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Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Haiti Crisis

The Haiti Crisis
If you’re like me, you want to contribute to help those in need in Haiti.  The Haitian earthquake created a disaster almost beyond words.  It’s so vast and the situation is so desperate, it’s hard to understand what to do or who to contribute to.

I’m going to make a suggestion.  I’m in the fundraising business, but I don’t have any relief clients who are working in Haiti.  I don’t have an axe to grind and I certainly don’t have a conflict of interest.  I believe I do, however, know some good guidelines for choosing which nonprofit to give your gift to.

In my opinion the best groups to give to are the small charities that have a minimum of overhead and have a very defined program to assist Haitians in their recovery efforts.  And if they already have a track record of working in Haiti, that’s even better.  There are a number of groups that meet the preceding criteria.

I have learned over the years that very large charities operate like very large corporations.  They have a vast bureaucracy and one of their primary goals is to protect their turf.  Whether their mission has to do with natural disasters or health or general welfare, protecting their turf too often takes precedence over their stated objectives.  Some even maintain a large number of in-house lawyers to not only lobby Congress for earmarks and grants, but also take measures to make it difficult for new groups to enter the marketplace.  Like giant corporations, giant charities often use government to squeeze out competition so that they can have a monopoly on raising funds for their cause.

That’s why my wife, Kathi, and I have sent a donation to a small but effective group that was already working in Haiti before the earthquake occurred.  The group is Agape Flights ( located in Venice, Florida.  Agape is now in an emergency mode.  They have the right contacts and know what needs to be done.  They have solved the dilemma of getting supplies to those in need by utilizing a ship to provide urgently needed supplies and by using helicopters to reach into remote areas.

Our good friend, Don Kerndt, who, together with his wife, Sue, used to live in our neighborhood, works at Agape as their Chief Financial Officer on a completely pro bono basis.  I personally toured Agape the last time we visited Don and Sue and I can tell you it is a very focused and very efficiently run organization.

If you decide to contribute through Agape [a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt foundation] you can designate your gift directly for the Haitian Earthquake relief and you can be confident that your dollars will be spent wisely and effectively.

But most important of all, please keep the people of Haiti and all the relief workers in your prayers.  Through prayer, mountains can be moved.  And that’s exactly what needs to happen in Haiti.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What’s So Amazing About Grace?

What’s So Amazing About Grace?

Upon the advice of a friend, I read Philip Yancey’s book, What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Zondervan 1997).  Yes, I realize the book has been out for quite some time, but I’m a little behind on my reading.

As the dustcover blurb says, this is a “provocative book.”  I knew before I opened it that I would not agree with everything within the covers of this book because my friend said something to the effect, “This is one of the best books I have ever read, but I don’t agree with all of Yancey’s conclusions.”  And then, before reading the book, I read this “endorsement” in the front of the book by my favorite Christian writer, Chuck Colson, “Philip Yancey is one of the most engaging and convicting writers in the Christian world.  Once again he has produced a work with something in it to make everyone mad.”  Yikes.  I had to ask myself, paraphrasing the book title, “What’s so irritating about Philip Yancey?”

Before I quickly cover the irritating things I found in this book, let me say that in spite of my differences with Yancey, this is a powerful book that gave me a deeper understanding of grace.  It was fully worth the read.  And hopefully I will continue to understand grace more deeply thanks to this book.

Really, my complaints about Yancey are limited.  The Bible was written primarily to explain God’s relationship to man and man’s relationship to God.  Man’s relationship to government is covered in Romans 13 where Paul says that believers should obey the government and pay taxes because government was established by God.  Paul goes on to say that God gave the power of the sword to punish evildoers.  The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke relate the story of the Pharisees who tried to trick Jesus by asking Him if it was right to pay taxes to Rome.  Jesus responded by asking for a coin then asking them whose image was on the coin.  They replied, “The emperor’s.”  Upon hearing their response, Jesus stated, “Very well, give the emperor what belongs to the emperor, and give God what belongs to God.”

What does all this have to do with Philip Yancey and his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace?  Just this, after providing insight into the power of God’s grace in our lives and its ability to soften even the hardest heart, Yancey makes the quantum jump to assert that it was the power of grace that brought down the Soviet empire.  Yes, by the Grace of God, prayers were answered and the Soviet Union collapsed.  It didn’t happen because the Soviet bosses softened their hearts.  But according to this passage on page 262, that’s apparently what Yancey thinks, “In Poland the Catholics marched past government buildings shouting, ‘We forgive you!’  In East Germany, Christians lit candles, prayed, and marched in the streets until one night the Berlin Wall collapsed like a rotten dam.”  

Really?  So it wasn’t an evil empire like Ronald Reagan said?  It didn’t fall because of the pressure exerted on it by the Pope, by Margaret Thatcher and by Ronald Reagan?  Grace is about people.

Yancey also uses his book as a forum to write about a thinly disguised complaint that the article he wrote in Christianity Today about the Clintons was really true.  The gist of the story is that he met with Bill and Hillary Clinton and found them to be committed Christians.  Perhaps, because no one can look into the hearts of another person, but more likely, Yancey was “rolled” as he was accused of at the time.  Yancey says in his book, “… I found it almost impossible to understand the Clintons apart from their religious faith.”  

Yancey also relates a story of a 1991 meeting, along with other Christians, in the infamous Lubyanka prison with General Nikolai Stolyarov, Vice Chairman of the KGB.  The General apparently wept and repented.  Yancey and others in his group bought it, but the Russian photographer who had accompanied them later told them, “It was all an act.”  Yancey demurred.

And yet, this is a powerful, important book that is well worth reading because the naiveté of Yancey on the world scene doesn’t diminish his understanding of the power of God’s grace in individuals’ lives.

Yancey is a great story teller and his ability to relate incredible stories of grace changing hardened hearts is both compelling and powerful.

Yancey clearly understands God’s greatest grace, “… grace does not depend on what we have done for God but rather what God has done for us.”  Jesus “… was the shepherd who left the safety of the fold for the dark and dangerous night outside.  To His banquets He welcomed tax collectors and reprobates and whores.  He came for the sick and not the well, for the unrighteous and not the righteous.”

About Jesus’ parable of the workers who were paid equal amounts even though some worked just an hour compared to others who worked 12 hours, Yancey sums it up correctly, “God dispenses gifts, not wages.”

He talks about “… a humble awareness that God has already forgiven us a debt so mountainous that beside it any person’s wrongs against us shrink to the size of anthills.  How can we not forgive each other in light of all God has forgiven us?”

Yancey quotes C.S. Lewis, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”  Yancey summarizes again, “… grace means there is nothing I can do to make God love me more, and nothing I can do to make God love me less.”

And Yancey includes this quote by Charles Williams in regard to the Lord’s Prayer, “No word in English carries a greater possibility of terror than the little word ‘as’ in that clause.”  Yancey observes, “What makes the ‘as’ so terrifying?  The fact that Jesus plainly links our forgiven-ness by the Father with our forgiving-ness of fellow human beings.  Jesus’ next remark could not be more explicit:  “If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

I think you are probably beginning to see why, in spite of my differences with Yancey, I liked this book so much.  Quickly, here are a few more succinct blurbs from Yancey:
  1. The gospel of grace begins and ends with forgiveness.  People write songs with titles like “Amazing Grace” for one reason: Grace is the only force in the universe powerful enough to break the chains that enslave generations.  Grace alone melts ungrace.
  2. … forgiveness is an act of faith.
  3. A cease-fire between human beings depends upon a cease-fire with God.
  4. Forgiveness offers a way out.  It does not settle all questions of blame and fairness—often it pointedly evades those questions—but it does allow a relationship to start over.
  5. You can know the law by heart without knowing the heart of it.
  6. … the proof of spiritual maturity is not how “pure” you are but rather the awareness of your impurity.
  7. Repentance, not proper behavior or even holiness, is the doorway to grace.
  8. The solution to sin is not to impose an ever-stricter code of behavior.  It is to know God.
  9. Moralism apart from grace solves little.
  10. Our founders thought religious faith essential for a democracy to work: In John Adams’ words, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”
  11. It was Christianity, and only Christianity, that brought an end to slavery…
  12. Alexander Solzhenitsyn said: …“Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”
  13. The Christian knows to serve the weak not because they deserve it but because God extended His love to us when we deserved the opposite.
  14. The desire to “be as gods,” after all, led Adam and Eve to rebel.
  15. I escape the force of spiritual “gravity” when I begin to see myself as a sinner who cannot please God by any method of self-improvement or self-enlargement.

Yes, please read this book.  Yancey does indeed see the problems of this world in the light of God’s grace.  He quotes Lesslie Newbigin, “The project of bringing heaven down to earth always results in bringing hell up from below.”  How true.  The imperfection of man is cured only by repentance granted, without merit, by God’s grace.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lexus Ad Campaign

Lexus Ad Campaign

I have to smile when I see the latest television ad campaign for Lexus.  For me it’s proof that even real smart folks can come up with some really silly ideas.  Even more than that, there were marketing people at Lexus who not only liked the ad campaign, but succeeded in selling it to management.  It just shows that even big companies make really dumb choices.

In case you’ve missed the ad I’m talking about, it’s the one heralding the great engineering achievements of Lexus and how they are evidence of their many important contributions to the evolution of the automobile.  What are these great advances that have revolutionized the automobile?

It’s hard to repeat them without laughing out loud.  It’s the car that nearly parks itself.  It’s the car that detects someone walking nearby that might be in danger.  It’s the 8, or is it 9, speed automatic transmission.  The ad says that Lexus has contributed 12 great innovations to the development of the automobile.  I have yet to see what the other great innovations are, and I don’t anticipate seeing them as I suspect they are even more ludicrous than the three they are currently touting.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it was difficult and time consuming to develop a car that can nearly park itself, a car that can detect humans potentially in danger and a 9 speed automatic transmission, but come on!  These technically complicated accomplishments are hardly earth shaking.

The car that nearly parks itself costs more than $100,000.  It’s hardly something that the everyday car buyer can afford.  It belongs more in the category of a Rube Goldberg invention than a landmark automotive innovation.  

Lexus clearly makes a great automobile.  My wife drives one, and although I believe the electronic technology is over intuitive, it is a fine automobile.

However, if Lexus doesn’t want me to laugh out loud at its so called landmark contributions to the automobile industry, it needs to tout real innovations such as the creation of the V8 engine, the automatic transmission, four wheel hydraulic brakes, mass production, seat belts, etc.  Henry Ford’s V8 engine was truly revolutionary, especially in light of the fact that he did not have a computer to help him determine the correct firing order to limit vibration.  The introduction of four wheel hydraulic brakes was a dramatic improvement in safety and allowed the average driver to drive at much higher speeds with greater security and safety for his family.  The automatic transmission was revolutionary and made driving a car much, much easier.  Ford’s development of mass production changed the automobile from being excessively costly into being available to the average American.  Seat belts, courtesy of NASCAR racing, saved millions of lives.  All of the above were truly revolutionary advances in the automobile industry.

Lexus has taken hyperbole to a new level in its current advertising campaign.  It’s ridiculous and silly at the same time.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Bribe is a Bribe is a Bribe

A Bribe is a Bribe is a Bribe

Or, to paraphrase an old saying, “A bribe by any other name would be just as corrupt.”  What in the world is Congress up to?  Obamacare is not medical reform, it is a clearly unconstitutional takeover of one-sixth of our nation’s economy for the sole purpose of securing a permanent Democratic majority in Washington.  It’s not about health care.  It’s a simple power grab to create another vast dependency group which can be threatened and cajoled to vote Democrat in order to protect their government hand out.

It doesn’t matter to Reid, Pelosi or Obama that it also means (when they eventually get their one-payer socialist medical system)…
  1. Waiting for months to get health care;
  2. Having medical decisions made by government bureaucrats instead of the patient and the doctor;
  3. A government created shortage of doctors, nurses and hospital beds;
  4. An end to medical advances in medicine;
  5. Higher taxes, worse care and less freedom.
And how do these three rascals plan to get this monstrosity of a bill that Americans hate through Congress?  Well, my dictionary defines a bribe as, “something given or promised to a person to influence conduct.”  If that doesn’t describe exactly how Reid and Pelosi have acted as leaders of Congress to pass this awful bill, then I don’t know what does.

You can call it an earmark or whatever you want to call it, but it’s still a bribe according to my dictionary.  According to the dictionary definition reprinted above, Ben Nelson of Nebraska was “given” a bribe (with your money) to get his vote.  A bribe designed to help Senator Nelson get re-elected.  By a similar token, Senator Mary Landrieu was given a bribe (with your money) to help her get re-elected.

Reid, Pelosi, Nelson, Landrieu and their ilk don’t deserve another term in Congress, they deserve a term in prison.  Let’s throw the rascals (and their friends) out!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The False Narrative

The False Narrative

I was listening to the Chris Plante radio show the other morning on the way to work and was intrigued by his take on the appearance before Congress by the Director of the US Secret Service, Mark Sullivan, in regard to the White House State Dinner interlopers, Michaele and Tareq Salahi.  

While poor security at the White House is a serious matter, it wasn’t the party crashers that caught the attention of Mr. Plante.  No, Chris focused on the question by liberal Democratic Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton that was posed to Mr. Sullivan.  Her question was designed to make a point.  She said something to the effect of, “Isn’t it true that President Obama has received four times the number of death threats at this point in his Administration than any other President?”  This number, “four times” has often been quoted by big media.  Representative Norton clearly asked the question in order to reinforce the point that the US is a racist nation.  

The Congresswoman must have been stunned when the Director responded – No, the number of threats are “at the same level as it was” during the two previous administrations.  

Like Chris Plante, I too had heard the media report a number of times that President Obama had received four times as many death threats as any previous president at this point in his presidency.  I accepted it as a sad reality that America is still a racist nation.  After all, this was an objective measurement of racism in our nation.  The only thing that separated President Obama from Bush and Clinton was, on the face of it, the color of his skin.

And didn’t the White House accuse the tea party folks and the town hall meeting folks of racism?  I doubted the latter, but wasn’t their view at least minimally supported by the objective measurement of death threats against this President?
But it wasn’t true!  The White House knew it, but instead of clearing up this falsehood, they perpetuated it and embraced it.  Apparently it was part of a widespread false narrative that is vital to the powerful grip the Democrats have on black American voters.  It is, in fact, something the Democrats and liberals generally treat as absolute gospel.  It is shouted from CNN and MSNBC and treated as truth by The New York Times and The Washington Post.  It is undisputed fact according to CBS, NBC, and ABC.

In fact, talk to any liberal and you will find an almost fanatical belief that America is a terrible, racist nation.  But, clearly on the basis of the objective fact that President Obama has had no more death threats than any other previous President, belies the narrative that America is a racist nation.

You and I have been conned, the American people have been conned and most hurtful of all, black Americans in particular have been conned.  This is a scam that makes Bernie Madoff look like a piker.

The truth is out.  The ruse is over.  Yet, liberals are in denial.  Democratic politicians aren’t just in denial, they choose to maintain this false mantra because if the truth gets out their death lock on the black community will be gone.  Without 95% of the black vote, the Democrats will be gone as a national power.

But perhaps the Democrats have nothing to worry about.  Facts be damned.  I’m sure that you and I can count on a continued narrative from the liberal news media and the Democratic politicians that America is a racist nation.

That is not to say that there is no racism in America.  That would be like saying there is no sin in America.  Fallen men will always succumb to finding a reason to hate.  After all, that’s what racism is, hatred.

Nevertheless, accusing a group of Americans of racism just because they are members of another political party or advocate limited government, a government of laws, and adherence to the US Constitution, is a slander equally bad as racism itself.

The Democrats and liberals in the media will continue to lie to the American people, and especially to black Americans because it suits their narrative and because their grip on political power depends on it.

They conveniently leave out of the narrative the fact that it was Democrats who tried to block passage of Civil Rights legislation and it is the Democrats who have a former member of the Klu Klux Klan as a sitting US Senator.  

They seek not a colorblind society where, as Dr. King sought, men and women are not judged by the color of their skin, but by the quality of their character.  No, they seek a color conscious society that enables them to keep and expand their power over the lives of all citizens.

But the sands of time are running out on that misguided strategy.  It is a political house of cards that is sure to collapse.  In many ways black America is much more in tune with conservatives than with liberals.  

They oppose abortion, they support school prayer, they seek quality education, they cherish freedom and opportunity, and yes, they support lower taxes.  But as long as they still believe that America is racist, and conservatives in general are racist, they will not support Republican candidates.  How much longer can the Democrats and their allies in the news media sustain this false narrative?  Only time will tell.  But, indeed, it is just a matter of time.