Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Everlasting Campaign

Well, the long awaited moment has arrived. Wait, it hasn’t actually been all that long has it? Of course you know what I’m talking about, it’s not Christmas, nor Easter, and not even your birthday. We’re gearing up for the 2012 presidential election. So for the next few months we get to listen to:

Those who are running, but say that they’re not.

Those who are ‘thinking about it”, setting up exploratory committees and appearing at fundraisers

Those who really aren’t running but say that they are, just to keep things interesting,

Those who really aren’t running, but like to hear themselves talk.

And those who are definitely putting themselves forward as a viable candidate.

And now that the Royal Wedding has come and gone, maybe we need this kind of intrigue to keep reporters gainfully employed.

BUT, here’s my take.

Many of those who have expressed an interested in being their party’s candidate are already employed by that party: Representatives, Senators, Governors, and yes even the President. Now they want to not do their job until Nov of next year (that’s a year and a half) as they go out and try to convince the nation to hire them.

To put it into perspective, I pastor a small church, how happy do you think the congregation I serve would be if from now until next November I was only in the pulpit a few times (well, maybe some of them would be happy at that) because I was traveling around the country, visiting other churches trying to find a job at the denominational level? Of course I would still want the title, and the paycheck, I just wouldn’t be doing the job.

Or think of it this way. The president has declared his intention to run for a second term. As we get closer and closer to the election, he spends less and less time being president and more and more time being a candidate. He stops being president to spend time telling the country why he should be president for another 4 years.

Here’s my take: the campaign season runs way too long. Set campaign limits - Campaigning for the party nomination starts 1 June and the party conventions are held at the end of July. Then the actual campaign lasts 3 months: Aug, Sept and Oct, with the election in early November. Who knows more people might actually vote since they wouldn’t be so tired of hearing about politics?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Listening to the Voices on Taxes

I enjoy listening to the voices that are out there. They help me decide what I think when it comes to certain issues.

The voices in Washington DC that say we have to raise taxes to pay for all the programs that we think we should be funding.

The voices in Washington DC that say that we should cut taxes to stimulate the economy.

The voices of the people who just want to go to work and not depend on some of those programs.

The voices of the Political Action Committees and special action advocates who make a good case for why everyone except their clients should help with the mess we’re in.

The voices of the people who write into the newspaper or call into radio talk shows out of frustration with what’s going on in the country that we love.

The voices of the letter to the editor writer who pointed out that CEOs of big companies get a salary for the job they do. Taxing that salary doesn’t eliminate jobs, exempting that salary doesn’t create jobs. CEOs of big corporations don’t write personal checks to pay the employees’ salaries.

The voices of two young women overheard in a fast food joint, comparing notes on their tax returns. How much they’re ‘getting back’. In quotes because they’re both apparently stay at home moms with several children and the tax credits amounted to several thousand dollars more that their tax liability. In my opinion, you only ‘get it back’ if you gave it in the first place. Besides, they’re more than happy to tell you that they can’t work or they would lose out on WIC and CHIP and food stamps – lots of “in Kind” each month that isn’t taxed.

The voices that remind us that only about half of US families are paying the National Income Tax. And it seems like most of them are middle class. The lower class doesn’t make enough to have much of a liability, and the upper class has the credits, exemptions, deductions and can afford the lawyers to find the loopholes.

So I listen to the voices, and get sick to my stomach, then I worry about the future of my son and the next few generations.

And I add my own voice in case the people who represent me in Washington DC are listening.

Make some tough decisions:

Maybe a flat tax, that everybody pays.

Eliminate all the deductions and exemptions. Yeah that means that I get dinged, but so will everybody else.

The tax credits should zero out. Carry over the excess for a year if you need to since hopefully things will change and the employment situation will get better. But no more getting back more than you paid in. If you make more by not working than you do working, then why work.

There’s lots of voices out there. Too bad we’re not all singing the same song

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A review of Shaun Alexander’s “The Walk”

I’m not a sports fan and had no idea who Shaun Alexander was prior to reading THE WALK, but I am interested in making discipleship work as an ongoing process rather than a program, so based on the limited information available, this book looked like something that would be of interest.

On the cover, perhaps as a subtitle, are the words “clear direction and spiritual power for your life.” unfortunately I didn’t find much about this book to be ‘clear’. Solid biblical principles and teaching are present, but it didn’t seem too clear or coherent. The examples provided didn’t always do enough to demonstrate his point, and there were other places where it seemed that relating a personal experience would have furthered the discussion.

I did like how Alexander has identified the individual stages that an individual goes through on the Walk, but it felt like he was stretching when he used Peter to prove his points. A big problem that many Christians have is trying to force God, Jesus, and in this case the Apostle Peter, to fit into the man sized boxes that we create for them.

This was one of those books that I kept reading hoping to get excited about. Sadly, that never happened.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Max on Life - a review

This is one of the books that I would have liked to have had more time to savor, rather than having to read it quickly to meet a deadline for the review. I would have liked to have had it several years ago while attending seminary, as it would have been a great tool in several of the classes.

This book is formatted as an advice column: Max answers questions from struggling believers, from agnostics, and I think even a self-professed atheist or two, on matters of the faith. Throughout the book his brief but touching answers make it plain why Max Lucado is one of America’s favorite authors. Whether you’re asking questions about hope in the midst of despair, to help you deal with relationship issues, your kids, or what happens after I die, Max has answers.

Real questions from real people form the basis for the book, and Max answers as YOUR pastor,( or the pastor you wish was yours) would. You can read it as a daily devotional, when there is a certain issue you’re dealing with, or on those days when you just need to know that you’re not the only one with problems and that God loves you.

As a believer who often has questions, I found this book helpful. As a pastor who often needs answers to questions from members of the congregation, I’m delighted to have this book as a part of my library.

five stars!

I was provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for writing the review.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

looking for a few good iconoclasts

I was reading last night and came across the word ‘ICONOCLAST’. At least I think I came across it, because about 30 minutes later I couldn’t find it again. I couldn’t remember what it means but I like the sound of it, and seem to remember hearing the word before, probably in a church history course.

I know that ‘icons’ are images of some sort, but couldn’t remember what the suffix might mean. Luckily we no longer live in the “Age of Aquarius”, but rather in the ‘age of Google’, so it didn’t take more than a few keystrokes to discover that an ‘iconoclast’ is, according to, a nonconformist, a rebel dissenter or radical; “a breaker or destroyer of images, especially those set up for religious veneration’; or someone who attacks cherished beliefs and traditions.

And as I thought about the definition, I came to the conclusion that being an iconoclast might be fun.

Although most people probably don’t know the meaning of the word, they have either been involved in some iconoclastic behavior, or have been the target of it, in the sense that it’s their cherished beliefs that are being attacked.

Remember I mentioned church history? Back in the 8th and 9th centuries there was a disagreement over the Greek Orthodox practice of using icons, or images, in the church building, and in worship. The iconoclasts wanted to destroy the images.

Today the term isn’t used so much to describe destruction of art work, as it is to describe someone who dares to attack the sacred cows. It’s the person who comes up with a good idea, which is probably a good thing, except for the fact that it means changing the way we’ve always done it. You’ve dealt with those people before: they want to get rid of the things that you’ve worked so hard to preserve. They want you to get rid of the typewriter in favor of a computer. They thought kerosene lamps should be replaced with electric lighting, the horse and buggy could be put away in favor of a car, and even the barges on the canal system had to go in favor of trains that went at the breakneck speed of 15 mph, scaring women, children and livestock.In the past 30 or years they've asked you to go from record albums to 8-tracks, to cassettes to CDs. You finally got used to the walkman and now you're supposed to get an I-Pod. They even want you to have a cell phone so you can be in constant contact.

The past is fascinating, and it teaches us valuable lessons, but it’s the past, and if we hold on to it too tightly, we miss the present and eliminate the possibility of a future.

Are you an iconoclast, or have you had to deal with one?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Review: The Final Summit: Andy Andrews

I wasn’t really sure what kind of book I was getting with Andy Andrews’ ‘The Final Summit’, and now that I’ve read it, I’m still not sure. It’s one of those books that ends up being a cross between two genres, and it does neither of them justice. As a novel, it just didn’t have the kind of plot that could capture and hold my interest; and as a self-help or motivational book, there’s too much fiction for it to be plausible enough to really focus on the motivational aspect.

As I went back looking for the ‘seven decisions’ that David Ponder apparently came across in his first traveling adventure (‘The Traveler’s Gift’ a book I haven’t read) I could see where each of them could be have a chapter of its own and possibly benefit some people. But the seven decisions don’t seem to be the focal point of this story, and at the end of the book, I was still wondering why they were mentioned at the beginning, except as a spoiler as to which fellow travelers David Ponder would be dealing with as he sets out to ‘find the one principle that will save humanity.’ The seven decisions are positive statements that might be heard at almost any motivational conferences.

On the positive side, Andrews has done some research and provides some interesting trivia about the historical personages that he has inducted into his “travelers hall of fame’ (for lack of a better way to identify the famous people that he includes as part of David Ponder’s traveling experience. And people from so many different time periods interacting face to face is an interesting concept. He does a good job of pointing out the sad state of the human condition, but the solution that we’re left with is fairly anticlimactic.

The seven decisions are mostly bland statements of affirmation that could have been expanded upon, and the book might have ended up a little meatier. History’s best minds struggle to come up with the answer that will save humanity, and I was left wondering how we’ve made it this far if that’s the best they could come up with.

This would be a good book to read when you really don’t want to be put in the position of having to think.
2 stars

TO comply with FTC guidelines, I am required to disclose the fact that I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for reviewing it.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Just a minute - or so

My 14 year old son often gets on my case for saying ‘just a minute’. He doesn’t have anything against the specific words; it’s just that his idea of a minute, and mine, are different. When I say ‘in a minute’ I’m not actually saying that I will be there, do that, in precisely 60 seconds. I usually mean that I’m doing something, and when I come to a convenient stopping point, probably within the next 5-10 minutes, I’ll be ready to listen, watch, play or whatever it is that he wants.

He understands ‘just a minute’ to mean within a few seconds will be fine if ‘immediately’ doesn’t happen to be an option.

Of course when I ask him to clean his room or do his homework, his ‘just a minute’ doesn’t always translate to within seconds either, but can mean that he might think about it sometime within the next week or so.

So time, like many other things, is relative. We want an answer right now, but expect the decision makers to carefully deliberate. We want our tax refunds by the first of February; but if we owe, we wait until April 15th to send the check. The last hour before the weekend starts seems to last forever, but the weekend itself seems to pass by in a matter of hours. And usually when someone asks if you have a minute, you know you’re going to be tied up for a while.

And we do the same thing with God. We expect Him to operate on our time schedule, without realizing that He views things through a different lens than we do. God sees things through the perspective of eternity, rather than in relation to a human lifetime of 80 or so years.

Early in the biblical book of Genesis, we read that God was walking in the Garden in the cool of the day. The Genesis events took place several thousand years ago, but scholars generally agree that the account was written in about 1500 B.C. About 1000 years later (450 B.C.), when the book of Chronicles was written, the question was ‘When are we going to see God walking with us again?” It was phrased more like this: I’ve built this temple for Him, but is God really going to dwell on earth with men? Even the heavens, the highest heavens can’t contain Him, so why would I think this temple would be an appropriate dwelling place for Him”. And the accompanying prayer is that God would look favorably on the temple and forgive sinful man.

Fast forward about 600 years (90A.D.) John is writing the Revelation: the account of the vision he has had concerning things to come. He sees the Holy City descending from heaven, and hears a voice proclaiming that the dwelling place of God is once again with man, and He will dwell with them.

Another 1900 or so years have passed since John wrote about his vision, and we’re still waiting. It seems like a long time to us, but when compared to all eternity, that period of 3500 years represents just a tiny dot on the timeline.

As the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ reminds us, “When we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God's praise than when we’d first begun!” Those 10,000 years are like a minute.

So the next time someone tells you just a minute, you may want to settle back with a good book.

In fact, why not try THE Good Book?

Oops there’s the phone, I’ll be back in just a minute! Happy reading!

Friday, April 8, 2011

If the Government Shuts Down: Pray don't Criticize

I’ve just been reading some of the headlines and they don’t make much sense. If the government shuts down, military members are not subject to furlough, they have to work, but they won’t get paid. Congress, on the other hand, is exempt from the shutdown, so they have to work, but they do get paid - but there would be inconveniences: the people who work the elevators in the Senate or staff the free gym for the House of Representatives, not to mention the people who work in the cafeterias and clean at the Capitol would all be furloughed, so our leaders, who got us into this mess in the first place by not doing their job as well as they might have, might have to brown bag it, clean up after themselves, and stand in lines.

On the count of three AAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW. Poor Babies.

Hard to feel sorry for them.

But the proper response from a biblical standpoint isn’t to criticize: check out Matthew 7 and read what it says about ignoring the plank in your eye while you deal with a speck of sawdust in the eye of your neighbor. Or how about how we’ll be judged in the same way that we judge others?

According to the Apostle Paul, we should be praying for those in positions of authority so that “we may live peaceful quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Tim 2:2).

The bible doesn’t tell me that if I hire someone to do a job and he doesn’t do it, that I’m obligated to keep him on the payroll, and so come the next election day, some of the people who aren’t doing such a great job, may find themselves out of work, but in the meantime, it’s time to get on our knees. It’s time to pray for our leaders, our country, our troops, and time to pray that solutions will be found to the problems that face us.

It would be a lot easier to criticize, but I think I’ll start praying. Won’t you join me?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

When God gives you more than you can handle.

I know, since you were a little kid in Sunday school class, you’ve heard that God won’t give you more than you can handle – and wouldn’t it be nice if that were true. You may have heard it in church on Sunday morning, and wouldn’t it be nice if it were true. You’ve probably had well-intentioned friends tell you that you can do it, because obviously God would never give you something that you couldn’t handle. And wouldn’t it be nice if that were true?

If you take the time to read through the New Testament, you’ll see that God gave the disciples a lot more than they could handle. Check out Moses, Hosea, Jeremiah and a slew of others in the Old Testament and you’ll see that they had more than they could handle.

But somehow they got through it.

12 steppers (groups such as AA, NA, EA, OA) in their “12 steps” say that their lives have become unmanageable, but that a power greater than themselves could restore them to sanity, and in the ‘promises’ are reminded that they will suddenly ‘realize that God is doing for [them] what [they] couldn’t do for [themselves]”. AA Groups are also reminded on a regular basis that ‘no human power could relieve their alcoholism, but that God could and would IF He were sought”.

Many years ago as a substance abuse counselor, I remember telling clients that just stopping drinking wasn’t going to solve all their problems. That would be a good start, but they needed something more than white knuckling through a desire to drink: and that God would be a good place to start.

A lot of the familiar Bible heroes were in some pretty dire circumstances, and there was no way that they could handle things. God obviously gave them more than THEY could handle. But they got through it. How?

The same way 12 steppers get through things, and the same way that we should be able to get through things: not by any human power (ours, or that of someone else) but through the power of God.

Those seemingly impossible situations suddenly seem a lot more possible when God is involved.

Bottom line: there are things in our lives that fit into the category of ‘more than I can handle’. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be handled. Just that we’re going to need some help.

Next time it seems like you’re out of your league, maybe you are. Instead of thinking that God won’t give you more than you can handle, maybe it’s time to think “I can’t handle this by myself, maybe I should turn to God and seek his guidance, maybe I should ask God for help, maybe I can’t handle it alone, but with God's help I can.

When there’s more than you can handle, God's probably asking you to come closer to Him.

Review: The Reason Why: Mark Mittelberg


This is a deceptively easy read: it seems so simple; it reads quickly, you can read it in under an hour, but…

…it’s really quite a bit more complicated and if you read through it too quickly, you’re bound to miss the meat of the message: ‘faith makes sense, and here’s why’.

If you’ve already accepted Jesus, this is the book that will help quell those doubts that are bound to pop up from time to time, and answer those questions that you never realized you should have asked. If this is the first time you’ve considered asking Christ into your life, this book answers those questions that every pre-believer is faced with.

And if you’ve been ‘thinking about it’ for some time this book pushes you to make the decision that you already know you should have made.

Years ago business man Robert A Laidlaw wrote a book for his employees explaining “The Reason Why.” Mark Mittelberg has updated the book. When Laidlaw wrote, Christianity was the ‘norm’ in this country, today with modernism, postmodernism and politically correct, pluralism and universalism, it’s even more important that we understand “The Reason Why Faith Makes Sense”.

Warning: reading this book may cause you to question your worldview!

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for this review.