Monday, December 31, 2007

The Depth of God’s Love

God taking on human flesh on Christmas is called the Incarnation, and it is the greatest divine act since the Creation itself. The Incarnation resulted in a new creation for those who are in Christ, as we read in 2 Corinthians 5:17-18a:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ. NIV

By Jesus humbling himself and temporarily giving up his rights as God, we imperfect people benefit in that we become children of God. Let’s take a look at a particular passage in detail to try to understand how that works (1 John 4:8-12, NIV).

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

8 God Is Love

Verse 8 says:

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

The author of the hymn “Love Came Down at Christmas” must have had this verse in mind. God is love, so when God came down at Christmas in the form of Jesus, perfect love came down to earth as well. When John wrote that “God is love,” he meant that love is God’s dominant attribute. However, God has other attributes that we mustn’t forget: God is just, God punishes the wicked, God is patient and longsuffering – but only up to a point. If we overemphasize the “love” attribute and forget the others, we make God out to be a softy and a pushover, and we devalue the meaning of the Cross.

9 God Sent His Son

Verse 9 tells how God demonstrated his love in a powerful way on that first Christmas:

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

In other words, God demonstrated his love by sending Jesus, so that we sinful and rebellious people might have eternal life. That’s what Christmas is all about – Jesus coming to earth from heaven, mainly for the purpose of giving us eternal life, as we read in the next verse.

10 Jesus’ Sacrifice Saves

Verse 10 explains what John meant by writing “that we might live” through Jesus:

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

The first part of verse 10 echoes what it says at the end of the confession part of our communion liturgy:

Hear the good news: Christ died for us while we were yet sinners; that proves God’s love toward us. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven! (partially based on Romans 5:8)

Despite our continuously falling short, God forgives us time and time again when we come to him. I believe that is a good measure of God’s unfailing love for us. Of course God forgives us based on our relationship with Jesus and our accepting what Jesus did for us on the cross – that atoning sacrifice John mentions.

God loves us so much he gave us a way out of our dilemma, which is eternal separation from God because of our breaking of God’s law. Jesus did all the work – all we have to do is consciously accept the gift God offers us. Then we are made one of God’s own who will eventually go to heaven.

This is the reason I am talking about this – I want to make sure nobody misses out of the gift God is offering to us, which is eternal life with him in heaven. Especially this Christmas, why not accept God’s gift of eternal life?

The world thinks we get to heaven because we’re “good.” But we get to heaven on Christ’s merits, not our own – which is good since our own merits are rather puny and inadequate in comparison. It says in Isaiah 64:6: All our righteous acts are like filthy rags. NIV

But if we choose not to follow God’s way of Salvation – which is through Jesus Christ – then all bets are off. Personally, I don’t want to take the chance, and I don’t want you to take the chance. If you haven’t already, will you make the decision to follow Christ as your Lord and accept him as your Savior?

11 Love One Another

In verse 11, John echoed what Jesus said in today’s Gospel. John wrote that our response to God’s love should be to love one another:

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Loving one another should include sharing the Good News of Jesus with others. I read once where a person said his goal in life is to get to heaven, and bring as many people with him as possible.

12 Love Is Made Complete in Us

Then in verse 12, John continued with the thought that we are to love one another, because loving one another is an outworking of God’s love in us.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

God living in us refers to the indwelling Holy Spirit, who – if we let him – guides us into all righteousness and empowers us to love others in a Christ-like way. Is there someone this Christmas that you need to reconcile with?


What does all this have to do with Christmas? During this season, we should contemplate the meaning of God’s Incarnation and ponder God’s love for us. Maybe you don’t feel loved. Maybe you don’t feel lovable. Maybe you feel that nobody cares. Be assured that Someone does care, and loves you with an everlasting love.

That love is not dependent on performance, your outward appearance, your feelings, or anything else. God’s love is unconditional. You can’t earn God’s love – his love is there for you no matter what.

But until we receive the gift of Christ, we can’t take full advantage of all the benefits of God’s love. Think of the choices you have if somebody offers you a gift – you can either open it or you can ignore it. In either event, the gift is there for you – it’s up to you as to what you will do with it. Will you take that love gift that God is offering to you?

Jesus humbled himself for you – will you humble yourself before him and receive him as your Lord and your Savior? Christmas will be a lot more meaningful when you do. Because then you will have the most precious gift you could ever receive.

Friday, December 21, 2007

One Explanation of the Importance of Christmas

The words to a hymn tell the story of God’s love coming down to earth on that first Christmas, and what our response should be to it.

Love Came Down at Christmas*

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, Love divine;
Worship we our Jesus,
but wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token;
Love be yours and love be mine;
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

*Puerto Rican carol, translated by George K. Evans. Sung to the tune of Isla del Encanto.
© 1963, 1980, Walter Ehret and George K. Evans

I’m not sure what that last line means, but the message of the last stanza is clear: love one another as God has loved us. The message of the first stanza is also clear: God’s love came down to earth at Christmas.

Depth of God’s Love

It is difficult for us to grasp the depth of God’s love, because it is beyond human comprehension. I certainly can’t grasp it – all I can do is experience it. When we look at Christ coming to earth and what he endured on our behalf, then we can begin to appreciate the depth of God’s love for us. Jesus was pointing to what he was about to endure on our behalf when he said at in John 15:13 (NIV): “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

That was Jesus’ main purpose in coming to earth, and that’s why we consider his coming as God’s love gift to us. When we are going through a tough time, we may wonder if God really does care about us. We aren’t immune from the suffering that is common to mankind, but we can experience God’s love and grace in those times of grief and heartache. Plus we have the guarantee of a place in heaven because we have put our faith in Jesus, who laid down his life for us. Let those famous words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 help you:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. NIV

We have that “eternal glory” in heaven because of God’s grace when we trust Jesus as our Savior. That is a comfort to us when things aren’t going well, especially during this season when we have such high expectations. As I said before, I can’t begin to grasp God’s love, but I know it’s there because all I have to do is consider all that Jesus gave up for me.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Shoe Giveaway Called Unconstitutional

Below is an article showing how some groups are interfering with helping the poor. This is an example of how bigotry against Christians takes priority over allowing good works to be done to help others.

Americans United has once again used its bully tactics to try to prohibit a worthwhile effort. Americans United for Separation of Church and State is threatening two South Carolina school districts with legal action if they continue to allow a church-sponsored shoe giveaway.

Laces 4 Love began in 2001 after founding members noticed schoolchildren wearing shoes that didn’t fit or were inappropriate for cold weather. The group has distributed more than 12,000 pairs of free shoes to students throughout Edgefield and Aiken counties.

The Alliance Defense Fund is offering free legal defense to the school districts.

“It is unconscionable to deny needy schoolchildren new shoes simply because the group sponsoring the program is a religious one,” ADF’s David Cortman said. “Instead of honoring acts of human kindness through this program, Americans United has once again used its bully tactics to try to prohibit a very worthwhile effort.”

Jan Markell, founder of Olive Tree Ministries, said the culture makes it difficult for Christians to do the good works Christ commanded. “This is a ministry reaching out in Christian love, and if I had the opportunity to give these children shoes, I would be first in line to do it,” she said. “But we’ve always got the Left standing in our way and trying to block righteousness.”

From “Family News in Focus” 12/19/07. Copyright © 2007, Focus on the Family Action. All rights reserved

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Impressions of Christianity

A recent Barna Group survey found that “just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a ‘good impression’ of Christianity.” The study goes on to say that “One of the groups hit hardest by the criticism is evangelicals. Such believers have always been viewed with skepticism in the broader culture. However, those negative views are crystallizing and intensifying among young non-Christians. The new study shows that only 3% of 16 - to 29-year-old non-Christians express favorable views of evangelicals…

“Among young non-Christians, nine out of the top 12 perceptions were negative. Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%).” (© The Barna Group, Ltd., 1957 Eastman Ave. Ste B, Ventura, California 93003. Go to for the complete report)

I mention these findings for a number of reasons. First of all, we Christians should avoid practicing these stereotypes. Jesus called us to be salt and light to the world, but we often come off as being judgmental, unloving, and mean-spirited. Unfortunately fallen high-profile leaders have contributed to the image of hypocrisy with which many Christians are viewed.

Notwithstanding what I just said, we can’t compromise our principles. Therefore, we have to stand our ground in the light of attacks from those who promote immoral behavior or other things contrary to Christian principles (see my earlier posts on political correctness). To stand our ground appropriately (see Ephesians 6) we need the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Secondly, these perceptions show the power of the media. Mainstream TV, movies, and news coverage tend to have a liberal and anti-Christian bias (that shouldn’t be news to you). These continuous messages have an impact (for that same reason, companies spend billions of dollars on commercials and print advertising). That’s why we have to be careful what we let our kids watch, and should offset whatever anti-Christian propaganda they are exposed to with continual teaching of our values. Of course going to church and having the kids attend Sunday school is also a very good way to help them understand and appreciate the Christian faith, morals, values, and ethics, because they reinforce what you have been teaching them.

While it ultimately is up to our children to make decisions about religion and church when they are older, we do them a terrible disservice by not exposing them to church and Sunday school when they are younger so they can make an informed decision. Do you really want your children to learn about faith and morals from the media?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Political Correctness (Part III)

In earlier posts I laid out nine reasons why I am thoroughly against political correctness (PC). This post wraps up and summarizes my thoughts on PC.

As you can see from the nine reasons I spelled out in earlier posts, I am thoroughly against political correctness. I am against PC mainly because of its dictatorial methods and anti-God positions. PC is taking this country down wrong paths, and many Christians are conforming to the PC mold without seeming to realize how anti-Christian it is.

We as Christians are supposed to be counter-cultural, just as the early Christians were different from the pagan cultures they came out of. They rejected paganism and worldly values for a higher calling and biblical values. Yet today too many people are surrendering to neo-paganism and secularism, represented by PC and promoted by militant atheists. We have been letting the PC juggernaut roll over us and our families for too long. Whether we realize it or not, people of faith do have rights in this country, yet we are often hesitant to fight for them because of the strident and aggressive tactics of the PC crowd. So we back down and roll over, giving them the upper hand in dictating what we can say and do, and what we are forbidden to say and do.

When Christians do push against PC and secularism, and try to defend traditional values and morality, we are portrayed as “too political” or mean-spirited. See a future post for more on the impressions people have of Christians.

Some day we’ll wake up to a Brave New World completely run by PC, with few individual rights left to us. The Constitution will have been totally rewritten by the courts, which already subscribe to the belief that it is a “living” document subject to constant reinterpretation rather than an unchanging foundational document. Ultimately we could find ourselves in a society where values are turned upside down and certain unpopular groups are oppressed. I’m hoping revival comes first (or Jesus returns).

Below are two links that you might like is you aren’t PC:

Merry Christmas! (yes, it’s OK to say it)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Political Correctness (Part II)

In an earlier post I began my discussion of why I am thoroughly against political correctness (PC). I have nine reasons why I think it is wrong. The first four were in my earlier post, and the remaining five are listed below:

(5) PC forces “tolerance” but it is a PC-dictated type of tolerance, not tolerance in the more general sense as we would understand it. Despite “tolerance” being the cardinal virtue of PC, those who are PC are the most intolerant people you could ever meet. They are intolerant, nasty, and mean-spirited concerning anybody that disagrees with them. If you aren’t PC, you are less than human, and are criticized in no uncertain terms.

(6) In the wacky world of PC, some groups are elevated above others. Gays, women, non-whites, atheists, and religious and political liberals are elevated, while white males, heterosexuals, religious conservatives, and political conservatives are devalued as inferior. Thus you have “hate crimes”, which makes it a more serious offense to hurt, kill or even “offend” one of these groups with your constitutionally protected speech. Yet when Christians are offended by the hate speech of people like Rosie O’Donnell, there isn’t a peep out of the PC types. Talk about a double-standard.

Interestingly there is a pecking order to this valuing of one group over another. African Americans and Hispanics rank high in the PC scale, but let one be a conservative (such as Clarence Thomas or former Attorney General Gonzalez) and they are ridiculed and treated as subhuman. So the worst “sin” in the PC world is being conservative or Republican.

(7) PC hates anything that reflects the traditional values that have guided this country through more that 200 years of history. PC looks down at patriotism as chauvinistic and almost immoral, somehow a betrayal of PC values. Because PC abhors American traditional values, the PC educational elites have rewritten American history to eliminate God and religion from it, to make European-Americans appear evil, to make our history less Euro-centric and more Afro-centric, and to downplay or revise entire historical events (such as the first Thanksgiving). Look at your child’s history textbooks if you don’t believe me.

(8) PC brainwashes you to think the way they do by making sure its views and positions are constantly in the media and in the schools (both of which are bastions of PC and left-wing thought). In our schools, Darwinism is taught as fact and children are exposed to pro-homosexual propaganda at an early age, just to mention two items. Immorality is promoted in schools through sex education, and the killing of a pre-born baby is promoted as “women’s reproductive rights.” In the entertainment industry, just watch almost any sitcom to see what values are being promoted.

(9) Finally, PC is elitist. The PC elites know best, and the rest of us ignorant peasantry must toe the line, yielding to their superior intellect. There is no room for a reasonable discussion because PC is, by definition, correct and every other viewpoint is wrong, evil, or misguided. Religion is superstition and patriotism is intolerance.

More on PC in a future post.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Political Correctness (Part I)

In reading some of my posts on this blog, you may have concluded I’m not very fond of political correctness (PC). You’re right, I’m not. Why? I’ve got several reasons why I believe PC is just plain wrong. During this Christmas season I’m especially aware of PC because PC dictates we use the innocuous “holiday” instead of Christmas. We have holiday sales, happy holidays, holiday parties, holiday trees, holiday presents – all so we don’t “offend” a tiny minority of militant atheists. That, of course, is just another excuse to eliminate God and Christ from our society.

Below are nine reasons why I hate PC:

(1) PC is dictatorial and totalitarian, something like the “Thought Police” in a futuristic novel. The elites who control PC tell you how to think, how to speak, and how to act. If you step out of line, you are not to be tolerated. Just look at how “open-minded” colleges operate if you want to see the epitome of PC and narrow-mindedness. So much for free speech.

(2) PC takes great pains to make sure no atheist, anti-Christian, or anti-Semite is “offended” in any way by the actions or speech of people of faith. The result is that the majority of people (over 90% of the population that celebrates Christmas in some way or another) are offended by having to say “holiday” rather than “Christmas”. Moreover, they must refrain from any public expressions of their faith, while militant atheists trample over our rights and ridicule people of faith. Constitutional guarantees of freedom to practice religion are being slowly eroded by PC and courts that are sympathetic to the goals of Christ-haters.

(3) PC is anti-God, definitely anti-Christian, and to a large extent anti-Semitic. So to me it is the antithesis of religious faith, sort of the antichrist of our present age. PC’s goal is to stamp out God, faith, and religion from society, and to establish the new secular religion of a godless PC with its own set of morals and values dictating how we are to live and behave.

(4) PC is radically feminist, to the point of being ridiculous. In seminaries, for example, PC dictates you can’t ever refer to God in the masculine (such as using the masculine pronouns “he”, “him” or “his”). You get points off your papers of you break this rule.

More on PC in future posts.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Prejudice against Islam? (Part II)

In a previous post I mentioned the first of three things that make me particularly uncomfortable about certain practices of Islam, some of which are based on misinterpretations of the Qur’an or not viewing the Qur’an in its entirety). As with any Scripture, you can’t analyze or draw conclusions regarding a passage in a vacuum – you have to look at it both in its immediate context, and in relation to the rest of the Scriptures.

Below are two additional aspects of Islamic practice that make me uncomfortable:

(2) Muslims tend to limit freedom. Conversion to any other religion is often punishable by death, for example. It is said, and I tend to believe it, is one of the reasons radical Muslims hate the West is that we allow many more personal freedoms. There are exceptions.

Turkey, on the other hand, is a secular state that firmly believes in the separation of Mosque and State, which is highly unusual in the Islamic world. While it is close to 100% Muslim, it is less oppressive and permits many more freedoms. I’ve been to Turkey and the people that I encountered there were very friendly, seemed to like westerners, and were free to practice (or not practice) their religion as they see fit. The women can dress any they want, and many wear a simple head scarf to hide most of their hair, and dress modestly. There is no religious police forcing them to do or not do anything, but such a situation is rare in a predominantly Muslim country.

Unfortunately Turkey is under pressure from radical Muslims to become more like other Muslim countries (i.e., repressive). Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

(3) Often Muslim women are mistreated and put in inferior positions in Islamic society. The Taliban treatment of women in Afghanistan is an extreme example. Women can’t drive a car in Saudi Arabia, and Sharia law is brutal when it comes to women’s rights (there aren’t any to speak of, from what I understand).

While I don’t consider myself an expert, I believe I have a pretty good understanding of Islam and its practices. I know the basis in the Qur’an for a lot of what they believe and how their culture is shaped. I now view Islam in a different light, and I call it as I see it. What I don’t like about any religion or the behavior of its followers (including my own – especially my own), I will openly and honestly criticize. It is not to condemn so much as to inform, and to maybe put things into proper perspective (which is one of the goals of the blog).

I encourage you, whatever your religion, to pray for peace among Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and to practice the peaceful and “love thy neighbor” aspects of your religion. It is sad that the three faiths which have common roots are at odds with one another. God/Jehovah/Allah can’t be pleased.

All three faiths believe we are all accountable to God, and we will be judged. Think about that the next time you are tempted to discriminate or put down someone.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Prejudice against Islam? (Part I)

In some of my recent posts I have mentioned Islam. I have always viewed Islam as one of the three great Abrahamic and monotheistic faiths. However, until a few years ago I was ignorant of all but the very basics of Islam. While I knew it was different from Christianity in many ways, I respected Islam as a monotheistic faith not unlike my own in certain respects.

With the increase in Islamic terrorism and what has come to be called Islamic fascism, I have made it a point to gain more knowledge about that religion through books and articles. As a result, my views have changed somewhat. While I still have respect for those who follow their religion in a peaceful and tolerant way, I now see things that make me uncomfortable about some aspects of Islam. That doesn’t mean I hate Muslims or lump them all together with gross generalizations (as some do with Christians), but that I now view Islam in a different light than I once did.

The three things that make me particularly uncomfortable about certain practices (often based on misinterpretations of the Qur’an) of Islamic religion and culture (they really can’t be separated) are:

(1) Muslims tend to view the West and Christianity as their enemies. This jihad that terrorists are waging has its roots in that belief. Non-Muslims (dhimmis) are really infidels. This doesn’t mean all Muslims view us as enemies, but it does mean that such an attitude appears to be common in Islamic society. This “struggle” is often preached by radical clerics and others in positions of power, and resonates with many ordinary Muslims.

Note that I don’t condemn them for believing their religion is superior, because adherents of any religion, worldview or belief system (including atheists and secularists) believe their positions to be superior to any other. Otherwise, why would they follow it? However, when such an attitude becomes violent, oppressive, intolerant or otherwise aggressive, then we have a problem.

It is interesting to note that the Qur’an does teach respect for Jews and Christians, calling them “People of the Book”. However, there are other Qur’anic passages that condemn them, and these are the passages that drive the radicals. They ignore the rules of engagement commanded in the Qur’an, its peaceful passages, and the People of the Book verses, believing they will go to Paradise for killing infidels.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Politically Correct Religion

In my post about public schools I spoke about Islam being politically correct (PC), while Christianity and Judaism aren’t. I mention Judaism not being PC mainly because of the attitude towards Israel by the PC crowd.

For example, some “liberal” Christian denominations either have, or are planning to, divest themselves of any companies in their endowment portfolios that do business with Israel. Some liberal groups want you to boycott Israeli-made products. Why is this happening?

Two reasons I can think of:

(1) Anti-Semitism is still around, and it manifests itself in various ways, such as unwavering support for the Palestinians with minimal rights for Israel. This unconditional support for the Palestinians masquerades as fairness, but is really anti-Semitism by a different route.

That doesn’t mean the whole Palestinian issue shouldn’t be fairly resolved, because it should. But we also have to remember that from the Palestinian point of view, the only acceptable solution is the total annihilation or elimination of Israel. They want the Middle East Judenrein. That is unacceptable because Israel is a legitimate nation established by the UN and immediately recognized by the two superpowers of the time: the US and the USSR.

(2) For whatever reason, Islam is politically correct these days. I don’t know how something becomes PC – I’m not privy to that decision-making process. Since there is conflict between Israel (Jews) and the Palestinians (Muslims), guess who gets the support of the PC types?

Of course we get a PC spin to the news in the media as well. Sometimes subtle, but still there. For example, Palestinian terrorists are called “insurgents” or “militants” but not what they really are, terrorists. Those who blow up innocent civilians in Israel are called “suicide bombers” but not what they really are, mass murderers. Wailing Palestinian women are shown at length grieving over the loss of loved ones killed in an Israeli retaliation after it’s been viciously attacked. But there is little, if any, coverage of Israeli civilian deaths except when the carnage is so spectacular that the media has to give it more attention. Even then, the bloody scenes are shown for only a few seconds, and the narrative implies the Israelis were asking for it. The list goes on.

That’s not to say Israel is perfect, but it does have a right to exist and live in peace. The day after the state of Israel was formed on May 15, 1948, the surrounding Arab nations declared war on it and immediately invaded the newly-formed state, expecting a quick victory. Miraculously, the fledgling Israeli defense forces beat back the invaders. There has been a state of war, more or less, ever since. Until Jesus comes again in glory and resolves everything, we should all pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Shalom and Salaam.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The One True Church – Part III

The Roman Catholic (RC) Church bases its claim of superiority over other Christian Churches on submission to the questionable authority of the Pope. The RC Church is also on shaky ground when it comes to many doctrines as well. There are a number of doctrines of the RC Church that are not based on the Bible, and some are even contrary to what the Bible says. The RC Church elevates “Tradition” above biblical authority, which Protestants find anathema. This allows the Pope to invent something (such as Purgatory), call it “Tradition” and then declare it doctrine, without the necessity of having anything clearly stated in the Bible to substantiate it. Often the Church will take a passage out of context to try to provide some sort of biblical legitimacy to an invented doctrine.

One of the great results of the Reformation was that Protestant Christianity emerged, purified of most of these kinds of unbiblical beliefs and practices. The result is, I believe, that the Reformation resulted in churches that had a “purer” and more biblical form of Christianity, unencumbered by the accumulation of questionable beliefs and practices that have taken place over two millennia. That’s not to say the Protestant churches are perfect, because they certainly aren’t. Today some of them have lost their way theologically. Some have embraced legalism, and some are doctrinally adrift. Some question the authority, historicity, and truth of the Bible, and most of them today are torn by conflicts between liberal and conservative factions. Nevertheless, traditional Reformation Protestantism is, in my opinion, much more scriptural and truer to the Gospel of Jesus Christ than is Roman Catholicism (that’s why I’m no longer Roman Catholic) despite its claims about being more apostolic than the others.

As an example of how papal authority could be used to promote heresy, consider that the last Pope apparently considered declaring Mary to be “co-redemptrix” along with Jesus. This would have been truly heresy. Fortunately he refrained from doing so. Unfortunately some RCs do believe that Mary’s suffering at the Cross was a participation in the redemption of mankind. This diminishes the role of Jesus’ sacrificial and substitutional death, as do the doctrine of Purgatory and the practice of doing penance to atone for our sins.

While I disagree with much of what the RC Church teaches and practices, I still consider Catholics to be my brothers and sisters in Christ. I know that many Catholics, clergy and lay, feel the same about non-RC Christians. It would be nice if the Church hierarchy did the same. I also admire the RC Church’s unwavering biblical stand on the controversial issues of the day, for which they’ve taken a lot of heat from the liberals. While Protestant churches are torn apart by those who want to compromise biblical morality to appease various special interest groups, the RC Church holds firm and maintains discipline. Even if you disagree with its positions on these issues, you have to admire it for not compromising its principles when it comes to morality.

I could fill about 10 posts with RC doctrines and practices that Protestants consider false and unbiblical, and why. If you would like me to have a series of posts explaining the differences between RC and Protestant beliefs and practices, let me know. Send me an email to or put in a comment for this post. I’ll do the series if there’s a demand for it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The One True Church – Part II

See an earlier post for my discussion about the Roman Catholic (RC) Church’s position of it being the only true Christian church, with all others something less than fully Christian. This claim is based mostly on allegiance to the Pope. In that post I discussed one of the two recent events that I found highly offensive and insulting.

I might also point out that I’m not criticizing the RC Church’s belief that its ways of viewing Christianity and its practices are better than any other. Everybody believes their religion, belief system, worldview, and/or lifestyle is the best way – otherwise they would not follow it. What I’m criticizing is the RC’s arrogant attitude in that it claims to be the only “true” Christian Church, and all others are something inferior. That is elevating yourself by putting down others, something I find unchristian at best and hateful at worst. In fact the RC Church’s less than stellar history and its many doctrines that are contrary to Holy Scripture seriously throw into question its claims of superiority.

The second event that offended me springs from this RC claim of superiority described in my earlier post. About a month ago, I read in the Poughkeepsie Journal that the Bishop of Baltimore punished a priest for a number of transgressions, one of which was conducting a funeral service jointly with (horrors!) a Protestant clergyperson. I presume the Bishop considered this joint service to be syncretism. If so, that is an insult and highly offensive to those of us who put our allegiance to Jesus Christ above any early powers or principalities. To consider a joint funeral with another Christian to be syncretism is beyond ridiculous.

These two items I cited in these two posts appeared in the Poughkeepsie Journal a month or more ago. I was infuriated when I read them, but agonized for weeks over whether I should write anything about them in this blog. I finally decided that a blog is used for personal opinions, so I decided to write these last two posts. Please note I am not criticizing individual Roman Catholics, but the Pope’s recent statement and the Church’s official positions on these matters.

Now that I’m on a roll, a future post will deal with how I believe the RC Church has promulgated doctrines that are not biblical, which I alluded to above. I will be writing that post to point out that there are serious flaws within the RC Church when it comes to doctrine, so it is especially foolish for the Church hierarchy to claim superiority over other Christian Churches.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The One True Church – Part I

I hope my blog is meaningful to most people most of the time, regardless of religion, church affiliation, or denomination. Some of the things I talk about transcend any particular denomination or religion. Most religions and denominations share many of the same values and principles, even if they significantly differ theologically. Because I am a Christian pastor, this blog is generally focused on Christian viewpoints. More specifically, I am a Protestant pastor, so I am usually coming from a Reformation point of view.

Certainly it is not my intent to offend anybody (except for the perpetually offended, who are “offended” by just about anything that isn’t perfectly politically correct). In giving my opinion, some people might take offense, but I think it is important to call it as I see it. When appropriate, I’ll criticize fundamentalists, evangelicals, liberals, Catholics, Protestants, Christians, Jews, Muslims, secularists, political correctness and prejudice.

In this particular blog, I am probably going to offend some Roman Catholics because I am going to criticize the Pope and the Catholic Church’s position when it comes to other Christian churches. Therefore, if you think this will bother you too much, stop reading now.

I am upset by two recent events within the Roman Catholic (RC) Church. The first one is the Pope’s public reassertion that the RC Church is the only “true” Christian church. According to the Pope’s statement, the Eastern Orthodox churches are close, but no cigar. The Protestant churches are merely pretenders. While I know this is official RC doctrine going back to the Council of Trent, I find it offensive and unnecessary that the Pope had to publicly reassert this claim. What’s his point? What’s he afraid of? That he has to “protect” the Church from contamination from those terrible Protestants?

The RC Church’s claim is based almost solely on allegiance to the Pope. Those churches that don’t accept the Pope’s authority aren’t “true” Christian churches (and therefore not truly “apostolic”) according to the RC definition. When you think about it, such a position is ludicrous, not to mention arrogant and unbiblical. The measure of any person’s or any church’s “true” Christian status should not be judged according to allegiance to any earthly power, only to God alone. Faith in Jesus Christ and belief in the fundamentals of the Christian faith should be the criteria, not allegiance to the Pope. Moreover, only God can truly judge one’s heart (Matthew 7:1).

If you look back in church history, the Bishop of Rome assumed for himself more and more authority, proclaiming himself first among equals among the various bishops of the early church. Notwithstanding the RC Church’s misinterpretation of Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus never envisioned a pope-like supreme ruler of Christianity. Given the sordid history of the papacy, we can see why Jesus never made any man head of his Church, only Jesus himself. Therefore, the RC Church’s claim of superiority over all other Christian churches is fallacious, and an insult to those hundreds of millions of devout Christians who do not proclaim allegiance to the Pope.

More on this in a future blog, where I will discuss the second recent event that I find highly offensive.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Government Support of a Religion?

For years the ACLU and other similar anti-Christian organizations have spent millions of dollars trying to eliminate God and religion from our society, with varying degrees of success. They fought against any kind of accommodation for Christians in particular, claiming that anything any governmental agency did that might be an accommodation of Christians was an unconstitutional establishment or endorsement of a particular religion. See my earlier posts for an explanation of how the courts have grossly misinterpreted the First Amendment since 1947.

Now we have two interesting situations regarding Islam. One is the establishment of a public school in New York City that is dedicated to teaching Arabic language and culture. Since the dominant religion in the Arab world is Islam, isn’t the City of New York favoring a particular religion? When Bible studies can’t meet in public schools after school, when Christians can’t pray in public schools, when Christmas is obliterated from public schools, when children who write essays on their faith are penalized, now NYC is setting up a school that would appear to promote Islam? I say “promote Islam” because you can’t separate Islam from Arab culture – they are totally intertwined and inseparable. I guess NYC takes separation of “Church” and State literally, and does not consider the Mosque in that category. What NYC doesn’t realize is that the word “Church” isn’t in the constitution, only the word “religion”.

Along the same lines, some public school (I can’t remember where) is either planning to, or already has, installed Islamic foot washing basins to provide Muslim students with the proper way to ritually wash before prayer. This seems like a nice idea, but again, Christians have been prohibited from any kind of religious activity in public schools, including after school (these prohibitions have been challenged and subsequently reversed by courts as an unconstitutional interference with the practice of religion).

Providing such Islamic religious facilities, no matter how innocuous, is like a public school giving rosaries to Catholic students and then giving them time off to say the rosary during school hours. That would never happen! So why is Islam being accommodated by a governmental agency and all other religions are not?

What we are seeing is a double-standard. Accommodating Christians in any way is endorsing religion, but doing the same things for Muslims isn’t. Why is Islam so politically correct and Christianity (and Judaism) aren’t? I don’t understand this mentality. I’m not arguing that Muslims shouldn’t be accommodated in some ways, but then there has to be a reversal of all the discrimination that takes place against Christians. Otherwise all religions aren’t being treated the same, which is then a de facto establishment of a religion.

Please pray for this nation, which is going down so many wrong paths that I fear for its future. Watch for a future post about anti-Semitism.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pro-Life Movie, Bella

Below is a brief movie review. I haven’t seen the movie so I can’t comment from personal experience. You may want to check this movie out.

Bella, a film that won The People’s Choice Award at Toronto’s International Film Festival, is a pro-faith, pro-life and pro-family movie. It deals sensitively but forthrightly with the sanctity of human life, and specifically a young woman’s agonizing decision as to whether or not to abort her unborn child, according to Family Research Council’s The Watchmen Report.

From The Pastor’s Weekly Briefing®, Nov. 16, 2007. © 2007 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Giving Thanks - Part IV

For more on giving thanks to God, please see my earlier posts.

Thanking God in the Old Testament

Giving thanks to God is a recurring and important theme in the Bible, starting with the Old Testament. God wants us to not only worship him as the creator, but also praise and thank him as the giver and sustainer of life. In the Old Testament, God made a provision for thank offerings to him, as we read in Leviticus 7:11-13:

This is the ritual of the sacrifice of the offering of well-being that one may offer to the Lord. If you offer it for thanksgiving, you shall offer with the thank offering unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes of choice flour well soaked in oil. With your thanksgiving sacrifice of well-being you shall bring your offering with cakes of leavened bread. NRSV

Many years later, King Hezekiah re-instituted proper Jewish religious practices, including the thank offerings, as we read in 2 Chronicles 29:31:

Then Hezekiah said, “You have now consecrated yourselves to the Lord; come near, bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the house of the Lord.” The assembly brought sacrifices and thank offerings; and all who were of a willing heart brought burnt offerings. NRSV

Today we give God our thanks and praise in worship and in prayer, but also by our offerings. Prayer and worship without generous offerings are missing something – words but no action. Moreover, by focusing on our blessings and thanking God for them, we will have a better outlook on life and will be generally happier and more well-adjusted. Do you sincerely thank God in worship and prayer, and most importantly, by your offerings?

Two Examples from the New Testament

As I said before, giving thanks to God is an important aspect of our faith, and we see thanksgiving mentioned often in the New Testament as well. Two examples (out of many) are found in the New Testament.

The Ten Lepers (Luke 17:11-19)

In Luke 17:11-19 we read about how Jesus healed 10 lepers, who presumably were all Jewish except for one Samaritan. It was the Samaritan that, upon noticing he had been healed, returned to Jesus and thanked and praised God for his deliverance from a terrible disease. You can sense the disappointment in Jesus when he asked rhetorically (in Luke 17:17):

“Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” (from The Message paraphrased translation by Eugene Peterson)

Can you imagine God’s disappointment with us?

The Crippled Man (Acts 3:1-11)

The second reading involves a man who was born with some deformity that made him unable to walk all his life. He was reduced to a life of begging. God used Peter as his instrument to heal the guy, and you can immediately see his gratitude as we read in Acts 3:8-9:

The man went into the Temple with them, walking back and forth, dancing and praising God. Everybody there saw him walking around and praising God. (from The Message paraphrased translation by Eugene Peterson)

This healed man knew it wasn’t the power of Peter but the power of God working through the Apostle that healed him. Can’t you just picture this guy jumping and dancing around Peter and John, hugging them and shouting “Hallelujah” and “Praise the Lord!” He made such a ruckus that he attracted a crowd, as we read in Acts 3:11:

All the people ran up to where they were at Solomon’s Porch to see it for themselves. (from The Message paraphrased translation by Eugene Peterson)

Do you make it a point to publicly give God the praise and glory when good things happen to you?

During this season of thanksgiving, think about gratitude and thanksgiving to God. I hope that as you sat down to Thanksgiving dinner, you remembered Who is the ultimate Source of your blessings, and who owns everything that he gladly shares with us. Let us always and everywhere Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Giving Thanks - Part III

For more on giving thanks, please see my earlier post.

We have a lot to be thankful for, even if we do have problems, hardships, grieving, or some other kind of suffering. Thanks for a minute about what you can give thanks for.

In the spiritual realm we should be thankful to God for our relationship with God thru Christ, the Holy Spirit helping and guiding us, our guarantee of a heavenly home, and our ability to do all things through him who strengthens us.

In the physical realm, we also have blessings we should be thanking God for. Living in the good old US of A, we are better off than most of the world’s people. We may not be rich, yet at least our basic needs are being met. The job may not be the best – and may be getting worse – but at least we have income. We have clean water, reliable electricity, good transportation, modern conveniences, and we aren’t in a war zone. We can worship without harassment from the authorities or our neighbors, and we have enough to eat, adequate clothing, and a roof over our heads.

While we have problems – all of us do – we still have many blessings that we can and should thank God for – especially since we don’t really deserve them. So let’s commit to have more of an attitude of gratitude, rejoicing always and thanking God no matter what the circumstances may be – we’ll be happier for it. Have you counted your blessings recently?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Giving Thanks - Part II

See earlier post for the history and true meaning of Thanksgiving Day.

We should be thanking God even in the midst of the problems we have to endure, because consciously giving thanks helps us as well as is the right thing to do. Why? Because if you don’t get the things you want, think of the things you don’t want that you don’t get. Will you commit to pass on to the next generation the true meaning of the holiday by your example and your teaching?

We Don’t Deserve What We Have

One of the reasons people don’t give thanks as they should is that they have a sense of entitlement. Our sense of entitlement and our lack of gratitude to God makes me think: how disappointed God must be in us. We rarely show our gratitude to God for all the blessings we have received – more than we ever deserve (despite what we might think). Part of that lack of appreciation is our own sense of entitlement, and part of it is either attitude or negligence.

Giving Thanks Despite Problems

Some people, of course, just don’t feel blessed – maybe they even feel cheated. Maybe they’ve got poor health, a terrible work situation, a struggle to make ends meet, they recently lost a loved one, have family problems, or maybe a victim of some kind – the list goes on. We’re quick to blame God when things go wrong, but slow to give God the credit, let alone thanksgiving, when things go right. Yet the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. NRSV

Of course Paul is saying we should give thanks specifically to God, not just to have some general attitude of thankfulness, and despite our circumstances. Paul explains how it is possible for him to say we should “give thanks in all circumstances” in Philippians 4:11b-13, where he writes:

I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. NRSV

St. Paul, as we all know, had his share of hardships, yet knew he had a lot to be thankful for. We all endure hardships, problems, grieving, and suffering at one point or another – some unfortunately more than others, it seems. Yet like Paul, we still have a lot to be thankful for if we think about it.

Do you give thanks to God, despite your circumstances?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Giving Thanks (Part I)

With Thanksgiving Day this week, I want to talk a little about how we should give thanks to God, not just on one day a year, but every hour of every day.

The First Thanksgiving

First of all, I want to now briefly discuss the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth, and how it is being distorted today. The Pilgrims were very devout Christians, so they knew the importance of thanking God despite having endured terrible hardships. They are credited with starting this tradition of Thanksgiving Day in the US. However, this observance is almost certainly based on harvest festivals in that go back thousands of years in which people thanks God (or the gods) for a successful harvest. They acknowledged that a greater power was at work on the earth, and they gave thanks and praise for their blessings.

Unfortunately today the true meaning of that first Thanksgiving is being lost in our culture that is striving to eliminate God from everything. I encourage you to teach your children and grandchildren the true meaning of the day to offset the watered-down secularized version they are learning elsewhere. Today children are often taught that the reason the Pilgrims threw this party was to thank the Indians for their crucial help.

The truth is that the local Indians were invited to dinner out of a sense of gratitude for their help, but that wasn’t the purpose of the dinner. The dinner was given in thanksgiving to Almighty God for a successful harvest and for sparing those who did survive that difficult time.

The Pilgrims knew the Hebrew Scriptures, where there is much written about thanking God. The Pilgrims took them very seriously. The idea of giving thanks to God with a feast was inspired by that knowledge of the Bible. In a very real way, the Pilgrims saw themselves, too, as chosen people of God being led to a Promised Land.

At the table, they acknowledged “God’s good providence” and “blessed the God of Heaven who brought us over the furious ocean.” For “what could sustain us but the Spirit of God and His grace?” asked Bradford, their leader. He then quoted Moses, “Our fathers cried unto Him and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity.” (Deuteronomy 26:7)

In addition to proclaiming a day of thanksgiving, as the ancient Hebrews did before them, the Pilgrims praised God’s for his lovingkindness, as found in Psalms 106 and 107 (“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His kindness endures forever”).

Subsequent History

This “thanksgiving” idea took different forms in colonial America. It wasn’t until George Washington, the republic’s first president, proclaimed Nov. 26, 1789, as a day for thanking God for bringing America through its trials, that an official holiday was marked. Washington, as a devout believer, knew with all his heart that America would be blessed only if it acknowledged the Source of all blessings.

Later, in 1863, with the nation torn apart by the Civil War, Lincoln re-instituted the tradition. Then, in 1941, with a global war threatening, Congress established the fourth Thursday of November as the day for Americans to thank God.

Thanksgiving Day isn’t about some vague sense of thankfulness for our good fortune, but we should be specifically expressing our gratitude to God. For what? For his many blessings to us.

More on giving thanks to God in future posts.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Golden Compass and His Dark Materials

A movie review by Adam R. Holz

We should be aware of what is being mar­keted as “children’s movies” but which are really wolves in sheep’s clothing. I haven’t seen the movie, so all I can do is pass along one person’s opinion (although I have read other articles that are similar to this one). Below is an article of interest.

New Line Cinema insists that it is toning down some of the anti-church messages contained in its movie adaptation of The Golden Compass. But there is still a great deal of reason for concern that these themes will be impossible to eliminate completely. Even if they were, the theatrical celebration of Bill Pullman’s His Dark Materials stories will likely introduce many more viewers to a worldview that’s wholly opposed to the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

Pullman, who has said, “I hate the Narnia books ... with a deep and bitter passion,” has crafted a trilogy wherein the protago­nists confront a wicked and malevolent church and seek to take on and kill a God figure, who’s known as the “Authority.” Those arrayed against the Authority are the story’s heroes — including a 12-year-old girl and boy — and they regularly reflect Pullman’s own antagonistic attitude toward Christianity. “If there is a God,” he says, “and he is as the Christians describe him, then he deserves to be put down and re­belled against.” That message is delivered unmistakably by an ex-nun in the story when she talks about why she renounced her faith in the third book, The Amber Spy­glass: “The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that’s all.”

Another character says, “There may have been a creator, or there may not: We don’t know.” In addition to alternately denying that God can be known and insisting that He should be rebelled against, this fantasy series that targets children also exalts themes of witchcraft, divination, evolution, homosexuality and premarital sex.

From The Pastor’s Weekly Briefing®, Nov. 9, 2007. © 2007, Focus on the Family

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Money Saving Tips

At this time of the year, two things happen:
First, churches talk about stewardship and may have pledge drives.
Second, we become a little more cost-conscious because we are about to be spending money for the holidays, often running up sizable credit card debt.

In addition, we have the challenge of higher prices these days, due mainly to the high cost of oil. Just about everything we buy has to be transported, so the higher cost of oil affects everything. I’m sure you’ve noticed that food is getting more expensive, for example. We have to do something to save some money, so below are some money saving tips.

I am putting these tips in this blog because we are supposed to exercise good stewardship of what God has provided us. We can do that by being wise shoppers, and not saving money wherever we can. Oil isn’t going to get any cheaper and we are probably aren’t going to get a big raise, so we might as well face facts: limit spending and be a wise shopper. There are significant savings opportunities available to us if we invest a little time and do some research. Check out cell phone plans, check out our insurance policies, do research before making a major purchase.

Below are thought-starters as to where there significant savings opportunities:

Telephone Plans
Long Distance: you don’t have to pay for LD calls with proper telephone plan or use cell phone or an inexpensive calling card.
Get cable, phone and high speed internet from same company and get a discount on all three.
Cell phone plans: evaluate various plans and get best one for you given your usage patterns. You shouldn’t be paying for extra minutes.
Home Phone: eliminate if possible if you are away from home all day and have a cell phone.

Car: get a higher deductible, eliminate collision if older car.
Life: buy term when you’re younger and need more insurance, and a whole life or universal life policy for the long haul (maybe paid up at 65).
Homeowners: higher deductible, don’t be over or under insured.
Long term care: consider taking out a policy because we are living longer.

Plan ahead: do one big trip rather than many smaller ones. Car more efficient when engine warm, plus saves miles by planning your trip intelligently.
Carpool if possible: with other parents to and from activities, or to work.
Maintain car well: keep running efficiently (good investment).
Buy used cars, fuel-efficient cars; get smallest car possible that will meet your needs (not desires, but needs).
If purchase car, drive car into the ground – but maintain well for reliability and efficiency.
Lease or buy: analyze options and costs (read fine print).
Get cheapest gas on your way, but don’t go out of the way.
Buy regular, not high-test gas, unless engine knocks.
Use independent mechanic, not dealership, for routine maintenance (unless terms of warranty or lease agreement require use of dealer).
Run errands when less traffic and no school buses.
Don’t transport kids to school, let them take the bus!

House/Energy Use
Set thermostats: cooler in winter/warmer in summer.
Caulk and weather-strip, insulate outlets on outside walls.
Attic and basement: additional insulation as needed.
New windows and outside doors if losing a lot of heat thru them.
Fans for summer: attic fan and/or whole house fan. Makes a big difference.
Energy-saving light bulbs and Energy Star appliances.
Do only full loads of laundry and dishes.
Don’t thoroughly clean dishes before putting in the dishwasher.
Clean off refrigerator coils frequently.
Stand-alone freezer: defrost often if not frost-free; unplug when not being used.
Stop leaking electricity: monitors, cell phone chargers.

Withholding: have correct amount withheld.
Property taxes: look for breaks; challenge reassessment amount if think too high.
Get tax advice if your situation is complicated.
Set up a flexible spending account for medical.
Set up a 401(k): forces savings and is tax sheltered.
Track charitable giving if you itemize.

Money Management
Credit cards: use wisely or keep in a drawer for emergencies only.
Buy only what you can afford and pay off card next month.
Go on austerity budget to pay off all credit card debt.
Invest wisely and be disciplined about savings.
Set up Roth IRA or other kind of tax advantaged plan.
Use a trusted money manager if you don’t have time or skill.

Never pay retail-look for sales for things you need.
Check cash register receipt before leaving store-errors are frequent because store computer not always updated for sale items.
Clip coupons: most supermarkets double manufacturer’s coupons up to 99¢.
Make a list before shopping (no impulse buys!)
Don’t pay for out-of-season fruits and vegetables.
Don’t renew subscriptions or club memberships you don’t read or need.
Buy cheapest model that will do what you want.
Limit eating out: expensive, unhealthy.
Limit heavily processed food: expensive, unhealthy.
Buying Clubs: some items aren’t a bargain, others are.
Quality vs. Cost: do research on the product, more expensive doesn’t always mean better quality.
Christmas: don’t run up credit card debt that can take months to pay down.
Add up savings and give a generous portion to God. Commit to increase giving to church by $________ per week.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Principles of Stewardship – Part IV

For more on stewardship from a Christian perspective, please see my earlier posts.

We generally hear the term “stewardship” only in church, and then usually relating to money. Occasionally we might hear the term used with regard to the earth, as in “We have not exercised good stewardship over the earth.” The term “stewardship”, as I’m sure you all know, refers to managing money or property for someone else, typically the owner. In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), for example, the servants were given stewardship over the money entrusted to them by their master when he went away on a trip.

Today somebody who has stewardship over another’s money or property is an administrator, a money manager, an agent, or an executor if an estate. The legal term, especially relating to money or securities, is “fiduciary.” So those servants in the Parable of the Talents were given a fiduciary responsibility by the master – to manage the funds entrusted to them. Two of the servants took that fiduciary responsibility very seriously, and made money for their master because they cared. The third servant squandered his opportunity, and was rebuked and rejected by the master because of his lack of caring.

Basics of Stewardship

How does this term “stewardship” relate to our money, since it is our money we are talking about, isn’t it? We can look at the concept of stewardship (or a spiritual fiduciary responsibility) in three ways:

1. God owns it all

The first spiritual aspect of stewardship is that God owns it all, so we are really stewards or managers of what God has entrusted to us (we don’t own).
God said in Psalm 50:10-11:

For every wild animal of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the air,
and all that moves in the field is mine. NRSV

So everything belongs to God, not us, despite what we may think. God provides for us out of his abundance, although we certainly have to do our part as well. As Martin Luther said, “God provides the birds with their food, but he doesn’t throw it into their nests.”

So we are responsible and accountable to God for how we have used (or misused) what God entrusted to us. How have you been doing?

2. Our children and grandchildren

A second aspect of stewardship is that we have a responsibility to our children and even grandchildren, as well as our spouse and maybe parents. For example, a man who gambles much of his paycheck away, is being irresponsible, and his wife and children suffer because of it. A less harsh example might be the man who buys himself an expensive TV. It has high definition, 42 inch plasma screen, and surround sound, yet his wife and children desperately need new winter coats.

In both cases these men are not exercising good stewardship, both from a spiritual point of view as well as from a practical point of view. As a matter of fact, these men were being selfish and irresponsible. We should also realize that how we spend our money is being observed by our kids, whether we realize it or not. What values are you passing on to your kids regarding material goods, stewardship, responsibility, and money management?

3. Our own future

The third aspect of stewardship, after being accountable to God and being responsible for our family’s welfare, has to do with our own future. Think about when you retire: will you be prepared? Do you have anything set aside for emergencies? For college?


You should try to save as much money as you can in your dialing living. Costs are going up, due mainly to higher energy costs, so it is important to save as much money as you can. Save energy especially, which has benefits beyond just saving you money, but be prudent in other expenditures as well. Remember, however, that I’m not saying you should become a cheapskate. What I’m saying is that you should be wise in how you spend your money, not wasting it – in other words, exercising good stewardship. We should be generous when generosity is called for, but be prudent in daily living. We often tend to be generous with ourselves (“I deserve it”) and less than generous with others and with the church. It should be the reverse as we are told in Hebrews 13:16:

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. NRSV

The Apostle Paul advised the following in 1 Timothy 6:17-19:

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life. NRSV

These and many other passages echo what Jesus teaches us in Matthew 6:19-34, which can be summarized like this:
Don’t store up treasures on earth – too easy to lose and can’t take it with you.
You cannot be the slave of two masters – usually money will win out.
Don’t worry about having something to eat, drink, or wear.
Don’t keep asking yourselves, “Will we have anything to eat? Will we have anything to drink? Will we have any clothes to wear?”
Don’t worry about tomorrow.

I suggest that you begin a program that will free up significant amounts of cash each month. In that way you can offset the higher costs you can’t control, use less of those things that are costly, and free up enough cash to increase your offerings to your church and donations to charities. God wants us to use the resources he’s given us wisely and responsibly, and expects us to give to God our first fruits. Giving generously to God becomes a lot easier when financial pressures are eased, so that’s why I am suggesting better money management.

Let’s commit follow the advice of Jesus, who told us to stop worrying about our needs and trust in God. Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel (Matthew 6:32-34):

Your Father in heaven knows that you need all of these. But more than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well. Don’t worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself. CEV

Let’s commit to store up treasures in heaven, where they will be secure, and where rewards await us. Make your life on earth rich by being content with what God has given to you, making it a priority to serve God with your time, talent, and treasure.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Principles of Stewardship – Part III

For more on the principles relating to giving to the Lord, please see Parts I and II in earlier posts.

In Part II, I mentioned the fourth point in the Parable of the Talents, the element of sacrifice. This means that we shouldn’t give to God something that really costs us little or nothing. God expects sacrifice on our part. Let me explain.

If we give very little to God that essentially costs us nothing, what is that saying about our love for God, our willingness to honor God, and about our faith in God? A good example of being willing to incur a cost involves King David. King David went up to the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, located on a hill just outside of Jerusalem (at that time), to offer to buy it from him. He wanted to buy it so he could build an altar to the Lord, so that God would stop a plague that was upon the people. We read about this transaction in 2 Samuel 24:21-25:

Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?”
David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you in order to build an altar to the Lord, so that the plague may be averted from the people.”
Then Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him; here are the oxen for the burnt offering, and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.”
And Araunah said to the king, “May the Lord your God respond favorably to you.”
But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy them from you for a price; I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.”
So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. NRSV

Three things to note in this story of Araunah the Jebusite and King David:

First, Araunah was gracious and offered the king his livelihood for free. This shows honor to both David and the God he served, and this from a guy who wasn’t even Jewish.

Second, David refused to acquire something for the Lord that cost him nothing, but insisted that he pay fair market value for the land. Anything we give for God’s work or any time we spend doing God’s work should have a cost to be truly acceptable to the Lord.

Third, that threshing floor on a hill became the location of the temple that David’s son and successor, Solomon, built. Today that threshing floor lies under the temple mount in Jerusalem, perhaps the holiest place in the world. David getting that site for no cost would have cheapened such a special place.

For example, imagine giving a present to someone you love. Let’s say it was a big birthday and you give this person a Rolex, something he or she had always wanted. He or she thanks you profusely for your extraordinary generosity, and is thrilled you cared enough to buy the very best. Then you admit that it cost you nothing – you found it on a sink in a public restroom at the airport in Minneapolis. How do you think your loved one would feel? Cheated? Unloved? Dishonored? Are you willing to incur a cost to serve the Lord with your offerings and your time?

Free Up Money

Increasing our offerings to the Lord involves faith, trust, and some amount of risk-taking. Of course we don’t view it as risk-taking if our faith and trust in God is strong, because we know that God will take care of us – he promised. We are to show our trust in God by writing that first check out to the church.

Despite the uncertainties of life, we have been blessed by God beyond measure in many different ways, and we have so much to be thankful to God for. As an act of praise and thanksgiving, God calls us to use our resources for God’s work, as well as be an example for other people with our generosity. You may ask, How can we give more when costs are going up, and things might get even tighter financially? Of course the church is experiencing those same problems – it isn’t immune from increasing costs. There are many ways you can free up cash if you really focus on saving money. It might take a little research, but you could save significant money each month if you really try. Maybe it will mean some sacrifice and doing without, but isn’t it worth having fewer financial problems?

We Are Accountable

In the meantime, think about when you come face to face with Jesus, which is the image presented in the Parable of the Talents when the master returned home. Christians get to heaven on our faith in Jesus, but believers are judged and given rewards according to their faithfulness on earth. Do you want Jesus to say to you:
“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

You certainly don’t want him saying to you:
“I gave you so much. Why did you squander it on frivolous things?”
“Why did you not serve me and honor me as you should have with the time, talents, and treasure I entrusted to you?”

Monday, November 12, 2007

Principles of Stewardship – Part II

For more on the principles relating to giving to the Lord, please see Part I in an earlier post.

Parable of the Talents

Looking at the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) in context, the main theme is that we are accountable to God (“the master of those servants returned and settled accounts”). We are accountable to God for what he has entrusted to us: our lives, our time, our resources, our abilities, and the earth.

We should understand that the term “talent” as used in this parable refers to a unit of measure, not an ability or gift. A talent was a unit of weight, like a pound, kilogram, or shekel; in this case referring to a weight of silver (the Greek word translated as “money” in the passage means silver money). A talent represented a large weight, so five talents of silver was worth a small fortune. We read in verse 15:

To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability.

I want to briefly discuss four main points in this parable that are relevant for us today:

1. Proportional Giving

The first point in the parable is that each servant was given an amount of money to manage “each according to his ability”. In tithing we have proportional giving – you are expected to give 10% of what you earn, not some arbitrary fixed amount that wouldn’t make any sense. In terms of giving, more is expected of Donald Trump, let’s say, than of us, as Jesus indicated in Luke 12:48b:

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. NRSV

Do you just tip God, or give God a decent percentage of your income?

2. Didn’t Honor His Master

The second point in this parable is that the third servant, the one who buried his talent of silver, didn’t care about his master, so he did nothing with the money. The other two servants worked diligently to earn their master a good return, while the third servant didn’t even bother to place the money in the bank. The third servant wasted an opportunity to honor his master and probably receive a little praise for himself. Do you honor God by giving of your time, talents, and money? Do you equate giving with praising and honoring God?

3. Taking a Risk

The third point of this parable is that the third servant was unwilling to take any kind of risk for the sake of his master. The other servants did take risks – they could have made a bad investment and lost their master’s money. But they cared for the master so that they were willing to take the risk. I think that’s our problem today – we aren’t willing to take a risk and give more money to God through his church. Why? Because we’re afraid we won’t have enough money left to pay the bills, or to buy some of the things we want, or we might have to sacrifice something. Are you willing to step out in faith, trusting in God’s provision?

4. Sacrifice

The last point in this parable of the talents, after proportional giving, honoring the master, and risk-taking, is the element of sacrifice. The two diligent servants must have made some sacrifice and incurred some cost in getting a good return on their investments. I don’t know what all would have been involved, but I’m sure it took a lot of time and effort to double the money entrusted to them. The master’s rebuke of the third servant who simply dug a hole says it all: “You wicked, lazy servant!” (Matthew 25:26a, NIV)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Principles of Stewardship – Part I

At this time of the year all churches are preparing their budgets, and some churches have pledge drives. Stewardship sermons are given. Below are some principles from both the Old Testament Law and from Jesus’ Parable of the Talents. God in the Old Testament, and Jesus in the Gospels, speak often about giving to the Lord, so it is an important topic and a key spiritual discipline.

We read about King Hezekiah’s religious reforms in 2 Chronicles 31:5-6:

As soon as the order went out, the Israelites generously gave the firstfruits of their grain, new wine, oil and honey and all that the fields produced. They brought a great amount, a tithe of everything…
The men of Israel and Judah, who lived in the towns of Judah, also brought a tithe of their herds and flocks and a tithe of the holy things dedicated to the Lord their God, and they piled them in heaps.

Old Testament Commands

In that reading from the Hebrew Bible, we read about part of King Hezekiah’s religious reform of the nation. Unfortunately, God’s people had degenerated to syncretism and paganism. “Syncretism” is the mixing of various religions.

In the Law of Moses (called the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible), the Lord gave specific instructions to the Israelites regarding their religious practices. Regarding giving to the Lord, the Israelites were to give both the first fruits of their crops, and a tithe, which is 10% of their income. When Hezekiah re-instituted this practice, the people responded generously and willingly in obedience to God’s Law. After living in pagan darkness for so long, they were pleased to be honoring and worshipping the one true God. Even though this involved giving a portion of their crops to the Lord, they were joyfully obedient – even enthusiastic – and were blessed by it.

How should we view giving and serving from a Christian perspective?
Not as a duty, but as a privilege.
Not so much religious as spiritual.
Not so much giving to appease God as a humble act of thanksgiving.
Not so much to meet the needs of the church as an act of faith and trust in God.

1. First Fruits

Let me briefly explain the two key concepts of first fruits, and tithing. As Christians, we are no longer under the Jewish ceremonial law, which governed the religious practices necessary for the Israelites to find favor with God. However, some of the principles we find in the ceremonial law are carried over to Christianity because they transcend any one particular religion, time, or place. This is the case with the concept of first fruits.

Looking at first fruits in a modern context, we should be writing the first check out of our paycheck to God. In giving to God first, we are showing our trust in God to make that paycheck last to meet our needs (doesn’t our money even say, “In God We Trust”?) It also acknowledges that God is our provider, who will honor our faith and trust. Do you give God what is right, or what is left?

2. Tithing

In addition to the concept of first fruits there is tithing. Tithing acknowledges that everything is God’s to begin with, and we are honoring God by giving back at least 10% of what he has entrusted to us. All the earth is God’s, including anything that we think we own, as we read in psalm 24 (from the more traditional version, the KJV):

The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. (Psalm 24:1)

As with first fruits, tithing is an outward sign of your inner faith and trust in God. That’s why I refer to our giving as an act of worship – it is acknowledging our trust in God’s provision, giving him thanks for all he has done, and praising him. Giving 10% back to God isn’t much when you consider how God has blessed you. Moreover, God expects much less than the government forces you to give to it. Do you look at giving to God as a privilege and act of worship?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Get a Life!

Below are two articles of possible interest to you. After reading these articles, I have to wonder, Don’t these people have anything better to do than clog the courts with such frivolous lawsuits? This is a waste of time, waste of resources, and downright harassment. Could the suggestion “get a life” be applied to these people?

Atheists Sue

Two atheist families in Denver, Colo., with children in the Cherry Creek Schools, are suing the school district over a character-development program which has been in the schools since the 1990s. The program’s material references, “My family participates in a religious or spiritual community” as one of 40 “Developmental Assets” to help young people become responsible and healthy adults. Schools spokeswoman Tustin Amole said, “the district is confident the project is not illegal because it does not mandate participation in religious activity.”

Quoted from Pastor’s Weekly Briefing, October 26, 2007. © 2007, Focus on the Family
All rights reserved

Flag-Folding Narration Banned from Veterans’ Funerals

Families’ First Amendment rights stripped following one complaint.

Flag-folding recitations by Memorial Honor Detail volunteers are now banned at the nation’s 125 veterans’ cemeteries because of one complaint at California’s Riverside National Cemetery, The Associated Press reported.

“One disgruntled narcissist has caused a complete ban affecting 300 million Americans,” Rees Lloyd with the Defense of Veterans Memorials Project told Family News in Focus. “We think it’s an outrage, and we intend to fight it.”

During thousands of military burials, the volunteers have folded the American flag 13 times and recited the significance of every fold.
The first fold represents life, the second a belief in eternal life, and so on.

The complaint revolved around the narration in the 11th fold, which celebrates Jewish war veterans and “glorifies the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

The National Cemetery Administration then decided to ban the entire recital at all national cemeteries. Details of the complaint weren’t disclosed.

Administration spokesman Mike Nacincik said the policy, outlined in a Sept. 27 memorandum, is aimed at creating uniform services throughout the military graveyard system.

Romey Kilgore, founder of United We Serve, called it a slap in the face to the military.

“Our American veterans, they’ve fought and died for our beliefs and our right to express them,” she said. “We owe them nothing less than that.”

The policy change is on shaky legal ground, according to Doug Napier with the Alliance Defense Fund.

“Veterans and their families have First Amendment rights just like everyone else,” he said. “They shouldn’t be curtailed because one person complains.”

Quoted from Citizenlink™, Oct. 29, 2007. © 2007 Focus on the Family Action, Inc.

Update on the flag folding issue:

A nationwide uproar has caused the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to “clarify” its position – and allow the mention of God back into the flag-folding ceremony at military funerals.

A VA official had pulled the recitation from ceremonies at national cemeteries last month after a single complaint was filed with the White House over the phrase accompanying the 11th fold that mentions “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” Fox News reported.

Quoted from Citizenlink™, Oct. 31, 2007. © 2007 Focus on the Family Action, Inc.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Criminal Charges Brought Against Planned Parenthood

Below is a news item of interest. Remember this article when Planned Parenthood speaks so self-righteously about caring for women and their rights. After reading this article, one has to wonder about their ethics.

Johnson County, Kansas, District Attorney Phill Kline charged the Overland Park Planned Parenthood clinic last week with providing unlawful late-term abortions, failure to determine viability and failure to maintain records. According to Kansas state law, abortion is legal only when a doctor affirms that the baby is not viable outside the womb. And, if the baby could live, then two doctors must agree that the abortion is necessary to protect the mother’s physical or mental health.

Peter Brownlie, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, told the Associated Press that the clinic doesn’t perform any abortions past the 22nd week of pregnancy. “We always provide high-quality care in full accord with state and federal law,” said Brownlie.

The 107-count criminal complaint filed by Kline includes 23 felony counts which allege that Planned Parenthood submitted false “pregnancy termination reports” to a court on Aug. 21 in response to a subpoena. District Court Judge James S. Vano agreed that there was probable cause to think crimes had been committed and set a hearing for Nov. 16.

Planned Parenthood, which is the nation’s largest abortion provider and operates 859 clinics, performed a record 264,943 abortions in fiscal year 2005-2006, while making a profit of $55.8 million. Planned Parenthood received $305.3 million in federal funding that year, which amounts to about one-third of the organization’s budget.

Quoted from Pastor’s Weekly Briefing, October 26, 2007. © 2007, Focus on the Family
All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

New Jersey abortion clinics not inspected, few states are

Below is a news item of interest. Remember this article when Planned Parenthood speaks so self-righteously about caring for women and their rights. What about their safety?

by Steve Jordahl

The state has four clinics that perform late term abortions. Three of the four have gone five or more years without a state health inspection. When she discovered that an abortion clinic in Englewood, New Jersey was shut down because a woman almost died from a botched abortion, Marie Tasy of New Jersey Right to Life asked that other clinics be looked into as well.

“When they went in they found all kinds of filthy conditions and un-sterile conditions. They found blood crusted on forceps and blood on the operating tables.” The state’s largest abortion clinic is still being ignored by state health inspectors. “Planned Parenthood of central New Jersey, which is one of their main operating Planned Parenthoods in the tri-state area, has not been inspected for at least seven years.”

Alabama law requires clinic inspections. Eric Johnston of the Southeast Law Institute says even that doesn’t guarantee timely inspections. “And because they didn’t make those inspections, the clinics were just operating basically the way they wanted to. We found that was in violation of a number of the regulations.”

Denise Burke of Americans United for Life says inspected abortion clinics are the exception rather than the rule. “Despite the fact that 27 states have some degree of abortion clinic regulation requiring some sort of state oversight and inspection, we are finding that a significant majority of states are not fulfilling their inspection duties.”

Increasing the danger to the mother.

Quoted from Family News in Focus, © 2007 Focus on the Family Action, Inc.,

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween and All Saints Day – Part II

For more on the origins of Halloween, please see Part I in an earlier post.

All Saints Day

Do you know which Christian holy day comes the day after Halloween? All Saints Day comes on November 1, the day after Samhain. Early in the Christian era, a day had been set aside to honor believers who had gone before and who were good role models of faith. During persecutions, many of these early Christians had died for their faith or held on to their faith despite torture and the threat of death. There were waves of persecutions against Christians in the Roman Empire during the first 300 years before Constantine legalized Christianity (Edict of Milan in 313).

This Christian day of remembrance of the departed believers originally took place in the spring. As Christianity spread to northern Europe and the British Isles, it encountered the Celtic celebration of Samhain. The early church leaders had a practice of establishing the date of church holy days to correspond with various competing pagan celebrations (we get the English term “holiday” from “holy day”).

For example, not knowing the date of Jesus’ birth, church leaders decided to celebrate the incarnation of God in Jesus on December 25, the time when the Romans celebrated a festival called “Saturnalia.” The intent was that early Christians would celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25 rather than a pagan holiday. Of course Christmas took on some of the outward practices of Saturnalia, such as gift-giving, just as Easter took on some of the practices of pagan spring festivals.

To suppress the practice of Samhain in newly-converted northern Europe, church leaders decided to move All Saints Day from its earlier celebration in the spring to November 1. The eve of a holiday had importance in those days (as it does even now to some extent – such as Christmas Eve). The church leaders hoped that the celebrations on the eve of All Saints Day, called All Hallows Eve, would result in Samhain dying out.

Hallowed (or hallow) is an old English word for “holy” or “sacred” such as in “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” (from the Germanic heilig and the Anglo-Salon halig, from which we get hale, holy and hallow). So the term “Halloween” means “Holy Evening” although it isn’t particularly holy now. Many of the practices of ancient Samhain have been incorporated into Halloween, making it something less than holy.

The ancient practices of Samhain remain, but their meaning is no longer relevant to most people. Today it is just a time for kids to dress up in costumes and get candy from their neighbors. Unfortunately, All Saints Day has become a minor Christian holiday. So we are missing the good aspects of the season while retaining some of the ancient Celtic superstitious practices.

Victory over Death

Since this is the week of All Saints Day as well as Halloween, we should take a look at the positive aspects of our faith in contrast to superstition. We should always proclaim the supremacy of Jesus Christ and the Gospel over superstition and erroneous beliefs. I’m amazed at how many people believe that ghosts wander the earth, yet have serious doubts about the Holy Ghost.

As Christians,
·we believe in a real God, the one true God of the Bible;
·we believe in Jesus Christ, his Son, a real person who lived among us;
·we believe in the Holy Ghost, who lives within us and guides us;
·and we believe we get to heaven because of our faith and trust in Jesus, not thru various acts, rituals, or superstitions.

Atheists and agnostics often believe religion is superstition, and unfortunately Christianity degenerated into superstition in medieval (and even later) times. However, true Christianity is not at all superstitious, but is in reality a relationship with the Living God. We have rites and ceremonies, but they are outward signs of inward grace. If we place our faith in rites, rituals, and sacraments, then our faith is misplaced. For Christians, our faith should be focused on Jesus Christ, not on anything else, no matter how worthwhile it may seem to be.

Eternal life is offered to all as a free gift for those who choose to believe that Jesus died on the cross on our behalf to reconcile imperfect people to a perfect God. We may not completely understand how it all works, but we do believe it. We know we have nothing to fear from death, because Jesus promised us eternal life. And once we have passed away, we will be with Jesus in glory, not wandering the earth looking for some sort of relief.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween and All Saints Day – Part I

I prepared the following as a simple discussion of Halloween for youth. I hope it is helpful to you.

Back in pre-Christian times, there was a celebration in Northern Europe called Samhain (pronounced sah-ween). Samhain celebrated the end of the harvest season, the beginning of their new year, but it also had a “spiritual” aspect. It was believed that on the night of Samhain the veil between the present world and the world beyond was pierced. It was a common belief in northern Europe that the spirits of those who died during the past year could not go to their final resting place until they were properly prepared. Therefore, the tradition was to placate the spirits of the dead by “treating” them with food, drink or other items on Samhain. It was believed that until these spirits were properly “treated” they would “trick” or haunt those who had neglected to provide them for their trip to the world beyond.

These spirits of the dead would wander around the area where they had lived and died until they could go on to wherever Celtic spirits went. Since all these spirits of the dead were wondering around on Samhain, it was also believed that demons, witches, and elves were released on that night to harass the living. These demons, witches, and elves sometimes assumed bizarre appearances, according to legend. The Druid priests would dress up in costumes to disguise themselves, and thereby protect themselves from attack by these otherworldly creatures. There was also the belief that one way to ward off these spirits and otherworldly creatures was to carve a grotesque face into a gourd or root vegetable, and put a candle inside it to light it up. That’s the origin of the jack-o-lantern.

Proper Celebration of Halloween

What do you think about celebrating Halloween now that you know its pagan origins? Since Halloween has become a secular holiday with no real meaning, do you think it is wrong for Christian children to go trick or treating, or to have a Halloween party? Parents may not want children going around to strangers’ houses these days for other reasons, so parties are becoming more and more popular.

In my opinion, what is inappropriate are some of the Halloween decorations you see, especially in private homes. What turns me off the most is to see straw-filled human effigies hanging from trees in people’s front yards. If people want to decorate, I think a fall theme is nice (such as pumpkins) but witches, ghosts, fake gravestones, and dead bodies are not suitable in my opinion. It is interesting that one school district in Connecticut has said that if the kids want to wear a costume to school on Halloween, it is OK as long as it is a consume of a positive role model.

A good guideline for Halloween as well as for anything in life is that we should not do anything that would compromise our faith or bring dishonor to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Communion – Part IV

In earlier posts I did a three part series on the Sacrament of Holy Communion. This post goes into more depth about the sacrament, if you want to understand its meaning better. Much of this information comes from the United Methodist study of the sacrament called “This Holy Mystery” which is referenced in this post. While “This Holy Mystery” looks at the United Methodist/Wesleyan understanding of the sacrament, I believe most of what it contains applies to the majority of denominations.

The Six Aspects of the Eucharist

In studying the Bible and church tradition, we can discern six aspects of the Eucharist. We clearly see these aspects in many communion liturgies. Let me summarize those six ideas about Holy Communion, with the focus on the United Methodist liturgy:

1. Thanksgiving

The first aspect of the Eucharistic feast is thanksgiving. The word “Eucharist” is derived from the Greek word for thanksgiving. The Eucharistic liturgy is called “The Great Thanksgiving” in the Methodist hymnal and in other denomination’s liturgies.

What are we thanking God for? Everything: God’s mighty acts in history, and his mighty acts thru Jesus Christ, especially our salvation. “This Holy Mystery” tells us:

“The Great Thanksgiving is a recitation of this salvation history, culminating in the work of Jesus Christ and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. It conveys our gratitude for the goodness of God and God’s unconditional love for us.”

2. Fellowship

After thanksgiving the second aspect of Holy Communion is fellowship. “This Holy Mystery” says:

“Holy communion is the communion of the church – the gathered community of the faithful, both local and universal. While deeply meaningful to the individuals participating, the sacrament is much more than a personal event.”

Like the Last Supper in the upper room, the Lord’s Supper in churches today is a communal event. You can’t have communion alone: communion is a sharing by God’s people gathered together around the table. Note that in the Roman Catholic Church, the priest can celebrate the Eucharist and have communion alone.

3. Remembrance

After thanksgiving and fellowship, the third aspect of communion is remembrance. Holy Communion is remembrance, commemoration, and memorial, but it is more than just recalling. Communion is, in the words of “This Holy Mystery” “a dynamic action that becomes a re-presentation of past gracious acts of God.”

The one thing we must understand that communion is a lot more than just a remembering of the Last Supper. Jesus established communion at the Last Supper, using bread and wine as visual means for us to remember what Jesus did for us: die, and then rise again in glory. The Last Supper is also important is because, as a Seder, it looked back to the first Passover. We as Christians believe that the events of the first Passover pointed to the future acts of Jesus. You really can’t separate the Last Supper, the crucifixion, and the Resurrection.

From the fellowship, thanksgiving, and remembrance aspects of communion, we can think of it as similar to the Passover Seder or the American Thanksgiving Day meal.

4. Sacrifice

The fourth aspect of Holy Communion is sacrifice. In Protestant understanding, it is a re-presentation, not a repetition, of Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross. In communion we remember the body of Christ, given for you, and the blood of Christ, shed for you. Note that the Roman Catholic belief is that the Mass itself is some sort of repetition of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, hence the name “The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”

Not only do we recall Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross, but communion also reminds us of the sacrifices we are called to make for the sake of Christ. As part of the liturgy, we present ourselves as a sacrifice in union with Christ so that we can be used by God in the work of redemption, reconciliation, and justice in the world.

5. Action of the Holy Spirit

The fifth aspect of communion is the work of the Holy Spirit. Many Christian churches believe that the sacrament of Holy Communion is a means of grace. The Holy Spirit works through the sacraments to impart grace to us, grace being God’s unmerited favor that helps us in the world in various ways. In Protestant belief, there are many means of grace besides the sacraments, but the sacraments are powerful means of imparting grace to us that go back to the time of Christ.

Our communion liturgy invokes the Holy Spirit, saying: “Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine.” The Great Thanksgiving goes on to ask: “By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.” By this prayer, we are asking to be formed into the image of Christ and to be made God’s instruments for transformation in the world.

6. Eschatology

The sixth aspect of Holy Communion is that it is also eschatological, meaning that is has to do with the end times and heaven, the outcome of God’s purpose in the world. “This Holy Mystery” tells us that: “We commune not only with the faithful who are physically present, but with the saints of the past who join us in the sacrament.” In other words, we are joined in the sacrament by those who have already left this world and are in glory as part of the Church Triumphant.

We believe that in celebrating the sacrament, heaven and earth come together for a time in some mysterious way. At that time we are one in Christ, one with each other, one with all believers in the world, and one with those who are in the heavenly realms.

In communion, we receive a foretaste of the future, a pledge of heaven “until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet.” When we participate in the Eucharist, we are anticipating the heavenly banquet celebrating God’s victory over sin, evil, and death. In other words, we become partakers of the divine nature in this life, while looking forward to life eternal where we will have everlasting fellowship with Christ and see the ultimate fulfillment of the divine plan.

This may have been more than you ever wanted to know about Holy Communion, but hopefully it will put the sacrament into better perspective for you and give you an appreciation for what it means. May God bless you in your journey of faith.