Wednesday, July 27, 2022

God: Our Navigator

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

On The Moon

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Seeking The Will Of God

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Are You REALLY A Christian?

Dear Friends,

Someone asked me one time, 
“What determines if we are really a Christian?” 
What a great question that was! Let’s see...

Bob was raised by parents who took him to a Presbyterian church every so often. He can remember that at Christmas, his family sang carols and had a manger with the baby Jesus. As an adult, the only time he was in a church was ten years ago when his friend got married. He remembers a Sunday School story about Jonah being eaten by a whale. He has never read a Bible but does believe that Jesus existed only as a man. Bob says that he’s a Christian. Is he?

Gloria was raised in a loving Catholic home and her faith is very important to her. She’s survived the death of her husband and her own struggle with cancer and attributes her ability to do so to the grace and glory of God. She faithfully attends mass every morning and she prays three times a day using her rosary. She worships her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and tries to love others as she believes that Jesus would. Is she a Christian?

Jim was also raised in church and he can’t remember a time in his life when he was not in a Sunday school or church service at least once a week. He accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior as a child and his father was a pastor. Today, he’s married with two children – a nine year old girl and a 12 year old boy. He’s a Sunday school teacher and an elder in his church. He believes in the inerrant Word of God and faithfully tithes 10% of his income. He says he is a Christian. Is he? Before you answer that, there’s something else I need to tell you about Jim. For two years, he has been sexually abusing his daughter. Is he a Christian? 

Marcy regularly attends her mainline church that teaches what is known as “liberal theology.” She prays to “Mother God,” believes in the human existence of Jesus and acknowledges Him, not as God, but as a God “symbol” that shows her the right way to live her life and how she should love others. She agrees with her church teachings that the biblical stories must be filtered through modern thought and reason and that the miracles in the New Testament were not real but are important stories that encourage and inspire us. She loves how her church is relevant for her by using today’s culture to translate the scriptures into a doctrine that comports with her liberal worldview and has given her a faith that she can believe in. Marcy sincerely believes that she is a Christian. Is she?

Julie is a single mom who wasn’t raised in church, but in college she accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior at a Campus Crusade event. As a young single woman, her church was very important to her, until she got pregnant and decided to keep the baby. She was so hurt by the church’s response to her pregnancy that she hasn’t been back since. She prays every night for herself and her little daughter. She studies her Bible and uses God’s Word to guide her life. Because of her treatment as an unwed mother, she has become very guarded and cautious around other Christians. She loves Jesus but is afraid to become involved in another church. Is Julie a Christian?

Helen is an older, “spirit-filled” woman and there is not a day that goes by without her spending time with God and praying in her spiritual language. She is the leader of an intercessory prayer ministry at her church, but she’s avoided telling her pastor that at home she prays to and converses with the angels who she believes are her spirit guides. She uses crystals that she believes will heal her arthritis and has a Navajo dream-catcher with a “medicine bag” over her bed to protect her as she sleeps. Helen knows that her shamanistic New Age beliefs are non-biblical but has intermingled those with her Christian beliefs and firmly believes that she’s still a Christian. Is she?

Is it our beliefs that determine if we’re really a Christian? These six all believe in the existence of Jesus, but is that enough? Our Bible tells us, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble!” James 2:19 The demons believe and even confess that Jesus is Lord. Luke 4:40-41 Satan and his demons are “believers” but they are definitely not Christians!

Okay. If it’s not what we believe, is it what we do? Is it our good works? Is it our social activism? Is it our participation in our church's homeless ministry? According to Jesus, we can go to church and act exceedingly religious and do phenomenal works and yet.. “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of My Father in heaven will enter.. Many will say.. we prophesied in Your name and cast out demons in Your name and performed many miracles in Your name. But I will reply, 'I never knew you. Get away from Me, you who break God's laws.” Matthew 7:21-23 NLT

In the ancient church established by the Apostles, the derisive term used to describe the early disciples was “Christian” – meaning a Christ follower. Acts 11:26 That’s a good definition to use. If being a Christian means “one who actually follows Jesus” then it’s more than just a biblical belief in His existence, church attendance or religious behavior. 

Here’s how it works: By the grace of God, we enter into a relationship with Him through belief in His Son Jesus – not just belief that He is the Son of God but that He is God the Son. Then out of that relationship flows a desire to know and follow Jesus. The biblical concept is “sanctification,” meaning the process of becoming less like us and more like Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirit, it’s living out the authentic, historic Gospel in our own life. To follow Jesus means submitting our life to Him and, in all ways possible, doing what He would do. Following Jesus is not just walking on the same path; it’s journeying along closely in the footsteps of the One who is leading. 

Look again at Bob, Gloria, Jim, Marcy, Julie and Helen. Each one would tell you that they are definitely a Christian. Do they believe in historical, biblical, orthodox Christianity or a contemporary version of it that's non-Christian and unbiblical? Are they following Jesus and trying to do what He would do? If some are not, what would they need to do differently? (Note: Based solely on the descriptions of the six, only two would be authentic, believing Christians)

But of course our six self-described Christians are the unimportant ones at this point. Do you believe in historical, biblical, orthodox Christianity? (If not, or if you're not sure, please email me and let's chat about it) And then if your beliefs are biblically solid.. when Jesus looks back over His shoulder, does He see you closely following Him? If not, what do you need to do differently?