Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Should they put prayer back in schools?

One of the latest Facebook "polls" going around is asking that question. I don't participate in those kinds of things on FB (primarily because I don't trust that someone isn't using it to hack my account), but I do have an opinion.

No! Please, no!

(Let the hammers in the hands of some begin to pound the nails. I fully expect it.)

I can remember our class in early elementary school bowing our heads as we stood in line to go to the cafeteria (I think we called it the "lunch room") almost 50 years ago and someone leading us in "God is great, God is good....". However, that was another America, two generations removed. It was still the "Leave It to Beaver" era. And no one (to my knowledge) ever abused the prayer or found it "unconstitutional". Everyone, it seemed, believed in the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Those who didn't were a huge minority.

But in the 60's things began to rapidly change, didn't they? Court rulings found such things as prayer in school "unconstitutional" - a violation of the so-called "wall of separation" between church and stated. So it was stopped in government schools.

Those weren't the only changes, however. Our nation as a whole, since World War II increasingly became more and more secular. Families, that had for generations been regular church-goers curbed their attendance to Easter and Christmas, if that. Organizations led by atheists (remember Madelyn what's her name... She was a real activist before becoming an email forwarded hoax), People for the American Way and the ACLU lobbied and sued to strip any vestiges of religion, especially Christianity, from anything public, despite the efforts of the "Christian right".

That led us into the 21st Century and what has been rightly labeled a "post-Christian America". Nowadays, if the preacher in the pulpit proclaims the historic orthodox faith of his church he is likely to be criticized by the membership for being intolerant! Our national religion is pluralism.

"But won't restoring prayers to the public school life help bring our nation back to God?" That's the question and reasoning of those who think it would be a good thing. Our kids need to pray!!

OK. Who in the government-owned school is going to lead that prayer? To what "God" is that prayer going to be directed? Remember, we now embrace multi-culturalism. So do you really want someone who believes in praying to "Mother Earth" or some other pagan entity leading your child in prayer in school? When it's Islamic prayer day, do you want your child bowing toward Mecca (so as not to offend the Muslim students) while a prayer to Allah is being said? That's the only way in the America in which we now live that it would ever happen. Is that what you want?

"But", some reply, "why not just have a moment of silence and let everyone silently pray to the deity of their own faith?" Now we're getting somewhere... almost. But do we even need that?

Guess what? There is no law prohibiting a student from praying while in school. Now, if someone insists the prayers be made aloud and before an entire class or over the intercom, maybe we should read Jesus words on "public" prayers in Matthew 6.

No one can stop a student from praying silently before or after a class. Who said a Christian student can't pray while walking to and from class for his/her classmates and teachers? No one can stop a student from bowing his/her head in the cafeteria to thank God for the meal. And there is no law prohibiting like-minded students from gathering at the school before or after classes to pray together. (Heard of "See You at the Pole"? I just wonder why it's only once a year.)

So what is it that we really want? The days of Wally and the Beaver are forever gone. We surrendered our cake by apathy. It's too late to eat it now. So, instead of trying to get back what we began to give up three generations ago, why not teach our kids that their ability to pray never stops and that God can hear their hearts' utterances, even in the midst of a geometry exam? That was when I found myself doing a lot of praying.

We don't need a regimented time to pray, do we? If we do, then the real question should be, "Should we put prayer back into the everyday lives of Christians?". What did Paul mean by "Pray without ceasing"? Do our kids need someone to tell them when it's the legalized time to pray?

Maybe the answer should be found in Christian parents and churches teaching students that prayer can happen anywhere at anytime and that the answer to our spiritual needs as a nation won't be provided by legislation. If it is, can we truly call it prayer?

As long as there are Christian students and teachers in our public schools there will always be prayer in school. It can't be stopped.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Words Have Meaning

apostasy -
1: renunciation of a religious faith
2: abandonment of a previous loyalty: defection

Twice in recent months our elders have been told that our church is headed down the path of "apostasy". Both times that was the word used. We were both amazed and offended by it.

While I fully expect that not everyone agrees with or understands the vision and methods of ministry and outreach we utilize to accomplish the purposes God has for us, to bring a charge of "apostasy" is, indeed, a far stretch and shows a lack of understanding.

Charles Ryrie, a most-respected theologian in evangelical circles, gives the following indicators of apostasy. I'm quoting him in full, so it is rather lengthy, but I also do not want to pick and choose, either.

1. The doctrinal characteristics of apostasy. These include at least three: (a) a denial of the doctrine of the Trinity (1 John 2:22-23 ); (b) a denial of the doctrine of the Incarnation of Christ (1 John 2:22 ; 4:3 ; 2 John 7 ). In John’s day this took the form of denying the true and real humanity of Christ, though it also takes the form of denying the true deity of Christ. Rejecting either the Trinity or the Incarnation denies the existence of the God-Man which is essential to our salvation. If Jesus Christ were not a man He could not have died; but if He were not also God, that death could not atone for sins; (c) a denial of the doctrine of the return of Christ (2 Peter 3:4 ).

2. The Lifestyle characteristics of apostasy. Defection in doctrine always brings a decline in morals. Paul lists eighteen characteristics of such declension in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 . They are: love of self, love of money, a spirit of pride, blasphemy, disobedience to parents, lack of thankfulness, lack of holiness, lack of natural affection, unceasing enmity so that men cannot be persuaded to enter into treaties with each other, slander, lack of self-control, savagery, opposition to goodness, traitors, headiness (rashness or recklessness), high-mindedness, love of pleasure, a pretense of worship without godliness of life.
Basic Theology, Chapter 83

That leads me to the following conclusions:
1. Nags Head Church remains orthodox in our beliefs! We have defected from none of the above (or from any articles in our statement of faith, for that matter) and continue to hold a high view of Scripture, Christ, Trinity, etc..

2. Nags Head Church maintains a high view of holiness in the life of the church because we hold individuals in the church accountable for their morals. We still practice church discipline for those who choose to depart from a godly lifestyle.

3. Therefore, we must not be "apostate" nor are there any signs, based on Ryrie's summation, that we are headed in that direction.

4. Criticisms such as "apostasy" that clearly have no merit are typically generated by sources with an extremist agenda (they abound in the media and online), whether it be a mixture of politics and religion or be from the far left or right. The Apostle Paul found himself accused of heresies from within and without Christianity, even in those early years. We should not expect less.

5. Everyone should have access to a dictionary.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Guard Your Heart

Guard your heart more than anything else, because the source of your life flows from it. Proverbs 4:23 (GWT)

All of us are emotionally wired. Of course that doesn't mean we all react emotionally the same. Some of us are fairly calm and even-keeled. Others, however, wear their feelings on their sleeves and seem to ride a roller coaster, going from emotional heights to depths at the snap of the fingers. Regardless of how you or I are emotionally predisposed, the bottom line is that we're each responsible to have self-control.

God's Word says that guarding my "heart" - the seat of my emotions - is a wise thing to do because my heart, more than anything else will determine the direction and passions of my life. It's why Jesus told us to love God will all our heart. If my love for Him consumes my "heart" then my emotions will be governed by that love. And that can only mean my emotions will resemble Christ's.

Sadly, I have met men and women who equate emotional highs and the warm fuzzies with God. So many are stressed and beaten down by life, poor choices and things that are just out of their control. Surely, they reason, God can help and they begin looking for Him. Maybe they start attending church. After all, isn't that where God shows up? And there's nothing wrong with seeking after God.

But maybe at church a song or a sermon or just the whole experience tugs at their heart strings and while they may be looking for God, what they experienced was mostly or maybe even purely emotional. The truths of the song, sermon, service may have never penetrated their hearts, but they leave with an overwhelming sense of feeling good. And they equate that feeling with God.

The opposite can happen as well. Something happens at church or is said in a sermon that makes them feel bad or angry. Rather than asking, "Is it possible that what has me upset or angry really God working in me to bring about changes", they walk away hurt, concluding that either God or that church isn't for them.

This is why it is so necessary that our "religious experiences" are based on faith and fact, not feelings. Feelings come and go; rise and fall. Feelings not only can be deceptive, they can be destructive to those with the feelings and to those close to them.

God said this about our emotions. The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve. - Jeremiah 17:9 (NLT)

So guard your heart. Give God control over what feeds your emotions. Know what your hot buttons are and resolve to not put yourself in places or situations where you know they are going to get pushed. Before you let your emotions get the best of you, calm down and seek the balance that comes with giving your heart's control over to the Holy Spirit. Let your life and how you react be dictated by faith and fact. They don't lie.

And a grounded faith based on sound doctrine won't lead you or I to act in ways we'll later regret.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Because today is my day off, I was able to watch the video and each moment's updates of the double disasters of earthquake and tsunami that plowed through northern Japan. It was reminiscent of the 2004 disaster in Sumatra, but even felt more dramatic and tragic because we were live and had so many more vantage points from which to view.

On top of the natural disaster are the collateral effects. As I write there is great anxiety over the prospects of not one but two nuclear disasters as power plants are in danger of melt-down. Already nuclear-laden steam has been released into the air in order to reduce pressure in the core. That can't be good, but should the core overheat it could be even worse. A nuclear disaster, ala Chernobyl could have regional and hemispheric ramifications.

Roads are impassable for first responders. Who knows how many dead are scattered about the landscape, trapped in collapsed buildings or floating in the sea? It is horrible, to say the least.

Not only that, our coast in Hawaii and on the West Coast have been on alert all day for the possibility of seismic sea waves.

And it all happened with precious little or no warning. We woke to the news utterly surprised and shocked.

I haven't seen the movie, but I have a friend who, when news such as birds mysteriously dying, or earthquakes, simply says, "2012", referring to the Mayan prediction of the end of the world. We all chuckle when he says it.

Yet I live daily with the belief that an apocalypse is coming. This planet "groans", the Bible says, waiting for a day of redemption. Jesus predicted earthquakes and disasters, wars and insurrections would be on the increase. Makes me wonder about the rash of political upheavals in the Arab world. John's vision, the last book of the Bible tells of horrible disasters bringing untold loss of life and property.

Who knows when? 2012? I'm not banking on any date setting. But at least we have been warned.

Of course the big question is, "What do you do with the warning?" Or, "Are you prepared?".

I don't live in fear of "the end of the world" because I have a hope in salvation that God has promised and by His grace has made available to all in Christ. These words from Paul to Titus give me great hope that no matter what, I'm secure in that grace. Christ is coming back, and in that I have peace.

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. - Titus 2:11-14 NLT

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Toys-R-Us Christians

My friends, stop thinking like children. Think like mature people and be as innocent as tiny babies. - 1 Corinthians 14:20 (CEV)

Remember the old Toys-R-Us jingle? "I don't wanna grow up. I wanna be a Toys-R-Us kid".

With 2 toddler grandchildren I'm constantly reminded of the wants and needs of little ones.
  • You don't dare leave them alone for fear of their safety. They don't have the wisdom or discernment about potential dangers yet.
  • They want what they want, they want it now and nothing else in their world or yours matters until they get it. Little children are driven by their own wants (not so much their needs) and have no clue of priorities.
  • If someone else has it, they want it. Their world revolves around them.
  • They expect to be served. The concept of serving others comes with maturity.
  • They don't always get it right or finish what they start. My youngest (22 months) will start counting to ten and decide to skip "7,8,9" and jump from 6 to 10. Then with excitement she applauds herself.
  • Attention span? Forget about it.
None of those are abnormal for little ones. But eventually, if their growth is normal, they will mature beyond those characteristics. With nurturing and discipline and love they get to the place where they learn to eat with a fork, share a toy, say "Please" and "Thank you" and see a project through to completion. That's normal.

When we begin as children of God with a new birth we are babes. Paul writes about it. So do Peter and John in their letters. But they make it very clear that for a Christian to remain in spiritual immaturity is abnormal. God's plan for each believer is to grow up. What does that look like? Here are a few signs of growing up:
  • An attitude of gratitude toward God and those who have helped them mature.
  • Finding ways to serve His body in ministry.
  • Becoming a contributor not a consumer in the church.
  • Looking out for ways to meet others needs and not demanding their own wants be met.
  • Faithfulness at things like communion, giving, sharing their faith, time in the Word, worship and serving.
  • Putting away old habits and practices and adopting new ones that reflect Christ's work in his/her life.
  • Not quitting or walking away because you don't get your way.
  • Being able to search the Scriptures independently rather than demanding to be fed.
  • Seeking the truth rather than accepting gossip or making assumptions that are unfounded.
  • Adopting an "It's not about me" lifestyle.
I've found it's fun to watch little ones who are little ones act like little ones. Sure, it is often messy, but it's just a stage. However, it is no fun to watch someone who should be advancing cling to their security blanket or pacifier and throw temper tantrums when they should be past all that.

God wants us to grow and mature spiritually. It's part of the salvation process we know as "sanctification". His desire is to complete in us what He started, taking us from infancy to responsible adult. Paul's words in Philippians 2:1-16 say it so well. (Click on the link to read it now.)

Today is never too late to start putting the toys away.