Thursday, April 29, 2004

Oil-for-Food scandal 

Here's the best summary I've seen about the Oil-for-Food scandal. I had been following it, but until I read this I didn't realize how far back the problem went. It will shed a good deal of light on why the UN didn't enforce its resolutions against Iraq- $2 BILLION dollars paid directly to the UN Secretariat in commissions, the group that was supposed to make sure that the program wasn't used fraudulently. That's just the above-the-table money, too, not the bribes and kickbacks that we're still trying to figure out.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004


I am so sick of previews that give away the whole movie! We saw the preview to Spiderman 2 the other night, and pretty much the only thing the movie didn't tell us was how the last battle turns out, and we already know that anyway. It's infuriating! Why do movies do this?

The preview shows us the romantic conflict (and how it's resolved), the inner turmoil (and how that gets resolved too), who the bad guy is (and how he became the bad guy), what he does (and the effect that has on all the other principles), and how the final showdown is set up (and we know how that turns out). The only reason to go to the movie now is for the popcorn.

Movie Review: Hollywood Homicide 

Hollywood Homicide is an action / comedy about a couple of cops in Hollywood. It's a pretty run of the mill action movie for the most part. A murder at a hip-hop club leads the detectives to delve into the shady side of the record business. One of the detectives is being investigated for corruption and another is having an identity crisis about being a cop. One is old, one is young. One's a pro, one's just a rookie. One's a ladies' man, the other's an old fuddy-duddy. All pretty routine, and in fact there's kind of a self-conscious effort to poke fun at the buddy-cop genre.

What makes it a little unusual is that both of the cops are involved in different side activities. Harrison Ford's character is trying to sell real estate on the side to pay for his many divorces and bad investments, and Josh Hartnett is teaching yoga and getting into acting- he claims to broaden his horizons, but it's mostly for the girls. There's a running gag through the movie about cell phones- they both have them constantly and they're constantly ringing.

This is a short review, because there's not much to say really about this movie. It's fun and enjoyable. Watch out for a sex scene and some language- it earns its PG-13, but it's not too bad. I feel this movie already fading into the sunset- there's not a lot to hold the viewer's attention, but I enjoyed it while it was on. 2 1/2 out of 5.

Rent the DVD free from Netflix!

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Is Jesus your homeboy? 

Great post from Rusty on the appropriate attitude toward Jesus, as modeled by those who reacted to Him in Scripture. Check it out.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The Power of a Name 

I have heard it said many times, that knowing someone's name gives you power over them. The ancient Jewish culture of the Old Testament demonstrated this by giving people names that said something about them, so that knowing someone's name meant knowing something about them. Many traditional societies would sometimes think of this in a superstitious way- that knowing someone's name would allow you to put hexes or curses on them. Today, even if a name is just a random assignment of a familiar series of sounds with a person- there's no significance to someone having a name, usually, than that the parents liked that name- still, using someone's name makes them feel more familiar and comfortable with you. Every salesman knows that using someone’s name creates empathy. So there's still power in a name. You call someone's name, they hear it, and they turn around. You have some measure of power over that person's behavior by knowing their name. Similarly, people are less likely to engage in culturally unacceptable behavior if people know who they are. A family man would be less likely to go into a strip bar if he thinks someone who knows him might see him.

You've probably heard the expression, "I'm no -ism, unless it's 'aintism'- I'm against -isms!"

I hate that expression.

I was thinking the other day about why it annoys me so much when someone refuses to classify themselves religiously or politically. If one is the pastor of a charismatic church, why would one resist being called charismatic? It occurred to me that it's related to this idea, the power of a name. If I call someone charismatic or Lutheran or whatever, then I have some measure of power over them, insofar as I can expect them to hold a certain range of opinions and views, and to behave in certain ways. If someone identifies themselves as progressive or conservative, then I know something about them, and therefore have some power over them. Perhaps people resist that. Perhaps people resent being understood, because they resent others having any measure of power over them. If I say, "I'm an evangelical Christian" then people will likely, and rightly, suspect that I am pro-life. But perhaps I'd like to be pro-abortion, and so I don't identify myself as an evangelical, even though all of my other views are consistent with that label, because the inconsistency of my position could then be used against me.

I don't think there are any totally original thinkers. We all fall into patterns of thought and belief that, for the most part, many many other people have taken before us. These patterns have been given names- Lutheran, Reformed Jew, animist, Zoroastrian, Reformed Protestant, etc. It seems to me that to refuse to identify yourself with the pattern of beliefs most closely resembling your own represents either ignorance of the history of your beliefs, or an act of hostility to others. I say hostility because it represents a lack of trust. It's a refusal to allow others to know anything helpful about you so that they have no power over you. It's like a man sneaking into town in a black cloak- why is he hiding? A civilized honest man comes into town in daylight and tells people who he is and what his business there is. An honest man identifies himself. He gives his name.

So, to practice what I preach:
I'm a Reformed Christian. I'm traditional, and Calvinist. I'm supralapsarian and amillenial. I’m a member of the Reformed Church in the United States. I’m a Republican, conservative, and pro-life. Any questions?

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Everyone Needs a Basin Wrench 

I installed a kitchen faucet for the first time yesterday. I'm very proud of myself. Most of the guys in my church rebuild tractors for fun and build their own houses from scratch. But I'm a city boy, and it's important to celebrate the small victories. A kitchen faucet! I rock! I have now replaced most of the major fixtures in a house- toilet, sink, faucet, garbage disposal, laundry.

I bet those guys don't know how to order sushi. So there.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

A sad thing (but kind of funny too) 

Katie has started to swing on the swingset. She loves it. She's 20 months old now, and looks just so cute swinging back and forth.

But the other day, I was getting in the car to go somewhere, and I said "bye bye, Katie!" and she took her hand off the chain to wave to me, and fell right off the swing.

She didn't get hurt but she hollered. One of those tragic, but kind of funny, moments.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Ashcroft and the 9/11 commission 

John Ashcroft yesterday exposed the fact that the 9/11 panel commissioner Jamie Gorelick is one of the main architects of the policy of non-cooperation between the FBI and CIA. This policy probably had more to do with the events of 9/11 than any other single factor hampering our government from within. But of course, that story's getting buried, except by, of all people, the New York Times.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The Passion's impact 

Joe Carter has a post at the Evangelical Outpost on whether or not The Passion can be considered great art. I haven't, and won't, see the movie, for reasons spelled out earlier. So I can't comment on the art aspect of it. But here's an interesting quote:
My own take is that the movie was a viscerally powerful and emotionally draining work. The movie works as a form of propaganda (and I mean that in the best sense of the word) but it never reaches, in my opinion, the level of a great work of art. While watching “The Passion” I felt a sense of detachment even as I was being emotionally pummeled by the images on the screen. Within days after leaving the theater the effect had faded away. Weeks afterward I realized, to my dismay, that the controversy and discussion the film had sparked had a more lasting impact on me than had the film itself.

My question is, why did this result cause dismay in you? If you go to just any movie, and it fails to live up to hype, does this cause dismay? I hope not, because movies fail to live up to their potential or their marketing all the time.

The answer, of course, is that to the Christian, this isn't just any other movie. This is about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And what Joe is relating here is the disappointment in realizing that a movie failed to be the religious experience he was looking for. This, in my mind, is proof positive that the movie is idolatry, in the way that an awful lot, probably the huge majority, of people are viewing it. I'll demonstrate this through the use of a dilemma- either it's just a movie, or it's not just a movie.

It's just a movie. Just another film. Granted it's about a subject matter that we resonate with, perhaps more than Saving Private Ryan or Braveheart or the Patriot, perhaps not. So the question of its quality can simply be a dispassionate study of the quality of its cinematography and narrative technique and so forth.

But nobody, and I mean NOBODY, talks about this movie as if that were true. Even unbelievers react viscerally to the movie. Believers mostly talk about the opportunity for witnessing or the opportunity for greater spiritual depth in their own life.

That is to say, It's not just a movie. No movie about Christ could ever be just a movie. It is, in fact, a religious experience. It is worship. And what you are worshiping is a dramatic interpretation of the Gospel, teaching a Catholic view of the atonement, loaded with extrabiblical accretions and Catholic visions. That is to say, you are worshiping the imaginations, and placing your trust in the artistic abilities, of Mel Gibson.

The movie, with its intense focus on the physical sufferings of Jesus, teach a Catholic view of how the atonement is applied to us. The intention of the movie is to make us feel dramatically and intensely how much Jesus suffered for us. One of the things I hear people say over and over is that the point of the movie is that 'we're all culpable.' We're all guilty of Christ's crucifixion. Which is true, but knowing that is not the way that the sufferings and death of Christ are applied to me for my salvation. The sufferings of Christ were not primarily directed to us, to make us pity Christ and really feel, vicariously, what He went through. His sufferings and death were primarily aimed at God, to satisfy God's justice. The worst torment He went through was the alienation from His heavenly father, which no movie could ever portray. But the Catholic mindset is that we gain the benefit of Christ's death by our constant reflection on His sacrifice, by having it constantly held before our eyes.

Look at this quote, from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
The perpetual priesthood of Christ in heaven, which occupies a prominent place in nearly all the writings we have examined, is even more emphatically insisted upon by Origen. And this deserves to be remembered, because it is a part of the doctrine which has been almost or altogether dropped out of many Protestant expositions of the Atonement, whereas those most inclining among Catholics to a merely juridical view of the subject have never been able to forget the present and living reality of a sacrifice constantly kept before their eyes, as it were, in the worship which reflects on earth the unfailing liturgy of heaven.

The perpetual priesthood of Christ- what they mean by this is that Christ is continually offered up for our sins, over and over and over. This is what the Mass is, a perpetual re-sacrificing of Christ. The Protestant doctrine, on the other hand, is that Christ was offered up once for all. His one sacrifice and death was sufficient for eternity, and does not need to continue.

But if the sacrifice is continual as the Roman Catholics teach, continually before our eyes, then the devout need to know that. The devout need to have that sacrifice held before them constantly. And therefore devotion will be marked by continuously experiencing His sacrifice, 'feeling the nails', as I've seen on the marquis of theaters showing this movie. The very devout Catholics go to Mass every day, fast, inflict physical sufferings on themselves, and even go so far as to crucify themselves, all in the attempt of being united to Christ in His sufferings, the better to feel what He did for us. And so every time you walk into a Catholic Church, you will see Christ on the cross.

But we don't need to feel the nails. Christ took the whole punishment for us. We need to respond with thankfulness for the completed work that He did for us, but any suggestion that we need to experience or participate or understand what Christ went through is to cast doubt on the sufficiency of what He did. We could never understand what Christ went through.

This is why Christians are not to use images of any kind. God may not and cannot be imaged in any way. And although Jesus Christ did become human, that humanity can never be separated from his divinity. You can no longer look on Jesus as simply a man. And the reaction to this movie, the way evangelicals approach it, proves that they don't.

Open your eyes, Evangelicals. This movie is about Catholic piety and making Catholic converts. Sure, it's well-done. It accomplishes its goals of giving you an intense religious experience. Addiction to that experience will lead you straight to Rome.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Book Review- Finding Common Ground 

Finding Common Ground: How to Communicate with Those Outside the Christian Community
Finding Common Ground: How to Communicate with Those Outside the Christian Community

Finding Common Ground
by Tim Downs

Normally, I am suspicious of any book that talks about ‘postmodernism’ and ‘finding common ground’ and the like. Such books, it seems, can all too often boil down to saying that the word of God is insufficient to change people’s lives, and that we have to package our message in the language of the world to such an extent that the message itself must be changed. Frequently books addressing the postmodern bent of our society seems to view it as a good thing, as if rejection of the concept of absolute truth was some kind of opportunity for the Christian. This is an unacceptable position, I believe. So I came to this book with some skepticism.

The book has been a pleasant surprise, though. What Mr. Downs has done most perceptively, I believe, is that evangelism is a twofold process, the sowing and the harvesting. Sowing, he says, is the patient process of preparing soil to receive seed, and nurturing that seed. Harvesting is going out and collecting the grain. So, sowing is building broad acceptance for the prerequisites of faith in God, building relationships with people and in general preparing people to hear God’s word. Harvesting is going out and getting converts through direct witnessing. Mr. Downs believes that most modern American ministry workers focus exclusively on the harvest, and fail to teach people how and why to sow. Mr. Downs indicates that this tendency is tied to the expectation of the imminent return of Christ and the failure to plan for the future. As a result, everyone is trying to harvest and no-one is sowing, with the result that the field is becoming increasingly infertile due to a lack of nurturing and preparation.

The rest of the book really is various kinds of advice and recommendations for how to encourage and equip people to do sowing. He talks about how to talk to people in the workplace, focusing on three tools to use- asking questions, finding agreements, and through one’s life. He talks about the need to get a collection of ‘sowing-safe’ books, books that can be given to new believers or people asking questions, books that are free of Christian ‘jargon’. He talks about the need for Christians to re-capture a sense of value in work, as fulfilling the creation mandate to have dominion, as this will introduce a Godly witness into the workplace. He talks about the need for Christians to understand the value of art as a communications medium, especially since the world understands art’s value so well, and uses it so effectively.

The things I appreciated most about this book:

1. The long view. Downs constantly stresses that we ought to be working as if we were prepared for a very long wait before Christ comes again.
2. The value given to the ‘sowing’ ministry. I don’t think I’d ever even heard of this described as a component of evangelism, except perhaps as a fallback attitude if an immediate conversion wasn’t possible. The idea that we ought to train and encourage people in all walks of life to prepare the soil, and that this is a vital and valuable component of evangelism, is a breath of fresh air.
3. The practical advice, especially about the kinds of books to give people and the attitude to have towards the unbeliever.

Response from A Saddleback member 

I got the following email recently, in response to this post:
You know - I'm amazed at everyone's comments, including your review. I am a member at Saddleback Church and have been attending for about 15 years.

I think you missed something. I was at the same service as you - and there were plenty of people with Bibles, as I was one of them and so were my neighbors

on either side of me. Also, there was a prayer right after the music worship, and Rick said a prayer right after his sermon. I don't know what part of the prayers

you didn't understand as being prayers: Do the words "Dear Heavenly Father...." confuse you?
If you expect to walk into church and have a Bible and Hymn Book handed to you, this church is not for you. Mature Christians carry their Bibles with them to church service, and Saddleback Church recognizes this and doesn't feel the need to hand one to everyone that walks in, nor have them sitting there in front of them.

Rick teaches straight from the verses in the Bible, and it references the verse from which ever Bible it came from every single time. Maybe you missed that also?

It is not necessary to take the entire context of a scripture for teaching, only what is necessary and applies to that particular subject being taught. That is how we

learn to understand how God is speaking to us in the Bible - by breaking it down. I'm not a teacher and even I know that. That is what Rick does, he breaks down

the verses to be able to apply it to what he's teaching. Hey - we live in the year 2004, not the year 204. He is taking God's word and applying for today's living.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Not everyone will learn from this method, and that's ok, too.
Instead of ripping apart the church, maybe you should have been out on the patio after the service talking to other attenders and asking them what they like about the church, checking out the patio tables & seeing what they have to offer, and speaking to Rick Warren himself. He makes himself available on the patio after each service. I happened to see him out there after the service that day.

Yes, it's a big church. I started attending the church when it was very small and attenders were going to a high school gymnasium. But they had some wonderful

building fund campaigns and saw the church family do amazing things to help raise money to build the church. BUT, not everyone will like the size of the church,

it can be intimidating, and some prefer a smaller church. Saddleback DOES encourage finding a small group to have lessons weekly to learn more in each person's

spiritual walk. BUT Saddleback DOES have a Mid-Week service in which they do teach from the Bible verses right out of the Bible....and it is very good.

Anyhow.....you missed the point of the church because you were too busy ripping it apart and criticizing. Rick has managed to reach thousands and thousands

of people and they have accepted Christ. That is to be commended. Interesting that in Jesus' day he also reached thousands and thousands of people and he

was also criticized for it.....
Good luck with finding yourself and God Bless You....
Leah LaRosa
Saddleback Church Member

ps - I'm sure you won't post this on your "review website" but would like to see you do so.

Maybe I'm just a sucker for manipulation. Naturally, since she didn't think I'd post this, I am posting it. With a few comments, of course.

Thanks for taking the time to read my article and to write this email. Here's my response.

Being big doesn't insulate you from criticism. My church is tiny, and we get criticized. So why shouldn't you? Yes, Jesus had thousands of followers, but almost all of them abandoned him. False apostles and false messiahs in their day also had thousands of followers, but that didn't keep Paul and Peter and John and Jesus Himself from criticizing and even condemning them to hell. I'm not going so far as to say Warren's a false apostle. But I do disagree with a lot of things he does. Size of itself doesn't mean anything. And neither do claims that 'people are growing'. Besides being totally unverifiable, it's also something that is routinely claimed by all the cults and heresies out there. So let's just get that out of the way.

I never said there were no Bibles. I just didn't see any. Pastor Warren's preaching is set up so that you don't need to use them. He does not encourage people to read the passages for themselves, at least not on that Sunday. And if they prayed, it was of such low importance in the service that I missed it despite the fact that I went there for the purpose of understanding how they did worship, how they prayed, etc. It's possible I missed the first prayer, though again I was looking for things like that. The prayer after the message was not an address to God. It was called a prayer, but it addressed us, not God. I remember this clearly because it was so different than what I normally associate with prayer.

No, you don't have to say everything about a passage that could possibly be said. My point was, Pastor Warren taught the opposite of what that passage actually teaches, and ignored verses that would have revealed his error. This is inexcusable for a man of Warren's knowledge.

I was not interested in what they do on Wednesday nights or in their small groups. I wanted to see what their main worship service was like, what a 'seeker-sensitive' service looked like, and I did. That's what I reported on. I never implied that my knowledge of Saddleback was exhaustive. I just told people what I saw. I did go talk to the people at the book tables, I watched a baptism between services, and kind of generally stood around outside for about an hour before and after generally looking lost and alone to see if anyone would come talk to me so I could find out what they thought of Saddleback, but nobody did.

I understand that you'd be loyal to your church and your pastor. As a pastor, I am glad to see when people are loyal. But your first loyalty is always to the universal church, and to the truth of Scripture. So when a brother comes with some criticisms, I'd encourage you to carefully think about them rather than simply attack that brother's knowledge and sincerity.

Yours in Christ,
Matt Powell

Friday, April 09, 2004

The Passion, and Images 

From Calvin, I read this: (Institutes, vol. 1, chapter 11 part 9)
Adoration promptly follows upon this sort of fancy: afor when men
thought they gazed upon God in images, they also worshiped him in them.
Finally, all men, having fixed their minds and eyes upon them, began to
grow more brutish and to be overwhelmed with admiration for them, as if
something of divinity inhered there, Now it appears that men do not rush
forth into the cult of images before they have been imbued with some
opinion too crass-not indeed that they regard them as gods, but because
they imagine that some power of divinity dwells there. Therefore, when
you prostrate yourself in veneration, representing to yourself in an image
either a god or a creature, you are already ensnared in some superstition.

Then I saw this:
Director Mel Gibson’s graphic portrayal of the death of Jesus in "The Passion of the Christ" is already on its way to breaking box office records. At the same time, the movie seems to be spawning a renewed interest in Christianity.
This past weekend, more than 12,000 people waited in line in St. Louis to catch a glimpse of relics on display in a rare exhibit showcasing fragments of artifacts said to be linked to the final days of Christ.

Perceptive, that John Calvin.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004


If you're getting down about the recent battles in Iraq, don't. We knew there were still a lot of bad guys over there, and I bet the Marines would much rather fight them like this, out in the open in direct combat, than a snipe here or there. Den Beste is arguing they've made a huge mistake, and I think he's right. Whittle is advising courage and fortitude, and reminds us that our forefathers had to face much more difficult setbacks, that were seized upon by appeasers and cowards in their day, just like many are today. Forget them, and pray for our troops. If we give them the support to do the job, they'll do it. A few thousand ragtag militiamen are not going to significantly change the balance of power over there, but they could change the political question here, which is exactly what they're trying to do. So, courage.

I read somewhere that the main reason that Arabic (and most nomadic or tribal) armies have usually not been major threats for more organized societies is that in tribal societies, individual egos and prestige always end up winning out over broader strategic goals. I think this is exactly what's going on. This Al-Sadr fellow and the holdouts in Fallujah have over-reached themselves, and especially in Al-Sadr's case, personal ambition seems to be driving it. Pride goes before a fall, and may his fall be long, and the stop at the end sudden.

Update: I just remembered one place I read that about tribal societies- in T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004


I am SO sick of hearing 'censorship', every time someone makes a private decision not to support someone's asinine views.

The recent thing, in case you're not aware of it, is a comment by someone called "The Daily Kos", one of the biggest left-wing blogs out there. When Kos heard of the murder and mutilation of four US contractors in Fallujah recently, his response was "screw 'em", on the grounds that they were 'mercenaries'. He got a little bit of attention to that comment, including losing some advertisers, and everyone's crying about censorship.

I want to remind people: Censorship is when the GOVERNMENT prohibits speech. I, or any other private individual, can never exercise censorship. The coercive act would be if you could force me to advertise on your site, regardless of what you said. So if a private advertiser chooses not to advertise because they don't like what you're saying, that is not a violation of your First Amendment rights. Is it censorship when Planned Parenthood doesn't advertise on the Catholic Singles website? Or George W. Bush doesn't buy time on Talking Points Memo? Grow up.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Sermons up 

I've been pretty bad about getting my sermons on the web. I've finally uploaded several, the last four. There's one on baptism in particular that you might find interesting, if you're wondering why we sprinkle, and why we baptize babies as well. The link to the sermons is on the sidebar.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Those Worthless Dungbags 

Reuters has an article here about how pollsters think that the recent Iraq images will change people's minds about the war, presumably just as it did back in Somalia in 1993. That's right, a "news story" about POLLSTERS speculating about what people MIGHT think. Does this seem even the slightest bit self-serving?

Maybe, Reuters, if you tell people often enough how they ought to react to a given stimulus, maybe they'll react the way you'd like them to. I'm sure some people will.

Maybe, on the other hand, the experience of having an actual adult in the White House, having a real reason for being there, and having seen first hand on one sunny September morning the result of running everytime someone kicks us in the shin, will give the American people a different response this time. Maybe it will make people actually want to win this time. Maybe it will remind people that we're in an actual war, with people who enjoy destroying life, and that we absolutely have to win, or one day those people will be celebrating a nuclear weapon going off in one of our cities. The people who did this will not be happy when we leave Iraq, or when we abandon Israel, or when we close all the bases. They will be happy when we are all dead.

A quote, paraphrasing from a Jew who was asked what he'd learned from the Holocaust: When people say they are going to kill you, believe them. We might have learned the same from 9/11. Many people did.

But not, apparently, Reuters.

Bill Whittle Again 

Bill Whittle's Chapter Two is up. Go check it out. It's great, of course. A short sample:
Intellectualism, as it is practiced today, is a trap.

It is not a palatial hall of great minds looking for answers and then testing them in the real world; it is a basement in your parents house filled with lazy and filthy hippies eating your leftovers and drinking the last of your milk. Intellectualism is certainly not the same as intelligence, and more and more, it is becoming antithetical to intelligence. When well-off people who call themselves intellectuals drive their SUV's to march in support of Marxism, you can see the chasm between intellectualism and intelligence in full flower. When elitists who fancy themselves brighter and more compassionate than the rest of us choose to support the Taliban, with its stoning of women and execution of homosexuals in football stadiums before mandatory audiences, over a representative democracy with unparalleled structural protections of minorities and freedoms of expression, then self-styled intellectuals have abandoned intelligence altogether, as well as morality, reason, compassion and indeed sanity.

Likewise, when coffee-house intellectuals dictate their worldview according to non-existent pipelines or supposed theft of oil revenues where no evidence of such theft can be produced but deposits into Iraqi national accounts can, then one has to ask one’s self if this intellectual badge is worth the mud it’s printed on.

Yes, that was a short sample, compared to the length of the whole thing. Well worth your time, though.

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