Friday, September 28, 2007

Children’s Health Care

I admit I may not know all the details, so I am reacting to what I heard in the news. Since the news is filtered and managed, I never know whether I’m getting the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Nevertheless, assuming what I’ve heard is essentially correct, I am livid. Apparently President Bush plans to veto a bill expanding poorer children’s health care benefits. As I understand it, this isn’t even a new program but an expansion of an existing one. Having approximately 45 million people without health insurance is bad enough for the world’s richest country, but Bush vetoing a relatively modest program to protect our children is absurd.

We are a country that views itself as fair, just, and compassionate. We send billions of dollars overseas in aid, we spend billions to fight a war in Iraq that never should have taken place, we are spending billions to rebuild Iraq while our own infrastructure continues to crumble, and we spend billions on welfare supporting people perfectly able to work. But Bush won’t help poor children in his own country. What is wrong with this picture?

I am writing this, not only to vent, but to encourage you to email President Bush and respectfully tell him that you support the expanded health care for poor children. We have to get this country on the right tract, so we must make our politicians accountable. Yes, he isn’t running for re-election, but he should care enough about what people think to take what we say into consideration.

In addition, pray for this country. We need it.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Christ’s Followers Part II

Saying people should not be part of the Church because of some of the terrible things done by church people is like saying marriage should be done away with because some marriages are terrible. Or cars should be banned because some people drive recklessly and kill with their cars.

It is sad that people say and do terrible things in the name of God, but we can’t blame God for that. Some people take certain verses of the Bible or the Qur’an out of context to justify breaking the laws of their own religion. They ignore the peaceful teachings of their religions because their hearts are evil.

We have free will. God doesn’t control us like we are puppets. God will guide us if we pray for guidance, and submit to God’s will. God has given us teachings and principles to live by as well. If you look at the Ten Commandments, for example, they are the way to a peaceful and orderly society. Our western legal system is based on those Ten Commandments because they are universal principles found in most religions and societies in some form or another.

So don’t let the actions of some keep you away from God. God loves you and wants you to be in relationship with him. Not because God needs you, but because you need God.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Christ’s Followers

Some people point to the bad things done in the name of God, and condemn all religion as evil and a curse upon humanity. It is my opinion that there has been a lot more good done by people of faith and in the name of God than evil. People usually point to the Crusades and the Inquisition as examples of how bad Christians are (and I can think of a lot more than those). But the good that has been done throughout history far outweighs the bad, in my opinion (although there has still been enough bad, sad to say).

I can think of two examples of the good done by the Church. For much of the past 2,000 years, it was the Church and various Christian organizations that provided care for the sick, orphans, and the needy. It was the Church, especially monastic orders, which preserved western civilization and classical literature during the time when much of Europe was being overrun.

You may ask, then, why has there been so much evil done in the name of God? Why don’t people follow the teachings of their faith that emphasize “love thy neighbor” and forgive one another, which in one way or another are major principles in most religious traditions?

It’s because people are evil and have a sin nature. Some say people are born good and evil society influences them to sin. That’s a ridiculous statement, because what is society made up of? People! If the people are good, society will be good. If people are sinners, society will be evil. Christianity teaches that we are born with an inclination to sin, a sin nature. It is like a genetic flaw, there from birth.

When you truly become a follower of Christ, your inclination to sin should become significantly diminished over time, and you should become a better and better person because you are allowing the Holy Spirit to work in you and conform you to the image of Jesus Christ (called sanctification). This involves submitting your will to God’s will, and no longer wanting to do things your way.

Also there are many people out there claiming to be followers of Christ, but they really haven’t truly committed their lives to Christ. They go through all the motions, but they are what the prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 29:13a: The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (NIV) They give people of faith a bad name because of their behavior. Of course we also have to realize that nobody can truly judge what they are – only God knows the heart.

Then there are those who are followers of Christ but are misguided, in my opinion. They are legalistic and judgmental, trying to save the world by condemning it. They seem to forget about Jesus and what he taught, and prefer fire and brimstone over grace and restoration. That doesn’t mean we don’t fight against evil, injustice, and oppression when we find it, but that we have to be careful how we do it.

An unbeliever will never come to faith if he or she judges Jesus based on his followers. We are imperfect, flawed, disobedient, and self-centered (and those are the good ones!) We have to look to Jesus himself, the author and perfecter of our faith, and what he taught. He, and he alone.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Using Your Brain

Sometimes people think that faith doesn’t involve intellect, and you have to leave your brains at the door when you enter a church. While not everything regarding faith can be explained by logic and reason, much of it can (called apologetics).

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, came up with what has come to be called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral for understanding the Bible: the four sides are Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. Tradition refers to the traditional understanding of Scripture as handed down in the apostolic tradition from the Church Fathers. Reason is that it has to make some sort of sense, especially when considering what is said on the subject elsewhere in Scripture. And Experience refers to what we have observed in the world and in our own lives. None of these other three supersedes Scripture, but are used to understand it.

By the way, the Protestant/Wesleyan understanding of Tradition is different from the Roman Catholic understanding. I won’t bore you with the details, but just be aware of it. Also, modern “liberal” scholars and theologians frequently depart from the traditional interpretations of Scripture, and much of what you read in the media reflects these nontraditional understandings.

Having doubts or questioning various aspects of your faith does not necessarily indicate a lack of faith, especially when you have already placed your faith and trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior (trusting Jesus for your eternal destiny, in other words). Everybody has some questions and doubts about their faith. We will never know everything and we will never understand everything, as I’ve said before. That’s because we are dealing with God, who is so far beyond us that we just can’t comprehend it all. God tells us thru the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” NRSV

Not completely understanding the Bible or having some questions about faith should not keep you from having a relationship with God. Nor should the behavior of some who do bad things while claiming to be doing God’s will keep you away from God (see a future post on this subject).

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Because Christians believe Jesus is the way, critics and skeptics often consider them elitist or presumptuous. However, Christians aren’t making this up. It is based on what Scripture tells us (see previous posting for examples). If you don’t believe in Scripture, then that’s your prerogative. But I suggest that those who don’t buy it should not be so intolerant of those who do. Unfortunately those who preach the loudest about tolerance, the premier virtue of the new religion of political correctness, are also the most intolerant of those who don’t think as they do.

Others criticize God, saying they can’t believe in a God that would condemn somebody to hell. The point here is that God has actually given us an easy way to avoid our rightful punishment. It’s so easy that many can’t believe it, and so ignore it. Others would rather indulge in the temporary pleasures of this world and thus forgo an eternity in heaven. God doesn’t condemn us – we doom ourselves. God made the rules and provides the means of salvation – it’s up to us, who have free will, to make the decision.

For example, God made the laws of the universe, such as the law of gravity. If we jump off a tall building, the law of gravity takes effect and we will die when we hit the ground. God also made the spiritual laws, which we find spelled out in the Bible. Just as we take the physical laws seriously, we should take God’s spiritual principles seriously as well.

I admit that some Christians are rather obnoxious about their faith, condemning those who don’t believe. It’s not our job to condemn, only to point the way. God’s Holy Spirit will work within a person to move them closer to God (called in some traditions “prevenient grace”). We can choose to ignore the Holy Spirit or we can choose to obey. We have free will. If you have been ignoring the Spirit’s call, I encourage you to respond by attending a church and finding out what all this is about. The more you learn, the more you will be convinced that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Big Picture for Christians

In my last posting I said that we can easily get hung up on questions and doubts we have when it comes to faith. I like to look at the big picture, and avoid these traps. For Christians, what is that big picture?

The big picture is that we are all sinners (meaning we have broken God’s laws and rebelled against him by our ungodly actions throughout our lives); we fall short of God’s standard; we deserve punishment for all we have done to offend God in this life; we can do nothing to save ourselves; Jesus took upon himself the punishment due us because only he could save us; because Jesus paid the price, we are declared pardoned by God; because the price has been paid by Jesus, we go to heaven, guaranteed. Everything else is detail as far as I’m concerned. When Christians talk about justification, atonement, and salvation, this is what they are referring to (in a nutshell).

Below is a sampling of verses concerning salvation through faith in Christ, and upon which Christians base their beliefs:

Romans 6:23

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NIV)

Romans 3:22-25

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. (New Living Translation)

Ephesians 2:8-9

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (New Living Translation) (grace = unmerited favor, undeserved kindness)

Acts 4:12

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” NRSV

John 3:16-18

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.” (New Living Translation)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Doubts and Questions

In my postings regarding various ways of interpreting the Bible, I mentioned that often we run the risk of focusing on details and trivia rather than the message God is attempting to convey by the story. Regardless of how you view the Bible, you run the risk of getting hung up on doctrinal and other questions, thus hindering your relationship with God.

For example, you may ask why does a supposedly “good” God allow bad things to happen to “good” people? Why is there so much suffering in the world? A question we asked 6 years ago: How could God allow 9/11 to happen? These questions can cause people to seriously question or even reject God if they can’t get satisfactory answers.

In addition to these questions of life, people have doubts or questions about various doctrines. What we must realize is that if you wait until you have a clear understanding of everything to place your faith in Jesus, it will never happen. That’s because there will always be some things we just will never understand. But when we decide to exercise our faith (and if a Christian, receive Christ as your Lord and Savior), the Holy Spirit increases your understanding. A spiritual principle is that “understanding follows faith”, not the other way around. God tells us in Proverbs 2:6:

For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. NRSV

Don’t feel bad if you have doubts, questions, or sometimes feel God isn’t with you. God has given us his grace and the gift of faith. All we need to do is accept these gifts, be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and practice the spiritual disciplines of worship, prayer, and Bible study.

We just have to recognize that there will always be unanswerable questions, tensions that are difficult to resolve, and doctrines that make us uncomfortable. There are “hard sayings” of Jesus that make us scratch our heads, and there are attributes of God that seem to be in conflict with one another. But that’s why it’s called “faith.” If it were easy, no faith would have to be involved, only logic or reason.

As I said before, understanding follows faith, so why not accept what Jesus has for you, and then see what God does? I encourage you to do what God tells us through the Apostle Paul in Colossians 2:6-7 (CEV):

You have accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord. Now keep on following him. Plant your roots in Christ and let him be the foundation for your life. Be strong in your faith, just as you were taught. And be grateful.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Interpretations of the Bible – Part IV

This is the last in a series examining the various ways people view and interpret the Old Testament. See where you fall in your interpretation of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament.


The Bible is merely one culture’s attempt to explain the way things are (such as how we came into being). Strictly literature or folklore, strictly cultural in its expression. No divine involvement. Primitive attempts to explain life, record some history, set forth some wisdom, and to establish rules to govern that particular society.


Six days of creation and Fall of Adam and Eve strictly mythological, one of many descriptions of creation found in various cultures. Does not acknowledge God was involved in the creation process. The only rational explanation for how we got here is from science as currently understood.


There was no flood of catastrophic proportions as described in the Bible. This is one of many accounts of flood events described in various ancient cultures, but does not describe a worldwide flood that wiped out all life (that would be impossible and there is no scientific evidence). May have been inspired by similar flood stories from other cultures and a possible historical event, such as the Black Sea filling up or some localized flood.


It completely deconstructs the Bible, leaving no room for the divine. Views the Bible stories as similar to, and often derived from, comparable stories in other cultures. Scholars often view the Bible this way, which allows them to analyze the text without faith getting in the way. Scholarly works can and should be used as a resource when studying the Bible for spiritual purposes, but the student must be aware of the perspective the author is coming from.

This way of viewing the Old Testament is also used for the Gospels, making them into fanciful and exaggerated accounts of Jesus with little basis in fact. Such a way of viewing the Gospels can discount Jesus as God’s only begotten Son, jeopardize his message, and cheapen (or eliminate entirely) what he did on the cross.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Interpretations of the Bible – Part III

This is a continuation of various ways people view and interpret the Old Testament. See where you fall in the way you view the Bible, particularly the Old Testament.


Many accounts are not to be taken literally, but are stories (or “sacred myths”) inspired by God to explain divine truths. These are cultural in their expression, but represent God’s message to us. Being myths in no way diminishes their importance as God’s Word (God used parables to describe concepts as Jesus did). Bible divinely inspired and accurately communicates God’s message to us using various literary forms and imagery.


Six days of creation and Fall of Adam and Eve are mythological, but are God’s way of explaining his creative power, showing that God is a God of order, and explaining the reason for sin and evil in the world. This particular oral tradition was inspired by God for his purposes. May be possible to reconcile evolution and “Big Bang” with God’s creative acts by acknowledging that God was in control of the processes as a kind of Intelligent Designer (if you are willing to accept “evolution” was not a Godless random process).


Divinely inspired story (which in various forms can be found in ancient cultures) used by God to communicate certain truths. May have some basis in fact from an ancient flood event, such as the Black Sea filling suddenly, as recent evidence suggests, but there may not have been a literal Ark filled with animals.


This interpretation leaves the door open for deconstructing the Bible, and not taking it seriously as God’s Word. One must believe the stories are divinely inspired and communicate a message from God in order for this interpretation to work from a spiritual perspective. Must also be able to separate historical fact from sacred myth, understanding that much of the Old Testament is factual and historically accurate. Advantage is that it is generally not at odds with scientific evidence and you aren’t as apt to get hung up on trivial detail.

A word of warning with this way of interpreting the Old Testament. In my opinion, Christians shouldn’t apply it to the Gospels. If we mythologize the life and teachings of Jesus, we have discounted Jesus as God’s only begotten Son, jeopardized his message, and cheapened (or even eliminated) what he did on the cross. The heart of Christian belief is in the Gospels and they shouldn’t be minimized in any way.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11 Reflections

I’m writing this on the 6th anniversary of the attacks of 9/11/01, which was also a Tuesday. Unlike today, it was sunny and clear. Of course any American alive remembers where he or she was when these events unfolded. At that time I was working for a company that had offices in the south tower. We lost several employees, two of whom I knew personally. I was also a part-time pastor, and I ministered to the employees in my office in Westchester County as the realization sunk in that at least some of our co-workers were probably killed.

I also remember that following Sunday, when attendance at church was higher than usual. People came seeking comfort, answers, whatever. We pastors tried to help the stunned multitudes with a meaningful service and sermon. I’m sure the same was true in the nation’s synagogues that weekend. Despite our collective grief, it was gratifying to see so many people looking to God in a time of need.

Unfortunately, within a few weeks, church attendance returned to its usual levels, and God was once more marginalized in many people’s lives. If anything, the situation is now worse than before spiritually. Militant atheists rail against religion in general and Christianity in particular, and there is a constant stream of lawsuits, either against the practice of religion or trying to restore rights that are being taken away by misguided school districts, colleges and organizations (see my earlier postings on the First Amendment).

I believe that we as a nation need to return to God, not just for a few weeks after a crisis, but wholeheartedly. We have been blessed by God as a nation, yet we now take credit for these blessings, leaving God out of the equation. Moreover, we trust in our military and other things rather than in the Lord. We should heed what it says in Psalm 20:7 (NIV): “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

I encourage you to return to God. The walls of the church will not cave in if you show up. Instead there will be rejoicing in heaven, as Jesus said in Luke 15:7 (NRSV): “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” We were created for a relationship with the Almighty – let’s fulfill our higher purposes in life by making God an integral part of our life.

In anticipation of the start of Rosh HaShanah at sundown on Wednesday, let me wish my Jewish brothers and sisters L’shanah tovah! Happy 5768!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Interpretations of the Bible – Part II

This is a continuation of various ways people view and interpret the Old Testament. See Part I for the introduction to this series of postings and a description of the literalist way of understanding the Old Testament. Determine where you fall in your interpretation of the Old Testament.


Events occurred generally as described, so Bible can be taken somewhat literally. However, there is some room for interpretation beyond the text based on reasonable assumptions. Bible divinely inspired and accurately communicates God’s message to us.


Creation may have occurred over “eons” or “epochs” and not six literal 24-hour days. Otherwise is a true representation of what happened.


There may not have been a worldwide flood as described, but there probably was a significant local flood since there are a number of flood stories in the ancient Near East that seem to confirm the biblical account of a major flood.


Similar to the completely literal interpretation, people can get hung up in details rather than what the story is communicating to us. Some have trouble believing these stories, so whole Bible placed into doubt. The advantage is that this interpretation allows at least some reconciliation with scientific evidence and can be modified as new discoveries are found without compromising the basic message of the story. May leave fewer unanswered questions.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Interpretations of the Bible – Part I

What we Christians call the Old Testament is the Holy Scripture of two religions, Judaism and Christianity. Islam bases some of the Qur’an on its stories (albeit modified), and Christianity has what we call the New Testament in addition. There are differences in the way people interpret the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. The first few chapters of Genesis have become controversial because they seem to contradict scientific evidence.

What I would like to do is examine four different ways of viewing, interpreting and understanding the Old Testament, particularly the creation stories and other events such as The Flood and Jonah. These ways of interpreting that I have identified are milestones along a continuum. The purpose is to help you understand how you view the Old Testament, how it might affect your thinking, and the risks involved with that method. I will start with a discussion of the completely literal interpretation of Old Testament stories.


Events occurred exactly as described, so Bible is to be taken absolutely literally. There is no room for any other interpretation. Bible is without error and is divinely inspired.


Creation occurred over six 24-hour literal days, and every other detail is to be believed literally. Everything happened exactly as described over 144 hours.


There was a worldwide flood that destroyed all life on earth except those preserved on the ark. Sedimentary strata found around the earth confirm this.


Can tend to get hung up in details rather than what the story is communicating to us. Some have trouble believing these stories, so whole Bible can be placed into doubt. Many unanswered questions: dinosaurs, etc. Literal interpretation often at odds with scientific evidence (although science is evolving as new discoveries found, so can’t place our faith in ever-changing science). Advantage is that this way of interpreting can give comfort in that there is no other way of understanding what the story is telling us.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Living in Community

We all are a part of some kind of community. We are a member of a family, the smallest community and the basic building block for larger communities. Some of us are part of a church, where we worship and serve the Lord as a community of believers. Some of us have the workplace, which is a type of community where it is especially important that people work well together. And we have neighborhoods, cities and other communities that we are a part of.

Although we are social beings, created to be in community, living in community is not always easy – our sin nature gets in the way. Because it isn’t easy, God gave has given us many guidelines in the Bible. As social beings we all live in community, and life will go well if we practice what the Bible tells us, such as bear with one another, practice forgiveness, and have agape love for all. Christians living peaceably in community is a good witness to the world. As the song says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”

How we live in community determines how people will view us as people of faith. We are here to honor God with our lives, to be that shining light on a hill. I encourage you to examine all of your relationships: family, church, neighborhood, workplace. Look for areas where love is lacking and forgiveness is needed, and where compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience need to be practiced. In doing so, your own life will improve: reduced stress, less anger and resentment, more harmony, and the assurance that you are doing the right thing.

Life is too short to bear grudges or carry around a load of resentment. Commit this week to work on those relationships that need fixing so the peace of Christ can truly rule in your heart. See Colossians chapters 2 to 4 for some guidelines for living together in community.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Saving the Environment and the Family

I read with interest in the Poughkeepsie Journal articles concerning how the pope recently made comments promoting environmental awareness as well as traditional marriage. Both are important topics, so I’m glad the pope is keeping these in the public’s awareness. The pope should use his prestige as the leader of roughly half the Christians in the world to address such important issues.

The family is the basic building block of society. Without strong marriages and families, society begins to deteriorate. Studies have shown that women and children suffer the most economically from failed marriages. The weakening of the traditional family is a multi-faceted problem, but the solution begins, I believe, with commitment: a commitment between a husband and wife, and a commitment to include God in their marriage.

If we continue to pollute our environment and deplete our nonrenewable natural resources, we will leave the world much worse off than we found it. As individuals we can and must reduce energy consumption and do other things that are environmentally friendly. We should also make our representatives accountable for finally establishing a comprehensive energy policy for this country that also reduces carbon emissions.

I applaud the pope for addressing these issues.