Thursday, June 30, 2011

The "Good Old Days"

Last week the wife and I attended the Danville Civil War Heritage Days.  I have a love for history and enjoy visiting the past but that is where it ends.  The “good old days” of my parents and grandparents are not the days I want to experience in real life.  There are those who love to talk about the “good old days” but the reality is the “good old days” were hard on those who experienced them.  I enjoy turning on the faucet and having hot or cold water without going to the well.  I enjoy the Internet and the instant access to information.  I like turning the key to the ignition and starting the car rather than feeding the horse and hitching up the buggy.  I enjoy homemade cooking by like the quickness of the microwave.  The “good old days” are only memories and hinder the progress of the present.  Individual who are always talking about the past fail to understand they are now making the next generations “good old days.”  Those who feel the “good old days” were better than today no doubt did not live in the “good old days”.  Trying to live in the memories of the hardships of the past will not make the hardships of the present any better.  Not relying on the conveniences of our present culture and living frugally does not make us more spiritual and holy.  One person said, “Enjoy yourself.  These are the good old days you’re going to miss in the years ahead.” 

I often hear older people talk about the “good old days” in the church and wonder what they are talking about.  I know for a fact the there is nothing that helps glorify the old days as much as a bad memory.  Were the “good old days” in the past sitting on hard straight back pews in a room with a wood or coal stove to provide heat? Been there and didn’t like it.  Where they the days when it was hard to hear the preacher because there was no sound system? Been there, although most preachers I knew were loud and long and walked the aisle so you could hear them.   Or, were the good old days when there was nothing to day all day Sunday but go to church and listen to a preacher preach for one to two hours?  Where the “good old days” enduring an altar call that lasted for thirty minutes and was designed to scare you out of Hell?  Been there, it seemed that if the preacher could not put the fear of “lost for eternity”, “damned in hell forever” “the Lord may come tonight and you will be lost forever” into the hearts of those in attendance he wasn’t much of a preacher.  Are these the days were are talking about?  I don’t know.  When I ask people to explain the “good old days” they seem at a loss as to what was the “good” in the “old days”.

There are some things about the “good old days” I like.  I like singing out of a hymn books.  I don’t like praise songs that repeat the same phrase six or seven times.  I don’t like the songs projected on the screen.  I don’t want some praise team singing for me; I want to do my own singing.  I like the King James Version of the Bible; if it was good enough for Saint Paul it should be good enough for me.  (Ok, I know it was written in 1611 but you get my point.)  I like to talk with people who read and understand the Bible.  I like the fact in the “good old days” people studied the Bible and knew the scriptures.  I like that in the “good old days” people had a respect for the church, the pastor, the teachers and worship service.  I like that the presence of the Lord could be felt in the service and that people’s heart were moved during worship.  I like that in the “good old days” children were taught to listen and be quite in church.  So, I guess there are some things about the “good old days” I liked and wish we could continue their practice.  But, I know our society has changed and the culture of the church has changed as well. 

Christianity has been accused of being a religion of fear.  Maybe in the past the message of sin, hell, judgment, death, and eternal punishment were the main message but today we hear very little about anything that creates fear.  One individual said if there was more preaching about hell in the pulpit there would be less hell in the streets.  That is something to think about.  Maybe if there was more preaching on eternal punishment there would be more accountability in our personal lives?  Just a thought.

I would like to think I am making some memories for the next generation that are actually good and not the” myth of the past” or the “delusions of a bad memory.”  I would like my grandchildren to remember I lived in the present, planned for the future and honored the past.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Spirit of Revolution

As we are approaching the 235 years of the Revolution I wonder what happened to the spirit of the Revolution?  This country has forgotten the spirit that moved the colonies to become independent.  The colonist refused to import goods from England, they sacrificed the finer things of life to make a statement of independence rather than submit to the taxation of the King.  They were willing to make their own clothes, brew their own ale, and grow their own food to be free from British control.  They wanted to be free.

Today, we have lost the spirit of sacrifice that gave us liberty and freedom.  America has a greater love for material things than a love for liberty.  We are more interested in keeping up with the Joneses than in the indifference to the corruption of our society.  This corruption has extended to the every aspect of our culture- government, education, and religion.

We have failed to maintain the traditions that made this country great.  Traditions like keeping out of the affairs of other nations, that debt is a bad thing, politicians should be limited in number, public service does not give entitlement to the office holders, and that government not be expanded.  Today, we meddle in the affairs of every country, we are trillions in debt with no ability to pay, government is the largest employer and government employees are the most entitled group in America--so much for American traditions.

We have forgotten the tradition of separation of power.  The Justice Department was to act as a check against the impulse of Congress and Executive Branch to disregard their constitutional boundaries.  Today, the Judicial Branch justifies every liberal law that infringes upon the liberties of its lawful citizens and makes it unlawful for citizens to seek to regain some of the freedoms we have lost. The Executive Branch disregards the Legislative Branch and the Legislative Branch has become a slave master to the people they were elected to protect.

The spirit of the Revolution has disappeared in the indifference of our present society.  The spirit of liberty was born from the desire of independence, isolation from the outside world, the dependence on individual resources and the love of freedom.  Today we are faced with a culture that has very little to do liberty and freedom.  We have become a dependent society, slaves to debt and bankrupt in morals and a constantly meddling in the affairs of others.   

With the politics of corruption, the decline of morality and the loss of freedom, we no longer have the spirit of the Revolution. The moral corruption of our elected officials has put their mark on a society that has forgotten liberty and freedom.  Politicians like John Edwards, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Anthony Weiner only punctuate the loss of the true American spirit. Our society has stooped to the lowest common denominator in moral behavior, politicians have made public education a national disgrace, major corporations have placed profit over national security and the voice of conscience once declared by the Christian churches has been silenced by prosperity and political correctness.  In 235 years we have forgotten not only the spirit of the Revolution but the desire for liberty and freedom.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Christian America-- I Don't Think So!

I must confess, I am a conservative, right wing, Tea Party supporter in politics and an Orthodox Quaker in my Christian faith but I have some major concerns with the new Christian revisionist attitude in America evangelical churches and conservative politicians in regards to making America a Christian nation.  There is much in the history of America that is far from our Christian foundation.   We are being told by those who are profiting from the Christian patriotism attitude that our Founding Fathers were strong Christians, but we have a history of injustice in our country.  I am reminded of four Quakers who were hanged on the Boston Commons for preaching Jesus Christ.  Also, the intolerance our Founding Fathers had for religion other than theirs.  There wasn't a lot of Christian  love in the beginning of our Nation.

I do realize there is a hunger in America to return to what we view as Christian values.  In terms of holiness theology America needs a revival.  America needs to return to the old paths of righteousness and holiness.  We do not need American Christian patriotism to get America back to God.  Now that I have lost some of my reader let’s see if I lose some more.  Most American Christians are gullible and have bought into the God-and-country preaching while tolerating theological heresy and scandals in leadership when the politics are conservative.  Many American Christians have sacrificed their doctrine on the altar of political conservatism.  There are Christians who hold the Constitution more sacred than the Word of God.

How many times has America “Christianity” been used as a political agenda to secure power and position for the conservative politician?  American Christians have bowed at the golden calf of economic prosperity and security and forgotten to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.  We have chosen Caesar over Jesus Christ. 

The new “Christian” leaders of today are the "Osteen" brand of Christianity, never talking about the reason America is faltering in it devotion to Jesus Christ—sin.  Our political Christian superstars may be fighting the cultural war but they have lost the battle to sin.  The American Christian political leaders have overlooked the Kingdom of God and are proclaiming the Kingdom America.  The utopian politics of a Christian America is not the message of Jesus Christ.  We are pilgrims and strangers in this land, looking for a city that is not of this world.  I would love to have an America without the problems of drugs, abortion, child abuse, poverty, war and crime, but that is not going to happen.   The message of “getting back to God” has been reduced to a political slogan.  The message America needs is the gospel of Jesus Christ who died for our sins and was resurrected to destroy the works of Satan and the power of sin and death over mankind.

Jesus said that we cannot serve God and mammon.  America Christianity has sold its soul to prosperity, power and celebrity.  As I said earlier, most American Christians are gullible and have bought into the God-and-country preaching while tolerating theological heresy.  The new “Conservative Christian” leaders today rely more upon the philosophy of an atheist (Ayn Rand) than upon the teachings of Jesus Christ.  The reality is many of the far-right “Christians” are not even Christian.  Am I judging?  Yes I am.  By their fruits ye shall know them.  God made me a fruit inspector to judge between ripe and rotten and there is the smell of rotten on many of our so-called political conservative Christians.

If the political history of this country continues at present rate it will take a major revision to make America to look like a Christian nation in the future.  Our concern should not be to paint this nation as a Christian nation but rather to become what we tell people we are--Christians.  The actions of our politicians speak volumes about our spiritual condition as a nation.  There is a need for much repenting and turning from sin if we are as a nation to “get back to God.” 

Jesus said that he would build his church, and he will build it on the statement, Thou art the Christ the son of the living God. He doesn’t need American Christianity to do it.  The first-generation of Quaker preachers and evangelists understood themselves as a re-emergence of the true, spiritual Church of Christ. One of the principal slogans of the early Quaker movement was "primitive Christianity revived." Early Friends claimed that the Church had fallen into apostasy in the centuries since the events detailed in the Book of Acts, and they believed that the new Quaker movement represented not a new sect, but a rebirth of the first-century Church. There is an orthodox primitive New Testament Christianity flourishing around the world and it is a re-emergence of a spiritual returning to Jesus Christ.  The history of this county may have had its foundations on principles based on the Word of God but we have a history that does not conform to our foundation.  Regardless of how the historians revise our history we as a nation have reduced God to a slogan and sold our souls to Caesar.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Courage of Youth

I have been in the field of education for 30 years and must say I am confused about the role of religion in our education system.  If I were an alien from a distant universe I would wonder about the sanity of the American education system.  Here’s why.

In Rhode Island the Cranston School Committee voted 4-3 to fight the ACLU over a prayer banner hanging inside the school.  The prayer banner has been there for many years.  But because of one single complaint the banner is now in question.  More than 4000 of the local resident have signed a petition asking the district to keep the prayer banner.  The banner reads:
Our Heavenly Father,
Grant us each day the desire to do our best,
To grow mentally and morally as well as physically,
To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers,
To be honest with ourselves as well as with others,
Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win,
Teach us the value of true friendship,
Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.

I realize this is a dangerous prayer and might change the lives of public school children to become responsible citizens. But that would not meet the agenda of those who wish to destroy the morals of our youth.  

  In Texas we have another problem with prayer.  It seems that one single complaint has stopped the school’s tradition of praying at graduation. A federal judge has ordered a Texas school district to prohibit public prayer at a high school graduation ceremony. Chief U.S. District Judge Fred Biery’s order against the Medina Valley Independent School District also forbids students from using specific religious words including “prayer” and “amen.” He also ordered the school district to remove the terms “invocation” and “benediction” from the graduation program. “These terms shall be replaced with ‘opening remarks’ and ‘closing remarks’,” the judge’s order stated. His ruling also prohibits anyone from saying, “in [a deity’s name] we pray.” 

Should a student violate the order, school district officials could find themselves in legal trouble. Judge Biery ordered that his ruling be “enforced by incarceration or other sanctions for contempt of Court if not obeyed by District official (sic) and their agents.”

The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by Christa and Danny Schultz. Their son is among those scheduled to participate in Saturday’s graduation ceremony. The judge declared that the Schultz family and their son would “suffer irreparable harm” if anyone prayed at the ceremony.

It would seem to me that anyone who would offer a prayer at graduation should be considered to be armed and dangerous.  After all prayer is the weapon against evil.  I think E.M. Bounds said it best "The more praying there is in the world the better the world will be, the mightier the forces against evil everywhere. Prayer, in one phase of its operation, is a disinfectant and a preventive. It purifies the air; it destroys the contagion of evil. Prayer is no fitful, short lived thing. It is no voice crying unheard and unheeded in the silence. It is a voice which goes into God's ear, and it lives as long as God's ear is open to holy pleas, as long as God's heart is alive to holy things. God shapes the world by prayer. Prayers are deathless. The lips that uttered them may be closed in death, the heart that felt them may have ceased to beat, but the prayers live before God, and God's heart is set on them and prayers outlive the lives of those who uttered them; outlive a generation, outlive an age, outlive a world."

So the Schultz family should be concerned about the “irreparable harm” that will come from a graduation prayer that could change the course of history—by stopping evil.   

Here we have two public school systems that are fighting for the right to allow a prayer banner to hang in their school and the valedictorian to give thanks to God for her personal success and then we have a school system that bans a Christian Club.

A federal lawsuit has been filed on behalf of a group of Christian high school students in New York who said their principal Brijinder Singh, banned them from starting a Christian club. The principal said, ‘I don’t want any of these Christian clubs at my school,’” She has repeatedly turned down similar student requests to start Christian clubs – telling one would-be group in 2008 that any religious club would have to be “multi-faith,” open to all religions, and allow non-believers to lead the organization. In other words, Christian clubs are welcome at her school as long as they’re not Christian.

It is apparent that she failed Government 101. Public schools cannot ban Christian student clubs simply because they are religious.  Students have a constitutionally protected right to express their beliefs.  This may not be the way religious freedom is exercised in her homeland but in America we still have religious freedom.  But if we continue to allow anti-Christians, atheist and agnostics to take way our freedom we will have changed the very make-up of our country.

To the poor extraterrestrial making a visit to our world they will find this all confusing.  There are those who are in public schools that wish to acknowledge that God had a role in their lives and thank him for helping them to become successful.  On the other hand there are those in public school who would deny individuals their right to freedom of speech and religion because they don’t like Christians.  In one area of our country it is acceptable to pray at graduation and in other areas the very mention of pray will get you arrested and put in jail.  

What I fail to understand is why this continues to be an issue when Federal Law allows prayer in school.

The following is taken from the Department of Education- 

Section 9524 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act ("ESEA") of 1965, as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, requires the Secretary to issue guidance on constitutionally protected prayer in public elementary and secondary schools. In addition, Section 9524 requires that, as a condition of receiving ESEA funds, a local educational agency ("LEA") must certify in writing to its State educational agency ("SEA") that it has no policy that prevents, or otherwise denies participation in, constitutionally protected prayer in public schools as set forth in this guidance.

The purpose of this guidance is to provide SEAs, LEAs, and the public with information on the current state of the law concerning constitutionally protected prayer in the public schools, and thus to clarify the extent to which prayer in public schools is legally protected. This guidance also sets forth the responsibilities of SEAs and LEAs with respect to Section 9524 of the ESEA. As required by the Act, this guidance has been jointly approved by the Office of the General Counsel in the Department of Education and the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice as reflecting the current state of the law.

The relationship between religion and government in the United States is governed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which both prevents the government from establishing religion and protects privately initiated religious expression and activities from government interference and discrimination.  The First Amendment thus establishes certain limits on the conduct of public school officials as it relates to religious activity, including prayer.

The legal rules that govern the issue of constitutionally protected prayer in the public schools are similar to those that govern religious expression generally. Thus, in discussing the operation of Section 9524 of the ESEA, this guidance sometimes speaks in terms of "religious expression." There are a variety of issues relating to religion in the public schools, however, that this guidance is not intended to address.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the First Amendment requires public school officials to be neutral in their treatment of religion, showing neither favoritism toward nor hostility against religious expression such as prayer.  Accordingly, the First Amendment forbids religious activity that is sponsored by the government but protects religious activity that is initiated by private individuals, and the line between government-sponsored and privately initiated religious expression is vital to a proper understanding of the First Amendment's scope. As the Court has explained in several cases, "there is a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion, which the Establishment Clause forbids, and private speech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect." 

The Supreme Court's decisions over the past forty years set forth principles that distinguish impermissible governmental religious speech from the constitutionally protected private religious speech of students. For example, teachers and other public school officials may not lead their classes in prayer, devotional readings from the Bible, or other religious activities.  Nor may school officials attempt to persuade or compel students to participate in prayer or other religious activities. Such conduct is "attributable to the State" and thus violates the Establishment Clause. 

Similarly, public school officials may not themselves decide that prayer should be included in school-sponsored events. In Lee v. Weisman, for example, the Supreme Court held that public school officials violated the Constitution in inviting a member of the clergy to deliver a prayer at a graduation ceremony. Nor may school officials grant religious speakers preferential access to public audiences, or otherwise select public speakers on a basis that favors religious speech. In Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, for example, the Court invalidated a school's football game speaker policy on the ground that it was designed by school officials to result in pregame prayer, thus favoring religious expression over secular expression.

Although the Constitution forbids public school officials from directing or favoring prayer, students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate," and the Supreme Court has made clear that "private religious speech, far from being a First Amendment orphan, is as fully protected under the Free Speech Clause as secular private expression." Moreover, not all religious speech that takes place in the public schools or at school-sponsored events is governmental speech. For example, "nothing in the Constitution ... prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the school day, and students may pray with fellow students during the school day on the same terms and conditions that they may engage in other conversation or speech. Likewise, local school authorities possess substantial discretion to impose rules of order and pedagogical restrictions on student activities, but they may not structure or administer such rules to discriminate against student prayer or religious speech. For instance, where schools permit student expression on the basis of genuinely neutral criteria and students retain primary control over the content of their expression, the speech of students who choose to express themselves through religious means such as prayer is not attributable to the state and therefore may not be restricted because of its religious content.  Student remarks are not attributable to the state simply because they are delivered in a public setting or to a public audience. As the Supreme Court has explained: "The proposition that schools do not endorse everything they fail to censor is not complicated, and the Constitution mandates neutrality rather than hostility toward privately initiated religious expression. 

It looks to me that the judge and the principal are violating the Constitutional rights of the students who wish only to exercise their freedom of speech and religion.  But, I’m not a lawyer so what would I know about Constitutional rights? I do know how important it is for a community to support the students who have the courage to stand against the evil that is destroying our freedoms.  It is these students who will one day be the leaders of this country and God will honor them for their courage.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

An Army of Four

And there were four leprous men at the entering in of the gate: and they said one to another, Why sit we here until we die? 2Kings 7:3

This story is for people who are hemmed in by sickness, fear, frustration, inner conflict, defeat, hunger or poverty.  It is a message of hope to anyone who has a need.  The city was blockaded, and no one could leave or enter.  The food supply was gone; the people were starving to death.  Even the rich could not find food.  The Bible tells us that they had begun to eat the flesh of their own children.  The people cried to Elisha who was there.  Elisha prophesied that within 24 hours they would be delivered.  Not only would the city be free but there would be plenty of food for all.  He said that food that would cost hundreds of dollars today would cost pennies tomorrow.  OK, I know they didn’t use dollars but you get the point.

There was standing next to the king a man who said, “If the Lord would make windows in heaven might this thing be?  His doubt had blinded his faith in the promise of God.  Elisha says, “Thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shall not eat thereof.”  Martin Luther said, “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but - more frequently than not - struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God” This man could not see past the problem and his reasoning said it is not practical for this to happen.

It is always easy for the minister to tell you that God will supply you with a roof over your head, food on the table, a good job with plenty of income, when they are living off the hopes and dreams of the people they are mistreating- I mean ministering.  More often than not God works through people we least expect.

In 1957 my father was unemployed for 17 months.  He couldn’t find a job.  Our family was going through some very hard times.  But things were going to get harder when my dad’s unemployment ran out.  We were looking at nothing.

We lived in a rural community near Grant City.  The neighbor down the road was not a church going man nor had he ever been.  He was in fact in the words of some of the more religious neighbors a “hardened sinner”.  One day he stopped by the house to tell my dad if we needed wood to burn for the winter he would supply the wood, the saw, the tractor and wagon.  All dad needed to do was kick-off a full blocks of wood for him.  Every time we cut wood and would kick-off a few blocks, he gave us a big White Rock rooster for our Sunday dinner.

That same winter when the temperature was below zero and the wood was burning almost as fast as you put it in the stove we woke up one morning to find we had two tons of coal in our drive.  My dad rushed out of the house to stop the truck driver to tell him he had not ordered the coal or the money to pay for it.  The driver assured him it was paid for and he need not worry—same neighbor bought the coal.  Reasoning would say you are going to freeze to death.  God said, "You'll be warm."

How was God going to use these four men to change the condition of an entire city?  Look at these four men and consider them in the light of the problems you face.  They were limited in number only four.  All were sick and dying.  They had suffered along with everyone inside the city.  Could their position be any worse?  I doubt it.  Could their lives be any more intolerable? I think not.  Could they have any less hope in their hearts?  I really don’t see how.  But here they are looking hunger, desperation and death in the face.  Sitting there with sickness, starvation and death all around them they put their faith into action and started asking the important question.  “Why sit we here until we die?”  They were not of the entitlement crowd or they would have said, “Why is God picking on me?”  “Why can’t I have the advantages others seem to have?”  You can sit and die in your misery and problems or you can do what the lepers did.  Lay aside your self-pity, your doubts, and your fears and get up a do something to change your situation.

They got up and begin to move around.  They had been sitting for so long that they had become familiar with their surroundings, it was their security.  It was the very place where they were they dispatched their wisdom, watched the people starving around them die and where they had resigned themselves to the fact they too would soon die.  But they got up.  It was frightening to get up and move towards the enemy.  They were sick, they were dying, they were headed toward danger, they were alone, they were walking in the night without light and every step they took was in agony, but they marched on.

The Syrian army had gone to sleep and was not expecting an attack from the city.  But God had stirred four ragged, desperate, dying lepers to find the faith and hope they needed to change what was happening in their lives.  They marched towards the Syrian army.  As God looked over the balcony of heaven I can hear him saying, “That’s my army!”

There was a rumble of chariots, the earth begins to shake, and Syrian army woke up to the cry, “The king of Israel has hired against us the armies of the Hittites and others.  Let us flee for our lives.”  They didn’t know it was only four desperate dying men who were approaching their camp—only four men.  By the time they arrived at the camp the Syrian army was gone.  Not a soul was to be found.  These four men had a party.  Then they remembered the others back in the city that were dying.  So they stagger back to the city to share the good news and the victory God had given them.

The news was received with gladness and by the end of the day the city was full of food.  However, there was one sad note to all the good news and the blessing that God had given to so many people.  The man who mocked Elisha was dead.  He had tried to restrain the people from leaving the city and was trampled to death.  It is a fearful thing to block the door of others faith when God has opened the doors and sent deliverance to those who have trusted him.

So get up and march toward your problems for God will give you victory!