Category: Faith

2016 Presidential Election: Step toward radicalized America?

2016 Presidential Election
The 2016 Presidential Election could bring about a more radicalized version of America completely foreign to what the Founding Fathers had envisioned.

My wife and I have a baby boy named Everett. He turns six months old today.

Perhaps it is fitting that today is also America’s 2016 Presidential Election Day.

Everett is pure and innocent, unscathed and unafflicted by the evil and corruption in this world. He’s a happy boy who is enjoying the sights and sounds of his surroundings. The biggest problem in his young life is when he wakes up hungry and we can’t get a bottle in his mouth quick enough. Or, when his Baby First TV show goes to a commercial break and he has to sit through a barrage of advertisements featuring humans instead of two-dimensional cartoon characters.

Annoyance with commercials is an ageless feeling, I guess.

When we look into his eyes, just like any parent does their child, we see a dependent little being who is going to rely on us for all his needs for nearly two decades before he develops the tools to take care of himself.

At the moment, he is a piece of unmolded clay waiting to be shaped and sculpted. He’s a sheet of blank white canvas paper ready for someone to fill in with detail. Or, more appropriately, he is a sponge who will be soaking in everything his five little senses can absorb, answering questions along the way such as: “Who am I? Where am I? And what the heck am I doing here?”

This is why, as Americans head to the polls today to elect the 45th President of the United States, I’m on the edge of my seat with anxiety as we await which candidate will be leading the country during Everett’s first four complete years in this world.

I’ve heard candidates for more than 20 years use the rhetorical question, “What kind of country will we be leaving our children?” To me, this never resonated because I haven’t been a parent until this current election cycle. I’ve always shrugged off that question and figured I’d let everyone else worry about that. I wanted America fixed right now.

But it takes being a parent to understand exactly what that means. As a parent, you want the best for your child and you never want to see them go through pain and suffering. More than that, you want to see them succeed and have a better life than you had because it brings great joy to see them thrive.

This is why I am nervous for Everett. I’m not so sure he will be left with a better America than the one his parents or grandparents have had.

The national debt is mounting, as our government borrows and spends money as if it were Monopoly currency. Gun violence seems to be ever-growing and spreading like wildfire. Police officers are under attack and criticized for their handling of a very difficult job, trying to maintain law and order so our society doesn’t dissolve into chaos. Terrorism is alive and (not) well, spreading across international borders and hitting first-world countries. Taxes keep rising and affect our cost of living. Health care costs are through the roof. There’s less spending cash in Americans’ pockets, smaller savings accounts, and weaker and bleaker retirement living.

“…and I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”

What a disaster this election cycle has become. I am disappointed in Republicans and Democrats alike for the two candidates that they nominated. And for two candidates who have such high unfavorability ratings — even within their own parties! — I am just shocked by the “voice of the people” and how we got to where we are today.

I’m not a historian, but this country couldn’t possibly have been any more divided than it is today — this side of the Civil War.

One side of the aisle wants to preserve the Constitution as it was originally intended. The other side wants to rip it up and start from scratch. I’m a firm believer in the Constitution, what it stands for, and what the Founding Fathers had envisioned for this country, but surely there is a common middle ground somewhere.

Certainly we understand as a society that times change and civilizations evolve but basic human rights, morals, and principles are timeless.

What frightens me most of all for Everett and all his future generational brothers and sisters is that this country is growing more apathetic toward religion and faith. By no coincidence at all, I feel our country’s moral standards have gotten weaker and almost non-existent.

Sure, our society is trying to shape up the conversation into one word: tolerance. And as it pertains to disagreements in opinions, personalities and preferences, tolerance is a wonderful thing. But tolerance doesn’t mean we automatically agree with everyone’s demand to do anything they want all the time.

As it pertains to faith and tolerance, our government seems to be more concerned with protecting one’s right not to practice a religion, but has little interest in protecting one’s right to promote it.

Take religious holidays for example.

Our society has an incessant drive to call Christmas trees “Holiday trees” because we don’t want to offend non-Christians. We also can’t say “Merry Christmas” to people because it’s more “politically correct” to say “Happy Holidays” — we might offend a non-Christian otherwise. Or what about certain schools across the country that give students the Friday before Easter off, but they don’t call it “Good Friday” because that apparently offends non-Christians. Instead, they call it a “day of non-attendance.”

If our First Amendment gives Americans the right not to practice faith, it sure as heck gives us the right to practice it. But if we get scorned and rebuked for openly expressing our faith, that’s not exactly promoting religious liberty and “tolerance”, is it?

Religious liberty is certainly being persecuted in this country and is being devalued and belittled in comparison to other forms of civil liberties.

It’s been said that the next President of the United States could appoint up to four Supreme Court Justices, which means the balance of power in the Court could shift dramatically and change the ideals and principles of this country for the rest of my lifetime, as well as a large chunk of Everett’s and other babies and kids in his generation.

I fear where our country is headed and how dramatically different the country might look. For those of us who are believers in Christ, we may be facing an uphill battle to practice and preach our faith in the face of mounting scorn, ridicule and persecution. (Yes, we live in a more civil world where the persecution we face is nothing like what Christians in the first century faced. But, it’s persecution nonetheless).

In addition to the struggle for religious liberty, I also fear the breakdown of law and order in this country as well as rising societal discord and growing disobedience.

The amount of young Americans who “play by their own rules”, fail to exhibit common courtesy, want something for nothing, lack accountability and responsibility, and who are willing to step over their own neighbor to get their hands on whatever they desire, is growing at an alarming rate.

We as parents have a duty to raise our children to be good, moral, upstanding citizens. To have respect for one another and learn to be selfless beings.

That is going to be a very difficult task for current and future parents, but a challenge I’m willing to rise to nonetheless.

Let’s just see how difficult that figures to be when election results are tallied by the end of the night.

Corrected vision can come from Jesus

The weak in sight can see more clearly than those whose eyes are clouded by the dust of the world.

Ryan Glab (10.16.15)

Think back to a time when you encountered someone with the thickest glasses you had ever seen.

Maybe it was a random stranger in the grocery store. Maybe it was a grandparent or other elderly relative. Or, maybe it’s you, as you push the bridge of your glasses back up to the top of your nose as your read this sentence.

Now imagine being lost in a desert in the middle of a sandstorm with hurricane-strength winds, where every grain of sand represents a sin, or an otherwise unbecoming behavior perpetrated by one of God’s children.

Which person in the two aforementioned examples do you think can see better?

We may be born with weaknesses and defects. Some of us may have better eyesight than others. But, unless we are born blind, we have means of correcting our vision.

On the other hand, if we traverse too far out and associate ourselves with the sinful ways of the world, we become blind to what is around us, wandering around lost and confused with no sense of direction.

We’ll always be sinners, but we have ways of improving our sight by avoiding the sinful desert and letting Jesus show us the way.

Tim Tebow surprises cancer patient

There are many in the football community who don’t like him, but I’m one of Tim Tebow’s biggest fans.

My assumption is that those who do not like Tebow are disgruntled about all the media attention he gets. And it’s true, he receives an abundance of attention for a quarterback who just can’t keep a job in the NFL.

With that said, I wouldn’t mind him getting more attention for the kind of person he is and, more specifically, for his strong Christian faith.

That could also be a reason why he has a lot of detractors.

For you see, every time Tebow approached the lectern for a post-game press conference during his playing days, he began his comments with: “I just want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” For Tebow knows, like all Christians do, that we are nothing without God’s blessings, and we are condemned to eternal death if not for Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross.

But in today’s world, I guess we aren’t allowed to offer a thank you without it offending someone.

Another gesture that probably rubbed people the wrong way is that Tebow frequently prayed before, after and even during games. Apparently the sight of a man humbling himself, dropping to his knee, and communicating with his heavenly father is such an offense to others as well.

Tebow has an incredible backstory and an ongoing legacy of serving those less fortunate than him and spreading the word of God. You can read more about his life on his Wikipedia page.

Here’s just one example of the kind of impact he has on others. This video is so touching.

Woman sacrifices life trying to save others

Would you risk your own life to save a stranger’s? It’s a deep thought and one I’m not sure is made so easily. But this heroic young woman did just that and wound up giving her life trying to save others. What a sad story, but an uplifting one as well.

“She had a heart of gold. She would do anything for you. She would try to help anybody that needed help,” said Betty Smith, Jessica’s grandmother. “What she was doing wasn’t stupid or careless. She was trying to help somebody else, to maybe save another life and ended up losing her own.”

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15:13 (NIV)

God cares about what his children care about

There’s been an ongoing feud between Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers since last year’s NFC Championship game, and it has to do with God.

Rewind to last January when the Seahawks defeated the Packers, Wilson told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King: “That’s God setting it up, to make it so dramatic, so rewarding, so special. I’ve been through a lot in life, and had some ups and downs. It’s what’s led me to this day.”

Rodgers responded to that quote by saying: “I don’t think God cares a whole lot about the outcome. He cares about the people involved, but I don’t think he’s a big football fan.”

Rodgers does have faith, though, as he said this before Super Bowl XLV media day: “I just try to follow Jesus’ example, leading by example.”

So, does God truly care about football? Does he have anything to do with the outcome in games every Sunday?

Here’s where I stand on this issue:

I agree with Rodgers in that God doesn’t care about the outcome of a particular game because he loves all his children and isn’t a “fan” of one team more than another. However, for those who might claim that God doesn’t care about football at all, I tend to disagree.

God cares about what his children care about, as long as it isn’t idolatry. If his children place a greater emphasis on football than on him — for example, if they choose to skip church on Sunday and stay home and watch pregame coverage — that doesn’t sit well with him. Football will become a form of idolatry if it is held in higher esteem than God is, and I do believe we have a problem with sports as idolatry in this country.

However, if a Christ-loving man succeeds in his occupation and is happy about it, God will rejoice in his happiness as well. And to me, I believe Wilson is crediting God for blessing him with talent and good character and he is thanking God for those blessings and gifts. God puts us in situations that test our character and resolve. We go through trials and tribulations in all forms and we grow and develop from them.

It seems silly to think God would care about something like football. But if he is front and center in our life, it’s not wrong to think he takes joy in our pleasures, especially if we preach his goodness in those times, something players like Wilson and Tim Tebow do.

Pope visits U.S.; hopefully has strong views on U.S. policy

Pope Francis is visiting the United States for the first time on Tuesday, and his presence surely will draw attention from all walks of life in this country.

The Catholics and other Christ followers will surely flock to hear what he has to say while nonbelievers and stout supporters of the separation of church and state will be wary, skeptical or downright dismissive of the pontiff’s visit.

As a Christ follower myself, and one who is disturbed — to say the least — by the direction of the country and in its out-of-whack list of priorities, I’m very curious to hear what message he has to deliver to not only our government but our citizens as well.

I would hope he addresses the wealth in our country and the responsibility that comes with it. We have more poverty in this country than a nation of this prosperity should ever have. I would also think he might discuss abortion and the right to life for all unborn babies, the sanctity of marriage, and religious freedom in general.

Religious freedom is not freedom to persecute religion

I read an article in the Washington Post about a growing trend in Illinois, Kentucky, and North Carolina, among other places, where bumper stickers featuring the motto, “In God We Trust,” are being placed on vehicles driven by police officers and firefighters.

This phrase, of course, was adopted as the official motto of the United States in 1956 and can be found on our currency.

Unsurprisingly, the fact that these stickers have found their way on to such highly visible vehicles has led to an outcry from those who don’t believe in God and want nothing to do with religion.

“I’m not hiding from the fact that it’s religious,” Bay County, Florida, Sheriff Frank McKeithen told The Post. “Morals and ethics — that’s kind of what law enforcement’s supposed to be about.”

Given what has happened in many cities across the country in recent weeks and months regarding suspected police brutality, McKeithen said there are negative vibes surrounding police officers and he wanted to paint his men in a different, more positive light.

“We want to be proud and we want people to be proud of us, and we know we’re better than how people portray us,” McKeithen said.

As a Christian man, I couldn’t be more happy with the gesture. It seems like religion — especially Christianity — is on the decline in this country and Christians are being persecuted for practicing their beliefs.

We have a growing problem in this country, and it begins with everybody being so offended by what others think, feel, and do. And rather than practice tolerance, people feel it’s worth their time and effort to fight everyone and everything until they get their way.

I’ve always said that freedom is a slippery slope. We deserve — and have — basic freedoms, but the hunger and thirst for more freedom is never quite satisfied, as people will fight for every single right they can, down to a single, minute detail.

And when one person fights for an intricate right for himself, it sometimes takes away a right from someone else.

Allow me to clarify.

The biggest “conflicting rights” issue is abortion, of course, where some women want the right to abort a pregnancy, thus denying the right for that baby to have life. But abortion is a much bigger topic for a different day.

In the case of religion, nonbelievers don’t want the word “God” anywhere — at least anywhere that they might see or hear it. Thus, if it were to be removed from our national vocabulary, we are then persecuting those who do believe in God, and preventing them the right to preach their faith.

Another example that has bothered me for years is the separation of church and state in public schools. In an ever-growing attempt at keeping faith out of schools and doing the politically correct thing to please as many people as possible, schools have been removing words that might offend nonbelievers. One such case is the removal of the phrase “Good Friday.” Many school children all over the country have no classes on the Friday before Easter, but a lot of these schools refer to the day as, “a day of nonattendance,” so as not to offend the non-Christians.

Educate me, please. What is so offensive to a person of a different religion about receiving a day off school or work for some other faith’s holiday? When I was in school, I enjoyed every single day off I could get. Heck, growing up in Illinois, we got Casimir Pulaski Day off on the first Monday of every March — and I didn’t even have the slightest clue who that guy was. Would I have cared if the school gave us days off for Yom Kippur or Ramadan? Heck no! And I sincerely doubt that many — if any — schoolchildren these days would be “offended” if they got a day off from school for a Christian holiday. I guarantee that’s coming straight from the parents who are doing whatever they can to keep their children from being exposed to a religion that preaches love and fellowship — how awful that must be to impressionable children!

Why are we not allowed to say “Merry Christmas” in December? Why do we have to refer to Christmas trees as “Holiday trees?” Why do we have to say something like “Gesundheit” to someone who just sneezed instead of “God bless you?”

The level of offense and sensitivity that the secular public takes to these gestures — all of which are delivered with goodwill, mind you — is just baffling and, frankly, quite troubling.

What nonbelievers or atheists do not understand is that the freedoms granted to them by our founding fathers do not allow them to persecute and prevent believers from practicing their faith. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The First Amendment gives us the right to practice our religion free from persecution.

So, while atheists have every right not to practice a religion, doing something to hinder others from practicing their faith is not okay.

You cannot set a double standard. You cannot fight for one freedom if it takes away freedom for someone else — well, you can. But then you’re just selfish and inconsiderate.

If you don’t want to say “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, don’t. But don’t get in the way of others who choose to.

If you don’t want to put an “In God We Trust” bumper sticker on your car, nobody is forcing you. But don’t put up a fuss if someone else puts one on his car.

If you don’t want to say “God bless you” when someone else sneezes, fine. But don’t get offended when someone else wishes you well and says it to you.

The list of modern day persecution goes on and on, but the bottom line is this: Nobody is forcing you to declare your allegiance to God if you don’t want to … so don’t try to prevent others who do want to.

He lives, I live

It’s Easter Sunday, the most important holiday of the Christian faith, for Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to give all Christians hope for eternal life.

Without the resurrection, where would we be? We’d be wandering the earth aimlessly without any real purpose or meaning. We’d be specks of dust that blow away and are soon forgotten. But with Christ’s sacrifice and God’s love for all his children individually, we live a life full of meaning, one that is a temporal period of time on this planet but eternal when our time is called.

What a joyous Easter Sunday this has been, spending the morning worshipping at church and then splitting time with both my fiancée’s family as well as mine. And all throughout the day I couldn’t help but replay in my mind the lyrics of the Matt Maher song, “Because He Lives”:

I was dead in the grave
I was covered in sin and shame
I heard mercy call my name
He rolled the stone away
Amen, Amen
I’m alive, I’m alive
Because He lives

Matt Maher, “Because He Lives”

My sins, my nails, my cross

I had never before heard the sound of a nail being driven into a cross before Friday night. And when I did, needless to say, I was none too pleased with how it sounded.

As Holy Week continues, Good Friday was filled with profound sadness in remembrance of Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross.

I think we often take for granted just how big a sacrifice Jesus made for us when his blood was shed for the forgiveness of our sins. What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve ever made? Do you tithe or give regular offerings at church? Do you volunteer your valuable time for the benefit of others? Have you given up eating something you enjoyed, drinking something so tasty, or ceased spending money on that which has dug its claws into you?

All of these are noble sacrifices, to be sure. But if you had the opportunity to lay down your life for random strangers, would you do it? Knowing that it wouldn’t be a quick, painless death but a gruesome, torturous one?

But the interesting fact about Jesus’ sacrifice is that it wasn’t for random strangers, but for his brothers and sisters. For us. In God’s holy family. And our sins helped nail our brother, our Lord and savior, to the cross.

In my previous entry, I had mentioned that the church I attend does a good job of placing you in the moment, giving you a feel for the way things unfolded in biblical times. While it can never truly replicate how things really occurred in Jesus’ day, the imagery does reach down deep inside your soul and tug on the strings of your heart.

On Thursday night, I described breaking bread and drinking wine with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in homage to the Last Supper. I then described escaping into the nave of the church where it was quiet and dark, save for a scattering of candles, to pray and reflect like Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane before he was arrested. At the base of the stage was an imposing cross, an ominous reminder of the savage experience that awaited Jesus the next day.

Friday night, the congregation at my church received quite the wakeup call with an all-too real demonstration of what our sins really did to Jesus.

During the service, we were asked to reflect on what sins we were battling, and we were given a piece of paper on which to write them down. As the pastor shared passages from the Bible, detailing the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus, we all sat in our chairs, sin-filled papers still in our hands, and wondered what exactly we were going to do with them.

My best guess at the time was that we would be told to take the paper home with us and keep it in a conspicuous place this weekend where we could be reminded of what sins sent Jesus to the cross.

The church took it one step further in a more powerful way.

Row by row, as we would normally take communion, we approached the cross and were given a hammer and a nail, asked to nail our piece of paper — our sins, our guilty verdict, our death sentence — to the cross.

Talk about powerful imagery.

My fiancée and I were among the first to go up, which means I got an up-close and personal account of the first nails being driven into the cross.

Clank! Clank! Clank! echoed through the church as hammer hitting nail, metal striking metal, produced a sound much louder than I had anticipated.

I had always known consciously that Jesus paid the penalty of death for my sins, and that even though I wasn’t around 2,000 years ago driving the nails through His flesh, by my sins — my yet to be committed sins but the inevitable sins — I was directly responsible for his crucifixion. It was at that moment, though, as I positioned my paper and nail near the center of the cross, that I truly understood what it meant for my sins to be nailed to the cross. The metaphor was about as real as it got.

Sure, there was no body hanging, no screams of agony, no blood shed that night. But there was pain. And it firmly filled the hearts of every man, woman and child swinging the hammer. And as I sat back and watched the long line of sinners approach the cross, hearing the hammer hitting nails more audibly in my head than was probably actually occurring, I couldn’t help but think of the numerous everyday sins that we commit that caused Jesus’ death sentence.

Stubborn pride? Clank! Lying? Clank! Idolatry of money or celebrities? Clank! Clank! Anger, hatred, or wrath? Clank! Clank! Clank! Gluttony or over-indulgence? Clank! Lust? Clank! Using the Lord’s name in vain? Clank! Impure or sinful thoughts, words, or deeds? Clank! … Clank! … Clank! …

The metaphor had to be one of the strongest emotional experiences I’ve ever witnessed in church and I am actually grateful for having gone through it. It brought my sins to light and showed me exactly what I’m doing when I’m sinning.

While the moment may have lasted but a brief period in time, the Clank! that I hear inside my head will echo forever. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll help make me a better man, sinner and all.

The anxiety of Maundy Thursday causes inevitable personal reflection

It’s Holy Week for all of God’s children and there is always a wave of emotion that accompanies it. Today we honor Maundy Thursday.

“Maundy” refers to the “washing of the feet” when Jesus, as the Godly and human leader, showed great sacrifice and servitude by washing the feet of his followers, a lowly task normally reserved for slaves and servants in that time.

Maundy Thursday also commemorates the Last Supper when Jesus met with his disciples for the final time before his betrayal and crucifixion.

While Christmas Eve happens to be my favorite day of the year — for many reasons, among which are the traditions, family time, and excitement of the coming birth of Jesus — Maundy Thursday just happens to amount to the polar opposite of that day. It’s filled with anxiety over the anticipation of the death and suffering of Jesus.

The church that I go to does a good job trying to set the mood in a manner which might help us better identify the meaning of each significant event throughout the year. For Maundy Thursday, we gathered around tables in the church’s dimly-lit narthex — or “atrium”, if you will. We prayed, we broke bread and drank wine, we communed with our brothers and sisters, and we worshipped as well. It was meant to symbolize what the Last Supper was like for Jesus and his disciples.

By the end of the night, we were invited to enter the sanctuary, except it was pitch black, save for candles providing a source of light. It was our “escape” to pray and contemplate, another symbolic gesture to commemorate when Jesus entered the garden of Gethsemane as he awaited his captors.

At the foot of the stage was a cross with nails in it that looked as though it was being prepared for a crucifixion. It was powerful imagery, and when I closed my eyes, it wasn’t difficult to imagine the angst that Jesus must have felt, knowing that a painful suffering awaited him.

It might be one thing for death row inmates to know they’re facing execution. Many of them welcome death and understand that they are guilty and deserving of a death sentence. But it’s a completely different thing for a sinless and righteous man — one undeserving of such torture — to know that it’s his duty to face the cross, and yet have a difficult time coming to grips with human suffering and mortality.

In those quiet moments in the darkened church with an imposing cross on display, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the ultimate sacrifice paid by Jesus to save us all from the death our sins deserve. To know what kind of pain and suffering awaited him, but to endure it for us anyway, is the greatest display of love I could ever imagine.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15:13 (NIV)

Who am I — who are we — that we should be so deserving of a sacrifice? It’s both humbling and uplifting to know we have a savior and redeemer who wants nothing more from us than the love he has for us.