Sunday, December 28, 2008

“Best Buy” Called Me On Christmas Morning

Christmas at our house is a pretty special time. My wife is the ultimate traditionalist, and she keeps us on track to celebrate and remember in several special ways. I sometimes wish we could leave it at that, as I often feel that the abundance of gifts that we exchange on Christmas morning borders on embarrassing. But I’m reminded of Matthew 7:11, which says, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Giving gifts to my children is my desire and duty as a father, and I believe that they have caught the desire to give to others rather than receive. It’s easy to be generous to them when I see how much they want to give to others.

Our Christmas morning always starts with the family gathered to read a passage of the birth of Jesus, lit by the flickering flame from our Advent wreath (the candles on it, not the wreath!). The kids never mention gifts before this occurs – they truly celebrate the day as the birth of our Savior. After reading and praying, we open the stockings one at a time, with everyone in the family watching the others and with no sense of hurry. After the stockings, we start in on the gifts under the tree. Again, we open every gift one at a time, and often rotate the person who selects the gift to be opened. No one ever picks their own gift to open. It makes me proud to watch.

I wasn’t surprised when the phone rang late in the morning, because our extended families tend to call and wish each other a merry Christmas throughout the day. But imagine my amazement when I watched my daughter Molly answer the phone and then listen to it without speaking for a full minute. When she finally hung up, without speaking a word after the initial greeting, I asked her who it was. She turned to me and said, “It was a pre-recorded message from Best Buy calling to remind you that you have a ten-dollar coupon that you must redeem before January 24.”

Can you insert one of those record-scratching noises here?

Okay, it’s bad enough that I’m constantly inundated with advertisements and flyers from the electronics stores. And I shake my head when they try to sell me a one-year warranty on nearly every item that I buy from them. I guess I shouldn’t assume that quality is still an expectation. But it goes beyond the pale that they must call me on the morning of Christmas day with a pre-recorded message about a ten-dollar coupon. I could say a lot more about rampant commercialism here, but I’m not sure it’s really necessary. We all recognize it, don’t we?

So, as I sit here three days before the New Year, and as I get ready to finalize and perhaps reveal my resolutions to you, I’m going to start by announcing the first one. With one exception, I resolve not to step into a Best Buy store in 2009. And that one exception will be to redeem my coupon – for something that doesn’t cost more than ten-dollars. I know it may sound extreme but I feel that I should make a point, even if it’s only to myself. And I can’t help but think that there may be a positive financial impact to this decision, too…

So if you see me in 2009, you are free to ask if I’ve been to the BB store lately. I’ll let you know if I stayed faithful to my promise.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Six-Word Memoir

An interesting article appeared in USA Today on December 3, 2008 reviewing the book Not Quite What I Was Planning by HarperCollins Publishers. The book is a compilation of dozens of “six word memoirs”, where various people (some famous, some not) try to sum up their lives in only six words (punctuation is free). It’s an interesting exercise in prioritization and reflection.

Here are some thoughtful samples:

“Followed yellow brick road. Disappointment ensued.” – Kelsey Ochs

“On the playground, alone. 1970, today.” –
Charles Warren

“I wrote it all down somewhere.” – Ben Greenman

There are also some humorous attempts:

“Well, I thought it was funny.” – Stephen Colbert

“Maybe you had to be there.” – Roy Blount, Jr.

“Never really finished anything, except cake.” – Carletta Perkins

And some optimistic viewpoints:

“Many risky mistakes, very few regrets.” – Richard Schnedl

“Secret of life: Marry an Italian.” – Nora Ephron

“Outcast. Picked last. Surprised them all.” – Rachel Pine

The whole exercise got me to thinking – what instructions or observations would I leave to my children if I knew that I would be passing on tomorrow? If it were my last breath and I only had a short phrase to leave them, what would it be?

First, (and this is really against the grain of my personality), I would have to forego any attempt to write a humorous epitaph. While humor would be a temptation, the gravity of the situation demands that I use the moment to educate and edify my children. Second, the message needs to be pretty simple, but important. Six words are not enough to fully describe any single topic, so it pays to be economical and direct with the phrasing.

And third, the memoir should have lasting impact on their lives – in fact, I believe it should have an eternal effect. These would be my last words, after all, and they should count for as much as possible. What’s more important than advice about the best way to spend eternity?

Since it’s my blog, I’m allowing myself eighteen words – three six-word epitaphs. I’m hopeful that I’ll have some time left to choose between them, but if I don’t, I trust my lovely wife Wendy to pick the best one. Here goes – if I had to leave a meaningful memoir for my children, it might be:

“God holds truth. Don’t get distracted.”

Or maybe: “Seek Jesus first. All else follows.”

Or perhaps the ultimate parting words are: “Go to heaven. See you there.”

Give it a try. For anyone reading this, please post a comment with your own six-word memoir.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Harvard or Heaven?

Our family is in our fifth year of homeschooling. It has been the best decision that we ever made since having children, and the blessings that have proceeded from the decision are countless. Sometimes, it is hard for me to refrain from telling people about the wonders that we have experienced. I recognize that people are not always open to the idea, and have often formed a preliminary opinion about homeschoolers. Just to set the record straight, my wife doesn’t like wearing denim jumpers, and we don’t bake our own bread (very often).

On the occasion where I do get to share our experience, I might tend to ramble. There are so many reasons that we have found to support our decision to educate in the home. For details, check out the Further Topical Reading section of this blog – titled “(At Least) Ten Reasons Why We Homeschool” (in the column at the side). I’m enjoying one of the advantages even as I write this chapter – our family is enjoying the warmth of a California vacation in the month of October, at a time when there are very few people competing for pool time or to form lines at the theme park (we started school a week early in August so we could take this week off in the middle of the fall). Of course, if everyone were to turn to homeschooling, I would probably have to give up this advantage, but I think I could live with that.

If you read this blog very often, you’ll see that our family’s true reason for homeschooling has evolved over the last few years. I recently came across a quote from the Home School Legal Defense Association that perfectly sums up our number-one reason. “Homeschooling is not about getting your kids into Harvard; it’s about getting them into heaven.” This doesn’t mean that publicly-schooled children can’t go to heaven – but we believe we have vastly improved our chances with our own children by doing so. Is that a bold statement? Yes. Is it true for every single family? No, there is no doubt that homeschooling is not practical in every situation. Heaven and Harvard are not mutually exclusive choices that pivot on your choice of schooling. However, to better understand my position, a demonstration using gambling techniques and statistics might be appropriate.

Suppose you were asked to play one game of dice. The stakes are these – if you win, you can count on having enough money in your bank account to retire more comfortably than you have ever imagined. But if you lose, your account will go to zero. The game is simple. By rolling two six-sided dice just one time (just like in Monopoly), your win or loss will be determined. There are two tables to play on, with rules differing at each table. The rules at the first table are these: if you roll anything except a double-one or a double-two, you will win. But if you roll a double-one or double-two, you will lose. If you are looking for statistical calculations, your chances of winning under this scenario are 94.4% (there are 34 winning combinations out of a potential 36).

Things are a little more restrictive at the second table, though the reward or loss is exactly the same. At this table, your roll must contain a six on at least one of the dice to win. If the roll doesn’t contain a six, you will lose. Again, for the statistically-minded, there are 11 winning combinations out of 36 possibilities – a 30.6% chance of winning.

It may seem silly to ask the question, “Which table would you choose to play?” But these odds are exactly what statistics tell us about children remaining faithful when they enter the university system. A study conducted by the National Home Education Research Institute and often presented by Pastor Voddie Baucham shows that 70-88% of professing Christian teens fall away from their faith at the end of their freshman year in college, while only 6% of homeschooled professing teens fall away in that time frame. Consider those statistics again…there is at least a seven out of ten chance that a publicly-schooled child will reject God after their first year of college. Less than one out of ten will do so if they are homeschooled.

This study may be tough for some to accept, especially when so few of us believe that such a prognosis could possibly occur in our own family. And we should understand very clearly, the study does not explicitly prove that schooling is the only factor that determines a child’s grasp on God’s grace. It stands to reason that a homeschooled child will have more parental involvement in his or her life, and this is a big contributor to the Christian walk. I believe further study would conclude that public-schooled children who enjoy a devoted father and mother, and a family who prays and worships together regularly will improve on the 70-88% odds greatly. But once again, any study that concludes with such a diverse result – 70-88% versus 6% - is either flawed, or else it has uncovered a fundamental issue to be considered.

Please bear with me for a moment on this. I recognize that there are some families for whom homeschooling is not possible. Single parents raising children, or parents in family situations that don’t allow the time or monetary investment required for quality homeschooling will struggle under the demand. But for those of you who are considering the pros and cons of home education, don’t neglect to consider the eternal, spiritual perspective because statistics show that the benefits are very real.

I have spoken with many parents who are often shocked at what is being taught to their children in public school. Mere theories such as evolution and global warming are taught as fact. More importantly, the idea that there is a God who created our universe and us, and who wants to have a personal relationship with us is suppressed, and often ridiculed. I know, because it happened to me in multiple instances in public school almost thirty years ago.

Unlike the dice game, the state of our children’s souls is not a random event. Thankfully, God’s grace is the ultimate determining factor in that outcome. But when our children reach the age where the schooling venue decision must be made, do we put as much thought into it as we would our investments and retirement asset distribution? To a degree, we are forced to play the game and choose which table we will play. I understand that there are far more pieces to the puzzle than we deal with in these few paragraphs. High-quality parental involvement and influence takes many forms. But I am personally unwilling to take the additional risk, and gamble away my children’s eternal salvation. I cannot control every detail in the lives of my children, but I can limit their exposure to the godless mindset that has infiltrated our public schools. My children’s eternal destination is far more important to me than my retirement account, and I spend far more time working with them on their A-B-C’s than I do manipulating my 401(k).

For those interested in a very clear opinion on home education versus public schooling, check out Fair warning – prepare to be challenged by Pastor Baucham’s writings.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What Really Caused The Financial Crisis

I don’t get it. I read the papers and the news articles on the web services, supposedly full of wisdom from the financial experts who tell us what we must do to fix the financial crisis. The talking heads on television ramble about how we need to revive lending and free up the credit market. These so-called experts are presented as the unquestioned authority on finances and what is required to get us out of the mess that we are in.

Look, I didn’t get my MBA. I finished college with a simple (!!!) Engineering degree, and enough credits for a minor in Mathematics. The math I waded through didn’t really count toward traditional financial understanding, but I did take classes in macroeconomics and microeconomics, so I’m not a complete dunce on the subject. But more importantly, twenty years after leaving college, I spend less money than I make, and our family is essentially debt-free (discounting a very reasonable amount remaining on our mortgage). I think I have a pretty good practical sense of financial wisdom, even if stock derivatives and short-selling are not topics that I can readily explain. But let me try to detail what I see going on around us at this moment in the financial world.

We are currently in a crisis created primarily due to a number of risky mortgage loans which were made to people who can no longer pay them back. You could blame the “evil predatory lender” for offering the loans in the first place. You could blame the government for mandating that the lender offer loans to people who were not qualified to pay them back. Or you could blame the individuals themselves, who wanted a house they couldn’t afford or a car they really didn’t need. Maybe all three are to blame, but one simple financial rule should overshadow it all. If money is to be borrowed, it should be given to people who demonstrate the ability to repay the loan. It’s that simple. It’s biblical, too. Romans 13:7 - ”Give everyone what you owe him.”

Good lending practice is pretty straightforward. A lender gives money with the expectation that it is returned over time with interest. They will plan for a certain percentage of borrowers to default on their loans, but this is never the most desirable end. To make the whole system work together, the lender will develop complex models that measure the ability of the applicant to repay the loan. And when the numbers don’t add up, the lender should refuse the individual’s application. It’s painful, but necessary for sound business practice.

Designing rules for the borrower is much more difficult. Many people fail to “count the cost” before applying for a loan. Instead, they are often blinded by the prospect of a new car or a larger house, assuming that their financial situation will improve enough over time to allow them some financial flexibility. How many people wish they had never taken on the loans that they possess, choosing instead to wait for some of the things that they desired? I’ve been there in the past.

The bottom line is this – a sound financial environment relies on good financial stewardship -- not on risky loans made to financially strapped individuals who will eventually default on their debts and leave the burden to other taxpayers. So, here is where I get to the part that I don’t understand.

Several weeks ago, our government approved over $700 billion of “bailout” money to give to financial institutions, wishing them to lend this money to people. These institutions were suddenly hesitant to loan money to people under risky circumstances. Imagine that… And recently, I read that the government desires to give an additional $800 billion to the lenders to encourage them to loan even more money to people. These actions beg several questions. Should we continue to make loans to people who shouldn’t be applying for them? Is it wise to float so much credit into the market instead of encouraging personal savings? And finally, is the government simply perpetuating the crisis by loaning even more money to people who will likely default on their obligation in the future?

It seems to me that loaning more money does not solve the problem – it only makes it worse. We have reached a point in our beloved America where we need to take a step back from the wealth and affluence which crowds out the system that God designed. The Bible is full of references to economic principles, most of which discourage excessive borrowing and living beyond our means. God does not promise that we will enjoy wealth or a life free from worry if we follow Him. However, He does promise an eternity with Him and the benefit of other non-financial blessings in this life. But God wants us to follow Him first and foremost, and His principles revolve around that relationship. God knows more about economics than any man, committee, or political system. If we design a financial system that forgets this basic principle, then we are doomed to fail. And, sadly, it appears that we are doing just that.

Luke 16:11-12 gives us Jesus’ view on the proper handling of money and debt – “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?” Many of us have made financial mistakes in the past, me included. Let’s not allow our government to make the financial problems even worse. Tell them to keep their loan money away from bad borrowers. Or better yet, give it back to the place where they got the money in the first place. Where did they get an extra $700 billion anyway? Hmmmmmm…

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Deconstructing “The Shack”

“The Shack” has been on the Christian fiction book charts for some time now. I’ll admit that I have only read random portions of the book, choosing instead to rely on a synopsis given to me by my wife. She read the book on the recommendation of others, but she became disturbed by it within the first hundred pages.

Without giving away the details, the book can be summarized as an attempt to bring God closer to man in a rather unique way. The main character in the book wanders away from God due to a set of terrible circumstances, but receives an invitation from God one day to meet at “the shack”. The remainder of the book has the character being drawn back to God through a series of informal discussions and experiences as God is “brought down to earth” for us.

This sounds good on the surface, and is indeed a valuable lesson for us to learn. God did come to earth in the form of His Son, who took on human form in order to experience a life on earth, without sin. His life was put to an end at the hands of cruel men, and we find that this earthly form was necessary for Him to become our sin substitute. Without this earthly form, and the shedding of His blood, we would not be able to be found faultless before God, avoiding our deserved condemnation for all eternity. “The Shack”, however, goes well beyond the Biblical account in its portrayal of the Holy three-in-one.

The book portrays God as a motherly old black woman, who sometimes can be found in the middle of ordinary tasks such as baking a cake, and often talking in phrases and contractions reminiscent of “Mammy” from Gone With The Wind. At least, that is the picture that I get in my mind. Jesus is portrayed as a young man, sometimes clumsy like an adolescent, with a degree of wisdom and a somewhat carefree nature. The Holy Spirit is revealed as a more ethereal being, less like a human form than the others and sometimes characterized like a riddle-speaking mystic.

As the main character interfaces with these individuals, the conversation often takes on a sort of careless banter, as if they are in some way equal to each other. God has the task of convincing the man that he should return to a right relationship with Him, but it is done in a very relaxed and irreverent fashion.

This is not how I picture God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And it’s not the character of the Trinity that I read about in the Bible.

In the book of Jude, the author speaks of godless men who have crept into their community. In verses eight through ten, he says, “In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings. But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!" Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them.” I must say that I have spoken out loud to Satan in rebuke before. But this act takes on a new look when approached in the context of this verse. If Michael would not speak directly to Satan to rebuke him, shouldn’t I take care in how I regard spirits, both good and evil? It seems as if there is a much greater gulf between us and the realm of angels and demons than we can fully understand. And if such reverence is shown to Satan by the angels, how then should we humans revere God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?

The Bible contains many references of God revealing Himself to men, and in each case man is on his knees and face in awe of God. God’s glory is so powerful that it made Moses’ face shine just to be exposed to it. Time after time, the appearance of angels to men in the Bible is accompanied by the request to “Fear not!” This is an accurate representation of the God that I serve. His power and holiness is so perfect and inspiring that we will not even be able to stand in His presence.

While I can appreciate certain lessons put forth in “The Shack”, such as reconciliation with God, I am disturbed at the cheapening of His awesome glory put forth in the book. One could make the point that I have not read the entire book, and should not be so quick to draw a conclusion. That concern has some validity. But I am choosing not to read the remainder of the book for the very reason that I want nothing to dispel the awesome majesty of the God that I read about in the Bible. This is the image of God that I want in my mind’s eye, as set forth by His word, not a popular work of fiction. “Oh be careful little eyes what you read…”

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The $2 Wal-Mart Challenge

Something happened to me the other day that’s never happened to me before. I lost my credit card. Oh, it’s somewhere in my car, because I threw it on the seat when I couldn’t get it to work in the $3 automated drive-up car wash that has become one of my new favorite places. But by the time I got home, it was nowhere to be found. All five members of my family took turns looking for it, but all that they were successful in doing was messing up the driver seat position. I’m still not sure I have it back where I like it…

Anyway, we called the credit card company right away and cancelled the card. They promised to send a new one within a week. We only have one credit card, so we did without one in the interim. It wasn’t a big deal, but I must admit I never realized how many places our credit card number is entered on-line. And we had to change all of them.

We pay our credit card bill in full each month. We haven’t carried a balance in many years. Since we have stopped writing checks for almost everything (having switched to on-line bill pay), the credit card bill has become one of the larger outgoing expenses we have each month. So, I sat up and took notice when I saw that our next credit card bill was about half of what it typically totals. Was this just a coincidence or was it a direct result of not having the card for a week?

This reminds me of the “$2 Wal-Mart challenge” I sometimes like to play. You should try it sometime. First, take your wallet or purse with you to a Super Wal-mart, – complete with credit cards, checkbook and cash. Set a time limit of a half-hour to wander the aisles. The goal is to leave the store after spending less than $2. Can you do it?

Sometime later, try the experiment again, but this time leave all forms of buying power at home, except for $2 in cash in your pocket. Naturally, you can stick to the budget this way. And temptation is minimized because you are operating under a hard limit. But the way you walk through the store may be just a little different.

Why take the challenge? The first half of the challenge requires self-control. The second-half builds austerity. I believe we need to revisit the ability to buy only what we need. I can tell you that I have a tendency to add unplanned items to my basket whenever I go to a superstore. It’s not hard to walk the aisles and find things that you might need – a twenty-pack of medium-sized wood screws, ten pair of athletic socks, or an extra coffee-maker for the downstairs office. Hey, I can put all of these things to use someday. But do I really need them right now? And should I add them to stack of stuff that I already own at home? We live in a world where we can get almost anything that we desire within a few miles of where we live, or even have it delivered to our door after ordering it on-line. So why wait?

Waiting might be a good thing, considering the economic conditions that may be headed our way. Our lifestyle of wealth and overabundance may actually be reversed for some time, if not permanently. I’m willing to go without the convenience of those wood screws taking up space in my toolbox if it means I have a little more security in the years ahead. Oh, and I’m also thinking about losing my credit card every couple of months.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Legacy of Ignoring God

As I watched the presidential election cycle this year, I was saddened more than ever at how far our nation is moving from God the Father. As they do every four years, candidates promise more wealth to the average American, even though it is the government that takes a large portion of it away in taxes, which are then inefficiently used and ill-spent. And except for the occasional flash of godly awareness (like McCain’s response to the abortion question at the Saddleback interviews), most of the responses are couched in politically correct, vapid, and meaningless phrases.

As I was reading through the book of Jeremiah, I saw another leader who had the same attitude toward God, and who acted upon God’s warnings with a very deliberate response. In chapters 35 and 36, we see God instructing Jeremiah to write words on a scroll which will warn the people of their coming captivity if they don’t turn from their godless ways. God arranges to have these words read in the presence of King Jehoiakim, ruler of Judah. His response to God’s words was to use a knife on every few sentences in the scroll, cut them off, and cast them into the fire. I have read this passage many dozens of times before, but the bold disregard for God acted out by Jehoiakim has never struck me fully. Can you imagine burning a letter sent to you from the Creator, sentence by sentence, in the presence of witnesses? Add to this his attitude during the process – Jeremiah 36:23, 24 says “Whenever Jehudi had read three or four columns of the scroll, the king cut them off with a scribe's knife and threw them into the firepot, until the entire scroll was burned in the fire. The king and all his attendants who heard all these words showed no fear, nor did they tear their clothes.”

While their act is stunning to a believing Christian, I can’t help but think that our own leaders are not far from this. I believe that God has protected this nation for the last 250 years, and has blessed it beyond measure precisely because we started as a God-fearing people. But as we move away from that gradually over the years, history shows that God will remove His blessing as well. When the United States Supreme Court passed Roe v. Wade by a vote of seven-to-two in 1973, a piece of God’s blessing was removed. As same-sex-couple laws are entered into the books at the state level, God removes even more. We may already be past the tipping point, with no possible return short of a complete repeal of these laws. And in today’s political climate, that seems very unlikely.

How long does it take before God abandons our nation altogether? Looking at the example in Jeremiah, we see that God threatened them with captivity during the reign of Jehoiakim. The scroll-burning incident likely took place around 600 B.C., while the Babylonian siege began about eleven years later. A year-and-a-half after this, the siege was successful and the people of Judah were taken into captivity. So, in all, the time between God’s warning and the fall of Jerusalem was less than fifteen years. The act of Jehoiakim, who burned God’s words, demonstrates that he was not worried about the immediacy of God’s response. But he should have been, because Babylon began moving against the nation of Judah right away.

One more interesting thing to note is that God does not always award victory to the most God-fearing nation. The Babylonian empire did not follow Him, but they were allowed to take God’s people captive. This tells me that God could deliver our nation into the hands of another nation that is even less godly than ours. God repeatedly does this to His people in the Old Testament, with the purpose of leading them back to Him after a time of suffering. I can’t help but wonder if He is doing the same thing to us.

I don’t want my children to grow up in a world ruled by Communist China, or godless Russia. If our nation’s leaders continue to ignore God’s warnings and proceed on their path toward a politically correct but godless rule of law, then I fear that this reality may come to pass. It is for this reason that I am educating my son and daughters to be strong leaders who uphold God’s words first. If they ever have the chance to enter political office, I want them to be like King Josiah, who heard God’s words for the first time, tore his robes, and said "Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the LORD's anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us" (2 Kings 22:13). Josiah pledged to obey God’s covenant and the Bible tell us in 2 Kings 23:25 that “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.” That is a legacy worth pursuing. I pray that our nation can rediscover it before it’s too late.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Worldview Class – Part 12 –Christian Ethics

This is a continuation of highlighted topics discussed in a worldview class I am teaching on Sunday morning. The main text for the study is The Battle for Truth by David Noebel. A good deal of this class is also based on personal research.

Ethics are defined as “the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc." Specifically, the study of ethics attempts to answer the question “Who makes the rules – God or man?”

Christian ethics differ from those of other worldviews in at least two significant areas. First, they are rooted in the revealed nature of a supernatural source – God. Second, they are universally applied and unchanging over time. God’s ethics are used to delineate true right from true wrong. And these rules, properly applied by the Christian, should be argued without apology. Waffling on God’s stated principles only gives rise to doubts about His supremacy. “Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels” (2 Timothy 2:23).

The Christian has a distinct advantage in the ethical realm, because rather than rely on man’s ever-changing mood, and noting that no two people are created alike, the Christian’s ethical definition is derived from a single question – what conforms to God’s character? The answer is not random, nor is it open to man’s interpretation. God left three sources to assist man in understanding His moral compass. The first is general revelation – the revealed nature of God displayed in His creation around us. Because this revelation is often interpreted differently by different individuals, God also left additional help in special revelation – the Bible. No other worldview can claim such a solid, unified historical source as the Bible – thousands of years old and corroborated by multiple archaeological discoveries.

For the Christian, the guiding moral code given by God is a real, non-changing entity – like the law of gravity or the speed of light. It is a proven, solid moral direction, and is not to be ultimately challenged. Violation of God’s ethic entails very real consequences – sin which is left unresolved carries a death penalty. And this brings into play the third source of assistance from God – the life of Jesus Christ. His crucifixion provided the fulfillment of God’s promise that sin must be followed by death (Romans 6:23), but for the benefit of mankind the punishment was not given to those who deserved it. We sinned – but Christ was the one who died to make atonement – so we can enjoy the benefits of an eternity spent with God. It’s a wondrous plan, and speaks volumes about God’s character and how much He wants to be involved with us, His creation, for all eternity. But beware – the person who leaves their sin unresolved and refuses God’s gift of atonement must pay the ultimate price, which is eternal separation from God.

What is the purpose of God’s plan? Why doesn’t He simply “wind up” the universe and let it play out on its own, like some sort of cosmic video game? Because Christian ethics, unlike other worldviews, have one grand purpose – to glorify God. The whole plan and its fulfillment serve to show how loving our God is. Those that would argue that ‘a truly loving God would never send people away to eternal damnation’ are not seeing the simplicity of God’s plan. He offers a free gift – Jesus’ sacrifice to atone for our sins - followed by the promise of eternal life with Him. How much more generous must He be? Would you insist that not only the gift be free, but it should also be enjoyed by those who refuse to accept it? God is the Creator and He sets the rules. People may question Him and try to impose their rules on Him, but that will not change the fact that His plan will reign. A humble acceptance of this point is what He demands. The Christian is broken before Him, and bows to God’s wishes, His moral code, and His eternal plan. In the words of D. James Kennedy, “When a person makes up his own ethical code, he always makes up an ethical system which he thinks he has kept. In the law of God, we find a law which smashes our self-righteousness, eliminates all trust in our own goodness, and convinces us that we are sinners. The law of God leaves us with our hands over our mouths and our faces in the dust. We are humbled before God and convinced that we are guilty transgressors of His law.”

Christian ethics (and indeed truth) are unique in five ways: 1) they are whole (no additives needed), 2) they are never-changing (not situational), 3) they are revealed (given by God through nature, the Bible and the life of Jesus Christ), 4) they are required (ignoring them entails consequences), and 5) they are one (well-defined and universal).

Go back to the main index for all twelve Parts.

If you are interested in portions, or all of this twelve part series taught in an engaging, educational fashion, please contact Alan at Banyan Concepts.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In A Place That I No Longer Belong

Our family recently spent a week on vacation Palm Desert, California. It didn’t take me long to discover that I didn’t belong there.

The cars on the streets were incredible. We saw expensive cars that we have never even heard of. When we went home, my son and I would look them up on the Internet, only to find that many of them cost well over $100,000. The opulence and showy demonstration of wealth was amazing to behold.

While watching a poolside showing of “Finding Nemo” one evening at our condo, two men walked by and were comparing the pool’s projection video quality to the units they have at home. One guy couldn’t get enough of saying, “You have to come see the one that I bought…”

Driving through a nearby neighborhood, a realtor tracked us down twice. He tried to convince us that it was a great time to buy – the house we were standing in front of was selling for only $1.2 million. But he assured us that there were many to be had in that neighborhood for “as little as $800,000 to $900,000”. My kid’s jaws were on the floor. I just laughed.

While walking into a restaurant one night with my family, a couple was walking out and she actually turned to the man and said, “Now, I want to talk about the red Ferrari…” Our family exchanged surprised glances with each other. To be fair, our mini-van is a racy metallic red, so I can understand the lady’s color choice…

At one time, I think I would have liked being among these people. When I first started my career, I could have been caught up in the pursuit for more and more possessions. Now, I’m not so much turned off as I am saddened by the vapidity I see in a life spent pursuing nothing more than material gain. I think it’s a good sign that I don’t harbor even a tinge of jealousy. I am sad for these people because they are spending the currency of this life on things that break and which fade away, with no thought for what eternity holds.

But perhaps the saddest thing we saw on our vacation was a twelve-year old boy playing by himself in the kid’s playroom at the resort. It’s a room filled with video games, ping-pong, air hockey and other activities that the average child might enjoy for a time. He was entertaining himself with a ping-pong paddle and ball, and was clearly all alone. When we visited the room several hours later, he was still there – and still by himself. It was all too clear that he had been dropped off by his parents to spend the day while they were out vacationing on their own. It’s enough to make me want to cry. I could never leave my kids by themselves to endure a whole day of loneliness while I went off seeking my own entertainment. My spirit weeps for the boy and his parents, who are missing out on the wonders of togetherness and the joy of just being a family. All too soon, those days will be behind us.

Lord, I commit these few years you have given me to pursuing good, honest, and worthy pursuits. I pledge not to be distracted by wealth and the temporary comfort that it brings. Instead, I ask that You lead me to a life that is productive for You first, and which trusts that You will provide only what I need. And finally, I give my covenant to my children that I will treasure these few years that I have with them – to spend it together pursuing God’s will and the wonders of His creation. Nothing can ever take the place of this time we have together, and I promise to give all I have to them, so that they will grow up knowing the awesome power, glory and wonder of God’s promises.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Worldview Class – Part 11 –Cosmic Humanist (New Age) Ethics

This is a continuation of highlighted topics discussed in a worldview class I am teaching on Sunday morning. The main text for the study is The Battle for Truth by David Noebel. A good deal of this class is also based on personal research.

Ethics are defined as “the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc." Specifically, the study of ethics attempts to answer the question “Who makes the rules – God or man?”

In previous posts, we have seen that some supporters of Secular Humanist ethics have defined a set of absolute truths, to exclude acts such as murder and rape from accepted morality. Marxist ethics are well-defined, and are pointed at a specific goal of class elimination. In contrast, New Age ethics are the very definition of personal free-for-all. True New Agers are held to no standard, but live under whatever truth they define for themselves at any given point in time. Added to this is the fact that they are free to change their own ethics at any time, to suit their changing needs. This lifestyle is a form of boundless ethical relativism, and is the foundation of the New Age ethical premise.

While truth cannot be pinpointed in this worldview, even more disturbing is the fact that no individual is ever allowed to judge another’s ethics. Judgment of another person’s beliefs and values would imply that there is an absolute truth to be applied to all individuals. Paradoxically, this belief opens the door for one case in which this rule does not apply: tolerance of all viewpoints is allowed except for the one that insists on an absolute truth. Put another way, anyone who judges the ethics of another person is immediately judged as being intolerant and wrong. This is the only instance where a New Age follower is allowed to judge another individual. The circular logic is a bit mind-boggling. It’s enough to make your head spin.

According to New Age proponents, setting limitations on ethical beliefs is equivalent to denying a person their quest for godhood. The moral implications are limitless under this lack of authority. How does the New Age movement view the Ten Commmandments? They see them as a list of boundaries which hinder the “evolutionary growth” of the individual. Each person’s growth is dependent on the ability to change and adapt in an ever-changing system of design-your-own ethics. For this reason, there are no New Age books which tell a person how to live a moral life – only books which encourage you to break free and follow your heart.

Marianne Williamson says, “Adam and Eve were happy until she ‘ate of the knowledge of good and evil.’ What that means is that everything was perfect until they began to judge – to keep their hearts open sometimes, but closed at others….Closing our hearts destroys our peace. It’s alien to our real nature.” Indeed, she may be right in saying that our nature is to open our hearts to everything. But the Bible tells us that “the heart is deceitful above all things…” (Jeremiah 17:9). It is precisely this realization that separates New Age from Christian ethics. One relies on and actually encourages the reference to a misleading source (the heart); the other denies that fallible internal source and points to a perfect, supernatural source outside of the individual.

Of all New Age positions, the concept of unity of good and evil may be the most disturbing. Because right and wrong are defined differently for each individual, it becomes impossible to distinguish between good and evil. David Spangler takes this premise to the extreme when he says, “Christ is the same force as Lucifer…..Lucifer prepares man for the experience of Christhood…..Lucifer works within each of us to bring us to wholeness as we move into the New Age.” This idea is the acute result of the progression of a philosophy that starts with desirable and simple ideas such as “unity”, “harmony”, and “world peace”. When held forth as a final goal, these ideas appear to be virtuous and are embraced by impressionable people seeking a higher purpose in life. But they get twisted when seen through the New Age lens, and end up in ridiculous statements such as Spangler’s.

One of the best ways to approach a New Age believer is to appeal to the innate sense of right and wrong that God instilled in each of us (Romans 1:18-20). Ask them, “Do you believe that murder of a child is wrong?” When they hesitate or even agree, follow up by asking them “Where does this internal sense of wrong come from?” While they may get creative in their answer, the fact is that God placed the idea in the hearts of men. If the New Ager does not recognize the act of murder as having absolute moral implications, it could be that they are too far removed from truth to be brought back easily, if at all. God promised that men would be misled and would “exchange the truth of God for a lie”. It is not an easy thing for a person to admit this possibility in their own life. The Christian should continue to boldly point it out, in the hopes of making the New Age believer meditate on it the next time they have a flash of internal moral truth. God may be speaking to them in that moment.

To Worldview - Part 12 - Christian Ethics

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If you are interested in portions, or all of this twelve part series taught in an engaging, educational fashion, please contact Alan at Banyan Concepts.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Best Theme Park Vacation

During a recent family vacation to a theme park in California, I was shocked at how many fathers were conducting business while standing in line with their children. It seemed in every line where we stood, fathers were on their cell phones talking about business deals, or on their Blackberry’s doing e-mail. Sadly, there were many times where I looked at the children standing next to their father, and saw sad eyes searching desperately for attention, but which received nothing back. Children asked questions or made comments and were answered with nothing but silence or a sharp shush.

I’ll admit that I find it hard to “turn off” work at times, and more than once I have checked my Blackberry at the wrong time while on vacation. I’m trying to do better. My family tells me that I am. But I wonder sometimes if our nation has lost touch with what vacation is really about. Can we truly not get away from work and enjoy our families for a few days without interruption? Does Dad think he’s done enough by simply buying his child an entry ticket to the amusement park? Does his responsibility to his family end there? Perhaps no father would answer a straight “Yes” to those questions, but his actions may say otherwise.

Interestingly, I observed another phenomenon while at the park. Nearly everywhere we looked, kids were complaining to their parents that they weren’t getting enough. “Daddy, when are you going to buy me something?” was asked more than once. My own kids saw this and were saddened by both the selfishness we saw in the children and the permissiveness we saw in the parents. Parents were buying toys and theme park paraphernalia just to quiet their children for a short time. One little girl appeared to be out of control, and my daughter observed the father telling his wife, “Let’s just buy her something, so she’ll stop acting this way.” And they did.

Our family returned to the hotel afterwards, and we talked about these things during our daily family devotional (yes, we conduct devotionals even when we’re on vacation). I was so pleased that all three of my children were able to talk about what they saw around them at the park, and they did it in such a way that they didn’t denigrate the other people, but expressed sorrow in what they saw. I shared with them how proud I was that they would not behave in the manner they had observed, but also how important it was that they could notice the permissive behavior in other children (and parents). I was able to tell them about the qualities that I admire in each of them, overcoming these childish tendencies, and progressing onto maturity. Finally, I told them how important it will be to share these views with their own children. It’s all part of the multi-generational vision that my wife and I have for our children. If we can teach our children about godly behavior and also teach them to teach it to their own children, then the behavior perpetuates for more than just a single generation. The idea comes from Proverbs 13:22 – “A good man leaves an inheritance for his children's children.”

Colossians 3:20 sums up with “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” It is written directly to children, which means that children should be reading the Bible and seeking understanding from God. This may seem extreme to some in our society, as many have purged the expectation that children could possibly be expected to understand the wisdom of God’s nature or spend time with Him pursuing a deeper relationship. And yet the Bible gives us the example of Samuel, who “was ministering before the LORD - a boy wearing a linen ephod” (I Samuel 2:18). Thousands of years ago, this little boy was learning to be a priest, in piety and obedience, at a very early age. Was he special in some way that cannot be duplicated in today’s world? I doubt it. It is more likely that he was simply expected to behave this way, since he was dedicated to the Lord at an early age (1Samuel 1:24-28), and so he simply fulfilled the expectation.

This is the point – our children will mature at the rate that we expect. If we raise the bar for them at an early age, work patiently with them, and show them piety in our own lives as parents, there is no reason to believe that we can’t raise our own little Samuel before God. Give them a godly goal and a parental example, and they will follow it into maturity. Young parents – now is the time to set this family goal and begin the journey for your children. And for parents who have already started raising their children and wish to make a course correction, please realize that it’s not too late. My wife and I made a change while raising our first child, and we could not be more proud about how her heart has turned to the Lord. It will require a life change of your own to show them that you are serious and intent on following God’s purpose for your family. It may require that you start doing things differently than you have in the past, but you should understand that it’s all worth it. Satisfying theme park vacations (and special blessings every day) are the reward for godly parents who wish to raise godly children.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Worldview Class – Part 10 –Marxist/Leninist Ethics

This is a continuation of highlighted topics discussed in a worldview class I am teaching on Sunday morning. The main text for the study is The Battle for Truth by David Noebel. A good deal of this class is also based on personal research.

Ethics are defined as “the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc." Specifically, the study of ethics attempts to answer the question “Who makes the rules – God or man?”

It is a frequent accusation by many that Marxists have no ethics. This is likely an extension of the premise that Marxists do not believe in God. But make no mistake – Marxist ethics are well-defined, far more than those of the Secular Humanist and New Age camps. They are rooted in two principles. The first is dialectical materialism, the theory that the universe is ever-changing, and everything changes with it, including society and the ethics that govern it. The second is class struggle, the idea that the working man’s class (the proletariat) must eventually overthrow the oppressive ruling class (the bourgeoisie). Marxists believe that the next phase of societal evolution is for this overthrow to occur, thus moving the world from a capitalist society to a socialist one (Hmmm….I think I’ve heard something about this recently…).

The current goal of the Marxist is to create a classless society. To do this, they propose a system where equality trumps individuality. The Communist Manifesto calls for the abolition of individual freedoms such as ownership of property, child-rearing by parents, and home education. Under a Marxist rule, it is assumed that the state knows best, and so they dictate the rules of society, even to the point of encroaching on parent-child interactions and who owns property. Marxists hate the Bible and its commands such as “Thou shall not steal” precisely because it implies that someone owns property and someone does not. Their aim is to eliminate this inequity and return to a world where no one has more possessions than any other. This equality will eliminate jealousy and envy and the crimes that go along with these feelings. Nikita Krushchev summed it up when he said, “So long as classes exist on the earth, there will be no such thing in life as something good in the absolute sense. What is good for the bourgeoisie, for the imperialists, is disastrous for the working class, and, on the contrary, what is good for the working people is not admitted by the imperialists.”

Under a Marxist plan, the world will move toward such a society, but this move will necessitate a shift in morality, that is, the line between right and wrong will change. Karl Marx wrote these words in The Communist Manifesto“Does it require deep intuition to comprehend that man’s ideas, views and conceptions, in one word, man’s consciousness, changes with every change in the conditions of his material existence, in his social relations and in his social life?” This is the very nature of dialectical materialism – the world, society, and ethics are in constant flux. There is no possibility of a single truth for all time.

An excellent question to ask an average Marxist is this – “If we achieve a classless society in our lifetime, what is the next step in the Marxist plan?” I have done much research to ascertain this answer, but cannot find the next step in their plan. Were Marxism to take root globally, there would surely be a new initiative, and the ends and means would change with it. Curiously, it is a worldview without a clear final goal, other than world domination by Marxism.

Finally, it should be understood that the ethical code of Marxism includes hatred as an acceptable expression of the individual. If hatred, or an act of hate furthers the cause of Marxism, then it is perfectly fine. It is, in fact, demanded by their code. Krushchev said it best when he stated, “Our cause is sacred. He whose hand will tremble, who will stop midway, whose knees will shake before he destroys tens and hundreds of enemies, he will lead the revolution into danger. Whoever will spare a few lives of enemies will pay for it with hundreds and thousands of lives of the better sons of our fathers.” The rule of Marxism has left a trail of death, imprisonment, and slavery – all in the name of furthering the Marxist cause. It is estimated that 20 million Soviet citizens died at the hands of Stalin and his Marxist rule between 1924 and 1953. Rather than deny that these murders occurred, a good Marxist would admit to them and claim that they were necessary to win the fight for a classless society. Thus, murder is an acceptable ethic under Marxist rule.

As with other non-Christian worldviews, the Marxist ethic is disturbing in that it does not claim that there is a single moral truth on which we can depend. Living in such a world has disturbing and unpredictable consequences. It is this fact that we should reference to appeal to the Marxist. It is far better to live in a world where the rules are stable, known, fair and created not by man, but by the God of the universe.

To Worldview - Part 11 - Cosmic Humanist (New Age) Ethics

Or go back to the main index for all twelve Parts.

If you are interested in portions, or all of this twelve part series taught in an engaging, educational fashion, please contact Alan at Banyan Concepts.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Maybe There Is a Reason Behind All of the Financial Turmoil?

The recent stock market decline has a lot of people nervous about their future. With multi-hundred-point swings and an overall steady decline, there is genuine fear in people’s eyes about the uncertainty ahead. It is clear that the foundation upon which many people were relying – their financial position – has quickly been eroded.

Our culture in America has certainly gravitated toward one of wealth. But, the history of our nation shows a move from ownership of property towards one of debt and borrowing. As long as debt can be freely extended with a decent chance of being repaid, the whole model hangs together. But when one piece of the puzzle begins to fall apart, the entire system reacts out of fear. The mortgage crisis displays this phenomenon, where consumers were given loans which they were not able to maintain. These high-risk loans were bundled and sold to investment banks, which attracted investors by offering better-than-average returns. But as people gradually reached the point where they could not make their mortgage payments, and balloon payments began to hit, they walked away from their obligations. The whole shell game came tumbling down, and no one went unaffected. Even if you did the right thing and refused to buy that expensive house that your lender assured you that you could afford, you will now find your tax dollars going to fund those who could not resist the temptation.

One might think that this would lead people to step back and re-evaluate what they can truly afford, and make changes to accommodate their financial position. But we continue to be bombarded by advertisements and government officials who tell us we should not give up the American dream – even if we reached out for it much earlier than we were able to pay for it. Giving up our possessions in favor of something more affordable rails against everything that the media and the advertisers tell us.

There is a trend in our culture to sacrifice long-term security for short-term satisfaction. The “investment” in material things is often seen as a kind of competition between individuals. I had the opportunity to work for a fast-paced, high-tech company a few years ago. I was about ten years older than most of the people I worked with, and was one of the few who was married - let alone one of the only ones who had children. I was amazed at the intense competition that was in play among the younger individuals for acquiring new “toys”. At the beginning of each new work-week, there was much sharing of what was purchased on the weekend. I have to admit, I never really connected with my fellow employees when I shared my own account of a successful child potty training moment!

The focus on acquiring wealth has affected America in one very important way. It has taken our eyes off our God and His plan for our lives. I genuinely believe that families in the United States 250 years ago spent more time together in simple ways. They may have sat around the fire at night in conversation with each other, reading books, or furthering their education. The time that we spend shopping, watching television, and worrying about finances was likely spent in more productive pursuits. When viewed from a spiritual perspective, the constant pursuit of financial gain distracts us from godly pursuits. Have we turned into a nation of selfish, godless individuals?

I admit that part of me thinks it would do us some good to lapse into another period of financial depression. When money is scarce, it makes us turn to things other than the pursuit of wealth. Perhaps God has a plan to revive our nation though a lesson of this nature. Perhaps He wants us to stop focusing on the new cars, the cable television shows, and the emails piling up on our Blackberries. Instead, we would be better served to recapture that time, get down on our knees, and ask for God’s blessing on our nation and families. My favorite book of all time, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, harkens back to a time when families had nothing, where farms and possessions were wiped out, and where families had to bond together to scratch out a simple existence. Yet while reading that book, I can’t help but get a sense that people were closer and more focused on what was truly important. While the Joad family in that book suffered heartache after heartache, it seems that they were closer to God in many respects. And isn’t that the ultimate long-term investment?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Worldview Class – Part 9 –Secular Humanist Ethics

This is a continuation of highlighted topics discussed in a worldview class I am teaching on Sunday morning. The main text for the study is The Battle for Truth by David Noebel. A good deal of this class is also based on personal research.

Ethics are defined as “the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc." Specifically, the study of ethics attempts to answer the question “Who makes the rules – God or man?”

The fundamental foundation of ethics for Secular Humanists rests on their theology – that is, that there is no God. As ethical and moral standards must originate from somewhere, the humanist is left with no choice but to assign the authorship to man. This would end their argument if each of them agreed on the same definition of “right” and “wrong”. However, since there is much disagreement over what is morally acceptable and what is not, the humanist community is saddled with a divisive issue which makes their ethical stance difficult to defend. One of these dilemmas is stated as the “ought problem”, and summed up by Mihailo Markovic – “It remains quite unclear where this ‘ought’ comes from. It is one thing to describe a variety of actual historical patterns of conduct and moral habits. It is a completely different thing to make a choice among them and say that we ‘ought’ to observe some of them. Why some and not others?”

Indeed, even their foremost proponent Paul Kurtz admits, “I can find no ultimate basis for ‘ought’.” Are Secular Humanists living in a worldwide “free-for-all”, much like the New Age philosophers who proclaim that truth is whatever is defined by each individual? While there are some in the community who hold this position, most cannot accept such a vagary and so they claim that reason is the thing that more closely defines right and wrong. The British Humanist Association says, “Humanists believe that man’s conduct should be based on humanity, insight, and reason. He must face his problems with his own moral and intellectual resources, without looking for supernatural aid.” Corliss Lamont is quoted thus, “As long as man pursues activities that are healthy, socially useful, and in accordance with reason, pleasure will generally accompany them; and happiness, the supreme good, will be the eventual result.”

The process of reasoning figures prominently in the humanist’s belief in the theory of evolution. As man evolves, so does his power for reasoning, and thus to determine right from wrong. Unfortunately for them, the purpose of evolution flies in the face of this logical, pragmatic way of thinking. The ultimate goal of evolution is for the species to survive. And if survival is the final instinct, then bloodshed, war, and even murder have some justification under the humanist ethic. Most humanists will have no counter-argument for this flaw. In order for the species to survive, some must perish, and few modern-day humanists want to admit that killing or capital punishment is sometimes necessary.

Under the Secular Humanist system, ethics may change over time as man becomes wiser and more evolved. Experimentation is the best way to achieve this ethics basis, and the practice of this is called ethical relativism. Joseph Fletcher says, “Rights and wrongs are determined by objective facts or circumstances, that is, by the situations in which moral agents have to decide for the most beneficial course open to choice.” And Herbert W. Schneider has stated that morality is “an experimental art...the basic art of living well together. Moral right and wrong must therefore be conceived in terms of moral standards generated in a particular society.” But who determines the results of the experiment, and who defines what is correct? Again, the dilemma hinges on full agreement and there can be none of that in this broken world. Lamont has been quoted as saying, “For the Humanist, stupidity is just as great a sin as selfishness; and ‘the moral obligation to be intelligent’ ranks always among the highest of duties.” Thus, he would leave the arbitration to the smartest people in the race, though this fights with one of the basic humanist tenets of equality for all (see the Humanist Manifesto I, point fourteen or Humanist Manifesto II, point eleven). In addition, history shows that the smartest people are not always victorious, especially if the less intelligent are more determined, braver, or simply possess a bigger weapon.

Finally, one must ask what the true goal is for a Secular Humanist, since peace and agreement seem out of reach. There are clues all around, but one major hint would be the words of Paul Kurtz, when he states that “traditional supernaturalistic moral commandments are especially repressive of our human needs. They are immoral insofar as they foster illusions about human destiny (heaven) and suppress vital inclinations.” It is the use of the term “vital inclinations” that intrigues me. Lamont was earlier quoted about man’s search for “pleasure” and seeking it to fulfill the “supreme good”. It is clear that unrestricted sex is a clear goal of many humanist institutions. The Humanist Manifesto II, item six states that, “short of harming others or compelling them to do likewise, individuals should be permitted to express their sexual proclivities and pursue their lifestyles as they desire.” Humanists are responsible for funding the studies that “prove” that men can be born as homosexuals. They seek the same ruling on the topics of pedophilia and incest. “Sex without guilt” is one of their mantras. One Planned Parenthood representative was quoted as saying that their goal is to help “young people obtain sex satisfaction before marriage…By sanctioning sex before marriage, we will prevent fear and guilt.” The goal of pleasure without the burden of sin becomes evident.

Secular Humanists endure a problematic viewpoint on ethics. Without agreement from all, it is hard to know what is really right and wrong. Isn’t it easier to accept a moral code given by a God who loves us and wants the best for us? Most of us – humanists included – have an innate sense that certain acts are wrong. Murder is an example of this – most of us know inside that premeditated killing of another human being is immoral. Where does this innate sense of ethics come from? It cannot come from man, because mankind is not always in agreement on the subject. It must, and does come from God.

To Worldview - Part 10 - Marxist/Leninist Ethics

Or go back to the main index for all twelve Parts.

If you are interested in portions, or all of this twelve part series taught in an engaging, educational fashion, please contact Alan at Banyan Concepts.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Our Next Four Years

Today, our nation did something that was once unthinkable. We elected an avowed socialist to the highest government office in our land, a man who admits that killing babies is acceptable, even those who continue to live and breathe outside the womb. He was elected on a thin platform of extending government control to an ever-widening circle of our lives – health care, career, and education. He will be no friend to those of us who treasure schooling our children in our own home. And, he is clearly committed to no god but the false ones that our world has put forth as a lure for men who seek power. There appears to be no true faith in this man, except a faith in his own power and ability.

It seems incredible to me that the majority of people in our land could cast their precious votes for such an individual. When it was clearly demonstrated that he had no significant record of leadership or executive skills, it was ignored. When it was obvious that his speeches were mere platitudes designed to avoid answering any question with specifics, people looked the other way. He broke a promise to campaign with limited public money, as every other candidate has done since the option was created in the 1960’s, and instead chose the path that would allow him to “buy” the election with nearly unlimited funds. And, I must reiterate, unborn babies will continue to die unabated with him in the Oval Office.

Is this a wake-up call for those of us who treasure the words of our founding fathers? It took four years of a weak, near-socialist Jimmy Carter in the late 1970’s to motivate us toward a fresh start and a return to traditional values with Ronald Reagan. Could we be preparing the way for another?

On a positive note, it is during times of oppression and persecution that Christians rise up and proclaim God’s truths most adamantly. We will surely have many opportunities to do so in the next four years. As our individual rights are modified or even taken away, Christians should prepare for battle. We need to harden our resolve against government tyranny (yes, I said tyranny – look up the definition), and insist on God’s direction to be the impetus for our land’s laws once again. More babies will die because of this election, and we need to be on our knees in prayer for the presumptive mothers who still have the choice to keep their children.

We should teach our children what is wrong with this world and what needs to change to make it right, and thus begin to raise up the next generation of leaders and voters. We need to return to the direction of our founding fathers when they said, “God has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” (John Jay, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court)

These next four years should serve to sharpen each and every Christian for the battle that lies ahead. History demonstrates that it is during times of persecution that great movements are defined. This may be why God allows leaders to be elected who seem to possess no godly intent of their own. We are in the middle of battle - not a physical one, but one of spiritual proportions. Our nation has strayed from its godly roots to one of selfish and material worship. We need to change this – both in ourselves and in the next generation. Whenever people talk about their parents or grandparents who survived the Great Depression in the 1930’s, we hear about how those affected remain frugal even to this day – all as a result of the lean times that they endured during that decade. We are now in troubled times from a spiritual point of view. My generation, and the next generation that we are raising, need to remember these coming days. They will define the next moral turn that our nation will make – either to one of more government-led depravity and permissiveness, or to one where we realize our failings and turn back to the God of the universe for our leading. Regardless of who we elected as president today, the Lord God is still our ultimate authority. I will seek to obey Him first, and use His commands as the compass for my every move. In doing this, I hope to influence my family, and my nation to follow His principles.

Our renewed battle starts today.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Dealing With Some Political Injustice

I’ve never been a big bumper sticker promoter. I never wear t-shirts that state a political viewpoint. And I rarely put out political yard signs during election season. It’s not that I don’t care about politics; it’s that I see little need to advertise my beliefs publicly. I doubt many people cast their vote for a candidate because of a sticker that they saw on someone’s car.

But this year, my three children are old enough to appreciate the gravity of the political situation and they have been paying attention to the daily news and polls, and how the candidates may affect their futures. So it was no surprise to me that they spent two hours last Sunday afternoon making their own homemade “McCain-Palin” sign to post in our front yard. I gave them some long garden stakes to which they could attach it, and they proudly set it up in the yard. While they are not old enough to vote, they suddenly felt like part of the political process – something that I encourage. And while it was colorful and bold, it was also clearly the work of elementary children who were proud to display their belief.

So imagine our surprise when we woke up two mornings later to find that someone had spray-painted the word “Obama” over their artwork, ruining the sign. The faces of my kids were so sad when they saw this vandalism. It was the first experience they have ever had of someone directly disrespecting their property. It made me sad to see their loss of innocence over this event.

Our family gathered together to talk specifically about the defacement of their sign, and what we could learn from it. While their first reaction was some anger over the event, they began to ask questions about the sense of this act. Don’t these people see that they are violating our free speech? Don’t they have some remorse over entering our private property and vandalizing our sign? Don’t they realize that writing “Obama” on our homemade sign is more likely to drive people away from supporting him as a candidate? I was most proud when one of my children said that we should pray for the person or people who committed the act, in hopes that they might realize their wrong. We did and we all decided that the right thing to do was to make another sign, and park our anger over the loss of the first. A new homemade sign graced our lawn the next day.

Two days later, the same spray paint showed up on their new sign. By the looks of it, we believe it’s likely the work of other kids or teens in our neighborhood. My children’s first reaction was to start writing the words for their next sign. They won’t be suppressed, and they refuse to be angry about it.

But a part of me burns over the injustice. They destroyed artwork created by my own children. Would we not be upset if someone ripped up a picture painted by a first grader that was hanging on the family refrigerator? Wouldn’t we be angry if a stranger smashed the little pottery planter brought home from school by an eight-year-old? Shouldn’t I be able to reserve some judgment for people who would destroy my children’s art and suppress their free speech?

That was my first reaction. But my children’s own example made me think twice about it, because there is something greater to be thankful for in this true story. The vandals are not my children. My children are the ones who are learning to respect the opinion and property of others, and who will keep their anger in check when they are treated unfairly. Knowing this, my own anger fades away, because I have something far more valuable than that first homemade sign in our yard. I have a father’s pride for obedient and respectful children, who will possibly grow up one day to govern with those same principles.

By the way, here is their next response…

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Racism Is Still Alive and Well

This political season, my kids have enjoyed pointing out some of the political t-shirts, signs and bumper stickers that they see. They obviously have a bias that they get from me and my wife, because their politics are always right in line with ours. We’ll take full credit and shout “Hallelujah”!

One t-shirt caught their eye recently, and they asked us to explain it. The text of the message said this – “Paint the White House Black – Obama”. After reciting the words to us, they asked us for a deeper explanation about this slogan. I’ve looked it up and found that this line stems from a rap song by Ludacris – I’ve never heard it, nor do I intend to. Senator Obama has said that Ludacris is one of his favorite artists. If you want to see hatred wrapped up in a “song”, go read the lyrics to this rap entitled “Politics (Obama is Here)”. You’ll be shocked (I hope).

How do you explain racism to young children? Aren’t the days of the Ku Klux Klan and the Watts riots past us? Is our nation still enduring the hatred and baiting that characterized the 1960’s? Do we still live in a time where skin color and nationality make a difference in how we treat people? Apparently we do.

Make no mistake - the t-shirt in question does contain a racist message. Racism is defined as any policy that fosters the idea that there are inherent differences in race or culture. As skin color in this case determines a racial difference, it’s rather easy to conclude that the wearer of the shirt believes that there is a difference between putting a black person in the White House instead of a white person. It’s a kind of reverse apartheid, where segregation is made based on skin color. The person in question here is clearly making a stand for black skin color over white, as if that has anything to do with who should be governing our nation.

To put it in perspective, imagine for a moment that I had a t-shirt made up that said “Keep The White House White – McCain”. Could I get away with wearing that in public? It’s doubtful. I would very likely get negative publicity, and possibly be accused of a hate crime in our society today. It would certainly draw all sorts of negative media attention. But isn’t it the same message as the first t-shirt? Doesn’t it somehow imply that race has something to do with the election? Wearing either shirt or rapping the lyrics to a Ludacris song are clear announcements of racism.

Here is the lesson I am teaching my children. Skin color does not matter. Policy matters. Our nation should be judging our presidential candidates by what they say, do, and believe. Their race should have absolutely nothing to do with it. And yet, for a large segment of people (on both sides) it still does. I wonder where the polls would stand today if we had locked both candidates in a box when it all started and we were exposed only to their words. The numbers would be different, I’m sure.

The sad truth is that skin color still makes a difference to some people. White people still distrust black people and their ability to govern. And some black people want to make up for years of injustice by behaving in the same racist and biased way – only in reverse. They are acting as if there is a need to offset decades of racial bias by suppressing whites for a time. Many would not admit this openly, but a glance at some of the rapper lyrics that are so popular would tell us otherwise. They want the whites to suffer for a time, as penance for slavery and suppression inflicted on them by our ancestors.

If we truly want to be a nation known for its equal treatment of race, then we need to act that way now – not by offsetting the past sins with equal and opposite treatment. This election (as in all elections) should be about evaluating each candidate on principles and beliefs, with a blind eye toward truly irrelevant issues such as skin color. Would we disparage a candidate because they were balding, or sat in a wheelchair? Then why does the amount of melanin in a person’s skin have anything to do with their ability to lead? The clear answer is that it does not.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Worldview Class – Part 8 –Christian Theology

This is a continuation of highlighted topics discussed in a worldview class I am teaching on Sunday morning. The main text for the study is The Battle for Truth by David Noebel. A good deal of this class is also based on personal research.

Theology is defined as “the study of the nature of God and religious truth; rational inquiry into religious questions”. Every worldview takes a stand on God, whether it is to believe in one Creator of all, or to say that no God exists. A critical understanding of each worldview pivots around the position taken regarding the existence of God.

To this point, we have reviewed the approach of three different worldviews to the subject of theology – Secular Humanist, Marxist, and Cosmic Humanist (New Age). The first two subscribe to the concept of atheism, while the last tends in the opposite direction – toward pantheism, where everything and everyone is god. The Christian worldview embraces theism – the concept that there is one God, who created everything and has existed for all time.

The Christian worldview rests on two foundations – general revelation, and special revelation. General revelation tells us that God is revealed through nature and the complexity, beauty, and intricacy of the world around us. By studying the “irreducible complexity” of biology, astronomy and any number of other observable systems in our universe, it becomes clear that random chance is far less believable than simply accepting that all things were created by God. William Paley gave an excellent analogy for this belief in his book Natural Theology, where he poses the idea that a man finding a watch while in the wilderness would never conclude that the watch simply existed due to a fortunate series of random events. Rather, the man would be forced to conclude that the watch was made by someone, and likely had a purpose for its creation. How much more true is this conclusion when measuring the vast complexity of the universe around us! When looking at the facts in a rational manner, it seems impossible to conclude anything other than that we were made by someone far more powerful than we are. A true scientific approach, unhindered by humanistic bias, would draw the conclusion that there is a Creator. Romans 1:20 tells us that “since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

While this general revelation points us in the direction of God, it does not answer specific questions that we might have, such as “What happens in eternity?”, “How can I be saved?”, or “Will there be a judgment?” This is where the second foundation enters, that of special revelation. Unlike other worldviews, Christian theology claims a divinely inspired Bible, which is thousands of years old and is corroborated to be accurate by countless archaeological discoveries. And while the Bible was authored by many men over large periods of time, it is amazingly consistent in its approach to morality, history, and theme. Christians also point to these consistencies as further proof that the Bible is divinely inspired by God Himself, as a directive for us to follow and teach. The claim that these words come from God is a critical underpinning of the Christian faith. For the Christian, this is also considered a significant advantage over other viewpoints. Revealed truth is better than the constant floundering and rediscovering of truth that is evident in the other worldviews.

The combination of these two foundations tells us a great deal about God and His nature. Special revelation through the Bible and the life of God’s Son, Jesus, tells us that God is personal and that He desires to be known and have a relationship with us. That is no small thing. God could have decided to “wind up the universe” and let it play out to its own ends. Instead, He chose to reveal Himself, not only in nature around us, but in words and history that tell us who He is and what His ultimate plan for us will be. On balance, the Christian worldview is a far more hopeful and meaningful approach when compared to the other competing humanist worldviews. This hope and the fact that God wants a relationship with us should be enough to turn the head of anyone who is truly seeking the meaning of life.

To Worldview - Part 9 - Secular Humanist Ethics

Or go back to the main index for all twelve Parts.

If you are interested in portions, or all of this twelve part series taught in an engaging, educational fashion, please contact Alan at Banyan Concepts.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I’m Growing Tired of Rampant Commercialism

I recently took a business trip to Lake Tahoe. While there, I felt assaulted by the commercialism and obvious marketing ploys used by the town. Everywhere I turned, I felt the pressure to give my wallet to someone else.

It’s bad enough that when travelling to Nevada you are greeted by the sound of slot machines in the airport when you step off of the plane. There are slot machines in the grocery stores, too. After landing, I was looking forward to getting to my hotel for a nice, enjoyable evening. My itinerary had me staying at a large casino/hotel – and it was relatively cheap and more updated compared to some of the seedier places I had stayed in Tahoe in the past.

After checking in, I was directed to the elevators, which were easily 500 feet away. I had to navigate several hallways of shops, poster advertisements, and even the smell of fresh cinnamon rolls for sale – all this just to get to the elevator. A slightly more faint-of-heart person wouldn’t make it through without succumbing to an attack of shopping.

Later, I went wandering to see what else I could find that was an obvious marketing strategy (I thought it would provide good blog material). It didn’t take me long. As I stepped off the elevator, I found myself in a large video arcade room – which I thought was rather nice, until I realized that this was the “dumping ground” for parents to leave their children while they went upstairs to gamble. What’s more, it seemed to me a sort of “training room” for children to prepare them for the move up to the slot machines and poker tables when they come of age. This began to weigh heavily on my mind.

Later, I went upstairs to observe the gambling tables (no worries – gambling has never appealed to me and my frugal character). I was saddened by what I saw. Dozens of people were feeding money into slot machines, without even getting the satisfaction of pulling a lever (slot machines are button-operated now). I noticed several older women frantically feeding machines, their suitcases at their feet. Confused at this, I wandered outside and found the answer. Their tour bus was warming up outside, ready to depart in minutes. These poor dears were getting in their last-minute gamble before crossing the state line back to California.

I went up to my room to do some writing and computer work, and immediately noticed that there wasn’t a good-sized table to work on. A small round table covered with casino ads was all that was available in this otherwise spacious and rather modern room. When I went to plug in my computer, I found that there was no electrical outlet on the walls anywhere near this table. In fact, the only outlet in the entire room was near the room entryway door, completely inaccessible as a practical place to work. Bottom line – I believe the room was laid out in such a way as to discourage anyone from spending time in it. Rather, everything was set up to get me to leave the room and hit the gambling tables.

Now, I know that I probably should expect all of this, staying in a casino hotel on a business trip. Nevertheless, the feeling of assault stayed with me the entire time I was there. It was frustrating to me that I constantly felt pressured to do something other than spend a quiet evening in my room reading a book or catching up on some writing (which is what I enjoy most when I’m on a business trip).

What is my point? It is that I long for a place free from the constant pressures of marketing. “Buy, buy, buy” is the mantra that you see and hear wherever you go. Our nation has become used to the constant flood of materialism in every location. Even in Hawaii, my family’s favorite vacation place, there is the uninterrupted bombardment of marketing wherever you go. Perhaps this is why my new favorite vacation spot is in my own living room, complete with a good book, my computer, and a soft rain outside to keep me from feeling guilty about not mowing the lawn.

Except for those infuriating Internet pop-up ads that assault me on my laptop. Sigh…

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Worldview Class – Part 7 – New Age (Cosmic Humanist) Theology

This is a continuation of highlighted topics discussed in a worldview class I am teaching on Sunday morning. The main text for the study is The Battle for Truth by David Noebel. A good deal of this class is also based on personal research.

Theology is defined as “the study of the nature of God and religious truth; rational inquiry into religious questions”. Every worldview takes a stand on God, whether it is to believe in one Creator of all, or to say that no God exists. A critical understanding of each worldview pivots around the position taken regarding the existence of God.

The New Age worldview is often stated in ethereal words of transcendental gobbledy-gook. I must confess that the majority of statements made by many New Agers escape logic – at least, my logic. For example, Marilyn Ferguson attempts to describe God in this way - “In the emergent spiritual tradition God is not the personage of our Sunday school mentality….God is experienced as flow, wholeness….the ground of being….God is the consciousness that manifests as Lila, the play of the universe. God is the organizing matrix we can experience but not tell, that which enlivens matter.”

I just read this quote to my fourteen-year-old daughter Molly and she called it “a load of waffle”. I don’t think I could describe it any better.

There are many problems with Cosmic Humanism (New Age thought), but one of the most disturbing is the absence of a clear truth or an absolute right and wrong. In fact, New Age theology teaches that one must look within oneself in order to search for truth. And what is true for one person may not be true for another. By searching individually for truth, the New Age follower strives to achieve godhood. That is their individual goal, and the collective aim of all New Agers is for all people to achieve godhood together. By doing this, they achieve what they call “consciousness”. In the final state, God is everyone and everyone is God. Beverly Galyean said, “Once we begin to see that we are all God, that we have all the attributes of God, then I think the whole purpose of human life is to re-own the Godlikeness within us; the perfect love, the perfect wisdom, the perfect understanding, the perfect intelligence, and when we do that, we create back to that old, that essential oneness which is consciousness.”

Another disturbing belief that is prevalent in New Age thought is that of reincarnation. They believe that souls are in a constant state of movement from one form to another as a part of the quest for godhood. And they also maintain that it is important for a person to discover “who” they were in past lives in order to gain some understanding of why they are the way they are, and what must be done to achieve godhood in the future. There are even some who claim to make “soul contracts” with other individuals in one life, with the agreement that these individuals will “help” each other in future lives. Claims are made that you can tell when you have a soul contract with another individual because of an unusually strong feeling of familiarity when you look in that person’s eyes. A lot of money is made in the psychic world to help people “discover” their soul agreements. So I’ll ask this question – is it possible that people who believe they were Emperor Nero or Abraham Lincoln in a past life are being deceived by an evil spirit? What may seem to them like fact and truth may simply be the deception mentioned by Paul in Romans 1:21 – “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” The quest to know who they were in a past life begs the act of inquiring information of the spirit world – an extremely dangerous enterprise.

Finally, an added danger to the New Age belief system is their treatment of Jesus Christ and his role in history. Rather than deny Jesus’ existence, as other worldviews tend to do, New Age followers believe Jesus existed, and was a perfect man. By living such a life, he demonstrates that godhood can be achieved. Jesus is used as an example of what New Agers want to become, and he gives them hope for the possibility. From the New Age publication Science of Mind, we read “The significance of incarnation and resurrection is not that Jesus was a human like us but rather that we are gods like him – or at least have the potential to be.”

The sum of these dangers makes Cosmic Humanism much more difficult to combat from a Christian worldview. Unlike other worldviews like Marxism and Secular Humanism, the Cosmic Humanist offers a form of afterlife, even if it is a false one. They promise a happier ending than Marxism does, and they hold to the belief that things can work out in another life if we don’t do so well in the current one. The belief in reincarnation gives the New Ager something to live for and something to look forward to beyond this life.

The key to winning over a New Age follower is to impress upon them that the Christian worldview preaches a personal God – one who cares deeply and intimately about the individual. At some point, a New Age person is certain to cry out for more, when things in this world are falling apart around them. Can they say that someone died for them long ago in order that God’s plan could be fulfilled and we could live forever in heaven with the Creator of the universe? In talking with former New Age believers, I found this to be the thing that was missing in their former life – the promise of a personal, caring God who already has the answers and who doesn’t require us to achieve godhood at His level. This is the God that I believe. I am content to let Him be God, while I remain His servant.

To Worldview - Part 8 - Christian Theology

Or go back to the main index for all twelve Parts.

If you are interested in portions, or all of this twelve part series taught in an engaging, educational fashion, please contact Alan at Banyan Concepts.