Thursday, November 30, 2006

@ the movies: The Nativity Story


Mary, Joseph and their faithful donkey taking a break on their long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census. 100 miles is nothing for us today but 2000 years ago that meant a trip by foot!

The Nativity Story opens in theaters on Friday, December 1, 2006.

I had the opportunity to see the film in a pre-release screening as a guest of Grace Hill Media. I recommend it highly.

For those who believe, the film will be a devotional experience amidst the busyness of the Christmas season reminding us what Christmas is truly about. For those who are skeptics, I hope they will still nonetheless the film and grasp the earthiness of the Christian story: God came to earth in the form of a baby to parents and people with dirty feet and rough hands.


Mary and Joseph growing closer while on the journey to Bethlehem.

The Bible account of the Nativity is very brief. The part the film covers can be found in Matthew and Luke.

The film has to engage in some speculation as to what the story was beyond what we have in the Gospel records.

For instance, what was the relationship between Mary and Joseph like?



How would Mary react to hearing: "You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

How would Joseph react to Mary telling him this?

I was very moved to watch how Michael Rich (screenwriter) and Catherine Hardwicke (director) unfold and develop the relationship between Mary and Joseph with humor and sensitivity.

The second thing that impressed me was the effort the film makers took to create an authentic look and feel to make the culture and history of the era come alive.

Particularly potent was the oppressiveness of the Roman Empire. Seeing the film helps me to understand why in the Gospel records, the followers of Jesus had such a hard time with him being the suffering Savior and not the revolutionary who would overthrow the Romans they so desperately wanted.



Finally, I loved the the usage of the Magi as comic relief. The film makers worked in all the relevant material from the Bible regarding the Magi and some of the speculation regarding what the astronomical phenomena they saw that drew them to Bethlehem. But they cleverly went beyond that and put in some humor through their bantering with each other.



Take the time out to go into a movie house to see this film. You'll be glad you did.

Images were obtained from the Yahoo! Movies Production Photos Page for The Nativity Story

UPDATE: The KPCC movie review radio show gave the film mixed reviews. One of the reviewers felt the film was a somewhat conventional telling of the story. He mentioned that the film was probably more ethnically real in that many of the actors cast for the film are of the right skin color for that region of the world. He also praised the production design that gave the film an authentic and gritty feel consistent with that time in history. The other reviewer liked the script and story details beyond the Biblical text but felt the director's visual style was poor and sense of pacing was not up to par. It was quite fascinating to hear that reviewer say, though I'm not a religious person I find the whole idea of what the Nativity means to be such a powerful concept. Both felt the 3 Magi's performances and use of humor to be a breath of fresh air.

Sports: UCLA vs. U$C Football Game this Saturday

The local sport talk radio is all about how big will USC's victory be and whether Karl Dorrell will get fired if the Bruins get blown out again.

***

I don't know if I heard it right but I think there was a radio commercial by H.D. Buttercup that said if UCLA wins the game, you can buy furniture for FREE at their store!

UPDATE: I heard the ad on the radio again so maybe it is for real... I think they said if you buy furniture up to $2000 worth and UCLA then wins on Saturday, you can get your money back.

UPDATE: The bet was if you buy $2000 or more and then if UCLA wins, you get a refund. This LA Times item says they are indeed tallying up the cost of the promotional as people came to the store on Sunday morning to get their refunds!

***

Pat Cowan will start at QB for UCLA in the big game on Saturday.

***

UCLA has received and accepted a bid to a third tier bowl, the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco.

The Emerald Bowl PR machine went into best face forward spin mode to make the game sound more dramatic than the two ~0.500 team bowl it actually is. Excerpt:
UCLA becomes the first Pacific-10 Conference team to play in the Emerald Bowl.

Florida State has never before played a game in Northern California. The Seminoles' last West Coast appearance was a 14-7 victory over USC in 1997. This season marks the 25th consecutive year Florida State has been invited to a bowl game.

The two teams have never met.
........
We're thrilled to bring Bobby Bowden, the winningest coach in college football history.... The Bruins bring great tradition and the nation's second-largest media market. To be able to match UCLA against Florida State in the first year of our ACC vs. Pac-10 match-up is a dream come true for our game.
It goes on and on like that trying to pump up the game. Gotta give credit to their public relations writer!

***

This is a family friendly blog so I am a little hesitant to provide this link but for those who want to understand a little bit of the intensity of the USC vs. UCLA rivalry, you can check out this R-rated (for foul language) video blog post.

***

The rivalry extends to other sports and Lexus has capitalized on it for marketing purposes by awarding the Gauntlet Trophy to the school that fares better in a variety of sports.

Culture: Why Marry?

I'm enjoying the occasional visit over to Boundless: the line.

Here is a recent item that caught my eye.

As a single guy, I do wonder if my views of marriage are excessively idealistic and thus may have made attainment of marriage an idol and essentially impossible?

Here are some excerpts from the blog post by Denise Morris:
As I look at my own life and also the attitudes of my single friends, I have to agree with these sociologists. I think we have overly-idealized what marriage is and should be. We expect the person we marry to be perfect, we desire a romantic story to describe how we met, and we hold out forever in search of "the one." The idea of personal choice has been idolized in Western society, and I think it has definitely affected the way we think about marriage. It causes us to delay getting married until we think we'll be supremely happy with that choice.
..........
Now, I am not saying that you should run out and marry the next person you meet. I do think there's a lot of wisdom, discernment and prayer involved in choosing a spouse. You don't want to marry any jerk who comes along. However, I do think we should approach marriage in a way that causes us to ponder how this relationship will glorify God instead of how it will be most pleasing to me.
I have been trying to gain a more realistic view of marriage and a little while ago, I was thumbing through my hardly used copy of the Presbyterian Church USA Book of Confessions and came across the entry on marriage within the Westminster Confession of Faith. Excerpt:
I. Marriage is to be between one man and one woman: neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband at the same time.

II. Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife; for the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue, and of the Church with an holy seed; and for preventing of uncleanness.
You must remember the Westminster Confession was written in 1646 so the wording sounds a bit strange.

Point #1 is pretty clear: One man with one woman at any one time.

Point #2 is could use a bit of updating into 21st Century language! How about this:

Marriage was intended for the benefit of both husband and wife; for the propagation of children and raising them within the family of faith; and for the moral protection and growth of all involved.


One wonders if the decline of marriage within America and even within American religious communities could be traceable to the decline in "creedal" and "old fashioned" understanding of marriage and the acceptance of the self-fulfilment ethos of this age?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: The kinder and gentler Paul

1 Thessalonians 3:6-13 is nice slice of life moment.

But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you.

I would bet some people have the view of Saint Paul as this hard-nosed General Patton like character. There were definitely moments when he was INTENSE to the Nth degree. But reading this passage, we see the kinder and gentler Apostle Paul. It seems downright sappy!

Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

There might not be anything more delightful than to see other people grow. Not being a parent I don't have that experience in its fullness. However, in life, I've lived long enough to see my nephew and neice grow from tiny squirming bundles to adults in the making. I've participated in church life long enough to see students grow up to become the teachers. It is a good feeling to simply see it. It is a terrific feeling to know that you had a tiny part in the process.

Paul and his companions prayed for this church ...

Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

As an unexpected youth volunteer, I have to remind myself that part of my "work" with the youth besides going to events and preparing Bible lessons is to pray. I claim no knowledge about how prayer actually works but it does and God tells us to do it. So, what am I (are we) waiting for?

What did they pray for?

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you.

Opportunity to spend time with them. In the old days travel was slow and hard. Today, travel is relatively easy, at least in the USA and other developed nations, but we simply get busy with stuff. This kind of prayer is probably even more needful today.

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.

More love. Right relationships. Loving those within the circle of the church also those outside we have contact with. We all have "neighbors" we are to love.

There are the physical ones next door, the vocational ones at work, the biological ones in our immediate and extended families, the volitional ones in friends, the incidental ones in acquaintances and other people we meet in day-to-day life and indeed, even "virtual" ones via the internet.

May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

More holiness. Right living. Doing the right thing even if it is hard. Doing the right thing even if nobody is looking.

Lord Jesus, thank you for this window into the heart of Paul. Indeed, he was a passionate advocate of theology and detailed explainer of the significance and meaning of what Jesus did. However, he also cared about those he ministered to. God, help me to have that kind of passion for the truth and for loving others. Amen.

Sports: UCLA vs. USC - to sell or not to sell that is the question ...

I bought two tickets for UCLA-USC football game earlier in the year when prospects were still good for the Bruins. Alas, now, it is hard to find a UCLA alum football fan who wants to go to see what amounts to be a ritual sacrifice: USC to earn the favor of the BCS gods will kill the Bruins.

My guess is that "style" points will not be needed but since this is a rivalry game, nothing less than total demolition of the opposition is demanded by the faithful. I threw out a 56-0 score as a possibility in one of my prior posts over at my other blog where I have been posting since D-7 and will continue to do a least a daily post about the famed but now moribund rivalry.

Anyway, the question before me: do I sell the tickets?

They are selling above face value. It is highly likely that USC fans are buying up tickets UCLA fans are unloading.

I have not attended a UCLA vs. USC contest live in 24 years. Would I desire to see a blowout?

Or would I achieve some sense of liberterian satisfaction making money on my tickets selling them to a USC fan?

I mean they would be happy to sit in the UCLA section in their red sweaters and make noise as there team steamrolls down the field.

I'd make some money out of it.

I'd be spared attending a game with little to cheer for.

As a good libertarian, that is about as good as it gets: making some money out of a bad situation.

But as a UCLA alum, would that be a denial of faith? A failure of devotion?

What if a miracle occurs and the Bruins pull off the greatest upset in the history of NCAA football and I wouldn't be there?

Or would I feel satisfied with my money in the bank and USC fans sitting in the UCLA section watching the horror of their team fumbling away a shot at the National Title?

Indeed, the existential question remains: to sell or not to sell...

What do you think Dear Rambling Readers?

Help me decide what to do. I still have time to post my tickets on StubHub!

ed. note - I'm only 1/4 serious when I wrote this! I hope people realize I'm being melodramatic to be entertaining as part of the hype in the run up to the game. 8-)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Culture: What Divides Americans?

Why do we feel that America is getting more polarized?

We all have that vague or not so vague sense that that is true.

What is at the core of this?

(1) Faith in God - one part of America believes that God (of the Judeo-Christian variety) places moral obligations upon us while another part of America believes that religious belief is, at best, non-sense and, at worst, the source of all sorts of evil in the world.

(2) America's role in the world - one part of America believes that the United States is the new Roman Empire and the source of all sorts of evil in the world while another part still gets misty eyed when they sing The Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America and believes Americans though far from perfect do a lot of good in the world.

I heard this analysis this morning on Prager's radio show.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

World: Iraq 3+ years later

I went back to the archives and found this item I posted giving my analysis of the impending war in Iraq. ed. note - I had to recompile the post to generate a permalink as it was such an old post. I made some minor edits but no changes in substance.

As a blogger, my past thoughts are "on record" and I felt it was time to re-visit this topic given what is happening in Iraq these days.

Back then I said ...
If Bush wants to get re-elected in 2004, he should drop the war with Iraq and throw all his energy and political clout on turning the economy around. The polls tell him that Americans are concerned about the economy first and foremost. The only way the war will benefit Bush is if it is swift (probable), the WMDs get found (probable), post-war Iraq is rebuilt into a peaceful nation (doubtful before Nov. 2004) and the American people haven’t forgotten by election day (ask Bush41). Feeling lucky GW?
If the Democrats had fielded a better candidate than John Kerry, it is quite possible that Bush would have been defeated in 2004. The war was taking its toll on Bush's support but Kerry was such a weak candidate that Bush squeezed out a very narrow victory.

The initial phase of the war was swift.

The stockpiles WMDs were not found. Instead, we found old left over chemical weapons and indications that Iraq desired to reconstitute the program and had the knowledge and some of the equipment to do so. The experience proved that intelligence estimates are never a sure thing.

The rebuilding of Iraq has clearly proved to be much more difficult than the initial invasion. It is pretty hard to build a country when two (Shia and Sunni) of the three main groups in the nation would rather kill each other than work together for the good of the whole.

In my post 3+ years ago, I made the case that the war was not about oil and gave four reasons. I stand by those four reasons. I want to reiterate reason number four:
(4) If the war is just about oil then why bother with the hassle of dealing with the UN? The world hates us anyway, why waste time working with the UN? Just go in there and start the bombing tomorrow?
I know that sounds crude but isn't it the truth though? Who would stop us? Would the Russians throw nukes at New York city to stop us? If we really wanted the oil, we could just take it.

Even now, if we really want only the oil, we could end the civil war and take the oil. It is really quite simple: send in the B-52s and level towns in the Anbar province and Sadr City in Baghdad and any other locations with forces fueling the civil unrest.

If America truly lived down to the stereotype of being the 21st Century Roman Empire then that is what we would do.

I also said the following back then...
He could have left Iraq alone and concentrated on other matters that could score him more political points. Instead, he believes Hussein poses a danger and has staked his presidency and his standing for history by pursuing an UNPOPULAR war.
In all likelihood, Bush will leave office in 2009 much like LBJ did: with a war being the main chapter of his presidency. Whether one agreed with Bush or not, he made a choice about what he believed to be right. Right now the verdict would be negative but the episode is not complete. At the moment, there doesn't appear to be any light at the end of the tunnel and Iraq seems on a fast track to self-destruction. It almost seems like it isn't about the Americans anymore. It seems more about Sunni-Shia hatred that Hussein bottled up with a totalitarian iron fist much like Tito did in the former Yugoslavia.

Newsweek columnist Zakaria expressed his views in a recent article. Excerpt:
The Shiite ruling coalition and the Sunni insurgency both believe that if only the United States were to get out of the way, they could defeat their enemies outright.
........
While these are not conditions that suggest a political deal is likely, there is nothing to be lost in trying. When President Bush meets with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Jordan this week, he should make clear that Iraq's leaders need to come to an agreement that meets both sides' key demands on such issues as autonomy, oil revenues and amnesty. But he needs to deliver an ultimatum: either the government begins implementing such a deal by January or American troops will begin a drawdown, leaving the core tasks of security to Iraqi forces.
In short, Zakaria is saying, either work it out or we pull out and let you kill each other.

My final thoughts back then were these:
From listening to the UNMOVIC reports, it is probably unlikely that Hussein has nuclear bombs and probably won’t have them anytime soon. It is a pretty complicated technology to master. However, if we allow them to keep working on it, they will eventually get a nuclear capability.

They have a history of using chemicals in battle and competency to make biologicals. The US should provide as much intelligence as possible to UNMOVIC to "find" them and thus ratchet further the pressure on Hussein. Next, the US should set a deadline. Right now, French, Russia, China and others can say, let’s give the inspectors more time and be very hostile to the US in their public statements. But once a proposal is out on the floor with a date certain, they will have to think harder if they want to veto. And in back channel communications, the USA and UK should make it abundantly clear that if Iraq doesn’t come clean, then military action will be taken with (preferable) or without UN support.
Regaring nuclear technology, indeed Iraq was a long way off. The Gulf war set that back hugely.

As for chemical and biologicals, apparently Iraq would have reconstituted the programs once fraying UN sanctions were ended.

I posted my initial analysis on February, 2003. US military forces continued to flow into the region. There would be some last minute activity in the UN but it was becoming clear that no Security Council resolution would be passed as a veto was sure to be exercised by either France, Russia or China. For a rundown of all the events leading up to Operation Iraqi Freedom check this item over at GlobalSecurity.org.

Dr. Mark Conversino gave his view of the Iraqi invasion in his analysis of Operation Desert Fox:
Yet when DESERT FOX ended a mere 70 hours after it began, Saddam remained firmly in power - minus some of his infrastructure - and the Iraqi dictator could claim to his people and to the world that once again, he had withstood an onslaught from the most powerful form of America’s and the West’s armed might - airpower. The status of Iraq’s WMD programs would remain a mystery and these programs were now beyond the scrutiny of the UN. Moreover, DESERT FOX lacked clear political goals, an omission for which no amount of firepower could compensate. Despite the militarily effective, if brief, application of airpower, Saddam Hussein not only survived, he succeeded in ending UN inspections and retained both the intent and capability to restart his WMD programs once sanctions either collapsed or were lifted. Only the fall of Baghdad in 2003 to coalition forces ended once and for all the threat from Saddam’s murderous regime and his quest for weapons of mass destruction.
Military operations against Iraq began at around 9:30 PM EST on March 19, 2003.

Culture: National Park Visits Declining

Saw an interesting item over at the LA Times reporting a 20% decline in visits over the last 10 years.

Why is this happening?

Here are some excerpts:
Agency officials admit that national parks are doing a poor job attracting two large constituencies - young people and minorities - causing concerns about the parks' continued appeal to a changing population.

A study commissioned by the park service and released in 2003 found that only 13% of the African Americans interviewed had visited a park in the previous two years.

For more than a year, the appropriations committee of the U.S. House of Representatives has been asking the park service to explain how it intends to attract more minorities to parks.
................
Meanwhile, the parks' most loyal visitors over the last several decades are vacationing elsewhere. Baby boomers are changing the way they play. Some of the more adventurous have embraced mountain biking and similar sports that are not allowed in many national parks. But as they age, most boomers are less interested in pitching tents and sleeping on the ground.

"I do believe that there is a significant trend, 'Done before dinner,' " said Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the Outdoor Industry Assn. "Baby Boomers want hard adventure by day and soft adventure by night. They want to paddle and rock-climb and also their Cabernet and almond-crusted salmon with asparagus. And a nice bed."

Many young families, too, are spurning the parks. According to Emilyn Sheffield, a social scientist at Cal State Chico on loan to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, children have more say in family vacation destinations than ever before and, if they must be outdoors, they prefer theme parks.

But, even if children vote to visit a park, Sheffield said, many families spend no more than three hours traveling to vacation destinations, meaning that parks far from urban areas are getting a pass. In contrast, urban parks, including the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and San Francisco's Golden Gate National Recreation Area, are among the most heavily used parks in the country.
......
Cultural insensitivity might be less of an issue if there were more minorities employed in parks. J.T. Reynolds, the superintendent of Death Valley National Park and an African American, said recruiting more diversity in the ranger ranks has been a long-standing but largely failed effort by the park service. Eighty percent of full-time park employees are white, despite minority recruitment efforts.
........
James Gramann, a social scientist at Texas A&M University and visiting chief social scientist for the park service, cautioned, "We can't be driven simply by changes in public tastes, because we also have responsibilities to resources that we are mandated to protect."

Critics contend that if park service officials become slaves to recreational fashion, national parks would roar with the sound of jet skis, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles, and cellphone towers would rise among redwoods and touch-screen computers would dot wilderness trails.

"When you put technical contrivances in, it replaces nature, and what sets the parks apart is their authenticity," said Bill Tweed, former chief resource ranger at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

"The next generation will challenge the national parks. They might ask, 'Why do we need parks when we can simulate them?' In a rush to make parks relevant, we will end up destroying what makes them unique."

Life: How people react to Christianity?

As a Christian who happens also to be a molecular biologist, I get very different responses from people upon finding out that I'm a Christian.

I think there have been four types of responses.

(1) I'm a Christian too! That's cool that you are in the sciences and a person of faith. This kind of respondant might then go on to say, sometimes people think faith means leaving your brain in neutral so it is nice to know that doesn't have to be the case. Christianity is thus a "true religion" to this person.

(2) That's cool you are a Christian. I think all roads lead to god and its good you believe in something. This person holds to "religious pluralism."

(3) That's cool you are a Christian but I think religions are just fairy tales but if those fairy tales make people do good and be happy than I'm all for it. This skeptic thinks of Christianity as a "useful fiction."

(4) How can you be a Christian? Religions are just lies and the source of all sorts of evil in the world and throughout history. This individual believes faith in general is a "dangerous evil."

How does one behave "Christianly" in response to these responses?

Something to think about, eh?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Keeping in touch

Checking out 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5.

The Bible is quite down to earth. The Old Testament is a collection of what happened to the people of Israel in their ups and downs of following God. The New Testament are the Gospels (records of Jesus teaching and deeds), Acts (activities of the early church), Letters (Paul and other early church leaders giving advice to churches and individuals) and Revelation (a vivid description of the battle between good and evil).

The passage I'm looking at today is a window into the lives of Paul and his concern for the group of followers. There is no high flying theology here (there is theology nonetheless) but what comes across is the daily grind of what it means to follow Jesus.

But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire. Therefore we wanted to come to you - even I, Paul, time and again - but Satan hindered us.

Rene's really loose paraphrase: WE miss you guys and gals! We've wanted to see you but things just keep getting in the way of those plans!

For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.

Rene's really loose paraphrase: Do you know what makes us really happy? The fact that one of these days we will be having a grand reunion with Jesus when the Kingdom arrives in fullness. We are really delighted to know you all!

Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.

Rene's really loose paraphrase: I couldn't stand it anymore, so I sent my trusted aide Timothy to check on you and to strengthen your faith amidst the tough times which are an inevitable part of following Jesus.

For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know. For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain.

Rene's really loose paraphrase: When I was teaching you, I had told you all that we would be under pressure by those who oppose following Jesus and that is what is happening now. You all seemed so worried about this and so since I've been away from you, I've been concerned about you. 2000 years from now, I could pick up the phone and call you but for now, all I can do is send Timothy to encourage you and to hear from him how you all are doing when he gets back to me. I'd feel awful if your faith was shaken and our work with you came to nothing.

Lord Jesus, I pray for people who I know who are wrestling with their faith. Some may be anxious about particular circumstances. Some have felt disillusioned with the church. Some struggle with aspects of the faith that are hard to understand and accept. Lord, bless each one. To the extent, I can be an encouragement, help me to lift them up with prayers, words, deeds and constancy of love. Tomorrow, am sharing with our church's junior high group and I need you to bless my feeble efforts. Allow me, an imperfect and broken vessel to be the means our young people receive the refreshing water of the word so that their faith would be nourished. Amen.

Friday, November 24, 2006

World: Mess in Lebanon

Was listening to Dennis Prager's radio show and telephone guest was Michael Young, opinion editor of the Daily Star, an English language newspaper published in Beirut.

Prager asked him a whole bunch of questions to get a handle on the situation over there.

The main ideas I got was that Lebanon's government is divided into pro- and anti-Syria factions. The Prime Minister is anti-Syria, the President is pro-Syria and there are 24 cabinent ministers with most being anti-Syria.

However, a government will be in constitutional collapse if 9 cabinet ministers depart from the government either by resignation (the entire pro-Syrian wing has resigned) and there have been assasinations of several anti-Syrian ministers.

Prager asked, why can't new ministers be named to replace those resigned and assassinated?

The reporter said, they must gain the approval of the pro-Syrian President!

As it stands, if two more ministers resign or are assassinated, the government will be constitutionally non-viable.

Young fears that the USA will give into the Syrians in exchange for help in Iraq which would leave Lebanon once again totally dominated by the Syrians.

I hope somehow the USA can help both the Iraqis and Lebanese get their countries back from radicals.

Life: How not to misplace your car in the parking lot

Heard on the radio a tip for Thanksgiving shoppers: use your camera phone to take a picture of where your car is parked!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Life: Happy Thanksgiving Where Ever You Are!

Psalm 147:1-11

Praise the LORD!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
for it is pleasant,and a song of praise is fitting.
The LORD builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.
The LORD lifts up the humble;
he casts the wicked to the ground.

Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre!
He covers the heavens with clouds;
he prepares rain for the earth;
he makes grass grow on the hills.
He gives to the beasts their food,
and to the young ravens that cry.
His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,
but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.

Sports: UCLA Wins Maui Invitational

UCLA defeats Georgia Tech to win the Maui Invitational.

UCLA looks pretty balanced with good guard play from Affalo and Collison and solid front line work by Mbah a Moute and Mata. Shipp still seems a bit tentative probably due to the fact that injury kept him out almost the whole season last year. The team is able to play 10 deep.

Only trouble spot tonight was poor free throw shooting.

The season looks promising! Go Bruins!

Culture: Evangelistic Atheists

Over at Boundless: the line there is a post about the call by atheists to show that belief in God should be challenged. Excerpt:
Dr. Al Mohler explains that Dawkins isn't attempting to convince believers that they should no longer believe in God. "To the contrary," he says, "Dawkins is attempting a very different cultural and political move. He wants to make respect for belief in God socially unacceptable."
Those of us in the biological sciences have know this for years. The argument essentially comes down to: science = good and true, religion = bad (or a harmless fairy tale) and false.

Sam Harris is the other evangelist for atheism that has garnered a lot of attention.

There was once a time when apologetics (defense of Christian faith) type of organizations believed they could try to convince those outside of Christianity to consider faith. I think their mission now is going to be more defensive in trying to help Christians who are tottering on their faith to hold firm against the onslaught of opposition from an increasingly secular society.

As a molecular biologist, I think most of us in the sciences, when push comes to shove, recognize that science doesn't have all the answers. Science is a wonderful tool to figure certain things out; however, most of us know there are things we believe to be true that are beyond the reach of science. Love is one example. Notions of good and evil are another. Even the conversation of whether or not there is a god cuts both ways: god is a crutch we invented for some survival benefit or our hunger for a god (of some shape or form) suggests that there is actually a god just as hunger for food tells us there is something called food.

But in the final analysis, aside from recognizing the limits of science, there is the question of the transformation that religion when done right can accomplish.

I've been reading Yancey's latest book on Prayer and he had this quote that I marked and dog-earred the page (p. 125):
Wherever Christian missionaries have traveled they have left behind a trail of hospitals, clinics, orphanages, and schools. To preach God without the kingdom is no better than to preach the kingdom without God.
As a Christian, my prayer is that I would combine both clear thinking with good character.

UPDATE: This topic of scientists objecting to religion is clearly in the air. Here is a post over at Mere Comments in regard to a NYT item on a conference on science and religion.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Culture: Conservatives - kinder and sexier!

Saw this item by David Frum. Excerpts:
You'll never know who will turn up in Washington to talk politics. On Wednesday, the city was graced by actress Eva Longoria, the sultry star of ABC's Desperate Housewives. Addressing an audience of Latino business leaders, she explained the wide appeal of her show: "Everyone on Wisteria Lane has the money of a Republican, but the sex life of a Democrat."

It's a pretty good joke -- but very poor sociology.
Frum then proceeds to mention various studies that show that the various stereotypes are actually the opposite of what people perceive. He concludes:
If we must have stereotypes, let's at least have accurate ones. Not only are conservatives sexier than liberals -- they are kinder too.
Check out the whole thing.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Personal: Learning to give money

Recently met two of the writers behind the blog Boundless: the line while attending the God Blog Conference.

Came across this item on Boundless regarding Christians and their giving habits.

The writer, Denise Morris, quotes the following paragraph:
If Christians had given the traditional 10 percent tithe of their income to their churches in 2004, instead of the 2.56 percent that they actually gave, there would have been an additional $164 billion available, according to a report released in October called "The State of Church Giving through 2004." If the churches chose to funnel just $70-$80 billion of that additional income to missions and humanitarian works, the basic needs of every person on the globe would be provided.
Earlier this year, I sensed I needed to look at my giving practices. I made a commitment to increase it both in giving to the church as well as to other causes that help people in need. I started posting "non-profit" of the month features on this blog to highlight some of the organizations I have come across that I support.

I wonder to what degree the Christians in that survey also donate to non-church organizations?

I wonder if there is some discontent at how perhaps some of our churches are using the money we give?

In any case, I know I want to grow in giving. I appreciate the honesty of the author when she write this:
Now, I know that some people disagree about what tithing money should be used for, or where it should all go. But, either way, we should be giving. We've been given so much, and God only asks us to give a small amount back to Him. The stat from Relevant Magazine is shocking. We have the means to do so much good -- to glorify the Lord through our giving -- but, at least for me, trips to Banana Republic sometimes get in the way.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Worthy Walk

Taking a look at 1 Thessalonians 2:9-16 this morning.

The first part describes how Paul and his companions tried their best to do two thing: not be a burden to them and to spur them forward in living for God.

not being a burden

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.

He was probably referring to avoiding being a financial burden on them. It is a sad reality of life today that some people feel that the church is just in business to pass the offering plate around to collect money or that the face of Christianity is the guy on television asking for money. For whatever reason, in the circumstances that Paul was in, he felt especially sensitive to the need to avoid any quid pro quo. We know he accepted financial gifts, see Philippians 4:10ff. It was probably those funds and his other labors that helped pay his bills.

Its a challenge for those who have accepted the opportunity to train and serve as pastors. For instance, it costs about $1000+ per class at Talbot or Fuller seminary where I have friends who are training to serve the church. It is a delicate balancing act for them to work and help pay the bills and accept the occasional financial gift from supporters. If you know some seminary students, please pray that they will be able to find the right balance that fosters their sense of God's providing and retention of the purity of motive in what they are doing.

spurring them onward

You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers.
For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.


In addition to their scrupulousness regarding money, they lived holy, righteous and blameless lives while they exhorted, encouraged and charged them to live out their faith.

It was really sad to hear the news about Ted Haggard. He stumbled badly. Yet, I have to give him credit for owning up to his errors. Mark D. Roberts, a pastor, has been writing about the situation and it makes for good reading. We need to be in prayer for those who lead in the church. We are all fallen creatures. Yet, we are being transformed and there are things we need to do to help us stay on the narrow path.

the word at work

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

What are words?

Letters assembled into bits form words. Words form sentences and convey thoughts. Sentences arranged to form paragraphs make a train of reason. In written form and spoken form, it is words that God miraculously uses to change our lives.

There is power in raw words when God is there. The way we live our lives speak of those words changing us earning us the opportunity to share actual words to someone observing and intrigued by the difference in our lives. At least, that is what I hope is happening in my life!

not alone

For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved -- so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God's wrath has come upon them at last!

I would imagine they might feel discouraged amidst suffering for their faith. Paul encourages them: you are not alone. The churches in Judea faced the same opposition. The prophets of old faced dangers. The proclaimers of the faith like Paul and others faced persecution.

Today, persecution of Christians exists. I confess my own lack of awareness and prayerfulness about this reality.

Lord, when one part of the body hurts the whole body should hurt. I confess that living here in the USA means I am not alert to what is happening elsewhere. Help me to be in prayer that your Kingdom would come by bringing conviction to those who would harm people for simply believing in Jesus. Lord, in your timing, may your Kingdom come in fullness yielding deliverance for those who suffer and justice upon those who inflict suffering. In my life here in Los Angeles, amidst the people I walk with, help me to walk worthy of you. Give me opportunities to share my faith. Amen.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: A prayer for my middle school students

I serve as a volunteer in my church's youth group. It was a long time ago when I was in junior high! I'm over three times older than them. Yet, the journey of faith is about Jesus, whether you are young or old. In that regard, we are in the same boat.
Lord, please help our young friends in their daily walk with you. Encourage them with the knowledge they don't walk on the school grounds alone. Help them to experience your working in their lives when they respond to your prompting to risk caring for another. Guard their hearts and minds from the lies that the world tosses their way. Prompt them to open the Word to seek wisdom. Cause them to look up to you in prayer for thanksgiving and help and praise and confession. Amen.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sports: UCLA basketball season starts up tonight

Last year's run to the NCAA finals was a very pleasant surprise. They got a miracle win over Gonzaga in round two and got on a roll until they met a faster, bigger and more athletic team in Florida.

Expectations are probably a bit too high right now among fans rooting for the Blue and Gold of Westwood. Farmar left for the NBA and Hollins and Bozeman were crucial pieces to last year's success.

The cupboard is good but not without gaps.

The starting line-up is very young with four 2nd year players and 1 junior. Darren Collison will run the point. He brings more speed than Farmar but less offense. Arron Afflalo is the junior to provide leadership and offense and be the defensive stopper. Josh Shipp will also provide some offense. Hopefully, his injuries are all behind him. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (love that name!) will be the rebounding machine and will kick in some points too. At center will be a Moute's Cameroon countryman Alfred Aboya who was hampered last year by injury.

I think this team will be quicker than last year's squad. But I am not sure how they will match up against bigger teams. Aboya and Mbah a Moute are the front-line guys for UCLA but are only 6-8. Afflalo and Shipp should lead the team in scoring. Hopefully, with stifling defense and speedy Collison at the point, UCLA will get more baskets off of transition. But in the half court, I really don't know if Afflalo and Shipp will be enough.

Also, with the loss of three key players from last year, the Bruin bench will be a rotation of players from last year plus a freshman or two that earn a spot. Returning will be Lorenzo Mata who will get the lion's share of bench minutes. Coach Howland knows he will bang underneath and grab rebounds. Ryan Wright didn't have lots of minutes last year but UCLA will need his size to rest the front-line starters for a few minutes here and there. Michael Roll can shoot the three but is a bit slow and like most shooter streaky. Beyond these three, Howland looks at a bench of freshman and walk-ons.

In any case, go BRUINS!

UPDATE: Heard part of the game on radio. The game was closer than the 82-69 final score indicates. BYU was hot from 3-point land and the Bruins were down for part of the 1st half and the beginning of the 2nd half. But the defense finally clamped down and they pulled away late in the 2nd half. Mbah a Moute had a career night with 24 points. Collison ran the point well 10 assists and 16 points and only 1 turnover. Mata started at center with Aboya backing him up with significant minutes. Roll got in there and played 14 minutes and hit one three. Keefe, Wright and Westbrook also got in. Key will be the development of Westbrook as he will be the backup point. Collison played 38 out 40 minutes. Hopefully, Westbrook will gain the skills to play more minutes so Collison doesn't wear out as the long season goes forward.

Blogging: Christian Carnival CXLVIII is UP

Christian Carnival CXLVII is being hosted by Diane at Crossroad: where faith and inquiry meet.

Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of essays by various Christian bloggers.

I put one item in this go around.

I took a quick look at the various topics and will take a closer look over the next few days.

Good job by Diane!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Confessions from an unexpected church youth group volunteer

Teaching junior high school kids is a challenge. They are developing the mental skills to follow along but they are, in the end, still middle school kids who at one moment can be paying attention and at another moment bouncing off the walls either in their minds or literally.

Once upon a time in human history, kids at that age worked the land on the farm or other forms of gainful employment. They had to grow up real fast. Today, they enter this extended limbo state that can extend out into college and graduate school. I'm a prime example of living in that limbo state as I went for a PhD and didn't get my first "real" job until I was thirty!

So on one hand, there is a delay in growing up but because of the high tech high speed life of the modern age, they are exposed to more stuff more quickly than at any other time in human history.

What is one to do with these kids in our youth program?

As I reflect on my role as a volunteer in our church's youth program, I am both humbled and honored.

It is an honor that God would give me the opportunity to be involved with trying to impact the lives of these young people. It is an honor to be sharing this term of service with my team mates.

It is humbling to know that so much of what I do is completely out of my hands. Indeed, I try my best to prepare and share from the Scriptures and my life experience but whether those seeds sprout and grow I do not control and may not even get to see even if it does.

It is humbling to know that I'm more than twice the age of middle-schoolers yet I still struggle with life like they do. The contexts are different and how it plays out is different but the core issues are the same.

For instance, kids want to be accepted by their peers. I do too. I'd like to think I've learned to be more at peace with who God made me but I find there are still times I kick myself thinking, I'm being oh so teenage dramatic when I seek and do not obtain the approval of others and I get all bent of of shape because of it.

Another example is finding your own path. Kids are starting to think about what they want to do and be as they get older. They don't spend every waking moment thinking about it but once in while that thought intrudes into their play time and school and study time. As an adult, I think about the future and what I'm going to do a bit more and yes, I confess, I can get anxious about it.

Finally, there is this whole, I'm want to believe and follow Jesus thing. Teens are beginning to think about what that means. When they were little kids, it was the faith of their fathers and mothers. Now, they are wrestling with "is it my faith?" Do I really buy this stuff I'm hearing? How do I live this out? That journey never ends. I'm a 40-something guy and I still wrestle with living for Jesus. At the end of the day, I'm confessing to God how I sinned during the day. There are still many times, I stare at the ceiling and wonder, how come I am not as fully devoted to following Jesus as I should be? So often, I'm thinking, the good I should be doing I don't do and the evil I don't want to do, I do. Lord, have mercy!

I hope I can be an example to my young friends on this journey of faith. I hope I can share with them that it is (1) worth the struggle, (2) the ways the Scriptures give wisdom for life and (3) the love of God through my presence, deeds and words.

St. Paul said it so much more eloquently a long time ago in 2 Timothy 3:10-17.
You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings - what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Lord, help me to live for you. Forgive me my faults and sins. Help me to grow as a man of devotion to you and love for my neighbor. God give me love, courage and persistence to love the students you bring to our youth group. Thank you for the opportunity. May you bless each one today and this week. Amen.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

LA Scene: Tamale Festival



My latest post is up at LAFB and it is about the 2nd Annual LA Tamale Festival.

WHEN:
November 10, 11 & 12, 2006
Friday: 3pm - 8pm
Saturday:10am - 9pm
Sunday 11am - 6pm

WHERE
MacArthur Park - Mama’s Hot Tamales Cafe
2124 West 7th Street, Los Angeles, Ca 90057
Between Parkview & Alvarado Street on 7th Street

Event web page.

Life: YS-NYWC Anaheim 2006 - Index & Impressions

Last week, I went to the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention in Anaheim, California. It was a tremendous experience.

In sharing about the experience via email with some friends, I wrote this:
Just wanted to say I had a wonderful time at YS-NYWC. I really went into the conference feeling pretty beaten down by life so the times of worship and challenge was much needed. God took a hammer and started to chip away at the many hard-edges in my life. I'm a work in progress and still got a ways to go but it was sooooo good to be reminded that God hasn't stopped working on me.

One of the training sessions I went to on middle school ministry, the speaker had us briefly break out into groups based on age... one cluster of people were the UNDER 20s(!) .... another was 30s .... there was a group of 40somethings (hooray!) ... a clutch of 50ish folks and yup, there was even a few in their 60s! The speaker also showed a photo of one of his volunteers: a 70 year old guy! Anyway, it was a light hearted moment but it just showed me that God use all sorts of people!
Below are other posts I have written regarding YS-NYWC ...

Sights and Sounds

Sunday

Saturday

Friday

Thursday

First impressions

Enjoy!

If you are in youth ministry, consider going to an event in your area. If you aren't in youth ministry, see if you can encourage your church to support the youth workers in going to a future convention.

Life: YS-NYWC Anaheim 2006 - Sights and Sounds



The talented and lovely Vicky Beeching leading worship.



On the jumbotron, a portrait of Jesus that was painted while we sang worship songs during one of the general sessions.



One of the lively moments in general session when the band plays on.

Click here for a Quick Time movie of the David Crowder Band playing. It was shot from my camera phone so it isn't terrific but it captures the boundless energy of the assembled crowd!



Sorry, I can't remember which musician this is. The lighting of the scene caught my eye!



Philip Yancey spoke about prayer which is the subject of his latest book.



David Crowder doing what he does best.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Non-profit of the month: November 2006 - Nothing But Nets



I just donated. I hope you do too.

Life: Trying to keep a thankful heart

With all the "heavy" thoughts lately rattling around my mind, I have to stop for a moment and reboot! 8-0

I'm grateful for ...

Jesus and his love for me and all of us
sunshine - it's sunny today in LA!
good friends in life
music
crunchy apples
Dennis Prager's radio show
a job that pays the bills!
hot showers
thought provoking books
colorful ties

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Life: YS-NYWC Anaheim 2006, Sunday

During general sessions, Mark Oestreicher, Tic Long and Jeanne Stevens took turns playing the role of emcee.

I'm not sure which one said it but I appreciate the honesty. I think it was Mark but I'm not sure. Anyway, someone said, this conference is diverse in terms of which part of the many branches of Christianity a speaker comes from and you will hear things you will agree with and somethings you will disagree with. I encourage you to hear everyone out and be sure your bovine scatology meter is fully operational!

In my 4 days there, I'd say far more often than not, I was encouraged and challenged by the speakers whatever their perspective. Occasionally, I'd hear something I wasn't sure I bought and once in a while something I disagreed with.

But back to the point on diversity: the general session speakers were all over the map. Not a one was identical in style or background. Each had something to say and moved me in some fashion. Sunday was no different.

Shane Clairborne was probably the youngest main session speaker. I'm guessing he is in his late twenties. But he has already lived a very full life. He got involved with helping the homeless in Philadelphia and spent sometime working with Mother Theresa in Calcutta. He is passionate about the message of Jesus for us to care for the poor and downtrodden. I don't think anyone in the auditorium will forget his closing.

He told us (I'm paraphrasing) I turned my honorarium into one dollar bills and wrote "LOVE." on the bills. My assistant will now layer the front of the auditorium with those bills. If you are so moved please come forward and take one and put it to use in serving the poor. This is my way to encourage you to do something and love the poor of this world.

I don't know how much he gets paid to give a 40 minute talk but that lady put a LOT of one dollar bills on the floor!

In the afternoon, Philip Yancey was the speaker. People who know me know I've read several of his books and often recommend them. My favorite is Disappointment with God. I was browsing in a bookstore and started reading it because the title caught my eye! Before I knew it, I had read about 1/3rd of the book. At that point, I figure I owed it to the bookstore to buy it.

In the session, Yancey spoke about prayer which is the subject of his latest book.

One thing he said, did you know a lot of the prayers in the bible are complaints? So don't be bashful about being honest with God!

He also said, you know what, I've discovered that a lot of times we are the answer to our own prayer. That is why prayer is so dangerous and so easy for us to skip praying because then we don't have to deal with it! He said when we pray for something in the world or for someone we care about it is quite possible that God's answer will be... I see that problem too so YOU go do something about it!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Politics: Races I'm Watching Tonight

Will there be a democrat wave tonight?

Races I'm told to watch are as follows:
KY 3rd CD is held by the GOP
CT 2, 4 and 5 CDs are held by the GOP
KS 2nd CD is held by the GOP

If these all trend democrat, it could be a tidal wave.

In the Senate, the races to watch are:
Virginia, Missouri and Montana - these are all held by the GOP and if they go down it is a tidal wave.

UPDATE: It is a tidal wave...
KY 3rd went down 51-48
CT 2nd is a dead heat at 50-50
CT 4th is with the GOP 51-48 but still counting
CT 5th went down 56-44
KS 2nd went down 51-47

Meanwhile in the Senate ...
Virginia is going down 50-49 but still counting
Missouri is going down 49-48 but still counting
Montana is going down 51-47 but still counting

The last major shift in the House was 1994 when the GOP swept into power. The swing was 54-seats. As of now, the swing for the Democrats appears to be in the 30-ish range.

Life: YS-NYWC Anaheim 2006, Saturday

Saturday Morning

The AM session I attended had the title, "Communication that Connects: Teaching Effectively by Teaching Inductively" given by Craig Smith.

He cited the Veggie Tale phenomena produced by Big Idea Media. Indeed, he said that the secret of their success: the stories are built around one idea.

For teaching youth, one wants to try to identify from the Bible passage the ONE BIG IDEA they should get from it.

One way people teach is to tell them what they are going to say and then tell them. This is the standard deductive teaching method and this method has advantages and disadvantages and should be in the arsenal of every teacher.

However, he made his case for the inductive method. The main idea of the inductive teaching method is to show the various pieces of the puzzle to the student and journey with them and at the end, put it together. He also stressed the need to be creative in helping the Bible text comes to life. It is too easy to just dryly read it and teach it. Instead, he encouraged us to do whatever we can to show the reality and deep emotion of the people in the Bible.

Saturday Afternoon

Kurt Johnston lead the session "Freaks, Geeks and Squirrels: Understanding 11 to 14 Year Olds."

He quickly established his humble attitude by playing an audio tape of one of the embarrassing moments from his life as a youth pastor. He wanted to do a demonstration where he pushed a wheelbarrow off the stage and down a set of steps. Unfortunately, wheelbarrows can't do that and so when he did it in front of his youth group the wheelbarrow went down the stairs and got snagged and he flew over the wheelbarrow and crashed onto the floor.

He also then shared when he was a junior high kid in a small church with two other kids. They had a teacher who wasn't the most organized or most articulate but he loved the students. At the end of our class time, he shared that 10 years later while his car was stuck someone stopped to help: it was his old Sunday school teacher!

They shared what was happening in their lives and Johnston told his old junior high teacher, I'm a junior high youth pastor!

Another memorable moment in the class was when Johnston drew a graph of the growth of a Christian. His first graph was a arrow going upward toward the Cross representing greater Christ-likeness. He said we all wish it was just a straight climb up. He then put up a second graph where there are peaks and valleys but the general trend is up. He said for most adults after many years in the faith you began to realize this is more likely what is going on. The third graph he put on was a tangled line going up, down, sideways and backwards. He said, this is where junior high school kids are at and if you feel the need to try to straighten out that line then you might want to work with another age group. But if you want to journey with them through it then you are in for a tremendous time.

For me, the session was terrific encouragement. In particular, just seeing so many people there and to see the range of ages who are involved. Johnston had us meet briefly with others in our age bracket. In one group was 17-19, there was the 20-somethings, there was the 30-year olds, there was my group of 40-ish people, there was a group in their 50s and even a few who were in their 60s!

Johnston showed on his powerpoint, his 70ish volunteer! He said, he just loved the kids and made a little portable cart with good Christian books and would help kids pick out books to read!

General session Saturday AM

The morning speaker was Matthew Barnett the founder of the Dream Center in Los Angeles.

Powerful! He was 20 years old when he came to LA to become a pastor of a small church. He shared how one day a young man was shot dead at the doorstep of his church and when he met with his tiny congregation he said, we need to do something for the mom of that boy. He took up a collection of which netted $28 and told them please pray for me when I go meet his mom.

He told the story very vividly which I won't even attempt to recreate here. But the bottom line was he was terrified. It was a gang shooting and the people he had to meet to find the mother were all gang people. Please note: Barnett, now probably about 30, is a smallish white guy and hardly an intimidating physical specimen.

Anyway, he handed off the money and offered his condolences and they gathered around and prayed together. Initially nervous, he gave a "canned prayer" but then he realized that wasn't enough and he prayed with greater boldness. But the end of the prayer time, the people were sobbing and ready to turn over their lives to Christ.

Barnett's bottom line point was simply this: don't try to be a success just be a blessing to the people in your community and God will do amazing things.

General session Saturday PM

The evening speaker was Mike Pilavachi. On Friday morning, Kenda Dean gave a talk that was thoughtful and as a woman not given to a raised voice but of someone who is making observations that were hitting home. Friday evening, Efram Smith gave a talk with the cadences of a black preacher passionately lifting up the name of Christ. Saturday morning, Matthew Barnett gave a talk with the conviction that comes from a man who has seen some amazing things and wants all of us to know we can be a part of it where ever we are.

Mike Pilavach went with humor to illustrate the great encounters of Jesus with the outcast. His point was that Jesus was rarely "strategic." Or at least not strategic in the sense business minded people would call it. Instead, he always noticed the outcast. Pilavach took us in moving fashion through the encounter with the woman at the well, the calling out of Zacchaeus from the tree and finally the healing of the demon possessed man.

In each case, these are people who would be overlooked and even rejected. But Jesus reached them.

His bottom line: we are to be loving people one at a time no matter who they are.

UPDATE: While web surfing, I came across the blog of Youth Specialties President Mark Oestreicher. He shared his observations on the just completed Anaheim conference. God's fingerprints indeed!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Politics: Rene's Ramblings' Recommendations on California Propositions

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-NO

Previous posts on this topic are here and here.

UPDATE: As of 11:54 PM ...
Solidly passing: 1A, 1B, 1C, 1E, 83
Solidly defeated: 87, 88, 89
Winning: 1D, 84
Losing: 85, 86, 90

Politics: Clip from 2006 White House Correspondents Association Dinner

I guess I'm pretty late in getting this via email. But its still hilarious ... click here.

Life: YS-NYWC Anaheim 2006, Friday

I missed the afternoon session on Thursday so I joined part II of Dan Webster's presentation on The Unexpected Leadership Journey: Leading from the Pages of Your Life. Webster runs Authentic Leadership, Inc..

The metaphor he gave was that of a sailboat. Our lives are like them in that there is a part above the water which everyone sees and the part below that no one sees. Thus, in life, we have visible competency and our invisible character. In leadership (youth ministry or any other type of leadership), the part below the waterline is essential to pay attention to.

He also proposed that there is a six-phase cycle we work through periodically in our lives. Each is necessary and has different purposes and characteristics.

In brief, those six phases are: excitement, fundamentals, responsibility, bored-tired-disillusioned, introspection and renewal.

We could be in different phases in different parts of our life. In the presentation, he fleshed out these phases from his life experience and from others he has learned from and challenged us to examine where we are at and to seek God's working through the phase we find ourselves.

The afternoon worship time included the David Crowder Band, Kendall Payne and comedy/drama of Ted and Lee.

I'm not too familiar with the realm of contemporary Christian music but some of the songs the David Crowder Band played was recognizable by me because we play them in our church.

Kendall Payne is a singer-song writer guitarist. Her ballads ranged from a snarky but spot on song about supermodels to a soulful mediation on prayer inspired by the life of Mother Teresa.

Ted and Lee did short sketches on stage dramatizing hypothetical conversations between Andrew and Peter who were disciples of Jesus and brothers. Their vignettes are funny and moving vividly illustrating how Jesus life and teaching shakes up people's lives.

The session speaker was Kenda Creasy Dean who shared the story of Eli and Samuel and applied it to us today in the church with our youth. Particular moving was how she showed the generations needed each other in the idea that Samuel was young enough and close enough to the heart of God to hear His voice but he didn't really know it was God until the older and fading Eli told him to respond.

Also moving was two presentations about some of the suffering in this world that Christians need to be mobilizing to fight against. World Vision has a display at the exhibit hall to bring us into a day in the life of one AIDS orphan.

The other critical battle today is against malaria. The organizations Nothing But Nets is leading the way in sending to Africa mosquito nets to protect people from mosquitos at night time. The project was started when people started to donate money after reading Sport's Illustrated's Rick Reilly wrote about malaria nets. A $10 net can save lives and we need to be part of this effort.

The session I attended was led by Tony Jones. His topic was An Identity Crisis: How New Research is Challenging What We Think We Know About Adolescence.

He started with a discussion of how Erik Erikson established the idea of the adolescent identity crisis which can be summarized by the word-picture: the free standing tower. Kids are trying to grasp their sense of identity so that they would be this free standing tower. However, since his research only looked at boys, newer research has shown more factors. Additional ideas have been put forward that stress the fact that much of identity is tied to our relationships to others.

To illustrate this idea, he said the tallest man-made structure in the world is a 2063 foot radio tower in North Dakota. It is not exactly a free-standing structure. It has massive amounts of guide wires and deep pilings to keep it standing.

He cited a major report from the research community that stressed the need for "authoritative communities" to improve the mental health of today's youth. Though the group preparing the report was secular, they could not deny the significance of religious communities as beneficial to the emotional, mental and behavioral health of kids.

The speaker in many ways acknowledged that the research really doesn't come as a shock to people who have been working with youth but what was striking was how quantifiable the results turned out to be.

One stat that really jumped out at me was that he mentioned that research is showing that that boys and girls learn best from teachers of the same sex and that male participation in public school teaching is at an all time low.

If the church is serious about making an impact on society then Christian men need to go into public school teaching.

The evening session speaker was Efrem Smith who explored the depth and breadth of what it means to have Christ as our life and to reveal him through our lives. He is a pastor of a multi-ethnic church and that was part of his message. He stressed that Jesus represents all of humanity on the Cross and that message of love and hope is for all of humanity. He challenged us to see ourselves as more than our human ethnic characteristics and reveal the supernatural characteristics of being children beloved of God.

Non-profit of the month: November 2006 - World Vision and The ONE Campaign

Have you heard of the One Campaign?

I know relativley little about it except that Bono and a number of notible people from both the right and left of the political spectrum are supporting it.

The idea is to encourage the US government to increase aid to the poor by 1%.

I recently was browsing on Mark D. Robert's blog and saw on his previous topics list his thoughts on the ONE campaign.

From his concluding remarks he wrote this:
I believe the ONE Campaign offers a chance for millions of Americans to get personally involved in the war on poverty, right now. We don't have to wait for Congress to act. We can start today to make a difference. In fact, we can help save lives today. And we can do so by participating in the EIGHTY Campaign.

Haven't heard of this Campaign? No surprise, since I just made it up. Let me explain what it is.

Using very rough figures, if the ONE Campaign succeeds, and if the federal government votes to dedicate an additional one percent of its budget for poverty relief, then this works out to about $80 per year, per American, in additional taxes. So, every supporter of the ONE Campaign believes that the federal government should raise his or her taxes by an average of $80 per year to fund the war on poverty. This means, or at least it should mean, that every supporter of the ONE Campaign is willing to give $80 per year (at least) for this effort. (In reality, of course, wealthier supporters of the Campaign would give much more, while less wealthy supporters would give less.)

So, here's the core proposal of the EIGHTY Campaign:

Every person who supports the ONE Campaign should freely give eighty additional dollars per year to help overcome poverty. This should start right now, and should continue until the legal strategy of the ONE Campaign prevails.

Of course if the federal government never goes along with the one percent idea, then the ONE Campaign would, nevertheless, have raised huge amounts of money for poverty relief.

In his sermon at the National Prayer Breakfast Bono mentioned having two million signers of the ONE Declaration, with five million by November. If two million people were to give $80 each, that adds up to $160 million dollars in 2006 alone. If five million were to give $80 in 2006, that's roughly $400 million. Now that wouldn't end global poverty, but it sure would make a big difference. And this difference could happen right now, without getting any government involved.

Personal involvement in the EIGHTY Campaign would also strengthen the resolve and the credibility of the ONE Campaign supporters. Let's face it, it's not hard to wear a white wristband, especially when somebody cool like Bono asks you to do it. It takes a bit more commitment to give away $80. After all, that might be the cost of a pair of jeans, or eighty songs downloaded from the I-Tunes Store, or one night out at a nice restaurant. I'm sure many of those who wear ONE Campaign wristbands are students who would claim not to have an extra $80. But I wouldn't be surprised if those same students spend that much each month on lattes from Starbucks.
I'm going to click over to World Vision right now to donate and I encourage all my readers to do the same.

World Vision has a long history of being on the ground doing the work in the field. Occasionally, when a major disaster hits, they get some television coverage but they keep working faithfully even when the spotlight of publicity is off.

UPDATE: I donated specifically to World Vision's project to help provide safe drinking water in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are many other projects that will make a difference. Click around the web site and see what moves you to give.

Life: YS-NYWC Anaheim 2006, Thursday

I wish I could have gotten down to the convention right from the start. However, I got there in time to meet up with our church's team of volunteers for dinner and then to attend an evening worship time.

The 9PM Worship Together Concert featured the band Leeland from Texas and Vicky Beeching from London who now calls Nashville home.

For me, the most moving part of our time together was singing along with Leeland as they led us in a rockish-styled version of Amazing Grace. For those who don't know, the famed song Amazing Grace was written by John Newton who was a slave ship captain who became a Christian and turned against slavery. This is perhaps one of the most beloved hymn in the English language of all time whether it is sung a cappella, with bagpipes, with organ or in this case with rock band.

This was followed by a showing of the trailer for the film Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce to be released in 2007. Wilberforce become an advocate in the English Parliment to end slavery. After much opposition and many failed attempts, Wilberforce and his supporters won the battle to end slavery. The film is being produced by Walden Media which released The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Walden Media is also taking part in challenging people to participate in a campaign to fight for the end of slavery which still exists for millions of people even today. To read more about this 21st century effort, check out AmazingChange.com.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Life: I'm back from YS-NYWC 2006 Anaheim

What a wonderful experience!

A huge shout out to our youth director for encouraging (pushing!) us to go and getting the church to cover the bulk of the costs.

I'm going to be processing those raw thoughts and then post them here for your edification.

Until then, I'll just say it was an awesome event that really moved me, encouraged me and challenged me!

If you ever have the chance to go to one of these events by all means go! Or financially support your youth pastor and the team of volunteers at your church to go! It's definitely worth it. Check out the promo videos to help convince yourself and others.

I had hoped to live blog or at least blog at the end of the day while at Youth Specialties National Youth Worker's Convention. Alas, the wireless internet at the hotel costs a bit of money and you can only buy access for a 24 hour period which really wouldn't have been economical with me as I would have posted only in the evenings and be online for relatively short periods of time. Additionally, the reality is that I was pretty tired at the end of the very full days and could only write very rough drafts of the day's events on my word processor.

But it was a good kind of tired at the end of each day!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Life: YS-NYWC in Anaheim

Thursday-Sunday, I'll be at the Youth Specialties National Youth Worker Convention in Anaheim!

I might bring the laptop figuring the convention center might have wi-fi and I'll do live blogging?

We shall see!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Politics: Prop 90 Yes or No?

In a previous post, I mentioned that I was leaning Yes on 90.

However, one of my good friends said that though there is strong sentiment to restrain eminent domain, prop 90 might go too far hampering economic development.

So I'm moving from Yes??? to ???

I'm going to read up a bit more on it and come to a decision by Tuesday.

I'm open to being persuaded.

UPDATE: The coalition against 90 is pretty diverse. You got to wonder when enviro groups team up with chambers of commerce to oppose something.

UPDATE: Check the Yes on 90 web page.

UPDATE: Here is Weintraub's analysis of the proposition.

UPDATE: I'm going to go with a NO vote on this one.