March 12, 2006
The Master's Program
The Point of View - A Weekly Commentary by Bob Shank

Dear Marketplace Friend,

"This is your correspondent, Bob Shank, coming to you from downtown New Orleans, site of the single worst natural disaster to strike the American mainland in memory. I'm here with Franklin Graham and his father, Dr. Billy Graham, for their combined Festival of Hope, a gift to the people of New Orleans, from Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Staged on the heels of nearly $40 million in direct relief - and the volunteer efforts of thousands of Christians mobilized by SP for this region since Katrina - the Festival's entire cost has been borne by the two organizations, in response to the request by the pastors of the beleaguered city..."

If I was a newsman (and, clearly, I'm not!), that's probably how this edition of the Point of View would begin, on a "recorded earlier from a live broadcast" format. As it is, I'm here working with those church leaders - and our imported-for-the-occasion squad - to create two nights of rise-above-the-calamity ministry, designed to bring the God of heaven into focus... above the hardship on the ground.

If the storm's aftermath were not enough, the trimmed-down citizenry of New Orleans (455,000 before the hurricane; 150,000 today) are preparing for the Mayoral election, now scheduled for April 22. Ray Nagin - now one of America's most well-known local political faces - is running for another term; the field includes only 22 challengers.

Wait a minute: 23 people competing for the position of Mayor... in the "boy, does anyone have a recovery plan?" city of New Orleans?

Some interesting work done in the retail world recently comes to mind. They found that the number of choices offered to the consumer has an unexpected effect on consumer behavior. Here's the bottom-line of the research: when you increase the choices... you decrease the decisions. Offer four flavors of jam/jelly, and you sell "x" bottles. Increase the options to 12... and you only sell "x-y." Increase the selections, and you affect the election. Nothing like a "I don't know who to vote for, with all the choices... so I guess I won't even vote..." dilemma.

In American political life, choices confound the electorate. In American religious life, it does the same thing, it appears. Offer "the world's great religions" to the modern American society... and "tolerance" is the outcome. If there is that much competition, no one can be "right," can it?

The Apostle Paul was a great mind, a learned protagonist... and he didn't allow his listeners to be confused about the choice before them. Even when standing in his own defense in the political arena of Rome's hierarchy in Israel, his advocacy before the appointed Governor (Festus) and puppet-King (Agrippa) left no wiggle-room: "At this point Festus interrupted Paul's defense. 'You are out of your mind, Paul!' he shouted. 'Your great learning is driving you insane.' 'I am not insane, most excellent Festus,' Paul replied. 'What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.' Then Agrippa said to Paul, 'Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?' Paul replied, 'Short time or longI pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.'"(Acts 26:24-29) Paul knew that there was a message that captured the essence of Jesus' claims... but, once that message was heard, a decision was imminent. Agrippa felt the pressure and it was real. Was he persuaded?

In a couple of hours, Mr. Graham will "come out of retirement" to put the same offer in front of a full-house audience (more than 10% of the people now in New Orleans will be there). A city known in the past for anything but Christian faith will hear his words... and be asked to come to a decision. They may have 23 candidates for Mayor, but they only have one choice for Savior. The Question: will they vote Him in?

From New Orleans...

Bob Shank

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