Monday, May 30, 2022

Not A "Happy" Day...

 

Dear Friends,

My father was a proud member of the American Legion which is the nation’s largest wartime Veterans service organization, and I was a member of the Sons of the American Legion. For many years, as a teenager, I was in the color guard – they are the ones who carry the American flag (the “colors”) in parades, patriotic events and Memorial Day ceremonies. Among the memories is standing before many hundreds of Veterans at the West Los Angeles Veteran’s Administration Medical center. Our color guard was presenting the colors at the Memorial Day service in the 114 acre Veteran’s cemetery that is now the Los Angeles National Cemetery. There was absolute silence from the large crowd as our color guard came to a halt in front of the granite monument erected in “Memory of the Men Who Offered Their Lives in Defense of Their Country.” The silence stretched on until two trumpeters positioned on opposite hills far away began to play “taps” with one echoing the other. I stood there at attention holding the American Flag with tears streaming down my face.

Forty years later, I was a City of Glendale Administrator standing in front of an angry assistant City Manager demanding to know why I had just stopped a public works crew from putting a large banner on the front of our City Hall that read, “HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY.” The banner had been ordered by the Armenian mayor and I explained to the Armenian assistant city manager what Memorial Day was, and told her how offensive that inappropriate banner would be to those mourning a family member or friend who had lost their life in service to our Country.

Decoration Day was first observed on May 30, 1868, when the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers were decorated with flowers and it became known as Memorial Day in 1967. On Memorial Day, we honor all who have died while serving in the Country's armed forces, but like the foreign-born leaders of the city I once worked for, many of our churches celebrate this as a "happy holiday" or confuse this solemn day of remembrance with “Veteran’s Day.” 

Do you think it would be strange to attend a memorial service where instead of the focus being on the dearly departed, all those who were still living were invited to stand so that they could be honored instead? But in many churches on the Sunday before Memorial Day, the Veterans will be asked to stand so that they can be honored for their service to our nation. I was even in one church where the pastor’s wife had decorated the sanctuary in red, white and blue streamers and patriotic bunting had even been hung on the cross! The pastor’s prayer was eloquent in its expression of thanks for all the men and women who were serving our Country that day. The well-intentioned pastor had misunderstood the meaning of Memorial Day.

Memorial Day has become the first holiday get-away in the vacation season and has become a day of joyful celebration instead of a day of reflection. If we’re not traveling, we’re firing up the backyard barbeque, and more beer will be sold for our Memorial Day celebrations than any other day except for the fourth of July. The Sunday newspaper was crammed full of Memorial Day sale ads so that we can truly honor those who gave their lives for our freedom by buying a big screen TV or a new washing machine. When retail clerks wish me a “happy holiday” at this time of year, I’ll tell them, “No..it’s not a happy day, it’s Memorial Day.” 

The men and women we honor this day took an oath to uphold the Constitution and then sacrificed their lives so that you and I can enjoy the freedom we have in this Country. And that freedom comes at a great cost that you and I did not pay. They gave their life for you and me.

There are 325 million people in America and unless you are one of the 2.9 million Native Americans, you are a immigrant or your ancestors were. The reason that the United States has a larger immigrant population than any other country is because they are desperate for the freedom and opportunities that those of us born here have taken for granted. 

Most of us have never given a thought to those who gave their lives in the American Revolution and in all the battles and wars since that time. And instead of giving thanks for them, we’ve turned the one day to remember their sacrifice into a festive day of food and fun. We need to remember the fathers and mothers and sons and daughters who have fought and died for our liberty because they believed in America, what it stood for and found it worth fighting for. It’s been said that soldiers fight not because of hate for who is in front of them but because of love for who is behind them. We honor that solder’s sacrifice on Memorial Day when we pray for their families and turn our thoughts to all the men and women who paid the cost for our freedom and quality of life that we enjoy.

Memorial Day will be over tomorrow, but it will never be over for the millions of people in our Nation who remember and grieve for loved ones who died in battle. From now on, let us always remember what this day commemorates and the men and women that it honors. It’s not about the barbeque and the beer. It’s not about the terrific sale at Target. It’s about standing in a Veteran’s cemetery and listening to the mournful sound of taps washing over teary-eyed family members and echoing over thousands of little American flags so lovingly placed at each grave marker...

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The Twins


Dear Friends,

I was listening to Carrie Underwood’s “Temporary Home” this morning. It’s a Country song and you won’t be singing it in church, but it’s about as Christian as it can be. It’s three verses about people going through hard times and then the chorus that goes like this: 


This is my temporary home, 

It's not where I belong, 

Windows and rooms that I'm passing through,

This was just a stop on the way to where I'm going,

I'm not afraid because I know,

This was my temporary home.


From the Ukraine to our own courts, we are being overwhelmed by news stories with the prominent themes of death and abortion, and I suppose that’s why this morning I began thinking about both the womb and our existence on earth as nothing more than our temporary homes. On my bookshelves is a parable on the transitions of life written by an internationally-known priest, Henri Nouwen. In “Our Greatest Gift ~ A Meditation on Dying and Caring,” he writes:

Twins are talking to each other in the womb. The sister said to the brother, “I believe there is life after birth.” Her brother protested vehemently, “No, no, this is all there is. This is a dark and cozy place, and we have nothing else to do but to cling to the cord that feeds us.” The little girl insisted, “There must be something more than this dark place. There must be something else, a place with light where there is freedom to move.” Still she could not convince her twin brother.

After some silence, the sister said hesitantly, “I have something else to say, and I’m afraid you won’t believe this, either, but I think there is a mother.” Her brother became furious. “A mother!” he shouted. “What are you talking about? I have never seen a mother, and neither have you. Who put that idea in your head? As I told you, this place is all we have. Why do you always want more? This is not such a bad place and we have all we need, so let’s be content.”

The sister was quite overwhelmed by her brother’s response and for a while didn’t dare say anything more. But she couldn’t let go of her thoughts, and since she only had her twin brother to speak to, she finally said, “Don’t you feel these squeezes every once in a while? They’re quite unpleasant and sometimes even painful.” “Yes,” he answered. “What’s special about that?” “Well”, the sister said, “I think that these squeezes are there to get us ready for another place, much more beautiful than this, where we will see our mother face-to-face!!!” 

Nouwen’s parable ends there, but allow me to continue the story for you...

After the twins had grown up, the sister went through her life believing that this world “womb” was just another temporary home and that death would simply be the transition to a new stage of existence unimaginable in this life. Her brother, as he did in the womb, went through his life doubting that it had any meaning or purpose and believing that death would simply be the end of his existence.

In the metaphorical parable, life outside the womb was beyond the twin’s capacity to picture and there were sensations from the outside that they could not comprehend. Sounds. Movements. Squeezes. Bright lights would sometimes light up their dark, safe space that hinted of the life to come. The brother closed his eyes and ears to the reality of another world and brushed off the signs as meaningless wishful thinking. His sister’s “evidence” that there was someOne bigger than them was because the Holy Spirit had given her the ability to see that they were immersed in God’s existence (the “mother’s womb” in the parable), and they were being supported, fed and nurtured in every way by their “Creator.” 

When she was still in the womb, the girl knew that as they continued to grow and develop, their existence and development made no sense unless they were meant for something more, by someone “bigger” in whom they were growing. And she knew that with the approaching end of their nine months in the womb, the uncomfortable “squeezes” were the sign that something wonderful was waiting for them. She was filled with a hopeful expectancy of a better world to come!

________________________________

For the unbelieving world, the word “birth” can bring great joy while “death” brings fear. But for those whose hope is in Christ, our transition from our mortal existence on earth is simply another joyful “birth” into an unseen world that is only glimpsed by us in this life. “..No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 

I love my life. I love my temporary home on this Earth. I pray that through the grace of God, I’ll have a long and abundant life filled with His love and the love of others but I don’t fear death. Our souls were created to have eternal life. We simply transition from one world to the next, stepping over the threshold of the door that God is holding open for us. As believers, death has no victory 1 Corinthians 15:55 because all is well with our soul. For those who believe, what awaits each one of us is simply another birth into a better world. John 3:16; Rev 7:15-17; Rev 21:3-5   Amen?

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The End Is Near?


Dear Friends,

There has been an excited rush from politicians, prophets and pastors alike to predict that Russia’s Vladimir Putin will detonate a nuclear weapon and bring an apocalyptic end to our world. Please don’t be alarmed. It was going to end soon anyway according to liberal socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) who, four years ago, predicted that the world would come to an end in twelve years because of climate change. So we really only have eight years left!

AOC said that  global warming will “destroy the planet” in twelve years and that everyone in the millennial generation knows that it will happen.” She said, “And, like, this is the war; this is our World War III. For real.” That was helpful news when I heard it because I needed to get my roof replaced and was considering a roof with a 25 year guarantee. But since I believe everything politicians tell me, I’ve decided to save money and just get the less-expensive ten year roof...

Isaac Newton is a well-known  scientist from the 17th century who “discovered” the law of gravity. But few people know that he was also a certified whacko. Newton’s passionate interest was black magic and he went on an obsessive endeavor to create a magic “rock” which he believed would have the power to bestow eternal life. Newton studied the Bible, renamed himself “Jehovah Sanctus Unus” (the one holy god) and famously predicted that the world will end in 2060. So if we believe the scientist over the socialist, that gives us about three more decades and may help those who are planning their retirement annuities.

A few years ago, Christian numerologist David Meade scared the millennial generation half to death with a book called “Planet X” that described a death star destined to crash into the earth and annihilate it on April 23, 2018. After that didn’t pan out like he hoped, he corrected the end of the world for sometime between May and December 2018. I guess I don’t have to tell you how that prediction turned out either. We can look back and scoff at the silliness of it all, but I knew some intelligent, Bible-believing Christians who were absolutely certain the world was coming to an end in 2018 and that belief changed their entire life.

Even worse was when Christian radio broadcaster and evangelist Harold Camping provided “biblical proof” that the world would end on May 21, 2011 and his followers very sadly did some extremely foolish things in expectation that the Rapture would happen that day. Jesus had said about His return, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” Matthew 24:36

What part of that did this “Bible teacher” and evangelist not understand? I was not angry that this Harold Camping was an idiot. What made me angry is that this one foolish and false prophet gave place to the devil and the level of ridicule toward Christians ratcheted up to an all-time high.

As Camping’s day of Rapture approached, there was an article in the LA Times about a website called “You've Been Left Behind.” For $14.95, a Christian could have a letter sent to their unbelieving loved ones to inform them that they (the believer) had been “raptured” and were no longer on earth. Christians wrote large checks to “Eternal Earth-Bound Pets” to take care of the believer’s dogs and cats when the rapture occurred. The LA Times portrayed these atheist businesses as shrewd and depicted Christian believers as na├»ve and foolish. Harold Camping received nation-wide attention from liberal network news anchors who made no attempt to hide their laughter and disdain at Christian believers.

Harold Camping repented and admitted his “predictions were sinful” but the damage had been done. He’d spent 100 million dollars on billboards and radio advertising!! What if he'd given 100 million dollars to the Christian non-profit “Feed The Children” that supplies food, medicine and clothing to needy families? What if he’d spent that 100 million dollars on Bibles in different languages to send to other countries? The late Harold Camping shows us that a Christian’s actions – our behavior – will bring people one step closer to Jesus or move them one step away. 

During my own relatively short time on earth, the end of the world has been predicted at least 79 times according to my research. Predictions from politicians, psychics and Popes; astrologer Jeanne Dixon, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Calvary Chapel’s Chuck Smith, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, John Hagee and others. Predictions by scientists and socialists. The earth will end in giant tides and earthquakes, collisions with death stars, apocalyptic race wars, a change in the earth’s axis that pulls it into the sun, alien invasions and now climate change and an unstable Russian president.  Every time an “end-date” comes up, I’ve known Christians who listened to the false prophets and were terrified. 

Perhaps we just need to read our Bible. The Sovereign God is in control of all that happens in His Creation and He rules over all the nations. Psalm 22:28 And Jesus said that “all end-times predictions are hogwash” Matthew 24:36 (my translation). I’m not sure that anything else needs to be said about it.


Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Yes You Can Pray Without Ceasing!

Dear Friends,

I wrote last week about the Apostle Paul’s direction to “rejoice always” and what that looks like in this one pilgrim’s life. Let’s continue looking at that one scripture that can seem so difficult to do: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thess 5:16-18. How on earth, and in our busy lives, can we possibly pray without ceasing

For many decades, I couldn’t even pray without a prayer book. Some of you know that I grew up in the Episcopal Church back when it looked like the conservative Anglican Church of England and not what the progressive Episcopal Church looks like today. Comfortably perched halfway between Luther’s Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, our “high church” liturgical service was almost indistinguishable from a Catholic Church service. All prayer was read by the priest from the liturgical book with appropriate responses by the congregation. Prayer was primarily a church ritual and any prayer outside of the church walls was usually the recitation of a written prayer or two that had been memorized. I faithfully recited the Lord’s Prayer every night before falling asleep. Six decades later, I still do. I’ll never forget the first time I went to a non-liturgical, Pentecostal service and we gathered in prayer groups to pray for one another. I was terrified. It wasn’t just the heart-pounding thought of praying out loud in front of others. How in heaven’s name can a person pray without a prayer book to read from?

But in the early church, prayer was as natural as breathing. When Paul wrote to the church to pray without ceasing, he wasn’t asking the impossible. In fact, he was simply encouraging them to keep on doing what they’d always done! To pray without ceasing is obviously not the impossibility of praying every moment of every waking hour. It is simply to turn one's heart and mind toward God throughout our day. If you have ever loved, you know how our thoughts just naturally turn to our loved one and we find ourselves thinking of them "without ceasing." That periodic heart connection to someone is what Paul meant.

There are those today who follow a regular and disciplined prayer time and are much blessed by a prayer ritual to which they have made a commitment to follow. That used to be me, but I found that I had compartmentalized my life into my (much too short and too often rushed) prayer time with God and then for the other sixteen waking hours my time was spent in work and in the world. 

My entire spiritual life turned upside down when I came across THE PRACTICE OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD by Brother Lawrence who was a 17th century monk. Brother Lawrence said: “He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.”

I start and end everyday in prayer, but prayer is no longer limited to a specific time of my day. It’s become a lifestyle and, like Brother Lawrence, my own constant prayers – those little acts of adoration throughout the day – have become the background music of my life. I’ll often stop what I’m doing and pray: Lord God, here I am, all devoted to Thee; make me according to the desires of Thy heart.

Oswald Chambers was an early twentieth-century Scottish Baptist and Holiness Movement teacher and evangelist, best known for the devotional My Utmost for His Highest. He wrote, “Think of prayer as the breath in our lungs and the blood from our hearts. Our blood flows and our breathing continues ‘without ceasing’; we are not even conscious of it, but it never stops...Prayer is not an exercise; it is the life of the saint. It is coming into perfect fellowship and oneness with God.”

Speaking the name of Jesus throughout our day invites and instills His presence. The name of God, verbally expressed, contains His presence. Orthodox mystics and Protestants alike ascribe to the ancient belief that speaking forth His name places the reality of God into our circumstances. I have often written and spoken of the ancient monastic “Jesus Prayer.” Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner. Matthew 16:16; Luke 18:13 I have found that after awhile, the Jesus Prayer becomes as natural as breathing and you’ll find yourself praying it while going about your daily activities. The Jesus Prayer will allow you to stay focused, relaxed and energized at the same time. This prayer is one which can bring us into that perfect fellowship and oneness with God.

Other short prayers maybe helpful for you. They are easily memorized and can be spoken out loud or silently as we think of Him throughout our day:

Lord, You know that I love You.

Maranatha, O Lord come.

Lord Jesus praised be Your Name.

Jesus, You are my Healer, make me whole.

Have Your way with me, O Lord.

Lord God, have mercy on me.

Glory and honor to God.

Lord, give me a heart of (love) (hope) (peace) (strength).

Not my will but Thine be done.

Here I am Lord, I am Yours.

I in Him and He in me.

To You Lord, all the Glory, and Honor and Praise!

Let your prayers become the ambient background in your journey through life. Turn your thoughts and your prayers to God throughout each day and remember, “One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.”

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Can We Really Rejoice Always?

Dear Friends,


One of my favorite high-tech devices is the Bluetooth Mobile Phone Headset. That’s the device that people wear in their ear to be able to instantly answer their mobile phone and engage in a loud conversation when they’re in back of you in the line at Starbucks. I should quickly say that I don’t use one of those wireless headsets myself. I’m just not important enough to need to be immediately available to my people. Okay...the truth is I don’t even have “people.”

But the cool thing about wireless headset technology is that it has allowed me to now be in public without frightening others. I’m now able to walk down the street without mothers clutching their small children to them in fear. People no longer quietly edge away from me when I’m in line at the bank and I can now even go into retail stores without a clerk quickly slipping behind the counter to stand near the red emergency button.

Because sometimes I engage in what others might describe as “bizarre behavior.” I’ll be in my yard cleaning the horse stalls in the early morning hours singing praise songs. I’ll be walking down the street and praying quietly to myself or softly singing a worship song out loud. I’ll think of something and under my breath be praising or thanking the Lord. And so now, thanks to the popularity of those wireless headsets, people no longer look at me as if I could be psychotically dangerous. They just assume I’m on my phone.

One time I was browsing in a thrift store and softly whistling “IN CHRIST ALONE.” A bit later, when I brought my stack of used books to the cash register, the lady asked if I was the one who was whistling. Not realizing I could be heard, I apologized and she quickly said, “No, no..it was nice to hear someone happy!”

Seeing a cross around her neck, I knew she’d understand. So I replied, “That was a worship song and when I praise God, He always makes me happy.” That began one of those conversations where I was thankful that God had brought me into an uncrowded store and into a quiet conversation with this volunteer who was going through a difficult time in her life.

We can find ourselves living in a constant state of brokenness from our past, commingled with too much dysfunction in our present. Where stress and anxiety clutter our mind and prevent us from finding any joy in our day. Where we’re struggling with our present circumstances. Where we might even find ourselves mired in what King David called the “pit of despair.” Psalm 40:1-2 NLT

And then we read something in our Bible that seems laughably impossible for us to do. 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 Rejoice always? Even in the middle of what may be lousy circumstances? Yes! And sometimes that’s indeed very difficult to do, but with God all things are possible. Those Biblical instructions or commandments that raise the bar for our behavior are not just directed toward the spiritual saints who have it all together. They’re also directed toward people like you and me.

So, how do we “rejoice always” in the middle of difficult circumstances? Not though any mind-games, psychological techniques or religious formulas. We simply praise God for what He has done for us and worship Him for who He is. King David found himself in that pit of despair and cried out to the Lord. God lifted David out of the mire, set his feet on the “rock” and put a new hymn of praise in his mouth! Psalm 40:3 NLT 

Do I get discouraged, worried and stressed at times? You bet I do. And singing praise songs to the glory of God will always bring me out of my Eeyore-like, self-centered gloom. Praise and worship takes you out of yourself and into the Presence of God. When we are filled with the awe of God, we become less full of ourselves and our self-important problems are put into perspective. 

Our praise rises up to the heavens like sweet incense and He reaches down and gently lifts us into His Presence. Praise and worship are not just what we do on Sunday morning, it’s a lifestyle. When worship is an attitude of our heart, then our lives are lived as an act of worship to Him. Praise comes to our lips, prayer flows out of our heart and in that moment, God meets us right where we already are. We rejoice. Always!