Sunday, December 30, 2007

Have You Hugged Your Terrorist Today?

Back in my grad school days at Washington State, I heard a well-known veteran missionary speak about God's "mission" throughout history - namely, that all the world would be blessed through God's people. I think the missionary was Don Richardson, but I could be wrong about that.

During the course of the talk, Richardson referred to Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran, who was sort of the Osama bin Laden of his time, the person we Westerners loved to hate. And then Richardson brought us to Ezekiel 33.11, where God says, "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live."

The challenge Richardson issued was for us to pray for those who hate us and would just as soon see us dead - in particular, to pray that they will turn from their wicked ways and be saved.

Since 9/11, we've come to understand that terrorism is a serious threat, that there are people who want to eliminate us and our way of life. Although it's appropriate for the governments of the world to seek out these people and eliminate them, what should our response as individuals be? Perhaps even as we pray for justice and God's protection, we also should pray for the conversion of our enemies, that we might enjoy Heaven side-by-side with them.

With all that in mind, I was intrigued to find out recently about the "Adopt a Terrorist for Prayer" website. You can choose your very own terrorist and commit to pray for him. (Sorry, none of the terrorists is female. I'm guessing it's a Muslim thing.) It's not like sponsoring a poor child in Africa, though, so I doubt you'll get updates from your selected person. But once you get to Eternity, you'll find out what happened. Check it out.

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven." - Jesus, Matthew 5.43-45

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Point - Counterpoint

John Donne (1572-1631):
"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
Overheard at Tandem Coffeehouse, Portland, OR (12/28/07):
"You know what?
I really am alone.
I really am an island."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Words of Wisdom

"Wine improves with age. The older I get, the more I like it."

- Anonymous

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Why Bach is a Genius

If you've read my 6 previous posts about Bach, you know that he's the greatest composer who ever lived. As I listen through my 155-CD set of his complete works, I'm repeatedly impressed and often amazed at his skill. I'm only about two-thirds of the way through the set, and even hearing something once (or multiple times) hardly means that I understand all the mastery that went into a piece.

Which leads to last night, and the Bach concert I was able to attend in Portland. The Bach Cantata Choir, a local group of mostly amateurs, presented Parts 4-6 of the Christmas Oratorio, and a few excerpts from Parts 1 and 2. There were 200-300 people in the audience . . . not bad at $20 a pop. We got our money's worth.

Bach wrote these 6 cantatas for the Advent and Christmas seasons. Each one lasts 20-30 minutes, covers part of the Christmas story, and includes a mix of solos, duets, trios, quartets, and choruses/chorales. It's all in German, of course, but the program we were given provided both the German text and an English translation.

OK, that's enough background. Now, why is Bach a genius? It was most clearly demonstrated at the very end, the final chorus of Part 6. The orchestral part is festive, joyous, celebratory. The text rejoices at the coming of Jesus and remarks on how He has pulverized death, devil, sin, and hell and brought man to the side of God. Delightful, but what makes it genius? The tune the choir is singing is "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden," which we know as "O Sacred Head Now Wounded," a hymn that we sing around Good Friday. It talks about our sin and Jesus' suffering in our place (for example, "Mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain").

So here is Bach, writing some of the most joyful orchestral music you can imagine, using a text of rejoicing, and yet introducing a tune that foreshadows the death of Christ. It is as if to say, "Yes, we're happy now because our Saviour is born, but don't forget that this baby is born to die . . . and don't forget that you're the one who will murder Him." That is genius.

You can hear a brief excerpt by going to this link, then clicking on Disc 2, Track 29.

So Merry Christmas. As we remember the birth of our Lord and Savior, may we also remember why this little baby took on human flesh . . . and how this innocent child, later to be an innocent man, will meet His death.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cum Laude

Congratulations to my roommate and friend, Paul Yao. He came to the U.S. from Cote d'Ivoire in 2002 to work on a college degree, and on December 16 he graduated from Georgia State University. Not only did he get his business degree, he also graduated with honors. Not bad for someone who barely spoke English when he came here. Tres bien!
(Sorry the pictures are low-res. I plan to post better versions soon.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Kentucky Christmas

Here's the video I mentioned in last Friday's post about a member of our church who felt led by God to help a poverty-stricken county in the Appalachians. Enjoy:

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

Just as one does not learn to play the piano in a day, so one does not learn to love God in an exuberant moment of delight.

- Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, p. 172

Friday, December 14, 2007

O Come, O Come Emmanu-WHO?

There are times I really love my church.

Sunday morning we saw a video about one of our members who felt led by the Lord to start an annual toy drive for a town in Kentucky that was devastated by the closure of its coal(?) mine. She's quite a dynamo, and it's amazing how much she collects from her neighborhood and beyond - it looked like at least 3 big U-Haul trucks' worth. There are ladies in the Kentucky town who were praying for help, and they never imagined it would come from a rich Atlanta suburb they probably never had even heard of. And many in the town have now been touched by the love of Christ that compelled this housewife to do something she would never have dreamed of, either.

As I watched this video, I thought how wonderful it is that I go to a church where people take the initiative to meet needs and don't just sit back and wait for the paid professionals to do something. And I also love how the church was willing to praise this venture to the congregation, even though this wasn't a "church-sponsored" outreach. That's a sign of being more concerned about spreading the kingdom of God than the kingdom of Perimeter Church, and that's a good thing.

And then, Sunday evening, I was back at church, sitting next to a new Christian during our Christmas program. This guy grew up Hindu but came to faith in Christ while working on a graduate degree here in the U.S. He moved to Atlanta recently to take a job and somehow ended up going to our church. As the program went on, we listened to songs and monologues and watched some ballet. Toward the end, he turned to me and asked, "What is 'Emmanuel'?"

What, indeed? Emmanu-El, "With us is God," "God with us." Since childhood, I've sung the song. "Emmanuel" is part of my culture, but a new term to this new believer. Shortly after his question, a singer sang about how children see Jesus as white, Asian, or black, according to what they are. And the dancers were white, Asian, and black children. I love how the Gospel is not a "Western" thing or an "American" thing, but a "World" thing. And I love how we have a number of people from around the world in our congregation. And I love how some of them have only recently met Jesus. And I love how new believers remind us of the wonder of the faith, when we "old hands" take so many things for granted. May their number increase among us.

"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" - which means, "God with us." -- Matthew 1.23

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Pope Reads My Blog (Global Warming, Part 7)

News you may have missed: Pope Benedict XVI claims that humans are more important than animals and that any decisions on climate change should be based on facts and not environmentalist dogma. From his Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, dated January 1, 2008, but released this week:

The family, the human community and the environment

7. The family needs a home, a fit environment in which to develop its proper relationships. For the human family, this home is the earth, the environment that God the Creator has given us to inhabit with creativity and responsibility. We need to care for the environment: it has been entrusted to men and women to be protected and cultivated with responsible freedom, with the good of all as a constant guiding criterion. Human beings, obviously, are of supreme worth vis-à-vis creation as a whole. Respecting the environment does not mean considering material or animal nature more important than man. Rather, it means not selfishly considering nature to be at the complete disposal of our own interests, for future generations also have the right to reap its benefits and to exhibit towards nature the same responsible freedom that we claim for ourselves. Nor must we overlook the poor, who are excluded in many cases from the goods of creation destined for all. Humanity today is rightly concerned about the ecological balance of tomorrow. It is important for assessments in this regard to be carried out prudently, in dialogue with experts and people of wisdom, uninhibited by ideological pressure to draw hasty conclusions, and above all with the aim of reaching agreement on a model of sustainable development capable of ensuring the well-being of all while respecting environmental balances. If the protection of the environment involves costs, they should be justly distributed, taking due account of the different levels of development of various countries and the need for solidarity with future generations. Prudence does not mean failing to accept responsibilities and postponing decisions; it means being committed to making joint decisions after pondering responsibly the road to be taken, decisions aimed at strengthening that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

How to Avoid Cancer Forever: A Loaf of Bread, and Jug of Wine, . . . but No "Thee"

News You May Have Missed: The Times of London has published a groundbreaking story which reveals for the first time that women cause cancer. Or something like that.

It seems the monks on Mount Athos in Greece have a remarkably low incidence of cancer. This probably has something to do with their diet, but it's hard to overlook the fact of their 60-minute daily morning Quiet Times and the absolute rule that no females are allowed anywhere on the island (unless they're cats). Check out the story here.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Irenaeus On: Wholeness

God did not tell us to follow Him because He needed our help, but because He knew that loving Him would make us whole.

- Irenaeus, 2nd Century bishop of Lyon

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Ebola Journal

Friends of a friend (of a friend?) are missionary doctors in Uganda. You may have heard of the latest Ebola outbreak there. The doctors, a husband and wife team, are in the midst of it, and their blog certainly transcends the usual daily blog fare. It reads like a movie script, except it's true and it's happening now.
Here's an excerpt from a couple days ago, and you can read all their entries here. (By the way, MSF stands for Medecins sans Frontieres, which we know as Doctors Without Borders; WHO is the UN's World Health Organization; and CDC is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Atlanta.)

The official case count has gone up from 51 to 79 since the initial numbers were released four days ago. We now have 21 admitted in Bundibugyo (up from 16 yesterday) while only one more patient came to Kikyo (10 total). Dr. Sessanga continues to struggle on with his case; Dr. Jonah needed IV fluids today but was reported to be stable. It was another dawn to post-dusk day for Scott, which included two three-hour-long meetings as well as final assembly and initial use of a brand new lawnmower we just imported in the nick of time to keep the airstrip open for the sudden increase in flights. Three MSF personnel hitched a ride in on the plane that took our team out; more CDC and WHO folks are expected on Wednesday, so keeping the airstrip open is an important part of the logistics of this operation.

Pray for Scott to have wisdom to know his role, to respond with leadership and compassion and wisdom and courage. We are used to being a bit more on the sidelines politically, focusing on patient care. This crisis throws him into the middle of everything, and the lines of authority are not always clear. Added to that is the fact that this is a new strain, so if one person makes a statement about transmission and another challenges it, we really can’t be sure who is right, because this epidemic may not progress in the same way that others have done.

The MSF team is impressive and fascinating, they are tracking numbers and plotting maps and have already concluded from interviews that besides patient care in the hospital, the greatest risk factor is the handling of dead bodies at burial.

We do sense the incredible outpouring of concern and prayer from our friends. It is a bit edgy to go hour to hour with the background thought of . . .do I feel a twinge of nausea, could that be a fever coming on . . . But mostly we remain confident that our measures to protect ourselves even before we knew the gravity of the situation were adequate. The kids made it to Kampala safe and sound, and compared to the agony of deciding to send them away, the reality of missing them is not nearly as painful. Scott was remembering the days of war, when the team dwindled down to two or three adults only, it feels like that again now, with all the separation and uncertainty.

You can find the doctors' blog at

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Imponderables - #1 in a Rare Series

What's an Imponderable? It's a question that can't be answered with precision, or something that can't be evaluated exactly.
And here's my first Imponderable:
Why is it that I don't seem to be able to chew gum without painfully biting the inside of my lower lip after a few minutes?

I realize some people can't walk and chew gum at the same time, but this happens to me even when I'm sitting down.
Do you have any Imponderables?

Monday, December 3, 2007


School teacher in Sudan lets class name teddy bear mascot. Class chooses "Mohammed" (which is also the name of one of the students). Teacher is arrested, then convicted of insulting religion - that religion would be Islam, of course - and protesters outside her jail call for her execution.

Sean Taylor, safety for the Washington Redskins, is killed in a burglary. His father makes the following comments in this excerpt from a Miami Herald article: ``Whatever took place between He and God at the time, He [God] had it all in control. I'm at peace with God, and God, he makes no mistakes.'' He said he was not angry at the person who killed his son. ``You know who you are if you did it, turn yourself in. Vengeance is not mine, it's God's. He holds that in his hands.''


Which religion has a God big enough to defend Himself?


Pope Benedict XVI was on target when he said a year ago that the problem with Islam is that it's not a faith that you can reason with.
And by the way, you really ought to read that address Benedict gave in Regensburg - the speech that led to Muslims rioting in the streets because they thought the Pope was unjustly accusing them of being violent people. It's a perceptive discussion of the relationship between faith and reason and helps to answer Tertullian's question, "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?"