Tuesday, December 21, 2010

One Starry-Eyed Astronomer and his "Potential"

It wasn't too long ago that Ben Stein, that master of dead pan, came out with a movie called, Expelled in which he and others claimed that creationist scientists were being thrusted out of academia by atheistic scientists. I am the first to admit that creationists, and especially evangelical folk, can sometimes be a little alarmist in the reporting of the nefarious doings of others. But this time, I think Ben Stein may have a point.

Today, I read an article about an astronomer named C. Martin Gaskell. He currently holds a position at the University of Nebraska and was a leading candidate for the head of an observatory at the University of Kentucky. Gaskell claims that he did not receive the job because of his religious beliefs. He may be right. You can check out the article here, and I hope that you do. The money quote is a snippet of an exchange between staff members at the University of Kentucky concerning Gaskell, "Clearly this man is complex and likely fascinating to talk with, but potentially evangelical." Potentially evangelical?! Oh my! Oh noes! We can't have that kind of guy moving into the neighborhood, that would drive housing prices down for sure!

Okay, atheists and evolutionists think that evangelicals are idiots. We get that. We think that they are foolish. However, and this is a note to atheists, believing in a Supreme Being and that miracles happen hardly puts you outside the mainstream, nor does it hinder serious scientific endeavor. I recommend that Gaskell gets the job, and that everyone on that staff has to read C.S. Lewis' "The Abolition of Man." If only!

HT: @Phil_Johnson_

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Real and Reasonable Darkness in Harry Potter

I am a bit ashamed when Christians get bent out of shape over the magic of Harry Potter. It demonstrates a lack of critical thinking, a Luddite approach to the arts, and a very valuable missed opportunity to engage with culture in a meaningful way. If anyone reads the Harry Potter series and comes away thinking that the main point is spell-casting and the making of witches, then they simply fail to grasp the point of the series. The themes in Harry Potter are much deeper than wand waving and wizardry.

Truly, the heaviest theme in the series is not witchcraft, it is the exploration of death and dying. I would make the argument that death is the central theme of the Harry Potter series. How the main characters deal with death essentially defines who they will be as a person. Death, in one way or another, profoundly shapes Harry Potter, Voldemort, and even Severus Snape. The reason that Voldemort has any followers is that he has promised them immortality. They are the "Death Eaters," the ones who will escape death.

This is precisely why the "darkness" in Harry Potter grows as Harry grows and as the series continues. As a child, Harry is haunted by the murder of his parents. But because he is a child, death still seems a far off notion, the world of the living and the world of magic are what fascinate Harry. Harry is innocent, and though he has had to deal with the spectre of death his entire life, "The Boy Who Lived" is still just a boy at the outset.

As the story progresses, Harry has to cope with more and more death because, as I mentioned before, Voldemort is really, really evil. Harry not only has to deal with the murder of his parents, but by the end of the series he has had to deal with the death of his beloved "adoptive" father Sirius Black, he sees his friend Cedric Diggory murdered before his eyes, Mad-Eye Moody is slain, his pet owl Hedwig is killed, and his faithful servant Dobby the Elf is also killed by an evil witch. All of these deaths are tragic, but noble. Harry's friends my die, but they all do so acting quite bravely, each one dying in defense of Harry himself.

Ghosts first clue us in to this struggle with death. Ghosts are funny things, a sort of darkly humorous side item that appears in the series. "Nearly Headless Nick", who is played by John Cleese in the movies, is especially funny. When Harry's father figure, Sirius Black, is slain in battle with Death Eaters, Harry is hopeful that Sirius will return as a ghost. He speaks to Nearly-Headless Nick about it, but Nick tells him that Sirius will never be a ghost. Ghosts are people who died but were afraid to "cross over." Ghosts, then, are rather pathetic creatures in this light. They are those who are unliving, longing to live as they once did, but unable to embrace the fact that they never will.

Another magnificent scene in the series is when Harry gets into the carriage that takes the students to Hogwarts the year after he sees Cedric Diggory die. Up until that year, Harry, along with most of the students, believes that the carriages are drawn by magic. This time, Harry sees that the carriages are really drawn by red-eyed, leathery winged horse creatures. His friend Luna Lovegood informs him that these are "Thestrals" and that only those who have "seen death" can see Thestrals. This is a wonderful bit of writing. It symbolizes how Harry's eyes are being opened to the reality of death. Harry's battle, in the end, is not really against Voldemort. Voldemort is really more pitiful than a ghost. Harry's battle is with death, and once Harry faces the fear of death, and recognizes the fact that he must indeed die, then he is free from all the threats of Voldemort.

So if one wishes to be critical of Harry Potter, I hope that they will not do it because he waves a wand and shouts Latin"ish" phrases. Be critical because of how the series explores death, friendship, love, and bravery. I believe, if a Christian or anyone else, will judge the books on those merits, Harry Potter will come out a winner every time. The growing darkness of Harry Potter is not due to Mrs. Rowling's turn to the darkside. The growing darkness is because as Harry becomes aware of the reality of evil and death as he matures, so does the reader. It is a natural progression, not an increase of wickedness. Like Thestrals, the darkness was always there, you just couldn't see it before.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Great Sign of the Apocalypse

When someone mentions the apocalypse, I wonder what pops into your mind? Do you think of the sun growing dark or the moon turning to blood? To you imagine chaos in the streets, rioting, looting, and things burning? Do you imagine war and death and horror? Are these the signs of an apocalypse? Do you imagine a catclysm of epic proportions?

These may be signs of the apocalypse, but I want to say that there is a sign of the apocalypse that is far more familiar and wonderful. We are about to celebrate the dawn of the apocalypse. It did not begin with a great deal of fanfare.

The apocalypse began, and I use the term "began" very loosely, with a silent invasion. It was not a massive army that invaded, but a single subversive. He did not ride in on a war horse, he came as a baby, the son of a poor carpenter of Nazareth named Joseph.

You may have not thought of Jesus as being a sign of the apocalypse. You have probably never thought of Christmas as a time to commemorate the greatest invasion in the history of the world. But he is a sign of the apocalypse. The innocent baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger came to bring a sword, to ultimately slay all of his enemies, and to rule the world with a rod of iron. This baby will celebrate on Christmas will make the mountains quake, he will shake the stars from the heavens, and he will smite the world by the words from his mouth. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, and the rule of his kingdom will never end.

Simeon knew this. Simeon was a godly man who lived for the day of this king's arrival, this rebel who would overthrow the prince of darkness. Simeon took the baby from the arms of his young mother and said, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:34). Simeon saw that this baby was the beginning of the end of the world as it was, and that he would usher in the world to come.

I know that many of you that read my blog believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and I know that some of you do not. I beg you all to consider this sign again. When you pass a nativity, even a cheesy nativity, and you look at that scene of the donkey and sheep and doting mother and father, please consider what you see. Consider who this baby is that angels announce his birth. That so many, myself included, swear to their last breath that this little baby is the future King of Earth, the defeater of Death, and the scourge of Satan. Are we Christians all mad? Am I insane? Maybe. Or maybe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Is it true, or is it not true that this baby would grow up to be crucified and then rise from the dead? Did he come out of the tomb or didn't he? If he didn't, then I am a fool. If he did, then you are a fool if you do not consider what I say. Take heed this Christmas season in the midst of your giving and receiving of gifts. You are celebrating something as old as the fallen world: the promise of an apocalypse. This child has come for judgment, both yours and the world.

My dear friends, I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas. Above all, I want you to see that Jesus Christ is Lord. It is true! The little baby did grow up and conquer sin, death, and hell. Won't you at least consider the possibility? And if you already believe it, I hope that you will believe it enough to tell someone how Jesus brought the sword to your own soul.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Tax Cuts!

I recently posted an article in which I announced my epiphany regarding the great recession. You can check it out here if you like. Since that day of revelation, I have been doing more pondering on the state of the American economy, and what it might mean to me and my family and friends.

First, we must take note that we are currently operating at around a $13 trillion dollar deficit. That, my friends, is a chunk of change. It's a fairy tale chunk of change, really. If you were buried under 13 trillion dollars, and you freed yourself at the rate of a million dollars a day it would take you ten million days to be free. That's around 27,400 years to freedom. Katy bar the door!

So now all the hype in politics is the suggested tax cuts that are about to be voted on. I admit to being undecided on the issue, as I have strong feeling both ways. I will go with the "tax the rich guys!" impulse first, and then work my way back to rational thought from there.

First, I admit that the selfish, fleshly, knee-jerk reaction to tax cuts for rich people is for me to cry, "NO!!!! Stick it to the man!" But alas, emotive jealousy will not serve in the place of proper argument except in Ford vs. Chevy discussions. So, my only real argument for higher taxes on the rich is that, well, they can afford it. And secondly, to those whom much is given, much is required. I am also not very persuaded that a tax cut on the rich necessarily means that they will re-invest that savings back into the economy. That might sit on it, especially if they see financial Armageddon on the horizon in the form of a 13 trillion dollar debt.

I know that there might be other reasons to disproportionally gouge the rich more than the poor, but none of them overcome this other selfish, fleshly, knee-jerk reaction: I hate taxes. I don't hate them like George Washington hated them. This guy went beserk and shot people over a three cent stamp tax. I hate them in a "Hey, get your own money, dude!" type of hate. I understand taxing me for roads, armies, bridges, and even a very limited welfare. However, keeping folks on perpetual unemployment seems to be an abuse of the working man. I am not about wealth redistribution, especially when it is my wealth that is being redistributed.

Also, I abhor estate taxes. I nearly hate them as bad as George Washington hated stamp taxes or like Ben Franklin hated tea taxes. Unless I am wrong, majorly and happily wrong, no one is going to leave me anywhere near the $5 million dollar allowable before tax. (Dad, you can correct me if I'm wrong, gloriously and shockingly wrong.) But it gripes me to think that a guy works hard, pays his rich guy tax bracket, amasses a tidy fortune, only to have it get ravaged to the tune of 45% upon his death. That's like spitting on a grave, if you ask me. Plus, when that wealth is applied to land, it really gets ugly. Some farmers might be land rich but money poor. That means that they have to sell the farm to pay the inheritance tax. Ben Franklin, where are you now?

But let me attempt to shine a small ray of hope into all this deficit talk and tax bracket wrangling. The deficit is actually an estimate, right? The government can only guess how much the American people will make this year and how much tax revenue there will be. So here's what we do: Let's all make an extra $120,000 this year in gross income and pay off Uncle Sam's debt that greedy bankers and home owners saddled us with. Or maybe, we could find another 100 guys as rich as Bill Gates and just steal all their money. Of course, that would ulitmately mean that everyone who worked at Microsoft multiplied by 100 would suddenly be unemployed. *sigh* This thing is more complicated than it looks.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Story of Christmas, from the Beginning

Once upon a time, and this is a true story, a man named Adam and a woman named Eve lived in a garden paradise. There was no death in that place. The animals were obedient to the man and woman. Every tree in that garden was good for food, except one. That one was not to be eaten from. It was the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, and the man and the woman were to avoid it.

The most wonderful thing about this garden was that God visited it. He came to walk in it, and He came to fellowship with Adam and Eve. God loved the man and the woman, and He made everything: the sun, the moon, the stars, the trees, the water, and the world, so that they might have life and enjoy it and Him. But they betrayed God. They listened to that great enemy of man, Satan, as he slandered the motives of God for withholding from them that one tree. They disobeyed God and ate from it. For their crime, they were cast out of paradise. Death entered the world of men. Labor became intense and less fruitful. Child-bearing became an agony. And worst of all, God no longer walked with men as He once had.

But He still loved them, but his people were changed and twisted. Hate had taken root in their hearts. They no longer trusted God or each other. The man that God had lovingly made from the dust, the woman whom He had made from the man, they were now incapable of love. They had fallen far and were broken things, as hideous and twisted as the serpent who assailed them.

God would not leave his children, broken as they were, without hope. Adam and Eve heard the serpent's doom, "Hatred shall be between her seed and your seed. You shall bruise his heel, but he shall bruise your head!" So Adam and Eve went away from God and they had children. Their first were Cain and Abel. Perhaps one of them would be the one to crush the serpent? Alas! The bitterness of death and sin! Cain rose up and crushed his own brother, not the head of the serpent. Abel lay murdered by the hand of his own brother. The earth drank his blood and mourned. Even the earth was in agony over the paradise that was lost.

And so Adam and Eve grieved, but all was not lost. God gave them another son, and they named him Seth. Eve exclaimed, "God has appointed for me another seed in the place of Abel, for Cain murdered him!" Perhaps Seth would be the one to crush the head of the serpent.

But no, God's plan lay far into the future. Adam and Eve grew old and died, as did Seth, and Cain, and all the children of men. As each one died, his body, ravaged by death, would be put into the ground like a grain of wheat at planting, hoping that one day it may rise again. Men were not made for dying.

The men of earth turned their backs ever more away from God. The garden was like a dream. The bright skies of paradise were replaced by the fog of death. The trees, once fruitful, became useless for food save only a few. The fertile fields that once volunteered grain in abundance now made weeds and bramble. Men accepted this world. They ceased to long for paradise and the good God who made it. They murdered. They coveted. They sought paradise in their own pride and name. God looked and was grieved.

These people were made in God's image, and they were made to love one another. Every robbery, every murder, every wicked deed was an assault against that remnant of beauty that God had implanted. The key to paradise, the door to heaven, was unlocked with unselfish love. But instead of loving each other and serving one another, they used and abused one another. God was sorry that He had made them at all.

So the Lord determined to start all over. He decided to kill them all and be rid of them, for they were very wicked and even spent all their time plotting evil. Yet, God still loved them, and a descendant of Seth was especially beloved. His name was Noah. God spared Noah from his wrath. He kept Noah safe in an ark while the world perished around him in a cleansing wash from heaven.

Noah lived and had sons. One of them was named Shem. God loved Shem and blessed him, and he had many sons himself. The world grew evil once again in the days of Shem, and God cursed them to wander separated. Perhaps if they were apart, they could invent less evil.

What of the serpent? He continued to whisper lies into the ears of men, who were only too willing to listen. He lied and led them astray. He taught them new evils and schemes and always told them that they were gods. He piled up judgment for himself as he wrecked the world out of selfishness and spite. The serpent wanted to be God as well. He coveted the Lord's throne and beauty. He was a rebel and a liar from the beginning, and he ruled as a usurper over the sons of men.

But God had not forgotten his words. And so, from out of the sons of men he chose a man named Abram, another descendant of Seth, and a descendant of Shem. He called to Abram and said, "Abram! Come out of that land in which you are living and bring your wife Sarah. I will bring you into a land you have never seen before. I will give you many children, but most of all, the seed of promise will come from you. Through you and your seed, Abram, I will bless the world." And so Abram went out as God said, and God loved Abram and was his friend.

Abram had a difficult time. Sarah never had a baby of her own, and Abram grew frustrated. In the land which God had promised, Abram owned nothing. He had no children, and all that he owned would pass to a servant born in his house. One day, when Abram was near despair, God visited his friend and said, "Do not worry, Abram. I am your reward and I am your shield." Abram scoffed and said, "Lord, you have given me no children!" The Lord said, "I will surely give you a child through Sarah your wife. You will have more children than there are stars in the sky, my friend. Count them, if you are able, so shall your offspring be." And Abram believed God, and God declared him righteous. God saw this loyalty, this faith, and He said, "Abram! I'm changing your name! No longer will you be called Abram, you will be called Abraham, because you shall be the father of many!" (Abraham means Father of Many.) So it came to pass that Sarah had a son in her old age, and they named him Isaac, which means "Laughter", for this boy gave laughter that drove away the darkness of despair.

In the course of time, the baby became a young boy, and Abraham loved his son. One day, God appeared to his friend Abraham and said, "Abraham, take your son, your only son whom you love, and go and sacrifice him to me on the mountain I will show you." Abraham saddled up and left with Isaac and a few servants, fully intending to sacrifice his son. For Abraham trusted God with his most beloved things; Abraham believed that if he obeyed, God would raise Isaac from the dead. God saw this and rejoiced. He stopped Abraham and said, "I will surely bless you! I will surely bring the seed of promise through you! You have obeyed me even in this, surely your seed shall bless the world!"

And so Isaac was spared. Isaac himself had sons, one of them was named Jacob. Jacob was a bit of a scoundrel, but God loved him. Jacob had an older twin brother named Esau. Jacob plotted and swindled Esau out of his birthright and his inheritance. Esau was so angry that he vowed to murder Jacob. Jacob fled for his life, and God saved him out of all his troubles. After many years, Jacob was to return home and face Esau. The angel of the Lord appeared to Jacob, and they wrestled. Jacob wrestled with the Lord all night, and the Lord wrenched Jacob's hip out of socket, yet Jacob still would not let go. He cried, "Bless me! Bless me! I will not let you go until you bless me!" The Lord said, "I will bless you! No longer will you be Jacob, but Israel! Surely, the seed of promise will come from you, for you have wrestled with man and with God, and you have prevailed!"

Israel had twelve sons. One of these sons was named Judah. Judah was a proud man, and his pride led to him plotting to sell his younger brother Joseph into slavery. It also led to him nearly unjustly murdering his daughter-in-law. But God was with Judah, and he led him to do what was right. In the end, he put the interests of his family ahead of his own, and he was willing to live his live as a slave if it meant setting his youngest brother Benjamin free. God moved Israel to bless Judah saying, "Judah! To you belongs the promise! Your seed shall have the obedience of the nations! The rule of the world will never depart from him!"

And so time passed. Satan, that old serpent, went about murdering and lying, and men went on sinning. The children of Abraham became slaves to Egypt, but God delivered them. He eventually brought them back to the land promised to Abraham, and they grew and multiplied. The sons of Judah were many, and one of them was destined to rule. Out of Judah sprang up a young man who loved God with all of his heart. His name was David.

David was born the son of a sheep herder, and he himself was a shepherd. But God knew his heart, and He meant David to watch over more than sheep. He wanted to David to watch over Israel, and so God made him king. One day, while David was worshipping and thanking God for His kindness toward him, God came to David and said, "David! I will bless you! Your seed shall sit upon the throne forever! Through him, I will bless the world!" David saw that his son would not only sit on the throne of Israel, but that his son would deliver them into a new kingdom. One like the long-lost paradise of old. David saw that his son would take away the original sin of his people, and David rejoiced.

Israel waxed wicked after the death of David, and many of David's sons rebelled against God. It got so bad that many of God's people despaired, and so God sent prophets to encourage the faithful and to warn the unruly. One of his prophets was named Isaiah, and Isaiah said, "I can see what it will be like when the Son of David comes! The wolves and lambs will lie down in peace! The lion will eat grass like an ox! People will not die anymore, and no one will murder or kill or make war! And David's Son will sit on the throne! And look! Look! The Son of David is not just an ordinary man, he is God's own Son! He will come and take away our sins! God will lay on him all our wickedness, and David's son will pay for them. We will call him Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace! His kingdom will never cease to grow! It will fill the earth! He will reign in justice and righteousness forever!" Many of God's people rejoiced, but many did wickedly. God told Isaiah that when His Son came, most of his people would reject him and despise him, just as they despised God himself. The people turned on Isaiah because of his message, and under the orders of the King Manasseh, he was sawn in half.

As the years went on, Israel grew evil, as evil as the time when God destroyed the world by water, and so God scattered Israel and made them be the servants of other nations. The House of David fell into reproach and poverty. Everyone forgot the former glory, except for God. He watched over the house of David. God saw and loved a poor son of David named Joseph. Joseph was a righteous man, and he was engaged to a girl named Mary. Mary was also righteous and her heart was devoted to God. The Lord said, "Ah! At last! These two shall raise my son! These two shall hold the son of promise and the hope of the world!"

And so the Lord God sent an angel named Gabriel to Mary, and the angel told her that the savior of Adam, the Hope of Eve, the seed of Abraham, the pride of Judah, and the heir of King David would be conceived in her womb. Mary was overwhelmed and cried, "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name!..He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our father, to Abraham and to his seed forever!"

At last! At last! It came to pass that the one who would crush Satan was coming! He would be born the son of a virgin from the House of Israel, and his father would be a son of David named Joseph. Caeser decreed that all should go to the city of their fathers to be taxed, and so Joseph went with Mary to his ancestral city called Bethlehem, and there the future King was born. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a feeding trough because the inns were full. They named the little boy "Jesus", for He would save his people from their sins. (Jesus means "Savior".)

And so it was that the promise of God and the prophecies of his servants were fulfilled that night in Bethlehem. As it is written, "And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel."

So the boy Jesus grew in stature before both God and man. He was just and kind, and the Holy Spirit of God was upon Him. But the people were wicked still, and because they hated God and could not endure loving anything but themselves, they could not love Jesus.

To be continued at Easter....

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Promise of Christmas Part 1

I often feel that Christians handle prophecy rather poorly. Normally, when someone hears someone speak about prophecy, we think of visions of apocalyptic doom. I get a little bit squirmy when most people talk about prophecy, and if a prophecy lecture were like a bus-ride, I try and get off the bus at about the point where folks begin to talk about scorpions being helicopters, China being Magog, and speculating that if President Ahmadinejad puts on a purple turban then he is indeed the anti-Christ. I can, however, stomach charts which have up and down arrows representing the time of the "rapture."

Fortunately, prophecies are easier than all that silliness that usually passes for prophetic interpretation, and they are aspects of it that are far more important than speculating on the identity of the country who is Gog. I am speaking of the prophecies concerning the Immanuel, whose birthday we are about to celebrate. Are the prophecies concerning the advent of the Messiah clear or not? I believe that they are clear; I just don't think the average Christian has given them much thought. This is tragic both to personal faith and for credibility towards those who are looking from the outside in. It is, for example, far more important to understand what the Old Testament has to say about the Messiah than it is to get the greeter at Wal-Mart to say "Merry Christmas!" instead of "Happy Holidays!" Yet we see where many invest the majority of their energies. Indignation is easier than study.

So I thought that we might start at the very first Christmas prophecy, Genesis 3:15. The scenario is bleak. Satan, that old serpent, has just talked Adam and Eve into a vain power grab. Satan told them that God had withheld the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil because God knew that if they ate it they would become like God themselves. They coveted God's authority, power, beauty, and Being, and so they ate. Ironically, they did come to know good and evil. They now knew good as a memory, for everything good that they had ever known had come from being in right fellowship with the good God who made them. They knew evil as their reality; evil is being alienated from God.

Into this predicament steps God Himself. He seeks out the man and woman, and He curses them for their own good*. He also has these words for that old serpent Satan, He says:
Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

Two things, two very important things are foretold here by God. He says that the serpent will "eat dust" all his life as he "crawls on his belly." This does not simply mean that, as a serpent, he suddenly became legless. It means that the serpent, who is the devil, will suffer continual defeat forever. He will never triumph. He will always eat dirt. In the prophecy of Isaiah, Isaiah sees a day when, "The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent's food" (Isaiah 65:25). You see that, even in the restoration of all things when all manner of beasts live in harmony, the serpent is still eating dust. The enemy of men, the devil, will still live in abject defeat when God restores all things.

The second important prophecy is how this ultimate defeat is going to come about. It will happen through a battle with the "seed" of the woman. This person will be bruised by this seed in the battle. His heel will be bruised, indicating a crippling, but not life-threatening wound. The serpent, however, will have his head bruised, indicating a mortal wound. (It can be translated "crushed in both instances instead of bruised. It indicates more than a superficial wound.)

The rest of the Old Testament develops this idea of who this seed will be. Is it Cain? Abel? Seth? We must wait to find out the answer to that as the Biblical narrative unfolds. Who will crush the head of Satan? Who will usher in the time when the wolf shall graze with the lamb?

I'll take a look at how the story is revealed as Christmas approaches, and I hope that you will see that it all leads to a manger in Bethlehem and a cross in Jerusalem.


*That God designed the curse for our good may sound ridiculous, but I very much believe that it is true. Going into all those details will require another post all its own.

Friday, December 03, 2010

I Think I'm Starting to Understand the Recession

I'm not a financial guru. I do know a few things about not being foolish with my money. I know, for example, that credit card debt is like being pirated by permission, so I do not have any credit card debt. I also know that cars are about the best way to throw away money that you can think of due to depreciation. So I have resolved to buy used cars until I have money to throw away. I also know that, over the long haul, the stock market is not a bad investment if you put your money into reputable companies and diversify. I also know that, as a Christian, it is my duty to be a good steward of the resources that I have.

Recently, I have been thinking of buying a small farm. I would like to have a few acres to grow some watermelons, some sweet corn, and some peas and beans. Not a large scale operation, just a place where my children can grow up outdoors and win prizes for goats at 4-H. I have some money saved up, interest rates are low, and so I decided the time is right for such a venture.

As I was shopping for a loan, I was pleasantly surprised, at first, to find that the government will back a farm loan through an entity called the FSA for up to 90%. That is, if I borrow the money and default, the bank is guaranteed to get back 90% of the investment from the government. I was perplexed to find, however, that the bank required 15% down for the land purchase. I asked why they would do this if they have a 90% guarantee, and they replied that they felt it was best if I "had some skin" in the investment. I responded by saying, "Here's my skin: 10% down. Where is your skin? You are making money day one because of the guarantee, right?"

Much to my amazement, I found that home loans have a similar backing by the FDIC (I believe). The government backs home loans, and correct me if you are in the know, up to 80%. That means if a bank loans $200,000 on a house, they are guaranteed a $160,000 payback on default by the government. If they require a 10% down payment, they are only risking $20,000 on the first day. That's a pretty safe risk on a 30 year mortgage with a person of good credit.

After finding these things out, I nodded at first and thought that this is a pretty good way to stimulate the economy. You lower the risk for banks so that they will not be afraid to loan money to people. People will then buy houses and open businesses, generating commerce. As I was having this happy thought, I began to think about how awesome it would be to open a bank if all those loans were practically guaranteed and risk free....

And then my happy thought went away. I suddenly realized that if banks had very little risk, they might just get greedy and make lots and lots of loans, knowing that the government would have to bail them out if people defaulted. They might even go from the standard 10% down to something like a 0% percent down to get people to buy. If you couple this with low-interest, front end, ballooning loans, you might just make a bunch of money. Unless, of course, lots and lots of people started defaulting and you starting bleeding those 10-20% losses all over the place.

Oh my! Is that why the economy tanked? And here I thought it was all George Bush's fault! Or that some Wall Street broker goon did it. Could it have been that a policy designed to help people was twisted by greed and used corruptly, not by one person, but by thousands of people trying to grab too much too fast?

I don't know. This is my own little personal conspiracy theory. If I am totally wrong about this, I'd appreciate the correction.