Thursday, August 12, 2010


Faithfulness is a playful interaction between the past, present and future. Let me explain: If I make a promise to you today then it is because I see the completion of that promise to be beneficial to both of us. But when I look back at that promise at some point in the future, I must make a decision to honor my promise or not. When I made the promise I was postulating that I would still see the benefit of its completion in the same light. Now, as I look back, many things have changed and I may not view it as the most beneficial to me or to you! So, do I follow through with my promise? Faithfulness dictates that I follow through regardless of my current frame of reference.

We often think of faithfulness in terms of the marriage contract. It is a promise to love and honor one person above all others. It is a promise to care for the other "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part." This vow is often taken at a point in time without any conception of what will take place and how each person will change over their years together. This vow is also taken without any reservation and absolutely no intent of breaking it. But, sadly, it is broken all too often. How does this happen?

We need a new understanding of faithfulness, one that transcends time, endures the unthinkable and renews itself daily in every circumstance. I want to reflect on God's faithfulness for a moment, a faithfulness without equal.

Christ is the embodiment of God's faithfulness. All the promises of the Old Testament come to rest, are completed, in the person of Christ: our Redeemer, our sacrifice for sin, our perfect priest, our mediator of a new covenant, the righteousness of God and the victor over death. All God's promises are fulfilled in Christ. Not one word of what God says is lost or incomplete because of the birth, life, work, death and resurrection of Christ.

I am also reminded of God's faithfulness to me. When I was lost in sin, He found me and convicted me of my need for His forgiveness and restoration. When I am rejected by others, He reminds me that He has accepted me without any qualifications. When I am in need, He provides in practical ways for those needs and even for some desires. When I am concerned for others, He provides practical ways that I can reach out to them in love and with generosity.

When I begin to understand and depend on God's faithfulness, I begin to be transformed. He works a miracle in me. I am moved to reflect faithfulness in my own life. It takes practice and many times it is very difficult. We also need each others help to be accountable, to forgive and to restore relationships. Maybe you can help me...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

More power to government?

Now, what happens when government is given too much power? Generally speaking, there appear to be 3 main types of government in modern societies with some variations. The most oppressive may be the dictatorship. This type of government depends almost entirely on one man who has come into power either through inheritance, popularity, or force. His position and the controlling force of his followers depend upon the appearance that they cannot be run out or defeated. Sometimes this is done through propaganda and deception, sometimes by actual force and the brutal slaying of any who oppose the dictator and his agenda. The dictator often takes control for the purpose of reform (societal or religious) but then must defend his position of power whether or not that reform is actually successful. The damage to society is often irreparable for at least 2 generations because of the resulting distrust of government, the financial collapse, the disregard for individual rights and the regressive foreign policies.

The communist ideal is a Utopian society where everyone owns everything and all work together for the benefit of the state. The difficulty is that it is all managed by the government so it's actually the government that owns everything and has first choice at all the best while everyone else has no options, no hope for a better future, and no independence. We see clearly the results of this type of society in the aftermath of the Soviet regime and in modern China.

The third major type of modern government is the representative or democratic government. Of course there are a huge variety of approaches to this type and most are currently in a socialist/bureaucratic mode at this point in time. The more control the government has over the private sector and the more government regulatory and welfare programs exist, the less effective this type of government becomes. As government control increases and the 'care' for the poor in society expands, the harder it is to reform and revitalize this gradual decay into a welfare state of inefficiency, un-creativity, over taxation, political maneuvering, bribery and much worse.

The framers of the US Constitution were well aware of the dangers of government. Here are a couple great quotes:

“Government is not reason; it is not eloquence. It is force. And force, like fire, is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” - George Washington

"A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government…” - Thomas Jefferson, first Inaugural address

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What is good government?

What are the responsibilities of government in a balanced model? Remember that we need a balance between the family, the church and the government. Each group is integral to the whole and serves a distinct function while supporting the other groups.

The primary role of representational government is that of protecting the rights of the individual. There is a very basic code of laws which is a great place to start. It is found in Exodus 20: do not murder, do not lie, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not covet. These communicate the most valuable and intimate rights of the individual which, if honored, provide a basic level of respect and value for every person, their family relationships and their property. These are also built into every representational government system because individuals recognize their importance to society as a whole. Other related roles of government would be establishing a system of defense against foreign government policy and forceful invasion, a system of law with processes for trial and punishment (and rehabilitation) for law-breakers, levying taxes for the funding of government processes and public works, contracting the construction of public works as deemed necessary by the people, the protection of community resources, parks, monuments and historical centers, and education for the advancement and intellectual nourishment of the society. Most importantly, government should be self-limiting so that it only serves in its defined and contracted roles to protect the freedoms of the individuals and local communities which it represents.

There are really only 2 forms of government outlined in the Bible, both of which have some serious difficulties. Monarchy is a very common early form of government and pervasive through most of recorded history. If the king is truly concerned for the well-being of individuals under his rule and has adequate control of his realm, this works quite well in a fairly closed system. But as soon as a king loses focus on his responsibility to his subjects, or loses control of certain groups, or has evil (or lazy) counselors, everything is soon lost. The other form in early Hebrew culture was the theocracy. When God is the ruler, everything really does go well. The difficulty here is that God always communicates through people, some of whom have their own ideas of how things should work and misrepresent God or completely neglect their relationship with Him. After 300 years of moral, social and political failure in the period of the Hebrew judges, the people decided they needed a king like everyone else.

So the Bible does not really promote any form of government because the 2 models it gives do not work out very well. One beauty of Christianity is that it works under any form of government and even thrives under a religiously oppressive and intolerant government. The reason is that it is a relationship between the individual and his/her Creator and affirms the incalculable value of each human life, even in the face of torture and death. Christianity is most definitely NOT a form of government; it is not a social agenda; it is not a program for reform. Christianity is a way of life which impacts the heart and mind of each individual independent of the social climate. A Christian is an individual acting on the reality that God reveals Himself as Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer through His Word (the Bible), through His Son (Jesus), through His creation (the universe) and through His interaction with humanity (history) and who has accepted the death of Jesus as payment for his sin to reestablish the broken relationship. The pride of thinking "I know best" and the resulting disobedience of God's law is what separated/separates us from God in the first place. The Bible does promise a new form of government when time as we know it is no more. This heavenly government will center on the worship of the One who loves us perfectly because He is the source of all love and goodness.

Democracy and Government

It is an interesting time to look at the role of government because of what is happening in the US under the Obama administration. I don't really want to take political sides, just look at the tendencies of different perspectives and their effect on society as a whole.

There are 2 pervading views in a democratic society. One is that the government acts as representatives of the people, based on the premise that the majority of society is intelligent and knows what is good for them. The second is that the government acts a caretaker of society, generating laws and programs which will be for the benefit of the whole. On the surface, both views seem to be generally beneficial. But remembering that the government is an extension of the family, 'employed' by the individuals in society to fill a specific role, the second view begins to take on a sinister tone. There are at least two very difficult issues with the second view.  1. If the government acts on its own, against the will of the people, even for the benefit of the people, it assumes a power which is no longer democratic; it has become a rule by force. 2. If the people are no longer vigilant and actively involved in the processes of government via their representatives, either that government will take advantage of their role (acting for their own benefit, not the people's) or worse, the people will blindly trust their government to know better than they what is of most benefit to their society. The people effectively 'employ' their government, paying them through taxes, to provide jobs, manage production and regulate their economy, health services and savings/retirement.

This second view is actually a version of socialism. Socialism is a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole. This is an intermediate step between communism and capitalism. A socialist government is 'vested' with the control of production and distribution of goods and services for the benefit of the society. This system minimizes competition and (supposedly) controls costs by telling each person what they can charge for their services or goods. The difficulty is that someone has to manage all that information and communication. Who is doing that, how do they do it with real time data, and how do they get paid? Instead of allowing competition based on supply and demand as well as the quality of products, a regulating agency manages production and distribution, gets paid for doing that job (which either raises the cost of the product or raises taxes) and creates a faulty supply and demand standard. This also creates a society where more and more members are employed by the government in 'regulatory' jobs and less are employed in production and distribution. That means the GNP goes down, the cost of products (or taxes) go up and inflation occurs.

A socialized government model creates an increasing gap between what government thinks is true and what is actually happening, decreasing the likelihood of making decisions which are really beneficial. So giving more power to the government, without sufficient controls and adequate representation of the people they represent, can never be a benefit to their society. The government either makes poor decisions and/or ultimately increases the cost of living in that society.

Of course there are other types of government, but none of them have the advantages of a democratic system and all of them have proven to be inadequate in a modern and educated society to care for the needs of the individual. A democratic society is unique in its provision for every individual to have the same opportunities for development and pursue their creative dreams in a healthy and stable environment.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Monotheism - all for one?

Now for a quick comparison of the monotheistic religions. I want to do this to highlight differences in the belief systems and especially the differences in the societal outcomes of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths. It is often falsely assumed that these religions are really essentially the same because they hold as a primary tenant the worship of one God and recognize Abraham as the 'father' of all who believe in one God. Remember that Abram came from a polytheistic culture and was 'called out' from his people by one who claimed to be the One True God and who would make of him a new nation which in turn would be a blessing to every nation and every people. The obvious challenge to the unity of these religions is the extreme enmity between the Islamic nations and any who support or recognize Israel. There is also a split in Jewish thought in reference to the identity of Christ. Messianic Jews believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of God's promise: the Messiah, Immanuel, God with us. So there has been a division of thought along the way in all three of the monotheistic religions leaving significant differences.

Jewish belief centers on "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One" and the summary of the O.T. law, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart... and your neighbor as yourself." The Islamic faith accepts the historical veracity of the O.T. but its central pillar is, "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his Prophet." The Christian faith, though founded on the history of the O.T., centers in the work of Christ on the cross: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

In a simple comparison of the statements above, several things catch my attention. First, the oneness and unity and uniqueness of God is taken for granted in Jewish and Christian thought. The exclusion of other 'possible gods' in Islamic thought is unique and partially due to a pre-Muhammad worship of 365 gods, one for each day of the year. This gives Islam a unique negativism which is consistent throughout its social, cultural and religious development. Anything which does not conform is suppressed or eradicated to achieve a forced unity, at least in appearance. Second, and more importantly, is the concept of love apparent in the Christian and Jewish faiths but in different ways. The summary of Jewish (or Mosaic) law is more of a command: Love God, love others. Notice that there is no qualification for this love and the Levitical law is explicit in the care and concern (love) for foreigners who do not share the same beliefs. The New Testament (NT) turns the meaning of love to a new focus: God's love for us. We 'must' respond in love to God and to others because of the demonstration of God's love in the person and work of Christ. This conceptual development of love is completely absent in Islamic thought; there is no evidence of God's love and certainly no encouragement to love him back nor anyone else as far as I can tell.

The effect of these ideas on society is tremendous indeed. Our modern definition of love has little to do with the Biblical meaning or model. We tend to think of love as a feeling or an attraction which satisfies a personal desire. The definition of "agape", the Greek term used in reference to God's love, means unconditional and unmerited love and only focuses on providing for and benefiting the recipient of that love. In a society where the meaning of 'agape' is understood, there is a true respect for the needs and well being of others and a value placed on the responsibilities and commitments which come as a result. This rarely happens in an Islamic culture (and it is a culture as much as a religion!) because the emphasis is on submission to authority out of fear, not obedience out of love. So any religion based on law becomes a struggle for power, one group against another. But a religion based on 'agape' should be a desire for relationship with personal commitments to care for and stimulate growth.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The role of the church

Let's focus our attention now on the church. But there are actually 3 questions to discuss here: What is church? Is it a necessary part of a healthy society? If it is necessary, then what is its role and how do we distinguish it from the roles of family and government?

Religion has been a part of every human society since the beginning of time. This signifies an apparent need for belief in something beyond our physical perception and temporal understanding. Even France, which has worked hard to eradicate any type of value training or religious teaching in its schools, might be said to have faith in the omniscience of collective human knowledge. But religion has also been the single most powerful instigator of conflict and hatred between people and cultures. This is because humans have a need for an eternal purpose, something much bigger than any one of us, and the belief in that purpose drives every thought and action to the point that a conflicting belief cannot be tolerated.

So, many might say that religion is destructive to a healthy society. This is true in some cases. But when I speak of 'church', I don't mean religion. And what is the difference? Religion is defined as: a. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe or b. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship. There are really only 3 categories of religion: a. belief in no god, b. belief in one god, c. belief in many gods. I discuss this a bit in another post. Church really has its roots in a different concept. Jesus refers to church in Matthew 16 saying that his church will be built on the fact that "[He (Jesus) is] the Christ, the Son of the living God." So the whole concept of church revolves around the teachings of Christ, His claim of deity, and the purpose for which He came to live among us. The church, as a gathering of families and individuals, signifies a common desire to know who God is, what a relationship with Christ means, and its significance for one's every day life. That is different from religion because it is the development of a relationship, not just a system of belief.

Beliefs are important because they help us define right and wrong. If there are no absolute values, there is nothing on which to base a system of laws to govern a society. A collective agreement on what is right and wrong can always be challenged, but an eternal truth (apart from our 'acceptance' of it) creates a true standard for conduct. Some might call that restrictive but that would be short sighted and show their ignorance of human nature to be deceptive and controlling. There is really something greater than a 'collective good' that benefits only 99% of the population or less. Christ shows us that each individual is of the utmost importance, not the collective society. We must be willing to change the structure of the society if the worth of the individual is not valued. This is where the church should excel. The church teaches the worth of the individual and his eternal purpose in Christ. The church teaches respect and love for a God who truly loves each person as a special and unique creation. The church teaches our responsibility to Him and to our neighbor. The church supports the roles of the family and the government, teaching respect for those in authority. The church defines the family unit (as taught in Scripture) and defends the freedoms and responsibilities of the individual. The church provides a means to serve the community through care for the elderly, the poor, the sick and the needy. The church proclaims the good news that God does not want any to perish (either now or in eternity) and that all can have a full and meaningful life with eternal purpose.

This leads us back to the 10 Commandments. The first four are the primary teaching points of the church and deal with our personal relationship with God: respect God's deity and authority, respect God's Personhood and character, respect God's Name, respect God's day. These are for our individual as well as collective benefit in relationship to our Creator. The other commandments are reinforced by the church and teach respect for others in our community for everyone's benefit.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Society - Haiti

As I consider the natural disaster in Haiti this month, several things come to mind. Most of the e-mails I have received focus on the desperation of the people without any means of helping or supporting themselves, the terrible loss of life (and miraculous rescues) and the huge response of the global community in sending food and help. There have also been reports of people arriving with nothing in their hands, expecting to help but becoming a burden to others because of their own need for food, water and shelter. Fewer e-mails speak of Haitians waiting quietly and patiently in a long line at a newly opened community water source, or large groups of homeless singing together from dusk to midnight to pass the hours of darkness.

The questions I've been asking are: If I have nothing in the world, what do I really need? And what are the steps to rebuilding a society with millions of people and no means of auto-sufficiency? Haiti has a population where the average person makes less than $3 per day and only 50% can read. To add to the difficulty of their current situation, about 300,000 orphans are now dependent upon what their society can provide until they are able to make their own living.

And the result? It's obvious that it will take between 3 and 6 years to restore what was their GNP, replace all the schools, homes and public buildings, and recreate a healthy and "normal" environment for Haitians in the Port-au-Prince area. But is that enough? I am not in favor of industrialization which creates new "needs" or dependencies, but there are basic societal improvements which lead to real positive development and an atmosphere of peace, security and confidence. Haiti is on record as one of the 2 poorest countries in the world. There are several causes for that but the primary ones are poor (and overpriced) education and a corrupt government that robs the people they are supposed to care for. Public education is mostly done in French, the official language, but 98% of the population speaks Creole every day. Can you imagine an educational career in a different language? The government initiated that travesty because the French had controlled Haiti from 1664 - 1804 and the language of the elite ruling class was French. Over the last 50 years 3 people have primarily controlled the country either as oppressive dictators or as greedy and embezzling presidents.

So one of the primary concerns for the establishment of a productive and peaceful society in Haiti is education. Not an education in French, not an education in modernism and liberalism with its accompanying dependence upon government, but a real and integrated education in Truth and in the God given rights and responsibilities of the individual and the family. With thousands of orphans and many more single parent families, the children and youth of Haiti need to know their individual value, their potential for life and learning, and their responsibility to be the future of their country, people with values and commitments and respect for others. They need to know how to read and write and use the resources of their beautiful country for the good of their community. Most of all they need to know how much their Creator loves them and about His unique purpose for each of them. So with millions of dollars pouring into Haiti, who is going to really do something of lasting value, something that will do more than just provide a few meals and some medicine? The great thing is that people are doing something! Anything, just to keep people alive, is far better than nothing at all but there is a long road ahead for the people of Haiti to have real hope for their future.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The family and society

So let's think about this model a little more. Maybe the family circle is the best one to begin with. This is actually the foundational building block of any society because it is the first set of relationships that any individual has. Those relationships, for good or bad, influence the character and the values of the person during the most impressionable time of their life; and this influence usually continues far into adulthood. That is why the definition of family is of supreme importance in any society. Historically, genetically (and according to the Bible in Gen. 2:24) a family consists of one man, one woman and their pre-adult children. Any society that does not work on this premise is extinct within one generation - talk about a practical definition!!

Now we need to think about the functions of the family. The family is the first and strongest demonstration to a child of what love, commitment and respect might mean. The mother and father demonstrate these values (or their absence) in unique ways to each other and to a child. But if these are not present in the family environment, then the child is unable to function in a healthy manner and may be unstable and insecure for most of their life unless it can be resolved in another significant relationship. The proper functioning of relationships is the key to a healthy society because society is the interaction of people. The struggle for survival, control or anything else without the tempering and ennobling qualities of love, commitment and respect end in fractured relationships and a fractured society.
It is disturbing to me to see the apparent 'commitment' to peace, prosperity, love, religion, education and even generosity in the American society with the plummeting commitment to marriage and family. This is evidence that we are not really concerned about quality relationships, just ideas that also make us feel good about ourselves.

The other primary function of the family is education. The parents teach communication and language use, views on work, play and learning while discovering interests and skills. The parents are also responsible for contracting with the church and/or public education system (government) for taking a role in the educational process. This contract and the continued involvement of the parents is the foundation of the child's lifelong interaction with those larger circles of society. Parents also model and teach values regarding time, money and other resources. These are the most important lessons that a child will ever learn and affects their approach to life and learning in every way. When the parents minimize their responsibilities here, the task is left to other care givers who often have no real interest in the successful development of the child (ie. the TV).
     - It is also important to note that the family is the one aspect of society that joins with others in the formation of churches and governments. Without the family, they do not exist!

The Bible has a lot to say about families, with good and bad examples, but there is only one of the 10 Commandments that addresses family interaction, "Honor your father and mother". The command is not to love but to honor. Sometimes loving is hard. But honor has its place, even when the object of honor is not honorable by any means. Honor is the giving of worth which, by definition, comes from someone of worth. So when children honor their parents, even deplorable ones, they show themselves to be worthy and honorable. Sometimes the honor given is actually received by the parent and begins to work a change on their broken, hard or malicious spirit!

There is obviously much more we could discuss: the changes in family structure forced by the society, the challenges of children forced to emotional, physical or religious slavery by the family, and the list goes on. But I will close with a quote from Albert Einstein: Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom. This is the ideal goal of the family, to create, nurture and inspire the individual to greatness in a setting of intimate relationships and loving devotion. Honor your parents and strive to be honorable yourself and I hope that you find great freedom in the commitment of healthy family relationships!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Society part 1

I've been thinking a bit about society as a whole during the Christmas vacation - what makes it work and what leads to collapse. It is interesting that the 10 commandments actually lay out rules for a healthy society, one that honors God first, parents/family second, and then others.

A Ven Diagram is a good visual tool for teaching and we could use it here. Think of 3 large circles which overlap a bit but are mostly distinct.
Notice that each circle is made up of individuals. And in fact, every individual in society actually plays a part in all three circles. The scope of circles may overlap a bit, but no one circle controls or overrides the other two. When they work together, they balance each other and support each other.

I would like to note that there is no circle/community in a healthy society which primarily honors SELF. The individual is very important in a healthy society but he or she always exists in a community where God, parents/family and others are honored. In the honoring (love and respect) for others, the individual and his/her relationships thrive.
The difficulties come in two forms. 1. Instead of following the "Law of Love" (Matt. 22:37-39 summarizes the 10 commandments), we follow the "law of self" and all relationships break down. 2. Instead of balancing the rights and responsibilities of the three primary parts of society (family, church, government), we give one far too much power. When one group has too much power, the other groups cannot function properly and either die or fight viciously instead of working together and honoring the roles of the other groups. Maybe we will think about this model some more in future posts...