Thursday, April 16, 2009

Last Days

During the current world-wide economic strife I have been relatively pleased that the Christian community has, for the most part, showed remarkable restraint in not proclaiming the end of days loudly and stridently from the rooftops of churches. The temptation must have been - and still is, I reckon - quite considerable.

But, the doomsayers have had their moments before and whether it was Hal Lindsay in his book "The Late Great Planet Earth" or Oral Roberts pleading for money to shore up his ministry or The World Wide Church of God determining a set of what ended up to be moving dates when the end would come (and these are only a few occurrences in my lifetime) we all know that the score stands thus: God - ∞ ; Predictors - 0.

Unfortunately the cracks are starting to show in Christendom and dire warnings of doom are beginning to leak out. I was very surprised to read such a post by David Wilkerson, the author of the autobiographical "The Cross and the Switichblade". His message is predictable, cryptic and supported (poorly) by Scripture as John Piper observes.

My personal reaction was dismay. I read "The Cross and the Switchblade" when I was a youngster. It frightened and fascinated me. I became aware of the reality that there are people in the world who will actually do what Christ would - put their lives on the line for others - and this was long before we started wearing WWJD bracelets. I admit I'm no David Wilkerson, but to now see him treading into fool's territory is disappointing.

All of this, and some recent personal encounters, have caused me to think about this and I am currently of the opinion that the church can gain no ground by taking the role of doomsayer for the following reasons:

1. We have a message to deliver already. Christ Lives! He died for all and was raised to life by the power of God. All can receive His free gifts of forgiveness, salvation, restoration and everlasting life. There is no other message we are called to deliver.

*NOTE* Generally the church as a whole does not engage much in doomsaying, despite the stereotypes the world holds of us - it is most often individuals. I suggest to those of you with such a message a very healthy contemplation of Ephesians 5:21 then don't deliver your message of destruction until there is unity within the body you are a part of concerning this.

2. The judgment of God upon the world is implicit in the Gospel. We do not do conviction - that is the work of the Holy Spirit. If in the hearing of God's Word people feel appropriate guilt (yes gentle reader there is such a thing) that is something they must address if they wish to be honest with themselves. We do not need to add unnecessary emphasis to this portion of the message.

3. We have cried "wolf" too often to be taken seriously. As an example, I suggest that the politically motivated eco-movement is currently falling under the effects of this. Recent revelations concerning "global warming" - now re-named "climate change" - questions and concerns about the adoption of policies purported to aid ecological agendas and the lack of civil debate in these matters has tainted the message of the ecologists and they are risking losing what credibility they still have. When it comes to the issue of "the end of days" I submit that the church has even less credibility, if any at all. And that sad truth alone could be the subject of an entire blog post.

4. Worrying about this inevitable event is useless. Trying to accelerate its inception, manage through its possible series of events, use it as a goad to prod people into acceptance of Christ or basing your life decisions on how you believe you understand it all will happen is, at the very least delusional and at worst violently arrogant. Especially in light of the truth that it is God's decision and we claim to accept His sovreignity. Even Christ Himself admitted that he doesn't know when all of this is going to happen. So when we say we do, who the heck do we think we are?

I heard a story recently that captures, I think, how we pilgrims should react in troubled times. This is my modified retelling of it:

At an evangelical seminary a group of earnest, fresh-faced students were engaged in a late night friendly game of Risk with one of the professors. One of them asked the group what they would do if they suddenly received the message that Christ's appearance was immanent and the end of all things was upon them. Answers ranged from "call my family and friends who don't believe and plead with them one last time" to "wake up everyone on campus so they can be ready" to "go to the chapel to confess and pray" to "call the radio and TV stations" to "put it on my blog/text it/twitter it". Finally the students turned to the professor and asked what he would do.

"Finish the game," he replied with a smile.

One other person commenting on these things said "I think brothers and sisters in countries all over the world are living through what looks like Armageddon to them right now." So why is this such a big deal to us all of a sudden? Oh yeah, right, I forgot - we all just lost a bunch of our gold. It must be the end of days, right? (sarcasm very much intended - forgive me if you can)

It is the end of days - right now.

It always has been since Jesus ascended to Heaven.

Live them for Him.


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

In Cars

For those of you who recognized my borrowed title as belonging to the lyrics of Gary Numan's semi-hit "Cars", congrats.

I have been fascinated with cars since my very earliest memories. I dreamed of owning the muscle cars of my youth in the '70's - Burt Reynolds' Trans Am, Steve McQueen's Mustang, and the Challenger from the cult classic "Vanishing Point". I have collected Car and Driver and Road & Track mags for years. Once, I was moments away from purchasing $5000 worth of Snap-On automotive tools and beginning a career as an auto mechanic. My first workplace experiences were in service stations and I did the usual "grease monkey" jobs, oil changes, tire repairs and some minor repairs.

I didn't end up owning my dream cars (and my newest one is out of my reach financially) but it may be a moot point as the company that builds it may not exist as it does now in a very short while. While the facts are that GM, Ford and Chrysler are all in dire financial straits currently (Ford being the possible exception) it seems they will die, not because of their own mistakes, but because of the political baggage that will be attached to any attempt by the US government to bail them out.

The short version of this is that President Obama will (already has) attached caveats to the bailout package offered to the US automakers that will severely limit the ability of the executives to run their companies in an efficient and profitable manner. The insistence on demanding that the US companies meet fuel efficiency targets their competition will not be required to, incorporate new technologies before there is a profitable business case to do so and limit the choices they can make regarding how to use the bailout funds will inevitably result in business failure in any case. These issues have been reported elsewhere and are now public record. The recent resignation of the CEO of GM was the only response he could choose in the face of what the US government was demanding. Had he said "yes" to the bailout as offered he would have been unable to do his job effectively anyway. His choice was the honest one.

In addition the the roadblocks the US government is putting up in front of the automakers the leadership of the UAW and CAW have continued to insist that the cost of labor is not a problem for the US car industry. This is in spite of the fact that the huge disparity between the average wages of their members compared to the average wages of competitors' workers in the US is so great a grade 10 student in a Junior Achievement program could spot it as a HUGE problem.

I am now predicting the bankruptcy is inevitable for the US automakers. Even if deluded leadership is found who will accept the strictures of the bailout package the end result will be failure, albeit delayed failure. The sad truth is that this ultimate result will be more the fault if the US administration and the influence of special interest groups than because of the mistakes the US auto manufacturers have made. I will not blindly defend them. They have made serious errors in judgment over the course of their history and have had to deal with their self-delusional corporate culture, but the truth is that all three US companies had already made major changes and improvements before the economic meltdown took place. The evidence of this is certainly in Ford, which currently is still relatively solvent. Every new model GM has introduced in the last 5 years has been a meritorious design, including the Saturn Aura and Chevrolet Malibu (both of which won "Car of the Year" in the two previous years). Even my beloved Cadillac CTS-V is considered a "world-class" luxury sports sedan capable of competing with anything in its class and price range.

The truth is that if the economic meltdown had not occurred it was becoming more and more likely that the US auto manufacturers would have begun to regain market share, rebuild their reputations and infuse the marketplace with exciting, innovative and worthy products. Ultimately we as consumers would have benefited with more choices of better vehicles at better prices in a more competitive marketplace. That future is all but a lost opportunity now.

Perhaps the US auto manufacturing industry will be able to rise from the ashes of the oncoming inferno that will consume them. There are historical precedences for companies being rebuilt by those who buy them, but this will most likely not be a "made in America" solution. The irony is that while President Obama is likely to flirt with some protectionist policies during his administration (and perhaps already has), in this case he seems content to throw one of his nations oldest and most storied industries to the wolves - even when there is evidence that they could still survive if aided appropriately.

For my part I'll be shopping for a lightly used GM product this spring. I like what I'm driving now, I just am wearing it out. Maybe this will be my last GM purchase. I hope not, but to me the future looks grim.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Signs! Signs! Everywhere a Sign!

My deep respect and props to Canada's own 5 Man Electrical Band and I hope they will forgive me for borrowing the lyrics from their excellent song "Signs". But it just jumped into my mind when I read a Facebook post today about how a friend of mine saw a sign at their local medical clinic warning against abusive behavior and language when dealing with the staff. Their question was along the lines of asking if this sort of thing was a regular enough occurrence to actually warrant a sign. And they opined that if it was then maybe barbarians were no longer at the gates but might have actually moved in down the block and begun frequenting the local Wal-Mart.

To be sure that question might be worth exploring, but my brain took another tack and I ended up thinking about my own medical clinic. When I visit my doctor (which I do frequently as we are monitoring a number of things that require regular blood tests - all is well dear readers, do not fear) I can read no less than EIGHT signs in the waiting room. There's the one about turning off cellphones; the one about having your government health care card; the one about how you can only see the doctor for ONE problem per visit (so don't even TRY to sneak in another one); the one about how missing appointments can get you dropped from their client list (includes instructions on rules for notifying the office if you wish to cancel an appointment); the sign about doctors' hours; the one about picking up the toys and putting them away when your children are done with them; the one about declaring if your injury is work-related; AND the one about zero tolerance of abusive behavior.

It seems to me that you can discover that you are in a new era when an obvious social convention starts to be used in a fashion that seems unusual. My understanding of the use of signs is that they are most useful when they communicate information that EVERYONE who reads them might possibly need to know and understand. Signs are most often warnings or information providers. We really shouldn't need them to declare the common rules of acceptable social behavior. I realize that signs often declare what common sense should already have provided, but as we can see not only is common sense in short supply - now common decency and good manners seems to be evaporating.

I always tend to think that a sign gets posted when those in charge have finally given up on relying on the good sense and judgment of people and have decided to "nip the problem in the bud". But how many times has someone yelled at or abused the staff in my medical clinic? I mean, really - about the only place I find people more subdued and non-communicative is inside elevators! Honestly, in 49 years I have NEVER seen someone lose it in a doctors' office. I know most of us WANT to - usually about the time we realize that we have been waiting long enough that if we could be paid for our time we could take our significant other out to lunch. And missing appointments without canceling - is this really happening so often that the clinic needs to THREATEN its clients with censure? If so maybe this summer's outdoor project should be digging a moat to keep the barbarians off my lawn. And what about NOT having your health card available when visiting the clinic - I mean who DOESN'T understand that we live in a SOCIALIST country and the state is in charge of the medical system? "Documents please! Please show your documents! Please have your documents ready!"

What is really worth pondering is why the clinic needs to post these signs. Does it really make for a better work environment? Does it really help the patients? Or are those signs there so the clinic's lawyers can argue that their client has done their due dilligence in communicating with their patients? And why does TALKING to one another no longer suffice?

Speaking the truth is a rare enough event these days. Speaking the truth out of love and concern is rarer still. Soon speaking itself may become rare. Perhaps it has already - being replaced by texting, twittering and (yes) even blogging. We are becoming a society and culture that increasingly responds only to images and text. Our ability to speak is being diminished as is our ability to listen. If you think I'm off base here then try this next week - make a note of every time you have to repeat yourself for ONE day. I bet you will be shocked.

The real problem with signs (which is where I came in) is that they really don't communicate - they declare. We need to speak and to listen to be able to connect. So before you put up another sign ask this - is there a better way?


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Who's In First Place?

By now most people in North America are aware that Flatland has become an island oasis of economic prosperity awash in a sea of financial turmoil. Thanks to a slow news day at CNN, our brothers and sisters south of the 49th Parallel can now add the descriptor "Economic Haven" to their maps - which have previously shown a vast void to the north of the USA with the appellation "Here Be Monsters or Maybe Nothing" emblazoned across them. To be sure it may be a mixed blessing to have the American Giant become more aware of us than he/she/it already is, especially while desperately seeking a cure for the economic woes that plague the "Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave" (with my sincere apologies to Scotland).

But before we become a tasty morsel to be scarfed up I would like to remind everyone that we didn't get into "first place" in the economic race because we were running faster than our competitors. The truth is that everyone else - EVERYONE - simultaneously blew a head gasket. We just happen to be better off than all of the others who were in or near last place. Hardly something to be as proud or smug about as it seems we are becoming lately.

What I find ironic/frightening/disturbing is that it seems our captains of industry and politics are charting a course for us to build upon the model that just blew up so spectacularly. (That the rest of the world also seems intent on rebuilding what failed - mostly because no one seems creative enough to offer an alternative - is no less disturbing.) I guess hard lessons are learned the hard way - by repetition.

Now I do admit that our time seems to have come when it comes to commodities and new commerce. But if we don't go to school on the difficulties and failures of our neighbors, our eventual destination could hardly be imagined to be much different than theirs. I'll be bold and suggest a new model to look at. After all, what have we got to lose? Quite a lot, apparently!

Jesus spoke about money - a lot. And the "bottom line", as it were, was "it's temporary, and it's on loan - so be wise and careful". We are born empty-handed and so too will we die. In between we have opportunity to have control of much - in North America, Europe, Australia parts of Asia, South America and even Africa these days that can amount to quite a bit more than most others have.

So what will we do with it?

Now that's a question much more worth pondering over than "What will I tweet on Twitter today?".

I'm not going to tell you what do do, but if you are curious - and you must be because you keep watching all that stuff in the media about money - why don't you check out this, this, this and this?

It's a much different take on wealth and economy. And judging by the evidence at hand we could use a bit of "different".

'Nuff Said!