The Authority Issue

We live in a country with authority issues, and it’s not just a psychological or social problem. It’s also a spiritual issue. In fact, one could easily think of it as the most foundational of all theological problems, because everything else you believe theologically is subjected to and under the dictates of the authority issue.

Simply defined the authority issue is the question, who or what do you trust? What sources of information do you consider authoritative and what sources do you automatically distrust.

Who or what you choose to trust shapes everything else you think you know and choose to believe. Think about the current state of the press in America. Some people follow Fox News, and others believe CNBC. Some don’t trust either, but in all three cases, how they place their trust shapes their view of the world.

When one has not developed a capacity to choose the correct authorities to trust, they have all kinds of problems in life. Distrust the police and you have rioting in the streets. Trust into strangers and you will be stolen from. Theologically speaking putting trust in the wrong things has much the same results. Misplaced trust allows the devil to keep you spiritually angry, as well as to lie to you and steal from you.

Some people believe affirm that they trust God and believe they have settled the issue, but this decision only scratches the surface. Now you have to decide how God speaks to you. How God speaks, whether it is through a certain person, a church structure, or personal experience, then becomes the heart of your authority issue.

As a Baptist and Evangelical, my easy answer is that God speaks through the Bible. This would be a great answer, if people would only read it for themselves. Unfortunately most of us do not interact with Scripture independently, so the authority issue is not done. It continues with the question, who do we trust to interpret the Bible for us?

For some people it is a matter of trusting their pastor, or perhaps whoever is standing in their pulpit on a given Sunday. For others it is a favorite Bible teacher. For many it is anyone that agrees with a specific theological perspective. While all of these are not necessarily bad, they are likely to be the manner in which we get lazy with our theology, letting someone else think for us and decide for us what ideas to accept and reject. That is a lot of spiritual power and theological control to give away lightly.

We would better off to keep a constant eye on our own authority issue, so as to keep control of, and take personal responsibility for, what we believe.

Heuristics

This is a short story I wrote while trying to write something else.  I think it’s kind of fun though, so I decided to put it out here for Fun Friday. Enjoy and let me know what you think.

Heuristics, is the term computer engineers use for evaluating and learning from patterns. I work with Homeland Security using heuristics to identify bad guys by comparing data points from all over the world.

Sometimes heuristics make perfect sense.

When a rural address orders titanium bearings and ammonium nitrate, it’s just a farmer. When a suburban address orders titanium bearings and ammonium nitrate, send in the CIA to capture the terrorist cell.

When a private pilot makes an emergency landing at a strip in Southern Texas where a rented limo is waiting, send in the FBI to collect the drug lord.

Sometimes heuristics don’t make a bit of sense, but still correlate.

Mob bosses’ girlfriends will gain weight the week before their bosses do a major import.

Middle Eastern terrorists will eat excessive amounts of Chinese takeout their first few days in America.

I collect the data and find the patterns. As the project grew I bought and set up new servers, always needing something bigger and faster. Soon my algorithms were accessing millions of data points a minute. As the data points increased, so did the arrests. This was my pattern, my heuristic.

After capturing a hundred bad guys from dozens of illegal enterprises I was feeling pretty good. When the total crossed a thousand arrests, and I felt like a data acquisition legend. The bad guys can hide their data trail, they can disguise their activities, but at some point their personal habits will always give them away.

After losing hundreds of operatives, someone was bound to wonder how we were doing it. They would begin to analyze the data themselves. Of course, I’m not an idiot. I know how to cover my tracks. My servers have masked IP addresses. Computer parts were purchased from different companies, and delivered to a collection of rented PO Boxes. But the electricity usage correlates to the increased computing power and was billed to a physical address. Heuristics would be the death of me.

So I began a pattern of remote computing, accessing the data over a wide area network. They could track the data back to the servers but not back to me. I covered my tracks, and enjoyed even more success. No longer did I have a fancy warehouse, but instead I had dozens of them. Meanwhile I actually did my work from home.

My boss asked me to find an arms dealer. They had no idea where he was or what he looked like. But they knew where he grew up. I felt like a genius when I was able to draw a heuristic profile that would definitively find him based on spending patterns. He was arrested in Amsterdam after buying a cinnamon and raisin bagel, a cup of espresso made with Kona beans, and watching a world cup game in an internet café.

I celebrated by going out and getting a diet orange soda and a snickers bar. It was the same way I had been celebrating since I was back in the original warehouse. It was much like the heuristic I had used to catch the arms dealer. This thought occurred to me as I saw a pair of black SUVs pull up in front of the house. They could be Homeland Security, except they aren’t speaking English. That is definitely the wrong heuristic.

Heuristics will be the death of me.

Discipline

Discipline should be a trait of a disciple.

Discipline, as in self-control, is necessary to choose the shape of your own behavior. Without it, one cannot control their own choices, walk a path of repentance, nor follow the Lord.

Some would undoubtedly say, you can’t do any of those things anyway, that the human form is incapable of doing anything good. I agree the human form is frail, and incapable of leaving sin completely behind. We should reconcile ourselves to never being perfect.

But this fact does not mean we should not strive to do better, nor that we cannot do better. I distrust the definitions of Christian living which say either, our sinfulness glorifies God by allowing Him to give us more grace, or that our grace means sin is no longer relevant to us. Paul addresses both of these misconceptions in Romans 6.

Instead I view grace as most relevant in salvation. But discipleship, our growth after salvation is a partnership between us and God. Our obedience glorifies Him.

So consider the importance of discipline to the Christ follower.

Discipline is one of the benefits of fasting, discipline is necessary for the taming of the mind and body to the instructions of Christ, and discipline is required to replenish the storeroom of the heart with the things of God.

Secularism as State Religion

My greatest concern for this country involves our drift toward a state religion.

The average American doesn’t know what a state religion is or how it works, but most nations have a particular religious viewpoint that they advocate. For example, across Scandinavia the nations are officially Lutheran. When a person is born in those countries, they are automatically considered a member of that church, unless they petition not to be. A portion of their tax dollars go to support this church.

Even in communist countries which claim to have no religion, they support a state religion, specifically atheism. They do this by teaching it in the schools, promoting it in politics, and oppressing other viewpoints.

Now here in the United States we have a history in regard to state religion. The founders of our nation struggled to decide what religion America would endorse, but with the introduction of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the US Constitution, we determined to have no state religion. At the time, it was an unprecedented decision. We opted for freedom of religion.

But today, just like communist countries actively promote atheism, our country has been actively promoting secularism. This may not be the most accurate word, so let me be very specific in defining the problem. The government has begun a policy of saying that you have freedom of thought, but not of action. You can believe whatever you want, but you cannot act on it when it violates the government agenda.

By acting on it, I am referring both to personal patterns of living and to the proclamation of your beliefs. Proclamation, preaching and teaching, is going to be a part of any religion, but now if you preach the wrong things, you can lose your status as a valid church in this country

If we are really going to be having a government which oversees the activities of churches, we probably should apologize to Russia and China. After all this is the practice these governments have had for generations and a primary reason we have spoken of them as not being free.

Lesser Nighthawk

Nighthawk

This is a picture of a lesser nighthawk. They come into our area in the summer and you can see them flying around the lights on ball fields and parking lots hawking insects at night.

They are strong flyers and a lot of fun to watch, but one of their most interesting traits is their vocalization. They make noises like sound affects in a Sci-Fi movies.

There have been a few nights when the noises coming from the surrounding desert made me want to scan the skies for a flying saucer.

I can picture a group of city dwellers camping in the desert. After nightfall, those sounds begin rising up around them, causing their imaginations to rise up within them. Given the creepiness of the calls and the furtiveness of the human imagination, one could predict a UFO sighting before the night is over.

Only it’s not a UFO, it’s just a nighthawk dashing in and out of the corners of their vision as it grabs insects attracted by the people, the sweet smell of s’mores, and the light of the campfire.

This alien assumption, which is so easily made about the lesser nighthawk, is also rather easily made about believers. We might not want to admit it, but at times we say things that sound completely alien to people who are unfamiliar with our language.

We say we are:

Children of the King,
Justified and sanctified,
Being made perfect, and
Washed in the blood.

Any or all of these terms might mean a great deal to us, but it is only going to help the unbeliever when we slow down enough to tell them what we mean by each phrase. Paul says a great deal about the importance of saying things in a way that can be understood in 1 Corinthians 14. Verse 9 summarizes the responsibility of the speaker in any communication to speak with clarity.

In the same way, unless you use your tongue for intelligible speech, how will what is spoken be known? For you will be speaking into the air.

Small Business Economy

Recently I heard a speaker refer to our current economic situation in the United States as an entrepreneurial economy. Trying to summarize his comments is difficult, but it included that most people will not find a single job which allows them to support themselves and their families. He suggested that instead, we should all be spending our free time, doing something on the side which could make us additional money. He asserted that the day is likely coming when the side job will be the only job opportunity we have.

This speaker was attempting to be helpful, and I know that the American dream is best achieved by hard work and original ideas. But I also know that the majority of new businesses fail before ever turning a profit. So while this approach might make a few people succeed in big ways, it is not going to stabilize the US economy as a whole.

The average person doesn’t have a marketable product, nor the expertise to run a business. This fact, causes many people to consider canned opportunities, such as franchises or multi-level marketing. These two types of side jobs often turn out to be predatory and opportunistic, so except for those who have done extensive and careful research, most people will lose money instead of gain.

But even if the majority of people could find success in these side jobs, what would the economy look like? Essentially we would have a preponderance of small businesses, capable of only producing small products. Anything which takes a larger manufacturing process to produce would have to come to us from other countries. The American economy was made strong by being the producer of these goods, and we will not find that same strength in small businesses.

Stabilizing the economy, even in the modern age, I believe will involve bringing some manufacturing and large employers back to the United States. So we need to stop demonizing large employers and make it practical to manufacture in this country once again.