Saturday, December 26, 2009

The 3 - December 26, 2009

In this edition of "The 3", the powerful top story is the celebration of the birth of our Savior. Also, a Christmas Eve observance had an unnerving incident, and the march of health care reform

3 - Health care reform package passes Senate, goes to conference committee

On Christmas Eve morning, the U.S. Senate gave what has been termed a "Christmas present", although it has been pointed out that the taxpayers are actually paying for it...and critics say that the high cost of health reform, as well as other spending measures passed by the current session of Congress, will saddle this generation, as well as generations to come, with an enormous tax burden. Christian groups had criticized the Senate plan for the size and scope of government control, as well as its provision for taxpayer funding of abortion. Here is the Christian Post overview in the aftermath of the vote.
Also, Liberty Counsel issued this release on behalf of the Freedom Federation prior to the vote.
And, Focus on the Family Action and its CitizenLink website had this call to action.

2 - Woman physically attacks Pope

For the second consecutive year, the same woman has attempted to physically attack Pope Benedict XVI in advance of the traditional Christmas Eve mass. Her attempt last year was apparently thwarted before she could reach the pontiff. This year, she was able to knock the Pope to the ground. The Pope, uninjured but reportedly shaken, celebrated the Mass at St. Peter's Basilica. Here is the BBC's report.

This incident, especially in light of the fact that the same woman was able to get near the pontiff for the second straight year, does call into question the security for the Pope, as well as other high-profile religious leaders. Certainly, the Pope would like to be as accessible as possible, but there is a calculated risk that goes with that. Those who protect religious leaders have a high degree of responsibility and must realize that there are unstable people that could pose a threat to the leaders in their care.

Church security has become an increasingly high priority, especially in light of attacks at churches such as New Life in Colorado Springs, where 2 people lost their lives, as well as the church where Pastor Fred Winters was shot and killed in Maryville, Illinois. The enemy is certainly attempting to steal, kill, and destroy, and it is incumbent upon churches to recognize this and have strategies to protect churchgoers and leaders. I had the opportunity to talk with the founder of the Christian Security Network, that offers resources for churches - its website is www.christiansecuritynetwork.org.

1 - Christians seek to capture true meaning of Christmas

In the midst of a troubled world, where government seems to be exceeding its authority, as hostility toward religious groups seems to be increasing, where crowded conditions cause situations that appear less-than-optimal, and people are seeking answers while God appears to be silent, Christ comes.

Now, you might think I'm describing our current situation, but actually the times in which Jesus was born had their own unique set of concerning circumstances - the fiercely oppressive Roman government had called for the census, forcing citizens to return to their birthplaces, which was no small maneuver. The Romans were trying to keep the Jews in check, and the relationship between the Empire and the Jewish leaders was uncomfortable, at best. The crowds in Joseph's hometown, Bethlehem, resulted in his pregnant bride and himself spending the night in a lowly stable, and the prophets had not had a word from God in some 400 years. Into this seeming chaos and confusion, the Savior came, as a baby, without pomp and circumstance, identifying with mankind so that men and women could come to God the Father.

And, you know, God is speaking to us today, if we will only listen! That's a powerful thread of Christmas - Jesus has come, He desires a relationship with us, and even in the midst of adversity, He calls us to be of good cheer.

Honorable mention:

Jesus-era house found in Nazareth

Rifqa Bary does not have to meet with parents

Christmas (Twi-) Light Zone: "Silent Night" not silent


Monday, December 21, 2009

Finding a Happy State

A new study, published in Science magazine, ranked the states in the U.S. according to objective standards, such as daylight hours, traffic congestion, air quality, and other factors, plus subjective factors, as respondents evaluated their own level of satisfaction. My home state of Alabama was in the top 10, along with 5 other Southern states, and Connecticut and New York were the bottom 2.

WebMD had this report on its website:
http://www.webmd.com/news/20091217/southern-states-are-the-happiest

This study was notable in that it combined people's own self-evaluation with some of the objective factors that we might expect, and there was definitely a correlation.

For the Christian, we can ask what factors in our lives satisfy us. The apostle Paul wrote that he had learned to be content in whatever circumstances he faced. He also wrote that godliness and contentment were great gain. While happiness is commonly thought to be dependent on external circumstances, true joy in Christ comes as a result of the presence of the indwelling Christ. So, we have the challenge to display a great level of satisfaction, evident in our actions, attitudes, and words - and that satisfaction can be experienced regardless of our outward circumstances. While researchers attempt to define what makes us happy, we can be the most joyful people on earth!! Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The 3 - December 19, 2009

This week's edition of "The 3" has another development in the ongoing debate on health care, the seemingly never-ending saga of Christmas controversies, and the passing of a well-known Christian leader.

3 - Nelson signs on to health care - key issue: abortion

Late Friday night, apparently satisfied by the U.S. Senate leadership's attempts to prevent or at least limit taxpayer funding of abortion, Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson agreed to vote for cloture in order to cut off debate and bring the massive health care legislation to the floor of the Senate. Nelson had used his leverage to get concessions on the abortion issue and was one of the Senators opposing the so-called public option. Here is a report from the Wall Street Journal on Friday night's developments.

2 - News from the Christmas (Twi-) Light Zone

News affecting the celebration of Christmas continues to emerge across America. Good news this week includes a victory from an elementary school in Oregon, where the principal, fearing parent backlash, had removed a giving tree from the school lobby and replaced it with some snowmen. The principal recanted this week. Liberty Counsel had sent a letter to the administrator, attempting to educate her with respect to the constitutionality of the original display. Here is their report.

Meanwhile, it could be a dark, wintry night in Homewood, Alabama (outside Birmingham) this Christmas Eve, as the fire chief is attempting to enforce a law that requires 4 firefighters be on duty at each candlelight service in the city. You can read my blog post from this past Thursday for additional information.

1 - Oral Roberts dead at 91

This week, well-known evangelist Oral Roberts died at the age of 91, the result of complications from pneumonia. Here is the press release. As I see it, 2 of the most noted contributions of Oral Roberts to the spiritual fabric of our nation were:

1) his use of the media. Rev. Roberts was perhaps the first televangelist in the modern sense. He allowed cameras in his crusades and used television to communicate his message on a widespread basis.

2) vaulting Pentecostal/charismatic thought into greater visibility. He was best known, doctrinally speaking, for his teaching and preaching on miracles, especially divine healing. While critics would say that he concentrated more on the healing than the Healer and that his crusades called too much attention to his own role in what became a healing spectacle, nevertheless he brought the knowledge of the charismatic experience into not only the crusade events, but in the homes of thousands of people.

In addition, Roberts founded Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and established the City of Faith hospital.

Texas pastor's brain tumor not completely removed

Third-grader told not to read Bible during class

New "sexting" survey brings concern

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas (Twi-) Light Zone - Ashland, OR

The Pacific Northwest has long been known for its political correctness, and a principal in Ashland, Oregon recently embraced some of those PC principles at her school. Michelle Zundel, the Principal at Bellview Elementary School, removed a holiday giving tree, which displayed tags containing the names of gifts for needy children. Fearing that this ventured way too much into celebrating "Christmas", the principal removed the tree during Thanksgiving break and replaced it with, alas, two snowmen. So, in a misguided attempt to be legal and perhaps not offend someone, she ended up offending a whole bunch of parents. Of course, there was justification, according to Ms. Zundel:

"The Christmas tree, while a secular symbol according to the Supreme Court, does symbolize Christmas, and if you are entering a public school and your family does not celebrate Christmas, then it feels like a religious symbol."

Christian legal advocacy group Liberty Counsel got involved and sent a letter to Zundel, to further educate her about the law.

The good news here is that the principal reversed her earlier decision. In an e-mail to a Liberty Counsel supporter, she wrote:

"I am pleased to report that as a result of our community meeting last week, a Giving Tree once again decorates the halls of Bellview Elementary School. It is a Southern Oregon Peco Pine. Fortunately, this incident never interfered with the project. The 25 families will receive gifts and food for the holidays. Ironically, the reason I removed the tree was to create a greater
sense of inclusion in our school. That decision had exactly the opposite effect. As a leader, I have an ongoing responsibility to reflect on the results of my actions, consider diverse feedback and occasionally, change course."

There are several takeaways from this incident. For one thing, it shows that leaders can be wrong in their actions, and sometimes we just have to admit that we made a mistake. The principal recogized the error of her actions, and corrected them. Also, it is another signal to
people in authority that attempting to placate one or a select few individuals could result in offending a much larger number. This is the case so often with the celebration of Christmas. In addition to the constitutional issues, to remove expressions of the holiday could bring a
far greater outcry from people who do celebrate it (and studies show that 9 out
of 10 Americans do!!).

And, isn't it interesting that this year we are hearing about secular symbols, such as Christmas trees and Santa Claus, being limited. This is a result of clear misunderstanding about the law, mixed with officials being intimidated by the fear of either a lawsuit or the complaints of a select few parents. Thankfully, education about these issues regarding Christmas can help to empower officials.

We now look forward to my children enthusiastically celebrating "Christmas" holidays!!


Thursday, December 17, 2009

From the Christmas (Twi-) Light Zone - Homewood, AL


Ah, yes, I wrote in Journey magazine recently about some of the ways that public officials have become intimidated with respect to the celebration of Christmas. Well, the hits just keep on coming, as attempts to overregulate the expression of the season continue to proliferate.

And, one of the latest comes from the state of Alabama, where a Birmingham suburb passed a law over a decade ago that requires off-duty firefighters to be present when a church conducts a Christmas candlelight service. Not just the presence of a fire extinguisher, or one or two firefighters, but 4 of them! At every service.

Read the story here from the Birmingham News.

OK, I don't know how many candlelight services are being held on Christmas Eve in the lovely little burg of Homewood, but let's say there are 25. That means 100 firefighters would have to be dispatched to various parts of the city. At $100 a piece!! I can understand the public safety issue here, but realistically, how many times have candlelight services resulted in a hazardous situation? And, where does it end?

I don't know how this regulation was passed, but perhaps a more practical means could be developed, if there's such a concern about a fire breaking out at a candlelight service. And, as the lady from Samford said in the Birmingham News article, the "least restrictive" means was not taken here, with regard to free expression. So, what's the endgame - will a church either knowingly or unknowingly break the law and have a firefighter-less service, be forced to pay a fine, and then file a lawsuit, claiming it is unconstitutional because of free expression concerns? Does the City of Homewood have enforcement personnel that would be dispatched on Christmas Eve to arrest church leaders and snuff out the candles?

I don't perceive any malicious intent here, but this does seem all a bit of an overextension of governmental regulation. Perhaps some inspired wisdom can bring light into this potentially dark situation.

Further reading: Frank James' piece on the NPR "Two-Way" blog.

Christmas Craziness (from River Region's Journey - December 2009)

Here is my latest column from River Region's Journey magazine, dealing with some of the rather perplexing rules and rulings that surround the Christmas season. This was during the first part of November, and there are plenty more stories from the Christmas (Twi-) Light Zone.

It’s a bit of an early Christmas present each year, as the runup to Christmas Day yields its share of skirmishes involving how best to observe the holiday. Even with polls showing that 90 or more percent of Americans celebrate a holiday on December 25th called, “Christmas”, we see that many government entities have become increasingly cool to the idea of actually observing that day in step with the overwhelming majority of Americans. So we have this so-called “War on Christmas” that has erupted, and each year, I cite my share of public leaders who try to derail the celebration and “Christmas lights”, as I call them, who stand strong on the Constitution and attempt to prevent the denial of the free expression of religion this time of year.

Well, the Christmas craziness began early this year, as the great state of Arizona was chosen as the site from which to harvest the “Capitol Christmas Tree”. Arizona schoolchildren were asked to do their part by designing ornaments for the tree that honors their state. There, of course, were certain regulations that were given to the children, including the outlawing of religious themes in the ornament designs. Say what? On the Capitol Christmas! Tree?! This didn’t last long – the Alliance Defense Fund got involved, and almost faster than you can say, “Feliz Navidad”, the restrictions vanished! Chalk one up for seasonal sanity.

Meanwhile, in the state of Kentucky, another Christmas controversy was stewing like a pot of cider. Before it was November in the Bluegrass State, Governor Steve Beshear was attempting to be “inclusive”, as he announced that the traditional state Christmas tree would be a “holiday” tree. The Governor mentioned that the state was using terminology applicable to Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and the New Year. Pardon me, but when is the last time you saw a Thanksgiving tree? And those who celebrate Hanukkah will be sure to tell you that a menorah is the predominant symbol of that holiday. A New Year’s Tree? OK, you see where I’m going here. Good news alert… Apparently, the Governor has reversed his course and will be referring to the Christmas tree as…a “Christmas Tree”. Seasonal sanity wins again!!

And, already, there is action in Washington state, where last year, a dueling holiday contest took place, as an atheist group wished to display a placard mocking religion alongside a Nativity scene. Governor Chris Gregoire allowed this, and a flurry of permit requests resulted. Because of the supposed “tolerance” shown to the atheist group, the whole scene moved into the realm of the ridiculous. This year in the Capitol? No religious displays inside the building. But outside? Well, let’s just say it could get a bit crowded on the lawn. A setback here! This comes from the state that brought you the great Christmas tree disappearing act 3 years ago, where the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport actually removed 17 trees for fear of displaying a symbol of Christmas, dreading a lawsuit from a rabbi who wanted to display a menorah in the airport. The rabbi said he never intended for the trees to be removed, and the trees re-appeared in the airport, not to return the following year, when they were replaced by foam migrating birds and birch trees covered by falling snow at the sound of wind chimes.

But, these sorts of skirmishes are nothing new. At the risk of offending a small, select group of people, governmental bodies are enacting or considering new policies that restrict the expression of those who would want to observe Christmas, which, last time I looked, is a Federal holiday!! This has gone to such extreme lengths that you find proposals such as the one from Fort Collins, Colorado, where two years ago, a task force recommended to the mayor and council that in order to keep from appearing to endorse Christmas, a long-recognized traditional holiday, that red and green lights should not be used in its Christmas light d├ęcor.

It’s all about intimidation. Those in leadership in some of our cities, counties, and states are seeing religious displays being challenged in various locales, and, strapped for cash, do not want to risk a lawsuit. As evidenced by efforts to remove “In God We Trust” from our money and “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, there is a definite trend involving attempts to scrap reminders of our religious heritage from the tableaux of our society. And, while it is discouraging to see the overreaction of some public officials, there are Christian legal organizations that provide sound resources that can aid them in making correct decisions in some of these matters, as ADF showed in the Capitol Christmas Tree controversy. It’s very important that Christians are knowledgeable about our religious roots and continue to speak that knowledge into our culture.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The 3 - December 12, 2009

Some high-profile public policy issues of interest to Christians included in this week's edition of "The 3", as a worldwide climate change summit has brought concerns of evangelicals to the forefront. Also, the health care reform debate continues, as a key pro-life amendment was tabled (essentially defeated). Plus, efforts in 2 states to change the definition of marriage to allow same-sex marriage were brought to a halt this week.

3 - Evangelicals voice caution regarding climate change

As world leaders met in Copenhagen beginning this week to discuss some sort of agreement on reducing so-called "global warming", a term which has been swapped out with the term, "climate change", this has given evangelical leaders and organizations the opportunity to develop a perspective on the topic from a Biblical worldview. The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation issued a declaration last week in association with a new report on the topic of climate change, and this week, many added their signatures to it. Essentially, the Alliance extols the stability of the earth, as it was created, and warns against the rising costs of trying to combat a concept that has some shaky scientific foundations, stating that it could adversely affect the poor. You can check out the work of the Alliance by going to www.cornwallalliance.org.

On The Meeting House this week, I discussed this study and declaration with Dr. Calvin Beisner, National Spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance. It's available at www.meetinghouseonline.info/download.

2 - Pro-life provision turned back in health care legislation

This week, in order to make a health care reform measure more palatable to some moderate Democratic senators, there was an attempt to attach an amendment to eliminates one of the objectionable aspects of the plan, which would keep taxpayer funds for being used for abortion. This is a measure that increases costs, dramatically expands the size of government, and gives government greater control in health care decisions which could lead to rationing and the denial of life-saving care to society's most vulnerable. The Nelson-Hatch Amendment was tabled by a 54-45 vote, and would have provided some political cover to Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who apparently supports the overall concepts that are being forwarded, with the exception of Federal abortion funding and the so-called public option.

While those that supported that amendment are being applauded, rightly so, by a number of pro-life groups, nevertheless we must now watch to see if those Senators throw their support behind the overall bill, even without this provision. In an interesting twist, the defeat of this Amendment may reduce the likelihood of health care reform being passed, which, to me, is a good thing, in light of some of the objectionable aspects of the big-government legislation.

Read some of the details on the tabling of the amendment from CitizenLink.

1 - Gay marriage provisions in 2 states halted

Going into this week, analysts could surmise that the Legislatures of New York and New Jersey stood a pretty good chance of moving closer to allowing same-sex marriages in their states. After all, the governors of both states support it, and there is a significant number of lawmakers in both states that also advocate this redefinition of marriage. However, by week's end, both states are actually further away from this recrafting of the Biblical definition.

In New York, the Senate there defeated, by a significant margin, a bill that would have allowed gay marriage there. Read The Christian Post's report.

In New Jersey, a Senate committee narrowly approved a bill supporting gay marriage there, but stunningly, before a Thursday vote in the full Senate on the legislation, it was suddenly pulled by it sponsors, perhaps fearing the political fallout of pushing such a measure through with such narrow support. From the state, here's the report from nj.com.

Now, with 31 states possessing constitutional amendments defining marriage as one man and one women, as well as these 2 setbacks, perhaps it appears that support of same-sex marriage might be waning. However, with the traction that the gay agenda continues to build throughout our nation, vigilance is very important as we seek to affirm the values of traditional marriage.

You can affirm traditional marriage, as well as the sanctity of life and religious freedom, by being one of the thousands signing the Manhattan Declaration - go to www.manhattandeclaration.org to learn more.

Supreme Court to hear case of Christian student group's ability to choose Christian leaders for one of its chapters

Anti-gay measure in Uganda stirs up evangelical opposition

Mt. Soledad cross case goes to 9th Circuit

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The 3 - December 6, 2009

This week's edition of "The 3" highlights another flashpoint in the battle over theological issues within the Anglican Communion, more instances of controversy about the expression of Christmas, and religious references in big college football games over the weekend.

3 - L.A. Episcopals name openly gay bishop

As gender issues have continued to be a divisive point with the U.S. Episcopal Church, the Los Angeles Diocese has elected not only its first female bishop, but the church's second gay bishop, following the 2003 election of Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, which became a key issue in the continued strained relationship between the U.S. Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Christian Post has the information.

Many Anglicans within the U.S. are troubled, regarding that homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture, and are attempting to find a home outside of the U.S. Episcopal Church. This action by the L.A. diocese is yet another instance that illustrates the chasm that has developed between the U.S. body and the worldwide Communion.

2 - Concerns about Christmas

This time of year, our attention turns to ways that religious expression, specifically the celebration of Christmas, is allowed or disallowed in the public square, including municipalities and in schools. Recently, the Alliance Defense Fund turned its attention to the city of Merced, California, where the traditional "Christmas" parade had been changed to a mere "holiday" parade. The good news is that before an ADF letter was received, the city had decided to hold its parade, with the name, Christmas, attached, this past Saturday. Here is the local newspaper story on the controversy.

And, in the Washington, D.C. area, the Loudoun County, Virginia Board of Supervisors reversed a decision not to allow public displays on the grounds of its courthouse. This apparently would include Nativity scenes and Christmas trees. Here is the Washington Post report.

Meanwhile, a Federal appeals court upheld a lower court ruling from Texas in a 2005 case involving the rights of students to distribute candy canes with attached cards describing their religious origin, as well other religiously-themed materials. The court ruled in favor of restrictions on the ability of students to pass out these materials. Here is the Associated Press story from the Houston Chronicle.

Governmental entities are no doubt struggling regarding public displays at Christmas. A number of Christian organizations have resources available that state what is and isn't constitutional pertaining to the topic. Rutherford Institute, Alliance Defense Fund, Liberty Counsel, and others have information on their websites that give constitutional guides on the expression of Christmas.

1 - Christian overtones in big games

It could be characterized at Championship Saturday, as college football teams engaged in their conference championships for the right to possibly play in the national collegiate championship game. Tim Tebow of the University of Florida has gained quite a lot of attention recently for the use of Scripture references written in the black eye paint that players use on their faces. On Saturday, he chose John 16:33, which refers to being of good cheer even when facing tribulation. And indeed, it was a tough day for Tebow, whose team suffered a stunning 32-13 defeat at the hands of Alabama, which no doubt wore on his emotionally. These Scripture references have become a point of curiosity - for instance, when he had "John 3:16" written in the paint, that reference became the number one search term on Google.

The use of Scripture also became a focal point as Texas needed a field goal as time expired to seal a berth in the national championship game. The Dallas Morning News reports the story of how Jordan Shipley, the holder for place kicker Hunter Lawrence, reminded him of the Bible verse, Jeremiah 17:7, to help calm his nerves. Lawrence made the game-winning field goal.

Now, I realize that God doesn't play favorites - He is more concerned with how we apply His principles than with the outcome of a football game. In this case, the reminder of God's Word helped Lawrence to do his best and use his God-given skill for His glory. The ultimate outcome is the glory of God!!

Honorable Mention:

Effects of pornography highlighted in new study

New York Senate rejects same-sex marriage

Texas megachurch pastor recovering from brain tumor surgery