Saturday, November 15, 2008

Companion Notes on Remains of the Day

The following is a sort of running commentary on the movie, Remains of the Day. I wrote it while watching the movie. The movie is subtle and deep. I don’t get poems. I like them if they are clever or rhyme, but not if they’re too deep. So when I do really start to catch on, I get excited. This movie is like a poem. If you can grasp the meaning by just watching, you might not be too entertained by this blog post. It’s full of spoilers and observations about the plot. Another aspect of this essay is that because I wrote it during the movie, it alternates tenses. If I speak in past tense, I’m referring to something that happened earlier in the movie, but which I was just pulling together later. If it’s in the present tense I am either making a point about the theme of the story or discussing events unfolding before my eyes on the screen. Rather than making the tone consistent throughout, I have preserved the original, hoping that the natural flow will communicate more about how my thoughts were developing. I’m essentially inviting you to view the movie with me.

“I’m not leaving. I’ve nowhere to go. I have no family. I’m a coward… I’m frightened of leaving and that’s the truth. All I see out in the world is loneliness, and it frightens me. That’s all my high principles are worth. I’m ashamed of myself.” Emma Thompson plays the housekeeper in Remains of the Day, opposite butler Anthony Hopkins. She’s not afraid of confessing who she is. In fact, I’d say she’s more afraid of not telling who she is.

It’s a movie all about loneliness: on one side about trying to feel nothing or at least to show no feelings. Actions and words went together to prove dignity, the hallmark of British society. The main characters never talked, then encountered people who do. How do you adjust to the demise of aristocracy as a philosophy? What the butler, Mr. Stevens, had always known as abstract turned out to be affecting personal lives.

(Mr. Lewis is an interesting thread to follow. He’s an American way ahead of the gentlemen in the democracy and equality world. The way he uses rhetoric is too direct for them. Initially he makes enemies everywhere. People think he doesn’t care about England or Europe. In the end his view of politics is proven right, and he also turns out to be very fond of England for its real value. It is he who preserves Darlington Hall. He represents America, I think, across nearly a century of its history.)

It isn’t that the butler can’t express himself or can’t feel anything. He just exercises self-control. His loyalty was misplaced. He chose self-control because his goal was dignity. By the end of his life, he’s second-guessing the direction he chose.

In the movie Lord Darlington explains why he wants to help Germany. He had a friend who fought on the side of Germany in the First World War, and afterwards was so devastated by its effect on his country that he committed suicide. Mr. Stevens watched a similar thing happen to his boss over the course of the movie. He feels obligated to honor the memory of his former employer and helps do as a free man what he couldn’t do as Lord Darlington’s servant.

Near the beginning of the movie, Miss Kenton the housekeeper comes into Mr. Stevens’ parlor bringing flowers and representing passion and life. She does her job well and respectfully, but offers a whole different approach to dignity, one that is more open and faithful to herself. She represents the other side of loneliness, the kind that feels alone even when she’s with other people.

Mr. Stevens never says what he means, following the example described by his father: the butler in India shot a tiger in the kitchen and entered the parlor a moment later to say dinner would be served at the usual hour, by which time there would be no discernible traces of the incident. All this calm, polite conversation to convey the death of a ferocious animal in the dining room.

So when Miss Kenton enters his room, he says that he prefers his room private, unchanged, and (seeming to refer to flowers but actually not) free of distraction. The relationship between the butler and housekeeper is reminiscent of Elizabeth and Darcy’s conversations in Pride and Prejudice. Until she got to know Darcy, he seemed rude and unfeeling. Once Miss Kenton likewise makes the patient and attentive habit of knowing Mr. Stevens’ character and tastes, she can, rather on faith, begin to interpret what he says or doesn’t say as a sort of code for his true meaning. Given her openness, he has the great advantage over her: the comfort of knowing when she agrees, security of being aware when she doesn’t, and even delight when her position entertains – all while, at first, safely hidden in his own opinions.

But she begins to see through him, utilizing Plato’s “plot is everything” to observe his life. She notices he doesn’t like pretty women on staff, and speculates, “Might it be that our Mr. Stevens fears distraction?” She has an excellent memory, and so no doubt began to understand what he had thought of her when she first entered his study with flowers years earlier. He didn’t trust himself.

Passion is a distraction from duty. Or is the other way around?

“Please leave me alone, Miss Kenton.” He wants to be alone, at least partly. And he wants her to physically pry the book from his hands, to talk and guess and look into his face for the answers he dare not show but can’t hide. He freezes, utterly conflicted for a moment, craving and fearing her closeness.
“We have each other. That’s all anyone can ever need.”
– Miss Hull on marrying without money.

Miss Kenton finds that being together in the same house isn’t enough. She might content herself with friendship, but he can’t. He must have formality or surrender to love, but he doesn’t know how to do the latter. She can’t bear the rejection, which is worse than loneliness.

She hurt him. She loved him and she hurt him. Maybe that’s why she left.

He didn’t owe her anything. She knew he didn’t, but she hoped anyway. That made her tears all the more bitter and self-reproaching when he couldn’t let himself admit he was in love.

Why does Miss Kenton do these things? She sees the outside world as lonely, in contrast to the house and servants (though Mr. Stevens sees the house as lonely). She above all fears loneliness, and works and sacrifices so that she won’t feel alone. This is why she eventually leaves. Though Mr. Stevens knows she is not alone, he makes the mistake of not telling her so. And she flees to what seems a sure thing, an offer of marriage to a man who says he loves her.

She is too needy for a marriage, and her husband didn’t always say what he meant, either – even when he first said “I love you.” The movie ends with the question of loneliness still hanging.
To God be all glory.

Feasting on Daily Bread

I’ve been thinking this week about how I want passion and importance out of life: experience rather than growth. I do marathon moments getting all my fellowship in at long parties. But who do I do life with? Am I getting fellowship (with people or God) like sugar highs from which I crash?

I’m afraid of peace. Turmoil and battle seem so much more serious and important. I want to be serious about important things; that’s good. But can I be light-hearted and simple about everyday things?

What about the Bible? Do I demand that it inspire me, that my reading be passion-awaking and significant? Can I accept that sometimes my reading is ‘just’ daily bread instead of the Passover feast? Isn’t that what I’ve been learning in Psalms, that God calls us to do the walk, the daily movement with Him?

So I’m reading Romans 16 for my devotions. Vernon McGee described this chapter, "Paul has left the mountain peaks of doctrine to come down to the pavements of Rome." Chapter 15 ends with a blessing: “Now may the God of peace be with you all.” Peace. Quietness. Contentment. Simplicity. And then the great apostle moves into common greetings of common friends.

One of the reasons I’m afraid to prioritize the little things and the constant relationships is that I don’t think I can be content if I give up the heights and the passion, if I blend the sacred with the normal. I don’t want to lose something good. But if I live as God calls, my life won’t be my dreaded version of simplicity; it will be better, more fulfilling.

What if by letting go we gain both passion and simplicity in abundance?

To God be all glory.

Tough Questions for Calvinists

In the few years I’ve been studying Calvinism, I’ve come across four major questions that are the hard ones for Calvinism to answer:

1. Did God create sin?

2. Does God choose some men to be damned? (or the reverse: Is unconditional election for salvation true?)

3. Does God ordain each moment, thought, and action (not just “big” things, “sacred” things, or salvation)?

4. Am I responsible to seek God’s one will for my life, instead of just seeking and choosing ‘good’ options?

Here are some of my response questions:

1. What is goodness, and where does it come from?

2. What is life, and where does it come from?

3. What is love, and where does it come from?

To God be all glory.

The Demise of Media Power

In recent years outcry has been growing against the biased mainstream media. This generally encompasses newspapers, broadcast television, and cable news channels, who have been shown to favor a political candidate in their reporting over his opponent, or to spin coverage of wars and international relations. We should not be surprised at how easy it is to sway an audience. The tone of an article, inclusion or omission of certain facts, the way questions are asked to acquire facts, and even the use or frequency of positive or negative buzz words all contribute to manipulating an audience. And we must admit that it is impossible to prevent bias from appearing in our media. Some gross abuses may be avoidable; news coverage should not be fabricating stories, and ought to check that they have reliable sources. What bothers most people is the apparent monopoly in the media by one side of American culture, namely, the more liberal side.

This is not a new phenomenon. During the Revolutionary War underground printing presses published pamphlets, propaganda for the masses who were otherwise uninformed about the masses of people discontented with British oppression. Media has been used in such ways, then, for centuries. 100 years ago the newspaper moguls such large and influential cities as New York and Chicago, far from being true competitors, met in the legendary smoke-filled rooms to agree on policies to support, on news to cover, that would best protect their power and influence. For my purposes today I cannot describe how these men gained their power. Yet they had it, and motive to keep their power.

But how could their power be threatened? One threat that goes deeper than we may at first imagine is the possibility of real competition. Suppose an enterprising young reporter had started his own printers, and published his own version of the news. More than likely he would have started small. Such a man could have made certain news available that was not to be found in any other papers. And so he could gain an audience. There is obvious economic pressure on the established media to maintain their audience. The nature of free markets dictates that larger corporations can afford to have lower prices. They have the advantage of an incumbent, brand recognition and loyalty already strong among their patrons. With more reporters, they can cover more territory, and produce more writing. And, of course, they have the ear of the people, and can tell them what they will about their opponent’s or the facts the other news sources report.

This competitive atmosphere is a familiar fixture in the market. And media giants have the advantage in every respect. Why would they be worried? Power. The more this different voice gains the respect of the people, the more power is taken from the others. The new voice creates few new readers, garnering the majority of its business by persuading the subscribers to the other papers to transfer their interest and attention. There are only so many news consumers to go around. And if readership falls below a certain level, the influence of that paper is strikingly less. In a democratic society, the majority rules. If one news source ceases to control the majority, they are in danger of losing everything.

Risk goes beyond that simple math. The more media is divided, and choice is required of the consumer, the less power is wielded by the media as a whole. Think of a large room. If one strong voice is projecting its speech in an otherwise silent room, the people will hear him. They are more likely to believe him. Many voices in chorus produce the same effect. If the whole room erupts in conversation, not only will you scarcely be able to hear the person right next to you; you will not be able to hear the one large voice, either. You will have to make a choice. Who do you wish to hear? The friend next to you, or the intelligent man across the aisle? The woman discussing a topic of interest, or the man with the microphone? Are you going to heed the voice on the stage or the voice by the door? How do you know if these people are even telling the truth? Suddenly no one has power to manipulate you, and once more you are an individual with private responsibility.

Today we have just such a room full of voices. The traditional media is losing large portions of its audience. Technology has made it possible for thousands of people to broadcast their thoughts and information. Newspapers proliferate. Old radio companies moved into television and cable. Conservative talk radio now has a strong following of people dissatisfied or bored with the traditional “mainstream” media. News magazines are published weekly. Millions have access to the internet, with free host services for blogs that can be searched and linked.

Acquiring information on which to report is a much broader road today. Rather than waiting for the communication carried by a single ship, months delayed, as was nearly the case during the Revolutionary War, we now have satellites and long distance telephones, cell phones, email, airmail, etc. If I were to witness a robbery, a friend in another state could know of it in minutes. Google and similar search engines have made it possible to search for the information you wish to share, eliminating part of the need to filter the competing voices on the overwhelmingly large and loud media stage.

Many are taking advantage of this new world of information. Some who have escaped the education system able to think for themselves have been creating these competing voices and sustaining them for decades until we reached this point. They investigate sources and find them reliable or not. Combining information offered by various outlets, an individual can draw his own conclusions and just as easily share them with others. Nevertheless, the majority of people remain addicted to the single voice. Unpracticed in discernment and logic, many people embark on an increasingly difficult course of clinging to the familiar one voice. It won’t last long. Market forces are at work. A house divided against itself will fall.

I’m not saying that radio will cease to exist, or that TV will go out of business, or even that the blog and web news fads will blow over. The influence is what is crashing in on itself. There is a possibility that it won’t. More on that in a moment. If it does, however, there seem to be two choices: either the people who don’t want to choose will wake up and think for themselves anyway, or a new power will come in and control them. Humanity craves leadership. It has found leadership without media in the past, and can persevere in its quest once again in a world where media is weak.

Recall those newspaper editors in that room, drinking and smoking cigars. They don’t want to lose their power. They don’t want the media empire to fall. These men know that strong competition, especially when faced on more than one front, reduces their power and eventually destroys it for all of them. What do they do?

The only chance of survival for the entrenched media is to fight back so hard that opposition is silenced. In this global technological age, I’m not sure that is possible. China is finding censorship a difficult problem to conquer. News businesses may strong arm their competition out of existence through economic competition, or they could if the internet weren’t essentially free. They can resort to sabotage, eliminating their foes with violence and vandalism and threats. Some of these new voices might be enticed into joining the club, the chorus. Or they can utilize their still-strong voices to change the laws. Laws are changed by wealthy special-interest groups all the time, and markets are controlled by big business using little laws to regulate small business into insignificance. So with media.

Do not doubt it: the powerful in the media have already begun to work. Using the government, members of which they helped to their election (and can slander out of power just as easily), they have begun to censor the freedom of speech.

- Broadcast TV, beginning this January, will be a thing of the past in January. Everything will be published in High Definition, and the government will take control of the airwaves for their own uses.
- Cable and Satellite TV, though offering many stations, are ultimately controlled by a select few established companies.
- In the 70’s and 80’s there was a law in effect endearingly called the “Fairness Doctrine,” requiring that radio stations offer all sides of an issue in their programming. This is both impossible and economically suicidal, as there is not an equal audience for all opinions. If reinstated, which the upcoming administration has considered, talk radio would be gone. (It is the nature of laws that they are not always evenly enforced. Though there may be a law against protesting on public property, the police and district attorneys decide who will be held accountable for violations. Therefore though the “fairness doctrine” may apply to all radio stations or even other media, enforcement can be targeted at specific stations or genres.)

I don’t know of any plans to censor the printed press or the internet, but watch for it. You will either see increased censorship or the demise of media as a superpower.

Doesn’t the Constitution guarantee free speech? Of course! But how is the government to be held accountable for trespass of the Constitution? How will you even know they have done so if no one tells you? Does the government own the airwaves? Broadcast equipment? Your TV or radio? In principle, they don’t. In practice, they absolutely do. And if you’re like me, you’re starting to think you’ve heard of other countries where there was one national media, publishing at the will of the government. Independent media entrepreneurs are not the only ones in history who have noticed that a single voice signifies singular power.

To God be all glory.

Reformation Weekend Pigfest

Though less attended than my previous two experiences, the conversation at this Pigfest was a unique blend of casual debate and fervent openness. We also enjoyed a good natural variety of topics. And we had plenty of sugar.

Idealism should be the motivating factor over pragmatism, in the presidential election. Why do we have a two-party system, and how does it work? Do we like it? How would we change the system? How does a third party become established? Could a third party gain a following by rising to power in one state? What if we campaign for and financially support and advertise a third-party but actually vote for the lesser of two evils? Is the time ripe for a shift in American political parties? When is it ok or safe to vote for a third party? When is it mandatory (how bad must the mainstream options be)? What if we die because we “wasted our vote” and an irresponsible candidate gets elected? Is the Electoral College good or does it restrict the will of the American people and possibility for change? Due to the nature of our presidential election laws, couldn’t there be more than two well-established parties? Is stability the goal?

The sole source for dreams is the experience of the dreamer, including thoughts but excluding any outside or supernatural force. Some people may have only experienced this kind of dream, but that doesn’t exclude other experiences. Freud taught this dream doctrine. In the Bible, God used dreams to communicate His will to people, and even the future. Are dreams different from visions? Does the proposition include only past experiences of the dreamer, or can future experiences fit in this explanation? My experience is that dreams process or reveal my emotions. Maybe supernatural forces impact daily experiences, which fuel our dreams. Can angels visit us in dreams? Can demons? What if you are demon-possessed? Are Christian’s capable of being demon-possessed? Can demons appear to Christians in dreams, or influence their dreams? Can they influence a Christian’s waking life? What about the oppression sometimes felt by Christians in a spiritually charged anti-God atmosphere? Can’t that translate into dreams? Because of the mysterious nature of the source of dreams, and the doubtful sources (heart, fallen angels, experiences and imagination, or God), there is danger in putting too much trust in dreams.

There is a biblical mandate for Christians to belong to fellowship groups. This proposition goes beyond church attendance, at least the kind where you come and sit in an audience for a sermon or “worship service.” The words are “belong” not visit. How often should these groups meet? Is there a biblical mandate for the exact frequency? Ought a single Christian belong to more than one fellowship group? Different demographical groups? How big is too big, and how small is too small? What kind of people are healthy to fellowship with? Are we looking for a good mix or separate interest groups? Is it ok, or even good to attend two or more churches, if for example one excels in worship and another in teaching?

We should give no business to institutions that make money through interest-bearing loans. This includes credit card companies, excluding even possessing a credit card which you pay off monthly or a debit card (because the loan company profits from your use of their service through the commission they receive from a business that accepts their card). Home loans would be excluded as well, meaning that you are left to save for such large purchases or never buy something large like a home. Should someone in my situation, if this plan were adopted, also decline use of a home or building that is mortgaged? Since banks are one of the biggest sources for interest-charging loans, we would have to keep our money elsewhere. Is there a ‘bank’ that uses your money for investments (NOT loans), thereby profiting, but still allows you to write checks on the account, etc? Charles Schwab was suggested. The purpose of this proposition is to adjust the economic system to true value, and to correct the mindset of people who are used to living beyond or ahead of their means. Would this suggestion accomplish that purpose? How much impact would it have, and how long would it take to gain a following? Are there alternative courses of action that would accomplish the same purpose, such as changing the system from within? How far does the biblical command to be in the world go? How far does “but not of” go? Is it acceptable for Christians to offer loans? What about no-interest loans?

The United States should not be involved (as a government) in international charity. Is international charity effective? Doesn’t a lot of it get intercepted by corrupt governments or warlords? Is it the government’s responsibility to help people in other countries with food and health and shelter? Does the international community have expectations from the US? Are they justified? Is such international activity constitutionally legal? What is the motive of the US in this charity? Is it fair to take this offer off the table in diplomatic negotiations or to build the image and respect of the US in the eyes of other countries? Are there private alternatives, and are these more effective? Is domestic welfare ok or legal or effective? What does that say about foreign aid? What is church and individual responsibility? What impact does government involvement have in encouraging, enabling, or deterring church and individual responsibility? Is it possible to effectively provide aid to foreign countries without military accompaniment/enforcement? Can we go through the United Nations?

We should not elect a wife and mother of 4 children to the United States Presidency. Break down the specifications: Wife) Why is it important that she’s married? Are we saying that as a wife she should have other priorities or that such a position as President precludes the biblical mandate to submit to your husband? Mother) Is there a special role of a mother that she would not be able to fulfill as President? How is this different from a father’s role? Is it more important for moms to spend a lot of time with their kids than dads? Can a dad be the stay-at-home parent without any detrimental effect on the children? 4) If there were more or less children, would the situation be changed? Is the age of the children significant? If the children were all over 13, or over 18, would it be ok? President) How is this different than being a mayor, vice president, CEO, or just working woman? The presidency is inherently a busy job, too busy for a family woman. It is a given in this instance, and in other instances where a woman would be too busy to spend time with her kids, it would be equally unacceptable, but requires us to make a case by case determination. Voting for a president is similar to being responsible for hiring for a private business. However, it was mentioned there are discrimination laws prohibiting employers from hiring based on the number of children a woman has, or her marital status. Is it appropriate for a woman to be in a secular position of authority? The Bible gives the example of Deborah, who was a married woman who served Israel as a secular judge. Aren’t there disadvantages (emotional, physical, relational) to having a female president? Women have different capabilities not as suited to the strenuous leadership role of a President.

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dead Heat by Joel Rosenberg

A couple years ago I heard a radio interview with an author who wrote novels based on Bible prophecy and current events. He had the uncanny knack of predicting world events. The first chapter of his first book, written before 9/11 (and published right after) described an airplane hijacked by terrorists to fly kamikaze into a target in the US. So when I remembered his name long enough to find his newest book, Ezekiel Option, I grabbed it. And then I read a fascinating intersection of prophecy and foreseeable world events.

The scientific method requires a scientist to make a hypothesis and then to conduct a series of tests. If x is true, then y. If x is false, then no y or z instead… Joel Rosenberg is a sort of scientist. His hypothesis is that the Bible is true, and that certain of its prophecies are next on the prophetic timeline. His test is that if this were so, international politics would be moving in a certain direction. I don’t regret picking up in the middle of his series. The first two books describe an attack on America that leads to a war with Sadaam Hussein, which at its conclusion produces an increasingly prosperous Iraq. Ezekiel Option picks up about where we actually are in world events, and predicts a Russian alliance particularly with Iran, but with other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries as well.

I pay attention to these parts of world news like a scientist testing a theory. Joel Rosenberg, who, it turns out, doesn’t just see these things in visions but actually does a huge amount of research through personal interviews and worldwide newspapers and Bible study, helps me to stay up to date on potentially prophecy-related news items through his weblog. Last night scrolling across the bottom of Hannity and Colmes or the O’Reilly Factor (late repeats of both) was the casual report: Russia, Iran & Qatar move towards oil cartel, would force EU to rethink energy policies. Russia has sold arms to Iran. Putin is moving more and more to be the strong central leader of his country, a requirement of the Ezekiel prophecies.

Anyway, all of that is preliminary to this actual review of Joel Rosenberg’s fifth novel, Dead Heat. When I first picked this book up from the library, my dad read it. He said a lot of people died, and was mum about the rest. So I wasn’t really in the mood to read about people dying. After the elections last week, however, I remembered a quote on Joel Rosenberg’s weblog from this book, “What Bennett had never really considered carefully until now was the possibility that something else might devastate the American people, rendering them ineffective heading into the last of the last days. A financial downturn on Wall Street. The sudden collapse of the dollar. The beginning of another Great Depression. A series of devastating earthquakes. Or hurricanes. Or other natural disasters, like a tsunami… None of it was clearly prophesied in the Scriptures. Not that he could find. But perhaps he should have foreseen the neutralization of America by more carefully reading between the lines. If so, what else was he missing? What exactly was coming next?”(edited for spoilers) Since it looks to me like this is happening to America, this economic depression and weak leadership essentially neutralizing us as a Superpower, I figured now would be the time to pick up Dead Heat. I was in the mood for a depressing book.

Except we hadn’t purchased the book like I thought. Our collection of secondhand Joel Rosenberg novels had an empty spot at the end. So I couldn’t just pick it up and read it last Tuesday night. I read Lady Susan instead, a much more cheerful response, I must say. But Mom found Dead Heat at a thrift store over the weekend, so I set about reading it.

374 fast-paced pages led me from a close presidential election to the rapture and beginning of the tribulation. No book I’ve ever read has made me feel more vulnerable. Waking up after dreams (casual dreams, not nightmares) continuing the book in my imagination, and as I read, I had to keep telling myself that there is no safer place than where God wants me. There’s this temptation when I read Joel’s books to pack up and move either to Israel or some place safe like Antarctica. God has given no guarantees on my life either way. I could die, or I could suffer pain, or I could have a peaceful life like many have experienced in the past. To be honest I don’t think I could run. I like to be a part of things going on, even if they’re dangerous.

Spoiler: The book essentially opens with five nuclear bombs taking out four major American cities and the President and at least half the government. No one knows who is responsible for the attacks. Like the movie Crimson Tide (whose plot fascinates me), ignorance could be fatal for most of the world. And in Dead Heat, there are virtually no voices urging caution.

How do you know which world leaders to believe? Are the more aggressive ones just equally afraid, or are the opportunistic, or are they part of a mega-conspiracy to destroy you? Why is this happening? What are the motives of the world leaders, or of the people sitting next to you? Who has the answers? How does one make such huge decisions when you haven’t had any sleep and you’re grieving the loss of millions of lives?

Once again the book weaves the stories of fictional world leaders with that of the main character, Jon Bennett. He and his wife have cashed in their portfolios to help an exponentially needy world. And convinced that time is running short, they invest their lives in helping others and spreading Jesus’ love one encounter at a time. This book is filled with references to salvation, to the love of God and the peace of accepting His provision for our sinfulness. When any character asks, “what should I do?” the answer is always something Jesus says. The answer is what Jon and his new wife Erin did: love people and tell them about Jesus.

A theme of Jon Bennett’s story is responsibility. Is he responsible for things that happen or don’t happen? He asks a lot of if-only’s, and other people point blame-filled fingers at him. Should he have stayed involved in politics, shared what he knew? Should he have taken his wife to the infirmary sooner? What about the choices facing him in the future? What’s his responsibility? How on earth do you decide? The answer, of course, is to do the right thing, including loving even your enemies. And God had blessed Jon with the answers when he sought Him.

Near the end of the book, Jon has a revelation: his whole life he’s chased after measurable results. He’s wanted to be a part of important things. He wanted control. And spending months in a refugee camp helping the poor wasn’t so measurable. People weren’t responsive to the gospel like he thought they should be. What difference was he making? Was it worth it? Could he have done something more productive? What about now, when he was helpless as the world slipped into war and there was no one even to talk to about Jesus. What is God’s purpose in that?

Isn’t it our responsibility to do something? Didn’t God put us here to get results? Isn’t he to blame if his wife isn’t safe? Isn’t that his job? Jon’s to-do list had two columns: done or to-be-done. But he learned something through his helplessness, a miniature of the helplessness felt by all the world at such a time. Erin said God wanted her to “do the loving; I’ll do the converting.” Love is not measurable. People are not ever checked off your list as done. And grace isn’t about accomplishments or blame. Jesus says well done because we’ve been good and faithful, not competent and productive. Jesus isn’t a CEO or a president. He knows the end result, and He knows how He’s getting it there.

God knows how the world is going to come to the last days. Joel Rosenberg’s hypotheses aren’t all right. He’s waiting like the rest of us. It is possible that the time between the Ezekiel prophecies and the classic end times events (world government, temple in Israel, rapture) is longer than a book series will allow. The rapture could come earlier than these devastating wars. Or later. Or the wars may not happen at all. Given his reputation for correctly predicting the future, Joel opens his book with a sort of disclaimer: “I pray to God the novel you hold in your hands never comes true.”

The idea of prophecy is an interesting one. For centuries if a man sought to unite the world, he failed. He was doomed to do so, because the time was not fulfilled. Other elements of prophecy were not in place. But at some point things are going to happen, and nothing will be able to stop them. There will be that one-world government. Any superpower or leader or ministry that stands in the way will be removed. We put off disaster, continue peace negotiations about Israel, etc. One day none of that will work. Will it be that no one is left who wants anything different, or will God remove them from power? Is there any difference?

I (Lisa of Longbourn) am willing to say plainly that I think Obama’s presidency (based on the Dead Heat quote above) weakens the prophetic necessity of a violent neutralization of America. But it increases other likelihoods. When our enemies think we are weak, those who want us destroyed because they hate us (not because we’re in their way) are emboldened to attack. Persecution may arise from inside, as it has in other countries that drifted toward socialism as we are doing. Obama is ardently pro-abortion, and the longer our country massacres its innocents, the more likely we are to incur natural consequences (economic, military manpower) and supernatural judgment. Dead Heat makes my final point, that it is possible America is prosperous because it supports Israel. If we stop being their ally, we remove from ourselves the Genesis 12 blessing of God. And if we ally ourselves with Israel’s enemies, we incur the curse of Genesis 12. So we might be asking for bad things to come to America.

I’m having a hard time shaking my mind free of the story. I look out my window and wonder why people are so casual. Why is my church doing ministry as usual? Why am I sitting at my desk reading or writing when people are dying and, truly, millions could die at any minute? Shouldn’t I say something? Doesn’t the whole lost world (of which I’m increasingly aware) need to hear the gospel? I watch the news and have to remind myself they won’t mention President MacPherson or UN Secretary Lucente or Iraqi leader Al-Hassani. So this is a vivid piece of writing. But I pray that its impact has more to do with my character and less to do with my imagination.

This book challenges me to be urgent about the Father’s business, and to live out love, ministry, and faith all the more radically. The more I feel helpless, and am humbled by my lack of control, the more I need God. I need His direction and His peace. I need to believe in His goodness. And I need to lean on His instructions.

To God be all glory.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Can't or Won't? Is there a Difference?

It’s an interesting question. In the book it makes a vivid point. The Christian and the other man are driving together. The other man believes in a God, rather because it was undeniable. But he hasn’t trusted Jesus for salvation because he’s not sure he likes God. After all, there is suffering in the world, and God could have stopped it.

“The time is now…” says the Christian, referring to accepting God’s grace through Jesus’ death on the cross.

“I know, I know.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“I can’t; I just can’t.”

The Christian uses one of those pushy phrases, “Can’t or won’t?”

And the conversation concludes with the non-Christian asking, “Is there a difference?”

(adapted from a book by Joel Rosenberg, but I really don’t want to give anything away, so I did leave out a lot. You should read his books. Latest review coming later this week.)

That question sums up the thoughts I’ve been thinking for weeks now. Can’t or won’t; is there a difference? Christians have been debating this for centuries. I believe there is much more biblical evidence for an answer of “No, there is no practical difference.” If you won’t trust Jesus, it’s because you can’t. We humans are born completely without strength (Romans 5:6), utterly without righteousness. Calvinists call this Total Depravity. So how does anyone choose Christ? He chooses them first, and gifts them with faith. That’s what I believe, and it’s a topic pretty rampant in the New Testament.

But there are those verses that don’t seem to fit, and I’ve been wondering if interpreting them away is fair. Sometimes I believe the verses that initially seem contrary, in context and the original languages, actually say just the opposite of the meaning we get by just reading them. Take James. If you pull any one verse out of that book of the Bible, and try to build a doctrine on it, you’ve got a mess on your hands. But if you read the book as a whole, one long argument with both sides of a balance, you get the idea that James knew exactly what he was saying. He just didn’t have to go over all the doctrines of justification by faith alone, because they were already there, already “givens” in his proof. I had an experience like that on Sunday as I taught our ladies Sunday school class. We’re in the middle of a series, and I cannot possibly re-teach the four previous lessons just to build one more point. I have to summarize the lessons before and move from there. This is a point made in the ever-fascinating Hebrews 6. We can’t keep reviewing the basic doctrines.

Can’t or won’t? Some people say it’s the other way, that because we won’t, we can’t. God’s foreknowledge saw that we wouldn’t, so He left us helpless so we couldn’t. I think this is rather illogical. There’s no cause. The question abides: if some won’t, why do some will?

Can or will? When people talk about free will, what do they mean? Is there a different kind of will, one that isn’t free? What does will mean? I see it as the ability to choose. If you have a will, you can make a decision. Is it possible there are wills that will always make the right decision? Are we saying that Jesus didn’t have free will here on earth? Is it possible that there are wills always making wrong decisions? Or could we explain human nature as will-enslavement to sin and evil? “There is none righteous, no, not one.” I believe this is taught in Ephesians 2. (Read it in Greek; it’s ten times better!)

In that chapter, we are told that before salvation, we humans were incapable of doing anything without the empowerment of the devil. After salvation we were made alive through the empowerment of God. But we now seem to have the ability (can) to move on our own. This movement and will and choice can lead us into service of the devil again (Romans 6 and 7) though not empowered by him, or into submission to God, whose power through us produces good works. Why did God leave us with that choice? And are those choices, as quickened spirits, matters of true free will? Doesn’t God still have control? Is it true that we could have chosen the right thing when we as Christians chose the wrong? If so, why didn’t we? If not, why can’t we?

What I’m coming to is a place where there are questions either way. Right now I don’t have answers. I still believe that God is sovereign, that predestination is true, and that God chose (elected) those whom He would save. The details? Why did God let the first humans sin and how did they decide to sin and is God responsible for allowing sin and death into the world? Is God in control of our choices now? Does God ordain my sin and rebellion? Does He ordain the rebellion of nations? Does He want to have rebels so He can punish them? Does He want to have rebels so that His forgiveness can be demonstrated? I don’t have answers to these. Some days I think that I know. Other days I’m in doubt. Most days I’ll argue strongly for complete sovereignty and predestination of every event, choice, and inclination – whether I believe it or not.

And all these things are difficult to express, to write down or even to talk about. I run circles around the main questions, hoping to stab in and pierce through to the core truth. Almost any question in life can be brought back to the issue of predestination. Just now I can’t say what I believe.

Can’t or won’t? I’m pretty sure it’s can’t. I can’t tell you facts I haven’t discovered, or conclusions I haven’t reached. At least that’s settled.

To God be all glory.

The Matrix Review

I watched the Matrix for the second time last night. Actually I sped it up a bit, skipping the scenes with interminable punching, kicking, and creepy stuff (like the bug). This movie was the constant topic of conversation for a few months when I was in high school. Friends said they had to see it several times just to get it.

Many years removed from its debut, the Matrix is not difficult for me to understand. Maybe our concept of computers has changed, or the plot has been so absorbed into common philosophy that it is no longer shocking and new. Either way, watching it the second time was pleasant. I got to enjoy the exceptional writing, the whole thrust of the story being set up by small comments early in the movie.

The Matrix is about fate and choice. For example, near the beginning of the movie, Neo asks, “Why is this happening to me? What did I do?” The answer is nothing. Things happen to us outside of our control or choices, and quite often whether we deserve them or not.

In the story, there is an Oracle. She predicts the future: that a special human will be found; who will find him; how the people will know. This special human is supposed to rescue humanity from the Matrix. There is a strong idea of fate in this. Even if it were naturally possible to predict the future, she was predicting a supernatural event, the appearance of a human being with super-human mind power.

The mind is important in the story. Almost everything that happens is mental, through the Matrix. And the epic conflict is the irrepressible human mind (or spirit) that is not bound by a programmed response as machines are. Humanity can survive and once again prevail because the mind is creative and adaptive.

Yet the mind is not the ultimate reality in the story. (Spoilers of a ten year old movie coming up.) At the very end of the movie, Neo dies in the Matrix. Anyone else who dies in the Matrix dies in reality, too. The body cannot live without the mind. And the mind inside the Matrix cannot keep so much a hold on reality that the death blows cannot reach it. Nevertheless, the physically and mentally dead Neo responds and revives as a matter of will. There is something else in him that will not die, that will not submit to what the mind senses. Ultimately it is that will, informing the mind, which enables him to overcome the Matrix.

That’s the framework. But inside the story, as events unfold (a beautiful word image for an idea of fate), these various perspectives on the will, the mind, the feelings, all interact. One character would rather live based on what makes him feel good. All of the questions represent a belief about truth. How do you know truth if what you’ve experienced and believed your whole life is a lie? How can you tell you’re not suffering a lie again? What is your definition of truth, and does it matter to you?

The Oracle tells Neo not to worry about a vase, which he curiously turns to see, and knocks it off. Is this pure prophecy, or manipulation based on possible futures? The Oracle also gives Neo the impression that he is not the One (special human able to defeat the Matrix), but tells him that he will have to make a choice between his life and the life of his mentor, Morpheus. The mentor is trying to give his life for Neo. Whose will wins? Why? While Neo believes he isn’t the One, he’s actually proving that he is. His motivation, his will, is stronger than what he believes in his mind.

Neo makes decisions based on what is right. He goes to save Morpheus because it is the loving thing to do. We can never let a sense of destiny interfere with what we know is right. He lets Trinity escape the Matrix first out of love as well. And these are the decisions that define his fate, that empower his will.

Machines may be the epic enemy in this movie, but they aren’t the bad guy. However much they try to convince you that they care about something, that they feel emotion and make choices, it’s all a fa├žade, an intimidation tactic. No, the real bad guy in the story is the man who wants to live by his feelings instead of by truth and justice. It is he who is willing to betray his companions, even to kill them and sacrifice the human race.

What defeats him is the justice and sacrificial love and determination of two brothers. The bad guy shoots at one, whose brother jumps between him and the next shot. The second brother dies. Greater love has no man than this… Brother number one survives to defend the lives of his friends by necessary force. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man…

The story isn’t all that new. A pure heart sacrifices itself for love. The will is superior to the feelings. Love conquers all. Truth and love are inseparably connected. It’s this very fact, that the story isn’t new, that it is filled with eternal truths, which make The Matrix such a good movie.

To God be all glory.

Work and Wisdom

Earlier this week I was talking to an old friend. As long as I’ve known him, he’s been talking about ways to make the most out of all the information in the world. What it comes down to is community: I can’t read all the books and you can’t watch all the movies, but if we do a little of each, and then share the summaries or highlights, we’ve both benefited from double what we could have done ourselves. Another thing he brought up was the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Wisdom knows value. Wisdom can make choices.

You get on the internet and how do you decide whether to read the article about the presidential race or the news story about international affairs? You go to the library: upstairs or down? Fiction or nonfiction? M’s or Biographies? There’s so much you couldn’t hope ever to get to, yet gaining knowledge is good. What makes you read Jane Austen over Dickens? Why did you pick a mystery today, but a book about Iceland last week? Or we could look at your household. How do you decide between Monopoly with your kids, a movie with the family, or any of the hundred chores and projects you could do around the house?

The choice is wrought by wisdom: our wisdom or someone else’s. My same friend is an excellent story-teller. He has the wisdom to know what details are essential to letting you feel right there a part of the story. When I get on the internet most days, I’m not thinking of choices that are life-shattering. “What’s this about?” I ask and click. I found all of my favorite blogs by linking out of curiosity. Why did that article catch my eye? I believe this is providential grace. Do I always see purpose in my trips to the library, the museum, or the web? Are all of my conversations with friends evidently headed in a direction good for both of us? I believe that, though I can’t always point to it.

Fruit in our Christian life is a matter of wisdom. It isn’t dutifully devouring the books in the library shelf by shelf until we are filled with useless facts and exhausted by blurry lines on the pages. Christianity is walking in the Spirit’s wisdom. And the Spirit produces fruit in our lives.

Luke 10:27-42 contains two stories: the first is the Good Samaritan. The second is one we’ve been studying in Sunday school for several weeks, Mary and Martha. This week we’re got a glimpse of the context of Mary and Martha. We can tend to see Jesus’ reproof of Martha as a call to abandon work almost entirely. Churches today are so afraid of legalism that they can be afraid to tell people to work. Who was most spiritual in the Good Samaritan story? Who was most Christ-like? Who obeyed the greatest commandment? It’s significant that Martha’s story follows the account of the lawyer (asking the question, “Who is my neighbor?”) who wanted to “justify himself.” He wanted to earn credit from God. That’s not what ministry is about. Let’s look at a proper perspective on service.

Last week in Sunday school we talked about having “living room intimacy” with God. A few weeks ago one of our teachers shared a little of what her living room is like with friends. She’ll serve them, but wants them to help themselves to refills or anything they need. I love most to visit my friends and spend the day with them, changing diapers, folding laundry, etc. What I’m getting at is intimacy that goes beyond sitting at Jesus’ feet, beyond the time of prayer and meditation on His words. Intimacy with Jesus is an active intimacy, too. It doesn’t turn off when we get off our knees, or when the kids wake up, when we’re at work, driving, relaxing, or even when we’re on vacation.

We work as a result of being with Jesus. We can’t do everything, so we need wisdom to know which works to choose. Follow Jesus’ example (taken from Joanna Weaver’s Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World).
He ministered in three ways:

- as He went on His way
- as He went out of His way
- in all kinds of ways

In Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby writes that we should look for God at work and join Him there. In John 5:19, Jesus describes His walk in the same way: So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”

We don’t get the impression from the gospels that Jesus published an itinerary. His disciples rarely even knew where they were going or when. Jesus was like a living pillar of cloud and fire that the Israelites followed. Jesus knew where He was going, and the gospels even report at times that He had to go somewhere (Jn 4:4).

Even in the story of Martha and Mary, when Jesus got to Bethany, He was on His way to Jerusalem. What does this joining God at work look like?

I’ve worked at the same office for seven years. Over that time I’ve met some favorite patients and some least favorite. Last week we saw one of my least favorite, a man who when he came last year was a test of my Christian love. I didn’t want to love him, to want him to be saved, to be nice to him or anywhere around him. I wanted him punished. But I struggled with that, and prayed that God would help my weak heart to love my neighbors no matter who they were.

This year when I saw his name on the books I started to pray, but my prayers were all different. I prayed for an opportunity to share the gospel, and for the approach to take with the gospel. Our patient needs Jesus, no question about it. And for all the times I’ve asked God to never let this man come back to our office, God has brought him back year after year. God doesn’t make me miserable for no reason, so I believe God is at work in that man’s life. I didn’t get to share the gospel. He came in and left without even stopping.

But he came back the next day, and my gifted-evangelist brother shared the gospel with him. How incredibly cool is that?

Remember the story of the Good Samaritan? He wasn’t out on a charity field trip. He didn’t build a shelter for beaten and unconscious penniless men to recover if they could make it. Luke 10:33 – “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.” The Samaritan was on his way, paying attention to the needs of others. He ministered on his way.

But the difference between the Samaritan and the other, “religious” men in the story, was that after he met the needy man on the road, the Samaritan didn't just toss him a drink or some money; he went out of his way to help him, just like Jesus would.

Joanna Weaver points us to Matthew 14:1-22 for Jesus’ example. The first part of this chapter describes the death of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. John was the first to proclaim Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God,’ and actually baptized Jesus. In response to news of his friend’s execution, Jesus goes apart by Himself. The crowds find Jesus, but He doesn’t immediately send them away. Instead, according to verse 14, Jesus “saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Note the word “compassion.”

“He laid aside his hurt so he could pick up their pain. He laid aside his wishes so he could become their one Desire. He laid aside his agenda so he could meet all of their needs.” -
Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World

There’s a lot of emphasis these days on our passion for ministry. What do you just love doing? God created you to be passionate about certain types of service, truths about Him, or people groups. As youth leaders at church we’ve been talking about that. And when you’re building a team with a mission, that’s good. You want those passionate about interaction to be doing the fellowship, the teachers to be teaching, the servants to be running the snack bar or sound booth, the loud and energetic ones to be leading games. God gave the body spiritual gifts, and He gave varieties to different people so that we could work together and be the best and strongest.

But we’re not talking just about targeted long-term missions.

Compassion is different from passion. Compassion is why Jesus went out of His way to meet the needs of the multitudes. Compassion is why Jesus went out of His way to make me His. And compassion is willing to serve wherever needed.

Jesus ministered in all kinds of ways.

What if Jesus had said, “Blind people aren’t my ministry; I heal the lame”? Or “You’re a Roman; I only help Jews”?

Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, healed lepers, taught Pharisees, fielded questions from lawyers and peasants. Jesus played with kids and cleansed the temple. Nothing and no one was off limits to Him.

Yeah, you say. That’s Jesus. Of course He could do everything.

Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the same Spirit from whom we get the terms “spiritual gifts,” and “fruit of the Spirit.” So no excuses. If God is leading you to a ministry, whether for five minutes, five days, or for a lifetime, He’s going to supply the gifting. Remember the idea of spiritual gifts is that they are supernatural. If we could do it without God, they wouldn’t be spiritual gifts. Ministry is God’s power working through us. And that Power, that God, is exactly what the world needs.

Remember the story of Peter and John from Acts 3:6-9 where they heal the lame man? Peter offers the man first Jesus and second healing. We need to have that intimacy with God (from spending particular time with Him) that gives us insight into physical and spiritual needs of those around us. They need Him more than money, free food or good counseling. Even the people not like the Samaritan’s neighbor, not at death’s door, desperately need to believe that there is a God with Power that they can trust.

So we’re serving out of our intimacy with God, continuing the journey and joining Him in His work. We serve and bear fruit as we go, when we embrace God’s interruptions of our plans and go out of our way to help, and reach out in all kinds of ways.
You see a person in need. What do you have to offer?
- Compassion that comes because God loves them.
When we spend time with God, we get His heart. We start to love people because God loves them, and because we love what God loves. The word compassion is an overflow of feeling. If it doesn’t produce action, it isn’t compassion.
- Compassion that sees their need as more than outward. Going through our daily lives with God is a good way to keep in mind that there’s more to life than what we see or feel. People have needs that are physical, and God calls us to care for those in distress. But God left us on earth to spread the good news.
- Passion for God’s glory that can’t hold it in. Getting to know our God produces more and more enthusiasm for who He is. Then we can’t help sharing it. Everyone should know about God; He should get credit from everyone for the goodness that He is and does.

This whole lesson on fruit is based on the idea of abiding in Christ, summed up in John 15:5 – “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” When we have that intimacy with Jesus, we’re like a zucchini vine. Joanna Weaver writes, “Fruit happens. You get connected to the Vine and pretty soon you’ve got zucchini – tons and tons of zucchini. So much zucchini you just have to share!” If our fruit doesn’t point back to the vine, though, we’re just working. We’re Marthas, cumbered about with that load of rocks (acts of service or ministry) God didn’t give to us, trying to earn credit from God for all the good things we do. We’re trying to tackle the whole library. Christian work is from “walking in the Spirit” (that living room intimacy picking up and moving through the whole house), the Spirit who glorifies Himself, and who gives people what they need and not a cheap substitute. If all we have to offer the world is our love by ourselves, or our money, or our help – they’re not getting nearly what they need.

Jesus promises that men will recognize His followers by their love (John 13:35), and sure enough, Peter and John were identified as Jesus’ disciples because they boldly healed the lame man in Jesus' name, and would not be deterred by the religious incumbents, though the apostles were untrained and uneducated. Jesus had made a noticeable impact on their lives (Acts 4:13).

We had elections in this country last week. Compare the US to China. In China the Christians are often officially persecuted for their faith. But most of them aren’t fighting to transform the government. They know their real mission – and only hope – is to transform lives. God changes lives when He is known in His people’s love. “Chinese Christians devoted themselves to worship and evangelism. They concentrated on changing lives, not changing laws.” - Philip Yancey

Does the world know WHOSE you are?

To God be all glory.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

To balance the post-election doldrums this week, I read Lady Susan, a complete short novel written by Jane Austen, the last on my list of her works to read. Consisting entirely of letters except for the last two or three pages (which summarizes both why the story could not be continued in letters and the fates of all the main characters). For my part I wish that the story had been developed more. I want to know the young Miss Frederica, and the smart Mr. Reginald de Courcy. Perhaps the value is in the art by which Miss Austen communicates so much leaving almost the whole unsaid. One feels that there is a whole story and world of events that Jane Austen knew but wouldn’t share because she didn’t have to.

The worldview of the widow Lady Susan is summed up in her words from Letter 16, “Consideration and esteem as surely follow command of language, as admiration waits on beauty.” She is a scandalous flirt and insufferable liar, scheming throughout the novel to acquire pleasure, money, and importance at the expense of all her relations, friends, and even her daughter. Jane Austen tends to end with her villains unpunished. They don’t go to prison, or suffer a life-long illness or poverty or death. The world may scorn them, but generally they never cared what the world thought. We the good readers may pity the partners with whom they finish the tales, but the villains themselves will not wallow, we think, in self-pity for long, rather getting something for which they have always aimed.

Lady Susan is a novel where, with the concise style, these patterns are readily exposed. Read Lady Susan. It’s a light, funny story with a background romance. Characters are typically Jane Austen even if we see little of them. And the style makes a good template for understanding the rest of Jane Austen’s beloved books.

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Review of Godcast

Each devotion in Godcast begins with a verse and ends with a prayer. In between will be thoughts and anecdotes with a point, usually related to church or Christian living. The articles are not deep, or set on expositing Scripture. Its strength is application. Generally this is a good book, though lighter than my preference. And there were some frequent points that made me frustrated.

This book could be summed up with the following oft-repeated statements:

God has given us all the resources: physical, mental, spiritual, monetary to do
what He wants us to.

The only critic who matters is the One
with nail prints in his hands.

You must tithe.

Get involved in missions: if you can’t go overseas, then pray and
pay for people to go overseas.

The first statement is the real value of this book. My favorite of the one-page chapters all dealt with the bigness of God, freeing me to depend on His grace.

But the third and fourth statements, which I’m not kidding, show up word for word about every fifteen pages, bother me. I know that there is a large segment of Christianity that believes tithing is still God’s plan. But it just isn’t in the Bible. The Old Testament is filled with descriptions of the tithe, and rules about tithing. Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament, written to the Jews. It calls the people thieves for not bringing God’s tithe into the storehouse. Malachi wrote for Jews, under the law, with 400 plus years to go before the law was fulfilled and the new wine of the covenant was poured into new wineskins. The author of Godcast claims that the church is the New Testament equivalent to the “storehouse,” because from thence we get spiritual nourishment. He goes so far as to say that donations to other ministries cannot be counted as a tithe. (He’s a pastor of a huge church with lots of staff and a multi-million dollar building.) Each prayer on these chapters is unobjectionable, asking for a spirit of faith and giving and that God would give us wisdom to use His resources for His purposes. I am all for giving, and was both blessed and challenged by his admonitions to a lifestyle embracing sacrifice.

Associated with this emphasis on regular, budgeted tithing to a single local church are some typical mega-church priorities with which I disagree: large congregations (in the thousands), expensive buildings, seeker conformed methods (A disturbing chapter is on needing bait as fishers of men, but the bait isn’t Jesus and life and salvation; it’s coffee!), professional staff, overly-planned and programmed worship services. In a denomination like Assemblies of God, with its emphasis on the Holy Spirit, it is strange to me that they want to keep so much out of His control and fitted into a mold of traditional church structure. On a positive note, the priority of his ministries seems to be people more than things or organizations.

Missions is obviously something to which every Christian is called, but we are not necessarily called to the easy task of being a missionary of supply. Mr. Betzer is from the Assemblies of God, and I’ve been raised more or less in the Baptist tradition, but where I come from, we’re not given the excuse of saying that we send missionaries, but don’t have to preach the gospel ourselves. There is just as much a mission field here in America as there is internationally, and so if you are not called to go overseas, you have a huge work here in your own city. I believe that Mr. Betzer lives this way, though his lingo is misleading.

One other large concern to me is the focus on works and human responsibility. If we do not preach the gospel to our friend, God is unable to save him. If we fail to take our children to Sunday school, their lives will not be set on a godly course, and they will miss their calling. Such are a few of the points made in this book.

To end on a better note, one of the chapters I read on election day was about Abraham Lincoln, and encouraged us to pray for our government, whether we agree with it or not. How appropriate. You can never pray too much, nor trust God too much.

To God be all glory.