Worldview

America in 2013: As Told In Charts As the New York Times put it, here are “10 charts to illustrate a depressing first year of President Obama’s second term.” Highlights (lowlights?) include:

  • Acceleration in the diverging fortunes of the rich and everyone else.
  • The stock market up a stunning 32 percent.
  • Corporate profits rose to a record $2.1 trillion.
  • Incomes remained nearly flat (up just 1.4%)  and jobs tallies grew slowly.
  • Only relative bright spot for the average American was sale prices of homes were up by 13.3 percent.
  • If the economy adds jobs at the current rate of 200,000 a month it will take until 2019 to return to post-recession levels.
  • Disproportionate number of new jobs have been in lower wage occupations, such as retail clerks and fast-food workers.

I wonder what God’s charts for America in 2013 look like? What does he measure and how do we shape up? Ten charts for each of His moral laws? And one chart above them all entitled “Faith in Jesus Christ”?

What’s Next for Gay Rights in 2014 (Warning: Offensive picture)
And you thought there couldn’t be anything left for them to win? Well, you’re wrong. Although 2013 was “the biggest year ever for gay rights,” they are not resting on their laurels. Sometimes you think they won’t rest until they rest their feet on footstools made of Christians. The goal is to reach “beyond the civil rights framework of mainstream integration, and beyond the partial equality that it delivers, to imagine and create a different movement whose goal is genuine social change.” On the basis that four out of five families fall outside the “traditional nuclear family,” the author says:

To have our government define as “legitimate families” only those households with couples in conjugal relationships does a tremendous disservice to the many other ways in which people actually construct their families, kinship networks, households, and relationships.

And she concludes with this rallying cry:

We should certainly celebrate the great leaps forward for gay rights in 2013, in marriage equality but also with cultural markers and especially polls showing that the public is becoming more accepting. But in 2014, we must revisit the guiding philosophy of the gay movement and whether our strategies and tactics are pursuing liberation for all—gay and straight, black white and brown, women and men and trans—or merely some. This debate, more vibrant in decades past, is in urgent need of revival. If 2013 was the year that Americans of all stripes and social movements joined the careening bandwagon for gay rights, may 2014 be the year in which the LGBT movement returns the favor with a vision of liberation for all.

The War on Poverty Turns 50: Why Aren’t We Winning? Given that the poverty rate has only dropped from 19% to 15% in 50 years, it looks like this is going to be a very long war. The poverty rate remains stubbornly high because “the government’s best efforts to get cash to working families have been offset by the fact that Americans are—for a variety of reasons—working less.”

Reason 1: The Recession. The poverty rate for full-time workers is very low: 3 percent. For those who don’t work, it’s very high: 33 percent…Even with unemployment falling, the share of working-age people who are actually working has retreated to its lowest point since the 1970s, partly because America is aging and partly because people have dropped out of the workforce.

Reason 2: Family arrangements—in particular,the rise of single-parent households—make it all but impossible for many parents to work full-time.

  • The poverty rate among married couples is quite low: 6 percent.
  • The poverty rate among single-dads/moms is quite high: 25/31 percent
  • The share of single-parent households doubled since 1950.
  • For the 61 million people married and living together, both working, there is practically no poverty.
  • Among marriages where one person works and the other doesn’t (another 36 million Americans) the poverty rate is just under 10 percent.
  • There are 62 million single-parent families in America. Forty-one percent of them (26 million households) don’t have any full-time workers.

Check out

Why it matters when we rub our bellies and say “So long as it’s healthy”
I won’t be saying that again, for sure.

The Difficulty and Glory of Adoption
Owen Strachan reflects on a recent NYT piece on adoption: “Parenting in general can be summed up in two words: self-sacrifice. That’s what being a father and a mother is at base. Every day, every single day, calls a father and mother to die to themselves in order that their children might flourish. Parents who adopt children from terrible circumstances will face this reality even more than “normal” parents do. They will also, however, experience unspeakable joy as they honor their adoptive heavenly father by caring for those whom the world did not want.”

Untameable God
Stephen Altrogge launches his new book today. Launch price 99c!

Scholarly Review of The Law is Not of Faith
Dr Cornel Venema’s important and lengthy review.

A Christo-Yearning Hermeneutic
This is quite similar to Dr Bryan Chapell’s Fallen Condition Focus. Here are another couple of helpful reminder/refresher articles on expositional preaching. 7 Qualities of Expositional Preaching and Text Driven Preaching and Pragmatic Analysis.

Confessions of an Obese Pastor
A admire Thom Rainer even more after this: “I am a Christian. Some may say I am a Christian leader. Some people look to me as an example. Frankly, I have been a poor example, a poor witness. I have had a lifestyle of sin of gluttony and slothfulness. I have no right to be a leader, if I am one, with the awful model that I am and have been.”

5 Ways Physical Training Helps with Spiritual Training
Ron Edmondson: “Let me close with this challenge. Test my claim. Spend some time addressing the physical needs in your life for a period of time long enough to make a difference. Try it for at least thirty days. Then you decide if it is worth your attention. I am confident you will find it well worth the time and effort you put into it.”

Healing Patients as Whole People
Looking forward to the rest of this TGC series on how Christians integrate their faith and work in various callings.


So Dad, How Much Do You Earn?

Growing up I always wanted to know how much money my Dad was making. I never found out and didn’t even have the neck to ask him. It was an unspoken rule that you simply didn’t speak about that.

My own kids are not so shy, especially my teenage sons (17.9 and 16 years old). In ways subtle and not so subtle they’ve tried to find out my salary through the years, and I’ve always gone to great lengths to conceal it from them. Shona and I never do our budgeting within earshot of the kids, and I’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to hide and shred wage slips, bank statements, mortgage statements, etc. That’s right, I wouldn’t even tell them how much my mortgage was.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I stopped and asked myself, “Why are you doing this? What’s the point in being so secretive?” I suppose I didn’t want them blabbing about it to their friends, but they’re “big boys” now.

Any other reason?

I couldn’t think of one, and realized that I was really only doing it this way because that’s the way my own parents did it. “Don’t ask; don’t tell.”

Then, as I thought more about it, I concluded that I was missing out a real opportunity to teach my kids about how to handle finances. I find it incredibly frustrating that schools spend so much time and money on teaching Algebra and Physics, and yet so little if any on teaching about how to handle time and money. I didn’t get one lesson on money at my public school. Thankfully, I entered the world of financial services and qualified eventually as a Chartered Insurer. Mortgages, Mutual Funds, and Life Insurance were my bread and butter, but that still didn’t make me an expert on personal finance and budgeting.

I feel it’s only in the last few years, mainly through listening to Dave Ramsey, that I feel I’m beginning to get to grips with debt-free living, zero-sum budgeting, and planning for the future. I don’t want my kids to take 30 years to learn that lesson.

Shocks at the Top and the Bottom
So, two weeks ago, I decided to put it all on the table. I got my two boys to the computer and took them through exactly how much I earn each month from different sources, how much tax, etc., is deducted, how much we have to set aside for fixed expenses (e.g. health insurance, mortgage, car insurance, school fees, church givings, etc.), how much we budget for variable expenses (e.g. food, clothes, gas, utilities, etc), and how much is left over each month. They were a bit shocked at the top line (one son was stunned to learn that I earn just a little more than he does in Chevy’s lube department after school). They were even more shocked when we got to the bottom line to see how little was left!

I explained how Shona and I are now working hard at keeping a daily track of our expenses, emailing every receipt into Evernote and sitting down every evening to write up what we’ve spent on index cards with running totals for each section of our budget.

It was a profitable time; I enjoyed being more open and transparent with the boys and they had their eyes opened wide to the expenses and complications of everyday living. We now pray together for God’s blessing on our budgeting and financial decisions at family worship. It all just feels a lot more “natural.”

As we continue this policy of financial openness with my sons, I hope they’ll not only help to keep us accountable but they’ll also learn how to organize their finances, budget, and plan for the future too. It also helps us all to work together on facing the looming college fees train that’s about to crush us. I now wish I’d done this a few years ago, but hopefully I’ve still got long enough to leave a good example of stewardship to them. It’s the only legacy they’ll get!

Funniest remark so far: “Well, I’m definitely not going to have so many kids!” (We have five)

Biggest benefit so far: Much less, “Dad, can I have…”


Check out

The 4 Most Important Parenting Lessons I Learned in 2014
Megan Miller with a moving and fascinating post about the challenges of raising adopted kids who have been traumatized early in life. She writes: “This October marked two years home with our youngest boys, adopted from Uganda in 2011. The first year was pure survival. We spend most of our days just trying to make it, adjusting to our new normal. This year was different.”

The Internet Makes us All Miserable
A bit overstated, but Stephen Altrogge makes a good point: “In the good old days of jealousy and comparison and coveting, we compared ourselves to those close to us. When someone near to us succeeded, we felt like a failure. But the good old days are gone. Now, thanks to the Internet, we can feel like failures all the time.”

How to Guard Your Heart When Discipling Drug Addicts
Mez writes from painful personal experience.

Apologetics Round-Up
If you’re interested in apologetics, Mike Wittmer’s your man to guide you through some new books on the subject.

Reading the Bible Like Jesus
This could revolutionize your Bible reading and your Christian life.

7 Things We Learned From Pastors’ Kids
Thom Rainer collates responses to a blog post on the subject.


The Big Picture Jesus

Most biographies start with a person’s past. Presidential biographies not only go back to the president’s first job, or where he went to school, or even where he was born. No, the author usually starts with the president’s parents, or grandparents. In fact, usually he goes as far back as records allow.

Why? Why so much interest in people and places that existed and lived hundreds of years before the president?

Partly it’s because we want to trace the important influences on the president’s ancestors. We recognize that a president’s genes, characteristics, interests, personality, etc., were all shaped by his family history and even geography.

But it’s also because we want to see a plan. We want to be able to look back many years and sense the guiding hand of Providence in a person’s story, even before they were part of the story. Biographers look for decisions, events, and characters, both big and small, that demonstrate the Divine Hand preparing the way for this remarkable person’s arrival on earth. He’s looking for evidence of a plan, a pattern, or a sense of destiny that can be traced way back, through centuries, perhaps.

Presidential candidates often attempt this in their own autobiographies. They want us to connect them with the past, because they all want us to see that they were “predestined” to this, that this was part of a higher plan they had little or no say in. They’re saying, “I’m not just an accident or a coincidence! I have a story, a long and important story, that Someone else is writing for me.”

The Gospels

That’s why the first chapter of the first Gospel starts with a summary genealogy of Jesus’ ancestors. Although most people just skip over the first seventeen verses of Matthew and go straight to the baby scene, Matthew is saying: “Hey, this is important. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of this baby’s past. Now, go back, read the details, and see how this birthday is not just a combination of good luck and probability. Under God’s direction, many people, places, and events have prepared the way for this day. And if you really want to figure out who this baby is, what his purpose is, and what you should do with him, you have to go back and read about all that led up to this event.”

But not many do. Some might dip into the Psalms and Proverbs here and there, and perhaps read a couple of inspiring chapters in Isaiah from time to time, etc. But it’s like picking up the odd piece of a jigsaw puzzle, admiring it for a few minutes, then throwing it back in the box again. There’s rarely much attempt to put it all together, see the bigger picture, and identify the way that the Old Testament connects with the New, prepares for the New, sheds light on the New, and even makes sense of the New.

As this disjointed and fragmentary approach to the Bible leads to a disjointed and fragmentary spirituality, let me give you four reasons to study the Big Picture of both Testaments.

Read the rest of this article over at Credo’s Online Magazine.


Worldview

Miley Cyrus and the Moral Gag Reflex
John Stonestreet thinks that there’s a growing societal backlash against, the kind of cultural vulgarity represented by celebrities like Miley Cyrus. He gather’s quotes from various sources to make his case.

Singer Sinead O’Connor: “Nothing but harm will come in the long run from allowing yourself to be exploited…. It is absolutely NOT … an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued … more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent.”

Joan Rivers: “We get it: You’re no longer Hannah Montana … but could you do it with a little more grace?”

TV critic Lee Siegel of The Wall Street Journal, no prude himself, wonders how we became so coarse, in the process draining the mystery and pleasure right out of sex.

Jonah Goldberg: “Today, there’s nothing suggestive about Miley Cyrus. Nobody watching her twerk thinks, ‘I wonder what she’s getting at?’”

Television star Rashida Jones: “This isn’t showing female sexuality; this is showing what it looks like when women sell sex,”

Stonestreet concludes:

Now, many of these new allies have little on which to base their revulsion of the new vulgarity other than their feelings. They know it’s destructive and hurtful to women, children, and families, but they don’t know why. And that’s where Christians can step in with a little gentle teaching about worldview. We might even be surprised at their response.

Discerning what is and what isn’t persecution
“In America, a reality TV star gets suspended for controversial remarks on race and homosexuality and conservative Christians claim victim and martyr status in the media. In Egypt, churches are torched by Islamic mobs and those Christians respond instead with humility and prayers for their persecutors.”

On the other hand, as this article points out, it is getting increasingly difficult for Christians to know when anti-Christian violence overseas can be accurately classified as religious persecution. Sometimes it’s more a matter of ethnic or national identity than Christian belief or practice. Voice of the Martyrs says:

On a world-wide level, you have to say Christian persecution is becoming more of a significant issue. But you have to say that the good news is that’s because there are more Christians, so there are more people to be persecuted.

First Atheist Church Splits
Stop laughing! And what did they split over? One word, the meaning and use of “atheist.” As CNN asks: “Is disbelief enough to keep a Sunday gathering together?”

The Agony of Frank Luntz
Frank Luntz, America’s best-known public-opinion guru is in a bad way. “Something is wrong. Something in his psyche has broken, and he does not know if he can recover.”

Headaches, insomnia, inner turmoil, eating badly, ill health, negativity, and on the verge of quitting everything. Indeed a couple of times he simply has done that – just given up.

Why?

It was what Luntz heard from the American people that scared him. They were contentious and argumentative. They didn’t listen to each other as they once had. They weren’t interested in hearing other points of view. They were divided one against the other, black vs. white, men vs. women, young vs. old, rich vs. poor. “They want to impose their opinions rather than express them,” is the way he describes what he saw. “And they’re picking up their leads from here in Washington.”

Luntz blames President Obama for this.

The people in his focus groups, he perceived, had absorbed the president’s message of class divisions, haves and have-nots, of redistribution. It was a message Luntz believed to be profoundly wrong, but one so powerful he had no slogans, no arguments with which to beat it back. In reelecting Obama, the people had spoken. And the people, he believed, were wrong. Having spent his career telling politicians what the people wanted to hear, Luntz now believed the people had been corrupted and were beyond saving. Obama had ruined the electorate, set them at each other’s throats, and there was no way to turn back.

There are lots of things Luntz wants to change but, “Most of all, he wishes we would stop yelling at one another.”

(WARNING: Couple of bad language issues in the Luntz article)