Thursday, August 31, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Do I need to fast?

In chapter one, we see the locusts swarming through and eating everything in sight.

In Joel 1:13-20 we get a picture of some of the response to the devastation.

Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests;
wail, O ministers of the altar.
Go in, pass the night in sackcloth,
O ministers of my God!
Because grain offering and drink offering
are withheld from the house of your God.

What is sackcloth?

A Google search yields this item. Excerpt:
Term originally denoting a coarsely woven fabric, usually made of goat's hair. It afterward came to mean also a garment made from such cloth, which was chiefly worn as a token of mourning by the Israelites. It was furthermore a sign of submission (I Kings xx. 30 et seq.), and was occasionally worn by the Prophets.

As the Old Testament gives no exact description of the garment, its shape must be a matter of conjecture. According to Kamphausen, the sa? was like a corn-bag with an opening for the head, and another for each arm, an opening being made in the garment from top to bottom.
Consecrate a fast;
call a solemn assembly.
Gather the elders
and all the inhabitants of the land
to the house of the LORD your God,
and cry out to the LORD.

Should we do this today?

With all the troubles in the world, I wonder if our churches should call for a fast and spend time in prayer to God for this lost and dying world?

On a few occasions, the churches I've attended have called for a day of prayer and the part about fasting is left to individual choice. Usually, the calls for a day of prayer is precipitated by some kind of crisis either in the world around us or some problem within the church.

Of the various spiritual disciplines, I freely admit fasting isn't one I practice. In my life, probably, I can count on one hand the number of times I've fasted.

Alas for the day!
For the day of the LORD is near,
and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.

Here the parallel structure suggests that the "day of the LORD" is equal to "destruction from the Almighty."

Yet, interestingly, it says, it is near but not yet here?

If I saw locusts descending and then destroying everything in sight, I'd say destruction is HERE NOW!

Does this mean it could actually be worse??

Is not the food cut off
before our eyes,
joy and gladness
from the house of our God?
The seed shrivels under the clods;
the storehouses are desolate;
the granaries are torn down
because the grain has dried up.
How the beasts groan!
The herds of cattle are perplexed
because there is no pasture for them;
even the flocks of sheep suffer.

The ruins of the locust swarm is described in vivid detail. I say again, it would seem as the Day of the LORD has already hit?

Perhaps, the key thing is that in this context, there is still time to turn to God as we saw in the call to prayer and fasting.

Perhaps, when the Day of the LORD truly hits, it is truly TOO LATE?

To you, O LORD, I call.
For fire has devoured
the pastures of the wilderness,
and flame has burned
all the trees of the field.
Even the beasts of the field pant for you
because the water brooks are dried up,
and fire has devoured
the pastures of the wilderness.

And so we conclude with Joel calling out to God describing the miserable situation the people are in.

Lord, when terrible things happen, sometimes I shake a fist at you in anger. Sometimes, I get on my knees and call upon you for help. From reading this chapter of Joel, I want to call upon you. I need to think about fasting and how perhaps that might be a spiritual discipline I need to practice so that I can draw closer to you. Amen.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Non-profit of the month: August 2006 - Friends of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Hollywood Bowl

I went to public school a number of years ago. I do vaguely remember a music teacher coming by about once a week. Eventually, the music program got cut back and the only way you got music was by joining the band or orchestra. Unfortunately, my ability to master even the simple recorder proved illusive.

However, I have retained a fondness for music and in particular classical music.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic has its share of swanky events for the well-heeled such as the annual opening night gala.

However, they also take community and educational opportunities quite seriously.

So for this month's spotlight on non-profits consider support for Friends of the LA Phil.

Here is a rundown of other non-profits I've mentioned on this blog:

NIckels for Nets

Avenues Crisis Pregnancy Center

Faith in Christ Ministry

Habitat for Humanity

Monday, August 28, 2006

Culture: Pop music and the Bible

I wonder how many pop songs come from the Bible?

Off hand, I can think of Turn, Turn, Turn written by Pete Seeger and most successfully recorded by The Byrds in 1965.

The lyrics aren't an exact match with the Bible text but it is pretty close.

How do you feel about the pairings in the song and in Ecclesiastes 3:2-8?

It is life!

Boring? Pointless? Angry?

Ups and downs of life.

Pop songs are often very good at shining a spot light on the human condition and in this case taking the observations right out of the good old book!

Comparing the song with the Bible passage it is drawn from, what’s the difference?

Interestingly, Pete Seeger opted out of mentioning God.

I have no idea what his religious view were.

But clearly, God would not be content with just giving us a realistic picture.

Instead, God wants us to see more.

The key is Ecclesiastes 3:11-14:

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil - this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.

"Eternity in the hearts of men"

We are transient beings living a short march of time on this earth yet there is something within us that points to and yearns for more. In every culture there is a idea of god.

So is this god instinct just wishing in the dark?

Or might that instinct point to a reality beyond?

If there is thirst, there is water. If there is hunger, there is food.

If we have a gnawing sense of eternity and the transcendent, there is god?

And then we also have this sense for what is good ... " ... nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live ... "

We may think doing good and being happy are separate realities. But if we really think about it, how happy are people who are doing bad things?

The euphoria of a few drinks might be nice for a little while but can leave a hangover the next day and in the worst case scenario, lives are lost when drinking is mixed with driving.

The "recreational" drug user gets a momentary high followed by desperation of drug seeking or withdrawl.

God has wired us to for happiness and the best route to happiness is doing good. So it would see that the two seemingly separate notions are connected.

So we live our lives ... " ... everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil - this is the gift of God ... "

Gratitude for life!

Through all the ups and downs a focus on God helps us stay grateful and happier.

" ... Everything God does will endure forever ... "

What we do at times seems meaningless and pointless.

But what if we ask God to bless what we do? What if we seek His guidance in what we do?

When we turn over our lives to Jesus, it is no longer just me doing it but God doing it and what God works on endures forever!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: the Locusts are Swarming



Image source: 2005 article in Sudan Tribune

Joel 1:2-12 relates the story of a massive locust invasion.

Hear this, you elders;
give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has such a thing happened in your days,
or in the days of your fathers?
Tell your children of it,
and let your children tell their children,
and their children to another generation.
What the cutting locust left,
the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left,
the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left,
the destroying locust has eaten.
Awake, you drunkards, and weep,
and wail, all you drinkers of wine,
because of the sweet wine,
for it is cut off from your mouth.

As a 21st Century dweller, it is something outside my experience. Living in the USA, I don't know if in recent memory there have been any locust swarms.

A quick Google search yields this item from the University of Florida describing the largest locust swarm on record. Excerpt:
The Desert Locust, Schistocerca gregaria, forms the largest swarms. In early 1954, a swarm that invaded Kenya covered an area of 200 km2. The estimated density was 50 million individuals per km2 giving a total number of 10 billion locusts in that swarm.
BBC has an informative picture gallery of what a locust swarm can do. Excerpt:
A ton of locusts, which is a tiny part of the average swarm, eats the same amount of food in a single day as 10 elephants, 25 camels or 2,500 people.
Some people might argue from verse 6 that the locusts are a metaphor for an invading army.

For a nation has come up against my land,
powerful and beyond number;
its teeth are lions' teeth,
and it has the fangs of a lioness.

Of course, it is possible that the opposite is true: an invading army is a metaphor for the locusts!

My view is to take the Bible at face value. However, of course, there are times when there is good reason to take it as metaphor!

In this case, Israel of the distant past being an agrarian society, the idea of the locusts being literal would be quite reasonable.

The results of the locust swarms leave the people in a miserable state.

It has laid waste my vine
and splintered my fig tree;
it has stripped off their bark and thrown it down;
their branches are made white.
Lament like a virgin wearing sackcloth
for the bridegroom of her youth.
The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off
from the house of the LORD.
The priests mourn,
the ministers of the LORD.
The fields are destroyed,
the ground mourns,
because the grain is destroyed,
the wine dries up,
the oil languishes.
Be ashamed, O tillers of the soil;
wail, O vinedressers,
for the wheat and the barley,
because the harvest of the field has perished.
The vine dries up;
the fig tree languishes.
Pomegranate, palm, and apple,
all the trees of the field are dried up,
and gladness dries up
from the children of man.

When I read my Bible, I remind myself that it is about real people and real situations.

Horrible things happen in our fallen world and this passage vividly described a tremendous disaster.

These kinds of things still happen today. Locusts still swarm in parts of the world. There are also other kinds of calamities that strike. In recent memory, think of the tsunami of southeast Asia or the hurricane that hit New Orleans.

When these things happen, as Christians, especially as RICH Christians and even the poorest of us in America are RICH in comparison, we need to do whatever we can to help those suffering and in need. This is the point of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

The first response is the practical one. Later on, one could contemplate more philosophically and theologically.

Lord, there are terrible things that happen in this world. You have called us to meet needs where ever we find them. Help the church to rise up in generosity to meet needs. Help me to see what you see and hear what you hear and respond however I can. Lord, speed the day when you restore what the locusts have taken. In the meantime, help me, help us to be your instruments of mercy in a lost and dying world. In Jesus name, amen.

Travel: Am back!

Yosemitefun.com author Phil Hawkins described where I went as "Vogelsang! This is where the angels spend their summers ... "

It was truly God's beautiful country up there.

Plan to share more but will pique your curiosity with this photo of Fletcher Lake.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Travel: Going on holiday

Am going here!

Will be doing some backpacking ...



Hopefully, won't be looking this wiped out at the end?

News: Cease fire appears to be holding for now

At the moment, the cease-fire is holding but it won't take much for things to get hot again.

Dean Barnett thinks the cease-fire is delaying the inevitable and possibly to the detriment of the Israelis. His breakdown of the situation:
As this struggle rages on, I’m often reminded of historian Paul Johnson’s description of European Jews during Hitler’s ascendancy. For millennia, Jews had been persecuted, but they had always found a way to placate their persecutors and survive. Maybe they had to make tributes or confine themselves to shtetls or undergo conversions, but European Jewry had never faced a truly existential threat until Hitler.

When Hitler came along, collectively the European Jews could not recognize the fact that here was an antagonist who could not be bargained with. He did not want their money or their professed loyalty; he wanted them dead. Period.

It seems the American and Israeli power-structures find themselves in a similar position now. As murderous and cruel as the Soviet Union was, the Soviets operated out of a playbook that we could understand. And as dangerous as Assad, Arafat and Nasser were, their goals were to some extent rational enough that Israel felt she could understand them.

Now we both have an adversary for whom negotiations are a ruse, a hudna geared to giving them time to mount the next attack. They cannot be placated by our land or our wealth, or even our kindest intentions. They want us dead. They are willing to sacrifice themselves to achieve that goal.

There is only one way to deal with such an enemy. It will be neither pretty nor easy.
What do the opponents of Israel want?

If they want Israel destroyed than this cease-fire is only going to serve to allow them to rest, recover and resupply to fight again another day.

We hear that there are Islamic moderates in the Middle East. Do they want a two-state solution? Their voices are awfully quiet?

When the opponents of Israel talk of occupied territory what do they mean?

I suppose if they only mean the West Bank than there is room to negotiate.

If they mean no Jews in Haifa and Tel Aviv then there is no room to negotiate because that means there is no room for one side of the negotiation table.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

LA Dining: Bossa Nova

My latest post is up at LAFB.

Where's the beef you say?

Give Bossa Nova a shot. It is Brazilian style though they offer pastas, pizzas, sandwiches and salads in addition to the tradition meats!

Bossa Nova
7181 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90046-4417
(866) 299-5326

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Ever heard of the book of Joel?


image source: http://www.romaculta.it/det/sistina/prophet_4.html
The image is from the Sistine Chapel as painted by Michelangelo.

Ever heard a sermon from Joel?

If you have heard a sermon from Joel, what was it about?

I've taken a quick read and here are some quick impressions.

Let's start at the very beginning, Joel 1:1:

The word of the LORD that came to Joel son of Pethuel.

When we see "LORD" in our Old Testament, the Hebrew word is YHWH, the divine personal name of God. It was a name the Jewish people would never say. When they would come across YHWH, they would instead say adonai which appears in our Bibles as the word, Lord.

FYI, when the word God appears in the Old Testament, it from the Hebrew elohim. And of course, when you see Lord that is the Hebrew word adonai.

Who?

We know nothing about Joel from other parts of Scripture. There are other people named Joel but there is no clear connection to the Joel of this book.

He is the son of Pethuel. We know nothing about Pethuel either.

We do know Joel means, "the LORD is God."

When?

We can't be sure when he wrote because the events described in the book are not specific enough to assign a certain date.

He addresses "elders" in Joel 1:2 which some commentators suggest he was speaking to the nation prior to the rise of kings ruling the nation of Israel which would put it around 9th Century BC.

Another possibility is that it is in the post-exile era when there were no more kings. Supporters of that view will also cite Joel 3:1-3 which describes in past tense events that may have taken place when the nation was destroyed by the Babylonians. This would put the book around the 6th Century BC.

A short history of Israel is as follows:
Exodus out of Egypt
Entering the Land under Joshua
Lead by various Judges
The Kingdom under Saul, David and Solomon
The Kingdom divided North and South
The Northern Kingdom is defeated by the Assyrians
The Southern Kingdom is defeated by the Babylonians
Post-Exile

What?

The phrase "The Day of the LORD" appears six five times in Joel and in the whole Bible it appears 26 23 times.

So nearly 1/4 of all appearances of that phrase occurs in Joel!

Do you know how big a book Joel is?

Three chapters!

What else is in Joel?

If you have read Acts 2:17-21 then you have read Joel 2:28-32.

I came across an interesting verse in Joel 3:10.

Have you ever heard the phrase, beat your swords into plowshares?

Well, in Joel 3:10, we have an inversion of that famous phrase, Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears. Let the weakling say, "I am strong!"

Okay, that is a quick introduction to Joel.

Lord, thank you that you are a God who cares about us. You came to Joel to tell him things You wanted the people to know. May in some small way this blog be the Word of the LORD that comes through this small blogger to who ever clicks here. May the visitors of these pages be shown a little bit of Your light. Amen.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Sports: go Dodgers!

I confess, I gave them up for dead when they promptly collapsed coming out of the All-Star break.

Here's hoping that the mix of vets and rookies can keep it up this weekend series against the dreaded Giants!

News: Hats off to the British Intelligence Services

They got the job done!

It also sounds like there was pretty good international cooperation in breaking up the plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners with liquid explosives.

One has to wonder though about the legal dimensions. It would appear the Brits engaged in domestic spying (gasp!). They monitored British citizens on British soil (oh, no!).

Obviously, there is a lot we still don't know about the story. However, at first glance, one wonders if such a group was operating in the United States, would our intelligence services be allowed (legally) to monitor American citizens on American soil?

Anyway, a tip of the hat to the UK for a job well done!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Religion: Devotional Thoughts - Messiah Complexity Revisited

Several months ago, I had a post with the title, "Messiah Complexity."

The other day, there was a comment posted onto it by Adam Pastor of ADONI MESSIAH blog.

I always welcome thoughtful posts and his was certainly in that category.

He makes the point that Psalm 110:1 which says, "The LORD (YHWH) says to my Lord (adoni) ... " is mis-translated.

He said that the Hebrew word adoni should always be translated lord (non-divine) versus adonai which should always be translated Lord (divine).

Following that logic, he then points out that since Jesus used Psalm 110 to describe himself then he must be lord (non-divine). UPDATE: A Jewish rabbi makes essentially the same point in this item. Additionally, certain schools of thought in the Unitarian stream would agree with this analysis.

What do you think?

First, I'm am molecular biologist not a Hebrew scholar!

However, using what skills I have as a web surfer, I went ahead to check out this idea.

Indeed, I looked up the Hebrew text for Psalm 110. I looked for the Hebrew words for L/l(ord) used in verses 1 and 5 (see image to left).

Indeed, if you transliterate the consonent letters and vowel points of the Hebrew letters right-to-left, you get alef-dalet(o)-nun(i)-yod for verse one. For verse five you get, alef-dalet(o)-nun(a)-yod. The difference is the vowel point under the NUN: a dot versus a T!

According to Jewfaq.org, the vowel points in written Hebrew was added to the text as an aid to pronunciation. Excerpt:
Like most early Semitic alphabetic writing systems, the alefbet has no vowels. People who are fluent in the language do not need vowels to read Hebrew, and most things written in Hebrew in Israel are written without vowels.

However, as Hebrew literacy declined, particularly after the Romans expelled the Jews from Israel, the rabbis recognized the need for aids to pronunciation, so they developed a system of dots and dashes called nikkud (points). These dots and dashes are written above, below or inside the letter, in ways that do not alter the spacing of the line. Text containing these markings is referred to as "pointed" text.
The vowels existed in spoken Hebrew. However, one might wonder if the adoni/adonai distinction always existed in the spoken form?

Is it possible that based on context, Jews knew whether it should be adoni/adonai and that guided the vowel points later on? I would guess that 99.9% of the time, it is apparent from context whether the reference is to the divine or not?

This is a theological debate: when we think of the Bible as inspired, does this include this part (vowel points) of the preservation and transmission of the Scriptures?

I repeat, I am a molecular biologist not a theologian!

In any case, in Psalm 110 both forms of L/l(ord) are seen in the Hebrew!

Are these two usages of L/o(ord) in reference to the divine?

In the course of human language, words have meanings in of themselves but often the meaning is determined in context.

For example, if I'm sitting across the dinner table across a beautiful woman and she says, "Shall we split?"

What does she mean?

(1) Let's leave the restaurant.
(2) I'll pay half the bill and you pay half the bill.
(3) She is dumping me.

Context determines the meaning.

Another example, let's say I say, [put your favorite actress here] is a goddess!

Rachel McAdams in New Line Cinema's Wedding Crashers

I suppose it is theoretically possible that someone might think, this blogger thinks Rachel McAdams is divine?

Most likely, it will be understood that in this blogger's opinion, she is outrageously gorgeous?

However, let us return to more spiritual matters of Psalm 110.

The key question is this: is the lord of verse one the same as the Lord of verse 5?

Verse one:
The LORD says to my lord:
"Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet."


Verse five:
The Lord is at your right hand;
he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.


Two possible interpretations:

(1) The Lord of verse five is indeed the same as the lord of verse one. In which case adoni and adonai are used interchangeably in this passage.

(2) The Lord of verse five is the LORD of verse one. As such, the LORD of verse one switches place with the lord of verse one such that Lord of verse five is now at the right hand of the lord of verse one. Got it?

If all I had was Psalm 110 for context, I don't know which one I would pick.

If my only context is the strict monotheism of Jewish thought, I think that would make option two the only option though it would make the lord of verse one passive throughout.

However, if we factor in Jesus into the context of interpretation, his citation of Psalm 110 for himself to establish his authority makes option one intriguing. In this scenario, the power of the LORD is on display in verse one to four and the power of the L/l(lord) is on display in verses five to seven. Of course, this view means forgoing the strict Jewish monotheism and adopting the trinitarian monotheism of Christianity which in the eyes of Judaism (and Islam for that matter) does violence to their concept of monotheism.

Calling any Hebrew scholars and theologians within a click of this blog ... what do you think?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Language of love - gift giving

Am looking at Philippians 4:10-23 this morning.

As I read it, I found myself thinking of the book, The Five Love Languages. If you aren't familiar with the idea, the author believes that love is expressed by five different languages: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.

In this Letter to the Philippians, there are Word of Affirmation a plenty throughout. Here is a good example.

In Paul's plans to send Timothy and his hopes of eventually seeing them, he shows the desire for Quality Time.

In this last passage, we see a lot on Receiving Gifts.

Take a look:

I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Paul got a care package from the Philippians!

Gift giving is not completely one-way. Certainly the receiver gets something as that is definitional. However, as you can see from the text, Paul points out that the giver gains something as well.

It can be hard for us to need help or ask for help but in life, the feeling of autonomy is mostly illusionary. Whether we like it or not, whether we admit it or not, we need help all the time. Can we recognize that in our need, we can give someone else the opportunity to learn and show love in meeting our need?

Paul finishes off the letter with blessings and greetings:

To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greetings. All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar's household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

The family of faith spans the globe. Paul was in Rome and the Philippians were in Philippi (Macedonia).

We may live in different parts of the world but the desire to Glorify God is an aspiration we share.

You might be clicking onto this web page where it is night time as I typed this in the morning and yet, you too need Jesus like I do.

So where ever you are reading this, I send you greetings from Los Angeles and may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Politics: Writing to comments@whitehouse.gov

This morning on the Dennis Prager radio show, he encouraged his listeners to call and write to the White House to thank them for the support given to Israel and to resist the critics.

So below was the email I sent:
Date: Mon, 7 Aug 2006 14:55:30 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: thank you for standing by Israel
To: comments@whitehouse.gov

Dear President Bush:

Just wanted to add my voice in support of your steadfast support of Israel.

The war against extremist Islamic terrorists is being fought on many fronts and I want to thank you for backing Israel. Please stay firm despite what the critics say.

I'm an American of Asian ancestry and a Christian so my support of Israel is not based on my being Jewish or having some ties to that part of the world.

I've seen in the news recently some attention being placed on Christians who support Israel because of their vision of the apocalypse thus trying to draw some moral equivalence to the Iranian President's view of the end of the world.

My support of Israel isn't based on some debatable theology but rather on the clear ethical mandate of the Christian faith: do good and support those who do good.

It is simply the right thing to do to protect an island of freedom and good will in that part of the world.

In the end, we may have to wait through many cold and hot wars until the extremist Islamic terrorists collapse under their own insanity much as communism collapsed under the weight of its own ineffectiveness.

Until then, I hope America will continue to be at the front of those wars hot and cold and will stand by nations of like mind.

Sincerely,

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Keeping a cool head and a warm heart

Am looking at Philippians 4:2-9.

In this passage we get to see some final thoughts from Paul as he winds up the letter.

The church at Philippi was a real church with people with names and alas some conflict!

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Euodia and Syntyche's names only appear here in the New Testament. From here, we find they were part of the ministry team with Paul, someone called "true companion" (loyal Syzygus is in the footnotes), Clement and "rest of my fellow workers."

The fact that Paul, in a letter to the church which would be read publicly, brings up all these names and asks them to all get involved in solving the problem suggests the disagreement was rather large and of long standing.

We know from Matthew 18:15-17 the pattern Jesus gave for confronting sin begins with one-on-one dialog, moves to a small group of individual hashing it out and finally bringing it to the whole church. By including this matter in a letter to the church, Paul has raised the heat on getting them to resolve their differences.

What the problem was isn't knowable to us today. It is known to the parties involved and thus didn't need re-airing in Paul's letter. I suppose if there was some theological error, Paul might have taken the opportunity in the letter to clarify it. Likewise, if there was moral failing, Paul would directly address it as well. If I had to guess, the problem was probably a disagreement on how to do something and was a matter of opinion and preference.

With the church perhaps divided and downcast over the conflict, Paul turns them to the Lord and hits the theme of rejoicing once again.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

In light of the conflict, he also urges them to be reasonable.

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.

There are some issues where we need to take a stand and be firm. But some issues simply aren't at that level and we can agree to disagree on some of them.

I can't help but think of the "serenity prayer" you sometimes see in posters.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. -- Reinhold Niebuhr
And so how do we get to reasonableness?

Prayer helps!

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Paul finishes this section by encouraging the Philippians to set there minds on good things.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Paul's beautiful exhortation is the positive way of saying what is captured in the negative but colorful saying, "garbage in and garbage out."

Or as Proverbs 23:7 says, For as he thinks within himself, so he is.

God, help me to rejoice in you especially when I get caught up in problems. Help me to be able to put things in perspective through prayer. The situation might or might not change but my attitude certainly can. Help me as I live in this world where there are so many things I should not be putting into my mind are all around. Help me instead to put into my mind that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy. Forgive me when so often I do not. Help me Lord to set my mind on you. Amen.

LA Dining: Rita Flora

My latest is up over at LAFB.

I report by live blogging breakfast at Rita Flora which is a florist-restaurant with free Wi-Fi.

Rita Flora
468 S La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036-3524
(323) 938-3900

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Politics: Iraq is war for oil?

I hear that a lot.

Let's face it, there is some truth to it. After all, if Iraq wasn't sitting on top of all that oil, Hussein would not have had the wealth to be the dictator he was. Imagine Iraq without oil. What kind of damage would Hussein be able to do? Probably he could still oppress his people but he probably wouldn't have had the resources to wage a long war with Iran nor invade Kuwait. He wouldn't have had the money to dabble in chemical, biological or nuclear weapons technology.

We also have to face the fact that Iraq is neighbor to other big oil producers Saudi Arabia and Iran. Thus, all the nations that depend on oil have an interest in what happens in that part of the world.

Just how much oil are we talking about?

According to the CIA World Factbook, Iraq produces 2 million barrels of oil a day.

If oil is sold for say at $60/barrel, one can buy all of Iraq's production with $120 million/day. That means you could buy all that oil for $43.8 billion/year.

How much is the cost of our military presence in Iraq?

According to this MSNBC.com item, the war costs $200 million/day and since the invasion, the cost is at $300 billion and climbing.

Which makes more economic sense: buy the oil and tolerate a dictator or send in the military to take the oil?

Seems to me, if the Bush administration is fighting a war for oil, they have failed miserably on economic grounds alone.

This may sound crude but if one were really to fight a war for oil, what one would do is send in the army and capture all the cities that are important to oil production. As for the rest of the cities, let the Sunnis and Shia fight amongst themselves and kill each other off. If any body threatens the oil producing areas, just send in the B-52s to bomb the insurgents without regard to collateral damage.

If the US wanted to do this, would anyone be able to stop the American military?

The French would complain! Actually, the whole world would complain! But would anybody actually be able to STOP it?

No.

However, that is not the American way. Instead, what are we doing?

We are trying to help the Iraqis set up their own government.

Sure would be a lot easier if we had a military governor whose sole job is to keep the oil flowing and kill off anybody who threatens the oil production and distribution infrastructure.

So is it a war for oil?

It is part of the equation. But clearly if that was our ONLY concern, we would be doing things a lot differently!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Religion: All this Jesus was married stuff

Just caught a part of a GMA interview Diane Sawyer had with Kathleen McGowan who claims to be a descendant of Jesus and has written a novel about the whole Jesus was married to Mary phenomena.

For an extended discussion of this topic, check out Mark D. Robert's analysis.

In brief, his point is that the well known four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) don't indicate that Jesus was married.

So where did the idea come from?

It came from non-canonical gospels. There was a whole slew of less well known documents that claim to be about the life, times and teachings of Jesus. However, their historical reliability is relatively weak.

Imagine if you are an alien from outer space and you wanted to know about life on earth and the only thing you read was those magazines at the grocery store check out counter!

You'd get a pretty strange picture of life on earth!

Seen on the web: the fighting llamas

See the photo of the special forces llamas of the IDF! HT: DR.