Thursday, April 21, 2011


Last night our family celebrated the Passover Seder Dinner, the dinner Jesus ate with his disciples just before he was arrested and crucified. The Passover is a remembrance of God delivering His people from slavery in Egypt in the time of Moses, and a look forward to God's plan of redemption for the World.

God brought ten plagues on Egypt, each one demonstrating His power over the Egyptian pantheon of gods. He showed the god of the Nile to be powerless by turning the Nile to blood. He mocked the Egyptian frog god by bringing hoards of frogs to cover everything. Pharaoh's magicians claimed that they also could conjure frogs, but they were powerless to do what was really needed, which was to make the frogs go away. God revealed the impotence of the gods of cattle, livestock, and grain by wiping out the herds and crops of the Egyptians. Egypt's supreme god, Ra, the sun god was shown to be worthless when God brought darkness on the entire land.

Passover focuses on the final plague, when God told each Hebrew family to kill a perfect, spotless lamb and spread it's blood on the doorposts of their houses. They were given detailed instructions of what to eat that night, and how to eat it. They ate unleavened bread because they did not have time to wait for the bread to rise, and they ate with their shoes on, robe on, and walking stick ready, expecting to leave in a great hurry. That night, God struck down the first-born son in every Egyptian house, but when he came to a house with the lamb's blood on the door, he passed over that house. Thus the name, Passover.

Why was the blood on the doorposts necessary? God certainly knew who the Hebrews were. They lived in one particular part of town, and the Egyptians lived in another. So the idea that it was for God's information doesn't hold up. Killing the lamb and putting its blood on the doorposts does not make a lot of sense. There was no practical reason for it. God commanded it as an act of faith, requiring that the people place their trust in God to deliver them.

While this observance was filled with rich meaning regarding what God has done in the past, it also pointed forward to what God would do in the future. The blood of Jesus, the perfect, sinless lamb would be shed to free God's people from slavery to sin through faith.

Hundreds of years before Jesus birth, Isaiah made the connection between the Messiah and the Passover lamb in Isaiah 53:

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
(Isaiah 53:7)

This section is a lengthy Messianic prophecy, in which Isaiah refers to the coming Messiah as "The Servant". A few verses earlier he described Jesus death:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
(Isaiah 53:5)

John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Passover lamb, saying "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)

There are many interesting components of the Seder meal. Before the meal is observed, all yeast must be removed from the house. Throughout the Bible, yeast is used to represent sin, because the smallest amount of yeast can affect an entire loaf of bread. There is a ritual washing of hands before the meal, representing a spiritual cleansing. Four cups of wine represent something different. The cup about which Jesus said "This is my blood shed for you" was the cup of Redemption, which was proceeded by praying "I will redeem you with a demonstration of my power". Each part of the meal has significance. Bitter herbs dipped in salt water represent the bitterness of slavery and the tears cried while in bondage. This applies equally well to physical slavery in Egypt or spiritual slavery to sin. I strongly encourage you to attend a Seder dinner next year. We went to one at Christ Chapel in Fort Worth presented by a Messianic Jew, David Teitelbaum, but I am sure that there are many others.

I find it remarkable that centuries before Jesus birth, God laid out his plan of redemption in both prophesy and in the Jewish holidays and temple rituals, and then he brought it about exactly as he said that he would. It gives us confidence to know that when Jesus says he will return to defeat Satan, judge the earth, and take his own to live eternally in his presence, it is certainly going to happen. You can count on it.

I will leave you with one thing I learned last night which was completely new to me. One part of the Seder dinner tradition which emerged in the first century involves placing three pieces of matzo, or unleavened bread, in a bag. At a certain point in the Seder, the middle matzo is removed from the bag, broken in half, and wrapped in a linen cloth. It is then hidden, and later in the meal, the children find it and remove it from the wrapping. This piece of unleavened bread is call the afikoman, which comes from a Greek word meaning "I have come". In Judaism, the number three is usually associated with the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But what is the significance of breaking Isaac in half, wrapping him up, and finding him later? In Christianity, the number three is often associated with the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The middle piece of matzo would then be the Son, or Jesus. When Jesus broken the bread and said "This is my body given for you" he identified himself as the one who the Seder points to. Like that bread, he was broken, wrapped in a burial cloth, and hidden for three days. But as the bread suggests, the story was not over. He arose from the dead and lives today as Savior and Lord, the only way for a person to be made right with God. As Isaiah said:

After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
(Isaiah 53:11-12)

Monday, April 18, 2011

An open letter to Speaker John Boehner

Representative Boehner,

Last November American taxpayers sent a strong message at the ballot box. We stated in no uncertain terms that the reckless spending and massive deficits of the past two years are unacceptable and that a dramatic change in direction is needed. As a result of this tidal wave, you were swept into the position of Speaker of the House. We expect you to make something of this opportunity, or to step aside and let someone else seize the opportunity.

There were three key points where Republicans had significant leverage to convince the unwilling Democrats to adopt a new direction of fiscal sanity. The first was the establishment of a budget for the remainder of the 2011 year. The Democrats sidestepped their duty to pass a budget, meaning that only with the approval of the new Republican majority in the House could government operations continue. This allowed you to set the conditions. But long before the situation came to a head, you stated that you would not allow the government to shut down. You essentially gave up your position of strength. Is it any surprise that instead of the $100 billion in cuts you promised in the campaign, you settled for $38 billion? What is even more disappointing is that the $38 billion are not real cuts, and the deal you brokered only reduces actual spending by less than one billion dollars. That is not even one percent of what you promised. That is unacceptable.

Your excuses are even less acceptable. You said that the House of Representatives is "One half of one third of the government." However, the House is where every single dollar of spending authorization originates. If anything is funded by the Federal Government, it is because Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to authorize it. In this budget deal, either you played us or you got played. I'd really like to know which it was.

The next leverage point is the debt ceiling. Within a very few months we will reach the level of indebtedness which Congress has authorized. Democrat fearmongering about the dire consequences of not raising the debt ceiling have already begun, with the intention of intimidating Republicans into backing down from their demands for effective spending controls to be in place before they authorize more debt. If reaching the debt ceiling would truly be such a great calamity, Democrats should be highly motivated to implement those spending controls. Unfortunately, you are already on record as having caved once, so they will expect you to do it again. If that is your intention, please step down now and allow someone with a spine to take your place.

On the other hand, if you are ready to do what you were sent by your boss to do, an excellent way to go about this would be to attach an increase in the debt ceiling to the Ryan budget. Pass it and make it clear that the Senate and President must either approve the whole thing or figure out how to get by without any new borrowing. However you decide to do it, spending cuts measured in billions are not adequate. It will require trillions to even put a dent in the debt crisis.

Please decide quickly. If you waste this opportunity, there may not be another.


Your Boss

Monday, April 04, 2011

What it means to you

Representative Paul Ryan made news over the weekend by saying that they are going to propose a budget which cuts $4 trillion over the next ten years.

The is the first proposal which actually makes a significant dent in the nation's out of control debt crisis. Let's take a look at what has been proposed up until now. I find that dealing with the numbers involved in Federal budgets causes people's eyes to glaze over. It is hard to get a perspective on what the numbers actually mean, so I'm going to use per capita figures to help you to understand what the national debt means to you.

In February, the Federal Government added $223 billion to the national debt. The population of America is roughly 307 million, so for that one month alone, every man, woman, and child in America owes $726.38. You will be taxed for the rest of your life to pay interest on that $726.38. Your kids will be taxed for the rest of their lives to pay the interest on their $726.38, and as an added bonus, when you die or retire, they will have to pay interest on your $726.38 as well. If you are married, it is quite likely that the $1,452.76 debt piled onto you and your spouse by your government was more than your house payment. This year, the debt for every man, woman, and child will be increased by $5,211. A family of four could buy a very nice new car for that sum.

Going back to a macro scale, the debt is growing close to a tipping point. When the national debt exceeds GDP, a fatal debt spiral can be induced. At that point, interest on the debt can grow faster than the economy grows, meaning that even if we suddenly stop deficit spending altogether, the debt will grow out of control until the Treasury is forced to default on the debt. As of last month, the National Debt was 97% of America's GDP, and we are adding to the debt at an alarming rate, so this is a very real an imminent threat.

Politicians have been proposing cuts to the budget to address the crisis.

Last year BO suggested cutting $100 million from the budget. This would reduce each person's addition to the debt by 32 cents. Instead of going $5,211 further into debt, you would only go $5,210.68 further into debt. Quite an accomplishment, huh? He counts on people thinking that $100 million is a lot of money. If it was in your piggy bank it would be a lot, but the Federal Government spends $100 million in less than 15 minutes.

More recently, House Republicans have been negotiating with BO and the Democrats over spending cuts. The Democrats wanted a Continuing Resolution which reduces spending by $6 billion. That is $19.54 per person, reducing the debt placed on you this year from $5211 to $5191. While $19.54 is better than 32 cents, it is still not enough to avoid a debt spiral.

The Republicans didn't do much better. Their big alternative is a CR which reduces spending by $61 billion. That is $198.70 per person, reducing your new debt to $5012. Again, that is better than the alternative, but not nearly enough.

The problem with all of these proposals is that they only consider discretionary spending, which only accounts for 19% of the budget. To get back to a sustainable budget, it is essential to reform the big entitlement programs, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. That is where Ryan is different from the crowd. Politically it could be costly, as any attempt to touch these entitlements is demagogued as draconian and heartless. But how much worse would it be to allow the economy to collapse and those programs to disappear altogether as America defaults on its debts and becomes unable to meet its obligations or borrow money at any cost?

Ryan's proposal represents an annual cut of $1,302 per person. That is finally enough to be on the scale needed to make a difference. I'm not sure that the political will exists yet to make such a bold cut, and I do expect that there will be a lot of work to get the proposal into an agreeable form, but I am heartened to see someone honestly saying what will be necessary to avoid America following Greece. America's fall would be much more devastating because unlike Greece, there is no one strong enough to prop America up.