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."