Sunday, March 21, 2010

Personal Transportation Reform

The federal government must immediately adopt legislation to provide a reliable, late-model automobile for every U.S. citizen and resident.

  1. To do so would create jobs. Imagine how many Americans could go to work to produce the new cars that the government would have to purchase!

  2. It would help to reduce the deficit. After all, we now own General Motors. Anything that increases car sales by the government car company would necessarily bring in lots of money to reduce the deficit.

  3. You should hear the sad stories of Americans who do not have reliable transportation! These people are stranded. They can't go to the grocery store. You just can't survive in most of America today without a dependable car.

  4. Health care depends upon it. All of the insurance in the world is worthless if you can't get to your doctor. Also, we're having to pay for the unnecessary utilization of ambulances and helicopters by people who can't get to the hospital on their own because they don't have a reliable car. For some of these people whose health problems make it difficult for them to drive themselves, it would likely save us a great deal of money if we also provided them with a full-time chauffeur.

  5. Providing a new car for everyone is vital to Interstate Commerce. I long ago lost count of the number of people seeking financial assistance from our church who couldn't keep a job because they didn't have dependable personal transportation. The productivity of the nation is hampered by our heartless system that denies personal transportation to millions of people.

  6. Automobile costs have skyrocketed out of control! Some vehicles cost over $50,000 these days. People are plunged into debt just to try to provide transportation for their families. The government could buy in bulk and get the same low, low costs that they achieve in defense contracts.

  7. A car for every American represents the culmination of the dream that our parents and grandparents had for us.

All of the cars should be blue. Dark blue. Turn signals will operate only to the left.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Meditations Upon Proverbs 1:7

Vividly I remember my parents, in the midst of some vacation journey, taking me as a child to see a large dam in the Ozarks (I think it was Beaver Lake Dam in Northwest Arkansas). The highway went across the top of the dam, along with a few places to park, get out, and take pictures. Of course, Dad did exactly that.

I was too short to look over the side, and I was thankful to be too short. Dad wanted to pick me up and let me look over the edge, down the sheer concrete wall to the river in the chasm below. No thank you! I yelped, bucked, and cried until he abandoned his plan and let me go. (Who would've thought that boy would earn a pilot's license?!)

It is one of my earliest recollections of fear. Mind you, my fear amounted to no judgment whatsoever regarding the moral nature of the location. I did not conclude that the White River harbored some sinister desire to slay me. Furthermore, there is no human being on the planet whom I trusted more than I trusted my Dad. I had never heard a story about boys inadvertently plummeting from dams to their demise, nor had I ever known anyone who had died after a fall from a great height. In fact, I had not yet encountered death at all, as it pertained to anyone who mattered much in my life. No statistical or experiential reason existed to justify my fear.

Yet I was afraid.

I had seen pictures of great dams before, and had watched television footage of dams in all of their immensity. None of those things made me fearful in the least. Not in the least. But here I was in the actual presence of something so much bigger than I was. Here, right beneath my feet, was power many orders of magnitude beyond such as I possessed. To be in its presence—to be so small—is to imagine dreadful possibilities and to fear.

A lifetime later, in 2002, Tracy and I celebrated 10 years of marriage by journeying to Colorado. Tourists that we were, we went to the ultimate tourist trap: Royal Gorge. Standing on that suspension bridge high above the Arkansas River, I felt fear once again, albeit with the marginal increase of courage that can come with age. The strangest thing happened, and perhaps it reveals some psychological defect in me, finally enabling those of you who are convinced that I am insane to identify precisely in what way. As I stood on the bridge and peered off into the abyss, I feared that I would jump.

I was not despondent at all—I was on a great vacation! As far as I know, I've never had a suicidal moment in my life. The thought that I would jump off of the Royal Gorge Bridge was thoroughly nonsensical. I feared it nonetheless and stepped back from the precipice.

Politicians and preachers alike speak about God. Musicians both secular and sacred make frequent reference to God. Ever and always, you can identify those for whom God is merely a concept that they have read in a book or casually absorbed from a largely theistic culture. Of their God, they are never the slightest bit afraid.

Every person who has ever truly been in His presence has trembled, not because He is evil or untrustworthy but because I am both evil and untrustworthy. Even if I live every moment of my life convinced or trying to convince others that I am not evil and untrustworthy, the moment that I am in His presence I know that I am precisely those things, and worse. Did anybody, no matter how holy, ever encounter God, or even His angels, without cowering? Aren't the first words from God in these encounters ever a statement to address the terror in God's subjects?

So I fear this God whom I know to be merciful. Entirely secure in my salvation, I am nonetheless terrified in His presence. Delighting in His presence, I fear Him still. He is not a tame lion. And yet, even while fearing that in His presence I will surely die, it is only there that I am ever surely alive.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Craziness of Modern Discourse About Human Rights


Reuters reported yesterday that 78% of 27,000 people polled in 26 countries "believe access to the Internet is a fundamental right." I submit that this sentiment, popular as it may be, is utter balderdash.

It demeans the important subject of fundamental human rights when we shovel trivia into this important category. The US Declaration of Independence famously asserted: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." That's a nice, modest, defensible statement. People have a fundamental right to live, and the government ought not to deprive anyone of life apart from compelling mitigation. People have a fundamental right to liberty, and likewise the government ought not to deprive anyone of liberty without due and just cause. People have a fundamental right to the pursuit of happiness (a phrase not so easy to interpret as you might presume, but not entirely indecipherable either). Those are modest and timeless assertions, and ones that I believe to be true.

The fundamental human rights are those for which I would gladly give my life to secure them for my children. They are those that motivated our forefathers to risk everything in their protection on our behalf. I would not die to secure DSL to my posterity.

BARBER'S LAW OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS: If your great-grandparents could not have possibly had it, then it is not a fundamental human right.

  • You do not have a fundamental human right to an MRI.
  • You do not have a fundamental human right to air travel.
  • You do not have a fundamental human right to cable TV.
  • You do not have a fundamental human right to a five-day work week.
  • You do not have a fundamental human right to retirement.
  • You do not have a fundamental human right to own a house.
  • You do not have a fundamental human right to Internet access.
  • You do not have a fundamental human right to a car.

Yes, I want all of those things (except for retirement). None of them are bad things (except for cable TV and Internet access sometimes). But people better than you have lived their entire lives without any of those things. Jesus, as far as I know, lived His entire life without any of those things.

There are fundamental human rights. They are imperiled in many places in this world. We ought to be concerned on behalf of those whose fundamental human rights are being deprived. But sometimes it makes me sick to know that Christian believers in many parts of the world do not have basic religious liberty and yet go unnoticed, but the world goes nuts that China censors the Internet.


I feel better now.

Friday, March 5, 2010

How To Resurge

This is the last of three posts in response to the GCR Task Force progress report. The other two posts are here and here. In the previous two posts I stated why I will be voting in favor of these proposals, obviously hoping that you will join me in doing so this summer in Orlando.

The name of the task force and of the vision that it represents (The Great Commission Resurgence) obviously hearkens back to the Conservative Resurgence. It seems to me that, whatever similarities exist, there is at least one profound difference between the Conservative Resurgence and the Great Commission Resurgence: The Conservative Resurgence addressed a situation in which the Southern Baptist people, generally not proponents of leftish treatments of the Bible, stood up and used their voice to bring the denominational apparatus back to the position (biblical inerrancy) that they already held on that question. The Conservative Resurgence therefore didn't really require of Southern Baptist individuals (broadly considered) that they change, but merely that they assert themselves. The present situation with regard to the Great Commission, on the other hand, presents a reality completely different from that. Individual Southern Baptist Christians must find the nerve (or whatever it might be that is lacking) to walk across the street and present the gospel to their neighbors, as they presently are generally not doing. Individual Southern Baptist churches must become evangelistically passionate, as they generally are not (sufficiently) now.

We must do more than vote; we must submit to and obey the Lordship of Christ. The Great Commission is, first of all, a command. Obey or disobey—those are our choices.

This is the most important post in this series. It is not that I know for certain that I have all of the right answers that makes this post the most important; this is the most important post because I know for certain that these are the most important questions. I have concluded that, in order for their to be any sort of a real Great Commission Resurgence, I and Southern Baptists like me must do more than vote. Our leaders can do some things to help us, and I will indicate some recommendations, but make no mistake—it is you and I who must resurge.

The progress report seems to acknowledge this concept, referring to last year's vote in Louisville as the beginning of "a grassroots spiritual movement." The report then moves to a call to repentance from Joel. Specifically, the task force identifies pridefulness and cynicism as hinderances to our Great Commission effectiveness. Although the task force has neither the authority nor the ability to address these problems, they obviously wish to motivate the rest of us and to point us in the right direction. They acknowledge in the report that Southern Baptists "expect the leaders in our convention to lead us towards the changes that are needed." So, let's consider how our leaders can lead, and then let's look at what we all can do.

Things Our Leaders Can Do

Ronnie Floyd and his task force are spot-on when they identify a "caustic cynicism" in the Southern Baptist Convention. I'm sure that they speak from experience, having likely been the focus of a great deal of cynicism in our convention. Yes, our cynicism is unhealthy. Also unhealthy would be any sense among our leaders of entitlement to unquestioning, prayerless, mindless submission to whatever they desire or recommend. The replacement for cynicism must not be anything like this. Rather, we should replace both cynicism and entitlement with mutual submission and respect under the Lord.

Let's not be in denial about the cynicism in the Southern Baptist Convention, but let's also not be in denial about the causes of that cynicism. The GCR Task Force has brought forward a very good progress report. I sense that it is building a positive enthusiasm among Southern Baptists. I believe that we will come together in a healthy sense of unity and optimism in Orlando. The Task Force, obviously desiring to accomplish these things, is (in my estimation) succeeding.


As exciting as this moment is, the Task Force still needs to learn a lesson from the story of President Obama: When you cause people to embrace optimism and hope, the higher that you lift people, the further you can cause them to fall if you disillusion them. If, as I hope and pray, the level of cynicism in the Southern Baptist Convention will decrease, then the GCR Task Force must be very careful not to do anything to cause a resurgence of cynicism among Southern Baptists.

I would encourage the members of the Task Force to consider carefully the words of Gary Ledbetter. It is critically important that the members of this GCR Task Force not move from the Task Force into denominational employ. Two facts make this requirement all the more relevant today.

First, consider the similar movement of Bob Reccord from a previous task force to the helm of NAMB. Whatever the realities of this move, very many Southern Baptists were made more cynical by their perception of the move as an instance of inside dealing within our denomination. If the Task Force members wish to inaugurate a new day in Southern Baptist life, then let them show it by demonstrating to us new patterns of behavior. I can think of no better manner for us to show by our actions a break from the past.

Second, this concept is made more relevant by the quantity of high-profile denominational posts that are presently open and by the quality of the candidates who are members of the Task Force. The temptation to the Task Force members could be intense. The fact that some task force members would do an excellent job at some of the presently open positions is somewhat beside the point. The individual members have to decide which is more important, abating ongoing cynicism about their work and preserving a fresh wind in the SBC or securing influential denominational employment.

Our leaders can also covenant with us that "Great Commission Giving" will not be promoted at all in denominational publications, media, or events. In my mind the differentiation between Cooperative Program and "Great Commission Giving" is clear—we encourage people to give through the Cooperative Program; we thankfully acknowledge that people sometimes designate their giving.

It isn't that it is morally wrong to promote another giving plan; it's just foolish. A church survives on undesignated gifts. All we pastors know this. So does the SBC. We need increased promotion of the Cooperative Program (not diverted one iota to the new category of giving) or the heyday of the SBC is in our past. Anybody who promotes "Great Commission Giving" is hurting the future of the SBC to help the image of someone else.

These reasons have been enough for some people to oppose the Task Force recommendations, but I do not believe it is necessary to do so. We track, report, and celebrate designated gifts already. I have in my office awards reflective of designated gifts that FBC Farmersville has given to the IMB (Lottie Moon), NAMB (Annie Armstrong), and SWBTS. The only difference that I can see inaugurated here is that a new name has been given to this collective category of giving that we've had all along.

Our leaders on the task force tell us that the Cooperative Program is still the giving plan that we will promote as Southern Baptists. This cannot be a "wink is as good as a nod" situation. They must keep firmly to that promise. I believe that they will, and so long as that remains the case, I see nothing unprecedented here. Perhaps I've missed something. I'm open to enlightenment.

Things We Can Do as Individual Southern Baptists and as SBC Churches

Help Your State Convention and Association Figure Out Their Roles: We're going to have to help to sort out the implications of these changes at every level of SBC life. In the long run, it may prove to be more important that you attend your state convention's annual meeting this year than that you go to Orlando. Don't get me wrong—you should be in Orlando. But the state convention meetings for the next few years will be the place where difficult decisions will be made in the aftermath of these changes. We will all need to pull together and work hard to make those decisions.

It will be helpful, as more of the details emerge about the Task Force's work, if the Task Force were to provide their specific ideas about how state conventions should adapt to the changes that they have proposed at the national SBC level. I'm confident that they have given full consideration to these questions before making those recommendations. It would be far less helpful to tell the state conventions, "We've made our decision, now you adapt to it," than to join the state conventions as brothers and say, "Let's work this out together as brothers—we've had some ideas about how to make this work. . ."

One or two of the state conventions will probably leap at the justification to reduce further their already paltry support of national and international causes, but I'm really speaking only of those few conventions that are really bad-faith participants in the SBC system already. Some other state conventions that really do have their hearts in the right place may have no choice but to make difficult decisions with regard to their own budgets and their CP allocations, particularly if they are located in pioneer areas where the changing role of NAMB may have the most profound effect.

I'm involved in the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention—the leading state convention in terms of the percentage of funds forwarded to the SBC. I hope to help our convention to look for ways, if it is possible, that we can move forward after the NAMB cooperative agreement reductions without reducing at all the percentage (55%) that we forward to national and international missions. Each of us needs to be involved at the state convention level to help to determine state policies that will maximize Great Commission effectiveness by keeping the SBC base strong while sending all of the resources that we can send to the areas of greatest need.

It is your right as a member church of your state convention to send messengers to state convention meetings and to make those decisions. No matter who else in the structure of your denomination makes statements about the GCR Task Force, they do not have the authority to decide how any state convention will react to changes at the SBC level. Your church and churches like yours will make this decision.

The bright hope of this moment is really not found in any of the specific recommendations from the Task Force, but in the thought that individual members of individual Southern Baptist Churches will take a moment to re-think how each tier of Southern Baptist life contributes to the work of your church in carrying forward the Great Commission. I call for us to "re-think" this not because I believe that the old answers are wrong, but because I believe that they are largely forgotten. Cooperative Program giving has become, for some of us, as reflexive as paying the Electric bill. What we greatly need is for every local church to have clearly in its collective mind:

  • We have a church because Jesus Christ founded the church.
  • We have a local association because?
  • We have a state convention because?
  • We have a Southern Baptist Convention because?

I believe that there are good answers for every one of those questions. I also believe that the existence of those good answers is a reason to ask the questions and to ask them forcefully, not a reason to refuse to ask them. The questions further need to be asked of every entity supported by these conventions and every line item of their budgets. Are there any cases in which we will conclude that the answers are not good enough? I think so. For example, I believe that there are universities historically affiliated with Southern Baptist life that are no longer good investments of Cooperative Program funds—that really no longer essentially see or conduct themselves as Great Commission entities. On the whole, however, I believe that the value of asking the questions is not found in the rooting out of such entities (although that would be a virtue), but is rather found in each of us clarifying in the strategies of our churches what is the purpose and vision for each of these institutions as it relates to Christ's mandate upon our churches.

What the GCR Task Force has attempted to do with regard to the national Southern Baptist Convention, we need to do with regard to our churches and with regard to every other tier of Southern Baptist life. Let me be perfectly clear—you need to attend your state and associational meetings and assist in the work of determining how to redouble our efforts and our effectiveness right now.

Lead Your Church to Pick Up the Slack. Commit as a church to give more through the Cooperative Program. Commit to be more interactive and supportive with your sister churches. Our historical myopia leads us to forget that, for quite some time, Baptist churches had robust associations on shoestring budgets with virtually no employees. How did they manage that? The churches pitched in and made it work. The churches WERE the associations and conventions, and they did not regard "the denomination" as consisting of an executive and a headquarters building. The work that needed to be done for the denomination? They just did it.

Just do it.

Don't just pick up the slack in your own back yard. Help to plant a church far, far away from yours. Go to Montana or Massachusetts. This goes just as well for those of you who do not favor the NAMB church planting proposal. Do you believe that local churches ought to be planting churches in pioneer areas and major cities? Go plant one, then. I promise you, no NAMB church planting missionary is going to firebomb your church plant in an effort to drive you out. The church that you plant will be one that no NAMB missionary will have to plant, and there will be plenty of work left to go around.

The more that our local churches focus on what we can do, the more that the NAMB will be able to focus on what we cannot do. My church cannot afford to plant a new church in Manhattan. Yours probably can't either. Meeting space is prohibitively expensive. Cost-of-living for church planters in the area is ridiculous. We simply don't have the budget to swing that kind of a plant.

But the Southern Baptist Convention does have the budget. We have the access to budgetary funds that exceed what most religious groups could dedicate to such projects. I firmly believe that the NAMB's best role is to dedicate coordinated strategies toward making bold moves in those high-cost, high-population-density areas—to do the things that few individual churches have the resources to do alone, but that we can all do together through the SBC. They'll be better able to do the things that we can't do if we will take up the yoke of the things that we can do.

Pray for Spiritual Awakening.

Samuel Morris was a farmer, not a preacher. I'm not merely asserting that Morris was not a particular good preacher; he was no preacher at all and did not attempt to be one. Perhaps, precisely because he was not a preacher, he easily deduced that neither was the minister at St. Paul's Anglican Church (Rev. Patrick Henry, uncle of the famous patriot named after him). Morris and a number of his fellow parishioners at St. Paul's decided to shirk Henry's ministrations and seek better spiritual sustenance on their own.

There being no preacher among them, Morris determined to build a little shack on his farm and invite people therein to listen to him as he read aloud from religious works. The first item on the menu at Morris's Reading House was Martin Luther's Galaterbrief, followed by such works as John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and the sermons of George Whitefield.

Morris is the father of the First Great Awakening in Virginia. Other people began to build reading houses, and they clamored to invite Morris to come and to read at their reading houses. No other person in all of Christian History comes to my mind who had built a ministry not of itinerant preaching but of itinerant reading!

If God can birth revival among disgruntled Anglicans by the means of an "itinerant reader" offering up selections of German Bible commentaries, then God certainly can move through you, no matter what size your church is or how good your preacher (who might be you!) is at preaching. Why not ask Him to do so? Like Samuel Morris, why not find whatever you can do to carry forward the Great Commission, jump in and do it, and then see how God might bless your obedience? We were not too small for God to work through us in the past; we are not presently too big for Him to do so today.

Perhaps one good thing you could do to facilitate a renewed prayer life as regards spiritual awakening here in our own backyard and to assist in your own evaluation of our Southern Baptist efforts to pursue the Great Commission would be to reacquaint yourself with the text of the Great Commission itself. Jerry Rankin has asserted that "[Great Commission] is not a biblical term" and therefore that it needs to be defined for us. With all due respect, every fifth grader in my church could tell Dr. Rankin what the Great Commission is. It is not some theological abstraction open to various definitions; it is the name we use to refer to Jesus' instructions recorded in Matthew 28:18-20.

Open that text once again. Meditate upon it. Pray about it. Do you remember that it is about teaching ALL of Christ's commandments? Do you remember that it is about baptism? Yes, the Great Commission includes a great deal that needs to be done in the People's Republic of China, but it also includes a great deal that needs to be done in the pulpit of FBC Farmersville. Listen for the Commissioner's voice. Embrace the Commission. Pray. Obey. God blesses such things.