Introducing my new book, Know Be Do

Know Be Do

It’s been nearly three years since my last post on the Know Be Do blog. But I have been busy writing. I took a sabbatical from the blog to write my first book, which, “Surprise!”…is entitled Know Be Do: Turning the Christian Life Right Side Up. I spent about a year and a half researching and writing the book and another year and half getting it published (by WestBow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan). Now, I am pleased to announce that the book is published and is being released this month. You can find out more and purchase the book at my author website LarryAlanThompson.com. Also, I’ve written a companion Know Be Do Bible Study Resource booklet designed for small group or personal study. You’ll find more information about it at my website as well. I hope you’ll read my new book and consider doing the Bible study, perhaps leading your small group or church through the study. Thank you for following this Know Be Do blog. Look for future blog posts and connect with my social media feeds at LarryAlanThompson.com.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Be, Do, Know

The Sixth Sense

Sixth-Sense

A crisis of faith can make you or break you.

Consider Charles and William. Two close friends. Young, yet already powerful preachers. Touring together in the 1940s, holding evangelistic crusades around the globe. Both on a course to become household names in 20th Century Christendom.

Charles was an evangelistic visionary at a young age, and by age 30 the bright young preacher had helped to found Youth for Christ International. In 1945, he hired another budding young preacher three years his junior, William Franklin Graham, Jr., better known as Billy, as its first full-time evangelist. Many thought the talented Chuck Templeton, however, had the best chance of becoming America’s next great evangelist.

Templeton was well on his way in the 1950s, hosting a weekly religious TV show on CBS. Then, however, came a long, dark season of doubts, culminating in an announcement in 1957 that stunned the evangelical community. Templeton declared he was now an agnostic. Questions such as the problem of evil and suffering had caused him to reject the Christian faith. He went on to write a book with one of the saddest titles I have ever heard: Farewell to God.

Graham? What many don’t know is that he had his own crisis of faith, well into his career as an evangelist. The surprising story is told in Billy Graham: God’s Ambassador:

billy-grahamIn the late 1940s, Billy attended a conference in California only weeks before his largest crusade to date was to start. Some young theologians were also there, who were expressing their doubts about the authority of the Bible. “Suddenly, I wondered if the Bible could be trusted completely.”

Billy began to study the subject intensively, turning to the Scriptures themselves for guidance. “The Apostle Paul,” Billy said, “had written to Timothy saying, ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.’ Jesus Himself had said, ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away but my Word shall not pass away.’ I thought also of Christ’s own attitude. He loved the Scriptures, quoted from them constantly, and never once intimated that they might be false.”

Billy then recalled the moment that changed him forever. “That night, I walked out in the moonlight, my heart heavy and burdened. I dropped to my knees and opened my Bible on a tree stump. If the issue were not settled soon, I knew I could not go on. ‘Oh God,’ I prayed, ‘there are many things in this Book I do not understand. But God, I am going to accept this Book as Your Word by faith. I’m going to allow my faith to go beyond my intellect and believe that this is Your Inspired Word.’ From that moment on I have never doubted God’s Word. When I quote the Bible, I believe I am quoting the very Word of God and there’s an extra power in it. One month later, we began the Los Angeles crusade.

The 1949 Los Angeles revival meetings became a turning point in Billy’s ministry. Billy preached with a new confidence and fervor. Planned for three weeks, the city-wide meetings in L.A. continued night after night for eight weeks and catapulted Billy into the national spotlight.

Christian history is replete with such stories of a crisis of faith. Augustine was prompted by a voice to “take up and read,” and as he opened a Bible that fell open to Romans, he was gloriously transformed, converted.

Questioning his faith at age 34, John Wesley felt his heart “strangely warmed,” and he trusted Christ.

My own Mother, daughter of a Baptist preacher, lifelong church attender, and one of the most selfless and Christ-like people I have ever known, had a crisis of faith. In her mid 60s, she called me out of the blue one evening to let me know she had just been saved. Hallelujah!

Did these crises come at the point of salvation or after salvation? It makes little difference in the end. The important part is the condition of the soul after the crisis. For Graham, Augustine, Wesley, and my Mother, they emerged strong in the faith.

I remember going through such a crisis of faith in my own life a number of years after I believe I was saved. I recall telling myself, “I’ve got to decide if I really believe this or not.” I had read the Bible. I knew what was in there. I knew it contained “far-fetched” stories like ax heads floating and dead men rising. I had to determine once and for all whether or not I believed this. I took inventory of the informants:

Human reason was little help. I knew my mind was finite. If there’s a God Who created all this, His mind goes way beyond mine. I’m never going to wrap my finite brain around an infinite being. Human reason is an inadequate resource for understanding God because it is not an authority. If I want to know how to spell a word, I go to the authority—the dictionary. Uninformed by God, human reason has no authority. It seems like it’s good enough. But that’s because its source is itself. It’s like a teen who thinks he knows it all. He doesn’t know enough to know he doesn’t know!

Science was of limited help. It has definite limits. Science depends on the observable; it cannot prove or disprove historic events. It also cannot prove or disprove anything in the spiritual realm which is invisible and outside the perception of the senses. Science relies on information perceived by the five senses. They’re great as far as they go, but not capable of fully perceiving God.

So, the determination of whether or not I believed in God and the Bible had to be informed by something else—a sixth sense.

Faith.

Faith is our sixth sense. It’s a unique sense that can perceive things within the spiritual realm in a supremely real way. Man is a tri-part being, made in the image of the Triune God. We are physical-mental-spiritual. There are senses informing each dimension—six total. We cannot fully interact with the universe/God by ignoring any one of these six senses. It takes all six senses to fully experience the universe—and God.

Trying to say science is superior to faith or that faith is superior to science is pointless. It’s like arguing that hearing is superior to sight. Or that sight is superior to taste. Or that touch is superior to smell. It depends on what attribute you’re experiencing at the moment. If I’m in a dark room, sight does me little good, but I definitely want touch and hearing. If I’m in a fine restaurant, I definitely want taste and smell. If I’m in church, I want faith and hearing. If I’m watching a sunrise, I want sight and faith. In reality, you can employ all six senses to fully experience and enjoy any given moment.

It’s so silly and sad for science and religion to be at odds with each other. All science, properly interpreted, supports the Bible. Science and religion are not in competition or contradiction; they are simply different perspectives for experiencing the universe. Science experiences it through the five physical/mental senses. Religion experiences it through a sixth, spiritual sense: faith. All six senses point to God….

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. (Colossians 1:16)

At the top of this post is a photo of a pole with a snake on top of it. It’s part of a 19th century grave monument in the beautiful Lexington Cemetery. You’ll also often see the snake on a pole used as a symbol in medicine for healing. But the snake on the pole has a very special meaning to me.

You may recall the story in Numbers 21:4–9 where the hungry, thirsty Israelites were wandering around in the wilderness whining to Moses about how much better they had it as slaves in Egypt. That’s the five senses for you! Basically, the Israelites were losing faith in God’s ability to get them to the Promised Land. The Lord disciplined them by sending venomous snakes that bit them, and many died. Then they turned back to God and asked Moses to pray for them. He did, and God told him to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole. “Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived” (Numbers 21:9).

This story was instrumental in my salvation by helping me finally understand how simple faith is. I had been making it far too complicated. Faith is not something you must muster up within yourself. Faith is as simple as sight. It’s simply another sense.

Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

When it comes to spiritual matters, faith is the only sense we have.

For we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Faith.

The Bible says it’s so simple, even a child can have it—just like sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. And yet faith is so far-sighted, it can see into the future. It’s the original “ESP”—extrasensory perception. It can see the invisible. It can see in the dark. Faith is like night-vision goggles. And it can help you read the Bible—and see God—in a whole new light.

They say losing one sense makes the other senses more acute. For example, a blind man may have extra sensitive hearing or sense of touch. Perhaps that’s because there are fewer senses competing.

I believe that in the spiritual world it helps sometimes to block out the five senses. Maybe that’s why we close our eyes and find a quiet place to pray. Sometimes, we have to block out our senses to perceive God. We might have to ignore the raging sea under our feet to focus on God. We might have to hold our nose when a man dead three days comes out of the grave. We might have to ignore our trembling knees when we hear God speaking from a burning bush.

And sometimes we simply believe—to “faith” (faith is a verb in the original language of the New Testament)—what we can’t experience through the five senses. We have to “faith” that God can part a sea—though we’ve never seen it happen. That a universe can come into existence when God speaks—though we’ve never heard Him. And that His hand still bears a nail scar—though we’ve never touched it.

To some, seeing is believing. To me, believing is seeing. Sometimes it takes a blind man to see that. “One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I can see!” (John 9:25). Crisis over. Oh, faith. Faith! What a beautiful sight!

1 Comment

Filed under Know

Generation Gap

The nest emptied. I turned 50. And suddenly my mind was conflicted between two opposing self-perceptions: one, my life-long assumption that no one would ever be younger than me (read my post, “50 Trips Around the Sun”) and the other, a newly dawning reality that I was now unmistakably a member of the “older generation.” When the AARP sent me a membership card with my name stamped on it, there was no more denying it.

It wasn’t only my sagging body and sluggish mind that was telling me this, it was the sobering realization that my worldview was quite different from the “younger generation.”

I’d become an ol’ fogy.

In the 1960s, when I grew up, someone coined a term for this. They called it the “Generation Gap.” I’m a father of two married daughters in their 20s and a ministry marketer, so I had a vested interest in finding out all I could about what makes this younger generation tick, particularly when it comes to their Christian worldview. I desperately wanted to understand why and how the beliefs and values that I and many of my peers had held dear were not fully shared by the next generation.

So I subscribed to Relevant magazine. I read articles from critical thinkers. I had long conversations with three college ministers. I got two of the best books I could find on the subject and pored over them: You Lost Me by David Kinnaman and Already Gone by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer. Most importantly, I talked to my two 20something daughters. I’ve distilled the result of all this research—as well as a careful self-examination—into this post. Below are my conclusions about how the Generation Gap, namely in the Christian arena, can be bridged.

GapBut before I go further, however, it will help if I define the generations and my designations for them. I’m familiar with the vast array of various names for generations, Boomers, Busters, Millennials, Generation Flux, Gen X, Y, and Z, and so on. But in this post, I’m viewing the generations very broadly, calling my generation, the Baby Boomers born 1946–64, the Concrete Generation. And I’m calling our kids’ generation, born 1982–2000, the Connect Generation. Concreters see the world in hard and fast terms, black and white. We’re a bit materialistic, and cling to things that are tried, true, and highly defined. We’re like a concrete slab. The Connect Generation grew up in the Internet age where change was the only constant. Connectors are connected to information and to people in ways that Concreters may never fully understand. So there you have it. How do you span the Generation Gap? I’d suggest building a bridge—concrete, of course. My daughters might suggest we Skype about it.

What My Generation Can Learn from the Younger Generation

1. Value relationships as much as ideas and ideals.

I’ll be the first to admit that many from my generation lost sight of the fundamental truth that God is all about relationships. Our whole purpose for being created was to share a relationship with God. And a need for relationships and community is built into our DNA at every level.

Concreters often see relationships as means to an end. But for Connectors, relationships are the end. People matter. And not just their little clique of friends. People all over the world are all part of a global community of which we’re all citizens. Furthermore, they see the sinner first, not the sin. Unlike Concreters, Connectors aren’t interested in managing people. They want to love them.

Here’s what my generation can learn from Connectors on this point:

  1. Value community.
  2. Be eager to extend grace.
  3. Don’t be so dogmatic that you win the argument and lose the friend.
  4. Love the outsider.
  5. Work in teams.
  6. Hand-craft disciples.

2. Put values into action.

Like a pair of TOMS or a Livestrong wristband, Connectors wear their cause on their sleeve—or shoe. And just like social media help keep information flowing between their relationships, social justice and social enterprise help keep rights and resources flowing from haves to have-nots.

Concreters have often been content to build their kingdoms in such a way that they can enjoy the benefits personally—and they often build a moat around the castle. Connectors are inclined to build kingdoms without walls or gates or moats. They won’t sit in their ivory towers and proclaim messages. They’re more apt to hit the road and be Jesus in skin to someone who would never swim the moat. They live like they actually believe this stuff. They see faith as a verb, not a noun.

3. Have high expectations and a radical passion for Christianity.

Connectors sniff out fakes quicker than they’ll roll their eyes at the mention of K-Love. They won’t hold their nose around spoiled Christianity just so they can keep up appearances. Authentic Christianity. That’s what they’re searching for. And it better be passionate and relevant. They won’t put up with boring church. Church that’s a spectator sport. Or preachers who know what they believe and are mad about it. They’ve had enough of preaching that makes the Good News sound like bad news. They want Christianity like it was—and still is in some places—when it was fresh, new, on the Gospel frontiers.

There are a lot of reasons why Connectors who were brought up in church are turning their back on faith in droves, but I think Kyle Idleman in his book Not a Fan (p. 83) puts his finger on it with this quote from the father of a Prodigal Daughter: “We raised her in Church, but we didn’t raise her in Christ.” As Kyle puts it, “We taught her to be a fan of Jesus—instead of a follower of Jesus.”

This quote from Emma Smith, a student in Lexington, Kentucky (You Lost Me, Kinnaman, p. 232), sums up what the next generation is looking for in the authentic Christian:

“I want you to be someone I want to grow up to be like. I want you to step up and live by the Bible’s standards. I want you to be inexplicably generous, unbelievably faithful, and radically committed. I want you to be a noticeably better person than my humanist teacher, than my atheist doctor, than my Hindu next-door neighbor. I want you to sell all you have and give it to the poor. I want you to not worry about your health like you’re afraid of dying. I want you to live like you actually believe in the God you preach about. I don’t want you to be like me; I want you to be like Jesus. That’s when I’ll start listening.”

What the Younger Generation Can Learn from My Generation

1. Believe in an absolute and accurate authority.

Connectors put an extremely high value on empirical knowledge. So when it comes to spiritual matters, they often have a hard time making a “willing suspension of disbelief,” as Coleridge put it, in God and the supernatural realm. But God is an exceedingly creative God, and the essence of creativity is “unlearning.” Today’s generation has to unlearn the notion that scientific knowledge has no limitations.  As Aristotle said, “That which is probable and impossible is better than that which is possible and improbable.” Take creation, for example. If God exists and wrote the Bible, then the literal Genesis account is probable and impossible. (Yet with God, all things are possible.) Evolution, on the other hand, is possible, but improbable.

Discovering the truth is ultimately a matter of settling the question of authority. It all comes back to one solitary question: Did God write the Bible? If yes, then It’s the absolute, inerrant, and accurate authority. If no, then stop wasting time playing church and live totally for self. Either He wrote it, or He didn’t.

An epiphany moment for me in understanding the younger generation came during a sermon preached by my church’s student pastor, Casey McCall. He said, “It’s hip today to doubt. Assurance is not cool. It’s considered arrogant, not authentic. Doubt is what’s thought to be authentic, genuine.” Today’s generation has experienced an unprecedented amount of change, even in their short lifetimes. Human knowledge is doubling every few years, soon perhaps, every few months. Millions of widely varying opinions are only a click away. And we expect young people to believe that a book filled with “far-fetched” stories written several millennia ago is without error and absolutely authoritative? Connectors have their doubts.

Although I believe I could do it, it’s beyond the scope of this post to give an airtight apologetic about the Bible’s historical, scientific, and theological inerrancy—those resources are out there for truth-seekers. I’ve done a good deal of apologetics work, and I’ve never come across an alleged discrepancy yet that didn’t have a satisfactory answer if you’ll look for it. My main point here is that Connectors need to think through the ramifications of evaluating the Bible through the judgment bar of human reason and modern experience. I’ve already written several blogs that touch on this issue, and make the point that:

  • Science and empirical knowledge have limits. If you want to see further, you must use another sense: faith. See “Did God create man or did man make god?
  • There’s a divine tension between God’s Revelation and Man’s Senses
  • If you truly seek God and wisdom, start at the beginning: Genesis. Once you can begin to grasp, “In the beginning, God…” everything else is quite believable. God. Infinite, eternal, mind-blowing God! If you believe in God, Who is both good and great, how can you doubt anything He says—no matter how much it seems to violate our human reason and modern experience? Why would Someone Who so desperately wants to spend forever with us reveal Himself by writing a book full of misleading stories that never happened? And how arrogant to think that we are the generation that finally found Him out.

It brings to mind a favorite quote (author unknown): “God must be very great to have created a world which carries so many arguments against His existence.” And another by Madeleine L’Engle: “I have point of view. You have a point of view. But God has a view.”

Connectors are on a search for the genuine, the authentic, the truth. Believing that Truth actually exists and that we’ve found it is not arrogance or folly. To the contrary, believing the oldest lie in the book, “Did God really say…” (Genesis 3:1), is neither modern, nor hip, nor genuine, nor cool. So don’t swallow it. Connectors, one thing I think you need to learn is that there’s a world of difference between knowledge and wisdom. Discover the difference, learn to listen to the Lord, and to truly know God. You won’t have any trouble believing the Bible after that.

2. Social action and justice without disciple-making is pointless.

As I mentioned above, my generation has much to learn about the value of relationships and putting faith into action with the type of compassion that Jesus demonstrated. But my observation has been that much of the social action and compassion ministries today are long on relief and short on redemption. We’re giving the cup of cold water, but are we giving it “in His name”? Are we leading people to Christ, or just making the world a better place to go to hell from? Are we throwing out the lifeline, or just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic? We’ve got to connect the dots for people in no uncertain way in order to clearly communicate that we care for people’s physical needs because we care even more about their spiritual needs. Jesus healed the sick and fed the hungry. Then He led them out of even greater oppression and spiritual darkness. When it comes to social action and disciple-making, it’s a “both-and,” not an “either-or.”

3. End cynicism about the church.

Suppose someone came up to me and said, “You know, I really like you, but I can’t stand being around Tina.” (First of all, it’s much more likely for someone to say the opposite, but I digress…) I’m not likely to warm up to someone like that who thinks they can pal around with me but hold my bride in contempt. How much more so does God resist one who says, “God, I like. It’s those Christians down at the church I can’t stand.” The fact is those vile, hypocritical, judgmental, worldly, lukewarm sinners down at the church are His bride. All He sees is the spotless, snow-white wedding gown purchased by the perfect blood of His Son.

God has the right to do all the disciplining of His unruly children He wants, but He doesn’t need us doing His job. Connectors need to see that the church is still—and always will be—God’s chosen community for Christians to grow and multiply. No, you won’t find a perfect church. And if you do, don’t join it; you’ll be sure to mess it up. But we need one another. We need community, not cynicism. Connectors seem to understand community, but they remain suspicious of it in the church.

Others go to the opposite extreme. They make the church all about people and relationships and ignore the importance of orthodox doctrine and truth. People pick a church for all the wrong reasons, because it’s the hip place to be, where all the cool kids are. But if the pure truth of the Word is not preached consistently and convictionally, then it’s not really a church; it’s a civic club. Connectors seem to err on the side of relationships. Concreters might err on the side of doctrine. May today’s generation find the right balance between uncompromising truth and committed discipleship.

In Conclusion

Both generations need to be humble and teachable. Both can learn from the other. And one other thing that both generations need to avoid, Concreters in particular, is what Drew Dyck (You Lost Me, Kinnaman, p. 225) calls “proxy wars.” “It’s tempting to vent irritation over a young doubter’s party lifestyle or political views,” Dyck points out. “But these are bad hills to die on. Avoid getting sucked into debates about peripheral issues….Save your most impassioned word to talk about the Gospel.” How true. Concreters may harp on lifestyle issues like alcohol use, music, homosexuality, and other side issues. Connectors might be quick to throw out the baby with the bath water when they smell hypocritical church members, Fox News politics, or compassionless Christians. But both generations need to keep the main thing the main thing and major on the majors.

I’ve been on the trail as a Christian for more than 30 years now. When I come face-to-face with how little progress I’ve made sometimes, I realize I have little right to try and straighten out the next generation. But I do want to stay connected to them. And since my feet are pretty much firmly set in concrete on a lot of issues, that means I really have to stretch sometimes to bridge the generation gap. And sometimes I just can’t get there. Likewise, I realize that today’s generation often feels like trying to connect with my generation is about as frustrating as watching YouTube on a dial-up connection. (I’ll bet there are 18-year-olds who don’t even know what that is.) Thankfully, we have a timeless God who is limited by neither time nor space, Who Himself filled the void between man and God. And if He can fill that gap, filling the gap between Concreters and Connectors is no problem at all.

Bibliography

Five Myths about Young Adult Church Dropouts, Barna Group, November 16, 2011

Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church, Barna Group, September 28, 2011

Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church, Kenda Creasy Dean (Oxford University Press), 2010.

Already Gone, Ken Ham and Britt Beemer (Master Books), 2009.

You Lost Me, David Kinnaman (Baker Books), 2011.

The Road Ahead: Challenges Gospel Ministers Can Expect, Al Mohler, Southern Seminary Magazine, Spring 2012, pp. 28-30.

50 Ideas That Changed Everything, Relevant Magazine, March-April 2011, pp. 88-109.

The Generation of Contrast, Relevant Magazine, September-October 2011, pp. 80-87.

An Open Letter to This Generation, Relevant Magazine, March-April 2011, pp. 52-55.

The Vanishing Church Body, Relevant Magazine, March-April 2011, pp. 82-87.

Lost in Transition, Christian Smith (Oxford University Press), 2011.

Leave a comment

Filed under Do

Top 25 Spiritual Classics Every Christian Should Read

Top-25-Spiritual-Classics

For this enlightening post, I welcome a very special guest blogger—my daughter, Ginger Thompson Horton. Outside of her hero, Dr. Albert Mohler, I don’t know anyone who reads more books than Ginger. She’s not an avid reader. She’s not even a voracious reader. She’s a carnivorous reader. Last year she read 50 books. 50! Not romance novels. Not teeny-bopper books. Fifty books of the caliber that she lists below—that’s about one a week. Amazing!

A few months ago, Ginger called to ask for our input on a list that she was compiling of the top 25 Spiritual Classics Every Christian Should Read. We gave her our suggested titles, and I asked if she would provide me with an annotated list which I could publish as a guest blog on Know. Be. Do. (By the way, Ginger has a real blog—www.SweetIcedTea.net, one with hundreds of actual subscribers and readers, unlike my own pathetic, self-interested ramblings. Her blog is about the sweet, sophisticated Southern life. Check it out!)

She recently published her unannotated list on a second blog of hers, GingerLand, which included an introduction of why she embarked on creating the list. You can read that post in full here, but I’ve included a few pertinent paragraphs below by way of introduction to this annotated list. Her list itself is must-reading for every Christian. I‘ve read nine of the 25 books on the list, and recently started a tenth, but it is my intention to begin working my way through the entire list (although not as as quickly as Ginger, I’m sure!) So, without further ado, here is Ginger’s wonderful road map to reading your way through the spiritual classics. I know it was hard for her to limit the list to just 25 titles, so if there are books you would add, we would love to hear your comments!

_____________________

When I was young, my spiritual birthday was always marked in my house. I got a cake with my favorite verse written in frosting, and a present of a book or some music (most often a CD by my favorite, Steven Curtis Chapman) or a new Bible. So this year, I’m marking my birthday with a project.

I am a reader. The way I learn best is often by reading what others wiser than me have written. I’ve spent the last month jotting down some of the spiritual classics—some I’ve read, many of which sadly I have not.

I plan to spend next year reading 25 of the Christian classics—one for every year I’ve been saved. There were so many more that could have been on this list. I brainstormed, perused my own shelves, asked my spiritual mentors, searched in other books, blogs, and for friends’ recommendations. At the end of the day, this was an extremely hard task. When there were cuts to be made, I erred on the side of cutting those I had already read, or had read recently, so this list is fairly personal to my year. But I truly feel that all 25 of these are classics and sure that they deserve a place on the shelf of any Christian’s library.

  • A Celebration of Discipline by Richard C. Foster—We are called to be disciples of Christ. Discipleship takes discipline. This classic offers a look on the challenging ways in which we can foster discipline in our inward life (through meditation, prayer, and fasting), in our outward walk (simplicity, solitude, submission, and service), and in our corporate worship (confession, worship, guidance, and celebration).
  • Confessions by St. Augustine—This classic by St. Augustine of Hippo is widely considered the first autobiography ever written in the Western world, so it is not only a Christian classic, but also influential in literature. Most of us most likely read City of God in high school, so I’m looking forward to learning more about the early life and conversion of this saint.
  • The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer—Interest in the life of Bonhoeffer is enjoying a resurgence in popularity as of late due to the 2008 film Valkyrie and a recently published bestselling biography by Eric Metaxas (Comment from Larry: Recently finished this biography and highly recommend it.) Bonhoeffer has the authority to write on the cost of discipleship. As a German living during World War II, he was executed for his resistance to the Nazis.
  • Desiring God by John Piper—I had enjoyed this Piper classic before, but it is worth another read. Piper advocates Christian hedonism, teaching that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
  • Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe—Nothing is more inspiring than the stories of those who literally gave their very lives for the cause of Christ. How can we do any less?
  • The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom—Another wonderful story of one who sacrificed much in the name of Jesus. Corrie Ten Boom hid Jews during the Nazi regime and was arrested and held in a concentration camp during World War II. Her forgiveness is astounding, and her story reads like an exciting spy novel.
  • Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis—When I worked at my college bookstore, this was one of the most requested Christian classics. It’s been translated into more languages than any other book outside the Bible itself, so any book with staying power is one that deserves a place on my list.
  • In His Steps by Charles Sheldon—Though published in 1897, this novel inspired the WWJD? bracelet trend of the 1990s. It’s rare to find a book over 100 years old that is so pragmatic for our daily lives today.
  • The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancey—Phillip Yancey never fails to make me think through my preconceived notions of canned Christianity. The Jesus of the Bible is much less like the Jesus of Sunday School felt boards. The real Jesus is complex, passionate, brilliant. Yancey takes us through Christ’s life on earth—from His Jewish roots, group of close friends, surrounding geography, spoken words, and evident personality to learn more about our incarnate God.
  • Knowing God by J. I. Packer—J. I. Packer is a leading theologian of our day. My brilliant sister read this modern Christian classic in high school and said it made more difference in her life than most any other book. Enough said. It’s on the list.
  • Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner—Frederick Buechner is hands-down my favorite living author. He has a fresh way of explaining things that makes the divine seem simple and the simple seem divine. Every time I read anything he has written, I think, laugh, sometimes cry, and always marvel at the beauty that words have when from the pen of a master. I’ve read almost everything Buechner has written, but this is one of his seminal works with the message that our Creator uses our own lives to speak to us.
  • Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis—No real explanation is needed for Mere Christianity. Should be required reading, for Christians and non-believers. There is no more simple defense of our faith. Anything by Lewis is worth reading.
  • My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers—The devotional classic by Oswald Chambers is designed to be read in short segments—one devotion for each day. A perfect way to start the morning reflecting on His Highest.
  • On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius—Written in the fourth century, On the Incarnation is one of the enduring defenses of our faith, but timely for today when scholars are still debating the divine nature of Jesus Christ.
  • Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton—Chesterton wrote many Christian classics, both fiction and non-fiction. Orthodoxy is his personal journey to faith and apologetics.
  • Paradise Lost by John Milton—A classic piece of literature that most of us read in high school or college, but worth a revisit.
  • Pensees by Blaise Pascal—Pascal’s thoughts have been quoted in many of my favorite Christian books—from John Eldredge to Phillip Yancey—so he is highly read. If you’ve ever heard of “Pascal’s Wager,” this is where the concept stems from.
  • Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan—I remember my parents reading from Little Pilgrim’s Progress, a chapter a night when I was small. I was captivated. The original version is tough to slough through (pun intended), so make sure to get a good modern version. This Penguin Classic paperback comes highly recommended.
  • Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence—The title says it all. We could all do well to learn the practices of this 17th century monk.
  • Saint’s Everlasting Rest by Richard Baxter—I love meditating on heaven. Baxter wrote The Saint’s Everlasting Rest while severely ill, and it will make you look forward to heaven. I know it’s a great book when I have more portions underlined than not.
  • The Saving Life of Christ by Major Ian Thomas—One of my spiritual heroes, Dr. Adrian Rogers, mentioned this book more than any other I recall. It was only recently that I finally got around to reading it, and I am only sad I waited so long. Revolutionary, in the truest sense of the word, in that it can change your perspective on the purpose of Christ’s life and death. But it’s so simple, and so foundational to what the Bible really teaches.
  • The Search for Significance by Robert McGee—I, like so many Christians, suffer from the performance-based trap of spiritual self-worth. Either we see ourselves as a lowly worm of a sinner, or worse, we think we can bring something to God with our own righteousness. Our acceptance in the eyes of God is only found in Christ’s work, not our own accomplishments or the opinions of others.
  • A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller—One of the most beloved Psalms, looked at through the eyes of a shepherd and his sheep. Keller, a former sheep rancher, shows us to trust and rest in the Good Shepherd.
  • Six Hours One Friday by Max Lucado—I must admit, I went through a period of snobbery against Max Lucado. It wasn’t anything so wrong with his message, per se. Just how many people flocked to it and stayed only there, going no deeper. But I recently picked up another title of his (Come Thirsty), and was struck by how the message doesn’t need to be any “more intellectual.” Lucado always has a way of piercing the simple message of God’s love right to the heart. I’ve read quite a bit of Max Lucado (my favorite so far being And the Angels Were Silent), but my dad recommended this as his favorite classic. Since I’ve not read this one, subtitled Living in the Power of the Cross, it made the list.
  • Through Gates of Splendor by Elizabeth Elliot—Once again, biographies often have the power to inspire like no sermon ever could. I’m familiar with the story of missionary Jim Elliot, killed by an Ecuadorian tribe, along with five other men. Elizabeth Elliot, Jim’s wife, wrote his story and continued to serve as a missionary among the Auca Indians after his death.

_____________________

For more of Ginger’s book recommendations, check out this post: Top Ten Books, Selected Personally for Me.

1 Comment

Filed under Know

Divine Tension

Often, the most soothing music is a product of tension. Just look at the strings on a guitar, violin, harp, or piano. Each string has the precise amount of tension needed to create the perfect pitch. A little more or a little less, and the note would be off-key. But stretched straight and true, the strings produce soaring sounds that belie the stress they bear. Even the human voice itself creates sound because of vocal cords held in tension.

God orchestrates His World with the same kind of Divine Tension, playing a Love Song for His Creation that resonates in perfect pitch for all eternity. Like a six-string guitar, I see six strings of truth, each held in Divine Tension on one end by God Himself, like the bridge of the guitar, and on the other end by His human creation, like tuning pegs.

1. God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility

This particular string has produced a lot of disharmony among Christians through the centuries, and still is today. In fact, our own Southern Baptist Convention has grappled with it for decades, and it seems to be a thundercloud looming on the horizon that’s threatening to bring more darkness and storms into our churches. How delighted our enemy must be. The mind-numbing question of Calvinism vs. Arminianism has been debated ad nauseam, and it’s certainly not my intention to try to settle it here. I know and respect people on both sides of the fence. I’ve studied the thorny issue six ways to Sunday, and tried to wrap my head around Supralapsarianism, Infralapsarianism, and Sublapsarianism until my head spins. But I’ve come to peace on the issue: When the Bible teaches that God is 100% sovereign, then teach that. And when the Bible says “whosoever will” may believe, then teach that. We’ll never reconcile the two any more than you can pour the ocean into a thimble because God’s “brain” is infinite and ours is quite finite. That’s not a cop out, and, no, I don’t think He ever intended us to comprehend it all nor reconcile it all. “For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). It’s a Divine Mystery, and that’s part of the Divine Tension that I’m writing about.

I do believe, however, I can understand why we can’t understand it. The whole issue from man’s perspective is immersed in the dimension of “time.” We can’t think outside the dimension of time any more than a fish can imagine life outside of water. That’s the element we were born in and exist in. But God is outside of time. Take your timeline and turn it 90 degrees on end, so you’re looking not at a line, but at a single point. That might give you some small idea of God’s perspective. All time is collapsed into a single simultaneous reality. So the precise “order of decrees” and whether God gives grace one second after man believes or whether man believes one second after God gives grace is all a moot point. God isn’t restrained by time. He operates in a qualitative realm that lies beyond the quantitative limitations of time and space. Yet, we cannot think in this realm. So the best we can do is imagine Him reaching down with His hand of grace as man reaches up with his hand of faith, and the two connect eternally—past, present, and future collapsed—forming an unbreakable string, tuned perfectly by the Divine Tension of God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility. “Saved by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). Beautiful! We can turn the tuning peg all we want—sharp or flat—reformed or 1-point Calvinist (my personal position) or on and on ad infinitum—and you won’t improve on the perfect pitch of God’s finely tuned Word.

2. God’s Revelation and Man’s Senses

While the first string produces dissonance primarily inside the church, this string produces discord inside and outside the church. Mankind—churched and unchurched alike—is increasingly putting more and more faith in their senses, namely science, and less and less in God’s revelation, namely the Bible. For the purposes of this post, let’s leave metaphysics to the arena of philosophy, and limit our definition of science to empirical science. Science is essentially the knowledge that we acquire through our senses. Science has become god in our modern world. But true science isn’t the enemy of the Bible. All science, properly interpreted, supports the Bible. But science has limits, as does human reason, modern man’s other authority. We ordinarily cannot experience the supernatural through our five senses, so it is dismissed as myth, fantasy. God’s Word records events we’ve never seen: a universe forming in six days, a sea parting and exposing dry land, an ax head floating, a man getting swallowed by a great fish, 5,000+ people getting fed with two loaves and five fishes, a life-long blind man made to see. We cannot see. So mankind rejects the supernatural. Or tries to twist the tuning peg his way, inventing naturalistic explanations, such as Theistic Evolution. Enlightened rationalism. But the guitar string just goes out of tune. And then after rejecting all these manifestations of the supernatural, some still claim to swallow the one Supreme Miracle, the Resurrection of Christ, while denying all the rest. And well they should. Because if one doesn’t believe that He lives, then one has no hope of living eternally.

But enough about the controversy. I want to focus on the beautiful music. This string, precisely stretched between God’s Revelation and Man’s Senses, produces a particularly lovely strain of music that swells with faith and love for God. Why? Just think: If God really wanted to, He could manifest Himself in much more obvious ways that would be clear to our senses and to the masses. He could ride across the sky on a white charger every afternoon. (Or could that be the sun?) He could write John 3:16 in one’s mother tongue right on each individual’s forearm. (Or would that be any different from the Bible?) He could send an angel down in the midst of each church service to declare the Words of God. (Or is that what a preacher, God’s messenger, is?) He could manifest Himself in any number of ways in such an obvious manner that perhaps even the most hardened atheist would have to say, “OK, that’s got to be God.” Why doesn’t He? He wants people to believe, doesn’t He? That question used to bother me. I would say, “God, please, come down here and just show off some. You alone have the right to. You’re our Creator. Show off. Show them!” Well, forget for a moment that He’s really already revealed Himself in quite a few convincing and compelling ways. As He said to the rich man, “‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:19-31). There’s an even more glorious reason why He doesn’t go overboard appealing to our senses. It’s because when man uses his sixth sense, his supernatural sense, FAITH, in order to know and trust God, then God gets all the more magnified glory. After all, soulless animals could use their five senses to become aware of God, if He were to rely solely on natural senses to reveal Himself. But God has chosen to reveal Himself in supernatural ways that we can experience and believe only through the special sense with which He graced man—FAITH. That string stretched between man, made in His image, and God, our Maker, produces a sound that cannot be heard with natural hearing, but only through supernatural listening. And when we see and hear with our supernatural senses, our praise rises to exalt Him in an extraordinary way.

Most people in today’s post-modern world ignore or deny everything in the purple circle, even the part that intersects with the natural world, including the historicity of Christ and the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testaments. Some Christians try to minimize the intersecting portion, force fitting natural explanations on supernatural events and “spiritualizing” the Bible until their own vain imaginings are less plausible than the supernatural God Himself.

3. God’s Saving and Man’s Witnessing

God made man a partner with Him from the beginning. God put Adam and Eve in the Garden and gave them jobs to do, even before sin entered the world. He told them to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the creatures, work the garden, and watch over it—all before the Fall. So it’s no wonder that when it came to the job of revealing Himself to all of mankind and of making disciples of His Son, God also hired man as His partner. “Then Jesus came near and said to them, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:18-20). That’s the Great Commission. But it’s really a great privilege. Imagine if Bill Gates called you up and offered you the job of Chief Marketing Director for Microsoft. Never mind that you might hold out for the Apple job, the point is that it would be a great honor. Infinitely more so is it an honor for us to be holding the other end of the string that plays the Gospel melody all around this globe. He didn’t need us, but He chose to use us. And now we’re essential to His plan: “But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). You’re probably beginning to see the pattern develop here in the Divine Tension between God and man that fills the universe with His praises.

4. God’s Forgiveness and Man’s Repentance

This string forms a tight chord with point #1. Repentance and faith are two ends of one string. Two sides of one coin. When we turn to Christ, we turn away from our sin (repentance) and towards our Savior (faith) all in one grace-full movement. He forgives the instant we repent. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts” (James 4:8). It’s a kind of Divine Dance in which He leads, we follow, He rejoins, and we respond. (See Psalm 51.) It’s beautiful music that begins the moment we believe and become His, and it continues throughout our life here on earth, every time we fail Him and He faithfully forgives. It’s how an adulterer and murderer named David became a “man after God’s own heart.” And how a cursing, denying ol’ salt named Peter became “the rock.” From David the harpist to Peter the “rocker,” there’s plenty of tension there to produce some soulful praise music.

5. God’s Blessing and Man’s Obedience

In perfect harmony with the low note of #4 is the high note of #5. ““If you carefully obey my commands I am giving you today, to love the Lord your God and worship Him with all your heart and all your soul, I will provide rain for your land” (Deuteronomy 11:13-14). “‘If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,’ the Lord said, ‘you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you'” (Luke 17:6). God’s Word is full of conditional promises. If you do what I tell you to do, I will bless you. If you don’t, you’ll pay the consequences. This string isn’t too hard to tune. It’s pretty straightforward. That’s not to say that obedience itself is easy. But at least He has made it abundantly clear what He expects. It’s all for our own good, after all. As Pastor Adrian Rogers said, and I’ve quoted many times, “When God says, ‘Thou shalt not…,’ He’s really saying, ‘Don’t hurt yourself.’ When God says, ‘Thou shalt…,’ He’s really saying, ‘Help yourself to happiness.'” He created us, so He knows what will hurt us and what will help us. More often than not, obedience bears its own reward, and sin is its own punishment. You reap what you sow. Sowing and reaping are another example of God and man working together. And whether it’s positive reinforcement or negative disincentive, it’s all about our good and His glory. Beautiful.

6. God’s Will and Man’s Plans

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). While point #1 is concerned primarily with man’s eternal destination, this string relates to man’s plight while still on earth in time and space. No doubt God rules and overrules man’s plans, and often I’ve felt like a man walking southbound on a northbound train; no matter how fast I walk, I’m still heading north. But there’s a mystery in how God’s directive will and His permissive interact, and how prayer changes the equation. There’s much I don’t understand about prayer, but I take comfort in knowing that the Holy Spirit intercedes where my feeble prayers fall short. (Romans 8:26) I know that God has a firm grip on His end of the string, and as I fumble and stumble my way through life, making plans and praying for what seems best, I’m so glad that He takes up the slack to make beautiful music out of the sour notes that I so often hit. How often He has taken something that was meant for bad, and turned it into something good. He gives only good gifts to His children, and so I praise Him that His sovereign will means that He has a wonderful plan and future for me that involves his loving discipline at worst and his abundant blessing always—His glory and my good. He always connects the dots.

There you have it: six strings of Divine Tension strung between God and man, making beautiful music with the Creator. Why all this free will for man? Why does He give us so much responsibility and freedom? It all comes back to what brings Him the most glory. Without choices, there could be no genuine love, only robotic love. So He gives us freedom to love Him, and the unspeakable privilege of being in relationship with Him, being connected to Him, being used by Him. He didn’t have to use us or choose us. He’s God. He didn’t need a little boy’s two loaves and five fishes. He could have fed 5 million by simply speaking a word. But He chose to use us. To make music with us. He chose to become one of us. He chose to lay down His life for us—by His own free will. So we could live with Him forever. He chose to reveal Himself to us. He chose to forgive us. He chose to bless us. Now we, made in His image, have choices. To believe. To reject “Seeing is believing” in favor of “Believing is seeing.” To witness. To repent. To obey. And as we do, oh, what melodious praise we produce as we lift praises to the One Who gives us our song. Simply Divine!

Leave a comment

Filed under Know

50 Trips Around the Sun

Celebrating my first trip around the sun

Today, I complete my 50th trip around the sun. The Big 5-0. The half century mark. 50 years old. Or, as people like to say when they’re old, 50 years young.

I’m not lying when I say it really isn’t bothering me. Other ages have given me pause. 19 (my last teenage year). 30 (the end of being young). 40 (the beginning of being old). These all hit me a little harder. 50? Not that much different than 40something. In fact, 50 is the new 40, they say. And while I’m surely playing on the back 9 now, statistically, I still have a few years left. I tried out three of those “life expectancy calculators” and got the following results: 88 years, 82 years, 93 years (average: 87.7). (Interestingly, the lowest estimate was provided by the U.S. government’s Social Security site. Wishful thinking, on their part, I suppose. Not like there will be anything left when I get there anyway.) I guess I’m fairly healthy, but 93? I think the survey forgot to ask about my weakness for fried catfish (or anything deep fried), Meat Lover’s pizza with extra cheese (or anything smothered in cheese), and Graeter’s Peanut Butter Blitz ice cream.

If I had to reflect how the Big 5-0 is making me feel, however, three thoughts come to mind:

1. No one was ever supposed to be younger than me.

I was born the youngest of four children to a mother and father who were second to the youngest in their families. I was always the baby of my family—a big baby, my wife likes to say. So my brothers, sister, and virtually all my cousins, etc. we’re older than me. Growing up, the kids in my neighborhood were older than me. Many of my friends at church and school were older than me. I got married at 20 and had a baby sitter for our first anniversary, so most of our life-stage peers were older than us. When I got my first real job, I was the youngest at my ad agency. It seemed like everything I did, I was the kid in the room.

Because it often seemed like I was hitting milestones before others my age, I felt like I was ahead of the game. There were no 27-year-old Mark Zuckerbergs who had accomplished more at their tender young age than I have at twice their age or ever will. Now, on a regular basis, I discover 20somethings and 30somethings who have built businesses or churches with large staffs, making significant impact in the Kingdom of God. And while I can genuinely say that I rejoice in the Lord over that, I can’t help but wonder if I haven’t set my sights too low. And now the clock is ticking—faster and faster. Yeah, I’ve heard the inspiring stories of people who accomplished great things beginning in their 50s, 60s, and beyond. But I’ve also read the news about how a younger workforce with more up-to-date skills, willing to work at lower salaries, is replacing workers my age. It’s not something I fret over a lot. Yet. But if the world keeps changing at the same pace that it has over the past 10-20 years—or likely, even faster—will I be able to keep up?

In my quest to stay relevant, perhaps my new mantra should be: No one will ever be older than me.

2. I’m seriously concerned that I will outlive my savings.

My father retired from the federal government with a lifetime pension, which, after he died, was passed on to my Mother. Social Security was also there for them. That was pretty much the norm for the Greatest Generation. I’ve got nothing like that. I sincerely believe that Social Security will be bankrupt or minimized to a paltry stipend by the time I reach 62 or 65 or whatever age they increase it to by then. (Read my full prediction of the bleak financial future of the United States here.) And what I get in retirement will be exactly what I myself put in. Correction: minus what my mutual funds lose in the stock market. I fully expect to work until the day I can no longer physically put my arms though my blue Walmart greeter’s vest.

Not that retirement is a big goal for me. Honestly. I don’t see the concept of retirement in the Bible. I want to work until I’m unable to do so. Work is a gift from God. (Ecclesiastes 3:13, 5:18-19) (Read Your Work Matters to God by Doug Sherman and William Hendricks for an outstanding treatment of this.) And I would love it if I could work till the day I die. It would be great, however, if I didn’t have to earn a living while I was working. I’d love to be financially free to volunteer for ministry projects and missions. That’s my ultimate dream and prayer. But what if I’m unemployable—for health or other reasons—and I run out of money before I run out of years? I’ve got no lifetime pension. Probably no government assistance. And there will likely be a whole bunch of us Boomers in the same sinking ship. I’d rather die than be a burden to my children, although they will probably scold me for saying so. But at age 50 now, I’ve got to get serious about saving for the future and staying healthy enough to work as as long as I can.

3. Old age is a trade-off.

If you’re still reading, you might think I have a pretty pessimistic outlook on my remaining 32 years (if the Social Security Administration has their way). But as I always say to family members who tend to be optimists or idealists, I’m neither pessimist nor optimist. I’m a realist. And the realty of beginning my sixth decade is that it’s a trade off.

I noticed beginning in my late 40s that the ol’ bean wasn’t whirring at the same MHz as it once was—like an old computer that needs to be defragged. But I’d like to think that what I’ve lost in mental quickness, I’ve made up for with wisdom and clarity of thought. I’m not the sage that I should be at this age, but usually I can arrive at the correct conclusion, though traveling more slowly; I’m taking a more direct route.

Likewise, the eyes and the back and the knees are weaker. But while the eye can’t see as sharply, it beholds more clearly. While the joints may not be as spry, the body better cherishes life at its new, slower pace. And while the dreams may not be as lofty, the gratitude for what’s been enjoyed lifts the spirits far beyond mere anticipation.

I didn’t want this post to be a retrospective of the past 50 years. Although there’s certainly so much I could say about how God has blessed me with a “Leave It to Beaver” childhood, salvation at age 19, 30 wonderful years with my beautiful, godly wife, two amazing daughters and two sons-in-love, a fulfilling career and ministry, and now “My Old Kentucky Home” back in my beloved Lexington, home of the 8-time, 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Champions. But this blog is about looking ahead. And I take utmost hope in the future. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'” (Jeremiah 29:11).

My grandmother lived to be almost 100, and I have an aunt who is 102. I may be at halftime in life. Or the final buzzer may be ready to sound. And as I buckle in to begin my 51st trip around the sun, one thing I can say with certainty is that I’m a lot less certain about a lot of things than I once was. Absolutely, I’ve got regrets. I regret every sin I ever committed. And the failures are still much more numerous than I would have thought, having been on the Christian trail for more than 30 years. But if you’ll forgive the cliche, I don’t know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future. He is my Security. And where I’m headed, “time” won’t be measured anymore. And the life expectancy will be everlasting. “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). Eternity. What a mind-blowing concept!

Yes, old age—make that life itself—is a trade off. And when it’s over, each of us will trade in our old body and our old life for something new. Make sure it’s New Life—with a retirement plan that is truly out of this world. And unlimited trips to the Son.

5 Comments

Filed under Do

The Year of the Fire Dragon

The Year of the Fire Dragon

Tomorrow, our official language becomes Chinese.

February 10, 2043. That’s our new Fourth of July. The birthday of our new nation: The People’s Republic of American China (PRAC). But it’s no Independence Day. To the contrary, our new national birthday is the final step in a long march toward dependence.

Today is the last day of the United States of America.

Nearly 267 years old. It was a good run. Most say, the greatest nation that ever existed. Historians divide our history into three trimesters: The Developmental Years (1776-1865), The Dominant Years (1866-1959), and the Decaying Years (1960-2043).

We survived a revolution that freed us from our Mother County. A bitter Civil War and unending civil rights struggle. Two World Wars and a dozen or so other conflicts. A major Depression and several recessions. What we couldn’t survive was “prosperity.”

The beginning of the end began around the turn of the 21st century. The United States had just emerged from a period of unprecedented prosperity that saw houses, cars, and paychecks get super-sized. Nothing wrong with that, if you’re looking ahead. But like a college student burning through a trust fund with no thought of tomorrow, the nation and her government spent money like it was growing on trees. In a way, it was. When the government needed more money, it just printed it. Suddenly, America found itself in the middle of a perfect economic storm, caught between three inevitable, overwhelming forces.

First, Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) were beginning to get to the ages when they needed increasing amounts of expensive health care and assisted-living facilities. But they couldn’t pay their own way. Few had adequate retirement plans, and in 2025, Social Security and eventually Medicare began phasing out. Like all the popular government entitlement programs, it just wasn’t sustainable. When Social Security began in 1935 the contributions of 17 workers paid for the benefits of one retiree. By 2035, the 100th anniversary of Social Security, the ratio was 2 workers per beneficiary. In 2025, the laws were changed so that only those born before 2010 and only those age 75 or older would receive benefits. Benefits were gradually getting phased out. At the same time, people were living much longer, only exacerbating the problem of caring for and paying for the expensive final years of life. These older Americans were long outliving their savings. They had no affordable places to live. Enormous high-rise, government housing was built to house these millions of aging Americans who couldn’t afford food, housing, or health care. Health care rationing was only the beginning. Then, the euthanasia debate came to the forefront, eclipsing even the abortion debate as the nation’s most divisive  moral and ethical issue. The public sought to lower expenses by clipping both ends off the life cycle. Even after-birth abortion was fought for, and although defeated legally, became common on the black market.

The second force in this perfect storm was the government’s deficit spending and mounting debt. Despite tax rates that approached 50% even for middle class Americans, the government’s insatiable appetite for vote-producing entitlement programs never seem to be satiated. Every facet of living seemed to become a right which the government was obligated to provide. It began innocently enough with public education in the 20th century. But then it expanded to food. Then to housing. Then to higher education. Then to transportation. Then to health care. Then to communication. By 2020, the United States had become for all intents and purposes a socialist democracy that functioned on the basis of legalized vote buying—government services bartered for votes. Every election was a spending contest. The few who shouldered the bulk of the financial burden of the government were in the minority. The entitlement seekers were the dominant voting bloc and ruled by majority. Government spending went way beyond the public’s means to pay for it. The government’s plans were simply not sustainable. The tax and spend habit became a debilitating addiction. The bottom line was that deficit spending continued to grow and grow beyond any hope of ever paying it back. The government’s response of printing more money caused inflation to grow unmanageable—to double-digit rates. This only compounded the debt problem. And the lion’s share of the debt was financed by, you guessed it, China. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The third and final factor in the perfect storm was progressive pricing. No one had really heard of progressive pricing until 2021 when General Motors sued the United States Treasury Department for the right to price its vehicles progressively. Supported by a lobbying group formed by former Presidents Bill Clinton, Barak Obama, and Hilary Clinton called “Equality:America,” GM argued that since the Federal government had the right to provide services funded by a progressive pricing system, that is, payment in proportion to income, then they as a private company also had this same right. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. GM’s lawyers compellingly argued that the government’s taxation system was extremely progressive. High income family paid thousands of times more for the same government services—from national defense to highway systems—as low income families. Progressive pricing structures were also well established for government housing, food, education, transportation, and more. The Supreme Court decided that yes, companies could set prices based on the customer’s income. Every consumer was annually issued a PCPI (Personal Consumer Price Index) number from 0 to 200. A PCPI of 100 meant that you paid the average or “rack” price. For PCPIs of 101-200, you paid a premium price extrapolated from your index factor, and from 0-99 you paid a regressively discounted price. A high income family might pay $100,000 for a new Buick. A low income family might pay $2,000 for the same car. Companies loved it, because it meant that their markets expanded exponentially. Now virtually every individual was in the market for virtually any product or service, no matter how luxurious. Needless to say, lower-income individuals loved it, too. High income individuals despised the system because it meant they had to subsidize the other half’s purchases. Now, they not only paid for more than their share of the government’s expenses, but every purchase they made was effectively “taxed” and their wealth redistributed. Some wealthy voters even started a movement that would require one to multiply—or divide—one’s vote by their PCPI. Why shouldn’t someone who contributes more to the government have a larger say in who runs the government, they argued. That might have leveled the political playing field for the rich minority. But the Supreme Court struck it down. A few companies resisted progressive pricing on principle, but they didn’t last long under the new market paradigm. The game was changed forever. The situation reminded me of a quote by Adrian Rogers, a famous preacher in the late 20th century. My grandfather used to quote it:

“Friend, you cannot legislate the poor into freedom by legislating the wealthy out of freedom.  And what one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government can’t give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody. And when half of the people get the idea they don’t have to work because the other half’s going to take care of them, and when the other half get the idea it does no good to work because somebody’s going to get what I work for. That, dear friend, is about the end of any nation.”

Yes, it was about the end of our nation.

An aging population unable to pay their own way. High taxes, debt, and deficit spending that suffocated the economy. And progressive pricing that demotivated workers and crippled productivity. America’s economy was in shambles.

Socially, the United States were anything but united. Class warfare was dividing the nation like the great Civil War. And generational warfare was at an all-time high, as Gen Z blamed the Baby Boomers and Busters for saddling them with government debt incurred by the previous generation’s wild spending. The middle class dwindled to 19th century levels as the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” widened.

Now back to China. In the 2020s, the Asian bloc began to make revolutionary strides toward alternative energy. Fossil fuels had become outrageously expensive, making it financially feasible to invest in alternative fuel research and development. China and Japan led the way. Now instead of a dependency on foreign oil, the United States was dependent on foreign technology. America’s international trade deficit continued to careen out of balance while at the same time, China was using this cash to buy up more U.S. debt. By 2040, they owned 55% of America’s debt. We owed China alone more than $12 quadrillion. We were getting squeezed on both sides. Our dependency on China was becoming more and more of a dangerous liability. Government leaders on both sides were cordial, like any client-vendor relationship. But as the balance of power continued to tip in China’s favor, it was obvious they had the upper hand.

Then came what became known as Red Friday. A number of European nations were basically in the same boat as we were with regard to dependence on China. On October 17, 2041, international stock markets lost nearly half their value. China announced that it was calling in trillions in loans, effectively bankrupting three European nations. The next day, Friday, October 18, the U.S. stock market lost nearly 37% of its value in one day on fears that China would do the same to us. On October 21, China announced that it was calling in a major portion of its loans to the U.S. government. The house of cards began to crumble. China issued a moratorium on future lending to the U.S. Ultimatums were issued. Hostilities grew. Threats made. Rumors of a Chinese invasion in Los Angeles swirled around. The Chinese military force was massive, bolstered by its strong economy. The U.S. forces were anemic by comparison. No one wanted a Chinese invasion. It was a war we knew we didn’t have the resources to win. Diplomatic negotiations began. And a number of solutions were offered, including even selling U.S. lands to China. Americans were against this, of course, but we had few options. Our credit rating had dropped dramatically, and the Chinese were demanding to be paid before our nation went completely bankrupt. Finally, tensions came to a head, negotiations broke off, and China struck. A nuclear missile was targeted at San Diego, California. Pearl Harbor was put on high alert. Another missile struck Seattle. Hundreds of thousands of Americans perished. World War III had begun.

The War was relatively short-lived by World War standards. Only 14 months. China held all the cards. The energy. The technology. The weaponry. The financing. And the most powerful allies. An unconditional Instrument of Surrender was signed by the President of the United States on January 7, 2043. A transition plan was quickly implemented, and it was determined that the official birthday of the new Chinese nation—the People’s Republic of American China—would be the first day of the traditional Chinese New Year: February 10, 2043. The Year of the Fire Dragon.

267 years. It was a good run. Some people say the downfall of America was economic. Some say it was class and generational warfare. Some say it was military weakness. Me? I say the economic and social decay was just a symptom of the terminal theological and moral disease that afflicted America for its last 80 years. Pure and simple, we forget who brought us to the dance. God. America was founded as “one nation under God” (removed from the Pledge of Allegiance in 2026). But we became more and more secular. By 2025, Atheism had surpassed Christianity as the number one belief system. How could we expect God to bless a nation that kills its unborn, its elderly, and laughs at the “antique” ideas of the Bible? If God doesn’t exist, sure…vote for whoever pads your pocketbook. But if God lives, then don’t expect Him to bless a disobedient nation. Expect Him to do what He did in the Old Testament to His disobedient children—Israel. He used other nations—even ungodly nations—to discipline and bring judgment upon them. Yet in reality, the Fiery Dragon that slayed us came from within.

Yet even His wrath has as its objective love and mercy—the way a loving father disciplines his child to prevent further self-destruction. That’s what God did to America. If only we would have paid attention to His warning, maybe we would still be saluting the stars and stripes—and be free to worship.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  —2 Chronicles 7:14

Tomorrow, speaking English becomes a crime. Practicing Christianity becomes a crime. The Year of the Fire Dragon begins. But in spite of the persecution—maybe even because of it—there’s always hope. And prayer. And if history is any indication, we just might be on the verge of revival.

1 Comment

Filed under Do