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?

Wednesday, September 14, 2022


 Avast me Hearties! (Dear Friends),

This coming Monday (Sept 19th) is INTERNATIONAL TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY which just so happens to be one of my favorite holidays! When I was a young lad, my career goal was to become a pirate and while things didn't work out like I'd planned, it's probably for the best since it would be difficult for me to type this with a troublesome hook in place of my right hand.

But I still love watching the old Errol Flynn pirate movies; I live my boyhood dreams on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland and every September 19th I can thoroughly annoy my loved ones by talking like a pirate. Shiver me timbers! ‘Tis a foul storm approaching that be sending ye to Davy Jones Locker! Arrgghh!! (Singing) Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a pirate's life for me..

What does all this have to do with our Christian faith? Pirate jargon uses antiquated and obscure words with unclear meanings that make people laugh. Christian jargon uses antiquated and obscure words with unclear meanings that make people confused.

While we believers don't yet have a secret handshake, the secret language that we use to communicate with each other can be just as exclusive and alienating to those who may be outside the Christian clubhouse doors and trying to get in. If you've ever been with other people who unintentionally excluded you from their conversation by speaking in a language you didn't understand, you know what that feels like. 

Our “Christianese” can exclude the very people we are trying to reach. If I invite someone to “ask Jesus into your heart,” she may have no idea what I'm talking about. If I tell her that, “Jesus was the propitiation for her sins,” she'll need a dictionary to understand me. If I tell her that “Jesus made atonement for her so that she'll be justified, redeemed and sanctified,” her eyes will glaze over. 

But what if I tell her that “Humans have been separated from God by our rebellious nature and that’s what we call sin. And, Jesus, through His sacrificial death upon the cross, paid the penalty for our sins. When we accept and believe in Jesus, our relationship is then restored with God and we will have eternal life.”

There is absolutely nothing wrong with our using the beloved words and phrases that describe our  beliefs and how we live out our faith. It's all biblical and it's the language that we use to effectively communicate with each other. But when we're speaking to a non-Christian, or a new believer unfamiliar with Christian jargon, we need to speak their language, not ours. 

Whether giving someone driving directions, talking politics or matters of faith, communication has not taken place unless the person we’re speaking with has understood what it is that we’re attempting to say.

When speaking to others about your faith, and communicating the “Good News,” always try to think about what you are saying from the perspective of the person with whom you are speaking. 

“Aye! When ye parley with yer Matey, speak smartly that they savvy!” Colossians 4:6 APV (Authorized Pirate Version) 

“Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone!” Colossians 4:6 NLT

Until next week me Hearties! Arrgghh!! 

I mean.. Amen?

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

How To Not Mess Up A Relationship!

Dear Friends,

God created us to be in relationship with Him and to be in relationship with each other. God intersects our lives with the lives of others and has handpicked those other souls to be the ones  with whom we share our lives. He has chosen them to become a part of who we are and to walk with us for awhile on this journey called life. 

By birth and by happenstance, God gives us loved ones – family and friends – those who have been given to us and those to whom we have been given. And here's the way it seems to work. God creates our relationships with others and then, too often, we go and mess them up. Trust me in this. I’m an expert in messing up relationships.

If I close my eyes, I see a kaleidoscope of faces. The ghost relationships from my past. I whisper to my ghosts a plea for their forgiveness and can only hope they have done so. Not for my sake but for theirs. I wish I could tell them that at the time, I was clueless about God’s relationship rules.

From my first teenage crush on Kris Busch, the cute, red-haired girl at church, I've messed up more relationships than I’m comfortable thinking about. I've also had to helplessly watch far too many times as a friend or loved one messed up their relationship with me beyond repair. But no matter who gets the credit for muddling it up, every single one of my messed up relationships got messed up for the same reason. Someone wasn’t following the rules.

Here's the interesting thing that sometimes happens to people who have learned from their own messiness: God uses their experience to help others. He comforts (and guides) us in our troubles that we may comfort and help others. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NLT So, at a previous church, many, many years ago, God transformed the guy (me), who was proficient at messing up relationships, into a counseling pastor and brought me into the lives of those who were trying to repair their own wounded or broken relationships. 

My pastoral job was to help them understand how they got there in the first place, show them how they might be able to restore their messed up relationship and have healthier relationships in the future. Of course, whether it was between two spouses, parent and child, friends, co-workers or even themselves and their boss, the dysfunctional relationships had become fragile and fragmented for the exact same reason. They weren't following the rules.

On Amazon there are over 150,000 books on marriage and dating relationships, but you need only one book and it's already in your home. You know the book I'm talking about. It has everything that you'll ever need to know in order to have successful and fulfilling relationships with others. But it's a big book and I'll simplify things for you. Take a look at the enclosed. (If you are the person who resists following “rules” because they interfere with your personal freedom, then this AMEN Corner isn’t for you.) But if you do want the blessings from living out your relationship God’s way, then these One-Anothers will help you to do that.

Every relationship...Without exception...Every relationship gets messed up when people don't follow the rules of the “One-Another.” If both in a marriage made a three-way covenant with each other and with God to follow the biblical One-Anothers, and both sincerely worked at doing that, they would divorce-proof that relationship and it would truly be a marriage made in heaven. That’s guaranteed!

But in a marriage, we sometimes find ourselves “unequally yoked” 2 Corinthians 6:14 due to circumstances or decisions when we married or because we and our spouse have found ourselves on two different spiritual life-paths. If a spouse is unwilling to commit to following the One-Anothers with you, many times we can use the list as a diagnostic tool to see if there’s something we can do differently in order to improve the relationship. God tells us to imitate Him and walk in love Ephesians 5:1-2 because our Christ-like behavior will often inspire others to be like us.

The biblical One-Anothers are directed to all Christians and show us how to be Christ-like in all of our relationships with each other, but I’ve found this list to be especially helpful for a married couple working to restore or rejuvenate their relationship. And, it takes both husband and wife who are told by Paul to “..submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (meaning a mutual submission). Ephesians 5:21-33 NLT (see note) Two people are to accept one another, love one another, encourage each other and pray for each other and there are twenty-five One-Anothers in our Bible! Relationships can be incredibly easy and fulfilling and free of contention and strife. All you have to do is to follow God's rules. Amen?


in Scripture hold a wealth of guidance for our relationships with loved ones, friends and all those who God has brought into our lives – those who have been given to us and to whom we have been given. If we practiced these “one–anothers,” we’d have far fewer problems in our relationships.
“Be at peace with each other.” Mark 9:50 
“Love one another.” John 13:34
“Be devoted to one another.” Romans 12:10
“Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10
“Stop passing judgement on one another.” Romans 14:13
“Accept one another.” Romans 15:7
Instruct one another.” Romans 15:14
“Greet one another.” Romans 16:16
“Serve one another in love.” Galatians 5:13
“Carry each other’s burdens.” Galatians 6:2
“Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2
“Be kind and compassionate to one another.” Ephesians 4:32
“Forgive each other.” Ephesians 4:32
“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Ephesians 5:19
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21
“In humility consider others better than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3
“Teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” Colossians 3:16
“Encourage each other.” 1 Thessalonians 4:18
“Build each other up.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11
“Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24
“Do not slander one another.” James 4:11
“Don’t grumble against one another.” James 5:9
“Confess your sins to each other.” James 5:16
“Pray for each other.” James 5:16
“Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” 1 Peter 5:5

 Note: The Biblical teaching of submission in marriage has been sadly misunderstood and misused and, in some marriages, has resulted in un-Christ-like behavior and abuse. I strongly recommend reading this entire passage of scripture in the New Living Translation for a clear understanding of what a Godly marriage looks like.

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God's word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. And we are members of his body. As the Scriptures say, "A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one." This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5:21-33 NLT