Was he ever! Or, rather, weren't they ever - 150 doctors, in fact, all gathered in their white coats at the White House to provide a prop for the President to salute his health care reform ideas one more time. The President insisted that these doctors wouldn't have been there if they didn't believe in his plan. Hmmm.
Wouldn't it be more true to say (a) those doctors wouldn't have been there if they had not been hand picked by your White House staff, and (b) they wouldn't have been there if you hadn't paid their way? Were we supposed to believe that these were 150 doctors who just, you know, wandered into the Rose Garden from all over the country, on their own initiative, having come to Washington to voice their support for health care reform (and, of course, get a spiffy new white coat)? It's like, the President took a little break from his work day and went out for a stroll around the White House grounds, and ohmagosh! look here: 150 doctors in new white coats have showed up - with their own press entourage - to support my health care proposal. What a deal! What a blessing! What proof!
Does the President really think that little of voters? Does he consider us so stupid that we'll fall for this charade - after, of course, having paid for it? The more President Obama pulls these kinds of stunts, the more I don't trust him. He is of the mindset that, if I just keep saying this over and over, and if I can stage various ways of making it look like the world is on my side, then I'll finally get my way and we can move on to the next thing. I hope he's not right about this, about us. I hope we aren't as gullible as President Obama thinks, and that we won't be distracted by the smoke and mirrors from the fact that, behind the curtain, there's no there there.
Just as there was no representative sampling of America's doctors at the White House today.
I've just come off one of the most inspiring and challenging conversations I've had in years. Talking with our son, Casey, who lives with his wife, Shelby, in Brooklyn, we encouraged one another with the fact of what God has given us and called us to be. Casey is an artist and a musician, who supports his habit by working at FedEx Office. He has a single message that he is at pains to declare to the world: Do unto others. Better. More.
You can improve. There is a power at work within you which is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that you could ever ask or think. Make the most of your opportunities. Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. For almost an hour we regaled one another with these very familiar, but oh so-easily-taken-for-granted truths. It was a mountain-top experience, and it left me wondering, Why don't we have more conversations like this?
I don't mean me and Casey, although that would be great. I mean believers generally. Shouldn't we be challenging and urging one another on each day to be better in the Lord, to do more in His holy Name? Shouldn't we be lifting one another up with our conversations, affirming one another's gifts, and redoubling our resolve to love Jesus and bask in His favor in spite of the world's indifference or hostility? Shouldn't we?
Casey's message - the meaning of Casey, as he put it - is simple, but profound: Better. More. Others. You're more than you think you are, and you can be better in every area of your life, every day. You can touch others with God's grace. Never say die. Never give up. Exceeding, abundantly more.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced yesterday that the Justice Department and Education Department will undertake a new effort to eradicate violence among teens in Chicago. Millions of dollars are being appropriated and all the latest hi-tech gadgetry will be installed in an effort to control gang violence among teens. The shocking murder of a Chicago honor student last week has prompted this effort, which has all the appearances of political grandstanding more than real problem-solving.
Our federal officials obviously believe that the power to bring down gang violence is locked in money and technology. This is simply misguided. Violence cannot be eradicated by restraints or the alteration of environment. Violence is a condition of the heart, and all the federal money and hi-tech solutions known to man cannot reach to the hearts of teens who have been abandoned to the streets and whose souls have been weaned on the violence and egoism of street culture.
I wonder if the churches will be asked to help in this effort? But then, why should they? If the churches were really doing their job - preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and making disciples, that is, disciplined followers of Jesus Christ - wouldn't this problem already be in hand? Here ia another instance of power failure. The Church fails to draw on the power available to it, too busy, I suppose preaching a Gospel of self-esteem or whatever to disciple men and women in the life of seeking the Kingdom and righteousness of Christ. And the State turns to the power of money and technology, which might create short-term results (which become political bragging points) but can never deliver long-term change.
Meanwhile, young people are lured into a culture of violence, sex, drugs, and death, for want of power to help them learn otherwise.
I have a bit of an animus against contemporary worship songs, not all, but most, at least, most I've ever heard. My complaint takes three forms. First, I don't like the melodies, which you can't really sing without all manner of electronic accompaniment and drums. Second, I don't like the way contemporary worship songs kudzuize all of worship, even taking over traditional hymns and forcing them into a mode their composers never intended, but which the worship band just loves. Finally, I find the lyrics disappointing - mostly variations on "Jesus and me" sung over and over.
Now not all contemporary worship songs fall under my critical eye. There's always room for new songs unto the Lord, and we should encourage the use of contemporary modes, as long as they don't cause us to compromise the purpose and character of worship. Commenting on Isaiah 5, John Chrysostom mused about why this passage of rebuke was cast in the form of a song. He said that we remember what we sing, and since frequently remembering our sins and our need of grace is a good thing for believers to do, the Lord had this chapter of Isaiah set in the form of a song.
We don't hear much about sin in contemporary worship songs. But then, we don't hear much about sin in contemporary worship. But Chrysostom was right: it is good for us to remember how vile we can be, how rebellious we often are, and how great is the grace of our Lord Who always waits to receive us back through confession and repentance. So give me "Amazing Grace," "Just As I Am," "There is a Fountain," or any of dozens of other great old hymns to remind me of these important aspects of faith. Let me sing them with tears - of sorrow for my sins, and of joy for the grace of our Lord.
To his credit, President Obama said that he did not feel he was worthy to be counted among the glorious company of those who have received the Nobel Prize for Peace. He was, of course, correct. He is not. Nominated for the prize two weeks into his presidency, and having made what some would consider a fair muddle of things since then, it's difficult to see what Mr. Obama has achieved in his short lifetime to merit this award. So he is to be applauded for his altogether appropriate modesty.
To his great shame, however, Mr. Obama intends to accept the prize. Of course, he will donate the $1.4 million gift to charity, but this is not a matter of money. This is a matter of hubris, arrogance, and an outsized ego that believes, deep in his heart, that he is, in fact, the right choice for this award. Perhaps he reasoned, "Look, if they could give this to Al Gore, they can give it to me."
I'm not surprised; I am, however, disappointed. The Apostle Paul regarded himself as chief of sinners. Mr. Obama is happy to be considered chief of peace-makers, the worthiest man of his generation for so prestigious an award. Paul said he was the least of all the saints; Mr. Obama considers himself the most eminent of the world's leaders. Jesus called His followers to humble anonymity; Mr. Obama insists on the big splash whenever he can get it, so why shouldn't he go to Oslo and be honored in this way?
Again, our Christian president demonstrates that he has strayed a long way from the Gospel of Paul and Jesus. Someone should remind him that pride cometh before the fall.
In his useful new book, The New Shape of World Chrisitianity, Mark Noll provides a stirring and instructive overview of the state of Christian faith in the world today, and explores the shape of its development over the past 200 years as in many ways mirroring (though not necessarily being caused by) the experience of Christianity in America.
Noll's book is helpful for giving contemporary believers, who tend to be fairly static in their view of the faith, a larger vision of the work of Christ and the progress of His Kingdom throughout the world. Whereas in some places of the world - such as our own country - it may seem the light of the Gospel is growing dim, in fact, when considered from a worldwide perspective, the faith of Christ is stronger, more far-flung, and healthier than it has ever been. We need such reminders of this lest the blinders our own culture imposes on us should cause us to think that now is the time to circle the wagons and hope for the best.
It isn't, and it never is. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is advancing all over the world, and it advances especially effectively, Mark Noll points out, when Christians remember just a few fundamental things, the most important of which is, "Christianity has to be local or it can barely be called Christianity." That is, Christianity, while it announces universal truths and a universal spiritual Kingdom, is so glorious and adaptive that it can readily take root in any social and cultural situation, take up forms and elements with which (because of common grace) it finds certain ready affinities, and then begin the work of transforming people, cultures, and societies according to universal truths and verities, but in ways that do not cause those people, cultures, and societies to lose their unique heritage or distinctives.
In other words, Christianity in East Africa, or South Korea, or Central China, or Western Loudoun County, VA, will be clearly and immediately recognizable as Christianity, rather than some other form of religious belief. At the same time, the forms and elements by which the faith of believers in these different areas comes to expression will be unique to each culture and place, and altogether appropriate as expressions of the faith of Christ in those cultures and places.
Which challenges me to think about how this applies to my own life, in my own home, neighborhood, and community, alongside believers from churches throughout my local area. I'm reminded of Mel Gibson's advice to his young sons as they were about to ambush a platoon of British soldiers: "Remember what I taught you about shooting: Aim small, miss small." Are the believers in Western Loudoun County thinking about how the faith of Jesus should transform our community? Or are we all too busy trying to emulate the latest mega-church gimmick, keep our church in line with denominational trends or mandates, perpetuate the status quo, or realize some microscopic vision of personal peace and wellbeing? Shouldn't we be thinking about how the faith of Jesus might turn our community upside-down with Kingdom power and blessings? And shouldn't we be aiming small together - aiming to bring saving grace, truth, and power to the people of our local area, according to their needs and concerns?
I'll be thinking more about this in days to come and hope to have some progress to report in due course.
The current issue of The Economist (October 10th) reports on a disturbing upward trend in job-related suicides among workers in certain sectors of the worldwide economy. For example, in America work-related suicides increased by 28% in just one year. The Economist argues that suicides are just the most dramatic evidence of growing disatisfaction and unhappiness among workers all over the world.
We might think the recession is to blame; however, The Economist suggests that the recession has merely brought to the surface unrest and unhappiness that have been brewing for years. People feel too much stress on the job, too much pressure to produce and to conform to standards of productivity. They feel underappreciated, underused, and a growing sense of disaffection from management that cares more about the bottom line than job security for loyal workers.
The Economist suggests that managers and executives need to bring more of a "human touch" to their relationships with workers. But I doubt that will suffice to give workers the contentment they need. The problem, it seems to me, is that too many people expect too much out of their jobs. Too many have invested their identities, financial security, personal well-being, self-worth, and much more in the jobs where they spend most of their waking moments. Of course work matters, and we should take our work seriously and do the best job we can at whatever we choose to do. But work is just that - work, the expenditure of intellectual, emotional, and physical energy toward a task which contributes to the influx of goods and services to the economy. Surely human beings are more than cogs in the wheel of getting and spending?
In Biblical terms, work is a gift and calling from God. But work is not god. It's important that we understand this and that we look to the right Source for our sense of meaning, purpose, and value in life, as well as for our personal well-being. When we try to get from our work what we should only seek from God, we confuse the nature and purpose of work and make it a kind of impersonal deity which can never deliver what we long for most of all - self-worth, meaning, and security. These gifts, like work, come from God to all men; only those who respond to Him with gratitude and trust will find that He and He alone can meet their deepest needs, quite apart from whatever may be their circumstances at work.
I have on occasion been advised that I'm going about this cyberspace writing thing in all the wrong ways.
People who read from the web or email aren't interested in whatever points you may be trying to make; they want to be entertained or made to feel like they're in the know. Further, they aren't going to read a whole article, but will scan up, down, and throughout looking for anything that will grab their distracted attention
I'm hoping that better minds than mine will engage the debate over the FCC's proposed policy of "net neutrality."
According to Jeffrey Rosen, writing in The New Republic (Oct. 21, 2009), "The essence of net neutrality seems simple: Internet service providers should be required to treat all data equally and avoid blocking or delaying any sites or applications." On the surface, that seems fair enough. Let the public decide what they will or will not receive on their computers and mobile phones.
But there are a couple of troubling assumptions undergirding this proposed policy. The first is the assumption that all proposed data handled by ISPs is equally valid and, thus, equally moral. If an ISP can't block data from its system, the assumption is that the values and morals of the one originating that data are no better or worse than those originating any other kind of data. Will this policy make it easier to shop porn across the Internet?
A second troubling assumption derives from the rationale for this policy. The FCC does not want ISPs to block data from sources for merely financial reasons, shutting down ads or content that might hurt their bottom line. But are we to assume that there are no other legitimate reasons for an ISP to block data? Do we need a huge blanket policy just because corporations tend to act in the business interest of themselves and their stock holders? What if that business policy is based on a distinct moral or even religious values system, to which both the corporation and its share holders subscribe?
The proposed policy provokes another question in my mind, that being whether or not such a policy would prohibit any future creation of interest-specific ISPs. What if a Christian company wanted to provide an ISP service to customers, assuring subscribers, for example, that all pornography would be blocked before it could reach their homes; otherwise, all other Internet services would be available? I don't even know if that can be done, but would the FCC's proposed policy prohibit even this kind of thinking?
I'm always leery of goverment agencies wanting to adopt blanket policies in response to particular instances of possible wrong-doing. We're just not smart enough to think in those kinds of terms. God is, however, and He has made His views known. Sadly, His views are already blocked in the halls of government.
We're hearing more speculation these days over the security of Pakistan's 60-some-odd nuclear weapons. Recent terrorist attacks on police and military headquarters inside Pakistan demonstrate just how easy it is for terrorists to infiltrate, penetrate, and devastate what were assumed to be safe facilities and secure protocols. Will the nuclear weapons they have produced be next?
I think we need to assume that, at some point, sooner or later, Islamic terrorists are going to acquire and deploy some kind of nuclear device against Western interests. They have the pent-up hatred and a corresponding worldview to stay on task until they achieve their objective. And, while they may never fully realize their goal of destroying every last infidel, it seems to me likely that they will not easily give up their pursuit of the most destructive means they can possibly secure to aid their cause.
Political appeasement will not assuage their anger and hate. Groveling on our part won't get it done either. The heart of the Islamic terrorist is so filled with rage and hate for everything Western that he will gladly give up his own life to take a few dozen of us down with him. The heart is the problem. Something has to address the heart.
Christians know that anger and violence can be turned to love and compassion when the Gospel of the Kingdom breaks through a hard and rage-filled heart. Ask Paul. Quite literally, the Gospel is the only hope that Christians have of turning back the tide of Islamic terror. Only the Gospel can transform a hate-filled heart. And everyone nods in agreement.
So why are we not more urgent about pressing the Gospel on our neighbors and friends? We believe the Gospel could change the hardened heart of a terrorist; do we also believe it can change the anxious, sad, self-loathing, defeated heart of the guy in the office next door? And if we do, why aren't we more vocal. Why? I'd love to hear the reasons. Share them with me. Tell me why we are so reticent about the one bit of Good News that could make all the difference.
Because we'll never reach out to the radical trekking through the mountains of Pakistan, intent on our destruction, if we aren't even willing to reach out to the people we see each and every day.
Big, dramatic, watershed social changes don't happen all at once. They are the result of movements that build over time, as burdened individuals find voices together against a common enemy and lend their small talents toward big changes. Andrew Curry's brief history of the fall of the Berlin wall - and of Soviet Marxism - is a good reminder for those of us burdened about the need for major social change in our day ("Before the Fall," The Wilson Quarterly, Autumn, 1009).
Curry writes of those heady days when East and West Germans danced on the collapsing wall, "few remember years of patient effort by dissidents and activitist" or "just how much work is necessary" for a powerful social movement to succeed. Curry is up front about the role of Protestant churches in the collapse of East German communism. They were centers of prayer, communication, and organization for an effort that built slowly with a common objective, but which never in its wildest dreams imagined it would accomplish so much.
Christians today can learn a good deal from these and other similar social movements. If we want to achieve lasting change in the morals, culture, and values of our society, we have to identify a common enemy. Then we must determine to press for the overthrow of that enemy by every means, no matter how long it takes. And we must encourage everyone we can to see the enemy in all his vileness and to lend whatever help they can in bringing about his undoing.
What is the enemy Christians face today? It is The Lie which insists that God is a mere intellectual construct, Truth is only relative, life has no abiding purpose, and morals and values must be individual and personal only. The Lie is the foundation on which much of our secular and material culture is built. With high-sounding words - "pro-choice", "freedom of speech", "separation of church and state" - it has managed to achieve the institutionalization of murder (abortion), pornography, and a marginalized clergy almost wholly unable, even if they were willing, to speak God's Truth to power. If you don't hate this enemy, you aren't paying attention to the Lord (Ps. 97.10).
If you do hate this enemy, then join us in praying for revival, in confronting every half-cocked version of the Gospel you hear, whereever you hear it, in calling other believers to join you in seeking the Lord and soaking in His Law, and in renewing our mission to seek the lost with love and Truth of Jesus Christ. Gear up for the long haul and determine to stay in the fight. We're on the side of inevitability.
The Apostle James reminds us that those who transgress one of the commandments of God break them all (Jms. 2.10). The story of the balloon hoax foisted on their community by a Colorado couple provides a perfect example of this.
The Heenes, a family afflicted with misplaced values and priorities, determined that the best way to get a reality TV program of their own (coveting) was to pull off the balloon stunt of which we have all by now heard quite enough, thank you. Thus, lying to their neighbors and the authorities (ninth commandment), about their youngest child's whereabouts, they showed utter disrespect and contempt for the local magistracy (fifth commandment) and plunged their neighbors into undo worry and stress over the safety of their child, depriving them of their peace for a space of several hours (fifth and eighth commandments).
Now the jig is up, at the expense to the community of tens of thousands of dollars (stealing) and to their children of a measure of innocence and future wellbeing. If the Heenes don't go to jail, they will at least have a huge debt to repay the community in fines and reimbursements, thus robbing from their children as well.
It's not my purpose to vilify the Heenes; they have managed that quite well themselves. Rather, if their goofball lie can bring such sin and upheaval on a single community, what do the multiplied lies, equivocations, and half-truths of a government do to its people and to the wellbeing of a nation? Soviet Marxism showed the devastating power of a lie to breed murder, deceit, theft, and atheism among a people; what havoc are the lies of materialism, secularism, and statism foisting on Americans, even as we sit by and watch?
Pray for voices of Truth to emerge in these lying days (Ps. 12), so that we may find shelter in the Word of God against the devastation that The Lie inflicts on a nation.