Thursday, July 28, 2011

Attacks in Norway

As we’ve seen in the U.S. with Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma City) and The Unabomber, not all terrorist attacks come from Islamic fanatics. Some come from homegrown non-Islamic terrorists. Such is the case with Anders Breivik of Norway, who perpetrated the horror of a bombing is Oslo and the killing of children at a camp on a nearby island.

Just as Muslim terrorists use Islam as an excuse to do terrible things against that religion’s teachings, so Breivik used the preservation of Christianity in Europe as an excuse for killing innocent people, an act that is against the teachings of Jesus Christ. Just as we can’t blame Islam for those who abuse it, we can’t blame Christianity for those who do (and have done) terrible things in its name. Just as we can’t generalize and say “All Muslims are terrorists” or “All Muslims hate us,” we also can’t say that all conservative Christians are dangerous.

Without having all the facts, the media started claiming that Breivik is a “fundamentalist Christian.” Despite media accounts to the contrary, Breivik is not a “fundamentalist” Christian. By his own admission in his manifesto, Breivik is a “cultural Christian”. A “cultural Christian” is a person who was brought up in an environment which has the Judeo-Christian ethic as its moral, ethical, and cultural base (such as in the U.S., Europe, and Latin America). Cultural Christians, as opposed to practicing Christians, aren’t religious and consider themselves to be Christian in name only. They don’t go to church, send their kids to Sunday school, and don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ or believe he died for our sins.

Western Europe, which is in the post-Christian era, is culturally Christian but not religiously Christian. Because of the influx of Muslim immigrants into Europe, thing are changing. Muslims are looking to implement Sharia law in their communities, for example, and are becoming a powerful minority in many Western European communities. Hence Breivik’s manifesto and killing spree to protest the islamization of Europe. He laments the decline of Christian culture in Europe, but not the Christian religion, because he is a nationalist, not a Christian.

Although Breivik isn’t a Christian in the religious sense, we must always keep in mind that when it comes to acts of terrorism, religion isn’t the problem. The way religion is interpreted or practiced is the problem. Jesus taught peace and harmony. The Christian religion was spread by peaceful missionaries, not by military conquest. When Peter drew a sword to fight off those who had come to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52, NIV)

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Core Business of Government

Companies often refer to their “core business” as that part of the enterprise where they have the most expertise, and are usually an industry leader. Many companies get into trouble when they venture out of their core business. There are many examples of companies spinning off (or writing off) segments that were less than successful because they were not in the core business.

Similarly, government has a core business, which is to do what only government can and should do. At the local, county and state level, the main elements of their core business is providing fire and police protection, maintaining roads and other local infrastructure, running public schools and the court system, providing a safety net for the helpless in our society (mentally ill, handicapped, temporarily unemployed through no fault of their own), and often providing water, sewer, and garbage collection. Of course what do local governments do when the budget gets tight? Cut back on those core businesses.

At the federal level, the main elements of its core business consist of military protection, consumer protection, regulatory enforcement, postal service, national infrastructure, and the handling of foreign affairs. The Constitution specifically placed many limitations on the federal government, and delegated most of the burden of governing to the states. However, today Washington it too involved in governing outside of its core business, plus it hands down unfunded mandates forcing state and local governments to make the kinds of cuts they’d rather not be making.

No matter which level of government we’re talking about, government should only be doing its core business. Getting involved in other areas, no matter how worthwhile they may seem, is not what government should be doing. That’s because when government ventures out of its core business, it’s usually serving a special interest group at the expense of the taxpayers. If you look at government programs and earmarks, I would bet that the vast majority serve special interest groups.

The failure of Socialism in Europe has demonstrated that government can’t be all things to all people. It can’t (and shouldn’t) provide womb to tomb social benefits, regardless of how desirable they may be. Eliminating government programs that don’t fit with its core business will be painful, as we’re seeing in several European countries whose populations have come to depend on the generosity of the government (with very high taxes to pay for it). Look at the riots in Greece to understand how embedded these benefits are in that society.

However, even with high taxes, the governments of Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Italy got into financial trouble because they were spending more than they were taking in. The U.S. is doing the same, and at this rate it’s only a matter of time before we become another Greece. We can’t let that happen. Our representatives in Congress must make those tough decisions now before we default on our loans or our credit rating is lowered. These will be painful, and thee will be crying and gnashing of teeth by the special interest groups, but we must stand firm in our resolve to cut spending. Under President Clinton the government enacted welfare reform, so change is possible. Government must spend its money on the core business of government (such as rebuilding our infrastructure). Cutting expenses is especially important because we have both demographics and higher energy costs working against us.

As the Baby Boomers age, we’ll have even fewer people paying higher taxes. Already in 2010, 47% of the population paid no federal income tax (“Yes, 47% of Households Owe No Taxes. Look Closer” by David Leonhardt, New York Times, Published: April 13, 2010). We must cut government expenses now for another reason as well. We must pay down our multi-trillion dollar debt as quickly as possible because of the enormous interest we have to pay. The sooner we cut costs and stop increasing the debt, the sooner we can pay it down and lower our interest payments. Think about this: The U.S. is in debt to China for about a trillion dollars. So every month we’re sending them millions of dollars in interest. How long can we afford to do that?

Write your Representative and your Senator. Tell him or her to stop pandering to special interest groups and get the job done. All the campaign contributions from all the special interest groups can not offset an angry electorate. We kicked out a bunch of ineffective politicians in the last election, and we’ll do it again.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

HawthoRNe Degenerates

Recently I published a post praising the writers of the TV program HawthoRNe because they are having some of their characters openly express their religious faith. Last night’s program (July 19) makes me wonder if it isn’t degenerating into a sleazy soap opera.

In last night’s episode, the main character, the recently married Hawthorne (played by Jada Pinkett Smith), commits adultery with her former boyfriend (played by Marc Anthony), and her young daughter is aggressively pursuing an older married man, telling him that she loves him. I didn’t see any expressions of faith, only infidelity.

Because of the sleazy turn the show has made, I’m going to withhold my judgment for now. If next week’s episode continues with this soap opera, then we won’t be watching it any more. It’s too bad Hollywood writers must take a decent show with human interest and good storylines and turn it into something of lesser quality.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Tempus Fugit

Time flies. Every time I write down the date, I’m startled by the number 2011. The second decade of the twenty-first century! I remember back in the 1970s looking at company benefit statements that showed me retiring in the 2000s and it seemed a lifetime away (and it pretty much was). In my 60+ years I’ve seen a fair amount of history and technological innovation.

People generally seem to view the future as being better than the present, with the exception of such books as “1984” and “Brave New World.” Look at the “Jetsons” on TV decades ago. Look at some of the futuristic predictions made in the past. Some of the technological projections have come true or even went beyond people’s wildest imagination. Look at the smart-phone. Who would have thought there could be so much computing power in a small, hand-held device?

When I started with IBM in the 1960s, data input into a computer was done with punch-cards that had to be run through a sorter because there wasn’t enough memory in the computer to do it efficiently (remember the iron cores?). Certain devices had to be programmed by wiring a board.

While we’ve advanced tremendously in science and technology, we seem to be going in the wrong direction in other ways. We are on track to becoming a second-rate nation due to
-our tremendous debt,
-our deficit spending,
-our consistently unfavorable balance of trade,
-our involvement in expensive questionable wars,
-our exporting jobs to other countries and subsequent loss of our manufacturing base,
-our ineffective government leadership at all levels,
-our crime and drug problems, and
-our crumbling infrastructure.

And that’s not even a complete list, sad to say. For the first time in our history, it is anticipated that the next generation will have a lower standard of living than the previous generation. What does that tell you?

Why am I mentioning all this? I’m doing so because I believe we must change our ways:

(1) First and most importantly, we must stop abandoning the God of our fathers.

(2) Stop worshipping the false gods of materialism, money, technology, or whatever else is your top priority.

(3) Make our elected officials accountable.

(4) Pray for our country.

It all starts with you and me. Together we can be agents of change for good.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Faith Expressed on TV Program

My wife and I watch more TNT and USA programs than we do NBC, CBS, or ABC. The content of the programming on the three major networks doesn’t appeal to us for the most part. For example, the sitcoms are lame, loaded with sexual innuendo. A number of cable shows seem to have what the others are lacking – imagination and creativity.

One TNT show stands out in particular: “HawthoRNe” starring Jada Pinkett Smith. Not only are the stories interesting but they have taken faith out of the closet. In most network programs any kind of faith in God is either completely lacking, or mocked, ridiculed, and scorned. “HawthoRNe” is a refreshing change to that norm. Several of the characters have openly talked about their faith. In last night’s episode a Jewish cantor openly struggled with her faith in God as a result of the throat cancer that could cause the loss of her beautiful voice which she uses to the glory of God.

We haven’t watched “Memphis Beat” recently, but several of the earlier episodes also contained references to God and faith. I hope that program hasn’t eliminated them in its later episodes.

If the major networks are wondering why their ratings keep slipping, maybe it’s because they are out of touch. The majority of Americans profess some sort of faith in God and are morally upright, but what do the networks continue to do? Put down people of faith and show immoral programming (even in the so-called “family hour”), not to mention a lack of creativity. They look down on the average American and as a result, many people are abandoning them for better quality programming that doesn’t ridicule their values and faith. Way to go TNT and USA!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Men in Crisis Part 3

This is a continuation of a message I gave on Father’s Day and on the Saturday before to a men’s group. Whether you are a man or a woman, I hope you will read this and take heart. Below are ways we can encourage men.

b. By Fellowship and Worship

Second, we can encourage men by inviting them to a church event or worship service. Pray about whom to invite, invite them, and give them a ride. Even if the person declines your invitation, they are usually appreciative that you thought enough of them the ask them.

c. By Resisting Temptation

Third, not only can we can encourage other men by our example in resisting temptation, but we can keep reminding them of the cost of doing wrong. Think about how the mighty have fallen:
-Tiger Woods; -Arnold Schwarzenegger;
-John Edwards; -The French guy (Dominique Strauss-Kahn);
-Elliott Spitzer; -And of course the latest, Anthony Weiner.

Their careers are ruined, their families torn apart, and their reputations destroyed, all because they yielded to temptation to do stupid things. Is it worth the resulting disgrace, pain, and humiliation? We may not be rich or famous, and our indiscretions may never make headlines. Nevertheless, we still should remind ourselves and other men of how destructive sin can be and how vulnerable we are. We may face pressures to do something unethical at work, or we may be tempted in many other ways. Sadly, we live in a sex-saturated society, so it’s difficult to remain pure in an impure world, but with God’s help, we can do it. Let us always keep in mind what it says in 1 John 2:15-17:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world — the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches — comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever. NRSV

The world’s desires and pride try to pull us from the godly path – that’s why it’s so important to stay close to God all the time. Instead of the world’s fleeting and often destructive pleasures, see what God wants us to have from Luke 12:32 (NLT): For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom. God’s Kingdom – worldly pleasures? It’s your decision.

3. Support Our Fathers

Lastly, we should not just encourage other men, but we should support our own fathers in various ways – if they are still with us. No matter what stage in life he is in, he still needs your love and support. Your support of your father can take many different forms – pray for guidance as to what to do, and pray for your father as well.

IV. Conclusion

As God’s children, we should always make room for Daddy in our lives. Yes, we’re busy, but we shouldn’t be too busy for our heavenly Father. If we have children, then we should strive to be the best fathers we can be – with the help of God. The father-son and father-daughter relationships are critically important to your children’s healthy emotional and spiritual development. You don’t want to be filled with regret later on, agonizing over why your children turned out the way they did. We can’t be great fathers in our own strength, but when the branch is firmly attached to the vine, we’ll be the kinds of fathers God intended us to be.

If our kids are older, we still have the opportunity to continue to support them in age-appropriate ways as well as to be godly grandparents. We practiced on our kids, and now we can perfect our skills with our grandchildren. Be the best you can be by making room for your heavenly Abba, remembering what Ephesians 1:4-6 says about our own sonship:

For [God] chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. NIV

So let us always and everywhere remember we are all children of our heavenly Father, and we should live our lives accordingly.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Response to Letter to the Editor on Same-Sex Marriage

In the July 1 edition of the Poughkeepsie Journal, there was a letter to the editor with the headline “Marriage equality not a religious issue” submitted by John Vincent of Wappingers Falls. I am responding to this letter to set the record straight, since it was loaded with misinformation. I’ll put his letter in italics and my responses in normal type.

I am saddened by some religious leaders’ and members’ printed reactions to the good news of civil marriage equality in New York state.
First, religions are tax-exempt as nonpolitical organizations and should therefore play no role in politics. The U.S. Constitution calls for a separation of church and state.

Two points here: First, Vincent has misinterpreted the First Amendment like so many people who don’t understand its original (and clear) intent. The Separation Clause certainly does not prohibit churches and pastors from participating in the democratic process, including public discourse. Second, IRS rules prohibit churches and pastors (from the pulpit) from publicly endorsing a candidate for office. However, issues can be opposed or supported without fear of losing tax-exempt status.

Second, the biblical definition of marriage was actually one man with numerous women as his property.

The biblical definition can be found in Genesis 2:24: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (NIV)

Notice it says “wife” (singular), not “wives” (plural). In the New Testament, Jesus affirmed the biblical model of one women and one man in Matthew 19:4-6: “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (NIV)

Biblical characters having multiple wives and owning slaves don’t mean those are biblical models of behavior.

Third, only civil, not church, marriage provides the medical, financial and protective government rights for couples and families.

This statement doesn’t make any sense, except in Europe, where civil ceremonies are performed in addition to church weddings. In the U.S., pastors and rabbis are agents of the state when they perform wedding ceremonies. A church wedding results in a valid marriage with the resulting benefits.

Fourth, religions are to not judge, support families, and protect the sick and needy, not persecute them.

Churches, pastors and others aren’t persecuting anybody when it comes to same-sex marriage. Churches that oppose redefining marriage and family, which is what same-sex marriage does, are exercising their right of free speech to express an opinion on the subject. Opposing a position doesn’t mean you are persecuting supporters of that position.

Fifth, given the numerous lawsuits against protected pedophile priests and scandals regarding Pentecostal ministers, the Catholic Church and fundamentalist churches should put their resources into that.

This statement shows the writer’s hostility towards religion. Pedophile priests and other problems are regrettable, and the Catholic Church and other churches have taken steps to prevent these things from happening.

I am proud that my religion and my local legislators like Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Sen. Steve Saland and Assemblyman Joel Miller supported all taxpayers and their families in New York.

I wonder what “religion” the writer follows since he seems to be hostile to religion.

We each have someone born gay/lesbian in our family. Now New York will be a better place for all of us. Also, $400 million will be added to New York’s ailing economy over the next three years.

Some of us do have LGBT family members, and so we appreciate that this is not just a theoretical discussion, but something that involves real people and their lives.

Legislators who voted no, like Sens. Greg Ball and Bill Larkin, will be remembered in history as we remember those who fought against the end of slavery.

Hyperbole. This is not a civil rights issue, although its supporters make it out to be.

Let the weddings begin! Next step, repealing the un-constitutional so-called Defense of Marriage Act for federal equal rights.

I can’t see how DOMA is unconstitutional unless you misinterpret the Constitution as the writer did in his first point in his letter.

Men in Crisis Part 2

This is a continuation of a message I gave on Father’s Day and to a men’s group the Saturday before. Whether you are a man or a woman, I hope you will read this:

III. What Should We Do?

After all I wrote in Part 1, you must be asking, “What, then, should we do?”

1. Draw Closer to God

a. Build Up Our Faith

First, as Christian men we must do everything we can to draw closer to God. God will build our faith and strengthen us spiritually when we open ourselves to his leading. So let’s strive to make room for God in our busy lives. How? We can start:
-By reading a daily devotional while eating breakfast;
-By praying and listening to Christian radio while commuting;
-By reading the Bible or a Christian book during your lunch hour;
-By having a time of prayer before going to sleep at night.

Regular prayer, Bible study, and attendance at worship are ways of keeping close to God.

b. We Are God’s Children thru Christ

Besides needing God in our lives, another reason we should draw closer to God is that God created us to have a close relationship with him. That desire for a close relationship is evident in God’s plan for humankind, which we see in the work of Jesus. Jesus came to earth to break down the barrier between God and us. When we place our faith in what Jesus did, we become God’s children, members of God’s own family, as we read in John 1:12:

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. NIV

As a result, we can actually call God our “Daddy” as in Galatians 4:6:

And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” NLT

When I say “Abba” you might be thinking of a Swedish rock group or the Broadway musical “Mamma Mia” featuring the music of ABBA. However, “Abba” is the Aramaic and Hebrew word probably best translated as “Daddy.” Our English word “abbot”, meaning head of a monastery, and the Arabic word for father “ab” both come from the ancient word “abba.” In Israel today, you can still hear children call their father “abba.”

As his children, God wants us to be so close to him that we can think of him as Abba, our “Daddy” – not out of disrespect but out of love. We read in Romans 8:15-17a that we are God’s adopted children:

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. NLT

As God’s children, we should make him the priority in our life, not just once a week or on occasion or when we need help – but all the time!

2. Encourage Other Men

In addition to drawing closer to God ourselves, we should encourage men, especially our fellow Christians. How can we encourage other men as well as our children?

a. By Our Example

First, we can encourage everybody by our example: our children, our grandchildren, our co-workers, our friends, and the folks at church. As I said earlier, there aren’t very many good role models out there, so we should set a good example by our behavior and trustworthiness. I read recently five ways fathers can influence their children for good:

1. Teach your children empathy by being sensitive to them, modeling generosity, and being involved in their lives.

2. Teach your children confidence by encouraging problem-solving and self-confidence by your words and actions.

3. Build up your children’s vocabulary by speaking to them as you would an adult, and defining words they don’t understand.

4. Protect your children from harm by affirming them so they won’t look for love and acceptance in all the wrong places.

5. Promote respect for themselves and others by reminding them that all are made in the image of God and are God’s beloved creation.

We should, of course, train our children in the faith, both by sending them to Sunday school and teaching them in godly values at home.

More on this topic of men in crisis in a future post.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Men in Crisis Part 1

I. Father’s Day Message

On Father’s Day and at a men’s gathering that Saturday, I gave this message to men. Whether you are a man or a woman, I hope you will read this:

Because it’s Father’s Day, I’d like to talk about men, their problems, and how we can help and support them. I want to encourage men that you aren’t alone or unique in your struggles. Many other men are facing the same concerns, pressures and temptations as you are, but remember that your heavenly Father cares about you. This is aimed primarily at men, but the women should hear this as well.

II. Men in Crisis

Today, men are in crisis, quite possibly more than at any time in history. That is a pretty strong statement. Why am I saying that?

1. Economic Crisis

First of all, men are in crisis economically and the situation doesn’t look like it’s going to improve any time soon. Jobs are in jeopardy, the costs of benefits are going up, raises are infrequent, jobs are scarce, and many families are living on the edge or are under water. On the job – if you have one – there are fewer people doing more work, causing stress, tension, and absentee fathers because of long hours.

In addition, homes have declined in value, and forget about trying to sell it. If a man is getting close to retiring or already retired, there are concerns about whether there will be enough income to live on. Men worry because they feel responsible for the economic well-being of their families, so financial uncertainties take a tremendous emotional toll.

2. Relationship Crisis

Second, men are in crisis when it comes to relationships. There is a high divorce rate, and long work hours can put additional strains on marriages and family relationships. Many are going through a transition in life, such as a change in job, unemployment, or retirement, and these cause tensions in relationships.

3. Health Crisis

Third, men are in crisis when it comes to health: physical and emotional. Men are sick with worry that they will lose their job, house, or family, or how will they pay for college, medical bills, or retirement. Adding to the pressure, we work harder than ever just to keep the job we have, and as a result suffer from stress and adrenaline overload. So our health suffers and we end up overweight, getting diabetes or a heart condition, not sleeping well, or abusing drugs or alcohol. Moreover, most men don’t have a support system to help them. Not only don’t men ask for directions, they often don’t ask for help either.

4. Spiritual Crisis

Lastly, men are in crisis when it comes to spiritual matters. Men make up only about 40% of church-goers, and many have little if any Christian fellowship. Those without a close relationship with God and little or no godly influences in their lives become heavily influenced by the world’s values, such as:
-Self-sufficiency, rather than depending on God;
-Materialism – the one with the most toys wins;
-Success at any cost; and
-Situational ethics.

In buying into the world’s values, some men have abdicated their roles in the family and the church, and the family and the church suffer as a result.

5. Lack of Role Models

Adding to the problem of buying into the world’s values is the fact that men don’t have many good role models these days. Back in the day we had some pretty good examples on TV, believe it or not.
-Jim Anderson of “Father Knows Best”;
-Danny Thomas of “Make Room for Daddy”;
-Ozzie Nelson of “Ozzie and Harriet”;
-Ward Cleaver of “Leave It to Beaver;
-And even big Jim Arness of “Gunsmoke” (who recently passed away).

What role models do we have today?
-Instead of Ozzie Nelson we have Ozzy Osbourne.
-Instead of the wise Jim Anderson we have inept Homer Simpson.
-Instead of lovable Danny Thomas we have the obnoxious Charlie Sheen.

Maybe we had a good role model in our father or maybe we didn’t, but at least we had some TV characters that gave us good examples.

More on this topic of men in crisis in a future post.