Monthly Archives: February 2009

Money Pit

The Onion recently carried a great piece on the nation’s money pit. Although it is a spoof news piece, I think the punch line has become reality thanks to excessive government spending.

Obama says that he is going to cut the deficit by 50% in his first term. That is pretty easy to do when you just increased spending by more than 50% over the next two years. The secret is that the spending is set to expire after two years. Literally, the deficit spending will be cut in half simply because the stimulus splurge goes away.

Are you like me? Do you feel all the bureaucrats in Washington treat taxpayers like a giant money pit? Unfortunately, this video is too close to reality to be called fiction.

http://www.theonion.com/content/video/in_the_know_should_the_government

Heaven?

“Heaven is not a place where I finally get a chance to meet God. It is a place where the curse is lifted.”– Chaille’s anonymous friend

Ask anyone and you’ll get a variety of opinions about their concept of heaven. Some people don’t believe in life after death. Others think that heaven is only for good people. Some think that heaven will be a paradise beyond measure. Many probably think it will be boring – a place where you lie around and play a harp for eternity.

There is a lot that Scripture doesn’t tell us about heaven. But one thing is for sure – we don’t have to wait until heaven to experience God in a deeply personal way.  The Apostle Paul wrote that God put His Spirit in people as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come. 

If Christians have the Holy Spirit living in them, why do so many act as if God is far away? That is the point that my friend was making. While we don’t see God face-to-face in a physical sense in this life, we can be close to Him in this life.

Instead of waiting until heaven for this dynamic relationship with God, we should seek to experience it now.

Disconnect

Have you ever noticed that some people spend more time focused on those who are not in the room than the person sitting right next to them? This seems to be particularly true of the younger generations that will completely ignore everything else going on in a room while texting or communicating via e-mail.

Pastor Dwayne Moore of MCC pointed this out to me in a conversation we were having about various communication tendencies of different age groups.

This led me to ask, “Why text someone sitting across the room when you could just look up and say the same thing?”

It is one thing to text a message when you are in a class. This is the modern version of passing notes in class. But I find it odd that people will text others when there is no real reason why they couldn’t call or simply speak to the other person.

Does this reflect something deeper going on in those interactions?

Do so many young people like texting because it keeps them connected without having to say a lot? Does this keep conversations shallow? Does it allow the sender to stay protected behind a wall of emotional distance?

Does sending and receiving text messages make them feel important? Does it  give them a greater sense of control in the conversation? Is it easier to hide your true emotions/feelings when you simply text a message?

Do teens prefer to text simply because that is what they are socially expected to do?

I wonder if texting is sort of like Facebook. Social networks are great way to stay artificially connected without really being in relationship. Communicating on Facebook isn’t enough to really have a true relationship with someone else. It’s kind of a cold and sterile environment to foster true community. It believe it can only augment offline communications. 

I find it interesting when someone posts a status update that is a bit disturbing and others rush to see what is going on. Sites like Facebook can be good tools. But I find they really also let us know how much we don’t really know about other people that we claim to know.

I believe all of this shows that despite our fancy communication devices many of us are not as connected as we would really like to be.

Jesus Does My Taxes

I love how conversations tend to rabbit trail. The fun is discovering where they just might go.

Earlier this evening I talked with a friend in Lynchburg. We discussed how Jesus tended to hang out with undesirables. We talked about what places would Jesus dare visit today. Would he go to a bar? Would Jesus go to the pool hall? Where do tax collectors hang out today? Do you have to visit an H.R. Block or Liberty Tax Service office?  I know – Jesus would be one of those people with the statue of liberty hats waving at cars trying to get them to come to the Liberty Tax office.

Then, we started talking about what it would be like if Jesus did your taxes. Can you imagine what would happen if you had an audit by the IRS. I can just see it now. You are talking with an IRS agent. He asks, “Who advised you that you can deduct that.” And you say, “Jesus.” The IRS agent gives you the look that a teacher gives when a student is caught in a lie.

Then you try to convince him. You say, “No, really Jesus did my taxes.” The agent responds, “Sir, if you aren’t going to take this seriously then you are going to just have to pay the fine in full.”

The agent then says, “I see that you have a lot of spiritual deductions. Did you really give $100,000 to charities last year?”

You say, “No – I donated $10,000. That was all that I could afford.” The agent says, “Yeah, I see this receipt $90,000 for good intentions. You can’t deduct good intentions.”

You respond, “That more than just wishful thinking. I wrote a faith check.”

Okay – that’s a bad joke. Anyway, you can see what happens when conversations rabbit trail.

Jesus ends up getting you in trouble with the IRS.

Thoughts on H.R. 1 – Obama’s Stimulus Bill

Link to text of the Stimulus Package (H.R. 1 – The American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009). It is so large that Congress had to divide it up into two separate sections.

http://thomas.loc.gov/home/h1/Recovery_Bill_Div_A.pdf

http://thomas.loc.gov/home/h1/Recovery_Bill_Div_B.pdf

Here are the thoughts of one simple tax payer on the bill. Please note that I, like all members of Congress, have not read the entire thing yet. That should scare  us to think that Congress passed the largest spending bill in our nation’s history without a proper vetting of the bill. It should equally share us that the Treasury Department is spending even more to prop up the banking sector than the stimulus bill, and we know even less about those appropriations.

And I thought there was supposed to be a new “tone” in Washington?

Why did Congress have to pass this right now when most of the money won’t be spent until much later this year if not next year? I understand the need to do something. But couldn’t you give the Republicans at least a week to review the final bill?

As a taxpayer, I tried to find a copy of the bill on Friday. It wasn’t available. By the time that the final conference report was available, both the House and the Senate had approved the legislation. How is that transparent? 

Unlike Rush Limbaugh, I don’t want Obama to fail. Government can do a lot to help this situation. But it can just as easy muck up any chance for recovery too. Quick money is how we got in this mess in the first place. Shouldn’t all sides have at least a week to see if the final bill will really help spark the economy as Democrats claim.

I am not for massive government spending unless it is connected with a viable economic strategy. If this bill is about rewarding donors, funding “liberal” pet projects and swelling government, then maybe I do agree with Rush. In that case, I do want this bill to go down in flames. Too late. My only hope is that Obama forgets how to spell his name.

Like most average Americans, I want smart government. It doesn’t seem that passing a stimulus package under cover of darkness is smart.

Am I missing something here?

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Is Looking in the Mirror a Bad Thing?

You might respond that depends on what you look like on the outside. But I am talking more about our character, out sense of self worth, even our standing before God. Sometimes it can be real hard to feel like much of a Christian. We know ourselves – the good and the bad. It can be easy to think, “How in the world could God really save a screw up like me?”

The truth is that God specializes in saving screw ups. We need to be careful looking at others and wondering if we measure up to their spiritual status. Our only real measuring stick is Jesus. And we will never measure up to Him on our own merits.

While we should be aware of our shortcomings, we shouldn’t spend all of our time focusing on them. And we should never think that our reflection is what God sees when He look at us. For all of those who belong to Jesus, God looks down and sees Christ’s perfection. Our identity is truly in Jesus.

It seems like a bit of a balancing act. We should strive to grow in grace in the areas of weakness. But we should never think that our performance determines our salvation. That is why we have to be careful spending too much time looking in the mirror. If you look long enough, you will always find something that you don’t like. And the whole idea of being a Christian is to set our eyes on Jesus not ourselves.

Less Talk, More Action

I listened to a sermon by Francis Chan tonight while working out. I was struck by the simplicity of his message. He said that for many Christians our problem is not that we need to hear more sermons. He said the real problem is that we haven’t really listened and let those words produce change in our lives.

Many of us in America are ever hearing and never changing. I was struck by Chan’s warning. He said that we should be scared if we ever get to the point that we can hear inspired teaching and walk away without being challenged to change. At that moment, we have significantly stifled the move of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Here is my prayer. I want to really live for Jesus every day because He has paid the ultimate price.

Holy Spirit, let me know Your will. May I live a life of disciplined action, empowered by You. I don’t want to live a life of regret. Instead, I want to leave a legacy that glorifies my Savior and encourages others to know the sweetness of God’s violent grace.

May I talk less and act more! May I abide in You. Amen!

That’s Crazy

Scripture records that God asked some of His servants to do some pretty crazy things. From building a gigantic boat to parting the Red Sea to standing up against persecution to killing one’s son, God made some very strange requests.

How did Hosea really know he was supposed to marry a loose woman? Did Noah ever wonder if his mind was playing tricks on him? What went through Abraham’s mind as he raised the knife and looked into the sheepish eyes of his beloved son? These type of questions really bother me. I don’t know if I would have had the faith to obey.

At times it seems the more outrageous the command or word, the more likely it came from God. I wonder if God does this so that we know His work in our lives is really His work and not something we do. Are these strange requests tests of faith or avenues to build our faith in God? How about both?

Bill Cosby performed a comedy skit about the likely interaction between Noah and God. You can listen to it by clicking on the link below. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0KHt8xrQkk 

I personally believe that Bill Cosby hit on something. It does all come down to faith. Do we trust God or not?

While I may struggle to understand all of God’s ways and requests, I am comforted by the fact that He truly knows best. How about you?

America’s Jewish Roots

Thomas Jefferson. James Madison. John Adams. Benjamin Franklin. These men shaped the framework of America’s laws, constitution, and government. But we may never have heard of these men and their revolutionary ideas if it hadn’t been for a Jewish man who lived thousands of years before they did.

I am talking about Moshe (Moses) who led the Israelites and developed a set of laws that were remarkable for their day. Many of the ideas that we find in our modern sense of democracy have their roots in the Torah, especially Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

There is no parallel in antiquity to the  laws outlined by Moses in Deuteronomy.  Other legal traditions resembled vassal treaties where the kings set the laws without much focus on protecting the rights of the everyday person.  

In Deuteronomy, God is the law giver through His prophetic leader – Moses. The laws were written to “all Israel.” Deuteronomy 10:17-19 insists that there should be no favoritism. This meant “due process” and equality under the laws should exist for everyone. This is remarkably close to many of the ideas we find in the American legal system.

The Torah focused on the importance of protecting the rights of the widows, orphans and resident aliens. It prescribed case law that regarded property rights and everyday problems in an agrarian society. Some of the laws may seem archaic by today’s standards. But we have to understand that the laws of ancient Israel were remarkably progressive for their time. This reveals that God is long-suffering in molding His people. He knows that there is only so much progressive change that we as humans can endure at one point in history. Change is a long process. 

Deuteronomy shows an understanding of the potential for the abuse of power by a king. Moses established in Deuteronomy 17:14-17 that the power of the king should be limited. Any king should not stand above the laws. He simply ensures that they are followed. This pasage even hints that the priests are responsible in ensuring the documents that the king will use to guide his rule.

The Hebrew Scriptures demonstrate a clear separation of powers where the king, priests and prophets all served to kept each other in check. In Israel – the power of the king was not absolute. Everyone ultimately was responsible to God. The basis of the law was a covenant relationship with God and the people.

Moses wrote laws and then connected them with what God had done for the Israelites in the past. He wrote how they had once been aliens and that God had taken them out of Egypt. Thus, they were to be careful how they treated aliens living in their midst.

The fact that the laws came from God and reflect His principles also served to remind the people that they were accountable to God. There existed a sense of reciprocity. God would one day judge them for their actions.

Moses issued a divinely orchestrated social order that Israel was supposed to implement as God’s people – a light to the nations.

Just like the Israelites, the founding fathers of America talked about God as the giver of human rights. Although not all of these men were Christians, most of them had a belief in God and recognized the centrality of God to forming a just society.

Is God My Enemy?

Sometimes we feel like everything in the cosmos is going against us. We have all had those days when everything that can go wrong goes even worse than we ever thought was possible. But have you ever felt that God was your enemy?

There are some very harsh parts in the Hebrew Scriptures that can be impossible for us today to understand. For example, Genesis records that God affirmed Abel’s sacrifice while He did not look with favor on Cain’s offering. Scripture provides  no real explanation or justification for this although scholars have postulated that Abel followed God’s command and Cain did not.

Or we can look at the difference between how God responded to David’s sin and Saul’s sin. God quickly turned against Saul although He was long suffering toward David. I am sure there were times that Job might have felt God  had become his enemy.  The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with times that God allowed  judgment to come upon the Israelites. It may have seemed to them that God was not on their side.

The prophet Amos issued warnings to Israel that the Day of the Lord would not be good for them (Amos 5). It appears that they thought it would be a time for God to seek revenge against Israel’s enemies. But Amos said it would be as darkness or gloom to Israel and not light. The tables would be turned on Israel. Their failure to care for the poor and uphold justice would fall back on their heads. Amos wrote, “It is as if a man fled from a lion and a bear met him or went into the house and leaned with his hand against the wal and a snake bit him.”

Amos described a series of events where a man (Israel) ran from danger and just when he thought he was safe, bam, he gets bit. This little analogy warned Israel that they should not be complacent or misunderstand that God will judge them. The same goes for us today.

While God is love, He is also a righteous judge. Sin and disobedience is not something to play around with. The book of Hebrews in the New Testament warns, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

Maybe a better question to ask is, “Have we made ourselves God’s enemy by how we act?”

All I know is that whatever side God is on. That is the side I want to be on because God always wins in the end.