Sunday, April 28, 2013

The 3 - April 28, 2013

This week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, all relate in some form or fashion to the topic of religious liberty - one story involves a homeschool family that came to America from Germany seeking out the freedom to teach their children at home, another story involves the narrative that continues to proliferate concerning the right of military men and women to practice their faith.  And, the top story area involves religious freedom protection in one state, and another state's court victory preserving a religious liberties bill passed last year.

3 - Homeschool family from Germany faces U.S. appeals court for right to stay in U.S.

In 2010, after being denied a right to homeschool their children by officials in their native country of Germany, Uwe and Hannelore Romeike moved their family to the United States, where they were granted asylum by a district court in Tennessee. The Romeikes had decided to teach their children at home because they believed that the public schools in Germany were teaching values in opposition to their Christian beliefs. They were forced to pay fines and their children were forcibly removed from their home and taken to the public school.   The Romeikes have 6 children.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement appealed the district court's decision in 2012, and the Board of Immigration Appeals agreed with the government.  From there, the case was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The U.S. Justice Department is defending the Board's ruling.  Hearings were held before a three-judge panel in the Sixth Circuit this week.

Michael Farris, Chairman and Co-Founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association, which is defending the family, tweeted out, according to The Christian Post, "The oral arguments are over. Tough questions were asked on both sides, and it's hard to predict the outcome, but, I argued before the California Circuit Court and was convinced I lost, but ended up winning. God can intervene."

A petition drive in support of the German family has yield over 120,000 signatures on a website that is tied in to

2 - Military faith slights, real or perceived, continue to surface

It does seem that there have been a number of stories recently involving the U.S. military and its policies toward people of faith.  One of the leading stories recently involved an Army training presentation that labeled evangelicals and Catholics as extremist groups.  That preceded the report of an Army officer's e-mail that referred to the American Family Association and Family Research Council as organizations about which to be concerned.

Now, according to the Christian Examiner website, the Army has banned what are referred to as "Jesus rifles", in which verses of Scripture are etched into the scopes. 

Based on a Fox News report, 2 New Testament references, John 8:12 and II Corinthians 4:6, were engraved at the end of the scopes’ serial numbers by the company Trijicom, a Michigan-based defense contractor.

Soldiers at Fort Wainwright in Alaska said that they were directed to submit their scopes in order for the references to be removed.  Military personnel were to scrape off the scripture reference, verify that the reference is completely gone, and then cover the area with black paint.

Army officials stated that the scopes didn't meet the contract, and the vendor replied that the inscriptions had always been on the sights and there was nothing wrong or illegal about including them.
So, in light of regular reports of religious expression being curtailed within the military, you can certainly understand where there would be concern over reports over military chaplains who had discovered that, the website of the Southern Baptist Convention, had been blocked.   The message that was received by those attempting to access the site was rather ominous, making reference to "hostile content". 

Baptist Press reports that the website has now been unblocked, and that the reason for the restriction was that malware had been detected within the site, which has now been deemed safe for use.  Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, a Defense Department spokesman, is quoted as saying that, "The Department of Defense is not intentionally blocking access to this site...The Department of Defense strongly supports the religious rights of service members, to include their ability to access religious websites like that of the SBC."

Chris Chapman of the SBC says that, "Unfortunately, has joined the ranks of other major organizations that are targets for hackers, detractors and activists. Those engaged in destructive creativity will exploit the continuing development of new technologies to cause new harm and threats of harm continually, so this latest challenge is, for us, just another one of the sort we deal with every day."   A member of the SBC Executive Committee, Roger Oldham, cautioned against jumping to conclusions.

Keep moving, nothing to see here?   Perhaps in this case, yes, but the narrative is continuing to build concerning the religious liberties of men and women in uniform, so it's important to keep tracking various instances, recognizing the importance of the rights of our troops being preserved.

1 - Religious liberties victories in 2 states

There is definite concern over religious liberties on a national level, most recently typlified by the number of religious groups and companies with Christian leadership that have filed suit against the Obamacare contraception mandate.

Some state legislatures have written into their laws language that is intended to protect religious freedom.  The latest state to pass a law to protect religious liberties is Kansas, where Governor Brownback signed into law the Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, which, according to CitizenLink, writes into state law the same strict legal protections for religious liberty that currently exist in the federal judicial system. The stricter standards have been in place at the federal level since Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1993 in response to weakening judicial standards protecting religious liberties. RFRA passed the US House of Representatives unanimously and won approval in the US Senate by a margin of 97 to 3 before President Clinton signed it into law.

In 1997, the Supreme Court struck down the act’s ability to mandate such protections in state courts.  Since then, nearly 20 states have passed legislation designed to protect religious liberties.   The first was Alabama, in the 1998 election, which passed a Constitutional Amendment that wrote those protection into the state's constitution.  

And, on the religious liberties front, last year, Missouri passed the Missouri House of Worship Protection Act, signed by Governor Nixon.  And, CitizenLink reports that on Friday, a federal judge ruled in favor of the law, which protects houses of worship from profane, rude or indecent behavior or noise intended to disrupt a service.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had filed a lawsuit against the law on behalf of two activist groups that protest outside Catholic churches. The groups claimed in their lawsuit that the provisions in the statute did not allow them to share their message with members of religious congregations.

U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber ruled that the law did not violate the First Amendment because it is content neutral, meaning it only restricts speech “when it is disruptive because of its manner, not its content…. The Court finds that the State’s purpose for regulation here, to protect the free exercise of religion, is unrelated to the content of the individual’s speech.”

Joe Ortwerth, president of the Missouri Family Policy Council, said that,“We thank God for Judge Webber’s decision, which helps ensure that the hostile efforts of those who would deny others the free exercise of their religion will be met with the force of law.”

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The 3 - April 21, 2013

This week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, is headed by the tragedies in Boston and West, Texas this week, and the Christian responses that were expressed.   Also, this week marked the annual "Day of Dialogue", a Christian response to an established gay rights event in schools.   Plus, thousands of Christian leaders converged on Orange County, California, to be motivated in their leadership and ability to implement and influence change.

3 - "Day of Dialogue" counters "Day of Silence"

The GLSEN-sponsored "Day of Silence" was observed in schools across America on Friday.  GLSEN stands for Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Education Network, and the one of the principal purposes of the event is presumably to call attention to bullying - the alleged taunts and improper treatment that homosexual students face in school.

Christians should be on the front lines concerning bullying - no one should be devalued or victimized by hurtful words for any reason.  But often, Christians end up being bullied as the result of their expressing a Biblical view of sexuality.   So, gay and straight people have differing views - can there be any sort of dialogue?

The "Day of Silence" implies that the answer is "no" - and gay students and those who sympathize with them are encouraged to say not a word during that day in order to magnify their plight.   But, CitizenLink, the public policy arm of Focus on the Family says, "Let's talk".   They took over the sponsorship of the Day of Dialogue and changed its name from Day of Truth, in order to send a message about the importance of communication on these issues.   It's quite the contrast from the silence of the following day.

According to CitizenLink:
The Day of Dialogue encourages student-initiated conversations about the fact that God cares about each person’s life and relationships. Students will also be able to exercise their free speech rights by handing out Day of Dialogue “Conversation Cards” before and after class. The cards provide redemptive, encouraging messages. Many will wear Day of Dialogue T-shirts and will display posters.
An estimated 7,000 students in some 46 states were expected to participate.  

2 - Catalyst West conference pulls together host of Christian leaders, speakers

Over 4,000 Christian leaders converged on Southern California this week to attend the Catalyst West conference at Mariners Church in Orange County.   This event is an offshoot of the larger, national Catalyst event held in Atlanta each fall. 

Catalyst President Brad Lomenick, who has held that position for some 10 years, told The Christian Post  that:  "There's so much hope we can still have in the present regardless of circumstances...We love this idea that we should be hopeful leaders, encouraging and more excited about tomorrow, but equally present in today. Part of the reason that we created an environment at Catalyst that is fun and is hopeful is to give people permission to enjoy and find joy in the present."

And, what we might call, "A-List" Christian pastors and leaders spoke at the conference, including Andy Stanley, Louie Giglio, Jud Wilhite, and Matt Chandler.  Chandler reportedly tackled the question, "What is meant when we say God is holy and majestic, and perfect in His nature?"

He told those in attendance:  "Here's why I want you to read the Bible...Disaster, suffering, and loss should never surprise us. The Bible is full of it. People die, there's rape, incest, plagues, natural disasters. It shouldn't surprise us because God didn't try to paint some different reality of what you are seeing here and now, and all around you."

Obviously, the desire of the event is to be a catalyst for change, that the leaders who attend would return to their churches and communities and be life- and hope-givers.

1 - Christians respond to tragedy in Boston, Texas

The disturbing images that filled our television and computer screens this week remind us of the fallen world in which we live, the brokenness of humanity, and how we are never really that far from tragic circumstances.   This week, it was the Boston area, with the explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  Also, this week, it was the small city of West, Texas, where a fertilizer plant explosion took the lives of over a dozen people.

And, these times of crisis, while serving as a reminder of human frailty, can also become a time to radiate hope.  That was happening in these locales and across the nation this week.

In West, a team of 10 Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains were sent to the area, where they encountered a sense of loss in the community and became sensitive to divine appointments to share hope in the midst of turmoil. 

And, pastors across the country, including Boston-area clergy, offered their words of peace and comfort amidst the desperation, according to a piece in USA Today:
Ed Stetzer, a Baptist pastor and president of LifeWay Research, a Christian research agency based in Nashville, blogged Monday that the tragedy drives us to cry out as it says in the Bible, "Come quickly, Lord, and set things right."
Stetzer shared words from Boston-area pastors such as Brandon Levering, pastor of Westgate Church in Weston, Mass., who devoted a blog post to defeating the fear instilled by terrorism.
"There is one thing on earth that no bomb can shake, and no terror can overcome: your presence. … As our city quakes from the effects of sin in this world — the evil, the violence, the injuries and loss of life — we pray that your holy and healing presence would be made known," Levering wrote.
The troubling, persistent, demanding question of "Why?" is also addressed by Adam Mabry, pastor of Boston's Aletheia Church. His answer is the same as Levering's: sin... 
"What are we to think when tragedy mingles with beauty? When pain accompanies grace? When blood spills with tears?" asks Mabry, who offers the Christian answer of turning to Jesus.
"I'm praying for my city. I'm praying for the victims. I'm praying for the first responders. I'm praying for families. But most of all, I'm praying for that grace which comes from God alone to overcome all that besets her."
Stetzer coined the phrase "from Marathon to Maranatha".

Acts of kindness were prevalent throughout the city in the hours following the tragedy, as many runners and spectators were intent on helping out the victims of the 2 major explosions near the marathon finish line.  There was a tremendous spirit of charity and compassion throughout the area.

And, there were thoughts that were shared about praying for the living suspect on Friday night, according to Christianity Today:

During the search for Dzhokhar, which had residents across the Boston area on lockdown for most of Friday, John Piper tweeted prayers that he be caught and his soul be saved: "My prayer for the running Boston bomber: Make his foot slip. Spare more victims. Save his soul." Following his capture, Piper indicated he would continue to pray for the suspect’s salvation, saying, “Two prayers answered. One to go.”

Huffington Post Religion quoted clergy, Catholic sites, and other Christian tweeters who were praying for Dzhokhar because “he is still a child of God” and “we are to pray for our enemies.”
LifeWay Research president Ed Stetzer sent a tweet saying, "'But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.' -Jesus."
There were plenty of moments for reflection during this ordeal, as we contemplate the nature of sin and the brokenness of humanity.  And, we look to our Savior for comfort and hope, the One who said He would make all things new.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The 3 - April 14, 2013

This week's edition of "The 3", includes a victory for a pro-life student group at a major university which had been denied official recognition, but that denial was overturned.   Also, the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has led to a discussion of her apparently committed Christian faith.   And, the top news story - a really, really bad week for the abortion industry!

3 - Johns Hopkins pro-life student group reinstated

Colleges and universities across America have seemingly become more concerned about the ideological makeup of some of their student groups.   Public and private institutions have attempted to institute non-discrimination or "all-comers" policy, stating that certain groups cannot place limits on their leadership or membership makeup.   And, unfortunately, these policies skew adversely toward Christian groups, who desire to embrace viewpoints consistent with Scripture and who find themselves facing increased pressure to admit those who do not share the same faith perspective into their membership and leadership.

And, an instance from Johns Hopkins University gives us another example of an attempt to discriminate against the official campus recognition against a student club or organization based on some of its viewpoints.   In this case, it was the Voice for Life club (VFL), that was rejected in its quest for recognition by the student Senate because of its pro-life views and how its planned activities included sidewalk counseling outside abortion facilities.

WORLD Magazine reports that according to minutes of the March 12 meeting, during which the club was denied official recognition, members of the senate said they feared the group would “make people uncomfortable.” They also suggested the pro-life group shouldn’t get recognition because the school’s pro-abortion group had disbanded.

Enter the student Judiciary, which unanimously overturned the Senate's decision to deny recognition to VFL.  School administrators said in a letter to Voice for Life organizers the school did not believe the group’s activities would violate school policy.

“A student group’s distribution of literature and advocacy of its viewpoint, in the manner set out in your email, would not constitute harassment within the meaning of these policies,” wrote Caroline Laguerre-Brown, the school’s vice provost for institutional equity. “In fact, such conduct is fully in accord with the university’s robust commitment to the values of free expression and open debate that is articulated in these policies.”
Unfortunately, this is not the only recent occurrence of extreme political correctness exercised at Johns Hopkins.   Dr. Ben Carson, renowned pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, was scheduled to deliver the commencement address at the University's graduation.  Fox News reported that Dr. Carson sent medical school Dean Paul Rothman a letter saying that he didn’t want to “distract from the celebratory nature of the day."
Carson wrote:  "Commencement is about the students and their successes, and it is not about me...I want to make certain that remains so."

Seems as if Carson did not say exactly the right thing, to some, when he stated in an interview on Fox News, that "no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality ... they don't get to change the definition" of marriage.   He later apologized.  Dean Rothman
released a statement calling Carson’s comments “offensive” and said the university recognizes “that tension now exists in our community because hurtful, offensive language was used by our colleague, Dr. Ben Carson, when conveying a personal opinion.   Dr. Carson’s comments are inconsistent with the culture of our institution.”

So, by upholding traditional marriage and saying that no one gets to change the definition of marriage, Dr. Carson has received pressure and ultimately backed down rather than become a distraction.   It's blatantly unfair to a great and compassion man who has done so much for the reputation of Johns Hopkins, but it's another indicator of the way that people's words are so easily twisted to mean something other than their intent.

2 - Thatcher passes away; closer look at Christian faith warranted

This week, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher passed away at the age of 87.   The lady known as the "Iron Lady" was noted for her bold determination and her stance against Communism. 

In the coverage of her death, there emerged a narrative about her devout Christian faith.  Christianity Today reports that in the estimation of the British blog Cranmer, she gave a 1988 speech to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, in which she said: 
"We must not profess the Christian faith and go to Church simply because we want social reforms and benefits or a better standard of behavior...but because we accept the sanctity of life, the responsibility that comes with freedom and the supreme sacrifice of Christ."
Christianity Today referenced The Economist, which published Thatcher's so-called "Sermon on the Mound", delivered at that General Assembly.   She posed the question:
What then are the distinctive marks of Christianity?
She said,
They stem not from the social but from the spiritual side of our lives, and personally, I would identify three beliefs in particular: 
First, that from the beginning man has been endowed by God with the fundamental right to choose between good and evil. And second, that we were made in God's own image and, therefore, we are expected to use all our own power of thought and judgement in exercising that choice; and further, that if we open our hearts to God, He has promised to work within us. And third, that Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, when faced with His terrible choice and lonely vigil chose to lay down His life that our sins may be forgiven. I remember very well a sermon on an Armistice Sunday when our Preacher said, "No one took away the life of Jesus , He chose to lay it down".  
She went on to quote the hymn, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross".

The Margaret Thatcher Foundation offered a 1978 interview in which she explained her view of "religion and personal responsibility." Among other comments, she cited C. S. Lewis as an influence, and said:
"Methodism is the most marvellous evangelical faith and there is the most marvellous love and feeling for music in the Methodist Church which I think is greater than in the Anglican Church. But you sometimes feel the need for a slightly more formal service and perhaps a little bit more formality in the underlying theology too.
"So throughout my life I have felt the need for both things, to some extent for the informality, for the works you do; but always I found myself groping out for more of the actual teaching of the religious basis. As I say, I went for something a little more formal. I suppose it's first one's belief and then one's background."
So, you have the case of a major world leader who has lost her life, and someone whom we discovered had laid down her life to enjoy spiritual pursuits and a relationship with Christ.   Apparently, this worldview informed the decisions she made and the policies she professed.

1 - Abortion industry on trial, another state attempts to protect women

This has not been an especially good week for the abortion industry in America.   The murder trial of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell is underway, and the gruesome accounts continue within the courtroom about the late-term abortions inside Gosnell's "House of Horrors", including children killed after they were born.  Gosnell is charged with the murder of 1 woman and 7 children inside the clinic.

This week, the controversy surrounding the media coverage of the trial hit somewhat of a fever pitch.  Criticism of the media over their lack of coverage has come from Christian and conservative circles, but now even liberal journalists have begun to question why the mainstream media have not given this story the attention it deserves.   According to a piece by Jill Stanek at the case of Gosnell we are seeing something rare, mea culpas, such as at the Washington Post  and The Daily Beast.  Some of the blinders are lifting, thanks in large part to Kirsten Powers, who has pointed out the Gosnell case is so obviously over the top.
In the days to come there will likely be plenty of room for righteous indignation regarding the media’s treatment of Gosnell...But I am also now trying to be sensitive to those mea culpas as well as those in the liberal press who are doing a bit of soul searching...
CNN reportedly led Anderson Cooper 360 with the Gosnell case on the Friday edition.

 A "TweetFest" was organized by pro-life groups on Friday, as participants were asked to post tweets and status updates about the Gosnell trial to their Twitter and Facebook accounts, and contact their local media to ask them why they are not covering the case if they are not doing so.

"We are going to make 'new media' work on behalf of Kermit Gosnell's innocent, helpless victims. The mainstream media is acting like nothing is happening, however – if we unite & spread the word far enough, we can FORCE the media to cover this horrific story," the TweetFest Facebook event page stated.

And, while Planned Parenthood attempted to distance itself from the Gosnell clinic, the nation's largest abortion provider still actively opposes attempts by lawmakers to force abortion mills to conform to the same standards as other medical facilities.   Alabama legislators passed a bill, signed this week by Gov. Robert Bentley, that would regulate the clinics within the state.  And of course, the leading opponent:  no surprise, Planned Parenthood.

While the Gosnell trial brought late-term and born-alive abortions to light, a Planned Parenthood representative testified several weeks ago before the Florida legislature that if a child who survives an abortion attempt is actually born, that a decision to terminate the child's life should be a personal decision between the woman and her doctor.   Upon further questioning, she did not advocate that the child should be allowed to live under those circumstances. 

And, if the news isn't great for the abortion industry in light of the information concerning the Gosnell trial, a new Rasmussen poll about morality of abortion, reported at shows that 51% of likely voters consider abortion to be morally wrong most of the time.  That’s up from an all-time low of 44% in January but more consistent with findings in surveys since March 2006.  Just thirty-four percent (34%) view abortion as morally acceptable in most instances. Fifteen percent (15%) are not sure.

This past Monday, April 8 was "Exodus 2013: Leave Your Job in the Abortion Industry Day", which was founded by former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson.   And, 5 people reported quit their jobs working in that industry (according to!!   Plus, this week the Alliance Defending Freedom released a report to Congress about waste, fraud, and abuse within Planned Parenthood, which receives millions of taxpayer dollars.

So, perhaps as the truth is communicated, the stronghold of abortion is unraveling.   It certainly has not been a good week for the industry, and as more revelations surface, a message consistent with the Biblical view of the sanctity of life has a greater chance of resonating with people.

Monday, April 08, 2013

The 3 - April 7, 2013

This week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, includes another instance of labeling evangelical Christians as extreme, the suicide of the son of a high-profile minister, and a judge's ruling concerning unrestricted access for young girls to the so-called "morning-after pill".

3 - ADF posts Army training presentation labeling evangelical Christians "extreme"

A proposed U.S. Army Reserve training brief is said to contain a slide in a PowerPoint presentation labeling evangelical Christians, as well as Catholics, as "extreme" or "extremist".  The presentation, which was obtained and posted online by legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, indicates that the Army Reserve in Pennsylvania considers evangelical Christians, Catholics, and Mormons as dangerous as the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, and Hamas.

According to, the text accompanying the slide listing “extremist” groups defines extremism as beliefs, attitudes, feelings, and actions far removed from the ordinary:
Because “ordinary” is subjective, no religious group would label itself extreme or its doctrine “extremism.” However, religious extremism is not limited to any single religion, ethnic group, or region of the world; every religion has some followers that believe that their beliefs, customs and traditions are the only “right way” and that all others are practicing their faith the “wrong way,” seeing and believing that their faith/religion superior to all others.
The WORLD story quotes George Wright, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, who confirmed the presentation was produced by an individual without consent from or knowledge of the Army's chain of command. The presentation is more than a year old, Wright said: "After receiving a single complaint following the presentation, this person deleted the slide, and it was never again shown. … This person has apologized for any offense it may have caused, and we consider the matter closed."

Chaplain Ron Crews, Executive Director for the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, also condemned the presentation.   In a statement, he said that, “Men and women of faith who have served the Army faithfully for centuries shouldn’t be likened to those who have regularly threatened the peace and security of the United States...It is dishonorable for any U.S. military entity to allow this type of wrongheaded characterization.”

This brought to mind the 2009 Homeland Security document on so-called "right-wing extremism" that read, according to the Media Research Center's NewsBusters website:

Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or ejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.
Factor in the labeling of certain Christian and pro-family groups as "hate" groups, and you could conclude that this Army report is just another brick in a foundation that is being laid to discredit Christians and Christian organizations, contributing to a false narrative about people of faith.

2 - Suicide of Rick Warren's son brings attention to mental illness and depression

It was easily the talk of my Facebook news feed yesterday, as the tragic news from Southern California made headlines not only among Christians but in news media in general.   The 27-year-old son of Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, Matthew, the youngest of the Warrens' three children, died of an apparent suicide on Friday night.

Pastor Warren sent an e-mail to the congregation on Saturday morning (excerpt from Christianity Today's website).   It said, in part:
You who watched Matthew grow up knew he was an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man. He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He’d then make a bee-line to that person to engage and encourage them.
But only those closest knew that he struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided. Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life.   
Kay and I often marveled at his courage to keep moving in spite of relentless pain. I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said “ Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?” but he kept going for another decade.
Sunday services at Saddleback included a message from the church's teaching pastor Tom Holladay, who, according to The Christian Posttold the congregation that Pastor Warren had called him earlier during the week to request him to preach to the church during the weekend. When Holladay asked what he should preach about, and what was on Warren's mind, Warren said he wanted the teaching pastor to preach about what to do on the worst day of your life – not knowing that later that week he would face Matthew's death.

Holladay's sermon was based on 1 Samuel 30, which is about David coming back from the battle and finding out that the entire town of Ziklag had been wiped out. The response of David and his people is a model for us to deal with a situation where hope seems distant, he said.

Holladay shared five things they did, and requested the audience to pray for Rick and Kay to walk through those steps:
1) Weep
2) Do not get bitter
3) Encourage others
4) Look to the future with hope
5) Attack evil.

Not only does the suicide of Matthew Warren gives us the opportunity to pray for Rick and Kay Warren, but we can be challenged as the body of Christ to look for ways to intervene in the lives of those who suffer from depression or even mental illness.  While there are those have been taught that suicide is the unforgivable sin, the church at large, I believe, has now refined its perspective to recognize that there is adversity or despondency so great that people will take their own life.   It is important to recognize the warning signs, if they are there, and take bold and compassionate steps to provide hope and direction. And, there has been a stigmatization in the church about mental health issues, and we must recognize that a battle with depression or other mental factors, which often have a chemical root, is not a sign of spiritual insufficiency.   You can certainly walk deeply with Christ but still suffer with mentally-related conditions.   Our challenge is to rush headlong and help and not run or turn a blind eye.   And, this occurrence should not be used to look at Rick and Kay Warren in a negative light.   Pastors - and many others - have been known to raise troubled's not necessarily a reflection of some sort of parenting deficiency, rather, it is a reminder that we teach the principles, we love our kids, and leave the results up to God.

1 - Judge's decision on morning-after bill alarms pro-life groups

In a ruling that has some strong moral implications, a federal judge in New York has ordered the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to make the Plan B "morning-after pill" available without prescription to all women, including teenagers younger than 17 years of age.

According to a report on the CitizenLink website, the ruling comes after HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled a government panel recommendation in 2011 to sell the possible abortion-causing drug over-the-counter to girls as young as 11 without a prescription.  At the time, Sebelius said she was concerned about young girls having access to the drug without doctor supervision.

CitizenLink relates that the Morning After Pill (MAP) is a term coined to describe a series of pills given to women within 72 hours of intercourse to prevent pregnancy...The physiological mechanisms are not precisely known but there is general consensus in the medical community that these pills may operate in one of three ways:
1. To delay or prevent ovulation (the release of the woman’s egg)
2. To prevent sperm from reaching the egg, preventing fertilization and acting as a contraceptive
3. To alter the lining of the uterus (endometrium), preventing implantation of an early embryo after fertilization.

The third way is critical when you consider the traditional definition of pregnancy, which is said to begin at fertilization.   Therefore, this so-called "alteration" would result in the termination of life.

If the MAP is to be made available to a girl or woman of any age, this could lead to increased sexual activity driven by the mistaken promise of consequence-free sex.  

Reaction among Christian and pro-family leaders was swift.  Carrie Gordon Earll of CitizenLink said:  “This ruling makes no sense.  It gives young girls unsupervised access to a powerful drug without medical oversight or parental knowledge.  It puts teenage girls at greater risk to be pressured into sex and provides no way for parents to know if their daughters are using the drug as a routine contraceptive – which the drug manufacturer warns against. The Obama Administration was right to restrict this drug to adults and the judge is wrong to reverse that decision."

Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of the Susan B. Anthony List, said that, "Teen girls need parents, not unfettered access to abortion-inducing drugs...Judge Korman’s decision is reckless and denies girls the protection that comes along with the involvement of parents and doctors."

She went on to say that, "We should not be making it easier for young girls to access abortifacient drugs that end life at an unknown consequence to the young girl herself."

The next step would be an appeal by the Obama Administration and the Dept. of HHS.

Monday, April 01, 2013

The 3 - March 31, 2013

He is risen indeed!   Easter weekend gives us a chance to pause, reflect, and worship in response to what Jesus did for us on the cross at Calvary.   Not only is the celebration of Easter the top news story of this week, but the death and resurrection of Christ are the culmination of the story of God's love for and redemption of humanity.   I also check out some response and analysis to the U.S. Supreme Court's hearing of arguments concerning the definition of marriage.   And, let's open up with the story of religious freedom in Kentucky.

3 - Kentucky religious freedom bill withstands governor's veto

A bill that would support religious freedom in the state of Kentucky is now law, thanks to the House and the Senate there voting to override the veto by Gov. Steve Beshear, who said that The Kentucky Religious Freedom Act could “threaten public safety, health care and individual’s civil rights," according to a report on the CitizenLink website.

The legislation was designed to protect the religious freedom of individuals and religious organizations. The bill’s language states that the government shall not burden these freedoms, unless it can prove a “compelling governmental interest” for doing so. The legislation also protects the rights of individuals and religious organizations to act or refuse to act on religious grounds.

The legislation is simply a way to protect people, said Kent Ostrander, president of the Family Foundation of Kentucky.  He explains that, "This bill is a shield for people of faith...It is not a weapon or a sword against anyone else .There’s been significant misunderstanding about that in recent weeks.”

The House voted 79-15 and the Senate voted 32-6 to override the veto.

This legislation is significant in that it offers protection for those who desire to share their faith and act according to their deeply held religious beliefs.   In an era where many are concerned about the erosion of religious freedom in America, this bill attempts to provide a step in the opposite direction - and could be an example for other states.

2 - Gay marriage goes before the U.S. Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases involving same-sex marriage:  the Proposition 8 case, involving California's amendment defining marriage as one man for one woman, and a case involving the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by Congress in 1996, holding that for purposes of Federal law, a marriage is defined as one-man, one-woman.

Tuesday, the high court held arguments on Proposition 8.   Bruce Hausknecht, Judicial Analyst for CitizenLink, an affiliate of Focus on the Family, said that Justice Kennedy, generally thought to be the "swing" vote in this case, expressed a view that while the proponents of Prop 8 do have “standing” to bring and argue the appeal, he clearly has doubts about whether the issue of same-sex marriage, in general, should be before the Supreme Court yet.  Hausknecht also pointed out that Justice Scalia's questions to Ted Olson, arguing on behalf of those challenging Prop 8, on when it became unconstitutional to prohibit gay marriage, and Olson’s fumbling of a response, helped prove Scalia’s point that the Court can’t make decisions like this based on some sort of evolutionary theory of constitutional law.

While the Supreme Court may be a bit hesitant to weigh in on Prop 8, the next day, as the arguments shifted to DOMA, there did seem to be some questioning on whether or not the Federal government should be defining marriage - Justice Kennedy reportedly seemed to question if this were strictly a state matter.   Family Research Council, in its "Washington Update" for Wednesday, said that FRC's Senior Fellows Chris Gacek and Ken Klukowski, both attorneys, were at the Supreme Court for the oral arguments, and Chris said not to believe media spin that DOMA took a total beating.  He reported that Paul Clement, the former U.S. Solicitor General hired by the House BLAG to defend DOMA, gave the strongest performance of any attorney in the two days of arguments.

FRC says that:
No amount of legal footwork by those seeking redefinition of marriage can change the fact that society needs children, and children need a mom and a dad. It's not just about love between adults, it's about civilization. That's a compelling reason for both California and the federal government to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and for the Supreme Court to uphold both Proposition 8 and DOMA.
Emily Belz, writing for the WORLD News Group at, said that:
The U.S. Supreme Court cast a skeptical eye on the Defense of Marriage Act Wednesday, but on federalism grounds rather than equal protection. So if the court strikes down the law, it would probably do so because the law overrules states on marriage, rather than because the law discriminates against homosexuals. 
Liberty Counsel notes that:
Marriage is not just an emotional bond between two people or a legal document. It is an institution ordained of God to rightly order procreation and provide the best environment for the well-being of children. The natural family is fundamental to our very existence! That’s why the Supreme Court’s decision on this case is so important.
A same-sex relationship simply cannot be a marriage. Marriage does not depend on a popularity poll.
If marriage is redefined into something it cannot be, the marriage institution will be weakened, children and families will suffer, and religious freedom will be at risk.
Your prayers have never been more critical! Pray that the Supreme Court upholds the natural definition of marriage.
The Alliance Defending Freedom developed a prayer guide leading up to the Supreme Court hearings, and prayer is going to be very critical in the days to come, as the high court ponders the government's interest in preserving marriage - a decision is expected in early summer.  (Hear Andrew Walker of the Heritage Foundation on The Meeting House.)

1 - Easter Sunday gives rise to inspiration, innovation

Easter Sunday, or Resurrection Sunday, is thought to be the most popular holiday for church attendance.  A new LifeWay Research survey taken prior to Easter weekend shows that attending church on Easter Sunday is not a cut-and-dry decision for everyone - even for self-identified Christians. 41 percent of Americans surveyed said they planned on attending an Easter worship, but 39 percent said they did not; 20 percent said they are undecided.   This makes the case for people inviting friends, neighbors, and family members to attend Easter services with them.  

And, churches across the country had special outreaches planned for Good Friday and/or Easter Sunday.  Here's a sampling of some of the creative ways that churches and ministry organizations were providing opportunities for people to hear the message of the cross and the empty tomb:

Beachfront services bring scores in Florida
The Christian Post reports on an Easter Sunday phenomenon at Rosemary Beach, Florida, a popular vacation spot in South Walton County, near Seaside.  A beachfront service has been increasing in attendance dramatically since its beginnings a few years ago.   Last year, between 1200 and 1500 people assembled in a green space near the beach.   What's going on in Rosemary Beach right now, according to Chapel at the Beach Pastor Mike Young, is a movement of increasing faith.

Preaching through film in prison
Prison Fellowship is using film to present the message of redemption through Christ to those who are incarcerated.   It is partnering with the producers of the movie, "Unconditional", and has scheduled two screenings of the film inside 2 Florida correction facilities during Easter weekend.
The events also feature Prison Fellowship CEO Jim Liske and "Papa Joe" Bradford, a former maximum security inmate now working to improve the lives of Nashville's at-risk kids.   His life is the inspiration behind the film.   (Hear "Papa Joe"'s story from The Meeting House.)

For years, Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, preached in prison for Easter Sunday - in fact, his last such appearance took place Easter weekend of 2011, his last round of Easter prison visits before his death in 2012.

Church takes service to a larger stage
The Rock Church in San Diego held a massive Good Friday service in the baseball stadium in that city, Petco Park. "We want to engage the community and be there to love and serve those in need," said Rock Church Senior Pastor Miles McPherson, the former NFL player who leads the fourth largest church in Southern California.

Church staff and volunteers set lofty goals for the event, which included a blood drive and food and clothing collection.  Ministries were present to provide prayer, support and encouragement to survivors of suicide, single parent families, blended families, those seeking counsel from prison ministries, and those who've experienced sexual abuse.  A care package ministry and home improvement ministries were also present.  

Alabama church re-enacts crucifixion scene
In Mobile, Alabama, Mount Hebron Church Ministries in north Mobile has re-enacted the crucifixion of Christ for the past several years.

Some of the men in the church volunteered to dress in red-stained white clothing and stand on a tiny ledge on a cross with their arms outstretched and wrists hanging by ropes.  They began at 9 a.m. and switched off every hour. At noon, members gathered for worship at the grassy lot off I-65 North near the church.  The church was scheduled to hold a large service at the University of South Alabama on Easter morning.

These are just a few of the innovative ways that people and churches are taking advantage of what I believe is an increased spiritual sensitivity leading up to and including Easter Sunday.   We have been given a unique opportunity during this season to reflect and help others reflect on the coming of Jesus to the world to pay the price for our sins.