Sunday, October 31, 2010

The 3 - October 31, 2010

This edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3", includes a golden opportunity for Christians and the church to be active in sharing the love of Christ in disaster, the life of a Christian pastor in Iran on the line, and a recent credible terrorist threat targeting religious centers.

3 - Relief organizations respond in light of Indonesian tsunami

In the aftermath of an earthquake earlier in the week, 2 additional disasters actually emerged - a tsunami that struck islands in the Mentawai chain of Indonesia, leaving some 400 people dead (and the death toll is apparently climbing), as well as the eruption of the Indonesian volcano Mt. Merapi.

Christian organizations have been mobilizing to respond to these remote areas, where suffering is rampant. World Vision, Southern Baptists, and others are reportedly attempting to transport the needed supplies into the affected areas. Here is an update from CBN News.

As I like to point out, the aftermath of disasters provide a tremendous opportunity for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ to reach out with humanitarian aid, helping to meet physical challenges and to address the spiritual needs of the affected people. As people are offered spiritual hope, in addition to physical help, they can experience of the love of God in action and perhaps come to a saving knowledge of Christ.

2 - Christian pastor in Iran faces possible execution

A Christian pastor in Iran has been placed on trial and found guilty of apostasy for questioning the domination of Muslim doctrine in the school his children attended. In his defense, he argued that Iran's constitution allows the practice of Christianity. His wife was also convicted of apostasy, but she was released earlier this month after serving 4 months in prison.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has urged President Obama this week to pressure Iran to release the pastor, Youdak Nadarkhani, who reportedly is facing a death sentence if he does not renounce his Christian faith. Here is the story from the Christian Examiner, which originally appeared in Baptist Press.

This is the type of scenario that is repeated all to often in some Islamic countries - freedom of religion is non-existent, and people face severe punishment, persecution, and even death because they dare to speak out on behalf of the Christian faith. Iran is a country of "particular concern", according to the U.S. State Department, and is high on the Christian organization Open Doors' "World Watch List". As the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church approaches on November 14th, we can be mindful of this and similar instances of Christian persecution in many areas of the world, where people place their lives on the line for the sake of their Savior, Jesus Christ.

1 - Churches and other houses of worship in Chicago area urged to be vigilant

With the disturbing announcement on Friday of the interception of explosives found in packages addressed to 2 Jewish houses of worship in the Chicago area, we can be alert or re-alerted to the religious nature of the conflicts that we face in this world. Again, we see the thread of fundamentalist Islam, as expressed here apparently by the militant radical group Al-Queda, which is believed to be responsible for the attempted attacks. Here is the story from The Christian Post about the warnings that have been issued to religious institutions in the Chicago area and beyond.

The religious motivation is seen in a couple of ways: these fundamentalist radicals are performing their deeds in the name of their god, Allah, believing they will be rewarded for their treachery. And, they are targeting, in these cases, other religious groups. We know all too well that Jews and Christians are not viewed favorably by these groups, and their motivation is to do harm to those who do not adhere to their religion. Vigilance is being called for across the country and around the world, and these events serve as a grim reminder of the nature of the religiously-motivated conflict that is transpiring across the globe.

Honorable Mention:

Court victory for Mississippi Personhood Amendment

National Day of Prayer survives court challenge involving Colorado governor

Summary of voter information

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The 3 - October 24, 2010

This week's edition of "The 3" includes a national discourse on a phrase that many think is in the constitution, confusion over the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, and a major conference on evangelism wrapping up in South Africa.

3 - "Separation of church and state" debated as after-effect of DEbate

The concept of "separation of church and state" has no doubt been a contentious one over the years, as those who are seemingly intent on removing religious references from our society and limiting the free expression of religious ideas in the public square have hidden behind that phrase. It's not in the Constitution, as Christine O'Donnell, Delaware Senate candidate, pointed out in a recent debate with her opponent Chris Coons. When Coons attempted to explain his position, which he used in a discussion over the teaching of creation in public schools, he clarified by essentially saying that, according to the First Amendment, Congress is not to "establish" a religion. Here is the account from USA Today's Faith & Reason Blog.

That is correct, but only half the story - and that half of the story is the dominant principle these days in the debate over what is Constitutionally-permitted religious speech. The other half of the story is that Congress is also not to deny the "free exercise" of religion. It seems to me that people who wish to express a religious viewpoint are expected to comply solely with the "establishment clause", without regard to their free speech or free expression rights. In attempting to prevent a so-called "establishment" of religion, plaintiffs, supported by civil liberties organizations, are attempting to get courts to rule that legitimate expressions of religion in a public setting are somehow unconstitutional.

The phrase "separation of church and state" is not in the Constitution, but the words are those of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote to a group of Baptists, emphasizing there should be a wall of separation, in other words, that the church should be protected from governmental intrusion. In the proper context, the idea is not for religious people to keep silent, but the expressed intent was to keep the church from establishing a state church or religious practice.

2 - Confusion reigns over gays in the military

Early in the week, the U.S. military instructed recruiters to allow openly gay individuals to enroll in its ranks, as the result of a ruling by ONE Federal Judge, Virginia Phillips in California, who disregarded the potentially chaotic effect such a ruling would have. After some anticipation, the Obama Administration did appeal the ruling to the 9th Circuit, which stayed Judge Phillips' ruling - at least until this Monday. The judges are evaluating whether or not to stay Phillips' ruling while the case is being heard. Meanwhile, those recruiters are not pulling back on allowing gays to join the military. Here is the report from CitizenLink.

So, confusion reigns, as the military continues to study what potential effect that allowing open homosexuals in our armed forces will have. Pro-family experts caution about the effect on morale, readiness, and the cohesion of forces, as well as the placing of military chaplains in an uncomfortable position of having to support a policy that may conflict with the position of their respective faiths regarding sexuality.

1 - Lausanne conference spotlights stories of God at work

Despite the absence of an entire delegation from China, in the midst of a computer hacker's blow that prevented many from joining in the conference online, the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization proceeded in Cape Town, South Africa. Some 4000 delegates from almost 200 nations attended, hearing moving testimonies of how God is at work around the world, plotting strategies for reaching more people with the gospel, and being inspired to take part in some of the justice issues that can be addressed Biblically. CBN News had this summary.

One of the stories from Lausanne that attracted my attention was the report from a minister focused on Iran, who reported that thousands of Muslims are coming to Christ. This was documented in this article from The Christian Post.

Now these thousands who attended the conference in Africa are returning to their respective spheres of influence, and it is hoped that they bring a fresh perspective on how God desires to use them in doing His work, and can help to motivate churches and communities to be involved in the work of winning people to Christ.

Honorable Mention:

President omits "creator" from Declaration references - 3 times!

MI woman seeks Christian roommate, charged with discrimination

TN school district bans prayers at football games, graduations

Deanna Favre testifies to Christian faith in latest struggle

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The 3 - October 17, 2010

This edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3", includes court activity surrounding the military's stance on homosexuals in the armed forces, a large Christian conference taking place in South Africa and one country's delegates who are having some trouble attending, and the enormous spiritual implications of the dramatic Chilean miner rescue.

3 - "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" faces judge's block, Administration appeal

This past week brought new court activity for the current policy regarding gays in the military known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"...and let it be noted that the U.S. military's official position is that homosexuality in the ranks of the armed forces is not allowed. The Clinton Administration enacted the DADT policy as a compromise in light of his attempt to allow known, active homosexuals to serve. Well, this week, a Federal judge who had earlier ruled the policy was unconstitutional went one step further and essentially barred the military from enforcing the policy. CitizenLink had this story.

The speculation then began on whether or not the Obama Administration would appeal the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit. After all, the Administration is on record as opposing the ban, and the President is taking steps to have it repealed. Therefore, it is believed that the defense of DADT would be tepid, at best. Nevertheless, on Thursday, it was announced that the Department of Justice would appeal the ruling of the ONE judge who attempted to make policy for the entire U.S. military. Here is CitizenLink's follow-up.

Again, it is unclear how vigorous the defense posture of the Obama attorneys will be - apparently, the DOJ is appealing based on how chaotic an immediate reversal of the policy would be. Those who favor the military's current position maintain that it will be chaotic no matter when DADT is rescinded, if indeed it is reversed.

2 - Delegates prepare for Lausanne convention, Chinese government detains attendees

A large conference is getting started in Cape Town, South Africa that is bringing together missions-minded Christians from a variety of organizations from all over the world. The 3rd Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization is designed to bring some 4000 invited participants together from almost 200 nations. According to a press release, the Lausanne Movement was founded by Billy Graham, and the Congress will be reaffirming truths of Biblical Christianity and engage with critical issues facing the church during the next decade.

However, some delegates from one particular nation may not be allowed to make the trip. Reports are widespread that Chinese representatives of a variety of house churches are not being allowed to leave the country, including reports of some being physically removed from the airport. The advocacy organization, ChinaAid, has been tracing some of the incidents, and here are some of their press releases.

So, against the backdrop of a world that so desperately needs to hear the message of the gospel, the delegates are gathering to be inspired and instructed, and to fellowship together in the common bond of Christ's love. Hopefully, the representatives from China, where God is moving in such a powerful way, will be able to attend, to share their stories, and to help to encourage others who desire for the kingdom of God to move forward in their nations.

1 - Christian elements of the Chilean miners' rescue revealed

The moving rescue of 33 miners trapped underground in Chile for weeks attracted attention from all over the world. And, the spiritual element of the rescue and the events leading up to it cannot be denied. Consider this:
- one of the miners was instrumental in leading prayer services each day
- resources were sent down into the mine, including .mp3's of the Jesus film and copies of the New Testament
- 2 miners reportedly gave their lives to Christ
- all 33 miners emerged wearing T-shirts thanking God and giving glory to Him
- miners shared testimonies of God's hand in sustaining them during their ordeal and for their ultimate rescue.

Here is a summary from The Christian Post. Also, Baptist Press offered coverage, including this story about how the miner who has emerged as the spiritual leader, Jose Henriquez, recruited a pastor to aid miners and their families.

This is a high-profile story that can give us as Christians an opportunity to discuss God's faithfulness in the midst of difficult circumstances, and to help people reflect on how God has rescued us from the bondage of sin through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Honorable Mention:

New pro-life Nebraska law takes effect

Principal encourages support of prayer breakfast, receives discipline

40 Days for Life announces 3000th baby saved

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The 3 - October 9, 2010

This week's edition of "The 3" shines the spotlight on gambling arrests in Alabama, arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court concerning the rather acerbic Westboro Baptist Church protesters, and a throng gathering in Atlanta to be motivated to be a "catalyst".

3 - 11 indicted in gambling probe in Alabama

This Monday, Federal officials were dispatched throughout the state of Alabama to arrest 2 casino owners, 1 casino spokesman, 4 state senators, 3 lobbyists, and a legislative employee. They were indicted in association with activity surrounding the passage of a bill in the Alabama Senate (SB 380) that would have legalized electronic bingo in selected locations in the state, pending a statewide vote. The first version of the bill failed to reach the 21 votes necessary to move forward, but it was reintroduced and passed with exactly 21 votes.

The Alabama Citizens Action Program, or ALCAP, had been involved in opposing the attempt to legalize what they and other Christian organizations across the state regarded to be illegal. And, in fact, the activities of the Governor's Task Force on Illegal Gambling and supportive AL Supreme Court decisions have eliminated the presence of electronic slot machines at all locations, except the Indian casinos in the state. ALCAP posted this report from the Birmingham News on its website.

Gambling represents a regressive tax on society, and punishes the poorest among us. Gambling addicts present a tremendous cost to society, and the economic implications on families are potentially devastating. For some time, Christian leaders have cited the corrupting influence associated with gambling activity, and if these current allegations are proven, it will support what has been contended for some time in Alabama. Corruption surrounding gambling has in fact been proven in other instances. The organization, Stop Predatory Gambling, has published this "white paper" on the relationship of gambling and corruption.

2 - U.S. Supreme Court considers church protest case

The U.S. Supreme Court is back in session, and one of the notable cases is one that concerns religious freedom and free speech. In the Snyder vs. Phelps case, the father of a Marine who lost his life in Afghanistan is alleging that he was offended by the presence of protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church, whose pastor is Fred Phelps. Westboro congregation members attend various functions, including military funerals, basically contending that military members lost their lives because America is under God's judgment because of the sin of homosexuality. Using unsavory signs and comments, the Westboro devotees are offensive in their approach, but a central question in the Supreme Court case is whether or not the Constitution restricts certain types of speech just because someone finds that speech offensive. Here is the setup from Liberty Counsel.

Again, there are definite free speech concerns here - if Westboro members are restricted from their protests, then that precedent could that be applied to other forms of free speech, such as pro-life individuals and groups who peacefully demonstrate at abortion clinics. Public expressions of faith could be found to be restricted if someone finds those expressions offensive. So, even though the Westboro group is considered by many to be deplorable, nevertheless they have a constitutional right to free speech, and hopefully, a ruling from the high court will continue to uphold our free expression rights.

1 - Catalyst draws thousands to energize leaders

For many years, the Catalyst Conference has gathered in Atlanta to creatively inspire and encourage Christians to be passionately and creatively influential. It's commonly thought that the conference falls under the banner of "leadership training", but when you consider that all of us have the potential to have an effect on others, then it's not necessary that a person showing up to Catalyst is officially in a leadership position.

High-profile Christian speakers, such as Andy Stanley, Beth Moore, Craig Groeschel, Francis Chan, and others, instructed the crowd of some 13,000 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in the greater Atlanta area. Additionally, people involved in such noble causes as fighting human trafficking and providing clean drinking water in third-world countries, caused attendees to examine how they are helping to address the needs of people less fortunate, activated by the love of Christ. Here is the report from The Christian Post.

Again, the conference has the potential to not only motivate those who attend, but then those who have been to the event can go back into their communities and have a distinct influence for the sake of the gospel.

Honorable Mention:

Churches celebrate Clergy Appreciation Month

Business booming for cookie store in Indiana that rejected order for gay activist event

Vermont license plate ruling protects religious references

Saturday, October 02, 2010

The 3 - October 3, 2010

This week's edition of "The 3" includes another thought-provoking survey from the Pew organization, this time regarding how well we know religious history and teachings. Also, President Obama makes more faith statements. Plus, Christians around the world stand together with Jerusalem.

3 - New Pew survey highlights religious knowledge

I include this item just simply because it has generated so much discussion about the knowledge of faith issues and information. This week, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the results of a survey which was intended to indicate Americans' knowledge of religion in general, including information on world religious history, and perhaps the teachings of some churches in specific. Here is the overview of the study from the Pew website.

Probably one of the most notable discussion points is that atheists and agnostics performed the best on the 32-question quiz. Jews and Mormons outdistanced Protestants with their performance on the test. This shouldn't surprise us, because I would think that those who espouse either no belief or an ambivalent set of beliefs would at least have studied some aspects of religion, at the very least to be able to counter religious arguments.

I think also we should not place too much credence on the results, since it is a relatively small group of questions on a wide range of belief systems. You would hope that people would be able to answer questions about their faith and its history, although church leaders might be concerned about that. Take, for instance, the pastor of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio (where Max Lucado pastored for years and still serves on staff). He highlighted, in this Christian Post article, his concern about what he calls, "Biblical illiteracy".

Finally, we can use these survey results to provide a springboard for personal introspection: What do we believe? What do we know about the history and teachings of our own church? And, so importantly, can we defend our faith in the marketplace of ideas that run counter to a Christian worldview perspective? If we know what we believe and even why we believe it, then we have a firm foundation for our lives and for the application of God's truth. Why are YOU a Christian?...that's a question President Obama was asked this week.

2 - Obama's faith under scrutiny...again!

It wasn't too long ago that another Pew survey was focused on President Obama's faith, with about a third of respondents agreeing with him when he states that he is a Christian. Another 18% or so indicated they believed he is a Muslim. Well, as I said at that time, I think it's odd that we are having a rather public discussion evaluating whether or not the President is a Christian. It is, however, certainly a Biblical role that we as Christians are given to look at the fruit of someone who says he or she is a Christian. The end result of that burst of discussion was that Obama is a Christian, but that perhaps his Muslim upbringing makes him more sympathetic to the teachings and practices of Islam.

So, this past week, Mr. Obama was asked why he is a Christian. He gave a fairly detailed (for a backyard political meeting) explanation of his faith. Here is the Associated Press story on what he said.

While he laid out the basic Christian belief of Jesus' dying for our sins, he also seemed to indicate that people of other faiths have their own path to grace. While I agree with him that we should be respectful of other beliefs, it should motivate us as Christians to reach out and share Christ with people of other faiths, as we recognize that Jesus said that He is the way, truth, and life.

When I read the account, I also thought of Terry Jeffrey's column on recently about Obama's insistence of recognizing people of "no faith", which comprises a very small percentage of the population. It is apparent to me that there was a strong foundation of faith (I believe that was Christian faith) that drove the founders to establish this nation, and while, again, we're respectful of those with whom we disagree, we can't deny the strong religious component of our history. Here is Terry's column.

Also, there are many in evangelical Christianity that do not see Obama's policies as consistent with our perspective. This is especially apparent with the abortion issue - in that same meeting, Obama echoed Bill Clinton's statements that abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare". However, pro-life groups have recognized the current Administration as the most pro-abortion in history. Here is the perspective of Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council regarding the President's recent faith statements.

So, when the President talks about faith, it seems to generate quite a bit of discussion. He is certainly capable of discussing some of the basics of the Christian faith, but does go out of his way to temper what might be perceived as strong Christian statements with a deference to other faiths. In doing so, it becomes difficult to define his personal theology, which I still say is basically a mix of Christianity, with some Islamic teaching thrown in, with a hefty dose of liberation theology, expressed in his policies that provide for confiscation of wealth through taxation, and a redistribution of that wealth in order to bring about economic and social justice.

1 - Christians pray for peace of Jerusalem

On the first Sunday of October, Christians around the world are called to participate in the Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem. Christian leaders from Jack Hayford (a co-founder) to Ravi Zacharias to Kay Arthur to Gary Bauer are among some 1000 Christian leaders who endorse the day, emphasizing the importance of raising awareness for Christians to stand in solidarity with Israel, believing that God continues to have a strategic call and purpose for the Jewish people. More information can be found at the website,

Perhaps as many as 300 million Christians from some 175 nations could be taking part in this significant outreach of prayer, sponsored by Eagles' Wings Ministries, under the direction of Rev. Robert Stearns. CBN has an excellent overview of this day and its implications.

Current events in modern-day Israel have prophetic implications in the fulfillment of God's plan in the earth, as Israel is a barometer of the fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Now, its political leadership is not necessarily a God-ordained institution, but the creation of the nation within its Biblical borders is a seismic event on the landscape of God's plan in the earth, and I believe that as Christians stand together with the Jewish people and the Jewish nation, that God will work His will in the earth. And we remember, the Bible does tell us to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Psalm 122:6).

Honorable Mention:

Organizations that support marriage and 13 state attorneys general file briefs to support Proposition 8

Congress comes against theft of Mojave Desert cross, urges replacement