Sunday, July 31, 2016

When I Came of Age

Ten year old boys are still pretty much innocent and na├»ve.  At least they were in 1966.  My greatest passion and desire was baseball. 

Every day, all summer my life was a mirror of the movie “Sandlot”.  I played Little League ball that summer.  Second base and occasionally I got to pitch.  But when the season was over the guys in the neighborhood would gather in Randy’s back yard and play ball all day.  We kept hydrated by drinking from the garden hose behind home plate.

I was also into cars in those days.  Not Hot Wheels, but real cars.  The game we played as we were driven here and there by our moms (our dads were in Viet Nam at the time) was to identify the cars we passed.  It was pretty simple.  Pretty much you had your standard American cars and the occasional Fiat.  We didn’t know the Japanese made cars in 1966.

At ten girls were still something we had to endure.  But about a year later that began to slowly change.  But even for the next couple of years they couldn’t compare to baseball and cars.

The kids in my neighborhood had come face-to-face with our own mortality a year or so earlier.  We couldn’t have been home from school for 30 minutes when I heard screaming.  Looking out my window was one of my classmates running down the street, frantically calling for her momma.  A few minutes later the news quickly spread that her little sister had been struck and killed by a car while crossing the road to get to the local grocery store. 

Mom took us to her funeral and to the burial at a roadside family graveyard.  Before that I had been to a couple of funerals.  But they were all “old” people.  Now I knew the possibility of dying wasn’t reserved for grandparents.  Kids could die, too.

My friend Randy (the one whose backyard was our sandlot) invited me to his church when I was ten.  We always went to church somewhere.  All of us.  I had been christened as an infant.  Mom played the organ.  But when I asked if I could go to Randy’s church, Mom said, “Yes”.  Sometime soon after she was checking it out for herself.

I’m sure that I had been in places where Jesus and His gospel were explained before.  But, if so, it never connected with me.  For some reason (I understand it better now) I was ready to not only listen to it, but to ponder my own mortality and consider what I was hearing.  I knew He was God, but never had I believed that He was my God. 

The pastor’s sermons were putting it all out there in that little church.  There was no air conditioning and often he would have to take off his coat (apologizing as he did) and loosen his tie.  A couple of big fans on stands circulated the summer air.  His preaching was both passionate and compelling as he invited anyone who had not yet put their own faith in Christ to do so. 

I was hanging on to my parents’ beliefs.  But he made it plain that their coattails wouldn’t pull me into heaven with them.  So, on that 31st day of July, fifty years ago I said “Yes” to Christ’s offer to give me as His gift a new life.  I’m eternally grateful I did and that He made me part of His family.  Best of all, it was pretty simple.  Simple enough for a ten year-old boy.

“But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.” -  John’s Gospel.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

There's No Such Thing As a Free Lunch...or College Education

[Warning Will Robinson: Political thought follows.]

I watched with interest as Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke at the conclusion of Monday night's DNC.  Passionate he is!  And I admire him for that passion.  It's clear that in his heart Sen. Sanders cares about the issues that matter most to him and, I would guess, most Democrats.

But passion plus a less than well-thought out solution does not equal wisdom, or even common sense.

As I listened to him proclaim he and Candidate Clinton have worked together to come up with a plan to make college education at all state colleges and universities tuition free my simpleton mind began to think it through.  And my conclusion was it would be disastrous.

1. Free?  Nothing's free.  Somebody has to pay.  Education is expensive.  And the payments would necessarily (because they are state owned schools) come from higher taxes.  Much higher taxes.  The state has no other source of income.  And who pays those higher taxes?  You, me (if you're working and have income) and (the killer is) those students once they enter the labor force. 

In France, where state universities are free, the income tax rate stands at 50.3%.  Sure, that covers other benefits such as universal health care, too.  But the fact is that graduates might not be saddled with enormous student loans (but they'll still have to somehow pay for room and board), but the trade off is being saddled with higher taxes.  Either way, the idea of "free education" is a myth.

2. The proposal is a federal government takeover of state institutions.  "You states can have your universities, but Washington, DC will dictate how they will be financed."  Thus, the federal government continues to confiscate from the states, and that, in my mind is a dangerous thing.  We are a union of sovereign states for a purpose: to prevent the federal government from taking too much power.  Remember the USSR?

3. This would spell the end of private colleges and universities, which are among our best.  If a student can go free to the state university, why consider a private institution that is so expensive.  In fact, only the elite rich would be able to afford private education.  Scholarship monies would be drastically withered away due to the cost to taxpayers for public education, drying up the donations that make so many scholarships possible.

4. #3 would also kill off those colleges, universities and seminaries that train church leaders.  In some ways that might be a good thing, driving the churches to train future leaders "in house". 

5. The end of private universities and colleges must also include the elimination of thousands of jobs in those schools, creating greater unemployment and increasing poverty and dependence on the state.

6. The higher taxes needed to fund the "free education" will take away income from families already struggling to keep financially afloat.  They will either be forced to find second and third jobs, or drop below the poverty line putting them on government assistance. 

7. I'm sure that the solution to #6 will be to get the bulk of the tax income to finance "free" education from "the 1%" and corporations.  Less profits will then translate into fewer jobs and lessened productivity. 

8. And there's the old axiom that if you work for something or pay for it you'll have a greater appreciation for it.  You'll see it as an investment, not as a gift.  Giving out freebies has never resulted in greater prosperity, either for the individual or the state. 

While free anything is a wonderful thought, it's a pie-in-the-sky pipe dream.  Those who understand the ethic of working for what you have understand that.  Unfortunately it appears Clinton and Sanders do not.  And that would be disastrous for our nation. 

I don't want to feel that bern.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Is There Hope?

Bob Dylan sang it.  “Everything is broken”.  And he was right.

How did our country get this way?  Anyone with even the slightest moral compass knows that somewhere we’ve taken a wrong turn.  The too often “breaking news”, whether from Washington, D.C., Louisiana, Minnesota or Texas was chilling and sorrowful. 

Everyone from the President, governors, police official, reverends and talking heads tell us something is amiss.  Something has fundamentally changed.  Hate has become stronger it seems, than tolerance.  Wrong has become right. 

Jeremiah, known as the “weeping prophet” grieved over the signs he saw in his own nation – signs that told him things had to turn better or the downward slide would continue at roller coaster speed.  And God would let it go on and on. 

A prophet spoke God’s words.  Supernaturally he connected with the Almighty in such a way that God used him to convey His heart and thoughts.  One of those “words from God” goes this way.  For My people are fools; they do not know Me. They are foolish children, without understanding. They are skilled in doing what is evil, but they do not know how to do what is good.

Pretty damning words from God…”they do not know to do what is good”. 

I’m not of the opinion we’re there yet as a nation.  But who can convince me we’re not headed that way?  Yet I have hope that there are still millions, perhaps still the majority, who do know how to do what is good.  And if I’m correct, they’re not yet willing to throw in the towel and give in to injustice and immorality, including in our leaders.  Not yet.

Among those who should know right from wrong is the community of faith, whether in a locality or the conglomerate of believers across the land.  But knowledge can’t be held within, especially when it has the power to change the tide and bring us back.

So, how do we respond?  Let me suggest a few things.

First, as always, we can pray.  Prayer is first because it can and should be an immediate response.  But take the effort to look up the names of those killed last week and pray for their families.  They’re struggling with pain, anger and of course grief.  Pray that the “God of all comfort” finds ways to bring them what He brings best. 

Then pray for our leaders and those who would be.  The Bible says that our prayers for those in authority are “so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity”.  Note that it doesn’t say, “so that we can live however we choose” or “so that those we agree with are in control”.  God, in troubling times, desires us to live in “godliness and dignity”. 

Second, do some introspective evaluation.  Ask yourself (as I frequently as myself) if I’m cheering when someone “gets what he/they deserve”.  That’s a hypocritical reaction for someone who believes in grace and mercy.  And it’s easy for hypocrites to hide behind masks.  In fact, that’s what the word means.

Third, look for opportunities to speak the Good News.  I’m a firm believer that no matter what the world throws up (literally and figuratively) God has something better for us all and He has freely provided it in the gift of His Son. 

He’s the cure for what’s broken.  And He has a plan.  

He is the plan.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

For Pete's Sake, Do A Bit of Research First

A word to the wise is sufficient. (Somebody said that...) As Christians we are called by Jesus to be "wise as serpents and harmless as doves". Part of that wisdom is having Spirit-directed discernment between what is truth and what is less than truth.

With the proliferation of social media, blogging, and the tainted media (who is truly neutral anymore?) it is easy to accept the "spin" and believe the opinion without even seeking out the truth.

I know.  I've made this blunder, even though my source was legitimate and "reliable".

Make it a point to go to the source of the "story".  IOW, the person who said/did it.

Be careful out there, sheep. Wolves abound. And their goal is to fracture your faith.