Religion

Who was St. Patrick and why does he still matter?

On March 17th, millions of people around the world will be mindful of St. Patrick’s Day. But who was St. Patrick? And why is a bishop who lived almost 1,600 years ago still important to us today? You may know Patrick as the patron saint of Ireland. You may have heard that he brought Christianity to the Emerald Isle. And you’ve no doubt heard all about the snakes and the shamrocks and other myths associated with him. But the real reason he still matters today is that his life demonstrates the call of God to share the Good News of the Gospel. And God still speaks to us today, if we’re willing to listen. Most of what we know about Patrick comes from his autobiographical Confession, which he wrote when a group of bishops in Britain tried to bring charges against him. The Confession begins with humility: “I am Patrick, a sinner, the most unsophisticated of people, the least among all the Christians, and among some, the most contemptible.” That humility was a way of life for Patrick, who was, in fact, British and not Irish. As the son of an official in the Roman Empire, he was born into privilege. But when he was just a child, he was kidnapped by the Irish and sold into slavery. In captivity, Patrick saw God’s hand in delivering him “out of a way of life where God didn’t matter for me.” Now a slave in a foreign land, overwhelmed by loneliness and starvation, he had a revelation: “There, the Lord opened up my understanding to my unbelief so that however late, I might become conscious of my failings and then remembering my need, I might turn with all my heart to the Lord my God.” After six years as a slave, Patrick heard a voice telling him to escape, and he miraculously made his way to freedom in Britain. For the next 18 years, Patrick dedicated his life to the church and became a bishop. Then he had another vision calling him back to Ireland to preach the Gospel. If you are a Christian of Irish or Scottish descent, you owe your Christianity to St. Patrick. You may also owe him your education. One of Patrick’s goals was for the Irish to become a people who could read the Bible. Patrick was known as a man of the Book, and the scriptures are scattered throughout his writings. In the fifth century, few could read, and many ancient writings, including the Bible, fell into disuse and were in danger of being lost. Patrick began a monastic tradition in Ireland that spread to the island of Iona in Scotland, and then on to continental Europe. Both the scriptures of the Jews, as well as the writings of the Greeks and Romans, were studied and copied in these monasteries, which became the forerunners of the modern university. St. Patrick was one of the first people in history to take a moral stand against slavery. In his Letter to Coroticus, he also condemned sex trafficking: “They who distribute baptized women as prizes….will be slaves in Hell in an eternal punishment.” The greatest message from St. Patrick is the call of God to preach the Gospel to every tongue, tribe and nation. In the Roman Empire of the fifth century, Ireland was considered the “ends of the earth.” Today, there are over 4,000 language groups that still don’t have even a portion of scripture available to them. Mission agencies agree that it is possible to complete the task of Bible translation, if not in our generation, then in the next. What is lacking are people who are willing to take up the task. And that is the lesson of St. Patrick. God still calls, and God still sends. God still wants to shake us “out of a way of life where God didn’t matter.” On March 17, the traditional day of Patrick’s death, let us celebrate the remarkable life of a slave who committed his life to God. With God’s help, Patrick changed a nation. Through Patrick’s example, may we realize that we can change nations as well.

Thanks to Gordon Robertson for that faith-based history lesson on the life of St. Patrick.  Gordon president and CEO of The Christian Broadcasting Network, is the executive producer of “I Am Patrick,” a docudrama on the life of St. Patrick from CBN Films. For more information go to IAmPatrick.com.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!     🙂

Trump declares Sunday a National Day of Prayer

Hours after declaring a national emergency because of the coronavirus, President Trump suggested the nation look to God for “protection and strength.” On Friday evening, Trump declared Sunday a National Day of Prayer and pointed out how the public has historically found solace in faith during times of crisis. The first Sunday of every March since 1988 has been designated a National Day of Prayer in the United States, but Trump personalized this year’s day of prayer to address the outbreak of COVID-19. “It is my great honor to declare Sunday, March 15th as a National Day of Prayer,” Trump wrote. Trump laid out the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic during an an address in the Rose Garden on Friday afternoon. He announced that the Food and Drug Administration plans to have 1.4 million testing kits available for the public by next week and as many as 5 million by the end of March. “We are a Country that, throughout our history, has looked to God for protection and strength in times like these,” he added. During his address, Trump promised access to up to $50 billion in aid to state and localities as communities brace for the disease. “No matter where you may be, I encourage you to turn towards prayer in an act of faith. Together, we will easily PREVAIL!” Trump wrote in a follow-up tweet.

Jonathan Morris: My favorite Bible verse

The practice of picking a favorite Bible verse goes against every theological bone in my body, for two reasons. First, because Sacred Scripture is best understood as a whole. Second, because focusing on a favorite passage risks distracting us from passages that are less pleasant to our ears, but perhaps more needed. I cringe, for example, when I hear politicians or even pastors quote a favorite line or two of the Bible to justify an action or prove their point. Popular verses like “judge not lest you be judged”—while true—are often appropriated to shut down rational, moral discourse. Theological musings aside, I do have favorite Scripture verses. The one I’ll share with you here has been material for deep reflection as I traversed through major life change this past year. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). This verse is about discernment. It’s about getting our mind and heart in the right place to know in which direction we should go when we face real-life decisions. The author of this verse, Paul of Tarsus, is writing to the early Christian community in Rome. He knows they have already committed to following the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, but they are living in a hedonistic society and they struggle to know and do what is right. The first part of this verse is a warning that what we think or feel isn’t always right. Paul tells the Romans that our minds are warped by worldly ways of thinking. If this was true in the times of Paul (the Epistle to the Romans was written circa AD 55), it is even truer today. We are brainwashed by the daily onslaught of commercial and social media. To counter this, Paul encourages us to allow God’s grace and truth to seep into our minds and renew it. As he puts it: “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” “Transformation” is a strong word. The original Greek word for transformation is “metanoia,” meaning existential conversion. This spiritual conversion is not about changing our behavior out of shame or guilt. Conversion is a decision of the will to turn away from sin, do an about face, and walk toward God who is calling. The second part of this verse is even more inspiring and challenging. Paul says that once we have taken the step toward “metanoia” or “conversion” we still need to test things out to see what God really wants of us. He says “so that you may test what the will of God is, that which is good, and acceptable, and perfect.” Paul is being brutally honest that it’s not always easy to know what we should do when we are faced with an uncertain future. Paul tells the Romans to test things out. In other words, if we think we know what we should do, but aren’t sure, we should go ahead and give it a try. I have found this very simple spiritual advice by Paul to be profoundly helpful. Here’s one final reflection on this verse. Paul’s exhortation to the Romans to take seriously the renewal of their minds in order to discern God’s will for their lives, suggests that he believes their decisions are important. He is honoring the significance—the power—of human activity. Other ancient spiritual teachers, before and after Paul, placed so much emphasis on God’s power that human choice was dismissed as insignificant. But in his letter to the Romans, Paul doesn’t belittle the real struggle of discernment. He doesn’t say, for example, “just leave it all in God’s hands”. Christians believe deeply in a personal, providential God, a divine being who cares about and, in varied ways intervenes in human affairs. But, mysteriously, this all-loving and all-powerful God has willed that this Divine Providence be subject, in part, to our free-will agency. In other words, our choices matter, and discernment is the way to get it right.

Agreed.  Thanks to Jonathan Morris for his inspired insight.  Jonathan is a former Catholic priest who stepped down from that “calling,” but who is still very active with his faith.

Cross targeted by atheists will remain standing on Florida public property

A 78-year-old cross on public property in Florida targeted by atheist groups will remain standing after a victory in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court ruled Wednesday that the Bayview Cross in Pensacola, which was built ahead of World War II as a place for the community to gather, does not violate the Constitution. “The Supreme Court has now made clear that religious symbols are an important part of our nation’s history and culture,” Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a statement. The federal appeals court ruled the cross is constitutional, noting it has become “embedded in the fabric of the Pensacola community” and that removing it could “strike many as aggressively hostile to religion.” Four individuals, represented by the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, sued the city in 2016, demanding the cross be torn down. Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson celebrated the ruling. “Pensacola is a historic city with a rich and diverse history. The Bayview Cross is an important part of that history as a symbol of our community’s coming together during a national crisis,” Robinson said. “Today the citizens of Pensacola will celebrate our long-awaited victory and the preservation of the Bayview Cross.” The decision came after the June 2019 Supreme Court’s landmark religious liberty case, American Legion v. American Humanist Association, in which First Liberty Institute successfully defended the World War I memorial cross in Bladensburg, Md. “The Supreme Court made clear in The American Legion decision that the days of governments roaming the land to scrub all public symbols of faith are over,” Mike Berry, general counsel to First Liberty Institute, said. “We’re thrilled to see our victory in that case already making an impact and protecting religious freedom across the country.” Monica Miller, American Humanist Association legal director and senior counsel, said the group is exploring all their options, calling it a “devastating blow” to the Establishment Clause.

Oh WHAAAA Monica!  This is an OUTSTANDING decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and one we should ALL be celebrating.  It is a clear and decisive victory for our religious freedoms.  Despite what these whining atheists would have you believe, the 1st Amendment only says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..”  Our founders who wrote that had fled religious persecution in Great Britain where there was an official national religion.  So, they wanted to make sure that there was no official religion of the United States.  BUT, our founders didn’t want religion (especially Christianity) banned from the public, or from our public schools…which is where that second part comes in.  In other words, we have freedom OF religion, but not freedom FROM religion.  Thank God.

Texas churchgoers are training to fight off attackers wielding guns

Beneath the Christmas lights still hanging in the church’s fellowship room, Jack Mills pointed a Glock handgun at his enemy’s chest and pulled the trigger. A loud crack rang out as a shell casing flew from the weapon, but the man facing the gunfire didn’t fall. Instead a red light on his high-tech vest began blinking, signaling a hit from the laser in Mills’ gun. A U.S. Air Force veteran, Mills began designing the equipment a year ago to help armed churchgoers learn how to confront a gunman. Shooting a paper target is one thing, Mills said. Firing at a real person is another. “If you haven’t shot somebody in the face, how do you know you can?” he said. Mills is part of a growing cottage industry in Texas that uses police-like tactics to train churchgoers who fear the next attack could target their house of worship. Requests for help spike after each tragedy, businesses said. The most recent came in December, when a man opened fire during Sunday service at a White Settlement church and killed two worshippers, before he was fatally shot by an armed congregant. There’s no official count of how many congregation members pack heat in Texas churches. But security businesses said the number is growing thanks to recent changes by the Legislature that make it easier for worshippers to carry guns in church and form teams of armed protectors. With few industry standards, however, the training offered in Texas runs the gamut from active shooter drills, to programs that demand congregants pass a psychological evaluation and train for hours in life-like scenarios. One Texas firm has a trainer walk the church halls shooting blanks, so parishioners learn what approaching gunfire sounds like in their own sanctuary. “What’s driving it is an awareness,” said Carl Chinn, president of the national Faith Based Security Network. “We were under some illusion that because we had a cross on the roof and a name over the door that we were somehow immune from these kinds of attacks.” Still, congregations grapple with whether to welcome guns in the door. Just under half of 1,000 Protestant pastors nationwide reported arming their members, according to a survey released in January by Lifeway Research. Roughly 6% of the pastors said they hire police or armed security during services, a step that can be out of reach for smaller churches that don’t have the funding. Some critics warn that letting congregants carry guns without any training could lead to catastrophe if a firefight erupts in a crowded church. It can be a delicate balance stationing armed congregants at the church doors, while still maintaining an atmosphere inviting to newcomers.

To read more, click on the text above.

Jeffress: Trump is right to hit back against Pelosi, Romney on ‘phony’ faith remarks

President Trump was right when he ripped House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney for their comments on faith surrounding the impeachment trial at the National Prayer Breakfast Thursday morning, First Baptist Church pastor Robert Jeffress told Fox News. “[Trump] absolutely hates phoniness…and the president thinks there’s something inherently phony about saying that you’re praying for him while you’re working 24/7 to destroy him,” the author of “Courageous: 10 Strategies for Thriving in a Hostile World,” told “Fox & Friends” Friday. “And, by the way, the Bible supports his skepticism,” the Dallas pastor added, quoting James: “We shouldn’t be blessing and cursing at the same time.” At Thursday’s prayer breakfast after being acquitted by the Senate, Trump, referring to Romney and Pelosi, said, “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong, nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you’ when they know that that’s not so.” Pelosi, who was four seats away when Trump made the comment, responded during her weekly press conference. “He’s talking about things he knows little about — faith and prayer,” Pelosi said. After someone told Trump that Jesus commands us to “love our enemies,” he asked Jeffress what the pastor thought about it. “I said, ‘Mr. President, to love your enemies means to want God’s best for them, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to be unified with them. Truth divides people.” “As long as this president speaks truth — especially about the sanctity of life, religious liberty — the Left is going to continue to hate him,” he said. “They’re going to continue to try to destroy him, and they’re not going to be holding hands with him singing kumbaya.” On Romney, who became the first senator in U.S. history to vote in favor of removing a president from his own party from office, Jeffress said, “I can understand why the president would think the decision was based more on self-promotion and bitterness than it was prayer.” “Mitt Romney has had vitriol against this president for years,” he explained. “It’s obvious he’s bitter that the American people rejected him two times for president and President Trump was able to do something he wasn’t.” Trump’s evangelical support, a key part of his conservative base, is steady with a 71 percent approval rating, according to the latest Fox News poll. “This impeachment process has really mobilized his evangelical base,” the pastor said, predicting a “landslide” in November. “I believe that evangelical turnout will be greater than even the historic turnout in 2016.”

Kudos to President Trump for calling out Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) for their nauseating, self-serving, self-righteous, and brazen hypocrisy….and hiding behind religion for their own self-serving reasons.  And, extra kudos to Pastor Jeffress for having the courage to support Trump in that regard.  It’s about time we had people of faith calling it as they see it.  Excellent!        🙂

The Mormon Church Amassed $100 Billion. It Was the Best-Kept Secret in the Investment World.

For more than half a century, the Mormon Church quietly built one of the world’s largest investment funds. Almost no one outside the church knew about it. Some of that mystery evaporated late last year when a former employee revealed in a whistleblower complaint with the Internal Revenue Service that the fund, called Ensign Peak Advisors, had stockpiled $100 billion. The whistleblower also alleged that the church had improperly used some Ensign Peak funds. Officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, colloquially known as the Mormon Church, denied those claims. They also declined to comment on how much money their investment fund controls. “We’ve tried to be somewhat anonymous,” Roger Clarke, the head of Ensign Peak, said from the firm’s fourth-floor office, above a Salt Lake City food court. Ensign Peak doesn’t appear in that building’s directory. Interviews with more than a dozen former employees and business partners provide a deeper look inside an organization that ballooned from a shoestring operation in the 1990s into a behemoth rivaling Wall Street’s largest firms. Its assets did total roughly $80 billion to $100 billion as of last year, some of the former employees said. That is at least double the size of Harvard University’s endowment and as large as the size of SoftBank’s Vision Fund, the world’s largest tech-investment fund. Its holdings include $40 billion of U.S. stock, timberland in the Florida panhandle and investments in prominent hedge funds such as Bridgewater Associates LP, according to some current and former fund employees. Church officials acknowledged the size of the fund is a tightly held secret, which they said was because Ensign Peak depends on donations—known as tithing—from the church’s 16 million world-wide members. The church is under no legal obligation to publicly report its finances. But the whistleblower report—filed by David Nielsen, a former Ensign Peak portfolio manager—has heaped pressure on the church to be more transparent about its finances, something the church has avoided for decades. The firm doesn’t tell business partners how much money it manages, an unusual practice on Wall Street. Ensign Peak employees sign lifetime confidentiality agreements. Most current employees are no longer told the firm’s total assets under management, according to some of the former employees; few employees understand what the money is intended for. In their first-ever interview about Ensign Peak’s operations, Mr. Clarke and church officials who oversee the firm said it was a rainy-day account to be used in difficult economic times. As the church continues to grow in poorer areas of the world like Africa, where members cannot donate as much, it will need Ensign Peak’s holdings to help fund basic operations, they said. “We don’t know when the next 2008 is going to take place,” said Christopher Waddell, a member of the ecclesiastical arm that oversees Ensign Peak known as the presiding bishopric. Referring to the economic crash 12 years ago, he added, “If something like that were to happen again, we won’t have to stop missionary work.” During the last financial crisis, they didn’t touch the reserves Ensign Peak had amassed, church officials said. Instead, the church cut the budget. A former employee and the whistleblower in his report said they heard Mr. Clarke refer to the second coming of Jesus Christ as part of the reason for Ensign Peak’s existence. Mormons believe before Jesus returns, there will be a period of war and hardship. Mr. Clarke said the employees must have misunderstood his meaning. “We believe at some point the savior will return. Nobody knows when,” he said. When the second coming happens, “we don’t have any idea whether financial assets will have any value at all,” he added. “The issue is what happens before that, not at the second coming.” Whereas university endowments generally subsidize operating costs with investment income, Ensign Peak does the opposite. Annual donations from the church’s members more than covers the church’s budget. The surplus goes to Ensign Peak. Members of the religion must give 10% of their income each year to remain in good standing. Dean Davies, another member of the ecclesiastical arm that oversees Ensign Peak, said the church doesn’t publicly share its assets because “these funds are sacred” and “we don’t flaunt them for public review and critique.” Mr. Clarke said he believed church leaders were concerned that public knowledge of the fund’s wealth might discourage tithing. “Paying tithing is more of a sense of commitment than it is the church needing the money,” Mr. Clarke said. “So they never wanted to be in a position where people felt like, you know, they shouldn’t make a contribution.” Some members are now asking why details about the fund have been tightly held for so long, what the money is for, and whether tithing so much to the church should still be the standard practice.

A fair question..  For more, click on the text above.