Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Birthday and Memorial Day Tribute

Grave Marker, Dundee Cemetery, Dundee, Ohio
Today, my uncle, Glen Silvius, would have been 104 years old.  My tribute to him is appropriate because this beloved uncle had such a large part in my own development as a young man.  But also, I want to honor him at this time when Memorial Day is approaching because he served honorably in World War II as a member of "the greatest generation."

Discharged in 1945, Corporal Glen Silvius, U.S. Army, had served above and beyond that which was required of him.  To my recollection, he never mentioned that he was awarded a Purple Heart.  Uncle Glen, or “Shorty” as he was known in our family, participated in the Normandy Invasion and the subsequent liberation of France and Germany from Nazi domination.  He seldom spoke of what must have been some horrendous experiences in World War II, but his letters from the battle front which I was able to read after his death, in 1997, revealed much about this chapter of his life.

Glen Silvius, U.S. Army
Just two weeks after the Normandy landing on June 6, Uncle Glen wrote the following letter to his parents, Jesse and Edna Silvius, of Dundee, Ohio from “Somewhere in France.”  I publish it here with posthumous thanks to my uncle who understood and accepted the saving grace of God and won his greatest victory, the victory “over sin and self,” by faith in the substitutionary death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
For my earlier tribute to Glen Silvius, see “Memorial Day Tribute to a Rich Uncle,” Oikonomia, May 27, 2013.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Supporting Integration of Science & Biblical Faith

Recently, Abby and I were privileged to attend the annual Academic Honors Day Chapel at Cedarville University where we joined with the Department of Science and Mathematics in celebrating the announcement of a new academic scholarship.  The Science and Faith Integration Scholarship will be awarded annually to an outstanding student majoring in biology or environmental science.  According to the criteria for the Scholarship, each recipient should demonstrate exemplary academic achievement in the classroom and give evidence of a commitment to the development of his or her profession of faith and science through participation in opportunities to apply knowledge – i.e. scientific research or significant involvement in science-related travel study or short-term mission.

Both the name and selection criteria for The Science and Faith Integration Scholarship emphasize the aim of promoting biblical integration of science and faith.  The ultimate goal of biblical integration is to know God and display His wisdom and character.  Godly character is the fruit of internal consistency, or integrity—a wholehearted obedience to God’s Truth (Psalm 119: 9-11).   The submissive heart, at one time impervious to the wisdom and will of God because of pride, can begin to absorb and apply God’s Truth.  Hypocrisy of the divided heart and mind gives way to integrity. 

The integration of biblical Truth applied in every area of life is expressed in the virtue of love for God, love for neighbor, and love for the creation.  Biblical integration specifically applied to science and faith, means the Christian scholar highly prizes integrity in his or her pursuit of an accurate understanding of creation.  As a result, the Christian scholar gains insights into the workings of creation and exercises stewardship of creation based on “good science” and respect for the authority of God and His Word.

Perhaps our enthusiasm in support of The Science and Faith Integration Scholarship is moving you to consider investing in the scholarship fund for future students.  If so, please read on and consider two lasting benefits you would receive. 

First, you will share the personal satisfaction of supporting Christian higher education at Cedarville University and the heritage of academic excellence in science-faith learning that has characterized the Department of Science and Mathematics. As we watched  the first recipient receive her scholarship in Academic Honors Day Chapel and then became acquainted with her over lunch, our hearts were filled with joy in knowing we could have a small part in this university and departmental mission.

A second lasting benefit of investors in science-faith integration at Cedarville is the blessing from demonstrating our stewardship of God’s treasures by sharing money that in reality is “God’s money.”  Our March Oikonomia article, There’s No Such Thing as Private Property,” calls us to “possess property as though we didn’t possess it.”  We can affirm to ourselves that we are practicing stewardship instead of ownership by giving generously in ways that honor God and help our neighbor?  And, we can rejoice in God from Whom all blessings flow while we watch how He will use this scholarship for His glory in the life of each recipient.

The first Science and Faith Integration Scholar is Grace Revenaugh, a junior biology major.   Although Grace grew up in Cedarville, Ohio, her family now resides in Butte, MT.  At the luncheon for award recipients and sponsors, Grace enthusiastically shared her student experiences with us.  Highlights included her opportunity to conduct research on the role of microRNAs in autoimmune disease pathogenesis and her experience as an EMT with the Cedarville Township Volunteer Fire Department.   It became clear to Abby and I that Grace loves people, the campus environment, and the opportunity to pursue God’s calling for her.  In partial fulfillment of her application requirements for the Scholarship, Grace had submitted an “integration scholarship essay” in which she reflects on her experiences during her short-term mission trip to Republic of the Congo.   After our luncheon discussion with Grace and then reading her essay, it became clear that she is committed to pursuing God, His creation, His compassion for people in spiritual and physical need, and His call upon her to serve Christ.

Below you will find two excerpts from Grace’s writing.  In “Miriam,” Grace reflects on her Congo mission experience, particularly her relationship to a young abdominal TB patient.  In the second excerpt, “Environmental Context,” Grace shares her observations of environmental health and nutrition within which medical missions in the Congo are being conducted.  She hints at the need for a comprehensive effort to educate the Congolese in the importance of adequate sanitation and nutrition.  In both of these accounts, Grace demonstrates that she observes God’s world with eyes of compassion and with insight into the interdisciplinary challenges Christians face in bringing the Gospel to those with both spiritual and physical needs. 

Grace and Miriam
My seven weeks with Miriam and her family and many other patients at Pioneer Christian Hospital taught me about perseverance, the joy found in pain, and the good that a single person who longs to share the love of Christ can bring.  I was first motivated to join the medical field and subsequently go on this mission trip because I love science, especially anatomy and physiology, and because I am fascinated by the process of maintaining homeostasis; but, I have learned that so much of medicine is beyond science, dependent instead on caring for individuals and meeting their unique needs.  I believe that God has called me to use my life to illuminate the Gospel specifically through science and medicine by becoming a PA; but whatever His plans, I pray that God will use the lessons I learned in Congo to help me to bring glory to Him always.

“Environmental Context”
From what I have seen, environmental health is not something that even concerns the people of Impfondo with whom I primarily interacted.  On the other hand, the influence of western and eastern culture has brought with it a huge influx of imported products which have been integrated into the community.  These products, primarily portable, non-perishable items, are nutritionally degrading.  While we were visiting a patent at Pioneer Christian Hospital, Dr. Joseph M. Harvey said that products such as MSG, convenience goods, snacks, soft drinks, and processed goods in general are contributing to an exponential increase in diabetes, high blood pressure, and other western diseases now common in Impfondo.  Because the majority of people in Impfondo struggle to feed their families with any food that is available, no one really cares about the nutrition of food.  For example, if you told someone that they should not eat a certain root vegetable because of the high arsenic content they would most likely reply "it is this or nothing for our meal" and then eat it. The staff at Pioneer Christian Hospital are constantly working to educate people, but in my opinion the overall impact of this training has been rather small.

An Invitation to You:
In conclusion, Abby and I are are excited about the interdisciplinary experiences Grace is having, and pray that God will continue to direct her growth in profession of faith and science.  Maybe you too have been encouraged by this account and Grace Revenaugh’s testimony of how God is using the new scholarship to foster the heritage of science-faith integration through the Department of Science and Mathematics at Cedarville University.  If so, then why not become a fellow investor? Perhaps you gratefully attribute your own profession of faith and of science to the teaching and mentoring of department and university faculty during your days at Cedarville. If so, we invite you to pray about how you might participate.  If God leads you to invest in this way, you may send your check to Cedarville University with “Science and Faith Integration Scholarship” on the memo line.  Or, you may contribute online at http://cedarville.edu/giving. Just click on “Scholarships” and follow directions to “The Science and Faith Integration Scholarship.” Thank you for considering how you can steward a portion of God’s blessings to you by honoring your faculty mentors and encouraging leaders for tomorrow.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

There’s No Such Thing as Private Property

As the title suggests, I am calling for the demise of “private property” as we generally define it.  But you can relax.  I haven’t joined those who are singing the praises of socialism.  Instead, I am offering a biblical definition of private property; one that is essential for a free market, capitalist economy to operate in a just and moral fashion.  But first, let’s consider some context.

Western culture is steadily evolving; or perhaps more accurately, devolving.  At the heart of this devolution is the crumbling moral foundation of institutions that have supported civilization for several millennia.  The institutions of marriage, family, and citizenship are all being redefined based on moral relativism in place of objective truth claims from the Bible.  For purposes of this article, allow me to suggest that the definition of private property has also changed.  And I contend that this change in how we view “private property” explains why many have become disgruntled and critical of capitalism.

Replacing Capitalism with Socialism

During the past decade, the call for social justice has focused attention upon the plight of the poor, the ethnic minorities, and other groups who are considered disenfranchised.  Meanwhile, there has been a growing sense that social justice cannot be complete without major changes in two aspects that form the context of the injustices. 

First, there is the perceived need to change how material wealth is distributed.  Liberal scholars and leaders call for a shift away from free market capitalism toward some form of socialism to assure that each person gets their “fair share.”  Second, there is a perceived need to change the way in which humans interact with the environment of planet Earth.  According to this view, the Earth’s limited natural resources are too overtaxed to support the growing human population.  What’s more, natural resources are being consumed disproportionately by the rich and powerful.  To remedy these perceived duel injustices, one against the disenfranchised and the other against the Earth, the social planners have a solution which is summarized by Ralph Chaplin,
(1887–1961), American writer, artist and labor activist:

It seems the most logical thing in the world to believe that the natural resources of the Earth, upon which the race depends for food, clothing and shelter, should be owned collectively by the race instead of being the private property of a few social parasites.  

Chaplin speaks for many today who believe the answer to injustice toward people, animals, and the Earth is to move from individual to collective ownership of property—i.e. to “spread the wealth evenly.”  Never mind that to bring about this massive transition and then to maintain the collective in a just manner would be a difficult task, even with strong coercion and tyranny.  Furthermore, based on the history of socialism, how can we assume that those placed in charge of managing the collective would be any more just and fair toward people, animals, and the Earth than the so-called “social parasites” they now condemn?   Ben Shapiro points out that socialism has its own moral flaws:

Socialism violates at least three of the Ten Commandments: It turns government into God, it legalizes thievery and it elevates covetousness. Discussions of income inequality, after all, aren't about prosperity but about petty spite. Why should you care how much money I make, so long as you are happy?

On the other hand, capitalism offers the promise of freedom, but also a two-edged sword.  It depends upon individuals owning private property which in turn motivates a strong work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit which often paves the road to prosperity.  But there is also the temptation toward greed and unjust practices that earn some capitalists the name “social parasites.”   As Shirley Chisholm states, “When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses.”

Although capitalism invites injustice, it is also true that greed and injustice thrive in both the private and public sectors.  It doesn’t matter whether the material resources of Earth are privately or collectively held; corruption has no favorites.  The source of trouble is not the material resources or the sector of the economy in which they are managed.  We must go deeper to find the cause.  The trouble comes from the depraved human heart.  Two writers, one a prophet of God and the other a Russian novelist and historian, expose the truth about the nature of the human heart:

The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?  -- The Prophet Jeremiah (17: 9)

the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. -- Alexander Solzhenitzyn

Reviving Our Concept of Private Property

Because moral depravity is rooted deep within the heart of man, if free market capitalism is to be moral, I believe we must also dig deep to identify and extract the cause of injustice; and then, revive the heart with a biblical concept of private property.  In Scripture, we discover the basis for the title of this article.  According to Scripture, “There is no such thing as private property.”  Although it is possible in America and some other countries to hold legal title to property, Scripture teaches that we do not own anything.  “The Earth is the Lord’s (Psalm 24: 1) and He has given humans dominion over creation (Genesis 1: 26-28) to manage it on His behalf as His servants or stewards (Genesis 2: 15).  We are stewards but not owners of “private property.”  Therefore, biblically speaking, private property is any portion of the Earth over which an individual has responsibility to God to manage for His glory.  In this definition, “private” refers to our individual responsibility.  And although we may hold temporary legal title, the property belongs to God.

The “stewardship view” of private property is a key by which humans can open the door and allow intimate relationship with God.  We can see this truth throughout Scripture from Adam and Eve all the way to the Apostle John in Revelation.  For example, Abel’s offering was a pleasing aroma to God, but Cain’s wasn’t (Genesis 4: 3-5).  This distinction rested at least partly on how these two men submitted themselves and their “property” in their worship of God.  Later, Noah worshipped and obeyed God; and God gave him dominion over the living creatures resulting in their salvation from the flood by means of the ark he had built (Genesis 6-9).  Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, was a nomad.  Although he had great wealth, Abraham’s grasp upon it, even upon his beloved son Isaac, was very loose compared to his tenacious pursuit of God (Genesis 12-25). 

Remembering God Is Our Provider

Four centuries after Abraham, King David typified the same stewardship view that he learned from the patriarchs, but adds an additional principle.  King David not only understood that his kingship or dominion was a stewardship granted by God, but he also understood that even his ability to acquire material wealth was from God.  Listen as David prays before the people at the dedication of the material resources for the temple that Solomon would later build (1 Chronicles 29: 11b-14):

Yours is the dominion, O LORD,
and You exalt Yourself as head over all.
Both riches and honor come from You,
and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might;
and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone.
Now therefore, our God, we thank You, and praise Your glorious name.
But who am I and who are my people that we should be able
to offer as generously as this?
For all things come from You,
and from Your hand we have given You.

King David wanted his worship of God to be a picture of how all God’s people ought to exercise stewardship of the material resources of Earth day in and day out—managing “property” as that which comes from God’s hand and which, by God’s grace, He enables us to give back to Him or to our neighbor.  The Apostle Paul reiterates this principle in 1 Corinthians 4: 7:

For who regards you as superior?
What do you have that you did not receive?
And if you did receive it,
why do you boast as if you had not received it?

The Scriptural view of private property means we view the “property” as God’s, the “private” as our individual responsibility to work and manage it as unto Him, seasoned with an attitude of humility that recognizes all we have is ultimately a gift from God.   Elsewhere, in 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31, Paul teaches us that having a continual awareness of the eminence of Christ’s return will help us to “possess property as though we didn’t possess it” (emphasis mine):

But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none;  and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess;  and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away.

Notice Paul cites the relationship of husbands to wives, and the relationship of humans toward material property (ultimately the Earth) in a similar sense.  Husbands are responsible to love and nurture their wives as unto the Lord; likewise, those who buy are responsible as stewards to act as “husbandmen” to care for their property as unto the Lord.  Here, Paul teaches that God’s people are to undertake both responsibilities with a “stewardship view”—a view that aims to glorify God as Christ’s return draws near, rather than an “ownership view” that aims to multiply wealth without regard to moral and ethical responsibilities toward God and our neighbor.

Realizing Even Our Bodies Are Not Private Property

But there is a third principle that deepens the biblical meaning of private property even further.  God’s redeemed not only do not own their spouses, cars, houses, and land; they don’t even own their bodies.  The redeemed are bought by Christ’s blood from the slave block of sin.  Paul wrote,” …you are not your own?  For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6: 19b-20).  Paul summarizes the biblical responsibility of the Christian toward God in a comprehensive manner in Colossians 3: 17:

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

But how do we know whether we are actually “possessing as though we do not possess?”  Thankfully, God has instituted two routine tests by which we can check our attitudes and priorities when it comes to our “property”—our regular responsibility to give back to God our tithes and extra offerings; and, our weekly responsibility to set aside a day in which we celebrate God through our worship and rest from routine labor.  These observances provide a routine check on the tightness of how unselfish we are with material resources and time.

Renewed Hope for the “Free Market?”

I have provided a brief sketch of a biblical definition of private property. Now, if free market capitalists were to adopt this definition of private property, do you think they would still be considered “social parasites” by many who are disgruntled with capitalism?   The second question is, does this “stewardship view” of private property address the accusation by many that capitalism and its biblical roots are to blame for our insensitivity to disenfranchised people and to the deterioration of planet Earth?  I believe the answer to both questions is “yes” based on the account of the early church in Acts 4: 31-35 (emphasis mine):

And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.   And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.   And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.  For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles' feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.

Although some who advocate social justice and socialism interpret the sharing of property in common by the early church as an advocacy of socialism by Christianity, the passage does not support that notion.  Instead, notice first that these folks were born-again believers on the basis of having trusted in Christ’s redemption from their sins through His death and resurrection.  As “new creatures” in Christ, they submitted their wills in obedience to His Word under the power of the Holy Spirit.  The resultant unity of Spirit enabled them to view their material possessions as “common property to them.”  From their perspective of “possessing as though not possessing,” they were able to see with eyes of compassion the physical needs among their number and therefore to voluntarily share generously.   Many acted upon their concerns by selling their “private property” and making the moneys available to the leadership to distribute funds to those in need.

At the time of the events recorded in Acts, persecution and ostracism often severely impoverished Christian converts and their families.  Therefore, the outpouring of generous sharing among these people of faith was nothing less than an essential, voluntary expression of the compassion of the Risen Christ toward those in need.  The expression of charity (agape love) by the 1st century church has been reproduced in countless congregations throughout the world, often going unnoticed except by the recipients.  Note also that this “voluntary sharing” distinguishes this biblical economy from a socialist model.

Yet, the Christian church is not immune from selfishness and greed as we have noted previously in “Greed, Charity, and Capitalism.”  Therefore, one of the challenges of today’s evangelical church is to provide the setting in which God’s Word is taught under the direction of His Holy Spirit to believers who are Spirit-filled and receptive to Christ’s example as One Who had “nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9: 58).   Christ lived as an example of “possessing as though He did not possess” and cautioned against attitudes that would oppose this “stewardship view” of private property.  For example, he warned against the love of money (e.g. Matthew 19: 16-25) and contrasted those who give out of their surplus with the poor widow who freely gave all she had (Mark 12: 38-44). 

Revival by Church and Civic Institutions

The evangelical church must function as a counterculture in which individuals and families learn to implement biblical stewardship of private property.   Local schools and the local community have historically contributed to this lifestyle as I have explained in Environmental Stewards Are ‘Grown’ within a Moral Community.” Historian Thomas Woods comments on the importance of individual responsibility and other virtues in a free market economy:

One of the market's virtues, and the reason it enables so much peaceful interaction and cooperation among such a great variety of peoples, is that it demands of its participants only that they observe a relatively few basic principles, among them honesty, the sanctity of contracts, and respect for private property. 

Arthur Brooks noted, “what America needs is not less capitalism but better capitalists.”  In my view, better capitalists are those that adopt a “stewardship view” of material possessions, one that is taught in the context of family, church, and community.  But as explained in “Dominion 101 - Spheres of Responsibility” government has the important role of maintaining the rule of law.  Rep. Paul Ryan makes this point well:

We believe that the government has an important role to create the conditions that promote entrepreneurship, upward mobility, and individual responsibility.

Our Founding Fathers understood the depravity of mankind and the danger of power in the hands of one or a few.  Therefore, the U.S. Constitution calls for a system of checks and balances, and includes a justice system to maintain accountability and rule of law.  Today, greed and corruption are common at every level of both public and private sectors.   Many are asking, “Is capitalism moral”?   Arthur Brooks answers, “Of course not. Only people can be moral.  We're not asking the right questions."  Instead, we should ask, “What economic system will most likely encourage moral behavior in us?”  For me, that system is capitalism in which individuals have a “stewardship view” that sees private property as a temporary trust to which God holds title.   As temporary title-holder, the “owner” is responsible to use it for the glory of God and for the benefit of his or her neighbor.  A free market economy in the hands of such responsible stewards will address both of the concerns of social justice advocates—provision of assistance to the poor and disenfranchised that respects the dignity of human beings, and good stewardship of the environment of planet Earth.

I welcome your comments.  The following questions may stimulate your thinking further:

1.   How would the “Rich Young Ruler” in Matthew 19: 16-25 define private property? 
2.   Does Jesus’ condemnation of the “Barn Builder” in Luke 12: 16-21 suggest that it is immoral to be rich?
3.   What does the following quote from Lewis Black tell you about Christianity versus socialism? 
Socialism appeals to me.  It's like imposed Christianity. You've got to share.
4.   In what sense do advocates of socialism express a different view of humankind than advocates of capitalism?
5.   Is a free market economy really a better system to address the needs of the poor and disenfranchised than socialism?   Which one better addresses environmental problems?
6.   How would you grade your attitude toward your “property” based on your material giving and your observance of “Sabbath rest?”

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Lessons in Helping the Poor

Have you read the short story known as “A $50 Lesson” which has circulated on the internet for several years?  In this story, a young girl explains to her neighbor in the hearing her liberal progressive parents how she, if elected President of the United States, would give top priority to helping the homeless.   As we learn from reading the “original version of ‘A $50 Dollar Lesson’,” the girl’s parents are encouraged by her commitment to social justice on behalf of the homeless.  However, when the girl’s neighbor suggested a fiscally conservative solution to helping the homeless—one that could end his dependence on government aid and reinforce his dignity as a human being, her liberal parents essentially “go away mad.”  While the ending to the story may bring glee to fiscal conservatives and exasperation to liberal progressives, I believe the account falls far short of a higher purpose.

Jubilee Leadership Academy:  Restoration of the Whole Person
What if I were to tweak the “Lesson” to illustrate how a conservative approach would deliver true social justice by addressing the "whole person?"  And what's more, my altered scenario is not only possible but demonstrable.  Today, there are numerous well run assistance programs helping people financially as well as emotionally and spiritually. 

For example, Jubilee Leadership Academy*, Prescott, WA uses a farm operation, as a setting in which to transform the lives of young men.  After all, God is calling His people to help restore the poor not only materially but also in terms of personal responsibility and dignity.   And, all the while, to achieve these ends while also building bridges of understanding among people of all political persuasions, and ultimately between Creator and human kind.  With that thought in mind, please read my modified version of “A $50 Dollar Lesson.”  Hopefully, you'll find that this version replaces the barbs between liberals and conservatives with a bridge of understanding that could bring diverse political philosophies together for a common purpose:


Recently, while I was working in the flower beds
in the front yard, my neighbors stopped to chat as they
returned home from walking their dog.
During our friendly conversation, I asked their little girl
what she wanted to be when she grew up.  She said she
wanted to be President someday.

Her parents who were both liberal progressives
were standing there so I asked her, "If you were President
what would be the first thing you would do?”

She replied, "I'd give food and houses to all the homeless
people." Her parents beamed with pride!

"Wow...what a worthy goal!" I said.  "But you don't have to
wait until you're President to do that!" "What do you mean?"
she replied.  So I told her, "You can come over to my house
and mow the lawn, pull weeds, and trim my hedge, and I'll pay
you $50.  Then you can go over to the grocery store where
the homeless guy hangs out, and you can give him the $50
to use toward food and a new house."

She thought that over for a few seconds, then she looked me
straight in the eye and asked, "Why doesn't the homeless guy come
over and do the work, and you can just pay him the $50?

I said, "Great!  Now you’re thinking like a conservative.” 
Sometime, if you and your family would like to come with me
I’ll show you around my farm** outside of town.
I pay a staff to run the farm which provides jobs for homeless men.
In turn, the men earn an income from the sale
of fruits, vegetables, and poultry.
Many earn their way back into responsible living,
and some even stay on to work on my staff.

Her parents were both scratching their chins.

Modifying the “Original $50 Dollar Lesson” by removing the political barbs and adding an example of practical solutions to lead the homeless from dependence to independence seems pertinent to the current debate over how to address our failing welfare system and its fruit of spiraling human dependence.  As Mindy Belz writes in her article, “Greek Tragedy” [WORLD, Feb. 21, 2015], with reference to the failing economy in Greece,

… now is the time for Americans to flee our own country’s growing dependence on government entitlements.  Such “anti-poverty” benefits are a staggering growth industry that’s changing the character of our nation and its standing in the world.

Perhaps the “$50 Dollar Lesson” if properly taught, could save us billions and, more importantly, save many souls for eternity.  Who might be headed your way looking for an opportunity to rise to a challenge?
* NOTE:  I modified this original "50. Dollar Lesson" scenario to the form as presented here.
** If you are not a WORLD Magazine subscriber but wish to read about Jubilee Leadership Academy*, Prescott, WA, just contact me at silviusj@gmail.com and I’ll see that you get the complete article.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Life Report: How Would Yours Read?

I posted my first web log article in Oikonomia, on August 1, 2008, entitled “God: The Greatest “Subject?” My purpose in starting a blog at that time was to focus attention on our Creator God, “The Greatest Subject.” And upon humans and God’s creation as “The Great Objects” of His love, adoration, and ultimately, redemption.  The title, Oikonomia, represents what I believe is “The Great Responsibility” of humans—stewardship, or managing what belongs to God in such a way as to show our reverent love and awe of Him.

Can you think of any other concept from Scripture that is more all-encompassing of human responsibility than stewardship?   Biblical stewardship invites us to adopt the mindset of a servant (not an owner) who uses all of God’s gifts (time, talents, treasures) to honor and glorify Him for the sake of His Son Jesus Christ and His kingdom.   The biblical command in Colossians 3: 17 supports the notion that stewardship encompasses everything we do:

And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.

Did you make a New Year’s resolution in January?  Resolutions are a way of helping us to set goals to better our lives, or the lives of others.  But, how often do we look back and give ourselves a frank evaluation—or, biblically speaking, evaluate our stewardship.  Again, the Bible gives us a good motivation for evaluating our stewardship.  The Apostle Paul, in Romans 14:12 writes, So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.

In his October 27, 2011 New York Times op-ed column, David Brooks gave some of his readers an “assignment.”  Here it is.

If you are over 70, I’d like to ask for a gift. I’d like you to write a brief report on your life so far, an evaluation of what you did well, of what you did not so well and what you learned along the way. You can write this as a brief essay or divide your life into categories — career, family, faith, community, and self-knowledge — and give yourself a grade in each area.

Several of Brooks’ readers responded by submitting their “Life Reports.”  One was especially meaningful to me as an example of one who is giving serious account of his stewardship.  Brooks published this essay, written in the form of a letter from a father to his two sons, on December 16, 2011.  Here is “The Life Report:  Frank H. Wheeler,” followed by my closing thoughts:

The Life Report: Frank H. Wheeler
December 16, 2011 6:52 pm

Dear Todd and Brian,
As my three score and ten years come to a close, it seems a good time to muse a bit about my life. Deep in the mire of active alcoholism in my late 30’s, not many people would have bet I would have passed 40, much less 70. But miracles happen in the strangest of ways and I have been given a life far beyond any I could have dreamed: I am married to the girl of my dreams, coming up on 50 years now. You two, your wives and kids put yourself in my presence, seemingly with pleasure. I have a relationship with, and a healthy dependence upon, a loving God. Both your mom and I have sufficient health, financial resources, mental acuity and interests to embrace and enjoy a robust, diverse life. I had a varied, remunerative, fascinating career in three industries. We seem to have balanced our own interests with responsibilities to our broader societies reasonably well. We, individually and as a couple, have a set of reliable, caring, fun friends different enough to provide spice and perspective, congruent enough to relate. At last count we have visited some 60 countries and seem to be at home in the middle of London or the backwoods of West Virginia. Were we perfect? Nope! Did we make mistakes along the way? Yup! Was it on balance pretty darn good? Absolutely!

Not much of this was predictable to anyone seeing a boy born in modest circumstances in West Virginia in 1940. Higher education was not a norm, a world war was starting, a depression was fresh in everyone’s mind, the average life span for a male in that state was around fifty, people stayed put and guys went to work in the mines, chemical companies or the state road. But my parents, both from humble backgrounds, were different. They had a vision for education, although they had little. They knew how to work hard, live within their means, save for the future, and delay gratification. They knew how to be a neighbor, in the pioneer style, and how to respect family. They had core values and lived by them. They knew God and tried to act as He would want them to act, as best they knew. They educated two boys. They mortgaged their house to found a church. They saved mom’s family farm from foreclosure. Were they perfect? Nope! Did they make mistakes along the way? Yup! Did they provide the foundation for me to build upon? Absolutely!

Now, did I use that foundation? Not for decades. At some point I concluded money and power were the source of happiness. I ran away from the God of my youth. I developed sharp elbows and the ability to “conveniently reinvent facts.” My values, to the extent I had any, were flexible and tailored to any current situations. I ignored obvious and compelling evidence of a genetic predisposition to alcoholism and embraced the magic of Jim Beam. But I did some things right. I worked hard to obtain a useful undergraduate and graduate degree. I had the amazing good sense to marry your mom and she had the poor judgment to stick around. We both shared a sense of adventure that led us enthusiastically to embrace work and other opportunities. I sensed ways to build an asset base by working for fast-growing, small companies and trading short term income for equity. I seemed to be able to do the best job I could at any given time and let the future unfold. We consistently, and to this day, lived below our means. We were able to take prudent risks.

Most fortunate of all, during my alcohol-induced wilderness years, and your early ones, your mom was the steel bands, wrapped in velvet, which held our lives together. As my life spiraled out of control, somehow we survived. I came face to face with the reality of my life, first in jail in Selma, Alabama, and then a moment of clarity in a Nashville coffee shop, Easter Sunday, 1980. Shortly thereafter I prayed, “God, if you are there and you care, I need your help.” God was there, God cared and I got help.

Over time, I did build on the foundation my parents had put in place. I was able to partner more effectively with your mom, expressing my deep and growing love, and joining to mitigate our individual weaknesses and to make the most of our respective strengths. All aspects of life improved and I began to participate in family, community and work in new, enjoyable and largely effective ways. Somehow out of disaster came a confluence of factors that have led to a life I could not have dreamed. I learned not to fear mistakes too much; they were the greatest source of effective learning. I learned to focus my physical, emotional and spiritual energy on things I could change and accept those I could not. I finally discovered that doing the “right” things, in the “right” way and for the “right” motives lead to a general level of contentment even in the face of sadness, uncertainty and legitimate fear. Perfect? Nope! Still much progress to be made? Yup! Largely good and acceptable at 71? Absolutely! Entering the twilight years reasonably at peace? Most of the time!

So, to wrap this up, are there some things I would change? You bet and here are some of them:

  1. I would never have used alcohol or other mind-altering substances.
  2. I would have become much more open to spirituality much earlier. Nowhere else has “contempt prior to investigation” served me more poorly. I looked at God, institutional churches and believers of all ilks with contempt, anger or amusement. I sought and found, only evidence that supported that view, ignoring evidence to the contrary. And my late blooming spirituality deprived you two of a fuller sense of God in your early years. That I regret deeply.
  3. I would have been much more conscious of my footprint on earth. It is amazing how blind I was, and to a large extent still am, to the most sensible of environmental concerns in all aspects of my life. I have not been a good steward of the earth you and your children have inherited.
  4. I would have been much more deliberate and thoughtful about how I spent my physical, emotional and spiritual energy, especially in regards my vocations, thinking more precisely about how my decisions affected those around me.
  5. I would have been much more open, much sooner, to different people, their perspectives, their beliefs and their life styles. I love the diversity of many of my friends…their variety adds richness, openness, texture and interest to my life. Buddies range from 8th grade education to GEDs to Ph. D’s to MD’s, from dedicated socialist to a guy to the right of Attila the Hun, from atheist to Hindu to Muslim to Hassidic Jew to Christians of all stripes, from a murderer to a semi-saint, from multi-millionaire to a guy whose net worth is a dog, from about age 25 to me and the list goes on. I treasure the diversity and work very hard to ignore areas of core disagreements, focusing on what I can learn and share. Dialogue not debate.
  6. I would have become engaged with the political process, especially at the local level. At least be an informed, engaged voter.
So, how to end this? I look forward to musing about four score years!
Love, Dad
                         *   *    *

My thanks to David Brooks for the idea of writing a “Life Report,”  And, to Frank H. Wheeler for providing a good example that has inspired me to begin writing.  Who knows, perhaps if you and I have opportunity, maybe we can share our “Life Reports.”  I’d be honored to read yours.   And while writing, may God give us the attitude of a humble steward--humility that helps us reflect and write so that our focus may be on what God “The Greatest Subject” has done for us, or in spite of us, “His Greatest Objects.”

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Test for the West: Our Moral Response to Evil

Today, I am deeply concerned about the present direction of the world.  Although situations are complex, I'm noticing a troubling pattern.  First, the United States is withdrawing from the position of respected leadership and moral clarity which it had occupied for at least a century.  This American retreat, characterized by an ambiguous and often apologetic stance in foreign policy, seems to reflect ignorance or  misunderstanding of the role of the United States in world history.  Consequently, world axes of evil once restrained by a healthy respect for American moral and military might, are now raising their evil heads on the world scene.  For example, Islamic extremist groups are using the spotlight afforded by international news media to showcase their evil actions that seem like eruptions from the very pit of hell.

Abdullah (right) identified with a vengeful Eastwood character.
But perhaps the most disturbing of all to me are the growing reactions of many of us in the Western World.  Some react to beheadings, burnings, and crucifixions with cheers as if they have been mesmerized by this demonic contagion of evil.  Others are so enraged at the perpetrators of barbarism that they, like King Abdullah of Jordan, respond to the terrorists by promising swift acts of reprisal.  According to a New York Post article, an angry King Abdullah responded to ISIS’s barbarous act of burning a Jordanian citizen alive by quoting Clint Eastwood’s enraged, vengeful character, William Munny, in the movie, Unforgiven.  

It is here, the nexus of evil barbarism and morally restrained civilization, where my greatest concern lies, for it is here that civilized peoples must decide how they will react in the face of evil.  The choice is between reacting to execute justice against evil governed by a sense of moral indignation; or, reacting “in kind” with a zealous anger fueled by hatred and vengeance.  The Western World has plenty of its own unrighteousness to go around; and, the need for repentance ought to be obvious to us.  However, it seems to me that it is precisely the awareness of our own individual and collective depravity as a nation in the face of God’s standards of righteousness that ought to remind us that perfect judgment and vengeance is not ours, but the L
ORD’s (Romans 12:19).

If Western Civilization reacts out of a spirit of hatred and vengeance it will be pulled downward toward the very pit of hatred and despair that gives rise to this march of evil.  Therefore, the only hope for America and the West is rejection of moral relativism in favor of moral clarity based on the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.  The Scriptures clearly and repeatedly remind us that humans are fallen creatures with no hope apart from humble submission to the saving grace of God that brings redemption and reconciliation (Romans 3: 10, 23; 6: 23).  Those who confess their depravity and complete dependence justification by faith in God’s righteousness are equipped to love God, love their neighbor, and steward their time, talents, and treasures for God’s glory.   God’s redeemed stewards value all of human life and support safeguards against violation of the basic rights to free speech, freedom of worship, and access to protection afforded by just rule of law.  These objective standards for life and liberty based on Scripture are what today’s leaders have in mind when they call for America to respond to evil with moral clarity and righteous indignation. 

Having stated the basis for justifiable moral indignation, my question is, “Can America now exercise moral courage and unified leadership in the face of the lawless hoards on the world scene?”  I’m afraid because of the current moral climate in America, the answer may be, “No.”  How can America speak with one voice against evil when we are so deeply divided on moral issues such as the importance of religious faith in American culture?  How can America stand for the dignity of human life when her courts continue to violate the sanctity of human life, trivialize sexuality and the sanctity of marriage, castigate those of a different ethnic background, and disrespect America’s historic role in relieving human suffering and fostering world peace?

Today, I am remembering the birthday of President Ronald Reagan whose leadership rallied our nation so effectively because of his deep faith in God and respect for others regardless of their politics.  Reagan believed that America would not long survive if she didn’t hold to the moral standards and moral clarity that had made her “good” as well as “great.”  Reagan’s words to the nation in his presidential farewell, in 1989, demonstrated the qualities of his leadership that had revived America’s faith, restored America’s spirit, and made the world safer against the threat of Communism:

Reagan and Gorbachev: Leadership with firm moral resolve.
… we're about to enter the '90s, and some things have changed. Younger parents aren't sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children.  And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. Our spirit is back, but we haven't reinstitutionalized it. We've got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom--freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise.  And freedom is special and rare. It's fragile; it needs protection.  So, we've got to teach history based not on what's in fashion but what's important:  Why the Pilgrims came here….

The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the "shining city upon a hill." The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.

I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still.

As I reflect on President Reagan’s leadership, I ask again, “Can America now exercise moral courage and unified leadership in the face of lawless hoards on the world scene?”  The lack of moral clarity and resolve in our current leadership make me doubtful.   The longer America and its allies continue with a policy of token resistance, the greater will be the spread of this evil infection; and, the less likely America will respond out of moral indignation and not out of anger and vengeance –if America responds at all.  

Allow me to conclude with a current contrast in leadership that I believe justifies my concern. On the one hand are the leaders of two of America’s Middle East allies:  Abdullah II, King of Jordan, and Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel.  Both men have clearly expressed their frustration and concern about the growing threat posed by terror groups and hostile nations such as Iran.  Netanyahu in particular has demonstrated much patience, a voice of reason, and a willingness to negotiate peace with neighbors who despise his nation.  On the other hand, President Obama seems unable or unwilling to stand in the tradition of previous American presidents as a voice for moral clarity.   Instead, he appears apologetic for the nation he leads perhaps because he sees America as an unjust intruder on the world scene; a nation that has attained her leadership dishonestly at the expense of other nations.  This line of reason, typical of many secular progressives, suggests that America must leave the stage as leader of the free world and blend into the landscape with other nations she has oppressed. 

We must admit that America’s history has many blemishes because Americans are, in God’s view, depraved people.  However, because of his unwillingness or inability to exercise decisive leadership, President Obama is creating frustration among Americans, confusion within our armed services, and doubt among our allies. 

King Abdullah’s angry reaction to the violent death of a Jordanian citizen this week illustrates what I have stated as perhaps the greatest challenge or test for Western civilization.  The test has one multiple-choice question:  “How will the West react to the current onslaught of evil that emerges from ISIS, Iran, Russia, and numerous terror groups on different continents?   Will the West react with (a) a resolve to confront evil with just retribution based on moral indignation ; or will the West react (b) “in kind” by committing more atrocities out of anger and vengeance? 

As I stated at the beginning, I am concerned about the direction of the world.  I am concerned for America, and for our children and grandchildren.  There is not much we can do as individuals.  But we can pray for our own leadership responsibilities and for our leaders.   I pray that President Obama will communicate in words and in actions the spirit conveyed by Ronald Reagan as he bid farewell to America as her president, in 1989: 

But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content. I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn't spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation--from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in principles that have guided us for two centuries.

Both Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan are known as “great communicators.”   I pray that President Obama will take up the mantel of moral leadership and offer a clear message of hope and encouragement to the America he serves.  May he also send a clear message to the enemies of law and order that America is back and ready to lead its allies in defense of life, liberty, and justice.