Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tragedy in Newtown – Part 2

This latest mass murder in Newtown, Connecticut, is the latest in a series of shootings that goes back many years. I addressed some of the issues surrounding these mass shootings in a previous post. In this post, I just want to give a few personal reflections on this particular tragedy.

As I look back over my 60 some years, I can think of many high profile tragedies that I lived through. Many of them involved guns. Probably the first one of any significance was the assassination of President John Kennedy on November 22, 1963. I remember it vividly. Probably the next series of tragedies that I recall happened in that terrible year of 1968, when both Bobby Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., were assassinated. And we had the Challenger explosion and more recently we experienced 9/11. The events of September 11, 2001, were personal to me for a number of reasons. First, I knew people who worked in the towers who were killed. Also, I witnessed it from my office window as well as on television.

The killings in Newtown were also personal to me. I don’t think I know anybody involved in this tragedy, but I can very much relate to it. We used to live in New Fairfield, Connecticut, a town not unlike Newtown. As a matter of fact, New Fairfield isn’t all that far from Newtown. We have driven through Newtown any number of times, so we know it well. In addition, our two grandchildren attend schools in Danbury, not all that far from Newtown. The Danbury schools were locked down during the crisis.

These killings and superstorm Sandy were events that took place very close to home. Usually it is “other people” in other parts of the country or the world who experience these terrible tragedies. I’m thinking of New Orleans; Joplin, Missouri; Aurora, Colorado; and other parts of the country. But this year, between Sandy and Newtown, we have had devastation and death much closer to home than we are used to.

With Sandy, I believe we are reaping the results of the seeds of destruction we have sown by polluting the atmosphere to the point where we have climate change. With Newtown, we are reaping the results of the seeds of destruction we have sown with respect to filling our children’s minds with violence and garbage. We can’t just keep going on the way we have been. 9/11 resulted in significant changes in our systems of airport and other kinds of security. Sandy will hopefully result in building codes or zoning laws that will prevent people from building in places where it is just too dangerous. Newtown will hopefully result in changes to the way we treat the mentally ill, improvements to gun laws, and perhaps some restraints on what we allow the media to portray.

Pray for this country, because we are confusing freedom with license. Pray that our leaders will do something to address the issues I’ve mentioned. Most importantly, we need God back in public discourse. How do we expect people to behave when we’ve eliminated the transcendent moral compass provided by religious faith?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tragedy in Newtown – Part 1

The governor of the State of Connecticut made a profound statement in one of his press conferences on Friday afternoon. He said, “Evil visited Newtown today.” Sadly, this is the latest in a series of senseless shootings that have happened in the United States over the past few years. They seem to be coming with increasing frequency. What made this shooting especially evil was not only the number of people killed, 26, but the fact that most of them were six or seven years of age. What kind of person kills little children?

Obviously the shooter is deranged, and I’m sure we’ll find out more about him over the next few days. As with each shooting, there is a lot of handwringing and talk of better gun control. However nothing ever comes of it. While tightening the requirements to own a gun, and limiting the type of weapons that people can purchase (such as assault rifles) at the federal level, would perhaps reduce the number of these shootings, they would not totally prevent them.

How can we stop the killing? I see three problems that need to be addressed in order to protect our citizens adequately. The first problem has to do with gun control. The problem with gun control is that you can never completely control anything by making it illegal. We tried to eliminate liquor and that was a colossal failure. We’ve tried to eliminate all kinds of narcotics, and that has been a failure. We’ve tried to limit guns with stricter gun control laws, and have not been successful. So we can never totally keep guns out of the hands of those that should not have them. But what we can do, is make it more difficult for certain people to acquire a gun, particularly a pistol. That can be done at the federal level by requiring background checks, waiting periods, and other ways to try to prevent the wrong people from acquiring weapons.

The second problem we have is the culture of violence that is prevalent in this country. We see violence in many television programs, movies, games, and books. When a child is immersed in such a culture, I believe they become hardened and do not see violence as particularly wrong. Games and the media have legitimized violence, so somebody who is mentally ill might see slaughtering innocent people as a reasonable thing to do. How else do you explain the senseless murder of 20 little children in their classrooms? I’m not sure what the answer is concerning this culture of violence, but I think there should be much less of it, particularly the gruesome kind of stuff you find in horror movies. From what I understand, games are terribly violent. What are we doing to our kids’ minds?

The third problem we have in this country, that really should be dealt with soon, is the fact that the mentally ill are not properly cared for. Years ago, we emptied out the psychiatric hospitals, turning these people loose with little or no supervision. Not only is that not fair to people who have mental issues, but it’s not fair to the general population, especially when some of these patients may be dangerous. Unfortunately, it’s usually difficult to determine who might be dangerous. You can’t put everyone who acts a little strangely away in an institution. However, there should be evaluations made for those who appear to be mentally ill, and based on what those tests reveal take the appropriate action.

For a so-called advanced, or progressive, country, we are not doing a very good job of protecting our citizens from random violence, caring for our mentally ill, and controlling what our young people see in the media. Unless we as a country address some of these issues, I believe we will have to have armed guards at every school and perhaps in every mall. While that might help provide employment for many people, it is a sad commentary on our society.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Act of God?

In legal documents such as leases, there is often a section entitled “Acts of God.” This refers to natural disasters such as we just experienced on the East Coast. Should we blame God for all the misery that the superstorm Sandy caused? Where was God in all that?

As I’ve said before, we live in an imperfect world in which there is sin, evil, and natural disasters. We are subject to the laws of nature, which can sometimes work against us. There was once a place where supposedly no bad things happened, and it was called The Garden of Eden. Oh, one bad thing did happen there, something about eating forbidden fruit. As a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience we now experience sin, evil, pain, suffering, death, and natural disasters.

Where was God in this terrible storm? God was present in the people who helped their neighbors in need. God was present in the relief workers and first responders who helped, often at risk to their own lives. God was present in those who evacuated when told to do so. God was present in those who did and will give money to organizations that will be helping rebuild people’s lives after the emotional and physical devastation.

As I’ve said before, it is people’s actions that often make natural disasters worse than they otherwise would have been. People build houses under the assumption there will never be a natural disaster to threaten their house. If you build a house on a sandbar just yards from the ocean, you are at serious risk. If you refuse to evacuate in the face of clear and present danger, you might just die. If tree branches near wires aren’t kept trimmed, branches are going to come down and you are going to lose electricity.

Sadly, the unthinkable happened and the destruction was massive. I’m hoping that any rebuilding that takes place will be done smartly. By smartly I mean build only on relatively safe pieces of land; build according to a strict building code; build on stilts if close to the shore; build higher sea walls; and take other precautions to protect what you’ve rebuilt. With higher sea levels and weather getting more ferocious, we have to plan for the worst.

I hope we all remember that this isn’t the Garden of Eden, and so we must prepare for natural disasters and other bad things to happen as best we can. Of course I don’t think you can easily predict that a tree will fall onto your house or car if the tree looks healthy. But with the accurate weather predicting we have today, we can prepare well in advance by stocking up on what we’ll need to survive for a week without electricity; filling up the gas tank well before the crowd; making sure you have enough full containers of gas for the generator; have plenty of bottled water; and maybe even buy some MREs to keep in case of emergency.

May God help those who have lost so much in the storm. I also pray that the rest of us learned something from all this and we will be even better prepared for the next disaster.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What’s Bothering You? (Part 5)

This post is a continuation of a discussion on an informal survey that was taken by a Christian magazine.

9. Obsession with Sex

The ninth and last area of concern for Christians is, and I quote: “Obsession with sex.” This one is obvious, because we see it every day in advertising, TV, movies, and just about everywhere you can think of. We see it even during the so-called family hour on TV (which has come to be a fiction).

My wife and I will see a new sitcom advertised and think it could be pretty good, so we’ll watch the first episode to check it out. Sure enough, it’s saturated with carnality (like that word?), and not the least bit entertaining. We’ll turn it off about halfway through.

This obsession affects our children, and gives them the wrong impression about what is right and what shouldn’t be done. To show how this is affecting our kids, now teenagers are sexting – sending lewd pictures of themselves via mobile devices, and thinking that is OK! In the movies and on TV, it’s often physical gratification with no love or commitment, and usually without consequences.

What can we do about this obsession? First of all, we should try to shield our children from the worst of it, realizing that we can’t completely protect them. We should monitor what they watch on TV, where they go on the Internet, and which movies they attend. When something inappropriate is depicted on a TV program, we might use it as a teaching moment:
-That’s not what a good boy or girl does.
-You aren’t supposed to do that until after you are married.
-That’s totally unrealistic – real life isn’t like that.
-That’s showing a lack of respect for the other person.

Besides educating and protecting our children, we also need to protect ourselves, and not allow us to be influenced when we see such stuff. As much as possible we should avoid watching TV shows and movies with such themes. Even as adults, we have to keep reminding ourselves that what we see in the media is not real world, isn’t moral or healthy, and there are usually consequences to our actions.

IV. Conclusion

While this discussion centered on concerns by Christians, many other people are equally bothered by what’s happening in the culture. We are seeing the results of this culture shift in the behavior of some people:
-Mass murders, such as at the movie theater in Aurora, Illinois.
-Escapism by drug and alcohol abuse.
-Cheating on exams and other forms of dishonesty.
-Crime, violence, and other forms of anti-social behavior.
-Not wanting to help the less-fortunate.
-Taking the attitude that “it’s all about me.”

All of these have been around since Adam and Eve, but they are probably more prevalent today – how many mass murders were there in the 1950s? I believe the best defense against a culture that is getting more and more decadent is education and vigilance.

There are some good things in the culture, such as art, music, and the like, and some philosophies have some aspects consistent with the Bible. However, since we as people of faith believe the Bible contains God’s truth and is our blueprint for living, that’s what we should focus on. Ignorance of the Bible or mixing biblical and non-biblical worldviews can result in us not living the kind of life God wants us to live. So let’s learn the Bible so we can separate the wheat from the chaff, and also so we can help our children and grandchildren to do the same. Let’s not conform to the world but be truly transformed by the power of God working in us.

Note: Survey is from World Magazine, “What Ails Us” by Joel Belz, (July 28, 2012, Vol 27, No 15, page 3)

Monday, October 15, 2012

What’s Bothering You? (Part 4)

This post is a continuation of a discussion on an informal survey that was taken by a Christian magazine.

6. Culture Wars

The sixth area of concern for Christians is, and I quote: “Loss of a defined dominant culture, with attendant culture wars.” Every society has some sort of moral and behavioral code, and often these are derived from the dominant religion of that society. The concern is that we no longer have the dominant moral and ethical code like the one we used to have based on the Judeo-Christian ethic. As a result, we have what some are calling the “culture wars.” The “culture wars” represent the tension between competing values: biblical values on the one hand, and other world views that often conflict with the Bible on the other.

Atheists and secularists are aggressively pushing their agendas. These competing worldviews confuse people, especially those who aren’t familiar with the Bible. To make matters worse, those who don’t have a biblical perspective often ridicule those who do. They portray people of faith as foolish, repressive, old-fashioned, and puritanical in an attempt to marginalize the Judeo-Christian ethic. Think of The Simpsons, South Park, and other TV programs – an anti-Christian theme is obvious in many of them.

I’m not saying society was perfect when the Judeo-Christian ethic was the dominant moral code, because we still had many problems. What I am saying is that we must educate ourselves so we can discern unbiblical viewpoints within the many competing philosophies of the world. If we can do that, there less of a chance of us buying into false teachings (from a biblical viewpoint) and being led down wrong (meaning unbiblical to the person of faith) paths. We should also educate our children to protect them as well.

7. Loss of Freedoms

The seventh area of concern for Christians is, and I quote: “Loss of specific freedoms.” This most likely refers to the misapplication of the First Amendment to eliminate God from everything. Court cases have limited public displays of religious symbols, religious activities in public buildings, and public prayer at school events. Schools can’t even teach Intelligent Design or point out the flaws in Darwinism because somebody might think of God. There are reports of students who expressed a biblical worldview in their college term papers and were given a failing grade.

While profanity, violence, and gratuitous sex in the media are protected “free speech”, public prayer and religious symbols are illegal. We must fight for ours and other’s rights whenever we feel they are being threatened. There are ministries that go to court to protect our rights against the onslaughts of the ACLU. You know what “ACLU” stands for, don’t you? The Anti-Christian Litigation Unit.

8. Civil Public Discourse

The eighth area of concern is, and I quote: “Loss of honest and civil public discourse.” This is an obvious problem in politics, as we are already seeing it in the presidential campaign. Instead of “honest and civil public discourse,” we see one side demonizing the other and failing to even attempt to reach common ground. Congress can’t work together, but sadly, we see similar bad behavior in the church, which to me is unacceptable. This is especially true at the conference and general church levels, and such behavior is totally inappropriate in the church, whether local or national.

More about this survey in future posts. Note: Survey is from World Magazine, “What Ails Us” by Joel Belz, (July 28, 2012, Vol 27, No 15, page 3)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What’s Bothering You? (Part 3)

This post is a continuation of a discussion on an informal survey that was taken by a Christian magazine.

4. Next Generation

The fourth concern is, and I quote: “Loss of the tools to educate and shape the rising generation.” This may have to do with fewer kids attending church and Sunday school, lax discipline by parents, and fewer positive messages from the culture. The culture used to be rooted in biblical values, but that is fading away so there is little exposure to positive values in the general culture. From sitcoms on TV to movies to games, the culture celebrates negative values: violence, getting even, materialism, and casual sex.

Even if parents are trying to teach their kids good behavior, morals, and ethics, these aren’t being reinforced if the kids aren’t in Sunday school. In addition, it appears to me that more parents are failing to set boundaries and enforce them. As a result you have a younger generation growing up without knowledge of a transcendent code of morals and ethics. Moreover, they don’t know much, if anything, about God and the Bible, and are often lacking in discipline – we see the results in next area of concern.

5. Selfishness, Entitlement, and Complacency

The fifth concern is, and I quote: “Sense of entitlement, selfishness, and complacency.” I think that is a big one and encompasses a lot of territory.

a. Entitlement

A fair number of people think the world, the government, their employer, and just about everybody else owes them – they are entitled. I’ve seen young people enter the workforce with the attitude that: “You pay me, and I may or may not show up for work, depending on how I feel. But you owe me a living”

b. Selfishness

Selfishness and self-centeredness are nothing new, but we see them growing in our “me-first” society. You see self-centeredness and entitlement in advertising, such as:
-“You deserve a break today”: from that old McDonald’s ad.
-Have it your way at Burger King (another old ad)
-You deserve to drive that overpriced car: you’ve earned it (Lincoln).

c. Complacency

The third item in this category, after entitlement and selfishness, is “complacency.” The dictionary defines “complacency” as “uninformed self-satisfaction.” From the spiritual viewpoint, I think complacency means that you feel you don’t need God, that everything’s OK without God in your life. This can lead to a feeling of self-sufficiency and a false sense of security, but then guess Who they blame when things go wrong in their lives? They often blame God, wondering why God abandoned them when they are the ones who kept God out of their lives.

More about this survey in future posts. Note: Survey is from World Magazine, “What Ails Us” by Joel Belz, (July 28, 2012, Vol 27, No 15, page 3)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What’s Bothering You? (Part 2)

This post is a continuation of a discussion on an informal survey that was taken by a Christian magazine.

II. Survey Results

As I said, this was an unscientific survey of people’s opinions, and the responses were lumped into nine categories by the magazine. There was no explanation given as to why a particular a category was of concern, nor were there more detailed definitions of the categories. Therefore, I’m going to define each category as I understand it, explain why it is a concern, and then see what you and I can do about it.

1. Secularization of Our Society

The first concern is, and I quote: “The secularization of our society—led by the rejection of a Creator God and the dominance of evolutionary thinking.” It’s obvious that the country is moving away from the Judeo-Christian tradition, and the teaching of macro-evolution contributes to that shift. When you have a universe in which God doesn’t have any part (as we are told by authority figures), then God is marginalized and trivialized. Arrogant evolutionists claim to have the answers, which exclude God from the equation, but God will eventually ask them the same question he asked Job (38:4): “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”

We have to educate our children that God was behind any form of creation that took place, and God is active today. The rest of the areas of concern in this survey flow from this increased secularization of our society.

While there’s not a lot we can do to reverse this trend, we can do a few things within our own spheres of influence:
-We can bring up our children and grandchildren in the faith.
-We can educate our children and grandchildren, letting them know, for example, that God was behind the creation process.
-We can bring others to faith.
-We can build up our own faith thru practicing the spiritual disciplines and educating ourselves in the Bible.

I received a mailing recently for a seminar entitled: “Sober, Vigilant and Hopeful: Living in Apocalyptic Times” (put on by New England Conference of the United Methodist Church). The subject of that seminar has to do with this secularization issue, and the description says it all:

“How can we live awake, alert and compassionate in times that shake the foundations of the familiar? We cannot take for granted what the future brings. As society moves toward more secularization, the relationship of church and culture shift, and the very shape of the world order changes drastically. We very well might find ourselves once more in a situation similar to the first generations of Christians. We’ll consider how early Christianity as a movement, rooted in God’s passion for the world, can provide clues for ways to root ourselves in God, Gospel and spiritual community.”

2. Men and Women

The second category is, and I quote: “Loss of the distinctive identities of men and women, leading to a loss of understanding of marriage and family.” There are several possibilities as to what this could mean. I think the biggest problem when it comes to marriage and the family is a lack of commitment resulting in a high divorce rate. Divorce is incredibly painful for all concerned, it disrupts lives, and it often results in a lower standard of living for women and children.

Probably the concern about the: “Loss of the distinctive identities of men and women” may refer to certain aspects of women’s liberation. Some libbers have tried to blur the unique and God-given distinctions between men and women, and deny there’s any real difference. God made us different and we should celebrate it, not try to deny it. However, these differences should never be used to hold women back from equal pay and equal opportunities.

3. Abortion

The third concern is one word: “abortion.” I think we all know the arguments against abortion, but from a societal point of view, there is a good reason why its legalization is troublesome. That reason, so the theory goes, is that if you legalize abortion, you are going against our traditional respect for life. As a result, it could then become easier to legalize infanticide, euthanasia, and then who knows what? What distinguishes Western culture from the rest of the world is this respect for life – we can’t lose that. The good news is that he U.S. abortion rate has been declining.

More about this survey in future posts. Note: Survey is from World Magazine, “What Ails Us” by Joel Belz, (July 28, 2012, Vol 27, No 15, page 3)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What’s Bothering You? (Part 1)

I. Introduction

Christians believe we are of God’s kingdom and our real citizenship is in heaven. However, for the time being we are also citizens of a nation and reside in the world. As such, we have a duty to work for the good of our country and the world, in addition to building God’s Kingdom. I read something recently that ties in with this theme, and I thought it was worth sharing with you.

1. The Survey

A Christian magazine took an informal survey to ascertain the key concerns people of faith had about our culture. I want to explore these areas of concern to help Christians more effectively engage the culture, educate our children, and avoid falling into some traps. I think it is important for us to deal with these real-life issues in light of what the Bible tells us. For example, we are not to be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind. The Bible says that we do not belong to this world, and warned us that we won’t always be popular because of that.

2. Frog in Hot Water

At this point, you may be asking, “Why is he talking about this? What’s the big deal?” Changes in the culture come about very slowly, so we are like the proverbial frog that is put in lukewarm water. As the temperature of the water is slowly increased, the changes are imperceptible so the frog doesn’t jump out. Eventually you know what happens to the frog (as least so the story goes).

Like the frog in the water, we might not quite realize what is happening, so we wonder why people are bothered by current trends. If you are younger, this culture is all that you have known, so it might seem normal and reasonable. But when looked at in light of biblical principles and history, the direction our society is taking is cause for concern. While I can’t go into much detail with 9 items to cover, I want to at least alert you to these trends and their negative consequences.

More about this survey in future posts. Note: Survey is from World Magazine, “What Ails Us” by Joel Belz, (July 28, 2012, Vol 27, No 15, page 3)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Where’s the Economic Recovery?

As the presidential campaign continues, the candidates talk about economic recovery. Although I’ve discussed these before, I would like to make a few points that will help you put all the rhetoric into perspective.

I. Jobs

The key to economic recovery is jobs. But where have all the jobs gone? Overseas, probably never to return. Some new jobs may be created as a result of new technologies (alternative energy) and rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. However, many manufacturing, back office, and customer service jobs have left the U.S., so to the extent that consumer spending does increase, who benefits?
Korea and Japan, who have major consumer electronics companies (Samsung, Sony);
China, who manufactures most of these consumer goods (TVs, iPhones);
The U.S. (mainly stores, which are mostly low-paying jobs).

Of course how can consumer spending increase when so many people are unemployed or under-employed? So I think the recovery will be slow, and we will have quite a few years of a sluggish economy.

II. The Deficit

Typically the government and Federal Reserve use two tools to manipulate the economy, and those are fiscal and monetary policy. Fiscal policy means the government runs a deficit in bad times, and that button has already been pressed to the limit. Monetary policy means you lower interest rates in bad times, and that button has been pressed to the limit. So the President is very limited in what he can do to stimulate the economy in those areas.

As the war in Afghanistan winds down, perhaps the government and redeploy some of those saved funds to rebuilding infrastructure (including thee electric grid), investing in nuclear power plants, and perhaps establishing some programs similar to the WPA and CCC that we had in the 1930s.

In the recent presidential debate, Mitt Romney stated that he felt that having such a massive debt was “immoral.” I agree. We are leaving to future generations a terrible burden on top of student loans that some will have to pay. I’m glad I was born when I was, because I’d hate to think of inheriting the mess we’ve bequeathed to our kids and grandchildren.

III. Balance of Trade

Another aspect of the economy that is hurting us is that we buy more from overseas than we export to other countries. So we don’t go bankrupt, foreign countries buy our debt to prop us up. China holds a lot of that debt. Until we become self-sufficient in energy and start manufacturing more goods at home, this unfavorable balance of trade is going to grow.

In order to reduce our unfavorable balance of trade, we have to find a way to eliminating the benefits of moving jobs offshore. I don’t know how to do it, but until we can find a way, jobs will continue to leave the U.S. for greener pastures.

We also need to become energy-independent as soon as possible. We have to invest in new technologies, improve on existing technologies (nuclear, coal), and improve mpg on cars and trucks. I’d institute a hefty tax on gas guzzlers such as SUVs and pick-up trucks not required for employment.

IV. Banks and Financial Institutions

Lastly, we come to the financial institutions. They need to be regulated, but in an intelligent way, with clear guidelines. There has to be more oversight of their practices, and I’d even suggest that the SEC or some other agency monitors and controls executive bonuses. The flow of capital is critical for investments in new technologies and up-to-date equipment that will create jobs.

So when you listen to the debates, keep these facts in mind. Both candidates are quick with promises and fast and loose with the numbers. The question they must ultimately answer is, “Where are the jobs coming from?”

In the Great Depression of the 1930s, the jobs were there but were unfilled because of lack of demand. Only World War II brought us out of the Depression, filling those empty jobs because of the war needs. What will bring us out of this recession?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Where Is Common Sense?

Common sense is certainly lacking these days, especially with some public figures. Let me give three recent instances in which good judgment wasn’t used in the hope you and I will think before we speak or act.

In the first instance, Kate Middleton decided to sun herself while on holiday (as the Brits say) at a private estate in France. That’s fine, except she decided to go topless in what she thought was the privacy of this estate. As it turns out, a paparazzo with a powerful long distance lens got some fairly good shots of Kate’s exposed bosom. Common Sense Advice: never think you can’t be observed no matter where you are. Ordinary people are observed nearly everywhere by surveillance cameras. Think before you act.

The second instance also involved displaying royal private parts, this time it was Prince Harry. At some point during a party in the U.S., Harry dropped his drawers and somebody took a picture of the royal behind, much to his and the Queen’s embarrassment. Common Sense Advice: there’s always somebody around with a camera (including mobile devices) who is willing to use it to embarrass you no matter who you are. Another piece of advice: keep your clothes on. They don’t call them “private parts” for nothing.

In the third instance, presidential candidate Mitt Romney made some comments to what he thought was a private and exclusive group of supporters. Unfortunately for him, there was a “mole” implanted among these supporters who recorded Mitt’s unfortunate choice of comments. Common Sense Advice: never say (or do) something you don’t want the rest of the world to hear, see, or know about. Nothing can be kept secret for long, especially with social media and ubiquitous cameras. Another piece of advice: get your facts straight before opening your mouth, especially if you are in the public eye.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Was Jesus Married?

This week it was announced that there had been the discovery of an ancient fragment with text possibly mentioning a wife of Jesus. That text says, “Jesus said to them, ‘my wife…’”

This raises two questions: does this fragment support the argument that Jesus was married, and does it matter whether or not he was married? Let me address the first question. First of all, this fragment dates from roughly 400 years after the time of Christ, so it wasn’t from the first century. Something that far removed from Christ is suspect. Second, there is nothing in the New Testament that even hints at Jesus being married, and the New Testament was written a lot closer in time to Jesus than this fragment, which some believe could be a forgery.

Third, we don’t have the context of this partial sentence. For example, the whole sentence could have read, “Jesus said to them, ‘my wife is the church.’” Or it might have read, “Jesus said to them, ‘my wife is to do the will of God.’” We don’t know, so we can only speculate.

The second question, does it matter, is the more important one. I believe it doesn’t really matter whether or not Jesus was married. It doesn’t change anything as far as Christian beliefs are concerned, although it weakens the Roman Catholic Church’s argument for priestly celibacy. There are several strong arguments supporting the unmarried status of Jesus.

Jesus came to do God’s work, not to get married and raise a family.
A wife isn’t mentioned anywhere in the New Testament.
When family is mentioned, it is his mother and siblings.
When he went home, it was to his mother’s.

Christians believe Jesus was truly human and truly divine. Being truly human, he certainly could have been married, but I doubt that he was. He came to preach, teach, and ultimately die. I don’t think marriage was in God’s plan for him.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Mormon Living

The NBC show “Rock Center” with Brian Williams featured Mormonism on August 23, 2012. Since Mitt Romney will be the Republican candidate for President, Brian Williams and crew wanted to familiarize us with Romney’s religion. Most people don’t know much about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (or LDS or Mormons), and most people don’t seem to have a particularly favorable opinion of it from the little they know.

Overall, the NBC crew did a pretty good job explaining Mormonism, dealing with it with respect and letting the people tell their stories. The show didn’t get into the theology of the LDS Church because most people’s eyes would have glazed over, but it’s in the theology where the LDS Church and orthodox Christianity differ significantly.

What I took away from the show was:
Mormons take their religion very seriously (I wish more Christians did).
Their religion is probably the most important influence on their lives (I wish it were so for most Christians).
The LDS Church does a lot of good works, especially helping those in need (and not just Mormons in need).
Their required two year stint in the mission field is one of the defining events of a young Mormon’s life.
The LDS Church is very demanding but people willingly obey because they are serving God.
The LDS Church is very conservative (some would say backward) in some areas: limiting women’s involvement; dietary restrictions; use of the King James Version of the Bible, to name a few.
Mormons have the traditional values that made this country great and that are missing for the most part today: family, hard work, volunteerism, strong faith, hands-on helping those in need; a sense of community; and a strong relationship with God.

I would never hesitate to vote for a Mormon because I suspect the average Mormon has better values and work ethic than the average Catholic or Protestant, and certainly better than the average atheist or unchurched person. However, the problem with the LDS Church is its theology.

You can’t really call the LDS Church “Christian” because it differs so much from orthodox and apostolic Christianity. That’s not demeaning the LDS Church – it’s just a fact. Since we aren’t electing the Theologian-in-Chief or the Pope, theology and eschatology shouldn’t be that important for a candidate running for public office. A candidate’s values and positions on issues should be paramount.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Forget the Olympics

It’s exciting to watch athletes from all over the world compete in the Olympics. You get to see amazing skill, speed, and teamwork. However, the Olympics have turned me off for a number of reasons.

One thing that turns me off is the nationalistic fervor we see in the United States when it comes to winning medals. If one of our athletes doesn’t win a gold medal, he has let down his country. If the U.S. doesn’t win a medal in an event, we’re very disappointed and begrudge the winners. It’s not about sport; it’s all about winning, and I think that’s wrong.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, during the Cold War, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) set some policies that, to me, were ridiculous. Western professional athletes couldn’t compete because the Olympics are for amateurs. So some of our best athletes in such sports as basketball were excluded. However, Communist Bloc countries had athletes who were allowed to compete despite the fact that all they did was train for the Olympics. These “professionals”, paid by the state to train, weren’t excluded.

Then you had the famous East German and Russian “women”. The IOC finally got around to challenging and checking that these masculine looking women really were females.

Lastly, there was a suggestion that there be a moment of silence as part of the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in memory of the Israelis who died at the hands of Palestinian terrorists in Munich in 1972. As far as I know, the IOC refused to have the moment of silence on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of that attack.

Why wouldn’t the IOC agree to remember and memorialize this tragedy? Are they afraid of offending the Palestinians? The same people who launch rockets into Israel on an almost daily basis? The same people who blow up busses, killing innocent civilians? The same people who brutally killed innocent athletes in 1972? Oh my. We wouldn’t want to offend the Palestinians, would we?

That’s why I say, “Forget the Olympics.” I’m offended by the IOC’s attitude.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Being a Good Parent – Part 2

This is a continuation of an earlier post.

4. Discipling

The final and most important job a parent has is discipling. Another way to describe discipling is to engage in “intentional faith development” which I think is a good way of putting it. Faith development involves modeling and instructing, and is the most important thing you can do for your kids. Why? Because it has eternal implications as well as affecting the quality of their lives right now. Let me mention a few key aspects of faith development when it comes to your children and grandchildren:

●Instruct them, and then model good moral and ethical behavior.

●Watch what you say so that your speech is consistent with your teaching.

Kids are listening, and they don’t miss anything that smacks of hypocrisy or inconsistency.

●Model the spiritual disciplines of regular attendance at worship, Bible study, and prayer.

●Familiarize them with the Bible, especially the Bible stories and some of the parables – as appropriate for their age.

However, they shouldn’t just learn the story but also the principle or moral that the story is illustrating. The child’s response is to take learning the Bible and learning about God. Then you put your faith into practice by the way you live.

III. Help Is Available

Our kids are constantly exposed to values that we might not agree with. When they get to college, they will be bombarded with all kinds of philosophies and opinions. If they haven’t been adequately trained, they will fall victim to the pressure to conform to things that go against biblical teaching. The good news is that there are some organizations that want to partner with you to teach your children good values, morals, and ethics.

1. Sunday School

One obvious partner is the church or synagogue. Through Sunday school and VBS the church reinforces the values you are already teaching your children.

2. Boy Scouts

The Boy Scouts is another organization dedicated to teaching kids good values through instruction and modeling. They learn a lot more than how to build a campfire.

3. Girl Scouts

I’m not as familiar with the Girl Scouts, but I assume they also impart good values. If you have a daughter, check them out.

4. Campus Organizations

Campus Crusade for Christ and Inter-Varsity are two Christian ministries that are on most college campuses. Encourage your college-bound student to check them out when he or she gets to the campus.

IV. Conclusion

Hopefully what I wrote makes it clear what “Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” means. May God bless you in your journey of parenthood – always an adventure, never dull, but infinitely rewarding. And finally, men: remember this, if nothing else I’ve said this morning:
One hundred years from now, nobody will know the position you held in the company, how much money you made, or what kind of car you drove. They are all wood, hay and straw, and will not last. Your real legacy will be what you left your descendants in terms of:
-faith in God,
-your example of love and caring, especially towards your wife, and
-the godly instruction and modeling you provided your children.

What you modeled and instilled in them will be passed on from generation to generation, enriching the lives of many. It is your gift to future generations that will live on long after you’re gone. That is the kind of legacy you want to leave. So go for it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Being a Good Parent – Part 1

I. Introduction

When I see some kids in the supermarket or other places, I wonder who’s in charge. I believe all parents need the occasional refresher course in parenting, some more than others. Here’s a brief outline of parenting skills. If you weren’t the best parent with your kids, you have a second chance – with your grandchildren!

II. Raising Your Children

There’s an old saying, “Charity begins in the home,” but I believe “Teaching good behavior begins in the home” as well. Parents are at the forefront of that effort with their children, with the church or synagogue partnering with them through Sunday school, VBS, youth groups, and other activities. I’d like to briefly review the four main child-rearing jobs of a parent, and the child’s desired response to each. The four main child-rearing jobs as I see it are Disciplining, Modeling, Instructing, and Discipling.

1. Disciplining

When discipline is mentioned, people usually think of punishment. We have to remember the goal of discipline is training, not punishment. Of course some kind of punishment is usually involved, but it should always be age appropriate, fit the offense, and not be abusive. In the proper disciplining of a child, the act should be criticized, never the child himself.

Discipline involves setting boundaries, and then providing consequences if those boundaries are crossed. Now you may be thinking, “Yeah, yeah, I know all this.” Well, have you been to the supermarket recently? Have you seen parents with kids and realize the kid is in charge, not the parent? So I think it’s not a bad idea to review these basic concepts.

Parents who don’t set boundaries are doing their children a disservice. Studies have shown that kids actually want boundaries, even if they don’t always like them. Boundaries give them an important frame of reference, and demonstrate that you love them and care about them. The child’s response is to honor those boundaries, even if he or she doesn’t always understand them.

2. Modeling

The next job of a parent is modeling, and I believe this is especially important for fathers. You should provide your son a role model of a good father, husband, citizen, worker, and Christian. You also should provide a good male model for your daughter so she will be able to discern and choose a husband who will treat her right. If she’s never seen a good male role model, who knows what kind of bozo she’ll marry!

A good role model will treat his wife well and show her respect so the kids don’t disrespect her. A good role model will be there for his kids and show them love and caring. The child’s response is to follow the parent’s good example.

3. Instructing

The third job of a parent is instructing the children. Obviously you must practice what you preach – that’s why modeling is so important. But in addition to modeling, you must work with them similar to the way you teach them to ride a bike. Proverbs 22:6 tells us:
Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. NIV

Deuteronomy 6 tells the Israelites to learn and then instruct their children:
Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, NRSV)

We can’t shield our kids from all of the trash that is out there in the culture, but we can use things they see as teaching moments. If you are watching a TV program and something immoral or unethical is portrayed, mention how wrong that is and what the consequences are. In the movies and on TV, you see all kinds of bad things happening, but rarely see the consequences of such actions. Kids need to be informed that there are consequences to their actions. In addition to morals and ethics, the parent should instruct (and model) good financial management, hard work, and charity towards other people. The child’s response is to pay attention to the instructions and obey the rules that have been given to you.

More on this subject in a future post.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Dealing with Difficult Circumstances – Part 2

2. Paul’s Ailment

The Apostle Paul, a faithful servant of the Lord’s, had his share of suffering, all of it incurred doing God’s work. Numerous times he had been arrested, beaten, shipwrecked, and suffered deprivation and dangers. Once he was even stoned by an angry mob and left for dead, but he miraculously survived. Probably as a result of the stoning, he had a physical problem that he asked the Lord to remove. God had lavished his grace on Paul so that he was able to persevere and get through all these misfortunes.

However, God chose not to remove his physical ailment despite Paul pleading with him to do so. Why didn’t God remove Paul’s thorn? I don’t know, but I think most times God does not remove a problem, but by his grace helps us to get through it. We get some insight into the role of God’s grace from 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 in which Paul writes:
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong

I think the key points that we need to keep in mind from this passage are:
-God’s grace is sufficient.
-God’s power is made perfect in (our) weakness.
-When we are weak, we are strong (by God’s power working in us).

Difficult times provide us with an opportunity to draw closer to God, to depend on God for help, and to acknowledge we can’t do it alone.

3. John’s Arrest

Even with those having a deep faith, doubts inevitably creep in. John the Baptist was arrested by Herod, and he probably expected to be rescued by Jesus – which I believe was a reasonable expectation. As he languished longer and longer in Herod’s dungeon without being freed, he began to have some doubts. He sent messengers to Jesus with this question (Matthew 11:3b, NRSV):
“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

What he was really asking was, “Jesus, why haven’t you rescued me if you really are the Messiah?” Good question: Why didn’t he rescue John the Baptist? The only answer I can think of is that God had his own reasons – God’s plan was not John’s plan. The same often holds true for you and me: God may have other plans for us, plans we may never have considered. Circumstances may put us into a whole new situation that requires us to lean more on God and discern God’s plan for us. While we may not like change thrust upon us, it happens and so we must look to God for help, direction, comfort, and strength to deal with it. I am reassured by Jeremiah 29:11-13, which says:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. NIV

Notice that part of God’s plan is for us to call upon God, and God will listen:
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

What a promise – so go ahead and call on God. He’s waiting at the door.

IV. Reassuring Hymns

With God’s help in mind, let’s quickly take a look at the two hymns.

1. “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”

The hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” encourages us. We should not hesitate to take our problems to Jesus, because…

What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.

We can take our problems to Jesus because he’s lived among us and has suffered as we have, as we read in Hebrews 4:15-16:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. NRSV

2. “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”

Another hymn of assurance is “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”:

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.

Just as a child holds his parent’s hand when crossing the street or in a crowd, so we should hold God’s hand to guide us through this life. When you are going through a tough time, keep that image in your mind: you holding hands with Jesus as you travel down life’s road together.

V. Conclusion

We may never know why something happened to us, but we should realize that it didn’t happen because God is punishing us. I say that because many people ask, “Why is God punishing me? What have I done to deserve this?”

If you’ve put your faith in Christ, you have been cleansed and made righteous before God. You may have to suffer the logical consequences of your bad choices, but that is different from punishment. The good news is that God uses our tough times to build us up in faith, in discipline, and in character. Although this verse is over-used, we should still keep in mind the truth that is found in Romans 8:28:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. NASU

Do you love God? Have you been called according to his purpose?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Dealing with Difficult Circumstances – Part 1

I. Introduction

A frequent theme in the Bible is people crying out to God for help in times of distress. In many of the Psalms, the psalmist calls on the Lord in desperation. These psalms start with a lament about what’s happening, and the psalmist wondering where God is in all this. They typically end with a statement of assurance that God is with the psalmist and God will be faithful in helping him through his challenges.

There are many other passages in the Bible that have to do with seeking comfort and help from God in the midst of trials. With that in mind, let’s see how we should deal with adversity based on what Scripture tells us. We’ll also take a look at some hymns to see how they might help us when we’re going through a tough time. Often the melody and the poetry of the lyrics can be effective in soothing the soul. Think of the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul” and the story behind it.

This post is intended mainly to encourage Christians, but parts of it can be helpful to any person of faith.

II. Jesus Died for Us

Thinking of all that God has done for us, including sending Jesus, can help us through tough times. Remembering why Jesus came to earth and what he came to accomplish will help put events into perspective.

1. Restoration of Relationship

Jesus laid down his life so we could be in relationship with God now and spend eternity with him. Jesus didn’t lay down his life so we would have an easy time of it, much as we would like that to be the case. We are subject to the same challenges as everyone else, as God clearly tells us in through Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:13, but God also put limits:
No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. NRSV

We may not be tested beyond our strength, but sometimes it comes mighty close! As God’s people we do receive help from the Lord when we have difficulties – we aren’t left as orphans. God is with us and will guide us through whatever we are facing, as God assured Joshua in Joshua 1:9b:
“Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” NRSV.

So we have to remember that Jesus didn’t come to restore the Garden of Eden at this time, so bad things still happen. He came to restore the fellowship we had with God before the Fall. While we don’t literally walk with God as Adam did, we can have a close relationship with God through worship, prayer, and faith development.

2. Restored Earth

Ultimately there will be a new heaven and a new earth, which is described in those reassuring verses at the end of the Book of Revelation. But in the meantime we will have troubles, as Jesus told us in John 16:33:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” NIV

Notice Jesus said: “I have overcome the world.” What does that mean? It means that if we keep in mind that the ultimate victory has already been won by Jesus, we can claim the peace of Christ in any circumstances.

III. We Have Hope

Let’s look at three difficult situations from the Bible and see what happened.

1. Lamentations

In the Book of Lamentations in the Old Testament, the writer is mourning over the destruction of his beloved Jerusalem and its beautiful temple. This was an incomprehensible tragedy. The city had been completely destroyed by Babylon, most of the people were being forcibly relocated to foreign lands, and it seemed God had abandoned his people for good. Life as he knew it had come to an end for him and his nation, yet despite this heartbreak, he still found hope, as we read in Lamentations 3:22-26:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

God didn’t spare the city and the people went into Babylonian captivity, but the city was eventually rebuilt and people were allowed to return. After disappearing as a sovereign nation for millennia, Israel was once again restored in 1948, and I am convinced that was God’s doing.

More about this subject in a future post.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why Go to Church? Part 2

This is a continuance of an earlier post having to do with attending worship. Many people, who claim to be people of faith, don’t regularly attend worship services. In doing so, they are missing out on the blessings God has for them through worship. Some of the material in this post is based on the book Five Practices of Fruitful Living by Robert Schnase (© 2010 Robert Schnase, Abingdon Press, Nashville). Schnase is a United Methodist bishop in the Missouri Episcopal area. While this post is directed at Christians I believe the principles apply to all religions.

VI. Hindrances to Worship

Lastly, we should be aware of the forces at work trying to keep us and others from coming to church regularly or at all. We should understand these because when you invite someone to church, one or more of these hindrances will be at work in the person.

●Sometimes it’s just inertia: you haven’t been to church for a while and you are in a completely different behavior pattern for Sunday mornings.

●Sometimes it’s apathy: you see no value to coming to church. Church is irrelevant, boring, torture, and all the people are hypocrites. Plus “All they want is my money” and “I hated church as a kid.”

●Most commonly there are competing obligations, habits, and interests such as kids’ sporting events scheduled for Sunday morning. Coaches have leverage that the pastor doesn’t have: you miss a practice or a game on Sunday morning, and you’re off the team, or won’t play in the next game.

●Sometimes you have to overcome ridicule or criticism from a spouse, other family members, or friends.

●Sometimes it’s just a matter of weak faith that results in not being willing to make the necessary sacrifices to come to worship.

●Sometimes people let the great mysteries of life hold them back, such as why is there evil in the world. As a result, they don’t want to worship a God – if he even exists – who allows bad things to happen.

These shouldn’t hinder us from asking a person to church, but we should be ready to address some of these issues. Often if you can explain “what’s in it for them” (and their children), you might get their interest and they might just show up.

VII. Conclusion

At school functions the Pledge of Allegiance is often recited. At sporting events we hear the national anthem played or sung. They are affirmations of our love for our country. The church is unique in that we engage in worship, which goes well beyond affirmations, and expresses our love and appreciation of God.

A worshipping church is a society within a society, a nation within a nation, and a people within a people. As people of faith we have a God-given role to play, which is to worship God, do God’s work on earth, and be a godly example to the rest of the world. We are to attract people so they can learn of the grace of God, find rest for their souls, and become people of faith themselves.

However, at the same time we have our own challenges, which might make it difficult for us to get up and come to worship on a Sunday morning. We grieve, mourn, and suffer because life on earth isn’t always pleasant, and we aren’t immune from these difficulties that are common to everyone. But we have something that helps us get through it all – worship. Worship renews our strength, reminds us that we belong to God and the community of faith, and that things will be better when we go on to glory.

So when life gets you down, come to the worship service even if that’s the last thing you feel like doing, because you will be renewed. These words of the prophet Isaiah describe what can happen to us in worship (Isaiah 40:29-31):
[God] gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint
. (NIV)

That renewal comes when we are in worship and focused on God. So let’s soar like eagles as we are spiritually refreshed and renewed.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Why Go to Church? Part 1

I. Introduction

Many people, who claim to be people of faith, don’t regularly attend worship services. In doing so, they are missing out on the blessings God has for them through worship. Some of the material in this post is based on the book Five Practices of Fruitful Living by Robert Schnase (© 2010 Robert Schnase, Abingdon Press, Nashville). Schnase is a United Methodist bishop in the Missouri Episcopal area. While this post is directed at Christians I believe the principles apply to all religions.

II. Why Worship?

Why do we come together every week to spend an hour or so in worship? Because God is worthy, and we are commanded to do so – but it goes even beyond that. We worship because it gives us a way to express our love for God – it is our response to God’s great love for us. We set aside a certain time to focus strictly on God and God’s Word, not on ourselves or our own agenda.

A sustained pattern and practice of regular worship gives coherence, meaning, depth, and connection to our lives. Even though worship is all about God and not us, God uses it to transform us. Not only does worship connect us to God in a special and unique way, but worship can change us. God uses worship to open closed hearts, reconcile broken relationships, renew hope, heal wounded souls, and motivate personal growth.

God doesn’t need our worship, but God desires it. God wants to have fellowship with us through corporate worship and well as personal devotions. We see in the Gospels the example of Jesus and his disciples, who regularly attended synagogue worship. Jesus frequently engaged in private prayer as well.

III. Why Does Worship Matter?

Let’s take a more in-depth look at the question, “Why does worship matter?” What happens in worship and why is it important?

1. Orienting Ourselves Towards God

First, worship matters because it is a good way to orient ourselves towards God. All week we are not thinking much about God, so worship connects us to God and to other believers in a focused way. How many times have you felt God’s presence in worship through the music, a prayer, the reading, or the sermon?

2. Discovering the Transcendent

Second, worship matters because it connects us with the transcendent. In other words, worship brings us into contact with the spiritual aspects of life that we typically don’t think much about. Being focused on God and the transcendent opens us to being receptive to what God might want to tell us.

For example, many questions can’t be answered by intellectual or scientific means, or by more information and analysis. Questions of meaning, purpose, love, suffering, connection, life, death, and hope require insights that are spiritually discerned, often thru worship. In silence, prayer, reflection, liturgy, and community coming together, we find often insight, sustenance, and peace.

3. Engaging the Spirit

Third, worship matters because it is a good way of putting ourselves into a position in which we can engage the Holy Spirit. In worship we purposefully search for God and we listen for what the Holy Spirit wants to tell us with greater intentionality. That can only happen when our whole focus is on God, God’s Word, and the worship of God thru prayer, music, and the reading of the Word. God’s Holy Spirit will use these to connect with us in a powerful way.

4. Bringing Us Back to Ourselves

Fourth, worship brings us back to ourselves. Worship centers us, grounds us, connects us, and anchors us. We can reflect, reprioritize, and renew ourselves as we drink in the prayers, music, Scripture, and sermon. Worship reminds us that we belong to God and to one another, and this sense of belonging is essential to our spiritual well-being.

Worship is a means of grace that God uses for our re-creation and transformation. Think of how little growth takes place in those who rarely, if ever, attend worship.

IV. Why “Passionate”?

In his book, Bishop Schnase uses the term “passionate worship.” The author says that the adjective “passionate” describes worship that isn’t merely routine or performance, but a means of connecting with God. Passionate worship is an important part of a dynamic, vibrant and fruitful relationship with God. It isn’t contrived but is authentic, coming from the heart and not merely going through the motions. Its purpose is to connect ourselves to God while expressing our desire to put God in the center of our lives.

V. The Role of Music

Music is an important part of worship, and has been for thousands of years. It is a mystery how music affects the human spirit, but we know it does because we’ve all experienced it. A song on the radio may bring back powerful memories from 50 years ago, and might even bring us to tears. Certain hymns may affect us because of their meaningful words, wonderful melody, or the role they played in our spiritual growth years ago.

Music remains with us, embedding rhythms, tunes and words within us without us even realizing it. People with Alzheimer’s may not be able to remember much, but often they can sing many of the old hymns perfectly. I believe music was given to us by God, not so much for entertainment as for worship because of the powerful affect it has on us. Even if you aren’t the greatest singer, I encourage you to sing the hymns and focus on the words. The more people singing, the better it sounds – even if you aren’t that good.

More on this topic in a future post.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Church Doctrine Unchangeable

Some say that the U.S. Constitution is a “living document” that can be constantly reinterpreted as society changes and new standards become acceptable or new situations arise. I say that viewpoint is wrong. The Constitution is static and unchangeable, carved in stone, and not subject to reinterpretation as society changes. The principles behind the Constitution are meant to be unchanging. Those principles may be applied to new situations but the principles themselves don’t change as society changes.

Similarly, the principles in the Bible don’t change either. The Bible can’t be reinterpreted to fit modern agendas – although that’s exactly what some are doing. Moreover, biblical principles can’t just be ignored or rationalized away if they happen to conflict with some modern agendas.

I read an article a couple of weeks ago in the Poughkeepsie Journal about some disagreements within the Roman Catholic Church concerning church doctrine. An organization representing several orders of nuns is being criticized by the church hierarchy because it was allegedly promoting viewpoints on several issues that were not consistent with the church’s stand. Let me point out several things for your consideration:

First of all, if you sign up with any organization, whether it is a church or the Masons or the Rotary, you agree to its mission and philosophy. If you disagree with these, then you should find a church or organization that is more to your liking. People claim to “love the church”, yet they are trying to undo 2,000 years of orthodoxy and remake the church to fit their agenda – which, by the way, is often contrary to biblical teachings as they’ve been understood for millennia.

Having said that, we must also realize, in dealing with the Church, that there are differences between doctrines, practices and opinions. In the Catholic Church these distinctions tend to become blurred, but they are important.

●Doctrines: Most doctrines are based on the Bible, which Christians believe was inspired by God and is therefore sacrosanct. Doctrines are supposed to be unchanging because they are based on transcendent biblical principles.

●Practices: these are usually man-made and are subject to change. Reasonable people can differ concerning practices but shouldn’t differ when it comes to the clear teachings of the Bible. Examples of Roman Catholic practices are the mass in Latin, priestly celibacy, and ordaining only men, all of which have little or no biblical support. Vatican II updated the Church somewhat by eliminating or changing some practices. Sadly, the current pope is trying to roll back some of the advances made by Vatican II and make the Catholic Church even more medieval than it already is.

●Opinions: these represent the church’s stand on certain issues that are not clearly addressed in the Bible. For example, the Catholic Church’s ban on artificial birth control is an opinion since the Bible doesn’t specifically address birth control. Biblical references supporting the ban are usually taken out of context and make a very weak argument. On the other hand, the stand against abortion has strong biblical support, starting with the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.”

Lastly, as a Protestant, I have to say that I disagree with some doctrines of the Catholic Church. That’s because certain doctrines are not based on the Bible but on “Church Tradition.” Examples of these are Purgatory (nowhere in the Bible), the perpetual virginity of Mary (contrary to many passages in the Bible), and the Immaculate Conception of Mary (nowhere in the Bible). Nevertheless, as I said earlier, if you claim to be a Catholic (or any religion, for that matter), then you should accept its doctrines. If you reject much of what your church teaches, then you should consider looking for another church. Religion and faith aren’t things you dabble in, but are life-changing commitments to God and the community of faith.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Status of Religion in the U.S. Part 2

This is a continuation of an earlier post. See Part 1 for the historical context of this post. This Part 2 is mainly for Christians (hence the New Testament references) but the principles really apply to adherents of all religions as well.

VI. Our Role as People of Faith

With that historical background, how then should we, as people of faith, deal with a culture that is becoming more and more secular? How do we deal with revisionist history that denies our Judeo-Christian heritage? What do we do in a society where a tiny minority who are “offended” by any kind of perceived public religious expression must be accommodated? I think the Book of Acts gives us some guidance. In Acts, those early believers had significant challenges:
-faced a pagan society that was decadent and often hostile,
-went against the official state religion of Rome, and
-had to deal with hostility from their Jewish brethren.

What did those early disciples do? As we see in the Book of Acts in the New Testament, those early believers persevered in the face of significant opposition.

●They prayed to God, and we read about their powerful prayers in Acts 4:31:
When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness. NRSV

●They took care of one another, and we read about their generosity in Acts 4:34-35:
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. NRSV

●They boldly proclaimed the Gospel, at the risk of death or imprisonment, as we read Peter’s proclamation to the Jewish leaders in Acts 4:12:
“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” NRSV

●They stood up to the religious leaders because they answered to a higher authority, as we read Peter and John saying in Acts 4:19-20:
“Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” NRSV

I believe those early followers of Christ understood the fact that the church is a society within a society, a nation within a nation, and a people within a people. Our true citizenship is in heaven, as we are told in Philippians 3:20:
But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. NRSV

Of course we are to be loyal citizens of our nation, doing our duty by voting, participating in the community, and paying our fair share of taxes. As Jesus said in Matthew 22:21:
“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” NRSV

Being a good citizen is also being a good witness for our faith. But our ultimate loyalty must be to God and the building of his kingdom.

VII. Conclusion

So to summarize, the United States has been blessed by God in many different ways:
●In our founding principles, which were radical for that day;
●In our form of government, which has worked remarkably well;
●In our preservation despite severe challenges throughout our history; and
●In our protection from things that could have split us or weakened us.

But, I believe we have been blessed by God for a reason: so we can fulfill the purposes God has for us as a country. That’s why “God shed his grace on thee” as “America the Beautiful” says. Since our true citizenship is in heaven, how do we balance being good American citizens with loyalty to Christ’s kingdom? We do that by living as the Bible tells us to live, which the Apostle Peter summarized very well in 1 Peter 2:16-17:
Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Live as servants of God. Show respect for all people: Love the brothers and sisters of God’s family, respect God, honor the king. NCV

We also need to stand up, stand up for Jesus, because the nation is moving away from its Judeo-Christian roots. I believe that’s one of the reasons we have so many problems: crime, drugs, unethical behavior, violence, bullying, rage, prejudice, etc. We can’t force anybody to convert – nor should we – but we can tell others about Christ and be good examples of what it is to be a follower of Christ.

We should also resist efforts to further limit religious expression so that our rights don’t become further eroded. And of course we can teach our children what we’ve been discussing this morning so they will know the truth – they won’t hear it anywhere else.

So as people of faith and American citizens, let’s remember to pray for our country, especially:

●for Revival: that there will be a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit, like what happened in the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries;

●for Receptivity: that the church especially will be receptive to the moving of the Holy Spirit and be obedient to God’s direction; and

●for Repentance: that we as a nation will see the error of our ways, and stand on what God promised in 2 Chronicles 7:14:
“If 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.” NIV

Monday, July 2, 2012

Status of Religion in the U.S. Part 1

I. Introduction

The Supreme Court has been in the news a lot this past week. Their decision on the Obama health care plan is one that has far-reaching implications, as do many Court decisions. In addition, Independence Day is coming up on Wednesday, so I thought we should look at how we are to live as believers in God in 21st century America. To do that, we need to understand where we’ve been and where we are headed as a country. As part of that, we also need to separate truth from falsehood, and determine our roles as people of faith in an increasingly secular society. It is especially important for us to appreciate our nation’s godly heritage, because I believe God has blessed this country in so many ways. We don’t hear about that too often these days, even in churches.

II. The Constitution

One of the best things the Founders of this country did was to put the First Amendment in the Constitution, the first part of which states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

One purpose of this Amendment was to prohibit the establishment of an official state religion such as most European countries had at that time. The other purpose was to allow the free practice of any and all religions without fear of governmental interference. Note the Constitution does not actually use the term “separation of church and state” or the phrase “wall of separation” that are often linked with it.

1. Falsehoods

The First Amendment is now being misused as a weapon to try to eliminate God from our society. Some want to make this into a godless country, and they are especially trying to limit Christianity. They have successfully influenced the Supreme Court, starting in 1947 with the Everson v. Board of Education case.

The Supreme Court has misinterpreted and misapplied the First Amendment of the Constitution ever since, building on post-1947 precedents. If you look at the pre-1947 court decisions, you see 160 years of a totally different understanding of the First Amendment from today. Since some of the drafters of the Constitution ended up on the Supreme Court, we get insight into the original intent by their written opinions.

2. Truth

Because of the direction this country is headed, I believe it is important for us to be able to separate truth from falsehood. For example, we should be aware of God’s hand in the establishment and preservation of this country – and give thanks for God’s grace. With that knowledge we can offset the revisionist history that denies our Judeo-Christian heritage. We should also know what role we as Christians should play in a culture and society that is moving away from a Judeo-Christian mindset.

If we don’t know the truth about our country, how can we defend it? If our kids don’t know the truth, how can they grow up to be proper citizens and know what to do as Christians? Jesus said in John 8:32: “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

III. Blessed by God

God has blessed us in both the establishment and the preservation of the U.S. However, I’m not claiming the U.S. is a new Israel or anything like that. I’m also not saying that the U.S. is always right, has always done the right thing, and has always been in God’s will – because it hasn’t. I do believe that the U.S. has a part to play in God’s plan for the world.

1. God’s Purposes

What are these purposes? Looking at history, I see some of God’s purposes for the U.S. have been:
●To provide a refuge for the persecuted, especially religiously persecuted.
●To model good government, democracy and respect for human life.
●To send out missionaries to evangelize the world.
●To share our wealth with the less fortunate.
●To rescue countries from oppression (such as we did in WWII).

2. God’s Hand in Establishing

I also see God’s hand in the establishment of our country in a several ways.

●We went against the superpower of the day (England) with rag-tag army – and won the war against all odds.
●We did so with a largely untrained bunch of farmers who were drunk much of the time (according to David McCullough in his book “1776”).
●Our revolution could have turned ugly like the French Revolution but didn’t – that was God’s grace.
●The Founders were amazingly forward-thinking, establishing a new form of government that was remarkable for that day and age.
●It was perfect timing for the establishment of a new country because of the positive influences at work in 1776, which I’ll discuss in a minute.
●George Washington turned down the proposal that he be made king – which took place in Newburgh, NY. If he had accepted, the entire nature of our government would have changed.

3. God’s Grace in Preserving

I also see God’s grace at work preserving our country.

●We survived the breaking off of the Confederate States, which, had it been successful, would have divided the U.S. into 2 or 3 weaker nations.
●We survived a terrible Civil War.
●We survived the Great Depression, and it’s surprising that there wasn’t an overthrow of the government because of the severe economic conditions.
●We survived many other divisive issues.
●Other countries (especially in Latin America) modeled their governments after the US but haven’t been nearly as stable.
●We have never experienced hyperinflation.
●The military has never intervened and has always been subject to civilian authority, unlike some other countries.

IV. Forces at Work in 1776

I said earlier that the late 18th century was a perfect time to start a new country, and that’s because of the positive influences of that day. Two of the positive influences in 1776 that shaped our founding documents are the First Awakening and the Enlightenment. We see their influence in the Declaration of Independence, which states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Note the mention of “their Creator” – God has always been an integral part of this country. Just look at the speeches carved in stone in the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, and you’ll see God mentioned often. Those who deny our Christian heritage are ignoring history.

1. The First Awakening

The First Awakening had a major impact on the establishment of our country and on the religious landscape of the colonies. Before that powerful revival, which started in Northampton, Massachusetts, most of the colonists were nominal Christians at best. As a result of that outpouring of the Holy Spirit, many came to faith in Christ, making the colonists much more faithful Christians. Because of this, our Founding documents include many references to God and incorporate biblical principles. While the Founders represented a wide variety of Christians, most of them had deep faith in Christ or exhibited a healthy respect for God and the Bible.

2. The Enlightenment

The second major influence on the Founders was The Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinking emerged in Europe in the 1600s, and was pretty radical for that age of kings and queens. Politically, the Enlightenment was distinguished by an emphasis on liberty, democracy, republicanism, and religious tolerance. So our founding documents include the best of Enlightenment thinking and biblical principles.

V. The First Amendment and Wall of Separation

The Founders also wanted to avoid the problems that had occurred in Europe over the centuries, especially religious conflict. They saw the discrimination, persecution, and war that came with state religions, so the first thing they put in the Constitution was: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”

We have to understand that the term “religion” in 1776 meant what we call today a “church” or “denomination.” However, as different religions emerged, they were secure from governmental interference under the broad protection of the First Amendment.

Thomas Jefferson called this protection a “Wall of Separation”, meaning there is a legal wall protecting religious practice from the government. He coined that phrase in a letter written to a Baptist Church in Danbury, Connecticut, which was concerned about what the First Amendment meant. However, in cases coming after 1947, the courts have interpreted the First Amendment as protecting the country from religion. Sadly, Jefferson’s “Wall of Separation” is now being totally misrepresented to try to limit religion and religious expression in public.

More on this topic in a future post.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Threat of China

I believe the U.S. has put itself into a terrible position regarding China. The situation would concern me with any nation, but I’m particularly concerned because it is China. We forget that China is a communist country, and it views us as an enemy. China spends billions on the military, and its military budget has increased by double digit percentages each year for quite some time. Why would China increase its military budget when there’s no apparent threat from any country except what must be a perceived threat from the US?

They spy on the U.S., try to steal our intellectual property, look the other way at the sale of pirated movies, music, and other items, manipulate their currency to their favor, and don’t play according to the rules of international commerce. In foreign policy, they support dictators from Syria to North Korea. Domestically, they are notorious for human rights violations of all kinds, they persecute Christians and other religious groups, force abortions if a woman becomes pregnant with a second child (the “One Child” policy), and suppress free speech.

Of course we can’t expect all countries in the world to be like us, but the Chinese government is so egregious in these areas that we shouldn’t be doing business with them at all. But we do, and I think it is to our peril. The US, being na├»ve as usual, thinks that if we do a lot of business with them, we will become so interdependent that it’s in China’s best interests to cooperate with us and treat us as a friend. Once they’ve had a taste of the prosperity that capitalism brings, they will be a changed society. I don’t buy it. Let’s examine the areas that worry me:

Eroded Manufacturing Base – Dependence on China

Because so many products are now manufactured outside of the US, we have lost manufacturing jobs, our production capacity is diminished, we are dependent on foreign sources for much of what we use, and we have an unfavorable balance of trade with the rest of the world, especially China.

This erosion of our manufacturing base and resultant loss of jobs will make any economic recovery long in coming. We have become a nation of shopkeepers (or should I say a nation of Wal Marts), so even when the economy recovers, it will be a different world. Many of the jobs are low-paying part-time positions in retail, usually without benefits.

China Holds Huge Amount of US Debt

What happens to all the money we send overseas to purchase foreign-made products? China and other countries invest that money in US debt, thus keeping the US from going bankrupt. China owning so much US debt makes us vulnerable to them. If China doesn’t roll over that debt when the debt instruments come due, the US would be in serious economic jeopardy. Of course if the US economy took a catastrophic hit, we wouldn’t be able to purchase Chinese-made goods, so they would be in trouble too.

So the US and China are linked together in this interdependent dance, but I believe the US shouldn’t be so dependent on a country that views us as an enemy.

Implanted Viruses in Electronics

There are suspicions by reliable sources (who have testified before Congress) that the Chinese have implanted viruses in the electronics they manufacture. These viruses could be activated remotely and cause a mass collapse of computer systems, communications systems, the electric grid, etc. While this may sound far-fetched – and I hope it is – this concern is not coming from wild-eyed conspiracy theorists but from experts.

Since quality control and oversight of Chinese-made good is lacking, such a scenario is entirely possible. I wonder how much testing of imported electronics really takes place?

Pollution and Use of Natural Resources

With the Chinese economy growing at a fast rate, pollution has increased tremendously. China is constructing electric power plants at a furious rate, and most of them are coal-fired. As China becomes more prosperous – thanks in large measure to us – they are buying more cars, causing even more air pollution. Their demand for petroleum products is causing upward pressure on crude oil.

Unsafe Products – Wild West of Manufacturing

China is the “Wild West” of manufacturing, with little quality control and oversight. Cheaply made, defective, and occasionally dangerous products are imported into the US from China. Some American importers, concerned only with profit, don’t bother to oversee production, don’t make quality assurance a condition for buying a Chinese company’s product, and don’t test goods coming into the US. Of course some high-end electronics such as TVs and iPhones are made in China, and they are of good quality, so it can be done.

However, for the most part Chinese made goods may be cheaper to buy, but they don’t last as long. As a result you must replace an item sooner than you would with a quality-made US product. This is false economy. Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do about this situation I’ve described, except maybe the following:

(1) Enact laws that penalize companies that export jobs overseas. By “penalize” I mean increase the corporate taxes they pay so any savings is offset by higher taxes. I’m not sure how this could be done, and it might be too little too late.

(2) Enact laws that reward companies for moving operations back to the US, such as a jobs credit.

(3) Enact laws that force better quality control of products entering the US from overseas, and levy stiff penalties for companies who are found to have imported defective products into the US without adequate testing.

(4) Enact laws that penalize US-owed companies whose foreign subsidiaries are found to be polluting air or water. Standards would have to be determined as to what constitutes polluting in a foreign country.

Maybe by enacting the laws I outlined above we could at least reduce the advantages of producing goods overseas, reduce pollution, and level the playing field.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Treating Employees and Customers Fairly

One of the areas in which I believe we, as a society, have deteriorated recently is care for the customer. Everything now is about improving profit margins, with customer service often being compromised. If we call on the telephone, we get a machine that takes us through many menu items. Often you have to enter your customer number or some other identifying number before the machine will let you continue. Then what’s the first thing they ask you if eventually you connect with an actual person? Of course it’s the number you punched in!

Stores are trying to save money by having fewer sales clerks. Some companies have their customer service reps in another country, thus taking away jobs from Americans. With customer service or technical service in another country, you have to deal with unfamiliar accents as well. I do have to say that when I’ve dealt with Dell’s technical service people in India, they have been very good and capable, but I still don’t like the fact that jobs are being taken away from Americans.

Historically, industry has not always treated employees well. That’s why labor unions were organized. Today things are much better in some respects, but new ways of giving employees less than a fair deal have arisen. Some companies, especially in retail, avoid giving benefits by hiring employees as part-timers and having them work fewer hours. This is especially bad because these employees are typically on the low end of the pay scale, close to minimum wage, yet they are prevented from working 40 hours. Plus they have no medical benefits! How can anybody live on such meager take-home pay?

There was a program recently on CNBC that looked at the success of Costco. Their employee turnover rate is very low compared to the rest of retail. Why? Costco pays its employees well and provides benefits. Does that hurt profit margins? Apparently not, because Costco is doing quite well despite its relatively small markups. They are saving money with less employee turnover in a number of ways. First, they are better able to hire higher quality and more productive employees, and second, there is less training and disruption with lower employee turnover, thus saving money.

Morally and ethically, companies have responsibilities to at least five constituencies.
(1) Provide a fair return on investment to stockholders;
(2) Provide a safe and good quality product to its customers at a fair price;
(3) Provide a good and safe work environment to its employees, pay a fair wage, provide medical benefits, and don’t discriminate;
(4) Pay its vendors on time;
(5) Serve the community and the country by hiring Americans, manufacturing here in the U.S., buying from local and U.S. vendors, obeying laws, not polluting, and paying its fair share of taxes.

When these get out of balance, such as too much emphasis on #1 and not enough attention on the rest, you have a problem. Because so many items are manufactured in China these days – thanks in large part to Wal-Mart – #5 isn’t being served and the customer, while paying less, often gets a poor quality product that won’t last as long. That is false economy, and I believe the American people are being ripped off as a result. Moreover, some unsafe products have come out of China because stores haven’t even bothered to do any testing or quality control. So #2 isn’t being served and people have been hurt as a result.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Post-Christian Society

The Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 6:7b: You reap whatever you sow. Another way of putting it is: “You will always harvest what you plant.” (from the NLT) We are seeing that happen today. What am I referring to? I’m saying that as we become more and more post-Christian, the restraining influence of Christianity diminishes and society becomes more violent, dishonest, and immoral.

If you aren’t brought up within a moral framework but rather on the loose standards of today’s society, you won’t have much of a guideline for your behavior. If you aren’t guided by something bigger than you (God), then you “do your own thing” which we see happening at the very end of the Book of Judges in the Bible in Judges 21:25: In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes. (NRSV) They didn’t have the restraining influence of a strong leader, so Israelite society was not as God wanted it to be.

Christianity isn’t just a code of conduct, but Bible-based Christianity does provide guidelines for living that come from God, who created us and knows what’s best for us. Our society used to be guided by what’s called the Judeo-Christian ethic, but that is giving way to relativism, situational ethics, and political correctness. As a result, society is becoming ruder, cruder, ethically-challenged. We’ve had Ponzi schemes that have even ripped off charities, a roughly 50% divorce rate, a large percentage of babies born of unmarried mothers, much prime time TV not suitable for children, a serious drug problem that leads to a serious crime problem, and we still have anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice.

Because of sinful humankind, American society was never close to biblical ideals, but I suspect it may have been a little more morally upright and maybe even more honest than we see now. To be fair, there have also been some improvements in the quality of life due to laws being enacted, societal pressure, or other factors. We have less drunk driving, no smoking in public places, workplaces pretty much free of profanity and sexual harassment (some are better than others), better opportunities for women and minorities, more fuel efficient and less polluting cars, leash laws, to name a few improvements.

My suggestion is that you and your children attend church and Sunday school regularly to get a better grounding when it comes to proper behavior. You’ll be amazed at how your life will change for the better the closer you get to God. Isn’t it time for a fresh start?