Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Four Lethal Misbeliefs that Minimize the Impact of Believers in the Workplace

Here is strong medicine from evangelist and missions strategist Ed Silvoso. These commonly held beliefs are like cold molasses around the feet of Christians who would do the work of the Kingdom in the marketplace:
  1. There is a God-ordained division between clergy and laity
  2. The Church is called to operate primarily inside a building often referred to as the temple.
  3. People involved in business cannot be as spiritual as those serving in traditional Church ministry.
  4. The primary role of marketplace Christians is to make money to support the vision of those "in ministry."
(From Ed Silvoso, Annointed for Business quoted in C. Peter Wagner, Changing Church)

How much have these non-Biblical attitudes cost in the growth of the Kingdom of God? I believe they have cost plenty.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Muslim Study in Anchorage Welcomed, but Questioned

An article in the Sunday (7 October 2007) Anchorage Daily News covered a project designed to educate Alaskans about Muslims. After reading it, I couldn't help myself. I wrote a letter to the editor. Following is an expanded version with hyperlinks.

I welcome the Alaska Pacific University project designed to help Alaskans understand Muslims. It is easy to think of these wonderful people as bloodthirsty jihadis, and that would be wrong.

Nevertheless, in the “puncturing of myths” it is important that new ones not be perpetuated. The article suggested the project was important “So that [people] don't go around thinking Muslims worship another god.”

The reality is that Muslims DO “worship another god”. Even a casual comparison of the Qur’an with the scriptures of Judaism and Christianity shows great differences between Allah and YHWH (Jehovah) / Jesus. Just because Allah means “god” in Arabic does not mean that Muslims worship the God of Jews and Christians.

The project did not inspire me with it’s accuracy in another area as well: “Westerners have a long history of prejudice, suspicion and fear of Islam going back thousands of years.” Islam is only 14 centuries old, not thousands. There are reasonable grounds for suspicion and fear of Islam given the bloody conquest of Christian North Africa and nearly constant and very bloody jihad against Christian Europe for hundreds of years following that.

Be that as it may, it is good that we learn to understand Muslims and see them as they really are today. I only hope that the material presented is more accurate than that portrayed in the article.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Muslims are captives

I had a revelation last night about Muslims. It was, simply, that Muslims are captives.

In the lands of Islam they are held captive by political, social and physical systems. Many would become followers of Jesus if they were allowed religious freedom. Just as in the USA, others would become secular given the freedom to do so.

But in the lands of Islam, religious conviction is enforced. Conversion to other religions is punished at the least by social ostracism, and at the most by physical torture or death.

In the lands that Islam seeks to bring under submission, including our own, there may be statutory religious freedom, but for those in Muslim families, rigid social and family ties make conversion difficult.

As I have spoken to Christians who have worked in Islamic countries, it has been very clear in each case that many Muslims would convert if they could do so without losing their family or their lives.

I think that we in the West do not clearly understand these control systems. We see the world through the lens of our freedoms to observe whatever religion we choose....or no religion. While there are certainly social control systems at work in the west, they are weak by comparison.

The effect of this revelation for me has been two-fold. First, I have prayed for a love of Muslims that overpowers my anger over the acts of a few of them. This revelation has helped me quite a bit toward that love. Second, I see more clearly than ever that we must quit treating Muslims as a monolithic block. It is only a few that seek to impose Islam by the sword. Against them we must be implacable foes, but for the majority, love and respect should be the attitude of our hearts.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Slowing and Reversing Global Warming

I have stood at a distance from the man-is-making-the-earth-warm debate because I am still unconvinced one way or another. Just because "most scientists" believe it to be the case doesn't impress me. We humans engage in group-think all the time. The pressure to be PC (right or left) on this issue is immense.

What I am convinced about is that we have been massively extracting carbon compounds from the earth's crust and converting them to gases that are now in the air and oceans and that IS causing demonstrably negative chemical changes in ocean fauna and flora.

According to a Compass article in today's Anchorage Daily News Alaska's US Senators Lisa Murkowski and Ted Stevens are co-sponsoring the Low Carbon Economy Act designed to approach the problem of reducing carbon emissions in another way. Here is how the act would work:
"The Act creates a cap-and-trade program for U.S. GHG emissions that is modeled on the successful Acid Rain Program. By setting an annual target and allowing firms to buy, sell, and trade credits to achieve the target, the program is designed to elicit the most cost-effective reductions across the economy. The target is set to avoid harm to the economy and promote a gradual but decisive transition to new, lower-carbon technologies."
I haven't studied this in any detail, so I cannot offer any reasonable opinion on it. However, it seems significant that these two conservative Alaska leaders are not only supporting the act, but co-sponsoring it.

Murkowski and Stevens in their Compass article admit that it's going to cost us:
"Alaska's Institute for Social and Economic Research estimates the measure will cost a typical Anchorage household about $173 more for energy in 2030. This is a significant sum for Alaskans, who already pay the highest energy costs in the nation. But it pales in comparison to the potential costs of climate change. A recent ISER study pegs those at more than $6 billion by 2030 -- nearly $9,000 per resident -- just for government infrastructure in Alaska. When it comes to climate change, an ounce of prevention may be worth far more than a pound of cure."
Taxes are probably not a very palatable approach, as demonstrated in the reaction to that suggestion in this forum. The effect of the proposed legislation will be the same in that it would cost us all something, but this upstream approach may be an easier pill to swallow than taxes.

However we do it, we must begin taking some action to put that carbon back in the crust. If we don't our children will pay the price.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Testimony Signed in Blood

It has become fashionable in the West to deny the deity of Jesus. Many say that Jesus was "a good man", but draw the line at saying that He was the Son of God.

The first disciples of Jesus, on the other hand, attested to His deity with their lives. All but one were martyred confessing faith that Jesus is the Son of God. One was crucified upside down, another on an X, another dragged by horses through Alexandria, another stabbed. Others were beaten to death, stoned, shot with arrows or beheaded. Only one died peacefully.

Men do not give their lives for something they known to be untrue. The disciples knew it to be true, and they "signed their testimony in blood," as Alvin Schmidt put it.

Surely there was a time when His disciples must have wondered. When He was arrested and crucified, the remaining 11 must have been terrified. The New Testament records that "everyone deserted him and fled" and that the disciples locked their doors when they met "for fear of the Jews."

What had happened to the miracles and the Kingdom that Jesus was proclaiming, they must have wondered. But something happened to change their terror into faith that sustained them even to the point of death.

That something was that they met the resurrected Christ.

It is possible even today to meet this same Jesus that the disciples believed in so strongly that they were willing to die for. If we repent of our sins, and ask Him into our lives, He will come. He will speak to us, comfort us, heal us, lead us.

He has for me, and He will for you.

Monday, July 30, 2007

A Fishing Trip to Remember

Captain Mark on a beautiful Prince William Sound dayI went on an amazing fishing trip over the weekend. Every fishing trip has some delights of its own, but this one was unusually interesting.

We went to the Coghill River, which empties into College Fjord about 32 miles NE of Whittier in Prince William Sound (PWS). At the mouth were loitering a large number of red salmon. Spawning salmon spend some time at the river mouths acclimating to the change from salt to freshwater.

We weren't there at the peak of salmon return to this particular river. Had we been there would have been thousands 0f fish rather than mere hundreds.

But as it was there were plenty of fish, and all the boats nearby were catching fish throughout the day.

Katie's boyfriend Steve boats another sockeyeAt first we didn't quite know how to catch them, but after a few hours, we started seeing how they were moving around the little bay. Schools of them were traversing the bottom (the sonar told us that) and the top (we could see their wakes and fins). I wonder if the ones at the bottom were the least freshwater tolerant and the ones at the top the most tolerant. Freshwater floats on top of the saltwater.

What we eventually figured out to do was watch for the schools of salmon, slowly motor over toward them and cast into them. Sometimes they would take the bait, but other times the large treble hook would just snag the fish (which is legal in PWS saltwater).

What made the trip so interesting was the behavior of the fish as they swam around the top of the bay. Sometimes we would see groups of them swimming by the boat. The beauty of the day and the lack of wind was another real plus. Prince William Sound is a delight on days like this!

We brought 18 fish home -- a real delight for the salmon eaters in our household!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Al Qaeda Gaming the 2008 Presidential Elections?

I have been speculating how Al-Qaeda might be gaming the upcoming USA Presidential election. Here's how I got to this point.

The purposes of Al-Qaeda apparently are "to establish Islamist states throughout the world, overthrow ‘un-Islamic regimes’, expel US soldiers and Western influence from the Gulf, and capture Jerusalem as a Muslim city," according to a Wikipedia article, quoting the US Defense Department.

Getting US soldiers out of Gulf states cannot be done militarily because of superior might of allied arms. Al Qaeda's only real option is to wear us down so that WE bring our troops home. I suspect at least a two-pronged strategy: first, to kill and maim as many allied troops and innocents in Iraq as possible, and second, to minimize terrorist attacks in the USA. All to the good if it looks as if they are still trying to hurt us in our homeland using second string terrorist cells. But surely they know that another 9/11-type attack would kindle American fury, and seriously set back their aims of expelling the infidels from what they consider to be the lands of Islam.

If this theory is correct, to get the western allies out of the Gulf, Al Qaeda will tune its behaviors in the Gulf and in the USA to maximize the chances of electing an anti-war president. This is the unseen hand I am speculating about. Al Qaeda has shown itself adept in the use of media, and their strategists must be just as carefully tracking the USA election as they are events in Anbar province in Iraq.

I fear that once the allies have gone home, Al Qaeda will turn to the next items on its agenda. Just as before the allies went into Afghanistan and Iraq, that will include attacks here at home, and stepped up terror attacks in Israel and Europe. I fear we will see attacks that make 9/11 look like small change in the jihad.

Electing an "anti war" President, of whatever party, could be just what Al Qaeda wants to advance its agenda.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

South Anchorage Murder Signals Need for Stronger Deterrence

A vicious Sunday night murder in South Anchorage should telegraph Alaskans that stronger deterrent is needed in our framework of laws. A capital punishment statute followed up by swift executions of the guilty would send a strong signal to those who would end the lives of others: murder someone and you will surely die for your crime.

A dozen studies since 2001 have shown again the obvious: capital punishment deters. In three separate reviews of social data, investigators estimated between three and 18 lives would be saved per execution of the guilty. Swift justice amplifies the signal, the studies showed.

It is clear to me that Alaska law worries too much about the guilty, and by our failure to deal decisively with sociopaths we expose the innocent to slaughter, just as happened on Sunday. Legislators: I call on you to seriously consider this issue and to enact a strong and just capital punishment statute to protect the innocent.

Monday, June 11, 2007

New Studies: Death Penalty Deters 3-18 Homicides Per Execution

Returning the death penalty to active use in the united states is not so much about justly punishing the guilty as it is protecting innocents from slaughter. A recent article on MSNBC News summarized recent findings in social science that demonstrate that executions do in fact deter homicides.
“Science does really draw a conclusion. It did. There is no question about it,” said Naci Mocan, an economics professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. “The conclusion is there is a deterrent effect.”

A 2003 study he co-authored, and a 2006 study that re-examined the data, found that each execution results in five fewer homicides, and commuting a death sentence means five more homicides. “The results are robust, they don’t really go away,” he said. “I oppose the death penalty. But my results show that the death penalty (deters) — what am I going to do, hide them?”
Critics dismiss this and other studies suggesting that methodologies are flawed and populations are too small to draw useful conclusions. However, the academic attack on these studies seem to me to often be merely defending entrenched positions.

It is incomprehensible that society might defend murderers and allow the innocent to perish. Yet by protecting the guilty from swift punishment, we allow others to die because of our fastidiousness.

Let us be clear: no one, not one single person, need ever be put to death again. All that is required is that no one murder or commit other capital crimes. Just...don't....pull....the....trigger.

In my mind, those who strive against the death penalty themselves have the blood of innocents on their hands.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hooligan fishing

I have been hooligan (eulachon) fishing a couple of times this week. Hooligan, as they are called in the Pacific northwest are small fish, members of the smelt tribe. The fish I caught were about eight inches.

These fish appear in enormous numbers in late May and early June in some streams, but not others. Most of the run appears to be males, according to what I have read. That was true for me; of the 14 fish I caught, only one was a female.

To fish for hooligan, one stands on the bank or in the water with a dip net and just sweeps until catching the fish. I caught 14 in an hour's work, but when the run is strong 14 fish can come much more quickly. Others were fishing there, too. During the run, there can be dozens of people dipping.

They were tasty little fish. The fourteen we ate were enough for four of us. We'll go back for more!

Disguised Antisemitism?

The Jerusalem Post reported today that "A day after the British Union of Colleges and Universities (UCU) voted to consider imposing a boycott on Israeli academics, UNISON, the largest labor union in Britain, threatened to impose a boycott of their own on Israeli products."

This is part of an international fabric of such boycotts wrapped in a mantle of solidarity with the cause of the Palestinians. Could that rotten smell be in reality just a less lethal brand of Hitler's antisemitism rising up again?

What a strange reaction this is: constant aggression against the people and nation of Israel -- like rockets raining down on Israeli towns -- and trade unions want to boycott Israel???? Is it possible they meant to boycott the Palestinians and some poor fool just reversed the names by accident?

This reaction by UNISON and others who want to condemn Israel is evil. It is unhelpful to the cause of Mideast peace.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Free Speech Nightmare

I awoke this morning with a nightmare still fresh in my head. The grief of the confiscation of my Swedish Bible was still fresh.

The gist of the dream was this: my Bible was banned because it contained text that was not approved by the government, even in a language other than English. It had the New Testament in it.

The specific offensive text was that condemning homosexuality. It was deemed hate speech.

When we lived in Sweden in 2003 a mild mannered pastor named Åke Green was arrested by the police for violating the nation’s laws against saying that homosexuality was wrong in a sermon to his small church in Borgholm. Pastor Green did not preach hatred of homosexuals, but condemned the sin – something that Christians have done since the days of the early church. Disciples are called to love people, but to hate sin.

At the time it did not seem so surprising in the overwhelmingly secular nation of Sweden. What is surprising is that we are so close to this today in the United States. Legislation passed the US House of Representatives just a few weeks ago that could have had a similar effect in this country if signed by the President.

President Bush has signaled he will not sign the legislation, but it is certain to come up again, and with a legislature and presidency controlled by the democratic party, it could become law.

We’re not really so far from the scenario in my dream.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Sinner or Saint?

I am a disciple of Jesus. Am I a sinner or a saint? The answer seems almost obvious, but to hear the talk of other believers one could be led to wonder.

For example, I often hear other disciples say this: “I’m a sinner saved by grace.”

I understand what this little bit of Christianese means: “I am a person who sometimes sins, and the grace of God has saved me through Jesus Christ.” I certainly agree with this, but just because a disciple sins, does that make him a sinner?

Paul called the believers in Rome saints (Rom 1:7). Luke reported that when Peter raised Dorcas from the dead (Acts 9:40-41), “he called the saints and widows, presented her alive.” (KJV). There are many other such usages in the New Testament.

We have become culturally accustomed to using the word “saint” in the sense of some exceptionally holy person. Wikipedia explains:
“Saint is a term used to describe a person who is perceived of being an example of exceptional holiness. It is predominantly used within Christian religions, which have specific usages for the term depending on the denomination involved. The word is derived from the use of the word "hagios" (Greek άγιος meaning "holy" or "holy ones") in the New Testament, where it is used to describe the followers of Jesus of Nazareth.[1]

As Christianity developed, the word "saint" became to be used more commonly to designate specific individuals who were held to be exemplars of the faith, and who were commemorated or venerated as an inspiration to other Christians. Within the Roman Catholic tradition, a formal process of canonization developed for identifying individuals as saints. Within Protestant traditions, "saint" is also used to refer to any born again Christian.”
I suggest that the writers of scripture made no such distinction. From the usages of the word in the New Testament, it is clear that they are referring to believers. While there have been some towering examples of faith in Christ, I and they are alike in that we are both saints.

Well, isn’t this just a trifling matter, a question of semantics?

I don’t think so. It is a matter of identification. I sin; although by the grace of my Master, I sin less today than years ago, and I believe I will sin less in the future as I grow in Him. But I am not a sinner. Sinning is not the trajectory of my life.

My identification is that of a saint.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Spam Costs You Money

Spam is more than an irritant. It costs you and me money.

I well remember the days when spam was just a sort of meat. It wasn't that great a sort of meat, but it was edible and quick.

Today, most of us think of the unsolicited commercial email (UCE) that increasingly floods our mailboxes. I certainly do. I estimate 95% of the email that enters my system is spam. Other reports suggest 70-90% of total email on the Internet is spam.

Spammers are robbing from us all. They rob us of time and they rob us of money.

Think of the time you waste deleting spam. Even if it is only one minute per day, after a year's time, the spammers have cost six hours of your life.

The money part isn't as obvious, but it is real. Internet Service Providers and others in the Internet industry are working to reduce the level of spam that comes to you. These businesses are employing technicians for the work, and paying them real money. That money comes from somewhere, and in this case, it comes from you and me. This work is paid by increasing ISP rates, or at least rates that do not fall with reduced costs.

We create web marketing solutions for clients. Naturally we want to minimize the spam that comes to them. Recently, I spent most of one work day dealing with a problem that resulted from spam.

There are some solutions to this, but they will require some fundamentally different ways of using email.

First, it would help a huge amount if we just...don't....look. If we purchase products or services from spammers, we're part of the problem. The reason these people continue churning out millions of emails is that people buy their stuff. It may be only one in a million, but it's enough to keep going.

Second, if everyone signed their email with a verifiable signature that would allow anyone to trace a message to its source, I believe spam would slow to a trickle and we would once again own our email boxes.

Until we demand effective steps be taken to stop them, we're going to continue paying small amounts of money to the thieves called spammers.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Marrieds With Children Proportion Shrinking in American Society

MSNBC News reported recently that "married couples with children now occupy fewer than one in every four households -- a share that has been slashed in half since 1960 and is the lowest ever recorded by the census."

It's an American tragedy unfolding before our eyes. Not only are unmarried couples shunning the institution that will serve them best, most are dooming the children of their union to second-best status. A great weight of social science evidence is piling up that far from liberating Americans, cohabitation provides few of the benefits of marriage at a much higher social cost for both adults and their offspring.

Lest I sound like a pharisee, I'll point out that earlier in my life, I was in a not-so-different situation. Marriage is the best physical thing that ever happened to me.

Not only is this a tragedy, it is acting to widen the divides between social classes. MSNBC again: "As marriage with children becomes an exception rather than the norm, social scientists say it is also becoming the self-selected province of the college-educated and the affluent. The working class and the poor, meanwhile, increasingly steer away from marriage, while living together and bearing children out of wedlock."

Children of married parents do better in school, socially, and economically later in life than the children of unmarried parents.

The sexual revolution has truly shot our society in the foot, and this is just one more part of the infection of that wound. We can do better than this -- we must do better than this if our civilization is to last and prevail against the competitors now gathering strength around us.

We can start by changing our laws and tax structures to make marriage more economically beneficial. In our churches and other social institutions we can work to lift up marriages and come alongside those who are struggling.

Somehow, we must change our culture back again to one that is friendly to life-long marriage. The life of unborn millions in this land depend on making right decisions now.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

ND Repeals Anti Cohabitation Statute: Progress?

North Dakota's legislature recently repealed a statute on the books since statehood that made it a crime for a man and woman to live together without marriage, Time Magazine reported recently.

At first glance, one is tempted to think that progress has been made. How could it be in 21st century America some state or locality could be so benighted as to have such an antique law still on the books.

But social science is demonstrating that our forefathers knew what they were doing in firmly placing such arrangements outside the fences of legitimate society.

Cohabitation hurts people. As I wrote earlier "counter intuitive as it might seem, social science has demonstrated that couples living together before marriage suffer a 50 -100% higher divorce rate when they do marry. And it’s not just higher divorce rates that hurt: as a group those who live together are statistically less equalitarian, more violent, less successful in remarriage after divorce, more depressed, and less caring of children than their married peers, to name a few.

The reality is that while living together may be popular, it most often diminishes rather than enhances quality of life. For the sake of future happiness for millions, this misbegotten approach to relationship belongs in the dustbin of history along with other failed social experiments."

It is in the interests of our civilization to legislate morality. We hear it all the time that "you can't legislate morality," but even the most casual inspections of our national and state laws show that we do it constantly. In this case, North Dakota is taking a step further into moral darkness that will damage its citizens, not free them.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Amazing Grace

I knew something of the story of William Wilberforce, and the movie, Amazing Grace, made his story all the more moving.

It's a story of a man's passion, and how his unrelenting drive to abolish slavery has changed the West from a civilization that employs slavery to one that abhors it.

While we don't often think of it, slavery still exists even in modern America, where tens of thousands are believed bound by economic bondage, particularly those who have been trafficked into the country.

It's worth seeing.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Be Transformed by the Renewing of your Mind

Paul of Tarsus wrote "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind....." (Romans 12:2 NIV)

Science has recently learned that renewal of our minds really can transform us. It really is true that what we think determines what we are. Prevailing dogma among neuroscientists until recently had been that brains were hardwired upon reaching adulthood, and that little change was possible. Recent investigation has demonstrated considerably more possibility for change, or neuroplasticity.

In the January 29, 2007 issue of Time magazine, in an article entitled "How the Brain Rewires Itself", Sharon Begley wrote "Mental practice resulted in a similar reorganization" of the brain, Pascual-Leone later wrote. If his results hold for other forms of movement (and there is no reason to think they don't), then mentally practicing a golf swing or a forward pass or a swimming turn could lead to mastery with less physical practice. Even more profound, the discovery showed that mental training had the power to change the physical structure of the brain.

In other words, the brain can actually be transformed, and not just through external stimuli or activity, the transformation can occur through our own mental training, or "renewing of your mind," as Paul put it.

Begley again: "The brain can change as a result of the thoughts we think, as with Pascual-Leone's virtual piano players. This has important implications for health: something as seemingly insubstantial as a thought can affect the very stuff of the brain, altering neuronal connections in a way that can treat mental illness or, perhaps, lead to a greater capacity for empathy and compassion. It may even dial up the supposedly immovable happiness set point."

Here's the take home message: we can train our minds far more than we have thought. If our minds are caught in negative patterns that are self-destructive or that diminish our potential, we can change those patterns by thinking new thoughts. If our desire is to be more like Jesus, we really can be, by training our thinking to be like His.

How do we do this? It has been possible all along, as Paul wrote: "by renewing our minds."

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Letting My Soul Catch Up With My Body

On our return from a quick trip to Louisiana earlier this week, I realized that "my soul had not yet caught up with my body."

If soul consists of mind, will and emotions, it was clear to me that my soul was still down south with family, green grass, and warmer temperatures. Just because I was physically located in south Anchorage does not automatically mean that my soul adjusts right away to that reality.

I don't have a brilliant observation or action plan for this. It's an issue for anyone who travels. I've felt it time and again over the years, but not really understood it.

Perhaps the simple reality is that it...just...takes....time.