Archive for October, 2011

The Lame Costumes

Posted on October 30, 2011. Filed under: Culture |

Justin Bieber

Monday night, millions of super heroes, animals, vampires, witches and pop culture celebrities will be roaming the jack-o-lantern-lit streets of America. But what about the other 364 days? What about those creatures that are associated with the more traditional costumes: demons, angels, or ghosts? Did they disappear when their costumes became lame? Do they only exist in movies where teen-age girls vomit pea soup and Haley Joel Osment manages to be the only person alive to drive fear into the heart of Bruce Willis?

While Jesus is known for miracles like turning water into wine, healing the sick, and the providing the salvation of mankind, Sunday schools always gloss over the fact that He also spent quite a bit of time driving out demons from Israel’s finest (for a few examples, Mat 8:28-34, Mat 12:22-37, Mark 1:21-28,  and Mark 5:1-20). He even grants us power over these creatures (Luke 10:17-20)!

We know that when Satan fell from heaven, he took a third of the angels throwing them down to earth where they roam with him (Luke 10:18, Rev 12:4, Job 1:7). Scripture also indicates demons have their own territories and possibly hierarchy on earth where they engage in spiritual warfare (Dan 10:13 and 20, Eph 6:12). Paul even goes as far to say that Christians are not fighting against humans, but against these fallen angels (see Ephesians verse above).

So why do we ignore these evil spirits? Perhaps it makes us a bit uneasy to think the Boogey Man exists. More than that, they have real power, intelligence, and motive to corrupt the human mind, body, and soul. But the good news is that we also have “super natural” beings on our side. Though many don’t want to believe in demons, everyone wants a guarding angel.

While I’m sure they also have their Sunday Best, the verses I’ve read don’t make angels out to be wimpy pre-pubescent Justin Bieber look-alikes. This is how Daniel described his encounter, “His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude” (Dan 10:6). Sounds dreamy. And they don’t carry too many harps either; Michael appeared to Joshua brandishing his sword before the fall of Jericho (Jos 5:13). When Israel went to war against the Arameans, flame engulfed horses and chariots covered the hills of the battlefield (2 Kings 6:17). The angel that answered Daniel’s prayer was fighting, not floating on a cloud, for 3 weeks and required the aid of the archangel Michael to beat the demon of Persia before he could deliver God’s message (Dan 10:13). The writing on the wall here (pun intended) is that God’s angels are fighting a very real war against the enemy focused on deceiving mankind. But that doesn’t mean they are fighting for us…

Angels act on behalf of God, not us (Jos 5:14). They are not here simply to make us feel good. God is very clear that He does not want us putting our faith in anything other than Him:

“Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them.” (Lev 19:31).

“Let no one be found among you…who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritists or who consults the dead” (Deut 18:10-11).

While we might be inclined to think this stuff is only practiced in tiki huts in Haiti, I knew many houses growing up where Ouija boards were tucked in the game closet. It is estimated the psychic industry brings in $2 billion annually in the US. And how many people do we know pray to passed loved ones or departed saints for guidance?

Angels only appear in the Bible to deliver God’s messages and serve Him, while demons and Satan roam the earth to tempt and deceive us. As we see, God explicitly warns and forbids us from reaching out to anything other than Him. That leads me to believe if that anything responds to our inquiries into the spiritual realm it is not of God, but of Satan.

So, when you open the door to a zombie, hob-goblin, or Occupy Wall Street protester on Monday night, don’t freak out too much. Just remember there are real forces a lot scarier at work out there laughing at what I’m sure they think is a dismal attempts to portray evil and horror. But don’t worry; we’ve got twice as many sword-wielding-bronze-plated-He-Men riding chariots of fire on our side.

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The Facebook Fool

Posted on October 25, 2011. Filed under: Culture |

Mr. T

Image by pvera via Flickr

I believe there are certain things Christians should avoid doing on Facebook. There’s the obvious stuff like swearing on a status change or posting scandalous photos. I happen to believe we should also avoid tacky photos that were specifically taken for posting on Facebook – are we supposed to believe someone slightly shorter than you happened to take a photo from the right?

But what about engaging in those often heated, and sometimes pointless, debates? We’ve all been there: someone posts an irrational comment about politics, religion, sports teams or the latest ‘insight’ from Hollywood and we are drawn in to a heated exchange. We end up losing respect for that person or they lose respect for us. Are the Facebook arguments worth it?

“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth…” (2 Tim 2:23-25).

It doesn’t seem to me we should avoid all arguments, because the truth is not even your spouse is going to agree with you 100% of the time. Differences of opinion are going to arise, especially when you are trying to bring someone to Christ. But when we are drawn into those debates, we have to remember the point is to teach the other person, not prove them wrong or something I tend to do, prove myself right.

Also noteworthy here is that bringing someone to truth, whether its a truth with a little “t” or the big one, isn’t about us. That’s something between the opponent and God.  Only God can draw a person to Him and God is certainly the only one to make them realize Batman is better than Superman.

So, we don’t have to avoid the all debates, just the “foolish and stupid” ones – mmkay. So, which ones are those? I believe that depends on whom we are arguing with.

“A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions” (Prov 18:2). “ To answer before listening – that is folly and shame” (Prov 18:13).  “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise (Prov 19:20).  Solomon has a whole lot to say about the wise and the foolish, but much of it centers around hearing advice, seeking knowledge…and avoiding too much honey but that’s for another day. 
A foolish and stupid argument is one in which your audience doesn’t really care to hear your opinions and just wants to voice their own. These generally play out like high-school fights where the drama that ensues is bigger than the point you were trying to make. Likewise, the debates with those who actually care to hear your thoughts and where you are interested in listening to theirs are the ones worthwhile, even if there isn’t agreement in the end (remember, that’s God’s job).

So go on and post or comment about universal health care, gay marriage, or how the latest Facebook format has ruined your day. Just don’t turn into someone that Mr. T would pity.

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Zombies And Christians

Posted on October 16, 2011. Filed under: Culture |

Zombie Walk (085) - 31Oct09, Paris (France)

Image by philippe leroyer via Flickr

After I wrote about my DVR dilemmas, I got several inquiries into what shows I watch. What show do I think is wholesome, heartwarming, charming, and still manages to be entertaining. I’m still looking for that show, but in the mean time I’m looking forward to season two of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” Who wouldn’t like a post-apocalyptic zombie thriller featuring a group of people who couldn’t survive as contestants on “Double-Dare” being led through suburban Georgia by a deputy sheriff who by all accounts appears to be sending everyone to certain doom? I certainly don’t know anyone.

Now, I’m not sure if the writers had this in mind, but I started thinking, this show is an excellent allegory for life as a Christian. Not because we from time to time (or if you’re Catholic, weekly) eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ. That would make us the bad guys with our only hopes of being cast in one episode before we were blown up, shot, or impaled in some other way.  Nope, we’re the stars; the helpless survivors surrounded by an ever-increasing population of dead seeking only to quench their thirst for the flesh. The only difference (yup, the one and only) is we once were among the dead until we realized fulfilling our cravings never leaves us full, only longing for more.

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts…” (Eph 2:1-3b).

Like the zombies, we were alive in some sense living day to day, surrounded by others like us, and seemingly enjoying life. But when you got right down to it, we realized we were just “walking dead.” Instead of meaninglessly meandering, we surrendered our life to Christ who made us alive in Him (Rom 6:4).

Though I don’t think we need to avoid the zombies to the extent they do on the show, I do think we should have a healthy respect for the repercussions of surrounding ourselves with zombies and a zombie-like lifestyle. But as any fan of these thrillers can attest, it really isn’t the full-blown “walkers” you need to worry about – those you can spot from pretty far away. It’s those among us who parade as survivors while they secretly tend to a deadly bite that will slowly but surely turn them. These people are more likely to take us back to a life of the flesh and give “walkers” an inaccurate picture of what being alive really means. But unlike the show’s leader, our leader has a master plan. He can help us identify the fake survivors and cure them of their infectious disease before it spreads to others. He also doesn’t look like glorified mall cop.

Unlike the characters in zombie movies, we have the ability to heal the “zombies” in our lives, and we are not required to shoot them in the head.  Perhaps we should strive to live differently than the zombies, while continuing to protect the survivors.

As always, I’m eager to hear advice on how to best handle our zombie apocalypse.

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The Religion Platform

Posted on October 12, 2011. Filed under: Culture, Government |

Bill Clinton - World Economic Forum Annual Mee...

Image by World Economic Forum via Flickr

Everyone knows that the 2012 election is going to be about the economy. But thanks to comments from Pastor Robert Jeffress, Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith is back in the spotlight (Jon Hunstman’s too but who cares about him). Jeffress referred to Mormonism as a cult and said, “Every true, born-again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian,” implying that Mormons are not Christians. I’m not going to get into the theology of Later Day Saints, golden tablets, or (the lack of) Jewish Native Americans (unless my readers want me to of course). But this debate does beg the question: should a candidate’s faith be a valid campaign issue?

In Luke 11:37-52, we see a Pharisee invited Christ for a meal (Pharisees are a socio-political Jewish group that recognizes oral and written Torah or what Christians would call the first five books of the Old Testament also know as the Pentateuch). Before the meal began, the Pharisee was shocked to see Jesus refrained from washing himself. This customary practice had become an obligation, giving Jesus the opportunity to point out the Pharisee’s hypocrisy: he was concerned about what is on the outside, while ignoring the inside. Christ excoriated the Pharisees for being greedy, wicked, insincere, and arrogant while they claimed to be experts of the Jewish faith.

While the Jews didn’t exactly get to vote for their Roman governors in free and fair elections, Americans have that blessing and should respect that privilege. I can completely relate to those of you who will not vote for a candidate who is not a Christian. Paul told us we are not to be yoked with unbelievers; why then would we vote for one to represent us in government? But I am wary to rubber stamp one candidate over another simply because they claim to be a Christian. Clinton claimed to be a Baptist. Nixon claimed to be a Quaker. Putting a cross next to the name does not ensure Christian actions in public or private life. After all, 76% of Americans claim they are Christians. If only.

Faith, like voting, is a personal choice and commitment. While a person’s actions and statements can certainly reveal character and guide our impressions and likewise how we cast our ballot, only his Creator knows the true nature of his faith.

The last thing Christ said to the Pharisee was, “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering” (Luke 11:52).

Pharisees and Sadducees in ancient Israel. The Catholic Church from Constantine to Henry VIII. The Church of England from Henry VIII to the founding of this country. Having the State involved in religion, even if it is Christianity, is a dangerous and often deadly proposition. As Christ said, its coercive powers also have the ability to impede personal faith. It is the reason the Constitution bars any form of State endorsed religious test in Article VI paragraph III and why Congress cannot establish or prohibit free exercise of any religion.

While private citizens may choose to cast their vote as they see fit or a pastor may express his personal beliefs in the public square, I believe Christians must never let a public official impress (not to be confused with express) their religious beliefs upon others. That is a choice each individual must make on his own (Luke 14:27). But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord (Josh 24:15).

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“The Road to Serfdom” – A Take Away

Posted on October 12, 2011. Filed under: Economics, Government, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

English: GFDL picture of F.A. Hayek to replace...

English: GFDL picture of F.A. Hayek to replace fair use images that are used in some articles. Released by the Mises Institute. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you seen the summer Youtube sensations “Fear the Boom and Bust” and my personal favorite “The Fight of the Century”? These videos feature political-economic bigwigs Friedrich August von Hayek and John Maynard Keynes battling over the roll of government in the economy. Sounds really dorky but it’s actually pretty funny. The creator attempts to get viewers thinking about the age-old questions: do we go with central planning or favor personal liberty?

Anyways, after viewing these hysterical videos, I realized that I had never read either man’s works. So, I sat down and read F.A. Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom,” which warns of the inherent problems that exist in free societies and central planning. For anyone interested…scratch that…anyone who votes, the book is short and a pretty easy read. No graphs or equations or anything that would remind you of a mandatory college class.

While Hayek addresses a number of issues that are still eerily relevant today,  one thing in particular that  struck me was his argument on the “Rule of Law.” This bedrock for free societies is commonly understood to mean that no man from the President on down is higher than the law. It’s easy to understand why this is the colloquial meaning for the phrase, but it’s not entirely accurate.

As Hayek wrote, “Rule of Law implies limits to the scope of legislation.” After all, Hitler was elected and carried out his eugenic policies completely through a legislative process. But not too many of us would claim slaughtering Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and communists is okay as long as Congress passes a law saying so  (well Hoover might have argued that last one and no, not the vacuum cleaner guy). Here in the US, one of the major roles of the Supreme Court is to determine if laws Congress and the President pass hold muster to the Constitution, i.e. our set of laws that limit the government’s power.  Hayek argued that central planning and the Rule of Law are incompatable because “the government’s coercive powers [are] no longer limited and determined by pre-established rules.”

In Deuteronomy, when God is outlining how a king should rule, He commands the king is to read the law God gave Moses daily.  “It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he…(will) not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left” (Deut 17:19-20).  Now, from my understanding of the time, what the king said was law. But God also gave laws to his people that governed how even the king must live; the king was confined to these laws. It appears to me, this was God’s way of establishing the Rule of Law among the Jews.

This may seem theoretical and not so relevant today, but look at it this way: do we really think politicians should be permitted enact whatever they deem ‘good’ or should there be limits? I recently read the EPA is effectively outlawing an inhaler because it uses CFC – obviously it can, but should a Federal agency be permitted to outlaw a product while circumventing the legislative processes? Or do we still recognize pre-established rules that say what the government can and cannot do? Have we given up on our Rule of Law?

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Instead of Occupying Wall Street, Occupy A Book

Posted on October 7, 2011. Filed under: Culture, Economics, Government, In the News, Money | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Day 3 Occupy Wall Street 2011 Shankbone 7

Image by david_shankbone via Flickr

Perhaps I’m missing something. I just can’t seem to understand what the Occupy Wall Street protest is all about. I’ve seen signs protesting global warming, genetically altered food, corporate greed, loans that leave people in ‘slavery’ (here’s a tip, don’t take out the loan), unfair wages, high healthcare costs, corporate cronyism and of course, social injustice. While there are a few odd-ball request, it seems like these groups are really just have a beef with “the rich” (see the “We are the 99%” signs). But this assumes a lot – namely that if the rich have, we don’t have, and if the rich are better off, the middle class and poor are worse off. You know what they say about assumptions…

“Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way” (Prov 19:2). Translated, acting on raw emotion without facts probably won’t end too well for anyone. That’s how Christ was crucified. So, are the middle class and poor doomed? Are we all just pawns in a corporate game? Should we bring out the guillotines?

The problem with looking at statistical data of the rich bracket and poor bracket from one year and comparing it to another, is that this assumes the people within those groups are the same, or it ignores what economists call “income mobility.” IRS and Census data shows that people in the bottom 20% of income earners in 1996 had their incomes increase 91% by 2005. At the same time, the top 1% of income earners or what we’d all consider the “very rich,” had their income decrease by 26% over the same period. The same US Treasury data also shows only 25% of those in the top 1% of income earners in 1996 were still there in 2005.

Another problem with the “rich are getting richer” argument is that it also ignores that the standard of living for everyone is going up, not down. For example, in 1971, only 1% of households had a microwave and only 43.3% had a color television. Compare that to 2005 when 91.2% of those living under the poverty line had a microwave and 97.4% had a color television. I’d argue that those commodities are also a lot nicer, smaller, and more efficient in 2005 than those produced in 1971 too. Wouldn’t you rather be poor in 2005 than middle class in 1971?

I remember one of my economics professors in college talking about wealth as a pizza. He argued that politicians usually refer to the pizza as a fixed size, but wealth doesn’t work that way. Capitalism, while not perfect, can make the pizza larger and increase the quality of the pizza at the same time. If someone asked if you want 1 piece of option A or 2 pieces from option B, you should ask how large the pizzas are before you answer.

So, why would so many people instantaneously say “2, that way you have less”? One, they are ignorant with too much time on their hands. Two, they are giving into one of our most basic of human desires: coveting. Doesn’t matter how good we have it if someone else has is better.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or his donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Deut 5:21). Isn’t most of this just nomadic Hebrew for “don’t covet your neighbor’s wealth”? It isn’t morally right, and really doesn’t make too much logical sense either.

(For those interested, Learn Liberty did a short on this very topic: here)

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In Justice?

Posted on October 1, 2011. Filed under: Government, In the News | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Imam Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen October 2008, ta...

Image via Wikipedia

Well, it doesn’t take much for Washington to pat itself on the back, but every now and again it manages to do something right. But, I’m not sure that the most recent ‘success’ story from the Global War on Terror is just that.

On Friday, news spread that the CIA and Special Operation Forces killed al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki (and Samir Khan but, who is that?) in a joint drone and jet strike. Some are claiming al-Awlaki was more powerful than Osama Bin Laden, second only to Inspector Gadget’s Dr. Claw (honestly, who goes after a cute little girl and her puppy – jerk).

Supposedly, al-Awlaki inspired, recruited, and trained terrorists including three of the 9/11 attackers, the Fort Hood shooter, and the infamous Underwear Bomber. I say supposedly, not because I don’t think he was behind these plots, but because Anwar al-Awlaki was never in fact tried and found guilty of these crimes.

Now, anyone who knows me personally knows I’m not exactly a dove. So far, I haven’t heard a convincing argument as to why foreign/freedom fighters or whatever you want to call them should be tried in US courts. But al-Awlaki and Khan were different. Why? Because they were both US citizens and that comes with certain protections, namely the Constitution.

Article 3, section 3 of the Constitution reads, “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” Check on that one. It continues, “No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.” Open court? Oops. The government can’t just put you on a “Capture or Kill” list arbitrarily or not. What about if someone renounces their citizenship? Well, in order to do that you have to go before a diplomatic or consular officer in a foreign state (that means in a US embassy guarded by armed Marines). So, there you have it. Al-Awlaki and Khan, both US citizens, executed for treason unconstitutionally. This might sit okay with some of you because these two were really bad, but if so, my question is – where is the line? What makes it okay for the government to act as prosecutor, judge, and jury in this case, but not others?

This one is tough for me. I want our government to be efficient, especially in executing (no pun intended) war. But I also don’t want the government to determine when it can and cannot suspend the Constitution.

The Founding Fathers got the whole trial by jury of your peers from the Bible. The Israelites appointed judges and officials to each tribe who oversaw disputes between persons (Deu 16:18-20). Witnesses were called and no man could be found guilty of a crime based off of one man’s testimony (Deu 19:15-20). However, in this case of the strike, it seems to me the government acted as judge and witness.

In Matthew, Christ calls us to settle disputes among ourselves, and only when this cannot be done, take it to the church (which acted as sorta State as well). If the person found guilty will not listen to the church, then we are to treat him as an outsider (Mat 18:15-19).

Perhaps we were to treat Khan and al-Awlaki as outsiders, meaning they should not get privileges US citizens do? Or, is that only after they have been “tried”? At what point, if ever, does the Constitution no longer apply? Who decides that point?

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