Monday, December 29, 2014

Finding Happiness in 2015

Most sane people desire to live a life filled with peace and happiness.  While fleeting at times and difficult to prescribe for many, a recent survey of over 15,000 Americans reveals a secret to happiness known to many but ignored by the majority.

This survey of American adults, between the ages of 18 and 60, reveals that people who attend religious services weekly are almost twice as likely to describe themselves as “very happy” when compared to those who never attend such gatherings (45% vs. 28%).  The other end of the spectrum confirms this pattern.  Twice as many people, who never go to religious services, view themselves “very unhappy” as those who do attend (4% vs. 2%).

Moreover, while the study found that personal identification as religious or an affiliation with a particular group were also linked to a sense of happiness, the strongest factor was weekly participation in church services.  

One cannot explain this phenomenon merely as the fruit of social interaction.  The survey found that religious participation produced a greater sense of happiness than for those who were merely socially engaged in other ways.

And these results are not a fluke in 2014.  Ten years ago a social survey found similar patterns.  In 2004, religious Americans were again nearly twice as likely to view themselves as “very happy” when compared to the non-religious (43% to 21%).  And the reverse was also then true: those who never attend worship services were much more likely to indicate a lack of happiness (21% vs. 8%).

Truly there is nothing new under the sun.  The Bible warns against “neglecting to meet together.” In view are not social relationships in general but specifically focused interaction to encourage faithfulness to and worship of the Lord.

If there is a spiritual void producing unhappiness in your life, make the weekly worship of God your focus in 2015.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Reality of Christian Oppression

It seemed the entire civilized world breathed a collective sigh of relief recently when Meriam Ibrahim was finally permitted to leave Sudan.  She had been sentenced to 100 lashes and death by hanging for allegedly converting to Islam from Christianity, despite her claim that she was raised by a Christian mother and therefore never renounced Islam.  While we thank God for Miriam’s freedom, we grieve for the millions more still facing oppression for their faith.  

Who are the most persecuted people in the world?  Christians.  In our own nation, it seems that every viewpoint is valued and protected except that of followers of Christ.  Worldwide, the situation is worse.  

According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular organization with members in 38 nations, Christians are the target of 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today.  The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity states that, throughout the world, 100,000 Christians are executed every year – because they are followers of Christ.  The Pew Research Center has determined that Christians face some level of discrimination in 139 of the world’s 195 countries (stats cited from the Belfast Telegraph).

But the nature of persecution in much of the world dwarfs what we in the West have to face.  We may be harassed for wearing religious jewelry in the work place or praying publicly in Jesus’ name or expressing our faith on a dorm bulletin board.  All the while believers elsewhere are languishing in jail, having church buildings destroyed, being hacked to death by machete-wielding radicals, or being forced to endure tortures and forced labor.

Such a reality comes as no surprise to Christians who take Jesus’ words seriously.  He promised that if the world hated and persecuted Him, it would do likewise to His followers (John 15:18-20).  We who know Christ must never forget the spiritual war that is raging and determine to remain firmly established upon a biblical foundation, come what may.  And let us rejoice that, in the end, truth and righteousness will triumph.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Wise Words from a Founding Father

Thomas McKean was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a President of Congress, a Ratifier of the U.S. Constitution, a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, a Governor of Pennsylvania, and a Governor of Delaware.  While serving on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1778 he heard the case of Respublica v. John Roberts.  Roberts was sentenced to death after a jury found him guilty of treason.  A few days before his execution, Chief Justice McKean called Roberts to appear before him and issued the following stern words of advice:
You will probably have but a short time to live. Before you launch into eternity, it behooves you to improve the time that may be allowed you in this world: it behooves you most seriously to reflect upon your past conduct; to repent of your evil deeds; to be incessant in prayers to the great and merciful God to forgive your manifold transgressions and sins; to teach you to rely upon the merit and passion of a dear Redeemer, and thereby to avoid those regions of sorrow – those doleful shades where peace and rest can never dwell, where even hope cannot enter. It behooves you to seek the fellowship, advice, and prayers of pious and good men; to be persistent at the Throne of Grace, and to learn the way that leadeth to happiness. May you, reflecting upon these things, and pursuing the will of the great Father of light and life, be received into the company and society of angels and archangels and the spirits of just men made perfect; and may you be qualified to enter into the joys of Heaven – joys unspeakable and full of glory!

Though 236 years old, these wise words still serve as sound advice for us who are alive today.  McKean was a man with impeccable credentials to speak to the bedrock issues of life.  And he did not hesitate to use his position of great prominence as a platform to speak wisdom to those in need.

America today desperately requires leaders with similar character and courage who are determined to lead our nation in a direction God can bless.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

American Devolution

Those of us raised with a concept of American pride, progress, and exceptionalism were not prepared for her disintegration and demise.  Throughout history, there was a pervading sense of optimism that, whatever the challenge, the American spirit would rise to the occasion and prevail.

But things changed.  Instead of an ethic that assumes a man is responsible to provide for himself and his family, we now pride ourselves in a safety net that disincentivizes hard work.  Instead of learning to live within our means, we have decided we can have it all today and pay the bill later.  Instead of recognizing that our Creator has established a moral code, we have decided that each person can determine truth for himself.  Instead of submitting to God’s mandate of working six days and resting on the seventh, we have decided that life is too short to waste one day a week in worship and reflection; eternity will have to take care of itself because we’re too preoccupied with this world to be too concerned.

The cornerstone of our society was the First Amendment conviction that all men are free to practice their religion without government interference.  As I write, one of the most critical Supreme Court cases in years is being argued: Can a Christian conduct his business according to the dictates of his conscience or must he leave his faith at the doorstep of his church?

Last week I finished reading the biography of a Chinese dissident who escaped the clutches of that brutal rĂ©gime and now serves as an advocate for the religiously oppressed within China.  He experienced the torture, imprisonment and iron-fisted tactics of a government devoted to maintaining its power and squashing any effort to establish free religious expression.  

America is rapidly heading in that direction.  The current administration in Washington has made it plain that it is concerned only about enhancing the ever-growing influence of government.  The Christian’s right of conscience, whether in Iran, China, or America, is of no apparent interest to these secularists.

Is there hope?  Yes, but it is not found in the ballot box or in the lessening of Congressional gridlock.  Only as America recognizes that we have collectively spurned God and His truth and earnestly seeks Him in repentance and faith will our nation turn from her death spiral.