Sunday, March 27, 2011

"Find out how Kody met his four wives: Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn. "

So goes the promo for a seven part television series on TLC - The Learning Channel. That's right, The Learning Channel—which usually contains documentaries about things that we are actually supposed to... ummm..., you know, learn.

Just like HBO's series Big Love, this series is about polygamists from one of the Mormon offshoot sects that practice plural marriage. But where Big Love is a fictional drama, Sister Wives is a documentary about an actual polygamous family—apparently one of many. The ad for Sister Wives urges us to:
Rethink Love.
Rethink Marriage.
Rethink Family Reality.

How is it that two television channels have been running very similarly themed series about plural marriage at the same time? And why now? As one critic entitled her review of the last week's series finale of Big Love, "Goodbye, 'Big Love,' you almost made the idea of polygamy attractive."

Mark my words, the battle over redefining marriage is just beginning!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pastor loses job after questioning hell's existence

In case you aren't familiar with the controversy over evangelical pastor Rob Bell's book, Love Wins, this column by Southern Baptist seminary president Albert Mohler pretty well sums up my own position. Now, it seems that the controversy is resulting in casualties among the ranks of the clergy that are attracting the attention of the secular media.

From here:
DURHAM, N.C. — When Chad Holtz lost his old belief in hell, he also lost his job.

The pastor of a rural United Methodist church in North Carolina wrote a note on his Facebook page supporting a new book by Rob Bell, a prominent young evangelical pastor and critic of the traditional view of hell as a place of eternal torment for billions of damned souls.

Two days later, Holtz was told complaints from church members prompted his dismissal from Marrow's Chapel in Henderson.
Read it all.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Chavez says capitalism may have ended life on Mars

From here:
Capitalism may be to blame for the lack of life on the planet Mars, Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez said on Tuesday.

"I have always said, heard, that it would not be strange that there had been civilization on Mars, but maybe capitalism arrived there, imperialism arrived and finished off the planet," Chavez said in speech to mark World Water Day.

Perhaps we should send Señor Chavez on an expedition to Mars to find out.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How do we reach Japan?

It has been my experience that when a Christian thinks of missionary work, he or she thinks of a particular country. Those who have read of the lives of William Carey, Mother Teresa, or Adoniram Judson think of India or Burma. Others think of the nations and peoples of Africa or Latin America. Many who have read about the life and work of Hudson Taylor, Lottie Moon, or Gladys Aylward picture themselves in China. My own thoughts have usually, though not exclusively, turned to Japan.

Two of my professors in seminary had been missionaries in Japan in the 1950's. In that period, following World War II, Japanese society underwent a great upheaval, a cultural transformation. There was a great openness to new ideas. My professors always lamented that western Christians did not make a more widespread effort during that period to reach Japan with the Gospel. Comparisons were frequently made to the growth of Christianity in South Korea during this same period.

One of my professors, Dr. T.V. Farris, had served in Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido. After graduation, one of my classmates and his wife went to Japan as missionaries with OMF. Perhaps because of Dr. Farris' influence, they ended up going to Sapporo as well. Shortly after I joined the faculty at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, my friends came home. But, at the same time, a graduate from Trinity and his wife joined OMF and went to—you guessed it—Sapporo, Japan. They now live and work on the main island, Honshu, closer to Tokyo (and closer to the site of last week's earthquake). So, one way or another, I have been praying for and supporting missionaries in Japan ever since I graduated from seminary 32 years ago.

Now Japan has experienced a cascade of devastating disasters—an earthquake, followed by a tsunami, followed by radiation leaks from damaged nuclear reactors. Many lives have been lost. Rebuilding the devastated areas will take years. How should Christians, both in Japan and around the world, respond to this crisis?

Japan's natural disaster has called attention to two less conspicuous disasters that have been brewing for a long time. The first is a crisis of leadership. As a nation, Japan has been cruising, as though on autopilot, for decades. Cruising on autopilot works as long as conditions are smooth. But when you encounter a storm, autopilot won't do. You have to change course, speed, altitude—human intervention is needed. In political terms, that means leadership; and leadership is one thing Japan has lacked for a long time.

The second problem is Japan's low birth rate. Japan currently has one of the world's lowest birth rates. The decline has been so severe that the Japanese even have a word for it: 'shoshika,' meaning a society without children. Someone once said "Having children is an act of faith that the world is going somewhere good." What does Japan's low birth rate say about the confidence, commitment, and priorities of the Japanese people?

Japan's leadership crisis and low birth rate both point to a spiritual malaise—a lack of purpose, identity, and direction—but chiefly a lack of trust that the One who creates and sustains the world anew in each moment of time has a plan that includes each of us and generations yet unborn. It has been said that the devastation hitting Japan is the worst since World War II. Could this crisis be an occasion for Japan to reexamine its foundations—to rebuild not merely buildings, but to rebuild its society with new vision and purpose? Could it be an occasion for Christians, who have faith in God's eternal purposes—who know that God gave his only Son, Jesus Christ, that through faith in him we might not only have life beyond the grave but a new reason for living here and now—to share that faith with those whose need is so great?

If we choose to share our faith, we can be sure that cynical secularists will say we are merely using this crisis to proselytize. But we who know the grace and love of Christ know also that we must share that grace and love with others.

Should we donate money to Japan? Reuters columnist Felix Salmon has written two recent columns advising people not to do so: 1, 2. As hard-hearted as Salmon's columns sound, he presents an interesting argument. For instance, he quotes both Japanese government and Japanese Red Cross spokespersons as saying they do not need the money that outsiders are raising for Japan. Salmon's advice (which I believe is good advice) is that we should always give to worthy charities that provide aid in such situations; but we should give undesignated or unrestricted gifts. This allows the organization to assess the need and send aid appropriately. It does not tie their hands from giving to more needy situations if (in this case) Japan already has adequate financial and material assistance.

Christians should consider one additional step: giving to organization that work among Christians in Japan. In doing so we can encourage our brothers and sisters there and make sure that they have the aid to share with their fellow Japanese and can provide a Christian witness at the same time. (If you want a recommendation, I will mention again OMF, which has a distinguished track record working in this part of of the world.)

Consider the Apostle Paul's admonition to the Church in Corinth:
This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:12-15)


Friday, March 11, 2011

Pray for Japan [Updated]

The video below does the best job I have seen of encapsulating the devastation that has hit Japan. It is Saturday morning already in Japan as I write these words. I have written a missionary couple I know in the Tokyo area but have had no reply as yet. Normally they would have written by now to assure their friends they are okay. I am taking the delay to mean that they are affected by the disruption in utilities, and I am hoping and praying it is not a sign of anything more serious. I'll post an update as soon as I hear anything.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

[Update 3/12/11] My friends in Tokyo are safe. A portion of their message this morning follows:
We felt the earthquakes here at home, but the worst of the damage was further north. We had a few books and decorations that fell from shelves, but nothing like the absolute devastation of some areas on the Pacific coast north of here. At present email is working, but the phones are not, so we are still trying to contact our church members.

You may remember that ____ and I worked in a church in Sendai shortly after we got married. Sendai is one of the places that has been hit particularly hard. It will probably be several days before we find out how they are doing. In the past when there have been big earthquakes, the Christian community has sent word around of churches and Christians in need of financial help. I suspect we will get similar notices this time. Pray that our church will be moved to help in some way to show the love of Christ. I’m sure they will.

Comment: Sendai (a city of over one million people) was the city hit hardest by the Tsunami. Please pray for the people of Japan and for the Church, that Christians there can share Christ's love with those who are hurting and in need.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Terry Mattingly: "Shahbaz Bhatti, modern martyr"

Distinguished religion columnist, Terry Mattingly, illustrates the fact that there were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in the preceding 19 centuries, and it appears that the 21st century is on a course to exceed even that.
In the early days of Christianity, martyrs often gave their final
testimonies of faith to Roman leaders before they were crucified,
burned or fed to lions.

Times being what they are, Shahbaz Bhatti turned to Al Jazeera and
YouTube. The only Christian in Pakistan's cabinet knew it was only a
matter of time before his work as minister for minority affairs got
him killed. Threats by the Taliban and al-Qaeda kept increasing.

"I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own
life for us. I know what is the meaning of the cross and I follow him
on the cross," said Bhatti, in a startlingly calm video recorded
several weeks before his assassination on March 2.

Read it all.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Why Madison?

From here:
Ohio union bill speeds toward passage

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With barely a whimper of the protests that have convulsed Wisconsin, legislation to curb public employee unions is speeding toward passage in Ohio, an even bigger labor stronghold.

Labor experts said the greater tumult in Wisconsin reflects the state's long history of progressive political activism; the Statehouse's location in Madison, the famously liberal home of the University of Wisconsin; and perhaps a feeling of hopelessness among Ohio's working class, which has been hit particularly hard by the recession.

Days of protests in Columbus haven't added up to the numbers seen in a single day in Madison. The rallies there have topped more than 70,000 people, compared with roughly 8,500 on the largest day of demonstrations at the Ohio Statehouse. When the Ohio bill passed the Senate 17-16 on Wednesday, the crowd was estimated at 450.

"Madison is kind of a perfect storm of factors for this," said Don Taylor, assistant professor of labor education at the University of Wisconsin School for Workers in Madison. "It's an extremely progressive city in terms of politics. It's one of those places in the country where people will refer to it as a 'People's Republic.'"

Read it all.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

"Rubicon: A river in Wisconsin"

Charles Krauthammer, in his typically clear-sighted way, does a beautiful job of summarizing the current political battle in Wisconsin. No one excerpt is enough. You really must read the whole thing.