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!