Monday, January 28, 2013

STILL ALIVE: ABORTED INFANTS WHO WOULDN'T DIE

Meet Jeremiah McCloud.

Jeremiah was not supposed to be born. Four years ago his mother (over four months pregnant) walked into an abortion clinic in Michigan and left believing she was no longer carrying a child. One month later she discovered she would soon have a baby boy. The broken down clinic and it's doctor have apparently been under investigation for quite some time for multiple issues. The clinic is now closed.

July 17, 2009, Jeremiah was born. His mother says, "I look at my child. I love my child," she said. "He's a baby that I wasn't really expecting to have, but I love my baby."

Read more about Jeremiah's story HERE.


Meet Gianna Jessen.

When she was twelve years old her parents explained to her why she suffered from cerebral palsy and why she was adopted. Gianna's teenage biological mother had her baby girl aborted by saline injection when she was over seven months pregnant (April 6, 1977), but Gianna survived and the doctor who was attempting to end the infant's life ended up signing the baby's birth certificate. Over the years, this young woman had become a strong pro-life voice, and quite an athlete. She has also forgiven her birth mother.

"It's more comfortable for people to think of abortion as a political decision, or a right," Miss Jensen says. "Gently I put the question, if abortion is about women's rights, then where were mine?"

Read about Gianna's story HERE.


 

Meet Josiah Presley.

At two months pregnant, a young woman in South Korea went to have her baby aborted. "As it turned out," Josiah said, "the abortion had failed." In other words, he was still alive. After being carried to term, Josiah was adopted by a family in the US. He is now a teenager who loves life, and speaks up for life. He says there is no reason to worry as to whether a child will be adopted. "Trust me," he says, "they will be adopted. My adopted family has twelve children, ten of which were adopted."

Read Josiah's story in his own words HERE.

 
Did you know that there are politicians who have voted AGAINST protecting those babies who were BORN ALIVE during abortion?

Listen to these 911 conversations regarding an abortion gone bad (as if there is a "good" abortion). Something has gone terribly wrong, and notice how evasive and secretive the employees are regarding the issues as they speak to the 911 operator. Note that they request "no sirens or lights" when the ambulance arrives. Note the suppressed surprise of the 911 operator as she learns that the ambulance is sent to assist someone at a "health clinic" who at that very moment is already being "treated" by a doctor.

It seems we hear of more and more horror stories of babies born alive and tossed out as trash merely because they were unwanted (read about baby Shanice HERE) . Technology has advanced to the point that "viable" and "unviable" births are no longer clearly distinguished. These are human babies. Not blobs of flesh.

There are countless websites for expectant parents, showing them what their infants look like in the womb at every stage. They know when their babies develop toes, eyes, ears and fingernails. They know when their baby's heart is beating. They know when their tiny infant is bouncing about within his or her mother for the sheer joy of living. The time is long past that people can claim ignorance.

These are babies.

Monday, January 21, 2013

TV ANGEL PRODUCES TV BIBLE

Roma Downey, America's most famous angel (actress from the "Touched by an Angel" TV series), and her TV producer husband, Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Voice, The Apprentice), have produced a miniseries based on the Bible, called (creatively enough) "The Bible."

The 10-hour series will air on the History Channel. Unlike other History Channel shows, this will not be a documentary with occasional talking heads interspersed between live action scenes with no-name actors in historical garb. This is a drama.



The series will include the best CG effects, recognizable actors (Downey herself will star as Mary, mother of Jesus), famous music artists and songwriters, and impressive film sets.

Billy Hallowell of The Blaze said, "It was fascinating to hear both Burnett and Downey highlight the importance of on-set prayer circles and their connections to God in helping to move the project along. Considering the long, five-month overseas filming process and the many Biblical details that were needed to take viewers through the world’s most impactful story, some would argue that connection to a higher power was a must-have." Read the rest of his article.

The Bible has always been a source of entertainment, as well as religious instruction. What Bible believers will want to know is whether the series is "true" to the Bible. This is always relative to one's interpretation or biblical stance, but I never expect anything that comes from the entertainment industry to accurately reflect my faith.

The series appears to be marketed to the widest possible audience, but I expect they are counting on the Christian community for the bulk of their viewers. The series on DVD can already be preordered on amazon.com, and one will also find accompanying books for children and adults.

Prediction: look for a Bible study plan based on the series. If the producers have any marketing savvy at all regarding the Christian market, they already have someone creating materials for church use in Sunday School classes and/or sermon series. Roma Downey's fame as a TV "angel" will certainly be one sharp marketing tool they will be counting on. (Just after writing this, I found that they already have such materials available.) She and her husband have been working on a few different spiritually focussed projects of late, consistent with Downey's stated desire "to spend the second act of my life doing projects that openly honor and glorify God."

As for me, I'll be watching and I hope you do as well. What I enjoy most with these endeavors is the visualization – the creative interpretations of costumes, historical settings and daily life in ancient cultures that add to my own creative imagination as I come back to the most important Book again and again.

More on the series from The Blaze.

Read a short interview with Roma Downey.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

FORMER BELIEVERS AND FORMER ATHEISTS

This week National Public Radio is highlighting the stories of atheists in their week-long series, "Losing My Religion." This is the kind of thing I expect from NPR. While the series itself doesn't bother me (I enjoy listening to anyone talking seriously about issues of faith), what I find puzzling is that they would consider the idea of losing one's faith to be worthy of a week-long series. Today's installment was interesting, focusing on an "interfaith" couple. She is a Christian oncology nurse (as is my wife), coming from a long line of pastors, and he is an atheist who occasionally goes to church with her. It is an interesting story and respectfully done. You can read/listen to it HERE, and there are links to the other stories in the series.

But what I find interesting is the idea of NPR ever doing such a story on people who were atheists coming to faith. This would never happen. (NPR - please prove me wrong.) There are many such stories out there. Below you will find a review of a book I just became aware of, written by a homicide detective who was a vocal religious skeptic:

Cold-Case Christianity: A Detective Investigates the Jesus Story | Overflow

J. Warner Wallace "is a cold-case homicide detective who dedicated much of his career to solving homicides that had been left unsolved many years.... Wallace was at one time an atheist who had been challenged with the claims of the gospels. As he began to read the Bible and consider its claims, he realized that Christianity was much like the cases he solved as a detective. He saw that there was evidence and there were eyewitnesses and records that could be weighed and considered. He used the skills and disciplines he had learned as a detective and brought them to bear on the Bible and on the Christian faith. He came to see that the case for Christianity was as strong as any case he would bring before a judge."

You can read more about Mr. Wallace, his spiritual journey and his message on his two websites: HERE and HERE.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

CONFESSION - SERMON ENHANCING DRUGS

Okay, folks – major confession time. For more years than I care to admit, I've been using performance-enhancing substances in my preaching. In fact, for most of my best sermons I was under the influence of homiletical-sermonic steroids. To be specific, I found that I could not meet my personal standards without high doses of hagios pneumatos or euangelion (usually taken in combination).

I am fully dependent upon them now. I honestly cannot see myself changing anytime soon, but after all the speculation I had to tell someone. I just needed to come clean.

Does anyone have Oprah's number?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

CHURCH -- AN UNUSED ALLY FOR PARENTS

After the most recent shootings, the talk of prevention has increased all the more – as it should. Everyone should be involved in the nationwide conversation, and also involved in doing whatever can be done to prevent more nightmarish tragedies.

This is not just an issue for politicians, safety officers, educators and mental health workers. It is an American issue, and that includes churches, coaches, volunteer groups, community clubs, neighbors and parents. But it should start with parents.

An unfortunate by-product of our school system and public services is that many parents depend on these institutions to "fix" their children. Our nation's schools and public mental health systems do not have the resources to effectively address every child's issues. They are not designed to do that. Parents must use every opportunity available to positively shape their children's values, attitudes and worldview from an early age.

I got an anonymous call from a desperate single mother concerned about her teenage son. She came home from work and found him involved in a harmful activity that she could not tolerate in her home. He stormed off, threatening never to come back – a threat he made several times before. My heart went out to her, but I told her that it sounded like his problems should have been addressed a long time ago.

She did not want to hear that. I don't blame her. I recommended family counseling as soon as possible. Their issues called for something far beyond any friendly advice from a minister. I could listen to her, pray for her, sympathize with her, but I could not offer her anything that would change her son with one anonymous phone call. It was far too late for that.

The struggling, heartbroken mother was likely not satisfied with my answer. I was not the first pastor she spoke to. She called me, she said, because she did not like what she heard from the pastor she spoke to moments before, and I have a feeling a third pastor got a phone call shortly after she hung up with me. However, these problems don't happen overnight, and whether it is a health problem, family problem, spiritual problem, the saying holds true that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Of the preventative treatments for spiritual ills, I don't have anything new to offer. I believe in the basics: Bible study, prayer, fellowship, worship and Christian service. Most of our spiritual problems result from neglecting one or more of these basics of Christian growth.

I'm not saying that prayer and Bible study will resolve any particular mental health issue. In fact, some people are frustrated when I refer them to mental health professionals, thinking that I should be able to "fix" them with a prayer and a Bible verse. But I do know this: the more positive influences young people have from an early age, the better off they are when problems arise. Whatever the explanation, there has long been a statistically undeniable correlation between religious practice and greater emotional health.

Sunday school teachers are also role models, and can give you additional helpful insights about your children's behavior and attitude from an early age – but only if your children or grandchildren are consistently in their classrooms. Churches also have the added help of intergenerational relationships. One junior high kid told me he loved talking to a certain gentleman at church because the elderly man always asked him about his football team and kept up with the young man's progress, encouraging him to do his best.

Call me idealistic, but when a sweet old church lady gives a weekly hug to a young girl who feels like an outsider in her world, nothing but good can come of that. I've seen cynical kids brighten up and find purpose when they are involved in a service project at church for younger children or homebound adults. Positive peer groups make a difference in the lives of teens.

The positive influences that are waiting for your children at a nearby church are too numerous to here, and that is just one more way parents can be vigilant about raising their children with love, healthy values and respect for others. And when children are involved in several healthy social activities from an early age, warnings signs and unhealthy patterns are more likely to be identified earlier, giving parents more options, more opportunities for assistance, and more reason to hope.

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See this article citing several studies  regarding the positive impact of church invovlement on such things as violence, crime, mental and physical health.

Read this summary of a study on the positive impact of church invovlement for African American girls.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

THE 'NONES' ARE STILL SEARCHING

When the Pew Research Center released their new study on the religious views of Americans last October, nonbelievers rejoiced and believers were aghast. According to an article in TIME Magazine shortly after the report was released, neither response was warranted.

"But both responses—the alarmed resistance from many corners of organized religion and the smug celebration among many atheists—are a misreading of the Pew findings. The survey reveals neither a 'tsunami of secularism,' ...nor a triumphant upsurge of 'godless' atheists who revere Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Despite the rise in the religiously unaffiliated, for example, Pew also found that more than two-thirds of those [religiously unaffiliated] people believe in God. What’s out there instead is a nation of people who... acknowledge faith as a positive human urge but are increasingly, and not too surprisingly, turned off by the often archaic institutions that claim to represent faith." They believes that churches and religious instututions benefit society 'by strengthening bonds and aiding the poor,' but also are 'too concerned' with money, power, rules and politics.

Read the full article HERE.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

CHRISTIAN PERSECUTION RISES IN AFRICA

WASHINGTON — The persecution of Christians “vastly rose” in 2012 as radical Islamists consolidated power in Africa, according to Open Doors, a Christian missionary organization that publishes an annual list of offending nations.

Increasing threats to African Christians can be seen in focused attacks, such as the killings of Christians in Nigerian churches by the radical Muslim group Boko Haram, but also in the greater prevalence of radical Muslims in government, according to the California-based Open Doors.

Read the full story HERE

See also: OPEN DOORS USA  and VOICE OF THE MARTYRS

Monday, January 7, 2013

CHURCH TRENDS IN SECULAR NEW ENGLAND

In Puritan New England, Protestant and Catholic churches are declining while evangelical and Pentecostal groups are rising. Why the nation's most secular region may hint at the future of religion.

LEWISTON, MAINE

On a snowy 20-degree day in December, the visitors shiver as they move among vestiges of a long-closed Pizza Hut on this city's struggling main street. A salad bar teeters off kilter. Dust collects on the dismantled facade of a soda dispenser. A few bolted-down tables and chairs remain – usable, but only after a good cleaning. Yet none of this bothers the three leaders from the Auburn Seventh-day Adventist Church, who seem warmed by holy fire to carry out their task: Help transform the pizza joint into something with a bit more piety. Their church has reached capacity, having doubled attendance in the past year. So they've crossed the Androscoggin River to plant a second church, the Ark, in the heart of one of the nation's least religious states.

Read the full story here:
Who's Filling America's Church Pews

Sunday, January 6, 2013

CHRISTIAN FAITH AND SLAVERY

Someone (on one of the blogs I read) just asked if "the Christian God condones slavery." I have a hunch the question was meant to stir up the pot, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it was an honest question. Since others have indeed asked the question (after reading much about slavery in the Bible), I'll give my answer.

British Anti-Slavery Society Convention (1840)
The New Testament does not approve of slavery (though many in the past have interpreted that way). The Christian Scriptures merely accepted the reality of slavery during the first century, and the writers (particularly Paul) tried to help Christians know how to deal with the circumstances. When Christianity began, it was not a military or political movement, but a religious one, so Jesus did not call for anyone (slaves, Jews, women, etc.) to rise up against their oppressors.

However, one verse gave American abolitionists justification for their cause in pre-Civil War America: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28, NIV). Here Paul speaks most clearly about the equality of ALL people, which is why Christians today work hard to end the cruelty of slavery and the oppression of women in many developing nations.

Read what thousands of Christians college students in Georgia are doing to fight against slavery. (Beware of the typical, mindless anti-religious rants in the comment section. They are all too common on the CNN Belief Blog)

The movie "Amazing Grace" highlights the role of the Christian values of mercy and justice behind the anti-slavery passion of John Newtwon and William Wilberforce.

Read more about the history of Christians against slavery at Christianity Today.

Here's a thorough article on the history of Christian faith and slavery from Wikipedia.

CNN interview "Jesus Was the Original Abolitionist"


TODAY IS THE DAY WE'VE WAITED FOR

We don't like to talk about mortality and the shortness of life, but this morning we did just that in our worship service. At the beginning of a new year it is important that we understand that time is too precious to waste. We do not have an unlimited amount of time on this planet, with our families, with our friends, and doing all those things we loved to do and feel called to do. We do not have unlimited time, yet we keep making promises about tomorrow when the only thing we have is today!

In our message on life, time and priorities this morning, I introduced many of you to Randy Pausch and his book, The Last Lecture. Here are a couple videos with a shorter version of his lecture, talking about his values and using time:
Professor Randy Pausch and his children.
(1) Randy on Oprah and (2) Randy saying goodbye

Look up "Randy Pausch" on Youtube.com and you'll find his original "Last Lecture" (at Carnegie Melon Univ), a lecture on time management, and other interviews. He's not just a good speaker, but the urgency of his situation (pancreatic cancer) has forced him to focus all the more on the things that truly matter in life, and how we can best use this SHORT time we have.

I like this quote from one of his interviews: "The choice I get is, 'What did I do with the months I have left?'"

We continue to put off the truly important things until tomorrow. Well, today is that "tomorrow" that we've been talking about. What are the words you need to say to that person? Whom do you need to forgive? From whom should you ask for forgiveness? What is that gesture of love you've been meaning to do? Who needs your reassurance today? Who around you needs to feel loved today? We don't have tomorrow. What we do have is -- today!
 

Here are some Bible passages (some I used this morning) on the brevity of life and the wise use of the time we have:

"As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed him" (Matt 4:18-20).

"Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him" (Matt 4:21-22).

"You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you.

Each man's life is but a breath" (Psalm 39:5, NIV)

"Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, 'I find no pleasure in them' – before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain; when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders cease because they are few, and those looking through the windows grow dim" (Eccl 12:1-3, NIV).

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people..." (Gal 6:9-10, NIV)

Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity..." (Eph 5:15-16, NIV).

"Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.... Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins" (James 4:13-14 & 17, NIV).

Friday, January 4, 2013

TIME IN THE DESERT

The barren desert is not the kind of place we would choose as a home if we have any choice at all. People do not normally stay in the desert. In the Bible, the desert is a symbol of testing and suffering. It is an in-between place. The desert is where we are when we have yet to get where we would rather be.

Moses, the former "prince of Egypt," had to escape into the desert when he realized he was no longer welcome at home. The book of Exodus has much to say about those forty years the people of Israel wandered in the desert. It was an experience so trying, so blistering that it moved them to fantasize about returning to their unbearable, yet predictable, lives as Egyptian slaves.

David fled to the desert wilderness to hide from a vengeful, dementedly jealous King Saul. Jesus was sent into the desert to be tested before his ministry. And it was to the desert that Jesus fled with his disciples when his opposition threatened his life before his time had come.

We all experience the desert. It is the place where our lives are barren, futile, loathsome, uncertain, confused, shaken or turned entirely upside down. When others fail us yet again, or we fail ourselves after countless attempts to change, we are in the desert – that place of endless sand dunes monotonously stretching as far as the eye can see. It is the feeling of going nowhere. It is testing, suffering, hiding, doubting, dying and blessing. Yes. Blessing too.

It was in his desert hideout that Moses came face to face with God. It was in their desert wanderings that the people of Israel experienced the daily provision of God, feeding them with his own hands, sprinkling manna from the heavens, forcing life-giving water to gush through a stone.

Though on the run from a raging king, it was in the desert that David pondered the mercy and faithfulness of God, writing down meditations that still inspire and comfort us three thousand years later. It was those weeks in the desert wilderness that Jesus took the final exam which proved he was ready for the most important three years in the history of humanity.

Perhaps more than the pain, it is the dryness of the desert that tries us. The awareness of being in-between any of the places that offer comfort, not knowing how long we must stay. But it is there that we may gain our greatest strength, find our greatest vision. In the desert God shows us what we are made of, where we need to concentrate our greatest effort. Sometimes it is only when all is taken away from us that we discover how much we have in God. His resources are often seen only when ours is taken away.

The desert doesn't need to be all dryness and drought. When we cling to the Lord, we can truly find refreshment in the desert. It is the place of renewed commitments and cleansed hearts. It is where we can find renewed fire and a resolve that can be found nowhere else.

David says that God turns "the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs" (Psalm 107:35).

(Lord, thank you for the time in the desert. And thank you for being there with us.)

 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

KUDOS TO CHRISTIANE "INDIANA" AMANPOUR

I just got done watching the second installment of Christiane Amanpour's television special, "Back to the Beginning." I liked it!

As much as Christian conservatives (including me) decry the marginalization of Christian faith in the American marketplace of ideas, such media events confirm that the Bible still has an significant role in the conversation, and it is speaking quite clearly. I do not expect a major television network to promote my view of the Bible (which it did not), but I was grateful that, once again, the Bible was being taken seriously in a nationwide forum.

I did notice that the selected commentators tended to accept the biblical accounts where the Bible describes the unseemly behavior of its heroes, yet were easily dismissive of the Bible where it praised the accomplishments of its heroes. Because of the number of "scholars" on the show, it also gave the average viewer the impression that these are the majority and orthodox views of biblical scholarship. There were a few token conservative representatives, but their roles were minimized to that of mere storytellers. The serious evaluation of the validity of the biblical accounts was left to more liberal scholars, which is what I would expect of a major TV network.

The good news (and there is good news):

Amanpour and her producers do not criticize religious faith, but celebrate it. The faithful were treated with respect and reverence, even when their claims were at odds with the host. What I found particularly touching was Amanpour's conversation with an Ethiopian who believed the ancient and original Ark of the Covenant was housed in a tiny, fenced-in chapel in his homeland.

Her conversation with the pastor of the International House of Prayer (and yes, "pancakes" were also duly noted) in Kansas City was quite fair. I could sense Amanpour's disappointment when Pastor Bickle (wisely) refused to identify himself as a "prophet" of God, and also when he would not claim to hear God's voice any more than anyone else. Among the people that cynical journalists usually avoid is rational, reasonable Christian conservatives. They don't fit into the tidy pigeonholes created for them by the media, so I give Ms. Amanpour credit for including Pastor Bickle's reasonable comments, and also her fair treatment of his ministry when she could have easily targeted them for subtle suspicion and ridicule. It seems the most radical thing highlighted about Bickle's group was that they hold nonstop 24-hour prayer and praise services, and that's not such a bad thing to make public.


It was all the more refreshing to see the Bible taken seriously regarding history and archeology. One good example is the spotlight on the Tel Dan Stele – an ancient stone inscription that speaks of "the king of Israel" from the "House [family] of David." It is the first time King David's name has been discovered outside of the Bible, and it is the earliest recording (outside of the Bible) of any biblical figure.

Credit is also due to Ms. Amanpour for dealing fairly with the highly volatile issue of the original temple of Jerusalem. Walking awestruck through ancient underground caves, she highlighted the limestone quarry in which Solomon's masons removed the gigantic stones used for the temple and other ancient structures. Though the temple mount is commonly identified as the site of Solomon's temple, and that of Herod nearly one thousand years later, many conservative Muslims in the area (who have controlled the temple mount for centuries) vociferously deny the identification, treating it as politically-motivated mythology.

The very fact that Christiane Amanpour was taking her son on this truly spiritual (albeit, sometimes dangerous) journey, spoke of the importance of passing on faith to our children and the next generations.

I confess I missed the first installment of this two-part special, but be assured I will be viewing it online ASAP, and I hope many of you will do so as well. All in all, this was a very good presentation, and Ms. Amanpour deserves credit for a well-done project. The only thing I would have done to improve the show would be to put an Indiana-esque fedora on her head, and a bullwhip at her side.

I was happy to hear that ratings proved well for the show. I trust this will mean more such TV specials down the road, as advertisers are forever eager to put up good money for shows with solid viewership.