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Tuesday, July 09, 2013

God-Honoring Divorce?


I've made comments on my Facebook wall and in other places that give way to the fact that I believe we can honor God with things like sin.  Typically my Christian friends and acquaintances will grimace when I do that.  After all, the traditional Christian view is that divorce is unacceptable.  One will often hear born-again believers espousing the Biblical wisdom that "God hates divorce."  It's true, God does hate divorce.  But He allowed Moses to implement provisions for the Israelites to practice it because God knew that sometimes hardened hearts make marriage rather ungodly.

Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1-2 allowed a man to divorce his wife and for her to be married to another. When Jesus was questioned about this in Mark 10:1-9, He made it clear that divorce was not in God’s order in the beginning, but was allowed because of the hardness of the people’s hearts.  Knowing the nature and character of God, it isn't a stretch to conclude that divorce isn't God's plan for His children.  One can readily imagine that divorce saddens our Lord.  Nevertheless, our human experience ... applied against Scripture and prayer ... sometimes reveals that divorce is inevitable.

Let's face it, some of the marriages that Christians find themselves in are just plain ungodly.  The respective spouses loathe each other.  They don't like each other.  They don't respect each other.  They don't enjoy spending time with each other.  Even being civil to each other can be quite stressful. 

I've counseled couples where the wife would sheepishly admit that she'd told her daughters things like, "I hope you don't grow up and marry someone like your father."  Or the husband would admit that he felt guilty for sometimes wishing his wife would just disappear --- so his life wouldn't have to be so complicated. 

Mind you, I don't advocate divorce.  But if the two have made every possible effort to salvage the relationship ... it may be time to face the inevitable.  Instead of staying together "for the sake of the children," might it be time to divorce for the sake of everyone involved.  If you can't give your kids two healthy parents, can you give them one?  There may come a time when you must submit yourself and your marriage to the Lord, and seek His counsel.  And when you do, you might not be the first person I've ever heard say that the Lord released you from this marriage.  (I think He actually can do that!)

So what happens when you come to the conclusion that the marriage is without a future.  You've prayed and waited on the Lord's leading.  You're now confident that the Lord is giving you permission to exit this marriage.  What then?  Enter my concept of a "God-honoring divorce."  To be clear, I still think divorce is the very last resort.  One should never take it lightly.  It breaks God's hear to see two people get to this regrettable place in their relationship.  But when one or more hearts is so hardened, it's time to talk about how we might go about honoring God with our divorce.

An acquaintance of mine recently sought my counsel on his own divorce.  Experiencing much pain, he asked for my opinion about how he should respond to the hurtful things he was experiencing.  It seemed from the circumstances that his wife wasn't pursuing a very Christ-like response to the situation (despite the fact that she agreed the divorce was the appropriate course of action).  What should he do?  How should he respond to his divorce and his wife's unfair attacks?  Let me share what I told him:
  1. Examine your ways and test them (Lamentations 3:40).  Make sure that you've owned your part in the conflict.  Be sure that you've taken responsibility for what is your responsibility.
  2. Your pain can speak louder than your true beliefs.  Take every thought and word captive to God's truth (Proverbs 4:23 & Proverbs 13:3).
  3. If you think your spouse isn't being fair with you, look no further than Jesus' own example.  He was accused unfairly: 
           - He made no statements on His own behalf.
           - He made no accusations against His accusers.
           - He kept no account of the wrongs of His accusers.
           - He answered questions with as few words as possible.
           - He went into the conflict trusting in the Lord.
           - He went into the conflict planning to forgive His accusers.
 
While Jesus clearly had no sin, had done no wrong, and knew how right He really was, it's clear from His example and His teaching that if He had done any wrong, He would have readily owned up to it, made whatever amends for it He could possibly make, and accepted the consequences of His own poor choices with humility and graciousness ... and not anger, frustration, fear, or retaliation.
 
If you are going to walk through your divorce in any way that honors God, you must start now to forgive your spouse for everything that he did and didn't do.  You must expect and plan to forgive or for everything that he will and won't do. 
 
For men, you committed to love her as Christ loved the church.  That would be the church that accused Him unfairly, spit on Him, beat Him, tortured Him, mocked Him, lied about Him, unfairly and wrongly accused Him, cheated Him, crucified Him, and continued to reject Him even after His human life ended.  Yes, that would be the church that He died for.  And that's the same commitment you've made to your ex-wife or soon-to-be ex-wife.  Now that the marriage is ending, your commitment to God continues.  You will still have to love her like Christ loved His church --- even after your marriage ends.
 
You will never be allowed to list for anyone, even for yourself, all the things she's done wrong.  You will never be allowed to explain to anyone, or even think to yourself, how right you are or how unjust the situation has been to you.  You will have to hang on the proverbial cross, forgiving her and asking God to forgive her --- even as she drives away with your kids, your money, your reputation, your heart, your sacrifice, your antiques, your family keepsakes, and maybe even your lawnmower.  (I know the lawnmower is a stretch ... but I'm trying to make a point here.)
 
For women, it's the same.  You love your husband as you love Christ.  You made that same commitment before God.  And divorce doesn't let you off the hook.  You promised to love and honor him - sacrificially.  If you have to sue him to get him to pay his child support, you do so without bad-mouthing him.  If he remarries a 25 year old blond, you sit with them at your daughter's graduation with love and forgiveness in your heart and eyes.  You have anything bad to say about him, you say it to the Lord in prayer.
 
It's a tall order.  If you're about to divorce, examine your heart and make sure you're up for this.  If the Lord gave you permission to exit this marriage, He gave it with these conditions.  Make sure that you're ready and willing to call on Jesus to help you pull this off.  My guess is you're going to need His supernatural power to do this.
 
If you're already divorced, even if it's ugly, it's not too late.  Get on your knees and commit your divorce to the Lord.  Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you in your responses to your ex-spouse.  Plan to forgive.  Plan to obey.  And plan to walk in the confidence that the Lord has given you everything you need to honor Him with your divorce, the pain of your divorce, the losses of your divorce, and even the scars of your divorce. 
 
I can't say it too much, divorce is NOT the Lord's plan for His people.  But when it is inevitable, His people can still walk through it in ways that give honor and glory to their Lord and Savior.  The only question is whether you really want to.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hypocrisy on Facebook

It never occurred to me that I might one day find myself praying to God about Facebook.  But that day has come.  Actually it arrived last year some time, in the midst of the political campaigns for the presidency of the U.S.A.  I’ve long been a registered Republican, and had strongly disapproved of Barack Obama when he was elected the first time.  (In fact, I wrote several blogs here about him back then.)  As he was running for re-election, I didn’t see a suitable opponent.  I had initially thought Hillary Clinton would take his place, but then it became clear that the only real choice would be between Obama and Mitt Romney.
 
Of course there was no shortage of positive or negative rhetoric about either of the candidates running for President.  But I found myself with reservations about Mitt Romney.  No, it wasn’t his Mormon faith.  I actually have a lot of respect for many of the ideals and values espoused (and held to) by the Mormons.  Rather it was a sense that Mitt Romney might not be as sincere in his caring for all of the people.  Much as I hate to admit it, some of his remarks about people who are poor, handicapped, or even unemployed seemed strangely reminiscent of now-deceased billionaire Leona Helmsley who was quoted as having once said that, “Only the little people pay taxes.”
 
So I turned to Facebook to try and find worthwhile understanding other than my own.  From time to time, I would pose a question, usually about Mitt Romney.  Several times I tried to start a dialogue about the issues.  Does Mitt Romney really have a plan to bring our country’s deficit spending under control?  Do we really believe that reducing tax rates will result in increased tax revenue with which to pay for our government’s spending?  But time and time again, questions like this on Facebook would result in the exact same outcome.  The Obama-bashers would in outrage ask some stupid question like, “Would you like four more years of Obama destroying our country?”  Never once did they answer my question, mind you.  They would just try to “disarm” me with a condemning question --- resting on the assumption that I was an Obama supporter (which I am not).
 
It’s of course no secret that I’m a born-again Christian.  I spend my life with great concentration on the teachings of Jesus Christ.  I work hard to reconcile my sinful nature and selfish desires to the godly standards of the Old and New Testament.  And as you might imagine, a great percentage of my friends and even my acquaintances are also Christians.  At least that’s what they would have you believe.  Frankly, the bullying and hateful disrespect that some of them displayed (on Facebook) had me wondering if they could really be following the same Christ that I do. 
 
At times I would try to point out the hypocrisy that seemed apparent to me.  I would try to re-engage them back on the original topic at hand.  After all, I really did want to discuss the issues.  But I had no interest in demonizing either candidate.  Ultimately, I failed in those endeavors.  My so-called Christian “friends” prevailed in their desire to hold on to their hatred and disrespect, demonizing Obama and trying to bully me for not joining them.  Eventually, I began to “unfriend” them on Facebook.  That didn’t stop some of them, so I had to go back and actually block them from even seeing my wall or communicating with me.  This was quite sad for me.  I’ve known some of them for nearly 20 years.  I also had thought of them as godly men.  (I don’t any more.)
 
There is plenty of Scripture in the Bible that tells Christians how we are to regard our government and its leaders.  Romans 13:1-7 says that, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. …. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the (governmental) authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
 
Did you catch that last part?  If you owe respect … then give respect.  If you owe honor … then give honor.  They are no less important than paying the taxes that you owe.  This passage makes it abundantly clear that we are to obey the government God places over us. We are to obey the government in everything—paying taxes, obeying rules and laws, and showing respect. If we do not, we are ultimately showing disrespect towards God, for He is the One who placed that government over us.
 
When the apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Romans, he was under the authority of the Roman government during the reign of Nero, who is notorious for – among other things – being quite possibly the most evil of all the Roman emperors. Nevertheless Paul still recognized the Roman government’s rule over him. Do we dare do any less today? 
 
Recently I had to “unfriend” an old classmate from high school.  I had reconnected with her not long ago, and thought it would be fun to catch up.  That didn’t turn out to be the case.  While professing to be a Christ follower, and quoting Scripture regularly, she also refers to our (now re-elected) President Obama as “the antichrist” (sic).  When I tried to point out the error of her thinking, she reacted the same way those other Facebook friends had reacted last fall.  I got a severe tongue lashing for refusing to join or support her demonizing of Obama.  I cautiously tried to discuss the issue with her, but was quickly attacked by her adult children as well.  Finally I retreated, apologized for offending her, encouraged her to review her position with her pastor, and, of course, “unfriended” and blocked her. 
 
Sadly, my self-proclaimed Christian Facebook friends don’t appear to be familiar with the context of what Paul said to the Romans.  Even if Obama were the “antichrist,” the command for Christians would not change.  Obama may have been elected by the American people, but he got his position and his authority from God.  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to him not only because of the law, but also, as Romans 13 tells us, because of conscience.  You see, we honor God when we give respect to those in authority over us – whether that is at work, at church, in government or anywhere else. 
 
One of the things we mistakenly conclude is that if we don’t agree with someone then we don’t have to submit to them.  We may think that they “don’t deserve” our respect (as if anyone could).  I’ve heard people say that the politician whom they think is vile “hasn’t earned” our respect.  But who has earned our respect?  After all, each of us is so terribly flawed and bent toward sin and evil that we required the salvation of a Messiah.  It’s good to remember that when looking at those in authority over us (and others) whom we don’t agree with. 

You see, I don’t have to agree with you, support your policies, or even like you in order to submit to you, show respect for you, obey you, and even love you.  Love is patient and kind, it always forgives, it never gives up, it is never harsh, and all those other things that 1 Corinthians 13 teaches us. 

So, here’s the question:  Have you loved your politician (insert name here) today?  I started out saying that I never imagined I'd be praying to God about Facebook.  But as I've encountered this conflict and nasty business on Facebook, I've found myself bewildered by so-called Christians who were behaving so heinously that I didn't know how to react.  So I've found myself praying, asking God to show me how to respond to someone.  Fortunately, He's been willing to guide me.  In some cases, I've been able to re-focus the conversation in a more righteous direction.  In other cases, I've been led to "shake the dust off my feet" and move on. 

I have to say that in those cases, it gives me no pleasure to "unfriend" someone on Facebook.  For I realize that they are lost in their hypocrisy and have a reckoning day coming that will surely be ugly.  Because I love them, I don't want to see that in their future.  I wonder if anyone ever sees my hypocrisy so clearly.  And I wonder if they do, would they love me enough to try to call me out on it.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Should I say something?

It’s one of my favorite shows, although I’ll be the first to admit that it has a certain air of offensiveness to it.  The TV show sets up scenarios where people are presented with typically ethical dilemmas.  Perhaps someone is misbehaving in public.  Maybe a parent is badgering a teen-age daughter to get Botox.  Perhaps restaurant diners are harassing someone who’s brought in a service dog.  The guy in the gift shop broke something when the manager was in the back room and is trying to lie about it so he won’t have to pay for it.  And then the TV cameras watch to see what the unsuspecting public will do.  Will they speak up for what’s good and right?  Will they take a stand for the oppressed?
 
I’m not sure why I like this TV show that’s titled What Would You Do?  It’s really not much different than that 60’s & 70’s era show called Candid Camera.  It has some similarities to the laggard of comedienne Betty White’s Off Their Rockers.  Maybe the attraction for me is the fact that I personally tend to think that there is a right and wrong way about everything.  I don’t typically accept that truth is relative or that it can be left to each of our personal perceptions or interpretations.  You see, I tend to take truth as being something that’s absolute – meaning it’s black-and-white-and-never-gray.
 
But I have to confess that often I find myself in life’s situations where it seems there’s a dilemma.  I’d like to say that I’m smart enough and coy enough to always know what the right thing is in those dilemmas.  I’d like to say that.  I just can’t. 
 
Recently I was seated in a window seat in the first class section of an American Airlines flight from Detroit to Dallas.  The gentleman in the aisle seat next to me quickly established himself in my mind as a rebel.  And that’s putting it kindly.  For you see, my thoughts of him weren’t so kind.  The flight attendants made the announcements that all electronic devices were to be firmly switched into the OFF position until after take-off.  They walked through the aisle exhorting lax passengers to switch of their electronic devices and put them away. 
 
My fellow passenger in the neighboring seat perhaps didn’t think those rules were important enough to follow.  Or perhaps he thought of himself as the one grand exception amongst the couple hundred of us seated on the plane.  Whatever his motives, he did NOT switch of his electronic devices.  He flipped his notebook shut when the flight attendant walked by, stuffing it into the seat pocket in front of him without turning if off.  After she was seated, he proceeded to put on his head phones and power up the music on his iPhone.  When she walked by again for something, he flipped it over and pretended to be asleep with the headphones on.  Needless to say, the flight took off with my neighbor’s electronic devices fully powered – and at least one of them operating for his personal entertainment. 
 
I’d like to say that this is the first time I’ve ever witnessed such a thing.  Sadly, I travel a lot.  And I’ve seen it a lot.  The truth is that I myself don’t know how important a rule it is that all electronic devices be powered down and properly stowed before a plane takes-off.  I mean, is it a safety issue?  Could the plane crash because of it?  Or is it just annoying interference with the pilots’ radio communications with the tower?  I wanted to find a serious flight attendant during the flight and discreetly ask her what a passenger should do when we observe such a rebel endangering the lives of everyone on board.  But I couldn’t get out of my seat without asking for his cooperation!
 
About midway through this same flight, the lady in front of me violently reclined her seat in a split second.  The collision with my tray table caused my drink to spill, me to drop my magazine, and the knee of my crossed leg to be crushed in the vice-like grip of her seat pressing against my body!

So you might get the impression that I fly a lot and that I find a lot of things that offend me when I travel.  That would be true, but it’s really not the point of today’s blog.  The point is that everywhere we go, we find people doing things that are at the least – inappropriate.  They can be offensive.  And in the worst of cases, they can be harmful.  And it puts us in a dilemma.  Always.
 
It might be the guy who cuts into the line at the movies or amusement park.  Or maybe it’s the person with 37 items in the express lane at the grocery store (that only allows 20 items).  Perhaps it’s the neighbor who doesn’t take care of their lawn.  Or the teen-agers who cut through your lawn.  Possibly it’s the people who leave shopping carts strewn all over the parking lot.  Maybe the telemarketers who call during dinner time, or the solicitors who come to the door at our homes.  The point is that everywhere we go, we find people doing things that are at the least – awkward. 
 
We don’t approve.  But we aren’t sure what to say … or when to say it.  Is it our place?  What about that “judge not” business?  Is it sticking our noses into other people’s business?  Or is it sticking up for ourselves?  Or … just maybe … is it taking a stand for someone else, who might not be in a position to take a stand for ourselves?
 
As we go into this New Year, I think it’s a really good time to get serious about asking that age-old question, “What would Jesus do?”  Let’s look at the dilemmas that we find ourselves in, and let’s resolve to overcome them.  Said differently, let’s resolve to conquer our dilemmas.  Let’s step out of our comfort zones, and walk boldly into the cause for what’s good and right.  Let’s resolve to stand against whatever is wrong and offensive.
 
In short, let’s resolve be the change that we’d all like to see in this world.  And let us have the wisdom to see the opportunities to do so whenever – and wherever they happen to present themselves.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tame the Internet (and Cage It)?

I sometimes have this sense that the world is changing much faster than we may realize.  At times I will consider the world my parents lived in, for example.  It looked quite different than the world I lived in.  My mother died in 2002, and I've often envisioned myself writing her a letter to tell her about all the things that have happened just since she's been gone.  It's a long letter!

Of course the Internet has had an enormous role in changing our world.  It's impact is so far reaching it would be hard to imagine much of anything in life that hasn't been touched by it in one way or another.  From publishing to food to medicine and education, the Internet has played a role.  Even history itself has been impacted by the Internet.  We have web sites like Ancestry.com, that put together the whole of a genealogy in minutes.

Even information itself has been changed by the Internet.  Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, recently said that we now create as much information in just two days as was created in the entire history of mankind up to 2003.  That's something like five exabytes of data that we create in just two days. (http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/04/schmidt-data/)  He went on to say that he assumes that "the world is not ready for the technology revolution that is happening to them ..."  I think he's probably right about that.  I'm not sure the world could be ready.  And I'm certain that the world is largely unaware of this technology revolution.

Most of us are unaware of how large the Internet is or how far-reaching it is.  We see some of it's impact on our own personal lives ... how we shop, interact with our friends, save pictures, etc.  But the fact is that our perception of the Internet is, for the most part, limited to what we can acquire from own personal interface with it.  But it's safe to say that it's much bigger than that.  In fact, today the Internet reaches around the globe. 

There is no country on earth that doesn't have the Internet.  And most of what's on the Internet is available to everyone, everywhere.  Most of the time, we assume that's a welcome thing.  After all, who would oppose the Internet?  But indeed countries like China have been fighting with companies like Google for years.  They're fighting about content and access.  And those fights are beginning to occur elsewhere as well.

In the U.S., we take up fights about Internet content and access.  I'm doing work for a major bank right now, and am required to use the bank's computer network all day long.  Hardly a day goes by that I don't try to go to a site which the bank has blocked.  It's not just blocking pornography you see.  It's also blocking any site that the bank thinks might tempt me to waste my time.  It's blocking sites like Gmail.com or Yahoo! mail.  It blocks the messages center on LinkedIn, and all of Facebook.

I suppose that most of us don't think too much about these forms of censorship.  We assume that what China's doing to it's people - like blocking Facebook - doesn't impact us.  And of course we have ways to get around censorship at our places of employment.  We can simply go home and use our personal computer to access what we want.  But something happened recently that I suspect could eventually change all that.

There is something called the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).  It's a group of the world's leading countries that operates under the realm of the United Nations (U.N.).  It's members are the same 193 countries that comprise the U.N.  Anyway, the ITU's purpose is to manage the world's telecommunications network.  Most of this is done through an annual conference, which happened to be in Dubai this year.

The head of the ITU is a man named Hamadoun Toure'.  He is a Mali native trained in the Soviet Union.  And he deceptively led the ITU to establish a significant beachhead in censoring the Internet.  In fact, so great was his deception that the United States and it's allies were completely outmaneuvered.  Under his leadership, authoritarian regimes, led by China and Russia, schemed to use the U.N. to claim control over today's borderless Internet.  In the run-up to the Dubai conference, dozens of secret proposals by these authoritarian governments were leaked online.

 
These proposals were controversial and alarming.  When asked, Mr. Toure' assured everyone that his agency operates by consensus - and not by majority vote.  He also pledged that the ITU had no interest beyond telecommunications to include the Internet.  But he kept neither promise.  A majority of the 193 U.N. member countries approved a treaty giving governments new powers to close off access to the Internet in their countries.


The vote was called late one night at the conference in Dubai.  It was first described as a non-binding "feel of the room on who will accept" - on a draft giving countries new power over the Internet.  But the result was that 89 countries voted in favor of the draft, and just 55 (including the U.S. and it's allies) were against it.  The authoritarian majority of Arab countries, China, Iran, Russia, and much of Africa all voted for it.  This so-called "draft" suddenly became a legitimate final treaty.  It takes effect in 2015 for these countries.

The treaty document extends control over Internet companies, not just the telecoms.  It declares: "All governments should have an equal role and responsibility for international Internet governance."  This is a complete reversal of a privately (non-government) managed Internet.  Authoritarian governments will invoke this new U.N. authority to take control over access to the Internet.  They now have the U.N.'s blessing to censor, monitor traffic and even prosecute those they deem to be "troublemakers."

And lest we think this doesn't impact us because we live in the U.S. --- consider how the Internet operates.  Today's smoothly functioning Internet is actually a system that includes 40,000 private managed networks among 425,000 global routes that ignore national boundaries.  We can expect this new treaty to split those networks by a digital "iron curtain."  One result is most likely to be that the Internet will become less resilient.  And of course, web sites will no longer be global in nature. 

Make no mistake about it; the world is changing.  And it's changing faster than we think.  It might be good to think about how it's changing.  It might be good to consider whether or not we're ready for these changes.  But I seriously wonder if any of us can really begin to comprehend how the world is changing ... much less actually be ready for such change.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Honor God With Your Shopping!

Many times in the Old Testament the Israelites were taken to task for their worship of false gods.  Sometimes they were called idols.  And they were worshipped ... given roles of prominence in society and in the lives of the people.  Each and every time this happened, God was angry.  It was identified as sin.  And always it had dire consequences. 

Americans have had false gods for some time.  I'm not sure what they all are, but it's easy to identify some of them.  The first one that I noticed (or that God pointed out to me) was the god of sexuality.  Elements of our society worship sex.  They say that "sex sells," and so we seem to accept that it's okay.  It seems to have some purpose, so we seem to think it isn't that bad then.  But it leads to all kinds of sexual dysfunction.  (Don't worry, I won't discuss those kinds here.  That's another blog on its own!)

I personally think this god of sexuality is losing some of its grip on our society.  Oh sure, there are elements of our society that are deeply mired in pornography, swinging, prostitution, and other elements of sexual perversion.  But I notice that today's young people aren't nearly as impressed by it as they were even in my day.  I see TV shows and even advertisements that are using other things to sell besides sex.  At least it's fair to say that the god of sex has found some serious competition.

Another false god that I've recognized in America is the god of entertainment.  Seriously.  Americans like to be entertained.  And we justify it.  It seems to serve a purpose.  Back in the days of the Great Depression and the two major World Wars, Americans described going to the movies as an escape.  People thought that was okay, because heck, Americans needed and deserved an escape.  Right?

In more modern times, we seem to be using entertainment for everything.  I mean there doesn't seem to be a part of our lives where we escape to entertainment.  Instead, we live there!  We walk around with ear buds in our ears, listening to music.  We never turn off the radio, never turn off the cell phone.  In some homes people have several televisions - which never get turned off.  And even in a bad economy, we spend a ton of money going to the movies, attending concerts, buying songs, etc. 

But lately, I'm seeing another false god emerge in our society.  This one is equally as troubling as the others.  I call it the god of the lowest price.  I'm watching TV advertisements talking about getting "the best price."  We see people setting up tents outside of electronics retailers several days before the start of a big sale --- just so they can be sure they'll be the first in line to get "the best price."  They do this, of course, at the expense of their families.

Perhaps the most shameful worship of this god of the lowest price happened on Thanksgiving this year.  Our government has set aside a national holiday for all Americans to take time out to consider how incredibly blessed we are.  We're to turn to our one true God (however we happen to see Him), and thank Him for blessing us so.  But people are happy to set that aside, sacrificing that solemn occasion so they can chase the lowest price on more crap that they don't need.

Recently someone I know posted that he found the prices on-line to be lower than the prices at local retailers, so he was swearing off retail shopping because he must have the lowest price on everything he buys.  I was saddened to see several people who I know to be Christians weigh in, declaring their own allegiance to the god of the lowest price.  Why did this sadden me?  Because it's ungodly.  Put another way, Jesus would never go out of His way to insist on the lowest price all the time on everything.

In the Bible, 1 Timothy 5:18 says, "... The worker deserves his wages."  How should we understand this?  The worker deserves to be paid for his work.  This is true even if it's expensive to pay him.  Now before you decide to rise up against me, let me say that price gauging would be equally ungodly.  I'm not talking about letting someone take advantage of you.  But let's say that there is quite a margin between the lowest price and a fair price

What's godly is good stewardship of the financial resources that God gives us, minus the greed and selfishness, plus a fair price.  This allows us to meet our needs, and the other guy to make an honest living.  All in all, not a bad way to do business really.  I remember when I was in college and sold new cars.  People would walk into the dealership and brutally bludgeon us on price.  I even sold some cars by giving up some of my own commission.  Let me tell you, I didn't feel very good about those sales.  Instead I felt resentment and bitterness that the customer was so focused on the lowest price that they would obtain at my own personal expense. 

In Matthew 22:39 and Mark 12:31 Jesus told us to, "Love your neighbor as yourself."  What does this mean?  It means to love your neighbor as you would yourself like to be loved.  We've culturally taken those verses to write the oft quoted Golden Rule, which says simply that we should treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated.  So here's the question, how would you like to be abused, mistreated and discarded like some piece of trash for your hard work?  Just so someone could get the lowest price?

If you're a Christ-follower, and you're ready to get serious about walking the talk, then maybe you could start by tossing that god of the lowest price out to the curb this holiday season.  Keep being a good steward of the money that God gives you.  But I promise you, the Lord will be pleased when you start paying fair prices for goods and services that you buy.  He will be well pleased when your commerce empowers and provides for other people. 

You may never have considered this before, but when we set that false god aside, we can actually honor the one true God with our shopping!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Angry God?

It happens almost every time there's some sort of natural disaster.  Some loud-mouthed evangelist will declare that the tsunami struck Japan, for example, because God is angry.  Or they'll say that soldiers were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan because God is mad at Americans for our posture toward homosexuals.  Maybe the recent recession was caused by God's anger over American greed.  I could go on listing examples, but you probably get the picture. 

There seems to be a temptation on the part of the few to try and link the most recent calamity of the day to an angry God.  There's an even greater temptation on the part of the masses to completely dismiss such claims.  We write them off as "loud-mouthed evangelists."  Or we just say that they're crazy.  Some of us just roll our eyes and look away in disgust.  Perhaps just a few of us wonder for a brief moment about whether or not it could be true.

I'm not going to take any specific event in human history and try to explain how God has reacted to it.  The truth is I just don't know.  But I find it useful to look at the character and nature of God, and the history of how He has related to mankind throughout the centuries.  Such a look reveals much to me about the range of possibilities.

Throughout the Old Testament, we have example after example of people (usually the Israelites) sinning against God.  More often than not, God would display unfathomable patience.  But eventually God would respond with some sort of unbelievable wrath.  When Egypt refused to release the Jews (at Moses' request), for example, God unleashed a series of calamities designed to not only punish the Egyptians for their sin, but to cause them to lose their will to hold the Jews as slaves.  One of His final acts against Egypt was to part the Red Sea so the Jews could cross, but then "unpart" it as the Egyptian army chased after them --- drowning all who were (sinfully) in pursuit of the Jews.

There are also many occasions where the Jews themselves sinned against God and He responded with all sorts of calamities.  I don't know if they used the term "natural disasters" back then, but much of what we read about in the Old Testament would certainly fit that modern day definition --- even though God's wrath is specifically attached to it.  When I read of these incidents and consider that fact, I wonder if I'm the only one who notices.

Perhaps one of the most salient aspects of the stories of sin met by God's wrath in the Old Testament are the places where God speaks in first person.  Many, many times, God goes on rather lengthy tirades, ranting and raving at the Israelites for their sinful ways.  He threatens severe punishment if they don't repent --- and then He often delivers on that promise when they don't (repent).  For example, "The people of Israel and Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight ... nothing but provoke me with what their hands have made ... this city has so aroused my anger and wrath that I must remove it from my sight."  (Jeremiah 32:30-31)

Can you just imagine if it was God speaking, and you knew it was God speaking.  Maybe He might say something similar about us.  "The people of New York and Washington have done nothing but evil in my sight ... nothing but provoke me with what their hands have made ... these cities have so aroused my anger and wrath that I must remove them from my sight!"  It's hard to imagine that God would ever even feel that way, much less say something like that.  But folks, that IS the character and nature of God.  It IS who God is.

One of the stories that impresses me most is the story of Lot's wife being turned into a pillar of salt.  God told them not to look back as she and her family fled the city that He was destroying for its sin.  But she couldn't resist, and looked out the back window of the mini van as her husband drove away.  It seemed like such an innocent act.  I mean, what could be wrong with looking back?  Nevertheless, it was disobedience.  And God moved swiftly to punish it.  She was instantly transformed into a pillar of salt!

Folks, I'm as embarrassed as anyone by the loud-mouthed religious fanatics who don't look at all like Jesus when they're spewing their hatred and judgment instead of offering a loving response to those who are suffering from a tragedy of any sort.  But there is that matter of the character and nature of God.  He simply cannot tolerate sin.  Oh sure, He may display patience for a season.  But ultimately God must respond to sin.  And it can never be pretty when He does.

The book of Joshua gives us another illustration of God's nature and character.  "For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might destroy them utterly, and that He might destroy them, as the Lord commanded Moses."  (Joshua 11:20)  God had commanded Moses to destroy all of the Canaanites.  He even said when to do it, "When the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them."  (Deuteronomy 7:2)  This seems more harsh than ever when we consider the fact that God Himself hardened the hearts of the Canaanites so that they would engage in a battle where they were pre-destined to be destroyed!

But let's look at the facts.  God had given those Canaanites about 400 years to repent and turn from their sinful ways. (Genesis 15:13-16)  And each new generation of them had sinned even more than the previous ones.  They were practicing every form of sin known to mankind thus far.  They had already irrevocably hardened their hearts toward God.  So now God just hardened their hearts against Israel - whom He would use to put them out of their misery.  Moreover, some would consider it an act of mercy that God would destroy these evil people before they had a chance to defile or offend anyone else. 

Somehow we have this notion that God is merely a kind old grandfatherly type of figure.  But honestly, that kind of thinking is self serving and sinful in itself.  Most of us would much rather submit ourselves to, serve, and worship the God that we want instead of the God who actually is.  But to do so would be sin.  He's loving and merciful.  But He's just as much mighty and powerful.  And we can see clearly from this example, that He can use even our own sinfulness to serve His purposes.

The New Testament tells us that God "our God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:29)  Have you ever seen a raging fire consume the fuel?  Next time you're huddled around the camp fire or the fireplace, notice how intentional and unrelenting the flames are.  And relate that to God's nature.

The Bible is also clear about the fact that God has already decided what sin's repercussions must be.  The "wages of sin are death."  (Romans 6:23)  That's pretty deliberate, don't you think?  So this anger issue of God's when it comes to sin?  He can't help it.  His character and nature are so perfectly holy and righteous that He cannot tolerate the presence of sin.  The price (wages) simply must be paid.  There is no alternative.

Some people would say that that's just the God of the Old Testament, and that "God isn't like that anymore."  But those people would be wrong.  For God doesn't change.  Ever.  (Deuteronomy 33:27, Psalm 102:24-27, Malachi 3:6, James 1:17)  It has been said that God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.  And that is exactly how the Bible wants us to understand it.

If you needed any more proof that this so-called 'angry God' never changes, consider the future.  The book of Revelation has much to tell us about the 'wrath of God.'  It lists a whole series of events that make contemporary notions of 'natural distasters' and 'acts of God' pale in comparison.  If you've never read it, they are more than sobering.  But even before we get to the end of the Bible, consider that, "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels.  In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ."  (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8)

So I started this piece by bad-mouthing the loud-mouthed religious zealots who are so quick to proclaim God's judgment in the midst of a crisis.  For sure, I condemn them.  Why?  Because when God spoke, when God threatened ... He also promised.  God promised forgiveness.  He promised restoration.  A bout of God's wrath would end with God restoring His people and proclaiming that "they will be my people and I will be their God."  This too is who God is.  This too is God's character and nature.  I'm confident that if God were going to appoint a modern day prophet to pronounce His judgment for our sin, He would include the promise of restoration in the face of repentance.

The thing is that I don't know if the latest natural disaster or other calamity is a case of God's wrath being poured out for our sin.  But I do know two things.  First, we are sinful.  The sinfulness of our modern society alarms me.  My own sinfulness alarms me.  Second, sin is always met with God's judgment and wrath.  There is no alternative. 

So perhaps we would all do well to ask ourselves if God might have any reason to judge us and pour out His wrath on us.  And if He does, then repentance is the only appropriate response.  There is no alternative.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

A Surprising Cause of Poverty

Why are there so many more poor people in America?  And why are the rich making so much more money?  It seems, as some say, to be a classic case (whatever that means) of “the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer.”  Certainly looking around in my own community it appears that there are some very rich people.  Just today I heard that a man in my old church made a net profit of about $3 million in just three years … doing something part-time. 

I actually know quite a few people who work part time (most of them not by choice).  But I don’t know any that even make a decent living wage, let along six figures or more.  Of course, this man was already wealthy, living in a gated community on a golf course.  So the adage seems true enough.  I mean there is always plenty of circumstantial evidence to support this claim that the rich are getting richer.  America’s wealth is getting more and more concentrated at the top of the economic food chain.  And poverty in our country is expanding like some kind of a mushroom cloud.

To be honest, I haven’t questioned the claims.  I just accepted them.  My own family is definitely worse off financially.  And I can see that my money went into someone else’s pocket.  But why?  What are the reasons for this?  What keeps Americans – who live in the richest country on earth - trapped in poverty?  What facilitates the transfers of wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich?  For many years now, I’ve observed the world around me and drawn my own conclusions about why this might be.  

·        Executives in major corporations outsource jobs to third world countries like India & China.  This puts the people who used to do those jobs in the unemployment line or in the ranks of the underemployed.

·        Retailers, such as Wal Mart or Albertson’s, and restaurant chains, among others, refuse to give their employees more than 32 hours a week --- so that they can avoid paying for benefits for those employees.  They hire more people than they would typically need … but don’t give any of them enough hours to make a living wage.  So they are the working poor.  (It’s been widely reported that many Wal Mart employees qualify for food stamps!)

·        Automation has made process lines, among other things, more efficient.  Everyone from auto workers to bakers, even when their jobs aren’t sent offshore, still experiences reduced employment because technology eliminates many of their jobs. 

·        The Internet is changing everything.  E-mail is wiping out the postal service (and its workers).  On-line shopping is wiping out sales clerks, inventory clerks, and other retail support jobs.  On-line delivery of movies has decimated Blockbuster video rental stores across the country. 

I’ve quietly seethed about the injustice of it all, but smugly considered myself so clever to at least have all of this insight and understanding of the problem.  At times, I’ve day-dreamed about how I might fix it.  For example, I considered running for mayor and passing municipal laws that would require retailers and restaurants in my city to give every employee at least 40 hours per week (and have clean bathrooms).  I’ve also considered applying to be the CEO of a major corporation and moving jobs back to the U.S. from India.  But as it turns out, I really haven’t had time to do either of those things.  So I just smugly seethed.

The Presidential election campaigns may have finally “moved the needle for me.”  You see, I’ve been listening to people (other than me) rant and rave about the injustice of the plight of the poor and rich in our country.  Of course, most of them blame Obama.  (They seem to blame him for everything.)  There’s a verse in the Bible that admonishes God’s people to examine and test our ways.  The point is to examine our thoughts and test them against what’s really true and right.  So was my motive to examine my thinking on this subject and test it to see if I’m as wise as I thought. 

I’ve been doing some digging see if my thinking about that is correct.  And I’ve been surprised to learn that it wasn’t.  I’ve been wrong.  Very wrong, it seems.  You see, one of the leading causes of the exponential growth of poverty in America has not been what most of us have been making so much noise about (i.e., shipping jobs overseas, tax policy favoring the rich).  Instead, perhaps the single biggest factor has been the huge surge of low-wage immigration.

Now in my part of the country, we’re all used to seeing skilled Asians in top technology and financial services jobs, engineering, and even medicine.  I was in a meeting just last week and observed the number Asians in charge of the Americans even.  But it turns out that they don’t actually represent the majority of immigrants to the U.S.  Most don’t arrive on our shores with the engineering MBA in hand.  Most don’t graduate from our medical schools and decide to stay.

Since 1970, there’ve been almost 30 million immigrants welcomed to America.  An enormous percentage of them arrived here without any professional skills at all.  In fact, many lack even a basic education.  Statistically, they are three times more likely than native-born Americans to lack a high school diploma.  (This is despite the fact that about 25% of all Americans drop out of high school without a diploma.) 

Even before our most recent recession, they were 50% more likely to be poor than native-born Americans.  In fact, the best data available seems to indicate that even the great-grandchildren of low-skilled Latino immigrants continue to struggle economically --- three generations after immigrating to the U.S.  (Sources:  U.S. Census Bureau, Pew Study, U.S. Dept. of Education, CNN)

This isn’t Obama’s fault.  It’s not Bush’s fault.  It’s not Clinton’s fault.  It’s a trend that’s been consistent for more than 40 years.  In case you aren’t aware of it, 30 million immigrants represent about 10% of the entire population of the U.S.  I’m starting to understand the size of the problem a little more clearly.  Now if I could just come up with some solutions ... I could run for President!

(Sources: U.S. Immigration Bureau, U.S. Dept. of Education, CNN, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Letter To Islam

Dear-Muslims-who-are-ignorant-when-it-comes-to-how-democracy-works:  Neither the U.S.A. or its people have insulted your prophet.  We are a democratic society, and enjoy certain freedoms, such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. 

When you have freedom of speech and freedom of religion, those freedoms come at a cost.  One of those costs is the ability of others to say what they want, and to practice any religion that they want.  Sometimes that speech and that religion (or lack thereof) can be offensive to others.

It's unfortunate that one of the more than 300 million people who live in our country legally is so rude, hateful, and stupid as to record what he did that you took offense too.  It's even more unfortunate that modern technology enabled his hatred to spread around the world.  But it's most unfortunate that you respond with your own vicious brand of violence and hatred.

By the way, did you notice that we've arrested him and are currently holding him in prison?  And did you get that he was already a criminal in American terms --- who violated the terms of his probation in making that stupid movie?  Rest assured that if there's a way to prosecute him and stop his criminal behavior - without curtailing the freedom of more than 300 million other Americans - we will do so.  But I digress.

Let's talk about those Americans that you condemn and wish death for?  They include over 7 million Muslims, who worship in more than 1,200 Islamic mosques ... 25% of which have been built in the last 8 years.  Did you know that Islam is the fastest growing religion in America?  Did you know that America has had peaceful, mutually beneficial relations with many Islamic countries for decades?  Have you taken the time to get even a clue about how America really views Islam?

You see, we welcome Muslims to America and guarantee their right to free speech and freedom to be as Muslim as they want to be.  And we've welcomed them here for more than 150 years.  You just attacked THEIR embassy and killed THEIR ambassador.  And now you protest against them and call for their death.


You've offended and hurt them.  But then again, maybe that isn't so surprising.  We're sadly getting used to seeing Muslims killing even Muslims throughout the world.  And you know, those are some of the places, like Iraq and Afghanistan, are where Americans are laying down our lives and spending billions to make Muslims free.
 
So here's the thing.  We Americans are happy to stand side-by-side with you and respect your right to be as Muslim as you want to be.  We'll fight for your freedom just as hard as we've fought for our own.  But unless you lay down your swords and stop the infernal war between Islam and the west, no one is free.  Is that what you really want?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Real Faith: How It Works

Last December, a man that I'd been counseling introduced me to a former colleague of his.  He said he "knew that the two of us would like each other."  So I met this gentleman for lunch and we did indeed find much in common.  It was quite a pleasure to meet him, and I left the lunch thinking that this is someone I'd like to stay networked with from now on.

A few days after my blind date, a package arrived in the mail from my new friend.  It was a brand new book, with a note that said he felt led to send it to me.  I have to admit that I found that rather odd.  I mean, why would someone I just met go out and buy a book, much less go to the trouble of mailing it to me?  It didn't make sense.  At any rate, I put the book on the nightstand by my bed, in the pile of other things I want to read when I have time.
A few months later, I finally got to read this particular book.  It was mostly a story of George Muller's ministry and his faith.  Overall the book was a good read.  But one aspect of it was truly riveting for me.  It was the fact that throughout his entire life, George Muller never did any fund raising for his ministries or the multiple orphanages he'd set up and ran.  Mind you, Muller was a man with a big vision for ministry, a big heart, and expensive ministries to run.  So the fact that prayer was his only method for fund raising seemed quite remarkable indeed.

I can honestly say that I hadn't known George Muller's story ... at least not that particular aspect of it it.  And as I completed reading, it turned out to be the most helpful book I've ever read in terms of casting vision for my personal faith.  Let me explain about that.

This year (2012) has been our worst financial year ever.  My wife and I have large commitments to ministry, and whatever could go wrong financially did.  It seems like we've taken one (financial) blow after another --- with money just gushing from our home.  So it was rather timely that I'd read a book which shifted my paradigm with regard to funding ministry commitments.

God showed me, through the book on George Muller, that I've mostly leaned on myself for our needs.  It would be fair to say that I've treated prayer more like insurance in case my own efforts might fail. That would be - in case you're not clear - sin.  Seriously.  It smacks of pride, and lack of faith in God's provision and timing.  At the very least.

Through reading this one little book, I've got a new perspective.  It's one that I very much needed to acquire.  I'm busy now repenting of my sin, and trying to quiet the noise of my financially demanding life ... so that I can focus on God and His provision ... which has always been perfect. 

As I look back now, I see that perhaps the blind date lunch with the stranger in December was not so ironic after all.  Instead, it was pretty providential --- with the apparent anointing from God.  The Lord knew that we were fixing to walk through the stormiest financial period of our lives.  And He knew that if I tried to go through that on my own power, I'd fail and become very overwhelmed.  So in his perfect provision, God used this stranger to bring me the story that would help me find amazing peace in the midst of the (financial) storms.

The Lord's Prayer says, "Give us this day our daily bread ..."  I've come to understand that this is precisely what I can expect from God.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Seasons of the Lord

It's been said that there is a time and place for everything.  Not only is that good sense from a human perspective, but it's Biblical.  Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us that, "For everything there is a season, and a time for every activity under heaven."  (NLT)  And my own experience tells me that this is so.

A few years ago, I started writing a blog.  I didn't do it with my own name, but used this "pen name," which really exemplified what I saw as my character at the time.  So I wrote and I wrote.  Another blog spun off of it and soon a third blog.  I blogged several times a week, and often took on important, controversial, and sometimes theological issues to blog about. 

While I blogged, people that read my blogging seemed to like it.  I got many compliments.  One of the blogs that spun off actually was the product of people writing to me to get my perspective on their individual dilemmas.  I began to see that perhaps they like my thinking and were looking for an opportunity to have my thinking applied to their circumstance. 

But one day, it all came to  a screeching halt.  I still cannot explain it today.  But I clearly heard God telling me it was time to stop.  I didn't know why.  Frankly, it felt like I was at the "top of my game," and that fame and fortune (a la Huntington Post) were possibly just around the corner.  But God said, "Enough."  And I knew that I must obey Him.  Even if I didn't understand Him. 

Quite honestly, I haven't missed blogging.  Some days I look back at all I wrote and wonder how I found time for all of that writing.  Some days I also wonder why I didn't write books and get paid for such writing!  There are even days when I will be dealing with something and remember that I researched and then blogged about it a long time ago.  So I'll go to the search feature and look it up in my blog. 

Well, the seasons change.  I see now, as I mature, that God is in charge of all the seasons.  And I'm not just talking about the seasons of the weather.  Lately, I've sensed God telling me to get back into the blogging game.  Thoughts and ideas are stirring in my head again.  I can see it coming.  I begin to wonder if there's an external stimulus --- such as the political elections --- that could be stirring my thinking.  But wait ... my thinking isn't necessarily political.  Rather it's a voice of reason, intent on cutting through the rhetoric - to see practical application of Biblical principles in our everyday lives. 

So it would appear that this particular season of silence is longer than I may have thought. I'm never sure what will move me to blog.  In fact, I know that there are people who blog daily, or regularly.  I wonder if they always have something truly relevant to talk about.  Maybe it's just that some people are moved daily, or are so constantly moved that they never run out of fodder for their blogging. 

Me?  I'm not sure.  Like I said in the beginning, I'm not sure why I started blogging in the first place  It seemed to be something born of circumstance.  So it will be interesting to see where this goes now!