Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Be Careful with that "Point and Clicking"...

A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and
automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct
methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply
machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our
chapter, have our short devotions, and rush away, hoping to
make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another
gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by
a religious adventurer lately returned from afar. The tragic
results of this spirit are all about us. Shallow lives, hollow
religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of
fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in
religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships,
salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for
the power of the Spirit; these and such as these are the
symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the
... A. W. Tozer (1897-1963), The Pursuit of God [1948]

Amazing Animated Map of Middle East Conquests

Do you have 90 seconds free? Click on this link and watch an amazing animated map/timeline of Middle Eastern conquests over the millenia. Don't miss the end when it finishs with a rapid visual recap of all the conquests.

Spectacular Emirates Palace Hotel

Two weeks ago I visited Abu Dhabi for my daughter's basketball tournament. We spent the night in the city and really enjoyed the stay. Abu Dhabi is a welcome break from the hectic pace of Dubai. At night the lavish Emirates Palace is wonderfully lit and I was able to snap this pic. I believe it's a 7 star hotel just like the Burj Al Arab.
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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Dialogue - More Pics and Newspaper Article

Well, it's still busy as my wife is out of town for a week. So the best I can do is give you a few more interesting pics from the dialogue and post an article the local paper ran on it today. I have some good ideas for posts but you'll have to wait :) (click on the pics to enlarge them so you can read the articles... The Gulf News article is much more accurate)

Click here if you want to download a pdf of the above article for reading.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Report on Muslim - Christian Dialogue

The Muslim-Christian Dialogue that my company sponsored went really well yesterday afternoon. The students did a fantastic job of organizing the event and our company was well represented. I will post a video clip tomorrow.

I'm pictured here with the speaker (left of me) named Ahmed Hamed and some of his team. Ahmed did a very nice job of presenting the Islamic viewpoint. I was impressed with his presentation skills.

Here is Ahmed Hamed, the Muslim speaker, and Thabiti Anyabwile, the Christian speaker.

We had a great crowd... about 175 people total.

The crowd was diverse and filled in after the very beginning pictured here.

The CEO of our company, Mack Stiles, welcomed everyone and gave some opening comments.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Corporate Sponsor... Muslim-Christian Dialogue at Knowledge Village

My company is the corporate sponsor of an event tomorrow in the Knowledge Village. It's a Muslim-Christian Dialogue about the identity of Jesus based on the Qur'an and Bible. Come if you can! Details above.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Burj Dubai Visitor Center - "Downtown Living Center"

UPDATED Feb 19 ***
Well, I finally made it over to the Burj Dubai visitor center. The structure is pretty awesome I'll have to admit. But when I went inside they forbade me from taking pictures of the scale models and diagrams on the walls... what's that for? It's not like it's a museum or something where the flash will destroy the art. Anyway, fun picks for your perusal.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Burj Dubai: More Marketing Bombast

I have family in town and I was checking the internet about seeing the Burj Dubai Visitor Center I had heard about. When I visited the Burj Dubai website I was greeted with this incredible piece of prose:




Burj Dubai will be known by many names.

But only a privileged group of people will call it home.

There are a select few who possess the vision, resources, and the opportunity to live in the world’s tallest building. If you have that opportunity, you are assured not just unparalleled luxury, but a place in history. And in Dubai’s future.

It seems the only thing to eclipse Dubai's Skyline is the marketing mantra. I'm sure there are many people of the region who recognize that 'a place in history' is gained not by owning 'stuff' but from hard work, ingenuity, education, and creativity channeled toward creating an unparalleled society. Not having enough money to rent an apartment in a really tall building.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Native Deen: Islamic Rap from Baltimore in Dubai

During the most recent Eid a group of students from a local University put on a festival to raise money for a Muslim charity. The center-piece of their event was a Baltimore based Islamic rap group called Native Deen. This group was fascinating.

They are orthodox Muslims (not Nation of Islam... i.e. Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan). And all their music is about Islam. It's a like Christian rock/pop only with an Islamic focus.

After the show was over I met up with some of the band and we had some discussion about Islam and Christianity. It was great fun talking with them and very interesting to hear some of their story.

One of the three guys, Joshua Salaam, told me at some length about how his story of growing up as an African-American Muslim. His mother's family had once been Nation of Islam but his mom had eventually moved away from that and into orthodox Islam. He had also served in the US military for some time and had discussions with fellow troops who where Christians.

I do want to touch on one particular thing he talked about centered on Jesus. The one story he wanted to talk about was his view of the Garden of Gethsemane. His recounting of the scene and the associated question went something like this:

"As a Muslim I don't believe Jesus intended to be arrested and to die. Muslims don't believe that Jesus actually died on the cross, rather they believe that Jesus was replaced with someone else by God. If you think Jesus did die willingly why did Jesus arm his followers with swords and station them as a force to protect him in the Garden of Gethsemane? And why did he return to their stations and get upset with them for getting drunk? I don't think Jesus wanted to get arrested or to be sentenced to death on a cross."

It's been a couple months since the conversation so it's a rough approximation though I think fair. And I must add that many well-read Muslims wouldn't agree with Joshua on his recounting of the events on Jesus' last night before death.

Here was/is my response to him.

Jesus fully intended and expected to be arrested, sentenced to death, tortured, and killed. He repeated this prediction many times during his ministry leading up to that night. Here are some references just from the book of Luke... 9:22, 9:44, 11:30, 13:33, 18:31-33, 20:9-15, 22:20.

Further, Jesus instructs his followers to buy swords so that scriptures will be fulfilled about him rather than to actually defend him. They buy two swords for a total of twelve men and Jesus says that is enough. He clearly means that it will be enough to fulfill the prophecy. It would also clearly be NOT enough for twelve fishermen types to defend themselves against armed Temple guards who would come to seize him. The reference is in Luke 22:36-38. Later, when one of them does pull out a sword and begins to fight Jesus stops him because he has clearly not understood why they had the swords in the first place.

And lastly, Jesus didn't post them as an armed guard. He posted them to pray (Luke 22:40) and there is no mention of alcohol in any of the Gospel accounts. Jesus returns to find them sleeping rather than praying (Luke 22:45,46).

Well, that sets the record straight I think. Do go and see the Native Deen website, they are an interesting phenomenon. And see their latest video here.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Global Village: When Marketing Over-Reaches

I went with my family to the last night of Global Village, Dubai's world fair, day before yesterday. The rest of Dubai/Sharjah went as well! The crowds were big when it opened and they thickened to a glut by the time we left at 9pm. It would continue until 2am! Crowd watching is a fascinating experience there but if you look up occasionally you'll see some interesting things too.


These posters are up all over the fair. They are comical if not completely sad. If the joy of togetherness is equivalent to the joy of shopping?... God help us.
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Healthy Pop? Good luck on your diet!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Comment on "The DaVinci Code" (better late than never!)

This past summer my mother was the 17th person to ask me what I thought of the DaVinci Code. I presented my well researched answer for her. Then she had to go and immediately follow with the question, "Have you read the book?" I hate that.

Well, I decided I better read the book if I was going to be able to answer yes to all the other people who would surely continue to pester me with the "have you actually read it" question.

Not able to bear paying full price for the book (due to my pre-conceived notions) I picked up a used copy (there must be millions of those around) and read it.

If you haven't read the book you only need to read my post here and then, when you're asked "that" question, you can say with great confidence, "well, I read all the important parts."

Seriously, many authors who have philosophical ideas that they want to communicate will sum up their opinions at important junctures in the book. And Dan Brown does just that. The quote is below and it will tell you basically what he believes. If you think that his book is merely fiction and he has no agenda in the book then you need to read his website (google it) and you will see that he does in fact have an agenda.

The excerpt below is a conversation between the two main characters, Langdon and Sophie. Langdon and Sophie are chasing documents (they think) that will "prove" that Jesus was merely human and was married to Mary Magdeline...

"There's an enormous difference between hypothetically discussing an alternate history of Christ, and ..." He paused.

"And what?"

"And presenting to the world thousands of ancient documents as scientific evidence that the New Testament is false testimony."

"But you told me the New Testament is based on fabrications."

Langdon smiled. "Sophie, every faith in the world is based on fabrication. That is the difinition of faith - acceptance of that which we imagine to be true, that which we cannot prove. Every religion describes God through metaphor, allegoary, and exaggeration, from the early Egyptians through modern Sunday school. Metaphors are a way to help our minds process the unprocessible. The problems arise when we begin to believe literally in our own metaphors."

"So you are in favor of the Sangreal documents (documents that the book purports would prove the New Testament false) staying buried forever?"

"I'm a historian. I'm opposed to the destruction of documents, and I would love to see religious scholars have more information to ponder the exceptional life of Jesus Christ."

"You're arguing both sides of my question."

"Am I? The Bible represents a fundamental guidepost for millions of people on the planet, in much the same way the Koran, Torah, and Pali Canon offer guidance to people of other religions. If you and I could dig up documentation that contradicted the holy stories of Islamic belief, Judaic belief, Buddhist belief, pagan belief, should we do that? Should we wave a flag and tell the Buddhists that we have proof the Buddha did not come from a lotus blossom? Or that Jesus was not born of a literal birth? Those who truly understand their faiths understand the stories are metaphorical."

Sophie looked skeptical. "My friends who are devout Christians definitely believe that Christ literally walked on water, literally turned water in wine, and was born of a literal virgin birth."

"My point exactly," Langdon said. "Religious allegory has become a part of the fabric of reality. And living in that reality helps millions of people cope and be better people."

"But it appears their reality is false."

Langdon chuckled. "No more false than that of a mathematical cryptographer who believes in the imaginary number 'i' because it helps her break codes."

Sophie frowned. "That's not fair."
A moment passed.

"What was your question again?" Langdon asked.

"I can't remember."

He smiled. "Works every time."
Brown believes that:

1. All people who really understand their faith understand that it's merely metaphorical
2. We shouldn't reveal the truth to those who literally believe the stories in their books of faith because it helps them cope and be better people.

Can you see the arrogance in his beliefs? First of all he is assuming that he has a better and more true understanding of God and belief than all those other people who literally believe their faith stories.

And he believes that it's only people like him (I guess the 'enlightened ones') who can be good people and know the real truth - that books like the New Testament are really just fabrication. In other words, believing in falsehood has become a part of the fabric of reality so let's just let them keep their silly little beliefs if it helps them cope with life.

There's a lot more that could be said about this but I'll stop here. Any comments from readers on what you see in this excerpt from Dan Brown? Any questions?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Islam: What is a "Revert"?

I'm on the mailing list for a local Islamic Center near my home here in Dubai. I haven't had the chance to go attend a lecture yet but I receive weekly updates on what's happening there.

A recent email announced that a lecturer what coming and it referred to him as a "revert". It brings to mind the word convert but is obviously different. I had some vague idea of what they might mean by it but decided to ask a good Muslim friend of mine. Here is his response.

Hey Brian

A revert is someone who goes back to what he originally was. In Islam we believe that everyone is born on "deen al fitrah", which means "the natural religion". That it is natural to believe in one God who is omnipotent, omniscient, infinite etc. and then it is his parents or people in society that take him away from it and make him a follower in another religion. So we believe that everyone is born a Muslim and then it is his parents or people around him that influence him and make him a Christian, Jew etc.. So if we have a Christian converting to Islam, we say that he REVERTED back to what he originally was and that is a Muslim.

I don't think there is anything comparable in Christianity except for the fact that we believe all people where created by God (eternally existing as one substance in three persons; Father, Son, and Spirit) and were designed to worship him, find their ultimate fulfillment and purpose in him and to bring him glory.

But we would disagree with our Muslim friends by saying that everyone is born into sin. Everyone is born with a sinful nature and will not choose to put faith in God except for God's intervention in their hearts and minds. As a parent I've never had to teach my children how to disobey. They seem to have known how to do that from the very beginning. It's obedience that has to be taught.

So we disagree about an original sinful nature. Muslims do not believe in this. Christians do.

My Muslim friends ask "why should I be responsible for my sin if I was born into it?" This is a hard question though there are answers. At the same time questions come to my mind as I write about the Muslim position. It seems I can ask the same question of them. If it is parents or society that ultimately leads the originally holy person astray then why should they be blamed by God for their sin or disobedience? What is it that brings that person to finally give in to the corruption around them? If it didn't start with them how can they be held responsible?

Something to think about. What do you say?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Amazing Pictures of Palm Island Construction Site

From 2007-1-5 Palm...

During the first week of January I got to tour the Palm Island under construction here in Dubai. The scale of the construction is massive and the engineer I was with said he thought it to be the largest single construction site in the world. I don't doubt it. Cranes were everywhere and workers looked like ants, particularly in the photo featured above. You can see all the pictures I took by clicking on the picture above.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

On the Minor Prophets... A Greatest Hits Medley

I posted the other day about Martin Luther's honest assessment of the minor prophets. And I wanted to pass on a little more about how to understand them.

The author of the commentary that I was reading said that the prophets in the Bible were like looking through a compilation of the prophet's sermon files. So it's difficult to know where one excerpt of a sermon ends and another begins. It's also difficult to reconstruct the exact context of the message.

To make it more understandable I thought of another analogy.

The prophets in the Bible are also like a greatest hits medley by a singer we've not heard any songs from before. It hard to tell where one song starts and where one song begins. And if you don't know the songs then you may feel like it's a terrible song that jumbled up when in fact it's a compilation of fantastic songs.

So when you read the minor prophets... think greatest hits medley!

And Now For Something Completely Different (just for fun)

I occasionally pass on fun websites for my kids to play with. This is one that I passed on to them around Christmas. Pikipimp. I know the name sounds a little... er, shady? But it's really a clean website. It allows you to upload any picture and edit with funny addons and modifications then save it or send it to someone.

My kids had fun. This was the result. Compare with my profile picture to the upper right.

Brian's secret identities...

I kind of like "biker-dad" the best. Which one is your favorite?