Friday, December 29, 2006

Saddam Hussein--Executed

I just learned that Saddam Hussein was executed by hanging, just before ten p.m., Eastern time. I have mixed feelings about that.

While I realize that he was a murderous fellow and deserves punishment, I have a hard time believing that we are right in ratcheting up the violence constantly. It seems to me that more violence on our part just stirs up the Muslims to a higher level of violence. If we could somehow demonstrate Christian love to them, it seems their violence might dissipate. Jesus preached nonviolence. "Love your enemies," he said. "Pray for those who persecute you."

I tend to agree with Shane Claiborne, who said in The Irresistible Revolution, "Our arms are just not big enough to carry both the cross and the sword" (249).

Look at the results of the medieval Crusades. Claiborne says, " We can learn from the bloody pages of history. The more vigorously we try to root out evil by force, the more evil will escalate. For every Muslim extremist killed, another is created. Likewise, the more passionately we love our enemies, the more evil will diminish" (249).

He points out, "It is no surprise that statistics show Muslim people are less open to Christianity now than they were a year ago. Pharisaic extremists are alive today in every religion--in Islam, in Christianity, in Judaism" (250).

World Trade Center: The Movie

The second night after Christmas, my daughter and I put the children to bed early and watched a movie--World Trade Center. We cried, and we talked about it a lot the next day.

The tag line for the movie says it is “A true story of courage and survival.” Directed by Oliver Stone, it is the very moving and intense story of two of only twenty survivors rescued from the rubble of the World Trade Center buildings.

Will Jimeno, played by Michael Peña, was a rookie in a select group of New York City Port Authority policemen supervised by John McLoughlin (Nicholas Cage). Clad in fire gear, they were headed into the first-hit building in a brave effort to save as many as they could. They did not know the second building had also been hit. When the first building began to collapse, they were in the concourse between buildings. They ran for the elevator shafts and were buried there for about 22 hours before being rescued. The other members of the group were killed in the collapse.

The movie shows the courage of the two men and their families in the face of this terrifying experience. McLoughlin’s and Jimeno’s thoughts were of their families, each other, and their partners who had been killed. The CBS News site at this link tells the true story and features a video of a “Sixty Minutes” interview on November 24, 2004, with McLoughlin, Jimeno, and several of the men who rescued them.

An important part of the film is the heroic story of then-former-Marine Staff Sergeant David Karnes who was largely responsible for their rescue, along with another Marine known only as “Sgt. Thomas.” A senior accountant in Wilton, Connecticut, Karnes felt called by God to don his Marine uniform, gather up his military rescue equipment, and go to New York City to help. His fascinating story is told in this linked article in the Wilton, Connecticut, newspaper, the Wilton Bulletin of August 10, 2006.

His part in the 9-11 rescues was clearly a “God thing,” and Stone portrayed it that way. Too often, Hollywood tries to gloss over “God things” or downplay them, but in this movie, we see it the way it probably was, not embellished in any way, no implied excuses or criticism for his following this heart-felt urge.

Stone’s film does not try to tell the whole story of September 11, 2001. But through the story of these two men, their families, and their rescuers, what comes clear is the universal feelings of fear and shock, as well as the uncommon courage and human love on that terrible day.

The picture of the Port Authority policemen in the movie comes from this web site:

Friday, December 22, 2006

“The Hand Warmer: A Christmas Story”

“The Hand Warmer: A Christmas Story” by my 6-year-old grandson, with a little typing help from his mother, my daughter-in-love…er…law. The story is based on a western painting by Tom Lovell—The Hand Warmer*.

Once upon a time I was with two people who were traveling. The second night a big snow storm came through, and in the morning there was snow all over the place. It was freezing cold.

- It may have been 30 degrees like when it was snowing at our house.-

But we saw that the snow was so high that it went onto the top of the roof! There was a smoking chimney at the top. We went up to it and put our hands over it to warm up. Then we heard a strange noise below the roof. We looked down and saw a person. When he saw that we were on his roof, he said, “Why are you on the roof and putting your hands over the chimney?”

We said, “Because it is so cold out here and we are warming our hands at the chimney.”

He said, “Come into my house. I have the heater on in there.”

We said, “Maybe for a little while.”

So we went into his house and warmed up by the fire place. Then we ate some dinner. We went back outside to keep on our journey.

We said thank you and good bye to the man who let us in his home. We lived happily ever after.

The End.

*On this web site, the artist profile says, "The quality of (Tom Lovell’s) contribution to contemporary western art, prints and posters is remarkable. In 1974, he won the National Academy of Western Arts Prix de West, was elected to the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame, and won the Franklin Mint gold medal for prints. Lovell has also been featured in Artists of the Rockies and Persimmon Hill."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Thursday Thirteen: Anne Rice--Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

I just finished reading Anne Rice’s latest book, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. Here are thirteen things I’d like to say now.

1. Anne Rice used to write exclusively about vampires and such things as demons and devils.

2. I can’t write with knowledge about those earlier books because I’ve never read any of them. I have been aware of her reputation as a “vampire” writer, and I have avoided those books on purpose. But I have plenty to say about Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.

3. It was a little ironic to read the list of books written “also by Anne Rice”—things like Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, The Queen of the Damned, The Mummy . . . –and then to consider this title, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt . I have to admit that I was a little skeptical about it.

4. This is an amazing book. It is a first-person narrative about Jesus, as the title says. It covers about a year in his life as a child, when his large family comes back to Nazareth to live after being in Egypt for the first seven years of his life.

5. In the “Introduction to the Paperback Edition,” Rice says, in part, that her story assumes that God “became human in the person of Jesus Christ and ‘dwelt among us.’ The magnificent mystery of the Incarnation is accepted and affirmed as fact.”

6. She says in the introduction that she used scripture to re-create the “emotions and powers of the Child Jesus.” In the author’s notes at the end of the book, she says that for a number of the incidents in the book, she used legends as set forth in the Apocrypha, stories and visions familiar to people for centuries.

7. The story seems very realistic as it presents the mind of the young Jesus. In the story, he is puzzled because he has miraculous powers—for example, the power to make living birds from clay, to heal sick people, to stop rain. He tries not to do these things, in obedience to Joseph and Mary, who discourage such acts. They don’t want to explain any of his beginnings to him until he is old enough to understand

8. We really have no early record in the Gospels of what Jesus was like as a child. I have wondered if he knew all along who he was or if he became aware of it gradually, and how that might have happened. To me, Rice’s interpretation makes sense; I believe that Jesus’ childhood could have been the way she portrays it. Some people would worry that her presentation of Jesus might be blasphemous, but she does it in a humble, loving, spiritual way.

9. The book won Beliefnet’s award for Best Spiritual Book of the Year—2005.

10. Just as amazing as the story itself is Rice’s story in the author’s notes of how she came back to faith. She grew up in the Catholic Church but she fell away from belief at the age of eighteen. She and her husband Stan Rice were avowed atheists for about thirty years.

11. She wrote that her first novel was a reflection of her misery and guilt “in being cut off from God and from salvation; . . . being lost in a world without light” (323). She said, “After that, I wrote many novels without my being aware that they reflected my quest for meaning in a world without God” (323).

12. She read countless scholarly books in preparation for writing about the life of Jesus, including both skeptical and faith-based approaches to the New Testament, history, and philosophy. She read a number of works by N. T. Wright; she said “. . .his generosity in embracing the skeptics and commenting on their arguments is an inspiration. His faith is immense, and his knowledge vast” (335).

13. She fell in love with Jesus. She said she offers this book to Christians of all persuasions “in the hope that my embrace of more conservative doctrines will have some coherence for them in the here and now of the book” (337). She offers it “to scholars in the hope that they will perhaps enjoy seeing the evidence of the research that’s gone into it . . .” (338). She hopes that people who don’t know Jesus Christ “will see him in some form” in the book. And finally, she offers it to her faithful readers “in the hope that Jesus will be as real to you as any other character I’ve ever launched into the world we share” because in truth, Jesus is “the ultimate supernatural hero” (338).

Rice said in a Christianity Today interview: "This book means more to me than anything I've ever done. I'm not offering agnostic explanations. He is real. He worked miracles. He is the Son of God! And there is so much more to write."

It’s a wonderful story—read it! Here’s a link to her web site.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Thursday Thirteen: Thoughts after a Suicide

A young man committed suicide last weekend. He was a freshman student at our community college, a football player. I didn’t know him. Two of my good friends taught him in their classes. They say he appeared reasonably happy—maybe a little quiet. He came to class and did his schoolwork.

Other students liked him. One said to me, “He was crazy.”
Another told me, “It was a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

It is too late now to talk to my students about it because the semester is over. But I would like to tell them some things, if I could. Maybe I'll tell the new ones next semester.

No matter what his reasons were, his death is tragic—a tragic waste. His family and all the other people who knew him must feel very upset about his death and guilty about not being able, ultimately, to help him.

No problem is ever worth committing suicide—nothing.

If at any time someone tells you he is thinking about killing himself, believe it. Know that this person is crying out for help, even if he appears to be kidding.

Take it seriously. An actual suicide attempt is a desperate cry for help.

Don’t just try to talk her out of it. She may agree with you and even promise not to hurt herself. But remember that suicidal people are unstable. She may mean to keep the promise—and then fall apart and shoot herself that very night. Therefore, tell somebody who can do something about it; don’t keep it a secret.

If you begin to feel depressed, overwhelmed, and unable to function, talk to someone you trust—a teacher, a parent, a good friend, a pastor. Don’t put it off.

Try to remember that whatever bad situation you are in, it isn’t the end of things. Time brings change. You won’t always feel this way.

God is the great healer of your heart. He wants to hear from you a heartfelt cry for help. The Bible says, “He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3). And Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

A good thing from the Bible to memorize is this: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). That means God created everything, including me; the things of the world are chaotic, but “in him,” I can make it through the chaos.

How does that happen? If I know him and go to him often and love him, my heart will know a deep, sweet peace, no matter what terrible problems may come my way. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas Trees in Seattle

Last year at this time, we had the big debate over words. Was it better to say “Merry Christmas!” and risk appearing religious, or to say “Happy Holidays!” and be generic? People actually became hot under the collar about this non-issue. You no doubt remember that.

People are getting crazy again. This year it is over Christmas trees in an airport in Seattle—SEA-TAC. It seems a Jewish rabbi threatened to sue the airport if they didn’t add an 8-foot menorah in celebration of Hanukkah, near the largest Christmas tree. He thought it would be a nice addition.

The Seattle Times reports that the rabbi was horrified when the airport folks decided to take down their nine Christmas trees, rather than appear to be exclusive. They are too busy for litigation and don’t “have time to play cultural anthropologists.” They feared that putting up a menorah would only be the beginning, and they would eventually be forced to include symbols of all the religious persuasions in America.

Well . . . another non-issue. I’m sure the rabbi didn’t intend to start a blazing fire—and neither did the airport people, who were trying to avoid one.

Why can’t Christmas just be a time of love and peaceful co-existence? Surely we could manage that for a few weeks. Instead of fighting, we could be extra-concerned this season about orphans, widows, the homeless, the hungry.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Season of Advent

This is the season of Advent—the four Sundays preceding Christmas. “Advent” means “coming” or “coming into being or use.” It refers, in this case, of course, to the advent of the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Of course, most people know that Jesus was not really born on Christmas day. The actual date of his birth cannot be established with any certainty. In a Google search, we can find numerous explanations, like the very good one linked here, of why his birth came to be celebrated on December 25.

In the early years of the Christian church, the date of his birth was considered to be insignificant; the important time was his death and resurrection. Now, we celebrate it in December probably because, as the New Life web site tells us, “In Rome December 25 was made popular by Pope Liberius in 354 and became the rule in the West in 435 when the first ‘Christ mass’ was officiated by Pope Sixtus III. This coincided with the date of a celebration by the Romans to their primary god, the Sun, and to Mithras, a popular Persian sun god supposedly born on the same day.”

At any rate, here we are in the sixth year of the 21st century, preparing for Christmas, the season of hope and love. Two things happened this weekend that have touched my heart with Christmas spirit.

Yesterday, I ran into a friend of mine whom I’ll call “Cora”—that’s not really her name. I heard a few weeks ago that she has been diagnosed with bone cancer, and I’ve been in a state of denial about it. She is one of the world’s best people. She was in the grocery store, getting ready to feed 35 family members next weekend. So yesterday, in the canned goods aisle, I asked her if it is true.

Cora said, “Well, yes, and no.” I felt tears welling up in my eyes. She explained that tests show she has the cells in her blood, but it has not caused any symptoms. As she told me about possible treatments and outcomes, I began to cry—I couldn’t help it, right there in the grocery store.

Cora comforted me. She said, “We know that everything is in God’s hands.” I agreed with her, through my tears. She said, “There might be some pain and yucky stuff on the way, but then—just to be with God—that couldn’t be bad!” I agreed, still crying.

Then, this morning in church, my young friend “Crystal” and her four-year-old daughter “Eva” lit the second Advent candle; they were both wearing red sweaters. Crystal helped Eva light it, and then Crystal read a piece about opening our hearts to Christ. As Crystal read, she held Eva’s hand. Eva leaned lightly against Crystal’s arm and gazed up at her the whole time she read, her blonde curls falling back. She smiled while she listened, and her blue eyes told how she adores her mother. Her father died of cancer during this past year. Crystal has been strong and cheerful, as she has been both father and mother for Eva.

It is a time of hope, light, love, giving—because of Jesus, whose date of birth we don’t really know. I feel the glow of Advent.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Thursday Thirteen Thoughts about the First Snowfall

Snow doesn’t happen very often down here in the Southwest. We see snow two or three times during the winter, and it usually starts right after Christmas. It is early this year; our first snowfall was last night when the huge cold front moved in on us.

I’ve noticed that people speak differently about snow, depending on where they live. When we Southwesterners speak of this event, we say “the first snow was early this year.” We know it won’t stay long, and it may or may not happen again this year. My son who lives in the Frozen North has adopted the habit, like other Frozen-Northerners, of saying he hopes to get something done, like bringing in the firewood to the basement, “before the snow flies.”

Thirteen thoughts about snow, whether it “falls” or “flies”:

1. First, it rained hard yesterday for about an hour and a half—a good ol’-fashioned, all-out thunderstorm. (But, actually, I wrote this last Thursday.)

2. Thank you, Lord! It has been very dry for several months, and our trees and bushes will be more protected against the freezing weather. Also, people here are still nervous about fires, after what happened last year—an unusual number of huge brushfires that destroyed many crops and homes.

3. All day, in anticipation of the cold, I had been trying to water my mother’s yard as much as possible. I couldn’t get back to her house to turn off the water before the rain began, so three sprinklers were going full blast in the rain. I got pretty wet slogging around the house to turn them off. And I feared being struck by lightening, with my metal-handled umbrella in my hand! It was crashing all around.

4. During the night, a couple of inches of snow fell, and it has continued snowing most of the day—big, fluffy flakes. School was called off, so I am staying home. (Yea!)

5. Sometimes I can’t tell if it is still snowing because clouds of snow blow off the roof.

6. The ground is still very warm, so it melts slowly, underneath. The roads are passable. But toward the end of the day, ice will form, making driving dangerous. It is a good thing schools are cancelled, because people here in the Southwest don’t know how to drive on ice and snow—even in rain, in some places.

7. Our 6-year-old grandson, who has gotten very good at reading lately, called last night and read us the weather report for the week, here and in the Frozen North where his uncle and aunt live. He likes to keep an eye on the weather for everybody.

8. Little bits of green grass poke up here and there in the snow; soon they’ll turn brown.

9. Bright red cardinals and their tan ladies show up to eat the cat food and to scratch around in the snow under the trees and bushes. A red cardinal in the snow reminds me of a Christmas card we got last year.

10. Blue birds with orange breasts forage, along with the cardinals. Maybe these are migratory birds; I don’t know what kind they are, although I have seen them before. I have a bird book, but right now, I am too lazy to open it. Next time I go out, I must buy some sunflower seeds and put out the bird feeder.

11. I remember that when I was four years old, my father helped me build a snowman for the first time. We used a wooden Coke box as a base, to make him taller. I chattered away like a happy little bird; he didn’t say much, but he smiled a lot.

12. When my daughter was about three, she and I built a snowman. We put a toboggan and a heavy scarf on him, to keep him warm. She loved it. Her little button nose and chubby cheeks were red with the cold, and her dark eyes sparkled. When her brothers came along, we all built snowmen every year.

13. A few years after my father died, my mother and her next-door neighbor built a huge snow-woman. She had big bosoms, a wide-brimmed hat, an apron, and a shawl.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Predestination? Choice?

I have a question.

Do you believe in predestination?

In places in the Bible, we are told that everything is pretty well wrapped up from the very beginning of time. God has chosen whom he will redeem.

On the other hand, in other places in the Bible, we are told that we should choose life—that we should choose the right way and spurn Satan. We are told to seek God while he may be found. Seek him and he will hear and answer.

Which is it? Is this one of those things we will not know until one day when we are with him in eternal life and can ask him questions? Maybe it’s one of those things we can’t know now.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Education: Laptops for All Children

A laptop computer for every child—when I first heard that, I said, “Oh, good grief! A laptop!? What lots of children need is nutritious food—coats and shoes—a bed.” And I promptly dismissed it as another bad idea.

Eventually, I ran across this web site— This has been in the news for awhile, but I haven’t paid much attention to it until now. Amazing!! I now realize that laptops could soon be available for children in developing countries. I also see that they could have a tremendous impact in third world countries—and in our country, too.

This small laptop, developed at MIT, will work even in the most primitive areas because it can operate on hand-cranked power. The monitor is designed to work on very low power, with half of its elements (whatever those things are called) made to reflect existing light; it can show up in color or, using reflected light, black and white. This “wiki” tells a great deal about the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project and provides opportunity for discussion and feedback from interested readers.

When the project is ready, if we turned loose of a few billion dollars here and there, we could take a big step toward helping. I believe some of the best assistance for the desperately needy is to enable them to find ways to help themselves. We can see such results in areas where missionary groups and government agencies like the Peace Corps have taught people how to build and operate simple machinery for much benefit—for water purification, farm irrigation, crop management.

We are called to help the needy. In fact, taking care of the poor and seeing that justice is done are ways of worshipping God through obedience. He doesn’t want us just to fast and bow our heads, but to live a “fasting” kind of life. God tells us in Isaiah 58 that the kind of fasting he really wants involves some action on our parts:

Here is the way I want you to fast.
Set free those who are held by chains without any reason.
Untie the ropes that hold people as slaves.
Set free those who are crushed.
Break every evil chain.
Share your food with hungry people.
Provide homeless people with a place to stay.
Give naked people clothes to wear.

When people are oppressed and we see it, we’re supposed to do something about it. We are supposed to feed them and clothe them. I believe the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child project should be considered as we look for ways to help. Education is vital in the set of keys to escaping from the “mind-forged manacles”* of poverty.

*These are the words of the British poet William Blake, who wrote in the late 1700s of the dreadful oppression of poverty that he saw in London.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Bible Translations--What's the Difference?

I work with an interdenominational college students’ Bible study that meets once a week. My job is to arrange the food—we always feed them dinner. That’s very important to a college student who is away from Mama’s cooking! I assure you, they are HUNGRY. Different churches in our community help out by providing food.

They are hungry in other ways, too. They need spiritual food. Four of our leaders take turns teaching from the Bible once a week. They need more help than that, so we decided to send out a mid-week something with devotional thoughts. My friend Janet has the job of group communications; she writes weekly devotionals for them. She takes this job seriously and does it prayerfully. I asked her to let me share last week’s mid-week devotional with you because it talks about some important things:

Janet wrote:

"Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself." Can you guess who said that? Dr. Phil? Oprah? Nice sentiment. But who said it? What? Matthew 16:25? You’re kidding. I don’t remember Jesus saying ANYthing about finding yourself.

These were my thoughts when I first encountered this verse from The Message. No, it is not a bible. It is a paraphrase. But it has been used liberally by writers, most notably Rick Warren, to establish the authority of their viewpoints. Paraphrases should never be used as a substitute for the Bible, but used like a commentary along with it as an aid.

But what aid? Can you trust a paraphrase that turns this: "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.—Matt 16:25 NASB--into a self-actualization message? We are talking about eternal life, here, not finding your groove or getting the most out of this life!

The plethora of translations and paraphrases can cause confusion, especially to outsiders who gleefully conclude that the Bible is too “tampered with” to have any relevance to their lives. But what are believers to make of all of it?

I believe that we can say with confidence that the original manuscripts are the inerrant word of God. There have been enough manuscripts found to give us additional confidence that we are dealing with inspired words divinely preserved for us. There is much evidence to confirm the Scriptures as divine. But what of translations? There is no assurance that they are divinely inspired, thus each believer has to exercise some discernment. Each translation (not paraphrase) has a body of scholars who undertake their assignment with a set of underlying assumptions. The NASB, for example, attempts to be faithful on a word by word basis to the original text, while the NIV uses the meaning of the word from the original text to find a common English equivalent in order to make the text more modern and understandable.

Both approaches have merit, and you will benefit from reading both when you study. Just as we are not supposed to form our doctrinal beliefs upon only one verse from the Bible (called proof-texting), we should not ignore the fact that translations include biases from the people who labored over them, and so consult other translations (including also the NKJ and NEV) frequently.

The Scriptures themselves warn us not to take God’s word lightly (Rev 22:18-19). Your faithful attendance to a weekly Bible study shows how much you value God’s word. Pray for continued guidance and discernment as the Word is attacked by those who would deny its power. For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.—Hebrews 4:12 NKJV

The worst attacks are the subtle ones from within. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.—2 Timothy 4:3 NIV

The more you know your Bible, the less likely it will be that you will be misled. Difficult verses often have to be interpreted in light of what the rest of the Bible says. Not surprisingly, we recommend the hard work of daily Bible study as a remedy for itching ears!