Saturday, December 31, 2005

Compound Interest and Christian Debt

I have made probably one of the biggest mistakes of my life. Considering some of the whoppers I've made in the past, to think that I could actually top any one of those would boggle the mind. The worst of it is that this mistake was actually made with an eye on my once-hoped-for ordination in the United Methodist Church.

A small, private university in Arkansas offers what is known as the Advance Program. It is designed for working adults with a minimum sixty hours of accumulated college credit. In less than two years, one can finish undergrad work and come out with a BS in Organizational Management, a toned-down business degree. The school is fully accredited, and the course work is very real and demanding. There is nothing "pretend" about it.

The problem is that I do not have a business mind. There are some elements of business that I enjoy such as Human Resources management and labor law. Math in any form, however, has always been my weakness even though, oddly, geometry was something I had no problem with. How's that for logic?

Why did I choose this route instead of liberal arts at a public, and less expensive, state university? In the beginning, it was the most expeditious way to finish my undergrad work so that I could move on to seminary sooner. I was becoming impatient with the time my ministerial candidacy was taking, and I wanted to move it along.

This path, as much as I seem to regret it now, has shown me something that I had long suspected but had never given much thought to. My last class was "Financial Math" which involved figuring debts and interest, both simple and compound. While I love the teacher, the class came with no text book to help explain the why's and what's of compound interest. So what did I do? I purchased "Everyday Math for Dummies" that contained a section on figuring compound interest.

I cannot say that this section helped me as much as I had hoped, but the author did devote a section on "legal loan sharking" known as revolving credit. Of course as I was feeling pretty low for being forced to purchase a book designed for the "intellectually challenged", I read this section and felt just a tad lower. Why? Because I have revolving credit accounts. However, these accounts will soon be history.

This nation and some states once had usury laws which put a cap on the amount of interest a lender could charge. Over time, these laws were done away with in favor of market rates. What this means is that those who are challenged or desperate or "dumb" have been led to believe that they can afford almost anything when the truth is, at the end of the month they are in worse shape than before.

Congress put the clamp on bankruptcy criteria and after the first of the year, these dastardly minimum payments will go much higher in an effort to force Americans to pay these debts off sooner and save themselves some very expensive interest payments. However, it must be considered exactly how those who were struggling to make the relatively low minimum payments will somehow be able to make an even higher payment?

Of course there is no denying that we credit users have no one to blame but ourselves. We bought into the absolute nonsense that convinced us to "play now, pay later". We fell for it. We "dummies" have been playing and playing, and now it is time to pay the piper.

Christians face a tougher problem. How can we say we are serving the Lord when our monthly statements clearly reveal that we dutifully serve Chase and CitiBank and Sallie Mae and ... and ... ?

I think I know what has happened to so many. We have become a people with an entitlement mentality. Regardless of our level of income, we have become convinced that we are entitled to so much more. We have allowed ourselves to be convinced that even if we cannot afford it now, things will surely change in our favor once the bills come in. We have become a nation of gamblers.

And the truth be told, someone besides the Lord owns us lock, stock, and barrel when we allow ourselves to be drawn in by the riches and rewards that this world claims to offer. In the end, however, these rewards are only an illusion and the riches are not real. And we sold our souls for a new stereo that we could not afford in the first place.

If any young people who are just starting out happen to read this, I hope you make it this far to see this: If your finances are such that you cannot afford to put back a little in savings every single week or every single month without fail, you cannot afford payments on a revolving credit account. On your own income, if you cannot afford your supposed standard of living, you are living someone else's standard and not your own. And the very real hole you are about to fall into is very deep indeed.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Rights ... and then some

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." Amendment 2, US Constitution

This afternoon, the host of a talk radion show had evidently read where the Canadian government is going to become more aggressive in outlawing guns for everyone. The host kept insisting that the target of the Canadian government would be the "law-abiders". Now I recognize that I opened this post with the US Constitution's second amendment which would have very little to do with Canada, but the US government has tried from time to time to regulate the flow of weapons in this country with limited success. As far as I can tell, not much has been achieved.

I personally do not own weapons any longer, but I would not deny others a right to own a weapon if they so choose. I used to love to shoot though I was never much of a hunter. I liked target shooting and I seriously pursued this avenue while in the Marine Corps, but my time in was running short and I was not really interested in re-enlisting on the off-chance that I might make the shooting team. I watched some of those guys shoot and while I was pretty good in my own right, there was no way I could have mounted a serious challenge to some of them.

The radio host, who happens to be a little older than I, was telling listeners that he was signed up to take a required course so that he could acquire his concealed-carry permit because, as he stated, "I NEED it." I had to wonder how many times he has "needed" a weapon in the past. The fact that he is still alive suggests that he has managed quite well so far without one. I am 47 years old, and I have yet to "need" a weapon to protect myself or my family. I even met a fellow pastor from Missouri who had a concealed carry permit. He also felt a "need" to carry a loaded weapon on his person at all times. I never did find out if he carried his weapon under his preacher's robe while conducting services!

A common sense approach to owning a weapon is knowing precisely what the weapon is intended to be used for. If the "need" is perceived to own a weapon for self-defense, then the necessary next question is: ARE YOU WILLING TO KILL SOMEONE? If the answer is "yes", then the next question is: WHAT CRITERIA WOULD YOU USE TO DETERMINE WHETHER KILLING SOMEONE HAS BECOME NECESSARY? It is necessary to bear in mind that even the best shooters among us would not likely be concentrating on "winging" an opponent while in a fight for his or her life!

I have known some who have owned and carried weapons for years without a permit because they somehow felt a "need" even though they had never personally been threatened. "Just in case" is the usual response. Most of these persons grew up with weapons in their homes. They were serious hunters and even combat veterans. For them, their weapons are nothing more than an extension of themselves.

I have also known some who had no more business carrying a loaded weapon than the man on the moon. Some were prone to panic and over-reacting; making a decision to use deadly force would come just a bit too easily for these persons. Some had never fired a weapon in their lives, but the idea of having the weapon nearby gave them some sense of security, if not control. Either way, persons in these two categories are probably among the most dangerous weapons carriers in the world!

Christians have to look a little deeper. What "guarantee" from the US Constitution removes our responsibility to be witnesses for Christ? What need does a disciple have to carry a deadly weapon "just in case"? What right is being protected for someone who cannot control his or her own emotions? More to the point, what right do I have to be protected from these people who MIGHT have a right to carry a weapon but who do not have a right to threaten my sense of well-being?

We regulate automobiles and demand testing and licensing before we are granted a "right" to drive a car. Is a deadly weapon more or less protected simply because the Constitution specifically mentions "arms" but does not address automobiles?

I am not naive. I am painfully aware of the dangers that surround us every single day. And while it may sound a little hokie, I do agree with the bumper stickers that proclaim, "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns."

Do we really want our streets to filled with folks who have a "Tombstone" mentality in that being called a "card cheat" is enough to justify killing a man? Do those who carry weapons really believe themselves to be of the same caliber as the legendary "Doc" Holiday in that they would always be able to out-draw a potential opponent? Remember the criteria. What would cause a person a person to "draw"? At what point has deadly force become necessary? And would this determination be made "in time" or "too soon"?

We have the police for a reason, and the "militia" is specifically mentioned in the 2nd amendment. In the days in which this document was written, folks could not go to a corner grocery and buy packaged meat. They used their weapons to feed themselves and provide for, and protect, their families. They were also expected to take their places in the militia should the need arise.

I do not wish to ban the ownership of weapons outright. This is not a reasonable proposal, and it will never work. But if this nation is a "Christian nation founded on Christian principles", as some fundamentalists insist, and if Christians are truly in the majority, why would Christians feel such a desperate need to arm themselves "just in case"? In case of what?

Does it then become a matter of whom, or what, we trust most to protect us? Then consider our idea of heaven. If we believe what we claim to believe, why does death frighten us so?

The issue is not gun ownership. The issue is about duties. As Christians, have we been cursed with obligations, or have we been blessed with opportunities? Do we care more to exercise our rights or our responsibilities?

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Now that the stores are counting their cash and wondering how deep the "after-Christmas" discounts might have to be, we can breathe a small sigh of relief. Christmas has come and gone, and very soon all these "holy" Christmas trees will be tossed on the curb like yesterday's garbage.

The battle over Wal Mart's insistence that customers be greeted with "happy holidays" has been declared over though I'm not sure if anyone won. Folks will begin shopping at Target again even though they are "anti-American" and "anti-Christian" (remember USMC's Toys for Tots and Salvation Army). In short, Christmas is over and I am almost of the opinion that even the non-believers will be giving a hearty "amen", and "thank God"!

If all I have said is really true, then Christmas truly is dead. A celebration of this magnitude must not be reduced to only a one-day-per-year event. It cannot be reduced to nothing more than a commercial venture.

Christmas is not simply a holy day; it is a STATE OF MIND and HEART and SOUL. Christmas as a celebration of "Emmanuel" ('God with us') cannot end when the sun goes down and the stores reopen for business as usual. If this happens, then Christmas truly has died.

Make no mistake, though: it will not be because of Wal Mart or Target or any other department store. It will not be because of politically correct politicians. It will not be because someone referred to the traditional Christmas Tree as a "holiday" tree.

It will be, instead, because Christmas never had life in the hearts and minds and souls of those who claim to be grateful for the Greatest Gift of All. Nothing will change the fact that Christ was born, but what He was born for has everything to do with how hearts receive Him.

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

To What Degree Private?

The Constitution of the United States does not specifically mention a right to privacy even though prohibitions against illegal searches and seizures may be construed as such. Rulings by the US Supreme Court have also led us to believe that there is a fundamental right to privacy in such issues as abortion, to name only one. So with the Bush administration insisting that it had the authority to "spy" via the National Security Agency, especially after 9/11, has this "right" that seems inherent to humanity been somehow violated?

Consider what one may be doing "in private". It is illegal to make war or plan the overthrow of the US government. If this is part of what is being done privately (and it most certainly would be!), is this privacy then protected even if illegal activity is being planned? Some court rulings would suggest that while the activity itself is illegal, the law offers protection while the illegal activity is being planned out.

Many drug dealers have been turned loose over the years because the police didn't follow proper procedure or failed to cross a T or dot an i. But because something was overlooked, an obviously guilty person was allowed to walk away. In the case of President Bush's argument, if the NSA was not allowed to do this internal spying, the results could be that MANY innocent Americans will not walk away.

Where do we draw the line? I am not necessarily in favor of granting special privileges to any president. Mr. Bush reminds us that we are at war and even though the Congress granted him permission to use force, there was never a formal congressional declaration of war. However, we do know that those whom we are fighting deliberately and intentionally target civilians.

This means that your spouses, children, and parents are in danger. The threat is real. Whether we have brought it on ourselves is irrelevant. The fact is in the present, and presently we are threatened almost daily. Considering the relative security we now enjoy, I would say that the NSA, CIA, and FBI are doing exceptional jobs protecting us and staying a couple of steps ahead of the bad guys.

Each of us, without exception, has something at stake here. It is whether we would allow such latitude to a president - not just this president but rather the office. It is a concern now because this president will soon be out of office, and a precedent is being established.

Do not be fooled, however, over congressional political posturing over this. Those who are making the most noise about it now are, by their own admission, those who were notified as President Bush had said. Now they are insisting that they were not told "enough". My question to them: where was the outrage then? Why now? And as far as being able to "trust" anyone, consider that Michigan democratic Senator Carl Levin wrote a "private, hand-written" letter to VP Cheney regarding this matter. Rather than send it to the VP, however, Senator Levin released it to the AP. How much information would you entrust to this man?

President Bush insists that the issue involved is National Security. Democrats are insisting that the issue is privacy. Which takes precedence over the other?

Friday, December 23, 2005

I'm Back!

Like an old friend, I have my computer back. I looked forward to it with eager anticipation and now that we are face-to-face (so to speak), I cannot think of a thing to say!

I've already said about as much as I can say, or that needs to be said, about the annual battle over Christmas. Believe me, it's been beat to death here in Arkansas.

I look forward to getting back into the swing very soon. I just wanted to welcome myself back.

Monday, December 19, 2005

To Be Continued

My computer at home has crashed! I have learned the hard way that pop-up blockers and virus protection is an absolute must. I was just almost sure that I would work around that stuff, reasoning that it is as simple as not opening the weird e-mails and such. Let it be known to others who are thinking to try to go cheap, just don't do it.

I will return very soon.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Did I Forget Anyone?

A simple prayer, "Lord, thank you for this food...", sometimes comes not so easily for me. A friend suggested that I lack faith so much so that I cannot visualize the Lord receiving my prayer. I'm not sure that's it though I cannot say for sure what holds me back.

In some ways, I feel like there is no point. I am a very impatient man and when I don't get my way pretty quickly, I turn pretty ugly. I also sometimes feel as though the reason I'm not getting any quick response is because my greatest fear is true: He's no longer listening to me.

It is not that I really ask for much of anything. I have a wife who is my greatest supporter, my children are healthy, we live in a pretty nice home, we both have jobs, and there is never a lack of food in the house. I have never known a hungry day in my life beyond those times when I've fasted. So what could I possibly need?

I think perhaps I have such a difficult time praying because I become so overwhelmed with this "laundry list" of joys and concerns so that I don't even know where to begin. I ask, then, that those of you who are kind enough to read this post please consider this list in your own prayers. I also ask that you feel free to list your own concerns. Names are not necessary: He knows who you are.

  • Service men and women who will not be home this Christmas
  • Their families who are keeping the home fires burning
  • Marriages that will suffer as a result of the long separation
  • Children across the world who are stuck in war zones
  • Teenagers who are lost in their lives and unable to find their way
  • Children of those incarcerated
  • Those who are incarcerated
  • The elderly who struggle from month to month to make ends meet
  • Christians who somehow have come to believe that an evergreen tree in December has come to define our Savior
  • Non-Christians struggling for fulfillment, that they are enabled to hear the voice of the Spirit
  • Christians to be blessed with the heart and the soul to be enabled to see others as the Lord God sees them
  • I know a particular family struggling with a child who is diagnosed as bipolar - SPECIAL ORDER ON THIS ONE, PLEASE!
  • That this Christmas season will be one in which Christians may actually live like we believe what we preach
  • The President of the United States
  • The Congress of the United States
  • The pope, bishops, missionaries and other religious workers answering their call to the ministry

Even as I have difficulties praying, I have no doubt that the Lord God hears our prayers. I also realize that He works in HIS time and not mine; for HIS glory and not my own.

This is the real deal. I'm begging for help. I am also eager to help you if you will allow me and others to offer prayers in your behalf. Even if you do not believe it is true, I ask only that you open your heart and believe it is possible.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Celtic Music

My taste in music has evolved over the course of time. I used to love the get-up-and-go of disco! I used to love rock-and-roll. I was never much for the head-banging stuff of such as Ozzy Ozborn (?) or Jethro Tull or Led Zeppelin although every now and then, something pretty good would come out like "Stairway to Heaven". I also never cared much for country-and-western until such artists as Faith Hill, Shania Twain, and Reba McIntyre became popular. Throughout my life, however, I have always leaned toward music that is a little easier on the ears and gentle to the soul.

Recently I discovered Sarah Brightman, a very gifted woman who can do pop and opera with the same sweet voice. More recently, I discovered "Celtic Woman" on PBS. I can now say that I am "in love".

"Celtic Woman" is a group of musicians performing in Celtic fashion. However, I must say that even if you are not inclined toward this genre of music, these artists will make a believer out of even the hardest of hearts. The music is soulful, spirited, and just plain good. Lots of orchestra music as background provide a mood that, coupled with the exceptional talents of the singers, will delight, entrance, and enchant the listener. This is good stuff, and I will be adding them to my collection.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Telling the Story

To be perfectly honest, I'm not exactly sure what to make of the idea that some larger churches have decided to cancel worship services on Christmas Day which happens to fall on Sunday this year. To cancel services on Sunday AT ALL is a little beyond anything reasonable. To cancel services on Sunday that falls on the same day as what used to be considered a "holy" day is somewhat over the top.

I have considered the notion of some scholars who claim that Jesus could not have possibly been born on December 25, given some of the biblical passages that suggest to them that the actual time of His birth would have had to have been sometime between mid-March and mid-April. So with this information (and I am in no position to question it), what harm is there in not having services on Christmas Day?

Many Protestant traditions have never had services on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve ever. So which takes precedence: the Sabbath or the "holy day"? Or is this even a reasonable question?

The Bible gives us no specific date for Christmas and, in fact, does not give us "Christmas" at all. I found a website that specifically refutes Christmas according to their understanding of the Bible, but I refuse to share that website because of some its highly questionable and downright hateful comments about the Catholic Church, in fact any church or person who does not agree with them. Notwithstanding their hatefulness, they make some compelling arguments AGAINST celebrating Christmas at all, at least not in the way we have come to celebrate it.

Baylor University offers some "quick facts" about Christmas origins, including the idea that the early Church infused some elements of pagan worship into Christian practices as a way of converting them to Christianity. Was this a step in the right direction, or has it been a 1700-year step backward?

During a time when we should be mindful of a wondrous Gift to mankind; a time that should be promoting peace, good will, and hope; we are doing nothing more than being extremely anti-Christmas. Does it matter what we call a particular tree at a particular time of year? Does it matter that the birth of Christ has come to be celebrated during what used to be a pagan feast of the Roman god Saturn?

We live in a pagan, if secular, world now. How do our contemporary celebrations of Christmas continue in the early, even questionable, traditions of seeking to convert non-believers to the Gospel? I seriously doubt that this is even our focus anymore. Consider the so-called "megachurches" that prefer their followers to spend time with their families this Sabbath Christmas instead of attending worship services. What does this mindset have to do with the "holy"? That we might make a choice between being with our families instead of attending worship seems to fly in the face of Jesus' own words, "If any love father or mother more than Me, they are not worth of Me."

It seems to me that there is much more to this holiday season than to simply worry about "Christmas" and the fond traditions we've come to love. With all our fighting and arguing, it is easy to see how eager we are to embrace man-made traditions and condemn any who disagree with us as heretical. Is it not a little ironic that many of the traditions we've come to embrace as "holy" were once pagan? Or could this adoption of the past and somewhat less-than-holy be likened to Peter's conflict with eating "unclean" food?

If we are to celebrate the SPIRIT of Christmas, we can surely do better than this.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Wisdom of the Cherokees, part II

As I continue to read news stories about this Christmas season and commercialism and "holiday" vs Christmas and churches closing their doors on Christmas Day because it happens to fall on the Sabbath, I am amazed that the Lord does not simply end it all right now. If he did, however, I would have to think that He would be most displeased with those of us who claim to "love" Him but just, darn it all, cannot quite come to say that we "love" our neighbor. After all, they are "offending" us, aren't they??

The old Cherokee had it right. The wolf that wins will be the wolf that gets fed.

We know we are "right" and they are "wrong". Can we help it if they're stooopid??? Bless their hearts, they just can't help themselves. Why, if it were not for us, they wouldn't have enough sense to come in out of the rain. They should thank their lucky stars we're here!!

What rot. It is small wonder that non-Christians want nothing to do with Christianity. What is it that we are showing them that we would even want ourselves? "Get saved, damnit!!" "You idiot!" "You moron!" "You evil, narrow-minded, bigot!" "You racist!" "You homo!" "You heretic!" "You blasphemer!"

Exchanging ideas and perspectives is one thing. It is quite another to dismiss the person with the unusual idea as less than "of sacred worth".

I think I may start visiting some porno sights and blogs. At least I'll know what I'm stepping into.

Wisdom of the Cherokees

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

NOTE: due credit someone far more gifted than I to write such a piece!! I wish I knew who did write it. Michael

Yes, Virginia

Dear Virginia,

Thank you for your letter. I understand why you are shocked and puzzled that the church where you attend has canceled services because Christmas Day falls on a Sunday this year. You are absolutely correct in saying Jesus should be the "reason for the season" above all. In fact, the word "Christmas" itself is a combination of two words, "Christ + Mass" which describes a worship service dedicated to the remembrance of the birth of Jesus. From looking at its origins, therefore, a Christmas without a worship service is not really Christmas at all.

For hundreds of years the majority of the world's Christian communions have found the time to hold worship services for Christ on His birthday, on whatever day of the week it happens to occur. After all, it is not OUR birthday, is it? Most of the churches that I know of who are canceling their services are the large, urban churches which we have come to know as "megachurches." These churches have become large by catering to the consumer mentality of our culture. Their decision is a reflection of this.

On the national news the other night I saw where Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago and a number of other well known huge churches, as well as Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, have canceled services for what used to be a high holy day, saying they wanted people to spend time with their families. But one employee from Willow Creek let slip the real reason for the cancellation: She said "it would not be an effective use of staff and resources." Since they anticipate low attendance, they feel it would not be worthwhile to pay the orchestra, sound and lighting crew, custodians, and other costs which add up to the cost of holding a worship service in a huge church. In other words, the decision was an economic and financial decision rather than a spiritual one.

I cannot tell you why these churches could not just be honest with us about why they are not holding services on Christmas Day. The last time I remember Christmas falling on a Sunday was 1994. As a pastor I privately wondered if very many people would come to church that day. To my delight and surprise, we had almost the level of attendance as usual, with a number of guests. Many of these guests were family members from out of town. Knowing this is a family time, they said what better thing to do with your family on Christmas than to worship the living Lord together, as a family? The one hour worship service did not seem to detract too much from the exchange of gifts, consumption of food, watching of television, or any other traditional experiences of family. If Christmas is more about family for some people than about Christ, they might view Christian worship as an intrusion on their family time. But there are some people who say "Let's keep Christ in Christmas," and really mean it.

They honor Jesus by keeping Him first in their families, and in turn they find that their families are blessed. They do not feel or act as though they are having to squeeze the baby Jesus into their busy Christmas schedule. Those who attended church on that Christmas Day in 1994 enjoyed a very simple, quiet, holy time with their Lord, a most meaningful time of worship and adoration. It was kind of like the Holy Birth itself: Nothing elaborate, just a time of intimacy with the God who so loved the world.

No, Virginia, I don't really think our commercial and consumer culture has completely taken over the minds and hearts of those who still cherish the holy days of the Church. For my part, I will be in church that day and I will be delighted to worship with whoever wants to come. I hope for everyone, whether they come or not, that the day will be most holy and blessed for them. Remember the Gospel. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome the light." And it never will.

Yours in Christ,
Bro. Bill

NOTE: all due credit to the Rev. Bill Buchanan, pastor of Salem United Methodist Church, Conway AR

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Patriotism: The New American Idol

Listening to talk radio recently, a caller responded to a question about what loyalty to country means and what constitutes “patriotism”. This particular caller was especially agitated at protesters who are voicing their concerns about the United States’ involvement and perceived lack of direction in Iraq. These protesters are demanding answers from President Bush, and the Congress is responding to these concerns with questions of their own.

The caller (please allow me to clean up the language) was especially perturbed that these protesters were giving aid and comfort to the enemy by questioning the US government and the president. He then went on to explain how these protesters ought to get down on their knees and thank “God Almighty” that they live in a country where they are free to say whatever they want. Once he finished his tirade, he ended his call by demanding that these dissenters, these “enemies of the state” who are “free to say whatever they want”, sit down and shut up.

Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary says that patriotism is “love of or devotion to country”. So how does this “love” of country manifest itself? What is the legitimate claim of the “patriot” who insists that country can never be wrong and must never be challenged? What is the legitimate claim of the “patriot” who insists that one’s own country must be questioned; that it is not only a right but a responsibility?

What is it that we hope to achieve by this new sense of patriotism? That we only want what is best for “God and country” is not an adequate answer especially for those who demand specific responses to specific concerns. I have been a supporter of President Bush throughout his tenure, but I have to say that some of his minions cause me concern when they insinuate that any who would dare to question the president must not be “patriotic Americans”.

Is it unpatriotic to question those whom we have essentially “hired” to do a job? We as employees must stand before our own superiors and explain our work and hear the critique that may be coming our way. The questions and challenges are necessary so that misunderstandings can be cleared up and progress made and measured. A silent boss is the worst kind of boss to have because we can never really be sure where we stand. The company also suffers because some element of failure can usually be attached to silence.

We need constructive criticism. We have to hear about our own progress through the eyes of another, especially from one to whom we are accountable. Why should the US government be any different? If we elect a congressman or senator to office and never write or call, do we have a right to be upset if they never seem to represent our points of view?

The president can be no different. Of course, this one is a little different in that he has no more elections to worry about except for maybe the midterm elections in which I suspect Republicans may not do so well.

Patriotism has to mean more than simply parroting a call to arms, regardless of what those arms involve, and seeking someone to “hate” or to “blame”. Defending our country must also mean more than simply wearing the uniform of a US service man or woman. Love of country means that we sometimes have to face an ugly truth: that we made mistakes and must work to correct the mistake.

This is NOT a call to withdraw from Iraq. We are there now and the only way to ensure that all these soldiers and Marines did not die in vain is truly to finish the job. The patriots on the “left” are simply demanding that the job be better defined. It will be ok with me if a timetable is rejected, but can they at least give us some idea of what “the end” might look like?

We must be careful that patriotism does not become such an idol that we worship it and pay homage to it and even pay tribute to it even if we cannot identify it.

Choosing our Battles

"The Lord said, 'Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men ...'" Isaiah 29:13

Jerry Falwell and groups across the nation, including right here in Arkansas, are getting their spiritual panties in a wad over the use of the term "holiday" instead of "Christmas", as in lighting the "holiday" tree at the state capital and store employees being "ordered" to offer customers a happy "holiday" instead of a merry "Christmas".

Do you not think that there is a profound difference between choosing one's battles and picking a fight? Would you not agree that some things are more important than others? How has it come to be that Christians would get bent out of shape when a tree would be referred to in its "holiday" season? Since when did a tree become symbolic of the birth of Messiah?

How many churches have invited "Santa Claus" to come visit their Christmas gatherings? In some circles, Santa gets more press time than Jesus; why don't we get sideways about this?

Let's face it. These are the holidays. It is Christmas only for Christians. If we are going to become indignant about anything, let us be upset that there are still children going to bed hungry through no fault of their own. If we are going to get upset, let us be upset that many will loose jobs through no fault of their own. This list of injustices could go on for days!

We will not win any significant victory by demanding that a tree be referred to as a "Christmas" tree. This statement says little, if anything, about Christ. We must also remember that the only thing significant about a "tree" as it relates to Jesus is in 1 Peter 2:24, "... who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the "tree" ..." NKJV

There is plenty to be upset and indignant about. A tree just does not happen to be one of them.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Would You Believe Your Own Eyes?

A very interesting question was posed by another blogger the other day asking whether Jesus would be a Republican or a Democrat. Eventually, one answer came to question whether Jesus would even be an American.

It made me think of a sermon I delivered recently in which I challenged my congregation to ask and answer for themselves whether they are certain that when Christ returns they will be able to recognize Him.

I get a sense from too many passages to list here that there will be no doubt even for the non-believers. I wonder how it could be, though, that with the prophecies about Messiah being as "clear" as Christians seem to think they are, how is it that the Jews did not recognize Him when He came? That He chose to share our humanity might be a good point of "deception" (I do realize that He was not trying to fool anyone!), but do we Christians not "see" how clear the prophecies were only with the benefit of our exceptional hindsight?

If Elijah had not been the faithful servant he was, would he have recognized the "still, small voice"?

I wonder. And I wonder if anyone else wonders.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Point of No Return

At what point would the Church cease being the Church? This thought crossed my mind this week as the Catholic Church has made headlines again with its stand that homosexuals cannot serve as priests. Even when we are talking about the vow of celibacy that priests are required to take, one who is homosexual might pose a risk to the teachings of the Church from a perspective that is not in union with the Church.

I firmly agree with advocates who demand that reasonable persons acknowledge that being homosexual does not make one a child molester. Child molesters are a whole other matter, and sexual orientation has little, if anything, to do with such a depraved mind.

The Catholic Church has also been unapologetic in its teachings about abortion, divorce and remarriage, unity in the Church, unmarried MALE ONLY priests, and AIDS and the use of condoms. Under the leadership of John Paul II, the Church stood firm in the world and on tradition steeped in biblical authority. Regardless of what one thinks about the office of the pope and the traditions of that office, John Paul was a genuine man among men. An uncompromising leader with compassion and a backbone.

A particular columnist with whom I sharply disagree over just about any topic you care to mention wrote a piece this week taking the Church to task over its refusal to allow homosexuals to enter into the priesthood, somehow reasoning that the Church must owe someone something due to its failures in the past to deal with the abuse scandals until forced to do so. For my way of thinking, one has nothing to do with the other.

Other advocacy groups working to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS proposed some time ago that John Paul II was responsible for the deaths of millions because he refused to compromise the Church's teachings about artificial birth control. That was a little over the top, but who can argue with someone who is passionate about their work? I will give this much to those who work tirelessly to combat the spread of this dastardly disease.

The Church has a much higher calling that demands a certain standard. That is to say, if we preach an eternal God, then an eternal standard must apply. "I am the Lord; I do not change." Malachi 3:6

With the exception of one or two denominations, the Church has remained steadfast in its teachings about homosexuality. What will it say to a secular society when the Church would compromise its teachings about moral issues and decide to go along with the majority? Would society breath a sigh of relief, or would they laugh at an entity that can so easily be manipulated and ultimately brought down? Does anyone honestly think that compromising a particular standard that our book of authority, the Bible, seems clear about will earn anyone's respect?

Please do not misunderstand my use of the issue of homosexuality. This is not the end-all, be-all mother of all sins that some would suggest. The very idea of sin itself is much bigger than one symptom of a great illness. But if the Church cannot be depended on to hold fast to a standard, regardless of what the world seems to demand, then where can hope fit in? And at what point would the Church cease to be the Church if she blends into society? Where will be her distinction?

Love? Christ commands His followers to "love one another as I have loved you". So what kind of love are we talking about when we demand that the very meaning of Christ-like love come more in line with what the world seems to want or thinks it needs? Even love for one another, whether homosexual or heterosexual, can come dangerously close to flirting with a very fine line. There is a jump-off point where we have to decide whether we love the world and all that it offers, or love the Lord and all that He offers. "Anyone who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it." Matthew 10:37-39

So if the Lord says, "don't", and we do because we "love" someone, of course we can still say that God loves us because it is true! Again, there is that never-ending, eternal standard that will never change. However, that is the easy part. It is easy for God to love because that is what He is eternally. The real question, however, is not whether God loves us because this point is not in dispute. Rather, it is whether we love Him back. The answer is manifest in our actions and the choices we make.

The Church teaches this standard and maintains that a choice has to be made; compromise is not an option. We could say that a line has truly been drawn in the sand, and we must choose which side of the line we will stand on. The Catholic Church has defined that line and is refusing to cross it and, better yet, is demanding that genuine followers not cross it - insisting that Christ's own words are true eternally.

Folks may not like it, but they have to respect it. The Roman Church has declared war on evil in this world and is choosing to stand firm against the trappings and the temptations of this world. It is when the Church takes a "vote" and decides to back off from its centuries-old biblical beliefs that it loses its moral authority to teach. It is then when the Church has compromised its integrity. It is then when the Church ceases being the Church, Christ's Church.

Once More Amazed

My wife and I are blessed with three healthy children who have not caused us any real alarm. That they are healthy is an immeasurable blessing that I cannot begin to fathom. One way or the other, I am proud of my children.

This past week, though, something did happen that genuinely surprised me. My middle daughter has made no secret of her allegiance to Christ (she is a high school senior now). For this alone, I am grateful beyond words. I have to say, however, that she has never shown any real inclination toward the headier topics of the day until this week. She presented and defended a position against euthanasia. To be perfectly honest, I didn't even know that she knew what it meant!

I was surprised at the depth of her arguments and even more surprised when, upon reviewing her paper for her, she intended to use the Lord and His Word to defend her stance. And in public school, no less!

This evening, she told her mother and me that the presentation went very well and even though she was challenged by a couple of students (she says they were required to oppose the presenters), she stood firm in her position that the Lord alone is the Lord of life. It is His to give, and it is His to take. She made other, more "secular" arguments as well but in the end, she suggested that there had to be a point where human emotional frailty must be acknowledged when attempting to make life-or-death decisions. Wow!

Whoever says that this generation is hopelessly lost is not paying enough attention. I have nieces who have done missionary trips long before they graduated from high school, doing things I can hardly imagine doing as an adult! I see these young ladies and so many other young people who are working hard to find their way in the Lord's path and it is gratifying to know that there are some who refuse to embrace this world, choosing instead to offer an Alternative rather than a compromise.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Fables of Old

I just completed a class called "Principles of the Life of Christ". In this class we examined nothing but the Gospels to piece together a portrait of Jesus' life. Additionally, we also examined other sources that seek to dispel the legitimacy of the Bible in general and the Gospels in particular.

One particular entity is the so-called "Jesus Seminar". This group of scholars gathers twice a year to examine scripture and try to determine

  • Whether Jesus actually said "it" (any particular passage)
  • Whether Jesus likely said "it"
  • No way Jesus said "it"

They then vote according to their own conclusions. I suppose then they expect the world to believe them because by a vote of the minds, they have concluded that Gabriel could not have visited Mary, the Virgin Birth was a myth, and that Jesus never changed water into wine. Exactly how they arrived at these conclusions - while still maintaining the divinity of Christ (I think) - is beyond me.

Nevertheless, I was searching through the Koran to find something for another paper and stumbled across this little tidbit: "When they come to argue with you, the unbelievers say: 'This is nothing but fables of the ancients.' They forbid it and distance themselves from it. They ruin none but themselves though they do not perceive it." 6:20

Of course the Bible is not silent about false teachers who seem determined to somehow undermine the saving grace of YHWH through Christ. What I do not understand is how such a denial can be made while still trying to maintain the integrity of the Scriptures as "inspired".

It seems to me that such outfits as the "Jesus Seminar" may come dangerously close to drawing in Christians with promises of attempts to "prove" the legitimacy of the Scripture while making quite rational arguments against blind faith.

Reading the Bible critically as in reading the words more carefully can go a long way toward dismissing stories from the past that grandma passed on. Reading the Bible critically as in attempting to find fault, however, does nothing good for those who continue to struggle in the faith. And that's precisely what it is: FAITH.

There is much that cannot be explained by man (Revelation leaps to mind!), but faith allows the Holy Spirit to speak to that void. This is a very important element that seems to be missing from these scholars' thoughts.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Promises, promises ...

It is reported in today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that states and local governments have made promises they cannot keep. Considering the continuing debate in the US Congress about Social Security and Medicare and the deficit, one cannot help but wonder if this tangled web does not go even further.

Pork-barrel projects are a well-known part of doing business with politicians. We demand that our congressmen and senators "produce" and when they do not deliver, we want their livers on a stick. Yet when the pork is reported, we tend to gloss over those projects that were delivered to our home states and then cry and lament over the wasteful spending in other areas. It is easier to blame congressmen and senators from other states who have been demonized by the opposing political party and use them as the very evidence which proves that they need to go.

The truth is that our Congress is nothing more than a reflection of who we are and what we think we want. We demand the sun and the moon and the stars, and then we scream when the bill comes due. We blame Congress, and yet we have many members of both Houses who continue to be re-elected time after time. It is as if we awaken from a deep sleep only long enough to vote. Then we are only capable of making the selection that is most familiar to us. In many cases, it is the incumbent who naturally catches our eye.

If we have anyone to blame, it is only ourselves.

Promises were made years (seemingly centuries!) ago about how retirements and health care would be available to everyone; utopia was promised to us by those seeking political office, and we fell for it. Now it is time to pay the piper, and we are pretty sure "someone" is to blame; we're just not exactly sure who it is. It surely cannot be "me" - "I" only voted (that is, if "I" bothered to vote at all).

We have a deficit that seems almost surreal and a national debt that pushes a number most of us cannot begin to fathom. We are in the midst of a war fighting for our lives against an enemy that seeks every opportunity to kill and maim innocent children, and we think we are overburdened with taxes. We are facing in the very near future an uncertainty about Social Security that we refuse to talk about, and Medicare does not come close to providing for lower-income recipients who have been PROMISED that they would not want for decent and affordable medical care.

So who is responsible for fulfilling promises that should never have been made? The politicians promised us everything necessary to be elected into office, but we never bothered to ask where that money might come from. We heard only what we wanted to hear. We have been hedging a bet against a future that we secretly hoped might never come and yet somehow knew that there would be no way to avoid it.

As for me, I am looking at the man in the mirror. I am promising "him" that I will resolve to pay closer attention to what is said. I will not fall for promises that sound too good to be true. I will not believe that re-electing this person or that one will somehow solve all my problems.

I will remember that if there is anything wrong within my own world, I will have no one to blame but myself.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Genuine Moral Authority

Several weeks ago, much was said about Cindy Sheehan's "moral authority" to speak to the collective concerns Americans have about the war in Iraq. Recall that Mrs. Sheehan buried her son who was killed in action in Iraq. It was questionable then whether Mrs. Sheehan could or even should have taken it upon herself to speak for anyone other than herself.

That aside, there is a discussion within the Bush Administration and the Congress about whether the United States should completely and unequivocally outlaw torture as a means of interrogation against enemy combatants. That there is even a discussion among civilized and, presumably, reasonable persons about the legitimacy of such actions boggles the mind.

Senator John McCain of Arizona has come out and called torture at the hands of the American people a disgrace. If we want to assign any "moral authority" to speak to a situation, it would go to one who endured such treatment. Senator McCain is a former POW in the Vietnam War. He was tortured by the hands of his captors so if anyone would know about the negative ramifications of such actions, it would be him.

One great concern that politicians have had over the years is the United States' willingness to sell its weapons to foreign nations. Time and again, it has been shown that more often than not, these very weapons have fallen into the wrong hands and have ultimately been used against us. Should the idea of using torture as a weapon not raise the same concerns?

Limited training I received during my time in the Marine Corps addressed the issue of torture and its consequences. The bottom line was that we were taught that should we be charged with custody of enemy combatants, we were then responsible for their safety and well-being. There were several reasons why mistreating a POW was a bad idea, not the least of which includes:

  1. Giving a prisoner humane treatment diminished the chances that there would be problems while the POW was in US custody.
  2. Word getting out about the humane treatment of prisoners might encourage others to throw down their arms (remember the en masse surrenders during the first Gulf War? The US had a favorable reputation then) since there was no fear of being mistreated.
  3. Word getting out about the maltreatment of a POW would increase the risk that Americans in the hands of the enemy would suffer likewise.
  4. We would soon digress to become the enemy we so despised.

Senator McCain has a unique perspective about the mistreatment of POW's, and we should pay attention to him. Our mission in Iraq is an admirable one; we are fighting an enemy that has no moral qualms whatsoever about murdering innocent men, women, and children. The evidence also clearly shows that they have no regard for even civilians who would be reduced to begging for their lives and still being painfully and maliciously decapitated while being filmed!

However, this admirable mission will be lost on those who are watching should we come to resemble our enemy. After this, there are no more "good guys".

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Political Opportunism

"No, I didn't!"

"Yes, you did!"

"Well, maybe I did, but I didn't mean it at the time because now I know I was misled and lied to!"

"Show me the lies."

"Well, you know, all that stuff about WMD's in Iraq. If I had known then what I know now ..."

"What do you know now?"

"Well, you know, that we were lied to."

"Very well. Show me the lies."

"Well, everyone knows that President Bush lied to us about the intelligence and ..."

"Ok. I heard you the first time. Specifically what information do you have that proves that the Congress and the nation were lied to."

Columnist Gene Lyons insists that the Bush Administration is attempting to rewrite history about what was actually known about the WMD's and Saddam Hussein's intentions in the world. Now that the nation has grown weary of the negative headlines from the war in Iraq, political opportunists have also jumped on the bandwagon to demand an immediate withdrawal or at least periodic reports from the Bush Administration about the state of the war. It would seem that now the Congress intends to run the war from the House.

President Bush has insisted that the Congress was privvy to the same information since he chose to share it while seeking congressional support for military action. The Democrats chose to support the president at the time. Why? Because the nation was reeling from 9/11, and the time was ripe for hawkishness. It was politically popular to speak of kicking some tail.

Now the Democrats are using the president's low approval ratings to kick him around a little more. Wild accusations about "lies" are flying high and low. The problem, however, is that the evidence which might implicate President Bush seems somewhat light.

If anyone is rewriting history here, it is those who will kick a man while he's down.

Friday, November 18, 2005

To What Extent Guilty?

Robert Blake, the actor, was recently acquitted of murder, yet a civil court has ruled that he is liable for his wife's death to the tune of $30 million. In 1995 O.J. Simpson was also acquitted of murder in the death of his wife but shortly afterward, a civil court held him liable and ordered him to pay millions.

Say what you will about these criminal proceedings - and I'm no lawyer - but it seems to me that to be found liable by one court after having been found innocent by another smacks of double jeopardy. It is the same case with the same evidence, yet somehow a civil court can decide that a criminal court erred. After this has been done, they can then decide that a person's life has a finite value. I suppose they are able to get around the double-jeopardy thing by going to civil court as opposed to a prosecutor retrying the case and taking another stab at it. For some reason, however, the prosecution in both cases chose not to appeal the acquittals. Why is this since there was some evidence that convinced a civil jury that proper justice had not been served?

Without knowing much about the finer points of each case, it would seem that a civil trial is going to play more heavily toward emotion rather than fact. This is the very reason why so many defense attorneys have such a problem with "emotional impact" statements from families of the victims in criminal trials. True justice is not being served because it is not hard evidence that is convincing a jury; it is a sobbing daughter who has lost a mom or an emotional father who has lost a son.

I am not completely without compassion in these cases. If I were to have suffered such a loss, I could not say for absolute certainty that I would not respond according to my fouled up emotions maybe even outside the court room if given a chance. It must be noted, however, that this must be the very reason why the Lord set up such procedures for the Israelites. Safe havens for the accused in order to protect them from emotional family members who would seek vengeance against someone who just might be completely innocent if allowed the chance to prove it. It must surely be the very reason why at least two eyewitnesses must be present, according to Torah.

Our Constitution stipulates that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but the truth is that we would prefer to ignore that rubbish. We know a crime has been committed and we know that someone did it, and we want someone to pay. It really does not matter whether that person who has been arrested and photographed is actually innocent. The fact that enough evidence exists to bring charges against that person is good enough for most of us - ESPECIALLY if we are talking about child molestation cases!

I know that if I am ever accused of a crime, I want them to bring irrefutable evidence that connects me to the crime. I have to live in a society that presumes guilt and even if I am not a criminal (and have no plans to be!), it is a threat to my own well-being that a court can be manipulated minus any hard evidence that I am guilty simply because someone can cry on command.

This does not mean that Robert Blake and OJ Simpson finally got theirs. What it actually means that no one among us is safe even in a United States court of law.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Resting on our Laurels

Matthew 25:14-30

“An idle mind is the devil’s playground.”

We’ve all heard this quoted more than once especially as it pertains to our children and their education. We also know, or should know, that if we GROWN UPS do not keep our minds occupied, there is no telling what can come forth. And something has to come because humans are just not geared to “vegging out” though we do sometimes try, and our children sometimes seem to defy this rationale!

With this reasoning, we can then suppose that if we do not keep our minds filled with things of the Lord, our minds will wander in other directions very naturally because the world is filled with all kinds of sights and sounds and temptations that can move us in sometimes dangerous directions and, ultimately, bad decisions. It is that the loudest noise at any given moment will be what captures our attention.

According to what is written in Matthew 25:14-30, choosing to do “nothing” will get us in as much trouble with The Master as would DOING something wrong. “You WICKED and lazy servant …” For the servant who did NOTHING with what was entrusted to him, it is a very unhappy time. He is to be “cast … into the outer darkness” for being “unprofitable” to the Master.

In the parable itself, Jesus uses money as the object but cash is not exclusively what He is referring to. And isn’t it interesting that the word “talent” is translated as a measure of money because when we speak of our spiritual gifts, can we not consider these gifts “talents” that have been entrusted to us?

Our “talent” is our ability to do, to perform. Our “talent” is something we are very good at. A disciple is going to understand that even though we may be able to develop our talents over time, the foundation of that ability was given to us from Above. And knowing this, we should know then that this talent that has been entrusted to us is not something we can keep to ourselves. It was given for a reason, to serve a purpose much greater than for our own success.

Faith in the Lord God is not something that “just is”. Rather, to “love the Lord your God with …” everything we have and everything we are is not passive in any sense of the word nor is Jesus suggesting such. In fact, it seems to be quite the opposite.

My current class at school is “The Life of Christ”. In the class, we are putting together a picture of what Jesus’ life must have been like. In Matthew 16, Jesus moves up to Caesarea Philippi. Beginning in verse 13 is the story we are very familiar with; “Who do people say that I am?”

Well, Peter makes his confession of faith and Jesus celebrates Peter’s confession by pointing out that the Church is going to be built upon a “rock”.

What is most interesting about that “rock” is that our understanding of what that “rock” may be will depend on whether we are Catholic or Protestant. I have to admit to you that I am a Catholic sort of preaching as a Methodist, and I’m not sure which side I come down on.

But whether Jesus was talking about Peter himself or the faith that enabled Peter’s confession is beside the point that I would like to make now. At the place where Jesus was said to be standing was at one time a pagan place of worship. It is said that some very dark and sinister happenings occurred there to include child sacrifices as a means of worship. The place is said to have been at the very core of what “evil” really looks like.

This “rock” is at the entrance of a cave at this particular place and in some circles, it was said to be the very entrance to “Hades” itself. The "god" Pan was said to have entered into Hades through that very portal. So the Church that Jesus is intent upon founding and building upon this “Rock” is at the very core of what Christianity is all about.

It is not enough that Christianity is merely an alternative to evil. It is not enough that Christianity creates sanctuaries from which people can find rest and respite from the world. Instead, it seems to be that Jesus is declaring WAR upon evil at that very site and at that very moment. “And the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”

So to simply offer people a “choice” between good and evil is to do nothing more than to rest upon our laurels and say to people, “Here we are in case you need us.” If it is that Jesus is intending to build His Church at that spot, then it may very well be that Jesus is going to force a confrontation with evil and not simply abide by it and "be tolerant" of it. If evil wants to come out of that hole, it can go around a "passive" church. If a Church is alive with life, then evil must come through a church alive. "And the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it."

No, we do not have to peaceably “coexist” with evil nor can we. Evil may not be able to touch those of us who have declared our faith and allegiance to Christ, but there are plenty of other weaker targets out there who are vulnerable to the influences of evil.

We are not to simply offer a “choice”; we are to put evil in its place. However, we do have to realize that there are limits to what we can do. And we must always be mindful that we never “return evil for evil” regardless of our intent. But to simply stand idly by and hope others will see us, as the “wicked and lazy servant” learned, is just not good enough.

The "Master" has invested a great deal in our "talents", and He has every right to expect a solid return on that investment. One question remains: what is a fair rate of return on One's life?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

'Tis The Season

Ho frikkin' ho. Today is November 12, and I am already sick of Christmas!

There was a time when Christmas could not get here quickly enough. The surprises that were under the tree were always more than generous and were almost always broken before noon! It was still great fun to be a kid. It was not until many years later when I finally figured out how deeply my parents always went into debt during that time just so we kids could have a "nice" Christmas.

We want this for our children now. More than anything, we want our kids to enjoy being children, having fun, exploring life, and learning something new with a sense of awe and wonder that too many adults no longer have. I guess it comes with getting older, but Christmas anymore has become one big pain in the rear bumper.

Why is this? Christmas is still Christmas, isn't it? We still celebrate the birth of the greatest Gift of all. We still celebrate that moment, that one incredible moment, when the Lord God humbled Himself to share in our humanity and show us the way Home.

And what have we done with it? We've turned it into a holiday whose success is measured by how much trash is left on the curb. We have turned it into one huge family conflict. We've turned it into a time of year when those with very little are made to feel even more inadequate as parents because they cannot shower their children with a lot of needless crap. We have turned it into the time of year when the suicide rate goes through the roof. A time that should be joyous above all else has become a time of profound despair for far too many. Is it because they have lost their focus? Or have we so-called "believers" lost our focus?

Some blame commercialism generally and Wal Mart specifically for the mess we've made out of Christmas. The reality is, however, that we have come to acquire a certain sense of entitlement so that rather than bless the Moment that so richly blessed us, we virtually curse the day and wish it would just pass quickly and quietly because there is no way we can give to ourselves or our children all that we believe we are owed.

Oddly, I've been on a tear about Christmas since I began preaching. I have my annual "Wal Mart Christmas" sermon that I dust off every year sometime right after Thanksgiving to remind my congregations of what Christmas is really supposed to mean, what it should really be for us and to us. For some reason, that sermon never seems to make a dent.

I am so deeply thankful that Messiah was delivered to us. So why is it that this holiday is one I have grown to utterly despise? Why can I not make peace with this time of year that my beloved wife and children love? My foul moods this time of year create more hurt feelings than anything else, and my heart shatters when I see what my anger and frustration can do. There is nothing that can make me melt like the contorted face of a child whose heart has been broken.

The season itself has lost its sense of wonderment, and the only mystery left to be associated with Christmas is how we are going to pay for all this crap we've bought! And truly, some of us will have better luck figuring out the miracle of the Immaculate Conception than we will figuring how to pay a $1000 Christmas bill with only $100.

Then of course there are those Christians who will be "offended" such as when Wal Mart and other businesses will begin officially disallowing their employees to say "Merry Christmas", insisting instead upon "Happy Holidays" so as not to offend anyone. Do we really think that Wal Mart has such influence that because they will not support "Merry Christmas" that suddenly Christ will not have been born?

We can do better and we must, but we must also pick our battles. It is not enough to get upset with secular business because Christmas is the time of year that they depend on, and Christians certainly do their part to make the season for retail a good one! Retail business is not the enemy; they sell what folks walk in and buy, but they don't kidnap shoppers.

It seems to me that the true enemy is within each of us and is struggling to be set free so that it can manifest itself in the commercial and secular thereby rendering Christmas to be nothing more than a secular holiday. Simply complaining about commercialism while standing in line to pay for our stuff is not good enough.

The Spirit of the holiday is alive and well. The only question that remains is whether this Spirit will choose to use us or loose us.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Abundance of the Heart

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1

One of my favorite parts of any newspaper is the editorial/opinions section. I love to read other perspectives, and I love hearing especially from those whose opinions differ from my own. I already know what I think; now I want to hear something else. However, I freely admit that I have a tendency to become defensive when challenged, but over time words from reasonable persons can sink in. I may not change my mind, but I am satisfied that I have at least learned something that I may not have considered before.

Today was an exception, I must say. The "letters to the editor" as well as the contributing columnists were all so powerfully negative and essentially said nothing, at least nothing of any real substance. Regardless of who is writing the piece or what they may be writing about, the only thing that is apparent is that the person who wrote the piece was very angry when the piece was written. After today, I felt as though I had been beaten!

Regardless of political or even religious affiliation (and often it is difficult to tell them apart except that a topic may accidentally reveal itself!), words like "moron", "idiot", "evil", "stupid", "anti-American", or "ungodly" are peppered throughout the piece rendering the opinion void. Why? Because the only ones who could possibly appreciate what has been written are those who already share those hateful, negative feelings. Persons of reason will stop reading it.

Not long ago I got into a letter exchange through my local paper with a dear friend who is not a Bush supporter, to say the least. Worse than this, however, is that he is a Bush HATER! And even worse than this, the man is an ordained elder, a minister of the Gospel. Having been involved in more than one political or religious discussion with this man, I know that he has every intention of trying to influence other opinions. This is completely fair for this is why we discuss or debate anything; we want others to agree with us. We want others to see and appreciate our point of view. I believe this to be part of the reason why our republic works so well: Democrats and Republicans, liberal and conservative; all can be so infuriating. However, each one keeps the other in check. The differing opinions ultimately serve a useful purpose.

As Paul reminds the Corinthians, however, being hateful - regardless of intent - will produce no positive results. Even if we replace the word "love" with "respect" for our more secular friends, the admonishment still carries a lot of weight. It makes perfect sense.

My friend with whom I had gotten into this exchange with at least finally realized what I had been trying to point out to him. Bush haters already agreed with him, but moderates and most certainly Republicans and Bush supports were tuning him out because he was doing nothing more than making unintelligible noise. And we tune out unpleasant noise, don't we?

Why can we not all just play nice?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Impending Moment of Truth

The French Prime Minister is quoted in today's news as saying that France is facing a "moment of truth" in regards to the riots that have been going on for about two weeks now. The prime minister is quoted in an AP story: "The Republic is at a moment of truth. The effectiveness of our integration model is in question." He called the riots a "warning" and "an appeal" by disaffected youth of African and Arab descent who believe they have been made to feel as though they do not belong in France.

Law enforcement aside, what separates these youth from the "insurgents" in Iraq? Why is it that we are somehow expected to believe that these kids are under some sort of moral umbrella that gives them the right to destroy property that does not belong to them? And how can it be that when situations like this arise, those who would apologize for the disenfranchised might somehow try to make reasonable, law-abiding citizens to believe themselves to be the problem instead? As if to imply that they should feel guilty for having worked and earned and saved?

This is not to say that we who have much are not expected to give much, but our Lord does not try to beat it, burn it, or extort it from us by using fear and terror as a means to an end. And I do not pretend to understand what it is like to be a "minority" person; I am a white man. There is much I do not know and cannot comprehend. There is, however, something I do know: the model for changing an entire society was perfected and proved to be extremely effective by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr who acknowledged that he learned as much from Mahatma Ghandi and his model of peaceful protest. "Bless those who persecute you ..." and all that.

Apparently, however, bombing and pillaging works just as effectively and maybe even gets results quicker. After all, there was a span of nine years from the time when Rosa Parks made her stand to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The French riots have been going on for two weeks and the French government, or at least the prime minister, is prepared to apologize and make nice.

We faced the same apologists after Hurricane Katrina, and there are many who insist that the terrorists whom we continue to face must have some sort of justification for their "anxiety"; otherwise, they would be content to just be left alone to live their lives and bother no one.

This is not to say that there are not injustices; there most certainly are with some to spare. Do we really have to be hit over the head with a stick in order to see it and actually do something about it? Some seem to think so.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Leadership Wisdom of Jesus

Worldly wisdom suggests that the Bible is nothing more than a collection of ancient documents written for an ancient people during an ancient time. This “wisdom” then suggests that the Bible, as it is written, cannot hold any genuine relevance for the world today because man has somehow evolved intellectually from the time in which these texts were written.

Mr. Manz takes this wisdom that comes from the world, and turns it upside down. He systematically proves that the Bible, particularly the lessons taught to us by Jesus, has as much relevance for us today as it did then, perhaps even more so for the intellectual progressive but certainly no less so for all others willing to listen.

Lest we somehow attempt to pigeon-hole these lessons exclusively for business leadership application, it is important to realize that these principles as outlined by Mr. Manz are probably even more applicable to those who consider themselves disciples of Christ. Jesus is not speaking exclusively to business leaders or disciples; He is speaking to anyone who will listen.

According to The Leadership Wisdom of Jesus, it is not enough to simply know how to manage a business although there is certainly a place for such skills and knowledge. However, it is important to also understand that a business’s greatest resource is its people. The principles outlined by Mr. Manz give clear direction for not only empowering subordinates to be the best they can be, but they also ensure seamless transition during times of change.

The principle that spoke most clearly to me, and the one I have personally witnessed in more practical application situations, is the section entitled, “The Last shall be first”. The genuine leader is always going to be mindful of how his or her actions affect those whom he or she will lead. The genuine leader understands that the position of authority that has been entrusted to him or her has not been granted due to special favors owed or due. Rather, a true leader will understand that his or her responsibility will rest not only with a job well done but also on the ability to encourage and train his or her eventual replacement.

My own role as a manager and as a leader with my employer has as much to do with the day-to-day task as with those times when my absence is inevitable. It is a given that one day I will no longer be with my employer whether by death, retirement, or the pursuit of other opportunities with another employer. My task as a leader, then, requires that I give my employer my all which will include the time when I am no longer there. The only way to ensure this success is to ensure the success of my subordinates. My personal witness to this concept is that my subordinates already make me look good, probably more so than I deserve!

The concept is as simple as the leadership principles I witnessed during my time in the US Marine Corps. Seemingly simple acts such as ensuring that those of lesser rank eat first, especially in the field when the food is still hot, affirms for those who eat first of their inherent worth as individuals. The acts themselves need not be so profound that the implication is ultimately lost.

There can surely be no drawbacks or weaknesses of such a concept not only because the wisdom shared comes from the Divine Source of all wisdom but also because in practical application in my own life as well as in the professional life of great leaders such as Donald Peterson, former CEO at Ford Motors, there is proof beyond reproach that the concept has merit and value just as each unique individual created in a Divine Image has inherent merit and value.

Mr. Manz’ book challenges anyone who strives for success and, as stated earlier, cannot be restricted exclusively to the business world. For it is not that any should strive for rewards for oneself; instead, it is that the success of others is our ultimate success.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

What is the Word?

The Ed Johnson decision was reported in the Arkansas United Methodist paper. The article did not claim a "quote", and I could not find the link for that particular article on line (just so the reader is aware, I do well just to turn my computer on!). The gist of the article did nothing more than to report the decision of the Judicial Council to affirm a pastor's authority to determine who is and who is not ready for membership vows in a local UM congregation. The word "authority", however, was not used. Instead, the article writer chose the word "power" in place of "authority" which struck me rather odd.

I am a part-time local pastor of a small, rural congregation, and it never occurred to me that I possess any sort of assigned "power". Limited authority, yes. But power? Perhaps with my words, but no more or less so than with words spoken by others.

It would make sense that a pastor is going to be sure that a potential new member understands what it means to be part of a church family with the duties and responsibilities as well as the joys and opportunities. Being an active member of a church is very serious business! A person needs to be aware that a church cannot function as its ideal unless everyone lives up to their God-given potential and spiritual gifts.

However, making a judgment as to whether this person or that person may or may not live up to the church's expectations can be treading into some dangerous territory and making some vague assumptions. The pastor should possess a certain level of spiritual authority. However, it must always be remembered that a pastor is still a fallible human person and is quite capable of making mistakes.

I suppose someone has to be in charge and I don't really question what happened in VA since I do not have details. It is downright scary, however, to notice how significantly one single, tiny word can change the context of an entire story. Or is it just me?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A House Divided Against Itself ...

Appelate Judge Samuel Alito, Jr has been nominated by President Bush to serve in outgoing Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's seat on the US Supreme Court. This is now old news. As time goes on and more effort is given to read into Judge Alito's past works, there will be more and more new stuff to read and more information with which to either support this man's nomination ... or attempt to destroy him and the President who appointed him.

In Planned Parenthood vs Casey at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Alito was the lone dissenter in refusing to recognize a wife's "right" to an abortion without notifying her husband. The PA spousal notification law was rendered void by the US Supreme Court.

This case is disturbing to me on so many levels that I cannot even think of where to begin. How could a reasoned judicial opinion possibly conclude that a husband has no right to know that such a thing is about to take place? Some would argue that abortion is still about a WOMAN'S right to lord over her own body while completely ignoring the pro-life stance that opposition to abortion is about a HUMAN right to life.

Even if we are arguing about "rights", and the mantra always seems to be "equal" rights, where does the father of the soon-to-be executed child have the opportunity to exercise his rights? What "rights" does a husband even have? What is equal about such an opinion that would encourage not only the destruction of an innocent life but would also remove the foundation that upholds a marriage? This decision made it clear that when we are talking about rights, there is nothing equal or equitable about it.

Some articles have suggested that a woman might "need" to have an abortion because the husband did not want children to begin with. This argument is weak at best. Has no one in this nation heard of birth control? Or SELF-control? It seems to me that the only thing that has been protected here is a wife's "right" to cheat and not have to contend with potential consequences. Is this not what abortion is all about anyway? The potential consequences of an unwanted child who might get in the way or diminish career growth or reveal one's sin?

However, the decision of the Supreme Court is final; wives can destroy their unborn children, and their husbands have absolutely no say. Even if the husband never finds out about a particular instance in which HIS CHILD has been destroyed, we can be sure of one thing: the division in that household has been set in stone and will never recover. That marriage is over.

Monday, October 31, 2005

This Just In ...

Beth Stroud, the former UM pastor whose credentials were pulled after she "came out" about her homosexuality, has had her appeal turned away. The UM Judicial Council has upheld the initial action that pulled her credentials. She can no longer serve as a UM pastor.

Does this action mean that her credentials as a Christian person have been pulled? Of course not. However, the action and subsequent reactions tells a story about a people who are not the least bit interested in "justice". And I am not speaking exclusively of United Methodists, conservative or otherwise.

President Bush has named a new nominee to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the US Supreme Court. The gentleman happens to have a conservative background. Without even giving the man a chance to speak, NARAL and other pro-abortion organizations as well as senators and congressmen are already having screaming fits that this man will not be fair to their cause.

Whether conservative or liberal, we are not at all interested in justice. We want what we want, and we will use any means at our disposal to be sure we get it. If it means disparaging remarks directed at those with whom we disagree, then so be it.

Of course we pretend that we have a special place in our hearts for justice, and we claim to be a nation of justice. It just is, however, that justice must be according to what suits us or pleases us. The truth be damned.

Regardless of one's position on homosexuality within the Church, the decision denying Ms. Stroud her credentials was right, according to what is written as church law in the United Methodist Book of Discipline. The law is about as clear as the English language can allow.

Regardless of one's stand on abortion (which seems to be about the only issue facing the US Supreme Court, to hear NARAL tell it), there is no law written that justifies such an action. It is not written in the US Constitution, and the US Congress has not created a law to be signed by the President. In fact, there is no law that grants to any of us a right to destroy an innocent human being. And abortion, and a judge's refusal to abide by that ridiculous Roe v Wade decision, is an acknowledgement of the fact that among the rights of man is "life". A judge's refusal to rule otherwise, especially in abortion cases, is to rule in favor of those who cannot speak up for, nor protect, themselves - the unborn.

The rule of law is always in favor of what is right.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Politicos are not the only ones watching Blogs

Political commentator John Brummett has a problem though he would try to convince us, the innocent reader, that there is a danger lurking in the cyber shadows from which we all need to be protected by “real newsmen”. I am speaking, of course, of those dastardly, evil “blogs”.

To hear it told, “real newsmen” are the only ones qualified to render an opinion. Of course we are being told that only the most ignorant and wretched of the masses are running these “blogs”. We are told that “if you have a job and a life”, you are not aware of these “blogs”.

I have news for you, Mr. Brummett, and as a “real newsman” – which I am sure you consider yourself to be – you might appreciate this headline. You, sir, are a snob.

Sort of ironic, isn’t it, that you align yourself with those in politics whom you consider to be “progressive” (it used to be “liberal”), those who are out for the “little guy” and seeking to protect the “little guy” from himself, that you would come across as one who almost resents the fact that hundreds, indeed thousands, of regular, working-class “little guy” Americans have opinions of their own. It might also interest you to notice that there are many “bloggers” out there who have “real” jobs and write for free. One cannot help but wonder how much writing you would do if money were not involved.

To be fair, I have come across some “blogs” whose authors seem to have come from somewhere other than planet Earth. I have also encountered other “blogs” whose writers treat the English language as a toilet stool. There are also at least as many “bloggers” who read only headlines and then discern for themselves what the headline must have meant without actually having read the story. I must say that I have also read some political commentary from “real” writers who surely did the very same thing.

How different is this from “real newsmen” who will hear, word for word, a politician’s speech and come away with an opinion that comes nowhere near what the speaker had actually said? How many “real newsmen” read between the lines and come away with such ridiculous statements as, “This is what he said. However….”

Like you, I must admit my own disdain for those who refuse to sign a name. Those who hide behind “anonymous” are those who might actually have something to say but are probably genuinely afraid to be called on what they say. So they hide.

I also have a certain level of disdain for “real newsmen” whose biting sarcasm is dripping with disdain for those whose opinions differ from their own. The truth is, political commentators such as yourself take the “real” news and then expound on that news by interjecting your own opinions as to what was said, what was not said but should have been, and how wrong they were.

The truth is, the only difference between writing such as yours and a “bloggers” writing is a paycheck. We are not paid to publish our stuff nor do we expect to be paid. Consider this. You are likely educated with a degree in journalism or English. What other credentials do you hold that make you especially qualified to speak to a political situation beyond the fact that you pay attention and, lacking a “real” job, have time to do nothing more than read and write?

The politicos had better be paying attention to the “blogs” for these are the thoughts of working-class, voting citizens. We have something to say, and we’ll not wait around for a paycheck to say it.


Michael P. Daniel
10 Pin Oak Dr
Conway AR 72034

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Here We Go AGAIN!

The debate about homosexuality is heating up yet again with the appeal of UM pastor (once removed) Beth Stroud that will soon take place. Ms. Stroud had her credentials yanked for admitting to being involved in a "committed" relationship with her female partner. Now the case will be reviewed once again. **Sigh**

So what? What are we talking about here? Civil rights? Constitutional rights? Pastoral rights? Human rights? Women's rights? Gay rights? What?

A retired clergy related a story to me once about a dear friend of his who was homosexual. What kept this man out of trouble, however, was that he was not a "practicing" homosexual; he was celibate. And the reason, as it was told to me, had nothing to do with the UM Book of Discipline; it had more to do with how spiritually conflicted this man felt about his orientation.

So my question is this: what is the difference between a homosexual and a "practicing" homosexual? Could it be the same as the difference between a sinner and a "practicing" sinner? To be perfectly honest, I am extremely weary of the whole debate. If they want to have homosexual "civil" marriages, I am opposed but not nearly as concerned as I am that we continue to have this discussion/dialogue/debate within the realm of the Church.

The world will do what it will do, and the world will continue to reject the Gospel of the Lord. The world will continue to offer the instant gratification that it offers as a means to lure the innocent and the weary away from the Gospel.

The Church, however, cannot fall into this trap. The Church must necessarily stand as a sanctuary against these types of conflicts. This continuing conflict is the world battling against itself because the Church has a written Word, a LIVING WORD, that settled this conflict long ago.

So let's call it what it is. Ms. Stroud wants the rewards that this world has to offer. Let her have it. Pray for her. Mention her by name in your prayers. However, please do not pretend that this type of relationship is acceptable according to what essentially is the only Holy Scripture we have.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Rosa Parks

For those who are not familiar with her, Mrs. Rosa Parks passed away this past Monday at the ripe age of 92. Beyond her own family, this passing may not have meant much to many. She was simply an old woman who lived a long life and reached the end of her journey much like the rest of us, the Lord God willing.

Mrs. Parks, however, cannot be said to be just any old woman who finally reached the end. This woman, with no plan whatsoever, started a movement in 1955 that culminated in the long-overdue Civil Rights Act of 1964. And to hear her tell it, all she wanted to do was to ride the bus in Montgomery AL home with just a little peace and a little dignity.

I do not curse my skin color; I am caucasion. Think of it, though. The times that this incredible woman - and so many others like her - faced with courage and conviction, knowing full well that something was just not right. And as I reflect on those times, it suddenly occurs to me that they were not only fighting for - not equal rights, as Malcolm X was fond of saying - HUMAN rights; they were leading the way in a movement whose impact is so profound that I am not even sure we can appreciate it today ... at least not fully. And while there were certainly sympathetic whites during those days, there is no possible way we can understand the fear that far too many felt just in lying down in their own beds at the end of a long, hard day. No way.

So much that we take for granted in this life can never fully help us to appreciate what the Civil Rights movement meant then, or now. We have what we have and we expect it to always be there. We will not be able to fully measure its true value unless we no longer have it.

Christians can only hope to have the kind of impact for the Kingdom of Heaven that Mrs. Parks had for human dignity.

And to think ... all she wanted to do was sit down. And she did. And the world has not been the same since.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Another Military Investigation

There is yet another investigation going on with regard to our military's treatment of prisoners. This time it is not about how we are treating the live prisoners; the investigation is centered around a report about burning the bodies of deceased Taliban fighters.

There are several things wrong in the reporting, not the least of which is that the incident's reporter, Australian photojournalist Stephen Dupont, is now claiming that the incident was done not to taunt the Taliban but, rather, for reasons of hygiene.

In the United States, cremation is just another method of burial. In many other cultures, burning the bodies of the dead is part of a regular, religious practice. Why is the Muslim community going to be "horrified" when they find out about this?

In a brief search, I have found something of an answer as to why Islam prohibits cremation. As a Christian, all I can say is, "whudda thunk it?"

Winning the hearts and minds of civilians, especially within a culture that is foreign to the rank-and-file American, is of the utmost importance. This is why the US military is very intentional about teaching soldiers how to respect the culture in which they may find themselves. Fighting a war on the ground is hard enough; they don't also need to be fighting a war of words and principles.

Military commanders are coming out breathing fire (no pun intended) and promising to go after those who are guilty of this "crime". However, considering that knowledge of Islam has been our greatest challenge since 9/11/01, why is it that Islamic chaplains in the US military have not been more aggressive about being sure that American soldiers are well-informed about that which requires all the sensitivity we can muster?

While reasonable persons would never condone abuse of a prisoner under any circumstances, I think rather than demand a soldier's head on a platter, we may need to plead ignorance in this case and move on. We can only apologize so many times.

The (continuing) War on Poverty

David Boaz, executive VP of Cato Institute, wrote a provocative piece exploring the war on poverty and our tendencies to repeat past failures in our continuing efforts to "make poverty history". It is definitely a libertarian perspective and, admittedly, a must-read for everyone.

Mr. Boaz uses figures to show us the trends that have not worked in the past, efforts that we continually insist must be done on a much grander scale to get more done and reach more people. In a nutshell, Mr. Boaz uses these figures to prove that our approach to poverty has not worked in the past and has no hope of working in the future. It is time for new solutions.