This past weekend (12/14 & 15/'13) I taught Acts 5:12-42, where Peter and the other apostles obey God's command to proclaim the Good News about Christ, and in so doing disobey the Jewish authorities to shut up about Jesus. The clash of authorities isn't resolved in the passage, but each side is determined not to back down.
Since I'm a visual learner, I devised this chart to better help me understand and communicate what to do when two legitimate authorities say opposite things: "When any authority commands you to do what God forbids, or forbids you to do what God commands, you must obey God."
In all things, then, we are subject to authority––we recognize it, respect it and respond to it (Romans 13:1, 1Peter 2:13-15). But if any authority (whether government, parents, employer, husband, or church) clashes with God's, and commands you to do what He forbids, or forbids you do what He commands, always obey God, the highest authority.
At last! The truth about the Bible!
The same channel that gave us the series that took the message of the Bible seriously now is offering the alternative viewpoint: the Bible is an enigmatic book that purports to be “God’s Word” but in actuality was written by fallible unknown human authors, is full of contradictions and inaccuracies and can’t be taken seriously or interpreted straightforwardly.
The disclaimer that introduces each episode warns the viewer:
“This program explores the mysteries of the Bible from a variety of historical and theological perspectives which have been debated for centuries.”
Among the many “shocking” revelations this four-part series alleges are that Moses didn’t really write the first five books of the Bible (Genesis through Deuteronomy)––the real authors are not known; none of the authors of the four New Testament Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) ever saw Jesus, and their accounts contradict each other. In fact, according to the series, what we know as the Bible probably bears little resemblance to what was originally written. The show isn’t two minutes old when the narrator in solemn tones voices doubts for us: “Has the Bible been translated, edited and even censored so many times that the original stories have been compromised by time?”
If the first episode is any indication of the others, the series will be fast paced, strikingly filmed, intriguing in the questions and inconclusive in answers. Its purpose is to play to our curiosity and raise doubts in our minds. (Sounds a lot like what Satan did with Eve. But I digress...)
What the History Channel won’t tell you is this:
The “experts” cited and interviewed are some of the most liberal “scholars” today. For instance, Bart Ehrman (a graduate of the college I attended) is not a Christian––not even a theist. He denounces historic Christianity and, not surprisingly, denies anything special about the Bible. Ehrman’s worldview begins with no god and the assumption therefore that religion is a human invention. He is one of the “experts” cited.
Reza Aslan is another scholar who is liberally interviewed. He speaks authoritatively about the New Testament being riddled with inaccuracies and outright lies, but explains that everyone knew it to be so and so it was acceptable to pretend it to be something that it wasn’t. Aslan is an associate professor of creative writing (not theology or New Testament?) at the University of California, and a Muslim who holds that the Quran is inspired and the Bible has been mistranslated.
These are but two of the many scholars and experts the History Channel has asked to weigh in on the validity of the Bible. One might think that they represent the vast number of academics, but there are literally thousands of scholars who have equal or greater academic credentials, who hold to a high view of the Bible and who think Ehrman and Aslan to be absolutely wrong in their views and dismissive of vast evidence to the contrary of their opinions. Why weren’t any of these individuals cited or interviewed?
It is also frustrating that the writers of the series are biased and selective in their arguments and present them as unanswerable. For instance, one expert states that the prediction that the Messiah would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14) is clearly a mistranslation because the original Hebrew word refers just to a young woman. Whoever the author of Matthew’s Gospel was simply got it wrong and mistranslated the word as “virgin” (Matthew 1:23). The implied truth? There was no miracle of Jesus birth. Unmarried Mary actually was impregnated by someone other than God (which in that society would make Jesus, by definition, a bastard.)
Any possible answer to Matthew’s misstep? Actually, yes. The Hebrew word (almah) does refer to a young woman of marriageable age, and not specifically to a virgin. Yet in Jewish society, a young woman of marriageable age (unlike in our society) was assumed to be a virgin, else she would be stoned for unfaithfulness or declared a prostitute (which is another word altogether). Further, Isaiah’s prediction requires the notion of virginity with the pregnant woman for it to be a miraculous sign; otherwise, he’s simply saying, “a woman will give birth to a son...” Not really special. Finally, Matthew was a Jew who spoke and read Aramaic and Hebrew, and no doubt had read Isaiah’s scroll. When he translated the sense of “almah” he used a Greek word for “virgin.” Case closed.
My point? The series seems to toss out every criticism (however slight or silly) and buttress them with arguments from very liberal “experts”, but the series investigates no dissenting opinions and leaves the negative claims completely unchallenged.
The series is really not a serious study on how we got our Bible, how manuscripts were written and copied, how they were translated or how we know that our Bibles clearly reflect the ancient original texts. Instead, for the sake of selling something sensational, the writers of the series throw out all sorts of allegations––some true and some anything but true––to get viewers to watch. For instance, one person makes the statement that what many typically believe isn’t in the Bible: there were three Wisemen who visited Jesus in the manger. The truth is that Matthew does not tell us how many there were, and he places the event later, not in a manger but in a home (Matthew 2:1-12). So far, so good. But then before the next commercial break, the narrator shifts his focus and allows Reza to make the unfounded claim that all the stories about the birth of Jesus are completely fictitious. Seems like a leap in the dark? Either that, or a rush to get some ratings no matter the cost.
I’m not one to censor much of anything. I really do believe that truth can stand up to scrutiny. So what am I recommending? If you want to watch it, just eat the meat and spit out the bones. And if you don’t know what to swallow and what to gag on, you’d better to do some note-taking and some reading and research.
Or, just relax and watch American Pickers. The History Channel got that one right.
"There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance:
Sometimes I can barely stand to read “Letters to the Editor” in our local paper. The antagonizing remarks and lack of any reasoned responses often bring out the worst in me. In Sunday’s paper (May 26, 2013), one woman’s contribution began with this blast:
“The Republicans are finally doing what they do best, keeping their promise to bring down the first black president of the United States. They’ve threatened this action since 2008 and now they are going at it full force. In their constant weakening of this country by affecting monies for education and monies shoring up our infrastructure, Republicans are affecting jobs… …if the Obama haters in Washington did fund the above programs, there would be a spurt of growth in this country as never seen since the ’60s…”
I’m irritated just re-typing it.
There are so many things wrong with her statement, it’s difficult to know where to begin:
The bold by-line over this woman’s letter said, “How to spread hatred and fear”; she is an excellent example of how to do just that.
It was one of those random run-ins with a person I hadn’t seen in some time. I asked the normal and expected question, “How have you been?” but didn’t expect his answer. Having recently retired, and looking for some new direction in his life, he decided to commit to memory some Scriptures––and not just a few random verses, but large chunks––chapters and even entire books of the Bible. He confessed it had been one of the most challenging, but personally rewarding experiences he could remember.
Before you write him off as some eccentric with a freakish memory and too much time on his hands, let me assure you that you can do the same thing––and you should. In fact, I think God expects you to employ the power of your memory in learning Scripture. King David, a man after God's own heart, expressed that heart in his desire to memorize Scriptures:
"On (God's) Law, (the happy man) meditates day and night." (Psalm 1:2)
"I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." (Psalm 119:11)
If Jesus is any model for us to imitate, His example is a powerful motivation. When He was weakest and tempted by Satan in the desert, He responded by quoting Scriptures that clarified His Father's will for Him (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10).
If you’ve been with us in our weekend services this past year, you have received some business cards with Scriptures on them and have been challenged to commit them to memory. In fact, in the services, we’ve tried to help you get started by having you repeat the verse while blanking out key words. This is a direction we intend to continue. We are committed to memorizing Scripture!
If you are still reading, I imagine the excuses are starting to bounce around in your head like popcorn over a fire:
“I just can’t memorize. My brain isn’t like yours. Mine is like a cup with no bottom: what goes in falls through, holding nothing.”
Frankly, unless you are severely learning-disabled, you can memorize information. Try this little test:
What is your phone number?
What is your address?
What is your previous address?
What is your Social Security number?
Amazingly, most of us have already memorized a random series of numbers and words that identify our geographical location, the way we contact each other electronically, our governmentally assigned ID number, as well as a host of other disconnected information. The fact is--we can and do memorize what we think is useful and vital. The question is, do we think the Scriptures are as important as our phone numbers?
If we do, we’ll have a pleasant surprise. Memorizing some statement or passage from Scripture with a discernible flow of thought is much easier than trying to commit to memory a set of random numbers with no rhyme or reason.
“I just don’t have the time to sit around and memorize. I’m a busy person!”
I have found over the last few months that the best times I can work on memorizing is in the small snatches of time that I am waiting in lines or for an appointment, or when I have a few moments of time not long enough to do anything else.
If I’m attempting to memorize just a sentence or two (like Ecclesiastes 12:13-14), I usually take a few minutes before I go to sleep and when I awake.
Besides--we always find time to do what we consider is important. If we think something important, we’ll find a way. Otherwise, we’ll find an excuse.
“Why bother--what good is it anyway? I have a Bible. If I want to know what’s in it, I’ll open it up and read it.”
I can only respond by admitting that I have never had the Scriptures affect my life so deeply as when I have committed them to memory: Psalm 1––concerning the two directions of life; Psalm 139––revealing what God knows about you; Romans 8––reinforcing God’s providence and love for you; these and other passages that I have memorized have deeply affected how I think and how I live. As a teabag left to steep in scalding water, so the thoughts and statements from the Bible left over time to steep in my mind--have grown stronger and more poignant with each passing day. God’s words have returned to instruct me, reassure me, comfort me, rebuke me, and--at times--even to haunt me. As one once wrote, “It is not how much you get into the Bible, but how much the Bible gets into you.” If that is true, then memorization clearly is one of the gateways to God’s Word getting “into” us.
“I don’t really want to expend the mental energy to try. Frankly, by the time I get home and have some free time, I’d rather read the paper, watch TV, or turn my mind off--not turn it up!”
I must admit, I have thought the same way. Still, anything worth doing is worth expending some effort on.
I read once where the result of senility, often occurring as we grow older, is the loss of one’s inhibitions, so that the senile person says and does whatever has been in his mind and heart all along. In other words, those of us not affected by senility have the blessing of holding in check that which we think or are tempted to do; we are able to censor our baser thoughts and impulses. As one grows senile, he looses the ability to keep his guard up; whatever has filled his mind--good and bad, shabby and bright, exemplary and embarrassing, all comes leaking out. We all have known some who in senility have become foul mouthed, angry, and demanding; others, no longer having any guard, become sweeter, more bold about Jesus, and a joy to be around. I have to wonder: what will I be like if and when my guard dissolves?
I have no idea whether or not I will be able to stop or control the onset of senility. What I can do now is bathe my thinking so that when my brain becomes a glass house, what is seen will be what is “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8). As God’s Word takes root in my mind, my thinking and entire perception of life gradually changes (Romans 12:1-2).
OK, OK! So let’s say I’m willing to try. Where do I start?
1. Start with something short––any of the recent verse cards in Ecclesiastes or the Gospel of John would be a great choice; or if you have a statement in Scripture that has meant something to you, choose that one.
2. If you choose something other than one of our verse cards, copy the Scripture on a separate sheet of paper or 3x5 card. By seeing it as a whole, you will more easily be able to trace the flow of thought. So before you start memorizing, study the passage and ask yourself, “Exactly what is He trying to say?” Whatever the length, try to trace the flow of thought. I have found it helpful to paraphrase the meaning of each phrase in my own words.
3. Carry the card or paper with you in your pocket. Pull it out whenever you can and read it. Try to memorize it a phrase at a time, rehearsing what you have already learned.
4. Don’t give up. If you get discouraged and drop it for a while, return to it later. You’re not under any deadline. If you get busy and forget it, come back to it when you remember. The tortoise who finished beat the rabbit who didn’t. Don’t give up.
5. Finally, I have found that enlisting another person to memorize the same passage and keep me accountable is an indispensable encouragement. And as you are memorizing, share what you’re doing with someone else––ask them to see if you can recite the passage correctly. It will help you and encourage them.
Take the challenge. Let me know what passages you’ve chosen and how you’re coming. You’ll hear nothing but clapping and cheers from me if you even try!
Today is Good Friday. So what makes Friday good?
In our reckoning, every Friday is good because it means another workweek is nearly finished, and the weekend approaches where we will enjoy two days off.
But this one Friday we remember as good differently than every other––good because something bad happened that created good for us.
On this one Friday, one individual, in some mysterious way, took upon Himself all the guilt of every person who has ever existed or who will walk on this earth. Every destructive decision, every failure to measure up, every crossing of moral boundaries, every evil thought and misguided intention and act of rebellion against God, He has claimed as His own––though He Himself did none of it.
On this Friday, all the darkness and remorse, all human wickedness and Heaven's disappointment, all the guilt and shame fell on Him.
Luke records that for three hours, at the time one would expect the greatest light (noon to 3 p.m.), darkness smothered the land. Clouds? An eclipse? A miraculous bending of light? However it happened, Heaven wanted every witness to physically see and feel the effects of the unseen at that moment: the just anger and displeasure of God in His Holiness, the flickering life of the rejected Messiah, the turning away of the Father from the Son, and unclean hands of the human race being laid on the head of it's one Substitute––the sacrificial Lamb of God.
Then, at the ninth hour, the oppression lifts; the hold is broken. He cries out, "It is finished!" The Man on the beam of the cross slumps in death. It is no coincidence that at 3 p.m., the Jewish Shofar horn blows, signaling the Passover Lamb in the Temple has been sacrificed––the innocent for the guilty, the One for the many, God for man.
Good Friday. As the Psalmist predicted: "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it" (118:24). The day that the Stone the builders rejected, the day that He became the Cornerstone of all God would later do (118:22-23); this is that day.
It is Friday. And it is good. And when Sunday comes, it will be even better!
The high courts of the land are now considering the question of legalizing same-sex marriage on a federal level.
I’m not surprised.
Facebook is a-Twitter about it. Television shows about finding places to live or renovating homes or cooking contests or designing clothes often portray homosexual relationships as completely acceptable and normal. Pro-gay advocates compare the struggle for gay rights to racial equality, and any resistance to complete endorsement of homosexuality to Klannish behavior. The recent four part miniseries on the History Channel, entitled, The Bible had no depiction of any homosexuality in its portrayal of Sodom and Gomorrah; (so absent was it that it made me re-read Genesis 19, and references to those twin cities elsewhere in the Scriptures). Rob Bell––a Christian, best-selling author and former pastor of renowned Mars Hill Church recently announced his support of same-sex marriage: “I believe God [is] pulling us ahead into greater and greater affirmation and acceptance of our gay brothers and sisters and pastors and friends and neighbors and co-workers.”
This mass movement is a seismic cultural shift primarily in the western world. (Much of the Muslim world condemns and even stones gays, and probably isn’t going to repent of that anytime soon.) Marriage, by definition, is a cultural institution recognized by society; so it will do no good to say, “live and let live” for those who want to be married as gays. The decision upon all of us as a culture is, “Live and show acceptance.”
So actually, my question is not, “Why shouldn’t we give consenting gay couples marital status?” but, “Why stop there?”
Most would agree that traditionally, marriage has been defined as a permanent, committed relationship of intimacy between a man and woman. Until recently, we have made certain assumptions about marriage:
1) Gender: It is between a male and a female.
2) Number: It is between two individuals.
3) Age: It is between responsible adults.
4) Willingness: The adults must be consenting.
5) Permanency: It is to last as long as both live.
6) Species: It is a distinctly human institution.
If we feel free to tamper with and alter one component of marriage, why stop there? Why not start with a fresh sheet of paper, and redefine other components as well?
1) Gender: Marriage is not only for a man and a woman, but for a man and man, or woman and woman. (This we have already done.)
2) Number: We assume only two, but why not ménage et trios, or group marriage among four or five, or why not just one? “I love myself. I care about myself. I’m the most important person in my life. I can even have sex with myself. I want to spend the rest of my life with myself. So I’d like to marry myself, and receive double benefits!”
3) Age: Again, we assume that marriage is restricted to responsible adults, but why? Why not allow children to marry? Why not 40 year old and a 6 year old? If we’re starting with a blank sheet and aren’t restricted to traditional values, why not be inclusive?
4) Willingness: Why not forced marriages? (You may not like it. You may think it ridiculous, but why? Who’s to say?)
5) Permanency: Divorce has already shattered this one; but why not take it a step further? Why not 24 hour marriages with built in timers that expire with an automatic, predetermined divorce? (If you judge this a silly impossibility, be aware that in some current branches of Islam, clerics grant just that kind of relationship.)
6) Species: If you have a particularly close and affectionate relationship with your schnauzer, why not marry him or her? Why forbid the marriage between a man and a dog?
Many have been worn down to think that we can redefine the gender restriction of marriage because to do so is “fair” or “compassionate” or “loving” or as an equal rights issue. Does anyone see it as a question of right and wrong? Could this not be part of the moral absolutes that rule human society?
One cannot have it both ways; either there are absolutes, standards for every person’s behavior that solidify right and wrong, but judge us as well as guide us, or there are not--and no one is to judge, but nothing guides us and nothing but personal taste to which we appeal. Either marriage is defined by God, or it isn’t, and if it isn’t––we should feel free to tamper with it to our hearts’ content. And if we tamper with marriage, why stop there? Why not tamper with every other institution and value any of us deem unworthy?
Comedian Bill Maher lampoons such “slippery slope” thinking: “Gay marriage won’t lead to dog marriage. It is not a slippery slope to rampant inter-species coupling. When women got the right to vote, it didn’t lead to hamsters voting...And for the record, all marriages are same sex marriages: You get married, and every night, it’s the same sex” (Bill Maher, New Rules). Bill is funny, but smirking is not the same as reasoning, and a denial that something won’t happen does not grant certainty. (Do you really think that as societal standards evolve, we will have any grounds to deny granting the marriage label to polygamists, trios or to anyone who desires it for whatever relationship they concoct?)
When absolutes are ejected, there are no rules left to break, nothing to be outraged at, nothing at all but personal opinions, personal viewpoints, personal ‘druthers; we sink into the quicksand of nothing solid, nothing objective to stand on. What remains is the shadowy land of me-ism, where there is no guidance, no right and wrong, no truth and error, only subjectivism. Is suicide wrong? Murder? Stealing? Rape? Divorce? Homosexuality? Adultery? Lying? Gossip? Without absolutes, it is a matter of personal, and perhaps popular preference. If most people in a given time and place say it is prohibited, then so be it. If they change their minds, then we merely update morality. The western world has darkened into a perpetually gray place where definitions and requirements are elastic, constantly shifting and morphing to fit our current desires and sensibilities.
Two values that do seem to remain absolute are fairness (by which we mean, absolute equality of means and ends), and non-judgmentalism. In the present debate about same-sex marriage, it is argued that it isn’t fair that some can marry and some cannot. (Actually, absolutely anyone can marry anyone else of the opposite sex who is currently unmarried, of proper age, with mutual consent. That is fair.) We all agree that fairness is not an issue when we exclude marriage from those who do not qualify by age (a six year old girl and a 44 year old man), or by species (a woman and a horse). These we nod in assent––but (only recently) we vigorously reject the notion that gender ought to be considered as a qualification. “That,” we argue, “is judgmental,” and violates our non-judgmental absolute value. We want to erase all judgment except the notion that something cannot be judgmental, which is judgmental (if you follow the logic).
But why would anyone not want absolutes (even if it requires some judgment)? Because the existence of absolutes points to something outside of us as their creator—a God. A Creator who designs them. A Judge who enforces them. To the degree that we long for absolutes, we are evidencing that we have a moral fiber, that we were created with conscience, and that we cannot live in a moral vacuum. But to the degree that we do not wish God to be in our lives, we reject absolutes. In fact, the one absolute in a relative world is that there are no absolutes. We crave truth, right and wrong, purpose and meaning, but all the while running from the only One who grants those gifts.
So as you listen to the daily chatter on talk shows, in supermarket lines, around coffee cups, or on Facebook postings, remember that it really isn’t about same-sex marriage. It’s about God. And whether life has any definition or design to it, or whether we are just making it all up as we go along. If a person rejects the notion that God exists or has anything to say about our lives, I can see why they’d advocate marriage for gays. I can see how a person who dismisses the Bible as irrelevant to modern culture would shake his head at this posting in my blog and think I’m hopelessly bigoted. (I’m really not.) And yes, I understand there are thorny issues about same-sex couples receiving equal economic benefits as heterosexual married couples.
If two of the same gender wish to have a life-long sexual relationship, call it a “Civil Union,” or a “Gay Alliance” or even a “Gay Marriage” or something else honoring in their eyes. I wish not to simply call it, “Marriage”––and so dismantle the long-standing, defined relationship God has established from the beginning.
If I were ever put in charge of hell, I would make it a waiting room. Nothing to do and nowhere to go. I wouldn’t make it the place of suffering, darkness and fire; I would make it the place where one waits to enter the place of suffering, darkness and fire.
Waiting is hard to do.
I don’t mind preparation. Before making a decision, I can take all the time necessary to investigate and research to make an informed decision. But that’s not waiting; that’s preparing. Waiting is what you do after making the decision and before anything actually happens. Or more accurately, what you don’t do...
Though hard to do, waiting is part of life.
We wait in lines, wait for green lights, wait for the train to pass, wait for the game to start, wait for our grades to be posted, wait for a table, wait for the checker to scan our groceries...we wait.
When we’re children, we wait to go up. When we’re single, we wait to get married. When we’re sick, we wait for the return of health. When we’re in mid-life, we wait to retire. When we’re old, we wait to die.
Troubled by God's lack of intervention and fearing the threats around him, David said as much to us as to himself: "Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord" (Ps. 27:14). It's good counsel for any of us who are frustrated by our circumstances.
What makes waiting hard? We live in a fast-food, instant-gratification, email-Facebook-Twitter-text message-cell phone world. We buy RAM to make our computers faster, pay more for faster internet speeds, and become annoyed when pictures fail to load instantly. Modern life has no patience with waiting; yet it is powerless to prevent it.
What’s good about waiting?
Without waiting, we will not develop patience.
Waiting allows us to think, to slow down and ponder.
Waiting gives us a chance to observe, to look around not at life at a blur, but at still life.
Waiting offers us what we need and want, what we try to gain when we cut corners and why we hate waiting: time... Time to think, to relax, to pray, to remember, to breathe.
“All good things come to those who wait,” someone asserts. Whether they do or not, we will wait.
C’mon: What are you waiting for?
We’re moving…fast! And we barely know it.
Did you know:
•150 years ago there were virtually no automobiles? Want to get from here to there? Walk. Or ride a horse. Or find a cart, a wagon or stagecoach pulled by animals.
•100 years ago, in 1913, the average person couldn’t fly in an airplane?
•90 years ago, most homes didn’t have indoor plumbing with bathrooms and spigots? What we take for granted today––clean drinking water with a twist of the wrist, hot water as needed, and commodes to flush away our waste––is a very recent development.
•50 years ago, there were no personal computers? Some corporations and universities could afford room-sized computers fed manually by punch cards, designed to do very little. The idea of an information appliance sitting on our desks or laps to access the world was something Disney couldn’t have believed.
•40 years ago, when I was graduated from high school, nearly no one used credit cards. A few companies issued American Express cards to their traveling workers, but they had to be paid off each month. It wasn’t until 1976 that Visas began to pick up steam and soon, everyone would have them; in fact, it would become difficult to travel and do business without them.
•25 years ago, there was no public internet? It was at the end of the 1980s that email became common, dial-up modems started burping their way onto a painfully slow internet, and Bill Gates predicted that in our lifetimes, people would buy products on-line and have them delivered to their doorstep. (Crazy!)
•25 years ago, mobile or cell phones were introduced commercially, though few could afford them. What began as “bag-phones” that cost dearly to make a single call now is in nearly everyone’s hand. We no longer call places, but individuals. Captain Kirk’s communicators now seem silly and limited, though in the day, they seemed fantastic.
•10 years ago, Facebook didn’t exist. Instead, face-to-face was pretty much it.
•8 years ago, no one “Tweeted” because there was no Twitter. By 2012, 500 million of us were registered to read and write in 140 characters or less.
•5 years ago, no one had an iPad, and most pooh-poohed the need for it. The first month they were introduced, 300,000 of us snapped one up. Since then, 84,000,000 have been sold, encouraging Microsoft, Google and Samsung to jump into the market.
•Only a few years ago, flatscreen TVs were cost-prohibitive for most people––$2500 for 40 inch Sony. Today a person can find 40 inch flatscreens with much higher resolution for $400. And these come with a dizzying array of choices: HDTV, LCD or Plasma or LED, 720 or 1080p, internet ready, Blu-ray or not? In fact, we’re seeing the beginning of 3D TV in homes, even as it is becoming popular in theaters.
The accelerator is being depressed. Believe it or not, the changes are accelerating. What will we see in the years––or even days ahead? I’m no prophet, but I can guess.
•Much as I love books, their numbers will diminish, as more people have “readers” (like Kindles and iPads). It makes sense: the cost to scan and deliver a book electronically are pennies compared to printing, binding, boxing, shipping, and selling. Also expect to see books be much more interactive, with additions of sound, music and video as illustrations and enhancements.
•The somewhat annoying “Siri”––the voice meant to help us be hands-free on our phones will become smarter and more intentional. She will listen to us, read our emails, learn our habits and preferences, and instead of just responding to us, she’ll suggest. Coming down our hill from our home early in the morning, she’ll remember the calendar and time, and speak up: “Steve, do you want to stop by the coffee shop and get your normal “Double 12 ounce, two-pump vanilla latte?” If I say, “Yes”––she’ll order it online and pay for it with one of my credit cards. (Scary?)
•Our TVs will drop the six remotes used to control the dish or cable, the TV itself, the DVD or Blu-ray player, and the sound system. Instead, we’ll speak to the TV (or remote), and tell it we want to watch the latest episode of our favorite program. And it will turn on, and begin playing that show.
•Right now, you can buy cars that park themselves, warn you of vehicles in your blind spots, remember your seat positions and temperature controls and music stations, and even slow you down when you are approaching another car at an unsafe speed. It takes little imagination to picture vehicles that drive you to your stated destination.
•I don’t think it will be long before we see some form of identification that is implanted in our bodies, not carried in our purses and wallets. And I don’t think it’s unlikely that whatever that device is, it also carries our medical and financial information. We will shop and walk out through a scanner, and it will automatically track our purchases and deduct them from our accounts.
•In another 50 years, I’m pretty sure that cancer will be very treatable, if not curable, and even preventable with a vaccine. We’ll be able to regrow and repair spinal cords, making paralysis a thing of the past.
Sounds like a bright future? Yet, the very technology that is swiftly taking us to that world could make our same world very, very dark.
We are now the most technologically connected, but relationally disconnected of all generations. What will happen to our friendships and interactions in the future? Will we become emotional cripples, preferring imaginary and online “fellowship” to real people with real problems, demanding real sacrifices?
Privacy is dwindling rapidly. What will happen when a government that knows everything, thinks it knows better than the governed? Will it not tell us who we are and what we want, and tell on us when we do not conform? How could anyone escape from something that is everywhere? Perhaps we will look back on those who advocated more freedom, less government and more personal responsibility as prescient.
Our ability to sustain life and prevent and cure might lead us to think that any life that isn’t “healthy” isn’t worth living, or keeping. Euthanasia is legal in Oregon and very few of us blink; could it become not only common, but mandated in our future?
In the last century, full of ourselves, forward thinkers believed that we could manipulate future generations by eliminating the defective, the stupid and the undesirables among us, leaving the intelligent, the socially adept and economically productive people to breed. It was called, Eugenics (from the Greek words eu or “good”, and gena or “generation”––and many believed it to be a key to the next level of evolution. Margaret Sanger who started Planned Parenthood hoped the organization would promote it. Authors H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, and even Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes advocated it. But that conviction led to the gassing of millions of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and political “undesirables” at the midpoint of the last century. It is warning from our past to our future that not every progressive idea is good, and many might lead to unknown horrors.
Anyone who knows me knows I am anything but a pessimist; but I also know what the last book of the Bible predicts: wars and rumors of wars; turmoil among nations; a mid-east on the precipice; a savior to come who will bring promises of peace, but who will rule with an iron fist, will persecute believers, and will use the power of a world-wide economic system to control whole populations.
I also know that the Kingdom is coming, and when He is revealed, it will be brighter than we could ever imagine, better than we could ever believe. His Kingdom shall never end.
We are racing to a conclusion; history is moving forward. We might be centuries, generations away from a conclusion, or we might be only years...or days. We ought to be grateful for the progress we’ve made and the harnessing of man’s God-given ingenuity to create a better life. But we also ought to be aware of unintended consequences: what changes our future will pressure to change us...and not necessarily for the better
You do not expect to find much of real value in a garage sale––even if it is a giant one like our church puts on every year. All year long people donate unwanted or unneeded items, stuff from their garages, closets, cupboards, drawers and even from other garage and estate sales. They drop boxes and pickup loads and trailers-full of stuff, and we cart it all upstairs to our third floor attic to sort and sticker with bargain-prices. Surprisingly, most of what we collect sells, which goes to prove the maxim, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” Occasionally, I find something I like––some nicknack, old book or cast-off that grabs my interest, and I buy it for pennies and take it home. Rarely do we find anything of worth. Until last week.
We’re not sure where it came from. Either someone dropped it off with their other stuff, or in sorting and moving stuff, someone found it tucked away somewhere upstairs. It is a copy of our local paper, yellow and faded, brittle to the touch, the Roseburg News-Review, dated Thursday, October 27th, 1932.
When we found it, I brought it downstairs, carefully opened its stiff pages, and started reading. Will Rogers, the famous humorist, had a column. The investigation into Charles Lindbergh’s child’s kidnapping was underway. The Associated Press were reporting that Gandhi must obey or stay in prison; his civil disobedience apparently was gaining wide attention.
At home in Roseburg, everything was on sale: The Oregon Woolen Store was selling $22.50 suits for $8.75, expensive fedoras for less than a dollar, and socks for 8¢. The want-ads were filled with stuff you could buy cheaply––if you had any money. You could buy beans for $3.59––for 100 pounds! A pound of Nob Hill Coffee would set you back three dimes. At Montgomery Ward, you could buy a pair of new shoes or a double cotton blanket or a man’s dress shirt or a wool sweater for a buck each.
You could go to the Rose Theater and see “The Night Mayor” with Lee Tracy for a quarter, or go downtown to the Indian Theater and watch Jack Oakie in “Madison Square Garden” for 35¢.
If you lived then, you were local news. A few of the entries on page 2 include:
“Leota Davis spent Thursday and Friday at Umpqua visiting Lucile Hebard and her sister, Gertrude Davis.”
(Shocking news, isnt it?) And:
“Dorothy Arundel spent Thursday in Roseburg shopping and visiting friends.”
(I’m beginning to wonder how the reporters discovered this juicy tidbit.)
And of course, we wouldn’t want to miss these important items of breaking news:
“W. D. Valentine Jr. is repairing his house on State Street where he and his family expect to reside this winter.”
“Raymond Bell left this morning for Eugene to visit over the weekend. He plans to attend the Oregon-Gonzaga game Saturday.”
(I suppose it kept people from gossiping over the back fence.)
Still, it was an uneasy time. What we now call, “The Great Depression” had begun nearly three years ago to the day. On Tuesday, October 27th, 1929, the U.S. stock market collapsed, plunging not only our country, but the rest of the world into financial crisis. It would last until the start of World War 2 in late 1941, another nine years off. Now, in 1932, unemployment was at 25%––one in every four had no job and no prospects. Everyone else felt the squeeze financially, and very few could afford to live like they had in the 1920s.
This copy of the News-Review reflected that simpler, harder time. The bold headline announces, “England’s hunger Army Battles Police”. Cutbacks and shortfalls in other countries apparently were causing rioting. Perceived unfairness in administering “The Dole System”––how and how much they distributed food to the unemployed––sparked protests among fifty thousand in Hyde Park.
Then, in the middle of the front page, the paper announces, “R.F.C. Loan To Douglas $20,832.” The RFC was the “Reconstruction Finance Program,” a federal government program that lent money to states and counties, who then would hire individuals to do “make-work” and be paid accordingly. The money would be repaid eventually to the Federal Government through the collection of delinquent taxes, as the economy improved and people returned to work.
The report explained:
“The amount is to be distributed...and will be expended in the various districts of the county, but will be used exclusively to provide work at the emergency wage for men who have not other employment and who are dependent upon this source for food for themselves and their families.”
As I pondered this historical cameo, some details sharpened into clear focus:
•The Federal Government was loaning money to the state, and expected to be paid back. (Historically, that happened––nearly all of the funds were repaid.)
•Though the Federal Government initiated the funding, it was the counties that managed the disbursements. (Apparently, they thought local oversight was better than federal.)
•Finally, I was surprised to see something they knew, and we apparently have forgotten: you don’t give people who can work money or goods for not working. They didn’t issue checks to the needy, or simply give handouts to the unemployed. If you needed work, they found some work for you to do, and paid you with the RFC funds. It sounds strangely reminiscent of a passage in the Bible: “If a man is unwilling to work, he shall not eat” (2Thessalonians 3:10). On one hand, hunger is a great motivator, and on the other, working for a wage is both honorable and responsible, even if the work isn’t what you’d like to do, or if it doesn’t pay what you think you’re worth. Doing something for something is always better than doing nothing for something.
The paper is a delicate and valuable piece of history––our history, and it can speak to us if we’re willing and open to listen and learn.
Our economy is fragile, and it is possible that we will awaken to find ourselves in a situation akin to others in our past. I wonder, will we have the wisdom and hindsight, the character and patience not to expect handouts like those in Britain, but to help ourselves and one another through difficult times––like those in Roseburg?
I began receiving urgent phone calls from the mortgage company that holds title on our home to call them as soon as possible. (No, we don’t “own” our home; the bank does.) At first, I thought it was simply a marketing gimmick, since when I returned the call at the provided number, it led me to a menu of departments. However, every month I received another “urgent” call.
Finally, I called, randomly chose a department, and was determined to get to the bottom of this.
After being (predictably) transferred a number of times, a knowledgeable person explained to me that these were “helpful reminders” that my due date for the payment was passed––that my payment was in fact “past due.”
Surprised, since I have never been “late” with a payment, and have never had to pay a late fee, I reviewed the facts as questions:
“Have I ever been assessed a late fee?”
“No” was the immediate reply.
“Is not my due date the 15th of the month?” “Well, yes” the helpful but hesitant voice responded. “But your payment is actually due on the 1st of the month.”
“Then why am I not assessed a late fee until the 15th?” I asked.
“Because you have a fifteen day grace period,” she explained.
“So, grace means I don’t have to pay it until the 15th.”
“Well, we would like it on the 1st.”
“But no penalty until the 15th?” I countered, to be sure.
“Yes,” she tentatively agreed.
“Then I do in fact understand. And I’d like the reminders to stop. Don’t penalize me for paying during the grace period––or it isn’t grace at all.”
Grace is just that: grace. You don’t incur penalties.
And because of Christ, I am living in a “grace period”––though for very different reasons (His vicarious death), and with no prospect for future penalties.
And if you don't understand that, you don't understand grace. Period.