Sunday, November 25, 2012

The 3 - November 25, 2012

The Thanksgiving week edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, includes a court ruling on an almost 60-year tradition involving multiple Nativity scenes in Santa Monica, CA.    Also, just before the start of the week, the National Bible Bee crowned champions in three divisions.  And, the top story, the celebration of Thanksgiving, which provides Christians with opportunities to serve, as we thank the One who gave Himself for us.

3 - Court rules against Santa Monica Nativity scenes

A Christmas tradition in a California city has been drastically altered, to the extent that it no longer is a reverent or meaningful celebration of the birth of Christ.  According to CitizenLink, the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes annual event dates back to 1953, in which booths with life-sized figures depicting the events surrounding the birth of Christ have been displayed in Palisades Park from the second Sunday in December through the end of the year.

Three years ago, a man named Damon Vix applied for and received permission for a booth in the park, according to Fox News.  Vix hung a sign quoting Thomas Jefferson that read: “Religions are all alike — founded on fables and mythologies.” Another one of his signs read: “Happy Solstice.”

Last year, he encouraged others to apply for a booth in the Nativity Scenes event, resulting in 18 of the 21 booths being represented by a secular person or group, according to Fox News.  One of the secular displays included a tribute to the “pastafarian religion,” which showcased an artistic depiction of “the great flying spaghetti monster,” a mockery of Christianity.   There was a display of pictures of Poseidon, Jesus, Santa, and the devil, which read: “37 million Americans know myths when they see them. What myths do you see?The remaining three booths were Christmas and Hanukkah displays.

On October 9th of this year, the Nativity Scene Committee (NSC), comprised of 13 Santa Monica churches and the Santa Monica Police Officers Association, filed a lawsuit in Federal court against the city, seeking to restore the nearly 60-year-old Nativity Scenes display in Palisades Park.

In a hearing this past Monday, the committee asked the court for a temporary reprieve from the ban while the case proceeds. The court ruled against the NSC, meaning there will be no Nativity Scene event until a final ruling is issued in the case.

“The city of Santa Monica decided that they didn’t want to have anything to do with it anymore — it was creating more work for their staff and they made up some additional excuses,” said William Becker, attorney for NSC.

The next step: a hearing on a motion by the city to dismiss the case.

No doubt, this Christmas season will give rise to more court action concerning the celebration of Christmas.   Municipalities are confused regarding what constitutes acceptable religious expression, and some have taken measures to eliminate Nativity scenes and other Christian expressions of our Savior's birth.   Some have even removed references to Christmas in deference to a non-specified holiday.  But, in a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles, it is somewhat odd that Christians are being restricted from expressing the age-old traditions of Christmas. 

2 - National Bible Bee winners celebrate achievement

I am taking just a bit of latitude on the timing of this story, which involves young people across America participating in a competition based on their knowledge of the Bible.  The announcement of the winner of the National Bible Bee occurred on Saturday, November 17th in Sevierville, Tennessee.  According to a report in The Christian Post, the top three Senior division students in the National Bible Bee finals took turns quoting passages of Scripture from memory for over an hour without making a single error, causing the contest – and the winner of the $100,000 grand prize – to be determined by a tiebreaker.

Officials of the fourth annual event, turned to the students' preliminary challenge scores, including their written tests, to determine the winner after a deadlock in the final round.  Sophie Haire of Havre de Grace, MD was eventually declared to be the winner in the division, which includes 15- to 18-year olds.

Around 7,000 young people nationwide participated in the Bible Bee program in 2012 – a 20 percent increase from last year.  Tom Widdoes, vice president of operations for the Shelby Kennedy Foundation, the organization behind the Bible Bee, expects participation numbers to continue to climb, he says, due in part to the competition's new format.

In years past, Bible Bee organizers provided students with hundreds of memory verses at the beginning of the summer. The contest was meant to be a family discipleship program, but it became intellectually intimidating.

This year, organizers cut back on the amount of information students were required to study in preparation for local competitions. With the help of special guidebooks, parents can now effectively lead their children in their Bible Bee studies in about 20 minutes per day.

Those who qualify for nationals, however, are eventually faced with much greater intellectual challenges, including the memorization of several hundred verses of Scripture.

Other winners included:  Rionna Flynn of Cupertino, CA in the Junior division (11-14 years old) and Olivia Davis of Salem, OR in the Primary division (7-10 years of age).   This was Olivia's third consecutive year as top Primary, and she will move to Junior in 2013.
And, while on the topic of Bible-related competitions, auditions are now being held for the second season of the American Bible Challenge, where teams of 3 people test their Bible knowledge and play for money to be donated to their favorite charities.  According to, tryouts are ongoing in Los Angeles, and next weekend, casting directors will be visiting Atlanta and Dallas.  The Atlanta auditions this Saturday, December 1st will be taking place from 10am-4pm Eastern at The Spring4th Complex, 714 Spring Street Northwest, in the main building.  Click here for more information

1 - Christians give thanks, give of themselves on Thanksgiving Day 2012

This past Thursday was Thanksgiving Day, and while many regard it as a day to be thankful for our families, maybe our nation, or on the more insignificant side, football, or even shopping, we as Christians recognize it is a day set aside to give thanks to God, the One Whose hand was involved, I believe, in the establishment of our nation, the furtherance of the freedoms that we enjoy, including freedom to practice our faith, and Who daily calls us to walk in a relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ.

And, as we fall deeper in love with Him, He provides opportunities for us to share that love.   Thanksgiving Day has become a time, part of a season, when we can display the love of God in our hearts to people in need.  The churches of the greater New York City area, as well as national ministries, are still on the job in reaching out to those victimized by Superstorm Sandy.   And, ministries across our area and our nation have been involved in reaching out.

The Christian Post featured a number of those ministries in a recent story.   For instance, twice during the week before Thanksgiving Day, a church in Los Angeles, One Church International, held an outreach to the people of Skid Row that includes providing food, clothing, and prayer at a comedy club in a North Hollywood location.

At Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC, Pastor Steven Furtick's wife, Holly, met with 40 women on Monday to pack 200 grocery bags with meals for families in need near the church's Matthews location. The meals went to serve 561 people in the community by way of outreach partner Matthews Help Center.   That was just one of many outreaches to serve a combined over 1,000 people in the Charlotte area.

On Thanksgiving Day, in addition to several other projects, more than 200 volunteers led by a motel (families in transition) ministry from Saddleback Church in California were planning to serve 700 meals at nine locations throughout Orange County.

More than 1,500 shopping bags were filled with items from a Thanksgiving "grocery list" by members of Longhollow Baptist Church in the Nashville area.  The bags were reportedly filled with holiday dinner ingredients and cash for turkeys.

And, in the Auburn/Opelika area of East Alabama, as perhaps you heard on Faith Radio, Harvest Evangelism had plans to serve 1,200 meals on Thanksgiving Day.   The Opelika/Auburn News estimated that meals were served to around 1,500 people.

Because we are thankful for what Christ has done for us, we reach out to people in need with the love of Jesus, recognizing that just as He came to serve and give His life to set us free, He calls us to be involved in works of service, as we are directed by the Holy Spirit.   As an act of worship, an act of thanks, we get involved in ministering to others.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The 3 - November 18, 2012

This week, there is quite a variety of news stories affecting the Christian community, as I outline here in this week-in-review feature, "The 3".  First up, another challenge to the contraception mandate from the Obama Administration, and a court victory for a major Christian publisher.  Also, last Sunday, November 11th, was a significant day in order to honor and support 3 distinct groups of people - the persecuted church, orphans, and U.S. veterans.  The top story involves the nation of Israel - under fire and at's a series of events that is extremely relevant to principles in the Bible and to Christians and Christian organizations who stand with Israel.

3 - Bible publisher receives relief from court on contraceptive mandate

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' contraception mandate continues to make headlines, and this past week, a well-known Bible publisher that had filed suit concerning it received some relief in court.  Tyndale House Publishers joined the ranks of companies and Christian institutions filing suit against the mandate, and those ranks have swelled to some 40 lawsuits involving 110 plaintiffs.   Those who are challenging this mandate as part of the national health care law contend that being forced to provide free contraception and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees via their health care plans violates their religious freedom rights.   And, in the Tyndale case, a Federal district judge seems to agree.

According to a report on the Christian Post website, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton granted a preliminary injunction to stop enforcement of the mandate against Tyndale.  The judge wrote,
"Although there is arguably a public interest in the uniform application of the ACA (Affordable Care Act) and the contraceptive coverage mandate there is undoubtedly also a public interest in ensuring that the rights secured under the First Amendment and, by extension, the RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act), are protected...Indeed, First Amendment rights are among the most precious rights guaranteed under the Constitution."

The judge also said that, "The contraceptive coverage mandate ... places the plaintiffs in the untenable position of choosing either to violate their religious beliefs by providing coverage of the contraceptives at issue or to subject their business to the continual risk of the imposition of enormous penalties for its noncompliance. Such a threat to the very continued existence of the plaintiffs' business necessarily places substantial pressure on the plaintiffs to violate their beliefs."

The relief is only temporary, as Judge Walton issued a preliminary injunction.   But, it is clear that the judge recognized the contention of Tyndale, which is consistent with host of other Christian organizations who have been placed in a position of either compromising their beliefs or paying penalties.   

2 - Churches remember orphans, persecuted church, veterans

Sunday, November 11th was a day that was set aside to remember three groups of people who are significant, representing some ministry needs that the body of Christ, especially the church in America, can address.

The second Sunday of November is traditionally the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, and but some churches and organizations observed it on the 4th.  Open Doors and Voice of the Martyrs are two of the key organizations who reach out to persecuted believers around the world, and they observed the 11th, while the actually International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church website,, named the date as the 4th, but said the people were free to choose.

Regardless of the day, the cause is dire - believers are facing persecution at the hands of hostile governments around the world.  Through its website,, Open Doors is offering prayer wristbands in order to help remind people to pray for persecuted Christians.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention reports these persecution facts:
  • More than 43 million Christians have been killed for their faith since the crucifixion of Jesus.
  • It’s been estimated that more Christians were martyred in the 20th Century than in all the prior 1,900 years combined.
  • There were more than 26 million documented cases of martyrdom in the 20th Century alone.
  • More than 200 million Christians in over 60 nations face persecution each day, 60% of these are children.
  • 150,000 to 165,000 are martyred each year.
ERLC states that Christians today are the most persecuted group in the world.  Persecution is on the rise because of Communism, the expansion of Islamic and Hindu extremism, and because of the sparsity of freedom-honoring governments around the world.

Also, last Sunday was commemorated by a number of churches as Orphan Sunday, as we are reminded that James 1 instructs us to care for widows and orphans.  Now, the Christian Alliance for Orphans had designated November 4th, but you can find a number of instances of churches celebrating that day on the 11th.  The Christian Alliance for Orphans is seeking to add a unified voice and coordinated effort to the many worthy efforts that preceded this year.

Here's a little background on Orphan Sunday:  While attending a church service in Zambia, an American visitor, Gary Schneider, was struck by the pastor’s passionate call to care for orphans in the local community, which had been ravaged by AIDS and poverty.  Members of the church faced deep need themselves.  But as the service ended, one after another stepped forward with money, food and other goods-some even taking off their own shoes and placing them in the offering for orphans.   Gary began to help Zambian leaders coordinate Orphan Sunday efforts in that nation, and efforts spread to the U.S. in 2003. 

Churches are using this occasion to mobilize their members in reaching out to children in need, through prayer for those without parents around the world, through encouraging Christians to provide foster care or support for foster families, and actually adopting children from countries around the world, including here in America.   In following the Biblical call to care for orphans, there is a growing trend in churches to promote these and related opportunities.

I think it's interesting that there may have been some disparity about the dates these occasion were commemorated - because, it is true that it's more about the cause than the date.   And, these are areas of need that transcend a particular day.

Finally, November 11th is always Veterans Day, a time to recognize the sacrifices that brave men and women have made and continue to make to preserve our freedom and promote the cause of freedom around the world.   This day can serve to remind us about the contributions of our military, our veterans, and our Guard and Reserve units, as well.   We can also reach out to families to have faced deployment, and help to minister to those who are left behind.   Our military friends understand, in a unique way, the concept of service, and we appreciate the way that they serve not only in their military duties, but in their communities, as well.

For instance, I am reminded of the way that Christians in the Maxwell Air Force Base community partner with a variety of ministry and other charitable organizations to do good in the name of Christ, and how military and other Federal employees support charities, including Faith Radio, with their dollars given through the Combined Federal Campaign.  We greatly appreciate how they partner with our area!   By the way, the Heart of Alabama CFC is winding down, and state employees can still participate through the end of the year through the Alabama State Combined Campaign. 

1 - Christian leaders and organizations stand with Israel in light of attacks

The violence in Israel is something that is quite relevant to Christians, for several reasons.   The Bible tells us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and we recognize the spiritual significance of the land and people of Israel, God's original chosen people.   Even today, there are Christians and Christian organizations who are encouraging us to stand with Israel.  Here are some of the developments reported by author and Bible prophecy speaker Joel Rosenberg, founder of the Joshua Fund, who has been in Israel.

* All signs point to Israel preparing a massive ground invasion of Israel (sic). Massive numbers of Israeli Merkava (chariot) tanks, armored personnel carriers, and combat engineering equipment is being moved hour by hour to the Gaza border. When several colleagues and I were driving north to Galilee today, we passed mile after mile of Israeli military vehicles heading south towards Gaza from their bases along the Lebanon and Syrian borders. Some 75,000 Israeli reserve soldiers are being mobilized as we speak. What’s more, Israeli officials are telling the nation to prepare for at least 7 weeks of fighting...

* That said, Israel is awash with rumors tonight of an imminent truce (“hudna” in Arabic) – some media reports are speculating a cease fire could begin soon.

* There is also much speculation that the Egyptian leadership is pressing Hamas hard to stop firing at Israel. The Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil visited Gaza on Friday to meet with Hamas leaders. During a press conference Saturday with Turkish leader Erdogan, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi said “there are some indications a cease fire could be soon.”

* Israel, however, says it is “not interested” in a cease fire — has many more terror targets still to hit and destroy. (Times of Israel)

* Meanwhile, Hamas and other terrorists in Gaza have not stopped firing missiles and rockets at Israel — about 100 rockets were fired at Israel on Saturday.

Hundreds of rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza this week, and the missile defense system, the Iron Dome, has intercepted a significant number of them.  Israel has responded by carrying out hundreds of air strikes this week.

Christian organizations are declaring their support for Israel.  Christians United for Israel is providing regular briefings on the situation in Israel through its website at   Also, an organization that has involved a number of evangelical leaders, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, founded by a Jewish rabbi to facilitate cooperation between those two religious groups, is offering daily updates, and has responded with a $2.7 million aid package.

Not only are Christians speaking out on Israel and its right to defend itself, but we also must recognize the prophetic significance of these events.   For instance, when you read Ezekiel 38, you see that in the last days there will be an alignment of nations that will stand in opposition to Israel - it will be invaded, and God Himself will turn back the invasion.   After that occurrence, Israel will turn to the Antichrist for protection - ultimately, the Antichrist will occupy a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem.

This incursion demonstrates the hostility that seems to be mounting against Israel - Hamas, which is the authority in the Gaza Strip, is supported by some powerful allies, such as Iran and Egypt.  Some of the rockets that have been launched into the suburbs of Tel Aviv were manufactured by Iran.  This is an explosive situation, and it calls for prayers and vigilance.  Many Christians are hopeful that the United States will provide the necessary support for Israel in the face of violent opposition.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The 3 - November 11, 2012

Election results permeate this edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3".   In the number 3 slot, there is new leadership in 2 church bodies - one smaller one, and a rather large one, but both significant in our world today.   The top 2 positions involve Election Day: the traditional marriage position losing at the ballot box in 4 states, and the size of and choice by the evangelical vote.

3 - New leadership for Coptic Christians, Anglican church

This week, there were 2 high-profile appointments to leadership positions over church bodies in the world.   The much-maligned Coptic Christian church, meaning the church in Egypt, appointed a new leader, a pope, this week.  Pope Tawadros II was appointed last Sunday to replace Pope Shenouda III, who died in March after leading Egypt's Orthodox Christians for four decades.   And, the new leader is speaking out in favor of an inclusive constitution for the country, in light of fears that the Muslim Brotherhood would institute sharia, or Islamic, Law.

He is quoted by The Christian Post, citing a Reuters story, as saying that, "The beauty of Egyptian society is the presence of Muslims beside Christians. Diversity is strong and beautiful."   He went on to say that,  "If a good constitution is presented in which every person finds himself [represented], there is no doubt Egypt will develop...But if the constitution addresses one part of the community and ignores another it will take society backwards."

The Copts are thought to have between 5 and 20 million adherents.  We remember this group of believers, as well as other persecuted Christians on this, the International day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

Also, in Great Britain, it was announced that a new Archbishop of Canterbury has been named, the culmination of a long selection process that eventually resulted in a committee making a recommendation, and the Queen of England giving final approval.  The Archbishop is the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Bishop of Durham Justin Welby, who is believed to be strongly in the evangelical wing of the communion, including being opposed to same-sex marriage, has a background in business, in the oil industry. quotes Welby as saying that he felt privileged and astonished to be chosen to lead the Church at "a time of spiritual hunger."

Regarding same-sex marriage, he said, "We must have no truck with any form of homophobia in any part of the church," adding that he planned to "listen to the voice of the LGBT communities and examine my own thinking."    He supports allowing women to serve as bishops, an issue that is scheduled to be voted on later this month by the Church's governing General Synod.  

Welby, who replaces the retiring Rowan Williams, will have his work cut out for him, as he attempts to lead a large group - an estimated 77 million members - with a diversity of views while maintaining his sense of conviction on delicate issues that have adversely affected the church.

2 - Ballot measures on legalizing gay marriage pass in 3 states, traditional marriage amendment fails in 1

While the majority of political eyes were on the Presidential and Congressional races, there was quite a bit of attention on the 4 ballot measures concerning marriage, in 4 states that were won by President Obama, and have gained a reputation for being generally liberal.

In Washington and Maryland, traditional marriage supporters had gained enough signatures to get a referendum vote put on the ballot to rescind what the legislature of those 2 states had done in approving gay marriage, and Maine also had a vote on whether or not to legalize same-sex marriage.   In Minnesota, where gay marriage is currently illegal, voters were asked to decide on defining marriage in their state as one man for one woman, as over 30 other states had done.

In the end, by around 5 percent or less in all states, those who support traditional marriage found themselves on the losing side - Washington, Maryland, and Maine deciding to legalize same-sex marriage, Minnesota deciding not to define marriage in the traditional way.   The outcome there did not legalize gay marriage, however.

According to WORLD Magazine, Joseph Backholm, chairman of Preserve Marriage Washington, said in a statement. “The results show only that in a deep blue state, with a huge financial advantage, gay marriage activists can win—barely.”

I came across an interesting piece on National Review Online, by Charles Donovan, President of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, which is an arm of the Susan B. Anthony List.  Referring to a chart on social issues that he included in the article, he is quoted as saying that:
We did not win much and will take a media beating over it. But all of our issues ran better than the GOP headliner in the eight states listed, with the exception of Florida’s disappointing results on the abortion and Blaine Amendment issues. The social issues are not to blame.
For example, in the gay marriage states, here are the results (based on early returns):
Maine - 6 percent loss on gay marriage, Romney defeated by 16%
Maryland - 4 percent loss on marriage, Romney loss of 24%
Minnesota - 3 percent loss on marriage, Romney defeated by 8%
Washington - 4 percent loss on marriage, Romney off 12%

There are some differences as totals have come in; for instance, it appears that the Maine referendum to legalize gay marriage won by 5 points.

So, while a shift in the electorate's position on gay marriage is being triumphed, you still have to consider that even in these deep blue states, the conservative, traditional positions were not rejected by an overwhelming majority.   Amidst the calls to moderate on social issues, the fact remains that there are still over 30 states that have traditional marriage amendments on the books, the size of the gay community is still relatively small (4%), despite the vocal nature of its constituency, and marriage remains a bedrock component of a stable society.

1 -  Evangelicals go for Romney, but not enough

This past Tuesday, the orderly process of selecting leaders in a constitutional republic took place once again, and while there were a few irregularities reported in some areas, it is amazing to see that over 120 million people went to the polls and cast ballots in the general election without incident.  And, after all the money spent, the time taken to campaign, and the immense amount of attention concentrated on it, America voted really for four more years of a similar leadership breakdown - re-electing a President, a Senate with 2 more Democrats than before, and a House that is majority Republican.   And, what of the evangelical vote? - there were pundits that said prior to the election that the evangelical vote could make a difference in the election.

Two studies have been released about the participation of evangelical Christians, and CitizenLink has a report:

According to “How the Faithful Votes: 2012 Preliminary Analysis,” released by the Pew Research Center, the percentage of white evangelicals voting in the presidential election bumped slightly upward, from 23 percent of all voters in 2008 to 24 percent in 2012. Of those, 79 percent voted for Mitt Romney, while 20 percent said they voted for President Obama. That’s roughly equal to the number of evangelicals who said they voted for George W. Bush in 2004, but more than former Sen. John McCain received in his presidential bid in 2008 (73 percent).

The Faith and Freedom Coalition, had slightly different numbers: Its polling data revealed that the evangelical vote increased to 27 percent this year, with 78 percent of them voting for Romney and 21 percent for Obama.

As in other recent elections, those who attend religious services most often demonstrate the strongest support for the Republican presidential candidate, according to Pew:  Nearly 60 percent of those who say they attend religious services once a week voted for Romney, while only 39 percent voted for Obama.

What are some lessons that we can learn from the 2012 election, as Christians?   I offered 8 different items on my radio show on Wednesday.   Here's a recap:

1 - Essentially, the American people voted for the status quo.  And, this result comes even in light of polling data that shows that 6-in-10 Americans believe the country is on the wrong track.

2 - Economically, we are on an unsustainable path.  Congress and the President must come together within the next 2 months to avert the fiscal cliff that we face, with the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the deal that Congress made to enact cuts, which will deeply affect the military and other areas.    And, with the growth in entitlement spending and the proliferation of an entitlement culture, there is a tremendous need for wisdom to address these issues.

3 - There is little silver lining today on Americans' views on the so-called social issues.   It is certainly a reflection of a significant element of our society that does not embrace the Biblical definition of marriage, and it is seen in a variety of other areas, as well.

4 - We have a tremendous clash of worldviews in our culture.   We have to define our approach and strategize in order to reach people who do not hold to the same beliefs as we do.   Ultimately, our solutions do not come by who is in the White House, but how we function as God's house.   Winning hearts and minds with God's truth, and winning souls to Jesus ultimately is our Lord's Great Commission and should be our aim and consuming passion.

5 - Passion can be misplaced.   I have to think, if the time that I spend digesting political analysis through a variety of sources were to be channeled into strengthening my spiritual walk, I would have a deeper relationship with Christ and He would use me more powerfully.   We have to really evaluate our passions - if we were stronger in the Lord and more grounded in Him, we would unleash an exponentially more powerful force on this earth than politics.

6 - We need to pray for our President.  I am thrilled that there were so many prayer efforts leading up to the election.  Now that the results are known, I don't think we should let up in our fervency for prayer.   There are positions that Mr. Obama holds that are contradictory to those of many evangelical Christians, but that doesn't mean that God cannot or will not use him in His divine plan for America. 

7 - There is so much for which to give God praise - so rejoice today.  He loves you, and has brought you into a relationship with Himself through Christ.   We can hope in Him.   Praise Him for your family and the people around you.   Give Him glory for His protection and His provision.   Blessing the Lord for His blessings can help to change our perspective amidst discouragement.

8 - God is still on the throne.  Ultimately, He is the One who is in control.   There is abundant Scriptural evidence that He places kings in power and deposes them.   The Bible says the heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord - and even when kings, or presidents do not govern the way we think they should or the way that God hoas prescribed, that doesn't mean that somehow God's ultimate purposes are thwarted.  Ultimately, all people, including those in governmental authority, will stand before the King of Kings, the ultimate Judge, who rules and reigns.

We recognize that our ultimate hope is not in politics, but in Almighty God.   I don't believe we withdraw from the political process, but we have to be very intentional regarding our involvement, realizing that to move hearts, we have to be winning in our ways and our words, so that people will want to listen to and consider what we have to say.

Monday, November 05, 2012

The 3 - November 4, 2012

On this week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, a look at a college campus which has seen two recent incidences of religious expression being affected negatively, reminding us that school campuses can become areas of concern regarding free speech.  Also, it was an active week concerning the mandate that organizations, including many religious entitites, provide free contraception and abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans.   And, the top story - Christian churches and ministries were once again on the front lines providing assistance to storm victims, this time in the Northeast.

3 - Religious expression at LSU under scrutiny 

As the frenzy at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge built to a fever pitch at the prospect of a near-upset victory by LSU over #1 Alabama, in the midst of that throng was a group called the "Painted Posse".   These are actually Christians who paint their bodies to show their dedication to the Golden Tigers, but they also paint a cross near their shoulder to express their devotion to Christ.

There was a picture of some of their number that had been circulated by the university after the LSU victory over South Carolina earlier this season - there was one small problem:  the crosses had been "photo-shopped" out.   According to Baptist Press, LSU spokesman Herb Vincent claimed they altered the photo from the Oct. 20 game because they didn't want to offend anyone.

"We don't want to imply we are making any religious or political statements, so we airbrushed it out," Vincent said. "It was just a straight sports communications message, no politics involved, no religion."

Following that incident, the Posse members reportedly asked themselves, "What would Jesus do?" They publicly forgave the university for the incident and are urging everyone to put the incident behind them - with one caveat.

The members offered a press release, which said, in part:
"We encourage anyone who would like to honor Jesus Christ to join us by wearing a cross on November 3rd. We strongly discourage the wearing of a cross as a way to protest the university or its recent decision. We desire that no further negative light would be shone upon the university that we love. We acknowledge the efforts of the LSU administration and look forward to serving the university as both fans and students."
I'm not sure how many Tiger or Tide fans may have shown support for the Posse during the game Saturday night.  But, the story has attracted national attention, and illustrates how sporting events can be platforms to express faith in Christ.

And, speaking of sports and faith, the Marbury High School cheerleaders greeted their football team in its game at Wetumpka Friday night with a bold Scripture banner for them to run through.   Based on Romans 1:16, which involves not being ashamed of the gospel, the banner was allowed by the Autauga County Superintendent, which apparently has no intention of responding to a challenge by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which had written a letter to the school district stating the banners are unconstitutional.

Back to LSU, now - there is a new religious freedom controversy brewing there.  CitizenLink reports that the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of a student prohibited from distributing pro-life literature beyond a 1,000 square-foot area on the LSU campus.

In October, a student who wanted to participate in the Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity by handing out pro-life materials was told by LSU officials  that she could do so only in the school’s “Free Speech Alley — the one  place on campus where students and organizations are permitted to distribute printed materials.

ADF Legal Counsel Matt Sharp argues that the idea of this "Free Speech Alley" restricts religious freedom, saying that colleges and universities should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas:
“By limiting the distribution of material and free speech to less than 1 percent of the campus, Louisiana State University is violating the constitutionally protected freedoms of students who should be free to express themselves on the sidewalks and open spaces at the university,” he explained.
A number of college campuses have become zones where free speech and freedom of religious expression become restricted, and Christian students who wish to express themselves are finding that there are administrators that want to limit their ability to share and express their faith, and to choose leaders and members of Christian organizations that adhere to their beliefs.   

2 - More court action on the HHS contraception mandate

It was an active week concerning the mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services that forces employers, including those with religious objections, to provide free contraception and abortion-inducing drugs through their health care plans. had quite an assortment of stories.

One plaintiff, the large craft store chain, Hobby Lobby, was in court this week before a Federal court in Oklahoma.  Also, on Thursday, Criswell College, a Christian university in Dallas, Texas, filed a challenge to the mandate, bringing the count up to 39 separate lawsuits involving more than 110 plaintiffs.

Also this week, Grote Industries, a secular business based in Indiana that makes lights for cars and trucks, which is owned by a Catholic family, filed suit against the mandate.   Christian book and Bible publisher Tyndale House had a court date that was postponed due to Superstorm Sandy.

And, there was a victory in one of the cases this week: Weingartz Supply Company, which is owned by a Catholic, became the second organization to receive a court-ordered preliminary injunction stopping the mandate. In July, a federal court ordered an injunction saying Hercules Industries, a Catholic-owned business in Denver, is exempt from it while its lawsuit proceeds.

Thomas More Law Center Lead Counsel Erin Mersino, said the judge’s opinion “is not only a victory for our clients, but for religious freedom.”

In his ruling, Federal District Court Judge Robert H. Cleland said the loss of First Amendment freedoms, even if for a short period of time, will injure the plaintiffs by infringing on their religious beliefs.

“The balance of harms tips strongly in Plaintiffs’ favor,” Cleland concluded.  He said, “A preliminary injunction is warranted,” as the case continues.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs on Sept. 27, called Cleland’s ruling an “important step” in defeating an unconstitutional mandate.

So, despite claims by the Administration that no one is forced to provide these objectionable drugs, business owners, school administrators, and now judges are recognizing that this mandate is an infringement on religious freedom.
1 - Churches, ministry organizations respond in the wake of Superstorm Sandy 

Superstorm Sandy, the convergence of a hurricane with a major winter storm, has caused widespread damage and the loss of dozens of lives along the Northeast coast.    And, as we commonly see in times of crisis, Christian organizations in the New York City area were already in position to help, and national and international ministries, such as Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, the Salvation Army, Samaritan's Purse, the Billy Graham Rapid Reponse Team, and World Vision, were significantly involved in the relief effort, providing physical and spiritual assistance.

Emily Belz covered the situation in the Northeast for WORLD Magazine, and wrote about some of the relief efforts.   She cited Hope for New York, a nonprofit affiliate of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, as it helped to coordinate relief efforts between churches and nonprofit groups, posting needs on its website.  All Angels Church on the Upper West Side requested hygiene kits and blankets. New York City Relief asked for clothing and food. Other churches in Queens sent out foot patrols to check on their neighbors.

“This is the time for the church to respond and to serve our city as Christ has so well served us,” wrote Apostles Church NYC on its website Tuesday, enumerating ways for parishioners to help.

Churches planned relief efforts even as they bailed out their own buildings. In Queens Tuesday morning, members of Trinity Grace Church helped clean out the flooded church offices at Skyline City Church. World Vision reported that its storehouse in the Bronx flooded, damaging a “great deal of assets.”

The Bowery Mission, a Christian group that primarily serves the homeless in the city, opened its emergency shelter Monday to more than 150 needing a roof over their heads. The mission said on Tuesday that it had lost power and its food pantry was dwindling—but the mission had initially tripled its normal capacity.   And, people from other shelters began to flock to the Bowery.

So, in a time of need, the church and ministry organizations provided needed food and shelter, and will no doubt be major players in the cleanup efforts in areas where homes were damaged due to flooding and wind.   When the storms come, it's important that the church is prepared and engaged to display the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.