Friday, June 26, 2009

Defining a Christian Nation

Since President Obama’s speech in Cairo a few weeks ago, there has been a renewed interest in debate over whether the United States can accurately or even aesthetically be described as a “Christian” nation and whether such a designation can be attributed to a matter of ideology or is a manner of semantics. While some polls indicate roughly 80% of Americans claiming a Christian affiliation, this surely cannot be the sole means by which we make a determination about whether America is a “Christian” nation. For the faithful, the reason why this nation should be a nation under God is biblically clear as well as by the numerous examples and quotes from the days of our founding and beyond, all as expressions of individual, rather than collective, faith. And while the “Creator” (as well as “Nature’s God”, and “Divine Providence”) is acknowledged in our Declaration of Independence, it must be remembered in this particular context that we – presumably as Christians seeking our Christian independence – were demanding independence from another Christian nation, one in which the king himself was officially not only the head of state but also head of the Church, the monarch often referred to as “defender of the faith”.

Arguments have been made that many (“many” being relative, of course) chose to flee England precisely because of the lack of religious freedom, but is it not fair to say that England was “officially” a Christian nation? If this is true, and I think it must be, then what sort of religious freedom were we seeking that we would flee a religious, if Christian, nation in search of another? If the argument is then made that we just didn’t like that religion, that it was too Catholic or too Anglican or too near to the king, then what sort of religious expression might we choose to enforce as a means and a standard by which we can be clearly distinguished as a Christian nation, especially since we were defined as such in Europe but chose to run away from it? Religionists may not have cared for a king or a pope, but were they not all commonly defined by the New Covenant?

What of the flag-waving Christian patriots who clearly love America but just as clearly hate Americans, especially those Americans with whom they disagree? White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants had a corner on “official” Christianity in the early days of this republic that was just as repressive, if not more so, than that which was experienced in Europe. How is American Christianity somehow better than European Christianity, and how has American Christianity brought a nation closer to Divine Providence? How is hating on one’s neighbor indicative of a New Covenant Christian who demands adherence to and enforcement of his or her own Christian ideals while pure, raw, unadulterated hatred burns in the pit of his or her soul? Can anyone spell A-Y-A-T-O-L-L-A-H?

Are we a Christian nation, or are we a nation predominately populated by Christians? To infer that we are a Christian nation is to suggest that official government policies and practices exist, or once existed and have since been undermined, for the sole purpose of supporting and maintaining exclusively Christianity. The existence of abortion alone (a most unholy act of human destruction!), as supported by this government and its courts but clearly and officially renounced by the Roman Catholic Church and many Protestant Christians, challenges the notion that this nation is distinctly Christian down to the very core. Even before this, however, is the absolute and constitutional reality that this nation is decidedly and officially not Christian nor Jewish nor Muslim: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …

This much, at least, seems clear. The United States government is prohibited from engaging in religious practice lest the government somehow be accused of engaging in religious establishment. It matters not whether the religion is Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, or any other number of religions existing around the world. What should matter, and what seems equally clear from history, is that disaster has usually resulted from any government engaging in the act of supporting, imposing, or enforcing any religion upon its people. By this very same token, the government is equally clearly prohibited from engaging in the act of “prohibiting the free exercise …” of any religion. In the matter of religion, the government is constitutionally compelled to remain neutral in matters of religious faith but because the government cannot prohibit the “free exercise” of religion, it seems inferred that the government is duty-bound to defend one’s right to “free exercise”.

This nation’s history cannot be ignored, however, and it is that many did choose to come to these shores to flee religious persecution, but it is the very context of this persecution that should be a cause of alarm among flag-waving Christians who would insist upon a “Christian” nation. Christianity, as practiced, is as diverse and as varied as its population. There is a reason why there are, among Christians, those Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, Pentecostalists, etc. that cannot (or will not) agree on particular theological or doctrinal standards. There are core differences in liturgical practices and in understanding the difference between what constitutes a “holy ordinance” and a “holy sacrament” such as matrimony, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. Shall it be the majority that gets to make the call? In this context, it must be remembered that the “majority” would never have allowed slaves to be freed, let alone be granted their inherent humanity.

None of this is to say that we Christians cannot live and worship as we see fit, but all of it is to insist that we at least respect, and be respected by, those who do not agree with us. This much is constitutionally protected. However, this freedom we have has not been granted to us by Divine Providence or by man’s law as a means by which to demand anything of anyone other than ourselves. If there is anything to be proved, the burden of this proof lays squarely on the shoulders of we who insist that our beliefs and practices do indeed offer a better way of life. As it is so often said, “the proof is in the pudding”.

The United States is a nation of Christians, many of whom took upon themselves the responsibility of defending a nation’s principles and ideals. The United States is also a nation of non-Christians, religious and not, who have also borne upon themselves the duties and responsibilities of defending not exclusively Christianity (or any other religion) but, rather, a nation; a nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men (humanity) are created equal”, absent any religious qualifiers. This is the fundamental principle upon which this nation was founded and built, and it is upon this principle that this nation must stand. It is a very Christian notion of freedom and liberty that offers rather than demands, that is edifying rather than destructive, that is selfless rather than selfish.

There is a substantial difference between the principles of our nation and the fundamentals of our faith; Christians especially should be grateful, rather than hateful, for these differences.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Not For Everyone

“As a public church, we are called to address significant social issues that affect the common good. We seek to bring God’s justice not only in the world but also in the church. The social statements of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are social policy documents, adopted by the churchwide assembly in accordance with our policies and procedures.” Evangelical Lutheran preamble to Social Statements

We in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are united with all human beings and the whole creation because God has created us and all that exists ...

Induced abortion, the act of intentionally terminating a developing life in the womb, is one of the issues about which members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have serious differences. These differences are also found within society ...

A developing life in the womb does not have an absolute right to be born, nor does a pregnant woman have an absolute right to terminate a pregnancy. The concern for both the life of the woman and the developing life in her womb expresses a common commitment to life. This requires that we move beyond the usual "pro-life" versus "pro-choice" language in discussing abortion ...

Women, faced with unintended pregnancies, are called to be good stewards of life by making responsible decisions in light of these relationships ...

All of life is a mysterious, awesome gift of God ...

Human life in all phases of its development is God-given and, therefore, has intrinsic value, worth, and dignity ...

Sin is evident in the many ways human lives are not given equal respect or treated with high value, but are subject to abuse, violence, and neglect by individuals, groups, and entire societies. We are caught up in a web of sin in which we both sin and are sinned against ...

Our faith is to be active in love and our freedom used for the benefit of one another ...

… our love for neighbor embraces especially those who are most vulnerable, including both the pregnant woman and the life in her womb ...

Because we believe that God is the creator of life, the number of induced abortions is a source of deep concern to this church. We mourn the loss of life that God has created …


George Tiller, the late-term abortion provider who was shot and killed in church recently, was in attendance at an Evangelical Lutheran Church. Because of Tiller’s chosen profession and apparent sense of religion (I have no idea the state of his faith), an examination of what the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA) has to say about abortion seemed in order.

This is no attempt to vilify or implicate specifically the ECLA (not to be confused with the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, which is distinctly pro-life) in the doctor’s personal and professional choices and endeavors. Indeed, as a United Methodist pastor, I have issues with my own denomination’s stance on abortion (absolutely no, under certain circumstances; kinda sorta maybe under others). In a culture such as ours, however, and in light of the reality that more and more persons are moving away from church attendance and active participation in church life, it is interesting to read official church statements, especially those statements that attempt to take a stand but seem to work harder at including “something for everyone” without actually taking a stand, and then wonder why there seems to be so much confusion and falling away among the faithful.

It is noteworthy, in a society such as ours in which it seems decreed by far too many churches that the value of human life is measured only by our willingness to support and defend that life, that children are gunning down children in the streets all across America with reckless abandon and with absolutely no respect for human life nor sensing any value of such life. These children kill as it suits their own selfish purposes just as we kill unborn children and feebly attempt to justify our decisions while condemning theirs. The message is just not consistent, and there is no firm belief to embrace. It’s a “kinda sorta” proposition that refuses to name an evil and call it what it is for fear of upsetting or offending, perhaps in an effort to prevent an exodus of members, only to discover that such efforts to appease everyone was ultimately in vain.

The ELCA [non]stand on abortion is not unique to the ELCA but is, instead, indicative of far too many “connectional” churches as well as many independent and non-denominational churches that celebrate “diversity” by diversifying essentials of the faith so as to be considered “inclusive” but actually being rendered “impotent”. Life itself as a “gift of God” is as essential and as basic as “essentials of faith” can be; Evangelical Lutherans and United Methodists (among many others) do their level best to avoid nasty confrontations by refusing to come down on one side or the other and do a great disservice to those who look for a faith and a God that will not shift according to cultural or political winds. To do so is to not only earn but also embrace the true meaning of “hypocrisy”.

The Roman Catholic Church may take a lot of flak from a lot of folks, but the RCC can be counted on to stand firm in what it professes to be true. There is no “popular” vote with regard to Church doctrine, and some things are not open to secular discussion or debate. There is no vain attempt to be culturally relevant, and there is no feeble celebration of “cultural diversity” when it comes to sound doctrine. Those who insist that the Church needs to “get with the times” fail to understand that the Church’s refusal to negotiate is actually what was once known as “doctrinal integrity”.

Refusing to be swayed by the prevailing secular humanist or relativist culture grants to the Church the necessary moral authority to speak to such matters. All other churches that seek to be “culturally relevant” to worldly standards and practices and vainly attempt to appease those who cannot or will not embrace such absolutes as the divine nature of life itself fail to understand or embrace the standards of the Kingdom of Heaven and our call to be relevant toward that Kingdom rather than to the worldly culture we live in.

In the end, although the Christian faith is for anyone who is willing to enter into the New Covenant and walk the walk of Christ, the harsh truth is that it is not for everyone. There will always be those unwilling or even unable to enter into this life-changing and life-SUSTAINING Covenant. Sad, but true. And this includes entire churches that surrender their moral authority to the prevailing cultural authority.

Without Exception

Whether one would see a glass as half-empty or half-full would depend entirely on one’s outlook on life. Whether one is a pessimist or an optimist depends, in large measure, on whether one has the faith to get through from one day to the next. It is a given, of course, that even Christians get a little “down in the mouth” from time to time; the world has a way of closing in around us whenever money is tight or the kids have too much going on or there are sick friends and family members or … or …

It also occurred to me not long ago that we Christians are sometimes a little too free with negative thoughts, for instance, when we refer to those who are terminally ill as “dying”. Such a mindset helps to lend credence to such laws – clearly laws “of the flesh” - as those created in Washington State and Oregon known as “death with dignity”, laws that appear noble on the surface but come up severely short in biblical and practical wisdom especially when we consider and then dismiss the sacred nature and value of human life, regardless of the state of that life. Terminally ill patients are indeed dying, as is so often said, but no more or less so than any one of us at any given time. We are all on borrowed time.

Death is imminent; without exception, we are all going to pass from this world sooner or later but until life passes from us, we are all, also without exception, very much alive. Our existence, our very being has intrinsic value that goes far beyond the human capacity to adequately or accurately measure. So it must necessarily be not a choice between “living and dying” but, rather, “alive or dead”. There can be no in-between without creating the so-called “gray areas” in which the definition of a “life worth living” becomes a debatable topic subject only to the secular value our society chooses to assign according to the usefulness of that life.

In such “slippery slope” areas as abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, cloning, and euthanasia, divine value is not even taken into consideration not only because such value is immeasurable and incomprehensible by human standards but also because, by these same human standards, the value of life becomes relative. Relative to what would remain to be seen and is ambiguous at best, but that relativity is defined only in moment-to-moment social situations and political circumstances. Not only does such thinking violate the premise that Life is in the realm of our Holy Father and no other, but “slippery slopes” lead to such deranged thinking as human life being only slightly more advanced than that of a monkey or a rat or any other “lab” animal subject to human experimentation. Think of the Nazi era.

The divine value of human life is poetically expressed in Isaiah when the prophet is called forth in chapter 6. The prophet acknowledges his unworthiness as with “unclean lips” from among a people of “unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5) especially while in the Divine Presence. In spite of his perceived unworthiness and in spite of his perceived unworthiness of the people whom Isaiah will be preaching to, the Lord sees fit to continue to reach out, refusing to disavow His own people, His own creation. They are all, without exception, still very much alive and worth the effort; even those who will ultimately reject Him. They are all, without exception, of intrinsic value not only to one another but to the Lord and His purposes. It is, by decree of the Lord alone, that all life has value and cannot – in fact, must not – be subjected to measure by man’s arbitrary, conditional, fickle and, ultimately, finite standards.

In the book, "Seven Theories of Human Nature", Leslie Stevens writes, “The Christian doctrine of man sees him primarily in relation to God, who has created him to occupy a special position in the universe. Man is made in the image of God, to have dominion over the rest of creation; he is unique in that he has in him something of the self-consciousness and ability to love freely which is characteristic of God Himself. God created man for fellowship with Himself, so man fulfills the purpose of his life only when he loves and serves his Creator ... It is a common and recurrent misinterpretation of Christian doctrine that it asserts a dualism between the material body and an immaterial soul …” (pg 45)

Think of it in Paul’s terms of our being “debtors … to the Spirit” (Romans 8:12-13), that whole sum and source of our existence by which our true and genuine value is not only given but is also divinely measured. Living “according to the flesh” places a finite and limited value on our existence; we’re only good and useful until we die. And if we choose to live “according to the flesh … [we] will die”, Paul writes, as opposed to our ability to “freely choose” to reflect the characteristics of our divine nature with and in our physical, mortal selves, having been called into being by our Divine Creator. Our existence is measured by our own choices but is ultimately assigned its value by the Lord from the very beginning.

Even though we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), we cannot deny that we are born of flesh and Jesus does make such a distinction between the two and even suggests a certain “dualism” in John 3:6; “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of Spirit is Spirit”. Jesus implies a distinction between our physical, fleshly selves and the Divine Nature which comes when we are in communion with the Spirit. It is only then when there can be a fellowship between God and man. Nevertheless, we are still occupying our mortal bodies and using our mortal minds. And it strikes Jesus as strange that Nicodemus, “a teacher of Israel” (vs 10), lacks a clear understanding of this spiritual – and Scriptural – reality.

In Isaiah 44:3 it is written, “I will pour water on him who is thirsty and floods upon the dry ground. I will pour My Spirit on your descendants and My blessing on your offspring.” It is also written in Ezekiel 36:26, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you”.

Spiritual restoration, then, is not an exclusively New Testament doctrine. It was the Lord’s intent to restore Israel after the Exile even after they betrayed Him and profaned His Name by their actions, and these were mortal, physical bodies that were to be restored. It is the intent of the Holy Father to restore us all to that Divine Image in which we were first created. And it is by His Hand and His decree alone that humanity is restored to that Divine Fellowship for which we were “fearfully and wonderfully made”. And Jesus wraps it all up nice and neat with this statement: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17).

If we, then, know and appreciate and even embrace this Truth, then we must surely know and appreciate that the Lord is no respecter of persons. That is, He does not play favorites. He loves totally and completely ALL of His creation. That which is in store for you and for me is also what is in store for others. Having been born again through baptism, that Sacrament of the Church by which we are brought into the New Covenant and given the gift of Life by the Holy Spirit, it then becomes incumbent upon us to serve as witnesses of this Truth: Life is God, and God is Life. There is nothing ambiguous about it. And the Scripture is clear: the value of our lives is not measured according to our fleshly usefulness though it is our flesh that “freely chooses” that Great Gift.

The passing of our mortal bodies is a given and will come to us all sooner or later but for those who “freely choose” to walk and live in the Spirit, Life is far from over and we are NOT “dying”. We are LIVING … and will forevermore.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Testimony of Life

Yesterday was a big day but by no means extraordinary. Strangely enough, what made the day so big was the conviction placed upon me and my soul that someone out in that cold, cruel world needs me, and I am somehow withholding myself. Strange, huh? I am, after all, the pastor of a church. I’m all about doing the Lord’s work, right? It’s what one might think, and yet I can easily see that there will never be a day in which the measure of my work can be compared to the misery that exists in this world. How can we ever do enough, especially when we can readily see the seemingly insurmountable tasks before us? Starvation abounds, and it is not restricted only to the physical shortage or lack of food.

Abortion is a big issue. I maintain there can be no “middle ground”, no compromise between abortion foes and abortion supporters in spite of the president’s naiveté (or downright arrogance) because the conflict is inherent to the nature of each: one cannot advocate for life while supporting the destruction of life, and one cannot advocate the death of one as a means of life for another. Life either is or it ain’t, but it cannot be anything less than what it is. We support the substance of life, or we do not. It really is that simple.

So it must necessarily be for the murder of “Tiller the Killer”, George Tiller, the late-term abortion provider operating out of Kansas. It is said throughout the media that Tiller is “one of the few” late term abortion providers in the nation, and he was shot and killed in church this Sunday past. I feel absolutely nothing toward this man though I have a particular disdain for his chosen profession, and I absolutely resent and reject the broad statement issued by his family that “the nation lost a woman’s health care provider”. The nation lost an abortionist, not a health care provider, but his family lost a dear loved one. This should matter to me, but it does not beyond that part of me that cannot imagine the horror of a loved one actually witnessing the murder of their beloved. Though Mrs. Tiller was not with her husband when he was shot, she was in church seated with the choir. Close enough.

That shooting was entirely too random to be so random since no one else was hit (a couple of fellow church-goers were allegedly threatened by the gunman for trying to intervene). It was reasonable to suspect that Tiller was the intended target (he was), and it is reasonable (though not fair) to assume the shooter was targeting Tiller because of his work as an abortionist (he was). Other abortionists have been shot at, threatened, hit, and killed by a fringe element consisting of substantially overzealous, if maladjusted, pro-lifers, some of whom have actually claimed to have been “instructed” to shot and/or kill these abortionists. The murder of this man was no more justified than the many murders by this very man’s hands.

It is strangely ironic that Tiller was in his Lutheran church when he was gunned down, but I am not sure how the Lutherans as a denomination feel about abortion. Not that it matters much because I do know of so-called “pro-choice” Catholics who number themselves among the “enlightened” who have decided that, yes, man does have this legitimate “choice” in determining who lives and who dies, regardless of the reason or lack of one. And killing unborn children is the easiest way because, as it is said, one cannot hear screaming from the womb. Regardless of noble intent, the inescapable fact is that a human life is being cruelly and painfully terminated. Any “religious” person who cannot see this unalterable fact is spiritually starved either through willful ignorance, arrogance, or neglect. And any church that attempts to water down the Word of the Lord as anything less than a celebration of the great gift of life surrenders its moral authority. This also includes the senseless murder of an abortionist.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Promise Fulfilled; Promise to Come, Part II

Acts 2:1-21 John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Two questions: a) how much have we been given, and b) how much are we willing to give in return?

These were the two questions I posed to you last Sunday in anticipation of Pentecost Sunday, today being, for all intents and purposes, the “birth day” of the Christian Church. A movement is still underway, begun long ago, to proclaim a message of redemption and hope. It is reasonable to assume that all who would come forward, Jew or Gentile, should be baptized and welcomed in. It is the Spirit of the Living and Eternal God that sweeps across the apostles and gives to each of them the strength, the push, and the heart to move forward. They had been “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49) as Jesus had promised, and it was time to move.

Those many “devout Jews” gathered in Jerusalem who were witnesses to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles had no clue what they were seeing. Based on the very strange behavior of the apostles, several among these witnesses could only conclude that the “Jesus crew” was hammered! There was no other reasonable or logical explanation … except for one tiny detail. These apostles were Galileans of a common language, yet the many witnesses who were NOT Galilean were hearing not only unintelligible languages and speech but were also able to discern from that noise their own native languages being spoken by these Galileans. Those who did not outright reject the situation as drunken behavior were filled enough with wonder to bother asking, “What does this mean?”

Pentecost actually has its beginnings in Judaism though it is better known as the Festival of Weeks or Festival of the First Fruits. In Hebrew it is called Shavu’ot and is counted down from Passover to the day before Shavu’ot, 49 days or 7 full weeks of harvest and anticipation. It is also historically significant to both Jews and Christians as commemorating the giving of Torah at Mt Sinai. Even still, it is maintained primarily by Jews that there is no similarity between the Jewish Pentecost and the Christian one. While there are significant historic differences between the two, the theological similarities are striking enough to bear scrutiny by the faithful so that the full flavor of all it means is not lost in religious disputes because what it seems to boil down to is the Lord making His presence known to humanity. Thus it is that the Festival of the Giving of the Torah emphasizes the GIVING of Torah rather than receiving it. It is the Lord’s initiative, not man’s. And we are still talking about ONE Lord, ONE God, ONE Word.

Throughout one’s spiritual journey, it is important to always bear in mind that it is the Lord who must always comes first not only because it is called the “greatest commandment” by Jesus but also because it is always the Lord who acts first; Methodists call it “prevenient grace”. It is by the Lord’s initiative that the Torah was given to Moses even if Moses’ own curiosity initially led him to the mountain. And it is by the Lord’s initiative that the Holy Spirit is sent down upon those who spent the last few years of their lives following and learning from Jesus. It is especially important to understand that the gift of the Holy Spirit is not something we can call down upon ourselves. It is a gift that is divinely bestowed by His Favor alone; “it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:9). His Word and His Grace are from His own benevolence, and He ushered in the Law (His Word) and His Spirit (His Word) in spite of man’s unworthiness. He acted first.

But what are we to make of this gift? It is reasonable and encouraged that we should ask for and seek this divine gift, but what are we prepared to do with such a wondrous gift should the Lord decree that we are able to handle it? And what of the many gifts that come from the Holy Spirit? How can we know what is appropriate for us as having come from Him so that we use these gifts not only responsibly but also with extreme reverence? We are, after all, still talking about the very real presence of the Lord – manifest in His gifts.

“The fruit of the Spirit”, Paul writes to the Galatians, “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). These things come as a result of spiritual gifts divinely bestowed and used not for the edification of self but, rather, for the edification of the Church, the Body of Christ. And the gifts are many, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, but there can be only One Body, One Church, One Christ, One Covenant. And because there can be only One Body, there can be only one purpose: to worship and glorify the Lord God. So when these gifts are given in such abundance, and received gratefully and used well and reverently, others will see the glory of the Lord God, as the many witnessed in Jerusalem, and they will also bother to ask: “What does this mean?”

In his journal entry on August 15, 1750, John Wesley wrote: “the grand reason the miraculous gifts were so soon withdrawn was not only that faith and holiness were well nigh lost, but that dry, formal, orthodox men began even then to ridicule whatever gifts they had not themselves, and to decry them all as either madness or imposture.”

Wesley was speaking to a belief that the Holy Spirit had been, for some reason, withdrawn from man sometime during the 2nd or 3rd century because there seemed to be a lack of evidence of His divine presence. Things got ugly, as history points out, and the Church lost its flavor and its luster as a place of Holy Sanctuary and became not much more than a gathering place for human power and control to the exclusion of those unwilling to bend and flex for these “dry, formal, orthodox men”. In other words, it seems the Church lost its footing and, ultimately, its moral authority to speak on behalf of the Lord, and soon His favor was withdrawn, according to some.

Both Jeremiah (23) and Ezekiel (34) speak of times when the Lord becomes so disgusted with those “dry, formal, orthodox men”, presumably meaning priests and prophets who have proclaimed themselves “spiritual leaders” but have failed to tell the Truth, that He will seek out and rescue His people himself; the ultimate judgment will fall upon those who perhaps possessed these certain gifts but enabled evil but attempted to disable righteousness. Both prophets, however, are clear: the Lord is still very much present in the lives of His people, and His Mighty Hand is still stretched out to those who cry out for Him.

It seems clear enough that the presence of the Lord by way of His gifts has always been with humanity, but it seems equally clear that His gifts were misused in such a way that the Eternal Word – which has stood for centuries – has been misused and abused, sometimes for selfish gain, other times for popularity. The people were lied to and still are being lied to today. Our culture and our society call it “tolerance” and “understanding”, and far too many churches are buying into such mindsets in vain attempts to be “relevant”; and therein lay the danger and the deception.

The “relevance” of the Body of Christ is in accordance with our gifts and how we use them. In other words, the relevance by which we are measured is in accordance with our compatibility to the Kingdom of Heaven, not according to the world’s standards and demands whose “ruler … has been condemned” (John 16:11). Trying to be “world friendly” is a losing game, the outcome of which has already been determined. The gift of the Holy Spirit is bestowed on those who understand the true meaning of “stewardship” and embrace the certain reality that we are given so that we may give, blessed so that we may bless, loved so that we may also love. And all in the Name of the One who gave and blessed and loved FIRST.

It is by devotion, prayer, fasting, worship, and attending to the sacraments of the Church that we are able to count the many blessings we have received, and it is also by these same means by which we will be led to give back as much as we have given.