Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Devotional Thoughts: S.D.G.

Am looking at 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12.

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This prayer follows Paul's thoughts earlier in 2 Thessalonians 1:1-10. I blogged about my reactions to verses 3-10.

In brief, Paul gave the Thessalonian believers some encouragement about how the sufferings they have experienced has not gone unnoticed by God and that those who persecuted them will be judged someday. It is in this context that Paul launches into a prayer for them.

Worthy of his calling strikes me. On one hand, there is no way I'm worthy of his calling in the sense I know I am, simply put, nothing more than a sinner saved by grace. On the other God has called me out of my old life which was controlled by sin and death into freedom (Romans 8:1-2). Thus, at one time a prayer to live worthy would have been pointless is now possible!

And so how does this work itself out in my life?

Paul's prayer continues ... by his power he may fulfill ...
every good purpose of yours ...
every act prompted by your faith ...


Imagine that!

Within the Thessalonian followers of Jesus, within us, within me, there are good purposes percolating within because our lives have been transformed by God. Within me, there are deeds prompted by the faith in my life. When those things show up within me, God's power is happily added onto it to strengthen it and to bring it to reality.

And then what happens?

the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him ...

The good deeds we do bring glory to Jesus!

J.S. Bach was well known for putting the initials S.D.G. at the end of his composition. S.D.G. stood for Soli Deo Gloria which is Latin for to the Glory of God alone.

Lord Jesus, please continue to work in my life by strengthening and prompting the desire to be holy in thought and deed. Help me not to quench those thoughts that push me towards godliness and help me to resist those thoughts that are selfish and wicked. Amen.

News: New Yorker Article on Adam Gadahn

Fascinating reading the story of how Gadahn went from typical middle class life to being part of Al Qaeda.

Anyway, I heard about the article because Hugh Hewitt interviewed Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason about how he felt being mentioned in the New Yorker article.

The paragraph:
Gadahn wrote of a yawning emptiness, and he sought ways “to fill that void.” He began scrolling through AOL’s religion folders on the Internet and tuning to Christian programming on the radio. That summer, he attended several Christian lectures and events, including one led by Gregory Koukl, an evangelical talk-show host who argues against religious pluralism. But Gadahn found evangelical Christianity’s “apocalyptic ramblings” to be “paranoid” and hollow. As he later recalled, “I began to look for something else to hold onto.”
In the interview, Koukl and Hewitt felt the writer was a bit sloppy in how they wrote that paragraph and I'd have to agree with them.

I don't doubt that Gadahn heard some lectures where there was apocalyptic rambling and paranoia but he probably also heard some watered down Christianity in some places and thoughtful Christianity (from Koukl) in others. But the fusion of Koukl in one sentence with paranoia in another creates the impression, Koukl is one of them! And anyone who has ever heard him on the radio or read his writings knows he is definitely not one of them!

Also, the phrase "argues against religious pluralism" can be kind of loaded. It can suggest mean-spirited, intolerant and argumentative. Again, anyone who has heard Koukl knows those are the last words one would use to describe him. When Koukl speaks and writes about religious pluralism what he means is that you treat everyone well and respectfully but you honestly point out that not all religious truth claims can be true.

Anyway, I thought this was an interesting story on how religion is communicated in the media. Since many in the media are non-religious they probably don't recognize there are differences within the religious community. Thus, when they write about it, they aren't always very careful.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Culture: 24 - 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM

The twists continue ...

Intrigue in the inner circle of the White House with Karen ousted by Tom. I wonder if Tom is tied into the coterie of plotters from last seasons mayhem?

The sources Walid was trying to get information from turn out to be web surfers and at this moment he is on the way to the hospital. I wonder if the actor will be able to talk the producers of the show to make sure his character doesn't die. Anyway, those guys got the right information (or is it really right?) but aren't part of the plot. Of course, one wonders why the plotters would leak information onto a web page that could get picked up so easily by these guys and thus by the authorities. My reality check mind would say that if information is passed along on web sites it would entail downloading a file and then decoding it to get the secret message.

Lastly, Jack meets daddy Bauer but brother Graem turns the tables on them. Of course, like all James Bond movies, they don't get killed on the spot but instead have to be transported somewhere (next episode) and thus will have the chance to escape. Besides, we know they have to escape because the show would be over if they don't.

Biggest improbability in tonight's episode: asking Walid to pick the pocket of the suspected terrorist! That is a LOT to ask of someone who isn't a trained agent. And then for them to ask him to put it back? That's crazy!

Theology: Robert Morgan and the Quest for the Historic Jesus

Every Christmas and Easter and with the huge splash of the DaVinci Code book and movie, the subject of "Who was Jesus really?" comes up in the popular media. I'm also currently reading N.T. Wright's book "The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is."



Thus, a little while back, I went to Fuller Theological Seminary to meet up with Nick to hear Robert Morgan of Linacre College of Oxford University talk about his views on the Quest.

I'm a molecular biologist not a historian nor a New Testament scholar so I couldn't always follow what Morgan was talking about. What follows are some of my notes from that evening's presentation. If you are an expert in the field, I'd welcome corrections, clarifications and comments!

Morgan, being from the UK, spoke with the stereotypical British understated humor. Additionally, though obviously opinionated (most academics are!), he was very gracious during the talk and in Q/A when he commented on other scholars who disagreed with his point-of-view.

He began by pointing out that scholars from North America tend to have a different perspective from European ones because the USA is culturally a more religious nation compared to Europe. He also mentioned that European scholars have a history of scholarship that they are brought up with for better or worse.

Overview of the quest

It was European scholars who started the quest for the historical Jesus. These early efforts concluded that the Gospel records in the Christian Scriptures were not reliable and that Jesus was nothing more than a failed messiah. They believed the historic Jesus was not knowable and what the Bible contains is the Christ of the early church.

Albert Schweitzer wrote a major work published in 1906. He critiqued the prior works that were excessively skeptical. Schweitzer believed that the historical Jesus could be understood within the context of Jewish eschatological beliefs. However, he stopped somewhat short of endorsing the orthodox view of Christ promoted by the church through the ages. Instead, Schweitzer believed the spirit of Jesus lives on in the persistence of the moral values he espoused.

Kahler's view of the Quest is that the picture of Jesus can only be drawn by looking at history, New Testament theology and Old Testament concepts.

Analogy of 3-D glasses

3-D movies look a bit blurry because the image layers are slightly off. However, with the glasses on, you can see the image clearly. Morgan believes the same is true for our understanding of Jesus. He proposed there are three layers of our knowledge of Jesus: history, oral tradition, New Testament documents. [ed. note - I think those were the three layers? Since many in the audience were PhD students familiar with the concept, Morgan didn't elaborate.] Each layer provides an image and they don't exactly overlap so it looks blurry but with the glasses of faith, a picture of Jesus emerges.

He said intellectual honesty demands that we acknowledge that theological development occurred between the time of Jesus and when the New Testament Scriptures were written. Even within the New Testament documents there was theological development. He cited that the Gospel of John is much more theological compared to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. He pointed out that some scholars believe that theological development means historically inaccurate. Morgan challenged that assumption.

There are many possible "Jesus" one can come up with when one incorporates theological development on top of the historical Jesus. The question then becomes, is the picture a credible one given what we know? He noted that there was a body of literature (Gnostic gospels) regarding Jesus that was rejected because those imposed a theological picture that was not plausible. [ed. note - I think that was Morgan's point. I was having a hard time keeping up with his thought process!]

Why the quest?

Some will feel the task is a hopeless one. Why bother?

Non-Christian scholars will pursue the topic anyway, so Christians should join in too. There should be some credible basis for the Jesus we have faith in. Christians hold certain beliefs that are historical i.e. Jesus actually existed and Jesus resurrected.

Question and answer session

Q: How do you view the efforts of the Jesus Seminar?
RM: They are honest scholars but I think their methods are wrong headed. They assume the Christian layer on top of the historic Jesus is completely irrelevant.

Q: How much evidence is there for your 3-layer model?
RM: The Prologue of Luke is the best example.

Q: How do you distinguish the layers?
RM: The methods of text analysis can help. An example would be Matthew and Luke drawing from Mark. The common material would be a layer. We can assign a layer in light of its plausibility with the first century Jewish setting.

Q: There is diversity within New Testament theology. How do you deal with that?
RM: The essentials are the God of Israel, Jesus existence/resurrection and historicity and the community of faith. Diversity exists and is troublesome; however, I don't think the diversity is so great as to constitute another religion or is contradictory.

Q: Could you elaborate on the criteria of dissimilarity?
RM: It is a tool though not a perfect one. The idea is that something might be in a theological development layer if it shows a difference between the pre- vs. post-resurrection Jesus or is in contrast to first century Judaism. This is a situation where one can take a maximal view or a minimal view. Some will take this as fabrication while others will say it isn't. For instance, when the Gospels have Jesus quoting the Old Testament, some will say Jesus really said it while others will say the NT writers put it into Jesus mouth. [ed. note - Here was another case of "inside baseball" so I'm not sure I got the idea correct as it was a question from a specialist to a specialist.]

Q: Following up, to what extent are we sure Jesus saw himself as "the suffering servant" and "the son of man" which are OT images?
RM: There is no way to be certain if it is historical or interpretive Christian reflection. Some of these questions of theological development are hard to trace.

Q: In terms of method, do you assign priority to the sources in the quest for the historic Jesus?
RM: We do tend to draw firstly from the Gospels then from the writings of Paul and other NT writings as they generally pertain to the post-resurrection Jesus.

Q: How reliable is oral tradition?
RM: Certainly, some scholars are quite skeptical. Albert Schweitzer in this regard was much more positive compared to other scholars of his time. We do see variations within the Gospel records probably due to variation in oral tradition. However, are those variations so large as to invalidate the oral traditions? I think not.

Elsewhere: Neat stuff in the blogsphere

I'm slowly entering the 21st century. I've set up a blog news feed through Bloglines.com.

So what are some neat things I've seen lately?

YS Marko shared a cool Youtube.com video with the title, "Free Hugs."



What did you think of the video? Be sure to read the blurb at Youtube for the backstory of the video.

Skyepuppy shares a news item about a woman who beat the tar out of a mountain lion to save her husband. NEVER go into the wilderness alone!

The D'Elia's have moved to Narnia ... well, actually London. I once did the call to worship reading during a service he preached at. After the service, for some reason we started talking about the band Katrina and the Waves! Also, one summer I served alongside his wife with the pre-schoolers at Sunday church. Look forward to checking in on their adventures in the days ahead.

Nick is thinking about the balance between art, the word and sacrament in corporate worship.

We've all heard the "professionals" give their take about the State of the Union. But I often feel your average guy from middle America (or in this case middle of California) gets to the heart of the matter.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Life: Does God "talk" to me?

Came across this item by Ben Witherington.

Here is an excerpt:
Samuel heard it and mistook it for the voice of the priest. It was an audible voice, just like a human voice (1 Sam. 3). Moses heard it too. Elijah had to go all the way to Mt. Horeb to hear it, and then it came in a still whisper. Jesus heard it at his baptism in a vision and so did Paul, and we could go on. Throughout the history of God's people and even unto today people have been hearing God's voice. What characterizes most, if not all these direct communications (without aid of cellphone) is that they are brief and direct, and often they involve the direct calling by name of the human being involved.

One of the reasons this phenomenon interests me so much is that it happened to me - once and only once.
Witherington then went on to share his experience as well as an experience described in a book he read.

I have to say, I have not had a similar experience.

So does God talk to me?

Witherington writes:
I haven't heard from Him in that way since. But then, I wasn't reading his Word then - I've been doing that ever since and both the Word and my life make much better sense now :)
I suppose that would be one way I have heard the voice of God. I acknowledge there are times I read the Bible and soon forget what I read. But there are times when it just "hits" me and I realize I need to change something in my life or share what I read with a friend or feel a great sense of comfort because what I read refocused my mind towards God.

In pondering this topic, I once wrote a friend the following:
Now, I do believe I have sensed God pointing me in a certain direction ... for some reason a particular Bible verse would nag at me ... images of certain friends and their prayer requests would filter into my prayer time ... I'd feel compelled to call or email a friend ... I'm moved to donate to a certain ministry. I think God "communicates" in these ways though skeptics will just say I'm imagining things! But I do not believe I have ever heard God speak to me in the sense that God spoke to Moses, Abraham and Jacob ... I believe the Holy Spirit tends to work in rather subtle ways as a general rule though I definitely believe the Holy Spirit is free to be dramatic and drastic too!
To another friend I wrote these wonderings about the potential mechanism of God's actions:
I do know that when I take time for mediation and prayer, different thoughts and ideas and people run through my mind. I suppose the atheists will say those things are the random flotsam and jetsam of the evolutionary produced brain organizing the memories of the days just past.

But I suppose the joke could be on them if God designed the brain to operate that way and that the Holy Spirit's intervention could be as tiny as tripping an additional series of neural signals? The god of the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night could operate at the level of molecules too?
Dunno ... deep thoughts for a Saturday morning. Maybe I should just go back to sleep!

Friday, January 26, 2007

World: A sign of the times we live in ...

Am a classical music fan. I check out LA Phil.com now and then to see what is coming up.

I saw this item on the front page:
PARKING ADVISORY: Israel Philharmonic Parking will NOT be available at Walt Disney Concert Hall for the concerts on Feb 5 and Feb 6.
For those of you who don't know, there is a large underground parking lot at Walt Disney Hall. Many people park there and take the escalators or stairs up to the concert hall. Others who don't mind a little walk park in the DWP outdoor lot a couple blocks away.

It is sad to know that we live in a world where this kind of caution is required.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Devotional Thoughts: Balancing the scales of justice

Taking a look at 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10 tonight.

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

There are places in the world today where being a follower of Jesus is not the safe thing to do. Yet, these believers persevere. We need to thank God for them and pray that their faith which really can cost them a lot would keep growing.

UPDATE: Diane at Crossroads is wondering if persecution might be around the corner in America?

I wonder what kinds of challenges did the Thessalonians face during their life times?

We know from Acts 17 that Paul faced opposition such that he and Silas fled to Berea. Those same opponents went to Berea to caused trouble such that Paul had to flee from there as well. One would suppose that even with Paul gone, those critics would still put pressure on the fledgling church.

Paul placed their experience in a broader context ...

All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.

I was listening to Dennis Prager on the radio the other day and he was talking with a caller about the existence of an afterlife. He asked her, do you believe there is a good god out there?

She said, yes.

Prager then said, if you believe that then you have to believe in an afterlife because a good god would want justice and if this life is all there is then the scales of justice would be unbalanced.

Other than this line of reasoning, I'm not sure one can argue for the existence of an afterlife.

This passage makes me also think about our current "clash of civilizations" with the radical Islamic followers. Am I allowed to turn Paul's writing here into a prayer for this day and age?

God, you are just. I trust that either in this life or the next you will pay back those who terrorize and kill innocent people. Grant relief to those who cry out to you how long must we suffer at the hands of people who would bomb markets and schools? Lord, may you be glorified in your people who exhibit faith, hope and love. Lord, speed the day when all will see your glory as you are revealed again but this time in the fullness of your glory. Amen.

Sports: Go Eaters! Go Bruins!

Alright Anteaters!!

UC Irvine upsets the Beach, the top dog of the Big West!

Bruins beat Bears!!

Bruins get the road win and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is back!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Travel: A few days on the central coast of California

I recently had the chance to take a few days off and decided to escape from the city!

Day 1

Me and my buddy left LA after work and settled into the Quality Inn in Lompoc.

Day 2

The next morning, we headed off to Gainey Vineyard which was recommended by Professor Bainbridge.



The winery offers a guided tour of the grounds and some of the facilities. It is a nice little boutique winery.



We then went to Los Olivos. It is a cute little town with a one street commercial area. We had lunch at Panino. The more famous locale is Los Olivos Cafe popularized by the movie Sideways. However, we weren't quite willing to part with that much cash just for lunch. Panino offers up good but affordable salads and sandwiches.



We then headed up to the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail and visited Zaca Mesa. Their wine tasting facility was a bit larger than Gainey. Zaca Mesa was recommended by Bainbridge as well as two of my co-workers.



To finish off our wine tour, we decided to visit one of the big corporate wineries. We stopped at Fess Parker. I passed on getting any of their wines but inside the bag was some chocolate covered fruit I bought at their store!



We drove back toward Lompoc and decided to stop off at the La Purisma Mission. There were 21 missions established by the Spanish when they controlled California. Each mission was a self-sustaining community. La Purisma was restored during a depression era work project and is now maintained as a state historic park. It was great to wander around and see the buildings inside and outside and the animals that would have been part of their daily lives.









We got back to the hotel room to rest a bit before we headed off for dinner.

If you are going to eat dinner at the Hitching Post in Buellton, get reservations. We didn't and they said the wait would be two hours! Thus, we went next door to A. J. Spurs where I had a filet mignon and my buddy had a rib eye! Yummy!!

Day 3

We drove up to Montana De Oro State Park which is south of Morro Bay.





After looking around there, we drove to the famous Morro Rock. I snapped this photo of one of the gulls in flight. There was a birder at the parking lot explaining to people that he had his binoculars trained on a pair of Peregrine Falcons which are the world's fastest birds. They were much too far away for me to photograph. Even with the birder's binoculars, they were pretty small and not easily seen as they blend into the color of the Morro Bay Rock.



Here is part of the Morro Rock!





Had dinner at Great American Fish Company. We had a bucket of clams, I had the sole and my buddy had the shark! Terrific!!

We stayed the evening at the Morro Bay Econolodge. The Quality Inn of Lompoc would be a high two star hotel while the Econo Lodge in Morro Bay would be a low two star hotel. In both cases, the affordable options!

Day 4

Walked over to Shoreline Calvary Chapel for Sunday worship. It is friendly little church that I'd visit again should I be in Morro Bay again.

Had a nice big breakfast at Carla's Country Kitchen.

Properly fueled up, we went kayaking! It was my first time. Lots of fun even if it was a tad windy that day. Being inside the bay, the water is pretty calm.



We then visited the Morro Bay aquarium where they have a few seals. They are kept because they were injured and nursed back to health but probably wouldn't survive if returned to the wild. This one was a showman barking a lot to get people to toss some fish. Talking about singing for your meal!



We then went to the Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach.



They cling together and hang amidst the branches of the trees!



Before they become butterflies munching on milkweed ...



Went to the Pismo Beach pier.





Had dinner at Splash Cafe, clam chowder, of course! BTW, you can find their clam chowder at Costco.



Day 5

Drove back to LA with a stop in Santa Barbara for lunch.



Went to Santa Barbara Shellfish Company on Stearns Wharf. We went for this restaurant because it was profiled on Rachael Ray $40 a Day.



Had a mess of mussels and a crab sandwich. Delish!

Culture: Next up, Tannhauser

Opera is one the most compelling and captivating of all the performing arts. It is essentially a dramatic work that is primarily sung, is accompanied by an orchestra, and is presented on the stage. Opera, however, with its lavish spectacle, high drama and visual and aural treasures, is much more than that. No other art form combines such disparate elements – singing, acting, lighting, design, orchestra, movement and dance into such a seamless whole. It engages our minds, captures our hearts and releases our imaginations.

The combination of words and music can, at its best, let us experience things about human character, feelings, moods and motivations that music and words, on their own, are powerless to express. It is like a window into the soul of a character. It is no wonder that no other art form inspires such passion in its audience and participants.
The above item is from the Opera Basics tab of the LA Opera web page.

A few years back, I set the goal of attending one opera per season.

I've always been a fan of classical music.

However, classical music mixed with the performing arts has been a little harder for me to grab onto.

I've seen a few ballets here and there. The Nutcracker is always a pleasure because the music is so interesting and the costumes are so colorful. Midsummer Night's Dream has soothing music and its comedic elements manage to come through even with no words. Romeo and Juliet is the classic tragedy and since we all know the story so well I find it remarkable how the story is still so riveting as we head to the inevitable tragic ending.

As for opera, what can I say?

It is probably the most over-the-top performing art style there is!

For an overview of opera, check out this web page from the famous New York Metropolitan Opera.

The four operas I've seen were with the Los Angeles Opera. For the story synosis, I've linked to various opera company web pages. In 2003, I saw Turandot, for 2003, Madama Butterfly, Aida in 2005 and last year, 2006, I saw Marriage of Figaro.

For 2007, I'll be seeing Tannhauser.

Am planning to blog occasionally in the countdown to seeing it and of course will do a post after I see the opera.

Anyway, a part of me laughs at the whole idea of opera. As I say, it is way over-the-top and the price of the ticket means it (attending live performances) would never be a regular part of the average person's life.

However, I remain intrigued. Part of it is simply the fun experience of attending an event and the corresponding people watching of the people watching the opera. But another part of my interest is my need to grapple with the most primal issues of human existence. I wrestle in my private prayers and meditations. I contemplate through converstions with good friends. And, indeed, I struggle by experiencing the arts. Philosophy professor John Mark Reynolds (many others have said - I just happened to hear it first from him) has said we learn about life both by "logos" and "pathos."

Opera would definitely be in the "pathos" mode of communication!

UPDATE: I suppose the "pathos" of the four operas I have seen highlight the power of love as motivation. In Turandot, the lead character risks his life to answer the three riddles to win the woman of the story. Madama Butterfly is terribly tragic as the lead character holds a love that can only lead to grief. If you have seen Miss Saigon, you have seen essentially the same story. Aida also comes to a tragic end but at least the two lovers are together in their death. Marriage of Figaro is a comedy of mis-understandings but in the end the lovers all find there way back to each other and all ends well. I've read the summary for Tannhauser and yet again, the story is about love with its joys and despair. More to come as the opera approaches!

Life: The Great Sin

Have been reading C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.

The other day, came across the chapter with the title, "The Great Sin."

What do you think is the greatest sin?

Quoting Lewis:
I now come to that part of Christian morals where they differ most sharply from all other morals. There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards.
.........
The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility.
........
It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.

[ed. note - Lewis then gives example of how pride works in day-to-day life in men trying to get the girl, the pursuit of money, girls collecting admirers and political leadership]

In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that - and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison - you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.
Are you surprised by Lewis' answer to the question of what is the greatest sin?

I confess I was really hit over the head by this chapter. This is one of those sins you don't think you have but when confronted with it, it stares you in the face plain as day and you realize you have been fooling yourself all along.

Lord, have mercy on me, a prideful man!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Culture: 24 - the following takes place between 10:00 AM and 11:00 AM

Be sure to check out Dave Barry's summary!

The pace has definitely slowed after the frantic first four hours.

Implausibility alert: I dunno if the guys in the detention center would know as much as they appear to know. One would think for such plots only a select few would know details like the existence of 5 suitcase nukes! Lower level operatives with that kind of information would have too much temptation to blab... which is what is happening here!

Shocker alerts: we find out there is a Bauer brother and father and they are also in the business.

Devotional Thoughts: Doing Church

Am looking at 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2 this morning.

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

Scholars suggest that 2 Thessalonians was written shortly after 1 Thessalonians probably in response to the latest report Paul received from the church in regards to confusion about what happens to Christians who had died and "the day of the Lord" which he touched on in 1 Thessalonians 4-5. Paul will get to that right after this greeting.

But for the moment, I just want to reflect on the greeting.

Church. What is it today? What was it like back then?

The other day I was web surfing and I came across this item which is links to a series of articles about what we know of the early church. Unfortunately, one can only read excerpts of the articles unless you have a subscription. More searching yielded this item which is a full article not requiring a subscription.

In brief, the article mentions that a "typical" church in the olden day did the following things: prayer and fasting, baptism, greeting kiss, Lord Supper/Communion/Eucharist, provide assistance to the needy and indeed, they had a "sermon." Here is the excerpt in the article describing this part of the church meeting:
And on the day called Sunday there is a meeting in one place of those who live in cities or the country, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits. When the reader has finished, the president in a discourse urges and invites [us] to the imitation of these noble things.
This picture started me thinking about the level of anticipation the Thessalonian believers must have had when news of a letter from Paul had arrived!

Imagine believers going about their daily lives running into other believers saying, "I heard a letter from Paul arrived yesterday! They are going to read it on Sunday!! Make sure you can be there!!!"

Think about the excitement of one of the literate members of the community being asked by the leader of the church, "I want you to write a copy of the latest letter from Paul! We need copies so we can pass them around to other churches so they can benefit!"

Perhaps one of the wealthier members of the church would say, "Here take some of this money so you can buy the best papyrus to make the copies!"


Image source: http://www.lib.umich.edu/pap/exhibits/papyri_james/1_2.html

Imagine the sweat on the brow of the copywriter! He doesn't want any mistakes. He finishes the copy and asks another literate member of the congregation, "PLEASE look this over and check for any mistakes!"

What would it have been like as the believers packed into a home for a meeting and the leader stands up with the letter from Paul and starts reading it aloud?

For us today, we take for granted the Bible. I confess to occasionally yawning during the sermon and playing the game of "roast pastor" at lunch skewering the sermon. Lord, have mercy!

I suppose maybe I'm "romanticizing" how excited the early believers were.

But as I reflect this morning, I am struck by my own lack of anticipation.

Lord, you have assembled the church. It is made up of flawed people like me who are so often ungrateful, selfish and not fully focused on you. Yet, you in your grace, keep pursuing me and reminding me of who you are. Keep after all of us at the church I'm at. Help our church to be a light to the people around us. Increase our anticipation of what you will do. Give us courage to live for you. Amen.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Non-profit of the month: January 2007 - Flight 93 National Memorial

In youth group this morning, our speaker shared about the intersection of remembering, forgetting and anticipation.

We need to remember the past because we need to be grateful for the good that has happened.

We need to forget the past not in the sense we deny it ever happened but some aspects of our past need to be forgotten because we don't want those things to define who we are today and into the future.

We need to anticipate the future because a life with nothing to look forward to is a sad life.

No doubt about it, it was a message we all needed to hear given some of the things that have happened in our church.

If life is to have meaning beyond mere existence, then one must reflect. In Christ, we have the benefit of a God whose blessings inspire our gratitude and whose grace can make sadness meaningful.

For the afternoon, my mind took a turn toward remembering a national moment, I watched the DVD of United 93.

When the film came out, many people said it was too soon.

I went to see the film on the first weekend it came out. I went alone. I didn't have the heart to ask any friends to join me for fear they would not want to see the film or to impose on them to see the film out of obligation to tag along with me.

I confessed to wondering what motivated my fellow movie goers that night.

Did they know someone on the flight? Or someone who died on 9/11?

I did not.

I went to see the film because I felt the need to remember the horrors of that day but also the heroism.

The advertising tag line for the film was: On September 11th, one of the darkest days in our nation, 40 ordinary people sat down as strangers and stood up as one.

That resonated with me.

Like most people, I read the various profiles about the passengers of that flight, saw the interviews about the final phone calls, felt the anger and outrage at the incomprehensibility of such blind hatred and wept at the lost lives many cut down in the prime of life.

In support of remembering, I'm naming Flight 93 National Memorial Fund as this blog's non-profit of the month and making a contribution.

On the home page, it succinctly explains why:
The story of Flight 93 is a national treasure -- a story of hope in human courage and cooperation. When confronted with the gravity of their situation, the passengers and crew of Flight 93 chose to act heroically and sacrifice their lives for their country. These 40 heroes made a democratic decision to fight back against terrorism and thereby thwarted a planned attack on our nation’s capital, saving countless numbers of lives.
I encourage you to donate if you haven't already. I also urge you to see United 93 if you haven't already.

UPDATE: LugerLA shares some photos of the current informal memorials at the Flight 93 site.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Religion: Some thoughts on Islam and the Koran

Almost a year and a half ago, I had the chance to hear Jay Smith give an overview on Islam and I posted about that lecture.

This blog item gets found a few times a month and I'm really curious who is reading it.

Is it Christians who hear about Jay Smith and want to know more? Or is it Muslims wondering who this guy is who likes to debate Muslims?

Recently, that blog post got a comment!

I'm always happy to receive comments as long as they are on point and respectful. Indeed, reader George wrote in such manner the following:
I saw Jay Smith speaking a while ago. As an atheist student in London, reading Islamic studies, I would be interested to know what your reaction to what he had to say was. How accurately you think he represented the Qur'an, for example. You raised doubts about his characterising religious behaviour in terms of radical/liberal/nominal depending on reading of the text, could you elaborate on this perhaps. Finally, where do you see al-Qaeda fitting into worldwide Islam and how representative would you consider the views of the likes of bin Laden to be of the views of most Muslims around the world? I hope you find time to respond to my comment.
Thanks
George
I responded in the comments section by saying:
Thanks for dropping by this blog outpost and sharing some observations. It seems each day I get a hit via a google search for Jay Smith.

Thanks for your questions. I promise to write a blog post sharing about them. Alas, I've been under the weather the last several days and only now heading back to normal.

My first reaction is that since you are in London, I would really like to hear *your* impressions of Islam. Here in Los Angeles, I have relatively little contact with Muslim people and so what I know is limited to what I hear in the popular media and my modest knowledge from what I have read and heard in personal research. Since it sounds like you may have met actual followers of Islam, your observations could be enlightening.
Thus, tonight, I thought I'd share a few more thoughts on Islam and the Koran from my limited perspective.

I found Jay Smith's presentation to be informative. I haven't gone to Islamic web sites to confirm the things he said. Of the many research projects I could undertake, I haven't taken that one up at this time.

I did buy a copy of an English translation of the Koran and tried to read it. I read the first three chapters but found it slow sledding. Muslims believe that the Koran is best read in Arabic so there hasn't been many efforts at translation into English. My copy might be a translation that is not so easy to read.

Additionally, of the parts I read, I found the text to be somewhat episodic. Being a Christian, I'm familiar with the Bible and the literary style of the Bible which is mostly narrative (many of the books in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels of the Christian Scriptures) and didactic (the letters of Paul and other letters). These two genres tend to read with an easy flow and the Bible has many English translations of which some tip the balance toward readability over literalism in translation.

George asked about the radical/liberal/nominal categorization. That question came from my blog post where I wrote:
The serious readers of the Koran were considered radical. (ed. note - I think this is unfortunate terminology because I don't think of Christians who are serious readers of the Bible should be considered radical). The nominal Muslims were generally non-readers of the Koran. The liberal Muslims were the one who proclaim that Islam is a "religion of peace."
If I had the chance to speak to Jay Smith, I'd ask him what percentage of serious readers of the Koran become radicalized in terms of participation or approval of terrorist activity? Likewise, I'd also ask if any of the Muslims whom he called liberal who say Islam is a "religion of peace" are serious readers of the Koran?

What I wonder is whether the issue is taking the Koran seriously or is it what people claim to do in the name of Islam regardless of their view of the Koran?

Within Christianity, there are definitely "nominals" who might show up at church on Easter or Christmas and have Bibles with pristine pages and dusty covers. Of the Christians who read their Bibles, there are those who hold a "high" view of the Bible in that they regard the Bible as authoritative for morality and theology and those who hold a lesser view of the Bible where they regard it as a book that contains wisdom. Within those who hold a "high" view there are some Christians who take a larger percentage of the Scriptures literally while there are others who are more cautious in interpreting literally. Liberals in the context of Christianity would be those who think of the Bible as containing wisdom but not necessarily authoritative. I suppose those who hold a "high" view and take more things literally will consider as liberal those who hold a "high" view but take less things literally.

In any case, what is troubling for Islam is that there is a significant number who believe terrorism is justified. Within Christianity, there is no analogous group who holds such views. The question from a virtue epistemology perspective would be: is Islamic terrorism something imposed by people upon the Koran, derived from a correct reading of the Koran or derived from a mis-reading of the Koran?

George's final question was in regard to Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is Sunni. From my reading of the news, Islam's two major denominations are Sunni and Shia with the Sunni being the more numerous. The Sunnis are considerably more numerous if this web page is accurate. They report that Shia only account for 7.5 to 11% of the Muslims in the world.

This web page gives a quick explanation of the difference between Sunni and Shia and places the number of Shia at 15%.

I have no idea what UBL and Al-Qaeda's theological views are in reference to typical Sunni beliefs. I think of UBL as a terrorist and Al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization and not in theological terms. What I really wonder is whether UBL starts with hostility toward the West and then appropriates Koranic terminology to justify his beliefs. Or did UBL start from reading the Koran and arrived at his views. The end result is the same but clearly if the latter is true then we are truly faced with a clash of civilizations.

I hope UBL and Al-Qaeda is not the future of Islam.

If any Muslim readers happen to stumble on this blog post, I'd be very interested in hearing your thoughts on these matters.

I freely acknowledge that my perspective is very limited.

Sports: UCLA vs. ASU

The Pac10 is very competitive. UCLA is 4-1 in conference play. 3 of the games were decided by 3 points or less. They could just as easily be 2-3 right now.

Tonight, they are playing ASU.

The Sun Devils have been playing zone and giving the Bruins trouble. In fact, the Bruins were down by 11!

UCLA eventually rallied to catch up. Finally in the 2nd half of the 2nd half, they have seized the lead firmly.

With 2:24 left, the Bruins lead 57-48.

Around the league, Oregon beat Stanford. Oregon State and Cal are in a close one as is USC and Arizona.

UPDATE: Its a final, UCLA 60 ASU 50. The Cal Bears down the Oregon State Beavers. USC defeats Arizona! USC is for real. They got athletes and they got some sharp shooters.

UPDATE: The habit of slow starts for UCLA is worrisome. It is one thing to fall down by 11 to a bottom feeder in your conference but it will be another to fall behind the top level programs. ASU used the zone and I would imagine anyone playing UCLA will use it because UCLA was jacking up 3-pointers like crazy and missing them and digging themselves into a hole. Arizona is going to be highly motivated after suffering the loss to USC last night.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Theology: the Search for Jesus

I came across this blog post by Mark Goodacre. Excerpt:
Here are my summary reasons as to why the Historical Jesus Quest is such a massive task:

(1) So much data is missing, e.g. there is so little on Jesus’ life before 30.

(2) The data we do have is highly prejudiced, mainly pro-Christian propaganda.

(3) The sources we have are disputed -- different scholars value the sources differently

(4) The sources are sometimes contradictory and difficult to interpret.

(5) Our distance from the data is so great - we read our own prejudices into the texts.

(6) And now there is so much secondary literature available that it is difficult to navigate our way through it all.

(7) Jesus is a figure in whom so many have a stake, and the quest is often controversial.

I will go on to tell the students, though, that the news is not all bad. We are actually surprisingly well informed about Jesus compared to many other figures from the ancient world.

[ed. note - emphasis mine]
In the final analysis, I suppose one can't get away from the fact that our historical analysis carries us to point X but it is "faith" that carries us to the next step of saying, the data is reliable enough that I'll follow Jesus for the morality we believe he expoused and the theological significance of his life, death and resurrection.

The "modern" mind has the unwritten assumption that reason is the only source of truth or the most reliable source of truth.

Historical analysis is not without reason as it is of the same feather as legal-forensic analysis (i.e. CSI stuff!) in that you piece together physical evidence with eyewitness testimony so that you can arrive at an approximation of what you think happened at the crime scene.

In the case of Christianity, these approaches can help us figure out what happened 2000+ years ago. There is no doubt that the distance in time and culture makes it more challenging.

Alas, in typical "lunch table" conversation with skeptics of Jesus, they claim what we know about Jesus was all fabricated at worst or confused at best. Once they start with that assumption, the conversation tends not to go very far.

Aside from providing an honest presentation of Jesus by acknowledging what we know and what the limits are to what we know, I need to be praying that my life would be transformed.

For me, one of the most striking "evidences" for the Jesus of the Bible is that the lives of the disciples were changed and that the early Christian community and for that matter Christians through the ages were thoroughly changed by their belief in Jesus. Thus, today, in my exhibiting a transformed life, skeptics would hopefully give Jesus a second look and continue the search.

Devotional Thoughts: Etc.

Call me an oddball but I'm kind of fascinated by how the New Testament letters come to a conclusion. This is kind of the place where the writer tosses out a few last thoughts to encourage and challenge the readers.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-28 brings the letter to a close.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

Sanctify. Not a commonly used word outside of religious circles! Check out the dictionary for its meaning. Excerpt:
1 : to set apart to a sacred purpose or to religious use : CONSECRATE
Imagine that? You and I, when we become part of God's family, are set apart for a sacred purpose!

You might have heard of Rick Warren and his book the Purpose Driven Life?

I read his book a couple of years ago. He believes the five purposes of our lives are: worship (relationship with God), discipleship (living in a Christ-like manner), fellowship (being involved with the lives of other followers of Jesus), ministry (offering service to other people) and evangelism (telling people about Jesus who aren't yet following Jesus).

Interestingly, St. Paul mentioned that this involves your whole spirit, soul and body.

We often get into lingo that separates things by saying, oh, that is a spiritual matter and that is not a spiritual matter. In some ways that is true but they are still connected. I'm not a theologian but from the years of hearing sermons, the distinction is thus: body is the physical part of our existence, the spirit is the part of us that is the divine spark that allows us to know God and the soul is the intellect, emotion and will.

I suppose one can get into an abstract discussion of whether the soul and spirit actually exist. That is beyond the scope of this blogger! I suppose the difference between us humans and the rest of the created life forms on earth is the spirit and the will. Only humans appear to need or want to worship god! And only humans appear to have a free will. Other life forms more or less just respond on instinct. I suppose skeptics of free will use their free will to believe that our belief and exercise of free will is illusionary! Again, well beyond the realms of this blog ... I'll leave that for real philosophers. I'm just an arm chair one.

IN any case, we are set aside for a purpose!

Brothers, pray for us.

I can't say I understand how prayer works!

Imagine you are in the heavenly realms and prayer requests from a billion people arrive on your prayer email inbox. How do you answer them?

Bruce Almighty was a funny but thoughtful film in 2003 and one of the scenes was Bruce deciding to answer all the prayer requests with a YES with humorous and chaotic results.

So, I don't know how prayer works. I just am told by the Scriptures that I should pray. And if I'm changed by praying that's great. If the situation is changed by praying, super.

I think of prayer mainly trying to bring my heart in-line with the heart of God.

Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.

Ah, the famous give us a kiss passage!

Remember, this was a Mediterranean culture! You know how expressive people are in that world! In some places it is two kisses and in some places it is three?

Here in please don't invade my personal space America, a handshake will do nicely. Maybe a "side" hug. For people you know better or who are more touchy feely types, a full hug.

I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.

In the olden days, most people couldn't read. Thus, the leaders of the church would read aloud the scrolls and letters so the people would learn about God and how to live and follow Jesus.

Imagine, a little church in those days what an exciting thing it would be to have one of the church leaders announce: today, we got our own copy of Paul's latest letter! Let's all meet on Friday night at farmer Jacob's house and we will share a meal, pray and read the latest letter we got!

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

We live and walk in grace as much as we live and walk by breathing air!

Lord, help me to realize you have set me apart for a sacred purpose. My life means something because you have taken a hold of it. Help me to be seeing the bigger picture in life and praying for all the little details. Guide me to be a person of encouragement of others by a meaningful touch and the sharing of the Word. In need your grace daily. Amen.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Culture: 24 - 9:00 am to 10:00 am

Oh my, they killed off Curtis. I had a bad feeling about that situation. They kept hinting there was a personal connection to Assad.

As for the suitcase nuke ...

I guess the reality check is that a device like that would be hard to maintain in good working condition. Laptops have to make all the components of a desktop computer fit into a small package. Imagine all the gadgetry that makes a nuclear device and having to make it small enough to fit in a suitcase. One would figure one or two faulty parts and the thing wouldn't work.

Given that the terrorists had to jury rig one of the parts to arm one of the suitcases, one wonders how they are able to jury rig four more!

Nonetheless, the fear of a small nuclear device is an ongoing story line I'm sure in real life counter terrorist operations. It would probably be hard to build one from scratch but buying one... one wonders if that might happen?

Tom Clancy explored the nuke scenario in Sum of All Fears.

Culture: 24 - 8am to 9am

In the previously, I was reminded that Jack kicked the suicide bomber out the window of the subway train. Hmm, my guess is that subway train windows are pretty hard to break. Ah, those little reality checks!

Anyway, where are they going tonight?

Is that component in the wall for a nuclear device?

UPDATE: Yup, it is a suitcase nuke. Also, the bad guys got their nuke engineer out through an inside job. You got to wonder how many people MIS-counted the prisoners! Hey, its entertaining television anyway!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Culture: 24 - the following takes place between 7am and 8am

Interesting character development with Jack's doubts about his ability to keep doing what he is doing.

Place your bets on which secondary characters will turn out to be major players later on in the season?

Will there be a mole in the White House? Will there be a mole at CTU?

And what is in the box the kid recovered from the wall of his house?

Stay tuned!

Episode reality check?

If you were POTUS, would you mount a missile attack by helicopter on a house in the middle of the city?

I suppose if the intelligence is very solid, one would take that risk. But in the story, how good was the tip they had?

They gave the informant everything they wanted and he could have given them a bad tip. I would think CTU would have wanted another source on the target and some way of confirming the target was at said location.

Culture: 24 - the following takes place between 6am and 7am

24 starts up again for season 6!

As for the threat this time, it is terrorists attacking everyday locations around the country.

They are off to a great start with twists right off the bat and a grisly finish.

What can you say, Jack is a survivor!

For snarky and detailed recaps check out Television without Pity. They usually show up a few days after an episode is aired.

By the way, I didn't catch it, did they mention what was given to the Chinese in exchange for Jack?

A few months back, I caught a CSPAN broadcast where the key producers of 24 and a few of the actors joined real terrorism experts for a panel discussion about the television show.

UPDATE: The event was 24 and America's Image in Fighting Terrorism: Fact, Fiction, or Does it Matter?.

The experts said they loved the show because it is action packed and the actors terrific. They wished real technology described in the show really existed in terms of how fast they could figure stuff out and how well it works. They all agreed, it sure would be great to have a bunch of Chloe's who are that capable!

Mary Lynn Rajskub is the actress behind Chloe O'Brian. She was one of the other panelists. On the show, the character she plays is so serious and at times very much lives up to/down to the stereotype of the computer nerd. The actress however is quite goofy and charming.

The producers remarked that the story ideas are far fetched and that is intentional. One, it makes for great story telling and two, they don't want to give real terrorists real ideas.

So what is the reality check for tonight's opening episodes?

I would guess the scale of success of the terrorist attacks are unlikely. Mounting multiple attacks at multiple locations would require a pretty vast network of terrorists and access to technical skills and supplies. Every person involved in the conspiracy is a source for turncoat information and errors in covering their tracks.

Nevertheless, it wouldn't take very many terrorist attacks on daily life to bring chaos as the US public doesn't have that experience like the people of Israel.

In any case, one hopes the real life people represented by CTU are on the lookout and doing a terrific job.

Recipe: Carrot-Ginger Soup

One of my friends and one of my co-workers like it.

So here is what I put into my soup pot in my attempt to make this soup just in time for this cool weather we are having in Los Angeles ...

A few vigorous splashes of olive oil.
Saute ...
4 carrots, chopped
1/2 brown onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
1 oz. ginger, chopped
a pinch of salt and a few dashs of black pepper

After onion and celery stalks go translucent, add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil.

Add 1T honey and lower heating to a simmer.

Simmer until carrots are tender.

Let the mix cool a bit before adding into blender to puree.

Transfer back to the soup pot and heat up to desired temperature and add 1/2 pint heavy cream and serve and enjoy!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Sports: UCLA 65 USC 64

Whew!

Oregon exposed UCLA's weaknesses: play zone on defense to force UCLA to make the outside shot and on offense take advantage of perimeter speed by spreading out the floor.

USC worked the same formula and had a 10 point lead and looked to be on its way to victory. Somehow, UCLA found a way to get just enough points despite shooting 38% from the field and 38% from 3-point land and a handful of defensive stops to steal the win.

I never bought into the UCLA #1 ranking.

How can a team that loses 3 key starters from last year's magical run be rated #1 this year?

Nonetheless, as a UCLA fan, I will root for them and hope they can make another magical run playing team ball.

On paper, there are probably a bunch of teams with better talent than UCLA but UCLA's team play on defense allows them to be competitive.

I have to wonder though if the wins on UCLA's schedule are really "quality wins?"

The "big wins" have been over Kentucky, George Tech, Texas A&M, Washington, Washington State and USC. However, Kentucky, G. Tech and Washington are no longer rated and USC is not rated though I think they might be before the season is over.

Anyway, the tough Pac10 schedule with these pressure packed games will be good prep for the NCAA: USC beat Oregon (84-82), Oregon beat UCLA (68-66), UCLA beat USC (65-64)!

It's the wild wild west in the Pac10!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

World: Barnett on the new Iraq plan

Saw this item by Dean Barnett giving an angle I hadn't heard so far. If he is correct, maybe there is a little more beef to President Bush's plan.

Excerpt:
The current troop level in Baghdad is only 13,000. Most of the 20,000 new troops are going to be headed to Baghdad. That means we’re going to increase our troop complement in Baghdad by roughly 150%. In other words, as regards the Battle of Baghdad, this is an enormous tactical adjustment, not a symbolic gesture.

World: Last chance for Iraq?

I caught part of President Bush's speech to the nation regarding Iraq.

Almost all the instant analysis I heard on the TV, in this case Newshour, was not hopeful. David Brooks was the most optimistic and the best he could muster was maybe we have a bit less than a 50-50 chance to pull this thing off.

The consensus was that if the Iraqis just want to fight each other than there is little the US can do about it. The reality is that the US military just isn't big enough to bring order to Iraq on its own.

There are military, economic and ideological factors in Iraq. Militarily, the US could "win" the war (send in the B-52s) but there would be no country left. Economically, the biggest concern has to be coming up with a viable oil revenue sharing plan for the various factions in Iraq. However, the question is this: let us say a fair and realistic plan for oil money sharing is drawn up ... will the Kurds, Sunni and Shia still fight each other for ideological reason?

If the answer to that question is YES then Iraq is truly lost.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Technology: DVD-R and DVD+R are not the same!

Learn something new everyday: not all DVD media are the same.

I bought 50 DVD+R blank media. I didn't give it a second thought as it was on sale.

I took them home and tried to backup some data onto a DVD from my Apple laptop and the computer wouldn't and spat the blank DVD back out.

A little hunting around on the Mac Help gave me this revelation about my computer: it only can work with CD-R and DVD-R type disks.

Fortunately, the Staples where I bought the disk didn't mind me bringing back an open package for store credit so I could buy some DVD-R. Alas, the pack of 25 DVD-R media cost a little more than the 50 I returned.

Oh, well.

World: Is it a war or is it law-enforcement?

I suppose at one time the American attitude on terrorists was that it was a law-enforcement matter. It would be like fighting the old style crime mobs.

Indeed, many of the tools of law-enforcement are being used to fight the terrorists.

However, clearly, it is also a war. The latest news from Somalia says it is indeed a global war against terrorists.

When you have the army of one country (Ethiopia) sending its military into another country (Somalia) to combat terrorists I think we left the realm of law-enforcement.

Also, it appears US special forces were also on the scene and when they had the chance to use an AC-130 to hit a terrorist base, they did so.

As a Christian, I am often at a loss on how to pray for these world situations.

Some chant, war is not the answer. Well, what is?

Unfortunately, if we don't fight, these people would have no hesistation to kill me where I sit.

I suppose the best analogy I've heard is from Thomas Friedman: there are dangerous people in the basement cooking up plans and bombs. We have to kill these people. But the other thing we need to do is find a way to bar the door so more people don't go into that basement. That is where we need diplomacy, aid programs and other non-military tactics.

In the prayer closet, I have found myself simply praying, Lord you are the God of peace and justice. Lord bring peace to this world by transforming the hearts of those who would kill and destroy. However, if they harden their hearts then bring peace by bringing justice to those by ending their ability to kill and destroy.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Culture: Apple has done it again?

Apple has entered the cell phone and television marketplace.

The iPhone is clearly the big splash and the stock market is going crazy with an 8% rise in the stock price as of 2pm PST.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Money: Asset allocation

I'm told by people who know their money talk that besides diversification (spreading your risk around by buying mutual funds) there is asset class diversification (stocks, bonds, money market and other asset categories).

Every six months or so, I make a determination about what level of risk I'm willing to accept.

During the summer of 2006, I thought it was time to up my exposure to stocks. So I set my 403b inflow to 85% stock. Turned out to be a good guess as the last half of 2006 had a nice run-up in the stock asset class.

As I sit here in the winter of 2007, I'm making a shift. I'm going down to 65% stocks.

My reasons:
(1) Economy maybe slowing down (mainly due to the housing slowdown) and if the Fed has overshot the "soft landing" the market may take a beating.
(2) World situation and domestic political factors suggest to me a bit of skitishness among the people which usual translates to sideways or even downward moving markets.
(3) Interest rates have remained steady which is a neutral signal for the moment in terms of confidence in the economy.
(4) Corporate scandals tend to drag the stocks. When these are beaten out of the system then it might be time to go back to a higher level of exposure.

I'll check back in the summer of 2007 and see if I'll make an adjustment.

Disclaimer: I'm not a financial service professional, I'm just too cheap to pay for one. All advice here should be taken with a grain of salt. Past performance is not a guarentee of future results. People (me included) can and do lose money in the market.

Religion: How many types of god could there be?

Just typing off the cuff here ...

(1) God doesn't exist, i.e. atheism. Thus, all conceptions of god (listed below) are false.

(2) God exists and created the known universe but hasn't been heard from since. This sounds a lot like the deist god.

(3) God exists, created the known universe and will judge our lives at death but other than that won't be heard from until after death. Historically, this description might be applicable to some deists but I suspect some would be more in the #2 camp.

(4) God exists, created the known universe, will judge our lives at death and has made some effort to communicate.

What do you believe?

Is that belief based on reason, faith or some combination of the two?

As a Christian, I would be in catagory four. The basis for that belief would be some combination of reason and faith. Though people in catagory #1 would say people in #2-4 are engaged in faith without reason.

What do you think?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Devotional Thoughts: Day-to-day living

Some parts of the Bible are harder to understand than others. Some parts are straightforward. Am looking at 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 today and this is one of those how you should live straightforward passages. Not always easy to live out but very clear on what is the right way to do things!

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.

The first batch of challenges in regards to how people should treat those who are in leadership in the church setting:
respect those who labor among you ...
esteem them very highly in love because of their work ...

In the English language, I don't sense a huge difference between those two words. Any English majors out there reading this blog? 8-) Both words, to me, don't convey a lot of emotion but more thoughtful reflection. For instance, one might have respect for a tough-as-nails drill instructor but might not have much feelings. Would a Greek lexicon help?

Respect is Strong's word number 1492. The definitions listed are to see, to ascertain and to know. Esteem is Strong's word number 2233. The definitions listed are to lead and to consider. Did that help?

Anyway, seems to be similar words and in any case the thing we should do in regards to those who lead in the church.

Then Paul gives a series of exhortations on how to live with one another:
Be at peace among yourselves
admonish the idle
encourage the fainthearted
help the weak
be patient with them all.
See that no one repays anyone evil for evil
seek to do good to one another and to everyone.


Very much in line with the teachings of Jesus.

Then Paul has challenges about how to face the circumstances of life:
Rejoice always
pray without ceasing
give thanks in all circumstances.


Tough ones for me to do consistently as I can, at times, be a whiner!

Finally, Paul has some commands in regards to things of an explicitly spiritual nature:
Do not quench the Spirit
Do not despise prophecies
but test everything
hold fast what is good.
Abstain from every form of evil.


I often wrestle with the question of how does the Spirit work in our lives? How personal should we expect God to be? In what ways does the Spirit intervene in our lives?

As for prophecies, what does that really mean?

We have "special revelation" in the form of the guidance in the Bible. We have "natural revelation" in the form of conscience and reason. Is there "personal revelation" in the form of prophecies? If so, in what way does this happen?

In any case, it would seem Paul is from Missouri (the Show Me state) with his admonition, test everything.

Lord, I look over this list of things and I know I fall short every day. Forgive me when I think only of myself and lose sight of the needs of others. I need help to live this out. I often get discouraged by life's circumstances. Yet, I should know better because I can walk in your wisdom. Grant to me insight into what happens day-to-day to see where I can grow and develop in me a better BS meter that recognizes what is good from what is evil. Amen.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007