The Original Black Friday

“It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:44-45a, ESV).

In recent years the day after Thanksgiving has become known as “Black Friday.” While this term was first used to describe the date of the financial panic set off by gold speculators in 1869, provides this definition for the way in which the term is most used nowadays: “the day after Thanksgiving, one of the busiest shopping days because of discounts offered by retailers: so named from the use of black ink to record profits.”

The original Black Friday had nothing to do with shopping, though. Neither did it have anything to do with financial speculation in 1869. No, the original Black Friday was an event that took place on a Friday some two thousand years ago outside of Jerusalem. On that day, Jesus Christ was crucified, despite the fact that Pontius Pilate, after questioning Jesus, announced, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving of death has been done by him” (Luke 23:14-15).

Pilate was exactly right, of course; Jesus was the only man to ever live a perfect, sinless life, so there could not possibly have been anything “deserving of death…done by him.” And yet, he was crucified anyway. The immediate reason for the crucifixion was Pilate’s timidity in the face of pressure from the Jewish leaders and his desire to keep a low profile in Rome after a previous situation he had been involved in. Knowing this, the Jews were essentially able to blackmail Pilate into doing their bidding in this instance. The real reason, though, was that the death of Jesus–the shedding of His blood–was God’s divine plan for providing the payment demanded by a holy God for the sins of man.

If ever there has been reason for giving thanks, this would be it: Jesus blood paid the penalty for my sins–and yours, if you are willing to accept God’s gift of salvation–and His resurrection defeated death forever, providing eternal life for those who believe.

So if you find yourself lining up hours in advance in the cold to save a few dollars on the latest gadget or this year’s Christmas presents, if you find yourself pushing and shoving or just trying to avoid being trampled in the midst of the chaotic rush for “the deal,” remember that Black Friday is really not about buying at all, but it is about paying–and Jesus paid it all.

In all circumstances

Tomorrow we Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving. This is a great holiday…perhaps by favorite, though it would be a tight race with Christmas. I love Thanksgiving for the food, of course, but I love the time of fellowship with family and friends, and I particularly appreciate the reminder to pause, reflect on all that I have to be thankful for, and give thanks to God. If you’re at all like me, you probably take your many blessings for granted sometimes, forgetting to give thanks.

As Thanksgiving has approached this year I have been particularly reminded of the importance to give thanks in everything, not just in the things that seem pleasant or desired at the time. I suspect I am not the only one who struggles to do this.

The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:18). This is undoubtedly the ultimate verse on this subject, but it is not the only one. James even specifies that which is most difficult to give thanks for in the moment when he writes, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2).

Paul, of course, had experienced plenty of “circumstances” in which it would have been very difficult, humanly speaking, to give thanks. Beatings, imprisonment, stoning, shipwreck… These are not the ingredients for a thankful spirit! Yet Paul had learned that God was still in control in those situations, and He was still working through them for His glory. James was writing to the first century Christians that had scattered because of persecution; surely their initial thought had not been to “count it joy.”

When the sun is shining–but its not too hot or humid; when there is still plenty of money in the checkbook after all the bills are paid; when everyone is healthy and smiling; when our favorite team is winning; when ________ (fill in the blank with something that makes you happy)…in those times it is easy to give thanks. So easy, in fact, that I think we sometimes do it cavalierly. It’s easy to give thanks for our food when we have plenty more in the pantry or the refrigerator, or, even if we do not, can easily go to the grocery store or a restaurant to get exactly what we want. I have to wonder, though, whether thanks that comes so easily–so automatically–really means much.

I am not suggesting that the words “thank you” are meaningless; they are not. Actually, I cannot think of many words that have greater meaning. But the way in which the words are said has a great impact on their significance. There are other words like that…”love” and “sorry” come to mind immediately. We trivialize them if we use them carelessly.

Back to my original point, then, sincere thanks given in the midst of circumstances that, on their face, do not seem thanks-worthy is a profoundly powerful thing. I can think of several situations that I have heard about in recent months that do not seem like reasons to give thanks, but upon further contemplation, there is always something for which to be thankful. And while thanks offered in hindsight is meaningful, how much more meaningful is thanks given “in the moment.”

Perhaps one of the greatest examples of a situation that seems lousy at best but turned out to be wonderful was shared with me in recent months. A friend of mine was bucked off of a horse, into a fence. He is a big, strong guy, but it was obvious that he was hurting. He was taken to the hospital, and tests were run. The only immediate damage was a broken rib. Still, not much to be thankful for really. However, in the course of running tests to make sure all the internal organs were alright, it was discovered that there was a cyst on his kidney. This led to more tests, of course, and eventually surgery to remove the cyst. Subsequent tests confirmed that the cyst was indeed cancerous. Yet, because it was discovered so early, it was able to be completely removed and the likelihood of any recurrence is only 4%. The doctors said that if another few years had gone by there would have been absolutely nothing they could have done for him. Amazing how all of a sudden getting bucked off of that horse turned into one of the most thanks-worthy events of his life!

I would never suggest that every one of life’s events will have ramifications that are that consequential. I am not even suggesting that we will always be able to decipher the good in every circumstance. What I do know, though, is that Paul did not say that we are to give thanks in every circumstance for which we can identify a silver lining. James did not say to count it all joy when we meet trials and see the value in them for our own improvement. Nope…there was no qualifier in either instance. The bottom line is simple: give thanks, count it joy…in all circumstances.

Cause and Effect

Unless you live under the proverbial rock, you have surely heard about the David Petraeus’ resignation as director of the CIA. In his resignation letter Petraeus gave the main reason for his decision as “poor judgment.” There are accusations, rumors, speculations…the internet, newspapers and television talking heads are all staying plenty busy these days with this topic. I am not by any means suggesting that it is not a serious issue, especially if there was classified information that was compromised, but it also seems to me that there is an unusual amount of “shock and awe” being directed toward this situation when compared with similar stories in U.S. history.

Apparently, Cal Thomas agrees. In an editorial entitled “Changing standards?” posted yesterday on, Thomas asks why Petraeus had to resign. He (correctly) points out that Bill Clinton did not resign after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and Ted Kennedy never resigned despite a well-known reputation for philandering. After asking why Petraeus should have resigned, Thomas comments, “I am always amused when journalists use the words ‘sex scandal’ when writing about such things. Having abandoned most standards for what used to be called ‘upright behavior,’ culture now ‘tsk-tsks’ when someone is caught in a compromising position.”

A case-in-point would seem to be the statement made by HLN’s Kyra Phillips. As a reporter, she says she has had a good professional relationship with General Petraeus over the years, and that Petraeus and Phillips have had great mutual respect for each other. Then she said, “Needless to say, I’m shocked by his behavior.”

The Huffington Post ran an article on November 12 entitled, “David Petraeus Affair Causes Media Soul-Searching.” What were some of the details of this article, published by this definitely-left-leaning internet news site? Spencer Ackerman, a reporter for Wired, said that he had been drawn into “the cult of David Petraeus” and wrote,
“I played a role in the creation of the legend around David Petraeus.” He went on to say that, looking back now in light of the affair revelation, “he had given Petraeus a pass too many times.” The HP article said that the news of the affair was “greeted with an almost grief-stricken tone by many in the press.”

Now, again, I am absolutely not making light of the affair. I believe such behavior is a sin, and it violates the marriage vows that Petraeus took with his wife. But I think that Thomas raises legitimate questions, and I think the reaction of the media to this story is almost odd given the way other such stories are handled, and given the sexually-saturated society in which we live. Howard Kurtz ended his opinion piece on on Monday like this: “News flash: Even top officials are human. They succumb to temptation. And they get a lot more sympathy in times of trouble from journalists they have befriended.” Totally true. Top officials are certainly just as human as everyone else, and while we often hold them a higher standard, the temptations that they face are perhaps stronger, and the opportunities for succumbing are perhaps greater, than those for “the rest of us.” But Kurtz is also right about favorable coverage–or it would make sense for him to be right. But is he? After all, the statements made by Phillips and Ackerman and others seem to suggest that they are judging Petraeus more harshly because of their relationship with him.

Later in his piece, Cal Thomas writes, “Culture promotes all sorts of pre- and extramarital activity as exciting, even commonplace. So how is a high-profile public official to know what is tolerable and what is an offense that can lead to resignation, firing, or impeachment? Divorce is another matter, as most spouses don’t tolerate adultery well.”

Valid points, all. Our culture glamorizes sexual relationships of all kinds, from premarital to extramarital to polygamous to open. There is a even an internet dating service targeted at married individuals; its motto is “Life is short. Have an affair.” The site has even offered a guarantee that its members will have an affair.

At the end of the day, this issue is about much more than David Petraeus (or Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy or any other well-known adulterer). The issue is really about our culture. Why do we think we can advertise, promote, display and glamorize certain behaviors and simultaneously express outrage when people actually live their lives that way? What could be more hypocritical? The answer is not to become more accepting of adultery or other behaviors we have celebrated. No, the answer is to return to teaching, modeling and encouraging personal integrity and values and consistency…and to show the real consequences of personal choices rather than those so often depicted by Hollywood, Madison Avenue and others. And ultimately, of course, the answer is a heart change…a recognition of our depravity, a recognition that we all mess up, and a recognition that we simply cannot fix that by ourselves.

Wanna trade?

Before I plunge into my chosen topic for this post, I need to make a disclaimer for anyone reading this who works at the school where I currently serve or is affiliated with it in any way: The ideas I am about to wrestle with are purely theoretical; I have no one in mind, and no thoughts of trying to “trade” anyone!

Whew… Okay, here we go.

If you are a baseball fan you have surely heard about the blockbuster mega-trade made earlier this week between the Miami Marlins and the Toronto Blue Jays. Though the trade has not yet been made official (it is still being reviewed by the Commissioner’s office) it appears likely to go through. When it does, the Blue Jays will receive five players from the Marlins with combined salary obligations of more than $150 million. The Marlins, on the other hand, will receive six players from Toronto, but only three of them have any Major League experience. Actually, the prospects are more highly touted than the veterans. The combined salary obligations of those six players is minimal…probably in the neighborhood of 10% of the commitments being taken on by Toronto. On the other hand, the Marlins will obtain a combined 32 years of team control over the six players they will receive, whereas Toronto gets only 12 years of team control. Needless to say, the reaction among baseball fans and pundits has been “fast and furious.”

This trade got me thinking, though. Trades are common in professional sports, but they rarely if ever happen in any other industry. And I am not necessarily suggesting the they should happen in other industries. What I do wonder, though, is whether the principle behind trades in professional sports does, or should, apply in other fields. A sports team, of course, hopes to improve their team whenever they make a trade–either in the short term or the long term. In the trade mentioned above, for example, the Blue Jays are obviously hoping for a short-term benefit that will make them competitive in the AL East. The Marlins, on the other hand, are looking to the future, hoping to be competitive several years from now and not spend millions of dollars in the meantime on a team that finished in last place in their division last season, winning only 43% of their games. Should that motive–improving the team–apply to businesses? What about ministries?

Like I said, I am not talking about actual trades; I am not going to send you one experienced teacher in exchange for a novice teacher and a custodian (or any other combination). However, if I–or anyone in a leadership position with the responsibilities of hiring and firing–feels that someone else might do a better job in a position than someone currently on my staff, should I decide not to renew the contract of my staff member and replace him or her with someone else? After all, this would be a “trade” by another name. Or what if the budget is tight (isn’t it always?) and I think I could find a relatively new teacher that would be just as effective as one I have that has a few decades of experience? The financial savings could be considerable if there were fifteen or twenty steps on the salary scale difference between the two….

Part of this discussion has to be about loyalty, I suppose. If someone is doing a competent job–not incredible, but certainly better than mediocre–is the “right thing to do” to retain him or her out of loyalty, or should loyalty not even be a consideration when evaluating effectiveness? Does family situation come into the picture? After all, not renewing the contract of a married teacher with children has many more ramifications than does not renewing the contract of a single individual with no children, right? Sports teams don’t take any of that into consideration, in my estimation; I doubt they give any thought to whether the player being traded (or cut) has a wife or children.

Maybe when the salary in question is millions of dollars the challenges of moving are minimized. The other difference, of course, if that when a team trades a player, the player still has a job–albeit in a different state, usually. When a school or business chooses not to renew a contract, the individual in question becomes unemployed. While there is the hope that he or she would find other employment sooner than later, there is absolutely no guarantee that would be the case.

I will be honest; there have been times when I have wrestled with this question. It was five or six years ago now, but there was an individual who worked with me that was performing satisfactorily, but that was about all I could say. There was nothing exceptional, no “above and beyond.” I wondered whether satisfactory was good enough, or if I would be better serving the organization by “trading” for someone who seemed likely to do more than that. I chose, in that instance, not to make the “trade,” but not necessarily because I came to a firm conviction on the question. In fact, I’m still not sure of the right answer. Your thoughts are welcome….

New York, we have a problem…

My title, of course, is a play on the famous line from the Apollo 13 astronaut who informed Houston of the serious mechanical problem the shuttle crew had discovered…a problem that seriously jeopardized the likelihood that the crew would be able to return safely to earth. I chose to use that line as the title for this posting not to diminish the seriousness of the challenge faced by the Apollo 13 crew, but rather to emphasize the seriousness of the challenge faced by New York specifically, and America generally.

To what am I referring? New York’s CATCH initiative. CATCH stands for “Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Healthcare.” On its face that sounds noble, doesn’t it? After all, who would not want teenagers (or anyone, for that matter) to have access to comprehensive health care? Comprehensive means extensive, full or broad. Many people have comprehensive insurance on their automobiles, for example, so that a wide range of potential damage to the vehicle will be covered by insurance. The problem is, “healthcare” in America has been expanded way beyond the treatment of injuries and illnesses. In this instance, specifically, CATCH is a program that provides birth control pills and abortifacient Plan B to teenage girls as young as 14, and does not even tell the girls’ parents. The plan began in January 2011, and costs the city $100,000 per month. Not until the New York Post did an article on the program in September 2012 did it get much attention, though.

According to what I have read, CATCH marks the first time that Plan B has been provided to students directly by the city of New York (though privately run clinics at city high schools have apparently been offering it for several years). Called by some an “emergency contraceptive,” Plan B can prevent an embryo from being implanted if it is taken within 72 hours of intercourse. In other words, the pill causes an abortion, by killing a fertilized egg.

There are several interesting thing one discovers by exploring the web site for Plan B. First of all, it is advertised as “a simple, effective back-up plan” to “regular birth control.” The FAQ’s on the web site state that the drug contains the “the same hormone found in many birth control pills, levonorgestrel, to help prevent pregnancy. Plan B One-StepĀ® works in a similar way to prevent pregnancy. Plan B One-StepĀ® is not the abortion pill (RU-486), and should not affect or terminate an existing pregnancy.”

So what is the difference between Plan B and RU-486? A pregnancy is considered to be “existing” once the embryo has attached to the uterine wall. Since Plan B prevents that from happening, what the pill does is not considered abortion by definition, because there was never a pregnancy.

While this may be a true medical distinction, it is likely not one that comforts those who look at abortion as a moral issue rather than a woman’s personal choice about her body.

Even if one agrees with the technical definition used on the Plan B web site, though (which I don’t), this entire issue raises serious questions. First of all, the public schools in New York involved in this program supposedly informed all of the parents by letter and explained that they could opt out of the program. Remember the uproar over Texas governor Rick Perry’s defense of the HPV vaccination program? He argued that since parents could opt out, there was no problem. Many argued, however, that this was an overreach by the state, and that if anything parents should have the choice to opt in. I suggest that the same is true with CATCH.

Furthermore, even the Plan B web site states multiple times throughout the site that Plan B is available over the counter for consumers 17 and over, but that a prescription is required for anyone under 17. How does CATCH get around that? Doctors working with the schools sign prescriptions for the students who are given the pill. That should raise red flags all over the place! These doctors are being permitted to sign a prescription–more than likely for students they do not know and have never even seen before–and are not even required to inform the students’ parents. Yet, schools in New York (and around the country) are required to have signed parental consent on file to even give students an over-the-counter medication like Tylenol. So if a girl has a headache, the school can’t do anything without asking mom or dad first, but if she had sex last night and wants to make sure she doesn’t get pregnant, that’s fine.

So, back to the title, what is the problem? The problem is that the CATCH program is but a part of a growing trend in the U.S. that diminishes the sanctity of life and that allows children and medical personnel to bypass the parent in making serious, potentially-life-altering decisions, and unless we address this problem now, and reverse course, it will continue to get worse. And that should be a truly scary thought….

Unless and Until

In yesterday’s post I mentioned that there is one exception to the Christian’s responsibility to submit to the government. I also mentioned that I would “get to that in a moment,” and then I never did…so I am getting to it now.

When Peter and John stood before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish governing authority) they were told to stop preaching Christ. Peter and John responded by telling the Sanhedrin that they could not do that–that they had to obey God rather than man. This is Exhibit A in explaining when Christians are not only not responsible to yield to the government’s authority, but are in fact compelled to disobey the government. If you want it in one sentence, here it is: Christians are called to respect and submit to the governing authorities unless and until those authorities require something that God forbids or forbid something that God commands.

Peter and John are an excellent example, but there are others throughout the Scripture. Some of the most well-known Sunday school stories are about Old Testament saints refusing to yield to ungodly commands from human government. Daniel, for example, refused to follow a law which said he could pray only to the king, because he knew that obedience to that law would be disobedience to God. Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego refused to bow before the golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar because they knew that doing so would violate God’s commandments. Esther broke the law against approaching the king without permission because she knew that her responsibility to intercede on behalf of the Jews in defense of Haman’s evil scheming was greater than her responsibility to wait quietly and see if she was summoned.

Fortunately in America we have seldom been placed in positions of having to disobey the human government in order to obey God, but that time may come. There have been some examples, of course. Military chaplains have faced instructions that may require them to disobey a command from their superiors or to disobey God’s commands regarding homosexual marriage. Recent healthcare legislation has presented challenges to many Christian businesses and Catholic institutions regarding contraception and abortion. Some states have passed laws that some have argued could be construed as outlawing spanking, a practice many Christians believe the Bible teaches as a necessary part of raising godly children. These are some examples, but there are others, and there will likely be more to come. We must be vigilant to stay aware of human government’s attempts to compel actions or behaviors that violate God’s Word. If such laws exist, then and only then are Christians in the right to disobey those human laws.

Will disobedience to human laws bring consequences? It might. But we are not to fear the consequences that human governments can inflict upon us. When Daniel continued to pray to God he was thrown into a lion’s den. When his three friends refused to bow before the golden image, they were cast into a fiery furnace. In both of those instances God spared their lives. He may not always choose to do so, however; sometimes, for reasons we may not understand, God allows His people to suffer persecution, imprisonment, even death, at the hands of human government. Nevertheless, we need not fear. Matthew 10:28 commands us not to fear those who can kill the body but not the soul. Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego were spared, but they did not know they would be. They told Nebuchadnezzar that their God could spare them from death in the furnace, but even if He chose not to they still would not bow to his image. May we have the same power of convictions that those young men did.

In keeping with yesterday’s post, let me also mention that even when human governments may institute laws that violate God’s will for His people, there is no justification for speaking evil against the government. Yes, disobedience is then warranted, but it should be respectful disobedience. Daniel did not scream obscenities against the king or his conniving advisers when the law was passed requiring prayer to the king only. Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego did not announce to the crowd how stupid Nebuchadnezzar’s law was, or shout threats against the king, or even ask God to reign down punishment on the king or the nation. No; they calmly but confidently, respectfully but resolutely explained why they could not obey the king’s law. Their lives and actions were salt and light even in the midst of disobedience!

Let us pray that we will never have to choose to disobey the government in order to obey God, but let us pray as well that should we have to do so, that we will have the faith and courage to do so with dignity, confidence and respect.

Submissive to Rulers

Today is election day…and contrary to what you might expect or even hope for I am not going to argue for or against any particular candidate. I’ll leave my clearly-political message to this: be sure you vote. While I have definite opinions and convictions and which candidate should be elected president, the tremendous thing about our country is that we have the right to disagree and the freedom to let our voice be heard.

I will also say this, though: regardless of who wins the election today, you and I have the responsibility to submit to the government tomorrow.

Titus 3:1-2b says, “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one….” Paul, writing to Titus with instructions for pastoring the church in Crete, reminds us all that Christians have the responsibility to respect and submit to the government regardless of who is in office and whether or not we like him or her. This, of course, is not the only passage where Paul addresses this issue–he talks about it in Romans and in 1 Timothy. Peter addresses it, too. Jesus taught–and modeled–submission to human government.

It is interesting to consider the fact that throughout Scripture the followers of Christ encountered persecution and punishment from human government, yet no where does Scripture allow for speaking against the government or refusing to yield to its authority–with one exception, that I will get to in a moment.

Think about it… Jesus began His earthly life fleeing to Egypt because Herod–the government–wanted all of the infant and toddler boys killed in order to rid himself of this new king. At the end of His life, Jesus stood before Pilate and willingly accepted the death sentence. When Pilate asked Jesus, “Don’t you know that I hold your life in my hands–that I have the power to put you to death?” Jesus responded by informing Pilate that he had no power at all other than that which God allowed him to have.

If any New Testament believer had a legitimate reason to despise and resist human government it was Paul. He was imprisoned, stoned, whipped and more by governmental authorities because he preached the gospel. Peter, too, suffered at the hands of government; he was crucified upside down for his testimony. Yet, Jesus, Paul and peter all taught and modeled submission to government.

And not only submission, but respect. Notice that immediately after Paul tells Titus to remind his church to be submissive to authority, he says to speak evil of no one. As I mentioned in this space a few days ago, Christians sometimes struggle in this area. Many Christians tend to have very strong political opinions, which is fine. What is not fine is that many of those same Christians tend to speak in nasty, vicious, offensive ways about those on the other side of the debate. Just last week I read something written on a social networking site by a professing Christian that contained the most despicable, disrespectful, disgusting language I have ever seen directed at a politician. Such language only reflects poorly on the individual using it, it reflects poorly on Christ and damages the cause of Christ. It is difficult if not impossible to maintain an effective Christian testimony while simultaneously ripping someone apart verbally who is in a position of authority. In Titus 2 Paul instructs older men, older women, younger men, younger women and slaves regarding their responsibilities. In each instance Paul also points out that the main reason for acting as he described is to avoid giving opportunity to attack Christ and the message of Christianity. The same principle holds true here regarding political speech.

So when you wake up tomorrow morning, regardless of who the president is, remember that he is only in office because God has allowed him to be. Remember that the office itself is worthy of respect. Remember that God has called us to respect and submit to those in positions of authority and yes, that even includes presidents we did not vote for. And if the candidate you wanted to win did not, thank God anyway for the privilege you had to vote, remember to pray for the president…and resist any temptation to speak evil of him.