Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Where in the World are You?

This is the view of our "neighborhood" from 1300 miles above the earth courtesy of the program Google Earth. You can see my pin cushion marker in the lower righthand corner. Jerusalem, Syria, and Jordan are in the upper lefthand corner. Iran is north of us. Click on the pic to enlarge it.

This is a closer picture of Dubai and our area of the city. You can click to enlarge. The view is from about 9700 ft above ground. The pin cushion again marks our block.

If you really want to fly over and see us you could do it with Google Earth itself. Click on the link and install it if you haven't already done that. (You'll need at least a newer computer... ~4 years old or newer, an internet connection, and Windows 2000 or XP).

Now, click on this link below and select "open with Google Earth" to fly over if your computer doesn't automatically open it.

Parks Dubai Neighborhood

Give it time to load all the hi-res photos and it will take you literally 'down into our neighborhood. (I've placed the pin cushion in a vacant lot near our home for a little anonymity!... but our home is still in the photo.)

Now zoom out with your mouse scroll wheel or the zoom out/in buttons on the Google Earth control panel. If you go out to about 20 miles above ground (see the number in the bottom right corner of the Google Earth screen) then you'll see at least two interesting things... the palm shaped islands jutting into the Arabian Gulf is called Palm Island. It's a set of manmade islands. And the two little clusters of little islands just off the coast from where we live is The World. These are manmade islands that are being built for luxury homes. The finished island cluster will resemble a map of the world. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 29, 2006

First Desert Trip this Year


The temps have just cooled down and we went to the desert with some work colleagues. Here Maher is ready to take the dive! Later we cooked kebabs over the fire. A fun time was had by all. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Another Tough Parable - 3 Servants

Matthew 25:14-30
22 "The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, `Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.'
23 "The master said, `Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let's celebrate together!'
24 "Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, `Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn't plant and gathering crops you didn't cultivate.25 I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.'
26 "But the master replied, `You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn't plant and gathered crops I didn't cultivate,27 why didn't you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.'
I recently attended a Bible study with quite a few new or non-Christians there and this was the passage selected. I was frustrated with the leader thinking the passage too hard for the crowd attending. Later I realized that my frustration may have had more to do with my own discomfort with the passage and my inability to connect it to the Gospel.

So I've been pondering this passage asking, "how does this relate to the Gospel?

A superficial interpretation seems to lead to a simple lesson... Put to good use all the advantages or blessings God has given you and you will be rewarded when the final judgement comes.

But that explanation seems inadequate.

First a few observations. The NLT says that the Master "gave them money to invest for him". The NIV translates it "entrusted his wealth to them". Both indicate that the Master expected the servants to invest or handle his wealth for him or on his behalf. He also expects to return and collect. He's not giving away his wealth. Also, based on their responses when he returns, all three seem to know that he was to return and "settle accounts" with them.

My second observation is that all three work while the Master is away. But the first two work for the Master's purposes. The third seems to bury the money and then go about his own business. This more implied by the text rather than explicitly stated. The Master is away a long time, surely the third servant worked during that time. He just worked on his own behalf.

Thirdly, the third servant doesn't seem to understand the character and goals of the Master nor does he even act appropriately based on his mischaracterization of him.

These three observations, taken together, lead me to think that it's not so much if you make interest or if you use what the Master has given you but for whom you work while the Master is away. Are you working for yourself or the Master?

This is how the passage connects to the Gospel. What God has done for us through the cross of Christ demands a response. Believing in Jesus and setting him as the Lord of our lives is the appropriate response. Mere acknowledgement of Jesus is not enough. Even the third servant did that. He called him Master. But he didn't live for the Master.

So it's not enough to put the advantages and blessings of God to some kind of good use. He calls us to live for him.

I feel warned by this passage. Am I working for the furthering of his purposes before he returns? Or am I working for my own benefit? Do I know who the Master really is and what he wants to see happen while he's away?

Read the passage. The outcome is either extreme joy and benefit or extreme regret and crushing loss.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Eid Holiday - Henna Hands

Here's a fun picture from the local paper. Today is the first day of Eid Al Fitr, the celebration at the end of Ramadan. Common activities include visiting relatives, giving gifts, special meals, and dressing up for the festivities... thus the henna decorations for these Pakistani girls. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 21, 2006

NYTimes Article: Culture Clashes in Dubai

(This photo accompanies the online version of the NYTimes article)

Here's an interesting story a friend alerted me to the other day.

With more than 150 nationalities and almost as many expressions of culture, Dubai is one of the most diverse cities in the Middle East.

But after decades of selling dreams to foreigners, this Persian Gulf emirate has begun debating the limits of multiculturalism.

Tensions burst into the open in early October when an English-language newspaper published an article protesting the growing disrespect for Muslim customs here during Ramadan, setting off a rare public debate about Dubai’s cultural

The rest of the article "Beyond Skimpy Skirts, a Rare Debate on Identity" is a good look into some of the difficult things Dubai is dealing with these days. I can understand the loss of culture that the locals are feeling. And yet, Dubai's leaders have flung the door open to the world and are, in fact, seeking to quadruple the population in the next 10 years. If the locals thought it was hard to maintain culture now... just wait until the population swells even more.

I have noticed that this Ramadan does not seem to have the same religious tone as in years past. But one difficulty for the expat is knowing what's appropriate and what's not. While the newspapers run articles every year about what Ramadan means they don't say too much about what's expected of people during that time. And honestly it's hard to tell what's expected even from observing the local population. What wasn't mentioned in the NYT article about the incident that sparked the email deluge for the local paper was that the offending person cited in the article was actually an Emirati.

I just don't see how you can expect to maintain your culture when you turn your country into a 'tourist Mecca'... pun intended.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Ramadan Iftar Meal in our Neighborhood

We're in the middle of Ramadan here in the Arabian Gulf. Ramadan is the annual month of fasting for Muslims. Iftar is the meal that breaks the daily fast at sundown each day. One focus of Ramadan is to serve the poor and show generosity to others. In keeping with that spirit many of the mosques offer free meals to low-income workers. This is a popular mosque about two blocks from our villa. The picture was taken 3 years ago but is representative of the scene every evening at this local mosque that I pass by 4-8 times a day on average.

Gulf News Headlines of Note...

File this one under "Duh"

Violation of rules is main cause of accidents

By Alia Al Theeb, Staff Reporter

Dubai: Failure to abide by rules is one of the key reasons for rising traffic offences, a senior police official has said.

Brigadier Eisa Aman, Acting Director of Dubai Police's Traffic Department, said motorists who ignore traffic rules were causing accidents.

Read further

File this one under "Huh?"

Bad road manners 'cause of jams'

By Ashfaq Ahmed, Staff Reporter

Dubai: Dubai Roads and Transport Authority blamed drivers for causing traffic congestion in the city.

"It is about behaviour on the road and drivers are the one to be blamed for most of the traffic jams and accidents leading to injuries and deaths," said Engineer Maitha Obaid Bin Udai, Chief Executive Officer of the Traffic and Roads Agency at the Dubai Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA).

Read further

File this under "Hmm"

Scholars fear influence of foreign universities

By Barbara Bibbo', Correspondent

Doha: The growing presence of foreign universities in Qatar has spurred a debate among local scholars who fear foreign education will westernise the region.

"Westernisation is the biggest challenge Arab and Islamic societies are facing today. Globalisation being the latest incarnation of colonialism threatens to undermine the Islamic identity and poses a threat of cultural invasion to the region," reported the Peninsula quoting noted Doha-based scholar Ali Al Quradaghi.

Read further

Thursday, October 12, 2006

John Piper's Day Off at Barnes and Noble

Here's a 'must read' from John Piper's newsletter about Christians who respond hatefully to secularists and the interaction of church and state.

A trip to Barnes & Noble on my day off takes me beyond the Star Tribune and NPR in my daily culture dose of postmodern pronouncements. Consider Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation (Knopf, 2006). It is ranked as the fourteenth best seller in the nation at Amazon as I write (just behind Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion). It begins like this:

"Thousands of people have written to tell me that I am wrong not to believe in God. The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians. This is ironic, as Christians generally imagine that no faith imparts the virtues of love and forgiveness more effectively than their own. The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism. While we may want to ascribe this to human nature, it is clear that such hatred draws considerable support from the Bible. How do I know this? The most disturbed of my correspondents always cite chapter and verse."

Later he says that not believing that man evolved from lower life forms is like not believing the sun is a star. Our nation is being overrun with anti-intellectual people who scoff at true science. The Intelligent Design movement is a scheme to replace science with religion by people who get PhDs to provide a cloak of respectability for their anti-science agenda. And so on.

What makes Harris’ book postmodern and not simply modern is that it treats Christian “fantasies” not merely as rational errors, but as dangerous cultural and political power plays. I have no desire to scoff at this book. There is too much right-wing, radio-show-type Christian scoffing. Besides, I am old enough to be Sam Harris’ father (I was twenty-one when he was born), and that makes me want to rescue a son, not skewer a peer.

Of course, he thinks I am the one who needs to be rescued. My concern for us evangelicals is not that we bash Harris but that we try not to give the impression that we fear science, and that we make clear that we want Sam Harris to have the freedom to say false things about us.

So my dip into Harris’ book was good for me. I may even read more. I don’t fear it. I wish he didn’t fear us. God, he should fear. But I will do all I can to keep my fellow Christians from playing God. As long as Christ’s kingdom comes not by the sword but by the Spirit and the Truth, I will resist the unholy union of conscientious church and coercive state. I stand with those who believe that Christ is the best foundation for a view of the state that refuses to enforce Christ. I also stand with those who believe that true science (not presuppositional secularism) will not contradict true biblical interpretation.

For more from John Piper visit his website Desiring God

Sunday, October 08, 2006

First Trip to India!

I traveled to India for the first time last week. I spent most of the time in Delhi which is in the north. We took one day and traveled to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. It's a fascinating place full of all different kinds of people. You can view my pictures here.

2006-10-6 India
Sep 28, 2006 - 114 Photos

Sermon Posting on Church Website

For those of you who were coming here to download the sermons from UCCD church, they are now posting them on the church website. You can get the rest of the 1 Peter series plus John Folmar's new Genesis expositions. Also, you can get the sermons from the summer from John Welkner, youth pastor, and from Daniel Splett, pastor of cell groups.

If you use the iTunes software you can set it up so that it will automatically download the sermons as well. This is a very nice feature. Enjoy them!