Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Well, not exactly -- but as the anonymous Psalmist tells us in beautiful sarcasm, we become like what we worship.  See Psalm 115:
                    2.       Why do the nations say,
                              "Where now is their God?"
                    3.       Our God is in the heavens;
                              All that He pleases, He does!
                    4.       Their idols are silver and gold,
                              The work of men's hands.
                    5.       Mouths they have but they can't speak;
                              Eyes they have but they can't see;
                    6.       Ears they have but they can't hear;
                              Noses they have but they can't smell;
                    7.       Hands they have but they can't feel.
                              Feet they have but they can't walk.
                              They can't make a sound in their throat!
                    8.       Those who make them will become like them --
                              All who thrust in them!

We may imagine that our Psalmist was engaged in a dialog or debate with some idol -- worshipper who questioned the fact that the God of Israel could not be seen, while stating that his own god was clearly visible and more "real."

"Ah yes" answers the Psalmist, "our God is invisible because He is in the heavens."  He is not claiming here that God is distant, but that He is not localized as his friend's god is.

And what's more, the God of the Psalmist is sovereign.  He is the one in control; He is not, as the idol, dependent on human creatures for His very existence.  And not only that, He is active; He does what He pleases, while though the idol has features which might indicate senses and abilities, it is incapable of any of these.   All it can do is sit there.

But then the Psalmist drives home his main attack on idol worship:  the one who made this idol will ultimately become just like it and not only the idol's maker, but anyone who puts his trust in it -- senseless and immobile.

According the Genesis 1:26 and 7, God created man -- male and female -- in His own image and likeness.  Whatever else the image of God is, it certainly includes the fact that man, like God and unlike all other earthly creatures, is a spiritual being, even though he shares a material nature with the other creatures.

But man in his idolatry has attempted to bring God down to his own material level.  So man's desire to "be like God" (Genesis 3:4) is fulfilled, except that instead of becoming like the Creator God, he has become like the god of his own creation.

But that was then; this is now.  We in the 21st century America do no worship figures made in our likeness.  We've grown beyond that in our advanced culture.  Or have we?

So, what do we worship?  What do we put our trust in?  I suppose I could list dozens of things that occupy our trust and reverence, all things of our own making, or at least, that of other humans -- things that are not necessarily "idols" in themselves, but things that can serve as gods for us.  And when they do, we as the Psalmist tells us, become like them.

We're told in Paul's letter to the Romans (8:28, 29), that God's purpose for us is to be "conformed to the image of His Son."  And we can't get there without redirecting our trust and worship to Him, or as Paul also tells us in Romans 12:2, "Stop being conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind ..."

If I'm not becoming more like Christ, what am I becoming like?

Saturday, March 23, 2013


As with many books I have read, I first heard of the book BAILOUT while watching an interview with the author Neil Barofsky on the Daily Show.  Barofsky was intriguing as he bantered with Jon Stewart, showing a sense of humor that failed to cover up what appeared to be a sense of moral indignation.

Though I had read a number of books and articles trying to understand the recent economic collapse in America, I had not read any from a government insider till this one.  It is subtitled, "How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street."

Of course, I had to purchase the book, and when I received it I tore into with relish and my iridescent yellow marker.  I found it to be not only informative, but in a sense, inspirational; it is one of the most significant books I have read recently.  And Barofsky writes in an entertaining style; I found the book hard to put down.

The book is a first person narrative of Neil Barofsky's experiences as Special Inspector General for the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), the government program designed to bail out those in distress caused by the mortgage crisis.  The program was initiated under the Bush administration and continued and expanded during the Obama administration.  The Inspector General's responsibility was to investigate and prosecute frauds which might come up during the actual dispersal of funds.  As well, the Inspector General served as a sort of a conscience or "back-seat driver" to the Treasury Department in the administering of these funds

Barofsky was apparently chosen for this position as being well qualified because of his background as Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.  In that position, he had successfully prosecuted mortgage fraud and even spent some time investigating and prosecuting drug lords and FARC guerillas in Colombia.

But what Barofsky ran into in the world of Washington power politics was something quite different.  He tells us early on of the warnings he received; to quote one such warning:  "Mister Inspector General, you have a wonderful opportunity here.  An opportunity not too many people get.  The opportunity to make a real difference.  An opportunity to serve the American people in a true and meaningful way.  And if you do this job the right way, you'll never be able to get a job again" (page xxiii).

The politics he struggled with was not the party politics of Democrat vs. Republican, but the power politics of the Treasury Department and other turf wars.  He had to serve under an uncooperative Treasury Department and at the same time to be answerable to Congress.

Barofsky is unafraid to name names and to affix blame where blame is due (and occasionally credit where credit is due).  There are a few good guys and plenty of bad guys, though once in a while some shine.  Timothy Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury, definitely does not come across as one of the good guys; Elizabeth Warren, Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, does.  Ironically, the members of Congress (Republicans and Democrats), especially those of the various House and Senate committees, usually come across as good guys.

There are many reasons, I suppose, for picking up and reading this book, some good, some not so good.  If one reads it just to be informed, this is the book.  The author not only explains his role and the role of TARP, but also gives a clear description of the financial manipulations that brought about the mess in the first place.

If, however, you're looking for fodder to reinforce your political prejudices, right or left, you'll find enough blame to go around.  One administration allowed the financial collapse to occur, the other intensified the crisis by wrong-headed attempts to cure it.  Take your pick.

If you're one of those who believes that America is going to hell in a hand-basket, you'll also find plenty of data to reinforce that view.  As the author tells us, "the entire crisis was unleashed by the greed of a handful of executives" (page 19).  The United States' government, the banks and those who ran the bailout program were all apparently working together to guarantee the United States' taxpayers "cover the losses" for any risk these greedy executives took.

Of course, if you believe as I do in the biblical doctrine of original sin and/or Paul's maxim, "The love of money is a root of all evils" (1 Timothy 6:10), you'll find plenty here to reinforce those beliefs.

But although reading this book could make the reader extremely pessimistic and discouraged, I found it, as I said above, inspirational.  Here is a man who, if we are to believe him (and I do), is a man of integrity and who had the moral courage to resist and oppose the power politics he had to deal with.  Though he doesn't present himself as a hero, he comes across as a David enforced by his own moral convictions, standing up against the Goliath of Washington politics.

A few of Barofsky's mantras continually came out throughout his story:

-- "Do the right thing, not the easy thing."  The temptation was and is always there to just go along to get along.  This was an answer to the question.  "What would Sullivan do?"  Richard Sullivan had been Barofsky's chief and mentor in prosecuting narcotics cases in his previous job.  Sullivan is described as "a tall intense deeply religious and who never touched a drop of alcohol in his life," and who "worked tirelessly."

-- "... the only way to do this job was not to think about what I would be doing next."  This assignment was a dead end.  As he had been warned, he would make more enemies than friends.  This was not a step upward on the career path.  Fortunately not long after Barofsky finally resigned, he received an offer from his alma mater, New York University School of Law, to teach.  I only hope he continues to teach and impart ethics to coming generations of lawyers.

-- "The worst thing that happens, we go home."  Though he made enemies they could do no permanent harm.

I have, in my long life been confronted many times with power politics.  So has my wife Uni.  Undoubtedly some who read this have or will.  I found myself identifying with the author in his struggles.  I have seen the same or similar power politics in the office, engineering department, college, even the churches I have pastored.  Private turf wars as those in power are more concerned about their own territory or sphere than about simply doing the right thing.

The book does not end on an optimistic note.  Matters have continued and still continue from bad to worse.  I felt left with little hope for improvement in America's situation.

Yet Barofsky had the satisfaction that he had done his job well; he and his department had prosecuted some frauds; and some of his input had kept matters from being even worse.

I was encouraged that there are some who want to simply "do the right thing."  Isn't that what every one of us should desire?  Especially those who claim to be followers of Jesus?  Shouldn't this be my desire?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


There's a passage in Paul's letter to the Ephesians that has been regarded by many evangelicals and other Christians as THE passage regarding marriage.  It is taught in many premarital counseling sessions including those that I have led.  Many have testified of its benefit in guiding their marriages and keeping them on the right track.  Yet, for some, it has been a cause for consternation; it is seen as an expression of Paul's misogyny or of the paternalistic views of the biblical writers.  It has been interpreted by others as teaching total male dominance.  It has been used to define roles and lines of authority.  Yet other interpretations seem to reduce it to little more than "be nice."

The passage as usually quoted is Ephesians 5:22-33:
          (22) Wives (submit) to your own husbands as to the Lord, (23) because the husband is head of his wife as also Christ is Head of the church and He Himself is Savior of the body.  (24) But  as the church submits to Christ, so also the wives to their own husbands in everything.
          (25) Husbands ­love your wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, (26) that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, (27) that He might present to Himself the church glorious, not having spot or wrinkle or any such things, but that she may be holy and blemish free.
          (28) In the same way husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his own wife loves himself.   (29) For nobody ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church.  (30) Because we are members of His body.  (31) "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be devoted to his wife, and the two will be one flesh."
          (32) This mystery is great, but I am speaking about Christ and about the church.  (33) However, also you -- each one of you must love his own wife even as himself.  And the wife must see that she regards her husband with reverence.

When I was initially exposed to this passage I was a young single (teenage) male.  I can't say that the home I was raised in conformed very closely to these instructions.  Uni would agree that her home did not reflect them either.  Yet this was presented as the standard we were to build our marriage upon, even though we had no example of how this was to be done.  But we tried.

Anyway, after 56 years of marriage and nearly as many years of studying this passage and of trying to live it out, I felt I'd say a few things about it, especially concerning the husband's responsibility.

First of all, we should note that it's part of a greater context regarding the filling of the Spirit.  Go back a few verses to verses 18-21:
          (18) And don't get drunk with wine, for that is self-destruction, but be filled with the Spirit, (19) speaking to each other in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and praising the Lord with your heart, (20) giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God the Father, (21) submitting to each other in the fear of Christ, ...

I believe the husband's responsibility is not emphasized strongly enough in the study of this passage.  This is a problem whether one sees it as the major passage on proper marital roles or whether one opposes it as a statement of patriarchal dominance.

We should notice that the husband is not commanded to "be the head," nor is he commanded to "exercise headship" (whatever that means); we are simply told that the husband is head of the wife.  This is apparently a God-appointed role.  Nor is he commanded, as some seem to read this, to "make his wife submit."

There is only one imperative given to the husband, that is to love his wife.  The word is used six times in this passage.  This is how he is to submit to his wife.  The command might seem obvious, even redundant, to a twenty-first century reader; after all isn't "love" the reason we marry in the first place?

To a first century reader, however, this word might come as a surprise.  Marriages were often arranged by parents, or entered into simply for convenience.  Love was not always a factor.  And a Twenty-first century marriage, even though ostensibly entered into for "love" might be entered into for a number of other factors.

We should also note that the word Paul uses is not simply the word for affection or sexual desire.  The word "love" is agapao, the kind of love that God has, that which seeks the greatest good in its object.  It is the only kind of love which is commanded and it is often given with a comparison:
          "Love your neighbor as yourself."
          "Love each other as I have loved you."

And we husbands are commanded to exercise this love toward our wives "as Christ loved the church."  Of course, by "the church" is meant not a building or a denomination or an organization, but the whole aggregate of humanity who belong to Him.

The extent of that love is also given:  "...and gave Himself for it."  I, as a husband, am to love my wife enough to die for her.  I suppose many husbands, myself included, have at one time or another envisioned ourselves performing some daring act of rescuing our wives -- from drowning, from a burglar, a rapist, or an oncoming freight train -- even to the point of giving our lives, though we'd never know what we'd do till we found ourselves in such a situation.

But there's more; Paul also tells us the goal of Christ's love, "that He might sanctify her ... that He might present to Himself the church glorious ..."  Christ died for us, not simply to pay for our sins and bring us forgiveness; He died for us to make us into all that God had intended for us to be.  This is God's purpose for us, found stated throughout the New Testament -- to make us into glorious beings -- like Christ Himself.

If that was Christ's goal in giving Himself for us on the cross, if that was the goal of Christ's love for us, is not my ultimate goal in my love for my wife to be the same -- or at least similar?  I believe that the answer is yes!

It would seem then that my love for my wife should have the goal of helping her to become all that God intended for her to be -- to put what is best for her ahead of what's best for me.  This idea turns all the traditional thinking about marriage on its head.  In the culture I was raised in, the wife seemed to be a sort of auxiliary to the husband, helping him to reach his goals, career or otherwise.  And even though marriage has changed much in the last half-century, this is still, I believe the understanding.  And for many, this passage of Scripture is believed to reinforce that concept.

This does not mean that the wife is to dominate; the passage teaches the headship of the husband.  But neither does it mean that the husband is to dominate the wife.  It presents mutually submissive roles where love dominates and each partner seeks the best for the other.

See also: