Thursday, November 14, 2013

What is my publisher up to?

I think I may have caught my publisher in something. I've been doing business with them since 2007 and have never noticed anything wrong until just recently when I stumbled on the issue.

I just opened an independent bookstore in the guest house we host in Port-au-Prince Haiti. In order to get free shipping from the wholesale company I have to order 15 books, so to round out my last order from the wholesaler I ordered copies of one of the books I wrote, rather than order them directly from the publisher.  I should have gotten a discount on it. The publishers all discount the books to the wholesalers who in turn discount them to the bookstores.When I got my bill from my wholesaler I noticed that all the other books were discounted, but the one I wrote was not discounted. They sold it to me for the suggested retail price, meaning that I will not make any money on it.

On November 5, I wrote to my publisher, who shall remain anonymous for now. I simply asked them to check into the problem and let me know what happened.
On November 6 I heard from the publisher. They verified that I should be getting a discount and suggested that I contact the wholesaler.
I contacted the wholesaler the same day and described the problem to them. They replied that I should contact my publisher. I replied on the 8th telling them that I had started with the publisher and that they had referred me to the wholesaler.
On November 9 the wholesaler wrote me back saying that the publisher had given me incorrect information. I wrote the publisher the same day telling them what the wholesaler had said.
On November 11 the publisher said they had sent my inquiry to the Author Support Department and that someone would contact me shortly.
On November 13 someone in Marketing wrote saying she had referred the question to her manager.
Everyone has been very polite and businesslike throughout.  It just seems strange that they cannot figure out what to say to me. I am scratching my head.  Does anyone have any ideas about what might be going on?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Worried Economists and Other Professional Worriers

"Some economists worry that..." - headline on NPR's news site.  What they were worried about is immaterial, if they were not worried, other economists would be worried about that.

Many people in the news business are the same way. They are earnestly looking for something they can categorize as disturbing.  They are paid to disturb us.

And there are politicians that run their political business the same way, always on the search for something the other party leaders said or didn't say, did or didn't do, that can be presented as dumb or malicious.  Even some preachers operate like that.  For politicians and news people it is dishonest and is contrary to the best interests of society.  For religious leaders it goes against the expressed, written will of God.  He wants us to love each other, not to look for ways to tear each other down.  See John 13:35.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Tea Partiers and Libertarians

Libertarians and Tea Partiers

At the Minnesota State Fair this year, I made it a point to visit a couple of curbside political booths to try to get some clarification of who is who in the current political discussion.  They were not far from each other on the fair grounds, but that was about where any similarity ended.  

It has been hard for me to understand which political group stands for what.  I think I know who the Democrats are.  The Republicans are a little harder to get a handle on.  A lot of them seem to be opposed to some stuff, but it is more difficult to get what it is they are really in favor of.  Today's Republican Party web page is attacking two women, featuring a "Fire Kathleen Sebelius" rant and something in opposition to Hillary Clinton.  The Democratic web page was promoting women in office, trying to get out the vote, and trying to explain the health care law.

Not liking either of the major parties very much these days, I thought I would look for an alternative, so I visited the Tea Party and Libertarian booths.  What I found was intriguing.  The Tea Party group was four strident men in suits and ties.  They seemed very intent on convincing anyone they could of the need to "preserve the constitution."  It has been awhile now, but I think that was about scaling back government except for the military.  They denied affiliation with either major party, which I found interesting.  They quickly entered into debates with guys (no gals while I was there) who wanted to talk about the specifics of their policy points, but showed little interest in discussing the basic ideas behind their positions with me.

The libertarian booth was staffed by one young college aged man dressed more appropriately, I thought, for the fair.  He was more friendly, not looking for a fight.  He was glad to discuss the ideas behind the party -even less government than the Tea Partiers.  Some of the implications of his positions were a little too scary for me, but I gave him credit for having a set of ideas and sticking to them consistently.

I am following Sarah Palin on Facebook and like a lot of what she says as long as she is sticking to ideas.  When she drops into her Rush Limbaugh imitation, she loses me.

I will continue to remain unaffiliated and make my calls as time progresses, but as always I won't vote for someone because of a party endorsement.  I will be like the ancient Greek Diogenes, searching for an honest person, hopefully one with a workable notion of what the government should and should not, can and cannot do.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Where is God?

As I pray The Lord's Prayer, I get stuck on the first phrase.  "Our Father who art in heaven..."  It's like we are about to have this quiet, personal, loving conversation with our father, but he is away on a trip.  When Jesus left here he said he was going (somewhere) to prepare a place for us.  In fact he said he was going to wherever God hangs out.  That's heaven.   Right?

So where is this place?  Is it in our galaxy or way off in some other.  It is further confounding that we are told that we are the temple of God.  That means he has to be where we are.  Right?  Yet he is in heaven.  Could that mean that we are, in some sense, also in heaven, or is God just in more than one place at once?  He is said to be "omnipresent."  That means he is everywhere.  But I like the notion that we are in heaven too.  I do know that we are already living in "eternity."  That means our forever life with God is already happening.

The description of the New Jerusalem at the end of Revelation is frequently thought to be a description of Heaven - a place with no tears etc.  Yet the New Jerusalem is also coming down out of (dare I say it?) heaven.  Some take the New Jerusalem to be the church.  That description is a stretch for the church we know, but what about the one Jesus designed and built?

Here is how I have figured it out.  And just to add a little credibility I just now checked Randy Alcorn's definitive book, "Heaven" and it seems to me that he agrees.  Heaven is here with us.  It is the spiritual dimension to our lives.  It is invisible to us now, but will become visible when we give up our physical bodies.  God is in both places because both are the same place.  Our "place," our physical reality, is a subset within the spiritual realm.  As we become more aware of the spiritual dimension, it becomes more real to us, and in a sense, we are closer to heaven and closer to God.

So when we pray to God in heaven, we are actually talking with him right here.  And in a sense we are bridging the gap between heaven and earth.  Wow!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Discipleship v Decisions

I am struck this morning by one particular Bible story.  As the Ethiopian and Phillip rode along in the chariot, Philip was preaching the good news about Jesus, not "the plan of salvation."  And the Ethiopian man's response was "Here is water, why can't I be baptized?"

We don't know exactly what was said in that chariot, but Luke characterized it as good news.  What I take from this is what Scot McKnight says in the opening to his book "The King Jesus Gospel."  Getting people to make a decision for Jesus is both easier and shorter lived than engaging them as a disciple (student).  The Ethiopian was, of course, already a student, and Phillip taught him further. As he learned, he apparently came to the conclusion he should be baptized.

The distinction may be subtle, but is important.  If you teach a person to be a student, a learner, he or she will continue to study, to learn, and to grow.  And at some point in the process she will reach a decision.  If, on the other hand you focus on getting a decision, getting them baptized, then the process is likely to end there.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Churches, the Boy Scouts, and transgender first graders

This morning’s news includes a headline about Coy Mathis who CNN identifies as a “transgender first grader.”  Setting aside for the moment the moral implications, the term seems an oxymoron to me.  One of the privileges afforded to kids is that of growing up.  That is of taking the time to figure out who you are.  From a Christian perspective, it includes discovering what your gifts are, how you are different from other people, and how God can use that difference. In the body analogy we are not all an eye.  To declare that a child is a transgender first grader is like saying that a child is a first grade neurosurgeon.

Which brings me to the Boy Scouts.  There is a lot if discussion and some controversy recently about the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to admit “gay kids” as members.  Churches have long been the sponsors of a majority of Boy Scout troops.  It has been a good fit.  The 12 scout laws end with “brave, clean, and reverent.”  There has long been a “Scout Sunday” in many churches.  And now some churches are dropping their sponsorships.  That is a bad decision.  The kids still need a strong Christian influence in their lives.  For churches to separate from this healthy alternative for boys is to further the withdrawal of the church from the lives of young people.  That separation, often driven by the government, is what the churches have been complaining about.

Get this; there are no gay 11 year olds.  Eleven year olds, similar to Coy Mathis and his peers, are still figuring out who they are.  To say that the scouts are admitting gay members is to endorse a fallacious argument put forward by the gay lobby.  The argument is that one is born either gay or straight.  A child is born in the image of God, yet each child is unique.  There are no two alike.  To put them into categories, whether it be gay/straight, smart/dumb, cute/ugly or any other you might dream up is to do them a grave disservice and to set up a potential self-fulfilling prophecy.  Churches who are abandoning their sponsorship of scout troops are buying into a destructive argument and are siding with the wrong side.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Non-Religious Man in a Religious World

It was a religious nation
A long time ago
With a religious government
And religious laws and customs

There were rumors of a man, a teacher
His teaching was contrary to the ways of the day
He was teaching about a coming kingdom
He was teaching in the mountains and thousands were listening

There were rumors that he was healing the sick
That he had walked on deep water
That he had turned jugs of water into wine
The religious leaders were worried

He did not seem religious
He was hanging with “sinners”
He was ignoring the holy days
He used a whip to clear the vendors from the temple

So they set out to investigate
They tried to trap him with religious questions
He twisted the questions and embarrassed them
And he kept teaching about a coming kingdom

They were afraid they would lose their power
They set out to kill the man
And they did
But once again he turned their trap into a trap for them

He did not stay dead
On a Sunday morning he walked out of the grave
He passed the guards they had put there
He went to where his friends were staying

He showed himself to hundreds of people
He said that being alive again was his proof
Proof that they would not die either
We will all live forever

He said he was going someplace mysterious
He was going to make a place for them
And for us
A place with no pain

There will be no tears
No dying
No layoffs
No disloyalty or disrespect

Millions have heard the story
They believe it is true
Millions are waiting
Waiting for the trumpet

He said he is coming back
He is coming to get the millions
Alive or dead he will wake us with a trumpet
And we will go to his special place

While the people wait, they do what he did
That is what he said they should do
Love each other and help people who need help
People who live like he did will go to his special place

They wait
They are buried like he was
They are raised like he was
And they live like he did

They are not religious people
Religious people follow people
They follow traditions and directives
His followers follow only him

And they wait

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Last Chapter

 Here is the last Chapter of "Peace on Earth?"  If you haven't read the rest of the book, at least read this brief summary.  

You can buy a Kindle version for $3 or a paperback for $8 by clicking this LINK. The cover by diane michele may alone is worth the price. Diane


So What?

"And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.[1]"

If we get this right, what affect will it have on the world around us?

Better Christians
As we come to be at peace in the world, living in it, but not being of it, we will be able to act confidently on God's instructions. 

Some of Jesus' teachings are downright terrifying.  "Drop your business and come follow me."  "Sell everything you have worked so hard to accumulate, give it to the poor and come follow me."  If you are not convinced, get a copy of David Platt's book, "Radical." 

Telling people the good news is scary for lots of reasons.  Going intentionally to strange places, even in the city where we live, can be very intimidating.  But as we condition ourselves to be confident in the promises God has made to us, we will become more bold in our outreach.  That is not to say that we will become more aggressive as we move toward people.  In spite of the soldier analogies, Jesus did not call on us to be belligerent.[2]  But we will present ourselves more confidently.  We will gain respect because of our integrity.  Even people who disagree with us will respect our honesty and reliability.  We will become more worthy as conduits of God's message to his people.  We will be better family members, employees, employers and church members.

Better churches
Imagine a church made up of confident non-worriers who are clear about God's will for them and are busy in the community around them telling the good news and helping people who need help.  Or, if you have trouble with that image, imagine a church with several people like that who are also gently teaching the rest of the group to become like they are as they follow Jesus. 

It will be a powerful group, not because of its own power but because it draws on the power of him who has overcome the world[3].  They will be active and loving and gentle and very busy in the work of the Lord.

A better world
With churches full of people who are gently telling good news and are helping others through their hard times - moving with confidence through the world - how could the world not be a better place? 

Faith in God includes trust in his promises.  He promised he would take care of us just as he does the lilies (and the dandelions).   If we believe that promise, we can turn loose of our dependence on ourselves and on things we have accumulated.  It will free us to live in the moment; to do what is right, right now.

And if we trust in the power of God, we can let go of our worries about the world around us.  Let go of the worries and put our energies instead to doing what we can to make it a better place.

Keep in mind three principles:
1.  God loves us and wants us to be at peace.
2.  Though he wants us to be busy in his kingdom, he does not require that we "fix" the world.  That's his job.
3.  God has not called us to use the country's police forces to require non-believers to live righteously. Instead, he has charged us with calling people to righteousness.

If we will busy ourselves with doing what God has called us to do, going to where people are, telling the good news to everyone we meet, and helping those who need help, he will give us the peace that is beyond comprehension, and that will cause others to ask where it comes from.

May God bless you as you put this to work.

Again to my dear wife, who continues to put up with me.
To my friends who read the draft.  As a result of their comments, I have made some changes to try to soften it somewhat (really!), to clarify some points, and to make it clearer that I am not calling on people to keep quiet about the truth.
The reviewers were Ann Baur, Dan Horn, Jeff Lambert, Linda Lingo, and Charlene May.  Their reviewer role does not imply that they agree with the content.
And to Diane May who created the cover art and to her son, David May 3 who served as the model.

[1] James 3:18
[2] Ephesians 4:1-3
[3] John 16:33

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Heart of the Matter

The following is the next to last chapter of my book entitled "Peace on Earth?" I hope that you have noticed the question mark at the end of the title. It is to raise the question, "Where is this peace the Bible promises?" The answer has already been given in earlier chapters: It is inside of you. It comes from your view of the world and your love for and trust in God.

This chapter spells out and suggests answers for some of the controversial issues of the day that seem to be stealing the peace of many Christian men and women. It has the potential to create some controversy, though that is not it's intent. It's intent is to suggest ways Christians can move toward being at peace about these and about all things. I hope you will read it in that light.
Closer to Home

God loves us and wants us to be at peace.
Though he wants us to be busy in his kingdom, he does not require that we "fix" the world.  That's his job.
God has not called us to use the country's police forces to require non-believers to live righteously. Instead, he has charged us with calling people to righteousness

This next set of issues may be closer to your heart than those in Chapter 8.  Perhaps you have had to deal with one or more of these first hand.  You may view my answers as just that  - my answers, but I believe they are based on the three principles listed above.  Some of the scriptural references for the principles are in the first part of Chapter 9.

1.  Abortion
When is a baby not a baby?  That is the question isn't it?  Almost everyone agrees that we shouldn't be killing babies, so the argument has turned into one about the "personhood" of the unborn.

But the argument is not real.   If a baby is a baby when it is born, why is it not a baby 7 minutes before it is born, or 7 hours, or 7 days, or 7 months?   At whatever stage of development, what is in a mother's womb is at some point in becoming a person.  Once you decide that you want to justify putting it to death you put yourself in the position of having to determine when is the baby really a baby and when is it not.  There is no scientific way to make that determination.  Whatever day you pick in the process of development, someone can legitimately ask, "Why not a day earlier - or later?"

Having said that, the  proper approach for a Christian, and therefore for the church, is to teach, not to legislate.  Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life has an excellent billboard campaign in this regard.[1]  They do not accuse people of murder, or in any other way put people down.   Instead, they hold up the importance of respecting life - even when it is still in the womb.

Our assigned role is to teach, not to legislate.

2.  Gay marriage
Who is and is not welcome in your church service?  A lot of us have signs and letterheads that proclaim, "Everyone Welcome." Does that include a gay couple?  If sinners are not welcome, would we turn away a lying politician or a cheating business person? 

How many gay or lesbian people do you know?  How many are you likely to meet in the circles you move in?  Is being in a gay relationship really worse than living with your girlfriend or boyfriend?  How would you go about sharing the gospel gently with someone who is in a gay relationship or who suspects he might be gay? 

These are complex questions.  Here are some of my thoughts.   We are all sinners.[2]  Some of us recognize that fact and some do not.  Some of us are belligerent about our sin.  We want to defend our right to stay in it.  We need to be taught, but are unwilling to listen.  That makes  it very difficult to reach some people, and as Jesus' "seed planters"[3] we often decide what kind of soil is in front of us and we decide not to plant any seed. 

We do not seem to be nearly as upset with people in our community who are living with a partner of the opposite sex as we are with those who are living with someone of the same sex.  If we are to be a church that is actively "seeking and saving the lost" we do need to be welcoming to sinners.  That is not an easy transition for many of us. 

What should be our stand on gay marriage legislation?  Again, it is not our assignment to legislate people into righteousness.  Marriage is a religious institution that has traditionally been reinforced by the state.  If every state and every nation endorses gay marriage it will not change God's mind about it.  Marriage in God's eyes is one man and one woman. We spread that idea by gentle teaching, not by passing laws. 

Our responsibility is to love people and to teach them gently.

1.      Immigration

God said:
a.      "You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt;"[4] and

b.      "The LORD protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow;"[5] and

c.       "A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work;"[6] and

d.  "Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God."[7]

So, how can we as His people join our voices with those who are saying, "Stay away."

I do know that immigration is scary.  We are afraid.   We are scared that uncontrolled immigration will adversely affect our standard of living.  "They" will come here and get the jobs we and our children wanted.  "They" will bring disease, crime, and immorality into "our" culture. 

The truth of it all is that God is bigger than all that.  We are to trust him and welcome the strangers.

Some will say that they oppose immigrants because they are coming here in opposition to our laws.  But we have passed laws  that have set up constraints on who can come and who must stay away.  And those constraints are along economic and racial lines.  That invokes for me all the scripture that says we are to become advocates for the poor, especially for those who are being taken advantage of by people in power.[8]

4.  War
Christians preach that when someone hits us, we should offer them the other cheek to hit that one as well.[9]  We teach forgiveness of our enemies.[10]  When they came to capture Jesus in the garden Jesus had Peter put away his sword.[11]

Yet from our correspondence, one would think that we are war mongers.  This is a difficult issue.  We do not want to be identified with those citizens who treated our returning Viet Nam Vets with disrespect and dishonor.

A few days ago I was in a grocery store wearing my USMC hat.  As frequently happens, a man stopped me to inquire about my service.  Whether it was for three years or for thirty, Marines always are inquisitive about another Marine's service.  Noticing my gray hair, he asked whether I had been in Viet Nam.  It turned out we had both served there and we went through the routine, when, where, and with what unit.  As we finished our brief conversation, without thinking about it, I said to him, "Welcome home."  Without hesitation he repeated the familiar greeting.  On the way out of the store Charlene identified what had happened.  "No one else would welcome you home, so you welcome each other."

We do want to respect our young people who go off to war to protect our freedoms, and Paul did say that government bears the sword legitimately.[12]  I do not have all the answers to this one.  But this I do know.  We are called on to be a peace loving people.  As Christians our first and perhaps our only weapon is the metaphorical sword of God: his word, the Bible. 

We should not be leading the charge to go off killing people in another part of the world.  We should instead be trying to teach the truth in "all the world."[13]

5.  The education of our children
One of our principle concerns today is whether our children are receiving a proper education.  Many are concerned that we are falling behind other nations, particularly in math and science.  But Christians' major complaint is the secularization of the schools - excluding any reference to God.

Here is the basic problem.  We turned schooling over to the government years ago, and in doing so we relinquished control over the education of our children.  The schools are no longer seen as extensions of the family to accomplish family goals.  They are now viewed as extensions of the government to accomplish national goals.  And as the society grew more secular, so did the national goals as played out through the school system.

Why are they not properly educating our children?  The question more properly should be, "Why aren't we educating our children?"  Yes, we live in a complex world and education is more involved than it was when language arts and a little basic math were all that was required, but we also have many more resources under our control than we did back then.

The early home schoolers have done a lot of the work gaining legitimacy for the approach in every state.  Many states now have approved a free or inexpensive on-line curriculum for homeschoolers.  Can't afford to give up an income to free up time to home school?  I would encourage you to assess whether it is a matter of "can't" or is it instead a situation where you are wanting to maintain a lifestyle you have established for yourself?

If you are a single parent working to put food on the table there are still options.  Churches, intead of railing against the government should be helping with this issue: creating affordable, perhaps even free resources for education.  Cooperative arrangements can go a long way in this regard.  Worried about the quality of the home school education?  Do some research.  Home schoolers are taking top honors in contests like spelling bees and are gaining admission to the top schools in the nation.

On the other hand, all of my kids and grandkids have been in the public school system.  If we choose that option we need to acknowledge that it was our own choice.  We need to adequately prepare our kids for what they will encounter there.  And we need to encourage efforts like those of high schoolers who meet at the flag pole for a brief prayer before the day starts.

Let's quit complaining and do something productive about the issue.

6.  Salvation
Oddly, Christians continue to express concern about whether they will go to heaven.  They have read the book.  Intellectually they know the answers.  Paul told the Ephesians that they cannot earn salvation; it is a gift.  Yet still Christians worry.  We worry about whether we are doing enough.  Even if we aren't concerned about missing heaven, we still are worried that we are not making a sufficient effort for the kingdom. 

It may be that we just don't trust God's promises, but I will suggest that the primary reason for all this concern is that we really are living our lives with one foot in the kingdom of God and the other foot in Satan's world.  We have not dedicated our lives to Jesus.  We are spending most of our time here earning a living, increasing our standard of living and trying to keep up with the debt we have created.  Then we worry that we are not doing enough to further the kingdom of God.  Brothers and Sisters, if this is the case, it is time we got serious about being God's army on this earth.  He said we should deny ourselves and daily take up our figurative cross.   It is no wonder we feel guilty if we have not made an effort to live up to his standards.

7.  The Salvation of our Families and Others We Care About.
And we are worried about the salvation of our families.  People we care deeply about do not share our love for God or for his principles.  They may be loving, giving people but they do not give God the credit, nor do they depend on him for their sense of well being.  Maybe we made some mistakes when they were younger or when we first met them. Or perhaps we are uncertain how much to say to them now.  Is there more we could be doing? 

God does require something of us in our relations with other people.  He wants us to love them and to teach them.  He wants us to tell them the good news.  But there our responsibility stops.  God has not asked us to make people obey him or to browbeat them into subission.  Even if we could do so (and likely we cannot), it would not be real.  It would not be in keeping with God's requirement for people to come to him and to follow him of their own free will. 

We are free to grieve over those who have chosen not to follow Jesus.  Jesus wept over the City of Jerusalem.  But, if we are gently teaching and are setting a good example, if we have made the truth clear, we are not to be worried that there is something else we shoud be doing.  The Holy Spirit of God has been charged with leading people to him[14] and we are not to take over his job.

We hear often that the church is losing its kids.  That seems to be true, but I would point out another way to look at it.  The church that is losing its kids is the institutional church - the one you can see, the one that is measured by attendance.  I would question whether Jesus is losing so many of his followers.  I would guess that he never had them in the first place.  Yes they may have been faithful attenders, but I doubt that many of them ever truly gave their lives to Jesus.  My observation is that those young people who have been called by their local church to go outside the church building, to get into the streets, either here or in foreign countries, to tell good news and to help people who need help, keep doing that in the name of the Lord after they grow up.

[2] Romans 3:23
[3] Mark 4:13-14
[4] Exodus 23:9
[5] Psalm 146:9
[6] 1 Timothy 5:9-10
[7] Leviticus 19:9
[8] e.g,: Psalm 82:2-4;, Proverbs 31:8-9; Isaiah 1:17; Isaiah 25:3-5; Isaiah 58:5-7
[9] Matthew 5:39
[10] Matthew 5:44
[11] John 18;10-11
[12] Romans 13:1-7
[13] Mark 16:15-16
[14] Titus 3:5