Wednesday, May 10, 2023

A Rhythm To Walk In...

Dear Friends,

A question being asked these days as we seek to know others better is no longer, “What religion are you?” or “What do you believe?” The question is “What are your spiritual and religious practices?” A few years ago, a woman in her late seventies approached me outside the gate at my house to ask if the foals (baby horses) in my corral would be for sale. I didn’t recognize her but when she introduced herself to me, I remembered she had been one of the most beautiful and popular young television actresses in the 70's. We had a nice talk about horses and living here in Sylmar and when she mentioned spiritual things, I told her I was a pastor and asked what religion she was. She immediately replied, “Catholic.” That apparently was the approved answer when you’re talking to a pastor. 

I asked her where she went to church and it turned out that she had not been to Mass since she was a young teenager. She said that today she actually considers herself to be more of a Buddhist. But when I asked her about her spiritual practices, it turned out she was Wiccan. 

Baptized as a Catholic, she wasn’t a Christian (follower of Jesus). She liked the Buddhist philosophy but was not a practitioner of Buddhism. The Wiccan “spiritual” rituals and prayers she had adopted and practiced told me who she followed and what she believed. It’s not what we “say” but what we “do” that reveals the truth about who we are.

Many label ourselves, as the actress did, by the religious identity that we think would meet the approval of others, but the terms “Christian,” “Jew” or “Muslim” may be meaningless. If you were baptized Catholic, you are considered to be one for life even if you never attended a Catholic Church since childhood. If you were born to a Jewish woman, you are a Jew for life no matter what your religious beliefs are today. If your father was Muslim you are Muslim and in some countries may even be killed if you profess another faith. But religious identity labels tell nothing about what we actually believe and what is far more revealing is the involvement level we have with our faith. 

For example, Christians with a “high level involvement” are those who attend church regularly, read their Bible and have regular personal prayer times. They sincerely and faithfully worship God. They continually self-evaluate, confess their sins and make an honest attempt to follow Jesus and become more like Him. 

There are 51 million Catholics in America but only 13% (6.6 million) have “high level involvement.” One third of all Catholics never go to church and 63% attend only a few times a year. There are 13 million Evangelical Protestants and 43% (5.5 million) have high level involvement. There are 7 million Mainline Protestants (ELCA Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians) and only 19% (1.4 million) have high level involvement. 

A very large majority of those who identify as Christians are “in name only” and have little or no involvement with Christianity. That’s why a person’s self-proclaimed Christian identity tells us nothing about their spirituality or engagement with their faith.

We are saved by grace alone through faith alone but then our Christian growth is up to us. Paul tells us: “Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from Him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy.” Ephesians 4:21-24 NLT 

The New Testament described process of “sanctification” is to become less like us and more like Jesus. To be a “disciple” of Jesus means that we willingly put ourselves under a “spiritual discipline” that becomes the foundation of a rhythm of ritual that sustains and builds our faith. I recently read a quote by a poet, who said, “The task in life is not so much finding a path in the woods as it is finding a rhythm to walk in.” In music, “rhythm” is a strong, regular, repeated pattern of sound and in our spiritual practices, we need the rhythm of a regular and repeated pattern of ritual.

Your morning ritual may be brewing the coffee and sitting down with your Bible. In the evening it may be lighting a candle and praying printed or extemporaneous prayers. It may be reading a devotional. Your ritual may be filling your home with the sounds of Christian praise and worship CD’s as you sing along while cleaning your house. Perhaps the rhythm of your day continues as you engage in a time of sustained prayer during your afternoon walk or as you sit quietly in the backyard. Your ritual may be praying those short ten second “breath prayers” as you go about your day. 

These I mention are only some of the various pathways to a greater level of participation in the Kingdom of God, and what makes these practices edifying and building up are when you’ve established the rhythm of the rituals and they’ve become a regular and repeated part of your day-to-day lifestyle.

One day we’ll be standing before Jesus. The Son of God is not interested in what church we’ve gone to, our Sunday attendance record, or the length of our personal prayer times. Jesus is interested only in the condition of our heart but it is those faithful spiritual practices that change our heart. Will our Lord look at the Spirit-filled man or woman you’ve come to be, smile and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”?

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

101 Excerpts From A Journal

Dear Friends. 

I share something very personal with you that's different from our typical AMEN Corner. I've kept journals over the years in which I'll write quotes from others, my own original thoughts and scriptures which leapt out at me as I was reading my Bible. Today is an AMEN Corner hodgepodge of journal excerpts...

“This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!” Psalm 118:24 What would my life look like if I woke up every morning filled with joy for the day He has made?

Let the peace of God surround you as you sit or kneel quietly. Let the hurry and worry of your life fall away. You are God’s child. He loves you and cares for you, and is here with you now and always. Speak to Him thoughtfully, give yourself time for Him to bring things to mind.

“By your grace, O God, I will go nowhere today where you cannot come, nor seek anyone’s presence that would rob me of yours. By your grace I will let no thought enter my heart that might hinder my closeness with you, nor let any word come from my mouth that is not meant for your ear. So shall my courage be firm and my heart be at peace.” (Scottish minister John Baillie)

“We were created to love and serve God. The things of the world and the people with whom we have chosen to be in a relationship will either help or hinder us with that purpose for our life.” jbh

The things of God cannot be learned; they must be revealed.

“I am the One who searches out the thoughts and intentions of every person. And I will give to each of you whatever you deserve.” Rev 2:23 These words from God are the most wonderful we will ever read or the most terrifying. 

“Not a single day of my life has passed that I didn’t need to repent.” jbh

We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

“The Spirit of God blows where it wills.” John 3:8

“Of His bounty, the Lord often grants not what we seek, so as to bestow something preferable.” Augustine 

“Life must be lived forward but can only be understood backward.” Soren Kierkegaard

“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord. And our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” Augustine

She asked God, “Who am I?” He answered, “My beloved.” 

God only gives hope, not despair. 

Temptation itself is not sin; it is something we are bound to face simply by virtue of being human. God does not save us from being human. God does not save us from temptations - He sustains us in the midst of them. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.” 1 Cor 10:13 jbh

The Pharisee is always present in each one of us. Even when we try to help people, we do not start with the premise that we as well as they are sinners needing God’s forgiveness; we simply try to improve their moral conduct.

“The arrogance of a legalistic Christian begins with their misunderstanding of the word “Righteous”. We have been declared righteous but we are not made righteous in the sense of being “correct” or “virtuous”. It is a declaration that as a result of Jesus Christ’s vicarious suffering and death upon the cross, we are right with God.” jbh

“Political Correctness is not a change of one’s beliefs. It is only a willingness to conform to someone else’s idea of what’s correct for one’s own personal gain.” jbh

“If God does not punish America, He owes Sodom and Gomorrah an apology.” Billy Graham at the 1997 Presidential Inauguration.

Most people want to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity.

Why do we speak the name of Jesus today? Because 2000 years ago as the Father’s love was manifested through the person of Jesus, today the Father’s love is manifested through the name of Jesus.

“In churches today we see too many salvations without conversions and without conversion there is no transformation.” jbh

“Unforgiveness holds us in bondage to our emotional response to a past injustice.” jbh 

“If we are not centered on Jesus in our ministry, we are merely engaging in religious activity.” jbh

“Evangelical” has been redefined to mean “one who takes their Christianity and their relationship with God more seriously than the present speaker approves of”

Spiritually is going golfing and thinking about God. Thanking Him for the day and for the beauty of nature that surrounds you. Religion is going to church and thinking about golf.

You can be ethical and not be a religious person but you can’t truly be a Christian and be unethical.

We cannot be filled with God until we are not so full of ourselves” jbh

“The true nature of a man is written in the countenance on his wife’s face.” jbh

A monk said, “Spontaneous reactions to unexpected circumstances provide clues to our inner dispositions.” An old Indian saying says it like this, “Whatever you are filled with spills over when bumped.”

“If people who call themselves Christians do not read the Bible daily and pray daily, they are spiritually dead or dying.” jbh

“As long as you think you can control other people’s behavior toward you, you are in bondage by their opinions.” Max Lucado

When unbelievers accept Jesus they are signing up to minister to people in His name for the rest of their life.

“God speaks but we don’t hear. We close our ears and blame Him for the silence.” Fredrick Buechner

“If you are uncertain of which of two paths to take, choose the one on which the shadow of the cross falls.”

“Do we have a faith that’s alive or have we become patrons at the museum of religion?” jbh

“When we pick up our own cross to bear and His cross, we find they are one and the same. The sins we carry on our own cross have already been nailed to His.” jbh

“When God is intrinsic to your soul, you become immersed in the sacred in the ordinary moments of the day.” Jbh

“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14

Do we really want to convert, to accept God’s plan for our lives, or are we afraid of how much it might change us? We become settled in little habits and vices, content with our own little efforts and rewards. But God wants something much bigger, a total reorientation, a radical departure, a real conforming to the image of His Son. If we had the faintest idea how much our life would need to change if we really gave our heart to God, we would probably run screaming from the church. 

“We can lash out in anger and blame a God who does not exist. The God who does exist is not here to take away our suffering or pain, but to fill it with His presence.”

Jesus Christ is the glory of the Father. Through Him, with Him, in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit is all the glory of God. 

“Detachment is making important the things that bring us closer to God and detaching ourselves from those things that pull us away from God. Spiritual detachment has been described as a ‘serene acceptance’ of our circumstances. Detachment or ‘intentional indifference’ is mentally healthy but difficult to practice. Note that we detach, but we don’t disengage. Disengagement is disconnecting from society. Detachment is staying engaged but detaching emotionally.”

True many thousands of years ago and just as true today: “And in those times there was no peace ... but great turmoil was on all the inhabitants of the lands.” 2 Chronicles 15:5-7

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.
17th Century English Hymn

Christmas is about the incarnation of God becoming what He is not, in order that we might become what He is.

Soli Deo Gloria - to God alone the Glory!

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” - Brennan Manning

“The liturgy can be one of the best places to hide from God.” jbh

“People will attack and betray us and over a lifetime we can be hurt so many times that we develop calluses on our heart. Forgiveness is the only cure for the heart hardened by the hurts caused by others. Forgiveness softens and restores our heart to how it had been formed by God in the first place.” jbh

“I’ve always preached the sermons I needed to hear and written the AMEN Corners I needed to read.” jbh 

“Too often we ‘wait on the Lord’ to do for us what we need to do for ourselves. God will often use the steps forward that we take in faith to activate the power of the Spirit.” jbh

“We are dispatched by the Holy Spirit, on Kingdom assignments, to be a light in a dark world, and speak words of wisdom, comfort, exhortation and encouragement to others.” jbh

“Through the grace of God, He will always transform us into the man or woman He wants us to be but only to the extent that we cooperate.” jbh

“We need Holy Moments throughout our day. A Holy Moment is that moment when you open yourself to God and make yourself available to Him. It is in that Holy Moment that you are being the person God created you to be. You set aside what you’re doing at that moment - self-interest, worries, cares - and for that point in time, you prayerfully ask God to show you what, in that moment, He’s calling you to do. In that moment, when you’ve set aside personal desires and self interest, you may find yourself collaborating with God to do what will bring the most good to those whom God has given you.”

“Here I am Lord, all devoted to Thee, make me according to the desires of Your heart.” Brother Lawrence

Evangelicals are born-again Protestants who cherish the Bible as the Word of God and who emphasize a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

“For you are God’s masterpiece. He has created you anew in Christ Jesus, so you can do the good things He planned for you long ago.” Eph 2:10 paraphrase

“The only good we do comes from God’s unmerited grace for even if the ability and desire to do good are one’s own, the grace to actually do it comes from God.” St Mark the Monk

I believe in classical, historical, biblical, orthodox Christianity.

Rewriting, “spinning”, preaching the Word of God that’s in our Bible in a manner that “reforms” it and conforms it to modern cultural beliefs is the rejection of 2,000 years of classical, historical, orthodox Christianity and, in doing so, is the dictionary definition of the word “heresy.” jbh

To persevere is a long, patient abiding in the poverty of the present moment.

“Nec laudibus, nec timore” - neither for the praise of men nor for fear of men.

The world has different priorities than God does, and many eternally insignificant things are compelling for a season. We get angry and obsess over culture and politics. That’s why we need to remember, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2 (CSB)

“Peace” in Hebrew is shalom, which signifies not simply an absence of turmoil, but rather complete wholeness, well-being, and contentment.

The spiritual life will always be a struggle. It cannot be otherwise and remain authentic.

If our hope is based on physical security, then we’re right to live in fear because, at any moment, we could lose everything. If our hope is rooted in the eternal security provided by Christ, then we can weather any storm. On the Rock of God I stand!

“No man is measured by how much he loves others but by how much he is loved.” Brother Cadfile

“The veil that hides the future from us is woven by an angel of mercy.” Arab Saying

“We struggle throughout our life to hide the human in our being.” jbh

Will Rogers was once asked if he prayed for congress. He replied that he took one look at congress and prayed for the country. 

A good marriage is where both people feel like they’re getting the better end of the deal. Anne Lamott

A successful and happy marriage is a constant process of forgiveness. 

John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” 

“I identify as Christian and my personal pronouns are THOU/THINE. I told that to someone and he didn’t think that was funny.” jbh

“The congregations of mainline churches are composed mostly of the elderly and their parents.” jbh

“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.” Anne Lamott

“Love is not when the endorphins flood our brain and we see the flawless person standing before us. Love says: I’ve seen the broken, ugly parts of you, and I’m staying.”

“Marriage is a state in which very imperfect people often hurt and humiliate one another, yet find the grace to extend forgiveness to one another and so allow the redemptive power of God to transform their marriage.” Larry Christianson

Grief is the price we pay for love. We never truly know how much we love someone until they’re gone.

The “future” is a word we use for our imaginary collection of predictions, possibilities and wild guesses. We let our fears about that imaginary world take all the enjoyment out of the reality of this one.

People will forget what you said and what you did but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.

Every Saint has a past. Every Sinner a future.

“What you worship always identifies which kingdom you belong to.” jbh

Eugene Peterson wrote, “The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor.”

“The pious sin daily in thought, word and deed. The rest of us good Christians sin hourly.” jbh

“All the water in the world, no matter how hard it tries, can never sink a ship unless it gets inside. All the evil influence of the world, no matter how hard it tries, can never sink a Christian’s soul unless it gets inside.”

“There is enough tension between the confidence of life and the chaos of dying and the misery of returning to dust and the mystery of rising again to keep us clinging to our prayer.” Robert Benson

There is a book called the Cloud of Unknowing written by an English monk in the 14th century. He writes: “On the path of purity and spiritual growth, you can’t afford a reckless attitude toward even the smallest sin.”

What’s the difference between you and God? God never thinks He’s you. 

Listen with the ear of your heart to what the Spirit has to say.

Saw a guy at a restaurant wearing a baseball cap. it said, “Thank God I’m An Atheist”

When it comes to our religious practices, it is unfair to compare the best of our tradition with the worst of someone else’s.

“Illusory religion” is Fear not; trust in God and He will see that none of the things you fear will happen to you. “Real religion” is Fear not; the things you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of. John Macmurray, Scottish Philosopher.

“Peace is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of Christ.” jbh

“We live as candles in the breath of God.” Irish Monk

G.K. Chesterton said, “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”

“With all the anger, violent threats, recriminations, and backstabbing, you’d think that a political election was a church council meeting.” jbh

“We celebrated this past Easter Sunday according to Old Testament rituals by consuming the burnt flesh of animals sacrificed for the glory of God.” jbh

“‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry’ is the oft-quoted line from the movie Love Story and it couldn’t be any less true. Love means always having to say you’re sorry, and thank you, and please.” jbh

“The life of every living thing is in His hand, as well as the breath of all humanity.” Job 12:10

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

A Spiritual Cleansing!

Dear Friends,

It was early one Monday morning. I was writing an Amen Corner when I heard a muffled explosion come from somewhere within my house. Odd. Not like anything I'd heard before. This was back in the days when I didn’t have a cat and so that ruled out feline terrorist activity. A cursory security check of the interior of my house revealed nothing. But later on when I went into my pantry, it looked like a scene from the old Ghostbusters movie. Sticky black and brown tendrils of slime dripped from the ceiling. The gross and gooey ectoplasm-like substance had splattered on canned goods and was running off shelves. But before I could call an exorcist, I discovered what happened.

I found this can on a back shelf with its pull-tab lid blown open. (See Evidence Photo)

The label said DOLE PINEAPPLE CHUNKS and what remained inside were gooey black globs of what had once been pineapple. During the forensic investigation with a magnifying glass, pinholes were found in the bottom of the can. Apparently, the highly acidic fruit dissolved the lining of the can and created tiny holes that allowed airborne bacteria to enter. This caused the fruit to decompose which increased the internal pressure and Bam! The expiration date on the can was six years ago. Looked like it was time to clean out my pantry.

As I cleaned up the black gooey ooze, I remembered a book I'd read years ago. Author Frank Peretti, who has been described as a Christian “Stephen King” wrote an award-winning novel called "The Oath." The story focuses on a small mining town where many of the townspeople are suffering gruesome deaths. Their bodies are found partially decomposed and covered with a black oozing slime. 

The reader discovers the black ooze is their sin. It starts with a minor blemish – a darkened area of skin over the heart. If ignored, sin becomes a black oozing sore. If the sins remain unconfessed, the black slime begins to grow and takes over their soul. Their once happy lives turn dark and evil and eventually their body decomposes from the inside out. The pressure of the unconfessed sin continues to build up and Bam! The person explodes and there’s gross sticky black ooze all over the place. The Oath is not a book for the faint-hearted or one that you’d want to read during dinner.

That morning as I was scrubbing black ooze and cleaning out my pantry while thinking about the Peretti book, I had the impression that God was telling me I need to clean out my own life. Did I still have unconfessed sins that were well beyond their “freshness dates”? I didn’t want what happened to the sinners in the Frank Peretti book to happen to me. I didn’t want to be shopping at Costco someday and...Bam!  “Attention Costco maintenance. Clean up customer black ooze on aisle twenty three.”

Scripture tells us that God’s grace covers all of a believer’s sin through the atonement of Jesus on the cross. So why do we need to continue to confess? Because we continue to sin! And when we confess and repent of those sins, we are taking the steps to leave behind the daily sinful thoughts, words and deeds, and we are becoming “sanctified” (meaning that we are spiritually maturing in Christ.) 

Here’s how it works. Once saved, we begin the process of sanctification where we are growing spiritually and are learning how to live and love like Jesus. But any continued sin clogs that process. In fact, we find that God even turns away from us when we continue in our unrepentant sins. “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Psalm 66:18 NLT The literal translation for the word “sin” in this verse is “futile sinful pursuits.” 

We sin daily in thought, word and deed but if we pursue sin and look favorably or indifferently upon the sins we commit, God stops listening to our prayers. And Isaiah tells us that God hides Himself from those who are in sin and He will not hear you. Isaiah 59:2 And then we cry, “God doesn’t answer my prayers!” 

But whenever we have unconfessed and unrepentant sin in our lives, we have clogged up our lines of communication with Him. We unclog those lines when we confess and say, “Lord, I messed up again, here’s what I did...” And God’s immediate response is, “You are forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

Are there things you do that you know are sinful and you do anyway because they are so satisfying? But are they really worth doing if God turns a deaf ear to your prayers? Like I realized, when I saw the black ooze, do you also have some unconfessed sins that are beyond their freshness dates? If so, consider taking some time this week to do some spiritual housecleaning!  Amen?

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Resurrection CSI

Dear Friends,

It was Sunday evening and the frightened disciples were cowering behind locked doors. They were terrified that the Jews who had just executed Jesus would be after them next and they would all be massacred. Yeah they’d heard that looney story  about Jesus being alive from Mary Magdalene and the other women but scornfully dismissed their testimony as an “idle tale.” Luke 24:9-11 And then of course, the most shocking event took place! Jesus appeared in the locked room and the disciples panicked thinking it was a ghost! Luke 24:36-37 But Jesus showed them His hands and His side and it was then that the disciples believed. John 20:20

And Thomas wasn’t there so he missed all the excitement. The other disciples, who had been there and seen Jesus, told Thomas that the Lord was alive. Thomas said to them, “Yeah, sure! Unless I see His hands, and put my finger into the nail holes, and put my hand into the hole in His side, I will not believe.” John 20:25 (my paraphrase)  

Doubting Thomas is the kind of guy who would make a good investigator on CSI. He’d be the one unemotionally photographing the gruesome nail holes and taking skin scrapings. He’d be probing the wound in Jesus’ side for microscopic wood fibers from the spear. By now, over a dozen of Thomas’ closest friends had been eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Jesus, but Thomas had to see for himself. He needs to see the physical evidence that the crucified Christ has become the resurrected Lord. He needs to see the nail holes and see the torn flesh. He needs to probe the deep puncture wound. He needs to see Jesus alive and breathing. Unquestionable, visible forensic evidence must be present in order for Thomas to believe.

We read that the disciples had gathered again and this time the skeptic Thomas was with them. Jesus appears to them again and invites Thomas to conduct a thorough physical examination. Thomas examines the hands and the side of Jesus and the evidence is overwhelmingly conclusive. Thomas says to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” John 20:27-28 

And the Apostle John, who was writing down this factual report of events, recorded the next crucial words of Jesus: “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29

What Jesus wanted Thomas and all the disciples (including you and me) to know is that believing doesn’t depend on seeing. As the Apostle Paul puts it, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Cor 5:7

Many of us are like Thomas. We need to see to believe. Yes, we believe in Jesus. Sure we believe He’s the Son of God. Of course we believe in God’s providence and provision. We even believe that God still heals the sick today. But to be honest about it, we still have those little doubts. And like Thomas, if we could only just see some irrefutable evidence of God working in our life and answering our prayers, then we could really believe.

It’s easy to believe when times are good. But it’s a little more difficult to trust in God and believe that He’s there for us when we’ve been laid off at work. When we’re facing financial difficulties. When we’re faced with a debilitating illness. When we’re struggling with family problems. When the grief over the loss of a loved one is overwhelming. When a son, a daughter, a mother or a father is not speaking to us. When we are just plain bored with life. When we’ve been there and done that so many times, we’re just tired. When our spiritual well has run dry. When things are out of control. When we are on our knees crying out, “God are you really here? Are You hearing my cries to You? Why can’t I see any answers to my prayers, Lord?”

And suddenly we’ve become a “doubting Thomas” demanding to see visible evidence of God’s work. We’ve become discouraged by the dark silence in our soul, and yet the truth is that sometimes God is doing His greatest work in the silence. And to paraphrase John 20:29, Jesus would say to you, “Blessed are you who have not seen and still believe – and still trust – and still hope.”

Our hope is a living Savior who is with you today. Our hope is Jesus, walking with you through life. Our hope is a risen Christ who is pointing to your future. When we believe in Him, we have been born anew to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading. 1 Peter 1:3-4 But with vision limited by our humanity, we must walk by faith. We can then be thankful that, unlike Thomas, we have no need to see with our eyes. The Bible is all the evidence we need in order to have never-ending hope and know that the best is yet to come! Amen?

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

An Easter Fright-Fest!

Dear Friends,

People seem to fall into one of two extremes when it comes to scary movies. You either love them or hate them. In 1996, an American horror film called SCREAM started the genre of horror and slasher movies with serial killers. The movies are intensely gory, frightening and shocking. I confess that I only know that from reading about them because I’ve never seen one. Watching a psycho in a Halloween mask carve up a screaming teenager with a chainsaw is just not my idea of “entertainment.” 

I remember when entertainment was watching Roy and Dale chase down the bank robbers on horseback. White-knuckle excitement was when Sky King and his cute teenaged niece Penny are flying in a low cloud and fast approaching a mountain peak. Extreme violence was when the Lone Ranger shoots the gun out of the bad guy’s hand. Intense drama was when Lassie rescued Timmy from the quicksand. And an explicit sexual scene was when Zorro kisses the girl on the lips before leaping over the balcony railing, landing on his horse Tornado, and riding off into the night.

You may be one of the many people who love to be scared out of their wits at the movies. But 2000 years ago there were no movies or faked reality shows. There were just real-life events. And, the crucifixion of Jesus was a true-to-life horror story. 

As He hung in agony on the cross, there was a three hour period of darkness in the middle of the day. It was in that darkness that He took on our sins. God lifted His hand from the Son of God, who had known no sin, to now be filled with the sin of the world. At that moment, Jesus cried out: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And when the sacrificial Lamb of God had become the Light of the World, Jesus cried out, “It is finished.” By His death, He became victorious over all the powers of darkness and death. No movie could possibly convey the horror of being filled with every sin that mankind would ever commit.

But while there is nothing more horrifying than the crucifixion, there was nothing more shocking than the Resurrection. Two women approach the tomb to tend to the dead body of Jesus and have no idea they’re about to get the scare of their lives. An earthquake strikes with incredible force. Then they meet an angel – this was no ghost but it was not human either. Their hearts pound in fear! And to finally top off this Sunday fright-fest, Jesus, who they had seen killed and who had been dead for two days, now suddenly pops up on the road in front of the trembling women and says, Boo! (Okay...Jesus actually said “Rejoice!” but it would have had the same effect!) Matt 28:1-10

Imagine watching a loved one suffer a horrible and disfiguring death and you are there when they seal the body in the crypt at Forest Lawn. Two days later you come home still reeling in grief over your loss and find your loved one alive and well and sitting on the couch in the living room. He jumps up and says, “Rejoice!” The word “shocking” would not even come close to describing that moment. 

The Resurrection was meant to be so shocking that we’d still be talking about it 2000 years later.  It turned life upside down. It was God’s plan for our salvation and is powerful proof of God’s victory over death. And through the reality of the Resurrection, we are moved from shock at the horror of His death by crucifixion to joy and thanksgiving for His awesome work. Jesus is alive! There is now everlasting life for all those who believe in Jesus and confess His name as Lord and Savior. The Resurrection of Jesus gives us assurance of our own eternal future of joy and happiness!

The crucifixion of Jesus marked an end, but the Resurrection of Jesus marked our new beginning. And there’s nothing scary about that. In fact, the Resurrection brings the peace of God because we can see our future clearly now. And the reality of our eternal tomorrow is our hope for today.  Amen?

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

What If He Came To Beverly Hills Today?

Dear Friends,

Two thousand years ago a major celebrity came to town. Riding on a donkey. The multitudes cut down palm branches to spread on the road and cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! Hosanna in the highest!” Matthew 21:1-9 In the time of Jesus, the population of Jerusalem was about 30,000 people and the City of Beverly Hills is about that same size today. What if next Sunday (Palm Sunday), after doing miracle healing services all throughout California for three years, Jesus rode into Beverly Hills as a modern-day celebrity?

The first thing is that massive crowds would trigger an L.A. County Unified Emergency Response and law enforcement agencies from all over Southern California would be responding to Beverly Hills. People cutting down the palm tree fronds along Sunset Blvd and laying the branches in the road would be arrested for vandalism of City trees, littering, and obstructing traffic. 

If Jesus rode in on a donkey, P.E.T.A – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals would be protesting against the cruel and inhumane use of a domestic animal for transportation purposes. Protesters would splash red paint on Jesus as punishment for violating the donkey’s rights and humiliating the animal by riding it. Jesus and the disciples would finally make their way to the Beverly Hilton where they would spend the week and on Thursday, celebrate Passover in the Upper Celebrity Suite. 

Trouble begins when a bishop from one of our largest mainline denominations, rebukes Jesus for using problematic patriarchal language when referring to God as “Father” and “He.” She calls Jesus a misogynist and demands He use their church’s politically-correct, gender-neutral terms for God such as: Holy Life Force, Higher Power, or Divine Being.

After Jesus appears on Sunday’s “Face the Nation” and announces that He is the only way to God, John 14:6 President Biden condemns the Islamophobic remarks of Jesus and the Department of Justice adds Jesus Christ to the domestic terrorist watch list. Former president Obama breaks his customary silence to once again remind us that Muslims and Islam were woven into the fabric of America and announces the title of his new book: “Dreams Of A Post-Christian America.” 

The following Tuesday, in a segment on CBS Mornings, Gayle King, invites Mary Magdalene, a Muslim Imam, a New Age Guru and a Wiccan Priestess to explore all of the various pathways to Heaven and greater spiritual enlightenment.

Dr Phil McGraw rushes to book the woman at the well on his show and surprises her by bringing on her five husbands. He confronts her with her past, and shows how she constructed Jesus as an imaginary, metaphoric father figure while she continues to seek reconciliation with her own father through destructive relationships with men.

In the news, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reports that Jesus’ healing miracles are fictitious stories invented by right-wing Republican politicians as an attack on the progressive’s “Medicare for All” plan, and on the MSNBC “Nightly” broadcast, Bill Nye the Science Guy presents a special report showing how a weather anomaly could have made it appear that Jesus walked on water. 

But the real trouble starts on Thursday morning when Jesus appears on “The View.” Jesus is asked about transgenders, gender non-conforming people and same sex marriages. Repeating His own words as recorded in the Gospels, He reminds them that God created “male and female” and describes marriage as being between a man and a woman. Mark 10:6-8 Joy Behar shouts, “That’s transphobic and homophob..” “WAIT!” Whoopi Goldberg interrupts. “Ten years ago we all believed that nonsense about marriage and gender but don’t you believe, Sir, that the Bible must be rewritten and changed to conform to what we believe today?” Jesus gently says, “Heaven and earth will disappear but my words will never pass away.” Matthew 24:35 There’s outrage and pandemonium as Joy Behar screams an obscenity at Jesus and Whoopi Goldberg storms off the set. They cut to a commercial.

That night on ABC Nightly News, a self-described socialist politician denounces the words of Jesus as an example of the “Christian hate speech” that will no longer be tolerated in America. The clip from “The View” goes viral on social media, and on Friday morning, thousands of people with political signs stage a mass protest in front of the Beverly Hills Courthouse and yell, “Crucify Him..! Crucify Him..!”

Do you think that Jesus would be treated “better” or “worse” in today’s “woke” cancel culture than He was 2000 years ago? And, if the events of Holy Week took place today, perhaps even more importantly for us to consider is what would we do? Would we stand with Jesus to face the violent mobs or shrink back into the shadows to deny Him like Peter did? Matthew 26:69-75 

It’s comfortable for us to grab the hands of the person sitting next to us in church and pray for them, but are we comfortable grabbing the hand of a neighbor and praying for them on their front lawn? We sing praises to His Holy Name at church on Sunday, but are we ashamed to even mention His Name at work on Monday? Do we wear that cross around our neck on Sunday for our church friends to see but hide it in the jewelry drawer when we go shopping on Wednesday? It can be so easy to shout out “Hosanna in the highest” on Palm Sunday and so hard to even acknowledge our Christian faith when the hostile world is shouting “Crucify Him, Crucify Him” on Good Friday.. or a good Tuesday.. or a good Wednesday.. or a good Saturday..

When you read the above story, you may have laughed and cringed at the "truth" of it or you may now be angry at the satirical way in which our Nation’s media and culture have been depicted. But the fictitious story portrays the unprecedented attacks on the Christian faith in our Nation today by many in the media and in the political, educational and entertainment worlds. 

In response, we need to stand with the Son of God and not be ashamed of our faith. Jesus was the one true “celebrity” in the first century. He still is in the year 2023! And our world today needs Him more than ever...

Wednesday, March 22, 2023


Dear Friends,

When I was a little boy, Superman was my hero. I loved that TV show! Superman could fly through the air and catch Lois Lane as she was falling off the top of the building. He could use his super strength to lift a locomotive off of a pinned car. He could burrow through the ground using his body like a drill to rescue a little boy in a cave-in. He could use his X-ray vision to see what the bad guys were doing and use his super hearing to hear what they were saying. Superman stood for Truth, Justice and the American Way. He always used his powers not for his own benefit, but for others. But of course Superman was a fictional character. A fantasy. A fairy tale hero. And now today, in some countries, belief systems and even in some Christian denominations and churches, the miracles of Jesus Christ are no more real than Superman’s X-ray vision. To a growing number of those in our younger generations, the Son of God is just another fictitious super-hero.

The State Hermitage is the most famous of all Russian museums and is one of the world’s oldest. Located in Saint Petersburg Russia, it has one of the largest collections in the world of religious paintings by the old masters. The religious works of Michelangelo, El Greco, Rembrandt and many others just as well known are displayed in this museum. There is one famous painting by Rembrandt that is of Lazarus being raised from the dead by Jesus. The plaque on the painting reads, “The Fairy Tale of Jesus Christ Raising Lazarus From the Dead.” In fact, all the paintings that depict the miracles of Jesus in this government-run museum are labeled as “fairy tales.”

And sadly, there are many people in our own Nation who would agree with the Russian museum. Many in America’s progressive liberal church movement read their Bible and love the Lord. But their desire to conform to secularized  cultural beliefs about the Bible requires that they put the miracles of Jesus Christ into the category of “biblical fairy tales.” Some conservative Reformed churches do believe that Jesus and His disciples did perform miracles but conclude that all of God’s miracles ceased after the New Testament was written. They teach that a so-called “miracle” today is nothing more than our wishful thinking. 

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever Hebrews 13:8 and the miracles of God are also unchanging. The early Church Fathers wrote extensively about the spiritual gifts and the miracles that were continuing in the ancient church. It wasn’t until 1500 years later that Protestant churches denied their existence. Miracles are defined as God’s intervention in the natural. It is not the hand of man that brings about a miracle. It is the sovereign super-natural power of God. And, despite what some churches teach, miracles happen every second of every day!

I was talking with a City attorney I know. We were talking about medical records and he told me about his mother. She is alive today, but she should have died when her son was six years old. That was when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It had rapidly grown and there was a very large tumor in her breast. Her doctor told her it had to be operated on immediately or she would soon die as the cancer spread. That night before the surgery was to take place, she couldn’t sleep. She was going back and forth in her mind whether she should have the surgery or not. Her doctor had told her the cancer had advanced to the point where there was a good chance of her dying even if the surgery was performed. She tossed and turned not knowing what to do. Sobbing and crying out to God, she begged Him to tell her what to do about the surgery. Suddenly, she heard a knock at the front door. She looked at the clock and her heart began to pound. It was 2:30 am.

She opened the door and found the pastor of her new church standing there. He told her that God had woken him up and told him to go and pray for her and she would be healed. The pastor anointed her with oil and prayed for her healing and she went back to bed. The next morning she called her doctor and told him she was not going to have the surgery. She didn’t tell him about the pastor. Just that she was canceling her surgery. The doctor was angry with her and told her to come into his office the next day. She kept the appointment and the doctor was astounded. This very large tumor was gone. It had completely disappeared. That was when she told the doctor that the pastor had prayed for her healing. 

This took place about fifty years ago and this attorney’s mother is still alive and healthy today. She is in her nineties and never had a single tumor again. Her cancer didn’t go into remission. It disappeared as if it were never there! Not only did her doctor become a Christian believer after witnessing this healing miracle, but his entire staff also became Christians. The attorney’s mother has a Bible that the doctor gave her and tucked inside is a letter he wrote giving the details of the miraculous healing. 

During this season of Lent, we prepare to celebrate on Easter Sunday the most astounding, life-changing miracle the world has ever known. The Son of God risen from the dead is immutable and He is still our super miracle worker.
When I was young I used to marvel at Superman who could fly. Now that I’m older, I marvel at SuperJesus who can make a large cancerous tumor disappear from a woman’s breast overnight. Governments, atheists and some Christians call the miracles of Jesus “fairy tales” but the Word of God is not a fictitious fantasy, it’s real life. And in your real life and mine, that’s where we find our own Super-Hero. His name is Jesus Christ.  AMEN?

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

What's In Your Personal Witches Market?

Dear Friends,

A Monk tells of his Lenten pilgrimage around the world and describes the “el Mercado de las Brujas” (the witches market) in La Paz, Bolivia. The street is lined with shops and sidewalk stalls selling love potents and magic charms. Dried frogs that will attract money and make you wealthy. Differently-colored candles that release their unique magical powers when burned. Rows of dried llama fetuses are for sale and the monk is told that no one in Bolivia would even think of building a house without first burying a llama fetus under the foundation for good luck. Reading the Monk’s Lenten Devotional with its description of the witches market brought back long ago memories of walking into the witchcraft store at the Redondo Beach pier. 

Incongruously located among the retail stores selling ice cream, clothing, brightly-colored garden flags and wind chimes, we found this strange store on the second floor at the top of a narrow wooden staircase. My then wife looked inside, shuddered and refused to step over the threshold. Curious about the underworld of witchcraft I knew existed but had never seen, I went inside. The faint smell of candle wax filled the small store and shelves were lined with small bottles of powders and liquids. Books on witchcraft lined the shelves on one wall, dark cloaks and long dresses on hangers filled another. The brown-skinned woman wearing a gypsy outfit (who saw my wife refuse to come in with me) helpfully asked me if I would like a love spell and as I shook my head no, I noticed there were dried chicken feet tied to large loops of twine on the counter. The witch told me they were to be worn around the neck for protection against evil. As I was considering buying a chicken foot necklace as a thoughtful Valentine’s Day gift for my wife, I noticed some large glass jars filled with brown liquid. The contents were just shadowy shapes floating in the dark liquid but looking more closely at one, I saw a face and large dead eyes of some creature staring out at me. I suddenly felt an urgent desire to leave this spiritually dark place. Apparently, the dried chicken feet that guaranteed protection against all evil and misfortune were defective since a short time after our visit, a huge fire destroyed the witchcraft shop along with the other stores, restaurants and nearly the entire Redondo Beach pier. 

What does all this have to do with our Lenten journey as we seek to discern and then cast off what comes between us and our Lord? As Christian believers, we all know that our trust should be in God and not in an object like a dried chicken foot, but is it really? 

Many Catholics wear a cloth square called a “scapular” around their neck and under their clothing to protect them from evil and misfortune. Wearing the scapular guarantees salvation and is their ticket to heaven when they die. Protestants scoff at this Catholic superstition as they go to the healing evangelist’s web site to buy an “anointed” prayer cloth that heals all disease and ailments when it is rubbed on the body. 

A good Catholic would never hang a small glass amulet filled with desiccated lizard from their rearview mirror to prevent misfortune. They hang a St. Christopher’s medal or a special rosary from the rearview mirror to provide protection from auto accidents. We would not even consider going to a fortuneteller or palm reader to find out what fate has destined for our future – we depend on our daily horoscope instead.

We don’t bury dead animal fetuses under our house for good luck, but Catholics, Orthodox and Lutherans honor Saint Joseph, the patron saint of house sales, and to guarantee a quick sale on a home, many bury a statue of the saint in the ground (Important Note: Statue must be buried within 12 inches from the For Sale sign to work) and then you must say a special prayer for nine days. Buy it on Amazon.

Mormons would shun a New Age crystal worn around the neck or carried in a pocket or purse to provide spiritual protection. Instead, all Mormons are required by their faith to wear special underwear called “temple garments” 24 hours a day to provide spiritual protection and ward off evil. 

Protestant Pentecostals would denounce Wicca incantations for wealth as demonic while those same Protestants, who believe in the Prosperity Gospel, “take authority over their circumstances” in prayer and with the “power of their words” command that their bank accounts be filled with money. Is there really any difference between a Wicca incantation or a “name it and claim it” prayer? Magic is our attempt to seize divine power in order to use it – we pray my will be done. Christian religion is trust in Christ and devotion toward God and His divine power – we pray Thy will be done.

My intention is not to mock the sincere beliefs of Catholics, Orthodox, Mormons, Protestants or Pentecostals but to show how easy it is for all of us Christians to replace our trust in God alone with something we wear, carry or bury. Trusting in any thing for physical and spiritual protection is superstition. When I was a young boy, I carried my “lucky” rabbit’s foot with me at all times for protection. My boyhood scars are proof that it didn’t work.

This Lent we might want to consider whether we’ve replaced our trust in someONE with someTHING. The aforementioned Monk suggests that “Lent is a time to stroll through your own personal witches market and take a careful inventory of the things you tend to rely on when God is not enough, or when God is not answering as quickly as you would like.” Discern what are the created things you depend on for guidance, direction and protection in your life instead of trusting in the Creator Himself. Those “God-substitutes” are the things that you might want to consider giving up for Lent. 

Many years ago I learned a little-known worship song and taught it to the congregation. In Christ alone.. I place my trust! It has become the Christian “theme song” of my life. May it become yours too.

Listen to IN CHRIST ALONE here

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Church Etiquette

Dear Friends,

I’ll never forget the young guy who had stopped off on his way to our church to buy a breakfast burrito, sat down in a pew and scarfed it down during the worship songs. The odor of beef and onions cooked in lard became the liturgical incense that filled the church that morning. Then there was the woman who would come in, sit down and noisily kick off her shoes complaining to all around her that her feet hurt. Those same people had the manners to not complain back to her that her feet smelled. A young woman in her twenties, brought by her parents, would often wear very tight tee shirts and very, very revealing pairs of shorts that definitely upset the wives in the congregation but didn’t seem to upset the husbands.

For years the young married couple came to our church every Sunday. When the worship songs started, he began to play games on his phone. When the sermon started, he put his phone away and his wife took out hers and used Google to “fact-check” everything I said in the sermon. If I said that “Jesus was God,” she would come up to me after the service and school me on all of the sites she found that denied the deity of Jesus. 

I visited the church of a pastor friend one time where a woman took out her knitting as soon as the sermon started. I was wearing my clerical collar and on my own best behavior which was the only reason I didn't strangle her as the clickety-clank of the aluminum knitting needles reverberated in the sanctuary. For those of us in my generation, we remember a time that, no matter our behavior anywhere else, our manners in church were impeccable. 

After I recently came across The Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette And Manual Of Politeness published in 1875, I marveled at how much society has changed, just within my own lifetime. As I thought about the extraordinary changes in our churches, I realized that in this 1875 book, while the language is old-fashioned, much of it still describes the attitudes and behavior of people when I was young. You may, as I did, enjoy reading the chapter on Manners In Church:

It is not, in this book, a question, what you must believe, but how you must act. If your conscience permits you to visit other churches than your own, your first duty, whilst in them, is not to sneer or scoff at any of its forms, and to follow the service as closely as you can.

To remove your hat upon entering the edifice devoted to the worship of a Higher Power, is a sign of respect never to be omitted. Many men will omit in foreign churches this custom so expressive and touching, and by the omission make others believe them irreverent and foolish, even though they may act from mere thoughtlessness.

Enter with your thoughts fixed upon high and holy subjects, and your face will show your devotion, even if you are ignorant of the forms of that particular church.

If you are with a lady, in a Catholic church, offer her the holy water with your hand ungloved, for the church requires all the ceremonies to be performed with the bare hand.

Pass up the aisle with your companion until you reach the pew you are to occupy, then step before her, open the door, and hold it open while she enters the pew. Then follow her, closing the door after you. 

If others around you do not pay what you think a proper attention to the services, do not, by scornful glances or whispered remarks, notice their omissions. Strive, by your own devotion, to forget those near you.

You may offer a book or fan to a stranger near you, if unprovided themselves, whether they be young or old, lady or gentleman.

Remain kneeling as long as those around you do so. Do not, if your own devotion is not satisfied by your attitude, throw scornful glances upon those who remain seated, or merely bow their heads. Above all never sign to them, or speak, reminding them of the position most suitable for the service. Keep your own position, but do not think you have the right to dictate to others. I have heard young persons addressing, with words of reproach, old men, and lame ones, whose infirmities forbade them to kneel or stand in church, but who were as good Christians as their presumptuous advisers.

I know that it often is an effort to remain silent when those in another pew talk incessantly in a low tone or whisper, or sing in a loud tone, out of all time or tune, or read the wrong responses in a voice of thunder; but, while you carefully avoid such faults yourself, you must pass them over in others, without remark.

If, when abroad, you visit a church to see the pictures or monuments within its walls, and not for worship, choose the hours when there is no service being read. Even if you are alone, or merely with a guide, speak low, walk slowly, and keep an air of quiet respect in the edifice devoted to the service of God.

In church, as in every other position in life, the most unselfish man is the most perfect gentleman; so, if you wish to retain your position as a well-bred man, you will, in a crowded church, offer your seat to any lady, or old man, who may be standing.


In today’s culture of self-centeredness, rage, rudeness and “cancellation,” this 333 page Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette And Manual Of Politeness reminds us of a time when people read etiquette books in their personal quest to be more kind, thoughtful and considerate. We can laugh at the old-fashioned, out-of-date behavior in 1875 but think for a moment what society would be like if we had a 2023 Manual of Politeness for Ladies and Gentlemen that we actually followed today!