Monday, March 31, 2008

Unlimited Abortion in NYS

Below is an article that is not new news, but summarizes both what Spitzer (before his fall) was trying to accomplish here in NYS, and what the two Democratic presidential candidates are doing in the Senate regarding abortion. As I’ve said before, there should be limits on abortion just as there are controls and limits on such rights as free speech and freedom of assembly. Abortion clinics should be regulated and inspected by the state, for example, to protect women’s health. Even rights specifically mentioned in the Constitution have limits placed on them. Why should abortion, an invented right not mentioned in the Constitution, be exempt? Note that this article was written before Spitzer had to quit. Write to the new Governor and ask him not to continue Spitzer’s policies in this matter.

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer (D) is pushing a bill in his state’s legislature that seeks to declare abortion a fundamental right for all women. The bill would make abortions virtually immune to state regulation, end conscience protections and, most likely, force the numerous Christian-run hospitals in the state to close rather than be forced to violate their faith by carrying out abortions or referring women to abortuaries. The bill also would expand the field of people who can perform abortions while eliminating the possibility of passing restrictions that have wide public support, such as parental notification, informed consent laws and waiting periods.

Governor Spitzer rose to power in New York State with tremendous support from NARAL and Planned Parenthood, mainly due to his adamant support of abortion and his unbridled hostility towards pregnancy care centers. Coincidentally, the two leading Democratic nominees for president, Senators Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barak Obama (R-Ill.) are cosponsors of a similar bill in the U.S. Senate introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) that, if enacted, would effectively overturn most state laws on abortion. States, like Georgia, that are currently trying to reflect the pro-life majority among their population would be left with little choice but to subsidize abortions with taxpayer dollars if this legislation is passed and signed into national law.

(by Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. Quoted from “The Pastor’s Weekly Briefing”, an e-newsletter published by Focus on the Family, Feb. 29, 2008. Copyright © 2008, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.)

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Religious Left

The media and leftist politicians write and speak often of the “Religious Right” and Hillary Clinton once spoke of a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” which included, I would assume, this notorious Religious Right.

With the flap about Obama’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, we are getting a rude awakening – there is a Religious Left! We don’t think about it, but the former Bishop Shelby Spong, a Bishop in the Episcopal Church (now retired) who could only be described as a heretic; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; Hillary Clinton; the whole so-called Jesus Seminar; most seminary professors; and others in academia, the media, and in politics are members of the Religious Left.

With Rev. Wright, there are overtones of racism in addition to his leftist leanings. I say there are racist overtones because he doesn’t appear to care very much for white people. He claimed “the government” developed HIV/AIDS to kill black people. I would presume “the government” in this case must mean white people, unless blacks in government wanted to kill off their brothers and sisters in the African-American community.

We’ve gotten a glimpse into the mind of the Religious Left, and it isn’t always a pretty picture.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Invitation to Men of the Hudson Valley

For those of you in the Hudson Valley, we are inviting men from through out the Valley to come together, unified in prayer, on Friday, March 28th from 7-10 PM. Let’s break down the walls that divide us and unite under the banner of Jesus! This event is being sponsored by The Hudson Valley Men of God, who would like to bring men from all Christian denominations together for a night of prayer. The program will be held at a public High School, Roy C. Ketcham, in Wappingers Falls.

We will be praying through on Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper and will be led by 8 Prayer Warriors from various churches from the area:

1. A Promise Keeper is committed to honoring Jesus Christ through worship, prayer and obedience to God’s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit (Pastor Jesse Bottoms Beulah Baptist – Poughkeepsie).

2. A Promise Keeper is committed to pursuing vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises. Captain James Brennan (Salvation Army Worship Center – Newburgh)

3. Promise Keeper is committed to practicing spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity. Pastor Tony Beck (Christ Church, United Methodist Church – Beacon)

4. A Promise Keeper is committed to building strong marriages and families through love, protection and biblical values. Pastor Ronald O Perry (Springfield Baptist Church – Beacon)

5. A Promise Keeper is committed to supporting the mission of his church by honoring and praying for his pastor, and by actively giving his time and resources. Rev. Tom Michaels Zahradnik (Sound of Life Radio – Lake Katrine)

6. A Promise Keeper is committed to reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity. Deacon Michael Sanchez (Mission Church AG – Holmes)

7. A Promise Keeper is committed to influencing his world, being obedient to the Great Commandment (see Mark 12:30-31) Pastor Mike Gerhardt (New Beginnings CMA – Poughkeepsie)

8. Promise Keeper is committed to influencing his world, being obedient to the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:19-20). Pastor Bobby Hargraves (Calvary Chapel of The Hudson Valley – La Grange)

Our vision is to fill all of the seats with men from all races and denominations, and to reach out to the Lord and make a statement to the rest of Hudson Valley. The program will begin and end in musical worship and will have a fellowship break in the middle with beverages and snacks. Their will be no suggested donation for this program.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Meanings of the Resurrection

With Easter just past, I would like to explore with you the several layers of meanings to the Resurrection, and how they are relevant to our faith walk today.

1. Messiah and Son of God

The first meaning is obvious: Jesus’ Resurrection proved that he was the promised Messiah. But it goes beyond being the Messiah, because the people misunderstood what the Messiah was to be all about. Jesus was the Messiah, but so much more. He is also the Son of God – God in the flesh – who came to earth to accomplish God’s plan to save the human race from the results of its sinful condition. We have all fallen short of God’s standard, but Jesus took care of that dilemma on the Cross, which leads into the second meaning of the Resurrection.

2. Good Triumphs over Evil

The second message for us in the Resurrection is the triumph of Good over Evil. The struggle between good and evil are recurring themes in the Bible. These forces are in constant conflict, which we see every day – just look at the news. What we see on the news, and often in our own lives, is a spiritual struggle that has spread to the physical realm with the fall of Adam and Eve. Let us be agents of good, triumphing over evil, as described in Romans 12:20-21, NRSV:

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

When we consider the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we see that God has Good triumphing over Evil in at least three ways.

a. Jesus Triumphs over Death

The first way God triumphed over evil is that Jesus triumphed over death. Can you imagine how Jesus felt to be free of the grip of death, to be out of that cold tomb! The angels must have been singing and praising God, just as they did on that first Christmas morning 33 years earlier.

b. Jesus Triumphs over Worldly Evil

The second way Jesus triumphed over evil is that he triumphed over the plots of evil men, who wanted him gone for good. The Resurrection points to the eventual complete defeat of all evil – Christ’s Resurrection is the beginning of the end for the forces of Evil.

Despite the temptations, pain, suffering and grief that we have to endure in this life, remember that you and I are on the winning side. Halleluiah! So don’t let the trials of this life get you down – continue to look to Jesus, as we read in Hebrews 12:3:

Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. NIV

c. Jesus Conquered Death

The third way Jesus triumphed over evil is that he conquered death for all of us by his Crucifixion and Resurrection. What does “conquered death” mean? It means we no longer have to fear death, because we now know with certainty we are going to a much better place when we check out of here. Yes, we still have physical death, as Jesus acknowledged in John 11:25-26, but we live on spiritually:

Jesus said to [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” NRSV

Jesus conquered death, so that we, who choose to believe, can be assured that physical death is a doorway to another, much better, life. We read in Romans 8:1-2:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. NRSV

3. God’s Sign of Approval

The Third meaning of the Resurrection, in addition to proving Jesus is the Son of God and the triumph of Good over Evil, is that it is a sign of God’s approval. God’s approval of what? By the Resurrection, God demonstrated his approved of what Jesus did on Friday. Although in human terms it would appear that Jesus was a complete failure, the Resurrection tells us otherwise. The Resurrection is solid proof that Jesus didn’t fail by allowing himself to be arrested and executed. Instead, he was being obedient to God’s plan, as we see in his prayer to the Father just prior to his arrest (Matthew 26:39b):

“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” NRSV

Furthermore, we read in Philippians 2:8 about Jesus’ obedience to God:

He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. NRSV

Let me summarize what I understand this season to be all about. Our hope as Christians is grounded in the gift of eternal life which we receive the day we believe. This Resurrection hope is our way out of the valley of darkness and despair through which all of us walk at one time or another. The Resurrection illustrates that hope, plus points to our own resurrections in the last days.

This gift of eternal life begins right now for all who worship the risen Christ, and trust him as their Savior. By God’s grace and thru our faith in Christ, we will spend eternity with the Father who made us and the Son who saved us. This is the hope and the promise which Christians see expressed on Easter Day.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Further Thoughts on the Cross

Christianity has been misunderstood since the beginning, and continues to be misunderstood today, often by Christians themselves. As a matter of fact, Jesus himself was misunderstood, as the Bible points out. To many, it is a complete mystery how one man’s death on a crude Roman cross can have such an impact on the world. This is not a new problem, as the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:21-23 (New Living Translation paraphrased version):

Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.

Despite the “foolishness” of the Cross it stands at the pinnacle of history: it’s that important.

Telling the Story

The Bible describes the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the agony in the Garden, and the betrayal and arrest of Jesus. We know about the various trials of Jesus as he is shuttled back and forth between the high priest, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod, and back to Pilate again. We read about the crowd demanding his crucifixion, about his terrible scourging, and the agonizing walk to Calvary, carrying the heavy wooden cross-beam. The Gospels tell the story almost minute by minute, but they don’t go into much descriptive detail about some of the events.

We may wonder why, but in reality, they didn’t have to. The people of that day, reading these accounts, knew exactly what had happened. For example, it says in John 19:1: Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. Nothing more had to be said. Anybody reading this in the first or second centuries knew exactly what this entailed: 39 lashes with a whip that ripped the skin and flesh off the body. Often prisoners died from the flogging.

There is no lengthy description of the crucifixion either, because, again, there was no need for it. Most people in those days had witnessed crucifixions and knew what it involved – no need for gory details. However, the lack of detail doesn’t diminish the significance of the Cross. The significance isn’t in the details, but in the event itself: who it was who died, and why he came to die as part of God’s plan.

Significance of the Cross

The significance of these events lies not in the fact that some innocent man was the victim of a terrible injustice. Many people have suffered terrible injustices throughout history. It isn’t in the fact that some poor guy, trying to do some good, is rewarded by being executed by corrupt authorities who felt threatened by him. Many people have been caught up in power struggles, and have ended up dead. It isn’t in the fact that this was an excruciating death, because many people have suffered agonizing deaths. As a matter of fact, thousands of Jews were crucified after the insurrections of 68-70 and 133-135 against the Romans.

As I said before, the significance of the death of Jesus is not in the method, or who did it, or in any of the details. What makes the death of Jesus so important is that he is the Son of God, and he went voluntarily to his death in fulfillment of God’s plan. How do we know? We read in Philippians 2:8 that Jesus was obedient to God:

He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. NRSV

We also see his yielding to God the Father’s will in his prayer during his agony in the garden (Matthew 26:39b):

“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” NRSV

Old Testament Prophecies

The New Testament explains why Jesus needed to suffer and die – it was God’s way of redeeming the human race. While we look to the New Testament for understanding of the death of Jesus, the Old Testament also clearly explains why the Messiah had to suffer and die. The Old Testament sacrificial system, with the shedding of animal’s blood, points to Jesus and his death (which is needed to get us back into right relationship with God). Isaiah chapter 53 lays out very clearly God’s new plan for the human race 500 years before the Cross.

This concept of a sacrificial death can be difficult to grasp, but we have to take on faith what Jesus accomplished by his suffering and death:

· It was to free us from the penalty of our own transgressions (“was crushed for our iniquities” and “pierced for our transgressions”),

· It was to reconcile us to God (“the punishment that brought us peace”), and it

· It was to give us victory over sin and death (“by his wounds we are healed”).

Therefore, when we put our faith in Christ and what he did on the Cross, it:
· brings us into a right relationship with God (for which we were created),
· transforms us into new creations in Christ, and
· guarantees us a place in heaven despite how rotten we’ve been.

That’s why the Cross and the shed blood of Jesus are so important, offensive as they might seem to those who don’t understand. Apparently there was no other way to effectively – once for all – free the human race from the penalty of our sins and restore us to what we were created to be. One of the best explanations of the death of Jesus is found in Hebrews 9:11-22. This passage links the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus with the Israelite sacrifices of animals, and tells why Jesus’ sacrifice is superior. I’ll read it from The Message, a highly paraphrased version, but one that is easy to follow and explains this in modern terms:

But when the Messiah arrived as high priest of the superior things of this new covenant, he bypassed the old [tabernacle] and its trappings in this created world, and went straight into heaven’s “[tabernacle]” — the true Holy Place — once and for all.

He also bypassed the sacrifices consisting of goat and calf blood, instead using his own blood as the price to set us free once and for all. If that animal blood and the other rituals of purification were effective in cleaning up certain matters of our religion and behavior, think how much more the blood of Christ cleans up our whole lives, inside and out. Through the Spirit, Christ offered himself as an unblemished sacrifice, freeing us from all those dead-end efforts to make ourselves respectable, so that we can live all out for God.

Like a will that takes effect when someone dies, the new covenant was put into action at Jesus’ death. His death marked the transition from the old plan to the new one, canceling the old obligations and accompanying sins, and summoning the heirs to receive the eternal inheritance that was promised them. He brought together God and his people in this new way.

Even the first plan required a death to set it in motion. After Moses had read out all the terms of the plan of the law — God’s “will” — he took the blood of sacrificed animals and, in a solemn ritual, sprinkled the document and the people who were its beneficiaries.

And then he attested its validity with the words, “This is the blood of the covenant commanded by God.” He did the same thing with the place of worship and its furniture. Moses said to the people, “This is the blood of the covenant God has established with you.” Practically everything in a will hinges on a death. That’s why blood, the evidence of death, is used so much in our tradition, especially regarding forgiveness of sins.

Monday, March 24, 2008

More on Exports from China

In some recent posts, I wrote about the disadvantages of exporting jobs overseas, and importing goods from China. In the Sunday, 3/23/08, edition of the Poughkeepsie Journal, there was an article about electronics imported from that country. As it turns out, viruses have been found in various electronics devices manufactured in China. We’ve had toys with lead paint, contaminated toothpaste and pet food, and now we have to contend with viruses! When are we going to wise up and realize the penalty we are paying for getting goods a few bucks cheaper?

Concluding Thoughts on Temptation (Part 3)

As we saw in the earlier posts about Jesus’ temptation (in Matthew 4:1-11), the devil offered the whole world to Jesus if he would only kneel down and worship him. Today the devil offers us the world by enticing us with materialism, power, sex, money – whatever our weakness is. The Apostle John writes about following the ways of the world in 1 John 2:15-16:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world — the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches — comes not from the Father, but from the world. NRSV

When you find yourself being tempted by something that the world offers, quote to yourself Jesus’ words to the devil: “You must worship the LORD your God, and serve only him.”

That should put things into better perspective, and give you the strength to resist. Also remember what the Apostle John tells us in 1 John 4:4: “Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” NRSV

So let us resist the temptations of this world by getting our priorities straight, building up our faith by Bible study and other spiritual disciplines, remembering whom we serve and to whom we belong, and realizing we have the Holy Spirit within us to protect us from the devil. And always remember: “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

The closer you are to God, the better able you are to resist temptation.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday Meditation: Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

On Palm Sunday, people lined the road leading into Jerusalem, and they spread palm branches before him as a sign of respect. There were shouts of “Hosanna” meaning “Save us now”. A wave of expectation had swept the country. But the cheering did not last. The tide began to turn against him. Why did the crowd turn against him? And why so quickly? How did the shouts of Hosanna on Sunday become the shouts of “crucify him” just a few days later? Why did the cheering stop? Since today is Good Friday, let’s take a look at the death of Jesus and try to answer the question, “Why did Jesus have to die?”

The People’s Expectations

I think the significance of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is that it was all a misunderstanding about his life and mission. What turned the tide against him was that Jesus committed the unpardonable sin of not being the kind of Messiah everybody was expecting. This led, at least in part, to His death upon the cross. Let me explain.

The people knew Jesus had supernatural power – they knew of his many miracles, healings, raising the dead, and multiplication of food. He was popular because of these miracles, and he was a charismatic leader whose teachings were profound. Moreover, he wasn’t afraid of the establishment, and it appeared he could summon thousands to follow him if he wished. After he fed the multitudes, the Gospel says the people wanted to make him king (John 6:14-15):

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. NRSV

On Palm Sunday the crowd shouted “Save us!”, because they were looking for a king to save them in an earthly sense. They wanted to be saved from the harsh Roman rule, from their own oppressive leaders, from crippling taxes, and most of all they wanted to have their land restored to them. You can’t blame them for wanting these things, because life was miserable, with no relief in sight.

Jesus’ name in Hebrew is Y’Shua, which means “Jehovah saves.” What could be better? God must have sent him to save his people. I’m sure the people were convinced that Jesus was a new Moses, who would deliver them out of bondage. He was a new Joshua, who would restore their land. He was a new King David, who would rule over a unified nation in glory.

When Jesus came into Jerusalem in what appeared to be a triumphal procession, the people got fired up. Freedom is at hand! Rome will soon be defeated! Our land will be restored! Jerusalem was filled with Jews from all over celebrating the Passover – what a perfect time to start a rebellion!

But nothing happens – a perfect opportunity is slipping away, and Jesus is doing nothing. What’s wrong with him? Is he a fraud like those false messiahs of the past? Finally, at the instigation of the religious leaders, the crowd turns against Jesus.

The Leaders’ Fears

The crowd rejected Jesus before Pilate, but it was the religious leaders who really wanted him out of the way. The people had little power, but Pilate was intimidated by the crowd’s actions. Fearing a riot, he relented and had Jesus executed – against his better judgment. He had his career to think about – he couldn’t afford to have reports of a riot reach Rome and put his position in jeopardy. So Pilate took the easy way – who cares about some guy whose own people have rejected him?

But why did these religious leaders want Jesus out of the way? It was because he posed a threat to the status quo. The religious leaders had power because the Romans allowed them to have it. They had a cozy arrangement with the occupying Romans, and they had a lucrative racket going in their sacrificial lamb and money changing operations. That’s why Jesus cleared the temple and drove out the money changers – they were ripping off the people. (Sadly, Christian religious leaders have a history of ripping off the people as well).

If Jesus started a rebellion, the leaders would lose their power (and probably their lives). Besides, there had been false messiahs before, and they all amounted to nothing. They became worried when this Galilean didn’t fade away like the others, but seemed to be gaining in popularity and influence. Jesus and his followers, while they didn’t appear to be taking up arms, also didn’t seem to have much respect for the religious authorities and their traditions. Jesus even traveled thru Samaria, went into Gentile territories, and he hung out with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other “lowlife” people. This was scandalous, but these are the kinds of people might just might be willing to start a revolt – they had nothing to lose.

So Jesus and his followers were perceived to be a threat – this movement had to be stopped. Kill the head, and the body dies too, they figured.

God’s Plan

What the leaders and the crowd didn’t realize was that Jesus was the Messiah, but just wasn’t the kind of Messiah they had expected. They hadn’t understood many of the prophecies about his suffering, especially those in Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth was to suffer and die. That may seem strange, because we all die, and many people suffer terribly.

So what does it mean that Jesus came to earth to suffer and die? He certainly could have come to earth fully-grown, done some teaching, performed a few miracles, and then ascended into heaven, leaving a legacy of wise teachings and a good example. After all, he is God – he didn’t have to endure what he did.

In his triumphal entry into Jerusalem we see that he clearly embraced his identity as the Messiah and as a king. He was cheered and welcomed, was hailed as a king and savior by the crowd. Those who lined the road were united in affirming his authority and power with shouts of “Save Us,” and Jesus accepted these accolades. As a matter of fact, we read in the Luke version of Palm Sunday that Jesus insisted on this praise (Luke 19:39-40):

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” NRSV

He accepted this praise because he is divine, he is God, and he is the Messiah. As such, he certainly could have skipped that nasty business with the Cross – but he didn’t. Why? He went to the cross voluntarily, because it was God’s plan for him to do so. Powerful as Jesus is, he could have easily resisted the puny efforts of even the mighty Roman Empire. But he didn’t, which was prophesied in Isaiah 53:7:

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. NIV

Why, then, did this have to happen? Again, it is explained in Isaiah 53:4-6:

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. NIV

By his wounds we are healed. Or as it says in the King James Version, which many of us learned (Isaiah 53:5b): By His stripes we are healed. (NKJV) This concept can be difficult, but we have to take on faith that what Jesus accomplished by his suffering and death was to free us from the penalty of our own transgressions (“was crushed for our iniquities), was to reconcile us to God (“the punishment that brought us peace”), and it was to give us victory over sin and death (“by his stripes we are healed”).

That is what those Isaiah passages are saying. Therefore, when we put our faith in Christ and what he did on the Cross, it brings us into a right relationship with God, transforms us into new creations in Christ, and guarantees us a place in heaven despite how rotten we’ve been. As we contemplate what occurred that following Friday, we Christians believe that it was all for the good, part of God’s plan (hence the name “Good” Friday).

Jesus wasn’t just the unfortunate victim of a terrible injustice. He wasn’t just an unwitting casualty caught up in a power struggle. He wasn’t just some misunderstood prophet from the sticks. He wasn’t a traitor, he wasn’t planning to overthrow the government, and he certainly wasn’t raising an army to stage a rebellion. He was, in fact, following God’s plan to save the world, as we learned when we discussed John chapter 3. Those famous lines in John 3:16-17 explain why all of this had to happen:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” NRSV

Christians believe that God affirmed what Jesus did on the Cross by raising him from the dead, so we can be sure that our faith in Jesus is not in vain. If we believe in Jesus we receive eternal life. That’s why Christians say that Jesus is their Lord and Savior. Faith in what he did on the Cross makes you right with God.

Faith in Jesus doesn’t just involve the afterlife, but he helps us in this life as well. Maybe your life isn’t what you would like it to be, but don’t lose faith. Maybe you didn’t get that job, or maybe your job is in jeopardy, but don’t lose faith. Maybe your marriage isn’t what you wanted it to be, or maybe you have health problems, but don’t lose faith. Whatever your challenges may be, turn to Jesus. He’s there for you and will help you through these problems.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Corporations Fail to Serve – Part 4

In prior posts I discussed the issue of exporting American jobs overseas, and buying Chinese-made goods. The question is, what can we do about it?

I recognize it is a global economy and I am not an isolationist, but we as a country must be prudent and watch out for our own interests. Obama and Hillary are attacking each other over NAFTA, but NAFTA is nothing. The real problem is what I discussed in my earlier posts. As usual, the politicians obsess over trivial matters and fail to address the real issues.

There is little we can do, because the forces driving these trends are powerful: Wal-Mart and the powerful multinational corporations. We have an impotent Congress who can’t seem to address any of the serious issues facing this country, such as dependence on foreign oil, the looming social security crisis, air pollution, and the unfavorable balance of trade. Presidential candidates talk about “change” but they’ll do nothing of substance once they get elected (just like every other candidate). They are all talk and no action, because they won’t go against the entrenched special interests. Once elected, their main job is not to accomplish anything of substance, but to remain in office.

Nevertheless, there are a few things you and I can do that might help the situation:

(a) We can boycott Wal-Mart, and write to them and tell them why we won’t shop in their stores. If enough people write and they see their sales levels affected, they just might do something.

(b) We can try to buy American-made goods if we can find them (which is next to impossible), even if they cost more. We can also try to boycott Chinese-made goods, although that can be difficult as well. Look before you buy, to see where something is made. With clothing there is usually a choice.

(c) We can write to our Congressman and our Senators, and state our concerns. It probably won’t do much good, because they are in the pockets of the special interests. But if they get enough mail, they might begin to act, especially if they see their jobs in jeopardy.

(d) Write to the toy companies, IBM, and the Poughkeepsie Journal, expressing your displeasure at their policies (see my earlier posts). Feel free to print out and enclose my posts in your letters.

(e) Chrysler Corporation is planning to import a Chinese-made car. Don’t buy it, even if it is reasonably priced. Can you imagine the quality of that thing? It’ll probably make the Yugo look good in comparison! Fortunately cars are still some of the few products that are at least assembled in the US (many foreign brands are assembled here although they source their components world-wide). Don’t buy foreign-made cars, especially from China!

(f) We should encourage our county, state and federal legislators to pass laws encouraging employment growth by companies. Some states view companies as unending sources of tax revenues, then wonder why they cut back or leave the state. Some states so regulate companies or so favor employees in their labor laws that there is no incentive on the part of a company to stay in that state. I don’t know how it would work, but we should also encourage our legislators to penalize companies who export jobs, and tax imports to bring them closer to being on a par with the cost of US-made goods. I know we have to be careful about tariffs but there has to be some kind of balance.

(g) Pray for our country, because we are going down so many wrong paths. We are sowing the seeds of our own decline and we’re too fat, dumb, and happy to realize it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Corporations Fail to Serve – Part 3

Continuing with my discussion of the problem of US Corporations exporting jobs to foreign countries, I want to focus on two aspects of this problem.

China Is Bad

I am especially upset that we do so much business with China. If we have to export jobs, why not to Eastern Europe, which has an educated workforce and needs to be helped economically? Why not other countries, which play by the rules and don’t abuse their people? Let me briefly summarize my issues with China:

(a) They still view us as an enemy, and their military budget increases significantly every year. They have been known to spy on us. We forget that they are a communist regime, who may use the prosperity we are providing them against us. How naïve can we be?

(b) They don’t play by the rules. They pirate our music and software, for example, and are hesitant to import goods from us (similar to the Japanese in that respect).

(c) They violate basic human rights, force women to have abortions, jail protesters, and persecute any church which isn’t a part of the “official” church in China. Look at how they treat the people of Tibet.

(d) They don’t care about polluting the air and water. While the US certainly doesn’t have a good record either, we have learned and are doing better. The Chinese feel it is now their turn to pollute since the West did it for so long.

(e) They don’t care about quality or safety. Just look at the goods that have been tainted with lead and other problem substances. Why should we buy from a country that couldn’t care less about our safety?

Whenever I have a choice (which isn’t often, unfortunately), I choose not to buy a Chinese-made item. I don’t want to support them.

US Workers Expensive

There are a number of reasons why American jobs are being exported, as I see it:

(a) US workers are highly paid. Chinese and Third World employees get paid less, and those in various trade zones are often paid even less than the prevailing wage (which is already low) in that country because of the greed of the corporations. While these workers have jobs, they are still being exploited by low wages and frequently unsafe or unhealthy conditions.

(b) US workers receive benefits such as health insurance, paid vacations, sick days, maternity leave, and the like. Every employer has to pay 7.5% of an employee’s pay in the employers’ portion of the social security tax (the employee pays the other 7.5%). Then there is federal unemployment tax, state unemployment tax, and workers’ comp. All of this can add up to an additional 25-30% of an employee’s wages that US companies have to pay (even more if the company is unionized).

(c) Although union membership is down, labor unions are still a factor in US business. Unions must learn to compromise to save US jobs instead of constantly resisting companies’ effects to improve productivity. It seems that labor unions would rather lose an entire workforce than give up a few jobs or compromise in other ways. No wonder companies are moving jobs overseas – we can thank the unions in part because of their intransigence.

(d) US employees, once among the most productive in the world, are beginning to become less productive, especially in the office. Today, office employees spend too much time surfing the Internet on company time, doing personal work on the company computer, and making personal calls on the company phone or on their cell phones. Our work ethic leaves something to be desired.

(e) Some US workers have a sense of entitlement: “you owe me a living, and I may or may not work, depending on how I feel.” Some work the system: they’ll stay on a job long enough to qualify for unemployment benefits, doing the minimal amount of work to not get fired, then will get themselves fired and live on unemployment until it runs out.

While I have been critical of US corporations in these posts, unions and the American worker are at least partly to blame for this problem of exporting jobs overseas. We better get our collective act together, or we will become a third-rate nation.

One final installment in a future post. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Corporations Fail to Serve – Part 2

In an earlier post I said that corporations fail to serve their constituencies and the nation when the export jobs overseas. Let me give a few examples from right here in the Hudson Valley:

The Poughkeepsie Journal

The Poughkeepsie Journal is exporting page layout jobs to India, resulting in the loss of jobs here in Dutchess County. A newspaper which serves the local community should be more sensitive to that constituency and not be exporting jobs overseas. Write to the newspaper, and tell them you aren’t happy about what they are doing. Then get copies of their annual report and see if top management doesn’t give themselves big bonuses for having made the “tough decisions” to cut costs. I wonder, are they going to pass along the cost savings to the subscribers? Somehow I doubt it.

IBM Corporation

IBM, a major employer in the area, continues to move technical jobs to India. IBM is having its US employees train the Indians, and will then try to redeploy these Americans to other jobs within the company. Failing that, they will be let go. This will hurt Dutchess County, but longer term we in the US will begin to lose technical expertise as India and other countries become the centers of these various activities. With more technical jobs moving overseas, just how will Americans make a living?

I might mention that major corporations have been doing multi-national sourcing for years, starting with the automobile industry. Even with this multi-national sourcing, most of these corporations maintained large US manufacturing operations. This is now a thing of the past, as entire fabrication and assembly operations are relocated offshore.


Wal-Mart is the company people love to hate, and I blame them for much of the China-sourcing we see these days. In their quest for lowest cost merchandise, Wal-Mart sources much of its merchandise overseas. Their lowest-cost approach may seem to benefit at least one constituency, the customer, but that is questionable.

In a way, I view this lowest-cost/made in China syndrome as a vicious cycle. Why do Wal-Mart customers need to buy low cost items? Because they don’t have much money. Why don’t they have much money? Because they either have low-paying jobs or are unemployed. Why is that? Because most of the better jobs have gone overseas. Why are those jobs overseas? Because Wal-Mart sources its merchandize overseas, thus eliminating many American jobs.

It a vicious cycle, and that’s why I rarely enter a Wal-Mart store. They are hurting the nation, they have driven other stores out of business, and they care less about quality and more about cost. Do we really save when something won’t last very long, and we have to replace it sooner than we should have to? To me, buying cheap (in all senses of the word) Chinese-made goods is false economy.

Toy and Other Companies

In addition, toy companies and other firms importing Chinese-made goods have flagrantly disregarded the safety of their customers. There seems to me minimal quality control by these “American” companies who are American in name only since most of their operations are overseas. Why don’t they have their own people constantly testing merchandise that is sold under their label? Don’t they have any pride in their company’s name, let alone care about the customer? Why do we have to find out about tainted goods the hard way, when they are recalled?

I just heard recently on the radio that various vitamins, supplements, and some drugs are made overseas, including China. I’m looking at labels, and where it doesn’t say where it’s manufactured, I’m calling the toll-free number and finding out. I am not going to ingest anything made in China if I can help it.

The total lack of caring and good business practices by these companies is disgraceful, and they should be punished for their poor quality control. I’ll bet their executives gave themselves big bonuses too, because they made the “tough decisions” to cut costs by eliminating any kind of quality control. Rather than getting bonuses and stock options, these bozos should be getting jail terms.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Corporations Fail to Serve – Part 1

Corporations serve five constituencies:

(1) The shareholders, who invested their money and expect a reasonable return on their investment. They are also entitled to an accurate accounting of the corporation’s financial status, ethical behavior on the part of top management, and a reasonable effort by management to maintain the value of the corporation’s stock.

(2) The customers, who spend money purchasing a corporation’s goods or services, and reasonably expect quality, value, safety, and performance as advertised.

(3) The employees, who, in return for a fair day’s work, reasonably expect competitive pay, fair treatment, a safe work environment, decent benefits, and some degree of job security in return for their loyalty.

(4) The suppliers, who expect prompt payment according to terms, orders placed within agreed-upon lead times, being able to make a reasonable profit, and not having orders canceled or postponed once the goods have been manufactured. In return, the suppliers are expected to provide quality goods within specifications in a timely manner.

(5) The community in which the corporation operates, which expects the corporation to be a good citizen, paying its fair share of taxes, utilizing local suppliers when possible, not polluting, and providing employment for the community’s residents.

There’s a sixth constituency that I don’t believe is legitimate, but often is the driving influence behind corporate decision-making, and that is, the corporation’s top management. Often top management makes decisions that are self-serving, and not necessarily in the best interests of the other five constituencies.

Moving Jobs Overseas

For years, American corporations have been moving manufacturing overseas, so that it is now difficult to find an article of clothing, a pair of shoes, a small appliance, an electronics item, or many other goods still made in the USA. Our manufacturing capacity is dwindling, as is our manufacturing workforce.

To make matters worse, now service and other non-manufacturing jobs are moving overseas, primarily to India. Moving jobs overseas, particularly customer service jobs, is not good because:

(a) It shows a callous disregard for the customer, who must deal with heavily-accented reps who know little about what they are doing (I have dealt with them, so I’m speaking from personal experience). I know of one company I deal with that moved its customer service operation back to the USA after many complaints.

(b) It takes away jobs from qualified Americans, thus doing a disservice to local communities and the nation as a whole.

(c) It benefits primarily that sixth constituency, top management, because they give themselves big bonuses for having made the “tough decisions” to cut costs at the expense of the other constituencies. The shareholders may benefit to some extent from these lower costs if management issues dividends or the value of the company increases because of higher profitability. But these gains are at the expense of the employees, the community, and often the customer.

(d) We have to clearly understand that the community and the nation loses out whenever jobs go overseas or the decision is made to buy foreign-produced items instead of domestically produced goods.

Hurts the Nation

Whenever jobs go overseas or the decision is made to buy foreign-produced items, the nation and community lose out in several ways:

(a) Our unfavorable balance of trade continues, which is not healthy for the economy.

(b) People lose jobs, thus increasing the unemployment burden for the community as a whole.

(c) When these laid-off workers do get a job, it will probably be lower paying, thus lowering the community’s standard of living because of less purchasing power.

(d) We as a nation lose manufacturing capacity and technical expertise, and we are being gradually reduced to a nation of shopkeepers rather than a manufacturing giant which used to be the envy of the world.

(e) Communities are decimated, resulting in a “rust belt” where once thriving industrial communities provided a good livelihood for its residents. Have you been to Gary, Indiana, recently? It's not a pretty picture.

More on this dilemma in a future post.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Unintended Consequences-Biofuels

Often laws, policies and strategies, well-meaning as they may be, suffer from the law of unintended consequences. We see this happening with the growing energy crisis. We have two things occurring that are combining to raise food prices, which hurt all of us, but particularly the world’s poor.

The price of food worldwide is going up because of two interrelated events:

(1) The escalating cost of energy ultimately translates into higher costs for everything else. This is especially true of food, because you need energy to make the fertilizer (unless a farmer uses what nature provides from animals); you need energy to work the farm equipment; you need energy to transport the food from farm to processing plant or marketplace; and you need energy to process it (if it is processed in some way, including canned or frozen); and you need energy to manufacture the packaging.

(2) While this is happening, grain is being taken out of the food chain and used to make a substitute fuel. This increased demand is further driving costs up. Note that except in a few places like Brazil, we are not converting waste products into ethanol, but editable grain that could be used to feed people or the animals that people eat (which provide valuable protein).

As usual, this is resulting in a crisis for the poor of the world, which already face many problems: poverty, hunger, lack of potable water, oppression, and disease. Now the industrialized countries are using food to make fuel, worsening an already bad situation for the world’s poor. All so we Americans can drive around in gas guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks. How selfish!

I recently read the following on this subject:

Sometimes the trade-off is stark: filling the tank of an SUV with ethanol requires enough corn to feed a person for a year. But not all biofuels are bad; making ethanol from Brazilian sugar cane is vastly more efficient than making it from US-grown corn, for example, and green technology for making fuel from waste is improving rapidly.

The problem is that the EU and the US have set targets for increasing the use of biofuels without sorting the good from the bad. As a result, rainforests are being cleared in Indonesia to grow palm oil for European biodiesel refineries, and global grain reserves are running dangerously low. Meanwhile, rich-country politicians can look “green” without asking their citizens to conserve energy, and agribusiness giants are cashing in. And if nothing changes, the situation will only get worse.

What’s needed are strong global standards that encourage better biofuels and shut down the trade in bad ones. Such standards are under development by a number of coalitions, but they will only become mandatory if there’s a big enough public outcry. It’s time to move: this Friday through Saturday, the twenty countries with the biggest economies, responsible for more than 75% of the world’s carbon emissions, will meet in Chiba, Japan to begin the G8’s climate change discussions. Before the summit, let’s raise a global cry for change on biofuels.

A call for change before this week’s summit won’t end the food crisis, or stop global warming. But it’s a critical first step. By confronting false solutions and demanding real ones, we can show our leaders that we want to do the right thing, not the easy thing. It’s time to put the life of our fellow people, and our planet, above the politics and profits that all too often drive international decision-making. This will be a long fight. But it’s one that we join eagerly--because the stakes are too high to do anything else.

(quoted from an e-newsletter put out by advocacy group

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Temptation – Part 2

After examining the three temptations of Jesus in an earlier post, I would like to now discuss a few other lessons we can learn from this story. I found six things that we learn from this story of the temptation of Christ which can help us in our walk of faith (see Matthew 4:1-11).

1. Two areas of temptation

The three temptations of Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11 essentially deal with two broad areas of life, which are the same areas where we often face temptation.

(a) Physical needs and desires

The first major area of temptation had to do with physical needs and desires. Jesus was hungry and weak after fasting for 40 days, but he chose not to use his divine power to satisfy his natural desire for food. Food, hunger, and eating are natural, but the timing was wrong in this case: Jesus was in the wilderness to fast, not to eat. We also may be tempted to satisfy a perfectly normal desire in a wrong way or at the wrong time. Many of our desires are normal and good, but God wants us to satisfy them in the right way and at the right time – not wrongfully indulge ourselves.

(b) Pride

Another area is Pride, which is at the root of many of our temptations. Pride and doubting God were at the heart of the first temptation in the Garden of Eden, and we still face them today. Self-centeredness is a big part of pride, when we are more interested in satisfying our own desires, often at the expense of others. For example, we should remember our vows to our husband or wife, and should commit to look out for his or her interests above our own.

2. Jesus identified with us

The next point about Jesus’ temptation is that he identified with us, just as he identified with us in his baptism and in his death on the Cross. Because Jesus endured much of what we have to go thru, the writer of the Book of Hebrews could confidently say (Heb 4:15):

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin . NRSV

We are often tempted to hide our faith, yet we should openly identify with Christ, not try to blend in with everybody else.

3. Temptation is not a sin

Jesus was tempted as we are, yet was without sin. We should know that temptation itself is not a sin – only yielding to it is wrong. So we should never feel that somehow we have failed because we are tempted – temptation will never go away, even if you are in a monastery. So we should take our faith seriously and commit to grow spiritually, so that we are better able to withstand temptation – we can’t do it alone.

4. Know and obey the Bible

Another thing we learn from this Temptation of Jesus is that we should know the Bible and its proper interpretation, so we won’t be mislead. We see in this temptation story how the devil misuses Scripture to try to deceive, and how Jesus correctly uses it to counter the deception. As Christians, we must know Scripture, because today there are a lot of false interpretations being put forth to fit agendas.

If we have studied the Bible, we can separate truth from falsehood, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and will then be better able to obey what the Scripture says. When we know Scripture, we can call to mind Bible passages that will help us to fight off temptation.

5. Watch out when vulnerable

Another lesson from this story, which I mentioned earlier but bears repeating, is that we are often tempted when we are most vulnerable. We are vulnerable when we are under physical or emotional stress, such as when we are lonely, tired, grieving, weighing big decisions, or faced with uncertainty. But we can also be tempted through our strengths as well, when we are most susceptible to pride.

6. Satan is real

Finally, this story confirms that Satan is real. Today, Satan has been reduced to either a cartoonish little figure in a red suit, or to a mythological figure symbolizing the evil in the world. Yet we see Satan appearing and mentioned in different places in the Bible, and if Jesus talked about Satan as a real person, then I believe he’s real.

Moreover, we see that Jesus didn’t dispute Satan’s ability to turn over the world to him, which means the devil does have real power. The main point of this temptation, however, was the devil didn’t want Jesus to carry out God’s plan to save the world from sin. Satan was trying to distort Jesus’ perspective by making him focus on worldly power, and not on God’s plans. Often he does the same thing when he tempts us: he has us focus on the worldly and not the spiritual.

Some concluding thoughts on temptation in a future post.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Temptation – Part 1

In my last post I wrote on Governor Spitzer’s fall as a result of his succumbing to temptation. I want to write some posts on temptation, using Jesus’ temptation as the basis for the discussion. I hope these posts will you with your challenges.

Nature of the Temptations

Let’s take a look at each of these three temptations of Jesus (found in Matthew 4:1-11), because we are tempted in similar ways.

1. Wrong Use of Power

In The First Temptation, Jesus was tempted by the wrong use of power. The devil knew that if he could successfully tempt Jesus to turn the stones into bread, Jesus could go on to misuse his power – the door would have been opened. Just as small sins can lead to bigger ones, the devil knew that if Jesus succumbed to this temptation, minor as it was, it could lead to bigger things.

We may not think we could be tempted to abuse our power, because we really don’t have any power. But we do have power: as a parent over our children; possibly as a spouse; maybe in the workplace; or maybe we have power and influence over a friend.

We see in the sequence of the three temptations how Satan kicked it up a notch with each one: each temptation got more serious. We are tempted in small ways as well, which can then lead to bigger ones, such as: to cheat in some minor way, to seek some kind of unfair advantage, or to misuse our position or power for our own benefit.

Other small ways we can be tempted are: getting paid “under the table” so we can avoid taxes; making false claims so we can wrongfully collect insurance; bringing supplies home from work for our own personal use. So we have to be careful not to succumb to these small temptations, because they will surely lead to bigger ones. Something that you thought was “innocent” usually becomes not so innocent.

2. Wrong Way to Fulfillment

In The Second Temptation, Jesus was tempted by the wrong way to fulfillment. In a way, this temptation also involved a misuse of power, plus it was a wrong way to gain some sort of satisfaction. Jesus came to earth to serve, not be served and not to indulge himself. Throwing himself down so he could be saved by some angels wasn’t why Jesus came to earth.

We, too, are often tempted to indulge ourselves in ways that aren’t always good, and we have creative ways of justifying this self-indulgence. I deserve it. I have needs. It’s harmless. It’s not hurting anybody. Everybody’s doing it. Ways we can wrongfully indulge ourselves are: overeating; watching porn on the Internet; watching too much TV; calling in sick when you really aren’t; drinking too much; extra-marital affairs.

3. Take the Easy Way

In The Third Temptation, Jesus was tempted to take the easy way and to avoid fulfilling God’s plan. The devil said he would turn the world over to Jesus if only he would fall down and worship him – have Jesus essentially sell out to the devil. Sounds like a good deal – you can do away with the Cross and take the easy way.

How often we want to take the easy way, but the easy way isn’t the best way, and usually isn’t in God’s will. As they say, no pain, no gain. Often we have to go thru the fiery furnace, run a hard race, or endure strong opposition to achieve the goals God set out for us. That’s why I encourage you to take advantage of this Lenten season to take a hard look at your life and the ongoing temptations you are facing.

In what ways are you misusing your power? In what ways are you indulging yourself wrongly? In what ways are you taking the easy way? Remember what Jesus said about the easy way (Matthew 7:13-14, NRSV):

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

We take the easy way when we don’t serve God sacrificially as he has called us to do; we don’t help others when opportunities present themselves; we skip church because we’d rather sleep in; we cheat or deceive, rather than do something the right way.

More on temptation in a future post.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spitzer’s Fall

It is a shame what Eliot Spitzer did to his family, his career, his reputation, his state, and to himself. I feel particularly bad for his wife and three daughters. While what he did was illegal, immoral, a breaking of his marriage vows, and downright tacky, what many will consider the worst sin in all this is the hypocrisy.

Spitzer was “Mr. Clean” and had the reputation of showing no mercy to those who broke the law. Now he has shown himself to be a hypocrite of the first order, and his legacy is forever tarnished.

This reminds me of Rudy Giuliani, who was a crime-busting federal prosecutor, another Mr. Clean who went up against the Mafia, yet shacked up in the mayor’s mansion with Judith Nathan while he was still married to Donna Hanover. To top it off, he dumped Hanover during a press conference! Talk about tacky.

Then there was the gay-bashing Larry Craig, who was found to be playing footsies with an undercover cop in a Minneapolis airport men’s room. And the gay-bashing pastor Ted Haggard who was found to have had a homosexual relationship. The list goes on of hypocrisy among pastors and politicians.

What does all this tell us?

(1) While I believe we have to call sinful behavior what it is, sin, we don’t have to condemn, judge, or gleefully point out others’ flaws. Judge not, or you will be judged.

(2) There but for the grace of God go I. We are all sinful, all fallen, all vulnerable to temptation. Let’s continue in close relationship with God so we don’t succumb to temptation. We can’t resist on our own – we need God’s help.

(3) Nobody should think they can get away with it. You will be caught eventually. Why people think they will be different – that nobody will know – is beyond me. And the more of a public figure you are, the more likely you are to be identified and your actions exposed.

(4) Some believe they are above the law. Bill Clinton engaged in tawdry behavior for years, first as governor of Arkansas and then as President, thinking the world was his playground. You may think you are above civil law, but you aren’t above God’s law.

Please pray for the Spitzer family as they deal with this tragedy. Pray for our leaders to have wisdom as to how to handle this situation. And pray that you don’t succumb to temptation yourself. You may not be famous, but sinful actions can still be devastating.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Meaning of the Cross

With Good Friday approaching, I would like to give you a little more insight into the meaning of the Cross for Christians.

It is interesting to note is that both Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were secret followers of Jesus – up to when Jesus was crucified. When Jesus was arrested, things seemed to be at their lowest and all hope appeared to be gone (so Jesus’ disciples thought). Jesus’ disciples ran off into the bushes like scared rabbits, and even Peter denied ever knowing him. Why, then, would Nicodemus and Joseph risk everything and come out of the closet as disciples of Jesus? (in John 19:38-42) I believe they went public because they now saw that everything Jesus had predicted had come true. They realized that Jesus, by his death on the Cross, had truly fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies, as he said he would. I’m sure Jesus had explained to them that by his death on the Cross, he would fulfill Isaiah 53 (vv 4-7, 10, 12 NIV):

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

If Jesus fulfilled those prophecies, Nicodemus and Joseph knew he would also surely do what he said he would do: rise from the dead (and he did). So Nicodemus and Joseph were no longer afraid to have themselves identified as followers of Jesus, even if it ended their careers as Jewish leaders. That’s because they now knew for sure that Jesus is truly the way, the truth, and the life. Their faith in Jesus was further strengthened when they saw God the Father affirm what Jesus did by raising him from the dead on Easter.

While we might not completely grasp all of this (like Nicodemus at first), we can still put our faith in Jesus. Just as the Israelites looked to the snake on the pole and were spared certain physical death (Numbers 21:8-9; John 3:14-15), let us look to the Cross and be spared certain spiritual death (John 3:16-18). So let’s turn from any darkness in our lives and look to the Light of Jesus Christ. Then we, too, can have eternal life.

That’s why Christians believe in salvation by God’s grace because of their faith in what Jesus accomplished by his death on the Cross. While non-Christians sometimes find this belief strange and even offensive, it has sufficient Scriptural backing so that it is shared by all Christians. That’s why the Cross is the symbol of Christianity.

1 Corinthians 1:22-25 says about the offensiveness of the Cross of Jesus:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. (NRSV)

As we approach Good Friday, let’s seriously contemplate the meaning of the Cross, especially in light of John 3 and Isaiah 53. Jesus died for you – will you live for him?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

More on Salvation through Faith from John 3

In an earlier post I discussed the origin of the term “born again.” In this post I want to further explain how people can be healed of their sinful state and be reconciled to God. To illustrate salvation by grace through faith, Jesus used an event from the Old Testament in the Gospel according to John, chapter 3, verses 14-15. He referred to an event that Nicodemus would have been familiar with (although it may be obscure to us):

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, the Son of Man must also be lifted up. So that everyone who believes can have eternal life in him.”

Jesus was referring to when the Israelites were wondering in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt, and they sinned against the Lord by complaining. One of the times when they complained against the Lord, God sent poisonous snakes into their camp to punish them. After many Israelites died from the snake bites, they confessed their sin and asked Moses to pray to the Lord to take away the snakes. God didn’t remove the snakes, but here’s how the Lord responded in Numbers 21:8-9 (NRSV):

And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Notice that all the Israelites had to do was look at the serpent on the pole, and they would live – the poison would have no effect on them. Do you think that just because the pole was in the camp, every Israelite who got bit would live? No. To live, an Israelite would have to do an act of faith: consciously look at the bronze snake on the pole, believing he would be healed – and he would be!

The same is true with salvation through Jesus – it is a matter of faith. If we look to the Cross and believe that Jesus died to rid us of the penalty for our sin, then we are saved, and we receive eternal life. As with the serpent on the pole, a person must look to the Cross and consciously believe that Jesus died for his or her sins, and that by his stripes, we are healed.

After using this powerful serpent illustration to make it clear that this is a matter of faith, Jesus goes on to explain the reason for his coming to earth (verses 16-18a):

“God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through him. People who believe in God’s Son are not judged guilty.”

This familiar statement is pretty clear:
-God loves his creation so much that he doesn’t want to lose any one of us;
-God therefore provided a way for our healing and reconciliation with him;
-It is incredibly easy, similar to the snake on the pole – just believe and be saved;
-Jesus came to earth, not to judge, but to save (by his death on the Cross);
-Although we are sinners, those who believe in Jesus are not judged guilty.

Jesus then gives the flip side of the equation: anyone who rejects Jesus has rejected God and remains guilty in his sins. Jesus explains this in 18b-19:

“Those who do not believe have already been judged guilty, because they have not believed in God’s one and only Son. They are judged by this fact: The Light has come into the world, but they did not want light. They wanted darkness, because they were doing evil things.”

Jesus recognized that some people will reject him, because they prefer worldly things over the things of God. Jesus doesn’t force himself on anyone – the Holy Spirit gently nudges us to faith in Jesus, often using other people. So if you are concerned about loved ones, look to the Holy Spirit for guidance and pray for them to receive Christ. We can’t force them, we can’t nag them, and we can’t save them – but we can pray for them and be used of God.

One more look at the meaning of the Cross in a future post.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Meaning of “Born Again”

Chapter three, verses 1-21 of the Gospel according to John is at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These verses summarize much of what the New Testament says in 27 books. It also contains that controversial phrase “born again.” The chapter starts with the story of the nighttime visit of Nicodemus to Jesus. I want to explain this passage because it is the basis of much of what Christians understand about salvation by grace through faith in Christ. I believe it is appropriate for us to contemplate this during Lent.

Jesus starts the conversation with an important statement that sets the stage for the rest of the passage: “I tell you the truth, unless one is born again, he cannot be in God’s kingdom.” This is, of course, the origin of the term “born again” which can also legitimately be translated as “born from above” or “born anew.”

This term “born again” has come to have negative connotations in some circles. Many view “born again” as referring to people that are not considered “mainstream,” sort of out there on the fringe. However, Jesus wasn’t talking about people on the fringes when he said we must be “born again” – he was talking about everybody. Nicodemus was confused by the term, so Jesus explained further (in verse 5b): “I tell you the truth, unless one is born from water and the Spirit, he cannot enter God’s kingdom.”

“Born again” refers to new life in Christ, what the Apostle Paul was talking about when he said we become “new creations” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17): Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! NIV

When we trust in Christ for our future and when we commit to live for him now, then we are born again, new creations, transformed beings. Moreover, we are guaranteed eternal life (we can enter God’s kingdom).

In verses 5 thru 13, Jesus explained that he is not talking about any kind of physical rebirth, which is, of course, impossible. Instead, he is speaking of something entirely spiritual, which he explained by saying (in verse 6): “Human life comes from human parents, but spiritual life comes from the Spirit.”

Although Jesus explained that this rebirth is spiritual, not physical, Nicodemus wasn’t sure how this works – he still had some doubts. Jesus told him that this is in the spiritual realm, and he should trust him about spiritual things. To emphasize that he is speaking with authority, Jesus said (in verse 13): “The only one who has ever gone up to heaven is the One who came down from heaven — the Son of Man.”

More on this important section of the New Testament in a future post.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Transforming Suffering

In earlier posts I wrote about suffering. Below is an excellent article on the subject from a daily devotional I read, which puts suffering into perspective. The writer has since gone on to glory, but his devotions are still being published. In this article, he tells of his personal tragedies and how he dealt with them. He writes:

Yesterday we said that even though we try to avoid suffer­ing, nevertheless it has the power to transform us. And it is often in those moments of suffering that we learn most about ourselves and our faithful God.
The first half of my Christian life was comparatively free from suffering. Then my wife was struck with cancer. I re­member sitting by her hospital bed before she underwent major surgery and reading this:
“Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and existence of free wills involve, and you will find that you have excluded life itself. However, perceiving a suffering world, we can be assured on different grounds that God is good”
I sat and cried as I read these words. “How could anything this bad produce good?” I wondered. After several years [my wife] died. Three weeks later my father also died. Some years later; I myself was diagnosed with cancer and “[adult] onset diabetes.” And then, within the space of just ten months, I lost my two sons — my only children.
Yet, as a result of all the emotional and physical suffering I have experienced, I have gained a deeper compassion for those in need, and… am being brought closer to perfection and the fulfillment of God’s plans for my life.
What has that done to me? It has transformed my life, deep­ened my message, given me a sensitivity to others, and a new note in my ministry. I am a wounded healer. From experi­ence I can say that though I have hated the pain, the rewards of suffering are of infinite value.

(From “A Wounded Healer” by Selwyn Hughes, Every Day with Jesus daily devotional magazine, January 19, 2008, © 2007 CWR, Farnham, Surrey, United Kingdom. All rights reserved.)