If The Bible Is Right, Ayn Rand Was Wrong

Anyone who has read my profile knows I call myself a Christian, conservative, libertarian, capitalist.  It’s in that order for a reason.  I am a follower of Jesus above and before all else. I make no apology for that, though it may cost me readers and followers.  After that, I believe in fiscal responsibility, balanced budgets, limited Government, individual liberty and responsibility, and the free market.

It is the Christian part that drives my bus and creates the lanes for those other three core values to travel in.  My faith shapes the boundaries, the limits and the scope of all my other beliefs and practices.  With that caveat, I’d like to address my evolving thoughts on capitalism and the free market.

First, the daggum Government should stay out of the market.  Frankly, Government never makes anything better. Most regulations serve a special interest and not really the common good.  They are frequently couched in language that sounds noble and in the public interest, but almost always are really about more Government control over us.

When we look closely and think critically (which most have lost the ability to do), it is clear to see that if we follow the money, we’ll discover that most regulations are sponsored by and enrich certain interest groups, resulting in big donations and votes for the promoters of the regulations.

A case in point; food safety.  We all want to be assured that what we eat is fit to eat. Since, though, many of us want nothing to do with taking responsibility for our own food chain, Government (this is a bi-partisan matter) steps in to take care of us and create food safety regulations.  A deeper dive, though, will easily reveal that food safety regulations, benefit and often exempt big Agra and big Business at the expense of small producers and individual freedoms.

The overwhelming majority of food borne illness comes from big, rather than small producers.  Yet, it is the small farmer and rancher who bears the burden of heavy handed regulation while the deep pockets of the big nationals and multinationals provide them virtual immunity.  But I digress.  I will return to this subject another day.

While I believe Government should largely stay out of the market, I believe business owners, small and large, have a moral obligation to police their own integrity and practices.  This task is much easier for the small, and/or private company that for a publicly traded one.

Most, if not all, companies begin with a notion that they can provide a product or service that will solve problems or provide benefit to their customers.  In return for those products and services the provider will be remunerated; a win for all parties.  Care is taken to look after the best interest of customers and employees.  Loyalty is seen as mutually beneficial.

Many businesses stay true to those values and become beacons in a dark, grey world.  Knowingly, or unknowingly, said companies are practicing a Biblical principle.  St. Paul, the apostle, wrote in his letter to the Philippians (Chapter2), “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. ”

Imagine what the world could look like if all businesses followed such a code.  It is my opinion that everyone’s standard of living would improve.

Some businesses, and nearly all publicly traded ones, somewhere along the way, lose sight of their origins and move the goal line.  Profit itself becomes the target, the end game, which inevitably leads to customers and employees becoming pawns, tools to be used to drive the bottom line.  When that happens, Capitalism becomes a nightmare come to life; a Frankenstein’s Monster.

In Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”, the antagonist Socialists are rightly portrayed as misguided buffoons who blunder through their lives wrecking corporations and society.  Sadly, though, her heroes, who see profit as the stand alone prize, are equally selfish and immoral, gratifying their own appetites without giving a thought to the lives and relationships they are harming. Dagny Taggart, Hank Rearden and Francisco D’Anconia are as empty, morally bankrupt people as are James Taggart (Dagny’s brother) and Lillian Rearden (Hank’s wife).

As a side note, I continue to be shocked at the number of Christians I meet who love “Atlas Shrugged”.  They see it as a triumph of free market Capitalism over Socialism.  I see it as a tragic parable of a fallen humanity living in a world without Christ.  The book makes my heart hurt.

On more than one occasion, I have been in meetings at various times and places over the years, where I  heard corporate leaders say, regarding price hikes, “We should make them (customers) squeal, but make it impossible to leave.”  When asked what the customer receives in return, the reply is a blank stare.  I find that chilling.  I’m old enough and have traveled enough that I have even seen Churches so focused on budgets that ‘church growth’ is about paying the bills. It makes me shudder.

It is especially difficult for publicly traded companies who are forced to appease the unquenchable hunger and thirst of the shareholders.  The best interests of customers and employees becomes subject to the relentless pursuit of profit and share price. The business becomes Seymour to Audrey II’s demanding, “Feed me.”  In the end, “Little Shop of Horror’s” Seymour is reduced to a killer who is consumed by his own monster.

Unfettered Capitalism and Govt. controlled Socialism both result in manipulation and enslavement a hapless population. I can’t find any good guys in that scenario.

In addition to Paul’s admonition to look after the best interest of others, Jesus himself said, “Whoever wants to be the greatest among you, should become the servant of all”, Mark 10:43-45.

I guess what I’ve taken a long time to say is, I have come to a place where I realize that profit is not bad as a by-product or a secondary goal. In fact, it’s a blessing, but when it becomes the quarry, the pursuit of profit can become something dangerous and turn us into loathesome creatures.

Again, it was Jesus of Nazareth who said it best; “You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24.

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

 

Glad Tidings of Great Joy

ChristmasIt is highly likely that the last thing you want this morning is a Christmas sermon, so in the spirit of Christmas cheer, I’ll keep this as brief as possible.

Most of us, religious or not, probably know by heart the St. Luke, Chapter 2 (King James Version) of the Christmas Story. I memorized it as a young child and that translation is still my favorite for Christmas reading.

Do you remember this part, “And suddenly there were with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men’”?

I thought you did.  Did you know, though, that there are some translation and punctuation issues that once fixed, deepen the Christmas message?

First, some background; when Luke wrote his Gospel, there were no punctuation marks in the Greek Language.  Heck, there were only capital letters and there was no spacing between the words. IMAGINETRANSLATINGTHISSENTENCEINTOANOTHERLANGUAGEWHICHISWHATBIBLETRANSLATORSDOSOTHATWECANREADGODSMESSAGEINENGLISH

Anyway, we have a much better handle on ancient Greek grammar these days than King James’ team did; and a better translation reads; “Suddenly a great multitude of the heavenly host joined the angel saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest; and on earth, peace to mankind; on whom His favor rests.’”

Shazaam! Do you see it? Wow!  In this one declaration, the angels proclaim that the human race is special above all creation. These mighty warriors and messengers, who live, worship and work daily in the physical presence of almighty God, announced that out of all the starry host, out of all the worlds and creatures and beauty and majesty that exists in the universe, it is we, mortal human flesh, who are the special recipients of His Grace.

How many stars fill the skies? How many birds fly? How many fish swim beneath the ocean waves? How many tiny microbes wrestle and play and thrive beyond the naked eye? This world is a complex, diverse, amazing masterpiece, yet out of all the species in heaven and on the earth, it is we, the human race, who are the special objects of his affection.  He made this universe as a gift for us. Then He made us. We treated it all, including Him, with utter contempt. And still He loves us.

It’s easy to imagine a love that is requited, but a love that keeps going despite rejection upon rejection? Who ever heard of such a thing?  “Unto us a child is born. Unto us a son is given. And His name shall be called, Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Duck Calls, Boycotts, Political Correctness and The Gospel of Christ. It Must Be Christmas

duck dynastyI don’t watch Duck Dynasty.  I’ve never seen a single minute of the show.  My wife and I have not had television (cable or network) in three years. It was a waste of money considering how little we watched and how little was worth watching.

The phenomenon that is the Robertson family, however, has not escaped our awareness. That would be virtually impossible here in ‘the land of the free’.  This last week, especially, has been quite the fishbowl for that family.  On the other hand, when you run a gazillion dollar corporation, have a reality show, dress head to toe in camo, wear your beards to your knees, appear on camera with a duck call in one hand and a Bible in the other, accompanied by runway model wives, you’re probably going to garner attention like no other fish in the bowl.  But, I’m just guessing.

America fell in love, or at least in awe, with this eccentric, successful family who reminded us of a bygone era in our country, that we thought was lost forever. A weekly dose of faith, family, love, hard work and Uncle Si, was just the tonic we needed to help us navigate in a world that seemed to have slipped from its moorings.  For an hour we could forget our under or un employment, our healthcare worries, our dysfunctional politicians (from all parties), our wars and rumors of wars.

Then, surprise of surprises, the ‘Duck Commander’ himself stirred up a hornets nest in an interview with GQ magazine.  Suddenly, the December season of cheer, was all abuzz with talk of political correctness, free speech, intolerance, violations of the constitution, hate speech and competing calls of ‘crucify him’ and ‘reinstate’ him. ‘Boycott’ became the rallying cry of the nations ‘duckophiles’, while the mainstream media shook their heads in wonder at the outrage of these unwashed masses and their commitment to hate.

From my perspective, we must be in a very slow news cycle.  ‘Robertsongate’ should barely be a blip on our radar, yet it has dominated headlines for days and days, with lines being drawn, ultimatums given, and op-eds filling our newspapers, radio waves, television screens, and websites.  Facebook and twitter have ‘blown up’ over the issue.  Phil Robertson’s image must be the single most viewed face in America right now.

Someday, at the right time, I intend to address the constitutional and moral agendas behind this conflict.  They are interesting to me and important to us as a nation, but this is not that day.

Instead, I’d like to take just a moment and speak to the Christian contingent of the ‘Boycott A&E, Reinstate Phil’ movement.

Is a public call for boycotts in the best interest of the Gospel?  Would Jesus use boycotts of secular industry as a way to further His cause?  Has a single heart or opinion ever been changed by a boycott?  Is it a win if we get our constitutional way, but lose the hearts and respect of people with opposing world views, or those on the fence?  Do angry letters to leadership of GLAAD make Christianity appear more attractive?  Are we more concerned about our constitutional rights or the redemption of the human race?  Am I an American, or a Christian, first?  How do calls for boycott differ from cries of, ‘crucify him?’  How does Jesus’ teaching (‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him water. If he takes your coat, offer him your shirt as well) apply, if at all, to situations like the A&E suspension of Phil Robertson?  What would Jesus do in this situation?

I love the book of Daniel in the Old Testament.  There are two stories in the first 6 chapters that, to me, are extremely relevant here.  I’d like to summarize them.

After the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the kingdom of Judah, several prominent youngsters were taken off to Babylon to be trained in the ways of Babylonian culture, philosophy and religion.  Some of these young men became very prominent in society.  Their religious practices and influence soon got on the nerves of the mainstream leadership.  A plan was devised to silence them.  A decree went out that at certain times of day, a trumpet would sound and everyone would do the politically correct thing and bow down to a giant image of the King that had been set up for public adoration.

Obviously, this was going to be a problem for our God fearing young men.  They did not protest, call an attorney, stage a boycott or hold a press conference.  They simply, firmly, steadfastly and humbly said, “We can’t do that” and took the path of peaceful, civil disobedience.  God honored their action, and a mighty miracle followed.  In the end, even the King apologized.

In the second story, which happened many years after the first, several of the key leaders in the kingdom were sick and tired of Daniel’s influence in the King’s council.  He had to be silenced.  They devised a plan to convince the King that for a season, the people should pray to no deity except the king, himself.  They knew Daniel could not comply.

The law was passed.  Daniel’s response is quite interesting.  He does not ask for an audience with the king.  He does not make a scene or cry, ‘outrage’.  He merely continues his daily practice of prayer to his God.  He is caught, arrested and convicted.  God then tames lions and Daniel is rescued from certain death.  The king honors God.

Are those merely stories from an ancient time, or could Shadrach, Meshack, Abednego and Daniel, serve as role models for our own responses when our faith and practice become intolerable to the civic authorities of the day?

For what it’s worth, when the news came down to Phil Robertson that he had been suspended, my understanding is that his response was to join a group of men from his Church and go minister to a woman in their community who was in need.  Maybe he doesn’t have a Facebook account to update.

 

 

 

 

Isitoq’s Hound – And a Game of What If

isotoqshoundWhat if the quantum speculations of multiple dimensions is correct? What if we are not alone?  What would that mean for our understanding of reality? Of Truth? Of what is natural and supernatural?  What if the Bible has been pointing us to that reality all along?  These are some concepts I plan to play with for a while.  I’m gently introducing the subject in my first fiction project, “Isitoq’s Hound“.

IH is a novelette, which means it’s a quick read, and it’s priced accordingly, at $.99.  It is my overt goal to stretch your understanding, and test the foundations of your belief system in a series of short novels and a stand alone theological non fiction work.

I sure hope you’ll come with me as we search for Heaven, Hell, Angels, Demons, UFOs, Ghosts, Portals, Wormholes and Thin Places.  Please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle. Keep your seat belt fastened at all times until we come to a complete stop.  We WILL experience turbulence.

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What would you do if you woke up in strang place with no memory of how you arrived or why you were there?  What if your next discovery was that you had no way to contact the outside world; no phone, no email, no text messaging?  Then, what if you learned that the town you’d landed in was being terrorized by a hideous creature of unknown origin? What if you became the prey? What if those around you believed you might be harboring the predator?  Isitoq’s Hound, realeased today only on Kindle.

Watchmen or Whiners? Perception Hurts. Truth Sets Us Free.

WatchmanDisaster movies, are, and pretty much always have been, a popular genre in both novels and films. A typical scenario is that with trouble imminent, a protagonist runs around warning people who are too busy, too disinterested or too selfish to pay attention. Then once the flood comes, the fire burns, the earth quakes, the dinosaurs stampede or the shark attacks, the bewildered, frightened masses, turn to the protagonist to save them.

These stories are exciting and entertaining on the big screen, or in print, but when they happen in real life, they are frustrating and discouraging.  Whether we’re dealing with a country, a corporation, a congregation or an individual, it can become quite exhausting to cry, “The bridge is out”, only to discover those you are so desperate to warn, are too ignorant, too arrogant or too distracted to listen.

I am reminded of the prophet, Ezekiel, in the Old Testament.  Most people know him as the eccentric preacher who saw the vision of the ‘wheel in a wheel’ and the ‘valley of dry bones’. Ezekiel’s story is much richer than those to events, though; much richer.

On two different occasions, God tells Ezekiel that he is a watchmen and needs to warn the nation that trouble and judgment are coming.  God says, (I paraphrase), “If you warn the people and they change and return to me, everybody wins.  If you warn them and they refuse to listen, the judgment will come and they will pay the consequences, but your hands are clean.  If, however, you fail to sound the alarm, they will still suffer judgment, but I will hold you accountable.”

For what it’s worth, Ezekiel DID warn the people and they did refuse to listen.  The story does not end well.  You can read all about it in 2 Chronicles, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

The truth will not always make us popular.  Sometimes it will turn us into outcasts, perceived as whiners who are not with the program, or fundamentalists stuck in the past.  Sometimes speaking the truth hurts both the speaker and the hearer, but it is always the right thing to do. Win or lose, the truth will set us free.

When the bridge is out, the storm is coming or the waters are shark infested, our task it to ring the bell, sound the alarm. We can’t control the response. Sometimes, all we can do is make the announcement and then ensure we take our own advice and get off the train, take shelter or get out of the water.

Never be afraid of telling the truth. Never be a jerk about it. Never back down. Always do the right thing.  We are watchmen, and watchmen watch.

Jesus of Nazareth: Cleansing Lepers And Changing Lives For 2,000 Years

Luke 5: 12,13  While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him.  (English Standard Version)

Leprosy.  Even today the word is pregnant with dread. It conjures up images of disfigured victims, rotting flesh and a life of permanent isolation.  In Jesus’ day, leprosy was even worse.  The physical symptoms were but a small part of the stigma attached to the disease. It was the spiritual significance of being spiritually unclean and cut off from God’s people that was the real rub.

A man, or woman, diagnosed with leprosy was not allowed to participate in the temple ceremonies or even mingle with the worshipers.  The leper could not stay home and receive support or comfort from family members, but had to live outside the city and warn all who came near that he/she was unclean.

Can you imagine the emotions that the leper lived with?  The loneliness?  The sense of helplessness and hopelessness must have been overwhelming at times.

People avoided lepers at all costs, because even to come in physical contact with an individual with leprosy would render one as unclean, also.

Leprosy, described in detail in Leviticus 13 and 14 was symbolic of sin, which causes us all to be separated from God.  It was a horrible burden to bear.

Then Jesus came and everything changed.  Luke tells the story in such a brief, matter of fact way that the significance for the 21st century dweller could be easily missed. Let’s look at it a minute and see what we discover.

First, the leper recognizes Jesus as the one person who can truly help him.  His need, his humility and his faith are all right out there in the open when he bows before Jesus and says, “If you want to, you can make me clean.”

He is not arrogant or demanding.  He knows he is in no position to make demands. He is in need of mercy and healing.

He also has no doubt about Jesus ability to cleanse him. He doesn’t say, “If you can,” but rather, “If you are willing, you can.”  What a difference.

At this point in the story, Mark, in his gospel, gives us an added detail.  He notes, “Jesus looked on him with compassion”.  How absolutely amazing.  Jesus looks past the ugliness and uncleanness and sees the broken soul inside.

Here is the earth shaking, history changing part; verse 13 says, “Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him.” Jesus didn’t run from the leper, He was not repulsed, He touched the man.  Jesus never hides from the dark places or stained ones.  Those are the places he came to fix, to clean, to make new and shiny.  When Jesus touches the leper a marvellous thing happens; rather than Jesus becoming unclean, the man was healed. Instantly. Completely.  Perfectly. Jesus changes everything.

He is still touching lepers and making them clean. There is no life so far gone that He cannot reach it.  No one is beyond redemption. There is no life so clean that it does not need Him. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, (Romans 3:23)

I know His compassion first hand. Some years ago, my pain, my sin, my rebellion drove me into isolation and dismay, but when I followed the example of that other leper from  long ago and humbled myself before Jesus, He touched me, too, and made me brand spanking new.  He took all the ugliness, the sin, the guilt and threw it away.  I stand amazed.

Jesus is still saying, “I am willing” to anyone and everyone who needs a clean heart and a fresh start.

Chew on that thought for a while.