Thursday, February 26, 2009

The ESV Study Bible

Last summer I decided to use some birthday money from my parents to pre-order an ESV Study Bible from Crossway. I'd seen enough online to know that it would be a great resource and I was not disappointed when I got it in the fall.

If you haven't already bought a copy of it for yourself, you may be fortunate enough to win one by entering a contest at A Boomer in the Pew. But if you don't win it, you can buy one.

The Study Bible is a great resource--like a concise commentary built into the Bible. I have found it very helpful for leading my Bible Study, as well as my own personal study. There are many good essays in it and the maps and illustrations are phenomenal.

Go to Amazon and look at all the information about the Study Bible there, and I think you'll be impressed. And enter the contest to win a copy for yourself.

03/01/09 UPDATE: Crossway is granting free online access to the ESV Study Bible through the end of March. Go to this link and check out all the content in the published Bible, online.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Gitmo Hot Air

The left's talking points on the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay are well known—they say the camp is a place where we mistreat and abuse prisoners and so on. We have now learned that, "A Pentagon report requested by President Obama on the conditions at the Guantánamo Bay detention center concluded that the prison complies with the humane-treatment requirements of the Geneva Conventions.

This of course, should surprise none of us. As we all instinctively knew before, the left's and the media's talking points (which are the same thing), were hot air and political posturing. The left and the media used any means available to criticize President Bush's competence and morality. The secret nature of the camp gave the left and the media the opportunity to let their imaginations and their mouths run wild with horrible kinds of fantasies about how immoral the U.S. military had treated those poor jihadists that should really just be left alone.

It is not yet clear what the Obama administration will do with this report. But as Andrew McCarthy of National Review said, "What good is it to validate Gitmo and defend renditions if Obama is going to release the terrorists anyway? " He states this on the heels of the US and Britain reaching agreement to release an Ethiopian-born terrorist.

Moves like this make it appear that the Obama administration is not serious about defending Americans and the world from terrorists.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Inflation: Another (and Better) Opinion

Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute has a differing opinion on inflation than I have taken and articulated on this blog. I found this on The Corner on National Review. His outlook is decidedly more optimistic than mine:
_________________________

The producer price index (PPI) — a measure of prices at the wholesale level — rose by a surprising 0.8 percent in January, a statistic many have taken as a sign of inflation. Business Week’s Mike Mandell combed through the numbers and disagreed with that assessment: From the fact that producer prices for service industries hadn’t risen at all, he deduced that, rather, “service sector deflation” was impending.

Both the inflation and the deflation worries are overwrought — for the moment.

As for inflation, if we leave out the misleading gyrations in energy prices, the January increase in the PPI was just 0.2 percent. That followed a decline of 0.2 percent in December. Even if January’s 0.2 percent rise persists for a couple of months, that would be a big improvement from the first quarter of 2008 — when the ex-energy PPI rose by 0.5 percent a month (a 6 percent annual rate) — or the second and third quarters, when it rose by 0.4 percent a month (4.8 percent).

In fact, such rapid inflation of wholesale costs is one reason profit margins shrank and the economy went into recession: Costs of doing business, even aside from $145 oil and crushing debts, were rising faster than selling prices. The latest PPI figures suggest greatly reduced cost pressure on businesses, although unit labor costs rose faster than prices in the fourth quarter.

As for deflation, producer and consumer prices did fall late last year. But this was no deflation: It was a welcome unwinding of the horrific surge in oil prices in early 2008. These lower prices resulted in real disposable income rising in October, November, and December (after falling for months).

Those who have been too quick to fret about “deflation” should calm down until they have more facts to support their opinion. Those worrying about rising inflation ahead have a sounder theoretical case, but it would be surprising to see inflation data turning up just four months after the Fed began “quantitative easing.” That is not what the PPI shows; even if it did, there's no evidence that we can use the PPI to predict the CPI.

Alan Reynolds, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, is the author of Income and Wealth.

A Government Without Restraint

The AP is reporting that Obama Transportation Secretary, and RINO Ray LaHood says, "he wants to consider taxing motorists based on how many miles they drive rather than how much gasoline they burn."

According the article:

"The system would require all cars and trucks be equipped with global satellite positioning technology, a transponder, a clock and other equipment to record how many miles a vehicle was driven, whether it was driven on highways or secondary roads, and even whether it was driven during peak traffic periods or off-peak hours.

The device would tally how much tax motorists owed depending upon their road use. Motorists would pay the amount owed when it was downloaded, probably at gas stations at first, but an alternative eventually would be needed."

The article does state that some critics have said, "It's an Orwellian intrusion by government into the lives of citizens. Other motorists say it eliminates an incentive to drive more fuel-efficient cars since gas guzzlers will be taxed at the same rate as fuel sippers."

I see several problems with the idea. First, it is yet another example of a complex system of taxation. Government adds enough complexity to our lives through taxation, fees, red-tape, and so on. This would be yet another example of a complex system through which we would have our money taken away from us by the federal government.

Second, the complexity of the system requires a great deal of technology. Who is going to pay for all this? Of course the answer, one way or another is you and I would whether directly or indirectly. It is a boondoggle for GPS companies, and technology companies—it is a sort of publicly endorsed subsidy for GPS and satellite manufacturers.

Third, this would be a highly unnecessary and unprecedented invasion of privacy. Do you really want anyone—let alone government agencies hoarding data about where you are going in your car, how fast you're going, how much gas you're using, and so on? What other periphery information would they collect? Where would it be stored? How could they keep the information confidential? What additional bureaucracy would be required to administer such an undertaking?

Fourth, what right does the government even have to this information? By what authority granted in the Constitution do they have the just cause to attempt such a tax? This is perhaps the biggest problem with the proposal—yet it is the one that few, if any address. Our government and our politicians are so pragmatic and unprincipled that they believe they are in no way limited in what they can do.

This proposal must be opposed and defeated. If it is not, further intrusions will come into our lives and there will be even less of a barrier between what is the government's domain and what is not.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

On Idolatry

I am currently reading Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. I happened upon a remarkable quote. I share it with you to as a symbol of how our culture has been transformed in the last century. It might actually be impossible for anyone born in America to think this thought again. Not long after we become aware of the world outside our own small sphere of influence, we are exposed to the celebrity of actors and actresses. Can you imagine a world that did not celebrate the likes of Brad Pitt or Kate Winslet? Can you imagine a magazine rack without Entertainment Weekly, People, or TV Guide? It is difficult, is it not? It may not be altogether undesirable thought, but it is surely a difficult one to imagine. Enter Oscar Wilde:

"As a rule, people who act lead the most commonplace lives. They are good husbands, or faithful wives, or something tedious. You know what I mean—middle-class virtue and all that kind of thing."

Preposterous, is it not? The Picture of Dorian Gray was published in 1890. Now is it not difficult to imagine Brad Pitt or Kate Winslet as possessing middle class virtue—living modestly because their incomes were modest?

Surely it is obvious to us all that the advent of film, television, and now the Internet has transformed our perception of actors and actresses. The craft of acting had once been limited by time and space to one theater and one relatively small audience. Each performance of Hamlet was once by definition a new one. One audience would see one performance of it and a new audience would see a new performance of it the following night. The actor would have to repeat the performance over and over in order to continue to be paid. The nature of local theater made acting a modest endeavor. Of course there have been exceptions to this rule, but it is not difficult to see how a small audience would provide for small income for actors.

What kind of fool would pay an actor for a performance of Hamlet the previous night's performance? That is the sort of bargain we routinely make with actors these days. The actor now plays a part once, and receives payment for it for months and years worth of performances in theaters and DVD players across the globe. This new means of distribution established a market for celebrity actors and actresses. As a result the local theater would be all but extinct were it not subsidized by local and federal governments.

As I said, this is obvious. What is not obvious is how this has transformed our culture. I've recently written on idolatry after interacting with Thomas de Zengotita's article Culture as Anesthetic. Idolatry, as I said is "our fundamental sin." Has it ever occurred to you that we have applauded Hollywood for giving us new gods to worship in our pantheon? The theater has become holy, each actor a god, each actress a goddess. We receive a new god with great fanfare—a messianic reception. We sit in awe and reverence as we are invited to join our gods on Olympus for the Academy Awards and celebrity specials where the gods gather to applaud one another and encourage their faithful in the faith. And we receive their ethical exhortations on matters like environmentalism, war, poverty, and morality with gratefulness.

What are the stories and ideas that give meaning and shape to your life? Who is it that you emulate, imitate, and hope to be like? When is the last time you have been as moved by an experience with God as you were with the last movie you watched?

One might object that it is not fair to argue in this manner, for of course one can watch a film or TV show without worshipping an idol. This is true. Yet, ponder this: Dictionary.com defines idolatry as "excessive or blind adoration, reverence, or devotion." This is a helpful start to define the term—particularly for my purposes here. What are those things that are central to one's life? How much time does one devote to the pursuit of honoring, adoring, or loving the pantheon of gods that Hollywood has given us? How many hours have you spent in your lifetime watching television and movies compared to worshipping the god you say you believe in? I am ashamed to answer myself, for I know that the balance in my life is rather one-sided.

It is easy for us to define idolatry in such a way that we become innocent of it. We are in great peril when we think this way. Let us be ever vigilant of idolatry and seek it out that we may purge ourselves of it.

Don't Worry, Folks. We're Professionals.

I recently articulated my fears of oncoming inflation (among other things). Signs of it coming are all around us. Gas prices have been on the rise for more than a month for no real reason, as far as I can see, at least. Food prices have been up for a long time. The bailouts and now the "stimulus" bill have ensured that the government is going to pump fake money into the American economy--all without risking inflation, so the experts say.

Well, in January the wholesale inflation went up 0.8 percent, according to the AP, far exceeding what the "experts" had predicted of 0.2 percent. And yes, energy prices were largely responsible for the spike--increasing by 3.7%.

But, as the article continues to say,

"Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told an audience at the National Press Club on Wednesday that he saw little risk that the Fed's efforts to fight the recession and a severe financial crisis would trigger inflation presusres. He said that once the economy begins to rebound and financial markets stabilize, the Fed will be able to quickly reverse the actions it has taken before inflation becomes a problem."

So, don't worry folks! These are professionals who know what they're doing. Despite our apparently rational fears of inflation, and the evidence in front of our noses, we have no reason to be alarmed. Move along, move along. There's nothing to see here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Numbing of the American Mind: Culture as Anesthetic

I recently finished reading Don Carson's book Christ and Culture Revisited. On the second to last paragraph Carson had a footnote referring to a Harper's Magazine article written by Thomas de Zengotita entitled "The Numbing of the American Mind: Culture as Anesthetic." Having recently become fixated on cultural issues over the past four months the article sounded intriguing and right up my alley.

I was able to locate the article online and read it. I highly recommend that you too read it. de Zengotita is a big leftist--he writes for the Huffington Post, so I certainly do not endorse everything he has to say--even in this article. But the thesis is a compelling and important one.

de Zengotita's central thesis is that our culture creates, and disseminates so much information at such breakneck speed that we have become numbed to life and to living. He frames his argument around the events of 9/11 and the months following.

He writes:

...if we were spared a gaping wound in the flesh and blood of personal life, we inevitably moved on after September 11. We were carried off by endlessly proliferating representations of the event, and by an ever expanding horizon of associated stories and characters, and all of them, in their turn, represented endlessly, and the whole sweep of it driven by the rhythms of The Show.

And that's just one thread in this tapestry of virtuality. The whole is so densely woven and finely stranded that no mind could possibly comprehend it, escape it, govern it. It's the dreamwork of culture. It just proceeds and we with it, each of us exposed to thousands, probably millions of 9/11-related representations--everything from the layout of the daily paper to rippling-flag logos to NYPD caps on tourists to ads for Collateral Damage. Conditioned thus relentlessly to move from representation to representation, we got past the thing itself as well; or rather, the thing itself was transformed into a sea of signs and upon it we were borne away from every shore, moving on, moving on."


This moving on is symbolic of how desensitized to our surroundings we have become. He argues, "When you find out about the [a quadrapelgic using his mind connected to a computer] moving cursor, or hear statistics about AIDS in Africa, or see your 947th picture of a weeping fireman, you can't help but become fundamentally indifferent because you are exposed to things like this all the time..."

He continues his argument:

Which is not to say you aren't moved. On the contrary, you are moved, often deeply, very frequently--never more so, perhaps, than when you saw the footage of the towers coming down on 9/11. But you are so used to being moved by footage, by stories, by representations of all kinds--that's the point. It's not your fault that you are so used to being moved, you just are.

So it's not surprising that you have learned to move on so readily to the next, sometimes moving, moment. It's sink or surf. Spiritual numbness guarantees that your relations with the moving will pass. And the stuffed screen accommodates you with moving surfaces that assume you are numb enough to accommodate them. And so on, back and forth. The dialectic of postmodern life.

de Zengotita is clearly continuing the same line of thought that Neil Postman had been on in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death (which I HIGHLY recommend) among others. His concern, like Postman's is that we have sold ourselves to technology without realizing the great moral cost.

I forget what Carson even said about de Zengotita's article, but he did not any deeper than a reference to the article. I want to see Christians deal with these kinds of issues because I believe that de Zengotita and Postman have diagnosed part of the problem that we have as evangelists. Our culture (and world, really) do not have the attention span or the minds trained to think through long term ramifications of their own behaviors. There is no true evaluation of the human condition--we've bought the easy answers and sold God down the river without realizing that, like Esau, we've sold our birthright.

It is these kinds of things that raise questions about how Christians should interact with our broader media culture. The quantity and content of the media around us is truly antithetical to the Christian Gospel. I don't simply mean hostile, but opposite--another gospel, meant to deceive and re-align your loyalties.

I used to think that Christians raising questions about watching TV, movies, using cell phones, using the Internet were alarmists, reactionaries, luddites, and fuddy-duddies. But I have started to believe they are prophetic and only to be ignored at the peril of your own soul.

Can you honestly say that you have been unaffected by the TV and movies you watch? Do you truly understand how you have been transformed through these mediums?

One of de Zengotita's most insightful metaphors is about our interactions with real nature--for example, when you encounter a wolf in the wild:

You won't see wolves, you'll see "wolves." You'll be murmuring to yourself, at some level, "Wow, look, a real wolf, not in a cage, not on TV, I can't believe it."

That's right, you can't. Natural things have become their own icons.

And you will get restless really fast if that "wolf" doesn't do anything. The kids will start squirming in, like, five minutes; you'll probably need to pretend you're not getting bored for a while longer. But if that little smudge of canine out there in the distance continues to just loll around in the tall grass, and you don't have a really powerful tripod-supported telelens gizmo to play with, you will get bored. You will begin to appreciate how much technology and editing goes into making those nature shows. The truth is that if some no-account chipmunk just happens to come around your campsite every morning for crumbs from your picnic table, it will have meant more to you than any "wolf."

He's right--isn't he? I clearly remember seeing elephants up close on a (sort of) safari in South Africa. I immediately compared the experience to watching elephants on television. But his point is bigger than this--his point is how mundane such experiences become to us.

How long can you sit outside in stillness and silence? How long can you sit and read your Bible without wishing you were doing something else? How long is too long for your pastor to preach on Sunday morning? How long before you get fidgeting during a prayer?

He continues:

Being numb isn't antithetical to being totally stressed, 24-7--and asking for more. Over-scheduled busyness might seem like the opposite of numbness, but it is just the active aspect of living in a flood of fabricated surfaces...The numbness of busyness works on the same principle, but it relies upon its agents to abide by an agreement they must keep secret, even from themselves. The agreement is this: we will so conduct ourselves that everything becomes an emergency.

Under that agreement, stress is how reality feels. People addicted to busyness, people who don't just use their cell phones in public but display in every nuance of cell-phone deportment their sense of throbbing connectedness to Something Important--these people would suffocate like fish on a dock if they were cut off from the Flow of Events they have conspired with their fellows to create. To these plugged-in players, the rest of us look like zombies, coasting on fumes. For them, the feeling of being busy is the feeling of being alive.

Partly, it's a function of speed, like in those stress dramas that television provides to keep us virtually busy, even in our downtime. The bloody body wheeled into the ER, every personjack on the team yelling numbers from monitors, screaming for meds and equipment, especially for those heart-shocker pads--that's the paradigm scene. All the others derive from it: hostage-negotiator scenes, staffers pulling all-nighters in the West Wing, detectives sweeping out of the precinct, donning jackets, adjusting holsters, snapping wisecracks. Sheer speed and Lives on the Line. That's the recipe for feeling real.

Do you ever feel this way? Is this a gospel way to live? Is it compatible with Holy Scripture? Does this seem like idolatry to you? We moderns often fail to understand idolatry because we too readily dismiss idolatry as something others do when they create a physical idol representing the god or gods they worship. This of course is an antiquated, but unbiblical understanding of idolatry. Idols in the true sense are things we create in our own image—things that we worship or give us meaning, purpose, happiness. This is by no means a perfect definition, but it is a start.

Idolatry is our fundamental sin against God—out of an idolatrous heart all other sin proceeds. This is why Jesus said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." We are prone to make idols and we do not love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, or minds. We too readily fill our minds with the thoughts and images around us—things that take our attention from the One True God to gods we would rather exalt.

So while de Zengotita is concerned we're "moving on" too easily from matters of human significance, I say we're passing over eternal matters without giving any thought to them because we've become unable to grasp heavenly matters—we have conditioned our minds (and consequently our hearts) to be satisfied with this world's candy, rather than God's living water. I'm as guilty as any other, I'm only now beginning to see how readily I would prefer the things of this world over God's eternal kingdom.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Revolution: Ranting and Raving

I've become very pessimistic about our nation's future over the course of the last week. There is no accountability in Washington: the media is a cheerleader for the Democratic party, tax cheats are being rewarded with government appointments, and the so called "stimulus bill" is nothing but pork and a prescription for all-out socialism. And on top of that, some in Congress want to put limits on free speech by re-enacting the Fairness Doctrine.

All they want is "some balance on the airwaves." Naturally they must use legislation to ensure radio stations are "accountable." The free market is not operating correctly for these fascists--so they are going to use political force to push their own agenda forward.

Folks, we're screwed. I mean we're really screwed. The Democrats have been lustily waiting to regain the White House and work without any Congressional restraints. As Rush said today, every day is like Christmas for them. These people wake up each day knowing they can run roughshod over us all.

Obama is intimidating us all with the prospect of a never ending recession if we don't pass the stimulus bill--a never ending recession that his party is responsible for creating in the first place and now about to lengthen.

We're going to see double-digit employment and near double-digit inflation by the time the Obama administration is over. Our nation will be saddled with debt that it will take generations to pay off. Social Security may be permanently bankrupt and un-fixable. More industries will become nationalized. Oh yeah, we're screwed all right and I haven't even addressed social issues.

Obama will see to it that there will be more abortions performed in America and all around the world. Extremist leftist judges will be put into lifetime appointments destroying the American judicial system for years after Obama is out of office. Christians will be increasingly marginalized in civic affairs.

What hope is there? The only real hope is that Jesus is Lord and this world will pass away to a new heavens and new earth--it is already begun.

I'm totally on board with Rush's idea to use the political power to wage ideological war on the leftists in this country. We need to use the power of the government to undermine their efforts to destroy the fabric of our nation. We need to turn the tables on them--fund our political action committes and de-fund theirs, undermine labor unions, undermine the NEA, undermine the leftist agenda in our public universities, and purge socialism from within our borders. We can no longer fight a "fair fight." The Democrats have been playing dirty for far too long while we've been trying to fight like gentlemen. That time is over.

Who's with me?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Abortion=Infanticide

The AP has reported on a horrific story about a mother who went to an abortion clinic to abort her 23 week old baby. The problem was that the doctor didn't arrive in time to kill the baby before it was born.

There are conflicting reports about what happened, but both scenarios represent humanity at its worst.

The official report claims, "one of the clinic owners, Belkis Gonzalez came in and cut the umbilical cord with scissors, then placed the baby in a plastic bag, and the bag in a trash can."

However, the mother, who is now suing the clinic claims, "...Gonzalez knocked the baby off the recliner chair where she had given birth, onto the floor. The baby's umbilical cord was not clamped, allowing her to bleed out. Gonzalez scooped the baby, placenta and afterbirth into a red plastic biohazard bag and threw it out."

The mother, as I said is suing the clinic, because she had a change of heart. Her attorney says, "She came face to face with a human being, and that changed everything."

Abortion is merely a word used to justify the killing of an innocent baby--preferably before it is born to reduce the moral horror of the procedure. Abortion is infanticide, plain and simple. Any who claim otherwise are playing word games and defending the indefensible.

May God bring forgive us, and may He cause us to deal justly with the lives of all human beings!

HT: DB

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Hypocrisy: The Politics of Fear

During the Presidential Primaries, Senator Barack Obama stated, "We can’t afford the same politics of fear that invokes 9/11 as a way to scare up votes."

Fast Forward to 2009 and President Barack Obama:

"This recession might linger for years. Our economy will lose 5 million more jobs. Unemployment will approach double digits. Our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse."

Of course, Obama is not using the politics of fear in reference to 9/11, but American's fear an economic depression--perhaps even more than another 9/11?

Barack Obama is not a "new kind" of politician. In fact he appears much like his predecessors. He is just as willing to prey upon the fears of the electorate to implement his agenda as any other. Barack Obama is a hypocrite and fear-monger. As I have been saying for months now: let us not be deceived by this man.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Newspeak

I've been on hiatus since Obama won the election in November. I guess you could consider it a time of mourning. Well, many of us expected a socialist regime, and now we've got it. The White House is now trying to spin their way out of the shady characters they've nominated to cabinet positions by stating, "The bar that we set is the highest that any administration in the country has ever set."

I can hardly resist calling this all out B.S. (Barbara Streisand, for you Rush listeners).

Perhaps another analogy will work--George Orwell's "Newspeak." Newspeak is the language used in Orwell's 1984, where language is so controlled that it is impossible to think outside of the government's guidelines.

Another way to say it is, to "call evil good, and good evil." See Isaiah 5:20.

I, too, say woe to the Obama administration for calling urine rain.