Friday, May 5, 2017

Why would anyone want to "Make the world a better place"

Can we really make the world a better place, why do we think can, and what makes us think we should even try to make the world better?  Most graduations this month will include some young, bright-eyed rising-star who will boldly stand behind a podium emblazoned with their school’s seal, and with great passion, with an emotion filled plea, they will say what borders upon a cliché, “It’s up to our generation to go out from here today, and make the world a better place tomorrow...” 

Certainly, this desire to make the world a better place isn’t only for young.  I think many politicians (at least maybe early on in their careers) share these ambitions too.  Most people who are in a serving or caring industry certainly seem to want to make the world better for those they are caring for.  

But still, is it possible to make this world better?  Why do we think we can improve the world?

There’s a problem with many of our improvements, they usually are shortsighted, and, they create some collateral damage along the way.  When we tinker in one area, we usually disrupt another.  Often times, our mistakes are revealed only by those who follow us in a later generation, and their solutions to resolve our problems, well, they establish yet another set of difficulties for those who will follow them.

It’s kind of like solving problems with the H-Bomb, which was supposed to peacefully end World War 2, but look at what nuclear armament has done to us in the years since.  Is the world safer or more peaceful since the advent of nuclear weapons?

It’s not that we are inherently evil or bent on making mistakes, but we seem to perpetually generate more and more chaos as time goes on.  Progress, whatever that may look like in your eyes, is a moving target, and we seem to miss the target more than we hit it.

It’s one thing to want to make the world a better place, it’s another to realize or ignore our limitations.  Perhaps, our inability to recognize we are imperfect is hindering our path forward.  Imperfect people will hardly be able to create perfection, or achieve some sort of Utopia, yet, most public figures promise “results” are within reach.

I want to be optimistic and I want to see pain alleviated, poverty stricken down, hunger eradicated, health improved, and peace between all people to be reached.  Have you noticed though, with every effort and with each generation, we are left with more problems and greater strife?  

I think there’s a reason we long for a better world.  I think instinctively we all, religious, believers, atheists, and disbelievers alike, I think we know without being told we come from Eden.  I think it’s hardwired in our inner beings to know we weren’t created for this present world which is filled with hatred, evil, and death.  Just like no one has to tell the Monarch butterfly to migrate, no one has to tell us to search for a Promised Land.  

So what gets in the way of us reaching perfection?  We have personal agendas, we’re envious, we hold grudges, we have pride issues, we have a hard time cooperating with others, we are judgmental, suspicious, and we think we are smarter than we are.  But beyond that, we are in a fallen world that is infested with evil, we are in a realm that is under the sway of and held captive by the demonic.  As John writes in I JN 5:19, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”

We can’t afford to give up, yet we are facing impossible odds to overcome.  And on top of this, Scriptures seem to allude to the idea that things will go from bad to worse as time goes on.   So what should we do?  Hunker down and circle the wagons till the Cavalry rescues us?  Seclude ourselves from the world and hide in cloistered monasteries?  

I think we would be better served acknowledging where the real battle lies, as in what is revealed in Eph 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  And, we’d be better served not trying to face this spiritual battle on our own strength or by our own methods.  

Will this world be a better place someday?  Maybe not until Christ returns.  Can we create a little heaven here on earth in the meantime?  Jesus didn’t instruct us to riot, boycott, protest or fight, or debate everyone on Facebook... instead, He indicated we ought to pray something like, “Your will be done, your Kingdom come, on earth as it is...” and He said something about treating others as we’d like to be treated, and, He said to love our neighbors just like we love ourselves.  I’d say starting along these lines should give us a fighting chance.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

When you grieve over a prodigal child

Have you ever been heartbroken by, or disappointed in one of your children?  Have any of your kids messed up, maybe they even embarrassed you in the process?  Did they run away, come home with an embarrassing/bizarre tattoo, experiment with drugs, stay out way too late with a boyfriend/girlfriend, wreck their car, maybe they called home for bail?  Did they ever tell you they didn’t believe in your God anymore?  

It hurts whenever our children exhibit behaviors that contradict their upbringing.  It can be devastating when a child you’ve raised pursues a divergent path.  During such dark times, it feels like the pain will never dissipate, and the future seems hard to navigate.  

One of the greatest mysteries in this life is how godly parents sometimes raise ungodly young adults.  You try your hardest, you do “everything right,” and in the end, some children reject everything you ever taught them.  It simply doesn’t make sense how some of the nicest, most faithful believers can have problems with their children.  

Nothing can be more painful for parents than watching, helplessly, as their children make choices that carry devastating consequences.  What can we do as parents when our children take a different path than the one we hoped for?  

This isn’t the time to make it about you.  If your child is on a self-destructive path, or simply slips up a little, that’s not the time to tell your child about how their actions are reflecting poorly on your reputation.  Chances are, they want to develop their own individuality/identity, and this time of acting-out reinforces they don’t care about your reputation anyway.  Besides, what are you really concerned about, in the big picture, what’s more important here, your image or their well-being?  

This isn’t a time to seclude yourself either.  Surround yourself with close friends who will support you spiritually and emotionally.  God put certain people in your life for a reason, trust in them, lean on them.  You might be surprised to find out they’ve been through some very similar situations with their own children too.  

This also isn’t the time to lock yourself in the basement until the storms of life clear up.  Go on a mini-vacation, get away for a day or two, and distance yourself from the situation so you can think clearly.  When we are anxious our ability to think rationally diminishes drastically; you need to relax and unwind so you can think logically.   

This isn’t a time to give up.  Don’t lose hope.  Keep praying.  Everyone has within themselves the potential to change.  Prov 22:6 isn’t a promise that your kids will never make mistakes or they will always be faithful, but it is a truism that when you lay the right foundation your kids will have a more stable future and a heritage to fall back on when they need it most, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

This isn’t a time to build walls or lock the door.  Don’t punish them forever.  Reality and consequences can often be punishment enough.  Will you need boundaries?  You’ll know, or your close friend will tell you.  The point here is trust in your children, that they can “come to their senses.”  Keep a lifeline open so when the time is right, you can welcome your prodigal home.

This is a time to reflect on your relationship with God.  Think about how you have, in your own ways and in other times, let Him down. No, I’m not talking about your parenting style, I’m not saying you failed as a parent and this is why your kids messed up.  I’m talking about you when you blew it in general.  How did you want Him to respond when you sinned, when you rebelled against His will, when you disappointed God?  You wanted grace.  You wanted redemption.  You wanted His acceptance and unconditional love -- therefore give away to others what you wanted most and let God be your example, not your excuse.  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The unforeseen problem when states offer free college tution

I think the free two-year college tuition Tennessee offers has been great, in fact one of our sons is currently benefiting from it.  Now, Tennessee is offering free two-year tuition to adults as well, which I think is wonderful too.  Recently I heard New York is offering free four year college tuition to their residents.  Personally, I have no issue with states offering free college tuition, but I see a problem just around the bend.

I'm not a Socialist, not by any stretch, but I'm glad to see the shift towards free State college coming about.  Free college really makes sense, in a society that provides K-12 education already.  The problem with free college isn't, "Where will the money come from?"  Tennessee has shown, successfully, that their lottery proceeds can be utilized quite well to cover these costs.  What could be wrong then with free college?

Again, I'm in favor of free college, such as what we have here in Tennessee, and I hope as many people as possible will take advantage of this, so this post isn't a rant against free college.  But, I do see a serious problem when higher-education is free.  Namely, we as a society will eventually devalue a college education if it's free.

Only a generation ago, you could do well supporting your family with a high school diploma, but in the last few decades, better paying jobs required a Bachelor's degree and we've seen that shift to where now often times a Graduate degree is becoming a necessity.  Making college free will only exacerbate this trend.

It's basically a supply & demand issue and a perception problem.  When more people are able to enter the workforce with college degrees, there's more competition for the same positions, thus giving employers more leverage.  And, we tend to place value not only on the education which is received in college, we also value a college education because of the cost of the education itself.  Free degrees will not carry the same clout in the minds of the masses.  Therefore, when you add these factors together, it seems like in a few years a Bachelor's degree will be viewed no differently than a high school diploma is viewed today.

I doubt I have an answer as to "now what?" or how to avoid free college from being devalued in the minds of most people.  But, I'm still in favor of states offering free tuition.

So, my suggestion to the people being blessed by free college degrees is the same advice I've given to freshman college students for years: Do well in your studies and get good grades so you can shoot for a good scholarship and make it into a Graduate program of your choice.  Effort and hard work are rewarding, and no one can take your education away from you, so soak up all of the free education you can and go out and make a difference in the world around you.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

United Airlines and our inability at Recognizing Failure For What it is

My Iphone crashed this morning after downloading the latest software update.  I can't get into the Sprint Store until 10:00 a.m. (who opens a business that late?!?!?!?), so as I look through Facebook this morning, the above meme is everywhere, I mean everywhere.  Yes this picture made me laugh, and I can appreciate the gallows's humor in it.  Still, to me, if you think this issue is about United Airlines, you are mistaken.

Okay, I'm old enough to remember when people died from the Tylenol poisonings.  I also remember the mess the Catholic church was in after the mass molestations of young boys was mainstream news.  Point being: For everyone to lay the blame of the forced removal of the Asian doctor at the feet of the entire organization of United Airlines, or for people to say they'll never fly that airline again (and I could care less what airline you choose, I don't think I've ever flown United) is ridiculous.

Let me try to say this another way, we all still take pain-relievers, even though people died taking Tylenol, and most believers still attend church even though there were sick perverted warped people preying on young boys.  Though I imagine for those young boys and their families, religion will be forever tainted.

United isn't the first and they won't be the last to have their image tarnished though an embarrassing event like this.  But I think this whole thing reflects more on us as a society than it does any single company or organization.

I think the United removal of a passenger is being way-over-exaggerated, and though it's entertaining to poke fun at the faceless corporation United, we all need to take a step back.  Stupid people make bad choices, and the employees that forcibly removed that passenger have no excuse for their actions.  They were idiotic and their actions are inexcusable, and those are the people we should focus on.  I don't even know their names, and I doubt most people do.  

I hardly think it's fair United's stock plunged 1 billion dollars over the actions of a few poorly trained employees.  I think someone should have suffered the consequences for this idiotic incident, but that would be the people the who did the removal and their immediate supervisors who trained them.  But the whole organization?  Come on!  Think about it.

I could care less if United fails over this, and I'll be laughing at the Negan memes for days to come.  But, I do care that we as a culture jump on the bandwagon that major corporations are always evil and must be to blame when things go wrong.  I say make the individuals responsible for this accountable, make them pay the consequences, and be fair to those who aren't directly involved.

Yet, in a culture that's lawsuit-happy and always looking for someone in the boardroom to lynch, this is a hard sell.  If this is where we end up, perpetually blaming the entire organization for the actions of a few, hammering those who are further up the food-chain and who had nothing to do with this, then we are misguided and we fail as a society.  

Sunday, March 26, 2017

When is it allowable for heterosexuals to reject homosexuality?

These days, there isn't a more divisive topic than homosexuality.  People are touchy about the LGBT issue, it's a lighting-rod issue no doubt.  The latest fodder for the conversation is Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," so now everyone on social media wants to know if you'll see the movie or boycott it.  Which by the way, my wife and I just saw the movie today - if you think it's a pro-gay movie, you need help.

The contemporary social gauge to measure your level of tolerance seems to be your views on homosexuality.  You are allowed to hold divergent views on almost any topic in our culture, save homosexuality.  If you claim to reject homosexuality, in most circles, you are immediately written off as a hateful, antiquated, homophobic bigot.

The amount of peer-pressure our society imposes on the masses to accept the homosexual lifestyle is immense.  I think all lifestyles that are great and correct should speak for themselves and shouldn't need to be defended.  What my views on the subject of homosexuality are, aren't important or even what I'm interested in discussing.  

What does interest me is, everyone is just expected to accept homosexuality, but no one seems to be asking the question: Do heterosexuals have the right to reject homosexuality?  Can someone who disagrees with a given lifestyle, choose to have a different view without feeling like they are going to be crucified for speaking up?

What's gone wrong in our culture when people are intimidated into silence?  If it's wrong to reject homosexuality on the grounds of intolerance, then isn't it equally nefarious to force people to acquiesce to a worldview they disagree with?  Where's the fairness that's being demanded?  This modern pendulum swing seems to be quite unfair.

I feel that the main reaction to any suggestion that homosexuality is inappropriate, from most people who embrace homosexuality, is going to be negative since it's probably being filtered through the experiences with the harsh, hateful, judgmental fundamentalists who claim to represent Christianity.  I get it, there are some nasty people who use religion like a hammer.  There are some really mean people who say some very hurtful things.

But what about people who love others, who don't want to be combative, but they simply hold different values?  Why are their voices being silenced?  Is it because some knucklehead spouted off and said something demeaning or even a whole bunch of somebodys?  Does that give anyone the right to dismiss everyone who disagrees with you?

I do think it's possible to lovingly reject a lifestyle, to keep the dialogue open, to be respectful, and to speak your mind without having to insult those who you disagree with.  And that's something that should go both ways.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Sifting through the Shack

With our culture's penchant towards entertainment that's immersed in violence, greed, or perversion, there seems to be little room left at the theaters for faith-based movies.  Most faith-based movies have been prejudged as second rate, they are known for utilizing b-rated actors, and these movies are considered low-budget.  So my guess is, the Shack will have its work cut out to draw much of an audience.

We watched the screen adaptation today.  I read the book several years ago.  So yes, I'm familiar with the story.  I resisted reading the book for quite some time after it first was released, after I started it I put it down for about 6 months.  It was only at the urging of an older couple who lost their daughter to cancer when she was college age that I returned to the book.  I wasn't really looking forward to the movie, based on my perception of most faith-based movies.  My reservations aren't theological, though I take issue with the plot.  I have a strong distaste over the use of the (implied) rape and slaughter of a preadolescence aged girl to move a plot forward.

But let's dig into the theological scandal that too many Christians seem to be offended by.   Can we portray God the Father as a black woman?  If your faith is that fragile, that you can't handle God being portrayed as a black woman, then you have deeper issues to contend with.  Most church-goers I meet have a difficult time simply articulating the doctrine of the Trinity, so it's no wonder they are upset over this notion God could be revealing Himself as a woman, a black woman "Papa," and the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman...

The bigger issue that the story dredges up falls under the scope of theodicy, which is the defense of why God allows pain & suffering,  If you are turning to the Shack to find fulfilling or complete answers as to why an all-powerful & all-knowing God would allow pain and suffering to happen, you'll be sorely disappointed.  How do you explain away a grizzly torturous murder of an innocent grade schooler?  You wouldn't.   But, I don't think that's really the point the author wanted to communicate, but he did open himself up to some criticism by choosing such a graphic backdrop to his story.

Is there anything redeeming in The Shack?  Yes, absolutely, 100%!

Of course I'm going to say the book was better than the movie, that's a no-brainier.  Either way, whether you read the story or watch the movie, I see it as a positive.  Do I agree with all of the theology or propositions of the story?  It doesn't matter what I think there.  What matters is, books/movies like this get us thinking through tough questions about God, and they get us talking about what we believe with other people.

Call it a springboard or whatever you will, we need sparks like the Shack to ignite godly conversations, we need fuel for the fire, and thank God for any opportunity that comes our way to engage others in conversations that cover eternal, spiritual topics.   So I do hope you'll read the story or watch the movie, and more so, I hope you'll take the time to talk to others about it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Not everyone is smiling with you, but those who do count most

I can't believe it took me nearly 50 years to figure this out, but not everyone will celebrate your accomplishments with you.  In fact, some of the people you spend quite a lot of time with will take offense at your progress and they actually would like to hold you back.  Therefore, limit your exposure to those who don't want you to shine too brightly.

Unfortunately, not everyone is happy for you when you strive to improve yourself or your station in life, they can even get jealous or become envious.  Therefore, don't let the limitations others impose on you determine your goals, dreams, or ambitions.

Sadly, some people will distance themselves from you or become cold when you begin to advance yourself.  Not everyone thinks you should make your life better or that you should reach your goals.  Therefore, don't let others articulate for you what success is or dictate to you what's fair.

I'm blessed to enjoy the love & support of a great wife, I have the respect & encouragement of our sons, and we have some pretty solid rock'n friends who stand behind us.  Be cautious and selective with who you share life with, who you let your guard down with, and who's perspectives you embrace.