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.