Month: October 2013
In a rare non-partisan move, the U.S. House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly to create a special envoy for religious freedom in South Central Asia and the Middle East, but the measure will go nowhere without help from the Senate and White House.
The legislation – drafted by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.) – was approved with 402 votes in favor and 21 Republicans and one Democrat against.The bill, if approved by the Senate, would create a special office within the State Department for an envoy who could become an advocate for religious minorities.
“Will a special envoy guarantee these communities’ survival and even flourishing? I do not know,” Wolf said in a speech before the House earlier this month. “But I am certain that to do nothing is not an option, lest on this administration’s and this Congress’s watch we witness a Middle East emptied of ancient faith communities, foremost among them the “Sunday People.”
The legislation is supported by many large religious groups in the U.S., including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the United Methodist Church, and the Southern Baptist Convention. Many Jewish and Muslim groups have also endorsed the legislation.
Wolf applauded those who voted for the legislation in a statement to FoxNews.com.
“I applaud my colleagues for voting for this bill, which sends an undeniable message to persecuted people of faith the world over, and just as importantly, to the forces that oppress them, that America – this shining city on a hill as envisioned by our founders – will not be silent in the face of the evil,” he said. “I urge the Senate to act swiftly and send this legislation to the president’s desk for signature. A special envoy for religious minorities is long overdue.”
The same piece of legislation was brought forward for a vote on Capitol Hill hill back in 2011 and was also passed by 402 votes but blocked when it moved on to the Senate for a vote. Critics fear that, without support from the White House, the Democrat-led Senate will once again let the bill die.
“Passage of this legislation comes at a critical time for religious minorities, especially in the Middle East. This new special envoy will give a new voice to the millions being persecuted for their faith — be it the Coptic Christians in Egypt, Christians like American pastor Saeed Abedini imprisoned in Iran, or countless others,” Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, told FoxNews.com.
The House vote comes as attacks against religious groups – Christians in particular – have risen sharply around the globe.
Last Sunday two suicide bombers attacked the historic All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan, killing 85 people.
According to recent reports, more than 40 churches and other Christian institutions and schools have been attacked in Egypt alone, with Coptic Christians targeted by Islamic extremists since Mohamed Morsi was ousted as president.
The guys behind the YouTube channel “Give Back Films” have posted this video of them distributing $100 bills to members of Salt Lake City’s homeless community. Though some may argue about the motives behind filming acts of charity, the video’s makers say, “We hope that by putting these videos on YouTube, some of you are inspired to go out and do the same type of things”
An elderly woman recently wrote a letter to the Pope, explaining a heartbreaking turn of events, in which she was mugged while on the way to a hospital to see her sick husband. Days later, the priest at her local church received his own letter—with the official seal of the Vatican. The envelope contained a check for $270 along with a message from Pope Francis’ new alms master Archbishop Konrad Krajewski that read, “Please deliver in the manner it deems appropriate, the relevant amount to the lady in question, that it is a gift of His Holiness, who offers her his apostolic blessing accompanied by desired aid and divine comfort for her and for her husband.” The priest was reportedly shocked by the personal gift, telling a local newspaper, “It’s an extraordinary series of events: Francis knows not only how to interact with people, communicating brilliantly and infusing them with great hope, but also responds to personal requests” …
Three months after my house arrest sabbatical, I realized I had a problem. I was stomach down on my living room floor with my laptop sprawled in front of my face, and I was desperate for something to read.
The problem was, I’d already read 14 articles, and it wasn’t even 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
I had to ask myself in that moment: what is so alluring about reading six different articles about Miley Cyrus and her downward spiral? Why am I reading a film review of Fast and Furious 6 when I decided at age 13, after seeing 2 Fast, 2 Furious, that I was too old for anything involving Paul Walker?
I realized after a little introspection that I was doing it for a number of complex reasons. It wasn’t so much about the content in these articles, video clips and GIF-addled lists, but the feeling of being in the know about something. It was about feeling smart and separate from the nonsense, as if reading about the vanities of artists and the vacuity Hollywood made me, in some way, above it all. All the information made me feel like I had a little more control of my place in a culture that’s becoming more confusing and disheartening every day.
And yet, where was I? On the floor, my nose buried in my newsfeed.
Please, don’t misunderstand this as a critique of technology, or of our excess of information. The problem is not that we have too many ways to waste time, but that we choose to waste it. When a glutton gorges himself on a pound of chocolate in a half- hour, you don’t blame the chocolate. You blame the glutton.
The problem is that our new excess of information and the infinite ways to access it makes consumption feel like action. And as Christians who are called to be “in the world but not of the world,” the pull is just as strong, if not stronger.
Our ability to critique secular culture from an arm’s lengths makes it easy to feel like we know absolutely everything about “that world out there”—that secular world—to know every bit of its brokenness, and just leave it there to fester.
This may seem hypocritical, since admittedly I’m adding yet another article to the swarm of online information, and I’m asking you to read it. My only hope is that these words inspire exactly what I think is the solution to our consumption epidemic: creativity.
Of course, the real solution is, and always will be, Christ. With any arising cultural conundrum, it’s of the utmost—no—it’s of eternal importance that our faith in God and His promises is the foundation of our solution. And it seems to me that this conundrum in particular—this tendency among young, social media-savvy evangelicals to consume information about the depravity of our culture like Cookie Monster at an Oreo Factory, only to belch out the same tired critiques—comes down to our understanding of the Kingdom of God and how it’s made.
As long as we’re standing in the space between Christ’s resurrection and His return, when his Kingdom will come fully, we have some responsibilities. While there is infinite cause for lament and for desperate cries of Christ’s return, Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God as something that is cultivated through our faithful, persistent work. Though we’re not responsible for its ultimate arrival, we are responsible for what N.T. Wright calls “building for God’s Kingdom:”
“What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future.”
You might have noticed that “tweeting” is suspiciously absent from that list. What we should note, however, is that Wright also leaves out “criticizing,” which is precisely what the saturation of information, and of ways to access it, welcomes and encourages.
Isn’t there more to building for God’s Kingdom than merely articulating what’s wrong with the crumbling shanty-town that is Pop Culture? Pointing out ugliness is easy. Making beauty is the hard part.
I think “building for God’s Kingdom,” if you’ll grant me the liberty of redefining our terms, is synonymous with what you could call creating a culture that reflects God’s Kingdom. And I believe people, both on an individual and a communal level, play a fundamental role in determining the presiding culture.
People make the choice to either to respond negatively to the images put out by the media, or decide to create, build and work toward better ones. And if the Holy Spirit and our knowledge of a loving, redeeming Creator drives us, how much greater is our power to influence the culture around us?
Yes, we should be wary of the dominating culture’s depravity, but what if we were so focused on creating and cultivating our own culture of goodness and beauty that we could finally see the riff raff for what it is, and no longer felt so threatened by it?
This isn’t about taking a social media fast or turning a blind eye to the sad things about our culture that need to change. It’s about reversing the flow of what media excess encourages so that we can more effectively build for God’s Kingdom. We need to create first and consume second.
We need people who know that making is always better than taking.
Our access to a million different viewpoints, images, and snippets of information threatens to turn us all into quasi-critics of everything and creators of nothing. And while there is a place for critics (see: Prophets), the last thing the Kingdom needs is a million not-so-good ones.
We need poets who write good poems, engineers who build sound bridges, bakers who make delicious bread. We need people who approach their work, play, and relationships like a fresco painter approaches the freshly erected walls of a sanctuary: with the care, passion and joy that comes with knowing his work will last into the coming of the Kingdom. We need people who know that making is always better than taking.
It’s easier than ever to devour every piece of insight and information on the Internet and mistake the feeling of oversaturation for satisfaction. But in the end, the only things that bring satisfaction are things where the sole purpose is the active worship of God.
So, if reading 15 articles a day is what it takes for you to get up and praise God with your mind and hands and words, then by all means, do that. But in my experience, gorging myself on data and online criticism never makes me want to love more or build anything at all. It just makes me a pseudo-expert in how and why things fall apart.
And if we’re truly “building for the Kingdom,” we should be far more concerned with how we can make things come together.
Today marks a strange and rare occurrence in America. The government is in a partial shutdown for the first time in nearly 18 years.
But you know this by now. At this point, there are few who don’t know that this is happening. However, many don’t fully understand what it means. Life has continued on for most as it always has. But life has come to a stand still for many of the 800,000 “non-essential” government workers who were told to go home or not come in today.
The bickering on Capitol Hill is disturbing despite which side your find yourself on for the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare” as it has become known. This is an embarrassment on a global scale. Even Syria, in the midst of a civil war, has continued to pay its bills. This is not a time of great pride in our great country.
We can respond in a way that shows this country, this world, the love of God.
Despite all of this, a unique opportunity has arisen for Christians everywhere. We can respond in a way that shows this country, this world, the love of God.
This time can activitate the giving heart of the Church. Many local Bodies are ahead of the curve in this, but others have no idea where to start. Many people are confused and unsure of what’s next, but the Church has an unfailing hope. We should always show it, but it’s in times like these where something beautiful can awaken in those who know Jesus and in those who do not know Jesus.
Here are 4 ways for us as Christians, as the Church, to respond to the shutdown:
Pray for the leaders of this country and the people who are hurt by this
This should be the no. 1 action on every Christian’s “list” right now. This should be continuous for us. We need to ask God to intervene in the lives of the men and women who will not agree. We need to ask God to intervene in the lives of the people who are hurt by that lack of agreement.
We all have opinions, and that is great. That is a wonderful part of humanity. What cannot happen, though, especially in the Church, is for the opinions to cause disunity among us and cause us to ignore what it seems is currently being ignored in Washington: People.
Ask your local church if there is anything you can do for those in need
Giving is, at times, sacrificial. We cannot be so materialistic that we look at what we have and not want to give to the one who has none. Sometimes, God even asks us to give all we have to the one who has none. And at a time when people will be going to work without any guarantee of pay, there is an opportunity for some of us to offer help.
It is so important to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, because He tells us what makes sense to God, not us.
The leaders in your local church should have a solid grasp of the general needs of your community. If they don’t, find a local church that does have a good grasp of those needs and ask what you can give/do.
Being a pastor, I see that our local body often has more needs come to our attention than the provisions to meet those needs. This isn’t completely out of sheer number, it’s also because of the poverty mentality that so many of us possess. The concept of giving or helping is so foreign to so many. We have to open our eyes to the needs around us. The pleasure of helping others is something that we can ALL do.
You can give resources, pastors can put you to work, or you can be given tips and advice on how to help those around you. If the shutdown continues, those government employees on furlough may need financial assistance, and even if it doesn’t, they could probably use your encouragement and support.
Don’t wait for your local church or community organization to organize something
I know this kind of contradicts what is written above, but hear me out. Sometimes, we really embrace being sheep. Whether it is witnessing, social justice or even fun, we generally wait for someone else to organize something.
This isn’t completely terrible. Some people have no idea where to start. In that case, yes, contact these places to see what is happening. However, do not ignore the fact that the very best weapon against the injustices around you is you.
Some local churches will definitely have a good handle on the general needs of the community. But you also have a great handle on the needs around you. You have family, friends and neighbors that a local body doesn’t always know about.
Don’t wait to see what organizations are doing. Don’t say to yourself, “Someone should do something to help.” The Church is people, not a place. You are the Church. Go help the people around you.
What we can do is not simply rise to a national occasion of need, but always be available to meet needs.
Don’t let this be isolated
Needs will always be around. Jesus said that we’ll always have the poor with us. It’s the nature of being on this planet.
What we can do is not simply rise to a national occasion of need, but always be available to meet needs. In any time of uncertainty, the Church should be at the forefront of helping and offering hope. Not simply for publicity, but because it’s what we should have been doing all along.
We should always be helping meet needs. Let this time of uncertainty be a wakeup call to understand that we are not to rise to the occasion like it’s some special thing. There is always an occasion. There are always needs. If you do something during this time, don’t let the next public crisis be the next time you do something.
We are the Church, and we should bring hope to the world. Whether that is salvation or meeting a need, don’t see it as simply “rising to the occasion” right now. Do what we should have been doing all along: Loving people.
The only people that we truly need in our lives are those who respect us and want us enough to be in theirs. Living life to try to live up to someone else’s standards is not only degrading to ourselves, but it also puts our mental freedom in the hands of a person who could care less about whether we are free or not. In order to avoid situations such as these, we have to be strong, and smart enough to recognize the people who don’t really care about us when it comes down to it.
If someone doesn’t show you the same love that you show them and acts as if you are unimportant at most times, this may be a big clue as to the fact that you don’t need them in your life. Be wise in your decisions on who to love, and be sure that the people that you love, and that you would be there for, would be there for you as well when you need it.
Psalm 77:3 (The Message)
remember God – and shake my head. I bow my head – then wring my hands.
New International Version (NIV)
3 I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.[a]
I wonder how many of us have ever been over critical and missed a blessing of God? Psychologists define attitudes as a learned tendency to evaluate things in a certain way. This can include evaluations of people, issues, objects or events. Such evaluations are often positive or negative, but they can also be uncertain at times. For example, you might have mixed feelings about a particular person or issue.
Researchers also suggest that there are several different components that make up attitudes.
1.An Emotional Component: How the object, person, issue or event makes you feel.
2.A Cognitive Component: Your thoughts and beliefs about the subject.
3.A Behavioral Component: How the attitude influences your behavior.
Attitudes can also be explicit and implicit. Explicit attitudes are those that we are consciously aware of and that clearly influence our behaviors and beliefs. Implicit attitudes are unconscious, but still have an effect on our beliefs and behaviors.
I remember a mother of a church I once attended by the name of Mary Smith. She went to church one Sunday morning and winced when she heard the organist play a wrong note during the processional. She also couldn’t help but notice that the alter bouquets were looking wilted. She felt the usher passing the offering plate was scrutinizing what every person put in, which made her angry. To top it all off, the preacher made at least five grammatical errors in his sermon. After the closing hymn, as she thought, What a careless group of people!
Amy Jones went to church one Sunday morning and was thrilled by the arrangement of “A Mighty Fortress” that was performed. Her heart was touched at hearing a teenager read the morning Scripture lesson. She was delighted to see the church take up an offering to help hungry children in Nigeria. In addition, the preacher’s sermon answered a question that had been bothering her for some time. During the recessional, she felt radiant joy from the choir members. She left the church thinking, What a wonderful place to worship God!
Mary and Amy went to the same church, on the same Sunday morning. Which service would you have attended? Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I an thankful that thorns have roses. I believe the whole word of God. I especially like the introduction of the New testament that depicts the essential Christ and His finished work that has given us every spiritual gift in heavenly places.
Have you ever reflected on your actions and discovered that they go completely against everything you’ve always stood for? Its difficult to have the words we say and the things we do always be a positive reflection of our values and convictions. In my experience, it does not just happen naturally once you state your guiding principles in a vision or mission statement. Rather, it takes dedication, discipline, and hard work to stay faithful to what you believe in and hold true. What do we do then when we find our actions do not match our beliefs?
This week I was reading the book of Jonah, a story in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) written almost 800 years before Jesus arrived on the scene in Israel. The book begins with a situation similar to the one I described above. Jonah negatively reacts to a message from God and find himself acting in a way that completely contradicts his values and calling as a prophet of God. Because of his actions he risked loosing both his credibility as messenger of God and his God-given calling. I believe the book provides four lessons on how to approach a situation where your actions and beliefs are at war with each other.
Consider these four lessons from Jonah’s struggle:
1.Don’t run from the fact that you are struggling to do the right thing. There is no shame in this type of struggle. In fact, this type of struggle helps you gain clarity around your convictions and the behaviors that support them.
2.Seek help. How you do this is up to you. Hopefully, you have a small group of people you trust for support and wise counsel. If you don’t, then do what Jonah did and pray. No matter where you are at in your relationship with the Almighty, He always wants to hear from you and help you.
3.Remember you were created for a purpose and a calling. Sometimes we lose site of the fact that each of us has been given amazing gifts and talents to serve others. When we use those special gifts and talents we don’t need to worry so much about the outcome or struggle because we know if we are true to ourselves and our calling, our actions will be blessed.
4.Rejoice in your freedom to choose. What an amazing gift is free will and to live in a country where we have the ability to make personal choices based on our beliefs. Give thanks for this opportunity.
If you are struggling with a decision or behavior that does not align with your core beliefs, don’t give up or lose hope. Remember these lessons from Jonah and start making the small decisions to help you stay true to your beliefs. As always, I’m here to help…
1 Kings 19:12
The Message (MSG)
11-12 Then he was told, “Go, stand on the mountain at attention before God. God will pass by.”
A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.
The reason many of us do not know and understand God better is that we do not heed His gentle “checks”–His delicate restraints and constraints. His voice is “a gentle whisper.” A whisper can hardly be heard, so it must be felt as a faint and steady pressure upon the heart and mind, like the touch of a morning breeze calmly moving across the soul. And when it is heeded, it quietly grows clearer in the inner ear of the heart.
God’s voice is directed to the ear of love, and true love is intent upon hearing even the faintest whisper. Yet there comes a time when His love ceases to speak, when we do not respond to or believe His message. “God is love”(1 John 4:8). and if you want to know Him and His voice, you must continually listen to His gentle touches.
So when you are about to say something in conversation with others, and you sense a gentle restraint from His quiet whisper, heed the restraint and refrain from speaking. And when you are about to pursue some course of action that seems perfectly clear and right, yet you sense in your spirit another path being suggested with the force of quiet conviction, heed that conviction. Follow the alternative course, even if the change of plans appears to be absolute folly from the perspective of human wisdom.
Also learn to wait on God until He unfolds His will before you. Allow Him to develop all the plans of your heart and mind, and then let Him accomplish them. Do not possess any wisdom of your own, for often His performance will appear to contradict the plan He gave you. God will seem to work against Himself, so simply listen, obey, and trust Him, even when it appears to be the greatest absurdity to do so. Ultimately,” we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28), but many times, in the initial stages of the performance of His plans:
In His own world He is content To Play a losing game.
Therefore if you desire to know God’s voice, never consider the final outcome or the possible results. Obey Him even when He ask you to move while you still see only darkness, for He Himself will be a gracious light within you. Then there will quickly spring up within your heart a knowledge of God and a fellowship with Him, which will be overpowering enough in themselves to hold you and Him together, even in the most severe test and under the strongest pressures of life.
I feel like an authoritarian on this matter due to all the time I could have avoided the various obstacles I have endured because of my inability to welcome God’s spirit to lead me through the challenges I have had to face in this life. I want you to honor His presence by way of my testimony. I hope this will help someone to get to know Him for the God, Protector, Provider He wants to be in your life. Please welcome Him into your heart and experience Him without the pains He doesn’t intend for you to go through.