Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Pursuit of Happiness

Jesus was counter-cultural in his day, and he still is in our day. Since what Jesus taught goes against the grain of modern thinking, the culture tends to reject him and his followers. Those followers who take seriously what Jesus taught are ridiculed as hopelessly old-fashioned and out of touch with reality.

Take the concept of happiness. The world says we can achieve happiness through pleasure, accumulation of wealth and material possessions, and by great accomplishments (Ecclesiastes 2:4-11). Jesus taught something quite the opposite, something that doesn’t even make a lot of sense until you have put your faith and trust in him. True happiness comes from what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:3-12 (New Century Version):

Those people who know they have great spiritual needs are happy, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
Those who are sad now are happy, because God will comfort them.
Those who are humble are happy, because the earth will belong to them.
Those who want to do right more than anything else are happy, because God will fully satisfy them.
Those who show mercy to others are happy, because God will show mercy to them.
Those who are pure in their thinking are happy, because they will be with God.
Those who work to bring peace are happy, because God will call them his children.
Those who are treated badly for doing good are happy, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

People will insult you and hurt you. They will lie and say all kinds of evil things about you because you follow me. But when they do, you will be happy. Rejoice and be glad, because you have a great reward waiting for you in heaven. People did the same evil things to the prophets who lived before you.

Rather than follow what the world tells us regarding happiness, I encourage you to follow what God, through the Apostle Paul, tells us in Romans 12:2:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect. NRSV

Monday, July 30, 2007

Don't Be Fooled

Colossians 2:8 exhorts followers of Christ not to be fooled by arguments that may sound reasonable, but aren’t based on biblical truths. This advice is especially relevant today.

Don’t let anyone fool you by using senseless arguments. These arguments may sound wise, but they are only human teachings. They come from the powers of this world and not from Christ. (CEV)

Today we are bombarded with all kinds of arguments and rationalizations for doing things that are contrary to biblical teachings. On the surface they sound reasonable, and maybe even biblical, but they aren’t. As far as I’m concerned, the Bible supersedes logic and rationalizations – we are to obey what God tells us in the Bible, not what the world tells us, alluring as it may sound. We see such warnings against false teachings in many other places in the Bible. For example, we see a strong warning in 2 Peter 2:1-3:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master who bought them — bringing swift destruction on themselves. Even so, many will follow their licentious ways, and because of these teachers the way of truth will be maligned. And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. NRSV

I encourage you to not listen to the world, which gives us and our children messages that are contrary to biblical teachings, and will lead us down wrong paths. Be careful even whom you listen to when it comes to preachers. Colossians 2:18-19 exhorts followers of Christ not to be taken in by deceptive people who preach false doctrines.

Don’t be cheated by people who make a show of acting humble and who worship angels. They brag about seeing visions. But it is all nonsense, because their minds are filled with selfish desires. They are no longer part of Christ, who is the head of the whole body. Christ gives the body its strength, and he uses its joints and muscles to hold it together, as it grows by the power of God. CEV

False teachers are certainly a problem in our day and age. There is no shortage of false teachers who claim to be preaching the Gospel, but are really distorting it. There are false teachers on TV masquerading as ministers of the Gospel, who are misleading people and relieving many people of their money as well.

I encourage you to be discerning in whom you listen to, whether it is on TV, on the radio, or in a church. Pray for discernment so that you will know when to turn off a preacher and not end up filled with false doctrine. I also encourage you to build up your knowledge and faith by regular worship, Bible study, and prayer, so that you are properly equipped.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Going into the World

Jesus told the disciples to go into the whole world when he said in today’s Gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19a, NRSV)

In Jesus’ words just before his Ascension, he said the following (Acts 1:8):

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” NRSV

I believe “you will be my witnesses” meant for us to not only tell others about Jesus, but also to serve others as a witness to the power of Jesus in our lives. Let’s look into what it means for us today when Jesus said “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

1a. Jerusalem – Our Church

I believe we could interpret “in Jerusalem” to mean in our own church. As a body of believers, we are called to take care of one another in the church family. Ministries such as religious education, Bible studies, visitation, providing meals when needed, and praying for one another are ways we care for each other.

1b. Jerusalem – Our Families

In addition to our own church, our “Jerusalem” can also be our families. We should tell our non-believing family members about Jesus, but we also have to love them unconditionally, serve them gladly, and pray for them often. Telling them about Jesus – even nagging them about Jesus – will do no good if there isn’t love, serving, and prayer (with prayer being the most important).

Just as with missionaries, if they don’t see our faith lived out, then whatever we tell our families about Jesus will not impress them. People are experiential – they want to experience something in their lives or see something different in the lives of others, before they will believe. Telling family members can be more difficult than telling strangers, but we have to persevere without being pushy or obnoxious. A difficult balance, so we have to pray fervently for guidance.

2. Judea

I believe we can interpret “in Judea” to mean our community and surrounding area. A church should reach out to the community in various ways, such as VBS, food pantries, soup kitchens, and various other ministries as needed. Some churches do “midnight runs” of food and supplies to the homeless. Others have ministries to help divorced people, single mothers, families of incarcerated people, and help in other ways as needs are identified.

A church should reach out to the community as God leads it, and should be welcoming when people from the community come to that church. While the government has taken over much of what the church used to do, there are plenty of gaps in the social safety net that churches can fill.

3. Samaria

We can interpret “in Samaria” to mean for us today those people who are not in our immediate community, or who may be different from us. Samaria was next door to the province of Judea, but the Samaritans were ethnically and religiously different from the Jews. It was a stretch for Jesus’ Jewish disciples to reach out to the Samaritans, and they must have cringed when Jesus said that. “Oh no! Not the Samaritans!”

Yet we are called to help others who are different from us, whether it is ethic, racial, religious, or socio-economic difference. Just as the Samaritans were a stretch for the early disciples, we are called to stretch ourselves today for the cause of Christ. We can see from Acts 8:4-8 that the disciples were eventually obedient to Jesus’ command to go to Samaria. I believe it took the scattering caused by persecution to get them out of Jerusalem, but they finally got with the program. In addition, there is a very strong tradition that the Apostle Thomas went all the way to India to establish a church that exists to this day.

4. Ends of the Earth

Lastly, we have the “ends of the earth” which is pretty obvious. It means today what it meant when Jesus said it. We know that Thomas, Peter, Paul, Mathias, Barnabas and others did, in fact, go far and wide to preach the Gospel. As I said before, not everybody is called to foreign missions, but I believe we are all called to at least financially support national and foreign missions.

Proper Balance

Of course the key is to keep all of these competing priorities in proper balance. I believe a church that is sending much money to foreign missions but not helping its own congregation in various ways is out of balance. It can be easy to send money, but it is more difficult to give hands-on care. On the other hand, I believe a church that does much within its own congregation but does little elsewhere is also out of balance. It easy to become inward-looking and forget the rest of the world, which desperately needs help.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Evangelism isn’t always understood, or it often has a bad image. Let me make a few points concerning Christian evangelism.

Evangelism can be simply defined as sharing our faith, or telling others about Jesus. There are several aspects to evangelism: sharing our faith, welcoming visitors to our congregation (hospitality), and making disciples (spiritual formation, equipping the saints). We can share our faith by inviting an unchurched friend to church or a church event, or telling someone about our faith when there is an appropriate opening.

Evangelism is an important aspect of the Christian faith. Evangelism goes back to Jesus, who spent most of his time inviting, welcoming, and teaching. Evangelism was a new concept then, since the Jews did not evangelize. 1,700 years after Christ, John Wesley became a traveling evangelist, doing those same things throughout England: inviting, welcoming, and teaching. Wesley was not converting people to Christianity, but his efforts were in the realm of spiritual formation. The people of his day were going through the motions, but there was no spiritual vibrancy. Wesley’s goal was to bring people into his prayer societies where they would pray, study the Bible, and keep one another accountable.

So evangelism runs deep, both in Christianity and in Methodism. There are hindrances to evangelism today, but we mustn’t let those hindrances become barriers to us. We have a higher calling that transcends these hindrances – we have a charge to keep that comes from God. The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:1-2, which seems to have a certain sense of urgency about it:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent, whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. NRSV

So let us take on that same sense of urgency, knowing that so many people, right in our own circle of influence, need Jesus. We can be used by God as his life-saving instruments – snatching people from the grip of the world’s ways and helping to change their lives forever. What a privilege it is to serve God in this way.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Gay Marriage Update

One of the purposes of this blog is to provide background to current news or issues, to give you information not usually published in the mainstream media. You may agree or disagree with what is presented, but at least you will be better informed on the subject. In this posting I want to give some background on the subject of same-sex marriage, an issue that is emotional and volatile.

Those opposed to same-sex marriage are often portrayed as hateful bigots and homophobes, mindlessly opposing a right that is long overdue. However, there is some rationale behind opposition to same-sex marriage, as we can see from the following article, which explains that the issue has ramifications well beyond the gay community:

In a Newsweek article last March, polygamist Mark Henkel explained the basis of his argument for “polygamist rights”: If Heather can have two mommies, she should also be able to have two mommies and a daddy.

At the time, even gay activists scoffed at the premise. But as family scholar Elizabeth Marquardt explains in an op-ed for the New York Times, the courts are redefining parenthood in a way that makes the legal acceptance of that argument all but inevitable.

On April 30, a Pennsylvania Superior Court panel made history by becoming the first court in the United States to rule that a child can have three legal parents. The case involved two lesbians who were the legal co-parents of two children conceived with sperm donated by a friend. The panel held that the sperm donor and both women were all obligated to financially support the child and were all equally entitled to visitation. By ruling that a child can legally have three parents, the court not only severed the legal ties between biology and parenthood, but provided a basis for the legal recognition of polygamous marriage.

“If more children are granted three legal parents, what is our rationale for denying these families the right and protections of marriage?” asks Marquardt. “America, get ready for the group-marriage debate.”

By Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. From The Pastor’s Weekly Briefing, July 19, 2007. © 2007, Focus on the Family, All rights reserved.

Monday, July 23, 2007


The immigration issue is complex, and we as people of faith need to pray for wisdom for our leaders. I want to touch on just one aspect of this debate. I believe Scripture is being misused by a certain segment of the religious community to justify a position on immigration.

In my last posting, I mentioned that the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) talks often about taking care of the stranger and alien in the land. An example of such a passage is the institution of a form of welfare system for the poor and alien as recorded in Leviticus 19:9-10:

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. (NRSV) By the way, we see this welfare system in operation in the Book of Ruth, chapter 2, and in Matthew 12.

Another passage along those lines is Leviticus 19:33-34:

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (NRSV)

(Interestingly there are about one million Israeli citizens who are Arabs (or Palestinians). These people have full rights as citizens, even though it is a Jewish state, and these Arabs could be considered “aliens” in the land.)

In my opinion, some people are taking such biblical passages out of context and using them to justify uncontrolled immigration. I believe this is a wrong application of the Scripture. My interpretation of these passages is that any aliens that happen to be in the land, either permanently or passing through, are to be respected and treated well. Looking at the Old Testament as a whole, these passages don’t say that your borders should be completely open, and anybody can come and live in your land. That’s because other passages of the Old Testament indicate that the Israelite society was to be somewhat closed to avoid intermarriage and falling into “detestable” pagan practices.

I know some will disagree with me on this point, but that’s the way I understand these passages within the context of the Hebrew Bible as a whole. Rather than misusing Scripture (in my opinion), there are better arguments with respect to immigration and the status of illegal aliens within our borders.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Godly Tolerance

“Tolerance” today is the cardinal virtue of political correctness, our new civil religion. Tolerance sounds nice, but the PC kind of tolerance isn’t tolerance at all. According to the dictionary, “tolerance” means “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from one’s own.” (The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, © 2005 by Merriam-Webster, Incorporated)

The PC crowd is far from tolerant of those who have beliefs or practices different from theirs, yet their goal is to force their brand of selective tolerance on others. By “selective tolerance” I mean being tolerant only of a select few groups that are considered politically correct. All other groups are not to be tolerated, but are to be ridiculed and suppressed. Despite this abuse of the concept of tolerance, I believe that people of faith are supposed to practice what I call a godly tolerance.

What, then, is godly tolerance? I believe godly tolerance is the practice of what we are taught in the Bible: love your neighbor as yourself, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It means to love a person, yet not to affirm their sin or destructive lifestyle if they are doing things contrary to biblical teachings. It means to love a person even if his or her theology or religious practices are different from our own (Romans chapter 14 contains a discussion of this subject).

The Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) talks often about taking care of the stranger and alien in the land. These aliens were quite different from the Israelites: not monotheists and they engaged in some detestable (according to the Bible) religious practices. While the Israelites were not to intermarry with them or engage in their religious practices, they were to treat them well (today we might say to be tolerant of them, but not affirm or buy into their way of life). So let us practice godly tolerance and not let the PC people force an ungodly and bogus form of tolerance on the rest of us.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Near Death Experiences

I found an interesting article by a rabbi in the Newsweek section of msnbc.com. He basically describes the role of faith within the context of science and empirical evidence. You might find it of interest. Go to http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19811291/site/newsweek/.

Public Schools Grapple with Muslim Prayer

There is an interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor that ties in with my recent series on the First Amendment. This case involves Muslim children, and their request that they be allowed to pray in the school at certain times in accordance with Islamic practice.

Please see this article at

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Take Out the Garbage

I read something recently in a daily devotional that made me think, and reminded me of the garbage in yours and my life. I always look forward to garbage pickup day, which may seem a little strange. But I like getting all that garbage out of the house each week and starting afresh.

Life is like that too. We accumulate a lot of garbage that we need to get rid of. If we don’t get rid of it, it starts to smell and eventually ruin our life. In the Christian faith, we are encouraged to turn our garbage over to Jesus. We do that by confessing, or telling Jesus what the garbage is. We acknowledge we can’t do it alone, and ask for Jesus’ help. We then have to surrender our will to his, meaning we will let God’s Holy Spirit work in us to keep us from going back to the same old ways.

To do this we must practice the various spiritual disciplines, such as attending weekly worship services, praying often throughout the day, have a daily meditation (such as using a daily devotional), and participating in a Bible study. That may seem like a lot of work, but it isn’t. These eventually become part of your life, and pretty soon you can’t imagine a day without them. Think of all the time we waste watching TV or listening to the radio. Spend some of that time with Jesus, and pretty soon the amount of garbage in your life will diminish.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The First Amendment – Follow Up

Here are some current cases regarding the First Amendment (see earlier postings discussing the First Amendment). This is a list from a fund-raising email from the American Center for Law and Justice, P.O. Box 90555, Washington, D.C. 20090-0555. Phone: (800) 296-4529. Their website is www.aclj.org.

Summum v. Pleasant Grove - The latest attack on the public display of the Ten Commandments. A group is suing to display their own guidelines (the Seven ‘‘Aphorisms’’), and we’re already preparing to go to the Supreme Court of the United States if necessary.

Trunk v. City of San Diego - Opponents of the Mt. Soledad war memorial cross refuse to give up. They’re relentlessly fighting public expressions of the Christian faith, even after our court victories. We’ll file an amicus brief in federal court soon.

McLean Bible Church v. McLane, et al. - We’re in federal court because Fairfax County, Va., says a Bible church must become an official college or university in order to hold Bible studies or religious ministry classes in its facilities! It’s an obvious, outrageous attempt to squelch churches’ proclamation of the Gospel - and an attack on freedom of religion and speech.

We’re preparing a federal case in defense of Teen Challenge, one of the world’s most successful drug rehab programs. A local Tennessee planning commission has discriminated against this Christian organization by refusing them the use of property already zoned for rehab services!

In addition to these cases, below are two other recent cases that you’ll rarely read about or see in the mainstream media. You can see that religious expression is under relentless attack:

The Rev. Greg Davis, who was arrested in 2006 for sharing the Gospel on a public New York college campus, was acquitted of criminal trespassing charges recently, reports citizenlink.org.

“Christians have the same First Amendment rights as other citizens,” Alliance Defense Fund Senior Legal Counsel Brian Raum said in a statement. “Thankfully the judge in this case restored the rule of law and cleared Mr. Davis of the charges, reaffirming that campus officials were not authorized to eject Mr. Davis from campus for simply exercising his First Amendment rights by preaching in public.”

Still another case:

Attorneys filed a motion Monday to a federal court on behalf of a Texas school district supporting a Bible class that officials say has been taught appropriately. The motion was in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way Foundation against the Ector County Independent School District in Odessa on behalf of eight parents in which the two groups asked school officials to stop offering the class.

The school board members feel the lawsuit is unnecessary, however, since the class is in no way violating any individual’s religious rights. The elective class uses a King James Version scripture as its text book and uses material from the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. According to the Council, the curriculum is used by hundreds of schools, including more than 50 in Texas.

These last two cases were reported by the Pastor’s Weekly Briefing, 07/12/07, Copyright © 2007, Focus on the Family, All rights reserved.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The First Amendment – Part VI


Frustrating as this situation is, what can we do? We don’t have any influence over the Supreme Court, which is responsible for much of this sad state of affairs. We can’t vote out the Supreme Court, but we can do something even more powerful. We can pray.

We as a nation can also turn away from the false idols we now worship and return to God, just as this Old Testament reading tells us (2 Chronicles 7:14-15):

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. NIV

Second, we can write Congress when there is a bill before them that supports the free exercise of religion. Fortunately, Congress has passed laws restoring rights to religious groups that the courts have been taking away. For example, the equal access law has guaranteed that religious groups have the same access as anybody else has to use schools and other public buildings.

Third, you can be open about your faith, knowing that you are protected by the First Amendment. Too often we are bullied by these wrong applications of the First Amendment, and so we fall silent in the face of these lies. Let us not hesitate to exercise our rights under the Constitution.

As we celebrate 231 years of freedom from British oppression, let’s commit to battle against another kind of oppression coming from a misguided Supreme Court. It’s really a spiritual battle, and we are well equipped with spiritual weapons. Let’s use them.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The First Amendment – Part V

Misunderstandings of the First Amendment

In the year 1947, two momentous things happened. First, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, which showed how faithfully the Bible had been copied and transmitted over the centuries.

The second event of 1947 was a landmark decision by the Supreme Court, which I mentioned in an earlier posting. In the case Everson v. Board of Education the court reversed over 150 years of Supreme Court precedent. In that and subsequent cases, the Court radically changed the intent of the First Amendment as it had been understood since it was ratified.

Since 1947, most Supreme Court decisions involving religion have now been based on Everson and succeeding cases, not on the original intent or the first 150 years of court precedent. Because of this, there has evolved tremendous misconceptions and misinformation concerning the First Amendment, so that’s why I’m providing this information. For example, today most people think the words “church,” “state” and “separation” are in the Constitution – they are not, as we read in an earlier posting. Today, most people believe the phrase “wall of separation” is in the Constitution – it is not.

Wall of Separation

Where, then, did that famous term “wall of separation” come from? While Thomas Jefferson was President of the United States, the Danbury Baptist Association wrote him a letter. They were concerned about how the First Amendment might affect churches and the free exercise of religion, especially small and relatively new denominations. In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson wrote the following response to the Danbury Baptists to assure them that the intent of the First Amendment was to protect them.

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence ... a wall of separation between church and state.” (emphasis mine)

Read in context, we see that Jefferson’s “Wall of Separation” was a protective wall, preventing government from interfering with the free practice of religion. The Wall is to keep government out of religion, not to keep religion out of society.

Since 1947, two things have happened regarding the “Wall of Separation” between Church and state. First, Jefferson’s letter has been totally misinterpreted so that his Wall is now being used as a barrier to keep any mention of God out of our society. The ACLU and others are spending large amounts of money trying to make this country cleansed of God.

Second, this misinterpretation of Jefferson’s letter now has the force of law, since it is constantly invoked with more weight than even the Constitution itself. This is the only time in history that a private letter from a President has essentially become law, and it is a misinterpretation of the letter at that! Rather than using the papers written by the framers of the Constitution and early court decisions, the courts today use this letter, wrongly understood, as their guide.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The First Amendment – Part IV

Meaning of the Term “Religion”

To understand the background of the First Amendment, we also have to understand the meaning of the word “religion” in the 18th century. “Religion” in its 18th century usage generally referred to what we call today denominations or Churches within the Christian faith. For example, even today some Catholics refer to their church as the “Catholic Religion” even though it is a Church within the wider Christian faith.

Protestant churches today, such as the Church of England, Lutheran, Methodist, and others usually refer to themselves as denominations, not “religions.” The term “religion” today usually refers to Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other faiths in the world. At the time of the drafting of the Constitution, the United States was overwhelmingly Christian, so these other faiths weren’t considered, although they certainly would fall under its provisions given the wording of the First Amendment. The Founders were not thinking of other religions as we would today, since none of these other faiths were in the U.S. at that time. There was a relatively small number of Jewish people in the country, but everybody else had some sort of a Christian background.

Interestingly, most state constitutions required public officials to be practicing Christians, and those provisions within the state constitutions continued well after the U.S. Constitution was ratified. Despite revisionist history to the contrary, the vast majority of the Founders were devout and practicing Christians. Even Thomas Jefferson attended church regularly when he was president, and Benjamin Franklin attended various churches and supported public prayer. Although most of the Founders hadn’t lived in Europe, they were coming out of a European experience in which official state Christian “religions” oppressed minority Christian “religions.” Therefore, they wanted to allow all Christian “religions” freedom to exist without government interference, with no Christian “religion” being dominant.

As non-Christian faiths entered the country via immigrants, they were protected under the First Amendment. Its wording was broad enough that non-Christian faiths fell under its protection, so these immigrants could freely practice their religions in (at that time) a predominantly Protestant country. But we have to realize that “religion” in the First Amendment was understood to be Christian denominations. In no way were the Founders trying to eliminate Christianity or any mention of God from society, but rather to protect all religious expression from governmental interference.

Monday, July 9, 2007

The First Amendment – Part III

Intent of the First Amendment

The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution reads as follows:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

This discussion deals only with the first part of the Amendment, the section concerning religious freedom:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Note that the First Amendment does NOT say, or even imply, that its purpose is to keep God out of public life. Instead, it simply means that the federal Government is not to establish an official state religion by any law or decree (“Congress shall make no law…”). This concept was radical, since every country in Europe had either a Protestant denomination or the Roman Catholic Church as its official state religion. When you have an official state religion or denomination, people generally have to pay taxes to support it, whether they want to or not. Moreover, those who weren’t members of the state religion were often persecuted or treated as second-class citizens. The Founders wanted to avoid all that, especially since many people had already come to our shores seeking religious freedom.

The second part of this section of the First Amendment states that the federal government will not interfere with the free exercise of religion. That means everybody is free to practice his or her religion without any governmental interference. Yet for the past 60 years the Supreme Court has done exactly what this Amendment prohibits: making laws limiting religious expression.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The First Amendment – Part II

Intent and Basis of the Constitution

The first thing we have to realize is that the original intent of the Constitution was to limit the powers of the federal government. During and after the Revolutionary War, the 13 states were semi-independent entities bound together in a loose confederation for their mutual benefit. They joined together in this union mainly for purposes of common defense, free trade, and open borders.

The Constitution was established to formalize the terms of this confederation, with the intent of severely limiting the power of the federal government. They were all too familiar with oppressive central governments with high taxes, and they didn’t want another King George. The states wanted to remain as independent as possible, and each had its own constitution, laws, assemblies, militia, and state agencies.

The second thing we need to realize is that the Constitution is based on a source document – it does not stand alone. It must be understood within the context of the principles stated in that earlier document. What is this underlying document? The Declaration of Independence.

To understand the Constitution, we must understand the principles within the Declaration as well as the intent of the framers of the Constitution. How can we know the intent of the framers? We know their intent based on their various writings (such as the Federalist Papers) and early court cases decided by Supreme Court members who also had written the Constitution.

Think about this: If early Supreme Court decisions made by the framers of the Constitution are now being ignored, then isn’t the court inventing law rather than faithfully interpreting the Constitution? The separation of powers in our Constitution specifically limits the making of laws to the Congress, yet the Supreme Court now makes law.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Examples of Christian Persecution

I’m doing a series of postings on the First Amendment and how it is being misused. Lest you think I’m paranoid, below are two news items that show how the separation of church and state clause in the First Amendment is being used to interfere with the free practice of one’s religion:

Suspensions Reversed: Students Can Pray

A decision to suspend praying high school students has been reversed in Vancouver, Washington, after the Liberty Counsel represented several of the students in an appeal to the Evergreen School District.

Several months ago, a student complained to school officials that a group of students were praying in the cafeteria before school and, consequently, were sent outside by a vice principal. After they insisted on continuing their prayers, twelve were suspended.

Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, commented: “Students have the constitutional right to gather together to pray before school, just as they can gather to discuss sports, music or movies. In these days of discord and violence, schools should know better than to ban students from praying.” As a result of the help received from Liberty Counsel, the suspensions will be purged from the student’s files.

Seniors Regain Their Right to Sing

Seniors in a Montana senior center nearly lost their right to sing Christian songs before meals.

Some of their peers had threatened to call the ACLU, but administrators at Bozeman Senior Center researched the facts and found that they were not at risk for losing federal funding for their Meals on Wheels program, as they originally feared. Amy Smith, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, said that when senior center board members contacted her group, they learned that the seniors were well within their rights.

“On Good Friday, they voted to reinstate the singing of songs before meals, and they were very pleased to do so,” Smith told Family News in Focus.

Pastor’s Weekly Briefing, May 3, 2007, Copyright © 2007, Focus on the Family, All rights reserved

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The First Amendment – Part I

We recently celebrated Independence Day, that day in 1776 when our Founders signed a document which not only stated principles that were to guide this country once it became independent, but declared our independence from the world’s greatest superpower of the day, Great Britain.

It’s a miracle that we succeeded, given the odds of doing so. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are revolutionary for their day, and have guided many countries since then. However, none of these countries have succeeded in implementing them to the extent we have. I believe we have been blessed by God as a nation for his purposes.

Despite our many blessings, we as a nation have gone astray, and we need to keep in mind the following passage:
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. (2 Chronicles 7:14-15, NIV)

In addition, the courts, lead by the Supreme Court, have been misinterpreting and misusing the First Amendment in ways that go against its original intent. The original intent of the Constitution and over 150 years of court precedents have been ignored, starting with the decision in Everson v. Board of Education in 1947. Rather than protecting the free exercise of one’s faith, the First Amendment is now being used to hinder and limit it. Aggressively anti-Christian organizations such as the ALCU use this revisionist misinterpretation of the First Amendment to eliminate any references to God in this country.

I want to discuss this situation for three reasons:
(1) So you know your rights and can’t be bullied;
(2) So you know how to pray for your country and Christ’s Church in the United States;
(3) So you can write your representatives to support legislation in favor of religious freedom.

This is a large subject, so I will only be able to discuss it in a summary manner. If you want to know more about this, you can do some research concerning current court cases by going to the American Center for Law & Justice website (aclj.org) or The Alliance Defense Fund website (alliancedefensefund.org).

The book The Myth of Separation gives the historical perspective, and much of this discussion is based on it. I’m sure there are other books out there as well. Future postings will go into more detail about the original intent of the First Amendment.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Paris Hilton Follow Up – the Larry King Interview

I watched the Larry King interview with Paris Hilton last week. Ordinarily I wouldn’t be interested, but because I posted something about her on this blog, I wanted to see what she had to say about her jailhouse transformation. The interview was very disappointing and a waste of an hour.

Poor Larry struggled to get Ms. Hilton to say something meaningful, but even his prodigious interviewing skills weren’t enough. Although her time in the LA county clink may have convinced her that she needed to make some changes in her life, I doubt if she really “found Jesus” or has been transformed in any substantial way.

I’m sure the Holy Spirit was working in her to change, and had her attention when she was in solitary 23 hours a day. However, we have to be yielded and be willing to surrender our will to God’s will. God never forces himself on anyone, but works gently in us to help us realize that there is something important missing in our life.

It’s too bad she didn’t turn over her life to Jesus, because a significant change in her life would be a powerful witness to the power of Jesus Christ. Chuck Colson, who did time as part of the Watergate scandal, found Jesus while all that was going on (but before he entered prison). Today he heads a very effective prison ministry and is in demand as a speaker at Christian events. Former governor Rowland of Connecticut has had a similar conversion experience, but I’m not sure what he is doing these days in terms of ministry.

Please pray that Paris Hilton turns her life over to Jesus. What a great story that would make! Think about the impact her conversion would make on the thousands of girls who try to emulate her in some way. Think of the lives that could be changed.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Embryonic Stem-Cell Research Follow Up

I wrote in an earlier posting about embryonic stem-cell research. Below is an article along those lines that you might find enlightening:

The American College of Pediatricians (ACP) is calling for an end to embryonic stem-cell research and recommends exclusive support for adult stem-cell research. “Not only does embryonic research require taking the life of human embryos, it also prolongs needless suffering by delaying the development of more promising adult stem-cell treatments and cures,” said Dr. Michelle Cretella, fellow of ACP. Research using non-embryonic sources, including amniotic fluid, umbilical cord blood, placenta and adult blood has yielded impressive results, the ACP said. (“The Pastor’s Weekly Briefing", May 17, 2007. © 2007, Focus on the Family, All rights reserved)

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Parenting without Anger

I found this article on the Internet that might be helpful to you who have children:

When parenting without anger you still need to discipline your children. You can, however, discipline them with love instead of anger. Children need to learn boundaries. They must learn the rules of our society. Teach them these things with love. Permissiveness is not love. And assertiveness is not anger. Model love for them, and they will see the value in not being fearful or angry. Remember, your child needs values, your time, and love; not things. Worthwhile values are imparted when you parent with love. The reward for this style of parenting is a happy and independent child with whom you will have a loving relationship for the rest of your life. Always, always, remember to treat your children with love.

Never accept anger from your child as appropriate behavior. Children learn to use anger when it is effective for them. They will keep using it as long as it works. Part of our job, as a parent is to not allow anger to be effective for our children. It is our job to show them a more effective way to deal with their problems. Whenever your child is angry, lovingly demonstrate to him or her that it is not appropriate behavior. Teach your child to find a more effective way of dealing with problems. As soon as your child is old enough to communicate verbally, teach them about expressing and dealing with their feelings.

Our children learn fear when we teach them that the world is a dangerous place, and that they must be fearful of dangerous things in order to protect themselves. Learn to teach them that this is a wonderful world in which good things happen when we are trusting and alert. Teach them to pay attention to provide for their well being, knowing that doing the best they can, will be enough.

From an email newsletter “Insights from the Dean of Peace”, June 4, 2007, by Dean Van Leuven, lifewithoutanger.com.