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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Great ... Just Great

I'm an advocate of using correct grammar and proper spelling. I think it improves communication. So when I get something like this in my email, well, it just doesn't help me at all ...

Cna yuo raed tihs?

i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!
No matter ... I'm still in favor of proper English, even without the support of Cambridge University.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Church and Chinese Farmers

Maybe the Church can learn something from Chinese farmers. According to a story from Reuters, the Chinese government is banning striptease acts from funerals.
The disrobing served a higher purpose, the report noted.

"Striptease used to be a common practice at funerals in Donghai's rural areas to allure viewers," it said. "Local villagers believe that the more people who attend the funeral, the more the dead person is honored."
In our "seeker friendly" frenzy, we haven’t thought of this approach. Strippers are sure to draw a crowd. And, hey, there are advantages here because everyone knows there are less men attending church than women, so this would certainly increase the number of men. And as well all know, a successful church is measured by its numbers, right? I mean, isn’t it the same thinking as the belief of the local villagers - the more people who attend, the more Christ is honored?

Okay, maybe it’s a bad idea. Forget I said anything.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Does God Really Want Numbers?

George at “Where is God?” asks “Why is God bad at marketing?” He's addressing primarily the concept that relatively few people get saved. Jesus seemed to think the same thing when He said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many, but the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Mat 7:13-14). George's assumption is simple: “God wants as many humans as possible to believe in Him.” Jesus confirms that few will enter.

I suspect that my response to George would be somewhat different than a large number of other Christians because I suspect that a large number of other Christians would agree that God wants as many people as possible to believe in Him. This, of course, presents a problem to the thinking Christian, the problem that George has addressed. I would argue, however, that the question is faulty because the premise is faulty. It's a common belief, but I think a faulty one, that God wants to save as many people as possible.

First, where does it come from? Well, there is biblical support in two basic places. In 1 Tim. 2:4 Paul tells Timothy that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” It is irrefutable, then, that God “wants to save as many people as possible”. Actually, God desires to all people to be saved. The second place is Peter's words in 1 Peter 3. Peter says that the Lord “is patient toward you, not willing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (1 Peter 3:9). So it is clearly God's will to save everyone.

Well, there you have it ... incontrovertible proof that God wants to save as many people as possible. Or do you? Here's the problem. If God wants to save as many people as possible, why doesn't He? Is something preventing Him? If something is preventing Him from doing what He wills, then can it be rightly said that He is “Almighty” -- Sovereign? If it is His will to save all, and not all are saved, then it would appear that something has the capacity to prevent Him from accomplishing what He wills to accomplish. Or is it possible that this is too simplistic a reading of these passages?

I ask this because of Rom. 9:22. Paul says, “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?” Now, we Christians are so happy to read that God endures with much patience that we skip right over what Paul says God wills here. God wills “to demonstrate His wrath and make His power known.” Now, that should make you pause for a moment. It is God's will to demonstrate His wrath, and it is God's will that all should be saved. This same dichotomy is found elsewhere. God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezek. 33:11), yet we know He carries it out ... fairly regularly. So it seems that God has desires in both directions.

This really shouldn't be a surprise to us. We often have competing desires. We want to spend time with friends, but we also want to spend time with family. We want to get some stuff done around the house, but we also want to sit and watch TV. We want to lose weight, but we also love our desserts. We are creatures of competing desires. What determines what we do? Jonathan Edwards, in his famous essay on Freedom of the Will, suggests that we will also act according to our strongest desire. This is the simplest explanation of free will when our desires are in competition. We may want a variety of things, but the strongest desire will determine our choice. All things being equal, when the man with the gun says, “Your money or your life,” we’d kind of like to keep both, but our strongest drive of self-preservation causes us to choose to hand over the money. All things being equal, the fireman would rather not run into the burning building, but his training and commitment mean that the notification that there is a child in there overrides his desire to remain out of harm's way.

God, too, has competing desires. He would like it if there were no wicked. He would like it if everyone was saved. But from His actions, he makes it pretty clear that something else is overriding these desires. In this case that “something else” is His will to demonstrate His wrath and power. Since He desires to demonstrate His character fully, and the only way to demonstrate it fully is to include His wrath and power, it would seem that, in the final analysis, perhaps God doesn’t actually want “as many humans as possible to believe in Him.” Perhaps He wants some to believe, and some to experience His wrath. Scripture tells us as much. According to Paul, “He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (Rom. 9:18). So while He ensures that every person knows about Him (Rom. 1:19-20), He also allows them to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18) and pay the price because while He would like to save all, He has a better plan in mind ... a better plan than saving all human beings. I suspect that the indignation so many of us humans feel at that concept is due to our over-inflated view of the importance of the creature known as "humans", something perhaps we need to watch out for.

Monday, August 28, 2006


I sat in fascination, watching these massive clouds surmount the mountain peaks on the horizon. Ten, twenty, thirty thousand feet into the air, these huge cumulus clouds towered above the landscape. The sun was nearly gone, but they stood tall enough to catch the waning rays, coloring them magnificently while the undersides grew darker, blacker, more ominous. As the sunlight vanished, the clouds began to generate their own. Random flashes, deep in the clouds themselves, lit the whole drifting structure. Lightning without sound flashed cloud to cloud. Occasionally a single fork would flicker cloud to ground in a dazzling display of power, light, and heat. It was a magnificent show put on by nature alone.

A lightning bolt takes half a second. In that time, the lightning heats the surrounding air to a temperature five times hotter than on the Sun's surface. The air around it expands, and the vibrations create a sound we call thunder. Since sound travels more slowly than light, the thunder arrives after the lightning. Science says that thunder can only be heard up to 16 miles away, and travels at 1000 feet per second. You know the drill. Flash! "One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, four one thousand, 5 one thousand" boom! The lightning is about 5000 feet away. So, about a mile from where you are, something just got hit with more than a billion volts.

A billion volts ... that's enough to light a light bulb for three months. The air, hotter than the surface of the sun, literally explodes. The shockwave has been known to cause its own damage. The sound will travel for miles. And how does all this occur? Well, to be honest, science doesn't know. They have theories. They know a lot about the actual mechanics of how the lightning strikes. But how does such an immense charge of energy form itself in the clouds? They're just not sure.

So I sat there in awe as this display rolled in. First, the lightning in the clouds. From deep within, like something out of the Wizard of Oz, the cloud lit itself. Huge, bright, flickering light glowed from inside, lighting the sky like some cosmic welder in his hidden workshop. The ships in the sky rolled in, towering, growing, becoming cumulonimbus clouds - a whole line of them marching forward. As they merged ... no, collided, they began to shoot lightning between them - brilliant, silent, cloud-to-cloud forks skittering across the sky. Then, not content to share their power amongst themselves, they began to strike the ground. Repeatedly, randomly, playfully almost, the lightning bolts danced here and there across the horizon, ever closer, until, flashing, booming, "one one thousand, two one thousand ...", deep rolling rumbles warned me that the scientific miracle was closer, closer, closer, at once frightening and yet stunningly beautiful.

I finally went inside. The rains were starting. First light rain followed by increasingly heavier drops. The lightning was too close for comfort, considering the power they contained. So I wandered back to the relative safety of my house as the storm flashed and rumbled all around, drifting off again as quickly as it came. And I thought, "Science can't figure it out, but I know the Artist! Amazing!"

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Life Will Find A Way

We live in the Sonoran Desert. That means that we don't get much rain, and that plantlife isn't as plentiful as other places. So while some try to create a "normal" yard, ours is primarily rocks. We make no effort to grow much plantlife here. Our backyard is rocks punctuated by a few cacti. There is no watering system. All these plants get is an occasional squirt from the hose or the desert rains. The ground is hard clay covered by rocks. It is truly an unfriendly place for plants.

Here in the desert we have monsoons in the summer. The rains are hit and miss. Anywhere can get hit, and it's entirely possible that you could get rain in your front yard with nothing in your back yard because that's how it is here. And yet, let a single rainstorm come through, and the yard begins to sprout. Through the rocks and despite the clay soil, from seemingly nowhere, plants begin to shoot up here and there. Some may come from the seed the birds have scattered. Others come from nature's own methods. None of them are expected, but it seems impossible to prevent them.

We are beset these days by assurances that if we don't do something, life on the planet will come to an end. The alarmists warn that we are creating global warming and if we don't stop, we'll cause "rising sea levels, altered patterns of agriculture, increased extreme weather events, and the expansion of the range of tropical diseases". (Wikipedia's article) And others are quite sure that between population explosion (which seems more and more of a myth) and nuclear weapons and the rest, human beings will likely destroy all life on the planet. Oddly, it seems, as evidenced by my desert back yard, and in the words of the good doctor in Jurassic Park, "Life will always find a way." It appears that the Designer of this planet took into account the people He put on it and was a lot smarter at creating than we are at destroying.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


I work in a fairly new building. It has rows of trees adorning its structure. This week a serious storm came through, and when I went to work the next morning, several of these lovely trees had blown down.

I asked the caretaker about them. Here's what he told me. These are native desert trees. They are used to sending down roots deep to find water. But these trees are under human care, and they're being watered. As a result, they don't send their roots down, and it doesn't take much wind to knock down these shallow trees.

Isn't that the way it is with us as well? We like to think that "the perfect world" would be free and easy. No pressures, no suffering, no difficulties. It would appear that God sees things differently. He knows that real growth occurs when we are faced with tough times. Conversely, when life is easy, we rarely grow at all.

Our friend, James, put it this way:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).
Maybe, just maybe, when tough times come, we can remember that difficulties often bring improvements in our character, give us depth, and we can be grateful rather than upset.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Feathers of a Bird

One might ask, “What possible connection can there be between feathers and God?” Well, if you take a moment to look with me at the lowly feather, you might find it to be a powerful argument for Intelligent Design.

On the surface, feathers seem somewhat plain. They do provide a lift surface for birds to use in flying, and they make a fine insulator against the elements, but what is so special about a feather? Well, if you will step a little closer, you will find them practically miraculous in their design.

Feathers are constructed of a shaft and vanes. The first thing we notice is that the shaft itself, while quite sturdy, is also quite hollow. This creates a lighter structure for the flyer. Nice touch. Attached to the shaft is a series of vanes. The vanes are strands of material not much larger than a thread. So, here we have a shaft with a bunch of threads attached. Yeah. That’ll work. Not! What we need is a surface rather than a “duster”, so how does the feather arrive at that? Well, each of these vanes is lined with microscopic barbs. These barbs run into the barbs on the adjacent vane and interlock, much like Velcro. They actually work better than Velcro because while Velcro won’t move, these barbs can slide, hooking onto other barbs, allowing the feather the movement while retaining a surface effect, both of which are requirements for a bird in flight.

As remarkable as all that is, it only gets better. If you’ve ever found a feather, you may notice that you can separate the vanes. If you have, you may also notice that they don’t go back together once you’ve separated them. This is because the barbs on the vanes require lubrication to keep functioning. A feather separated from a bird dries out and the vanes stop working as they should. This is why you will see birds preening themselves so much of the time. They naturally secrete a preening oil that they use to lubricate their feathers, keeping themselves waterproof and insulated while retaining the movement of the feathers. Without this oil, the feathers would quickly become useless for both flight and insulation.

Interestingly, different birds have different designs of feathers. The ostrich, for instance, doesn’t have the barbs on the feather vanes, giving them those fluffy feathers. They don’t need a flight surface. Owls have their own peculiar design. The leading edge feathers are serrated. The trailing edge feathers are tattered because the outer edges of their feather lack the barbs to hold them together. And the legs are covered with soft feathers. The result is a “stealth” effect. While most birds are “noisy” in flight from the air turbulence around the wings, this feather structure on the owl makes them silent flyers, a real advantage to a nighttime hunter. The Honey Buzzard feeds off nests of bees and wasps, and they have a type of feather around their heads called “bristles”. These feathers have almost no barbs and form a more solid surface to protect the bird from the stings of the insects. The penguin’s feathers are downy at the bottom and stiff at the top. The downy portion provides an air layer and the stiff portion provides waterproofing, so the penguin ends up with an excellent insulator layer and a waterproof layer to provide it some protection in its hostile environment. Birds tend to have a variety of feather types in various places on their bodies. Some feathers provide for flight, while other feathers provide protection, and still others provide simply appearance.

The feather is a perfect design. It is light but flexible. It overlaps with other feathers and creates a flight surface that enables birds to fly. They provide a layering with air between the spaces to provide an excellent insulation against the elements and a waterproofing. Yes, the feather is a perfect design, except for this one little fact: They would be useless without the preening oil. And here we arrive at our connection with God.

The idea is “irreducible complexity”. With all its marvelous design, the feather would be completely useless without the preening oil produced by the bird. On the other hand, the bird would have no use for preening oil if it didn’t have feathers to preen. And without the feather, birds wouldn't fly, the penguin wouldn't survive its habitat, and we'd never hear about "water off a duck's back". Thus, it would appear that Evolution doesn’t provide an answer for why it is that birds have feathers at all. The fossil record shows either fully-feathered creatures or not, without any intermediate stage. The theories advanced about how feathers could have evolved fall apart at every turn. So the most logically consistent argument for feathers is that they were designed, not evolved. Or, to put it another way, you can almost knock Evolution over with a feather.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Life Verse

I found it! My life verse! At last!
The man declares, I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out. Surely I am too stupid to be a man. I have not the understanding of a man (Prov. 30:1-2).
How satisfying to have biblical confirmation of the things I've been told so often.

(Humor ... intended as humor.)

The Sincerity of Questions

Like several other Christian bloggers, I received an email from George Frodsham to respond to his post about questions regarding God in a post entitled Where is God?. Like several other Christian bloggers, I responded to what appeared to be sincere questions from a sincere person.

George's follow-up post gives this tidbit of information:
"I feel that I should clarify that I am not looking for God for myself. If I had a strong desire to find him, I know that I could very easily - it is easy to believe something that you want to believe."
So what appeared to be sincere questions is actually a forensic exercise to figure out why people believe what George does not and doesn't intend to.

It makes you wonder how we go about finding sincere questions. We are given a constant stream, it seems, of "sincere questions", but the truth seems more like this constant stream is more of a smoke screen. Perhaps, if the questions pile up high enough, the reality of the underlying discussion can get obscured.

It's an effective ploy. The evangelistic mindset likes questions. And we are so easily deluded that perhaps, if we are careful enough and thoughtful enough and logical enough, we might talk this one into the kingdom. Give them the answers to the questions they are asking, and maybe they'll come to Christ! Right? What you'll find more often than not that the answers are irrelevant, and the goal is to obfuscate.

Should we stop offering answers? No, indeed! We need to always be "ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence" (1 Peter 3:15). What we need to do is remind ourselves that it is not our eloquence, our learning, our apologetics, our wisdom, or even our deep and abiding concern for the lost that brings them to Christ - it is the Lord.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Cardinal Design

The male Northern Cardinal is unmistakable. He is almost entirely red, including his beak, with black markings around his eyes and beak. His head is tufted. He is gorgeous. He grows to 8 to 9”. His mate isn't as noticeable. She is somewhat smaller in size, mostly grey with a touch of reddish coloring here and there. She could easily be mistaken for a Pyrrhuloxia ... if you knew what one of them was. But everyone knows the male cardinal. Hey, there are two sports teams named after this bird. The cardinal gets his name from the Roman Catholic Cardinal who is also garbed in red.

They range mostly from Florida to Maine and from Texas to South Dakota, with their largest concentrations in the South, but they also live in Arizona. Cardinals tend not to migrate, but prefer to stay where they are. They like to eat mostly seeds and fruit, but will also indulge in an occasional bug. (Actually, perhaps a third of their diet is insects.) They are primarily ground feeders. They like thickets and bushes and aren't averse to living in parks and residential areas. In fact, population density of the Cardinal has increased over the last 200 years because they benefit from urban habitats, parks, and bird feeders.

Cardinals are known for their song. In the 1800's they were actually sought after as a cage bird because of their song. The male will sing out, often from a high treetop, and the female will counter sing, making a duet. Cardinal songs have their local variations and accents. Interestingly, mated pairs often share song phrases. Females will often sing right from the nest. Some think they use the song to communicate, telling the male to pick up groceries, etc.

Male cardinals are fierce when it comes to defending their breeding territory. They have been known to spend hours attacking their own reflections in glass surfaces. Interestingly, brighter males hold the territory with the densest vegetation, feed at higher rates, and have better success at reproduction than their duller counterparts.

Cardinals mate for life. Cardinal females build a cup-shaped nest of small twigs and grass in some shrubbery. They lay 3 to 5 eggs, and may have two to four broods a breeding season. Males and females both tend the young. The male will sometimes tend to one brood while the female goes off to begin the next one. They are a favorite of cowbirds. Cowbirds are “parasitic”. They will lay their eggs in another bird's nest and leave them to be raised by the other parents, sometimes at the expense of the other parents' original hatchlings. Despite the cowbird's use of the cardinal's nests, cardinals still are increasing in numbers.

Cardinals may live up to 15 years in the wild. The oldest known cardinal lived 15 years, nine months.

Cardinals are known to suffer from lice, mites, and other skin parasites. If the problem is bad, they will molt, leaving an oddly bald head. Cardinals (along with other birds) use a technique called “anting” to rid themselves of these problems. They will allow ants, alive or dead, to climb or be rubbed through their feathers. The ants' formic acid helps kill off the mites, and when they are done, the cardinal's feathers appear wet.

Isn’t that a marvelous design?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Signs of Life

If you've ever seen the Arizona desert, you'd likely be of a mind that nothing can live here. They say that a person spending time out here in the peak of the heat should consume at least a gallon of water an hour just to stay hydrated. Now, we all know that there isn't likely that kind of a naturally occurring water source in the desert in too many places, so it seems quite obvious that life cannot be found in this desert.

The obvious, however, is quite wrong. A simple walk in the desert will prove that the place is full of life. Beyond the obvious plant life, the desert is full of remarkable insects and animals that are especially designed for life in this harsh environment.

The bugs are likely the easiest thing to find. Ants and beetles abound. Indeed, some of these ants are the biggest I've ever seen, and some of these beetles are longer than 4 inches. Scorpions will be here, too. There are more than 20 kinds of scorpions in North America, most of whom are not dangerous. There is only one, the bark scorpion, who is so dangerous that he can kill a human child with his sting. This one, of course, resides in only one place ... here in the Sonoran Desert. So maybe you'd better steer clear of them. Now, something must keep the bugs in check, so the next thing you'll notice is the birds.

Birds in the desert are not always what you'd expect. Sure, there is the gila woodpecker and gilded flicker, two birds that will put holes in the saguaro cactus to make a nest. They look nearly identical, but are easily distinguished by their sound. The woodpecker sounds like it is laughing, while the flicker sounds just like the eagle sound you hear in the movies. And, of course, the cactus wren is plentiful. These are bold birds, wary of humans, but not terrified by them. They are "desert looking" birds, mostly brown and speckled, with carefully applied eyeliner over each eye. Sparrows and finches are also plentiful, like they are just about anywhere else. But somewhat of a surprise is the numbers of hummingbirds here in the desert. Hummingbirds have to eat every 2 hours or they die. Where do they find the food here in the desert to sustain that metabolism? They do.

Be sure to look up. There are a whole variety of raptors. The Harris hawk is uncommonly seen. They are one of the few that hunt in groups, working together to catch their prey. Sharp-shinned hawks and coopers hawks and red-tail hawks abound. There are even rare golden eagles here. And, of course, the legendary vultures will be seen making large, graceful circles as they search for prey.

Keep quiet, and you might get to see a roadrunner, a bird you'd expect in the desert. If you're near a desert wash, you might get the rare treat of seeing a phainopepla. This bird is all black with a plume on its head, reminiscent of the cardinal. They are in the flycatcher family and are very quick ... and very shy. And if you're very lucky, you might see the cardinal himself. Cardinals are native to the desert here. Their bright red coloration in this apparently drab landscape seems completely out of place, but they not only survive here; they thrive. And then there is the "clown" bird, the quail. I think of them as clowns because of that funny tassle that hangs over their heads, but they aren't really that funny. They hang out in groups called a covey. They spend most of their lives on the ground, flying only to escape danger. Another interesting bird is the nighthawk. They are bug catching birds with wings designed for agility. They will cruise around at sunset as the bugs come out from the waning heat of the day and scoop large beetles and moths up without any apparent effort.

There is an abundance of birds out here, but there is more. Lizards are obvious. The whiptail is everywhere, and the collared lizard can be seen. You'll be very fortunate if you get a glimpse of the rare gila monster, but avoid them because they are one of the few venemous lizards in the world. And, of course, there are rattlesnakes. You must always keep an eye out for them here. It's difficult to balance the need for stealth out here required to find the animal life and the need for noise required to notify the rattlesnake that you're coming. If they know you're coming, they'll likely get out of your way. But if they know you're coming, likely most other animals will get out of your way as well.

Other, larger animals inhabit this "lifeless" terrain.
Jack rabbits and cotton tail rabbits are just about everywhere. Coyotes are one of the top predators. They hunt alone or in packs, and not much will bother them. Bobcats are very timid and you'll be very lucky to see one. Mountain lions are here as well, but not very common. And the only native, pig-like animal found in the United States is found out here. The collared peccary is known here as the javelina. It is so named because its teeth are long and sharp like a spear. They primarily travel at night and primarily in groups of up to a dozen. They're not typically aggressive, preferring flight to fight, but if one is injured, the pack might attack to defend it. Here's a very brief video for your enjoyment.

Patience, my friend, patience. That's what gets you the chance to see the many signs of life out here in the desert. It's as if God designed the desert as a patience-teaching place. If you want to see the vast amount of life in the desert, it takes patience. But by now you've likely consumed your gallon of water and are hotter than you thought possible and it would be a good idea if you head for a cool spot, like the pool or the air-conditioned mall, so let's get back to civilization. Let's not forget, however, the marvel of God's creation that can be seen out here in a place where it seems as if life shouldn't exist.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Roadrunner

I'm a city boy. The only roadrunner I ever knew was the cartoon version. He was sweet and innocent. And anyone who watched the show knew what he ate, because the evil coyote often used birdseed as a lure to catch the roadrunner.

Reality is a different thing.

I met the real roadrunner this weekend. We have what is called a "view fence" in our backyard. It's a low wall with a fence of bars above it to allow us to view the desert behind our house. Very nice. Anyway, the other day I noticed a bird sitting on the lowest rung of the fence on the edge of the yard. She was half in, half out of the yard, so I couldn't really tell what she was, but I grabbed the camera that I keep handy to get her picture. Just as I looked back, this bird leaped from her perch at an approaching sparrow! She narrowly missed her prize, so she climbed up on the rock waterfall we have and waited again in front of the bird feeder we keep loaded. This wasn't an innocent roadrunner. She was a hunter!

Another sparrow came in range, and she leaped again, but missed again. Frustrated, she crept along the low wall across the yard and then jumped up onto the fence between yards. She didn't know it, but this was a prime spot for hunting birds. The neighbors kept their feeder right on the other side. She was within a foot of any approaching bird. But she wasn't patient enough. She waited a few more minutes, then jumped into the wash behind the house to find something else to scoop up.

As it turns out, roadrunners are not the same animal we've been given to believe on the cartoons. Go figure! They are ruthless hunters. They almost never eat seed, preferring meat at all times. They are indeed very fast, achieving ground speeds up to 17 miles per hour. They are faster than rattle snakes and are one of the few animals that preys on them. They use their short wings like a matador's cape to distract the snake, then dart around behind and grab it by the tail. Then they whip it around until it is beaten to death. They will eat the snake whole, tail first. If the snake is too big to swallow completely, they will run around with the uneaten portion dangling from their mouths until they can complete the task of swallowing it.

Roadrunners ... they're not the cute little guy you see on the cartoons. They're quick, able hunters capable of snatching a hummingbird out of the air. They are happy to raid a nest of baby birds and dine the easy way, or to scoop up a lizard on the run. Don't believe all you see in the Saturday cartoons.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

To Contracept, or Not to Contracept

Interesting, isn’t it? Up until the 1930’s the entire Christian Church was unified on at least one topic: birth control. In response to a papal encyclical on marriage at the time, the Anglican Church said that contraception was acceptable, on an exceptional basis, within the confines of marriage. It wasn’t until the mid 60’s and the arrival on the scene of “the Pill” that the Church started really challenging the age old position of “no contraception” - that every act of sexual intercourse in a marriage should have the possibility of conception. Now, I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that a belief held by the Church for 1900 years that gets questioned in the 60’s ought to raise concerns about why we’re starting to question it now.

So, on what basis did all Christian faiths prohibit contraception before 1930? Well, biblically there was Onan (Gen. 38:9) who “spilled his seed on the ground”. This has been offered as an argument against masturbation, but the real problem appears to have been that Onan intentionally stood in the way of conceiving children. That is, he indulged in the pleasure of making babies without risking the responsibility that would include. Then, of course, there is the very first command issued to human beings ever: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). Contraception would seem to say a resounding, “No!” to God.

I’ve already mentioned the purposes of marriage. One is companionship and the other is procreation. It would seem from this that contraception would be contrary to the purpose of marriage. Further, these two functions are reflections of the godhead. God is Triune and, therefore, His own “companion”, and He is the Creator. The intentional prevention of creation would not seem to be a valid way of reflecting the Creator.

Beyond the biblical and spiritual arguments against contraception, there are the physical arguments. Hormonal contraception, such as the Pill, has deleterious effects on the female body. Some of these operate as abortifacients, producing an abortion rather than preventing conception by causing the ovum to slough off rather than take hold.

And, of course, there is the nagging moral question: Why are we using contraception? It seems that our culture is highly tuned to preventing pregnancy. To suggest, as I am, that it might be wrong to use contraception is met with skepticism and dismissal. Why? “Because we get to decide when to have children.” Really? When did that happen? The command is “Be fruitful and multiply.”

According to the 2000 Census, the average number of children per family today in America is 0.9. If you eliminate the number of families without children and just use the number of families who actually have children, the average is 1.86 children per household. In 2002, the Telegraph reported that the average children per household in the U.K. had dropped to 1.64. In Australia it is around 1.7.

It seems we are developing a culture that prizes “my personal gain” over procreation. There are growing numbers that are saying, “No, thanks, we don’t want children.” There are a variety of reasons. “I want to have my career first.” “Children would disrupt our lifestyle.” “We’re already overburdened.” “Children cost too much to raise.” But it generally boils down to “I want my own personal comfort and am not willing to surrender it to obey God’s command.”

Now, I need to be careful. I know that this last paragraph was an overgeneralization. I know that some of today’s reasons are not self-centered. I can certainly understand that a woman with AIDS, for instance, would not want to pass that on to a child. That’s not selfishness. I’m not speaking about those relative few who fall in this category. I’m speaking about the alarmingly large number of people who have no reason not to have children but are choosing not to based entirely on their own personal preferences.

Is contraception something that Christians should use? I can find all sorts of reasons that they shouldn’t. I can hardly find any reasons that they should. I can see the need to regulate births, but to artificially prevent offspring purely for the purpose of personal pleasure (both in the act of procreation and in the lifestyle that childlessness would afford) seems to me to be an intentional effort to contravene God’s first command and a refusal to accept marriage for what God intended it. Maybe we’ve stayed away from this topic too long. Maybe it’s time that we question what we have accepted wholesale since the “free love” era of the 60’s and really examine if contraception is a moral, biblical thing to use.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Purpose of Marriage

Contraception. It's a Catholic question, right? Maybe not. In fact, it might just be a question pertinent to the debate today over gay marriage. You see, “gay marriage” is an oxymoron ... but proving it is difficult for believers. So, most accurately, perhaps it is a catholic question.

In the Courier Journal last year, Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote an article regarding “Deliberate Childlessness”. In it, he discusses the various reasons today that a growing number of couples are choosing not to have children. Kids get in the way of your lifestyle. Children are not a viable financial investment. They tie you down, sap your time, energy, and funds, and cause more problems than they're worth. Mohler says, “Christians must recognize that this rebellion against parenthood represents nothing less than an absolute revolt against God's design.”

“Absolute revolt.” That’s strong terminology. But Mohler backs it with Scripture.

God’s design of marriage includes two key components. One is companionship. Genesis says, “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.’” (Gen. 2:18). The other is multiplication. “God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Gen. 1:28). Companionship and children comprise the two primary components of God’s design for marriage.

Dr. Miguel De La Torre disagrees. In a rebuttal, he argues that “the ultimate goal of sex is fulfillment”. (Dr. De La Torre offers no biblical reason for this statement.) Charging Dr. Mohler with covert racism – “white-supremacy code language” – he assures us that the only reason children were a blessing in the Old Testament was economic. “In an agricultural society, the presence of children literally meant extra hands to work the field. It also provided the parent with a form of Social Security for the future. Children were necessary to ensure financial support in old age. The more children a man fathered, the more financially secure he became.”

I think Dr. De La Torre misses the mark. (Isn’t there a biblical term for that?) The command was clear, and nothing in the Bible contravenes it. “Be fruitful and multiply.” It doesn’t say, “as long as it is convenient” or “as long as the culture encourages it” or “until modern science makes it unnecessary.” As a matter of fact, the U.N. released a report that said that 75% of developing countries have fertility rates below 2.1, the rate required to ensure replacement of the population. So while the overall population seems to be growing, a large number of countries are actually declining in population.

It seems as if marriage was designed for companionship and producing children. I can’t see where this design was changed. And while there are certainly marriages that don’t produce children due to infertility, the goal seems to be offspring and not achieving that goal would be considered bad, not admirable or even “their choice”. It looks to me that Dr. Mohler’s evaluation is biblically correct. Further, if marriage is defined as for the purpose of companionship and producing children, then “gay marriage” would be an oxymoron. Or, Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr. put it:

Q: If you called a tail a leg, how many legs would a dog have?
A: Four. No matter what you call it, a tail is not a leg.

Now, one of the primary purposes of marriage is producing children, perhaps we need to look at contraception. (For a preview, this website has some interesting reference material from a variety of perspectives.)

Friday, August 18, 2006

Train Up a Child

I was always taught that Prov. 22:6 went this way:

"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."

Well, let's be fair. I was taught that because that's what our Bibles say.

This has always been an interesting verse for a couple of reasons. On one hand, young parents have seen it is a hopeful promise. Do the right thing with your child, and you are assured success. On the other hand, older parents have always been "under its thumb", so to speak. They did what they thought was right raising their children, and something went wrong. It must be, according to this verse, that they failed to train up the child in the way he should go.

So I am reading through Proverbs these days and I noticed a footnote in my Bible. Where the verse says, "in the way he should go", the footnote says, "Lit. 'According to his way'." What? That's not the same thing. So I did a little research. Jameison-Faussett-Brown says, "the way--literally, 'his way,' that selected for him in which he should go; for early training secures habitual walking in it." In other words, "in the way he should go" is a deduction, not a translation.

Now, I have to admit that every commentator I reviewed on this verse agreed with it as it stands, but I have to wonder. Is it a promise or a warning? The normal reading comes across as a promise ... which too many parents have seen fail. But if we read it "Train up a child according to his way and when he is old he will not depart from it", that would be saying, "If you let your child determine his own natural path, you'll never get him out of that failure." Now, both readings tell parents, "Train your children." One, however, seems to hold out a promise (and a curse), while the other is simply a warning. I wonder if, based on experience, Solomon didn't have a warning in mind rather than the commonly perceived promise.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Prime Element

What, do you suppose, is the basic component of any society?

If the answer is "the society", then we would need to be socialists. If the fundamental element of a society is "the village", then individual ownership and operation of businesses is opposed to this fundamental element, and we should move to a collective ownership base.

If the answer is "the individual", then we would need to be libertarians. The government would need to operate on the basis of protecting individuals, not groups. It would need to remain "hands off" to the largest possible extent and leave the individual with the largest possible range of choices and control.

I propose a different answer. I think that "the village" is too broad and "the individual" is too narrow. It seems to me that the primary component of any given society is "the family". It was the first "good" component in Genesis. It was not good for Adam to be alone, so God created Eve to be his wife. It continues to be a fundamental element throughout Scripture. Entire nations were defined by their family names. The nation of Israel, for instance, was originally "the children of Israel" or the offspring of a man named Israel. Most of the nations that are mentioned in the Old Testament are named for their families. Furthermore, it is the only element that perpetuates a society because in the family structure there is offspring. And despite our best efforts today, many studies indicate that divorce is detrimental to society, while the two-parent family seems to be the best option.

What if we made more decisions from this perspective? We wouldn't ask "Does it benefit the individual?" or "Does it benefit society?", but "Does it benefit the family?" I wonder what a truly "pro-family" society would look like? It's a lot of fun to think about, actually. We encourage lots of other things -- why not this fundamental element of society?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Is There Any Wonder?

Well of course English is a difficult language when a word like "hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia" means "the fear of long words". Sigh!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Black Vulture

Okay, one more for fun ...

It was a beautiful morning for flying and Kevin was right there with his friends. The warmth of the day provided good thermals to ride, and the cool breeze off the ocean just made it perfect. It was a vulture's paradise.

Kevin was tuned to his surroundings. He kept an eye out for his cousins, the turkey vultures. They had better olifactory senses and could locate food quicker, so he would often use them as food finders. With his cohorts, he could quickly down a fairly large carcass with impunity. He had even been known, on occasion, to kill a young or defenseless prey when he was hungry enough. Today it wouldn't be necessary. The flock was feeling fine.

Kevin had to work a little harder at staying aloft than the turkey vulture due to his smaller wingspan. And those cousins could easily intimidate a single black vulture, but Kevin never hunted alone, and a turkey vulture was no match for a flock of black vultures. Kevin didn't mind the additional effort. He had a family to feed. His offspring were now flying on their own, but he and his mate would still feed them for up to eight months. In retrospect, some might have found it odd that Kevin and his mate hadn't made a nest, but it was the black vulture way. The pair, mated for life, would likely return to the same spot next year for another brood.

Humans tend to think of Kevin as ugly, but to Kevin he was just right. His featherless, dark head was perfect for sticking in carrion when feeding. His sharp, hooked beak could rend meat from bone without effort. His powerful claws and opposable hind toes were quite useful for holding the food down while he ate. And despite the human distaste for him, Kevin proved a magnificent flyer. His black body and wings were offset by the silvery underside and the white wingtips. With the right wind, Kevin could remain airborn for hours. And then there was his unique approach to keeping cool, called urohidrosis. Kevin would urinate on his legs to provide for evaporative cooling. Not too pleasant to humans, but very effective for Kevin. In addition, Kevin possessed an unusually keen memory for a bird. There are reports that black vultures have been known to befriend people who are kind to them, and to recognize and avoid people who are not, even at great distance. Yes, some found him ugly, but he was just right.

Patience. It is the hallmark of the vulture. Kevin was in no hurry. Find what to eat and wait. Why not? It was marvelous soaring way up there with friends. Flap, flap ... soar. Nothing like it in the world. With no voice box, Kevin wouldn't converse with his fellow flyers, but they still hung together like lifelong pals. Life could hardly be better. While other creatures felt the press of Man, Kevin and his kin were finding the roadkill, landfills, and slaughterhouses fine places to feast. Life was good for Kevin.

Of course, none of this ran through Kevin's mind as he soared high above the shoreline. Kevin was a creature of instinct. And nothing in Kevin's instincts prepared him for the massive, man-made rocket that shot skyward, colliding with him before he could avoid it. Poor Kevin. He would ever after be known as a bird strike on the space shuttle Discovery.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Ken Leaves Home

Okay, just for fun, a short story or two ...

The morning sun had not yet creased the sky, but Ken was awake ... and scared. This was the day. He knew it. There was no question, no turning back, no options. His parents were telling him to leave and he had no choice.

Restless with fears and concerns, Ken got up quietly, trying not to disturb his brother. It wasn't fair. His brother wasn't leaving today. They weren't kicking him out. Why was that? Truth be told, Ken had always been treated slightly better than his brother, so he wasn't at all clear why he was being evicted first. Ken sighed.

Well, no matter. He would have to face his fears. There was no room left for questions of fairness. It was his day to go and he would have to go. Ken sat and looked out at the dark horizon. Very soon the sun would rise, and very soon thereafter his time would come. What would it be like out there? Could he survive? Could he make it on his own? Where would he live? What would he do?

The questions continued in his head. He knew his parents wouldn't be helping him. Once he left the nest, it was over. They wouldn't help him with food or shelter or any of the other necessities. Oh, they might check in with him from time to time, but he knew how it would be. Sink or swim, those were his options, so to speak. And he didn't really think about how that seemed so cold. It was the way it had always been in his family. Once you're out, you're out. No going back. That was the history of his family for generations immemorial.

Ken thought about family. He would have to start his own. How would he go about doing that? He had never actually talked to a female other than his mother. How would he go about finding the right mate? Where would they live? He supposed that he'd start a family just as his parents had and that some day he would have children who he would, when the time was right, force to leave their home. That was the way it was. And just because he was concerned about it didn't mean it shouldn't be. Still, he was concerned.

The sun peeked over the distant mountains. Ken hadn't noticed the gathering glow, lost in his thoughts. The day was dawning. It wouldn't be long now. Dad would come to his room and he would be asked to leave. It would be any time now. He wouldn't be cruel about it, but he would be insistent. With minimal education and minimal instruction, he would be sent out on his own, forced to make his own way.

Ken took stock of himself. He should really be okay. He had amazingly good eyesight, which would lend themselves to good hunting skills. He instinctively knew where to look for food sources, so that would help. And if hunting was a matter of sitting and waiting, he had been practicing sitting and waiting all his life. He was energetic and capable. And he had been practicing, truth be told. He had no formal training, but he had watched his parents enough, and he really thought he knew what to do once he got out there. And from what he could see there was plenty of places for him to live. He'd likely get out of range of his parents, but beyond that it looked like an open world.

His father suddenly appeared on the scene, almost as if by magic. He stood behind Ken. He wasn't pushy, but there was no question. The sun was up enough now for the landscape to be clearly illuminated. It was time. And Ken suddenly realized that he was ready. There were no real fears. He was already well equipped. His only fear was that first step. Could he make it? Well, there was only one way to tell. Ken's dad departed again, flying to a nearby tree to watch. Ken flapped his wings several times and lifted off the edge of the nest, then descended down the cliff face in a controlled fall, landing somewhat awkwardly but safely on a tree. The fledgling hawk was heading out on his own.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Theology of Charles Finney

From Finney’s Systematic Theology

On a Christian who sins:

“Whenever he sins, he must, for the time being, cease to be holy. This is self-evident. Whenever he sins, he must be condemned; he must incur the penalty of the law of God...If it be said that the precept is still binding upon him, but that with respect to the Christian, the penalty is forever set aside, or abrogated, I reply, that to abrogate the penalty is to repeal the precept; for a precept without penalty is no law. It is only counsel or advice. The Christian, therefore, is justified no longer than he obeys, and must be condemned when he disobeys; or Antinomianism is true...In these respects, then, the sinning Christian and the unconverted sinner are upon precisely the same ground.”

On God’s demand for perfection:

“...full present obedience is a condition of justification. But again, to the question, can man be justified while sin remains in him? Surely he cannot, either upon legal or gospel principles, unless the law be repealed...But can he be pardoned and accepted, and justified, in the gospel sense, while sin, any degree of sin, remains in him? Certainly not.”

On the Reformation's formula "simultaneously justified and sinful":

"This error has slain more souls, I fear, than all the universalism that ever cursed the world. … Whenever a Christian sins he comes under condemnation, and must repent and do his first works, or be lost."

On Original Sin:

"anti-scriptural and nonsensical dogma"

On Atonement:

The first thing we must note about the atonement is that Christ could not have died for anyone else's sins than his own. His obedience to the law and his perfect righteousness were sufficient to save him, but could not legally be accepted on behalf of others.

Why did Christ die, if not for our Atonement?

"The atonement would present to creatures the highest possible motives to virtue. Example is the highest moral influence that can be exerted...If the benevolence manifested in the atonement does not subdue the selfishness of sinners, their case is hopeless."

On the substitutionary atonement:

"(The doctrine) assumes that the atonement was a literal payment of a debt, which we have seen does not consist with the nature of the atonement...It is true, that the atonement, of itself, does not secure the salvation of any one"

On the new birth as a gift:

"Regeneration consists in the sinner changing his ultimate choice, intention, preference; or in changing from selfishness to love or benevolence," (as moved by the moral influence of Christ's moving example). "Original or constitutional sinfulness, physical regeneration, and all their kindred and resulting dogmas, are alike subversive of the gospel, and repulsive to the human intelligence."

On Imputed Righteousness:

“The doctrine of an imputed righteousness, or that Christ's obedience to the law was accounted as our obedience, is founded on a most false and nonsensical assumption." After all, Christ's righteousness "could do no more than justify himself. It can never be imputed to us...It was naturally impossible, then, for him to obey in our behalf." This "representing of the atonement as the ground of the sinner's justification has been a sad occasion of stumbling to many.”

On Justification by Faith Alone:

"Present sanctification, in the sense of present full consecration to God, is another condition...of justification. Some theologians have made justification a condition of sanctification, instead of making sanctification a condition of justification. But this we shall see is an erroneous view of the subject."

On the Sovereignty of God:

"There is nothing in religion beyond the ordinary powers of nature. It consists entirely in the right exercise of the powers of nature. It is just that, and nothing else. When mankind becomes truly religious, they are not enabled to put forth exertions which they were unable before to put forth. They only exert powers which they had before, in a different way, and use them for the glory of God."


Thus, in Finney's theology, God is not sovereign, man is not a sinner by nature, the atonement is not a true payment for sin, justification by imputation is insulting to reason and morality, and the new birth is simply the effect of successful techniques. So ... why is Charles Finney held in such high regard in Evangelical circles? Why is Finney's approach the approach of the day? Finney originated the Altar Call. He believed that if we get people worked up enough, we could get them to respond. He is the father of many of today's "givens". Is he really a good choice for source material?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Mythical Christian

A recent Christian talk show addressed the question to a caller regarding whether or not salvation can be lost. He did it with grace and explained that his was a view, while others disagreed, but went on to explain that he was convinced that it could happen. It got me to thinking. (Hey! I think from time to time. Stop snickering over there.)

Perhaps the biggest single objection to the Eternal Security of the believer is the one that says, "If once you're saved you can never lose your salvation, people can go sin all they want." I actually know of one pastor who believes you can't lose your salvation, but will not teach his congregation this doctrine. "If I tell them that, they'll think they can sin with abandon." I want to address this very volatile fear.

This creature is a frightening one -- a Christian who can sin in comfort. It is a believer without action, a saved person without conviction. This creature ... is a myth.

James is very clear on the subject. Faith without works is dead (James 2:17). The human being always acts on what he believes to be true, and James says that merely stating you have faith is not proof of faith. The statement is this: It is not profession of faith that saves, but possession of faith. Saving faith, by definition, is accompanied by works.

John also clearly and concisely addresses this mythical beast, the Christian without conscience:

No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God (1 John 3:9).

Examine that for a moment. What are we talking about? One who is "born of God" ... a truly born-again person. John is not talking about any gray area here. He is referring to one who is "born of God". What does he claim? He cannot maintain a practice of sin. He cannot continue sinning with impunity. He may sin, but he cannot continue in it. Note that the word is "cannot". It is not an unlikely proposition. It is an impossible situation. It is not possible, according to John for a Christian to continue sinning in comfort. Thus my conclusion that such a person is a mythical animal.

Just as importantly is the reason John gives for the impossibility of such a beast. He cannot continue in sin "because His seed abides in him." Whose seed? God's seed. This is very important. The one who is truly born of God cannot sin with impunity. Why? It is not because he is a better person. It is not because he is stronger, more capable. Nor is it because he is afraid of losing his salvation. It is not superior spiritual insight or a more active conscience. It is God at work in the one who is born again.

We really need to drop this idea of the mythical Christian who sins with impunity. It isn't biblical. And since both James and John so clearly explain it cannot be, we shouldn't be factoring it into the discussion or consideration of Eternal Security.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Insanity of Tolerance

The current cry of our culture is for tolerance. We need religious tolerance, sexual tolerance, political tolerance, and racial tolerance. We need to do away with intolerance and accept each other’s differences without being judgmental or narrow-minded. The idea is rooted in the basic premises of equality and individuality; all men are equal, and each is his own person. Further, this form of tolerance is not merely “The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others.” It also includes something more, something akin to accepting the beliefs of others as valid. The opposite of tolerance, in this form, is hate. This tolerance is being taught in classrooms and touted as virtue. Those without this virtue are, obviously, bad people and need to be reconditioned or removed.

It takes only a moment, a self-statement, to recognize the root problem with this sort of tolerance. The self-statement would go something like this: “The one thing I can’t tolerate is intolerance.” Suddenly it becomes clear that this demand for tolerance is, in itself, intolerance. This is insanity: a demand for something, the existence of which negates its own existence. So let’s look a minute at what is at stake in the cry for tolerance.

There are two obvious examples I will use to illustrate the point. Let’s start with the obvious extreme of stupid intolerance. In this example, my favorite color is blue, and yours is red. I, however, being in power, am able to enforce my color scheme, and your red is outlawed. This is stupidity, intolerance taken to the inane. Color is clearly a matter of preference, without any roots in right or wrong, good or bad. The second example would be stupid tolerance. In this example, you’re a math teacher, and you have two students. One says, “2+2=4” and the second says, “2+2=5”. Tolerance, in its purest form, would dictate that you would have to allow both to be right. To exclude the second because he is “wrong” is “judgmental” and intolerant. Of course, truth is at stake in this case. To merely be tolerant of the second student would be to eliminate the truth that 2+2 isn’t 5. Not only is this student wrong, but to allow him to continue to think his view has equal validity would be a disservice to him and to those with whom he has contact.

What is at stake here, then, is truth. In matters of opinion, tolerance is necessary. To despise someone because their opinion differs is certainly despicable. People need to be taught to recognize differing opinions and be considerate of them. But what about matters of truth? Is it right or wise to be tolerant of that which is not true? Does tolerance mean that all views are to be considered valid merely because people hold them? Is not the question of truth a relevant question in matters of tolerance?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Difficulty of English

The English language is a difficult language. I sympathize with anyone who attempts to pick it up as a second language. It is imprecise and relative. It depends largely on your location and context. For instance, is a “bonnet” a hat a woman might wear or the hood of a car? Is “randy” a common first name or a coarse character? These would depend on whether the speaker was from England or America. Is “bad” a good thing or a bad thing? Is a “hit” a good thing (“The play was a hit.”) or a bad thing (“The ship took a direct hit.”)? It would depend on the context and speaker.

To me, nowhere is English more difficult than in signs. While they are intended to briefly explain, they tend to obscure.

Driving out of a parking lot, one might read “Right turn only”. This would be a good thing, since we wouldn’t want to make the wrong turn. Unfortunately, one might also read “No right turn”. The only possible course of action at this point would be to make the wrong turn.

Walking down the hallway one day I saw a sign that said, “Wet Paint”. It was very unclear what to make of it. Why would they want me to wet the paint? And with what? It appeared that someone had already done so, since the paint was currently wet. It was all very confusing. The text under the “Wet Paint” sign only made it more confusing. “Painted with Pride by the Maintenance Dept.” Really? It looked like paint to me, but they used pride. Oh, wait a minute. It was white! Painted with white pride? Oh, this was getting ugly!

A common sign is “Out of Order”. This one is too elusive to think about. I walked into the men’s restroom one day and saw an “Out of Order” sign hung on one of the urinals. Now, all the urinals looked identical, so I couldn’t imagine how someone could tell what order they should be in, let alone if one was in the wrong order. Further, if one was in the wrong order, wouldn’t a second have to be, also? Or was I to conclude that there is an overall order to these things, that somewhere else in the world another urinal was in the wrong place? And most puzzling, how did these things happen in the first place? Did vandals sneak in and move them? All too confusing for me to understand.

I haven’t yet figured out the sign found in some neighborhoods: “Caution: Slow Children”. If I were a parent in that neighborhood, I would be offended. Maybe my kids aren’t the brightest in the world, but that’s no reason to label them “slow”. And exactly what threat did they pose to have to caution folks about them?

Yes, it’s a tough language.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Thanks, Scott Adams, for a new word for my vocabulary. In one of his recent Dilbert cartoons, he used the word, "schadenfreude". I had to look it up.

The dictionary defines the word as "Pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others." It is a compound German word: schaden, meaning "damage" and freude, meaning "joy". It is always intended as a negative concept; we shouldn't take joy in other people's misfortunes.

But ... you know we do.

We delight in practical jokes. Shows like America's Funniest Videos and Jerry Springer are predicated on it. It seems to be a primary motivator in most people. I remember in Basic Training in the Air Force after weeks of humiliation and abuse hearing several of my flight members discussing how they hated this and couldn't wait to get out of Basic Training ... so they could come back as Instructors and torment others. Schadenfreude.

I wonder how much of our time is involved in schadenfreude. We certainly take joy when the bad guy loses. Maybe that's not so bad. But how many of us don't laugh at the Three Stooges as they pummel each other into stupidity? That's not so good.

What do you suppose motivates us to take joy in others' misfortune? I don't know, but I'm guessing it's not due to our higher character.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Sad Passing of a Friend

I like English. I know ... bizarre. But I have always liked it. So it is with a sad heart ...

I'm torn. How do I face this rising tide?

In my youth I was given an education that apparently isn't offered anymore. It's not that I'm brilliant. I'm not. It seems, however, that I was taught the English language and it simply isn't taught anymore.

We've all seen it coming - the demise of the language. It nibbled around the obvious places, the "weak members" of the herd, so to speak. How do you spell "misspell"? Sure, it's "I before E except after C" most of the time, but it likely is no surprise that "weird" is one of the exceptions. There have always been difficult words to spell, and they were the first to fall. The dictionary, then, started listing not what was supposed to be, but what was. They didn't define the language as much as explain it. So they started including "the norm" as well as "the right" ... which automatically made "the norm" "right". Word processors incorporated "spell checkers" (which in and of itself is bad grammar) which insisted on errors. "Judgement" (the correct spelling), for example, was judged incorrect in favor of "judgment" (the "normal" spelling).

One might think it is a matter of education, but working at a university, as I do, it doesn't seem to be any better. I heard a cheerleader the other day tell her friend, "We told them to bring it, and they brung it." A physics major confessed to his buddy "I shouldn'ta did it." And a new student came out of the bookstore to tell his parents, "I've boughten all the books I need." This isn't abnormal; it's the norm. You hear it a lot (which is now spelled as one word - "alot").

So after a while one begins to wonder. There are basically three possible types of responses. One is to "go with the flow". Give up. You're fighting a losing battle. No one really cares what you think "English" is. I mean, look at the dictionary. Doesn't that prove that it's a fluid concept? Don't fight it; join it. The other is the obvious response: I will fight for English to the death. Start campaigns. Write wrongs. (That's a pun, not a mistake.) Correct folks when they make these foolish mistakes. Defy spellcheckers even when they tell you that "judgement" is wrong. Too much work. I suspect I'll opt for the third type. I'll stick to my English, complain quietly about the others, but essentially do nothing at all about it. Isn't that, after all, the Christian thing to do?

Monday, August 07, 2006

God Is

There are some radical misconceptions on the character of God that we need to address. They are commonly brought up by those who don’t believe, but we Christians tend to fall into the same trap and end up at a loss to explain. While this may not provide answers for unbelievers, I’m hoping that addressing believers with this we can get past a few difficult hurdles.

There are many attributes of God that we know by the term “is”. We know, for instance, that “God is good” or that “God is love.” We know that “God is omniscient” and “God is omnipotent.” Unfortunately, we have assigned the human concept of attributes to God, and this is a mistake. Let me explain.

When we say “That guy is a loving husband,” we mean that he conforms to the external concept of love. That is, love exists outside of each of us, and we strive to attain to that standard. It is the same with other characteristics, like “good” and “just”. However, when we look at God, this isn’t an accurate representation. Scripture, for instance, says that “God is love.” The structure of the sentence should be a clue to the difference. It doesn’t say that “God is loving.” It says that God is love itself. What that means is that God Himself defines love. That is, whatever God does is love. God does not conform to an external “love”. He doesn’t attain to an outside standard of love. He is love. What is love? Whatever God does.

This is true in many areas. God is good. That is, whatever God does, by definition is good. Whether we understand or agree with it, God only does that which is good. There is no external standard of good with which to compare God’s actions. All that He does defines “good”. What is good? Whatever God does. God doesn’t strive to attain to an external rule of justice. What is justice? Whatever God does.

The question of “omnipotence” has been raised. What does that mean? It means that God possesses all power. It doesn’t mean that God can do anything at all. God cannot be illogical. (I don't mean "We can figure Him out." I mean He cannot contradict Himself.) God cannot sin or learn. God cannot make a rock too big for Him to pick up. He cannot do that which cannot be done. What it means is that God defines all power that exists. All power that exists comes from God. There is no power outside of God’s power. The same is true of “omniscience”. God knows everything. There is no knowledge outside of what God knows. All that we know comes from God’s storehouse of knowledge. To Him, there are no surprises. He is the possessor of all knowledge. He defines knowledge.

The difficulty occurs when we forget this. The accusation, for instance, is “how is it good when God did . . .?” The question is faulty. The simple fact is that because God did it, it was good. The problem, then, is in our perception, not in God’s actions.

Allow me a simple, human example. A good parent takes his child to the doctor for inoculations. The child doesn’t understand. All the kid knows is that it hurts. Did it make his life better? Not that he can tell. Was it “good”? Not that he can tell. But the parent knows that it was immensely good. It is the same with God. We cry and complain. In the case of David’s adultery, for instance, Scripture says, “The Lord struck the child.” (2 Sam. 12:15) “How is that ‘good’?”, we complain. “How is that ‘just’?” We are, however, applying an external sense of “good” and “just” to God, who, we forget, defines the terms. David understood this. When the child died, he told his servants, “Now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me." (2 Sam. 12:23) David understood that the child was in a better place, and he didn’t consider God unfair or unkind.

For our own benefit, we need to learn this truth. God is love. God is good. God is just. Whatever He does is, by definition, loving, good, and just. If we can settle that, many issues are settled.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Why Do Men Look?

Why do men look at women?

We all know the answer to the question. Men look at women for lustful purposes. We might label it “Oh, baby!” or “Hubba, hubba”. Likely 90% of the time, men are looking at women for some thought process along those lines. And I don't think a single, honest fellow would be able to honestly dispute it. And we all know it objectifies women to do so. It's bad - morally bad.

I find, on the other hand, that probably 99% of the time I am looking for completely different reasons. I have hundreds of thoughts that are going through my head when I look at different women. “How long do you suppose it took for her to get her hair to do that?” “When did underwear become outer wear?” “I would think that getting a tattoo there would be painful.” “How old is she really?” “Why would a woman who looks like that be with a guy that looks like that?” “I wonder if she knows how hard she looks in the face.” “If you don't want to be looked at as an object, why dress to cater to men's objectifying looks?” “Most guys wouldn't see it, but she has a really friendly face.” “Now that is a 'girl-next-door', innocent look.” “That can't be comfortable.” Seriously, when I look at a woman, the likelihood is that I am NOT thinking “Oh, baby” or anything like it.

Here's where the problem occurs. If it is true that 90% of the time men are looking at women as objects - “with lust in their hearts” - then I find myself in a bit of a predicament. Sure, I'm looking for a hundred other possible reasons, but what are THEY thinking when they see me looking? Well, of course they're thinking I'm looking for the same reason every other guy is looking. So when I'm thinking, “What does her T-shirt say?”, you KNOW she's thinking “Get your eyes up higher, you pervert.” And that's the most obvious one. I could be looking at her feet wondering, “How did they design those sandals to stay on?”, and she's thinking, “What, does he have some foot fetish?” So I end up extremely self-conscious. I have an innate curiosity, but I know that the standard perception is that guys only look at gals out of lust, so I'm self-conscious about looking. I have to keep my mental questions short so I can keep my look short. I have to think quickly so I don't get caught looking, despite the fact that I'm not looking for the reason they think I am. So it becomes a constant problem.

This same situation plays itself out in the Christian realm. Let's take a standard, well-known error in doctrine. A particular group teaches this erroneous doctrine along with a bundle of other heresies. Then Bob comes along and states the doctrine. “Oh,” we all think, “you must be a _____.” And Bob is labelled a heretic for the bundle of other heresies which, oh, by the way, Bob doesn't know or hold to. Now Bob is defending himself against onslaughts for things he doesn't even hold, and he's bewildered. Or take the example of the National Association of Evangelicals. Many are complaining that this organization has slipped into neo-evangelicalism, a slip from what is right in favor of ecumenicalism. So, Charles is part of this organization, except Charles is speaking solidly against ecumenicalism and is actually part of the organization to try to return it to orthodoxy rather than indulge in any heresy. It doesn't matter. If Charles is in the vicinity, Charles is a neo-evangelical, a heretic, possibly even damned. It doesn't matter that there could be hundreds of reasons that Charles is there; the organization is flawed and, therefore, so is Charles.

These things ought not be. Is everyone who is a Catholic familiar with Catholic doctrine? It's not any more likely than any given Protestant understanding what they were protesting. Yet “Catholic” is “heretical” to the Protestant, and, therefore, any given Catholic is a heretic. Calvinists find themselves under the gun quite often. If they respond to attacks on their beliefs, they are responding simply because they are “Calvinists”, not because they have reasons to do so. And, hey, look how bad John Calvin was. Never mind that most “Calvinists” have read very little of John Calvin.

It calls to mind the statement from God to Samuel: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Perhaps we should be more careful in our judgments of others.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Out of my Mind - Speak Up

Just a random thought today. Why don't we say what is on our minds?

We have recently moved to a brand new building at work, constructed with all the modern amenities. It's a bio-lab, first rate, on a university campus. I was talking the other day to one of my coworkers. He bikes to work. He was complaining about how horribly the building was constructed. You see, the bike parking is too far from the door and the showers are on the second floor. Clearly the building was not constructed with bike riders in mind.

I thought, "I see. The closest I can get to the building is a quarter mile away because parking is atrocious here. You park your bike next to the building, and that's too far. And you're upset because they didn't design a bio-lab around your need for a shower?" So I told him ... nothing. Not a thing. Nothing at all. I simply nodded and said nothing.

It's just an example, but I'm sure you all can relate. Stuff goes on in our brains, things to say to people, and we don't say it. Why? More often than I can count I've walked away kicking myself. "Why didn't I say something?" Why?

There are reasons, I'm sure. Sometimes it is concern for the other person. "What I have to say likely won't help them, so I will keep silent. More often I suspect it's concern for myself. "If I say that they won't like me." Or others around won't like me. Or I might expose myself as a kook. Or worse, a Christian.

James says, "Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger" (James 1:19). Good advice, James. But being slow to speak to avoid being disliked - as a self-protective measure - isn't what is in mind here. Sometimes we need to speak up, even if it costs us. Deciding when that is might be difficult. Failing to do so, however, is a failure to love.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Dismantling Good

Has anyone noticed the dismantling of “good”? It's sad, but interesting to watch if you're paying attention. It is in our terminology and our perceptions of our terminology. Let's look at a couple of examples.

We use the term “love” in a variety of ways. One of the striking modifications to our language is in the use of the phrase “make love”. In days gone by, this term had a radically different intent. The original intent was closer to the obvious intent. To “make love” in its original form, a suitor would pursue a bride-to-be. This entailed an “other-centeredness”. He would have to find that which pleased the woman he wished to marry as well as her family, particularly her father. He would woo her, hoping to engender in her feelings of love. He would court her, hoping to gain both her approval and her father's permission. It required a lessening of self and an emphasis on others, designed to stir in another feelings of love. Today? Well, of course today it means having sex. Indeed, there is nothing in today's usage that even requires actual love. It is merely a euphemism for sexual relations. There may be passion, but there is no reason to think it is love beyond the momentary. It is merely sex.

In the same way, “lovers” used to indicate two people who were in love. They were noticeable by their romantic gestures toward one another. They would hold hands or look at each other in a certain way. He would be a grand gentleman, and she would be a fine lady, regardless of their state in society. Arm in arm they'd stroll down the avenue, and everyone would know that they were “lovers” ... that they were in love. Today, it is a simple term requiring only that they are engaged in a sexual relationship. This one often implies more than mere sex; it may be a prolonged sexual relationship. But as “make love” today is “have sex”, “lovers” are those who are engaged in a sexual relationship.

Now, having dismantled the language like this, what do we find in our perception ... of sex? Interestingly, perhaps, the general perception has gone the way of the language. Whereas sexual relations were original limited to married couples, declining to “couples in love”, today it is simply people who engage in the act. It is not assumed in most circles that a person who has sex with another necessarily has any sense of commitment, any deep feelings, any romance, any love. Sex today is simply viewed as a biological necessity, something “fun” in which to engage. And we are bearing the brunt of this decline in the forms of teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and the like. All this is seen in the change of a phrase.

How about “marriage”? The original intent of marriage was two-fold: 1) companionship, and 2) procreation. We see the first in Gen. 2:18 - “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.’” That's one reason - “It is not good for man to be alone.” The other is in Gen. 1:28 - “God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. ’” Companionship and procreation comprise the primary functions in God's design for marriage. Look, now, at the evolution of thought. World War II came along. Men went to war, and women went to work. This was the first modern influx of women into the workplace. In the 60's, the daughters of these women decided they needed to be “free”, and the Women's Liberation movement was begun. At the same time, the cost of living increased, so these liberated women offered to help out by going to work. It wasn't enough to be a mother; they wanted careers as well. Eventually, with women pushing higher and higher into all areas of the workplace, the concept of “family” became optional. In days gone by, this would have been unthinkable. Women had children. Women who didn't have children were mocked, ridiculed, or sorely pitied. But with these changes a woman's career gained equal importance to having children. At the same time, “marriage” was being redefined. This, of course, had been a work in progress for some time. From its original footings as companionship and procreation, it moved to an expression of “love”. This concept is actually fairly recent in the history of Man. Marriages were (and still are in several societies) arranged by the families. This was perfectly suitable when one had to “make love” and when marriage was companionship and procreation. But in the evolution of the concept, it became more about “How I feel about him/her”. The mere suggestion that a marriage might be arranged for two people is considered today as actually immoral. Marriage is about love!

Of course, having moved from its original intent, we can see where we stand today. Having bought the notion that sex is a human necessity, that “love” and “sex” are not necessarily related, and that “marriage” is about “two people who love each other”, the notion of “gay marriage” is unavoidable. In previous times, it would be unthinkable simply because the definition of the purpose of marriage included an unmistakable procreative element to it. A marriage that had no children was valid, but pitied, not applauded nor even sought. So “gay marriage” would have been an oxymoron, since homosexual relationships produce no offspring. But to fight the concept today is nearly impossible because love doesn't mean what it used to, sex doesn't mean what it used to, and marriage doesn't mean what it used to.

By carefully and slowly dismantling the language and our perceptions, good has been carefully and slowly dismantled. It has become nearly impossible to defend good because the terms don't exist anymore, at least as they were originally intended, and the perceptions of those terms are lost to a completely foreign view. Our society is paying the price, and we will continue to pay because there is little defense left.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Were the Puritans Puritanical?

The popular view is that the Puritans were rigid ascetics who generally found all pleasure to be sinful. In fact, “puritanical” has come to mean “exaggeratedly proper”, or “morally rigorous”, and it is never a positive descriptive term. However, it seems that history does not support this view of the Puritans.

“The Puritans were typical people of their time in that they enjoyed the pleasures of the 17th century. They liked to drink. They liked to sit and talk. They liked to eat well when they had the food to eat. They enjoyed sex. They also liked to play games, like an early version of shuffleboard. Let's put it this way, they weren't ascetics, like monks.” Mary Beth Norton, In the Devil's Snare

The Puritans believed that sex was a gift and a duty from God, but only within the confines of marriage. This sounds “ho-hum” today, but it was radical in its day because the standard teaching was that sex was morally tainted and primarily only for reproduction. They were so serious about this, however, that one historic account has a man being excommunicated from the Church because for two years he denied his wife “conjugal fellowship”. The Puritans were in favor of sex in marriage.

Puritans have been misrepresented for quite some time now. Journalist H.L. Mencken is well known for his 1928 definition of “puritanism” as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” The media portrays them in drab clothing, but the fact was that they often wore colorful outfits. They are shown as teetotalers, while history says that they actually drank quite a bit of beer, rum, ale, and cider. (According to the Pilgrim Journal, the reason the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts rather than further south was, “We could not now take the time for further search or consideration, our victuals being much spent, especially our beer.”) They're blamed for burning witches in Salem, but as it turns out, the event wasn't particularly “Puritan” at all, but rather a result of a world-wide mindset of intolerance and superstition. According to Norton, “There wasn't anything particularly Puritan about the witchcraft trials.”

What is the truth about the Puritans? The “Puritan work ethic”, much maligned today, was actually a phenomenal approach. First, their view was “What can offer to the people in my community that they need?” Today's greed has moved to “What will people pay for that I can offer?”, but the original ethic was less selfish. Second, the work ethic insisted that no one had a “career” - they had a “vocation”. The notion of “full-time Christian work” was novel to them; instead, they believed that your job was a calling from God, a ministry. They believed that Christians actually worked for God and, as such, had much higher standards to meet as well as a much higher sense of importance. All Christians were doing “full-time Christian work”. At the bottom line, they believed work was good, divinely ordained, and necessary to the well-being of Man (as in “Idle hands are the devil's workshop”). It was this work ethic, the belief that work was materially, morally, and spiritually beneficial, that made America the productive nation that it was.

Theologically, the Puritans were known for their “fire and brimstone”. Most people have heard of Jonathan Edwards, and his “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” sermon is legendary. What is less well known is the extreme joy Edwards and others found in Christ. Edwards preached sermons such as “Safety, Fulness, and Sweet Refreshment to be Found in Christ”, “The Peace Which Christ Gives His True Followers”, and “Praise, One Of The Chief Employments Of Heaven”. Probably no group of Christians has spent more time emphasizing the work of the Holy Spirit and the necessity of spiritual experience, combining profound biblical insight with intense interest in the experiential work of the Holy Spirit.

Puritans were known for their charity. They believed America itself was “a city set on a hill”, a beacon of light that was obligated to be charitable to the needy both within and without. It was the Puritan belief that God ordered the universe that brought about modern science. It was the Puritan desire for religious freedom that made America the nation of religious freedom that it is.

Puritans were ahead of others in terms of women's rights. While in other places women were extremely limited in their rights, the Puritans allowed women to inherit property, run their husband's businesses, and vote on their minister. They allowed women political voting rights as early as 1630.

And as has been already mentioned, the Puritans were actually enthusiastic about sex. They certainly required sex to be within the confines of marriage, but it wasn't something to be endured or something that was a “necessary evil”. They encouraged, even demanded it of married couples. They viewed spinsters with pity and encouraged their daughters to marry young. They even allowed their daughters to share a bed with her suitor in a process known as “bundling”, where an unmarried, but “interested” couple could share a night of pillow talk with their clothes on. (How many modern-day parents would allow that?) There are even some historians that credit the concept of the modern “sex manual” to the early Puritan preachers who would actually preach explicit marital sex sermons.

And, of course, we all know that they established “Thanksgiving”. But what we don't know is that it wasn't an “event” for them, but a regular thing that they did. They regularly proclaimed days of thanks throughout the year when good things happened and days of prayer and fasting when bad things happened. Their purpose was to thank God whenever good things occurred, not make a single day of gratitude. So they were ahead of the curve there as well.

Puritans are portrayed as uptight, prudish, stick-in-the-mud, “have no fun” killjoys in the early days of America. While it is likely that there were a few of them like that, in fact, as a whole they were not. I think if we truly understand the Puritans without the evils that are inflicted on them by modern writers and the media, we might begin to see them in a truly different light. One might actually find that they were normal, perhaps even “too much fun” people.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Police Action ... or War?

Sometimes you find illustrations of truth in unintended places. Today, it dawned on me that Hollywood has inadvertently pointed to a truth about Americans that I'm sure they never intended.

In the movie, The Jerk, Steve Martin plays a likeable but painfully naive Navin Johnson who sets out from home to make his own way in the world. The humor in the movie revolves around his naivete. In one portion in the movie, Martin gets a job as a gas station attendant. Entirely at random, a madman decides he wants to kill someone, so he picks Martin out of a phonebook and sets out to kill him with a sniper rifle. The shooter isn't very good, and the first several rounds go through some cans of oil on display at the gas pumps. Martin runs inside the building to hide, assuming they're random shots, but the shooter's aim follows him into the building, striking oil cans inside the gas station window. Martin is unable to fathom that he would be the target, so he concludes, “It's the cans! Someone hates the oil cans!” And we all laugh because we know he is the target, not the cans.

Another movie has a similar scenario in it. In Fatal Instinct, a spoof of a whole gamut of movies (The title of the movie comes from two of the movies that are spoofed: Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct.), the main character played by Amand Assante is a cop by day and a lawyer by night. As one of the story lines plays through (a spoof of Cape Fear), Assante's legal assistant warns him that a client whose case he lost is getting out of prison. She tells him he needs to be careful because this guy has promised to kill him. Assante laughs it off. He is warned repeatedly, but makes some startling statements (which make them humorous).

One character tells Assante (playing Ned Ravine): “I'm very concerned about him, Mr.Ravine. He said you were a two-bit shyster... and he's going to rip your head off and use it for a bowling ball!”

Assante replies, “I'm sure the experience wasn't all negative. He probably made a lot of friends.”

To faxed death threats, Assante says, “He's just working through his anger, trying to find a constructive outlet. Trust me, I spent a lot of time with him when I was preparing his case. He's really a very sweet, sensitive human being.”

He assures his assistant, “He doesn't mean it.”

“But, he spit at you in court,” she says.

“He didn't spit at me. He spit at the whole legal system. I was just in his way.”

Both The Jerk and Fatal Instinct illustrate people painfully unaware that they are in imminent danger while they blithely carry on their everyday lives. They are faced with it. The facts are unavoidable. The conclusions are evident. The danger is real. Yet they continue as if it is not a problem and assume any anger on the part of the other party is actually directed somewhere else - certainly not at them. And, in their silly way, these two films illustrate America.

In November, 1979, a group of Iranian students seized the American Embassy - American soil - in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage. The American government seemed unable to handle the problem. An ill-fated rescue attempt crashed in the desert. The hostages were held for 444 days. And the war was on.

From then on, sporadic accounts of Americans being kidnapped and killed came out of the Middle East. Between 1982 and 1992, more than 30 westerners were kidnapped in Lebanon alone.

In April, 1983, a truck loaded with explosives was driven into the U.S. Embassy compound and exploded, killing 63 people. In October, 1983, another truck carrying over 2500 pounds of explosives was driven into the Marine Corps headquarters in Beirut and exploded, killing 241 American servicemen and wounding another 100. In December, 1983, another truck loaded with explosives rolled into the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait and killed 6, wounding another 80.

In September, 1984, another truck bomb was driven into another U.S. Embassy in Lebanon and detonated, killing 24 people.

In December, 1984, tactics widened. A Kuwaiti airliner was hijacked and flown to Tehran, where the hijackers demanded the release of the “Kuwait 17”, those responsible for the Kuwait bombing. The demand wasn't met, and the hijackers killed two Americans on board. In April, 1985, a restaurant popular with off-duty American military was bombed. In June, 1985, a TWA flight was hijacked and forced to land in Beirut. They, too, demanded the release of the “Kuwait 17” as well as 700 other Shiite Muslim prisoners. When these demands weren't met, a U.S. Navy diver on board was shot to death, his body dumped on the tarmac. In August, 1985, a VW loaded with explosives was driven into the main gate of Rhein-Main Air Force Base in Germany, killing 22. In October, 1985, four gunmen hijacked the cruise ship, Achille Lauro. They killed a 69-year-old disabled American tourist. April, 1986 - a popular spot for American military troops was bombed in West Berlin, killing one American. The U.S. retaliated with an air strike to one of Libya's president's residences. Two days later, the bodies of three American University of Beirut employees were discovered shot to death. In December, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over Scotland. Over 260 people died.

The war had moved from the Middle East to Europe. In 1993, it came to America itself. In January, 1993, two CIA agents were shot to death entering CIA headquarters in Virginia. In February, 1993, a group of terrorists drove a van full of explosives into the garage of the World Trade Center, killing 6 and wounding over 1000.

The attacks continued. In November, 1995, a car bomb in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, blew up at the U.S. military headquarters and killed 7 American service men and women. A truck bomb in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, destroyed a U.S. Air Force barracks, killing 19 and injuring more than 500. In Kenya and Tanzania, two U.S. embassies were attacked simultaneously in August, 1998, killing 12 Americans and killing and wounding literally thousands of Kenyans and Tanzanians. In October, 2000, a boat came alongside the U.S.S. Cole and exploded, killing 17 Navy sailors. And in September, 2001, four airliners were hijacked to be used to attack Washington D.C. and New York City with devastating results. Besides an unknown number of wounded, 3000 Americans lost their lives that day.

Today, most Americans view these as “crimes” and assume that “it's the oil cans” or “they're just getting it out of their system”. It's not a war, and it's not personal. It's not about us; it's our government they hate. And we begin to sound, for all the world, like the painfully naive Navin Johnson or the blithely foolish Ned Ravine who are both sure they aren't the targets.