"We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of the government, far from it. We have staked the future upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to sustain ourselves, according to the Ten Commandments of God."
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
"We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of the government, far from it. We have staked the future upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to sustain ourselves, according to the Ten Commandments of God."
|Figures on government spending and debt (last six digits are eliminated). The government's fiscal year runs Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.|
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Read the rest at: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/book_extracts/article5901271.ece
Thursday, November 12, 2009
This morning he wrote the following in a column on "free Market Capitalism" I want to comment on:
The Reagan free-market revolution, which included regulation lite, a sound dollar, and low tax rates, launched a three-decade-long boom. And yes, the Gipper’s policies were copied around the world. (What does Barney Frank know that the rest of the world doesn’t?) Even the communists in China have adopted deregulated free-market capitalism.
Well, how has copying the Gipper''s policies in Russia, Poland, and other former communistic states worked out? Frankly, over the past twenty years or so most people living in those countries have stayed poor and a few "Oligarchs" control 95% of business and wealth. Why? The founder's of capitalism knew it and we should recognize it. Unregulated Capitalism without ethics and a moral framework merely amount to a form of economic Darwinism where the strong dominate and enslave the poor. Whether intentionally or un-intentionally this is a result of man's fallen state and human condition.
Early in man's recorded history God gave Moses "the Law" because He knew we needed it. Look it up. It was all about His law restraining man's inability to look past his own desires. The first structure in the church came as deacons were identified and charged with caring for those who were being overlooked...in the glorious early church! Those who had seen Jesus in a resurrected state were feeding their family and friends and allowing others in their community to live off little.
Perhaps we should be informed as followers of Jesus that regulation only increases as sin and self-serving without a biblical ethical framework increases. Can we change the world and this tidle wave of greed and self-serving? I suggest the answer is yes. But not with more political regulation, but by making a decision today to live by a different system of government regulated by The Lawgiver. God help us to live by your power as you prescribe. Short of this...there is little hope for reformation in business or any other area of life!
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
This post is for my friends who struggle this time of year with whether or not to celebrate Halloween with their kids. It's a good read whatever your opinion. Watch for me and my kids Halloween night. Williams will be a little horse (2nd year in a row), Thomas an X-man, Sarah a ballerina, Caroline Hannah Montana, and me, I'll be holding the flashlight and eating way too much sugar!
OPEN BOOK, Views & Reviews, No. 28
Copyright (c) 1996 Biblical Horizons
It has become routine in October for some Christian schools to send out letters warning parents about the evils of Halloween, and it has become equally routine for me to be asked questions about this matter.
"Halloween" is simply a contraction for All Hallows’ Eve. The word "hallow" means "saint," in that "hallow" is just an alternative form of the word "holy" ("hallowed be Thy name"). All Saints’ Day is November 1. It is the celebration of the victory of the saints in union with Christ. The observance of various celebrations of All Saints arose in the late 300s, and these were united and fixed on November 1 in the late 700s. The origin of All Saints Day and of All Saints Eve in Mediterranean Christianity had nothing to do with Celtic Druidism or the Church’s fight against Druidism (assuming there ever even was any such thing as Druidism, which is actually a myth concocted in the 19th century by neo-pagans.)
In the First Covenant, the war between God’s people and God’s enemies was fought on the human level against Egyptians, Assyrians, etc. With the coming of the New Covenant, however, we are told that our primary battle is against principalities and powers, against fallen angels who bind the hearts and minds of men in ignorance and fear. We are assured that through faith, prayer, and obedience, the saints will be victorious in our battle against these demonic forces. The Spirit assures us: "The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly" (Romans 16:20).
The Festival of All Saints reminds us that though Jesus has finished His work, we have not finished ours. He has struck the decisive blow, but we have the privilege of working in the mopping up operation. Thus, century by century the Christian faith has rolled back the demonic realm of ignorance, fear, and superstition. Though things look bad in the Western world today, this work continues to make progress in Asia and Africa and Latin America.
The Biblical day begins in the preceding evening, and thus in the Church calendar, the eve of a day is the actual beginning of the festive day. Christmas Eve is most familiar to us, but there is also the Vigil of Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Morn. Similarly, All Saints’ Eve precedes All Saints’ Day.
The concept, as dramatized in Christian custom, is quite simple: On October 31, the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom.
What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us.
(The tradition of mocking Satan and defeating him through joy and laughter plays a large role in Ray Bradbury’s classic novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is a Halloween novel.)
The gargoyles that were placed on the churches of old had the same meaning. They symbolized the Church ridiculing the enemy. They stick out their tongues and make faces at those who would assault the Church. Gargoyles are not demonic; they are believers ridiculing the defeated demonic army.
Thus, the defeat of evil and of demonic powers is associated with Halloween. For this reason, Martin Luther posted his 95 challenges to the wicked practices of the Church to the bulletin board on the door of the Wittenberg chapel on Halloween. He picked his day with care, and ever since Halloween has also been Reformation Day.
Similarly, on All Hallows’ Eve (Hallow-Even – Hallow-E’en – Halloween), the custom arose of mocking the demonic realm by dressing children in costumes. Because the power of Satan has been broken once and for all, our children can mock him by dressing up like ghosts, goblins, and witches. The fact that we can dress our children this way shows our supreme confidence in the utter defeat of Satan by Jesus Christ – we have NO FEAR!
I don’t have the resources to check the historical origins of all Halloween customs, and doubtless they have varied from time to time and from Christian land to Christian land. "Trick or treat" doubtless originated simply enough: something fun for kids to do. Like anything else, this custom can be perverted, and there have been times when "tricking" involved really mean actions by teenagers and was banned from some localities.
We can hardly object, however, to children collecting candy from friends and neighbors. This might not mean much to us today, because we are so prosperous that we have candy whenever we want, but in earlier generations people were not so well o_, and obtaining some candy or other treats was something special. There is no reason to pour cold water on an innocent custom like this.
Similarly, the jack-o’-lantern’s origins are unknown. Hollowing out a gourd or some other vegetable, carving a face, and putting a lamp inside of it is something that no doubt has occurred quite independently to tens of thousands of ordinary people in hundreds of cultures worldwide over the centuries. Since people lit their homes with candles, decorating the candles and the candle-holders was a routine part of life designed to make the home pretty or interesting. Potatoes, turnips, beets, and any number of other items were used.
Wynn Parks writes of an incident he observed: "An English friend had managed to remove the skin of a tangerine in two intact halves. After carving eyes and nose in one hemisphere and a mouth in the other, he poured cooking oil over the pith sticking up in the lower half and lit the readymade wick. With its upper half on, the tangerine skin formed a miniature jack-o’-lantern. But my friend seemed puzzled that I should call it by that name. `What would I call it? Why a "tangerine head," I suppose.’" (Parks, "The Head of the Dead," The World & I, November 1994, p. 270.)
In the New World, people soon learned that pumpkins were admirably suited for this purpose. The jack-o’-lantern is nothing but a decoration; and the leftover pumpkin can be scraped again, roasted, and turned into pies and muffins.
In some cultures, what we call a jack-o’-lantern represented the face of a dead person, whose soul continued to have a presence in the fruit or vegetable used. But this has no particular relevance to Halloween customs. Did your mother tell you, while she carved the pumpkin, that this represented the head of a dead person and with his soul trapped inside? Of course not. Symbols and decorations, like words, mean different things in different cultures, in different languages, and in different periods of history. The only relevant question is what does it mean now, and nowadays it is only a decoration.
And even if some earlier generations did associate the jack-o’-lantern with a soul in a head, so what? They did not take it seriously. It was just part of the joking mockery of heathendom by Christian people.
This is a good place to note that many articles in books, magazines, and encyclopedias are written by secular humanists or even the pop-pagans of the so-called "New Age" movement. (An example is the article by Wynn Parks cited above.) These people actively suppress the Christian associations of historic customs, and try to magnify the pagan associations. They do this to try and make paganism acceptable and to downplay Christianity. Thus, Halloween, Christmas, Easter, etc., are said to have pagan origins. Not true.
Oddly, some fundamentalists have been influenced by these slanted views of history. These fundamentalists do not accept the humanist and pagan rewriting of Western history, American history, and science, but sometimes they do accept the humanist and pagan rewriting of the origins of Halloween and Christmas, the Christmas tree, etc. We can hope that in time these brethren will reexamine these matters as well. We ought not to let the pagans do our thinking for us.
Nowadays, children often dress up as superheroes, and the original Christian meaning of Halloween has been absorbed into popular culture. Also, with the present fad of "designer paganism" in the so-called New Age movement, some Christians are uneasy with dressing their children as spooks. So be it. But we should not forget that originally Halloween was a Christian custom, and there is no solid reason why Christians cannot enjoy it as such even today.
"He who sits in the heavens laughs; Yahweh ridicules them" says Psalm 2. Let us join in His holy laughter, and mock the enemies of Christ on October 31.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
I am approaching 50 years of age, and I was once a tough guy; at least, some think so. Many, when looking at me now with the goatee and long hair, seem to think I still am. Yet the older I get, and the more I search for an understanding of God, spirituality, and discovering the place I need to be according to my understanding of that search, the more emotional I find myself being when I find either new answers that will take me in a new direction, or in obtaining reassurance that I am on the right path to where I need to be going. One of the beautiful things about this journey is that sometimes (in fact, more often than I really deserve) I get to see movies, read books, or hear music that I believe God has touched to help me in that understanding.
Sometimes when this happens, that formerly big tough guy gets emotional. Such was the case this morning after finishing my viewing of the new, sure-to-be controversial documentary, Lord, Save Us From Your Followers. I was so moved by knowing that I am on the right journey, and have come to some of the right conclusions, that I found myself weeping. It wasn’t so much for me; I would say it was for the hurt I feel for a Church which has forgotten about the mission of Jesus, and especially about those who have been hurt. There were also tears for those who get it and are being Jesus to a hurting world.
This film by Dan Merchant should be required viewing and discussion for any church. The good thing is that some churches will take up this task; the sad thing is, most churches will ignore the challenge. It is a shame; it is why the Church (as perceived by many) has become more like the whore of Hosea than a beautiful bride that loves her husband, Jesus Christ.
Lord, Save Us is a documentary that explores the Church, specifically in America. In the exploration we see not only the perception of the Church from various segments of society, but also how many within the Church view themselves. It is a road trip of sorts where discussion takes place not only on the streets of various cities, but with certain public individuals. From Al Franken to Ann Coulter, and from Bono of U2 to Anthony Campolo, numerous views are presented and challenged. The movie, while quoting and using the Bible at various points, depends largely on common sense.
The central thrust is looking at how the Church and Christianity would be viewed if they did one simple thing, act like Jesus. The effects, the challenges that come about are not only eye opening; they are concepts that are effective. We see the effectiveness of this approach in various places it seems the Church has been at war with, from the media to the gay community and from the public sector to the homeless and poor. We see this by practical applications of trial and error by the makers of the film, and we see it from the reality of the impact of parachurch organizations like World Vision in their work with the poor in Ethiopia.
One of the amazing points in showing the power of being like Jesus comes not through the mouths of the religious, but those who are outside of the institutional Church, or mainstream Christianity. It is here that, if those individual people who make up the Church choose to listen and learn, a great deal of effective work can be done. Now don’t get me wrong; one of the reasons I loved this movie is that it doesn’t ask us to do these things to make projects out of people: we do it because we love them, just as Jesus loved them.
One of the things I think some within Christianity and the Church will become critical of is that the movie doesn’t address the “salvation” concepts required by some within Christian circles. On this point I would simply state, I don’t believe that is the purpose of the film. In the Bible, Jesus tells the story about one who is planting or sowing seeds. Some fall on good ground, some bad ground; there are some that come and help some along to grow and be effective; and some… well, some seeds die. It all starts with sowing seeds, a concept that I believe the Church, and many with Christianity have forgotten about.
I love this movie, though, because it addresses the idea that the building of relationships, the showing of unconditional love, of universal acceptance of the person, compassion for their hurts, is a starting point of showing a person the very love that Jesus showed them. It is in taking on the characteristics of Jesus that we genuinely learn to love others to the point that this love ultimately becomes a natural part of our persona. Jesus loved all people; so should we, including the child dying of AIDS, the hurting in a hurricane-devastated city, the homeless on the street, even those we may disagree with: the Democrat, the Republican, the Homosexual, and the Ultra Conservative. Love is patient, love is kind, love is… well, love is many things, but it is seldom confrontational, angry, hateful, and disrespecting.
Those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus, or Christian, often think we have all of the answers; yet we don’t understand those we are communicating with. In theological terms, getting to know people, showing people you love them where they are at, is a concept we know Jesus illustrated; it is a concept called incarnation. Followers of Jesus understand what it means to love even those they may hate; so what does this say about our ability to love those we simply disagree with on various points? While there is certainly the need for talking about the specifics of what Jesus said, that discussion has to start with respect and understanding.
Unfortunately, many who call themselves Christian represent in name all of us who say we follow Jesus. The consequences of that has been devastating; and in many ways, it is likely those individuals who are so dogmatic in their need to “confront sin” have damaged the possibility of some people rejecting Jesus based solely on the behaviors and actions of those most outspoken in the name of Jesus. When religious leaders call for the assassination of political leaders, or political leaders say we should kill all of the godless in a nation and make that nation a Christian nation, is it any wonder people are confused?
When Jesus says to love your enemy, to pray for those that would do you harm, where do His followers get off saying and doing the exact opposite? When we do, is it any wonder people are confused? When taking these questions, our methods, and our results seriously, is it any wonder that real followers of Jesus would say about many in Christianity, Lord, Save Us From Your Followers?
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Friday, October 16, 2009
Sunday, October 4, 2009
About 10 percent of all mortgages in this country are scheduled to adjust in the next few years, with the numbers peaking in mid- to late 2011, according to First American CoreLogic. Those loans are worth about $1 trillion, and nearly 20 percent of the borrowers who have them are seriously behind on their monthly payments. This is not good news for a recovery!
Monday, September 28, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
"A reasonable economic prediction must be based upon understanding the social, and corresponding moral viewpoint." The question may be, "Whose veiwpoint"? If this is true where does this leave Wall Street and higher education?
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Now is the time. One example...Noah at www.noahsmugs.com
It's never too late OR too early!
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Dan Merchant put on his bumper-sticker-clad jumpsuit and decided to find out why the Gospel of Love is dividing America. After talking with scores of men and women on streets all across the nation, and also interviewing many well-known active participants in today’s “Culture Wars,” Dan realized that the public discussion of faith doesn’t have to be contentious.
Lord, Save Us From Your Followers is a fast-paced, highly engaging documentary that explores the collision of faith and culture in America. See clips here
There is a screening in Franklin September 10 and Charlotte September 14. Let me know what you think about the movie. I think it is going to be instructive.
Monday, September 7, 2009
For a couple of years now people have asked me why I am so deeply concerned about the economy (though it has become self-evident in the past year why I was in an economic funk). I have normally answered that with our leaderships out of control spending and lack of restraint even an entrepreneurial revolution in the US would be choked by the massive debt we call the US Federal Deficit. I have been told I am "crying wolf" and our deficit as a percentage of GDP isn't so high historically, but for some context from someone who should know read the following quotes from David Walker, former head of the Government Accountability Office, the nation's auditor-in-chief.
"Our off balance sheet obligations associated with Social Security and Medicare put us in a $56 trillion financial hole—and that's before the recession was officially declared last year. America now owes more than Americans are worth—and the gap is growing!" Walker follows with further context:
"Our $56 trillion in unfunded obligations amount to $483,000 per household. That's 10 times the median household income—so it's as if everyone had a second or third mortgage on a house equal to 10 times their income but no house they can lay claim to." As for this year's likely deficit of $1.8 trillion, Mr. Walker suggests its size be conveyed thusly: "A deficit that large is $3.4 million a minute, $200 million an hour, $5 billion a day," he says. That does indeed put things into perspective. When asked if there was hope on the horizon for reform he said the following:
"We have four deficits: a budget deficit, a savings deficit, a value-of-the-dollar deficit and a leadership deficit," he tells one group. "We are treating the symptoms of those deficits, but not the disease."
Mr. Walker identifies the disease as having a basic cause: "Washington is totally out of touch and out of control," he sighs. "There is political courage there, but there is far more political careerism and people dodging real solutions." He identifies entrenched incumbency as a real obstacle to change. "Members of Congress ensure they have gerrymandered seats where they pick the voters rather than the voters picking them and then they pass out money to special interests who then make sure they have so much money that no one can easily challenge them," he laments. He believes gerrymandering should be curbed and term limits imposed if for no other reason than to inject some new blood into the system. On campaign finance, he supports a narrow constitutional amendment that would bar congressional candidates from accepting contributions from people who can't vote for them: "If people can't vote in a district not their own, should we allow them to spend unlimited money on behalf of someone across the country?"
These remarks and those from others I respect are the reason for my pessimism. I hope and pray for men and women of courage and integrity. I see no reason for optimism short of a reformation in the hearts and minds of our leaders who choose to serve and submit to the love of others over self.
Quotes taken from John Fund article at WSJ.com
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Before you lose your mind and begin to think I am becoming political in my writing I want to assure you I am not. That being said I am amazed by the amount of energy and TV air-time being spent on the issue of President Obama and the Congress' health care solutions. Obviously this is something citizens feel very strongly about and debate is good. Yet as I listen I am wondering where the thought of loving your neighbor has gone? Not supplying healthcare to everyone 'just because' it is too expensive is not the reason not to do it. However, working together as a country to truly address the broken nature of insurance, government and health delivery is something worth shouting and organizing around. It appears most wealthy and well insured want to keep what they have at their employer and many self-employed or under-employed would like to have coverage or greater access for their families but just cannot afford it. Is there a comprehensive answer to this delimna?
On my last trip to Africa our group came away with the conclusion that most of the good health and community care was being accomplished by the church and faith based community. Men and women who chose to serve others and give freely of their resources were changing lives and communities. Usually this happened on a community by community basis and those who were served were generally grateful. Yet all of this was voluntary and the men and women giving of their lives and living well below their financial aptitude were filled with purpose and joy - though their lives were not easy.
Where is that drive in our health care debate showing a concern of others first? Not by forcing collection of taxation and redistributing wealth, but men and women of good faith giving of themselves and the church organizing around this issue. Not advocating for more or less government but working through the problem. I have served on the board of Mercy Health Services in Franklin, Tennessee (mercytn.org) where a model for child health care is being created and lived out every day. No government money is spent. No taxes necessary. Yet getting the community to voluntarily give their wealth to care for children is difficult. Perhaps because current taxes and compulsary fees leave little to give?
We can care for one another without a government program, but in a fallen world where sin abounds God has given us civil government to check those who would line their pockets at the expense of the poor. Perhaps that is why so many have gotten behind Obama and his system of care? Maybe in a post-Christian culture the needs of the least have gotten lost in the pursuit of 'more' and now laws must be created to stay the covetous hand of man? I have heard it said cutures reap what they sow. Just thinking!
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
I propose there is greater poverty in Paul Farrell's world view than the one that would come for the men and women who follow the Golden Rule which is the antidote to this poverty of life and thought.
Paul B. Farrell
Jul 28, 2009, 12:01 a.m. EST
Surviving the 'End of Civilization' 2050
Six rules for investing in the worse-case scenario
By Paul B. Farrell, MarketWatch
ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. (MarketWatch) -- In his 2008 bestseller, "Wealth, War and Wisdom," hedge fund manager Barton Biggs warns that investors must "assume the possibility of a breakdown of the civilized infrastructure."
And to prepare for a breakdown of civilization, "your safe haven must be self-sufficient and capable of growing some kind of food ... It should be well-stocked with seed, fertilizer, canned food, wine, medicine, clothes, etc." Bloomberg Markets suggested that by "etc." he meant guns, as Biggs added "a few rounds over the approaching brigands' heads would probably be a compelling persuader that there are easier farms to pillage."
The end of Wall Street
Chapter Three: This final chapter of the crisis on Wall Street tells the story of the $700-billion bailout, as seen through a reporter's eyes, and looks at what's ahead for the global economy.
That warning's not from a hippie radical. Biggs was a respected Wall Street guru at Morgan Stanley for 30 years. As the chief global strategist Institutional Investor magazine put him on its "All-America Research Team" 10 times. Smart Money said: "Biggs is without question the premier prognosticator on the international scene and a mover of markets from Argentina to Hong Kong."
Biggs is advising America's wealthy elite. But what about Main Street Americans? Investors often ask me where to invest today, even Bogleheads and investors committed to the Lazy Portfolio strategy. They see the Goldman Conspiracy manipulating this rally. That worries many.
What do you believe? What value do you give to "the future." First, answer these three questions: What's your investment strategy if you know you might die on Dec. 21, 2012, or possibly this year after getting a negative diagnosis from an oncologist or maybe not till 2050 when the United Nations says global population will be 50% higher (from 6 billion now to 9 billion), while demand for energy, oil, gas and coal doubles and the global supply of those commodities remains relatively constant.
Disaster films, terminal illnesses, 2050 and 'The End'
Behavioral economists have answers. But your gut's also good at predicting. So here's what you'll likely do:
You'll go see the new disaster film, "2012" about the end of the Mayan calendar. After all, it's by the same director who "destroyed" the earth in "The Day After Tomorrow," "Independence Day" and "Godzilla." No new investment strategies, but a must-see film, a great catharsis and distraction.
If you had a terminal illness, the future is here, now. There's no tomorrow. You're concerned about protecting loved ones and future generations with what you have, and enjoying time with them.
But how to invest for the "End of Civilization" coming around 2050? The next 40 years will be confusing: Accelerating struggles between aging populations and disenchanted youth, soaring commodity prices, global warming, peak oil, food shortages, famine, blackouts, rationing, civil disorder, increasing crime, worldwide jihads, riots, anarchy and other dark scenarios of a tomorrow with "warfare defining human life."
Yes, that's how doomsayers label the worst-case scenario. It also must be what Ultra-Conservative-Guru Biggs worries about in his darker moments.
So back to the question: What will Main Street investors do? Here again, even with the planet's survival threatened, they'll go watch "2012," be entertained, experience a catharsis, feel relieved, and afterwards, have dinner, slip back into denial. And later, they'll vote against anything that offers solutions to future problems, especially if it raises taxes.
Why? Very simple: Our "Brains Aren't Wired to Fear the Future," writes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. We're wired to respond to crises, while pushing off the real big problems (health care, Social Security, etc.)
That's basic behavioral economics: Over tens of thousands of years, evolution has programmed our brains so that collectively we will behave counter-productive with the future, making an "End of Civilization" scenario inevitable, a foregone conclusion, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why? Because our brains are handicapped, we are literally incapable of acting soon enough to solve the problem.
Six simple rules
But there must be a very small percentage of you out there with a desire to make your remaining days on Earth as pleasant as possible for you and your loved ones. So here are "Six New Rules till the End of Civilization 2050." If they don't scare you, hopefully they'll amuse you. Or better yet, wake you up, maybe get you into action ... before it's too late ... before your grandkids are fighting over what little is left:
1. Greed is really good
Yes, if you are going to follow the same advice as the rich, you and your family always come first. Grab more than your share, many times what's fair. No remorse, because 2050 is coming sooner than you think. Create a protective wall of money and resources that will make whatever time's left as comfortable as possible.
2. Invest in Goldman Sachs and its Wall Street co-conspirators
Seriously, these guys are the poster boys for the word "greed." The Goldman Gang, Goldman Conspiracy, whatever you call them, these guys just took control of Washington and the Treasury; their rapid recovery is proof that "greed is great." Do what they do. Amass as much capital and goods as possible, ignoring the rest of us, then cruise to the finish line.
3. Frugality, stockpiling, hoarding
"The Millionaire Next Door" says it's very simple: "Frugal Frugal Frugal! ... Millionaires live well below their means ... Being frugal is the cornerstone of wealth-building." That way you can stash away lots more for later when the going gets rough, when others attack to get what you've stockpiled.
4. Return to your roots
Remember Biggs' advice about subsistence farming. Survival instincts and personal ingenuity will be your best investment. Your family could be without electricity, water, gasoline in the final days, so keep "well-stocked with seed, fertilizer, canned food, wine, medicine, clothes, etc. Think Swiss Family Robinson."
5. Global warfare, plus ammo and guns
Five years ago Fortune did report on the "Pentagon's Weather Nightmare." Yes, the military warned of "the mother of all national security issues" as "the planet's carrying capacity shrinks, an ancient pattern reemerges: the eruption of desperate all-out wars over food, water, and energy supplies." So invest in the defense industries America needs as the rest of the world reacts more to our greed.
6. Accept death
Back in 1973, my first year at Morgan Stanley, I read Ernest Becker's brilliant Pulitzer Prize winner, "The Denial of Death." Today his message is even more powerful: Yes we will all die, tomorrow. But to enjoy the days left, you must accept death today ... accept even now as behavioral economists warn us that our brains are our own worst enemy, as well as the planet's, for we are on a self-destruct path of no return.
Parable at the Pearly Gates
Too macabre for you? So you don't miss the satire, here is a final message, in the spirit of Milton Berle's classic movie, "Always Leave Them Laughing." It's from USA Today, told by that great comedian Carol Leifer:
"Mother Teresa died and went to heaven. God greeted her at the Pearly Gates. 'Be thou hungry, Mother Teresa?' asked God. 'I could eat,' Mother Teresa replied. So God opened a can of tuna and reached for a chunk of rye bread, and they began to share it. While eating this humble meal, Mother Teresa looked down into hell and saw the inhabitants devouring huge steaks, lobsters and pastries. Curious but deeply trusting, she remained quiet.
"The next day God again invited her to join him for a meal. Again, it was tuna and rye bread. Once again, Mother Teresa could see the denizens of hell enjoying lamb, turkey and delicious desserts. Still she said nothing.
"The following day, mealtime arrived and another can of tuna was opened. She couldn't contain herself any longer. Meekly, she asked, 'God, I am grateful to be in heaven with you. But here in heaven all I get to eat is tuna and a piece of rye bread, and in the Other Place, they eat like emperors and kings! I just don't understand it.' God sighed. 'Let's be honest, Teresa,' he said. 'For just two people, it doesn't pay to cook.'"
So, cheer up, maybe the "End of Civilization" won't be all that bad, even for Wall Street, if you take Barton Biggs advice and stock up on something other than tuna and crackers. END
I propose there is greater poverty in Paul Farrell's world view than the one that would come for the men and women who follow the Golden Rule which is the antidote to this poverty of life and thought.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Beauty Will Save the World
by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Like that bewildered savage who has picked up a strange object… perhaps something thrown up by the sea, perhaps disinterred from the sands or dropped from the heavens…an object intricate in its convolutions, which shines first with a dull glow and then with a bright shaft of light…who keeps turning it over and over in his hands in an effort to find some way of putting it to use, seeking some humble function for it, which is within his limited grasp, never conceiving of a higher purpose…
Chad Kyojun Kleitsch
So we, too, holding art in our hands vaingloriously considering ourselves to be its master, undertake brazenly to give it direction, to renovate it, reform it, to issue manifestoes about it, to sell it for money. We use it to play up to those who possess power. We employ it at times for amusement—even in music-hall songs and night clubs—and also at times, grabbing hold of it however we can, for transient and limited political and social needs. But art is not desecrated by our carryings-on. It does not lose sight of its own origins because of them. And each time and in each mode of use it sheds on us a portion of its secret inner light.
But can we embrace all that light? Who is there so bold as to proclaim that he has defined art? That he has enumerated all its facets? Yet perhaps in ages past someone did comprehend and define it for us, but we grew impatient: we listened in passing and paid no heed and discarded it immediately in our eternal haste to replace even the very best with something else just because it is new! And then later on, when what is old is restated, we forgot that we heard it before.
One artist imagines himself the creator of an independent spiritual world and takes on his shoulders the act of creating that world and its population, assuming total responsibility for it—but he stumbles and breaks down because there is no mortal genius capable of bearing such a load; just like man, who once declared himself the center of all existence but was incapable of creating a balanced spiritual system. And then, when failure occurs, it is all blamed on the external disharmony of the world, on the complexity of the shattered contemporary soul, or the stupidity of the public.
Another artist realizes that there is a supreme force above him and works away gladly as a small apprentice beneath God’s heaven, even though his responsibility for everything he draws or writes and for the souls which perceives it is all the more strict. But still: it was not he who created this world, nor is it he who provides it with direction, and he has no doubts of its foundations. The artist is only given to sense more keenly than others the harmony of the world and all the beauty and savagery of man’s contribution to it—and to communicate this poignantly to people. And even in the midst of failure and down at the lowest depths of existence—in poverty, prison, illness—the sensation of a stable harmony will never leave him.
However, all the irrationality of art, its blinding twists and turns, its unpredictable discoveries, its soul-shaking impact on people are too magical to be contained within the world-outlook of an artist, in his conception or in the work of his unworthy fingers.
Archaeologists have not yet discovered any stage of human existence without art. Even in the half-light before the dawn of humanity we received this gift from Hands we did not manage to discern. Nor have we managed to ask: Why was this gift given to us and what are we to do with it?
And all those prophets who are predicting that art is disintegrating, that it has used up all its forms, that it is dying, are mistaken. We are the ones who shall die. And art will remain. The question is whether before we perish we shall understand all its aspects and all its ends.
Not all can be given names. Some of them go beyond words. Art opens even the chilled, darkened heart to high spiritual experience. Through the instrumentality of art we are sometimes sent—vaguely, briefly—insights which logical processes of thought cannot attain.
Like the tiny mirror of the fairy tale: you look into it and see—not yourself—but for one fleeting moment the Unattainable to which you cannot leap or fly. And the heart aches…
Dostoyevsky once let drop the enigmatic phrase: “Beauty will save the world.” What does this mean? For a long time it used to seem to me that this was a mere phrase. Just how could such a thing be possible? When had it ever happened in the bloodthirsty course of history that beauty had saved anyone from anything? Beauty had provided embellishment certainly, given uplift—but whom had it ever saved?
However, there is a special quality in the essence of beauty, a special quality in the status of art: the conviction carried by a genuine work of art is absolutely indisputable and tames even the strongly opposed heart. One can construct a political speech, an assertive journalistic polemic, a program for organizing society, a philosophical system, so that in appearance it is smooth, well structured, and yet it is built upon a mistake, a lie; and the hidden element, the distortion, will not immediately become visible. And a speech, or a journalistic essay, or a program in rebuttal, or a different philosophical structure can be counterposed to the first—and it will seem just as well constructed and as smooth, and everything will seem to fit. And therefore one has faith in them—yet one has no faith.
It is vain to affirm that which the heart does not confirm. In contrast, a work of art bears within itself its own confirmation: concepts which are manufactured out of whole cloth or overstrained will not stand up to being tested in images, will somehow fall apart and turn out to be sickly and pallid and convincing to no one. Works steeped in truth and presenting it to us vividly alive will take hold of us, will attract us to themselves with great power- and no one, ever, even in a later age, will presume to negate them. And so perhaps that old trinity of Truth and Good and Beauty is not just the formal outworn formula it used to seem to us during our heady, materialistic youth. If the crests of these three trees join together, as the investigators and explorers used to affirm, and if the too obvious, too straight branches of Truth and Good are crushed or amputated and cannot reach the light—yet perhaps the whimsical, unpredictable, unexpected branches of Beauty will make their way through and soar up to that very place and in this way perform the work of all three.
And in that case it was not a slip of the tongue for Dostoyevsky to say that “Beauty will save the world,” but a prophecy. After all, he was given the gift of seeing much, he was extraordinarily illumined.
And consequently perhaps art, literature, can in actual fact help the world of today.
Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn is the author of major works of fiction such as Cancer Ward and The First Circle, and of several works of history, above all the volumes of the Gulag Archipelago.
Excerpted from Beauty Will Save the World: The Nobel Lecture on Literature by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Copyright © 1970 by the Nobel Foundation. Reprinted by permission of the Nobel Foundation.
Friday, July 3, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
The Voice Claims Another Victim
By Cal Thomas
Tribune Media Services
The first thing that should be acknowledged about South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s admission to an extramarital affair is that it could happen to any of us. That is not an excuse (and no, it has not happened to me, or to my wife). Every married person has heard the voice; the one that says you deserve something “better.”
Gov. Sanford should have been familiar with the voice because of the Bible studies he attended. The voice began seducing humanity a long time ago. It told our first parents that they needed more than the perfection of Eden. The voice told them that God knew that if they ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil they would be like God. But they already were like God, because they were made in His image.
Stick with me you secularists and non-literalists, because there is a point to be made for you, too.
Psychiatrists explain that married people tire of one another after 10 or 20 years (it used to be seven years, as in that Marilyn Monroe/Tom Ewell film “The Seven Year Itch.” Must be inflation.). Good marriages are the result of hard work. Forsaking all others is more than a wedding promise. It is a daily denial of one’s lower instincts. Temptation is everywhere. The key to overcoming it is to realize you are fighting an adversarial force that wants to destroy you, embarrass you and cause ridicule to be heaped on the God you claim to worship.
One can make excuses about power and loneliness and starting out as a friendship that develops into something else, as Gov. Sanford rambled on about, but one can’t explain adultery. It is what it is and the person who commits it should be calling on God for mercy, not the voters for understanding.
I once asked evangelist Billy Graham if he experienced temptations of the flesh when he was young. He said, “of course.” How did he deal with them? With passion he responded, “I asked God to strike me dead before He ever allowed me to dishonor Him in that way.” That is the kind of seriousness one needs to overcome the temptations of a corrupt culture in which shameful behavior is too often paraded in the streets.
There was a time when a divorce would disqualify someone from public office. Now people admit affairs and expect to stay in office. “It’s just sex,” said defenders of Bill Clinton. One might as well say, “it was just a gun” that killed my spouse. Adultery wounds in ways a bullet cannot. One can potentially heal from a bullet wound, but a shot to the soul and to the trust that must be central to any marriage is nearly impossible to repair. The wounded spouse always wonders, “Will he/she do it again?”
A relationship most promise to venerate “until death us do part” is damaged by adultery, whether it’s a TV evangelist, a politician or a regular Joe who violates the marriage bed. In fact, we rarely even use the word “adultery” anymore because it sounds so, uh, biblical, and those teachings and commands long ago fell out of fashion, though they work for those who embrace them.
Any man who claims never to have had thoughts of straying is a liar. Any man who has sought the help of God and other men in helping him to honor his marriage promises to his wife and children is a hero, especially in today’s morally exhausted culture.
I miss Paul Harvey and his acknowledgement of those who had been married 50, 60, even 70 years. Those people are my role models. I’m sure they heard the voice, too, but they told it to get lost and it did. Pushing against weights builds up the body, pushing against the voice builds up the soul and improves a marriage. You can never take a marriage — or the voice — for granted; it’s always on the prowl looking for new people to destroy.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Here is an interview with Jay Richards I conducted by email.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? What is your current vocation? Are you married? Do you have children?
I was born and raised in Amarillo, TX. I am married to Ginny (we just celebrated our eighteenth anniversary), and we have two lovely daughters, Gillian (10) and Ellie (6).
I worked full time at Discovery Institute for 7 1/2 years (in Seattle) and at Acton Institute for three years. We attended a CRC Church in Grand Rapids. At the moment, though, we're out in the Seattle area while my wife finishes some course work for a masters degree. I'm getting to write full time as a Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. We're writing a series of booklets on economic topics for ordinary, non-wonkish, people. I'm also editing a collection of articles designed to bridge the growing divide between social and fiscal conservatives. It's scheduled to be released in late summer.
2. How did you become a Christian? What is your current church like and how are you involved?
I attended a mainline Presbyterian Church in Amarillo, and was a more or less conventional, mainline, Christian. In college, I had a crisis of faith, but was brought back from the brink through the writings of C.S. Lewis.
3. You didn't always see the benefit to a market economy. Tell us a little bit about your story as you moved from strong opposition to capitalism to seeing the Christian virtues on the free market.
In college, I fell for many of the socialist-left ideas popular at the time (and which are regrettably making a comeback). Happily, I happened to read some good economics, including a terrific book on Marxism by Thomas Sowell. I also read Ayn Rand, which destroyed the vision of collectivism. By the time I was a senior in college, the luster of socialism had worn off. But it will still several years before I thought a Christian could defend capitalism. I suppose I had accepted Rand's argument, but rejected the idea that greed was a virtue. I thought capitalism "worked," but was still morally problematic. Once I read George Gilder's Wealth and Poverty, and Michael Novak's The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, I changed my mind. This was actually when I was at Union Seminary in Virginia, and having to read Gustavo Gutierrez's Theology of Liberation for the third time. I went looking for a counterbalance, and discovered Gilder and Novak.
4. In your book, you unpack eight mistakes Christians make with economics. I don't want to make you rewrite the whole book for this interview, but could you give a one sentence description of each myth?
Here's how I summarize the eight myths in my book:
The nirvana myth (contrasting capitalism with an unrealizable ideal rather than with its live alternatives)
The piety myth (focusing on our good intentions rather than the unintended consequences of our actions)
The zero-sum game myth (believing that trade requires a winner and a loser)
The materialist myth (believing that wealth isn’t created, it’s simply transferred)
The greed myth (believing that the essence of capitalism is greed)
The usury myth (believing that charging interest on money is always exploitative)
The artsy myth (confusing aesthetic judgments with economic arguments)
The freeze frame myth (believing that things always stay the same—for example, assuming that population trends will continue indefinitely or treating a current “natural resource” as if it will always be needed)
I linked the myths to eight corresponding questions:
Can’t we build a just society?
What does God require of us as Christians?
Doesn’t capitalism foster unfair competition?
If I become rich, won’t someone else become poor?
Isn’t capitalism based on greed?
Has Christianity ever really embraced capitalism?
Doesn’t capitalism lead to an ugly consumerist culture?
Do we take more than our fair share? That is, isn’t our modern
lifestyle causing us to use up all the natural resources?
I struggled with this taxonomy for a while, but I do think the vast majority of bad thinking on economics among Christians can be placed in one of these eight categories.
5. Do you recommend that churches offer fair trade coffee?
In general, I don't think fair trade coffee makes sense economically (see pages 39-42), although I also don't think it's as problematic as many coercive strategies, such as wealth redistribution. I've recently learned that there is some diversity among fair trade organizations, especially among Christian ministries. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to speak too harshly of fair trade without nuancing, since it is normally an expression of a charitable impulse, and it appears, at least on the surface, to be a market-oriented way of dealing with third world poverty.
6. On page 35, you write "Spiritually you're better off a little mixed up about economics than indifferent to human suffering. Economically, though, only what you do is important, whatever your reason." This seems to be a very important point for the book. What are you trying to say in these two sentences?
When I wrote: "Spiritually you're better off a little mixed up about economics than indifferent to human suffering. Economically, though, only what you do is important, whatever your reason," I was trying to balance but capture Gilson's "Piety is no substitute for technique." To me, this is one of most important points I've tried to make. Motivation IS important when we're considering our spiritual state before God. It's just that our motivation for a policy has nothing to do with the real world effects of the policy. I think that Christians often weight our (and others') motivations far too heavily on economic matters. It's as if we think feeling bad about poverty is more obligatory than actually doing something that helps the poor. For instance, several times in churches I've pointed out why minimum wage laws don't really help the poor in the long run. I've never had anyone try to debunk the argument, but several times I've received the complaint that my argument shows that I'm not really concerned about the poor. It doesn't of course. But even if it were evidence that I weren't concerned about the poor, the argument's validity (or lack thereof) would remain the same.
7. I'm sure that you will get some feedback from libertarians for your critique of Ayn Rand. Some might be surprised that you would criticize Rand in a book promoting free market capitalism. What, in your opinion, does Rand get wrong?
My criticism of Rand is central to my argument. In my view, she rightly defended free markets, limited government, and the importance of entrepreneurs, but she located those arguments in a deeply flawed atheistic philosophy. Without going into all the problems with Objectivism, I criticize her defense of greed, as well as her identification of greed with capitalism. I also argue that she confuses Adam Smith's arguments about self-interest with selfishness. If Rand is right about capitalism, it seems to me, then it would be very hard for Christians to be capitalists. That said, as I mention in the book, Rand actually was important in helping me to purge my socialist sympathies.
8. You finish the book with "Ten Ways to Alleviate Poverty; or, Creating Wealth in Ten Tough Steps." Why are the rule of law (number one) and a formal property system (number three) so important to the alleviation of poverty?
Rule of law is a prerequisite for a free market even to exist. A free market is not anarchy, as some critics who talk about "unbridled capitalism" seem to imply. For a market to be free, exchanges must be voluntary, which means they must be perceived as a benefit for all participants. This is what makes a free market a positive-sum game by definition. If the strong can steal from their weaker neighbors with impunity, in contrast, they have little motivation for looking for win-win exchanges. Rule of law encourages participants in a market to seek out exchanges that are mutually beneficial, even if the participants have immoral motives. That's a good thing.
In arguing for the importance of private property and titling in raising people out of poverty, I'm following Hernando de Soto's important arguments in The Mystery of Capital. These laws and methods allow land to become assets, to become property, to be compared with and traded with other assets. This opens up all sorts of wealth-creating activities that the first world takes for granted, but which is still lacking in much of the developing world.
9. You go out of your way to argue that the universe is divinely ordered and purposeful. What difference does this make for our approach to economics?
I think that a culture's general beliefs about the nature of reality can have significant economic consequences. For instance, if one believes that the world is orderly and designed for a purpose, one is more likely to look for, and discover, aspects of that order. Moreover, these beliefs can encourage optimism, delayed gratification and a motivation to make the world a better place. Finally, it prevents one from reducing economics to materialism. The most important truths of economics emerge from the reality of the human person. That reality requires a theological/philosophical framework that can accommodate it.
Of course, to offset utopian tendencies, these beliefs are best tempered with a healthy realization of our flaws. In the Christian worldview, original sin fulfills this function.
10. What advice would you give pastors as they preach on money?
I would have two main words of advice for any pastor who wants to preach about money. First, look carefully at the what Scripture and the Christian tradition actually say about money. Second, get acquainted with some basic truths of economics. There are empirical realities in economics, just as there are in chemistry and physics. It's not all hopelessly laden with ideology. And it doesn't require advanced degrees in economics. If a pastor shows that he understands some economics, he's much more likely to be taken seriously when he speaks prophetically about money to his parishioners. I suppose I wrote the book, in part, to help pastors do just that.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
When was the last time you rested like this?
On the plane home from Denver yesterday I read a statistic that I thought was very interesting. The statistic said that 80 plus percent of peoples stress was derived from "financial pressures". I resemble the majority of those in the study!
In America in 2009 perhaps a little context is in order? The Creator of this world has a few words for us!
"Godliness with contentment is great gain. For I brought nothing into the world, and I can take nothing out of it. But if I have food and clothing, with these I will be content." I Timothy 6:6-8
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. Christ has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Now we find ourselves trying to unwind a mountain of debt personally and, as usual, with a government that learns decades later, who is "here to help" (which is a phrase that concerns all rational men and women). We couldn't borrow our way into happiness and contentment and the governments of the world cannot borrow their way out of this crisis.
So how do we live free financially and emotionally, once and for all, in the midst of the unbalanced and fallen world we find ourselves in? I certainly don't have all the answers but I do have a few suggestions to get us started.
1. Get a plan. It has been said over and over again "if you don't know where your going...". If you don't know where to start begin by asking yourself where you would like to be financially, physically, spiritually, familially three years from today and write it down.
2. Answer the three year question in light of what you believe God is calling you to be and do. Try to block out what 'the world' and it's system of thought are pulling you towards. This is a difficult task, but once you can describe who God is calling you to be and what He desires for you to do, courage to act comes more freely. If you find this difficult you are not alone. Yet it is attainable with time in Gods word and a biblically based community of friends.
3. Consider where you will be or what will happen three years from today if you don't go through this exercise? It is true that it is difficult to expect a different outcome in life if you don't change what you are doing.
This is not written to be a "ra-ra" learn to live better self-help post. It's just a reminder to me first and others reading that we need to examine our lives - often - and utilize tools and discipline to live as we are 'called' by God as an antidote to being pulled by the world into a system of thought and way of life that is counter to what we see in scripture. Had many of us done this my guess is our economic and emotional well being would not be so challenged as it is today.
Being transformed has more to do with looking deeply into scripture and living by it's precepts in all areas of life than it does 'keeping all the rules'. I'm first to admit "balance" is unattainable this side of heaven, yet striving for a more whole being takes work and a commitment to living with others who can help us now. I'm so glad I don't have to do this alone!
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Over the past 16 months or so prices on securities and commodities have been searching for a balance in price. Oil was more than $145.00 per barrel and stocks were inflated in price due to borrowing and leverage. Finding an equalibrium in price or value is painful and takes time. I believe life goes through many times of searching out a 'balance' and it too takes time and is painful. The beauty comes from walking through this painful time in community with friends we love and who love us. Is there someone, or a group of people you walk through life's difficult times with? Is there someone in your life you can be truly honest with about your fears and anxiety of being 'out of balance'? If not, I would suggest you need someone and as I have heard many times if you need a friend be a friend. I suspect if you reach out you will find others walking 'out of balance' who could use a friend as well.
The Christian life and culture should 'look like something'. What does it look like in your neighborhood? Creating culture that reflects the precepts of love and reconciliation is difficult, but it's worth it...and for most of us working towards these things helps us learn to 'walk in balance'. Just thinking!
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
iMonk 101: When I Am Weak: Why we must embrace our brokenness and never be good Christians
April 7th, 2009 by iMonk
" This is perhaps my favorite statement of the Gospel that I’ve every written. The best sermons should preach to yourself. The Luther quote at the end still rocks me. I’ve been working on this to make it “book friendly,” and I wanted to share it with the IM audience again. If you’re a “good Christian,” go do something else. If you are a mess, this is my gift to you. From 2004 I think.
The voice on the other end of the phone told a story that has become so familiar to me, I could have almost finished it from the third sentence. A respected and admired Christian leader, carrying the secret burden of depression, had finally broken under the crushing load of holding it all together. As prayer networks in our area begin to make calls and send e-mails, the same questions are asked again and again. “How could this happen? How could someone who spoke so confidently of God, someone whose life gave such evidence of Jesus’ presence, come to the point of a complete breakdown? How can someone who has the answers for everyone one moment, have no answers for themselves the next?”
Indeed. Why are we, after all that confident talk of “new life,” “new creation,” “the power of God,” “healing,” “wisdom,” “miracles,” “the power of prayer,” …why are we so weak? Why do so many “good Christian people,” turn out to be just like everyone else? Divorced. Depressed. Broken. Messed up. Full of pain and secrets. Addicted, needy and phony. I thought we were different.
It’s remarkable, considering the tone of so many Christian sermons and messages, that any church has honest people show up at all. I can’t imagine that any religion in the history of humanity has made as many clearly false claims and promises as evangelical Christians in their quest to say that Jesus makes us better people right now. With their constant promises of joy, power, contentment, healing, prosperity, purpose, better relationships, successful parenting and freedom from every kind of oppression and affliction, I wonder why more Christians aren’t either being sued by the rest of humanity for lying or hauled off to a psych ward to be examined for serious delusions.
Evangelicals love a testimony of how screwed up I USED to be. They aren’t interested in how screwed up I am NOW. But the fact is, that we are screwed up. Then. Now. All the time in between and, it’s a safe bet to assume, the rest of the time we’re alive. But we will pay $400 to go hear a “Bible teacher” tell us how we are only a few verses, prayers and cds away from being a lot better. And we will set quietly, or applaud loudly, when the story is retold. I’m really better now. I’m a good Christian. I’m not a mess anymore. I’m different from other people.
Please. Call this off. It’s making me sick. I mean that. It’s affecting me. I’m seeing, in my life and the lives of others, a commitment to lying about our condition that is absolutely pathological. Evangelicals called Bill Clinton a big-time liar about sex? Come on. How many nodding “good Christians” have so much garbage sitting in the middle of their lives that the odor makes it impossible to breathe without gagging? How many of us are addicted to food, porn and shopping? How many of us are depressed, angry, unforgiving and just plain mean? How many of us are a walking, talking course on basic hypocrisy, because we just can’t look at ourselves in the mirror and admit what we a collection of brokenness we’ve become WHILE we called ourselves “good Christians” who want to “witness” to others. I’m choking just writing this.
You people with your Bibles. Look something up for me? Isn’t almost everyone in that book screwed up? I mean, don’t the screwed up people- like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Hosea- outnumber the “good Christians” by about ten to one? And isn’t it true that the more we get to look at a Biblical character close up, the more likely it will be that we’ll see a whole nasty collection of things that Christians say they no longer have to deal with because, praise God! I’m fixed? Not just a few temper tantrums or ordinary lies, but stuff like violence. Sex addictions. Abuse. Racism. Depression. It’s all there, yet we still flop our Bibles open on the pulpit and talk about “Ten Ways To Have Joy That Never Goes Away!” Where is the laugh track?
What was that I heard? “Well….we’re getting better. That’s sanctification. I’ve been delivered!” I suppose some of us are getting better. For instance, my temper is better than it used to be. Of course, the reason my temper is better, is that in the process of cleaning up the mess I’ve made of my family with my temper, I’ve discovered about twenty other major character flaws that were growing, unchecked, in my personality. I’ve inventoried the havoc I’ve caused in this short life of mine, and it turns out “temper problem” is way too simple to describe the mess that is me. Sanctification? Yes, I no longer have the arrogant ignorance to believe that I’m always right about everything, and I’m too embarrassed by the general chaos of my life to mount an angry fit every time something doesn’t go my way. Getting better? Quite true. I’m getting better at knowing what a wretched wreck I really amount to, and it’s shut me up and sat me down.
I love this passage of scripture. I don’t know why know one believes it, but I love it.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:7-11)
Let me attempt a slight retelling of the text, more in line with the Christianity of our time.
But we have this treasure in saved, healed, delivered and supernaturally changed vessels, to show that God has given to us, right now, His surpassing power over ever situation. We are no longer afflicted, perplexed, in conflict or defeated. No, we are alive with the power of Jesus, and the resurrection power of Jesus has changed us now…TODAY! In every way!. God wants you to see just what a Jesus-controlled person is all about, so the power of Jesus is on display in the life I am living, and those who don’t have this life, are miserable and dying.
Contextual concerns aside, let’s read Paul’s words as a basic “reality board” to the Christian life.
We’re dying. Life is full of pain and perplexity. We have Christ, and so, in the future, his life will manifest in us in resurrection and glory. In the present, that life manifests in us in this very odd, contradictory experience. We are dying, afflicted, broken, hurting, confused…yet we hold on to Jesus in all these things, and continue to love him and believe in him. The power of God is in us, not in making us above the human, but allowing us to be merely human, yet part of a new creation in Jesus.
What does this mean?
It means your depression isn’t fixed. It means you are still overwieght. It means you still want to look at porn. It means you are still frightened of dying, reluctant to tell the truth and purposely evasive when it comes to responsibility. It means you can lie, cheat, steal, even do terrible things, when you are ‘in the flesh,” which, in one sense, you always are. If you are a Christian, it means you are frequently, perhaps constantly miserable, and it means you are involved in a fight for Christ to have more influence in your life than your broken, screwed up, messed up humanity. In fact, the greatest miracle is that with all the miserable messes in your life, you still want to have Jesus as King, because it’s a lot of trouble, folks. It isn’t a picnic.
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Here is even more undeniable, unarguable language. Weaknesses are with me for the whole journey. Paul was particularly thinking of persecutions, but how much more does this passage apply to human frailty, brokenness and hurt? How essential is it for us to be broken, if Christ is going to be our strength? When I am weak I am strong. Not, “When I am cured,” or “When I am successful,” or “When I am a good Christian,” but when I am weak. Weakness- the human experience of weakness- is God’s blueprint for exalting and magnifying his Son. When broken people, miserably failing people, continue to belong to, believe in and worship Jesus, God is happy.
Now, the upper gallery is full of people who are getting upset, certain that this essay is one of those pieces where I am in the mood to tell everyone to go sin themselves up, and forget about sanctification. Sorry to disappoint.
The problem is a simple one of semantics. Or perhaps a better way to say it is imagination. How do we imagine the life of faith? What does living faith look like? Does it look like the “good Christian,” “whole person,” “victorious life” version of the Christian life?
Faith, alive in our weakness, looks like a war. An impossible war, against a far superior adversary: our own sinful, fallen nature. Faith fights this battle. Piper loves this verse from Romans, and I do, too. But I need to explain why, because it can sound like the “victorious” life is not Jesus’ life in the Gospel, but me “winning at life” or some other nonsense.
13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put (are putting) to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)
The complexity resides right here: Faith is discontentment with what I am, and satisfaction with all God is for me in Jesus. The reason that description works so well for me is that it tells us the mark of saving faith is not just resting passively in the promises of the Gospel (though that is exactly what justification does), but this ongoing war with the reality of my condition. Unless I am reading Romans 8 wrongly, my fight is never finished, because my sinful, messed-up human experience isn’t finished until death and resurrection. That fight- acceptance and battle- is the normal life of the believer. I fight. Jesus will finish the work. I will groan, and do battle, climb the mountain of Holiness with wounds and brokenness and holy battle scars, but I will climb it, since Christ is in me. The Gospel assures victory, but to say I stand in a present victory as I “kill” sin is a serious wrong turn.
What does this fight look like? It is a bloody mess, I’m telling you. There is a lot of failure in it. It is not an easy way to the heavenly city. It is a battle where we are brought down again, and again and again. Brought down by what we are, and what we continually discover ourselves to be. And we only are “victorious” in the victory of Jesus, a victory that is ours by faith, not by sight. In fact, that fight is probably described just as accurately by the closing words of Romans 7 as by the “victorious” words of Romans 8.
23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:23-25)
I fall down. I get up….and believe. Over and over again. That’s as good as it gets in this world. This life of faith, is a battle full of weakness and brokenness. The only soldiers in this battle are wounded ones. There are moments of total candor- I am a “wretched man” living in a “body” of death. Denying this, spinning this, ignoring this or distorting this reality is nothing but trouble in the true Christian experience. The sin we are killing in Romans 8 is, in a sense, ourselves. Not some demon or serpent external to us. Our battle is with ourselves, and embracing this fact is the compass and foundation of the Gospel’s power in our lives.
What lands us in churches where we are turned into the cheering section for personal victory over everything is denying that faith is an ongoing battle that does not end until Jesus ends it. Those who stand up and claim victory may be inviting us to celebrate a true place in their experience at the time, but it isn’t the whole person, the whole story, or all that accurate. They are still a mess. Count on it. This battle- and the victories in it- are fought by very un-victorious Christians.
I will be accused of a serious lack of good news, I’m sure, so listen. At the moment I am winning, Jesus is with me. At the moment I am losing, Jesus is with me and guarantees that I will get up and fight on. At the moment I am confused, wounded and despairing, Jesus is with me. I never, ever lose the brokenness. I fight, and sometimes I prevail, but more and more of my screwed up, messed up life erupts. Each battle has the potential to be the last, but because I belong to one whose resurrection guarantees that I will arrive safely home in a new body and a new creation, I miraculously, amazingly, find myself continuing to believe, continuing to move forward, till Jesus picks us up and takes us home.
Now, let’s come to something very important here. This constant emphasis on the “victorious life” or “good Christian life” is absolutely the anti-Christ when it comes to the Gospel. If I am _________________ (fill in the blank with victorious life terminology) then I am oriented to be grateful for what Jesus did THEN, but I’m needing him less and less in the NOW. I want to make sure he meets me at the gate on the way into heaven, but right now, I’m signing autographs. I’m a good Christian. This imagining of the Christian journey will kill us.
We need our brokenness. We need to admit it and know it is the real, true stuff of our earthly journey in a fallen world. It’s the cross on which Jesus meets us. It is the incarnation he takes up for us. It’s what his hands touch when he holds us. Do you remember this story? It’s often been told, but oh how true it is as a GOSPEL story (not a law story.) It is a Gospel story about Jesus and how I experience him in this “twisted” life.
In his book Mortal Lessons (Touchstone Books, 1987) physician Richard Selzer describes a scene in a hospital room after he had performed surgery on a young woman’s face:
I stand by the bed where the young woman lies . . . her face, postoperative . . . her mouth twisted in palsy . . . clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, one of the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be that way from now on. I had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh, I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had cut this little nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to be in a world all their own in the evening lamplight . . . isolated from me . . .private.
Who are they? I ask myself . . . he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously. The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks. “Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says, “it’s kind of cute.” All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with the divine. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers. . . to show her that their kiss still works
This is who Jesus has always been. And if you think you are getting to be a great kisser or are looking desirable, I feel sorry for you. He wraps himself around our hurts, our brokenness and our ugly, ever-present sin. Those of you who want to draw big, dark lines between my humanity and my sin, go right ahead, but I’m not joining you. It’s all ME. And I need Jesus so much to love me like I really am: brokenness, memories, wounds, sins, addictions, lies, death, fear….all of it. Take all it, Lord Jesus. If I don’t present this broken, messed up person to Jesus, my faith is dishonest, and my understanding of it will become a way of continuing the ruse and pretense of being “good.”
Now I want to talk about why this is important. We must begin to accept who we are, and bring a halt to the sad and repeated phenomenon of lives that are crumbling into pieces because the only Christian experience they know about is one that is a lie. We are infected with something that isn’t the Gospel, but a version of a religious life; an entirely untruthful version that drives genuine believers into the pit of despair and depression because, contrary to the truth, God is “against” them, rather than for them.
The verse says, “When I am weak, then I am strong- in Jesus.” It does not say “When I am strong, then I am strong, and you’ll know because Jesus will get all the credit.” Let me use two examples, and I hope neither will be offensive to those who might read and feel they recognize the persons described.
Many years ago, I knew a man who was a vibrant and very public Christian witness. He was involved in the “lay renewal” movement in the SBC, which involved a lot of giving testimonies of “what God was doing in your life.” (A phrase I could do without.) He was well-known for being a better speaker than most preachers, and he was an impressive and persuasive lay speaker. His enthusiasm for Christ was convincing.
He was also known to be a serial adulterer. Over and over, he strayed from his marriage vows, and scandalized his church and its witness in the community. When confronted, his response was predictable. He would visit the Church of Total Victory Now, and return claiming to have been delivered of the “demons of lust” that had caused him to sin. Life would go on. As far as I know, the cycle continued, unabated, for all the time I knew about him.
I understand that the church today needs- desperately- to hear experiential testimonies of the power of the Gospel. I understand that it is not good news to say we are broken and are going to stay that way. I know there will be little enthusiasm for saying sanctification consists, in large measure, in seeing our sin, and acknowledging what it is and how deep and extensive it has marred us. I doubt that the triumphalists will agree with me that the fight of faith is not a victory party, but a bloody war on a battlefield that resembles Omaha Beach more than a Beach party.
I write this piece particularly concerned for leaders, parents, pastors and teachers. I am moved and distressed that so many of them, most of all, are unable to admit their humanity, and their brokenness. In silence, they carry the secret, then stand in the place of public leadership and present a Gospel that is true, but a Christian experience that is far from true.
Then, from time to time, they fall. Into adultery, like the pastor of one of our state’s largest churches. A wonderful man, who kept a mistress for years rather than admit a problem millions of us share: faulty, imperfect marriages. Where is he now, I wonder? And where are so many others I’ve known and heard of who fell under the same weight? Their lives are lost to the cause of the Kingdom because they are just like the rest of us?
By the way, I’m not rejecting Biblical standards for leadership. I am suggesting we need a Biblical view of humanity when we read those passages. Otherwise we are going to turn statements like “rules his household well” into a disqualification to every human being on the planet.
I hear of those who are depressed. Where do they turn for help? How do they admit their hurt? It seems so “unChristian” to admit depression, yet it is a reality for millions and millions of human beings. Porn addiction. Food addiction. Rage addiction. Obsessive needs for control. Chronic lying and dishonesty. How many pastors and Christian leaders live with these human frailties and flaws, and never seek help because they can’t admit what we all know is true about all of us? They speak of salvation, love and Jesus, but inside they feel like the damned.
Multiply this by the hundreds of millions of broken Christians. They are merely human, but their church says they must be more than human to be good Christians. They cannot speak of or even acknowledge their troubled lives. Their marriages are wounded. Their children are hurting. They are filled with fear and the sins of the flesh. They are depressed and addicted, yet they can only approach the church with the lie that all is well, and if it becomes apparent that all is not well, they avoid the church.
I do not blame the church for this situation. It is always human nature to avoid the mirror and prefer the self-portrait. I blame all of us who know better. We know this is not the message of the Gospels, the Bible or of Jesus. But we- every one of us- is afraid to live otherwise. What if someone knew we were not a good Christian? Ah…what if…what if….
I close with a something I have said many times before. The Prodigal son, there on his knees, his father’s touch upon him, was not a “good” or “victorious” Christian. He was broken. A failure. He wasn’t even good at being honest. He wanted religion more than grace. His father baptized him in mercy, and resurrected him in grace. His brokenness was wrapped up in the robe and the embrace of God.
Why do we want to be better than that boy? Why do we make the older brother the goal of Christian experience? Why do we want to add our own addition to the parable, where the prodigal straightens out and becomes a successful youth speaker, writing books and doing youth revivals?
Lutheran writer Herman Sasse, in a meditation on Luther’s last words, “We are beggars. This is true,” puts it perfectly:
Luther asserted the very opposite: “Christ dwells only with sinners.” For the sinner and for the sinner alone is His table set. There we receive His true body and His true blood “for the forgiveness of sins” and this holds true even if forgiveness has already been received in Absolution. That here Scripture is completely on the side of Luther needs no further demonstration. Every page of the New Testament is indeed testimony of the Christ whose proper office it is “to save sinners”, “to seek and to save the lost”. And the entire saving work of Jesus, from the days when He was in Galilee and, to the amazement and alarm of the Pharisees, ate with tax collectors and sinners; to the moment when he, in contradiction with the principles of every rational morality, promised paradise to the thief on the cross, yes, His entire life on earth, from the cradle to the Cross, is one, unique grand demonstration of a wonder beyond all reason: The miracle of divine forgiveness, of the justification of the sinner. “Christ dwells only in sinners.” " Amen brother!