Religion Archives

1st Sunday of Advent – Love

Love

The 1st Sunday of Advent was December 2nd. I’m late. I know.

This year we’re celebrating Love for the First Sunday of Advent. You may have heard of the saying, “God is Love.” Indeed, reference 1 John 4. But what exactly is that supposed to mean? In English, the word ‘love’ has a variety of applications which can run from the erotic to gastronomical. I ‘love’ green chile cheeseburgers, for instance. Not to worry, though, because we have the Word of God to explain this to us.

In Romans 5 we are told of the depths of love which was expressed for us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

(Romans 5:6-11 ESV)

And in the well known John 3:16 passage we are explicitly told of God’s love for mankind as well as the implications of such love. Hence we celebrate the Advent of Love, a pre-existing love, which by its very nature, cannot have existed in a singular state – for who would God have to love?

One admonition I’d like to leave you with is that as you reflect on the Love of God, particularly in the Advent of the Incarnate Jesus, don’t make the mistake of trivializing said love by over-personalizing the concept. While God loves each and every one of us, the phrase “For God so loved the world…” should not be translated “For God so loved ME…” In our self-centered culture, that’s an easy trap to fall into. I recently heard an evangelist prompt the audience he was speaking to to repeat the phrase, “Jesus was born, just for me.” Besides being wrong on so many levels, such a phrase only serves to reinforce the individualistic mentality so prevalent in society. Remember Romans 5:8, “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Happy Advent!

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

(Luke 2:8-14 ESV)

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    The War on Religion

    (Hey, if Democrats can invent a war, so can I.)

    Hobby Lobby had filed suit to block the ObamaCare contraception mandate. They lost round 1.

    As a “secular” corporation, they have no rights to use the religious beliefs of their ownership as a justification not to abide by the contraception mandate. This decision is inconsistent with the Tyndale House one you may have heard about. So apparently being a Bible publisher does make you religious, but being a Bible seller doesn’t.

    The argument the administration advanced successfully in the Hobby Lobby case is a particularly troublesome one for believers of all faiths who operate under the assumption that they can use their moral principles to guide the way their place of business spends money. According to the administration’s legal arguments, the family that owns Hobby Lobby is not protected by the First Amendment’s "free exercise" clause because “Hobby Lobby is a for-profit, secular employer, and a secular entity by definition does not exercise religion.”

    Hobby Lobby is an all-American success story if there ever was one. Read the whole thing for their history. But now, with ObamaCare breathing down our collective necks, you lose your religious freedom the minute you start a company.

    The company remained all privately owned, with no franchising. Their statement of purposes and various commitments all begin with Bible verses, commitments to honor the Lord. The Hobby Lobby folks pay well above minimum wage and have increased salaries four years in a row despite the recession. They are teetotalers of the old Oral Roberts variety, refusing to stock shot glasses, don’t sell any of their store locations with liquor stores, don’t allow backhauling of beer shipments – all things that could make them money, but they just bear the costs. Every Christmas and Easter, the Hobby Lobby folks advertise a free Bible and spiritual counseling. They are closed every Sunday. The family also signed the giving pledge, committing to donate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.

    So: I doubt this is the type of company to spend one dime on this contraception mandate. They will just drop coverage, and pay employees the difference, shifting them onto the exchanges or the taxpayer, rather than compromise their beliefs. It’s logical, it’s more predictable as a budgeting choice, and it will save them tens of millions in the long run versus retaining coverage and paying the fine.

    I have to wonder if this wasn’t part of the plan all along; a self-fulfilling prophesy of the need for state insurance exchanges by forcing, in part, religious people who happened to have started a business to join them. That’s a little cynical, I’ll agree, but it’s tough to understand this blatant contravening of freedoms in the very first Amendment.

    Arguing that a corporation isn’t a person is one thing. Arguing that you stop being one when you create one is another one entirely.

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      The Most Bibles

      Which country produces the most Bibles? I thought this would be a simple question; the United States, the most capitalist country around. Lots of people, and a jillion different translations, paraphrases and parallel versions would make for a big market.

      Not so. This may surprise you, until you think about it a bit.

      When one thinks of China, Christianity and the Bible are likely two of the furthest things that come to mind. “Communism,” “forced abortions,” one-child policy” and other terms are, more generally, what’s the nation is known for. But now, a shocking new development has come to the forefront: China, a country that makes many products consumed in the U.S. and abroad, is now also the world’s largest Bible producer.

      Amity Printing Company is the only outfit in China that is permitted to produce Christian Bibles. While the Chinese government doesn’t have the most stellar record when it comes to religious freedom, Amity Printing has been fast at work, with the company’s chairman, Qiu Zhonghui, announcing that the business published its 100 millionth Bible in July.

      According to a report by Christian Today [Ed.: not "Christianity Today"], the Amity has printed 60 million Bibles, including nine ethnic minority editions in various languages. Additionally, 40 million copies were printed in more than 90 languages and sent to about 70 nations and regions across the globe.

      Not bad for a printing company founded in 1988.

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        Election Post-mortem; The New Normal?

        Same-sex marriage is approved in Maine. Colorado legalizes recreational marijuana. And (not, I think, coincidentally) Barack Obama wins re-election.

        Is this the new normal?

        ObamaCare will not be repealed, with its requirement that employers, even those that disagree on moral and religious ground, provide for abortions. And if we lose any Supreme Court justices, there’s no doubt that we’ll get replacements with the same disregard for the least of "the least of these".

        In addition, ObamaCare comes with, using the term of one former Illinois Senator’, "massive, job-killing tax increases". In the short term I’m sure the folks will love it. So did the folks in the countries of Europe, where they’re going broke, running out of money to pay for the same sorts of things. Ask Germany, who will have to bail them all out, how much health care costs when it’s "free". Anyone in the US thinking "but this time it’ll be different" has their eyes tightly shut to their surroundings.

        Financial guru Dave Ramsey tweeted this: "Expect the rich to dig in to survive big taxes rather than invest in the economy. Hope I am wrong. Good luck on new jobs."

        And to my Christian friends who voted for Obama, this whole appeal to short-term thinking is, I believe, part and parcel to how the social issues came out in the election. How many of you really believe that abortion is what amounts to a civil right, and endorse same-sex marriage in spite of a clear Biblical definition of it? If you do, we have a whole set of other issues between us, but if you don’t, why would you vote for a party that does? If you believe charity is an issue of personal responsibility, why would you vote for an ideology that eschews person giving for the power and inefficiency of taxation? Did you buy into the lie that Republicans want to do away with the societal safety net?

        A friend of mine tweeted, "Has it ever occurred to u that our party platform endorses the protection of innocent life & Dems end up demonizing us w/ impunity on issue?" And I would add, "and some Christians support such anti-life Democrats?"

        My questions are not ones of frustration so much as they are out of confusion.

        But Barack Obama did indeed get out the vote, with a good ground game (as I hear) and the American people have spoken. They also spoke and put Republicans back in charge of the House of Representatives, so I’m not sure exactly what they were trying to say. Essentially, we got the same government we had yesterday.

        So "Forward!". Or something.

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          This particular line, from a Grateful Dead song, has always struck me as poignant,

          Sign the Mona Lisa with a spray can,
          Call it Art

          – Foolish Heart

          As the singer insinuates, the quick and dirty tagger’s label can hardly sanctify a classic work of art.

          What is it about the Western Evangelical Church that drives us to acquiesce with the culture we live in and, at the same time, justify said acquiescence as a noble cause?

          Take, for example, the manner with which many churches are approaching the upcoming celebration of Halloween. This year Halloween falls on a Wednesday and, as most of you may be aware, many churches hold their “mid-week” services on Wednesday nights.

          It seems to me that in times past the church would hardly have blinked an eye at this current conundrum.

          “What? Halloween is on Wednesday? Oh well, try to get some ‘trick-or-treating’ in before you show up for Bible Study.”

          Yet nowadays the church bends over backwards to accommodate a culture which worships Halloween (in terms of merchandising expenditures) less only than that of Christmas. Do a search on the various churches in your vicinity and my bet is that you’ll find them having, in lieu of their regular Wednesday night ministries, some event geared to provide the community with candy and fun and games and entertainment. Whether or not said event is described as a Harvest or Hallelujah Party one thing is clear, there’s very little chance of having a mid-week Bible Study at the event.

          What I find most disconcerting with this whole fiasco is that, with cans of spray paint in hand, apologists for these events boldly stencil on the words COMMUNITY OUTREACH, and then walk away thinking that an event which has replaced the study of God’s Word is somehow promoting the Gospel. In our misguided attempt at reaching a community of non-believers we’ve succumbed to the market mentality notion of keeping the customer satisfied. While we’ve been given a divine opportunity to be truly counter-cultural and shine like a light on a hill in a world of darkness, we’ve taken to dimming said light as we go out of our way to join in the celebration with our culture.

          POSTSCRIPT: $370,000,000. That’s how much money we Americans, who happen to be in the midst of the Great Recession, spend on Halloween costumes for our… pets.

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            The "I" Word

            From an e-mail from Sojourners, with the subject "Tell the Associated Press to stop using the ‘I’ word":

            Dear Doug,

            Too often the media is part of the problem when it comes to changing the national debate on immigration. Following the standards set by the Associated Press Stylebook, journalists label undocumented immigrants as “illegal.” This dehumanizing term robs people of their dignity and prejudices readers against the needs and concerns of our immigrant brothers and sisters.

            Why stop there? We’re calling people who break other laws the same thing, and worse! "Criminals", "Offenders", "Perpetrators"! These dehumanizing terms rob those people of their dignity, too.

            Right?

            But then there’s, you know, the truth. People who break laws are doing something illegal, by definition. But for some reason, Sojourners would like to change the language for a specific type of law-breaker; those who break our immigration laws.

            As Proverbs 15:1 reminds us, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Ending the use of this controversial word by the media would create a more compassionate and accurate conversation about immigration. It is a small change that could make a huge difference. You can help make that happen.

            The truth will set you free, folks. And it will also allow us to have a reasonable discussion about the problem of illegal undocumented immigrants. If we can’t even agree on what you call someone who has broken the law, we can’t have an honest, compassionate, and, above all, accurate conversation.

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              The Culture War and Voting Patterns

              Religious folks who have traditionally voted Democrat are (finally) beginning to reconsider.

              For the first time since the black community’s political realignment with the Democrat Party in the 1960’s, a nationally prominent black Pastor has called on the black church community to leave the Democrat Party in a movement dubbed "EXODUS NOW!" Bishop E.W. Jackson’s call to "come out from among them" is apparently being heeded by many black Pastors and Christians across America and creating a stir in many churches. There is concern at the highest levels of the Democrat Party.

              And here.

              Bishop Thomas John Paprocki from Springfield, Illinois, is getting attention after making some strongly-worded comments about those Americans who opt to vote for President Barack Obama in November. In a column and video that was posted by Catholic Times, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Springfield, Paprocki targeted portions of the Democratic platform that “explicitly endorse intrinsic evils.” He also warned that supporting certain politicians could place peoples’ “eternal salvation…in jeopardy.”

              While he noted that it’s not his job to to tell people who do vote for, the faith leader said that he has a duty to speak out about moral issues. Despite his stated problems with the Democratic Party platform — the initial removal of God, its stance abortion and its support of gay marriage – Paprocki spoke relatively favorably of the Republican platform.

              If you hold to a particular religious belief, or even if you hold to none at all, whatever beliefs you have ought to inform your vote. No, this is not a case of some "religious test" that would be Constitutionally prohibited. The Constitution applies to government. The government cannot prohibit someone from running for office based on their religion. The people, however, are free to apply whatever standard each one wishes.

              And now we may be seeing the beginnings of something of a backlash to policy and platform decisions by Democrats. When people start to take their religion seriously, it could change the political landscape dramatically. It ought to.

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                Friday Link Wrap-up

                Hobby Lobby could be the next Chick-Fil-A. "Hobby Lobby Sues over HHS Mandate"

                Reverend William Owens from the Coalition Of African American Pastors in an interview with John Hawkins: "Again that’s the reason I took such a stand against President Obama. In every election, in every campaign where the marriage amendment has been on the ballot, blacks in large numbers have been against it and Americans have been against it. But he’s not interested in what the people want. He’s interested in what a few people who can give him big money want."

                I don’t usually link to Sojourner’s "God’s Politics" blog for good examples of political opinion, but their non-political item — a discussion on the recent "Gospel of Jesus’ Wife" discovery — is quite good. "Five Important Questions About That ‘Jesus Wife’ Discovery"

                "Antarctic sea ice set another record this past week, with the most amount of ice ever recorded on day 256 of the calendar year (September 12 of this leap year)." I blame global warming.

                UN Secretary General George Orwell Ban Ki Moon: "Freedoms of expression should be and must be guaranteed and protected, when they are used for common justice, common purpose," Ban told a news conference. "When some people use this freedom of expression to provoke or humiliate some others’ values and beliefs, then this cannot be protected in such a way."

                Bullying works. "The Christian-rooted fast food restaurant [Chick-filA] agreed to stop funding groups such as Focus on the Family that oppose same-sex marriage in a meeting with the Chicago politician who had been blocking the company’s move there."

                And finally, competing mottos (from Chuck Asay, click for a larger version):

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                  Can a Christian Vote For a Mormon?

                  Hat tip to Clayton Cramer, who links to a video of noted Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias. If you are having qualms about voting for a Mormon because of your Christian beliefs, this is a very good (short) video from one of the greatest Christian thinkers of our day.

                  Also, the AP is reporting that some black pastors are telling their congregations to sit this election out.

                  Some black clergy see no good presidential choice between a Mormon candidate and one who supports gay marriage, so they are telling their flocks to stay home on Election Day. That’s a worrisome message for the nation’s first African-American president, who can’t afford to lose any voters from his base in a tight race.

                  The pastors say their congregants are asking how a true Christian could back same-sex marriage, as President Barack Obama did in May. As for Republican Mitt Romney, the first Mormon nominee from a major party, congregants are questioning the theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its former ban on men of African descent in the priesthood.

                  I’ll say what I’ve said in previous elections. While I think a person’s value, informed by their religion, are something to consider when voting, I’m not voting for a national pastor; I’m voting for a national political leader. I think if these pastors could watch this video and get over their concern that Romney happens to be Mormon, this could really change the playing field.

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                    Don’t take it personal… it’s just business

                    Did you hear about that business in San Antonio that lost just about all it’s market share after it’s CEO left? Seems that under his lead he developed quite the brand following and, after he left, his successor couldn’t keep the company on par with the local competition.

                    Oh, did I mention that the “business” was a former megachurch? From MySA,

                    It once was a megachurch. Now the sale of its far North Side property has wiped away longstanding debt and sparked new optimism for reversing its sizable membership decline.

                    The congregation counted an estimated 3,000 members a decade ago but today reports that about 200 attend on Sundays. The church has a lease agreement with the new owner to worship there through 2013.

                    “We love the building, and it’s a great location,” said David Keith, lead elder. “We just didn’t have the overall congregation to support much of that building and its mortgage.”

                    Former senior pastor Peter Spencer, who founded the congregation in 1988, could not be reached for comment. Keith said membership losses coincided with his resignation in 2003.

                    Spencer “had quite a following,” Keith said. “Basically, once he left, it just wasn’t quite the same.”

                    John Cannon, former executive pastor, succeeded Spencer in 2003 and resigned last December, eventually taking a job as a commercial real estate agent.

                    The church is located along a stretch of Loop 1604 informally called “church row” for the many congregations fronting it, drawing members from fast-growing suburbs. Nearly 200,000 people live within a five-mile radius of Harvest Fellowship, according to its property listing, but the competition played a role in membership losses, church leaders said.

                    One of these days, and I think it will be in the near future, churches in America won’t have to worry about competition from other churches.

                    Also see: Christians Need to Stop Making Converts

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                      Can a Person of Faith Be a Democrat?

                      Given the events of the past 24 hours at the Democratic National Convention, this suddenly becomes a fair question. Yesterday, delegates went ballistic when party officials tried to reinsert previously omitted language about God and Israel into their platform. Needless to say this created some bad optics for the Democrats as well as creating news at their convention. This was such a grave unforced error it’s not clear yet how much damage has been done.

                      But taking this in conjunction with the party’s full fledged endorsement of abortion on demand (“The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.”) as well as the ongoing controversy over the HHS mandate regarding conception and suddenly you get the feeling that there is outright animus towards people of faith.

                      This is not necessarily new but never has it been more obvious. As John Hinderaker points outs, “The Democrats, bluntly put, have become the party of those who don’t go to church.” Although I would disagree with him over whether religious beliefs informs ones view of the issues of the day (it does) he is absolutely correct to suggest that the Democratic platform is in direct opposition to the values that Jews, Christians, and Catholics in particular hold.

                      This point is further illustrated in Al Mohler’s excellent essay on the stark worldview choices we are facing in this election.

                      All of this begs the question whether a devout Jew, Christian or Catholic can sincerely also identify themselves as a Democrat. I frankly can’t see how anyone can.

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                        Follow Up: Smashing the Charity Stereotypes

                        Way back in 2006, I blogged about how cheap Hollywood liberals thought we were as a country, and then noted a study by Arthur Brooks that showed that, the more conservative and/or religious you were, you gave more than the liberals complaining about how stingy we were. (Link goes to the archived version of "Stones Cry Out", before we converted to WordPress.)

                        Six years later, the trend has continued.

                        Red states give more money to charity than blue states, according to a new study on Monday.

                        The eight states with residents who gave the highest share of their income to charity supported Sen. John McCain in 2008, while the seven states with the least generous residents went for President Barack Obama, the Chronicle of Philanthropy found in its new survey of tax data from the IRS for 2008.

                        The eight states whose residents gave the highest share of their income — Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Idaho, Arkansas and Georgia — all backed McCain in 2008. Utah leads charitable giving, with 10.6 percent of income given.

                        And the least generous states — Wisconsin, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire — were Obama supporters in the last presidential race. New Hampshire residents gave the least share of their income, the Chronicle stated, with 2.5 percent.

                        “The reasons for the discrepancies among states, cities, neighborhoods are rooted in part in each area’s political philosophy about the role of government versus charity,” the study’s authors noted.

                        But it’s not just about politics — “religion has a big influence on giving patterns.”

                        This particular study only included taxpayers with incomes of $50,000 or more, so it didn’t factor in the poor, as the Brooks study did. Still, the results pretty much line up with his findings; the more conservative and/or religious you are — that is, the more you believe that charity is a personal issue — the more you put that belief into action. I would add that the more you think it’s the government’s issue, well then, the more you put that belief into action.

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                          Historical Accuracy of the Old Testament

                          Archeology keeps giving us reasons to believe that the history of Israel we find in the Old Testament is an actual account of real events rather than some epic storytelling of the period. Eric Metaxas, who shares the "Breakpoint Commentaries" duties since the death of Chuck Colson, explains.

                          The findings at Sorek [of an 11th century BC coin of a man with long hair fighting a large animal, suggesting that Samson-like men actually exited before the account in the Bible] are only the latest in a series of archaeological discoveries that are changing the way modern historians look at biblical narratives. It’s becoming more difficult for them to maintain that the narratives are pious fictions invented long after the era being depicted.

                          The most famous of these discoveries is the 1994 discovery of a stele in Tel Dan bearing an inscription that contained the words “House of David.” It was the first extra-biblical evidence of the Davidic dynasty. Prior to the discovery, many scholars doubted that David ever existed, much less founded a dynasty. The discovery was so out-of-line with expectations that more than a few insisted it must be a forgery.

                          Today, it is clear to even the most skeptical scholar that—surprise!—there really was a David who founded a ruling dynasty. That dynasty included his son, Solomon, and evidence of Solomon’s building projects described in Second Samuel have been found by archaeologists as well.

                          The Bible tells us about God because the events that it represents as historical are, indeed, historical. If they were fictional, they would tell us nothing about the nature of God any more than the story of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree tells us anything about Washington himself. Fictional stories do, indeed, help us explain concepts, but those concepts must pre-exist the story. First we must know what God is like, and we know what He is like by reading about what He did; not some fantasy of what He might have done given a particular situation. Once we know what God is like, fiction and parable are then useful.

                          So our understanding of God relies on the accuracy of the Bible. And archeology just keeps showing that to be true.

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                            Religious Rituals out of Thin Air

                            Apparently, that’s where the Norwegian government thinks they come from.

                            Now comes a suggestion from a Norwegian official called the “Ombudsman for Children in Norway” proposing that the ancient procedure be replaced by a “symbolic, nonsurgical ritual.” Apparently in Norway it is possible to create religiously meaningful rituals overnight, which is an insight into the understanding of religion in Norwegian public life. And Norway’s “Centre Party,” which is a member of the governing coalition, has just proposed that circumcision be outlawed entirely.

                            Something similar is happening in the US as well. Do governments not have enough to do, that they must bother Jews about a religious tradition handed down by God thousands of years ago?

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                              If You’re Going to Mock Christians…

                              …at least get your facts straight, both the current and the Biblical ones. Paul Wilson of the Media Research Center obliterates a Huffington Post piece by Domenick Scudera that was trying to take jabs at the Chick-Fil-A situation.

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