Wednesday, February 28, 2007

News: Bob Woodruff's Report - To Iraq and Back

Absolutely riveting (complete video) report by Bob Woodruff on his experience of recovering from brain injury suffered from an improvised explosive device while covering the Iraqi war. The report goes on to explore how the Veteran's Administration is trying, not entirely successfully, to provide medical care for the injured soldiers.
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
-- Abraham Lincoln

Monday, February 26, 2007

World: Good news-bad news from Iraq and a commentary

This item was on CNN.com today.

Good News:
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's government has agreed on a plan to divide the country's oil wealth and open the industry to international investment, a move seen as necessary to a political settlement of the nearly four-year-old war, ministers announced Monday.

Hopefully, since most of the oil is in the Kurdish north and Shiite south, the Sunnis will turn against the insurgency and join in a national unity direction now that oil revenues will be shared. And likewise hopefully the Shiites will not hunt down Sunnis for fear the Sunnis want a return to a Hussein-like strong man from the Sunni faction of the country.

Bad News:
Insurgents bombed Iraq's Ministry of Municipalities building as top Iraqi officials gathered there Monday morning for a celebration, Iraqi officials said.

The attack killed at least 12 people and wounded 42 others, including Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi, the officials said.


Will there be a point when the warring factions will realize they can be better off working together dividing up the power rather than trying to kill off the other side to take all the power for themselves? I hope so!

Good News:
U.S. troops in Iraq are still detaining a top leader of an Iranian special forces group who was arrested in December, U.S. officials said Monday.

Brig. Gen. Mohsen Chirazi was said to be the third-ranking officer in the Iranian Quds Force, a paramilitary arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guards believed to be helping insurgents in Iraq.


Perhaps the Iranians might decide it is in their interest to get out of Iraq?

Good News:
The U.S. military Monday announced it recently recovered more Iranian-made weapons and components in Iraq, intended for attacks against U.S. and Iraqi soldiers as well as civilians.

U.S. soldiers involved in recovering the weapons cache Saturday in Iraq's Diyala province showcased their findings at a news conference Monday in Baghdad.

They praised Iraqi police and citizens for leading them to the cache in the Shiite village of Jadida outside Baquba.


Hopefully, the Iranians will leave Iraq alone!

It is crucial that the locals feel they can give tips to root out the bad guys.

Bad News:
The rest of the article lists other bombings in different places.

Commentary
The question before the United States from a policy point of view is this: what strategy will get to a stable Iraq in light of our national security and in light of the broader Middle East?

One option is to leave and allow the Shia and Sunnis to engage in a civil war until one side wins or both sides become so exhausted they stop fighting?

This option has the virtue of eliminating US military deaths and the expense of a costly war. The downside is that the blood bath of such a civil war could be even greater than it is now. How many deaths would take place daily in open warfare with both sides attacking each other? How large would the refugee flow be out of Iraq when it becomes clear that one side or the other is winning?

Another option (the current one we are on) is to be involved with their government in the hope (and it maybe a foolish one) that with our assistence, they will come to their senses without a fight to the last man-woman-child civil war.

This *will* cost American lives and treasure and it might fail anyway. On the other hand, if it works, Iraq becomes a nation with an admittedly uneasy truce between Shia, Kurd and Sunni.

At the moment, I support option number two.

As for critics who decry this as "war for oil," I say this:
(1) If so, the US military is doing a lousy job! If we really wanted the oil, we would send in the B52s and eliminate the Sunni insurgents and Shia militias. We wouldn't bother with trying to get the Iraqis to come up with an oil revenue sharing plan between the three major groups. Instead, we would say, 9 shares for us and 1 share for you and just be glad for that one share.
(2) If all we really want is the oil in the Middle East, we would stop supporting Israel so the oil producing nations who hate Israel would be happy with us. However, the USA, for all its imperfections, isn't just about oil. Thus, we support the right of a nation with 6 million people and zero oil to exist. We support that nation at great cost to us. It really would be so much easier to give the oil nations who hate Israel what they want so we can get the oil from them.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Devotional Thoughts: What would Paul think of the Protestant work ethic?

Finishing up with 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18.

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right. If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

Interesting, no?

I suppose it is this kind of passage that leads some people to believe (incorrectly) that there is a Bible verse that says, "God helps those who help themselves."

But certainly the idea of taking care of yourself appears to be a strong sentiment in this passage. One wonders, would the American meta-narrative of free market capitalism and the pursuit of happiness have been possible without the theological foundation of the so called Protestant work ethic?

I think it is understood that for those who are not able bodied, they could receive the help of the church. Imagine if you will a farmer who gets injured such that he is no longer physically able to do the work of the farmer. Or someone who is a craftsman who loses the usage of hands or has failing eyesight. I would believe that Paul would not throw those people out on the streets but would urge the church to care for them.

One of the things that is interesting about the history of the Christian faith is that even though Christians believe that one day Jesus will bring about the kingdom in fullness and reality, this, as a general rule, has not resulted in Christians doing nothing in terms of trying to right the wrongs of society in the here and now. Christians have been and continue to be at the fore in building hospitals, schools, orphanages, soup kitchens, rehab centers, etc.

So just as there may be a theological foundation for the Protestant work ethic, there is a theological foundation for compassion: the moral teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures, the words and deeds of Jesus and the reality that at a basic level we are all the same - sinners in need of a Savior and bearers (if somewhat faded and mangled) of the image of God.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Paul ends with a blessing of peace and grace. I am curious what the distinguishing mark of his writing. Did Paul have a unique signature? Might he have wrote with a dramatic flourish like one of the famous signers of the Declaration of Independence?


image source: http://www.americaslibrary.gov/cgi-bin/page.cgi/jb/colonial/hancock_2

Or might he have some strange way of writing certain letters or words?

Who knows but apparently their may have been people running around sending letters claiming to be Paul and thus confusing people.

Lord, thank you for the opportunities you provide in my life. Help me to do my best in it. Help me to be grateful for it. Help me to give to the needs of others. Thank you that You have moved in the hearts of special people who become people helpers. Please bless them in their efforts. Amen.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Movies: HD Buttercup's Silver Screen Challenge

They are at it again!

Customers who spend between $2000 - $10,000 can get their furniture for free if they can correctly pick the winners in the 7 categories.
1. Best Feature Film of the Year
2. Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
3. Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
4. Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
5. Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
6. Best Original Screenplay
7. Best Art Direction

As usual, I have seen very few of the films nominated!

But that doesn't stop me from guessing!

1. Picture - Babel
2. Actor - Forest Whitaker - The Last King of Scotland
3. Supporting Actor - Alan Arkin - Little Miss Sunshine
4. Actress - Helen Mirren - The Queen
5. Supporting Actress - Jennifer Hudson – Dreamgirls
6. Screenplay - Little Miss Sunshine
7. Art direction - Dream Girls

Bonus pick:
Director - Martin Scorsese – The Departed (essentially a lifetime achievement award)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

News: That's huge! 990 pound squid!!

Check it out!!!

Excerpt:
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- A fishing crew has caught a colossal squid that could weigh a half-ton and prove to be the biggest specimen ever landed, a fisheries official said Thursday.

If calamari rings were made from the squid they would be the size of tractor tires, one expert said.

The squid, weighing an estimated 990 pounds and about 39 feet long, took two hours to land in Antarctic waters, New Zealand Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton said.

The fishermen were catching Patagonian toothfish, sold under the name Chilean sea bass, south of New Zealand "and the squid was eating a hooked toothfish when it was hauled from the deep," Anderton said.
........

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Recipe: Barilla's Celebrity Pasta Cookbook

Check it out and print it out if you like!

Life: Student's haiku

Have some friends who are in school and one friend preparing for the bar exam ... its been a long time since I've been holed up studying but the memories are still fresh.
Winter time of books
Hours pass, rustling pages, hot coffee
Loud mind in study nooks.

News: Radioactive wastes near Arches NP

Good grief!

There is 130 acres of radioactive stuff left over from old mining for nuclear material during the Cold War. Unfortunately, it is near the Colorado river near Arches and Canyonlands National Park.

Excerpt:
The land they occupy sidles up to the Colorado River, and some fear the wastes could pollute that river, which 25 million people in the West and Southwest rely on for drinking water.

While the government agreed in 2005 to remove the wastes, with an eye on accomplishing the task by 2012, now officials are saying they might not be able to accomplish the job until 2028.
Like most people, I have mixed feelings about the Federal Government. We do expect them to be capable of doing things but we know they often don't do it well and take too long and spend too much to do it.

Faith: Poking a bit of fun at ourselves

Ben Witherington is no stuffy academic. Yes, some of his stuff on the blog is very academic. But this item pokes a little fun at ourselves in the Christian realm. The item is called, We Are the Light of the World -- But Who Changed the Bulb?

Since I have been a part of both Baptist and Presbyterian churches, I had to laugh out loud on the parts pertaining to those two denominations:
How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb? None. God has pre-ordained when the lights will be on and when they will be off.
.........
How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb???? CHANGE ????????????

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Devotional Thoughts: Direct your hearts to Christ's perseverance

Previously, I wondered about the ratio of verses in 1 and 2 Thessalonians that were about the future and which were about the here and now.

Here is a quick look:
I Thessalonians verses that appear to be about the future
Chapter 1: 1 verse of 10
Chapter 2: 1 verse of 20
Chapter 3: 1 verse of 13
Chapter 4: 6 verses of 18
Chapter 5: 12 verses of 28.
II Thessalonians verses that appear to be about the future
Chapter 1: 6 verses of 12
Chapter 2: 12 verses of 17
Chapter 3: 0 verses of 18.

Thus, 39 verses out of 136 which is about 29%.

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5:

Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.

We need that prayer today just as much as Paul needed it then. With all our modern communication technology, the message of the Lord can spread so many ways. But even with all the technology in hand, the message is not just words but it is carried about by you and me. If I sit here and blog about the message of the Lord, is it done so in a clear, intelligent and attractive manner?

When I live my life can people see it even without my words.

There is a quote from St. Francis:
Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.
And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.

There is evil in this world. As much as moral relativism is such a common thing among people these days, when push comes to shove, most people will eventually have to admit that evil exists. I suppose the realization that is hard for many of us is that we think of "big evils" out there and overlook our own "little evils."

In Paul's day, following Jesus was a risking thing and so prayers for protection and deliverance took on a practical urgency. In our world today, there are places where this is still true.

We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance.

Where does Paul's authority come from such that he can say, you should do the things we command?

I suppose part of it could be his commanding presence?

We all know people who seem to have a certain aura about them such that they have the E.F. Hutton effect (an old advertising slogan for those too young to remember!):
When E. F. Hutton talks, people listen.
I also suppose some of the authority comes from the fact that the commands might simply be recitations of teachings from the Torah and Jesus' explanations and illustrations of those core teachings.

The prayer ends with a commitment of the Thessalonians to God's love which we all can grasp. But it also commits them to Christ's perseverance. That is an unusual phrase?

The Greek word for perseverance is Hupomone which is used 31 times in the NT. It is used 1 time in 1 Thessalonians and 2 times in 2 Thessalonians. It means: steadfastness, constancy, endurance.

Thus, just as one quality of God is love, another quality of God demonstrated through Christ is perseverance. Jesus came to earth on a mission to live, die on the Cross and be raised from the dead. He did so with steadfastness, constancy and endurance. Thus, in prayer, we can entrust each other into Christ's perseverance so that we too can live life with steadfastness, constancy and endurance.

Lord, may you spread your message far and wide through us and may some receive it and honor it and choose to follow you as a result. Lord, strengthen those of your faithful servants who face persecution in this world. Give them courage to endure and if possible deliverance but in all cases may they be lights in this world pointing to you. Lord, help me to be a vehicle of your love to this world and an example of single minded persistence to be like Jesus. Amen.

Culture: 24, 3-4pm

Forgot to set up the VCR!

But you can download for $1.99 the latest episode from iTunes!

Anyway, a fast-paced evening.

Milo survived and the Bauer family secret is fully revealed to Jack.

Meanwhile, we find out that the Russian who had the nukes deliberately gave them over to Fayed so they would be used and the Arabs would get the blame.

In the White House Lennox decides to try to unravel the plot against Palmer but gets beaten with a flashlight for his troubles.

On CSPAN's coverage of Heritage Foundation's program, "24 and America's Image in Fighting Terrorism: Fact, Fiction, or Does it Matter?", Gregory Itzin (President Logan) was asked if he would appear in Season Six. He said he would! Well, Logan made his appearance in this episode's cliff-hanger finish.

As far as implausibilities, I do have to wonder how come it is so easy for people to be driving around the streets of Los Angeles after a nuclear blast. You would think the streets would be clogged with people fleeing the city. If the streets are so empty, then that would mean the public is pretty calm! Or the streets are so clear because the LAPD and other law enforcement have set up so many check points that no one is out about town which of course would nab Fayed carting then nukes or Philip Bauer's hit men.

Speaking of people being so calm, Morris is able to go into the local liquor store near CTU HQ and it is open like nothing just happened 15 miles north?! Such a devoted employee of the liquor store!

The other implausibility is at what point did Lennox decide he wasn't going to support the coup?

Certainly, when he walked into the flashlight, he was already against the idea. One would think that between leaving the President's office and going to the basement to meet Reed, he would have informed the Secret Service to be on the lookout for the assassin. Instead, we see him trying to pass off that information by trying to arrange a meeting with the head Secret Service agent on site after talking to Reed. Not too sharp for the guy who supposedly ran Palmer's campaign like Karl Rove!

Favorite snappy dialog:
Jack: Do you know how to use this? (referring to the pistol)
Marilyn: No.
Jack: Point and shoot.

10 hours down and 14 hours to go!

UPDATE: Was watching the first two hours of season 5 on DVD and Chloe put a couple of bullets into a bad guy with a handgun. And if I recall, in season 4, Chloe wielded an M-16 and in Rambo fashion blew away one of the bad guys. Alas, brave but rather poor shot Milo, in this episode, had 3 guys in the open and missed while emptying his handgun at them. We all LOVE Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub)!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Elsewhere: Cool items I've seen while web surfing

Ben Witherington is honest about the limits of his craft but he does make interesting points and especially so in this item about the possibility that the "Beloved Disciple" of the Gospel of John was Lazarus!

In this item Ted Slater shares about how he struggled in his Christian faith when he started college. He urges college students and those who care for a college student to check out this item. The article gave the following advice: Find and join a good church, Choose your friends with biblical criteria in view, At all costs, remain sexually pure, Study, Call home, Remember the counsel of God.

I know the Super Bowl has past already but I thought this perspective (from God's point of view) was kind of neat.

YS Marko is the Green Lantern. Apparently, I'm Spiderman! I haven't even seen any of the movies!

Your results:
You are Spider-Man


Spider-Man
75%
Robin
60%
Hulk
50%
Green Lantern
50%
Superman
45%
Batman
45%
The Flash
45%
Iron Man
45%
Supergirl
35%
Wonder Woman
25%
Catwoman
25%
You are intelligent, witty,
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.


Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz


I loved the film the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The other C.S. Lewis work that I hope would make it to film is the Screwtape Letters. Well, according to this item, it looks like it might happen!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Devotional Thoughts: Keep on keeping on

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

The above passage is from 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17 which comes after bunch of thoughts on the Return of Christ.

The theology of the Second Coming of Christ is complex but its bottom line is simple: Jesus will be victorious over evil and will balance the scales of justice at the end.

Interestingly, if you think about the last few decades, secularists also have end is near scenarios. There have been movies about dreadful visions of the future of life on earth (remember Logan's Run?) or the chaos of the planet due to overpopulation (remember Soylent Green?) and many other films probably a bit less obscure! Today's end of the world concern is global warming. As a brief tangent, from a Judeo-Christian world view (God is the creator and humans are stewards of the creation), there is justification to be concerned about our environment. The challenge is finding the balance of addressing current human suffering and forestalling future human suffering, i.e. should we spend a billion dollars to treat malaria or one billion dollars to fix global warming? Chew on that one a bit!

In the context of theology, though, I think the balance is shifted a bit toward the here and now and thus, the focus returns back to the here and now in Paul and co-worker's prayer for the Thessalonians.

Gratitude is the very first thing out of their lips.

Gratitude for what?

They are LOVED by the Lord. The daisy chain of God's love ... (1) begins with God's choice (2) saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit (3) your belief in the truth (4) called you through the gospel and (5) ends with sharing in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, "end times" theology is only part 5 of the story! We are given enough details to know it will be challenging but that the end is good.

Stand firm and hold on!

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. Remember, this letter was received probably around AD 50-51. The body of teaching they had would have largely been oral. They would have had the Hebrew Scriptures. Of the 4 Gospels, it is generally held that Mark is the oldest with a date in the 50s. Matthew and Luke are thought to be compiled in the 60s drawing from Mark and other sources. John's gospel is believed to be from the 80s-90s. So perhaps the Thessalonians had possession of Jesus teachings in the form of circulated copies of Mark and in the form of oral tradition.

As for other NT letters, the Thessalonians would have copies of this letter and 1 Thessalonians. The 11 other letters of the New Testament written by Paul came later. The letters by the other NT writers also came later with the likely exception of James which is believed to be the earliest NT book dating to perhaps the 40s.

I wonder if one where a theology student, could one write a dissertation based these circumstances: "Elements of the teaching of James in 1 and 2 Thessalonians?" Or, "A chronological assessment of Pauline theology?"

In any case, the advice is hold on to what you have been taught. If one were to take 1 and 2 Thessalonians together and mark off which verses key in on how we should live and compare it to the number of verses that talk about the future hope of Christ's return, I wonder what the ratio would be?

My gut instincts tell me the ratio is 2:1 in favor of the here and now. Perhaps, I'll have to tally it up for a future blog post.

Blessing

Indeed, Paul closes out this section with a benediction where there is mention of the future but with the emphasis on the here and now: May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

Lord, thank you that you sent Jesus to bring us back into relationship with you through his life, death and resurrection. Thank you that you have sent the Spirit to do the work of making us more holy. Help me to cooperate with you in the renovation of my soul. Lord, there are times I am discouraged by my faltering progress and my poor reaction to circumstances in life. Lord, strengthen and encourage my whole being toward doing good in word and deed. Help me to encourage others to do likewise. Amen.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Non-profit of the month: February 2007 - Young Life

I was a kid a long time ago. Life was less crazy back then. I can't imagine all the challenges kids face today.

One group reaching out to kids in the city is Young Life. They have a national web page so you can see where they are in your neighborhood. I hope you will consider supporting them.

My familiarity with Young Life is through people who have worked with Young Life. To hear stories about how the kids enjoyed going to camp was delightful. For so many of us, we figure getting out into the natural beauty of the world is a regular part of growing up. But for many kids in the city, it is a treat.

In addition to camps, Young Life hosts local events on a weekly basis.

Its a great organization and I just donated online. I hope you do the same!

Culture: 24, the following takes place between 1pm and 3pm

We got a double header on Monday night.

Poor Chloe, Morris gets tortured to make him arm the nukes and it looks like Milo is probably going to be dead in the next episode as he tries to flee from the bad guys while protecting Marilyn.

Implausibility alert: Morris seems in remarkably good shape for someone who was beaten a number of times with a baseball bat and punctured by a drill bit with corresponding blood all over the place.

Meanwhile in DC, the intrigue within the White House continues. I have the feeling the plotters are not planning to try to invoke the 25th Amendment?! It isn't clear to me who is in on the plan to stage a coup of President Wayne Palmer. They will, of course, make it look like a terrorist incident. In any case, you do have to wonder why Tom couldn't write his own resignation letter. Bright guy that he is, I'm sure he could have typed on his MS Word:
Dear Mr. President,
I thank you for the opportunity I have had to serve you and our nation. However, I regret I cannot support your current policies. Therefore, I resign effective immediately.
Sincerely,
Thomas Lennox
Speaking of writing, you have to wonder if the real White House staff would let Palmer and Assad sit around with some yellow notepads to draft a speech that would be used in the hopes of turning the tide.

Going back to poor Morris, what was "the obligatory bad girl who will get killed" (Rita) thinking when she decided she wanted to collect the $7 million dollars. Was she expecting Fayed to hand her a check? Or a few (lots!!) buckets of $100 bills?

Meanwhile, in the Bauer family chronicles, James Cromwell who I'll always think of as the farmer in Babe though I do remember him in as President in Sum of All Fears continues to be the embodiment of evil.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Life: Where will they be when they are 25?

I'm a volunteer with the youth group at my church. It is a joy to spend time with young people doing fun things. Recently, we went roller skating which was a first for me! We also went indoor rock climbing last year, also a first for me. It is also a joy to spend time with them doing "serious" things like study the Bible and talk about what it means to follow Jesus.

The other day during a time of reflection (I'm an introvert so that kind of comes naturally!) I found myself stepping back from the trees to try to see the forrest.

I thought about my young friends and asked, what will they be like when they are 25?

I pondered what I hoped I would see if I ran into them 10+ years from now and asked them, hey, fill me in on your life since youth group!

What would they say ... ?

I'd hear them describe their lives such that it is clear that they are living out Christianity; that Christianity would be a verb for them. From their description, of what they do and their life choices, they would be exhibiting the seven great virtues: faith, hope, love, prudence, temperance, justice and courage. In short that all our teaching and modeling of the moral relevance of Jesus had stuck with them.

I'd hear them articulate their faith with clarity and conviction. It would be so super to find out that not only did they get that Jesus changed their life but that they can also describe the Jesus they follow accurately with passion. Simply put, they would have grabbed onto the fullness of who Jesus is and his theological significance.

I'd hear them share that they are married to a fellow believer. And if they aren't married, I'd hear that they are making wise choices about their dating life.

I'd hear that they are making a contribution to society through their work. All work done for Jesus is honorable work. As a molecular biologist, I'd would enjoy talking to a young person who went into the sciences. But I'd be equally pleased to hear that he or she is a dedicated school teacher, a compassionate nurse, a excellent contractor, a courageous firefighter or a devoted home maker.

Between now and that dream of what they would be at 25 are many obstacles. How many young people get tripped up because they make poor choices in regards to friends they hang out with? How many young people flounder in college when they get exposed to atheism, naturalism, agnosticism and a whole slew of other -isms that tell them there is no god and that all that Jesus stuff you got taught is a bunch of baloney? How many of our young people will stumble due to their dating decisions? How many will get confused and discouraged in their educational and vocational path?

I need to pray for my young friends with more constancy and fervor. I need to be faithful to do my best in what role I have in their lives. I need to commit them to the Good Shepherd and to work with my fellow volunteers to help feed and lead them by word and deed.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sports: Bruin basketball and recruiting

Saw this over at BruinsNation. The poster dug up the ratings on the current crop of Bruins based on Scout.com rankings of recruits.

The average UCLA recruit was 3.64 of which only 1 was a 5-star but 10 were 4-star. This put UCLA #2 in the Pac-10 in terms of recruitment reputation.

When compared to other big reputation programs, we are still far behind. Duke, Kansas and UNC each have SEVEN 5-star recruits!

But a basketball team is more than the sum of its parts and UCLA can now be talked about in the same breath as these top-tier programs. Got to give a huge shout out to Howland for bringing in solid players and getting them to play as a team.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Devotional Thoughts: The Return of Jesus the Defeat of Lawlessness

Continuing on in a look see through 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12.

The Thessalonians were concerned that Jesus might have returned and they got left behind so Paul addressed that concern by telling them some things have to happen before Jesus returns:
(1) A rebellion occurs

Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for (that day will not come) until the rebellion occurs

(2) The man of lawlessness is revealed

and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don't you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?

However, we have to remember, the Thessalonians probably received this teaching around AD 50-51. So it is possible that what was for them future is now in our past!

Anyway, Paul continued to remind them of what he had taught them.
(1) There was something restraining the lawlessness

And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed ...

Now, what is this restrainer?

Unfortunately, they knew but we don't. Too bad Paul didn't reiterate his teaching on this matter. If anyone claims to know what/who the restrainer is, I'd like to see their line of thought. My guess is that they are guessing. I've heard people say it is a powerful angel. Another said it is the church. I've heard some say it is the Holy Spirit. But it is all speculation.

But in spite of all this "build up" for this, Paul told them, Jesus is going to win.
(2) Jesus will overthrow the lawlessness at his coming

whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.

Just like God brings about the universe in Genesis by saying so, Jesus is going to defeat evil just as easily.

Paul went on to elaborate more on this lawless one.

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

What I'd be really curious about is to what degree Paul was simply expounding on what Jesus taught in Matthew 24 which is very similar to what is here in this passage.

One wonders if in the oral traditions and in hypothetical earlier (but now lost) written compilations of Jesus teachings, there was more details than what we have in Matthew 24?

In any case, what we have is what we have and as for me it is enough to know that Jesus is going to win!

I know some authors and preachers have constructed very detailed pictures of how the Second Coming of Jesus will be like.

I think they are interesting but I tend to be skeptical because the Jews, familiar with their Scriptures, had various pictures in their heads of what the Messiah would be like. Jesus came along and many thought: nope, not the Messiah!

And so today, for us to be excessively confident about explicit details of Jesus Second Coming would be foolhardy.

As a small window into the realm of the Hebrew Scriptures taking into account Jesus and Christian interpretation, let's check out Daniel 9:20-27.

Imagine you are a dedicated Jewish person and you open up the scrolls to read Daniel and see the following:

Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.

It is generally believed that this was fulfilled when Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Temple. But what does that Jewish person think when the Temple of Jerusalem is completely destroyed in AD 70? It would seem like deja vu all over again.

Indeed, Jesus used this kind of language in Matthew 24 when the disciples asked (1) when the Temple would be destroyed, (2) when Jesus would come back and (3) when the end of times would be.

In the mind of Jesus, it happened once before and it would happen again.

Will it happen a third time?

Lord, you spoke the universe into existence. In your wisdom you allowed us to have the freedom to choose to follow you or to rebel. You have sent Jesus to make restoration possible. The tide of your righteousness is rolling in and one day it will sweep away all lawlessness. But until that day, help me to fight the part of me that is disobedient. Help me to bring in peace and love and truth to the places and peoples around me. Amen.

Life: A Wintery Haiku

My "artistic" impulses are in photography, essay writing (blogging!) and the occasional attempt at poetry. With our wintry weather this past weekend I took pen in hand and scribbled ...
Falling rain, cool air
A good friend shares hot coffee
The heart warmed, God's care

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Life: Kids say the darnest things about marriage

Making its way around the world in people's email inboxes.

I just had to LOL = laugh out loud!

Subject: Kids Say the Darnest Things

See below for a cute bunch of thoughts from kids.

HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHO TO MARRY? (written by kids)

You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like,
if you like sports, she should like it that you like sports, and she
should keep the chips and dip coming.
-- Alan, age 10

No person really decides before they grow up who they're
going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out
later who you're stuck with.
-- Kristen, age 10

WHAT IS THE RIGHT AGE TO GET MARRIED?
Twenty-three is the best age because you know the person
FOREVER by then.
-- Camille, age 10

HOW CAN A STRANGER TELL IF TWO PEOPLE ARE MARRIED?
You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to
be yelling at the same kids.
-- Derrick, age 8

WHAT DO YOU THINK YOUR MOM AND DAD HAVE IN COMMON?
Both don't want any more kids.
-- Lori, age 8

WHAT DO MOST PEOPLE DO ON A DATE?
Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to
get to know each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen
long enough.
-- Lynnette, age 8 (isn't she a treasure)

On the first date, they just tell each other lies and
that Usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.
-- Martin, age 10

WHAT WOULD YOU DO ON A FIRST DATE THAT WAS TURNING SOUR?

I'd run home and play dead. The next day I would call
all the newspapers and make sure they wrote about me in all the dead
columns.
- - Craig, age 9

WHEN IS IT OKAY TO KISS SOMEONE?
When they're rich.
-- Pam, age 7

The law says you have to be eighteen, so I wouldn't want
to mess with that.
- - Curt, age 7

The rule goes like this: If you kiss someone, then you
should marry them and have kids with them. It's the right thing to do.
-- Howard, age 8

IS IT BETTER TO BE SINGLE OR MARRIED?
It's better for girls to be single but not for boys.
Boys need someone to clean up after them.
-- Anita, age 9 (bless you child)

HOW WOULD THE WORLD BE DIFFERENT IF PEOPLE DIDN'T GET
MARRIED? There sure would be a lot of kids to explain, wouldn't there?
-- Kelvin, age 8

And the #1 Favorite is........
HOW WOULD YOU MAKE A MARRIAGE WORK?
Tell your wife that she looks pretty, even if she looks
like a truck.
-- Ricky, age 10

Friday, February 09, 2007

@ the movies: Amazing Grace

Am looking forward to seeing this film!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Culture: 24, 12-1pm

Well, the three threads continue to unfold.

(1) Fayed finds an engineer to arm the nukes and its Morris! I didn't see that one coming but should have when they got Morris to leave CTU to see his allegedly dying brother. It was of course just a ruse to nab him. Will Morris survive for next season or will once again Chloe be left to mourn yet again?
(2) White House inner circle intrigue continues. This is familiar territory from some past seasons when one part of the government wants war and the other side urges restraint. We shall see whose side who is on in the episodes to come. These kinds of power struggle scenes can get boring if they get too talky and aren't properly paced. So far so good.
(3) Meanwhile in the family Bauer we get a twist that was telegraphed: turns out daddy Bauer is in on the plot with the brother Graem and not surprisingly this week the tables are turned and Graem appears to be dead.

TWP recaplet.
Full recaps at TWP.
Official Fox 24 recaps.

Implausibility alert: I don't think there were any huge whoppers this week. Yes, CTU might have been more suspicious about the ruse to get Morris to leave but given the chaos after a nuclear blast it might have slipped their minds to be more skeptical. Would the CTU agents have left Graem completely unguarded so daddy Bauer can kill him? Dunno, maybe, maybe not.

UPDATE: Another implausibility item that occurred to me as we await the special two-hour installment this coming Monday was the two guys assigned to kill Philip and Jack Bauer. Graem and Philip intended that episode to convince Jack that Graem was the bad guy and Philip was the good guy. Did the two guys know this plan? If yes, they wound up dead for their troubles and if they didn't, the plan could have gone awry with Philip and Jack dead! Oh, well.

Devotional Thoughts: Days of future past?

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 gives us Paul's teaching on when the day of the Lord will arrive.

Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for (that day will not come) until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

Right off the bat we see two events: (1) the rebellion occurs and (2) the man of lawlessness is revealed.

What I wonder is to what degree is Paul expanding on what Jesus said in Matthew 24 and to what degree did Paul receive additional revelation from God?

Matthew 24:10 said: At that time many will turn away from the faith which seems similar though the Greek words are not the same. In 2 Thessalonians the word is apostasia while in Matthew 24 it is skandalisthesontai.

The idea of lawlessness more closely tracks with Jesus teaching in Matthew 24:12, Because of the increase of wickedness. In that one the Greek word is anomian and in 2 Thessalonians it is anomias. I'm not a Greek scholar but I'm guessing those words are similar!

What this man of lawlessness does seems similar to Matthew 24:15, So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel.

But at this point, what can we say?

Has this happened already? Or is it happening now? Or is it still in the future?

For those who say it has happened already, they point to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. In addition, the Roman slaughter of the Jews at that time was of holocaust proportions. As for the Temple, all that is left is the Western Wall known today as the Wailing Wall.



image source: http://www.biblestudy.org/biblepic/picture-of-wailing-wall-dome-of-the-rock.html

It is generally believed that Paul wrote the letters to the Thessalonians in AD 50-51! Thus, can you imagine a young Thessalonian believer of say 13 years of age, at age 33 hearing news that the Temple in Jerusalem was demolished, the city razed and Jews slaughters in massive proportions? Would they have connected it with Paul's teachings, Jesus's discourse and Daniel's prophecies?

Is it happening today?

Is the lawlessness of the world today any more pronounced than in the past? I don't know. Humans have been and are and will continue to be sinners. Within the context of Western society, one might say our sinfulness is more public than it used to be. In the past, our sins were kept quiet but today with 24/7 news media, the dirty laundry of the rich and famous and even of ordinary people will be blasted on cable news, the internet and the tabloids. So in some ways, we are more lawless in that the same ambient level of sin is now more public.

Is it in the future?

Paul's specificity of description does tend to point to a future event if one takes what he wrote in a very literal fashion: He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

Has one specific person in human history done that? I don't think so. And since the temple was destroyed that can't happen right now.

Thus, you can see why this passage is a source of confusion.

In summary, it seemed that Paul was saying what Jesus said in a different way. Was it further revelation from God to Paul? Was it Paul drawing from oral tradition about Jesus we no longer have access to? Don't know.

Both Jesus and Paul being acquainted with the Jewish Scriptures they would know Daniel. So in the next blog post, we will just have to go back to Daniel and keep following the line of thought.

Lord, you are the God of history. I live in a tiny span of time. How my times fit into your plans I do not know. But I do know that you want me to live my short march of time in this life with an eye toward your kingdom. With the perspective that you are in charge of my life and that you want me to do justice, love mercy and to walk humbly with you. Help me to do that today and for however long I have breath. Amen.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Sports: UCLA 70 USC 65

UCLA wins!

Another very close game!

UCLA's defense finally got some stops in the final 5 minutes to get a small lead. Then a USC technical foul and an intentional foul allowed UCLA to hit a few extra free throws to pad the lead. But USC responded by hitting some threes to cut it back down and the final minute became a free throw shooting contest which UCLA hit enough to preserve the win.

Whew!

As a UCLA alum, I root for the Bruins but as an honest sports fan, I have to take my hat off to the job Tim Floyd is doing over at USC. Henry Bibby's volcanic temper and erratic coaching ran the program into a ditch and he was finally fired early in the 2004-2005 season. The team limped to the finish line with an assistant coach serving as an interim. Ironically, that assistant coach was a former assistant coach under Steve Lavin the UCLA coach who was ousted the year before Bibby was ousted at USC. Tim Floyd was hired at the beginning of the 2005-2006 season and he began the turnaround. USC made the NIT that year. Now, in the 2006-2007 campaign, Floyd has USC on the verge of an NCAA bid.

USC is playing tough defense and they got some 3-point shooters and athletes that can fly up and down the court on pogo sticks.

Politics: The meat and potatoes of local Los Angeles government

Tonight, I attended a neighborhood meeting to hear about some issues in our community.

Tom LaBonge came with one of his aides. Also, in attendance was a lighting engineer and his crew and the captain and a few officers from the Wilshire district LAPD.

We stood on the street corner as LaBonge introduced the lighting engineer and we were told about some of the technical details about how street lighting works and how much it costs to fix and upgrade. There was talk of increasing the wattage of the lights at one of the intersections in the hopes it will help reduce crime. Some residents mentioned that on some streets, the trees have overgrown so much that they block the lights. LaBonge's aide took note of which streets were mentioned so that the city service tree trimmers could be sent.

The next speaker was the LAPD district captain. He told us to report all crimes because if it doesn't get reported, the police will think the neighborhood is safer than it actually is. He shared that they recently arrested three people in the area who were suspected to have been involved in 20 robberies. He stressed the need to call in all crime incidents. One person asked what should they do if 911 is busy. LaBonge said the city is continuing to improve the 911 system but sometimes it still gets overwhelmed. The Captain asked one of his officers to pass out cards with phone numbers that reach the front desk of the police station. He said, call 911 first but if that doesn't work, then call the desk number. He encouraged our group to send people to the monthly community policing meetings at his station. They also will work with the neighborhood to establish citizen patrols.

We then walked to the neighborhood fire station. We got a tour of the firehouse! We then went to their kitchen/dining area to discuss parking. The station was very busy. Every few minutes an alarm would sound and some firemen would leave our meeting to go check on something or to go on a call. The station has a paramedic truck for more serious calls and a ambulance truck for other calls. Additionally, the station has a long hook-and-ladder truck, a pumper truck and a battalion chief's vehicle.

LaBonge and his aide discussed parking issues. Plans are underway to make another street into diagonal parking which opens up a few more spaces over the usual parallel parking. However, LaBonge said some streets can't go diagonal because the fire trucks are so wide that some streets have to be kept in parallel parking configuration for them. The aide shared that she is in discussion with the office of the neighboring City Council district to discuss parking. There might be some realignment of parking regulations. Lastly, there was a discussion about possible use of commercial property parking lots which are empty at night.

All in all, a nice night of meeting some of the people in my neighborhood and seeing the wheels of government turn.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Devotional Thoughts: Don't be alarmed

Am looking at 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 this morning.

Sigh.

This is one of those passages that is a bit confusing. What we have on hand is Paul's response to something ...

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.

But what was the something that prompted this response?

We can only put together a few loose pieces.

The important piece was that the Thessalonians were being mislead by somebody to think Jesus had come back and had gathered the saints and that they had been left behind. That would indeed be a source of anxiety!

What we don't have was how did the Thessalonian church view the return of Jesus?

I heard theologian Robert Morgan talk about how scholars believe there are three layers of knowledge regarding the words and deeds of Jesus. (1) Jesus actual words and deeds (2) the oral traditions and first writings of the earliest followers of Jesus (3) the consolidation of those traditions into the Four Gospels we have today.

This process was nicely and thoroughly explained in this series of posts by Mark D. Roberts where he addressed the question, "Are the New Testament Gospels reliable?"

He provides this helpful diagram in that blog post:



Image source: http://www.markdroberts.com/htmfiles/resources/gospelsreliable.htm#sep2905

What we have in hand are the 4 Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). The Gospels as we know them were probably not yet written at the time of this letter to the Thessalonians. They had some (most?) of layer number two (the oral traditions and early writings) but probably not all the elements of layer two that eventually was distilled into the four Gospels? Thus, what was their understanding of the Return of Jesus?

We simply don't know. The fact that they were worried about it meant that there was probably a general belief that the Return would be relatively soon. Some believe the reason the Gospel records were not produced immediately after Jesus resurrection was that the early church didn't anticipate having to wait around very long. However, when it became apparent that Jesus had not yet returned and the church was spreading far and wide, the need to preserve the teachings and deeds of Jesus became an imperative.

In any case, Paul assured them that the day had not yet come. In fact, he gave them signs to look for that apparently were not yet in place to assure them that the Return was still in the future.

Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for (that day will not come) until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

Questions I can't answer: (1) since these events were in the future from the perspective of the Thessalonians have these events occurred and is thus in the past for us? (2) what are these events suppose to be?

More on this topic in the next blog post.

Lord, don't know what this passage means. I think it is still in the future. I trust in your control events even if I don't understand them. I look at the world today and it sure looks lawless. Whether is it hateful violence in some far away parts of this world like Darfur and Iraq or close by in my city where gangs control parts of Los Angeles, terrible things are happening. Lord, speed the day when your justice and peace will reign on this earth as it is in heaven. In the meantime, help me in the realms of my life to bring in your kingdom. Amen.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Culture: Coaching the Lord's Way

Congrats to the Colts, Coach Dungy, Peyton Manning and their whole team and organization.

But what is wonderful is that the two head coaches are such decent and honorable men.

To read about their Christian commitment check out this web page.
HT: HH.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Life: A Persistent Reliable Mentor

Don't always get the print edition of newspapers these days because news happens fast and the internet is constantly updated.

But today, I picked up a Los Angeles Times and was drawn to the "Column One" story on the left side. Very moving and inspirational to read about the dedication of Thomas Higgins in his mentorship of Milena Slatten and the work of Covenant House. Excerpts:
CONSIDERING that her mother tried to throw her out a third-story window when she was 3, and that she spent five years in an orphanage in the destitute former Soviet republic of Georgia and five years in American foster homes, a psychiatric hospital and a lockdown facility for troubled kids, Milena Slatten, 20, is faring incredibly well.

Two years ago, she was homeless, but now she's earned her GED and works full time as a clerk in the Los Angeles County courthouse. She has no criminal record. She doesn't drink. She doesn't smoke or do drugs, even prescription medications. When she was a child, the social workers had filled her with a cocktail of mood stabilizers that left her days blurry. Now she'd rather be depressed than zonked out.

Most important, she has a friend - an impressive, reliable one - which is a rarity for former foster kids. He is Thomas Higgins, 65, a career prosecutor responsible for almost all the arraignments in the city of Los Angeles. She calls him Tommy.
..........
HIGGINS knows what it's like to face a furious adult. His father, a Sacramento Valley mechanic and a farmer, never seemed to like him much. The oldest of six, Higgins was a smart-alecky kid, and his father beat him.

When he was 11, there was an incident so violent that his mother finally pulled his father off. "I was crying. I was scared. I just said, 'Never do that to me again.' I threatened him, which was sort of stupid for an 11-year-old kid in his underwear who'd just been disciplined harshly, but to my dad's credit, it was the last time he ever punished me physically."

Higgins thinks often of his father, who died in 1995. He still wonders why he was so brutal. Higgins himself became the kind of kid who never backed down from a fight. He became a cop and eventually a lawyer, and learned to channel his aggressiveness through the law.

Helping Milena is a way of helping the child he once was, but the pair generally don't dwell on bad memories. Most of their time is spent bantering and teasing each other, like rebellious schoolkids.
..........
In a crowd of several hundred formerly homeless kids, she is the only one wearing a business suit. Milena is also trying out her first pair of high heels and holding on to Higgins' shoulder as she totters about. When she begins twirling unsteadily on her feet, she teases, "Catch me, Tom, I'm falling!"

She insists that Higgins stand in the front row, center, so in his black suit, black shirt and lime-green tie, he'll be easily visible from the lectern.

She is the first resident from Covenant House to speak. Reading from her neatly typed speech, Milena is poised and self-assured. She talks about her past, her stint on the streets. "Because of my difficulty in trusting people I do not know, I found it hard to acknowledge that I needed help," she says, adding that she's learned how to "see beyond what is in front of our eyes."

Afterward, she rushes to throw her arms around Higgins. Clearly proud, he leans down to whisper, "I started to tear up a bit, kid."
Be sure to read the whole article. Check here to read about Covenant House in Hollywood.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Sports: UCLA 69 Oregon 57

Woo hoo!

Bruins take care of business and seize the lead (for now) of the Pac-10.

We can't have a let down against Oregon State on Saturday!

UPDATE: Listened to the post-game show a bit as I drifted off to sleep last night. The team played solid defense and seized the lead in the first half and never let it go. Afflalo clearly took the lead for the Bruins by scoring and locking down Oregon's top scorer. Players often only concentrate on offense so this helps Afflalo's stock that he prides himself on defense. If Afflalo keeps this up, he may go NBA after this season. My guess is that he won't be a lottery pick but would be a solid mid- to late-first rounder. Certainly, his drive and leadership will be key to any serious run by UCLA in the NCAA's March Madness. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute vacuumed up rebounds against Oregon. In some games where I have seen UCLA struggle I have seen that a Moute was in foul trouble and thus either not in the game or playing tentatively.