Thursday, October 18, 2012

What’s Bothering You? (Part 5)

This post is a continuation of a discussion on an informal survey that was taken by a Christian magazine.

9. Obsession with Sex

The ninth and last area of concern for Christians is, and I quote: “Obsession with sex.” This one is obvious, because we see it every day in advertising, TV, movies, and just about everywhere you can think of. We see it even during the so-called family hour on TV (which has come to be a fiction).

My wife and I will see a new sitcom advertised and think it could be pretty good, so we’ll watch the first episode to check it out. Sure enough, it’s saturated with carnality (like that word?), and not the least bit entertaining. We’ll turn it off about halfway through.

This obsession affects our children, and gives them the wrong impression about what is right and what shouldn’t be done. To show how this is affecting our kids, now teenagers are sexting – sending lewd pictures of themselves via mobile devices, and thinking that is OK! In the movies and on TV, it’s often physical gratification with no love or commitment, and usually without consequences.

What can we do about this obsession? First of all, we should try to shield our children from the worst of it, realizing that we can’t completely protect them. We should monitor what they watch on TV, where they go on the Internet, and which movies they attend. When something inappropriate is depicted on a TV program, we might use it as a teaching moment:
-That’s not what a good boy or girl does.
-You aren’t supposed to do that until after you are married.
-That’s totally unrealistic – real life isn’t like that.
-That’s showing a lack of respect for the other person.

Besides educating and protecting our children, we also need to protect ourselves, and not allow us to be influenced when we see such stuff. As much as possible we should avoid watching TV shows and movies with such themes. Even as adults, we have to keep reminding ourselves that what we see in the media is not real world, isn’t moral or healthy, and there are usually consequences to our actions.

IV. Conclusion

While this discussion centered on concerns by Christians, many other people are equally bothered by what’s happening in the culture. We are seeing the results of this culture shift in the behavior of some people:
-Mass murders, such as at the movie theater in Aurora, Illinois.
-Escapism by drug and alcohol abuse.
-Cheating on exams and other forms of dishonesty.
-Crime, violence, and other forms of anti-social behavior.
-Not wanting to help the less-fortunate.
-Taking the attitude that “it’s all about me.”

All of these have been around since Adam and Eve, but they are probably more prevalent today – how many mass murders were there in the 1950s? I believe the best defense against a culture that is getting more and more decadent is education and vigilance.

There are some good things in the culture, such as art, music, and the like, and some philosophies have some aspects consistent with the Bible. However, since we as people of faith believe the Bible contains God’s truth and is our blueprint for living, that’s what we should focus on. Ignorance of the Bible or mixing biblical and non-biblical worldviews can result in us not living the kind of life God wants us to live. So let’s learn the Bible so we can separate the wheat from the chaff, and also so we can help our children and grandchildren to do the same. Let’s not conform to the world but be truly transformed by the power of God working in us.

Note: Survey is from World Magazine, “What Ails Us” by Joel Belz, (July 28, 2012, Vol 27, No 15, page 3)

Monday, October 15, 2012

What’s Bothering You? (Part 4)

This post is a continuation of a discussion on an informal survey that was taken by a Christian magazine.

6. Culture Wars

The sixth area of concern for Christians is, and I quote: “Loss of a defined dominant culture, with attendant culture wars.” Every society has some sort of moral and behavioral code, and often these are derived from the dominant religion of that society. The concern is that we no longer have the dominant moral and ethical code like the one we used to have based on the Judeo-Christian ethic. As a result, we have what some are calling the “culture wars.” The “culture wars” represent the tension between competing values: biblical values on the one hand, and other world views that often conflict with the Bible on the other.

Atheists and secularists are aggressively pushing their agendas. These competing worldviews confuse people, especially those who aren’t familiar with the Bible. To make matters worse, those who don’t have a biblical perspective often ridicule those who do. They portray people of faith as foolish, repressive, old-fashioned, and puritanical in an attempt to marginalize the Judeo-Christian ethic. Think of The Simpsons, South Park, and other TV programs – an anti-Christian theme is obvious in many of them.

I’m not saying society was perfect when the Judeo-Christian ethic was the dominant moral code, because we still had many problems. What I am saying is that we must educate ourselves so we can discern unbiblical viewpoints within the many competing philosophies of the world. If we can do that, there less of a chance of us buying into false teachings (from a biblical viewpoint) and being led down wrong (meaning unbiblical to the person of faith) paths. We should also educate our children to protect them as well.

7. Loss of Freedoms

The seventh area of concern for Christians is, and I quote: “Loss of specific freedoms.” This most likely refers to the misapplication of the First Amendment to eliminate God from everything. Court cases have limited public displays of religious symbols, religious activities in public buildings, and public prayer at school events. Schools can’t even teach Intelligent Design or point out the flaws in Darwinism because somebody might think of God. There are reports of students who expressed a biblical worldview in their college term papers and were given a failing grade.

While profanity, violence, and gratuitous sex in the media are protected “free speech”, public prayer and religious symbols are illegal. We must fight for ours and other’s rights whenever we feel they are being threatened. There are ministries that go to court to protect our rights against the onslaughts of the ACLU. You know what “ACLU” stands for, don’t you? The Anti-Christian Litigation Unit.

8. Civil Public Discourse

The eighth area of concern is, and I quote: “Loss of honest and civil public discourse.” This is an obvious problem in politics, as we are already seeing it in the presidential campaign. Instead of “honest and civil public discourse,” we see one side demonizing the other and failing to even attempt to reach common ground. Congress can’t work together, but sadly, we see similar bad behavior in the church, which to me is unacceptable. This is especially true at the conference and general church levels, and such behavior is totally inappropriate in the church, whether local or national.

More about this survey in future posts. Note: Survey is from World Magazine, “What Ails Us” by Joel Belz, (July 28, 2012, Vol 27, No 15, page 3)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What’s Bothering You? (Part 3)

This post is a continuation of a discussion on an informal survey that was taken by a Christian magazine.

4. Next Generation

The fourth concern is, and I quote: “Loss of the tools to educate and shape the rising generation.” This may have to do with fewer kids attending church and Sunday school, lax discipline by parents, and fewer positive messages from the culture. The culture used to be rooted in biblical values, but that is fading away so there is little exposure to positive values in the general culture. From sitcoms on TV to movies to games, the culture celebrates negative values: violence, getting even, materialism, and casual sex.

Even if parents are trying to teach their kids good behavior, morals, and ethics, these aren’t being reinforced if the kids aren’t in Sunday school. In addition, it appears to me that more parents are failing to set boundaries and enforce them. As a result you have a younger generation growing up without knowledge of a transcendent code of morals and ethics. Moreover, they don’t know much, if anything, about God and the Bible, and are often lacking in discipline – we see the results in next area of concern.

5. Selfishness, Entitlement, and Complacency

The fifth concern is, and I quote: “Sense of entitlement, selfishness, and complacency.” I think that is a big one and encompasses a lot of territory.

a. Entitlement

A fair number of people think the world, the government, their employer, and just about everybody else owes them – they are entitled. I’ve seen young people enter the workforce with the attitude that: “You pay me, and I may or may not show up for work, depending on how I feel. But you owe me a living”

b. Selfishness

Selfishness and self-centeredness are nothing new, but we see them growing in our “me-first” society. You see self-centeredness and entitlement in advertising, such as:
-“You deserve a break today”: from that old McDonald’s ad.
-Have it your way at Burger King (another old ad)
-You deserve to drive that overpriced car: you’ve earned it (Lincoln).

c. Complacency

The third item in this category, after entitlement and selfishness, is “complacency.” The dictionary defines “complacency” as “uninformed self-satisfaction.” From the spiritual viewpoint, I think complacency means that you feel you don’t need God, that everything’s OK without God in your life. This can lead to a feeling of self-sufficiency and a false sense of security, but then guess Who they blame when things go wrong in their lives? They often blame God, wondering why God abandoned them when they are the ones who kept God out of their lives.

More about this survey in future posts. Note: Survey is from World Magazine, “What Ails Us” by Joel Belz, (July 28, 2012, Vol 27, No 15, page 3)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What’s Bothering You? (Part 2)

This post is a continuation of a discussion on an informal survey that was taken by a Christian magazine.

II. Survey Results

As I said, this was an unscientific survey of people’s opinions, and the responses were lumped into nine categories by the magazine. There was no explanation given as to why a particular a category was of concern, nor were there more detailed definitions of the categories. Therefore, I’m going to define each category as I understand it, explain why it is a concern, and then see what you and I can do about it.

1. Secularization of Our Society

The first concern is, and I quote: “The secularization of our society—led by the rejection of a Creator God and the dominance of evolutionary thinking.” It’s obvious that the country is moving away from the Judeo-Christian tradition, and the teaching of macro-evolution contributes to that shift. When you have a universe in which God doesn’t have any part (as we are told by authority figures), then God is marginalized and trivialized. Arrogant evolutionists claim to have the answers, which exclude God from the equation, but God will eventually ask them the same question he asked Job (38:4): “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”

We have to educate our children that God was behind any form of creation that took place, and God is active today. The rest of the areas of concern in this survey flow from this increased secularization of our society.

While there’s not a lot we can do to reverse this trend, we can do a few things within our own spheres of influence:
-We can bring up our children and grandchildren in the faith.
-We can educate our children and grandchildren, letting them know, for example, that God was behind the creation process.
-We can bring others to faith.
-We can build up our own faith thru practicing the spiritual disciplines and educating ourselves in the Bible.

I received a mailing recently for a seminar entitled: “Sober, Vigilant and Hopeful: Living in Apocalyptic Times” (put on by New England Conference of the United Methodist Church). The subject of that seminar has to do with this secularization issue, and the description says it all:

“How can we live awake, alert and compassionate in times that shake the foundations of the familiar? We cannot take for granted what the future brings. As society moves toward more secularization, the relationship of church and culture shift, and the very shape of the world order changes drastically. We very well might find ourselves once more in a situation similar to the first generations of Christians. We’ll consider how early Christianity as a movement, rooted in God’s passion for the world, can provide clues for ways to root ourselves in God, Gospel and spiritual community.”

2. Men and Women

The second category is, and I quote: “Loss of the distinctive identities of men and women, leading to a loss of understanding of marriage and family.” There are several possibilities as to what this could mean. I think the biggest problem when it comes to marriage and the family is a lack of commitment resulting in a high divorce rate. Divorce is incredibly painful for all concerned, it disrupts lives, and it often results in a lower standard of living for women and children.

Probably the concern about the: “Loss of the distinctive identities of men and women” may refer to certain aspects of women’s liberation. Some libbers have tried to blur the unique and God-given distinctions between men and women, and deny there’s any real difference. God made us different and we should celebrate it, not try to deny it. However, these differences should never be used to hold women back from equal pay and equal opportunities.

3. Abortion

The third concern is one word: “abortion.” I think we all know the arguments against abortion, but from a societal point of view, there is a good reason why its legalization is troublesome. That reason, so the theory goes, is that if you legalize abortion, you are going against our traditional respect for life. As a result, it could then become easier to legalize infanticide, euthanasia, and then who knows what? What distinguishes Western culture from the rest of the world is this respect for life – we can’t lose that. The good news is that he U.S. abortion rate has been declining.

More about this survey in future posts. Note: Survey is from World Magazine, “What Ails Us” by Joel Belz, (July 28, 2012, Vol 27, No 15, page 3)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What’s Bothering You? (Part 1)

I. Introduction

Christians believe we are of God’s kingdom and our real citizenship is in heaven. However, for the time being we are also citizens of a nation and reside in the world. As such, we have a duty to work for the good of our country and the world, in addition to building God’s Kingdom. I read something recently that ties in with this theme, and I thought it was worth sharing with you.

1. The Survey

A Christian magazine took an informal survey to ascertain the key concerns people of faith had about our culture. I want to explore these areas of concern to help Christians more effectively engage the culture, educate our children, and avoid falling into some traps. I think it is important for us to deal with these real-life issues in light of what the Bible tells us. For example, we are not to be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind. The Bible says that we do not belong to this world, and warned us that we won’t always be popular because of that.

2. Frog in Hot Water

At this point, you may be asking, “Why is he talking about this? What’s the big deal?” Changes in the culture come about very slowly, so we are like the proverbial frog that is put in lukewarm water. As the temperature of the water is slowly increased, the changes are imperceptible so the frog doesn’t jump out. Eventually you know what happens to the frog (as least so the story goes).

Like the frog in the water, we might not quite realize what is happening, so we wonder why people are bothered by current trends. If you are younger, this culture is all that you have known, so it might seem normal and reasonable. But when looked at in light of biblical principles and history, the direction our society is taking is cause for concern. While I can’t go into much detail with 9 items to cover, I want to at least alert you to these trends and their negative consequences.

More about this survey in future posts. Note: Survey is from World Magazine, “What Ails Us” by Joel Belz, (July 28, 2012, Vol 27, No 15, page 3)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Where’s the Economic Recovery?

As the presidential campaign continues, the candidates talk about economic recovery. Although I’ve discussed these before, I would like to make a few points that will help you put all the rhetoric into perspective.

I. Jobs

The key to economic recovery is jobs. But where have all the jobs gone? Overseas, probably never to return. Some new jobs may be created as a result of new technologies (alternative energy) and rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. However, many manufacturing, back office, and customer service jobs have left the U.S., so to the extent that consumer spending does increase, who benefits?
Korea and Japan, who have major consumer electronics companies (Samsung, Sony);
China, who manufactures most of these consumer goods (TVs, iPhones);
The U.S. (mainly stores, which are mostly low-paying jobs).

Of course how can consumer spending increase when so many people are unemployed or under-employed? So I think the recovery will be slow, and we will have quite a few years of a sluggish economy.

II. The Deficit

Typically the government and Federal Reserve use two tools to manipulate the economy, and those are fiscal and monetary policy. Fiscal policy means the government runs a deficit in bad times, and that button has already been pressed to the limit. Monetary policy means you lower interest rates in bad times, and that button has been pressed to the limit. So the President is very limited in what he can do to stimulate the economy in those areas.

As the war in Afghanistan winds down, perhaps the government and redeploy some of those saved funds to rebuilding infrastructure (including thee electric grid), investing in nuclear power plants, and perhaps establishing some programs similar to the WPA and CCC that we had in the 1930s.

In the recent presidential debate, Mitt Romney stated that he felt that having such a massive debt was “immoral.” I agree. We are leaving to future generations a terrible burden on top of student loans that some will have to pay. I’m glad I was born when I was, because I’d hate to think of inheriting the mess we’ve bequeathed to our kids and grandchildren.

III. Balance of Trade

Another aspect of the economy that is hurting us is that we buy more from overseas than we export to other countries. So we don’t go bankrupt, foreign countries buy our debt to prop us up. China holds a lot of that debt. Until we become self-sufficient in energy and start manufacturing more goods at home, this unfavorable balance of trade is going to grow.

In order to reduce our unfavorable balance of trade, we have to find a way to eliminating the benefits of moving jobs offshore. I don’t know how to do it, but until we can find a way, jobs will continue to leave the U.S. for greener pastures.

We also need to become energy-independent as soon as possible. We have to invest in new technologies, improve on existing technologies (nuclear, coal), and improve mpg on cars and trucks. I’d institute a hefty tax on gas guzzlers such as SUVs and pick-up trucks not required for employment.

IV. Banks and Financial Institutions

Lastly, we come to the financial institutions. They need to be regulated, but in an intelligent way, with clear guidelines. There has to be more oversight of their practices, and I’d even suggest that the SEC or some other agency monitors and controls executive bonuses. The flow of capital is critical for investments in new technologies and up-to-date equipment that will create jobs.

So when you listen to the debates, keep these facts in mind. Both candidates are quick with promises and fast and loose with the numbers. The question they must ultimately answer is, “Where are the jobs coming from?”

In the Great Depression of the 1930s, the jobs were there but were unfilled because of lack of demand. Only World War II brought us out of the Depression, filling those empty jobs because of the war needs. What will bring us out of this recession?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Where Is Common Sense?

Common sense is certainly lacking these days, especially with some public figures. Let me give three recent instances in which good judgment wasn’t used in the hope you and I will think before we speak or act.

In the first instance, Kate Middleton decided to sun herself while on holiday (as the Brits say) at a private estate in France. That’s fine, except she decided to go topless in what she thought was the privacy of this estate. As it turns out, a paparazzo with a powerful long distance lens got some fairly good shots of Kate’s exposed bosom. Common Sense Advice: never think you can’t be observed no matter where you are. Ordinary people are observed nearly everywhere by surveillance cameras. Think before you act.

The second instance also involved displaying royal private parts, this time it was Prince Harry. At some point during a party in the U.S., Harry dropped his drawers and somebody took a picture of the royal behind, much to his and the Queen’s embarrassment. Common Sense Advice: there’s always somebody around with a camera (including mobile devices) who is willing to use it to embarrass you no matter who you are. Another piece of advice: keep your clothes on. They don’t call them “private parts” for nothing.

In the third instance, presidential candidate Mitt Romney made some comments to what he thought was a private and exclusive group of supporters. Unfortunately for him, there was a “mole” implanted among these supporters who recorded Mitt’s unfortunate choice of comments. Common Sense Advice: never say (or do) something you don’t want the rest of the world to hear, see, or know about. Nothing can be kept secret for long, especially with social media and ubiquitous cameras. Another piece of advice: get your facts straight before opening your mouth, especially if you are in the public eye.