Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: You do not know what day our Lord is coming

Matthew 24:37-42 tells us the return of the Son of Man will catch people by surprise.

Verse 37-39 says it quite plainly, When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah's day. In those days before the Flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn't realize what was going to happen until the Flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.

As I look around my life here in Los Angeles, especially in my part of town, there is a lot of partying and fun-loving going on.

Is enjoying life okay?

I think so if there is gratitude to God and within proper boundaries.

Americans love their freedom. The automobile and the open road are icons of our society. However, this freedom is not without rules. If everyone were on the road doing their own thing we would have chaos!

Are we living in days like the days of Noah?

Don't know. It looks like it in many ways. But the fact remains, we don't know when Jesus is coming back.

So what do we do?

Verse 40-41 offers an agricultural metaphor, Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.

Question: do you want to be the one taken or the one left?

It all depends on where the one taken winds up!!

People who believe that the Second Coming of Christ involves a "catching up" of believers up to heaven before judgment falls upon the earth will say that you want to be taken.

On the other hand, it is possible the opposite could be the intention: the one taken faces suffering.

Wind the clock back to the bad old days when armies would swarm through an area and rape and pillage. Men would be taken from the field and forced to support the invading army as a slave. The women would be taken from the field and forced into slave labor and sexual gratification of the conquering army.

Either way, the point simply is that we don't know when the Son of Man will come in judgment. He has come in redemption in the Cross. He will come again in judgment.

Verse 43, So be prepared, because you don't know what day your Lord is coming.

Lord, help me to live a life of faithfulness to you, love for others and holiness in all things. However your return unfolds, help me to be found following you. Amen.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Travel: Joshua Tree National Park

Took a quick weekend get-away to Joshua Tree National Park.

Spring time visitation of the park is high because it is not too hot (in summer it is boiling) and not too cold (in winter it can snow!) so it is advisable to reserve the campsite in advance or get there really early.

Suffice to say, we did not do that!

We found out all the sites were reported to be full on the phone on the day we arrived at the park. We drove up to the Twenty-nine Palms (north side of park) visitor center where we found an updated report on campsite availability. In the south side of the park, at Cottonwood Springs, there were a few sites left but it is a one hour drive through the park to get there. We hit the road and pulled into the campground and the camp host and a ranger told us the last few sites were taken. We were told that there were some minimal BLM sites just outside the park. We started to drive and pulled off to another lot where there was a restroom under the premise, "See a bathroom, use a bathroom!"

As we were getting back into the car, a ranger stopped by and said, I saw two big RVs pull out of loop B at Cottonwood, if you dash up there you can claim a site. We thanked the ranger and hustled up there and got our campsite!

After setting up, we headed off on the Lost Palms Oasis Trail.

We saw lots of Cholla cactus ...



and some flowering Ocotillo cactus ...



and if you are really quiet and observant you might see a rabbit ...



We took the side loop to Mastodon Peak where you get the panoramic view. Click on the photo to get a larger version.



All around you will notice the interesting rock piles ...



Here I am in my "Moses" get-up! 8-)



With the sun starting to go down, we had to turn back without making it to the Lost Palms Oasis. Ah, another trip sometime!

You might be wondering, where is the photo of the Joshua Tree?

I didn't get a photo on this trip as they are much more plentiful in the Northern side of the park.

Click on the photo below of the Joshua Trees to read about one of my previous visits.



The sounds of silence and the interesting landscape are just right for stressed out city folk like me. Also, I'm always inspired by the variety of plants and animals that could live and thrive in such an environment!

Come on out to the desert!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Culture: Remembering Courage - Flight 93

Discovery Channel did a documentry, The Flight that Fought Back.

A&E did Flight 93, a made for television movie.

Universal is releasing a feature film, United 93 on April 28.

Time magazine has a review of the soon to be released United 93. From the review, it sounds like a film makers have produced a movie that people are going to need to see more than want to see.

Excerpt:
Says Cheyenne Jackson, who plays Mark Bingham, one of the stalwart passengers: "We spent so many hours throwing our trays around and bleeding and screaming and crying and praying, and throwing up and peeing ourselves, and trying to imagine every possibility of what these people were going through. It was an environment where we could go to these deep, dark places. But the saddest thing about it was that finally we could wash off our makeup and come out of those places."

He means that the passengers on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, of course, could not come out; they crashed and died, along with the hijackers, in a field near Shanksville, Pa.
..........
... United 93, at which Time was given an exclusive first look, is a good movie—taut and implacable—that honors the deeds of the passengers while being fair, if anyone cares, to the hijackers' jihad bravado. (At one point the passengers are heard murmuring the Lord's Prayer while the hijackers whisper their prayers to Allah.) If this is a horror movie, it is an edifying one, a history lesson with the pulse of a world-on-the-line suspense film.
.............
"At 28 minutes past 9," says Greengrass (director of United 93) of Sept. 11, "none of us were wondering What are we going to do? We were watching telly, wondering What the f___ is going on? The people on United 93 weren't doing that. They were looking at four guys. They knew exactly what was going on." Knowing of the World Trade Center attack, they could surmise that their own flight might be the next weapon.
..............
Alsamari says he looked at a scene in the film in which he attacks the pilot and co-pilot, "and I had my hand on my mouth. I thought, I can't believe someone could do that. It was like looking at somebody else."

If the actors find United 93 hard to take, what will an audience's reaction be? Many people will certainly feel they're not ready to see the film. And that's fine. But it's honorable and artful as a re-creation of history, and as a film experience it's both unbearable and unmissable.
.............
"I hope we're not as a society inured to the messages of the movie," says Hoagland (mother of Mark Bingham, a passenger on flight 93). Those messages, of the hijackers' terrible cunning and dedication, the passengers' valor and sacrifice, are both timeless and timely. "I know it's not too soon," she says. "I hope it's not too late."
The events of 9/11 are almost 5 years into past and fading in the blur of our mile a minute lives.

When United 93 opens to the public, I will go to see it. I want to be reminded of the evil humans are capable of and more importantly of the courage of the passengers and crew of Flight 93 in the way they faced evil and death.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: More end of the world as we know it

Continuing the march through Matthew and am in the midst of the famous "end of the world as we know it" discourse of Matthew 24.

Specifically, am looking at Matthew 24:32-36 this morning.

" ... Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its buds become tender and leaves sprout ... summer is near ... you can know his return is near, right at the door ... "

This seems to suggest we are given enough clues to the end of all things to have some idea it is around the corner.

But then Jesus seems to backtrack, "However, no one knows the day or the hour when these things will happen ... "

A couple of possible explanations.

(1) The fig tree metaphor is to show inevitability of the events (summer and leaves on a fig tree go together like the sun rising in the east and setting in the west) Jesus has described and the follow on statement shows the uncertainty of the exact timing of the events.

(2) the fig tree metaphor points to a season of time which is knowable but the specific time is not knowable. For instance, we know it is summertime because the days are getting longer and hotter but without special astronomical knowledge on our part, we don't know when the longest day is. In short, we have an idea it is summer but we don't specifically know when the summer solstice is unless we have special knowledge. Jesus stresses that only the Father knows when all this comes to a conclusion.

Another interesting statement in the passage is, "this generation will not pass from the scene before all these things take place."

Hmm ... is this a literal generation? Or is this figurative? Don't know.

Some of the events described in the previous verses in Matthew 24 could be considered fulfilled by the Temple destruction in AD 70. Thus, these things did take place within a generation of the disciples hearing these teachings.

Since I'm a molecular biologist not a theologian, I can only report what others have told me. One friend was telling me about the Preterism view of this passage.

From that article, preterism is the viewpoint that says most if not all of these Matthew 24 prophecies have been fulfilled. Thus, there are full preterists, partial preterists and others who hold neither view. I have not invested the intellectual energy to try to figure this one out.

As I see it, at the very least, the passages prediction of the Temple destruction seems fulfilled. Whether there will be another literal fulfillment, I don't know. For instance, if construction were to start on a new Jewish Temple in Jerusalem ... whoa!

As for the terrible time of persecutions, that was also fulfilled in the events surrounding the Temple destruction. It has also re-occurred throughout human history.

As for other events like calamities and false messiahs, again, constant fulfillment throughout human history.

Thus, to confine all the prophecy to only AD 70 would seem to be a very limiting perspective on these passages. However, it is not clear to me to what extent there will be future fulfillment and to what extent it is going to be as literal as described.

I can only lean on v. 36 that says, "only the father knows."

Lord, you have your own timing. Help me to live fully for you making the most of whatever time I've been alloted. Help me to be a good and faithful servant. Help me to be loving and holy child of God. Amen.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Sports: 40 years young with 321 wins and counting

Parking: $10.
Upper Reserve Seats: $14
Lemonade and peanuts: $10

What can you say?



This guy made the Dodgers look like minor league players.

He even got an RBI.

He went 8 innings, struck out 6, walked none and gave up only 3 hits and 1 run. He tossed 87 pitches 59 for strikes.

Read the AP recap and box score of Greg Maddux's dominating performance three days after turning 40.

As Maddux was mowing down the Dodgers (the game lasted less than 2 hours!), I tried to get a shot of the new pastel colored seats at Dodger's Stadium.



All the seats in the stadium were replaced this off season as part of the latest renovations of the famed park completed in 1962.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Culture: Three Requiems - Mozart, Verdi and Faure



Last night, I heard the Faure Requiem as part of the Good Friday service at the Hollywood Presbyterian Church. The program started with their choir singing the Faure Requiem backed by the organ. The second half was a dramatization of the life of Jesus with particular attention to the perspectives from Judas and Peter.

The service ended with the actor who played Peter singing about Christ and the Cross and when he finished, he blew out his candle and all the congregants left the sanctuary in darkness. A very moving experience.

This year, I have heard three different requiems.

I heard the Los Angeles Philharmonic perform the famed Mozart Requiem. I blogged about it previously.

If you want to know more about the many versions of the Mozart Requiem, be sure to check out this list at Amazon.com.

Little did I realize that there are many Requiems by many composers as described in this Amazon list.

I also heard the Verdi Requiem performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

The three requiems could not be more different.

The Verdi version is operatic and big and booming. Verdi revisted the Dies Illa, Dies Irae theme several times in his rendition including near the end. Mozart visited that theme early and it is indeed spooky but it doesn't have the volitile and explosive force of Verdi's. Interestingly, Faure visits the Dies illa, dies irae idea only briefly and within the context of his Libera Me section.

This musically untrained listener gets the feeling each composer had a very different intent on how his music was to represent human reaction to the inevitability of death and judgement before God.

Verdi's loud and over-the-top Requiem gave me the feeling he was trying to communicate the terrors of death and that death is to be resisted tooth and nail and entered with a shaking fist all the while kicking and screaming.

Mozart's version has its terrors but it also has soothing elements. Afterall, the concept of the requiem mass is "requiem aeternam dona eis, domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis." In English: Eternal rest grant them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. Thus, Mozart's version has both the fears of death but also the peace that faith affords. My feeling is that Mozart describes the sad but peaceful resignation to the reality and inevitability of death.

Faure's edition is very soothing. I'd go so far as to say he seeks to present a pleasant and peaceful acceptance and welcoming of death. There are only short moments of the terror and fear as reflected by the Dies illa, dies irae. My sense of its mood is that Faure wanted the listener not to be afraid. He didn't want merely a peace of resignation but might I dare say, a peace of welcoming the transition to the next?

Faure chose to end with the In Paradisum text:
In paradisum deducant te angeli,
in tuo adventu
suscipiant te martyres,
et perducant te
in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat,
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere
aeternam habeas requiem.

May the angels lead you into paradise,
may the martyrs receive you
in your coming,
and may they guide you
into the holy city, Jerusalem.
May the chorus of angels receive you
and with Lazarus once poor
may you have eternal rest.

Politics: Immigration debate - high fence big gate

The NY Times charges for the ability to see some of their articles. This has led to bloggers reproducing NYT articles.

In the heat of the immigration debate, I hear that NYT's Thomas Friedman wrote an essay with the title, "High Fence, Big Gate."

A Google search took me to Peking Duck where the TF article is displayed.

Friedman's argument:
America today is struggling to find the right balance of policies on immigration. Personally, I favor a very high fence, with a very big gate.

So far, neither President Bush's proposal to allow the nation's millions of illegal immigrants to stay temporarily on work visas, nor the most hard-line G.O.P. counterproposal, which focuses only on border security, leaves me satisfied. We need a better blend of the two - a blend that will keep America the world's greatest magnet for immigrants.
...........
An amnesty for the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants already here is hardly ideal. It would reward illegal behavior.
...........
Good fences make good immigration policy. Fences make people more secure and able to think through this issue more calmly. Porous borders empower only anti-immigrant demagogues, like the shameful CNN, which dumbs down the whole debate.
.............
I weigh each immigration proposal with two questions: "Does it offer a real fence? Does it offer a real gate?
As is often the case, the debate is being seized by extremists on both sides. You have one side saying, "You hate immigrants." While the other side is saying, "You don't want to protect our borders."

Meanwhile, average Joe and Jane is saying, what idiots! Don't you think it is possible that we like immigrants AND we want to protect our borders?

Religion: The Exodus, did it really happen?

As a Christian, I commemorate Good Friday and celebrate Easter Sunday.

In my part of town, there are a good number of Jewish Los Angelinos and they celebrate Passover.

I have to say that if I wasn't a Protestant Christian, I think I would like to be Jewish because the Passover Seder sounds like such an interesting way to remember God and His work in the world. The Seder is a powerful teaching device. It uses words to communicate Jewish beliefs but because it is set in a meal, there are visual, tactile, aromatic and taste sensations to emphasize the wonder of the Exodus story.

Because the Exodus happened so long ago, there is a debate as to whether it really happened.

This rabbi says, no. Excerpts of his reasoning:
Three years ago on Passover, I explained to my congregation that according to archeologists, there was no reliable evidence that the Exodus took place--and that it almost certainly did not take place the way the Bible recounts it. Finally, I emphasized: It didn't matter.

Some argue that there is no evidence to back my assertion. Endlessly reiterated is the mantra "absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence." In other words, the fact that we have never found a single shred of evidence in the Sinai does not mean the Israelites were not there.

This is nominally true. We have found Sinai evidence of other people who predated the Israelites, and while it is improbable that 600,000 men crossed the desert 2,500 years ago without leaving a shard of pottery or a Hebrew carving, it is not impossible.
....................
The probability is, given the traditions, that there were some enslaved Israelites who left Egypt and joined up with their brethren in Canaan. This seems the likeliest scenario, a beautiful one that accords with the deeper currents of biblical tradition. The Exodus was a very small-scale event with a large, world-changing trail of consequences.
Dennis Prager thinks it did happen. Excerpts from his argument:
For thousands of years Jews have been retelling this story. It is possible that it is all a 3,000-year-old fairy tale, but do logic and common sense suggest this? Why would a people make up such an ignoble history? Why would a people fabricate a myth of its origins in which it is depicted so negatively?

There is no parallel in human history to the Hebrew Bible’s negative depiction of the Jews’ national origins. The Torah’s depiction of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt to Canaan portrays the Jews as ingrates, rebels and chronic complainers, undeserving of the freedom G-d and Moses brought them. Moreover, aside from Moses, the heroes of the story are nearly all non-Jews. It is the daughter of Pharaoh who saves and rears Moses (later Jewish tradition actually holds her to be his mother); it is a Midianite priest, Jethro, who tells Moses how to govern the Jewish people; and the two midwives who refuse the pharaoh’s order to kill all male Jewish babies are almost certainly Egyptians. As for Moses himself, he is depicted as being raised an Egyptian.

That is one of the three reasons I am certain of the Jews’ slavery and exodus. Any people that makes up a history for itself makes sure to depict itself as heroic and other peoples as villains. That the Torah’s story does the very opposite is for me an unassailable argument on behalf of its honesty.

Second, I do not believe that a nation tells a story for 3,000 years that has no experiential basis. Moreover, the text has allusions to Egypt that only contemporaries could know. Even the name Moses is Egyptian (compare the pharaohs’ names Thutmose, Ahmose and Ahmosis).

Third, I choose to believe the story despite the archaeologists’ (subjective) claim of no evidence just as, despite the powerful arguments of history and of archaeologists of the past generation, some archaeologists - and those who trust archaeologists more than the biblical narrative — choose to believe the exodus never happened.

As for the argument of some Jews that they do not depend on the veracity of the Exodus for their faith, from a Jewish standpoint this is destructive nonsense. If the Exodus did not occur, there is no Judaism. Judaism stands on two pillars — creation and exodus. Judaism no more survives the denial of the Exodus than it does the denial of the Creator. Creation and Exodus are coequal Jewish claims. A creator G-d who never intervened in human affairs is Aristotle’s unmoved mover, not the G-d the Jews introduced to the world. Moreover, any Jews who believe the Exodus did not occur should have the intellectual honesty to stop observing Passover. They should spend the week studying the truths of archaeology — that is their haggadah — rather than what they regard as the fairy tales of the haggadah and Torah.
I find that Prager's points are reasonable.

In the field of archaeology and the Bible, one can assume the Bible is false until archaeology gives us some evidence it is true. However, since archaeology has often found things the Bible describes we don't need to take such an extreme position. Thus, when archaeological data is silent, we don't have to automatically assume the Bible is wrong.

As a Christian, I also believe in the Passover because Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples. Of course critics will say, well, the Jesus you believe in is as much a fairy tale as the Exodus!

When it comes to saying something historical is true, we can only operate in probabilities. We can't jump in a time machine and go check it out. We can't roll the videotape and see what happened. Rather, what we do is gather the available circumstantial evidence.

If one takes the collective memory and existence of the Jewish people as circumstantial evidence for the reality of the Exodus then one would take the persistence and expansion of Christianity as circumstantial evidence for the reality of Jesus.

We also have the Christian Scriptures as evidence.

Some argue that Christian writers fabricated the story of Jesus out of bias. However, is it possible that Christian writers would want to accurately preserve the story of Jesus because they believe it is so valuable and life changing?

Once one chooses to invoke fabrication as an explanation then one will have to question all ancient documents. I suppose there are some scholars who doubt the writings of ancient Greek and Roman historians. Do we assume that Greeks writing about Greek history would fabricate all (most) of their history? If that view were widely held, we would have to shutter all the history departments in the universities.

Interestingly, there is also evidence outside of Christian Scriptures that point to the reality of Jesus. A Google search with the terms, "Jesus extra-biblical history" yields lots of web pages.

Certainly, these sources are not as voluminous or contain as much detail as the Christian Scriptures but they are consistent with them.

Sports: Dodger injury woes continue

Yhency Brazoban will need "Tommy John" surgery.

Brazoban goes onto the DL as Lofton comes off the DL. This moves reduces the pitching staff from 12 to 11 and the number of outfielders from 5 to 6.

Unfortunately for Grady Little and Dodger fans, the season has started and you can't have a do over in assembling the pitching staff. The starters are serving up fat pitches and the relievers can't find the strike zone.

I heard part of the game last night. Hamulack walked two batters but struck out one. Saito bailed the team out by inducing a double play. Kuo was erratic and gave up the game winning hit. Baez finished the game but the Dodgers couldn't rally in the ninth and went down 2-1.

Trying to be positive, it is good to see that Penny seems to have good stuff so far and the off-season signing of Baez makes the GM look like a genius as he has been solid as closer and essential now that both Gagne (out 2 months) and Brazoban (out for the season) are injured.

Now, if we could get some pitching from some of the other starters and relievers, then we might have a chance as this year we seem to be hitting better.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Culture: Stock picking

As someone who is in between the baby-boomers and generation X, I'm probably in that first demographic that got to adulthood about the time that stock picking got democratized.

Before my generation, stocks seemed to be only in the realm of the rich. Now, the littlest of little guys like me can go ahead and get into stocks through mutual funds and to hold actual stocks through discount brokers.

The advice for people my age is to do the following in this order:
(1) pay off all credit card debts - the interest rates on this kind of debt is very high compared to auto loans, student loans and mortgages
(2) stash away emergency funds in very safe investments that are easy to get to on short notice - I hear 6-8 months expenses
(3) take advantage of work place retirement programs - your employer often matches in whole or in part what you put in
(4) begin to invest in higher risk but higher reward investments for mid- to long-term savings objectives - in other words consider stocks and bonds and other "rich" people's financial instruments
(5) buy real estate - unfortunately, in Los Angeles, that is getting very hard!

My current stock holdings are:
DIA = own the whole Dow 30
SPY = own the whole S&P 500
SU = Canadian Oil Sands
PFE = Big Pharma, hard to beat that 3.9% dividend yield

Obligatory disclaimer: past performance is not an indicator of future results, people can and do lose money.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: This is the end ...

Am taking a look at Matthew 24:1-31. A large chunk of text!

This passage is one of those controversial "end of the world as we know it" teachings by Jesus.

I hope it doesn't sound too horribly sacriligious to quote a vile yet haunting song when writing Christian devotional thoughts.

Many years ago, I saw the film Apocalypse Now and it begins with the song, "The End" by the Doors.

Since then, when the subject of eschatology, the fancy word for the theological study of the end times, comes up, I sometimes think of that famous song by the Doors. Lyric excerpt:
This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end

Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I'll never look into your eyes...again
Jesus leaves the Temple and says to the disciples, you see all these buildings? One day they will be utterly destroyed!

As they sit on the Mount of Olives they would have an excellent view of the Temple. The Mount of Olives is East of Jerusalem. Between the mount and the city is the Kidron Valley. As they ponder the magnificent Temple, the disciples naturally wonder, when will all this take place? They also ask, will there be any sign ahead of time to signal your return and the end of the world?

Grammatically, that is THREE questions.

However, I wonder if in their minds they are all one question?

Afterall, they were Jewish and the idea that the visible symbol of their faith would be destroyed would seem like the end of the world. I simply don't know if in their minds the three questions are three separate issues or perhaps only two issues mixed in some fashion or perhaps all one thing.

However, Jesus appears to answer all three questions. There seems to be a separation topically in the following verses though the separation can be a bit blurry and it isn't clear to me whether there is a separation temporally.

(1) Matthew 24:4-14 - the end of the world.

Jesus says there will be those who claim to be messiahs and mislead people, wars, famines and earthquakes. Jesus says those things are only the beginning and not yet the end. 2000 years later, we are still seeing those things. It has been "not quite the end" for a long time. I suppose we could say, we are 2000 years closer to the end!

In verse 14, do we get a hint as to when the beginning of the end might be, "And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then, finally, the end will come."

Has this been fulfilled?

I don't know.

If it is meant literally, then the answer is, no. There are still people groups in the world that have never heard about Jesus.

On the other hand, if this is figurative as in, "the good news of the kingdom will also become available to Gentiles and then the end will come," then this verse has been fulfilled.

(2) Matthew 24:15-22 - destruction of the temple

Jesus makes reference to the prediction of temple desecration in the book of Daniel. Some feel the temple desecration already took place when Antiochus imposed pagan worship in the Jewish Temple in 168 BC.

However, in Christian theology, the Daniel prophecy might have fulfilment also in the Temple destruction of 70 AD by the Romans and possibly a future fulfilment at the hands of an anti-Christ figure.

(3) Matthew 24:23-31 - the return of Christ

Jesus speaks of false messiahs and false prophets as he did earlier. He then says in verse 29, Immediately after those horrible days end, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of heaven will be shaken.

Is this literal? Or is this figurative?

Supporters of a literal interpretation say that it could be descriptive of actual condtions. They would cite the darkened skies after a massive volcanic eruption or the anticipated conditions with the onset of nuclear winter or the devestation caused by a meteor/comet impact as large as the one that may have resulted in the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.

A figurative understanding relies on the fact that as humans we think of the sun, moon and stars as the ultimate in stability and regularity. Thus, this phrasing would be a very vivid way of saying, "the end of the world as we know it."

What happens after the "end of the world as we know it?

Matthew 24:30-31:
And then at last, the sign of the coming of the Son of Man will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the nations of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man arrive on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send forth his angels with the sound of a mighty trumpet blast, and they will gather together his chosen ones from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.
In the last analysis, I don't think the exact details of how the end times will unfold is knowable. A handful of years ago, I heard Darrell Johnson say that the Book of Revelation, with all its details which we can't be sure of, can effectively be summarized, "JESUS IS GONNA WIN!"

Amen!!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Seven Woes

Taking a look at Matthew 23:1-39.

Normally, I haven't been blogging such large sections of the text but on this occasion, the natural flow of the reading takes you through the whole chapter.

This passage has Jesus saying "Woe to you ... " seven times.

The previous passages had Jesus in a running verbal confrontation with the religious leaders and here he finishes off the confrontation by listing their shortcomings. The shortcomings boil down to self-importance, self-righteousness, ignorance and hypocrisy.

A few years back, I was sitting in on a class taught by Ralph Winter at Glendale Presbyterian Church where he was showing video clips from various movies that portray the life of Jesus.

Unfortunately, I can't remember which film clips he showed that recreated Matthew 23. In one of them, Jesus is angry and his voice is booming throughout. In the other, Jesus starts angry and as he goes through the litany of woe, he eventually begins to weep.

We simply don't know what the emotion of the moment was. However, if Matthew 23:37-39 was spoken immediately after the declaration of woes, the second cinematic interpretation might be right.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!
For 36 verses, Jesus lands body blows against the errors of the ways of the religious leaders of the day. I don't doubt he would find churches today where he would say the exact same things.

In verses 37-39, it is clear, Jesus does not derive any savage glee from the faults of others. His desire is restoration.

Lord have mercy on me a sinner. Help me to see my sin but also to see that you can forgive and restore. Help me to live rightly in a sinful world with humility knowing it is not me at work but you working in me. Amen.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Messiah complexity

Am looking at Matthew 22:41-46 this morning.

Jesus had been fielding questions. Now, he asked the Pharisees a question, "Whose son is the Messiah?"

They reply, "David, of course."

Jesus asks, "So why did David call the Messiah Lord in Psalm 110 if the Messiah is the descendant of David?"

The Pharisees didn't have a reply.

I confess, I'm not certain what to make of this passage.

I suppose part of the problem is that I'm not Jewish. I don't know what the Jewish concept of the Messiah is beyond the obvious that they believe the Messiah will be a descendant of David. Does that mean, they believe the Messiah will be human being?

I also don't know which passages in the Hebrew Scriptures Jewish theologians view as having Messianic implications.

From what I gather here, the Jewish religious leaders either didn't regard Psalm 110 as about the Messiah or they never resolved in their own minds how the Messiah would be a descendant of David and yet be regarded as higher than David.

Psalm 110 is relatively short, so let's go to the Psalm that Jesus is citing in this discussion:
(1) The LORD said to my Lord,
"Sit in honor at my right hand
until I humble your enemies,
making them a footstool under your feet."
(2) The LORD will extend your powerful dominion from Jerusalem[a];
you will rule over your enemies.
(3) In that day of battle,
your people will serve you willingly.
Arrayed in holy garments,
your vigor will be renewed each day like the morning dew.
(4) The LORD has taken an oath and will not break his vow:
"You are a priest forever in the line of Melchizedek."
(5) The Lord stands at your right hand to protect you.
He will strike down many kings in the day of his anger.
(6) He will punish the nations
and fill them with their dead;
he will shatter heads
over the whole earth.
(7) But he himself will be refreshed from brooks along the way.
He will be victorious.
The translation convention is usually "LORD" being YHWH in Hebrew and "Lord" being Adonai. YHWH is always the divine name. Adonai usually is divine though it might apply to a earthly king or someone of very high standing.

Thus, verse 1 can mean at least two things (remember it is being written from David's point of view):
(1) The LORD said to my lord (Messiah) sit at my right hand ...
or
(2) The LORD said to my lord (King Solomon) sit at my right hand ...

Thus, one is a Messianic interpretation while the second option is not.

Then there is the mysterious verse 4: The LORD has taken an oath and will not break his vow: "You are a priest forever in the line of Melchizedek."

Melchizedek is a figure from Genesis 14. He was a king and priest. Usually, in Jewish life, the offices of priest and king are invested in separate individuals. Thus, was Psalm 110 about Solomon being granted this special status? Or is it about the Messiah, hence, Jesus?

Also, the overall tone of the power of this Lord is quite vast. Did David anticipate that his son Solomon's rule would become that great? Or was David thinking of a future Messiah who would wield such power?

Messiah complexity!

I don't claim to have it all figured out but something is afoot here that is hard for me as a non-Jew to grasp.

This is one of the reasons why there are Four Gospels. In the cultural milieu of the founding of Christianity there would be people steeped in Jewish thought and Matthew's account highlights these very Jewish elements in the Life and Times of Jesus.

Mark, Luke and John have elements of "Jewishness" in their accounts but they are much less than Matthew because those Gospels were written for the Roman and Greek believers.

Lord Jesus, you are the ultimate priest who without spot represents us before God. Lord Jesus, you are the ultimate king who rules with justice and compassion. Help me to follow you each day telling others about you with my life and words and deeds. Amen.

Monday, April 10, 2006

LA Dining: Noe

My latest is up over at LAFB.

Noe Restaurant and Bar
251 South Olive Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
213-356-4100

Quick run-down:
Atmosphere - nice, upscale, good for conversation, on a warmer evening sitting outside would be ideal.
Service - very attentive.
Food - 3 out of 4 items were terrific.
Price - a little on the higher side for modest sized portions. We got out of there at $85 tax and tip. You are getting atmosphere and certainly if you opt for the chef choice tasting you are getting very personalized service.

Non-profit of the month: April 2006 - Nickles for Nets

On Thursday, April 6, on KCET channel 28 in Los Angeles, I saw the documentary, Malaria: Fever Wars.

Malaria kills over a million people a year. But because this is happening mostly in the developing world, we seldom hear about it.

However, there are dedicated people trying to do something about it.

As an alumnus (1993-1997) of the National Institutes of Health, I went to see the internet site to see what they are doing. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is one of the key agencies for Federal level research.

In addition, the non-governmental sector has stepped up to the plate with the Malaria Vaccine Initiative. There are four ways to stop malaria:
(1) insecticides to kill the mosquitos
(2) window screens and bednets to prevent mosquito bites at night when they are most active and people are asleep
(3) antimalarial drugs for those infected
(4) a malaria vaccine to prevent infection.

The Malaria Foundation International web page is a portal to information about malaria and organizations devoted to eradicating this horrible disease.

I hope as you will click through to some of the web sites, you will consider donating to an NGO that moves you to give.

For this month, I'll be donating to the Nickles for Nets program of the International Health Ministries of the Presbyterian Church USA.

To read a transcript of a PBS Newshour report on mosquito netting click here. Excerpt:
JONATHAN SNOW: The AtoZ factory is a huge complex in the northern Tanzania city of Arusha. Mosquito netting in vast profusion being produced by Africans, for Africans, African workers, 1,200 of them quite literally saving other Africans' lives.

The engineers are Chinese. The technology is Japanese. The labor is African. And the money to purchase the completed nets is international.

In sum total, this is the global partnership to roll back malaria. And already this one factory is producing three million nets a year. But this is no place of altruism. This is a vigorously commercial enterprise.

The resin for the yarn comes from ExxonMobil in Saudi. They give the sum AtoZ pays for it back to UNICEF to buy still more nets.

The Japanese pharmaceutical company Sumitomo sells the magic long-life insecticide ingredients to AtoZ but has donated a free and vital technology transfer.

Inside each of these white pellets is insecticide which will bleed out of the yarn over five years.
..............
JONATHAN SNOW: Dr. Guillet argues long-term net technology works. The international community has raced 800 million pounds to pay for nets. So where is the problem?

DR. PIERRE GUILLET: Governments talk a lot about malaria but to my understanding words never kill mosquitoes. And a lot of targets have never been achieved. So one of the problems in Africa, and we have to be aware, is to a certain extent the lack of commitment of the countries, of their governments.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Culture: Jesus and Judas in the News

This morning, I was watching ABC's GMA where Martin Bashir was previewing some stories on the Life of Jesus for 20/20 and Nightline stories on Prof. Tabor's book, " Jesus Dynasty" where he questions the virgin birth and proposes who Jesus' father was. Tabor also suggests that John the Baptist was a parallel Messiah figure along with Jesus.

Interestingly, as Charlie Gibson and Martin Bashir wound up the interview, Bashir remarked (I'm paraphrasing), we made an effort in our story to look at the historical evidence on both sides and I think viewers might be surprised to find out how strong the traditional Christian explanation holds up to scrutiny.

National Geo is showing Gospel of Judas.

Mark Daniels responds as does Recliner Commentaries. HT: Hugh Hewitt.

UPDATE: I missed the ABC Primetime feature on the Gospel of Judas. From reading the summary article, it sounds like they tried to hear out both sides of the story.

UPDATE: Here is a post from Stand To Reason. Excerpt comparing the numerous records of the traditional Gospels and accepted Christian Scriptures to the various alternative gospels of questionable authenticity:
There are 5,366 separate Greek manuscripts represented by early fragments, uncial codices (manuscripts in capital Greek letters bound together in book form), and minuscules (small Greek letters in cursive style).
...........
These "gospels" were written from the second century by groups generally called "gnostics" who had a penchant for secret information. Notice that the Gospel of Judas reveals a secret between Jesus and Judas that couldn't be corroborated by witnesses. The Gospels, on the other hand, were written within the first century and record Jesus' public teaching that was heard by many witnesses.
STR also links to this item at Christianity Today. Excerpt:
Until the release of the Gospel of Judas and other Gnostic texts discovered decades ago near Nag Hammadi in Egypt, we learned about Gnosticism mostly through the polemics of Christian apologists. Now thanks to the Gospel of Judas, we can further verify two major Gnostic teachings. According to many Gnostic teachers, Jesus either did not actually appear in the flesh, or he at least wanted to shed his skin as soon as possible. Jesus longed to return to the spirit world. Judas helped make that happen. ("You will sacrifice the man that clothes me," the "spiritual" Jesus tells Judas in this document.) Also, Gnostics believed only a select few would truly apprehend the knowledge of heaven. The Gospel of Judas teaches that only Judas, Jesus' favorite disciple, fully understood.

Christian belief contrasts sharply with Gnosticism. Fully God and fully man, Jesus endured birth in a manger and death on a Cross. He shared in our humanity, "so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death" (Heb. 2:14). This message is not restricted to a few who will ascertain gnosis (knowledge). The gospel "is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile"
The Da Vinci Code movie is coming out soon.

For a reality check, try, The Da Vinci Dialogue.

UPDATE: Here is another item from the NYTimes about the Gospel of Judas.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: the most important commandment

Matthew 22:34-40 has a short exchange where Jesus responds to the question: what is the most important commandment?

Jesus responds: love God with all your heart, soul and mind; love your neighbor as yourself; all the other commandments are based on two ideas.

One thing I have wondered about is the meaning of heart, soul and mind.

In modern day life, we have ideas of what these mean. I wonder to what degree they are the same as the Jewish understanding of Jesus' day? We must also remember that the Gospels were written in Greek and thus in addition to the Jewish cultural context there is the Greek linguistic context of that era.

I tend to think of the heart as the blending of the will and the emotion. We say we love someone with all our heart. We are describing the decision we make inside us to care for the person through thick and thin. Additionally, we think of the emotion of love. I wonder to what degree this "American" notion of heart is the same as Jewish and Greek thought?

I tend to think of the soul as the sum total of our being that makes us unique. In Genesis we are told that Adam and Eve were formed from the dust of the ground (body - physical form) and God breathed (spirit - the spark of the divine) into it and we became a living soul (a distinct person). Thus, I think of "soul" as being the most inclusive of the terminology. The soul would encompass the heart and the mind.

And of course, I think of the mind as the intellect and reasoning powers of us as humans.

Do I love God with the blending of my will and emotions (heart), my whole being (soul) and my intellect and reason (mind)?

Loving God leads to loving my neighbor. Love by its nature wants to extend itself. One cannot love God and not love your neighbor.

Who is my neighbor?

Anybody I encounter in my life.

Geographically, the people in my apartment building; vocationally, the people in my work context; biologically, immediate and extended family; volitionally, friends and acquaintances I have because we somehow share something in common.

God, forgive my self-centeredness. Help me to extend beyond myself and love you and love my neighbors. Amen!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Sports: Congrats to the Gators and thanks for the memories Bruins!

Florida won easily 73-57 over the Bruins tonight in the National Championship game.

First off, hats off to Florida. They played well and deserve all the praise they are receiving.

UCLA got this far by team effort and they were beaten by a team that was well balanced and executed their plans at both ends effectively.

There is little to say when one side is taller, faster and stronger top to bottom.

Pat Riley, former Los Angeles Laker coach, said of basketball, there are only two states: winning and misery.

The wrong number for the Bruins: 10 blocked shots by Florida. And who knows how many altered and rushed shots. If the Bruins scored on half of those occasions, that is 10 points and the complexion of the game is different. It moves from a blowout to being a potentially competitive game.

But the fact remains: the better team won.

Winning or misery.

Within misery there are two: the loss where you kick yourself for your mistakes and the loss where you are beaten, throttled, and crushed by a superior foe. I suppose one is worse than the other because one lingers and gnaws while the other just hurts.

Nonetheless, thank you Bruins for giving your fans three more wins than expected!

John Wooden offered this idea for the meaning of success:
The definition I coined for success is: Peace of mind attained only through self satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you're capable.
Looking at the Bruin season in total, it would have to be said it was an unqualified success.

Sports: UCLA in the National Championship Game!

With a stunning 59-45 upset of LSU, UCLA has clawed its way to the NCAA Men's Basketball National Championship game for the first time in eleven years!

The Bruins are back in the National Finals with a team nobody (or not many) thought would get this far.

As a fan who has followed this team all season I saw them struggle in some victories in the out of conference schedule and get beat by some marquee teams like Memphis and West Virginia. But the hopeful thing was the team never seemed to give up even when getting beaten. The team got better as the season went along. With the arrival of the NCAA, realistic fans were saying Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight. A rare few on sports radio were saying Final Four and National Championship. I tended to discount them because they were on the Bruins radio network!

2.2% of Yahoo! Fantasy Sports fans picked the Bruins to win it all. They were the ninth most popular pick.

Nonetheless, GO Bruins!

A solid performance at both ends of the court will be needed to even have a chance against the well balanced athletic Gators from Florida.

**************

I've recently discovered YOUtube.com.

Highlights from the Memphis vs. UCLA game.



The key sequence that put away LSU at the beginning of the second half.



A video clip of the Bruins cheering during the LSU game being led by Ed O'Bannon, one of the stars who led the 1995 championship team.



6:21 PM PDT. Florida. UCLA. National Championship.

Here's hoping that there will be some cheerful clips from the Florida game!

I WANT TO BELIEVE!

U - C - LLLLLLLLLLLLLL - A! UCLA Fight Fight Fight!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Sports: UCLA vs. LSU

UCLA has been on a magic carpet ride as probably the biggest underdog #2 ever.

They survived against Alabama in round two when Alabama had the shot to win but missed. They stole the game against Gonzaga. They slowed down Memphis enough to win.

5:47 PM, PST. LSU vs. UCLA. The Final Four.

Everyone says the Bruins are the underdogs. The Pac10 regular season and tournament champs are the underdogs just like George Mason, the number two team from the unheralded Colonial and maligned as a team that didn't deserve to be in the NCAA.

LSU has athletes and size and talent. UCLA's only hope is that the sum total of all their parts will be enough to eek out another win. From listening to the radio, about the only two weaknesses reported on LSU is that sometimes their outside shooting vanishes and they can be careless with the ball.

UCLA will have to somehow (1) make sure Davis doesn't totally dominate ... he'll get his points but just don't let him go wild (2) with quick double downs on the post, UCLA will have to recover fast if the ball goes back out to an open shooter and (3) pressure defense hopefully forcing turnovers which must be converted to easy baskets as UCLA isn't getting any easy baskets against LSU's half-court defense which has been reported to be a stiffling one too.

Do these three things, UCLA *might* have a chance to win down the end.

It hasn't been pretty but its been good.

Here's hoping the Bruins have enough to survive and advance.

Go Bruins!

Devotional Thoughts: Sadducees ask Jesus about the Resurrection

Previously, the Pharisees and the Herodians tried to trap Jesus about paying taxes to Rome. He gave the famous answer: Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.

Jesus answered their question in a way they didn't expect.

Now, it is the Sadducees shot at trying to stump Jesus.

In Matthew 22:23-28, the Sadducees who don't believe in resurrection try to confuse the issue by using the "absurd hypothetical" ploy.

They framed the question with a hypothetical of SEVEN brothers who in sequence marry the same woman and all die and then the woman dies. They then ask, who does she belong to husband-wife wise?

Jesus wasn't fooled. He went after the premise of the question by responding: in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage.

Thus, Jesus (1) affirms resurrection and (2) indicates the institution of marriage is only for our "earthly" life.

As I think about this passage, I have to wonder, why do the Sadducees have a problem with the resurrection as a theological concept?

Running a google search with the terms "why don't sadducees believe in resurrection" yielded many web pages. I was drawn to this item because, I usually respect the perspectives featured in Christianity Today. The item is an interview with N.T. Wright. I'm told some of his views are controversial but in the context of this discussion, I thought he made some interesting points.

The article isn't specifically about Sadducess and their views on the resurrection but it gives some hints as to why they might be doubters of the resurrection.

(1) The Hebrew Scriptures don't say a great deal about the resurrection. Excerpt:
You can search the Old Testament from end to end, and even if you take a maximal view of passages like the "I know that my redeemer liveth" bit in Job, you're still left with a very small selection over against the vast mass of the Old Testament in which the question is not even raised.
............
The view that I came to is that the main thing the whole Old Testament is concerned with is the God of Israel, as the Creator God who has made a good creation, and that what matters about human life really is that it's meant to be lived within God's good, lovely, created world.
(2) The concepts of immortality of the soul and bodily resurrection was separated in the minds of some philosophers. Excerpt:
It's certainly true that Greeks did not believe in resurrection. It's not true, however, that all Greek thinkers believed in the immortality of the soul. That concept is specifically developed in Platonism. Some Greeks believed that nothing at all happened after death. It's also true that by no means did all Jews believe in the resurrection of the body. Some Jews like Philo of Alexandria, a Platonist philosopher, believed in the immortality of the soul.
(3) Belief in resurrection could motivate attempts to alter the existing power structure of which the Sadducees had a vested interest in keeping. Excerpt:
Liberals like Crossan seem to imagine that bodily resurrection is just a way of saying the present world is irrelevant and what matters is the future postmortem existence. Like Marx, they think that if you tell people that all is going to be right in some future life, they won't worry about their social and political disquiet in the present.
............
If you believe in resurrection, you believe that the living God will put his world to rights and that if God wants to do that in the future, it is right to try to anticipate that by whatever means in the present. It is your job as a Christian, in the power of the Spirit, to anticipate that glorious final state as much as you possibly can in the present. Live now by the power that is coming to you from the future, by the Spirit. And in the same way, live socially and politically because God is going to put the world to rights. That's the great theme of justice in new creation. It is up to us to produce signs of resurrection in the present social, cultural, and political world.

Because resurrection is a creation-affirming doctrine, it also goes with the desire to change injustice in the present.
Lord, thank you for assuring our future by what you did at the Cross. Help me to live in the present with courage to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly because our future is secure. Amen.