Jesus, The Refugee

Jesus in Egypt by Eugene Girardet

In response to President Donald Trump’s executive order halting refugees from various war-torn nations in the Middle East, a number of people have stated their opposition to his actions, some declaring that Jesus was himself a refugee.  For example, Al Sharpton made this claim and Fox News was quick to deride him.  As Fox News states, “There’s one problem though: Sharpton’s tweet is not exactly accurate, at least according to the Bible.”  One of their readers declared, “…they went to pay Taxes in Egypt. They went home. YOU need to pay your taxes and learn Bible!!”  Another writes, “Jesus Christ, whose parents were good taxpaying citizens, was no refugee and Al Sharpton, tax evading cheat, is no reverend.”

Although I don’t have any political affinity for Al Sharpton, I would argue that he is correct and that Fox News and their readers are the ones who need to read or reread their Bibles.  Don’t believe me?  Well, according to the Gospels, Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem as a result of the Roman census.

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.  (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census.  And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.  He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. -Luke 2:1-5 NLT

True, at that time, they were not refugees, merely following the Roman law and returning to Joseph’s hometown for the census.  However, according to the book of Matthew, when King Herod hears of the birth of Jesus (who he thought might end up challenging his rule,) he ordered his soldiers to find Jesus and ultimately kill him.

After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”

Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. -Matthew 2:13-16 NLT

What is a refugee?  Well, dictionary.com defines a refugee as “a person who flees for refuge or safety, especially to a foreign country, as in time of political upheaval, war, etc.”

Did Jesus and his parents travel to a foreign country?  Yes, to Egypt.  Did they flee for their safety due to either political upheaval or war?  Yes, as the king sought to kill Jesus for political reasons.

Given that Jesus and his parents fit the dictionary definition of a refugee, how can anyone argue that they were anything other than refugees?  In fact, the Bible tells us that they stayed in a foreign land until King Herod was dead, thus ending the political threat against their lives.

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead. -Matthew 2:19-20

Whether you agree or disagree with President Trump’s action to prevent refugees coming into the United States from several Middle Eastern countries, if you make the claim that Jesus was not a refugee and that Al Sharpton is Biblically illiterate for calling him one, instead of making him look foolish, you display your own stunning lack of Biblical knowledge.

Waiting for “The One”

Image from Tim Tebow's Twitter account
Image from Tim Tebow’s Twitter account

Earlier this week former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow and his now-former girlfriend, Olivia Culpo, made the national headlines.  It seems that the former Miss Universe dumped Tebow due to his plan to wait until marriage to have sex with her or anyone else.

Unfortunately, we are moving toward a culture where if a person exerts any sort of sexual restraint it is seen as an aberration.  We are urged to give in to the passion of the moment.   We are told that as long as the two are clean and practice safe sex, there is no harm in it.  After all, we should eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!

Although slut-shaming, as it is called, certainly still exists and is a terrible way to deal with this issue, it feels like sexual exploration is becoming more and more the norm, especially for men.  Some people think that women ought to remain pure, but a man should act like a stud and have sex with as many women as possible.  I’m sure that there are quite a few people who believe that if a 28-year-old guy, especially a professional athlete like Tebow, hasn’t had sex by that age, clearly there must be something wrong with him.  I’m pleased to say that we are moving in a direction of greater liberty, but it is not in one where conservative lifestyle choices are either respected or desired.

Nevertheless, there are some of us, like Tim Tebow, who have decided to wait.  I suppose we do so for a variety of reasons; the two that most readily come to mind are religious and/or moral convictions and the strong bond between two people that could develop from such an experience and the desire to share it only with the right individual.

If a person decides to wait, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she doesn’t face the same inclinations.  Yes, for those who decide to wait the temptations are pretty much the same as anyone else experiences.  And, yes, sometimes it can be tough.

Nevertheless, although some people may consider it pointless or foolish, for those of us who are waiting for “the one”, there is this desire to tell him or her that I’ve waited all this time for you and you alone.  And, although it is less and less common and may not be all that realistic anymore, many of us hope that she will tell us that she waited for us too.

Complete

Complete by Kutless

Incomplete it all began
The broken state that I was in
I wished that I was someone else
‘Cause I was lost inside myself

I started seeing who I am
The day my life with you began
You clearly solved the mystery
That finding you meant finding me

God, I’m falling to my knees
I’m bowing at your feet
I give you all of me
In you I am complete

It’s all because of love
I’m not who I was
I’m who I meant to be
In you I am complete

God who doesn’t need at all
I heard your voice, I felt your call
Its echoing
I cannot shake you off

The stars that shine they bear your name
They sing the song that gives you praise
You’ve captured me
My heart is lifting off

God, I’m falling to my knees
I’m bowing at your feet
I give you all of me
In you I am complete

It’s all because of love
I’m not who I was
I’m who I meant to be
In you I am complete

I’ve got to tell the world
About the things you’ve done
I want to shout it out, I’m gonna live it now
Amazing grace is why I’m singing

God, I’m falling to my knees
I’m bowing at your feet
I give you all of me
In you I am complete

It’s all because of love
I’m not who I was
I’m who I meant to be
In you I am complete

Lessons From Senior English

IMG_0292I’d like to take a moment today to look back on a person who has been a positive influence in my life.   To do so, I need to rewind to my days at Harrisonburg High School.  I suppose high school is a turbulent time for many young adults.  It is an opportunity to cultivate new friendships, discover one’s interests, and ideally learn a lot both academically and about the world.

Unfortunately, my early days in high school weren’t all that positive.  Although I was very politically curious and opinionated at that time (and, for anyone who knows me, I still am), I often ran afoul of my freshman English teacher as she and I held diametrically opposing viewpoints.  Unfortunately, disagreements flared up often, both in and out of class, and my grades in that subject weren’t nearly as good as what I would have liked.  Given both the hostility and my results, I began to grow convinced of two things.  First, that I wasn’t particularly good at writing and second, it reinforced my beliefs that I should only associate with people who held my most important values.  As one example, in my sophomore English class, I openly declared that I only wanted to have friends who were conservative and Christian, like me.

Moving forward in time, my senior year I had an English teacher by the name of Mrs. Fielding.  I am grateful that she was both a positive and motivating instructor.  Sometimes, either after class or before, I would stay behind or show up early to speak with her on a variety of subjects.  And, during our talks, I discovered that she was a Catholic.  Although I’m sure that I had met a whole host of Catholics before, I believe that she was the first authority figure who identified as such.  However, my time growing up in the Presbyterian Church as well as one of my great uncles (also Presbyterian) had coloured my view of that faith.  As just a few examples, I was told that they prayed to Mary and the saints and venerated relics of the dead, both of which my church frowned upon and thus meant that they weren’t really Christian.  Nevertheless, because I found our conversations so interesting, I wanted them to continue.

At one point she told me a little of her time growing up, when she attended school and some of her classmates derided her as a pagan due to her religious beliefs.  She said “pagan” as if the word had cut her deeply.  Although I wasn’t a Catholic, I remember thinking that this bullying seemed dreadfully unfair.  I thought that assuming that she was as nice a person then as she was in the late 1990s, regardless of her religious convictions, she certainly didn’t deserve this kind of poor treatment.  How would I feel in her shoes?  Some years later, I began to wonder if I was being trained to be like her persecutors.

During the election season that year I skipped one day of senior English when then Virginia Governor George Allen and Attorney General Jim Gilmore came to campaign in downtown Harrisonburg.  I remember that my teacher wasn’t happy about me being absent, but it didn’t scuttle our relationship.

As such, as the year progressed, we continued speaking, often discussing my other favorite subject, politics.  No, it wasn’t part of the assigned reading for the class, but she suggested that I pick up a copy of The Prince.  It is a remarkably short book, but I read it many times and it planted a seed of interest in political philosophy that grew and has continued to the present day.  I count the works of Machiavelli, Hobbes, Cicero, Locke, and Rousseau as some of the most important tomes I have on my shelf.  In addition, I recall that she considered herself a Democrat.  However, unlike the previous Democrats I had run across, I believe that she was the first with whom I could hold civil conversations, even when we disagreed, and for that I was grateful.

Fortunately, as a result of my time in my senior year of English, I began to shed my strong aversion of Catholics and transitioned into no longer viewing them as the enemy, just as simply people with a differing religious perspective.  Beliefs taught early in life are tough to eliminate completely, but in the years that followed, I ended up supporting quite a few Catholic politicians such as:  former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Delegate Bob Marshall, and Delegate Mark Berg, as well as making some Catholic friends.  Yes, although we don’t share the exact same religious convictions, that distinction doesn’t make any of us bad people or worthy of scorn or abuse.

Looking back, perhaps I infused that life lesson into my most recent novel.  The first character you meet leads the reader to believe that the Catholics will be the main villain of the story, and although there are certainly some awful interactions between the Catholics and the Protestants, you hopefully realize that the true enemy is not the Catholics (or the Protestants) or even anyone else who believes what we might consider heresy, but instead hypocritical and immoral people who commit dreadful acts out of fear and in the lustful pursuit of power.  I didn’t begin crafting my first book until several years after college, but I’m sure that my time in senior English helped mend my writing confidence.

In early 2015 (or was it late 2014?), I’m pleased to say that I ran into Mrs. Fielding at one of the local grocery stores after many years away.  I gave her my contact information in the hopes she might have some suggestions of how I could publish one of my books.  Unfortunately, nothing emerged from our brief conversation. But, I still have dreams that something positive will come in the future.

I cannot say how many lives she improved through her class, but I know that I still appreciate everything I learned.  So, here’s to you, Mrs. Fielding.  Thank you!  I hope you have been enjoying your retirement!

Ben Carson’s Religion

Photo by Gage Skidmore
Photo by Gage Skidmore

Some polls have indicated that retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has opened up a lead in Iowa.  In related news, recently Donald Trump decided to attack Carson over his faith, highlighting that he is a Seventh Day Adventist and thus questioning if Seventh Day Adventists are actually Christians.

It is true that some people consider Seventh Day Adventists to be a cult and thus not “true” Christianity.  Part of this opinion stems from the early days of the church when William Miller incorrectly predicted the end of the world in 1844.  In addition, they have several doctrines, such as the keeping of the traditional Jewish Sabbath, that set them apart from other groups.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, declares that he is a Presbyterian.  However, church records indicate that his involvement with that group is limited.

These attacks are nothing new.  For example, in 2012, some people attacked Barack Obama for being a secret Muslim.  Others derided Mitt Romney for being a Mormon.  Given their unique theological beliefs, there are many who don’t consider the Latter Days Saints to be Christian.  One of my friends declared that it is “better to vote for a Mormon than a Muslim.”  However, that issue is a topic for another day.

Back in 1960, the same fears were voiced against Jack Kennedy, with worries that given he was a Catholic, he would be an agent of the Pope.  Switching to more local politicians, given the religious makeup of the 6th district of Virginia, I’m surprised that no one has made a campaign issue of Representative Bob Goodlatte’s faith, given that he is a Christian Scientist, which again some people think isn’t real Christianity.  Even Ben Carson recently weighed in on the subject of religion declaring that a Muslim should not be president.

Personally, I think these kind of attacks miss the point.  Last I checked, we are looking to elect a president, not a pastor or priest.  We are looking for someone to save our nation, not save our souls.  The government and the church aren’t directly tied together and I think it would be very problematic for our faith if the government decided to get any more involved in religious matters.  They have done enough damage already!  The simple truth is that we have a wide variety of religious beliefs in this country and if we all decided to elect politicians who shared our theological viewpoints it would be impossible.  And yet some people (typically those on the right side of the political spectrum) try to make this matter a central issue.

Yes, religious faith is an important part of a person’s character, but what church, synagogue, mosque, or temple he or she chooses to be a part of, if any, does not necessarily indicate the depth or quality of his or her faith.  After all, there are plenty of so-called Christians who don’t practice what they supposedly believe.  As the book of James says:

Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.  And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.  James 2:20-26 NLT

So, don’t simply judge anyone, whether he is a candidate for political office or not, based upon stated religious affiliation.  Remember that some practice what they believe while others don’t.  After all, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” Matthew 7:16 NLT.  A rosebush may look nice, but it is full of thorns and doesn’t provide much for useful consumption.

Therefore, instead of picking politicians based upon church membership, it is far better to ask yourself which of these candidates share my political views and which do I trust to honor his or her word.  Ben Carson is a Seventh Day Adventist.  Good for him.  But where does he stand on the issues that matter most to you and me?

Those Peculiar Anabaptists

While walking to church at RISE United Methodist Church this morning, I thought about yesterday’s events.  Walking often provides a good opportunity to reflect and I strongly encourage you to do so as well.  However, sometimes these walks can be unplanned, such as when you accidentally lock yourself out.  Anyway, as I thought about my visit to a Baptist church last night in Broadway, Virginia, to hear a gospel/bluegrass group, I realized that it had been quite a while since I last visited a Baptist church.  In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time that I had done so.

I thought back to my time in the church of my youth, which, at least for the moment, is part of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Specifically, I remembered the Book of Confessions, which, along with the Book of Order, governs the major theological and organizational structure of the denomination.  Many of you might think it odd that a rank and file member would read such a book, but I believe that knowledge is valuable and one should strive to learn something new everyday.  Anyway, as I recalled from reading that book a few years ago, the PCUSA didn’t have anything good to say about believer baptism and the Anabaptists.  Although scholars debate the extent of the influence, Baptists churches share some views and history with the Anabaptist movement.  And, there are direct successors to the Anabaptist movement, such as the Mennonites and the Amish.

anabaptistmartyr
One early “solution” to the Anabaptists

Once I got home, I found the Book of Confessions and looked up what was written about the Anabaptists.  You could hardly call the answer conciliatory.  For example, it includes the Second Helvetic Confession, which reads, “ANABAPTISTS.  We condemn the Anabaptists, who deny that new-born infants of the faithful are to be baptized.”  It goes on to add, “…we condemn also the Anabaptists in the rest of their peculiar doctrines which they hold contrary to the Word of God.  We therefore are not Anabaptists and have nothing in common with them.”

Think about that idea for a moment.  “We condemn…the Anabaptists…and have nothing in common with them.”  Aren’t both Presbyterians and Anabaptists part of the larger Christian community?  Don’t they both desire to promote the message and teachings of Jesus to the world?  And yet here we have the Presbyterians openly denouncing the Anabaptists, declaring that they have nothing in common.

However, you shouldn’t think that this one mention is some outlier of the disdain the Presbyterians have for the Anabaptists.  Similar thoughts also show up elsewhere in the Second Helvetic Confession as well as in The Scots Confession.

Now, to be fair, although I grew up in a Presbyterian Church, I agree with the Baptists and the Mennonites on the issue of infant baptism.  I think that each person should be allowed to make the decision for him or herself whether or not to be baptized.  Baptism, in my mind, is an outward demonstration to the community of a believer’s faith in Jesus Christ.  I admit that I am disappointed that I was baptized when I was a child and thus was not given the opportunity to make this decision for myself freely.

Yes, there are a wide variety of Christian denominations, each with varying beliefs on issues of baptism, communion, structure and leadership of the church, and a whole host of other theological and organizational issues.  On many matters the Bible is either silent or has been interpreted in different ways by a variety of church leaders.  That’s one reason why there are so many denominations in Christianity today.

However, the Anabaptists aren’t alone in earning the Presbyterians’ condemnation in the Book of Confessions.  Included as well are: The Roman Catholic Church, Epicureans, Manichaeans, Marcionites, Pelagians, Jovinians, Stoics, Navatianos, Catharists, not to mention both the Jews and the Muslims.

It should be noted that in the preface of the Book of Confessions, the PCUSA adds, “Specific statements in 16th and 17th century confessions and catechisms in the Book of Confessions contain condemnations or derogatory characterizations of the Roman Catholic Church.”  However, these “condemnations and characterizations of the Catholic Church are not the position of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and are not applicable to current relationships between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Catholic Church.”  Nevertheless, I can find no mention of any retraction of the harsh language against the Anabaptists, others who oppose infant baptism, or any of the other listed groups.

Through my studies I have come to reject most of the Reformed Tradition that underpins Presbyterian doctrine.  However, is it useful to wholesale condemn those “peculiar” Anabaptists, those incorrect Presbyterians, or any other denomination?  Although I attend a Methodist church, I disagree with them on the issue of baptism.  Nevertheless, aren’t we all brothers and sisters in the larger body of Christ even when our theology divides us?  How is it helpful to the larger ideals of Christianity to have Christians displaying such rancor toward each other?  Should we be teaching hate over issues that the average Christian probably doesn’t think much about?  And what purpose does it serve to condemn the Jewish or the Muslims?  Is it possible to engage in any sort of meaningful dialogue using such language?  Or is it the desire of some church leaders to keep us in open hostility with each other?  Couldn’t we instead simply state that we have major theological disagreements without all of the condemnation?  One of my best friends growing up was a Mennonite.  Should I have had nothing to do with him or those who share his beliefs as the doctrines of my former church taught?

I don’t know.  Maybe I feel this way just because I don’t neatly fit into a mold; my own beliefs are a rather curious amalgamation of the churches I’ve attended and explored including: Brethren, Presbyterian, Seventh Day Adventist, and now Methodist, but I’d rather speak with and learn from others, including my Mennonite and Baptist friends, rather than condemn them and declare that I “have nothing in common with them”.  After all, none of us is perfect nor should any of us declare that we alone hold absolute knowledge.  People learn, grow, and change, but that process is much more difficult in an environment of condemnation as opposed to one of communication.  Are we following Christ’s example when we either literally or figuratively burn each other at the stake?

Let me close with a few thoughts from the Apostle Paul.

I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other.  Let there be no divisions in the church.  Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.  For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your quarrels, my dear brothers and sisters.  Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.”  Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.”

Has Christ been divided into factions?  Was I, Paul, crucified for you?  Were any of you baptized in the name of Paul?  Of course not!

1 Corinthians 1:10-13 NLT

Blasphemy Day

blasphemy-unThis morning I learned that today is International Blasphemy Day.  According to Wikipedia, it is an annual tradition that began in 2009.  The date was set to coincide with the publishing of the cartoons of Muhammad by a Danish newspaper back in 2005.  As you may recall, the resulting violence led to hundreds of deaths.

Blasphemy laws still exist in a handful of Middle Eastern countries, European ones, and even in parts of the United States.  However, they aren’t really enforced in this country since the 1952 Supreme Court case which ruled these laws are a violation of free speech.

Personally I believe that every religion (or lack thereof) should be examined and questioned.  After all, there are a multitude of religions out there professing to be the correct path for salvation.  Given their competing and even contradictory claims, they can’t all be right.

When you come right down to it, it isn’t hard to say that most religions would be considered blasphemous to adherents of another.  There are Jews who consider Christians blasphemous for their beliefs and Muslims who similarly condemn Hindus.  And I’m sure we all have an atheist friend or two (or at least know of one) who thinks the whole matter of religion is just downright silly, who can’t understand why anyone would follow ancient texts or pray to some unseen deity.  These days we hear a lot about the barbarism of ISIS, how they butcher Christians, Muslims, and others who don’t adhere to their strict religious standards.

And what about the long struggle amongst differing denominations and sects?  The multitude of historical wars between the Catholics and Protestants as well as Shia and Sunni?  How much blood has been spilled, property confiscated, and liberty stolen as a result of these conflicts?  Each sought to impose their religion upon the unwilling masses, each punishing the other for what it perceives as blasphemy.

I’m sure that my fellow Christians will remember that even Jesus himself was condemned for blasphemy by the Jewish leaders of his day (example Mark 14:55-63) which ultimately led to his execution.  Although we believe it fulfilled God’s plan for humanity, can we declare the actions of the Jewish and Roman authorities just?

For those who support local, state, national, or even UN imposed blasphemy laws, what sort should we enact?  Should they be Christian?  Or Muslim?  Should they protect the image of Muhammad?  Jesus?  Moses?  The pope?  Or how about our head of state or other government officials?  Should we imprison or kill those who say that there is no god?  Or that there is but one god?  Or those who worship a million gods?  How about punishing those who work on the wrong day?  But what is that day?  Is Sunday?  Or Saturday?  Or perhaps some other day of the week?  Are you starting to see the problem?

Drawing on the picture at the beginning of this article, there are some people in this country who choose to believe in and even worship a man in a red suit who supposedly brings presents to good children on December 25th.  If another person declares that the man in red doesn’t exist, should that statement be considered blasphemous to his faithful devotees?

Delving further, when crafting anti-blasphemy laws, whose definition of blasphemy ought we use?  Should it be the will of the majority?  Do minorities have rights too?  What happens if the makeup of the country changes and some new religion becomes dominant?  Should this new group be allowed to impose its wishes upon those previously in power?  After all, such is the nature of a true and pure democracy, isn’t it?

Nevertheless, with all of these thoughts in mind, I have to say that I find it sad that we celebrate something called Blasphemy Day.  Just because we may or may not hold to the same religion as our neighbor, that doesn’t mean that we ought to delight in demeaning his or her beliefs.  There is nothing wrong with questioning religion, even our own, but outright mocking of a person for his or her faith is another matter.

One legitimate purpose of the state is the ability to allow me, you, or anyone else the freedom to practice (or not to practice) his or her own religious beliefs so long as doing so does not infringe upon our neighbors to do likewise.  Ideally, blasphemy laws have no place in a free society but neither does something called Blasphemy Day.  At least that is my $.02.

Debts or Trespasses

Image from Wikipedia by J-P M. Bongayon
Image from Wikipedia by J-P M. Bongayon

When it comes to the subject of public prayer, the one public prayer said most often by Christians has to be what has come to be known as The Lord’s Prayer.  A version of it can be found in both the Gospel of Matthew and that of Luke.

Many of us know it beginning as follows:

Our Father who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread…

The words that come next depend on the church.  Many add the line, “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  However, those who grew up in the Presbyterian tradition usually say “and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  As a result, during my travels as I visit Methodist Churches on behalf of my own church, I often find myself using the term “debts” as opposed to “trespasses”.  But why is there the difference?

According to Wikipedia, “As early as the third century, Origen of Alexandria used the word trespasses (παραπτώματα) in the prayer. Though the Latin form that was traditionally used in Western Europe has debita (debts), most English-speaking Christians (except Scottish Presbyterians and some others of the Reformed tradition), use trespasses.”

In my experience with my local Presbyterian Church, the topic of money seemed to come up a lot.  Therefore, using the word debts does make some sense.  However, it seems to me that using it in the Lord’s Prayer makes it sound like the most important issue is our financial relationships.  Yes, one can owe all sorts of debts not related to money.  Dictionary.com defines debt as “Theology. an offense requiring reparation; a sin; a trespass.”  However, the far more common understanding of the word is “something that is owed or that one is bound to pay to or perform for another.”  Therefore, I would argue that using the word debts in the Lord’s Prayer leaves us incomplete.

In the same way, trespasses doesn’t seem quite right either.  Much like debt, trespass can mean “to commit a transgression or offense; transgress; offend; sin.” but in common understanding I would assume most people these days consider trespass to be “a wrongful entry upon the lands of another”.  Although I strongly support property rights, I believe the Lord’s Prayer should encompass more.

If we are to use a different word than debt or trespass, what should we say?  Well, ideally we ought to follow the original text.  For example, the shorter version of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke uses the term sins.

Father, may your name be honored.

May your kingdom come soon.

Give us our food day by day.

And forgive us our sins-

just as we forgive those who have sinned against us.

And don’t let us yield to temptation. Luke 11:2-4 (NLT)

Although we are constantly encouraged to forgive those who wrong us, one potential pitfall with the use of this language is that it may lead some people to believe that they have the ability to forgive sins.  After all, if sinning is a transgression of divine law, who can absolve us of this transgression other than the lawgiver?

Jesus addresses this issue in the book of Mark:

Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My son, your sins are forgiven.

But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there said to themselves, “What?  This is blasphemy!  Who but God can forgive sins!”

Jesus knew what they were discussing among themselves, so he said to them, “Why do you think this is blasphemy?  Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or Get up, pick up your mat, and walk?”  Mark 2:5-9 (NLT)

Then Jesus adds this next important statement.

“I will prove that I, the Son of Man, have the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Mark 2:6 (NLT)

Without this authority, which is granted by God, a person does not have the power to absolve someone of his or her sins.  Later, in the Gospel of John, Jesus transfers this authority to his disciples.

Then he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven.  If you refuse to forgive them, they are unforgiven. John 20:22-23 (NLT)

Keeping this thought in mind, any of us can and should forgive those who have wronged us.  So long as we are mindful that we are able to forgive those who have sinned against us but not the sin itself, as it is written in Luke, I would argue that using the word “sin” in the Lord’s Prayer would be more appropriate than either “debts” or “trespasses”.

Just Because Life is Short…

Image from cnbc.com
Image from cnbc.com

Normally, when one hears about a website getting hacked and their data compromised, one cannot help but feel sorry for the company and their customers.  However, I can’t say as I have any sympathy of the news of the latest breech.

Ashley Madison is a company who specializes in martial infidelity and whose slogan is “life is short.  Have an affair”.  As you might imagine, many of the people who engage their services would like to keep their information private.  However, now some of the personal data for their 32 million users has been made public.

As one example, supposed “family values activist” Joshua Dugger apparently used Ashley Madison’s services earlier this year despite the fact that he was married at the time.  You do have to wonder.  Once the dust settles, how many more famous names will come to light?

Although I firmly support the right of individuals to be secure in his or her privacy, it is hard to feel bad for people who are or were actively cheating on a wife or on a husband.  In my mind, infidelity is one of the worst acts a person can do; it destroys a fundamental trust and erodes the family, a key unit of society.  Although it may seem like a good idea at the moment, ultimately it hurts the person who does it, it hurts the spouse, and, yes, it hurts the children too (if any).  As it is written in the Bible, “But the man who commits adultery is an utter fool, for he destroys himself.” Proverbs 6:32 (NLT).

It seems that as the posting of this article, the Ashley Madison website has been taken down, at least for the moment.  Nevertheless, given that they have been comprised once, it seems highly unlikely that future cheaters will employ their services due to a very real fear of getting caught.  As Trish McDermott said, Ashley Madison is a “business built on the back of broken hearts, ruined marriages, and damaged families.”

Although I have never been married nor have committed adultery, let me offer a bit of advice; just because life can be short, do not fall for the temptation of having an affair for it could very well ruin your spouse, your family, your morals, your reputation, and yourself.

Forced to Attend Church?

Image from http://azcapitoltimes.com
Arizona State Senator Sylvia Allen. Image from http://azcapitoltimes.com

It seems that several months ago, a state senator from Arizona suggested that their legislative body “should be debating a bill requiring every American to attend a church of their choice on Sunday”.  The legislator in question is Senator Sylvia Allen from the 6th district, who also serves as the president pro tempore of that body.

Here is a clip of her statement:

Although I can certainly appreciate the worrisome decline of morals in the nation, I have to confess that what Senator Allen is suggesting is particularly troubling.  One of the great aspects of our country is the freedom to choose one’s religion.  In the history of the world, the ability to decide your own religion is a rather new phenomenon; often times the state would force a person to belong to a certain religious group and mandate that a portion of one’s wealth must be given to a particular faith.  Refusal to do so could result in expulsions, fines, imprisonment, and even execution.

For the last two and a half years, I have been regularly attending a Methodist church in Harrisonburg.  However, my attendance is a result of my choice and no one has compelled me to do otherwise.  Although someone ashamed to admit, several months ago I accidentally missed a service due to unexpected fatigue.  Does Senator Allen think that it would be proper for the state government to be alerted of my absence?  I should hope not!

If you read her Wikipedia page, you’ll discover that Senator Sylvia Allen is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a church that has historically engaged in a variety of disputes (some deadly) with local governments, state governments, and even the federal government.  In the 1800s, many people in power considered the Mormon faith to be against the teachings of traditional Christianity and therefore suggested that the government ought to take an active role in snuffing it out.  One does wonder if Ms. Allen is aware of the history of her church and, if she is, how could she even joke of such legislation?

In addition to those attend church on Sunday, there are other Christians, such as the 7th Day Adventists, who hold Saturday as the Sabbath.  Should they be required to worship on Sunday instead?  How about the Jews, or the Muslims, or the variety of other religious groups that form our nation?  Should we force them to attend Sunday service?  Or what about the atheists, the agnostics, and those who simply choose not to go to church on Sunday for whatever reason?  Is it better for the government to strip away freewill in order to achieve the supposed greater good of a moral rebirth in this country?

In all honesty, I can’t say that I know too much about Senator Allen other than what I’ve read in conjunction with news of this story.  However, I would strongly oppose any attempt to force a person to attend any religious service.  Yes, you are welcome to visit my church sometime, but, if you choose not to, I have no plans to run to the authorities to compel your presence.  No one should have such a power and if Senator Allen thinks otherwise then the people of Arizona ought to replace her with someone who has at least some vague understanding of the meaning of liberty.

Thanks to Sherry Huffman from bringing this issue to my attention.