Friday, November 24, 2023

Recognizing The Good


In the Hebrew language there are several ways to express thanks or gratitude.  The one I like best for our season of Thanksgiving is Hakarat Ha’tov which literally means “recognizing the good”.  In the world today, finding “good” to recognize can be a challenge.  And too often recognizing something good triggers a severe, negative response from those for whom any good thing came at the expense of something or someone else.  For many the world is a zero-sum game.


But, I cannot believe this world is a zero-sum game. Therefore, I choose to recognize the good things in my life. First and foremost, I am thankful for the Gospel, The Good News of Jesus Christ “for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16).  "Salvation for everyone who believes".  It is only a zero-sum game for those who choose to make it so.


My wife, Kayla, is certainly at the top of my good things list.  She is the one who makes everything else in my life better.  But like all good things, they don’t come easy, and they take time.  That would certainly apply to our marriage.  I am no day at the beach yet she still loves me.


Next would be health.  After a couple of scares last year, I recognize how good it is to be healthy again.  Of course, the years along with some bad habits and poor decisions can take their toll.  But I am in pretty good shape now for the shape I’m in.  


And I recognize the good of working.  That I am still engaged in work I can pursue full-time and do reasonably well at my age is a very good thing.  And the team we have at High Road Partners makes that all possible.


I recognize the good of being blessed financially.  By the grace of God, I’ve had some financial success in my career and the very good fortune to be born in the right place, at the right time to the right people.I have more money than I need and certainly more than I deserve.  (And I do realize that some would say that’s a bad thing.)


I recognize the good of The United States of America while still acknowledging the bad of slavery and the treatment of Native Americans.  I also recognize the bad history of denying constitutional freedoms to so many of our citizens.  I recognize that this nation is not perfect and has never been perfect.  But to be sure, it beats anything coming in second place.


Hakarat Ha’tov, “recognizing the good”.  At Thanksgiving, it’s worth a try. We might even start to see some good in those with whom we disagree.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Bread and Circuses


“Frivolity, aestheticism, hedonism, cynicism, pessimism, narcissism, consumerism, nihilism, fatalism, fanatics and other negative behaviors and attitudes suffuse the population.  Politics is increasingly corrupt, life is increasingly unjust, a cabal of insiders accrues wealth and power at the expense of the citizens fostering a fatal opposition of interests between the haves and have-nots, the majority lives for bread and circuses. They worship celebrities and throw off social and moral restraints, shirk duties but insist on entitlements.” – Sir John Bagot Glubb

Sir John Bagot Glubb is a somewhat forgotten figure these days.  He was a decorated British officer who led the Arab Legion from 1939-1956 including fighting against the Israeli Army in 1948.  He passed away in 1986.  He wrote quite a bit about the Middle East and his observations are worthy of consideration. 


But this is about another of his writings: “The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival.”  This essay written in 1976, concludes with a summary.  Here are some of his observations and conclusions:


_1 Looking back over 4000 years of history, the greatness of a nation only lasts around 250 years.  This is a consistent pattern.

_2 We do not learn from history because our studies are brief and prejudiced.

_3 The stages of the rise and fall of great nations seem to be:

      The Age of Pioneers

      The Age of Conquests

      The Age of Commerce

      The Age of Affluence

      The Age of Intellect

      The Age of Decadence

_4 Characteristics of the Age of Decadence:




      Frivolity (behavior that is silly, not serious)

      An influx of foreigners

      The Welfare State

      A weakening of religion

_5 Causes of this Age of Decadence

     Too long a period of wealth and power


     Love of Money

     Loss of a sense of duty

_6 The life histories of great nations are amazingly similar and are due to internal factors.

_7 The falls of these nations are diverse because they are largely due to external causes.


Born in Preston, England in 1897, John Bagot Glubb was the product of a different time and place. And some of his comments and opinions would certainly get him cancelled these days.   But in his defense, he is primarily sharing historical facts albeit shaded by his own personal biases.  Nevertheless, Sir John’s overall assessment as to how great nations rise and fall is mostly on point.  


When he wrote this essay the United States was still in the Age of Commerce and Affluence although beginning its steady decline into an Age of Intellect and Decadence.  Glubb suggests that the most dangerous by-product of the Age of Intellect is the idea that the human brain can solve all of the world's problems.  In our day the “global elites”, primarily wealthy progressive humanists, are committed to this idea.  How’s that working out so far? 


And clearly, we have fallen even deeper into the Age of Decadence.  What Affluence we have enjoyed in recent years has been funded by massive government spending and debt, not by the effort and productivity of our citizens.  One might say we are past the tipping point and are now facing the battle for survival.  Winning this battle will take sacrifices which so far, we have been unwilling to even consider, much less make.  Do we continue to live for “bread and circuses” until they are gone, or do we get off the merry-go-round now?




Wednesday, November 8, 2023

The Old Rugged Church


No one really knows exactly how many Protestant denominations there are.  I suppose it depends on who’s counting.  Some say the number is in excess of 30,000.  I think that’s unlikely and must include every “independent” bible church along with a growing number of virtual churches who happen to have a website or a mailing address.  But whatever the number, it’s embarrassingly large.  Large enough that critics may rightly charge Protestants with a lack of unity in their beliefs.  And if Protestants can’t agree on their beliefs about church, how can they be so confident in their beliefs about God?


It comes down to “essential” beliefs vs “preferences”.  It would be almost 400 years after The Resurrection; long before the Great Schism, The Reformation and the subsequent outbreak of Denominationalism; that the one and only church of that time could agree on the essentials of the faith and came up with the Apostles and Nicene Creed statements.  These are probably as close to the essentials of the faith as we can get.  Some churches still recite those creeds today.  Why some churches do not is another matter.


For over a decade my wife and I have been attending a local Disciples of Christ church.  She grew up in this denomination and I, being a recovering Baptist, followed her to the Disciples.  The Disciples are considered a mainline denomination even though they are relatively new, forming out of the Restoration Movement of the early-mid 1800’s in the United States.  But in 1906 the Church of Christ denomination was formed and broke away from the Disciples.  The split is generally attributed to the use of musical instruments in worship. Today the Church of Christ is “a cappella” and the Disciples use musical instruments.  But the underlying differences are really about liberal vs conservative views on Bible interpretation and authority.  The Church of Christ is conservative and the Disciples have become increasingly liberal. However, some Disciples churches still tend to lean conservative and our church definitely fit in that category which suited us just fine.  A nice blend of conservative doctrine and beliefs joined with traditional worship.  


For at least the past 40 years mainline, traditional churches have experienced a significant decline in membership. Most of this can be attributed to mainline churches becoming more liberal and socially conscious at the expense of Biblical and traditional orthodoxy.  In the meantime, fundamentalist evangelical churches have grown.  With that growth most have embraced a more “seeker friendly” worship experience with contemporary music, casual/no dress codes and dynamic preachers.  For the serious “seekers” they offer “small group” bible studies where the real “disciple-making” goes on.  


This “not your grandparents' church” experience is working well enough and where matched up with bible-based messaging, churches are flourishing.   Now even the old mainline churches are chasing the new ways of doing church.  But lacking a meaningful, life changing message, they continue in decline.  Sadly, in the race to change, traditions that hold meaning for many of us have been lost.  As a result, some older Christians find themselves unchurched or churched unhappily out of habit or convenience or for the sake of friendships.


Our church has moved away from its Disciples roots and traditions.  Attendance is up, baptisms are up, more young families are showing up.  So it’s working. Praise God for that.  But for those of us who feel deeply touched when the congregation is saying the Lord’s Prayer or singing the Doxology, going to church these days just isn’t the same.  Nevertheless, our time is short, and God’s ways are not our ways.  So, we will adjust and worship as best we can for as long as we can... wherever we can.

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow….”