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SAINT VALENTINE

February 2018

ISSUE:  Who was Saint Valentine?

BACKGROUND:  The story of Saint Valentine, the patron of love and marriage, is both interesting and confusing, yet it is a story that is worth Christian awareness.  The following references were used to develop the information in this article:  Thurston, H. (1912). “St. Valentine”, In The Catholic Encyclopedia, Robert Appleton Company, New York, accessed on line via New Advent at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15254a.htm on January 7th, 2018; Kithcart, David, Features Director for the 700 Club; “St. Valentine, The Real Story” accessed via The Christian Broadcasting Network at:   http://www1.cbn.com/st-valentine-real-story on January 7th, 2018 and “Saint Valentine – Patron of Love, Young People, Happy Marriages”,  accessed via Catholic Online at:   http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=159 on January 7th, 2018.

DISCUSSION:  Chocolate candy, flowers, red hearts, and love notes are popular customs associated with Saint Valentine’s Day.  Today’s Valentine customs centered around this special day actually originated during the Middle Ages with the belief that halfway through the second month of the year (i.e. 14 February), birds began to pair and the pairing could be symbolically connected to a very familiar and normal human endeavor.  Thus, in Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules we read:  “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day, Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate”.  The day was viewed as a proper occasion for lovers to write love letters and send tokens of their love to each other.  French and English literature of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries reference the practice.

Yet both the origins and the customs, carried forward to today, leave unanswered, “Who was Saint Valentine?”  At least three different Saint Valentines, all of them martyrs, are historically mentioned in association with the date of 14 February.  One is described as a priest in Rome, and another as bishop of Interamna, or modern Terni, a city in the southern portion of the Region of Umbria in central Italy.  Both of these Saints seem to have suffered in the second half of the third century and are said to have been buried, albeit at different locations, along the Flaminian Way or “Via Flaminia”, an ancient road leading from Rome, over the mountains to the Adriatic Sea.  Of the third Saint Valentine, who suffered in Africa with a number of companions, nothing further is known.

Archaeologists have unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to Saint Valentine.  In the Roman Catholic Church, the name “Valentinus” does not occur in the earliest list of Roman martyrs, compiled by the Chronographer of 354.  Yet “Valentinus” can be found in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, a list of Christian martyrs, compiled from local sources, between 460 and 544.  A representation of Saint Valentine also appeared in The Nuremberg Chronicle in 1493.  Alongside a woodcut portrait of him, the text states that “Valentinus”  was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius the Goth [Claudius II].

Valentinus was likely caught marrying and otherwise aiding Christians who were being persecuted in Rome.  Claudius II had announced an edict prohibiting the marriage of young couples.  The prohibition was based on the hypothesis that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers since they would naturally be less worried about what might happen to their wives and children should they die in battle.  There are indications that Valentinus defied the order of the emperor Claudius, secretly marrying  couples so that the husbands wouldn’t have to go to war.  Increasing numbers of soldiers were required, so this did not sit well with Claudius.  Another legend is that Valentinus simply refused to sacrifice to pagan gods or to deny Christ.

Regardless, for his “crimes” against Rome, Valentinus was arrested and imprisoned.  Several legends exist describing events during his imprisonment.  One legend has it that Claudius took a liking to his prisoner, at least until Valentinus tried to convert the Emperor, whereupon he was condemned to death.  Another legend has it that Valentinus gave his testimony in prison and through his prayers, the jailer’s daughter who was suffering from blindness, was healed.  That legend has it that on the day of his execution Valentinus left her a note signed “Your Valentine”.  Beaten with clubs and subsequently stoned, Valentinus was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate [circa 269], thus martyred for his heresy.

The feast of Saint Valentine on February 14 was established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I, who included Valentine among all those “… whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.”  Saint Valentine’s Church in Rome, built in 1960 for the needs of the Olympic Village, continues as a modern and well visited if not regularly attended parish church.  The Feast of Saint Valentine is an official feast day in the Anglican Communion, as well as in the Lutheran Church.  In the Eastern Orthodox Church, ‘Saint Valentine the Presbyter’ is celebrated on July 6th and ‘Hieromartyr Saint Valentine’ (Bishop of Interamna, Terni in Italy) is celebrated on July 30th.  Members of the Greek Orthodox Church named Valentinos (male) or Valentina (female) may celebrate their name day on the Western ecclesiastical calendar date of February 14.

While it is certainly fine to observe the modern day traditions associated with Valentine’s Day, February 14th can be thought of as a celebration in honor of Christian martyrdom.  Perhaps Christians should also make it a day of reflection, or even of fasting, to focus on the continued persecution of Christian’s around the world.  Afterall, it has been said that the Bible is God’s “love letter” to you, so why not share the greatest “love letter” with those around you this year.

SPIRITUAL GROWTH POINT:  What does the Bible say about this topic?

“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.” Deuteronomy 7:9

“Continue your love to those who know you, your righteousness to the upright in heart.” Psalm 36:10

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” 1 Corinthians 13:4 

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22


36 MASTERPIECE CAKESHOP

January 2018

ISSUE: Masterpiece Cakeshop Case goes to the Supreme Court.

BACKGROUND: The Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. the Colorado Civil Rights Commission case has been appealed all the way to the Supreme Court where oral argument was heard on December 5th 2017.  A ruling opinion is expected at the end of the Court’s current session in June of 2018.  In the interim, since the case has freedom of expression, religious freedom and civil government protection implications, it is important for Christians to inform themselves about the case.  The information summarized below is based on, and extracted from, the following articles:  “Religious Freedom Is for Christians, Too” by Luke W. Goodrich, Wall Street Journal, December 5th, 2017;  “Let Them Not Bake Cake”, Review & Outlook Editorial, December 4th 2017; “Supreme Court seems divided in case of baker who refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple” by Robert Barnes & Ann E. Marimow, Washington Post, December 5th 2017; “The Masterpiece Cakeshop Case Is Not About Religious Freedom” by Jennifer Finney Boylan, New York Times, November 29th, 2017;  “Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission”, American Civil Liberties Union, October 31st, 2017, retrieved from www.aclu.org on December 7th, 2017. “Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission”, Alliance Defense Fund, retrieved from www.adflegal.org on December 7th, 2017 – Note, the transcript of the oral argument is available at this site and / or at www.supremecourt.gov also reviewed in support of the development below.

DISCUSSION:

In 1993, Jack Phillips, a Colorado native, opened “Masterpiece Cakeshop” in the community of Lakewood.  Mr. Phillips has been a part of major milestone events for many in the community, including young couples who chose their wedding cake at his shop, only to return years later as parents requesting graduation cakes for their children.  In July of 2012 two men came into Jack’s cakeshop requesting a wedding cake for their same-sex ceremony.  Charlie Craig and David Mullins were from Colorado which did not at that time, recognize same-sex marriages.  Charlie and David had made plans to be legally wed in Massachusetts and thereafter to return to Colorado for a celebration with family and friends.  They wanted a special cake for the celebration associated with their return to Colorado.

During that first visit, Phillips, who is Christian, declined the couple’s request, informing them that he did not create wedding cakes for same-sex marriages due to his religious beliefs, and offered that the couple could purchase other baked goods including a pre-made cake in the store.  The couple left the store without discussing details of the cake design.  The following day, Charlie Craig’s mother called Phillips, who told her that he does not make wedding cakes for same-sex weddings.  Despite the fact another bakery provided a cake to the couple, Craig and Mullins filed a complaint to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission under the state’s public accommodations law, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), which prohibits businesses open to the public from discriminating against their customers on the basis of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

Jack Phillips explained that it wasn’t Charlie Craig and David Mullins that he objected to, but rather the message the cake would send about marriage.  Despite that, an administrative law judge ruled against Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop in December 2013.  The Commission did not equate designing and creating cakes for same-sex wedding ceremonies to speech protected by the First Amendment.  It determined that Phillps had engaged in sexual orientation discrimination under the CADA when he declined to design and create a custom cake honoring a same-sex marriage because doing so conflicts with his sincerely held religious beliefs.  Jack Phillips and his staff were ordered to either violate Jack’s faith by designing custom wedding cakes that celebrate same-sex marriages or to stop designing all wedding cakes, which make up approximately 40% of his business.

Colorado is one of twenty-one U.S. states that have anti-discrimination laws against sexual orientation.  Craig and Mullins’ complaint resulted in a lawsuit, Craig v. Masterpiece Cakeshop.  The case was decided in favor of the plaintiffs and the cake shop was subsequently ordered not only to provide cakes to same-sex marriages, but to “change its company policies, by providing ‘comprehensive staff training‘ regarding public accommodations discrimination”, and “quarterly reports for the next two years regarding the steps it has taken” to come into compliance including data on “whether it has turned away any prospective customers.”  Phillips appealed.  Along the legal pathway, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) picked up the defense of Phillips case and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) aligned with Craig and Mullins.  In 2014, Colorado began allowing same-sex marriages, and in 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) that marriage is a fundamental right extending to same-sex couples.

At the next legal level, on August 13th, 2015, the Colorado Court of Appeals, unanimously affirmed the Commission’s order, finding no violation of the Free Speech or Free Exercise Clauses.  The Court deemed Phillips’ speech to be mere conduct compelled by a neutral and generally applicable law.  It reached this conclusion despite the artistry of Phillips’ cakes and the Commission’s exemption of other cake artists who declined to create custom cakes based on their message.  The court also concluded that application of the CADA did not infringe the bakery’s freedom of speech or free exercise of religion.

Because the Colorado Supreme Court denied review, in July 2016, ADF and allied attorneys petitioned the United States Supreme Court to take up Jack’s case.  The Supreme Court granted review of the case because “the Court of Appeals analysis (1) flouts this Court’s controlling precedent, (2) conflicts with Ninth and Eleventh Circuit decisions regarding the free speech protection of art, (3) deepens an existing conflict between the Second, Third, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuits as to the proper test for identifying expressive conduct, and (4) conflicts with free exercise rulings by the Third, Sixth, and Tenth Circuits.”  The question presented to the Supreme Court for Oral Argument on December 5th 2017 involved:  “Whether applying Colorado’s public accommodations law to compel Phillips to create expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage violates the Free Speech or Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment”.

The dispute in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission comes on the heels of two other high-profile religious-freedom cases involving Christians— Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014), in which the court said a business couldn’t be forced to pay for contraception in violation of its owners’ religious beliefs, and Zubik v. Burwell, which effectively said the same thing about religious nonprofits, including the Roman Catholic order Little Sisters of the Poor.

The Supreme Court has long held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from compelling speech or the exercise of religion.  Its landmark ruling in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943) protected the right of a Jehovah’s Witness not to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. In Wooley v. Maynard (1977), the Court said New Hampshire could not compel a Jehovah’s Witness to display the state motto “Live Free or Die” on his license plate since the First Amendment protects “the right of individuals to hold a point of view different from the majority and to refuse to foster . . . an idea they find morally objectionable.”

Cases like Masterpiece Cakeshop were inevitable after the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that guaranteed a right to same-sex marriage.  Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy held that “many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises . . . But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied.”   States have since compelled florists, photographers, bakers and venue hosts to personally sanction marriages that they find morally objectionable.  Those who don’t are stigmatized and in some cases coerced.

While some on the left liken Mr. Phillips to a hotel owner in the Jim Crow era, there’s no evidence of such discrimination.  Mr. Phillips and others who have denied wedding services to same-sex nuptials have consistently served gays in other contexts.  Mr. Phillips said he would sell the gay couple other baked goods—simply not a custom wedding cake.  Mr. Phillips has also consistently conducted his business according to his moral scruples, including refusing to make cakes with vulgar messages, which oddly, the state’s public accommodation law allows.  The Masterpiece Cakeshop case raises significant First Amendment concerns.  Custom cakes can be construed as artistic expression, which is protected by the First Amendment.  Weddings for many people are religious celebrations, and participation—or abstention—is, in itself, an act of expression.

For it’s part, Colorado relies heavily on Employment Division v. Smith, a 1990 case in which a Native American sought a religious dispensation under the First Amendment after being fired for smoking peyote. “The right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a ‘valid and neutral law of general applicability,’ ” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority.  But Colorado’s public accommodation law is not neutrally applied.  It is applied selectively to dictate ideological conformity.  For instance, the commission has allowed three bakers to deny service to religious customers who requested a cake criticizing same-sex marriage.  Thus, the state is punishing forms of speech it dislikes.

The Supreme Court held in Obergefell that the government may not enshrine into law any viewpoint that can be used to “demean” or “stigmatize” those with different mores—which is effectively what Colorado has done by censuring Mr. Phillips.  Colorado’s Employment Division v. Smith case also stipulated several religious exemptions from generally applicable laws including that “the government may not compel affirmation of religious belief” or “impose special disabilities on the basis of religious views or religious status.”  Yet Colorado does both.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop case pits the government’s interest in social equality against an individual’s constitutional right to express his beliefs.  A ruling for Colorado could encourage other government burdens on First Amendment religious rights, especially in this era of right-left cultural polarization. Could the state compel Catholic doctors to perform abortions, or require Catholic adoption services to place children with same-sex couples?  As Justice Kennedy noted in Obergefell, the “Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity.”  If this applies to same-sex marriage, which isn’t mentioned in the Constitution, it certainly ought to apply to religious belief, which is there in black and white.  You might say a victory for Masterpiece Cakeshop would be a victory for everyone.

SPIRITUAL GROWTH POINT:  What does the Bible say about this topic?

“I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.” Psalm 119:45

“All the nations may walk in the name of their gods, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.” Micah 4:5

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galations 5:1

This Spiritual Growth Point is brought to you by the Men of Grace and was compiled by the Spiritual Growth Committee including Brian Repp, Paul Tucker and Eric Rosenlof who serve as a part of the Men’s Ministry led by Joel Prell.


AMERICANS & CHRISTMAS

December 2017

ISSUE: Observations about Americans and Christmas.

BACKGROUND: The information summarized below is primarily from an article entitled, “5 facts about Christmas in America”, by Michael Lipka dated December 21st, 2015.  The article was written for The Pew Research Center, a part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project and the full version is available at www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/12/21/5-facts-about-christmas-in-america/.  This article was accessed on November 5th, 2017.  The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.   The Center conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, content analysis and other data-driven social science research but does not take policy positions.  Elsewhere in the information summarized below, legal clarification is supported by American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) memoranda.  One ACLJ memorandun is entitled “Christmas in the Workplace”, dated October 16, 2014 can be accessed in the Legal Documents section under Resources on www.aclj.org.  This ACLJ memorandum was accessed on November 5th, 2017.  The ACLJ memorandum “Public Christmas Displays” is also used to provide legal clarification, however this memorandum was last successfully accessed on November 7th, 2016, can no longer be accessed via the ACLJ website.  However, it can now be made available in .pdf format upon request.  The ACLJ is “an organization dedicated to the defense of constitutional liberties secured by law.”

DISCUSSION: The Christmas Holidays are never without debate, and opinion polling results, balanced by legal memoranda where necessary, may be of interest during the Christmas season.

Celebrating Christmas:  When asked, “Do you celebrate Christmas?”, about nine-in-ten Americans (92%) and nearly all Christians (96%) say they celebrate Christmas.  A large majority (81%) of non-Christians also celebrate Christmas.  Of the 92% of Americans who stated that they did celebrate Christmas, just over half (51%) indicated that personally, Christmas is “more of a religious holiday” while just less than a third (32%) indicated that it is “more of a cultural holiday.”

Greetings:  When asked, “Which greeting do you prefer, ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays’?”, nearly half (46%) of Americans say it doesn’t matter how stores greet their customers over the holidays.  About four-in-ten (42%) choose “Merry Christmas”, while about one-in-ten (12%) choose “Happy Holidays”.  What is the legal interpretation?  The ACLJ memorandum on “Christmas in the Workplace” corroborates the following:

  • A business may put up Christmas or holiday decorations or instruct employees to greet customers by saying “Merry Christmas”.
  • A business may instruct employees to wear Christmas-themed clothing.
  • Employees may invite other employees to religious holiday events, display religious-themed holiday items in their personal workspace, or otherwise share their faith with other employees.

In the case of the first two statements, the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation to employees and their religious beliefs unless doing so would impose undue hardship on the business.  In the case of the last statement, an employee’s reasonable request to display religious items in his or her personal work area should be accommodated, unless the items plainly violate the company’s anti-harassment policy or otherwise cause disruption in the workplace.  Similarly, employees should be permitted to hand out invitations to religious-themed holiday events to co-workers, or post them on a common bulletin-board, to the same extent that employees are permitted to invite co-workers to non-religious holiday events.  The employer retains the authority to prevent an employee from aggressively or consistently sharing his or her religious beliefs with another employee to the point that it becomes harassment or creates a hostile work environment.

The ‘traditional’ Christmas Story:  Americans largely believe that elements of the traditional Christmas story reflect actual historical events.  More than seven-in-ten (73%) say Jesus was born to a virgin and 81% believe he was laid in a manger.  Similar portions of the population say that wise men, guided by a star, brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (75%),  and that an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus (74%).  Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults (65%) believe that all four of these events actually happened while only 14% say that none of them happened.  If nothing else, the above numbers reveal the power of the Christmas story.

Gifts and Feelings:  While gift giving at Christmas is wide-spread, it also sparks mixed feelings.  A majority of Americans said buying and receiving gifts makes them feel joyful (83%) and generous (78%), but considerable minorities also said it makes them feel stretched thin financially (46%), stressed out (36%) or wasteful (23%).  Fewer than half of U.S. adults (45%) say they are looking forward “a lot” to giving and receiving gifts.

Displays on Government Property:  Another perennial Christmas controversy is holiday displays on government property.  When asked if Christian symbols such as nativity scenes should be allowed on government property, and if so, whether they should be allowed by themselves or only if accompanied by symbols from other faiths, mixed views resulted.  Less than half (44%) say Christian symbols should be allowed regardless of whether any other faiths are represented, about a quarter (28%) say Christian displays should be permitted only with symbols from other religions, and one-in-five (20%) say Christian symbols shouldn’t be allowed on government property at all.  Aside from polling results, there is the legal interpretation of the law.  The U.S. Constitution and the law provide wide latitude in celebrating Christmas in all areas of the public square.  What is the legal interpretation?  The ACLJ memorandum on “Public Displays” corroborates the following:

  • The “separation of church and state” does not forbid all religious displays on government property.
  • The government can erect holiday displays that include religious components.
  • The display of a Christmas tree is not considered a religious endorsement.
  • Private citizens can be prohibited from erecting religious holiday displays on public property.

Several cases combine to teach the key elements private citizens must consider should they desire to erect religious displays on public property.  They may do so if:

  1. A) the property is a public forum in which the government has permitted a wide variety of expressive conduct (at least where there is a sign informing the public that the display is sponsored by private citizens and the government is not endorsing its message); or
  2. B) the display is accompanied by a variety of secular holiday symbols such that the overall message is not exclusively or primarily religious. Cases in which one or both of the elements listed above were not met have resulted in prohibition.

It is important for Christians to be aware what all Americans think, believe and feel about Christmas, but it is also important for Christians to know where the law stands.

The Christmas season provides a great opportunity for followers of Christ to clearly and boldly communicate their faith to a confused and hurting world.   As aptly stated by Focus on the Family, “For Christians, Jesus is “the reason for the Christmas season.” While the commercialization of Christmas stands in stark contrast to the humble origins of our Savior’s birth, this sacred-turned-secular holiday provides an opportunity to communicate that Christmas matters to millions of people of faith more than decorations, parties and shopping lists.”

SPIRITUAL GROWTH POINT:  What does the Bible say about this topic?

“Assemble the people–men, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns–so they can listen and learn to fear the LORD your God and follow carefully all the words of this law.”  Deuteronomy 31:12

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.  The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.”  Psalm 19:7

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Matthew 5:11-12

 “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”  Romans 3:21


VETERANS DAY

November 2017

ISSUE:  Understanding Veterans Day and role models from the Bible who embody similar principles.    

BACKGROUND: The history of Veterans Day in America is important and there is an associated Biblical perspective.  The following references were used to develop the information in this article:  “The Origins of Veterans Day”, written by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; accessed via http://www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp on 05 October 2017;  “The Origins of Veterans Day”, Celebrating America’s Freedoms; U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Washington, D.C. 20409 accessed via https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/celebrate/vetday.pdf, on 05 October 2017;  “What Does the Bible Say About Veterans Day?”, posted by Jody Broyles on the Central Church of Christ website: “Bring the book Ocala” on 11 November 2011, accessed via http://bringthebookocala.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/what-does-the-bible-say-about-veterans-day/ on 05 October 2017.

DISCUSSION:   World War I (WWI) is generally regarded as the “the war to end all wars.”  Although WWI officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France, it is the signing of the Armistice at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, that is observed as the end of “The Great War”, and the more enduring observance.

The very next year, in November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”  The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.

In 1921, an unknown World War I American soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  This site, with ties to the Civil War, on a hillside overlooking the Potomac River and the city of Washington, D.C., became the focal point of reverence for America’s veterans.  The day became known as “Armistice Day”.  In America, Armistice Day officially received its name in 1926 with a Congressional resolution.  The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, with these words:

Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.

Armistice Day became a legal holiday in 1938 by similar Congressional action with an Act approved on May 13 of that year, a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day.”

Then came World War II, a conflict that involved over 16 million Americans, including four hundred seven thousand who died in service.  After World War II, Armistice Day was changed to honor all veterans.  The first celebration using the term “Veterans Day” occurred in Birmingham, Alabama, on November 11th, 1947 when Raymond Weeks, a World War II veteran, organized a “National Veterans Day” including a parade and other festivities, to honor all veterans.

In 1954, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in its place the word “Veterans.”  With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.  Later that same year, on October 8th, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first “Veterans Day Proclamation” which stated:

“In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans’ organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose.  Toward this end, I am designating the Administrator of Veterans’ Affairs as Chairman of a Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other persons as the Chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the national level necessary planning for the observance.  I am also requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch of the Government to assist the National Committee in every way possible.”

On the same day the Veterans Day Proclamation was issued, President Eisenhower designated the Honorable Harvey V. Higley, Administrator of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), as Chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee.  Later, in 1958, the White House advised VA’s General Counsel that the previous designation of the VA Administrator as Chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee applied to all subsequent VA Administrators.

Importantly, 1958 was also the year that remains of two more unidentified American soldiers, one killed in World War II and the other in the Korean War, were brought from overseas and interred beside the unknown soldier of World War I.

On June 28, 1968, the “Uniform Holiday Bill” was signed with the intention of ensuring three-day weekends for Federal employees on four national holiday Mondays including: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day.  It was thought that these extended weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and would stimulate greater industrial and commercial production.   The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on October 25, 1971.  Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holidays on their original dates.

It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens, and so on September 20th, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed a new Public Law that returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978.  In November of 1982, President Reagan awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal to Raymond Weeks whose local parade and ceremonies grew into an annual event celebrated nationwide.  In 1984, an unknown serviceman from the Vietnam War was placed alongside the unknown soldiers.  To honor these men, symbolic of all Americans who gave their lives in all wars, an Army honor guard, the 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard), keeps constant vigil.

In 1989, the VA was elevated to a cabinet level post and since then, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs has continued to serve as the Veterans Day National Committee chairman.  Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls.  The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day:  A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

While the Bible doesn’t specifically discuss veterans, it does speak about the principles that our veterans embody – freedom, sacrifice, overcoming fear, bravery and heroism.  Who are some of those heroes?

Joshua:  His remarkable life was filled with excitement, variety, success and honor.  He was known for his deep trust in God and as “a man in who[m] is the spirit” (Numbers 27:18).  In the Sinai Peninsula, it was Joshua who led the troops of Israel to victory over the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8-13).  It was Joshua who stood watch at the temporary tent of meeting Moses set up before the tabernacle was erected (Exodus 33:11).  And Joshua was one of only two of the twelve spies sent into Canaan who bravely urged the people to trust in the Lord and to take the land of Canaan as a possession as the Lord has promised (Numbers 13 and 14).

Gideon:  God chose Gideon to deliver the Israelites from the hands of the Midianites, sending an angel who said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12).  Gideon’s faith was tested as God reduced his army to a small, unlikely troop.  Gideon gave each of his men a trumpet and a clay jar with a torch hidden inside, divided the small army, and on his command they broke the jars, blew the trumpets and shouted “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” (Judges 7:17-25).  God showed his faithfulness when the small 300-man army defeated tens of thousands of the enemy.

David:  David’s military leadership was decisive and effective.  He captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites and made it his royal city and residence (2 Samuel 5:6-13).  Shortly afterward David brought the ark of the Lord from the house of Abinadab to Jerusalem, publicly acknowledging the Lord’s kingship and rule over himself and the nation (2 Samuel 6; Psalm 132).

Undoubtedly the best Biblical role model is Christ, whose bravery and sacrifice won for us the spiritual battle over Satan and death.

SPIRITUAL GROWTH POINT:  What does the Bible say about this topic?

“For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.” Deuteronomy 20:4

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

 “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: … a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:1; 3:8

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

“But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  1 Corinthians 15:57


HALLOWEEN

October 2017

ISSUE:  Understanding Halloween’s history and potential Christian alternatives.

BACKGROUND:  Understanding Halloween’s origins and history, and presenting some alternatives for celebration may be valuable to Christians.  The following references were used to develop the information in this article:  “Halloween and Christianity – Parts One – Four and Summary”, written by Richard D. Dover, In His Steps Ministries, 2002; accessed via http://www.creatingfutures.net/archive/previousnuggets.html on 05 September 2017;  “Christian Halloween Alternatives”, written by Mary Fairchild, Christianity.About.com, accessed via http://christianity.about.com/od/holidaytips/ss/halloweenaltern.htm on 05 September 2017.

DISCUSSION:  The secularization of Christmas and Easter present overt commercial challenges for Christian families desiring to emphasize the importance of the birth and the resurrection of Jesus.  In a more subtle manner, yet still with commercial aspects, Halloween presents a special challenge because it tends to emphasize fear, horror, violence, death, and the occult.  How should Christians approach this secular holiday?  The good news is that there are Christian alternative approaches for the observance of Halloween.  However, before presenting those Christian alternatives, it is helpful to understand the origins of Halloween and the historical ties to present day symbols associated with Halloween.

The Halloween Festival can be traced back to the Druids and others including the pagan Romans, the Greeks and even the Babylonians.  It was believed that on the eve of this festival “Samhain”, or lord of death, called together the wicked spirits that had been condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals within the past year.  The festival was associated with the new-year’s eve which was observed on October 31st in both Celtic and Anglo-Saxon times.  The festival became sinister with ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, black cats, fairies and demons of all kinds said to be roaming about.  Huge fires were set on hilltops to frighten away evil spirits.  The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes and they were to be entertained with food.  If food and shelter were not provided, these evil spirits would cast spells on those who chose not to fulfill their requests.

Failing to stop the pagan festivals, Rome tried at first to turn them into something Christian.  November was the month of papal prayers for the dead in purgatory.  Traditionally at Halloween, papist families purchased an envelope from the priest.  Inside they wrote the name of a dead relative, and the envelope was placed on the altar so that the relative would not be forgotten in November’s prayers for the dead.  Thus the papist “All Hallows’ Eve” was at best, mixed with the pagan festival of the dead.  Many years later Halloween remains associated with wickedness.  Artifacts from those early festivals can still be found in some of today’s Halloween celebrations.  The historical ties to the Jack-o-lantern, Trick or Treating, Costumes, Bobbing for Apples, Bonfires and Black Cats are summarized below:

The Jack-o-lantern:  Hundreds of years before Christ, on Halloween night Druids dressed in hooded robes and carried a large, hollowed-out turnip with an oil lamp burning inside, slung over the shoulder on a cord.  Carved into the side of the hollow turnip was a face to ward off evil spirits.  When Celtics came to the New World, they found pumpkins much easier to hollow out and carve than turnips.  Among the English-speaking Celts, the hollowed pumpkin was known as “Jock (or Jack) of the Lantern”.  Lore has it that Jack, too bad to get into heaven, yet not permitted into hell, wanders the earth holding “Jack’s lantern” from hell as his guide.

Trick or Treating:  The Druids adhered to strange dietary restrictions, and on the night of the Festival of Death they would go from home to home demanding these peculiar foods.  If the people complied, they passed on in silence; if their demands were not met, the people and their home were cursed with trouble, sickness and death.

Bobbing For Apples:  During the Samhain festival, much divining was done to find favor or “good luck” with the evil spirits in the coming year.  A very popular form of this was to kneel around a tub of water with floating apples.  The first one who could get an apple out without using hands or teeth would have good favor with the spirits in the coming year.  If the apple could be peeled in one piece, the peeling had particular power and gained special favor with the spirits.

Costumes:  The Celts and Druids believed that by wearing masks and costumes, they would confuse the evil spirits into thinking they were one of them and thus would leave them alone.  Villagers began to dress in hideous masks and costumes to disguise themselves from the spirits while dancing around the big Samhain “bonfires.”  Often they wore the skins of sacrificed animals burned in the evening’s festivities.

Bonfires:  Bonfires originally came from the nights of human and animal sacrifices where they would throw the remains of the bodies into the fire leaving only ashes and bones the next morning – hence “bonefires”.  The orange flames lit up the black night, a color combination still associated with Halloween.

Black Cats:  From the 1500s through the 1700s, during the witch-hunts in Europe, it was thought witches and warlocks flew through the air to a meeting with the devil on Halloween.  In addition to witches, elves and fairies were thought to turn into black cats.  Black cats hold high significance with witches and Satanists and are believed to have special powers.

Christian Alternatives:  All Christians should be aware of the pagan roots of Halloween carried forward with these largely accepted symbols, traditions and practice.  Once aware, some Christians may find these connections troubling.  If so, they may be motivated to seek Christian alternatives.  Creative and fun alternatives for Christians on Halloween include Harvest Festivals, Theme Parties, Evangelism opportunities, Youth Group fund raising opportunities and Family Nights.  “Harvest Festivals” are carnivals with booths for food, face painting, skill games or even a board game marathon.  Theme Parties could include a “Noah’s Ark Party”, a “Heroes of the Bible Party” or a “Reformation Party”.  Each of these can reflect the costume aspects of Halloween in a Christian way.  On Halloween, consider turning your front yard into a graveyard, but then mark the gravestones with Scriptures that make visitors think about eternity and mortality.  To the extent the messages spark questions, you may have opportunities to share your faith!  Consider helping the youth group organize a pumpkin patch.  Youth can sell the pumpkins and the profits can go toward funding their next activity.  To increase the interest level, incorporate other pumpkin related activities, such as a pumpkin carving contest, a pumpkin cook-off, a carving demonstration, or even a pumpkin bake sale!

Finally, consider starting a new family tradition this October 31st in your family!  Replace traditional Halloween observances with family activities such as a family night out for a special dinner and a wholesome movie.  You can have a family meeting and make the plans for the special evening.

SPIRITUAL GROWTH POINT:  What does the Bible say about this topic?

“Surely such is the dwelling of an evil man; such is the place of one who does not know God.” Job 18:21 [NIV]

 “The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the unfaithful are trapped by evil desires.” Proverbs 11:6  [NIV]

“He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’  You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”  Mark 7:6-8 [NIV]

“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.”  Romans 6:11-12 [NIV]

“Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Romans 12:21 [NIV]

“Therefore do not be partners with them.  For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.  It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.  Ephesians 5:7-12 [NIV]


FRANCIS SCOTT KEY’S CHRISTIANITY

September 2017

ISSUE:  The Christianity of Francis Scott Key     

BACKGROUND:  There was more to Francis Scott Key than just his writing the lines of our National Anthem.  The following references were used to develop the discussion below: The One Year Book of Christian History, by E. Michael and Sharon Ruston, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream Illinois, pp. 428-429;  “Francis Scott Key”, The Biography Channel website, retrieved August 6th, 2017, from https://www.biography.com/video/francis-scott-key-the-star-spangled-banner-26171459695; “Francis Scott Key: A Christian Gentleman” by Diana Lynn Severance,  Directory, Dunham Bible Museum, Houston Baptist University, accessed via https://www.visionvideo.com/files/FrancisScottKey.pdf on August 6th, 2017;  “The Founders of Sunday School, 200 Years: 1780 – 1980”, by Elmer Towns, accessed via http://elmertowns.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/FOUNDERSETowns.pdf on August 6th, 2017; “The Star Spangled Banner” lyrics by Francis Scott Key, accessed via http://www.usa-flag-site.org/song-lyrics/star-spangled-banner.shtml  on August 6th, 2017.

DISCUSSION:  John Ross Key fought in the American Revolution, arming and equipping a regiment at his own expense.  The Key’s were wealthy landowners from Frederick, Maryland and their son, Francis Scott Key was born on August 1, 1779.  His faith was influenced by his grandmother, and during his college years, also by her sister with whom he boarded while attending St. John’s college in Annapolis.  After graduation at age 17, he studied law in the office of Jeremiah T. Chase where he became friends with fellow law student Roger B. Taney.  Taney later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding over the Dred Scott case and swearing in Abraham Lincoln.  In 1802 Francis married Mary Taylor (Polly) Lloyd whose ancestory included a Royal Governor of Maryland.  Shortly after marriage, Key began a law practice in Washington D.C.  Over the years Francis and Polly “had eleven children, six boys and five girls and their family life together was a happy and blessed one.  … Even in the busiest times, Key never failed to conduct family prayers in his home twice a day, always including the servants …”

Key had strong Christian convictions and at one point considered entering the ministry.  Although he continued his law career, Key’s strong Christian beliefs were expressed in his poetry.  His poem, “Lord, with glowing heart I’d praise thee”, became a well known hymn.  Although he was opposed to his country going to war with Britain in 1812, Key joined the Georgetown Field Artillery Company and volunteered in defense preparations around his home in Georgetown.  In 1814, he served as an aide to General Walter Smith at the Battle of Bladensburg.  In the lead up to that battle, the British occupied the home of a prominent physician in Upper Marlborough, Maryland.  Dr. William Beanes gave an oath of loyalty to the British, but after the battle, had several British soldiers arrested for disorderly conduct.  For this action, the British captured Dr. Beanes and imprisoned him aboard a British ship.  As a last resort, the family of Dr. Beanes appealed to their friend, Francis Scott Key, for assistance in negotiating his release.  So it was that on 5 September, 1814, Key and a Colonel from the Parole Commission set sail on the Chesapeake in a small boat to be received by the British.  Successful in their mission, they were nevertheless held by the British so as not to disclose the impending attack on Baltimore which was to take place 13-14 September.  During and after the attack, Key wrote the famous lines of what later became the “Star Spangled Banner” – the part of Francis Scott Key’s life with which we are most familiar.

After the War of 1812, Key continued his successful law career and for three terms served as district attorney for the District of Columbia.  In this position and as a private lawyer, Key argued many cases before the Supreme Court and became a close friend of President Andrew Jackson who entrusted him with several delicate missions.  On one such mission to Alabama, he stayed at the home of the Governor, John Gayle.  In her diary, Gayle’s wife, Sarah recorded the following words about Key:  “He is very pleasant – intelligent you at once perceive.  His countenance is not remarkable when at rest, but as soon as he lifts his eyes, usually fixed on some object near the floor, the man of sense, of fancy, and the poet is at once seen.  But the crowning trait of his character, I have just discovered he is a Christian.”  He wrote several verses for Gayle’s children including “The Rock of Thy Salvation” for nine year old Sarah Ann Gayle.

In Georgetown, Key helped organize the Lancaster Society for the free education of the poor.  It can be argued that Key had a contradictory stance on race.  In his capacity as district attorney, he was noted to have overseen proceedings that upheld the system of slavery by prosecuting abolitionists.  However, even as a slave owner, he went on record as saying that the system of slavery was full of sin and “a bed of torture.”  Additionally, he was also founder and principal promoter of the American Colonization Society, one of the first such societies devoted to dealing with slavery in America.  Key was also a member of the board and or aided the formation of the General Theological Seminary, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, and the Virginia Theological Seminary.  He taught a large Sunday School class of over 300 men and was one of the founders of the American Sunday School Union.  Key helped launch the Mississippi Valley Campaign or Enterprise seeking to establish a Sunday school in every town between the Alleghany and the Rocky Mountains, or between Pittsburgh and Denver, within two years.  Though it eventually took 50 years, over 61,000 Sunday schools were established reaching over 2.5 million pupils with over 400 thousand teachers and 80 full time missionaries.

Francis Scott Key was a “Christian Gentleman” and accomplished much in God’s name, yet he is best known for the lyrics to our national anthem.  Considering the frequency with which the first and well known verse is played, sung and heard on a daily basis, perhaps Christians should ponder the impact of our nation regularly including Key’s fifth verse, composed that same fateful night:

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand

Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!

Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land

Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

 

SPIRITUAL GROWTH POINT:  What does the Bible say about this topic?

“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live.  Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” Deuteronomy 4:9

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance.” Psalm 33:12

“He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children,..” Psalm 78:5

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20


RELIGIOUS BELIEF IN CENTRAL & EASTERN EUROPE

July 2017 Issue

ISSUE:  Religious identities in a region once dominated by atheist regimes.     

BACKGROUND:   With so much about Russia in the news over the last several months, it is important for Christians to increase their awareness of religious belief in Central and Eastern Europe, where many countries were part of, or at the very least, influenced by, the Soviet Union and then, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Russia.  The reference for the information summarized below is a report entitled,  “Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe”, by Neha Sahgal, Alan Cooperman and Anna Schiller for The Pew Research Center, May 10, 2017.  The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.  It does not take policy positions.  The Center conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, content analysis and other data-driven social science research.  It studies U.S. politics and policy; journalism and media; internet, science and technology; religion and public life; Hispanic trends; global attitudes and trends; and U.S. social and demographic trends.  Pew Research Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder.  This report was produced by Pew Research Center as part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Future project, which analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world.  Funding for the Global Religious Futures project comes from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation.  The full report is available at http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2017/05/15120244/CEUP-FULL-REPORT.pdf

DISCUSSION:  According to the survey, religion has reasserted itself as an important part of individual and national identity in many of the Central and Eastern European countries where communist regimes once repressed religious worship and promoted atheism.  Today, approximately a quarter of a century after the fall of the Iron Curtain and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, solid majorities of adults across much of the region say they believe in God, and most identify with a religion.  Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism are the most prevalent religious affiliations, much as they were more than 100 years ago in the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires.

In the former communist states of the Russian Federation and Poland, majorities say that being Orthodox or Catholic is important to being “truly Russian” or “truly Polish.”  It is also true in Greece, where the church played a central role in Greece’s successful struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire and where today, three-quarters of the public (76%) say that being Orthodox is important to being “truly Greek.”  In Russia, the percentage of adults who describe themselves as Orthodox Christians rose to 71% as of 2015, up from only 37% in 1991.  In Ukraine, those describing themselves as Orthodox Christians rose to 78%, up from 39% over the same time period.

Meanwhile, Catholicism in Central and Eastern Europe has not experienced an upsurge.  This may be because much of the population in countries such as Poland and Hungary retained a Catholic identity during the communist era, leaving less of a religious deficit to be restored when the Soviet Union collapsed.  Over the period from 1991 to 2015, those who identify as Catholic dropped from 96% to 87% in Poland, dropped from 63% down to 56% in Hungary and dropped from 44% way down to 21% in the Czech Republic.  Today, the Czech Republic is one of the most secular countries in Europe, with nearly three quarters of adults (72%) describing their religion as atheist, agnostic or as “nothing in particular.”  These apparently opposite trends in predominantly Orthodox and Catholic countries may be related to political geography.  The Orthodox countries in the region are further toward the east, and many were part of the Soviet Union.

Interestingly, the intertwined nature of national belonging and religion does not carry over to religious practice.  Many people in the region embrace religion as an element of national belonging even though they are not highly observant.  Relatively few Orthodox or Catholic adults in Central and Eastern Europe say they regularly attend worship services, pray often or consider religion central to their lives.  For example, a median of just 10% or 1 in 10 Orthodox Christians across the region say they go to church on a weekly basis.  The same measure of weekly church attendance for Catholics, while more than double that of Orthodox Christians, enjoys a median of only 25% or 1 in 4 people.

Today, many Orthodox Christians, whether Russian or not, express pro Russia views.  Most see Russia as an important buffer against the influence of the West, and many say Russia has a special obligation to protect not only ethnic Russians, but also Orthodox Christians in other countries.  In Catholic majority and religiously mixed countries across the region, there is much less public support for a strong Russia as a counterweight to the West.

The return of religion since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union has played out differently in the predominantly Orthodox countries of Eastern Europe than it has among the heavily Catholic or mixed religious populations further to the West.  In the Orthodox countries, there has been an upsurge of religious identity, but levels of religious practice are comparatively low.  Orthodox identity is tightly bound up with national identity, feelings of pride and cultural superiority, support for linkages between national churches and governments, and views of Russia as a bulwark against the West.

Meanwhile, in such historically Catholic countries as Poland, Hungary, Lithuania and the Czech Republic, there has not been a marked rise in religious identification since the fall of the USSR; on the contrary, the share of adults in these countries who identify as Catholic has declined.  Yet levels of church attendance and other measures of religious observance in the region’s Catholic-majority countries are generally higher than in their Orthodox neighbors, albeit low in comparison with many other parts of the world.  The link between religious identity and national identity is present across the region but somewhat weaker in the Catholic-majority countries.  Politically, the Catholic countries tend to look West rather than East: Far more people in Poland, Hungary, Lithuania and Croatia say it is in their country’s interest to work closely with the U.S. and other Western powers than take the position that a strong Russia is necessary to balance the West.

Of course, international relations are complex, but Christian awareness of religious impact is fundamental to understanding all of the other aspects of worldwide peace and harmony.   Christians possess a unique oneness because we belong to Jesus Christ.  Belonging to Him, we belong to one another.  Just as there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5), so also there is only one Head and only one Body.  In Jesus’ prayer to His Father as recorded in John Chapter 17, he says “My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” and “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  May our prayer also be for a revival of faith in Central and Eastern Europe that results in the unity of believers in the Truth and in the Word of God.

SPIRITUAL GROWTH POINT:  What does the Bible say about this topic?

“Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.” Genesis 18:18

“My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.  Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:20-23

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:3-6


THE TRANSFORMATION OF CHARLES COLSON

June 2017

ISSUE:  The life of Charles W. Colson and how God used him.     

BACKGROUND:  Much of the current political discussion has included references to “Watergate” and the Nixon Administration.  This Spiritual Growth Point was initially written a little more than five years ago after the death of Charles W. Colson, special counsel to Nixon.   It was a lesson then about how God can use seemingly unlikely individuals to spread His Word.  Now, more than five years after his death, a Christian understanding of the life of Charles W. Colson may be even more meaningful.  The references for the information summarized below included a May 2017 review of the following articles initially accessed five years ago after the 2012 death of Charles Colson including:  “Watergate Figure Charles Colson Has Died at 80”, by Steve Miller, Wall Street Journal, April 21, 2012 accessed via  https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303513404577358261451889928#printMode;   “Chuck Colson and Second Chances”, by John J. DiIulio Jr., Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2012 accessed via https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303459004577361700170847494#printMode;

“Chuck Colson: (1931-2012) – A Life Well Lived”, by Colson Center Staff, Colson Center – www.colsoncenter.org, April 21, 2012 – no longer available online – hardcopy available on request;  “Charles W. Colson, Watergate Felon Who Became Evangelical Leader, Dies at 80”, by Tim Weiner, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/us/politics/charles-w-colson-watergate-felon-who-became-evangelical-leader-dies-at-80.html, April 21, 2012.

DISCUSSION:  The life of Charles Wendell Colson is a wonderful example of how God uses the most unlikely individuals to spread his Word.  In November 1969, Colson joined the Nixon White House as special counsel to the President.  For a 38 year-old Washington lawyer who was always practicing politics on the side, there could have been no better opportunity.  He had achieved professional success despite the fact he was a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, amoral man with three young children and a failing marriage.  Born in the fall of 1931 to a stuggling Boston lawyer, he had grown up in fifteen different locations and had attended eight different schools.  His first taste of politics came when he was a teenage volunteer in Robert F. Bradford’s re-election campaign for governor of Massachusetts.  There, he learned “all the tricks,” including “planting misleading stories in the press, voting tombstones, and spying on the opposition in every possible way.”

In 1949, Charles graduated from Browne & Nichols, a private school in Cambridge, and went on to Brown University with a scholarship from the Navy Reserve Officer Training Program.  After graduating in 1953, he married his college sweetheart, and joined the Marines where he became a Captain at age 22.  In 1956, Mr. Colson went to Washington as an administrative assistant to Senator Leverett Saltonstall, a Massachusetts Republican.  After obtaining a law degree from George Washington University in 1959, Mr. Colson next became partner in a Washington law firm, with an eye toward a Nixon presidency.  In 1960 he was awarded, “Outstanding Young Man of Boston from the Chamber of Commerce” but the same year, he was crushed when his candidate lost a very close election to Senator John F. Kennedy.

Nixon later said about Colson, “[His] instinct for the political jugular and his ability to get things done made him a lightning rod for my own frustrations.”  The two men “understood each other,” Mr. Colson wrote in “Born Again,” his memoir.  They were “prideful men seeking that most elusive goal of all — acceptance and the respect of those who had spurned us.” “When I complained to Colson, I felt confident that something would be done,” Nixon wrote.  “I was rarely disappointed.”  Mr. Colson and his colleagues “started vying for favor on Nixon’s dark side,” Bryce N. Harlow, a former counselor to the president, said in an oral history.  Later, he was credited by White House Counsel John Dean with having compiled the “White House enemies list” for the administration.

It was Colson who hired E. Howard Hunt, a veteran covert operator for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), to spy on the president’s opponents.  Their plots became part of the cascade of high crimes and misdemeanors known as the Watergate affair.  Things began to unravel after Mr. Hunt and five other C.I.A. and F.B.I. veterans were arrested in a botched burglary and wiretapping operation at Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington.  This led to criminal indictments and convictions of most of Nixon’s closest aides.  In 1973, while looking for work after resigning from the White House, fearing he was going to wind up in jail, Mr. Colson got into his car and found himself in the grip of the spiritual crisis that led to his conversion.  “This so-called White House hatchet man, ex-Marine captain, was crying too hard to get the keys into the ignition,” he remembered.  “I sat there for a long time that night deeply convicted of my own sin.”  Colson shocked the Washington establishment in 1973 by revealing his new Christian commitment in the midst of the Watergate inquiry.

In 1974 Colson entered a plea of guilty to Watergate-related charges; although not implicated in the Watergate burglary, he voluntarily pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in the Daniel Ellsberg Case, which was prosecuted in the acutely sensitive Watergate atmosphere.  He entered Maxwell Federal Prison Camp in Alabama in 1974 as a new Christian and as the first member of the Nixon administration to be incarcerated for Watergate-related charges.  Nixon resigned seven weeks later after one of his secretly recorded White House tapes made clear that he had tried to use the C.I.A. to obstruct the federal investigation of the break-in.

Upon emerging from prison after serving seven months of a one to three year sentence, Colson announced that he would devote the rest of his life to religious work.  In 1976, he founded “Prison Fellowship Ministries”, which delivers a Christian message of redemption to thousands of prison inmates and their families.  In 1983, he established Justice Fellowship, which calls itself the nation’s largest religion-based criminal justice reform group.  In 1991 Colson launched BreakPoint, a unique radio commentary that provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends to 1,400 outlets nationwide to an audience of 8 million listeners.

In 1993, Charles won the $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, and donated it to his ministries.  In 2000, Gov. Jeb Bush restored his rights to practice law, vote and serve on a jury — all of them having been lost with his federal felony conviction.  “I think it’s time to move on,” Mr. Bush said at the time.  With that, Mr. Colson re-entered the political arena.  In January 2001, six days after President George W. Bush’s inauguration, a Wall Street Journal editorial praised Mr. Colson’s prison work as “a model for Bush’s ideas about faith-based funding.”  In 2008, President Bush awarded him the Presidential Citizens Medal.

In his later years, Colson focused full time on developing other Christian leaders who could influence the culture and their communities through their faith.  The capstone of this effort was “The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview”, a research and training center launched in 2009 for the promotion of Christian worldview teaching.  In 2009, Colson was a principal writer of the Manhattan Declaration, which calls on Christians to defend the sanctity of human life, traditional marriage and religious freedom. More than half a million people have signed the Manhattan Declaration.

In all, Colson wrote more than 30 books, which have sold more than five million copies. His autobiographical book, “Born Again”, was one of the nation’s best-selling books of all kinds in 1976 and was made into a feature-length film.  His last book, “The Faith”, is a powerful appeal to the Church to re-embrace the foundational truths of Christianity.  It is truly amazing how God used Charles W. Colson.  Colson died Saturday afternoon, April 21, 2012 at the age of 80.

Could all the current politcal turmoil be yet another part of God’s larger plan to use an unlikely individual and a confusing series of events to demonstrate the power of His transformation?  Well, it certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented!

SPIRITUAL GROWTH POINT:  What does the Bible say about this topic?

“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” Romans 7:6

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:3-4

 “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:15-16

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10


THE BIBLE & TAXES

April 2017

ISSUE: What the Bible says about taxes.    

BACKGROUND:  With the deadline for filing income tax approaching, and tax reform on the political agenda, taxes are on the minds of many.  In light of this, perhaps it may be interesting to see what the Bible says about taxes.  According to their website, “WallBuilders is an organization dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built – a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined.”  The name WallBuilders is drawn from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah wherein, “the nation of Israel rallied together in a grassroots movement to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and thus restore stability, safety, and a promising future to that great city.”  WallBuilders states that their goal is to, “exert a direct and positive influence in government, education, and the family by; (1) educating the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country; (2) providing information to federal, state, and local officials as they develop public policies which reflect Biblical values; and by (3) encouraging Christians to be involved in the civic arena.”  WallBuilders maintains a library of their posts on a multitude of issues supporting their goals.  What follows is based, in part, on their post “The Bible and Taxes”, accessed via www.wallbuilders.com , on 26 February 2017 and on the Bible itself.

DISCUSSION:  Of the many forms of taxation, those on profits, on earnings, on wages, and on estates impact both Christians and non-Christians alike.  As our congressional representatives and the new administration embark on what could be the largest tax reform undertaking in the last 30-40 years, it may be prudent to go to the one constant source for wisdom: His word.

The Capital Gains Tax, a tax on profits, penalizes a person for success by exacting payment for increased profit.  Conversely, in the Bible there is more reward for more profit.  The parable of the minas in Luke 19:12-27, and the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 both conflict with the notion of a tax on capital gains.  From the parable of the talents, Verses 27-29: “Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.  ‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.  For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance.  Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.’”  Thus, the Bible implies that those who do well (e.g. invest) with what they have will be given more.

The parable of the landowner and laborers in Matthew 20:1-16 is applicable to the employer/employee relationship and the issue of wages.  The landowner hires workers at different times of the day and yet pays each worker the same amount at the end of the day.  When the hired workers complain about equal pay for equal time, the landowner replies in Verses 13-15, “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend.  Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go.  I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.  Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous?’”  The right of an employer to determine wages and the right of a worker to accept or reject an offer for work is evident.  James 5:4 offers a balance in that the Lord hears the cries of the laborers who are cheated out of wages they are due.  “Look!  The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you.  The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.”

The current income tax structure is highly progressive and mandates a higher tax rate or percentage the more a person makes.  This tax system is contradicted by scripture, especially Exodus 30:11-15, which provided equal taxation for everyone numbered.  Verse 15 states: “The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the Lord to atone for your lives.” The Biblical Tithe is not applied progressively, rather it is applied equally to everyone as stated in Leviticus 27:30-32, “‘A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.  Whoever would redeem any of their tithe must add a fifth of the value to it.  Every tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the Lord’”.

The current Estate Tax can take up to 55% of an estate, leaving 45% to the children; when those children pass it on to the grandchildren, up to 55% of the remaining 45% can be taken, leaving only 27%

of the original able to be passed on to the following generation.  The Bible speaks to the issue of inheritance numerous times.  Proverbs 13:22 states “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.”  Ezekiel 46:18 states, “The prince must not take any of the inheritance of the people, driving them off their property.  He is to give his sons their inheritance out of his own property, so that not one of my people will be separated from their property.”  Other scriptures addressing  inheritance include Proverbs 19:14, I Chronicles 28:8, and Ezra 9:12.

Of course, once a tax becomes law, the Bible again provides clarity in the Gospels; here Luke 20:20-26 is cited:  “Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere.  They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor.  So the spies questioned him: ‘Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.  Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’  He saw through their duplicity and said to them, ‘Show me a denarius.  Whose image and inscription are on it?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.  He said to them, ‘Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’  They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public.  And astonished by his answer, they became silent.”

What else does the Bible say about taxes?  From Matthew 17:24-27, we learn that Jesus paid tax.  Jesus, who as the Son of God would have been exempted from paying the temple tax, agreed to pay the tax not because he owed it but because he did not want to cause offense.  From Luke 2:1-5, we learn that Joseph, described in Matthew 1:19 as “a righteous man,” traveled about 70 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem with a nine-month pregnant wife, on foot and donkey, to “register” and thus pay his taxes.  The Bible also supports the law of tax exemption for work done in service to God.  The decree of the Persian King Artaxerxes is recorded in Ezra 7:24 and states, “You are also to know that you have no authority to impose taxes, tribute or duty on any of the priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, temple servants or other workers at this house of God.”

As our government officials are faced with what to do about policies and regulations that impact citizen consumers, let us pray that they would consider the Bible as a source of wisdom.

SPIRITUAL GROWTH POINT:  What does the Bible say about this topic?

 “Speak to the Levites and say to them: ‘When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord’s offering.” Numbers 18:26

“Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin.” Deuteronomy 24:15

 “So now I charge you in the sight of all Israel and of the assembly of the Lord, and in the hearing of our God: Be careful to follow all the commands of the Lord your God, that you may possess this good land and pass it on as an inheritance to your descendants forever.”  I Chronicles 28:8

“Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them at any time, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it to your children as an everlasting inheritance.”  Ezra 9:12

“When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?”  Matthew 17:25

“Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth.  I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man.  You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’  “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant!  You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow?  Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’” Luke 20-23

“Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.”  Romans 4:4

“Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.  This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.  Give to everyone what you owe them:  If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” Romans 13:5-7

“For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” 1 Timothy 5:18


SAINT PATRICK

March 2017

ISSUE:  Focusing on the Christian aspects of Saint Patrick’s Life.     

BACKGROUND:  Ireland’s most effective Christian witness was an ex-slave and not even of native Irish stock.  The following references were used to develop the discussion below:  How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill, Talese, Nan A., Doubleday, 1995, Chapters 4 & 5; The 100 Most Important Events In Christian History, by A. Kenneth Curtis, J. Stephen Lang, & Randy Peterson,  Revell, Fleming H. – A Division of Baker Book House Company, 1998, pp. 47-48, “A Brief History of St. Patrick”, by Monk Preston, The Prayer Foundation, accessed via http://www.prayerfoundation.org/brief_history_of_st_patrick_by_monk_preston.htm on 05 February, 2017.

DISCUSSION:  Saint Patrick is one of Christianity’s most interesting figures and, since the March holiday that we celebrate in his name is often associated with drinking and rowdy behavior, it is important for Christians to understand how God really used Patrick.

Maewyn Succat was born somewhere around the year 390 to Christian parents in the Roman part of Britain.  At about age16, he was kidnapped and enslaved in Northern Ireland and forced into labor as a swineherd and shepherd.  During his captivity he became aware of God.  According to his own description at the time, “Tending flocks was my daily work, and I would pray constantly during the daylight hours.  The love of God and the fear of him surrounded me more and more—and faith grew and the Spirit roused, so that in one day I would say as many as a hundred prayers and after dark nearly as many again, even while I remained in the woods or on the mountain.  I would pray before daybreak—through snow, frost, rain, –nor was there any sluggishness in me (such as I experience nowadays) because the Spirit within me was ardent.”

Six to eight years later, Maewyn escaped and walked some 200 miles to the coast.  Offering his services as a dog tender, he was taken aboard a ship carrying a cargo of hounds.  Finally returning to Britain via Gaul (France), he had dreams of Irish children begging him to bring the Gospel to them.  Before returning to the country of his enslavement, he went back to France and studied in a monastery, most likely Auxerre although Lerins also claims he studied there.  At least one source suggests he studied at both monasteries.  Following his studies, he was ordained Priest and later Bishop.  Patricius, or Patrick, his baptismal name, was given by Pope Celestine prior to his mission to Ireland.

Bishop Patrick returned to Ireland in the year 432.  He began to realize that through his years in slavery, God had given him courage and had helped him understand the Irish people.  The Druids, keepers of the old paganism put up fierce resistance to his evangelizing.  According to Patrick’s account from the time,  “Everyday I am ready to be murdered, betrayed, enslaved—whatever may come my way.  But I am not afraid of any of these things, because of the promises of heaven; for I have put myself in the hands of God Almighty.”

Patrick had excellent rapport with the common man and drew upon their previous understandings, largely nature worship, to help explain Christianity.  For example, he used the shamrock to explain the Trinity.  Patrick’s ministry ended human sacrifice when contentious tribal people were taught that Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient.  Murder and intertribal warfare were reduced and soon the Irish slave trade came to a halt.  In this way, God orchestrated the events in Patrick’s early life to prepare him for great service.

Many years after Patrick’s death in 460, when Western church missionaries came to Ireland, they discovered a thriving Irish faith.  The church in Ireland had developed outside the hierarchical system of Rome chiefly because Patrick evangelized the nation without relying on the established church, preferring instead to organize around monasteries, thus better reflecting the nation’s tribal system.

Patrick is credited with establishing around 300 churches and baptizing around 120,000 people.  It is commonly agreed that he and his disciples converted almost the entire population of Ireland to Christianity during his life.  In the year 1100, Ireland became Catholic when the Pope gave King Henry II sovereignty over Ireland.  Impressed with the way Patrick converted the Irish, the Catholic Church made him a Saint.

Since many of his accomplishments are either not well known or incorrectly exaggerated by storytelling, perhaps Christians could use the secular celebrations of Saint Patrick’s Day as opportunities to tell the God inspired story of Maewyn Succat’s life.

SPIRITUAL GROWTH POINT:  What does the Bible say about this topic?

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,…”  Isaiah 61:1

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

“In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power…”  Acts 19:20

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”  1 Peter 4:10