Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Tangled Web We Weave

You know what this is, right?

It’s a straight line graph, where an increase in the independent variable is matched by an equal increase in the variable that depends on it. In this case, where the dependency formula is y = x, it’s like you get a year older every year you live. With a different dependency formula, say y = 250x, it could show that every week you hide $250 under your mattress, the total you have hidden increases by $250. The line would be steeper, but it would still be straight (everything else being equal).
We tend to think of life being linear, like every day we live we’re a day older, or every dollar we put under our mattress increases the total by one, but some important parts of life don’t behave that way. For example, is adding a second wife the same as getting married for the first time? From the man’s point of view, the first wife would be all the difference in the world. The second wife would be one more body, but as far as sex and housecleaning and probably some other things, it would simply mean more of what he already has. (There is also good reason to believe the man’s problems would increase parabolically, but let’s leave that aside for now.) The change would not be as dramatic as it was for his first marriage. A third would be one more body, but less of a change than the second marriage, and so on to Solomon’s seven hundred wives.
This can be represented by a logarithmic graph. You can see that the numbers on the y axis are multiples of ten, not of one, as on the previous chart.

The steepest difference is between x = 1 (unmarried) and x = 2 (one wife). The second wife (x = 3) increases y, but by less than the first wife did. By the time our Solomon adds his fifteenth wife, the difference is perceptible, but pretty much negligible.
From his first wife’s point of view, of course, that second wife would be an increase from 0 to 1, all the difference in the world. The third wife would add insult to injury, as would the fourth, et cetera, but no one addition would effect as big a change as that between 0 and 1.
A phrase that I think has come into English from computer programming is “[something] is the new [something, usually smaller].” It comes from algorithms like this:
1 x = 0
2 do until x = 6
3 x = x + 1
4 loop
5 print x
6 end
That is, “Start with an x equal to 0 and add 1 to it until you get to 6. Then output x [which by then will be 6] and quit.” Line 3 is where our phrase comes from: first “1 is the new 0,” then “2 is the new 1,” then “3 is the new 2,” et cetera, until x = 5 and the program ends.
The Overton Window plays on this idea. If we think of x as the range of allowable opinion (i.e., ideas that are considered sane or decent or reasonable), then one reasonably asks “If x is OK, how about x + 1?” Jon Stewart did a pretty good parody of Glenn Beck’s version of the idea, but the point of his parody was that if it works to support the point Beck was making, it could be used to support points Beck wouldn’t want to admit to making. Stewart never got around to denying that Beck was right.
If life is logarithmic, we should find that bringing new ideas into the Overton Window becomes easier over time. We are familiar with how this applies to lying.
As the old saw goes, “What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” When we decide to tell a lie, we do so thinking that one little lie won’t hurt anything. But eventually we have to tell another lie to cover the first, and on and on until we can’t keep the facts and lies straight and the truth comes out.
We see this in tax-funded programs as well. Let’s take for an example something reasonable, like schools. Everyone wants kids to be educated, right? And what better way to fund schools than taxes?
So we have, say, a 1% tax to pay for the school. Soon we find that kids have different needs, so we need more facilities. But we don’t have the money, so now we need a 2% tax. But some people are cheating on their taxes, so now we need an enforcement agency, and not only that, we’re not teaching an important subject, so we need another teacher. Now we’re up to a 3% tax. Then we decide that the Hatfields and the McCoys aren’t getting along, so we need to have separate schools. Now we’re up to 4%. Then we decide that the McCoys’ school isn’t as good as the Hatfields’ school, so now we have to put the students back together, but we need staff to keep peace between them. Now we’re up to 5%. But all the while this is going on, the people who run the system are taking home paychecks, and the longer they work, the more they expect to be paid; after all, their competence has increased. So now we’re up to 6%, and we’re nowhere near finished.
There might be considerable resistance to the increase from 1% to 2%. Those opposed will say – or, as the mainstream media are wont to say, howl – “Our taxes are doubling!” But by the time the item on the ballot is to raise the rate from 5% to 6%, it’s only a 20% increase, and once the taxes are up to 20%, an increase to 21% is only an increase of 5% and will garner hardly a shrug.
I can’t give physics-lab proof that tax projects always grow more expensive, but every case I can think of has, if not each line item than the aggregate. School budgets and other prototypical welfare, as well as military spending and other forms of crony capitalism, always seems to increase. When the dollar amount of one item actually does go down, the money gets moved to another item.
If one tax expenditure always breeds another, the logic would dictate that that would still be the case once the tax rate reaches 100%. By then, the percentage increase of every additional x will be so small that there will be no barrier to implementing it but lack of money. So then we simply put the new item on credit, since after all it’s just a little bit of debt, and a little debt never hurt anyone. You see where this is going.
If one tax expenditure always breeds another, then the only cure to the problem is to get rid of that first tax expenditure. And if there is no tax expenditure, there is no need for taxes. It is taxation that is the second wife that ruins the marriage for the first wife. It is taxation that is like the first lie that precipitates a life of deceit.
We always want more than we have. That’s because we are made in the image of God, who wants more than he has as well. This is why he said, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it [= increase its value].” This is why Jesus told parables of rich men entrusting their property to stewards who were expected to increase that property’s value. Whenever a group of Christians starts a school or hospital or church or day care center or soup kitchen, with every advance comes a problem that will require additional resources. God calls us to find ways to serve our neighbors so they will give us the resources we need to solve those problems. For too long, evangelicals have looked to the tax man for financial help, and we are poorer than ever, or at least than at any time in my life, and the church is withering.
It’s time to cut off that first, most important transgression. It’s time to kiss the tax man goodbye and build the kingdom without him. “God’s work done God’s way will never lack God’s support.”

Monday, September 28, 2015


In response to my posting of this link on Facebook
with the comment
Her penis”? Seriously?
I received the following response:
Yes, her. Here is an area that is not political, but personal. Not all transgender folk who have transitioned have chosen surgical procedures. We should all inform ourselves on how to show respect, support, and acceptance of all people - and not condemn or judge.
I tried twice to respond to the response, but due to either my incompetence or Facebook’s electronic censor, the comments didn’t come through. So, since life happened this weekend and the post I wanted to post didn’t happen, I’ll make do with responding here.
We have no common ground on which to discuss this issue if we can’t agree on what words mean. If a human being born with a penis is not male, what is male, and what is that person?
Where I come from, if it looks like a duck and it sounds like a duck and it walks like a duck and it swims like a duck and it eats what ducks eat, it’s a duck. It may think it’s a swan or the planet Neptune or a quadratic equation, but it’s a duck.
In the same way, if it’s (I’m using the only gender-nonspecific pronoun available to me) born with a penis, it’s male. The penis may be really, really small, or the urinary meatus may be downstream of the vestigial vagina rather than at the penis head, but the person is male. If the person has enough female characteristics, it may be a hermaphrodite, but if it has a recognizable penis, it’s male. He may wish he were a woman, he may wish people treated him the way they typically treat women, but he’s a male. For him to be unable to fulfill the role of a male is a problem that cannot be solved by calling it normalcy. Yes, it is normal to have problems, but it is also normal to try to solve the problems, not to try to make them go away by calling the situation normal.
If you want to get me to change my mind, you can begin by showing me how cerebral palsy is normal. Good luck.
A male is someone born with a penis and whose idea of sex necessitates that the other person have a vagina and identify as a female. This is true for well over 90% of all the born-with-a-penis people who have ever lived. Some – perhaps many – males have no access to females, so they will make do with other males, with animals, with robots, or simply with their hands. But what the Bible considers a healthy male is looking for a woman. He needs to control his natural tendencies to objectify and exploit and a thousand other things men do to mistreat women, but his goal is sexual union with a woman.
Absent that and you’re dealing with an abnormality. As we are all sinners, God commands us to treat all people with respect. Part of that respect involves calling normal normal, calling abnormal abnormal, and calling sin sin. Jesus died to free us not only from the judicial consequences of sin but also from its hold over us, whether a sharp temper or self-righteousness or misguided sexuality. Calling any of these normalcy does no one any favors.
To the degree that Shadi Petosky – and more importantly, the person who wrote the article – were inclined to mind his own business, I would simply shrug and walk away. If Christian compassion (which in this instance does not include hassling him about his sexuality until the core issue of rebellion against God is dealt with) were called into play, I would treat him like any other human being that needs Jesus, which is to say like any other human being.
However, I would guess that Shadi votes, and he probably votes to help himself to my money. It’s bad enough to have otherwise decent people do it, but to have people like Shadi and the writer of the article, who can’t tell a man with serious psychological problems from a woman, vote money out of my pocket to fund politicians who substitute a police state for a society of people who mind their own business is, shall we say, an unwelcome opportunity to exercise Christian forbearance.
Maybe my comment should have been, “Shadi Petosky and Essel Pratt and the TSA goons all vote. Are you sure democracy is such a good idea?” Too soon old, too late smart.
Live your life, Shadi. I don’t care what gender you call yourself. I resent those who discovered the penis under your dress more than I resent you, I resent the politicians who keep us in a constant state of war more than I resent the TSA, and I consider the terminology in the article much more harmful overall than your predilections.
Just don’t ask me to subsidize your lifestyle, and we’ll get along fine. Fat chance of that, right?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Donald’s Inconvenient Truth

The good folks at CNN must have been eating the same stuff I do when they planned last week’s GOP debate, because the format seemed to key off of my maxim that the only time you can know that a politician is telling the truth is when he is calling his opponent a liar. The format of the debate, at least the first half hour, which was all I could bother myself with, was to take a quote from one candidate calling one of his opponents – mostly Donald Trump – a crook, and then giving the accusee a minute to respond.

That is, the moderator would hit the candidate with the truth and give the candidate a minute to try to lie his way out of it. “Vote for me, and I’ll make America great again” was the answer to every question, with a few exceptions.

One of those exceptions came when one of the establishment suits castigated the Donald for giving money to the campaigns of Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats. Trump had been playing the “I’m a businessman” card for a few minutes, so he replied, essentially, “Of course I gave money to them. I gave money to everyone. I’m a businessman. I need to get along with everybody.”

No new facts here. When Enron went under some years ago, it was front-page news that CEO Kenneth Lay had given money to Republicans. A few days later it was back-page news that he had also given money to Democrats. “Of course. I gave money to everyone. I’m a businessman. I need to get along with everybody.” (Lay didn’t say it that way, of course, but his form of crookdom was different from Trump’s.)

Uncle Sam arms Israel. He also arms Israel’s enemies. “Of course. I gave weapons to everyone. I’m an empire. I need to get along with everybody.” And it works. The corrupt Arab leaders love Uncle Sam for keeping them in power, and Israel loves him the way a wife-beater loves a codependent woman.

Is Donald Trump the only businessman who has to buy off politicians to get ahead? I don’t think I’m reading much into his words: his message to his opponents was, “Cut the crap. This is the way it is for everybody and you know it.”

(At about the same time, Jeb Bush was oh-so-offended that Trump had “tried to bring casino gambling to Florida” and oh-so-proud that he and the legislature had foiled the attempt. Yeah, right. Watch a Miami Marlins baseball game and look at the outfield wall: you’ll see a huge ad for a casino run by an Indian tribe.)

One of the best lines in The Shawshank Redemption is when the protagonist, who has been jailed for a crime he did not commit, tells his friend, “I never broke the law before I was put here [in prison]. It took prison to make me a crook.” Trump’s inconvenient truth is that politics turns business people into crooks to the degree businesses need to get such things as special tax breaks and monopoly status to survive. Absent politics (and present an order in which people and property are safe from violence and fraud), businesses survive or die solely on the basis of their ability to satisfy their customers (which includes keeping their employees happy).

I would love to see that, but neither Trump nor his GOP rivals nor his Democrat opponents have any intention of presiding over such an order. As Dwight Eisenhower said, “Should any political part attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

While those guys aren’t “stupid,” I guess as a “businessman from other areas,” though certainly not in the league of Texas oil millionaires nor even of local landscapers, I am. But I read Jeremiah’s words – “The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” (5:31) – and wonder: when a guy with no inhibitions, in front of the largest audience a major television network has ever had, makes a virtue of businessmen buying the politicians who supposedly make the laws to regulate them, how can anyone, especially God’s people, think that things will go well in the end?

Monday, September 7, 2015

Relational Discord, Personal and Otherwise

When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him. (Prov 16:7)

When the George W. Bush administration announced that the Global War on Terror would require constant war for decades, if not generations, I don’t remember hearing anyone ask, “Isn’t this announcement an admission that something is seriously wrong with our diplomatic corps?”

I know I didn’t think to ask it. My thought at that time was that we should use our nuclear arsenal, the largest in the world and certainly large enough to turn the entire Muslim world into glass, to reward every act of Muslim terrorism with a mushroom cloud over a Muslim city, beginning with Mecca and working from there. I realized that we wouldn’t be able to get everyone who could carry out a megadeath attack, but eventually we’d get most of them. Well, it would be good enough for government work.

It didn’t occur to me that the list of large Muslim cities would soon include London and Paris and Hamtramck, Michigan, and Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

More importantly, it didn’t occur to me to ask if diplomacy might be more effective than war. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger” (Prov 15:1). If harsh words stir up anger, what do sponsoring the Shah or Hellfire missles that target wedding parties or the torture of people who turn out to be innocent do? And if the Muslim world does indeed hate us, might it not be worthwhile to at least try speaking gently rather than subsidizing despots and terror organizations?

I heard an interesting sermon (which has nothing I remember to do with politics) the other day, one that I encourage you to listen to while you do the dishes or take a walk or something. If you don’t hang on every word, I’ll be surprised.

Among other things, the preacher quotes from a fellow named Jack Miller, of which I know nothing but what he quoted, which I paraphrase:

People who are habitually unable to work conflicts to resolution have some or all of five characteristics:

A desire to get their own way at all costs and/or be prominent.

An inability to admit and correct sins in themselves.

A strong trend toward blaming others and self-righteous gossip.

A failure to practice deep and ongoing forgiveness.

An unwillingness to listen.

This sounds like Uncle Sam to me.

Are we not “the exceptional nation,” “the lone superpower”?

When was the last time you heard any VIP admit to any kind of immorality besides sexual? Even when admitting that “collateral damage” is the killing of innocent people, have you ever heard any of our rulers say doing so was immoral?

Isn’t every problem we’ve solved by war the fault of the Indians, the British, the Spanish, the Mexicans, the Confederates, the Filipinos, the Germans, the Japanese, the North Koreans, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Syrians, … ?

Have we ever offered to forgive our enemies and sit and work things out in a way that doesn’t threaten them?

Do we ever really listen to them?

I say Uncle Sam is “habitually unable to work conflicts to resolution” because he has all five of those characteristics. And he’s proud that he does.

We Christians, each one of us, we also have those characteristics to some degree. In most areas of life we are willing to admit our fault, ask for forgiveness, and resolve by grace to do better.

Uncle Sam is unrepentant and proud of being so. I submit that any church that flies his flag will share in the reward he receives for that pride.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Guest Writer

I want my vast readership to read about someone -- a bunch of someones, actually -- who are doing it right: helping the poor, building a city on a hill the kingdom way with kingdom resources.

Click here.

Homosexuality, Obesity, and the Iron Fist of the State

The evangelical cause du jour is a county clerk in Kentucky who has been thrown in jail because she refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. The second-biggest irony here is that it is still on the books in Kentucky that it is not legal to issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples.
Of course, the atheists are having a great time with this.
[Photo credit]

And why not? If no private employer would tolerate an employee who would refuse service to a deserving customer, why should the state?
As usual, it is love for the state as such that clouds the thinking of well-intentioned minds, but your hero is here to disperse those clouds.
Let’s begin with the Bible. What does the Bible say about marriage? (All together now:) “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
One man, one woman. Simple, right? No.
Look at these twenty-one versions versions of Genesis 4:19. Every one of them says that either Lamech “married two women,” “took two wives,” or “married two wives.” The ultraliteral Hebrew says “he took two women,” which leaves open the possibility that he simply took two women but actually married at most one of them, but if every version there understands that these were both marriages – and biblical Hebrew has no other vocabulary to express marriage that I know of – then either the delusion that Lamech had two wives has been universal for the 3500 years since the Torah was written or the Torah means to say that Lamech had two wives.
We see the same thing mutatis mutandis for David in 1 Sam 25:43.
In the New Testament the evidence is not as clear, but it’s pretty strong. When the Apostle Paul gives Titus the qualifications for a church elder, he specifies that he must be “a man of one woman” or “a one-woman man.” While some versions of Titus 1:6 render this “faithful to his wife,” most take it to mean “the husband of one wife.” I infer from that that polygyny was recognized as marriage, but polygynists were disqualified from being church elders.
So the Bible defines marriage as at most one man and at least one woman, and ideally one of each. Man and man, woman and woman, man or woman and beast or robot is not a marriage. Score one for Kim Davis.
Where Mrs. Davis went wrong was by forgetting that nowhere in the Bible does God delegate to “the powers that be … ordained of God” to issue marriage licenses. Adam and Eve didn’t go to anyone for a license. Isaac and Rebekah didn’t either. Nor did David and Abigail. Nor did George and Martha Washington, nor did Betsy Griscom and John Ross.
Marriage licensing laws were introduced in fifteenth-century England (not, as I was previously informed, in the Jim Crow South), two thousand years after the Torah was written. For three hundred years before that, the Catholic Church seems to have been the authority in the matter. Given the Catholic doctrine that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on Earth, I would expect that the church enforced its authority with the sword, and with the secularization of European culture during the Renaissance, the sword passed to the increasingly godless civil authorities.
Enter Mrs. Davis, who took a job that she knew would pay her from tax money extracted from, among others, evangelical Christians and homosexuals. Her reasons for taking that job are her business alone, but one can assume that she took such factors as remuneration and job security into account and decided she would do better as a clerk in a government office than in the private sector. She also agreed at the outset, one would think, to obey the rules of the workplace.
Had she considered the lack of biblical mandate for marriage licenses? Given the spirit of the times that regards the state is a necessary positive good, I doubt it. The deer walked right into the ambush.
Here’s where you can’t make this stuff up. If she had told the gay applicants, “Kentucky law forbids me to issue a license,” she would literally have had Kentucky law on her side. She would have joined those heroes who have defied at state level such evils as the federal Fugitive Slave Law, the marijuana laws, and Common Core, those who have told Leviathan in Washington “Keep your damned money; we’re not going to enforce those laws.”
Instead, by making the issue a matter of her personal religion, she angered Leviathan, and like the man with a hammer to whom every problem is a nail, Leviathan grabbed her with his iron fist and threw her in jail. (Prison, of course, is nowhere described in the Bible as a place anyone should be put for any reason, but that’s the subject of another post.) Not a good idea.
Take a look at the cartoon again. If the fat guy had complaied to the cashier’s boss that he had been refused service, either the boss would have given the cashier the choice of serving the customer or finding another job, or he would have fired him on the spot. (Or he would have said, “That’s my religion too. Sorry, sir, we won’t serve you.” Think of a bar owner not wanting to serve a person who’s already inebriated.) End of problem. No media coverage. No jail term.
If the political right and left agree on anything, it’s the beneficence of the state: Highways! Schools! Hospitals! Just look at that soft velvet glove.
But that glove covers an iron fist: Police! Prisons!
Mrs. Davis found out that the powers that be, ordained of God, are not her friends. The Apostles Peter and Paul both died at the hands of the state they wrote what sound like laudatory passages about.
I say an important part of kingdom work is looking at what’s inside the glove, seeking to build alternatives, and seeking to woo away Leviathan’s lovers.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Jesus the Anti Cultural Imperialist

Look at these four maps. Do you see what I see?

Where the world’s Buddhists live

Where the world’s Hindus live

Where the world’s Muslims live

Where the world’s Christians live

Twenty-five hundred years after the Buddha lived, Buddhism is pretty much a local religion. The locale is very large, and many people live there, but it is remarkable that Buddhism has remained pretty much where it began. It would appear that those Buddhists who have left Buddhism’s homeland have emigrated for economic reasons, not to proselytize.

The same would seem to be the same for Hinduism. Nearly two thousand years after the “golden age” of Hinduism, over ninety percent of Hindus live in India. Again, those who have left seem to have left for economic reasons, not to spread their religion.

The situation with Islam is different. Most Muslims don’t live in the Middle East, where Islam began. However much of the geographical spread was done by the sword, much of it was done by trade. Muslims early on were prolific traders and scholars, giving the world such things as compasses, mattresses, cotton, and the grammatical analysis of biblical Hebrew – not to mention algebra and the number zero.

They took their religion with them wherever they went, and while Islam in Tanzania is different from what it is in the Philippines, and both are different from Islam in Saudi Arabia, one thing is common to all: the idea that submission to Allah and love for the Prophet require forceful reaction to any perceived insult. Such insult can take the form, as we have seen with the Danish cartoons, of mockery, but as thousands of Christians around the world can testify, it can also take the form of refusing to accept Islam, of leaving Islam, and even of simply articulating Christian doctrine. And though the Quran says that there is to be no coercion in matters of religion, what actually happens frequently on the ground would fit most non-Muslims’ definition of coercion.

Now look at the map for Christianity. No other religion is spread as evenly over the world as Christianity. When I first came to Christ, Protestant Christianity was pretty much a European religion, though its most visible proponents were Europeans whose ancestors had moved to the western hemisphere. Not anymore.

As Christians suffer persecution from Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, not to mention atheists, we can thank God that he has not called us to defend his name, his reputation, or his servants by violence. We should be grieved when the name of Jesus is dragged through the mud, of course, but he tells us to respond by inviting those who disparage him to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” He will not turn his anger on us if we don’t beat the crap out of those who insult him.

I need no other proof that it is Jesus, not Allah, not the Buddha, not the Hindu pantheon, and not the most powerful of atheists, who is the truly great one.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Au Contraire, Matt Walsh: Decent People Do Support Planned Parenthood

Even though Matt Walsh passes on a reasonable definition of decent – “morally upright and respectable” – I have to dissent from his main point that If You Still Support Planned Parenthood, You Are Simply Not a Decent Person.

The problem, of course, is deciding what “decent” means, which leads us to determining what “morally upright” means.

As far as I can tell, the first thing most people think about decent people is that they write their grandparents on their birthdays, teach their kids to say please and thank you, pick up litter, salute the flag, do their jobs, mow their lawns and weed their gardens, vote, are hospitable, help neightbors in need, go to PTA meetings, more or less obey the speed limits, quarantine scatalogical language and sounds, cheer at patriotic events, respect and sometimes join the police and military, pay their bills on time, and the list (which is in no particular order) goes on.

If you say someone is not decent, they will go to that list and give proof that they do too fit the definition. I have had conversations that have followed just that path.

“There’s more to morality than just mowing your lawn,” I hear you say. Like what? “Like, like … respect for life, for Christ’s sake! When a Planned Parenthood worker pulls the brain out of a baby who is moving his limbs, that’s murder! Can’t you see it?”

Actually, yes, I can see it. But decent people don’t see it that way. I know, because I’ve talked to them. I can’t see their logic, so I won’t try to defend it, but I know they see it that way because they tell me they do, and they are indignant that I would impugn their basic human decency.

And not only do they dissect live babies, they blow them to bits and smash them in rubble with rocket-propelled grenades or Hellfire missles or other bombs. They burn their lungs with white phosphorus or their bodies with napalm. They maim them before they’re conceived with depleted uranium and Agent Orange. Or they just shoot them – oops!

For me to question their moral uprightness in these matters is to question their basic human decency. They are, after all, simply decent people trying to make the world a better place.

(I’m reminded of the unofficial motto of the prisoners at the prison in The Shawshank Redemption: “We’re all innocent here.”)

So I will relegate decency to the morgue for victims of what C. S. Lewis called “verbicide” and try to find another word for what I used to call “basic human decency”: leaving people and their property alone and telling the truth.

The kind of people who would surrender their “products of conception” to Planned Parenthood are not my people. When they do raise children, those children will stand for everything I stand against (and would want my descendants to stand against) – and worse, they will stand against everything I stand for – so the fewer of them there are, the better.

I can’t stop the Shiites and Sunnis from killing each other, nor can I stop the communists and their enemy du jour from killing each other, but every time they do, it’s one less enemy for me. Same for the baby-killer crowd, liberal and conservative.

I consider this small compensation for being forced to pay for the killing, but of course, both those who kill babies in the eastern hemisphere and those who kill them here in the United States consider my desire simply not to have to pay for those killings an assault on their decency.

Let me add, of course, that if they’d like to hear my ideas for how they can get what they really want out of life, I’m happy to tell them how to do it. One of the the first steps involves not killing babies. But once again, decent people kill babies. If you don’t believe me, just ask them.

Matt, maybe decency isn’t such a good thing.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Truck, the Motorboat, and the Helicopter

The idea for this message has been simmering in my brain for weeks. We know a young woman who has become a single mother. She seems to be trying to negotiate the way between her desire for her daughter to grow up in a home with both parents and her desire to be a Christian coming back from serious sin and obey the commandment not to marry a nonbeliever.

We were discussing this situation weeks ago, and at some point in the conversation she said that one problem she has bringing her boyfriend (for lack of a better term) to church or to hang with Christian people is that he does not want to hang around with people who think he's going to hell.

So I've been wondering since then how I would speak as a Christian to him if I ever had the chance. Fast forward to last week when my wife and I were returning from a missions trip with our church. We stopped on the way home to visit a friend and went to church with her. I thought his sermon applied to my situation so well I stole his main takeaway for today.

This is what he said: our goal is reconciliation not alienation; our purpose in interacting with nonbelievers is invitation not condemnation; we get people to accept the invitation by demonstration not accusation.

I need to set this up by making a parable out of a joke that was making the rounds a few years ago. It’s not theologically correct. It’s only meant to put a picture in your mind that I can refer to as I go along.

A guy is minding his own business fixing his car in his garage on a rainy day. After a while, another guy drives up in one of those monster pickup trucks, rolls down his window, and yells, “Hey! There’s going to be a huge flood. The bridges are out, but I can make it out with this truck. There’s room for you, but you can’t bring anything else. Come on!”

The guy in the garage smiles and says, “Thank you anyway, but God will get me through this.” After trying unsuccessfully a few more times to get the guy into the truck, the other guy drives off.

After a while the water level rises and water starts coming into the house, so the guy gets all his valuables up as high as he can. After a while he hears a motor boat outside. The guy in the boat says, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet! It’s still raining upstream from here. There’s only room for you, but come on, get in!”

The guy in the house smiles and says, “Thank you anyway, but God will get me through this.” After trying unsuccessfully a few more times to get the guy into the boat, the other guy motors off.

After a while there’s no more room in the house, so the guy climbs up on his roof. As the water just gets to the top of the roof, a helicopter appears. The guy in the helicopter says, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet! It’s still raining upstream from here. There’s only room for you, but come on, get in!”

The guy on the house smiles and says, “Thank you anyway, but God will get me through this.” After trying unsuccessfully a few more times to get the guy into the helicopter, the other guy flies off.

After a while, the water level is so high the guy can’t hang on to the house, and he floats off and drowns. When he comes face to face with God, he says, “How come you didn’t get me out of that flood?”

God replies, “I sent you a truck, a boat, and a helicopter. What were you expecting?”

The gospel is good news, but only to those who understand the bad news. The flood that is coming is God’s final judgment. We will all fail that judgment, just as there was no way that man could stay in his house, but God also sends us a way out of the flood. We’ll have to leave everything behind, but we will escape the judgment we deserve.

If you don’t believe it’s raining upstream, let me remind you of the commands we fail to obey, the charges we’re guilty of.

Deuteronomy 6:5: “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” This is what Jesus called the most important commandment, yet none of us loves God this way.

Exodus 20:3-17:

“Do not worship any other gods besides me. Do not make idols of any kind.” This means we are always to put God first – even before ourselves – in everything we do.

“Do not misuse the name of the LORD your God.” This means we are always to say about God only what is true about him and to attach his name only to those things of which he approves.

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” (Self-explanatory, and we all go against the plain meaning of it.)

Honor your father and mother. This means we are always to show proper gratitude to those who have done good things for us.

Do not murder. Do not steal. This means we are always to do all we can for the well-being of others, to protect their health and their possessions.

Do not commit adultery. This means we are always to tell the truth to other people and always do what we say we will do.

Do not testify falsely against your neighbor. This means we are always to protect our neighbors' reputations.

Do not covet … anything … your neighbor owns. This means we are always to put down even the thought of harming our neigbors.

We fail in every one of these points. As a result, we are all alienated from God. For us to say we will stand before God on our own merits on judgment day is to be just as presumptuous as the guy in the story who said that God would get him out of the flood.

Don't forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders by birth. You were called "the uncircumcised ones" by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts.

(This is not to say Jews are bad people. The writer of this passage, don’t forget, was a Jew. It is simply to say that circumcision only affects the body.)

In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from God's people, Israel, and you did not know the promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. (Eph 2:10-22)

Notice those words: “without God.”

We are also alienated from each other. We see in the Bible that Cain killed Abel, Pharaoh and Abimelek abducted Abraham's wife, Esau threatened to kill his brother Jacob, Laban treated his daughters as pawns and almost killed Jacob, and that's in just the first half or so of Genesis! Outside the Bible we all know of families that don't get along; we’ve recently seen riots in our own cities, and of course there are always wars between nations.

God hates alienation. He does not want to be alienated from us, nor does he want us to be alienated from our neighbors. The question is, do we prefer to be alienated, or do we want to be reconciled to God and our neighbors?

To prefer alienation is to tell the guy with the truck “I don't need you.” And to tell the guy with the truck “I don't need you” – to refuse the offer of salvation in the gospel – is to prefer to be alienated from God and our neighbors to being reconciled to them. The choice is yours – make a good one.

Maybe you're not the guy with the house. Maybe you realized long ago that the flood is coming and you left everything behind and got in the truck. Or you fought it as long as you could and realized you had already lost enough that you decided staying around wasn't worth it and got in the boat. Or you were like the thief on the cross next to Jesus: you had nothing left to give up and so you got into the helicopter. You understand that it was Jesus' blood shed on the cross that paid for that truck or boat or helicopter.

No matter when you left your house and were rescued, you're now safe from the flood, but the flood is still coming, and there are still other people in its path. And the Lord who rescued you has given you a job: to get them into your truck, or your boat, or your helicopter.

Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. (Mt 28:19-20)

What's the best way to get them to come aboard?

Our tendency – well, OK, my tendency – is to go after people and tell them what bad people they are. That's easy to do because everyone is a rebel against God, and our rebellion against God hurts other people and we even hurt ourselves with it. And there is a time to do it. The guy with the truck does have to tell the guy at the house that the level of the water will be higher than the roof of the house. The problem with that is that he won't be telling the homeowner anything he doesn't already know.

The truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God. (Rom 1:19-24)

Now we all know how the guys with the truck and the boat and helicopter would talk to the homeowner. They can’t just harangue the guy and make him feel like an idiot. They need to invite him. They need to let him know he’s welcome to join them. Here how Jesus tells people to get out of the flood:

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light. (Matt 11:28-30)

Not only does Jesus welcome us to take shelter, he invites us to become part of what he’s doing in the world. When he invites us to take his yoke upon us. he's telling us he's going to give us work to do, but it will be work that God has designed especially for us. We don't have to do work that he has designed for others to do, but we expects us to do all the work he has assigned us, and he will be with us as we do it until the job is finished.

I didn't read all of the job description I read earlier. Here’s the rest:

Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matt 28:20)

And, of course, here’s the rationale for the church’s whole enterprise:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. (John 3:16-17)

Our job is not to condemn the world, but to invite the world to come to Jesus. Jesus paid the price of our reconciliation to God on the cross, and our job is to invite people to be reconciled to God.

Today the church has an image problem. As we've seen in the recent news cycles about gay marriage and Planned Parenthood, people outside the church tend to think of Christians as haters. We supposedly hate gays and lesbians and transsexuals and abortionists and women who get abortions. I might add that Middle East Muslims think we hate them too, seeing that in the last decade or so hundreds of thousands of them have died in the war we started and at least 16 million of them have been run out of their homes. If the invitation sounds like an invitation, one can understandably wonder what the invitation is an invitation to.

I mentioned that my wife and I went on a mission trip with our church. It was to the Cherokee Indian land in North Carolina. The expropriation of their land by Americans is still a sore point. Their language and culture were destroyed to a great degree by the American practice of taking Indian children to boarding schools and beating them if they spoke Cherokee or engaged in activities that looked too “Indian.” The motto of those schools was “Kill the Indian and save the man.”

Many Christian missionaries made sure nothing Cherokee – language, music, or otherwise – came into the Christian church. As I explain in detail here, many Cherokee consider the Christian church simply an extension of the American invasion of their land.

In all these cases I've mentioned, Christians have attempted to use power – either raw military power or the velvet glove over the iron fist of the vote – to get their way. How different this is from at least one branch of the early church:

Don't ever forget those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail. When all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew you had better things waiting for you in eternity. (Heb 10:32-34)

The Bible does say there is a time for war as well as a time for peace, a time to kill as well as a time to heal, but all actions have consequences, and the consequences of actions Christians have taken recently and not so recently give me reason to question the wisdom of those actions.

I urge you in your online time to visit and read the stories of people who are demonstrating what it means to call people to Jesus. Here's one of many stories on the main page today.

Hindu radicals in India beat Pastor Augustine Jayraj and two other Christian men and had them arrested by local police on July 23 because of their Christian outreach to a village. A group of 20 RSS members stopped the Jesus film partway through the video, locked the three men in a room and called police. The men were beaten, arrested and charged with forced conversions.

Our brothers and sisters were falsely accused as Jesus was falsely accused. They were beaten as Jesus was beaten. They were arrested as Jesus was arrested. This is the normal Christian life, at least in many places where the church is growing.

So we have come full circle back to the problem of alienation. Those who beat Pastor Augustine are alienated from God and from their neighbors. God calls us to be reconciled to them – to forgive them their trespasses as we expect God forgive our trespasses against him. We are not to condemn them or accuse them – though they do deserve condemnation and accusation, just as we do – but we are to invite them to come to Christ and to demonstrate Christ's character by being like him.

To repeat the takeaway I stole from the sermon last week, we pursue reconciliation not alienation; our purpose in interacting with nonbelievers is invitation not condemnation; we get people to accept the invitation by demonstration not accusation.

I'll close with some hard words from the Apostle Paul. Think of these as the words of the homeowner who chooses to get in the truck or the boat or the helicopter:

Everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own goodness or my ability to obey God's law, but I trust Christ to save me. For God's way of making us right with himself depends on faith. As a result, I can really know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I can learn what it means to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that, somehow, I can experience the resurrection from the dead! (Phil 3:8-11)

Friday, August 14, 2015

“Are You Passionate about Jesus?”

“Henry, are you passionate about Jesus?”

The voice on the other end of the telephone line belonged to a young black man I had befriended years before. A former confessing evangelical, he had since come out as gay and had told me that he was planning to become a woman. After hearing that I had done everything I could to assure him that though I hoped he would change his mind, I would be his friend no matter what he did because I wanted him to know Jesus. I’m not sure how the conversation got to his question, but there it was.

I had been going through a very rough few years, the result of my own stupidity. But I was also feeling like I was getting spanked harder than was needed, so the right answer would have been no. But I felt like I needed to put up a good front – “his soul was at stake,” after all – so after a moment or so, I said, “I guess so. I mean, yes. I am.”

I’m not sure where the conversation went after that, but he never again answered an email or called me back after I left messages, and that was more or less a decade ago. The question has haunted me ever since. Am I passionate about Jesus? Do I love Jesus?

For twelve years I’ve been making a pest of myself at church whenever some church official stands up in the pulpit during congregational prayer and thanks God for “the men and women who are fighting to protect our freedom.” “Is there no reason to doubt that they are fighting for our freedoms,” I would ask, and the response was basically “we were attacked” with Romans 13 sauce.

Well, I think the truth has come out. It won’t make any difference to anyone, but I’ll lift it high in the sky, let the whole world know.

Let me quote a paragraph from an article that is designed to make the Republicans look like liars. (When I landed on the page, a popup asked me to join the Democrats in defending “a woman’s right to choose.” I declined.)

Last week, Jeb Bush stepped in it. It took the all-but-announced Republican presidential candidate several attempts to answer the most obvious question: Knowing what we know now, would you have launched the Iraq War? Yes, I would have, he initially declared, noting he would not dump on his brother for initiating the unpopular war. "So would almost everyone that was confronted with the intelligence they got," Bush said. In a subsequent and quickly offered back-pedaling remark—on his way to saying he would have made "different decisions"—Bush emphasized that a main problem with the Bush-Cheney invasion was "mistakes as it related to faulty intelligence in the lead-up to the war." And as his Republican rivals jumped on Bush, they, too, blamed bad intelligence for causing the war. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), insisting that he would not have favored the war (if he knew there were no weapons of mass destruction), commented, "President Bush has said that he regrets that the intelligence was faulty." And former CEO Carly Fiorina noted, "The intelligence was clearly wrong. And so had we known that the intelligence was wrong, no, I would not have gone in."

Read the last two sentences again. Do you remember what “the intelligence” at the time said? It said that our freedoms and even our physical lives were in danger unless “our heroes” went to Iraq, took out Saddam, and installed a democracy.

Now the article goes on to say that Bush and the others lied about the intelligence, and that the real intelligence said nothing like what we were told at the time. I’ll let someone else make hay with that one. I want to get back to the truth – or at least the notion – that lies behind Rubio’s and Fiorina’s words: the war was unnecessary because our freedoms were never in danger from Iraq. They can be based on no other premise.

If our freedoms had truly been in danger, Rubio and Fiorina would be defending the war like mother bears. That they are backpedaling (being sure not to step on veterans’ toes) tells me they know that our freedoms were not in danger. The war was unnecessary.

Hundreds of thousands of people died in that war, and countless more were maimed. Four million people were driven from their homes, including communities of confessing Christians who had lived in an uneasy truce with Islam for over a millennium. And now, without intending to, bigwigs in the Republican party let it slip that the war was unnecessary.

There’s no apology forthcoming, of course. Love is never having to say you’re sorry, and the Republicans love the Iraqis, the troops, and the taxpayers who have paid for part of the war and will continue to pay for the rest for years. They would rather die than apologize. But they know they have to admit that the war was wrong if they expect to be in the White House to start the next unnecessary war.

Now we go back to the prayers in church for the war effort, and this is where I really struggle. I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and I’m certainly not the most sanctified member of my own church, let alone the evangelical church at large.

So what am I to think when people who spend more time in the Bible than I do, whose lives reflect a humility and dedication and true concern for the people they see every day that I lack, and who I know have not done some of the stupid things I’ve done get something this important so horribly wrong? A stopped clock is right twice a day, and maybe I got the war right just by dumb luck.

Or was I on Jesus’ side all along? If so, how could people who read the Bible, pray, and hold each other accountable more than I do get it wrong? If I wasn’t on Jesus’ side, how can I love a God who can be snookered by the neoconservative cabal? And if I don’t really love God, am I not faking it to say I’m a Christian?

On the off chance that I got it right by virtue of principles that I believe but live up to imperfectly, let me state how I applied them in this case. You can decide if you want to adopt them and apply them yourself the next time “your freedoms are in danger.”

Love your neighbor as yourself. Do for others what you would have them do for you. Regard your neighbors’ bodies, property, reputations, and trust as sacred. Admit that you are a rebel against God and find forgiveness in Jesus’ death on the cross. Assume that anyone who says they have the right to violate others’ lives, property, reputations, or trust, even when they say they’re doing it on your behalf, and doubly so if they say they have some kind of divine mandate, is lying. Above all, seek to advance the kingdom of God through “deeds of love and mercy” and to acquire the righteousness that comes only from God through faith in Jesus.

The war was prosecuted by people whose actions before the war started showed me that they disagree with every one of the statements in the previous paragraph. So opposing the war was a no brainer.

But being right about principles is not the same as being passionate about Jesus. I think Jesus taught and lived up to the principles I listed, and I like that. But he also makes it clear that one cannot come to him without also coming to his people. If we are all rebels against God – me no less than others – and all God’s people are saved by grace – them no less than me – then being passionate about Jesus includes passionately loving those who in Jesus’ name supported an unnecessary war and will never apologize for doing so.

This time I know better than to try to fake it. I admit it: I’m not there yet.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Advice for Bernie Sanders

In what has to be one of recent history’s most memorable assertions of minority rights, less than one percent of a crowd at a park in Seattle was able to shut down a speech by perhaps the leading presidential candidate simply by showing up. They were unarmed and outnumbered by at least a hundred to one, but they shut down the event without firing a shot.

Amazing. How could this be? Furthermore, how could Mr. Sanders have kept this from happening? Where did things go wrong?

Let’s assume that being white was not his first mistake. In fact, let’s assume for the rest of the conversation that he was black

I would suggest that Mr. Sanders’ first mistake was to choose a public park as the venue for the event. This immediately meant that he was not longer in control of those who would keep order. Instead, order would be kept by the powers that be, ordained of God, rather than by those who had voluntarily chosen to serve him by keeping order. Once the powers that be determined that they would allow the disruption, Mr. Sanders had no way to restore order.

If the venue had been private, Mr. Sanders could have told his order keepers – let’s call them bouncers – “If any honkies show up, be sure you keep an eye on them. If they try to take the stage, you grab them and haul them out. If they’re too strong for you, tase them. If they threaten you or anyone else, shoot them dead. Understand?”

Actually, of course, the choice of venue wasn’t Mr. Sanders’ first mistake. His first mistake was not believing in the value of private property. Unfortunately, he hasn’t learned his lesson.

But you have.