Thursday, May 29, 2008

Quote: Asking Why Reveals a World of Purpose

Here's a great quote on the implications of asking "why?" with respect to suffering and evil in the world.

The problem of evil assumes the existence of a world-
purpose. What, we are really asking, is the purpose of
suffering? It seems purposeless. Our question of the why of
evil assumes the view that the world has a purpose, and what
we want to know is how suffering fits into and advances this
purpose. The modern view is that suffering has no purpose because nothing that happens has any purpose: the world is run by causes, not by purposes.

... W. T. Stace (b.1886), Religion and the Modern Mind
[1953]

I think this is extremely insightful. By asking the very question we see the "built-in" need to live life according to a purpose and to explain life in light of a purpose. The materialists, who say we are no more than evolved matter... chemicals, cells, etcetera, might argue that religion, myth or a sense of purpose are mere neurological processes that evolved to help ensure the survival of the species.

But that seems like a huge "leap" of an explanation for a near universal phenomenon. Often, the simplest answer is the best. And that is that we are here for a purpose. Life and death and suffering have a purpose. And that can't be explained without God.

Think on it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Inside Emirates Palace Hotel - Part 4

Last pictures of the Hotel in Abu Dhabi.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bloodline the Movie: Da Vinci Code Redux?

Oh brother. Here we go again. Another "Jesus had children with Mary Magdeline and it's the greatest secret ever revealed" movie. I thought we got this out of our system with the Da Vinci Code.



Fortunately, even the mainstream media see through it this time. Here's a funny (and damning) quote from the NYtimes review...

“I’m not an archaeologist or a historian,” the director Bruce Burgess humbly states. “I’m just a filmmaker who is fascinated by the huge implications of this story.” He also seems to be more than a little fascinated with himself.

And here's another funny quote from Mania.com, an entertainment review site...

Perhaps the most saccharine moment of the film came when a forensic artist drew a life image from a photo of the mummified corpse - a female figure, naturally, although the lab at Lakehead has since pointed out that their test did not reveal the gender of the corpse. The Magdalene fans in the audience could be heard sighing their approval, although one seated near me expressed disappointment that the artist made her a brunette instead of a redhead.

Lastly, Mania reports that the movie isn't exactly setting the box office afire...

Bloodline wasn't even the highest ranking new release in the New York theater it premiered in—Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead opened the same weekend at the Village East Cinema, taking in $10,624.00.

Let's hope it continues to die a quiet and quick death.

Dubai Metro Test Run

Bear with me... we're in the final two weeks before traveling for 2 months. Things a little hectic. Here's something interesting to click on in the meantime - a test run video of the new Dubai Metro. The Metro will hopefully relieve some of the traffic problems in Dubai. And boy do we need that! Let's hope the Metro is up and running sooner than they say it will be.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Inside Emirates Palace Hotel - Part 3

Here's more of the pictures of inside Emirates Palace Hotel. Enjoy.

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This shot is looking down a series of stairs

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Inside Emirates Palace Hotel - Part 1

I visited Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi back in March. I want to share some of the pictures with you. I'll give them to you in stages... too many for one post. The place is extremely opulent as you might expect.

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The hotel from the sidewalk outside the gate. Next we entered and parked in the parking garage... lots of pictures just in there!

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Two Rolls Royce's and Two Mercedes Maybach's for hotel guests.

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White BMW's waiting to go fetch hotel guests.

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Part 2 and 3 of the hotel to follow in the next couple days... stay tuned.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Whose Decency and Whose Good Manners?

Saw this (see signs below) at the local grocery store here in Dubai. I wonder what happened to prompt this... wish I had been there just so I could know whether I'm being "decent" or "well mannered" on any given day.

But seriously, one of the challenges of living in a multi-cultural place like Dubai is that instructions like this are not clear enough. What is decent to one person is not decent to another. Good manners in one culture is not necessarily good manners in another. In some cultures it's great manners to belch loudly after the meal to show how much you've enjoyed it. But not in my culture of origin.

Just recently I was laughing with some Indian colleagues of mine. Seems that in Indian culture it shows concern for a person if they look tired or sick to say something like, "you look sick"... or "you look really worn out". A feisty response to a comment like that in my culture might be, "you don't look so good yourself"!

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Question from a Muslim friend on the American Church: "Jesus Camp" Movie

A good friend here in Dubai, who happens to be Muslim, sent me a link to the video below and asked me to comment. I couldn't resist. Here are my extended thoughts below.

First the video...



First, the method of teaching these children seems to be theologically deficient at best. The first thing I disagree with is the emotionalism that is employed in teaching them. The leaders seem to focus on emotional expression to a fault. I'm concerned that they're teaching them merely religious practice and a particular brand of religious expression. The Bible teaches that the true effect of regeneration in a person will be Godliness or God-like-ness. The scriptures teach this in many places but one is Galations 5:22-23...

22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

The scriptures don't teach that the fruit of the Spirit is necessarily training in conjuring up tears during worship services, shaking on the ground, or zealous and loud proclamations of allegiance to God.

Secondly, I'm concerned that the kids in the video are prone to being emotionally manipulated by the teachers at this church. Children generally seek the approval of their elders and if they sense that their elders desire a particular type of behavior then the kids will produce it to gain acceptance. I'm concerned that the leaders are merely teaching a particular type of religious practice and the kids are ready to comply. I'm not saying kids shouldn't be taught spiritual truths and expected to obey adults. But when they are told that you should act like "this" or "that" to demonstrate a genuine religious experience in a meeting then I think they are going too far. This all arises from deficient theology.

Some of what you are seeing is the product and practice of a famous "revivalist" Charles Finney. Google him if you like. He promoted a bad form of emotional manipulation in Christian services adopted to bring people to a point of emotional decision to pledge their lives to Christ. His theology was terrible and his practice was just as bad. And the modern day evangelical church is much influenced by him as are these people in the video.

Thirdly, you of course heard lots about military and war in the video. Some of this is because the Bible has stories of military exploits and has military images and allegories too. As you know, the Old Testament has stories of armies and battles. And the New Testament uses military images to describe aspects of Christian life at times as in Ephesians 6:10-18.

10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Churches, like the one in the video, often appropriately teach about Biblical history including the battles and fighting. But some (and I fear this one in this case) teach only moral lessons from the Old Testament. In the end they do not teach about the Gospel and Jesus Christ the Messiah in light of the Old Testament. And this is exactly what Jesus himself felt was important. He says in John 5:39-40.

39You diligently study[a] the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

And in Luke 24:27.

27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

I believe that Old Testament Israel was a "type" which would be mirrored and fulfilled in the New Testament by all the followers of Jesus Christ: the Church. So the Gospel should be proclaimed in light of these passages in the Old Testament. Churches should not merely teach moral lessons about courage, dedication, and holiness from Old Testament stories of military battles. This is a big mistake I think.

Fourthly, the filmmakers emphasize the encouragement of political involvement for Christians. The modern day Evangelical church misses the point and gets their theology wrong often on this too. I believe the Bible teaches that their are two Kingdoms; a Kingdom of God and a Kingdom of the world. Christians live in both. But the Kingdom of God is the only one that we are taught will last. So, the Church is the physical expression of the Kingdom of God in the Kingdom of the world. The Church is called to be an influence in the world through the proclamation of the Gospel and living a life obedient to Christ. Today, many evangelicals are tempted to influence the world primarily through politics. This is a temptation from Satan. Christians should vote their conscience at the polls and even be involved in politics. But the Church proclaiming the Gospel and living for Christ is how the world will know God; not through political power. Christians in public office or laws that uphold Christian moral values can restrain evil. But they do not proclaim the Gospel. I would agree with this statement included in a recently released "Evangelical Manifesto" which speaks about this Kingdom confusion among evangelicals. It says,

Christians from both sides of the political spectrum, left as well as right, have made the mistake of politicizing faith; and it would be no improvement to respond to a weakening of the religious right with a rejuvenation of the religious left. Whichever side it comes from, a politicized faith is faithless, foolish, and disastrous for the church – and disastrous first and foremost for Christian reasons rather than constitutional reasons.

Called to an allegiance higher than party, ideology, and nationality, we Evangelicals see it our duty to engage with politics, but our equal duty never to be completely equated with any party, partisan ideology, economic system, or nationality. In our scales, spiritual, moral, and social power are as important as political power, what is right outweighs what is popular, just as principle outweighs party, truth matters more than team-playing, and conscience more than power and survival.

This idea of Two Kingdoms was first advanced by Augustine if I'm not mistaken, but is continues to be discussed today. I would encourage you or anyone to listen to this 30 minute discussion by some good Christian theologians about the Two Kingdoms idea and the temptation of political power for the Church. The show is called "White Horse Inn". And here is the episode to listen to. It's really worth it and will help you understand this issue immensely. You can also get more resources on this topic at the show's website here. Scroll down to the January episode for more.

Lastly, I want to comment on the video as it was uploaded to Youtube. The uploader took the promo video for the movie and added at least one clip of George Bush talking about the "War on Terrorism". You can go to the Jesus Camp movie website and see the original. I would have posted it here but it automatically plays when you navigate to my blog... and that's annoying :(

The Jesus Camp clip doesn't include the Bush clip. It seems like the uploader wanted to convey the idea that these conservative Christians were teaching about how to literally make war and participate in the "War on Terror". This is misleading. And for all the theological confusion represented in the teaching at this church I'm 99% sure they would not be teaching anything about literally making war, like how to shoot a gun, how to throw grenades, and how to sign up for the American military.

The uploader has also interspersed clips from news show interviews with the female teacher talking about Muslim jihadists and how Christians need to teach their kids to just as dedicated. (you can search the ABCNews website and find some of them there) The short clips seem to be intended to show that Christians are training their kids to be "Christian Jihadists" of a sort. This just isn't happening. I think it is legitimate to ask the question whether we as followers of Jesus are willing to die in the service of the Gospel in comparison to Muslim jihadist's dedication to Islam. But no one is teaching their children that "dying for Jesus" involves taking up arms against Muslims. They DO talk about being willing to die taking the Gospel into a hostile world. You might recall the female teacher yelling, "this means war!". This clip is set alongside the Bush clip to imply that she was teaching that the church is literally joining up in the War on Terror and sending their children to fight. We don't know from the clip what she said but I would bet that she was teaching about making war on sin in our lives. That's generally what these types of children's programs teach. Believe me, I've seen lots of them.

So in conclusion, I think there is lots of theological error and unbiblical types of teaching revealed in the clips but also a dishonest (or at least horribly misguided) attempt by the uploader to imply that the literal training of children for war is going on in American churches. That's just not true.

Just For Fun - Premier League Football Video Montage

Nothing to do with the Arabian Peninsula or faith... But I'm a big fan of the English Premier League. The season ended spectacularly this weekend with Manchester United clinching their 18th title. Here is a great video montage of the season put to music. Enjoy (it's only 2 min 30 sec long).

Monday, May 12, 2008

Quote: Rationalism, Science, and Revelation

So true.

I suppose that every age has its own particular fantasy:
ours is science. A seventeenth-century man like Blaise Pascal,
who thought himself a mathematician and scientist of genius,
found it quite ridiculous that anyone should suppose that
rational processes could lead to any ultimate conclusions
about life, but easily accepted the authority of the
Scriptures. With us, it is the other way `round.
Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990), Jesus Rediscovered [1969]

Quote: Qualification vs. Academic Degree for Church Leadership

Because the role of the Christian leader is to preach,
teach, act as a shepherd, [and] be an example in personal and
family life, the New Testament properly insists that he must
not be a new convert nor a young man. He must have proved
himself [and] demonstrated his God-given charisma for
leadership, before he looks to the Church for recognition of
it through ordination. Here once again we stand in marked
contrast to the New Testament... The early Christians laid
great stress on quality of life. A leader must merit respect,
with his sexual, drinking [and] financial habits beyond
reproach, a man of experience, a family man, someone who has
led others to the faith and built Christians up in it. We go,
on the whole, for untried men whose degree matters more than
their lives, and who may never have led anyone to belief in
Christ, or may even regard the whole idea as distasteful.
E. M. B. Green (b.1930), "Mission and Ministry"

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Duning at Camel Rock

A friend from out of town came through a month ago and despite the heat we drove out early one Saturday for some time in the dunes at Camel Rock. I've never hiked to the top but we did it that morning! Great view! And of course we crossed paths with the camels :)

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

New Dubai Government Website: Islamic Affairs Department

The screenshot below is of the official Dubai website of the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department. This is a government funded department that oversees the propagation of Islam and Islamic activities here. You'll notice interesting things on the website like an English translation of last week's official Friday sermon. Those of you who live here know that the Friday sermons are broadcast over loudspeaker from every mosque but it's in Arabic (except at the Jumeirah Mosque where it's broadcast in English).

A sampling of the last few sermon titles includes "Loving Our Country", "The Value of Work and the Rights of Workers", "Islam's Respect for Health", "Respecting Our Elders", and "The Prophet Mohammad: The Husband and Father".

It's an interesting idea to consider what a predetermined sermon schedule would be like in churches. Imagine if the government dictated what all churches would preach about on any given "Lord's Day". Hard to imagine actually.

I've always wondered if these are the actual sermons preached in every mosque on Friday. I remember hearing from some Muslim friends who visited more remote mosques that the sermons sometimes deviated from the prescribed topic.

On the website you can also find a section on Fatwas (religious rulings), lists of local mosques and the prayer leaders there, help for new muslims, and forms for requesting permission to distribute religious materials.

The website is new and some of the sections don't seem too developed yet. Last year, the old website also included a "dream interpretation service" where you could send in the details of a dream you had and the religious scholars would interpret it for you. I'm not sure why they're not doing that anymore. Check it out though... it's bound to grow and it's interesting.

Lebanese Perspective on Gulf Leadership

I was taking a Lebanese friend to the airport last week with some friends. He's been here in Dubai for the last 10 months but must return to Beirut now. There seems to always be uncertainty in Lebanon. Talk of war is unfortunately a fixture in daily conversation. Leaders continue to battle over control of this relatively small but important piece of land. His heart was heavy as we drove.

Not really aware of his heavy heart, someone in the car began to wonder out loud about two awards given out here in the UAE. Shaikh Mohammad bin Rashid al Maktoum was recently been awarded two prestigious awards here in his own country. One was the Personality of the Year at the Prophet Mohammad Love Festival. And earlier in the month he was named the Personality of the Year in the education field. Here's a Gulf News quote from that article...

In line with the instructions of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Deputy Ruler and Minister of Finance, and patron of the Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Distinctive Academic Performance, Shaikh Mohammad has been selected for his initiatives to enhance education all over the world.
(Shaikh Hamdan, who gave him this award, is Shaikh Mohammad's older brother. (I originally stated that Hamdan was his son but some helpful commenters corrected me.))

The person speaking began suggesting that maybe Shaikh Mohammad should consider telling these groups to give these awards to lesser known and less powerful people in the Emirates to encourage a sense of achievement among his people. He stated there was no doubt that Sheikh Mohammad is a visionary leader and has been the main reason that Dubai has put itself on the map of internationally known cities. But he was just wondering aloud about the wisdom of how these awards are being distributed.

At this my Lebanese friend turned to me and said, "I think he's a tremendous leader and he deserves all the awards. I am going back to Lebanon, a country in chaos. Every single leader in Lebanon has blood on his hands. Shaikh Mohammad deserves every award he gets here."

I guess he's right in many ways. The whole region could use more leaders like Shaikh Mohammad; particularly Lebanon these days.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

"Everybody and their Mother-in-Law" at the Dubai Airport

I went to pick up my mother-in-law at the Dubai airport a month ago. Every time I go it feels like there are more people there than I've ever seen before. And I might be right.

In 2002 when I moved to Dubai the airport handled over 15 million passengers. Last year it handled over 34 million people. It's expected to have over 40 million passengers pass through this year.

Amazing.

If you can arrive in the morning I would suggest it. That's when the numbers are way down.

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Krispy Kreme Arabic style

For those of you who wondered how to spell Krispy Kreme in Arabic :) Arabic is so much more fluid and artistic than English script. But the donuts taste the same: very good.

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Miscellaneous Flying Things

Between a week of vacation, a week to catch up at work, a week and half of a bad stomach virus, and a half week to catch up from that... I've lost a month of blogging. I'm 'bummed' but there's nothing to do but start back into it. So here's a light first post.

The picture below is of three of my daughters at sunrise out in the desert back in March. We had spent the night in a tent with some other dads and their daughters from our church. It's called the Father-Daughter Campout and it's been going on for quite a few years now. Notice the hot air balloons in the background. I believe it is this company, Amigos Balloons, or Balloon Adventures Dubai, running the flights.

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The picture below is a few days later on the beach in Jumeirah, Dubai. These seaplanes flew by as we enjoyed the breeze. This service is operated by a company called Seawings. A friend from church owns the charter company that actually flies the planes.

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