Month: October 2016

The Electoral College

With the election coming up soon, here are a few thoughts on the electoral college.

Before we had a United States of America, we were a loose confederation of states. So, as we moved towards getting a national constitution, there was much debate about how much power each individual state should surrender to the new national government. And people in states with small populations did not want to be swamped out in decision making power by the states with larger population. So, a compromise was reached: in the Senate, each state has equal power with two senators, and in the House the more populous states have more power with their representatives being allocated in proportion to their population.

Our founders considered whether to have the President elected by a direct popular vote, but decided against it. One of the reasons was that you might have Candidate A who was very popular in one region of the country, and ran up a huge plurality of the vote in just a few states. Candidate B might win in many states, each by a small margin. With direct popular vote, Candidate A wins. With electors, candidate B wins. The founders preferred a President who had support over as wide an area of the country as possible.

So instead of direct popular vote, we have electors. In the Constitution, Article 2 section 1 says “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.”

In deciding the number of electors, the same compromise used for the House and Senate was reached for states with small and large populations: For each state there is one electoral vote for each congressional district and 2 votes for each senator, thereby giving states with smaller population 2 more electoral votes than they would get based only on their population. In addition, as per the 23rd Amendment, Washington DC gets 3 votes.

Note that each state is free to decide how it allocates its electoral votes. Presently, in all but two states, the winner of the popular vote in that state gets all of the state’s electoral votes. This “winner take all” is a tradition that developed in the 1800’s and is NOT mentioned in the constitution. Two states, Maine and Nebraska, have changed their laws to give the 2 electoral votes for their number of Senators to the winner of the popular vote in their state and each of the remaining electoral votes to the winner of each congressional district in the state. In 2012 President Obama got one electoral vote in Nebraska for winning one of the congressional districts there, and Mitt Romney got the other 4 for winning the statewide popular vote and each of the other 2 congressional districts.

What we call the “Electoral College” is the name we give to all of the electors for all of the states considered together. That name is NOT in the constitution. Each state has a meeting to allocate its electors following the election. On January 6, 2017, there will be a joint session of Congress to count the electoral votes which have been submitted by the states. The candidate who gets 270 or more electoral votes will be declared the winner.

I’d like to conclude by discussing 2000 since in that year George Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore but won the electoral college vote.

Al Gore had strong popularity on the 2 coasts and less in the middle of the country. He won California and New York together by over 3,000,000 votes. But in all the other states, Bush won by about 2.46 million votes, which gave Gore a popular vote victory of 540,000. If Gore’s popularity had been more evenly spread out, winning a few more states, he would have won the electoral college vote.

Many proposals to reform the electoral college system have been made over the years, but none have been enacted since the 12th amendment ins 1804. With the 2000 election in mind, several Democrat controlled states have passed a law, the National Popular Vote Bill, saying that the winner of the national popular vote would get ALL the electoral votes in their state. The bill has been enacted by RI, VT, HI, DC, MD, MA, WA, NJ, IL, NY, CA. These states were won by Al Gore in 2000. But to prevent the bill from backfiring against them, these states have said the bill only becomes law in those states once the states passing it control a majority of all the electoral votes. That’s 270 electoral votes, and so far, states with 165 electoral votes have passed it. They are 105 short.

The latest polling data show that it is possible that Donald Trump’s performance in the battleground states could give him enough electoral votes to become president while still losing the popular vote to Hilary Clinton. If that happens I am sure we will hear once again about proposals to reform the electoral college.

The most important thing that a writer can know

I am indebted to Mark Dever for inspiring today’s thoughts. He had a question in his fine book The Message of the Old Testament for the chapter on 2 Kings about what constitutes a good leader. I read the question and saw that I could substitute “writer” for “leader” and it became a powerful description for knowing the gospel in our writing.

First let’s look at his original quote:

The most important thing that a leader can know is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only a leader who approaches his leadership with the understanding that he himself has been crucified with Christ will be freed from trying to prove himself or achieve his own ends through his position. Only a leader who approaches his leadership knowing that he has been resurrected with Christ will know that all victory, gain, and success in his leadership will be accomplished only through the power of Christ and for Christ’s glory. Unfortunately, not too many books on leadership have much to say about the gospel. How can you begin applying a gospel-centered perspective to your leadership at home, work, or church?

Now let’s look at what happens when we change each of Dever’s references to leading over to writing.

The most important thing that a writer can know is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only a writer who approaches his writing with the understanding that he himself has been crucified with Christ will be freed from trying to prove himself or achieve his own ends through his writing. Only a writer who approaches his writing knowing that he has been resurrected with Christ will know that all victory, gain, and success in his writing will be accomplished only through the power of Christ and for Christ’s glory. Unfortunately, not too many books on writing have much to say about the gospel. How can you begin applying a gospel-centered perspective to your writing at home, work, or church?

So, as I continue my blogging:

•    I don’t have to worry about proving anything
•    I won’t worry about how many followers I get
•    Any victory, gain, and success I get in my blog will be through the power of Christ and for Christ’s glory.

A praying life: connecting with God in a distracting world / Paul E. Miller

This book has had the biggest influence on me of any book on prayer I have ever read. It’s actually an easier read than Tim Keller’s book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God but by no means is it simple-minded! One of the key ideas in the book is that prayer is not something we do as a separate “compartment” of our life but rather it happens as we seek God and his Story.

 In this book Miller uses much that happened in his family, including the difficulties of raising an autistic child, to explain what God showed him about prayer. The highlights here are much too short to get into the details of how God worked in his family, and that is one of the many reasons why it’s worthwhile to read  the whole book.

Following are some great quotes from the book. Anything in italics is my own clarifcation or annotation.

  • Oddly enough, many people struggle to learn how to pray because they are focusing on praying, not on God. In prayer, focusing on the conversation is like trying to drive while looking at the windshield instead of through it. It freezes us, making us unsure of where to go. Conversation is only the vehicle through which we experience one another. Consequently, prayer is not the center of this book. Getting to know a person, God, is the center.
  • So don’t hunt for a feeling in prayer. Deep in our psyches we want an experience with God or an experience in prayer. Once we make that our quest, we lose God. You don’t experience God; you get to know him. You submit to him. You enjoy him. He is, after all, a person.
  • A praying life isn’t something you accomplish in a year. It is a journey of a lifetime. The same is true of learning how to love your spouse or a good friend. You never stop learning this side of heaven. There is far too much depth in people to be able to capture love easily. Likewise, there is far too much depth in God to capture prayer easily.
  • If God is sovereign, then he is in control of all the details of my life. If he is loving, then he is going to be shaping the details of my life for my good. If he is all-wise, then he’s not going to do everything I want because I don’t know what I need. If he is patient, then he is going to take time to do all this. When we put all these things together — God’s sovereignty, love, wisdom, and patience — we have a divine story.
  • People often talk about prayer as if it is disconnected from what God is doing in their lives. But we are actors in his drama, listening for our lines, quieting our hearts so we can hear the voice of the Playwright.
  • Many Christians haven’t stopped believing in God; we have just become functional deists, living with God at a distance. We view the world as a box with clearly defined edges. But as we learn to pray well, we’ll discover that this is my Father’s world. Because my Father controls everything, I can ask, and he will listen and act. Since I am his child, change is possible — and hope is born.
  • Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart. In the midst of outer busyness we can develop an inner quiet. Because we are less hectic on the inside, we have a greater capacity to love.
  • As you develop your relationship with your heavenly Father, you’ll change. You’ll discover nests of cynicism, pride, and self-will in your heart. You will be unmasked. None of us likes being exposed. We have an allergic reaction to dependency, but this is the state of the heart most necessary for a praying life. A needy heart is a praying heart. Dependency is the heartbeat of prayer.
  • Ironically, many attempts to teach people to pray encourage the creation of a split personality. You’re taught to “do it right.” Instead of the real, messy you meeting God, you try to re-create yourself by becoming spiritual.
  • The opening words of the Lord’s Prayer are Our Father. You are the center of your heavenly Father’s affection. That is where you find rest for your soul. If you remove prayer from the welcoming heart of God (as much teaching on the Lord’s Prayer does), prayer becomes a legalistic chore. We do the duty but miss touching the heart of God. By coming to God “weary and heavy-laden,” we discover his heart; heaven touches earth and his will is done.
  • When your mind starts wandering in prayer, be like a little child. Don’t worry about being organized or staying on task. Paul certainly wasn’t! Remember you are in conversation with a person. Instead of beating yourself up, learn to play again. Pray about what your mind is wandering to. Maybe it is something that is important to you. Maybe the Spirit is nudging you to think about something else.
  • If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money, and talent are all you need in life. You’ll always be a little too tired, a little too busy. But if, like Jesus, you realize you can’t do life on your own, then no matter how busy, no matter how tired you are, you will find the time to pray.
  • I am starting to see there is a difference between “saying prayers” and honest praying. Both can sound the same on the outside, but the former is too often motivated by a sense of obligation and guilt; whereas the latter is motivated by a conviction that I am completely helpless to “do life” on my own. Or in the case of praying for others, that I am completely helpless to help others without the grace and power of God.
  • Surprisingly, mature Christians feel less mature on the inside. When they hear Jesus say, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), they nod in agreement. They reflect on all the things they’ve done without Jesus, which have become nothing. Mature Christians are keenly aware that they can’t raise their kids. It’s a no-brainer. Even if they are perfect parents, they still can’t get inside their kids’ hearts. That’s why strong Christians pray more.
  • A praying life isn’t simply a morning prayer time; it is about slipping into prayer at odd hours of the day, not because we are disciplined but because we are in touch with our own poverty of spirit, realizing that we can’t even walk through a mall or our neighborhood without the help of the Spirit of Jesus.
  • Instead of naïve optimism, Jesus calls us to be wary, yet confident in our heavenly Father. We are to combine a robust trust in the Good Shepherd with a vigilance about the presence of evil in our own hearts and in the hearts of others. So the feel of a praying life is cautious optimism — caution because of the Fall, optimism because of redemption.
  • Jesus brings hope before he heals. He is not a healing machine — he touches people’s hearts, healing their souls before he heals their bodies.Hope begins with the heart of God. As you grasp what the Father’s heart is like, how he loves to give, then prayer will begin to feel completely natural to you.
  • All sin involves a splitting of the personality — what James calls being “double-minded” (4:8). If we become proud, we have an inflated sense of self that has lost touch with who we really are. If a husband watches porn online and then warmly greets his wife, he has created two people — one public and one hidden. If you talk about friends disparagingly behind their backs, you’ve created two personalities — the loving friend and the gossiping friend. You try to keep the personalities separate by telling those to whom you gossip, “Please keep this in confidence.”
  • Repentance brings the split personality together and thus restores integrity to the life. The real self is made public. When the proud person is humbled, the elevated self is united with the true self.
  • The only way to know how prayer works is to have complete knowledge and control of the past, present, and future. In other words, you can figure out how prayer works if you are God.
  • All of Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the Gospels can be summarized with one word: ask. His greatest concern is that our failure or reluctance to ask keeps us distant from God. But that is not the only reason he tells us to ask anything. God wants to give us good gifts. He loves to give.
  • I find that the closer my prayers are to the heart of God, the more powerfully and quickly they are answered.
  • Abiding is a perfect way to describe a praying life. For example, many Christians who are thinking of buying a vacation home might even pray, asking God practical questions, such as “Can we afford it?” “Will it be too much work?” “Should we make an offer on this house?” These are good questions. But we seldom ask God heart questions such as “Will a second home elevate us above people?” “Will it isolate us?” In the first set of questions, God is your financial adviser. In the second set, he has become your Lord. You are abiding. You are feeding your soul with food that lasts.
  • When someone’s prayers aren’t answered, I want to know the backstory. How long did that individual pray? What did God do in that person’s heart when he or she prayed? What was God doing in the situation? Most of us isolate prayer from the rest of what God is doing in our lives, but God doesn’t work that way. Prayer doesn’t exist in some rarified spiritual world; it is part of the warp and woof of our lives. Praying itself becomes a story.
  • We forget that God is not a genie but a person who wants to shape us in the image of his Son as much as he wants to answer our prayers.
  • The best gift of the desert is God’s presence. We see this in Psalm 23. In the beginning of the psalm, the Shepherd is in front of me — “he leads me beside still waters” (verse 2); at the end he is behind me — “goodness and love will pursue me” (verse 6, NIV)1; but in the middle, as I go through “the valley of the shadow of death,” he is next to me — “I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (verse 4). The protective love of the Shepherd gives me the courage to face the interior journey.
  • When God seems silent and our prayers go unanswered, the overwhelming temptation is to leave the story — to walk out of the desert and attempt to create a normal life. But when we persist in a spiritual vacuum, when we hang in there during ambiguity, we get to know God. In fact, that is how intimacy grows in all close relationships.
  • Many of us wish God were more visible. We think that if we could see him better or know what is going on, then faith would come more easily. But if Jesus dominated the space and overwhelmed our vision, we would not be able to relate to him. Everyone who had a clear-eyed vision of God in the Bible fell down as if he were dead. It’s hard to relate to pure light.
  • When we suffer, we long for God to speak clearly, to tell us the end of the story and, most of all, to show himself.

One of Miller’s great insights is to connect our prayer thoroughly with God’s story. I have found this way of thinking to be very helpful for intercessory prayer for people. Intercessory prayer requests are often for a circumstance to change but even more important is how that prayer connects to the story of what God is doing in their life.

To live in our Father’s story, remember these three things:

  1. Don’t demand that the story go your way. (In other words, surrender completely.)
  2. Look for the Storyteller. Look for his hand, and then pray in light of what you are seeing. (In other words, develop an eye for Jesus.)
  3. Stay in the story. Don’t shut down when it goes the wrong way.

Sometimes when we say “God is silent,” what’s really going on is that he hasn’t told the story the way we wanted it told. He will be silent when we want him to fill in the blanks of the story we are creating. But with his own stories, the ones we live in, he is seldom silent.

  • BE CAREFUL OF SYSTEMS

One prayer system many people have found helpful is ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication). But systems can become rote, desensitizing us to God as a person. We can become wooden or mindless as we pray. When I come home, I don’t first adore Jill [Miller’s wife] for a couple of minutes, confess my failure to take out the trash, thank her for making dinner, and then give her my list. Jill is a Philadelphian. Philadelphians boo their own sports teams. I could probably have an ACTS-conversation entrance once, and then Jill would roll her eyes and ask me if I had a touch of autism. And rightly so. When you are autistic, you have trouble picking up social clues from the other person. You are so lost in your own world that you miss people. None of us wants to be treated like robots … including God. He is, after all, a person.

Miller describes at length how carefully written prayer cards can be helpful in praying for others.

Read the book to get details on how he does this!

PRAYER CARDS FOR FAMILY MEMBERS
A PRAYER CARD FOR PEOPLE IN SUFFERING

A PRAYER CARD FOR NON-CHRISTIANS

A PRAYER CARD FOR FRIENDS

BUILDING A SAMPLE DECK

  • USING A JOURNAL DURING A MORNING PRAYER TIME

The act of writing out your worries, joys, and prayers helps you focus and keeps your mind from wandering. But the best part is that over time you will begin to see patterns of what God is doing, to pick up the threads of a story. If we see our lives as a pilgrimage, then it becomes an integrated whole. It makes sense.

  • As I pray, I’m dealing not with surface stuff, but with the state of my heart and of the people for whom I am praying. My prayer time is anything but boring. I am thanking, repenting, protecting, and caring. My prayer time is alive with God.
  • I can’t emphasize enough that things are happening because I pray.
  • We don’t need a praying life because that is our duty. That would wear thin quickly. We need time to be with our Father every day because every day our hearts and the hearts of those around us are overgrown with weeds. We need to reflect on our lives and engage God with the condition of our souls and the souls he has entrusted to our care or put in our paths. In a fallen world, these things do not come automatically.

A Fresh Look at Redeeming the Time, Part 2

I am vulnerable before I have my first coffee of the day.

So, on a day earlier this week, against my will, some bad experiences on a past job began to replay in my brain in 3D Imax. After that annoying video concluded, I was reminded that the kinds of truths I describe in this meditation do not give an instant wiping clean of anything that torments us in our history. No, as is true of all scripture, these are truths that we need to keep being reminded of and re-applying.

A key passage that shows how God redeems our pasts for his glory is Ephesians 5:15-16. I will use the KJV version:

“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,
Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”

Now, some modern translations will say something like “making the best use of the time” instead of “redeeming the time”. But let’s look at the Greek word in the original text. It’s exagarazo, which means making a payment to buy at the marketplace. The same Greek word is used in Galatians 3:13 (“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law”) and Galatians 4:5 (“so that He might redeem those who were under the Law”). In both these verses you see Christ making a payment at the cross to buy us out from being cursed.

Since Paul tells us how evil the days are, we need to “buy back” our time to be able to enjoy how today is a gift. But because we can be tormented by our history, we need to “buy back” how we look at our pasts, too. There is a great promise in the Old Testament that we can claim to help us redeem our pasts. Joel 2:25 says “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, The crawling locust, The consuming locust, And the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you.”

Yes, our past is history, yet God restores it for his own glory. Just as Christ bought us back from slavery to sin, he can “buy back” what was negative in our past. When we were pushed around and beaten up and sinned against; when we sinned without even realizing it was sin; and even when we willfully disobeyed the Lord—-all bought back!

In the buyback, the power of the cross is central. Now that we have been adopted in to become part of God’s family and to be part of his plan, the power of the Spirit reshapes how we look at our history. What seemed devastating or hopeless at the time it happened we now see as part of God’s sovereign working to make us exactly who he needs us to be to experience today as his gift.