Five Inescapable Truths that Missions Teach Us (Part Three)

If you are just chiming in on this series of blog posts, you can read the first blog post and the second blog post in the series here.

When it comes to the truth of God’s people in the world, there are two ditches we can fall into.  The first ditch is one of self-pity and defeat.  I’ve met those who feel so alone in their spiritual journey.  They are an island unto themselves.  They feel like they are the lone voice crying in the wilderness, the only one standing for God in a godless environment.  Most people respond to this perception with despair and depression.  Nobody likes to be utterly alone.  The other ditch is one of pride and arrogance.  These people seem to think, “Hey everybody!  Look at me!  I’m standing alone for the Lord!  Nobody else is doing it.  Just me!  Wonderful old me!”  Obviously, this perspective is just as dangerous as the first.  Where the first perspective is destroyed by depression, the second perspective is destroyed by pride.

The solution to both of these woefully inadequate perspectives on the people of God is to realize that, no matter when or where you are, God has his people.

One of my favorite Old Testament passages is about the prophet Elijah who wins an amazing spiritual battle against the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18).  After such a great victory, Elijah runs away like an emotionally-drained mad man.  He basically sulks for a while, wondering why God has put him in a position to stand for Him alone.  Elijah wishes that he didn’t have to be the only one who loved God and stood for him.  God corrects Elijah, snatching him out of his pity party.  He tells the prophet that God has seven thousand men of God in Israel, all who have not bowed their knee to Baal.  Elijah felt alone, but God had his people.  God always has his people.

Doing missions helps us see that truth lived out before our eyes.  It looks like pastors who live on $40 a week.  It looks like parents who sacrifice to send their kids to a Christian school.  It is people who give and sacrifice to see their church expand.  It takes many shapes and sizes, but each depiction reminds us of the same truth:  God has his people.

This year we had the privilege of playing a part in two special services.  Both were firsts for me.  We got to return to areas where we had previously worked and dedicate two new church buildings.  On previous mission trips, I had led teams to serve in Ventinilla and in Linao.  Both areas were new outreach points – places where little or no evangelical ministry was ongoing.  In both places, I had the privilege of preaching the Gospel and seeing many people make decisions for the Lord.  As time passed, those new believers were discipled by diligent pastors who conserved the fruit of the harvest.  They taught bible studies, baptized new converts, and helped people navigate the land mines of a new life in Christ.  People learned spiritual disciplines like prayer and bible study.  They learned how to share their faith with their loved ones.  New converts were made.  And the process would repeat itself all over.  Now, after time had passed, these places were blessed to have actual houses of worship.

In Ventinilla, Pastor Manny was elated to tell us of the work that had been done there.  Last July, a small group of people determined to form a church held a Bible study under a mango tree.  On July 26 they held a 24 hour fast for a building, trusting that God would supply their needs through His grace.  A few short days later, on August 1, construction began on a simple chapel that would soon be their home.  Within about a month, they had their first worship services in the new building of Ventinilla Baptist Church.  Just a few days ago on January 21, they baptized 9 new converts!  Today, they are proud of the new work that God has done there.  They are still praying for some basic needs.  They borrow chairs every week from their neighbors so that they will have a place to sit.  They also don’t have quality musical instruments or a sound system.  Most interesting to me, they are praying that God will provide doors for their church!  They have a make-shift barrier that they put up during the week to keep out thieves and critters, but on Sunday, the church stands open, welcoming people, dogs, and chickens – all of which often wander through the sanctuary!

The people worked hard to prepare the new chapel at Ventinilla Baptist Church

The people worked hard to prepare the new chapel at Ventinilla Baptist Church

This picture is taken at the front of the room and captures the size of the building.  The people are appropriately proud of what the Lord provided.

This picture is taken at the front of the room and captures the size of the building. The people are appropriately proud of what the Lord provided.

I preached on 2 Timothy 2:2 at the church dedication.

I preached on 2 Timothy 2:2 at the church dedication.

I was in Linao for the first time in 2013.  We had met Pastor Ferdie for the first time on that trip.  He is from a fundamentalist Baptist Church where they sing in choir robes and preach from the KJV – a little different than I’m used to to say the least.  But we became quick friends as his love for Jesus shone through everything he did.  I was deeply impressed by his commitment to the Gospel and to the mission of our Lord.  When we did a clinic and a crusade in Linao, a barangay just a few miles from his home in Pura, we saw more than a hundred people saved.  Since that crusade, Pastor Ferdie and his son Jeiel have worked diligently in that community to disciple the fruit from that crusade.  I believed so much in what they were doing that I led my church to put up the money for a new building there.  We sent them money last summer.  A construction project ensued that was monumental.  Their men dug footers and stretched those dollars a long way.  The result awaited us on February 9.

When we arrived, the building was packed.  They let us look around for a few minutes before they cleared the building, asking everyone to go outside for the ribbon cutting.  After cutting the ribbon, we went inside to dedicate the building.  Unlike Ventinilla, this was the very first Sunday this building was in use.  They had been working on it up until the 11th hour.  As I stood and preaching from Psalm 127 (“unless the Lord build the house…”), God began to do an unusual work in that place.  When I was done, Pastor Ferdie came up behind me and asked me to preach some more.  Strangely, that has never happened to me in America!  He told me that there were many lost people there at that moment that they thought would be there later for the crusade, and that I should shift gears and preach another evangelistic message.  Never one to shy away from preaching, I ramped up again.  The end result was God miraculously saving a number of people that afternoon!  What a great start for a first day in the building at Linao Baptist Church.

I’ve been in contact with Pastor Ferdie since returning home.  I wanted to know how his first day preaching on his own in Linao went.  Check out the exchange below…

Great news from Pastor Ferdie!I wonder if that would happen in your church?  Members stand during the worship so that guests could have their seat?  I hope it would.  After all, it’s when the Body of Christ acts this way that we all see the truth – God has his people!

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Five Inescapable Truths that Missions Teach Us (Part Two)

I was sick and tired of eye glasses.  We had lugged about 5,000 pairs of glasses half-way around the world.  In case you are wondering, that is more than 350 pounds of glasses – sorted, packed, and catalogued.  Glasses.  Glasses.  Glasses.  All sorts of glasses.  Ugly glasses.  Really ugly glasses.  Really, really ugly glasses.  Glasses with flashlights on the sides.  Glasses that were worn out.  Glasses that were stretched by fat heads of previous owners.  Glasses that were chewed on the tips.  Glasses that military types refer to as “BCDs” (Birth Control Devices).  When you have 5,000 pair of glasses, you have just about every type of ocular device imaginable.

And each eyeglass clinic would present the same challenges.  First, we would organize the glasses by prescription strength and gender for the clinic.  Then we would haul the bags of glasses to the clinic site, doing our best to maintain the organization so that we could find glasses quickly.  After all, we needed to fit a person every 30 or 40 seconds or so for 2.5 hours to keep pace with the schedule.  When we arrived at the clinic sites, we never knew what awaited us.  Shade would be great.  Moving air would be better.  Our hosts did everything they could to keep us comfortable, but sometimes the heat was just excruciating.  While I presented the Gospel, the team would set up the clinic.  Then the fun would begin.  The objective was to fit 250-300 people with glasses in about 2.5 hours.  Then we would break for lunch and do it all over again in the afternoon!

Stacy Spencer reads eyes at a clinic.

Stacy Spencer reads eyes at a clinic.

We had a hard time fitting glasses to the elderly Filipino ladies.  Their thin bodies would be swallowed up by many of the glasses we had.  A couple of times we commented on how we wished we had smaller glasses, even children’s glasses to fit them.  Alas, out of 5,000 pairs of glasses, we had yet to find many smaller pair and no children’s glasses.

Until I was digging through a bag of 3.0 ladies glasses.  There was a pair clearly labeled “child.”  The glasses looked brand new.  They were actually relatively stylish.  They looked sturdy and strong.  In a down moment, I pointed them out to my coworker, Stephanie.  Then I dropped them back in the bag and went about my business.

Within five minutes, a took a ticket from a mother with a young girl in her lap.  She motioned that the ticket was for her daughter.  I read the prescription.  She needed a 3.0!  I immediately went back to the bag where I had deposited the child’s pair of glasses, praying that they had not been snatched up in the frenzy that was our clinic.  Yes!  There they were.  Still sturdy and strong.  Still looking brand new.

I called over a translator and asked him to speak to the mom for me.  “Please tell this mother that we only brought adult glasses with us.”  He repeated the sentence to the mother in tagalog.  “But please tell her that God sent a special child’s pair just for her daughter because He loves her so much.”  The translator just stared at me.  “Tell her,” I implored.  He translated.  Instant tears came.  In the mother’s eyes.  In the translators eyes.  And in my eyes.

Patrick Walsh works hard in a clinic.

Patrick Walsh works hard in a clinic.

It was in that moment that God reminded me of the second undeniable truth that missions teach us:  God always supplies.  In Acts 3, Peter and John looked at a crippled beggar and said, “Silver and gold have I none, but in the name of Jesus Christ, rise and walk.”  They didn’t have finances, but that day God provided.  The day has long since passed when the church could say silver and gold have I none.  We have built impressive monuments to our own egos while the world starves for the Gospel.  We have silver and gold.  But we lack the power of the apostles.

Missions reminds us that God always supplies.  He supplies as we sacrifice to go on trips.  He supplies as we stand behind others who go in our stead.  He supplies as we give up worldly pleasures to provide training for pastors and people we will never meet this side of eternity.  God supplies.  The American church desperately needs to hear this.  I’m so tired of a tight-fisted mentality in the church.  “We can’t send that much there.  There’s a lot of work to do here.”  We create false dichotomies of “here” and “there.”  The reality is that we need to engage both here and there.  We need to trust that as we obey God and sacrifice here to send people there, that God will raise up additional resources for our needs here.  Why?  Because God always supplies.  If you don’t believe me, I wish you could see that little girl’s face.  One glance would prove it.

Nowhere has the provision of God been more clearly expressed than in the cross of calvary.  There God provided for our greatest need:  salvation.  In that moment, Jesus took the penalty of sin upon himself, becoming our substitute.  He bore the wrath of God so that I don’t have to.  Praise the Lord.  God provides.

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Five Inescapable Truths that Missions Teach Us (Part One)

I am freshly back from an unbelievable mission experience.  I had the privilege of journeying as part of a team of eleven short-term missionaries from Kentucky.  We went to the Philippines to serve the people of the greater Paniqui area in the province of Tarlac.  As always happens on these trips, I return with a heart full from God.  Once again He has reminded me of some essential truths that I want to pass along for those of you who share this blog with me.

Truth #1 – God is the Lord of the Harvest.

In Luke 8, Jesus taught his disciples that the Word of God falls on different types of soil, or different types of hearts.  Sometimes the seed of God’s Word falls on the path and gets trampled under feet until the birds gobble up the seed.  These people are the ones who hear, but “the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts” (v. 12)  Sometimes the seed falls on rocky terrain, sprouting quickly but dying off just as fast.  These people are ones who say joyfully that they have found God, but do not root their lives in Him and fall away at the first sign of trouble (v. 13).  Sometimes the soil where the seed falls is thorny and the seed gets choked out.  This soil type represents those who hear God’s message, but the cares, riches, and pleasures of life choke out their faith and they never mature (v. 14).  But sometimes the seed falls on good, fertile soil where it produces a yield of a hundred fold.  These people are the ones who hear the Word, hold fast to the word with a good heart, and bear fruit for the Lord (v. 15).  God is the Master of the soils.  We are but the sowers.

Paul knew this all too well.  In Corinth, there was some division over who should be considered the spiritual father of the people.  Some claimed Paul.  Others claimed Apollos.  Paul knew that “I planted.  Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”  The result of this thinking was a startlingly humble posture.  “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.  He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.  For we are God’s fellow workers.  You are God’s field” (1 Cor. 3:7-9).  Paul refused to accept praise for the harvest of the Corinthian church.  He was but a mere tool in the hands of Almighty God.

On our trip over the last two weeks, 1,376 people made public professions of faith!  Those numbers are mind-numbing.  Filipino pastors tell us that historically in our crusades there, that the churches retain nearly 15% of these public professions.  Just for kicks, let’s say they overestimate that number by 100%.  A retention rate of 7.5% would equate to around 103 people.  That is a decent sized church!  Spread among the six churches we partnered with, this will only strengthen their bodies and lead them towards multiplication.  (More on that in lesson #4.)  I praise God that the Lord of the Harvest allowed the seed of the Gospel to be broadcast faithfully, clearly, and non-manipulatively to people whose hearts He had prepared.  Only God can do that!

This was a different sort of mission trip for me.  Typically, I preach at least 3 times a day for 10 days.  This year I brought along some pastor friends.  I prepared them beforehand.  When we hit the ground, I let them watch me for a day, and then I turned them lose preaching in our clinics.  After they got used to speaking through translators, I set up my friend, Tim Harris, to preach in his first evening crusade.  We were in a decent-sized barangay (or neighborhood) called Acocolao.  We worked a clinic there in the afternoon, fitting well over 200 people for eyeglasses in sweltering heat.  Based on that clinic size, we knew to expect a pretty decent sized crowd for the crusade.  Pastor Ernie Garcia was in charge that night, as his church was closest and would handle any follow-up.  Discreetly, Pastor Ernie asked me, “Pastor Rob, why aren’t you preaching tonight?”  I knew what he was driving at.  He knew me.  He trusted me.  He didn’t yet have that same comfort level with Tim.  I reassured Pastor Ernie.  “Pastor, you can trust Pastor Tim.  He is a great preacher and a mighty man of God.  Besides, I don’t bring people to Jesus.  He is the Lord of the Harvest, not me.  I’m just a tool.”  With that, the conversation was over.  Pastor Ernie was too polite and too humble to press the issue any more.  Besides, I knew what a great preacher Tim was and that the God he served was even greater still!

Every year we have what I refer to as a signature night.  For me, Acocolao was that night this year.  We got to the plaza and the place was packed.  I didn’t know until after we started singing (or rapping as it were….) that a cult was having an outdoor crusade less than a kilometer down the street from us.  Our ministry with eye glasses had left them with hardly anyone in their crowd!  Pastor Tim and Pastor Ernie got off to a bit of a bumpy start in the sermon.  Pastor Ernie didn’t know how to translate the word “canoe” or “Scotland.”  But Bro. Tim handled it like a champ and plowed forward with the Gospel.  They found a comfortable rhythm in the sermon – Tim giving an impassioned Gospel presentation and Ernie parroting him in tagalog.  Tim’s message was powerfully anointed.  It was clear.  It was convicting.  It was God-exalting!  When He asked people to make a public stand for Christ, 116 people came forward.

God moved over 100 people to salvation that night!

God moved over 100 people to salvation that night!

What happened next was just the best thing ever.  Tim turned over the invitation to Pastor Ernie.  Pastor Ernie, the one who doubted whether Tim should preach or not, addressed the crowd.  He stuck a microphone in an old woman’s face and asked her if she really meant business, if she was trusting Christ.  The woman lifted her hands to heaven and said in tagalog, “I am giving my heart to Jesus tonight.”  He asked a man.  Same response.  He drug a boy up on the stage and asked him if he understood what he was doing.  “Apo,” meaning, “Yes sir.  I do.”  Emotionally broken, Pastor Ernie entreated the crowd to continue to walk with Jesus.  I caught just a short clip of it on my phone.

Pastor Ernie was overcome.  He was overcome that God had moved in Acocolao.  He was moved because God had glorified himself through the simple proclamation of His Word. He was broken because men and women and young people were doing serious business with a holy God.  And he was emotional because he was remembering that it is indeed God who is Lord of the Harvest.

When I enjoy fresh vegetables from my friend Bob’s garden, I don’t go to his house and thank the hoe or shovel or the water hose.  The hoe and the shovel were used in the planting and cultivating.  The water hose was used in nourishing the crop.  Without them, the harvest wouldn’t be what it is.  But they are lifeless things unless Bob picks them up and uses them.  So it is with us.  So it shall always be.  At our best, we are but mere tools in the hands of the Almighty, used to cultivate the harvest of souls and complete the Great Commission.  Some plant.  Others water.  But God gives the increase.  To God be the glory!

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When Tragedy Strikes Close To Home

Those close to me have probably sat and patiently listened as I did my best to enlist you in my band of prayer warriors for my niece.  For those who haven’t been tortured by me yet, your time is at hand.  You need to hear her story.

Ainsley Kate is the six month old bundle of sweetness that belongs to Julie and Philip Ryle, my baby sister and her husband.  Julie and Philip have been blessed with three precious children.  Caroline is a quirky, creative, super-intelligent five year old.  Luisa is our imported niece – we got her from Columbia.  She has cerebral palsy.  She is non-ambulatory and non-verbal, but she is the 300 watt light bulb that lights up whatever room she is in!  We all celebrated when the Ryles returned from Columbia with Luisa.  They came home with our new niece and the proverbial “bun in the oven”.  Maybe you’ve heard the age-old question, “Where do babies come from?”  Well, in the Ryle family they evidently come from Columbia!  So, last May little Ainsley Kate was born, rounding out the Ryle trio.  If the Ryle family sounds vaguely familiar to my readers, I mentioned them in a blog post last January on the beauty of adoption.

A few weeks ago, Ainsley had a medical episode.  She ultimately was diagnosed with infantile spasms, a diagnosis that is medically classified as “catastrophic.”  Most children who evidence infantile spasms will struggle developmentally and many end up with profound mental retardation and on-going seizure disorders.  You can imagine the fear, anxiety, and heart-ache that came with this diagnosis.  I would strongly urge you to pause from reading my words, and click over to what my sister eloquently penned in light of Ainsley’s diagnosis.

Praying for Ainsley Kate

Thankfully, my brother-in-law and sister have a strong faith.  Their commitment to Jesus is inspiring to me and others that are watching them travel this journey.  They understand that God will give them grace to make this journey.  They are biblically sound enough to avoid the lies of culture and pseudo-religion.  They choose instead to stand on the promises of God.  In fact, you should pause and read the profound words Julie wrote about  The “God Doesn’t Give You More Than You Can Handle” Lie.  She rightly lands on rock-solid promises of God rather than misquoting 1 Corinthians 10:13 that says God doesn’t give us any temptation beyond what we can escape by His grace.  There is a difference in God graciously allowing an exit in times of temptation and God crushing us for His Glory.  If you don’t believe me, just ask the Apostle Paul.  Or Julie and Philip.

We already see signs of returning health and healing in Ainsley (read about it here).  Today she goes for a very important follow-up EEG.  My prayer is that God will heal her completely, that there will be no developmental delays, mental retardation, or on-going seizure disorder.  I pray that prayer with a heart as full of faith as I can muster.  I believe in a God who heals at His pleasure and for His own mysterious reasons.  I also believe in a God who sometimes does things backwards than Iask for – a God who rightfully does things for His own glory.  If God chooses to heal, that would bring Him glory!  If God chooses to sustain and give grace through profound medical issues in the days ahead, that will bring Him glory as well.  Regardless of how he chooses to work, I rest easy knowing that the issue isn’t if He will work in this situation.  I’m just not privy to know how He may work.  All I’m left with are my faith and my prayers.

And that’s why I’m writing today.  I’d like to ask you to stop and spend a moment praying for Ainsley Kate.  Would you please join me in praying for her complete healing, for her developmental health, and for no on-going seizure disorders?  Will you kindly join me in praying for her parents and grandparents as they sift through the avalanche of emotions that bury them in these difficult times?  Will you join me in praying for her sisters as they do their best to process what I’m sure is a confusing time for them?  In advance and on behalf of my family, I thank you for your prayers.  God bless!

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When owning a Bible is Deadly

When owning a bible is deadly

While Americans sleep comfortably under a blanket of freedom, things are far different in the distant land of North Korea.

The Korean newspaper, JoongAng Ilbo recently reported that the North Korean government publicly executed 80 people.  The offenses of those executed ranged from watching forbidden television programming broadcast from South Korea to being found in possession of a Bible.

Those executed were tied to poles, hooded, then sprayed with machine-gun fire.  One source, whose identity was protected, stated, “I heard from residents that they watched in terror as the corpses were so riddled by machine-gun fire that they were hard to identify afterwards.”

To make their point, the North Korean government gathered more than 10,000 residents of Wonsan into a stadium and forced them to watch the executions.  Wonsan is a port on the North Korean coast that is being transformed into a resort.  The government hopes this transformation will draw foreign money into their impoverished economy.

The sad reality is that dictators like 30 year old Kim Jong Un exist.  They rule with terror and cruelty.  Many of them hate Christianity.  They flex their muscle in violent ways to prevent the spread of the Gospel.  This is not a new thing.

We know that even baby Jesus was sought out by the vicious and cruel King Herrod.  Herrod feared that the Messiah would usurp his authority and sought to squash his influence before it had a chance to blossom.

Emperor Diocletian is perhaps the most famous of a series of Roman emperors who sought to destroy Christianity by exterminating the Christians.  He rescinded their legal rights and demanded that they comply with traditional Roman religious practices.  When the Christians refused to worship pagan gods, he and acted cruelly.  Over the course of a few years, an estimated 3,500 Christians were tortured to death.

Persecution of believers in Jesus is not restricted to North Korea and the pages of history.  In over 60 countries in the modern world Christians are persecuted for their faith.  One hundred million Christians worldwide experience persecution.

In America, we sit in our pristine chapels.  We don’t like to think of such horrible things as people who suffer for the Lord.  Those thoughts mess with our sense of Comfort.  They don’t mesh well with our faith – our faith that discomfits us little and costs us even less.

persecution cartoon

The time has come for the modern American church to be aware.  We must understand the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Their plight should move us.  Hebrews 13:3 admonishes us, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”  The implication of this verse is that we remember those in prison for the faith and those mistreated because of Jesus.  We need to remember them because we are all part of the Body of Christ.  We should pray for those who are persecuted.  Paul asked the Colossians to pray for him during his persecution (Col. 4:3-4).  Jesus even promised a special blessing for those who suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness (Matthew 5:10-12).

As I have thought about Kim Jong Un and his horrific acts, I have been compelled to pray more faithfully for the persecuted church.  If you feel like you are ill-equipped to pray for people experiencing persecution, there are some wonderful guides available to help you know how to pray.

Even beyond praying for the persecuted, I have had to struggle with the issue of my own commitment to Christ.  Am I willing to suffer for the Gospel?  Is that answer rooted in theoretical situations or am I truly demonstrating a firm commitment to Jesus?  Have I counted up the cost of following a Savior that says that those who follow him will experience persecution (2 Tim. 3:12, John 15:18-21, Matthew 10:16-20).  Let us all count the cost and be willing to suffer for Jesus if required.  If we are blessed to not personally experience persecution, let’s remember others in the Body of Christ who do experience the pain of persecution.

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Here we go again: The Battle for Public Prayer Wages on

Battle for prayer

In Washington D.C. today the highest court in the United States Supreme Court will take up a case that examines whether a town government in upstate New York is violating the separation of church and state by allowing their board meetings to begin with prayer.

Here are the facts.

Greece, New York has a population of just under 100,000.  The Rochester suburb has regular town board meetings.  Traditionally, those meetings were opened with a moment of silence.  When John Auberger was elected as supervisor in 1999, he instituted formal invocations given by a rotating group of clergymen.  From 1999 to 2007, invocations were rendered at the beginning of every town board meeting.  The prayers were given from an exclusively Christian perspective during that period of time.

In 2008, residents Susan Galloway, who is Jewish, and Linda Stephens, an atheist, issued a complaint.  The two non-Christians said “they felt both coerced to participate and isolated during the ceremony.”Greece, New York citizens who filed a law suit to remove prayer from town counsel meetings

The town leaders immediately broadened their invitation to include a wider representation of prayer-givers.  Four of the 12 meetings in 2008 included non-Christian prayers.  A Jewish layman, a Wiccan priestess, and a Baha’i leader were among those who offered prayers.  Still, the majority of prayers were offered from a Christian perspective.  Tom Hungar, who represents the town noted, “The houses of worship in Greece community are predominantly Christian.  But anyone is free to pray.”  He went on to add that “the plaintiffs in this case were both offered the opportunity to deliver invocations.”

Galloway and Stephens ultimately brought suit in 2010, alleging that the offering of a public prayer violates the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion.  A lower court found that there was not sufficient evidence that Greece intentionally cut out non-Christians invocations.  Galloway and Stephens won an appeal in May 2012 when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that people of other faiths should have been included more broadly.  Greece appealed this latter decision and in May 2013, the Supreme Court agreed to hear and settle the case once and for all.

Douglas Laycock is representing the plaintiffs.  He is a law professor at the University of Virginia and esteemed as one of the nation’s leading scholars in this area.  He asserts that if the town wants to have prayers at the beginning of meetings, then it should have guidelines for nonsectarian prayers.  Hungar counters that government should not be in the business of telling people how to pray.  “Government is not supposed to be in the business of telling prayer-givers what the content of their prayers should be.”

To the surprise of many, the Obama administration is siding with the town.  Solicitor General Donald Verrilli wrote,

“The unbroken history of the offering of prayer in Congress, for example, has included a large majority of Christian prayer-givers and a substantial number of prayers with identifiable sectarian references.   Neither federal courts nor legislative bodies are well suited to police the content of such prayers and this Court has consistently disapproved of government interference in dictating the substance of prayers.”

What are the possible outcomes of the case?

While pundits agree that the case could go in a multitude of directions, a few seem to have the most potential.

The Court could rule broadly, declaring that prayer is generally allowed, even prayer with sectarian content.  A decision of this ilk would put much of the debate over public prayer to rest.

If the Court rules more narrowly, then context of prayer and public meetings would need to be examined.  For example, if attendance is mandatory at certain meetings, that would force people to be subjected to prayers who may not wish to do so.

Regardless of the Court’s ruling, the Christian worldview is under fire.  Issues such as right-to-life, traditional family models, and public school curriculum debates have marginalized Christian beliefs.  The secular humanistic perspective, which meets all the criteria of being a religious view point, has won the day in our political realm.  What I find most baffling is that Christians are offended by the fact that our society is not a theocracy.  I see the rapid secularization around us as opportunity.  The once-held idea of a cultural Christian is eroding.  Many will abandon the arm’s length approach to serving Jesus as it becomes more and more unpopular.  I see that as a good thing.  We will be left with a purer church – one that is theologically rich, devotionally hot, and recklessly biblical.  We should not be surprised at the loss of our freedoms.  Second Timothy 3:12 states, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  Are we ready for that?

As controversial as it may sound, I almost side with these two ladies.  While I think their lawsuit is frivolous and petty, I see it through a different lens.  What if the day is coming where true Christians are a minority in our culture?  What if the predominant prayers that are offered at graduations and before government meetings were Muslim or Hindu?  I wouldn’t ultimately be dismayed by that, as long as the Gospel got equal time.  I believe in a free marketplace of ideas, the Gospel will win.  What I fear is that we are steaming towards a culture where there is no true marketplace of ideas.

A Final word about this case:  While I understand that these legal battles need to be fought, I see great potential danger in them on two fronts.  First, I think we might be tempted to think that winning legislative battles is somehow equal to winning our neighbors to Christ.  Jesus told us to go into the world and make disciples, not Christian legislation.  Again, I realize the importance of these battles and support the cause, but I’m afraid we may forget that the greatest battles need to be fought in our neighborhoods.  Second, I fear that many will fight for the privilege to pray in public while they fail to pray in private.  The church is woefully lacking in prayer.  We must not be hypocritical on this front, asking for the privilege to be something in public that we lazily fail to be in private.

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The danger of Trick-or-Treating in Fargo, ND

Kids across America are gearing up for yet another Halloween.

Costumes are flying off of shelves.  According to one news report, the most popular costumes this year include the Despicable Me Minions, Breaking Bad’s Walter White, and Miley Cyrus in a teddy bear leotard a la the VMAs.  FYI – I give double candy to all Jedis and Napoleon Dynamites.

Kids will plunder through neighborhoods and churches, scoring major stashes of candy.  An estimated 158 million people will join in on the All Hallow’s Eve traditions, making economists and capitalists everywhere smile.  An estimated $6.9 billion of retail sales will be generated by Halloween this year.  The average American will spend just over $20 on candy to give to cute little door-knockers.  Throw in costumes and decorations, and you’ve got a growing economic boom.

A woman only known as Cheryl from Fargo, North Dakota has put an unusual spin on the whole tradition of Trick-or-Treating.  Disturbed by the childhood obesity epidemic in our culture, she has made the avant-garde decision to hand out letters of concern rather than candy to kids that she deems “moderately obese.”  Her decision was made public in a morning radio interview on Y-24 in Fargo.  She stated,

“I just want to send a message to the parents of kids that are really overweight. . . .  I think it’s just really irresponsible of parents to send them out looking for free candy just ’cause all the other kids are doing it.”

She ultimately shared a copy of her letter that is addressed to parents of these “moderately obese” children.

Halloween Fargo

Experts have already begun to weigh in on the situation.  North Dakota State University assistant professor of clinical psychology Katie Gordon stated that the letter could be more emotionally damaging than helpful.

So, what do you think?  How do we process this as Christians?  Is she showing love by being concerned for kids’ health?  Is she misguided in sending a letter to parents via a child’s hand?  How would you respond if your child came home with this sort of note?  What is the proper Christian response to childhood obesity?  To people who write letter like this?

Let the comments begin.

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