Monthly Archives: February 2007

Losing weight and feeling guilty

Last year, due to the overwhelming costs of our health insurance plan, Rhiannon and I decided to join a Christian based health insurance program. Though technically not insurance, the program effectively fulfills the function of protecting against the disastrous costs of terminal disease and accidents that leave you on the hospital bed while your life savings dwindles to nothing. For most of my life, up until a few months ago, I had been slowly gaining weight while appearing thin on the outside. Unbeknownst to me, my cholesterol and triglycerides were rising too-and fast. I was told that if I didn’t lower my cholesterol, I’d be off the program.

To make the long story short. The program has a health specialist that has been calling me every week and keeping me accountable. I have to read a chapter in Dr. Fuhrman’s Eat to Live book every week and then talk to a woman that calls me every Wednesday morning at 11:00 a.m. to ask me how I did the previous week. In case you’d like to know. I discovered that the secret to the greatest health is to eat as much whole fruits and vegetables (not supplements) and beans as possible and eat less of everything else. Although in no ways have I become a vegetarian, I’ve been doing that for the past few weeks and have lost 8 pounds, pounds that I had gained by stuffing my face with meat in Brazil and letting myself go while I was in Orlando last year. I’m losing weight and feeling great and I suspect that my cholesterol has been lowered too.

So why do I feel guilty? Part of the reason is because I know that while I am trimming my waistline here in the U.S. there are numerous missionaries around the world, especially in Africa who can not eat the leafy greens that make us so healthy because the salad is often contaminated. I also know that the awful white rice that is so bad for the body (because it’s processed) is about all that people eat in Guinea Bissau. A bowl of rice a day. That’s it. And what about my Pakistani pastor friend who spends all day visiting with people in their homes and praying for their needs? Each and every visit he is offered Pepsi and to refuse it would be a serious insult to the hosts. (We have a joke about being a victim of Pakistani hospitality, but it’s actually quite serious)

A few years back, I was in Cambodia visiting a missionary friend who made a profound statement. He said that we Americans have a self-preservation mentality. In other words, we think that prolonging our lives is a virtue. If this is true, then what about those who put themselves in unhealthy living conditions for the sake of extending the gospel? Are they living unhealthy lives?

Lastly, there are other cultures who are not as weight obscessed as we are. In the Cook Islands, having a big belly is a blessing, not a curse. I’m sure they have diabetes and heart disease there too, but people don’t seem to care that their diet is shortening their lives. To them, value is in relationships.

To throw another curve ball in this discussion, the Bible lists gluttony as a sin-something that statisticallly speaking Americans are the worst offendors. So which is worse? Gluttony or self-obscession? I don’t reallly know. My current answer is to eat plants during the week and then pig out during the weekends. I have to soothe my conscience somehow.

Jesus family tomb discovered?

By now you have probably heard of the “recent” discovery of an ossuary in a suburb outside of Jerusalem containing bones of the holy royal family. Actually this is not a new discovery at all, archaeologists have known about the tomb for years, but never saw anything significant because of the comonness of the names Jesus Mary and Joseph among Jews of the first century.

If you haven’t researched this one out, here are 10 reasons why the claims in the upcoming Discovery documentary are bogus.

What I find interesting in this whole discussion is that even liberal scholars can no longer dispute the claim that the family tomb of Joseph of Arimethea in which Jesus was buried (traditionally the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) was empty on the third day. Neither can they dispute the early apostle’s claims to have seen Jesus alive after the crucifixion. Furthermore, as in times past, liberal scholars often claim that what became Orthodox Christianity (the belief in the divinity and resurrection of Jesus) did not evolve until centuries after His death. Now, even this idea most scholars have conceded is false due to the overwhelming evidence of the rapid growth of Christianity in the first century based on the belief in the resurrection.

It seems now the only credible way to undermine the core tenant of Christianity is to presume the body was stolen. This idea has serious problems though. For one, the tomb was heavily guarded. Secondly, the disciples would have had no reason to steal the body and then proclaim to the world a risen Jesus if they knew the claims to be false. Each and every witness to the resurrection paid a horrible price (the majority of them were crucified) for their claims. No one dies for something they know to be false. Given the growth of Christianity during the first century and the intense persecution that followed, wouldn’t someone from the Roman government or the Jewish authorities or, better yet, from the family of Jesus wanted to produce the body to stop the unnecessary threat to peace?

Lastly, if there really was a family tomb of Jesus, don’t you think that James, the brother of Jesus would have known about it? The fact that James was the leader of the Jerusalem church, a group of people who firmly believed in the resurrection of Jesus, does a lot to discredit this claim.

When the dust settles on this story, the same truth will remain. Jesus is risen!

Jim Carrey and Jesus

Now that I have been blogging a while, I feel it is time to reveal one of my deepest, darkest secrets. Are you ready? It’s a shocker. I wake up very morning to Quaker Oatmeal (I’m trying to lower my cholesterol) and Al, Matt, and Meredith from the Today Show. There now. That wasn’t so difficult. Now that I got that off my chest and you know my morning routine, which includes unloading spiritual wisdom on my worldwide readership of 4 or 5 (thank you Pete and Toby for sticking in there with me, when this blog wins a Pulitzer, you’ll be glad you did), I may now proceed to the point of this post.

On the Today Show, Meredith was interviewing Jim Carrey about his new movie 23. As always, Jim Carrey was hilarious, just as I expected him to be. What interested me was when he shared about how before he made it big in Hollywood, he actually walked to the Hollywood mountain and wrote himself a check for $10 million dollars. This, of course, was before he was famous and probably only had a few dollars in his checking account. Five years later, he received his first 10 million dollar check.

Now let’s look at the words of Jesus and see if we can find any similariies.

For assuredly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.

Very interesting indeed.

Building Bridges

One of the most common criticisms against missionaries is that they worsen the problem of Muslim hostility towards the West. Here is a story that challenges that notion.

ARABIAN PENINSULA – AMAZING OPPORTUNITY TO SHARE
from: PTAP (http://www.pray-ap.info) (Praying Through the Arabian
Peninsula) – Weekly Update – December 2006

A couple of [months] ago I went to what I can only describe as
a Muslim home group. The leader then introduced the guest sheikh
and the topic for the evening: How can we find unity again after
the recent political event in our country? The religious sheikh
spoke for about 20 minutes about four paths to unity: a pure
heart, drawing near to God, forgiving others, and spending time
with each other. I was astonished!

The home group leader ended by thanking the host and thanking
everyone for coming. Then he introduced me! “We’re especially
glad that ‘Brendan’ could be here tonight. Of course, he’s not
a Muslim. But he follows Jesus, and his Arabic is very good.
Brendan, is there anything you’d like to say to us?”

I couldn’t believe it. I said, “…For me, what gives me the
power to forgive others is when I remember that God has forgiven
me. When I consider how much God has forgiven me, it’s usually
easier for me to forgive others…” But just about everyone came
up to me afterwards and thanked me for being there and for what
I “spoke from my heart.” Pray for this group of men, please,
as I spend Sunday nights with them.

They’ll still be eating

I was hoping to write a humorous post today, but the strange thing is, I can’t really think of anything both humorous and enlightening (except for the fact that my trash truck woes continue to this day, you should have seen me jump out of bed this morning and running to the end of my driveway in my pajamas…on second thought…maybe you shouldn’t have..but I digress)

If you look at the comments on my progress verses apocalypse post, you’ll see an interesting essay on how our technological society causes us to over-think and also be over-entertained. The point was made that when we are not thinking or being entertained, we get depressed. The point of the comment was that technology eventually leads to emotional bankrupcy.

I have a hard time arguing with the thesis of the comment, I’m just not sure what should be done about it. Henry David Thoreau theorized that modern man is overworked and is much better off leading lives of quiet contemplation in closer harmony with nature. While that idea might sound a bit far-fetched to us today, we should keep in mind that while Thoreau was picking lilies at Walden Pond, he was developping concepts that eventually led to writing an essay called civil disobedience, an essay that influenced both Ghandi and Martin Luther King and laid the groundwork for peaceful human rights movements around the world.

I think any idea can be taken to the extreme, however, even this one. The Cambodian dictator Pol Pot developed the idea that modernization is evil and wanted to transform Cambodia into a strictly agrarian society. The result was a movement that slaughtered over two million people and set the country’s economy back decades.

One last thought. I heard of a missionary to a native tribe in Mexico who was describing the agrarian lifestyle of the people he was serving. When asked how the people could live in such substandard conditions, he replied. Maybe their lifestyle isn’t so bad after all. You Americans are storing food for Y2K, but if the entire world economy collapses, they’ll still be eating.

Progress or apocalypse?

The can that I am about to pry open is a gigantic one, far greater than what will meet the eye at first. The implications deal directly with the belief system of millions of people in our nation and around the world, in particular as it relates to the Christian faith. Read carefully and think about it for a while before jumping to quick conclusions.

If we look at America today, it seems that we have two very different Christianities. One version of Christianity believes in societal progress and the other does not. Just to be clear, those Christians who believe in human progress are usually called Catholics, liberals, postmillenialists, kingdom-now, sometimes they are even called humanists. One of the newest forms of this line of thinking is the Emergent Church movement (a highly controversial movement within evangelicalism at the moment). The bottom line is that there are Christians who believe that Jesus came to the world to introduce a set of values (often called kingdom values) to institute a process of change that will eventually overthrow the works of darkness and restore creation to its original intent.

Those who think this way have good reason to think this way. After all, it was Jesus who went about preaching “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Since the Apocalypse did not happen in the first century A.D. (at least for the entire world) it is reasonable to say that Jesus was instituting God’s reign of overthrowing evil by overthrowing evil in the hearts of men. Jesus also saw His mission in terms of Isaiah 61, which was (and is) to “set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Isaiah also prophesied concerning Jesus, “of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.” This certainly speaks of linear progression. I know of very few Christian scholars who would not say that Christ’s inauguration as king did not begin with Pentecost. Lastly, consider what the Apostle John said in his epistle, “because the true light is shining and the darkness is passing away.” Again, this speaks of progress. It would be very strange for me as a Christian to believe that Jesus would take the time to give the world the Sermon on the Mount if He didn’t believe it would have an impact on society when actually lived out. I call this dimension of Christianity the kingdom dimension.

The second group of Christians in America and around the world are those who hold to an apocalyptic view of Christianity. They say that this world is going to be destroyed (in a catastrophic way in fact) so the best that we can hope for is to rescue people from this present evil age by getting as many people as possible to confess Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Those who think this way also have good reasons to think this way. The Apostle Peter talks about the earth being destroyed by fire. The Apostle Paul said of Jesus, “who gave Himself for our sins that He might deliver us from this present evil age.” Even the most liberal interpretation of the Book of Revelation can hardly look over the obvious teaching that the end of this present age will not be a picnic for planet earth. To lend even greater credibility to this idea, despite those who say this worldview leads to trashing the environment and a shirking of social responsibility, this view also is in agreement with science. The law of entropy intitiated at the Big Bang guarantees that “the form of this world is passing away” just as the Scriptures teach.

So who is right? The answer is both. To hold a kingdom view of Christianity is to believe that by following the teachings of Jesus, one can make a real and tangible difference in the world in which we live. Holding an apocalyptic view keeps us from believing that mankind is capable of creating a utopia without God’s direct intervention (as many socio-political movements have painfully discovered throughout history). As long as we are on this side of eternity, the wheats and the tares will grow side by side until God intervenes and throws the tares in the fire. In the end, only the wheat will endure. While not forgetting that we need to anticipate His coming, let’s occupy until He comes.

Beginning with I can’t

Thousands of books are written every year and millions of dollars are spent on success seminars for the expressed purpose of telling people to believe the two magic words “I can.” I find it rather interesting that Christianity actually begins with the words “I can’t.”

Christianity has very little to say to people who don’t see living a moral life as a value to strive for. It has even less to say to those who believe they are already living a moral life. It is only when one has made a genuine effort and failed every time that the Christian faith steps in. For it is when we say “I can’t” that we come to realize that He can.

The sooner we stop trying to earn brownie points with God, the better. As I was reading 1 Corinthians chapter one last night, I heard the voice of the Spirit inside my heart say, “Aaron, you have nothing to boast about.”

Sobering, but true.

Red head beer drinking evangelist

Evangelist. The very word conjures up images of men with slicked back hair fleecing the ignorant masses or, if you have a more positive view, the ultra spiritual giant pleading with the masses of the world to turn from their sins and trust in Christ. The word probably doesn’t bring to mind jobless beer drinking Vietnam vets, but that is exactly what my wife and I found one day as we were minding our own business taking a leisurely walk in Arnold Park.

It was a nice summer evening and my wife and I were enjoying the fresh air when we noticed a man throwing a stick to two big playful dogs who were having the time of their lives. As the dogs came near us, we began to pet them and, without intending to start a conversation, we found ourselves unable to walk away from the owner who just wanted someone to talk to. Without us asking, he began to tell us of his love for dogs and how one of the dogs he took in a week earlier because he had been abused and abandoned. He then began to tell us about his days in the Vietnam war and how much he despised the U.S. government.

Without necessarily sharing his disdain for my country, my mind immediately went back to the week I had spent in Vietnam during my Bible School days and the museums that showed me the awful things that both the Vietnamese people and the Americans soldiers suffered during the war. Given that I assumed that he must have experienced some terrible things that I couldn’t even imagine, I decided to cut him some slack as he continued with his story.

The man proceeded to tell us how he had been kicked out of more than a few churches, how he had a bit of an alcohol problem (though he was not drunk at the time), how he had a very difficult time relating to people, and, lastly, just how much he loved his dogs. Judging from the dogs themselves it was obvious that they were well cared for, better than most dogs I know at least. I sensed a profound affection for these two K-9s that at the very least matched a good parent with human children. He proceeded to tell us that he believed that, although he couldn’t relate well to people, that God had given him these dogs so that he could care for them and protect them. In essence, he said that this was his ministry.

As we stood there listening to his story, we could tell that he was wanting to say something, but was struggling for the words. Finally, he worked up the courage to ask me, “If you died tomorrow, do you know where you would go?” I had a choice at that moment. I could have said, “Why yes, as a matter of fact I do. Not only am I a Christian, but I am also a missionary to the nations” , but I did not. I knew that it took a lot of courage for this man to ask me that question, probably more courage than for me to stand on a platform and deliver a gospel sermon.

The man proceeded to apologize for not being a very good witness. As I looked at the two beautiful dogs staring back at their master in playful anticipation, dogs that had been abused, abandoned, and wihtout hope in this sometimes cruel world, I thanked him for taking the time out to talk to me.

It’s been several months since that summer evening and I still can’t get the man out of my mind. I may win millions to Christ or I may only reach a few. Perhaps, in the end, I have a feeling that’s not what really matters. What matters is in the end is what I have done with what God has given me. This man, although he had very little to give, gave all that he had. As I walked away, I realized that my Father in heaven was teaching me, the aspiring world evangelist a valuable lesson that day through this red head beer drinking evangelist. God help me if I ever forget. Man looks at the outward appearance. God looks at the heart.

Budget cuts for aids babies

This e-mail comes from Joe Carter of Evangelical Outpost. Make sure to contact your congressman about this!

Don’t like to pitch stories to bloggers, but this is an issue that I think deserves our attention. My sources say that the funding of this program–which funds HIV testing for infants to prevent HIV related infections–was blocked by low-level staffers from the CDC. Why? Who knows? But all too often this is “how things get done” in D.C. Some unelected staffer sneaks in wording that circumvents the will of both the American people and our representatives.

http://www.frcblog.com/2007/02/congress_blocks_funding_of_bab.html
Congress Blocks Funding of “Baby AIDS” Program

Every year thousands of babies, predominately from poor African-American families, are born at risk of developing HIV. Many of these children develop HIV related infections that could have easily been prevented by prenatal testing and treatment. States that have implemented HIV testing for infants have seen their infections rates drop dramatically. Such success even inspired Congress to pass the Ryan White Early Diagnosis Grant Program. The program authorized $30 million in funding to states with infant HIV testing in order to ensure that these vulnerable children are protected.

The program was created just two months ago yet someone has already included language in the appropriations bill to prohibit funding for the “Baby Aids” program. Section 20613(b) of H.J.Res. 20 states:

(b) None of the funds appropriated by this division may be used to: (1) implement section 2625 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 300ff-33; relating to the Ryan White early diagnosis grant program)…

This provision does not save any money but simply prohibits funds to help identify these toddlers. In fact, the funding was already included in President Bush’s FY08 budget request. So why would anyone insert this language into the bill?

Earlier this week, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) attempted to add an amendment to restore the funding. Unfortunately, Democratic Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) never allowed the amendment to be included before the bill reached the Senate floor for a vote.

One would think that protecting sick babies is an issue that both Democrats and Republicans would fully endorse. So who inserted this language? And why wasn’t Sen. Coburn’s amendment added? Every American who cares about children should be asking that question – and demanding that Congress give us an answer.

For or against?

Here is an interesting article that sums up a lot of what I have been saying over the past year. I think it will make for some interesting discussion.

HELP, I’M A VICTIM OF IDENTITY THEFT
from: Shane Bennett , Initiative360
(http://www.takeitglobal.org)

Identity theft. DUM duh dum DUM. It’s the scary crime du jour.
Having not been a victim of identity theft, I probably overly
downplay its significance. (Similarly, I had to put on a jacket
this morning, therefore global warming is a myth.) But I do suspect
the Church, at least in the US – at least the evangelical Church
in the US – may have suffered identity theft on a grand scale.
We seem to be “the Church that is against stuff.” We are defined
by what we oppose. Try this: Ask someone you don’t know well
to list the things that Christians are in favor of and the things
that they’re against. I’ll bet you your subscription price to
Missions Catalyst that the second list is twice as long as the
first. (Either way, if the person gives you a combined list with
over five items, take them for a coffee and a conversation. It
might be enlightening.)

A quick ramble through the gospels seems to indicate that Jesus
was for a lot more than he was against. Consider the early part
of Mark’s account. Jesus is for (among other things): announcing
the kingdom, praying, casting out demons, healing mothers-in-
law, forgiving sins, and hanging out with both stinky people
(fishermen and lepers) and nice smelling ones (Pharisees and
prostitutes).

At least as long as I can remember, we’ve had a long list of
things we are against and things we don’t do: We don’t play cards,
we don’t dance, we don’t listen to music with a “rock and roll
beat,” we don’t drink, smoke, chew, or go with girls who do.
Lately we’ve been against abortion, evolution, stem cell research,
gay people, and both liberal politics and politicians. This is
not to say that there is nothing we should be against. For instance,
I’m solidly against abortion. The point is that we’ve been framed,
rightly or wrongly, as “the people who are against stuff.”

What would it be like if we were known for what we were for?
It would be pretty cool. What would you like Christians to be
known for? Here’s my abbreviated list: Christians laugh and sing,
kiss their wives, work hard, give fun gifts, and keep standing
through disappointment and failure. They listen, throw decent
parties, and tell interesting stories. They always seem to be
making friends.

Assuming you are reading the Missions Catalyst because you’re
into missions, and considering anyone who’s into missions part
of my tribe, can I ask you a favor? We, of all people, should
be Christians who are for, rather than against. We are for the
growth of God’s kingdom, in which he is known, loved, and followed.
We are for churches being all they can be, as well as the people
who make them up. And we are for peoples and cultures becoming
all God has in mind for them, living the best possible lives
under his loving authority. So here’s the favor: In the coming
months join me in asking God and looking around for ways to reframe
the argument. Let’s lead the way (If I can be that presumptuous)
in returning to a Church that is for God’s good purposes over
and above one that is against the corruption of evil. If you
need a shallow place to step in, how about this Friday inviting
over some international students to play cards.

Thanks to John Smulo (http://www.snipurl.com/16xhv) for sparking
these thoughts.

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