Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Interpreter

Ever since Babel's tower, learning languages has been the main hurdle in cross-cultural communication.

At that time, man's pride was so audacious that he felt he could do anything, even build a stairway to God's dwelling place. It's interesting that God recognized man's nearly limitless potential, and to hear the Bible tell it, he had to twist their tongues to keep them from reaching it.

Generations in the future, even with all our advances in computers and technology, our inability to talk to each other still limits our capacity to work together across borders.

In college, I thought I'd take a step toward fixing that by learning Chinese. I had been on missions trips to China and felt I'd have a better chance at communicating with sensitivity on future journeys if I used the people's heart language. Not to mention that it would help me travel, and it wouldn't hurt my job prospects if I could speak a language that almost a sixth of the world's population uses every day.

It's been hard. Chinese is a tonal language, and a word like ma can have 5 different meanings depending on the inflection of the voice. Chinese is also monosyllabic, meaning one word is usually one syllable, represented by one character. But today's Mandarin Chinese employs a lot of compound words like feiji, the word for airplane. "Fei" means to fly, and "ji" means machine, forming the literal and quite logical "flying machine."

Even with my struggles, I've had one strength in Chinese that a lot of foreigners don't have (and I'm only saying this because people have told me so): I can keep myself from imposing a standard of what the language should and shouldn't do based on my English-tinged mind.

The point of learning a foreign language is that it's foreign, something outside the realm of what your mind has processed before. This is both the maddening and the beautiful part of tackling the task of conversing in a different tongue. Getting there can be tough, but even in little victories you feel like you've opened up another identity, taken up a new self and joined an exclusive club.

Following God is like that, too. He's so holy, set apart, so other, that everything about his character is incomprehensible to us, infinitely more difficult to understand than Greek or Chinese to the English speaker.

I think it's pretty obvious that spiritually, weakness, sin and selfishness are our vernacular, and it's going to take some hefty studying in life to get to the point where our conversations are seasoned with salt and productive for his kingdom.

I like to say I'm "studying Chinese," probably because it makes me sound impressive and exotic (to people who don't already know better). Truth is, I rarely pick up my many Chinese books, and I've failed to get a language partner who can help smooth my conversational skills.

The same goes for learning God's language. The vocabulary of forgiveness, grace and peace pop up in my head too infrequently. The textbook is often too heavy on unfamiliar themes. I rarely speak to God on his terms or listen when he pronounces how I should order my steps. A language is a way of life, and I disregard with my actions that which I desperately desire to master in my head.

Good thing God sent an Interpreter who makes plain the complex realities of who God is. His Word is my spiritual dictionary.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Living Water

America has two obesity problems. Along with our bellies, our billfolds are getting fat, flabby and out of shape.

Just as eating good food isn't bad, padding our pockets isn't necessarily a negative thing. But gorging ourselves leads to weight gain, causing health problems that could be avoided with exercise and a smart and disciplined diet.

Financially, it's the same principle. Hoarding our wealth is a symptom of selfishness, a stem that sprouts out of the roots of pride and selfishness. Building a fortune to serve ourselves, to prop up our comfortable lifestyles, causes clogs in the arteries that lead from our heart to God's and undue strain on the system that circulates his love and ideas throughout our lives.

Today I've been listening to the audiobook of "Revolution in World Missions," a semi-autobiography by the founder of a ministry I support called Gospel for Asia. The ministry seeks to mobilize native missionaries throughout Asia to bring the name of Jesus to their own people.

K.P. Yohannan, the author of the book and the founder and president of GFA, describes the vision as a cost-effective and timely way to reach the most unreached peoples of the world with culturally relevant Gospel teaching. He pits this idea against the paradigm of Western missions, sending "blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white people" to areas throughout the globe where their presence is often unwelcome or forbidden.

In these situations, Mr. Yohannan argues, it often takes years to learn language, secure the requisite immigrant status, build relationships, learn cultural mores, and finally, to plant churches. Gospel for Asia operates by cultivating trained native missionaries who are ready to go to their own people for a fraction of the cost of Western missionaries, if only someone will send them.

A native of the Indian state of Kerala, Mr. Yohannan didn't come to America until he was college-aged. He didn't speak English until he was 16. He'd always heard about American affluence but finally experienced it when he came to study on scholarship at a seminary in Dallas. To make a long story short, he was appalled by the way that U.S. citizens went about their days with little idea of how filthy rich they really were.

One day's meat for us was enough to feed an Asian family for a week, he said. A $3 latte at Starbucks is the equivalent of three days' wages for more than a billion people living in poverty. After meetings where he spoke about the lost and dying, he was shocked to note that the after-church meal he ate often cost more than what he had collected in his love offering for the support of native missionaries who were suffering for Christ.

In fairness, Mr. Yohannan isn't all self-congratulating. He grapples with these issues in the text, and he admits the failures when he fell into the same traps. But his message is clear and unabashed: The Church in the U.S. and other wealthy Western nations has been financially blessed so that it can help faithfully bankroll the work of reaching the lost for Christ in some of the most untouched places.

GFA has grown tremendously out of this vision. A turning point in the ministry was creating $30/month (about a dollar a day) sponsorship plan so that a believer here can support a believer there. That remains a cornerstone of GFA's fundraising efforts.

The problem is that it's hard to get Americans to sacrifice anything. If the current financial crisis tells us anything about ourselves, it's that we haven't yet begun to loosen the grip that materialism has not only on our culture, but on our hearts as Christians and our churches as well.

I propose a way to combat this, and in the process, waistlines will likely slim.

We spend tons of money going out to eat every week, some of us more than others. For many, getting a drink with a meal is second nature, nevermind the fact that it usually adds about $2 to the bill and hundreds of calories that our waistlines are fighting hopelessly against.

Maybe we should try to only drink water (offered free at most establishments) when we eat out and put the money that we saved away so that we can support GFA or ministries like it. I think we'd be surprised at the millions we could raise so quickly and easily. Jesus said that there would be untold blessings for anyone who gives a cup of cold water to nourish his disciples. With this plan, we can even drink the water ourselves and still reap the spiritual benefit. It's dying to self in a small way. Starting here, it's possible that we could begin to walk the path of true, sacrifical giving that invests in God's kingdom rather than our own.

What does anyone out there think?

Click here to support a Gospel for Asia missionary.

Download "Revolution in World Missions" after you sign up for email updates.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Every Tribe and Tongue

A new ministry is building an online community to expedite Jesus' goal of making disciples from every tribe and tongue.

Using open-source wiki technology and an army of volunteer translators, Gospel Translations is looking to provide online access to Gospel-focused books and articles in a variety of languages.

Wiki is a code framework used for collaborative Web sites like Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia where registered users can contribute and edit articles.

Gospel Translations builds its English library by partnering with ministries that allow the use of their copyrighted content (See list here). Then, volunteer translators convert the resources into other languages on the site.

The goal is to quickly and efficiently provide a knowledge base for Christian leaders in parts of the world where there is a dearth of suitable theological materials or where traditional print distribution hasn't kept up with the demands of the rapidly growing church.

The leaders of the effort say the Christian center of the world is shifting away from its traditional seat in the West as the evangelical populations of Africa, Asia and Latin America multiply exponentially.

In some of these areas, the Bible is the only Christian literature available. In places like China, many resources are published, but they're regulated by complex rules.

The emotional fervor of Christianity can spread like wildfire, but if a spiritual movement is not based on true discipleship, it's ultimately an exercise in fanaticism. Yes, God's Word has everything we need for the process of discipleship, but a broader base of knowledge provides protection against heresy and a check against the temptation to interpret difficult passages based on presupposition rather than truth.

The one spiritual commodity the West has available for export is biblical knowledge. What would my spiritual intellect be without the insight of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity? How would I have started to understand the supremacy of God in day-to-day life without John Piper's Don't Waste Your Life? If not for Donald Miller's Searching for God Knows What, who would have colorfully explained the mystery and wonder of finding identity in the person of Jesus?

Resources like these need to escape the stuffy libraries of ungrateful and complacent hoarders like me. This new platform gives them a chance - through telephone lines, underground wires and fiber optic cables - to really spread their wings.

Projects have already begun in Arabic, Russian, Bahasa Indonesian and other languages, including an entire portal in Spanish. See the complete list of languages on the homepage.

Click here to become a translator.

Watch Gospel Translation's intro video below. It is an initiative of OpenSource Mission:

Potty Training

My three-year-old niece is potty training. She did something really hilarious the last time we saw her. This is only funny because she is my niece, not my daughter.

She talks pretty well now, so she came and announced to us that she had to use the bathroom. Number 2, it was. So we all urged her to go sit on the potty and deal with the business that had arisen.

She didn't make it.

But she's a considerate lass. She walked into her bedroom and dug out the wet wipes, brought them back into the living room and handed them to her dad (my brother).

"Here's some wipes, daddy!"

We all burst into laughter. The consensus around the room was that if your daughter can hand deliver the means to cleaning up the mess, there's no reason it should have been created in the first place.

As amusing as that was, it's sobering to think that the same principle applies to me sometimes. God has given me guidelines. He's showed me the neatness of his commands, how his direction can save me from the soil of sin, apathy, passivity and laziness.

But many times, I don't make it. And my response is the same as my little niece.

"Daddy - Lord - Here are some wipes! Clean me up!"

God is a good father. If we come to him and ask to be cleaned, he washes us. But he probably shares a similar brand of amusement every time we fail. Shouldn't I be past the potty-training phase of Christianity?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dumpster Diving

My Fast-Food Cups Runneth Over

I just practically scored a free Coke out of a recycling bin. Yep, just plucked seven caps off the top of the heap. With the codes entered online, I'll be one cap away from a 20-oz.

You might think this is nasty, but it's just something I do. I scour Craigslist for free items that I might be able to use or sell. I check for deals online. And to a limit, I'll dig through trash. Some might say this is unhygienic, strange or just downright dirty. I tend to believe it's practical to take refuse and turn its latent value into treasure.

Just ask my friends. In college, four of us fashioned a dumpster-diving scheme that netted us some big bucks and high-flying benefits. A fast-food restaurant was giving away free airline tickets with drink purchases. The thing was, you had to accumulate the drink cups, cut out proofs of purchase and send them to the restaurant, which credited your account at the airline with the free trips.

Instead of purchasing the 64 drinks required for the round-trips, we decided to take a quicker route, cutting out that pesky middle man. We'd just get our plunder right out of the dumpster.

Now, it must be said that only college kids can come up with stuff like this. I make actual money now and have a real job that I wouldn't want to risk to spend all night knee-deep in discarded chili, wading through bags of grease and cups saturated with ketchup and other, unidentifiable substances.

But we had a few things going for us that made the perfect recipe for dumpster-diving success: a propensity to stay up late, a desire for mischievous adventure and a desperate need for cash.

I won't say we started small, for our first undertaking was a lofty feat. Armed with headlamps, latex gloves and garbage bags, we raided 13 dumpsters across at least five different cities. The idea for the initial mission was to get enough cups that we could all have two round-trip tickets throughout the continental U.S. When dawn broke, we were sitting on a stack of more than 500, enough for each of us to fly free to Seattle and back - twice.

With our hard-earned but rousing success, we began thinking of how we might further capitalize on our newfound and profoundly disgusting hobby. A light bulb went off in my brain. Ebay.

We checked the online auction site, and cups were going for more than a dollar a piece, sometimes for even more than it would cost to actually get a large Coke from the restaurant. Dollar signs began to dance in our heads. It was almost too much joy to take in, especially after the grueling sortie we had just endured. In our eyes, those yellow squares of cardboard printed on the cups were bricks of gold.

But all good things come with a price. Dumpster diving is not for the faint of heart - or stomach. Fast-food dumpsters are the repository for anything and everything that is unholy about American cuisine, if you can even dignify it with such a name. If hell had a specially tailored torture method for each of the senses, the smell test would employ the very odor emitted by those metal boxes of horror.

Inside the dumpster, a light undertone of ketchup permeates everything. Rotting burgers, flat sodas of various flavors, moldy chili, limp french fries and tossed salads create a vortex of olfactory assault that makes my innards churn even now. Every restaurant has a heavy black bag of the night's cooking grease. Eventually we made a game out of finding it, like a putrid Easter egg hunt.

We had to do something to stay entertained. You see, that first night only the beginning of month-long effort to gain as many cups as possible. We made a solemn pact not to share our discovery with outsiders. That way, no one could interrupt our supply. We'd split all the cups we got with the group, even if they were gained on an individual mission.

We devised a system to optimize the our cup-harvesting capabilities while diminishing the disgusting aspects of the job. We traded smaller latex gloves for the dish-washing variety that covered the whole forearm. We used headlamps to free up our arms. When dumpsters were full enough, we learned we could stand outside instead of plunging in. When we did have to enter, we'd throw cups out to other team members who'd quickly stash them in garbage bags. We'd process them later at home. Sometimes we split into teams of two and set out in opposite directions to cover a broader swath of north Georgia.

Soon, others began to catch on. We uncovered a cup-smuggling ring in Columbus, where a guy was bribing workers to hand over a nightly stash. In Commerce, we ran into a guy in the dumpster. We booted him out and jumped in, just to flee before the dump truck emptied the dumpster's contents into its trailer.

The Athens market was saturated with scavengers and soon dried up. The promotion finally ended. We had gathered more than 2,000 cups. We gave the tickets we won as gifts or sold them on Ebay. Even after expenses and a botched Ebay deal, each of the four of us still walked away with $364 and two round-trips.

You can't beat free business class on the way back from your honeymoon in Arizona. As I looked beyond the curtain that separated me from the plebeians in coach, I raised my free glass of wine to fast-food and opportunistic friends.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

18 Years Adrift

I became a Christian at age 6. Impossible, you say? Not at all. Children understand better than adults the dynamics of punishment and the need to be rescued from it. And like Jesus said, kids are more likely to latch onto faith. This is rare for grown-ups, whose minds and hearts have been subjected to the gradual erosion of calloused education.

At that tender age, I only knew a few things. I had done wrong. I had acted against my parents' will. I had lied, cheated, stolen, hated, physically harmed others, discriminated, made fun of people, overindulged, complained, neglected God and acted in a generally selfish manner since the womb. Conviction, the nagging sense that I was imperfect, did not need to be proven from scripture. Experience was enough.

This guilt provided the foundation for faith. My step-dad was a pastor, and every week I heard about the option to leave guilt behind by trusting in Jesus and the work that he did through his cross and resurrection. This grace, this unmerited acceptance, was life's get-out-of-jail-free card, and I knew - however childishly- that I needed to break free from the prison of my young heart's crimes.

That's what led me to ask God to save me and to guide my life, allowing the punishment Jesus' received to become my own. Email me if you're curious...

We need the faith of a child to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus said as much. But he didn't intend that we keep drinking spiritual formula and never move on to solid food. At 6, I was saved, but there was no way I was a finished work. Just ask my elementary school teachers.

As I grew, I began to put flesh on my scrawny skeleton of faith. I memorized the order of the books of the Bible backwards, a useless skill to be sure, but impressive to fellow church members. I started highlighting things in my teen study Bible and really listening to sermons. As my spiritual digestive tract began to churn, I devoured books and conversations and teaching throughout high school.

In college, I weathered the intellectual assaults of Buddhism class and the evolutionary mindset of anthropology. I led Bible studies and played worship music. I raised money and traveled across the world to build God's kingdom. I built a network of like-minded believers.

I'm now 24, a year and a half out of college, with both feet in the real world. My intellect and my intentions are full of the words of God and a desire to do his will. I've now been a Christian for 18 years.

Still, I mostly fail.

I'm packed with ideas, knowledge and ability, but I see little fruit. I'm spurred on by compassion for the needy, but I don't act on their behalf. I burn for those who don't know the freedom of Christ, but I rarely tell them.

In many ways, I'm still adrift, floating backwards from the place I began at 6 years old. Then, I was enamored with God. I loved him and felt his comfort. I really knew something not just with my head, but with my heart.

I've moved onto solid food, but I've forgotten to devour each day the meat of the Gospel, that Christ has saved us from our misdeeds and brought us into freedom - not just from this detached notion of sin - but from ourselves. We no longer are slaves to the patterns of the world. We don't have to live the lie of self-indulgence. Like our savior, sacrifice is our fulfillment. Obedience is our mission and joy.

I pray God will reinvigorate my faith with the love of a child. Only then will my spiritual muscle spring into action.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Recent Meetings

I've periodically updated this blog with boasts about some of the interesting people I've met or encountered in my day-to-day life as an international business reporter. The last update was August, so I figure it's time for another.


-Kursad Tuzmen - a charismatic leader who swam the Bosporus Strait, Tuzmen is Turkey's foreign trade minister. I didn't meet him, but I did see him at a breakfast with Coke CEO Muhtar Kent.

-Charles Stith - former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania under Clinton, now director of the African Presidential Archives and Research Center at Boston University. Just edited a book compiling writings from former African heads of state on the challenges that face the leaders of their respective countries.

-Antonio Patriota - Brazil’s ambassador the U.S. Mr. Patriota could've been high-brow, but he was a diplomat to the core, courteous and thoughtful, eloquent and pensive. I spoke with him uninterrupted for about 15 minutes at an event celebrating Atlanta's new Brazilian consulate. We talked about the state of Brazil-U.S. relations, energy in Brazil, his former diplomatic post in Beijing, and how he loves to go the High Museum of Art when he's in Atlanta.

-Pierre Vimont - French ambassador to the U.S. I had to present an award on behalf of my company to Mr. Vimont in front of an audience of more than a hundred people. Talk about nerve-racking.

-Shirley Franklin - Atlanta mayor. You can say a lot of things about Shirley, but you can't say she's not a nice gal. I spoke to her at the High Museum, where she told me that she was head of Atlanta's cultural affairs 25 years ago, her "favorite job."

-Henri Loyrette - the day after presenting our special report on the Louvre Atlanta partnership to the French ambassador, I got to meet Mr. Loyrette, the president and director of the Louvre. I interviewed him in front of a huge lion sculpture that leads into the Louvre Atlanta exhibit.

-Zhou Wenzhong - Chinese ambassador to the U.S. The High Museum has been a happening place in the past few months. I've covered the opening of the Louvre exhibit's final year there, and I was also on hand for a media preview of the terracotta army exhibition. The 2,200-year-old figures and related artifacts come from the tomb of Qin Shihuang Di, the first emperor who unified China's warrings states. See another attempt at a video report.

-Friis Arne Petersen - Danish ambassador to the U.S. I interviewed him before he gave a speech on what could potentially be a scary topic: the EU as a rising superpower.

-Paul Oram - Minister of business, Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Apparently they have more than just well-known dog breeds in the northeast Canadian province. Oil and gas was the "savior" when there was a moratorium on cod that paralyzed the economy and caused communities to shut down. Now, the province is diversifying.

-Faida Mitifu - Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the U.S. I found out she has a house in Columbus. She taught at Columbus State University and maintained her place there because she liked my hometown so much.

-Andrew Young - former Atlanta mayor, Georgia congressman and ambassador to the United Nations. I couldn't help but feel like I was sitting across from history. Mr. Young, a prominent civil rights activist in the 1960s and beyond, was there on the day that Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot.

-Tom Kloet
- CEO of the Toronto Stock Exchange. Most of what he said I didn't understand. Let's just be honest.

-King Tut - a bunch of artifacts from the boy king's tomb have made their way to Atlanta. The exhibition at the Atlanta Civic Center puts Tutankhamun in the historical context of all the great pharaohs in an informative and entertaining way.

-Ojo Maduekwe - Nigeria's foreign minister. Mr. Maduekwe delivered a speech on Obama's election and its implications for Africa. He was very thoughtful and gracious enough to speak with my publisher and I to make sure we understand what's going on.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Solar Rip-off?

One of the main impediments to the widespread adoption of solar energy is that it takes years for the energy savings generated by solar panels to offset their high-flying initial price tags, and the cost of photovoltaic energy compared to fossil fuels is astronomical.

Last year I went to a luncheon with the head of one of Germany's leading trade groups for photovoltaics. He said that a rooftop system would cost about $20,000 and would take two decades to pay for itself on average.

His solution? "We should not talk about instruments; we should talk about goals." See full article here.

Translation: Don't worry that the economic model that the Germans use would never work in the U.S. It's more important that we bow at the feet of today's renewable energy fad than think about the system's economic sustainability in the long run.

But according to articles I read recently in Foreign Policy and Time magazines, solar proponents recently have had the chance to have their cake and eat it too, thanks to new thin-film solar panels that can be produced for a fraction of what they used to cost.

Given the benefits these systems supposedly provide for a planet environmentalists say is in danger of overheating because of man-made carbon dioxide emissions, this could be a huge breakthrough for the environmental movement.

But Foreign Policy's list of top 10 stories you didn't hear this year let's us in on a little secret. Nitrogen Triflouride, or NF3, a gas used in the production of these newfangled panels, is 17,000 times more powerful in contributing to global warming than CO2, and it might be in the atmosphere in greater abundance than previously expected.

It's still a blip on the global warming radar because it was not regulated under the famed Kyoto treaty and it's nowhere near as prevalent as CO2. Scientists worry this isn't the only gaseous culprit floating around out there. Check out the article for the details.

This reminds me of when the journal "Science" came out with a study earlier this year about how the hasty trend toward biofuels actually results in a net increase in greenhouse-gas emissions because rain forests - natural CO2 suckers - have been cleared to grow feedstocks for biofuels.

I'm all for protecting God's green earth. Let's just use our heads and look at the big picture as we make attempts to do so.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Ready for Heaven?

As I pulled into the bank today, the radio was playing a Kenny Chesney song. He sang in his usual lighthearted twang, staying true to the beachy feel that runs throughout many of his hits.

He was singing about heaven, how everyone wants to go, but only after they've soaked up all this world has to offer.

"Everybody wanna go to heaven, but nobody wanna go now," he crooned.

Sad, I thought, but true. When most of us consider the idea of heaven that has been ingrained in our church doctrine and circulated through pop culture, our hearts sink.

The vision goes something like this: We die, leaving behind all those we love. Wings sprout from our backs and halos appear above our heads as our disembodied spirits ascend to a cloud where we'll laze around for eternity, playing harps and singing 1990s worship music as our bearded, venerable God basks in the praise while seated idly on his golden throne.

Or as Chesney sees it:

"Someday I want to see those streets of gold in my halo
But I wouldn’t mind waiting at least a hundred years or so"

Why not wait? If what we've believed is true, we're not missing out on much. Is it better than eternal suffering and everlasting fire that cannot be quenched? Sure. But not by much.

Randy Alcorn offers us a different view of heaven in his book by the same name. He explains why the image we've concocted is so disheartening, why the prospect of this ethereal dwelling place can't inspire us.

"We do not desire to eat gravel. Why? Because God did not design us to eat gravel. Trying to develop an appetite for a disembodied, non-physical existence is like trying to develop an appetite for gravel. No matter how sincere we are, and no matter how hard we try, it's not going to work. Nor should it" (7).

Instead, we desire what our savior has promised, through his word and actions. We are physical beings designed for a physical place. We want to live in communion with the resurrected Christ in a new body, on a new earth, and surprisingly to many of us, "our desires correspond precisely with God's plans."

Through a nearly 500-page comprehensive study filled with theological evidence and experiential research, Alcorn reconstructs a view of heaven as he interprets it from scripture.

Here's how he addresses a few misconceptions:

-Heaven, in its final state, will be on a resurrected earth, not in some galaxy far away.

-We will not be disembodied spirits. Instead, we will be like the resurrected Christ in body. He ate and allowed his disciples to touch him, but strangely he was also able to walk through walls.

-We will be restored to the dominion we were promised before the Fall. We will not become pudgy cherubs but will have real, tangible rewards, real territories to look after, real dominion over a real realm.

There is more. Alcorn makes it clear that we should not presume to know everything about heaven, but we can know something. We can use our imaginations to interpret our day-to-day experiences in a way that gives us glimpses of eternity.

In other words, when sin marred the earth, it didn't take away all that God had pronounced good. The taste of fresh fruit, conversation with the ones you love, beautiful scenery - they all point us back to God's ideal, the perfection that we've lost through the decay of sin but which Jesus will restore when he comes again and institutes his kingdom on earth.

Part of the reason we have trouble seeing this is that we've made Christianity more about tenets than the experience of the Gospel, more about articles of faith than the trust and hope they're supposed to point us to.

Christianity is not just right in an intellectual sense, like bullet points you'd use in a throwdown argument with an atheist. Christianity jives with the way we all experience the world, and it explains things that we know inherently.

-We're screwed up, unable to do what we know is right.
-We long for community but are terrible at fostering it.
-We desire beauty, safety, love, adventure and peace, and we notice when those things are lacking.
-We've had thousands of years of history, and our basic inclination toward self has not changed.

Jesus fixes our sin for us. He gives us sacred communion through sacrificial love. He tells us that the beauty we desire is a foretaste of things to come. Through his death, he shows us how submission and obedience to God's will frees us from the bondage that comes with self-love.

In essence, all the things we long for at our core are restored when God's will is done earth as it is in heaven.

So don't lose heart. Eternity is adventure that's already begun to happen.

For more, check out the resources at Randy Alcorn's Eternal Perspectives Ministries.

Photo: Meditation in Xinjiang province, China. Copyright Trevor Williams, 2006.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Will Smith's Guide to Marriage

It's hard to believe, but actor Will Smith recently turned 40. It seems like only yesterday that the Fresh Prince was rapping his way into hearts across America, terrorizing Bel Air with his West Philadelphia ways.

Now, he's one of the most sought-after movie stars on the planet. His films have grossed more than $5 billion around the world.

Barbara Walters interviewed Big Willie Style for her special on 2008's Most Fascinating People, which aired tonight.

He's gotten wiser with age. After a failed first marriage, he tied the knot with Jada Pinkett Smith, and he's got a new outlook that all of us married folk could learn from, especially in a country where half of our "lifelong" commitments fail.

On his second time around, Smith says, divorce is not an option.

"If divorce is an option; you're gonna get divorced," he told Walters. Spoken like a man with four decades of experience, and I don't think he was acting this time.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

UGA Still Top 5 in One Ranking

While the University of Georgia has fallen from its preseason perch at the top of the college football rankings to No. 17 after its loss to rival Georgia Tech, the old alma mater is still top 5 in one important ranking.

For 2007-08, UGA had the fifth-highest amount of students enrolled in study abroad programs of any school in the country, public or private.  Georgia's flagship institution doubled the techies in that regard, 2086 to a meager 1001.

That doesn't take the sting (pun intended) away from Tech's 45-42 victory and UGA's freefall over the course of the highly anticipated 2008 football season, but at least we can take pride that we'll have a globally minded, highly educated state population. 

Because that's what everybody cares about on the weekend of the SEC championship game, right?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Forbidden Fruit

I've solved the mystery. The forbidden fruit that caused the fall of man was not an apple. It was definitely a pomegranate.

The sinfully sweet and sour sphere is amazingly tart and delicious. I had my first one today. After Katy chopped in half and picked out a few seeds, she turned it over to me, warning me that my shirt would suffer its splatter of red wrath if I wasn't careful.

I wasn't. My shirt paid dearly. It's now tossing and turning in the washing machine, and I hope the detergent can destroy the splotchy evidence of my carelessness.

Despite the way it mercilessly marred my shirt, I couldn't stop eating the pomegranate. I kept going until I ruined an undershirt as well.

As I was digging out seeds with a paring knife, deep crimson juice running over my fingertips, I couldn't help but sympathize with Adam. How could he have resisted when Eve was holding this in her hands?

How ridiculous they must have looked when the Lord found them walking in the garden, mouths stained with red, fingertips looking as if they'd stabbed someone.

No wonder they hid. Pomegranates take commitment, and there is always collateral damage. There is no playing it off with a pomegranate. If they stayed in view, they'd be caught red-handed.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Gas-price Irony

Many folks were attacking the Bush administration for high gas prices as they started skyrocketing this spring, in the midst of a heated election season where the candidates wanted to distance themselves from the incumbent by blaming him for any and all economic woes.

Some people thought that surely Bush, Cheney and their oil cronies were making a killing as prices went through the roof and consumers suffered at the pump to the tune of $4-plus per gallon.

According to a USA Today article, it turns out that gas stations are making higher profit margins as the price plummets because they're able to capitalize on a variety of factors not seen by the untrained - or unwilling - eye.

Wholesale prices are dropping faster than the gas stations have had to lower retail prices, and the stations pocket the difference. Convenience store sales are up because people are returning to the pump more often because they want to buy gas after prices have fallen even more. For more factors, read the article.

Just goes to show you that the rhetorical winds from politicians usually blow the listener away from nuance and more towards dogma, impairing the ability to judge a situation based on reality. May we - on both sides of the aisle - resist the urge to follow the herd at the expense of our critical thinking skills.