Last November, good friend and cultural/missional guru, Julie Masson, blogged over at Family Matters her rationale for taking a break from social media for the month of December (“Why I’m Saying NO! to Social Media in December”).  I asked her to share her thoughts on what it is like to be without social media.  Here is her observations midway through the social media sabbatical:

 Into the Abyss . . . of Social Media Withdrawal

As I begin to write this post, I feel like I’m climbing out of a cave from below the earth, pushing open an old rickety door to feel the sunshine on my face. I’ve forgotten about the world out there! The world that I’m talking about is the wonderful world of social media.  Social Media

Last month I posted about how I was taking a break from social media from Thanksgiving to Christmas. You can read more about my reasons for doing so here. (link) I thought it would be fun to give you all a quick update on how my social media fast is going, despite the fact that I can’t even “share” this post with people.

I’ve had lots of family and friends ask me how I’m doing being away from Facebook (though I’m taking a break from Twitter and Pinterest too) and I surprised myself when I told them, “Great actually! I don’t even miss it!” When I decided to do this thing, way back in April, I thought it would be a real struggle. But I’ve found myself with zero longings for Facebook status updates and cute pictures of my friends’ kids. The weird part is that I kind of feel like I’m living in one country, while all of my friends live in another. If you’ve ever lived overseas, you know that it can feel surreal to think that all of your friends back home are carrying on with their normal lives while you live out a completely different existence in your new country. For me, my new country is free of social media and all of my friends and family are living in Facebook land. You can be sure there are times where I wonder, “I wonder what so and so is doing for Christmas this year.” And then I realize I better snap out of it before my baby throws more food on the floor.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that some of the thoughts from my head that may have turned into status updates or Tweets, have become more personal texts to actual, real life friends. I’ve found myself interacting more with people who are actually in my life. Sometimes it’s a phone call to my mom or my husband, and sometimes it’s a text to a good friend. I know that I’m naturally hard wired to be social in real life, and interact with as many people as possible, so without social media, I’ve found other ways to interact.

In the wake of last week’s horrible school shootings, I found myself feeling tempted to get back on Facebook and say a public thank you to all of the men and women who are teachers, policemen and other public servants. Those people saw some horrible images that day when they walked into the school after the shootings. Instead of logging onto Facebook (which I can’t do since my husband changed my password) I wrote a personal text to my brother who works in law enforcement and told HIM thank you for all that he does. How often do any of us take time to tell the people in our lives that we value them or appreciate them? For me, I think I could be much better at this.

Basically, I can report that it’s been a good month without social media. I’ve been able to really enjoy this season. We have been able to celebrate Christmas in a way that is enjoyable for our family, without the extra input from well meaning Christian bloggers and friends that share how they celebrate Christmas. If you are thinking about taking a break, do it! You may find that you really enjoy the way life used to be! Merry Christmas!

Author Background:  Julie Masson no longer spends her days living life on a seminary campus. But she is striving daily, along with her husband to thrive, not just survive, in this graduate school life phase. It’s no easy task with three small children. However, God continues to mold her and provide ample opportunities to put Grace Based Parenting into action. Julie is passionate about helping others see the people of the world through eyes of Grace and she does this by working part time at The Upstream Collective – a group that helps churches think and act as a missionary. You can follow her on Twitter at @TheSeminaryWife

It is finished! One of my major goals for 2012 is now complete.  It was incredible.  It was eye-opening.  It was humbling.  And it was not always comfortable.  However, I would recommend it to anyone and everyone in a heartbeat.  Back in February I publicly revealed one of my major goals for this year – my intent to read through the entire Word of God (ESV).  On December 18th, I successfully finished my last chapter of 2 Chronicles, thus compBoy Reading the holy bibleleting the M’Cheyne reading plan (13 days early, but who’s counting).  This reading plan (and there are many good ones out there) was created by the 19th century Scottish minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne (who I know nothing about) and takes a reader through the New Testament and Psalms twice and the rest of the Old Testament once in a calendar year.  My original rationale for setting this goal was two-fold:  for the sake of my own discipline and for the reduction of my own hypocrisy (please refer back to my February post for further explanation).  If the lessons I learned were only contained to those two areas, it would have been a resounding success.  But in fact, I learned so much, much more:

  • Discovering my life chapter – Listening to people’s life verses has always intrigued me.  I enjoy trying to see the connections (if any) between the person I know and the verse they have chosen as their guide.  I fully realize the entire canon is profitable to us (thank you 2 Timothy 3:16).  But I also see value in focusing on a specific section or verse that the Holy Spirit uses to speak to use at a certain place or time in our lives.  As for me, Psalm 37 is it.  I have always had an affinity for Psalm 37:5 (“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.”) but as I examined the entire chapter, I desperately wanted to hear the music that would accompany this psalm.  Justice and evil.  Righteousness and envy.  Trust and fear.  Patience and anger.  Our enemies.  Our Lord.  It is a mini-master course on the Christian walk and bursts with meaning at every turn.   It will take me a while to unpack everything that is there.  As I go forth, I will memorize it and study it more (say hello 2013 goal candidate)…and enjoy every step.
  •  Some books are VERY hard – Isaiah is a challenge.  Ecclesiastics can be difficult.  Leviticus is a beast.  Romans is complex.  The Gospels can stretch you to your limits if you happen to struggle with word pictures.  And don’t get me started on the minor prophets!  But it’s God’s word to us.  It is ALL important.  It is ALL there for a purpose.  It is ALL there for a reason.  And God WANTS us to know it.  It’s funny how we never question reading passages from Crime and Punishment or Gone with the Wind more than once (and yes, of course I chose two classics as example that I have actually read.  Moby Dick…haven’t gotten there yet).  I look forward to continued study of all these difficult sections or those areas that specifically spoke to me but that I need to flesh out more.  It will be well worth it. (If you’re curious, so of the additional sections I noted were Psalms 112; Colossians and love; 2 Kings 23; James 1; the Luke 3 genealogy; Israel and Judah; why Moses was almost killed by God very early in his mission; the whole sacrificial system; etc)
  •  It is an emotional and uplifting experience – Amazing.  Awe-inspiring.  Vast.  Stunning.  The consistency.  The connectedness.  There were times when I would just shake my head with a huge smile.  There were times I would immediately go to prayer in praise and awe of Almighty God.  And there were times I would scratch my head and try again.  But through it all, I thank the Holy Spirit for guiding the entire process.
  • Time constraints?  Dedicating the time was not a problem in the slightest.  Usually about 15-20 minutes a day.  If you have time or are in a groove, do a little more.  Things get crazy or the day gets away from you?  Do a little less.  Adjust it to your schedule – fit it in whenever you have a moment.  The most I ever got behind I believe was two full days (or about 8 chapters). The most I got ahead?  Well that was 13 days when I finished.  This is where choosing the reading plan that fits you is very important.  The pacing and divisions for the M’Cheyne plan were perfect for me and my schedule.
  • I have script ideas for a lifetime!  I once read that all good stories can be boiled down to the three main concepts found in the Bible:  creation, fall, redemption.  Although I agree with that summary on many levels, from a writer’s standpoint, the Bible is a living, breathing case study in script creation.  The genres, the authors, the settings, the characters, the structure.  Wow!  So very valuable.  Seriously – how can you read Isaiah 37 or 2 Samuel 2 and not want to start outlining a spec script immediately?!?!  Wonder if I have to include those “Based on a true story” title slides?!?!

And finally, what about my two original goals?  Was the discipline worth it?  Did I reduce my own hypocrisy?  On the discipline front, it was absolutely worth it.  Doing something for almost a year straight is valuable and helpful.  Not only because of the result, but because of the process.  This is one of the hardest lessons I continue to struggle with in my life.  There is always value in the process.  Realizing my personal blind spot regarding the value of the journey (as my sole focus was always on results) has greatly changed my life. And what about that whole hypocrisy thing?  Did I reduce it?  That may need its own blog post at some point because I did…and I didn’t.  I know immeasurably more about the word of God now than I did one year ago.  I am more confident talking about some aspects of it.  BUT…I also know that I have immeasurably more yet to learn.  So discipline, value in the process and more yet to learn…hmm…does that sound like a situation where seminary would be profitable to anyone?  It does to me.  I start January 7th.

For the duration of my life on this Earth thus far (37 years), I have been involved with only two churches.  For the first 18 years of my existence, I was involved with the church of my parents in Waterloo, IA.  The church where I was born, raised, put my faith in Christ’s loving sacrifice as payment for my sins, was baptized by immersion…and then I headed off to college.  While in college, I joined a fellowship of believers in Ames, IA that had been part of my siblings’ lives, and enjoyed 19 years of ministry there, dedicated my life to Christ, found a wife, started a family, became a leader, saved a marriage and learned a thousand different things (likely a blog post for another time).  However, in each church situation, I had never truly been a visitor – I had pre-existing relationships that drew me to those churches.  Over the past 24 months as the Lord called me and my family to minister closer to our Ankeny community, we had a unique opportunity to visit six churches over a ten-week period as visitors for the first time.  It was eye-opening, a little intimidating and completely enjoyable.  Here are some of my observations as our family of five navigated this new adventure…some serious, others less so:

Never forget – I am a visitor…and I am clueless!

  • Seriously, I am clueless.  I may also be nervous, intimidated, scared, worried and anxious, so you cannot overtly treat me like I’m clueless.  I may or may not ask for help.  I may or may not notice the obvious.  I may flee back to my car or to the bathroom at a moment’s notice.  This, therefore, puts your church in kind of a bind.
  • So here are a couple key rules of thumb to remember:
    • Rule of thumb #1:  Maps, signs, volunteers, more signs, name tags, more signs, handouts, pamphlets, billboards, posters and big, bright, flashing signs = VERY GOOD!
    • Rule of thumb #2:  Assuming I know where the kids go, where I’m supposed to go, where the bathrooms are, where the exits are, what goes on next in the service, where I’m supposed to go after the service, what I’m supposed to do during fellowship, how much the “free” donuts cost or assuming anything of a geographical, logistical or ceremonial nature = VERY BAD.  Never assume I know anything.  And I thank you in advance.

 Have you seen the cross of Christ?

  • In what has to be considered one of the bigger upsets of the whole “church visitor” process, it became strikingly clear, that the cross of Christ was missing.  Not from the sanctuary, the church bulletin, the kids’ worksheets or from people’s necks….but from the sermons!  Seriously – it was a 25% hit rate (2 out of 6) for explicit mentions of the cross of Christ, Christ’s death on the cross or salvation by grace through faith.  That was quite shocking to me.  I by no means think or demand that sermons have to follow a certain order, topic, cadence or ritual (other than be focused on Truth).  But when one is called by the Holy Spirit to speak on our ultimate hope, maybe it would be good to mention a bit more explicitly the source of that hope.  When you are reminding me that I’m a lazy, selfish sluggard that can learn from an ant, maybe remind me how I can have victory over the natural man.

 Coffee confounds me

  • I know it’s me – I know I’m the oddball.  No matter how many times I’ve tried it, tested it, sipped it or been tricked into it…I just don’t like coffee.  It is like drinking brewed dirt.  But within the Christian community, there is no single commodity that is more popular or more important.  I mention this not as a value judgment but out of sheer and utter amazement.  Price of corn?  Irrelevant.  Soybeans?  Not important.  Cattle, hogs, wheat, sugar…who cares.  Where is the coffee and how much is it.  If the Christian community were to ever boycott coffee, for whatever reason, I truly believe Starbucks, Caribou, Seattle’s Best and all the rest will lose market share like there’s been an outbreak of the plague.  And I freely admit – it’s just the jealousy speaking.  I wish I liked it.  I wish I was one of you.  But the Lord forever made me to love my venti, non-fat, no-whip hot chocolate…and it is my loss.

 Why I want to be a church visitor FOREVER

  • The #1 reason why I want to continue being a church visitor and never settle on a church home is actually very simple.  It was clear at the beginning of the process and it was just as clear at the end of the process.  I wish that reason was noble, worthy and valuable…it is none of those.  It is the visitor parking!!!!  It is the best!  It is close and right up-front and convenient and special.  And as a father who either rushed my wife and three children out the door or was the cause of my wife and three children being late…I am eternally grateful.

 I ❤ Technology

  • The technology and the talented people involved with the technology are mind-blowing.  The apps, the bar scans, Twitter, Facebook, downloadable sermon notes, the cameras, the videos, everything…top-notch.  But the area where I valued technology the most – my kids.  Not the video games or the computers or any of that.  Not even close.  It was the security.  The Check-ins and locators, unique parent pick-up codes and automated instructions…all seemless.  I cannot put into words how comforting and helpful it is to know that your church puts my children’s safety as a priority.  Kudos.

 Music is Non-Negotiable

  • See, you thought I was going to wade hip-deep into the whole contemporary versus traditional, type of instruments that are acceptable brouhaha.  Nope.  That’s for a whole different post.  My point is this – there is one aspect I witnessed regarding music that is non-negotiable – you must have skilled artists who pursue excellence in their craft and in their performance.  It’s really a binary decision.  You either do or you don’t.  And you don’t have to do a lot of things.  You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing.  But whatever you do decide to put out there, it has to be skilled, is has to be excellent and your people must own it.  That is what everyone is expecting as a given.
  • One free bonus observation from the worship experience – there are some of you that REALLY enjoy worshiping on Sundays.  In addition, there are some of you that REALLY look like you don’t want to be there.  Lord help me to model the former and not the latter.  Because I know which one encourage me the most as a visitor.

 And finally…there is a LOT of people currently doing a LOT of activities that bring glory to God and further His kingdom!

  • Thousands of people.  Think about that for a second.  THOUSANDS of people within a 20 mile area!  People who love the Gospel, who love our Savior and who are seeking to pursue righteousness and holiness.  Never forget that!  When the days seem darkest, the enemy seems strongest, when you feel isolated, alone and on an island all by yourself, remember this.  You have many, many brothers and sisters in Christ ministering RIGHT NOW.  You have many, many brothers and sisters in Christ that are bringing glory to God RIGHT NOW. And most of all, you have a loving Father ready to give you true comfort and peace and hope.  CELEBRATE that.  REJOICE in that.

This entire process of visiting others churches has been invaluable.  It has opened my eyes.  It has encouraged me.  It has humbled me.  I look forward with great joy to the next church family we will be ministering alongside and anxiously await our next opportunity to serve side-by-side with fellow Christians as we bring glory to God and further His kingdom.

  • Must read #1:  “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs” by Greg Smith.  Ego of the writer aside (as well as the fact that he made so much money from Goldman that he can say these things and never work in the industry again), much of what is stated here is spot-on regarding the investments industry.  And it will never change because no laws or regulation can prevent this – only losses and failure.
  • Heard this recently from Francis Chan – if you were promised heaven, with no pain, no sickness, no crying and no sorrow; where all your friends and family would be and where all your needs were perfectly provided for eternity but the catch was Christ was not present…would you want heaven?  How you answer that question explains everything and breaks our soul and true desires wide open.
  • UNC-Ashville had a striped deck stacked against them.  Unfortunate.
  • Must NOT watch:  The HBO Movie “Game Change” – not because of how it portrays anyone but because I learned absolutely nothing new about Sarah Palin (she was overwhelmed; over her head; not fit for the presidency; had strong desire for the celebrity life) that I did not already know.  However, I did learn a ton about John McCain, Steve Schmidt and Nicole Wallace that crystallizes why the McCain/Palin ticket lost in 2008 – and that was too painful to watch and recommend to anyone.  Being a “maverick” is feast or famine and unfortunately has severe consequences at times.  And from what I’ve heard, as always, the book was better.
  • Must read #2:  “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis
  • The QB to WR combos in my NFC North as of right now:  Rodgers to Jennings; Cutler to Marshall; Stafford to C. Johnson; Ponder to Jenkins…which one doesn’t sound right…
  • I grew up around dog tracks and I have thoroughly enjoyed the Milch/Mann series “Luck”.  From all accounts, it was an honest take on the track and its people.  Quite disappointed in its cancellation.  But listening to the Milch/Mann confrontations leak out now is fascinating.
  1. From a pure “level of accomplishment versus expectations” standpoint:  Victor Cruz (Super Bowl) > Tim Tebow (Playoffs) > Jeremy Lin (Spectacular couple of weeks).  Now if Lin helps the Knicks make a run in the playoffs, he instantly vaults over Tebow.
  2. Must listenThe Civil Wars.  Unique – distinct – awesome. Start with Barton Hollow.  Many thanks to Matt Perrault for introducing me to them.
  3. Have not laughed harder recently than when Dr. Ron Paul claimed in a debate that people are sick and tired of people from Congress…a declaration from a CONGRESSMAN of over two decades.  Can’t make this stuff up.  Wake me up when he decides to actually run for President versus what he is doing now –  running as Romeny’s hit man and laying the ground work for his son’s (Rand) VP or 2016 presidential ambitions.
  4. Must watchKen Burn’s three-part miniseries on Prohibition recently on PBS.  Fascinating.
  5. Late night re-run alert update:  Friends is holding up VERY well over time (especially since I don’t recognize that any Joey/Rachael storyline ever existed).  Maybe even better than Seinfeld.  Yes, I just said that.  Welcome to the life of an insomniac.
  6. Did you know that over 50% of the members of Congress are millionaires…and we wonder why they seem incapable of relating to “normal” people and understanding how laws truly affect the general public.  Many are not part of the general public and never have been.
  7. For entertainment value alone, I would really like to see either a brokered or contested Republican convention.  Now that would be can’t-miss reality TV.
  8. Must NOT readLost Symbol by Dan Brown.    Theology concerns aside (which there are many), I was so mad at one plot swerve, I will likely never read another book by Mr. Brown.
  9. As of today, 80% likelihood that President Obama will be re-elected.  But if gas prices get to $4 or $5 a gallon, that number will drop very quickly.
  10. Senator Santorum’s debate performance this week = train wreck.  Hard to watch and not watch…at the same time.

Today’s post will be a bit more personal than a normal blog topic as I feel compelled to provide a public explanation regarding one of my goals for 2012. Simply put, my goal is to read through the entire English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible in 2012. I know, I know…for most people, this is not a big deal – it is something they have done a dozen times over their lifetime (which is great!). And who knows, between personal devotions, Bible studies and over 37 years being part of local churches dedicated to following the Word of God, maybe I have already effectively read/heard every verse. But that is not the point of my goal. And let me be frank – this is an ambitious goal for me. Why? Well it’s not for my lack of joy in reading itself because I LOVE to read. On average, I read about a book a month – fiction, non-fiction, theology, spy, Francis Chan, John Grisham, Erik Larson, and Michael Lewis. For years I have being attempting to improve the quality and purpose of my reading pursuits but that is another discussion of another day. Suffice to say nothing is more enjoyable than the day I finish a book, check that off the list (and yes, I keep a list) and then get the pleasure of choosing the next title to tackle. It’s like the whole world is open to me again – the closest thing to being an early explorer I can think of. The reason reading through the Bible in one year is ambitious for me is because I am not a fast reader – in fact, some would say I am somewhat slow. So to accomplish the whole Bible in a year does place a time constraint on me which is fairly robust. However, time constraint aside, there are two reasons I committed to making this a 2012 goal: for the sake of my discipline and for the reduction of my own hypocrisy.

I would like to note very clearly from the beginning the inclusion of the word “my” in both rationales. By no means am I attempting to make a vast statement or develop a normative principle about anyone else’s lack of discipline or existence of personal hypocrisy. These are my burdens to bear alone. Regarding my own discipline, there are not many things in my life that I will voluntarily do every day for 365 days straight. I have to sleep. I have to eat. Even spiritual disciplines like devotions and prayer can vary in length and consistency. I do believe there is value in discipline and I do believe there is value in striving to do something every day regardless of circumstances. My intent is not to be legalistic about it – I already have missed a day once or twice since starting. But my goal is if I am knocked down (miss a day), I get back up (catch up) – I try never to be more than one day behind. So as of today, February 21st, I am exactly on schedule.

Now regarding my own hypocrisy, this truth was driven home by the unlikeliest of people. I stumbled upon a conversion during the Christmas season between two relatives regarding the bestseller “The Shack”. It was not a necessarily edifying conversation, nor one that cast certain people of faith in a very good light. There were many harsh things being spoken that I wanted to jump into and correct, rebuke…attack! But out of respect for the situation I just listened – and by listening, this statement came ringing to my ears from one of the participants “I wish people wouldn’t criticize a book they haven’t even read.” There is much truth in that statement. By just hearing that, it helped encourage me to keep my mouth shut at that moment as I had yet to completely finish “The Shack”. But as I thought about it more over the days, it was impressed upon my heart that I should systematically read the entire Word of God through. How am I to live out a book that I haven’t necessarily read in its entirety? How am I to teach about that book , explain that book, value that book? I came to some startling answers to each of those questions. So it is not out of self-promotion, ego or legalism I undertake this task – it is out of pure self awareness of my own failings and desire to know more, learn more, and understand more.

And this brings us to the reason I am writing about it here. I desire accountability for this goal. There will be difficult times – I can already see a summer filled with vacations, ball practices, trips, work, sun, chores and the like. However, even during those rough patches, I want to be held accountable to this goal. If anyone is curious, I am using the M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan that goes through the OT once and the NT & Psalms twice (Why? Because this plan – and there are dozens – seemed the most interesting to me). In closing, I have other goals for 2012 as well – some I may announce; some I never will. But with that said…here we go!

Whenever tragedy strikes, accusations, interpretations and reflections immediately begin.  The recent mass murder in Norway has brought to the forefront yet again a dialogue that occurs fairly regularly.  It is a conversation about the role of religious beliefs in politics and government.  The early labeling of the mass murderer as a “Christian Fundamentalist”, which later turned out to be inaccurate, brought this debate to the forefront even more quickly.  (For a better explanation as to why the term “Christian Fundamentalist” was misused and the rationale behind that, please see Ed Stetzer’s excellent posts on July 23rd and July 29th .  Combine this tragedy with the heated rhetoric of recent political debates that has religious overtones (Vice President Biden’s pathetic labeling of Tea Party members as terrorists and Texas Governor Perry’s asinine call for violence against Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on grounds of treason), and it is very disturbing to see how intertwined our political and our theological beliefs have become, especially in terms of submitting to authority.

We normally see these types of debates around presidential election time as churches debate whether to endorse a candidate, talk about a hot-button issue or just stay silent.   Many people I respect feel very adamant that we need to talk MORE from the pulpit regarding certain issues and candidates, not less.  Let me make this point abundantly clear – we should always preach and teach the entire counsel of God from the pulpit regardless of how it might apply to a thorny political issue because that is Truth.  Truth shall always be proclaimed.  However, we have failed as a church over the last 20 years to prevent our politics from overtaking our calling and our purpose.  Maybe it’s more than just a coincidence that at the same time we were witnessing the rise of the “Moral Majority” or the “Christian Right”, we were losing our children from the church in droves, with many churches becoming pure extensions of a political party on one end of the spectrum or purely irrelevant on the other.  The church should never be an extension of a political party.  And it is certainly never called to irrelevant.  It should ALWAYS be the bride of Christ.  The Word of God is explicitly clear regarding my responsibilities and attitudes toward the government and its authorities:

  • Submit to my governing authority (Romans 13:1; Titus 3:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13).

I am to obey whenever possible and disobey only if absolutely necessary in order to not violate God’s Word.  And if I do disobey, I should expect and accept punishment from the civil authority.  Daniel is an excellent example to study regarding how to do civil disobedience as a last resort.  However, look at Titus 3:1-2 again.  Not only am I to submit, but I am also to be obedient, ready to do what is good, slander no one, be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward everyone.  Wow.  Think if anyone were to ever run a political campaign based on those set of guidelines.  Or even ONE of those guidelines.

  • Recognize that all governing authorities are ordained by God (Romans 13:1).

Not just a certain political party or a certain person with a specific set of beliefs.  All governing authorities – every ruler, prime minister, president, king, dictator, governor, mayor, council member, senator, and representative is appointed by God and given authority from God.  This covers socialism, capitalism, democracies, monarchies, Roman Emperors and everything in between – the form or system of government does not matter.

  • Humbly realize that God uses the government for His good (Romans 13:4).

The government is often God’s instrument for carrying out His purpose. We are to subject ourselves to that government out of obedience and deference to God.  We may not see what “His good” is – that is the beauty of the sovereignty of God.  Our lack of understanding regarding what “good” may come out of a situation does not override our responsibility.

  • Pay my taxes (Romans 13:6-7; Mark 12:17)
  • Pray for the governing authorities and live peaceably (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Here’s the problem – when we start placing patriotism and national pride above our on-going Christian calling, we will see more and more people sinfully exhibiting thoughts and behavior similar to the Norway murderer.  How the debt ceiling or my tax rate or immigration or gay marriage or abortion is voted on and legislated does NOT change my ultimate purpose here.  Now don’t get me wrong!  Have an opinion, take a stand, support a cause, closely examine all the issues because the Word of God has very clear teachings on many of those subjects.  BUT…..those political debates and battles should never be my overarching, #1 priority as a Christian.  I am called to make disciples of Christ, not disciples of America.  I am called to make disciples of Christ, not disciples of Republican orthodoxy.  I am called to make disciples of Christ, not disciples of Baptist traditions.  I am called to make disciples of Christ from all nations! (Matthew 28:19)  If I allow anything else to trump that calling, including politics and elections, then I am just allowing yet another form of sophisticated 21st century idolatry?

We should never let our views, opinions, and feelings as a citizen overtake our responsibilities as a Christian.  President Barak Obama is the President of the United States.  God has ordained for President Obama to hold that position of authority at this time and he is accountable to God for his decisions and stewardship of that position just like every President before him.  As a citizen of the United States, I am to submit to the governing authority, including to President Obama.  I can vehemently disagree with his rhetoric, policies and worldview.  I can actively campaign, within the legal confines of the law, to elect new leaders.  There is a defined process for that – there will be winners and losers via elections.  But at no time does my submission to authority change.  I am to do all these things peaceably, without slander, being ready to do good and showing true humility.  Nothing dismisses or replaces my responsibilities to submit.  I cherish my freedom and the freedoms we have in this country.  Democracy is the best of all possible flawed options.  But I MUST follow Christ’s call for my life infinitely more, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Given this constant struggle between our politics are our Christian calling, some further questions arise that I do not have immediate answers for:

  • Does the lack of submission to our government give any insights as to why there is a lack of submission in the church to its human leaders and ultimately to its heavenly leader, Jesus Christ?
  • We claim to hate all the current day politics…but seem to debate little else within the confines of the church walls.  Why is that?

Over at Michael Hyatt’s Blog, he recently published a guest post by author, Mary DeMuth, focused on “Finding Your Passion in Three Steps”.  It was a very informative and insightful post, yet there was one section that I kept thinking about and coming back to.  In DeMuth’s three-step process, she includes a favorite exercise she learned from a “writer’s loop”.  The goal of this exercise is to immediately list, without thinking about it too much, your three favorite movies.  Don’t ponder the choices, debate about it in your head, or compare various options…just choose.  Then, examine those three movies and determine the common thread that runs through each.  Her intention is to show that choices resemble your passion in life.  For example, DeMuth picked Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and To Kill a Mockingbird with the common thread being “outcasts who overcome their past to absolutely change the world”.

I found the discussion of the exercise so completely fascinating, I decided to try it out myself.  Be warned – you will look at your first three choices and think “What?  I can do better!” and you will want to pick again.  Don’t!  Take your three choices and run with it.  So without further ado, here are my three movie picks:

  • The Natural
  • The Usual Suspects
  • Casablanca

So what is the common thread?  In short order, the thematic elements of the three movies started to emerge into one comprehensive theme:  Relative unknown people accomplishing great things against significant odds.  And after I looked at this conclusion (and if you have a different conclusion as to the common elements of the three I would love to hear about it), I can honestly say I was not surprised.  This theme is very much related to things I have written and/or struggled with:  my desire to be significant, my hatred of injustice, my struggle with power and prestige.  Certainly do not think this little exercise is a complete psychological self-analysis that should determine a path for your life or is something that is fool-proof and set in stone.  Don’t be silly.  But take it for what it is.  Something that is fun, provides some insight and doesn’t take a lot of time.  Enjoy! 

So how about you?  What are your three movies and the common thread? 

Early on in my Christian walk, I started to implicitly doubt the humanity of Christ.  Now don’t get me wrong, it was not a heresy that I was consciously and publicly proclaiming like an end-times zealot picking out a random date in May or a hipster New York Times bestseller wannabe.  Not at all.  But the laziness and flaws in my logic reached certain conclusions about Christ nonetheless.  For many years, I enjoyed joking about my flawed conclusions by saying that it was quite obvious Christ did not sin and that He was sinless.  Why was it quite obvious?  Because He was Jesus Christ!  The all-powerful, all-knowing, Savior of mankind, Son of God, co-equal part of the Trinity!  If I had those kinds of credentials, I would be sinless as well!  My flawed logic went something like this:

  • Jesus is sinless –> I am NOT Jesus –>  THEREFORE I cannot be sinless.
  • Jesus is God  –> I am not God –>THEREFORE I cannot be like Jesus

These errors in logic, my faulty understanding, prevented me from truly examining Jesus.  It prevented me from grasping His humanity and understanding how He was tempted in all ways.  And because of this flawed logic, I struggled in many areas of temptation for much longer than I needed.   As we face our daily life and our individual circumstances, how do we battle temptation?  Do we look toward inferior models and examples in our attempt to have victory over sin?  When we are tempted to sin, we fail to use Christ as our example because we ignore His full humanity.  Virtually all of the same conditions we face prior to temptations, Christ faced as well.  There is no temptation that we will face that Christ has not already faced and conquered.  And since this is true, Christ must be our model in the face of temptation.

The list of Christ’s human attributes is quite extensive covering everything from body, mind, soul, spirit and emotions.  He was weary, thirsty, hungry, weak and experienced death.  He increased in wisdom and learned obedience.  His soul was troubled and sorrowful.  He marveled, loved, wept, was joyful, angry, indignant…and was tempted in every respect as we are (Heb. 4:15).  But He did NOT sin – the one key different between His humanity and our own.

If one looks toward the Biblical passage in Matthew 4:1-11, where Jesus is brought by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to fast for 40 days and 40 nights and then be tempted by Satan, and we miss his humanity….we miss everything!  We see three specific temptations by Satan (an appeal to a physical appetite, an appeal to personal gain and an appeal to pure power) that are archetypes for temptations that we see on a daily basis.  Jesus had fasted for 40 days/nights…he was HUNGRY!  He had a physical need to eat.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that!  The temptation came from how to solve the problem and in how to satisfy the need.  Jesus could have utilized his own power to turn the stones into bread and completely satisfy His hunger.  He resisted, through the use of Scripture, and leaned on His Father’s strength to provide.  He could have jumped off the roof of the temple, plunging 450 feet to sure doom, only to have saved himself with nary a scratch.  But that would have been twisting of God’s word to test God’s will – all for personal gain.   He could have bowed down and worshipped Satan, became ruler of this world (which was perfectly in Satan’s power to give away), avoided the pain, agony and humiliation of the cross and more efficiently became god of this age!  But none of that was the Father’s plan for Him.

So in Christ’s victory over temptation, including a victory over a direct appeal to personal gain, I see my own failure, even recent ones.  I encounter situations, especially in my career, where I want to promote myself, draw attention to myself, bring glory to myself, by any means possible, and even sometimes by sinful means.  I allow myself to think that I have to talk like, act like and think like the world in order to gain on this world, move up, be recognized.  I lie to myself and think that there is no God-honoring way for me to accomplish that.  I ignore Christ himself, in His full humanity, and how given the opportunity to satisfy an appetite or bring glory to Himself or display his power, he NEVER wavered from the Father’s plan.  Christ was tempted in all ways…just as we are.  But as Hebrews 4:14-15 states:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Yet without sin.  A powerful example for us to follow.  We are to walk in the same way He walked (1 John 2:6), we are to change into His likeliness (2 Cor. 3:18) and be conformed to His image (Rom. 8:29).  And Christ serves as THE example that we should follow (1 Pet 2:21).  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God the Father and God the Son want me to have victory the next time I want to self-promote myself  by sinful means, fulfill an appetite in an improper way, strive for power that destroys others or give in to a wide variety of temptation.

 Who is your model when you face temptation?

Who is your example when faced with sin?

On whose strength are you relying on to have victory?

It was quite the week for legendary Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett as one of his top lieutenants, and rumored leading succession candidate, unexpectedly resigned amid allegations of insider trading.  Despite Mr. Buffett’s repeated claims of no laws being broken, a matter the SEC will likely weigh in on, many are questioning for the first time Mr. Buffett’s character, reputation and ethics.  As a good example, I would recommend Joe Nocera’s inaugural New York Times column entitled “From Buffett, Excuses, Excuses, Excuses”.  However, this is not the first time that the Oracle of Omaha has seemingly been confused on the facts of a situation when it is convenient for him.

One of the most infamous statements ever made by Warren Buffett is one focused on tax policy.  In an oft-repeated statement, Mr. Buffett has publicly claimed (such as at a $4600-a-seat political fundraiser in 2007) that:

“The 400 of us [here] pay a lower part of our income in taxes than our receptionists do, or our cleaning ladies, for that matter. If you’re in the luckiest 1 per cent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 per cent”.

Later in that same speech, he stated that he was taxed at 17.7% on the $46 million he made last year, without trying to avoid paying higher taxes, while his secretary, who earned $60,000, was taxed at 30 per cent.  Setting aside his obvious attempt to shock as well as the strikingly condescending attitude regarding “our receptionists” and “our cleaning ladies”, let’s examine his claim in further detail.

  • The $60,000 that the secretary earns comes exactly from one source – current wages as a secretary or, as the tax world classifies it, ordinary income.  Thus, those wages are taxed at the marginal tax rate for a $60,000 earner (30% in 2007 according to Warren but 25% under current law…and from I can find, it was 25% in 2007 as well, but we’ll let that one slide).
  • Now let’s look at Warren’s income of $46 million – where does that come from?  Well for years, Mr. Buffett has received a very below-market salary as head of Berkshire Hathaway.  As CEO, he currently receives $100,000.  That $100,000 is taxed at 28% – if that was his only income.
  • So on the apples-to-apples comparison of individual salaries, Mr. Buffett is taxed at a higher rate than his secretary.  In addition, if Warren received a fair salary from Berkshire for his role of CEO – which would likely be MUCH greater than $373,000 (the amount it takes to get you to the top tax bracket currently) – he would be taxed at the 35% rate.
  • Therefore, if Mr. Buffett pays 35% on his $100,000 salary, how can he claim that he only paid 17.7% on $46 million of income?  Simple – he is purposefully mixing his ordinary income (what us normal people would call “salary”) with income from capital gains.  Mr. Buffett is a very asset-rich person – consider his 31% ownership of Berkshire Hathaway valued well north of $40 billion.  He receives a variety of interest payments, dividends and other capital gains on his entire investment portfolio.  These capital gains are either taxed at the short-term capital gain tax rate of 35% (all short-term gains are taxed at the person’s ordinary income rate, which for him, is 35%) or the long-term capital gain tax rate of 15%.

So what does this all mean?  Well if you run simple math at these tax rates, one can easily determine that Mr. Buffett claims to have paid $8.14 million in taxes on his $46 million of “income” or 17.7%.  Assuming his earnings of $100,000 as CEO at Berkshire (taxed at 35% since his other ordinary income would push him to the top bracket), another $6.1 million earned in short-term capital gains and other ordinary income (taxed at 35%) and $39.8 million in long-term capital gains (taxed at 15%), his total tax bill would be $8.14 million or 17.7% of $46.0 million.

So let’s examine Mr. Buffet’s claim that he does not pay enough in income taxes.  And for illustration purposes, let’s jack up his ordinary income rate (and thus also his short-term capital gain rate) to 100%.  That’s right – every dollar earned is immediately paid in taxes!!!  Sounds ridiculous right?!?!?  Well, it is.  But even assuming a 100% tax rate on the income breakdown shown above, do you know what Mr. Buffett’s all-in effective tax rate would be?  26.5%!!!  It would STILL be less than the 30% tax rate that he claims was paid by his secretary in 2007 (and hardly different than the 25% the secretary would pay now)!!!  There is absolutely nothing one can do to the ordinary tax rate to achieve what Mr. Buffett desires! So please Mr. Buffett – argue the facts, not the emotions.  If you want to change the game and pay more in taxes on a percentage basis than your secretary, the debate MUST be focused on long-term capital gains and not ordinary income.  The majority of Americans NEED their salary.  They need it to live on it, pay expenses with it, save some of it, invest in their children’s education and to do a wide variety of other things.  We are NOT asset-rich like you are!  The government can raise the ordinary income rate as much as you want and you’re exactly right – it’s not going to hurt you, Mr.  Buffett! But it’s going to destroy the rest of us that don’t have the stock ownership, assets and the long-term capital gains that you have!! So let me ask you this – are you willing to start paying more taxes on your $39.8 million of long-term capital gains?  How is that going to affect your business and your long-term investment prospects?  Are you willing to make that sacrifice?  If you are ever willing to accurately shift the debate to that topic…just let me know.