Islam’s Future in America—Part II

IslamIt’s apparent from the numerous responses I received after last week’s initial article on Islam’s Future in America that there is great interest in this topic. Many Americans have Muslim neighbors and their number will assuredly increase. It behooves us to inform ourselves as much as possible about Islamic values, ideals, attributes, and objectives, along with the challenges and opportunities Muslims bring to American life and Christianity.

Next week I’ll continue with excerpts from the article by Dr. Adam Francisco, cited in last week’s Perspectives. Before doing so, I thought it would be helpful to present here a brief summary of Islam per se. Greater detail can easily be found on the Internet.

The simple, concise summary below is provided by Patheos – Hosting the Conversation on Faith (http://www.patheos.com/Library/Islam). In this summary, CE stands for Common Era or Current Era or Christian Era. The abbreviation CE is an alternative naming of Anno Domini (AD – The Year of Our Lord). In addition, BCE is the abbreviation for Before the Common or Current or Christian Era, an alternative to BC (Before Christ). Frankly, I prefer BC and AD.

Here’s the summary of Islam from Patheos: “Islam is a monotheistic religious tradition that developed in the Middle East in the 7th century C.E. Islam, which literally means “surrender” or “submission,” was founded on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as an expression of surrender to the will of Allah, [who Muslims believe is] the creator and sustainer of the world.

“The Quran, the sacred text of Islam, contains the teachings of the Prophet that were revealed to him from Allah. Essential to Islam is the belief that Allah is the one and true God with no partner or equal. Islam has several branches and much variety within those branches. The two divisions within the tradition are the Sunni and Shi’a, each of which claims different means of maintaining religious authority.

“One of the unifying characteristics of Islam is the Five Pillars, the fundamental practices of Islam. These five practices include a ritual profession of faith, ritual prayer, the zakat (charity), fasting, and the hajj (a pilgrimage to Mecca). Many Muslims are characterized by their commitment to praying to Allah five times a day. One of the defining characteristics of Islam is the primacy of sacred places including Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. Muslims gather at mosques to worship Allah, pray, and study scripture.

“There is not a sharp distinction between the religious and secular aspects of life in Islam; all aspects of a Muslim’s life are to be oriented to serving Allah. Islam expanded almost immediately beyond its birthplace in the Arabian Peninsula, and now has significant influence in Africa, throughout Asia, Europe, and the Americas.” Here ends the Patheos summary of Islam.

Stay tuned for next week’s continuation of Islam’s Future in America. God bless you!

Worship Service of the Future?

Credit: Wikipedia

Credit: Wikipedia

Not sure where I got it, but in my file I found a prophetic prognostication (with obviously a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor intended) of what a church service of the future might look like. The service is posted below.

Please hear this disclaimer: I am not recommending this approach to worship!

Full disclosure: I do use a variety of very handy, nifty, free, resourceful iPhone apps to read Holy Scripture during Bible class and worship services. One of those apps provides the original Greek language. Most have search capabilities, enabling the user to locate specific passages quickly. I can also readily and easily compare different translations of the same passage. Very helpful!

In addition, Terry and I recently began submitting our weekly offering by electronic bank transfer. We still put in the offering plate an envelope with the amount and “electronic” written on the outside. Doing so makes me feel less conspicuous or guilty than I would feel if the person in the pew beside me were to notice that I simply passed the plate but put nothing in it. It’s also a blessing to know that when we’re out of town and miss worship at our home congregation, our offering is automatically transferred to Zion Lutheran Church in Walburg, Texas.

Worship is a matter Terry and I take very seriously, yet joyfully! I hope that’s true for you also!

God bless you and have a wonderful week!

Worship Service of the Future?

PASTOR: Praise the Lord!

CONGREGATION: Hallelujah!

PASTOR: Please turn on your tablet, PC, iPad, cellphone and Kindle Bibles to 1 Cor. 13:13. And please switch on your Bluetooth to download the sermon.

(Silence while worshipers listen to narrated Scripture and view the sermon on YouTube.)

PASTOR: Now let us pray, committing this week into God’s hands. Open your Apps, BBM, Twitter and Facebook and chat with God.

(Silence while congregation prays. At this point the reader must presume that if God can hear a silent prayer, he must also be able to receive prayers submitted via other methods/media.)

PASTOR: As we receive our Sunday tithes and offerings, please have your credit and debit cards ready. You can log on to the church Wi-Fi using the password Lord909887.

  • Ushers will circulate mobile card swipe machines among the worshipers.
  • Those who prefer to make electronic funds transfers are directed to computers and laptops at the rear of the church.
  • Those who prefer to use iPads, flip them open.
  • Those who prefer telephone banking, take out your cellphones to transfer your contributions to the church account.

(Note: The holy atmosphere of the church becomes truly electrified as all the cellphones, iPads, PCs and laptops beep and flicker!)

PASTOR: Final Blessing and Closing Announcements

  • This week’s ministry cell meetings will be held on the various Facebook group pages, where the usual group chatting takes place. Please log in and don’t miss out.
  • Thursday’s Bible study will be held live on Skype at 7:00 p.m. Please don’t miss out.
  • You can follow your Pastor on Twitter this weekend for counseling and prayers.

The Will to Live

Credit:  Jesse Therrien

Credit: Jesse Therrien

On my birthday last year, January 29, 2013, I saved an article from USA Today. It’s been sitting on my desk under a pile of other documents since then, awaiting my attention. The title is “Have we lost the will to live?” The subtitle: “Suicide is up. Around the world, it is way up. And it explains why mass murderers do what they do.” The author is Rebecca D. Costa.

The article briefly references a number of recent attacks on innocent civilians and concludes the perpetrators had one thing in common: “Long before they reached for a weapon, they lost their desire to live. And it is this unnatural state that enabled them to commit unimaginable acts. Once a person makes a decision to die, the most abhorrent atrocities become permissible. There are no longer any consequences to fear: no arrest, no jail, no trial, no families of the victims to face, no remorse, no mothering. Dead is dead.”

Conversely, the article proposes, would-be murderers from the past were different. After aiming his gun at President Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth ran. So did Lee Harvey Oswald, accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy. Even disturbed killers like Ted Bundy and Charles Manson went to great lengths to keep their crimes hidden. Why? “Because the drive to survive – to thrive, to propagate – is the strongest instinct among all living organisms. Self-preservation is a fundamental urge in nature. But in recent times, this instinct has gone awry.”

Supporting this premise is the observation that antidepressants are now the most prescribed drugs in the USA, climbing almost 400% in the past two decades, particularly among preschoolers and adolescents. In addition, an estimated 1 million people in the U.S. report attempting to commit suicide each year. One such attempt succeeds every 14 minutes.

Suicides have also risen around the globe, having increased 60% in the past 45 years. “We have a widespread affliction on our hands that is affecting the entire human race. An affliction we understand very little about. An affliction we continue to sweep under the rug and blame on guns, the economy and every other thing. An affliction that has become a preamble for mass murder.”

In case the reader hasn’t figured it out by now, the author makes one main point of the article crystal clear: “Today, fast-firing assault weapons grab international attention, but that is not what makes people like Adam Lanza (perpetrator of Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings) so dangerous or what gives us reason to fear more such attacks; it’s the fact that Lanza had no will to live. That’s not a problem that can be solved by gun control or arming school guards.”

“If we have any hope of curbing tragedies such as Columbine and Sandy Hook, we must not allow rhetoric or short-term mitigation overshadow the opportunity to address the real culprit behind mass violence. Thriving, happy, connected human beings don’t use guns to harm others, no matter how plentiful. They don’t fashion fertilizer or airplanes into bombs. And they don’t need the government to regulate these things. Nature has designed us so that the will to live acts as a deterrent against anything that threatens our continuation – including opening fire in a public place. Fix this, and it won’t be long before gun control is superseded by self-control. And at the end of the day, isn’t this a far more lasting alternative than surrendering hard-won liberties?”

Regardless of your (or my) personal opinion regarding gun control, the question begged has to do with the real root cause(s) of the absence of a will to live. Is it biological, psychological, physiological, societal? Is it hereditary or environmental? Is it curable or a hopelessly de facto lifetime reality for those affected? Or is it simply a demonic manifestation of the power of the devil in the lives of real people?

Whatever the answer(s) might be, Christians could add to the USA Today article this biblical explanation for the problem the author identifies: “Your adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) And the concluding remedy: “Resist him, firm in your faith … and the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:9-11)

That explanation is not a magic wand. Nevertheless it hopefully encourages individuals, families, churches and humanitarian or governmental organizations to do everything humanly possible to protect the sanctity and safety of the life of every human being. That becomes ever more critical given the reality of living life in the midst of individuals who no longer have the will to live.

Why Men Have Stopped Singing in Church

Credit:  Tolga Kostak

Credit: Tolga Kostak

Before getting to this topic, here’s a brief update on my great-grand-nieces Emma and Anna, surviving triplets born four months prematurely on Christmas Day 2013:

  • Emma is still in the hospital. She was due to come home about ten days ago, but was delayed in doing so. Her chest X-Ray looked better last week, but she has a urinary infection. They’re supplementing her formula with rice cereal, but are having trouble getting it through the feeding tube. The latest prognosis is that she will need to spend about one more month in NICU.
  • Anna underwent successful surgery last week for pyloric stenosis, which is a narrowing or restriction of the pylorus, the opening at the lower part of the stomach through which food and other stomach contents must pass to enter the small intestine. She’s back home, looks healthy, is eating well and does not seem to be worse for wear from the surgery.

Thank you for your ongoing prayers for these two precious little babies!

Now let’s get to the topic for today. This past week I posted on my Facebook page an article I discovered that gets to the heart of the growing and disappointing phenomenon of why men have stopped singing in church. To read the entire article, go to: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/churchformen/2013/05/why-men-have-stopped-singing-in-church/

Responders to the article were mostly in agreement with its basic premise that men (and some women also, for that matter) don’t sing nearly as much as they used to because the songs and/or hymns selected for the worship service are unknown and/or difficult to sing. I strongly agree!

A primary focus of the article is the difficulty experienced when worship leaders do not select familiar songs or hymns that lend themselves readily to group singing. In addition, individuals experience difficulty in trying to sing something clearly intended for performance by a soloist or small vocal group and quickly feel no motivation for trying to do so. While this is particularly true with contemporary songs, praise bands and song leaders, traditional but unfamiliar or hard to sing hymns produce the same result.

For the most part, music and singing in worship are intended to be participatory, not simply observatory. Exceptions include solos, duets, choirs or other choral group presentations, as well as instrumental offerings. When such participation becomes difficult, worshipers quickly move from sincere desire to participate to frustration in not being able to do so.

What’s the bottom line? “Praise the Lord! It is good to sing praises to our God!” (Psalm 147:1)

150 Years of Blessings!

Zion WalburgThat was the theme of this past Sunday’s observation of the 50th ordination anniversaries of three retired or semi-retired men who are also active members of Zion Lutheran Church in Walburg, Texas. That’s the rural congregation of which Terry and I are active members. We’re blessed to have Rev. John Davenport as senior pastor, his wonderful wife Lynn at his side.

The three men and their wives are:

  • Bob and Jean Greene
  • Wilbern and Betty Michalk
  • Glenn and Sandra O’Shoney

These three men, accompanied and supported by their dear spouses, have served the Lord and his church faithfully in numerous capacities:

  • Bob Greene: parish pastor; President and CEO of Lutheran Social Services of the South; Chairman, LCMS Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance
  • Wilbern Michalk: parish pastor; mission developer; numerous circuit and district roles and responsibilities
  • Glenn O’Shoney: parish pastor; mission developer; President, Texas District LCMS; Chairman, LCMS Council of Presidents; Executive Director, LCMS World Mission

All three are graduates of Concordia Theological Seminary, Springfield, Ill., now in Fort Wayne, Ind. Bob and Wilbern graduated in 1963, Glenn in 1962. As one can tell, their 50th anniversary celebration, clearly appreciated by all, was a bit tardy. Better late than never!

Festivities of the day included a sermon focused on:

  • Thanksgiving to God for his blessings in the lives of these six men and women;
  • Biblical qualifications for the office of overseer/pastor and the difficulty/impossibility faced by every pastor in endeavoring to fulfill them completely;
  • The calling of God for all men and women who have been reconciled to God through Christ to be Christ’s ambassadors to the world.

The services were followed by a congregational lunch, including a touch of humor in a round of “The Not-So-Newly-Wed Game.” The game allowed these couples to share with the crowd some basic information about their lives, backgrounds, marriage, children and ministry. It was a fun way to help the congregation learn about these wonderfully dedicated and committed couples!

The idea was initially suggested by my dear friend, Dr. Will Sohns. The Board of Elders did most of the planning. I just preached and presided at the NSNWG. Not surprisingly, my dear wife Terry expressed words of appreciation to Jean, Betty and Sandra, and presented each of them a long stemmed rose to match their husbands’ boutonnieres.

You may want to consider something similar for your pastor, including retired men who may not have actually served your congregation officially but are dedicated and committed members. The honorees will be appreciative, your congregation will be blessed and God will be praised!

An Atheist’s View On Life

Thinking 1

 

 

Recently I read this clever yet poignant way of contrasting an atheist’s view on life with that of a Christian. Some complete sentences below, reading both down and back up to the top, include more than one line. I think you’ll be able to figure out where the punctuation marks belong!

 

An Atheist’s View on Life

I will live my life according to these beliefs
God does not exist
It is just foolish to think
That there is a God with a cosmic plan
That an all-powerful God brings redemption and healing to the pain and suffering in the world
Is a comforting thought, however
It
Is only wishful thinking
People can do as they please without eternal consequences
The idea that
I am deserving of Hell
Because of sin
Is a lie meant to make me a slave to those in power
“The more you have, the happier you will be”
Our existence has no grand meaning or purpose
In a world with no God
There is freedom to be who I want to be
But with God
Everything is fine
It is ridiculous to think
I am lost and in need of saving

A Christian’s View on Life
(Now read this from bottom to top, beginning with “I am lost …”)

Author Unknown

Politics in the Church

Credit:  Aram Vartian

Credit: Aram Vartian

Last week I read correspondence from two esteemed church leaders about church politics and centralized power. Both are public, selectively quoted here with authors’ permission.

One leader wrote: “Church politics. Maybe you have seen the ways of worldly politics at work even in your local congregation. The same tactics can also creep into district and synod gatherings as well. Sometimes, it can get unpleasant or even downright ugly.”

“While Christ-centered, diplomatic attempts at proper persuasion can honor God and move the Savior’s mission forward, the temptation to copy the political ways of the world can cause offense and get in the way of our witness to the welcoming love of Jesus.”

The other leader wrote: “In recent dealings with an entity that believes power should be centralized and politicized, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this quote: ‘I do not trust people who don’t love themselves and yet tell me, ‘I love you.’ There is an African saying: ‘Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.’”

Having personally experienced both positive and negative church politics, I offer these thoughts:

  • “Politics” comes from a Greek word that literally means “of, for, or relating to citizens.”
  • Properly understood and implemented, “politics” is a neutral or even positive term.
  • Politics can be honorably utilized as well intentioned, non-self-serving, honest efforts to persuade people to pursue and achieve a purposeful and godly course of action.
  • On the other hand, politics can be sinfully and dishonorably used to gain power and control for selfish purposes that do not serve the common good.
  • Politics can even be an evil tool used to accumulate wealth, influence and notoriety not honestly earned or deserved but achieved through false witness, innuendo and wrongful allegation or accusation of those who stand in the way of those goals.
  • Politics used wrongly can injure or ruin the reputation of individuals and organizations.
  • Contrary to the opinion of those who use politics wrongly, the end does not justify the means of political activities lacking integrity and godly motivation!

The only proper use for politics, especially in the church, is truthful and objective description of reality as it currently exists, followed by presentation of a positive plan for accomplishing honorable and godly goals. The process will be truly blessed if it promotes positive objectives, helps people holistically, honors the Eighth Commandment, and is motivated by the love of Christ.