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Odds and Ends

From around the web:

This is the way to get to work every day.

–In light of Kelsey’s almost-appendectomy the other day, I’m sure she’s glad this didn’t happen. Yikes.

These should be mandatory.

–It would be great to be this guy.

This guy, not so much.


Monday Quote

Welcome to another week. As Christians, we’ve been given a fresh chance to delight in God’s goodness, to proclaim his glory, to serve him gladly. As you go through your day, wrap your brain around this quote from John Stott:

The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be.

Can’t help but be blessed thinking about that. He deserves all our praise. Let’s follow hard after God this week. It’s more than we deserve.

(Quote HT: Tullian Tchividjian at Between Two Worlds)


Losing Faith

Last Saturday, the L.A. Times ran a piece by William Lobdell, their former religion reporter, telling of how he has lost faith in God as a result of his job. He lobbied to get the position after he became converted and believed God was calling him to shed light on lots of stories that weren’t being covered. He was excited when the editors agreed to let him cover the beat. 

I felt like all the tumblers of my life had clicked. I had a strong marriage, great kids and a new column. I attributed it all to God’s grace.

But something happened along the way. The stories he was covering began to make him question God and his faith. He took a year of classes to convert to the Roman Catholic church, but didn’t go through with it because of the pattern of the church to protect its priests and cover up the sexual abuse scandals he had been reporting on.

He found other stories that made him question God: TBN’s pastors who live incredibly lavish lifestyles off the money they relentlessly sought from their viewers, many of whom are poor and suffering; Mormons who ostracized those who had left the Mormon church; priests who woulnd’t pay child support for their illegimate children. 

As the stories piled up, I began to pray with renewed vigor, but it felt like I wasn’t connecting to God. I started to feel silly even trying …

The questions that I thought I had come to peace with started to bubble up again. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God get credit for answered prayers but no blame for unanswered ones? Why do we believe in the miraculous healing power of God when he’s never been able to regenerate a limb or heal a severed spinal chord? …

For some time, I had tried to push away doubts and reconcile an all-powerful and infinitely loving God with what I saw, but I was losing ground. I wondered if my born-again experience at the mountain retreat was more about fatigue, spiritual longing and emotional vulnerability than being touched by Jesus.

It eventually became too much for him. Here’s his conclusion:

My soul, for lack of a better term, had lost faith long ago — probably around the time I stopped going to church. My brain, which had been in denial, had finally caught up.

Clearly, I saw now that belief in God, no matter how grounded, requires at some point a leap of faith. Either you have the gift of faith or you don’t. It’s not a choice. It can’t be willed into existence. And there’s no faking it if you’re honest about the state of your soul.

In a chat session on the paper’s site, Lobdell said he’s now an agnostic, leaning towards atheism. Read the article. It’s moving. These are legitimate questions he’s facing, but his answer is to abandon ship, to believe that he can’t make himself have faith, that there is no reconciling what he saw with what he thought he believed.

In a way, he’s right. On our own, we can’t make ourselves believe. Regeneration — which leads to faith — comes from Christ alone. At the same time, we’re responsible to do what God calls all men everywhere to do — repent and believe. I think he’s really struggling, but he’s landing in the wrong place. It’s not a new struggle, but it’s the latest example. God’s sovereignty and man’s suffering — especially at the hands of those who claim the name of Christ — are not easy to reconcile. In our own wisdom, we can’t.

His story has provoked a lot of reaction in the blogosphere. Just Google his name and you’ll find several sites discussing it. Your thoughts, theological or otherwise?

Your Tax Dollars at Work

In the news yesterday: USDA sent out $1.1 billion to dead farmers. The opening lines of the story in the Washington Post:

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture distributed $1.1 billion over seven years to the estates or companies of deceased farmers and routinely failed to conduct reviews required to ensure that the payments were properly made, according to a government

Yes, they gave dead farmers and their estates money without checking to make sure they were actually alive and still working the farm. Some estates are allowed to collect payments for up to two years after the owner dies — after that, USDA officials must make sure the farm is still operating and not just staying open in order to get money. Here’s one case, and I think we all know who this refers to — Mindy Spencer, you better clean up your operation pronto:

“The report cited a 1,900-acre soybean and corn farm in Illinois that collected
$400,000 on behalf of an owner who lived in
Florida before his death in 1995. The company did not notify the government of the death but certified each year that the dead shareholder, who owned 40 percent of the company, was “actively engaged” in managing the farm.”

Sheesh. No wonder we have a budget deficit.

Presidents and Planets

  • Think you’re smart? Think you know your presidents? Find out here. There have been 43 U.S. Presidents — this site gives you 10 minutes to name them all. Sounds easy till you’re staring at the clock that’s counting down. I got 32 of them. See how well you do. (HT: Evangelical Outpost).
  • With all the global warming talk these days, check out this article by Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at Southern, and director of the Carl Henry Institute. He preached at HBC a few months ago — he’s excellent at engaging the culture and finding ways to apply Christian thinking to current issues. Blood, Gore and Global Warming gives a great perspective on how to take care of the earth in a responsible way. His closing two sentences (this is how to end an article, kids):

“Let’s take care of the earth, protect the natural order. But let’s remember that the world is not ultimately rescued by politicians or musicians or filmmakers or scientists. The world is saved by blood, not Gore.”

Imagine This

Imagine you’re outside one day and you look up and see this (from today’s Writer’s Almanac):

“It was on this day in 1875 that the largest recorded swarm of locusts in American history descended upon the Great Plains. It was a swarm about 1,800 miles long, 110 miles wide, from Canada down to Texas. North America was home to the most numerous species of locust on earth, the Rocky Mountain locust. At the height of their population, their total mass was equivalent to the 60 million bison that had inhabited the West. The Rocky Mountain locust is believed to have been the most common macroscopic creature of any kind ever to inhabit the planet.

Swarms would occur once every seven to twelve years, emerging from river valleys in the Rockies, sweeping east across the country. The size of the swarms tended to grow when there was less rain—and the West had been going through a drought since 1873. Farmers just east of the Rockies began to see a cloud approaching from the west. It was glinting around the edges where the locust wings caught the light of the sun.

People said the locusts descended like a driving snow in winter. They covered everything in their path. They sounded like thunder or a train and blanketed the ground, nearly a foot deep. Trees bent over with the weight of them. They ate nearly every living piece of vegetation in their path. They ate harnesses off horses and the bark of trees, curtains, clothing that was hung out on laundry lines. They chewed on the handles of farm tools and fence posts and railings. Some farmers tried to scare away the locusts by running into the swarm, and they had their clothes eaten right off their bodies.

Similar swarms occurred in the following years. The farmers became desperate. But by the mid 1880s, the rains had returned, and the swarms died down. Within a few decades, the Rocky Mountain locusts were believed to be extinct. The last two live specimens were collected in 1902, and they’re now stored at the Smithsonian.”

Top 100 Christian Blogs

Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost has listed his Top 100 Christian Blogs. He’s one of the better-known Christian bloggers (he works for the Family Research Council and has been the managing editor for World Magazine’s blog), so his list is worth poking around in a bit. There are some good stops. Check it out.

Harry Potter

Love him? Hate him? Think he’s a good example for kids or a bad one? Would you ban him from schools? Let your kid dress up like one of the characters?

There’s a wide range of opinions out there. And Harry Potter mania is at a fever pitch this week, with the fifth movie released last week and the seventh and final book — Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — due out this Friday night at midnight.

Love him or hate him, you have to admit his impact on our society. Here’s an interesting article from the New York Times on Jim Dale, the guy who reads the audio version of the books. Over the course of 117 hours and four minutes of reading time for all seven books, he’s come up with more than 200 characters’ voices. For his efforts, he has won a Grammy and set the record for creating the most voices in an audiobook in the Guinness Book of World Records.

There are a couple of audio clips on the page with the article if you want to hear him. He does a nice job.

By the way, if you’re paying attention, you’ve realized that Dale’s job means he knows how the series ends. And he’s not telling. Not even his grandchildren.

Neither are the folks at Scholastic, the American publisher for the Harry Potter books. This article in Time magazine details the efforts they’re taking to make sure the plot remains secret until the “magic moment” when it can be sold — 12:01 a.m. on July 21.

Some of the details:
“Scholastic won’t give out the locations of the printing plants it uses or even how many there are. (As for Bloomsbury, the series’ British publisher, it fiercely denies a rumor that it forces factory workers to print Deathly Hallows in pitch darkness.) The finished books travel to stores on pallets, sealed in black plastic, in trucks tracked by GPS.”

And the conclusion of the article, where the authors nail the joy of reading (although it’s better to read a story the first time without knowing what’s coming):

“People read books for any number of reasons; finding out how the story ends is one among many and not even the most important. If it were otherwise, nobody would ever bother to read a book twice. Reading is about spending time with characters and entering a fictional world and playing with words and living through a story page by page. The idea that someone could ruin a novel by revealing its ending is like saying you could ruin the Mona Lisa by revealing that it’s a picture of a woman with a center part. Spoilers are a myth: they don’t spoil. No elaborate secrecy campaign is going to make Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows any better than it already is, and no website could possibly make it useless and boring.”

Fear Not, I Am With You

God’s promise to his children, from Isaiah 41:

10 Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

13 For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”

14 I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.

16 And you shall rejoice in the LORD; in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.

When we’re following God’s will — praying, working, evangelizing, taking risks, reaching the culture, raising our families, facing sickness, disease and trouble, living the Christian life — He will be with us, holding our right hand, redeeming us once and always, helping us. We are not to fear. We are not to be dismayed. We are to trust. And in so doing, we will rejoice and we will glory in the Lord.


Last week, Nobel Prize Winner Betty Williams spoke at the International Womens’ Peace Conference in Dallas. Her big idea is that George Bush should be impeached for being treacherous and acting unconstitutionally. Here’s part of what she said, via the Dallas Morning News:

“Right now, I could kill George Bush,” she said. “No, I don’t mean that. How could you nonviolently kill somebody? I would love to be able to do that.”

Nice, huh? She later apologized, but it’s pretty clear she meant what she said.

On the other side, an editorial by Bill Kristol in this weekend’s Washington Post says Bush’s presidency will turn out to be a success:

I suppose I’ll merely expose myself to harmless ridicule if I make the following assertion: George W. Bush‘s presidency will probably be a successful one.

His reasons include our country’s strong economy, no terrorist attacks on U.S. soil after 9/11, and what he thinks will be a successful, though difficult, conclusion to the war in Iraq. I hope he’s right. Read the whole thing.

(HT: Evangelical Outpost and Justin Taylor)