Monday, March 31, 2008

Acts: Ananias and Visions (9:10-19)

There is a vast amount of ordinary in our relationship with God. Most of the time God’s will is discovered with regular Bible study and lived by applying the principles learned to life’s decisions. But that does not rule out the extraordinary in a walk with God. The Bible recounts multiple instances of God asking individuals to do strange, difficult, or impossible tasks for His glory.
Sometimes it is not just what God asks, but how He asks, that challenges our faith. Ananias got both. God appeared to him in a vision and asked him to go help a known persecutor of believers.

Mystical experiences are difficult to deal with because they are so personal, and hard to evaluate. Just think of all the people throughout history who have had “visions from God.” Joseph Smith and Muhammad immediately spring to mind. This sort of track record leads some to declare that God does not deal with people this way anymore.

The Bible is full of visions and dreams from God, but they didn’t have the full scriptural revelation back then either. If God does decide step outside of the box we have built for Him to operate in (and He is God after all) there is one thing that can be known for sure: He will not contradict what He has said before. Therefore, all mystical experiences will match up with what Scripture says. They will never contradict what God has already revealed.

But forget mystical visions and such. What has God asked of you that you are avoiding out of fear? Have you got any openly hostile anti-Christians in your life? As if it isn’t hard enough sharing our daily walk with people who are merely indifferent to the Gospel. Are you useful?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Television: Quantum Leap

Quantum Leap has just enough Science Fiction to provide it with the premise, and not really enough to disguise deeper messages. That is not to say it doesn’t have something to say. In fact it can be quite preachy. The thing that makes it work, and even quite powerful, is that it takes a contemporary character and inserts him in the recent past. The audience gets to sees how far society has progressed, but at the same time it serves to show how much work remains to be done. (The British program “Life on Mars” used a similar premise effectively.)

The basic premise is that Sam, a brilliant scientist, has come up with a way to achieve time travel within the confines of his lifetime. When his funding is threatened, he prematurely tests the theory on himself, and is sent bouncing around in time. He quickly discovers that he is not in control, and in fact, it appears as though his travels are being controlled by God and used to make wrong things right. It even goes so far as to imply that the Devil or Hell is using a similar process to cause the wrong things that Sam is correcting.

Aside from this cosmic view of good and evil, individual episodes always carry a moral quest that Sam must perform, and the shows are at times directly religious. One of many great moments in the show occurs in “The Americanization of Machico.” Sam is a soldier returning home with his Japanese bride. His mother struggles with accepting the new daughter-in-law throughout the episode. Sam’s bride gets injured, and in response to Sam’s question if she was really praying for her, she replies: “Of course, I am a Christian,” to which Sam replies, “Then show it.” By the end, she does.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


From its inauspicious beginnings of people fleeing to the islands to escape Germanic invasions (and eventually deciding just to stay and build a city), to becoming a center of commercial and military power in Europe during the middle ages, Venice has a fascinating history. It also is an amazing sight to see. Nowhere else is there such a large and functional city completely dependant on people getting around by foot or boat.
These two facts combine to make it a popular destination for tourists from all around the world. A third commonly assumed factor in the cities popularity is its beauty. That is a misconception. Venice may be the only city in the world where run down and deteriorating is mistaken for beauty.
That being said, the city is definitely worth a trip for the experience if not the beauty. But traveler, beware! The city lives up to the reputation of Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.” You will be required to give your pound of flesh. You might be able to talk a Gondolier down to a mere $120 for a ride, but if that is too expensive for you, you can still ride the “buses” for a mere $11 an hour, or $21 for a whole day ticket. Prices apply to everyone 4 years old and up, and there are no family rates. You might want to pack a picnic lunch as well. It is much more romantic than paying for lunch. Even McDonalds costs twice as much as on the mainland.
If you ever get the chance to see Venice take it. Find a place to stay about an hour away and ride the train in for a day and then get out. Simply exploring the city for a few hours on foot is the experience of a lifetime.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Then Forge the Shackles To My Feet

There comes a time in some people’s lives when they lose touch with the younger generation. For those who try to keep up with the way young people think there comes many a time when they wonder if they are loosing it.

There has been a great song (in some ways) out there from Nickelback called “Rockstar” that serves as an example. It is a catchy tune with witty satire for content describing the desire that many have to be famous. It makes fun of fame and in some ways of the band itself as it describes the empty debauchery in the lives of the rich and famous. Lines like “we’ll all stay skinny ‘cause we just won’t eat,” And “I'll get washed-up singers writing all my songs, Lip sync ‘em every night so I don't get 'em wrong” are sung with tongue fully planted in cheek. With stories ranging from the latest Britney Spears incident to Paris Hilton saying something dumb every few days, the song is funny (in a sad way) because it is so true. Why would anyone want their fifteen minutes these days?

On the other hand, the repeated lines “I’m gonna trade this life for fortune and fame, I’d even cut my hair and change my name,” speak to a modern version of the Faustian story that seems to play itself out over and over again with the “American Idols” and their franchises on every channel.

The question must be asked, is this song popular (it was the most downloaded video on iTunes in 2007) because everyone is in on the joke and loves making fun of the emptiness of fame? Or are young people today really buying into the lie that money and popularity are the answer to happiness?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


More than fear of change, which simply wants to keep things the way they are because they could get worse, nostalgia seeks to have things the way they were. However, nostalgia never seeks to return to a state of reality. While everyone fears change, everyone also desires it. We want to keep the good and the things we can handle and do away with the bad. By the same token, looking back on the past we only see what we want. We remember the good times and forget the rest.

Perhaps one of the best examples of how irrational nostalgia can be is a phenomenon known as “Ostalgie.” Ostalgie is a German word formed by combining the German for nostalgia—“nostalgie” with the German for East—“ost.” Basically, it is people pining away for the “good old days” when they couldn’t make any decisions for themselves and had a totalitarian government running everything into the ground. They miss the cheaply made cars that you had to wait years for them to build after you had ordered them. They miss the way oranges and bananas tasted sooo good when you could only get them once a year at Christmas. They miss the way West German TV was so much better when you could only watch it illegally. They miss the way you could just pretend to work while the government pretended to pay you.

Maybe it is more a case of the grass on the other side of the wall failing to be as green as it had to look from the GDR. Things were pretty bad under Communism, but they didn’t get much better with freedom. Sometimes it is easier to deal with life’s imperfections when you have a Government you can blame for everything that goes wrong.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Acts: A Brief But Far Too Wordy and Perhaps Flawed Stream of Consciousness On Saul’s Conversion (9:1-9)

Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road is always viewed as an unusual thing in Christian history. The idea is that not everyone gets a confrontation straight from Christ calling them to repentance. In fact they do.
In Paul’s case, everyone focuses on the encounter with Christ and forgets the way God used Ananias and Barnabas to disciple Paul. Every person who enters into a relationship with Christ hears about Him and His desire for him or her to know him from another witness, but they have all had God dealing with them before that encounter.
Ok, it may be a stretch to compare everyone’s encounter with Christ with that of Paul’s, but the fact is that God is constantly confronting people. Armed with that knowledge, and the fact that all Christ asked of His followers was to tell others what they have experienced of Him, Christians everywhere should be doing a lot more sharing of their story with others than they are. After all, we are not talking of proselytizing here. Christians are never told to make converts. It is not their responsibility to “make” Christians. Only God can do that. Discipling (or teaching) is required, but that does not involve convincing or cajoling people who are not interested in being coaxed.
Tell your story. Answer questions. Be sensitive to where God is working in people’s lives. Remember that God is encountering people every day. Will you be the one to help them clearly see?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Television: "The Simpsons" The First Ten Years

In the late Eighties, the evangelical ghetto was told to stay away from “The Simpsons.” Those who didn’t witnessed a more religious show than many that had aired up to that point. Note the term “religious,” not Christian or Evangelical.
As satire "The Simpsons" presents many issues that television normally won’t address. It is similar in a way to many fantasy and science fiction shows already described in the way it addresses controversial topics. It just does so in a direct manner. "The Simpsons" pokes fun at everything and offends a lot of society, but in doing so they generate a lot of thought and discussion.
Just a short list of early episodes that are great to stimulate thought on religion or morality is easy to come up with: There’s No Disgrace Like Home, The Tell-Tale Head, Bart Gets an F, Dead Putting Society, Homer vs. Lisa and the Eighth Commandment, When Flanders Failed, Like Father Like Clown, Homer The Heretic, When Homer Loved Flanders, Bart Sells His Soul, In Marge We Trust, Lisa the Skeptic, The Joy of Sect, etc.
God is real on the show and is the one character (or concept) not ridiculed. The same cannot be said for Religion. Reverend Lovejoy, the religious professional on the show, is a deeply flawed character. Ned Flanders, the other prominently Christian character, (most characters on the show claim to be Christian) is one of the most respectable and well rounded. Sure he is the brunt of a lot of Homer’s ridicule, but he is genuine and really a great neighbor and person.
As the show is a no-holds-barred satire there is something to upset everyone who watches this show, but give some of the episodes above a chance. You might even forget you are trying to appraise it and find yourself chuckling.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Sometime in the late seventies or early eighties there was a great, illustrated kid’s book titled simply “Castle.” It showed, with detailed ink drawings, the inner workings and architectural design of the basic medieval castle.  

Most fascinating, perhaps was the explanation of the way castle sewage was handled, considering the fact that most castles were designed to be able to withstand a siege here or there.
Most people’s idea of what a castle is and looks like today is overly due to Walt Disney, who in turn was apparently influenced by a castle or two built in Bavaria long after the age most were being built.
The reality is most castles are far different from either the Disney version or the old medieval fortress of that book. Most are rather smaller and less “stone and tower and turret” than expected. A lot just look like big villas.
Staying in a castle is an experience. There is a lot of history. Imagine staying in a room in a building that has been around in some form or another for nearly nine hundred years. What if you knew for a fact that royalty had lived in that room, or famous Hollywood stars from the Golden Age of Film had stayed there, or that the Nazis had used it? These are the sorts of things you experience staying in a castle. (That and the whole drafty-dimly lit- creaky bit.)
If you ever do get the opportunity, take it. Just be sure to hear some stories and learn some of its history, make sure you have plenty of blankets, and see if you can be shown the dungeons.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Top Films: More MacGuffins

If number seven on the list of top films is a trio of Hitchcock works, somewhere around fourteen come another bunch. They could all be tied together under the themed of messed-up love stories, but that is not always the main theme of each film.  

In (far too) brief:
"Notorious" (1946) 
A spy is ordered to tell the woman he loves to marry another man in order to use the relationship to get information.
"To Catch a Thief" (1955) 
A thrill seeking rich girl is taken with an ex-cat burglar who is trying to prove his innocence in a new string of robberies. Whether she believes his innocence or not is less important to her than the thrill of danger she feels when with him.
"Vertigo" (1958) 
A cop falls in love with another man’s wife he is hired to protect. After she commits suicide, he tries to makeover another (or so he thinks) woman to look like his dead object of affection.
"The Birds" (1963) 
A chance encounter and a bit of a practical joke lead to a man and a woman coming together as the natural world begins to react against humanity. Relationships as well as mankind’s relationship to nature have been taken for granted and the result is catastrophic.

All of these films have other (sometimes) more important elements of plot, but it is this distorted perspective on what the world calls love that ties these movies together and speaks to something the world today needs to hear. What the world sees as love is really selfish, manipulating, about taking and not giving. When true selfless love is lost, the very fabric of society begins to crumble. The way “love” has been perverted in today’s western culture does not bode well for that culture’s survival.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Calling on Poggin

Most people who arrive at the decision to reject God’s existence are reacting against Religion not God. They have discovered the not so hidden fact that all religion is ultimately man-made and empty, and have assumed that since man’s attempts to get to God are flawed, the whole idea of God must be flawed as well.

This is brilliantly illustrated in C. S. Lewis’ book, “The Last Battle.” The basic opening plot of the book is that an ape dresses an ass up like a lion (setting up a false version of the real God of Narnia, Aslan) and is using this fake Aslan to control the whole country. When the fraud is exposed and a group of dwarves are set free with the truth, they immediately extrapolate that if one version of Aslan is false, all versions must be and they reject him altogether.

Of course, in the book, Aslan is real and the Dwarves end up being just as mistaken in their beliefs as any false religion could be.

Religion ends up being a huge part of the argument for God’s existence. Religion’s flaw is that it tries to approach God on man’s terms with man’s rules. So many imitations and attempts at describing the idea of God point to the existence of a real God in the first place. A counterfeit bill does not refute the existence of real money. There has to be real money for the counterfeit to imitate. If you rejected the reality of diamonds because you had seen a cubic zirconia, you would be wrong. While diamonds are rare, they are the basis on which the imitation is modeled.

The real problem for thoughtful people is not, “Is there a God?” but, “if there is one, how does He relate to me?”

Monday, March 17, 2008

Acts: Philip (8:26-40)

Everyone knows how Philip saw the Ethiopian eunuch reading the Bible and was able to explain the Gospel to him. They also know the part where he baptized the guy and then was “taken away” by the Holy Spirit. That guy was cool! But wait. Take a closer look at this guy named Philip. Is he someone a good Southern Baptist would aspire to be like?
He starts off as a deacon. But he is preaching! Well that is all right he is a missionary now, not just a deacon. Oh no! Now we see that he is performing exorcisms and healings! But wait, it gets better. He takes orders from an angel! At least we know he must have tested the spirit, because it says that it was an angel of the Lord. After listening to the angel, he heads away from his successful church in Samaria, and heads out to the non-populated desert. Then who does he chose to talk to? A eunuch! That can’t be right. But it does say the Spirit led him to do so. And it does lead to a soul saved. But, wait, that isn’t the end! Philip shows up later in Acts and… get this. He has raised four daughters who are prophetesses! That’s right, they prophesy, which is what Paul calls what the pastor does on Sunday!
Okay, Philip still is one of the coolest guys in the New Testament. And Baptists, despite all their faults and, at times, narrow view of things, are still well intentioned people who want to let the Bible dictate their belief. It’s just that sometimes the Story of what God does through His church is a little bigger than what we have experienced.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Television: Columbo

"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” –Matthew 10:16
Long before there was Monk or Psych, there was Columbo. Just as Columbo is not your average detective, the show was not your average mystery program. It popularized the “inverted detective story” where the audience knows from the start who the murderer is and how they committed the crime. In this type of story, the emphasis shifts away from the typical puzzle of most mysteries and focuses more on the characters and their reactions to being investigated. It is usually a fascinating journey, watching the murderer go from smug and secure in their perfect plan to edgy and desperate as they become exposed.
Columbo himself is a joy to watch and the ultimate reason behind the success of the series. He is the perfect example of the apparent paradox of Jesus’ demand that His disciples be both shrewd and innocent. Columbo seems to always be aware of who the killer is as soon as he first sees the scene of the crime. The problem is it does him no good to know who is guilty. He must be able to prove it. So the whole show, Columbo plods along testing the killer’s story for weaknesses. He even gets the killer to help. All the while, Columbo plays dumb.
His innocence is more than an act however. In spite of his deep knowledge of human nature and the capacity for evil that exists in people, he is good. He enjoys simple pleasures. He has no ambitions for wealth or power. He brings killers to justice, but he is not vindictive. Sometimes he even seems to like the people he is trying to expose. He is never taken in.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Which Witch?

One good contribution Postmodernism has brought is the reevaluation of language and translation. Basically, meaning should carry more weight than mere words. Consider for instance:

Magic in literature. Should books be pegged as satanic if they have magic elements? Fantasy (and fable before it) has always had magic in it. Sometimes the bad guys use it, sometimes the good guys do. Often magic is used on both sides of the Good vs. Evil conflict. In English, the terms designating practitioners of magic vary greatly: wizard, witch, sorcerer, etc. Most terms are used for both good and bad types of magicians. In some English translations of the Bible, witchcraft is condemned. Other terms are also used (sorcerer, enchanter, augur, wonder-worker etc.) When you look at the actual meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words in the Bible, in most cases Fantasy literature has a much different idea of magical characters than that of the real practitioners of occult arts. For instance, J. K. Rowling’s “Wizarding World” has a mechanical form of magic aptly described by Clarke’s 3rd law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Her books represent other forms of Magic (such as divination) as fraudulent.

Who is Lucifer? Another example would be the name Lucifer. Most people brought up with knowledge of the King James Translation think that is the name of the Devil. Little do they know it is really just a transliteration from the Latin Vulgate of the word naming Venus, or the morning star. In other parts of the Bible, Jesus is called “the Morning Star!” The chain of Baptist Bookstores in Chile is named “The Lucifer.” Most fundamentalists would probably accuse Chilean Baptists of being Satanists before they learned the real meaning of the word!

Make sure you understand an idea before you judge its validity or worthiness.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fraud of the Dead

Spring boarding off yesterday’s topic, horror movies have seen yet another resurgence in popularity (they seem to have one every 10-15 years), while at the same time they have declined in quality.

The origin of the horror genre is found in the old medieval morality play. Audiences were scared as they witnessed a person reap the consequences of poor judgment. Early on in film history, that was the formula for horror. Audiences were scared on an intellectual level. They left the theater with disturbing ideas and thoughts that stuck with them. The films scared because they delivered messages hidden in creepy unnatural elements.

Audiences today find the old horror, from the Universal variety up through Rosemary’s Baby and the Exorcist, boring because they have been fed a steady diet of thrills and adrenaline inducing jumps. Moviemakers have by in large taken the easy, lazy route to fear and tapped into instinct rather than intellect.

George Romero contributed greatly to today’s crop of “Torture-Porn” (movies that substitute gore for scares) when he made his cheap independent Zombie movies in the 70s and 80s. His “Dead” films do not induce fear. Disgust and fear both produce aversion, but they are not the same thing.

This is not to say that there is no place for gore in horror; or that the only good horror movies are those with a message. The ultimate measure of a good horror film is: does it scare? In the last several years the best movies on that scale have tended to be the ones that show little to no gore and more creepiness derived from the “out of place” or unnatural. The Japanese Horror Genre or Spanish input such as last year’s “El Orfanato” are some of the best the genre has produced in a decade.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Parable of the Dead

Zombie films are more than just scary and gross. They are tragic and disturbing. The powerful idea behind them is that of the world coming to an end as the dead overcoming the living. It has been used over and over again to make effective if somewhat hyperbolic social commentary.

Of course, in spite of all the “messages,” these movies are made to appeal to the macabre in folks. Each one tries to outdo its predecessors in the gore department. That is the hardest part of a Zombie film to stomach; they are not really scary, just gross.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Acts: Simon (8:9-24)

The story of Simon in Acts 8 is a picture of someone who believes and yet is not saved. The error of many evangelicals today is to simplify the Gospel too much. While it is a simple message, it is not easy to accept. It is not enough to merely believe that Jesus was the Son of God and died for the sins of the world. His death must be accepted and applied to one’s life through the repentance of sin and the surrender to Christ’s Lordship.
Simon was a magician. It might be assumed that he was acquainted with supernatural power, both in the following and respect he had, and in the easy way he accepted what Philip was saying about Jesus. The problem is, Simon never saw the sin in his own life that he needed to change, and he never turned his life over to God.
As a result, when Simon saw John and Peter confirming the conversions in Samaria, he thought that the power he was witnessing was something he could buy. He believed in Jesus because he saw the evidence, but he did not see the implications. He saw Christianity as just another tool in the magician’s belt for making money and acquiring power.
There are places in the world today where Christianity is simply a popular or culturally acceptable thing to do. There are “Christians” today who merely believe what the Bible says and think they have a “get out of Hell free” card or some form of “fire insurance.” Don’t ever present the Gospel as an easy escape from the punishment of sin. It is a life-changing surrender of control to God, a complete submission. Don’t try to sell Christianity as just another self-help program. Christ actually promised more hard times and suffering than health and wealth to His followers.

Friday, March 7, 2008

It's Such a Good Feeling...

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood began in the late sixties because Fred Rogers hated what he saw on television. He had begun his education and career in music, but upon seeing TV for the first time he immediately set out to work in the medium. He saw the potential that was there and was not being used.
He studied Theology while he was working in children’s programming, but never intended to enter formal ministry. In fact, he was ordained by his church to do children’s television.
By today’s standards, his show is difficult to watch. It has a slow pace that children are not used to today. The short attention spans in children that television is often blamed for are not his doing. He never used animation, but still explored ideas through fantasy with the use of puppets, a life-long fascination of his.
He exemplified a Christian version of tolerance that is either poorly understood or avoided today. While very committed to his beliefs, he was accepting of all people, influencing them through kindness and acceptance not sermons. His catchphrase known by children everywhere was “I like you just the way you are.”
It seems in the children’s television world of today, full of frenetic animation and crude, and common denominator humor, that we need more ideals from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Where shows like the Teletubbies flash bright colors and repeat everything twice for the brainless children that watch, and the latest Barney knock-off engages in Diabetes inducing sweetness, and Dora or Diego boil “educational programming” down to the latest mindless three step task, someone needs to just spend time with the preschool audience and teach them some important truths. Let them know they are unique, they are loved, and teach them to behave according to the ethical standards found in Matthew 7:12.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Top Films: Don't Judge A Book By Its Screenplay

The Holiday movie season of 2001 was a monumental time for Fantasy movies, and indeed for movies in general. Up until then lovers of books, fantasy books in particular, had a difficult relationship with movies.

Ultimately, movies cannot compete with imagination when it comes to visualizing the worlds created by the great fantasy authors. Since the advent of film, many have tried to translate fantasy stories to the screen in some way approximating what the book. However, it wasn’t just the visual department that let viewers down. The biggest problem has been the writing.

Hollywood tends to change books’ plots and endings. They assume that no one will want to see a film if they already know the story. The completely fail to understand that an audience who love a book long to see that book made into a movie. They do not want the story changed.

All this began to improve in 2001 with the release of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” is a completely different story and the great disappointment of the series.)

Many films have attempted to duplicate the Potter success. Studios are taping into every child oriented fantasy book ever made. More often than not these attempts are failing. The reason for flops when they occur is that the filmmakers fail to remain faithful to the book. True, movies and books are different mediums, and yes, changes need to be made. Films must shorten elements of the story and find ways to communicate things in a purely visual way, but plot; characters and basic story should remain. Finally, never change the end just because people know it. If they love the book, they love the end. If you want to surprise people, write your own material!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Left-Right or East-West?

Every society has a series of traditions and institutions upon which it was built. Politically speaking, when a group or individual tries to stick to those traditions and defend the institutions, they are described as being right leaning. Liberal or left leaning individuals are those that want to change, get away from or at times destroy them. This kind of generalization of terminology causes a lot of confusion as most generalizations do. For instance, a right leaning person in France today would be called “Liberal,” as their positions would run contrary to the status quo and establishment there.

To make matters worse, the further one travels down either political ideology to the extremes, the resulting societies look a lot alike. Communism and Fascism would be placed on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, but both societies tend to view individuals as unimportant and the “good” of society as preeminent.

Perhaps a better terminology would be East and West. The political realm tends to be more of a big sphere. With the relative uniformity of the United States political spectrum, not a lot of ground on this sphere is covered. For all the polemical things candidates say about each other, they are not all that different. Political ideology in the U.S. probably fails to reach more than 30 or 40 degrees to the right or the left. In fact, most politicians fall squarely into the “Moderate” area.

The moderate side of politics has yet to be addressed here. Basically it is the philosophy of “wet your finger and see where the wind is blowing.” Moderates don’t believe in anything principally. The avoid taking stands and avoid making decisions, because once you are in office you do whatever it takes to stay there. Then again, the country is usually best served when government does nothing.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Polar Bears, Rejoice!

Last year was the tenth year since the hottest on record. 1998 was bad, but the good news is temperatures have been lower ever since. Now comes the news that 1997 saw a huge decrease in temperature, enough to drop the global average back from the one-degree gain seen over the past 100 years.

This will not likely change much with the Global Warming, sorry, Climate Change crowd. That name change is due to the fact that climate is always in flux, and the political force behind this movement was smart enough to realize that if they wanted to control people, they would need to account for the inevitable cooling that would come from time to time.

Summer is on its way for the northern hemisphere, and get ready for stories of temperatures going up. (They tend to do that on their own in summertime, but the masses can be counted on to accept the theory that they are to blame for the warming.) If someone really wanted to hold something over people, they would start a scare about Global Cooling. Human society will find it easy and even beneficial in most cases to adapt to a degree or two of warming. There are all sorts of benefits: more useful cropland, better growing seasons, fewer Hurricanes, etc. What we can’t adapt to so easily would be a degree or two of cooling. Food shortages alone…

Climate changes. We may like to think that we hold some great power or influence over this planet, but just the opposite is true. In fact, that ball of fire 150 million kilometers away can do more in one year to change Earth temperatures than all the carbon dioxide released by humanity in 100 years. (The Earth, by the way, comes up with 100 times more greenhouse causing elements in the atmosphere on its own.)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Acts: Martyrdom (7:54-8:3)

Stephen is known as the “Protomartyr,” or the first Christian martyr. He was the first Christian to be killed for his faith, a number that has grown to an estimated 70 million in the subsequent 2000 years.
The interesting thing is that the word martyr is a borrowed word from the Greek and, in its original form simply means witness. In secular terms a martyr was simply a court witness. How did the idea come to mean someone killed for his or her testimony? It seems in Roman times, torture was a regular aspect of getting the truth from witnesses.
Jesus called His follower to be his witnesses and, in time, being a martyr for Christ has attained an important place in Christian history. Stephen’s martyrdom triggered the advancement of Christianity beyond Jerusalem when many fled the persecution there, but it also strengthened the Christian witness in Jerusalem. Throughout history strong persecution against the church, when it does not crush the church in an area, strengthens it and causes it to grow faster.
Persecution is far from a mere historic part of Christian history. It carries on today and in some way gets stronger all the time. The 20th Century saw more Christian martyrs than all the previous 19 leading up to it. There are places in the world today where baptism services include the teaching of what to say when the new believers are eventually killed for their faith.
At the moment of Stephen’s death, we are introduced to the man who, aside from Christ himself, will have more of an impact on Christianity than anyone else in history. Surprisingly, Saul is one of the people who kill Stephen, and in the next few verses we see that he sets out to end the church imprisoning and killing its members.
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