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Where Faith is Flourishing
(Note, Sometimes I am able to clarify something on this blog and subsequently on Facebook about which I was unclear in the earlier newspaper column. In the column, see below, I write about people who are “oppressed.” Even in seminary long ago, I read a book about sin which said sin is two things: first it is the bad we do and the good we don’t do. But secondly, sin is also the spiritual power of darkness which oppresses us. Children who grow up in physical abuse are oppressed as are children who grow up in a home with alcohol or substance abuse. Go to any AA or NCA meeting and you will find people who tell you that, without their higher power, they are “powerless over their addiction”--a kind of oppression they are under. Obviously there was oppression behind hundreds of years of slavery in this country and in the racism that followed after freedom...in some cases even up until now. These are some of the things I mean in the article when I talk about oppressi…
When You Make Politics into An Idol
The first commandment says “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt...You shall have no other gods before me.”(Exodus 20:1-2) The earliest Christian confession about Jesus of Nazareth was “Jesus is Lord” (The Greek word used in that confession is “Kyrios,” which translates the Hebrew “Adonai,” Lord.) When something or someone is the Lord and Master of our lives, that thing must be more important than everything else.
Suppose professional football were the most important thing in peoples’ lives. Suppose football were more important than people, more important than family, more important than nation, more important than God! If you can imagine a world where professional football was more important than all those things, you can also imagine that people whose team was the Houston Texans could end up hating people whose team was the Dallas Cowboys. They could easily get to the point where they imagined the other side was less than …

Focusing on What is Real

“We live by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”   Hebrews 11:1-2
I am writing this column on Christmas day, even though it will come out more than a week later. We will see part of our beloved family later in the day, but right now it is nice just to sit in my rocking chair and be still and listen to Christmas music! I know someone who  decided this year not to send gifts, feeling that Christmas was getting more and more materialistic. I couldn’t agree more.
Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older, but I feel that our culture is more and more in overdrive. There is the constant hype of advertising, constant calls from machines doing telemarketing (even if you are on “do not call” lists), simpler and simpler answers to everything, politics by tweet, etc., etc. In that environment, the following verse comes as a refreshing word from beyond this world: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is …

The Parable of the Birds

I first heard this story told by Rev Ken Newman forty years ago on Christmas Eve at First Presbyterian Church of Richmond, Virginia. Copyright information is at the end of this column.
There was once a man who lived in the country with his family. He was regarded by them as a good husband and father. But he was not sure he believed in God, and at Christmas time he was particularly aware that he did not—and could not—believe that God had come as a baby born in Bethlehem so many years ago. “Even if there was a God,” he thought, “why would God need or want to become a human being?” It seemed a silly idea to him.
He believed that it would not please God—if he even existed—to celebrate Christmas when he did not believe in its message. So on Christmas Eve when his family invited him to go with them to the village to their small church which had a Christmas Eve service, he declined. He preferred to stay at home by the fire, look outside through the big picture glass window, and see the snow fa…

A Compassionate and Smart Investment

It could be both compassionate and smart to help starving children. According to UNICEF USA, in Yemen, a country in the southern Arabian Peninsula, “an estimated 85,000 children under the age of five have died from starvation or disease since the war started there three years ago.” They say it is “the worst humanitarian crisis…since World War II.”
There are many things you and I could spend our money (and prayers) on. Why should we spend our money to save starving children--especially outside of the US? Why not invest in a new house, or a new car, or more presents for our own children or grandchildren? In Matthew 6:19-20, Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” I believe that when we physically feed hungry people, or when we spiritually feed people with the Word of Life…

Reading the Old Testament As Pointing to Jesus

For many churches during Advent (the four Sundays before Christmas) this season is a time of looking forward to Jesus’s coming, just as people in Old Testament times looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. One way of reading the Old Testament is with eyes that see it pointing over and over again to Jesus. Let me give you an example. Psalm 91:4 says about God: “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.”
In that verse God compares himself to a bird, and we are compared to the baby birds who find safety and protection underneath the wings of their mother. Specifically, part of the mother bird’s body, her wings, protect the babies from danger. The full force of a potential attack against them is absorbed by the mother’s own body. “That’s fine,” you say “but, unlike a bird, God doesn’t have a body we can go hide behind. God is a spirit who is invisible and immutable. Also, God is infinite and incapable of being harmed in any way like the wings of the…

How John Summarized a Miracle of Jesus

I get a number of daily devotionals by email, and last week one of them pointed out something fascinating from the Scriptures. Pastor Joseph Prince from Singapore (see note on Joseph Prince at end of this article) began by mentioning the description of the feeding of the 5000 by Jesus in the Gospel of John, chapter 6, verses 5 through 13. (After that account, John’s gospel tells us about Jesus walking on water and coming to his disciples who were out on the Sea of Galilee in a boat during a storm.)
After that exciting account, in John 6:23, ten verses after John finished telling us about the feeding of the five thousand, he mentions that miracle again, but in an odd way. John writes: “Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.”So the way John summarizes that event is not the way we probably would. He did not directly mention that 5000 people were fed, he did not mention that a little boy had five loaves and …