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!

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

A 20 Second Prayer Life!

Dear Friends,

At the risk of offending my liberal progressive friends, I describe myself as a biological male (your gender nowadays is not how God created you but is based on how you “feel” about yourself) and I’m physically attracted to women. Always have been. Always will be. (Another dicey admission to make in these #MeToo days particularly if you already have one strike against you by being a white male). But that’s how God created us. Two biological genders attracted to each other and VoilĂ !; here we are today – 80 billion humans later. God’s plan obviously worked! But many decades ago, I was struggling, as so many Christian men do, with God’s gift of having a strong natural attraction toward women, but what the heck.. I’m not actually lusting; I’m only looking! Right? Then one day I came to a red light. 

I had stopped behind a white van and paid absolutely no attention to it because over to my right, an absolutely gorgeous woman in a very short skirt stepped off the sidewalk to cross the street. As my eyes followed her, she disappeared out of my sight when she walked in front of the white van. My vision started to sweep past that darn van in front of me so that I could see her as she continued to cross the street. My eyes froze. Centered high on the back of the van’s doors was a bumper sticker. White with a blue border. There was just one word in red letters. “JESUS.” At that very moment, I heard the still, small voice of the Lord, “Keep your eyes on Me.” I didn’t look at the woman. In fact I could barely breathe. 

Those words came at the very instant I saw the bumper sticker and didn’t come from my mind or my imagination. To those of us who are spiritually sensitive, God can whisper to our soul and we know that feeling or thought that we have is from Him. For the rest of us, who can be a little dense, God sometimes needs to give us a holy smack-down and do something so dramatic that He gets our attention and we know it’s Him. He most definitely got my attention. From that day to the present, when I find my eyes drawn toward an attractive woman, I look away and pray for them. For their family, their health, that they will come to know and love God, or if they already do, they will come to love Him even more and that they will experience His grace.

My prayer life changed at that red light. In my Evangelical Pentecostal church tradition, a “Prayer Warrior” who would pray fervently for extended periods of time every day – sometimes for many hours – was the coveted goal for those of us who admired these spiritual giants. And for me, especially as a pastor, I was embarrassed to admit that, when it came to sustained, fervent prayer, I was a spiritual midget. As little as ten minutes of prayer was even difficult. I’d pray for the needs of all those I knew and then simply ran out of things to say. 

After my “red light” experience, I had asked the Lord to show me how to keep my eyes on Him when attracted to a woman and was convicted in my spirit that I needed to pray for them. I soon began to pray for others I encountered during my day as well. I was also desiring to simply be with Him more on my day-to-day journey. 

We Protestant Christians are not taught and encouraged (like the Orthodox and Catholic) to live our life in God’s presence during our day. Even for highly-engaged Protestants, church service on Sunday, a short daily prayer for family and friends and we’re good. But more and more of us are tired of just being a “Sunday Christian” and hunger for living our days in the presence of God. We’re not sure how to do this since it’s not something normally taught in a Protestant church and some of us have even had pastors who scorned and discouraged any of the ancient devotional practices because they looked “too Catholic.”

The prayer practices of the ancient church drew His followers into the presence of God, and I found that as I would talk to God, worship Him and pray throughout my day, it was becoming easier and easier to keep my eyes on Him and walk in His presence. I pray the Orthodox Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me) and sing worship songs as I clean the horse corrals. I pray the Jesus Prayer working around the house. The sirens remind me to pray for the sick and injured who are in the ambulance driving past my house to the hospital. 

I wave a hello at Nacho my postal carrier and pray for him. I see my neighbor Heather across the street with her year old baby and pray for them. She’s a nurse and I pray for her health and safety. I pray for the Jimenez family next door who recently moved in. This morning I prayed for Mike, the normally upbeat checker at Smart & Final, because when I asked him how he was doing, he sounded down and depressed. My prayer list is in the “Google Keep” app that syncs to all my devices. If I know you personally, your name is in there along with pretty much everything you’ve ever asked me to pray about. Answered prayers have checkmarks – praise God for all the checkmarks! 

A Greek Prayer Rope – a “Komboskoini”– is in my pocket. Made of wool with fifty knots, the Orthodox use it while saying the Jesus Prayer much in the same way a Catholic uses a rosary. I don't use the prayer rope that way to “count” my prayers but keep it in my pocket because when my hand touches it, I’m reminded to pray. Before that, I carried a small smooth stone in my pocket that I’d found at Saint Andrew’s Abbey, that reminded me to pray and brought me into His presence when I touched it. Some people wear a special bracelet for the same reason. The cross I always wear is a constant reminder of His presence and His love for me. My phone plays the sound of a church bell at the ancient church prayer times of 6 am, Noon and 3 pm. I pray at the sound of the church bell. 

We were created to love God and live in His presence and the things we do during our day will draw us closer to Him, or keep us spiritually sluggish and stagnant, or pull us further away. Paul says to “pray without ceasing” and these short ten or twenty second prayers throughout my day keep me centered in Him – I’m keeping my eyes on Him.

Jesus keeps it simple for us pilgrims who are on this journey to a holy place. He gives us two commandments, “Love God and Love Others” Mark 12:30-31 Our prayers throughout our day to God and for others focus our worship on Him and fosters spiritual growth that brings about “theosis” – a process of transformation that helps us to be less like us and more like Jesus. 

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, “theosis” is union with God which starts with truly worshiping Him. Here’s why loving God was the Son’s first commandment: because without having a solid relationship with God and living in His presence, I’m spiritually impotent. If I have a feeble faith, I’d be out of God’s will for me, complacent with my sins, my prayers for you would have little effect or actually.. to be honest.. I probably wouldn’t be praying for you at all. 

But we would err by obeying only the first commandment to love God. We are not monastic hermits living in a mountain cave who direct their thoughts and prayers only on God and themselves. We also err with a militant focus on the second commandment to love others that’s encouraged in social justice churches which often produce strong activists but ambiguous Christians. 

Our faith is a well-balanced focus on 1) God and 2) Others. We must develop an ambidextrous prayer life, moving effortlessly from prayers that unite us with God, like the Jesus Prayer, to 20 second intercessory prayers for someone and back again. In this AMEN Corner you're reading about my personal prayer practices that I’ve gleaned from the ancient church and which may be unfamiliar to most Protestants. Look at what works for me -- this one imperfect pilgrim -- and if you think something might also work well for you, give it a try. As I study and learn, my prayer practices are ever evolving. Yours should too. Growth can only take place in change and I heard a cowboy pastor say one time, “if you ain’t changing you ain’t growing.” 

“..but grow in the grace and knowledge
of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 
To Him be the glory, both now and forever. Amen”

2 Peter 3:18

☩   ☩   ☩

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Doest Thou Stinketh?

Dear Friends,

Every so often I’ll get an envelope in the mail that’s the size and shape of an invitation. The only thing on the envelope, other than my name and address, are these words printed in elegant script on the lower left hand corner: 

Free Cremation Offer ~Details Inside 

I’ve never read the details. I’m always too scared to open the envelope. Why am I being offered free cremation services? I feel okay, but their offer makes me suspicious because I’ve been wrong about my health before. Do they know something about my current state of being that I’m in denial about? I’m fearful they could be right. But then again, if I really was in immediate need of their cremation services, wouldn’t a loved one be telling me that I was starting to stink?

I don’t want what I’m about to say to sound harsh, so let me put this in Biblical language. Sometimes one of the most loving things a person can do for you is to tell you when thou doest stinketh!! Because even us best church-goin’ Christians can become a little odoriferous when we’ve stepped off the path of righteousness. When we mess up and something in our life starts to stink, we may need to hear what scripture calls a “fitly spoken word.” Proverbs 25:11 

May God give each one of us a loved one – family or friend – who is bold and loving enough to let us know when the smell of sin in our life becomes noticeable and to give us an opportunity to correct it before our stench becomes intolerable. Only an emotional masochist would actually enjoy hearing criticism about themselves, but a wise man or woman welcomes a word that gives them an opportunity for a needed correction. King Solomon said it like this: “Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket. To one who listens, valid criticism is like a gold earring or other gold jewelry.” Proverbs 25:11-12 NLT

Solomon likens valid criticism to a precious gift but that may be a difficult gift to deliver lovingly if the sinful behavior was directed towards us or affected us personally. When that happens, we can err in one of two directions. We can lash out in judgement or anger that either immediately closes the spirit of the person we are trying to reach or our harshness can escalate the issue into a hurtful argument. “Gentle words turn away anger but our harsh words make tempers flare up.” Proverbs 15:1 We all know how much worse we make things when we confront in anger.

We can also err when we turn away, get quiet, and withdraw. Our irritation/frustration/ annoyance at the other person is carefully packed away into that secret place where we stuff our anger and hurts. Each one of us has his/her own emotional cesspool, packed full of those things we don’t want to deal with, but those repressed feelings always seem to bubble back up to the surface and become “passive-aggressive anger.” And when a resentful, negative bitterness becomes hooked into our soul, we become sickened spiritually. Bitterness leads to unforgiveness and unforgiveness leads to the diminishment or loss of the relationship.

That’s why the Apostle Paul writes that mature believers should “speak the truth in love to each other in order that they may grow in every way more and more like Christ.” Ephesians 4:15 

When a loved one’s behavior begins to stink, we need to be truthful and tell them that. And we also need to gift-wrap our words in such a loving, Christ-like manner that they receive our fitly spoken words as the precious gift that they are. When truth is told and received in love, then both giver and receiver grow in every way emotionally and spiritually. 

Let our prayer today be that our loved ones will always lovingly tell us when our behavior doest stinketh. And even when we are wounded by the truth about our behavior, let us know that “faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Proverbs 27:6 

And then when we detect the smell of sin in the lives of family and friends, Lord give us the courage, boldness and Christ-like love to speak the truth in love to them that we may both grow together to be more like Christ.  Amen?

“Speak the truth in love to each other 
in order that they may grow in every way
more and more like Christ.”

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Are You A Worshiper?

Dear Friends,

She sits quietly, listening to the relaxing smooth sounds of her favorite worship music. Eyes closed, head nodding in time with the rhythm, a sweet smile on her face. The resplendence of the music is bringing warm, pleasant thoughts and feelings of love for her Holy Father and she weeps. She is feeling connected with God. The music has taken her into the holy of holies. She sits reverently in the Presence of God. But is she actually “worshiping” Him?

The pastor stands on the stage partially hidden by the drum-set as he scans the mega-congregation during the opening songs. His praise and worship band just released their third album and every Sunday the church is packed with a young and excited crowd. Only a few of them are singing. All are drawn to the charismatic lead singer and the band’s rock sound – the guitar riffs and the drum solos. They love the music! It’s like going to a Christian concert every Sunday! Is this church worshiping?

At the cathedral-sized church, the congregation reverently listens as the 100 member choir flawlessly sings sacred music from the 12th century. In church jargon, these are known as “performance choirs.” The music is ethereal, elegant and exquisite. Is this church worshiping?

A mainline congregation opens their service by singing “contemporary” praise songs from the 70's. Some people are quietly singing while others are greeting each other and talking. A woman turns to the back of the bulletin to find something to read. Some of the older people are shifting restlessly in the pews – they only sing the hymns. Some younger people are playing video games on their phone. Is this church worshiping?

We can self-define “worship” to be whatever we want it to be, but if we’re relying on our Bible to define authentic worship and allow scripture to provide the framework for a worship service, then the answer to the above scenarios may surprise you.

It might help to separate what is worshipful from what is Biblical worship. “WORSHIPFUL” is a feeling of reverence and adoration. Listening to worship music may engage your senses and take you into a worshipful place in your spirit. So may reading scripture, burning incense, lighting candles, walking into an old California Mission or seeing a spectacular sunrise. Biblical “WORSHIP” is something entirely different. 

In the Bible, worship is always
something you physically do.
It’s participative.
It is never passive. 

It’s not a performance or a programming element in a church service. It’s not singing a couple of songs to warm people up for the service that follows. Worship is not seeking a feeling or experience but is expressive, authentic, heart-felt worship directed to God that takes you into His presence.

In the Bible, “worship” is always an action verb. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word “Shachah” translated as “worship” is used over one hundred times. In the New Testament, the Greek word “Proskuneo” translated as “worship” is used fifty-nine times. Both words mean the same thing: to bow down, raise hands, kneel or prostrate oneself before a Superior Being while verbally expressing our reverence to Him. Remember, by definition, Biblical worship is always participative. Look at the four scenarios again and ask yourself, “Is this person/church ‘worshiping’?”

Worship is not our good thoughts, warm feelings or groovin’ to a guitar riff. Worship is using our voice and our posture to express the worthiness of our triune God. “Make a joyful shout to the Lord.. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise!” Psalm 100 is not an instruction to the priests but to the people. Singing out loud, verbally praising Him, bowing, kneeling, shouting, standing with hands raised – that’s worship! And when we worship, the glory of the Lord will fill the house of God! 2 Chronicles 5:12-14.

Some traditions teach that proper worship can only take place in a clergy-led church service with other believers. So we hire worship leaders, choir directors, priests, pastors and praise bands and then sit back to enjoy the service. In doing so, we have, in essence, “out-sourced” our worship which was never God’s plan for you. God created you for worship. “This people I have formed for Myself; They shall declare My praise.” Isaiah 43:21 You were created to worship God and praise Him in church, out of church, in your home, your car, your backyard and on your morning walk.

What happens when we praise God and worship Him? An early church father said our relationship with God, “through desire we already possess the object of our longing.” How much this rings true for us when we express our heart’s desire for the Lord in our worship. We long for Him and reach out and touch Him as we speak forth His worthiness to Him. And in that moment of intimate worship, as we possess the gift of His love, He reaches out to touch and possess us. We are owned by Him. We belong to Him. We are His.  Amen?

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Your Safe Place!

Dear Friends,

Heavy rain pounds the roof. Lightning strikes are hitting the ridge on the hills just a half mile away and my wood-frame house shakes and shudders with each resounding percussive blast of thunder. Now the lightning and thunder occur at the same moment. It’s directly overhead and so violent I wonder if my windows will shatter. 

My three cats have gathered together under my bed. They’ve set aside their petty territorial battles over litter boxes and the ownership of catnip-filled “mice” and they now huddle together in safety. There’s a direct lightning strike a half block away and the sound of an explosion. It feels like a giant fist is pounding the house with each thunderclap. But the three lads have found a safe place under the bed – a place where the fiercest, scariest storms cannot reach them. A few minutes before, the first explosive thunderclap had sent them frantically tearing around the house in a panic, but now in the sanctuary beneath the bed, all three are calming down as they stretch out to relax and wait out the storm.

We saw last week that one of the secrets to successfully negotiating this journey we call “life” is to expect the unexpected. To expect to be lost. Expect to encounter hardship and tribulation. The storms of life, like our recent winter storms, are guaranteed to happen. Expect them. Prepare for them. For the winter storms, you may need tarps or sand bags. For the storms of life, you need God. 

Where do you go when the storms of life hit? When you’re experiencing anxiety, uncertainty and fear that may seem overwhelming at times? When it seems like all hell is breaking loose in your personal world and misfortune or evil is raining down on you, where do you find your sanctuary? Where is your safe place?

Several years ago, during a church service, everyone was given a blank 3x5 card and asked to write down their favorite praise and worship songs that we sing on Sunday. We had a church list of nearly two hundred songs so I thought everyone’s personal list would be completely different. I was surprised to see that the majority of those in our congregation had named “HERE IN THE SHADOW” as their top favorite. If you never went to our church, you’ve probably not heard this song. It was written by a songwriter-worship leader, Shannon Wexelberg, is based on Psalm 17:6-8 and some of the lyrics are: Here in the shadow.. Here in the shadow of Your wings.. Here in the shadow.. I will rest here Father.. I won’t fear tomorrow.. I will rest here Father.. You are my peace. 

I shouldn’t have been surprised that this had become one of the most beloved songs in our church because it so well describes our own sanctuary during the storms of life.

In the Old Testament, we read that Saul had loved David like a son, but when God rejected Saul and chose David to be the king, Saul flew into a jealous rage and vowed to kill David. Fleeing in fear of losing his life, David hid in a cave and wrote these words: “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy! I look to You for protection. I will hide beneath the shadow of Your wings until the danger passes by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who will fulfill His purpose for me. He will send help from heaven to rescue me, disgracing those who hound me. My God will send forth His unfailing love and faithfulness.” Psalm 57:1-3 NLT One translation says, “in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge until the ruinous storm passes by."

When the storms of life will hit, we need to run to our own safe place. We may not fit under the bed, but we fit under the shadow of His wings. “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God, and I trust Him. For He will rescue you from every trap.. He will cover you with His feathers. He will shelter you with His wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection...” Psalm 91:1-6 NLT 

Here in the shadow.. Here in the shadow of Your wings..
Here in the shadow.. I will rest here Father..
I won’t fear tomorrow..
I will rest here Father..
You are my peace.

Our Bible tells us that when we run to God, we will find sanctuary in the shelter of His wings. Psalm 61:4 NLT He invites us to rest there trusting in Him and we know that no matter how hard life’s circumstances rain down upon us, it will pass. It’s guaranteed that we will encounter the storms of life. It is also guaranteed that they will come to an end. You have survived every misfortune in your life – perhaps some terrifying or heart-breaking ones. And no matter what circumstances and calamities you may encounter in 2023, God will provide shelter from your storms and He will also bring them to an end. In every storm I’ve ever been in, the rain eventually stopped. I’m thinking that’s true for you also.

Three hours after my house was battered by that morning thunderstorm, the skies were calm. The sun was shining through patches of white clouds and rain drops on the olive tree leaves sparkled in the sunlight. Sean was now contentedly chowing down his missed breakfast while Cody and Luke were arguing over a catnip mouse. The thunderstorm was over. All was well again. God is good.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Find Your Way Through 2023!

Kalmiopsis Wilderness

Dear Friends,

When I was much younger, stronger and far more reckless than I am today, my yearly vacation from a stress-filled job as a law office administrator was to go backpacking in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in Oregon. Kalmiopsis was the most rugged and remote wilderness area I could find on the West Coast. It had deep rushing rivers, steep rocky canyons, extreme elevation changes, mountain lions and it was known for its abundance of rattlesnakes. I would go in alone one for a week and never meet another backpacker. Backpacker Magazine had deemed the southern portion of Kalmiopsis too rugged and dangerous for backpackers. That made it the perfect place for me because I wanted to be alone. In the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, every day was a victory of survival. Where I pushed myself to the breaking point to discover my limitations and do some deep soul searching. And yes.. maybe it was foolish of me to take those risks, but as my grandmother used to say, “The good Lord looks after the foolhardy and the devil takes care of his own.”

Back at the office I would be asked, “Did you ever get lost?” Of course I did! When you are finding your way through a wilderness area using unmarked trails, animal trails and sometimes your own “shortcuts,” you will get lost. You frequently don't know where you are! There is disorientation and confusion but never fear. There’s no fear because an experienced backpacker expects to get lost and he or she is prepared.

Civilian GPS (global positioning system) devices had not been developed and my only navigational tools were a topographical map and a compass. But when your survival is at stake, you don't rely on what can be lost or broken. So you study the sun – always knowing its position in the sky at every time of the day. When you get lost, the position of the sun will help you to become reoriented and headed in the right direction. I carried a seventy pound pack, but my canteen held only enough water for one day. 

From the high places, you study the terrain to determine the likely places where a stream would be and you look for animal tracks, knowing that well-traveled animal trails often lead to water. You know that the North Star points north. You have faith that no matter how lost you find yourself at any moment, you will have the ability to reorient yourself. And I was without human companions, but I never traveled alone. Like the early Christian monks who found God in the desert, I too found God in the wilderness and walked every step in His Presence.

In life transitions we can also sometimes feel lost and disoriented. We don't know where we are at the moment and may not even know where we need to be. We may be confused and uncertain about which direction to go in. We may even feel a little frightened and fearful about our future. Both big and little upsets in life are all so.. well.. unexpected!

But in a journey through the wilderness or your journey through life, when you expect to be lost, you won't panic when you are. When you have prepared to be lost and have equipped yourself with tools for survival, you’re never lost for long. When you’re prepared, you have the confidence that you’ll never become so disoriented that you'll stumble off a “cliff” or wander in the “wilderness” forever. You fully trust that no matter how lost you get, you'll always find your way again.

In 2023, expect to be lost!  Expect there will be times when you will be disoriented and uncertain about your future. Expect a life transition. Expect times victoriously dancing in unrestrained joy! Expect times of tribulation, John 16:33 discontent and despair. Expect a serious situation you’ve not planned for. Expect the Enemy of this world to throw you a curve. Expect perhaps even a crisis of faith: Is God really here with me now? Life happens. Expect it. Prepare for it.

Prepare yourself with the right navigational tools. Your Bible is the “compass and map” that shows you where you are, where you need to be and how to get there. Know what the leading of the Holy Spirit feels like. Look for and follow in the tracks of godly men and women that lead to the Living Water. And study the Son. Know where He is at all times in your life. Know what His “voice” sounds like. No matter how lost you become, when you’ve studied the Son, He will always help you to become reoriented and headed in the right direction.

The wilderness of life is rugged. Expect to get lost. But if you’re a Christian believer you have a built-in “GPS.” That’s “God’s Positioning System” and His GPS will always help you find your way again. That’s why no matter what challenging circumstances you may find yourself in during 2023, you will have the ability, through the help of God, to recover and flourish again. Always expect victory! For He is with you when you're lost in the valley and He's there when you're dancing once again on the top of the mountain!  Amen?

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Getting There From Here!

Dear Friends,

Please don’t feel bad if you’ve already broken the New Year’s Resolutions you made only a few days ago! A Gallup poll revealed that 71% of people who make resolutions keep them for less than two weeks. And only 8% will actually keep them for a full year. The same poll also listed the most common resolutions that people make. Number one was to lose weight and number two was to exercise more. No surprise there. But the third most popular resolution people make was to “be a better person” and the sixth most popular one was to “get closer to God.” Those two stood out for me because they go hand in hand. The way to be a better person is to get closer to God. That’s because the more of God we have in our life, the more like Christ we become and the changes in our thoughts, words and behaviors take place without effort on our part. The Holy Spirit is the One doing the “work” on us. 

When we held services at the assisted living home, we’d end every service singing “Day By Day.” That’s an 18th century Anglican prayer put to music for the musical “Godspell” and goes:

Day by Day.. Day by Day.. 
Oh dear Lord, Three things I pray.
To see Thee more clearly.
Love Thee more dearly.
Follow Thee more nearly.
Day by Day! 

That’s how we get closer to God; that’s the “resolution” that is guaranteed for you to keep, because that’s been God’s desire for you from the time that He hand-formed you in your mother’s womb. Mark 12:30; John 14:23; Psalm 139:13 And my prayer for all who made a resolution to get closer to God is that they will yield to the calling of the Holy Spirit who will enable and empower them to love God more and become more like Him in this new year than ever before!

On this journey toward knowing God, loving Him more than ever and following Him more closely, there may be things He wants us to leave behind. Things that may “sinful” and things that may not be sins but are just not helpful for us.  1 Corinthians 6:12 And that can change our whole idea of what a “New Years Resolution” should be. Resolutions are our commitment to change. We have a new year. New opportunities. New possibilities. A new season. There is a freshness of new beginnings. God wants to do new things in your life and so we say “yes and amen” and resolve to do better and then...nothing changes. 

We’re still stuck in the sameness and the problem is not God. The problem is that we’re holding onto the old so tightly that we don’t have room in our lives for anything new. Perhaps the secret to bringing about the changes we desire is not what we resolve to do but more about what we resolve to stop doing. It is so often our human tendency to cling to our past that prevents us from stepping out into our future, and yet it’s what we leave behind that will result in a changed life.

This is exactly what God was telling the Israelites when they were in captivity. “Do not remember the former things, Nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing..!” Isaiah 43:18-19 The people of Israel were at their lowest point. Israel is focused on their past transgressions; they are possessed by those failures. God gave them the Temple and instead of worshiping God, the faithless Israelites worshiped idols. God gave them commandments and they lived as if they were optional suggestions. God gave them Himself and they rejected Him over and over again. And God in His goodness, says to them, “Do not remember the former things, Nor consider the things of old.  Forget about your mess-ups. Don't obsess about your past mistakes and poor decisions, I am giving you an opportunity to start over. I will do a new thing..” (my expanded translation)

We speak of our Christian faith as “walking with Jesus.” We don’t talk about “standing around with Jesus.” Standing means we're still. Stagnant. Not moving. Walking means a forward motion. Walking with Jesus means moving forward with Him on the journey we call “life.” But Jesus gave us a warning about following Him. Jesus and His disciples were walking down the road when someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62 Jesus was saying that to follow Him we need to let go of the things that anchor us to our past and instead we must focus fully on Him. We need to be looking ahead at the One we are following.

Life is a journey and every new year God gives us a fresh start – a new beginning. His promise to the Israelites and His Son’s warning to the disciple, applies to you and me because God is still the Creator of all things new and all things good. He is unchanging – the same yesterday, today and forever. If your resolution this year is to become a better person by being closer to God, “To see Thee more clearly. Love Thee more dearly. Follow Thee more nearly” here’s how that works. 

God is sovereign (all-powerful) and He can do anything He wants, but He has given us willpower and allows us to make choices. That means that you can’t do it without God and He won’t do it without you. Before He will do something new in your relationship with Him is there something(s) you must choose to give up? Something that comes between you and Him? Priorities? Habits? Lifestyles? People tell me they have no time to read the Bible or pray and I have to watch their discomfort when I ask them how many hours they watch TV or spend online. 

What are the things that distance you from God? Be willing to let go of those old things to make a little more room for Him in your life! Become closer to God in 2023 and watch Him do the new things and make the changes that you've been struggling to make in your life!