Archive for August, 2011

The King vs. the king, not to be confused with the King

Posted on August 24, 2011. Filed under: Culture, Government, In the News |

Elvis Presley meeting Richard Nixon. On Decemb...

Image via Wikipedia

All the 2012 election coverage got me thinking – do we put too much faith in Washington? Right, left, or libertarian, everyone is looking for DC to do something (or in the later case, not do something) to fix the country. But poll after poll says Americans don’t think so highly of politicians. So why do we spend so much time and energy ‘hoping’ something will ‘change’ in 2012?

People have been looking to the State to solve problems for a long time. Most people remember the Jews had a monarchy for a few hundred years (David was so great he got a star with an extra point). But what some forget is that before the Israelites established their monarchy, the system of governance was pretty loose. Moses gave them the Law, which provided judges and priests to oversee the 12 tribes and settle disputes amongst the people – local government at it’s finest. The point here is the Jews had no mortal king. Unlike other nations who believed the king was a god, the Israelites believed God was their king. But God knew this wasn’t going to last forever. He knew that, the people would throw out His system for a new one.

After a series of ineffective and corrupt judges, Israel demanded that Samuel anoint a king over them. Samuel wasn’t so hot on the idea and asked the Lord what to do. God responded, “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king…warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do” (1 Sam 8:7-9).  Samuel went on to list all the things the king would do: build an army, create a conscription, impress others for domestic services, create a military industrial complex, seize the best of their goods, and confiscate a tenth of their income while redistributing it to those loyal to the king (1 Sam 8:11-17). In short, enslave them (see “A Fair Look at Fair”). Remember, that tenth belonged God. God was telling the Jews the king was going to replace Him. The people didn’t believe Samuel and insisted that the king would “go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Sam 8:20). Surprise, surprise, God was right (more than 300 years earlier no less).

Sound familiar? Hand over our burdens to the ‘king’ so that he can deal with them and then we can go on about our happy life filled with milk and honey. Like the Israel thousands of years before us, we are still hoping the king will fight our battles for us. Why? Because also like Israel, we have rejected God as our king and have replaced Him… with government.

Government is involved in a lot: business, science, education, marriage, divorce, how to ‘care’ for each other, the poor, the elderly, orphans, how much water a toilet bowl flushes and the list expands daily. Interestingly enough, God gave us plan for each of the areas (ok maybe not the last one), but each of them placed the responsibility squarely on us.

Now, I’m not saying lets toss out the Constitution and install a bunch of tribal judges and Levite priests in 2012. It might make for some good commercials though…But I do wonder if as Christians if we really bought into the plans the Lord laid out for us, how different would our country look today? What if we really put our hope in the real King (and I don’t mean Elvis)?

So what do I think about November 2012? I think it is still fifteen months away. That’s a long time to be waiting on a politician who will probably not live up to expectations (or promises). I recommend we stop putting hope in Washington and put hope in something that doesn’t become corrupt, take a vacation, or spray tan. Look to a platform that yes, places a lot of responsibility on us as Christians, but it also reminds us the biggest debt has already been paid.  Unlike the Jews,we shouldn’t put faith in the wrong king.

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Eye Contact or iphone?

Posted on August 17, 2011. Filed under: Culture, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

iPhone vs. iPhone 3G

Image by Ricky Romero via Flickr

Is staying connected keeping you from connecting with others? According to a survey I recently read, 26% of smart phone users admit to regularly using their phone while at dinner. I don’t think it’s because they are making phone calls. Nope, I’m pretty sure that this is evidence that more and more Americans desire to stay connected with the digital world. The exclamation point and the word “you’re” aren’t the biggest casualties of social networking; our social lives are.

Would Jesus use email, Twitter, and Facebook (cause let’s face it, He wouldn’t be using MySpace)? Sure, why not. But I don’t think He’d be using His smart phone to check for Lazarus’s latest tweet during the Last Supper. Instead, I think He’d be focusing on whom He was with, giving that person His undivided attention.

At the end of Chapter 10 in Luke, Christ and the disciples went to the home of Martha and Mary. While Martha was busy with preparations for the meal, Mary sat by the Lord, soaking up the time she had with Him. Naturally, Martha protested that Mary should be helping her instead of relaxing while Martha did all the busy work. Jesus gently corrected Martha (don’t want to upset the chef before meal time) by proclaiming that Mary was in the right and that Martha had lost sight of the most important part of hosting: the guests.

Okay, so Martha wasn’t exactly texting while JC was telling the latest parable. But if something as understandable as preparing for the Son of God to enter your home is considered obsolete, how much more would emailing work be? Let’s face it; no matter how important we think we are, we aren’t that important (Gal 6:3). When we start to believe our lives are more important than spending quality time with our “loved” ones, there will be consquences.

The Parable of the Great Banquet in Luke’s chapter 14, tells the story of a man who prepared a great banquet (as opposed to a lame one) and invited all his favorite people. One by one his guests gave the man a seemingly legitimate excuse for why they couldn’t come. The man became angry and decided to invite the not so great people who would appreciate him to the banquet instead. While this is a parable about the Kingdom, I believe it still speaks truth to our subject at hand. If we would rather stay attached to smart phones and work emails rather than connecting with those in front of us, we shouldn’t be surprised when they “de-friend” us.

The friends’ latest work out of the day can wait. The text message will be there in an hour. The political junkie will put up another rant in 17 minutes (I promise, I will). So let’s free ourselves and our company from the iphones, droids, and blackberries. After all, which banquet guest would you rather be remembered as: the guy who missed out on the greatest feast in town because he was busy with his ox (Luke 14:19) or the blind guy sitting at the head of the table with the drum stick?

PS-Please post this blog to your Facebook status

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A Fair Look at ‘Fair’

Posted on August 8, 2011. Filed under: Culture, Economics, Government, In the News, Money | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Taxes

Taxes (Photo credit: Tax Credits)

What is ‘fair’? As the deadline approaches for Democratic and Republican leaders to pick members to serve on the “Debt Super Committee” (no super heroes have been appointed yet, I checked), I’ve heard both parties toss this word around rather cavalierly. Democrats are calling for the ‘rich to pay their fair share’; after all they can afford to pay more. Republicans argue raising taxes on the rich would not be ‘fair’ in a recession. But what is ‘fair’?

Depending on your Bible’s translation, the word ‘fair’ occurs fairly often (somewhere around 200 times), so it’s clear God feels strongly about the concept of ‘fairness.’  I read through a few dozen of these verses looking for some insight on something that united all these verses.  In the prologue to Proverbs, Solomon claims his book is for (among other things) “acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair” (Prov 1:3). According to my spiffy Bible commentary, the Hebrew word for ‘fair’ here is ‘mesarim,’ which comes from the root word meaning ‘upright,’ ‘even,’ and emphasizes impartiality.

Impartial. This is what I found was the common theme in scripture’s description of fairness. Makes sense. We know that God is ‘fair’ in instituting His justice. He does not care if you are rich, poor, black, white or even if you’re from Jersey – there is no divine favoritism. We all fall short (Rom 2&3) and it is only through grace that we are saved. Yet, He calls on His people to be ‘fair’ to one another. Solomon’s prologue suggests this is going to involve discipline, that our sinful nature will distort His divine concept of justice. As Christians, we need to be aware of these impediments to fairness.

Who can argue that our tax structure is impartial? Though estimates vary for obvious reasons, some reports claim that tax evasion to overseas markets ‘costs’the IRS $100 billion annually. Don’t you wish you could evade the IRS? Those sneaky rich. But wait, the ‘poor’ don’t make out too shabby either. Currently, the top 10% of income earners pay 70% of all income taxes, while the bottom 50% pay less than 3%. Biblically, neither of these situations are fair. “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great” (Lev 19:15).  While most of us can recognize the injustice associated with those in power evading laws the rest of us must comply with, the soft spots in our hearts want to help the poor. But this structure is not impartial and therefore, not fair. Not to worry; God has a system for helping the poor, which I can discuss more later, but I don’t think this is what He had in mind…

On to the other major side of the tax revenue: corporate taxes. Funny how companies like General Electric contribute to so many campaigns and hire hundreds of lobbyist also legally avoid paying any corporate taxes. I don’t think the Lord would look favorably on this kind of behavior: “Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous” (Deut 16:19). In my opinion, a bribe is still a bribe, even if it is done publicly through campaign contributions. These contributions create a legal and tax structure based on favoritism where the State’s friends play by different rules than the rest of America’s businesses.

So, should the rich pay more, their ‘fair share’? It seems with the current tax code, the answer is yes and no. Yes, tax reform is needed to ensure all businesses are treated impartially, which means getting rid of tax exemptions for Big Oil and Big Corn alike.  But no, on the individual level it appears our concept of fair is skewed to ‘show partiality to the poor’ which is not Biblically fair.

Perhaps it’s time we look to a new way of collecting government revenue. Perhaps we need a Fair Tax, in every sense of the word. More on this later.

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The Debt Crisis

Posted on August 1, 2011. Filed under: Economics, Government, In the News, Money | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

The national debt clock outside the IRS office...

Image via Wikipedia

Given the constant barrage of “debt crisis” coverage, I wondered if God had anything to say about national debt.  Solomon warned, “The borrower is slave to the lender,” (Prov 22:7) and “whoever refuses to strike hands in pledge is safe” (Prov 11:15). Clearly, the Bible warns that debt is folly (as any Dave Ramsey follower could tell you). Obviously, God never said $14.3 trillion was okay but not $16.4 trillion. I didn’t see that one in Leviticus.  But God created a nation in every sense of the word, so surely there had to be something.

In chapter 15 of Deuteronomy, the Lord tells Israel how His new nation will keep its fiscal house in order: “you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.” What? Borrow from none? What about in case of emergency? What about all those wars for the Promised Land?  Unfunded social liabilities? Surely being God’s chosen people means you are entitled to healthcare, and when Moses lived to 120, that could get expensive. But, as with everything God commands, it comes with a reason: “You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you” (Deut 15:6). Apparently, debt at any level creates a system of rulers and slaves. It probably wouldn’t have been such a good idea if Israel borrowed from the Egyptians or the Philistines just as it probably isn’t such a good idea for us to borrow from the Chinese or any other nation. Indebting yourself to others means you have to play by the lender’s rules. Considering no other nation completely shares America’s values, we should not be too keen on being beholden to other nations.

But wait, various American lenders such as the Fed, public households, state and local governments own most of our debt. So, that’s probably okay right? It seems the Lord is saying not to borrow from other nations. If the borrower is slave to the lender, wouldn’t that mean the government is slave to the people?

Not quite. When debt becomes so large that it has to be paid out over an extended period of time, the people become slaves to the government.  Government can only raise money by confiscating it from the people. But the kicker is that government has created so much debt that it can’t be paid off by the current set of taxpayers; it will be paid by our kids and grandkids. Something told me the Lord probably wouldn’t approve of that.

Interestingly, God created a system of canceling debts every 7 years (also in Chapter 15 of Deuteronomy). Translated into contemporary vernacular, I take that to mean long-term debt is bad. While we might from time to time lend to one another, it is hard to maintain a healthy relationship with someone to whom you are indebted or with someone who owes you. God wants his people have a relationship based on love, not wondering when the brother-in-law is going to return that $1,000.

Maybe it is time for politicians to liberate this country from the influence of tyrannical governments and its children from overwhelming bureaucratic budgets. After all, good men leave an inheritance, not debt, for their children’s children (Prov 13:2).

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