Friday, November 30, 2012


I recently had the opportunity to view a film documentary that examined the age old  conflict between Muslims and Christians.  I found it very disturbing.

Normally the term extremism these days is most often found coupled with the word Muslim.  It is an unfortunate fact that Muslims have an expanding element of individuals who are so committed to this religion that they wish it to be their government as well (Sharia Law), and they wish to impose it on everyone else.  Make no mistake…that is their aim.  Still, having said that, one can’t help but to notice that extremism exists within the Christian community as well.  The fundamentalist groups can often be found to have a fanatical commitment to not tolerating anyone who is different than they are.  They emphasize ritual, form and law and often enter the political realm and seek to change religious or socially accepted behaviors that don’t meet with their religious standards.  It’s a perfect storm of differing ideas.  The separation of Church and State is a powerful and important ideal, and we need to keep that in mind.

Do I have an opinion which one of these groups is correct?  Sure, but nevertheless I am certain that either group is ultimately going to be destructive to a peaceful and free society.  Both seek to impose God’s control on people he designed to be free to behave in a manner that would, in the end, be solely His responsibility to judge.  So, where behaviors do not impinge significantly upon another in society, we have an obligation to let them be (yes, I know that impingement is sometimes hard to decide.)  Certainly, we can come along side and encourage, in love, a different set of behaviors and beliefs.  In the end, however, we need to let it go.

When I examine the Muslim approach to controlling behavior and beliefs, I am stunned by its violence.  The encouragement to kill a woman who is raped, a child who marries a non-believer, or simply kill a non-believer seems extreme to the point of insanity.  The idea that if we simply leave them alone in the middle east, then they will leave us alone doesn’t fit with the facts of their beliefs or actions, and for sure the end result would also be the annihilation of the Jewish race.  Their numbers in our country and other western nations are increasing rapidly due to immigration and just plain out reproducing “us.”  They are not content to live just in their own “world.”  Are there moderates among them who would not wish to impose violence upon the Western beliefs such as Christianity.  Yes, most definitely!  Yet those who aren’t moderate will likely do such damage as can hardly be imagined, and it will be even worse if the Christian extremists get involved treating Muslims like Christians have in their violent attacks on abortionists and soldiers.

Playing out this thirteen hundred year-old conflict doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the future.  Tolerance is the only answer, and it is in short supply.

The Followership of the Ring*

In the 60s there was a song called “I Will Follow Him” which today would be rejected by most of society because of it’s statement that this girl who was singing it would follow this boy anywhere (bet you thought I was telling you about a religious song, huh!).  It is way to un-liberated for the 21st Century.  But yet it does speak to something that I think is very important in life: There is a role for being a follower and there are ways to properly do that.

We all know a leader’s job is to lead.  Some know that a leader’s job is to prepare a replacement leader from his followers, but does anyone think about what a follower’s job is.  Most followers are content to think that their role is to show that they are the best at what they do (at least if they think beyond the typical ones that just want to get by.)  I think it is much more rare for them to think that their job as a follower is also to make their leader successful.  That doesn’t mean do something illegal or keep your mouth shut when you should be telling the leader something (respectfully and with facts) that he needs to do differently in your mind.  Does that mean you have to endure improper activity by the leader?  Absolutely not, but how many times have you heard a fellow employee gripe about a leader who was just doing what was good for the company and didn’t meet with the selfish concerns of the particular employee?  How about the children who don’t wish to follow the rules of parents that are well meaning?  Being a good follower is an honorable role and has its long-term benefits in life…and the hereafter.

There are consequences for not being a good follower, too.  For example, people get fired from their jobs.  God also put those consequences out there as boundaries to give us notice that this particular behavior is not good for us.  I remember when I was searching and arresting people as a police officer.  I would put them in a control hold.  It only caused pain if they struggled against me and tried to get out of it.  I would tell them, don’t do that and it won’t hurt.   God has done the same thing with our boundaries in the Bible.  When we struggle and step outside of them, we get clobbered.

Jesus told the apostles “Follow Me.”  In essence that was his command to all of us in order to make his birth on earth the success it was supposed to be.  He gave a great many other guiding principles that followers can find value in.  Can you find value in followership?  Can you find value in living out the life Jesus outlined for you to follow?

* Yeah, I know the title has nothing to do with what I wrote...I just thought it sounded cool!  Gandalf would be proud.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Next New Thing

My Mother was a true child of the great depression.  She lived in a rickety little cabin of unpainted boards in Virginia.  I remember watching, as a child growing up, her putting the little pieces of several used up bars of soap together in a pot to melt them back into one big new bar.  I’ve never forgotten that lesson.

We live in an era of materialism and waste that has proliferated to a level unheard of in human history.  We justify that computer full of rare earth elements tossed into the trash, because it would cost more in labor to fix it than it is worth.  We consider a three-year-old car ancient and a “clunker” that has to be replaced, and it gets traded off to a car dealer in Mexico.  Our cars cost what whole houses go for in many places in the world.  The landfills proliferate, the toxic waste dumps get added, and we all wonder if they will contaminate our water with all our trash.  I went on a fire in a landfill dump recently and wondered if it was even safe to breathe the smoky air around me as I drove my fire engine into the site. There is an entire island many miles wide in the Pacific Ocean where trash from our rivers and beaches around the world floats as the various currents meet.. 

I am not much better than most at this either.  I do try to recycle most of what I can like computers, bottles and cans but it barely scratches the surface of what I consume.  But what this waste says to me about our culture’s insatiable appetite for more of everything is troubling.  You barely buy an Ipad before it is obsolete and you “have to have the new model” yet much of the world lives in abject poverty and hunger.  Those of us with an abundance of possessions and all the new toys and trinkets are not all that much happier than we were without them, and we often turn to drugs, alcohol and other forms of release to search for happiness.  We can’t see that things don’t buy happiness.  True joy comes in knowing God and living in that peace and expressing his love to others.  It comes more from giving than it does from taking and using.  I’m not saying that abject poverty is a whole lot of fun, but I know all our excessive materialism isn’t the answer, either.

Look Ma, No Hands!

I was walking downtown today and happened to encounter a man and his very young son.  The boy was on a bicycle without training wheels.  Mom was walking a little ways back as he picked up speed.  Today was the big day, apparently, where he would hopefully learn to control the bike and ride on his own without crashing.  Dad was there holding the seat slightly out of the range of the kid’s vision.  I can imagine all the days with training wheels, and all the times after the wheels were removed that that father watched his child jackknife and start to fall.

Today was going to be different.  The excitement was visible in this humble spectacle, and even I enjoyed watching and remembering going through the same exercise with my son and daughter years ago.  Nothing is more satisfying than to see them succeed at the task.  It is rewarding to them, and it is especially gratifying to the parent when they succeed.

I couldn’t help but draw the parallel to God’s careful instruction to us on how to live.  His desire is for us to succeed and to be able to “balance” and reap the rewards.  We balance living in a world of self-centeredness that ignores God, and our job is to worship Him and try our very best to live according to his guidance as we grow up in Him.  When he lets go of our “seat back” and watches us roll down that sidewalk of life, he is always there like that little boy’s father ready to catch us if we lose control.  He may be behind us out of sight, but he is there. 

Nothing could make him happier than to see us living according to his guidance, and riding that bike safely with perfect balance.

Love In Action

I often find it hard to love.  I’ve been around the block a few times and I know from experience that the people that I have to interact with, or those I let even closer into my life, are by their innermost nature not going to be lovable sometimes, most of the time, or even all of the time.  They are going to do their best to put themselves first and me second (if I’m lucky) or third and on down the line to infinity.  It’s just the way it is.  Yet, am I confusing “love” with “like” here?

Reading the Bible is an exercise in love.  It’s central theme is love…but what is love?  Webster’s says a lot about it.  It is one of the longest definitions in their dictionary…ending with “scoreless in tennis” (been there, done that!)  Most of their definitions relate to feelings and actions expressed to another.  Is love just a feeling of affection or an amorous sexual episode (that is if you’re not playing tennis!)  Or is it something more, and how do we relate that to our own attitude and behavior?  The Bible defines love, too.  Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is one of the best places to find that definition.  In the Bible’s simplest definition it says “God is love.”  Even Webster’s Dictionary recognizes that. I think that is where we need to take our cue about love and how we need to express it.

So, back to my problem.  I often find it hard to love, but am I confusing “love” with “like?”   Jesus didn’t command me to “like” one another.  He commanded me to “love one another.”   I once read a statement that sums it up pretty well:  “You may like someone because of who he is, but you love someone because of who you are.”  In the same way, God’s love is unconditional and he loves us because of who He is and not who we are.  That doesn’t mean he likes how we behave or how we relate to Him.  Still, he goes on loving us just as much.  It also doesn’t mean that we don’t wind up being disciplined by life or by God for what we are like and what we do.  That is the practical take away from all of this…that our loving someone doesn’t mean we completely overlook what they do.  Consequence is a part of life and learning.  Our patient, kind, and loving correction is expected as a part of our loving others.  I agree, by our nature it is hard to do when you don’t have the “like” to go with the “love.”  Still, that is what is expected and we should strive for in our lives.

Jesus said, “love one another, even as I have loved you.”  He loved us enough to die in our place.  I don’t honestly think I could do that for someone I don’t even like.  I’m human and very flawed…but I can understand what the message is and I can try to get as close as possible to that attainment. 

Will you?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

OK, The Election Is Over

The selection of a leader in our country is a sacred obligation in a democracy.  I have discussed before how appalling it is that only about 1 person in ten who lives here and is eligible to vote in this country actually is responsible for choosing the president (I understand in Australia if you don’t vote, they will charge you criminally and fine you!)  So now that it is all over and the bumper stickers and campaign ads are gone or of no purpose, what do we do?

We have a Biblical obligation to support our government leaders in the performance of their civil duties.  We should pray for those leaders.  But, when those civil administration duties conflict with our Christian beliefs we have a duty to stand with God.  We have elected a president who believes that abortion is good, and that marriage is not a sacred union between just a man and a woman.  We do not give up our disagreement with his position because of his position as a “ruler” over the nation (and don’t miss the significance of that word “ruler.”  He does set rules and has a host of agencies that make “rules” that function as laws without benefit of your vote or the vote of your elected representative’s.) 

I guess I am somewhat libertarian in my views.  I think God pretty much set it up that way when he gave us free will…and laid out the consequences for disobedience.  I have talked about my feelings on gay marriage in the past.  We have turned marriage into a civil ceremony where historically it had not been.  At this point, it matters little to me if gays marry in front of a judge or a radical religion that then claims them “married.”  If we are forced to perform ceremonies in a church that follows Biblical teachings, then I will stand against it.  The concept of abortion is much more difficult for me to accept.  The point at which life begins is a question that will be argued into eternity, and I would rather think it begins earlier than at the moment of birth.  Regardless of your position on either of these, I don’t think Christians should retreat from standing up for what they believe on these faith-based questions.   Is our country definitely in need of a spiritual renewal and a real wake-up call on our deteriorating moral values.  I think so.  We need to stand as Christians for those beliefs.

Just as serious a problem to me is what the elected leaders will do in a society that is increasingly “entitlement” oriented.  Democracies tend to disintegrate as the electorate discovers it can vote more money away from the wealthy through taxation and redistribution until society collapses economically.  The Bible says that someone who doesn’t work shall not eat.  I take that to mean that we have an obligation to take care of ourselves and not be lazy and depend on government handouts WHEN YOU ARE CAPABLE OF WORKING.  (Please note the emphasis, I am not talking about those who are genuinely seeking work, disabled, etc.)  In this country today, nearly half the population is receiving some kind of government assistance, and the number is growing along with our growing and alarming national debt.  That is not a good sign for the future.  We need to create jobs and we need to create an expectation that you will work!

Watching the post election stock market trend significantly downward again today and hearing the political posturing of our leadership in this post election period is not encouraging to me.  I think it is time we all began praying for wisdom on the part of our leaders in a big way. 

Pray continually folks…

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I Believe In Satan

I believe in Satan.  Not the Flip Wilson style “the devil made me do it” Satan, but the real one.  Not the cute harmless little guy with the horns and the pitchfork in the red suit either.  I’m talking about the one who whispers lies.  The one who considers “self” the center of the universe, and “others” and “things” just a means to our own pleasure.  I believe in the devil who is shut out of heaven, and because of that desires to take as many others with him as he can.  Misery loves company, and I believe the devil is miserable.

We call him by different names these days and don’t even realize it.  I’ve encountered reports documenting that people contact more spiritual mediums and channelers than professional counselors for advice.  I find that pretty scary to be perfectly honest.  I’ve seen people in my own life who have gone down that path.  Many are duped by clever charlatans, but I believe some become ensnared by Satan himself in the person of these modern day demons who simply go by a different name.

The Bible doesn’t spend a huge amount of time fleshing out the devil’s character or the reasons for his actions.  We are told he did battle with God for control and he and one-third of the angels of heaven fell from heaven that day.  We are told he walks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, but actually more time is spent on the nature of God and our relationship with him.  After all, the whole book is just one long love letter to us to get us to straighten up and fly right and to have that relationship with God that He longs for.  But that “Dark Knight” has his reasons and his methods for destruction.  Satan’s lusts, negative thoughts, accusations, self-doubts, are all inserted into a listening mind.  And yet he has no power if we reject those lies and live in the Truth that God loves us, and our armor against Satan is the sanctification given us by God through Christ’s death on the cross.  Satan’s goal is to make us focus on ourselves, the material and the present.  We are given the chance by God to focus on the eternal, the spiritual and service to others.

Satan is persistent, I’ve got to give him credit for that.  He even badgered Christ Himself in the wilderness and offered Him all the material self-aggrandizing things he could think of.  If he is bold enough to attack Jesus, the we surely have a daily need to put on protection from his onslaught.  Reject Satan right now, out loud in Christ’s name so you hear it and he hears it.  Continue that fight and immerse yourself in the light of God’s word.  Satan has no power over you.  You are free.  Accept no cheap imitations of life now...or in the hereafter.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Right Time Every Time

“Timing Has Everything To Do With The Outcome of a Rain Dance”Will Rogers.

What if Jesus had come to the present day United States to do his work of redemptive power instead of Israel in the first Century.  Well, firstly, there would be no first Century.  Who knows how we would have marked time now without that event.  Up until then, my sense is there was no marking of time in any particularly meaningful way except by seasons and annual celebrations in various cultures.  I hear the Mayans had a calendar, perhaps beginning with the first known ear of corn or the first sacrificed virgin or who knows what.  The Jews could date back through the generations and determine their cultural existence back about 3,000 years or so, to Adam and Eve, but did they remark that this was the year 2999 and worry about Y3K making their pens run out of ink and cows not give milk, etc.?

So if Jesus came now, we would start a new calendar…yes?  Or would the event be marked by being largely ignored by the press, mocked by investigators, and relegated to the world of fringe lunatics like those who are waiting for the aliens to pick them up and sport them off to faraway planets. 

I suspect in the U.S. Jesus would be tolerated about as well as we tolerate the Chevy Volt, Bill O’Reilly, Gays, Muslims, Lindsey Lohan, and the TV series Jackass.  Just another day in paradise.  Small blip on the evening news about a hilarious rumored feeding of 5,000 men in Yosemite Valley and maybe an episode of “Ghost Hunters” devoted to proving spirits can reside in pigs.  Doctors would mock the concept of healing.  The culture would absorb it and largely ignore it.  We’d go on to playing pong and Tetris on our 4g Tablets, and drinking Venti Lattes at Starbucks.  We are more blaze and materialistic than any culture in history.  I think it would just pass us by and travel into history like the “Howdy Doody” and the “Slinky.”

I suspect that God had a specific reason for appearing to the Jews of ancient Israel at that place and time.  I suspect that reason had a lot to do with his knowledge that that would be the time He would have the most impact on the world.  Being all knowing is a handy attribute for God to possess, afterall!  Not one single person on the face of the earth has had the impact that Jesus Christ has had on the world.  I am glad he came then, and I look forward to his return when God knows the right time and place will be for that event.


The Bible tells us to pray.  Jesus prayed and encouraged prayer as a means to connect with God.  So, what should we expect of prayer?  So often, our prayers are a laundry list of what we want God to do for us.  “Help me pass my chemistry test, make that cute cheerleader be my girlfriend, give me that bright shiny new car I want…” and the list goes on.  Even if the things we ask for aren’t self-centered or materialistic, does that mean we should expect God to grant our every whim?  After all, He is God, not Santa Claus.  Loving us implies that God may have a better idea for us than we do.  Jesus said God will give “good gifts to those who ask”…he did not say he will give you exactly what you ask for.  Sometimes “No” is the right answer to prayer. If you factor in the concept of mankind’s God-given free will, how can God be compelled to answer all prayers the way we want?  If Janie wants the Team captain instead of you for a boyfriend, which prayer does He answer?  Hmmm….  I can just see everyone at God Central running around pulling their celestial hairs out trying to answer all those conflicting prayers.

I am convinced that prayer is more often effective in changing our hearts than in getting everything on our “Christmas list” of wants.  God wants us to communicate with him and to recognize that he is with us in this thing called living.  We are to pray in keeping with God’s will, not just our own selfish desires.  And what’s more is that we are to be God’s hands on this earth for getting things in keeping with his will accomplished.  If we don’t do it, no one will.  If we gather together, unified, and pray in keeping with the kinds of things we know from the Bible that God would want…and then work toward accomplishing those things instead of just sitting on our hands, it will come to pass.  You can count on it!

Finance 101

In slightly less than a month, the federal budget control act is scheduled to implement spending cuts that might very well result in a serious new blow to our economy.  If nothing is changed in that law, on January 1, 2013 the average person’s household tax payments will go up by $3,500, and the mandated spending cut of $110 billion would potentially threaten the nation's security by being mostly taken from the defense budget.  Nonetheless, the independent Congressional Budget Office projects that it will at least improve the U.S. $16 trillion dollar part of the debt problem markedly by 2014, though we will still be in debt somewhere in the vicinity of 2 trillion dollars each year going forward from 2014.

But the hidden real story is even more significant.  The current national debt is actually much more than 16 Trillion dollars (over $140,000 per U.S. taxpayer by the way.)  Not only is this increasing debt from the money our government borrows from investors (like China) but also money the government owes itself (like the Social Security trust fund which has been raided by congress to attempt to balance its spending nearly every year for almost 40 years and is virtually empty.)  When you take all of this into account, our government actually owes more than $70 trillion going forward. This number also includes money we can project that we have committed to pay in the relatively near future for things like Medicare (about $38 trillion.) 

Part of the problem with both Medicare and Social Security is our U.S. population’s increased life expectancy.  Back in 1935, when the official retirement age was put at 65, life expectancy averaged out at about 62, now men live on average to 83, women to 85.  Additionally, when Medicare was created in 1965, 16 workers contributed retirement funds to the program for every person receiving these funds.  The situation was similar with Social Security when it was created.  Today the ratio is about three to one and estimates are that in 2030, it could be around two to one. If you extend it out even further, the number of Americans over 65 will double from about 40 million to 80 million by around 2050. 

The huge amount of money planned to be chopped from the Federal budget in the arena of Defense spending is particularly troubling.  Since about 1960 the percentage of the national budget that was provided for defense has fallen from 52 percent to 23 percent; the part spent on health has gone up from one percent to 23 percent.  Both are important, but how do we go about financing both adequately?  Which of the many demands like these two are really the responsibility of the federal government?

Our nation needs a complete budget overhaul in what government is expected to provide and when, especially at the federal level.  We have seen much of Europe plunge into chaos from its reliance on the socialist provider model, and unless someone takes the reins to change our approach to government, we could very likely follow in that collapse.

If we are to be good and faithful stewards of what we are given in this world, we need to think long and hard about what we allow and expect our government to do.  We also need to think about what God expects us to do in serving our fellow man.  Many in this country have turned the job of “charity assistance” over to the government.  Does the government do an efficient job of providing this assistance, or does the government just make those who receive it comfortable and dependent on it?  Is the government efficient at the work it does with our money?  I don’t pretend to know the answer to those questions, but it is certainly part of the overall question that needs to be answered.  What exactly is government expected to provide versus what is my personal responsibility?

I don’t know what either of the main presidential candidates or congressional candidates will really do in January to improve the situation.  They all seem to have very different positions in the matter.  I do know that if the ones elected continue to spend at the wicked rate that both republicans and democrats have done over the last 12 years, we are in serious trouble.  I pray that God guides us all in our decisions on voting day.