Thursday, January 28, 2010

“Greed Is Good” (Part 3)

In two earlier posts I explored capitalism and the ethically-challenged Gordon Gekko’s famous statement in the movie Wall Street, “Greed is good.” I concluded that not greed, but the desire for success and financial growth are good. When they turn into or result in greed, then we have a problem.

When Greed Isn’t Good

Greed (or the desire for success) is not good when it leads to unethical or criminal behavior. Ethics is often in the eye of the beholder, so what might we consider unethical or at least unwise behavior on the part of executives and companies?

-Executives taking government money to keep their company afloat because they failed to run it properly, and then paying themselves big bonuses;
-Executives earning big bonuses and stock options for short-term performance rather than long-term performance (which may suffer because of short-term thinking);
-Executives making obscene amounts of money but cutting back on employees’ benefits, laying off workers, etc. (In my work in business I observed executives taking care of themselves while not always doing right by their employees).
-Engaging in industrial espionage and the like;
-Insider trading and market manipulation;
-Gaining an unfair competitive advantage by unscrupulous means;
-Producing (or importing) dangerous, inferior, or poor quality merchandise.
-Lying, cheating, stealing, ripping off the consumers in various ways.

What’s The Answer?

Any system, including capitalism, can be abused. Capitalism is perhaps more prone to abuse because it can be free-wheeling, highly competitive, under-regulated, and greed-driven. So what’s the answer? Certainly we don’t abandon capitalism just because it has some problems. All other systems, as far as I can tell, have much worse problems.

Because of the human propensity to sin, markets have to be regulated. There is a balance between enough regulation to reduce the risk of fraud and too much regulation that stifles innovation and some risk-taking. Too much regulation and governmental interference and you have socialism. Too little, and you have anarchy.

Companies must be stringently audited to insure compliance with these regulations as well as with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Bernie Madoff’s firm was audited, yet fooled the auditors for years. I still don’t know how he got away with it for so long, but the message is clear: auditing standards and procedures must be improved.

So the unctuous Mr. Gekko had a point: our economy is based on the desire to improve your lot, to grow your wealth. But when that desire gets out of hand and results in unethical and even criminal behavior, then the system is being abused. Even if you aren’t a company executive or financial type, this is good advice for everybody: before you make any decisions or take any actions, check to see if what you are about to do is immoral, unethical, against the law, or even questionable. Ask yourself, would I want my mother to know about this? If the answer is no, don’t do it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

“Greed Is Good” (Part 2)

In an earlier post I discussed the advantages of a capitalistic economy. Please see that post for background. Now I want to explore what the greedy Mr. Gekko meant by his statement “Greed is good.”

Is Greed Good?

One possible disadvantage of a capitalistic economy is that it is, to a certain extent, based on greed. That is why Gordon Gekko made his famous statement “Greed is good.” But using the term “greed” is mostly hyperbole. For the majority of people participating in the economy, “greed” is too strong a word and not appropriate. What investors, entrepreneurs, industrial researchers and inventors, innovative manufacturers, employees, and others participating in the economy are looking for is success. “Success” usually refers to a financial pay-out, such as:

-The stock you invested in goes up in value;
-The company you started grows, becomes more valuable, and its stock grows in value;
-The innovation you implemented resulted in increased profit for your company;
-Your invention is accepted in the marketplace and you receive a financial reward.

If people didn’t want their wealth to grow, there would be no banks, no stock market, no bonds, no innovation, and no research. So “greed is good” from the point of view that everybody wants their net worth to increase, their 401(k) to grow in value so they can have a decent retirement, and to get financial rewards consistent with good performance.

In a future post I’ll be concluding this series on capitalism and greed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Israeli Relief Efforts

Sadly the liberal media views Israel negatively and rarely reports anything positive about that country. However, one bit of favorable news managed to make it through the media news filter, and it had to do with Haiti relief.

While the U.N. (typically incompetent), the U.S. (maybe still hasn’t learned the lessons of Katrina), and other countries were struggling to get aid workers, water, food, doctors, medical supplies and other much-needed help to Port-au-Prince and outlying areas, Israel flew in and set up several field hospitals that were operational within 48 hours of the earthquake. These hospitals were adequately staffed, and had state-of-the-art equipment. It’s unfortunate that this wasn’t more widely reported, because it does show the Israelis to be “good guys” willing to travel roughly 4,000 miles or so to help in the relief effort. How many other countries in the oil-rich Middle East helped to such an extent?

Another country that rose to the occasion was the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Within hours of the earthquake, the DR was mobilizing to help. Victims from Haiti were being treated in DR hospitals, and truckloads of supplies were on their way across the border. Why didn’t the media pick up on this? We thank God for the Israelis and the Dominicans for jobs well done under the most difficult of circumstances.

We thank God also for the Christian and secular agencies that are helping and will most likely be in Haiti for many years to come: the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, World Vision, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), and many, many others. May God provide them with the resources and the fortitude to do what needs to be done.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Massachusetts Election

The various commentators and columnists will be analyzing this upset election for the so-called “Kennedy seat” for weeks, if not months. Let me just share a few comments of my own for your consideration:

The Massachusetts voters have a habit of occasionally voting Republican even though Democrats have a three to one advantage over Republicans in that state. The voters think about their vote and don’t just automatically pull the Democrat lever. Good for them.

I wouldn’t say this victory was pro-Republican as much as it was showing dissatisfaction with what is happening in Congress by all parties. The Republicans had majorities in Congress for 12 years, some of them with a Republican president. During that time, the Republicans didn’t distinguish themselves by addressing the tough issues or accomplishing much of anything. Now that the Democrats will no longer have the super-majority in the Senate, I hope Republicans will not just be obstructionists and continue to play political games, but will show leadership and work on the behalf of the country, not the party.

I believe this election showed dissatisfaction with the continuing politics as usual in Washington (by both parties), especially when it comes to health care reform. The powerful pharmaceutical, trial lawyer, and insurance lobbies have been able to water down the plan, and Republican input has been disregarded. This Congress must learn to look out for the people’s interests and not the special interests.

In addition, don’t think there is much confidence in Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and the other leaders. I don’t think people trust them and because they are liberals, fear that they will put together a health care “reform” package that takes away current quality benefits, substituting inferior care, rationing, and higher taxes to pay for it. Another reason there is so little confidence is that the congressional leadership hasn’t included in the package the one thing that will actually save billions of dollars: tort reform. Why? The powerful trial lawyers lobby.

The voters are waking up and finally making our senators and representative accountable. We’ve had enough of this game-playing in Washington and the various state houses. We want our elected officials to work in OUR best interests. If they don’t, they’re out of a job. They have a moral obligation to faithfully represent us, and we have the moral responsibility to hold them accountable.

Good work, Massachusetts!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Haiti Earthquake Comments

I recently wrote some opinions about why bad things happen, responding to the tragedy in Haiti and hoping to possibly put the tragedy into some sort of perspective. That post resulted in two comments that I would like to respond to. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail but I do want to reply to them. I thank those who commented because I appreciate getting feedback.

One of the commentators said religion is mostly mythology and if there is a god [sic] then it is impossible to know it [sic]. I agree and I disagree. Let me briefly explain.

I believe that most religions, while having some value, often good moral and ethical codes, proclaiming some truths, are mostly mythology. Much of that mythology consists of attempts to explain the world. However, I do believe that we can know God in a number of different ways. We can partially know God through his creation, the order of the universe, and the intelligent design of complex organisms. We also know God more completely through the Bible, which I believe is an accurate representation of God and shows humanity’s need for God. Jesus is the fullest revelation of God, because God came in the flesh to dwell among us.

Any “mythology” in the Bible is there to convey a truth (similar to the parables Jesus used). Since I believe the Bible is divinely inspired, any “sacred myths” have value to reveal God to us, to reveal ourselves to us, or for some other purpose. Obviously if you don’t believe either in God or in the truth of the Bible, then what I’m saying will be rejected. My advice to those who reject what I’m saying is to read the Bible and see for yourself rather than rely on all the old complaints, such as “the Bible is full of contradictions.”

The other comment stated that God was punishing Haiti for its sin, similar, I assume, to Sodom and Gomorrah. I understand where this commentator is coming from, but I hesitate to say God did this terrible thing to punish Haiti for its false worship, violence, and other sins. While God does have a history of similar punishments in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), I’m not sure God operates that way now. Even though God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, he does change his methods. Look at all the tornadoes, floods and other natural disasters that happen in the most “religious” parts of the United States. Is God punishing those God fearing people? If so, for what?

I’d be very careful about blaming God for this disaster. But thanks for your input.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

“Greed Is Good” (Part 1)

Remember those famous words by Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street? Well, he’s back. From what I read recently in the Poughkeepsie Journal, they are making a sequel to that movie. It will still feature Michael Douglas as the greedy, conniving, Wall Street stereotype, but brought up to date with the most recent financial crisis. Should be a good movie.

After reading about the sequel, it got me thinking about capitalism in general and the ethics of business in particular. Since I spent 30 years in the financial end of the business world – although not on Wall Street – so I have got some opinions based on first hand observations. Given the financial meltdown of 2008, the bailouts, and the bonuses paid to executives of these failed banks and financial institutions, I thought it might be interesting to discuss whether “Greed is Good” or not.

Capitalism

Without going into a lengthy discussion of my rationale, I believe capitalism is the best economic system. Communism failed. Before it could begin to prosper, China had to move from a rigid communist economy to a blend of a semi-capitalistic economy coupled with a repressive communist government. Since I don’t think those two can co-exist too long, the government will most likely become less repressive.

Socialism has its disadvantages, mainly in that it discourages success, limits innovation, taxes too heavily, and has too much central planning. The ideal for me is a capitalist system with enough controls to protect against egregious abuse, but not so many that innovation and risk-taking are discouraged. A robust capitalistic economy allows for plenty of competition and does not allow too many mergers and acquisitions. The more competition a market has, the better it is for the consumer. With one or a handful of dominant companies in a particular market, competition is not as vigorous and the consumer suffers from high prices, lack of innovation, and often poor quality of goods and services.

We’ll look at whether “Greed is good” in a future post.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti Earthquake – Why?

When terrible disasters occur such as the earthquake in Haiti, the question comes up: “Why does God allow such things to happen?” People will then view God is “bad” or “evil” in some way because he allows such tragedies to occur. What answer does the believer in God have for such a question, especially in light of the magnitude of the destruction and human loss in Haiti?

One answer is that God isn’t involved in his creation. He got things started but now just lets events play out without any divine input. Deists believe in the “Divine Watchmaker” concept of God. It explains why bad things happen, but isn’t consistent with the Bible.

A related answer is that God purposely limits himself and is generally uninvolved in the world. God will intervene on occasion, and these divine suspensions of natural laws are called miracles. This might be a little closer to a partial explanation.

Let me give you a summary of what I understand, which are only partial answers but makes some progress in trying to grasp why these things happen.

a. First of all, we are on earth, subject to the laws of nature. This is not heaven, but the earth, with all of its flaws, sin, and other problems. Heaven will be much better.

b. Second, many natural disasters are made much worse by human corruption, selfishness, or incompetence. Think of Hurricane Katrina with inferior levees. Think of Haiti with poor construction. We shouldn’t blame God when disaster results from humankind’s shortcomings.

c. Third, some disasters are completely man-made. Think of China’s Great Leap Forward which resulted in a famine that killed millions. Think of Stalin’s disastrous farm and other policies that killed millions. Think of all the wars, buried land mines, repressive regimes, etc.

d. Fourth, we tend to blame God for all the bad things that happen, but don’t give him credit for the good things. While natural disasters do occur (interestingly referred to as “Acts of God” in legal documents, although they are getting away from that and are now using the term “force majeure”), devastating ones are relatively rare. Like plane crashes, they are terrible when they happen and get a lot of publicity.

e. Lastly, God did create a perfect world and we messed it up, as illustrated by the Adam and Eve story. Even if you don’t take that story literally, it does tell us that humanity did something to rebel against God, thus plunging the world into it current state.

While this is only a brief overview of my incomplete understanding of this ongoing question, I hope it has been helpful to you. The main thing we should remember is that God can use tragedy for good. So be open to God’s leading so that your own trials and hardships can be used for human good and God’s glory.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti Earthquake

When I read about the devastating earthquake in Haiti, it makes me glad that I live in the United States. Why? Don’t we have earthquakes here? Of course we do, but the reasons I appreciate living in the U.S. are:

a. We are a compassionate people, immediately getting aid to Haiti and other stricken areas when tragedy occurs. Interestingly we don’t discriminate in our aid. We’ve sent aid to Muslim countries, and even to countries that haven’t been exactly friendly to us. We are able to separate policies of a government from the needs of people who have suffered loss. I’m proud to be a citizen of such a generous country.

b. When I see the severe damage to buildings in Haiti and in China when they had their terrible earthquake, I realize why building codes are so important. Shoddy construction kills people. That’s not to say we don’t suffer damage here in the U.S. due to hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes, but I suspect such damage is less because of building codes. Of course poor construction and maintenance of levees in New Orleans resulted in the destruction of a large part of a major U.S. city, but that goes to show that we aren’t immune to corrupt government, poor planning, and shoddy construction.

Because our society has its roots in what’s called the Judeo-Christian ethic (i.e., the Bible), we often do things that are consistent with that ethic. We help those in need and we send aid abroad. I might also mention that when disaster strikes, Christian relief organizations are there, either as first responders or later to give ongoing aid.

As our society degenerates and moves further away from its Judeo-Christian roots, I hope we don’t lose that compassion that makes us a beacon of light to a dark world. What other country is as generous and helpful in the world? Certainly not the oil rich nations. Certainly not China and India, which are prospering tremendously. Certainly not Japan. God bless the good old U.S. of A.

Visit of the Wise Men (Part 4)

IV. Conclusion

The story of the visit of the Magi is endearing even if it is has some unknowns and mysteries. The important thing is that the messages of this visit aren’t lost, which are:

●Jesus came for all, and is available to all, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female.

●Jesus meets us where we are.

●The gifts they brought reflect who Jesus is and why he came to earth:
(a) Gold for a king;
(b) Incense for God;
(c) Myrrh for the death Jesus would suffer.

As we enter the New Year, remember that Jesus came for you, he loves you, and wants you for his own. When somebody looks elsewhere for peace, comfort, guidance, or spiritual help, they are discounting Jesus and the Holy Spirit. God has all the answers, it’s God who really cares about you, and it’s the Holy Spirit who gives you what you need in terms of spiritual help. Don’t be looking in all the wrong places, when the God of the universe is only a prayer away.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Visit of the Wise Men (Part 3)

In earlier posts I began a discussion of the visit of the Wise Men (or Magi) to the baby Jesus. We commemorate this on January 6. See my earlier posts for more information on this topic.

III. Astrology and the Occult

Getting back to the Magi, let’s take a closer look at the role astrology might have played in this story. If the Magi saw astrological signs in the sky pointing to Jesus, does that legitimize astrology? Does that mean it is OK for us to look for signs from God through astrology, horoscopes, and the occult?

1. Occult Practices Condemned

This story of the Magi in no way legitimizes the occult, and should never be interpreted that way. The occult arts are specifically condemned in the Bible. Such things as divination, astrology, soothsaying, sorcery, witchcraft, and the like are strictly forbidden in the Bible. See, for example, Leviticus 19:31:

Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God. NIV

See also Deuteronomy 18:10-12a:

Let no one be found among you … who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord… NIV

While the vast majority of those claiming to practice these black arts are frauds, there can be some power to them on occasion. See 1 Samuel 28 and Exodus 7 for examples.

However, any power the occult arts might have comes from the dark side, and Christians should have nothing to do with any of that. God will tell us whatever we should know, and we must never try to learn the future or get guidance in any other way. What possible legitimacy can there be in tea leaves, tarot cards, and Ouija boards? It’s best to stick with God’s ways of doing things, even if other ways may seem attractive to you.

2. Why Did God Communicate to the Magi?

If the Bible condemns such practices, why, then, would God communicate the coming of the Messiah to these Magi? First of all, we don’t know for sure how the birth of Jesus was communicated to the Magi – we’re only speculating. However, if God used the stars and planets to communicate to them, he did so for good reasons. I see two possible reasons why God reached out to these Gentile pagans:

a. Jesus Came for All

First, God was sending a message that Jesus came for all, Jew and Gentile. Having Gentiles – pagan astrologers no less! – come a great distance to worship the baby Jesus sends a powerful message. That message is that Jesus is not just the Jewish Messiah, but he is Savior of the whole world. Remembering that the word “nations” refers to the Gentiles, a prophecy in Isaiah predicted this about the Messiah (Isaiah 60:3):

Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. NRSV

b. Jesus Comes to Us Where We Are

Second, God reached out to these astrologers to demonstrate that he comes to us where we are. If a person isn’t a follower of Jesus, God will reach out to him or her in whatever way makes sense for that person at that time. In the case of the Magi, God communicated to them in a way they could understand and accept – signs in the sky.

If you are a follower of Jesus, God communicates to you by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, you don’t need, and shouldn’t be looking to, any other means, especially the occult or non-Christian religious practices. The Bible is very clear that we aren’t to mix the beliefs and practices of other religions with Judaism and Christianity. Placing confidence in any other way is idolatry.

More on this topic in a future post.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Visit of the Wise Men (Part 2)

In an earlier post I began a discussion of the visit of the Wise Men (or Magi) to the baby Jesus. We commemorate this on January 6. See my earlier post for more information on this topic.

2. What Was the Star?

What appeared in the sky that motivated them to take a long trip to pay homage to this newborn King of the Jews? One theory is that these guys were astrologers, as mentioned earlier, and they saw the conjunction of two planets and a star. The planets and stars move with mathematical precision, so it is possible to go back in time and recreate what happened in the sky many years ago. Astronomers have calculated that there was such a conjunction around the time of the birth of Christ. These came together to give the appearance of a large star, but what was important to the Magi was which planets and star were involved. To astrologers, every planet, constellation, and major star have specific meanings. Knowing the prophecies of the Jewish Scriptures, these Magi saw a unique conjunction that indicated the fulfillment of these prophecies was at hand.

This is one possible explanation of the star they saw back home, but what about the star that led them to Bethlehem and hovered over the house? Matthew 2:9-10 tells us that the star that guided them from the East is the same one that stopped over Jesus’ house in Bethlehem:

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. NIV

My guess is that they did see a conjunction in the sky which informed them something special was happening in Israel. But the actual “star” they followed as a guide was supernatural and visible only to them. The reason I say that is because Herod and the gang were not aware of the star, based on Matthew 2:7:

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. NIV

Of course we’ll never know for sure – the main point is that God communicated to these Gentiles in a way they could understand. Today God communicates to you and me in ways that we can understand.

3. Why Was Herod Upset?

We may be puzzled by Herod’s reaction to the news that the Messiah had apparently been born (Matthew 2:3):

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. NIV

You would think Herod and Jerusalem would be overjoyed – the promised Messiah at last! Herod wasn’t ethnically Jewish, but had converted to Judaism to make his reign as king appear to be more legitimate. He certainly couldn’t be considered a devout Jew. The Romans had appointed him as puppet king and he could stay in power as long as there were no problems that would cause the Romans to send in the troops. The Messiah’s coming would be a threat to Herod’s power since the belief was that the Christ would defeat the Romans and establish his kingdom.

Herod must have believed that he would be overthrown by this military Messiah, and he and his followers would most likely killed. Herod was ruthless and quite jealous of his power, so any threat to his position would be upsetting to him and must be eliminated. When Matthew wrote “all Jerusalem” was upset along with Herod, it might be a bit of an exaggeration. I suspect he was referring to the ruling elites, not the common people. The common people were looking for relief, which they certainly weren’t getting from Herod, the Pharisees, and the other elites. You and I should look to Jesus for relief from the burdens we carry, and not depend on ineffective and even harmful worldly crutches.

4. When Did They Arrive?

The Magi are included in just about every manger scene, but they probably did not arrive the night Jesus was born. We get a hint in Matthew 2:11a:

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. NIV

Joseph and Mary were now in a house, so this visit must have taken place some time after Jesus was born. It may have been anywhere from a few days to a few weeks is my guess, maybe even longer.

More on this topic in a future post.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Visit of the Wise Men (Part 1)

I. Introduction

Wednesday, Jan. 6, was Epiphany, when Christians mark the end of the Christmas season by commemorating the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus. Epiphany is the last day of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” I would like to explain a few things about this story which is found only in Matthew 2:1-12.

This story has been the subject of scrutiny and speculation for 2,000 years. Just who were these Magi from the East? What motivated them to travel such a long distance to see a baby, and to bring expensive gifts? How did these pagans know that the King of the Jews had been born, and why should they care? What was that star? A conjunction of heavenly bodies? A comet? A supernova? A miraculous sign defying any natural explanation? How long after Jesus’ birth did these guys show up? Why was King Herod upset at the news, and all Jerusalem with him? More importantly, what does this story mean to us? I’ll try to briefly answer some of those questions, and will also explore some aspects of the story that are important for us today.

II. Some Answers

1. Who Were these Magi?

The first question is, who were those guys? The Greek uses the term magoi, which became Magi in English. They’ve been called kings, which they probably weren’t, and wise men, which they probably were. The terms Magi and wise men give us a hint that they were probably of the priestly class in either Persia or Babylon. They would most likely have been among the sorcerers and magicians of the type mentioned in the Book of Daniel. A common belief is that they were astrologers who saw something in the sky that led them to believe the birth of the prophesied Messiah had occurred.

More on this topic in a future post.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Religious States in the U.S.

The Pew Forum recently released results of a study about religion. Residents of all U.S. states were asked the question, “Is religion very important in your life?” Worship attendance, frequency of prayer and belief in God were also measured. The rankings by state are very interesting. Go to pewforum.org for the detailed results. Let me give you some summary information.

The top 20 “religious” states as measured by the criteria mentioned above were, not unsurprisingly, located in the South and Midwest, with the exception of Idaho and Utah (because of devout Mormons). The bottom five consisted of all six New England states (two sets of two states were grouped together – CT & RI, and NH & VT) and Alaska. New York was 39th and New Jersey was 30th. In the highest ranking state, Mississippi, 82% said religion was important to them. In the lowest ranked grouping (New Hampshire and Vermont), only 36% said religion is important to them. That’s quite a spread.

What I find interesting is that the lowest-ranking states are heavily Roman Catholic, especially Massachusetts and Rhode Island. New York, which is fairly Catholic was 39th Having these “Catholic” states in the lower rankings tells me that there are many turned-off and/or dropped-out Catholics in those states. These statistics beg the question, why isn’t religion more important to Catholics? I suspect a good number of Catholics attend mass with some degree of regularity, but religion isn’t important to them, meaning the Church and its teachings aren’t important to them.

The states in the lower and middle rankings generally consist of a mix of Catholics and Protestants in their populations (PA, IL, MI, OH). What’s happening is that the Protestant churches haven’t been doing a good job of reaching out to the unchurched, both former Catholics and nominal Protestants. They have been content to remain as they are, with the result that many of these churches are in decline. Only an average of 56% of people across all states responded that religion is important to them. That tells me that either churches haven’t been engaging in evangelism or they have not been feeding the people spiritually. It’s probably both, not either/or.

As the country continues to slide into humanism, relativism, secularization, and apathy when it comes to spiritual matters, the Church must engage the unchurched. Let’s begin reaching out to our communities and introduce the people to Jesus Christ. The field is ripe. Will you begin to harvest? The Church must either evangelize or it will fossilize.

At the same time, biblically-based preaching and good children’s and adult educational programs are important to feed the spiritually hungry. Studies say this younger generation is searching for spiritual truth. If they don’t find it in church, they’ll look elsewhere.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Another Terrorist Attempt

A Nigerian Muslim tried to blow up a U.S. airplane on Christmas Day, which became the last big story of 2009. Besides revealing holes and serious flaws in airport security around the world, what else does this incident tell us?

I believe it tells us that this Muslim World vs. The West struggle is not merely cultural but is religious at its core. Note that this was planned for Christmas Day, which commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. Despite its increasing secularization, Christmas is, in its foundation, a Christian holy day. It was not a coincidence that this attempt was made on the holy day of Christmas. Was the message to us “Allah is stronger than your Jesus.” (I know Islam reveres Jesus (“Isa”) as a great prophet, but not as the Son of God. Islam finds our understanding of Isa blasphemous.)

You may disagree with me, saying this struggle is more cultural than religious. However, what you fail to realize is that Muslim culture and religion are inseparable. While we in The West tend to separate the secular from the religious, such a division is unthinkable in the Muslim World (aside, perhaps, from Turkey, which is beginning to move away from its foundational principle of separation of mosque and state). Muslims justify their actions on religious grounds, calling Christians “infidels” and “Crusaders.” They use the Qur’an’s anti-Jewish and anti-Christian passages as the basis for their actions. “Jihad” is a religious term, steeped in the Qur’an. Let’s stop being so na├»ve.

The reason I mention the religious aspect of this struggle is that if we abandon the God who has blessed The West in so many ways, then God will abandon us. While we are not ancient Israel, we see in the Old Testament that when the Israelites abandoned faith in Jehovah and followed false gods, God removed his protection from them and they were harassed and defeated by their pagan neighbors (Philistines, Midianites, and all those other “–ites”, plus the Assyrians and the Babylonians). I can only conclude that The West may very well be defeated by the Muslims if we continue down the paths we have been following. Why should God protect us if we don’t care about him?

Christians, renew your faith in Christ, who redeemed you to be his own. Jews, return to the G-d of your fathers, who delivered your ancestors out of Egypt. If God is for us, what can man do to us?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Welcome to 2010!

It’s hard to believe that the year 2010 is here. Another decade is behind us, one that was highly unusual, to say the least.

Whenever we enter a new year, and especially a new decade, we anticipate things will be better. We’ll have a better economy, world peace, a better stock market, better technology, and basically better everything. Obama was elected because he promised “change”, meaning in most people’s minds a better government, a better life, and maybe even a better world situation.

Given history, I don’t think the 2010s will be any better than any other decade. But we can make our own lives better rather and we don’t have to rely on politicians, government, and others to do it. How do we do that?

There are lots of ways we can have a better life, one with reduced stress, more peace, and more fulfillment. Let me give a few suggestions:

(1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. When you have a close relationship with God (the purpose for which we were created y God), we are much more fulfilled. I can’t begin to tell you what a difference it has made in my life.

(2) Love your neighbor as yourself. When you are more compassionate, more caring towards others, and actually help others, you are a much better person, you feel good about yourself, and God blesses you in various ways.

(3) Be in community. We are tending to become a nation of loners, with few community ties. Become part of a church, and participate in community activities. At church you’ll learn more about God, have social interaction, you’ll find emotional and spiritual support, and you’ll end up being a more fulfilled and happy person as you worship and serve God.

(4) Change your priorities. Most of us are out of balance in some way. We might be workaholics, or we might be slackers. We must find the right balance for the sake of our sanity and our families. For many, God is either a low priority or isn’t a priority at all. That must change so that God is the top priority. When that happens, everything else falls into place.

(5) Change your attitudes. Many of us need attitude changes. We might be people pleasers, or we might be completely self-centered. Change your attitude to something more realistic and balanced. You’ll be much happier.

(6) Break bad habits and start good ones. Stop smoking, drinking, misusing drugs (both prescription and illegal), and staying out too late. All these are poor substitutes for the love and attention you are craving. Don’t engage in these self-destructive behaviors, but turn to God for your peace, love, comfort, and support.

If you follow these suggestions, not only will 2010 be a much better year, but you’ll be happier for the rest of your life. What have you got to lose? May God bless you as you turn your life around in 2010.