Friday, May 26, 2006

Remembering the "Ultimate Sacrifice"

One of my favorite movies of all time is “Patton.” In the opening sequence George C. Scott, in the role of General George S. Patton, steps in front of an enormous American flag and addresses the U.S. Third Army. It is regarded as one of the more famous monologues in American cinematic history. His opening line is classic. For the sake of discretion I will (bleep) out the profanity.

“Now, I want you to remember that no (bleep) ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb (bleep) die for his country.”

Memorial Day is upon us. In the United States it is the day set aside to remember those who have died in the defense of our country. I think it is appropriate to honor their memory. What they did is often referred to as the “ultimate sacrifice.” But as I consider both the phrase “ultimate sacrifice” and General Patton’s thoughts on making the other poor dumb (bleep) die for his country a couple of things occur to me.

First, those whose memory we honor on Memorial Day didn’t intend to die. Were they willing to die? Almost certainly. We’ve all heard stories of how, during the course of battle, someone willingly gave their life for others. Their commitment has never been in question. But I dare say they did not plan to go into battle and never come back. As Patton pointed out, you win by killing the enemy. Every time our side takes a casualty it diminishes our force strength. Besides, they had families to whom they wanted to return. They had dreams for “after the war.” They had a life.

Second, when considering whether or not a sacrifice is the “ultimate sacrifice” several things need to be considered. Obviously the cost: Those who died in battle paid the highest price possible. But what about intent? As I said, they didn’t intend to die. They didn’t plan to pay so high a price. Also, what about the gain? Those who have died in America’s wars have secured military victories. And if their sacrifice has protected others’ rights to life and liberty then they have achieved a noble goal indeed. But is it the ultimate?

In my estimation there is but one “ultimate sacrifice.” Jesus Christ came to earth with the full intention of dying. The plan all along was for Him to give His life so that others may live. And His sacrifice secured for believers something far greater than the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness articulated in the Declaration of Independence. His sacrifice provides us with eternal life.

I do not, in any way, mean to demean the sacrifice of America’s war dead. I merely want to point out how much greater is Christ’s sacrifice. Think about how highly we esteem America’s war dead. How much more highly, then, should we esteem Christ?

For the Christian there should only be one meaning for the phrase “ultimate sacrifice.”

Sunday, May 21, 2006

How to fix education


Drastic problems often require drastic measures. I can remember watching movies where a character had sustained a horrible wound to one of their extremities. The doctors would do everything they could in order to save the patient's arm or leg. But there came a time when it became necessary to amputate the limb in order to save the life of the patient. Almost everyone agrees we have a dilemma in education in America. In order to restore quality education this solution may be the only one left.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The object of our faith


Growing up most of us were taught respect for police officers, and rightfully so. Police officers have a difficult and dangerous job and the vast majority of them conduct themselves in a professional and courteous manner that deserves our respect. But here is a story about an incident involving a Baltimore police officer that reminds us our respect for any public servant should not increase into something more – like reverence or faith.

The Bible is clear that God and God alone is deserving of our reverence and faith. While it is sometimes tempting to place our faith in people who sacrifice so much on our behalf we need to remember that they are just as prone to sin as we are. They need the saving grace of God every bit as much as we do.

Faith is only as strong as the object in which it is placed. If we place it in another person – regardless of how admirable they may be – we are placing it in something that is ultimately bound to fail. There is only One whose character is worthy of our faith, and that is God.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Christian...Yoga?


The Denver Post recently ran a story about a woman who has written a book entitled "Yoga for Christians." Author Susan Bordenkircher is described as a certified fitness instructor and a devout Methodist. She claims that using Yoga as a tool of Christian worship is just fine despite Yoga's Hindu origins.

"The difference," she said, "lies in the intention: shifting the focus from self to God with yogic postures, 'breathing in the Holy Spirit, for instance.'"

First of all, the Holy Spirit indwells a believer at the point of conversion. This is something God does, not man. We can't "breathe in the Holy Spirit" any more than we can order God around. And second, Jesus Christ Himself gave us instructions on how to pray and worship. Our goal should be a biblical worship not a blended Christian-Hindu one.

Bordenkircher also points out the physical benefits of Yoga and says "integrating health" is "critical to our effective godly service."

This is a justification for embracing false teachings?

Look, stretching exercises are good. There's nothing wrong with working out and staying physically fit. But Yoga is more than physical fitness. It is physical fitness with a firm foundation in spiritual teachings. To attempt to incorporate Yoga into Christianity is to deliberately inject certain aspects of a false religion. And, when considering the numerous and stern warnings against false teachings contained in Scripture, it is a wonder that any Bible-believing Christian would even consider Yoga as part of their faith.

And yet this subject has been a point of contention among those professing to be believers for a few years now. The magazine Christianity Today even published a couple of articles (one for Yoga and one against Yoga) on this matter.

I guess I just don't understand why a believer in Jesus Christ would feel the need to go outside the authority of Scripture to find methods or techniques to aid their worship. Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ not sufficient?

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Church of ... Oprah?

An article in USA Today entitled “The divine Miss Winfrey” reveals a disturbing trend in the spiritual life of the United States. Oprah Winfrey, a talk show host, is lauded as “today’s Billy Graham.”

The article reports on the spiritual leadership aspect of Winfrey’s “ministry.” She is characterized as the “spiritual leader for the 21st century,” as "America's Pastor," and as the “Church of Oprah.” Both Ellen DeGeneres and Jamie Foxx have made half-joking quips about getting to heaven and finding out Oprah is God.

It shouldn’t be surprising to find such cavalier attitudes toward God among the lost. But it is a serious matter when people who profess to be believers and followers of Jesus Christ begin to jump on the bandwagon. A poll conducted at Beliefnet.com reported that 33 percent of 6,600 respondents said Winfrey has had “a more profound impact” on their spiritual lives than their church leaders.

The poll did not report on the percentage of respondents who also professed to be Christians but I would not be surprised to find a sizeable chunk of them included in that 33 percent. I’m even more convinced this is the case when I read the comments from church leaders on the subject.

“One of Winfrey's most appealing subtexts is that she's anti-institutional,” said Chris Altrock, minister of Highland Street Church of Christ in Memphis. He said Winfrey believes there are many paths to God, not just one.

That any Christian could allow a person who believes “there are many paths to God” to have a “profound impact” on their spiritual life is more than merely regrettable. Her “teachings” on spirituality run contrary to Scripture, which every Christian should know is THE authority on our “spiritual lives.”

The responsibility for this falls squarely at the feet of the Church. We have been far too lax in discipleship. We have not taught our own the truth of Scripture. We have not feasted on the meat of the Word. As a result we have people who claim to be Christians who have no problem with “The divine Miss Winfrey’s” version of the truth.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Congressional Heros: Then and Now

America’s founders had some pretty specific ideas regarding the authority of government. They specifically outlined the things the federal government had the authority to do and specifically said anything not authorized by the Constitution was outside the scope of government power.

“Our tenet ever was,” said Thomas Jefferson, “that Congress had not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but were restrained to those specifically enumerated; and that, as it was never meant that they should provide for that welfare but by the exercise of the enumerated powers, so it could not have been meant they should raise money for purposes which the enumeration did not place under their action.”

Of course our federal government does not even resemble the one intended by our founders. Too many generations of politicians have discovered the ability to secure their place in power by using the money of their constituents to buy votes. However, there have been a few (too few) bright spots.

Davy Crockett (pictured at right) was a congressman from Tennessee when a bill appropriating money to benefit the widow of a distinguished naval officer was introduced on the floor of the House. Crockett, understanding the Constitution gave no such authority to Congress, stood up and said the following:

"Mr. Speaker--I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the sufferings of the living, if suffering there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has not the power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I have never heard that the government was in arrears to him.

"Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot, without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week's pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks."

Perhaps Crockett was reminded of the words of James Madison, who said, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”

Maybe Crockett just understood the limitations of government. In either case his stand was a brief, but very bright spot, in the history of Congress. He was, and remains, a congressional hero.

Today I know of at least one such congressional hero. Ron Paul (pictured at right), a congressman from Texas, continues to make similar stands. Most recently he talked about what he calls, “True foreign aid.” Like Crockett before him, Paul’s convictions about the proper role of government are reminiscent of our founders. He, too, is a congressional hero. Too bad there aren’t more like him.