Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What If Susan Boyle Had Flopped?

Susan Boyle is this year's Paul Potts. The charm that makes her story of greater interest is that the story is not simply her story, but it is the story of the audience, of which we are a part. Her story is a commentary on our capacity to judge people based on mere appearances.

Call me cynical, but I have trouble believing that we'll actually change much despite the massive cultural discussion that is going on. What is remarkable about the discussion is that people from different philosophical and theological schools of thought all seem to agree that we should be shamed into understanding that there is more to a person than mere appearance. There are no great debates over the substance of the story. The media has fabricated a debate over whether she ought to have a makeover. This only serves to demonstrate the shallowness of the media and the participation in this debate only reinforces my observation that we're really not going to change much.

But I'd like to make a larger observation.

Susan Boyle sings well. She has years of experience, but apparently no appreciable training to hone and refine her talent. Even still, talent matters less than heart. Let me 'splain:

I knew a girl who sang very well. Her voice was pure and her heart was large. People loved to hear her sing because they could hear her heart in her music. She went off to college as a music major and took years of lessons. Everyone had such high hopes for her. Well, she's a professional now. She has her master’s degree in music of some sort and is an opera singer. However, the people who used to love to hear her sing are disappointed. Her talent is exceptional and her training has elevated her into greatness, but her heart is gone. She has an audience who appreciates the technical aspects of her performance, but the audience that loved her a child may never again hear her heart sing.

I'm a musician and can appreciate good talent. As one who loves to worship God, I can say that talent is no substitute for heart. I have heard people sing who had difficulty staying on key or who lacked control, but I have been moved to tears nonetheless because their heart was perfectly in tune with the Master's. When you listen with the Spirit, you can tell, because the Spirit resonates with himself.

People have been taken aback because they do not view Susan Boyle as being particularly visually attractive, but have found beauty in another external affix. But her musical talent is still only an external affix. it's not unlike when you take a man weathered by hard work and put a suit on him. The women in his life may ooh and aah and say how handsome he is and how well he cleans up. Why don't they have such affection when he comes in from working hard dirty, sweaty and sunburned? He's no different except that he's washed and changed his clothes. His heart hasn't changed at all. I suspect that Susan Boyle has some beauty in her heart. She's also a sinner like the rest of us. She's no different whether she can sing or not.

Let me say that again: She's no different whether she can sing or not, which leads me to ask this question:

What would the world have done if Susan Boyle flopped that night?

Has the world been kind to the Susan Boyles of the world? Justice condemns based on behavior. Justification forgives based on faith. It can be said that Susan was justified based on her behavior, but the audience - us - WE would have condemned her based on her appearance and her lack of talent. Therefore, Susan was not justified; she was accorded some temporary justice because she sang her way out of a bad rep because of her appearance.

To be sure, I don't find Susan Boyle unattractive. There are many Hollywoodish "hotties" that I find repulsive because of their attitudes, but Susan seems to have a decent heart and I wouldn't have a different opinion if she couldn't sing very well.

Let me observe this, that we make the same mistakes with the people in our lives, work and churches. We all know the popular people who are physically beautiful, personable or who have great musical talent. Do we judge their heart based on such factors as these? I's wager that we do so more often than not. I knew a fellow who seemed personable. He was also musically talented. People loved to hear him sing in church and many thought a lot of him. But it was all a ruse. He had an affair that found out and ended up leaving his family. I know a former minister who was asked to preach far and wide until it was found that he was abusive to his family.

Do we judge people because they behave well when we fail to engage in the social means to know their hearts better? Where our churches in the west have failed is that we have not gone the extra mile to know the hearts of those to whom and with whom we minister. The culture is increasingly prohibitive of it. May we look beyond the appearance, and even the musical talent, of the Susan Boyles of this world and seek out the image of God hidden in the hearts of others.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Cookie Jar Christians and Broken Christians

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50)

I love my brothers and sisters in Christ. I'm amazed at the righteousness many have had throughout their lives. Many of them are leaders in churches, missions and other various ministries of extraordinary impact. They accepted Christ at a young age and recognized God's call to a particular mission in their life at which they may serve for most of their lives to great distinction. They are surrounded by people of great spiritual means and thoroughly networked. God has indeed raised them up to accomplish great things for his kingdom.

There are also people who have achieved great feats of righteousness and serve locally without distinction.

Sometimes I wish I was one. So far, my kids look to be these kind of Christians. Their worst sins amount to stealing cookies from a cookie jar. I call them "cookie jar Christians".

There's one drawback to cookie jar Christians.

For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:18)

And we see that even Christ was able to help those who fell into sin.

Cookie jar Christians must know they are pretty righteous. How can they not? When confronted by a tender soul who has been crushed by a life of sin and pain, cookie jar Christians typically must condescend in order to minister at all. They often treat such people with an air of spiritual superiority and you know they can't help but to know how much better they are than them.

Now, I don't want you to misunderstand me. I don't intend to disparage cookie jar Christians. It's wonderful that they are good enough that their focus is on helping others in the name of Christ, but there's a point at which they have to recognize that they simply can't relate to the struggle of someone who has been deep in sin.

However, some cookie jar Christians become a bit legalistic and refuse to help without some sign of repentance up front lest they become sullied in some way by associating with the sinner.

Most cookie jar Christians will be bold against the sins of the sinner, but not let up until repentance is gained. Thinking then that the job is done, they go about their business without taking the time to disciple the sinner. Busy Christians don't have that kind of time to invest in someone, especially when the sinner is not one of their inner circle of cookie jar Christian friends.

When a cookie jar Christian commits to discipling a sinner, however, the difficulty lies in not being able to address the struggles of the flesh that a sinner can undergo. The cookie jar Christian just hasn't had that experience. For example, a cookie jar Christian may tell a sinner to "just run to God!" (I've actually heard this advice given.) What does that even mean?

Then there are sinners who have been forgiven. I call these "broken Christians". God uses people who have come from bad family situations, deep-seated patterns of sin, abuse, racial prejudice, difficult illnesses, war, or any of a multitude of things that break a soul. Christians who come from these situations may, over time, become no better than cookie jar Christians. They forget their past. In a way, a broken Christian can give thanks for healing. In another way, such scars allow a broken Christian to meet a sinner who has not come to Christ and see the hope of salvation for the sinner as a person not unlike the broken Christian once was.

God uses broken Christians to work the difficult parts of the field in the harvest. They may not reap the apparently best stuff like the cookie jar Christians. However, their toil is of great value for they do it at the Master's behest and with his tender care for the harvest.

I write this to encourage my fellow broken Christians to use this gift to reach those like you once were.

But if you are a cookie jar Christian, I know it is difficult for you because you are superior in holiness to your brothers and sisters in Christ who are broken Christians, but I urge you to support and encourage them in their ministerial endeavors. Do not marginalize them or relegate them to the lower places in the church leadership, but learn from them what it is to love a sinner like Christ did.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

What Do YOU Read

Amber posted this and it got me to thinking about the books and other reading material that has most influenced me. I suppose the idea is to list specific books, but I can't think of particular books except a few. So below are some books, some of which I no longer possess and some which are categories or periodicals. There are more than what are listed.

  1. The Bible - I can go into great detail about the veracity of the Bible and the incredible history of the Bible. But the important thing is that all this goes to support the revelation of God to us in the written word. As such it has been a source of revelation to me as the Holy Spirit has opened my eyes to the truth therein.
  2. Various books detailing hermeneutical principles from different theological constructs - With the recognition that different theologians have developed different theologies with the same Bible, there stands to reason that some understanding of the rules by which they developed their theologies are in order and that some scrutiny of the same is required in order to discern the truth. This isn't always easy because theologians aren't always consistent with the application of and disclosure of their hermeneutics.
  3. Puzzle Books, logic textbook - My dad has always kept a subscription to the Dell Crossoword Puzzle magazine. When I was little he would warm up on the hard ones and move on to the Expert and Challenger puzzles. He often did some of the non-crossword puzzles, but left many undone, particularly the logic problems. He would then pass on the magazines so I could work any of the rest of the puzzles. I loved the logic problems and got good at them. I developed my first understanding of bivalent logic this way. Later, in college, I learned the clarity of well-established logic theories and methodologies.
  4. Various philosophy books, particularly containing analyses of philosophers and their philosophies from a Christian viewpoint. Also in college I studied philosophy. I had already developed my own unified philosophy in high school based on observations of bivalence in every aspect of life. This led to being temporarily afflicted with dualism. However, holding mere existential observations up to the revelation of scripture cured me of this and helped me develop my understanding of the foundational univalence of the Eternal God.
  5. Piano method book and sheet music with chord charts - When I was little, my mom would put me on her lap when she played the piano. I liked to play with the neighbor girls, but as little girls often do to little boys, they would often harangue me with rounhds of illogic. So I found that I enjoyed making sounds come out of the piano. I dug out my dad's old piano method book and taught myself the basics of written music and how to play the music on the piano. Then I dug out my dad's sheet music and developed a little repertoir. Later, I learned to decipher the chord symbols and taught myself music theory. I learned composition by studying the patterns of different composers.
  6. A library's worth of material detailing the origins debate - When I was a physics major the debate between evolution and creation became more of an issue. Determined to know the truth, I locked myself (figuratively) in the library and located ever book I could find covering foundational aspects of the debate. I knew this would in part inform my hermeneutical approach to the Bible. I'm pleased to say that I found the clarity of the Bible well-supported by the evidence although I must say that my presupposition was and is that the truth is absolute.
  7. Books of the occult, cult literature, and anti-Christian literature - These are my non-fiction "poison" books. It helps to know the enemy,
  8. The Hobbit and other classics - It helps to have a grasp on the self-referential literature of our culture. For example, when someone says "It's hanging over me like the sword of Damacles" I know what they're talking about. I mention The Hobbit because it's the first one I read on my own.
  9. Gor and other not-so-classics - Hey, stuff like this contributes to a healthy imagination.
  10. The Da Vinci Code and other anti-Christian fiction - More poison of the fictional sort. If you're going to criticize the present culture, it helps to have a working knowledge of the intentional propagation of its ills.

Tag, you're it if you want to be.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Blogging Boldly

I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!— I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ's, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ's, so also are we. For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed. I do not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters. For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present. Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. (2 Corinthians 10:1-12, ESV)

How can we apply this to the blogosphere? I say this with the understanding that Paul's intent was far broader than such an application, but I consider that many of the theological debates I read are less than charitable. It should not be so with those in Christ and I observe that many who debate do not walk according to the Spirit. Let's look at this passage line-by-line:

I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you,

Christ is meek and gentle and Paul is likewise humble in person. Should we not also be?

I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!

Is Paul saying that it's okay to be harsh in our writing to one another? No. Bold and harsh are two different things. Furthermore:

I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness

Why would he have to show boldness at all? Because it's...

boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh.

People who do not have the revelation of God through the Holy Spirit conclude that those who walk according to the spirit actually are walking according to the flesh. For example, if I who have the Holy Spirit say that I believe homosexuality to be wrong, I do so because I love people who practice homosexuality enough to instruct them in the ways of the living God. However, homosexuals who do not have the Spirit believe I would do so because I hate them. They believe I hate them because they hate me for saying that homosexuality is wrong and they think my motivation must be the same as theirs.

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

Their hatred comes from the observation that although they do not have the Spirit, they yet know what is right and despise any who voice this knowledge because they desire to act according to the flesh.

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

You see, we have boldness in the authority of Christ against sin. With those who are in the Spirit, we submit ourselves one to another for careful reproof. With those who are in the flesh, we are holy that they may see our fellowship unto righteousness. However, our mutual submission often appears to those in the flesh as legalistic rather than loving. To be sure, no body of believers is perfect, but we are perfected in our submission.

Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ's, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ's, so also are we. For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed.

Where our mutual submission is made public through the writing of letters, articles, blog posts, comments in metas, and online forums, our boldness has authority that may cause those in the flesh to stumble. We should not be ashamed of this, however. But we must not desire to destroy those in the flesh:

I do not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters. For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present.

Lest any in the body of Christ who are weak in the faith question the authority of God, there must not be any inconsistency in substance. Therefore, we must take care to write openly only the truth and likewise when we meet together in private, face-to-face, to speak only the truth that while there may be a difference in tact, there is no difference in the truth we abide by.

Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.

For there are those who commend themselves publicly who would not say the same things in private. Rather their desire is for their own boldness rather than the truth. So whether the online debate is won or lost according to the wisdom of men the truth remains steadfast.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Impropriety of Evidentially Arguing for the Resurrection - Answers in Genesis

This article has a good observation regarding evidential apologetics in general. God gives all kinds of evidence in creation of his truth, but the evidence cannot be separated from the presuppositions by which we apprehend the evidence.

The Impropriety of Evidentially Arguing for the Resurrection - Answers in Genesis

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Why Hybrids Can't Reproduce - A Creationist's Observation

I love the intricacies of God's created order and am particularly fascinated with how he designed the means of defining the physical manifestations of life in this world. I'm talking about genetics.

I've often wondered about the lack of ability of many diploid hybrids to reproduce. But to give you the observation I came to, let me rebuild a good understanding of basic genetics for you.

First, there are specific genotypes observed among living organisms. Given that there are a couple of ways to define and use the word "genotype", I'll give the definition I'm using here in my own words: A genotype is a combination of genetic patterns that allow for a range of morphological diversity by interchanging different alleles at certain loci. If this is Greek to you, let me give you a metaphor:

Have you ever played that puzzle game where a story is written down with several blanks? These are often called Mad Libs. With each blank is a suggestion as to what type of word is expected there, whether it is a now, verb, adjective, etc. So you ask someone for that type of word and write down whatever they say. After you have filled in all the blanks, you read the completed story which has been made humorous because the words were random. Well, the structure of the story has already been determined. All you need to do is fill in different words to produce a slightly different story with the same structure. You go on to the next story and discover a different structure with different places for words to go. You can randomize the words as long as you stay within the structure, but you can't change the structure or the story won't make enough sense to be funny anymore.

The structure of the story is like a genotype. The words are the alleles. The locations of the words in teach sentence and paragraph are their loci (each location being a locus).

To continue the metaphor, since each organism receives its words from its parents it can only receive those words that its parents have to give. Within a genotype all combinations are possible, but because of environmental factors not all words survive over time. Only those words which can reproduce effectively can continue to be part of the story. So over time a population with a certain genotype will weed out the words that don't work for that period of time. This is called "speciation". This is where different species come from. Unfortunately, if the environment changes and certain words are lost within that population, then a species may become extinct because they no longer have the ability to adapt. This is what creationists mean when we say that speciation represents a loss of information rather than an increase in information.

Something that's helpful is to re-infuse populations with words from other species or sub-species. If it is a sub-species, then the offspring are typically able to reproduce. But if the words come from a different species within a genotype, then the offspring is called a hybrid and often cannot reproduce.

That's why I have wondered why, if they are of the same genotype, they cannot reproduce. I've finally realized the answer.

Species become species because different combinations of "words" or alleles are capable of survivable reproduction. Otherwise, those combinations will die out. When you breed different species together, you may produce offspring that are useful. For example, you may have hearty grain or you might have a mule that has the benefits of both a horse and a donkey. However, mules typically cannot reproduce. Therefore, in order to get more mules you have to breed more horses with donkeys. So why can't a mule reproduce, for example?

Is a mule a different species? Is a mule a different sub-species? Neither. It's a hybrid. It didn't become a species by the same process of natural selection that drives speciation, so it's not a species. It's not different breeds of the same species. It's a cross between two different species. However, the combination of words doesn't usually mix to make a creature that can reproduce. Sometimes, perhaps a hybrid can reproduce. However, if two mules could reproduce, they might produce an offspring that is more like either a donkey or a horse because "mule" is not a species per se. If you could breed a mule back with a horse or a donkey, you may get a horse or donkey with some qualities of the other species. If so, then perhaps some of the words long lost in a species could be restored toward the type, but I wouldn't think this to be very likely because the mule isn't a species.

Now let me tell you why this is important. There are two types of evolutionists: those who understand genetics and those who think they understand genetics. Those who understand genetics know that I'm right in a basic way. There's a sense in which there appears to be some flexibility in the structure of a genotype. However, science has not demonstrated such fluidity in structure that would account for a slow progressive change in a genotype over time. Rather, the evidence is that different species within a genotype maintain a fairly consistent genotypic structure with marked distinctions between genotypes. In other words, there's not a multitude of slight yet fundamental differences in genotype between species within a genotype.

In keeping with our metaphor, the evolutionist's claim is that the story is pretty much the same, but the structure of one sentence or another has been altered changing the gist of the story slightly. What I'm saying is that this hasn't been noticed. There is the occasional error where part of a sentence, or even a whole sentence, has been duplicated. This would be obvious and is obvious, but this doesn't represent a re-write of the sentence.

However, an evolutionist who understands this can't accept it. Therefore, the only thing the evolutionist can do is to propagate the notion among evolutionists who don't understand this that speciation represents these slight changes in genotype to the point where eventually one can call the type of organism a new genotype. The evolutionists who don't understand what I have addressed above think that the supposition they have been fed has been proven to be true when it hasn't.

Now there are levels of detail that I haven't even touched here like dipthoid reproduction and a genetic analysis of different levels of morphologically based taxonomy, but I hope I've made this understandable to you. When hybrids can't reproduce, we may think that perhaps it's because their genotypes have shifted far enough apart. Rather, it's because hybrids are not breeds within a species. A hybrid doesn't have the benefit of a species to contain the allele combinations that can survive and reproduce by actually surviving and reproducing.

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Of Rocks and Grass - The Hitchens/Craig Debate

There was a recent debate between atheist apologist Christopher Hitchens and Christian apologist William Lane Craig. There are so many bits being spilled in the blogosphere on this debate that I'm not going to bother trying to link to any of them. Try searching this, this and this for starters. I only want to focus on one point. Namely, that Hitchens admitted that his contention against the existence of God is that if there were a God we wouldn't be free.

He then attempted to approach Craig on logical terms, but was barely able to mount answers to the excellent cosmological foundation Craig laid from the beginning for framing the debate.

But I consider it hopefully honest of Hitchens to admit such a illogical primary reason for denying the existence of God. to whit:

Regarding freedom, what comes to mind is the belly of a slave ship where a slave in shackles might deny the existence of the slave trader because that would mean that he were a slave. I'm sure I could point to a half-dozen fallacies that could sum up this rationale:

"I want to be morally free. Therefore, there is no superior entity that can hold me to any moral obligation."

It's a ridiculous argument, but I would guess that it is true of most who deny God. Interestingly, what is also true is that most of the same people who hold this as true would argue for some morality not based on God. They want their own moral rules to hold sway over the world. Hitchens astonishingly did just this in the debate arguing that atheists were more moral than theists.

Hitchens also said that if theism were true, he'd be depressed. So he should thank God for keeping him ignorant of the truth so his short life in this world is happier? I would rather know the hard truth than live in blissful ignorance.

Craig's side of the debate was won in the opening comments. It seemed that he spent the rest of the debate sweeping off the verbal grass Hitchens kept throwing at his rock solid position.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Are You A Winner Or A Loser?

Disclaimer: This article is going to seem like a commercial for Carmax, but my purpose is to encourage those who have incorrectly been labeled “losers” and suggest that winning can happen without winning at someone else's expense where we have a champion who competes for us. Carmax here is just used as an example. They are not the only dealership of their kind. They are simply the one I am familiar with.

I haven’t been able to verify this, but I have an inside source that indicates that used car prices are higher in cities that have a Carmax dealership. In the event that you are unaware of Carmax’ touted operational distinctive, they advertise no-haggle no-pressure sales, explicit levels of quality of reconditioned used cars backed by warranties, and competitive financing. I’ve bought my last three vehicles from Carmax. You would think I’d go where I can find similar value for prices I could haggle lower than at Carmax. The problem is, I’m awful at haggling.

The kids’ soccer season is coming to a close. All three of my kids show signs of my apparent "disease". I’m not aggressive. Neither are they. I have a very long fuse, but make me angry and I turn into the incredible Hulk: someone is going to get hurt. My step-brother is the only person who has been able to best me and that’s only when I was fighting someone else and he used his body weight to hold me down until I cooled off. He never won fighting me directly. But don’t rile me and I’m not inclined to push myself on anyone. For my kids, they’ve spent more times than not on the bench. They’re not aggressive and consequently not very competitive.

Hope has had the best… well… hope. She has wanted to play forward, but the coach kept her on defense all season. She begged him and he denied her. So I told her she had to work at being aggressive on the field. She finally did and the coach offered to play her on offense in the last game. She did so well her first time out at it that the coach sent her in another time or two that same game. She did better than some of the other kids who had played offense several times before. But she had to try to be aggressive.

There’s a sense in which there are winners and losers. I’m certainly in favor of objective grading in education for example. Either you learn the material or you don’t. Don’t compare me against other students using subjective grading unless you want to teach me to always compare myself to others. But there’s the rub. Competition IS comparison. Objective education is comparison only against the material. As it is, we have schools passing kids who have neither mastered the material nor bested their peers.

Incidentally, there’s a Christian therapeutic admonition not to compare oneself to others. I’ve noticed that this is often made by those Christians who are very competitive. (The winner telling the loser not to be a winner.) Since competition is comparison, this is a very odd admonition. Read Psalms. There’s plenty of comparison there. God, however, is the great equalizer. All competition is comparison, but not all comparison is competition. So compare, but don’t compete. Run the race as though to win, but rely on Christ for the victory.

However, in the “real world” competition is the stuff good economies are made of. It’s also the stuff interpersonal relationships are often made of, for good or for ill. But that’s another discussion. Most people seem impressed with aggression for some reason that escapes me.

Despite the revelation that Carmax tends to raise the price of used cars, it competes for those like myself who lack the interpersonal aggression necessary to haggle effectively. In the world of haggle, there are the winners and the losers. Dealerships can track and plan their median sales prices versus their costs and plan their rebate limits accordingly to achieve a profitable balance between margin and sales goals. Those customers who are aggressive hagglers can win prices below the median price. They are the winners. But those who are not aggressive hagglers must pay prices that exceed the median price so the dealership can make the median price. These are the losers. They are essentially paying the price the winners didn’t have to pay. (Sounds kind of like grace, doesn’t it?)

While the price may be higher than the median in used car dealerships that haggle without one, Carmax actually provides lower prices for those who are not aggressive hagglers. The large quantity of cars sold by Carmax testifies as to the high number of people who may otherwise have to pay more. We get to be winners without putting our savings off on someone else and making them pick up the tab. So, next time you brag about the low price you managed to haggle, just think of who might have had to pay what you didn’t. I get a clear conscience and a car for a good value while still maintaining the honor of paying my own way in this world.

That’s a winner in my book.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Just Another Geek Moment

My dad sent me this cartoon with a few others. I immediately identified with it:

The scary part is that I did this long ago and my Icons are my kids, both at home and here at the plant. Here is the upper left hand side of the Windows desktop I'm working on:

Luke is My Computer. He's my follow-the-rules guy making sure that we all follow the rules. Hope is my artist and loves to write too, so she's My Documents. Paul goes from room to room misplacing things. I call him the Paulinator (homonym: pollinator). So he's My Network Places. Don't fret over Lois being the Recycle Bin. I'm the other icon for the Recycle Bin. She shows up when there's stuff in the Recycle Bin for no other reason than there's usually stuff in the Recycle Bin and I'd rather look at her than me.

The sounds on my computer are my kids saying things like "up", "down", "open", "close", "uh-oh", "Hey, Dad, I got the mail", and "I love you, daddy." I've had versions of these icons and sounds on my PCs for years now.

Yes, I'm a geek.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Rare Tips to a Godly Marriage

My wife and I are in our 14th year since walking the aisle. I have some experience in the work and life required to make a healthy marriage. Everyone who talks about godly Christian marriages talks about communication, housework and the difference in needs between the sexes Some aspects of the common advice you hear will be discernible in the advice I give here. However, from my experience to date, I have learned some things that you may not hear very often.

Part of this discourse comes from the frustration I see in the portrayal of marital relationships in the popular media and the odd way I see much of that spill over into many Christian marriages. Well, you certainly hear much bad advice coming from non-Christians and I'll address a couple of these items of bad advice here.

This is not an exhaustive or cleanly analytical list. There is some overlap and there are some gaps. Marriages are made up of unique individuals and no single formula aside from Paul's admonition to the Ephesians to submit to one another covers every aspect of marital life.

Expect Change

When you look at your young love through the eyes of hormonal bliss and see a thing of physical beauty looking back at you with eyes glazed over with the same hormonal bliss, it's wonderful. Expect it to change.

The hormones of a new relationship last perhaps two years. Childbearing years are often filled with new medical problems, stretch marks, short tempers, dirty diapers, no time alone, and many and sundry other things. You will see something different than starry hormones in each other's eyes. You will see bags, waning trust, discouragement and a sense of helplessness. You may even see plenty of anger depending on your spouse. Most people don't expect these things really. They had some idea that they married better than that and that "love is all we need", but when the rubber meets the road, the reality of sin in you and your partner's life comes to bear.

In the middle age years, expect those eyes to wander. Hey, we're supposed to be faithful, but we do a lot of things we're not supposed to do. If we see infidelity in some marriages, there's even more occasions where people think about it. Are you prepared to love a partner who thinks about cheating on you whether he or she actually does it? Are you prepared to do what you need to do to be faithful when the temptation arises in your own heart?

In old age, after a couple dozen different hair styles, diets and medical procedures, the hair will turn grey or white to the point where it's useless to color it anymore. No cream will be able to touch those wrinkles. Incontinence keeps visitors away and may threaten to keep each other away. I haven't gotten to that point so I'm guessing here. Viagra is poison. You'd have a heart attack if you got aroused. There's no going back when one of you physically can't have sex anymore. The kids and grandkids come to visit not as often as you would like. People treat you like a three-year-old although you were once a great leader of something. Well, you do act like a three-year-old anymore. That may be why. You look across the nursing home activity room and wonder that the person over there is really the same person you exchanged vows with; that you had the gumption to raise children together; that you... Wait - you finally remember that you divorced 20 years ago and that's not your spouse.

Things can change quickly. Have you considered what would happen if one of you were severely injured and the other had to spend the rest of their life doing little more than caring for the other without any hope of experiencing marital bliss ever again? It happens.

Things change - dramatically. Expect it.

Parents and Extended Family

You have the most wonderful parents in the world. Beware that they may let you know how wonderful they are as they point out what they perceive are your housekeeping, parenting and marital errors. You love them and even expect that when they are older you will have much to do to care for them. But right now, you just want to move to a different town. And if you are in a different town, you have to plan many trips to visit them so they can see their grandkids. You can't win for losing.

Expect a life of catering to your parents' wishes. You only thought you left home.

Between expecting changes and putting up with extended families, you might sober up enough to have some misgivings. That's a good thing. Not enough people go into marriage anymore with their eyes open. If you expect these things and are willing to take on the responsibility of being a lifelong mate for a fellow sinner as well as adopting his or her family and being insane enough to make more family that you are personally responsible for, then you may make a good go at it. Knowing that it's going to happen is half the battle.

Did I say "battle"?

Test Driving?

One piece of bad advice from the pop culture is really merely a justification for having sex without being married. It's the concept of "test-driving" a potential spouse. There are several problems with this, but if you think that people are meant to be tried out as though you were buying them, you have a serious issue with valuing other people. More on that in a moment.

Let's test-drive the metaphor and see if it flies. If you've ever had a car, you know that test-driving it is a bit superfluous. Most cars are similar enough that it really doesn't matter. Who do you think you are, a NASCAR driver? "She's a little loose; need to tighten her up a bit; she's sliding all over the track in the corners." Baloney. What have you been doing, borrowing other people's cars to practice on? If you are comparing buying an automobile to getting married, then you must know that the important information is in the maintenance, not the driving. As you maintain the vehicle, you can adapt it to your driving style. Today, cars are computer controlled and many are programmed to adapt themselves to your driving style. If the car is driven by many different drivers, it has trouble adapting and the car ends up driving you. Read between the lines.

If you only ever drive one car and that car has only been driven by you, then you will become he best driver of that car and the car will become the best car for you. I know whereof I speak. There is a psychological principle called imprinting. It happens in humans and many animals alike. It happens when a baby sees her parents. It also happens to lovers when they look at each other. It happens in a warped way when people view pornography. If you try out different "cars" before you finally "buy", then you defeat your imprinting. When you look at your spouse, do you see the valuable person that you share flesh with or just another person in a parade of lovers?

As a note, keep in mind that when you are married you are the only oasis for your spouse's libido. In most marriages, one or the other will desire sex more than the other. If you are the one who can go for months without even holding hands, you have to actually work at this and ask yourself where your spouse is finding relief for their libido if you are denying him or her. Do you want them to be tempted or do you want them to be tortured? Do you love your spouse enough to give them what they need to keep them rooted at home? This is more important to most couple's relationships than most will say, and possibly worth thinking about even before a couple marries. Regarding our "test-driving" metaphor, it's part of the maintenance. A car needs to be driven on a regular basis or bad things will happen under the hood.

To be sure, have you seen the owner of an antique automobile that he has had since he was young or that he has taken and restored. He cares for it day and night and it shines. He covers it to protect it and takes care of the smallest details to make sure everything is perfect. He spends time and money on the car. He looks far and wide to find special parts to meet the car's needs. He drives it and shows it off, but he doesn't like others to drive it. He's proud of it. He's known for it. He enters contests and expects to win awards for how good the car is.

Do you value your spouse like this man values his car? Do you care for him or her in every way. Where other spouses are broken and beaten do you protect your spouse? Indeed, if taking care of an antique car can increase its value, do you do what you need to do value your spouse more and more every day?

I have a self-imposed rule. I NEVER speak unkindly about my wife in public to ANYONE. I might make friendly light of some aspects of our marriage, but I never talk her down to other people. I strive always to bless her in public. I go out of my way to say good things about her to other people. I don't tolerate anyone saying unkind things about her. I can't say it particularly happens. I would get very put out if someone said something unkind about my wife.

However, I sometimes hear other people speak unkindly about their spouses and it saddens me. Do they not value the one person they have decided to invest their life in? If you aren't married, look at a potential mate and ask yourself if you could follow this rule when they rub you the wrong way or fail to meet your expectations. If you are married and have a difficult spouse, can you follow this rule?

I've gone almost 14 years with this rule intact and speaking blessings over my wife in public has become a source of self-fulfilling prophecies. I delight in the way she has grown as a person and a Christian. Her value increases with me all the time and I have heard from others how they envy our relationship.


And we are to grow as Christians. Understand this. As Christians we are being sanctified. As a married couple sharing one flesh you will be inextricably tied in to each other's sanctification. Have you ever been through God's discipline where he purified you with some fire? Sanctification is often not fun, but we also know the blessing of it.

Expect to go through difficult times with your spouse. You are not perfect. Your spouse is not perfect. Expect your spouse to be part of your sanctification. Expect to be part of your spouse's sanctification. I can't stress this enough. IT WON'T BE EASY! But learn to see the blessing in it as you are purified together as a couple.

In this light, don't think of yourself too highly. I've seen men try to dominate their wives. I've seen women try to manipulate their husbands. This is wrong. Has Christ dominated the Church by force? No. But he's perfect and gave his life for the Church. Has the Church tried to manipulate Christ? Yes. We're not perfect. But Christ will not be manipulated. He lovingly disciplines us. Likewise, a husband should not be harsh with his wife, but lead her kindly in all wisdom and understanding. The wife also must not cow her husband into sacrificial submission but win him with moral force.

I'm getting all this from Ephesians 5. A man is to submit himself sacrificially for the purity of his wife and meet her needs. A wife must submit to her husband as the Church is to submit to Christ. If a husband sins, the wife is not to submit to the sin, but to honor her husband in the Lord for the sin is not her husband if he is a Christian. I explained this to my kids the other night when they asked me what would happen if we were to ask them to sin, would they follow the command to honor us or the command not to sin. I explained that there is no honor outside of Christ. I can't imagine us asking them to sin, but if we did they should disobey us and obey God instead. While it would appear to be disobedient to us, obedience to God would actually honor us whether we recognized it or not. If they obeyed us into sin, they would dishonor themselves and we would dishonor them and us. Likewise, wives, submission to your husband never means to be disobedient to God.

Rather, when your spouse sins (and your spouse will sin, sometimes most grievously) pray for them and work with them respectfully to overcome the sin. Do not assume the worst and offer blessings when they do well. By this they will grow in Christ in all humility and love.

Finances and God's Provision

Many counselors talk about finances so I won't spend much time on them. We talked about finances in pre-marital counseling. It's an issue that drives a wedge between spouses as much or more than infidelity. I'll cut to the chase. If you are a Christian, what is your hope in? Who is your provider? Are you the provider? Do you trust in your finances? God who knows all things supplies your need. I have seen a Christian family become homeless. God still supplied their need.

I know a young lady who is engaged to be married. She was raised with her needs well provided for. Her husband to be will be going to seminary. He made out a budget for them based on their expected income and it was tight. She is panicking because she has never had to do without. Fear not when you lose possessions or even your house for any financial or natural calamity. More importantly, don't play the blame game with your spouse. If you have lost money because you have sinned, then work through it. However, trust God to provide your need. Who do you trust?

Ministerial Compatibility

You might have all the rest in the bag. You might be a high-end Christian who is on track and always contributes your time, gifts and monies in every way possible to the glory of God and his kingdom. If so, you are feeling called to do something with all this kingdom energy. You are feeling called to ministry.

What do you do if you are called to be a missionary to Africa and your spouse-to-be is called to be a professional Christian musician traveling in the US? There are two options. Either one or both of you must give up your calling or you must reconsider getting married. If you are already married, then you only have one option. You must do things where you can minister together or minister in different ways in the same place. Your calling must be tempered in this light. Not every Christian woman has the strength to be a pastor's wife. Not every Christian man will follow his wife to Africa where she is called to run an orphanage.

...and they all lived happily ever after.

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