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Wednesday, September 28th, 2005 - 1:01 PM

"Blanket Coverage"

Dan Griffith and his family visited my church on Sunday and shared their amazing story and ministry. They unveiled to us their incredible family-based ministry called "Blanket Coverage" which reaches out to the homeless and needy in the Portland area. I haven't had direct contact with people involved in the other ministries and shelters in the area, but I am convinced that Dan and his family fill a much needed niche in the city and reach a wide range of people that would otherwise remain unnoticed and unloved.

Rather than waiting for the hurting to come to them, the Griffiths go out each night to these people who struggle just to survive on the streets. The name "Blanket Coverage" comes from how they started their ministry, secretly tucking people in at night with a warm blanket. This low key, caring method has had astounding effects, and the Griffiths are widely known in the community for their impact.

The ministry doesn't stop with handing out blankets. Other important sustaining supplies such as socks, shoes, water, meals and shelter are given away en masse. The Griffiths have developed a four year program that helps people get off the streets and into a position where they can experience physical, mental and spiritual restoration. Their care is very far reaching, and they have gained the trust of the homeless community, not an easy feat to achieve.

Perhaps the single reason the Griffiths have such a successful ministry is that they treat each person with dignity, respect, and thoughtful consideration. Rather than handing out generic clothing with good intentions, they try hard to give new and properly sized socks, underwear and shoes. When talking and dealing with the people on the streets, they don't assume anything beforehand about each person or label them on first impressions. Rather, they take the time to listen to everyone willing to share, and they make real family connections, fostering a genuine sense of value in everyone they interact with.

Not every church in Portland has dedicated volunteers to work directly with the homeless people around them, and our church has no such ministry. Rather than starting up such a difficult mission with good intention and possibly doing more harm than good, our church has decided to give our support to Blanket Coverage, a decision many other churches have made in the over 20 years the Griffiths have been serving in Portland.

Hearing how amazingly detail-oriented and sensitive are the considerations in dealing with the homeless, I instantly respected how the Griffiths are able to do what they do. The stories of the lives they have touched are very inspiring, and it helps me remember Christ and the way He interacted with people while on earth. To see each person around us as highly valued before God and worth our efforts is not an easy realization to grasp, unfortunately. Sometimes it takes crystal clear working examples like that one presented by the Griffiths.

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Friday, September 23rd, 2005 - 3:15 PM

"Soapberries"

Hmmmm... how am I going to redo the EsoGalleries (soapberries)? Up until about a week ago, I was just assuming I would redo the galleries in the same fashion of design as I have been working on, as seen on the home page, blog and slideshow pages. I suddenly realized that I could make a Flash slideshow if I wanted. That would allow me to make some neat interface components and fading effects that would otherwise require gross Javascript, something I am trying to shy away from. I have seen a lot of slideshows done in Flash that really look nice, and the end result is far more media oriented and complimentary to the images than strict HTML.

On the other hand, I am somewhat against using Flash too much in my site and want my images to be viewable by the largest possible audience using all the standard browsers. If I decide to use Flash (which I know virtually zip about at this point), then I would not be satisfied unless I could create an interface that loads images incrementally, rather than requiring a huge, slow download when the page is loaded initially. In addition, I would still probably create a simpler HTML/PHP/MySQL version as an alternative. We'll see, I guess. I need to get my mind set on creating a sleek, lean interface in HTML before I go after Flash, because that will be a huge undertaking.

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Tuesday, September 20th, 2005 - 12:11 AM

"The Bridge From Death: Answer Me These Questions Three"

It has been a while since I wrote a blog entry. I guess it's about time. I now have an official list (post-it note) of possible blog entries to pull from, so I'll try to tackle one of those. The unfortunate thing is that all of them are whoppers, and it's not easy to flippantly write about any of them without a certain level of research into the subject. This tends to discourage me from writing because I don't like to make write an epic every day. To be honest, I struggle to write simple sentences, and these large blog entries are often a two or three-hour tour.

This Sunday (or last, if you think of it as part of last weekend) Pastor talked about The North Side of God. From our limited perspectives and inability to understand everything about God, we see Him as possessing attributes, and sometimes sides. While the possibility that a God who is One can possess discernable attributes might be both accurate and harmless, it seems to us sometimes that some of His attributes conflict with each other, an impossibility for a God who is One and unchanging. Though my theology is far from perfect, there is no human with perfect theology (Isaiah 55:8,9), so why not take a stab at some of the deep questions, eh?

For God's creatures of limited understanding, it is difficult to reconcile the apparent contradiction between God's love and mercy and His holy justice and wrath. The God we see in the Old Testament seems so different than the God of the New Testament and the New Covenant. It is easy to ignore these hard questions and to latch on to the loving attributes of God. Unfortunately, as God's followers and children, we cannot ignore the difficult issues or distort the truth just to make ourselves more comfortable (I Corinthians 13:8; 2 Timothy 2:15).

Pastor posed some of the following questions on Sunday:

  1. As the church in 2005, are we focusing too much on the acceptance and love of God and not enough on the righteousness, holiness and wrath of God?
  2. Why does there seem to be such a huge difference between how God deals with His people in the Old and New Testaments?
  3. We are not in the Old Testament times anymore, so how does the North Side of God apply to us today as New Testament believers?

These are hardly easy questions to answer, and in fact, I don't think it is possible to have a complete answer. Moreover, as Pastor was talking about these things, some ideas formed in my head that I will write here in response. If I can, I'll try to find some verses that might help clarify the subject.

In answer to the first question, I'm going to cop out by answering both yes and no. I believe that God's love is vast beyond measure, and that no attention or description we give His love will realize or communicate it fully (Psalm 136). In addition, many people (probably everyone at some point in their life) have formed an unbalanced view of God, seeing Him as one who is infinitely stern and impossible to please. This distorted view of God affects non-believers, and they see Him as a cosmic killjoy who wishes nothing more than to take away everything that they value and enjoy in life. Even Christians are guilty of this view of God, and we cower in fear from Him every time we make a mistake, assuming that outlandish punishment is in store for us, and an intimate and vital relationship with Him becomes impossible. Because of this fearful impression, it has become necessary for the church to break down depictions of an always frowning and rigid God. After all, love and forgiveness for the sinner and nurturing, intimacy and assurance for the believer are highly important messages that all should have the opportunity to hear. I know that in my life, I have a hard time accepting God's mercy and restoration. It is hard for me to believe He loves me just the way I am, with all my horrible imperfections. Therefore, it is important to pound the loving "side" of God into my conscience.

On the other hand, I believe that perhaps the modern church of today has all but ignored the wrath and incredible demands of a Holy and Righteous God. It is a tragedy to minimize God's holiness, and in fact, I don't want to serve a weak, unholy god. God could not be God if He ignored or accepted sin and evil. He demands punishment or sacrifice to cover for sin. Just to show how serious sin is, the Bible tells us that there is no proper sacrifice that can permanently pay the price of sin except the death of God's own Son! That means sin is a big deal to God! If you don't think so, just read the Old Testament (before Jesus Christ made a way for everlasting grace) where there are graphic stories of the consequences of sin. I think I often take too lightly the concept of sin. Even as a born again believer, I still sin, even intentionally at times. God doesn't choose to make us perfect when we decide to follow Him. Sometimes I wish He would (Romans 7:7-25)!

The notion of taking sin seriously brings me to my observations and response to the second question, "Why is there such a difference in how God deals with His people in the Old and New Testaments?" From Old Testament history we learn that sin was so serious, that as the result of its first occurrence in humanity, all men thereafter were doomed to die (Romans 5:12,18,19; 6:23). Not just man suffers, but all of creation as well (Romans 8:19-22).

I don't really know exactly why God chose to wait a couple thousand years (or however long it as) after the first sin to make a way for mankind to be restored to Him. Perhaps it is because God knows the mind and heart of man. Perhaps all this happened so that we would know how serious sin is. After all, it difficult to appreciate the sacrifice God made without knowing and grieving for the trespass that made it necessary. Someone might say, "Why did he do that? Isn't that a bit extreme? I never asked him to die for me." In fact, if it was up to us, we would still be doomed to die. No one gave Him the brilliant idea, nor was He obligated to find a way to save us. He did so by His own loving choice.

"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:6-8, NIV )

Sin is so stinkin' bad that not even all the organized sacrifices of Israel could atone for it, even after thousands and thousands of continual sacrifices (Isaiah 1:11; Jeremiah 6:20; Hosea 6:6)! Perhaps a key passage to understanding this concept is Romans 3:19-26 (NIV):

"Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished - he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Christ."

Good grief! I didn't realize it until I typed that whole passage how it is the definitive and crystal clear answer to question #2! It hardly seems worth discussing further and breaking it down because the passage so thoroughly covers it all! I did emphasize the parts that really bring out this truth. Read them slowly and consider the implications. In a way, it seems that the Old Testament was an enormous demonstration of 1) the seriousness of sin, and 2) God's incredible patience and forbearance. How amazing is the supreme power and name of Jesus! If the one sacrifice of the life of Jesus Christ covered for all the sins of all men and women who ever lived and who ever will (including you and me), how great is His power and significance! Not only does this point to the fact of His divinity, but it also shows that sin is something to be reckoned with. Nothing short of the death of God's Son could ever cover for sin, for there is no one righteous as He! Even the death of a very good man cannot save another soul from eternal death and punishment, and certainly neither the good or the bad man will survive inevitable death or rise again once buried. Jesus Christ is no mere man (though somehow He was fully human). No matter what any religions might think about Him, He is more than a good teacher or even a prophet. He is God Himself, and that is how His blood has the power to save, and that is why the Bible declares His life as indestructible. The grave could not hold Him, for He satisfied the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17; Luke 18:31; Acts 2:24). He made the choice to die, even though He deserved glory and honor (Philippians 2:5-8), so that the price for our sins could be paid. I might be wrong, but the following has got to be the most repeated verse in the Bible. It is a testament to God's forbearance and patience that this can be said so many times (especially in the context of the time before Christ's ultimate sacrifice), even though mankind so willfully and continually sins against Him:

"The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love." (Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; 2 Chronicles 30:9; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:3, NIV )

So why was God so harsh in the Old Testament and seemingly "too merciful" in the New? Look at the sacrifice of Jesus Christ who covers the sin of the world, for each person who trusts in Him! Could God be mad at His own Son? Can God be divided against Himself? Of course not! Since Jesus took up our infirmities and destroyed the barrier between us and God, that is, sin... then how could God's wrath be poured out on those who accept this sacrifice? To do so would be to diminish the sacrifice as yet another temporary one, as that of a goat or lamb. If God forgets the sacrifice of His Son for even a microsecond and holds against us even one of our smallest sins or impure thoughts, we would still go to hell because of His righteous nature and the seriousness of sin!

"And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared: 'You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.'

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.

And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: 'The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: "You are a priest forever."' Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.

Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

Such a high priest meets our need - one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever." (Hebrews 7:15-27, NIV )

The only thing I wonder about this passage is, and this might be the worst theology ever: How much intercession does Christ make for each of us? Perhaps Jesus has to "remind" God the Father of the price of His blood every time we sin. If so, what a motivation not to sin! Let's save His breath! ;) It's getting late, and I don't have time to write about my thoughts concerning the 3rd question. Maybe I'll finish this topic later. But to end the night, I have a newfound fondness for the following passage, one of the many that Pastor presented in his sermon last Sunday. It's the description of the new covenant. I can now read this covenant with two things in mind: 1) Imagine the hope these words bring to a nation who is so used to offering endless sacrifices to a powerful, sometimes rigid God, and 2) praise God for the amazing blessing it is for us to hear these words and live in a time when grace comes freely through Jesus Christ!

"The time is coming", declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Jeremiah 31:31-34, NIV)

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Thursday, September 15th, 2005 - 2:08 AM

"Blog Comments Preview"

Woo hoo! After a bit of mind-boggling work, I was able to finish the Blog Comment Preview functionality. Now it is possible for users to preview their comments before finally posting them. I like to be able to give something a second look before making it final and decided to offer this luxury to my loyal visitors! ;) In addition to this splendor, I have given y'all some visual text modifiers. You can add three types of styling to your blog comments: bold, italic and underline. Simply wrap the desired text in a valid HTML tag that creates these effects. I outlined the possible tags, giving examples below.

If you don't understand the concept of wrapping text in an HTML tag, or can't figure it out from the examples below, I'd suggest not bothering with it (or strive to learn this extremely basic technique). The basic concept of an HTML tag is that the tag name is enclosed in less than and greater than symbols (< and >). There are two tags necessary: an opening tag and a closing tag, placed before and after the text you wish to effect. The only difference between the two is that the closing tag has a forward slash before the tag name. HTML 101. You're on your way to becoming a web design master (interesting comment, coming from one who isn't one yet)! By the way, I expect all you web savvy humans out there to only use the <em> and <strong> tags. Most of you in this crowd will know that <b> and <i> are like totally deprecated.

  • Bold Text: The words <b>bold</b> and <strong>strong</strong> are rendered in bold by wrapping them with <b> and <strong> HTML tags.
  • Italic Text: The words <i>italic</i> and <em>emphasis</em> are rendered in italics by wrapping them with <i> and <em> HTML tags.
  • Underlined Text: The word <u>underline</u> is underlined by wrapping them with the <u> HTML tag.
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Thursday, September 1st, 2005 - 11:19 PM

"Ethilootics"

Amid this horrible disaster in the southern states as the result of hurricane katrina, some very valid ethical questions have been posed. Is it ever okay to loot? Is there such thing as the "state of nature", where conditions are so dire that taking things in order to survive becomes an acceptable action? These are very hard questions, and I won't pretend to know the proper answers. I will just give my personal opinion on the matter.

a mother, though shaken, holds on to her most precious remaining treasure

It is very clear and obvious that the situation is so extreme in Louisiana that many people will die without food, clean water and medical supplies. These 3 commodities are now precious and rare since most of the city is under water. I know that I personally would not feel bad at all taking any one of these three things to provide for my family. I think that since stealing is not a personal weakness or temptation of mine, I would keep a cool head about it and act boldly. If my family was in danger or in poor health, I would of course instinctively seek out food and shelter for them. And in a place where everyone is seeking the same, I think this would be a natural and fine behavior. The problem of course is that most people would not keep a cool head about it, and they would violently horde found goods, even killing those who try to grab a piece for themselves. Therefore, in looking for resources, much caution would need to be employed, and a humble demeanor would be necessary. Obviously if the store owner was still around, it would be necessary to reason with him and plead for help. Violent takeovers would be totally unethical and clear cases of stealing. If the store owner refused to help, I think he would be unethical and merciless, but his decision should be honored just the same.

families sticking together amid the muck

I guess if I were in that situation, I would take the needed supplies, but perhaps make a mental note to attempt to repay the debt to the store after everything had settled. Of course, all my worldly possessions would be left behind in a flooded house, so it might be difficult to repay. Perhaps a plead for mercy from a store owner who also lost everything, including all his store contents, would be appropriate.

Perhaps the best solution is that some military or police peacekeepers could be strategically placed near stores that contain valuable supplies. They could be armed with automatic weapons for their own protection and last option peace keeping purposes. They could offer vouchers or bags of limited size for people to fill with supplies. If problems arise, they could use their weapons to calm the situation. Even this solution is not very good, for every person would cry out for more provision, and violence would almost surely take over. Ideally the government and charitable organizations will simply step in and freely give whatever is needed to keep people alive. The scale of the problem is so large, however, it would not be an easy task.

peaceably (though anxiously) waiting for service at an open pharmacy

I think it would be a horrible shame for all the food and water that do exist in these flooded stores to spoil and be useless for no one. It is perhaps more ethical to take them and use them to save a life - even one's own life - rather than let them spoil and save no one. Can you imagine the shame someone would feel, knowing that he defended his store, letting no one take anything, and to see them die at his feet with hands extended? What a waste. It is clear that basically this whole area will be wasted, especially since everyone is supposed to be evacuating and leaving the area for a couple months. In that time, all the food will spoil, especially since there is absolutely no electricity in the area and the streets are filled with sewage and a host of other unspeakable filth. If someone, while desperately trying to leave the area, finds something that can aid them in their survival and commute to safer ground, then by all means they should take it. Unfortunately there can be no legislation of order in this process, and each person would have to tread lightly and avoid threatening situations.

looting for profitable gain

Perhaps the sickest scenario that is developing as part of the aftermath of this disaster is the anarchy of the vile with their immoral abuse of "ethical" looting and other violent behavior. There are those who are stealing simply to gain financially or materially, taking objects that have nothing to do with survival. This is totally ridiculous and necessitates the use of completely different ethical considerations. These people should be stopped immediately, at gunpoint from cool-headed authorities, if necessary. There are those who are raping poor survivors who trying to make it to safety. Other darkened fiends are robbing gun stores and using the weapons to fend off rescue forces and figures of authority. These enemies of state don't make sense and are guilty of national treason, and by act of mercy to those who are honestly seeking life, they should meet a swift fate if not to be reasoned with. Ah, what a complicated situation. Too much for this simple mind. Good grief, how do the authorities deal with it? The only hope seems to be for each to do his best to peaceably survive and strive to receive mercy and provision from others who have something to give. Here is a time when humility and generosity must meet hand-in-hand to rule the day.

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