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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ready to Drive a Smart Car or a Mini Cooper?

Ready to Drive a Smart Car or a Mini Cooper?
Don’t get me wrong.  If you choose to purchase and drive a Smart Car or a Mini Cooper then by all means please feel free to do so.  I believe everyone should be able to drive the car of their dreams whether it is a muscle car, a big SUV, a luxury automobile, a study sedan, or whatever you choose.  That’s what freedom is all about, that’s what being an American is all about, or at least has been about until the current Administration came along.

Sometimes I think the folks who populate this Administration have rocks in their heads.  What are they thinking?  Why are they so intent on reducing the American standard of living?  Where did they get the idea that because America prospers, others don’t?

Just the opposite is true.  The more America prospers, the more other countries and other peoples benefit.  The United States is the economic engine of the world and if President Obama succeeds in lowering our standard of American living, other nations and people all around the globe will suffer accordingly.

Economics is not a zero sum game.  When two free people decide to exchange their products with each other, both benefit.  When a man who builds rocking chairs and a man who grows oranges live freely, they can decide to exchange their products and both benefit.  The orange grower who wants a rocking chair and the rocking chair builder who wants to eat oranges can freely exchange one for another and both smile and benefit.  Dollars are simply a representation of the many goods and services created and when I use my dollars to buy oranges or a rocking chair, I’m simply exchanging the value of the goods and services I create for someone else’s goods and services.  It’s all about freedom.

But when government intervenes and decides that I can only buy certain oranges or rocking chairs that meet certain specifications, they diminish my choices and thus my freedom.  Government intervention into the marketplace always diminishes freedom and makes goods and services more costly.  Always.  There are no exceptions.

But let’s get back to Smart Cars and Mini Coopers.  In the Monday, June 27th edition of the Wall Street Journal, there was an article on page A3 that caught my attention.  Titled, Your Mileage May Vary, this piece announced the White House proposal that the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards be increased to 56.2 miles per gallon by 2025.  This is a dumb idea for many reasons, but in my book the worst part of it is the fact that the government wants to once again reduce your personal freedom.  This government, this Administration, has zero concern about reducing freedom.  They just don’t care.

It means you won’t be able to choose to buy the car or van or truck you want.  Instead, you will be forced to purchase something like a Smart Car or a Mini Cooper because that will be all the government will allow to be produced and purchased.  That’s an outrage.

It all springs from the same dumb liberal idea that a small group of self-styled intellectuals should decide how you should live instead of you deciding how you should live.  It means no more Corvettes, 400 HP Mustangs, no Suburbans, no SUVs, and no nice big luxury cars (except for the big government bosses, of course).  Just like the Soviet Union, the government bosses who create nothing, add nothing, and live off of the efforts of those who do create and build, will live like princes, while you and I settle for what they decide we shall have the opportunity to drive. 

I said this was a dumb idea for a number of reasons and it is.  Another reason it is dumb is that you cannot legislate or bureaucratically mandate (since this Administration has a proclivity for ignoring the Constitution and bypassing Congress) scientific advances.  Legislating or mandating an average gas mileage of 56.2 miles per gallon simply means smaller, lighter and clearly more dangerous automobiles.  It means driving little, underpowered, undersized automobiles like they do in Europe.  They have already removed spare tires from new cars just to reduce weight and meet the arbitrary government CAFE standards.

It’s what Obama wants.  He wants you and me to lower our standard of living by forcing Socialism on us.  It has absolutely nothing to do with pollution or global warming or any other imagined or real problem.  It’s all about control over your life and mine.  He and other self-styled decision makers believe they know better than you do how you should live.

Obama has made it clear that he would be delighted if gasoline prices slowly rise to those of Europe.  Earlier this year I was in Italy and the price of gasoline was $13 (US) per gallon.  Much of that cost was related to gargantuan taxes on gasoline.  Regulations like CAFE regulations cost young people and those just entering the business world more than all the taxes imposed by big government.  It hurts your children and ultimately your grandchildren more than it does you.

Another thing wrong with this idea is that today the United States has the world’s largest known combined reserves of oil and natural gas.  That’s known reserves.  And with the advent of fracking, we now have access to billions of cubic feet of natural gas and billions of gallons of oil (“fracking” refers to the new process of recovering oil and gas from shale).  We have vast resources in Alaska, offshore and within federally owned land.  If government would get out of the way the price of gas at the pump would be no more than a dollar per gallon.

There is no purpose whatsoever to raising the CAFE standards.  None.  In fact, the very idea that government can tell a private business how a product it produces must perform is of questionable Constitutionality.  In fact, I suspect that there is no Constitutional basis for such governmental authority.  But more to the point, the CAFE standards should be eliminated entirely.  If you want to drive a car that burns more gasoline per mile and I want to buy one that burns less per mile, that’s your business and my business, not the business of some government busybody. 

If the government would simply get out of the way and let the free market work, we could see an early return to prosperity.  It is unreasonable to think that a few people, even if they are über smart, can make better decisions than free people deciding for themselves what to buy, what to drive, what to wear, what to eat, where to go, and who to worship.  It’s the silliest and most dangerous idea ever conceived by man and it always leads to serfdom.

The American dream is dying.  The idea of the United States as the land of opportunity is dying.  It’s being killed off by folks who think this nation has prospered by stealing the wealth of other nations.  While Obama can’t blame Americans for colonialism, he calls us neo-colonists.  In other words, we may never have held colonies, but through our economic might we have raped and pillaged the wealth of other nations.

It’s nuts, but that’s what he and his liberal friends believe.  They believe that our economic system has exploited the poor in order for you and me to prosper.  The truth is that the United States of America has been not only the most free and most prosperous nation in the world, but also the most compassionate and generous nation in the world.  Unique in the history, we have shared our wealth with other nations as no other people ever have.  We have been peacemakers, while others have been aggressors.  And when, in the lead up to World War II, Germany’s National Socialist Party (NAZI) attacked their neighbors, we came to their rescue.  Then after WWII the United States of America did something that had never been done before.  We not only gave aid to our allies so they could rebuild, but we also generously gave aid to our enemies to help them rebuild.  It was totally unprecedented.  In fact, while we were providing help to those in need, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) under Stalin enslaved millions of people.

In today’s world there is always a choice—either socialism or freedom.  What will that choice be?

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Deniers

The Deniers
The Deniers (Richard Vigilante Books 2008) by Lawrence Solomon is a very good book.  I doubt that I would agree with Mr. Solomon on any political topic, but this is an amazingly even handed, fair book.  The blurb on the dustcover of the book describes Lawrence Solomon as “a world renowned environmentalist, author, and activist [who] has been at the forefront of movements to stop nuclear power expansion and to save the world’s rainforests.”  He is active in Energy Probe, a group that not only opposes the development of nuclear power, but also opposes all hydro-electric plant development.  This is how Mr. Solomon describes Energy Probe.

            “Energy Probe had long been concerned about the global warming issue.  We are
            primarily advocates of conservation and renewal energy as alternatives to fossil
            fuels, large hydro dams, and nuclear power.  We are also a peace group concerned
            with stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world.  In the late
            1980’s, we also were among the very first organizations in Canada to sound the
            alarm on global warming.  And both Energy Probe and Probe International
            developed proposals for minimizing the threat of global warming.”

Mr. Solomon is, by profession, a columnist with National Post (Toronto) and author of half a dozen books.  But, in my mind, what sets Mr. Solomon apart from the pack is his unswerving commitment to fairness and objectivity in writing on this topic.

In this book Mr. Solomon addresses the issue as to whether those who take issue with all or part of the Global Warming debate are “kooks or crooks.”  Are they as Al Gore says of them…

            “Fifteen percent of the people believe the moon landing was staged on some movie
            lot and a somewhat smaller number still believe the earth is flat.  They all get
            together on a Saturday night and party with the global warming deniers.”
Moreover, Mr. Solomon directly addresses the issue as to whether Global Warming is, as Al Gore and the minions on the left say “settled science.” 

As Mr. Solomon accurately points out, “The very term ‘deniers’ is a deliberate reference to the ‘Holocaust deniers’ who defend the Nazi regime by claiming that Jews and their allies faked the Holocaust to slander Hitler.”  It is, in other words, a very heavy handed, mean, and slanderous description if the description is untrue.

The book consists primarily of the outcome of interviews with “deniers,” i.e. those who do not believe all of or any of the explanation of global warming is true, or at least that man has caused global warming.  It is a fascinating read.  And, as Mr. Solomon warns early on, many of these “deniers” disagree with each other.

Here is a partial listing and partial bios of the folks discussed in this book…

    *  Dr. Edward Wegman.  In 1978 became the head of the Mathematical Sciences Division of
        Naval Research, coined the phrase computational statistics.  He was the original program
        director of the basic research program in Ultra High Speed Computing at the Strategic
        Defense Initiate’s Innovative Science and Technology Office and is a member of the Board of
        The American Statistical Association, a past president of the International Association of
        Statistical Computing, and a past chairman of the Committee on Applied and Theoretical
        Statistics of the National Academy of Sciences

    * Dr. Richard Tol.  Dr. Tol is the Michael Otto Professor of Sustainability and Global Change
       and director of the Center for Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Hamburg University,
       principal researcher at the Institute for Environmental Studies at Vrije University, and adjunct
       professor at the Center for Integrated Study of the Human Dimensions of Global Change at
       Carnegie Mellon University.

    * Dr. Christopher Landsea.  He is a research meteorologist at the Atlantic Oceanographic and
       Atmospheric Administration, he was chair of the American Meteorological Society’s
       Committee on Tropical Meteorology and Tropical Cyclones and a recipient of the American
       Meteorological Society’s Banner I. Miller Award.

    * Dr. Duncan Wingham.  In 1996 he was appointed chair of the Department of Space and
       Climate Physics, University College, London and made head of the Department of Earth
       Sciences in 2005.  He is a member of the National Environmental Research Council’s
       (NERC) Science and Technology Board and Earth Observation Experts Group.  He serves
       as principal scientist of the European Space Agency CryoSat Satellite Mission.

    * Dr. Richard Lindzen.  A past professor at the University of Chicago and Harvard, he is the
       Alfred P. Sloan professor of meteorology at MIT, a member of the National Academy of
       Sciences, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a
       member of the National Research Council Board on the Atmospheric Sciences and Climate.

    * Dr. Syun-Ichi Akasofu.  Founding director of the International Arctic Research Center of the
       University of Alaska Fairbanks and has published more than 550 professional journal articles
       and authored or co-authored ten books.  Twice named one of the “1,000 Most Cited
       Scientists” and honored by the Royal Astronomical Society of London, the Japan Academy
       of Sciences, and the American Geophysical Union.

    * Dr. David Bromwich.  Head of the Polar Meteorology Group of the Byrd Polar Research
       Center and professor in the Atmospheric Sciences Program at the Department of Geography
       of Ohio State University.  He is president of the International Commission on Polar
       Meteorology, the chair of the Polar DAAC Advisory Group, a member of the Arctic climate
       System Study Working Group on Reanalysis, and a past member of the National Academy
       of Sciences.

    * Dr. Eigil Friis-Christensen.  Director of the Danish National Space Center.  Member of the
       Space Research Advisory Committee of the Swedish National Board from 1998 to 2006. 
       He is author or co-author of some 100 peer reviewed articles and has presented more than
       50 invited papers at international conferences.

    * Dr. Henrik Svensmark.  Director of the Center for Sun-Climate Research at the Danish
       National Space Center.  Has held post-doctoral positions in physics at the University of
       California Berkeley.  Recipient of the Knud Hojgaard Anniversary Research Prize.

    * Dr. Habibullo Abdussamatov. The head of the space research laboratory of the Russian
       Academy of Sciences’ Pulkovo Observatory and of the International Space Station’s
       Astrometria project.

    * Dr. William Gray.  Heads the University’s Tropical Meteorology Project, which publishes
       yearly forecasts for tropical storms, named storms, typhoons, hurricanes, and intense

    I think you get the idea.  These are some of the most respected scientists in the entire world.  But they are just a small representation of the more than 100 world renowned scientists that Mr. Solomon has met or talked with.  Each one of them takes issue with some aspect of the idea of man caused global warming and each one of them has world class scientific credentials.

Did their arguments sway Mr. Solomon?  They did not.  He says in his book…

            “Have my deniers convinced me that global warming is all a hoax?  They have not,
            despite my admiration for the courage and integrity that so many of them display,
            and despite their impeccable credentials, I might add, that are often far more
            impressive than those of some of the gurus propounding climate-change

In regard to global warming, Mr. Solomon concludes…

            “It is one environmental concern among many, whose science is far from settled.”
And my last word is, be sure and read this book.  It provides an even handed, fair analysis of the theory of man caused global warming.  It’s well written, well documented and the science explanations are understandable to a layman of which I am certainly one.  Anyone with an open and fair mind will enjoy reading this book.  It will challenge you to think.  And, at least once in a while, that’s a good thing.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Jim DeMint & the Plan Save Our Republic from Insolvency

Jim DeMint & the Plan Save Our Republic from Insolvency

The other evening I had an opportunity to speak with one of my heroes, United States Senator Jim DeMint, a true American statesman.  DeMint is a rare bird in Washington, DC—a man of character, courage, and principle.  His first principle is to follow the words of the United States Constitution as they were written.  Obviously, that’s not always easy to do, but it is what members of Congress (and those in both the Executive Branch and Judicial branch) take an oath to do.  It’s not easy, but neither is it as hard as liberal politicians and judges pretend it is.  After all, the Constitution is a written document of principles intended to limit the power of government and to ensure that power is shared by the three branches.  Its philosophy is built upon a clear and accurate understanding of human nature—men and women are imperfect human beings who, if given the opportunity, will seek power over other human beings through the aegis of government as they have done from the beginning of time.  Senator Jim DeMint understands and is committed to the same understanding as our Founding Fathers.  He states his case for a commitment to the founding principles found in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution in his excellent book, Saving Freedom.  It is a book that every American should read.

While lesser men come to Washington and get swallowed up in the heady power of being a Senator or Congressman, Jim DeMint has not lost his way.  He can be counted on to take principled stands that frequently rankle the leadership of the Republican Party.  Thanks in no small part to Jim DeMint, Marco Rubio is the US Senator from Florida, not RINO Charlie Crist; Rand Paul is the US Senator from Kentucky, not career politician, Trey Grayson; and Mike Lee is the US Senator from Utah, not Bob Bennett.  It takes a huge amount of courage to buck the leadership of the Republican Party.  Jim DeMint did it and won.

Now, Jim DeMint is in the forefront of the battle to block raising the debt ceiling unless permanent action is taken to make sure this never happens again.  And this time, the leadership of both the House and the Senate is four square behind Senator DeMint.  He spoke of his plan the other evening at the reception I attended and here is what he and fellow conservatives have proposed…

          A Balanced Budget and Spending Limit Amendment to the US Constitution
This amendment is the unconditional terms for Barak Obama and the liberals in Congress to receive an OK for raising the debt limit.  Senator DeMint believes it is a hard sell, but has a good chance of passage.

All 41 Republican members of the United States Senate have signed on to support this Amendment, and Republicans in the House of Representatives are fully behind it.  Moreover, according to Freshman Senator Mike Lee on today’s FOX & Friends television show, numerous Democrat Senators and Congressmen are getting on board.

Why do Jim DeMint and the Republicans support this bill so strongly and why do they think it could possibly get two-thirds support in both the House of Representatives and the Senate?  First and foremost, they know that a band aid fix will not solve the problem of spending.  As DeMint put it in his talk, spending is an addiction, like drugs or alcohol.  Unless there is a Constitutional Amendment in place, Congress will always spend more than it takes in.  It is their way of getting re-elected (as Alexis de Tocqueville predicted). 

Why does he think it can pass the Senate and House?  The Senator said that there is a greater likelihood of persuading two-thirds of all Congressmen and Senators to limit spending capacity in the future, than it is to persuade 51% of them to cut spending immediately.  In other words, rather then face the wrath of the American people and possibly go down to defeat in 2012, they would rather make this a challenge for future members of Congress than vote for spending cuts now.  Kicking the can down the road rather than making hard decisions seems to be the favorite pastime of Members of Congress 

There’s something else working in DeMint’s favor.  A very recent poll shows that 65 percent of the American people support a Balance Budget amendment.   Only 27 percent oppose it and 8 percent are undecided.  This overwhelming support by the American people is hard for any politician to go against, especially with the 2012 election looming.

Not surprisingly, 81 percent of Republicans support the amendment and 68 percent of independents support it.  Surprisingly, even a plurality of Democrats back the Amendment by a 45 percent to 44 percent margin.  This poll shows how attractive a balanced budget is politically.

If the Amendment fails due to a lack of Democrat support, liberal Democrat candidates will pay a high price in the elections of 2012.  It is a powerful cudgel that will knock aside those candidates who refuse to follow the will of the American people.  Remember, getting re-elected is the most important goal of all members of Congress.

Will it pass?  I don’t know.  And frankly, Jim DeMint doesn’t know either.  But I do know that he and other new, principled Republican leaders are prepared to wage all out war to pass this Constitutional Amendment and send it to the states for ratification.  It will not only balance the budget permanently, but also limit federal government spending to 18% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the historic level over the past 40 years.  In stark contrast, federal government spending today is nearly 25% of the GDP, an unsustainable amount that has brought our nation to the verge of a Greek style bankruptcy.

Write, e-mail, or call your Congressman and Senator today and insist that they bring some fiscal sanity to Washington by supporting the Balanced Budget and Spending Limit Amendment.  This can be the first and critical step in returning our nation to financial solvency and Constitutional government.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


I knew just a little bit about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, enough to be intrigued about this man who was a renowned Lutheran pastor in Germany before and during the reign of terror of Adolph Hitler.  Bonhoeffer didn’t just have a strong faith in Jesus as his Savior, but under the most trying of circumstances became a martyr rather than submit to the atheist, Hitler.  In fact, I wondered how an orthodox Christian like Bonheoffer could justify being part of a conspiracy to overthrow Hitler (knowing that part of that effort included the killing of Hitler) in light of what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 13:

            “1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there
            is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities
            that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels
            against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and
            those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

Paul’s words are pretty straightforward and don’t seem to offer any wiggle room.  So how did a Bible believing Lutheran pastor justify participating in a conspiracy to overthrow Hitler?  I wanted to know.

That’s why I bought and read Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas (Thomas Nelson 2010).  In fact, I didn’t pick it up and read it immediately after I purchased it, but took it with me on a trip to the UK.  I was immediately intrigued by this complex man and had a hard time putting the book down.  In fact, during one of my short breaks in reading during the flight across the Atlantic, a man walked by who noticed the book and said he was a friend of Eric Metaxas (
).  I first encountered the writing of Eric Metaxas when I read his excellent biography of William Wilberforce, Amazing Grace.

It should not have surprised me that Dietrich Bonhoeffer came from a highly accomplished family.  His father, Karl Bonhoeffer, held the chair of psychiatry and neurology in Berlin.  He saw nothing scientific about Freud’s approach and the book identifies him as an “agnostic” in both psychoanalysis and religion.  Dietrich’s brother, Karl-Friedrich was a physicist who worked in pre-war Germany with Albert Einstein and Max Planck, two of the greatest theoretical physicists of all time.  His grandparents, his mother and his other siblings were similarly talented and excelled in whatever they did.  The Bonhoeffer home was one rich in culture and intellect.

Surprisingly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer did not come from a church going family.  In fact, Metaxas says “…the Bonhoeffers rarely went to church…”  Nevertheless, according to the author, they were immersed in a German culture that was “inescapably Christian.”  Metaxas attributes this to the enduring influence of Martin Luther, who even so many centuries after his death, remained the most powerful influence on the culture and outlook of German society. 

The following passage from the book captures the intellectual challenge of being a member of the Bonhoeffer family…

            “It wasn’t until 1920, when Dietrich turned fourteen, that he was ready
            to tell anyone he had decided to become a theologian.  It took a bold
            and courageous person to announce such a thing in the Bonhoeffer
            family.  His father might treat it with respect and cordiality, even if he
            disagreed with it, but his brothers and sisters would not.  They were a
            formidable group, all highly intelligent, and most of them openly and
            often mockingly opposed their cocky young brother’s ideas.  They
            always teased him and gave him a hard time over many things much
            less important than his choice of profession.  When he was about
            eleven, he mispronounced the name of a play by Friedrich Schiller to
            roars of laughter.  That he should be reading Schiller at that age was
            taken for granted.”
At the University, Bonhoeffer was respectful of his professors and the theological ideas they held, even though he was not afraid to disagree with them when he thought that they were inconsistent with the Bible.  Because of his intellect and his respectful approach, Bonhoeffer’s affection for his professors was returned in kind, at least up to a point.  They were, however, put off by his independent mindedness and his refusal “to come directly under the influence of any one of them, always preferring to maintain some distance.” 

Bonhoeffer’s faith was clear and precise.  He believed “…that in order to know anything at all about God, one had to rely on revelation from God.  In other words, God could speak into this world, but man could not reach out of this world to examine God.  It was a one-way street, and of course this was directly related to the especially Lutheran doctrine of grace.  Man could not earn his way up to heaven, but God could reach down and graciously lift man toward him.”
Just out of the University, Bonhoeffer’s intellect and theological depth was widely recognized by men and women much older than himself.  His lectures were well attended, nevertheless he decided not to follow a career as a theologian, but to do the work of a pastor, which he believed to be far more important.

I was surprised to learn in reading the book the fact that Jews were an integral part of the Church in Germany prior to Hitler.  In fact, Sabine, the sister that Bonhoeffer was closest to, married Franz Hildebrandt, a Jew.  Hildebrandt not only embraced Christianity, but choose to become a minister of the Christian faith.  Apparently, this was not at all uncommon up until the time of Hitler.

Coming from an affluent family, Bonhoeffer traveled widely and spent two periods in the United States, primarily in New York City where he was loosely affiliated with the liberal Union Theological Seminary.  In Bonhoeffer’s view those at the Seminary had “jettisoned serious scholarship altogether.”
While Bonhoeffer did not find the Gospel being preached at Union Theological Seminary, he did find it preached with power and authority by Dr. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.

Unfortunately Bonhoeffer’s travels were limited in the United States and because of his connection with Union Theological Seminary he had a (justifiably) low view of Christian theologians in the United States.  Had his path crossed that of Lutheran theologians of that period such as Dr. Walter A. Maier, William Beck as well as theologians of a similar cast, he might have had a much higher opinion of theologians in the United States.  One important thing that Bonhoeffer did glean from his time in the US was an understanding of the advantages of free and independent churches that did not receive financial support from the government.  He realized that churches dependent on government support are also churches that are under the thumb of government.

Although this theme is not fully developed in the book, it highlights once again the danger of all powerful government being an enemy of both freedom and faith.  In pre World War II Germany and during that war it compromised the Gospel and the integrity of the church.  Even today, fidelity to Scripture is nearly non-existent in the official government church of Germany.  It is only in the free churches that the Gospel is preached unimpeded.  In fact, being born a “Lutheran” today in Germany destroys the bond between the member and the church itself, and ultimately waters down doctrine.  It has impeded evangelism in Germany and has led to the decline of Europe itself.

We learn much of Bonhoeffer’s struggles with the National [Lutheran] church of Germany that wittingly or unwittingly became an enabler of Hitler.  We learn of the development of the independent Confessing [Lutheran] Church, its commitment to sound doctrine, and the short-lived creation of an independent seminary with Bonhoeffer as its head.

Metaxas does an excellent job in the book of also uncovering Bonhoeffer the man—his love of music and the arts, his temperament, his passion to serve as a pastor rather than just a theologian, his playfulness, his romantic interest in Elizabeth Zinn and his engagement to Maria von Wedemeyer.  We learn about Bonhoeffer’s thoughts through his letters and writings. 

But what about Bonhoeffer’s participation in the scheme (with some 1,000 or more co-conspirators) to overthrow Hitler?  How did Bonhoeffer, a Bible believing Christian, reconcile it with Paul’s clear directive Romans 13?  Truthfully, Metaxas does not deal with this issue directly.  In fact he makes this remark on the topic…

            “The willingness of Lutherans to keep the church out of the world
            reflected an unbiblical overemphasis on Romans 13.”
But Metaxas never explains why believers should not take the words of Paul literally.  Instead, he weaves a very compelling story of the unsavory choices that were left to Bonhoeffer and the reader is left to conclude that he did, indeed, make the right decision.  While I believe that Bonhoeffer was a true champion of the faith, an intellectual giant, and a man of incredible courage, I have no way of knowing if he made the right decision to come back to Germany from the US just as war was breaking out.  What if he had remained in the US during the war and then returned to Germany after the war to lead and build an independent church faithful to scripture?  Would post war Germany (and perhaps Europe) have experienced not only an economic boom, but also a spiritual renaissance?

I can’t put myself in Bonhoeffer’s shoes, nor can I explain the implications of Romans 13 in the context of Bonhoeffer’s situation.  Most pastors don’t like to talk about the implications of Romans 13 in terms of real life issues such as abortion, infanticide, mercy killings, civil rights, or even in regard to the American Revolution.  It’s easier to simply not think about it.  There is no unity of thought about the application of Romans 13 among Christian churches in the US today.

Perhaps this verse from 1st Corinthians 13:12 is our guide…

            “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face
            to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully
Lest there be any doubt in regard to the faith of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, just take a moment to read this excerpt from a letter he wrote in 1936 to his brother-in-law, Rüdiger Schleicher, a very liberal theologian…

            “First of all I will confess quite simply—I believe that the Bible alone is
            the answer to all our questions, and that we need only to ask repeatedly
            and a little humbly, in order to receive this answer.  One cannot simply
            read the Bible, like other books.  One must be prepared really to
            enquire of it.  Only thus will it reveal itself.  Only if we expect from it
            the ultimate answer, shall we receive it.  That is because in the Bible
            God speaks to us.  And one simply cannot think about God in one’s own
            strength, one has to enquire of him.  Only if we seek him, will he
            answer us...  Only if we will venture to enter into the words of the Bible,
            as though in them this God were speaking to us who loves us and does
            not will to leave us alone with our questions, only so shall we learn to
            rejoice in the Bible…  If it is I who determine where God is to be found,
            then I shall always find a God who corresponds to me in some way, who
            is obliging, who is connected with my own nature.  But if God
            determines where he is to be found, then it will be in a place which is
            not immediately pleasing to my nature and which is not at all congenial
            to me.  This place is the cross of Christ.  And whoever would find him
            must go to the foot of the Cross, as the Sermon on the Mount
            commands.  This is not according to our nature at all, it is entirely
            contrary to it.  But this is the message of the Bible, not only in the New
            but also in the Old Testament.  …since I have learnt to read the Bible in
            this way…it becomes every day more wonderful to me.”

Although I can quibble with little parts of this book and rebel at real or imagined personal biases of the author, this is a marvelous book.  It is a well-told story of a 20th Century hero of the faith.  It challenges the reader to more fully live my faith and to rely more completely on God each and every day.  I urge you to get a copy and read it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Guaranteed to Make You Happy

Guaranteed to Make You Happy
What can be almost as hard as climbing Mount Everest, yet everyone can do it and it is guaranteed to make you happy?  Sound crazy, perhaps?  But it really is true and if you will give it a 10 day test, you’ll become a believer.

There’s no doubt about it, life is tough.  This world is full of imperfect people (read sinners) who live close to or even with other imperfect people.  And it doesn’t make any difference if you are wealthy or poor, Asian or American, the frailties of others gets under our skin and grates on us like sandpaper on a wound.  Of course, we don’t take any note of our own shortcomings.  Our eyes only look outward, not inward.  We can, as the Bible says almost humorously, see the speck in the other fellow’s eye, but we can’t see the beam in our own eye.  Now, of course, if you had a real two by four piece of lumber in your eye you would more than see it, but Jesus is here giving us a gentle reminder of the fact that we just aren’t perfect, so don’t expect perfection from anyone else.

But that’s exactly what we do.  We quite willingly accept and/or ignore our own failings, but give no quarter when it comes to seeing the failings of others.  I’m as guilty as the next guy (or gal).  Sometimes when I see or hear of an employee doing something stupid that may damage the company, I want to blow up.  Fortunately, most of the time, I instead walk down the hall into my friend, Bill’s office, and tell him I need to vent.  After I spout off, Bill always has the same bit of wise advice to share with me.  He says, “Isn’t it a shame that everyone else is not perfect like you and me.”  Ouch!  But I love hearing it.  It is true Godly wisdom.  Too bad I don’t remember it and follow it more often.  The Bible makes Bill’s point this way in Proverbs 14:29 and it doesn’t pull any punches:
                    “A person of great understanding is patient, but a short temper is
                     the height of stupidity.”
If I could only practice what the Bible teaches.  But I’m held back by my imperfection.  Nevertheless I strive on to be a more temperate, understanding person.  Why?  It’s not because I think I can ever achieve perfection.  And it’s certainly not because I think I can earn my way into heaven.  I know that’s not the case.  How perfect could heaven be if it let in imperfect people like me?  If it did that, it would no longer be a perfect place and I wouldn’t want to spend eternity there. 

But God had a plan to get imperfect humans into his perfect heaven.  It’s called his plan of salvation and it took incredible love to execute.  God’s plan does not call for any human exertion or for us to do some incredible good work.  No, as it says in Ephesians 2:8-9, He did it all…
                    “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this
                    not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no
                    one can boast.”
Just what did God do?  He sent his one and only son, Jesus, to live the perfect life we cannot live, and then Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose from the grave to cement the promise of a perfect life in heaven.  The perfect died for the imperfect to create a way for you and me to live in joy and happiness forever.

But what about back here on earth where we face difficulties, insults and offenses regularly?  What about the way we are to live our lives?  If Jesus has done everything, who cares how we live?

We are to do our very best to follow the example of Jesus in loving others and caring for others and putting their needs before ours.  Our reason is not to gain us any points or special blessings, but to show our appreciation for the indescribable love God showed for us by sending Jesus to save us. 

And that gets us back to the one way that is guaranteed to give us a life filled with joy and happiness, even as imperfect as we are and even with all the challenges life throws at us.  This life is filled with the Devil’s illusions.  The father of lies puts lies in our mind.  “If I only lived in that city, I’d be happy.”  “If I only had that car, I’d be happy.”  “If I could win the lottery, I’d be happy.”  “If I was only married to that person, I’d be happy.”  When we sit back and look at it, the silliness of such thoughts become obvious.  Things outside of us do not make us happy.  It’s what’s inside of us that makes us happy.

In fact, there is one key to being a person who is content and lives with joy in his or her heart.  And Jesus taught this truth to his disciples when he taught them the Lord’s Prayer.  Right after we ask for “daily bread” Jesus tells us to ask God to…
                    “Forgive us as we forgive others.”
Oh, oh.  This means that we can’t hold on to that old grudge or seek vengeance on those who have hurt us and offended us!  Ugh.  But that’s not what sounds good to us.  They hurt me, now it’s my turn to get even.  It even feels better to get even—at least for a little while. 

So what does forgiveness have to do with happiness and joy and contentment?

The answer is that the person who forgives benefits more from forgiving than even the person who is forgiven.  How’s that again?  Yes, it’s true, the one who forgives benefits more than the one who is forgiven.  While it may be nearly as hard as climbing Mount Everest, once you sincerely forgive and amend your attitude accordingly, you will find that anger falling away.  Anger never brings happiness.  And, surprisingly, it never brings satisfaction or contentment. 

The bottom line is that you cannot be both an angry person and a happy person.  Anger and happiness are incompatible.  When you choose to forgive, even when the other person does not seek forgiveness or even when forgiving does not seem right or fair, a great burden will be lifted from your life.  Jesus asked God to forgive those who put him on the cross—that’s you and me.  If God forgives us for our many and continuing sins, how can we not forgive others?

Tell me, how do the paltry offenses of others against you stand up to the terrible sins and crimes and offenses that put Jesus on the cross?  How can I ask for Jesus to forgive me when I’m not willing to forgive others?  Jesus went first.  And now because of his great love and forgiveness, how can I not follow his example?

The great apostle, Paul, who suffered beatings, shipwreck, imprisonment, and cruelty of many kinds, said this in Philippians 4:11…

                    “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to
                    be content whatever the circumstances.”

Having a forgiving heart will give you a new outlook on life.  It will create joy you have not previously experienced.  It won’t create wealth or change your circumstances, but it will provide a perspective that allows you to wake each morning with a smile and to walk out the door with a song in your heart.  It really will.  But don’t just take my word for it, give it a 10 day trial and you will be surprised.

Forgiving an old grudge may appear to be as hard as climbing Mount Everest, but the joy you will receive in return is better than reaching that summit.  Now if only I can put into action what I can put into words.