Monday, July 31, 2006

Travel: Taste testing camping food

Over the last few months I've been taste testing various freeze-dried backpacking food.

I've tried the following:
Mountain House's Rice and Chicken
Alpine Aire's Sierra Chicken
Backpacker's Pantry Chicken Cashew Curry
Richmoor's Natural High Classic Beef Stroganoff.

All four came in convenient foil pouches that stand up after you add hot water to them.

My very brief reviews:

Rice and Chicken was really salty ... a little too salty. I suppose you could add more water but then it would probably get soupy which I suppose is okay since after a day of hiking it will help you re-hydrate!

Sierra Chicken and Chicken Cashew Curry were both rather bland.

Classic Beef Stroganoff was not bad. It is, after all, just freeze-dried food but this seem to go above bland and offer some taste without crossing over into excessive saltiness.

I'll be trying a few more and reporting back.

Bon Appetite and happy trails!

Sports: Dodgers make some deals

Colletti has pulled the trigger on two deals at the deadline. The biggest is moving Izturis to get Maddux. He also dealt prospects Joel Guzman and Sergio Pedroza in exchange for Julio Lugo.

The lineup card is going to get juggled a bit with these moves.

Maddux will take a spot in the starting rotation with Penny and Lowe.

The question is who gets moved to the bullpen: Sele, Billingsley or Hendrickson?

Sele has an older arm and got roughed up on his July 17 and 22 starts. He did two innings of relief on July 26. He is slated to start August 1 and will be watched closely. If it appears he is running out of gas he could be moved to middle relief the next go around. He would be joining Beimel, Carrara and Dessens as the middle relief to get to flame throwers Saito, Broxton and Tomko.

Billingsley walks a lot of batters so I'm guessing he won't be moved to the bullpen and the Dodgers may want to keep the youngster as a starter to continue his development.

Hendrickson is the only lefty besides Beimel so perhaps he will be moved to the bullpen and be used as a situational lefty and for middle relief.

Middle relief will be important to the Dodgers if the rotation is Penny, Lowe, Maddux, Sele and Billingsley.

Penny a hard thrower often runs up the pitch count because batters foul off his stuff for long at-bats. Maddux and Sele are older arms. Billingsley walks too many people which runs up his pitch count. Thus, with four starters who are often done by the 5th and 6th inning, middle relief that Grady Little can count on will be huge if the Dodgers are to make a run at the post-season.

As for obtaining Lugo, he will take second base where Izturis was filling in for Kent. Ramon Martinez will probably be sent to Las Vegas to make room for Lugo. If Kent comes off the DL as scheduled, I can imagine that Loney will be sent down and Kent will play first base while Lugo stays at second. The log jam occurs when Garciaparra comes off the DL. I suppose at that point Lugo will occasionally give Furcal a break and Kent a break. Given Kent's injury problems this year, when he comes back, I think Little will rest him more often than in the past.

Devotional Thoughts: God is not finished with me yet

Am looking over Philippians 3:17-4:1.

What is today's "three-point" sermon from the Bible passage? 8-)

(1) Learn from the example of godly believers

Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.

Sometimes people get down on the institutional church. And to be honest, as a person who attends a pretty typical church, there is good reason to get discouraged!

However, having said that, what is the alternative?

If we try to live out our Christian faith on our own, the potential for self-deception is too great. Without other believers to bang heads with, we may get certain ideas into our heads that might have nothing to do with real Christian faith!

Within the community of faith, we are provided with older, wiser and more mature believers for us to learn from. In this setting, we, me too (gasp!), need to set an example of what wrestling with following Christ looks like to believers who are new to the journey.

(2) Watch out for those who are not setting a good example.

For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame - who set their mind on earthly things.

Paul takes no delight in seeing people heading the wrong way. He weeps for them because they are headed for destruction. He weeps as he warns believers not to be deceived by those individuals.

"God is their belly" is a very vivid metaphor for driven by desire. The instinct of hunger is one of the strongest in the human experience.

Another strong desire is sex especially in our media saturated society which pours gasoline on the raging fire that burns even without the assistance of the media!

I was reading C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity the other day and here is an extended excerpt on that subject:
We have been told, till one is sick of hearing it, that sexual desire is in the same state as any of our other natural desires and that if only we abandon the silly old Victorian idea of hushing it up, everything in the garden will be lovely.
........
They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years [ed. note, Lewis wrote the section on Christian Behavior in 1943] it has not been. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still a mess. If hushing up had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it right. But it has not. I think it is the other way round. I think the human race originally hushed it up because it had become such a mess.
Indeed, one need only look at the headlines of the magazines at the grocery checkout counter or channel surf the television to find people who seem to be examples of those "whose glory is in their shame" who are part of the "cult of celebrity" leading the way with dysfunction.

We need to pray for ourselves that we don't get drawn into worshiping the false god of living only for the present. We need to pray for our society to be transformed.

(3) Seek transformation from Christ

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.

Transform. Wow! Jesus is in the process of transforming us, lowly us!

Paul talked about transformation in Romans 12:1-2. We need to offer ourselves as sacrifices to God. Transformation can then take place and we come out of it with a completely different mindset.

I want to spend a few additional moments on this "body" part.

In the cultural milieu of Paul's time, a lot of the religions and philosophies thought that the body and the physical is bad. As a result some people became hedonists seeking pleasure because if the spirit is completely separate from the body then why not live it up? Others became ascetics and avoided all pleasures because they believed anything associated with the body was bad.

However, Jewish and Christian theology integrates body and soul/spirit. Here is another excerpt from C.S. Lewis:
I know some muddleheaded Christians have talked as if Christianity thought that sex, or the body, or pleasure, were bad in themselves. But they were wrong. Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which throughly approve of the body - which believes that matter is good, that God Himself one took on a human body, that some kind of body is going to be given to us even in Heaven and is going to be an essential par of our happiness, or beauty and our energy.
Thus, we work at transformation in the here and now because even though our citizenship is in heaven, the Kingdom of Heaven has already broken into this world. We are part of the transformation process now and it will continue and will find its full realization when Christ brings the Kingdom in its fullness.

Lord, forgive me when I seek the earthly things. So often, my eyes are on those things instead of you. Help me daily to offer myself to you and to allow you to transform my mind and my being so that I can do that which is good and pleasing to you. Give me the humility to learn from others and give me the boldness to be an example. Amen.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

News: 48 hour suspension of air attacks

The latest news is that Israel will suspend air attacks for 48 hours. On Fox cable news, they say some sources are saying it will be a 24 hour suspension.

Fox news analyst Oliver North pointed out that Syria has been resupplying Hezbollah and without the threat of air attacks on supply convoys, this move will be a disadvantage for Israel.

I suppose if recon flights spot convoys moving in, the Israeli air force will be given the green light to attack once again. Of course, you can imagine the Syrians might mix military resupply convoys with humanitarian aid convoys.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: staying on track


Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Humbling. Challenging. Exciting.

Those are the three emotions I get reading this passage.

Humbling in that Paul, the great missionary that took the Gospel to so many places and planted so many churches and wrote the letters that comprise much of the Christian Scriptures, recognized he still had a long way to go in following Jesus!

As a side note, I wonder if Paul knew that the letters he wrote would become a major part of the Bible?

Having grown up Jewish, he knew the Hebrew Scriptures well. Did he realize that this letter he was sending to Philippi would one day be bound together with those Hebrew texts?

I feel challenged by this passage from Paul because it is hard to forget what is behind.

As a pretty typical human being, I am influenced by my past.

As a Christian, I need to leave behind the bad stuff. I need to forget the bad habits and live differently. I need to let go of the guilt of past sins which Christ on the Cross paid for. But I also need to "forget" the good things too. Not in the sense of forgeting and thus not being grateful but "forget" in the sense of not resting on past successes. Rather I need to focus on the present moment and push ahead to greater devotion to Christ.

Isn't it exciting to press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus?

We live in the here and now and God has many blessings for us to enjoy and opportunities to experience satisfaction in serving Him and others. Yet, we also look ahead to being with Jesus in the future. The kingdom of God is here in part so we know it in part and see it as through a glass darkly and we can look ahead with anticipation that in the future we will experience it in full.

All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Maturity is equated with taking such a view of things.

Thus, maturity as a Christian is about focus (on Christ) and perspective (on past, present and future).

Today's passage was Philippians 3:12-16. For a potent paraphrase of this, check it out from the Message. Excerpt:
I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward - to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.
Lord, help me to focus on Jesus and let nothing distract me from that! Help me to live strong in the here and now and be inspired by the future glory when the going gets tough. Please hear this prayer of your follower! In Jesus name, amen!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: For Christ Alone

Am reading over and turning over in my mind Philippians 3:7-11.

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.

Do I really believe this and live this out?

I want to but I know in my heart that there are things I clutch onto. The total surrender and total focus of the will in this passage is something I aspire to but know I fall short of.

I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

As I continue in my journey of faith, I do recognize how my own righteousness is rubbish in comparison to Christ. Periodically, the thought still slips into my mind, I'm not such a bad person, I can stand before God! The thought usually doesn't last long as I am soon confronted with my own sinfulness in some big or small way. After a period of time (which varies) of hiding from God (yeah, like one can really hide from God) I have to confess my fault and claim again the righteousness that Christ made possible.

I want to know Christ ...

To know His words and deeds in my mind and heart and to live a life that is infused, covered, focused and empowered by Christ.

and the power of his resurrection ...

I want to see victory over sin in my life. I want to see power to defeat evil in the world around me. I want to see restoration. How frightening, how amazing, how unbelievable that Jesus has called me to live in this world to be his representative? To be the broken and leaky vessel of his grace and truth to the world?

and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death ...

This scares me. I don't have a high tolerance for pain. Yet, this too is part of the human experience. If Christianity is to have any meaning and utility in life then faith must be demonstrated even in suffering and in death. Indeed, the world will know we are Christians by our love but also by how our love looks like amidst suffering.

I'm in my 40s and the thought of death occasionally intrudes into my mind. I wonder, how will I die? Will I die well? Will I honor God in my life and yes, will I honor God in my death and in the process of death?

I can't answer that because I'm still young and healthy. But that will not always be so. In 2004 and 2005, I got a taste of mortality in two hospitalizations. The times of communing with God while staring at the ceiling at 2AM alone in a hospital bed were my small journeys into the "fellowship of his sufferings." It was not an easy time but it was a time that deepened my faith.

and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

It is through the suffering that Jesus was exalted and brought back up to the right hand of God. And so it is with us, as we live life with Jesus, as we go through seasons of suffering that one day ends in death, we will then be ushered into the loving presence of our God!

Lord, I sit in wonder at it all. I'm a sinner. Forgive me for sometimes I know not what I do. Forgive me when sometimes I know exactly what I am doing and it is wrong. Thank you for your forgiveness. Thank you that you have poured your grace on me a broken and leaky vessel. Help me to know you and your power. And in the proper season, help me to know you and share in suffering. Lord, grant me rest in you and renew me with your power to live for you each day knowing it is a gift from you. Amen.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

At the Movies: Cars



Mater the tow truck (Larry The Cable Guy) and Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) become friends in Pixar's latest film, Cars.

Pixar has the Midas Touch. They haven't had a bomb yet. Their films have all been successful to various degrees with the critics and at the box-office. Their collection of hits is impressive.

My all time favorite so far is The Incredibles. In terms of a creative story line and top notch execution of voice and images, IMHO, that film is their best!

The two Toy Story films would come in a close second.

In my book, Cars doesn't take the checkered flag and but is in good company with the other solid Pixar films.

The visuals of Cars is terrific as always. The story is not quite as compelling and creative as Incredibles and Toy Story. It is a familiar idea: speedy city slicker car Lightning McQueen meets the small town but good hearted cars of Radiator Springs and in time he comes to appreciate them and changes his ways.



The story arc though not an unfamiliar one is carried out with sympathy with the strong voice work of Owen Wilson and Bonnie Hunt but especially by Paul Newman.



Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) shows some speed on the dirt track near Radiator Springs.



Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and Sally (Bonnie Hunt) take a drive.

The main quibble people have had with the film is the pacing. I agree the film is a bit uneven. Certainly some contrast needs to be established between the fast pace life being missed in the rear-view mirror as we are introduced to McQueen versus the slower pace off the interstate. However, it was a bit overdone and could have been tightened up but still make the point.

The main joy is the visuals (look closely at the production still I've sourced) and good humor and earnestness of the voice work.

I'll give it a thumbs up for all but the most fidgety.

Devotional Thoughts: power of prayer

Spent the evening with our junior high youth group tonight.

It was a time of prayer and it was an uplifting time.

Their desire to follow Jesus and openness about their lives was truly a blessing to me.

As I look back on the evening, two Bible passages leap to mind.

Luke 10:38-42 described Martha and Mary. Martha was busy with household preparations while Mary listened at Jesus feet.
Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord's feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me." But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her."
There is a time and place for everything and it was clear that on this occasion sitting at Jesus feet was the best thing and Mary seized upon it while Martha complained to Jesus that Mary was being lazy.

As I listened to our young people offer prayers to Jesus, I felt they were seizing upon the best thing. They poured out to God praise as well as struggles in their lives. We were in communion together with the Heavenly Father and it is a very good thing.

Acts 2:14-21 described the opening thoughts of Peter in the sermon at Pentacost. He quoted Joel ...
AND IT SHALL BE IN THE LAST DAYS, God says,
THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT ON ALL MANKIND;
AND YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY,
AND YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS,
AND YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS;
EVEN ON MY BONDSLAVES, BOTH MEN AND WOMEN,
I WILL IN THOSE DAYS POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT
And they shall prophesy.
Peter used this passage from Joel to explain what was happening at the birth of the Church at Pentacost. With the death and resurrection of Jesus, a new work was beginning. When the Spirit is at work, watch out!

Indeed, with the Spirit pouring out on the sons, daughters, young, old and bondslaves, the world as they knew it was about to be turned upside down ...
AND I WILL GRANT WONDERS IN THE SKY ABOVE
AND SIGNS ON THE EARTH BELOW,
BLOOD, AND FIRE, AND VAPOR OF SMOKE.
THE SUN WILL BE TURNED INTO DARKNESS
AND THE MOON INTO BLOOD,
BEFORE THE GREAT AND GLORIOUS DAY OF THE LORD SHALL COME.
AND IT SHALL BE THAT EVERYONE WHO CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.
For a couple of hours tonight, I felt like I got to see a glimpse of what that looks like.

Lord, thank you for my young friends and for the devotion to you they exhibit. Help my young brothers to grow strong so they may serve you and fight for the Kingdom of God and stand firm with each other as a band of brother. Help my young sisters to grow strong so they may serve you and tell others of the risen Savior like Mary and may they know the joy of resting at your feet like the other Mary. Great Shepherd, help us as a leadership team to be plugged into you so when we give to them we would be giving from the overflow you have given to us. Help us to guard our young friends in prayer and equip the with your Words. In Jesus name, amen.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Culture: Clearing the Bar

There is a sub-culture in our society who are going through their biggest initiation rite. Law school grads are taking the Bar Exam today, Wednesday and Thursday.

Lord, you are a God of justice and mercy. May you help those aspiring lawyers whether they believe in you or not to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before God. Amen.

News: Troop proposal for Southern Lebanon

Went to CNN.com to see the latest news. This item says the current proposal is for 10,000 Turkish and Egyptian troops which eventually would be replaced by another multi-national force of 30,000.

I wonder what Hezbollah will do?

I suppose the "stick" could be, accept this deal or the IDF sweeps into Southern Lebanon with its tank and troops to destroy your rocket launchers and stockpiles.

How confident is Hezbollah in their fighting capability?

If they believe they could run a low level conflict with Israel, they might prefer to that option and count on world pressure to force Israel to stop the offensive and leave Lebanon.

Or does Hezbollah want the mulit-national force in there and give them a bloody nose and drive them out instead of having to drive Israel out?

We shall see how this all unfolds.

For the moment, I'm sure the move to get a multi-national force will take a bit of time to get on track; thus, the IDF will use its time to hunt down more Hezbollah targets.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Books: Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy

I really enjoyed the following book ...



As a life long Dodger fan, it was very informative to read about arguably the most famous Dodger ever.

I was born in 1963 so if my parents had taken me to a game or had the radio on, I would have been too young to remember.

Growing up following the Dodgers, I just knew that Koufax and Drysdale were the dynamic duo of the Dodgers.

The book has plenty of baseball but also a lot of the story of the era that Koufax lived through.

Leavy alternates chapters about the life of Koufax with chapters that recount each inning of the famed perfect game of September 9, 1965.

The first thing that struck me was that initially Koufax wasn't very good. He was wild and Dodger manager Walter Alston really didn't want to use him much. But eventually, Koufax hit his mark and the last six years of his 12 year career, the ball was in his hands a lot.

I had heard his career was cut short because of arm trouble. Little did I realize how bad it was. He essentially pitched until his arm nearly fell off. In three seasons he pitched over 300 innings!

Third, I knew of the famed perfect game. Every Dodger fan has heard playbacks of the final call by Vin Sculley where he recited the time and date as part of his call of that last inning. What I didn't know was that his opposing pitcher threw a 1-hitter and the 1-run was unearned due to a throwing error. It was a night of almost two perfect games.

The human dimensions of the Koufax story are amazing. It is hard to imagine that there once was an era where racial slurs against blacks and Jews were very common. Koufax endured those with grace and stood together with his black teammates. Koufax was a fiercely competitive ballplayer and very reserved. Yet, the book reveals that he was much more than that. His kindness to teammates and the people in his life comprised many of the anecdotes of the story.

Finally, there is the story of his refusing to pitch on Yom Kippor on game 1 of the 1965 World Series. Koufax was not the most religious of Jews but his decision has left an impression on many Jewish people. Check this page for one such story.

Jane Leavy has told a wonderful tale of a very interesting man. It is a book about baseball but it is a book about so much more.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

News: Latest in Lebanon

Took a pretty leisurely Sunday afternoon of napping and seeing a bit of news on cable TV and on the internet and some Wall Street Journal newspapers from last week.

If I had to synthesize what I gathered today, it looks like the Israelis are only doing limited ground operations and would prefer to keep it that way. Their preference appears to be a significant multi-national force (probably lead by NATO) taking up the buffer in South Lebanon rather than having to do it themselves. Israel's previous occupation of South Lebanon was costly in lives, treasure and political good will. However, if the diplomats can only come up with a UN-force (often times ineffectual) then Israel might have no choice but to go in with major ground operations.

Condi Rice is on the scene trying to broker some kind of deal with the "must-have" as a disarmed Hezbollah.

The key partners will be the Islamic nations that fear Iran. These countries will have to exert political pressure to make such a plan work.

The Iranians (with some help from Syria) are supporting Hezbollah. The Iranians are also fostering unrest in Iraq.

It would seem for a very long time the Islamic bloc was content to bash Israel and the United States.

However, now, division might be taking place as some fear their Iranian Islamic brothers.

Will this be a tipping point?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

News: Around the web on the war in Lebanon

Not surprisingly, the US is sending military aid to Israel. HT: Drudge

Excerpt:
WASHINGTON, July 21 - The Bush administration is rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, which requested the expedited shipment last week after beginning its air campaign against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, American officials said Friday.

The decision to quickly ship the weapons to Israel was made with relatively little debate within the Bush administration, the officials said. Its disclosure threatens to anger Arab governments and others because of the appearance that the United States is actively aiding the Israeli bombing campaign in a way that could be compared to Iran’s efforts to arm and resupply Hezbollah.

The munitions that the United States is sending to Israel are part of a multimillion-dollar arms sale package approved last year that Israel is able to draw on as needed, the officials said. But Israel’s request for expedited delivery of the satellite and laser-guided bombs was described as unusual by some military officers, and as an indication that Israel still had a long list of targets in Lebanon to strike.
As you can see, the way the article is phrased sure makes it sound like the writers are trying to emphasize the moral equivalence of both sides by making the war a proxy war between the USA and Iran.

Iran and Hezbollah want Israel wiped off the map.

Would critics say the USA and Israel want the same thing?

Additionally, the news story was made possible by "unnamed source":
The new American arms shipment to Israel has not been announced publicly, and the officials who described the administration’s decision to rush the munitions to Israel would discuss it only after being promised anonymity. The officials included employees of two government agencies, and one described the shipment as just one example of a broad array of armaments that the United States has long provided Israel.
In this case, it really doesn't bother me that somebody "leaked" the story. If anything, I wish the US would come right out and hold a press conference and say, yes, we are supporting Israel and we will continue to do so because they are our partners in the war against forces that would use terror to rob the freedom of peace-loving people around the world.

Drudge also links to this item that says US analysts think Israel still has a long way to go in knocking down the Hezbollah rocket launchers and inventory and that the Israeli battle damage assessments are too optimistic. Excerpt:
Israel is overstating the damage its air war has inflicted on the Hezbollah militia, which hides its weapons in tunnels and civilian neighborhoods throughout Lebanon, Bush administration and intelligence officials said yesterday.

Israeli assessments are "too large," said one U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But he added, "We are not getting into numbers."
..........
The problem for Israel is, there are limits to air wars and there are missions that only ground troops can carry out. Aerial bombardment cannot get at all targets, or verify damage. That is one reason Israel is contemplating a limited invasion to clear out bunkers and create a buffer zone free of Hezbollah rockets.

"Clearly [Israeli attacks have] had a very significant impact on their military capability," said a U.S. counterterrorism official. "But Hezbollah still has a significant stockpile of rockets."
If I had to venture a prediction, the ground invasion will take place within the next few days. The only way to be sure they destroy the launchers and stockpiles is to have ground troops find them and destroy them. Ground troops also will force Hezbollah to pack them up and move them lest they fall into Israeli hands and while they are trying to move the stuff, the IDF can destroy them.

The ground war might be very difficult. Hugh Hewitt links to this item over at Counterrorism blog that reports on the ambush of an elite Israel ground unit indicates Hezbollah troops are well trained and well equipped. Excerpt:
The Golani Brigade is an active duty IDF unit with experience on the Lebanese and Gaza fronts. It is considered an elite IDF unit and has a storied combat history. They were forced to retreat from the battlefield under heavy fire from the Iranian trained Hezbollah fighters.

The Israelis are calling up another couple of thousand troops - essentially another brigade of reservists. The knowledge that Hezbollah possesses a well trained and armed military force must be weighing heavy on Israel's political and military leadership. Hezbollah is a direct threat to the Israeli state, and if allowed to survive will dominate the Lebanese political and military arenas, and only grow stronger and bolder over time. The state-within-a-state will become the state.
Bainbridge discusses just war analysis. Excerpt:
Just war theory has two distinct components:

1. Jus ad bellum: Is this a just war? Was there a legitimate cause for going to war?
2. Jus in bello: Are you waging war in accordance with the ethical, moral, and legal requirements of justice?
He links to Georgetown Law Blog where they say in practice courts would defer to the judgement of military commanders on the question of proportionality. They go on to say, only political pressures are likely to be applied if it is believed one side is acting disproportionately.

Emotionally, it is very difficult to see civilians get killed in Iraq and Lebanon. But what are you supposed to do when terrorists hide themselves and their weapons in the midst of civilians?

Unfortunately, there aren't magic bullets that only seek out and kill the bad guys.

Much like chemotherapy of cancer, the good cells get killed along with the cancer cells and there are horrible side effects. However, if the patient is untreated, the cancer kills them. Of course, I suppose there are some circumstances when the treatment is worse than the cure especiallly if the cure is just an extension of the persons life for a few months. In those cases, I suppose some patients opt to receive only pain management care.

Do we believe the situation in Lebanon and Iraq is so intractable that the current situation is worse than doing nothing?

If Israel announced tonight that it will cease its military campaign, how long will it be before Hezbollah starts launching more rockets into Israeli cities? How long will it be before they start cross border raids again?

Iraqi is more complicated. In the end, they might wind up with three countries like the former Yugoslavia. But for the moment, I think we need to support the current government in an effort to hold things together. There needs to be a good faith effort to see if it can work. If not, then looking at a three state solution will move up the list of options.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Don't listen to the dogs

Am turning to Philippians 3:1-11 for today's reading.

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.

Rejoice!

There are a handful of words that I think capture the spirit of Christianity. Love for instance. Jesus told us the greatest commandment is love God and love your neighbor.

Another one is joy.

Think about two things:
(1) human beings are lost and dead in sin separated from God
(2) God sent Jesus to forgive us of our sins, grant us righteousness and restore us to Himself.

Is this not a cause for joy?

To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.

Repetition.

In my life, I must have heard hundreds if not thousands of sermons by now. I can't say I remember that many specific sermons but nonetheless, the truths of God in the Scriptures are slowly becoming a part of my life.

We eat every day and it is likely we don't remember what we ate 3 weeks ago. But if we have been eating right, we have the benefits of it.

So it is with the spiritual life.

Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh ...

Paul calls them dogs. He calls them evil workers.

Why is he so ticked off?

"false circumcision" = katatomen

"true circumcision" = peritome

In some translations, the word used for katatomen is mutilate.

Makes me cringe to even hear the word.

The point appears to be that in those days some false teachers demanded people get circumcised as part of becoming a Christian.

Paul says, no. What you need is Jesus not deeds of the flesh or anything pertaining to self righteousness. He goes on to explain ...

although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more:
circumcised the eighth day,
of the nation of Israel,
of the tribe of Benjamin,
a Hebrew of Hebrews;
as to the Law, a Pharisee;
as to zeal, a persecutor of the church;
as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.

He cites seven credentials.

In the following, he then tosses them aside as worthless compared to Jesus.

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Wow!

Am going to have to spend the next blog post unpacking this meaty part of Paul's amazing letter to the Philippian believers.

So what is today's "three-point" sermon?

What do we need to live in this crazy mixed up world?

1. Rejoice in the Lord
2. Repetition of the truth
3. Realize the worth of Jesus

Lord, help me to live this out. Help me to encourage others to live this out. Amen!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Reactions: the Middle East crisis

The situation in the Middle East remains fluid.

Here are a few interesting items I found as I moused and clicked around.

Bill Maher had a few positive things to say about Bush in regards to the crisis in Lebanon. HT: Prof. Reynolds. Excerpt:
I have to say, watching George Bush talk about Israel the last week has reminded me of a feeling that I hadn't felt in so long I forgot what it felt like: the feeling of pride when your president says what you want your president to say, especially in a matter that chokes you up a bit. I surrender my credentials as Bush exposer - from the very beginning - to no man, but on Israel, I love it that a U.S. president doesn't pretend Arab-Israeli conflict is an even-steven proposition.
One of my favorite guests on the Hugh Hewitt show is Mark Steyn. I don't always catch the radio show but I can always check the blog and Hewitt reported the conversation he had with Steyn. Excerpt:
MS: I think this is why the Europeans and the Arabs suddenly have gone very quiet, and in fact, have been supportive of Israel, because they understand...the Arabs, after indulging in this post-modern fear-mongering for 60 years, that Israel is an entire threat to the region. Suddenly, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia see that there's a real threat, not a pseudo-threat to the region, that they are going to be living per force under an Iranian-dominated region. That in fact, the last 50 years will just have been a brief interlude of Arab independence between living as subjects of the Ottoman Empire, and now being subject to a kind of de facto apocalyptic Iranian Empire.
One place to click by for some military perspective is Strategypage. Excerpts:
Israel is believed to have destroyed, on the ground, three or four rockets for every one that is fired. Israel has a large force of UAVs and long experience using them. There are a lot of Israeli self-propelled artillery up near the Lebanese border, no doubt working in close cooperation with UAVs and helicopters (which tend to stay on the Israeli side of the border to avoid ground fire) to zap Hizbollah rockets as they are being moved or set-up for firing. A lot of this takes place as night, when Hizbollah gets reminded how well the Israeli night-vision cameras work.

Hizbollah is riding high now, as the independent Arab media praise the attack on Israel. But state controlled media throughout the Arab world is less supportive, and sees Hizbollah as an anti-Arab agent for the Shia Iranians. Iran has, for thousands of years, been seen as the enemy of the Arabs, and many Arabs see the current Hizbollah antics as another ploy to stick it to the Arabs. Arab politicians realize that the chances of Hizbollah "winning" its war are practically nil, and that a Hizbollah defeat will further erode the reputation of Arabs as fighters and thinkers.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Be like Epaphroditus

Am looking at Philippians 2:25-30 this morning.

Sometimes when a group of Christians are getting to know each other, we may often ask each other which Bible character intrigues us. We often mention the "big names" like Paul or Peter or Moses. But sometimes people in the group might mention a lesser known person.

In today's passage, there is Epaphroditus!

A search of the whole Bible reveals his name just three times and all in Philippians and twice in this passage for today.

So if I were to "preach a sermon" on the life of Epaphroditus it would be on: how should we treat those who minister to others?

1. Encourage them by naming the qualities you see in them

Here the Apostle Paul is very open about what it is about Mr. E that he finds so special.

But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs.

He calls him my brother!

Remember how in the previous passage Paul thought of Timothy like his own son?

Paul was the very logical writer of a theological masterpiece like the Letter to the Romans. He was also a man who had a heart for those in his life. As a single guy and often on the go doing missions work, he nevertheless formed deep relationships.

He also called him a fellow worker and fellow soldier.

Think teamwork. Paul was pretty careful about who he had on his team. See the dispute Paul had with Barnabas over Mark. Eventually, Mark under the training of Barnabas grew further and Paul would recognize that. See Col. 4:10, 2 Tim. 4:11 and Philemon 1:24.

Paul also said of E, that he was the messenger who met my needs. We read Mr. E was the bearer of gifts in Philippians 4:18.

We can surmise that Epaphroditus brought a monetary gift and perhaps other items in a sort of care package for Paul!

2. Pray for them as they have needs too and if you can meet their needs meet them!

In the old days, travel was not so simple. For Mr. E to volunteer to deliver a package to Paul was not quite like it is today.



Click image to get a bigger map. Image source: http://www.bible-history.com/Pauls_Second_Mission_Map/

Philippi is the city with the number 4 next to it. Paul was in Rome in prison which was off the map. A journey from Rome, Italy to Philippi, Greece today would be no problem: take your pick, land, air or sea or some combination of it.

But in those days, such a journey was not a trivial exercise. It is quite possible that on this journey Epaphroditus got sick, in fact deathly sick.

For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety.

We need to be in prayer and in support for our ministers. They are human beings too with all the problems that come with that. They get sick. They have family concerns. They have a house with a leaky roof. All the problems that you and I have as ordinary people going to church, the pastor and his family have those same things too!

3. Honor them for their service

Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.

'Nuff said?

Lord, I ask for your blessing upon the pastor of the church I go to and the rest of the staff. Bless him and his wife as they serve you in our midst. Bless the other pastors and staff too as they go about life in the church visiting people in hospitals, meeting people who are having troubles, and simply living their lives with their familes. Thanks for bringing a new youth pastor to us. Guide our new youth pastor as he gets adjusted to working with us. And may anyone who happens to stumble on this blog post be moved to pray for their church leaders too! Amen.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Be like Paul and Timothy

Philippians 2:19-24 is one of many personal passages in the Letter to the Phippians.

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you.

In those days, there was no cell phones, no video conferencing, no internet. News traveled by word of mouth.

Paul, sitting in his jail cell, wondered how are those folks doing back there in Philippi?

He desired to send his trusted apprentice Timothy to them so he can get news about how they are doing.

We see here why Paul trusted Timothy so much.

For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare ...

I know it is very easy for me to get into an I, I, I, me, me, me mindset!

One clear mark of Christian growth is when we began to care about other people and the cause of Christ. Timothy definitely had those qualities.

They all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.

Paul was a single guy (see 1 Corinithians 7). Nonetheless, he experienced the joys of investing in the life of someone younger than himself.

Those who have the opportunities to be fathers in a traditional family have a great ministry for the cause of Christ. We singles need to pray for our married friends who are raising kids because in our crazy mixed up society, it is a really hard job!

We singles need to go a step further: find young people to invest our lives in - members of our immediate and extended families, kids of our friends and budding adults in our church youth groups.

Lord, please strengthen families. The media is everywhere promoting lifestyles that are not honoring of God and destructive in subtle and not so subtle ways. I lift up parents to you. Help them to pray for their kids, talk to their kids, spend time with their kids and in words and deeds show what it means to put Jesus first in their lives. Help me to see how I can be a role model for the young people you bring into my life. Amen.

Non-profit of the month: July 2006 - Habitat for Humanity

I go to church in Glendale.

When I heard our youth group was going to volunteer at the latest project that Habitat is running in Glendale, I decided to help out.

I did my first day of volunteering with Habitat back in San Francisco when a group of people from Hands on San Francisco (now Hands on Bay Area) went to help clean up a lot for a construction project.

When I came back to Los Angeles, I did a few projects here and there with San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity.

In 2003, I went to Botswana with Habitat.

Our youth group went to the work site today and I joined them. It was broiling out there! Nonetheless, it was good work.

We will be going back there again in August and in September. Hopefully, we will be able encourage some of the other age (older!) groups at our church to join us!

Check out the National Habitat web page to see what kinds of projects are going on in your area!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Culture: Empty pockets?

The other day went out to eat. I try not to eat out too often as it is a bit expensive. Yet, now and then, it is nice to eat out and leave the work to someone else.

On this occasion, I was dining alone and enjoyed the meal.

It came time to pay the bill.

That is when it happened ... reached into my pocket and found a few bills ... not the Jackson kind but the George kind. Grrr ... searched the other pocket and ... gasp ... no wallet!

I thought to myself: I know I had my wallet today! It must have squirmed out of my pocket while I was driving.

I told the food server, I think my wallet is in the car.

I wonder how many times he has heard that explanation?

I left a few items on the chair next to my table as collateral so I could go search my car for the errant wallet.

Indeed, it was there and I paid my bill.

It was a brief moment of anxiety. I wondered what would have happened if my wallet were not there?

Would the police have been called and I would be charged with petty theft?

Would I be sent to the back to do dishes for one hour to pay for my meal?

Would the manager have talked to me and figured out I do have a job and it just so happens I didn't have my cash or cards with me and let me go. If so, I would have returned to pay my bill later.

One time I was at the dry cleaners in the morning and I was a few dollars short in paying my laundry. They gave me the completed clean clothes to me. I made sure that afternoon, I went back and paid the rest of the bill.

Living in the big city, seeing panhandlers is an almost daily part of life here. I see them outside fast food restaurants, 7-11 stores, markets and at busy intersections.

I don't suppose they ever go to sit down restaurants, have a meal and then plead inability to pay. In most cases, the way they are dressed, the hosts and servers at the restaurant might deny them a seat because they suspect inability to pay.

I have no consistent "policy." I have on occasion given money. On a few occasions I would buy a couple of hot dogs (if at the 7-11) or some other packaged food items (Ralphs) in addition to what I was buying and give it to the person. Most times though, I don't do anything because I have the feeling the money I give goes to alcohol or drugs. I don't feel right about enabling destructive behavior.

For a few minutes when my wallet was missing, I felt a tiny bit of the despair such individuals feel. It is an awful feeling to know I can't pay my way.

What do you do?

Devotional Thoughts: Sizzle and flash yielding a pleasing aroma

Looking at Philippians 2:12-18 today.

This post is piggybacking on some thoughts I started earlier on Philippians 2:12-16.

The text below is from the paraphrase known as The Message which was prepared by Eugene Peterson. I haven't read any of his other works but I have a copy of the Message on my bookshelf. I sometimes go to it when I want to shake up my reading a bit. The more direct translations are of course more accurate but they often don't carry the emotional content. Peterson's paraphrase gives the text an emotional flavor mixed with the words. Admittedly, doing so is speculative but in many case they are probably reasonable inferences.

The text for today in the Message paraphrase:

What I'm getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you've done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I'm separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God's energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.

Do everything readily and cheerfully - no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night ...

Apostle Paul had strongly encouraged them to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. He gave them some practical steps to do so and the assurance that God is with them through it all.

He concludes by bringing himself along side them ...

... so I'll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You'll be living proof that I didn't go to all this work for nothing.

I'm sure there were times when Paul would explain Jesus to people and they would look at him and say, nope, not buying it.

The Philippian believers are special to his heart because they did respond and right from chapter one, we know he has a special bond with them.

Paul knows his time might be up soon yet he places his life in the context of worship to God.

Even if I am executed here and now, I'll rejoice in being an element in the offering of your faith that you make on Christ's altar, a part of your rejoicing. But turnabout's fair play - you must join me in my rejoicing. Whatever you do, don't feel sorry for me.

He sees those beloved believers as a pleasing sacrifice on the altar of God. Paul doesn't separate himself from them despite his distance and possible death. Instead he sees himself as a part (an element) of the offering - a part of them and their very lives.

Phillipians 2:17 in a more literal translation has Paul describing himself as a "drink offering."

One can find many references to "drink offering" if you run the search over at Biblegateway so I'll just cite just one of them.

Exodus 29:39-41:
Offer one in the morning and the other at twilight. With the first lamb offer a tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with a quarter of a hin of oil from pressed olives, and a quarter of a hin of wine as a drink offering. Sacrifice the other lamb at twilight with the same grain offering and its drink offering as in the morning - a pleasing aroma, an offering made to the LORD by fire.
This isn't something we see in the religious context anymore as there are no more temple sacrifices.

However, we all have a connection to this in a visual, auditory and olfactory way when we cook. Imagine the food is cooking and the chef splashes wine onto the meats and there is the sizzle and sometimes flash of fire and the aroma that wafts forth.

Paul sees himself as that wine poured on top of the meaty offering which is the good lives of the Philippians!

Lord, help me to invest in the lives of others. Help me to pour myself upon the lives of others and that together we would be a pleasing sacrifice. Amen.

Friday, July 14, 2006

News: Mid-East Conflict (re-edited)

Foreign ministry staffers around the world are working overtime as the situation in the Middle-East is spinning faster toward chaos.

On one side, you have a nation (Israel) that wants to live in peace.

On the other side you have terrorists (Hamas and Hezbollah) and governments (Syria and Iran) who support them trying to destroy Israel.

It is a little hard to negotiate when one side wants the other side dead.

I suppose it is theoretically possible to believe Israel doesn't deserve a nation but love Jewish people. But in practice those who don't believe the nation of Israel should exist probably don't shed any tears when Jews die.

A bit of history is in order.

In the early 20th century, there was no nation called Israel. However, there was talk of setting up a homeland for the Jewish people for many decades.

A two-state solution was adopted.

On May 15, 1948, Israeli proclaimed itself a nation.

On that day Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq launched a war to destroy Israel.

Since then Egypt signed its own peace with Israel throught the efforts of Anwar Sadat who was eventually killed by radicals for making peace with Israel.

Lebanon struggles to regain control over its own land but Syria dominates the area as does radical Palestian groups.

Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 making it only the second Arab nation to have relations with Israel.

Iraq under Saddam supported terrorists who would destroy Israel. As it is now, Iraq is now on a knife edge between building a functioning nation or descending into civil war. Thus, what they do about Israel is the least of their worries though there are clearly terrorist groups in Iraq who would happily see Israel destroyed.

Lastly, there is Iran. They clearly support terrorists who want to destroy Israel.

Currently, Israel's military moves have been against Hamas and Hezbollah with some attacks on Lebanon's infrastructure. The question is whether their actions will address the "hidden hands" of Syria and Iran.

Syria is close by and definitely in range of Israel's air forces.

Iran is another story. Austin Bay speculates whether Israel will open an Iranian front?



Image source: http://www.middleeastfacts.com/images/map_middle_east.gif

Any strike on Iranian nuclear and military facilities by Israel would require overflight of Jordan and Iraq and thus the tacit approval of those governments. Suffice to say, it would be somewhat easier for US forces in Iraq to make those strikes. However, the USA might be opting out of the situation as moves by the US would force Iran to retaliate by further supporting terrorists in Iraq. I suppose if Israel hits Iran, the Iranians would retaliate in Iraq anyway. Lastly, of course, even if the US or Israel don't do anything to Iran, they still will fund and arm terrorists in Iraq.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

News: Ted Koppel's Observations on Hezbollah

Caught on KPCC the All Things Considered segment with Ted Koppel where he described his recent visit to Lebanon.

He described that the military leader of Hezbollah is in de facto control of southern Lebanon and that the group desires the extinguishment of the nation of Israel.

He also believes the Iran is the "hidden hand" behind a lot of what is going on. Funding, weapons and training of Hezbollah is largely dependent on Iran. He also noted Iran is supporting Hamas and that Lebanon's government has almost no control over Hezbollah.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Work out your salvation with fear and trembling

Am looking at Philippians 2:12-16 tonight.

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Okay, I throw up my hands!

This is one of those passages that I can't get my head fully around. On one hand, there is "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" which appears to place a fair amount of responsibility on us. Yet, in the next phrase it says, "God who is at work in you ..." which seems to put a lot of the work in God's lap.

Which is it?

As a fairly typically science minded person, it is always hard for me to accept two ideas at the same time that seem to go against each other.

In physics, there is a classic question of what is light?

Is it a wave or is it a particle?

Well, it is both!

Within the context of the Christian life, somehow it is both. I don't know how but it seems to be so?

However, I guess I would have to say though that God moved first. If Jesus isn't offered for our salvation then there is no salvation to try to work out in fear and trembling.

So how then do we work out that salvation with fear and trembling?

(1) We need God's help

Of course, we know we need God's help because it does say it is God who is at work in you.

I think of Micah 6:8. There are ways we are to live our lives but it must be done in humility with God. One clear sign of humility in life is to ask for help!

(2) No whining please!

Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world

Seems to me when we are grumbling and disputing, we are blaming other people for our troubles.

Humans have a history of blaming somebody else. Genesis 3:11-13 shows the blame game in action right from the start!

(3) Holding forth (or fast) the word of life

holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.

When Paul says, "word of life" what did he have in mind?

We sit here in the 21st century and think, the Bible!

Well, at the time of Paul's writing, the Bible as we know it today didn't yet exist!

Bible scholars debate when the various books of the Christian scriptures were written.

Philippians was probably written around AD 61. This dating is because within the Philippian text it referred to Paul being in prison and our best estimate of that event is AD 61-63.

So what does Paul mean when he refers to the "word of life?"

Since Paul was trained in the Jewish Scriptures, he might think of them. For instance, Psalm 119:9 links life and the word of God.

Paul probably knew that Peter said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." See John 6:67-69. So perhaps Paul was thinking of the teachings of Jesus. Perhaps the Gospel accounts were already in existence by then and being circulated among various churches. Certainly, a hypothetical precursor version would have been around at least.

In the narrowest sense, word of life could mean Jesus. Apostle John starts his gospel account using such language.

Okay, now that we cleared that all up! 8-)

What do we do with this word of life?

Hold it forth or hold it fast?

Interestingly, there is some debate as to which reading is correct.

Hold it fast ...
NASB, ESV and NLT.
Hold it forth ...
NIV, KJV and Young.

I'm not a Greek scholar and since good Bible translations differ on this point, I can't claim expertise to answer this question.

However, my gut reaction from a literary point of view, the previous point Paul is making is about being lights in the world so the posture seems more outer directed. Thus, paraphrasing, you are lights in the world holding forth the word of life that is Jesus.

Lord Jesus, I need your help! You have given me the precious gift of salvation and now what do I do? I want to work it out with reverence, with fear and trembling knowing you want to do good work through me. It isn't easy as I still have so many bad habits. But I ask for your help. I want to take responsibility and hold forth Jesus by my life and words. Amen.

News: Another city experiences the horror of terrorists

The news out of India is horrible.

Bombing a commuter train has only one purpose: to kill and terrorize as many people as possible.

As of this writing, 174 are dead with 464 wounded.

Wounded ... such a vague word. It can mean anything from a broken arm to the loss of an arm. It could mean a concussion requiring overnight observation to blindness. It could mean mild burns that will go away in in time to major burns that will never fully heal.

Who would do such a thing?

The prime suspects are Islamic groups.

As usual, I must make the disclaimer, the vast majority of Muslims are horrified by these atrocities. There are estimated 1,000,000,000 Muslims in the world.

However, even if only 1 in 1000 are supportive of terrorist activities, that means 1,000,000 people in the world are cheering for what happened today in Mubai. Of that group, how many would actively participate in perpetrating such horrors? If 1 in 100 would be willing that means there are 10,000 people who would do so.

Numbers. Damn numbers. They don't do justice to the horror.

It only takes a handful in India (or where ever) to bring death, grief, injury and lost life and lost opportunities to so many.

Mubai joins the list of cities that have experienced a major attack.

2005 - London, England
2004 - Madrid, Spain
2003 - Istanbul, Turkey
2002 - Bali, Indonesia
2001 - New York, Washington DC, Pennsylvania, USA

Sadly, this list isn't an exhaustive list.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Be like Christ, reloaded

Philippians 2:5-11.

I'm revisiting it again. One can spend many a sermon and many a blog post unpacking this little but meaty passage.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God ...

One can make distinctions between "form" and "substance." For instance, in life, someone can have the "form" of having life "altogether" but the substance of that person's life could be entirely different.

Clearly that was not the case with Jesus because the text goes onto say, ... did not consider it robbery to be equal with God ...

Jesus is equal to God. If he wasn't it would be robbery for him to make that claim.

When someone makes an exorbitant claim there are only several possibilities: the claimant is delusional (belief doesn't match reality), a fraud (doesn't believe the claim but makes it to fool others) or truthful.

... but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men ...

Traditional Christian theology says Jesus was both divine and human. How that actually works, I have no idea. But the bottom line is that Jesus left the heavenly places to walk among us.

A few years back there was a popular song by Joan Osborne called One of Us.
What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Tryin' to make his way home?

If God had a face what would it look like?
And would you want to see if, seeing meant
That you would have to believe in things like heaven
And in Jesus and the saints, and all the prophets?
I have no idea what her religious beliefs are but she posed the right question and the answer was JESUS was ONE of US!

And indeed, Osborne is right in asking, would you want to see if seeing meant that you would have to believe ...

It is easier to keep Jesus in the good teacher box. A good teacher is somebody you might say a few nice things about. Maybe even admire to some extent. But if Jesus was God, I mean *really* God then we would have to confront our sin. We would have to answer for the lives we have led.

And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

Jesus died.

All humans die.

Jesus went through the most universal of human experiences. But unlike most humans, his death was a torturous one. Dying on a cross was a brutal way to die. Jesus who can, without robbery, claim to be equal to God gave up those rights and died a criminal's death.

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The great descent from the heavenly realm to be one of us and to die the worst kind of death is followed by the great ascent. Jesus returns to his rightful place. Right now, not every knee bows. But a time will come when every one will recognize Jesus as the Lord.

Dear Jesus, thank you that you gave yourself up for me. Help me to be like you and be willing to sacrifice for others. Help me to see who I really am. On one hand, I'm a sinner just like everyone else. But on the other hand, I'm yours. You have bought my life with your death. Help me to know the comfort in this. Help me to know the joy in this. Help me to know the power in this. Amen.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Be like Christ

Philippians 2:1-11 is one of the greatest Christological passages in the Scriptures.

Christology is an SAT word for the branch of theology that attempts to describe who Jesus is.

Paul starts off with some practical instruction to the Christians in Philippi.

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.


The arguement is a passionate one but structured logically in the classic, "If ... then ..." manner of geometry class!

There definitely is encouragement in Christ, there definitely is consolation, fellowship and affection and compassion. If all of that is true (and it is) then strive for unity at every level - in the mind, in love, in spirit, in purpose!

Not an easy thing for humans. Get two people in one room and there will be two people pulling in different directions. Yet, because of Christ, Paul says unity is possible!

The first step to begin to make this possible is to ... Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Argh! That is sooooo tough ... we live in the context of our own minds and feelings and circumstances! But once we begin to look outward to the other person, perspectives have to change. Do we want that?

If we are in Christ we will want that!

Jesus set the example.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


This passage is an incredible description of what Jesus did. It has power an at intellectual level when you contemplate the heights from which Jesus existed then descended to and then returns to.

It has power emotionally because, for those who believe, He did it for us. He did it for me.

Lord, teach me to be like Jesus in humility and obedience. We are but a vapor here and gone so fast on a tiny dot in the vast ocean of the universe. Yet you have traveled from the highest realm to the earthly realm to lift me up from my brokenness and sinfulness. Thank you Jesus! Help me to see others through your eyes each day. Amen.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Sports: Dodgers vs. Giants



The dreaded Barry Bonds on deck.



Bonds at the plate during Thursday's game which the Giants won 5-4.

In terms of intensity of a sports rivalry, the Giants vs. Dodgers is the biggest one with the exception of Yankees vs. Red Sox.

While the Boston vs. New York contests usually has post-season implications, the Los Angeles vs. San Francisco hasn't had that added dimension.

This year the Wild Wild NL West has all the teams bunched up around the 0.500 mark, every divisional game will be hotly contested.

On Thursday, the Dodgers spotted the Giants a 5-0 lead after 2 1/2 innings. The Dodgers trimmed it to 5-2 in the bottom of the third. 5-3 after 5 innings and 5-4 after 7 innings. Unfortunately, the Dodgers went down 1-2-3 in the eighth and ninth innings. Though the Dodgers lost, they gave it a good effort and it was a beautiful night at Chavez Ravine.

I caught the last few innings of Friday nights game on KFWB radio. The Dodgers won 9-7!

Once again, the Dodger starting pitching (Hendrickson on Thursday and Billingsley on Friday) gave up the bulk of the runs. But the relievers held the Giants back in both games and the Dodger bats this time got enough runs to get them to victory.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: The Fellowship of Suffering

Am looking at Philippians 1:27-30 this AM.

Whatever happens ...

Probably referring to the uncertainty Paul was going through regarding his imprisonment. He might get released. He might not. He might get executed. He might not.

I suppose also, since at that time, Christianity was a religion of a minority of people, there may well have been pressures upon the church community to abandon their faith. When Paul was with them in Acts 16:11-40 he faced opposition. It is likely that continued even after he left.

... conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.

Paul's desire for them is unity. As the saying goes, a house divided cannot stand. When we are alone it is harder to stand firm in the faith. When we are alone it is easy to get discouraged.

The visitation of the sick is an important service the church can provide for people. It is when we are sick and alone that discouragement in the faith can come upon us. Christians have always been at the forefront of building hospitals. In third world countries often times the only hospital around is the missionary hospital.

Christians are often the ones who build orphanages. Christians stand with those who have been abandoned. That is Christianity at its best.

It is the moral imperative of the Christian faith to minister to people. Indeed, Christians may have their treasure in heaven and their eyes upon Jesus but that same faith compels us to serve in the here and now.

Imagine a world view that says the material world is evil and the spirit is all that matters?

For them, ending the suffering is liberation.

In a world view of reincarnation, the consequence is the same: one wants to escape this incarnation in the hopes of a better one in the next go around. Though, I suppose some in the Eastern belief systems will say you have to live a good life now to have a better shot in the next go around. Thus, that could be a motivation for ethics and morality.

There is no mistaking that we live in a terribly messed up world. But in Jewish-Christian theology, God desires the restoration of the created (us) and the creation.

This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved - and that by God.


I suppose this could mean that when people who persecute, despise or dismiss Christians and yet those same Christians are standing firm in faith with joy even, those observing may scratch their heads. It is a sign to them they have chosen the wrong path. They may try to repress that thought. Or they can respond to it.

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.


Why doesn't God just take us up to heaven the minute we believe in Him?

If He took us right away, we would be spared suffering that Paul mentions.

not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him

The Buddhist says life is suffering. He would be right!

In Buddhist thinking, suffering is to be cured by the cessation of desire and a better life in the next incarnation. If there are any Buddhists reading this blog, please let me know if I have fairly characterized your views. 8-)

In Christianity, suffering can be redemptive. Jesus suffering is redemptive. In this passage, Paul recognizes that suffering is part of our growth in faith.

If that is so, then should suffering be alleviated?

Yes, when possible. Redemption and restoration to God is what Christianity is about. Thus, suffering can be part of our path to God and in those circumstances we prayerfully ask for strengthen to endure. But alleviation of suffering can also be a way for people to find God and to grow in Christ-likeness.

Lord, life can be hard. But you are good. Whether it is time to endure suffering or to seek alleviation of suffering, help me to have an eye on being more like you. Help me to align my thoughts with your ways. Help me to stand firm with others in the times of their difficulties. In all cases may your name be honored. Amen.

Monday, July 03, 2006

News: World News Roundup

There is a very close election south of the border. As of now, Felipe Calderon holds a slim lead of 384,000 votes.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. According to the article there are still a number of steps before the results are finalized. Excerpt:
Election officials said they would not have an official result until Wednesday at the earliest, when local electoral boards in 300 districts will scrutinize and recount the official tallies from each of 130,000 polling places. Those results will be passed on to the state-level election officials, then sent to Federal Electoral Institute headquarters, who in turn will certify them and hand them over to a special electoral court on Sunday for approval.

If one of the candidates contests the results before the tribunal, the legal wrangling over votes could lead to a recount in some districts or the annulment of some voters. Challenges could take weeks, even months. By law, the court must declare a winner by Sept. 6.
........
Discrepancies between exit polls and the unofficial returns had raised many questions. The campaign has also received reports of irregularities at many polling places that Mr. López Obrador wants investigated.
I can still remember that in 2000 and 2004 US Presidential elections the exit polling data was all messed up leading to lots of confusion! So we aren't alone in that!!

The standoff in Gaza goes on.

When the Iraqi insurgency captured two US servicemen, the US and Iraqi government forces went looking for them. Eventually, the mutilated bodies were found and they were booby-trapped to injure and kill. The fact that DNA analysis was needed to insure proper identification tells you something about the condition of the bodies.

Question of the hour: what will the terrorists in Gaza do with the kidnapped Israeli soldier?

Hopefully, they will release him and the IDF can stand down.

I'm not optimistic though. When one side doesn't believe the other side has a right to exist, it is a little hard to negotiate. But one can hope change will happen.

LA Dining: Franks and Roadfood.com

I've posted two new items over at LAFB.

A brief tidbit about Jane and Michael Stern of Roadfood.com and breakfast at Franks on Fairfax.

Franks
363 South Fairfax Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036
323-655-5277

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Best of Both Worlds

Looking over Philippians 1:19-26 tonight.

For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.

We must remember that the Apostle Paul is under the watchful eye of the palace guards in Rome.

We have a picture in our heads of what a prison is like from the movies and some of them can be very dreadful places. I don't know how dire the conditions of Paul's prison situation was but the photo below would indicate it was probably a pretty cramped place.



Image source: Interior of Mamertine Prison in Rome from Bibleplaces.com.

It is likely that the situation described in Acts 28:11-31 would be what he was experiencing while writing the letter to the Philippians. This web page offered some description of what his circumstances might have been like. Excerpt:
The conditions of Paul's imprisonment were unusual. Acts 28:16 says, "When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him." He was not put in a prison with other criminals--he had not committed any crime against Roman law. The Roman authorities probably realized there was no real criminal charge against Paul, yet because they could not release him before his case was adjudicated, they allowed him to be a private prisoner in his own quarters.

Paul was under constant guard. Verse 20 records his saying to Jewish leaders in Rome, "I requested to see you and to speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel." The Roman government was sufficiently anxious about Paul that he was kept chained to a guard twenty-four hours a day. Roman custom provided for a change in guard every six hours, so Paul would have had four different men chained to him during the course of a day.
For an on-the-go hard charging Paul this would have been difficult for him. Additionally, there was always the possibility that the powers that be might eventually decide he should be executed. Thus, death though perhaps not imminent was a real possibility.



The prison where the Apostle Peter and Paul were believed to have been held in Rome.

Image source: Padfield.com

Yet, despite the circumstances, what do we see from Paul?

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.

What an attitude!

Lord, help me to have this kind of perspective on life. Help me to see that the life I have now is to be lived for you and for the progress of my faith and of others you bring to my life. Amen.