Archive | January, 2012

Election is Always Controversial

31 Jan

We had an election in Florida today. Apparently more Republican voters in this state think Mitt Romney is most qualified to become President. The word election is a funny word. It is used in the Scriptures to describe a situation when God takes someone who is completely not qualified and chooses them for a task. In Biblical election, God qualifies us Himself through the atoning work of Jesus, but election, at its core, is the process of taking something that is unworthy and putting it forth as worthy. Based on what I hear from people, that is what many voters believe we are doing. Nevertheless, voting is the process by which we elect someone to be President.

Among the myriad of complaints that none of these people running for President were good enough for the task at hand, I found myself asking, “Would anyone be so?” A friend of mine whom we affectionately call “The Slacker” said that George Washington was the perfect President because he qualified yet hesitant, whereas today we have unqualified leaders who are most described by some crazy desire to be President. I think many people would echo Slacker’s sentiment, but as I consider it, we really have a wonderful system in place.

Consider that you do not become the President just because you were born into an elite family (Adams and Bush notwithstanding). You do not become President just because you have the best military behind you (Washington and Grant, notwithstanding). You could be a poor man who makes something of himself and gets elected to the position. How wonderful is that? And the only thing you have to do is convince a country that you are the most qualified man for the job. Ah, but there is the rub. What does it take to be “qualified” enough so that you get voted to actually be qualified?

My uncle wrote a persuasive piece on whom you should vote for for President. I love that he said, “The winner and the loser isn’t my primary concern; my primary concern is to be a good steward of my vote…we must understand that, like a dollar, our vote is an issue of stewardship.” While I may not always agree on whom to vote, I can say unequivocally that he always does vote for whom he believes is the best candidate. Doing so in a general sense, however, involves at least two areas where disagreement easily arrives.

First, what is the proper position on an issue? While I believe that some issues have an absolutely obvious correct position, I think the vast majority are open to interpretation. That does not mean that I am wishy-washy on them, just that I believe reasonable minds can differ. If we cannot all agree on things as important and obvious as the proper timing of baptism, then how can we ever agree on whether the Welfare of a country is benefited or detrimented by a particular military position. Yet, let’s say that two people agree on every single issue that exists (which seems relatively far-fetched), that only solves half of the issue.

Second, how important is that issue relative to other issues? This is where we get into voting. You see, it is seldom that any candidate agrees with us on everything. So now we have to quantify our beliefs. In this valuation, we are lead to a concept called the economics of voting. I think everyone agrees that my father would be the best President this country has ever seen. Yet noone writes him in, largely because he has no chance. There are other candidates who are good, though not as good as my Pops. The question then comes as to which set of variations from one’s beliefs are more important than others. Here you could have two people who agree on every individual issue but disagree as to which person better represents that belief system based on which priorities each person values. To some people a reasonable chance of a favorable outcome is a huge issue while to others it doesn’t matter at all.

I have been known to say that when you vote for President, you are voting for more than a bundle of ideas. I have been known to vote for Congressmen and Senators who agree with me on issues, but I find them to be personal jerks. Legislation is, after all, their jobs. However, when voting for President, ideas are important, to be sure, but the execution of those ideas is also important, because administration is, after all, his job. To some people this is not important, but I think it is akin to promoting to manager the best salesperson who has no idea how to lead. This is where we determine how to vote. You see, voting is the process by which you choose which set of flaws are more acceptable. Whether you’re voting on your favorite chair, your favorite restaurant, or your favorite candidate, we recognize nothing is perfect. However there are certain imperfections that we perceive to be worse than others.

Now is about the time, when you point out that while I claim to not be as interested in politics as I once was, I am continuing to write about it. I guess I am guilty, except I am not going to try to convince you of voting a certain way in this blog. I am going to say that if our system determines a man is qualified for President by getting more votes than other men, I hope that whoever is elected walks worthy of that determination. But more importantly, I hope that you find the election that Scripture teaches, and that you walk worthy of that election. Largely because the results of a Presidential election are temporal, but the results of the Scriptural one is Eternal. Make sure you keep your priorities correct!


Do I have to be an Example?

29 Jan

I recently came to the understanding that I was, in fact, an adult. If you want to read about my mental journey of getting there, you can do so here. If you wish to correct me and let me know that I am not an adult, you can let me know that here. While it would be nice to go back to the “worries” of childhood, I have slowly begun to put away childish things.

One thing that I never really became accustomed to is that when you finally become an “adult,” you end up becoming the go-to person for others who are just beginning their journey into the dark abyss of personal responsibility we dub Adulthood. The problem is that everything becomes weightier. Whether your journey to adulthood was smooth, exceedingly rough, or somewhere in between, those who come behind you view you as an adult. They didn’t always observe the growing pains you had to go through; they think everything you say is THE answer to how to become a good adult!

I have spent a good chunk of my adult life as an instructor in a variety of subjects. There are some students who call me ten years after a class to ask a question. While it is extremely flattering, there are times where my knowledge of the subject I taught was barely ahead of the students (those who met me as an instructor, I have since become an expert in all these fields; please call me with all questions). But this is a natural reaction as humans. I think back to teachers I had growing up and I still think they were amazing. Kelly and I recently sent our son to the same school where I went to elementary school. I was shocked that some of the teachers who taught me how to do my first oral book reports are actually not as good at public speaking as I am. I am amazed that my understanding of math is superior to some of my teachers growing up, yet I emailed one of them to ask a question just a few weeks back.

The first boss I had at McDonald’s taught me things that to this day I assume must be perfect, despite the fact that years later I was teaching people in a “better” way. I think the first person who introduces us to a subject is automatically the world’s foremost expert in our mind. And because of this, when people who are looking at becoming adults see us and they like the fun/serious balance we have found as adults, they assume we are the best person to ask. However, the reality is that I just accepted my own elderliness, and I’m now asked to assist these people going through trials.

What I am realizing is that we are all in the same boat. Unless you grew up in the Jewish faith, I doubt you had a ceremony where all your friends and relatives pronounced you an adult. There is no ceremony for anyone when we get that first person who wants to model us in some way. It is downright scary for all of us! But I think I can temper that scariness by recognizing my own continuing shortfalls. When I recognize that there is nothing naturally reproducible in me, I am further recognizing that the things which are reproducible in me are merely the grace of God displaying themselves. Therefore, if I can tell those who want to look to me to look instead to God, I feel like I can’t go wrong with that advice!

I was a huge fan of the series I Love the 70’s and I Love the 80’s. They used people who grew up during that time period to talk about it. These people were hilarious as they recalled the trials of their youth in a humorous way. Then something happened. They tried to do I love the 90’s and the show wasn’t about these people growing up, but it was about them recalling life as an adult. Now that is a fine exercise unto itself, but something had changed. The series was modeled the same way, but it just didn’t pass the muster in and of itself.

This is how I feel about my adulthood in general—the life is the same, but there is an adjustment to how I am viewed by the outside. As more and more people are modeling what they say they see in me and I see an array of results (good and bad) from these people, I am encouraged to live better. This is a good thing. I hope that the accountability I feel continues to keep me on my toes.

But as people start asking me for advice on how to live, I realize the weightiness, but with God’s help I hope to be up for the task. I recognize that if I am not up for the task, that doesn’t take it away, it just leads people improperly. So I would implore everyone to live like someone is watching. And when someone specifically comes to you looking for advice, be flattered and be cautious to separate what you want to tell them with what you should tell them.

Isn’t Love Wonderful?

27 Jan

A while back I marveled at how much I am in love with my wife. I recognize that in today’s world many people are merely infatuated with the idea of being in love. Yet, somehow despite my foibles and shortcomings, I was gifted a wife who not only makes me consistently better with support and appropriate challenges, but is someone I grow to appreciate more every day.

I have frequently thought back to our courtship and wondered if a decision here or there could have completely ruined my life in some profound way. Then I am brought back to the reality that a Sovereign God doesn’t just luck upon these things. The unique set of circumstances was not a reaction to our thwarting some other plan He had.

One of the things that has caused me to really re-consider this reality is the fact that we have recently been given the opportunity to do some rudimentary pre-marital counseling with another couple. I am delighted by this for at least two reasons. The first is that God has worked through us in such a way that our shortcomings have been covered by a blanket of God’s grace that brings glory to Him through us. The second is that we have the opportunity to show a young couple a few ways that God may be working in them. While I clearly think that one of the major ways He works in our relationships is through our parents, I am becoming more aware all the time that one of the negatives of The Curse is that there are an astounding number of terrible parents.

Nevertheless, I’d like to get back to what I am learning from this couple. First, I love meeting people who are different enough from me that the only good explanation of how we click so instantly is God. God has put me together with a couple who probably would not like me in a random world. Yet we are enjoying each other thoroughly in this world! This testament again gives a hearty proof to God’s Sovreignty. Also, I am realizing that some elements of a Christ-centered courtship are the same, while others are different.

It is so cool being able to help people do things to better prepare themselves for the ultimate human covenant than you did. It is tremendous to find them doing things that you would have never thought to do. Finally, it is so cute to see them do the things that all couples do and nostalgically fall in love with my wife even more. And this is yet another reason (Reason #4969) that God is showing me daily how what I did all those years ago before many of you was even better than I could have possibly conceived!

So, Who ya Got?

25 Jan

My wife asked me recently who I thought was correct—Paul or Barnabas. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, basically you have two men who served together on a missionary journey. They started the journey with John Mark, but the young man left sometime before the end of the journey. When they were beginning the next missionary journey, Uncle Barnabas wanted to bring along John Mark again, yet Paul was against it. The dissension was so sharp that they decided to go separately.

According to my reading of the Scriptures, I am not sure if Paul and Barnabas ever completely reconciled. There is some evidence, though, that both of them led teams that were used of God! While we are not sure that Paul ever completely reconciled with Barnabas, we do know that Paul later found John Mark useful to the ministry (not just the ministry in general, but specifically profitable to Paul’s ministry).This reminds me of a debate question posed to me by the late Dr. Hook where he wanted to know if we should make our ethical decisions based on a Daniel model or an Esther model. In both of these cases I come to the same conclusion. They are both correct!

Now lest I be accused of being too post-modern, I want to assert that in matters of doctrine, we must remain firm. We must not relent on issues where the Bible gives clear direction. Yet I feel that the dissension between Paul and Barnabas was a personal dispute based upon a judgment call. Sometimes I think they can both be right. I believe neither Paul nor Barnabas let the conflict distract them from their respective efforts of spreading the gospel and because of it, even more work was accomplished for the Lord!

Perhaps this is striking a special chord in me, because many people in my state are currently talking to me about for whom they should vote in the upcoming Presidential primary. Let me assert that I think educated voting is very important. It is vitally important to study the issues and determine what you think is most important and vote that way (Incidentally, should you feel you need a little persuasion, I will gladly educate you). While I believe some issues are biblically mandated to come out a certain way, I feel many of the issues fall into the category where there isn’t a clear answer given in the Scriptures.

In these last few weeks, I’ve talked to many educated, godly people and read blogs by similarly qualified people, and they come to completely different conclusions. I think it mostly comes to a matter of preference. And while this has been a hard realization at which I have arrived, probably because I struggle with equating my political persuasions to the same level as the Scriptures, I think it may be OK that we have differences.

I guess what I would say is that similar to the Paul and Barnabas situation, God is already aware of what will occur. God has already worked all of these things out for the good of those who are called according to His purpose. As someone who is readily aware of his own depravity, I realize that the leaders I deserve are godless and persecuting, but I continue to pray (and have faith) that I will have leaders better than I deserve. Do not let these diversions of political persuasion distract you from your respective effort of spreading the gospel. Commit to your civic responsibility and vote, but recognize that your greater responsibility is not to conform someone to your political ideology, but to show them the truth of the gospel, allow God to do his work, and perhaps God will work in them to show them my political ideology!

I am a Peyton Manning Apologist

23 Jan

These next two weeks will be some of the most difficult for Peyton Manning. We will hear for two weeks about how Tom Brady has distanced himself in the argument of who is the best quarterback of our generation. Further, we will hear about his brother Eli becoming the best Manning to ever quarterback in the NFL. And since those two guys are competing in a Super Bowl taking place in a dome that is in Peyton’s city and is only in existence because of the success of Peyton, there will be mixed emotions for him, I am sure.

This is not, however, meant to be an attempt to get you to empathize with Peyton’s plight, as I’m sure it is a “better” situation than just about everyone reading this would have. The purpose, however, is to take a stand for the greatness of Peyton Manning, as the onlought of his detractors is about to begin. Clearly nothing I say will completely convince those of you who are dye in the wool fans of Eli, Tom, the Patriots, or the Giants, but for those of us who look objectively, I think we can side with Peyton still being able to compare favorably to those two guys.

First, I believe all three of these men are Hall of Fame level quarterbacks. Second, I will state that the presupposition with which I begin is that value is most determined by the replacement value. There are other methods to determine value, to be sure, but the truest test of just how valuable you are can best be determined by what it is like to fill in for you. Every other standard is reliant upon other factors.

The fact that the Colts won as many games as they did and were a challenger for “Team of the Decade” from 2000-2009 (or 2001-2010) is a testament to just how great Peyton Manning is. If the Colts can win more games than every NFL team over a 10-year period and yet, were utterly terrible without Manning, you have to concede that he is great. His replacement value trumps others.

This became my standard when I was in high school Calculus studying the Leontief production function, which in large part came about to answer the Heckscher–Ohlin theorem, which also gave us the Rybczynski theorem and the Stolper–Samuelson theorem. Now before you google these things to see what kind of nonsense I am pilfering, let me just say that these are mostly economic theories. And when you attempt to extract one element of a team (or, if you prefer, economy), it cannot be simply replaced, but there are adjustments by all the other members of the team. Similarly, merely looking at stats, which are intrinsically reliant upon the effort of others cannot be our only test.

Before I irreversibly bore all you sports fans, let me put it in this perspective. The fact that the Cleveland Cavaliers had the best record in the NBA in back-to-back seasons, then had the worst record in the league after losing LeBron is the primary way to judge his value. Similarly, the fact that the Indianapolis Colts had at least ten wins in 11 of the preceding 12 seasons, then had the worst record in the NFL shows his value. While Mark Schlereth (and I) has been saying for years that the Colts had four wins per year talent without Peyton Manning, that was really proven this year.

Now certainly, we cannot discount that there are other elements to evaluate. And the primary knock on Peyton Manning is the fact that his detractors will say he is not “clutch.” Now again going back to the economic concepts addressed above, which I will henceforth call the Rybczynski group, I can’t look at anything in a vacuum, but let me try. Quarterback rating (which is clearly imperfect, but it is an amalgamation of all the stats) of the three quarterbacks in the playoffs are between 88.4 and 89.4. That’s pretty much a wash.

This is where people will look at the vastly superior won-loss records of Tom and Eli. Of course, I will submit that the years Tom Brady won a Super Bowl (before this year), New England’s defense was 6th, 7th, and 9th in the league. When Eli won, his defense was ranked 7th. On the other hand, when Indianapolis won, their defense was ranked 21st. Obviously, rankings are not the tell-all and can be deceiving, but there is definitely a pattern there. As Tom Brady’s defenses have gotten worse statistically, his winning percentage has been more of a mirror of Peyton Manning’s winning percentage.

Therefore I return to my initial thought. Let’s look at the teams around these three great quarterbacks. First, Eli joined a team that averaged 10 wins a season from 2000-02 (and had even been to the Super Bowl in 2000). Then after starting 4-4 in 2003, there were articles written about how the team gave up on Jim Fassell, and they finished out by losing 8 in a row. This was a talented bunch that just did not do well. They started 2004 with Kurt Warner at quarterback and were 5-2. Eli took over and the team finished 6-10. He quickly adapted and the team made the playoffs the next year. Since then, the Giants have been to the Super Bowl twice (including this year), missed the playoffs twice, and lost their first playoff game the other three times. They are at their best record-wise when the defense does better and the running game is functioning well.

Tom Brady, as previously mentioned, has done best (record-wise) when his team had a great defense. As his personal stats have become better and the offense has become more statistically impressive, his playoff record has become worse. Further, the one year where he missed the whole year (2008) his team went 11-5 behind Matt Cassell, which is actually better than they did in 2009 (10-6) when Tom Brady returned. Granted Matt Cassell is a decent quarterback, who has proven to be better than the guys around Peyton Manning, but I think that furthers the point. The Colts were absolutely justified in getting rid of Bill Polian. They just did not surround Peyton Manning with as much talent as the Patriots have.

The Indianapolis Colts won 9 games in the strike year (1987), but the last time they won more than that without Peyton Manning was 1977. In the eight years before Peyton got going, they had four seasons of winning four games or fewer (compared with 0 for Brady and 1 for Eli Manning). He went to a worse team, and they have been consistently better than the NY Giants in terms of regular season record. In years Peyton was the starter, they have averaged 10.8 wins (and that includes his 3-win rookie season), Eli’s teams have averaged 9.3, and Tom Brady’s teams have averaged 12.3 wins.

Since Tom didn’t really play his rookie year, if you wish to equalize it by taking away Peyton’s rookie year, the numbers get much more comparable. Remembering of course that New England won 11 games in their season without Tom Brady, while Indianapolis won 2 in their season without Peyton Manning. Let’s assert that each of these are two games off (or 12.5% of the NFL season in random) and The 2008 Patriots SHOULD HAVE won only 9, while the 2011 Colts SHOULD HAVE won 4. You still have Brady’s net value as 3.3 wins, while Manning’s is 6.8 wins. Tom Brady’s post season record is better, but the rest of his team has, as a whole, been vastly better.

I think the only argument that you can use to further criticize Manning is that he also calls his own plays, so he must contribute to his own ineptitude. Of course while Manning was calling the plays, his team averaged 26.2 points, while this year they averaged 15.2 points. The real ineptitude for Peyton Manning is that the rest of his team has always been terrible and that not only has he turned them into a regular season juggernaut, but he has almost a .500 team in the post season, against real, difficult competition! In short, I am a Miami Dolphin fan and if he wants to (or is forced to) leave Indianapolis after this year, we’ll take him, and I’ll guarantee that Miami will be instantly relevant!

Time Marches On

21 Jan

Yesterday I spoke with an elementary principal about how prepared Emily was to go to Kindergarten. It seems as if yesterday she was being born and adding to our little family, and now she tests at least seven months ahead of where she should be as an excellent candidate to enter kindergarten (or possibly skip ahead to first grade). She’s also taken it upon herself to start to teach Julia things about what it takes to be a big girl.

Tomorrow Kelly turns 35. I remember when she was less than half that age and we thought 35 was nothing but a far-off obscurity we may never reach. While those who know me, know that I am much older, slower in movement, quicker to grow weary, incapable of doing as many things, and just generally more aged. Those who know Kelly know that she looks, think, and moves just as nimbly as she did when I met her 20 years ago.

Jacob is now more than halfway through his first year at a full-time school. This week he participated in his first Bible quiz ever where he was recognized as the highest quizzer. He has established himself as the best quizzer in the school this year, so that third graders are asking if he can be promoted to third grade right now (their teams are based on the grade everyone is in). I remember when he was in his first quiz ever and was intimidated by being the smallest person. He has grown and though some say he looks like me, he is certainly getting to be a bigger version of that.

Earlier this week, Julia woke up talkative and slightly bossy. This is relatively normal for a three year old girl, but I can remember a time where we wondered if she would ever talk. Then we wondered if she would ever really stand up to her older siblings, particularly Emily. As our youngest who now walks when we go to Sea World, I remember going when Kelly was pregnant with Julia and none of our kids walked.

This week was not that special of a week really. There was not a lot of change. Not much occurred that was signifying any big change. Yet, there were these signs showing me that time marches on. We celebrated a New Year earlier this month. The holiday is really only about the passage of time. What separates it from other days? Nothing really, except that it is a time specifically set aside to recognize the passage of time. This week, I sat aside and watched the fact that my family is growing up. I’m excited and yet sorrowful. I purpose to be present for as much time as I can, so as Time Marches On, I will be marching right beside it!

Who’s the Bigger Jerk?

19 Jan

For those of you reading this without the joy of meeting me, my actual given name by my parents is not the name you see above. In fact, many people refer to me by names other than “Phat Man.” While this is positively demoralizing, I have come to accept the fact that some people will refuse to call me by my nickname. Nevertheless, some call me by my given name, some by a nickname, some by my family [last] name. There are a myriad of names by which I go, and I have come to terms with all of them.

Maybe it was because I grew up playing sports, maybe it is because I am bad at remembering names, maybe it is because I have a way of coming up with unique things, or maybe I’m just a student who at an early age was fascinated with the nom de plume, but whatever it is, I come up with nicknames for a good number of people with whom I come into contact. Some are names that I find so worthy, that for me it becomes their most common name. Other people are so difficult to endear with a nickname that they become known without one.

At any rate, what this all means is that I have a series of names by which I refer to people that may not sound normal. Recently, I realized that some people are not fans of a special name. This kind of shocks me, as I have always loved receiving them (and I haven’t always had good ones, like Rug Rat, Budger, The Jerk, Big Mouth, and, of course, Phat Man). So, when someone tells me that they don’t like nicknames, I find it difficult to believe. Some are even so bold as to suggest that it is completely inconsiderate and downright wrong to make up a name for someone.

Now, this is where I can start by saying, I feel I’m in good company. Jesus gave out nicknames. The most famous is that Simon became Peter (or, if you prefer, Cephas). It is also true that at least seven of the disciples had two names by which they are referred in the Scripture. Jesus was a fan of giving people new names. And if Jesus can do it, I feel I certainly am not automatically wrong for doing so.

But this brings up the next point. If someone does not like their nickname, how rude is it to continue to use the name. There are several distinct points that make this a more difficult issue than it seems. First, once you have called someone a name for years, a simple switch can be difficult, especially in a regular conversations. Second, when you are someone, like me, for whom nicknames are an endearing element, giving it up almost suggests that you no longer value that person as a friend. The third point takes a little more development, but it has to do with the nature of reaction to rules.

Basically, there is something within us as humans that when a person goes overboard attempting to get you to do avoid a given behavior, the natural reaction is to do it. For example, even as a child, when your mom says to not take the brownies, we automatically are more desirous of the chocolaty goodness. When we are told to quit picking on the little guy, we seem to relish the opportunity more. When we are told we can’t do something, it becomes our goal. Similarly when someone tells us not to call them by a certain name in a way where they seem to suggest we cannot do so, our reaction is to show them we can.

Which I guess leads to the question. Am I a bigger jerk for wanting to call someone a nickname that was given out of a general fondness for the individual? Or, is the person who rejects my gift of a nickname by telling me that I cannot call them such a name a bigger jerk for pushing it?