Friday, December 10, 2004

The Conundrum of Christmas Cheer

"Merry Christmas!"

"Happy holidays!"

Around this time of the year, we hear these greetings and well-wishes frequently in the normal flow of our lives. They are usually accompanied by a warm smile, although the clerk at the mall—her feet killing her from standing at the cash register for hours and her patience frazzled by the hundreds of customers she has assisted already that day—says it with a forced grin. The seasonal cheer is so infectious, says Dickens, that even old Scrooge finally succumbed, overcoming his miserly, bah-humbug ways. Everybody lives happily ever after.

This just emphasizes one of the glaring contradictions of Christmas: All the overdone jollity of the season serves to hide the well-known fact that December is the most depressing time of the year for many people. It is a time that mainstream Christians are supposed to be celebrating a joyous event—the alleged birthday of the Savior, Jesus Christ—yet it leads the year in suicide, depression, and aggravation. Why?

The answer is very simple: The holiday and all its trappings are not godly. This means that its fruits will not be good (see the principle in Matthew 7:15-20 and Galatians 6:7-8). Ergo, the Christmas season is full of angst, frustration, and disappointment, and many people deal poorly with these negative emotions.

What has become the central focus of the Christmas season? Undoubtedly, in our consumer-oriented society, it is the gift-giving and -receiving—Christmas presents, in other words. First, there is little about worshipping Christ in it. Yes, to put a good face on it, many will point to the fact that the Magi presented Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but the Bible says nothing about them presenting each other gifts! In fact, the Bible mentions this kind of "joyous" gift-giving in a totally negative sense: in celebration of the deaths of the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:10)!

A second justification for mutual gift-giving comes out of Acts 20:35, where Paul quotes Jesus as saying, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." But this is just that—a justification. The common motive for giving gifts is to ensure getting them in return! The better gifts one gives, the better the chance of receiving equally good ones. The principle Jesus taught is to give without expectation of receiving in return (Luke 6:35). Some may give gifts selflessly, but since gift-giving is an expected practice among those who celebrate Christmas, there is certainly an element of obligation in it that causes apprehension.

Third, the commercialization of Christmas has become entirely centered on fulfilling the individual's desires. A cursory viewing of television ads proves this in spades. For instance, a BMW commercial portrays a woman receiving the same old tired gifts from her off-beat relatives, so to forestall her total disappointment, she buys herself a new BMW! One radio advertisement for a diamond store features a woman whining because her husband presented her with a two-carat diamond from one prestigious store, when he could have shopped at a discount store and purchased a stunning, three-carat diamond for the same price. Commercials are always aimed at fulfilling selfish desires—and they always promise disappointment if the desire is not fulfilled.

Finally, we should not forget to mention that all these gifts cost money—and lots of it. This, in turn, creates financial headaches and fears that take months or years to cure. Many people max-out their credit cards during the Christmas shopping season and spend the rest of the year paying them off. Or not. With the average American up to his eyeballs in credit-card debt—to the tune of many thousands of dollars—it is easy to see why so many dread this time of year.

The apostle James puts his finger on the real spirit of this time of the year: "But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing will be there" (James 3:14-16). Christmas is a "lie against the truth." It is not biblical. God never commanded it. December 25 is not Jesus' birthday. He cannot be worshipped through Santa Claus, Christmas trees, Yule logs, mistletoe, and eggnog. So how can we expect anything good to come out of it?

This lie comes not from heaven but from earth, where Satan and his demons toy with human emotions and selfishness to deceive and destroy men and women. This results in people comparing themselves with the Joneses and putting themselves in competition with others to see who has the most. It produces "confusion and every evil thing." No wonder people are so miserable!

This holiday has only the thinnest veneer of cheer. If we peel back that gossamer layer, we find gloom, anxiety, and hopelessness. Does that sound like something God wants us to be involved with?

Friday, December 3, 2004

Vision of America's Future?

A storm broke over Charlotte on Thursday, but not the kind that brings wind and rain. A political storm, brewing for years under the surface, erupted when County Commissioner Bill James fired off an email to 1,200 recipients concerning the rising problems within Mecklenburg County. Had he left it at that, James' email would have just been another missive from a perennially cranky conservative commissioner. However, James had the audacity and the political stupidity to point the finger of blame at the urban black community in Charlotte. Bill James is white.

In the offending paragraph, he wrote:

Most people know why CMS [Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools] can't teach kids within the urban black community. They live in a moral sewer with parents who lack the desire to act properly. That immorality impacts negatively the lives of these children and creates an environment where education is considered "acting white" and lack of education is a "plus" in their world. (View the full text of his email here.)

Oh, boy.

Expectedly, the black community here in the Queen City has publicly branded James as a racist and demanded his resignation. He has been soundly condemned by local radio, television, and newspapers as insensitive, outrageous, a crackpot, out of touch, an egomaniac, drawing attention to himself (again), and many other similar names and descriptions. Even most of his Republican colleagues have shaken their heads, tsked, and put their condemnation of his sentiments on the record. James has retorted with, "If Bill Cosby can say it, so can I."

Yet, important figures in the black community—albeit a minority of them—have, while condemning his outspokenness, have agreed that urban blacks are plagued with problems of crime, gangs, illegitimacy, unemployment, drugs, and apathy, particularly in terms of education. One Baptist minister, a black man, voiced his agreement on a local morning radio show, saying that he believed that all of these problems had their roots in the rampant fatherlessness among African-Americans, citing a statistic that three-quarters of babies born to black women are illegitimate. He called upon the churches, schools, governments, and communities to band together to demand responsibility from black men.

Lost in the heat of the racial divide is reality. These problems do exist, and they need to be dealt with to avoid greater problems down the road. However, every special-interest group involved has its turf to defend and will not back down if it means diminishing or losing its funding and influence (for instance, the school system, NAACP, social services, etc.). The churches have little affect on morality due to their compromise with biblical standards. Local government, dependent in many ways on federal monies designated to "fix" these problems, has a vested interest in perpetuating them, not to mention the political power they hold as a result of pandering to minorities. And, like the rest of the country, the black community itself is terribly divided religiously, politically, and culturally. No solution will meet with across-the-board approval.

The urban black community is not alone. Similar problems are already affecting Latinos and whites across the nation due to their members' involvement in and acceptance of the attitudes and immorality inherent in the pop culture, which has been heavily influenced by the liberal, secular claptrap that has produced this crisis among urban blacks. And because no one will accept the draconian solutions that are necessary to solve this dilemma, it will continue to spread to other groups. In other words, it is coming to a community near you.

The Baptist minister is on the right track; young men and boys have to be taught personal responsibility—and not just males, but females too. People have to learn from an early age that their actions always produce consequences. As the apostle Paul writes in Galatians 6:7-8, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life." To put it into practical terms, if a person behaves responsibly, good results will follow, but if he behaves irresponsibly, he can expect grief.

This principle always applies. And the only way it will work to solve this problem is if individuals resolve both to live by it and teach their children to live by it as well.

I am not holding my breath (see II Timothy 3:1-5 to understand why)—and I am an optimist.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Exalting the Base

The news story of the day focuses on the funeral (in Cairo, Egypt, his city of birth) and burial (in Ramallah, West Bank, "Palestine") of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat, 75, who died of an unmentioned disease on Thursday in a Paris hospital. The military funeral in Cairo was a solemn and stately affair in contrast to the chaotic, intensely emotional burial proceedings in Ramallah, where Arafat had run the PLO and the erstwhile "Palestinian state" for the past several years. Gunfire frequently split the air, while young Palestinian men jostled for a chance to touch the flag-draped coffin, chanting slogans and laudatory tributes in unison.

With all this happening, one would think Arafat had been a great man.

A person without a grounding in recent history—who received his knowledge through the mainstream media—might be convinced that Arafat stood as a colossus on the world stage and was, as some have tried to paint him, "the George Washington of his people" (many heartfelt apologies to George Washington for the comparison). Though sincerely beloved by the Palestinian people, in certain areas Arafat compares better to Napoleon than the American Cincinnatus. Whereas Washington is generally acclaimed to have nobly put his country before his personal interests, Napoleon—and Arafat—though they may have had grand ideas, did nothing that was not self-aggrandizing.

Like Napoleon, Arafat was not a native of the "country" he later came to control dictatorially. As mentioned earlier, he was a native Egyptian (with some Palestinian ancestry from both parents, however), trained under Egypt's socialist strongman Jamal Abdul Nasser, who overthrew his nation's Arab monarch in a coup. With Nasser's blessing—in order to spread socialist pan-Arabism—Arafat adopted the Palestinian people and effectively co-opted their "cause" to further his own political and personal ends. The means he decided to use to achieve those ends is what was then called guerilla warfare, now called terrorism.

In 1959, Arafat, along with about twenty Palestinians, co-founded Fatah, the Movement for the National Liberation of Palestine, and the group soon began to recruit young men to be trained in terrorist tactics. With the support of Egyptian intelligence, Arafat led fedayeen ("men of sacrifice" or "suicide fighters") raids into Israeli territory. His "success" led him to form the PLO in 1964 as an umbrella organization for several Palestinian terrorist organizations, among which was Black September, the group that took and killed Israeli hostages at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Black September was merely a front for Fatah and Arafat, who called the shots.

Munich was only the biggest of many terrorist acts done under the command of Yasser Arafat. The PLO, Fatah, the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, and other groups committed hundreds, if not thousands, of them—mostly against Israelis and Israeli interests—in the forty-five years of Arafat's tenure as Palestinian chief. Raids, hijackings, school bombings, suicide bombings, training children to be martyrs—nothing was beyond the pale in advancing the Palestinian cause (which was always the extermination of Israel as a state and the Jews as a people) and catapulting Arafat himself into the international limelight. (Please read "Arafat the Monster" by Jeff Jacoby for a taste of the real Arafat legacy.)

Another of Arafat's similarities to Napoleon is the state in which he left his countrymen when his rule was over. After Napoleon, France was exhausted, poor, beaten, and vilified internationally, and after Arafat, all but the latter could describe Palestine. Arafat, like Napoleon, had no real affection for his adopted people; they were nothing more than cannon-fodder for his own purposes. Ironically, Hamas, the rival terror group to Fatah, has done more real, practical good for Palestinians than Arafat ever did, setting up and administering social services, hospitals, and employment assistance offices far more effectively. Conversely, in secret Swiss bank accounts, Arafat and his cronies squirreled away billions of dollars and euros given for humanitarian aid.

Yet, after all these verifiable facts, the media holds up Yasser Arafat as a great man, worthy of adulation and the politically motivated Nobel Peace Prize he once received. This is sheer propaganda, the product of a political misinformation blitz, to sway the masses into believing a big lie. Instead of swallowing it, it should make us wonder, "If they are telling us that hyenas are teddy bears, what else are they lying to us about?"

Friday, November 5, 2004

Politics and Idolatry

According to both American political parties, we have just endured "the most important" campaign and election in our nation's history, certainly in our lifetimes. This was the election that would "define American politics for the next generation." Campaign 2004 was the big one for all the marbles. To hear it from the media, it was as important as the defeat of the Axis Powers in World War II, the crumbling of the Soviet Union, and the discovery of a cure for cancer combined.

All of it was hyperbole, pure and simple.

There are several reasons why this political season was billed in such an exaggerated way. With a preponderance of the media rooting for John Kerry, it was a way to galvanize a certain segment of the population—Democrats and the anti-Bush crowd—to take action and flood the polls with supporters. The media, always in contention for better ratings, also played a game of one-upmanship amongst themselves, elevating the rhetoric as much as the candidates themselves did and maybe more. In addition, many partisans on both sides truly believed that 2004 was a make-or-break election for America, warning that the slide into oblivion would commence if the other side's candidate were victorious.

The biggest reason, however, springs from the attitudes and approach of these true believers: They are not just "into" politics—it is their religion. They worship at the altar of government, sacrificing their time, money, and effort to honor the god of politics, the party, and the state. Each side has its particular pantheon of demigods (Founding Fathers), saints (past presidents), and luminaries (party bigwigs) to point to for past glories and party principles. Each uses its own set of scriptures from which it pulls decisive quotations and zinging bon mots, as well as derisive condemnations of their enemies and their irrational ideas. Each party clothes itself with its own peculiar kind of zeal (patriotism), righteousness (laws, regulations), and good deeds (pork, entitlements), which they are not ashamed to flaunt before the masses as proof of their devotion. They even take tithes from the people to fund their righteous work!

Napoleon mockingly called Britain "a nation of shopkeepers." He likely thought of America as a nation of rubes and castoffs. If he were alive today, he would have to call it a nation of political partisans. We are either Reds or Blues, living in Red or Blue states. Americans watch political news avidly every day, as it fills most of the network news programs. This year a record number of voters turned out to cast their ballots, about 116 million people. Many of these stuck signs in their yards, stickers on their automobiles, or buttons in their lapels announcing their choices for president, governor, senator, representative, councilperson, or dogcatcher.

A good number of these same people made out checks to individual candidate's election committees or to local, state, and national party committees to get their candidates into the public eye via media advertisements, direct mail, and public appearances. Some of them volunteered their valuable time to stuff envelopes, distribute signs and stickers, and organize rallies. Many of the high rollers among them paid thousands of dollars for a plate of institutional food (rubbery chicken or too-well-done steak) and a few minutes of face-time with their political idol.

Hyperbole again, right? Don't be too sure.

What is religion anyway? The dictionary defines it in its general sense as "a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith." One's religion is what one believes and devotes oneself to following. It is what a person spends his time, efforts, and resources pursuing. It is his way of life. Understanding a person's way of life will point directly to that person's god. For a good many Americans who spent the past year or nine months devoted to the election or defeat of a particular political candidate, their god is politics.

The last time I checked, this broke the first commandment (Exodus 20:2-3). For those who think that the Ten Commandments are passé and Old Covenant, check out Jesus' own words in Matthew 22:37-38: "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment." And we call ourselves a Christian nation. . . .

Friday, October 15, 2004

Variety and Homogeneity

With this year's Feast of Tabernacles in Mesquite, Texas, we here in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area had to drive across more than a thousand miles of the Southeast to "go up to the Feast." My family made this trip over three easy days of driving down I-20, with motel stops in Birmingham, Alabama, and Monroe, Louisiana, along the way. We were able to spend a few hours of one afternoon in Vicksburg, Mississippi, taking an auto tour of the Civil War battlefield there and visiting the original Coca-Cola bottling plant.

The ten days we spent in the Dallas area centered on a few-mile strip of I-635 that crosses Mesquite and Garland. A few exits north of the hotel stood the Town East Mall and a bevy of restaurants and stores that beckoned us to unload some of our second tithe on them. This we dutifully did, spiking Mesquite's retail sales figures for October. The city fathers were probably sad to see us leave after the Last Great Day.

The way home also covered parts of three days of travel. We headed east from Mesquite in the late morning on Friday, determined to make it to Meridian, Mississippi, before the sun set. Despite the drenching downpours of Tropical Storm Matthew as we slogged across Louisiana and Mississippi, we pulled into our hotel with a half-hour to spare. The next day, we drove up to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for Sabbath services, where forty people attended, and afterward, we ate dinner just east of Birmingham. Deciding to press on, we made it to Atlanta, Georgia, and found a motel to stay in near the airport. Sunday's drive back to Charlotte was relatively easy and routine, and we arrived back home by mid-afternoon, tired but relieved.

This travelogue of our Feast trip is typical of what we have experienced for the last several years, whether our destination has been San Antonio, Texas; Jefferson City, Missouri; or Topeka, Kansas. The scenery varied a little as our routes have differed, and the local accents of Texas and Missouri confirmed we had arrived in different places. Yet, for all the variety we saw on the surface, each place might have been the same.

We saw this the most in the stores, motels, restaurants, and gas stations that lined our route. One could choose just about any city interchange along the way and find the same chains doing business. Need fuel? There are only a handful of gasoline dispensing companies, and each had its store close to the off ramp. Hungry? One need not drive far off the freeway to find a Cracker Barrel, Red Lobster, Outback Steakhouse, or O'Charley's—not to mention McDonald's, Burger King, and KFC. Need to stop and rest? There is bound to be a Comfort Inn, Days Inn, La Quinta, Red Roof Inn, Motel 6, Best Western, or Hampton Inn at the next exit. Left something at home? One can always replace it at Wal-Mart, Target, or K-mart—or one can check all three for the best price. It was pretty near impossible to find a local, non-chain, Mom-and-Pop store or inn anywhere.

This, of course, is a bit exaggerated, but after a few weeks of driving, this is the impression a traveler has. Wherever one goes across this huge land we call the United States of America, one can enjoy the same, comforting establishments he frequents at home. The hash brown casserole or the meatloaf at the Cracker Barrel tastes the same in Rock Hill, South Carolina, as it does in Columbia, Missouri. The Wal-Mart in Paducah, Kentucky, carries the same products as the one in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the one in south Charlotte. One can expect a similar room and services at every La Quinta anywhere in the nation.

We have learned that Americans yearn for variety and seek it out at every turn, but we are a schizophrenic people, desiring the comforts of homogeneity at the same time. We want variety, but we also want consistency within it. To this end, we have nearly eradicated every cultural and regional difference across the fruited plain. These provincial distinctions have been relegated to gaudy, overdone tourist traps where visitors receive stilted caricatures of a once-proud traditional lifestyle. With a few rare exceptions, the South looks like the Northwest looks like the Northeast looks like the Mid-West looks like the Southwest.

There is probably nothing wrong with this homogenization, especially if it promotes national unity, although that does not seem to be the case. It was probably inevitable that it would happen at some point. Nevertheless, it is sad to observe the passing of these old, nostalgic regional traditions into a bland sameness. So much for diversity.

Friday, September 17, 2004

The Victim: Truth

As the presidential campaign grinds on toward the day of the election, everyone agrees that this political season has degraded into one of the meanest in recent memory. quotes Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson as saying, "When I was in politics, I was accused of being Nixon's 'dirty tricks expert'—but I never rose to the heights, or rather sank to the depths, of this year's campaign." Colson writes in his column, "Campaign of Hate," on September 16, 2004:
In one sense, the degrading of political discourse is part of a broader pattern in American life: the coarsening of culture. You see it in the clothing people wear (or don't wear), the lack of manners, and the vulgar language that has become commonplace. Cultures coarsen when morality declines.

But this year there's something more to it.
We have come to expect mudslinging and attack ads, especially during the waning days of presidential campaigns. Two and a quarter centuries of such campaigns have produced mean-spirited personal attacks on candidates, from opponents calling James Madison a pygmy to Southern cartoonists depicting Abraham Lincoln as an ape. George W. Bush joins Dan Quayle and Ronald Reagan in the dunce club, while John Kerry can claim John F. Kennedy and Michael Dukakis as fellow elitist, New England liberals.

The "something more" that Colson senses consists of two elements: 1) an attitude of utter hatred behind the attacks, and 2) a fundamental disregard for the truth. The attacks are more bitter, visceral, and partisan than in former years, and the candidates and their proxies are issuing them in a game of one-upmanship with insufficient concern for their accuracy. It is almost as if both sides have determined that the campaign that strikes last before Election Day will win at the polls, and whether their punches are fair or not matters little. Anything goes for such a prize.

It is ironic that a central issue of the campaign is honesty—both sides have accused the other of lying, resulting in the suffering and death of many: Kerry about Vietnam and Bush about Iraq—yet neither side has qualms about shading the facts to its advantage or lying outright. Spin is in, and perception is everything. Truth does not even enter into this equation. If it does, it is in the form of what the recently out-of-the-closet New Jersey Governor James McGreevey calls "one's unique truth."

However, in today's political world, what is truth to one may not be truth to another. For instance, the Bush administration's truth about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is totally different from the Kerry campaign's truth. Even though major stockpiles of WMD have not been found in Iraq, enough small finds have been made to allow the Bush team to trumpet their contention that America's attack was justified. Kerry supporters, though, take the exact opposite view, arguing that the little that has been found proves America's war in Iraq was illegal, imperial, unjustified, and rash.

What is the truth? Saddam Hussein had and used WMDs both against Iran and against the Kurds in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Throughout the Clinton administration and into the Bush administration, Hussein made it known that he still had such weapons and had no reluctance about employing them again. He publicized that his scientists were hard at work on delivery systems and new terrors. What he actually had to work with is unknown, but every nation's intelligence of the situation agreed that Iraq was a WMD threat.

Bush acted on this by going to war, believing that removing the threat was vital in winning the War on Terror. In his place, Kerry says, he would not have taken such a drastic measure, believing that further negotiation, continuing the economic embargo, and increasing pressure from a larger coalition would have solved the crisis.

The key to understanding this is that neither side is dealing with the truth but with belief. They have believed something to be true and acted on it—campaigned on it—whether it was true or not. Belief, however, has no foundation without real, authoritative truth. One can believe the moon is made of green cheese all he wants, but such belief does not make it true. In fact, this belief is really folly.

The prophet Isaiah writes concerning the Israel of his day, which parallels the societal state of modern America: "Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. So truth fails, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey" (Isaiah 59:14-15). We have come to the point that truth does not matter anymore, which means that justice, righteousness, equity, and goodness are no longer goals people strive to attain. What most people seek is whatever they believe is best for them; this is the new standard of "truth."

Truth, which has "fallen in the street," is the victim of man's human nature running roughshod over everything to get for itself. Who will brave the mean streets to revive it?

Friday, September 10, 2004

Facilitating Lawlessness

As I neared the intersection of two four-lane streets on my way to work a few days ago, I was suddenly forced to jump on my brakes. In front of my truck rolled a line of a half-dozen cars preparing to make a left turn, but the driver of the SUV at the head of line had unexpectedly stopped—despite the green arrow—to allow a man standing at the right-hand corner to cross the street in front of her! This was against the light, against all the horns blaring behind her, against the laws of the road, against all reason!

At first, I thought she was distracted by something: talking on her cell phone, eating her breakfast, applying makeup, reading a newspaper, scolding a child, or something similar. However, when she finally turned, allowing me to see into her SUV better, none of those things appeared to have been a factor. She had simply decided to halt all traffic to let the man cross five lanes of a large, big-city intersection against the dictates of traffic law.

What prompted her to do this? The man had made no effort to cross against the light. If she had just made her left turn, the traffic would have cleared quickly, the signal would have changed in about a minute, and the man could have crossed safely and legally. Instead, she risked being nailed in her rear bumper or causing a similar accident among the vehicles behind her. Happily, all the drivers behind her were alert, and nothing untoward occurred.

In thinking about this incident since then, it appears to be a kind of metaphor for life in America these days. We are checking ourselves unnecessarily and dangerously to tolerate—even facilitate—others' immoral or unethical behaviors. We are too eager to display our permissiveness in face of all we know to be against it, from traditional, biblical morality to plain old common sense.

Perhaps the most easily seen example is this nation's tolerance of homosexuality, a practice thoroughly condemned both by Scripture and—not long ago—by American churches and society in general. Most Americans, though, have chosen to support supposed Constitutional rights and freedoms over real biblical standards, ignoring historical societal decay after the acceptance of homosexuality, as well as obvious public health consequences. They have, in effect, given sodomy a pass despite everything to the contrary.

We also tolerate public theft of the citizenry by our very own government, and many vote to accelerate it every few years! Politicians make long careers out of promising largesse from the local, state, or national treasury, bribing the people with the heavily taxed earnings of their fellow citizens. This national sin—ever-growing entitlements and pork-barrel spending—has landed the United States in a precarious financial position, one that can only grow worse. Counting future guaranteed outlays from Social Security and Medicare, total indebtedness in America is now upwards of $60 trillion! Most Americans are willing to tolerate such fiscal incompetence and indiscretion as long as it works in their favor.

The Western world has made a god out of the concept of tolerance. If nothing else, it has become a chief virtue of modern man, but how is it virtuous to accept destructive behaviors? Would we tolerate sharks in our swimming pools? A little arsenic in our drinking water? Dynamite among our firewood? Do we allow automobile manufacturers to sell us unsafe vehicles? Are we happy to let unlicensed doctors and dentists ply their trades on our bodies? Why, then, are we so eager to tolerate moral and ethical dangers in our society?

Wise Solomon says something similar concerning adultery: "Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared? So is he who goes in to his neighbor's wife; whoever touches her shall not be innocent" (Proverbs 6:27-29). If we tolerate sin, there will be consequences. Society as a whole will certainly decline, and as individuals, we and our children will "be burned."

Unlike the lady in the SUV who facilitated an illegal deed, putting others in danger, we need to follow the rules of the road. For Christians, the rules are laid down in God's Word, and the safest, most beneficial course for all along the road of life is to put them into constant practice.

Friday, September 3, 2004

Divine Intervention

On Thursday afternoon's show, Rush Limbaugh joked about Hurricane Frances bearing down on Palm Beach County, Florida, where he lives. He said, paraphrasing, "Since Palm Beach County has voting irregularities like a Third World nation, maybe God decided Palm Beach County should be devastated to be, in fact, Third World."

Many in his audience probably laughed and promptly forgot about it. His observation, however, has a serious side that modern, sophisticated, and predominantly secular Americans never consider—at least seriously. They snicker at insurance policies that refer to hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and other natural disasters as "acts of God," when they, in their scientific arrogance, prefer to call them "acts of nature" or "weather events." Even those who are moderately religious, like the Deists of the Enlightenment, do not believe that God is active in earth's events, whether natural or human. To them, He may be watching, but He certainly is not involved in human affairs.

This points out how utterly blind to God most people are, even Christians. For starters, because they are not looking for God's hand of intervention in their lives, they are certainly not going to see it. Having become so secular and scientific in their outlook, the miraculous is totally off their radar. They consider those who report of miracles to be medieval in their thinking and the miracles themselves to be mere coincidences of natural phenomena or overstatements of what actually occurred. To them, miracles are impossible because, by definition, they are unverifiable by scientific methods and therefore do not and never have happened.

Today's thoroughly modern Christian does not derive this negative view of God's intervention from His Book. In the Bible, divine involvement in human affairs occurs from cover to cover—in fact, it is the central fact of human existence, which the Bible takes great pains to reveal. At every critical point in man's history, God has been involved. At Creation, before and after the Flood, at the dispersal of the nations from Babel, in the history of Israel, among the great empires of ancient history from Egypt to Rome—God was instrumental. God Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, came to this earth and lived among us, bringing us the good news of His Kingdom and dying for our salvation. Then He sent His apostles to the four corners of the globe to spread the word among those He would call.

That sounds as if God is active and involved in human affairs.

As Creator, He certainly has power over the various elements of His creation. Manipulating the weather is like child's play to Him. He can send rain or drought anywhere, anytime. He flooded the entire earth to a depth greater than the height of the tallest mountain, so flashfloods, coastal floods, and river floods are easy. Spinning tornadoes is like breathing to Him, and earthquakes rumble and tumble at His command. The Bible makes many claims about His power over the elements (Job 26:7-12Psalm 147:15-18Nahum 1:3-6; etc.). Jesus Himself calmed the storm with a word (Matthew 8:24-26).

In the book of Amos, God shows that He uses "natural" disasters to teach people lessons, to bring them to repentance, to correct their ways. In this passage, He also admits that most people fail to make the connection between the disaster and their sins. Notice Amos 4:6-13:
"Also I gave you cleanness of teeth [famine] in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places; yet you have not returned to Me," says the LORD. "I also withheld rain from you [drought], when there were still three months to the harvest. I made it rain on one city, I withheld rain from another city. One part was rained upon, and where it did not rain the part withered. So two or three cities wandered to another city to drink water, but they were not satisfied; yet you have not returned to Me," says the LORD. "I blasted you with blight and mildew. When your gardens increased, your vineyards, your fig trees, and your olive trees, the locust devoured them; yet you have not returned to Me," says the LORD. "I overthrew some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, . . . yet you have not returned to Me," says the LORD. "I sent among you a plague after the manner of Egypt; your young men I killed with a sword, . . . yet you have not returned to Me," says the LORD. "Therefore thus will I do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!" For behold, He who forms mountains, and creates the wind, who declares to man what his thought is, and makes the morning darkness, who treads the high places of the earth—the LORD God of hosts is His name.
He also says He will continue to do this in His Millennial Kingdom: He will send drought on areas that refuse to keep His feasts (Zechariah 14:16-19). Are we to assume that, for some reason, He does not punish for sin now?

Maybe Rush was right.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Who Gets Jesus' Vote?

On Wednesday morning, news outlets carried the story of the Texas Faith Network conference in Austin attended by "religious leaders" on Tuesday. The Associated Press reported:
James Moore, co-author of "Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George Bush Presidential," drew laughter and applause when he offered his view to the moderate to left-leaning crowd of about 250 clergy and lay leaders. 
"If ever there were a bleeding-heart liberal, it was Jesus Christ," Moore said at Congregation Agudas Achim synagogue. "I think the carpenter from Galilee was the original Democrat."
Obviously, this was intended as a laugh line in Moore's speech, but "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34). Partisans on both sides of the political aisle claim Jesus' support for their policies, but as far as can be told, none of them has truly studied Jesus thoroughly and honestly enough to determine what initiatives He would indeed support. The article quotes a handful of clergy regarding their views of Christ's "political ideology":
  • Timothy Tutt, pastor of United Christian Church in Austin: "As I read the Scriptures and as I understand faith, God's side is the group that's feeding the poor, caring about children, making sure that people have enough food to eat—not killing others."
  • Michael Jinkins, a pastoral theology professor at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary: "Based on my reading of the Gospels, I think Jesus might surprise us all on his voting record. He was far less 'religious' than the people who criticized him most."
One says He was all about social responsibility, another opines that He was less fundamentalist and more secular than the Pharisees, who were by all accounts conservative and nationalistic in their politics. Yet, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, and other conservative ministers would point to Jesus' moral teachings and claim He would support life (anti-abortion), virtue (pro-morality), freedom (patriotic and pro-Democracy), and strength (pro-business and pro-war, particularly Iraq and the War on Terror).

What side would Jesus endorse? Neither.

The article surprisingly ends with a proper conclusion on this point:
In fact, Jesus might not support Bush or Kerry or anyone else, for that matter.
"Jesus was not one to take sides on political issues," said Derek Davis, director of the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University in Waco.
While there were obviously no Democrats or Republicans during the time of Jesus, different groups vied for attention, including the fundamentalist Pharisees, the aristocratic Sadducees, the spiritually devout Essenes and the revolutionist Zealots.
"Interestingly, Jesus never sided with any of these groups but remained above such earthly disputes," Davis said.
Jesus never said anything remotely political. The closest He came was in His adroit answer to the Pharisees' crafty question regarding paying taxes to Caesar: "Why do you test Me? . . . Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Luke 20:23-25). To paraphrase, he tells us to give government its due—but God or religion is an entirely different matter. The politics of this world and the true religion of God do not mix well.

At His trial before Pilate, the Roman procurator asks, "Are You the King of the Jews?" (John 18:33). Jesus replies, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here" (verse 36). Jesus' Kingdom is still not of this world, as its King remains in heaven at His Father's right hand until the appointed time for His return. Therefore, His servants still should not be involved in the political battles of this world either.

It is interesting to notice that when Jesus returns, He does not join the "right" or "correct" political party, but "in righteousness He judges and makes war. . . . Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God" (Revelation 19:11, 15).

It seems clear that Jesus does not think highly of any human government of any political stripe. In fact, He seems to be for, in today's terms, total war, worldwide imperialism, and installing Himself as benevolent dictator for eternity. The question, then, is not, whose side is He on, but who is on His side?

Friday, August 13, 2004

Tropical (Storm) Punch

The Carolinas are about to experience a one-two, tropical storm punch that it has not been seen in nearly 75 years, according to a local meteorologist. Tropical storm Bonnie, not as strong as expected, dumped needed rain on areas east and south of Charlotte, while the city itself slogged through steady rain for half a day. That was Thursday. Today, Friday, Hurricane Charley, just upgraded to category four, packing sustained winds of 145 mph and gusts up to 160 mph, is set to make landfall near Tampa, Florida, soon. The storm is expected to reach the Carolinas by Saturday evening.

After Hurricane Andrew, Americans became far more sensitive to these mammoth storms. Although only a few each year make landfall, when they do, they make a terrific mess and cause considerable injuries and deaths. Andrew wreaked $25-30 billion in damages and killed 65 people, an exceptionally low figure over which experts still shake their heads in wonder. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 killed six to eight thousand people, the most by a hurricane in U.S. history. In 1970, a cyclone that hit East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, killed at least 200,000—some say half a million—and another 100,000 were reported missing.

Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm, gives us an idea of the power within a hurricane:
A mature hurricane is by far the most powerful event on earth; the combined nuclear arsenals of the United States and the former Soviet Union don't contain enough energy to keep a hurricane going for one day. A typical hurricane encompasses a million cubic miles of atmosphere and could provide all the electric power needed by the United States for three or four years. During the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, winds surpassed 200 miles an hour and people caught outside were sandblasted to death. Rescue workers found nothing but their shoes and belt buckles. So much rain can fall during a hurricane—up to five inches an hour—that the soil liquefies. Hillsides slump into valleys and birds drown in flight, unable to shield their upward-facing nostrils. . . . In 1938, a hurricane put downtown Providence, Rhode Island, under ten feet of ocean. The waves generated by that storm were so huge that they literally shook the earth; seismographs in Alaska picked up their impact five thousand miles away. (p. 102)
Such power is nothing to trifle with, which is why emergency management officials recommend wholesale evacuations of areas near a hurricane's landfall.

Beyond its powerful winds, the most lethal part of a hurricane is the sheer amount of water it brings. Most people think of massive amounts of rain, but more deadly is the ocean's storm surge. Water piles up in front of the high winds, flooding the coastal areas up to about 25 feet, as occurred in Mississippi during Hurricane Camille in 1969. If the hurricane's right-front quadrant should hit shore at high tide, the storm surge could be as devastating as thousands of rampaging bulldozers. In both the Galveston and Bangladesh hurricanes, storm-surge flooding caused the most deaths.

We know how hurricanes form and develop, how various factors steer them, and what to expect from them. Our forecasting has improved tremendously, with computer simulations providing highly accurate tracks out to 36 or 48 hours. This allows emergency crews to set up and get the word out to residents and tourists. Building codes have also been stiffened in high-risk areas, reducing property damage and providing better shelter for those who dare to ride them out. These factors are largely responsible for the declining death totals due to these huge storms.

But man may as well be a mouse when it comes to controlling them. The forces that cause and sustain hurricanes are so massive that nothing man can do has any serious effect on their strength or destination. In reality, we just have to take whatever the storm brings. How humbling.

We gain some perspective when we read the words from Job 36:26-33:
Behold, God is great, and we do not know Him. . . . For He draws up drops of water, which distill as rain from the mist, which the clouds drop down and pour abundantly on man. Indeed, can anyone understand the spreading of clouds, the thunder from His canopy? Look, He scatters His light upon it, and covers the depths of the sea. For by these He judges the peoples; He gives food in abundance. He covers His hands with lightning, and commands it to strike. His thunder declares it, . . . concerning the rising storm.
Consider this when watching the weather this weekend.

Friday, August 6, 2004

Our Enervating Culture

Our culture is wearying. Not only is it non-stop and fast-paced, but it is also so full of contention and controversy that it is maddening, stressful, and frustrating. It says something about the way God made us that we can even stand it!

God accurately catches the essence of our time when He tells Daniel, "Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase" (Daniel 12:4). The word picture is of a multitude of people scurrying around like ants, but unlike ants, their scurrying is erratic, futile, and unproductive. The New English Bible creatively renders this, "Many will be at their wits' end," suggesting both frustration and a kind of psychosis in the people as they struggle to keep up with and understand what is happening around them.

It is no wonder that many throw up their hands and give up trying to battle the culture. Some of these simply give in and go with the flow, while others check out altogether, finding a place out in the country, throwing out their televisions and having as little to do with the rest of us as possible. Many others, knowing they cannot escape to rural tranquility due to job or family commitments, do their best to withdraw privately from the exasperating culture.

Yet, there is no way to avoid it altogether. Jesus Himself admits this in John 17:15, "I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one." Christians have to live in the world, and we rely on the Father's protection against the worst that Satan and "this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4) can throw at us. In this sense, we have to learn to live with some of the unsavory aspects of society because we are too weak to make any effective change in them.

The presidential race is a prime example of American culture gone berserk, and Christians have no chance of altering it for the better. The "apex" of American politics pits two wealthy, egotistical candidates of New England elite extraction against each other. Both candidates employ every dirty, political trick in the book to gain an advantage over the other. The lies, misinformation, spin, and defamation that flood from each campaign staff make the late Baghdad Bob look like a saint. And Americans are supposed to choose which of these two should be Chief Executive?

Perhaps this is overly cynical, but it does point out how our culture, with its 24-hour news cycle and information overload, obfuscates every important matter. Who can be trusted? Fox News? CNN? MSNBC? The 700 Club? The BBC? NPR? Reuters? The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Christian Science MonitorThe Wall Street Journal? WorldNetDaily? The Drudge Report? Who?

These news outlets will run contradictory stories about the candidates. Was John Kerry a military hero in Vietnam—or was he an uninspiring SWIFT boat captain who often disregarded orders and dishonestly won his Silver Star? Did George Bush exhaust all diplomatic solutions to the Saddam Hussein dilemma before committing America to war—or did he, cowboy-style, plan to avenge his father's attempted assassination before he was even elected? We may have opinions about these matters, but do we really know the truth? Can we know the truth?

Modern thinkers would say, no, there is no such thing as absolute truth, and even facts about a situation or an issue are merely data to be manipulated by each observer. The truth is in the eye of the beholder. That is a terribly shifty basis on which to build a functioning and productive society. If a person cannot honestly ascertain whether a thing is true or false, it will not be long before he loses his grip on reality—which truth defines—and begins to behave in anti-social ways. We see this process already at work in our universities, where religious or conservative values are hostilely opposed, contrary to even the First Amendment rights academics so ardently cherish for themselves.

We are warned that things will only get worse as the end approaches (Matthew 24:6, 8, 21; II Timothy 3:1, 13). Society will continue to break down, violence and deception will increase, and persecution of those who live morally will intensify—not a positive outlook as we prepare for the Kingdom of God. Christ, though, advises us, "But he who endures to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13). If He says it can be done, we can do it!

Friday, July 9, 2004

Dangerous Believers

What would you consider to be the most dangerous element in society? Al Queda? Gangs? Hezbollah? Private militias? Chechen terrorists? Environmental militants? Rogue nations? AIDS and other STDs? Hamas? Drug cartels? Neo-Nazis? Pollution?

Not according to former Clinton-era Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich. In "The Last Word: Bush's God" (American Prospect, July 2004, subscription only), he writes that the thing we need to be most concerned about is you and me—those who believe in God:
The great conflict of the 21st century will not be between the West and terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic, not a belief. The true battle will be between modern civilization and anti-modernists; between those who believe in the primacy of the individual and those who believe that human beings owe their allegiance and identity to a higher authority; between those who give priority to life in this world and those who believe that human life is mere preparation for an existence beyond life; between those who believe in science, reason, and logic and those who believe that truth is revealed through Scripture and religious dogma. Terrorism will disrupt and destroy lives. But terrorism itself is not the greatest danger we face.
Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at National Review Online, summarizes what Reich means in his article, "Robert Reich's Religion Problem":
It is a denunciation—as a graver threat than terrorists—of people who believe that the world to come is more important than this world, or that all human beings owe their allegiance to God.
Many millions of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other religious believers will reject Reich's witless rhetorical oppositions.
Let us hope Ponnuru is right, but Reich's sentiments are becoming more commonly uttered in public by leading progressives in academia and government. The central theme is that America's social and political problems would simply disappear if those with Judeo-Christian values would just shut up and go away. They gripe that religious people keep dragging up "anti-modern," "traditional," "backward" ideas, beliefs, values, and methods and injecting them into the modern or post-modern world where they just do not fit! For instance, according to such people, the "archaic" belief in the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman may have suited society in earlier centuries, but it is today outmoded, unnecessary, and overly restrictive.

Even if Christians and Jews hold such old-fashioned notions, why do the Robert Reichs of the world consider believers dangerous? Do they not realize that truly devout people are usually the last to resort to violence, terror, and offensive action? To whom are they a danger? Simply put, they are a danger to the Robert Reichs of the world! They are a danger because they hold the principled, ideological sword that threatens to dethrone progressives and their liberal views from the powerful positions they have held. Thus, liberals must tar and feather believing Jews and Christians and run them out of society on a rail because it is far easier to advance one's agenda if no opposition exists. (By the way, Reich is currently promoting his latest book, Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America.)

Over the long haul, Reich's comments are nothing to get excited about, but they do point out a growing trend to sideline those who believe God. In time, if rabid liberals gained political power (note that by their voting records, Democrats John Kerry and John Edwards are the first and fourth most liberal Senators in that august chamber), marginalizing could lead to persecution—and even to governmental restrictions on worship. In the short term, they will continue to coarsen the culture and take victories where they can on such issues as gay "marriage," welfare, military (un)preparedness, diversity, education, sexual freedom, and separation of church and state. These are the frontline issues, and each minor victory enhances their power.

Paul gives us some sound advice for these times:
Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. (II Timothy 3:12-15)

Friday, July 2, 2004

Do Americans Value Liberty?

This weekend, Americans will celebrate—with cookouts, picnics, parades, and fireworks—the 228th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence from England on July 4, 1776, the commonly accepted beginning of the United States. At the time, the Colonies were already engaged in war with the Mother Country, blood had been spilled on both sides, costly sacrifices had been made, and heels had been dug in so that the stakes had become, as Patrick Henry had so eloquently declared, "Give me liberty or give me death!"

Though American forces won few battles during the Revolution, they won the war, exhausting the British forces through guerrilla tactics and the help of their French ally. In the end, America's ragtag forces had defeated the most powerful army on earth at the time, but it had cost a great many lives and destroyed cities, estates, farms, and businesses. To them, however, this was the price of freedom, and they willingly paid it.

In 1812, the next generation was called to do the same against the same foe. Then for successive generations there were Indian wars to fight, a war against Mexico, the bloody Civil War, war with Spain, both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and now the Gulf Wars. Americans have taken up arms in the cause of human liberty here at home and all over the world, believing that freedom is an inalienable right of all mankind, not just of Americans. With Thomas Jefferson, they have believed, "The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time."

Liberty is a precious and rare blessing in the annals of humankind. Most societies, even among those considered to be free, have granted liberty only to certain classes of people based on birth, wealth, or merit rather than bestowing it universally, regardless of class. America was the first nation that attempted such a radical concept, enshrining it in its founding documents as a goal for future generations to strive to attain. Though its perfect application has never been achieved, it has provided a guiding light, a high ideal, over the past two centuries.

To many in America, it appears as if the events of the Revolution and the Founding are ancient history and thus irrelevant. They have grown up in an era in which freedom has been passively accepted as a birthright rather than cherished as a treasured gift or costly won on a bloody field. Younger Americans have been spoiled by the sacrifices of preceding generations, and for this reason, they do not realize the responsibilities freedom imposes. As the cliché runs, "Freedom is not free."

In this regard, a quotation often attributed to Thomas Jefferson (though actually from the pen of his contemporary, John Philpot Curran) is appropriate: "The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance [frequently condensed as, 'The price of liberty is eternal vigilance,' a concept Jefferson echoed in his own writings]." This form of the quotation makes three things clear: 1) God is the source of true liberty; 2) God has granted liberty to men; and 3) man's responsibility to continue receiving liberty is to be awake and aware while on guard.

Against what? The context of the quotation deals with indolence—laziness—in the face of encroaching bondage. The warning is against apathy and lack of effort to restrain the forces, primarily in the realm of ideas, that threaten to reduce or eliminate human liberty. This is a necessary warning because, though most people would rise up in righteous anger against sudden totalitarianism, these same people tend to give their freedoms away piecemeal for security, bread and circuses, and promises of future reward.

In post-9-11 America, do Americans value liberty enough to stand guard over it against the approach of tyranny? Some do—the ones who have read the history and documents of the Founding Fathers and realize how rare and precious it is to live in a society where each individual is free to fashion his own life. Yet, the percentage of such people is shrinking year by year, as the older generation dies and progressive ideas influence the younger generations to give up liberty for high-sounding but enslaving concepts like income redistribution, diversity, multiculturalism, no child left behind, universal health care, and free college education. And even many of the older people, becoming fearful in their twilight years, are quick to trade their freedoms for security from terrorists and bill collectors.

Perhaps the most telling sign that Americans are willing to let their liberties slip away is the nation's level of immorality. The Bible is very clear that sin enslaves and destroys (John 8:34; Romans 6:6, 16), while God's way of life liberates (Psalm 119:45; Luke 4:18; II Corinthians 3:17; Galatians 5:1, 13). It is for this reason that the nation's second President, John Adams wrote, "The preservation of liberty depends upon the intellectual and moral character of the people."

As we celebrate the anniversary of American independence this weekend, we should consider how valuable liberty is—both physical and spiritual—and how far we would be willing to go to secure and preserve it.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Storm of the Century

Over the past two days, more than fifteen inches of snow fell on south Charlotte where I live, encasing everything in a thick, crystalline blanket. My house, topped with more than a foot of white stuff, looks like some mad, Southern imitation of a Courier and Ives picture, even to the wisps of smoke escaping from the chimney. Sadly, the old, grey car parked in my driveway in no way resembles the ubiquitous sleigh in those wintry illustrations.

Statistically, this weather system produced the storm of the century for the region. The Charlotte area—which averages about one snowstorm a year, and that of only a few inches—had not received this much snow at once since 1902. In this metropolitan area of more than a million people, a frozen deluge like this one brings everything to a slippery halt, since the city owns only two-dozen trucks that can be used for salting and plowing the roads. According to the city fathers (and mothers), its money is better spent on building an arena for billionaire Robert "Bobcat" Johnson and implementing an unnecessary light-rail system. No amount of money is too much to spend to make Charlotte a "World-Class City"! Meanwhile, they warn that our dire financial circumstances warrant future tax increases.

Children love days like this. For starters, they are out of school, even my home-schooled kids. There is no sense making them slog away at the books when all their neighborhood friends are out sledding (down my driveway, of course), throwing snowballs at each other (from behind their newly constructed "forts"), eating snow (either inadvertently from a snowball in the face or deliberately), carving snow angels (and—mothers love this—getting soaking wet in the process), and building snow men (and women). On days like these, our clothes dryer gets a good workout, as each kid comes in at least twice to disrobe, go to the bathroom, grab a snack, and don a new set of warm clothes for the next go-round. In the meantime, Mom loads the dryer to be prepared for their inevitable return to repeat the process.

Dogs enjoy days like this too—at least my dog, Sydney, does. She is a black Labrador Retriever-Border Collie mix, but her genes seem heavy on the Lab part. In the snow, stark black against the glistening white, she is in her element (Labrador Retrievers were developed in Newfoundland). Even though the snow had piled higher than her back, she was game, bounding over the drifts as a dolphin hurdles the waves. She ate the snow just as much as the boys did, and then she was back to racing among them and trying her best to involve herself in their games.

Around here, though, the fun of a snowstorm is over all too quickly. The temperatures rarely remain cold enough for the snow to linger very long. Two days, maybe three, and the snow has melted, making the ground sodden and in some places muddy. The pristine glitter and excitement of freshly fallen snow give way to a big, wet mess.

Certainly, the city cannot remain under the spell of a rare snowfall for more than a day or so. Parents have to get back to the old grind, businesses need to make their profits, and government must return to spending its citizens' money profligately. The supermarkets need to restock their bread and milk, and the hardware stores must reorder batteries, snow shovels, and space heaters. And the snowplow drivers, electrical linemen, and emergency workers need a little time off—not to mention the intrepid meteorologists.

I have learned one lesson from this massive, once-in-a-century storm: As technologically advanced as we are, as much as we claim to have conquered nature, it is an empty boast. The forces involved in something this huge are far beyond mankind's ability to influence, much less control. This storm should give even the environmentalists pause in their wrong-headed push to convince us that man has caused global warming.

It reminds me of what God said to Job to cut him down to size: "Have you entered the treasury of snow, or have you seen the treasury of hail, which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war?" (Job 38:22-23). Or, what David said to God, "What is man that You are mindful of him? And the son of man that You visit him?" (Psalm 8:4). We are so puny, and if it takes the storm of the century to make this point, then it is a good thing. Fun too.