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.