Life after Death ... or Just Love after Death?

I arrived in New York City over the weekend and discovered that the Rev. Forrest Church had died on Thursday, September 24, after a battle against esophageal cancer.

Pastor of the Unitarian Church of All Souls on the Upper East Side for many years, Forrest Church was almost certainly the best-known and most influential Unitarian figure of the late twentieth century.

Forrest Church was in the public eye for most of his life. His father was the late Senator Frank Church [D-Idaho], who chaired committees that investigated the Central Intelligence Agency during the 1970s. Sen. Church also ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976. After serving four terms in the Senate, Church was defeated for re-election in 1980.

Then, in 1984, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died just three months later.

Forrest Church was 61 when he died last Thursday. He lived only two years longer than his father. But Forrest Church did something that few people are able to do - he wrote extensively about his own (impending) death. When told that his cancer was terminal, Forrest Church preached a sermon that was intended to help his congregation understand the process of death and dying. In the month that followed, he wrote a book about death and the experience of approaching his own death.

In Love & Death: My Journey Through the Valley of the Shadow, Church wrote of his understanding of death and its meaning. At the end of it all, the Unitarian pastor and philosopher wrote of "my abiding belief in love after death."

Significantly, Church wrote of his fascination with death. As a younger person, he had romanticized death and contemplated various scenarios of a famous demise. Later, though no longer believing himself to romanticize death, Church still seemed to see death in similar terms. Writing as a pastor, he told of a terminally ill church member who had committed suicide with the assistance of the Hemlock Society. Church wrote of his sympathy for her wish to remain in control of her life, even through her death. "I could only admire her," he wrote.

Forrest Church was a man of intelligence and culture - assets no doubt valued by his socially elite congregation at All Souls. He was also a gifted writer. In helpful sections of the book, Church took on the "conspiracy of silence concerning death" and helpfully reminded his readers that all of us will surely die. Church saw our modern obsession with health as a barely-disguised effort to postpone death, but to no avail. Vegetarians and joggers die, the pastor reminds.

Church compared life to the voyage of the Titanic. In the end, every life hits an iceberg and sinks. His exhortation was for all people to "dare to live before you die."

He also tied his understanding of religion to the knowledge that we shall surely die. "I draw from a strong faith tradition which, if not orthodox, invites me to explore everything from the scriptures to ancient philosophy to current events," Church wrote. "But the object is always the same. For me, religion is our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die."

Therefore, "if religion is our human response to being alive and having to die, the purpose of life is to live in such as way that our lives will prove worth dying for."

Missing from the picture is any notion of life on the other side of death. The minister declared his belief in "love after death," but not in life after death. The reason for this becomes more clear as Church writes of Jesus Christ. "I have no idea whether Jesus was physically resurrected or not, but I suspect he wasn't," he wrote. "If I am right, for many people that would be it for Jesus, period, end of story. Christianity would be a delusion, a miscommunication of events faithfully transmitted from generation to generation."

Indeed, Church insisted that his faith was not grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, but rather in the "spiritual rebirth of Jesus's followers."

The disciples experienced a "saving transformation" in which the love of Jesus was reborn in them, Church suggested.

It was the love of Jesus that survived his death, Church insisted - not the life of Jesus. And that is a power available to all of us today, he promised. Forrest Church often repeated his "mantra" with words his church came to know: "Want what you have, do what you can, and be who you are."

Forrest Church was a classical religious and theological liberal. He rejected a supernatural Christ and did not believe in the virgin birth or the resurrection. He also denied that Christianity could be reduced to some mere admiration for the teachings of Jesus. While Jesus' teachings were "in many ways wonderful," those same teachings were "also flawed, limited by cultural and personal experience."

The Unitarian minister came to his theological liberalism quite early. At the age of ten, Forrest was given a Bible by his father. That Bible was the so-called "Jefferson Bible," produced by Thomas Jefferson as an experiment in removing all references to the supernatural Jesus from the New Testament. Known formally as The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, the Jefferson Bible ends with these words: "There they laid Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed." End of story. No resurrection. Jesus is simply sealed into the tomb.

If that is all there is to the life of Jesus, Christianity does indeed fall apart. Christianity would be a delusion and a misrepresentation of the truth. The New Testament clearly claims that Jesus Christ was physically raised from the dead - and that his resurrection is the promise of our own. The New Testament clearly promises life after death, not merely love after death. This is where Christianity stands or falls.

The death of Forrest Church at age 61 is a sobering reminder of our mortality. More tellingly, it is a lamentable but important reminder of the centrality of the resurrection of Christ to our Christian understanding of death and eternal life. Without the resurrection of Christ, there is no hope for us after death. We are, as Paul warned, of all people most to be pitied, for we believed in a false hope.

The Christian hope is essentially grounded in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Without life after death, love after death will not matter. No resurrection - no hope.

Adapted from R. Albert Mohler Jr.'s weblog at

Pastors to Talk 'Politics' from Pulpits this Sunday

      Pastors to Talk 'Politics' from Pulpits this Sunday

    Dozens of pastors across the country will preach this Sunday providing biblical perspectives on the position of political candidates. The sermons are an act of defiance to the Internal Revenue Service rule that says nonprofits with tax-exempt status cannot endorse a candidate or be involved in political activity.

    Participants of the second annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday believe the IRS rule “muzzles” pastors from guiding their congregation on moral issues.

    More than 80 pastors have signed on to take part in the free speech effort organized by Christian legal firm Alliance Defense Fund. Last September, 33 pastors from 22 states talked politics and endorsed political candidates.

    “Pastors have a right to speak about biblical truths from the pulpit without fear of punishment,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “No one should be able to use the government to intimidate pastors into giving up their constitutional rights.”

    Stanley said the Christian legal group is not promoting politics in the pulpit, but is fighting for the right of churches to decide for themselves what they want to talk about.

    “The IRS should not be the one making the decision by threatening to revoke a church’s tax-exempt status,” he said. “We need the government to get out of the pulpit.”

    Some pastors this Sunday will discuss the positions of candidates running for office in their state. Others will address the positions of already elected officials or of those who have declared their intention to run for office in the future.

    “Churches were completely free to preach about candidates from the day that the Constitution was ratified in 1788 until 1954,” Stanley highlighted.

    But the 1954 Johnson Amendment to the Federal Tax Code “muzzled” pastors by making them afraid of being investigated by the IRS, he complained. Many pastors would rather “self-censor” their sermon than risk the possibility of confronting the government.

    “The participants in Pulpit Freedom Sunday refuse to be intimidated into sacrificing their First Amendment rights,” Stanley said.

    ADF began Pulpit Freedom Sunday last year during the presidential campaign after some clergies complained that they were being investigated by the IRS for speaking favorably of or for criticizing candidates. The pastors argued that they are not endorsing a candidate but only speaking about biblical values.

    Founded in 1994, ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations that defend cases involving religious freedom. It was founded by socially conservative Christians that include prominent evangelical leaders James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, and William R. Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ.

    Student-Led Prayer Movement Marks 20th Year

          Student-Led Prayer Movement Marks 20th Year

      Continuing on the prayer tradition that began 19 years ago with a small student-led group in Texas, hundreds of thousands of students around the nation gathered at the flagpoles of their local schools Wednesday morning to pray for a spiritual awakening across campuses and countries.

      While most of the local “See You At The Pole” rallies drew just a few dozen students, some drew many more, such as the one held Tuesday evening at Liberty University, where nearly 3,000 students gathered.
      In total, around two million students in all 50 states participate in the prayer rally each year. Last year, SYATP reported around three million participants across the United States, joined by students in more 20 nations, including Canada, Korea, Japan, and Turkey.

      “The hope for this campus and the hope for this country and world is God,” commented Pastor Dwayne Carson, who also serves as Liberty’s vice president of Spiritual Development, according to the school’s newspaper. “We need Him to come through for us.”

      This year’s theme, “Engage: Go and Pray,” was inspired by the first sentence that appears in 2 Kings 22:13, which records the words of King Josiah upon hearing from the Book of Law.
      “Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found,” Josiah had ordered.

      With this in mind, SYATP participants prayed to intercede for their leaders, their countries, their schools, their friends, and their families.

      “For 20 years, we have seen this day serve as a springboard for unity for teenagers on their secondary and college campuses,” commented Paul Fleischmann, president of the National Network of Youth Ministries, which coordinates SYATP promotion.

      “Challenging youth to take leadership on their campus is always a good idea. It’s important to remember that though it has a 20-year history, it’s fresh to today’s students,” he added.

      The first SYATP was held in the Ft. Worth suburb of Burleson, Texas, in 1990, when more than 45,000 teenagers met at school flagpoles in four different states to pray before the start of school.
      Since then, news of the prayer movement has spread and reached out to more students across more campuses.

      It has also drawn support from churches nationwide with many holding “Campus Challenge Sunday” commissioning services the weekend before the annual event.

      Each year, SYATP is held on the fourth Wednesday of September.

      In Australia, where the new school year official began in late January/early February, SYATP was observed this year on May 21.

      Next year's U.S. rallies will be held on Sept. 22, 2010.

      Are You and Your Spouse Listening to God

      Are You and Your Spouse Listening to God

        All of us, if we were to be totally honest, at times have given our spouse way too much direction, when in reality the better course would have been to "let go and let God."

         Though many times our efforts and intentions are well-placed, Godly centered and make perfect sense to all of us, often the better course is that of prayer and supplication. God asks us to pray in all things and that we are to be one with our spouse.

        This requires a superhuman effort, that quite frankly none of us are able to truly accomplish. However by placing ourselves in the center of Go's will and what He would have us accomplish in our lives are we better able to pursue destiny for his lives.
        This world teaches us that we are to work hard in order to achieve and excel and that it is only by our efforts will we succeed. But as Believers, we are not of this world set and specifically destined to accomplish great things in God's name and by doing it His way. For example if we were to build huge monuments to God and the world's largest church, though we would see the fruits of our efforts, we would not see the fruits of the spirit. These relate more to the attitude of the heart rather than our daily calendar.

        Though we might accomplish many great things, as the world interprets them, we would have overlooked the value of the journey, the mission and path God desired for our lives, the people to whom we might have impacted along the way, and even our family. Thus, frequently it is wiser to bathe a concern or request in prayer than it is to speak their words.

        Frequently to ensure that both my prayer life and my intentions align with God's word, I will pray that my wife might gain a perspective never before achieved or to see life in a new or meaningful way. In this way I focus in my prayers in being sure that I am in sync with God, and then get out of His way, to do His bidding. By laying it all at Jesus feet, I am able to be more at peace with the ultimate decision and encourage my life to be in compliance with scripture and allow God to discern His will for our lives and for His speaking directly to the mind and more importantly the heart of both my wife and myself.

        Saddleback Forum Addresses Role of Gov't, Church in Reconciliation

              Saddleback Forum Addresses Role of Gov't, Church in Reconciliation

          Rwandan President Paul Kagame shared with Pastor Rick Warren on Friday that the role of the government is to embrace everyone and “bring them together.”

          Kagame became president of Rwanda in 2000 after the country’s 1994 genocide that left 800,000 to 1 million people dead within about 100 days.

          After he successfully stopped the genocide, Kagame brought back the vice president and reinstalled him. Under his leadership, Rwanda has been lauded as Africa’s “biggest success story” and a model example of reconciliation.

          The much-praised African leader said the role of the church in Rwanda’s reconciliation process is to be a voice to point out when the government is wrong. But during the genocide, the church and government “were almost one and the same” so the church could not distance itself from the action of the government, he explained.

          “Today the role is significant and the church has grown back to play its role,” Kagame said.

          During the civil forum, Kagame was joined by prominent Yale theologian Milaslov Volf from Croatia.
          Volf, who lived through the Bosnian conflict, said there was “always a deep rage” down in his soul during the conflict because of the injustice being done. But he said loving one’s enemies is the truly Christian response in such a situation.

          “To forgive is an act of power. When I forgive, I’m in charge,” Volf said. “I’m releasing you from the wrong.”
          Both Kagame and Volf have seen their “nearly destroyed” countries get back on the path of reconciliation and were at Saddleback Church in southern California to share their wisdom.

          Pastor Warren said though the United States has not experienced a genocide, the stories of reconciliation are relevant because the country is also hurting from division on many issues.

          Friday’s event was the fourth Saddleback Civil Forum, which involves high-profile figures speaking on sensitive issues. Last fall, the megachurch hosted then presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain who spoke about such issues as religious persecution, AIDS, abortion, marriage and stem cells.

          1 in 3 Americans Giving Less to Charities

          1 in 3 Americans Giving Less to Charities

          By Audrey Barrick
          Christian Post Reporter

          Ongoing hard economic times have led more Americans to dig less when it comes to giving to charities.

          The majority of U.S. adults (three out of four) say the current economic climate has affected their charitable giving, according to a Child Sponsorship survey, released by Christian non-profit World Vision on Monday.
          One in three is giving less to charities. Only ten percent of Americans say they're giving more to charities this year.

          "The sputtering economy has made it more difficult for hard working Americans to give what's on their hearts," said Lana Reda, World Vision vice president for Donor Engagement.

          One in five adults is less likely to sponsor a child. More than half say they would be more likely to sponsor one if they had more money. Still, World Vision reported that their sponsors have remained loyal and the charity even experienced a modest increase of three percent in sponsorship numbers.

          And while revenue is expected to grow eight percent in 2009, private cash donations are expected to drop by three percent. World Vision's 2009 fiscal year ends in September.

          Earlier this summer, World Vision began employee layoffs partly as a result of a decrease in cash donations. The humanitarian charity organization also announced that it would reduce contributions to its employees' 403(b) plans and hold annual merit raises.

          Results from the new survey, which was conducted in August among 1,006 U.S. adults, reveal that more than six in ten Americans say faith-based organizations and non-profit foundations should bear responsibility for helping the world's poor.

          Charities aren't the only sector seeing decreased giving. Churches and Christian schools are also struggling financially, moreso than usual.

          David Roozen, a lead researcher for the Faith Communities Today multi-faith survey, told The Associated Press that he expects to see 10 or 15 percent of the more than 320,000 U.S. congregations in serious financial trouble next year.

          Mainline Protestant denominations, including The United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and The Episcopal Church, were all forced to make cuts in their budgets and staff this past year.

          Also, the Association for Christian Schools International, which represents about 3,800 private schools, reported a drop in enrollment by nearly 5 percent, and about 200 Christian schools closed or merged in the last academic year, according to AP.

          Despite the continuing financial troubles across faith-based groups, World Vision's Reda sees brighter days ahead. "As the economy gets better, we believe Americans will step up to meet the urgent needs of children and families around the world."

          Iran Cannot Be Allowed to Obtain Nuclear Weapons, Say Christian Leaders

          Iran Cannot Be Allowed to Obtain Nuclear Weapons, Say Christian Leaders

          By Jennifer Riley
          Christian Post Reporter

          Nearly 50 Christian leaders, who collectively represent 28 million Americans, called on the United States and other world leaders to take urgent action to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

          Signers of the Sept. 22 letter to Congress warned that a nuclear-armed Iran would “almost certain[ly]” spark an arms race in the Middle East. The volatile country, known to be the world’s leading state sponsors of terrorism, would also likely sell or give nuclear weapons to extremist groups that consider America an enemy, the Christian leaders warned.

          “For the world’s most dangerous regime to obtain the world’s most dangerous weapons is something that neither the United States nor the community of civilized nations can allow,” the leaders assert.

          Among the prominent names who signed the letter are Pat Robertson, president of Christian Broadcasting Network; Charles Colson, chairman of Prison Fellowship Ministries; Johnny Hunt, current president of the Southern Baptist Convention; and John Hagee, senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas.
          Former SBC presidents, a representative from Focus on the Family, and presidents of Christian universities are also signers.

          The letter was sent a day before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was scheduled to address the United Nations, and two days before the G20 summit in Pittsburgh. With the gathering of key world figures this week, the Christian leaders hope coordinated efforts could be taken against Iran.

          Tough actions proposed include a total arms embargo and a cut off of exports of refined petroleum products, including gasoline, from Iran. The economic sanctions would also apply to foreign companies that export, ship, finance or broker refined petroleum products to Iran.

          Christian leaders noted that though Iran has large oil reserves, it is unable to refine its petroleum products and is vulnerable to such sanctions.

          Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concurred with the Christian leaders, saying that if Iran obtained nuclear weapons it could “bring terrorism beyond our wildest dreams,” in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday morning.

          Netanyahu said if the U.N. Security Council doesn’t respond to the problem, then leading nations could pressure Tehran with tactics such as importing petroleum products.
          Iran, however, claims its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

          the traditional to the trendy: National Youth Workers Convention in Los Angeles.

          Thousands of diverse youth ministry workers, from the traditional to the trendy and the newbies to the veterans, wrapped up four days of training, empowering and challenging Monday at the National Youth Workers Convention in Los Angeles.
          • Perry Noble, senior pastor of NewSpring Church in Anderson, S.C., speaks to hundreds gathered for the National Youth Workers Convention in Los Angeles on Friday, September 25, 2009.

            Perry Noble, senior pastor of NewSpring Church in Anderson, S.C., speaks to hundreds gathered for the National Youth Workers Convention in Los Angeles on Friday, September 25, 2009.
          From last Friday to this past Monday, Youth Specialties, which serves more than 100,000 youth workers worldwide each year, hosted its first of three youth workers conventions for the year, drawing over 3,000 to renew their spirits, connect with other fellow youth workers, hear sought-after speakers, find resources to jumpstart the new school year, and receive training on some of the basics of youth ministry.

          “At NYWC, we want [attendees] to find a place to be affirmed, refreshed, equipped and connected; to know that [they] have an amazing calling; to hear the words of inspiration and encouragement that can seem all too infrequent; to be prepared for the seasons of ministry ahead and the challenges and opportunities they bring; and to know that [they] are not alone in any of it,” organizers of the annual conventions say.

          Among this weekend’s speakers were Francis Chan, teaching pastor at Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, Calif.; best-selling author Donald Miller; Reggie Joiner, founder and CEO of The reThink Group, Inc.; Perry Noble, senior pastor of NewSpring Church in Anderson, S.C.; and Shane Hipps, lead pastor of Trinity Mennonite Church in Glendale, Ariz.

          In addition to the main sessions, called “Big Rooms,” NYWC in LA featured in-depth training labs that focused on hot topics in youth ministry, such as “Helping Hurting Kids” and “Creating and Cultivating a Leadership Culture.”

          Also featured were 50 other labs on topics including theology, “soul care,” media & tech, and new frontiers.
          This year, unlike 2008, hot button issues were limited to the labs and left out of the main sessions.
          Last year’s conference had drawn some notable controversy over the injection of the homosexuality issue in one of the main sessions.

          Youth Specialties president Mark Oestreicher insisted that the organization was not trying to push any kind of agenda but realized that the convention was creating more contention that unity
          In response, Youth Specialties shifted their approach this year from presenting a "variety show" during the event's main sessions to focusing on what all attendees have in common.

          This year's featured speakers will "address the heart and soul of youth ministry rather than hot button issues," Oestreicher said.

          In last main session on Monday, Francis Chan shared about his struggles in ministry and encouraged others not to wallow in Satan’s attacks or the sufferings they will endure.
          “When we wallow, we stop rescuing people from eternal agony,” he said.
          In a session Saturday, Donald Miller shared about the Bible, noting how God had chose narrative rather than a “how-to” book to communicate His truth and to "set a moral compass in your brain."

          "Have you ever been muddled in your thinking a little bit and you go see a movie and you leave the theater and you feel clear-headed afterward?" the best-selling author asked. "Or you see some movie about a family drama and it makes you think 'You know, I just need to be a better dad' or 'I need to be a better mom?'"
          "Narrative has this crazy ability," Miller added.

          Chan and Miller are expected to be among the main session speakers at the remaining two NYWC events, which will be held in Cincinnati (Oct. 21-Nov. 2) and Atlanta (Nov. 19-23).
          Music artists performing at this year’s NYWC events include David Crowder Band, Shane & Shane, and the Daraja Choir

          Combined, Youth Specialties’ annual conventions draw over 10,000 youth workers from the United States and around the world each year.

          Radical Islam IS NOT the greatest threat.

          By Dave Welch

          One of the country's most articulate and credible voices on the threat of radical Islam within our borders stated last week that it is the greatest threat to our nation today beyond any other domestic issues we are addressing. 

          In the strictly national security and geopolitical contexts, this person was right. As she stated, government takeover of health care and other industries are not a concern to those who are dead.

          I'll have to admit, however, that my spirit rejected the notion that radical Islam is THE greatest threat to America any more than it was when Muhammad's hordes were sweeping on horseback through northern Africa, the Middle East and into western Europe a millennia ago. Imperialist Islam has been defeated and contained before and certainly can be again.

          The question is whether there are as many Christians left in America willing to live and die for our faith, families and freedom as there are orthodox Muslims willing to kill and die for theirs.

          The pathetic preaching that has created a generation of shallow, self-focused professing followers of Jesus Christ has done far more damage to our national security than any conspiracies of men of any religion or no religion, any race and any creed could do.

          Theologian Francis Schaeffer asserted in his powerful book "The Great Evangelical Disaster" that:
          There is only one perspective we can have of the post-Christian world of our generation: an understanding that our culture and our country deserves to be under the wrath of God. It will not do to say the United States is God's country in some special way. … The last few generations have trampled upon the truth of the Bible and all that those truths have brought forth.
          The fact is that the blood of nearly 50 million legally (not lawfully) murdered babies has cried out to the throne of heaven. It demands justice, and the merciful God who I believe governs over all the universe could not turn a blind eye to the child sacrifice pandemic in and by the country once hailed as a "shining city on a hill."

          Barack Hussein Obama and the reprobate minds governing most of our governing entities were elevated to civil authority by a people who have largely rejected the God of our fathers, the authority of His written word and 2,000 years of history – all in desperate search for a human king who would take care of us. We have sown the wind and are reaping the whirlwind.

          Practitioners of orthodox Islam who seek to conquer and subjugate the world can only be a threat if there is not at least a passionate minority in this country who accept the charge to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors of faith and nation by redeeming everything we touch in His name.

          How can we credibly demand that terrorists adhere to a worldview that respects the value and sanctity of every life when we ourselves do not?

          How can we legitimately insist that politicians respect the boundaries of the U.S. and state constitutions when we have required them to destroy those boundaries to meet our "needs"?

          How can we rise up in indignation against sexual perversion and demand a "pro-family" standard for a nation that has undermined God's definition of family, rejected children as a gift from Him, treated marriage as an agreement rather than a covenant, etc.?

          The terror plots foiled in Dallas and Springfield, Ill., last week give proof – again – that we have mortal enemies walking among us. Why should they not? We invited them. Our dumbed-down, "have it your way" church culture has provided no defense for aggressive multiculturalism that places Judaism and Christianity on equal footing with animal worship.

          We're told by toothy-grinned TV pastors that we just need to "love Jesus," but please don't mention the "S word" (sin) or be faithful to teach the whole counsel of Scripture that convicts, cleanses and restores. After all, it was for our "best life now" that Christ was crucified, not because of our sin … not.

          The Equal Access Act requires that if any club is allowed on school campuses, all clubs must be allowed, hence the rising number of Muslim groups, sexual diversity groups, etc., since all beliefs are equal and we cannot make moral judgments.

          Islamists who have clear and documented links to terrorism are allowed to immigrate and live here because we prefer to say that our war is just a "war on terror" rather than against Islam.

          Tyrants and dictators who rule by terror and who are our mortal enemies are allowed to spew their venom and deception on our own soil because we refuse to stop playing host and sugar daddy to the globalist "Animal Farm" called the United Nations.

          Who is the enemy?

          President Ronald Reagan admonished us in his landmark address, "Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation" that:
          The real question is not when human life begins, but, what is the value of human life? The abortionist who reassembles the arms and legs of a tiny baby to make sure all its parts have been torn from its mother's body can hardly doubt whether it is a human being. The real question for him and for all of us is whether that tiny human life has a God-given right to be protected by the law – the same right we have.
          When we stop the slaughter of the unborn and choose leaders who choose life, we will have the spiritual and moral standing to ask God to protect us from foreign and domestic terrorists. If not, they may serve as His hand of well-deserved judgment.

          Would you Save Jesus?

           Rather than post the entire blog and Digg that has Canada in an uproar over people who seem to have a religion rather than a relationship and proper knowledge of Scripture,

          I thought this should be asked here since there is easy and very obvious answer to the question though the "atheist" acts like it is a real death ot faith issue.

          So, here is the paraphrased version I asked the coworker:

          “Speaking of Jesus, let me ask you this. You occasionally sing the gospel lyrics, ‘from the earth to the cross my debt to pay from the cross to the grave from the grave to the sky Lord I lift your name on high’. If given the opportunity, being present at the crucifixion and knowing what you know now, would you save this purported ‘saviour’ from murder? If you knew you could succeed and assuming you love him as much as you claim, would you retrieve him from torture and death, or would you watch him suffer and expire in order to win your so-called salvation? Which is essentially a selfish act.”

          I know the answer,

          Do you? 

          Come ~ Sharon's Devotion

            COME UNTO ME

          From time eternal I have drawn you
               to this moment you call now,
          That you may understand my purpose
                 in the things that I allow.

          With My hands I formed you
              and molded you like clay,
          And let them tear my flesh to
          Show you...that I Am The Way.

          I've led you and embraced you
            in your darkest hour of pain,
          Knowing you would fall and turn ~
            I've changed your loss to gain.

          My Love for you is boundless,
             My arms are opened wide
              Until the day I draw you,
              To have you by my side.

           My heart is yours for asking,
             My hands reflect its plea,
          My being waits for your response ~
              My love, Come Unto Me.
                             The Rose of Sharon

          Yom Kippur Guide - 2009 ~ Chabad

           Yom Kippur Guide - 2009

          Editor's Note
          Yom Kippur begins this year on Sunday evening, September 27, 2009, and continues through nightfall of Monday, September 28, 2009. What follows is a how-to guide to the basics of Yom Kippur observance.

          Out of respect for the sanctity of the holiday, please print out this holiday guide before the onset of the holiday (sundown Sunday, September 27), and keep handy throughout the holiday for reference purposes. The staff wishes you and yours a happy and healthy New Year, and an easy fast!

          How is Yom Kippur Observed?

          Yom Kippur commemorates the day that G‑d forgave the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf. Forty days after hearing G‑d say at Mount Sinai: "You shall not have the gods of others in My presence; you shall not make for yourself a graven image," the Jews committed the cardinal sin of idolatry. Moses spent nearly three months on top of the mountain pleading with G‑d for forgiveness, and on the tenth of Tishrei it was finally granted: "I have pardoned, as you have requested."
          From that moment on, this date, henceforth known as the Day of Atonement, is annually observed as a commemoration of our special relationship with G‑d, a relationship that is strong enough to survive any rocky bumps it might encounter. This is a day when we connect with the very essence of our being, which remains faithful to G‑d regardless of our outward behavior.
          And while it is the most solemn day of the year, we are also joyful, confident that G‑d will forgive our sins and seal our verdict for a year of life, health, and happiness.
          For nearly twenty-six hours – from several minutes before sunset on Tishrei 9 until after nightfall on Tishrei 10 – we "afflict our souls": we abstain from food and drink, do not wash or anoint our bodies, do not wear leather footwear, and abstain from spousal intimacy. We are likened to the angels, who have no physical needs. Instead of focusing on the physical, we spend much of our day in the synagogue, engaged in repentance and prayer.

          The Day Before Yom Kippur

          Preparations for Yom Kippur begin early in the morning with the kaparot (atonement) rite. This consists of waving a chicken over one's head and reciting a traditional text. The chicken is ritually slaughtered and given to charity. Click here for more about this ceremony.On this day the primary mitzvah is to eat and drink in abundance. Two meals – festive affairs – are eaten, one earlier in the day, and one just prior to the onset of Yom Kippur. In many communities it is customary to eat kreplach – small dumplings filled with ground meat. Click here for more about the pre-Yom Kippur feasting.
          In between the prayer services and preparing and eating the two meals, there is a lot to squeeze in:
          • Yom Kippur erases all the sins we have committed "before G‑d"—but not the sins we may have committed against our fellow man. So we need to approach anyone whom we may have wronged and beg their forgiveness before Yom Kippur. Click here to read more about this.
          • All immerse in a mikvah (ritual pool) on the day before Yom Kippur. See here for more information.
          • At some point during the day it is customary to ask for and receive lekach (sweet cake). See here for the reasons behind this.
          Minchah (the afternoon prayer service) is prayed relatively early to allow ample time to eat the final meal. Before Minchah, it is customary for all men to receive symbolic "lashes" as a humbling reminder to repent, as well as for everyone to give charity generously – a great source of merit. Click here for more about the afternoon prayer service and surrounding activities.
          Then we partake of the final meal. One must stop eating prior to candle-lighting time. Immediately before the fast begins, it is customary for parents to bless their children. Click here for more about the final meal and the traditional text for blessing the children.
          Then, 18 minutes before sunset, women and girls light candles, and the fast begins. Click here for more details.

          Step-by-Step Through Yom Kippur

          On Yom Kippur, the day when we are likened to angels, many have a custom to wear white clothing while praying. Married Ashkenazi men traditionally wear a simple, long white garment called a kittel. The kittel is also the traditional Jewish shroud; wearing it reminds us of our mortality and urges us to repent.
          Before sunset (click here to for exact time in your location), women and girls light holiday candles, and everyone changes into non-leather shoes and holiday finery.

          Kol Nidrei

          On Yom Kippur, the tallit (prayer shawl) is worn for all the prayer services. In preparation for Kol Nidrei, the tallit should preferably be donned before sunset. (If donning the tallit after sunset, the traditional blessing is not recited.)
          Ideally, Kol Nidrei should begin shortly before sunset. The Torah scrolls are all removed from the Ark – it is a great mitzvah to purchase the honor of holding the first Torah scroll – and the procession of scrolls moves towards the bimah (reading table) while everyone kisses and embraces the passing Torahs.
          After requesting permission, from both the heavenly and earthly courts, to "pray with the transgressors," the cantor begins the Kol Nidrei. He chants the Kol Nidrei three times, each time on a slightly higher octave. The congregation reads along with the cantor, in an undertone.
          The Kol Nidrei is followed by a few brief verses and prayers and culminates with the Shehecheyanu blessing, in which we thank G‑d for "granting us life, sustaining us, and allowing us to reach this occasion." This blessing is recited in honor of every holiday, but usually following the night's kiddush. On Yom Kippur, because there is no kiddush, the blessing was incorporated as part of the prayers. Women and girls do not recite this blessing with the congregation—as they have already recited it after lighting the holiday candles.
          In most congregations, at this point the rabbi delivers a sermon. In many congregations, this sermon is accompanied by an appeal—for charity has the power to evoke heavenly mercy.
          The evening prayer service then commences.
          During Yom Kippur, every time we say the second verse of the Shema, the Baruch Shem verse – "Blessed is the Name of the glory of your kingship forever and ever" – it is proclaimed out loud. Throughout the year, this blessing is recited in an undertone, as it was "stolen" from the angels. On Yom Kippur, however, we are likened to angels, so we too, like the angels, can recite it out loud.
          The special Yom Kippur Amidah (standing prayer) incorporates a lengthy confession of sins. This confession is recited silently, and with each sin that we confess we lightly knock our chest – the domicile of the heart, the seat of our passions and impulses – with our fist. The confession is later repeated, after the Amidah, together with the entire congregation. This double confession is repeated during all the day's prayers, with the exception of the final Neilah prayer.
          The Amidah is followed by liturgy interspersed with the recitation of the verse (Exodus 34:6-7) that alludes to G‑d's Thirteen Attributes of Compassion: "L‑rd, L‑rd, benevolent G‑d, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in kindness and truth; He preserves kindness for two thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, and He cleanses."
          The entire Kol Nidrei and evening service should take approximately two hours.
          Many have the custom to recite the entire Book of Psalms after the evening service.

          Yom Kippur Morning and Early Afternoon

          The joint morning and Musaf service occupies the bulk of the day (approximately 6 hours). The morning service pretty much follows the order of the traditional Shabbat and holiday service. The special Yom Kippur Amidah and confession is recited, followed again by songs and special Yom Kippur liturgy.
          Two Torah scrolls are taken from the Ark, and from them we read about the special Yom Kippur service in the Holy Temple—may it soon be rebuilt. The haftorah discusses the concepts of repentance and fasting, the theme du jour of Yom Kippur.
          In many communities, the aliyahs – whose supply don't meet the demand, due to the large crowd and the auspiciousness of the day – are auctioned off to the highest bidders, with the monies raised earmarked for a charitable cause.
          The Torah reading is followed by the Yizkor service—traditionally preceded by the rabbi's homily. In the Yizkor prayer, we beseech G‑d to kindly remember the souls of our dear departed ones; traditionally, all those who do not recite Yizkor (i.e., those whose parents are both still alive) leave the synagogue for the duration of the brief prayer.
          The Yizkor service is followed by the Musaf service. The most prominent feature of this is the Avodah, a rather lengthy and detailed recounting of the Yom Kippur service in the Holy Temple, whose highlight was the High Priest's entry into the Holy of Holies. During the course of the Avodah, on three occasions we relate how the High Priest would pronounce G‑d's ineffable name, and in response the assembled Jews would prostrate themselves on the ground. When reaching these passages, we too prostrate ourselves on our hands and knees.
          The Avodah concludes with a series of prayers wherein we beseech G‑d to restore the Temple service with the coming of Moshiach. We also recount the tragic story of the cold-blooded murder of the "Ten Martyrs" by the Roman regime.
          Towards the end of the Musaf, the kohanim (priests) administer the Priestly Blessing.
          In most synagogues, the Musaf prayer is followed by a break, lasting between one to three hours.

          Late Afternoon

          Minchah, the afternoon prayer, is called for 1-1½ hours before sunset.
          The service commences with the Torah reading, which speaks of the purity of Jewish life and warns us not to engage in immoral practices. For the haftorah we read the entire Book of Jonah, which contains a timely message on the importance of repentance and prayer.
          The Yom Kippur Amidah is then followed by a few brief prayers. The entire Minchah service lasts approximately one hour.
          Now, moments before sunset, in the waning hours of Yom Kippur, we reach the climax of the holiest day of the year, and we recite the Neilah prayer. "Neilah" means locked. The gates of Heaven, which were open all day, will now be closed—with us on the inside. During this prayer we have the ability to access the most essential level of our soul, the level that is in a state of absolute oneness with her creator. The Holy Ark remains open for the duration of the entire prayer.
          The Neilah Amidah is somewhat abbreviated—it does not contain the lengthy version of the confession. The Amidah is followed by a selection of prayers and culminates with the cantor emphatically proclaiming the words of the Shema – "Hear, O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is one!" With intense concentration, the congregation repeats the verse. The cantor than recites the Baruch Shem three times, again followed by the congregation. Finally, with all his night the cantor proclaims seven times, "The L‑rd is G‑d!" and again, the congregation repeats. This is followed by the joyous proclamation, "Next Year in Jerusalem!"
          The shofar is then sounded—one triumphant, long blast, signifying the end of the holy day. In Chabad synagogues, the shofar blast is preceded by the euphoric singing of "Napoleon's March." At this point we are ecstatically confident that G‑d has sealed us all for a wonderful year: a year of happiness, prosperity, and health; the year when we will finally experience the long-awaited Redemption.

          An Overview of Yom Kippur Laws

          On Yom Kippur, the Torah instructs us to "afflict" ourselves, which means abstaining from an assortment of physical pleasures. There are two reasons for this: a) On this day, when our connection to G‑d is brought to the fore, we are compared to angels, who have no physical needs. b) We afflict ourselves to demonstrate the extent of our regret for our past misdeeds. (Click here for a more mystical explanation.)
          Instead of focusing on the physical, the majority of the day is spent in the synagogue, devoted to repentance and prayer.
          There are five areas of pleasure that we avoid on Yom Kippur—from sundown on the eve of the holiday until the following nightfall (click here to find out when Yom Kippur starts and ends in your location):
          1. Eating or drinking.
          2. Wearing leather footwear.
          3. Bathing or washing.
          4. Applying ointment, lotions, or creams.
          5. Engaging in any form of spousal intimacy.
          (These all are restrictions unique to Yom Kippur; we also abstain from all creative activities forbidden on the Shabbat, e.g., turning on lights, driving, and carrying in the public domain.)
          It is also customary not to wear gold jewelry on Yom Kippur, as gold is reminiscent of the sin of the Golden Calf, and on the Day of Atonement – the day when we were forgiven for that egregious sin – we do not want to "remind" the Prosecutor (Satan) of our past sins.

          A Word from Jesus about Prayer ~ Jack Graham

          A Word from Jesus about Prayer
          By Jack Graham

          It can be pretty convicting when we think about our own prayer lives. We’re so busy that we only pray sometimes. We pray now and then. But God desires so much more for us when it comes to prayer. Through prayer, we can not only intercede for others, but we can know God intimately. Through prayer, we can make a difference in this world… and yet we often fail.

          What is it about us that resists prayer? Even the apostle Paul recognized what a struggle prayer is when he noted in Romans 8:26, “We do not know what to pray for as we ought….” It’s amazing to think that the great Christian, Paul, struggled in his prayer life! And so do we! Which is why we cry out with the disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

          Jesus welcomes our questions. He wants us to pray… to come to him and ask him for what is on our hearts. But how should we pray? Jesus gives us a word about prayer in Matthew 6:5, where he says:

          “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites.

          Now if Jesus tells us not to pray like hypocrites, it’s pretty important that we understand what a hypocrite is. The word hypocrite comes from the Greek theater, and was used to denote someone who was an actor. And in Greek theater, actors would put on a mask to play various parts in a play. 

          What Jesus is saying is pretty clear. When we pray and put on a performance… rather than genuinely pray… we’re simply playing a part. When we hide our true identity—our self-righteousness—behind our own prayers and stand at center stage, we are just playing a part, we are acting. We are just pretending to pray. And that is hypocrisy.

          Jesus said don’t pray like the hypocrites because,

          “… they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.”

                      There is nothing wrong with standing to pray. In fact, during those times, the Jewish people would often stand, lifting up holy hands in prayer to God. The posture is not the point here. Jesus is not condemning public prayer. The hypocrisy is that these men, who loved to stand and pray on the street corners and in the sanctuaries and the synagogues, did it to be seen by men.

          That is the problem. There is the hypocrisy… to pray for the applause of men rather than the applause of God. Hypocrites are more interested in their own reputation than in personal righteousness. They desire the approval of men rather than the approval of God.

          So Jesus rips off the mask of phoniness and says that when you and I pray, don’t pretend. Don’t just pray with words that mean nothing. Don’t pray to perform.

          The only way I know how you and I can identify this in our lives is to ask ourselves, “Do I only pray when people are watching? Do I simply pray so others will think more of me or the best of me?”

          Those of us who are called upon to pray publicly must be very careful that we don’t pray professional prayers. And the only way I know how to guard against this in my own life is to first engage the God of heaven through private and personal prayer. When I do that, then I am ready for public prayer.

          So let me ask you, what’s your prayer life like? Really, what’s it like? Not just what men see, but what God sees. Is it truly your desire to draw near to God, to know him, to talk with him? So many Christians are all showcase and no warehouse. Everything’s out front, but there’s nothing on the inside. And that’s what Jesus is warning us about here.

          Don’t pretend to pray, but pray. And don’t pray to perform.

          From Blest Atheist Stand Back and Let God Work (Anne Bender)


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          Wednesday, September 23, 2009

          Blest Guest Wednesday #1: Stand Back and Let God Work (Anne Bender)

          Since early August, it has been difficult for me to post regularly although I have somehow managed not to let more than a few days go by between posts. Considering that my crazy travel schedule is definitely going to continue for a few more months, I have come up with an idea for bringing a little sanity to the blogging part of my life: ask for help. For that reason, I am asking some fellow bloggers to write posts for me on Wednesdays, hence the name "Blest Guest Wednesday." As today's "Blest Guest," I asked Anne Bender, who writes a blog that I follow closely: Imprisoned in My Bones - Releasing My Inner Jeremiah. As you will see here, she has several children; two of her sons are considering the priesthood. Her stories are uplifting and insightful, and I thank her for the touching one she wrote for today's post. (Oh, the image of a priest's hands is hers, too, and can be found on her blog.) Here is her post:

          When things seem really bleak, and I feel full of worry and stress over little things, God always seems to find a way to pull me out of myself and remind me of the important and meaningful things in life. It seems to me, that his favorite way of doing that is through my children. When I’m aware of how He works in this way, I can only stand back and let the tears of astonishment overflow from my heart and fill my eyes.

          Jack is ten years old, and will be eleven next month. He is in the 5th grade. But to me, I can’t ever imagine him as anything except a sweet and innocent little boy and I’m amazed every time I realize that he’s growing up so fast. He was born with developmental apraxia of speech, but we didn’t realize he had this disorder until he was two years old and wasn’t talking. The apraxia means that in his mind, he knows what to say, but something breaks down between his mind and his mouth, and the words don't come out, they stay kind of stuck in his head. It was extremely frustrating for him. So, just before he turned three years old, he began speech therapy, and he continues to require this weekly service. Of course, he really speaks very well now and most people can understand him and don’t even realize that he has this disorder. I am most aware of it when he is sick or tired and that's when his speech becomes more garbled and difficult to understand.

          Jack works very hard to overcome this difficulty. Most of the time he is a very quiet boy and he easily disappears in our loud and unruly family. When he is stressed, he can barely express himself except through tears. But when he is relaxed and happy, he can turn into a real chatterbox, especially if he is talking about the current sport of the season. I always thought that God gave Jack the gift of athleticism to compensate for his speech difficulties. As he began his school career, I worried that he would be teased because of the robotic way he spoke and that friends would be few and far between. But Jack found a way around his speech difficulties by bringing a ball of some sort to school every day. Other children always gathered around him to play and he quickly became quite popular. Nobody cared about whether or not he spoke well because he was fun and kind. He included everyone in his games and shared well with others.

          Whenever the talk of future careers would come up in our household, Jack always spoke of a career in sports that is typical for most boys. Whether the season was football, baseball or basketball that is the sport he wanted to play as a professional when he grew up.

          Until last year, that is. Then Jack started expressing an interest in the priesthood. I didn’t pay too much attention thinking he was just copying his older brother John, who is feeling called in this direction. And when I would watch him fidget in church, constantly checking his watch to see how long the Mass lasted, I would completely disregard the possibility of priesthood for Jack.

          I like to visit the Seminary Library, and when I’d take Jack with me, he began to ask the librarian for books about the priesthood. She would apologize to me because she didn’t have much on the subject for younger children. I always said, “It’s ok. He really doesn’t read much anyway, you’d just be wasting your time hunting some down. As soon as we get home, he’ll be outside playing instead of quietly reading, because that’s what Jack does best.”

          But this week God had a surprise for me. Jack had an evening with a few hours unattended while the rest of the family was busy with other activities. He told me that he spent that time looking at our Seminary’s “Think Priest” website. I smiled and told him what a good boy he was and that I was glad that he was interested in that, and then sent him off to bed. I didn't give it another thought.

          Last night I received a phone call from our Associate Pastor. Fr. Dennis asked me if I knew that Jack had sent him an email. (I didn’t.) He told me that Jack had complimented him on his All-School Mass Homily and then said that he wanted to be a priest. Fr. Dennis said the email surprised him because Jack never says a word to him in person, he won’t even crack a smile, but rather is always very serious.

          I went outside to find Jack racing up and down the street on his scooter and told him that I wanted to talk to him. He immediately assumed he was in trouble for something and the tears began. I assured him that he was not in trouble, but that I just wanted to spend some time talking with him. He sat on my lap and I asked him about the email to Fr. Dennis as I wiped his tears away. He said yes, he had sent it. He also sent one to our Pastor, Fr. Dave, our friend Fr. Don, who is the Rector at the Seminary and to Mr. Wisniewski, the school principal. He said he established his own email address and told all of these men that he wanted to be a priest and was wondering if they had any tips for him. He took me to the computer screen and showed me his list of sent emails, and there they all were, just like he said.

          Now it was my turn to cry. My mind raced with questions. Could God really be calling two of my four sons to the priesthood? What moved Jack to send these emails without telling me his intention? Will this desire for the priesthood last or is this just a phase that he is passing through? Does God really send the call to priesthood to such young boys?

          I watched him closely at Mass this morning. I saw him fidgeting with the eraser that was in his pocket during the homily. I saw him looking intently at Fr. Dave during the consecration. I noticed him smile and wave at Fr. Dave during the sign of peace. My heart is pondering the wonder of it all, but I know that all I can do is stand back and let God work. After all, Jack has always been His child, long before he was my child. In the end, it will be God’s will that wins. It will always be God’s will.

          Does God Expect Me to Stay Married to a Jerk?

                Does God Expect Me to Stay Married to a Jerk?

            Years ago, a family therapist was asked, “What are the top three causes of divorce?” to which he replied, “Selfishness, selfishness, selfishness!” Of course this is an oversimplification of the varied and many contributing factors to divorce but there is an element of truth in this statement that permeates each.
            At the core of all that ails the human race is selfishness: this innate love of self-self-worship-or pride. We alienate ourselves from one another when we elevate our desires, our opinions, and our feelings above others. We cheat and steal because we want, we lie and deceive because we give priority to our self-interests, we murder-in actuality or with words-because our puny sense of supremacy is threatened. This is the very sin that separates us from God: our love of self over and against the Father. In short, we are deplorably selfish beings consumed with satisfying our own appetites and desires, often without regard for anyone else.

            This is the dreadful state in which the Lord finds us-and despite our active resistance to his rightful rule in our hearts, our thoughts, and actions, he lovingly subdues our rebellious pride with his grace and mercy. He saves us from eternal alienation that our stubborn resistance brings! The old man, so infatuated with himself, is crucified and buried with Christ; we are raised to a new life in Christ (see Romans 6:4). However, this new life doesn’t just happen. Our will, which was once in bondage to sin, has been freed to pursue godliness in obedience to Christ through faith. Paul, writing to the church at Ephesus, tells us that we are to be taught to cast away our “old self” and “to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22–24, NIV).

             C. S. Lewis summed it up in saying, “To become new men means losing what we now call ourselves” (Mere Christianity).

            The clearest clue to what this new self looks like is given in Paul’s letter to the Philippians when he writes, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:5–7, NIV). This is a radical departure from our selfish nature into one that denies self even in the face of offense. This same nature is, of course, the foundation for marriage-but also all relationships.

            In Ephesians, Paul lays out the foundation of marriage as being rooted in a mutual love and submission, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord” and “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:22, 25, NIV). Notice also that Paul begins this chapter with the charge to “Be imitators of God,” another reference to the disposition described in Philippians chapter two. Later in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul compares this joining of two people into “one flesh” to that of Christ and his bride, the church (see Ephesians 5:32).

             Thus marriage-this “profound mystery,” according to Paul-transcends anything resembling a mere contractual obligation. Nor is marriage simply a self-serving means to personal happiness; Christian couples should strive for and display this self-denying disposition.

            Another aspect that should govern Christian marriage is the doctrine of God’s sovereignty.

            Do we believe that when we suffer, we suffer outside the will of God, or do we believe that God allows suffering to enter our lives for his good purpose? Isn’t there the expectation that we, too, will share in the sufferings of Christ, that “we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22, NKJV)? While we do not eagerly seek to suffer, don’t we believe that suffering bears sweet fruit nourished by bitter tears and that such fruit is nothing less than holy character (see Romans 5:2–4)? If we believe that God in his providence causes everything to “work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose”(Romans 8:28, NLT), then wouldn’t it be reasonable to conclude that such suffering may also come in the form of a troubled marriage?

            That being the case, wouldn’t we be expected to persevere rather than seek escape, trusting God for both endurance and the outcome? It is here-in the domain of our so-called domestic happiness-that we may be tempted to draw a boundary, saying, in essence, “Lord, you may come this far but no farther.” It is often in this context that the old self returns in an effort to assert his rights: “I need, I want, I deserve!” However, the Christian is compelled to lay down these rights and instead trust in God, believing that his grace is indeed sufficient in all things including an oppressive and loveless marriage. It is here that the Christian patiently endures, trusting the Lord for the grace to do so, and hopes for a future where God may be pleased to set things right.

            Please do not think I am suggesting that the person suffering physical abuse remain in a situation whereby he or she is subjected to physical harm. I am not! However, that is a topic for another time, as I am presently addressing divorce for no other reason than the failure to achieve personal “happiness.” This is where we Christians either begin to differ from the world or remain worldly. The Christian life does not culminate in a quest to be happy but to be holy!

            If our attitude is to be the same as that of Christ Jesus, then consider how Jesus responds to his frequently unfaithful bride, the church. Every one of us has, at some point, been unfaithful to Christ; we have wantonly rebelled against him, we have been indifferent, even abusive in our disregard toward him. We have all failed to love him at times and we constantly put our needs ahead of his. And yet Jesus never says to us, “That’s it, I’ve had it! I will not take this abuse anymore; you are selfish and uncaring; you don’t love me or make me feel special, so I am out of here!” Can you imagine these words coming out of the Savior’s mouth? Never!
            So it is to be with us. For those poor souls who walk in darkness, there is no chance of assuming the self-denying character of Christ; but for those whom Christ has made alive, there is the all-sufficient well of grace. It is to Christ that the Christ-follower must go with his “irreconcilable differences,” not to the courts. It is only Christ who reconciles the unrighteous with the righteous and it is Christ that can reconcile husband and wife.
            The question for the church is this: Will we truly trust him in all things, including while we suffer marital maelstroms? Will we follow Christ when it is most difficult? If we won’t, then not only will we fail in our witness, we will never know the freedom of living by faith.

            S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ & Culture. Michael is the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress). Michael's ministry is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, visit: Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.

            Tens of Thousands Pray in NYC's Times Square

            Tens of Thousands Pray in NYC's Times Square

            Around 30,000 people representing over 300 churches and 65 youth organizations gathered Sunday for an hour of prayer in New York City’s Times Square.

            On the day that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg proclaimed to be “Prayer in the Square Day,” the thousands who gathered for “Prayer in the Square” prayed for the nation in three-minute intervals with songs performed by a 180-voice gospel choir between each prayer segment.

            "Since its establishment, this event has encouraged the faith of all those in attendance, celebrating their beliefs through praise and worship,” commented Bloomberg, who is Jewish by faith.

            “‘Prayer in the Square’ provides an opportunity for all Christians – regardless of their age, race, gender, or denomination – to renew and deepen their commitment to our city’s spiritual community,” Bloomberg added. “In all our diversity, New Yorkers share an appreciation for the power of faith. After all, our city was built by people who came here in order to worship God freely.”

            The mayor called the hour of prayer a “powerful symbol of unity.”

            Hosted by Times Square Church, “Prayer in the Square” has been held for the last three years for the sole purpose of gathering people for one hour of prayer, in humility, with all denominations represented and no personalities or ministry showcased.

            And this year’s gathering was particularly meaningful as it was expected to be the last and as it was held amid the current economic recession.

            “In prayer three years ago, we felt that 2009 would be a time of great distress for our city and country,” commented Carter Conlon, pastor of Times Square Church. “I do not believe that He would have called us to gather in such a place and at such a time if He had not planned to answer our prayer.”
            Last year, more than 18,000 people from over 200 congregations convened in Times Square for “Prayer in the Square.”

            This year, aside from the tens of thousands who gathered in New York, people also joined from 26 other states and 19 countries, including Burundi, Pakistan, Kenya, United Kingdom, Benin, Singapore, and Israel via the live webcast for the event.

            “I believe we will see the fulfillment of why God has asked us to pray," said Conlon.

            Maybe today you feel that same frustration ~ Jon Courson

            Because there’s a good chance you’re feeling frustrated about something even now, I want us to look at a man who faced frustration in his own life to see how the Lord dealt with him.

            The situation is this: The disciples had just returned from a mission during which they had seen blind eyes opened, the sick healed, the oppressed liberated (Matthew 10). Wisely realizing they needed time to unwind, to be rebuilt and renewed, Jesus took them across the Sea of Galilee (Mark 6:30-32).

            After crossing the Sea, and arriving in the town of Bethsaida, however, they discovered that a crowd had figured out where they were headed, and had gone around the lake to meet them. Seeing the multitude, and knowing their need, Jesus turned to Philip and said, ‘Philip, we’re in your town. A lot of these people are your friends, your relatives. What are we going to do?’ (John 6:5). ‘I don’t know,’ answered Philip. ‘We don’t have enough money to even begin to feed this crowd.’

            Maybe today you feel that same frustration. Maybe bills are piling up on your desk. Maybe the job you hold is not generating the necessary income to keep your books balanced. Maybe a relationship seems to be lacking the love you desire. Maybe you find yourself frustrated — like Philip.

            The Frustration of Philip

            Philip was frustrated by the situation he was in. I can relate to that. I face frustrations which are very great, very deep, and weigh heavily upon me. You do too. ‘Lord, why are You picking on me?’ Philip must have wondered. ‘Why don’t You ask Peter what to do? Or James? Why single me out, Lord?’

            Do you ever feel that way? Amidst times of challenge and periods of frustration in each of our lives, there is a tendency to want to pass the buck. ‘Why, Lord, are You asking me what to do with these 5,000 people? Why not ask someone else?’

            Philip was frustrated not only by the situation he was in, but by the figures he had. ‘Lord, as I add up our account, I realize we have enough money to feed about thirteen people.’ He was frustrated by the figures he had because, dear friend, he was looking to his own resources rather than to the Source.

            How easily I fall into that same trap. I find myself looking at figures, statistics, facts — and coming up short. Yet even though Philip failed to see with the eyes of faith, his failure didn’t frustrate God’s work. I like that!

            Even though Philip was frustrated, God’s work still went on.

            Folks, the Lord’s work will go on. And even if we go through seasons of failure, lapses of faith, I am so thankful He’s bigger than our failure, bigger than our lack of faith. He’s building His Church, establishing His Kingdom, pouring out His Spirit, and proclaiming the Gospel to all the world in these last days.
            Philip’s failure had no effect upon the work of the Lord. Neither did it disqualify Philip from the work of the Lord. Although Philip didn’t see what could have taken place had he been a man of faith, Jesus still said to Philip, ‘Can you get everyone to sit down in groups of fifty and pass out the goods?’ (John 6:10-11).

            This is what is so neat about Jesus.

            Even though Philip wasn’t able to see the miracle come through him, the Lord didn’t say, ‘You turkey, Philip. You lacked faith. I’m not going to use you in any way in any time. Hit the showers. You’re through.’ No, He gave Philip something else to do. Philip didn’t see miraculous power flow through him in the way he could have, yet Jesus used him anyway.
            The Confidence of Christ

            While Philip was sweating it out, Jesus was cool as a cucumber. He knew what He was going to do all along. Why, then, did He ask Philip’s advice?

            In order to give Philip the opportunity to stretch and to grow.
            The same is true in your situation. Whatever is frustrating you today — whatever fears you face, whatever tensions you feel, whatever burdens you’re bearing — Jesus already knows what He’s going to do concerning them. We don’t, but He does. And He wants us to walk by faith, to trust Him. Not only did Jesus know what He was going to do, but He also knew how He was going to do it. Before the miracle ever took place, He lifted up His eyes and gave thanks to His Father (John 6:11).

            So too regarding your dilemma, your frustration, your fear — do what Jesus did. Lift up your eyes and say, ‘Thank You, Father, that You’re going to take care of this situation. I know You will. You are faithful. You have never let me down thus far, but have done exceedingly abundantly above all I could ask or think. When I thought I wouldn’t make it, You pulled me through. When I thought I was going under, You pulled me up. When I thought I was out of it, You pulled me back. You’ve been so good. Thus, I give you thanks right now in this moment of frustration.’

            In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (I Thessalonians 5:18). There is power in praise, gang. The Lord is pleased with people who are thankful, as opposed to those who complain, murmur, and worry as they utter words which are depressing, defeating, and discouraging.The Lord blesses those who take what they have — as insufficient as it might seem — place it in His hands, and say, ‘Thank You, Lord. I believe in You.’ Philip and Jesus — two men standing in the same place — one frustrated, the other at rest; one hot and bothered, the other cool and confident.

            The difference? Philip looked at the figures. Jesus looked to the Father.

            We have a choice to make, both as a church and as individuals: We can follow the example of Philip and say, ‘Why are You picking on me, Lord? My resources are so limited. My situation is impossible’ — Or we can be like Jesus and lift our eyes to heaven, give thanks to the Father, and watch Him multiply and bless.

            I’m asking you today to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. In everything give thanks. Give Him what you have and expect Him to multiply it. You do not have to be frustrated today.

            You can be free right now if you’ll fix your eyes on heaven, have faith in the Father, and in everything give thanks.


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