Wednesday, August 27, 2008


by John D Ramsey

My family accuses me of being intense. Sometimes I wonder what they see. I am not convinced that I am intense, but I do care about what is important. My entire life I have wondered what is important and what is not. When I was kid in Christian school, a teacher kicked me out of algebra class for parting my hair down the middle. I laughed aloud that my hairstyle could be so singularly important. My dad was principal of the high school, and my hair did not seem so important to him.

I went to a so-called Christian university for a while. There a professor of history chastised me for wearing a corduroy suit made in Poland. A suit was required—their rule, not mine. In retrospect, this professor of history lacked a sufficient background in economics. To him, buying clothing made in a communist country was tantamount to endorsing slave labor; it was supporting a criminal regime. Nevertheless, economic engagement with the West acted as a catalyst for freedom. Poland is now a member of NATO. I do not think that Dr. ____ saw that coming. At age 18, I did not know that buying a suit would help shatter the iron curtain. If I had realized what was important, I probably would have bought two corduroy suits.

In 1998 and 1999, the world hyperventilated about Y2K. In my job, I was supposed to fan the flames about the end of the world, as we knew it. My employer provided me a bootable floppy disk, with which I was supposed to test every one of about 300 computers I managed. I ran the diagnostics on two machines: one that the company I worked for had sold, and one that a competitor had sold. Can you guess which one passed? A quick experiment confirmed that the error was in the diagnostic program and not in the computer’s system BIOS.

After changing companies, I met a coworker who claimed to have saved a major company from a Y2K disaster. She said that their system stored only the last two digits of the year and used “SELECT @Year % 4”, or its equivalent, to determine leap years. Somehow, she thought that you could not divide zero by four. “SELECT 0 % 4” returns 0, but she never thought to check. I do not remember how much her math deficiency cost the client. Propaganda helps people to see what they want to see. Her discovery positioned her to do something she thought was important.

Today everyone knows that Y2K was mostly a hoax perpetrated by opportunists and perpetuated by ignorance. Many people felt very important for a year to eighteen months only to watch their careers fizzle with the New Year’s Eve countdown. Y2K accelerated development projects to the extent that budgets were exhausted and many deliverables were mediocre. Technology took a nosedive, and the NASDAQ crashed. This was predictable. In the summer of 1999, I saw a man in a white shirt and tie standing on the street corner holding a sign that read, “Will program COBOL Y2K for food.” Obviously, his contract had ended and he had difficulty finding another.

Y2K was an exceptional non-event, but we are not immune to propaganda. Every four years Americans hyperventilate about who will be president. During my lifetime, the United States has had nine presidents. Only during the Carter administration did the world nearly end. In the American legislative process, no one gets exactly what he wants and no one goes away completely empty-handed. A little inertia can be a wonderful thing. It does not stop movement, but it resists destructive change.

Today, as a nation, we are less free than the nation in which my grandparents and great grandparents lived. Yet we still have more freedom than nearly any other country in the world. I predict that regardless of whom we elect in November, liberty will continue to erode. I will vote in November, but I do not put my hope in men nor do I indulge in fretting the future. Am I complacent? I do not think I am complacent, but not everything can be important.

I am helping Lisa with her blog, and she was having trouble with a Blogger widget. It automatically assigned a text color that equalled the background color she had chosen. I showed her how she could use CSS to override the default by entering “.item-snippet {color: #99CC99; !important;}.” Because it was the only style marked as “!important”, it overrode subsequent instructions. Some things are important and some things are not. When something is important, it asserts that other things are not.

Jesus knew what was important, and he pleaded with his disciples saying,

Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it.

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

Mark 8:34-38 (KJV)

For the believer, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is supposed to be !important. It is to be our overriding priority in everything. Yet on the public stage, so-called Christians make many other things important, and this vexes me.

Many Christians attack what they rightly perceive as social ills. They rally for causes and constituencies, but in so doing what do they accomplish? They will never change the world, but they will try. Apart from the Gospel, reforming society accomplishes nothing of eternal value. When we “wrestle against flesh and blood”, what motivates us? Do we want a society such as the 1998 movie “Pleasantville” lampooned? Do we seek to come home at the end of each mundane workday and announce, “Honey, I’m home”, and never know the horror that lurks in the hearts of men? Jesus blasted the Pharisees saying,

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.

Matthew 23:27 (KJV)

It does not matter what we look like on the outside, and politics cannot fix what is wrong inside. Efforts to reform society are destined to fail because they cannot address the root cause. I am convinced many genteel people are destined to an eternity of lonely darkness and torment because they will not come to faith in Jesus Christ. Their attractive appearances hide the death and decay within.

I am also convinced that heaven will be full of former scoundrels who turned in repentance to faith in Jesus Christ, crying out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

What do we want to do, make people nice, or save their souls? What is important?

Right behavior does not obtain eternal salvation. Salvation—and its subsequent sanctification produce right behavior. When we care what the culture looks like more than we care that lost souls are stumbling in darkness, we have erected the idol of Personal Peace in place of the person, the Prince of Peace.

When something other than the Gospel becomes important to us, we become complacent because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer for man’s desperate condition and we have cared less. Paul wrote the Romans saying,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

Romans 1:16-17 (KJV)

The righteousness that God demands from us does not come by legislation and social discipline. It does not come by social justice and economic parity. It does not come by the clothes we buy or the cars we drive.

The righteousness that God demands of all men comes only by faith in Jesus Christ. As believers, what will we tell the world is !important?

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