Monday, September 29, 2008

American Wealth and the Rest of the World

Lori and I are currently going through the membership class at our church and this week the class looked at the topic of biblical giving. Each member was given a copy of The Treasure Principle (by one of my favorite authors, Randy Alcorn) and watched portions of a message on giving by Bob Coy, pastor of Calvary Chapel of Fort Lauderdale. Pastor Coy's talk contained some pretty interesting facts about the world we live in and how Americans compare to others.

He stated that if we were to break down the population of the world into only 100 people, it would play out like this:
  • There would be 51 women and 49 men.
  • 70 people would be of a faith other than Christianity.
  • There would be 70 people of color; 30 would be white.
  • 80 would live in substandard housing (i.e. no running water or electricity, etc.)
  • 50 would be malnourished, living off of perhaps one small meal a day.
  • 70 would be illiterate and unable to read.
  • And 6 of the the 100 would possess half of all the world's wealth and reside in the United States of America.
Even with the financial challenges that Americans face today, it doesn't seem as bad when you consider the following:
  • There are approximately 6.6 billion people in the world today and close to half of that (well over 3 billion) live on less than $2 a day!
  • There are over 300 million living in the U.S. (less than 6% of the world's population), yet Americans have half the world's wealth.
To personalize this, why don't you take a stroll on over to Global Rich List and see where you rank on the list of the world's wealthiest people? I know that my wife and I are feeling the strain of the present economic crisis, but understanding that I have more financial wealth than over 97% of the world's population puts things in perspective. It's at least something to think about.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Those Were the Days

I was visiting some of our campus chapters last week in the Midwest and while sitting in the University of Missouri student union with one of our student leaders, Evan, he asked me what things were like when I was in college (1991-1995). I told him that students were the same and professors were probably much the same, but the major difference was how technology rules the lives of students these days.

When I was a student in the early nineties, nobody had a cell phone (thus no text messaging), the Internet wasn't well-known (thus no Facebook, instant messaging or blogs) and if you wanted to listen to music on the way to class you had to carry around a bulky cassette tape player (since iPods were years away from being invented). If you wanted to write to friends back home you had to actually get out a pen and paper and "snail mail" the letter. Hardly anyone had a personal computer so you had to walk over to the computer lab whenever a paper was due. Or you might be able to do it on your typewriter if it was too snowy to walk to the lab.

We played Super Tecmo Bowl on our NES in our room or watched videos on MTV (when they actually played music videos). To register for classes each semester we had to dial in on the rotary phone in our dorm room and get put on hold for up to 30-45 minutes at a time hoping you could get into the classes you needed. Calls home to parents were pretty infrequent with no privacy at all as roommates sat there listening to your calls. If you needed to find information, you went to the library or looked in phone book.

So, yes technology has changed things a lot. One of my favorite columnists, Craig Wilson of USA Today, wrote about how cell phones have changed things for today's students. You can read the whole column here, but I particularly liked this portion:
"A friend confessed the other day that she talks to her son who is away at college five or six times a day. At least I think she said five or six times a day. I could hardly hear her over the roar of her helicopter.
Does she call to wake him up? Do they talk after every class? Does he call when he's heading to lunch? Does she call after lunch and ask what he had for lunch? Maybe he calls during lunch to ask what he should have for lunch. Who knows?
All I know is it's too much information.
What's the point of being away at college if your parents know everything that's going on? That used to be the whole point, didn't it? Your parents didn't have a clue what was happening on campus. I think even they liked it that way. The less known, the better."
Like I said, I think college students are actually no different than a generation ago or even a couple generations ago. They still dream, they hope, they get into trouble and they face a scary world. But a lot of those conversations that used to happen face-to-face now take place in t9 language or on a Facebook wall. And if that sentence doesn't make sense, maybe you can Skype a teenager next door to have them explain it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

America's Racial Divide Still Exists

For observers of and participants in history it would be tough to not recognize that the United States has made much progress in recent decades as it pertains to race relations and equality. Racial diversity in the U.S. increases each year, more ethnic minorities are represented in esteemed professions and, for the first time in our nation's history, a black man has a serious short at becoming president. However, a new poll shows that racial division among blacks and whites still exists in many sectors of society.

In conjunction with Stanford University, the Associated Press and Yahoo! News conducted a survey to poll the opinions of how whites view blacks and vice versa. As reported on by the AP's Charles Babington, here are a few notable findings from the report:
"[The study] shows that a substantial portion of white Americans still harbor negative feelings toward blacks. It shows that blacks and whites disagree tremendously on how much racial prejudice exists, whose fault it is and how much influence blacks have in politics. One result is that Barack Obama's path to the presidency is steeper than it would be if he were white.
More whites apply positive attributes to blacks than negative ones, and blacks are even more generous in their descriptions of whites. Racial prejudice is lower among college-educated whites living outside the South. And many whites who think most blacks are somewhat lazy, violent or boastful are willing or even eager to vote for Obama over Republican John McCain, who is white.
The poll, however, shows that blacks and whites see racial discrimination in starkly different terms. When asked "how much discrimination against blacks" exists, 10 percent of whites said "a lot" and 45 percent said "some." Among blacks, 57 percent said "a lot" and all but a fraction of the rest said "some."
Asked how much of America's existing racial tension is created by blacks, more than one-third of white respondents said "most" or "all," and 9 percent said "not much." Only 3 percent of blacks said "most" or "all," while half said "not much at all." One in five whites have felt admiration for blacks "very" or "extremely" often. Seventy percent of blacks have felt the same about whites.
The poll may surprise those who thought Obama's appeal to young voters proves Americans in their 20s and 30s are clearly less racially biased than their parents. The survey found no meaningful differences among age groups in whites' perceptions of blacks, although older whites appear more likely to discuss their views."
That last line is very intriguing. What it may indicate is that although there seems to be a lot of development in how the average European American views African Americans, individuals may have learned to simply not be as vocal about their negative feelings since they are generally not as accepted in mainstream society as in the past. Progress has certainly taken place, but we surely have a long way to go.

Thanks to my friend, Troy, for sending along the article.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ray Boltz Comes Out of the Closet

I was stunned to learn the other day that award-winning Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) singer Ray Boltz has publicly "come out of the closet" and acknowledged that he has divorced his wife, moved to south Florida and is now living in a gay lifestyle. Boltz, perhaps most well-known for the song "Thank You", was a popular figure in CCM circles in the 80's and 90's and performed in churches and concert halls throughout the country.

Boltz's admission stirs up all sorts of feelings for those that have been fans and his supported his music. Though not an ardent fan, I am well aware of his career and the revered place that some of his songs hold within the Christian community. So how are Christians to respond when something like this happens?

J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine, offers some great suggestions on how to deal with these types of revelations. Grady, from whom I learned about this story, also shares the following insight:
"Ray Boltz’s disappointing decision represents a national trend. Many people today are embracing homosexuality as an appealing alternative. They are listening to teachers, psychiatrists, talk-show hosts, Hollywood celebrities, sympathetic family members and even some mainline Christian ministers who say sexual orientation is totally genetic—and unchangeable.
These people have bought the lie that says a person who feels same-sex attraction must always be controlled by those desires. Not true! Jesus paid the ultimate price so that we can have freedom from every kind of sinful behavior.
We don’t have the right to compromise God’s Word, no matter how many people decide to come out of the closet. But let’s remember that the message we are called to proclaim to the world is not “Homosexuality is wrong.” That’s a true statement, but it has no power to change anybody.
The gospel we must shout from the housetops is that Jesus loves all of us, no matter our condition, and that His forgiveness can heal our brokenness. I pray Ray Boltz will soon discover that truth in a fresh way—and I hope he’ll write many more songs about it."

I can't help but feel compassion for Ray Boltz and the inner turmoil and struggles he must have felt for all these years. Knowing the response that many conservative Christians offer to those struggling with same-sex attractions, Boltz must have never felt there was a safe place for him to share his struggles and get some help. But the answer is not to divorce his wife and begin living a gay lifestyle. Boltz chose the Washington Blade, a gay magazine, to reveal the new direction in his life. His comments are telling:
“This is what it really comes down to,” he says. “If this is the way God made me, then this is the way I’m going to live. It’s not like God made me this way and he’ll send me to hell if I am who he created me to be … I really feel closer to God because I no longer hate myself.”
It is sad that he hated himself for all those years, but living outside of God's will not ultimately bring a more fulfilling life for him. When anyone (gay or straight) gives up the struggle for holiness and decides to just do what feels good or right, the hope for growing spiritual maturity is left by the wayside. Jesus still possesses the power of our death and sin and I trust that one day Ray Boltz will come to that realization.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Perspective on Gas Prices

Along with most other Americans, I've felt the pinch of rising fuel prices over the past year. It has affected my budget and caused me to second guess if I need to drive somewhere or whether I can combine errands in one trip. With hurricanes continuing to strike the gulf coast, it doesn't appear that relief will be coming anytime soon.

But even with prices as ridiculous as it may seem to me, it hasn't put me in dire straits. Even as a missionary with limited income, we still are doing okay. Even though it has affected us, we are managing. Fortunately, we are not among the millions of Americans that are at the poverty level.

But to listen to some that are much more well-off, they are having a difficult time getting by. There are many suburbanites that have been blessed enough to live very comfortable lifestyles. They live in homes much bigger than they need. They drive in newer model cars and trucks and SUV's that have all sorts of bells and whistles. They can afford to send their children to private schools, purchase season tickets for their favorite sports teams and take frequent vacations overseas and to Disney World. And somehow a four dollar tank of gas makes life unbearable.

I do not fault anyone that has worked hard, made smart financial decisions and invested wisely in order to provide financial stability for their family. I'm dependent upon individuals with means in order to be in ministry the way I am. So I have no problem with someone having money. But I do have a difficult time with those that complain about the gas prices when there are others that are legitimately struggling to make ends meet.

As with any other issue in society, Christians are not immune from the influences of the culture surrounding us. Many of us can become quite myopic when interpreting the world. Michael Spencer over at Jesus Shaped Spirituality offers some great thoughts about this whole topic of Christians and the present gas prices. You can read his whole post here, but here are some highlights from the article:
"Of course, one wonders if it ever occurred to anyone that the inconvenience to the American lifestyle of mobility and affluence is not really something that God would respond to as an act of mercy. Most Americans are inconvenienced by gas prices because of the value they place on mobility and the decisions they have made about the kind of life they want to live, decisions made with the assumption of cheap gas in the background."
"So somewhere a homeless man or a family struggling to put food on the table will see a group of middle class suburban Christians gathered around a gas pump, praying that God will have mercy and get things back to where we can all go about our business."
"Most people know this, and it appears that most American middle class evangelicals and many of their churches don’t know it. Jesus seems to be a spiritual guru, a success in life teacher, a ticket to heaven. He does not mind the economic decisions I make unless I invest in porn or abortion or Democratic candidates. He’s on the side of whatever it takes for our country to have it’s “way of life,” including $2 gas in mom’s Upward soccer delivery SUV."
Many times in my own life it has been when I am in financial need that my dependence upon God becomes much more real and true. When my needs are met, it is easy for me to look to myself as the provider instead of God. Hopefully, we can agree with the Apostle Paul when he said, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Sarah Palin and the Vice-Presidency

I, along with many other Americans, was quite surprised with John McCain's selection of Alaskan governor Sarah Palin as his running mate for the Republican Party in this year's presidential election. Though Palin is relatively inexperienced in politics (roughly a decade on a city council and as a mayor, in addition to her two years as governor), she brings an interesting background to the Republican ticket.

A former high school athlete and beauty queen, she is also a hunter, fervently pro-life and an outspoken Christian. Not to mention being the mother of five children, including a baby that was just born this spring. In addition, she is the first female on a presidential ticket for the Republicans and represents a major step forward. Senator McCain is known for his maverick ways and certainly demonstrated that with the selection of Gov. Palin as his running mate.

Within days of Palin's selection, news of the pregnancy of her 17-year old daughter, Bristol, hit the wires. In a reversal of roles, many liberals chastised her for failing as a parent while many conservatives, on the other hand, called for sensitivity and understanding.

As a parent I know that, as well-intentioned as we may be, our children sooner or later need to make their own decisions and be their own people. Had Gov. Palin violated her pro-life principles and encouraged her daughter to seek an abortion, she would not be dealing with the heat in the public eye that she now is. But she would be going against something that she claims as a core value -- that every child has value in the eyes of God. Whether a child is planned or not or has a disability or not, their life has worth.

Similar to my post about Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy, I applaud the Palin family for standing behind Bristol and supporting her as she plans to have her child. The statement from Gov. Plain is telling:
"We have been blessed with five wonderful children who we love with all our heart and mean everything to us. Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned. We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents. As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows she has our unconditional love and support.

"Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family. We ask the media to respect our daughter and Levi's privacy as has always been the tradition of children of candidates."
She is handling the situation as gracefully as to be expected and I respect her for that. Politics aside, she is bravely carrying on the mantel for the sanctity of life. Even beyond the situation with her daughter, Gov. Palin recently gave birth to a son, Trig, after he was diagnosed with Downs Syndrome. In an age when many parents are aborting babies with disabilities, Palin and her husband, Todd, chose to go against the grain and bring another beautiful child into the world.

I don't know whether Senator McCain and Governor Palin will be in the White House come January or whether they would even be the best leaders for our country, but I do hope that she continues to speak on behalf of the unborn in a society that continues to treat children is inconvenient and not the blessing that they truly are.