Saturday, October 09, 2010

American Legion's Bad Advertising

I just got a letter from the veterans' group, The American Legion, and since I served in the U.S. military I was kind of curious, and opened the letter.

Frankly, it disgusted me. Basically, the letter invited me to be a member of yet another gimme-gimme group of which it seems the country is overrun.

The Legion will make sure I get all the benefits from the government that I'm entitled to and it brags that it helped create yet another layer of governmental bureaucracy, the Veterans Affairs Administration, and it reminds me that the Legion is pushing in Washington to "make sure my interests are protected."

The American Legion promises me discounts on various products and services as if it was the Automobile Club. And the letter included four "special gifts," a decal, some address labels, a bumper sticker and "a custom-designed branch-of-service lapel pin with a pewter-finish."


Dear Legion: I did not serve my country in the hopes of getting "a custom-designed branch-of-service lapel pin with a pewter-finish." However fine many of your members may be, your cheesy sweepstakes-y advertising is a total turn-off and your emphasis on all the goodies I can get for my membership dues is completely out of context with how I would like to remember my military service.

I want to associate my military service with serving my country, with patriotism, with teamwork, with good friends whom I've kept for years, with adventure, with rigor, and with courage (though I was blessed never to have to exhibit any). But your emphasis is on discounts at Travelodge, Avis and online flower stores.

I don't object to those things, but you have your priorities backwards.

Go away! You're bothering me.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Embarrassing Last Days

Oddly, I find that I am a bit embarrassed writing this post.

Why I should be so is a bit unclear, but I think it is because I am about to write about a topic that has become something of an embarassment within some branches of the Christian community, including my own.

Let me give an example.

My Bible study group recently finished studying the book of Zephaniah, which is filled with doom-and-gloom about the destruction of ancient Israel, but also of Israel in the last days.

A friend - commenting, I think, on the current situation in the Mideast - suggested that, as in the time of Zephaniah, Israel might go through yet another time of exile.

I replied that I supposed that was possible, but asked why we were refusing to even consider that the last days - mentioned rather prominently by Zephaniah - might be on the horizon instead of another round of exile and restoration?

A woman said (if I remember correctly), "Well, you know why that is! Back when we were growing up there was a lot of talk about the last days happening in the 1980s."

And she hit the nail on the head.

We don't talk about it and pastors don't preach about it because it is embarassing to bring up because people were at least partly wrong about it before.

But that is lousy logic! We should consider the evidence, not whether someone came to the wrong conclusion about it before. If someone does a subtraction problem and comes up with the wrong answer, do we stop doing subtraction problems?

So why am I thinking about this topic?

Well, back in the 1970s (wrong though they were about the dates) I think Christians were right to take note of the rebirth of Israel. The fact that Israel exists again today after almost two millennia of Jews being scattered across the globe is one of the most stunning developments in the last century, and without an Israel none of the end-time prophesies make sense. The occurrance of two world wars shows that worldwide war is not beyond belief. Atomic weapons - and their proliferation - suggest that global destruction cannot by ruled out.

And more recently, I got to thinking again about the last days when a missionary challenged me to give a talk at his mission agency about "Missions in the Last Days," which I did, and you can see here. I asked him if he thought the last days were at hand and he said, "Ummm, maybe within the next 30 years."

Other things that have made me think about this:

Russia, which looked as if it would be a friendly state after the fall of communism - is not, and seems particularly hostile to Israel. The leadership of Iran (I'm not talking about the people, who seem quite reasonable) is extremely hostile to Israel and within reach of obtaining nuclear weapons, which it is apparently ready to use to destroy Israel. Turkey, which has been friendly to Israel, seems to be increasingly hostile to Israel. Anti-semitism is on the rise in Europe and even the leadership of the United States seems lukewarm or even hostile to Israel. Increasingly, Israel seems to be standing alone, in a state of quasi-peace at the moment, perhaps, but increasingly shorn of allies ... except God.

I don't mean to suggest that we get all breathless and stand on a chair and yell out that the end is coming, though maybe a few people doing that would jerk us out of our lethargy, but can't we at least take a sober look at what is happening in the world and at what the Bible describes and give a measured assessment? For the most part, except for a few end-times novelists, it seems we are just shutting our eyes.

For my part, I've decided to study the end-times passages of the Bible, and to read what others have written. (One book I recently read and can recommend is a book called "Epicenter," by Joel Rosenberg. I'm not 100 percent convinced by him, but I am about 95 percent convinced, and it's well researched and not bombastic.)

One final thought. Some will object that we shouldn't focus on this topic; that there is work to be done here and now, things like community development and evangelism.

True! I don't want to "focus" on this. There is work to be done. But I don't think we should ignore it either. If I was to tell you to that a violent storm was coming would that be opposed to what you are doing? Wouldn't you stockpile some food and medical supplies and learn first aid so you could help your neighbors when it happened? And if the huge storm didn't come and just the normal storms came, wouldn't your preparations be all for the best anyway?

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Fourth of July Thoughts

Today in church, on the Fourth of July, a woman prayed for our president, that God would guide him. Now that's a pretty ordinary thing to do, but it really struck me this time because it reminded me that I'm doing a lousy job praying for him, and that sometimes I let my disgust at some of his policies prevent me from doing that.

But because I disagree with him doesn't mean he needs prayer any the less. Maybe he needs it more.

So I'm going to be more faithful in praying for Mr. Obama.

Speaking of the Fourth of July, I happened to be reading the "Miss Manners" column today. A reader asked how to deal with friends - visitors to the United States - who frequent his house as dinner guests and spend much of their time insulting the United States.

Pretty rude to come and stuff your mouth with your host's food and in between swallowing spend your time insulting your host's country.

Rude, but, I suspect, fairly common.

For instance, I once worked at a high-tech company and was waiting in a conference room with a few other people for a meeting to start when two Europeans we had hired started complaining about how "materialistic" Americans are.

Unlike Miss Manners, I don't put up with much of this nonsense, so I pointed out that while we Americans who worked for the company had simply taken jobs near our homes, both of them had traveled thousands of miles to take high-paying jobs in America. And they were accusing us of being materialistic?

To their credit, they both saw my point and had a laugh at themselves, and, I might add, both of them eventually became financially successful, and one became very rich.

God bless America! Just like every other country in the world, America has its faults. But despite her faults, I love her dearly.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Book Thoughts: John Wesley's Voters

Note: I decided recently to comment on things I've noted in books over the years. I'm calling these Book Thoughts.

I had breakfast with my friend John the other day, and we talked a bit about Christianity and politics. As we talked, this quotation from The Journal of John Wesley came to mind ...
Wed. July 1. - I spoke severally to all those who had votes in the ensuing election. I found them such as I desired. Not one would even eat or drink at the expense of him for whom he voted. Five guineas had been given to W.C., but he returned them immediately. T.M. positively refused to accept anything. And when he heard that his mother had received money privately, he could not rest till she gave him the three guineas, which he instantly sent back.
Wow! I like those bribe-refusing voters. Christ at work in their lives in a real, practical way. We could learn lessons.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wally and the Raid

If you like this story, here are the first two Wally stories: The Scandinavian Club, Wally and the Athiest.

"Wally! Trouble!"

Gabe panted as he ran up.

Wally, Tom, Robert and Sarah were eating lunch in the cafeteria. Gabe made five.

"What?" Wally said.

Gabe took a few deep breaths.

"I was walking down the hall behind Steve and Collen coming out of class ... the teacher kinda made me stay a bit late ... but anyway, I heard them say they're going to raid us tomorrow!"

"What do you mean, 'raid us'?" Wally said.

"I mean raid! Get us suspended!" Gabe said. "You know how we ..." He stopped, looked at a nearby table, then lowered his voice. "You know how we pray after lunch on Fridays over near the fence? Well, Steve found out about it and told the rest of the Athiest Club, and they reported it to Ms. Stoneman and Collen said they're going to raid us - the principal and Ms. Stoneman and the school rent-a-cop are going to raid us, I mean, and I think the members of the Athiest Club are going to come along to make fun of us. At least that's what Collen said."

The group was quiet for a moment, then Sarah said, "I guess we should call off our prayer meeting tomorrow."

"Hmmm," said Wally.

"I think the Atheist Club is mad at us for what we did to Dimkins a while ago," Robert said.

"Ha! they've always been mad at us," Sarah said.

"Yeah!" Gabe said. "I think they're mad. I heard Steve say something about getting back at us."

"Shhh! Quieter," said Wally, then asked, "Gabe, did Steve or Collen see you?"

"No, I'm positive. They never looked back at all."

"Okay," Wally said. "Don't bring a pocket Bible or wear a cross or anything else Christian tomorrow, and we won't do any praying then, but maybe we should still have our meeting ..."

Robert's face lit up. "You got an idea, Wally?"

"I think so..." Wally said, looking at the ceiling. "But we're going to have to move fast... Let's see, Don't Steve and Collen always wait for Ryan out front near the flagpole after school?"

"You mean Ryan Gilford, president of the Atheist Club?" Gabe asked.


"Yeah," Gabe said. "I see them every day."

"Good, good..." said Wally.

After school the five walked quickly from their classes. Gabe had been on his best behavior and was free to leave class on time. A friend greeted Robert in the hall, but Robert just waved, kept walking, and called out that they'd talk later. The team needed to be in position on time.

Sarah and Tom stationed themselves at the corner of the hallway, chatting, but Sarah watched the front door over Tom's shoulder. Wally hid just around the corner near them.

Meanwhile, Robert and Gabe loitered out front, talking near the flagpole, close to Steve and Collen.

Then Sarah pushed her glasses up against her forehead. It was the signal. Ryan was coming!

Wally saw Sarah's signal and walked around the corner, waved at Sarah, and headed toward the front door.

There in front of him, approaching from the other side, was Ryan.

They met at the door.

"Hey Ryan!" Wally said.

"What do you want?" Ryan said, walking out the door.

"Hey! Have you heard of the ontological argument for God's existance?"

"Yes," Ryan said, stopping near the front steps and looking at him. "And it's gotta be one of the worst in your bag of tricks."

"Really? Why do you think so?"


Gabe, seeing that Steve and Collen hadn't noticed Ryan and Wally talking, said to Robert in a loud voice, "Hey, there's Wally talking to Ryan. I wonder what they're saying. Maybe Ryan's about to get converted."

Steve and Collen looked up and saw Ryan talking.

"More likely Ryan's going to DE-convert Wally," Collen said, looking over at Gabe.

They watched Ryan talking and Wally nodding his head thoughtfully.


"Well," Wally said, when Ryan finished speaking. "I actually think there is more to the ontological argument than that, but I gotta go right now. But thank you for your observations. I really appreciate it," he said, briefly laying a friendly hand on Ryan's shoulder and smiling at him.

Wally headed for the sidewalk and Robert said, with a smirk towards Steve and Collen, "Hey, let's go see if Wally converted him."

"Nice work," Wally said later, lying on the grass with his feet up on a park bench as the others drank sodas. "Now for part two. Let's hope they play their part." He closed his eyes and felt the sun.


They sat in a circle during lunch break the next day, off to the edge of the school grounds, on the grass near the fence. Heads bowed.

All except Sarah, who occasionally lifted her head a bit and glanced back towards the buildings.

"Nothing yet," she said. "Oh, wait! Yup, here they come!"

"How many?" Wally asked.

Sarah raised her head slightly once again, as if she were bowing up and down in prayer.

"Looks like ... about 12 or 13.... Mr. Andrews, Ms. Stoneman, that chubby security guard... plus Ryan and the gang."

"Woo hoo!" Wally whispered. "We're going to catch us a principal, too. Let us know when they're about 25 feet away, Sarah."

"Okay... 5-4-3-2-1, Now!" she said.

"Hi Mr. Andrews and Ms. Stoneman," Wally called out, waving, then standing up and approaching them. "Have some cake!" he said, holding out a couple slices of cake on paper plates.

Mr. Andrews and Ms. Stoneman, the security guard and all the athiests stopped and looked confused.

"It's chocolate!" Wally explained, when they hesitated. "We made it especially for the Athiest Club, Mr. Andrews, but you guys can have some, too!"

Robert and Tom and Sarah brought cake to the others.

Gabe dropped back and began filming. He'd get this on line in a few hours.

"Look at the cake," Wally said, pointing to the unsliced portion. "It says, 'Welcome Athiest Club' on it. We've got some lemonade, too, if you want some."

Ms. Stoneman, who had been marching side by side with Mr. Andrews, had discretely dropped back a few steps. This seemed to be a matter in which the principal should take the lead. The security guard was a step behind her. He glanced repeatedly down at his cake.

The athiests held back even further. Steve, behind the others, quietly took a bite of cake.

"Wally..." Mr. Andrews said, holding the cake uncertainly.

"Wally, we saw you guys praying out here just a few minutes ago."

"Praying?" Wally looked baffled. "Oh!" he said after a second, as enlightenment hit him. "No, no! We were just huddled around cutting the cake and trying to keep it hidden so it'd be a surprise. Did we surprise you, Mr. Andrews?"

"Uh... Wally, I think you were praying."

"Oh no, sir! It was just a nice surprise for the athiests, sir."

Mr. Andrews sighed, glanced down at his cake for a moment, then looked up.

"But how did you know the Athiest Club was going to be here?" Mr. Andrews asked.

Wally put on a gentle, saintly smile, pressed his hands together and looked at the sky. "Well, sir," he began, "I heard a voice - a very quiet voice - that told me ..."

"Wait!" said Mr. Andrews. "This does not appear to be a topic we can safely discuss at school."

"Yes, sir," said Wally, looking contrite.

"Would you like some lemonade with the cake, sir?"

Mr. Andrews sighed and looked down at his cake for a moment.

"Yes, Wally, I think that would be nice."


As they walked home, Tom chuckled. "Did you guys hear what Collen said when they were walking away?" he asked.

"What?" Gabe said.

"Well, he was all sarcastic and said to Ryan, 'Gee, I sure wonder where Wally could have heard that we were coming out here to get them busted? Tell us again, Ryan, about how Wally wanted to talk to you about the ontological argument. Yeah, right. The ontological argument. That is sooo easy to believe.'"

"And then Ryan yelled that it was the truth and then it kinda went back and forth like this: 'You BLEEEP moron! You BLEEP! You're the BLEEP! You're a BLEEPING BLEEP!' It was pretty entertaining."

Wally smiled and sighed. "Yeah... Ya know the only bad part about the whole thing?"


"I didn't get any chocolate cake."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Four Web Utilities

I've recently developed four new super-specialized Web utilities for about six people out there in the big world: - Enter a list of lines and it will tell you how many times each line appears in the list. - Enter a list of lines and it will remove any lines except those containing the word or phrase you enter; or it will keep only lines containing the word or phrase you enter. - Enter an ordered list of lines and it will scramble the list. - Enter a list of lines and it will remove duplicate lines.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The Two Mountains

I've been reading some books about painting (a hobby of mine) and ran across a description of how to paint mountains.

Basically the book said that mountains up close have clear colors and shapes and that the colors get duller and the shapes less distinct with distance.

This sent my mind off in a totally unrelated direction.

It seemed to me that if you stood on Mt. Alpha and looked around you, everything would be pretty clear. Trees, rocks, streams, annoyed grizzly bears, and so forth. But if you lift your eyes and look far off across the wide valley toward Mt. Omega, it would look faded and indistinct.

However, if you drove the 47.5 miles across the valley and then hiked up Mt. Omega, then it would be wonderfully clear. Bears, gold mines, cliffs, trees and ticks would all be obvious. But then, if you look back at Mt. Alpha, you would find that it has become fuzzy and indistinct.

And this seemed to me to be a parable of how we Christians need to think about such doctrines as the Sovereignty of God and Free Will.

If you consider just the sovereignty of God, everything is quite clear. God is in charge of everything and that's that. But, then, if you glance up from Mt. Sovereignty and look over at Mt. Free Will, Mt. Free Will is hazy and difficult to understand. How can people have a free will if God is in charge of everything?

But then, if you drive over to Mt. Free Will, it looks pretty clear. People have a free will and they can make real decisions. But then if you look back at Mt. Sovereignty then it becomes indistinct. How can God really be in charge if humans have a free will?

Both mountains are completely real. You can climb each one and examine it in microscopic detail, but if you look at one from the other, the one you are not standing on is indistinct.

As humans, we don't have a God's-eye view. We can't clearly see both at the same time, as God can. But we can see them one at a time, and we can trust that though we may not be able to understand them both together, God can.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wally and the Atheist

"Mista Damkins? Yes. I sorry bozzer you, but somesing velly bad at Robert Frost High Skoo," Wally said into the phone.

Sarah sat next to Wally, her hand clamped firmly over her mouth and nose to keep herself quiet, but as he began speaking a smile started leaking out.

Tom took a swallow of milk. It was the wrong moment. When he heard Wally's fake accent he snorted and it came out his nose.

Robert and Gabe laughed, but Wally gave them an angry face and waved them away.

"I saw you on terivision, Mista Damkins," Wally continued. "I sink maybe you hairp.... Wha? Hairp! ... Yes! Hairp. Sank you I sorry Engrish not reery good."

It had started the day before, on a lazy Tuesday afternoon. Wally Lim, Sarah, Tom, Robert and Gabe were loafing at Gabe's house. Sarah was doing homework at the dining room table and the others were eating potato chips and watching the local news.

"Next up," Ms. Chirpy, the announcer, said: "Is the Lofton School District doing enough to promote athiesm? The president of the Free Lofton From God Association says, 'maybe not.'"

"Oh, that blowhard is always on!" Tom said. "It's not enough they changed the law; we gotta listen to him nag? Turn the channel!"

"No!" Wally held up his hand. "I want to hear him."

Tom shrugged and went back to his potato chips.

After the commercials, association president Roger Damkins put it a lot more strongly than "maybe not." The district, he said, was "shamefully neglecting its duties."

Wally watched the report to the end - shushing Robert when he tried to say something - then burst out laughing.

"Whoo Hoo! This is gonna be fun! Okay everybody, turn off the TV and listen."

On Wednesday morning, between algebra and P.E., Wally stopped in at Ms. Stoneman's office.

"Hiya Ms. Stoneman!" Wally waved as he walked in.

Ms. Stoneman looked up without smiling.

"Hello, Walter," she said stiffly. She had not forgotten the trouble she had gotten into the last time he had come in.

Wally leaned on her desk. "Hey, we'd like to start a club for people who believe in God," he said. "Is that cool?"

Ms. Stoneman stared at him for a moment.

"No, Walter. You of all people should know perfectly well that we do not allow religious clubs on campus."

"Well, I protest," Wally said.

She sighed.

"Well you just go right ahead and protest to your heart's content," said Ms. Stoneman, looking down at her paperwork.

"Okey Dokey," Wally said. "Here's a letter of protest." He put it on the desk and started out. He turned at the door, "See ya later, Ms. Stoneman." He waved a cheery hand and left.

Ms. Stoneman picked up the envelope and stared at it. She was beginning to have a bad feeling about this.

On the telephone that afternoon Damkins was getting excited. He pressed his ear to the phone to make sure he understood through Wally's accent: "So," Damkins heard Wally say, "we try start crub at skoo. Atheist crub. They not ret us. They say no. Happen just today! I even write retter of protest."

Damkins began to see possibilities. Persecuted atheist. Persecuted athiest foreign student. Clear evidence the school district was negligent in its duties and maybe hostile to athiesm. And - though not a major consideration, of course - it would be another chance to get on television.

"We have protest tomorrow morning," Wally continued. "Rots of students. Want you and terivision be spesher guest."

Damkins was eager and arranged to bring a television news crew and meet Wally on the sidewalk in front of the school fifteen minutes before the bell rang. The publicity would be good for the cause, Damkins thought. And besides - though not a major consideration, of course - he'd get to be on TV again.

The next morning Wally and Sarah, Tom, Robert and Gabe got to school early. Gabe carried two poles whose ends were wrapped in what looked like a wide strip of bedsheet. Wally carried a bullhorn. Sarah and Tom and Wally stopped students on their way into school and told them they might get to be on TV if they stuck around, so a crowd had gathered when Damkins appeared with the news van close behind.

Wally rushed up to Damkins. "Sank you velly much for coming, Mista Damkins!"

He led Damkins to the top of the first flight of steps, overlooking the crowd. Below, the news camera was set up and Sarah and Robert were in the front row already taking video with their phones. Gabe and Tom had quietly disappeared behind Wally and Damkins.

Wally began speaking to the crowd. He toned down the accent.

"We are gazzered here today to protest great injustice at Robert Frost High School!"

Damkins wondered momentarily why Wally hadn't said "Skoo," but let it pass.

"And to say many tanks to Mista Roger Damkins. He is athiest, president of Free Lofton From God Association, and rike many athiest, he openminded and not rike injustice and make special trip to Robert Frost High School to help us start a theist club on campus."

Damkins wasn't quite sure, but he seemed to hear "a theist club" this time instead of "atheist club."

But Wally pressed on, and Gabe and Tom unfurled a banner behind them that read, "We Want a Theist Club!"

"Thank you, Mr. Damkins," Wally said, looking right at him and dropping the accent entirely. "Thank you for supporting our right to have a theist club even though you yourself do not believe in God." Wally put a hand on Damkin's shoulder. "You are a true man of principle! Would you like so say a few words, sir?" He handed Damkins the bullhorn.

Tom and and Gabe and Wally and several in the crowd clapped and cheered for Damkins, and Sarah and Robert and the news crew kept filming.

It was now clear to Damkins what was happening, but he was stuck.

"I, uh, well, I uh wasn't prepared to give a speech." (That would be the first time, Tom thought.) "But I guess I just want to say that, um, we appreciate the efforts of all good people to... uh, resolve, um, differences, and to improve the, uh, quality of our schools and, uh, help our community grow. Uh ... thank you."

He handed the bullhorn back to Wally and slipped away as quickly as he could.

"Hiya Ms. Stoneman!" Wally walked into her office without knocking.

"I don't think it's a good idea for me to carry this bullhorn around all day," Wally said. "Do you? Somebody might disrupt class with it. Can I leave it here until after school? Thanks a lot!"

He waved goodbye and ran out without waiting for a reply.

Ms. Stoneman sighed. She had heard all about what had happened. Three times she'd heard. Three times by three very amused teachers, and as a fan of Roger Damkins it annoyed her. A lot. But ... on the other hand, at least she had come through unscathed.

The principal, Mr. Andrews, watched the television news report and the video Sarah and Robert had posted on the Internet. He chuckled. He watched the clips again, then laughed out loud and shook his head.

If somebody had to go up against Walter Lim, he thought, he was glad it was Roger Damkins.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Missions in the Very Last Days

I was recently asked to give a talk to the board of a little mission agency on the topic, "Missions in the Last Days." Preparing for this was discouraging; it was one of the most painful Bible studies I've done, but the study was well received and I was encouraged to disseminate it more broadly, so I turned it from speaking notes into an article, and this is it.

To get started, three clarifications:

1. I am not saying that the last days are nearly upon us, though they may be.

2. I'd like to be clear by what I mean when I say "last days."

Hebrews 1:2 says that "in these last days he [God] has spoken to us by his Son... ." So the author of Hebrews says that the days when he wrote were already "last days."

Also, in Acts 2:16-17 Peter was preaching in Jerusalem and said that what people were experiencing was a fulfillment of the prophet Joel's words: "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people." So Peter said that it was already the "last days" in the earliest days of the church.

In one sense, then, we can understand the term "last days" to mean any time since Jesus walked on earth, but when I say the "last days" in this article, what I mean is more what you might call the "very last days," meaning what we think of when we read Matthew 24 or the Book of Revelation.

3. I'm not discussing whether the church will be taken from the earth before the last days, or somewhere in the middle, or whenever. If the church is taken from the earth before things become terrible, then I believe other people will become believers and the church will continue, so there will be a church even in the midst of the worst of it.

So, Point One:

If the Bible passages about the last days tell us anything, they absolutely tell us that these will be times of very great trouble for everybody, and that the church will endure both the trials that everyone else will face, and severe governmental persecution, including the martyrdom of many believers.

A sampling from Matthew 24 and Revelation 6-9:

Wars; earthquakes; famine; wild animals; environmental disaster as shown by a darkened sun, a bloody moon, a third of the earth being burned, a third of the seas turned to blood, a third of the fish dying, a third of the water turned bitter; and - Rev. 9:15 - a third of mankind killed.

In addition, the church will face persecution. "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me" (Matthew 24:9). And, "I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus" (Revelation 17:6).

The picture is of huge, worldwide suffering and destruction, which suggests that the ministry of the church in this time will largely be providing food, medical services and relief. But because of the active opposition of government to Christ, I suspect overt Christian organizations will be shut down and their ministries will need to be carried out underground. And because of governmental opposition and the damage to the world infrastructure I think most ministry will be local.

Therefore, even if the general destruction of transportation did not prevent it, I doubt the government would knowingly allow Christians to do anything - especially anything that might draw others to Christ. So, for example, I don't think we could openly charter airplanes to provide relief for an earthquake in Haiti. Long-distance aid would generally not occur and when it did occur it would be because of governmental inefficiency caused - at least in part - by the general ruin and confusion.

So mostly, I think relief will be local-church-to-neighbor based. And I think this means that to prepare for the last days, we should try to make sure that the church exists in every geographic area of the world so that believers are physically near to those to whom they will need to minister. And I think it would be wise to train churches in disaster relief and encourage them to maintain stockpiles of food and basic medicine to share. Even if the last days are far off, having food and medicine banks would be wise just in case of normal emergencies.

I can think of one possible exception to ministry being local. It may be possible to reach beyond local areas using various media. Today those would include the Internet, radio and television, though perhaps there will be new technologies when the last days arrive. But those media would probably be badly damaged in the general destruction and any Christian use of those media would be curtailed by government, so the church would probably only be able to use such media in a surreptitious way and only if a badly-damaged government is incapable of preventing it.

I think the model for the last-days church will be the church in those times of history when it has had to operate illicitly, such as in Communist Russia, China and Eastern Europe and during periods of persecution during the Roman Empire. I think that now, before the curtain of darkness falls upon the world, that it would be wise to study how the church survived and grew during earlier persecutions.

Point Two:

Because the last days will be chaotic and confused, with the familiar patterns of life upset, government in turmoil, the economy in a shambles, and suffering at every hand, it seems reasonable to believe that people's normal beliefs and attitudes will be upset as well, and that they will be searching for somewhere to turn.

Because of this I think some people will want to hear the gospel, but others - being incited - will become extremely angry, hating Christians in part for the very thing we are studying right now - the "last days" passages in the New Testament.

I think people will point to these passages and say, "Look at those Christians. They're rejoicing in this! They WANT this suffering. They look at the fairy tales in their so-called holy book and say all this pain is caused by their sadistic god and is a sign that their precious Jesus is coming back. I refuse to worship a god of such cruelty! And if they like suffering so much, let's make them suffer!"

Even though we wouldn't be rejoicing in it and even though God is not cruel, I think last-days believers would find that portrayal of Christianity to be very discouraging, and I'm sure non-Christians would be tempted to vent their fury on any Christians within reach.

So, on the one hand, there would be the pressure of persecution from the outside, but most painful, I think, is that there will be betrayal and suspicion inside the church.

Matthew 27:10 says, "At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other."

How sad! Some will turn from following Christ. There will be betrayers and hatred in the church. It will be hard to trust one another and difficult to work together.

There can actually be a strange sweetness in going through shared hard times shoulder-to-shoulder with trustworthy friends, and I'm certain that some believers in the last days will experience this, but sadly, this would appear to be the exception.

And also, Matthew 24:12 says that, "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold."

When well-meaning Christians are murdered in trying to help their neighbors, I can see why their love would grow cold, but as love grows cold our witness will tend to fade.

Also, while feelings of lostness may lead many to Christ, that same sense of lostness will also make many others open to false prophets.

Matthew 24:24 says, "For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect - if that were possible." And Revelation 13:13 speaks of the second beast, saying, "And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men."

So people's searching, which should lead many of them to Christ, will be opposed by very persuasive alternative religious figures, some performing miraculous signs, and many people will turn to them rather than to Christ.

Fortunately, not all the miraculous signs will be on the side of the false prophets. The church will have powerful heavenly assistance, and there will be a contest of miraculous signs, something like that between Moses and the magicians of Egypt before Pharaoh.

Revelation 14:6 says, "Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth - to every nation, tribe, language and people." And there will be the two witness (Revelation 11:3-12) in Jerusalem, who despite all efforts against them will testify about Jesus and perform miraculous signs, even being resurrected after they are killed.

So, with God's help, but in the midst of chaos and hatred and false prophets and internal mistrust and betrayal, I think the witness of believers who by God's grace are able to keep loving will be very potent as they demonstrate kindness and are able to point seeking neighbors to the Bible and show that the current troubles were predicted and that there is an ultimate hope.


So, what can we do to prepare for the last days? Here are a few suggestions:

- Direct our hearts to know God as intimately as we can, knowing our Bibles and having our convictions based on it and not on a particular preacher or teacher or trend or tradition.

- Keep sending missionaries to every corner of the world so that when the last days come there will be churches physically near to those we need to help.

- Prepare to do local disaster relief right now by setting up food and medicine banks and training church members in first aid and disaster recovery.

- Be as close-knit and healthy a community as we can be right now. Perhaps that can help counteract the suspicion and betrayal that will arise in the last days.

- Study how the church survived before in times of persecution. We may very well need to know.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Book Thoughts: Churchill on Painting

Note: I decided recently to comment on things I've noted in books over the years. I'm calling these Book Thoughts. This is the fourth post.

I recently read a tiny book (I suspect it was originally just an article) by Winston Churchill called, Painting as a Pastime, because I'm an amateur painter and wondered what this great man had to say about my hobby.

What impressed me was the whole theme of the article. It was not simply that you need some time off with a good, engaging hobby (though it did say that), but that you really don't need to be any good at it. It can, in Churchill's words, simply be a "pastime."

Coming from anybody else I would regard that with deep suspicion. I might think he was advocating being halfhearted and sloppy, but coming from a man who was anything but that, who was one of the greatest and most productive men of the twentieth century, a master statesman, master speaker, master author, and anything but halfhearted, I have to take it seriously.

So here is the quote, in which he is advising older people who are thinking of taking up his hobby of painting:

There really is no time for the deliberate approach. Two years of drawing-lessons, three years of copying woodcuts, five years of plaster casts -- these are for the young. They have enough to bear. And this thorough grounding is for those who, hearing the call in the morning of their days, are able to make painting their paramount lifelong vocation. The truth and beauty of line and form which by the slightest touch or twist of the brush a real artist imparts to every feature of his design must be founded on long, hard, persevering apprenticeship and a practice so habitual that it has become instinctive. We must not be too ambitious. We cannot aspire to masterpieces. We may content ourselves with a joy ride in a paint-box. And for this Audacity is the only ticket.

"A joy ride in a paint box." I love that phrase. And his recommendation? Audacity! Don't be intimidated by that blank canvas. Just put a bold splash of color right on its face!

So if a man like Winston Churchill occasionally needed to switch his mind to an engaging and peaceful hobby, knowing full well that he'd never be great at it, maybe we should consider it as well. Not that we shouldn't strive to be excellent in some areas, but why not be happily mediocre at other things?

I have a friend who, if I suggest he try something, always says, "Oh, I'd never be any good at that."

Drives. Me. Up. The. Wall!

So WHAT if you're no good at it. If you enjoy it and it refreshes your mind and spirit, isn't that enough?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Scandinavian Club

"A Scandinavian club?"

Ms. Stoneman, the multi-cultural coordinator at Robert Frost High School, frowned and looked appraisingly across her desk at Walter Lim.

"But you're not Scandinavian," she said.

"Oh no, Ms. Stoneman," he said, leaning against her desk. "I'm Chinese. Or, I guess I was six months ago. I'm an American now. But I was born Chinese, if that's what you mean. Do I gotta be Scandinavian?"

"Well... uh, no... But why do you want to start a Scandinavian club? Why not a Chinese club?"

"Excuse me," he said, slipping into a subservient attitude that barely skirted the edge of mockery. "I did not know. Is there probrem with Scandinavia?"

"Well, no, but it is European."

"Yes! That's right!" said Wally, his face lighting up to show that he and Ms. Stoneman were now communicating clearly.

"But..." Ms. Stoneman was becoming flustered, "why not a Chinese club?"

"We already have a Chinese club, but no Scandinavian club."

Ms. Stoneman sighed. She knew almost nothing about Scandinavia and had never met a Scandinavian, at least not one from Scandinavia, but she knew Scandinavia was in Europe, and she found that vaguely distasteful.

"Well, yes. I suppose you can start a Scandinavian club. I can't think of any reason why not," she said, though in the back of her mind she wished she could.

"Hey, thanks Ms. Stoneman!" Wally said, taking the forms.

"So, uh.. what does a Scandinavian club do?"

"Oh, same sort of stuff a Chinese club does, I guess. Eat Scandinavian food, learn a few Scandinavian words, wear Scandinavian flags on our clothes. Stuff like that I guess."

"What kind of food do the Scandinavians eat?"

"No idea," said Wally, turning on his heel. "Thanks again!" he said, walking out the door.

Ms. Stoneman sighed, and thought that a Scandinavian club headed by a Chinese kid would make an curious addition to Multicultural Day.

Wally turned in the paperwork the next day and Ms. Stoneman approved it. The club election procedures were standard. There was nothing wrong with the activities. No hate speech. No religious emphasis. Nobody excluded. It was just what Walter had said. But still, something troubled Ms. Stoneman. She couldn't quite put her finger on it... but her workload was heavy and she was soon distracted.

That day after school the Scandinavian Club met for the first time. It wasn't really the first time, since all six of the members - none of them Scandinavians - had hung out together since the start of school. There were Tom and Robert and Larry and Sarah and Gabe and Wally, whom they unanimously elected president since it was his idea. Though it was not the first time they had met, it was the first time they had officially met as The Robert Frost High School Scandinavian Club.

And they met every afternoon that week, since Multicultural Day was coming up and they needed to be ready.

On the morning of Multicultural Day, Wally and Tom, Robert, Larry, Sarah and Gabe walked together through the front door of Robert Frost High School wearing white t-shirts with a large blue cross from their necks to their waists.

"Hey, you guys," a girl called out, "You can't wear a cross in school. You're gonna get in trouble!"

But Tom and Robert and Larry and Sarah and Gabe and Wally did not seem to be bothered. They each went to their own class.

"You can't wear a cross in school!" said Mrs. Tonkatsu.

"You can't wear a cross in school!" said Mr. Tikka.

"You can't wear a cross in school!" said Ms. Lamb.

"You can't wear a cross in school!" said Mr. Hagis.

"You can't wear a cross in school!" said Ms. Brie.

"You can't wear a cross in school!" said the substitute teacher in Mrs. Limberger's class.

"But it's Multicultural Day," said six voices in six classrooms.

"What does that have to do with it?" asked Mrs. Tonkatsu and Mr. Tikka and Ms. Lamb and Mr. Hagis and Ms. Brie and the substitute teacher in Mrs. Limberger's class.

"This is the Finnish flag," said the six students in six giggling classes.

Mrs. Tonkatsu and Mr. Tikka and Ms. Lamb and Mr. Hagis and Ms. Brie and the substitute teacher in Mrs. Limberger's class each paused for a moment. They weren't sure what to do but it looked like a serious offense. So they sent Tom and Robert and Larry and Sarah and Gabe and Wally to the principal's office.

"You guys!" said the smiling principal, who liked to think that he was everybody's pal, "You can't wear those in school."

"But," said Wally, all innocence, "our club charter, which says we will wear Scandinavian flags on our clothes, was approved by Ms. Stoneman."

"Well, I'm sorry, but you're going to have to take them off."

"But why, Mr. Andrews?" said Wally.

"Because it is promoting Christianity."

"It's promoting Finland, sir. Why should Finland be excluded from Multicultural Day?"

Mr. Andrews stared at the six for a moment. And then for another moment. And another.

"You know," he said, finally, "You're not fooling anybody. They've got to come off."

The six stared at Mr. Andrews for a moment, and then for another moment, and another.

Finally Wally said softly, "No Finland?"

"No," the principal said kindly. "No Finland."

"Yes sir," said the six, for they were all very polite.

"So call your parents or do whatever you have to do," the principal said, "but get out of those shirts."

"Yes sir," they said quietly.

The principal chuckled to himself after the students had left. "Not bad kids overall," he thought. "A bit misguided, but not bad."

At three o'clock Mr. Andrews stationed himself at the bus stop to wave goodbye to the students. After all, he thought, the principal should be your pal.

But suddenly the smile froze on his face.

"WALTER!" he yelled.

"Yes sir," said Walter, coming over to him.

"I thought I told you no crosses in school!"

"No sir, I believe you said no Finnish shirts. We all switched into our Danish shirts as soon as you told us, sir. Did you know Denmark is also a Scandinavian country? Isn't it interesting that they use a cross, too?"

"I am not amused! And I want you out of those shirts immediately."

"Yes sir," said Wally as the other five club members walked up. "We'll go home right away and change."

"Good bye sir." Wally waved, then the six started down the street, quietly grinning until they were out of sight, then laughing all the way home.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Book Thoughts: Road to Serfdom

Note: I decided recently to comment on things I've noted in books over the years. I'm calling these Book Thoughts. This is the third post.

One book that had a profound effect on my economic thinking was FA Hayek's Road to Serfdom. It is old but very new. (I think I first heard of it from a college economics professor. He was from some Central American country and I could barely understand what he was saying, but what he said made a whole lot more sense than dozens of other instructors I've had.) Here are a few quotes from Road to Serfdom along with my comments:

The delegation of particular technical tasks to separate bodies, while a regular feature, is yet only the first step in the process whereby a democracy which embarks on planning progressively relinquishes its powers.

The preceeding quote makes me think of how the U.S. Congress - in particular - hands off rule-making to unelected governmental agencies which promulgate "regulations," which are, by another name, "laws." It angers me that laws should be made by unelected individuals and I think all regulations should have to be ratified by Congress once a year, and while they could be passed in a single batch, I think any representative or senator should be able to demand that specific regulations be pulled out and dealt with separately.

The Rule of Law could clearly not be preserved in a democracy that undertook to decide every conflict of interests not according to rules previously laid down but "on its merits."

I've heard this before! What "on its merits" seems to mean is that a judgement should not be made on the basis of what the law says, but on the basis of the personal feelings and prejudices and whims of the judge or bureaucrat.

Security tends to become stronger than the love of freedom. The reason for this is that with every grant of complete security to one group the insecurity of the rest necessarily increases. If you guarantee to some a fixed part of a variable cake, the share left to the rest is bound to fluctuate proportianally more than the size of the whole.

I think it is talking mostly of financial security here. An astute and sad observation.

I understand the book is receiving renewed interest. If so, it is well deserved.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Book Thoughts: Development Work

Note: I decided recently to comment on things I've noted in books over the years. I'm calling these Book Thoughts. This is the second post.

I wrote recently about Christian economic development work, and it reminded me of a thin little book I read called, Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt. No graphs or ponderous math. Very readable.

In brief, the one lesson is this:

The art of economics consists of looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.

Sounds absurdly simple, but as I watch the world go by, it seems clear to me that it is a simple lesson that is widely ignored.

Having said that, let me go back to my Christian Development topic with a little fable (any relation to real companies or towns is pure coincidence):

Missionary Bob works in the poor town of La Luna in a Latin American country. The Big Hiking Shoes company has just opened a factory there, paying an awful wage to its workers and no benefits at all. It would pay even less if it could, but if it did it would not attract enough people away from subsistence farming to make the factory work. So BHS reluctantly improves the people's standard of living by paying just a bit more than the prevailing wage.

But Bob gets mad. BHS is "exploiting" the people by "underpaying." So, when he is back in North America he visits BHS headquarters and tells them they need to pay more, provide day care for the workers' children, and low-cost health care. If you don't, Bob hints, he's got lots of friends and he may make a fuss and generate a lot of bad publicity.

Well, even more than cheap wages, BHS doesn't want bad publicity, so its says that, "Yes, Yes, of course we are very concerned about the problems you are bringing up, and thank you very much for bringing them to our attention and we will certainly do exactly what you suggest." And BHS lives up to its word, and Bob basks in the satisfaction of knowing how much he helped the poor people of the town, and he has pictures of himself taken with the happy children at the new daycare center and sends the photos to his supporters and says that you just have to stand up to these exploiters.

But what Bob doesn't see is that BHS was planning to expand its operations in town because it was so cheap, but because of the extra expenses Bob has imposed upon the company, it's not as cheap anymore, so BHS quietly decides not to expand there. Oh, the BHS PR lady stands with Bob and smiles for the camera and boasts about how caring the company is, but it opens its new factory in Vietnam.

Nor does Bob see that Larry's Boot Company, a BHS competitor, was about to follow BHS' lead and open a factory in La Luna, but seeing what happened to BHS, it goes to Thailand instead.

So Bob strangled the number of new jobs in town, but thinks he's a hero.

Instead, what if Bob, when back in North America, had stopped by and visited Larry's Boot Company and said, "Your competitor, BHS, has opened a factory in La Luna. The people there work for very little and do fine work. I'd be happy to show you the ropes down there if you wanted to open a factory, and BHS has spent a lot of money training people to do this work, and you could offer them a bit more and get a nice workforce without the cost of training. Etc. etc."

So Larry's, just as stingy a company as BHS, opens a factory and hires away a lot of BHS' employees at a bit more than they are currently being paid. Soon BHS gets tired of losing trained people, and reluctantly offers them more money. And because two factories require more workers than one, both companies hire more people from the community and the trained people start making more money. And because they have a bit more money to spend, a few retail stores open branches there, and employ more people. And so forth.

I'm not saying there is never a place for Bob's approach, but I think that in many cases Bob is simply not thinking out the effects of what he is doing. He may easily be doing far more harm than good.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Book of Hosea

The Biblical book of Hosea is kind of like falling into a pit and then seeing a sunny garden at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

The prophet Hosea speaks of betrayal, of God's sorrow and anger, of defeat, of exile, of evil in religion and government, of human sacrifice, of punishment and of slaughter - even slaughter of pregnant women and young children. In this book there is ghastly real-world pain and suffering; it is not an old-time cowboy movie where the women and children come through safely. But on a deeper level, it is about God's love, specifically for his chosen people, Israel, even though it is a love answered by contempt and rebellion leading to suffering. But finally, and happily, it ends with God rescuing and renewing Israel.

Love, rebellion, falling into the pit of destruction, and then - far down the tunnel - restoration and renewal.

Although the book deals primarily with Israel during the depraved days before its first exile, it is also a picture of the sweep of human history, from our near and loving association with God in Eden, to our plunge into sin and suffering, to our redemption through Christ, and finally - and yet to come - to the renewal of all things.

Again, love, rebellion, destruction, restoration and renewal. An echo of Hosea's story.

Part One of the book (chapters 1 to 3) is a graphic and poetic in-the-flesh illustration painfully lived out in front of Israel by the prophet Hosea and his family. Hosea (representing God) was told to marry Gomer, an unfaithful woman (representing Israel), and by her he had children... or did he? But despite Gomer's unfaithfulness Hosea loved Gomer and payed a price to redeem her, just as God would pay a price through Christ to redeem Israel.

What is fascinating about this first section is that Hosea almost seems to be using the outline of soon-coming events (Israel's defeat, exile and, later, restoration) as a lens to look at a very similar disaster and restoration that will occur in the distant future, in the last days.

In Part Two (the rest of the book) Hosea gets down in gritty detail to the here-and-now, to the sin of the nation and its looming disaster. This part of Hosea is - until another glimpse of golden days at the end of the book - far from being poetic: it is blunt, detailed, and painful, hammering at the same themes, for clearly God did not want any griping from the people about their not being properly warned. They were warned, and in ways that should have made their hair stand on end. (I suspect this section may have been taken from a series of Hosea's sermons, which I would guesstimate are roughly chapters 4, 5-7, 8:1-8:14, 9:1-9:9, 9:10-10:15, 11:1-11:11, 12-14.)

Okay, with that intro, let me focus on just a few topics from Hosea (there are lots more and I'd encourage you to read the book):

The Last Days

First, I'd like to defend my contention that Hosea is thinking of the distant future - as well as near future - in chapters 1-3.

The reason I think this is because, on the one hand, the passage seems to promise more than happened around the time of Israel's first exile, and on the other, because the events it mentions seem to dovetail with the last days. For example, God says that he would make a pact with the beasts and birds (2:18), and "Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land (2:18)," and that God would marry Israel "forever" (2:19), and that the Israelites will "seek the Lord their God and David their king" (3:5).

But as far as I can tell there was nothing different about the animals of Israel after the first restoration, and I know that war in Israel did not cease when Israel returned from its first exile, though that fits with the millenium, and I don't see any evidence that Israel has a "forever" wife-like relationship with God at this point, though that sounds a lot like "the bride of Christ" in the New Testament, and I don't think the people of Israel sought "David their king" since David was long dead even in Hosea's time, though in the last days the people of Israel will seek Jesus, the Son of David who sits on the throne of David (Lk 1:32). And - at the risk of being obvious - in 3:5 Hosea specifically says that at least some of these events would take place in "the last days."

Prophesy of Christ

I find Hosea's use of the name "Jezreel" quite interesting I think perhaps Jezreel is a hint or prophesy of Christ. There are a few things that suggest this, and other things that seem in accord with that conclusion. First, in the stage-play of his life, Hosea plays God, and Jezreel, like Jesus, is his first-born son (1:3 says Gomer bore "him" a son, suggesting that this child, at least, was really Hosea's son, and not the son of an adulterous lover). Further, it appears from 2:22 that during the last days it is Jezreel who calls out for and receives blessing for Israel. Jezreel certainly seems to be symbolic since he lives not only during the time of Hosea, but also during the restoration and the millenium.

Also, Jezreel (named after a slaughter in the town of Jezreel committed by one of King Jeroboam's ancestors) is a living rebuke of sin, as was Jesus. Jezreel was also a reminder of judgement ("Jezreel" means "God scatters"). But he is also God's planter (his name also means "God plants"), just as Jesus planted the good seed (Matthew 13:37). And he is apparently, like Jesus, Israel's leader at its ultimate restoration, which will be a "great" day for Jezreel (1:11).

Poetic Form

It seems that a big part of chapters 1-3 follows a pattern of Jewish poetry that goes from outer to inner and then back from inner to outer. Here's what that looks like in Hosea 1-3:

Gomer's fall and punishment
  Israel's fall and punishment
  Israel's redemption
Gomer's redemption

I don't know that there is a big lesson to be learned from this, but it may be helpful in understanding the structure of this part of the book.

God's Rejection and His Love

One thing that fascinates me about Hosea is the comparison of God's love for Israel to the faithful love of a humiliated and heartbroken husband for his ungrateful, contemptuous and adulterous wife.

In the book God reminds Israel of the things He has done for her, how he helped her and blessed her and provided good things, like a loving husband for his beautiful bride, only to have her take the things He gave her and (my analogy) spit in His face, intentionally and consistently ignoring Him, prostituting herself to others and shunning him; setting up idols, worshiping them, intentionally confusing them with the true God and treating God as some odd and unwelcome stranger.

As a result, God is angry! He condemns Israel, from the leaders down to the people. God is heartbroken at His straying wife. He blocks the way to her false lovers with hedges of thorns; He speaks gently to her; he punishes Israel softly (as a slow rot damages a building), he appeals to her through the preaching of Hosea, and through Hosea's family He provides a real-live, walking-around rebuke. But the response is contempt.

And also God threatens. He will be like a lion against sheep, ripping Israel apart. But Israel responds to nothing. And finally, in the face of her contempt He will turn away his face and let the enemy destroy the kingdom and carry away those who are left into exile.

Outwardly, this is not the even-tempered god some philosophers might imagine; this is the God who is hurt, who becomes angry, who loves and hates at the same time. But deeply underlying his anger and pain is a steady love which promises that ultimately, despite its rebellion and contempt, Israel will return to Him and flourish like a well-watered plant.

To see what I mean, look at 1:9-10. At the end of 1:9 God says " are not my people, and I am not your God." But then, the very next word (1:10) is "Yet," meaning this isn't the end of the story. The rest of the story is this: "Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore" and "they will be called 'sons of the living God.'"

So God cuts off his outer love, his physical blessings, just as we might say that someone "withheld love" from from another person, meaning they did not show their love. But still, beneath His anger and rejection is God's steady and unfailing love, a love that desires the best for His beloved regardless of whatever immediate pain and suffering that may cause. And, ultimately, God will not simply restore the people of Israel to being "my people," but will go beyond that and promote them to being "sons."

This story should be both a prod and an encouragement to Christians; a prod to live faithfully in order to please God, knowing that wilful sin pains God and may bring us crushing discipline. But it should also be an encouragement, knowing that if God had mercy on an Israel that acted like an adulterous wife sneering at her husband on the way out the door to meet a lover, then - just as He promised - this merciful God will forgive our sins as well.

Jehu's Slaughter

The confusing thing about Hosea condemning the slaughter at Jezreel by the king's ancestor, Jehu, is that the killing was commanded by God. Some commentators have suggested that Jehu sinned in going beyond the immediate command. Possible, but I wonder if Hosea's condemnation is because Jehu's descendants betrayed the purpose of the killings - to replace evil with good - by becoming just as wicked as the rulers they replaced, thus turning what was intended to be deadly serious act of judicial righteousness into pointless murder that just replaced one group of thugs with another group of thugs.

Covenant With Animals

I find it interesting that in 2:18 - during what I understand to be the millenium - God will "make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field and the birds of the air." Perhaps this is not to be taken literally, but I'm not sure why it shouldn't be. And if it is taken literally, perhaps it means that animals during the millenium will be endowed with enough intelligence to understand and abide by an agreement. And the picture of God condescending to talk to the animals and come to an agreement with them is wonderful to me.

The Environment

God seems to be saying that sin affects everything, including the environment. In 4:3 the land mourns, the people waste away, the animals, birds and fish die because of the people's sin, and this sin does not seem to be pouring toxic chemicals in the water - though perhaps it would include that - but rather faithlessness, lovelessness, ignoring God, cursing, lying, murder, stealing, adultery and bloodshed. I don't see the connection, yet somehow it appears there is a connection between sin and damage to the environment.

The Non-Bright Spot

Chapter 5 ends with God saying Israel "will earnestly seek me," then comes a marvelous passage of repentance, and you think, "Whew! We've finally turned a corner and Israel is repenting," but then the narrative plunges right back into how God is fed up with them. You might think, "Huh? What was that all about?" I think that God was simply telling Israel how he wants them to "earnestly seek" Him, and He tells them by giving them an example of what real repentance looks like.

Admah and Zeboiim

In 11:8 God says he doesn't want to treat Israel like Admah or Zeboiim. What? Who are they? I had to look them up. They are almost-forgotten towns that were destroyed along with Sodom and Gomorrah. So why did Hosea choose such obscure towns for his illustration? I think that was the reason; they were obscure. They were destroyed not just physically, like Sodom and Gomorrah, but almost destroyed in memory as well.

Become What You Love

God says that when the people came to Baal Peor (9:10) they gave themselves to an idol "and became as vile as the thing they loved." It occurs to me that if it is our nature to become like the things we love, we should be sure to love the right things, and especially, to love God above all else.

Lessening Yourself

In 13:3 Hosea talks about Israel offering human sacrifice and kissing idols. Perhaps those who did this realized their actions would make them obnoxious in God's eyes, but did they also think that it might also make them important, sort of men-to-be-reckoned-with saying "I'm standing up against God"? If so, this passage should disabuse them - and us - of any notion that sin makes you a big shot. Rather, it makes you less, like a morning mist or dew that cannot even stand up to a gentle sunbeam, or like chaff and smoke that disappears before something as insignificant as a cool breeze.

The Big Warning

If this crescendo warning toward the end of the book (13:16b) wouldn't cause Israel to repent, I don't know what would. Will Israel heed even a warning that their way of living would result in the death of pregnant women and young children? God warns them of this and then immediately cries out to them (14:1) to repent. And if they do not, God would (as He did) punish them, taking away even those they love the best. Did God simply turn away from Israel, as it mentions in 9:12, and no longer protect the country, or did He actively prod the Assyrians to attack? I don't know and I'm not sure it makes a difference since God says it is His doing. But it is certainly a warning to us not to despise God, and to be thankful for his blessings and do our best to follow Him. (By the way, I suspect the reason the Assyrians would kill pregnant women and children is that they would be a hinderance during the trek into exile.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Book Thoughts: Muhammad about Jesus

Note: I decided recently to comment on things I've noted in books over the years. I'm calling these Book Thoughts. This is the first post.

I remember occasionally stiffling the gag reflex when I'd hear some doe-eyed girl (or teacher) in high school say during a discussion that the world's problems would all be solved "if only we really understood each other."

People can understand each other clearly and still disagree, but still... the doe-eyed girl has a point; there are some problems that can be resolved just by making sure you understand what the other person is talking about, and I wonder (I'm not sure) if the following is one of them.

I was reading through a translation of the Koran (by N.J. Nawood) and repeatedly encountered passages in which Muhammad said that God never had a son and that it is wrong to say he did. And, of course, I kept saying to myself, "There's a point at which we disagree," but then I came upon this:

The angels said to Mary: 'God bids you rejoice in a Word from Him. His name is the Messiah, son of Mary. He shall be noble in this world and in the world to come, and shall be one of those who are favoured. He shall preach to men in his cradle and in the prime of manhood, and shall lead a righteous life.'

'Lord,' she said, 'how can I bear a child when no man has touched me?'

He replied: 'Even thus. God creates whom He will. When He decrees a thing He need only say: "Be," and it is.

[from the chapter, The 'Imrans]

On reading this I stopped and thought, "Hey, wait a minute! This is what we believe... so... why does Muhammad object to our saying Jesus was the Son of God?" And then it occurred to me that what Muhammad may have meant is that it is a horrible blasphemy to suggest that God is Jesus' father in the sense that he had sex with Mary to impregnate her and become his "father."

Yikes! And Yuck! If that is what Muhammad was saying, then he seems to be saying exactly what Christians have always been saying, and perhaps when he said these things he was refering to some blasphemous (or very ignorant) group of so-called Christians in Arabia who actually believed that God had sex with Mary to conceive Jesus.

With this thought in the back of my mind, I read along until I came to this passage about God which says:

How should He have a son when He had no consort?

[from the chapter, Cattle]

(The term "consort" here seems to be being used in the sense of "wife" or "concubine.")

This seemed to underline the idea that Muhammad's objection was to the blasphemous notion of God having sex with a woman. And again, I think all true Christians, near and far, now and before, would absolutely agree. And if there were so-called Christians in Arabia during the time of Muhammad who believed God had sex with Mary, then I think all true Christians would be as shocked as Muhammad and agree - on this point, at least - that he was absolutely right in rebuking them.

Finally, I'm not going to be the doe-eyed girl. I don't mean to suggest that there are no points on which Christians and Muslims disagree, but if this is not one of them, well ... great! One fewer thing to argue about.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Christian Development Work

This is my appeal to Christian development workers.

Over the past decade or so there has been a renewed emphasis in Christian circles on poverty relief and development work. I think this is a good thing, but it concerns me that development work be done correctly.

You say, "Duh," but it has been done so badly so many times that I think the point needs to be made again.

Once upon a time I believe God would have looked with patience upon a good-hearted Christian doctor who prescribed bloodletting for his patient. After all, the established medical belief was that removing some blood was a good thing and so the doctor would have been acting according to the best current knowledge and in the best interest of his patient.

But, as we now know - or think we know - bloodletting is almost always bad and potentially life-threatening.

So today, if a doctor prescribed a bloodletting to tone up the body, I believe God would condemn that.

Why? In both cases the doctor prescribed bloodletting. Why tolerate it in once case and condemn it in another? Because in the first case the doctor acted according the best knowledge he had available and with the best interest of his patient at heart. In the second case the doctor was either lazy and did not inform himself about his profession, or he had malicious intent toward the patient.

I think the same analogy applies to development work. If you don't know what you are doing, you can - despite the best of intentions - make things a lot worse. So first study and really understand what works! Don't rely on what common sense tells you ought to work, or what you think is "fair," or what your professor in college thinks should work, or what your political party says should work, but start by learning and relying upon what has actually worked in the real world! Then go from there.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

MemorizeNow in the News

One of my websites,, which I wrote primarily for memorizing Bible passages, just got a couple of unexpected and nice notices at Lifehacker and at MakeUseOf. Thanks, folks!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Junk Exchanges

The other day I bought a little D-ring key holder thinking it would serve a particular purpose.

It didn't, and I stood there looking at the ring and wondering what to do with it. It's a nice ring, so I didn't want to throw it away, and it doesn't need to be recycled since it works fine, but on the other hand, since it isn't what I need, it is just junk cluttering up my house.

It led me to realize that there is a category of stuff that is neither trash nor recyclables, good stuff you don't need but which might be useful to someone else but is too inexpensive to bother selling.

So... what if cities or community organizations (churches, Rotary clubs Lions clubs, whatever) sponsored junk exchanges ("treasure exchanges?") two or four times a year at a local park or parking lot. You could bring your not-being-used stuff for other people to take home and then pick through everybody else's discards to find things you might need.

Wow! I'd give my little D-ring - and a lot of other stuff - in a flash, knowing it would have a good home. And it would declutter my house and I might even find something useful, and for free!