Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Audio, video, computers

Yesterday was a bit like Christmas morning, I suppose. I got a number of items: an audio interface for my notebook PC, a travel WiFi router/access point, and Elise’s dad got the FTA satellite dish installed and connected.

First off, the audio interface. I got the M-Audio Fast Track Ultra 8x8 USB 2.0 audio interface. I had originally tried to get the Alesis MultiMix 8 USB 2.0. This is the one where I got the earlier USB 1.1 product (which is still sitting next to me because I still have not received the return shipping label from Alesis and/or inMusic, and I am getting more and more annoyed with both companies. I keep contacting customer service but they don’t seem very responsive. I wasn’t going to name names, but it’s been about a week now and it’s getting ridiculous).

So far I’m fairly pleased with the M-Audio unit. It does what I need, which is to bring in my synth audio and microphone input (has phantom power, so I no longer need to use a battery in the mic) into the PC for recording. It’s able to record 8 separate input tracks at up to 96KHz/24-bits. I like being able to monitor with headphones separately from the main output.

The one thing that I’ve noticed, and not likely the interface’s fault, is that the connection between the synth and the interface is noisy. I think it has to do something with noisy power and/or ground loop with the PC. I suspect both are problems. When I record the synth output, I get occasional clipping noises. I wondered if recording the synth wouldn’t be possible, but then I tried recording a separate take on a new track and cutting/pasting/replacing the clipped measures and it seemed to work well.

The travel WiFi router is the D-Link DWL-G730AP. It’s a tiny device and comes with a nice carrying case. I had to adjust some networking stuff this morning to get everything to function the way I wanted them to. The Vista notebook I was using to configure the router stopped communicating with the Internet after I got done. I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. I fiddled with the firewall and location settings to no avail. Restarting seemed to clear everything up.

There are two reasons why I chose this device. The first is that some places where I stay when I travel don’t have WiFi but have wired Ethernet connections. I have at least two devices (and there will be three) that would like to connect to the Internet wirelessly. Being able to take a little router with me would be handy. Not only that, but I’m never too sure about the network security provided by hotels and such. A router is another way of isolating my private network from the rest of the world.

The second reason is that the original router doesn’t adequately cover our house. The cable modem and network hubs are located in the garage, which is way off on one extreme corner of the building. The opposing corner of the house has pretty poor coverage. This router, used as an AP, can extend the network coverage. This is important now, because Shelley has a new notebook PC (on loan from IDEA – the distance education school district) and her room is about as far as one can get from the main router. With the D-Link now sitting in my office area, the whole house has pretty good coverage.

Finally, the satellite dish. It receives FTA (Free to Air) channels – primarily for some of the Adventist channels such as Hope and Loma Linda Broadcasting (though reception on this is rather poor due to location). The dish is located just behind the house. A hold was drilled in the office closet outside wall on the second floor (it’s conveniently located under roofs) and then the cable sent down to the dish.

The trick was trying to get Windows Media Center Edition 2005 to recognize the signal. I could get Nero’s video capture utility to see the signal (but no audio), but MCE didn’t like it. I searched the Web for some possible hints. I came across the tip that in order for MCE to recognize the S-Video signal, the IR-blaster has to be connected to the IR-receiver. Fortunately, in recent weeks while going through boxes from our move 2 years ago, I located the small box with the IR accessories. As soon as I connected the IR-blaster and worked through the setup steps, the input was recognized and I was able to get the satellite output showing on the MCE PC.

Now you know what I’ve been up to during the last day.

The last several days have been very rainy. The forecast for today was supposed to be more rain. But the clouds broke apart and some sun is coming through. The early dawn (about 7:00 a.m. now) was quite nice. The sunlight was filtering through the trees to the back of our house, backlighting the leaves. I might have gone out had I not been starting to prepare some waffles for breakfast.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sermon: “Follow Me”

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio.)

This sermon concludes the trip through the gospel account of John. Today I worked through chapter 21.

This chapter seems to speak to times of uncertainty. The disciples weren’t sure yet what exactly Jesus was up to. The audience of John’s gospel weren’t sure why Jesus hadn’t come yet, and weren’t sure what was going to happen when the last of the apostles departed the scene. I think this chapter is John’s response to how believers ought to live between the “already here” and “not yet” of God’s kingdom, particularly during those time when there doesn’t appear to be a clear answer to the question, “Now what?”

Even though I’ve spent nearly two years working through John’s gospel account, I know that I’ve only scratched a surface of all that could be learned. Nevertheless it has been a fruitful, inspiring, and productive journey. I think I’ve gained a better understanding of what it means to follow Christ, and for those that have followed along on this journey, I hope the same is true of you.

Now that I’ve reached the end of John, the question you might have is, “Now what?” For the next few weeks my plan is to work through the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:5-13. I also have some unfinished business with the book of Daniel that I ought to resume. With the holiday season approaching, that means any new, long series will likely wait until the beginning of 2009.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Live and Learn

Or, “Why I’m not a handyman.”

I threw $5 in the trash today. Well, not quite so literally, but it might as well have been.

See, I decided to see if I could weatherseal the front door a little better, so I bought some foam strips to tape onto the door frame. After I did one side, the door wouldn’t close anymore. So I ended up taking it all off. Threw it into the trash. I then went and got a thinner tape. Installed it. Door wouldn’t close again.

A light finally turned on and I went out the door onto the porch, closed the door, and observed how the door closed onto the frame. It turns out the door and the frame are not very square when closed. The top corner has quite a wide gap, while the bottom half is fits rather tightly against the frame. No wonder any amount of tape along the entire length caused the door to no longer close and latch.

I was able to leave most of the thinner tape on the frame by cutting away the area that was the most problematic. I then opened a new package of the thicker tape and used that around the top corner.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Winter approacheth…

The last two nights, the lows have dipped into the mid-30’s. And that means our oil heater is starting to turn on every now and then during the night. Our portable electrics can’t completely replace the oil. The oil truck was here yesterday to top up the tank. We had only used 12.8 gallons since this spring. Even so, at $4.73 (including tax) per gallon, it quickly adds up. The cost of auto fuel (regular) is currently $4.52/gallon.

I looked at a few photos from the Juneau area today, and they’re already getting dustings of snow up on the mountains. We’re not quite there yet.

Missionaries: The Call

These are comments on Sabbath School Lesson 13, “Here Am I; Send Me:” The Prophet Isaiah.

For me, this final lesson raises more questions than it answers. The lesson primarily discusses “the call” Isaiah received (recorded in Isaiah 6:1-10). Here are some of questions that rise up in my mind:

  • Are calls supposed to be dramatic like this?
  • How does one know for sure that the call is from God, rather than say, wishful thinking, self-delusions, or foolishness?
  • Are calls only given to few individuals?
  • When one thinks/believes he/she has been called, should they make no effort to test, verify and validate before responding? (Back to the question, “How do you know it’s really God calling?”)
  • How should one respond to someone who says they’ve “received a call?”
  • Related to the previous question: What of people who use “the call” as an excuse to do shoddy work and then move on before the consequences catch up with them?
  • Why does the Seventh-day Adventist denomination use “the call” almost exclusively to paid, denominational employment? A related question is, why are plain old job offers (because that’s what they are) termed “the call” anyway?

Here’s my taken on all this. You may or may not agree. But here it is…

Everyone who has chosen to follow Christ has received a call: it is to reflect Jesus’ methods and attitudes of self-sacrificing love to the world. No more and no less. In the great majority of cases (80%, 90%, 95%, 99%, 99.999%?) how one chooses to live out this call is not specifically selected by God.

I believe that the will of God for each person is quite broad. One can choose many different paths and still be heading in the right direction. I think that when Jesus’ saying about the narrow gate and path (Matthew 7:13-14; c.f., Luke 13:24) are interpreted to mean that God’s will is narrow and specific, I think that interpretation misses the context. The context (as I read around these texts) is that because self-sacrificing love is so contrary to sinful nature, many will find it difficult to find the gate and pathway into the way of self-sacrificing love (Christ) which is eternal life.

We should keep in mind that what is recorded in history, including the Bible, are typically the extraordinary cases, the one-in-a-million case. Of the millions of Hebrews and Jews through multiple millenia, only a handful are recorded as prophets.

For me the message this week is to live a life the reflects God’s love to the world. As long as I’m doing that, I’m following God’s call and will for my life. I shouldn’t worry that I have or haven’t received some dramatic “call” for a specific work in a specific place to a specific people. I am a missionary right where I am.

Next week begins a new set of lessons on the Atonement of Christ. I just received a book that I’m looking forward to reading and using as a resource for the next three months: Christus Victor: An Historical Study of The Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement by Gustaf Aulen.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Walkabout

The sun does shine in Petersburg! For photographs, today ended being too sunny as all the clouds disappeared by early afternoon. Blank sky is not terribly interesting in a photo.

The day started out rather foggy. I went to Helse’s for the weekly ministers’ get-together but discovered that Helse’s was closed because the owner was sick. There was a note to head to Northern Lights, which I did. There, while chit chatting, I watched the fog and clouds burn off. I think that the landscape was probably much more interesting in the morning.

By the time I returned home and finished a few things, it was early afternoon. I had forgotten to recharge the camera batteries earlier, so I had to wait while they recharged. The batteries eventually topped off and I headed out.

I went straight down to North Nordic, over the guardrail, and down to the beach where I slowly meandered along towards PFI. I walked back up to the street level and made my way through town and over towards the harbors. I didn’t find anything that caught my eye at either the North or Middle Harbors, so I went down Sing Lee Alley. From there I headed down to South Harbor where I found the resident Sea Lions swimming about. Once I was done there, I headed up the hill to the Post Office, retrieved today’s mail, then walked the muskeg trail back towards home.

Click on the image below to open the photo gallery.

Click HERE to open gallery in new window

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The saga of packages continues

I got a hold of the reseller who sent me the wrong device. Indeed it was the wrong device, and they don’t have any of the ones I want in stock. I thus had to go to another online reseller and find a different audio interface device. They had a non-factory sealed item at a reduced price, and supposedly with free shipping. It will end up costing $20 more than my original purchase, if all goes well.

Anyway, for returning the wrong unit I’m supposed to be getting a prepaid call tag (okay, I’m not sure what it is). I left a message for the cartage agent in town to see if they know what it is and if they will accept it. If they don’t, well, I guess the saga will go on a bit longer.

I got no word back today from the canopy factory regarding the door shipment. I guess I’ll have to try to talk to someone tomorrow and see if I can get any more definite answers.

Speaking of tomorrow, it’s supposed to be mostly sunny. Today has been dry though mostly cloudy. My plan is to head out of the house tomorrow and see what I can find in the muskeg and on the beach. But with the best laid plans going awry lately, who knows what will happen.

All this is once again showing me how much I like to have order and control over my own life. When things are beyond my control, I get frustrated and anxious. Looks like there’s still a lot more growing to do.

There was an interesting column last week in the Wall Street Journal by Peggy Noonan, titled “Why It’s Getting Mean.” (You probably need a subscription to see the entire article.) I think it speaks to people’s search for security and control when things seem to be spiraling out of control.

The article begins,

The financial crisis changes the entire shape and feel of the presidential election. It isn't just bad news, it's bad news that reveals what many people deep down feared, and hoped not to see revealed: that the huge and sprawling financial system of Wall Street is maintained essentially on faith, mood and assumption; that its problems are deep; that at some level the system looks to have been a house of cards. It isn't just bad news; it's deep bad news that reaches into the heart of widespread national anxiety.

Everyone is afraid…

About midway through she writes,

The economic crisis brings a new question, unarticulated so far but there, and I know because when I mention it to people they go off like rockets. It is: Do you worry that neither of them is up to it? Up to the job in general? Is either Mr. McCain or Mr. Obama actually up to getting us through this and other challenges? I haven't heard a single person say, "Yes, my guy is the answer." A lot of shrugging is going on out there. This is a read not only on the men but on the moment.

In the concluding paragraphs she writes,

A final point. Do you ever have the passing thought that the presidential election doesn't matter as much as we think? Whoever wins will govern within more of less the same limits, both domestically and internationally…

I wonder if we follow the election so passionately because we're afraid. We're afraid a lot of our national problems are intractable, and the future too full of challenge.

We cannot tolerate feeling this way. So we make believe the election can change everything. And we follow it passionately to convince ourselves its outcome will be decisive and make everything better. We reassure ourselves with pictures of the cheering crowds at the rally. We even find some comfort in the latest story of the latest dirty trick. But deep inside we think: Ah, that won't work either…

Monday, September 22, 2008

Package and shipment troubles

Earlier today I contacted the manufacturer of our pickup bed canopy to find out what the status is on the replacement glass door. It turns out it hasn’t shipped yet! It’s been two weeks now. Sigh. The CC was charged at the time of order. If I don’t get confirmation and proof of shipment by the end of the month, I guess I’ll have to start the charge dispute procedure…

I got two packages today. One was a microphone stand. I had one that I’m sure was moved up from Oregon, but I can’t find it anywhere. I ended up having to purchase another. Fortunately that was only $25 with shipping.

The second package was what I thought was the mixer and USB audio interface that I ordered. Well, it was a mixer and USB audio interface – just not the right one. It was an older model that looks pretty much identical (except for the color) to the new version. The feature set is considerably inferior and the price that much lower. I purchased from a factory authorized B-stock reseller, so it may be that they got the units mixed up. Whatever the case, I was not at all pleased. I only figured out something was wrong when I tried to install the device driver and the installer kept saying it couldn’t find the hardware. I think I tried six or seven times. I finally looked in the manual one more time and it started to dawn on me that something was seriously wrong in that the features described were definitely not what I had expected. On closer inspection it became quite clear that I was sent the wrong product. The reseller being in Florida, 4 hours time difference, even if I had figured it out earlier in the day would have done no good in trying to get the problem resolved. I sent an e-mail to customer service with my complaints. Maybe they will see it while I’m still asleep in the morning. It will be interesting to find out how they are going to arrange for return freight. They sent it UPS, but it gets transferred to a 3rd party in Anchorage in order to get it here. We don’t have UPS, so giving me a pre-paid billing account for UPS likely won’t do any good. Ah, the joys of missing some of the commonly expected infrastructures…

Cabbages, cabbages

Cabbage is on sale this week (last Thurs. to this Wed.) at 49 cents per pound. Shelley used some of it (though this cabbage was purchased at the other store that doesn’t have cabbage on sale) in the egg rolls last Friday. I used the remaining half of it in a pasta casserole last night. The recipe came from a fruit and vegetable cookbook sent by my mother-in-law a few weeks back. I had some misgivings about how it might turn out, but the result was quite acceptable.

For the remainder of the week, I think we’re going to have quite a few more cabbage dishes. I looked up cabbages in the indices of my two Indian cookbooks and discovered I could probably prepare a different Indian dish for two weeks.

I’ve never been too fond of raw cabbage; nor the usual plain, cooked cabbage; but I’m discovering that as long as the cabbage is cooked and seasoned in interesting ways, it can be quite tasty.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Walk in sun and rain along South Harbor

The weather was mixed today. The day started out fairly sunny and dry (after a rather rainy night). It continued that way throughout the morning and into the early afternoon, but then the clouds and rain began to come through. By the time we had finished lunch and drove out to South Harbor, the rain was coming down fairly consistently. There were breaks in the clouds, so after several minutes of staying under the shelter of the ramp going down to the docks, the rain eased up to a light sprinkle and we began walking. Over the next hour or so the rain continued in varying degrees of intensity.

Here are a few snapshots along the way.

Click to open gallery in new window

China and Egg Rolls

As part of her curriculum this year, Shelley is studying China. Part of this involved cooking some kind of Chinese dish. Her selection was egg rolls. Thus last night we had egg rolls. It’s a difficult balance to maintain in providing the right amount of advice and demonstrations in cooking tips and techniques. I think it’s more difficult to watch someone else cooking than it is to do it myself.

In any case, Shelley got it done. The recipe called for pork and shrimp, but since we don’t use those ingredients, I suggested substituting some of the meatless burgers and adding a bit of soy sauce and fish sauce to restore a bit of the flavors that the amino acids from the protein sources would normally have contributed to the egg rolls. The results were quite good. We used some store-bought sweet and sour sauce for dipping. After looking at the ingredients, I quickly realized it is something that is rather easily reproducible: sugar, water, vinegar, ketchup, soy sauce, corn starch… oh, and some artificial colorings.

Sermon: We Have Seen the Lord – Part 4: Signs, Sight, Faith

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio. Click HERE for PowerPoint slides. Click HERE for PowerPoint Viewer.)

This morning, I had the “opportunity” to use the recording capability on my new notebook PC. I say “opportunity” because the only reason was that I forgot to bring along my digital voice recorder. Since I had never used the sound recording capabilities on the PC prior to this, I didn’t know how it would turn out. The results were quite good, though the file size was immense. It took a long time to load into my audio editor for post processing, and it took much longer to convert to an MP3 and save it out. So even though the quality is probably better, the file from the voice recorder is much easier to work with. Anyway, enough of that.

Today’s sermon is the conclusion of my four-part series on John chapter 20. I take a bit of a detour away from John and try to place the concluding verses of chapter 20 into a broader context of what it could mean for today’s Christians. I talk about how Jesus and the writers of the New Testament foretold of false christs and a counterfeit second coming, and how Jesus’ words of blessing to those who come to believe without seeing might bear relevance for us. I discuss what I believe this counterfeit and deception could involve and how we might prepare to meet it.

A thought for today

From ASBO Jesus --

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Missionaries: The Gift

These are comments on this week’s Sabbath School lesson 12, Gifted for Service: Philip.

Going through this lesson, one of the thoughts that came to my mind is how differently the initial believers viewed the relative importance of administration vs. field work. Today quite a few ministers think it is a promotion and a step up to leave the pastorate and become administrators. That is not how things were viewed in Acts 6. Though the text uses the word “deacon,” I think it was in the Good Word discussion that one of the individuals there noted that the deacons were more akin to what we would call today, administrators.

For the first generation of believers, field work, the evangelist and the pastor were doing the most critical work. Administration was something that became a necessity, but it was not seen as a step up. Looking at the story of Philip, how he soon became a preacher, evangelist, and effectively a pastor at Caesarea, I could even imagine administration functioning as a training ground for field work. That got me thinking how we’ve got things quite upside down today, and is it even realistic to think of placing new ministers into administrative positions and as they become more experienced to place them in the field? What if the pay scales were turned upside down so that the president made the least money and the youth pastor was given the most? I haven’t really thought through this, but I think it’s worth thinking about.

Another idea that was triggered by the lesson was how the name “Philip” being a Greek name, could mean that Philip was a Hellenistic Jew, one who was already accustomed (to some extent) to other cultures. There is an interesting study note on the NET Bible for Acts 8:1:

“Given that the Jerusalem church is still active after this and that the Hellenists are the focus of Acts 6-8, it is possible to argue that only the Hellenistic Christians were forced to scatter.”

For me these provide some insight into how and why Philip was able and eager to share the gospel to non-Jews. He may have harbored less prejudice than the non-Hellenistic Jews. He may already have had multicultural perspectives. He obviously had a heart for those outside Judaism and understood, even before the Apostles, that the gospel was for all people.

The main theme of this week’s lesson is the Holy Spirit and the gifts given through Him for service. One of the most helpful books I’ve read on the subject of spiritual gifts is Henry and Mel Blackaby’s What’s So Spiritual About Your Gifts? The thesis is that whereas many Christians focus on specific spiritual gifts, the real gift is the Holy Spirit Himself. The manifestations of specific gifts depend upon what is needed at a specific place and time. The authors also clearly differentiate between natural abilities and talents vs. spiritual gifts. The former is always available whereas the latter is something specifically given by the Holy Spirit to meet a specific need. They also suggest that in many cases, God may lead believers into areas where none of their strengths are of use, just so that they may learn to depend upon Him so that any success can only be due to His strength working through human weakness.

The lesson references a couple of the standard “spiritual gifts” passages in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Romans 12:6 is quite interesting in that “gifts” in Greek is “charisma” and “grace” is “charis.” One could say that spiritual gifts are directly related to grace that is given by God. When I read 1 Corinthians 12 (specifically vv. 4, 7, and 11) and put it together with Jesus’ words in John 14 and 16, it is quite clear to me that the Blackabys are onto something when they write that “the Holy Spirit is the gift.”

Philip appears to be an example of what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:8, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (ESV) Philip didn’t know from one moment to another what was going to happen, but the important thing is that he was open to the Spirit’s leading, wherever it lead.

As missionaries for God, we should be open to the Spirit’s leading. We should be confident that when the Spirit leads, He will also equip. Too often, I know that I’ve been afraid of taking risks and going into the unknown because the destination didn’t seem to fit in with my strengths and skill-set. We often want the equipping before the going. We might even use a pre-equipping as a “test” of God’s calling. But more often than not, if I am willing to go first, God is also able to strengthen and equip.

City needs another doctor

Earlier this year, one of the three four doctors in town moved away. We thought there was someone that would end up here, but it turns out that person chose to go to Ketchikan. So now, we are hoping someone else will find Petersburg to be a nice place to practice medicine.

If you are a physician, or someone you know is one, who is looking for a change, perhaps Petersburg might be the place for you.

Why no recent photos?

Well frankly, the conditions have been pretty miserable much of the time. Even when there's a sun break, I never know for how long it will last and if it will suddenly turn into a downpour. Not only that, but if the better weather happens towards the end of the week, that does me no good because that is when I am most busy, preparing for church.

The hopeful news is that the weather forecasts are starting to align on possibly better weather this weekend and early next week. The mountain ash are covered with red berries. The leaves are turning color. The birds have returned from their northern migrations. (Okay, why do birds migrate? Wouldn't it be more efficient for them to stay put? We have gulls and other birds that winter here and migrate north during the summer.) The muskeg is starting to die back for winter. The fog and mist make interesting patterns against the water and mountains. I'm not quite sure yet what will make interesting images.

Monday, September 15, 2008

What I've read, What I'm reading

Here are some titles that I've read recently, or which I'm currently just starting. I thought about writing more comprehensive reviews of the ones I've read, but thought that would take too much time (and unless I feel really strongly about a book, I have difficulty writing a review).

What I've Read

1. Jaded: Hope for Believers Who Have Given Up on Church But Not on God by A. J. Kiesling

This is a (another?) book about why people are disillusioned with the institutional church. I found it in the bargain section of ChristianBook.com. Although the Amazon reviews average out to just average, I thought the author provided some thought provoking material, particularly for church leaders. The main premise I got out of it was that the purpose of Christianity ought to be in finding God and getting to know Him, rather than church membership and/or attendance. According to the author, the institutional church is merely a tool in people's journey of getting to know God. The author echoes some of the misgivings and disillusionments I personally have with the church, so I found myself agreeing with most of the points made.

2. A Dangerous Hope: Encountering the God of Grace by Al Truesdale and Bonnie Perry

This was another title in the bargain bin at ChristianBook.com. Until I read this book, I didn't realize that the Nazarenes are Wesleyans, and therefore, close cousins of the Seventh-day Adventists. The premise of the book is that the Bible shows that the sovereignty of God is love, rather than absolute power. The authors develop this reasoning, based on scriptural evidence, to show how love, it being His essential character, necessarily limits what God is able to do in the universe without violating His own character. The authors work through themes including liberty and freedom, grace, already but not yet, and the kingdom of heaven to show how the Wesleyan perspective on salvation provides hope and assurance.

I found this book particularly enjoyable and stimulating. To my eyes, it seems most of the popular Christian titles are written by authors of the Reformed (Calvin) persuasion. I've been wondering recently if Seventh-day Adventists have been getting subconsciously influenced by the Calvinistic views of God's sovereignty and salvation. From what I see and hear, this might be the case. That is why I found this title so refreshing to read. I highly recommend it, if you can find a copy.

3. Ordinary People, Faithful God compiled and edited by Nathan Brown

This is one I picked up at campmeeting in July. It's a collection of stories about miracles and answered prayers. I realize many people are edified by such tales. I'm not one of them. It's not that I don't believe in miracles and answered prayers, because I do and I believe I've personally experienced some. But they're not the norm, and a large collection like this could possibly give the impression that it ought to be the norm. Nice book, nice stories, but it/they just didn't do anything for me.

What I'm Reading

1. Grounds for Belief by Ed Dickerson

This is another one I picked up at campmeeting. I've only read the introduction and the first chapter, so I can only give my initial impressions. So far it looks like something I'll enjoy. This is another of the titles that challenge in-the-box thinking and encourage out-of-the-box ones in regards to the topic of religion and religion-related things. I plan to read portions of the book during our weekly Sabbath gatherings (BTW, I really dislike the term "service" applied to church and worship).

2. Armageddon at the Door by Jon Paulien

This is yet another title picked up at campmeeting. I have Paulien's earlier Revelation book, The Deep Things of God. This is the next installment in a series from Paulien helping non-scholars develop tools to understand the book of Revelation. I've so far read through the first few chapters where the author describes the current Middle East situation. I'm not sure where things are going to head from here. It looks interesting, however.

3. Landmines in the Path of the Believer:Avoiding the Hidden Dangers by Charles F. Stanley

I belong to a "book club" type subscription by Thomas Nelson. Every four to six weeks I get a book. There are some authors that I simply can't stand to read, so I request they not be sent. I'm not sure as to which category this book and author is going to end up. I've only read the introduction, but the impression I get is that the author's primary definition of "sin" is behavior and thoughts contrary to God's commands. This is not the definition that I use as my starting point. "Sin" as I've come to understand it is primarily a broken relationship with God, or in slightly different words, a refusal to trust and depend completely upon God.

I'm not exactly looking forward to reading through this book, because it may just leave me frustrated and annoyed due to the differing views on the main thematic material. But I suppose that from time to time I need to read things that don't match my perspectives so that I don't get locked inside a box of my own creation. Not only that, but there just might be something I can learn from this book.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cost of cheese!

I don't know what cheese costs in the Lower 48, but I was SHOCKED by the prices here! These are price I just saw for Tillamook Cheddar:

1# block $7+
2# block $10+
5# shredded bag $20.99

It's a good thing the large majority of my cooking doesn't use cheese! The gourmet cheese prices (at about $10/lb) are starting to reach parity with the regular cheeses, at least when compared with the 1# blocks.

So far, the milk and butter prices don't seem to have gone up quite as dramatically.

Are you and I cult followers?

I found the following quote from the LA Times (Susan Jacoby, April 20, 2008) as printed in Discipleship Journal, Issue 167 (p. 12):

The American public [demonstrates] increasing reluctance to give a fair hearing -- or any hearing at all -- to opposing points of view... Whether watching television news, consulting political blogs or (more rarely) reading books, [we] have become a people in search of validation for opinions that [we] already hold... Ironically, the unprecedented array of choices, on hundreds of cable channels and the Web, have contributed to the [problem]. No one but a news junkie has the time or the inclination to spend the entire day consulting diverse news sources on the Web, and the temptation to seek out commentary that fits neatly into one's worldview... is hard to resist.

I've become increasingly of the opinion that today's political campaigns are almost like (well, maybe they are) encouraging cult-like followings based on personality and charisma. It goes for all sides of the political spectrum. If a person is a "believer" then it doesn't matter what the issues are, what problems there might be on the side that is believed; he or she accepts that their side is "right" and the other side is "wrong" regardless of any evidence. It's a religion. It really is. It's blind faith in a political religion. It closely resembles a cult -- and I think it is a cult. The leaders are cult leaders and the "believers" are cult followers. Would it be too far a stretch to say that observations seem to show that the most "religious" in the regular sense might also have the tendency to become the most "religious" in a political cult? (I say this because I observe similar attitudes on both sides of the spectrum: the religious right as well as the religious left.)

Sometimes I wonder if politics isn't the new American religion... It is in which many seem to seek their purpose, meaning, and identity. If politics is the source of meaning, purpose, and identity for a person, it's quite obvious that anything contrary to their political worldview would be threatening and they would vehemently fight against it. I really do think this is at least partly to contribute for the extreme polarization that we are seeing today. I don't think this is a good thing.

Christians ought to be the ones who are the most detached from making politics a source of life purpose, meaning, and identity. Christians ought to remember that Jesus taught that His kingdom is not of this world. Christians ought to be the most charitable and gracious when dealing with those that hold differing views. Christians ought to be the ones who do their best to not offend those that don't see things their way. Christians ought to participate in politics primarily as a means of distributing love and mercy. Christians ought to oppose any political methods that are deceptive, manipulative, and coercive. Christians ought to be the most suspicious of any worldly system, method, or ideology.

Christians ought to review the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 - 7) during this heated political season.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sermon: We Have Seen the Lord - Part 3: Locked Doors

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio. Click HERE for PowerPoint slides. Click HERE for PowerPoint Viewer.)

This sermon continues the discussion of John 20. More specifically I take a look at vv. 19-29, the two vignettes or episodes that take place behind locked and closed doors.

I continue the discussion of how John illustrates people moving from unbelief to belief. More specifically, this is related to the symbolic aspects of a locked door -- that of fear, uncertainty, and doubt -- which people must exit in order to be all that God desires his people to be.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Being Alaskan is good, at least once a year

The annual PFD, our first, was deposited into our bank account today. After setting aside reserves for taxes, donations, heating (after all, $1200/person is supposed to be to help offset higher heating and fuel costs), travel, auto repair and maintenance (the main reason for the travel), there's much less than what appears at first glance. Even so, I've conservatively allowed each of us $350 for "mad money." Not only that, but the state giving money is much better than the state taking away...

Before anyone gets the "clever" idea of moving to Alaska for the dividend, you should know that living expenses are considerably more than in the Lower 48, costly travel is a way of life, and you have to survive at least two Alaska winters before you're eligible (must be a resident for one full calendar year).

I'm not sure how the others in our family are planning to spend the money, but I have my eyes on a computer audio interface so that I can make some audio recordings of my MIDI synth. Even though the audio chipset on my laptop supports line-in, there is no port for it. Also, the chipset is RealTek HD which no one valuing quality would rely upon anyway. With fall here (maybe not on the calendar, but trust me, it's here) the days are getting darker which means much more time spent inside, and well, I need an indoor hobby and photography isn't terribly realistic.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Missionaries: In God We Trust

These are comments on Sabbath School Lesson 11, Mission in a Pagan Land: Daniel and Company.

Once again, the lesson this week covers so much ground that I can take the discussion in any number of directions. I could discuss how some of the historical and cultural aspects relate to the stories. I could talk about one of the stories in great detail. I could discuss God's progressive revelation of himself to the pagan kings. However, it appears that the primary message of the narratives in the book Daniel is that of trust and dependence. "In whom or what does a person place his trust and dependence?" is the question asked of every person. It is this question that is at the heart of each narrative in the book. I've heard it said that "the stories of Daniel illustrate its prophecies." If true, that would mean that the relevant final judgment question comes down to, "In whom or what do you trust and depend?"

In the opening story (chapter 1), the prologue to the rest of the book, Daniel and company are faced with this question. Being in a pagan environment, being given pagan names, and being required to study pagan subjects, for them, does not compromise trust and dependence upon their God. But to accept food from the king's table crosses that line, regardless of whether or not the food was offered to idols, was unclean, etc. Accepting food from someone meant to acknowledge dependence upon the giver. One of the commentaries I referenced notes that "vegetables" does not necessarily imply vegetables, but rather that they were given provisions that they were able to prepare for themselves. In any case, the point of this is that Daniel and company were not going to partake of anything that would allow anyone to say that it was because of the king's blessings that they accomplished what they did.

The next story (chapter 2) is a story of conflict between the gods of the Babylonians vs. the God of Heaven, the Revealer of Mysteries. Nebuchadnezzar's faith in his gods is shaken as their spokespersons are discovered to be impotent. (Commentaries note that there may have been plots against him around this time, and thus his distrust and extreme reactions, both in this chapter and the next. The reason Nebuchadnezzar refused to relate his dream may have been a test of loyalty. Another theme that could be explored is the insecurity of Nebuchadnezzar contrasted with the security of the Hebrews'.) Daniel and friends pass this "test" not because of anything they have in themselves, but because they are completely dependent upon their God. Their whole purpose in this is not to save their own lives, but to be used by God to show what power really is, and to save the lives of the other wise men.

The next story (chapter 3) leaves Daniel aside and focuses on his three friends. Once again this is a test of loyalty. This time, to profess loyalty to the king is to renounce complete trust and dependence upon God. The three have no guarantees of deliverance. But their trust in their God is so strong that even if God chooses to not deliver, they will not let go of their trust in Him. They are delivered, I believe not because of their trust in God, but because of Nebuchadnezzar's challenge and doubt. When God's name -- his character, his glory - is challenged, it is best to leave defense of it up to Him. The three Hebrews let God do what was best to defend His honor. In doing so, they demonstrated the utter dependence and trust they had in Him.

Finally, the lesson skips to the story of Daniel in the Lion's Den (chapter 6). Once again, it is a story of a test of loyalty. This time, it is Daniel himself that must choose between expediency and continued dependence upon God. Like the three before him, Daniel chooses to continue to depend upon God. There is once again, no guarantee of deliverance. Once again, I believe it was Darius' fragile faith combined with some doubts that brings God to act to bring glory to His name. Daniel's trust was strong enough to take him to his death, but Darius' faith may not have survived it. Therefore God chooses to intervene so that Darius can have freedom to continue to learn the way of the true God.

In each of the above stories, Daniel and friends have no guarantees of the outcome of their decisions. From what I can tell, the outcomes are not a concern to them. For them, maintaining their trust in God, even when God seems to have failed, is the non-negotiable thing. Whatever "rewards" came about in the aftermath, as I've noted already, I think was primarily for the benefit of those observing. The general pagan mindset was that if a person is faithful to his or her God or gods, they are rewarded appropriately. I see these stories as showing how God works within the cultural and religious language of the times and people to try to move people to a better understanding of Him.

Finally, the first three stories imply the importance of having a community of like-minded believers. Would Daniel and friends have been able to stand so strongly in their trust in God if they didn't have one another? They were likely in their late teens, and certainly not out of their twenties when these stories took place. What if it was just Daniel and he was surrounded by other Hebrews who took the more expedient path? Of course we don't know what could have been. But the fact that Daniel takes care to mention the four of them together tells me that there is strength in numbers.

As missionaries for Jesus Christ, we must trust and depend completely upon God. However, that does not mean that we can stand alone. We need others around us who can encourage us and whom we can encourage in our journeys. Our journey to Christ, our salvation, is both an individual and a community pursuit. Our strongest witness may not be our words and preaching, but rather how we walk the journey of trust and dependence upon God. Ultimately, I think it was Daniel's life demonstrating trust that won Nebuchadnezzar over to the living God, the Most High God, the Revealer of Mysteries, the King of kings, and Lord of lords.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Good News Tour LLU 2008 and Christus Victor

Last night I finished watching the Good News Tour Conference that was broadcast over the Loma Linda Broadcasting Network this past weekend. The audio and videos from the conference, I imagine, will be available on the Good News Tour web site in the coming days. A set of videos from the Friday evening program is available from this Spectrum page.

Many of the thoughts about God shared by the speakers covered ground that was already familiar to me. But there were a few concepts that were new and/or were better ways of explaining certain positions.

I found Tim Jenning's "The Law of Liberty" a useful way of explaining how liberty/freedom is the primary manifestation of love. I also found his position, that physical death is not really God's definition "death," worthwhile for consideration, as I've been struggling for the past few years trying to reconcile Jesus' statements regarding "death" in the Gospel of John with the dictionary definition of "death."

Randy Roberts' sermon, "Down the Up Escalator," on the servanthood of Christ, while, for me, not shedding any new light on the subject, was an affirmation of the radical nature of the way of life in the kingdom of God that we are to seek to live.

I found Brad Cole's "Biblical Inspiration: God's Pen or God's Penman?" a worthwhile examination of the nature of biblical inspiration and the purpose of the Bible. His talk showed a way to reconcile taking the Bible seriously while at the same time not seeing it as a rigid authority for all times and all peoples in all circumstances. Alden Thompson's "Old Testament:  Serious Illness, Strong Medicine" also brings light to the question of the primary purpose of the Bible.

Finally, I found Herb Montgomery's "Love's Eternal Flame" talk the most intriguing. He proposes that the "flame" or "fire" that is associated with God's judgment and wrath are not literal flames, but actually is God's love, and that any punishment for sin is simply consequences intrinsic to sin itself. Herb said that this talk was a abridgment of several of his full-length talks: "Intrinsic or Imposed?" (in 2 parts)  and "Light on the Dark Side of God" (sermons and handouts with scriptural references at the Renewed Heart Ministries site.)

The panel discussion was interesting, but the recording stopped before the end of the discussion. One of the more heated discussions was in regards to the meaning and nature of Christ's atonement on the cross. Although all seemed to affirm the forensic/substitutionary atonement model, the actual explanations given sounded much closer to the Christus Victor model. I've mentioned this model in the past, but for ease of reference, I'll post links to a couple of sites the describe and explain this model:

Next quarter's (Oct-Dec 2008) Sabbath School Study is on the topic of Christ's Atonement. It may prove interesting to do a comparison study of the different models of the atonement and see what bubbles up.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Hiding out

The house was invaded by a legion of women last night. Elise hosted a baby shower for one of her co-workers. I went upstairs and tried to do my own thing. I crept down to snatch away some snacks and then headed right back up. Some of the moms brought over their little cubs, and they kept making their way up, however. Amy was the ringleader of this group and they stormed about the house and the yard, in the dark. It sounded like there was plenty of fun and laughter among all who were here. The whole shenanigan lasted about 2-1/2 hours.

Yesterday was also a nice and sunny day -- a good day to stay inside and hide out -- I don't want to get sunburned... The day started out rather foggy, but by mid-morning the fog had burnt off and we were left with blue skies and clouds. I did go out on the bike to pick up the mail. It's back to overcast skies today. The Anchorage Daily News reports that this is one of Alaska's coldest summers on record.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Sermon: We Have Seen the Lord; Part 2: Open Tomb

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio. Click HERE for PowerPoint slides. Click HERE for PowerPoint Viewer.)

This sermon continues the discussion of John 20 begun last week. More specifically I take a look at vv. 1-18, the two vignettes or episodes that take place in the open tomb's vicinity.

I continue to develop the concept from last week of how people move from unbelief to belief. Additionally I suggest one present-day application in regards to the significance of the open and empty tomb.

Friday, September 05, 2008



No, I didn't catch it.

One of our church members, a commercial fisherman, just returned (I assume) from a fishing trip. While we were having supper we heard a knock on the door. We thought it was another person who had just dropped some things off for a baby shower taking place tomorrow evening, who had forgotten something and had returned. But we were surprised to see that it wasn't and more surprised to find an entire salmon (okay, I'm not good at identifying salmon species, but I think [Sunday 9/7: yes, it is] this is a King (or Chinook)) in a bag.

After quickly finishing off supper, it was time to try to figure out what to do with it. When it comes to handling fish, I'm am a total, complete, absolute greenhorn. I don't even own a fillet knife. Fortunately, my 8-1/2 inch chef's knife is quite sharp so I did my best attempt at filleting the fish. I ended up with about 10 single-serving size fillets. I have to learn how to properly cut up a fish...

I also ended up with a bunch of good flesh off of the areas that my mediocre filleting left behind, so I scraped all that off the bones and ended up with a good-sized portion. I cooked this immediately in a frying pan and had a little bit with some soy sauce. The rest I'm saving for tomorrow. It wasn't the least bit fishy smelling or tasting -- but very tender, crumbly, and succulent. It was better than dessert.

Little Deer


This deer was sitting just off the back deck. When I opened the back door, it began to mosey away. This might be one of the fawns from earlier this year. It's almost fully grown. The height of the board next to it is 9 inches. This gives a pretty good idea of the smallness of our Sitka Black-tailed Deer.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Recipe: Italian and Indian Fusion Split-Pea Pasta Sauce

What do you do when you have a partially open can of whole tomatoes in the refrigerator, don't feel like cooking a rice-oriented dish, don't want to peel potatoes, and don't want yet another standard pasta sauce? Why, combine ingredients from two different cuisines together and see what comes out.

Both Italian sauces and Indian curries frequently use tomatoes as a base. Onions, garlic, and red chili peppers are also common to both. The rest is just combining the ingredients from each respective cuisines in a manner that complements rather than clashes. Turmeric, cardamom, and coriander were out. Those flavors are way too distinctive and strong. How about cumin and cinnamon? These go well in a sweet sauce, so these were in. I wanted to add some kind of legume to the sauce. I thought about lentils, but settled on yellow split peas, primarily because a few weeks ago I bought up about six 1-pound bags that were on clearance. Green split peas are normally cheaper, but the color wasn't quite what I wanted in the sauce.

On the Italian side of things, I added some tomato paste, some sun-dried tomatoes, capers, (okay, this is more Greek) some Kalamata olives, and basil.

From the American collection, I added a bit of tomato ketchup. (I've learned recently that ketchup has tons of umami in it. Although tomatoes have quite a bit, ketchup is a much more concentrated source. That's why even mediocre fast-food burgers taste relatively good when they're smothered in ketchup.)

I didn't exactly measure most of the ingredients, so the amounts that follow are approximations from what I can recall. Use your eyes and taste buds to adjust. The end result should be a sweet/tangy sauce more than a salty one. The sauce went over well with Elise and the kids. Your mileage may vary. Looking at the ingredient list, it looks like this should be vegan friendly also.

Sunday, 9/7: I forgot about the raisins. They're now added below.

Italian and Indian Fusion Split Pea Pasta Sauce


  • 1 cup split peas
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 dried red chili peppers, broken to allow more heat in sauce (optional)
  • 1 2-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp. whole cumin seeds
  • 1 small onion, diced small
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 can (28 oz) whole, peeled tomatoes, drained
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp. sun dried tomatoes, packed in olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. tomato ketchup
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. capers, drained and minced
  • 6 Kalamata olives, sliced
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 tsp. dried basil leaves
  • About 8 fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade (for garnish)


  1. In a small pot, cook the split peas according to package directions, about 30 minutes or until desired texture reached.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan heat oil over medium heat. When hot, drop in the chili peppers, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, and cumin seeds. Stir and fry until cumin seeds turn brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add onions and garlic and continue to fry until onions are translucent and starting to brown.
  3. Add the tomatoes, then using a potato masher mash the tomatoes until no large chunks remain. Add the tomato paste, sun dried tomatoes, ketchup, sugar, salt, capers, olives, raisins, and dried basil. Bring to simmer and continue to cook another 10 minutes or until peas are cooked.
  4. When peas are cooked, drain and add to the tomato mixture. Stir well to combine, then continue to cook another 5 to 10 minutes to allow the flavors to mix and absorb. Remove from heat and serve over pasta.

Missionaries: Pushing Boundaries

Comments on Sabbath School Study Guide, Lesson 10, Women of Mission.

When cultural norms and accepted social customs are hindrances and stumbling blocks in the way of people coming to Christ, what is a missionary to do? When should missionaries prioritize preserving peace and unity over pressing for what is right? When does pressing for what is right become evil rather than good?

This week's lesson begins right off the bat with the topic of Jesus "Breaking the Rules" (Sunday) of traditions, culture, and religion. Some of my observations upon looking at the examples given are that:

  • Jesus pushed boundaries, but never so far as to destroy his mission. In other words, Jesus understood the limits of what the culture was able to tolerate. For example, although Jesus allowed and encouraged women to participate as disciples, he did not (as far as is recorded) formally appoint or anoint them as such.
  • Jesus demonstrated and taught, within his own spheres of responsibility and authority, moves towards God's ideals, those things that were contrary to accepted norms; but he usually did not impose his ways outside of his spheres, onto those who were opposed to his ways. For example, Jesus taught the higher principles of marriage (divorce is contrary to God's plan) and life (even hating is a form of murder), he demonstrated that laws regarding ritual impurity can be set aside (touching the dead and unclean individuals), but he did not campaign to have laws changed.
  • Jesus acted and taught to bring glory to God's love. His deeds and words always sought to bring those who witnessed them liberation from man-made prisons of thought, so that they could see more clearly God's true character. Perhaps the one place where Jesus seemed to impose his way was in the cleansing of the temple. The way I see this incident is that what was happening at the temple was clearly misrepresenting God. Additionally, perhaps the temple was the one place on earth (at the time) where Jesus did have full authority.

The point of bringing up the above is because the church, for much of its history and even today, views women as inferior to men when it comes to their ability to serve as God's missionaries. I sense that too many take the Bible as the standard for religio-cultural practice rather than case-studies of religio-cultural progress. Too often churches take, say, the letters of Paul and make universal application of the practices, failing to understand, deliberately or by omission, that each letter was written to address specific problems in a local church, each with its own cultural, societal, and historical context.

After reflecting on this week's lesson, the conclusion I've come to is that churches function best in a local context. The church's mission is to show increasingly more clearly God's love. One of the ways is to do this is to bring relief and liberty to those who are oppressed and marginalized. Thus I believe churches have a responsibility to push the boundaries of accepted norms. This is best done within a local context. A worldwide church simply cannot dictate all things to all cultures, all the time. A worldwide church that seeks to minimize conflict and maximize uniformity will nearly always stay inside the lowest common denominators. I don't believe this is what Jesus intended for his church.

If the global church won't or can't push boundaries, then individual churches, wherever they are, should follow the example of Jesus. But in doing so, don't destroy and misrepresent God's purpose; don't impose your context onto others, but rather work within your context; and always seek to magnify God's glory and his love by removing obstacles that people have in seeing the true God.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A Clash of Emphases

With the death of my old laptop went a number of music software that were installed. Over the last couple of months I've been purchasing new versions. I put some of them to use this week, mostly as a way to learn some of the improved features and such. I also decided that I really ought to use more features available on my synth.

As my test subject I decided to use two songs and put them into a kind of a fused medley. The songs I chose were: "Lift High the Cross" (SDA Hymnal #362) and "Room at the Cross For You". The first is a very traditional, high-church type hymn, while the second is a mid-20th century gospel song. I looked at the words of both and on initial glance didn't think much about them other than that they both used the cross as the theme and focal point.

I set to work putting together an arrangement that alternated one verse and refrain of one with the other. I spent several hours each during three days (mostly when I either couldn't get to sleep, or awoke far earlier than planned) working the MIDI file.

I finally finished and after a couple of music-only playback, decided to sing through it. It was in the midst of singing the words that I was startled by the huge clash and gulf between the songs and their message. They both have the cross as the focal point, but beyond that there is virtually no similarity. In "Lift High the Cross" the emphasis is on Christians going out and winning souls and claiming victory for Christ until "all the world" accepts Him. In "Room at the Cross For You" the emphasis is on the attraction of Jesus and upon the invitation he extends through the cross.

Of which type of evangelism would I rather be on the receiving end? How about you? The militant, forceful, "win at all costs" kind of evangelism? Or the kind that presents the attractiveness of Jesus and leaves you and me with the invitation and choice?

I don't have a convenient way to record audio from my synth to an MP3 file. So I used virtual software synths to create the MP3. It doesn't sound nearly as good as it does out of a real synth, but it will do for the purposes here. Here is the link. The impact of the clash and dichotomy didn't hit me until I sung through the music, and so you might want to do the same to get the effect.

Alaska Air design contest

Alaska Air is holding a contest for school-age children, K-12. The winning entry will be painted on one of the planes. The grand prize winner plus winners from each grade will also be going to Disneyland. Pictured below is Shelley's entry.


Shelley still has a cough. She could have some sort of an infection. My cold is nearly gone. Shelley doesn't think it's fair. I told her I get more exercise and my immune system has more experience :)

In regards to the pickup bed canopy door replacement, a replacement can be purchased for about $250. Shipping it here ranges from about $200 to $320. The lower end if it is delivered to Alaska Marine Lines in Seattle and then barged up here. I plan to place the order in tomorrow.