Thursday, July 9, 2009

The BOOK

I do not know where the following originated, but it's worth repeating. Even better, it's worth following!

The Bible contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions immutable.

Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword and the Christian’s charter. Christ is its subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end.

It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is given to you in life, will be open in the judgment, and be remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility, rewards the greatest labor, and condemns all who trifle with its holy precepts. It tells of grace and mercy for the believer, and justice and wrath for those who do not believe.

Friday, July 3, 2009

God Bless America!!

Blog administrator's note: the following post was written by - Darrell W. Sparks- who is my former pastor, but who will always be my mentor and friend.

July 4th has been called America's Birthday. Thus, it is a day of celebration. Today, we celebrate our Independence from a tyrannical government and our freedom purchased by the blood of patriots in the trenches of Europe, on the beaches of Normandy, in the rice patties of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam, or in the desert sands of Kuwait and Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in places like Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, Marne, Omaha Beach, Iwo Gima, Inchon and Khe Sanh.

I, personally, cannot see the flag waving in the breeze, I cannot hear the chords of the Star-Spangled Banner, I cannot see a man or woman in uniform, without feeling a little choked with the pride of patriotism, choked with a deep sense of history, my own family history. My father's family were early settlers in America, coming here from England as indentured servants in the 1700's. About a hundred years later, my mother's people immigrated to America from Holland. My ancestors came to America pursuing the promise of opportunity for common, working class, poor people. My family loves America and fought to defend this land of the free - three of my uncles in WWII in Europe and North Africa, in the Pacific, my father in Korea, three of my cousins in Vietnam where two of them were killed in action, another cousin in Desert Storm. I love America.

America has been good to me. Her fertile farmlands have feed me. Not one day in my life have I known hunger.

America has been good to me. Her gleaming cities, with their factories and businesses to offer employment and opportunity, have clothed and sheltered me and prospered me.

America has been good to me. Her matchless Constitution has preserved my freedom to think and to speak and to worship according to the dictates of my conscience.

America has been good to me. The halls of her legislatures, the courtrooms, the policemen and firemen have protected me and provided me a safe place to grow up and now to raise my children. I pillow my head at night without fear.

America has been good to me. Her hospitals have healed me and mine, her schools have taught me, her churches have changed my life. America has been good to me.

It is not like that everywhere in the world. There are places on the planet where one's next meal is not to be taken for granted. There are places on this planet where there are no jobs, and no real possibility for prosperity. There are places on this planet where speaking and worshipping God freely cannot take place. There are places on this planet where I would not be safe, where I would not want to raise my children, where a good doctor or a clean hospital does not exist, places where kids are not taught to read, places where churches are not welcome. I truly can thank God for America.

I can genuinely say that God has blessed America. In fact, God promises to bless that nation whose God is the Lord. The Bible says in Psalm 33:12, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD."

The blessings that I enjoy today are largely the residual effects of this nation's history; a nation where indeed the Lord was God.

History proves the place that God held in America. M. E. Bradford wrote in A Worthy Company that 52 of the 55 Founding Fathers who worked on the Constitution were "orthodox, fundamental, Bible-believing Christians." Some of these men wrote gospel tracts, served on the Board of the American Tract Society and the American Bible Society.

Patrick Henry was famous for his words, "Give me liberty or give me death." But he also said, "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians, not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ."

John Quincy Adams said, "The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity."

John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court and of the three men most responsible for our Constitution said, "Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers."

Thomas Jefferson said, "The reason that Christianity is the best religion is because it is the only religion that deals with the heart."

America has been blessed because the Lord was her God.

But is that still true? Can we still say that America has a bond between principles of civil government and principles of Christianity? When was the last time that you heard the Supreme Court say that it was our duty to elect Christians as our leaders?

Now, as a nation, we have embraced the belief that it is somehow harmful to have prayer or the Ten Commandments or Bible reading in the public arena. Now, as a nation, we have embraced the belief that human life is not sacred and every year over a million babies are murdered in their mother's womb. Now, as a nation, we have embraced the belief that homosexuality is just an alternative lifestyle. Now, as a nation, we have embraced the belief that pornographic images are protected as free speech. Proverbs 14:34, "Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people."

It hurts me to say it, but I have to conclude that the Lord is no longer God in America. He has been replaced with other gods. Men are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:4). For example, former NFL Football Coach George Allen's daughter wrote this about her father, "Football was his religion, the field was his church. the stadium was his altar." Or, as a Rock musician said on an NPR interview that I heard, "More and more people don't go to church, man. They just listen to music. Music is like their god."

I am reminded of Jeremiah 2:7, 11
"And I brought you into a plentiful country, to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof; but when ye entered, ye defiled my land, and made mine heritage an abomination... Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit."
As a nation, we have changed gods - from the Lord to ourselves – to pleasure and money.

Blessed be the nation whose God is the Lord. But will we be blessed when our God is no longer the Lord? No.

As the words of Thomas Jefferson recorded on the Jefferson Memorial read, "Indeed, I tremble for my country, when I reflect that God is just and that His justice cannot sleep forever."

In fact, we are already beginning to see the harvest of forsaking the Lord, the fountain of living waters and substituting it with broken cisterns which can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13).

But you say, "America is #1!" You are right! America is #1. #1 in violent crime each year, #1 in the divorce rate, #1 in the western world in teenage pregnancy, #1 in voluntary abortions, #1 in illegal drug use, #1 in western civilization in illiteracy. We are watching the collapse of our culture.

What can we do? What can Christians do? What is our Biblical responsibility toward our nation?

Yes, we want God to heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:14). We want God to use us as instruments of healing a hemorrhaging nation, whose life is bleeding away. But what can we do?

I am convinced that many, if not most, of those things being suggested as ways to heal our land amount to treating the symptoms instead of the illness. What is the heart of the problem? The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. America's biggest problem is a spiritual problem. We have forsaken the Lord.

It starts with our own hearts. As Christians, we enjoyed a time when this was a Christian nation. That is not to say that every person in America was a follower of Jesus Christ, but it does mean that there was a time historically when we had a Christian conscience, when Christian values and morals and ethics permeated the culture.

That time has past and America is no longer a Christian nation. But Christians can still be followers of Jesus Christ in a pagan society. In fact, Christianity flourished in the first century pagan culture of the Roman Empire.

God's people must be the people of God! With all our hearts we need to serve the Lord as our God and obey His inspired Word. The Scripture tell us how to live as Christians in a hostile, pagan society. We are commanded to submit to civil authority (1 Peter 2), commanded to speak evil of no man (that includes Presidents with whom we disagree) (Titus 3:2), commanded to pray for all who are in authority (I Timothy 2), to desire a quiet and peaceable life, commanded to pay taxes (Matthew 22). In essence, Christians should be model, law-abiding citizens, setting an example of goodness and godliness to our culture.

It must begin with God's people. 2 Chronicles 7:14, "If my people, who are called by name shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land."

A spiritual revival that will heal our land must begin with the people of God. The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart of the people of God. There is a spiritual lukewarmness in much of what we call Christianity. To use an old word, many Christians are backslidden, complacent about their walk with the Lord with misplaced priorities - loving and pursuing the things of this world more than the things of God. We need to rededicate ourselves to serving God, to center our lives in the things of God. It is not enough for God to be part of our lives. He must be the center of our lives. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.

It must begin with us. The main problem is not what is happening in the White House, not what is happening in the Court House, not what is happening in the statehouse, not what is happening the school house; it is what is happening in your house!

We need to make a commitment like that of Joshua. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Yes, it's true. America has a moral problem. I'm here to say that our morals will not and cannot be changed from the outside in. It has to happen from the inside out. The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. How do we change a man's heart? How do we capture the hearts of our children, the young people of this nation?

It can only happen by winning that heart to Christ. The method, the only method that will work, is not political, not legislative, not judicial, not psychological, not social, and not an educational. The weapons of our warfare are spiritual. The way to best change a man from a murderer or thief or racist or an abusive person or a sexual pervert or a drunk is to win that man to Jesus Christ. That's what happened to Paul. He hated Christians and helped have them arrested and killed until the day he met Jesus Christ. His life was changed. That's what Jesus does. He changes lives. He changed Paul's life. He changed my life. He will change your life.

That is the cause for which this church exists. We exist to teach and encourage followers of Jesus Christ to worship and serve the Lord as their only God and to introduce others to Christ and share the good news that because of what Christ did on a cross, your sins can be forgiven, you can have assurance of heaven. Your life can be changed if you will worship the Lord as your God.

Today, I boldly call upon the people of God to rededicate themselves to serving the Lord.

Today, I passionately invite those who are not followers of Jesus Christ, to give their lives and hearts to Him and watch how He changes you.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Separation of Church and State

“The Constitution of the United States of America forbids the government from mixing with religion,” the young free-thinker said to his Ethics teacher. The High school class was on a field trip to Washington D.C. and had witnessed the legislature open the day’s activities with a prayer delivered by a local clergyman. The young man was incredulous, “How can there be separation of church and state when the Congress opens each session with prayer?”

Another young man in the group, a zealous Christian, and equally as outspoken as his humanist classmate interjected, “There is no separation of church and state. After all, witnesses in a trial swear an oath on a Bible and with a ‘So help me God.’ Our money blatantly states ‘In God We Trust’, and when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court swears in the newly elected President he uses a Bible. Even the Declaration of Independence frequently mentions the ‘Creator’ and ‘God’; plus you just heard the legislative branch of the United States government begin with prayer. So how can you contend that there is supposed to be this separation of church and state?”

Of course the quid pro quo response to such impassioned discussions is, “read the first amendment.” One cannot find the words “separation of church and state” in the first amendment or in any other part of the Constitution. The principle of government not mandating and operating religious organizations and the concept of religion being separate from the government is implied in the first amendment. The separation of church and state debate has raged on for at least half of a century.

In the early 1960s three suits were heard by the United States Supreme Court which set the current policy of no public prayer or Bible reading in public schools. Those cases were the 1962 case of Engle v Vitale. In this case a parent from New Hyde Park Long Island sued the local school district, and her argument stated that a prayer which was written by the New York State Board of Regents and recited every morning, on a voluntary basis, violated the first amendment. The school district argued that the prayer was non-denominational in nature and thereby did not breach the establishment clause. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the parent; prayer in schools was now considered unconstitutional.

In the following year of 1963 the Supreme Court combined two similar cases: Murray v Curlett and Abington v Schempp. In the later case the Schempp family had sued the Abington school district for being in violation of the first amendment on the grounds of the then Pennsylvania law that required ten Bible verses being read aloud at the start of each day. The Court ruled that the mandatory reading resulted in religious instruction and was in violation of the first amendment. The former case was sensational not because of the subject matter, which was prayer in school, but because of the principle player: Madalyn Murray who was an avowed atheist and insisted on her atheistic philosophy being included in the opening brief of her legal challenge. As a result of these three cases compulsory prayer and Bible reading in public school classrooms has been classified as unconstitutional.

Sadly, proponents and opponents of this matter are so polarized that intelligent debate is nigh unto impossible. Those who favor prayer in public institutions often cite the exact same sources as those who passionately fight against prayer in public places; both sides of this debate champion the names and writings of Jefferson, Madison, Paine, and Washington.

The words “separation of church and state” have been rehearsed ad infinitum, and the tired phrase has been misquoted and misrepresented to the point that many people actually believe those words to be written in the Constitution. It does not, however, appear in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, or even any of the minutes from the Constitutional Conventions. Still, as one Supreme Court justice rightly predicted in 1958, the phrase separation of church and state has been so misused that it is believed to be written in the aforementioned documents.

The Constitution prohibits the government from establishing, regulating, recognizing, or requiring any religious system or denomination. But as Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcey write in How Now Shall We Live,
“Institutional separation does not mean that religious truth must never influence public policy…which is where the Christian concept of separation of church and state differs from the liberal conception.”
The Christian heritage of the United States of America is undeniable. Even a cursory study of America’s past will show that a majority of Americans shared a common faith and ethic. Most of America’s earliest founders were self-professing Christians and their documents expressed a belief in a Christian worldview. Fifty-two of the fifty-five delegates to Constitutional Convention professed to be Bible believing Christians. And I'll join the long line of Christians who favorably quote Democracy in America, the famous two-volume work of Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville,
“there is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America; and there can be no greater proof of its utility, and of its conformity to human nature, than that its influence is most powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.”
The voluminous quotes of the Constitution’s framers and signers are well documented, yet the following quote from a letter written by John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, two collaborators of the Declaration of Independence, will be sufficient:
“The general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence…were the general principles of Christianity.”
The United States was most definitely a Christian country in origin; however a state sanctioned religion is not beneficial for the country.

In this nation’s genesis the overwhelming majority of people were of English Protestant ancestry, except for thousands of slaves which were brought to the colonies. In the late 1700s and even into the mid 1800s there were few Catholics, Jews, or atheists in America. Yet, even in the face of that national sameness James Madison and the other Constitutional framers had the sense and the foresight to include Article VI of the Constitution that concludes with these words,
“No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
With this bold stroke, the framers broke the European tradition and opened public office in the national government to people of all faiths or none. And Article I of the Bill of Rights states,
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
Taken together, these two clauses safeguard religious liberty by protecting religions and religious convictions from governmental control, regulation, and interference. They ensure that religious belief, or no belief, remains voluntary and free from government coercion. The citizens of the budding United States did not want repeated in America what they had fled from in Europe: a state run church as in England, or a church-dominated government as in most Catholic states.

The Great Awakenings of the eighteenth century evoked a deeply personal and emotional response in many Americans. The evangelical fervor of the Awakenings cut across denominational lines and undercut support of state established and state operated churches. Religion was seen by many as a matter of free choice and churches as places of self-government. Thus, was written at the very head of the Bill of Rights, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The first amendment clearly states the government’s support of religious liberty and its neutrality towards religion. The government shall neither support nor prohibit religion. The separation of church and state has worked. The nation has flourished without an official religion, and the church has flourished without the official support of the government.

That misunderstood phrase “separation of church and state” was coined by then President Jefferson in a personal correspondence with concerned Baptists from Danbury, Connecticut who were alarmed about rumors of a national denomination. In that letter, Jefferson assured the Baptists that “[the first amendment has erected] a wall of separation between church and state”. One must keep in mind that Jefferson was serving as U.S. Minister to France and he was neither a signer of the Constitution or an attendee of the Constitutional Convention. Jefferson was simply reassuring this Baptist organization that the government would not interfere with their religion.

The modern concern for the separation of church and state is vastly different from the Danbury Baptists’ concern. Humanists and atheists are disturbed by the presence of anything Christian in government. When former President Bush called the nation to prayer, or when he thanked those who had prayed for him, the separation of church and state drum was beaten with a zealous (one might say religious) ferocity. When Major League Baseball played “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch of baseball games following the 9/11 attacks (a practice still followed to a certain degree), atheists and humanists bristled.

The atheist and humanist groups have twisted the intent of the first amendment. If the President, or any government official, stood up and declared America a Protestant nation, Baptist nation, or use any such religious identifier, the clamor for separation of church and state would be valid. But why should an elected official be forced to keep his faith private?

The framers of the Constitution never intended to disconnect government from God or prohibit a Christian influence on national policy; at least that had been the consensus until the early 1960s. The first amendment does prohibit the government from establishing a specific state run denomination, and does prevent national and state governments from interfering with religious activities and organizations. The church and state should be separate, but this does not mean that Christian principles are to be exempt from public discourse.