Category Archives: about God

But at Least We Are Free…Prayer and The Supreme Court

The following was featured as a guest column in the Livingston County Press Argus Sunday morning.

You are welcome to post comments here at the blog or at the newspaper post here.

Tim

Public Prayer and The Supreme Court

This month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, a case revolving around the constitutionality of conducting prayer at the start of local government meetings.

It has been argued that after a 1983 ruling, Marsh v. Chambers, some recent prayer practices of the New York town of Greece are unconstitutional. To assess if the practices violate the First Amendment, as the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals found, we must consider both the establishment clause and the free-exercise clause.

Yes, the First Amendment does say, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” but it also adds, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Our nation’s forefathers came to this land not merely to escape state religion such as Anglicanism (establishment) but also to leave behind the prohibitions against their religious conduct in England and Europe (free exercise).

Based on the First Amendment, how should prayers in the context of public government meetings be regulated? In short, they should not be regulated.

Let’s take a step back and evaluate which outcome would best maintain freedom of religion. If the Supreme Court rules to allow prayer to continue, will those who hold alternate religious beliefs (or even nonreligious beliefs) have their freedom curtailed? Hardly.

A dissenting mind might suffer indigestion through listening to a religious invocation with which he or she might strongly disagree. But their freedom is intact. The act of prayer at the outset of a government meeting does not establish religion. No law is passed, nor is there any consequence from the state when an individual expresses his or her liberty to silently stand by.

However, if any person is told that their prayer is no longer permitted in the United States and that he or she may not speak their conscience out loud, that person’s freedom to exercise religion has been prohibited. What consequence or penalty would be just for praying an offensive prayer? Who will decide what prayer was proper? Our founders paid a costly price to establish the freedom of religion in this nation.

Difficult question

If one grants, then, that prayer ought to be maintained, the more difficult question is, “In what manner should prayer be maintained?” Again, I say, in a manner free of regulation. Any regulation of prayer, toward which Marsh (1983) leans, will of necessity establish a law of what is proper prayer as a religious exercise in public.

This is something the court’s oral arguments demonstrated to be unresolvable. The Supreme Court strained to the point of hilarity about what would or would not be “sufficiently nonsectarian.”

In my opinion, the Supreme Court should continue to permit men and women to express their religious beliefs verbally in any context that they choose.

It will be argued, “Won’t some people be offended?” Yes, perhaps. But, aren’t we all going to be offended at some point in life?

As a Christian, I actually want to hear from those who differ with me. Even if we disagree, I keep an open mind, and I will not be offended that we’re different. I am even willing to relinquish my preferences for the sake of the preservation of liberty.

Our goal with regard to religious speech and prayer should not be to keep from offending some, but to maintain liberty for all. Ironically, trying so hard to prevent offense through regulation actually leads to intolerance.

So what should happen with prayer in public and at the start of government meetings? The same thing that has happened for 200-plus years in our land since the framing of the Constitution— men and women should be permitted to pray without fear when invited. Prayer should continue unregulated not because it is in our history, but because it is a principled practice of liberty.

At times, men or women may disagree with one another, but at least we are free.

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Filed under about God, Current Events, Limited Government

Preaching on Sunday

Hi everyone,

I was just noticing that I haven’t posted to the blog in a while.  Time sure flies.  If any of you are interested I’ll be preaching at Cornerstone Church in Brighton, MI tomorrow 9:00, 10:30 and 12:00.  The text is Acts 26, and the title is “Sanctified by Faith.”

Acts 26:12-18 12 “On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests.  13 About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions.  14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’  15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied.  16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you.  17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them  18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (NIV)

This will be a sermon about the doctrine of sanctification:

  1. Sanctified by faith
  2. Sanctified by the Spirit
  3. Sanctified in our whole person
  4. Sanctified is not a free ride

Come hear about high school reunions, filling balloons, killing wasps, growing 700 lb. pumpkins, and most of all Jesus!

Tim

I’ll try and post the audio later.

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Filed under about God, Spiritual Formation

The Bible—who wrote it?

A young adult I know has been asking me questions about the bible and about God.  Since I took the time to answer her, I thought I would post it here.

The question is:  “How do we know one person didn’t put the bible together by himself?”

This is a good question and an important one. iStock_00000 open bible If it was just one person writing such a unified message, that wouldn’t be quite so impressive. In fact, In Islam, the entire Qu’ran was written by Muhammed from beginning to end. As you would suspect there’s not much variety. This is not the case for Christianity. The Hebrew scriptures [Old Testament] and the Greek Scriptures [New Testament] were written by scores of different authors. The Bible was compiled and selected from documents spanning over 1500 years! Here are two key things to help you understand how we got the Bible.

First of all, there is no way that one person could possibly write in the variety of styles and historical periods (so accurately displayed) if they only lived at one point in time. Archeological exploration has never disproven a fact or time in the bible. Sometimes Archeologist have not uncovered evidence to support something, but they’ve never contradicted the bible.

Secondly, a general overview of the bible and the time frames will show that many authors were involved. The Bible was being used throughout this time by so many people as revelation was gradually added, that no one could truly have changed it once it was published and read. Here’s a brief survey:

– Moses is the author of the Pentateuch (and he wrote following the Exodus in approximately 1440 BC). He’s responsible for 90% of the first five books (penta= five).

– The other historical books were written after that point in time (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 &2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles.)

– We know that the Pentateuch was certainly completed before the exile in 700 BC because the Prophets preach from it, and the Samaritans who did not get sent away in the exile were reading the same 5 books when the exiled Jews returned.

– The book of Psalms were penned by David and others 150 unique poems with a diversity of styles and topics, but all pointing toward the ultimate goal of redeption.

– Likewise the prophets in the last part of the old testament all speak in a variety of ways to a variety of people in a variety of occasions and times.

– All these Old Testament books were collected and brought together 400 years before Christ.

– The Jews translated them to Greek (called the Septuaguint) and preserved them in Hebrew as well.

Now that’s only the Old Testament. Here’s what happened for the New Testament:

– the New Testament was written between 40 AD and 90 AD give or take.

– There was a variety of authors (4 different writers of the gospels),  Paul a fifth writer wrote 13 books to various churches,  Luke (a gospel writer) also wrote a historical account of the early church,  John (an apostle and gospel writer) wrote 3 epistles and the book of Revelation,  Peter (one of the apostles wrote two Epistles) and  several other books were written that are unique in message and style.

The next question is: How can so many human authors write so much and it’s all from God?

Two scriptures in the New Testament answer this question.

2 Peter 1:20-21 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

In other words the scriptures were divine and human. God moved the men to write using their own personalities to craft the exact words he wanted to communicate so that through them he was speaking with authority.

He used a variety of men to speak as a powerful mosiac to speak dynamically then and now using their individual pieces to shape a larger message.

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Filed under about God, Bible and Theology

The gospel summarized

iStock_00000 open bibleThe best way to summarize the gospel is to tell the story in several movements.  You’ll get the same  message in longest form if you read the bible from cover to cover—but that’s the very long version.  I’ll give you my summary below (a drama in six acts), but let me give you a “Twitter summary” and a three sentence summary.

Twitter length summary

Christ died to save us from our sins and will transform the world for God’s glory—ending evil and establishing His glorious reign over all! (139 characters)

Three sentence summary

The gospel is the message of hope to mankind that even though we have sinned against God and made ourselves his enemies, God has taken initiative and provided the cure for our plight.  This cure centers around the person and work of His Son Jesus Christ who lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sins, and was raised again to life.  By the work of the Holy Spirit, God makes a person understand, believe and respond to this wonderful message and causes them to live a new life that results in personal transformation and ultimately the transformation of the whole world.

LONGER SUMMARY

Our Origins

The Bible teaches that mankind was created by a loving God.  He made the world and all we know.  The first two humans were Adam and Eve.  They were created by God’s direct intervention and were placed in a garden called Eden.  Everything was perfect and the world was theirs to enjoy and influence.

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.

Our Plight

However, our first parents (Adam and Eve) disobeyed God and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  The consequence was death to them and all their descendents (that’s us).  Our nature, from birth, is to continue in their rebellion by our attitudes and actions.

Colossians 1:21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.

God’s Promise

Even though God’s consequences are felt by all of humanity, we have not been left to ourselves.  God has promised that he would send the Messiah, Jesus—His son, who would reverse the plight of humanity.

Colossians 1:22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—

Christ’s Provision

God sent his Son, Jesus, to live the life we could not live and to die the death we should have died.  Jesus was the most amazing human ever—he was more than human.  As God’s Son, he existed before time and became a man to identify with us.  Ever since he was brought to earth, he has two natures—divine and human.  He did that so that as a human he could be our substitute, but as God his payment would be acceptable to a holy God for all he saves.

1 Peter 3:18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.

Faith in Christ

The gospel therefore tells us that if we will own up to our sins, and place our trust (faith) in Christ, God receives the finished work of Christ as acceptable for what we failed to do.  What we do is we transfer our trust from ourselves (and our ability to live well, fix the mess, etc) and instead believe that Christ has paid in full the debt we could not.  God actually enable us to accept and believe this message by a working of his Holy Spirit within us.

Here’s a summary from Galatians 4 (putting verse 8 at the front end)

Galatians 4:4-8 (8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.)  4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law,  5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.  6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”  7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.

New Life in Christ

Those who repent of their sins and put their faith in Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit are born afresh by that same Spirit who lives in them and helps them to live out the full life God wants.  We call this “born again,” or “conversion,” “regeneration,” or simply—becoming a Christian.  At this new birth God gives the believer several important gifts:

  1. total forgiveness of sins (justification)
  2. membership in God’s family (adoption)
  3. the ongoing power of the Holy Spirit (leading to sanctification)
  4. spiritual gifts (talents to use for his kingdom)

Someone who has accepted the gospel is now restored to a right relationship with God and lives that out the rest of their life, and will inherit the blessing of life for all eternity with God.  In the mean time we will be his agents on earth to help others know him and do good things that restore God’s peace to the world.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Grace and peace,

><>

Tim

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Kids ask great questions

Tonight during family worship we began a new study.  In addition to using the Child’s Scripture Catechism: with Answers in the Language of the Bible (a link to some are at Ann Voskamp or available to purchase here), and singing, we began to read the gospel of Luke.

Luke 1:1-4  Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,  2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.  3 Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,  4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

I told my daughters that the words of scripture are important.  Dr. Luke personally interviewed eyewitnesses so that we could be certain of the historical accounts of Jesus.  That’s when my daughter Emma (age 6) spoke upEmma

“but how did Dr. Luke’s get his words to us if he wrote them a long time ago?”

Wow, what an excellent question!  We spent an extra 15 minutes to talk about how the bible came to us:

Dr. Luke to Theophilus–>

shared, copied and preserved for years–>

printing press–>modern bibles

If you don’t spend regular time teaching your children in the home, I’d encourage you to start.  It’s not too hard.  All you have to do is be one day ahead…

Grace and peace <><

Tim

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Filed under about God, Parenting