Tag Archives: faith

Bible Meditation

torah_500The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.
Lamentations 3:22

A secular thinker who hears you testify to God’s love will ask if you can prove that God exists. This verse was written by someone who has experienced the presence and goodness of the Lord. Can you use your own experience with God to prove his existence?

How do you respond to people who reject your testimony that God is present with you?

Can you think of any person in the Bible who doubted the existence of God? What happened to the person or persons?

Can you think of any person in the Bible who doubted that God was speaking to him? What happened to the person or persons?

Why does the author of this verse cherish God’s steadfast love? What has God done in your life that is evidence of God’s steadfast love?

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Image: Torah Scroll
Source:  http://library.duke.edu/exhibits/hebrewbible/torah.html
License:  Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0

Stop and Think About the Bible

torah_500

You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven. Mark 14:62 ESV 

  • Jesus was on trial. The high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ?” Jesus answered, “I am.” Why did that statement enrage the priest?
  • After Jesus said, “I am,” he made the statement quoted above. To what was he referring? 
  • Why is it important to know that Jesus is both 100% human and 100% God? What difference does it make to your life?
  • Many religions believe that they show respect for Jesus by saying that he was a wise prophet but no god. There are even secular thinkers who say that they respect what Jesus taught about love and peace, but they reject any notion that he is God. Why is that concept complete blasphemy? Why don’t Christians riot and shout “death to the infidels?” when someone makes this allegation?
  • Imagine that the US government arrested you and put you on trial for reading your Bible on a public bus, charged with attempting to proselytize fellow passengers by displaying this book. Further imagine that the judge announced that charges would be dropped if you were willing to classify the Bible as a book of fantasy. How would you respond? 
  • Imagine that you join other Christians and parade through a local festival carrying signs that say, “Jesus is alive!” Further imagine that you are arrested for being a public nuisance and you are offered a choice: either declare that Jesus is not alive any longer or spend six months in rehabilitative therapy with a diagnosis of schizophrenia because you believe that a dead person is alive and speaking to you. How would you respond? 
  • Why are these imaginary scenarios credible? What are you doing today to push back against the development of political and social action that denies people the right to have faith in God?

 

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Image: Torah Scroll
Source:
http://library.duke.edu/exhibits/hebrewbible/torah.html
License:
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0

 

 

 

Who Am I?

 

A recent study released by Barna Group reveals a great deal about the way people self-identify. It startled me, yet it explained many things that have bothered me about news and events in the culture. This study looked at a group made up of people of all ages in the US population, and asked questions that probed the way they think of themselves. The way someone thinks of himself will certainly shape the way someone thinks of other people. There can be no question that a person’s sense of identity affects the way he thinks about the many issues facing our churches and our country. I will just dive in. I will share my analysis and my conviction about the meaning of this information. At the end, I will ask for your reaction and your own convictions. I hope you will share your comments in response to my report.

In the group as a whole, less than half, only 38%, consider their religious faith to be the first and most important element of their personal identity. When I consider the importance of faith in my life, and when I consider that the call of Christ is to put everything second to him, I see right away that few Christians actually believe that obedience to Christ is more important than anything else in their lives. Self-identified Christians constitute about 75% of the US population, but if only 38% of the population considers their religious faith to be their primary identifier, it is clear that Christ is not first in the hearts and minds of most Christians. After all, even that 38% may not be exclusively made up of Christians. Church pastors and church members regularly discuss what it means to put Christ first. It is very clear from this study, that this idea does not have a lot of traction in the culture.

In the group as a whole, barely more than half consider their country to be the primary element in their identity. That, too, is startling, but it explains a lot of the controversy about immigration. If almost half the people consider their country to be less important to them than all other elements of their identity, then they do not think that someone who crosses the border without legal authorization has done anything threatening to them. Their citizenship is not an important element of their identity. They are not proud of being citizens. They don’t like the idea of excluding anyone for any reason. It’s hateful, they think. Someone who considers his national citizenship to be of paramount importance in his very identity considers that people without legal standing are alien invaders. The person whose identity includes national citizenship as a “ho hum” generality will not feel that the country is threatened by illegals. What, he will ask, is illegal about them? What is the big deal?

By far, the largest element in the personal identity of most people is their family. There is no question that family is important. Most people find their closest relationships within the family, and people without strong family connections often have difficulty connecting with anyone. The family is the first institution God established among humans, but even God expects allegiance to him to transcend allegiance to family. The dominance of family in the personal identity of most people makes me wonder why so many people line up to speak publicly in favor of redefining marriage and family. This particular element of the study makes me wonder where the real energy of the LGBTQ agenda is. This study reaffirms my doubts that most people in the USA want any part of the LGBTQ agenda.

For most people, the additional elements of personal identity—career, ethnicity, home city and home state—are minor by comparison to the top three. It is interesting to observe those items are important to about 20% of the group, a very small segment. The political rhetoric and the media would have people believe that ethnicity and career are the most important issues in the world. Clearly, no matter what your definition of racism and unequal pay for women is, these issues are not nearly as important as family, religion and citizenship. To read this study is to have your eyes opened to the fact that the media is clearly in partnership with political leaders to divert Americans from thinking about the things that are most important to them. If leaders actually wanted to serve the American people, they would assert a strong, traditional definition of the family, protect the nation from invaders, whether they invade with guns or spades, and guard freedom of religion aggressively. Instead, political leaders assert that the future hangs on issues most people hardly care about at all, and the media, the fourth estate, the group that is supposed to hold government at all levels accountable to the people, instead marches in servile lockstep with political language and objectives that destroy the very people politicians and the media are called to serve.

There is much more to discover in this study.

The high-level population groups in the study were Elders, Boomers, Gen-X, and Millenials. Individuals in the study did not self-identify for these groups. They were identified according to birth date. Participants were also asked questions that identified their participation in a separate set of groups such as No Faith, Practicing Catholic, Practicing Mainline, Practicing Christian, No Faith, Hispanic, White, Black, All Non-White, Evangelical, Unregistered Voter, Republican, Democrat, Registered Independent, Married, Ever Divorced, Never Married, Some College, College Graduate, Unemployed, Employed, Income> $100K. This list does not include all the groups studied.

The study across the second set of groups reveals some truly enlightening results. For example, three of those groups showed up as consistently less likely than others to consider faith, family or country important to their identity: Millennials, Democrats, and No Faith.

It is not hard to understand that people with no faith would value those items less than other people. People with no faith will not likely value faith, and the inherent connections of faith with family in all religions tend to mean that people with no faith will set less value on family. It is not clear what lack of faith has to do with valuing American citizenship, but this study shows that connection.

It is quite surprising to discover that people who identify with one of the major political parties are less likely than citizens in general to value faith, family or country as part of their identity, yet Democrats show up as statistically less likely in all three categories. There has never been any indication that the Democrat party officially scorned religious faith, but a reader is entitled to wonder why the statistics show that people who consider themselves Democrat set less value on religion in their personal identity than other citizens. It is disturbing to see them show up as less likely to value family, too, and it is tempting to believe that this fact underlies the Democrat parties alliance with the LGBTQ agenda to normalize aberrant forms of sexual behavior, confuse definitions of gender, and redefine marriage altogether. The really frightening problem is that Democrats are less likely than other citizens to consider the country to be part of their personal identity.

It is enlightening to see that Millennials appear less likely than others to consider faith, family or country integral to their identity. Of all the elements Millenials include in their identity, family is the most likely choice, but even that accounts for barely half of them. After family, only American citizenship, at 34% exceeds a 25% value in the minds of millennials. You might say that their values are spread widely, but no value is deeply rooted in the group.

What does this mean for me, for you, for any Christian citizen? How does this study inform the way Christians live in the culture. I believe it is like having a bit of a map to the culture. This is the value of Barna Group. Any one of us may observe some of the same issues addressed in this study, but few of us have the time or the statistical skill to do surveys and analysis that Barna does, and if we did, all our real work would go undone. We can be very thankful for the commitment of Barna group to study the culture in ways that help all of us minister to the culture more effectively.

I plan to use this information to help me focus my study and my writing. I write to help Christians understand elements of the culture that reject or restrict Christian discipleship, and I write to encourage Christians to persevere in faithful obedience to Christ. I write, because each of us wants to be like the disciples when challenged by the Sanhedrin:

When [the Sanhedrin] had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that [the disciples] should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So [the disciples]departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. Acts 5:40-42 ESV emphasis mine.

For me, this means that I will do what Christ calls me to do, and I will try to be more like Christ in everything I do. If I suffer shame for his name, that will be a gift for which I give thanks. The evidence of the Barna study supports daily evidence that the name of Christ is not universally respected. When Paul found himself in Athens where nobody knew or cared about Christ, he spent some time studying the culture, and then he preached Christ more powerfully, because he was informed. May we use Barna’s information to be ever more skillful in presenting Christ to the many people for whom he died.

What does this information mean for you?

 

Stop and Think About a Hymn

Open Hymnal

 

My Faith Looks Up To Thee

My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray, take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day be wholly Thine!

May Thy rich grace impart
Strength to my fainting heart, my zeal inspire!
As Thou hast died for me, O may my love to Thee,
Pure warm, and changeless be, a living fire!

While life’s dark maze I tread,
And griefs around me spread, be Thou my Guide;
Bid darkness turn to day, wipe sorrow’s tears away,
Nor let me ever stray from Thee aside.

When ends life’s transient dream,
When death’s cold sullen stream over me roll;
Blest Savior, then in love, fear and distrust remove;
O bear me safe above, a ransomed soul!

By Ray Palmer

Text in the Public Domain

Source: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/m/y/myfluptt.htm

 

 

  • The hymn writer describes an attitude that looks to Jesus for faith and guidance in everything. What does the Bible say about this attitude? (See 2 Corinthians 5:7, John 14:5-6.
  • Why does the writer ask for strength through God’s grace instead of asserting a right to his request? What is zeal? How does the hymn writer describe zeal for Christ? How can a faithful follower of Christ express this kind of zeal without building a wall between himself and the people around him? Why don’t Christians want to build a wall of separation between themselves and all other people?
  • What experiences have you had that help you understand the author’s perception of life on earth as a “dark maze?” How would you explain to a secular thinker why you see the earth as a dark place?
  • Secularists believe that when they die, they simply stop living biologically and they have no further sentient existence. Their only concept of their further existence is that their molecules will be recycled by nature. How can you explain to a secularist why you believe that “death’s cold sullen stream” is not the end of your life?

 

I normally do not print the story of the hymns I post, but this story is extraordinary. The section about the Syrian Christian who came to the USA is especially relevant as we pray daily for the protection and the powerful testimony of Christian brothers and sisters in Syria.

Ray Palmer wrote these lyr­ics up­on re­ceiv­ing a vi­sion of Christ short­ly af­ter his grad­u­a­tion from Yale Un­i­ver­si­ty, while work­ing as a tu­tor at a New York school. How­ev­er, he kept them to him­self un­til meet­ing Low­ell Ma­son on a street in Bos­ton, Mas­sac­hu­setts. When Ma­son asked him to write some­thing for a new hymn­al, Palm­er dug out his old notes and pro­duced these lyr­ics, writ­ten two years ear­li­er. Af­ter tak­ing the lyr­ics home and read­ing them, Ma­son com­posed this tune. Sev­er­al days lat­er he saw Palm­er again and said: You may live ma­ny years and do ma­ny good things, but I think you will be best known to pos­ter­i­ty as the au­thor of My Faith Looks Up to Thee.

An interesting story con­nect­ed with this hymn:

Mrs. Lay­yah Bar­a­kat, a na­tive of Syr­ia, was ed­u­cat­ed in Bei­rut and then taught for a time in Egypt. Driv­en out in 1882 by the in­sur­rect­ion of Ara­bi Pa­sha, she, with her hus­band and child, came to Amer­i­ca by way of Mal­ta and Mar­seilles. Her his­to­ry is a strange il­lus­tra­tion of God’s pro­vi­den­tial care, as they were with­out any di­rect­ion or friends in Phil­a­del­phia when they land­ed. But the Lord took them into His own keep­ing, and brought them to those who had known of her in Syr­ia. While in this coun­try she fre­quent­ly ad­dressed large au­di­enc­es, to whom her deep ear­nest­ness and brok­en but pi­quant Eng­lish proved un­u­su­al­ly at­tract­ive. Among other in­ci­dents she re­lat­ed that she had been per­mit­ted to see the con­ver­sion of her whole fam­i­ly, who were Mar­o­nites of Mount Le­ba­non. Her mother, six­ty-two years of age, had been taught ‘My Faith Looks Up to Thee’ in Ar­a­bic. They would sit on the house roof and re­peat it to­ge­ther; and when the news came back to Syr­ia that the daugh­ter was safe in Amer­i­ca, the mo­ther could send her no bet­ter proof of her faith and love than in the beau­ti­ful words of this hymn, as­sur­ing her that her faith still looked up to Christ.

The source of this story is identified on the site as Sutherland, pp. 77-9. However, the link appears to be dead.

The background material and the story of the Syrian Christian are all taken from http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/m/y/myfluptt.htm

Blog post created by Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Image: Open Hymnal
Source:http://foter.com/
License: CC BY-NC-SA

 

 

The Spiritual Worldview

A persistent complaint about Christianity is the “hypocrisy” of Christians. I recently met a lady who told me she was Buddhist, even though faithful Christian parents reared her. She said that three different times in her childhood, she was sexually assaulted by Christian clergy. Those experiences marked her, and she wanted no part of Christianity. Most of the Christians I know who have attempted to speak to unbelievers report stories about Christians who lie, cheat, steal, and behave in a generally disreputable manner. Christians who do not act like Christians lead non-Christians to believe that there is no good reason to become a Christian.

On the other hand, one will rarely hear someone criticize a Christian for un-Christlike behavior when that person says, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” This little empty aphorism is just as un-Christlike as sexual assault or theft, but non-Christians do not recognize that fact, because this notion is quite popular among secular thinkers. Yet even Christians often do not recognize that this statement makes self, not God, the center of life.

This idea is one of many statements that fall into the general category of “moralistic therapeutic deism,” a term coined by Rod Dreher, a cultural analyst who contrasts this philosophy with a Christian worldview. Facebook posts are full of MTD. They are often posted as text added to gorgeous photos of sunrise, galaxies, and the like. They look quite inspirational, but the inspiration is to look at self, the god within, rather than God Almighty, our Creator.

Here is another example of such a post, a statement attributed to someone called The Kamarpa:

“Ask yourself what kind of person you want to be in the life that you will live today. Throughout the day, remind yourself that your life is happening right now.”

When a secular thinker reads such words, he feels good. He sees in such a statement a reminder that he is his own god. He need not be in submission to anyone, because he can simply ask himself what to be. He can ask himself each day, and the answer may be different each day. He need not get in a rut. No perseverance required here. If it doesn’t feel good, then leave it alone.

Sad to say, when Christians read such a statement, they, too, feel good. Some Christians do not really see any conflict between this statement and the Christian faith. How could such a nice idea be un-Christlike? Shouldn’t we examine ourselves each morning and try to live better lives?

Of course we should, but the idea of asking ourselves, rather than God, what needs to be done each day is alien to the fundamental teachings of Christianity. A fellow Christian asked me one day, “Why shouldn’t I go ahead and align myself with the universe and pray to God at the same time? What could it hurt? After all, I’m just putting myself out there for whatever opportunity I can find.”

The ancient Israelites are the most well documented example of what happens when people believe that they can serve both God and gods. They had no problem marching into the Temple with lambs and bulls for sacrifice to God and then marching out to the high places to worship Baal. God had given them Ten Commandments which were to shape their lives forever, and the first one was “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2 NIV84). The prophets repeatedly called them to repentance and faithful lives, but it was just too tempting. Why did they have to be the only people in the world with only one god? All the other people had many gods. It was much more fun. Those gods were much more accommodating. To worship those gods, one visited temple prostitutes, and that was much more delightful than all that talk about sin.

The ancient gods and the book The Secret all teach that people ought to get what they want. The ancient gods, which are resurfacing today in all their glory, did not necessarily yearn to give people what they wanted, but they were not averse to being persuaded by gifts and orgies in their honor to fulfill people’s wishes. Of course, if the wishes were not fulfilled, it was always a simple matter of human failure to fulfill the god’s expectations. In consequence, the Israelites, and people today as well, thought that God’s failure to grant their wishes was about some failure to say the right word or do the right ritual. Those ancient gods had minimal expectations of human behavior and no expectation of real commitment. Daily life had little to do with those gods, and the Israelites, as well as people today, liked it that way.

The Secret teaches that the universe wants people to get their wishes. People like my friend believe that the universe is “star stuff,” as Carl Sagan used to say. That means that they don’t think of it as a false god. However, that does not keep them from swallowing the thesis of The Secret, a thesis which makes the universe into a god. Ancient pagans have no problem with the universe being a god. The teachings of The Secret are no different from any other form of pantheism. They are also no less dangerous that any explicitly named religion that teaches pantheism. My friend had fallen for the notion that he was just playing the odds, hoping that one way or another, he would get what he wanted.

Faith in Christ is not one among many options for a happy life. Adding Christ to the mix of powers one petitions for a good day or wisdom or wealth will not add positive weight to one’s case. Trying to worship Christ and worship self at the same time will not work. To worship ancient gods, the universe, or any other power in order to get what one wants is to worship self. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself.” Jesus is exclusive. Believe him, or don’t believe him. Never try to play the odds. Never try to bundle up as many gods as possible in the hope that one of them will fulfill your wishes. The need for wish fulfillment is worship of self.

Martin Luther’s Morning Prayer is a good model for starting the day with self-examination in the light of one’s relationship with God. Rather than asking oneself what the day ought to be, Martin Luther recommended looking first to God:

Martin Luther’s Morning Prayer

In the morning, when you rise, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray Thee to keep me this day also from sin and all evil, that all my doings and life may please Thee. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Then go to your work with joy, singing a hymn, such as one on the Ten Commandments, or what your devotion may suggest.

From Martin Luther’s Small Catechism

In this manner of prayer, the first thing one does is to address God, not self. This prayer points to God each morning. It does not invite us to ask ourselves what we want. It addresses the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and doesn’t ask for anything until after worship in God’s presence. The next step, recitation of The Creed is a testimony of faith beginning with the words, “I believe in God . . . .” After that, praying the Lord’s Prayer points to God with words of both worship and petitions. All these practices point to God, not self. Finally, one offers up one’s own concerns for the day ahead in a prayer that asks, “that all my doings and life may please Thee.” Compare this practice of beginning the day by turning to God and offering self to God with a habit of beginning the day by turning to self to ask self what self wants.

After the Transfiguration, Jesus came down the mountain to find his disciples in disarray. A man had brought his demon-possessed son to them for exorcism, and they were failing. Jesus rebuked their lack of faith, and then he took care of the problem. Later, after they had escaped the crowds, the disciples asked, “Why couldn’t we get rid of it?” (my paraphrase) Jesus did not tell them that they didn’t use the right words or the right ritual or the right potion. He reworded his rebuke about their lack of faith by saying, “The only thing that works for this kind is prayer.” (my paraphrase) The problem was that they were asking themselves what they needed to do instead of asking God. They trusted themselves to know what to do. They trusted in self. They did exactly what Kamarpa recommends: Ask yourself.

I believe that the greatest deficit among self-identified Christians is faith in Christ. Poll after poll confirms that many, many self-identified Christians do not believe that Jesus is “the Way.” They believe that he is “one of the ways.” A Christian worldview begins with Christ, and if anyone wants to call himself a Christian, he must begin by recognizing that Christ is the only Way. Rod Dreher believes that “moralistic therapeutic deism” (MTD) is replacing biblical Christianity across our culture. That is sad, because moralistic therapeutic deism will not save anyone from demons or transform anyone into a powerful servant of God. The reason self-identified Christians often do not act like Christians is that they do not follow Christ. To practice moralistic therapeutic deism is not the same thing.