Friday, October 30, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Lost And Found
READ: Luke 15:4-24
This my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. —Luke 15:24A Wall Street Journal article by Jennifer Saranow chronicled the extraordinary efforts of middle-aged American men who are trying to find the favorite car they once owned and loved, but lost. They are searching on-line car ads, phoning junkyards, and even hiring specialists who charge $400 an hour to help them search for an automobile that once symbolized their youth. These men want the actual car they owned, not one just like it.
Some would call their efforts frivolous—a waste of time and money. But the value of a car, like many things, is in the eye of the beholder.
In Luke 15, people who were despised by their society came to hear Jesus. But some religious leaders complained, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them” (v.2). To affirm how valuable these “sinners” are to God, Jesus told three memorable stories about a lost sheep (vv.4-7), a lost coin (vv.8-10), and a lost son (vv.11-32). Each parable records the anguish of losing, the effort of searching, and the joy of finding something of great worth. In every story, we see a picture of God, the loving Father, who rejoices over every lost soul who is found.
Even if you feel far from God today, you are highly valued by Him. He’s searching for you. — David C. McCasland
I once was lost, but now I’m found;
Praise God! Christ died for me;
He valued me, redeemed my soul;
From sin, He set me free. —Sper
Those who have been found should seek the lost.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Financial Historian on ‘29: ‘Great Crash’ Vs. ‘Break in the Market’.
Today marks 80 years since the best known part of the 1929 stock market collapse, a two-day rout on Oct. 28 and Oct. 29 of that year. The equities crash brought a painful close to the period of unbridled financial optimism that was the 1920s.
To mark the occasion, MarketBeat has been asking financial historians for their thoughts — mini-essays if you will — on how the Great Crash informs the way we think about the current market recovery. Today’s offering comes from Richard Sylla, Henry Kaufman Professor of the History of Financial Institutions and Markets at New York University:
Because their teachers and their history books said so, most people know that the Great Crash of 1929 caused the Great Depression of the early 1930s. I am not one of these people.
What I know is that the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 306 the day before Black Thursday, October 24, 1929, and at 199 on November 13, three weeks later. That drop of 35 percent was the Great Crash. I also know that on April 17, 1930, the day before Good Friday, the Dow closed at 294, or 96 percent of its level before Black Thursday. In other words, almost all of the decline of the crash proper had been undone by a recovery of 48 percent in the Dow between Halloween ‘29 and Easter ‘30. Most people don’t know that, or if they ever did they forgot it.
On Good Friday ‘30, the New York Times referred not to the Great Crash, but to “the break in the market last Fall.” The Times that day also noted that the day before, April 17, “average prices worked higher and a few outstanding issues shot up smartly to new high prices for the year to date,” and that “British interests were investing heavily in these issues.”
The Great Depression began sometime after the spring of 1930, most likely when a lot of banks failed late that year. But the so-called Great Crash a year earlier had almost nothing to do with those bank failures, the first of thousands of bank failures that occurred from late 1930 to March 1933.
What’s interesting from the perspective of 2009 is that from September 12, 2008, the Friday before Lehman, to the low of March 9, 2009, the Dow lost 44 percent. The Great Crash of 2008-09 was actually a greater crash than the Great Crash of 1929. And half a year after the crash lows of last March, the Dow again is up about 50 percent, as it was half a year after October 1929.
Is the market’s recovery since March now giving us a better forecast of what lies ahead than it did in April 1930? Let’s hope so. Let’s hope, too, that people stop exaggerating the effects of “the break in the market” in October ‘29.
Don’t Build Up
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
It is crunch time on Afghanistan, so here’s my vote: We need to be thinking about how to reduce our footprint and our goals there in a responsible way, not dig in deeper. We simply do not have the Afghan partners, the NATO allies, the domestic support, the financial resources or the national interests to justify an enlarged and prolonged nation-building effort in Afghanistan.
I base this conclusion on three principles. First, when I think back on all the moments of progress in that part of the world — all the times when a key player in the Middle East actually did something that put a smile on my face — all of them have one thing in common: America had nothing to do with it.
America helped build out what they started, but the breakthrough didn’t start with us. We can fan the flames, but the parties themselves have to light the fires of moderation. And whenever we try to do it for them, whenever we want it more than they do, we fail and they languish.
The Camp David peace treaty was not initiated by Jimmy Carter. Rather, the Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, went to Jerusalem in 1977 after Israel’s Moshe Dayan held secret talks in Morocco with Sadat aide Hassan Tuhami. Both countries decided that they wanted a separate peace — outside of the Geneva comprehensive framework pushed by Mr. Carter.
The Oslo peace accords started in Oslo — in secret 1992-93 talks between the P.L.O. representative, Ahmed Qurei, and the Israeli professor Yair Hirschfeld. Israelis and Palestinians alone hammered out a broad deal and unveiled it to the Americans in the summer of 1993, much to Washington’s surprise.
The U.S. surge in Iraq was militarily successful because it was preceded by an Iraqi uprising sparked by a Sunni tribal leader, Sheik Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, who, using his own forces, set out to evict the pro-Al Qaeda thugs who had taken over Sunni towns and were imposing a fundamentalist lifestyle. The U.S. surge gave that movement vital assistance to grow. But the spark was lit by the Iraqis.
The Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, the Israeli withdrawals from Gaza and Lebanon, the Green Revolution in Iran and the Pakistani decision to finally fight their own Taliban in Waziristan — because those Taliban were threatening the Pakistani middle class — were all examples of moderate, silent majorities acting on their own.
The message: “People do not change when we tell them they should,” said the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum. “They change when they tell themselves they must.”
And when the moderate silent majorities take ownership of their own futures, we win. When they won’t, when we want them to compromise more than they do, we lose. The locals sense they have us over a barrel, so they exploit our naïve goodwill and presence to loot their countries and to defeat their internal foes.
That’s how I see Afghanistan today. I see no moderate spark. I see our secretary of state pleading with President Hamid Karzai to re-do an election that he blatantly stole. I also see us begging Israelis to stop building more crazy settlements or Palestinians to come to negotiations. It is time to stop subsidizing their nonsense. Let them all start paying retail for their extremism, not wholesale. Then you’ll see movement.
What if we shrink our presence in Afghanistan? Won’t Al Qaeda return, the Taliban be energized and Pakistan collapse? Maybe. Maybe not. This gets to my second principle: In the Middle East, all politics — everything that matters — happens the morning after the morning after. Be patient. Yes, the morning after we shrink down in Afghanistan, the Taliban will celebrate, Pakistan will quake and bin Laden will issue an exultant video.
And the morning after the morning after, the Taliban factions will start fighting each other, the Pakistani Army will have to destroy their Taliban, or be destroyed by them, Afghanistan’s warlords will carve up the country, and, if bin Laden comes out of his cave, he’ll get zapped by a drone.
My last guiding principle: We are the world. A strong, healthy and self-confident America is what holds the world together and on a decent path. A weak America would be a disaster for us and the world. China, Russia and Al Qaeda all love the idea of America doing a long, slow bleed in Afghanistan. I don’t.
The U.S. military has given its assessment. It said that stabilizing Afghanistan and removing it as a threat requires rebuilding that whole country. Unfortunately, that is a 20-year project at best, and we can’t afford it. So our political leadership needs to insist on a strategy that will get the most security for less money and less presence. We simply don’t have the surplus we had when we started the war on terrorism after 9/11 — and we desperately need nation-building at home. We have to be smarter. Let’s finish Iraq, because a decent outcome there really could positively impact the whole Arab-Muslim world, and limit our exposure elsewhere. Iraq matters.
Yes, shrinking down in Afghanistan will create new threats, but expanding there will, too. I’d rather deal with the new threats with a stronger America.
One of the speakers at the men's conference last week used this parable to make the point that we should be persistent in our faith, persistent in our prayer, persistent in our love for our family.
Luke 18:1-8 (The Message)
The Story of the Persistent Widow
1-3Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. He said, "There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him: 'My rights are being violated. Protect me!'
4-5"He never gave her the time of day. But after this went on and on he said to himself, 'I care nothing what God thinks, even less what people think. But because this widow won't quit badgering me, I'd better do something and see that she gets justice—otherwise I'm going to end up beaten black-and-blue by her pounding.'"
6-8Then the Master said, "Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won't step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won't he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?"
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
“Light” Of Creation
READ: Job 37:1-18
[God] does great things, and unsearchable, marvelous things without number. —Job 5:9Among the wonders of Jamaica is a body of water called Luminous Lagoon. By day, it is a nondescript bay on the country’s northern coast. By night, it is a marvel of nature.
If you visit there after dark, you notice that the water is filled with millions of phosphorescent organisms. Whenever there is movement, the water and the creatures in the bay glow. When fish swim past your boat, for example, they light up like waterborne fireflies. As the boat glides through the water, the wake shines brightly.
The wonder of God’s creation leaves us speechless, and this is just a small part of the total mystery package of God’s awesome handiwork as spelled out in Job 37 and 38. Listen to what the Lord’s role is in nature’s majesty: “Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes His lightning flash?” (37:15 niv); “What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside?” (38:19 niv). God’s majestic creations—whether dazzling lightning or glowing fish—are mysteries to us. But as God reminded Job, all of the wonders of our world are His creative handiwork.
When we observe God’s amazing creation, our only response can be that of Job: These are “things too wonderful for me” (42:3). — Dave Branon
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful;
The Lord God made them all. —Alexander
When we cease to wonder, we cease to worship.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
From the New York Times
The New Untouchables
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Last summer I attended a talk by Michelle Rhee, the dynamic chancellor of public schools in Washington. Just before the session began, a man came up, introduced himself as Todd Martin and whispered to me that what Rhee was about to speak about — our struggling public schools — was actually a critical, but unspoken, reason for the Great Recession.
There’s something to that. While the subprime mortgage mess involved a huge ethical breakdown on Wall Street, it coincided with an education breakdown on Main Street — precisely when technology and open borders were enabling so many more people to compete with Americans for middle-class jobs.
In our subprime era, we thought we could have the American dream — a house and yard — with nothing down. This version of the American dream was delivered not by improving education, productivity and savings, but by Wall Street alchemy and borrowed money from Asia.
A year ago, it all exploded. Now that we are picking up the pieces, we need to understand that it is not only our financial system that needs a reboot and an upgrade, but also our public school system. Otherwise, the jobless recovery won’t be just a passing phase, but our future.
“Our education failure is the largest contributing factor to the decline of the American worker’s global competitiveness, particularly at the middle and bottom ranges,” argued Martin, a former global executive with PepsiCo and Kraft Europe and now an international investor. “This loss of competitiveness has weakened the American worker’s production of wealth, precisely when technology brought global competition much closer to home. So over a decade, American workers have maintained their standard of living by borrowing and overconsuming vis-à-vis their real income. When the Great Recession wiped out all the credit and asset bubbles that made that overconsumption possible, it left too many American workers not only deeper in debt than ever, but out of a job and lacking the skills to compete globally.”
This problem will be reversed only when the decline in worker competitiveness reverses — when we create enough new jobs and educated workers that are worth, say, $40-an-hour compared with the global alternatives. If we don’t, there’s no telling how “jobless” this recovery will be.
A Washington lawyer friend recently told me about layoffs at his firm. I asked him who was getting axed. He said it was interesting: lawyers who were used to just showing up and having work handed to them were the first to go because with the bursting of the credit bubble, that flow of work just isn’t there. But those who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained. They are the new untouchables.
That is the key to understanding our full education challenge today. Those who are waiting for this recession to end so someone can again hand them work could have a long wait. Those with the imagination to make themselves untouchables — to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to attract old customers or new ways to combine existing technologies — will thrive. Therefore, we not only need a higher percentage of our kids graduating from high school and college — more education — but we need more of them with the right education.
As the Harvard University labor expert Lawrence Katz explains it: “If you think about the labor market today, the top half of the college market, those with the high-end analytical and problem-solving skills who can compete on the world market or game the financial system or deal with new government regulations, have done great. But the bottom half of the top, those engineers and programmers working on more routine tasks and not actively engaged in developing new ideas or recombining existing technologies or thinking about what new customers want, have done poorly. They’ve been much more exposed to global competitors that make them easily substitutable.”
Those at the high end of the bottom half — high school grads in construction or manufacturing — have been clobbered by global competition and immigration, added Katz. “But those who have some interpersonal skills — the salesperson who can deal with customers face to face or the home contractor who can help you redesign your kitchen without going to an architect — have done well.”
Just being an average accountant, lawyer, contractor or assembly-line worker is not the ticket it used to be. As Daniel Pink, the author of “A Whole New Mind,” puts it: In a world in which more and more average work can be done by a computer, robot or talented foreigner faster, cheaper “and just as well,” vanilla doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s all about what chocolate sauce, whipped cream and cherry you can put on top. So our schools have a doubly hard task now — not just improving reading, writing and arithmetic but entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity.
Bottom line: We’re not going back to the good old days without fixing our schools as well as our banks.
READ: John 10:1-6
When he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him. —John 10:4Last fall my wife, Carolyn, and I were driving up a winding mountain road near our home in Idaho when we came across a large flock of sheep moving down the road toward us. A lone shepherd with his dogs was in the vanguard, leading his flock out of summer pasture into the lowlands and winter quarters.
We pulled to the side of the road and waited while the flock swirled around us. We watched them until they were out of sight, then I wondered: Do sheep fear change, movement, new places?
Like most older folks, I like the “fold”—the old, familiar places. But all is shifting and changing these days; I’m being led out, away from familiar surroundings and into a vast unknown. What new limits will overtake me in the coming days? What nameless fears will awaken? Jesus’ words from John 10 come to mind: “When he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them” (v.4).
We may well be dismayed at what life has for us this year and next, but our Shepherd knows the way we’re taking. And He goes before. He will not lead us down paths too dangerous or too arduous where He cannot help us. He knows our limits. He knows the way to green pasture and good water; all we have to do is follow. — David H. Roper
Child of My love, fear not the unknown morrow,
Dread not the new demand life makes of thee;
Thy ignorance doth hold no cause for sorrow
Since what thou knowest not is known to Me. —Exley
Our unknown future is secure in the hands of our all-knowing God.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
The Power in 11/9
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
A few weeks ago, Americans “observed” the eighth anniversary of 9/11 — that day in 2001 when the Twin Towers were brought down by Al Qaeda. In a few weeks, Germans will “celebrate” the 20th anniversary of 11/9 — that day in 1989 when the Berlin Wall was brought down by one of the greatest manifestations of people power ever seen.
As the Obama team tries to figure out how to proceed vis-à-vis Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, it is worth reflecting for a moment on why Germans are celebrating 11/9 and we are reliving 9/11 — basically debating whether to re-invade Afghanistan to prevent it again from becoming an Al Qaeda haven and to prevent Pakistan from tipping into civil war.
The most important difference between 11/9 and 9/11 is “people power.” Germans showed the world how good ideas about expanding human freedom — amplified by people power — can bring down a wall and an entire autocratic power structure, without a shot. There is now a Dunkin’ Donuts on Paris Square adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate, where all that people power was concentrated. Normally, I am horrified by American fast-food brands near iconic sites, but in the case of this once open sore between East and West, I find it something of a balm. The war over Europe is indeed over. People power won. We can stand down — pass the donuts.
The events of 9/11, by contrast, demonstrated how bad ideas — amplified by a willingness of just a few people to commit suicide — can bring down skyscrapers and tie a great country in knots.
I toured Paris Square the other day with Ulrike Graalfs, a program director at the American Academy in Berlin, where I am a visitor, and she mentioned in passing that she was in America on 9/11, as a student at the University of Pennsylvania, and she was a 9-year-old schoolgirl standing on the Berlin Wall on 11/9. I was struck by her recollections. On 9/11, she said, she was overwhelmed by the sense of “anger and hurt” that so many of the Penn students around her felt — feelings so intense it made it impossible for them to see, what she, a foreign student could see, “how much the rest of the world was standing with America that day.” By contrast, on 11/9, “there were people singing and dancing and someone lifted me up on the wall,” she said. “I still get emotional thinking about it. I saw my father jump down on the other side. I was terrified. It was very high. I thought it was going to be the end of my father. He started debating with an East German soldier. But the soldier didn’t do anything. He just stood there, stiff.” People power won, and Germany has been united and stable ever since.
The problem we have in dealing with the Arab-Muslim world today is the general absence or weakness of people power there. There is a low-grade civil war going on inside the Arab-Muslim world today, only in too many cases it is “the South versus the South” — bad ideas versus bad ideas, amplified by violence, rather than bad ideas versus good ideas amplified by people power.
In places like Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or Pakistan you have violent religious extremist movements fighting with state security services. And while the regimes in these countries are committed to crushing their extremists, they rarely take on their extremist ideas by offering progressive alternatives. That’s largely because the puritanical Islamic ideology of the Saudi state or segments of the Pakistani military is not all that different from the ideology of the extremists. And when these extremists aim elsewhere — like at India or at Shiites or at Israelis — these regimes are indifferent. That is why there is no true war of ideas inside these countries — just a war.
These states are not promoting an inclusive, progressive and tolerant interpretation of Islam that could be the foundation of people power. And when their people do take to the streets, it is usually against another people rather than to unify their own ranks around good ideas. There have been far more marches to denounce Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad than to denounce Muslim suicide bombers who have killed innocent civilians, many of them Muslims.
The most promising progressive people-power movements have been Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution, the Sunni Awakening in Iraq and the Green Revolution in Iran. But the Cedar Revolution has been stymied by Syrian might and internal divisions. The Tehran uprising has been crushed by the iron fist of the Iranian regime, fueled by petro-dollars. And it is unclear whether the Iraqis will set aside their tribalism for a shared people power.
So as we try to figure out how many troops to send to stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan, let’s remember: Where there is people power wedded to progressive ideas, there is hope — and American power can help. Where there is people power harnessed to bad ideas, there is danger. Where there is no people power and only bad ideas, there will be no happy endings.
Where the Wild Things Are
By DAVID BROOKS
In Homer’s poetry, every hero has a trait. Achilles is angry. Odysseus is cunning. And so was born one picture of character and conduct.
In this view, what you might call the philosopher’s view, each of us has certain ingrained character traits. An honest person will be honest most of the time. A compassionate person will be compassionate.
These traits, as they say, go all the way down. They shape who we are, what we choose to do and whom we befriend. Our job is to find out what traits of character we need to become virtuous.
But, as Kwame Anthony Appiah, a Princeton philosopher, notes in his book “Experiments in Ethics,” this philosopher’s view of morality is now being challenged by a psychologist’s view. According to the psychologist’s view, individuals don’t have one thing called character.
The psychologists say this because a century’s worth of experiments suggests that people’s actual behavior is not driven by permanent traits that apply from one context to another. Students who are routinely dishonest at home are not routinely dishonest at school. People who are courageous at work can be cowardly at church. People who behave kindly on a sunny day may behave callously the next day when it is cloudy and they are feeling glum. Behavior does not exhibit what the psychologists call “cross-situational stability.”
The psychologists thus tend to gravitate toward a different view of conduct. In this view, people don’t have one permanent thing called character. We each have a multiplicity of tendencies inside, which are activated by this or that context. As Paul Bloom of Yale put it in an essay for The Atlantic last year, we are a community of competing selves. These different selves “are continually popping in and out of existence. They have different desires, and they fight for control — bargaining with, deceiving, and plotting against one another.”
The philosopher’s view is shaped like a funnel. At the bottom, there is a narrow thing called character. And at the top, the wide ways it expresses itself. The psychologist’s view is shaped like an upside-down funnel. At the bottom, there is a wide variety of unconscious tendencies that get aroused by different situations. At the top, there is the narrow story we tell about ourselves to give coherence to life.
The difference is easy to recognize on the movie screen. Most movies embrace the character version. The hero is good and conquers evil. Spike Jonze’s new movie adaptation of “Where the Wild Things Are” illuminates the psychological version.
At the beginning of the movie, young Max is torn by warring impulses he cannot control or understand. Part of him loves and depends upon his mother. But part of him rages against her.
In the midst of turmoil, Max falls into a primitive, mythical realm with a community of Wild Things. The Wild Things contain and re-enact different pieces of his inner frenzy. One of them feels unimportant. One throws a tantrum because his love has been betrayed. They embody his different tendencies.
Many critics have noted that, in the movie version, the Wild Things are needlessly morose and whiney. But in one important way, the movie is better than the book. In the book, Max effortlessly controls the Wild Things by taming them with “the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once.”
In the movie, Max wants to control the Wild Things. The Wild Things in turn want to be controlled. They want him to build a utopia for them where they won’t feel pain. But in the movie, Max fails as king. He lacks the power to control his Wild Things. The Wild Things come to recognize that he isn’t really a king, and maybe there are no such things as kings.
In the philosopher’s picture, the good life is won through direct assault. Heroes use reason to separate virtue from vice. Then they use willpower to conquer weakness, fear, selfishness and the dark passions lurking inside. Once they achieve virtue they do virtuous things.
In the psychologist’s version, the good life is won indirectly. People have only vague intuitions about the instincts and impulses that have been implanted in them by evolution, culture and upbringing. There is no easy way to command all the wild things jostling inside.
But it is possible to achieve momentary harmony through creative work. Max has all his Wild Things at peace when he is immersed in building a fort or when he is giving another his complete attention. This isn’t the good life through heroic self-analysis but through mundane, self-forgetting effort, and through everyday routines.
Appiah believes these two views of conduct are in conversation, not conflict. But it does seem we’re in one of those periods when words like character fall into dispute and change their meaning.
READ: 1 Corinthians 13
Now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. —1 Corinthians 13:13When I have asked suffering people, “Who helped you?” not one person has mentioned a PhD from a prestigious seminary or a famous philosopher. All of us have the same capacity to help those who hurt.
No one can package or bottle the “appropriate” response to suffering. If you go to the sufferers themselves, some will recall a friend who cheerily helped distract them from their illness. Others think such an approach insulting. Some want honest, straightforward talk; others find such discussion unbearably depressing.
There is no magic cure for a person in pain. Mainly, such a person needs love, for love instinctively detects what is needed. Jean Vanier, who founded the L’Arche movement for the developmentally disabled, says: “Wounded people who have been broken by suffering and sickness ask for only one thing: a heart that loves and commits itself to them, a heart full of hope for them.”
Such a love may be painful for us. But real love, the apostle Paul reminds us, “Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).
As is so often His pattern, God uses very ordinary people to bring about His healing. Those who suffer don’t need our knowledge and wisdom, they need our love. — Philip Yancey
O brother man, fold to thy heart thy brother!
Where pity dwells, the peace of God is there;
To worship rightly is to love each other,
Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer. —Whittier
They do not truly love who do not show their love. —Shakespeare
Friday, October 16, 2009
The Defeat Of Death
READ: 1 Thess. 4:15-18
Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. —1 Corinthians 15:57Christian faith ought to make a difference in how we live from day to day. But the final test of our trust in the gospel is how we react in the face of death. When we attend a memorial service for a departed friend who loved the Lord Jesus, we gather to honor a believer whose stalwart trust has richly blessed the lives of those who knew him. The words spoken are more an expression of praise to God than a tribute to an admired fellow pilgrim. The service is a God-glorifying testimony to our Savior’s victory over death and the grave (1 Cor. 15:54-57).
How different from the funeral service of Charles Bradlaugh, a belligerent British atheist. Writer Arthur Porritt recalls: “No prayer was said at the grave. Indeed, not a single word was uttered. The remains, placed in a light coffin, were lowered into the earth in a quite unceremonious fashion as if carrion were being hustled out of sight. . . . I came away heart-frozen. It only then dawned on me that loss of faith in the continuity of human personality after death gives death an appalling victory.”
Christians, however, believe in a face-to-face fellowship with our Lord after death and the eventual resurrection of our bodies (1 Cor. 15:42-55; 1 Thess. 4:15-18). Does your faith rejoice in victory over death? — Vernon C. Grounds
From earth’s wide bounds and ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl stream in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost— Alleluia! Alleluia! —How
Because Christ is alive, we too shall live.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
READ: Philippians 4:1-9
I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. —Philippians 4:2Today is observed in many countries as International Conflict Resolution Day. Its purpose is to encourage people to use mediation and arbitration rather than the legal system to settle their differences. Because we as followers of Christ are not immune to conflict, we need to learn how to resolve our disagreements in ways that honor the Lord.
It has been said that “church fights are the worst fights,” perhaps because they break out among people who profess to believe in unity and love. Many Christians have been so hurt by a fellow believer that they walk away from the church and never return.
Euodia and Syntyche are mentioned by name in the Bible and urged to resolve their differences: “Be of the same mind in the Lord” (Phil. 4:2). Instead of leaving them alone to settle their dispute, Paul appealed to a trusted fellow worker to “help these women who labored with me in the gospel” (v.3). In this same context, Paul urged the Philippians to bring their requests to God, noting that prayer brings the peace of God (v.7) and a sense of His abiding presence (v.9).
Fractured relationships in a Christian community are a community responsibility. In the midst of hurts and differences, we can encourage, listen, and pray. — David C. McCasland
For Further Study
For biblical advice on reconciling relationships, read What Do You Do With A Broken Relationship? on the Web at www.discoveryseries.org/q0703
Forgiveness is the glue that repairs broken relationships.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
READ: Psalm 46
Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! —Psalm 46:10As I sat in the dentist’s chair, I braced myself for the drilling that would begin my root canal. I was ready for the worst, and my body language and facial expression exposed my sense of dread. The dentist looked at me and smiled, saying, “It’s okay, Bill. Try to relax.”
That isn’t easy to do. It is actually very difficult to try (requiring effort and exertion) to relax (requiring an absence of effort and exertion). Try and relax just don’t seem to fit together—not only in the dentist’s chair, but in the spiritual realm as well.
Far too often I don’t limit my efforts of resistance to visits at the dentist’s office. In my relationship with Christ, I find myself not pressing for God’s purposes but for my own interests. In those moments, the hardest thing for me to do is “try to relax” and genuinely trust God for the outcome of life’s trials.
In Psalm 46:10, we read, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” In the moments when my heart is anxious, this verse reminds me to “be still, and know.” Now, if I can only put that into practice and rest confidently in His care, I’ll be at peace. — Bill Crowder
Lord, we know that true rest can be found only in You. Help us to end our striving and to trust that You will provide. In Your loving arms we find rest. Amen.
God knows the future, so we are safe in His hands.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
READ: 1 Kings 10:4-10
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. —Matthew 5:16The opening ceremony of the Beijing Summer Olympics on August 8, 2008, impressed the world. I saw it on TV as more than 90,000 people watched it live in the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing. It was inspiring to hear about China’s 5,000 years of history and the inventions she had contributed to the world: paper-making, movable-type printing, the compass, and fireworks.
The Queen of Sheba was greatly impressed by what she saw during her visit with Solomon (1 Kings 10:4-5). The sights of Jerusalem so overwhelmed her that she exclaimed, “The half was not told me” (v.7). Above all, she was impressed with Solomon’s wisdom (vv.6-7). She was convinced that the subjects of Solomon were happy because they continually stood before him and heard his wisdom (v.8). She concluded by praising Solomon’s Lord for making him king so he would “do justice and righteousness” (v.9).
Solomon’s impact on his people made me wonder about our contribution to the world. We’re not concerned about impressing others with our possessions or abilities, but we all should want to make a difference in the lives of people. What if there was one thing each of us did today that caused people to praise the Lord? — C. P. Hia
This is the wish I always wish,
The prayer I always pray:
Lord, may my life help others
It touches on the way. —Anon.
Christians are windows through which Jesus can shine.
Monday, October 12, 2009
READ: Philemon 1:4-16
In everything give thanks. —1 Thessalonians 5:18Details make a difference. Ask the man from Germany who planned to visit his fiancée for Christmas but ended up in snowy Sidney, Montana, instead of sunny Sydney, Australia.
Prepositions in our language seem like insignificant details, but they can make a big difference. The words “in” and “for” are an example.
The apostle Paul wrote, “In everything give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18). That doesn’t mean we have to be thankful for everything. We need not be thankful for the bad choices someone makes, but we can be thankful in the circumstances because the Lord can use the resulting difficulties for good.
The letter to Philemon illustrates this idea. Paul was imprisoned with Onesimus, a runaway slave. He certainly didn’t have to give thanks for his bad situation. Yet his letter is full of gratitude because he knew that God was using it for good. Onesimus had become something more than a slave; he was now a beloved brother in the Lord (v.16).
Knowing that God can use all things for good is more than enough reason to give thanks in everything. Giving thanks in difficult circumstances is a small detail that makes a big difference. — Julie Ackerman Link
Father, thank You that in every trial, challenge, and difficulty, You are behind the scenes working things out for our good. Help us to see Your hand in everything. Amen.
God has not promised to keep us from life’s storms, but He will keep us through them.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Sorry About The Tears
READ: John 11:32-44
[Jesus] groaned in the spirit and was troubled. —John 11:33My friend was making a major change in her life—she was leaving her employer of 50 years for a new venture. She cried when she said her goodbyes. And as she did, she frequently said, “Sorry about the tears.”
Why do we sometimes feel the need to apologize for crying? Perhaps we look at tears as showing a weakness in our character or a vulnerability we don’t like. Maybe we’re uncomfortable or think our tears are making others uncomfortable.
Our emotions, however, are God-given. They’re a characteristic of our having been made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). He grieves. In Genesis 6:6-7, He was sorrowful and angry about His people’s sin and the separation it caused between Him and them. Jesus, God in the flesh, joined His friends Mary and Martha in grieving over the loss of their brother Lazarus (John 11:28-44). “He groaned in the spirit and was troubled” (v.33). He “wept” (v.35). “Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb” (v.38). I doubt that He apologized.
Someday when we get to heaven, there will be no more sorrow or separation or pain, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Rev. 21:4). In the meantime, the tears may flow. No apologies needed. — Anne Cetas
He knows our burdens and our crosses,
Those things that hurt, our trials and losses,
He cares for every soul that cries,
God wipes the tears from weeping eyes. —Brandt
If you doubt that Jesus cares, remember His tears.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Are You Distracted?
READ: Luke 10:38-42
Martha was distracted with much serving. —Luke 10:40In data collected from over 20,000 Christians in 139 countries, The Obstacles to Growth Survey found that, on average, more than 40 percent of Christians around the world say they “often” or “always” rush from task to task. About 60 percent of Christians say that it’s “often” or “always” true that the busyness of life gets in the way of developing their relationship with God. It’s clear that busyness does distract us from our fellowship with Him.
It seems that Martha too allowed busyness to distract her from spending time with Jesus. When she welcomed Him and His disciples into her home, she was occupied with preparing the food, washing their feet, and making sure they were comfortable. All of these things had to be done, but Luke seems to intimate that Martha’s busyness in preparation degenerated into busywork that distracted her from reflecting on Jesus’ words and enjoying time with Him (Luke 10:38-42).
What about us? Are we rushing from task to task, allowing the busyness of life and even work for Jesus to distract us from enjoying sweet fellowship with Him? Let’s ask God to help us diminish our distractions by making Jesus our focus. — Marvin Williams
Lord, I don’t want to miss out on moments of intimacy with You. Help me not to be so busy
that I fail to devote time each day to prayer and reading Your Word. Amen.
If you are too busy for God, you are too busy.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Worth Dying For
READ: Philippians 1:19-26
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. —Philippians 1:21Sophie Scholl was a young German woman during the 1940s. She saw the deterioration of her country under the iron rule of the Nazi regime, and she determined to make a difference. She and her brother, with a small group of friends, began to peacefully protest not only the actions but the values that the Nazis had forced upon the nation.
Sophie and others were arrested and executed for speaking out against the evil in their land. Although she wasn’t anxious to die, she saw that the conditions in her country had to be addressed—even if it meant her death.
Sophie’s story raises a critical question for us as well. What would we be willing to die for? Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Pete Fleming, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCully gave their lives in the jungles of South America because they were committed to spreading the gospel. Elliot revealed the heart that drove such sacrifice when he wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” The apostle Paul put it this way: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
Some things really are worth dying for—and in them we gain the reward of the One who declares, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21,23) — Bill Crowder
Forbid it, Lord, that I should be
Afraid of persecution’s frown;
For You have promised faithful ones
That they shall wear the victor’s crown. —Bosch
Those who faithfully bear the cross in this life will wear the crown in the life to come.
Friday, October 2, 2009
Music Of The Soul
READ: Ephesians 5:15-21
Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. —Ephesians 5:19In his book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Oliver Sacks devotes a chapter to the therapeutic role of music with people suffering from Alzheimer’s. He writes of watching people with advanced dementia respond to songs that bring back memories that had seemed lost to them: “Faces assume expression as the old music is recognized and its emotional power felt. One or two people, perhaps, start to sing along, others join them and soon the entire group—many of them virtually speechless before—is singing together, as much as they are able.”
I have seen this occur at Sunday morning services in the Alzheimer’s care facility where my wife’s mother lives. Perhaps you’ve experienced it with a loved one whose mind is clouded, and a song calls forth an awareness from deep within.
Paul encouraged the Christians in Ephesus to “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:18-19). Songs that glorify God can reach the deepest level where the meaning never fades. More than words, harmony, or conscious thought, such music is good for the heart and soul. — David C. McCasland
There’s wondrous music in my soul
Since Jesus’ blood has made me whole;
Now my heart sings His songs of praise
For all His blessings all my days. —Hess
A heart in tune with God can’t help but sing His praise.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
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What is a tax? You would think a senior economist at the Tax Policy Center would have no trouble answering that question. But it is not so simple.
This question has come up in the debate over the proposal to require all Americans to have medical insurance—a provision in all of the major congressional health reform bills. If you must buy insurance, is the payment you make a tax or just a premium for insurance coverage? Is the penalty imposed on those who don't buy insurance a tax or a fine for failing to comply with the law?
Of course, we know taxes are what we pay to fund the general activities of the government. And for most taxes, including the individual income tax, what we pay bears little relationship to how much we benefit from government services. But not all payments to governments are for broad public services and some levies, such as airline ticket taxes, are associated with direct consumption of a service by the payer.
Payments to governments that are analogous to commercial transactions are counted as user fees, not taxes, and reduce measured spending on the public activity. Examples include the fees I pay when I visit a National Park or for getting my car emissions tested. Getting the emission test gives me a lot less pleasure than hiking in Shenandoah Park, but it is a requirement I must meet for the privilege of driving. And since I am the potential polluter, the state requires me to bear the cost.
So when is a payment to government by users of a service a tax and when is it a fee? A 1993 CBO report cited Malcolm Baldrige, a Commerce Secretary during the Reagan Administration. "I think it is simple," Baldrige commented. "If it is a Democratic proposal, it is a tax; if it is Republican, it is a user fee." Of course, Baldrige was joking, but nonetheless user-related taxes are often hard to distinguish from user fees. If my local community funds trash collection out of property tax revenues, total tax collections look higher than if they charge me a separate fee for trash collection (even if the fee is collected when I pay my property tax). Using federal gasoline taxes to finance interstate highways makes the tax burden look higher than if those roads, like some older state highways, were paid for by tolls.
The 1993 CBO report cites four categories of user-related charges: user fees, regulatory fees, beneficiary-based taxes, and liability-based taxes. In general, fees are distinguished from taxes by the degree of connection between the payment and the service received or social cost imposed by the payer. Thus, payments to the black lung fund are considered a liability-based tax because, although payments to miners result from past activities of the coal industry, they are not closely linked to the current actions of any firm on which the impost is based. In contrast, charges for food safety inspections are a regulatory fee, because (assuming the cost is passed forward) food consumers who are the beneficiaries of the inspection activities are paying for it. Often, however, a particular levy can be classified on either side of the tax/fee line.
So what are payments for mandatory health insurance? They are involuntary and not based on something the person chooses to do, which makes them look like a tax. However, the individual gets a benefit –insurance coverage – in exchange for the payment, which sounds like a fee. Because of subsidies, some individuals will pay more than others for the same coverage (tax). And if the individual fails to buy insurance, she must make a payment to the IRS, for which she will get nothing directly in exchange (tax). But the payment can be viewed as a regulatory fine for failing to meet a public responsibility (fee). Finally, because the IRS is administering these payments, it looks very much like (and will likely be scored as) a tax.
As a tax economist, parsing these questions is fascinating. But I'm not sure it is very important to the health debate. Instead, we'd be better off asking a different set of questions: Who would bear the net costs of this mandate by paying more than the value of insurance they receive? Who would benefit by receiving insurance in excess of the amount they pay? Is this income redistribution desirable? Is it the best way to pay for (near) universal coverage? And is that goal worth the cost? If we like the answers, we should support reform and if we don't we should oppose it, regardless of whether we label the payments "tax" or "fee".
Things you can do from here:
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Democrats are proposing to control future Medicare costs, and Republicans are trying to stop them. Who knew?
This could have been the perfect "Nixon in China" moment. Democrats—who created Medicare and for decades resisted GOP moves to curb the program—control Congress and the White House. A Democratic President has embraced modest efforts to slow the program's unsustainable rate of growth. Drug makers, doctors, and hospitals all swallow hard and buy into the idea. It could be the perfect moment for a bit of desperately needed fiscal responsibility.
And what happens? Republicans, who only months ago tried to turn Medicare from an entitlement into a voucher, are lined up against slowing the program's growth. They offer amendments in the Senate Finance Committee to "protect our seniors." GOP Party Chairman Michael Steele writes a manifesto acknowledging that the long-term growth rate of Medicare is a problem, but insisting that Republicans will go to the barricades to save the elderly from the ravages of Obama-care.
As this depressingly familiar graph shows, the current pace of Medicare spending is not only unsustainable in the long-run, it is politically impossible.
By mid-century, Washington will be spending nearly 10 percent of Gross Domestic Product on Medicare but, without major policy changes, collecting only about 20 percent of GDP in revenues. That leaves only 10 percent of GDP for Social Security, Medicaid, interest on the debt, national defense, and everything else government does. And lawmakers will face two equally unpalatable choices: Slash all that other spending by more than half, or raise taxes to dangerously high levels.
What looks increasingly like a missed opportunity to address this looming disaster is no surprise, given the toxic political climate here in Washington. And not too many years ago, Democrats did the same thing to George Bush, who tried to get a handle on Social Security. Dems were happily wringing their hands over massive Bush-era deficits but, given an opportunity to do something about it, chose the partisan low road.
Now, the Republicans are taking their turn at irresponsibility. Having lost control of the purse strings, they are howling about the debt we will leave our grandchildren. Yet, given the chance to make the smallest dent in Medicare's growth rate, they suddenly have become the protectors of seniors. I half expect them to propose naming the Capitol after Claude Pepper.
Imagine for just a moment an alternate universe: Democrats and Republicans set aside their squabbling and agree to eliminate wasteful or even dangerous Medicare spending. This, however, would require lawmakers to act like adults and explain that more health care is not the same as better care, and that Medicare growth could be slowed without jeopardizing the health of seniors.
But that isn't likely to happen. Democrats and Republicans can agree to hand out Medicare dollars they don't have, as they did with the Part D drug benefit. But when it comes to controlling costs, partisan name calling is so much more fun
Things you can do from here:
READ: Matthew 7:7-11
If you . . . know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! —Matthew 7:11
With a handful of Cheerios, I tip-toed across the deck in my backyard trying to sneak up on the fish in the pond. Perhaps it was my shadow on the water . . . or maybe I wasn’t as sneaky as I thought. As I approached the railing, 15 enormous goldfish raced toward me, their large mouths frantically opening and closing in eager anticipation of an expected treat.
So, why did the fish so furiously flap their fins? Because my mere presence set off a conditioned response in their tiny fish brains that told them I had something special to give them.
If only we always had such a response to God and His desire to give us good gifts—a response based on our past experience with Him that flows from a deep-seated knowledge of His character.
Missionary William Carey stated: “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” God desires to equip us perfectly for what He wants us to do, and He invites us to “come boldly” to find mercy and grace in time of need (Heb. 4:16).
When we as God’s children are living in faith, we can have an exciting expectancy and a quiet confidence that God will give us exactly what we need, when we need it (Matt. 7:8-11). — Cindy Hess Kasper
When with expectancy we pray
According to God’s will,
We’ll see Him working in our lives
His purpose to fulfill. —Sper
Prayer without expectancy is unbelief in disguise.