Friday, July 13, 2007

Week in review: Jl 8-14

Ok, so the week isn't done yet, but tomorrow is my wife's birthday and I plan on spending it on a beach, not blogging here. I hope you forgive me.

First a couple of headlines that are good follow-ups to my last post. A couple of days ago the Pew Research Center released a study showing more working mothers would prefer to work part time so they could be home with their children. The number that would prefer to stay home full-time has stayed pretty much the same. I'm a fan of the part-time option myself. As a personal testimony, my wife, a special education teacher, took a year off after our son was born. A year later, she didn't want to work full time. She changed districts hoping for a part-time opportunity. She had her doubts, I encouraged her to pray about it, and we prayed together. She went in to interview and was told right off that there weren't any part time positions available. Then one of the interviewers said, "wait you said you're special ed?" Then, "whisper, whisper, whisper" to the other interviewers. Then, "we do have this one opportunity if you're interested..." I'm confident God knows what is best for us. We need to trust him for the right opportunity and sometimes that means going out on a limb.

Today, I read that fewer teens are having sex and there are fewer teenage pregnancies. This is credited to safer sex, but that doesn't explain that fewer are having sex to begin with. I think both safe-sex education and abstinence education go hand in hand in this good news. Despite these programs though, we need to remember that the best place for our children to learn about sex is in our homes. And we, as parents, need to be open and frank with risks and consequences as well as realistic with the topic of contraception.

Finally, yesterday's session of the Senate opened in a Hindu prayer and a couple of protesters were thrown out of the gallery. I want to first call attention to a quote from Barry Lynn (Americans United for Separation of Church and State) that the protest, "shows the intolerance of many religious right activists. They say they want more religion in the public square, but it's clear they mean only their religion." I seldom agree with him, but he has a point. The Senate can open up in any prayer they want. What ruffles my feathers is the focus of the prayer, opening, "We meditate on the transcendental glory of the Deity Supreme, who is inside the heart of the Earth, inside the life of the sky and inside the soul of the heaven. May He stimulate and illuminate our minds." I don't mind non-denomonational prayers, Hindu prayers, Muslim prayers, ecumenical prayers, and on and on. But this prayer was instead a proclamation of faith. Very different than something like, "God bless this Senate and the United States of America" which is vague, can apply to any God and/or any faith. It can be argued that Christians can pray publicly in schools or in government if they left out "in Jesus' name we pray, Amen." But to call on a deity, describe him/her, and then ask for him/her to be glorified on the floor of the Senate seemed like nothing more than grandstanding. Contrast this with the memorial for the victims at Virginia Tech. Every minister of every faith called on the name of their own deity, except for the Christian minister. Religious political correctness has neutered even preachers of the Gospel. And that is sad. So instead of protesting a Hindu prayer, we need to more boldly proclaim the Gospel. Instead of being afraid of being politically correct, we need to pray with faith to our God, in the name of Jesus.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Fathers

Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do.
Girls become lovers, who turn into mothers
So mothers be good to your daughters, too.
-John Mayer, "Daughters"

If you haven't heard, the wife of Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa filed for divorce recently over an affair the mayor has had ongoing with a Telemundo newscaster. This may not sound like news, a politician caught in adultery, after all several of the Republican candidates for president can relate. But one of the local LA papers on Sunday had a very powerful editorial on the consequence this has on his family and how this is a microcosm of a common plight among minority communities. In summary, there are too many youth growing up without fathers. And it's not just minorities either. Even very-white pop-star John Mayer understands the importance of a strong male role model in the family.

Broken homes, absent parents, workaholic parents, and so on create a generation of latch-key kids that are likely to follow the same cycle. Many teenage parents that I know are children of teenage parents. Getting a divorce? Odds are, your parents did too. And that's just in the family. I've added a link in "resources" for Focus on the Family. I didn't want to when I first started this blog because I don't agree with their politics. However, I agree with their message and I understand why they take the political stands they do. Dr. Dobson understands clearly that our current culture is a threat to Christian families. I've read two books of his and they are full of statistics that should scare any parent.

But it's not just a risk to the traditional family structure. It's also a risk to our communities at-large because fatherless boys are more likely to be involved in violent crimes, drop out of school, abuse alcohol or drugs, and just about every other malady you can think of. Why join a gang? To be accepted by older males who act as role models and to have your masculinity affirmed. To do the job of a father. So what are Christian churches to do? Why, loudly proclaim how gay marriage threatens the sanctity of marriage, of course. Wha, huh?

But some churches are beginning to figure it out. The biggest threat to our families and the "sanctity of marriage" is ourselves. Divorce is just as common if not moreso in Christian churches than in the world at-large. Of course adultery, pornography, alcoholism, and drug addiction can be found throughout our congregations if for no better reason than that we are all sinners. But it's too easy to focus on the speck in others' eyes and ignore the plank in our own. Too many churches are afraid to call sin, sin and expect repentance in their congregations. Why you can't have expectations or accountability of your church members, that would make you a cult. But I digress. Like I said, some churches are turning inward to rid themselves of their splinter-filled plank.

In Chicago recently, the National Baptist Convention met and were challenged to "reduce by 25 percent the rate of black divorce, teen pregnancy, illiteracy, murder and HIV infection by 2012." Black churches are leading the charge, and it's about time they do. I'm personally not a fan of segregated congregations. After all, there is neither Greek nor Jew in Christ. But traditional black churches are in a unique position to tackle issues that if someone else, anyone else, were to address they'd be labeled as racist. Other church leaders could learn from this example. In Los Angeles, the ministers and pastors embraced by the local black community are often found in the limelight throwing stones at the police or local politicians but seldom seem to care about the issues within their own walls (First AME Church, I'm looking at you).

I hope and pray this creates ripples in our culture so that we, as Christians, can hold up the value of family and not look like a bunch of hypocrites. That church leaders can expect morality in their congregations without being labelled as legalistic. That a new generation of children can be raised in homes with loving and available parents (note the s) present throughout their lives. Only then can we affect the world around us, with the example of Christ in our homes and with his bride, the Church.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

4th of July, pt 2

After a day celebrating the Fourth at a WWII memorial fundraiser at our local cemetery, watching Transformers, going over to a friend's for swimming and now waiting for the fireworks to follow a Single-A baseball game down the street, I think it's safe to say I've had a full day. And it was much better than the typical "beer, bbq, and blowing things up" that so many associate with this holiday. Actually taking the time to remember what this holiday is for. I wish more would.

So on to part 2. This is what I first prepared for my communion last Sunday. It's incomplete because I changed the theme midstream to what you read in part 1. But it's still worth reflecting on.

Wednesday is the 4th of July. A day to celebrate the birth of our country and the freedoms we have. Most of us have the day off. Many of us have plans we’ve been looking forward to for weeks. This is “the” summer holiday. But it only comes once a year. Once a year to wave a flag, sing the star spangled banner, go to a parade. Do we forget our freedoms the rest of the year? Do we go about our day to day forgetting our freedoms and living like we have none? Living like slaves? Living with the yoke of oppression? Of course not. Our freedoms allow us to live our lives the way we want. For life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Every day, whether we think about or not, celebrate it or not.

But those freedoms would mean nothing if not for the sacrifice of Jesus. For what good is freedom in the world if we are enslaved to sin? Our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness would be for selfish gain, no matter the cost, no matter who is hurt. Christ died to give us freedom. A different freedom from what we have in this country. A freedom from the shackles of sin, the influence of the world, and eternal condemnation. This is a freedom that I hope we celebrate more than just once a year. This is why we celebrate communion this morning, and continue to do so every week.

But just as with the freedoms we have in this country, when we go about our regular routine, do we give thought to the freedoms we have in Christ? Sadly, many of us do live as though we’re still slaves to our sinful nature, deceived by the world, hopeless of our futures. We carry a weight we don’t need to. We feel like our lives can never change, never get better. The sin we’ve struggled with for as long as we can remember, we face every day. We look around and like David, see wicked men prosper while righteous men are downtrodden. This isn’t the freedom Jesus gave us when he died on the cross. This isn’t how we are supposed to live in Christ. John 10:10 reads, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Also, in Matthew 11 beginning in verse 28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

This is the freedom worth celebrating daily, not reserved for a holiday once a year. Celebrating with transformed lives and renewed hearts, not fireworks and bbq’s. Celebrate the freedom we have in Jesus. Live as we are free. Give thanks to God.


Amen. Happy 4th of July.

4th of July, pt 1

Last Sunday I shared about freedom and what that means to us as Christians during our communion service. I have two versions of what I prepared. I changed it up after talking with one of my friends who was concerned about the lack of "true worship" in our church and reminded me that God freed the Israelites from Egypt specifically so that they could worship him. So freedom and worship go hand in hand. The wheels in my head started turning and out came this: (I'll post my original version later today)

Wednesday is the fourth of July. A day to celebrate the birth of our country and the freedoms we have. But how does that relate to us, this morning, as we’re gathered to worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? First of all, we’ve heard from this podium before, in fact I’m sure I’ve even said it myself from up here, that we should be grateful to God that we have the freedom to gather together to worship him without fear of death, injury, or persecution. We are guaranteed the freedom to worship publicly. But we’re also given the freedom to worship as we choose. And that’s a part that I think is often forgotten. If you look at the history of this country many of those who first settled here did so so that they could worship they way they wanted to: Quakers, Puritans, Catholics, and others all came to this land because they were required to worship a certain way where they came from and were persecuted for not doing so. So today we have the freedom to worship however we want to. This freedom enabled the different Great Awakening periods as well as the Restoration Movement that we owe our history to. So without this part of our freedom, we may have been able to worship publicly, but it’s unlikely we’d be worshiping in this church.

But this isn’t a patriotic rant or an historical lesson. I’m here worship our Lord through communion. Remembering the sacrifice of Jesus. And that’s where I want to turn our attention. God has consistently used the freedom of his people for worship. Mishach, Shadrach, and Abendigo were thrown in the fire for not worshiping how they were told. And then saved so that they could freely worship the one true God. The Jews in exile with both Ezra and Nehemiah were freed so that they could worship God in Jerusalem by rebuilding the temple and then rebuilding the wall. And probably most explicitly, God freed the Jews in Egypt so they could worship him freely. In Exodus 7:16, when Moses was confronting Pharaoh, God instructed Moses to say, “The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert.” And that reason did not change as Moses continued to confront him through all the plagues.

It is no different for us today, following Jesus. Jesus died so that we would be freed from the slavery of our sin. But he also died to free us from the religious tradition that ruled his day. Just because our country allows us to worship however we like, doesn’t mean we should. Paul said not to use our freedom as an excuse to indulge in sin. In the same way, we can’t use our freedom to worship as an excuse to make up our own traditions, our own rules, or bind old traditions to others arbitrarily. Please turn to John 4. Starting in verse 19, we read…

19"Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. 20Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."
21Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."
25The woman said, "I know that Messiah" (called Christ) "is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us."
26Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he."

To worship in spirit and in truth. That’s what Jesus died for and what we need to reflect upon when we celebrate our freedom. Are we worshiping in spirit and in truth? With the hundreds of denominations that exist today, I’d argue that we’re not. With the countless traditions, expectations, and doctrines that continue to divide, I’m certain that we’re not. This morning I want to call us to a higher standard, to worship our Lord in Spirit and in Truth.

So I left it hanging. What does it mean to worship in Spirit and Truth? Does it mean ecumenism, seeker-friendly services, Power Point slides, instrumental music or a-capella, emerging churches, speaking in tongues, etc, etc? I'll leave it to you the reader to search this out for yourself. Let me know what you find.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I almost forgot

A couple of posts back I said I was going to give you my reading list to prep for next year's election, so here 'tis. Of course, at some point I need to read the requisite "God's Politics: Why the Right Got it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It" by Jim Wallis, but that seems cliche' to start. Browsing the shelves at my local B&N, I found these: "The Politics of Jesus" by Obery Hendricks (If the title doesn't grab you, then you're reading the wrong blog. But reviews are left leaning and I'm hoping it's even handed.), "Washington's God" by Michael and Jana Novak (Leaning more to the right to balance us out.), "God and Government" by Charles Colson (I admit to being a Chuck Colson fan, after all he's lived all sides of this debate.) and "Finding God at Harvard" by Kelly Monroe Kullberg (This one is more to the overall theme of this blog and less to do with politics, but many of our current political elite come from these "liberal" institutes of higher learning.).

But before I get there, I have some other reading to do. The Religious Right longs for the halcyon days of the '50s when religion was practiced openly, children prayed in school, the Ten Commandments were posted on their walls, and everyone lived a Norman Rockwell perfect life. Well a while back at an antique store I found this magazine:



LIFE Special Issue, dated December, 1955 about Christianity in America. I figure let's go right to the source and see how the past compares to our idealization of it. I'll get to reading that soon and I'll post comments here.

And because yesterday's post probably drove away anyone half interested in this blog, I want to entice you to come back tomorrow when I'll post what I shared for Communion on Sunday related to the 4th of July.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Week in review: Jn 24-30

There's not a whole lot over the past week that I felt strongly compelled to post about. There were a couple of reviews of "Evan Almighty" that I'll expand on once I see the movie. My fear is that either the movie panders too much to the religious crowd or it over the top mocks religion to its face. I'll reserve judgment until I see it. I hope it proves me wrong like its predecessor, "Bruce Almighty" did.

I also have some updating of links I want to do that I'll probably use my day off on the 4th to work on. I'm still learning when it comes to formatting and such and I don't want to make this too busy but at the same time I want certain sites to be a click away whether or not they're specifically relevant to my blog.

The big news of the week was the Supreme Court handing down 5-4 decisions in three cases relevant to our lives as public Christians. One of my roadblocks to blogging regularly is that I want to do enough research on issues that I don't make a complete fool of myself in what I write. The consequence of course, is that by the time I get around to doing that whatever I was going to post about to begin with is old news and there's a new topic worth tackling. That was the case with these decisions. I'm no legal scholar and I wanted to know more than what I was reading in the news. But the more I read the more confused I got and the opinions I was going to post started to change in ways I didn't like. So I'm going to keep it simple, both for your sake and mine.

The first case concerned a student who held a banner reading, "Bong hits 4 Jesus." The argument was that schools are legally drug-free zones and that while students have free speech when it comes to politics or religion, they do not have the right to promote illegal activities. This makes sense as schools are allowed to adjust dress codes to address gang-related fashion for example. A student can't go to school wearing a t-shirt with a gun on it, or with a naked woman. The risk of this decision however, is that it explicitly calls out speech that promotes illegal activities. If you've followed the news the last year or so, there are efforts out there making religious speech, specifically with regard to homosexuality, "hate speech." If these laws were to pass, then this ruling would extend to such speech. Not necessarily a bad thing, because few things make my blood boil more than people who call themselves Christians yet will hold signs saying, "God hates fags." But there are many on the left who feel that any religious expression, especially in a taxpayer-funded school, is illegal and some district-level courts have agreed. If it goes that far then Bible clubs, group prayer outside of the classroom, evens such as "Meet Me at the Pole." could then be curbed at the whim of a particular school's administration. To take this further, this could also then apply to Muslim women wearing head-coverings as another example. I'm not sure I agree with the decision on these grounds. But for now, the Bill of Rights still protects the free expression of religion despite the mythical separation of church and state.

Speaking of the separation of church and state, another decision was 5-4 against an atheist group suing the present administration over advocating faith-based initiatives. I'll concede that President Bush's goal to promote faith-based programs treads a very fine line, but I believe that the intentions are honorable and not a ploy to promote a particular religion. In context, AA was formed with a strong religious foundation and many will drop coins for the Salvation Army bell ringers at Christmas time without considering that the Salvation Army is actually a church denomination. But I digress. The ruling stated that the administration's action did not cause harm to the taxpayer and they had no legal standing to bring the case forward. An example of what this means would be an anti-war group suing the government over defense spending. The reason this particular case got as far as it did was a previous ruling in a case called Flast vs Cohen that made an exception for religious spending. Yet this ruling limited Flast to "earmarks" or spending on specific programs promoting religion. President Bush speaking at a church encouraging applying for federal grants is not an appropriation bill authorizing that x-number of dollars goes to y-specific church. On that, I agree with their ruling. In one of the discussions I read on this case, they worry that the exception I noted differentiating between an appropriation by Congress and an endorsement by the Executive branch sets a dangerous precedent that the Executive branch isn't held to as strict a standard as Congress. To this I disagree (without wholly understanding the opinions by the Justices) because like I said, President Bush (or anyone in his staff) never told Congress to authorize spending on a particular church or even a particular program. If a president wants to speak in a church, it should be his right.

The last ruling involves spending on "issue ads" prior to an election. These are ads that are not sponsored by a particular candidate or party, but rather special interest groups. Therefore they don't explicitly fall under efforts to reform campaign finance. Why this is relevant is the ad in question was by a pro-life group and never said to vote against a particular candidate, but rather called to account his voting record on that subject. Personally, I prefer these ads to the mud slinging candidates throw at each other. I'd rather see an ad describing someones views and voting records rather than something obscure they did 30 years ago. The risk of this decision however is it opens a door for a lot of corruption. What's to define an "issue"? Would the Swift Boat ads count as an "issue ad?" Not to mention the choke-hold special interest groups (the dissenting opinion calls out unions and corporations specifically) have on politics. Since money is spent on these ads, it should be able to be regulated as commerce. If someone wants freedom of speech in campaigning, write a letter to the editor, or an op-ed piece. Or for that matter, start a blog and you'll get lots of attention. (See the recent defeat of anything resembling immigration reform) So I'm on the fence on this one. It will be up to future Courts and future decisions to make this more clear.

So if you're not completely bored by now, let me sum up. We as Christians need to follow what goes on in our government. Not just by our elected officials, but also our courts. We need to be aware of what could infringe on our ability to express our faith publicly. For these three cases, with the same split in the decisions, on the surface it looks like a shift to the right for the Supreme Court. But on closer examination, at least one if not two, of the decisions run the risk of biting the Religious Right in the behind after making such a big deal in the last presidential election over court appointees. I guess it goes to show, be careful what you wish for.