Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Who is God?

Pastor Harrison in his book Christ, Have Mercy has an amazing chapter which is given mostly over to a story about Lutherans living in Kenya. The Kenyan peoples have been hit not only by poverty, but by AIDS. The images, sights and sounds which Pastor Harrison recalls as he tells the story of helping to build an orphanage near a Lutheran parish in the slums are simply amazing. I wish I could reprint it for you here. But I can't. What I can do is talk about why the story about the poor orphans of the AIDS crisis is so important and powerful, especially to the ears of Christians. It's the same reason Pastor Harrison told the story: “Before doing, mercy is about who God is.”

Sometimes as Americans, living in a culture which still feeds off the dregs of a thousands years of Christian influence, we might begin to think that having mercy upon those who are suffering is only natural. But it's not. A few weeks in the slums of India – where their ancient religion actually teaches that sick and poor people of the lower castes not only deserve what they have, but that if you help them, you deserve it too – will quickly highlight how much the Christian idea of charity has influenced the western world. But even charity, left to itself, will quickly become a wasted breath and an empty ideal. I have met atheists and Darwinians who insist that “love is my religion” – not exactly a natural outcome of “survival of the fittest.” And I have met pop-philosophers who say, “Don't push your morality on me,” unwittingly insisting in one phrase that 1. There is no morality and 2. I need to submit to their standard of morality, which amounts to my not disagreeing with anything they say.

The hinge of difficulty is that no moral ideals make any sense in a survival of the fittest, dog-eat-dog, no-future-but-death world. But God changes all that.

Keep reading at St. John Posts.

Around the Horn - A Bit of News that Probably Didn't Make the Papers

Not the Model Idea – A recent March for Life in Amsterdam caused a great deal of uproar in the press due to the photograph of a small fetal model which was then pictured on the front of a Dutch Christian paper. The model represented a fetus at 10 weeks of age, showing actual length and weight. When news got out that these models were going to be distributed freely to homes, the plan was loudly condemned as “hurtful to women”. The plan was deemed “aggressive” and “highly improper.” Currently there are 100 abortions every day in the Netherlands.

Pressing Pause– The Presbyterian Church USA, the most liberalized Presbyterian denomination in America, has voted in convention to refrain from ordaining active homosexuals. This surprising exercise of caution by a denomination that often prides itself on being on the cutting edge of the cultural waves came by only a slight majority against the motion on the floor to delete language from the Book of Order, which sets guidelines for the body.

God Can Go To School in Tennessee – A federal judge recently reversed the ruling of a Tennessee elementary school which banned posters advertising the “National Day of Prayer.” District Judge Robert L. Echols' injunction came against Lakeview Elementary School in Mt. Juliet. The principal of the school had insisted that Bible verses and phrases such as “In God we trust,” needed to be covered up before the advertisements could be displayed. The lawsuit filed on behalf of parents claimed an infringement of their First and Fourth Amendment rights. Judge Echols cited previous Supreme Court and appeals court rulings as precedent in the decision.

Whatever You Do, Don't Abstain– The proposed Budget from President Obama will eliminate all federal funding for abstinence education in public schools, focusing instead on the promotion of condoms and contraception. More than $100 million will be cut from previous abstinence education plans to create a new $110 million “teen pregnancy prevention initiative.” Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association responded to the press with confusion. The move is “completely eliminating a choice for those states and those communities [who want to teach abstinence.]”

More next week. (Source: The Fellowship of St. James, www.touchstonemag.com)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pentecost 8 - Ephesians 3


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Redefining Mercy

Language is kind of a silly thing. It's not particularly stable. Cultures and contexts often take in words and gradually change their meaning. While what the word describes never actually changes, the word itself does. For example, take the word “cool.” The word “cool” used to only have one dominant meaning: something was cold. But now, the word cool is used far more often, if not exclusively, to mean “groovy,” or “neat.” Things are still groovy, but they are not called groovy. They are called “cool.” Things are still cool, but they are not called cool very often. They are called “cold.”

I believe this instability of our language has happened in some very destructive ways within Christianity, and no where more has the meaning of a word been stolen from us than in the word “mercy.”

Mercy, biblically speaking, is not “caring for poor and sick people”....

Continue reading "Redefining Mercy" at St. John Posts

Around the Horn – A Bit of News that Probably Didn't Make the Papers

Early Retirement – The Right Reverend Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali, bishop of Rochester, England, has stepped down from his position nearly a decade before the usual age of retirement. In a public release statement, he announced that he will devote his time to defending people being persecuted for their Christian beliefs inside the United Kingdom. A converted Muslim since age 20, he sees the most immediate threats posed by the incursion of radical Islam into the United Kingdom through emigration, which has now resulted in virtual “no-go” zones of cities and neighborhoods for non-Muslims.

Tough Love in Truth – After recent comments by the Pope regarding abstinence and the spread of AIDS in Africa, Africa's bishops have publicly expressed their support for the Roman Church's position, affirming the Pope. Insisting that condoms are not the solution for fighting AIDS in Africa has drawn a great deal of “bad press” for the Vatican, especially from the Western media. But “Pope Benedict's position on condom use is not new,” Cardianl Polycarp Pengo, archbishop of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, said. “He was only reaffirming the Church's position.” The best way to fight AIDS is “a responsible moral attitude toward sex...fidelity in marriage, chastity and abstinence....”

Your Turn – Dr. Philip Nitschke, an Australian proponent of Euthanasia (or the act of “mercy killing”) is now promoting the sale of a home-suicide kit. It's release has drawn widespread criticism, and has resulted in an invitation to speak at a debate hosted by the Oxford Union being withdrawn. Nitschke's organization, “Exit International” runs regular workshops advising people on “how” to commit suicide, and he has published a book (now banned in his home country of Australia,) called The Peaceful Pill. According to one study done by Queen Mary University of London, a full one-third of British doctors are in favor of physician-assisted suicide. One opinion article released in response warned that “the right to die” will always and soon become “the duty to die.”

Don't Move There – According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), seven new countries will be added to the list of those who violate religious freedom, stating that Nigeria be listed as a “country of particular concern.” Others added to the “watch list,” include Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajkistan, Turkey and Venezuela. Already on the list but not “of particular concern” were Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt and Indonesia, while Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam received the most negative ratings.

Kill the Baby, Catch the Rapist – In a recent rape case in Argentina, police retained pieces of the newly aborted baby in order to use in comparing DNA with suspects in the case. Interestingly, a lawyer offered to adopt the child, stirring up a great deal of controversy. The mother herself is considered mentally retarded and under the care of her parents, who were the ones responsible for the decision to abort. Although abortions are technically illegal in Argentina, there is an exclusion in the cases of the mentally disabled who are raped.

More next week. (Source: The Fellowship of St. James, www.touchstonemag.com)

Pentecost 7 - Ephesians 2

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wisdom and Hope Summer Sessions

Wisdom and Hope Summer Session on Acts


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Around the Horn - A Bit of News that Probably Didn't Make the Papers, 7/14

Exporting Abortion – This last year Amnesty International, a “human rights” organization helped organize and lead protests in Mexico City and Madrid denouncing the Mexican government for refusing to require physicians to perform abortions. The law on the books under question does not outlaw abortion, but protects the rights of individual doctors to act according to their own consciences. Alberto Herrera Aroagon, Amnesty International's representative, claims that Mexico is violating international treaties which require abortion be made available. For many years, Amensty International took no official position on abortion, but ever since 2007 they have become proactive in support of in utero infanticide as a basic “human right.”

Don't Feed the Children – A court in Uzbekistan has sentenced Pavel Nenno, deacon of a baptist congregation, to 15 days in prison for feeding neglected children from poor families in his home, which was considered unregistered “children's religious activity.” In another local parish, 17 people were fined substantial amounts of money (more than a year's salary) following a secret police raid on a birthday party for a member. The reasons for the fines were cited as religious activities at a location other than the congregation's “registered address.” In both cases, “children's religious activity” was the primary citation for the harsh fines and imprisonment.

Mass Development – Recent studies have shown that parents who take their children regularly to Mass in Roman Catholic churches are more likely to see their children continue attending as adults. The report finds that a primary element in whether a person remains a Roman Catholic is whether or not they attended weekly as a child and as a teenager. It states, “Adolescence is a critical time in religious development and, as the poll shows, what happens in the teen years has a long-lasting effect.” The study also reveals that Rome has a 68% retention rate, which is significantly higher than most other denominations. Interestingly, this study comes a time when Protestant churches increasingly insist that children are too young to learn from liturgical services and need their own “special” forms of “children's church” to learn the faith.

They Will Know We Are Christians by our Hate Crimes – There is concern that recent legislation to extend hate crimes protection to homosexuals and transgendered individuals could be used by the government to restrict religious freedom in the United States, as is already being done in Canada and some European countries. Members of the House of Representatives warned that the bill's impact would make both sexual orientation, as well as cross-dressing, the equivalent of “race, religion and national origin.” “This bill proposes to prosecute someone based on their belief,” said Barrett Duke, VP for public policy for the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

No More God For You – Britain, a country which has operated with socialized medicine ever since World War II, heard calls from the public to cease payment for hospital chaplains. “People are shocked to learn that chaplaincy services are costing the hard-pressed [public funds] more than 40 million pounds a year,” Keith Porteous Wood, chief executive of the National Secular Society, said in an interview. Rev. Chris Swift, former president of the College of Health Care Chaplains, a multi-faith government office, told the BBC in response that Wood's report was based on “erroneous and simplistic assumptions.” Terry Anderson, President of the NSS, commented, “We are not asking for an end to chaplaincy services, but we are asking that the taxpayer not be made responsible for funding them.”

More next week. (Source: The Fellowship of St. James, www.touchstonemag.com)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pentecost 6 - Ephesians 1


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

God has a Vision for His Church - It's Jesus

Vision” is a word that gets used a lot today. It gets used in the business world, it gets used in politics, and, many times, it gets used in the Church. Church marketing and the “Church Growth Movement” (which is a real a philosophical movement with a large body of literature) go to great pains to convince pastors and congregations that their future exists in, with and under their “vision.”

And they're right.

Without the right vision the Church will most definitely perish. Defined is a unifying idea, message or image to which, through which and from which all a community's life and efforts flow. And God has promised us in his holy Word that His vision for His Church will be the indefatigable standard around which the armies of his faithful sons and daughters will flock. As St. Peter writes, “It stands in Scripture, 'Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.' ... You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people. But now, you are God's people. Once you had not received mercy. But now, you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2)

Loud and clear, God has a Vision for his Church: It's Jesus, the Christ, and him crucified for the forgiveness of all of your sins – and not only yours, but the sins of the entire world. As sojourners and exiles in this world of passions and flesh, his people have one focus: to rest in and trust that cornerstone to hold them steadfast against the war which rages in our world and against our souls.

There is a danger, however, in the word “vision,” – something which we must be well aware of. When the philsophical movement which is the “Church Growth Movement” speaks about “vision,” it speaks of something very different from all that Scripture says. There is much misplaced theology behind their reasonings, but the long and short of it can be summed up in this way: When the Church Growth philosophy uses the term “vision” it does not mean God's Vision, but our goals.

Now, there is nothing wrong with goals. In fact, we will need to be setting strong goals at St. John, based on God's Vision for us in Jesus. But goals, even good ones, are not a “vision.” They serve the Vision. They will pass away with time, but by our pursuing them, it is our hope that the Vision will remain among us – just as Dr. Luther writes in the Small Catechism: “God's Name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven!

From the regular Enews In the Name of Jesus, available at St. John Posts

Around the Horn – A Bit of News that Probably Didn't Make the Papers

A Murdered Baby – February 6th of this year, the Florida Board of Medicine revoked the medical license of Pierre Renelique, an abortionist who neglected to show up for a scheduled late-term abortion in July of 2006. As a result of his absence, clinic workers delivered a live 23-week-old baby girl, and then proceeded to stash the living child in a trash bag on the roof. Police, working on an informant's tip, were able to recover the dead body. Autopsy revealed that she had air in her lungs, and was therefore born alive. A second autopsy revealed that human action, presumably taken by the clinicians, was the cause of death.

Kicked Out of School – Lawsuit has been filed against Eastern Michigan University on behalf of a graduate student who was dismissed from counseling studies after her religious beliefs about homosexuality became apparent. The suit alleges that the civil rights of Julea Ward have been violated. When Ward was asked to counsel a client wishing to discuss a homosexual relationship, she followed her supervisor's instructions by referring the client to another counselor. In spite of her obedience, she was released from studies. After losing her appeal to the dean of the school, the case is now being brought to civil court.

Martin Luther, Roman Catholic Saint? – Reverend Gunther Gassmann, director of the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission, is asserting “ecumenical” pressure on the Roman Catholic Church to declare that it's excommunication of Martin Luther no longer applies. He believes that “in these ecumenically less exciting times...[it] would be a remarkable step and sign of hope.” While lecturing in Rome at the Centro Pro Unione, he claimed, “this changed evaluation of Martin Luther...would have an enormous impact....”

The Russians and the Pope on Contraception – A senior Russian Orthodox official has publicly backed recent remarks made by Pope Benedict XVI on the use of contraception to combat AIDS. “Virtually everyone in our church shares the opinion that a person's moral upbringing and the propagation of Christian values are the best way to avoid the spread of AIDS,” the Reverend Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchate said.

Atheist Pastor – Two regional parishes in the Netherlands have elected to take no disciplinary actions against a self-proclaimed “atheist pastor,” Klaas Hendrikse. Published in the Nederlands Dagblad, church authorities said that disciplinary proceedings would lead to “a protracted discussion about the meanings of words that in the end will produce little clarity.”

More next week. (Source: The Fellowship of St. James, www.touchstonemag.com)

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Pentecost 5 - 2 Cor. 12


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