Saturday, December 13, 2008

This is Obama's HUD announcement. Very excellent for the first three minutes or so...BUT..
At about 3:30 notice how Pres Obama increases his pace and then at 3:45 he is blistering. He needs to go back and read his FDR books. FDR wouldn't mess up the pace. As a preacher, I notice this kinda stuff. Enjoy...Man, this guy has the goods.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Laying a Foundation of Grace – Part 1

In our weekly small group, we have been focusing on grace and have been camping out on the saying of Jesus, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” My experience, both in my own life and in my observations of others, has been that we humans tend strongly toward legalism and unbelief. It is very hard for us to sustain a conscious awareness that God is with us and for us. We struggle with maintaining a grace-based relationship with God that is pervasive enough to transform our fears and frustrations into “righteousness, peace and joy”.

Therefore, the purpose of church is to “encourage one another”. We are to remind one another of the grace of God. We are to remind one another of the immediate presence of God through Jesus Christ. We live in this life in a place of forgetfulness. We do not forget the law. We do not forget that we are not living as holy as we would like. This history is before us all the time. What we do forget is that God calls us forgiven and holy.

There are literally thousands, if not millions, of ways to illustrate from the scriptures how the gospel places us irrevocable in a grace based relationship with God, and I plan over the next few weeks to camp out on these static, immutable, truths. The first illustration I would like to give is given by Paul in Romans 7

What Paul is saying is that through faith we have been identified with the death and resurrection of Jesus. This identification with the death and resurrection of Jesus is the point of Romans chapter 6. Our baptism represents our death and resurrection. We often think that when we die we will be delivered from the bondage of life and we will enter into rest or heaven. Paul is saying that this death has already happened and the benefits of being freed from sin through death has already occurred because we were freed from sin because we already died. Jesus says the same thing when He says, “I am the door. Whoever goes through me will enter into pasture. For I came that you may have life and life abundantly.” Jesus is saying that his death, not your death, is the doorway into freedom from the human condition of bondage to sin.

In Romans 7, Paul makes an application of this participation in the death of Jesus as it relates to our relationship with the law. In our former life, we were married to the law, but now we have died and have been risen to be married to another that is Christ. So we are no longer married to the law but married to Jesus Christ. This reality is a permanent immutable reality. The Christian is not under law but under grace. The Christian is no longer married to the law but is married to Christ. The key then is to first know this but then to apply this truth to our conscious relationship with God.

The Wrath of God and the Christian
First, if I am not under the law, then I am no longer under the wrath or judgment of God – ever. I am never, ever, legally guilty and therefore never ever under punishment for my sinfulness. I am completely off the hook with respect to the punishment for sin. How then does this affect my head?? That is the question. God is never relating to me in a way that is anything other than constructive. When I sin or act in a way that disappoints God or myself, which is very frequent, how is God responding to me? How ought I to feel? How ought I to relate to God in the immediate aftermath of poor moral choices or some other expression of my brokenness.

First, I need to realize that God’s desire is to help me solve this problem of my moral failings. I am a servant of God and God is constantly available to solve my fundamental problem of powerlessness. First and foremost, we need to see God available to help me without shame or guilt to work on my shortcomings and character defects. Guilt and shame are not constructive and God is always relating to me in a creative and constructive manner.

So as I approach God, I confess to Him that I am walking in His grace and that I am in relationship with Christ. I address Christ asking for help. I confess my forgiveness and my thankfulness for His forgiveness. I confess my love for Him. I confess that He sees me as holy and set apart for Him and His good work. For me the moment I relate to God and acknowledging his goodness and helpfulness, I am joyful even if I am disappointed with myself.

We live in a place called forgetfulness and therefore self-discipline and self-control in the moments of the day are fleeting and illusive. This is part of being poor in spirit. This is just the nature of life in this dispensation. But we are under grace and we approach God with faith and hope in His ability to disciple us and empower us.

Secondly, even when we haven’t behaved in a way that disappoints us, we need to approach God with thanksgiving for our forgiveness and we need to confess that we are holy and set apart for His good works. This path of acceptance of our forgiveness and the abiding reality of grace needs to be a well worn path for us. Guilt and shame are not only self defeating, guilt and shame are bad theology and an affront to the cross.

Total Immersion in Grace
Remembering that we are no longer married to the law and therefore we should not approach God as if we are guilty is actually hard work. We are very forgetful. We need to work on this in our devotional life and also in our intimate relationships. We need to express this grace in all our relationships until our community is immersed, baptized, in grace. Only then will we have the joy of the Lord be our abiding moral strength.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Poverty of Spirit – The Doorway into the Kingdom of God

Poverty of Spirit – The Doorway into the Kingdom of God
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit for Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven – Matt 5:3

Jesus Christ begins His discipleship training of His followers with this single overarching principle. The blessed person is the person who is spiritually poor. The experience of the kingdom begins and is maintained through the experience of our spiritual poverty.

Describing the Experience

Just this morning, I by God’s grace had an experience of my poverty of spirit. As I had this experience, I knew that if I could bottle this experience, if I could learn to enter this place regularly, I would find a more consistent love of God and neighbor.

It started this morning as I reflected on my last few months of prayerlessness. A few months back, I had begun a quest to learn how to exercise moment by moment self regulation. Needless to say, I failed in this quest and have discovered that my habits of mind and speech are less regulated and restrained than a few months back. This morning I realized that I was again approaching the problem of self-control and self-restraint directly. I attempted to oppose my bad habits of mind and tongue directly. This approach is decidedly unspiritual. Of course, over the past few months, I have not been aware that I have been taking this misguided approach. As I arose and prepared for work, I realized the answer to this problem is the indirect approach of worship.

So, as I drove to work, I considered this different strategy to solve my problem of character.

As I was driving to work, I found myself accepting just how dreadful my thoughts have been of late. I was reviewing my past few months and accepting that my thought life and my contemplations have been even more crude and worldly than normal and that though I have been striving to behave better, I was actually behaving worse. These habitual ego-laden, worldly contemplations are an immutable part of my emotional makeup. It is not my nature to despair but to simply admit reality as it is. I am fortunate in this regard. But as I thought really how broken my thoughts are a thought entered my mind. Even this unhealthy condition is forgiven. This blessed realization came upon me rather unaware. I am entirely powerless but also entirely accepted. At this instant, I began to feel a joy I had lacked of late. I was experiencing what Luther calls being ‘simultaneously saint and sinner’. The fact is that only in this acceptance of my utter moral failure can I find the presence of Christ from which comes any joy filed power for moral strength. Here is the doorway into an actual righteousness. Here in lies the paradox of our faith.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.

The Anatomy of the Experience
As I attempt to define the recipe of this experience, I find two practices that I would consider keys to attacking our sinful habits of heart and mind indirectly. First, if the means that we are exercising do not in and of themselves produce joy in the presence of Jesus then these methods are not likely to work. Therefore, the key is to produce peace and joy in the presence of God. This practice is indirect in that it is not intuitively obvious that the answer to worldly desire is to practice a secret life of worship. This prescription seems rather unrelated and in fact it is. The key though is that the joy of the Lord is our moral strength. Enjoying God is what transforms our affections and it is a deep resolved joy in our relationship with God that produces holy moral action.

Secondly, the path to joy is to enjoy the admission before God of the details of our sinfulness. The fact is that the embrace of grace is deeper realization of our spiritual bankrupt state. Any acts to deny our weakness is a step away from grace. Confession is then an activity through which we are pursuing joy. The conclusion is that we are to pursue joy through savoring the forgiveness of Jesus while sitting in our own moral feces.

Simultaneously saint and sinner,
technorait tags: ; ;

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Easy N' Light

My good friends new blog:
Easy N' Light
My primary ministry partner and close friend is now a pastor at a local RCA church and will be blogging on discipleship regularly. Please put a link on your blog and visit regularly. His politics are lame, but his Christianity is exceptional. LOL

My new blog - Probama

Probama url:
first post: What is Probama?

The Harder Road - Matt 7:13-14

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." - Matthew 7:13-14

One lesson I have learned in the past month of blogging on politics instead of the teachings of Jesus is that the problems facing our country today are far more simple to solve and far less difficult to understand than the problem of following Jesus. I can write two posts a day on economics or politics without resulting in any deep exhaustion at all. But to write insightfully on discipleship is exhausting and difficult to write even one post a week. The problem of life transformation and articulating to others how this way works and how to walk in this way is exponentially more complex and difficult to practice and understand than fixing global finance.

Global finance is easy. Look to the great depression. How did it end? It ended when the US began to focus on arming for World War II. We ran up huge deficits to fund the war on totalitarianism, and America started working again. So, this path is basically what we need to follow. We need to fight a war on something like dependence on foreign oil and carbon emissions. We need to tool up for this economic war on energy imports as if our life depends on it. America will run huge deficits, but we will come out winning the economic war. In so doing, we will set ourselves up for another 50 years of prosperity. Problem solved. Now for more pressing issues and more difficult issues like becoming salt and light to a morally corrupt and self-centered humanity.

Difficult and Pressing
Every other time this word translated here as narrow in verse 14 is used in the New Testament it is translated as afflicted. The road we choose in following Jesus is a road which seriously constricts our freedom. It afflicts our choices, our momentary well being. This road is hard. This road of following Jesus is narrow and marked with moment by moment acts of self restraint and death to our ego and our impulses and we are called to do this through the power of God and not our own strength. This spiritual mandate only complicates the process all the more. Not only do we need to become loving but this love must come from God, and our victories must make us more humble and more worshipful. Nothing could possibly be harder to learn how to actually implement than the way of Christ.

The word used here originates from the idea of pressing grapes into wine. So, the idea is that you will be far more hard pressed trying to follow Jesus than anything else you or I ever attempt in life. Jesus teaches us, warns us in fact, that very few persist along this course long enough to attain the rest and peace that is promised.

The Problem of Discipleship and Becoming Salt and Light
The church is in crisis today. The outcomes of holiness are strikingly absent. In the church, divorce should not even be mentioned among us, but, instead, many church member's marriages fail. Greed is rampant in the world, but is not material self indulgence evident in the church as well? Christians, who are to find the path of peace, often experience tempers flaring in their homes. The cause of this is clearly a lack of training in the ways of Jesus Christ.

The root of this problem is that the way of Jesus, the way of death to self at the deepest level of our being, and the means of confession and conscious contact with God are not taught in the churches. I heard a preacher recently say, "So last week we learned to 'follow the Spirit'". I thought to my self, "Does he realize how difficult it is to follow the Spirit". Learning discernment to follow the Spirit into the path of self-denial and silence and meekness is harder than beating Roger Federer at tennis or Tiger Woods at golf. Yet, we teach it as if it is like taking candy from a baby.

I have a saying, "The Spirit is always saying the same thing". What the Spirit says is "follow Jesus". Following the Spirit is the most difficult thing in all of human experience. To follow the Spirit we need community and mentoring and discernment of our ego and our motives. We need to learn how to practice the presence of God in the midst of being threatened by people with different agendas than us. We have to learn to listen and prefer others and serve and love.

So, here we have a process to learn that is harder than brain surgery, and, yet, in our communities, we approach the task like we approach politics. Everyone has an opinion and everyone's opinion is just that an opinion.

What is needed is quite the opposite. If you wouldn't let a grade school kid perform open heart surgery, do not let a person with a temper, a struggling marriage or a control/ego problem teach people how to follow Jesus. Very few people are experts in the area of discipleship but it is our task to seek out experts and to dedicate our minds and our wills to becoming experts in this the most urgent and most strenuous of all human pursuits.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Happy and Hopeful - Today's New York Times

It is hard for me to put into words the positive emotions I feel as a result of the political changes happening in America. I believe it is a sense of being connected and of being affirmed. I am actually alarmed at the number of situations which bothered me before which are resolved by people of my thinking being in power. I never realized I cared so much.

Primary to all of these feelings is the realization that we now have an intellectual in the White House. It is a huge and central aspect of the philosophy of our household to value education and critical thinking. Better yet, I am not the only one who sees this development. Kristof article in the New York Times today, Obama and the War on Brains, proclaims his hope that a cultural shift could occur in which intellect is no longer seen as a liability but an asset.

Another positive development is how we have thrown the anti-scientific crowd out on its ear so we can reasonably address the economic and climate challenges that confront us, and hallelujah, these problems represent two birds that can be killed with one stone. Al Gore says it all this morning as well in his article on the Economy and Climate Change.

So I woke up this morning and realized that the news papers are filled with people who think like me on these economic and political issues and I feel at home again in America.


Friday, November 07, 2008

False Predictions of Obama - A Sign of Spiritual Disease

In an earlier post, , I stated that my primary motivation for discussing politics is because I desire the church to be a place of fair-minded, balanced, civil dialogue regarding issues of our day like politics, economics, and scientific progress. I would like to take this time to, for the record, articulate some of the dire predictions people of faith have made or claimed concerning an Obama presidency which I believe will prove to be false and therefore prove that political thinking amongst a certain segment of our population is hysterical and irrational. Not only are such false beliefs and predictions irrational but they betray a judgment or demonization of those one disagrees with which is not only partisan but contrary to gospel driven humility and love.

The most extreme views hold that maybe Obama is a secret Muslim or that because of the views of Jeremiah Wright that Obama will undermine our commitment to Israel. I have heard people say that a vote for Obama is a vote against Israel. I have heard people say that if Obama is elected Israel will be attached and that America will not come to her aid. These fear laden predictions seem ludicrous to outsiders but such views are actually present in some circles. At the root of this is a belief that Obama is not patriotic or even that he is anti-American. Certainly there is a belief that Obama does not have a heartfelt religious love of Israel. What is so insidious about these belief is that they are contrary to everything President Obama has stated publicly. Therefore, to hold such beliefs one must hold an irrational conspiratorial worldview and process of analysis of the world and its actors. Such a worldview and such a thinking process is dangerous, uncivil, judgmental, unchristian, and sinful.

Why do I say unchristian and sinful? This is a serious charge which I am making. I boldly characterize this belief as unchristian and sinful because at least the Christian heart and mind should be able to be objective. When feelings cloud one’s vision to negatively view another than these feelings must by definition be negative. The results of such a heart are morally repugnant. Such false and subjectively clouded views of others is the stuff of bigotry and tribalism. Could anything be more contrary to monotheism and the universal declarations of the gospel? Therefore I define such hostile and negative feelings toward another which are based solely on fantasy is the heart of sin. The source of this ill-conceived vision of Obama is bitter and hateful judgments upon whole segments of the human population.

Early signs show how misinformed and erroneous these anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli fears are. President-elect Obama will inevitably surround himself with the best minds in the world and these minds will be almost exclusively Israel loving. Can anyone question the Rahm Emmanuel’s loyalty to Israel and her security? Here is a short article from Jeffrey Goldberg, Rahm Emmanuel and Isreal. Goldberg is a long time friend who says the following about Emmanuel:

he is deeply and emotionally committed to Israel and its safety. We’ve talked about the issue a dozen times; it’s something he thinks about constantly

A second irrational view that finds its source in a fundamentalist and spiritually unhealthy heart is the view that Obama is socialist or a redistributionist. A simple look at the economic advisors that Obama has surrounded himself with, like the Rahm Emmanuel appointment makes this view equally ridiculous. Obama’s economic advisors is a who’s who of the new economy: Warren Buffet, Larry Summers, Tim Guithner, Robert Rubin, Paul Volcker,

From this mornings msnbc Article, Obama Meets with Industry Titans,

In addition to Summers and Volcker, the economic advisory board includes: former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin; former Labor Secretary Robert Reich; Laura Tyson, a former chair of the National Economic Council; Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm; Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, Xerox Chairman Anne Mulcahy and Time Warner Chairman Richard Parsons. Famed billionaire investor Warren Buffett was participating by telephone.

To characterize Obama as socialist, then I guess Buffet et al are socialists as well. What then shall a misguided evangelical do? What is required is a humble submission to the facts? It has been said that republicans need to do a soul searching of a political kind but I suggest instead what is most needed is a deep soul searching of a spiritual and moral kind.

God Bless,

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Christian Ideals and American Ideals - The Obama Dividend

The Editorial pages of the NY Times and others are giving words to the sense of celebration felt here in the US and around the world. Nicholas Kristof, writes in his Obama Dividend editorial this morning that
In Switzerland, an American was bathed in compliments comparing the election to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Jessica watched the results from a bar in Cape Town and wrote: “For the first time in recent memory, I can shout in the streets that I am American and be proud of the progress, hope and color that now define us.”

An awed Tanzanian named Leonard wrote to say that this election has promoted democracy far more effectively than anything the United States could say or do. He ended: “Long live America.”

This resounding sense that we have done something good is a deep Christian value and faith in equality and equal opportunity. I state this love of equality as a profoundly Christian value as a result of the simple reflections on the person of Jesus and the theology of the cross.

Monotheism and Ethics
The life of Jesus was, on one level, the life of a man of humble beginnings and humble means who spoke powerfully and clearly the ethic of love and compassion. Such an ethic is founded on an understanding of monotheism. Monotheism presupposes that all humanity is the offspring of one God not many. This monotheistic foundation is the ultimate foundation of both equality and compassion on the oppressed.

If we are all God's children, we are all equal and all equally loved and cared for. This knowledge which is innate in us is the foundation for compassion and equality.

Today, we celebrate as a human family the triumph of this innate knowledge which resides in the heart of all of us. We are all God's children and His love reaches from the heights of power to the depths of suffering, from the white house to the plains of Kenya.

Praise the Lord,

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Its a Beautiful Day

All I can say is this is a wonderful day, a beautiful day. Not only are we seeing the progress of an American ideal but a Christian ideal. More on this tomorrow.

John McCain's concession speech was classy and patriotic. One of the great things in America is that our leadership succession is peaceful. McCain takes such grace to a new level by seeing the positive and historic significance of the election of Barack Obama.

Praise the Lord,

Voter Repression - Already Starting in Virginia and Pennsylvania

Oy....I hate this.

Voter repression is the ultimate drag. Polls are not opening in Virginia in area, aroung Virginia Tech, and in Pennsylvania.


Hour by Hour Voter Guide

This is the guy from 538. Very good and helpful.

Here is their tipping point graph. These are the states to watch in order of likelihood to be the state that tips the balance.

Monday, November 03, 2008

2008 Presidential Election Scorcard Spreadsheet

For your election returns pleasure, here is a helpful excel spreadsheet to use.
1. Download this file (actual excel spreadsheet). Update: something is wrong with this link. Will change.
2. I am going to sit on the couch with my laptop open and fill in the cells as returns come in and well keep score.
The spread sheet is taken from Rasmussens electoral college projections.
The top is the projections and the bottom section is with the toss-ups and the leaners left blank. Then as the toss-ups and the leaners come in just put them in the columns and the spreadsheet will do all the math.
Here on the left is the pic version just for reference.
WOW..24 hours to go....

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Last Gallup Poll for the 2008 Presidential Election- Breaks even Harder for Obama

Latest Nov 2, 2008 Gallup Poll

Check out Gallup numbers in the last two elections:
2000and 2004

In 2000, The poll shows Bush +2. The actual was Gore +.5. So it was about 2.5% off.

In 2004, the poll shows Bush/Kerry even. The actual was Bush +2. So the poll was again off by 2%. Both are obviously within the margin of error.

The most famous Gallup screw up was the Truman/Dewey in 1948. But the story there strangely was that the last poll was in mid-October. The poll was famously off by 5%.

BUT!!!!!! - Obama is up in the traditional likely voter polls by 11% traditional likely and 13% among registered voters.

Political Dialogue in the Christian Community

For many years of blogging and participation in Christian communities of faith, I have been rather vehement in my anti-political stance. As of late, for what I believe is affection for the church, I have decided to be more vocal about my political sensibilities.

The motivation behind this entrance into political discussion is a conviction that healthy dialogue on non-essential matters of faith needs to be open, civil, fluid, diverse and joyful and that the place for this discussion can and ought to be within the context of christian community. The fact of the matter is that at present political discourse in the church can be better described as closed, static, monolithic and bitter. This closed and monolithic political ideology within conservative christian community (of which I am an ardent member and supporter) has become outdated, anti-intellectual, and divisive.

The present political election with its transformational issues (issues which are not altogether political in nature) surfaces the need within the church for an environment in which decidedly Christian dialogue can flourish.

I personally have an emotional and visceral connection to the more transformational elements of the Obama candidacy. I find myself driven by motivations that I sense are more aesthetic in nature than driven by policy considerations.

Therefore, I find my love for the church and my vision for the church to become a place of this sort of dialogue to be the primary reason for spending my energy in political discussion and contemplation of late.

My prayer is that the church may we become a place where we make a place for believers to express and give voice to their beliefs and visions for both our nation and our faith communities.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Predictions - Obama by 10 Million - Updated Hourly

What I am going to predict is that Obama will do better than the polls show. I predict he will win the popular vote by greater than 7% or about 53-46. A landslide would be if Obama won by 10 million popular votes. This would require a huge turnout. I predict that the polls are underestimating the enthusiasm of the Obama base and the effectiveness of the Obama campaign's ground game for the GOTV effort.
It is all turnout, turnout, turnout!!!!

I predict this for the following reasons:
1. Obama is a better candidate than both Kerry and Gore and they kept it close.

2. Obama has run a better campaign than the Kerry and Gore campaigns and Kerry and Gore kept it close.

3. McCain though a better candidate than Bush has run a worse campaign than Bush. McCain has not shown any discipline with respect to message. He has shown no elegance as a candidate. Worst of all, McCain has not run a campaign with enthusiasm for his own vision and ideas.

4. McCain has not generated enthusiasm amongst the great silent moderate majority.

5. Barack will win the following Bush states: North Carolina, Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, Virginia, New Mexico. That is 59 Electoral College votes. McCain can really only take Pennsylvania and I think he might take Pennsylvania because Pennsylvania does not have early voting. OK..the big one to look at I think is Georgia. If Obama wins Georgia, this cycle represents a total democrat landslide. A win in Georgia would mean that African-American turnout substantially changed the outcome of not just Georgia but the whole nation.

6. The African-American vote is going to be relatively huge!!!! In 2004, 15 million African Americans voted. Overall, the enthusiasm for Obama will inevitably increase turnout of African Americans to levels of 120% of the 2004 number for an increase of 3 million votes.

7. Overall voter turnout has been growing: 100 million in 2000, 122 million in 2004, and a projected 135 million in 2008. These extra voters are going to turn out for Obama at least 60-40 for an extra margin of victory of 5 million total popular votes.

8. Youth are traditionally the lowest turnout. This stat will change and break heavy for Obama.

9. The Obama campaign has pushed early voting far more than McCain. This just adds to the tactical advantage of Obama.

As this all begins to add up, could it be that Obama wins by 9-10 million votes with these margins leading to a landslide of the swing states as well.

Some election watch hints just to help your viewing pleasure:
1. If Indiana goes to Obama, we are seeing an example of a phenomena of political execution and the mobilization of an entirely new segment of the population that has changed the demographics of the electorate significantly.
2. Missouri: When I look at polls, I always just assume McCain will take Missouri. If Obama takes Missouri, this points to a toss-up landslide.
3. New Hampshire: This is McCain's favorite state. If Obama wins, I think this means there is no room left for republicans in the intellectual east.
4. Ohio: I mentioned above Ohio as a Obama state. Basically, if we don't have to wait all night for an answer to Ohio then Texas becomes the last republican machine in the country.
5. North Carolina: Bush won North Carolina by 12% in both 2004 and 2000. Obama may not win but if it is close that will be a sign of the power of his GOTV work and the African American vote especially via early voting. I think a good way to look at this is that the Obama campaign has tried to win this thing one vote at a time. If it goes well, this is a great testimony of the reality of grassroots democracy. I think this will restore American faith in the process. BUT the opposite is true if Obama loses. This is the worst case scenario and we all know what that means.
6. The Impossible: South Carolina (see video)

Overall, I understand how McCain is trying to sell the idea that Obama is measuring the drapes. The race feels like the wait and see is not who wins but by how much will Obama win by. If instead McCain wins...I will not even for a second try to explain such a culturally bizarre outcome.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Voter Registration Fraud and Voter Fraud

I just voted early and noticed one very conspicuous fact. No one asked me for my ID.

I am posting to ask if anyone understands how fraud is controlled.

When I voted today, there were no controls over whether I was an actual person or if I was who I said I was. Now, I admit I do not know how voting and voter registration is controlled, but this does not seem very controlled to me.

This lack of control if coupled with voter registration fraud it appears to me could easily lead to voter fraud. I am not speculating that this is actually happening BUT asking if anyone knows how fraud is controlled or not controlled as the case may be.

Could I not register as Joe Plumber and then vote as Joe Plumber. As far as I can tell, there was no control against such an occurrence.


P.S. I voted at the Registrar in Norwalk, California.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Comparing Reagan to Obama - Size of Lead

Reagan Wins Landslide Victory

This is a cool article in the following:
1. Reagans margin of victory was 9%. In American politics, 9% can be a landslide. Reagan did later beat Mondale by 18%. (see chart below) . Nixon won by 24% and LBJ by 23%
2. Carter got class. Carter is a great man even if he didn't understand economics. We have learned a lot in the last 28 years.

What have we learned: Class politics is bad economics. High wages helps demand. Support for business and corporate welfare creates jobs.
Update: Recent margins of victory:

Krugman on Seriousness and Strenuous Thought

Serious Times and Trivial Campaigning Don't Mix

This is similar to my post on strenuous thought. This is a vital point: If there is a silver lining to the current crisis, maybe it will provide a serious blow to American Anti-intellectualism.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Debt as a Percentage of GDP

Here is a fact. By the late 1940's the debt as a percentage of GDP was about 110%.

Here is the best graph I can find. It shows the debt from the '50s to present. The point is EXPECT HUGE DEFICITS TO BAIL US OUT OF THE PRESENT CRISIS. The debt could go to about 15+ trillion (GNP is around 12 trillion)

I think the question of sacrifice is a valid one. What is ahead of us is some heavy sacrifices including a season of HUGE deficits followed by an era of higher taxes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Stimulus Package and The Need for Wealth Distribution

In my first post on the financial crisis, The Depression in the Financial Markets – The Solution is Wage Inflation via Tax Policy posted on September 16th, I suggested that the root cause of our financial woes is ultimately a lack of demand. At the root of this problem is wealth inequality.

The middle class squeeze leads to low consumer confidence. People begin to stop spending. For example, high gas prices pulled people's discretionary funds into fuel and retail sales of items like cars begins to slow. Such a trend begins to spiral into recession. The root cause is a lack of wages rising with prices of vital items. Low wages lead to lowered demand which leads to recession.

In the current crisis, this slowing demand is multiplied by a crisis in the financial markets. The financial crisis has many causes but one of them is that on the fringes people that are squeezed begin to default on their homes. In situations where financial institutions are highly leveraged the result is failed banks.

So what is needed of course is a bailout of the financial institutions by creating liquidity and the government acting as the guarantee of certain failing types of financial services. Basically, the government has to inject into the system more cash. This addresses the financial crisis but what about the recession. The recession is addressed by one fundamental type of action. The government must put money in the hands of consumers. This happens though tax cuts, a stimulus plan and general wealth distribution.

Yes, wealth distribution.
Why Wealth Distribution is Needed
Lets simplify the scenario to make the situation clear. Let's say that one person owns all the food and has all the cash. What will happen to his food selling business. The food will rot and the people will starve. The problem is people cannot buy the food. There is no demand. In this situation, in order to save the wealthy man's business, he has to give money to the consumer. In order to stop a recession and save capitalism requires wealth distribution when wealth inequalities are overly polarized.

Life is like a game of monopoly. If one person has all the money, the game is over. The game comes to a halt. In order to start the game again, you have to give some money to the losers. In times like these, we need demand side economics to drive demand and re-start the economy. Some politicians may call this socialism but in fact this is simply economics 101.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Uncommon Wisdom - The Need for a Life of Strenuous Thought

I often quote what I think is a quote from Charles Spurgeon in reference to George W. Bush. Spurgeon said, “It takes thirty years to prepare a sermon”. His point is that inspiration and insight into the mind of God and the scope of the themes of scripture takes a lifelong commitment to the study of scripture and its application in one’s personal life. Such a quest involves a life of strenuous contemplation of the ways of God. Such a life is a arduous seeking for wisdom.

The bible calls us to seek wisdom in our youth so that in the time of calamity she may be found. The fool, in their moment of need, will cry out for wisdom and she will not be found. Wisdom or skill in any area of life is not easy to come by but must be diligently sought over a lifetime.

In today’s world, this is even more true. We live in an ever increasingly complex world. In our modern way of life, if we are to contribute to society we must become a specialist and an expert. The wisdom of expertise only comes from a lifelong quest for knowledge in one’s chosen are of focus.

The founding fathers were stunning in their commitment to the study of governance. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were intellectuals in the extreme. Out of the strenuous work to understand the history of governance, they studied the history of the Classical period and were literate in the original languages of the Greco-roman world. John Quincy Adams was instructed to read Cicero in the original Latin by his father when he was a mere twelve year old boy. The seeking of knowledge and wisdom was considered a civic duty. The fact of the matter is that wisdom is not a commonly held commodity and common sense is no wisdom at all.

But in the 21st century, we have come to believe that if a person is “one of us” and is not an elite or overly educated person, then he or she is more likely to have the common sense needed to represent us and understand us. This principle flies in the face of the reality of the process of obtaining wisdom in any area of life. Would we want one of “us” common uneducated folk performing open heart surgery on our father or proposing a treatment for our wife’s breast cancer. Do we want the doctor who finished in the bottom quarter of his class? I contend that it is even more difficult to govern a nation.

Do you want a doctor to fix your car or a car mechanic to do your plumbing? Neither ought we to expect a business man to be an expert at governing.

If we have learned anything from the Bush years, it should be that we do not want a common mediocre student or intellect as President of the United States of America. The myth that the elite students of the world make poor leaders is simply nonsensical. Real problems, complex problems, require the best and the brightest that the nation can offer if we are to find the nuanced and balanced solution that can withstand the test of time. What we need are intellectuals and students of history to lead the institutions that effect us as a society, both church and government. What we need is a person who has struggled to understand and sought wisdom all his days. If we have learned anything from recent years, may this be the lesson we have learned.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Health Care - Krugman Article

This week is definitely going to be about mudslinging tactics (or is that strategy?) and health care policy. I admit Krugman of the NYT seems to just speak DNC talking points, but the guy is a pretty smart guy. Great article this morning.

Krugman on health care.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Financial Bailout defeat in Congress - A Cowardly Lack of Leadership

For many years, I refused to delve into politics or economics for that matter as I did not want such issues to alienate people from the message of the Kingdom. Times have changed and the need for voices is urgent. Such voices are not coming from congress.

In a move that is pure politics, house members on both sides of the aisle ignored reality and listened to the panic of their constituents. Such caving to public outcry is not leadership.

David Brooks says it well, in his Nihilist Revolt editorial in the NYT:

They (congress) have failed utterly and catastrophically to project any sense of authority, to give the world any reason to believe that this country is being governed.

showed the world how much they detest their own leaders and the collected expertise of the Treasury and Fed. They did the momentarily popular thing.

What we need in this situation is authority.

The American century was created by American leadership, which is scarcer than credit just about now.

What has happened is "chickens coming home to roost". The republicans and some liberal democrats have such disdain for government that they refuse to lead with government action. The following are elements of this total inability to lead:
1. Ideology. We have seen the fruit of ideology in the Bush administration. Ideology is the stubborn adherence to ideals without regard to the changes in situations and circumstances. This is not a time for conservative ideals. What is needed is pragmatism and nuance.
2. Politics. When acting in a crisis one must let the facts and our reason guide us and public opinion must be ignored. Such political expediency transcends party affiliation. Such are our times.
3. Anti-intellectualism: As I listen to the naysayers of government action, I am appalled by the lack of depth and both presidential candidates are not helping the discussion. Where is Robert Rubin? Where is Robert Reich? We need students of history to solve difficult problems like those we face today. In the dialogue, there is no substance. Such depth what really amounts to wisdom is the product of a life of strenuous study of policy and governance. Unfortunately, the public no longer trusts intellectuals so they place "one of our own" in office. That's fine if there is no need to solve a difficult problem. Now the chickens have come home to roost.

We must question ourselves as to whether this is the first major blow to the head of American leadership in the world. It is time we begin placing in leadership both in the church and the state leaders who are equipped intellectually to look the facts in the face and take pragmatic and effectual action.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Understanding N.T. Wright - Tools for the Task – Part 2 - Critical Realism part 1

In my first post, Tools for the Task part 1, I discussed N.T. Wright overarching goal or his life work. N.T. Wright has embarked upon what he calls the Third Quest. Wright’s quest is to, in light of the abundance of extra-biblical evidence concerning 1st Century Judaism, develop a historically grounded hypothesis about how Christianity developed. A key quote for N.T. Wright, having reflected upon the first two quests for the historical Jesus is “when all was said and done, they dug a well and found at the bottom a reflection of themselves.” Wright is saying that these theologians used methodologies which were not critical enough and their conclusions ended up being a reflection of their own preconceived worldviews. What happened in the 20th century quests for the historical Jesus is that the theologians did not utilize the proper historian’s “Tools for the Task”. The result is the pop culture misconceptions about Christian origins which I wrote about in Part 1 of this series.

The First Tool for the Task – Critical Realism
Defining Critical
In our family, I often ask my older children the question, “What is the worst thing a person can be?” The answer they usually give is, “A compliant thinker”. Next I ask, “And what is the opposite of a compliant thinker?” The answer they give, “A critical thinker”. In my mind, one of the great enemies in the 21st Century is anti-intellectualism. To use our intellect and to be lifelong learners, we must understand what it means to be a critical thinker.

A critical thinker is a person who is constantly pursuing a revision of two perspectives: first, the perspective given to us and, second, our own perspective. In other words, a true critical thinker is constantly aware of how his own preconceptions and the preconceptions of others undermine learning and getting the process of getting closer and closer to reality. This critical approach is the first tool for the task which is the critical side of critical realism. To be critical means being constantly aware of the role that perspective plays in the telling and listening of any and all truth claims. Being critical is in many ways the foundation of the scientific method. We are constantly seeking to re-evaluate and therefore improve our understanding of reality by questioning and challenging both our own understanding and the accepted wisdom. We ask ourselves, “Is there another perspective which can help me see things clearly? What is the tellers stance? What is my stance?" We are always aware that, as subjects, both the teller of the truth and the hearer of the truth participates in the knowing process. Therefore, as learners we must use certain tools to be enable us to be skillful critics of both ourselves and the accepted wisdom in order to be active and skillful critical thinkers. To be a critical thinker, one must be both arrogant enough to question the accepted dogma and humble enough to critique one’s own preconceptions.

So that is the critical part of “Critical realism”. The next term to understand is the term "realism”. I will discuss this term in the next post. As we proceed, with other terms which N.T. Wright spends considerable time defining including, “worldview”, “theology”, “story”, “hypothesis and verification”, we will come to see how incredibly helpful these tools are to understanding both the biblical texts and the origins of Christianity.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Week Round Up - Financial Crisis

This week I for the first time got a little passionate about policy. In these posts,
1. The Depression in the Financial Markets – The Solution is Wage Inflation via Tax Policy
2. More on the Financial Crisis
My approach is to actually look at the root of the financial problems. Look beyond deregulation and the need for more liquidity to why are people defaulting on their mortgages.

What the government has done is protect money market mutual funds which is absolutely essential to assure that these safe havens are sustained. These are funds that many companies use to hold cash that ultimately is needed to make payroll. But this is only an emergency measure. The root causes are not yet being deeply and honestly discussed.

Here is a fact -

The pricier loans in the jumbo category racked up delinquency rates that are more than triple what they were just a year ago, and those overdue payment statistics may quadruple before the end of 2008. - Sept 2, 2008

Jumbo prime mortgages are foreclosing. The definition of a jumbo is a loan that is beyond the limits for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (which is $417,000). The real reason the mortgages that are failing are jumbos is because jumbo loans are needed to buy houses in the market since the housing boom of 2002-2006. But nonetheless, the people failing these types of mortgages are prime borrowers.

Also what is happening is that due to inflation MANY people are forced to take out HELOCs to pay the bills. This puts the first mortgage at risk. All this comes back to wages and inflation.

Everyone normally looks at the "the mortgage crisis" but seemingly ignores at least one side of the mortgage problem: low wages with respect to inflation and the middle class squeeze. Everyone seems to think the only problem with the low value of mortgage backed securities is the sub-prime problem, but this is not the source. These fire-priced mortgages that Lehman owned were not sub-prime but "alt-A" and "prime Jumbos". What happened is that these specific types of securities were being downgraded from the "AAA" rating. This downgrade forces money market mutual funds to sell as these funds are required to only hold "AAA" assets.

Why are alt-A graded loans failing? An alt-A is really a loan to a person with a credit score of 580-680 (below 580 is sub-prime)? It has to be because these people's wages didn't grow as expected in a normal cycle. The current statistics are worse than normal. Folks, this has to be wages.

I still hold to wages and inflation being at the root of the problem. The thing to look out for in the policy of a given candidate is what policies will be put in place to deal with the following:
1. Out-sourcing
2. Middle class tax cuts
3. Alternative ways to incentivize wage growth


Thursday, September 18, 2008

More on the Financial Crisis

This is my second political posts in two days...If you haven;t read the first post read it here:
The Root Cause of the Financial Depression

This second post is my editorializing on today's freakonomics post in the NYT.

Why did Freddie and Fanny fail:
Update; WaMu is up for sale today. WaMu is the biggest savings and loan in America

From the NYT: Diamond and Kashyap on the Recent Financial Upheavals

Fannie and Freddie were weakly supervised and strayed from the core mission. They began using their subsidized financing to buy mortgage-backed securities which were backed by pools of mortgages that did not meet their usual standards. Over the last year, it became clear that their thin capital was not enough to cover the losses on these subprime mortgages.

Why did Lehman fail:
…Why did the financing dry up? For months, short-sellers were convinced that Lehman’s real-estate losses were bigger than it had acknowledged. As more bad news about the real estate market emerged, including the losses at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, this view spread….Lehman’s costs of borrowing rose and its share price fell. With an impending downgrade to its credit rating looming, legal restrictions were going to prevent certain firms from continuing to lend to Lehman.

Again can you say housing….It all goes back to people trying to turn sub-prime mortgages and Lehman and Fannie and Freddie and everyone else sports fans are caught holding the bag. Why did this happen? Because in Bush’s first term, it was politically expedient to push home ownership especially in light of the opportunity due to de-regulation.

How about A.I.G.
Here it is…
A.I.G. had to raise money because it had written $57 billion of insurance contracts whose payouts depended on the losses incurred on subprime real-estate related investments. While its core insurance businesses and other subsidiaries (such as its large aircraft-leasing operation) were doing fine, these contracts, called credit default swaps (C.D.S.’s), were hemorrhaging.

Why did this housing market problem happen?
People took too much risk and believed that something had changed in housing and therefore prices would never go down. This was a really stupid idea based in wishful thinking. The only way we could have believed this was that when all these sub-prime variable mortgage loans came due there would be INFINITE DEMAND for houses. But instead, there was a glut of houses and very little demand. Why so little demand? Low wages.

So why did people choose to believe what amounts to self-deception?
Greed and because de-regulation allowed them to do it. To do what, to put all of us at risk for the big bucks.

So this is my point about why it makes no sense in my mind for Christians to believe in republican free-market ideology. We as Christians know that the world is driven by greed and the will to power. So why are we against regulating greed and power in the markets. Because Christians have been duped by right wing politics that bundled together right to life issues and right wing economic dogma.

So why did we fall for this trap? It is because of our anti-intellectualism and our lack of thoughtful dialogue in our own communities about politics and other such issues. There is no room for discussion because there is such a huge social cost for not heeding the party line. Trust me. I know.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Depression in the Financial Markets – The Solution is Wage Inflation via Tax Policy

My annual political post...

From the very beginning, I was against the Bush tax cuts. Back then, I refused to enter the fray of politics as a pastor, so I kept my mouth shut except around the dinner table. The reason I was against the Bush tax cuts is that I do not believe in the ideology of supply side economics in the information age. There is too much access to market data, and, therefore, businesses do not invest in growth without strong demand data. Due to the access to data, the 21st century is a demand driven economic world. What is needed today is a balanced approach which supports business and also supports the consumer. Immediately, we need a pendulum swing toward support for the consumer. The crisis we are in today is 100% the result of a lack of money in the hands of the consumer caused by relative wage deflation. Let me explain.

In our current financial crisis, the problem is that the financial markets are getting tight. Insurance and mortgage companies like AIG are having trouble getting credit to make and insure loans. The result is we have a bottleneck in the financial system. The cause of this bottleneck is because AIG and others cannot put up enough collateral for the loans they need. Why all of a sudden are the big financial institutions unable to put up enough collateral? It is because the only real paper of value that they hold is “mortgage backed securities”. It ain’t called real estate for nothing. As we all are so very aware, people are defaulting on mortgages. Therefore, mortgage backed securities are not great collateral. It all comes down to the housing market.

Well, who pays mortgages? Well, people do. The middle class pays mortgages, and the only way to slow down the bleeding in the housing market is to increase the cash in the hands of the middle class. Currently, the middle class is experiencing the big squeeze. In simple terms, us middle class folk will rent before we will starve. We will default on our mortgage and rent before we will stave our children. Thus, the middle class home owner numbers are shrinking, and the lower middle class renters numbers are exploding. This is the big American economic nightmare. The answer to this housing/mortgage problem is not a stimulus plan. The money is not in the coffers of the government. Excluding the sub-prime side of the mortgage crisis, the problem is wealth inequality and relative wage deflation.

The actual big money that is needed to bail the system out is in the hands of employers in the form of business profits. Sorry sports fans but the real root cause of this problem is two-fold. First, it is an ideological drive to support supply side economic policy (i.e. republicanism) and its big policy application, the Bush tax cuts. The fact is the trickle-down didn’t trickle down in the global economy of the 21st Century. Greed got the best of us this time.

The answer is simple – tax policy. What must happen is the government must make a tax policy which gives tax credits to businesses for wage increases. If a company shows an increase in wages to employees, then they get a tax credit. Otherwise, they get a big fat tax increase on profit. This problem we are in is a serious housing crisis that only employers can solve and employers will only solve this problem by raising wages when the government forces their hand. The only question is how hard the government should push.

The bottom line is it all comes down to demand and, specifically, demand for MORTGAGES. The only way to drive demand for mortgages is to increase the wages of the middle class. The only people who can increase the wages of the middle class are employers and the only way this can happen is TAX POLICY.

Jesus is the Christ - The Promise That We Will Never Thirst

All the Promises are Yes and Amen in Christ
Jesus the Christ Promises that His disciples will Never Thirst

We have so far established that the Gospel is the proclamation that “Jesus is the Christ”. Next, we need to understand the extent of the change we can expect as a result this new reality that Jesus is the Christ, the Lord of heaven and earth. Life as human beings know it and as we experience life has changed profoundly. In this section, I intend to elaborate upon the scope of this new life we can experience. Looking at human existence and at the 21st Century church, we might think that certainly not every thing has changed. Life is certainly not “heaven on earth” for every Christian. Also, many preachers in the church take advantage of people by promising blessings from the Gospel that are not actually promised. Nonetheless, my aim is to show that at the most important aspect of human experience a great change has taken place which effects our experience of life quite profoundly and to such a positive extent that our testimony will be that we have found the key to life and happiness. So let’s look at what aspect of human experience that has changed now that Jesus is the Christ and that he is Lord of both heaven and earth.

An overview of the Promises that Jesus makes to those who place their faith in Him
To understand the transformation of life which Jesus brings it makes sense to look first at the promises Jesus Himself made to those who place their faith in Him as the Christ.

Let’s begin with an over view of the gospel of John.
In John 4, Jesus, speaking to a Samaritan woman says,
“If you knew the gift of God and who it is who says to you ‘give Me a drink’, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water…whoever drinks of the water that I give him will never thirst”.

Picking up the metaphor of water in chapter 7, Jesus says,
“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the scriptures said, ‘from his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.”

John the author explains in the next verse saying,
“This He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive”.

Here Jesus is bolding making Messianic claims by saying that the promises of a time of refreshing and restoration had arrived in Himself and that the promise of a river of living water would come to all who put their faith in Him as the Christ. So what does this promise of “never thirsting” and having from our innermost being flowing a river of living water.

First, what does it mean that whoever drinks of the water that I give him will never thirst.
First, this promise is a reference to the believer’s experience. To thirst and to have that thirst quenched with spring water is the analogy Jesus uses to describe the blessings that He brings to those who believe in Him. Consider a man lost and without water for a day or two. He hears from a fellow traveler that there is a spring about five miles due west. The man points the way to the spring. The direction is clear and the man gives a few land marks to follow. Our thirsty man starts in this direction. He goes over the hill and sees in the distance a pool of water. He begins to pick up his pace and begins to feel hopeful. With the water about twenty feet in front of him, he smiles in relief. Everything is going to be alright. He sits at the pool of water and begins to drink. He can feel the satisfaction of his body. He splashes his face. He rests and spends a few hours drinking deeply. This is a picture of the Christian life. Christianity is not about hoping to one day drink but Jesus says He will send His spirit and we will actually drink to our satisfaction and this experience of satisfaction will flow from us and satisfy others. We not only will drink from the well of blessing that Christ brings to us but we will be a source of this blessing to others.

Often Christianity is seen as a journey to heaven or a life of hope but in Jesus’ promise Christianity is not a life of hope or a life of hoping to one day drink the living water but is a life of actual drinking. Jesus gives us water and we drink it. This point is essential to understand. The experience of faith is not the experience of hope that helps one endure. This would be to describe the Spirit like a map directing one on a journey to water and life as the journey, but this is not the metaphor Jesus gives. Jesus says that we will actually drink the water. The promise of Jesus the Christ is that whoever is thirsty “let him come to me AND DRINK”. The life of the disciple is not essentially one of being inspired and encouraged to continue in the journey but to regularly arrive at an experience of drinking. This speaks of a spiritual experience of actual conscious connection with the Spirit of God which results in satisfaction and restoration.

The analogy of the man in the desert actually can be contrasted with the Christian walk in that the desert traveler’s level of desperation is not experienced by the disciple of Jesus as shown by the saying “never thirst”. The disciple is never so distant from the Spirit as to have his dryness be described as thirst. Personally, I do not know if in the physical sense I have ever actually experienced thirst. I have certainly had an experience where I desired to be satisfied by water but never in a situation where I was desperate for water. I have all my life lived in a home or was near running water. All I have ever had to do was to make a short walk and I could satisfy my thirst. Never have I been in a situation where I was at a loss as to where I could get water to satisfy my thirst. So too with the disciple, who has learned how to follow Jesus or as we shall see learned how to follow the teachings of Jesus. The disciple is a person who has learned how to get to and how to drink spiritually.

To explain this essential point I must jump ahead a little. In the next section, I will discuss mankind’s true problem as a lack of ability to live beautifully and morally. The root of this inability is a lack of conscious contact with our Father in heaven. Our emotional make-up “under the sun”, in a state of separation from conscious awareness of God according to the truth, is to lack what it takes emotionally and psychologically to love in every circumstance. The difference between the disciple and natural person is how we respond to conflict. The disciple who has deep in his or her emotional make-up an awareness of God’s love has the power to turn the other cheek and forgive and love his enemy from the heart. The power to live beautifully and morally and filled with unconditional love is conscious experience of God in the moment of conflict.

For example, I met just the other day a man who drank himself to sleep every night. He was filled with self-loathing that he could not drive from his consciousness without the aid of serious self-medication. This man is experiencing desperate thirst. He is filled with 10,000 various forms of fear and anger. His need is discipleship. Discipleship is the process where through obedience to the spiritual ways of Jesus our perspective on life becomes immersed in the presence of the grace and love of God. This new awareness of God empowers us to live a life satisfied by God alone, and, having learned this way, we are equipped to give to others a cup of water to quench their thirst.

This ability to satisfy one’s spiritual need like a person drinking water is not an ability all Christians possess. This ability is the outcome of the process of discipleship. Many Christians who have never been discipled are as spiritually dissatisfied and live lives just as dysfunctional as anyone. More on this later.

So this first saying of Jesus reveals that Jesus promised us that we would experience a life of satisfaction which He calls “never thirsting”. This is a promise which few have faith to believe but the fact is Jesus said it and to believe in Jesus is to believe Jesus. If we remain thirsting then the problem is a lack of understanding of the dicipleship process in our life. We lack the training on how to go about the process of drinking. The answer is not to lessen the promise but to acept the challenge to become a student of Jesus and enter into the promises of the Christ.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Kingdom Living - Inaugurated Eschatology

Here is my idea of the day:
We live before God not "just as if we had never sinned" BUT just as if Adam had never sinned.

Balanced by being wise as serpents and innocent as doves, but you get the idea.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Understanding N.T. Wright – Part 1 - Tools for the Task

“Tools for the Task” from The New Testament and the People of God

Introducing the Question of Christian Origins

Upon reading “Tools for the Task”, part II of N.T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God, I found the principles so helpful that I feel compelled to share the wealth. This section is pretty heavy lifting for the uninitiated layman like myself. My aim here is to shed some light on how the principles, the Tools for the Task, that Bishop Wright introduces to the reader are actually quite common sense but also quite profound and practical.

To understand the epistemological framework that N.T. Wright is building as the Tools for the Task of his study of Christian Origins, it is helpful to know the kind of knowledge he will be attempting to obtain. In his life work, Christian Origins and the Question of God, Bishop Wright is attempting to answer some very pertinent and practical questions. In our 21st Century western culture, there is great confusion surrounding the origins of Christianity. This quagmire of opinions plays itself out in the media, in academia, and in the minds of both the educated and the not so educated. It seems every pseudo-intellectual with a Mocha Frappuccino has an opinion about the origins of the Christian faith, and all these opinions seem to be a pop version of the last 100 years of academic criticism. N.T. Wright’s quest is to utilize sound historical and philosophical methods to make a systematically thorough analysis of the question of Christian origins.

Many of the scenarios that play out in the popular culture in the form of popular myth surround the question of “Who is Jesus?” One common myth is that Jesus never proclaimed himself to be the Messiah. In this view, it was only the church that developed these messianic claims. In this scenario, we have Jesus of Nazareth, the “historical Jesus”, on the one hand, and the Christ of faith, the creation of the church, on the other. Such a view is quite well-developed within both academia and the popular mind. The fact is that academic, “historical”/critical research and theory has found its way into almost every nook and cranny of the popular mind. One example of the popular mind is quite archetypically represented by the pop icon John Lennon when he said, “I’m all right with Jesus but his followers were a bunch of stupid blokes.” This sentiment takes as accepted knowledge the dogma of the popular myth of Christian origins. This perspective accepts a restructuring of history which sees Jesus as an enlightened mystic, but the apostles or the biblical writers (that is, the early church) as primitive-minded folk who misguided their faith into Jesus and thus created the personality cult of Christianity.

Such a view takes many forms in the popular mind. For example, I have an acquaintance, an intelligent and educated man, who believes that the most likely scenario is that Jesus didn’t even ever exist. This reconstruction starts with the idea that there is a gap between the historical Jesus and the Christian faith as developed by the biblical writers and takes this gap to its logical extreme. This scenario simply says that if what we know about Jesus is actually the construction of the minds of the biblical writers, and if this construction is divorced from actual historical events, then on what basis do we believe that there was ever even a Jesus to begin with? The assumption is that there are actually no historical events which are the referents of the biblical texts. The biblical texts, from this perspective, represent entirely the mind of first-century fanatics. So the question is, "how do we know or can we even come to know anything at all about the actual historical events referred to by the biblical texts?" Answering these questions is vital because the historical events are the actual ground of historic Christianity.

As we ask these questions in order to uncover the history behind Christianity, (i.e. Christian origins), it will not do to simply either accept or reject biblical authority. This is the approach of the anti-intellectuals otherwise known as fundamentalists. Biblical authority as the sole basis for our epistemology is fundamentally circular logic. How do we know the truthfulness of the biblical history? We read the bible. It is easy to see the circularity of this reasoning. Instead, we must develop some tools for the task. In my next post, I will discuss what appears to me and to N.T. Wright as the best way forward.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Moral as Opposed to Ontological Nature of Character

Christianity is learned more like gymnastics than geometry.

In discipleship, it is vital that we realize we are teaching practices and activities and often activities of the heart. The practicioner eventually becomes skilled at these activities. Such an activity might be something like the skill of not resisting evil in the moment of conflict. This is a complex skill that take a lot of practice not the least of which is acts of prayer and practicing the prssence of God.

Goal of all activities is to develop a skill that translates into habit. The activity is to become reflexive or habitual. When an activity is a reflex or is habitual then that activity is said to be part of the persons character. In this model, character is not seen as something ontological but something moral. The reality is that the person with the character trait has a particular moral habit. By moral, I mean that the activity is a path taken in the context of many possible actions. Morally we exist in the realm of possibility. When a particular action or activity is taken consistently and habitually then the activity is called character. Character is then an aguired skill. Therefore, character is a moral choice that is made habitually. The actor has a moral skill or ability to perform the moral actions consistently.

Such character is learned more like gymnastics than geometry.


Thursday, May 01, 2008

Jesus is the Christ – The Gospel Proper

I have noticed a huge gap in the thinking of today’s Christian. It is that when I ask what does “Jesus is the Christ” mean very few people give even a vaguely sufficient answer. If we do not know the content of this foundational Christian truth, then dare I say that we do not know the Gospel!!!

In all the literature, I find very little that gives a valid emphasis or a valid definition to the proclamation of the early church that "Jesus is the Christ". This is a serious problem.

Peter’s confession was just this that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. John wrote His gospel “that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ and that by believing we might have an eternal quality of life”. Yet, we do not believe that Jesus is the Christ if we do not understand what is meant by the proclamation “Jesus is the Christ”.

Here is the biggest problem in the Church and is at the root of all, yes all, our theological confusion and lack of moving forward in following Jesus, we do not, generally, know the promises that are granted through faith in the Gospel that the Christ has come.

Most people when I ask what does Jesus is the Christ mean say it means he is our savior and that He died for our sin. Certainly, the Christ did save us by dying for our sin. This event of the cross is in fact the central work of the Christ, but this is not the totality at all of what it means to believe that Jesus is the Christ. If we believe that the Christ means that God sent His Son to die for us then faith in the Gospel provides forgiveness of sin. If this is the Gospel, then it follows that the result is that those who believe this gospel will one day die and be granted access to heaven. The response to this is to serve Him out of gratitude. This is how the gospel is most often presented. But this is only a partial gospel.

Jesus is the Christ means much more than our sins being forgiven.

Jesus is the Christ means that the Christ, the anointed King whom God promised to send has come and He reigns over all heaven and earth in wisdom and power. The promise is that when the Christ comes He will bring to earth the kingdom of God. To believe the gospel is to believe first that Jesus is the Christ and that He is alive. Therefore all the promises are yes and amen in Him for He is the promised Christ. Because the Christ has come and He has poured out His Spirit on all who believe, we are now empowered to follow Him into His kingdom. The kingdom of God is within our reach today. The Christ has come!!!

The immediate relevance of this message is absolutely life changing. If the Christ has come, then every thing has changed, and in deed every thing has. We have access to the presence of God through His death and we walk in His power over sin and all our spiritual enemies because of His authority. I could go on and on but for this post suffice it to say that the key of keys for our generation is to rediscover the biblical gospel that Jesus is the Christ and to understand all the depths of the promises of God that are implied in this proclamation. If we begin first with understanding and believing this message then we will find that what necessarily follows is faith for the immediate presence of the kingdom


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Faith in Jesus as the Christ; Faith for the Kingdom of God

I remember when I was in seminary, one of my professors said that when we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” that we were praying for the second coming of Christ. This view, though extreme, is believed to a strong degree in the churches today. In the last post, I attempted to explain that whatever the kingdom is the kingdom is at hand. By at hand, Jesus meant “within reach”. The kingdom has drawn near to you, reach out and grab it through repentance and faith.

So the view of the kingdom as the return of Christ is a total misreading of what Jesus meant by the term the kingdom and it is at exactly this point that the church has gotten the gospel fundamentally wrong. The gospel promises the kingdom to the believers and we are to repent and press into the kingdom. This is in fact the meaning of the term “Christ”. When we say Jesus is the Christ, we are proclaiming or believing that Jesus is the one who can bring to earth the kingdom of God and that that kingdom life is available immediately.

Faith in Jesus as the Christ
We are saved through faith that Jesus is the Gospel. The Gospel is simply this, “JESUS IS THE CHRIST”. If we believe this gospel, we are saved. But if we do not know what the term Christ means or what it is the Christ brings to us how can we believe God for it. If we do not understand what we are saying when we say Jesus is the Christ, we do not have saving faith. We have no idea what the Gospel actually is? It is on this point that so many people who claim to believe that Jesus is the Christ appear to remain unchanged.

To believe that Jesus is the Christ is to believe that Jesus is the one who can bring you the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. This is saving faith in Jesus as the Christ. God has appointed one king, one leader, one Christ to bring to mankind the kingdom of God. This one king is Jesus, the Christ. It is through His blood that he has redeemed us, qualified us for the life of the kingdom and it is by this atonement that we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to life and experience this kingdom today. So faith is faith that Jesus is the Christ and the Christ is the one who brings to His subject the Kingdom of God. So what is the Kingdom?

The Kingdom
The kingdom is defined clearly in scripture, “The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. Do you believe that Jesus can bring you a life of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit? Many people who claim to believe Jesus is the Christ do not believe that He can bring them righteousness. These people believe that Jesus can bring them righteousness when they go to heaven or at His return but they do not believe in a righteousness that is available today. They do not believe that the kingdom is available on earth as it is in heaven. This faith is faith in a righteousness in heaven or on earth in the age to come. But Jesus promises a righteousness immediately present in the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ brings to us a life, a kingdom life, of righteousness now through the Holy Spirit.

This is not a positional righteousness. This is not a righteousness in heaven but not on earth. If you believe this faith for a later righteousness, then you do not believe the totality of the blessings of the Gospel. The Gospel promises righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit in this life on earth as it is in heaven. Repent and believe.

This righteousness is not a perfect ed righteousness for certainly there is a fullness to come and a final battle to be won but the kingdom life of victory is available today through the work of the holy spirit and to believe in this immediately present kingdom quality of life is to believe in the Gospel.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Kingdom of God is At Hand

Writing in 1963, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the great reformed preacher, makes this concise statement about the present church's approach to the faith in his book The Kingdom of God:

“How does it come to pass that, with open Bibles before them, men and women should be wrong not so much about certain details with respect to the gospel, but about the whole thing? …wrong about its foundation, wrong about its central message, wrong about its objective, and wrong about how one comes into relationship with it.”

Lloyd Jones is commenting on Jesus’ announcement of the Kingdom of God which Lloyd-Jones understands to be the essence of the Christian message, “The Kingdom of God is at hand repent and believe!!!”. Lloyd-Jones is exactly correct in his articulation. The most foundational problem with the present church is that the church has gotten the gospel wrong.  If we understanding the concept of the Kingdom of God, this formulation of the gospel is the most effective path to clarity the message, the promises, and the objective of the Gospel.

The Hebrew Mind in the First Century

We know that in Jesus’ time the Jewish expectation of the messianic kingdom was primarily political. The Messiah, the greater David, would bless all mankind by placing the Jewish nation in power above all nations. The Spirit of God would rest on the Messiah, the anointed one, and He would rule, through the state, in righteousness. Abraham’s vision of a city in whose architect and builder was God was seen as a vision in which the law would be fully instituted and established through the Messiah's reign.

The Kingdom of God is the establishment of God’s rule on earth. The Jewish people and the Jewish leadership of Jesus’ day understood this rule of God as requiring primarily, or at least fundamentally, a political and legal reigning. The expatiation was that the Messiah would take over political and military power and establish the Law, the Torah.

The Jewish people, understandably given their status at the time, saw their problem as political. Therefore, it is understandable that they saw the solution as political. But Jesus, the true Christ, came to the Jewish people and revealed an entirely different problem and therefore an entirely different solution. Jesus did announce the immediacy of the Kingdom, but not a political kingdom. It is the path into the kingdom quality of life that set Jesus Christ and the First Century Christians apart from the Jewish expectation.

The key to understanding the Gospel is that Jesus’ proclamation was and still is that the Kingdom of God  is at hand. Our response is still to be repentance and faith. Our faith still is that Jesus is the Christ who will bring the kingdom quality of life to earth. The kingdom is both God's reign on the earth and a truly heavenly quality of life. The promise of the kingdom is that these aspects of the kingdom are immediately available. BUT the realm of this kingdom is presently limited to a non-political realm.

At hand
The meaning of this at-handedness of the kingdom is that a truly heavenly quality of life is within reach. Something is ‘at hand'.  It, the promised rule of God, is within arms length, within reach. The kingdom is at hand. The kingdom of God is within our immediate reach.

Believing in this "at handedness" of the kingdom is the exact problem with the modern proclamation of the gospel. The kingdom so often is seen as something we enter after we die. The kingdom, in this view, is not at hand at all. We come to saving faith, in this common evangelical paradigm, so that when we die we go to heaven. The kingdom of heaven is made available through the gospel only after we die. The kingdom, in this view, is actually not at hand at all.

Another less than complete view sees the kingdom as "at hand" but this immediate access to the kingdom is merely positional. This new status is in the heavens, but the heavens are not on earth. The great problem with this view is that our real problems, our marital happiness, how to maintain relationships, practical problems of well-being, are not solved by the gospel until heaven comes to earth in the future. Answers to real life problems, in the now, must be answered outside the gospel. This false view of the kingdom as purely heavenly, out there, supports a low view of the practical power of the Gospel to provide blessedness on earth.

The Reformed View
The reformed view sees the kingdom as both already and not yet. The already aspect of the kingdom is that the best part of heaven, the presence of God and the necessary spiritual power to live in progressive victory over sin, is currently available. The reality is that the kingdom of God is a truly happy and heavenly quality of life. This quality of life is progressively available to the believer through faith in Jesus Christ. This new quality of life progresses from the inside out and is the exact answer to the practical problems of human kind. A truly happy and heavenly quality of life is available immediately to the believer. This quality of life is not a new social or economic status, and it is not something that is so heavenly that it does not invade the conscious experience of the believer. Instead, the kingdom of God is the experience of heaven on earth through a Spirit to spirit walk with God. The kingdom of God is “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. The true gospel, the gospel of the kingdom, delivers a practical righteousness, a practical peace, and a practical joy to the follower of Jesus Christ.

The gospel brings to the believer the one thing needful to experience the good life. The one key characteristic of heaven is here now. This key characteristic of heaven is not, first and foremost, that there is no political oppression. Jesus, the Christ, did not deliver His people from political oppression. The key characteristic of heaven is not that there is no poverty and no suffering. Jesus, the Messiah, did not deliver His people from poverty and suffering. NO! The key characteristic of heaven is that God is present to the believer in their earthly experience. Jesus brought this one aspect of life to His followers at His coming. While He was here, He was the presence of God, as he prepared to leave this earth, He proclaimed that it was better that He leave. The purpose of His leaving was in order to bring the presence of God to His followers through the Holy Spirit. It is better that Jesus left because the best part of heaven, the power and presence of God, is now available to a greater degree to a greater number of His followers.

This truly happy and heavenly quality of life is indeed immediately present through the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives. Repent and believe the great news.