Monday, August 29, 2011

“And Jesus Calmed the Storm”

Now that Hurricane Irene has passed the NY metro area, some are complaining that the media hyped the hurricane too much, and/or government officials over-reacted with the mandatory evacuations and shutting down all NY metro area public transportation. After all, it was “only” a category 1, downgraded to a tropical storm when it hit land.

Hindsight is better than foresight. Not only that, but I’d rather have everybody err on the side of caution. If officials hadn’t acted out of an abundance of caution and the hurricane had been stronger than it was, guess who would be vilified in the media and by the public? I think we have all learned something with Hurricane Katrina. Local and state officials weren’t adequately prepared in New Orleans, and many people paid the price. FEMA and the President were criticized for Katrina, yet the federal government is not the first responder. I can still picture all those New Orleans school buses under water in their parking lot when they could have been used to bring hundreds of people to safety.

Rather than complaining, why aren’t more people thanking God for sparing us more death and destruction from Irene? Many are quick to blame God for natural disasters, or as least ask why God let such a thing happen. We aren’t as quick to give God credit for sparing us. Let me go on record right now: Thank you God for sparing the New York metro area, and we pray for those who did have more severe damage and disruption (such as Vermont). Amen.

Will you join me in that prayer?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Northeast a Safe Area?

I’ve always felt that the northeastern part of the United States (New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania) is one of the safest places to live from a natural disaster point of view. Then a few days ago we felt a tremor from an earthquake in Virginia, and now we have a hurricane bearing down on us (Irene). Maybe I need to rethink my opinion.

I still believe the Northeast is safer than many other parts of the country, although obviously no place on earth is completely safe. If you’re looking for a place to live, maybe the Northeast isn’t too bad (despite high cost of living and high taxes in many of the states in that region).

Earthquakes: we get minor ones because we do have some earthquake faults, but nothing like the San Andreas or the New Madrid faults. We rarely feel tremors like we did the other day, although when the Big One hits in the Midwest thanks to the New Madrid fault, we’ll definitely feel it. When I felt the tremor, I thought it might be the New Madrid fault because it is due.

Hurricanes: by the time hurricanes reach the Northeast, they are generally weaker (downgraded to a tropical storm) and we get mostly rain. However, on occasion the Northeast will feel the power of a category 1 or 2 (rarely a 3) hurricane and will suffer damage and disruption.

Tornadoes: they are rare in the Northeast (but do happen), and they are usually small and don’t last long, unlike the ones that devastate the Midwest and South.

Snow: the Northeast can get significant snowfall, but rarely with high winds and white-out conditions. Snow storms dumping 12-24 inches happen (particularly in the snowbelt of upstate NY) but these don’t happen as frequently as in the Midwest.

Floods: some neighborhoods, especially in New Jersey, have been built in low-lying areas and flood with some regularity. Otherwise, you rarely see the kind of major flooding you get in other parts of the U.S.

Fires: although drought conditions can make forests and fields dry and occasionally there is a forest fire, they are not that common in the Northeast.

Mudslides: we don’t see these in the Northeast, only occasional rock slides onto certain roads.

Temperature Extremes: the Northeast doesn’t suffer from the extremes that you can see elsewhere, but we can get several days (and even a week or two) of sustained 90-100 degree Fahrenheit weather, often with high humidity. While winter temperatures can go below zero degrees Fahrenheit, it isn’t that common and only lasts for a day or two.

So, New Yorker or New Englander, you may want to rethink that move to another part of the country. Do you really want to retire to Florida (hurricanes, water shortages, very hot summers)? So the cost of living may be cheaper, but have you considered that higher risk of natural disasters?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


In a recent post I wrote about times when our world is turned upside down, and how we need faith in God to get through the tough times. As I was writing that, I was thinking of how much I, as a pastor, have to deal with bad news: people’s loved ones dying, folks undergoing chemo, others with financial problems or the risk of losing their job, a loved one suffering a heart attack or stroke, a child severely injured in a freak accident, someone’s relative missing. In addition to other’s people’s trials, I have my own issues, plus the state of our country and the world is discouraging. How do I keep from getting depressed by all this?

My faith in God helps me to get through all the bad news, mine and everybody else’s. My faith is based on the hope I have of a better life after this one. We are on this earth for a brief time, and while nobody likes trials and tribulations, my faith tells me God is with me, and this won’t last forever. Sadly, we invest so much of ourselves in this brief life that we can easily become overwhelmed by it. While in this body, I believe we should invest more of ourselves in God for three reasons:

(1) God created us to have a relationship with him. Ignoring God means we aren’t fulfilling our main purpose in life.

(2) When we have that relationship with God, God will help us through the tough times. We won’t be immune from them, but will be better able to get through them.

(3) Earthly relationships last for a short time, while the relationship with God lasts for eternity.

While I am generally an optimist, my personal opinion is that things in this country aren’t going to get better anytime soon: economically, morally, religiously, and leadership. Now, more than ever, is a good time to turn to God. Get back to church or synagogue, start your day with prayer and a daily devotional, read the Bible. Remember, you don’t need all your questions answered to establish a relationship with God. You don’t have to be perfect to walk into a church (God loves you just the way you are, but loves you so much that he’ll improve you when you are open to his leading). Don’t be afraid to check out a variety of churches so see which one seems to work for you. God will guide you, just as he guided me.

I was away from the church for many years once I left home. Through some trials in my life, I came to the realization that I needed God. So I started checking out local churches in the town where we lived. The Lord made it obvious which church he wanted us to attend, and he will for you as well. I know a nice church in Beacon, NY, if you want to start there.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

World Turned Upside Down

Two periods of 20th Century history fascinate me: The Great Depression of the 1930s, and World War II in the 1940s. I guess one reason for my interest is that I heard stories about them from my parents and grandparents. When I was born in the 1940s, both events were fresh on everybody’s mind.

In both cases, many people’s worlds were turned upside down, and many were changed forever by the experience. For some, their world came crashing down with the stock market crash of 1929. For others, it came as their life savings were wiped out by bank failures, or jobs lost, or farms and homes foreclosed, or crops failed (particularly in the “Dust Bowl”), or your main source of food becoming the local soup kitchen, or your home ending up being a shanty in a “Hooverville.” Years went by with little improvement in the economy. The government seemed unable to do anything, despite various initiatives. The future looked bleak.

In Europe, people’s worlds were turned upside down by Nazi occupation. What you once took for granted was now forbidden. You feared every knock on the door. Friends and neighbors mysteriously disappeared in the night. You heard rumors, but they were too outrageous to be believed. You averted your eyes whenever you passed a soldier or policeman. There was no hope in sight as Nazi armies seemed unstoppable. Was this the “birth pangs” of the End of Days?

My wife and I recently watched a movie made in 1975 called “The Hiding Place,” based on the book by the same name. It is the story of a Dutch family, the ten Booms: Corrie, her sister Betsie, and their father, in occupied Haarlem, Holland. The book is excellent and I highly recommend reading it. If it’s out of print, order a used one on line. In the book and movie, you get a sense of what life was like in a Nazi-occupied country, and you also get a glimpse at the horrors of a concentration camp. The movie isn’t terribly graphic, but you can certainly get a sense of what camp life was like. Without spoiling the story for you, the family is arrested and Corrie and Betsie end up in a Nazi work camp (arbeitslager) for women where they essentially worked you to death.

What fascinates me about Corrie and especially Betsie is that they kept their faith in God despite their unthinkable and seemingly hopeless circumstances. They admitted they couldn’t explain why God allowed such terrible things to happen, yet they kept faith in God’s love, even in a work camp. I’m not sure how I would react in such a situation.

Of course you and I do face times when our worlds are turned upside down: loss of a loved one, loss of a job, divorce, financial difficulties, a terrible diagnosis, etc. While we might question God – Why me? – hopefully we’ll also look to God for the strength to deal with the situation. We’ll never be able to understand why certain things happen, but we also have to realize that God doesn’t owe us an explanation. That’s where faith comes in: trusting God even when God doesn’t seem trustworthy to us.

We are told time and time again in the Bible that God loves us, and that he will never leave us nor forsake us. That doesn’t mean we will be exempt from the conditions of the world and won’t suffer pain and heartache. What I think it means is that God will have good come out of tragedy, will uphold us during times of trial, and will give us acceptance of those things that won’t be changed. So despite your circumstances, look to God, even if it is hard to do because of the pain.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mormon Religion

In an earlier post I wrote about the offshoot of the Mormon Church referred to as FLDS, led by Warren Jeffs who was convicted and sentenced to prison for having sex with underage girls. Let me make a few personal observations about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS, known as Mormons). Since we may have one or two Mormons running for President of the United States in the primaries, it is useful to know something about their religious faith. Note that I’m referring to the main LDS church, not one of its offshoots. Also, some people may disagree with my observations, especially (3) and (4) below.

(1) Mormons tend to have what has come to be called “traditional values” or “family values.” Such values are mocked by some as hopelessly old-fashioned and out of touch with modern culture. Yet it was exactly those values that made this country great (think “The Greatest Generation”). Mormons try to live clean lives, with church and family the most important elements in their lives. If more people of all religious persuasions lived like they do, the world would be a better place.

Mormons are expected to tithe to the church (give 10% of their earnings), devote one evening a week to family activities, and refrain from consuming alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. They believe they can retroactively convert ancestors to Mormonism, so they study their family’s ancestry to be able to do so. Hence they have a huge genealogical database.

(2) Mormons have an emphasis on evangelism (going out into the world to convert others) that is often missing today from mainline churches. Jesus commanded his followers to go out into the world and make disciples, so the Mormons are diligently following that command. While we may get annoyed at their unannounced visits to our front doors, they are fulfilling a biblical command.

As you may know, young Mormons are expected to give several years to missionary work before getting on with their lives.

(3) Despite their protests to the contrary, Mormons are not “Christian” in the sense of the traditional and orthodox understanding of Jesus, the Trinity, and eschatology (end times and judgment). They do believe Jesus died for their sins, but their theology is different enough that they can’t be considered Christian in the sense of the apostolic churches (Roman Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox). Moreover, they have a scripture in addition to the Bible, which is The Book of Mormon. This further distances them from orthodox Christianity.

Saying they are not orthodox Christian is not to diminish them in any way, it is just stating a fact that we should be aware of. The reason I bring this up is that it explains the concerns expressed by some Christian leaders such as Dr. James Dobson about having a Mormon as president. That leads me to the next point.

(4) Should the fact that a candidate is a Mormon influence our decision to vote for or against him or her? Quite frankly, I don’t care as much about a candidate’s religion as long as he or she has faith in God and lives out his or her faith appropriately. I believe a person should be guided by the transcendent values found in the Bible, not by situational ethics or man-made values which are subject to change. As I mentioned earlier, the Mormons have excellent values (in my opinion) generally consistent with Scripture, and live good, clean lives. In the case of a Mormon candidate, I would vote based on his or her policy positions, because we aren’t voting for a pope or “Theologian in Chief” but the “Commander in Chief.” If anything, I would view a Mormon positively because of their values.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Submit to Your Husband?

The media, which likes to portray itself as tolerant and progressive, is showing its bias against women and politicians of faith. We are seeing that clearly with the treatment of Michele Bachmann. For example, recently a reporter asked her if she would be “submissive” to her husband if she were to be elected president. Obviously it was a loaded question that showed the reporter’s bias, and it was clearly aimed at tripping her up. Bachmann handled the question with dignity and accuracy.

Although I suspect that reporter couldn’t cite the biblical references, he was referring to Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18, and 1 Peter 3:1-2. Bachmann’s response to his question was right on: “submission” in this case means to show respect. Below is an excerpt from a sermon I gave on that very subject a few years ago:

Needs of a Woman

The two biggest needs for women are love and security. They sort of go hand in hand, because if a woman feels genuinely loved, she will also feel secure. In the passages in the Bible concerning marriage, what are men told to do? “Love your wife.”

Ephesians 5:25a: Husbands, love your wives… NRSV
1 Peter 3:7a: Husbands, in the same way, show consideration for your wives in your life together… NRSV
Colossians 3:19: Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. NRSV

Women are naturally more loving, but the husbands need to be told to love their wives. This means that the men, while willing to die for their families if necessary, must also demonstrate their love in ways that are meaningful to women.

These include self-sacrificing acts (like devoting more time to the family), giving up some of the things you used to do for the good of the marriage, frequent outward signs of affection (and not just when you want something), remembering her birthday, your anniversary, and other important dates, surprising her with something thoughtful on occasion, and buying her an expensive diamond (OK, we can skip the diamond – besides, it is meaningless if your heart isn’t in it, and they can tell).

Needs of a Man

What do men want? The other thing that men want most is respect. Women want respect too, of course, but it is a very high priority for men, even though they might not even realize it. You may love a man, but if you act as if you don’t respect him, the relationship is in serious trouble.

Nowhere in the Bible does it tell wives to love their husbands. Women love – that’s what they do. But they don’t always respect. I just read three verses from those sections of the New Testament having to do with marriage and family relationships. The corresponding commands for wives in those sections have to do with respect. God, our Creator, knows that men need respect, because that’s how God made them. As I read these three verses, look beyond the words, and see what is really behind them:

Ephesians 5:22a: Wives, be subject to your husbands… NRSV
1 Peter 3:1a: Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands… NRSV
Colossians 3:18: Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. NRSV

Looking behind the words of these verses, what are they really saying? We can see that respect is at the heart of the matter. While husbands today don’t have the same kind of authority over the family that men had in the times of the Roman Empire, they still need to be respected. Yet our culture puts down men and many wives disrespect their husbands. Maybe if men were respected more, they would rise to the occasion and be more deserving of that respect.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Abuse of Religion – Fundamentalist Mormons

The leader of the FLDS sect of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS, known as Mormons), Warren Jeffs, was sentenced to life in prison for having sex with underage girls. Yesterday evening (Aug. 13, 2011) CNN reported his misdeeds in some detail, describing how he misused his position as self-proclaimed “prophet” to have sex with young girls living in his compound. I believe there is an especially hot part of hell for such people.

Sadly, terrible actions on the part of some so-called religious types (see my earlier post on funeral demonstrations by the Westboro Baptist Church) reflect poorly on all religions and those who believe in God, worship regularly, and try to live out their faith. People tend to paint with a broad brush, and those who are hostile to religion are given one more excuse to condemn all religions and people of faith.

As I’ve said before, people who sin and commit crimes aren’t following the teachings of their religion and Scriptures, but are often using their religion as a means to an evil end. Islamic terrorists misuse their religion and go against the teachings of the Qur’an in killing innocent civilians. Christians (and Christian pretenders) who rip off people are using Christianity as a tool for profit. Cult leaders such as Jeffs invent their own religion (or create a distorted offshoot of an existing religion) to achieve their purposes at the expense of others.

I believe it was Karl Marx who said “Religion is the opiate of the people.” Certainly charismatic but misguided leaders are an opiate for gullible people who don’t have a firm foundation of orthodox Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. They either get sucked in to following a distorted version of an existing belief system or a cult created by a charismatic leader. How can this happen? Because they have a spiritual vacuum in their lives so that vacuum gets filled by lies, deceit, and distortions coming from a convincing leader.

My advice is not to condemn God, religion, or those who take their religious beliefs seriously, but look to your own religious tradition and get familiar with it. If you draw closer to God by reading the Scriptures and worshipping regularly, you will soon realize that all these transgressions done in the name of God or under the guise of some sort of religion are not in God’s will and go against the clear teachings of Scripture (whatever your tradition’s Scripture is). As you draw closer to God, you will know, love, and serve God, which is your purpose in life. Why else would God have created you?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Limits on Funeral Demonstrations

The Dutchess County legislature is considering a law that would limit protest demonstrations at funerals and burials. There was a Supreme Court decision that allowed such demonstrations, citing freedom of speech. The driving force behind the Supreme Court case and the Dutchess County proposed legislation is the repulsive demonstrations staged by a small church in Kansas called Westboro Baptist Church. Its congregation consists mostly of family members, and they are what I call the religious lunatic fringe. In the Supreme Court case, the Snyder family of York, Pennsylvania, lost a son in a military action overseas and Westboro showed up in York to demonstrate in a totally inappropriate way (as they have done at other military funerals in the past).

Their demonstrations, which are hurtful and disgusting, are to protest the gains made by gays as a result of gay rights activism. In their warped thinking, the Westboro people believe every military death is God’s punishment of the United States for permitting homosexuality to be openly practiced and accepted.

The Supreme Court made the right decision, painful as it was, that Westboro had a constitutional right to demonstrate. However, municipalities have the right to control where demonstration are held and place certain limitations on them for public order and safety. Therefore, Dutchess County can (and hopefully will) pass such limiting legislation.

While many Christians believe the practice of homosexuality is a sin based on both the Old and New Testaments, that doesn’t justify such inappropriate and cruel demonstrations at a time when a family is mourning the tragic death of a loved one, especially a soldier or marine fighting for his country.

These Westboro people give Christians a bad name, and quite frankly I don’t think they can be considered “Christians” as you and I understand the term. Jesus practiced love, not hate. When a woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus in John 8:3-11, he said to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (John 8:4, NRSV) Jesus didn’t deny that she had broken the moral law as found in the Hebrew Bible, but neither did he condemn her. We as Christians should follow the example of Jesus in loving all people, even when we believe what they are doing is inconsistent with biblical teachings. That’s between them and God, and we should be praying for them (and ourselves), because “…there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:22b-23, NRSV)