Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why the Cross? (Part 2)

Since we are in Holy Week for Christians, we hear about Jesus’ Last Supper, his arrest, and his execution as a criminal on a Roman cross. Since Jesus’ death on the cross is central to Christianity, we should understand why such a thing happened. I’ll try to explain this in a series of posts.

II. God’s Plan

When we look at Isaiah chapter 53, it points to Jesus as God’s suffering servant. But why did Jesus have to suffer? Was his sacrificial death required to satisfy an angry and vengeful God, as some think? Some people may ask, What kind of cruel God would send his Son to such a fate? Others say all this was made up by the disciples to explain why their charismatic leader was put to death.

These are issues that have been debated throughout the ages because the reasons for Jesus’ death have not always been well understood. Here’s what we understand from the Bible, which will hopefully illuminate those key verses in Isaiah 53 when we get to them:

1. We Are Separated from God

First of all, the problem is that all of humanity is separated from a relationship with God because we do bad things (called “sin”), as Ephesians 2:1-2 tell us:

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. NRSV

“Dead” in this verse mans spiritually dead, and we read something similar in Isaiah 59:2:

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. NIV

Along those same lines, we read in Romans 3:22b-23a that we all sin and fall short of God’s standard:

For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. NRSV

2. God Loves Us and Wants Us

Because we are all tainted by sin and God can’t have anything to do with sin or evil, God can’t accept us into his family as his children. Yet God loves us as the pinnacle of his creation and wants us to have a relationship with him, which was the reason for which we were created. A dog might have made a nice companion, but God wanted a creature with free will and intelligence to voluntarily and freely love him back. So God created humans, knowing we would mess up, many would reject him, and everybody would abuse their free will in one way or another. So here was the dilemma: God loves us and created us to be in relationship with him. However, that couldn’t happen because we are unrighteous and God’s justice hadn’t been served.

3. God’s Justice and Mercy

What do I mean by “God’s justice hadn’t been served?” We should understand two attributes of God at work here: his justice and his mercy. God has a strong sense of justice, as we do. We want people justly punished and a price paid for any wrongdoing. When we see someone victimized, we cry out, “Somebody has to pay!” God also has a strong sense of mercy and compassion – and of course love.

More on this subject in a future post.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why the Cross? (Part 1)

Since we are in Holy Week for Christians, we hear about Jesus’ Last Supper, his arrest, and his execution as a criminal on a Roman cross. Since Jesus’ death on the cross is central to Christianity, we should understand why such a thing happened. I’ll try to explain this in a series of posts.

I. Introduction

1. Christianity’s Uniqueness

To an outsider, Christianity may seem like a strange religion. Its founder claimed to be God, yet was put to death as a criminal. Jesus worked miracles, yet never freed his people from their foreign oppressors or established an earthly kingdom as expected. His coming and many aspects of his life were accurately predicted in the Hebrew Bible, yet most Jews remain unconvinced of his messiahship. Despite claiming to be a king, he was born in a stable, worked as a craftsman most of his life in an obscure village on the fringes of the Roman Empire, and was materially poor.

Yet this movement he started grew from twelve ordinary men and a handful of women to about two billion people today. From a small Jewish fringe group Christianity became the largest religion in the world.

2. Jesus’ Death Misunderstood

Yet some followers of Christ still aren’t completely sure why he had to go to the cross, and many skeptics have strange ideas about his death. Jesus clearly knew he was going to die a violent death in Jerusalem, yet went there anyway and even provoked the authorities.

3. Purpose Is to Explain Why

In Holy Week, we will hear talks about Christ’s suffering and death and especially his glorious Resurrection on Easter Sunday. But there might not be too much said as to why all this happened. In these posts I want to explain why it was God’s plan to send Jesus to earth for the main purpose of what happened in Good Friday.

To do this we have to delve deeper into theology than we might want to, but it is at the heart of the Christian faith and we should understand it. After all, the cross is the Christian symbol, communion is the Christian main sacrament (“body and blood of Christ”), and Christian hymns refer to Jesus’ shed blood or his death. I hope this series of posts will help explain why the cross is so important to Christians and why it was necessary for Jesus to endure what he endured.

More on Jesus’ crucifixion in a future post.

Monday, March 22, 2010

St. Patrick – What a Guy (part 3)

See my earlier posts for more on St. Patrick’s life.

IV. Myths and History

1. Factoids

There are quite a few legends about St. Patrick, many of which are questionable. For example, he didn’t drive the snakes out of Ireland, because there weren’t any snakes there to begin with. He was not Irish, but is believed to have lived in what is now southern Scotland, which was part of the Roman colony of Britain (or Britannia) at that time. His father, Calpurnius, was a local official and sat on the town council. He was also a deacon in the church and Patrick’s grandfather was a priest. He was given the Christian name of Patrick (or Patricius) later in life – it was not his birth name.

In an earlier post we saw he was not the first Christian missionary to Ireland, but he was by far the most effective. It is believed he died on March 17, so that’s why he is commemorated on that day. The first known St. Patrick’s Day parade occurred in 1737 in Boston. St. Patrick is not an “official” saint of the Roman Catholic Church – he was never canonized by the Church. It is believed that Patrick was in his mid-40s when he was sent to Ireland and he was 77 years old when he died.

Ireland eventually became an important Christian center, with many churches and abbeys, many of which were destroyed later by the Vikings. The Bible and other writings were copied in those abbeys and preserved from destruction by the barbarian hoards that overran mainland Europe. When Europe was plunged into the Dark Ages, Ireland’s monks were hard at work in scholarship and copying priceless manuscripts. Eventually copies of these manuscripts were returned to Europe, and so were preserved there as the Irish abbeys were being destroyed by the Vikings. God’s Word will live on despite what man will try to do to obliterate it.

2. Personal Note

When you visit Ireland you see abbey and church ruins all over the country, testimony to how devoted to Christ that country became. On a personal note, reading about Patrick and all the places he visited made me homesick for Ireland. The landscape is beautiful and the people are friendly – a good place to visit. You should know that their language is not Gaelic or Celtic, but they prefer to call it Irish. They don’t speak with a brogue, but prefer to be said that they speak with an accent. Some of Ireland’s most defining historical events are:
-Their conversion to Christianity by Patrick;
-the Battle of the Boyne in 1688, which consolidated Protestant control;
-the famine of the 1840s, in which 2 million either died or emigrated;
-the Easter Uprising of 1916 against British rule; and
-the division of the island in 1920 into Northern Ireland and the Republic.

V. Conclusion

1. Patrick’s Faith

In conclusion, Patrick was a humble, pious, and gentle man, whose love and total devotion to God should be a shining example to each of us. He was obedient to God’s call and trusted God to protect him. He feared nothing, not even death, so complete was his trust in God, and God did protect him.

2. Our Ministry

In Luke 10:1-12 Jesus sent out the 70, telling them the fields are ripe for harvest. After his ascension into heaven, Jesus also sent out the Apostles, Paul, Patrick, innumerable others, and he is sending us out today. When God calls us, he gives us the power, the strength, the spiritual tools and the instructions to fulfill his purposes through us. God may not be sending us to another country, but he is sending us to do various ministries.

Home and family are important ministries. There is plenty we can do in the local church and in our own communities. We can minister to those in the workplace – a fertile field. Today the fields are still ripe – so let’s go out and harvest.

Friday, March 19, 2010

St. Patrick – What a Guy (part 2)

Please see my earlier post on St. Patrick to learn about his early life.

III. Life as Seminarian, Priest, and Missionary

1. Preparation

He realized that to do this, he would have to enter the priesthood and then persuade his bishop to send him to Ireland. So he went to France and began to his studies, forsaking the family farm. He was a good student and excelled, which was remarkable considering he had little formal education up to this point. Eventually he was ordained a priest, and was well regarded by his bishop.

Although Patrick begged the bishop to let him go to Ireland, he found this gifted young priest useful and so wanted to keep him on staff. The trusted Patrick was sent on some important missions by the bishop. Patrick was elevated to bishop, and was finally commissioned by the Pope to go to Ireland. A missionary by the name of Palladius had already been in Ireland for a few years attempting to convert the people. However, he hadn’t been very effective, and his death opened the way for Patrick to go there to replace him. All this was in God’s timing.

2. The Missionary Work

This was the time of the Druids, and they had a strong hold on the people. Converting these people to Christianity wasn’t going to be easy. Patrick arrived in Ireland March 25, 433, and made his way to Slane (which is the tune name for the hymn “Be Thou My Vision”). One legend says that there he met a chieftain of one of the tribes, who wanted to kill him. Patrick converted the chieftain after he was unable to move his arm until he stopped threatening Patrick.

Knowing their customs and clan system, Patrick would aim to convert the chieftains first, and the rest of the clan would then follow. God intervened a number of times with miracles and divine protection, and pretty soon the entire island became Christian. However, it was not easy – the Druids didn’t give up without a fight. Patrick was threatened with death, was held captive, and had other hardships, similar to what the Apostle Paul endured 400 years earlier.

Patrick continued until his death to visit and watch over the churches which he had founded all over Ireland. He comforted the faithful in their difficulties, strengthened them in the faith, and appointed pastors to continue his work among them. In all this busyness, he did not neglect his own spiritual life. From time to time he withdrew from the duties of his position to devote himself wholly to prayer and penance on a mountain.

More on St. Patrick and the Irish in a future post.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick – What a Guy (part 1)

I. Introduction

1. The Situation

Picture the situation. You are living in a far-off colony of a huge empire. You live on a thriving farm on the west coast with a beautiful view of the sea, and your family is well-respected in the community. Your colony is prosperous and is kept safe from raiders by the empire’s troops, regiments from the mightiest army in the world.

Life is good, but then some disturbing news reaches your colony. The empire is under attack from hoards of barbarians, who have crossed its borders and are advancing towards the mother country. The army seems unable to stop them. You begin to wonder the future of this mighty empire.

Then comes even worse news: the empire is pulling out all of its troops to fight on the home front, leaving the colony defenseless. Now you are left totally unprotected against the hostile tribes to the north and raiders from across the sea to your west. One morning you wake up and look out the window, and your worst nightmare has been realized. Heading towards the shore are boats filled with raiders. Death or enslavement are imminent and there’s nothing you can do about it. This is the situation 16 year old Patrick faced in the Roman colony of Britannia around the year 405.

II. Captured and Escaped

1. The Capture and Enslavement

Patrick’s life reads like an adventure novel. Those Irish raiders did capture him and brought him to Ireland, where he was sold into slavery. He became a shepherd for an Irish chieftain, and during his captivity learned the local customs and language, becoming fluent in Irish. Although he didn’t realize it at the time, this was God’s way of preparing him for his future mission. Although raised a Christian, he hadn’t been particularly interested in it. However, as a slave in a foreign land tending someone else’s sheep, he began to talk to God, looking for answers. Patrick wrote about that time when his faith grew:

“The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith … so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same. I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain.”

2. The Escape

After six years or so, he made his escape in response to a dream he had telling him to go to the coast. To do so, Patrick walked nearly 200 miles from County Mayo, where it is believed he had been held, to the Irish east coast. Despite having no money, he found some sailors who were willing to take him back to England, where he was reunited with his family. Rather than giving him a ride, those sailors could have turned him in and collected a reward for a runaway slave – but they didn’t. You can clearly see God’s hand in his safe deliverance.

3. Patrick’s Calling

After escaping, Patrick experienced a second revelation – an angel in a dream told him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Patrick then had another dream similar to Paul’s dream of the Macedonian begging him to come over to them as recorded in Acts 16:6-10. In Patrick’s dream the people of Ireland were calling out to Patrick, “We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more.”

God clearly put it in his heart that he should return to Ireland and convert the people to Christianity. It is a testimony to the power of God and Patrick’s obedience that he would want to reach out to the very people who had captured and enslaved him. This is truly loving your neighbor, and even loving your enemy. The highest form of love is to introduce someone to Jesus and have their eternal destiny secured.

More on St. Patrick in a future post.

Toyota’s Problems

Today, electronics controls most cars. You press on a pedal and it sends a signal to the car’s computer. The computer activates some mechanism such as the throttle or brakes. I don’t know about you, but that makes me very nervous. Computers can fail. They are dependent on software that may have hidden flaws (called “bugs”). Computers can get unreliable if files become corrupted. Who among us haven’t experienced some sort of computer problem? Yet now we are placing our safety and maybe even lives in the hands of computers. Scary thought!

I believe some of Toyota’s sudden acceleration problems are due to faulty electronics. This will eventually be uncovered despite Toyota’s denials. I hope car manufacturers will go back to direct links for brakes, accelerator, and certain other functions of the car. I believe that is much safer.

Of course the question remains, how did things get so out of hand? Where exactly did Toyota fail? I don’t know, and maybe we’ll never know. Like so many other misadventures, it may be sloppy quality control, trying to cut corners to save a few bucks, or incompetence. In manufacturing there is always the pressure to save money, and this is balanced by concerns about quality, safety, and reliability. If a car company saves a million dollars by using an inferior part, design, or manufacturing process, they may lose many millions more with the cost of a recall.

Toyota had a reputation to uphold, but I suspect greed got in the way and inferior engineering or components were used on these cars to save money. I don’t know much about the company, but it is possible that its executives may not be particularly ethical, or at least used poor judgment. Just as we’ve had many unsafe, tainted, and shoddy products come into the United States from China, we may be seeing this happen with Japanese products. Who knows, this Toyota fiasco may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Let’s hope that greed didn’t get the better of Toyota executives and they compromised safety to help their bottom line.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Church Sex Abuse

I read recently that the sex abuse scandals are hurting the Roman Catholic (RC) Church outside of the U.S. Ireland and Germany have been especially hard hit. I happened to have been in Ireland when a comprehensive report was released giving the extent of the abuse, much of which took place in orphanages. This heavily Catholic country was in an uproar over the extent of the abuse.

I’ve written about this before but I’d like to say a few things about this subject.

(1) Abusing children is bad enough, but then to continue to appoint these pedophile priests to different parishes is inexcusable. That’s what made these scandals so bad – it’s the cover-up. It reminds me that what ruined President Nixon wasn’t so much the initial crime of a break-in at an office in the Watergate complex, but the subsequent cover-up and lying. Similarly, it wasn’t just the hanky-panky with a young intern that got Bill Clinton in trouble, but the lies told to Congress and investigators (“I did not have sex with that woman.”)

(2) While not nearly as bad, Protestant churches have in the past appointed pastors with problems to different parishes. I used to belong to a church that was the recipient of a troubled minister. This guy had a money problem. He was caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and was transferred to the church I was attending (and we weren’t warned about his problem). He did it again, was caught in the annual audit, and was defrocked.

(3) The vast majority of priests and other clergy are decent people dedicated to doing God’s work by serving God’s people in the church or synagogue. We have to be careful not to paint with too broad a brush because of the misbehavior of a relative handful of clergy.

(4) The RC church has a unique problem because of its celibacy rule (priests can’t marry). While many might voluntarily remain celibate, to have such a rule for everybody isn’t appropriate in my opinion. The Apostle Paul wrote on the subject in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9:

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (NIV)

(5) We often think of RC priests taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Priests typically don’t take such vows unless they are part of a religious order, but both priests and Protestant ministers essentially promise these:

(a) Poverty: you’ll never make much money, nor should you expect to.

(b) Chastity: RC clergy promise complete celibacy, but in the United Methodist Church and many Protestant churches, we clergy are expected to practice celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage.

(c) Obedience: in those denominations that are episcopal (having a bishop) in structure, such as the Episcopal Church (naturally) and the United Methodist Church, we clergy are expected to be obedient to the bishop, especially in matters of appointment.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Fallacy of Hate Crimes Legislation

You may have noticed that some groups are opposed to hate crimes legislation, and you may be wondering why. There are several reasons why hate crimes legislation goes against our Constitution and our American values.

(1) Hate crimes laws are contrary to the spirit of our Constitution because that document says we are all equal under the law. If it is more wrong to beat up a member of a protected group, then we all aren’t equal. With hate crimes legislation, a protected group is superior to the rest of the population.

(2) There are already adequate laws on the books prohibiting discrimination, assault, murder, etc. What additional good will hate crimes laws do? Do you think some hate-filled person will hesitate to beat up a protected person because he might get an extra year or two in prison? I don’t think so. In sentencing, judges take into consideration various circumstances, so we should leave it up to the judge to determine sentencing appropriate to the crime.

(3) Hate crimes laws often involve limiting speech, something that is clearly unconstitutional. Free speech is a valued right under our Constitution, and it must not be taken away. While hate-filled speech is repugnant, it is still a right, just as flag-burning is a right even though we might not like it. There are ways to control behavior without taking away rights. For example, a bigot could be arrested for inciting violence if his hate speech is doing that. The media don’t have to give a public forum to such speech. The news broadcasts can report that such speech happened but not repeat it.

Americans should always be free to express their opinions. Limiting the free speech rights of those with whom we disagree leads us down a slippery slope of eroding our most basic rights. When one right is limited, more are sure to follow.

We should remember that people should never be abused because of who or what they are, or ridiculed or picked on because they are different in some way. We should teach our children to honor all people as created in the image of God and tell them all people are of sacred worth. We must also give a good example to our kids by our actions and our own speech. Let’s be careful how we treat and interact with people who are different from us by virtue of their race, ethnicity, religion, language, culture, physical appearance, or sexual orientation.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause

In earlier posts I mentioned that powerful forces are at work to diminish and ultimately eliminate God, religion, and Christianity from the United States. I mentioned advocacy groups as one of those well-funded, aggressive, and powerful forces (such as the ACLU). While you might be thinking that all they are trying to do is uphold the Constitution, in fact they are totally misusing it in an effort to eliminate God, religion and especially Christianity from this country.

The “Establishment Clause” of the First Amendment reads as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Up until the mid-twentieth century the “Establishment Clause” was understood to mean that Congress was prohibited from establishing an official state religion such as you had with the Church of England in Great Britain. American citizens would not have to pay taxes to support a state religion/church and would not be forced to join one. People would be free to practice the religion of their choice or no religion at all without any governmental interference. It was understood that free expression of religious beliefs in public was permissible, and Supreme Court cases upheld this understanding for over 150 years. We see God mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, in various state constitutions, and in speeches by various presidents and public officials throughout our history. As late as 1944, as D-Day was unfolding, President Roosevelt went on national radio and prayed a beautiful prayer to Almighty God for the success of that critical invasion of Europe.

One must also understand the meaning of the word “religion” at the time the Constitution was written. “Religion” meant a church (such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Baptist Church, etc.) or what we might call a “denomination” today (such as the United Methodist Church, the Lutheran Church, etc.) At that time the country was made up almost exclusively of people that were either Christians or had some sort of Christian background. Again, the purpose of the Constitution was to prohibit Congress from making the Anglican Church, the Roman Catholic Church, or any church the official state religion as you had in Europe. Therefore, there was no constitutional reason why you couldn’t have what I’ll call generic Judeo-Christian objects on public land, for example.

Notice the Constitution does not use the words “separation of church and state” or “wall of separation.” The term “wall of separation” comes from a letter written by President Thomas Jefferson to a Baptist church in Danbury, Connecticut. They were concerned about the First Amendment and what it might mean to the practice of their faith, so they wrote the President. Jefferson, who had something to do with the writing of the Constitution, reassured them that the purpose of the amendment was to create a “wall of separation” between church and state to keep government from interfering with the free practice of religion. Of course we are not told that today and the “wall of separation” has become, in revisionist thinking, a wall keeping religion out of the public eye. Find the letter on line and read it for yourself.

Today the United States is a different country. There are untold numbers of non-Christian faiths in the United States: Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, B’hai, etc. However, the principle still applies: it is constitutional to have religious objects in public view and even on public land as long as the citizens don’t have to pay taxes to support an officially established state religion, are forced to worship in a particular religion, or a person is discriminated against because they don’t belong to a particular religion. The fact that some may be “offended” by seeing a particular religious object has nothing to do with the Constitution. It is ridiculous that court cases are decided on the basis of someone being “offended” rather on than what the Constitution says.

Until 1947, court cases were decided based on the understanding of the Establishment Clause described above. Since that time, the Supreme Court has reinterpreted the Establishment Clause, completely distorting its original intent. According to current thinking, if any governmental body (such as a public school or a city government) does anything to allow religious activity on its property, display some sort of Judeo-Christian item, or otherwise “promote” Christianity, it is “establishing” a religion. Interestingly, non-Christian observances, activities, and artwork are often allowed – only Christian ones are “unconstitutional.” For example, some schools will allow Hanukkah activities but even ban the word “Christmas” from use. We have strayed far from what the framers of our wonderful Constitution intended. God help us.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Persecuted but Not Discouraged – Part 2

In an earlier post I wrote the following: “Today powerful forces in the West are also trying to wipe out Christianity.” Now I am not a conspiracy theorist and I don’t see all kinds of sinister plots around every corner. However, when something is so obvious, you have to call it as you see it, and that’s what I’m doing. You may be wondering, Who or what are these “powerful forces” I alluded to?

There are a number of these forces at work to diminish, limit, and marginalize Christianity, religion in general, and Christian belief in particular. I’m not paranoid – just look at the actions of each group and see for yourself.

(1) The Entertainment Industry. If it isn’t obvious to you that the entertainment industry is hell-bent on putting down Christianity and Christians, then you don’t watch TV or movies. I’m not just talking about the sex and violence, but about the anti-Christian messages you get in TV shows and movies. Sometimes it’s in-your-face. Other times it’s more subtle. But it’s there. Watch for it.

I might also mention that the Entertainment Industry doesn’t want to “offend” anyone, except for Christians. People of faith are mocked and much of the programming on TV and comedians’ monologues are highly offensive to Christians and all people of faith.

(2) Government. While the government is supposed to be neutral concerning religion and is not to interfere with practice thereof according to the First Amendment, the fact is that government has become anti-Christian in a number of ways. First, court cases. Second, some laws that are passed by our legislators. Third, some of the things President Obama has said. The trends are not good, so we must keep our senators and representatives accountable. Remember, we voted them in and we can vote them out.

(3) Academia. Political Correctness rules on college campuses, and being a Christian is not considered PC. High schools have allowed all kinds of clubs to use their facilities after school, but not Bible clubs. Court cases have determined it is constitutional to allow a Bible club to meet on school property as any other activity is permitted. However, schools persist in trying to ban any kind of religious club from using their facilities.

School children have not been allowed to express their religious beliefs in their papers, speeches, or other works. Students have been given an “F” grade if a piece of artwork or a paper contains any references to their faith. Academia at all levels is just plain terrible.

(4) Advocacy Groups. Groups such as the ACLU are aggressive, intimidating, and have plenty of money to attack Christians. Just look at all the lawsuits that have been involved in trying to remove a cross, the Ten Commandments, and other so-called “religious” items from public view.

So you can see that there are aggressive, well-funded, and powerful forces at work, and they are well-positioned to influence our thinking. But God is more powerful than any of these, and God will prevail, as it says in 1 John 4:4b: The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (NRSV)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Persecuted but Not Discouraged – Part 1

One of the things that is interesting about the first 300 years of the Church is that it was persecuted but continued to grow. Sometimes persecution was lighter, and sometimes it was very severe. Despite risk to life, livelihood and family, people converted to Christianity in huge numbers. There’s a saying that the Church was built on the blood of the martyrs. It seems counter-intuitive but that’s what happened.

In more recent history, atheistic Communism tried to obliterate Christianity from the former Soviet Union and China. When the Soviet Union dissolved, the Church emerged intact, and is doing well in Russia and Ukraine. While numbers are difficult to obtain, it appears that there are many more Christians in China now than there were in 1949 when Communism took control of the country.

Today powerful forces in the West are also trying to wipe out Christianity. They are using a different tactic than the communists. They put down, ridicule and marginalize Christians in the hope that people will abandon the faith, and Christianity and the Church will wither on the vine. Their thinking is that if it’s not “cool” to be a Christian and you’re going to be ridiculed for being one, then people will not have anything to do with it.

They are wrong. The Church of Jesus Christ has survived for 2,000 years and isn’t going away. As a matter of fact, many individual churches are doing quite well. They are growing numerically and spiritually, and wonderful things are happening. I get the impression that the ethnic churches (Korean, Hispanic, Chinese, Caribbean, etc.) are especially thriving, but a good number of Anglo churches are also coming alive and growing, especially the charismatic ones. Even some individual mainline churches, which as a whole are shrinking in membership, are becoming Spirit-filled and doing mighty works.

I believe that we may be getting close to another revival in this country. We are due for a Third Great Awakening, and I hope it comes soon. In response to an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we will confess, repent, and make Christ our Lord and Savior. Then God will surely heal us as we read in 2 Chronicles 7:14:

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (NRSV)

I believe that only an outpouring of the Holy Spirit is what will save this country from itself. Our politicians can’t do it. Our citizens can’t do it. The financial industry certainly can’t do it. Only God can do it.

So pray for revival – it’s our only hope!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Albany Follies

Politics in New York is always an adventure, and now there’s even more drama than we need. Gov. Paterson is under fire for alleged ethics violations. I wonder how many of these accusations are real and how many are overblown by the media and Paterson’s enemies. You don’t know who to believe.

Nevertheless, Gov. Paterson isn’t exactly Mr. Clean. When you haven’t always acted in a moral and ethical fashion and have done questionable things in your past, you are vulnerable to accusations, false or not. So the moral of the story is, have such a reputation for integrity than nobody would possibly believe any false accusations brought against you.

I’ve had false accusations brought against me at work (back when I was in the business world), but they didn’t stick because my superiors knew that I wouldn’t do such things. If, on the other hand, I had a history of being morally or ethically challenged, then those lies would have been more believable. But because of my reputation, these fabrications were quickly dismissed.

Another moral of the story is that you shouldn’t think you’ll get away with it, whether you’re a public figure or not, because you won’t. Certainly public figures are under a lot of scrutiny, and we’ve seen plenty of their wrongdoings exposed. Rep. Charles Rangel is a good example. While less public, other folks also get found out and their lives ruined. While staying close to God does not mean you won’t be tempted, a close relationship with God will give you the strength to resist temptations. So go to church on Sunday, read a daily devotional in the morning, have a daily time of prayer, and attend a Bible study. Then you will have a more fulfilled life and will be less vulnerable to temptation.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Silver Linings – Part 2

In an earlier post I mentioned that God can have good come out of even the worst tragedies. That doesn’t minimize or trivialize the pain, suffering, and anguish of the disasters we face. It simply recognizes that there is some good happening in the midst of these terrible trials, and often some good can result from the trial.

In addition to the blessings of people helping other people during the recent snowstorm, God made another uncomfortable situation better than it might otherwise have been. We received such blessings on Thursday, having to do with my surgery. I had to have additional Mohs surgery to remove a basal cell cancer from my nose. This was done in the doctor’s office at in Fishkill on Thursday, when it snowed all day. We decided to get it done rather than cancel and reschedule because of the snow storm.

The bad news was that it took the dermatologist five tries before he got all the cancer, same as my last time back in October. The good news was that since so many patients cancelled because of the snow, I was finished and out of there by about 12:15. Last time I was there it took until after three in the afternoon.

Originally the plastic surgery to close me up was to take place at Vassar Hospital in Poughkeepsie, but there was a last minute change and it was rescheduled for Fishkill. Again because of cancellations, there weren’t many patients at Fishkill Ambulatory Surgery. Talk about personalized attention – it was great. The plastic surgery took about 3 hours, same as last time, but we didn’t have the long drive down route 9 in the snow to get home.

So I give God the glory, praise and thanksgiving – that he can bring some good out of just about anything. Or at least make something a little less unpleasant. God provides a silver lining to just about any storm we encounter. God used his people to help and bring comfort to those who needed it during this snowstorm and its aftermath. He even made my medical procedures go much better than expected. So when things aren’t going well for you, look for the silver lining. It’ll be there.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Silver Linings – Part 1

First we had Haiti, and now we have Chile. Two significant tragedies – both of them earthquakes – that have caused widespread damage. Yet God has some good can come out of such things, terrible as they are at the time.

(1) Rebuilding: One good thing that can come out of such a disaster is rebuilding better and stronger than ever. Much of Europe was laid waste, and so it was rebuilt in a modern and more efficient way. With the help of the Marshall Plan, Europe’s industrial plant was the most modern in the world. Eventually Europe began to proper once more.

(2) Israel: One of the most horrific tragedies in the history of the world was the attempted extermination of the Jews by the Nazis. Yet out of that unspeakable crime emerged a new independent nation, re-established after 2,000 years. While Israel is still having troubles with its hostile neighbors, they have survived, thrived and occupied the land. Although most of the Jewish people in Israel aren’t particularly religious, I do believe it was God’s will that they be restored to nationhood.

(3) Coming Together: Another good thing is that people come together to help when there is some kind of disaster. We saw pictures from Haiti that showed strangers digging people out of the rubble with their bare hands. Mostly organizations, plus some individuals, came from all over the world to help find survivors, care for the enjoyed, feed the hungry, and bury the dead.

Although the snow we got is nothing compared to the devastation caused the these two recent earthquakes, it still caused dangerous situations and inconvenience. I think the snow is piled about the highest I’ve seen in the nearly 8 years we’ve been in Beacon – and they’re talking about more!

I’ve heard all kinds of stories of how people helped out folks having a need. Those who still had electricity took in those who didn’t, for example. Some stayed overnight rather than try to sleep in a cold house. Some shoveled the sidewalks of those who weren’t able to do so because of age or infirmity. Those doing such good deeds probably don’t realize what a gift that was. My wife and I do, because we were the beneficiaries of some of that help.

The doctor didn’t want me exerting myself after just being operated on. So my wife called a plow guy we know and asked him if he could do our driveway just this one time. He was very kind and did so, but then more snow came.

On Friday, a neighbor knocked on the door and asked if he could borrow the snow blower – he wanted to get the remaining snow off our driveway. On Saturday some of our church family stopped by to see how we were doing. They couldn’t reach us because we had no electricity or phone service. They ended up getting the rest of the snow off the driveway for us so it wouldn’t get packed down and become a sheet of ice. All of this was a tremendous blessing to us.