For it is by grace you have been saved...

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Is Our Government Truly "Representative"?

Been awhile since I posted a purely political item.  So...
Let's get this out of the way first: The USA is NOT a democracy.  It is a representative republic.  It's not ruled "by the people" in the sense that popular votes decide every little thing.  We elect people to go and represent us in the state and federal legislatures.  But, are we truly being represented?

I know, most folks are going to write that off as a really stupid question.  Of course our interests are not being represented.  They haven't been for a long time.  Those elected make all sorts of promises, but in the end they simply go and vote what their party tells them to.  Most of the time.  Unless their own political life is on the line.  And there is where things are really see for what they are. 

Fox News recently ran a little piece about legislation here in Missouri that would make it a crime for federal agents to violate our Second Amendment rights based on any federal gun law.  There is a lot of debate about whether the legislation would stand up to a court challenge (which brings up a whole other issue about why courts are the ones deciding our laws instead of duly elected legislators and votes of the people, but that's a whole other subject).  But the point is that the legislation passed the state legislature, was vetoed by our governor, and will probably have that veto overridden when legislators reconvene in September.

Now, know that the Missouri legislature has a Republican majority, so it's no surprise that they would override a Democratic governor on something like this.  But here's the interesting point. In the Fox News article, several Democrats were quoted as saying that they would vote with the Republic majority to override the veto, not because they agreed with it, but because they knew that if they didn't, they wouldn't survive the next election.  Here are a couple key paragraphs in the article

“Being a rural-area Democrat, if you don’t vote for any gun bill, it will kill you,” (Democratic Rep. Ben) Harris said. “That’s what the Republicans want you to do is vote against it, because if you vote against it, they’ll send one mailer every week just blasting you about guns, and you’ll lose” re-election.

And this one:

“I personally believe that any higher court will probably rule this particular gun law unconstitutional on that, I probably agree that the governor’s right,” (Democratic Rep. Ed) Schieffer said. “But I may end up still voting for the gun bill, because I don’t want to be on record for not supporting guns.”

Did you catch that?  But, you say, it sounds like they are truly representing their people, voting against their conscience because they know that's what their constituents want.  Well, sort of.  What they are saying is that they would vote the other way if they could, they would toe the part line if they could, but they won't; not because they respect their constituents wishes, but because they want to get re-elected and maintain power.  The implication being, if they weren't running for re-election, listening to the desires of their constituents would go out the window in a heartbeat. 

I know, this is old hat.  We've known for years that politicians have only been out for self preservation.  It's so rare that they actually admit it.  They don't represent the people.  They represent themselves and their own personal interests.  And it will continue this way until Americans wake up and realize that our representative republic is not representative at all.  Republicans and Democrats alike are more concerned withe their own political power, their own political machines, and their own personal agendas than they are about the needs, wants and benefit of the American people.

I know it's not an election year.  But dare I mention even now that we need to seriously look at third party alternatives, such as, I don't know, the Constitution Party?  Or should I bring up the growing support for A Convention of States called to regain control "by the people."?  Well, whatever the answer is, the simple truth is that the system is severely broken.  Our republic has lost it's "representative" nature.  And until it returns, we will continue to face crisis after crisis brought on by those seeking their own good, not the nation's.  

So there.  My political rant for the month. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Little Things

Sometimes the little things can mean a lot.  We've heard that.  But this weekend I was reminded of it from both a positive and a negative perspective.

First, the positive.  I've mentioned here many times my love for a good cup of coffee (here, and here, and here, and here).  When we went out west this summer I found a little place in Flagstaff, AZ where I brought home a bag of brew with the wonderful name of "Danger Monkey."  It's great stuff.  Sadly, it didn't last long.

Being the whiner that I am, I mentioned on Facebook that I had just brewed up my last cup and jokingly said that if anyone was in Flagstaff I'd appreciate them going by and picking up a bag for me.  A lovely couple from our church saw that, got on line and found the company that makes/distributes that particular blend, and ordered me a bag.  They came in on Sunday morning with a bag of beans and a grinder.  Made my day!  

Seems like such a little thing, but it really did cheer me up.  Not just the coffee itself, though I'm loving that!  But just the fact that these folks thought enough to go to such lengths to demonstrate a kindness to me.  What amazing folks, and what a great blessing.  It's the little things. 

Now, for the big negative.  We live out of town a ways with only a handful of houses around us.  When the trees are thin enough, we can see two.  So it's not like we have "next door" neighbors like many folks think about.  Still, you'd think we'd do a better job of making a point to be more neighborly to those closest to us.  We haven't.  And Saturday we came to regret that very much. 

The folks who live across the highway from us, back up the hill, suffered a tragedy.  The wife came running to our door asking for us to call 911; her husband was trapped under a tree.  Turns out, he was on a tractor and the tree had him wedged into the seat.  My son and I ran over and managed to get the tree off of him, but it was obvious that he had already been dead for some time.  Sad, sad day.  

Sad because of the tragic loss of life.  Made even sadder by the fact that we haven't done much over the years to reach out to this older couple and be better neighbors.  We barely know each other's names, wave from time to time when we're both out at the mailbox, etc.  But that's about it.  Once in awhile we took them some peach jam Cheryl had made.  Once he mowed the ditch in front of our house with his tractor.  Little things, but far too few of them. 

I can't help but think of missed opportunities to do some of those little things that would have brightened their day.  Little things that would have helped us build a relationship.  As my wife and I sat with this new widow, trying to offer what comfort we could, our lack of doing any of those little things really stood out to me. 

Here's the point.  I realized this weekend how much some little gesture can mean, and how much regret can be felt for missed opportunities.  So I'm going to do my best to be more mindful, to look for more opportunities to reach out, to offer a little encouragement, buy someone some coffee.  Why don't you do the same?  Find some way to be a huge blessing with just a little effort this week. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Perspective on Education

It's back to school time for most of the students across America.  Even homeschoolers like us are getting back into the groove.  And after a conversation I overheard between a couple of homeschool moms the other day, I thought it might be a good time to do a little reflecting on education in general.

The conversation had to do with the "pressure" homeschool moms feel to live up to everyone else's standards.  The feeling that my kids must excel academically because my extended family is judging me, or the other homeschoolers are watching me, or I have to prove something to the public schools, or whatever.

I remember feeling that way.  When we started homeschooling 15 years ago it wasn't nearly as accepted as it has become.  There weren't nearly as many of us, not nearly as many resources, etc.  Our family thought we were crazy.  Our church family even raised some eyebrows.  We felt like we had something to prove.

Then we remembered something significant.  We didn't start homeschooling because we wanted to churn out the smartest kids.  We did it because we wanted to turn out godly men and women.  That doesn't mean that our academic goals became non-existent.  We have graduated the older two, now, and one is ready to finish her senior year in college.  That makes us very proud.  We have another who will graduate next year, and so getting the next two through college testing (if that's what they choose) certainly makes us sweat.  We still feel that pressure for the kids to "perform."  And with the youngest, we still have years to go.

But aside from any academic achievement, aside from the choir/band/orchestra accomplishments, aside from all that the older three have done with writing and photography, the thing I am most thankful for is that God has graciously answered our prayers.  These older ones are good, godly men and women.  Their faith is solid and growing, and their chief desire is to please Him.  And that's what it's all about.

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, introduces his collection of instruction by telling us what the purpose of it is:  "To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth." (Proverbs 1:2-4)

The goal is to produce men and women of faith and character.  And that should be our goal in education as well.  Not just the goal of "religious" education.  But the goal of all education.  The fact that this is not the goal of so many in government schools is the primary reason we went the homeschool route to begin with.

Not that public education didn't have this goal at one time.  The original charter for none other than Harvard University stated that the goal of the school was to be sure that every student understood that "the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning."

Jesus Christ is the foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.  That's the heart of this.  Regardless of what educational option you choose, homeschool, private or government school; you need to understand this.  This is the real goal.  It's not how high their test scores are, it's if they are ready to stand the ultimate test.  If they are ready to stand before God's examination.  All the things of this world will pass away.  It will all be burned up and destroyed, along with all of our degrees and the material things we were able to buy because of them.  As Peter reminds us: "Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness." (2 Peter 3:11)

So, as the kiddos head back to school, wherever that might be, let's keep a proper perspective.  And let's remember that our job as parents is to be sure that we are teaching and training them in righteousness regardless of who is teaching them the other "r"s. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

No Useless Man

"I ain't going to be no useless man."

No one ever said that blues singers were great on grammar.  But regardless, Glenn Kaiser's plea echos my own heart in so many ways.  "Oh Lord, don't let me be no useless man."  It speaks to one of my greatest fears...that my life would be a waste, that my ministry would be without profit for the kingdom, that my race would be run in vain. 

As Paul writes to the Galatians, he speaks of the "fear" he had in going up to Jerusalem to meet with the "men of influence" there.  He wasn't afraid of their "approval" or lack of it.  He was concerned about the fruitfulness of his ministry, that his gospel was not being preached in vain.  He didn't want to be no useless man.  

We have a lot of motivators in life.  Some are motivated by money and success.  Some are motivated by power and influence.  Some are motivated by guilt. I'm motivated by fear.  I know that sounds bad.  Especially when my last post was about destroying the "dark guest" of anxiety in my life.  But it's not that kind of fear.  At least, I don't think it is.  It's a fear of being useless. 

I look out at the folks I minister to on a regular basis, and I consider their lives, and I consider their service to the king, and I consider the maturity of their faith (or the lack of any of that) and I think, "Is what I'm saying making a difference?  Is anyone listening?  Are they growing?  Or am I a useless man?"

I know I'm far from perfect.  I reflected on goals and weaknesses and such a couple posts back in thinking about our ten years in this place.  Maybe I'm still just being overly reflective.  But I don't want to be useless for the kingdom.  I don't want to just take up space in ministry.  I want my life to count for something in kingdom terms.  Maybe that's pride.  It probably is, at least in part.  And I probably need to repent for that.  But I still don't want to be no useless man!

I know I just posted one prayer from the Valley of Vision.  But another has been helpful to me as I think about this issue.  It's called "A Minister's Strength." 

Unchangeable Jehovah
When I am discouraged in my ministry
            and full of doubts of my self,
   fasten me upon the rock of thy eternal election,
     then my hands will not hang down,
     and I shall have hope for myself and others.
Thou dost know thy people by name,
   and wilt at the appointed season
     lead them out of a natural to a gracious state
       by thy effectual calling.
This is the ground of my salvation,
   the object of my desire,
   the motive of my ministry.
Keep me from high thoughts of myself
     or my work,
   for I am nothing but sin and weakness;
     in me no good dwells,
     and my best works are but sin.
Humble me to the dust before thee.
Root and tear out the poisonous weed
     of self-righteousness,
   and show me my utter nothingness;
Keep me sensible of my sinnership;
Sink me deeper into penitence and self-abhorrence;
Break the Dagon of pride in pieces
     before the ark of thy presence;
Demolish the Babel of self-opinion,
     and scatter it to the wind;
Level to the ground my Jericho walls
     of a rebel heart;
Then grace, grace, will be my experience and cry.
I am a poor, feeble creature when faith
     is not in exercise,
   like an eagle with pinioned wings;
Grant me to rest on thy power and faithfulness,
   and to know that there are two things
     worth living for:
   to further thy cause in the world,
   and to do good to the souls and bodies of men;
This is my ministry, my life, my prayer, my end.
Grant me grace that I shall not fail.

Grant me grace that I shall not fail.  Oh Lord, don't let me be no useless man!  Kaiser continues: "Give me the heart of a servant.  Help me to do what I can.  Care for the weak and the lonely.  Not be no useless man."  Amen, and amen.

Now, for any fans of plain old good music, here's the Glenn Kaiser Band with our theme song for the day. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Destroying the "Dark Guest"

Ooohh.  Sounds like a good title for an episode of Doctor Who or something.  (Sorry, with the announcement of who is to play the next Doctor, it's on my mind).  But this "Dark Guest" isn't some sci-fi/fantasy villain.  It's a real villain, a real threat, and one that haunts all of us at one time or another. 

If you're like me (and I pity you if you are) you have those areas of "un-mortified" sin in your life.  Those things you struggle with time and again.  One of the biggest for me is anxiety.  I can remember even as a kid my mom called me a worrier.  She said worry was what kept me together and if I stopped worrying I'd probably fall apart.  Well, as much as I love my mom and appreciate her wisdom, that was both a right diagnosis and a wrong cure.  I do worry too much, but it doesn't "hold me together", it works at tearing me apart.  And plain and simple, it's sin.

Do I need to remind you off the biblical commands?  "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life..And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?" (Matthew 6:25a, 27)   Or "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Philippians 4:6).  The list goes on.  Trust me, if you deal with anxiety, you've probably memorized every single verse on the subject. 

Of course, there are lots of other great verses which help to combat that anxiety.  Those come in very handy in the middle of the night when I'm awakened by worry.  But in the end, I still know this is sin; my worry.  And like Paul's prayer to remove his thorn, I go to God asking Him to remove it time and again.  Of course, I also wonder if maybe my anxiety is a thorn like Paul's in more ways than one.  Maybe God leaves it there because He knows I tend to drift from dependence on Him, and my anxiety always drives me back.  Maybe that's bad theology; I don't know. 

Anyway, back to the point (if there is one).  Having this "dark guest" of besetting sin in my life is horribly frustrating.  Yet, I'm glad to know I'm not alone.  I've mentioned before in these "pages" how much I appreciate the Valley of Vision, that wonderful collection of prayers gathered from a variety of Puritan divines.  There is one prayer that is actually entitled "The Dark Guest."  

It's been a help to me from time to time, and so I wanted to share it with you.  Maybe you're struggling with a dark guest of your own.  I want to encourage you that you are not alone, and that God's grace is sufficient even for this.  I especially appreciate the second half of this prayer which begins "O my crucified but never wholly mortified sinfulness!"  Oh the cry of my own heart.  Anyway, here is the whole prayer as posted on the Banner of Truth site.  I hope it helps/encourages someone today. 

O Lord,
Bend my hands and cut them off,
          for I have often struck thee with
   a wayward will,
   when these fingers should embrace thee by faith.
I am not yet weaned from all created glory,
   honour, wisdom, and esteem of others,
   for I have a secret motive to eye my name
     in all I do.
Let me not only speak the word sin, but see
     the thing itself.
Give me to view a discovered sinfulness,
   to know that though my sins are crucified
     they are never wholly mortified.
Hatred, malice, ill-will,
   vain-glory that hungers for and hunts after
   man’s approval and applause,
   all are crucified, forgiven,
   but they rise again in my sinful heart.
O my crucified but never wholly mortified
O my life-long damage and daily shame!
O my indwelling and besetting sins!
O the tormenting slavery of a sinful heart!
Destroy, O God, the dark guest within
   whose hidden presence makes my life a hell.
Yet thou hast not left me here without grace;
The cross still stands and meets my needs
   in the deepest straits of the soul.
I thank thee that my remembrance of it
   is like David’s sight of Goliath’s sword
     which preached forth thy deliverance.
The memory of my great sins, my many
   temptations, my falls,
   bring afresh into my mind the remembrance
     of thy great help, of thy support from heaven,
     of the great grace that saved such a wretch
       as I am.
There is no treasure so wonderful
   as that continuous experience of thy grace
      toward me which alone can subdue
        the risings of sin within:
Give me more of it.