Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Limitations of our intelligence and need for character

Here's an interesting quote: "The world of the future will be an evermore demanding struggle against the limitations of our intelligence, not a comfortable hammock in which we can lie down to be waited upon by our robot slaves."

It comes from Norbert Wiener, in the 1964 book titled God and Golem Inc.


It's still true.

Christian men need also to be thinking about limits of our character, individual and social. We live under a curse of superficiality (see Richard Foster's book, Celebration of Discipline) -- and the world needs us to be deep people. The great need is for us to lead God-besotted lives.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Terrific book for parents of adolescents

I recommend Like Dew Your Youth: Growing Up With Your Teenager, by Eugene Peterson. He creates a theology of parenting that resonates deeply. His central premise is that God provides adolescents as a means for building up our faith and character. A gem.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Michael Novak on the Ten Commandments Controversy

I highly recommend Michael Novak's analysis of the principle of religious liberty at stake in the Alabama case where Judge Roy Moore was ousted over the Ten Commandments monument.

I also recommend you sign up for the free Imprimis magazine from Hillsdale College -- they have thoughtful, meaty speeches.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Two fun quotes

"I have only one firm belief about the American political system, and that is this: God is a Republican and Santa Claus is a Democrat....[God] holds men strictly accountable for their actions....[Santa Claus] may know who's been naughty and who's been nice, but he never does anything about it....Santa Claus is preferable to God in every way but one: There is no such thing as Santa Claus." --P.J. O'Rourke

John Fund, a editorial-page deep thinker at the Wall Street Journal, sums up Cruz Bustamante, the Democrat who for a time led the polls in that strange California election:

"You could wade through his deepest thoughts and not get your ankles wet."
Debunking the "da Vinci Code"

Men, here's an opportunity to stand up for historical truth. You probably know people who have read The da Vinci Code.

I believe the Lord can and will use this blasphemous novel to turn people's attention to the Truth, as we prayerfully engage the readers.

You probably need some factual help -- check out this article from Christian History as a good starting point.

Best books project

I plan to create a best books list for my children, then see that they have a copy of each book on the list before they leave our home. I'm thinking about books that will be powerful, true, and meaningful in 30 or 50 years. Books that build minds and sharpen convictions. Books that I want to influence our descendents, until Christ comes again.

What books have been life-changing for you? Contact me at beboldgentle@yahoo.com if you want to make suggestions.

Yes, I will publish the list when its ready :-)

Hooray for Gimli!

For you LOTR fans, three cheers for John Rhys-Davies, the actor who plays the dwarf Gimli in the LOTR movies. He gets the right perpective from Tolkien's work. An excerpt from the World magazine article:

He related the Middle Earth myth to the rise of Islam in the modern world: "I think that Tolkien says that some generations will be challenged and if they do not rise to meet that challenge they will lose their civilization. That does have a real resonance with me.... What is unconscionable is that too many of your fellow journalists do not understand how precarious Western civilization is.... The abolition of slavery comes from Western democracy. True Democracy comes from our Greco-Judeo-Christian-Western experience. If we lose these things, then this is a catastrophe for the world.

"And if it just means replacement of one genetic stock with another genetic stock, I don't think that matters too much. But if it involves the replacement of Western civilization with different cultural values then it's something we really ought to discuss because ... I am for dead white male culture! If Tolkien's got a message, it's that sometimes you've got to stand up and fight for what you believe in."

Now if only Viggo Mortensen and Ian McKellen would see Truth and Light!

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Saddam Captured, and Consumerism Reigns

Strange contrasts in the news today. I'm delighted that Saddam was captured -- and shown for the defeated coward that he is -- and disheartened by the grip of consumerism on Americans.

Men, it's time to be bold, time to be gentle, time to honor Christ. Don't waste your life.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Judicial Activism

James Taranto has this fine bit on Dec 11:

Protecting Porn but Not Politics
In the case of McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme court yesterday upheld key provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance "reform" law. National Review blogress Kathryn Lopez notes this passage from Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent, which sums matters up nicely:

Who could have imagined that the same Court which, within the past four years, has sternly disapproved of restrictions upon such inconsequential forms of expression as virtual child pornography, tobacco advertising, dissemination of illegally intercepted communications, and sexually explicit cable programming, would smile with favor upon a law that cut to the heart of what the First Amendment is meant to protect: the right to criticize the government.

This wonderfully encapsulates the perversity at the heart of contemporary American liberalism: "Free speech," in this view, protects everything except actual political speech. And of course we're all familiar with variants of this argument, such as: Criticizing anti-American speech is censorship, while censoring conservative speech is mere criticism. Or: It's un-American to criticize people who side with America's enemies; indeed, as "dissenters," they are the true patriots. It's mind-boggling that this sort of nonsense gets taken seriously.

And John Fund of the WSJ has a sensible analysis of why judges shift -- it's because of the praise they receive.

"Judge Laurence Silberman, recently retired from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, made a landmark speech in 1992 that explained the kind of pressures that nudge someone like Justice O'Connor away from her conservative moorings. Judges, he noted, are often swayed by a desire for praise. Their judicial vanity is often flattered when reporters or professors at elite law schools write glowing descriptions of how they've "grown in office,"--that is, come to see a liberal point of view more favorably. Journalists "have a lot more impact than [they] think," he noted ruefully. He said the most prominent media practitioner of the effort to "put political heat" on judges to move them in a more activist direction was Linda Greenhouse, then and now the legal affairs reporter for the New York Times. Judge Silberman called this process of co-opting judges the "Greenhouse effect."

"The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold,
but man is tested by the praise he receives." (Prov 27:21)

What's infinite?

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." -- Albert Einstein

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Expectant Learning

Church is not something to be checked of your to-do list. I recently heard a man say that he wished our congregational prayers were shorter and we could just "get on with it." I wondered, Get on with what? Another man said happily as he left one Sunday, "OK, back to the real world." If Jesus Christ is the way, the reality, and the life (John 14:6) then what real world was my brother referring to?

Let us recognize the shallowness of our spiritual lives. Richard Foster's words for us are prophetic: "Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people."

The problems we face today in our families and our country can only be met by greater spiritual depth -- we must be larger and cleaner conduits for the love of God. I find myself too satisfied with little sprinkles of God's love when what is needed is a life-giving downpour. Let's ask the Lord of our hearts to pour out enough love so that every aquifer is replenished and the subsoil moisture is ideal for growing the harvest.

Americans are steeped in a powerful consumer-oriented culture. A consumer orientation in the church is not consistent with the mind of Christ. The purpose of our gatherings is not to make us feel good or comfortable, but to glorify the Lord of the Universe. We worship our holy God (Ex 20:3), we experience the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 13:14), use our gifts and talents to help others (1 Pe 4:10), and receive instruction and training that we might serve effectively in the Lord's kingdom (Gal 5:13-14). You are here for service, friend. "It's not about you. It's not about me, either. It's about Jesus." These things are true for everyone, including children and youth in our fellowship, not just some of the adults who are “into” it.

Perhaps you have been nodding with agreement as you've read this. Very good. Now what will you do differently -- today, for it is the only day you have -- to be more satisfied in Christ and God-saturated?

Here is my challenge for you: Become an expectant learner. Come to every meeting with believers and to each time in the Word with an attitude that God will give you the precise nugget of truth you need to share with another—perhaps your children, or your neighbor, or a coworker. So pray beforehand, like this: “Lord, I am confident you will teach me. Help me get it.” Listen expectantly. When that nugget of truth comes, or insight into God’s glory, write it down! Then prayerfully watch for opportunities to use what the Lord has taught you. This is a grand adventure, friends!

May our gracious God saturate all our lives with His Word and His Presence, for the glory of Jesus Christ, our ever-living Lord, Savior, Master, Teacher, and Friend. Amen!

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

What's an Evangelical in America?

US News & World Report has a cover story titled Evangelicals in America. There are some interesting statements here:

* according to a Gallup survey, roughly 4 out of 10 Americans identify themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians

[This statement reminds me of John Stott's assessment of America years ago -- "What kind of salt is it? 0.4 pounds of salt cannot savor 1.0 pounds of meat?"]

* In the last presidential election, 40 percent of Bush's votes came from religious conservatives. But not all evangelicals have ended up at the conservative end of the political spectrum. Theologically conservative African-American evangelicals and a minority of white evangelicals combine to make the evangelical perspective a force to be reckoned with inside the Democratic Party.

* Evangelicalism is, in a way, a counterculture.

* Adaptable and improvisatory, emotionally engaging and sustaining, American evangelical religion has provided a most accessible spiritual home for a highly individualistic, egalitarian, and mobile people.

Men, there will always be a lot of discussion about labels. Take care. When we're called to account for our lives (see Heb 9:27) there won't be much conversation about the labels we so highly treasure.

As you go forward today, consider that God has already prepared good works for you, so that you may walk in them, and honor His Name by loving others. Purpose to live well today.
Is man a moral being, or not?

Check out this 1939 WSJ editorial by Thomas Woodlock. There are consequences -- from individual families right up through international affairs -- of your understanding of the nature of man.

"Now leaving open for the moment the question whether man is a moral being or not, we are confronted by the obvious fact that the Western civilization is founded on the assumption that he is, and by the equally obvious fact that our American social structure is in a very special sense formally created on the same base. On this base have rested all the traditions, the mores, and the conventions of both. That base is now attacked in principle and in practice. If it goes the traditions and the mores go with it. What kind of social order can we expect to arise upon its ruins?

One thing we can safely predict of any social order that is erected upon a theory of human amoralism. It must, if it is to be "order," take the ant heap or the hive as its model. It cannot stop short of that; the dichotomy is absolute. There can be no "liberty" for anyone in an amoral social order, any more than there is liberty for an ant or a bee. It would have to be an order much as that of Egypt under the Pyramid-builders but almost infinitely tighter, because more complex, and it would not have at its command the one thing that cemented the Egyptian structure and gave it such unique stability--religion. There is nothing in the history of man to support the possibility of such an order; all history gives it the lie.

To those who believe that man is a moral creature, Mrs. McCormick's conclusion is convincing. We shall see the world's crisis beginning to resolve, when we see the law of right and wrong entering into the dispute--not before. To those who do not so believe, the crisis should be no crisis at all, but rather a step toward the order which their philosophy foresees and demands. That is, of course, supposing them to be logical--which, equally of course, they are not. For it is characteristic of all pragmatists, from William James down, that in building their Utopias they surreptitiously slip in through the back door the "absolutes" that they have ostentatiously kicked down the front stoop!"

This one is for my friend, Aaron

"The U.S. military has had considerably more success in turning Iraq around than liberals have had in turning the ghettos around with their 40-year 'War on Poverty.' So far, fewer troops have been killed by hostile fire since the end of major combat in Iraq than civilians were murdered in Washington, DC, last year (239 deaths in Iraq compared to 262 murders in DC). How many years has it been since we declared the end of major U.S. combat operations against Marion Barry's regime? How long before we just give up and pull out of that hellish quagmire known as Washington, DC?" --Ann Coulter

Monday, December 08, 2003

Your family tree

It's interesting to see that tracing family roots has become the No. 2 hobby in the United States, after gardening, according to the National Genealogical Society.

The Bible records many geneologies, and family history is important. But no matter what your past, all of us can be adopted as children of God, co-heirs with Christ.

More about your Bible

I've written before to encourage you to mark up your Bible and make it a great tool for ministry. Here are some ideas for things to include:

Key notes from good sermons in the margins
Outlines of devotions you've done in the past -- they will be useful again!
Great quotes from books and speakers that are worth reviewing, and sharing
Doctrinal outlines (I have the 12 points of doctrine for the EFCA)
Bible reading plan
A Biblical outline for sharing the Good News with people

So this is about making an ever-better tool for you to use in the Lord's service. But keep in mind the truth of what's really needed most -- Christ in you. Consider these words from Robert Murray M'Cheyne, the great Scottish Puritan pastor: "What my people need most is my personal holiness. That's right. But human holiness is nothing more than a God-besotted life."

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Being a good general store owner

"[Jesus] said, 'Then you see how every student well-trained in God's kingdom is like the owner of a general store who can put his hands on anything you need, old or new, exactly when you need it." (Matt 13:52, The Message translation)

How's your comfort level with your Bible, men? For any situation, can you go to God's Word and find appropriate guidance or strength? God will bring us new opportunities every day (see Eph 2:10), and our part is to be prepared.

Make it your ambition to wear out Bibles. Write in them. Create a legacy you can leave to your children. But get God's Word in your heart and mind.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Reminders of what we must teach our children

"We have failed our children if we have not passed on to them a
realistic perspective of government. We must insure that they know that it is
not okay to raid people's paychecks and steal their property, even if
doing so seems to be in the best interest of society. We must not take
it for granted that our children know the importance of spiritual things
and understand the foundations of traditional morality. We must insure
that they do. Walt Disney would not know the company he founded only a
generation ago. He would roll over in his grave at what those at the
helm of Disney today have made of his dream. Henry Ford would turn away
in disgust at what the Ford Foundation is doing with his fortune. I am
certain that the Founding Fathers would be distressed at the way we have
allowed their carefully constructed, much debated words...twisted so as
to kick God and the Bible out of our schools and to protect the
purveyors of obscenity. They would wonder in disbelief at the income taxes we
allow to be confiscated from our paychecks today and the property that
is stolen without compensation by means of egregious land use
regulations. In their day, they would have hung the government official who told
them that they could not build a deck on the back of their house
without a government permit or could not own a gun without the government's
consent.... Today, 'church going' Walt [Disney] would not even be
welcome to sit on the board of directors of his own company. Today, neither
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, nor James Madison could
be elected to Congress in any of the states from which they hailed two
centuries ago. That's what happens when a generation or two fails to
pass on to their children and those who work under them the values and
traditions that form the very underpinnings of their society. Precious
things slip away, for the price of liberty really is eternal vigilance."
--Bill Sizemore
What do you want to be IF you grow up?

Todd Wilson relays a hilarious application to date my daughter form. Ideal for dads who remember clearly what 15 to 18 year old boys are like.

For those of us raising boys who will date other men's princesses, Todd has some excellent suggestions for training them:

1. Train him to be involved in his own family. He can't do his own thing.
2. Train him to be a good listener. Eye to eye, no distractions.
3. Train him to be gentle. No harsh words or roughness.
4. Train him to be able to say, "I'm sorry" -- even when he feels wronged.
5. Train him to have a real, growing relationship with God. He can't go it alone.
6. Train him to care more about loving his wefe and raising his children than he does about his career.
7. Train him to be able to say "No" to his own desires and "Yes" to hers.

A lot of this training will come from our boys watching how we relate with our wives, men!
What would gun control people think of this?

Thomas Jefferson has rightly been described as the American Sphinx -- no matter what your decision, he has a quote to support you. Truly a good politician, because he could come down squarely on both sides of an issue. Here's an example that might aggravate the gun control advocates:

"The constitutions of most of our States assert that all power is inherent in the people; ... that is their right and duty to be at all times armed."

Dear American Soldier

Great Dennis Prager column, in the form of a letter to our soldiers. Here's an excerpt: "In sum, you are carrying the great burden of history on your shoulders every day you serve in Iraq. That some of your fellow citizens do not understand this only means that the war for civilization is taking place as much here at home as it is in Iraq.

We pray for you not only because you are our sons and daughters risking your lives, but because if God is good, and if we humans can discern between good and evil, you are doing God's work. It is as clear as that. No American war has ever been clearer."