Saturday, November 24, 2012

On Black Friday

For years, the day after Thanksgiving meant “shopping.” For me, it meant “football and stay away from the mall.” Then, the stores started opening earlier. And then ridiculously earlier. Now, “Black Friday” begins on Thanksgiving Thursday. I think it’s gone too far.

The problem is not capitalism, as some would argue. The solution is not government intervention or a socialistic economic system. The market does a great job dealing with supply and demand. The problem is not money. Despite the teaching of some, being rich is not inherently wrong. It’s not even necessarily wrong to be one of the 1%.

The problem is people.

Business decisions made by people and shopping decisions made by people play their roles in supply and demand. The market, which is morally neutral, works. But, if people made the decision “I won’t shop on Thanksgiving – Thanksgiving is about celebrating who God is and what He has done,” the stores couldn’t stay open (no demand). If businesses (run by people) said “We’re going to honor Thanksgiving and keep our doors shut until Friday,” the shopper would have no place to shop (no supply).

Frankly, we shouldn't be surprised that people will look for “the deal” and that stores will offer “the deal”. The market is amoral. The principles of Free Enterprise work no matter the day.

But as a Christian, I want to show people (kids, grand kids  and whomever else might notice) that some things are more important than “a deal” or “making money.” I have no problem with people choosing to shop on Friday. But wouldn't it be great if enough people stood up and said “No thanks. It might cost me some money, but I am not going to shop on Thanksgiving. In fact, I’ll wait until x o’clock Friday to shop so that I’m not using Thursday to get ready for Friday.” Wouldn't it be great if some businesses decided to sacrifice some profit by choosing to stay closed until a reasonable hour Friday to honor the holiday and to allow their employees to celebrate?

These decisions aren't initially driven by supply and demand. They start with someone choosing to follow what they believe is right, not what makes the most sense economically. But if enough people on either side make the decision, the market would follow.  

Be the oddball. Shopper, stay out of the stores until a reasonable time Friday, even if that means you won’t get “the” deal.  Business owner, keep your doors closed until a reasonable hour Friday.

Yeah, I know I’m posting this a few days too late, but maybe we can start thinking about it for next year.

Thanksgiving is about giving thanks. Don’t let it become about shopping and “deals”. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus who came to die for our sins that whoever believes in Him receives eternal life by the grace of God. Don’t let it be about “stuff.” No matter if you and I alone follow this path, practice sacrifice for a higher purpose. It’s worth it. You might even choose to sacrifice and give to others in need instead of spending money on "stuff", but that’s food for another post.

Happy Thanksgiving  –  Merry Christmas. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Sky is Falling, We’re Turning Communist, and Other Post-Election Goodies

Obama won the 2012 presidential election. That made some people happy and some less happy. I’m in the second group. But, this blog isn't about Obama, Romney, Ron Paul, or anyone else. I’m writing about how we can respond.

Here’s what I can say with certainty: I have no idea exactly what will happen during the next four years. Well, that’s not true. I have some ideas, and many I do not believe are good. But the 2012 election is behind us, and the fact is that Obama is our President. So, how do we respond?

“The Sky is Falling”

I seriously doubt the world will come to an end because Obama was elected. I write as a Christian, as one who believes the truth of Scripture. Truth that says God controls who rises into power (e.g., John 19:10-11, Dan. 4:25, Isa. 13:17). In the United States, He works through the ballot box (we have input). But Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”

If you are pro-Obama, you won’t ask this next question. But if you are anti-Obama or “Obama neutral”, you may naturally ask, “Why did God permit this man into office?” Here’s what I can say with certainty: I have no idea (you must admit I’m consistent). But I know of several possibilities! It could be that he is the man America “needs” to build our country (although, to be honest, I have a hard time believing this). It could be that he is the man America “deserves” as a consequence of any-of-a-hundred cultural sins. It could be that God is judging America. It could be that God is pushing Christians in America to get off their duffs, to quit chasing the American dream as their primary purpose, and to instead pursue kingdom purposes. (I’m not saying we ignore the American dream, just move it into “second place”.) Regardless, we should seek the welfare of the city (county, parish, state, country) as we live an even-more secular culture, just as Israel was commanded to do when they were taken by the Babylonians (Jer. 29:7).

Life might well be harder during the next four years. Life for Christians in particular might become harder during the next four years. Only time will tell with any certainty. But whether life gets harder or not, God doesn't change. And, frankly, God says he uses trials to grow us (e.g., James 1:2-4), although I’d prefer to grow without trials J. As a believer, I need to “live by faith” even in a messy world (Gal. 2:20). It might not be easy, but am I willing to trust God no matter what?

We’re turning Communist / Socialist / Martian

Frankly, it won’t surprise me if in the not-too-distant future, our culture looks more like post-modern Europe than many of us want. I hope that’s not the case, but it looks likely. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Obama really wants us as a socialist country (I’m not interested in commentary on whether he does or not – I’m simply stating it for the sake of argument). He is not the sole cause; maybe not even the primary cause. He’s just the latest step. For example, welfare came into being to “help those in need”. However, it created dependence, not independence, and it’s been around a long time. Our culture has largely lost the “if you don’t work, you don’t eat” (I am not lumping people who legitimately need help in this discussion) and the “help equip those who need help to stand on their own two feet” ethics. For a host of reasons, we've developed a culture that practices yome. (Yome = “You-owe-me”. A secretary from my engineering days taught me this word). Only time will tell if we continue along this path or change as a culture.

Communist? No, but not impossible. Although the philosophy of “communism” must have a socialistic economic system, not all socialism must be communistic. This one I call, “Overreaction”.

But no matter what, God is still God. I am still called to be faithful to Him and walk in faith.

What should we do?

Pray a lot (1 Tim. 2:1-3).
Respect the office, even if you don’t respect the man.
Get your hands dirty. Instead of saying “they shouldn't ” (whomever “they” are or what “they” shouldn't be doing), get involved with others. Educate people one-on-one. Help them see how to work and the value of work. You get the idea!
Read Economics For Dummies (or something similar) to learn or relearn basic economics (of course, some of you already know it well. You are exempt J.) I think too many of us don’t understand the basics.
Don’t believe everything you see, hear, or read (maybe believe nothing). For example, I've seen a host of half-baked videos that distort facts, but people pass them along as truth. Check the facts, check the facts, and then check the facts.
Stop diatribes on Facebook and other venues. Your fans already believe you; your “enemies” won’t be convinced. Don’t pass on ad hominem attacks, half-truths, and anything else that inflames. Pass on “the truth and nothing but the truth”. If you pass on opinion, identify it as such. Offer positive  suggestions about how to get involved.
Do get involved in the political process. Stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. Try to influence politicians, but…
Remember, a believer's true citizenship is in heaven and we are primarily ambassadors here. So, while influencing the culture, do so in a Christ-like way and serve Him first and foremost. This kingdom may fade; His never will.

I don’t know exactly what will happen in the next four years. Obama is my president, just as Bush was my president before him. Doesn't matter which (if either) I support. Things might improve; they might deteriorate. I have my suspicions. Either way, take a deep breath, trust God, get involved, and live with kingdom purposes in view.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Things I Won't Miss After the Election

Probably should have written this months ago. Such is life!

Every presidential election matters. As American citizens, we have both the privilege and responsibility to express our views via the ballot box. In this political process, we have the privilege of disagreeing with one another. Depending on our individual world views, these differences can be significant!

What bothers me most about our disagreements – and what I will absolutely not miss after the election – is how we disagree. Too many of our disagreements include name calling, ad-hominem attacks, statements taken out of contest, sound-bite statements against our opponents, propagating statements without checking the truth of those statements, propagating those same statements even after discovering the truth, blitzing the social media with all kinds of “noise”, and so on. It happens with the candidates themselves (see, “Debates, any of them”) on down to the man in the street.

It bothers me most when Christians do the same thing. We should be different in our approach. We forget (apparently), or choose to ignore, that “love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44) and “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21) applies even to our political “enemies”. I've seen too much of the opposite, where we act just like the world in the way we attack the other side (whether attacking from a Republican, Democratic, or Independent perspective).

Dean Merrill wrote in his book Sinners in the hands of an Angry Church: “You cannot shout people into holiness. It just does not work.” The same applies to political views – you (and I) cannot shout people into changing their views.

Some will (and some already have) incorrectly conclude from my comments that I think Christians ought to be passive, or that my theology doesn't allow thinking correctly about political issues. Both views are wrong. Should we be frustrated, even angry, at some of the actions and platforms that candidates hold (whether in office or running for office)? Absolutely! Should we try to influence the political process? Absolutely. Should we try to hold wrong-doers accountable? Again, absolutely. Should we be bold? Yes! Should we speak our convictions? Yes!

But I do think we need to check how we respond. Whether I like a particular incumbent is immaterial. If the incumbent has not personally earned my respect (in my oh-so-humble opinion), the office has (or should). The Bible commands us to pray for our leaders, not just the leaders we like (1 Tim. 2:1-3), a command Paul wrote while Nero “served” as emperor. Peter wrote, also during Nero’s reign, to “honor the King” (1 Pet. 2:17), even though Nero was in no way a godly or moral man.

So, what should we do if we disagree?

  • Pray. A lot.
  •  Fact check before passing on “facts”.
  • Check context before passing on quotes. Don’t pass on quotes taken out of context.
  • Choose not to pass on anything whose primary purpose is to inflame.
  • Don’t rationalize our actions with words like “I’m mad”, or “They’re an idiot”. Both might be true, but that shouldn't drive how we act (if you’re married, does the “I’m mad” or “you’re an idiot” approach work with your spouse? Thought not!)
  • Address specific issues with facts to support your thoughts.
  •  Use social media wisely – don’t bury people with “stuff”.
  • If you are a believer, remember your demeanor should reflect Jesus. (I can hear now, though, the argument, “Jesus was pretty harsh with the money changers, so I’m okay.” The problem with this comparison is that Jesus’ harshest words were towards the religious leaders of the day for leading their people down the wrong path, not towards the political leaders or for political issues).
  • Listen to the viewpoints of our opponent. We don’t have to agree, but we can be courteous. We might even learn something! I asked an Obama-supporter why she supported him. But, I preceded the request by telling her I simply wanted to learn; that I would not use her words against her. I think she replied because I treated her with respect, even though we disagree.
  • Don’t resort to name-calling. The gap is huge between “This is a lie" (or appears to be a lie)” and “He is a liar”.
  • Finally, ask yourself – is this how I want to be treated?

I suspect I’ll get shot at by some. Again. But I want Christians to think on a higher plain. Jesus’ kingdom purposes should trump my political views. Representing Jesus should direct how I respond, not my flesh (Did you know Paul included “hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, and dissensions” in his list of “the deeds of the flesh”, Gal. 5:20?). Remember we serve as an ambassador of our real home (1 Cor. 5:20, Phil. 3:20) therefore, represent that kingdom well as we work in this kingdom.

For me, this is the test: Based on reading my Facebook posts, reading my blogs, hearing my discussions with others, and watching me in the public arena, would an outside observer say, “He spoke the truth in love”? Or would he say something else? I hope the first is true.

Stand firm; raise issues; address error. But do it in love. How we dissent is at least as important as that we dissent. And if you do it in love, you’ll confound your foes – they won’t know how to respond (Rom. 12:20). J