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.