Like Button

Monday, June 30, 2008

Hard Contentment

Paul says, "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:11-13).

Contentment is a good thing to learn. Seriously ... a very good thing. Think of what a difference it would make if we learned to be content rather than always complaining and always wanting more. Paul says he learned it. We would all do well to learn that skill.

What interests me, though, is Paul's statement that he learned to be content in abundance. Now, most of us would say, "Duh! Anyone can be content when they have a lot." Most of us aren't paying attention, because most of us have more than 99% of the rest of the world and we're not content. So I ask myself, which is harder -- content with little or content with a lot?

I'm not expert, mind you. I've not done a research study on this. I don't have empirical data. I do, however, have some experience in life observing both the "haves" and the "have nots", and what I've found (and what others have confirmed to me) is that the "have nots" seem, as a whole, to be a lot more contented than the "haves." From what I've seen, it is a great deal more difficult to be content when you have a lot than when you don't have much.

I've seen it over and over. People living in mud huts with openings we might call "windows" but, of course, no glass. They have dirt where you might have carpet. They have dirt where you might have a couch. They have fire as their warmth and cooking and not an electric appliance in the place. They sleep on a mat. No, not a mattress -- a piece of matting of some sort. They don't have closets because they don't own more than one outfit. The "running water" is at the local stream ... or worse, the local mud hole. They make, at most, something that equates to $1 a week. The very odd thing about these people who might more accurately define the term "sub-poverty" is that they seem to be perfectly content. They're not angry because they don't have a new car. They're not dying to get the next HD TV for their house. "Keeping up with the Joneses" is a nonsense concept for them. Their children aren't ignoring them with their iPods and computers and video games, nor are they begging their parents for the latest phone, convinced that their life is over if they can't have it. We see them as impoverished, and they are, but they seem to be perfectly content with life.

Place that over against the "haves" in most American cities. Life is not a constant struggle to survive; it's a constant struggle for more. There is no such thing as "enough." The definition of the rich might be "not enough" in this sense. Whatever we -- the "haves" -- have is not enough. We must have that and then we'll be content ... until, of course, we get it. Then there's something more.

The hard part for those with abundance is first the constant desire for more, but second it's the the problem of going back. In days gone by, a man and a woman who were getting married understood that they would leave the comfort of their parents' homes and step back. They would have to make their own home from scratch. They would have to build from the ground up. More modern generations don't understand nor do they accept "step back." Doing with less is not an option. Starting from scratch is not acceptable. Like the song from Queen, "I want it all, and I want it now."

Oh, that we who have could learn to be as content as those who have not. The Bible has a term for us. It is "ungrateful." And Paul's solution is not any easier to embrace: "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." But embracing Him who strengthens is the place you will have the strength to be content with much, and being grateful for all that His hand supplies is the only attitude that will work. It is effort. It is a hard thing to be content when you have so much. We are always comparing to others who have more. Don't do it. Learn gratitude instead. Maybe you and I can work on that together, eh?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Wedding Day

Today my son gets married. He has been working toward this for years. He graduated from college in May and is marrying his fiance in June because they can't wait any longer. They long to be a married couple. So today we will witness the joining of two in holy matrimony.

My son and his bride are doing something that has been a longstanding tradition for longer than I can count. They are joining together as one in the sight of God and these witnesses. They are pledging "'til death do us part" with the actual intention of marriage 'til death. Their marriage means something different than so many other users of the term today. It is a joining for life, a promise before God, a commitment without exceptions.

I pray for my son and his bride. They are starting their family in difficult times. Marriage is in disarray, and their examples of real marriage are few and far between. They will be told, when times are tough, that marriage vows are meaningless and self is the only important person. They will be told that children are an option -- likely an unnecessary one. Put it off until you have enjoyed each other and established "a home" and then ... well, then you can consider the possibility ... maybe. In a world driven by the god of personal fulfillment, they will need to learn the skills of other fulfillment and placing self at the end of the line rather than the front. They will be told -- and it sounds as reasonable as it is wrong -- that marriage is a "50-50" proposition. It's not. Our current society, in fact, will militate against everything that makes for good, biblical marriage.

I pray, then, for my son and his bride. I pray that they will be a militant couple, fighting for God's perception of marriage rather than the one they will be fed daily by society. I pray that they will fight for each other, fight against themselves. I pray that they will love in the sense of choice rather than feeling and bask, later, in the feeling of love that follows. I pray that difficulties will arise (because difficulties always arise) and press them together rather than tear them apart. I pray that they will keep their priorities straight, starting first with their devotion to God, second to their spouse, and to themselves last. Marriage isn't easy on these terms ... but it is oh, so rewarding.

Congratulations, David and Becca.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Who's Wagging What?

In his latest presentation, Al Gore argues that we can't just talk the talk; we have to walk the walk. Mr. Gore is leading the way on this matter. In 2007, we learned that Al Gore's home in Tennessee consumed more than 20 times the national average in 2006. But he turned that around by replacing light bulbs and installing solar panels. And now we've learned that his usage ... went up more than 10%. Wait ... wait ... what's up with that, Al? You're telling us to "walk the walk" while you walk all over the thing yourself?

You see, the best indicator of what someone believes is what they do. If I tell you, "There is a bomb in this room" and I don't act on that information, you can be fairly sure that there is something wrong. I'm either lying ... or I'm psychotic.

So I ask myself, is Al Gore wrong or psychotic? I don't doubt that he's wrong. There are a growing number of scientists that are coming out and saying, "Well, maybe we're getting warmer, but there's no way that this doomsday report about human-caused end-of-the-Earth stuff is real." Still, Mr. Gore has that same information and he holds his position. Why? Perhaps his latest presentation has the clue we need to answer this question.

According to Mr. Gore, we need to invest heavily in alternative energy companies. He includes a list of companies that he recommends. And then he makes the telling admission. "Here are just a few of the investments that I personally think make sense. I have a stake in these." Now wait a minute. Here is Al Gore's message. "I have invested heavily in these companies. I think we ought to mandate that the government subsidize these companies, and I think you should invest in them, too." How can we not conclude the obvious corollary? "I really want to make a lot of money. If I can get all that money flowing into these companies, I'll be filthy rich." It would appear, then, that while he is probably wrong, he isn't psychotic. He's sly.

There was a movie that came out in the '90's titled Wag the Dog. In it, the president was caught in a nasty scandal shortly before election time. To get the public view off the scandal, they drummed up a fake war and, with judicious use of the media, convinced people that there were bigger problems than some crummy old presidential faux pas. Now we have Al Gore waving his hands about and shouting, "There's a war on against environmental catastrophe and if you don't invest in the companies that will make me big money now, we're all doomed." In the meantime, he still drives his SUVs, still rides in private airplanes, and produces more greenhouse gases than ever. So ... is this the tale that will wag the dog?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Change We Can Believe In

One of Obama's big messages was a change in Iraq. According to his website, "Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He ... will have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months." According to his plan, he will provide the best support Iraq needs to fend for itself -- pull out. Seriously, that's what he says. It will not be up to us to finish what we started. It will be up to the United Nations. It is not possible to determine in advance the effect of pulling out suddenly. What will Iraq conclude? What will al Qaeda conclude? What will our allies in the region conclude? I'd have to wonder if America can be trusted, or whether they need be feared. After all, they don't finish what they start.

Barack Obama is on record as aiming at a national health care plan. His plan would make insurance available to everyone. It will be paid for by your premiums, mandatory employer payments, heavier taxation of the rich, and, unavoidably, tax increases for all of us. When up and running, Obama estimates that the program will cost $65 billion a year. Of course, the initial startup costs of such a plan are phenomenal. One key money-saving component, for instance, is the use of electronic medical records. Obama's estimates put the cost of such a program at an initial $80 billion. These costs are over and above the estimated operating costs.

The environment is a big concern for Obama. He considers global climate change "one of the greatest moral challenges of our generation." Al Gore's We Can Solve promises that it will cost us trillions of dollars to fix this problem. And Obama agrees that there is no question -- "Global warming is real, is happening now and is the result of human activities." So he plans to cap emissions. Does that mean that companies have to decrease their emissions? No, not really. They will be given "emission allowances." They can buy or sell these as they desire. The allowances will decrease because the plan is to see an 80% decrease by 2050. Toward that end, he plans to spend $180 billion toward energy technology research. He has another $42 billion earmarked for lead removal. Fasten your seatbelts. This is going to be an expensive trip. (And one has to ask ... "Is this trip really necessary?")

Poverty is of great concern to Obama. He plans to help in a variety of ways. Expect an increase in the minimum wage to $9.50/hour. He plans to pay out $10 billion to encourage states to take children ages "zero to five" out of their homes to educate them. He plans another $10 billion as a foreclosure prevention fund. And he plans to increase jobs. Of course, every president promises to increase jobs. The fact that no president has the ability to do so doesn't seem to phase the voters. He/she promises it, so we listen.

He promises to change how politics is done. He has already demonstrating this by spending over $100 million to get himself to the position of Democratic candidate. Oh, wait, everyone is spending big to get elected. Well, he promises to change politics in Washington. Of course, he's already opted out of keeping the promise on campaign funding. I suppose that means his as well, since thus far it has been politics as usual. He promised to unite the country (while the Democratic party disassembled itself in a battle between Obama and Clinton). He promises to withdraw our troops, raise taxes, increase spending, raise prices. Oh, yeah, this is change. And, frankly, I think I believe it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Gay v Freedom

Is religious freedom in trouble with the new legislative definition of the term "gay marriage"? The California Supreme Court asserts that one will have no effect on the other. I'm not so sure.

One of the most prevalent types of litigation involving homosexuals is in the family court. You understand. A heterosexual mate who is divorced by a now homosexual mate ("now" meaning "just out of the closet" because surely a heterosexual and a homosexual wouldn't marry if they knew that from the beginning) takes custody of the children. The homosexual mate sues for custody. It doesn't matter one bit what the religious views of the heterosexual parent are. He may consider it morally wrong to put his children in the custody of their lesbian mother, but his views will not be taken into consideration.

Okay, so that's a theoretical. What about reality? Well, we have the case of Elaine Huguenin? She declined to photograph a homosexual commitment ceremony because it violated her beliefs. She was sued and lost. A pastor in Canada was convicted of hate speech for stating that homosexual behavior was a sin. A doctor in San Diego refused to artificially inseminate a lesbian couple. The doctor said it violated his religious beliefs. (His religious beliefs required that he not perform the procedure on any unmarried woman.) He referred the couple to another doctor who would do it. And he's now being sued for discrimination. The lawyer for the plaintiff argued, "Religious liberty protects your right to believe as you wish, but not act in whatever manner a person might wish to based on those religious beliefs."

There is actually a long list and the list is building, but it's that last notion that should give you pause. You are free to believe what you want as long as you don't act on what you believe. Will this new legislation have an effect on religious freedom? If religion includes any sort of acting on what you believe, and what you believe does not align with the forward motion of the fight for gay rights, I think that it is unavoidable that you will be surrendering your religious freedoms. It's as if the gays have come out of one closet ... and the religious folks are being forced into another.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Believe What You Want

This "gay rights" thing has me thinking. I was particularly struck with all the news coverage about how wonderful it was that homosexuals can now engage in what has been redefined as "marriage" in California. No one questioned whether it was a good thing. Of course it was! But have you noticed how this is supposed to work? While a majority of people in our society believe that homosexual behavior is immoral, the California Supreme Court has decided, along with most homosexuals, that they don't care. They don't care what you think. They don't care what you believe to be moral or not. What they believe to be moral is what matters, so what they believe to be moral is what they should be allowed to do.

They like to compare "gay rights" to "civil rights". They should be allowed to override your moral beliefs because they are being denied their civil rights ... just as black people were denied theirs. The connection between the rights of black people and how homosexuals are just like that is vague, but we all seem pretty sure it's there. Well, you may be sure. I don't get it.

And you kind folks, you're perfectly right in having whatever moral beliefs you like ... as long as they don't collide with what this extreme minority wants. An example is found in New Mexico where a photographer was sued for failing to take pictures of a homosexual commitment ceremony. Now, I've always understood that privately-owned businesses always had the right to refuse service to whomever they pleased. I've even seen the sign before. But it's not the case anymore, I guess. Do you have moral beliefs that would prevent you from providing your service to homosexuals? Then you had better close up shop, because it is a violation of human rights.

Now, when I was younger, it seemed like a different world. I understand that there have always been immoral people -- hey, we're humans -- but it never seemed like they were defending it in court. My grandfather never considered himself a Christian. He classified himself as an agnostic ... who couldn't see any reason whatsoever to believe in the existence of God. One thing that fascinated me about my grandfather was that he always admired my father's moral virtue. He was convinced that my father's values were the right ones, even if he himself couldn't stick to them. That's the way it seemed to be in the past. Most of us were in agreement that Judeo-Christian morality was a good thing, even when some people weren't actually Jewish or Christian.

This is no longer the case. You are free to have your moral beliefs, but please don't bring them into the public square. You're encouraged to believe what you want as long as what you believe doesn't have any ramifications for anyone but you. Our society is no longer agreed on what is good and what is bad, and we are not going to discuss it. That is, we are not going to talk about the basis for morality or provide any actual reasons for what we believe is right or wrong. If I want to do it, it's right. If you disagree, get out of my way. You're just a narrow-minded moralist. And probably too stupid to listen to anyway, considering your outdated perceptions ...

Somehow this change in our culture doesn't strike me as a good one.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Legislating Morality

You can't legislate morality. You've heard that time after time. You may have even said it ... or at least thought it. But have you thought about it?

The phrase can mean several different things. It may suggest that it is not right to legislate morality. "If you try to legislate morality, you will be forcing your views on others. That's not right." It may mean that it is illegal to do so. "Moral views are intrinsically religious views, and the Constitution has a sharp separation between Church and State, so it would be illegal to try to legislate morality." A recent twist I hadn't considered in the statement referred to the practicality of the concept. "You can't make a person internally moral by passing laws intended to make them behave a certain way." Okay, fine ... but is it true?

I recently heard someone say, "All laws are based on morality." I balked at that. "No they're not," I thought (which seems to be my default, defiant thought). "Some laws are simply practical, like laws about motor vehicles or tax laws." But as I thought about it, I realized that these, too, were based on an underlying moral view. We believe that it is required of government to provide us with certain things like security and such, so it is right to pay taxes. We believe that it is good for society to have safe vehicles on the road, so we have vehicle regulations. We believe that murder is immoral, so we outlaw it. We believe that theft is evil, so we outlaw it. You might argue that we can't legislate morality, but the truth is that all laws are based on a moral perspective. As California demonstrated, when that perspective changes, so do the laws. The truth, then, is that we are legislating morality. That is, we have the laws we have because we think they are the right things to do (or the wrong thing not to do as the case may be).

"But that's just your religious perspective. You can't force it on others." Well, maybe. The problem with that is that the only rational basis for any binding moral perspective is that it is given by a Lawmaker who has the right to make moral calls. If morality is not based on a moral Lawgiver, it simply becomes pragmatism -- "what works." In this scenario, it's not evil to kill another human being; it's just not a good idea. It's not good to help your neighbor; it's just wise to do so. Without a moral Lawgiver, "good" and "evil" are pure fabrications, relative perceptions that have no basis and no binding power on all of society. You may think it's unwise to kill someone, but someone else may see it as expedient and, since it is pragmatism, it is right. You can't fight it. Deny religion in morality and the law if you like, but without it the whole thing falls apart.

Can we pass laws that make people internally moral? No, of course not. But that is not the aim. The aim is order. The aim is to attempt to make as many people as possible in society behave in a manner that benefits society. That, regardless of what you may think, is legislating morality. Indeed, if you wanted to remove such legislation (as some libertarians would argue), you are imposing a moral view that legislation based on morality is wrong ... and you've legislated morality again.

I know. We like to think that it's true. You'll hear it all the time. And if it's meant in the sense that you can't pass laws that make people intrinsically good, I would agree wholeheartedly. If we don't, on the other hand, pass laws that try to urge people to be good regardless of their inner values, we will end up without any order. I think that's called "anarchy." I think that would be a problem.

Monday, June 23, 2008

It's My Right

"I deserve better." We live in a world that tells us a lot about what we deserve. We deserve more pay our coworkers tell us. We deserve a break McDonalds tells us. We deserve health care some of our candidates for president tell us. The term is means "to merit." When we say "You deserve X," we mean, "There is something you have done or something about you that merits X." The original idea in the word meant "be entitled to because of good service," and that original intent still holds. We understand "deserve" to mean "entitled."

This moves closer to the idea being expressed. "Deserve" or "entitled" never carries a sense of privilege. It is not your privilege to receive that which you deserve. Instead, it is your right. You've earned it; you ought (in a moral sense) to receive it. For instance, if you work for a person at an agreed wage for an agreed time, it isn't a privilege to receive the pay. It is a right. You are owed that pay and to fail to receive it would be theft.

Now we're at the dilemma of "deserve." If the term refers to something to which we have a right, it is not merely incorrect to fail to receive it. It is immoral, perhaps even criminal. That is, if it is true that we all deserve health care (as an example), then it is not merely advisable that we receive it. It is mandatory. A serious injustice is being perpetrated on us as long as we don't have it. And what, in the case of health care, qualifies us for this right? Apparently it's the fact that we're human. Human beings have certain inalienable rights because they're human. Health care is one of them. But if that is the case, then it is not merely an injustice that some Americans don't have health care; it is a vast injustice that every human being on the planet who, by right of the fact that they're human, is entitled to health care doesn't have what they have the right to have! The horrors of it all!

Oddly, the human right to health care doesn't seem to have come up before recent times. That's strange, isn't it? I mean, it it's a right because we're human, shouldn't it always have been a right ... as long as we are or have been human? "Oh," someone might say, "but health care itself is fairly new." And that may be true to some extent. So ... to what future right are we now entitled because we are human?

Still doubt it? Consider today's favorite American pastime. It used to be baseball. No longer. Now it seems like our favorite pastime is litigation. We will sue for anything. You all know about the woman who sued McDonalds because they served her hot coffee. The nerve of them ... serving coffee hot! If she had only known, she never would have put it where it would spill in her lap. Someone is going to pay!! Maybe you've heard about the woman who is suing Victoria's Secret because when she was putting on a thong underwear a decorative medal piece flew off and hit her in the eye. You see, she has a right! Nothing should ever go wrong with a piece of clothing ... ever! Someone is going to pay!! You probably haven't heard about the man here in Arizona who is suing the high school because it rained at the graduation. Seriously. "It ruined my jacket. And they knew it was going to rain!" No one seems to be saying, "But ... you knew. Why didn't you bring an umbrella?" You see, we have rights! Bad things don't just happen. There are no unfortunate accidents. And I am not going to pay for it! Someone else is. We have the right to have perfect weather and hot coffee that doesn't burn and medicine without the remotest possibility of mistake. You can't provide it? Fine! Someone is going to pay! I deserve better!

You see, the thing just keeps piling up. And it's all predicated ... on a lie. There are really quite a few rights that humans have because they are human. "A break" is not on that list. Neither is health care. You don't deserve a new Mercedes because you are a human being. Nor is it a mandate on society that no human be below the poverty line. There is no "human right" that says, "No human should make less than X." It's just not there.

We really like the language of entitlement. It gives our wishes greater weight. The problem is that rights carry with them a moral responsibility. If, as the Beastie Boys argued, you have to "fight for your right to party", you will also need to fight for everyone else's right to party and consider it a moral black eye if someone does not yet have their right to party. And the same is true for every other right we wish to claim. Perhaps we would do well to examine things a little more closely before we pile them in the "rights" category. Being a member of the human race has its privileges, but we should be careful about what we declare we deserve.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Will of God

What is God's will for my life? Most of us have asked that at one time or another. Sometimes I think it's clearer than we realize. In Paul's first letter to the church at Thessalonica, we read this:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
It all flows together there -- rejoice, pray, give thanks. And it's all in superlatives -- always, without ceasing, in all circumstances. "This," Paul tells his readers, "is the will of God ... for you."

First, Paul, I have to ask ... in what world is that even possible? I mean, seriously, man, have you looked around? Times are tough!

Paul answers: "In Christ Jesus."

You see, in the hands of the Savior, we can rejoice always, pray ceaselessly, and be grateful in every circumstance.

Okay, fine ... but we don't do that, do we?

And that is the real question. Why? Why don't we rejoice in every circumstance? Could it be because we lose contact with Christ? Oh, that would be prayer without ceasing, wouldn't it? So why don't we pray without ceasing? Could it be that we have situations that distract and concern us? But that wouldn't be true if we were grateful in all circumstances, would it?

Do you want to know what God's will is for your life? Here's a simple start. Rejoice in everything, maintain constant communication with God, and be in a constant state of gratitude about everything that occurs. If, in all of that, you have time to worry about something else, you let me know. I'm sure Scripture lists a couple other things that are the will of God for your life.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Failure to Communicate

One commenter asked me if words can change their meaning over time. Of course they can. The problem is that communication becomes imperiled when they do if we're not careful. Let me give you a fictional exchange and see if you can understand my dilemma.

I'm at a gathering of some sort ... you know, an ice breaker. A guy comes up to me and we strike up a conversation. He tells me he's married. Okay, here's what I know about this guy. He is connected to a woman who lives in the same house as he does and sleeps in the same bed with him. He is actively involved in advancing the needs of our society by making a permanent home, a stable environment suitable for the rearing of children. He either already has children or will have children barring any unforeseen, unfortunate event that might prevent it because children are the natural and right result of marriage. He will be married to this same woman for the rest of his or her life because marriage is "'til death do us part."

"Oh, no," he tells me, " I meant the more modern term."

Oh, I'm sorry. My mistake. Now what do I know? Well, he is connected to a woman who likely lives in the same house he does and shares his bed. They may or may not have children in mind. Lots of people these days have decided that children can be an unpleasant by-product of marriage. And I can't really say for how long he'll be with this woman because the divorce rate is something over 50% by now.

"No," he corrects me again, "I meant in the June, 2008 sense."

Oohhhh, I'm so sorry. I completely misunderstood. I've got it now. He is a guy who is connected in some sense or another to another person. Children aren't really a consideration in the question. And who knows how long this relationship will last. Essentially, then, I only know that he's a guy ... wait. Maybe I'd better ask about that ...

You see, as the longstanding, traditional definition of marriage has deteriorated, so has its usefulness. As we expand the meaning of a word, we tend to end up making it mean less and less because it has too many meanings to be of any value. When marriage meant a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman that would in all probability include children, there was meaning ... and value. Now? Not so much. And as the word has deflated in meaning, we've lost the ability to properly communicate the original intent. So how is this progress?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Blogiversary II - the Sequel

Well, it's Anniversary #2. I suppose it's a good time to review. After all, I may just be out here flapping my gums (figuratively speaking) and shouldn't be bothering with blogging.

What might make me think that? Well, I get some interesting feedback at times. I've had far more than one person tell me, "I like what you write ... but half the time it's over my head." I'm somewhat baffled by that. I can't imagine me talking over anyone's head. But it's actually quite a few who have said it, so I have no reason to doubt it. Then there are the numbers. Right now I'm running at about 400 visitors a week. Last year I was at about 400 visitors a week. There is little variation. Reasonably good blogs are in the thousands of visitors a week. So the numbers would suggest that I'm not exactly hot in this market, so to speak. In the last year I made 385 posts. That's better than one a day -- my personal goal. In July there was a lively discussion on an entry about baptism. In January I posted about whether or not women should hold government offices and got 36 comments. I think that's a record for me. A couple of days later there was another 27 comments on a post about Homeschooling in Germany. When Dagoods started visiting I got some lively discussions, including topics like "Faith in Crisis", "Choose to Believe," and "Preferencial Hermeneutics". Always a pleasure. (Dagoods, for those of you who don't know, is a self-avowed atheist. He is always respectful and coherent and, frankly, if I'm going to have rational answers to real questions, I have to have the real questions, don't I? So I'm always open for discussion with friendly people who disagree with my views.) I got some very kind responses from people when I was out with a blood clot. And I certainly asked my fair share of questions again this year. Despite all this, the comments are few and far between most of the time. I have some very kind regulars and I'm gratified that they read this blog, but most of my regular readers, I suspect, don't comment. So I wonder if I should continue.

Then I remember why I'm here. When God called Isaiah to speak for Him (I am not suggesting that I am a prophet of God), Isaiah asked how long he would have to carry his message of doom. God told him, essentially, for the rest of his life. No one would be listening. If Isaiah was a blogger and measured his success by friendly comments, visits, and that sort of thing, he would have to classify himself as a failure. Jeremiah was promised from the beginning of his calling that no one would listen to him, either. He didn't like it (thus, "Lamentations"), but he didn't shirk his responsibility, either. The truth is that while success is measured in this world by numbers, it isn't measured that way in the Christian life. We "walk by faith, not by sight." What may look like foolishness to the world isn't to God. So what would be the normal method of determining whether or not I'm a "successful blogger" won't work for me. I have to ask myself, "Is this what God wants me to do?" Now, I checked my Bible and can't find any references to "Stan" and "keep blogging" or "don't", so I don't have it on biblical authority, but I believe that this is what God wants me to do for now ... so I will. I just have to remind myself that "Well done" doesn't necessarily refer to "everyone thinks you're grand" or anything like it. (Hey, to a piece of meat, "Well done" means you've been burned!)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Gay Marriage

I know. You all think I'm against gay marriage. I have to tell you, I am not. In fact, I will be attending a gay wedding in a couple of weeks. The groom is my son. And I have to tell you, he's very happy about getting married. He's feeling both merry and gay. Generally speaking, I think all couples who marry should be gay. It stinks to get married when you're not happy.

You see, I'm not willing to give up reality to give in to others' agendas. For instance, "gay" means "showing a merry, lively mood" or even "bright and showy". There is even a worst case "licentious." Antonyms include "unhappy" and "mournful" ... but not "heterosexual". According to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, "'gay' has had various senses dealing with sexual conduct since the 17th century. A gay woman was a prostitute, a gay man a womanizer, a gay house a brothel." You see, a secondary definition of "gay" was "sexually immoral". Is that why it was applied to homosexuals? Is that why they embrace the term? And why do you think it is that "queer" and "straight" came to be the very common terms in this discussion? As evidenced by the hit show, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, "queer" has been an acceptable term for homosexual -- acceptable to homosexuals. But isn't there a message in these terms? We all know what is straight and we all know that if you're not straight, you're ... queer. Words, you see, have meaning.

"Marriage" is a word with meaning. It refers to the union of a man and a woman. If I say, "By the power invested in me by God and the state of Arizona, I now pronounce you ...", everyone would know how to finish the sentence: "... husband and wife." (Okay, if you're older like me, you might have said "man and wife".) That's it. That's marriage. So now the court in California has pronounced by judicial fiat that the word will no longer mean what it means. That's fine. Change the name of a dog's leg to "tail" and it doesn't change what it is, nor does it make it a tail.

I am not against gay marriage. My son will be marrying his fiance in a couple of weeks. They are happy about it. What they will have will be a gay marriage. I'm praying it will be gay for a long time. What is happening in California, on the other hand, is not "gay marriage." Call it what you want. Because they are called "gay" doesn't make them gay, and because you call it "marriage" doesn't make it marriage. California can do what it pleases. I don't have to play along.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Judge Not

The king is dead; long live the king. Most of us can remember the day when "John 3:16" was prominently displayed at every televised football game, it seemed. This dear verse was, in its day, the most oft quoted verse anywhere. We (Christians) knew it. Even non-Christians knew it. It was the king of verses from the Bible. Of course, that day has ended. There is a new king of verses. It seems that a new verse has taken the lead in the most-often-quoted category. That would be Matt. 7:1. Oh, sure, you all know that one. Everyone ... together now ...
Judge not, that ye be not judged.
Funny ... despite the popularity of more modern translations, I would bet that a lot of you even put in the "ye" in that verse instead of a more updated "you" because everyone seems to know this verse.

Do you doubt it? Here, try this. Make a moral claim against a popular activity or idea or some such. Make a public proclamation why you think that Sex and the City is not a good movie for anyone to see because of its aberrant morality or that homosexual behavior is a sin or that it's wrong to have sex outside of marriage or whatever other of that kind of judgment call you might like to make. As long as you make your moral claim based on Christian principles, it is almost a guarantee that someone somewhere will throw that verse back in your face. "What ever happened to 'Judge not that ye be not judged'?"

Now, there are a variety of responses to this assault. One is to be at a loss. "Ummmm, yeah, I guess you're right. We shouldn't be judging." This, of course, is a non-thinking response. If by the command "Judge not" Jesus meant "Never have a moral view on anything," Jesus was facing a whole lot of sinning Himself. A couple of verses later He commands that we should not cast our pearls before swine (Matt. 7:6). Don't you have to determine what a "swine" is? And isn't that a judgment call? And a few verses later He warns His listeners to be wary of false prophets. "You will recognize them by their fruits" He warns them (Matt. 7:15-16). Isn't that a judgment call? I mean, if you are supposed to recognize a false prophet and you do it by looking at what they produce, haven't you passed some sort of judgment? And the only possible answer to my question is "Yes!" So "We're not supposed to be judging" is not a proper response to the objection because it is not a proper understanding of the command.

Another response would be, "Well, that's not actually what it says." This is mostly accurate. (I say "mostly" because it is what it says, but it doesn't mean what it appears to mean at cursory face value.) We can show, as I did in the last paragraph, that Jesus commands value judgments. We can demonstrate that Jesus practiced value judgments. Is it possible to read the Matthew 23 series of "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" without recognizing some value judgments in it? I think it's pretty clear that Jesus was saying that they were doing something wrong. And it would be wise, in this response, to answer the obvious question, "Then what does it mean?" It's not too hard. Jesus explains in the next few verses. "For" (which means "this is the reason for the statement I just made") "with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you" (Matt. 7:2). What does that mean? Well (and He explains further in verses 3-5), that means that you need to check out your own sins first. You remember ... "first take the log out of your own eye" (Matt. 7:5). The command then is not to avoid judgment, but to avoid rash judgment. (That's why the "that ye be not judged" phrase is there.) Make sure that when you are calling someone else's sin "sin", you're not pointing 4 fingers back at yourself. This is a valid response to the objection.

In my view, the third response is the most amusing. You see, if you analyze what they're saying, it's a "foot-in-mouth" problem. Think about it. You have said, "X is sinful." They said, "Judge not!" So, here's the bottom line. You are not allowed to make a value judgment, but they are. You are not allowed to have an opinion on the morality of a particular concept or activity because their opinion is that you would be immoral for having that opinion. They are certainly free to pass judgment on your views, but you are not equally free to have views ... at least not views that disagree with their views. The third response, then, is to simply ask, "Why am I not allowed to have a view but you are?" Okay, that one is the most fun, but it's not the most likely to win friends and influence people. Still, I have always found it ironic that we Christians seem to be the only group that are not allowed to have an opinion on the morality of an issue. Why is that? Never mind ... rhetorical question.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

America's Actor

I recently watched an old John Wayne movie. Which one is irrelevant. It was interesting to watch him. John Wayne represented America. The actor he was represented what America was. John Wayne acted from 1926 to 1976, fifty years that held a particular flavor of America. While he was acting in mostly westerns and war movies, America was living westerns and war. We defended Europe from evil men and fought off attackers from Asia. We went to war -- a cold war -- with communism, went into outer space, and landed on the moon. Americans made sacrifices, fought hard, stood for right, defended the weak, and made great strides in technology. And John Wayne represented America. He was strong and stood for the right. He never backed down. He was America. According to the Harris Poll, John Wayne has remained in the top 10 most popular actors to this day -- the only dead actor to even remain on the list.

John Wayne remains popular, but he doesn't represent America today. We are no longer the defender of the weak. We failed in Vietnam to protect South Vietnam from their neighbors. In 1979, Iran took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The best we could do was Operation Eagle Claw, a failed attempt at rescue that cost the lives of 8 servicemen, two helicopters, and a C-130. Not one of our better days. In World War II we sacrificed and worked hard for principles in which we believed. Not today. No cost is too small to prevent us from standing up for the weak. We'll explore space, to be sure, as long as no one gets hurt. Technological advances are going to have to slow down because of litigation that will undercut any advancements. No, we're not the America that John Wayne represented.

So, who would be today's representative actor? I'm open to suggestions. Maybe it would be Tom Cruise? He likes to look good and act strong, but he's a follower of a religion based on science fiction and holds things like the belief that psychiatry "is a Nazi science." There's a rational, thinking man to represent us. Or maybe Woody Allen? He's viewed by many as a comic, but he's a whiny, psychotic writer, director, and actor who is perhaps best known for his questionable sexual preferences. Is that more like today's America? Or maybe it's a character? Jim Anderson from Father Knows Best or Ward cleaver of Leave It To Beaver represented good father figures. What we get today are characters like Homer Simpson or Al Bundy. Are they better representatives of what America is today?

We used to have strong, intelligent, self-sacrificing figures that represented a strong, intelligent, self-sacrificing nation. We are no longer that strong, intelligent, self-sacrificing country. Who would you say best represents what America is today?

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Bible on Polygamy

The word on many lips today is "polygamy." It was one of the hit stories of the month when Texas law enforcement went into what was daily described in the media as "the polygamist compound" and took their children away. Then the California Supreme Court passes their own legislation that rips the word "marriage" from its acknowledged meaning and gives it to homosexuals, and the fear is, again, "polygamy." You know, "If they legalize marriage for gays, what's next? Legal polygamy?" And, in all honesty, I can't figure out a rational defense against legalizing polygamy or any other "gamy" given the redefining of "marriage" because some of our society decided to. On what basis would they give marriage to homosexuals but deny multiple marriages to a religious sect? Isn't that discrimination? Isn't that discrimination against a religion?? Oh, this will never do! But, I digress ... I'm not writing about the next rupture of marriage. What I'm wondering about is the prohibition of polygamy.

We know that polygamy existed in the Bible. Although marriage was originally defined as "one man and one woman" (Gen. 2:24), we know that Lamech (Gen. 4:19) is the first recorded bigamist, which is not an Italian fog, but a simplified version of polygamy. Both Esau and Jacob all more than one wife, and for some time after that polygamy seemed to be an acceptable practice. There is no mention (that I can find) of polyandry (one woman marrying more than one man), but polygyny (you figure it out) seems fairly common in the Old Testament. By the time we get to the New Testament, there is no mention of it. And, oddly, there isn't one word in the Bible explaining that it was wrong. (As a side note, there also isn't a word in the Bible that condemns husbands who had concubines. A concubine was a mistress with a few extra rights.) So ... how do we get to the position that says that polygamy is wrong?

First, to say that the Bible is silent on the subject of whether or not it's a good thing is not an accurate statement. In Deut. 17, God predicts that the people will ask for a king, so He places restrictions on those who would be king. Read it sometime; it's an interesting set of rules (Deut. 17:14-20). One of those restrictions is "he shall not acquire many wives for himself" (Deut. 17:17). He even tells why: "Lest his heart turn away." Paul points out that one wife will distract you (1 Cor. 7:33). God says that multiple wives will magnify that effect.

Second, the assumption that "The Bible tells about godly people doing it" means "God approves it" is not accurate. Many godly men in the Bible did patently ungodly things. Nor is silence on the subject proof of approval. The Bible makes no prohibition against slavery, but we know that it is evil. There is one other point here that I would like to make. In the Bible, sometimes God allows things of which He doesn't approve. One of the most obvious examples would be divorce. When Jesus was asked when divorce was allowed, He answered, "What God has joined together let no man separate." They found the answer intolerable, so they challenged Him, "Then why did Moses allow divorce?" Jesus answered, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so" (Matt. 19:3-8). Did God want divorce? "From the beginning it was not so." No! Did God allow divorce? "Because of your hardness of heart." Yes. And instead of banning it, He regulated it. The same is true of slavery ... and multiple wives.

What the Bible does say is "each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband" (1 Cor. 7:2). Just as leadership in the Old Testament was forbidden from having multiple wives, leadership in the New Testament is unavoidably limited to "the husband of one wife" (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6). Interestingly, marriage in the New Testament is a parallel to Christ's relationship with the Church. We are called His "Bride." Paul says, "The husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, His body, and is Himself its Savior" (Eph. 5:23). Husbands are to love their wives "as Christ loved the church" (Eph. 5:25). Christ only has one Bride. And human marriage is supposed to be an illustration of Christ's relationship with His Bride. Marriage has ramifications for society and ramifications for those who are married. Just as important, marriage serves as an image of our relationship to Christ. We dare not tarnish that image.

Christians wrestle with this problem. There is no clear prohibition. "Thou shalt marry one woman only." There seems to be mostly silence on the topic. But I think it's clear, despite the quiet, that it is not an acceptable practice from a biblical perspective. Why bring it up now? Because I think it will be increasingly difficult in the coming years to remember what "marriage" means. As we allow it to encompass more and more it means less and less. Eventually you're going to have to remember, "Now, why was I against polygamy?" That's my purpose.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Meet My Father

We as a society are accustomed to the obituaries. Obituaries are "advertisements" of sorts, a review of a person's life generally given at the time of one's death. We try to remind each other of the landscape that was that person's life. It is given at the time of death primarily because that landscape is still in flux while he or she is alive. He might do more, greater things or she might do something really scandalous. So we'll wait until they're done.

It's Father's Day and I'd like to give you the lay of my father's land. I'm not going to wait until he dies. He has been a remarkable son, a model husband, a wise father, and an exemplary Christian. You would do well to meet my father.

Dad grew up in a Christian home. It was no downstream Christian home. It was seriously Christian. No dancing, no movies, no playing cards, church every Sunday ... his parents were serious about Christ. (His sister and youngest brother went to the mission field ... serious about Christ.) When he graduated from high school, he had a plan for his life. He wanted to fish and camp. Now, you can't make a living fishing and camping, so he and a friend signed up in college for the classes needed to become a forest ranger. When he got home with his list of classes, his father took a look and asked, "Where's the physics? Where's the math? Where's the engineering? Go back and change your classes so you can be an engineer." And my father went back and became a civil engineer. (It worked out for his benefit. He worked for the county of Los Angeles, retiring early with an excellent retirement package and a retirement bonus, allowing him at a relatively young age to travel and camp and fish to his heart's content without worrying about money.)

As a husband, Dad proved to be a marvelous example to his children. I never saw my parents fight. I never saw my Dad be unkind to my Mom. There were times, Mom tells me, when he really drove her crazy. You see, my father was a practical man. His decisions were rarely (if ever) emotional. He decided what was practical and carried it through. Mom tells me of one time when she didn't like it. When they went to bed that night, he rolled over and started to go to sleep. "Hey, aren't we going to talk about this?" she demanded. "Don't worry, honey," he assured her. "You'll feel better in the morning." She wasn't exactly ecstatic that he was right ... she did feel better in the morning. And while my father proved in this way to be sometimes exasperating, it eventually became an admirable and enjoyable character trait. My father wasn't going to make emotional decisions; he was going to make the right ones.

My father was not the disciplinarian at home. That was Mom's job. But my father made the situation clear when discipline did fall to him. "What were you thinking?" was his question. We, of course, never had an answer. "What makes you think I was thinking?" was obviously not the right answer. But I got the point. "Think!" And sometimes Dad would rub me the wrong way with his practical nature. I was more emotional than he was. Understanding me wasn't easy for him. But he never wavered in his task as a father. He worked at teaching his children what we needed to know. I remember one year when we wanted to go to summer camp, Dad required us to earn our way. Now, keep in mind, we worked for him. In other words, he did pay our way to camp. It was just that he wanted us to get the sense of having earned it rather than merely given it. In that, we received blessings from camp before we ever went. And I will never forget the day my father stood in front of the door blocking my way as I tried to leave home to move in with a girl. "Dad," I told him, "I'm an adult. You can't stop me." Do you know what he told me? "I love you, Stan. If I saw you on a raft in a river and I knew that there was a waterfall ahead, I would do everything I could to pull you off that raft, even if you didn't want me to." In the end, I won ... and lost. He was right; there was a waterfall on that river. But I learned (again) that 1) Dad loved me and 2) he was right. I did all I could to destroy our relationship at that time in my life, but my father loved me through it and was there with open arms to receive me back ... much like a father you might know from a story of a prodigal son.

My father modeled other necessary values to me when I was growing up. He routinely ran off to skid row in downtown Los Angeles. He would go to the Union Rescue Mission to volunteer or out onto the streets to witness to the folks out there. On occasion he would take me and I got to see him at work sharing the gospel -- not the usual image one gets of his father. He would invite people we didn't know over to the house to give them a meal and the plan of salvation. He believed that what he had was the Lord's and he shared it with others. To this day my father can strike up a conversation with anyone at almost any time and it isn't unusual for him to end up sharing the gospel. No one is "safe" from his evangelism. He cares that much.

I told you that my dad wanted to fish and camp. He didn't give that up by becoming an engineer. He just made it his hobby. We routinely went fishing and camping when I was growing up. I've fished from Mexico to Alaska in streams, lakes, and the ocean. We've hiked into the Sierra Nevadas to fish where no one else was and flown to remote towns in Baja California to fish the Sea of Cortez. My memories of fishing, however, are a bit odd, I suppose. I can hardly remember my father ever fishing. It seemed like it was a constant barrage from his two sons, "Dad, I need bait", "Dad, I'm stuck on something", "Dad, my hook is caught in my brother's face", that kind of stuff. Through it all, despite the fact that he rarely got to do what he loved -- actually fishing -- I never saw even a hint of exasperation from my father. He was the epitome of patience, never complaining, never yelling, never upset. That was a model I have worked hard to live up to.

When I was growing up my father was not a particularly emotional man. This and many other aspects became clear marks of change, absolutely irrefutable evidence of a man whose Savior was at work inside. I will never forget the time when he called us all into the dining room and sat us down to apologize to us, his family, for not being the father he should be or the man he should be. My unemotional father wept over his sin in front of his children. He has become more prone to tears as he has aged and God has worked. Now a good testimony or a reminder of God's kindness to him and Dad will be off again with tears of joy. Dad was always reserved with Mom when I was growing up, but that's another place that God has worked, making him into the kind of husband any woman would want.

My father is a remarkable man, one who I would be proud to emulate. He has more than taught me Christianity; he has modeled it. He always tried to do what he thought was right. He never shirked his own responsibility and never denied his own failures. He has always been willing to stand for what is right even when it was unpleasant. My father is a young 78-year-old with many years remaining in his life and I am pleased to be his son, delighted to have him as the grandfather of my children, and woefully short of the man he is. Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Tipping Point

"The tipping point" -- I've heard this phrase a lot lately. It refers to a point at which reparative action is no longer possible. In the simplest of uses, think of someone balancing spinning plates. As he balances them, he is constantly making minor adjustments to keep them in the air -- a little bit here, a little bit there, keep them spinning, another little move. If one of these spinning plates leans too far over without him adjusting for it, at some point the lean will be too much and no matter what he does, gravity will win out. That point is the tipping point.

We, of course, aren't contemplating the tipping point of balancing plates. We are contemplating other tipping points. The most common use I've heard lately is in terms of global warming. There is a portion of the scientific community that fears that our environmental conditions can get so off balanced that at some point we will not be able to compensate for it and an environmental catastrophe (you know, like the end of mankind as we know it) will ensue. The movie, The Day After Tomorrow, was a film about just such a tipping point. Despite anything we might have done, at some point nature ran rampant over civilization and disaster followed. And to hear some tell it, it's too late for us on global warming. Professor James Lovelock assured us (in 2006) that no matter what we do, billions are going to suffer from food and water shortages. That's "billions" with a "b". So ... prepare to die. There's nothing we can do.

Another common place you might hear this phrase, "tipping point", is in terms of the economy. We are seeing several factors at work in the national and global economy that are conspiring to devastate our economy. The cost of fuel is climbing astronomically. That cost affects the cost of just about everything else. The cost and the attempt to overcome it with ethanol has driven up the costs of all sorts of food. The government's attempts at fixing it -- economic stimulus rebates and dropping interest rates -- have seemed to have nearly zero effect. The housing crisis, stagnant growth, the shift from a production economy to a service economy, economic woes and economic fears have all worked together to terrify a goodly amount of onlookers. Normally our economy has handled these problems. We've faced crises in fuel and food and housing prices and rebounded. But at some point the entire balance of our economy could tip beyond any capability to recover and our entire system could come crashing down around our heads.

I tend to think about other tipping points that are just as important and potentially just as looming. Our government seems to be drifting farther and farther from its constitutional moorings. Originally intended to be a government of the people, we find more and more that the judiciary makes its own laws while Congress is less and less concerned about keeping the country running instead of keeping their own individual interests happy. "Taxation without representation" has become the accepted norm rather than the condition that helped start the fight for American independence. The largest employer in the country is bureaucracy -- the government. (The last I heard, WalMart took second place.) And the powers in Washington are trying to move us closer to a socialist society. Let the government provide your needs. Let them redistribute the wealth of "the rich" to "the poor." They will provide child care and health care and housing and ... well, all your needs, because that's what a good government does. It takes from the rich and gives to the poor -- a nice, albeit immoral story in Robin Hood that is becoming the economic cry of many Americans. At some point the governmental balance will shift from the ability of the people to control it to a runaway power that controls its people. How far away is that tipping point?

Another area I consider is the family. How long can the family hold out against the cultural tide against it? Like the frog in the pot, we've been slowly but surely raising the heat on the family until we've almost boiled away its meaning. We've stripped away "marriage" from its "longstanding and traditional definition." Families are shifting from "father and mother" as the ideal to "whatever" as perfectly acceptable. There are actual moves afoot to make the concept of "fathers" obsolete. "Sperm donor" will do fine, thanks. Sex, once reserved for marriage and immorally entertained otherwise, is now treated as a handshake or a high-five. In one generation it went from marriage-only to "if you love someone" to a recreational pastime. Then there was the travesty of justice that was the removal of children from the Mormon compound in Texas. I don't defend wrongdoing, marrying off children, or polygamy, but when the government decides "Some kids somewhere might be abused, so we'll take them all away," where does that leave us? Add to that the growing belief that "zero to five" is the best time for the government to educate kids and the growing argument that "religious beliefs are harmful" and how long will it be before all children are taken from all religious parents? Yes, alarmist, but I'm talking about tipping points here. It's not here yet ... but how far away is it? Marriage is losing its meaning. Fathers are losing both their sense of necessity and their sense of duty. Mothers are being told, "You are the important ones. Take care of number 1 first." How much more will push the family past the tipping point into a cascade that redefines the family?

We are actually facing a lot of tipping points. Global warming and the economy get our first attention, it seems, but the government, the country, the family, marriage, and so much more are facing catastrophic points at which no one can respond anymore to stop them from toppling. And there is more. Education is in dire straits. Children are no longer getting the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Standards of learning are no longer standard. High school graduation used to actually mean something, but now that's in doubt. The only thing that is really important in schools is the self-esteem of the children. And now Americans are foregoing higher learning. How long can it continue? Or how about morality? Our moral structures have become so fluid that one wonders what is right or wrong anymore. The leaning is not toward a more moral society, but toward anarchy where anything is right and "moral" is determined by "whatever you want to do." It may sound extreme, but it is the very argument we get on many issues these days. And when morality becomes relative, our society and our form of government cannot stand.

We are facing many tipping points and, frankly, many of them may not have solutions that we can offer. It's at this point -- standing and looking at a pile of disasters on the verge of washing out our country and our home -- that I find myself relieved to know a Sovereign God ... and wonder what the rest of the world is going to do for comfort as we pass our tipping points.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Gas Prices

Now this is interesting. I'm trying to find out what's really going on with gas prices. There is a whole heap of information out there. It might be worth your while to do some investigation. So, this website has a chart that shows the price of gasoline since 1918 in 2008 dollars. Very revealing.

The truth is that we are only now setting records for gas prices. In 1918, using 2008 dollars, gas cost $3.50 a gallon. In 1981 it was $3.17. In fact, it wasn't until around 1998 that the price dropped below $1.50, and then only for a year or so. While we tend to look at actual numbers -- I remember when gasoline cost $.50 a gallon -- but in terms of a consistent measure of values, it's not quite that easy ... or clear.

This government site explains the cost of gasoline in terms of its individual components. For instance, in 2007, 58% of what you were paying for gasoline was paying for the crude oil. Ten percent went toward distribution and marketing, 15% was taxes, and 17% was refining costs and profits. Did you get that? Only 17% went toward refining and profit. Our perception is that it's likely something closer to 50% of what we pay is going into the pockets of the oil companies, but the truth is far from it. In fact, if you subtract out the cost of refining, the oil companies are making less than anyone in that chain.

How about this statistic? Current rate of usage in the U.S. is 380 million gallons of gasoline ... a day. Got that? We're using up almost 400 million gallons a day. Now, if, as the oil companies claim, they are making $.04 per gallon, when you calculate that amount for that many gallons for a year, you're looking at $5.55 billion. That is a lot of money, but it's not a big profit margin. How many people do you know will produce something on which they make 4 cents each? And consider the next logical thought. If Congress decided to steal -- sorry, appropriate that money as windfall profits tax, what do you get back? That's right; nothing. But if the oil companies (for whatever stupid reason) decided to give up all their profits for us, you would be looking at gas at 4 cents a gallon cheaper. That ought to make you happy ... right? Me either.

None of us like the rise in gasoline prices. None of us like to hear of oil companies making large profits when many of us feel like we're working hard to scrape together enough money to buy a loaf of bread. None of us like to think that we're getting ripped off. How much, though, is perception -- faulty perception? I'm thinking that we've all bought a piece of the lie. Government will take care of us. The rich are evil. We deserve better. The truth is that government will not fix our problems, people with money are not the problem, and we really don't want what we really deserve.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Lakeland and Matthew

You've heard this before:
Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?" And then will I declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness" (Matt. 7:21-23).
It is a scary passage because of the word "many" there and the concept that "many" will believe themselves to be thoroughly involved in the Lord's work, only to find out that they didn't even have a relationship with Him. I'm not addressing that factor today. What I'm wondering about is the fact that these people did "many mighty works."

There are a variety of views on this question. One view is that these are genuine believers who did genuine miracles by God's power, but ended up losing their salvation. This is seriously problematic for me because Jesus says, "I never knew you." The suggestion, then, would be that Jesus is a doddering old man who did know them but, apparently, forgot ... or something equally foolish. It's not reasonable. He says "never" which means "not ever" which means they couldn't have been, at one time, true believers doing mighty works by God's power. If they were, it makes Jesus either forgetful or a liar.

What other possibilities can we find? One is that they were doing mighty works alright, but the works were by the power of Satan, not God, and they were deceived. I have no problem with Satan doing "mighty works" and no problem with them being deceived, but I have a problem with them casting out demons in His name. When Jesus cast out demons, He was accused of doing it by the power of Beelzebul (Satan). His reply is the now famous, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand" (Matt. 12:27). "And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?" (Matt. 12:26). It would seem that Jesus believed that it was not possible for someone to cast out demons by Satan's power. Far be it from me to contradict Jesus.

That leaves me with one last possibility. Given that these cannot be genuine miracles done by genuine believers through God's power and they cannot be genuine miracles done by false believers through Satan's power, it can only be that these are false miracles. This would assume, then, that these people were not actually doing mighty works, but that they were doing what they believed to be mighty works. They were deceived both in the works they thought they were doing and in the faith they thought they had. Nothing in any of that violates Scripture or logic. Works for me.

Why bring this up at all? Perhaps you've heard about the "Lakeland Revivals" going on in Florida. Todd Bentley is getting a name for himself as the latest and greatest revival. Literally millions of people are seeing this stuff, both in person and online. People claim healings. People are even claiming healings by simply watching on the Internet. The revival is being called "the most contagious transferable anointing's (sic) in history." The thing is catching the attention of the national media. So ... what's my point? Well, there are a whole set of other disturbing items coming out of this thing. Todd, for instance, makes no bones about his connection to angels. Yeah ... no quotes or anything. He doesn't use them. He actually says that he's connected to angels. He has angels who provide finances. He has an angel named Emma who started the Prophetic Movement in Kansas City in 1980 with Bob Jones (the prophet).

There are other things that, oddly, I can't confirm. (I can't confirm them because, apparently, although they were once available on his website, they've been removed. There are a bunch of dead links to his writings.) He claims to travel to "the third heaven", apparently at will. He has talked to Paul who lives in a cabin and confirmed that Paul and Abraham (yes, that Abraham) wrote the book of Hebrews together. (You see, that's why it's "pauline", but different.) There is more. One website has written several things about the revival that are more than disturbing. This one gives accounts of really bizarre stuff you won't hear from Todd Bentley. One pastor in the UK has been tracking results there. He says, "I have kept records as far as I can, concerning this particular church. Over a relatively short period, there has been a dramatic increase in premature deaths, cancers, marriage break-ups, sickness and disease amongst the congregation where the leadership have allowed this type of ministry into their church." He tells of "one instance where a pastor's wife with cancer was prayed for by Todd. Soon afterwards she heard voices in her head telling her to 'drown herself just like her father did'. The poor woman ended up in a mental hospital, I believe she still has the cancer." Another woman was attempting what Bentley's ministry terms "'third' heaven guided visualizations." Yes, just buy their teaching guide and try it at home. She said, "I was in my living room laying on the floor listening to the teaching on how to visualize the third heaven and what to say and was getting caught up into his teaching and all of a sudden I began to shake uncontrollably and jerk and groan, and no sooner had this taken place I became frozen stiff - I could not move any part of my body and I knew this was a demon trying to take hold of me, and so with all the effort I could muster I cried out, 'God save me - Jesus help me' - and as soon as I cried out to the Lord my body went limp. God spared me that night and I will be forever grateful."

Now, I haven't gone to this revival. I haven't listened to the podcasts or watched the videos. I have no way of confirming the stories, either his or his opponents'. It just strikes me that this is really strange stuff (just going on Todd Bentley's own writings) with a serious leaning toward demonic delusion. We're told that many will be deluded into thinking they're doing God's work when they're not. So when someone comes preaching a different gospel (angels and "third heaven" guided tours versus "repent and believe") and suggests that it's real because they're going mighty works in the name of Jesus, I think there is reason for believers to be skeptical ... and pray.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Union Brings Down California

Let me give you a quick history lesson. Prior to the Industrial Age, labor was a simple prospect. Most people worked for themselves or in small shops. Enter industrialization, and people started to go to work in factories. The American South resisted this, drawing on their cheap slave labor and working at farming rather than manufacturing. The Civil War put an end to that approach, and soon labor was becoming the slave of the factory owners. To counter this problem, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) formed to defend the workers. Joining together as a group rather than complaining as individuals, an entire workforce could put a mine or a factory out of business by simply refusing to work. In the 1930s, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) formed to protect workers in the steel, auto, rubber, glass, maritime, and meat packing industries. The two organizations merged in 1955, forming the AFL-CIO.

Lagging behind this process, but coming up slowly, the United States formed the Department of Labor in 1913. This department was tasked with protecting workers. Their first approach was to protect labor unions. Eventually, however, the kind of power and money a labor union wielded was too much of a draw for less savory characters. The Teamsters Union was expelled from the AFL-CIO in 1957 after findings of corruption. Unions became connected with criminal acts and organized crime in the 70's and 80's. Unions were falling into disfavor in many sectors.

Fast forward to today. Laws are on the books that protect workers. There are minimum wage laws and worker safety rules and anti-discrimination edicts. There are rules about how long workers can work and how young workers can work. And there is the market place of employment which regulates companies. If you want a good worker, you'll need to treat them well. Of course, there is always the favorite American pastime -- litigation. You will have no problem finding an attorney who will represent you in whatever complaint you might have against a company. In other words, this is now, not then.

And still, we have unions. Why is that? Recently the Writer's Guild of America went on strike in Hollywood. According to sources, the strike cost the state $2.1 billion and over 37000 jobs, nearly single-handedly putting California into a recession. According to the Miliken Institute,
the 2008 statewide economic ramifications for all industries include:
* Wages and salaries are projected to decline by $2.3 billion
* Retail sales are expected to show a decline of $830 million
* Total personal income (which includes wages, salaries, self-employment, rents, dividend, interest and other income) is expected to drop by $3.0 billion
Why? There was only one reason. It wasn't poor treatment. It wasn't the long hours or the crummy wages. It was pure and simple greed. They were receiving, as an example, 0.3% of the first million dollars of reportable gross DVD sales and 0.36% after that, and they wanted more. So when a DVD on which they worked sold a million dollars worth, they received $30,000, and $36,000 for the next million. Their proposal? Double that. The most important thing to the writer's guild was the "new media". How much were they going to make on Internet downloads and TiVo'd movies? It was a matter of money. They wanted more.

Now, according to one source, in 2006 the average Hollywood writer could expect to make $55,000 a year, taking into account working and non-working writers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median income that year was something around $48,000. So, in general, all writers were above the median income for the country. Tell me again ... why did they go on strike?

I know that there are many Americans who are still deeply enamored with labor unions. To me, they have ceased to be of any use and begun to be thugs, extorting money from companies without a real need to do so. American workers are well protected against labor abuse. Meanwhile, labor unions are putting companies out of business (see the story of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, for instance) and now putting the economy of an entire state at risk ... so they can enjoy higher income. How is this not simple extortion?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sinking Sand

There is a sense, in most people, that "My doctrine makes sense and those others ... well, it doesn't." We tend to think, "The things I believe have cogent and satisfying answers for the questions asked." And, whether or not we admit it out loud, there is a tendency to think that either those other guys are too stupid to figure this stuff out or blatantly dishonest for believing differently from me.

The truth is that there is hardly a doctrinal position out there that doesn't possess its own set of difficulties. The problem is that we feel the need, far too often, to demonize those with a different set of positions than our own without even recognizing that we might be standing on doctrinal sinking sand ourselves.

Take, for instance, the whole Sovereignty of God debate. I choose this one because it seems so blatantly obvious that there is no "safe" place to stand. By "safe" I mean no place that is without discomfort. One view holds that God is Sovereign -- capital "S". The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way: "God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass" (Chapter III:I). There you have it. No equivocation. No question. God is Sovereign. And there is lots of Scripture to back it up. Fine! But it begs the question. If God ordained whatsoever comes to pass, then He ordained evil. If God ordained whatsoever comes to pass, then He ordained sin. Hitler was part of what God ordained. The Holocaust was part of what God ordained. And that people go to Hell is part of what God ordained -- unchangeably. That obviously brings up the question about how He can hold them responsible if He ordained it. And doesn't that make Him the author of sin? Oh, my, yes, this position is full of questions, very tough questions that require careful answers. It is inevitable that they will not be "cogent and satisfying answers" for some people. If they were, there would be no more discussion.

Oh, okay, let's jettison that version of Sovereign. Let's settle down to a more respectable version, a version I'll call "sovereign" with a lower case "s". In this one, God is Sovereign, but He lays aside this Sovereignty to allow for Man's Free Will (I don't use the upper case "F" and "W" there lightly). God does not ordain all that comes to pass. Man ordains his own choices completely without any interference from God. Man is given some sort of his own sovereignty. This is a greater form of "sovereignty" on God's part because He surrenders some of His own sovereignty to Man and still remains sovereign. Neat trick, if you can do it. And much more satisfying. Man caused sin, not God. Man ordains what happens in his life, not God. God is not to blame for all the evils in the world; Man is. Whew! Good thing! God was on the edge of being in trouble there. But all of this begs its own set of questions. If God has allowed Man to do what he wants, in what sense is God actually sovereign? And that's the lightest of the questions. If God allows events to occur that He does not will, in what sense is He sovereign? Worse, in what sense is He God? You see, this view faces the Atheist Challenge. If God is loving and omnipotent, why is there evil? If God is loving and omnipotent and evil is against His will, then it is unavoidable to conclude that things happen that are against His will. If things happen against His will, why? Is it that He doesn't care enough to do something about it (not loving) or is He simply unable to stop it (not omnipotent)? As much as the champions of this position would like to portray it as otherwise, this doctrine of God's sovereignty suffers from its own set of seemingly insurmountable questions and pitfalls. And, again, it is inevitable that they will not be "cogent and satisfying answers" for some people. If they were, there would be no more discussion.

It is not my goal to offer you the truth on this question. It is not my aim to clear up the difficulties. I'm not here to enlighten everyone and solve the mysteries of the ages here. "Behold, humans, I have the cogent and satisfying answers for all time! Listen to me!" No, it's not going to happen here. Truth be told, most of the ideas on which people disagree suffer from the same malady. I see where I'm right. You see where you're right. Neither of us like to see where the difficulties are with our own views. And, in almost every case ... there are difficulties. I want to emphasize, on the other hand, that "difficulties" does not equate to "no truth." There are "cogent and satisfying answers," even if they are not so to everyone. Dismissing the truth doesn't eliminate it any more than turning off the light switch and closing the windows dismisses the sun. I am just asking you to be careful. You are very likely able to see what you consider to be serious holes in your opponents line of thinking. Rest assured, he can see them in yours as well. If we tried out this little concept that I like to call "charity" and offered it to those with whom we disagree -- as if they aren't stupid or liars -- it might make for much more pleasant and interesting conversations. And, who knows? We might end up coming to some level of agreement if we're not too busy defending ourselves against attack instead of simply discussing ideas.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Ad Hominem

I've always believed that the last bastion of a failing argument is ridicule. "Okay, look, I can't offer any coherent reasons for what I believe, so I'm just going to try to win this argument by making fun of you." No, no one would say that, but if all you have is to ridicule your opponent, it seems like you're argument is out of reasons.

So what am I to think these days? It seems that the number one method of promoting a position is simply to ridicule your opponent. Take the latest ad against McCain. Clearly they're "identical cousins," as proven by the music that plays in the background. Obviously they're the very same person by virtue of the fact that they show President doing a little dance and John McCain playing around with the microphone. There is even photographic proof: Both McCain and President Bush are pictured with the "thumbs-up" showing. I mean, seriously, what more could you ask? Make fun or your opponent. Don't make sense, make fun. Don't offer reason, offer ridicule.

It's the going thing. Don't explain why the Calvinist is wrong; explain why he's ludicrous. Don't offer reasons why the Arminian is mistaken; tell us how stupid he is for believing what he believes. Oh, that guy who differs with you used an incorrect phrase or word? Oh, my, yes, play that one up. I mean, seriously, if that's as good as he can get, how reliable are his opinions?

I may be wrong here. I may be confused. Maybe making fun of someone is a viable way to win an argument. Maybe, if you can cast them in a negative enough light, you won't even have to offer reasons your view is correct. And, after all, isn't that much better than actually having to think things through?

I don't know. It just seems wrong to me ...

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Contagious Worship

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8).
Justice, kindness, and humility. That's what God wants. Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). Yes, we know. God desires obedience.

According to Paul, this is worship. He says, "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable worship" (Rom. 12:1). That "living sacrifice" is carried out by not conforming to the world, but renewing the mind (Rom. 12:2).

We like to think of worship is as singing, and singing can be worship. The "more spiritual" among us might point out that worship includes preaching the Word, and genuine preaching the Word is worship. But the reasonable thing for us to do in worship is to set self aside and obey. In so doing, not only do we glorify God, but so do others (Matt. 5:16). Contagious worship ... now that's a good thing!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Civil Rights

This may start out a bit difficult to follow, but bear with me please ...

What is a "black person"? According to the dictionary, it is defined as "pertaining or belonging to any of the various populations characterized by dark skin pigmentation, specifically the dark-skinned peoples of Africa, Oceania, and Australia." So, let's see ... dark skin pigmentation and origins in Africa, Oceania (some South Pacific islands), and Australia. Good got it.

So, no one would really question whether the lost boys of Sudan are black. They're from Sudan (Africa) and they are definitely dark-skinned. You'd have to work a little harder, I suppose, to verify Ice Cube's connection to Africa, but O'Shea Jackson is still of dark enough skin that no one would even think to question it. How about Will Smith? He's pretty light-skinned. I bet he would have a tough time demonstrating his family line back to Africa. Of course, that's silly. He's black. And take a look at Jordin Sparks. She's pretty light skinned. Her mother, in fact, is white. So ... is she black? Silly question, I know.

So what is my point? "Black" is not a narrow definition. We are used to using the word "race" here, but I'm not sure it's accurate. Humans are homo sapiens, and black people are in that category. "Black" does not define "human." "Black" defines origin, lineage, that kind of thing, but not "human." Human has a different definition. "Black" falls more in the category of lineage, ethnicity. In fact, if you ask most Evolutionists, all humans originated from Africa. So ... we're all black, right? Again, silly question.

Why is it, then, that this particular distinction is so often linked with the "gay rights" movement? You can't go long in the discussion of civil rights for gays before you are told, "It's just like black people in the 50's and 60's." And, I have to be honest, I'm stumped. You see, in the 50's and 60's there was a movement that was designed to correct a wrong view of human beings. It incorrectly separated two human groups. There was no reason for that separation. It wasn't right or even reasonable. Black people were people just like white people were people. Now, odd, off-the-wall groups tried to argue (stupidly) that dark-skinned people were not people at all, but, seriously, that kind of thing is just nonsense. The difference between a black man and a white man is their lineage and nothing more. One group came out of Africa longer ago than the other. But both are human beings. Enter the "gay rights" movement. How does that parallel the civil rights movement? Is "gay" part of the definition of "human"? Is there a fundamental wrong where gays are not being viewed as human beings? You see, when some of the people in power blocked a particular group of people from being able to do normal human things simply on the basis of their ethnic origin, that was wrong. Now some people in power (and society in general) are blocking a particular group of people from doing what they want to on the basis of the morality of what they want to do. How is that the same?

We already do this on a regular basis. We don't allow polygamy. Why? Because it's wrong! But, is that fair? I mean, just because you think it's wrong shouldn't give you the right to say it's wrong for them, right? In fact, it's part of their religion. Here you are, blocking them from practicing their religion on the basis of your arbitrary and unfair belief that polygamy is immoral. Is that fair? How about NAMBLA? They just want to be able to practice their way of life freely. Yet we block them on the basis that it's wrong. Is that fair?

Now, I know that raising NAMBLA in a conversation about homosexuals will get people in a tizzy. My point is not that homosexuals and NAMBLA are linked at all. My point is that we already all agree that stopping one because it's immoral is the right thing to do. It's not because they're not human. It's not because they're the "wrong kind of folks." It's not at all similar to the civil rights movement. And neither is the question of "gay rights" as much as we are told it is.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Christianity Made to Order

I have never figured out why it is that people seem to want to steal Christianity and shape it in their own image. It never seems to stop, either.

Take, for instance, the notion that women can be leaders of churches. There wasn't a question, not a single doubt, for thousands of years of Christianity that women were not allowed that position. Why? Well ... because the Bible said so. Settled! Or was it? Enter the Women's Liberation Movement of the second half of the 20th century, and now we figure out that, well, in all honesty, it seems clear that Paul was wrong. Oh, maybe not Paul. Maybe it was 2000 years of Christians who were wrong. It was a conspiracy! It was patriarchal society at its worst! And now we have good, godly, Bible-believing Christians perfectly happy with female leadership without batting an eye. Why? If women didn't like the rules of the Church, why change the rules? Why not just start their own religion? It could be similar. It could be somewhat like Christianity. It could even use the Bible ... you know, with the "bad parts" removed. They could have used black highlighters on those pesky texts. They could have made the Ronco Erasable Bible. You know ... you erase the parts you don't like and write in what you do and God has to do it because it's "in the Bible." But, no, a small group of people decided that they didn't like the way things were, so they violated Scripture and Church History and reshaped it to what they wanted.

There there are the homosexuals. I've never suggested that we should round up all the homosexuals and have them shipped to a remote island or any such nonsense. I've never suggested that we pass laws forbidding homosexuals from having jobs or homes or any such thing. I've never had a problem relating to them as people. I'm not against them. But for some reason, they decided to try to make their choice of lifestyle "acceptable." (Regardless of where you stand on "born that way" or not, anyone can choose how they live.) They don't simply say, "I'm gay and I'm proud!" They say, "And the Church must accept us!!!" Why? Seriously, why? The Bible isn't ambiguous on the topic. Try as they might, the text doesn't change. So they rewrite those pesky "Thou shalt not" type passages that offend them and then hand us back our Bibles and say, "The Church must accept us!!!" Why??!! I haven't asked any of them to change. Why is it that they demand the Church change? If you don't like how you're viewed in Location A, go to another location! Why subvert Location A?

It's not just women's rights or homosexuals. It happens a lot. People try to make the Church conform to their view rather than conforming their view to the Church. It seems patently obvious to me. I don't join sports clubs because I don't like sports. I don't try out for women's golf because their rules won't let me. I don't play on the T-ball teams because their rules say I'm too old. Okay. Fine. I don't try to rewrite the women's golf rules to let me play or take the T-ball teams to court for discrimination. I go somewhere else.

Most of this has been written with mild amusement, but behind the amusement I fear there is a deadly reality. Why is the Church the aim of the Women's Rights movement? Why are homosexuals working so hard to make the Church accept them? A counter question ... why don't women's movements assault Iran where the women are so badly treated? Why aren't the GLBT groups going to "war" with Islam ... you know, where they teach that homosexuals should be killed? (Odd ... Christians don't teach that.) Could it be that there really is something to be said for being in the Church?