Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Culture: God Blog Conference 2006 - Saturday Morning Session

The Saturday morning sessions at GodBlogCon 2006 was devoted to some small group sessions with practical training.

I attended the session on web design presented by Kevin Wang of Zeit Studios.

Kevin gave some perspective thoughts about blogging that go beyond the design of the page by saying, "Design in not merely ornamentation and bloggers are more than minds."

He said the main goal of the blogger has to be establishing trust with her/his audience. There are three components a person must sense before the trust someone.
(1) They must believe the other person is concerned.
(2) They must believe the other person is competent. i.e. they know what they are doing.
(3) They must believe the other person is capable. i.e. demonstration of ability beyond the theoretical.

God is maximally all of these three things.

As bloggers who are followers of Christ, we need to cultivate those traits in our lives.

In terms of design concepts, Kevin's mantra is: "Share with the rich and sell to the poor."

What he meant is that some in your audience are "rich" in the sense they are, for whatever reason, already sympathetic to what you have to say. Others are "poor" in that they are not quite ready to trust what you have to say.

As such, your web layout on the main page at the top has to keep in mind these two ideas. For the "rich" you want to make it easier for them to find more of your content. For the "poor" you need one or two key items to hopefully "sell" yourself to them as worth trusting.

A fairly common layout is the top part of the page having a navigation bar where the "rich" can easily access more of your content. On the right is often the "about me" section where the "poor" can check you out and see if they will gain more confidence about what you have to say.

Generally, people's eyes are drawn to the right. Thus, stuff you might want to carry more weight with the reader you may want to put on the right hand side.

In terms of color usage, not surprisingly, red draws attention while blue is more pleasant.

Kevin asked the bloggers to share their URLs so we can all see them on the projection screen.

James Kushner asked for some input on the two blogs he is involved with:
Mere Comments - I see they have already taken to heart some of Kevin's suggestions! The layout we saw on Saturday had some ads that you couldn't quite tell were ads.
Salvo - This is a case where the designers knew the impression they wanted to make right off the bat. It looks really intellectual! And it is supposed to be! Kevin roamed around the site and suggested they clean up some of the flash animation menus and it looks like they have done so.

Ted Slater writes for The Line. I met Motte Brown on Friday night who also writes for this blog. In any case, Kevin liked their layout: clean and easy to get around. I have to say though, tonight, when I clicked some items on the navigation bar, the links are dead. I don't know if it is uust me or they have been tinkering with the site. I'll have to email them about it.

Elizabeth Taylor writes over at Daily Inklings. She has made some changes to her layout. Looks like she has gone with a much simpler template. Very neat, very clean.

Carnivorousfish is a new blogger and chose a simple template. Kevin recommends beginning bloggers use the pre-made templates. He said they are put together by people with good design sense following many of the guidelines he mentioned.

The last part of the time together was a roundtable discussion. The main idea to come out of that was that "war" metaphors might not be the best ones to describe what it means to be a Christian blogger. St. Paul uses a metaphor of the armor of God and there are definitely times when Christians will defend a point of view, correct an error or advocate an idea. However, many other metaphors exist in the Bible to describe the kingdom of God such as sower/seed/soil, fishers of men, the church as a body. Thus, Christians who blog can see themselves in that light rather than "lone snipers."

All felt that what makes a Christian blog is content. In the final analysis, if we are striving to be more Christ-like in real life than that should translate into the content and manner by which we blog. What many felt could be developed was more community building. Just as in real life we have people we are a part of in our actual churches, we might strive to make some more efforts in building small communities with other bloggers.

We acknowledged that there is a tension between trying to combine efforts with some structure and individual creativity. Another tension is fostering community with bloggers of different flavors of Christianity yet not diluting the definitions such that outright error is accepted.

All in all a terrific conference. I felt encouraged. It is great to see the people behind the blogs. Had some nice conversations with some local bloggers like Brenda who summarized the conference nicely, in this post. Over dinner, I had the chance to talk with Brant who has posted detailed summaries of the panels at GodBlogCon (just scroll down a bit on his main page).

Also quite enjoyable were conversations with the youthful and energetic students of the Torrey Institute. I feel better about the future knowing these folks will be taking their training and passion to the world in a handful of years.

Hats off to the organizers Dustin and Kevin! Good job!!

Politics: Cal Ballot Measures - If I Don't Know I Vote No

I confess, I haven't been following the Cal ballots this year. The ads are all over the place but I tune them out. Well, next Tuesday I'll be voting.

My general rule is to vote NO unless given a good reason to vote YES.

Tonight, I'm going to take my first look and give my gut reactions. Hopefully, I'll gather more information before I vote next Tuesday.

The measures that qualified are listed on the Secretary of State web page.

Propositions 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D and 1E all look to be money matters. They always have nice sounding names:

Proposition 1A-Transportation Funding Protection. Legislative Constitutional Amendment.
Proposition 1B-Highway Safety, Traffic Reduction, Air Quality, and Port Security Bond Act of 2006
Proposition 1C-Housing and Emergency Shelter Trust Fund Act of 2006.
Proposition 1D-Kindergarten - University Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2006.
Proposition 1E- Disaster Preparedness and Flood Prevention Bond Act of 2006.

If we had all the money in the world, I'd vote yes on all of them. I mean who could be against any of these things?

But we don't have all the money in the world so we have to pick and choose. After what happened to New Orleans after the Hurricane, I think a YES on 1E makes sense. As someone who lives in the most congested part of LA, I'm going go with a YES vote on 1B and 1A.

1C and 1D look like good causes but I'm going to have to vote NO on those for this election cycle.

The remainder of items on the ballot are initiatives.

Proposition 83-Sex Offenders. Sexually Violent Predators. Punishment, Residence Restrictions and Monitoring. Initiative Statute.
YES. Looks to tighten up the laws on sex offenders. Makes sense.

Proposition 84-Water Quality, Safety and Supply. Flood Control. Natural Resource Protection. Park Improvements. Bonds. Initiative Statute.
NO. Over $5 billion in bonds. If the legislature can't agree to request the bonds then I'm not going to support bond spending by initiative. Good cause but we don't have an unlimited pocketbook.

Proposition 85-Waiting Period and Parental Notification Before Termination of Minor's Pregnancy. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.
YES. This measure provides some time for a minor (under 18) to consider such a huge decision. There are bypass provisions for special circumstances.

Proposition 86-Tax on Cigarettes. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.
NO??? A tax increase but only on cigarettes. I dunno. Even though I'm not a smoker, I'm still leery of tax increases.

Proposition 87-Alternative Energy. Research, Production, Incentives. Tax on California Oil Producers. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.
NO. A tax increase. No thanks.

Proposition 88-Education Funding. Real Property Parcel Tax. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.
NO. A tax increase. No thanks.

Proposition 89-Political Campaigns. Public Financing. Corporate Tax Increase. Campaign Contribution and Expenditure Limits. Initiative Statute.
NO??? A tax increase but it is to help clean up political campaigns with some public financing. I'll have to hear more about this one.

Proposition 90-Government Acquisition, Regulation of Private Property. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.
YES??? Looks to put some restrictions on the government power to seize land which SCOTUS didn't want to stop in Kelo but invited other levels of government to stop.

UPDATE: I'm moving from YES??? on 90 to ??? A friend was saying that the restriction on eminent domain might be too severe. The coalition against 90 is pretty diverse. You got to wonder when enviro groups team up with chambers of commerce to oppose something.

To sum up:
1A-YES
1B-YES
1C-NO
1D-NO
1E-YES
83-YES
84-NO
85-YES
86-NO???
87-NO
88-NO
89-NO???
90-YES??????NO

I am open to being persuaded!

Science: Hubble Repair Mission Green-lighted

Today, NASA announced that they will devote one (Spring 2008) of the remaining Space Shuttle flights to perform repairs on the Hubble Space Telescope!

Due to safety concerns, NASA will stock that flight with 25 days worth of food and supplies and have a second shuttle ready for launch in Florida. Current shuttle flights are devoted to work on the International Space Station and if there were problems, the crew would evacuate to the ISS. However, a Hubble repair mission would not have that option; thus, the extra supplies and the backup shuttle on ready state.

To check out more about the Hubble, go here.

Image source: http://imgsrc.hubblesite.org/hu/db/2006/46/images/a/formats/print.jpg



Psalm 8:3-4
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?

Devotional Thoughts: Love thy neighbor even in cyberspace

Have been thinking about the time I spent at GodBlogCon.

For me the bottom line appeared to be, and apparently a thought picked up by others, is the need for us to have no difference between our real life person and our online person.

The 7 virtues (4 classic and 3 Christian) of temperance, prudence, courage, justice, faith, hope, and love are of real value in real life than they must apply to our online life. For in the end, our online life is real too. I'm real at this end of the computer and the person reading at the other end is real too. The only difference is that instead of my words traveling through sound waves, my words travel through electronic digits. In real life I seek to be thoughtful and gracious. I hope I am on the internet as well.

Thus, I must bring my participation in the virtual world under Jesus and under the real world command of Jesus to love my neighbor.

In the past, before the internet, our neighbor was the person next door, the co-worker, family, friends and people we meet incidentally as we go about our daily lives. Now, we can add to our neighborhood, people we know in cyberspace. All the moral demands of our faith still apply.

Let's say it again ..

Who is my neighbor?
Physical - the person next door
Vocational - the people I work with
Biological - my family immediate and extended
Volitional - those whom I choose as friends
Incidental - people I bump into as I go about my life
Virtual - those I come in contact with through the internet

Moral demands of Jesus apply and are not optional.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Culture: God Blog Conference 2006 - Friday Night Panel

I made it down to God Blog Conference 2006 at Biola University after a 2 hour drive.

The conference was attended by a mix of the speakers who were the high powered big name bloggers, interested smaller time bloggers like myself and the student volunteers of Biola's Torrey Honors Institute.

The evening program was a panel with the title, "The New Media Political Revolution."

Moderating was Hugh Hewitt. On the panel was Senate candidate Allen McCulloch, writer La Shawn Barber and philosophy professor John Mark Reynolds.

Below is my attempt to summarize the fast moving conversation.

Hugh made some introductory remarks to put the progress of the New Media in some context: 10 years ago in 1996 there were no blogs and no one had heard of Al-Qaeda. He asked the panel to discuss where they think the New Media will take us in terms of the political realm.

McCulloch whose campaign is utilizing New Media extensively felt that the immediacy of the New Media will make campaigns more open and transparent. He noted we have seen how quickly the blogosphere can point out media errors.

Reynolds believed that virtual communities would be built up around campaigns. However, he felt that eventually a small number gatekeepers will control the bulk of news content.

Hugh asked if the New Media is making people even more divided than before.

McCulloch said that poltics will always involve a certain amount of ugliness. But just as in the past, the candidate with integrity, faith and vision should stand out.

Barber (she is an American of African ancestry) mentioned that as an ethnic minority like Michelle Malkin she gets her share of really hateful mail. However, she senses a calling to be doing what she is doing and so the criticism is to be expected. She plans to keep on taking positions and letting people decide for themselves. There is no point in holding back.

Hewitt asked who they thought might be possible rising political stars?

Barber said no one really stands out to her. She think Tancredo has tapped into the public's concern about illegal immigration. She believes that Barack Obama is over-rated.

Reynolds though Mitt Romney has potential. He feels neither party can continue to write-off whole regions of the United States and expect to govern effectively. Romney could put the Northeast in play for the GOP. He sees that Romney is very articulate and that he seems to inspire genuine loyalty among his supporters. He gave three reasons why America might be ready for a Mormon for President.
(1) Mormons have been a political force in Utah, Idaho and Arizona. Even though he disagrees with Mormon theology vigorously, they are mainstream enough in regards to the "Civic Virtues" that are held by most Americans.
(2) It is generally believed that there is nothing about Mormonism that people believe would lead to bad public policy. That would not have been true of Mormonism in its past. For instance, its history of racism against blacks and polygamy would be disqualifying if those were more recent.
(3) Christians would be reluctant to call Mormons "weird" because that could be said of some aspects of Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant beliefs.

McCulloch agreed that Romney has possibilities. He also believes Condi Rice has a future.

Reynolds ventured that George Allen and Bill Frist are done as national candidates with their recent problems.

Hewitt turned the discussion toward the role of military service might play in future success of candidates. He believed it will prove to be if not essential, very important.

Reynolds agreed. The fact that a person at the height of their youth opts to serve in the military speaks well of them.

McCulloch believed that any future candidate must be seen as having made a choice in their lives that clearly demonstrates a commitment to service. Candidates seen as having skated through life will be at a big disadvantage.

Hugh asked if women will be held to that standard as well.

Barber said, women should not serve in combat. Thus, it would be hard for a woman to become president if there is any sense the country is in danger like it is now.

Reynolds remarked that he is worried that the difference between the military culture and the civilian culture is getting too large.

McCulloch felt that a woman who served in the military will have some advantages as a candidate but the absence of that experience would not be a detrimental as it would be to a male candidate.

Click here to see what others are saying about Godblogcon as identified by Technorati.

Politics: Polling, Voting and Unintended Consequences

Two must read items for political news junkies or those even mildly interested in politics.

First, an item on why polling data is less reliable these days than in the past. Excerpt:
At this stage of the campaign, pollsters try to screen their respondents and report only those who answer a series of questions in ways that suggest they are actually going to vote. Many polls find that a higher proportion of Democrats than Republicans pass the screen. .... But pollsters of both parties will admit that polls do a poor job at projecting turnout.
.........
Serious pollsters concede that there are some problems with polling. Americans have fewer landline phones than they used to, and the random digit dialing most pollsters use does not include cell-phone numbers. Larger and larger percentages of those called are declining to be interviewed.[ed. note, emphasis mine]
Cell phones technology which makes us more communicative has had the unintended consequence of making people less accessible to pollsters. Likewise, the overflowing number of pollsters trying to get more information from voters may have the unintended consequence of making people less willing to be polled.

Bottom line: Ignore the polls and vote for the candidate of your choice especially if your candidate is reported to be behind ... it might not be so!

The second item is on the problems of voter fraud and confusion with our voting systems. There is the problem of confusion on the handling of absentee ballots which are growing in number. Excerpt:
This year more voters than ever will cast ballots early. The result may be that we get the final election results late. It's possible we won't know which party controls either house of Congress for days or even weeks because of all the disputes and delays caused by absentee ballots.
........
In some supertight races, a flood of absentee ballots could delay the results for weeks. "Anytime you have more paper ballots cast outside polling places, the more mistakes and delays you're likely to have," Bill Gardner, New Hampshire's Democratic secretary of state, told me.
The other problem with absentee ballots is the potential for voter fraud and coercioin. Excerpt:
It's certainly true that voters like no-excuses absentee voting for its convenience. "Forcing voters to go to the polls to cast their ballots is an antiquated, outdated, absurd practice," says Oren Spiegler, a Pennsylvania voter. But it comes at a price. Simply put, absentee voting makes it easier to commit election fraud, because the ballots are cast outside the supervision of election officials. "By loosening up the restrictions on absentee voting they have opened up more chances for fraud," Damon Stone, a former West Virginia election fraud investigator, told the New York Times.
............
Absentee voting also corrupts the secret ballot. Because an absentee ballot is "potentially available for anyone to see, the perpetrator of coercion can ensure it is cast 'properly,' unlike a polling place, where a voter can promise he will vote one way but then go behind the privacy curtain and vote his conscience," notes John Fortier, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, in his new book, "Absentee and Early Voting."
The article ends with the following suggestion on how to balance the preference for early voting and protections against fraud.
The AEI's Mr. Fortier has some suggestions on how to retain the convenience of pre-Election Day voting but with a lower risk of fraud and intimidation. He suggests that states expand hours at polling places for early voting, but only during the 10 days before the election. New computer software can be used to match signatures on absentee ballots with registration records and flag those that raise concerns. States could require that every voter enclose a fingerprint or photocopy of some form of identification, not necessarily a photo ID. States should hire independent investigators to interview a sample of voters about potential coercion or intimidation.
Anyway, once again the law of unintended consequences: efforts to increase participation by absentee ballots may have the effect of raising the opportunities for fraud and post-election confusion and litigation.

In my years of voting, I have almost always voted in person. I feel a certain sense of history in the physical act of going to a polling place to vote. As for polling, I think only twice in my life have I gotten a polling phone call and I did opt to answer their questions. I wonder how many times does the typical American get a polling phone call in their lifetime and whether my experience is typical?

In any case, whomever you vote for, do so with conviction!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Culture: God Blog Conference 2006 - Kick Off - Baptizing the imagination for Jesus



After a 2 hour drive from work in Los Angeles to Biola University 30 miles away, I had the opportunity to hear John Mark Reynolds give what was essentially a "State of the Internet and New Media" address.

There were about 40 people in the Metzer Hall conference room of which a few seemed to be live blogging the event. I'm sure many summaries of last night's talk have been posted.

Reynolds began by citing the progress of revolutions from history. Stage 1 is denial, stage 2 is that it is the hottest new thing and stage 3 is the time of settling and shaking it out. The internet revolution, in his view, is at the end of stage 2 and entering stage 3. The technology is starting to be taken for granted.

In recent memory, Hollywood and the movie industry was a revolution which Christians failed to be a part of. Christians decried the potential for abuse of the new medium of movies but weren't at the table in Hollywood's growth in the 20th Century hence, that realm was almost exclusively secular.

Reynolds is concerned the same is happening in the internet and the new media.

At one point, blogging and web content was brand new and anyone can get in and get some audience. The barriers to entry remains low but the standard to gain audience has risen dramatically. He believes that eventually a handful of portals will control the bulk of content that will actually get read. He is very concerned that if Christians aren't creative and taking risks, we will not be at the table when that happens.

He summarized his talk with these four points:
(1) The days of the internet as the wild wild west are over. A finite number of entities will ultimately control content that actually gets read and they will be the ones who find a business model that generates revenue by doing so.
(2) He challenged the group to think about the world of virtual reality. Can we create a Christian world in cyberspace that is so compelling that people who visit it will be moved to want to live it in real life?
(3) The power of myth and fiction. People who grew up reading Tolkein and the Lord of the Rings tend to be more receptive to Christian ideas later in life. What is the fiction that people are consuming today? Does that fiction baptize people's imaginations in such a way that they become more or less responsive to the Gospel News of Jesus and the Cross? Christians must take risks and put material out onto the internet that is unexpected much as Jesus did when he taught people.
(4) In the rush for all this new technology and new media, let us not lose the best of the past. Christians should be sharing the best from the past because of the truths those "old things" conveyed.

A summary is also offered up at the Godblogcon 2006 website.

Running the search "godblogcon" in google yields this.

A run of the same search on the search utility in blogger.com yields this.

The conference continues all day Friday and Saturday morning.

I'll be at the conference again Friday night after work and Saturday morning.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Religion: Inspired Text Reliable Text

A little while ago, I wondered about the idea of inspiration. I sensed that the Islamic notion of the inspiration of the Koran was different than the Christian concept of the inspiration of the Bible but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

I extended those thoughts in a follow-up post here on what I think is the chain of events from the mind of God to the English Bible on my desk.

I'm a molecular biologist and not a theologian.

Nonetheless, as someone committed to Jesus, I feel the need to wrestle with these ideas.

Dennis Prager recently on his radio show wondered aloud: if you had to pick a religion from scratch, how would you do it?

His advice was the following:
(1) Seriously consider the religion of your family. Study it and see if you think it works.
(2) What he means by "works" for you is that does this belief system provide you with (a) a way to live your life and (b) confidence that it is mostly true
(3) Finally, do you like and admire the people who are trying to live out your chosen religion?

I recognize that religion encompasses aspects that are beyond the access of reason. However, I think Prager is right to emphasize the need for the sense that your religious system is mostly true. 100% certainty in a very rare thing in life but the notion of believing in something you know to be false will cause distress and will ultimately be futile.

Thus, I seek to understand how I got that Bible on my desk. I know some aspects of my confidence in it is an article of faith but some of it is based on reason.

It was really nice to come across this set of articles by Mark D. Roberts. I've visited his blog before but the other day I looked a bit more carefully on his table of contents on the left hand column. To my delight, he addressed the issue of Islamic views of the Koran and how they differ from the Christian perspective on the Bible. He also addressed the concept of how we got our Bible today by addressing the concerns raised by Bart Ehrman who wrote the book, Misquoting Jesus which calls into question the reliability of the Bible.

The article by Roberts is long but very accessible and I encourage you to check it out if you have the same questions I did.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

LA Scene: American Museum of Ceramic Arts



The other weekend had the chance to visit the American Museum of Ceramic Arts.

The current exhibit running until November 4, 2006 is "Color Counts - Gladding McBean - Commercial Pottery 1930-1950."



California had a "golden era" of pottery in the 20th Century and Gladding McBean was the biggest name To read more about the exhibit, check out this page. Excerpts:
With the acquisition of Glendale's Tropico Pottery in 1922, the American Encaustic Tiling Company in Vernon and Hermosa Beach in 1933, and Catalina Pottery in 1937, Gladding McBean grew to become the largest ceramic products manufacturer west of Chicago. Today, many historical buildings throughout California can still be found bearing decorative architectural elements cast in terra cotta produced by Gladding McBean. The company's distinctive dinnerware and fine china acquired an impressive following, earning a place in millions of California homes. Gladding McBean was also preferred by the privileged, with the company's Franciscan fine china as Jacqueline Kennedy's choice for use on Air Force One, and GMcB items as President Nixon's choice for the Presidential Yacht. Franciscan's Apple pattern was selected by Eleanor Roosevelt for her private cottage, and Franciscan's Ivy dinnerware was used by Joseph Kennedy in his Florida home.
I wish I had brought my real digital camera to take higher quality photos. These photos are from my cell phone. The collection of items was numerous and impressive.



Here is one of the more fanciful decorative items.



Just love the vibrant colors. The cell phone camera definitely doesn't do it justice!



Many items from that era were hand decorated.



American Museum of Ceramic Art
AMOCA
340 S. Garey Avenue
Pomona, CA 91766
(909) 865-3146

Hours:
Wednesday through Saturday, 12:00 noon to 5 PM.
Open on the Second Saturday of each month until 10 PM.
Group tours available by appointment.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Religion: Can women be pastors?

Previously, I blogged briefly about the question of whether women should be allowed to be pastors.

Here is a longer follow-up post.

From my research to this date, there appears to be a spectrum of views:
(1) Women can teach men and exercise authority in the church and be pastors
(2) Women can teach men and exercise authority in the church and be pastors but must be under the supervision of a male senior pastor
(3) Women can teach men and exercise authority in the church but not be pastors and must be under the supervision of male leadership
(4) Women can teach children and other women but not adult men, exercise a limited amount of authority and of course not be pastors.

Position one is held by the egalitarians and position four is held by the complementarians. Positions #2 and #3 are in between and I'm not sure what they would call themselves.

Both sides claim that Scriptures support their position. The complementarians can add that they have history and tradition on their side in addition to Scriptures.

As I see it, there are four areas of contention. I'll start from the least informative and move to what I believe are the most dispositive texts.

Exceptional Women

Deborah was an OT Judge in Judges 4. Priscilla was one half of the power couple Priscilla and Aquila (see various passages in the NT). Junias was one half of the power couple of Junias and Andronicus (Romans 16:7). There are various other women in the NT who were involved in the life of the church.

Egalitarians will cite these women as examples of God planting the seeds and paving the way for women to take up more significant roles as the yoke of culturally imposed male-dominated societies fade away with time.

Complementarians will say Deborah was in OT narrative so it was descriptive but not proscriptive. They will say the roles of Priscilla and Junias are not known. They were highly respected but it wasn't clear they were elders in the fledgling church. They may have been prayer warriors but not preachers. They may have served tea and cookies but not communion. We simply don't know what they did.

My view: We will have to ask Pricilla and Junias what they did when we meet them in the kingdom. We simply don't know what they did. Thus, neither side scores any points on the evidence.

If Jesus had selected a woman to be among the 12 there would be no questions on this issue. If the NT recorded an incident where a woman preached there would be no doubt on which view is right. But the facts are that neither are part of our Scriptures. However, if we feel history and tradition are dispositive than the burden falls on the egalitarians to provide more justification to overturn precedent.

Prophesying and prophetesses

Peter in Acts 2 cited Joel 2 where the Spirit is poured out and "sons and daughters shall prophesy."

And indeed, it came to pass as we find out Philip's daughters were prophetesses (Acts 21:8-9). Paul mentions the gift of prophecy and that women have that gift in I Corinthians.

The complementarians will point out that the act of prophesying in the NT was more casual than the OT and does not rise to the same level as authoritative teaching presented by elders and pastors.

Egalitarians counter by saying, teaching is teaching whether the setting is small or big, public or private, long or short in length.

My view: Again we are faced with the dimness of detail. When a woman or man for that matter offered a prophecy in the church, what did she/he actually do? Did she offer an example from her own life experience how some spiritual teaching had affected her? Did she issue a challenge to obedience by citing a teaching from Jesus? Did she offer up a prediction about some future event?

We simply do not know what prophecy entailed in the NT context. In the OT context, the prophets usually warned, shape up or we are going to get it!

Neither side really scored big points with me on this aspect; maybe a slight edge to the egalitarians. Clearly, in the OT, prophecy was almost exclusively male (Deborah and Miriam were the exceptions) but in the NT, the door is opened widely to women. Has God planted the seed with the Acts 2/Joel 2's promise of the Spirit which will flower into something greater with time? It is an inference the egalitarians ride like a wave on a surfboard while the complementarian has to diminish.

I Timothy 2

The most contentious debate is over the famous passage in 1 Timothy: A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing - if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

The complementarian says a plain reading of this text bars women from teaching and authority in the church.

The egalitarian says, wait a minute, the Greek language is a bit more subtle than the English translation. Here is an analysis offered by Ben Witherington heavy on the Greek. Also, another take is given by Greg Koukl.

Witherington argues from the Greek that the ban might be temporary because of the word choice translated into "do not permit." He also argues that the word choice for "authority' here is unusual. And he also brings in some of the cultural-historical context to support the local nature of the problem.

Koukl offers the idea that the context of the passage is about the marriage relationship.

My view: it is all GREEK to me! 8-)

Koukl's view is an interesting one. If the context of childbearing is controlling then he might be right to limit the preceding to marriage. However, if the controlling context is prior (instructions about dress codes) then it is likely to be a wider injunction to women which renders Koukl's view inoperative. The chapter 3 context is church leadership. The context of the beginning of chapter 2 is prayer in the assembly. Thus, Koukl's view in my view falls short.

As for Witherington, what can I say? If you ask John MacArthur and John Piper to exegete the exact same Greek text they will come up with the exact opposite conclusion. How is an average lay person like myself supposed to decide what is the correct interpretation?

Going back to the beginning

Both sides cite Adam and Eve at the beginning of the human experiment for support.

Which part of the creation of Adam and Eve is the controlling Scriptural paradigm?

The Egalitarians cite Genesis 1:28, God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." They point out that the couple are equally responsible to carry this out.

The Complementarians cite the Genesis 2 account where Adam was created first and Eve was created as the suitable helper. They argue that men and women are equal in the eyes of God but they have different roles.

My view: There is no question that human experience tells us that men and women are different. They are especially different in their response to authority and how they exercise it. So there is no doubt in my mind that in the realm of personal relationships, those differences will be pronounced. C.S. Lewis argued in his book Mere Christianity that from a common sense point-of-view when in a marriage you have a 1-1 tie vote on an issue someone needs to be the one who decides. Lewis believed from observing human behavior that in practice the husband usually makes the decision and husbands who are cowed by their wives are often pitied and viewed unfavorably.

Thus, in the realm of marriage, someone has to be in charge. The Complementarians then extend this to the church. Some more ardent Complementarians would also extend this to society at large while more moderate Complementarians believe women's role in society has more liberty.

Is there a final answer? When we meet God we will find out.

It would appear that this part of the discussion is at the heart of the issue. The reality is that we live in a fallen world where men abuse women by exercising authority harshly and women fight back with the feminine wiles they have. Christian teaching and morality seeks to move away from the sinful pattern toward ... what?

The Egalitarians believe the goal is full equality as described in Genesis 1.

The Complementarins believe the goal is full equality but with distinctive roles for men and women as described in Genesis 2.

But in the meantime, what do we do? By we, I mean those of us who don't know which side is right?

Does this come down to another example of the mind justifies what the heart choses?

One can choose a position and find and fit the data to support it.

I believe there is objective truth. But I also acknowledge sometimes it isn't always so easy to find or it maybe more complicated than we can comprehend.

The debate rages on. I suppose on Monday, Wednesday and Friday I'm a complementarian. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday I'm an egalitarian. On Sunday, I rest before God and don't think about this!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

LA Scene: Surf fishing

One of my hobbies is fishing. In an earlier blog post, I showed some trout I caught in Yosemite.

Closer to home, I like to do surf fishing. I use light to medium equipment as the fish are usually not that large. My typical rig is a size 8 hook at the end of a 2-3 foot leader of 4 lb. line attached to a swivel. Above the swivel, I thread through a pink bead and above that I slip the line through the eye of a bass casting sinker. I use 3/4 oz. or 1 oz. depending on how vigorous the waves are and which rod I have with me. My 7 foot rod can handle the 1 oz sinker easily. When I use the lighter 6 1/2 footer, I only go as high as 3/4 oz.

I use a 1 1/2 to 3 inch piece of Berkeley's Gulp! Sandworms as bait.

Here are some fish I caught in a recent trip to Venice beach.



My feet are size 7 so this Barred Surf Perch is on the small side.



Here is a mid-sized Barred Surf Perch. They can grow larger! BSPs are known to attack the bait pretty vigorously and put up a decent fight. I'm told they are pretty tasty fish too. However, I generally do catch and release fishing. I suppose if I caught a larger one, I might keep it for dinner!



This is a Walleye Surf Perch. These critters don't get very large and so this one is small even for this species.

For more information about surf fishing in Southern California, check out SCSurffishing.com.

Devotional Thoughts: Preaching plainly and living life for real

Taking a look at 1 Thessalonians 2:1-9.

You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi ...

Paul and company faced opposition in Philippi back in Acts 16. They moved onto Thessalonica in Acts 17. Eventually, Paul and company had to leave there too!

A modern city stands there today. According to the web page in the previous link, Thessalonica is second largest city in Greece. There are some photos of the excavations in the city over at Bibleplaces.com.


image source: http://www.bibleplaces.com/images/Thessalonica_forum_with_arches2_2nd_c_AD_tb_n011301.jpg

... as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.

Isn't preaching a strange thing?

Someone stands up and talks.

In modern life, there aren't many settings where this happens. I suppose for those who are politically active, one can go to an event and hear a candidate speak. For those who are interested in a special topic, a person could go to a university lecture.

I wonder what did Paul sound like! Did he have a booming voice like Heston as Moses in the famed film, The Ten Commandments. Or did he have a more ordinary voice like say Tom Hanks? Would he give impassioned speeches like a football coach at halftime?

From his writings, we know his content: Jesus. We also know his style: very organized in his thoughts and very much a straight shooter.

Which actor working today would a director cast for Paul? Hmmm ...

In any case, in this passage, he says he preaches straightforwardly ... no marketing surveys, no sound bites, no focus groups, just the gospel!

Does that mean we have to forgo any "glitz" and "glamour" in our church activities?

If all we are giving people is fluff then that is a mistake. But if a given church has some great musicians, they should be utilized. If a congregation has some individuals who can act on stage, some dramatic presentations would be terrific. But the bottom line has to be ... is Christ proclaimed straighforwardly at some point in the assembly? Is God's teachings explained directly or indirectly in the usage of media and the arts?

As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.

Running parallel with an unadorned and straighforward presentation of Jesus as the Christ must be a life that is transformed. Why would anyone even consider the message of Christ if there is no life change?

Paul and his team didn't just crank up the microphone and preach: they lived among them and were in particular sensitive to even the appearance of preaching for dollars.

After reading something like this, you have to wonder what part of this passage ministers who spend a ton of time asking for money don't get?

Lord, help those who preach on Sunday throughout the world. They have a special honor and obligation in feeding the flock and bringing the message that is salvation to those who don't know you. May they be convicted that their mission is to present Christ to people. Help them to live a life that honors Jesus. For those who have gone astray, may your Holy Spirit work in their hearts bringing them back to what YOU want them to do. Lord, in my life, help me to be ready to share Jesus with people when the time is right. Help me to live a life quietly that speaks loudly that Jesus has changed my life. Amen.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: I believe ...

Today, this morning, a variation on the devotional thoughts.

Some days I write about a particular text I'm looking at. The current series is on 1 Thessalonians.

Most days I also read from the One-Minute Bible 4 Students: With 366 Devotions for Daily Living. I recommend that resource to students and adults alike. It is a simple way to taste the wisdom of the whole Bible as it selects highlights from both the Old and New Testament.

Some days, I contemplate some aspect of the life of faith and devotion to Jesus.

This morning, I find myself thinking about the Bible I have on my desk. How did it get there?

As I see it, there are 4 phases.

I recognize the following are articles of faith. The statements are not devoid of reason but they encompass things beyond what reason can ascertain.

(1) I believe that God desires to communicate to humanity certain things.

If God is truly God then the following must be true: What God knows >>> What God wants us to know! So I just need to focus on what God wants me to know and not get an Excedrin headache trying to figure out what God knows that would explode my pea brain.

(2) I believe God interacted with human authors to produce a body of text.

There are many ways God could do this: visions, dreams, dictation, guided research, etc. The Christian Bible was generated by a wide variety of means through a variety of authors. This is in contrast to the Koran which is claimed to be through visions to one recipient.

(3) I believe that God guided the church to properly identify which body of text to hold as authoritative.

Without question there has been and continues to be controversy as to what books to include in the Bible. Those who are skeptics will highlight those controversies and will want to call into question the whole Bible. The "agenda" of scholars in all fairness works both ways: the skeptic will always want to look for problems and the believer will always look for explanations. We try our best to employ reason but recognize that personal bias exists but try to minimize its impact.

(4) I believe that God has blessed the community of faith with scribes who have copied the text faithfully and translators who bring the text into the many languages of the world accurately.

In the final analysis, this is what I hold in my hands: a translation of copies.

Question: how close is item #4 to item #1?

The skeptic will say, it bares little to no resemblance.

The believer will say, it is a close resemblance.

My guess is that even the most committed inerrantist will not say that #4 is a 100% match to #1.

Is belief that #4 is a close resemblance to #1 warranted?

Do scribes and translators take their work seriously? Would these individuals be highly motivated to do the job well?

If one says, yes, then that would push the needle toward reliability.

If one says, no, then can we trust any text from antiquity? As a matter of daily life, we do trust history books to some extent.

Did the church "get it right" when they identified the books for inclusion in the Bible?

The one who says, yes, cites that they lived closer to the times of the actual events. One can ask, who has a better chance of identifying the authentic works of the original followers of Jesus versus the works of a forger? Somebody living within 100 years of the events or us living 2000 years from the event?

The skeptic trusts that our opinion 2000 years after the fact is more likely to be correct than those who lived within a generation or two of the actual events. It is everyones free choice whom to trust more.

Could God really communicate to human writers?

If God is truly God, why not?

The skeptic believes there is no God so this is really a moot point. They would believe religious writings are just human efforts claiming the mantle of God to exercise authority over people.

Does God really want to communicate to humans?

The deist god is out there and couldn't care a less about the goings ons of this world. Likewise, the person who doesn't believe it god would again say this is a moot point.

But if God is truly God and God cares about what is going on here then God would have the motivation and the ability to communicate in any fashion of God's choosing.

So, is trusting the Bible an article of faith?

Yes.

However, there is also some rational basis too. Like most things in life, it is a combination.

Do I trust my friend? My trust in my friend is a combination of my experiences with them of which some can be quantified rationally but some of it is intuitive and emotional.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: with the Holy Spirit's power and conviction

Looking at I Thessalonians 1:4-10 this morning.

The Thessalonian letter is believed to be one of the earliest of the New Testament writings dating around A.D. 50-51 . For more on that point, check out this item. By the way, from a Google search, it appears that Peter Kirby is a skeptic. In roaming around his Early Christian Writings web site, there are other NT writings he is doubtful about in terms of authenticity and dating. Additionally, he maintains a few other web sites where his skepticism is quite apparent. However, I will give him credit for pulling together a lot of the current scholarship both supportive and opposed to Christianity. In any case, on 1 Thessalonians, the scholarship, both favorable as well as opposed to Christianity, support Paul's authorship and the early dating.

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.

Why do people believe?

I wonder how many people during Jesus time on earth actually met him and heard him and saw a miracle or two? I wonder how many became followers of Jesus?

The Gospel words are powerful. But without the Holy Spirit's power and conviction, they are just words.

This verse makes me think of the Parable of the Sower and Seeds and Soil. The words (seeds) go forth and lands on various soils. The results vary with the type of soil.

You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

This verse challenges me in my role as a volunteer at the youth program at my church. Would I be able to stand before God with a clear conscience and say, you know how I lived among the youth group and they became imitators of me and thus of you Lord?

Gasp! Do these young folks see a little bit of Jesus in my life?

So my challenge is to do my best to give them the Scriptures in teaching time but also to live a life that shows them its real in my life.

And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia - your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead - Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

The lives of the Thessalonians were changed! They left their pagan idol worship to serve the living and true God. Their transformation was so complete that others in other places noticed! This is the heart of the Christian message: a transformed life due to belief in the living and true God and the hope that comes from knowing Jesus was raised from the dead.

Lord, in the USA, people hear about Jesus. We really have no excuse. Yet, for so many, it is just a name and a nice sounding story. But in your mysterious ways, for some of us, our lives have been transformed. It is not of our merit but your grace that this is so. Lord, help me to be an example as Paul and his team were to the Thessalonians. It isn't just about speaking the words of the faith, it is living it out so others can see it. Help me to do that! Amen.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Sports: Stick a fork in 'em - Bruins Football

30-20 but it wasn't really that close. The Oregon Duck O-line pushed UCLA's defense around so they could run and pass with impunity.

You don't give up 20 points in one quarter and really expect to win.

Last years Bruin team had a powerful offense which did spot opponents big leads only to roar back. But this year's edition doesn't have the same offensive punch. Twice in the 1st quarter UCLA threatened to score only to come away with a field goal. I suppose if they were down 20-14 instead of down 20-6, the complexion of the game might have been different.

As a side note, Pac10 officiating is continuing to prove itself as completely incompetent. In the final analysis, UCLA wouldn't have won because they were down 27-13 and time was running out. However, Oregon got the benefit of yet another botched call on their home turf.

It was 4th and 1 and Oregon went for it and the initial ruling was a fumble with a UCLA recovery of the ball at their own 32. The play went to review and the ABC announcers shared the rules... knee hits ground, play is done. Replay clearly showed the runner was down on the 34 maybe 33 1/2. So the fumble had to be overturned which it was. The replay also indicated the proper spotting of the ball should be between 33 1/2 or 34. But the refs marked it 33. They brought out the chains and ruled it a first down!

Oregon went on to get a field goal making the score 30-13. If the Bruins had gotten the ball on downs and drove for a score, the game could have been 27-20.

But it is what it is. The Bruins now have two losses. In the games left, they will NOT be favored to win at Notre Dame or at Cal and a home game at the Rose Bowl against USC would have UCLA again as an underdog. A 7-5 season would be expected at this point. At the beginning I thought 8-4 was realistic. The Washington loss was unexpected. Maybe the gutty little Bruins could pull off an upset somewhere and hold serve on games the should win. We shall see.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Faith, Hope & Love and work, labor & endurance

Am looking at 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3.

It is a prayer.

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

When we think of the great Christian virtues, we think of faith, hope and love as mentioned in this prayer.

Certainly, we think of 1 Corinthians 13:13, And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

We also may think of the 9 aspects of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

All worthy of striving for in our lives through prayer for ourselves and for each other.

What is interesting to me in the prayer in this passage is that faith, hope and love don't stand alone. Rather something happens as a result of the existence of those virtues in the life of the follower of Jesus. In fact as I read it, I can feel the sweat on the brow building up: these virtues are linked to work, labor and endurance! I picture in my head those Gatorade commercials!

The three words that describe what springs forth from faith, hope and love intrigued me.

Since I'm a molecular biologist and not a Greek scholar, there is a limited amount of information I can glean from the Greek text. But with on-line resources, even a lay-person like myself can get a little flavor of the Greek. If you go to Bible.Crosswalk.com one can access the Greek through various clicks. I'm still not very good at it but if you hunt around you can get to it!

Tied with faith is work which is the Greek word ergon (Strong's 2041) which has this definition:
(1) business, employment, that which any one is occupied that which one undertakes to do, enterprise, undertaking
(2) any product whatever, any thing accomplished by hand, art, industry, or mind
(3) an act, deed, thing done: the idea of working is emphasised in opp. to that which is less than work

Quite a word picture, eh?

There is a sense of purposefulness and a product at the end of the day. Faith isn't some abstract thing but at the end of the day it should have produced something tangible. Just as an artist has a painting on the wall from her efforts or a craftsman has a piece of furniture to use.

Linked to love is labor which is the Greek word kopos (Strong's 2873) which has this definition:
(1) a beating
(2) a beating of the breast with grief, sorrow
(3) labour, trouble, to cause one trouble, make work for him, intense labour united with trouble and toil

Talk about vivid!

We think of love as this soft-focus warm fuzzy thing with music in the air. Not so! It is intense and even painful!

Lastly, hope is connected to endurance which is the Greek word hupomone (Strong's 5281) which has this definition:
(1) steadfastness, constancy, endurance, in the NT the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate, purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings, patiently, and steadfastly
(2) a patient, steadfast waiting for
(3) a patient enduring, sustaining, perseverance

Hope means sticking it out even when the going gets tough. It means keeping an eye on the prize at the very end.

Lord, teach me to be centered on Jesus. Produce in my life works of faith. I want my life to have a real result. Teach me to practice what love really means and how that shows itself in labor that is not easy and even painful and sorrowful but ultimately worthwhile. Help me to hang in there even when discouraged by focusing on Jesus. Amen!

Culture: I registered for God Blog Con 2006

I went online to sign up and dropped the fee in the mail.

I wonder how many people will be there!

Culture: Could a woman coach a boys or mens team?

Previously, I blogged a bit about my perception of the degree to which men would follow the leadership of women in certain contexts.

On that blog post, a comment was posted! Hooray! Thanks for the interesting thoughts.

In brief, the reader proposed a scenario of how a woman might wind up coaching a boys or mens sports team.

I can't say I follow sports news to that high a degree to know if such a female coach exists. I suppose it is possible and perhaps even quite likely that such a woman might be coaching at the high school level perhaps even at a small college level in some particular sports.

I think it might be possible say, for instance, a woman who was a top star in tennis coaching a high school men's tennis team. The boys on the team might feel, wow, she played at Wimbledon!

I find it harder to envision a women who was a standout star in college basketball being able to coach a high school boys basketball team effectively. I suppose it is possible and perhaps there is a woman out there doing exactly that.

Or how about a former WNBA star coaching a college level men's team? I simply don't know.

The hard reality is that most people believe even a low-level division I men's basketball team would probably beat the best WNBA team. Thus, would the hypothetical WNBA star be able to effectively coach that D-I men's basketball team? I simply have my doubts. I suppose there might actually be such a woman doing such a thing and I say more power to her! However, my guts tells me, it would be extremely rare and quite difficult.

I think this raises a broader point in coaching and leadership: to what degree does the personal experience of the coach/leader affect the respect they command?

In the NBA, one thinks of Phil Jackson and Pat Riley as being top coaches. Both played in the NBA and had decent careers but were not superstars but they played the game and know the daily grind of the NBA life. If they had only played college basketball but never made it to the NBA, one wonders to what extent they would be successful NBA coaches? I wonder if all the current NBA coaches have had at least some NBA playing experience?

I would ask the same of college football coaches. Since most of the top players in D-I football want to make it to the NFL, I wonder if most of the top coaching staffs have had at least some NFL experience by which to draw upon as part of their resources to command respect on top of knowledge of the game?

Religion: PC-USA book publisher controversy

Previously, I had a short blog post on the latest controversy to roil the Presbyterian Church USA.

I wondered what PC-USA blogger Mark D. Roberts had to say about it.

When I had checked his blog, I missed the fact that he had tackled the subject already.

He was dismayed about the whole mess and wrote extensively about it. Excerpts:
When one of my faithful blog readers sent me a link to an article supposedly published in last Friday's Washington Times, at first I thought it must be some sort of bad joke. Who, I wondered, would have a wicked enough sense of humor to claim that the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, an arm of my denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA, published a book accusing the Bush administration of plotting the attacks of 9/11 in order to go to war to expand the "American empire"?

As it turns out, nobody had such a terrible sense of humor. The story is real. No joke. No laughter here, except perhaps from demons who enjoy seeing the Christian church inflict damage upon itself.
.........
But I do know that something is terribly wrong here. I can't help thinking that the PPC has lost touch with its true mission, seeking rather to be like other "academic/trade publishers" as it claims in its defense of publishing Griffin's book. The distinctive Christian mission of the PPC has been lost, not to mention the distinctive Reformed/Presbyterian emphasis, not to mention a clear sense of how the PPC is part of and should further the mission of the PCUSA.
..........
I think the PPC had the responsibility to realize that publishing this book would do a great deal of damage to the PCUSA. The last thing we need is controversy and division that we don't really need. So, yes, I think they shouldn't have published it because it is way too controversial.

The only justification I can see for publishing such a controversial and divisive book at this time is conviction about its truth and importance. To this date, nobody at the PPC has gone out on that limb. So I'm left with the idea that they did something hurtful to an already hurting denomination without an adequate reason.

If the PPC were an independent publisher, it would be a different story. But the PPC is part of the PCUSA, and has a responsibility to act in ways that do not injure the PCUSA.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Life: Two friends doing Marathons for Leukemia Team in Training

I have two terrific friends who are training for marathons.

Leukemia Team in Training helps raise funds to help support individuals fighting this dreaded disease as well as research for cures and treatments.

I had the honor to know Hope DeLemos when she lived in Los Angeles where she worked as a special education teacher. She now works with Children's Association for Maximum Potential in Texas.

To contribute to Hope's efforts go here.

I knew Louis Luangkesorn when I lived in Washington DC. He now works for RAND in Pittsburgh.

To donate to Louis' participation go here.

Non-profit of the month: October 2006 - Intervarsity Christian Fellowship

Going to college is a time of learning. Well, at least it should be!

A lot of the education takes place outside of the class and in matters beyond the books.

Many people examine for the first-time or re-examine for the first-time Christian faith.

One organization that works here in the USA and around the world on the campus is InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

Many of the people I know who hold a devotion to Jesus cite their IVCF experience as an important part of their growth.

Because I've seen the fruit of this organization in the lives of dear friends, I gladly support them with the occasional financial contribution and highlight their work with this blog post.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Paul, Silas and Timothy - a band of brothers

With the previously concluded devotional thoughts series on Joel, what shall I contemplate next?

I decided to go back to the Christian Scriptures and again select a relatively short book.

So for today's reflections, please go to 1 Thessalonians 1:1-2.

Paul, Silas and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you.

We have no idea what these guys look like. But I have to say I am always curious how artisans portray people we have no images of.


image source: http://www.artchive.com/artchive/E/el_greco/el_greco_st_paul.jpg.html

As you can see there are two things in St. Paul's hands: a sword and a letter. Makes me think of the adage, "the pen is mightier than the sword." The Apostle Paul is believed to have written 13 of the letters in the Christian Scriptures. These writings have had a major part in shaping Christian theology and morality and Christianity has had its impact on the world. When God guides the pen, it is indeed mightier than the sword!


image source: http://www.tomwhitestudio.com/midnightsong.html

Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Acts 16. Silas joining the mission's team was in the midst of some personal tension between Paul and Barnabas. One wonders if he ever had doubts about being a missionary! Yet, he was praying, singing and preaching with Paul while in that prison!


Image source: http://www.comeandseeicons.com/inp122.htm

Here is an iconographic representation of Timothy from an Orthodox Church artist.

UPDATE: the image is copyrighted and so it won't usually pipe into the web page. To see the image I'm refering to click here.

When I see this image ... I see a youngish looking Timothy with a full head of hair. He has one hand open and pointing up to God which makes me think of his job as a pastor pointing the way to God and opening his life to his flock. In his other hand is a book, the source of his preaching and the guide for his life.

What would have been in that book when he was a pastor?

At that time, the Christian Scriptures would not have been officially complied in the form we have today. However, a surmise of the content of Timothy's book: accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus as told by the original disciples, letters from Paul and other notes that Timothy may have jotted down from his time as Paul's assistant and portions of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Whenever I think of Timothy, I think of this passage in 1 Timothy 4:11-16.
Command and teach these things. Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Lord, I pray that you will help me to live a honorable life. It is my desire to grow into greater love, faith and purity. You have given me an opportunity to work with young people at my church. Help me to be an example of living out real faith. I don't want some abstract faith but a real one that involves the heart, mind, soul, body and spirit that makes a difference in the here and now. Grant me insight when I share with them the wisdom that is in the Scriptures you provide that helps guide our lives. Lord forgive me my many faults and strengthen me when discouragement sets in. In those times, help me to be like Silas when in the prison, he looked up in prayer and sang to you and proclaimed you to those in that place. Lord, help me to be like Paul in recognizing that there is a spiritual war at hand and my whole life must be wholly given to you. In Jesus name, amen.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Culture: Would you follow a woman leader?

While browsing the God Blog Conference 2006 web page, I came across this item with the provocative title, "Women Leaders: Against Nature?"

The full post can be found at La Shawn Barber's Column.

What she writes definitely will grate on the ears of those who hold to the politically correct view.

But can we deny what she says?

My guts tells me many, if not a majority of, people feel the same.

UPDATE: In my profession, it is still largely male dominated so I can't really speak from much experience on this point from the work context. In the realm of volunteer organizations both secular and religious, I have in those settings experienced women in leadership. Those settings tend not to be as hard charging and more collaborative. In those cases, if the woman leader is competent and fair-minded, I am fine following.

I don't know what it would be like in a setting where there is a greater authority presence required. In all fairness, I would have my doubts that a woman could lead in some situations. For example, could a woman coach a football team?

I don't doubt that a woman could be extremely familiar with all the offensive blocking schemes, receiver patterns and blitz packages. However, could she coach the team effectively? My guts tell me, no.

LA Dining: Frying Fish

My latest post is up over at LAFB.

Do you like sushi?

Frying Fish
120 Japanese Village Plaza
Little Tokyo
Los Angeles, CA 90012
213-680-0567

Culture: God Blog Conference 2006



If you lived in the Southern California area, would you go?

I'm thinking about it.

Life: The story of Jody Frankfurt

How would you feel if the love of your life were diagnosed with cancer?

Scott Frankfurt loved his wife Jody.

In March of 2006, they found out she had cancer. After many efforts, she left the bonds of this life to be received into the arms of the Heavenly Father.

To read their story, see their blog.

May God bless Scott and all those whose lives were touched by Jody.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Sports: Big sports day in LA

USC football at the Coliseum at 12:30.

UCLA football at 4pm at the Rose Bowl.

Dodgers baseball at Dodger's Stadium at 4:35 pm.

King's hockey at Staples Center at 7:30 pm.

Traffic in downtown LA will probably be gridlocked with traffic coming and going to these 4 events!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Religion: What should the role of women be in the church? Questions about 1 Timothy 2

A dear friend of mine has been wrestling with 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

The traditional view says women can't teach and exercise authority in church.

Is that what the text really means?

There are other Bible texts that appear to open the door to women doing more in the church.

So what does this text mean exactly? What did it mean to the people who read it? What does it mean for us today?

I don't know.

Most of my years in church life have been under the traditional view. However, I have been in two churches that do not hold that view.

Some theological knots, I make an effort to untie. Sometimes, I feel I reach a fairly firm conclusion and take a view though I remain open to new data. On some issues, I take a view but much more provisionally and I don't hold to it very strongly. Again, I leave it open to further persuasion. And some issues I just throw up my hands and say, I've got a headache!

This is one of those issues!

I'm back at this knot trying to untie it and am mulling over the following items I've seen on the internet.

There is this item at Christians for Biblical Equality. They have still more articles on this resource page.

I also saw this analysis over at Stand to Reason.

Help, it is all Greek to me and my head is going to explode! 8-)

Relgion: Reality Church

My fellow volunteer in the youth program at my church shared the following item with me.

It describes the 10 stages some people go through in regards to their relationship to their churches.

It funny and it hits home. Check it out.

Religion: What do we reallly mean by inspired?

What do we mean when we say, I was inspired to do X, Y or Z?

What do we mean when we say, religious text A, B or C is inspired?

These questions have been rattling in my mind lately.

With all the news about Islam everywhere, the meaning of inspiration of a religious text is a pertinent question.

From my understanding, Muslims hold a very high view of the Koran. Excerpt:
Muslims believe the Qur'an to be the literal word of God (Arabic: Allah) as revealed to Muhammad, over a period of twenty-three years by the angel Gabriel and regard it as God's final revelation to humankind. Muslims also call the Qur'an the "Final Testament", "The Book", "Book of God" and "The Revelation."
However, most of us are alarmed by the fruits of some of the followers of Islam.

One has to wonder, is it the Koran itself? Or is it the Islamic notion of inspiration? Or is it a particular interpretation?

As a Christian, I have to ask myself, what do I mean when I say the Christian Scriptures are inspired? Is the Christian concept of inspiration the same or different than the Islamic one?

I want to go back and stress some part of Islam.

Dennis Prager recently had a moderate Muslim on his radio program. Aslam Abdullah is editor of the Muslim Observer, director of the Islamic Society of Nevada, Las Vegas and director of the Muslim Electorates Council of America.

Aslam Abdullah wrote this item in the Las Vegas Review Journal. Excerpt:
The leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, recently issued a decree to its supporters: Kill at least one American in the next two weeks "using a sniper rifle, explosive or whatever the battle may require."

Well, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, I am an American too. Count me as the one of those you have asked your supporters to kill.
.............
You say that the word of God is the highest. Yes, it is. But you are not worthy of it. You have abandoned God and you have started worshipping your own satanic egos that rejoice at the killing of innocent people. You don't represent Muslims or, for that matter, any decent human being who believes in the sanctity of life. Many among us American Muslims have differences with our administration on domestic and foreign issues, just like many other Americans do. But the plurality of opinions does not mean that we deprive ourselves of the civility that God demands from us. America is our home and will always be our home. Its interests are ours, and its people are ours. When you talk of killing of Americans, you first have to kill 6 million or so Muslims who will stand for every American's right to live and enjoy the life as commanded by God.
Bravo! A courageous man speaking the truth. Hopefully, more will stand up against the radicals.

But my question remains: when a person claims their religious text is inspired, what do they mean?

As a Christian, what do I mean when I believe the Christian Bible is inspired?

I'm still mulling it over and hope to post a provisional working definition at some point in time. I'm sure a Google search would yield some good ones but I think I'll try to generate version 1.0 without consulting experts. Version 1.0 will NOT be my final answer! 8-)

Discuss amongst yourselves and feel free to comment!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Jesus is gonna win

Joel 3:17-21 is my reading for today.

After all the thunder and lightening of the previous passages, we get to the end of the story.

It is an idilic picture that draws on the agrarian imagery the Jewish people of that era would know well.

Then you will know that I, the LORD your God,
dwell in Zion, my holy hill.
Jerusalem will be holy;
never again will foreigners invade her.
In that day the mountains will drip new wine,
and the hills will flow with milk;
all the ravines of Judah will run with water.
A fountain will flow out of the LORD's house
and will water the valley of acacias.

This state of peace and plenty occurs after God dwells in Zion (literal Zion or figurative Zion?) and the enemies are gone.

I've always wondered how passages like this would be written if there was a 21st Century Joel in America?

Would they use the same kind of imagery or what it be completely different?

I can't help but feel this kind of passage is descriptive of some future occasion though I suppose some might argue that it is symbolic for the blessings that Christ's coming has inaugurated.

Many of my blog posts on Joel have dwelt on this question.

One question I sometimes ask about life in the modern world is why doesn't God make it more obvious that He is active?

Have you ever seen the play on letter perception?

Godisnowhere.

We can read it. "God is nowhere" or as "God is now here."

This passage in Joel seems to be describing the state when there is no doubt as to whether God is around. The destruction of the enemies and the peace and prosperity make that pretty clear.

But what about today?

We live in a world where there are many who oppose God and what is good. Peace is hard to find and some places are desperately poor and in rich America, there is poverty of the soul.

I suppose the analogy can be made to the time between D-day and victory in Europe day. On D-day, the US, British, Canadian and allied forces invaded Normandy to gain a foothold in Europe. It would take nearly a year of additional fighting before the Nazis were defeated.

God has invaded into human affairs at various times by various means in the Hebrew Scriptures. Joel's message in some ways was God invading into that time and place. It was a message regarding a particularly devastating locust invasion and had its meaning in its time. But its broader theme of the Day of the LORD may have had partial fulfillment in its time but awaits complete fulfillment in a time yet to be?

The ultimate invasion was Jesus. Restoration and victory have been set in motion but it is not here yet in full.

But Egypt will be desolate,
Edom a desert waste,
because of violence done to the people of Judah,
in whose land they shed innocent blood.
Judah will be inhabited forever
and Jerusalem through all generations.
Their bloodguilt, which I have not pardoned,
I will pardon."
The LORD dwells in Zion!

In the intellectual abstract situation people might wonder out loud is there really a right and wrong or is it purely a social convention these notions of good and evil. But as a gut level, we seem to know and want to believe there is punishment for those who seem to get away with things in this world. Inside the human heart is the desire to see the wicked punished. That doesn't mean a savage glee in reading a passage like this but rather a quiet assurance that the scales of justice will be evened out.

Which leads to the problem at hand for me as an ordinary human being. I'm guilty of sin. My sense of justice toward the outside has to be turned inside too. I need forgiveness. And so the book of Joel is also about how God calls people to himself and forgives them and blesses them in addition to the judgement in the Day of the LORD.

Lord Jesus, thank you that you have left the heavenly realms so that we would not be left stuck in our sins. Please speed the day when the scales of justice are balanced. There are many more faithful than me and more righteous than me who long to see injustice recompensed. For them I ask your Kingdom would come in full and take full realization. For those who stand outside your ruling in their hearts, may they be convicted of their sin and see your justice and your mercy and be drawn to you. Amen.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Music: What I'm listening to - I Won't Back Down

On my iTunes, I have the Johnny Cash version of I won't back down.

The lyrics are about being steadfast against life's difficulties:
Well I won't back down, no I won't back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down

Gonna stand my ground, won't be turned around
And I'll keep this world from draggin' me down
Gonna stand my ground and I won't back down

Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
Hey I will stand my ground and I won't back down

Well I know what's right, I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin' me around
But I stand my ground and I won't back down

Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out
Hey I will stand my ground and I won't back down
No I won't back down.
I became familiar with this song because Larry Elder uses the song as bumper music at certain points in his radio show.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: More how will it all end stuff?

Am looking at Joel 3:4-16.

One of the unanswered questions about Joel is when in the history of the Jewish people did these events take place. The answer is we don't know. Some OT books will refer to some king and we can place that into some time frame easily. Or there will be a reference to an event large enough that it shows up in current history books or in archeological finds.

We gain some geographic information here about the peoples of that time.

"Now what have you against me, O Tyre and Sidon and all you regions of Philistia? Are you repaying me for something I have done? If you are paying me back, I will swiftly and speedily return on your own heads what you have done. For you took my silver and my gold and carried off my finest treasures to your temples. You sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, that you might send them far from their homeland. "See, I am going to rouse them out of the places to which you sold them, and I will return on your own heads what you have done. I will sell your sons and daughters to the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, a nation far away." The LORD has spoken.

Tyre has a long history of being a powerful city so that doesn't narrow down the time frame too much. The same is true of Sidon.

Seeing the Greeks mentioned doesn't narrow down the timeline either as the Greeks were on the scene a long time though they clearly rose to their apex under Alexander.

Who are the Sabeans?

Jewish Encylopeida.com says they from the kingdom of Sheba in South Eastern Arabia. Helpful geographically but again tells us nothing about when.

However, the message is pretty clear.

Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare for war!
Rouse the warriors!
Let all the fighting men draw near and attack.
Beat your plowshares into swords
and your pruning hooks into spears.
Let the weakling say,
"I am strong!"
Come quickly, all you nations from every side,
and assemble there.
Bring down your warriors, O LORD!
Let the nations be roused;
let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat,
for there I will sit
to judge all the nations on every side.
Swing the sickle,
for the harvest is ripe.
Come, trample the grapes,
for the winepress is full
and the vats overflow -
so great is their wickedness!"
Multitudes, multitudes
in the valley of decision!
For the day of the LORD is near
in the valley of decision.
The sun and moon will be darkened,
and the stars no longer shine.
The LORD will roar from Zion
and thunder from Jerusalem;
the earth and the sky will tremble.
But the LORD will be a refuge for his people,
a stronghold for the people of Israel.

This really sounds like all that "end of the world as we know it" kind of language that Jesus used in places like Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 and in the book of Revelation.

In this passage, it is bracketed by verse 1 that says, In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem and verse 16 that says, the LORD will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.

There are theological systems that transfer all the promises to Israel to the Church and so they don't believe Israel as a national entity has a role to play in how things unfold. I suppose that view held some appeal until 1948 when Israel came back into existence.

Anyway, if one takes that position it would be possible then the fulfillment of this passage would be at the Cross. By what Jesus has done, he has restored the fortunes of humanity (v. 1 using Judah and Jerusalem as a symbol for humanity) and that amidst the judgement that falls in verses 2-15, Jesus provides the refuge and stronghold of verse 16.

However, if we think that Israel as a entity still has a role to play than a more literal reading of this passage might work.

It is truly amazing that today, Israel, a nation the size of New Jersey and a little over 6 million people is at the center of many of the geopolitical conflicts of the world.

Iran with nearly 69 million people has a leader who would like to see Israel destroyed!

Every Arab country with the exception of Egypt and Jordan has no diplomatic relations with Israel.

However you read this passage though, one thing is clear: God's justice will prevail and wickedness will be punished and those who have sought refuge in God will be protected.

Lord, you say the kingdom is at hand yet you say we should pray thy kingdom come. You rule in the hearts of some in this world but not all but one day your rule will be without dispute. I bow before you because of your mercy and grace in forgiving my sins. I can enter your throne room because of the Cross. But so many in this world don't see a sin problem and will not bow to you but shake a fist. Lord, help them see their true state. Help them to see that you have offered a way back in Jesus. Help me to point the way to those you bring into my path. Amen.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Technology: Cell Phone Photo Blogging - Philadelphia

Recently got a phone that takes pictures!

Here are some shots I took with it while in Philadelphia recently.


This first picture is of the City Hall building.


I was walking from City Hall to the Convention Center and this was one of the neat walkways.

This walkway was part of the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel.


This photo was taken from inside the Philadelphia Convention Center!

I was attending the American Society of Bone and Mineral Research annual meeting.


Near the Convention Center is Chinatown. Most Chinatowns in the USA have Gates.


When in Philadelphia ... one has to have at least one Philadelphia Cheese Steak Sandwich.


I took the subway down to South Philadelphia to Citizen's Bank Ball Park to see the Phillies vs. the Cubs.


I took a little time to visit the National Constitution Center. I was very moved by the multi-media presentation that explained how the Constitution came about and how it is a part of our lives today. For all America's faults, the fact of the Constitution and the effort that is made by most to make it work is an truly amazing!