Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Few Quick Airline Security Questions

I'm sure we've all heard about the new strict 'security' measures that popped up in airports over the last half a year or so. In most cases, to get on a plane now, you must first go through a new type of X-ray machine, using 'backscatter radiation'. Of course we've been assured it's perfectly safe, although since they've already been caught lying about the amount of radiation absorbed, a fair amount of skepticism is not unreasonable. You're given the chance to 'opt out' of this radiation detection, but to do so, you may be required to submit to a sexual assault by a government agent.

Of course, this is absolutely necessary for national security, and if even one passenger gets through without a full-body X-ray or a molestation, it will be awful beyond imagination. Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling. Forty years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes, the dead rising from the grave, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria! Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light. Total protonic reversal. Yeah, it's that bad.

Except, not.

See, there are a few things that undermine this little story, including a few anecdotes from our recent vacation. First, not all airports are equipped with the full-body X-rays. Second, before the flight out, we axed the agent whether the radiation was safe for my pregnant wife. He just had us go through the normal metal detector, no X-rays or sexual assault required. Third, on the way back, the security line was insanely long, causing flight delays as passengers couldn't get to their flights. So they shut down the backscatter radiation machines, suspended the molestations, and just rushed a bunch of us through the normal security.


If the new, tight security measures are actually necessary, why would they ever, even for one passenger, suspend the measures? Why, if they are necessary, are there entire airports where they are not in place at all, ever? Why, if they are necessary, would the measures be suspended for an entire terminal at LaGuardia, just to get the line down to a more manageable level? Or if they're necessary, why would they be suspended around Thanksgiving in order to short-circuit any possible protests?

Maybe it's just me, but maybe these types of things might, just a little, possibly, show that the official line about them being absolutely necessary is a total lie.

See, here's the thing. There are certain things that are actually necessary - and you never go without them. In air travel, for example, it is necessary to have enough fuel to make it to your destination. You wouldn't dream of taking off with only half the fuel you need, just because passengers might be complaining about the delays. It is necessary that the wings be properly attached. Sure, it may be inconvenient to switch planes just because one little wing might fall off, but, well, you know, you probably shouldn't risk it, just in case.

To sum: if it's actually necessary, you don't do without it. If you ever do without it, it's not necessary. And this 'enhanced security' garbage is most definitely not necessary.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Prayer on May 21

Heavenly Father,

We thank you for making us alive and saving us through the precious blood of your Son. We praise you for your incomparable grace, for atoning for our sin, and making us righteous in Christ. We thank you for saving us from the judgment to come, not because of anything we have done or any good in us, but only because it pleased you. Thank you for putting our sin to death with Jesus, and raising us to new life in Him. And we look longingly towards the day of His return, when we will be together with you forever. We pray that when you do return to judge the world, that we will be found ready. Keep us from stumbling and present us blameless before the presence of your glory with great joy. To the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

We pray for those who have been deluded by the cult of Harold Camping, who have put their hopes in a man acting directly contrary to your clear, unambiguous word. Have mercy on them, and grant them repentance and knowledge of the truth. Allow us, your church, to be instruments of grace to them, pointing them to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us not join in the inevitable mocking, but let us proclaim the truth in love.

And we pray for the mockers, the scoffers, and all those who are still in rebellion against you, our Creator and Sovereign. You are not slow to keep your promise, but patient, not wishing any to perish, but all to come to knowledge of the truth. They presume on the riches of your kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that your kindness is meant to lead them to repentance. But because of their hard and impenitent heart they are storing up wrath for themselves on the day of wrath when your righteous judgment will be revealed. We pray that you would grant them repentance and knowledge of the truth, that you would open their eyes to your glory and let them flee from the wrath that is to come into the safe shelter of the blood of Christ.

Amen. Come Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Restaurant:Impossible and You

We didn't mean to go there. We really didn't.

There are some shows on Food Network and similar programs that are pretty reliable guides to finding a great restaurant to visit. For example, if you visit an Iron Chef's restaurant, you can be sure it'll be top-notch (such as Mesa Grill, where we went Sunday evening). Shows like Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives or Best Thing I Ever Ate profile a lot of restaurants around the country that are worth a visit if you're in the area. But one show profiles places that we would never intentionally seek out - Restaurant:Impossible.

We really, really didn't mean to.

For those unfamiliar with the show, the concept is pretty simple. A restaurant is really struggling, and doomed to fail if things don't change drastically. They beg for help from an expert chef/restaurateur, who has two days, a small budget, and free reign to suggest whatever changes are necessary. After a whirlwind of renovations to the facility, staff, and menu, the place reopens. (It's the same concept as Kitchen Nightmares, except without the perpetual vileness of Gordon Ramsey, so it's significantly more watchable.) It's a pretty neat show, but not one where I would ever plan to go to any of the restaurants or anything.

We were staying one night in the little town of Mystic, CT, and just went over to grab dinner at our hotel's restaurant. The name seemed familiar, but I didn't know why. The inside looked sort of familiar, which was odd since we'd never been there before, and there was something about the show kitchen that made me think I'd seen it before. And when I saw that the chef looked really familiar, too, it clicked - this place had been one of the renovation projects on R:I. Totally unintentional, but hey, might as well see how the turnaround went, right?

It was excellent. Some Chicagoans might not believe me when I say the calamari was the best we've ever had, better even than Harry Caray's, but it was. Everything we had was delicious. The place was fairly busy, and I noticed that on the walls, they had some awards displayed. They had won quite a few (Best in County/State awards from various publications), seemingly every year up through about 2007, but then there was a gap of a few years, until their proudly-displayed 2011 award. Once good, the quality had slipped and brought them to the verge of failure, but it's completely turned around. Good for them.

So what does this have to do with us, or you?

At the end of each episode, there is a quick update about how the restaurant is doing several months after filming. Some places, like this one, are booming. Others went right back to where they had been, and at least one of them had already closed. These restaurant owners put out a desperate plea for help, bring in an expert to straighten them out, but then it's up to them how to proceed. Those that make the suggested changes tend to do well. Others fight against it the whole way, revert to what they had been doing, and fail.

We are no different. Consider this familiar passage from James 1:22ff: "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing."

Or Proverbs 26:11: Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.

Or Hebrews 13:17: Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

When you go to scripture looking for promises to break the power of sin, when you beg your pastor and/or small group for help, do you intend to actually do what you're told? Or will you forget the authoritative word, and scoff at the advice of the experts?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

This Week...

So this week the wife and I are on vacation for the first time in several years, and it is absolutely wonderful. The only question we really have is, will the world still be here when we're done?

As you may have heard, a punk named Harold Camping is shooting his big mouth off about how the Bible supposedly guarantees that judgment day will be May 21. Right about the time we're going to be watching a play starring Jack Bauer, Jim Gaffigan, and one of the original cops from Law & Order, Jesus is guaranteed to return, because it's some certain time after the flood, and based on some numerology and awful theology, Camping has cracked the Bible code. And between the omnipresent billboards and the interviews with every media type willing to slander the church (by claiming he's part of us and speaks for us), his message is getting out. May 21 is judgment day.

So what is the Christian response to this?

First, understand that Harold Camping is a vile blasphemer. Jesus could not have been more clear that we cannot, will not, and have no business trying to figure out the date. Whenever he was asked about this, his response was always direct and unambiguous - it's none of our business, and we cannot know. Harold Camping claims that not only does he know, it is the duty of every Christian to know. In other words, he's calling Jesus Christ a liar. This is utter blasphemy. (For more on Camping's devolution, see this excellent five-part series: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

Second, we can't say for sure that May 21 is not the day (at least the day that everything starts, or the day of the rapture, or whatever your eschatology holds) any more than this guy can say that it is. Look - I understand the temptation to say that if some crackpot is predicting Christ's return on a certain date, we can be sure it won't be that date. But that simply doesn't follow. We won't know either way - we can never predict when it will be, nor can we say with certainty that it won't.

While we don't want to endorse Camping's sinful bluster in any way, we also don't want to go too far the other way, and pretend that Christ's return is not imminent. In denouncing Camping, it's far too easy to sound like the mockers and scoffers of 2 Peter 3. Jesus may not come back on May 21 - it may be May 17, or May 22, or some other day. We don't know - and it is a tragedy when our lack of knowledge here causes us to give comfort to the lost, or get complacent and act like it couldn't happen any moment. Jesus very explicitly warned against this, and Peter was clear about how we should live in light of Christ's imminent return.

Jesus could come back at any time - be ready! Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation!

(Postscript: as usual, Al Mohler is right. Had I seen that before I wrote this, I might not have. Such is life.)