Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What We Believe Is Important

I. Introduction

In the nativity narrative we encounter a number of the mysteries of God. We see the mysteries of the virgin birth and the nature of Jesus, truly God and truly man. We see divine intervention, angels appearing, and heavenly choirs in the sky. We generally take these supernatural happenings for granted, since we grew up with these stories and don’t think much about them. Yet how we view these and other mysteries can influence how we understand and relate to God and Jesus.

How we perceive and understand God is important. Why? That’s because it can have a major influence on our opinion of the Deity, plus our view of ourselves, the world, and salvation. For example, belief in God as Creator influences our worldview and self-image: Consider how we might view ourselves and other humans if we’re coming from the perspective that we are nothing but more highly evolved animals. Compare that with how we might view ourselves and others if we believe we were created by God in the image of God.

Or consider the understanding of God that Muslims have compared with Christians. To Muslims, Allah is not a Redeemer or Savior – they have to earn their way to heaven, with no guarantees except if you die in a jihad. Compare that with the Christian understanding that God is also our Savior and Redeemer, and came to live among us in the person of Jesus Christ.

In Christianity, God is a loving Deity who sent his only Son, who…

Gave up his place with God and made himself nothing. He was born to be a man and became like a servant. And when he was living as a man, he humbled himself and was fully obedient to God, even when that caused his death — death on a cross. (Philippians 2:7-8, NCV)

Christians believe that we are saved by grace through our faith in Christ, which is a gift that guarantees us a place in heaven, and help during this life. Christians don’t have to die a martyr to get to heaven or strive to get there on their own merits – Jesus did it all.

So you can see what we believe is important so that we can have the right understanding of, and relationship with, God. Knowing this, the Church has tried to clarify various doctrines over the centuries, based on its historical interpretation of Scripture. The creeds of the church came out of these efforts to make clear what we Christians should believe and thereby understand about God and ourselves.

Belief in some of these doctrines may not affect our salvation, but they can determine the quality of our relationship with God. So what we believe is important for living our life and being in the proper relationship with God based on what the Bible tells us.

II. Nature of Jesus

Since Jesus is God in the flesh and our Savior and Redeemer, it is important that we have the proper view of him. Of course we can’t totally understand the nature of Christ because this is a mystery, but we can believe it. There are four beliefs concerning Jesus that I feel are important for Christians to have:

1. Real Person with a purpose

The first belief is that Jesus was real historical person, not a myth. He came to us on that first Christmas for the purpose of providing a way for the human race to get back into right relationship with God. If we don’t believe that, then Christmas is meaningless, as is Good Friday and Easter.

2. Divine and Human

The second belief is that Jesus was both truly God and truly human. While we can’t explain it, we believe that Jesus was truly a human being in every way, but was without sin. We see his humanity in the Gospels: he got tired, angry, overworked, frustrated, was tempted, had a sense of humor, and he cried at funerals. We see his divinity in the Gospels in that he healed the sick, raised the dead, calmed the storm, miraculously fed the 5,000, and did many other miracles. We see both his humanity and his divinity in that he was born as any other person is born, but was conceived by the Holy Spirit. If we don’t believe these things, then Jesus becomes pretty much just an ordinary guy and not the Son of God.

3. Really died and rose again

The third important belief is that Jesus really died, and rose from the dead on the third day. This is important because it shows God’s approval of what Jesus did on the cross, and also proves that Jesus is the Son of God. If Jesus had been just an ordinary person who died a terrible death, and not the Son of God, his death would not result in our salvation.

4. Ascended and will come again

The fourth important belief is that Jesus ascended bodily into heaven and will come bodily again to judge the living and the dead. This is important to believe because we are told that Jesus is our intercessor in heaven, working on our behalf with the Father. Judgment is important to believe because it tells us we are all accountable. If we weren’t accountable for our wrongdoings, then we wouldn’t need Jesus to redeem us, would we?

III. Attributes of God

What we’ve been discussing so far is doctrine, and how proper belief makes our relationship with God as it’s supposed to be. Understanding his attributes also enhances our relationship with God, because we can better grasp who God is. We get a glimpse of the nature of God from the Bible and from the person of Jesus. Let me briefly cover some of the attributes of God as we understand them from the Bible and Jesus. Hopefully knowing these attributes will help you and me better appreciate who God is.

1. Merciful and Gracious

God described himself when he passed before Moses as we read in Exodus 34:6-7:

The LORD passed before [Moses], and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.” NRSV

We should be thankful that God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”. Because of these attributes, God sent Jesus to save us from the penalty of all the things we’ve done to offend God and hurt one another.

2. Jealous

God also described himself as jealous, which we read in Exodus 20:5-6:

“You shall not bow down to [false gods] or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” NRSV

Jealous in this case means that God does not want divided loyalties from us, but he wants all of us. This is only natural because God created us, loves us, and wants us to be devoted to him and nothing else.

3. Other Attributes

God has many other attributes as well. We know from the Bible that God is:
-Eternal, almighty, unchanging, loving (God is love);
-God is all-knowing, all-present, and all-powerful;
-By his nature God is sinless, holy, righteous, and just;
-God is One, but is composed of three distinct persons;
-God is supreme, living, personal, and the creator and sustainer of all things;
-His power and knowledge are all-sufficient, and He is not limited in time or place.
-And of course God is good – all the time.

Despite the revelations of himself in the Bible, there are still some things about God we don’t know or completely understand. Nevertheless, we know all that we’re supposed to know at this time.

IV. Conclusion

So to summarize, what we believe and what we understand about God can affect the quality of our faith. In general our knowledge and acceptance of various doctrines may not necessarily affect our salvation. However, rejection or ignorance of some doctrines or attributes of God could cause us to question our salvation or doubt God. Certainly we won’t be given a theology quiz when we get to the pearly gates. However, our life might not be as good and fulfilled as it could have been if we don’t know, or reject, or doubt some doctrines. In this New Year I encourage you to learn more about God through daily devotionals, Bible study, prayer, and worship.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Blue Christmas?

I. Introduction

Although we look forward to the joys of the Christmas season, the holidays can be pretty intense for many of us. During this time of the year it seems like you’re riding an emotional roller coaster.

1. Christmas Can Be Difficult

December can be stressful, with not enough time to get everything done. Adding to the stress can be year-end pressures on the job. For those who have health problems or whose loved ones are in ill health, the season can be something less than cheerful. For those who have lost loved ones recently, the holidays can be depressing, since we especially miss them at this time of the year.

In addition, we have uncertainties about the economy. According to a recent poll, about 70% of adults plan to spend less on Christmas presents this year. Maybe you are one of those who plan to cut back this year. You may be feeling bad about it, even though you know that Christmas is much more than just presents.

2. Christmas Can Be Uplifting

On the positive side the season is known for good will and pleasant times with friends and family. There are beautiful Christmas decorations to lift the spirit, and we hear from old friends through Christmas cards. Most people are generally cheerful despite the pressures of the season. It can be a joyful time, especially when we remember the reason for the holiday. If you are facing challenges and riding an emotional roller coaster, think of the range of emotions and difficulties faced by Mary and Joseph. That first Christmas 2,000 years ago was no walk in the park.

II. Joy and Disgrace

Mary, a teen-aged girl living in the small village of Nazareth in the back-water province of Galilee, was visited by an angel one day.

1. Good News and Joy for Mary

The angel informed her that she was to bear the Messiah, every Jewish girl’s dream, but this child would not be conceived in the usual way. In obedience to God, Mary accepted it, even though she must have known it would raise questions. The angel also said that her cousin Elizabeth was expecting in her old age. In her joy Mary took off for Judea to help Elizabeth with her pregnancy. When she got to Elizabeth’s house, Elizabeth exclaimed (Luke 1:42b-43):

Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? NRSV

Mary, filled with joy at this confirmation that she was carrying the long-awaited Messiah, praised God by exclaiming:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:46b-49, NRSV, “The Magnificat”)

2. Bad News at Home

This indescribable joy soon disappeared when Mary returned home to Nazareth. While the Bible doesn’t go into detail, we can imagine what happened once she arrived back in Nazareth. We get a hint of the situation in the Gospel of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth (Matthew 1:18b-19):

She was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. NIV

Since she hadn’t yet married Joseph, her condition became an instant scandal, subjecting her to gossip, ridicule, and disgrace.

3. Joseph’s Dilemma

Moreover, this pregnancy put Joseph in a difficult position, since he would have been humiliated by this unexpected turn of events. However, God intervened by sending an angel to Joseph in a dream. Just as Mary had been obedient, so was Joseph, and he agreed to marry her and raise the child as his own.

III. The Trip to Bethlehem

Because of the Roman census, Joseph had to travel to his ancestral hometown of Bethlehem to register. However, it is unclear whether Mary was required to go since the husband probably could have registered the family.

1. Escape to Bethlehem

If she wasn’t required to go, it’s quite possible that she made the trip when she was 9 months pregnant to get away from the situation in Nazareth. The 4 day trip to Bethlehem on foot must have been tough for her, and then to make matters worse, there wasn’t much relief when they got there. Can you women imagine walking 70 miles, part of it uphill, when you are in your 9th month?

2. Bethlehem No Refuge

As it turned out, there was no place for them to stay, although the couple was directed to a cave where animals were kept, where she gave birth. Fortunately the cave gave her some privacy, which she wouldn’t have had in an inn. So they had a scandal in Nazareth, difficult trip on foot, no place to stay in Bethlehem, and the birth taking place among the animals.

IV. Off to Egypt

1. Visit of the Magi

Some time after the birth of Jesus, they received some unexpected visitors. The visit of the Magi bringing gifts to honor the newborn Messiah must have been a pleasant break from all that they had been through. Their visit must have been a powerful reassurance to Mary and Joseph that this child truly was the Messiah, despite all the obstacles they had faced.

2. Run for Your Life

Just as they were feeling comfortable, their world was once again turned upside down. An angel told Joseph in a dream (Matthew 2:13b):

“Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” NRSV

So off they went to Egypt, with their lives once again disrupted. Fortunately they had the gifts from the Magi, which I suspect they used to finance their trip to Egypt.

V. Conclusion

So what do we learn from these adventures of Mary and Joseph? Here they were, chosen by God for a very special task and they we obedient to God, and what happens? Everything seems to go wrong for them. I think there are several messages for you and me in these Nativity events:

1. No One Is Immune

The first lesson we learn is that no one is immune from the trials and tribulations of life, even those called by God for his work. Mary, God’s chosen instrument, suffered pain, both early on, and later when she witnessed her Son’s passion and death. We get hints in the Gospels that the stigma of her questionable pregnancy haunted her for the rest of her life. Listen to the response of the people when Jesus began to teach in his hometown of Nazareth (Mark 6:3):

“Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. NIV

In those days people would have referred to Jesus as “Joseph’s son” (bar Yosef) but instead they referred to him as “Mary’s son” (bar Miriam). Jesus himself suffered as well during his time on earth, and endured the full range of human emotions and experiences. So the first lesson we learn is that you and I will also experience trials and pain, no matter how good a Christian we may be.

2. Even If in God’s Will

The second lesson we learn is that even obedience to God’s will won’t protect us from problems. Mary and Joseph were obedient, but look what happened – they still faced difficulties and hardships. We want to be obedient to God for any number of reasons, but we have to realize that obedience doesn’t guarantee a trouble-free life. As a matter of fact, Jesus informed his disciples they would be persecuted because of him (Luke 21:12):

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.” NRSV

Jesus told his disciples, and us, in John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” NIV

3. God Was with Them

That leads me to the third lesson we learn, that God is with us during times of trials. Notice how God was directing events for Mary and Joseph, either through dreams instructing Joseph or by other means. God gave Mary the strength to make the difficult journey to Bethlehem, allowing her to get away from Nazareth. God directed them to the cave where she could give birth with some degree of privacy. God encouraged them and cheered them with Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary, and the visits of the shepherds and the Magi. God got them out of harm’s way when Herod wanted to kill the Christ-child, and even provided the funding for the escape. That’s a reminder to us that God is our provider, which we need to keep in mind during these uncertain economic times. We aren’t immune from the world’s troubles but God is with us every step of the way.

4. We Can Bless Others

In addition, God can use us, often as wounded healers, to bless others who are facing difficult situations: health, relational, economic, emotional. Walt Whitman wrote in a poem entitled Song of Myself: “I do not ask the wounded person how he feels; I myself become the wounded person.”

This is what the incarnation is all about: God came into this world, wore our flesh, and thus knows and understands how we feel. No other religion in the world offers what Christianity offers: An all-powerful and all-loving God who willingly took on the limitations and suffering of His creation.

Although we may be hurting because of our own trials or because of challenges faced by those we love, we don’t lose hope. The fact that Jesus came to this earth some 2,000 years ago shows that God did not sit idly by and watch us suffer in isolation. I read a quote recently that says:

“For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is – limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death — [God] had the honesty and courage to take His own medicine… He has kept His own rules and played fair. [God] can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself.”

So what, then, is Christmas all about? It is about you and me embracing the Savior, and allowing the words of the angel to become personal to us: “A Savior has been born to you”. When Jesus becomes your Savior, you are given the strength to endure, the peace to be able to give and receive comfort, the hope of a glorious future in heaven, and the faith to see the blessings even in pain.

So if you are in pain this Christmas, I hope you will receive comfort from the Nativity story as we’ve looked at it anew. So as we go into the New Year, let’s try to keep these lessons in mind. I wish you a blessed and peace-filled Christmas and God’s blessings and abundant grace for you in the New Year.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Things Are What We Make Them

Many things are not inherently good or inherently evil. They are neutral. Some things are beneficial when used properly, but can be abused. Let me give some examples.

The telephone is generally considered beneficial, but becomes an instrument of evil when used to harass people. The Internet is generally considered beneficial, but becomes evil when used for cyber bullying or watching pornography. Money is an efficient medium for conducting business, but becomes evil when coveted or has become someone’s idol. Sex is beneficial for any number of reasons, but becomes evil when misused. Because things like the Internet are used so often for evil, millions of dollars have to be spent on security. That’s a result of the sinful nature of people, not the technology.

So we should both watch our attitude towards things and be careful how we use them. If something becomes overly important to us, it becomes a false god, an idol, and we are committing idolatry. God should be primary in our life, followed by family, work, and self. Elevating anything above God is not a good idea. If we are close to God, we will then be less inclined to do evil. As we approach Christmas let us examine our relationship with God (or lack thereof) and consider drawing closer to him. We will become better people and the world will be one step closer to becoming a better place.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sharing the Faith

Ever wonder why some Christians seem to be very enthusiastic about sharing their faith? It is an especially important question in this day and age when you are expected to keep your religion to yourself, lest you “offend” somebody. In this post I’d like to give non-Christians some insight as to why followers of Christ share their faith with others.

Commanded to Spread the Gospel

The main reason Christians tell others about Jesus is that he commanded them to do so. Those commands are in all four Gospels, and what Jesus told his disciples in Acts 1:8 is very explicit:

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

Jesus said this seconds before he ascended into heaven. Since these were the last words of Jesus spoken while he was on the earth, many Christians take them pretty seriously. Once Jesus had ascended into heaven, the disciples devoted themselves to telling others about him, usually at some risk to their lives. Some of them ministered in Jerusalem and Judea, which was local for them, and some traveled to the ends of the earth. For example, Thomas went as far east as India, and Paul may have gone as far west as Spain.

Love Your Neighbor

In addition to Jesus’ commands, Christians tell others about him because we love our neighbors as ourselves, as Jesus said we should. Christians believe Jesus came down to earth for all of us. He said to love your neighbor as yourself, quoting from Leviticus 19. The best way Christians can show they care about others is to share their faith in Christ.

Want to make the world a better place? For followers of Christ, there’s no better way than bringing people to faith – thus working to transform the world. Coming to faith in Christ won’t make people perfect, just as no Christian is perfect. But it will make them a whole lot better than they otherwise would have been since they are now be “going on to perfection.”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Is Religion Dangerous?

Those who have little or no religious faith and are hostile to God and religion are fond of justifying their condition by pointing out all the evil done in the world in the name of religion or God. Christianity is criticized for the Crusades and The Inquisition. Some will point to Islamic fanatics as another example of the evils of religious belief, never mind that these terrorists are breaking many of the rules of their own Scriptures.

Have bad things been done in the name of God throughout history? Of course. Is God or “religion” to blame? No. Is religion dangerous? Only when misused for evil purposes. Anything, no matter how good, can be misused by evil people for evil purposes. In addition, religion or Scripture have been grossly misinterpreted, abused or wrongly applied by often well-meaning but misguided people. Nevertheless, these don’t make all religion evil or make God to be somehow bad.

In other cases we blame religion when that isn’t the main cause. For example, in Northern Ireland, the conflict there was defined as a Catholic-Protestant controversy. However, it wasn’t a religious issue, but rather a conflict between the natives (the Irish, who were Catholic) and the settlers who wanted to remain a part of the United Kingdom (the Orangemen who were Protestant). Some practices against women done in some Muslim countries are more culturally-defined than religiously. While the religion often informs the culture in Islamic countries, the Qur’an doesn’t promote activities practiced in some Muslim countries.

All the evil you can think of that has been done (and in some cases continues to be done) in the name of God or religion is miniscule compared to all the good that has been done. For centuries before governments became more benevolent in Europe, it was the Church that ran hospitals and orphanages, and provided some social services. Even today we have Christian organizations caring for people locally and worldwide, such as The Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, Samaritan’s Purse, Goodwill Industries, and many others. Some local churches have food pantries and thrift shops to help the needy, and some send teams all over the world on short-term mission trips to help desperate people in poor countries. And then think of all the unseen good done by individuals of faith.

In the West we have generally benevolent governments that value justice, individual freedoms, and life (“life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”). Why is that? It’s because our country was established on the foundation of Judeo-Christian principles and the best of Enlightenment thinking. So I think we can give a little credit to God and Christianity for the freedoms and life we have.

If you don’t want to believe in God or be involved in a religion, that’s your business, but don’t use the lame excuse that so much evil has been done in the name of God and religion. That just doesn’t line up with the facts.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A New Opportunity for Identity Thieves

According to a news report I recently saw on the Internet, banks are now issuing credit cards that can be waved over a reader rather than swiped (similar to a key card that unlocks doors to buildings). I guess swiping a card is just too much trouble. The only problem is, if a person with a portable card reader can get close enough to you, your information can be read and recorded on a small computer. Somebody has just stolen your credit card information and can order thousands of dollars worth of stuff and you don’t even know you’ve been robbed! It’s high-tech pick-pocketing, thanks to the banks who issue such cards.

This makes me wonder, what are the banks that issue credit cards thinking? Everybody is concerned with identity theft, yet every month we get blank checks from our credit card carriers in the mail. I don’t want them, I’ve never used them, and I can’t make them stop sending them. Not only do these checks provide a temptation for people to spend money they don’t have and may not be able to pay back, but they also provide an opportunity for identity theft or forgery. Every month I must shred these unwanted checks for my own protection as well as the bank’s.

Now the geniuses at Bank of America, Chase, and other credit and debit card issuing banks have come up with a new way for people to be robbed. Don’t these folks consult their security people about potential risks of new technologies? Given the history of banks over the past few decades (remember the S&L crisis and the bad loans to Latin American countries of the late 20th century?), I just don’t understand how bank executives make decisions. One positive thing, business schools can use these cases as opportunities to teach their students what not to do!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


It’s amazing how groups try to manipulate people’s opinions through the subtle use of language. For example, the pro-Palestinian media typically refer to Palestinian terrorists as “militants” rather than what they really are – terrorists. Terrorists terrorize people, and that’s what these Palestinian “militants” have been doing to Israeli citizens within rocket range.

Now a new euphemism has emerged. Rather than calling illegal immigrants what they are – illegal – a group now wants to drop the “I-word” because they feel it is racist and judgmental. It’s unclear what this group wants to use instead of “illegal” – I presume it’s some euphemism such as “undocumented.” If you are breaking United States law, isn’t that illegal? If you are in this country illegally, isn’t that illegal? Why sugar-coat the facts? Call it what it is and then deal with it.

I absolutely believe fair and humane solutions to the illegal immigration (there, I said it) problem must be found, but to play games with words is just a bold attempt to obfuscate the issue and sway public opinion. I think we should all pray for God’s guidance to our leaders in government for this very tricky problem, because we are talking about the well-being of millions of people, the security of the United States, and many other factors.

Monday, December 6, 2010


I recently saw a news item about a school in the metro New York area that is teaching the kids proper etiquette. I think that’s a great idea. Today, people don’t know proper etiquette, mainly because most parents don’t teach it. Rudeness is a real problem with cell phones. You have people texting when in class, when out somewhere with others, or maybe even while in conversation with you. Of course texting while driving goes beyond rude, to dangerous and life-threatening.

One particularly annoying use of the cell phone involves using one while in a darkened theater. I’ve been watching a play and all of a sudden there’s an annoying light coming from a row or two in front of me. In a darkened theater that little telephone light is quite bright. Even if they are only texting and there’s no sound, that light is distracting.

Today kids aren’t taught the common courtesies such as taking off your hat while indoors and in an elevator, how to set a table, which fork to use, etc. Cell phones and lack of etiquette are contributing to a ruder and cruder society, which is too bad. Maybe that school is on to something.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Importance of Christmas

What’s the big deal about Christmas? For Christians, Christmas celebrates one of the most important events in the history of the world, so they shouldn’t take it lightly. We should not let the significance of the holiday become overshadowed by all the commercialism, sentimentality, and secular aspects of the season.

I just made what some may consider a rather radical statement, that Christmas commemorates one of the most important events in history. Let’s think about that for a minute. What makes that first Christmas so momentous?

The God who created the universe, who is all-powerful, and who is majestic beyond our wildest imagination, did something radical and unheard of. The highly paraphrased version of the Bible called The Message puts it this way (Philippians 2:5-8a):

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of him-self that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an in-credibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death. (by Eugene H. Peterson)

We read in the majestic words of the first chapter of the Gospel according to John (John 1:14):

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. NIV

If that wasn’t significant enough, Jesus came to earth to give the entire human race the opportunity to get back into right relationship with God (to become children of God once more). This could not have happened if Jesus hadn’t been born of a woman for the ultimate purpose of paying the penalty for our wrongdoing. Again we read in John’s Gospel (John 1:12-13):

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. NIV

That’s pretty significant, don’t you think? Without that birth 2,000 years ago, there would have been no debt payment on the cross, and of course there wouldn’t have been the glorious Resurrection on that first Easter. While the sentimental, family, and goodwill aspects of the season are nice, we Christians mustn’t lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Recognizing Christmas

I watched the last half hour or so of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting program on NBC on Tuesday, Nov. 30. It was refreshing to hear Christmas carols sung and the word “Christmas” actually used instead of the generic “holiday.” Obviously this celebration was of a secular nature, but they didn’t shy away from the traditional carols that refer to Jesus. I give NBC credit for not watering down the celebration of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Unemployment Benefits

As of this writing, Congress hasn’t extended unemployment benefits. This lack of caring for those who have worked hard all their lives demonstrates once again that our government’s priorities are not right. People have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and can’t find work because our government allowed jobs to be moved overseas. Now that same government refuses to extend unemployment benefits to these families.

Yet our “benevolent” government provides benefits to those who are able-bodied yet abuse the system. For example, a common scam is to work just long enough to be eligible for unemployment, and then get yourself fired so you can live on the government dole for a while. Then there are those who live on welfare and have no intention of becoming productive members of society. While I firmly believe there must be a “safety net” for those who are unable to work for health reasons, we’ve got to do something about fraud and abuse of the system.

Please write your senators and congressmen and let them know you are outraged by this lack of caring for those who have been, and want to be, productive members of society. Let’s get our priorities straight in this country and stop always hurting the middle class.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thoughts on Thanksgiving Day

As the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving approaches, I’d like to share a few thoughts. When you give thanks, it is usually someone whom you are thanking. The Pilgrims were thanking God, not the Indians and certainly not their lucky stars. They were very religious people thanking God for delivering them from death, something that a good number of their original group hadn’t escaped.

Of course they invited the Indians to dinner in appreciation for their help, but the Pilgrims were thanking God despite the hardships they had suffered in that first year in the New World. Today, we don’t mention God so much, so Thanksgiving Day has degenerated into turkey and football, with the original meaning all but lost and revisionist history being taught in our schools.

Even if it’s been a rough year – and for many it has been, with the future uncertain for many more – we Americans should still pause to count our blessings. Despite trials, we’re pretty well off in this country. Let me end with some portions of my sermon on why we should be grateful.

Some may not feel particularly grateful this Thanksgiving Day– they’ve had a tough year, or they’re worried about what might happen in the future. Some have lost loved ones or there are other difficulties in their lives. So they ask, “What have I got to be grateful for?”

Despite the difficulties we all face at one time or another, we still have many things to be grateful for. Our many blessings are frequently overshadowed by the worry or grief we experience during those inevitable trials in life. As the pain subsides with the help of God, we can once again appreciate all that God has done for us. Then we can more easily give thanks, and obtain that peace from God that may have eluded us before.

How do we get that peace of God, even in the midst of a trial? The Apostle Paul tells us how we can experience peace and comfort in Philippians 4:6-7: Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. NRSV

Let’s look at some of our blessings and begin to count the reasons why we should be grateful.

We are blessed by those who put their lives on the line for us every day: fire fighters, police, and the military. We are fortunate that in this country, the police and military are not instruments of oppression as they are in many places in the world.

We thank God for those who advocate for those who don’t have much of a voice in our society: the poor, oppressed and marginalized. Let us be inspired to stand up for what is right and work for peace and justice in this imperfect world.

In President Franklin Roosevelt’s State of the Union address on January 6, 1941, he laid out four basic freedoms that for the most part all of us enjoy.

Freedom of speech and expression
The first of these Four Freedoms is Freedom of speech and expression. We should give thanks that we are able to criticize the government without fear of the secret police knocking on our door and hauling us away.

Freedom of worship
The second of the Four Freedoms is Freedom of worship. While there are groups who are trying to limit that right, we can still gather to worship God without worrying about government spies taking names. We can’t begin to imagine what a blessing it is to have the freedom to worship as we please without fear or arrest or even death.

Freedom from want
The third of the Four Freedoms is Freedom from want. This isn’t guaranteed in the Constitution like freedom of speech and worship. However, we as a compassionate society believe we have a moral obligation to relieve poverty and care for those in need. Unfortunately, eliminating poverty is something that appears to be beyond our ability to achieve. The current economic conditions have resulted in middle class families losing jobs, homes, and retirement savings. However, we can be thankful we have the ability in this country to succeed and are generally not held back by artificial barriers.

Freedom from fear
The last of the Four Freedoms laid out by Franklin Roosevelt is Freedom from fear. While we may be worried and fearful about the future, we don’t have many of the fears that plague people in other parts of the world. We don’t have to worry about the secret police knocking at our doors or the religious police enforcing dress codes for women. We don’t have to worry about rebels attacking our village and doing terrible things. So let us be thankful for freedom from these kinds of fears.

We should give thanks for the ready availability of food due to the fertile soil we have, adequate water, and an efficient distribution system. Many other parts of the world suffer from droughts, poor soil, and meager crop yields. Also clean water is in short supply in many parts of the world. In places like Sudan people have to walk miles to a source of clean water.

We should also be thankful for the fact that we have a decent roof over our heads, unlike the people in Haiti who are living in tents or under tarps. We also have adequate clothing to keep us warm in the winter. And of course we should be thankful for a source of income to provide for these basic necessities and more. While that income may be in jeopardy, at least for now we are getting by, for which we should be thankful.

We should be thankful for our families and the support we receive from them. We can be thankful that God put in our paths people who became like family to us – our close friends. We should be thankful for our church family, which are like family to us. May this thankfulness translate into a more caring attitude on our part for our families, friends, church family, and community.

Lastly, we should be thankful for our health, even if it isn’t what it used to be. Be thankful for the good years you had, and how well you are doing, all things considered.

When we consider all that we have to be thankful for despite problems and trials, we should have a true spirit of thanksgiving in our hearts. We should be thankful, not just once a year, but daily. Once we accept that we are not given any special immunity from life’s troubles, then we can give thanks for God’s help even in times of need. We also have to remember that with these blessings comes responsibilities, mainly stewardship of what God has entrusted to us.

Let us remember that we are not put on this earth to be happy or privileged, but to know, love, and serve God. The most important relationship we can have is with Jesus, who gives us eternal life and helps us get through this life. Let us use this Thursday to give thanks to God for all he has blessed us with, and encourage our family members to do the same. So let us give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever. Amen

Monday, November 15, 2010


There was an article recently in the Poughkeepsie Journal reporting that the Roman Catholic Church is training more clergy to perform exorcisms. An exorcism is a ritual used to cast out demons from a demon-possessed person. Demons are the fallen angels who follow Satan and do his work. I’m sure a lot of people read the article and felt demon-possession is a left-over superstition from medieval days or something from biblical times but doesn’t happen anymore. I want to explore the topic of demon possession in modern times.

We read mostly about demon possession in the New Testament. Jesus cast out demons from a number of people, and we also see demon possession in the Book of Acts. Skeptics have claimed that these people weren’t demon-possessed, but were mentally ill. That might be true in some cases, but it appears that most of these situations involved demon possession (super-human strength – Matthew 8:28-34; clairvoyance – Acts 16:16-18).

Do we have demon possession today? I think we do, although it certainly isn’t widespread. Think of the most evil men of the 20th century. I believe they were demon possessed. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, to name a few. Even without demon possession, we are influenced by them because we are in a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:10-20).

The next question is, can an exorcism get rid of demons that are possessing someone? I’m not sure. Obviously it wouldn’t be the ritual that drives out the demons, it would be God. So any ritual must invoke God and place trust in him. If you believe only in the words, then that’s magic and superstition. I guess the exorcism ritual has worked enough times that the Roman Catholic Church wants to have more priests trained to both discern what’s going on and to effectively deal with it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Rise and Fall of America

Historians have written on the fall of mighty empires, such as the Roman Empire and the Third Reich. I’m sure books will write of our rise and fall as well. While it is inevitable that every country and empire will reach its peak and will then decline, there are hopefully things a nation can do to slow that decline. Looking at history is one way we can determine what to do and what pitfalls to avoid.

We think of the Romans as decadent, and they were. However, early on, during their rise, they had a republican form of government, fairly high moral values, and public servants who were dedicated, served their terms, and then went back to their regular lives. As time went on, the Romans lost those original values that helped make them great and they became decadent and corrupt. Eventually they became so weak that Rome fell to the barbarians and the Western Empire collapsed.

I believe the United States peaked in the 1960s and has been in decline ever since. Here’s what I believe is contributing to that decline:

(1) We have lost our Judeo-Christian ethic that helped make us a morally upright and decent country. Sure, we weren’t perfect, yet today we have abandoned God, we are yielding to forces who want to push God out of our society, and have trampled on the Constitution. Our culture is trashy and politicians have made a career rather than serving their terms and then going back to the farm. We must get back to God, our earlier values, and the original intent of the Constitution to slow down the decline.

(2) Our economy is being drained by expensive wars, importing billions of dollars worth of oil, having more imports than exports, and wasteful government at all levels. We must quickly end our dependence on foreign oil by having an energy policy that reduces petroleum usage ASAP.

(3) We have shot ourselves in the foot by reducing our manufacturing capacity and importing most of our clothing, appliances, steel, and many other things. We need to have decent jobs and a robust manufacturing sector to avoid further decline.

(4) We have a crumbling infrastructure that we’ve neglected for too long. We need to build modern nuclear power plants, keeping the old coal-fired plants for peak summer usage. We must upgrade our rail system, the power grid, airports, bridges, roads, and other infrastructure to be competitive in the global economy.

(5) We have let greedy forces ruin our economy, and I’m not just talking about Wall Street and the banks. Absurd demands by unions have forced jobs overseas, because the labor component of American-made products was simply too expensive. The power of unions must be curtailed to some extent to prevent further outsourcing of jobs.

(6) Americans are under-educated compared to much of the industrialized world. Tenure should be abolished at all levels of the education system, and primary and secondary teachers must be held accountable and ineffective ones terminated. There should be more programs for gifted students rather than eliminating them to reduce the budget. To keep school taxes from rising, schools should institute more fees for extra-curricular programs and sports. Why should our taxes pay for a football team when only a handful of kids can play?

Let’s make our newly-elected representative accountable so we won’t find ourselves a second-rate country working for the Chinese.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Obamacare-Let's Rethink It

Tea Party supporters and many Republicans want to see Obamacare repealed. I think we need to be careful because there are some worthwhile aspects to it. There are also some significant things missing from it. I would say it should be reworked, not repealed.

I have a lot of respect for Bobby Jindal, the current governor of Louisiana. He used to be director of Louisiana health and hospitals department, 1996-98; executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, 1998-99; president of University of Louisiana system, 1999-2001; assistant secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001-2003. The guy is an expert on health care.

About 15 years ago I attended a seminar on healthcare in which he was the featured speaker. His talk was impressive and informative, and I knew this guy was going places (he could be a contender for President of the US in 2012). In an article in The Wall Street Journal, Jindal explored the flaws in Obamacare and expressed his own suggestions on what would be a better solution. Below are two of his suggestions:

•Medical lawsuit reform. The practice of defensive medicine costs an estimated $100 billion-plus each year, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, which used a study by economists Daniel P. Kessler and Mark B. McClellan. No health reform is serious about reducing costs unless it reduces the costs of frivolous lawsuits.

•Insurance reform. Congress should establish simple guidelines to make policies more portable, with more coverage for pre-existing conditions. Reinsurance, high-risk pools, and other mechanisms can reduce the dangers of adverse risk selection and the incentive to avoid covering the sick. Individuals should also be able to keep insurance as they change jobs or states. (© The Wall Street Journal, July 22, 2009)

I would ask you to encourage your senators and representative to rework Obamacare to make it better, keeping the provisions that are beneficial (such children until age 26 can be on parent’s plan; pre-existing conditions can’t be used to refuse coverage; you can’t be dropped by an insurance company because you’ve gotten sick). With the Democrats still in control of the Senate and a Democratic president, Obamacare won’t get repealed anytime soon. However, if both parties work together to improve it along the lines of Bobby Jindal’s WSJ article, then everybody wins, especially you and me.

Therefore, I ask you to email your senators and representative and encourage tem to rework Obamacare for the good of everybody.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Recent Election

I was happy to see that there appeared to be a high level of interest in this election, and there was pretty good voter turnout. Voting isn’t just a privilege, but a duty. Voter apathy results in elected officials who aren’t made accountable.

Now that the election is over (thank God!), I believe you and I need to do three things:

(1) First and most importantly, we need to pray for our elected officials. We don’t hesitate to complain and criticize, but how about a little prayer?

(2) We should send an email to all our elected officials at all levels of government reminding them that it was people like you and me who voted them in, and we can vote them out. They should be reminded that they are accountable to the electorate, not to special interests, the party, or big contributors. I would do this politely and respectfully, but firmly. As part of the email, I would briefly explain what you are expecting of him or her on key issues (i.e., clean up Albany once and for all; provide disincentives for shipping jobs overseas; reduce the deficit).

(3) I would occasionally email my thoughts on various issues so that they can get a sense of where the electorate stands. You can’t expect your senator or representative to fulfill your wishes if all he or she hears from are the special interest groups and lobbyists. We need to express our opinions also. They may not read your email but their staffs keep a tally of how the mail is running on various issues. Keep them informed and accountable!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Faith in Your Religion?

In an earlier post I mentioned how a NASA psychologist said that the trapped Chilean miners had “faith in their religion.” This was said on a NOVA program about the rescue effort. In that earlier post, I said “You don’t have faith in a religion, or if you do, it is certainly misplaced faith. You have faith in God, not in a religion.” I want to expand upon that statement.

To define terms, I define a religion as that set of beliefs and practices that best expresses your faith. Just as a sacrament is an outward sign of an inward conviction, so religious practices are outward signs of your inward faith. Your faith is not in your religion, but in God or some “higher power” or a particular philosophy that guides your life.

For Christians, how does the Church fit in with this? The Church is a gathering of like-minded people who come together to practice their religion. The Church is not an organization, although there is structure to it. The Church is not the clergy, although they are part of it. The Church is not a set of doctrines, although doctrines guide and clarify beliefs. First and foremost, the Church is all of its members, who gather for regular worship, for fellowship and mutual support, to grow in their faith through education (Bible studies, Sunday school), and to conduct various ministries, outreaches, and missions to tell others about God, to help to relieve suffering in the world, and fight injustice.

Therefore, your faith is not in a particular church, because it is merely a vehicle for practicing your religion. Your faith isn’t in your religion, because religion consists of a set of practices and an organized compilation of beliefs in God. Your faith isn’t even in the Bible, because the Bible reveals God and God’s truths to us. It also is a vehicle, not the object of our faith. Our faith must be in God, not in the instruments that point to God.

Those who don’t place their faith in God ipso facto place their faith in something else. In my opinion, placing your faith in anything else but God is faith that is misplaced. In what else do people place their faith? In the Church (as I mentioned earlier); in technology; in government; in political correctness; in other people or themselves, to name a few. Let me ask you, Where are you placing your faith?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

NOVA on Chilean Rescue

Last night (Oct. 26) I watched a TV program on PBS about the rescue of the 33 miners in Chile. This NOVA program was very interesting, and took us step by step through the rescue effort. However, they didn’t tell the whole story, as often happens with the mainstream media. They left out the faith component for the most part.

Yes, a NASA psychologist who was interviewed did say that “faith” played an important role for the miners: faith in themselves, faith in their families, faith that efforts were being made to rescue them, etc. Then, almost as an afterthought, he added “and faith in their religion.” Faith in their religion!? What does that mean? You don’t have faith in a religion, or if you do, it is certainly misplaced faith. You have faith in God, not in a religion. That shows the ignorance of that NASA psychologist.

There were two other things totally left out of the story of the rescue. One item that was extremely important in giving the miners hope was the nightly Bible study. José Henríquez, one of the trapped miners who became the spiritual leader of the group, conducted nightly Bible studies for the men. That was never mentioned in the NOVA program, yet I suspect was critical in keeping the men focused.

The other thing, not mentioned or shown, was that many of the rescued miners were wearing a certain T-shirt when they came up in the rescue capsule. The shirts said ¡Gracias Señor! (Thank you, Lord!) on the front, and on the back was a reference to Psalm 95:4: “In His hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to Him.”

While we rejoice that God delivered these men from certain death in the depths of the earth, the media refuse to mention the faith component of this situation except for some passing references. Why does the media consistently eliminate God? I suspect it is because God isn’t politically correct, and by all means we must be PC. Will political correctness deliver this country from its troubles? I don’t think so. Let’s place our faith in God, not in man-made philosophies, and let’s acknowledge God and the role faith plays in so many lives.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Sanctity of Life

We were excited when those 33 miners were rescued in Chile, but there was also a mine disaster in China around the same time in which 77 miners died. One statistic that was quoted as part of the story is that there are 2,600 mine deaths a year in China. Safety is lax and China doesn’t seem to care. Compare that to the effort undertaken to rescue 33 miners in Chile, and what we’ve done in the U.S. to rescue miners when there’s a disaster. In addition, we in the West have taken precautions and provided rescue shelters in our mines, while China has done very little. Why the difference?

It’s simple. We in the West have at least remnants of the Judeo-Christian tradition which says all people are made in the image of God, everybody is precious in God’s sight, and God loves everyone. Human life is valued, and valiant rescue efforts are made when a life is in danger. In other countries without such a tradition, life is cheap and not as highly valued. In addition, there are 1.3 billion people in China, so their attitude is “what does it matter that 2,600 people die each year in mine accidents?”

What scares me is that as the West moves further away from its Judeo-Christian roots, life will have less value than it does now. Another threat to the sanctity of life is the teaching of evolution in the schools. If humans are just higher-level animals, why should we particularly care about human life? If a child is exposed only to evolution and never hears God’s side of the story in Sunday school, he or she will naturally devalue human life. That’s probably one of the reasons we have so much bullying (see my earlier post on that subject). I encourage parents to go to church and take their kids to Sunday school so these values don’t disappear from the West.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Desecrated Cemetery

My wife and I recently returned from a week in New Orleans. We enjoyed the good food, the music, the architecture, and even the unusual cemeteries. Sadly, we had an incident recently in which a local cemetery here in Dutchess County suffered vandalism. The mother of a woman I know is buried in that cemetery, and she was quite upset that her mother’s gravestone was toppled.

There’s a cemetery near my church, and I see people walking their dogs in it all the time. It makes me wonder how those people would feel if someone else’s dog urinated on their mother’s gravestone or took a dump on their father’s grave. One of the reasons those people are walking their dogs in the neighboring cemetery is that we’ve banned dog walking on the church property. People from the neighborhood were walking their dogs and not picking up after them, showing absolutely no concern for a property that isn’t theirs.

What does this tell us? I think it says several things. First, that our society is becoming less caring and considerate of others. Second, we haven’t educated our children about being considerate of others and the sanctity of a cemetery (or even church property). Third, some kids have entirely too much time on their hands (assuming the vandalism was done by kids) and parents don’t seem to know or care where their kids are.

Parents, and especially pet owners, I ask you to train your kids to respect the property of others, and be a good example to them by picking up after your dog. In addition, educate him to not vandalize and know where your child is.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Endless Recession

It seems that the current economic downturn is continuing despite some claims that the economy is turning around. For the first time in my life, I am pessimistic about the future. Our country is in such a mess that I don’t know how we are ever going to recover.

We have a huge national debt, we continue to have an unfavorable balance of trade (we import more than we export), we are dependent on foreign sources for much of our oil, we owe other countries (including China) huge amounts of money because of their loans to us (if those loans get called in, we are bankrupt as a nation), the dollar is shaky, our manufacturing base eroded, many of our jobs are gone forever (either exported overseas or just disappeared) the housing market is still depressed, and businesses aren’t hiring. In addition, social security will eventually go bust unless something is done now, we are losing our technological edge, and many state and local governments are in deep financial trouble, meaning even more layoffs and reductions in service plus higher taxes. Congress can’t agree on anything, so the critical issues are not being addressed.

That’s just a partial list of our economic and governmental woes. In addition, our nation is turning away from the God who has blessed it immeasurably, morals continue to decline, people of faith are ridiculed and mocked, church attendance appears to be declining, much of the population is biblically illiterate, and situational ethics, relativism, and political correctness have taken the place of the Judeo-Christian ethic that used to be the norm.

I haven’t told you all of this to depress you, but to motivate you to turn back to the God of your forefathers (and mothers). We are in such a mess that only God can get us out of it. Is it too late? I don’t know – it might be – but yet we should grab hold of this verse, and recite it every day.

[I]f my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14, NIV)

Looking at that verse in context tells us that it originally applied to the Israelites, yet I believe we can claim it for our own country as well. So let’s stop pushing God out of our lives, out of our culture, and out of our country. As people of faith, we must be proactive, or our country will continue to sink lower and lower spiritually, morally, ethically, culturally, economically, and every other way.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Misguided Church

A court case has been brought against members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas that has a policy of staging demonstrations at the funerals of servicemen and women killed in combat. I can’t believe a church does such things to grieving families. Obviously this kind of behavior is extreme and is terribly misguided.

For one thing, they’re demonstrating at the wrong place. If they don’t like government policies, then demonstrate where the politicians and judges are, not at a soldier’s funeral. Don’t pick on innocent families who have lost loved ones. I remember how poorly our returning troops from Vietnam were treated, and I hope we’ve learned our lesson: don’t blame our troops for government policies we don’t like – blame the politicians.

Second, this “church” (I put it in quotes because it certainly isn’t acting like a church of Jesus Christ) isn’t following the commands of Jesus to love one another, love your enemies, and do unto others. Such behavior in the name of Christ brings shame to that name when our behavior should bring glory to him.

This court case is being brought by the family of the Marine killed in action whose funeral these “church” members demonstrated at in 2006, displaying hateful signs against the military and homosexuals. These “church” members believe the wars we were fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are God’s punishment for our society’s tolerance of homosexuality. So these nitwits have taken upon themselves the task of “cleaning up” the United States. In doing so, they are doing everything contrary to the teaching of Jesus, whom they claim to represent.

At issue in the court case will be the right of free speech. No constitutional right is absolute. Even certain kinds of speech are prohibited. While what they are doing is a protest, which is protected by the Constitution, the way they are protesting shouldn’t be protected speech. For example, you can’t legally “protest” by setting a building on fire, interfering with traffic, or constantly interrupting a candidate’s speech (you’ll be escorted out of the building). While I don’t want to see free speech abridged, this “church’s” free speech is hateful, disruptive, and serves no legitimate purpose. This group should find a more legitimate and less hateful way to protest if they feel they must protest at all.

Let’s pray that the court will have wisdom in this case, and also that the members of the Westboro Baptist Church will see the error of their ways.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bullying – Part 2

Some say that churches who preach that the practice of homosexuality is a sin are promoting hate. This is true for a few lunatic fringe churches that get in the news occasionally, but I believe most churches are careful so as not to promote hate or prejudice. While the Bible is explicit that the practice of homosexuality is against God’s will (in both the Old and New Testaments), such biblical disapproval doesn’t give anybody the right to persecute, harass, or bully those who are gay. Therefore, Christian parents should instruct their children not to bully kids who are different from them, pointing to Jesus as their example. Jesus hung out with the “undesirables” of his culture, and caught a lot of heat from the religious elites because of it. If anything, parents should instruct their kids to befriend the new kid who just moved into the area (“care for the strangers and aliens in the land”), and the kid who is different in some way. Then you and your child will be truly living out the Bible’s commands.

You might ask, how can you balance the biblical disapproval of the gay lifestyle with loving those who are gay? Again, just look to Jesus. He never denied people were living a lifestyle inconsistent with the moral law (such as the woman caught in adultery or the Samaritan woman at the well) but he loved them nevertheless. God is all about grace (unmerited favor) and as Christians, we should be instruments of God’s grace. Instead, some Christians become instruments of condemnation, thinking they’re doing God’s work by denouncing gays.

On the other hand, some deny the biblical disapproval of the practice of homosexuality because they just can’t reconcile the fact that some people appear to be “born gay” with the biblical injunctions against the practice of homosexuality. To me that is a cop-out. The Bible is clear on the issue, and if you claim to believe it is the Word of God, then you must accept even those parts that you have trouble with. But we also have to look at the Bible in its entirety to discern how we are to respond. As I mentioned before, grace, mercy, and love are at the heart of the biblical narrative (in both the Old and New Testaments) and so we as Christians must exhibit those to all, whether we disapprove of what they are doing or not. Jesus is our model.

Therefore, we must teach our children that bullying and other forms of prejudice are wrong. Parents must also lead by example, and should never exhibit hate or ridicule any group by making nasty comments or calling a group by a hateful name. Kids will do as you do, not do as you say.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


There’s been quite a bit of discussion about bullying ever since that incident at Rutgers where a guy secretly used a webcam to record love-making by his gay roommate. Bullying has always been a problem in schools, usually involving picking on those who are different in some way (nerd, wears glasses, gay or effeminate, etc.) Today, bullying has reached a whole new level with the Internet.

Both girls and boys, gay and straight, are being bullied via the Internet. They are being embarrassed, humiliated, and harassed with falsehoods about them being put on Facebook and other sites. Bullying is present even in middle schools and lower grades in some form or another from what I’m hearing. This is a serious problem, because kids are developing their self-esteem and don’t need to be put down like this. Moreover, some kids dread going to school and facing their peers because of what’s being put on the Internet about them or even face-to-face bullying in various forms. This has got to stop.

When you hear about all this bullying, I think it is obvious that parents aren’t doing their job in teaching their kids proper values. Kids who learned “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and tolerance for those who are different aren’t the ones doing this bullying. It’s the kids whose parents aren’t involved in their lives, who don’t monitor their kids’ TV and Internet activities, and who don’t know the meaning of the words “boundaries” and “discipline.” I’m shocked at how so many parents don’t set boundaries for their kids these days, and how they think little Johnny can do no wrong.

Schools can only do so much when it comes to sensitivity training. Schools and churches can only reinforce the values that parents are teaching their kids, they can’t be the primary sources. Since much of the bullying today takes place off the school campus, there isn’t a lot of policing they can do. I suspect that if more parents took their kids to church or synagogue, enrolled them in Sunday school, and taught and modeled good behavior, there would be fewer incidents of this vicious bullying we’re seeing these days.

Let’s pray that parents will wake up and be the kind of parents God intended them to be, and will really get involved in their kids’ lives. As we read in Proverbs 22:6: Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. (NIV) We also read in Proverbs 23:13a: Do not withhold discipline from a child. (NIV) Good advice that today’s parents need to follow so we will raise up a next generation that is responsible, kind, and considerate.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Missional Church

I heard something recently that intrigued me. The statement was something along these lines: “The time of the institutional church is over and the time of the missional church has begun.” This was mentioned in passing, and not explained. However, I think I know what that statement means. If you are a pastor, in a church leadership position, or looking for a church, this might interest you.

I believe “institutional church” refers to those churches that are mostly Sunday morning institutions. People come to worship and see themselves as part of an institution, but nothing much else happens. The institutional church, with its structure and consistency, used to be a bulwark of society. It was the center of social activities in many neighborhoods and towns as well.

Things have changed, and the church is viewed quite differently. The local church is no longer a center of social activity because there is so much else going on in people’s lives. The institutional church has lost credibility because of clergy abuse scandals, and serious and nasty divisions within the church regarding various social issues (mainly homosexuality). Today many feel the church is irrelevant. How do you make the church credible and “relevant” (however that might be defined by those making the claim of irrelevancy)?

I believe the church must move from the institutional model to being missional. What does being missional mean? I suspect it means different things to different people, but in general I think missional means being intentional about serving God by serving others. This involves, depending on each church’s call and a lot of other variables, having various ministries to serve its members and the community; sending out and supporting missionaries; and working to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the unchurched in your community. Some would add seeking justice for the oppressed and marginalized, which is appropriate if a church is called to activism (but the church must do it in the name of Jesus Christ, otherwise it is just another benevolent organization).

If a church exists only to survive and isn’t thriving, then it isn’t missional. So maybe that’s something your church should look at. How are we serving others? Are we inward-looking or outward-looking? Is our church more of a social club than anything else? Is our community better because of our presence? Are we more interested in doctrine than in people? While worship and discipleship are extremely important, mission and ministry are as well.

May God bless you as you examine your place of worship and seek God’s direction for it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Clergy Appreciation

Over the years I’ve heard horror stories about how pastors have been mistreated by congregations or by factions within congregations. Before I became a pastor, I saw it firsthand at a church I was attending. I was horrified because I had grown up in the Roman Catholic Church in the 1950s where the priests were treated with the utmost respect (I’m not sure how it is today).

October is clergy appreciation month, so that might be a good time to show your appreciation to your pastor. A better way to show your appreciation is to not sit idly by when he or she is being mistreated by malcontents in the congregation. Don’t let these people, who want the church run THEIR way, to cause dissent. Such people cause conflict and disruption, and create a spirit of oppression. As a result such churches aren’t growing because any visitor to that church feels the oppression and will never come back.

People that dominate churches and make them their own little fiefdom aren’t following the teaching of Christ, who said in Matthew 20:25b-28:

"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." (NRSV)

If your church is disrupted by discontent, pray for it, stand up for your pastor, and don’t let these people dominate the life of the church. They aren’t following God’s will but their own selfish desires.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

An Economics Lesson

Usually I write about moral, ethical or spiritual matters, but in this post I want to talk economics. While I’m not an economist, I did major in economics in college, I have an MBA, and spent 30 years in the business world. So I understand economics and business fairly well.

The reason I’m discussing this subject is because I’m sick of hearing candidates claiming they’ll fix the economy if they get elected. I’m also sick of hearing people blame Obama for the mess we’re in, when this deep economic recession was years in the making. There is little he can do, because very few tools are available to him.

Classic economic theory says the government has two major tools at its disposal to “manage” the economy: fiscal and monetary policy. Both of those have been tapped out, and there’s nothing more that can be done in those areas. Interest rates are extremely low (monetary) and the government is already heavily into deficit spending (fiscal). One other area is taxation, and the repeal of the Bush-era tax cuts will most likely hurt the economy even as it reduces the federal deficit.

Our economic problems go deep, and I see two major areas that must be addressed for any significant recovery to take place:

(1) Many jobs have been exported, so that manufacturing jobs, back office jobs, and customer service jobs have disappeared permanently. Any economic recovery that does take place won’t result in many these jobs opening up in the U.S., only in foreign countries. We must give some sort of incentive to companies to bring these jobs back to the U.S. and create new jobs in energy and emerging technologies.

You should be aware that the unemployment figure published by the government is grossly understated. Instead of 9.5% or so, the real number is closer to 15-20%. The higher number includes those who are hard-core unemployed or unemployable, those who have stopped looking for work, and those who are under-employed.

(2) We have an ongoing trade deficit with the world. We import more than we export. Some of this is due to importing vast quantities of oil, and some results from the fact that not much in the way of electronics, clothing, appliances, shoes, and many other goods are made here any more (see item #1 above). We can’t continue on such a path or we will literally go bankrupt as a country.

You should be aware that the only thing that’s keeping this country afloat financially is that other countries are buying our debt instruments. We buy stuff from these countries and they balance things out by lending us money. A major lender to us in China. So funds flow out of this country to China and others in the form of interest payments. The scary thing is that we are dependent of China for some measure of financial stability. That should keep you awake nights.

So when you hear politicians saying that they’ll fix the economy, don’t believe them. Unless they’re willing to tackle the two big items mentioned above, their efforts will result in nothing. Any recovery will come about as part of the natural economic cycle. Given our systemic economic problems, such a recovery may still be years away.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

9/11: Lessons from Pearl Harbor

Below is part of the sermon I gave on the Sunday following the attacks on 9/11/2001. It’s a little long for a blog post, but you might find it interesting, especially the comparison with Pearl Harbor.

Lessons from Pearl Harbor

Tuesday, September 11, 2001, is another date that will live in infamy. Many of you were alive at the time of Pearl Harbor, and I’m sure you recognize many of the emotions associated with Tuesday’s events. Since some are calling this a “Second Pearl Harbor” I would like to draw some comparisons to that event 60 years ago.

I find it interesting that after 60 years there is still strong interest in the Pearl Harbor attack as we see by the recent popular movie called “Pearl Harbor.”

•Both Pearl Harbor and the recent acts of terrorism were unprovoked, and both caught the US by surprise.

•Both took place in the morning, and both involved aircraft. The first bomb at Pearl Harbor fell at 7:55 and the first plane hit the WTC at 8:45.

•Both involved substantial property loss. At Pearl, 18 ships were sunk or seriously damaged, plus damage to buildings. In NYC, the entire WTC complex and many nearby buildings were destroyed or seriously damaged.

•Both involved a substantial loss of life. At Pearl, 2,403 men and women lost their lives, all but 68 were military. We don’t know the death toll yet, but I estimate Tuesday’s attacks will probably result in 6,000-7,000 deaths. (266 in airplanes, 200 at Pentagon, and 5,500-6,500 at WTC) Most of these deaths were civilians.

•Both attacks were personal to Americans. Hawaii was an American territory and the attack was against our military installations there. Many knew servicemen who lost their lives or were in Hawaii at the time.

Tuesday’s attack was even closer to home, and involved ordinary people at work, like any one of us. Many people were personally touched by these attacks, knowing people on the airplanes or in the buildings. My company had an office at the WTC. We lost 5 employees. We could see the burning buildings from our office in White Plains, knowing we had people there.

•Evil as it was, the Japanese had a strategic objective in attacking Pearl Harbor. Their objective was to neutralize our Pacific fleet so it would be out of commission for several years. This would allow the Japanese to continue their conquests in Asia without US interference. The US had become increasing hostile to Japan and had initiated trade and oil embargoes against it.

For the life of me, I can not find any strategic objective to an attack on civilian buildings such as we saw on Tuesday. That’s what makes Tuesday’s attacks senseless and diabolical.

Pearl Harbor Strategic Failure

Interestingly, from a strategic point of view, the Pearl Harbor attack was a failure.
It failed in four ways:

1. The most important naval weapon, the aircraft carrier, was untouched in the attack. Not a single carrier was in port at the time. Within a few months our carriers had engaged the enemy in significant naval battles.

2. The second most important naval weapon, the submarine, was also untouched by the attack. The sub base at Pearl was only moderately damaged and was soon back in operation. US subs were attacking Japanese shipping all over the Pacific.

3. The enormous fuel depot at Pearl was completely untouched. Even if no ships had been sunk but the fuel depot had been destroyed, our fleet would have soon been rendered useless for a substantial period of time.

4. The Pearl Harbor attack united Americans as never before. I suspect the Japanese wanted to demoralize us, but the effect was just the opposite. We were resolved to defeat an enemy that was devastating Asia and had now hit our home shores.

Why was Pearl Harbor a failure to the Japanese? I believe it was because God protected us so that we could be instrumental in defeating the evil of Nazi and Japanese expansionism. Without the involvement of the US, I don’t believe these evil expansionist empires could have been stopped. Because of US involvement in the war, Europe was eventually liberated and large parts of Asia were freed from the harsh rule of the Japanese Empire.

Current Attacks Strategic Failure

Do I believe the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon were strategic failures? Yes I do.

Certainly they were successful in their execution and in causing short-term disruption. But from a long-term strategic viewpoint, I believe they will be shown, just like Pearl Harbor, to have been failures, by the grace of God. I’m not sure why these attacks, were carried out, but by almost any measurement, they will be determined to have been strategic failures.

1. They caused an interruption in the heart of our financial district, but there won’t be serious long-term effects. Life will go on pretty much as before.

2. They caused a disruption of business and commerce, but I am guessing that the effect on the economy will be relatively mild. Increased spending for the military may actually help the economy.

3. They have united America in a way not seen for 60 years. Philosophical and political differences have been set aside and a spirit of unity prevails. If the objective of those attacks was to discourage Americans, they did just the opposite.

4. Much of the world has rallied around the US in an unprecedented show of inter-national solidarity. The war against terrorism will be a united front because countries now realize all are vulnerable.

5. It will make the US more sympathetic to Israel and more supportive of its struggle against Palestinian terrorism.

Why were the recent attacks strategic failures? Again, I believe God will protect us from serious long-term harm so that we can be used as his instrument to fight against this new evil.

Although the death and destruction is more than we can bear, it may have been the only way we could be united as a people and have to resolve to do what only the US can accomplish in the world.

So the reason for the history lesson this morning is to show that God’s sovereignty always prevails, and ultimate good can come out of disasters, terrible as they are. Where Was God? You may still ask, “Where was God in all of this?” I saw God many times as I watched TV this week.

•I saw God in the firefighters who ran into a severely damaged building to try to save lives, losing their own in the process.

•I saw God in people helping their co-workers to get out of the building.

•I saw God in the dedicated rescue workers who went on past the point of exhaustion in the hope of finding somebody alive.

•I saw God in the reaction of Americans, who lined up to give blood, who sent in donations, who gathered at churches and synagogues to pray and comfort one another.

•I saw God in those people holding candlelight vigils and mourning over the loss of life of people they didn’t even know.

•I saw God in the encouragement people were giving to the rescue workers, including local merchants giving food and drink to them without charge.

•I saw God in those who called for us not to take out our anger on Americans of Middle Eastern descent or those who practice the Muslim religion.

•I saw God in Washington, DC, as those of all religions and political persuasions gathered in the National Cathedral as one to worship God in all of this.

•I saw God in the moving memorials held in Canada and countries throughout the world, honoring the victims and upholding the United States in this time of crisis.

Where was God in all of this? He was in each one of us.

What Happens Next?

Our job is just beginning. We don’t know what the future holds. The most important thing we can do is pray for our national leaders.
We should pray that our national leaders:
-Will be open to God’s leading and follow His wisdom.
-They will maintain a spirit of unity consistent with God’s direction to them.
-They won’t be driven by emotions or hatred.

We should also pray for leaders around the world, that:
-Those harboring terrorists will shut down the camps, and give them over to justice.
-Nations will back up their claims of support for the US with appropriate action.
-The community of nations will have a spirit of unity and mutual support.
-Terrorism will be stopped dead everywhere through the determined efforts of every nation’s leadership (including Northern Ireland and Israel).
-Pray in particular for Pakistan, which will probably be on the front line of any action and without whose support, our job will be more difficult.

We should also pray for the nation in general, that:
-No more terrorist attacks will occur on our soil or against our people anywhere.
-We will have a spirit of reconciliation and love for one another after seeing how ugly hatred can be.
-We as a nation will turn back to God and revival will take place.

We must realize that God will not support us just because we are Americans. I don’t believe God supports one nationality over another. He will support us if we are his people, called by his name, dedicated to him and committed to him.

Our money says “In God We Trust.” Now is our time to prove it.

Prayer is effective and is our main weapon against the evil we are fighting against, because that evil is of a spiritual nature. Ephesians 6:10-13 tells us that our struggle is a spiritual one: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

I repeat: Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

We may talk of military action, and that is certainly one weapon we may use, but the most effective weapon we have is trust in God and prayer. The best thing we can do in this time of national (and even international) crisis is pray to God and put our trust in Him.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Thoughts on the Anniversary of 9/11

We commemorated the ninth anniversary of the attacks on the United States last Saturday. It brought back many memories of that day: witnessing the events on TV and out of my office window; my co-workers who died that day; the prayer circle we had at work as the towers collapsed; the sermon I gave that Sunday at the little church I was serving at that time; the memorial service we had at work for those employees who perished.

This attack, which cost 3,000 innocent lives in New York, at the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania, finally woke us up to the fact that there are radical islamists who want to change the world. They don’t want peaceful coexistence, but their goal is to establish a world-wide caliphate under their control. That doesn’t mean we are at war with all Muslims, because, as I’ve said before, most Muslims, like anybody else, want to live their lives in peace and just be left alone.

What we must realize, both the West and moderate Muslims, is that we are at war with those radicals who kill people in mosques, cowardly blow up innocent victims in marketplaces and along roads, and wreak havoc around the world. These radicals kill their own, desecrate holy places by killing worshipers in them, destabilize Islamic nations, and go against much of what their scriptures teach. They consider their acts part of a “holy war” but it is anything but holy.

Christians, Jews, and Muslims are the victims of these fanatical but powerful few. Let us pray to God for protection against these mass murderers, and pray that God will defeat them soundly. Let us put our trust in God, who said in Zechariah 4:6b: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” (NRSV)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Koran Burning

There was something on the national news about the pastor of a small church in Florida who wants to stage a Koran burning on or about September 11. It’s too bad the media is giving publicity to this nitwit. As usual, the media likes to publicize negative things about Christians, but very few positive things. So this obscure nutcase is getting worldwide attention when he deserves none.

Apparently everybody from Hilary Clinton to the Pope have condemned this proposed book burning, and with good reason. It is a hateful thing to do, will inflame even more discontent in the Islamic World (it already has), will give Al Qaida a propaganda bonanza and a great recruiting tool, will give Christians a bad name, and may put our troops in more danger according to General Petraeus. Book burnings remind me of the Nazis, who staged them to get rid of those works they didn’t like. Does this guy really want to be in the same category as Nazis?

By doing this book burning, this pastor is bringing shame on Jesus Christ, whom he claims to serve. He reinforces the stereotype of a fanatical Christian, like those who shoot abortion doctors. I hope he doesn’t go through with this proposed book burning, because doing such a thing is certainly un-American and not in keeping with the teachings of Jesus Christ. I ask you, the reader, not to judge all Christians by the actions of a fanatical few. Many are saying we shouldn’t judge all Muslims by the actions of a fanatical few as well, and I agree. We may find fault with the Islamic faith in general (as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts), but that doesn’t mean we burn their holy scriptures, persecute them, or otherwise mistreat them.

By the way, I don’t think opposing the Mosque near Ground Zero is persecution, just being sensitive to the families and friends of those who died on 9/11. But when that opposition is motivated more by hate than sensitivity, then it isn’t good.

This pastor told NBC News, "Instead of us backing down, maybe it's time to stand up. Maybe it's time to send a message to radical Islam that we will not tolerate their behavior." How about this as a better idea: pray to God for strength and protection? Isn’t that’s what a pastor should be telling his congregation? Instead, this guy’s spewing hate. He should be defrocked.

Where’s Your Community?

I was speaking with a colleague the other day, and we discussed how today there is less of a sense of community than formerly. People may live in one community but work somewhere else. Many today don’t have their family support system. Mother lives in Florida, Dad in Michigan, sister in New Jersey and brother in California. People feel disconnected and alone even with texting, Facebook, Twitter, and free long distance calling.

A solution to this is to become part of a worshipping congregation. The congregation can become your family, supporting you during tough times and providing you with opportunities to minister to others. While that shouldn’t be the main motivation for joining a church, synagogue, or mosque, it is certainly a significant benefit.

Let me suggest that if you aren’t part of a congregation, check out a nearby place of worship. You may have to visit several before you find one that works for you, but it’s worth your time and effort. If you have kids, joining a church will be good for them. They’ll learn about God and the church will reinforce the values you are teaching them (and we need all the help we can get raising kids these days).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

More on the Mosque

More continues to be written on the controversial mosque and Islamic center to be built close to Ground Zero in New York City, including a recent piece in the Poughkeepsie Journal written by a pastor in our area.

In that piece, and others I’ve read, those opposed to the mosque are being called intolerant, and their opposition is assumed to be because of hate. While I’m sure that’s the case with some who oppose the mosque, labeling all who oppose it as bigots, hate-mongers, and (worst of all) intolerant is, in itself, hateful, intolerant, and bigoted. Why must we always demonize those who have opinions different from ours? It seems that when all else fails, call them names.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, most opposition to the Mosque is because its planners are showing a lack of sensitivity to the families, friends, and co-workers who lost people in the attacks of 9/11. The planners have a right to build there, but is it the wise and sensitive thing to do? Given that these 3,000 people died at the hands of misguided fanatics operating in the name of Islam, I would think that building a new Islamic center in that neighborhood is not a good idea. And we should always remember that the Qur’an considers non-Muslims to be infidels (see my earlier post).

Need a word picture to get the idea of why building this mosque isn’t a good idea? Think of it this way: It’s like somebody wanting to build a Japanese cultural center at Pearl Harbor. Even after all these years, I suspect most people would consider it unwise and in poor taste. So come on, you who support the mosque, what about the sensitivities of those who lost loved ones? Don’t you care about them?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Religious Freedom for All?

While many are defending the Muslims’ constitutional right to build an Islamic center close to Ground Zero in New York City, others are hard at work trying to eliminate all signs of Christianity from this country. It seems we have a double standard in this country: defend the Muslims but stamp out Christianity. Please read the following news item to see what I’m talking about:

Road Side Crosses are Unconstitutional

Since 1998, two members of the Utah Highway Patrol Association have organized the placement of monuments (12–foot crosses) on Utah roadsides to honor fallen troopers and had received permission of state authorities. So far, there are 14 crosses throughout the state, each bearing the name and badge number of deceased officers. Families of the troopers were asked if they have an objection to a cross or if they desired a different symbol. All chose crosses.

The American Atheists Inc. complained and won another battle last Wednesday in its ongoing "separation of church and state" legal crusade against Christianity. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concurred with the atheist group that the crosses convey the message that the state prefers or endorses a certain religion and therefore is unconstitutional. Mathew Staver of Liberty Counsel commented, "If this ruling stands, then the crosses, Stars of David, or other religious symbols in cemeteries are placed in jeopardy. To rid the landscape of memorial crosses would run counter to the First Amendment and place the government on a collision course with religion." [, Liberty Counsel].

From “The Pastor’s Weekly Briefing”, Aug. 27, 2010; Copyright © 2010, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

This is not an isolated incident, but this ruling is just one of many that are slowly eroding religious freedom in this country based on a misapplication of the First Amendment. You’ll rarely read about these in the mainstream media, but it’s happening all the time. Let’s start defending the rights of Christians and Jews in addition to those of Muslims.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bigotry Against Muslims?

With all the continuing controversy about the proposed Islamic center close to Ground Zero, some who don’t oppose that building at that location are accusing those who do of bigotry. I hope that those who do oppose it aren’t trying to deny the Muslims their constitutional right to do so, but are questioning the wisdom of building an Islamic center so close to where 3,000 people died at the hands of Islamic terrorists.

But then I have to ask myself, “Am I bigoted? Am I prejudiced against Muslims?” I like to think of myself as tolerant and open-minded, but not so open-minded that my brains fall out, and not so naïve that I’m not in touch with reality.

Most prejudice is based on ignorance. After 9/11 I decided to learn about Islam, about which I knew very little. So I read several books on the topic, which were enlightening to me. Now that I am somewhat familiar with Islam and the Qur’an, I have a better understanding of where Muslims are coming from. Sadly, it is a religion that is hostile to non-adherents, whom the Qur’an calls “infidels.” That doesn’t mean every Muslim is hostile to non-Muslims, but it does mean most Muslims were brought up with that mindset. After all, it is in their holy scriptures which they take very seriously.

Islam promotes violence against, or subjugation of, infidels. Given what I know about the Qur’an, I understand what Islam and Islamic culture are all about. I’m in favor of building bridges and all that, but I believe in doing so one must always remember what Islam teaches about Christians and Jews. Having said that, I believe most Muslims just want to be left alone to live their lives in peace. It is only the fanatical few who cause all the trouble, but that few are very dangerous as we all know.

You might be saying at this point, “Some pretty bad things were done in the name of Christianity in the past. What do you say about that?” I agree that some terrible things have been done in the name of Christ, his Church, and Christianity. However, Christ preached unconditional love, peace, and living a godly life. The New Testament encourages Christians to lovingly share the Gospel with others, but does not encourage forced conversions and killing the “infidels” (even though those things were done by misguided Christians in the past).

So we have a dilemma here in the U.S. Our constitution guarantees freedom to practice our religion yet we have adherents in our midst of a religion that is hostile to non-Muslims. Our soldiers have died overseas fighting Muslims who want to hurt us, and we have been attacked on our own soil by extremist Muslims. What do we, as a freedom-loving and tolerant people, do?

I believe we need to seek God’s wisdom. At its core, this is a religious struggle (Islamic religion and culture are inseparable). We should pray to God for guidance. After all, they’re praying to Allah every day, five times a day. Should we Christians and Jews be doing any less?