Saturday, October 09, 2010
Frankly, it disgusted me. Basically, the letter invited me to be a member of yet another gimme-gimme group of which it seems the country is overrun.
The Legion will make sure I get all the benefits from the government that I'm entitled to and it brags that it helped create yet another layer of governmental bureaucracy, the Veterans Affairs Administration, and it reminds me that the Legion is pushing in Washington to "make sure my interests are protected."
The American Legion promises me discounts on various products and services as if it was the Automobile Club. And the letter included four "special gifts," a decal, some address labels, a bumper sticker and "a custom-designed branch-of-service lapel pin with a pewter-finish."
Dear Legion: I did not serve my country in the hopes of getting "a custom-designed branch-of-service lapel pin with a pewter-finish." However fine many of your members may be, your cheesy sweepstakes-y advertising is a total turn-off and your emphasis on all the goodies I can get for my membership dues is completely out of context with how I would like to remember my military service.
I want to associate my military service with serving my country, with patriotism, with teamwork, with good friends whom I've kept for years, with adventure, with rigor, and with courage (though I was blessed never to have to exhibit any). But your emphasis is on discounts at Travelodge, Avis and online flower stores.
I don't object to those things, but you have your priorities backwards.
Go away! You're bothering me.
Thursday, August 05, 2010
Why I should be so is a bit unclear, but I think it is because I am about to write about a topic that has become something of an embarassment within some branches of the Christian community, including my own.
Let me give an example.
My Bible study group recently finished studying the book of Zephaniah, which is filled with doom-and-gloom about the destruction of ancient Israel, but also of Israel in the last days.
A friend - commenting, I think, on the current situation in the Mideast - suggested that, as in the time of Zephaniah, Israel might go through yet another time of exile.
I replied that I supposed that was possible, but asked why we were refusing to even consider that the last days - mentioned rather prominently by Zephaniah - might be on the horizon instead of another round of exile and restoration?
A woman said (if I remember correctly), "Well, you know why that is! Back when we were growing up there was a lot of talk about the last days happening in the 1980s."
And she hit the nail on the head.
We don't talk about it and pastors don't preach about it because it is embarassing to bring up because people were at least partly wrong about it before.
But that is lousy logic! We should consider the evidence, not whether someone came to the wrong conclusion about it before. If someone does a subtraction problem and comes up with the wrong answer, do we stop doing subtraction problems?
So why am I thinking about this topic?
Well, back in the 1970s (wrong though they were about the dates) I think Christians were right to take note of the rebirth of Israel. The fact that Israel exists again today after almost two millennia of Jews being scattered across the globe is one of the most stunning developments in the last century, and without an Israel none of the end-time prophesies make sense. The occurrance of two world wars shows that worldwide war is not beyond belief. Atomic weapons - and their proliferation - suggest that global destruction cannot by ruled out.
And more recently, I got to thinking again about the last days when a missionary challenged me to give a talk at his mission agency about "Missions in the Last Days," which I did, and you can see here. I asked him if he thought the last days were at hand and he said, "Ummm, maybe within the next 30 years."
Other things that have made me think about this:
Russia, which looked as if it would be a friendly state after the fall of communism - is not, and seems particularly hostile to Israel. The leadership of Iran (I'm not talking about the people, who seem quite reasonable) is extremely hostile to Israel and within reach of obtaining nuclear weapons, which it is apparently ready to use to destroy Israel. Turkey, which has been friendly to Israel, seems to be increasingly hostile to Israel. Anti-semitism is on the rise in Europe and even the leadership of the United States seems lukewarm or even hostile to Israel. Increasingly, Israel seems to be standing alone, in a state of quasi-peace at the moment, perhaps, but increasingly shorn of allies ... except God.
I don't mean to suggest that we get all breathless and stand on a chair and yell out that the end is coming, though maybe a few people doing that would jerk us out of our lethargy, but can't we at least take a sober look at what is happening in the world and at what the Bible describes and give a measured assessment? For the most part, except for a few end-times novelists, it seems we are just shutting our eyes.
For my part, I've decided to study the end-times passages of the Bible, and to read what others have written. (One book I recently read and can recommend is a book called "Epicenter," by Joel Rosenberg. I'm not 100 percent convinced by him, but I am about 95 percent convinced, and it's well researched and not bombastic.)
One final thought. Some will object that we shouldn't focus on this topic; that there is work to be done here and now, things like community development and evangelism.
True! I don't want to "focus" on this. There is work to be done. But I don't think we should ignore it either. If I was to tell you to that a violent storm was coming would that be opposed to what you are doing? Wouldn't you stockpile some food and medical supplies and learn first aid so you could help your neighbors when it happened? And if the huge storm didn't come and just the normal storms came, wouldn't your preparations be all for the best anyway?
Sunday, July 04, 2010
But because I disagree with him doesn't mean he needs prayer any the less. Maybe he needs it more.
So I'm going to be more faithful in praying for Mr. Obama.
Speaking of the Fourth of July, I happened to be reading the "Miss Manners" column today. A reader asked how to deal with friends - visitors to the United States - who frequent his house as dinner guests and spend much of their time insulting the United States.
Pretty rude to come and stuff your mouth with your host's food and in between swallowing spend your time insulting your host's country.
Rude, but, I suspect, fairly common.
For instance, I once worked at a high-tech company and was waiting in a conference room with a few other people for a meeting to start when two Europeans we had hired started complaining about how "materialistic" Americans are.
Unlike Miss Manners, I don't put up with much of this nonsense, so I pointed out that while we Americans who worked for the company had simply taken jobs near our homes, both of them had traveled thousands of miles to take high-paying jobs in America. And they were accusing us of being materialistic?
To their credit, they both saw my point and had a laugh at themselves, and, I might add, both of them eventually became financially successful, and one became very rich.
God bless America! Just like every other country in the world, America has its faults. But despite her faults, I love her dearly.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Wed. July 1. - I spoke severally to all those who had votes in the ensuing election. I found them such as I desired. Not one would even eat or drink at the expense of him for whom he voted. Five guineas had been given to W.C., but he returned them immediately. T.M. positively refused to accept anything. And when he heard that his mother had received money privately, he could not rest till she gave him the three guineas, which he instantly sent back.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Monday, May 03, 2010
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Monday, April 05, 2010
I was recently asked to give a talk to the board of a little mission agency on the topic, "Missions in the Last Days." Preparing for this was discouraging; it was one of the most painful Bible studies I've done, but the study was well received and I was encouraged to disseminate it more broadly, so I turned it from speaking notes into an article, and this is it.
To get started, three clarifications:
1. I am not saying that the last days are nearly upon us, though they may be.
2. I'd like to be clear by what I mean when I say "last days."
Hebrews 1:2 says that "in these last days he [God] has spoken to us by his Son... ." So the author of Hebrews says that the days when he wrote were already "last days."
Also, in Acts 2:16-17 Peter was preaching in Jerusalem and said that what people were experiencing was a fulfillment of the prophet Joel's words: "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people." So Peter said that it was already the "last days" in the earliest days of the church.
In one sense, then, we can understand the term "last days" to mean any time since Jesus walked on earth, but when I say the "last days" in this article, what I mean is more what you might call the "very last days," meaning what we think of when we read Matthew 24 or the Book of Revelation.
3. I'm not discussing whether the church will be taken from the earth before the last days, or somewhere in the middle, or whenever. If the church is taken from the earth before things become terrible, then I believe other people will become believers and the church will continue, so there will be a church even in the midst of the worst of it.
So, Point One:
If the Bible passages about the last days tell us anything, they absolutely tell us that these will be times of very great trouble for everybody, and that the church will endure both the trials that everyone else will face, and severe governmental persecution, including the martyrdom of many believers.
A sampling from Matthew 24 and Revelation 6-9:
Wars; earthquakes; famine; wild animals; environmental disaster as shown by a darkened sun, a bloody moon, a third of the earth being burned, a third of the seas turned to blood, a third of the fish dying, a third of the water turned bitter; and - Rev. 9:15 - a third of mankind killed.
In addition, the church will face persecution. "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me" (Matthew 24:9). And, "I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus" (Revelation 17:6).
The picture is of huge, worldwide suffering and destruction, which suggests that the ministry of the church in this time will largely be providing food, medical services and relief. But because of the active opposition of government to Christ, I suspect overt Christian organizations will be shut down and their ministries will need to be carried out underground. And because of governmental opposition and the damage to the world infrastructure I think most ministry will be local.
Therefore, even if the general destruction of transportation did not prevent it, I doubt the government would knowingly allow Christians to do anything - especially anything that might draw others to Christ. So, for example, I don't think we could openly charter airplanes to provide relief for an earthquake in Haiti. Long-distance aid would generally not occur and when it did occur it would be because of governmental inefficiency caused - at least in part - by the general ruin and confusion.
So mostly, I think relief will be local-church-to-neighbor based. And I think this means that to prepare for the last days, we should try to make sure that the church exists in every geographic area of the world so that believers are physically near to those to whom they will need to minister. And I think it would be wise to train churches in disaster relief and encourage them to maintain stockpiles of food and basic medicine to share. Even if the last days are far off, having food and medicine banks would be wise just in case of normal emergencies.
I can think of one possible exception to ministry being local. It may be possible to reach beyond local areas using various media. Today those would include the Internet, radio and television, though perhaps there will be new technologies when the last days arrive. But those media would probably be badly damaged in the general destruction and any Christian use of those media would be curtailed by government, so the church would probably only be able to use such media in a surreptitious way and only if a badly-damaged government is incapable of preventing it.
I think the model for the last-days church will be the church in those times of history when it has had to operate illicitly, such as in Communist Russia, China and Eastern Europe and during periods of persecution during the Roman Empire. I think that now, before the curtain of darkness falls upon the world, that it would be wise to study how the church survived and grew during earlier persecutions.
Because the last days will be chaotic and confused, with the familiar patterns of life upset, government in turmoil, the economy in a shambles, and suffering at every hand, it seems reasonable to believe that people's normal beliefs and attitudes will be upset as well, and that they will be searching for somewhere to turn.
Because of this I think some people will want to hear the gospel, but others - being incited - will become extremely angry, hating Christians in part for the very thing we are studying right now - the "last days" passages in the New Testament.
I think people will point to these passages and say, "Look at those Christians. They're rejoicing in this! They WANT this suffering. They look at the fairy tales in their so-called holy book and say all this pain is caused by their sadistic god and is a sign that their precious Jesus is coming back. I refuse to worship a god of such cruelty! And if they like suffering so much, let's make them suffer!"
Even though we wouldn't be rejoicing in it and even though God is not cruel, I think last-days believers would find that portrayal of Christianity to be very discouraging, and I'm sure non-Christians would be tempted to vent their fury on any Christians within reach.
So, on the one hand, there would be the pressure of persecution from the outside, but most painful, I think, is that there will be betrayal and suspicion inside the church.
Matthew 27:10 says, "At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other."
How sad! Some will turn from following Christ. There will be betrayers and hatred in the church. It will be hard to trust one another and difficult to work together.
There can actually be a strange sweetness in going through shared hard times shoulder-to-shoulder with trustworthy friends, and I'm certain that some believers in the last days will experience this, but sadly, this would appear to be the exception.
And also, Matthew 24:12 says that, "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold."
When well-meaning Christians are murdered in trying to help their neighbors, I can see why their love would grow cold, but as love grows cold our witness will tend to fade.
Also, while feelings of lostness may lead many to Christ, that same sense of lostness will also make many others open to false prophets.
Matthew 24:24 says, "For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect - if that were possible." And Revelation 13:13 speaks of the second beast, saying, "And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men."
So people's searching, which should lead many of them to Christ, will be opposed by very persuasive alternative religious figures, some performing miraculous signs, and many people will turn to them rather than to Christ.
Fortunately, not all the miraculous signs will be on the side of the false prophets. The church will have powerful heavenly assistance, and there will be a contest of miraculous signs, something like that between Moses and the magicians of Egypt before Pharaoh.
Revelation 14:6 says, "Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth - to every nation, tribe, language and people." And there will be the two witness (Revelation 11:3-12) in Jerusalem, who despite all efforts against them will testify about Jesus and perform miraculous signs, even being resurrected after they are killed.
So, with God's help, but in the midst of chaos and hatred and false prophets and internal mistrust and betrayal, I think the witness of believers who by God's grace are able to keep loving will be very potent as they demonstrate kindness and are able to point seeking neighbors to the Bible and show that the current troubles were predicted and that there is an ultimate hope.
So, what can we do to prepare for the last days? Here are a few suggestions:
- Direct our hearts to know God as intimately as we can, knowing our Bibles and having our convictions based on it and not on a particular preacher or teacher or trend or tradition.
- Keep sending missionaries to every corner of the world so that when the last days come there will be churches physically near to those we need to help.
- Prepare to do local disaster relief right now by setting up food and medicine banks and training church members in first aid and disaster recovery.
- Be as close-knit and healthy a community as we can be right now. Perhaps that can help counteract the suspicion and betrayal that will arise in the last days.
- Study how the church survived before in times of persecution. We may very well need to know.
Monday, March 29, 2010
There really is no time for the deliberate approach. Two years of drawing-lessons, three years of copying woodcuts, five years of plaster casts -- these are for the young. They have enough to bear. And this thorough grounding is for those who, hearing the call in the morning of their days, are able to make painting their paramount lifelong vocation. The truth and beauty of line and form which by the slightest touch or twist of the brush a real artist imparts to every feature of his design must be founded on long, hard, persevering apprenticeship and a practice so habitual that it has become instinctive. We must not be too ambitious. We cannot aspire to masterpieces. We may content ourselves with a joy ride in a paint-box. And for this Audacity is the only ticket.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Friday, March 19, 2010
The delegation of particular technical tasks to separate bodies, while a regular feature, is yet only the first step in the process whereby a democracy which embarks on planning progressively relinquishes its powers.
The Rule of Law could clearly not be preserved in a democracy that undertook to decide every conflict of interests not according to rules previously laid down but "on its merits."
Security tends to become stronger than the love of freedom. The reason for this is that with every grant of complete security to one group the insecurity of the rest necessarily increases. If you guarantee to some a fixed part of a variable cake, the share left to the rest is bound to fluctuate proportianally more than the size of the whole.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
The art of economics consists of looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Monday, February 15, 2010
The angels said to Mary: 'God bids you rejoice in a Word from Him. His name is the Messiah, son of Mary. He shall be noble in this world and in the world to come, and shall be one of those who are favoured. He shall preach to men in his cradle and in the prime of manhood, and shall lead a righteous life.''Lord,' she said, 'how can I bear a child when no man has touched me?'He replied: 'Even thus. God creates whom He will. When He decrees a thing He need only say: "Be," and it is.[from the chapter, The 'Imrans]
How should He have a son when He had no consort?[from the chapter, Cattle]
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
Over the past decade or so there has been a renewed emphasis in Christian circles on poverty relief and development work. I think this is a good thing, but it concerns me that development work be done correctly.
You say, "Duh," but it has been done so badly so many times that I think the point needs to be made again.
Once upon a time I believe God would have looked with patience upon a good-hearted Christian doctor who prescribed bloodletting for his patient. After all, the established medical belief was that removing some blood was a good thing and so the doctor would have been acting according to the best current knowledge and in the best interest of his patient.
But, as we now know - or think we know - bloodletting is almost always bad and potentially life-threatening.
So today, if a doctor prescribed a bloodletting to tone up the body, I believe God would condemn that.
Why? In both cases the doctor prescribed bloodletting. Why tolerate it in once case and condemn it in another? Because in the first case the doctor acted according the best knowledge he had available and with the best interest of his patient at heart. In the second case the doctor was either lazy and did not inform himself about his profession, or he had malicious intent toward the patient.
I think the same analogy applies to development work. If you don't know what you are doing, you can - despite the best of intentions - make things a lot worse. So first study and really understand what works! Don't rely on what common sense tells you ought to work, or what you think is "fair," or what your professor in college thinks should work, or what your political party says should work, but start by learning and relying upon what has actually worked in the real world! Then go from there.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Thursday, January 07, 2010
It didn't, and I stood there looking at the ring and wondering what to do with it. It's a nice ring, so I didn't want to throw it away, and it doesn't need to be recycled since it works fine, but on the other hand, since it isn't what I need, it is just junk cluttering up my house.
It led me to realize that there is a category of stuff that is neither trash nor recyclables, good stuff you don't need but which might be useful to someone else but is too inexpensive to bother selling.
So... what if cities or community organizations (churches, Rotary clubs Lions clubs, whatever) sponsored junk exchanges ("treasure exchanges?") two or four times a year at a local park or parking lot. You could bring your not-being-used stuff for other people to take home and then pick through everybody else's discards to find things you might need.
Wow! I'd give my little D-ring - and a lot of other stuff - in a flash, knowing it would have a good home. And it would declutter my house and I might even find something useful, and for free!