Monday, October 27, 2014

Election Day, Nov 2014, Are You Voting?

November 4th is Election Day.  Pennsylvanians will elect a new governor, or keep the old one.  Of course, if we are to believe the attack ads, neither candidate is worthy of said office.  Bad, bad, bad, says the one about the other.  Nothing is good or right or fair or respectable or just or reasonable or adequate about the opposing candidate.

In our present polarized society, all we hear is extreme talk, extreme one-sided posturing.  Candidates make it sound as if it’s a choice between absolute good and absolute evil or guaranteed utopia verses sure destruction: “My opponent offers nothing, absolutely nothing that is good or beneficial; if elected he/she will totally ruin us.”

It’s difficult for a voter to trust any candidate on any side with anything that’s said.  And when you can no longer trust what a political ad is saying, when you can no longer believe in the political process, on what basis does one make a reasoned decision as to who is best for the office?

Many eligible voters simply opt-out and refuse to vote altogether.  Other voters simply consolidate their personal prejudices and vote their political bias—as in assuming that all Democrats are tax-and-spend people or that all Republicans are obstructionist nay-sayers only interested in protecting the extremely wealthy—without any further consideration.

Perhaps this is exactly what candidates and political parties bet on: Hoping that the majority of eligible voters opt out of the voting process, while the remaining handful of actual voters simply vote with their emotions based on their prejudices rather than with reasoned intelligence and real information.

It is an irony that, while living in the information age, we voters can be so misinformed and/or uninformed about the real facts and underlying truths regarding a candidate’s position or actions.  This is partly so because even non-partisan, independent fact-checking websites have been copied and mimicked by biased agenda-driven sites so that a voter can still be misguided.

What is our defense?  Our first and primary means of defense is the vote itself.  We must not so easily relinquish this right and must exercise its power.  We must vote.  The more voters that turn out, the more seriously will candidates and parties take all people/voters into account, as opposed to only catering to the chosen-few determined voters that they know they can always depend upon—the extremes.

Speaking of extremes, it is safe to say that extreme political positions of any kind are usually unhelpful and are often dangerous and unhealthy for a community.  Thus, a second line of defense for the voter is to vote out extreme positions.  This takes us back to our first line of defense—the more voters that turn out the less chance there is for extreme positions to take hold and/or take control.

The bottom line is this: As bad as the political process seems to be—money, money, and more money, and the power that comes with it, being the name of the game—we voters are our worst enemies.  Why?  We simply fail to get out and vote.

Over the years I’ve heard many friends, relatives, and casual acquaintances all virtually say the same thing about voting, whether young or old: “My vote won’t make a difference anyway.”  In short, they’ve excused themselves from the voting process with a wave of indifferent disbelief.  And so, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Yes!  Of course your vote won’t make a difference!  For you have already excluded yourself from the action by opting out altogether!

We voters don’t seem to believe in ourselves.  We don’t believe in the power of our vote.  We think our little voice won’t be heard.  So we falsely assume that we have no real “say-so.”

As long as the extreme and only the extreme take advantage of the power of the vote, we will have nothing but extreme results.  Let’s bring balance back to our system.  Let us ALL get out and vote.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Daily We Increase in Knowledge. But Where Is It Taking Us?

“Knowledge puffs up,” says the Bible; and the one “who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:1).

This is an age-old truth for humanity, generally forgotten, dismissed, or simply ignored, yet still powerfully true.  The more we think we know, the more ignorant we become.

The truly Learned and Wise see that, as their knowledge increases, so does their ignorance—the more they know, the more they realize that they do not know much and fail to understand even less.  What an irony, considering how much information is now at our finger tips.

Just how much do we know?  It’s old hat to say that we now live in an “information age.”  Input, data, tons of information is now at our fingertips 24/7, 365.  How many gigabytes of storage does your computer’s disc-drive hold?  One gigabyte of storage can hold 894,784 pages of plain text or 4,473 books or 640 web pages, etc.  That is just one gigabyte.  The average HDD now has 590 GB in capacity.  What are we doing with all this information?  Where are we going with it?

Data has to be interpreted.  Facts signify nothing without connecting the dots to give them meaning.  And meaning has to do with intent or purpose, i.e., direction, which also touches upon the question, “why.”

There is utilitarian knowledge, knowing how to get something done, work something out, how to design, or how to make, build, and fix things.  But then there is the overarching, big-picture, or worldview knowledge—knowing why we do what we do, beyond the immediate reward.  That is, there is knowing where or how we fit into the big scheme of things, the meaning and purpose of life question.

King Solomon, the Wise, had this to say about learning: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (Ecclesiastes 12:11).  That being the case, we should ask, to what end should we spend so much time seeking knowledge?  Answer: “To make life better, to live easier, become more prosperous, to become better masters of our own destiny!”  Thus, said the generation of the Age of Enlightenment, as well as that of the age of the Industrial Revolution.  And so do we say, the generation of the Information Age.

Now consider the plight of humanity in the last century, 1901 to 2000, and on into the beginning of this new 21st century.  And let us ask.  Has our scientific, industrial revolutionary technological knowledge and development succeeded in making humanity’s life here on earth much easier, more prosperous, and enjoyable?  Have we truly now become masters of our own destiny?  Think carefully and consider the big picture of all of humanity here on earth, before you quickly say, “Yes, of course it has!”

As a whole, is humanity experiencing more peace than ever before?  Are we more serene of heart?  Do we have more peace of mind, more tranquil spirits?  Are we flourishing in both body and soul?  In terms of all of humanity, is there now less suffering going on in the world?  Has humanity become more equitable?  Are we now that much closer to preventing evil, to stopping all wars, and bringing an end to all poverty?  Can this generation, or the next, or even the next one after that, guarantee all future generations that they will leave earth in a much better condition than it was before its own time?

I’ve already noted what King Solomon, the Wise, had to say about learning.  But I didn’t finish his thought.  He then adds these words, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments; for this is one’s whole duty.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (See Ecclesiastes 12:9-14.)

One more thing, in terms of knowledge, the Bible also tells us that, “The fool says in his heart, there is no God” (Psalm 14:1).

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Ebola Epidemic and the Want of Life

Why?  Why God, why?

If there is a God, why does God let this happen?  This is a typical question that Believers are asked by atheists, agnostics, and skeptics alike, in the face of natural disasters or deathly plagues that take hundreds if not thousands of lives, desolating whole communities.  And it’s a good one.

First, let’s look at the same question from the other side.  If there is no God, what is death but a return to emptiness, a black hole of nothingness, the total loss of all contrived-meaning that humans have striven to put into their lives.

Death is invasive and intrusive.  It is unwelcome and uninvited.  Death is painful, ripping our hearts by snatching away our loved ones.  Death is inevitable.  We are powerless to prevent it.  We may postpone it, slow it down, but we can’t stop it.  Death is shrouded in mystery.  Death is personal and individual.  Every single human being must cross the threshold of death, “alone.”  And death is final.  There is no coming back.

It is because we want to live that the idea of death is so repugnant to us.  What we are saying is this: “Death ought not to be!  Death is wrong.  Death is bad.  Life is right.  Life is good.  Thus, if God is, and God is right and good, then God should prevent death.  God should be a God of life, not death.”  And that is exactly what the Bible says God is.

At the time of Jesus, there was a group of religious leaders, called the Sadducees, who had no belief in the resurrection of the dead.  They challenged Jesus, using Old Testament Law and tradition to try to entangle him in contradictory assertions.  Here’s how Jesus responded: “You are mistaken because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.  …As for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,’ He is God not of the dead but of the living.”  (See Matthew 22:23-33.)

Shakespeare’s Macbeth holds the opposite view to that of Jesus: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.  It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  Nothing indeed!  Alas, ‘tis true, if there be no God!

We cringe at the thought of annihilation.  We long for immortality.  “Whence this secret dread, and inward horror of falling into naught?  Why shrinks the soul back on herself, and startles at destruction?  ‘Tis the divinity that stirs within us; ‘Tis Heaven itself that points out an hereafter, and intimates eternity to man.  Eternity!  Thou pleasing, dreadful thought!”  (Cato, Act V Scene1 by Joseph Addison).  God Himself has put the sense of immortality in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

A woman lost her fifteen-year-old son in an auto accident.  She was afraid that he would soon be forgotten by most of his friends.  She wrote frantically.  She was going to ensure his memory would be kept alive.  And then she realized.  Her son was still alive.  He was not in the realm of nothingness, un-Being, annihilated.  He was alive with Christ.  How did she know?  Because of Christ and His resurrection power, her son too was alive.

Someone made the following observation:
We can give medicine when sickness comes,
Food when hunger comes,
Help when weakness comes,
Love when loneliness comes.
But when death comes, we can give
Only sympathy, only compassion,
Never the gift of life.
Only God can do that.

Jesus turns the experience of death upside down:
  • Instead of being powerless before death, Jesus proves to have power over death.
  • In Jesus, death is no longer viewed as final.  By demonstrating that He is more powerful than death itself, Jesus also demonstrated that death is neither an end nor a completion but rather an entryway to a whole new beginning.
  • Jesus has ripped open the curtain of death and therefore has removed its mystery.  Jesus Himself died, came back from death and will lead us through death into Life.
  • Because of Jesus, death no longer holds the power of endless grief or painful abandonment.  There is a promise we will see loved ones again.
  • In the face of Jesus’ own death and resurrection, Jesus validates our own specific and personal individuality.  We do not lose ourselves or our identities on the other side of death.
This is the Christian answer to the question with which we started.  If there is a God, why does He allow natural disasters and plagues and other terrible things to happen to human beings?  God loves us and would not have us annihilated into nothingness.  God IS a God of life, the Life Giver, who has provided a true means of salvation and redemption to escape final condemnation.  An answer is given.  And one that is not difficult to understand, if it is given serious consideration, respecting the human condition and human nature.

Open up the New Testament.  See what Jesus has to say about life, death, pain and suffering.  Read the Gospel according to John, for example.  Check it out for yourself.  Consider Jesus and what he had to say about such things.  You may be surprised by what you discover.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Your Life, Your Work, & Your Legacy

You can’t take it with you—money, cars, homes, savings, investments, antiques, paintings, jewels, all meaningless and useless to us—when we die.  We all know this.  Yet somehow we still manage to live as if it’s stuff that counts most, things rather than…, rather than what?

When you’re gone, what will you have left behind; and what, if anything, is taken with you?

Most of our time is spent working—making a living.  But what is the point of “making a living.”  What is the point of living at all?  What will your life have meant?  Who have you become over the years?  What is your life’s direction, purpose, goal, end game?

Your personhood is incomparably worth far more than any costly clothing and jewelry you may adorn it with.  In truth, it is not what you have or how you adorn yourself that counts, it is who you are.  So, what kind of person are you becoming?

Contrary to popular opinion, your assets are not what make you important.  Your significance runs deeper than any of the products you buy, sell, produce, distribute, or save.  But, if your life is far more valuable than any investment or riches that you may amass over time, and the substance of your soul determines your actual worth, what is the true measure of your personal significance? 

We don’t live long, as time goes.  But it’s the quality not the quantity of life that counts, isn’t it?  I suppose that’s easy to say, not very easy to live.  For one, no one likes the idea of facing the inevitable end.  Most of us always want to stretch it, just a little bit longer.  But it begs the question.  What does a significant, well-lived, quality life look like?  What does it mean?

“Though outwardly we are wasting away,” writes the Apostle Paul, “yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).  In short, even as our bodies age, growing older and weaker eventually leading to death, our spirits on the other hand, that is, the soul, our inner being, should be expanding, waxing stronger and stronger, and becoming more alive and more full of vitality, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all,” Says Paul (see v.17).

“For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it,” Paul also says (to Timothy).  “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  … But you… pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.  … Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”  (See I Timothy 6:3-19.)

What will your legacy be what will your life have meant, when you die?