Saturday, April 23, 2011

The 3 - April 24, 2011

This Easter weekend edition of my week-in-review feature that I call "The 3" focuses on: an FBI action concerning illegal gambling, a new legal team to defend the Federal definition of marriage, and the celebration of Christ's resurrection across America and around the world.

3 - Online gambling sites shut down by FBI

The gambling issue presents a challenge for the Christian community, as we recognize that gambling is an addictive practice that promises a false hope of achievement. Money that can be used to provide for the needs of families instead goes into the pockets of gambling purveyors, who profit from the weaknesses of their customers.

In many states across America, the legalization of various forms of gambling has resulted in an attempt to provide another revenue source, even though it is unreliable. These forms include state lotteries, as well the taxation of casinos or electronic bingo halls. But, the benefits to governments are dependent on their citizens, in many cases the poorest, losing money. So, gambling is a bad bet generally, including as public policy issue - a governmental entity should not be endorsing gambling and encouraging people to participate.

The Federal government passed legislation 4 years ago that would prohibit online gambling and set criminal penalties for gambling operators whose sites are available in the U.S. That legislation only took effect last summer, and this week, under the provision of that law,
the Unlawful Gambling Internet Enforcement Act, the FBI has shut down three of the largest online poker sites. Here is the story from CitizenLink.

But, there are those in Congress that want to look the other way with regard to the dangerous activity of online gambling. In fact, near the end of last year, Senator Harry Reid, in a move believed to reward casino operators who contributed to his campaign, attempted to pass legislation that would repeal the Unlawful Gambling Internet Enforcement Act. Rep. Barney Frank has re-introduced what is described as bi-partisan legislation that would establish a framework for an Internet gambling industry in the U.S. This is no doubt an effort that will legitimize a very harmful activity with, in essence, government endorsement.

Gambling is an issue about which it's important for the church to speak out. Scores of families are being adversely affected as a result of this idolatrous activity, which harms the economic well-being of individuals and those they love. In an era where governments are cash-strapped and looking for revenue sources, this is a poor suggestion as a solution. In a time when Republicans are being courted by a high-profile casino owner as a potential Presidential candidate, the gambling issue needs to become prevalent in the national dialogue.

Fortunately, in Alabama, where 11 individuals, including 2 casino owners and 4 lawmakers, were indicted on Federal charges related to buying votes for a gambling bill, the prospect of expanded gambling has waned. (Plus, factor in a sizable shift in the ideological makeup of the Legislature.) One of those involved in the case, Country Crossing owner Ronnie Gilley, pleaded guilty this week and will reportedly be cooperating with Federal officials. But this case does point to the alleged corruption that is associated with gambling.

Gambling leaves numerous victims in its wake, and one area in which churches can be involved is in the healing process from gambling addiction. Truly, it is a faith in the resurrection power of Jesus Christ that offers hope to those who are in bondage to gambling.

2 - Defense of Federal Defense of Marriage Act strengthened

There was quite a bit of concern in the Christian and pro-family community when the Obama Administration announced it would no longer defend the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This was especially critical in that there were two Federal lawsuits at the time that were being litigated concerning DOMA, which provides for marriage to be defined at the Federal level as one man for one woman.

However, there were indications that since the Administration ultimately wanted to overturn the Act, that it was not vigorously defending it in court. So, if there was to be an effective defense of DOMA, it would have to be done by someone else. Enter House Speaker John Boehner, who said that Congress would assume its Constitutional responsibility to defend Federal law, and that intent was ratified by a committee that he had appointed. This week, former Solicitor General Paul Clement, who served in that role in the (George W.) Bush Administration, was appointed as the lead counsel.

Pro-family leaders were ecstatic. For instance, Brian Brown, President of the National Organization for Marriage, said:

"At last we have a legal eagle on this case who actually wants to win in court! Paul Clement is a genuinely distinguished lawyer, a former Solicitor General of the United States, who we are confident will win this case. Thanks to Speaker Boehner's actions, President Obama's attempt to sabotage the legal defense of DOMA is not going to work."

Here is the text of a press release issued by NOM, who is also heavily involved in the battle over the marriage amendment, Proposition 8, in California.

There are two court cases in Massachusetts where intervention will be needed soon in order to defend the traditional definition of marriage, consistent with the definition found in the Bible - one man for one woman. Even though the momentum may have been drifting in the other direction, perhaps this can represent a turnaround in the process to preserve the definition of marriage.

1 - He is risen, indeed!!

The greatest news for the Christian is that Jesus Christ, our Savior, is risen from the dead! Easter is the date on the calendar set aside to commemorate what He has done for us. The resurrection was the culmination of the process that was essentially begun at the foundation of the world to bring redemption to humanity. Jesus was born as a man, lived a perfect, sinless life, and was qualified to be the perfect substitute for our sins. He died on a cross, shedding His blood for the forgiveness of our sins, and triumphed over the power of sin and death through His resurrection. Christians uniquely celebrate this day, and many churches and organizations have used creative means to mark this joyous occasion.

For instance, some 2000 people gathered in a park in Houston, Texas to perform a dance to celebrate that Jesus is alive. The event, called, "Dance Your Shoes Off", also featured the element of participants leaving shoes for the needy after their dance. The event was filmed, and has attracted quite a bit of attention on YouTube.

For more information, visit The song is "Rise Up", performed by Lauren James Camey and produced by Caedmon's Call member Joshua Moore.

On Good Friday, the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham hosted another of its "Secret Church" events, conducted by Senior Pastor David Platt, a 6-hour period of Bible teaching designed to simulate the setting in which many in underground churches around the world might be worshipping. These highly popular events have been hosted by Brook Hills in the past, but this year's Good Friday event featured an estimated 1400 churches participating via simulcast, with a projected attendance of around 50,000 people. It's a solemn event marking a solemn occasion, reflecting on Jesus' suffering and how Christians are suffering around the world. For more information, here is the Secret Church simulcast website.

And, in a number of cities around the world, Christians took part in a unique walk through the city streets, with one or more people carrying a cross, representing the cross that Christ bore. For example, in Mumbai, India, some 15,000 people gathered for the annual event, which also served to protest the treatment of Christians in that country. Here's the Christian Post article about the occasion.

And, finally, on a lighter note, Community Christian Church in Naperville, Illinois, decided to make a parody of Rebecca Black's "Friday" video in an effort to attract attention for its Easter services. Here's an example of a church attempting to be creative, playing off really a cultural sensation (no matter how cheesy!)'s had over 2-1/2 million views on YouTube, if you can believe that.

He is risen!! Bless His Holy name!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The 3 - April 17, 2011

This week's edition of "The 3" highlights stories from literally around the world, including conflict between a significant church in Beijing and the Chinese government, good news from a Federal appeals court regarding a significant prayer occasion, and a significant vote on taxpayer funding of abortion in Congress this week.

3 - Chinese pastor, church members arrested in Beijing

The tension continues to grow between the Chinese government and members of a rather large church in Beijing. It all began, it seems, when the Shouwang Church, an unregistered church that has some 1000 members, was told that it could no longer meet in an indoor facility it had been using. It convened in an outdoor meeting last weekend, and over 150 church members were arrested. Here's the report from Baptist Press. This weekend, there were more arrests for the senior pastor and other members of the church, as the Shouwang congregation had announced plans to meet outdoors in a public plaza again.

The Christian Post had this report.

The church has maintained that its reason for holding the outdoor meetings is not political in nature. The government had apparently restricted the church from finding a permanent location. The church is facing this round of arrests because it is an unregistered church, therefore it is not viewed as "legal" by the government. Many Christians in China do not believe that they should register their churches, because they feel that Jesus, not the government, is the head of the church. There has been concern expressed by the U.S. State Department about an increased crackdown on dissidents, including those affiliated with unregistered churches. This emerging series of incidents has attracted international media attention, and has exposed at least one case of how the Chinese government, in fact, does not uphold freedom of religion, despite its claims that it does.

2 - Federal appeals court says National Day of Prayer is constitutional

Last year, a Federal district judge, Barbara Crabb, in Wisconsin had ruled that the Congressional directive to the President to declare a National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional, based on the so-called Establishment Clause found in the First Amendment. This week, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision and sent it back to the original court for dismissal.

The Christian Examiner had this report.

Historically, Presidents have declared national days of prayer. There is a rich tradition in the United States for people to come together in prayer, and the National Day of Prayer is an expression of the rich Christian heritage that is found throughout our history. The day became an annual event in 1952, and this year's event, with the theme, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God", will be observed on May 5, 2011. State capitols, city halls, county courthouses, and a host of churches and civic buildings will play host to prayer gatherings, as people of faith are encouraged to call upon the Lord on behalf of our nation, our governmental officials, as well as other leaders and people of influence across our land.

1 - Congress votes on de-funding Planned Parenthood; House, Senate split

The issue of taxpayer funding of abortion had emerged to be a central issue in the debate over the Federal budget for the current fiscal year. Lawmakers, facing a government shutdown, agreed to a compromise that would cut some $39 billion in spending before the fiscal year ends in September. One of the cuts that many members of Congress had wanted to enact was the funding of the nation's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood. The House, in fact, had already passed legislation to de-fund the organization, but the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, had stated firmly that there would not be a vote on the issue in the Senate. Well, as a result of the budget compromise, there was an agreement to allow a vote in the Senate, which took place this past Thursday. Going into the vote, it was generally thought that the measure to restrict taxpayer funds from Planned Parenthood would fail, but it did serve the purpose of forcing Senators to go on record with their opposition to de-funding. The final vote: 58-42 to continue to send taxpayer dollars to this organization.

Here's the report from CitizenLink.

As surveys show that Americans are increasingly pro-life and as pro-abortion lawmakers suffered losses in the 2010 elections, nevertheless there are Senators that are committed to funding abortion through this flawed organization. Planned Parenthood has been exposed recently as not telling the truth about its providing mammograms (Pro-life organization Live Action showed it does not), as aiding and abetting those who would participate in trafficking underage girls, and as an organization that does not follow the law in reporting instances of abuse. In an era where Americans are apparently calling for reduced Federal spending, it is disturbing that you have such a large number of lawmakers who would want to spend tax dollars on an organization that participates in such abhorrent practices as abortion and these other activities that have been exposed.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The 3 - April 10, 2011

This week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, includes news from the world of entertainment, as a movie that represents a strong faith story went up against several major releases, also from the world of health and sociology, as studies on the behavior patterns of teens and young adults were released, and from the political realm, the budget showdown in Congress was influenced by the life issue.

3 - Surfing story with strong faith elements places in Top 5 at box office

There has been plenty of interest within the Christian community about the new film, "Soul Surfer", which depicts the incredible comeback made by surfer Bethany Hamilton after a 2003 shark attack, resulting in the loss of her left arm. The movie, starring AnnaSophia Robb in the role of Bethany, has been screened by thousands of pastors and influential Christians nationwide, and there has been a deliberate and devoted effort to engage the faith community to encourage Christians to support the film.

Read what frequent "Meeting House" contributor Dr. Marc Newman of Movie Ministry had to say about "Soul Surfer"

So, how did we do? Some initial estimates have already been released by the studios: There were four major motion pictures debuting this weekend. Two of them, "Arthur" and "Hanna", placed higher than "Soul Surfer", but with lower per-screen averages. In fact, "Arthur" was released to almost 1000 more theaters than "Surfer". Of the top 10 films of the week, only "Hop", the #1 film, had a higher per-screen average. So, while "Soul Surfer" placed #4 this week, its modest $11 million dollars is solid during an off weekend. And, I wouldn't be surprised if the buzz at church on Sunday wasn't a significant factor to motivate moviegoers to check it out.

2 - Virginity increasing on campus, teen pregnancy on the decline

There were two studies released this past week related to the sexual practices of young adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's study of teen pregnancy indicated a 37% drop in the number of teen pregnancies over that past 20 years. And while the CDC study says that contraceptive-based sex education deserves the credit, Christian and pro-family abstinence advocates say that the teaching of abstinence-only practices until marriage is the only reliable method to reduce teen pregnancy.

Here's CitizenLink's report on the CDC study, with some pertinent comments

Meanwhile, another study was released this week from a researcher at Stanford University showing that more seniors on college campuses indicate that they are virgins. The news is mixed, however, in this study, because it also indicates that there has been an increase in the number of sexually-oriented relationships among students. So, 24% of seniors describe themselves as virgins, but the evidence may point to an increase in the amount of activity among those individuals who are sexually active. Here's another CitizenLink report.

The takeaway for Christians is that we live in a highly sexualized culture, but that it is highly possible for teens and young adults to remain sexually pure, especially as they are reliant on the power of Christ. Parents can be challenged to teach their teens that God's way is best, and following His plan prevents teen pregnancy, sexually-transmitted diseases, and the emotional difficulties that are associated with relationships that veer out of bounds from the standards He has set.

1 - Abortion a key issue in budget showdown

As the budget battle on Capitol Hill continued to rage this past week before the compromise was reached late Friday night, it became apparent that the pro-life contingent in Congress was being heard. The House, in a continuing resolution it had passed to fund the government through September, had included eliminating the funding of Planned Parenthood. However, the House's one-week extension that it also approved did not include a de-funding of Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion rovider, but did move to prevent taxpayer funding of abortion in the District of Columbia.

But, Congressional leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, did make reference to protecting women in his rhetorical posturing, a clear reference to the Republican leaders, who were attempting to protect life in the budget line items being discussed. The funding of Planned Parenthood at a rate of over $350 million annually, to many GOP lawmakers, was a clear example of the wasteful government spending that has driven the Federal government into its current deep level of debt.

The budget compromise announced Friday night does prevent taxpayer-funded abortion in D.C., but it also forces the Senate to hold a vote on de-funding Planned Parenthood, a vote that Reid had vehemently said he would never allow.

Here is's report on the role of the life issue in the negotiations.

So, the leaders of both parties were heading toward an impasse and the possibility of a detrimental government shutdown, and abortion became a sticking point. But, it was a non-negotiable for many, as they abhorred an out-of-control government using taxpayer funds to help bankroll an objectionable organization. To me, this is the type of excess that has ensnared our Federal officials, and pro-life members of Congress have indicated that they are not willing to compromise on this fundamental issue.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

The 3 - April 3, 2011

This week on "The 3", my week-in-review feature, state legislatures are again the focus, but the topic has changed - a look at 3 states where same-sex unions are being debated. Also, thousands of students came to Fort Worth this weekend to be energized in their relationship with Christ. And, at the top of the list, tragedy in Afghanistan: a Koran-burning in the U.S. has resulted in violence and death there.

3 - Marriage in the states: Colorado House committee defeats civil union legislation, Indiana passes marriage protection amendment, Washington state votes to recognize same-sex marriages from other states

Last week, I concentrated on some of the actions being taken within various state Legislatures with respect to bills that are designed to reduce the number of abortions in their respective states. This week, there was a focus in several states on the issue of marriage.

The Colorado Senate recently voted to authorize civil unions in the state, which is, in essence, a form of gay marriage - extending benefits and recognition to same-sex partners without using the term, "marriage". A House version of the bill, however, failed to gain a majority in a House committee.

Meanwhile, in Indiana, the possibility of a marriage amendment being placed on the ballot has increased, as the result of action in the Legislature there. The Senate passed the proposed amendment 40-10. The legislation must also pass in the 2013-14 session in the House and the Senate, before going to a referendum vote in 2014.

Since Congress has been unable to pass a Federal marriage amendment defining marriage as one man for one woman, and with support for the Defense of Marriage Act waning in some circles and facing court challenges, state amendments can perhaps provide a line of defense against those who are trying to redefine this time-honored and stable institution, an entity that has been ordained by God, which provides a foundational structure for society. You can also see from action in Colorado, Washington, and other states that those who seek to redefine marriage are hard at work to bring erosion to the fabric of this vital institution.

2 - Students receive the challenge at Fort Worth Passion event

The Passion movement has served to challenge and encourage young adults, primarily college students, in their walk with Jesus Christ. The January Passion event in Atlanta drew some 22,000 students who were energized in their faith, and the latest Passion conference, in Fort Worth, Texas, drew almost 10,000 students from 47 states and 13 countries, hearing from noted speakers such as John Piper, Francis Chan, and Passion founder Louie Giglio.

Worship is also a key component of the conferences, as Chris Tomlin, Christy Nockels, the David Crowder Band, and others led worship for this conference. A live worship CD, "Here for You", was recorded at the Atlanta Passion conference earlier this year, was released last month.

Passion is also involved in giving back, as students are urged to be part of "Do Something Now", which has collected over $3,5 million for global causes since the initiative began in 2007. As we look at the popularity of the Passion movement, we can be encouraged about how God is working in the lives of young adults, who are seeking to share and apply uncompromised Biblical truth.

1 - Afghan violence linked to Koran burning in America, highlights Islamic double standard

The violence continues to build in Afghanistan in the wake of the burning of a Koran at the same Florida church that threatened to burn a Koran in association with last year's 9-11 observance. Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, Florida said that the church had decided to put the Koran on trial, claiming that its teachings have been used to harm lives. The Koran was found "guilty" and sentence to being burned. Pastor Jones has been described as unrepentant in the face of the Afghan violence, saying that the reaction proves his point that there are radical elements of Islam.

At the time of this post, almost 2 dozen people, including 7 U.N. workers, are reported to be dead, and the violence is reportedly being exploited by the Taliban, who could be using the unrest as a tool to regain power in the affected regions.

The Obama Administration, Christian leaders, and others have criticized the act of burning a Koran. Afghan leader Hamid Karzai said that those responsible for the act recently in Florida should be arrested and punished.

Certainly, the desecration of a book that another religion deems to be sacred is an ineffective and offensive way to make a point. Christians should not burn the Koran...and Muslims should also recognize that burning a Bible is an act that is deeply troubling to many Christians. Nevertheless, Iranian officials confiscated and burned some 600 New Testaments recently in an Iranian province. Fortunately, I have not heard of any acts of violence by Christians as a reaction to this act. But, Christians should be concerned and prayerful, recognizing that in brutal regimes like Iran, where Islamic fundamentalism rules the day, believers in Christ face unprecedented persecution. Yes, those who possess the mindset of turning to violence when their holy book is damaged do not blink an eye when it comes to the Bible being desecrated. This is a clear case that a double standard exists.