Wednesday, November 25, 2015


A LONG, LONG TIME AGO, in a galaxy we call our own, there used to be a season called Christmas, whose title I understand came from the Mass that was celebrated on Christmas morning. A Mass that celebrated the advent (the arrival) of the Son of God, Jesus, the Christ.

Somehow this celebration morphed from a gathering at the local cathedral to an event that covered the week prior, then the month prior, then two months prior, oh well, you get the picture. Now, we begin our celebration, in the form of holiday sleep-outs in front of Best Buy, or acquiring gifts from the Day-After-Christmas-Sale to be placed in our crowded closets until next year (that is if we remember them) all in the name of saving a few bucks on gifts for friends or ourselves.

Yes, most of us know, and maybe even believe, that the reason we give gifts is because God gave us His greatest gift in sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Savior. (John 3:16-17; Luke 2:1-21) He came to set us free from the slavery to, and the effects of, sin. (Romans 6:22-23)  Not to mention that one of those sins is covetous materialism, but that's material for another blog.

The truth is, none of us could ever give a gift that would match or could even try to explain God's gift of love in and through His Son and His sacrificial death on the cross and His glorious Resurrection (John 19:1-42; John 20:1-31). Therefore, let's stop using excuse of God's giving for the purpose of our give extravagant and often unimportant gifts.

Now, I'm not saying we shouldn't give gifts, I like gifts as much as the next guy, what I am saying is that we should give gifts that truly honor, show love, bless, or serve person (Rather fulfilling our desire to get thank-yous, or to look better. On yeah, right! None of us would ever do that!)

May I make a humble suggestion?  

Let's move from calling it Christmas, even Jews, Muslims, Hindus, unbelievers and atheists, call it Christmas and even celebrate it.  I suggest that we call it Advent (Not a new idea, I'll admit,) so that the focus will be upon the first arrival of the Lord Jesus Christ and that looks forward to His second arrival. (Acts 1:7-11)

Next, I suggest we give gifts that truly show love, compassion, thoughtfulness. These gifts can be simple or elaborate. They can grace a home, bring the joy of an activity or event, or even bless by being a blessing.  What I mean is that we give to others in the name of the person we seek to bless. Take for existence donating the gift money to places like, Living Water, Operation Christmas Child, Gideons International, Compassion International, World Vision, or World Relief. I am sure you can think of others.

So, there you have it!  We can work to bring back the reality of the first Advent as we endeavor to live in the reality of the coming One.

Have a blessed Advent season, and oh, by the way, did you notice the trinitarian Advent statement on the 1904 Sunset Magazine cover above.  If you did, way to go!!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


I LIKE THE INDIANA JONES MOVIES (except for the snakes!  “Snakes! Why did it have to be snakes?!”) My favorite of the movies is The Last Crusade not just because the religious and sacramental overtones, but because we are introduced to Indie’s dad, one of my favorite actors, James Bond!  Oh wait, I mean Sean Connery. When he appeared I just about cheered, thankfully Linda held me in my seat.  Anyway, back to the movie.
Toward the end of the movie, in which they are searching for the Holy Grail, (of course the Germans are also searching for it, too!), they discover its resting place and after going through a number of hair-raising puzzles to get to it, they arrive at the sacred room, where there are hundreds of goblets that could be the one. All of these goblets, from the ornate to the simple, were guarded by one of the Knights Templar, which had been there for hundreds of years (remember this is Indiana Jones.)
At this point Indiana and the Antagonist are trying to determine which goblet among the hundreds is in fact the true Holy Grail. As they search among the cups the knight declares, “Choose wisely, for the correct cup will bring life, while the wrong cup will bring death.” The nemesis of Indiana determines that a jewel encrusted goblet, one fit for a king, is the true Holy Grail. He takes it, dips it into a basin of water and drinks deeply. Yes, it was the wrong cup and soon a terrible death envelops him.
Now, it is Indie’s turn, scanning over the cups he noticed in the back a rough hewn wooden chalice. He muses, “This is a cup of a carpenter.” He dips this cup into the basin of water, and with slight hesitation drinks it all.  Yes, this is the cup that brings life. And the story continues  . . . you’ll have to check out the movie.
The responsibility to “choose wisely” is always before us. There are many jewel-encrusted cups that can grab our attention away from that which is the true cup. One cup subtracts from our life, the other brings life.
We are too often drawn to what we think is good, only to find out it robs us of the good.  Maybe it is choosing to attend sports games on Sundays that keeps us from worshiping within the community of the redeemed.  It could be choosing the comforts of our couch rather than standing up to serve in the church or in the community in the Name of Christ. Possibly it is choosing to grab at that cup of wealth that promises to bring life, instead of giving your wealth away to those who have less than a wooden vessel to drink from, or worse, drink filth-ladened water.
We may each say that we are searching for the One who is The Life, and our choices declare otherwise.  Here is my encouragement to you, not only in this Advent season but throughout the coming years, choose wisely and find life for yourself and for others.

What cup do you hold in your hand? Is it the cup of this material culture, or is it the cup of the Master? My prayer for you is that your actions and your attitude show that you have taken the steps to prove that you did choose wisely.

Sunday, October 25, 2015


LANGUAGE IS FOREVER CHANGING. Spend a day at a local high school and you would find it difficult to follow the discussion. If you’re white like me, place yourself in the middle of an Oakland, California high school at lunch time and I surmise you would not even understand a word that is being said, but those indigenous students around you would not even skip a beat in their communication and their comprehension.

I might be quick to judge the native speaker from the inner-city of Oakland and say that their language is incorrect, but a visitor from over-the-pond in England might judge my language as incorrect as well. The key issue is are we able to understand each other? If we are not, are we willing to take the extra effort, to walk a step closer, to ask the clarifying question, so that we can understand?

What is true about crossing cultural and linguistic borders in our midst can always be said about the language we use within the community of people we call the church, or the Body of Christ. Even though we may share the same locale and possibly the same language, we are not always communicating at a level that is truly understood.

As we greet one another with a “How are you?” or a “Whatsup?” or a “Hey!” or a simple “Hello,” we hold ourselves back from the interaction to which we are called within the family of God. I believe we need to change our language, which will also demand that we change our culture.

The Hebrews have long possessed a word within their culture of which many of us are aware. The word is “Shalom.” We often understand it as the word for peace, and we would be right in our definition. But it means much more, its layers are nuanced. Back in my university days, while studying that great ancient language, our professor walked into class and said, “ma-shalomcah?” In his greeting and question he essentially asked us, “How is your peace?” or “How is your well-being?” It is, as you can see, a much deeper greeting demanding a much deeper reflection than if he had simply said, “Hello.”  It goes beyond our greeting of, “How are you?” For it is asking not how we feel, but how is the peace of our soul.

So, next time there is the opportunity to greet someone, take a moment to consider your language and maybe adjust it ever so slightly so that the love of God can enter in.

Monday, October 19, 2015


YOU MIGHT NOT BELIEVE THIS, but when I was in high school I had a number of girlfriends and I loved each one intensely . . . or so I thought.

The reality was I was not in love, I was infatuated. Love is other-centered, whereas infatuation is self-centered. Infatuation is about getting, receiving, feeling good, thanks-getting, and of course, being the center of attention. Love on the other hand is about giving, offering, feeling safe, thanks-giving, and of course, making the other the center of attention. Infatuation is about taking control whereas love is about giving-up control. In summation, infatuation is about YOU and love is about the OTHER.

What is true in our earthly relationships is also true in our relationship with God. I have come to see, since my early days of following Jesus as Savior and Lord, many say we love God, when in fact our actions look more like infatuation than love.

Let’s take our “Date-Time” with the Lord, commonly referred to as our Worship Service. The Worship Service is our time to express our love to God, and I do believe that we are seeking to do so, but laid against what I wrote above, it often looks more like infatuation than love.  If you believe that this doesn’t refer to you please feel free to stop reading, but if you think this applies to the person sitting in front of you, then keep reading so you know what they’re going through as they read this.

Many of us, when we come to worship, if we are honest, are more focused upon ourselves, than God. We come to get more than to give. We come with the desire to feel good rather than the desire to encourage the other. We come to experience things our way rather than express things God’s way. To put it even a little stronger, we come self-centered instead of God-centered. What we think passes for love of God is sometimes infatuation of self. It is about YOU rather than HIM.

Please understand I am not seeking to make you, or me, feel bad. On the contrary, I want to call us to move from self-absorption to God-adoration. To move from simply being infatuated with God to loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


I HAVE BEEN PRIVILEGED, over the past three months to officiate at three weddings. Each one quite different than the other, and each one incredibly special. As a pastor, I require a number of premarital sessions of interaction between the couple and myself and over the 38 years of ministry some aspects of those sessions have changed. Some include couples that are in the “neighborhood.” Some couples travel to meet with me, and more recently I have used video communication programs like Skype.

Though the methods have changed over the years very little has changed in the process and the material we cover. Our goal is not just to plan a beautiful wedding day, though we work at that, too, but our true goal is to create a marital environment that will be lasting. We work on developing those areas of the couple’s relationship that will lead to a successful and permanent (til death do us part) marriage.  We celebrate their relational strengths, and we concentrate on those areas that need growth.

Yes, it does take time and effort, but I have discovered that those couples that are willing to work diligently to develop a strong, healthy and God-centered marriage will run the better probability of enjoying a growing and deepening marital relationship. Sadly, I have found that the opposite is also true; fail to do the heavy lifting up front and you run a greater risk of being crushed under the blows that come to all marriages later on.

There is also a spiritual application for the church. The church is not only the Body of Christ, but maybe even more importantly, we are the Bride of Christ. The Apostle Paul writes, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.” (2 Corinthians 11:2) The goal of the Apostle was to see the church develop so that he would be able to offer her as a beautiful bride without spot or wrinkle. (Ephesians 5:25-31)  In fact, in the Ephesian passage, the whole earthly marital relationship is but a living example of the Lord’s love relationship with His church.

So, here’s your part: do all that is necessary, as part of the Bride of Christ, to help ready each other for a beautiful wedding ceremony, for is that not what the engagement season is all about? (Revelation 19:7-9; 21:21; 22:17)

Sunday, October 04, 2015


MY MOM AND DAD USED TO SAY TO ME, “Don’t let the screen door slam!” She was usually referring to the screen door that had a spring closure on it. I have done my best since then to not let the door slam, and of course I tried to teach my children to follow suit . . . a dad can hope.

This past Tuesday evening I was sitting in my study when I began to hear doors slamming shut. Peering out my window I could see dozens of cars bringing kids to AWANA. I realized for each slammed door there was a child being brought to church to learn God’s Word, to hide it in their hearts and to have a good time doing so.  All of a sudden the slamming of doors and the reality they represented brought joy to my ears.  I wanted to hear more and more slamming doors.

I then got dreaming . . . wouldn’t it be great to hear slamming car doors on a regular basis around here?  Can you imagine, Sunday mornings with the slamming of car doors signaling the arrival of people eager to worship and fellowship together?  How about, Wednesday evenings with the slamming of cars doors representing students coming to youth group and men arriving for Bible study? How wonderful, on Thursday mornings announcing the arrival of women coming to Bible study or to White Cross.

Hear the sound? Get the picture? Would you join me in a prayer of thanksgiving for the car doors being slammed? Would you join me in praying for more cars and more doors and more people excited about what God is doing while we’re slamming doors?

Sorry, Mom and Dad, I think these doors are different. But I will still try not to slam the screen door.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


A FAMILY MEMBER KNOCKS on your door, your response, “Come on in!” A rapping comes upon the pastor’s door and he responds, “Come on in.”  A friend passes by your restaurant table and you offer, “Have a seat and join us.”  A neighbor is walking down the street with an armload of groceries and as you are driving by, you stop and say, “Jump in and I’ll give you a ride home.”

Inviting someone to enter in with you is an act of kindness. By doing so you are saying, I recognize you, I welcome you, I want to spend time with you, I want to help you. It’s a good feeling to be noticed; to be welcomed, included and invited in.

Jesus calls us to enter in. He welcomes us. He says, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) It is such great news that Jesus calls us to Himself, not only to give us rest, but to set us free from sin and death. (Ephesians 2:1-10)
Now, here comes this even more amazing news; Jesus not only desires to give us rest, He not only saves us from our sin, but He invites us to enter into the Holy of Holies; a place only the High Priest could enter at a special time and with special preparations. But Jesus, by His death and resurrection, has become the perfect and eternal High Priest and has invited us into this place. The writer of Hebrews describes it this way:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,  not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (10:19-25)

As the “therefore” states, we can enter in. Therefore, I encourage you do just that, enter into the holy place where Jesus is dwelling with the Father. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (James 4:7-8)