Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Looking Weird For God?

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Ten Years!

Dear Friends,

A Little AMEN Corner History:

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

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

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

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

Some AMEN Corner Highlights and Lowlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the AMEN Corner Archives:

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

The Very First One Published

The One Most Read

A Personal Favorite

What I've been told was the Funniest One

The Funniest, Saddest, True Story of Romance Gone Bad

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

Thank you for reading the AMEN Corners!