Join us for morning prayer & devotions online

I am always saying how I appreciate my congregation, St. Athanasius Lutheran Church, and our pastor, Rev. James Douthwaite.  I would like to invite you to join us online for our daily morning prayer and devotion.

It starts at 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time (I know, that’s really early on the west coast) and lasts for 20-25 minutes.

What we do is begin with the opening of Matins, then we do the readings from the Treasury of Daily Prayer (a Psalm, Old Testament, New Testament, a  classic spiritual writing, a hymn verse, a collect), followed by prayer (including for prayer requests).  (If you don’t have a Treasury, you can follow along in your Bible.  A list of readings is given for every day.)

Go here: Daily Morning Prayer on the Web.  You’ll need to download a bit of free software the first time you come, but you can do that ahead of time.

I think it’s kind of cool that the online technology allows me to invite you to participate in an activity of our church.  I am not advocating “online church,” as if clicking on an online site is the same as actually meeting together, as the Bible calls for.  This is just morning devotion and prayer, not a worship service.  But I think you might find it helpful, edifying, and meaningful.

This might be something your own congregation could do.  (Are there other ways that your congregations are “reaching out” by using the web?)

Has Castro become a Christian?

George Conger reports stories in the Italian press that Fidel Castro, the communist dictator of Cuba, may have “rediscovered Jesus” and will be reconciled with the church from which he was excommunicated:

Fidel Castro will be received back into the communion of the Roman Catholic Church during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the island in March, the Italian press is reporting. If true, this is a remarkable story — and one that has yet to catch the attention of editors this side of the Atlantic.

On 1 Feb 2012, La Republicca — [Italy’s second largest circulation daily newspaper, La Republicca follows a center-left political line and is strongly anti-clerical; not anti-Catholic per se but a critic of the institutional church] — reported that as death approaches, the octogenarian communist has turned to God for solace.

ABC’s Global Note news blog is the only U.S. general interest publication I have found that has reported this story. It referenced the La Republicca story and said that Castro’s daughter Alina is quoted as saying “During this last period, Fidel has come closer to religion: he has rediscovered Jesus at the end of his life. It doesn’t surprise me because dad was raised by Jesuits.” The article quotes an unidentified high prelate in the Vatican who is working on the Pope’s Cuba trip: “Fidel is at the end of his strength. Nearly at the end of his life. His exhortations in the party paper Granma, are increasingly less frequent. We know that in this last period he has come closer to religion and God.”

via GetReligion » “The press . . . just doesn’t get religion.” — William Schneider.

If this turns out to be true, it would be arguably a greater miracle than the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union:  the collapse of communism in the heart of one of its most bloodthirsty adherents.  It would also be one of the most dramatic conversions of an atheist in recent memory.  The man put untold numbers of Christians in front of firing squads.  How amazing is a grace that would accept him, forgive him, and accept him as one of those Christians as he faced his own death.

Christianity & taxes

At the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama suggested, as some have put it, that Jesus would tax the rich:

President Barack Obama on Thursday tied his proposal to raise taxes on wealthy Americans to his faith, telling leaders gathered for the National Prayer Breakfast that Jesus’s teachings have shaped that conclusion.The rich should pay more not only because “I actually think that is going to make economic sense, but for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required,’” Obama said at the Washington Hilton, delivering remarks at an annual event that every president has attended since Dwight D. Eisenhower.

via Obama: Jesus would tax the rich – Jennifer Epstein – POLITICO.com.

I like the response by Mary Theroux of the Independent Institute:

Yes, that Jesus was always looking for ways to make Rome more powerful!

Here we see two different ways of looking at taxes and at government:  Liberals think taxation is virtuous because the government is always helping people, so in order to help people more we need to give the government more money.  Conservatives think government basically exerts power over people, so giving it more money makes it even more powerful and lessens the liberty of its citizens. 

The text that the president cites (Luke 12:48), in context, does not refer to taxes, but it can apply to money as to everything else.  A person who has received much FROM GOD has much that is required BY GOD.  Not the federal government!   The president here is putting the federal government squarely in the place of God!

A person who has been blessed with lots of money should indeed do good with it, including helping those who lack money.  But it isn’t necessary to go through the federal government to do that.  The wealthy person can and should help people and organizations directly.

At the same time, Christians should remember that just about every time the New Testament teaches something about our obligation to our governments, including that of the Roman Empire, it includes an exhortation to pay our taxes.  I worry that our anti-tax rhetoric may sometimes violate the spirit of those teachings, which impose upon us a cross and a discipline that we must submit to, whether we like it or not.

 

Yet another grandchild!

 

Lucy Joyce Hensley.  This is our second grandchild in one month.  At this rate, we will have 24 in a year.  Lucy is our seventh!  She is very sweet.

Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie 
          Thy soul's immensity
                            --William Wordsworth

I am a bad American

I did not watch the Superbowl.  I turned my back on America’s great unifying festival, in which citizens of all political persuasions, subcultures,  creeds, and no-creeds set aside their differences for one night of football, snacks, and television commercials.  I really have no excuse.  My heart hasn’t been in football since the Packers flamed out, and I know that I would just torment myself with thoughts of what might have been.  The half-time extravaganzas nearly always annoy me, and the prospect of Madonna putting on a show filled me with dismay.  And watching the game solely to see the commercials would fill me with self-loathing.  So I did something else.  I am one of the few Americans to sink so low–I hope for my country’s sake that I am the only American to remain aloof from our moment of national unity.

So what did I miss?

How our government thinks of religion

Joseph Knippenberg at First Thoughts finds a telling quotation from Leondra Kruger, Assistant to the Solicitor General, arguing at the Supreme Court in the Hosanna-Tabor case:

The government’s interest extends in this case beyond the fact that this is a retaliation to the fact that this is not a church operating internally to promulgate and express religious belief internally. It is a church that has decided to open its doors to the public to provide the service, socially beneficial service, of educating children for a fee, in compliance with State compulsory education laws.

Mr. Knippenberg points out that this mindset helps explain why the government is requiring religious institutions except for churches to provide their employees free Morning After pills and birth control devices, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs:

The reasoning here is perfectly consistent with the thought animating the narrowly-drawn exemption to the widely reviled contraceptive mandate. Whenever a church or house of worship ceases to be simply inward-looking, when it in any way engages or serves the wider public, it becomes subject to much the same sort of government regulation as any secular entity. Relgious freedom is a purely private freedom. The moment you enter the public sphere, you’re subject to regulation. The public sphere is by definition secular, not pluralistic, with its tone, terms, and limits set by governmental authority. . . .

The logic of its argument in these two cases is that any religious institution that is public-serving has to behave in many instances (those determined by the state) like every other public-serving organization. The religious presence in the public square can’t be distinctive except in ways the government permits.

Pursued consistently across the board (and the Obama Administration hasn’t yet done this), this approach would gravely threaten religious freedom. It’s one thing to say (as some have, though I disagree with them), that if you take public dollars, you have to be thoroughly secular in your operation. Anyone can escape the secularizing effect of public money by refusing to accept it. It’s quite another to say that if you serve the public, your religiosity can’t permeate your efforts and your organization. This would require almost every religious organization I know of to choose between reaching out as a bearer of good news and a helper of widows and orphans and remaining faithful to the very understanding that inspired its outreach. Under these circumstances, a church can’t remain a church.

via The Obama Admininstration’s Crabbed Vision of Religious Liberty » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.


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