Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006: the year "the powers that be" became "the powers that were"

Click on the title of this post for The Washington Post's year-end summary of religious news. The bottom line: whether the subject is Congress or church leadership, people are just not happy with the status quo.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Jeremiah 29:7

Year ago, the comic-strip Kudzu featured the Reverend Will B. Dunne -- a pastor who felt he'd been called to minister to the rich and famous. Somehow, it never turned out . . .

But click on the title of this post, and you get read the LA Times profile of Kim Dorr -- a Hollywood agent who runs Bel Air Presbyterian's outreach to the entertainment industry. (And yes, this is one woman you might want to keep in your prayers; I cannot even begin to imagine the challenges she must face in her ministry!)

The purpose-driven church comes to Hog Mountain

What happens when a little, bitty, rural church gets swallowed up by urban sprawl? Click here to find out! (And the next time you're tempted to mutter about "old fogeys," remember that the change-agent in this church is a pastor who's 81-years-old!)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Another view of Joseph (part II)

As you read this week's verses, notice the way Jacob dominates the story -- even when he's off stage! (And if you doubt this, then count the number of times Judah mentions his father when he's speaking to Joseph.)

Then too, you may find it helpful to compare the Bible's version of Joseph's story with that found in the Koran. (For the source of this story, click on the title of this post.)

58 And his brethren came to Joseph, and they entered in unto him and he knew them, but they recognised not him. 59 And when he had equipped them with their equipment he said, "Bring me a brother that ye have from your father; do ye not see that I give good measure, and that I am the best of entertainers? 60 But if ye bring him not to me, no measure shall ye have with me, nor shall ye come nigh me."

61 They said, "We will desire him of our father, and we will surely do it."

62 Then he said to his servants, "Put their chattels in their packs, haply they may know it when they are come back to their family; haply they may return."

63 And when they returned to their father, they said, "O our father! Measure is withheld from us; so send with us our brother that we may get measure, and, verily, him we will keep!"

64 He said, "Shall I entrust you with him, save as entrusted you with his brother before? but God is the best of keepers, and He is the most merciful of the merciful."

65 And when they opened their goods they found their chattels restored to them. Said they, "O our father! What more can we crave? Here are our chattels restored to us, and we shall guard our brother, and shall have an additional measure beside that- a small measure."

66 He said, "I will by no means send him with you until you give me a compact from God that ye will surely bring him to me, unless ye be encompassed." So when they had given him their compact he said, "God over what ye say has charge." 67 And he said, "O my sons, enter not by one gate, but enter by several gates; but I cannot avail you aught against God. Judgment is only God's; upon Him do I rely, and on Him do the reliant rely."

68 And when they had entered as their father bade them, it availed them nothing against God, save for a want in Jacob's soul which it fulfilled; for, verily, he was possessed of knowledge, for that we had taught him;- but most men do not know.

69 And when they entered in unto Joseph, he took his brother to stay with him, and said, "Verily, I am thy brother- then take not ill that which they have been doing."

70 And when he had equipped them with their equipment he placed the drinking cup in his brother's pack; then a crier cried out, "O ye caravan, verily, ye are thieves!"

71 They said, approaching them, "What is it that ye miss?"

72 Said they, "We miss the goblet of the king, and whoso brings it shall have a camel-load, and I am guarantee thereof."

73 They said, "By God! Ye knew we came not to do evil in the land, and that we were not thieves."

74 They said, "And what shall be the recompense thereof if ye be liars?"

75 They said, "The recompense thereof is he in whose pack it is found- he shall be the recompense thereof; thus do we recompense the unjust."

76 And he began with their sacks before the sacks of his brother; then he drew it forth from his brother's sack.

Thus did we devise a stratagem for Joseph. He could not take his brother by the king's religion except God pleased;- we raise the degrees of whomsoever we please, and over every possessor of knowledge is one who knows.

77 They said, "If he has stolen, a brother of his has stolen before him."

But Joseph kept it secret in his soul and disclosed it not to them. Said he, "Ye are in a bad case, and God knows best about what ye describe."

78 They said, "O prince! Verily, he has a father, a very old man; take then one of us instead of him; verily, we can see that thou art of those who do good."

79 Said he, "(I seek) refuge in God from taking any save him with whom we found our property; verily, we should then be certainly unjust."

80 And when they despaired of him they retired to consult privately. Said the eldest of them, "Do ye not know that your father has taken a compact from God against you? Aforetime ye exceeded in the matter of Joseph- I will surely not quit the land until my father give me leave, or God judge for me, for He is the best of judges. 81 Return ye to your father and say, 'O our father, verily, thy son has committed theft, and we bore testimony to naught but what we knew; for of the unforeseen we were not keepers!' 82 Ask then in the city where we were, and of the caravan in which we approached it, for, verily, we tell the truth."

83 Said he, "Nay, your souls have induced you to do this thing. But patience is fair. It may be that God will give me them all together;- verily, He is knowing, wise." 84 And he turned away from them and said, "O my lament for Joseph!" and his eyes grew white with grief, for he repressed (his woe).

85 They said, "By God, thou wilt not cease to remember Joseph till thou art at the point of death, or art of those who perish!"

86 Said he, "I only complain of my emotion and my grief to God, for I know that from God which ye know nothing of. 87 O my sons, go and enquire concerning Joseph and his brother, and despair not of God's comfort; for, verily, none need despair of God's comfort save a misbelieving people!"

88 And when they entered in unto him they said, "O prince, distress has touched both us and our families, and we have brought trifling chattels. So give us full measure and bestow upon us in charity; verily, God rewards the charitable."

89 He said, "Do ye know what ye did with Joseph and his brother, while ye were ignorant?"

90 They said, "Art thou then indeed Joseph?"

He said, "I am Joseph, and this is my brother; God has been gracious towards us. Verily, whoso fears God and is patient,- verily, God wastes not the hire of those who do good!"

91 They said, "By God, God has chosen thee over us; and we indeed were sinners."

92 He said, "No reproach against you to-day! God will pardon you, for He is the most merciful of the merciful.93 Take this my shirt, and throw it over the face of my father, he will become able to see; and bring me your families all together."

94 And when the caravan departed, their father said, "Verily, I find the smell of Joseph, unless ye think I dote!"

95 They said, "By God, thou art in thy old error."

96 And when the herald of glad tidings came he threw it on his face, and he was restored to sight. Said he, "Did I not tell you that I know from God that of which ye know not?"

98 They said, "O our father, ask pardon for us of our sins;- verily, we were sinners!"

99 He said, "I will ask pardon for you from my Lord; verily, He is the pardoning and merciful."

100 And when they entered in unto Joseph, he took his father to stay with him, and said, "Enter ye into Egypt, if it please God, safe." 101 And he raised his father upon the throne, and they fell down before him adoring.

And he said, "O my sire! This is the interpretation of my vision aforetime; my Lord has made it come true, and He has been good to me, in bringing me forth out of prison, and bringing you from the desert, after Satan had made a breach between me and my brethren;-verily, my Lord is kind to whomsoever He will;- verily, He is the knowing, the wise!

102 "O my Lord, thou hast given me dominion, and hast taught me the interpretation of sayings; O originator of the heavens and the earth! Thou art my patron in this world and the next; take me to Thyself resigned, and let me reach the righteous!"

Friday, December 22, 2006

You can do the same thing with most CCM.

Click on the title of this post for Benny Davis's "Four Chord Song" -- a pastiche of 19 pop songs that all use pretty much the same chord progression.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Where would we be without Ned Flanders?

The Parents Television Council (PTC) reports that TV shows mentioned religion only half as much this year as they did the last -- and a full third of the references were negative.

The big exception? Reality shows, where religion often comes up -- and almost always in a positive light!

And even though the PTC doesn't mention it, religion is also an essential part of The Simpsons! Click here for a reprint of "The Simpsons have soul" -- and if you'd like to read a Wikipedia article on The Simpsons and religion, click here.

Another view of Joseph

One of the biggest problems you'll face this week is the fact that most of your class-members are familiar with the story of Joseph -- so familiar that they will "tune out" anything you have to say!

One way around that is to take a look at the way other people tell this story. Joseph's story is a favorite of Moslems, for instance; in fact, the Koran includes a long section (or "sura") about it. As you read, you will notice how Moslem theology (viz. the problem of evil and the suffering of the innocent) is reflected in this version of the story . . . and in the process, you may gain a new understanding of the story in Genesis.


Those are the signs of the perspicuous Book. 2 Verily, we have revealed it, an Arabic Koran; haply ye may understand. 3 We tell thee the best of stories, in inspiring thee with this Koran, though thou wert before it among the heedless.

4 When Joseph said to his father, ‘O my sire, verily, I saw eleven stars, and the sun, and the moon,- I saw them adoring me!’ 5 He said, ‘O my boy, toll not thy vision to thy brethren, for they will plot a plot against thee; verily, the devil is to man an open foe.’

6 Thus does thy Lord choose thee, and teach thee the interpretation of sayings, and fulfil His favour upon thee, and upon Jacob’s people, as He fulfilled it upon thy two forefathers before thee, Abraham and Isaac,- verily, thy Lord is knowing, wise!

7 In Joseph and his brethren were signs to those who enquire! 8 When they said, ‘Surely, Joseph and his brother are dearer to our father than we, a band although we be; verily, our father is in obvious error.9 ‘Slay Joseph, or cast him in some land; that your father’s face may be free for you, and ye may be, after he is gone, a people who do right.’

10 A speaker from amongst them spake, ‘Slay not Joseph, but throw him into the bottom of the pit; some of the travellers may pick him up, if so ye do.’

11 Said they, ‘O our father, what ails thee that thou wilt not trust us with Joseph while we are unto him sincere? 12 Send him with us to-morrow to revel and to play, and, verily, we over him will keep good guard.’

13 Said he, ‘Verily, it grieves me that ye should go off with him, for I fear lest the wolf devour him while ye of him do take no heed.’ 14 Said they, ‘Why, if the wolf should devour him while we are (such) a band, verily, we then should deserve to lose!’

15 And when they had gone off with him and agreed to put him in the depths of the pit, and we inspired him, ‘Thou shalt surely inform them of this affair of theirs and they shall not perceive.’ 16 And they came to their father at eve and weeping said, 17 ‘O our father, verily, we went forth to race and left Joseph by our goods, and the wolf devoured him,- but thou wilt not believe us, truth tellers though we be.’

18 And they brought his shirt with lying blood upon it. Said he, ‘Nay, but your souls have induced you to do this; but patience is fair, and God is He whom I ask for aid against that which ye describe.’

19 And travellers came and sent their water-drawer; and he let down his bucket. Said he, ‘O glad tidings, this is a youth.’ And they kept him secret, as a chattel; but God knew what they were doing. 20 And they sold him for a mean price,- drachmae counted out,- and they parted with him cheaply.

21 And the man from Egypt who had bought him said to his wife, ‘Honour his abiding here; it may be he will be of use to us, or we may adopt him as a son.'

Thus did we stablish Joseph in the land; and we did surely teach him the interpretation of sayings; for God can overcome His affairs, though most men do not know. And when he had reached his strength we brought him judgment and knowledge, for thus do we reward those who do good.

23 And she in whose house he was desired him for his person; and she locked the doors and said, ‘Come along with thee!’ Said he, ‘Refuge in God, verily, my Lord has made good my abiding here; verily, the wrong-doers shall not prosper.’

24 And she was anxious for him, and he would have been anxious for her, had it not been that he saw the demonstration of his Lord; thus did we turn evil and fornication from him; verily, he was of our sincere servants.

25 And they raced to the door and she rent his shirt from behind; and they met her master at the door. Said she, ‘What is the recompense of him who wishes evil for thy family, but that imprisonment or a grievous torment?’

26 Said he, ‘She desired me for my person.’

And a witness from among her family bore witness: ‘If his shirt be rent from in front, then she speaks the truth and he is of the liars; 27 but if his shirt be rent from behind, then she lies and he is of the truth tellers.’

28 And when he saw his shirt rent from behind he said, ‘This is one of your tricks; verily, your tricks are mighty! 29 Joseph, turn aside from this. And do thou, woman, ask pardon for thy fault; verily, thou wert of the sinners.’

30 And women in the city said, ‘The wife of the prince desires her young man for his person; he has infatuated her with love: verily, we see her in obvious error.’31 And when she heard of their craftiness, she sent to them, and prepared for them a banquet, and gave each of them a knife; and she said, ‘Come forth to them!’ And when they saw him they said, ‘Great God!’ and cut their hands and said, ‘God forbid! This is no mortal, this is nothing but an honourable angel.’ 32 Said she, ‘This is he concerning whom ye blamed me. I did desire him for his person, but he was too continent. But if he do not what I bid him he shall surely be imprisoned and shall surely be among the small!’

33 Said he, ‘My Lord! Prison is dearer to me than what they call on me to do; and unless Thou turn from me their craftiness I shall feel a passion for them and shall be among the ignorant!’ 34 And his Lord answered him and turned from him their craftiness; verily, He both hears and knows!

35 Then it appeared good to them, even after they had seen the signs, to imprison him until a time. 36 And there entered the prison with him two young men. Said one of them, ‘Verily, I see myself pressing wine.’ And the other said, ‘Verily, I see myself bearing on my head loaves from which the birds do eat; inform us of the interpretation thereof; verily, we see that thou art of those who do good.’

37 He said, ‘There shall not come to you any food with which ye are provided, but I will inform you both of its interpretation before it comes to you. That is (some) of what my Lord has taught me; verily, I have left the faith of a people who do not believe in God, while in the future too they disbelieve. 38 And I have followed the faith of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob; we could not associate aught with God; that is from God’s grace upon us and upon men: but most men give not thanks.39 O ye twain fellow-prisoners! Are manifold lords better, or God, the one, the dominant? 40 What ye worship beside Him are naught but names which ye have named, ye and your fathers, for which God has sent down no authority. Judgment is only God’s; He bids you worship only Him. That is the standard of religion,- but most men do not know.41 O ye twain fellow-prisoners, as for one of you, he shall pour out wine for his lord: and as for the other, he shall be crucified, and the birds shall eat of his head. The matter is decreed whereon ye asked me for a decision!’

42 And he said to him whom he thought would escape of those two, Remember me with thy lord!’ But Satan made him forget the remembrance of his lord, so he tarried in prison a few years. 43 Then said the king, ‘Verily, I see seven fat kine which seven lean kine devoured; and seven green ears of corn and others dry. O ye chiefs! Explain to me my vision, if a vision ye can expound!’ 44 Said they, ‘Confused dreams, and naught of the exposition of such dreams know we!’

45 Then he who had escaped of those twain said,- remembering after a while,- ‘Verily, I will inform you of the interpretation thereof, so send me.’

46 ‘Joseph! O thou truth teller, explain to us the seven fat kine which seven lean devoured; and the seven green ears of corn and others dry. Haply I may go back to the men, haply they then may know!’ 47 He said, ‘Ye shall sow for seven years, as is your wont; but what ye reap, let it remain in the ear, except a little whereof ye shall eat. 48 Then there shall come after that seven severe (years) which shall devour what ye have put by before for them, save a little of what ye shall preserve. 49 Then there will come after that a year in which men shall have rain and in which they shall press.’

50 Then said the king, ‘Bring him to me.’

And when the messenger came to him, he said, Go back to thy lord, and ask him, "What meant the women who cut their hands? Verily, my lord knows their craftiness!"’

51 He said, ‘What was your design when ye desired Joseph for his person? They said, ‘God forbid, we know no bad of him.’ Said the wife of the prince, Now does the truth appear! I desired him for his person and, verily, he is of those who tell the truth.’ 52 ‘That’ (said Joseph) ‘was that he might know that I did not betray him in his absence, and that God guides not the craft of those who do betray! 53 Yet I do not clear myself, for the soul is very urgent to evil, save what my Lord has had mercy on; verily, my Lord is forgiving and merciful!’

54 And the king said, ‘Bring him to me. I will take him specially for myself.’ And when he had spoken with him he said, ‘Verily, to-day thou art with us in a permanent place of trust.’

55 He said, ‘Place me over the treasures of the land; verily, I will be a knowing keeper.’

56 Thus did we establish Joseph in the land that he might settle in what part thereof he pleased- we overtake with our mercy whom we will, nor do we waste the hire of those who do good; 57 and surely the hire of the future life is better for those who believe and who have feared.

[The sura continues with the story of Joseph's brothers. If you would like to read it in full, click on the title of this post.]

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Today's communion service was brought to you by Welches grape juice . . .

So . . . you get a letter that offers you a chance to win both a thousand dollars and at a free trip to London; all you need to do is mention Disney's film, "The Chronicles of Narnia," in one of your sermons.

Would you do it?

And no, this is not a theoretical question. According to a recent article in the Wharton School of Business's on-line journal, major corporations such as Disney and DaimlerChrysler are looking for ways to reach church audiences . . . and if that means paying pastors to do "product placements" in church services, then so be it.

Full disclosure: as editor of Signs of the Times, I wrote an annual sermon that was sent out to all Adventist pastors; the hope was they'd use the sermon -- and in the process, they'd put in a plug for Signs. And yes, I've also run announcements in the church bulletin for upcoming Adventist Book Center sales; in return, our church got a $20 credit on future orders.

Click on the title of this post for a reprint of the article in "Out of Ur." As you do so, I hope you'll appreciate the irony of the fact that it's sponsored by Leadership magazine. And yes, you may want follow this article with William Willimon's mediation on consumerism; click here to read it.

Update: For part two of the Wharton article, click here.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Love is blind -- and often tasteless

I don't know any pastor who's going to be surprised by this article in The New York Times -- it reports that a lot of couples plan to get married without really knowing all that much about each other.

Click on the title of this post for the article -- and if you'd like a list of the 15 questions a couple should ask before marriage, then click here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

New York, New York, it's a [heavenly] town . . .

I dunno -- you think about starting an outreach ministry to the people who work on Wall Street, and you picture something . . . sophisticated.

But faith healing? Speaking in tongues? And the kind of straight-up belief in miracles that says the World Trade Center was kept standing as long as it did by prayer?

Meet Dan Stratton: a graduate of Yale and a former commodities trader who now leads a 400-member Pentecostal church in downtown Manhattan.

(Click on the title of this post for the article in The New York Times.)

Episcopalians face split over gays

The Episcopal Church has always prided itself on its ability to draw together all kinds of Christians:
  • "high church" Anglo-Catholics,
  • "low church" evangelicals,
  • and "broad church" liberals.
That era may be coming to an end. The American church's decision to ordain women dismayed Anglo-Catholics; its decision to ordain a gay bishop has outraged Anglo-Catholics, evangelicals, and Anglican leaders around the world. Now a group of American churches has announced its intent to secede from the local diocese, and form an alliance with a bishop overseas.

For a mix of perspectives on this issue, click here for an article in The Christian Science Monitor, here for an article in The New York Times and here for an article in The Washington Post.

Update: To read the response of a "broad church" Episcopal priest to all this, click here for the article in Slate. (You can sum up her view as "good bye and good riddance.")

Update: Click here for a NYT profile of Peter Akinola -- the Nigerian archbishop whose strong stance against homosexuality has made him the leader of 21 Episcopal churches in the USA.

Jesus was homeless too.

Click here for an article in The Christian Science Monitor about "Common Cathedral" -- a ministry to street people in Boston. And you can click here for an article in The Oregonian about "Dinner and a Movie" -- a ministry to homeless adolescents in Portland.

Thinking about trying something similar yourself? As both articles point out, ministries such as these take time -- time on the street, time to earn trust, and time to see results.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ad astra per aspera

Jacob sent his family on ahead.

With that, you know everything you need to know about “Jake the Snake.”

It had been 20-years since he’d since his brother, remember – 20-years since he’d left town one step ahead of a lynch mob with his brother at the head of the pack. And when Jacob sent word that he was coming home – “and can’t we let bygones be bygones?” – he soon found out that time does not heal all wounds.

No, his brother was coming to meet him – his brother, and a mob of 400 men!

So Jacob did what he could to cut his losses, appease his brother, and make things right with God. But when it came to the night before the battle . . .

Jacob sent his family on ahead, while he remained behind.

Maybe that’s why God decided it was time for a little tough love; maybe that’s why God decided it was time for a “smackdown at the Jabbok.” For there he was, plotting his escape . . . and the next thing Jacob knew was that somebody grabbed him and slammed into the ground. All night they wrestled. All night they fought.

And when morning came, Jacob was hurting. He was limping. But he was a changed man.

For when Esau showed up that very morning – together with his 400 men – we read in Genesis 33:3 that it was Jacob who went out to meet them.

No longer hiding behind his wives and children, now it is Jacob who leads the way.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Rest in Peace?

It's a scene that's played out by thousands of families every day . . . but when you're Billy Graham, it gets covered by the Washington Post.

Simply put: the Graham family has split over the question of their parents eventual burial.
  • Youngest son Ned wants his mothers' wishes honored; she's always wanted to be buried up in the hills of North Carolina -- and she wants Billy there beside her.
  • Oldest son Frankling wants them both to be buried on the grounds of the new Billy Graham Evangelistic Association museum that he's building in Charlotte -- a museum that features (among other things) a talking cow.
  • And Billy? He hates controversy.
Click on the title of this post for the article in the Washington Post.

Update: Billy Graham's response to this article was that he and his wife will choose the site of their graves; click here for the article in the Washington Post.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Not only are there no atheists in foxholes, but there don't seem to be many at the Pentegon.

Seven high-ranking Army and Air Force officers appeared in a promotional video for the Christian Embassy -- an evangelical outreach group that's run by Bill Bright.

Nothing wrong with that . . . but they did so in uniform, and that's raised some eyebrows.

Click on the title of this post for the article in the Washington Post.

But wait -- there's more! Click here to read an interview with Mikey Weinstein, the man who's leading the charge against this video. (And yes, I think it's safe to say that he is not a happy camper.)

Caught between two worlds

Sooner or later, it happens to every pastor.

One of the kids in your church -- a nice kid, always polite, never missed church or Sabbath School, did a great job leading Student Week of Prayer . . .

He finishes high school. Moves off to college. Gets a job in the big city.

Then you hear from a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend that he's "come out of the closet."

And yes, he's still part of the church family -- part of the church family in a way that only someone who grew up in a small church can be.

But . . .

(Click on the title of this post for the article in the New York Times.)

The day Harlem got its steeple back.

It was one of Harlem's landmarks . . . but 35-years-ago, the Ephesus SDA Church caught fire and lost its steeple.

Today, the steeple is back -- and the church is on the front-page of the New York Times!

Click on the title of this post for the article.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Ditch the praise team; add a belching contest.

Click on the title for an LA Times article on Brad Stine -- the Christian comedian who's made it his life's work to "dewussify" American Christianity. And yes, if you've read Wild at Heart, you know what he's talking about:
  • holding hands,
  • sharing feelings,
  • and Praise services that sound like the kind of music your wife listens to in the car?
All that is now verboten; the goal is a church service for "manly men."

Mind you, I'm not entirely sure that "rude and crude" is all that much of an improvement . . .

Thursday, December 07, 2006

When "purpose driven" meets NIMBY

It's not just the traffic -- no, it's also the impact on the environment that has their neighbors so upset.

Talking about shopping malls?

No -- we're talking about megachurches. Click on the title for the article in The Christian Science Monitor.

India's Christians

Yes, they make up less than three-percent of India's population -- but come Sunday mornings, you'll find more Christians attending church in India than you do in the United Kingdom. Click on the title of this post for a quick look at that country's believers in the Christian Science Monitor.

The Guiding Light (second season)

This may be the second-season of Abramos – but it’s a whole-new ball-game for the fans of this popular telenovela!!!

In last year’s shocking finale, we learned the true nature of the title character’s relationship with his wife AND witnessed the near-death of their son at the hands of his father. (And yes, the critics are still arguing about that episode!) Even the storybook wedding of the family heir wasn’t enough to erase our concerns for this family’s future.

As it turns out, we were right to worry. In a surprising twist, this season picks up 25-years after last year’s final episode. With Abramos dead, the family business is up for grabs. On paper, his son is now the boss . . .

But can little “Snickers” maintain control in the face of his wife’s opposition?

And what of their twin sons: “Red” and Iago? Dad favors the thoroughly assimilated “Red” – a man’s man (and a lady’s man besides). But with Mom backing the all-too clever Iago . . .

Well, it looks like this is one show that is sure to keep its fans guessing!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Okay, you've shown me the money. Now what?

Want to realize just how rich you really are? Click on the title for this post.

As an Adventist pastor, you see, I make roughly $50,000 per year. That's not including my pension plan, medical benefits, and educational subsidies -- and when you have two children in SDA schools, that adds up fast!

Still, I'd always thought of myself as "middle-class" -- and in the USA, I'm about as close to the median for family income as it is possible to get.

But then I clicked on "Global Rich List," and I discovered that I make more money than 99% of the people on this planet . . .

It's an odd feeling.

Tax-collectors, sinners, and Democrats

Op-ed piece by the Washington Post's E. J. Dionne on Rock Warren's invite to Barack Obama viz. the Saddleback Church's recent conference on AIDS. The bottom line: Evangelical Christianity (says Dionne) is no longer a Sunday-morning pep-rally for the GOP.

Then again, E. J. is something of an anomaly himself -- he's a liberal Democrat, remember, AND a devout Catholic. So . . . has he really found a kindred spirit in the Purpose-Driven pastor? Or is this wishful thinking?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Harold be thy name

Too late for the holiday, I ran across BustedHalo' s guide to Thanksgiving prayers . . . but it still applies to Christmas (and an amazing number of pastoral prayers that I've heard in church).

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Is God enough?

What if Adventist men lived seven years less than average?

What if paying tithe was a sure route to bankruptcy?

And what if following God meant giving up any chance at eternal life?

Would you still believe? Would you still have faith? Would you still be a Christian anyway?

Those are the question posed by this week’s lesson – questions exemplified by God’s command that Abraham sacrifice Isaac.

In giving up Isaac, remember, Abraham was giving up everything that God had ever promised: life, hope, blessings, and promises. All gone, just because God said to give them up.

Likewise, we come to God for all kinds of reasons – because we seek purpose. Because we seek meaning.Because we want our kids to pick up some moral values. Or maybe we’re just looking for a group of like-minded people who will help us chase away the blues on Saturday morning. Whatever.

And sometimes, we find these things and God besides – and yes, it’s great when that happens.

But sometimes, it seems as though we can follow God only by giving up everything we’d ever wanted from him. No purpose. No meaning. No happy family or like-minded friends – all gone, with nothing left but God.

So what do we do when this happens? Is God enough? Or was there something else we really wanted – something we wanted even more than Him?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Mens sana in corpore sano

Don't want your kids to smoke or drink?
Then don't let them watch R-rated movies.
That's the suggestion from researchers at Dartmouth Medical School. According to the Washington Post:
Researchers at Dartmouth Medical School who surveyed 2,600 children ages 9 to 12 and their parents found that [the 45-percent of all] kids whose parents did not let them watch R-rated films were 40 percent less likely to consider using cigarettes or alcohol than those with more-permissive parents.
Researchers admit there may be all kinds of reasons for this link -- but one of the simplest is that children want to be like the adults they admire . . . and the adults in R-rated movies are more likely to smoke and drink than those in G or PG films.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

All I want for Christmas . . .

This year I’ve decided to ask for practical gifts – wool socks, not world peace.

It’s not that I’m against world peace; it’s just that asking for it is like wishing the Adventist church would come up with a leaner, flatter, more efficient organizational structure. It ain’t going to happen, so deal with it.

So . . . in the spirit of do-able giving, here’s my wish-list for Christmas 2006:

1. I’d like Pacific Press or the Review & Herald to put out a good, single-volume Bible commentary – an Adventist version of the International Bible Commentary or the Harper’s Bible Commentary . . . something I could recommend to Sabbath School teachers, college students, and the like. The SDA Bible Commentary is just too big (and expensive!) for ordinary use.

2. Next, I want the people who put together the Adult Sabbath School Quarterly to meet with Jon Paulien. “Jon,” they’d say, “the lessons you put together on the Gospel of John were outstanding; they were smart, practical, and easy to teach. What would it take for us to publish more lessons like that?”

3. Ministry magazine – just two words: advice column.

4. And could Spectrum magazine please stop publishing those long, melancholy, “coming of age” essays that describe how graduate school provoked a spiritual crisis in the author's life? (Yes, you are undoubtedly sadder but wiser for having gone through this experience. Now shut up.)

5. True fact: I’ve never met the high school student yet who didn’t prefer Guide to Insight . . . and it’s amazing how many college students are still reading Guide! What does this suggest?

6. To the art director of Adventist World: please stop using green on the cover! I don’t know what it looks like on your design-table, but in my mail-box it looks like pea soup.

7. The Adventist Review . . . sigh.

8. How about a regular column on church finances in Adventist Today – you know, one that talks about where the money actually goes, who spends the most on overhead, and why it is that every single church organization out there feels as though it needs to run its own payroll?

9. If Jan Paulsen started his own blog, I would read it. Honest.

10. And yes, wool socks are always nice.

Get me the International War Crimes Tribunal -- stat!

In a move that surely must have been foretold in the Book of Revelation, a museum will be opening soon in Sweden to honor the pop-group ABBA.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Maybe if they started offering discount exorcisms?

Lots of interest in an article in the New York Times about a recent attempt by some scientists to forge a coalition against religion -- less than a week old it's already attracted over 500 comments (as of this posting).

Unfortunately for its future as a movement, the group was not able to agree on much of anything. Thus far, as a matter of fact, its creed would consist of the following.
  • Science good.
  • Religion bad.
  • Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris should shut up and stop antagonizing the yokels.

I'll believe it when the Village People do an album of praise songs.

The YMCA began as a ministry to inner-city workers . . . but in post-war America, it became little more than a chain of health and fitness clubs. Now there's a move to "re-Christianize" the Y, with 13% now offering some kind of program in Christian spirituality.

Click on the title for the article in the Los Angeles Times.

Have they ever thought of selling indulgences?

Click on the title for a Washington Post reporter's visit to a storefront church that offers "quickie" exorcisms for the low, low price of only $33. (But wait -- you also get a rose!)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Such a deal!

Abraham was not the man you’d send out to buy a good used car – not if you could help it.

No, the sad fact is that Abraham got snookered just about every time he tried to make a deal. Think of what happened, for instance, the time things got too crowded for both him and his nephew.

Abraham: “Lot, it’s time we split up – and since it’s only polite, I will give you the opportunity to choose first just exactly where you want to go. Then you will defer to me as the eldest, and once you’ve do that, I will then go ahead and make my choice.”

Job: “How about I just pick what I want and be done with it?”

Abraham: “Oh.”

And then there was the time Abraham bought a piece of land to use for Sarah’s grave.

Abraham: “How much?”

Ephron the Hittite: “For you, it’s free!”

Abraham: “But seriously – how much?

Ephron the Hittite: “400 shekels of silver” . . .

. . . an outrageous price, since this would be more than thirty-years wages for a working man! In short, Ephron’s reply is nothing more than an opening bid; he’s obviously expecting Abraham to make a counter-offer. But what does Abraham say?

Abraham: “Oh . . . well, I guess that’s okay.”

I mean – really, where’s the Consumer Protection Agency when you need it?

In fact, the only time Abraham seemed to get the better of his opponent is the time he bargained with God. You remember the story – God reveals to Abraham that He’s going to destroy Sodom. Abraham objects; “What if there are fifty righteous people in that town? Would you destroy them too?”

“Okay,” says God. “I won’t do it if there are fifty righteous people in that town.”

“What if five people are missing,” says Abraham. “What if there are only forty-five righteous people in that town? And what about forty? Or thirty-five?”

And so it goes, until Abraham has finally talked God into saving Sodom for just the low, low price of ten righteous men.

All of which would be amazing enough, until you remember that it’s Abraham doing the bargaining here. Abraham – the one man on the planet who’s paid the sticker-price on every car he’s ever bought!

So how does Abraham manage to make such a great bargain with God?

Either there are untapped depths to this guy that we never see anyplace else . . .

Or maybe . . . maybe when people’s lives are at stake, God doesn’t bargain so hard?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Road to Armageddon

For all the complaining and kvetching I've done about the things some people do with Adventist eschatology, I have to admit one thing: it's never killed anybody. (Well, not a lot of people, anyway.)

Unfortunately, the same thing can't be said of millennial dispensationalism -- a view of prophecy that leads some American Evangelicals to rule out any moves toward a homeland for the Palestinian people. Just how this affects American foreign policy is a matter of debate. My guess? It sure doesn't help.

Click on the title for the article in TNYT. And as you read, you might want to ponder these words from Amos 9:7 (NIV) --
"Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?" declares the LORD. "Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Arameans from Kir?"

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Guiding Light

With immigration a “hot-button issue” all across this country, are we ready for a TV series about an illegal immigrant?

At least one network thinks so. This week marks the prime-time debut of Abramos – an extended soap opera (or telenovela) about the title character and his thoroughly dysfunctional family. In this week’s episode, for instance, Abramos lies to an immigration officer about his wife’s identity. Complications ensue when the officer asks his wife for a date!

Future episodes promise to be even more dramatic, thanks to a strong supporting cast that includes Abramos’s scheming (but unlucky) nephew, his long-time employee (and former lover), and even the occasional “voice over” from the show’s director.

Not surprisingly, the show has generated considerable controversy. “We’re afraid some people will see this character as a role model,” says Tony White, a spokesman for the National Legion of Decency. “What does it say when you feature someone who lies, who sleeps around – and who shouldn’t even be in this country!”

Still, the program’s director show no sign of backing down. “No matter what happens, we’re going to see this project through,” said a spokesman from His office. “And if you think this show is controversial . . . well, just wait until you see the sequel!”

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Peculiar Prophet

I've been a fan of William Willimon for the past couple of years -- and if you haven't read Pastor: the Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry, then drop whatever you're doing right now, and get that book!

Anyway, he's moved from Duke University (where he was the chaplain) to the wilds of Alabama (where he serves as the Methodist bishop of a couple hundred churches). And as part of his job, he blogs!
  • The audience? His pastors.
  • The format? One-part pep talk, one-part kick in the pants, one-part wondering out loud "just what the heck are we doing here anyway?"
  • The reason why every Adventist pastor should read his blog? Ummmm . . . maybe we could learn something from his efforts to turn a hidebound and moribund bureaucracy into something that actually serves the Body of Christ?
Click on the title for a link to his blog.

Couldn't they just run DVDs of his old sermons?

Q: With Haggard out, what happens to the megachurch he pastored?
A: Nobody knows -- and if the truth be known, that's the question that dogs just about every megachurch out there. Scandal aside, it won't be too long before some of these guys start retiring . . . and the transfer of power from one pastor to another is tricky enough without the "cult of personality" that surrounds some of them.

Click on the title for the article in Yahoo! News.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Now if anybody wants to send ME a set of White House cufflinks, I wouldn't mind.

Q&A in Salon with Richard Cizik -- the guy in charge of politics at the National Association of Evangelicals. The big news: Evangelicals went 90% for the GOP in the last election; in this one, "only" 66%. The reason: They're mad about corruption -- and even though Cizik doesn't say it, I'll bet they're none too happy about Iraq and the economy.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

It's a control issue

Full disclosure: many of my friends in high school were charismatics -- and they were continually after me to "speak in tongues." Never did . . . but I've always been curious as to just exactly what is going on here.

Turns out I'm not the only one. Studies have already shown that people who speak in tongues are emotionally and mentally more stable than the average person who doesn't. And recently, researchers at the University of Pennysylvania did brain scans of five women while they were speaking in tongues; what they found is:
their frontal lobes — the thinking, willful part of the brain through which people control what they do — were relatively quiet, as were the language centers. The regions involved in maintaining self-consciousness were active. The women were not in blind trances, and it was unclear which region was driving the behavior. . . .

The scans also showed a dip in the activity of a region called the left caudate. . . . [which is] involved in motor and emotional control . . . so it may be that practitioners, while mindful of their circumstances, nonetheless cede some control over their bodies and emotions.

Update: check this article in Slate for a somewhat skeptical view of this experiment.

Click on the title for the article in the NYT.

Fragment of a manuscript recently discovered on Mt. Ararat

. . . Treasurer’s Report was accepted as read.

Old Business:

Voted to table the Interim Report from the 2448 BC Study Committee (2448SC) until the next meeting, in as much as the Committee’s chairman has been stepped on by a wooly mammoth.

Voted to send a card expressing our sympathy to his widow.

Voted to accept the report from the Sub-Committee on Grammar, Punctuation, and Cleaning Supplies (SCoGPaCS) on the Revised Statement of Practices and Beliefs (RSPaB). As it now stands, the RSPaB reads:

  • Whereas God directed His people to build an ark . . .
  • And whereas God’s people put a lot of time, thought, and money into building that ark . . .
  • And even more whereas that same ark carried God’s people to safety during the Great Flood of recent memory . . .
  • And an extra-special whereas it is still too soon to determine the truth of reports to the effect that the ark has grounded on the mountains of Ararat, the Flood waters have receded, and God has opened the door of the ark and commanded us all to leave . . .
  • And a really important whereas it would make no sense for God to command us all to leave the very same ark that He'd once told us to enter . . .
  • Therefore, it is RESOLVED by the True Friends of Noah’s Ark (Third-floor, Starboard Side) that we should continue living in the ark.
Voted to table the report from the Committee That's Supposed to Try and Figure Out Where All the Animals Have Gone (CTStTaFOWAtAHG).

New Business:

Voted to establish a Committee on Outreach to Those Now Living on the Plains of Shinar (CoOtTNLotPoS) to invite them all to rejoin us here on the ark.

Voted to establish an Advisory Council on Decks, Railings, and Bulkheads (ACoDRaB) to see if the current structure of the ark may need updating.

Voted to establish a Special Commission to Determine Why So Many of Our Youth Are Leaving the Ark (SCtDWSMoOYALtA) . . .

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Remember: vote early and often!

Q & A with John Green, a Senior Fellow with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, answering questions from readers of the Washington Post about the impact of religion on this year's election. Bottom line: Catholics and white Evangelicals may be giving the Democratic Party another look -- but they still ain't happy with what they see.

Why is it the Navy and the Air Force that continually hassles with this, and not the Army?

Okay, so you're a military chaplain who's supposed to minister to the religious needs of everyone in your unit . . . but you really, truly believe that the best way to do this is to make them all Christians who believe the same way that you do. What to do? (Click on the title for an update in The Washington Poston the legal challenges posed by this issue.)

That "whirring" noise you hear is Jesse Helms, spinning in his grave.

Evangelical (read "Pentecostal") Christians make up 20-30% of Nicaragua's voters -- and that makes them the "swing voters" in that country's upcoming Presidential election. As a result, Nicaragua's politics now feature alliances that would have been impossible just a few years ago.
  • Evangelicals with Catholics.
  • And yes, Evangelical's with Sandinistas!
And by the way -- one of the trends we're seeing in Latin America is the rise of Evangelical political parties. Does this augur a new "middle force" in regional politics . . . or the Latin American equivalent of the Thirty Years War?

Click on the title for the article in The Christian Science Monitor.

Fragment B of Archeteknos’s “Dialogue with Siderohippos”

Archeteknos: Could you explain what you mean when you say, “God does not play dice with the Universe?”

Siderohippos: God does not govern this Universe in a manner that is irrational or unpredictable; He does not subject His creatures to the whims of “chance” or “fortune.”

Archeteknos: An admirable sentiment – one that suggests God’s acts are always rational.

Siderohippos: Yes.

Archeteknos: And predictable?

Siderohippos: Subject to our own, limited understanding – yes.

Archeteknos: Without any hint of “chance”?

Siderohippos: Again, this would be subject to our own, limited understanding.

Archeteknos: Good – then you would have no objection to joining me in a simple game of dice?

Siderohippos: I do not play games of chance.

Archeteknos: Trust me – with these dice, “chance” has nothing to do with it!

Siderohippos: Then I would be a fool to play with you.

Archeteknos: We will leave aside the question of your foolishness for now . . . but I am puzzled, Siderohippos, for I have done exactly what you want me to do.

Siderohippos: I did not ask you to cheat.

Archeteknos: But you have said that “chance” should have no place in our world.

Siderohippos: No, I said that God does not . . . I mean . . . that is to say . . .

Archeteknos: Let me see if I can help – you admit that some things may appear to be the results of nothing more than pure chance?

Siderohippos: If your dice were honest, then that would be true.

Archeteknos: So there is such a thing as chance?

Siderohippos: It would appear so. Then again, we do not know if these things are truly a matter of chance, or if there is an underlying cause we cannot determine at this time. If I could know everything there is to know about the dice you threw – their weight, their size, the way they react to the ridges of your fingerprints or the incidental puff of air . . .

Archeteknos: To be sure, a sufficiently omniscient observer might be able to predict the outcome. But as for us?

Siderohippos: We could not possibly hope to do so.

Archeteknos: In short, a process that we perceive to be random, chaotic, and even “purposeless” may not be perceived as such by God. Consider the Great Flood, for instance. Was it subject to God’s control?

Siderohippos: Yes.

Archeteknos: And He knew the outcome of that particular event?

Siderohippos: God knew exactly what He hoped to achieve by it; otherwise, He never would have allowed the Great Flood to take place.

Archeteknos: Yet to a human observer . . .

Siderohippos: It was a chaotic event – one in which everything was mixed-up, scrambled, and truly “without form and void.”

Archeteknos: Could a human observer have predicted the outcome of the Great Flood?

Siderohippos: Such an observer may have been able to predict potential outcomes . . .

Archeteknos: Just as you or I might predict that rolling a pair of dice will give us a result somewhere between "Snake-eyes" and "Boxcars." What is more, we should be able to give odds on how often a given outcome may result.

Siderohippos: True, though I have never been able to master that art.

Archeteknos: I would be happy to give you lessons, though you may find them expensive! But for now, let us both agree that, to speak of an outcome as "random" does not mean that anything and everything could have taken place.

Siderohippos: No, it would appear there are limits, even to chaos.

Archeteknos: Thus, can we affirm that God is in control, even when it looks to us as though everything is out of control?

Siderohippos: Certainly that is true of the Great Flood.

Archeteknos: And God may be able to predict the outcome of an event, even when we are unable to do so?

Siderohippos: That is only reasonable. Are you saying, then, that there are times when it may appear as though God does play dice with the Universe?

Archeteknos: Perhaps – but if so, then I suspect the diced are "loaded" in a way that only He understands. And speaking of which, I believe it is time for your first lesson in probability . . .

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Thou shalt not be afraid . . .

The New York Times just ran an impressionistic interview with a Marine medic in Iraq (and yes, I know that he's actually a petty officer in the U.S. Navy, but it would take too long to explain why the Marines use Naval personnel for medics and chaplains, so give me a break -- okay?)

Anyway . . . read the article. Say a prayer. And read Psalm 91 with a whole new appreciation for what it can mean to those who serve.

I admire what they're doing -- so why does this make me uneasy?

Article in The Washington Post about the efforts of Christian groups to reach Chinese students who study here in the US -- an article that makes me wonder just exactly when it is that "showing Christ's love in a helpful way" crosses the line and becomes "manipulating people when they are vulnerable."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

No Exit?

This week, your class is going to be grappling with a question – the question, as Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett put it, of
why make people inquisitive, and then put some forbidden fruit where they can see it with a big neon finger flashing on and off saying “THIS IS IT!”?
And if you’d like a good answer, then watch The Truman Show – the story of a man, Truman Burbank, who lives in a paradise named "Sea Haven" with:
  • no crime,
  • no poverty,
  • and no way out.
(At least, no easy way out.)

No, watch the movie and you’ll discover that Paradise without an exit sign – an visible exit sign with a big neon finger flashing on and off saying “THIS IS IT!” – would have been little more than a very fancy prison.

Actually, I liked him better when he was a bodyguard for the Dalai Lama.

Sam Harris is the kind of atheist who makes unbelievers squirm.

It's not just that he reject the idea of God; in both his books (and an upcoming movie), he also makes clear his belief that believers in any kind of god are evil, nasty, and irrational people.

Except Jains. Jains are okay. Harris wouldn't object if everyone became a Jain.

Then again, it's anybody's guess as to whether Harris's idea of Jainism squares with the beliefs and practices of Jains themselves. That's one of the problems with his books -- they don't always fit the facts on the ground.

Take his horrifying (and utterly convincing) description of a suicide bomber. In his first book, he describes everything except the reason why the bomber is prepared to do such a horrible thing. But then Harris asks the question, "Is there any doubt in your mind as to the religion this man believes?"

Actually, there is.

Suicide-bombing, remember, was not pioneered by Moslem extremists, but by Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka -- separatists who are pursuing the "secular" goal of a national-state for their people.

Now we could go on to talk about all the other "isms" that have inspired violence (and even suicide). Last time I checked, for instance, nobody was arguing that the "Kamikaze" of World War II were Moslems (or even theists); neither were the Khmer Rouge, nor the followers of "Heaven's Gate."

No, any belief can degenerate into violence; any faith can spawn hatred and death.

But find me someone who loves their enemies . . . now there you'd have something unique!

(Click on the title for the article in The Washington Post.)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Grief Observed On Stage

Julia Sweeney was a devout Catholic.

Then her brother died of cancer, and her faith didn't help.

Julia's now an atheist, and in her one-woman show, she talks about her "spiritual journey" -- the journey of a woman who doesn't believe anymore.

Click on the title of this post for the New York Time's review of her show.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The wages of sin are death -- but as an investment, it looks pretty good.

Turns out that a lot of "socially responsible" investment fund managers are rethinking bans on companies that deal with alcohol or gambling. Ask them, and they'll tell you that these issues aren't as "black and white" as they used to be . . . but the real reason may be buried in paragraphs 18 and 19 of The Christian Science Monitor's article on the topic:

Finances could also be a factor. Pax's three funds have largely failed to keep pace with average mutual-fund industry returns over intervals of one, three, or five years, according to data from fund-tracker Morningstar. In one particularly painful episode, Pax last year reluctantly divested its profitable stake in Starbucks when the coffee giant struck a deal with Bourbon distiller Jim Beam and triggered a requisite "sell" in accordance with a zero-tolerance policy for companies that make alcoholic products.

Meanwhile, vices are paying dividends. The Vice Fund, which seeks out alcohol, gambling, tobacco, and defense stocks, has beaten the market with returns in excess of 18 percent on average over the past three years.

Click on the title of this post for the article.

If you thought those secular humanists in Hollywood were bad, just wait till you see what Christians can do!

Matthew Crouch makes Christian movies.

And no, the movies themselves are not very good. And if this profile of him in The Los Angeles Times is any guide, the man himself is not very . . . nice.

But his parents do run the Christian TV network TBN -- so hey, what do I know?

You don't suppose Matthew Crouch is working for him, do you?

Sure as eggs, you're going to get asked about Richard Dawkins' book -- in The God Delusion, he argues that belief in God is just not mistaken, but positively evil.

Fortunately, you can click on the title of this post for a review of Dawkin's book in the New York Times -- and while you probably won't agree with everything he says, the review's author makes it pretty clear that theism is safe (for now).

(Dawkins, by the way, has proposed that atheists should launch a PR campaign, and as part of this, they should start calling themselves as "Brights." Works for me . . . just so long as believers are referred to as "Lights." "Brights" and "Lights" -- I like it!)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I still think they should have asked Little Richard to play the Apostle Paul

Turns out a lot of actors are devout Christians -- it's just that nobody noticed 'cuz they're Black. (And yes, some of them are Adventist too!) Now a new all-star audio-recording of the Bible is giving these members of Hollywood's elite a chance to talk about their faith. Click on the title for the article in the LA Times.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Promises to keep

God always sticks with "Plan A."

Even when we make it tough for Him to do so.

In the first chapter of Genesis, for instance, God made three promises to humanity:
  • we'd have dominion over the earth -- and as part of that,
  • we'd have lots of food,
  • we'd have lots of children.
Now in chapter two, God shows how He plans to deliver on those promises.
  • God plants a garden, then gives us the job of tending and guarding it -- and yes, the phrase here is the same phrase you'd use to describe the duties of a priest in a temple. What's more, we're giving "naming rights" to the animals, i.e. we're allowed to determine the role they'll play in God's world.
  • God fills the garden with every kind of tree that looks good and tastes good; this was one place, in other words, where food literally grew on trees.
  • Finally, God creates sex. (And yes, I know that sounds a little blunt, but how else can you describe the creation of the first man and the first woman?)
In chapter three, of course, our first parents will make it terribly difficult for God to keep these promises -- so difficult, we might have thought it far easier for God to forget them entirely.

But skip ahead to Revelation 20-22, and you'll find that every single one of God's promises will be fulfilled in the end.
  • We shall rule as priests and kings.
  • We shall eat from the tree of life, "and the leaves of the trees [shall be] for the healing of the nations."
  • And "a great crowd beyond number" will praise God as its saviour and king.
In short, God's plans for His people have not changed -- and God's promises to His people will all be kept . . .

No, God never goes to "Plan B."

That's because God never settles for second-best.

Monday, October 16, 2006

2000 years of Christianity are disappearing in Iraq.

Fifteen years ago, there were 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. Today there are somewhere between 600K and 800K -- and more are leaving every day. Click on the title for the article in the NYT.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

How long before they do "The Passion of the Christ" as a musical?

Article in The Christian Science Monitor about Hollywood's new-found interest in movies based on the Bible. The reason? Hollywood's long-established interest in movies that make money. When TPotC made $600 million, that made a lot of studios get religion. (And didn't they used to call these movies, "Bathrobe Epics"?)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Fragment of Archeteknos' "Dialogue with Siderohippos"

Archeteknos: And so we both agree that a workman may use tools in building his house?

Siderohippos: Certainly.

Archeteknos: Yet we still say it is the workman who built the house, and not the tools which have done so?

Siderohippos: Of course.

Archeteknos: Likewise, is it possible that God may have used certain tools in building this Universe?

Siderohippos: What do you mean?

Archeteknos: Consider the rain we had today. Did God send the rain?

Siderohippos: Yes. We all know that God is in charge of the weather.

Archeteknos: What tools did God use to give us this rain?

Siderohippos: Clouds and the wind, of course.

Archeteknos: Would these things suffice in themselves to give us rain?

Siderohippos: Not without God – no more than a hammer and saw could build a house by themselves.

Archeteknos: So God sent the rain?

Siderohippos: Yes.

Archeteknos: But you will allow Him the use of tools – tools such as clouds and wind – in this task?

Siderohippos: That only makes sense.

Archeteknos: Even though some might call these tools a "natural process"?

Siderohippos: "Natural" need not imply "autonomous"; God is still in charge.

Archeteknos: So God is still the creator of our weather, even though He may use a "natural process" as His tool in creating that weather.

Siderohippos: That is true, just as a workman is the creator of a building, even though he uses a hammer and saw.

Archeteknos: Likewise, we both agree that God created the Universe, just as surely as He sent us the rain.

Siderohippos: Without a doubt.

Archeteknos: Might it be that God used tools – tools He has made – for this task of creation, just as we agree that He uses tools for the task of sending us rain?

Siderohippos: It is possible.

Archeteknos: And might these tools include what some have called "natural processes"?

Siderohippos: Yes, just so long as it is God who is doing this.

Archeteknos: But even if God were to use these tools, that would not stop us from saying that God is the creator of this Universe?

Siderohippos: That is true, but . . .

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

And no, "Jesus Camp" is not the answer.

Christianity Today asked over a hundred youth leaders how we're doing at reaching youth.

The answer?

Not very well "They come to our events," say the experts. "They come forward when we make an altar call. But none of this seems to be making the long-term difference that it should.

So what's the problem?

"We've created a youth ghetto," say the experts -- "one that doesn't tie in with the larger church."

Click on the title for the article

Monday, October 09, 2006

Is there some way I could get Caesar to keep an eye on what I've been rendering unto God?

Okay, so I'm reading part two in The New York Times series on churches on the law -- the one where it says that pastors can't sue their denomination if they get fired.

And as I'm reading, I'm going, "yeah, yeah, yeah -- so what else is new?"

But then I read this:
Religious employers are exempt from Erisa, the federal pension law that establishes disclosure requirements and conflict-of-interest restrictions for employee pension plans. That exemption has given rise to several cases in which workers at religious hospitals found that their pensions had vanished because of practices that would not have been allowed under Erisa’s rules.

A related exemption frees religious employers from participating in the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the government-run insurance program that provides a safety net for corporate pension plans.
Okay, that's . . . interesting.

Does anybody out there know how this affects us? I mean, even if we don't need to obey Erisa, we're still in compliance with it, right? And as for the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation . . . oh well, never mind.

(By the way, the last few paragraphs of this article concern SDA hospitals. I knew that most SDAs won't join labor unions; I was a little surprised to find that our hospitals won't let any of their employees join labor unions, either.)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Never mind "rendering unto Caesar" -- what about my local planning commission?

Troubling article in the NYT: Romans 13 urges me to "be subject to the governing authorities" -- but does that mean I have to obey local zoning laws? How about state regulations on child-care? And could somebody tell me how to build a baptistry that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Sure glad we don't have to worry about this.

Interesting article in the New York Times about youth ministry -- right now, many evangelical churches are running scared; they're afraid they're going to lose the next generation.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Time to Reboot

A kludge cannot be repaired.

That's what a kludge is -- it's something so badly flawed in its conception that it cannot be fixed. (In fact, any attempts to fix it will only make it worse.)

Need an example? Think of the Edsel. New Coke. And some of the haircuts you've endured.

No, the only thing you can do with a kludge is pull the plug. Get rid of it. Start over from scratch, and hope things go better the next time.

That's what we'll be doing this quarter -- we'll be going right back to the beginning. Right back to the start. Right back to the first book in the Bible: the Book of Genesis.

In the process, we'll take another look at some of our basic ideas about the big issues: God, humanity, sin, and salvation. And if it turns out that we were right all along, then we can spend the next three months just patting ourselves on our collective backs.

But if it turns out that some of our most basic ideas are wrong . . .

Well, what do you do with a kludge?

Monday, September 25, 2006

In God(s) We Trust

A new poll by the folks at Baylor University suggests that Americans tend to have one of five views about God:

Only 5% of all Americans say there's no God.

Type A: Authority
31% say God exists, and view Him as a "hands on" deity with definite ideas about right and wrong (and a full array of rewards and punishments that are based on those rules).

Type B: Benevolent
23% believe God exists . . . but while they'd agree with people in the first group that God gets involved -- both in the world and in the lives of individuals -- they see Him as more caring and forgiving.

Type C: Critical
16% think God doesn't get involved in the here and now . . . but He does exist, and He does judge you in the afterlife.

Type D: Distant
Finally, 24% believe in the Deity of Thomas Jefferson, i.e. God established the laws of this Universe, set the whole thing in motion, and then walked away; He neither judges nor intervenes in human affairs.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Funny, they tried this on people who were listening to one of my sermons, but nothing happened.

Buddhist monks chant. Franciscan nuns meditate. Pentecostals speak in tongues.

But hook them all up to a brain-scan while they're doing these things, and you get . . .

Well, judging by the letters that came in response to this article in Salon, you mainly get a lot of people who are sure this proves whatever they happened to believe before this study came along.

Myself, I can't help but think the Adventist concept of the soul would be a helpful addition to this conversation -- is there anybody out there who's thinking about these things?

Nirvana meets James Dobson

This is one article in Salon where I'm not sure how to react -- it seems the author spent some time at the Mars Hill Church in Seattle; it's your basic (and wildly successful) grunge-Goth fundamentalist church . . . but if the author's right, it's also gone big-time into the idea of "wives, be obedient to your husbands."

And yes, the author has an axe to grind. I'm not sure, for instance, why I'm supposed to think it's so sinister that members of this church actually sell real-estate (gasp!) to other church members.

Still . . . this wouldn't be the first time a church has started pushing people into boxes. And the pastor of Mars Hill is pretty conservative theologically -- in fact, he's been pretty vocal about the "liberal" failings of the "emerging church" movement.

So how about it -- is the author over-reacting? Or is Mars Hill offering a post-modern version of kuche, kinder, und kirche?

And no, I'm not happy with the Magnificat, either.

I don’t like this idea of God judging the earth.

And chances are, neither should you.

If you’re reading this on the Web, after all, then you’re better-off than 95% of the people on this planet. The status quo has been good to you, in other words. It’s pushed you to the top of the heap.

No, “the system,” as a friend of mine likes to say, “is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting right now” – and if you like the results you’re getting right now, then you certainly don’t want to change anything.

You just want more of the same.

And that’s the problem with this whole idea of judgment – it’s based on the premises . . .
  • That the “best of all possible worlds” for people like us may not be “the best of all possible worlds” from God’s point of view.
  • That God may rate something else more important than our own satisfaction.
  • That God may even shake up things so that other people get a chance at the good life.

And when I say “other people,” I mean “people other than us.”

In short, the judgment is an inherently subversive activity. It penalizes winners. It rewards losers. It threatens the status quo.

And why would anyone ever want to do something like that?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Pro-life in Pennsylvania

Nice profile of Robert Casey in The Washington Post -- he's running for the US Senate in Pennsylvania.

So why's a pro-life Catholic running as a Democrat? His answer:
"If we are going to be pro-life, we cannot say we are against abortion . . . and then let our children suffer in broken schools. We can't claim to be pro-life at the same time we are cutting support for Medicaid, Head Start or the Women, Infants and Children's Program."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

It's a Zen thing -- you wouldn't understand.

Interesting overview of American Buddhism in The Christian Science Monitor -- with 1.5 million believers, it's now the fourth-largest religion in America (just behind Christianity, Islam, and Judaism). What I find fascinating is the article's statement that it's growing so fast because it doesn't try to convert people.

The Three Phases of the Investigative Judgment

If there's one thing we've learned from this quarter's lessons, it's that the Adventist Church's doctrine of the Investigative Judgment is non-negotiable. It is not open to discussion; it is not open to change.

But even if the doctrine itself has not changed, the uses we've made of that doctrine most certainly have. Over the years, as a matter of fact, Adventists have used the Investigative Judgment as both a comfort and a club.

Phase One: Focus on Daniel
In the immediate aftermath of the Great Disappointment, for instance, Adventists were cheered by the thought of judgment. We liked the idea that God was sifting through the names of professed believers; we liked the idea that God was determining just who was really and truly a Christian . . . and who was such in name only.

And if you were a Millerite who had been mocked, abused, and expelled from church by those so-called “Christians,” then you looked forward to the day when God vindicated His saints in this Investigative Judgment . . . because that was the day those other people finally got what they deserved!

Phase Two: Focus on Leviticus.
But as time passed, Adventists realized that people inside the church could be just as bad as those outside – that Adventists could be hypocrites just as easy as anyone else.

And with that, the Investigative Judgment changed from a means of vindication to one of motivation; it became less of a comfort, and more of a club.

“At any moment,” we told church members, “your name could come up in the Judgment . . . and if there is one sin you’ve not forsaken – one sin you’ve not confessed and put behind you – then you will be lost for all eternity.

“What’s more,” we said, “the day will come when probation closes for everyone – the day when the Great Anti-typical Day of Atonement comes to an end. So you’d better get right with God before then . . . otherwise, you will not be ready to stand before God without a mediator.”

Phase Three: Focus on . . . ?
In the past decade or so, Adventists have tried to make the Investigative Judgment a lot less scary. Spend much time at Loma Linda University, for instance, and you’ll hear that the real subject of this judgment is God – that the Investigative Judgment is God’s way of proving His fairness and love to the questioning Universe.

Hang around Andrews University, on the other hand, and you’ll hear that Jesus has demolished anything that once separated us from God; as a result, we may come into His presence with boldness, because Jesus led the way.

Obviously, there are important differences between these two views.
  • The first draws inspiration from Ellen White’s theme of a “great controversy” between good and evil; the second is more rooted in the Book of Hebrews.
  • The first is more comfortable with Abelard’s “moral influence” view of the atonement; the second with Anselm’s “forensic” theory.
  • The first stresses our freedom of choice; the second God’s sovereignty.

But both views try to make the Investigative Judgment more “user” friendly; both views view it as a comfort (and not a club) -- and just like this week's Sabbath School lesson, both views pretty much ignore whatever it was that Jesus was supposed to have been doing before 1844.

In short, Adventists have always believed in an Investigative Judgment; no discussion there.

But when it comes to what we mean by that belief . . .

Well, that's open for debate.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

If you own a building that seats 600, then why do you call yourself an "emerging church"?

"The emerging church," said Dennis Colby in The Christian Century, is "a term that refers to churches attended exclusively by white people in their 20s and 30s who have at least one tattoo or body piercing. Their distinguishing characteristics are a refreshing, up-to-date interpretation of Christianity and a reluctance to directly answer questions."

Close enough -- though The Washington Post's recent profile of "emerging church" guru Brian McLaren points out he's actually 50-years-old! (And no, the article doesn't tell us whether he has any tattoos or body piercings.)

Then too, I can't help but wonder what happens when the members of these churches start having children. Most are the alumni of conservative churches, after all -- churches that stressed structure, order, and discpline. It's easy to understand why they'd grow up longing for something a little more "laid back."

And yes, many "emerging church" members make no secret of their disdain for megachurches. "Too slick and professional," they say, "too much like McDonalds."

Fair enough -- but start raising children, and words like "structure," "order," and "discipline" (much less "slick," professional," and even "McDonalds") start looking pretty good!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

Times change.

And so do the meaning of words.

Take “liberal” and “conservative,” for instance. Back in the 19th-century, a “Liberal” favored free markets, while “Conservatives” backed government intervention.

Today, it’s the other way around. The meanings changed, in other words, even though the words themselves did not.

The same is true of this week’s lesson – a lesson that hearkens back to the time when “Conservatives” sought to rule by “crown, sword, and altar,” i.e. the aristocracy, the army, and the established church.

And yes, the “established church” was usually (but not always) Catholic.

Lined up against this cause was an uneasy coalition of Protestants and Liberals – Protestants who opposed Conservatives because they were Catholic, and Liberals who opposed anything that stood in the way of free markets and free thought.

The Fundamentalists and the ACLU had joined hands against the Old Guard, in other words – and if you want an example of the way this worked out in practice, then read The Great Controversy; notice how Ellen White critiques the Conservative establishment of her day. It’s a critique based, not just on religious values, but on Liberal values as well – Liberal values such as efficiency, reason, and democracy.

No, when Ellen White wrote The Great Controversy, it would have been controversial. Provocative. Even “edgy.”

But it was a book you could give to a Liberal President or Prime Minister – a man such as Theodore Roosevelt or William Gladstone – and you could do so knowing he’d understand.

Even if he didn’t agree.

Try that today, however, and they’d throw you out; they’d lump you in with those crazies who think the Federal Reserve is a front for the Trilateral Commission!

That’s because the times have changed. “The divine right of kings” is dead; the old alliance of crown, sword and altar has long since passed away. And whatever it meant to its original readers, anyone who reads The Great Controversy today must do in light of these facts:
  • the Conservatives -- the old Conservatives -- have lost.
  • the Liberals have long since moved on to other opponents (i.e. Fascism and Communism),
  • and yes, the Catholic Church has finally made its peace with democracy.

As you teach this week’s lesson, in other words, it won’t be enough to simply repeat the same things we’ve been saying for the last 150-years . . . for even if you did, they wouldn’t mean the same thing they did 150-years ago.

Talk about the "errors of the Catholic Church" back in 1875, after all, and you could still be a Partner in the Great Alliance Against Authoritarian Regimes. But try it today, and you're going to sound like a bigot.

And no, this isn't an argument for a Sabbath School class that is "polically correct."

I’m just stating facts – the fact that times change.

Words change.

And sometimes, the only way to keep on saying the same thing you’ve always said . . .

Is to say something new.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

"When you're in a hole, stop digging."

Back in 2004, roughly 40-percent of American voters said the Democratic Party was "friendly" to religion.

"Whoa!" said the Democrats. "We've got to do something!"

And so, after three years of the Democrats trying to figure out how they can appeal to white Evangelicals and ethnic Catholics . . .

The number of American voters who say the Democratic Party is "friendly" to religion has dropped to 26-percent.

Click on the title for an analysis in Slate.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme” – Mark Twain.

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour – I John 3:18, NIV.

Prophecy is like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor: every generation has to learn anew just what it meant – and what it means.

Take the 70-week prophecy of Daniel 9 – the prophecy that ends with “an abomination that causes desolation.” (And yes, this phrase also shows up in Daniel 11:31 and Daniel 12:11.)

Now read I Maccabees 1:54-61, and it’s clear the Jews applied this prophecy to Antiochus IV – the Hellenistic king known to his friends as “Epiphanes” (i.e. “God manifest’), and to his enemies as “Epimanes” (i.e. “the crazy man”).
On the fifteenth day of Chislev in the year 145 [i.e. December 8, 167 BC], the king erected the abomination of desolation above the altar [i.e. an altar of Zeus was place in the Jerusalem temple]. . . . Whenever anyone was discovered possessing a copy of the covenant or practicing the Law, the king’s decrees sentenced him to death. . . . Women who had their children circumcised were put to death according to the edict with their babies hung around their necks, and the members of their household and those who had performed the circumcision were executed with them.
In short, Antiochus IV did his best to wipe out the Jewish religion – and it’s no wonder the Jewish people saw this in apocalyptic terms.

But read Mark 13:14, and it’s clear that Jesus took this prophecy – a prophecy most Jews in his time would have said had been already fulfilled almost 200 years before – and applied it to the future.

“When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation standing where it does not belong – let the reader understand – then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountain.”

Matthew’s gospel echoes this warning, but sharpens its ties to the original prophecy.
“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel – let the reader understand – then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Matthew 23:15-16, NIV).

But in his account, Luke states this prophecy was fulfilled by the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70:

“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written” (Luke 21:20-22, NIV, emphasis supplied).

In short, Daniel’s “abomination that causes desolation” is a powerful image – a powerful image that keeps getting used and re-used because it explains and gives meaning to tragedy.

Just like Pearl Harbor, in other words, it meant something once.

But it still means something today.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The stained-glass ceiling

Half of all Protestant seminary students are women -- but when it comes to big, multi-staff churches, only 3% have been willing to put a woman in charge. (And even many of the little-bitty churches that can't get anybody else will only accept a woman pastor as a last resort.)

Want to know what you can do?
  1. Invite a woman to preach in your pulpit.
  2. Click on the title of this post for the relevant article in the New York Times.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

God's Own Party takes a hit

47% of Americans surveyed think the Republican Party is "friendly" to religion -- down from 55% a year ago. The drop was sharpest among two groups that have been key to recent GOP victories: Catholics and white evangelical Protestants.

But no, this isn't good news for the Democrats -- only 26% of those surveyed say that party is "friendly" to religion!

Other finds:
  • 69% think the Left has gone too far in trying to keep religion out of public life, while 49% think the Right has gone too far in trying to bring religion into public life.
  • 51% think it's okay for their pastor to discuss politics in the pulpit, while 46% think it's wrong.

And when pastors do talk about politics, what do they say? Based on the people surveyed who attend church regularly, the most common topics are:

  • hunger and poverty (92%)
  • abortion (59%)
  • Iraq (53%)
  • homosexuality (52%)
  • evolution or intelligent design (40%)
  • stem cell research (24%)
  • immigration (21%)

Click on the title for a link to the article in The New York Times.

Tempus fugitive

So when they met together, [the disciples] asked [Jesus], “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”
– Acts 1, 7-8, NIV.

What is the “day-year principle”?
A prophetic “day” in classical prophecy is a literal day. But in apocalyptic books (such as Daniel and Revelation), a prophetic “day” symbolizes a literal year.

Where does the Bible state this principle?
Adventist writers point to three texts:

  • Numbers 14:34 – just as the Israelite spies took 40 days to scout out the Promised Land, so too Israel will wander in the wilderness 40 years.
  • Ezekiel 4:5-6 – just as Ezekiel was paralyzed 430 days, so too God will punish Israel 390 years, and Judah 40 years.
  • Daniel 9:24-27 – seventy “weeks” are determined on God’s people – a time that nearly everyone agrees means 490 years.

Neither the Book of Numbers nor the Book of Ezekiel are apocalyptic prophecies.

And Ezekiel is actually a “classical” prophet.

So where do we get to use this principle?
Three time-prophecies:

  • the 1260 “days” of Daniel 7 and Revelation 12 (which we believe extend from AD 538 to AD 1798).
  • the 2300 “evenings and mornings” of Daniel 8 (which we believe extend from 457 BC to AD 1844).
  • And of course, the 70 “weeks” of Daniel 9 (which we believe extend from 457 BC to AD 34).

What about the 1290 and the 1335 day prophecies of Daniel 12? Or the half-hour silence of Revelation 8? Or the thousand years of peace in Revelation 20?
Don’t be silly.

So how do we know those other time-prophecies extend over a period of years, and not just days?
Because of the way these time-prophecies tie in with events.

And how do we know that we’ve picked the right events?
Because of the way these events tie in with the time-prophecies.

That’s a tautology!
But it works for us. As historicists, remember, we believe that apocalyptic prophecy describes all of earth’s history from the time of the prophet to the time of the end. The “day-year principle” gives us the elbow-room we need to do that.

But if you say that the “days” of these prophecies are actual, literal, 24-hour days, then you’re left with two alternatives:

  • Either these time-prophecies refer to events long past,
  • or the time-prophecies refer only to “the Time of the End.”

The first alternative is no fun; that’s why just about anyone who doesn’t have a PhD in Old Testament studies quickly moves on to the second.

But applying these time-prophecies to "end-time events" leads to the kind of wild-eyed speculation that would have Uriah Smith turning over in his grave.

Wait a minute – you’re saying the day-year principle makes it impossible to apply these time-prophecies to current events?

Most people today would say that makes them irrelevant.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If there’s one thing these time-prophecies do teach us, after all, it’s that God only gives us so much time.

Now we can spend that time fiddling with these prophecies – trying to make them fit the career of Napoleon Bonaparte, or Paris Hilton, or whoever is in the news just now.

Or we can do the things Jesus asked us to do: preach the Good News. Heal the sick. And cast out evil in whatever form it appears.

Why can’t we do both?
Because we don’t have the time.