will bring becomes a fear of your future when you have no trust that your timeless God is already sitting there in your tomorrow and waiting for you.

There’s a story of the night that a house caught fire and a young boy escaped the flames by crawling out of his second-story bedroom window and onto the roof. The rest of the family had already escaped through the front door, and now the father was on the front lawn calling to his son to jump off the roof and into his arms. The boy was terrified. With the swirling smoke and the darkness of the night, he was unable to see past the edge of the roof. “Jump!” yelled the father. “I can’t!” screamed the boy, “I can’t see you!!” The father replied, “I know son, but I can see you and that’s all that matters.” And the boy jumped safely into his father’s arms.

Even when we can’t see God in our circumstances, we know and trust that He’s there and when the darkness of fear swirls around us, our faith is what reveals the unseen presence of God. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 So let us jump into the uncertainties of 2022 with faith knowing that God is already waiting for us with open arms. AMEN?