Christmas and Extraterrestrials  

Alien Invasions  From Greek tales of gods  visiting  us from Olympus to the movie Alien, the idea of extraterrestrials has captured the human imagination. Some, like “The Martians Have Landed” are just plain nasty, but is kind of funny.

The movie, “K-PAK” however, is about a friendly invasion. Kevin Spacey plays prot (uncapitalized, short for prototype man?), who claims to be from a distant planet, K-PAX. He is quickly ushered off to a mental hospital. There, Dr. Powell hopes to cure him of his delusions. But the good psychiatrist is puzzled by many things, including the unshakable faith the other patients put in him and how his scientific insights baffles experts.

Prot causes quite a sensation when he announces that on a certain date and specific time he will take one soul with him back to K-PAX. All the patients are eager to go. The day arrives and, with hospital staff looking on, at the precise moment, the camera in prot’s room cuts to static. All rush in to find Prof’s catatonic body on the floor. Bess, one of the inmates is gone, never to be found, a kind of rapture.

Dr. Powell comes to believe in prot and his message which indictes humans for the way we treat each other and calls us “to use what little time left we have wisely.” Dr. Powell wisely reconciles with his estranged son.

The  parallels with the gospel account are striking.  You may find some I’ve listed far fetched, but who’s to say?

  • Disciples—are the patients, and eventually the doctor who accept prot and his message
  • Persecution and rejection—of prot by the authorities who were sure he was crazy.
  • A “gospel” –his message of judgment and a possible salvation.
  • Ascension–prot’s sudden departure
  • Rapture–Bess, being female could be a kind of bride of Christ
  • A Church (Prot’s actual “body” (?of Christ?) and the disciples who are left behind
  • Repentance and conversion—Powell’s change of mind and heart.
  • Reconciliation –of the doctor and his son

Since Christmas is upon us, let’s explore two seasonal ingredients of the story:

Christmas as an Alien Invasion  Imagine the headlines if visitors from another galaxy were to turn up at the White House. Yet Christmas is a much bigger deal than that. The whole earth celebrates, often unwittingly, the greatest event of all history: the arrival on earth of Emmanuel, God himself with us. Wonderful! But can we call Christmas an invasion?

Consider that an invasion is an act of entering enemy territory to take it over. The Scriptures teach that Satan is an usurper, “the god of this world”. whom Jesus Christ came to overthrow and establish his new reign, the Kingdom of God. He also comes to frees those held in bondage. Compare this to the allies’ invasion of Normandy to displace Hitler’s wrongful occupation of France and to free the European people from the tyranny of Nazism.

But consider yet another perspective of Christmas being an invasion. You might know the account in Daniel of how God sent him an angel in response to his prayer. This angel tells Daniel it took him 21 days to get through, because he was “opposed by the angel prince of Persia.” (Dan 10:13) St. Paul tells us that there are forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Eph. 6:12 NIV).and that Satan is the prince of the air. For Jesus to get to earth and be born in Bethlehem, wouldn’t he have had to pass through this enemy territory?

But can we call Christ an alien? Consider that…

  • Jesus flatly said he was, “I am from above…I am not of this world. (John 8: 23, KJV)
  • He differs from us, being both fully God and fully man. Paradoxically, he embodies and exemplifies the perfect man, the second Adam, God’s prototype, if you will, of how we should live and treat each other.
  • He was rejected as a misfit. (Read Isaiah 53) Herod tried to kill him; the Jewish elite labeled him a heretic; many  demonized him and finally he was executed by the authorities. If he made his claims today, like prot and many Christians in the Soviet Union, he would surely be put away in a mental hospital;.

Are Believers Aliens? Are we? Consider these words of St. Paul, But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we eagerly wait for his return .(Phil 3:20 NLT). Peter writes,  You are a chosen race, a holy nation, God’s own people…who called you out of darkness into his own marvelous light. (I Peter 2:9).

Cruisin’, Snoozin and Schmoozin’

The Caribbean zips by our cabin window at 19 knots as we head home after a six day cruise. We are crusin’ and snoozin, celebrating the end of my radiation treatments, with stops at the Yucatan, Belize, Roatan and Grand Cayman, but the best part was shmoozin’ with the people God brought to us.

No Mayan Bible? On the Yucatan we relived ancient Mayan life through the eyes of Ivan, our tour guide. As we explored the massive stone pyramids built by his ancestors, we found he grew up in a small, isolated Mayan village. At eleven his mother sent him off to get an education and while studying his own culture, got homesick and returned to his roots. I asked if there was a Bible in his language and he said Mayans wasn’t written down.  There are three million Mayans throughout Mexico and Central America, but no Bible.

He had an amazing knowledge of the healing virtues of the abundant flora around us. I suggested that he was a Shaman (a tribal healer). He demurred, but seemed pleased. We finished our tour with the best meal of the week, prepared by Mayan ladies in their village.

Where Somebody Knows Your Name. Back on board while returning from the swimming pool, I heard my name.  Surprised, I turned and saw a couple in their 60’s sitting at a table. He had his arm around her. She smiled as though we were old friends.

“I’m sorry…?

“Oh, we saw you at Karaoke last night and heard you sing. We really liked it.”

I must admit, I was pleased for the recognition. “Oh, yes, Sweet Caroline and Amore are great sing-a-longs.  But how did you know my name?”

“They had it up in lights every time you came on, remember?”

I had forgotten that. Then I noticed plastic tubes running up her nose. “So, tell me, what’s with the oxygen?” She explained she had a fatal lung condition. I sat down, listened to her story and then shared my recent cancer diagnosis. The three of us really connected. Her husband told me that he did the cooking now and only worked part time. “Janet is my full time job,” he explained.

She gave him a grateful smile, “Oh, I’ve had my moments, believe me, but prayed for a positive attitude and God is answering my prayers.  It really helped when I let go of all my anxiety and decided to trust Him completely.”

I shared my own similar journey and when I left their table, it was like we were old friends, though we knew we wouldn’t see each other again. As it turns out, that wasn’t really the case.

On the last day, while having a late breakfast, a young teen boy plopped himself and his back-back down opposite me, glowering.  He was clearly having a bad day.

I smiled at him. “Girl trouble or parents?” I waited, but he wasn’t having any of it, so I went back to my business. When I looked up, his mother was sitting at the table, praying over her food.

“I’m praying too,” I nodded toward her son.  She opened up about her son’s ADHD diagnosis and that she had taken his phone away.

We must have talked for over an hour. Because I have ADHD and studied it in depth, she asked many questions and was grateful to get another slant on it. We also shared some personal stuff in our conversation. Each of us had a tearful moment and offered reassuring comfort.

As I got up from my table, I heard my name again. There at the next table was Janet with her wonderful smile. I went over to her, and hugged her shoulders. “We will see each other again, you know.”

“You better believe it.” she said, and squeezed my arm.

We met a Christian gal from South Africa while returning from Belize on a cutter. She signed a contract with Carnival and had only been doing it for two weeks.  She had many surprises, especially at how much drinking went on among the staff.  We shared our faith with her, which she appreciated. I also had dinner with Bradley, an entertainer on the pool stage, and we had a lot in common. Later he sang a song he’d written to Charlene and me about our journey.

I got on an elevator to join Charlene at the comedy show, something we both enjoyed, when a young man asked me to hold it. He slurred his words and he held a drink in his hand.  “Going to the comedy show?” I asked.

“No,” I don’t appreciate people who are skinny making fun of those who aren’t”

I sensed his hurt. “Oh, you’re the sensitive type, aren’t you.”

He did a double take. “Yes, as a matter of fact. I guess I am. How did you know?”

“Well, in my line of work it pays to understand people. “I’m a retired pastor.”

He asked the question they always ask, “What church?”

“I’m not big on labels, so Christian,” I replied, “But if you hold a gun to my head I’d have to admit I was Presbyterian.”

We chuckled and I added, “I guess you probably are a creative guy, right?”
“Got me again. An artist” The elevator dinged and opened to my floor. When he followed me out, I took the opportunity of briefly sharing my hope in Christ. We walked and talked awhile until he looked around. “I’m on the wrong floor.”

“Maybe you needed to be,” I suggested.

He nodded and headed back to the elevator.

Cruisin’, snoozin and definitely shmoozin.”  It’s fun being a Christian.

Hope you liked my account of vacationing with Jesus. Please add your comment/



The Seven Traits of a Highly Effective Church

Traits 2 and 3: CommUNITY and Corporate Prayer
Popular Churches Maybe we need to do some soul searching. Is my church or your church’s clear objective to make disciples or gain members? If it’s the latter, read no further. You won’t find traits of the popular mega churches, featuring gifted musicians, flashy worship, dynamic preachers, and exciting programs. Most of their growth we know, comes from members migrating from other churches, not from making new disciples.

We focus on those traits gleaned from the teachings of Jesus, the apostles that were lived out by New Testament believers. Some traits, like yesterday’s, “A Good Reputation”, is surprising. Pastors rarely mention it. Yet it was a common theme of the apostles. They understood that if you want get people to hear God’s message of love, you must exemplify it by the quality of your life together.
Good Gossip. Unbelievers in Jerusalem were all abuzz about this strange new sect. These followers of Jesus were full of joy and enjoyed one another. They took good care of their poor. This impressed the good people of Jerusalem. Christians became a hot topic of gossip.
They Prayed Together and Stayed Together Right from the start these disciples practiced what Jesus preached. External threats and inner discord were both met with united prayer. ”All of them, with one mind and heart, persevered in prayer. (Acts 1:14.)  The King James translation had it right. They were in one accord, the Greek word, ὁμοθυμαδὸν [hom-o-thoo-ma-DON] which Luke used often, described this church’s solidarity.

When faced with challenges, this church was effective because they not only had united prayer as a priority, they expected answers. At one point, Luke reports there were complaints that needy believers of Greek background were being neglected in the distributions. The apostles that ,“It is not right that we wait on tables, but must devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word. The issue was quickly resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.
Bible Studies  Today, pastors have many Bible studies. Funny Luke doesn’t tell us anywhere this was an activity of this effective church. And when we have prayer in church, pastors do our praying for us.
In this highly effective church, when jealous Jewish leaders threatened them, they united in prayer and God poured out His favor. Today when we face internal discord or external pressures, we have a meeting. A brief prayer is offered, then we get down to the real business of discussing, debating and deciding. For the effective church, united prayer is the real business.
Lord Jesus, great head of your church, enable us to recover the power and grace that once turned the world right-side up. Do it again, please Lord. Bring your people together in the sincere love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.


The Seven Traits of a Highly Effective Church.


Is Exciting Necessarily Effective? If you hope to find tips on how to build up your local congregation here, you will be disappointed. Things like gifted musicians, dynamic preachers, diverse programs and beautiful liturgy, while popular in the modern church, are not winning outsiders to Christ. Popular churches, as honest pastors will tell you, are attracting a few seekers, but mostly Christians from other churches. The traits described here come directly from the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. By applyin g them, the New Testament church turned the world upside down.

These characteristics work. You will be surprised at some of them, because they are rarely mentioned from the pulpit, especially this first one.

Trait No. 1: A Good Reputation. Corporations spend billions to enhance their public image and reputations.  Some, like Exxon, lost billions because of a bad reputation. If you want to be successful, nothing beats the good will of the public.  If you are known to be honest, sincere, well-run by happy, contented folks, people will beat a path to your door.

The apostle Paul understood this.  He wrote, “Have a good reputation of those outside the church.” (I Tim. 3:7).  Read the Pastoral Epistles carefully and you will find this theme repeated often. He exhorted his pastors to teach the people to make this a high priority. It was an idea he got from Jesus.

Jesus possessed a flair for PR His command. love one another, that the world will know you are my disciples, was given so his followers would reflect God’s agape love, BUT ALSO to make a good impression on outsiders. It is not enough to preach the gospel. It must be demonstrated to others by a harmonious spirit by those who represent that gospel.  Quarreling over things like music, doctrines and polity demonstrates the opposite.

When I visit hospitals, I can often sense the spirit of the place. If the staff isn’t getting along or morale is low, outsiders sense it. In the church, the respect of the public sets the table for preaching the gospel. People are much more inclined to listen to what we say if they like the way we interact with one another.

Unlike Rodney Dangerfield, the first believers in Jerusalem had lots of respect. And you want excitement? Luke paints a clear picture of how these ordinary believers generated it. The believers continued together in close fellowship and shared their belongings with one another…they had their meals together in their homes, praising God, and enjoying the good will of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their number (Acts 2:44, 46, 47 Good News Translation)

Jesus predicted that a harmonious spirit will cause ”the world to believe.”  And it did.

How Do We Measure Up? If we wish to know the effectiveness of our church, we might ask outsiders. Do we have the respect and favor of the man on the street? Does he pay attention to us or ignore us? Is he aware of our genuine concern for others or our religious and moral agendas?  Does he sense we get along with each other, or that we disagree over stuff?

Oh, Lord, Have mercy upon us and forgive us for our divisions. Raise up leaders like the apostles who will teach us that our love for each other and our accord are more important than things we tend to quarrel about.  Thank You.

Please, Your comments are very welcome.





Making Beautiful Music Together

Using our Gifts to Make Beautiful Music Together

We promised you, dear reader, a follow up to our last blog. The Frog in the Pot. Alas, the Frog would not get out of the pot and has become quite cooked. But we hope to find another soon. Please accept this offering for now.

One in the Spirit.

Jesus prays for his church: “May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in complete unity so that the world may believe you sent me.” (John 17: 21)

Jesus’ promise to his church: “Even if just two of you are in harmony with each other, when you pray for anything, it will be done for you…..” (Matthew 18:19, Our translation)

Need for unity in the church: Often in his letters, St. Paul’s emphasized the need for unity in the church, none more eloquently than his metaphor of the church being like the human body—one body, yet made up of many individual members.

Another Metaphor for the Church Thre are other metaphors that might be especially relevant today. If you’ve played on a sports team or were in a musical group, you’ve felt the thrill of uniting with others to win a game or produce something really beautiful, like Handel’s Messiah. Imagine how thrilled Handel was when he heard his masterpiece performed. Imagine how Jesus’ delights in us when we use our gifts in harmony with one another. There is a place for solos in the church, but the church is a team. Blending our gifts with one another to make beautiful music for Him should be the norm.

Below is a musical group metaphor in I Cor 12 to describe how the church should function

….14 For a band or orchestra is not made up of one instrument alone, but many different kinds. 15 If the oboe player were to say, “Because I cannot play the trumpet, I don’t belong, “that doesn’t hold water. 15 And if the flautist were to say, “Because I am not a bass, I don’t belong, that’s not true either. 17 If the whole band were just the flute, who would provide rhythms? And if all were the bass, who would do the melody? 18 As it is, the composer has written parts for every kind of instruments to play his great music.
19 There would be no band at all if all played the same instrument! ,,,,21 So then, the drummer cannot say to the trombonist, “I don’t need you!” Nor can the guitarist say to the flautist, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, all the instruments are needed. even little ones like the piccolo 23 Now the piccolo player might not seem to be important, but just think how he is needed in a piece like “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
25 Moreover, band members can’t go off on their own tunes. And even though each instrument is tuned to different keys, they still manage to blend with one another. 26 If one instrument is off key, the whole band suffers as well as the composition. If one player is praised, however, all the others share in the glory.


Our Fascination with the Extraordinary  

Hum Drum.  Most of our lives are lived in ordinary fashion where nothing too unusual happens. When it does, our attention is instantly piqued. We’re driving along I-91, lulled by the road’s monotony, when we see flashing lights ahead.  Fully focused now, we brake to see what’s what. A football game plods along with fans absorbed in their tacos, when a player makes a fantastic grab in the end zone. Immediately the crowd is on its feet, roaring, tacos forgotten.

Fantasy  Let’s face it, we need excitement in our lives and everyday living can be tedious and mundane. I have a neighbor who tells me her drinking problem gets triggered by boredom. Even Christians get drawn into fantasies like pornography, extramarital affairs and TV addiction. It’s often due to ennui (restless dissatisfaction caused by lack of excitement). Producers of TV shows know this about us, so outlandish stuff sells. Some buttons get pushed by Jerry Springer, others by murder mysteries, and sports, but lately supernatural fantasy has skyrocketed..

Supernatural, the TV show features two brothers hunting down demons from hell. Christian girls are captivated by Vampires and Werewolves in the Twilight series. Boys and men are glued to shows about supernatural superheroes pitted against other-worldly villains. (Stan Lee must be laughing all the way to the bank.)  Most awful of the genre, Dominion, turns the Bible on its head. Gabriel is an evil angel who hates humans but needs their bodies to fly around to work mayhem.  Constantine is apparently about a tormented exorcist. Faceoff  is a popular reality show where special effects artists compete to create the most realistic, scariest zombies, demons and the like.

God’s Dream Church  Don’t misunderstand. We aren’t criticizing our need for the extraordinary. It’s part of how God made us. In fact, His church was created to specialize in the supernatural. We believe it is God’s Dream to revitalze His church so that she can call forth the miraculous, signs and wonders that catch the attention of our unbelieving world. Of course the most extraordinary miracle is a church that loves each other as Christ loved us.

But meanwhile, back at First Church, the extraordinary rarely happens nor is even expected. Our pastor once said, “It’s remarkable how the church has managed to make something as extraordinary and miraculous as the resurrection of Jesus Christ so boring.” Originally a miraculous movement that changed the world, the church tends to be a predictable institution that changes little. Tradition and rationalism prevail. The transforming power of God’s supernatural message of Jesus Christ often gets lost in the routines of Sunday morning.

Stuff Ain’t Happening  Over 40 years ago, John Wimber left the Righteous Brothers after Jesus Christ turned his life right side up. He attended a certain church for a while, then  approached a church leader.

“When does the stuff start happening,” he wanted to know?  “What stuff?”  He opened his Bible. “I’ve been reading all these great things in Acts. I just want to know when it begins happening here.”

Disappointed to find nothing did, Wimber prayed, labored and helped get a movement born where stuff did happen, for a while. I’ve attended some of these churches lately and stuff ain’t happening there anymore either.

How did the church get to be so humdrum?  Jesus was an amazing person who did miraculous things, was unjustly executed, came back to life and created an extraordinary movement designed to change the world. What happened to change things? Well, it’s partly the story of the frog in the pot. Don’t know the story? Our next few posts will tell it, exegete it and suggest ways for the church to find her way back to greatness


Whatever Happened to Prayer? Part 3

Part 3:  Let’s Recover Our First Love

When people stop talking to each other they automatically drift apart. Communication, as they say, is the life blood of a relationship. Isn’t it the case that when we stop talking to God, we begin to lose our first love for Him? But have you stopped to think that this is also the case when Christians stop praying together? But you say, “Oh, there’s no worry about that, as long as I keep to my private spiritual disciplines.” Yet private and corporate prayer have a symbiotic relationship. Energize the one and you invigorate the other; neglect the one and you diminish the other.

Can We have the Vertical without the Horizontal? Jesus taught that our horizontal relationships in the church directly affects our vertical relationship with God. ”When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love…This is my commandment: Love each other.” (John 15: 9,12).  The apostle echoed the principle: “How can we say we love God if we do not love each other.”  Failure to pray together in the church causes us to drift apart from each other and from God. Remove a coal from the hearth and it dies out. Christ’s scriptural principle is plain as day: Love me, love my body. Love my body, love me.

We need one another. We can’t improve our love relationship with God if we neglect praying with our Christian family. When we neglect praying together, whether it’s the cause or the symptom, we become isolated from each other, thereby violating Christ’s law to “love one another.”

Our Faith is Personal Jesus endorsed the Jewish commands to love God and our neighbor and then added a third—a new command for a new covenant ”Love one another as I have loved you.” Our love relationship with God and others is what our faith is all about. This love is the connection he means us to have in the church family as well as with Him. However, without faith, another word for trust, it is impossible to please God, because if I don’t trust God, how can I love Him? The just shall live by faith.” And, If I do not trust you, how can I love you?

Pray for One Another. When we come to trust each other in the church, we will share our our personal needs in prayer. That’s what makes prayer personal. Yet when we do pray, do we really pray for one another or for third parties whom we often don’t know.

Private or Personal? At the close of a Bible study, the leader asks for prayer requests. Mary says, “Please pray for my Aunt Tillie in Utah who faces surgery.” Of course her aunt’s surgery is important, but she lives 2000 miles away. Our relationship is with Mary, not her aunt.  If we ask Mary, “Why not share your own needs?” she would reply, “Oh, that’s ‘personal.” What she really means is, “my struggles are my own private business.” So it’s privaite for Mary, not personal. This attitude, common in the church, is as far away from being personal as you can get. The   shows our lack of trust in others, which means also, a lack of love.

A Family of Strangers? When we do open up our private world to one another, we enter into the true fellowship Jesus meant for us to have in the church.  When we fail to do so, we remain strangers. Of course, it must be mutual. Gail once shared with me her experience in a women’s group. The leader, the pastor’s wife, said, “Since the Bible teaches we should confess our faults to one another, let’s obey the Word and begin to do that.” There was a long silence until at last Gail courageously shared some personal struggles. When she finished there was dead silence. Finally the leader said, “OK, then, let’s turn to our scripture passage”  Gail was left holding her dirty laundry with no cleansing or healing. She was, devastated.

When we withhold our private needs, we cannot pray for one another and we distance ourselves from each other. It is this horizontal dimension that we need to recover in the church. Praying for one another’s real needs accomplishes that.