Month: May 2012

And now a brief word about the Word…

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As the month of May began, I cracked open the shrink wrap on a new pocket-sized Bible…the cover on the old one had finally worn out!  Frankly, I am like a kid with something new, excited about the freshness of the feel of the cover and the aroma of the leather…but there has to be something more.  This is the Word of God!!

Although I have been committed to the final authority of Scripture since my college days, over the years I have seen trends that have been unsettling in some cases, and disturbing in others.  People who speak well of the Scriptures have not always thought well of the Scriptures.  Saying we believe in the veracity of the Word is great.  But basing what we believe and do on what the Bible says is far better!

The drift away from truth in our culture in general has also impacted the way many treat the truth of the Bible.  They say they believe it is true, but then hedge their bets when it gets down to specific points of biblical teaching.  For example, it has become acceptable in some quarters to affirm “what the Scriptures teach” and then assume the right to put your own spin on an “interpretation” you like best and then declare that is what the text teaches.  The result is a diluted view of biblical authority that says, “I see what the text says but I don’t think that is what it means.”  Convenient perhaps, if you want it to mean something other than what it says, but not exactly faithful to the understanding that we are under the authority of the Scripture, not vice versa!

Another troubling example I have heard is a division of the house regarding which parts we can affirm confidently and which parts we can dismiss inconsequentially.  Some Bible teachers have actually stated that they affirm what Jesus says (or in some cases, ‘implies’), but not what Paul says.  So their approach to Scripture is the ‘red letter’ stuff that Jesus said is more trustworthy than what Paul wrote.  To quote one advocate of this position, “I prefer what Jesus said on this subject to what Paul says…I’m going to go with Jesus on this one!”  Great applause grabber in a truth-denying culture, but an affront to the inerrancy of Scripture!!  If all Scripture is inspired, God-breathed, the same Holy Spirit authored all of it…what Jesus said and what Paul said and what Moses said and what Isaiah said…He is the source of every word!  The unity of Scripture comes from the One Author responsible for all of it!

So here is my plea…let the Bible speak and allow it to say what it means and mean what it says!  Does that mean we can understand everything in it all the time?  Of course not, but much of the time the issue is not whether we understand, but whether we like or agree with what it says!  Take the Word at its word!  The trustworthiness of the text has long been attacked, as many try to undermine its authenticity.  The meaning of its words has long been questioned, as many try to impose an ‘interpretation’ that is in fact nothing more than a ‘substitution’ or a ‘refutation.’

In the following verses, hear what the Bible says about itself.  This is what I believe.  This is where I take my stand as a follower of Christ.  And this is my delight!

2Tim. 3:16-17   All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;  that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Psa. 18:30  As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless.  He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.

Psa. 119:89, 97, 103, 105   Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens… Oh, how I love your law!  I meditate on it all day long…How sweet are your words to my taste,  sweeter than honey to my mouth! …Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

Psa. 138:2  I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.

Matt. 24:35 “ Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away.

1 Pet. 1:24-25   For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;  the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.”  And this is the word that was preached to you.

Are there more portions of Scripture that affirm these same kinds of things?  Absolutely!  Go see!  Dig into the sweet mines of eternal truth and let the Lord convince you of these things and then allow them to shape what you think, believe and do.  One last word and I will stop!

Jesus said, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:17).  If you know that the Scriptures are trustworthy in all things, then have at it…believe it…and in the power of Jesus’ name, go do what He says!

Kari Jobe–“We Are”

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  For the past year, we have called on the people of Providence Baptist Church here in Raleigh to step up and step out to “Engage the Church, Engage the City.”  Why?  Because as this song expresses so well, “we are the light of the world, we are the city on a hill” and inside the church and in the world around us people are looking for what is real.  Listen and enjoy as Kari Jobe sings this encouraging song!

Photography: The Class of Williamsburg

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The Class of Williamsburg, 2011

Now that the marriage amendment passed…

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Following the vote on the Marriage Amendment, May 8, I received the following comment from a man named Matthew.  I have attempted to address his questions and comments in this post since many others are talking about the same kinds of issues.  Thanks Matthew for caring enough to ask!

     “I greatly appreciate this post. I am a follower of Christ and I am up in the air about this amendment. Granted the polls are closed and the amendment passed but I am not clear that this is not a violation of law given rights. The amendment was not an affront to the church. It is within the walls of the state. How is this declaration loving our gay community? Please in simple terms, as if I am a seven year old, I would love to here your thoughts. I know you address this with your fourth point and maybe that should be enough.”

Here is my response.

Matthew, forgive my delay!  You raise several questions and make a few comments to which you have invited a response so I will do my best to do so!  First of all, the violation of “law-given rights” has emerged in the debate quite often as a point of contention.  However, to give the benefit of the doubt, I think it is not “law-given rights” that are the issue since no laws are in danger of being violated.  In fact, the laws as written would only be violated if marriage were expanded beyond that of a man to a woman.

I think what you mean, and I may be incorrect so feel free to let me know, is a violation of civil rights or some other form of rights not yet offered by law or protected by the constitution.  To that issue, I will address a couple of brief comments.

1.  As you noted correctly, point four in my article from April 10 speaks to the issue of rights.  There has never been a legitimate question about the rights of a society or government to limit what people have a right to do or not do.  The example I gave suggested multiple prohibitions regarding marriage which have no advocates–polygamy, under-age marriage, marriage to close family members, etc.  If we use fairness as the prevailing measure, it would be unfair to “violate the rights” of anyone by prohibiting such things.  Yet we all understand that no one is concerned about that in the present discussion.  When then do “rights” become so?

Well, rights become so when they represent the values of the people making the laws and those who elect them to do so.  Sadly, in a democratic process, the strength resides in the power of the majority to determine which values prevail.  In the same way, the weakness resides in the power of the majority to mandate values, even when they are not shared by those who will be influenced and affected by the laws.  Each is a strength or weakness depending on whether the values you hold dear are upheld by the majority.  So, ‘rights’ are not universal entities existing absolutely in a pluralistic culture.  They shift with the tide of human opinion unless there is something anchoring them to more substantial moorings.

Therefore, the amendment to the NC Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman violates no rights at all but merely reflects the historic and contemporary standards and values of those governed who cast their votes according to the values they hold dearest.  Does that always work out well?  History proves that not to be the case, but the issue of “rights” is not violated in the least regarding marriage.  Since none have been established for any other kind of marital union than the one affirmed by the majority vote of the citizens, there is therefore no existing legal or civil right to be violated.

2.  Regarding the statement that the amendment was not an affront to the church, you are exactly right.  However the rejection of the amendment would have been.  How?  You suggest that the matter is “within the walls of the state” by which I assume you mean that it does not matter within the church.  The church does not speak with one voice on this issue…or few if any other issues for that matter!  But for churches that affirm the authority of the Bible as true and who confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, there is much greater clarity.

Since as followers of Christ we are under His lordship, we submit to His truth and follow His will and ways as we find them addressed in His Word.  No one has tried successfully to make the case that the Bible is in favor of homosexuality.  Some have tried to advocate that point of view but do not get very far with anyone who happens to own and read a Bible!  But the church does have a primary concern in upholding the standards of righteous behavior Jesus calls for from His disciples.  When given the opportunity to speak to the values embraced and made into law within our rights as citizens, we can and should make our voices known about what we believe regarding godly and good values.

Our values are every bit as important as those who hold views that are the exact opposite of ours.  So when a challenge comes before the followers of Christ and we are asked to vote our conscience, biblical values and righteous standards inform our conscience and we must vote accordingly.

We already live in a culture where our conscience is violated by the laws of the land.  For example, since 1973, abortion laws have been on the books which offend those who value life before birth as many followers of Christ do.  So when the opportunity to speak up for values from a biblical point of view presents itself, it does involve the church-goer just as it does the atheist just as it does the mindless person who does not even know that he/she has values (or where they came from!).  The biblical point of view does not demand silence from those who disagree.  Neither should those who disagree demand silence of those of us who have biblical convictions as strong as their secular convictions.

So it is a church issue…and a ‘secular issue”…and a values issue regardless of where and how the values happened to be shaped.

3.  The last question you ask if very important…how is this loving our gay community?  In the hands of many, it is decidedly not loving because it is used as a club to pound homosexuals and dehumanize them.  But for those who do love people in the gay community, the marriage amendment merely defines one set of issues.  At the same time, it should open the door for dialogue on other issues.  We cannot alter what the Bible says about the sin of homosexual behavior any more than we can negotiate what it teaches about adultery in a heterosexual context.  But we can ask questions and learn what life’s issues are like for the gay man or woman who wants to love God and live for Him, but feels trapped and abandoned and unwelcome by those who are supposed to be loving them in Jesus’ name.

The amendment made no attempt to answer that dilemma.  It remains for the followers of Christ to be intentional in listening and learning how we can love without compromising truth, how we can offer help without being condescending, how we can reach out without giving the impression that we are somehow reaching down.  Love is complicated and messy, but it is an essential element of being a follower of Christ.

Giving up on God’s standard of righteousness and holiness is never acceptable. We cannot wink our eye and declare that homosexual behavior is no longer a sin.  But neither can we give up on the high value God gives to loving others in His name and put conditions on who we will and will not love.  We say “love the sinner, but not the sin.”  Our culture does not understand that distinction.  Unfortunately, many followers of Christ don’t either!  But we have to learn!

Summary?  Rights and values in a democracy are affirmed by majority vote and end up shaping the language of the law.  That does not satisfy those who stand resolutely on biblical truth, nor those who even reject the existence of any truth.  We have every right and responsibility to make our voices known, and exert whatever righteous influence we have to speak up for what we believe and value.  But loving people is not up for a vote.  So followers of Christ must lead the way in demonstrating the love of Christ–not by caving in to demands for the rejection of his standards of righteousness, but by showing a better way–His way, by living it winsomely in the power of the Holy Spirit in the joy and love of Jesus’ name.  I pray for a better day to come when we live what we believe…and speak the truth, but always in love.

A Nation in a State of Flux: Parts Six and Seven, A Debtor Nation and Declining Nation

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A Debtor Nation

Just how much the previous factors have contributed to our status as a debtor nation is not altogether clear.  However, no one argues that we have not earned that designation.  Measured both by the people who live here and the government that leads us, we have watched the exponential rise of indebtedness at nearly every level of our society.

National Debt.  Just how much debt do we owe as a nation?  As of today, the number is nearly $15.7 trillion  which means that if each citizen of the United States took an equal share, each of us would owe just over $50,000.   A National Review Online article by Carrie Lukas, back in September 2011 when the debt was then $14.2 trillion, put the problem in perspective.  This way, the average citizen can see just how deep our hole is and how badly we are addressing it if we ever hope to reverse the downward spiral into even more debt.

U.S. Tax revenue: $2,170,000,000,000
Federal budget: $3,820,000,000,000
New debt: $ 1,650,000,000,000
National debt: $14,271,000,000,000
Recent [April 2011] budget cut: $ 38,500,000,000

     Let’s remove 8 zeros and pretend it’s a household budget:

Annual family income: $21,700
Money the family spent: $38,200
New debt on the credit card: $16,500
Outstanding balance on the credit card: $142,710
Budget cuts: $385

Does that seem like a healthy way to manage money?  Not really!  But does that give you a better idea of the precarious nature of our financial status as a nation?

Household/Personal Debt.  So, from the national to the individual, what can we determine.  Not sure each of us can afford to arrange to pay our share of the $50,000 toward the national debt?  No problem, we can arrange to borrow at least some of it.  In a CNNMoney article by Blake Ellis in January 2012, three amazing statistics stand out—1) the average credit card balance was just over $6500 (and the average number of credit cards per household is nine!); 2) the average mortgage debt was just under $174,000; and 3) the average car debt was about $15,500!

Before we blame the high cost of food, consider that in the United States we spend only about 6% of our income food (compared with a third world nation like Kenya which spend 45% on food, Brazil spends about 25% and France spends about 14%).  Even though it is considered to be unhealthy to one’s budget to spend more than 30% on rent or mortgage, more than 18.6 million households spend more than 50% on housing.

What Happened?  Before this gets more depressing, let’s consider how this problem developed.  Some major issues jump to the front of the line that help explain what has happened.  Entitlement thinking begins with the assumption that we have a right to whatever we want when we want it—not matter what the cost or whether or not we can afford it.  There is always a way in a credit based culture to afford anything…for a while!  Materialism and greed constantly work on us to convince us that what we need and want are justifiable and the word ‘enough’ applies only to other people.  Presumption tells us that financial principles do not apply in our situation and that if we can defer payments long enough, we will be able to get away with our current poor decision-making.  Discipline has fallen on hard times and the idea of saying ‘no’ to yourself seldom occurs to this generation.  And last of all, contentment is considered passé because that depends on a choice to be satisfied with God’s provision, something that can be built only on a foundation of trust that He is sufficient for all that we could ever want or need.

A debtor nation faces collapse unless something reverses its course into oblivion.  Returning to biblical principles of how to be good stewards of all that He has entrusted to our care is the only way to restore what has been lost.

A Declining Nation

The six ways I believe the United States is struggling lead me to conclude that we are in a state of decline—morally, financially, spiritually, intellectually, directionally we are on a collision course with a very dangerous future.

The deep divisions that separate us emerge periodically to remind us that we are far from a united group of people even though we are still states united functionally if not fundamentally.  The divide between those who favor abortion versus those who are pro-life—those who insist on full acceptance of homosexuality versus those who base their view on the Scriptural teaching that it is sexual sin just as certainly as other types of sexual sin (adultery, fornication, etc.)—those who want more governmental control and those who demand less—those who hate the intrusion of spiritual language and values into the public square and those who cannot imagine such debates without core beliefs giving substance to the issues—those who are blind to racial and socio-economic injustice and those who cannot escape its ugliness in the daily affairs of their lives.  Yes, we are divided.

Over a decade ago, on September 11, 2001, the people of the United States united for a brief moment while we reconsidered what really mattered and realized that our points of agreement are worth preserving more than clinging to our points of disagreement.  Then the immediate crisis ended and we went back to our sides of the dividing walls and hunkered down once again.  We who believe that Jesus Christ is the answer—a national revival of spiritual life, a return to the propositional truths of the Bible and a humble repentance before a gracious Savior offer the only lasting solution.  So we invest ourselves in the work of the kingdom as well as live for the glory of Christ in the land.  We seek the welfare of the city and nation because God told us this is good and right.  Those indifferent to or antagonistic toward God want nothing to do with that and so we pray and serve and wait and love—for the glory of Christ and the good of others and leave the results in His hand.

One day He will return and make all things right…all things new!  He will establish His reign over all things and every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Until then, we will not despair or be discouraged—we will not lose hope or become anxious—we will rise up and with thanksgiving rejoice in the blessings we enjoy in this land, knowing that our citizenship belongs elsewhere.  May the Lord revive us and restore us and raise up a new generation of those who live for the praise of His name in all things!

A Nation in a State of Flux: Part Five, An Immoral Nation

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An Immoral Nation

If we have not tread on controversial ground so far, the mere suggestion that we are an immoral nation raises protests immediately.  Why?  Because defining anything as immoral flies against the prevailing cultural inclination to declare the existence of what is right and what is wrong.  The idea that morality exists only in the eye of the beholder has so defined our thinking as a nation that few will even accept the proposition that any behavior or attitude can be regarded as immoral. Yet in reality, the reluctance comes not from the absence of an agreeable definition but from a desire to excuse personal choices and behaviors in others so that we can expect that same courtesy in return.  In other words, “I will give you a pass on your behavior if you will do the same for me!”

But even if we acknowledge the reticence to admit the category of immorality into what we will tolerate as a culture, there are clearly some behaviors that no one tries to justify.  Before addressing those that a biblical worldview defines as immoral, first consider those things which few in their best moments of rationalizing would try to say are morally acceptable.

Pornography.  Even the most jaded skeptics agree that at least some forms of pornography are unacceptable—for example, child pornography is forbidden and is grounds for arrest and imprisonment all over the United States.  But the secrecy and shame which surround the use of pornography in all of its forms indicates that few people would try to suggest that there is nothing wrong with it.  Statistically, a few facts should cause us to blush before the rest of the world:

  • The USA produces 24 times more porn than any other country
  • Porn sales in the USA grosses $12.62 Billion Dollars (2005)
  • Porn sales world wide top $97 Billion Dollars (USD) (2005)
  • The USA hosts 244 million ‘porn’ websites (89% of all such sites)
  • 12 percent of all websites online are porn
  • 40 million Americans regularly visit porn sites
  • 35 percent of all downloads are porn
  • Kids first see porn online, on average, at age 11
  • 20-25 percent of men watch porn at work
  • The porn industry revenue is larger than all of the revenues for all professional football, baseball and basketball franchises combined
  • 70% of men in the United States between the ages of 18 and 34 visit at least one pornographic website in a typical month

Is that jarring enough?  One article noted that a survey taken in Canada a few years ago to find out how many adult males had never looked at pornography did not find even one.  So even if we in the culture of tolerance in the United States are hesitant to identify something as immoral behavior, these statistics are an embarrassment at best and tragic evidence that we have lost touch with any behavioral boundaries.

Substance Abuse.  Although few people think of substance abuse as a moral issue, the impact of alcohol, tobacco and other kinds of drug abuse on individuals, families, the workplace and the highways of our land should be sufficient to make us reconsider.  The devastation of addictions to these and other substances is well-documented so I will not go into them in detail.  However, there is also significant evidence that occasional or social use of these substances also introduces an element of instability at every level of our society.  Putting your own life and the lives of others at risk in order to satisfy your own appetites is irresponsible at least, and I would also include that it falls into the category of immoral.  Again, even if people are unwilling to say it is immoral, they are not prepared to say there is no need for concern or caution with regard to substance abuse.

Evidences of Moral Decline.  What the culture says it believes and what it does in practice give rise to legitimate charges of hypocrisy.  Many may admit that chastity is something they value but not enough to maintain it until marriage—if marriage is even a consideration.

     Sexually Activity Outside of/Before Marriage.  Surveys indicate that nearly 30% of adult men and almost 10% of adult women acknowledge have had fifteen or more sexual partners during their lifetimes.  Fewer and fewer young adults are waiting until marriage for their first experience of sexual intimacy.  In a bizarre twist, when someone chooses to remain chaste until marriage, they are considered to be eccentric and strange and the word ‘virgin’ once held as a badge of moral purity has become a term of derision.  The entertainment industry perpetuates a model of sexual promiscuity that convinces the society that sexual purity exists only within a weird sub-culture and can never be considered normal behavior.

Among pastors, a new question now has to be asked in pre-marital counseling in order to insure that what follows will be understand in a biblical framework for what moral purity means.  Unless we know otherwise, we have to ask the coupe of they are currently sexually active and if so to agree to cease until after they are married.  And if they are living together, one of them needs to move out until they are married.  Although this is not a brand new problem in our culture, it is now considered odd that a pastor would even care about such things because the behavior is so common (even among followers of Christ!) that it does not even occur to them that there is problem of morality at stake!

Cohabitation.  More people are living together “without benefit of clergy” than ever before.  Some are doing so as a “test drive for marriage” while others dismiss marriage as an anachronistic throw-back to a more naïve world.  Divorces parents and marital infidelity have left a bad taste in the mouths of those in the 22-34 age bracket and they are rejecting sexual purity as a moral value to be retained as they jettison anything likely to produce a guilty conscience.  How much has this change impacted the culture at large?

“Thirty or 40 years ago, cohabitation was relatively rare, mainly the province of artists and other questionable types, and still thought of as “living in sin” In 1970 only about 500,000 couples lived together in unwedded bliss…Now, nearly 5 million opposite-sex couples in the United States live together outside of marriage; millions more have done it at some point. Some couples do choose to live together as a permanent alternative to marriage, but their numbers are only a tiny fraction: More than 50 percent of couples who marry today have lived together beforehand.” (Nancy Wartik, “The Perils of Playing House,” July 1, 2005, Psychology Today).

If we went on to expand the idea of immorality to aborting unborn babies, or sanctioning homosexual lifestyles as nothing more than another among many acceptable alternatives, or corporate greed which approves of ridiculous wealth for the upper echelons while rank and file workers lose their jobs or struggle to make it from month to month on their low pay, rampant cheating in the classrooms and on tax returns, or unequal justice for poor and minority offenders of the law—there is plenty of room to justify the designation that we have become an immoral nation without substantial moorings.

“Walk on the Water” by Britt Nicole

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For many followers of Christ, getting out of the boat and stepping out in faith produces more anxiety than joyful confidence.  Britt Nicole asks, “What are you waiting for?” in this beautiful song.  Hope you enjoy as you step out in faith to do what the Lord shows you to do today!



Rhetoric aside…time to vote!

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Tomorrow, May 8, North Carolinians will vote either to approve or reject a proposed amendment to the state constitution regarding marriage.  Since I have written at length on the topic in a blog posted a few weeks ago (see April 10 article), I will be brief here.  This is the text of the amendment to be included in Article XIV of the state constitution:

“Sec. 6 Marriage. Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”

On the ballot, voters will be asked to choose for or against this proposal:

Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized by this State.

In spite of all the rhetoric about how confusing this is, you can see for yourself that it is amazingly simple and clear.  As far as all the predictions of the implications of passing or rejecting this amendment, much of that discussion appeals to sensationalism and to advertising tactics intended to blur the issue, not clarify it.

I will be voting in favor of the amendment and I encourage you to do the same!

If you are not from North Carolina and read this, pray for us to behave in a manner worthy of our calling from Christ–neither gloating if the decision goes for approval, nor despairing if does not go the way we desire.

Thank all of you who have read the previous post for passing it on to others.

Note:  My friend over at The Summit, J. D. Greear, offers a great video summary in favor of the amendment.  Here is the link.

I think you will appreciate the way he addresses the issue!  Good job, J. D.!

A Nation in a State of Flux: Part Four, A Selfish Nation

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King of Our Own Domain

No one likes to be considered selfish.  Yet the natural condition of the human heart is inclined toward self-preservation, self-gain, self-assertion and on the list goes!  Given the demanding character of the average citizen of our land, the characterization of the nation as selfish should come as no surprise.  We all can give our fair share of stories of the selfish behavior and attitudes of others we have encountered, but it seldom occurs to any of us to apply that label to us.  Selfish is what the other person is—we convince ourselves that “I am simply trying to get or keep what I believe is rightfully mine.”

There is really nothing unique about this characterization since all people in all nations are naturally more concerned about themselves than anyone else.  However, given that, we have taken it to an art form here!  Rather than getting into lots of statistics which support my premise (such as average charitable giving per household, average percentage of household income donated to the church among evangelicals in the United States, spending and consumer habits, growing size of homes, numbers of cars per household, amount of clothes filling our closets and so on), I will focus on two symptoms only—national self-interests and personal self-interests.

National Self-interests
A few key indicators tell quite a story in themselves.  For example, for all the language about our nation being a protector of the underdog and champion of democracy, most the accounts of our intervention in international political issues have more to do with our national interests rather than in the interest of selfless sacrifice for the good of others. Economic and energy interests, along with national security interests, all provide most of the impetus to place our energies at the disposal of the world.  So in Iraq and Afghanistan, the convergence of security interests with fossil fuel interests make for a sufficient cause for international intervention.  When the issues are purely humanitarian, the cause gets muddied quickly with arguments of “what’s in it for us?”  Rwanda offered no compelling reason given that nothing of national importance was at stake…Zimbabwe does not rise to the level of our interests even as its people suffer and its government falters and stumbles from one crisis to the next…and so national self-interests appear to play a larger role in our commitments to people beyond our borders.

Taxes present another example of national self-interest as no one seems to be in favor of them but cannot explain how we are to function without them.  Local, state and national taxation is always under scrutiny and usually is condemned for taking from the personal coffers of the individual to pay for the whims of disengaged, misinformed government leaders.  We claim to be interested in the common good, but only when that means that I get to keep what I believe is mine and ask others to pay the freight for highways, schools, military costs, public safety personnel and many other government funded necessities that feel like impositions when we have to pay our portion.

Personal Self-interests
Some of the national self-interests bleed over to the personal self-interest side.  The NIMBY syndrome is well-documented but offers an interesting insight into the nature of selfish thinking.  NIMBY advocates (“Not in my back yard”) are all for improvements until they have to pay for them or be inconvenienced by them.  We all agree we need schools, but we demand that they not be built too near us lest our property values are negatively impacted.  We love curbs and gutters, sidewalks and wide shady streets, but not if we have to pay assessments and increase our taxes to pay for them.  Convenient roads are essential but not if they make traffic patterns more complex and congested around our part of the city.  And everyone knows that garbage dump sites cannot be avoided but no one willingly welcomes them in their area.  The same goes for nearly every so-called improvement we find coming too close for comfort so we cry out “Not in my neighborhood…build it somewhere else…charge someone else!”

Most of the conversations about freedom degenerate rapidly into my freedoms versus those of someone else.  Of course, I appreciate their circumstances, we say, but their freedom should not be allowed to impose on me and restrict mine.  Everything from our posturing about immigration to our positions on abortion usually evade the real issue—we do not want anyone else telling us what to do, nor having anyone taking a share of that to which we believe we have a right and are entitled.  Tax refunds and welfare recipients shine the spotlight on a form of personal self-interest that ends up shaping the nature of our leaders because we want to put people into office who will put our interests above those of others.  Pork barrel spending highlights the truth that constituents are more interested in what they can gain and from which they can profit through the hands of their leaders than they are with the general good of the nation at large.

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years.”   Alexis de Tocqueville

Until the nation curbs its appetites and learns to say no to its longings, it will continue the death spiral produced and perpetuated by catering to national and personal self-interests.  The scriptures offer a simple solution that has been ignored but until it is taken to heart will be the answer left on the page and never the one put into practice.

Philippians 2:3-4  Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit,  but in humility consider others as more important  than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

The implications of our selfish hearted approach to life on the personal and national level are played out in more ways than we can imagine.  The next two categories reveal some of how that has influenced the nation to become both an immoral nation, feeding our selfish desire to take what we want without regard to who gets hurt, and a debtor nation, mounting up insurmountable debts we can never repay all to feed an insatiable desire to acquire what we want when we want it.

A Nation in a State of Flux: Part Three, A Confused Nation

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A Confused Nation

Most people in our nation cannot identify their philosophical perspective by name and would be hard-pressed to articulate any consistent, reasonable, thoughtful process by which they arrive at their conclusions and determine their points of view.  The irrational nature of most dialogue on almost any controversial subject reveals an appalling lack of awareness of how confused people really are.  Incoherent thinking leads to illogical conclusions resulting in ill-formed opinions.

This is not an issue of intelligence.  Even the most brilliant people plod along with no definition to the basic reasons or supportive evidences to support their convictions because they have been led to believe that such things are not important.  Mutually contradictory positions do not seem to bother people and conflicting statements about what is valuable are the norm, not the exception.

Therefore, when a tough and complicated issue reaches the public and opinions are polled, it is frankly embarrassing to hear the naïve and underdeveloped conclusions stated with no idea how illogical and inconsistent their opinions are.  Consider how that confusion shapes the nature of the discussion of…

…freedom and rights.  The conversation does not have to go very far before you realize that there is fundamental conflict between the two in many circumstances.  One of the most volatile controversies that divides the nation has to do with how people understand and approach the discussion about abortion.  Many see it as an issue of rights…the woman has the right to reproductive freedom and that takes precedence over every other consideration on their minds.  Now that most of the debate has been settled about the human-ness of the unborn child (because technology has made it clear that the baby in the womb is indeed a living human being), the conversation has shifted to reproductive rights of the mother being more important than the right to life of the unborn child.
But if the question is asked how that determination was reached, the glassy-eyed stare you get in response lets you know that it is a completely arbitrary assessment.  Moral arguments are not allowed, legal and ethical ramifications are pushed aside, and the improbable idea that this is purely a biological decision rules the day.  That should trouble thinking people that the rights of one are preferred over the rights of another without any substantive explanation why.
With no basis upon which to sort out such a dilemma, the general response of the culture is to ignore the support of freedom for one and deny the freedom for another on the grounds that…oh wait, on no grounds whatsoever!  The confusion results in silence and deference to the loudest voices in the debate.

 …truth and tolerance.  The big ticket item in public debate right now is tolerance versus intolerance…the rejection of absolute truth and the insistence on the rightness of diametrically opposite positions.  No one wants to risk being painted as intolerant so we find a confused nation trying to keep from saying ridiculous and absurd things—“truth is true, and so is untruth!”  Haven’t heard that one yet?  Well, not in those words, but move into the realm of faith conversations and we would be informed that all religions are essentially the same.  For example, we are told that Christians and Muslims believe in the same Deity.  In a recent conversation with a young Muslim man, he actually repeated the cultural mantra—“It seems to me that we believe mostly the same things.”  Intrigued by this catering to the cultural insistence on tolerance, I ask him to explain further.  He then replied, “Well, except for the Christian belief that Jesus is God, we share the same values.”  I then had to explain that whether Jesus is God or not does make a dramatic difference in what we believe—and both things cannot be accepted as valid affirmations.  We cannot truthfully have it both ways and say “He is God” and “He is not God” and expect to be taken seriously!  A less politically correct Muslim man seated beside me on flight in Africa made a point to say before I was even in my seat that we do not believe in the same God at all, insisting that logical inconsistency would not confuse him into saying something he believed not to be true.
Truth by its very nature is exclusive of anything that is not true.  But in a culture which values tolerance more than truth, we confuse people by telling them that everyone can and should believe whatever they want because no one has the right to declare one thing true at the cost of declaring its opposite untrue.  So a confused population tries to live by that illogical and irrational point of view and often does not recognize the absurdity of that proposition.

…values and faith.  Virtually everyone can tell you that the practical policies of the United States demand that there be a separation of church and state, that personal religious beliefs have no place in the shaping of public law and policy.  The confusion arises when it become necessary to acknowledge that all public law and policy are based on values and values arise from some standard of measurement as to what is right and what is wrong.
So when voices from the faith community speak up, they are confused when they are told that there is no place for beliefs and faith in determining values.  Well, what, we must ask in the confusion is the basis for making value judgments if not personal beliefs?  At issue, of course, is not whether values are the result of beliefs.  At issue in the current cultural climate is whether the beliefs arise from religious sources, or are the product of “secular beliefs” derived from philosophical premises of people without faith instead of doctrinal presuppositions of people of faith.  Both have strong belief systems but one is ruled out of order because the object of its faith is divine revelation and the other is ruled appropriate because the object of its worship is human reason.  Who gets to make that call?  Is it any wonder why people get confused when such ideas appear on the scene in an arbitrary manner and are fashioned into absolutes by a culture which denies that there are any absolutes?

People try to make sense of the senseless and end up confused.  Or they give up trying to make sense of anything and just follow along blindly whichever way the wind of public opinion is blowing at any given time.  Apart from the acknowledgement that there is such a thing as truth and that it is knowable, we cannot expect any relief from the confusion that holds our nation hostage to whatever whims and changes are proposed as answers to all that ails us.  Confusion and ignorance of what is true confines us, holding us captive to what we are told to believe by any new idea that proceeds from the heart and mind of other confused folks.  Jesus made it fairly simple when He said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32).  Until then, get used to the confusion!