Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Spiritual Courage

"The essense of spiritual courage is being more afraid of offending the Holy Spirit than pleasing people." -- Mark Batterson

Tax the "Rich" More? One Economist's View

Arthur Laffer provides data (imagine that, data) that you can review about the problems that result from raising tax rates on citizens with high income.

"Surprise, surprise: The effective average tax rate for the top 1% of income earners barely wiggles as Congress changes tax codes after tax codes, and as the economy goes from boom to bust and back again (see chart).

The question is, how can that effective average tax rate be so stable? The answer is simply that the very highest income earners are and have always been able to vary their reported income and thus control the amount of taxes they pay. Whether through tax shelters, deferrals, gifts, write-offs, cross income mobility or any of a number of other measures, the effective average tax rate barely budges. But this group's total tax payments are incredibly volatile.

For the low- and middle-income earners, the effective average tax rate has tumbled over the past 25 years, and so have tax revenues no matter how they're measured.

Using recent data, in other words, it would appear on its face that the Democratic proposal to raise taxes on the upper-income earners, and lower taxes on the middle- and lower- income earners, will result in huge revenue losses on both accounts."

I've never met anyone who said that their taxes should be more. I've met many people who recommend changing the rate on another group. And it's increasingly clear that economic effects across millions of humans with emotions, a towering pile of government interventions, in a globallly networked transaction economy, are not easily understood intuitively.

So let's use some data to learn. If you'd like a good start, check out Basic Economics.

Alternatively, you can try to learn economics from members of your state and federal legislatures.

Imagine What He'd Ask His Friends To Pray For!

Michael Spenser (aka, "The Internet Monk") writes some challenging words to his critics, inviting them to truly pray for him. Here's an excerpt:

"If you really do love me, and you genuinely want to pray for me, then by all means do so. Write me and I’ll give you the prayer need of the day. I never run short. If you don’t want to do the email, just pray I’ll be less of what I am by nature and more what Jesus gave himself for me to be. Pray I love my wife like Christ loves the church. Pray for the fact that I’m a coward. Prayer for my laziness. Pray for my preaching. Pray for my teaching. Pray for my counseling. Pray for my leadership. Pray for my writing. Pray for my besetting sins and struggles. Pray for my daily devotions. Pray I’ll love God, love his word, and follow his Son. Pray I’ll hate sin’s influence and be busy killing it. Pray I’ll be useful, joyful and filled with the Spirit. That should cover the next five minutes."

That's a great request list! Imagine what he asks his friends and colleagues to pray for!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What is a Disciple?

Bill Hull, author of Choose the Life and other books on discipleship, spoke at our church this past weekend. Great content to chew on! He's got some tough things to say (like, "it's not the pastor's job to do your Bible study for you") that he slides home with humor and wit. I recommend you listen to his sermon from Luke 15, "What is a Disciple?"

Friday, January 25, 2008

So You Want to Write a Blog

I'm occasionally asked about starting a blog. The key stumbling block isn't technical, it's writing.

Writing well is an art, a craft, and work, even writing on a blog. But it's good work that sharpens you!

Fortunately there are some good places on the web to help improve your writing skills. Leo of ZenHabits has launched a delightful website called WriteToDone aimed at sharpening your technique.

He’s had a few great posts already:
Edit to Done: Revision and the Art of Being Concise
How to Write First Thing in The Morning
Short Stories: The Art of the Start
Writer’s Dilemma: Your Art vs. Paying the Bills
What Makes Great Blogwriting?

Check it out!

This Is About You

Fun Quote: "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken." -- Oscar Wilde

There's certainly truth in that. You and I are truly unique creations! But there's a question implied here: "Who am I?"

When I was a teenager in the 70's I read a lot about "finding yourself." My teachers encouraged us to "find your true self." I used to imagine epic journeys through many adventures to "find myself."

I was 22 when I first really began to grasp that Jesus Christ had found me, and was telling me who I am. I didn't need to find myself. That insight (which is from God through His Word) is partly why I love the Casting Crown's song, "Who Am I." Here are part of the lyrics -- watch for the line "you told me who I am" :

I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
A vapor in the wind
Still You hear me when I'm calling
Lord, You catch me when I'm falling
And You've told me who I am
I am Yours, I am Yours

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Checking Out the Canadian Economy

Mark Steyn shares some insights into the vaunted Canadian economy. (PDF printable version)

I didn't realize the extent of the government workforce, unionization (even panhandlers operate under union rules) , subsidies and taxes.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cotton Matter Appeals to Fathers

Here's some strong stuff for fathers. Cotton Mather doesn't pull any punches!

Strong Men, Strong Words

Check out Tony Woodlief's reflections on Martin Luther King, Jr. Great post. I've excerpted one part here:

"Every age is filled with men willing to murder the carriers of ideas, even when they don't understand them. The words first have to strike at their hearts, however.
I've been listening to Martin Luther King's speeches today, and lamenting that the times of great oration have passed for our country. Words are cheaper now, as are most of the men who utter them. Ideas have been displaced by soundbytes. It's safer to speak that way, I suppose, and the overriding goal of the politician is to win, not to lead. I think people hated King because he spoke unsafely. He illuminated what Solzhenitsyn called the line dividing good and evil, the line that runs through every human heart. That is surely dangerous business.
I wonder where the prophets of this generation are. Where are the ones who will illuminate that line in every heart? It is so much easier to draw lines between people, between a virtuous Us and a nefarious Them, than to say: This is the evil we do, the evil I do. I wonder if no modern-day Martin Luther Kings rise up because our civilization is no longer capable of producing them, or because we no longer deserve them. Or perhaps they are there, crying out in the wilderness, and we all of us — myself included — have our televisions and ipods and internal self-focused monologues turned up too loudly to hear them."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sad Anniversary

The Roe v. Wade decision turns 35 years old this week. About 50 million people are not available for comment.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Marriage, Law, Reason

Gay marriage is still a hot issue here in Iowa. The media reporting is hard to work with -- by structure, a long TV news report is 3-4 minutes, and it's difficult to put in enough detail to support critical thinking.

I did find Gregory Koukl's secular analysis about gay marriage helpful. He addresses the kinds of statements that come up in conversation:

"We’re being denied the same rights as heterosexuals. This is unconstitutional discrimination."

"They said the same thing about interracial marriage."

"We shouldn’t be denied the freedom to love who we want."

"Marriage is about love."

"Marriage is constantly being redefined."

"Marriage is a social construction we can redefine as we please."

So I encourage to read through this. I think he has a good model for addressing the issue in a way that fosters more dialogue.

Now I'm still trying to sort through the ideas around state-supported civil unions that are distinct from marriage. (If you want to share your thoughts on this, or point me to other resources, that would be great.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Mission Alignment

I wrote about living on the crumbling edge of overwhelm the other day. Still battling it.

The key for victory is mission alignment. I've been given a mission from my Commanding Officer. I don't pick the mission, it's been assigned to me. When there's confusion, uncertainty, ambiguity, fear, distractions, choices -- go back to the mission.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Operating at the {Crumbling} Edge of Overwhelm

It seems that many days I'm operating at the edge of overwhelm -- so many problems and needs pulling at me that you have to fight the desire to abdicate, retreat, go to sleep, eat something I don't need to eat, watch a movie I've already seen 17 times, panic, or throw up. There's so much coming in that I can't seem to get traction on any of it. I can hold focus for a little while, but just a little while, and then I learn that more stuff was just added to "the list" while I was working on that one thing.

I need to be clear. I and my family are doing ok. Compared to many families we know, we're deeply blessed and have options. I'm not concerned about anyone starving or freezing to death. We're not facing off life-threatening illnesses. Let me give you some examples, so you know what I'm talking about.

Parenting teenagers. We have good kids, great kids, really -- but it's a growth opportunity for us all.

We have a number of transitions going on. One child will finish high school and start college this year. There's a new driver in our family. My mom will be moving from one state to another. Transitions represent an expensive phase of family life.

We need to figure out a car situation. True story -- one of our cars was totaled when it fell off the tow truck in December. The driver didn't chain it to the flat-bed truck. When he hit the brakes, the front end was crushed in when it slid forward and hit the cab. Then when he accelerated to "move it back into position," the back end and undercarriage were mangled when it slid completely off the rear of the truck. If I had a video, it would probably get a million hits on YouTube. Fortunately no one was hurt! Unfortunately, the car was worth much more to us than the book value.

We have many ministry opportunities with friends, coworkers, teaching and leading at our church, ministering to Bible teachers worldwide. There is much more opportunity pulling at us than we can accomplish.

We're trying to keep the house up. Laundry, dishes, bills, phone calls, and traipsing through the detritus of teenagers living in a house. There is a lot of work that I should do inside and outside, not only for maintenance, but to get ready for a lot of family visiting us this Spring and Summer. Those of you who know me know just how little I enjoy any of house and yard work.

There is a large stack of books, magazines, and articles that I'm "supposed" to read. I actually do want to read most of it. In fact, reading some of these would be preferable to other things on "the list." I have an ambitious study list (covenants, Isaiah, hermeneutics) this year.

But I've learned that Satan can win all too easily when I give into this sense of overwhelm. I think it's one of his favorite tactics to "ice" me into inaction. "Let's just give Glenn about 6 things more than he thinks he could possibly handle, and he won't do anything useful at all."

So what's my recipe for backing away from the crumbling edge of overwhelm?

First, settle down. Breathe in and out a few times. Focus back on Jesus and His wonderful promises. I'm not alone in this. I need to recover the godly perspective that I am blessed.

Second, recognize the selfish desires for what they are -- sinful. Repent as necessary.

Third, act on the answer to the question: "What's consistent with Christ in me, at this moment?"

Staying in the Bible regularly helps a lot!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Learning about Cats

I laughed out loud when I read Tony Woodlief's adventure learning about cats.

Dogs and cats are so different. We've domesticated dogs. I'm not sure anyone has actually domesticated a cat. They deign to live with us, but that's about it.

It's also interesting, from a biologist's perspective, how "plastic" the dog genome is -- consider the huge range of sizes and shapes of dogs. There are ranges for cat bodies, but it's much narrower.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Planning Goals

It's January, so there are scads of articles available now about setting goals and making resolutions.

Mark Batterson has a really useful recommendation: create categories first, then make goals for each category. He has categories of 1) family goals 2) travel goals 3) physical goals 4) experience goals 5) influence goals.

I encourage you to think about influence goals!

Is Stubbornness Genetic?

Some evidence that there is a heritable gene for stubborness! (Think about your family or friends -- are you really surprised?)

It's very difficult to screen out environment and learning effects when it comes to human behavior. Do I believe there are genetic tendencies, or predispositions? Seems likely.

Does a genetic basic for behavior somehow negate personal responsibility for behavior? No.

A friend has told me about his Sunday School teacher in Georgia. When the kids in her class would offer up excuses for behaviors, she would say [begin strong Southern accent] "Let's just call that sin." [end strong Southern accent]

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Who You Are

Ghandi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world."

Let's pay attention to whom we are in Christ. We belong to Jesus, bought at a price, given new life, made part of a Body (the Church) to serve, "eager to do good." He has prepared good works for us to do, that we might bring God greater glory.

And when temptations come, ask yourself, "Is this consistent with Christ in me?"

Monday, January 07, 2008

Uhm, About That Forecast

Jeff Jacoby points out that forecasts for a hot year in 2007 were off -- substantially. "In fact, 2007's global temperature was essentially the same as that in 2006 - and 2005, and 2004, and every year back to 2001. The record set in 1998 has not been surpassed. For nearly a decade now, there has been no global warming. Even though atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to accumulate - it's up about 4 percent since 1998 - the global mean temperature has remained flat. That raises some obvious questions about the theory that CO2 is the cause of climate change."

I'm open to suggestions on how to vet this data. The global mean of so many measurement locations may not be as significant as some regionalized values.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

It's About the Doing

"Many people know what to do, but few people do what they know." -- Tony Robbins

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Why We Fight

"The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him." -- G.K. Chesterton

Christian Living is a Community Process of Discipline

"I was more convinced than ever that the preaching like an Apostle, without joining together those that are awakened and training them up in the ways of God, is only begetting children for the murderer. How much preaching has there been for these twenty years all over Pembrokeshire! But no regular societies, no discipline, no order or connection; and the consequence is that nine in ten of the once-awakened are now faster asleep than ever."
-- John Wesley, from his Journal (1703-1791)

Learning from Heroes and Statemen

I highly recommend Paul Johnson's essay, "Heroes: What Great Statesmen Have to Teach Us."

Paul Johnson is the author of many books, including the must-read Modern Times. In this essay he uses historical examples to underscore the critical need for clear and militarily-obtainable objectives for war, and outlines five keys (ideas and beliefs, willpower, pertinacity, ability to communicate, and magnanimity) for democratic statesmanship.

Print it off, read it, mark it up, read it again. Good insights here, and things to share with your older children!

"Heroes: What Great Statesmen Have to Teach Us."

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Quote of the Week

"A life is not important except for the impact it has on other lives."
-- Jackie Robinson

Bible Reading Plans

My friend Kevin has a useful post about Bible Reading plans -- Happy New Year!

Another reading plan covers Psalms and Proverbs each month. Read the five Psalms with today's date, in intervals of 30, plus that chapter in Proverbs. Day one looks like:

Psalm 1, 31, 61, 91, 121; Proverbs 1

Day 9 is

Psalm 9, 39, 69, 99, 129; Proverbs 9

Day 21 is

Psalm 21, 51, 81, 111, 141; Proverbs 21

Day 30 is

Psalm 30, 60, 90, 120, 150; Proverbs 30

This is a nice pattern and gives you good variety of prayer and wisdom for personal devotions.