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Shammua.  Shaphat.  Igal.  Palti.  Gaddiel.  Gaddi.  Amiel.  Sethur.  Nahbi.  Geuel.

Do these names mean anything to you?  Even if you recognized the spelling as being consistent with the transliteration of other familiar Hebrew names, the chances are not very great that you connected them with any particular story from the Old Testament.

What about Joshua and Caleb?  Well, sure!  Those two names mean something to us!  Just by mentioning Joshua and Caleb, you have likely figured out that the names above are those of the other ten tribal representatives who were sent by Moses on a 40-day reconnaissance mission into the land of Canaan (Numbers 13).  The names of the other ten spies have fallen into obscurity because of their negative report to their fellow Israelites and their disbelief in God’s ability to give them the land of promise.  Their words were so thoroughly and convincingly negative that the congregation of Israel wept, started developing a plan to return to Egypt, and even considered stoning Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb.  God’s punishment upon the people for their lack of faith in His power and promise was that they would have to wait 40 years to possess the land, one year for every day of the spies’ mission.  Rather than gradually perishing in the wilderness over the next 4 decades with the rest of their generation, the ten faithless spies were immediately struck down before the Lord by a plague.

It is interesting that the ten spies were exposed to the very same realities on their mission as were seen and experienced by Joshua and Caleb.  They all saw the grapes, pomegranates, and figs from the valley of Eshcol.  The ten did not deny that the land was amazingly fruitful and truly “flowing with milk and honey,” but they chose to focus on the obstacles and challenges: the large, fortified cities and the “big and tall” people of the land, before whom they considered themselves as mere grasshoppers.  They failed to consider that the sons of Anak were like grasshoppers before the Almighty God of Israel.

We remember Joshua for powerful statements of faith and devotion like, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” (Joshua 24:15).

Caleb, even at the age of 85, had enough confidence in the strength of the Lord to say, “Give me this mountain!” (Joshua 14:12).

As for Shammua, Shaphat, Igal and the rest of the Terrified Ten, their names have been relegated to the fringes of Bible trivia.   

Our mind-set and perspective do not alter the realities around us, but our attitude is vitally involved in determining whether we will be victims of circumstance or victors over circumstances in our lives through faith and reliance on God.

It has now been well over a week since Harold Camping’s failed prediction of the rapture of 200 million believers on May 21 and the onset of five months of tribulation for those “left behind” on Earth.  As expected, Camping attributed this eschatological non-event to yet another miscalculation on his part (failed to carry a 1 to the next column or something, I’m sure).  He cleverly “called an audible” and claimed that a “spiritual” judgment (i.e., unseen and completely unverifiable) did take place on May 21, and then pitched a new date of October 21 for the end of the world as we know it.

I know that this subject is already old news and seems like ancient history in our attention-challenged culture, which has since gone through several complete revolutions of the news cycle.  Numerous bloggers that I regularly follow offered astute and timely observations in the days immediately before and after May 21.  Still, I wanted to share a few observations before the story completely leaves our collective consciousness; that is, at least until mid-October when it will likely light up the internet and the blogosphere again. 

I share the same regrets about Camping’s prophetic hoax that have been expressed by others.  Once again, reasonable and rationale followers of Christ have been held up to ridicule because of the antics of those who dwell on the theological and hermeneutical fringes of the Christian faith.  Camping’s billboards proclaimed, “The Bible guarantees it!”  As a result, some will mistakenly impugn Scripture rather than Camping.  It provides another verse to be sung by the choir of skeptics who mockingly ask, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?  Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (II Peter 3:3-4).  I hurt for those who were sincerely searching for truth and found Camping instead; I pray that they can spiritually and emotionally recover from the deception that they suffered. 

Still, there are several things for which to be grateful as a result of Harold Camping’s prediction.  Innumerable people were caused to reflect on the possibility of Christ’s return on May 21 and were prompted to consider their spiritual “preparedness” for that event.  Through personal study, conversations, blogs, articles, and even sermons, the truth of Biblical revelation concerning the Lord’s return was searched out and reaffirmed.  Those looking for Biblical information about the popular notion of the “rapture of the saints” discovered that there is no Scriptural basis for the concept of a “beaming up” of believers at some remote point of time prior to the final judgment and the consummation of all things.  

Camping has solidified his status as a false prophet (see Deuteronomy 18:20-22), scoring a dishonorable trifecta with failed predictions in 1988, 1994, and now 2011.  I am tempted to admire his tenacity, but pity is more appropriate.

I would like to offer a mild correction to a statement that I heard several well-intentioned believers make in the days leading up to May 21.  It went something like, “Well, we can know for sure that Jesus isn’t coming back on May 21, because He said that no man knows the day or the hour!”  The day of the Lord’s return has been fixed and determined in the mind and in the plan of God (Acts 17:31).  It will happen on that day, regardless of whether or not some spiritual nutcase has made a prediction for that date.  Otherwise, we could forever forestall the return of Christ by having people make predictions for every calendar day in the future.  I don’t believe that is going to change God’s plan! 

Jesus said that no man “knows” the day or the hour of His return (Matthew 24:36, 42).  Guys like Camping don’t “know.”  They guess; they are shooting in the dark.  Jesus went on to say in the same context, “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44).  Most of us weren’t “expecting” Jesus on May 21!  It would have been a perfect day for His return!

Be ready; today and every day.

Oh, the nickname “Happy”?  Just a silly name that popped into my head every time I heard or read about Camping recently.  Very juvenile, I know.  Sorry, I just can’t seem to help it.

Finally, a cartoon for you to enjoy!    

I first read about Roland Ortmayer nearly 22 years ago in a Sports Illustrated feature article by Douglas S. Looney entitled “A Most Unusual Man.”  The article chronicled Ortmayer’s life and coaching career at the University of La Verne.  Incidentally, La Verne competes in the same Division III conference as the California Institute of Technology which I wrote about in the recent post “Bigger Than Basketball.”

Roland Ortmayer (known to all around him as Ort) was the most unconventional football coach I have ever read about.  He coached for 43 years at La Verne, but never won a conference championship outright and never produced a successful pro player.  When Looney interviewed him for the SI article, Ortmayer described himself as “a teacher, a kayaker and a rafter, a fly-fisherman and a mountain climber, not to mention being a husband, father and grandfather.”  Regarding the omission of coaching from his resume, Looney wrote that doing so seemed fitting since calling Ortmayer a football coach would be like “praising Picasso for knowing the primary colors.”  Ort was so much more than a coach.

Ort’s unorthodox approach to coaching included no recruiting, no mandatory practices, no weight training, and no playbook.  Ort washed the team’s towels, socks, and jocks and scrubbed the grass stains out of the practice and game uniforms.  Ort never cussed.  “Oh, crum” was as profane as he ever got.  Ort’s teams won about half the time and lost about half the time, which seemed like a reasonable balance to him.  

Among the quotation gems in Looney’s article are:

“Football to me is like climbing a mountain.  The climbing is where it’s at.  When you finally reach the top of the mountain, all it is, is cold and windy.”

“Okay, we scheduled the game, so let’s play it.” (His pre-game motivational speech)

“I think there is something wrong with a player if he practices every day.  Some days your car won’t run or your girlfriend requires more attention than football.  Maybe it’s just a nice day to go to the beach.  Heck, I’ve missed practices, like when I wanted to visit my daughter.  They practice better without me, anyway.”

“Some people say we don’t take winning seriously enough, so a lot of high school coaches don’t want their players to come here.  But I noticed that fathers want their sons to come.”

Those who played football for Ort praised him for the difference that he made in their lives and the “larger than football” lessons that he imparted to them. 

Roland Ortmayer passed away on October 9, 2008 at the age of 91.     

You can read Looney’s archived article at SI Vault.  Reading it can still bring a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. 

Angel food! 

That’s how Psalm 78 describes the manna that the Israelites ate in the wilderness.

“He rained down manna upon them to eat, and gave them food from heaven.  Man did eat the bread of angels…” (Psalm 78:24-25).  The text is not intended to suggest that angels (spirit beings) are dependent upon physical food for their survival, but merely serves as an additional reminder that Israel’s daily sustenance was graciously granted by the God of Heaven.

For reasons that I can’t remember now, I found myself reading the Biblical texts about manna last week (primarily Exodus 16 & Numbers 11), and I was re-impressed with several concepts and truths.  When Jesus spoke of “daily bread” while teaching His disciples how to pray, he used a phrase that was rich with meaning and one that would have immediately reminded His Jewish audience of the manna which the Lord provided for 40 years in the wilderness.  40 years!  From 1971 to 2011.  From the time I was 8 years old to my current age of 48.  That’s a lot of bread from heaven!

Fine and flake-like, the manna fell with the dew six mornings a week, Sunday through Friday.  “Gather a day’s portion every day.”  The precise amount gathered per person was to be an omer, a measurement equivalent to about two quarts.  The temptation to hoard the bread in excessive supplies or gather a week’s worth at a time was thwarted by the fact that it would spoil overnight, becoming foul and full of worms; “maggoty and malodorous” to use K.A. Kitchen’s vivid vocabulary.  The manna was a lesson in daily dependence upon God.  The way the Lord provided it also encouraged personal responsibility and industriousness.  If you slept in, you were out of luck.  The manna on the ground melted as the sun grew hot each day.    

The only exception to the “morning by morning” provision was on the Sabbath.  On Friday morning, the “harvest” was to be two omers per person to provide enough for that day and the next.  No manna would fall on the Sabbath.  Even God didn’t make bread on the Sabbath!  The manna gathered on Friday would stay “fresh” through Saturday.       

You could pound it or grind it into meal, bake it, or boil it.  Manna tasted like wafers with honey or cakes baked with oil.  God provided it for 40 years, until the day after the Israelites first ate some of the produce of the land of Canaan (Exodus 16:35; Joshua 5:11-12); a reminder that God will not do for us what we can easily do for ourselves.  The Lord allowed a jar a manna to be preserved and unspoiled as a perpetual reminder of His faithful love and care for His people (Exodus 16:32-34; Hebrews 9:4).   

As good as the manna was, it only fed the body and not the soul, and those who ate the manna eventually died. 

Jesus, however, came down from heaven as the Living Bread to give spiritual life to the world (John 6:32-58).  

“I am the bread of life.  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:48-51).


Mars is red and Jupiter’s big
And Saturn shows off its rings
Uranus is built on a funny tilt
And Neptune is its twin
And Pluto, little Pluto, is the farthest planet from our sun

Thus sang Interplanet Janet on Schoolhouse Rock!, the creative, musical, animated series which covertly exposed my generation to a world of knowledge about science, math, grammar, and history while we watched Saturday morning cartoons.  It would not be too much of a stretch to say, “Everything I need to know, I learned from Schoolhouse Rock!”

But, alas, the Galaxy Girl misled us about Pluto!  Not intentionally, of course; she would have never done that.  She was just following the conventional understanding of our nearest cosmic neighbors as expressed in the song’s opening lines: “They say our solar system is centered ’round the sun; nine planets, large and small, parading by.” “Nine,” did she say?  Make that eight, at least since 2006.

In a post last week, I mentioned Percival Lowell, the mathematician and astronomer who postulated the existence of a ninth planet, Planet X, beyond Neptune.  It was not until 1930, 14 years after Lowell’s death, that Pluto’s existence was visually confirmed on photographic plates by Clyde Tombaugh.  Pluto would enjoy “planetary status” for the next 76 years, plenty long enough to become ingrained in our collective conception of our solar system and to influence the lyrics of “Interplanet Janet.”

Then came the demotion.  In short, the discovery of other bodies, one of them larger than Pluto, in the far reaches of the solar system caused many astronomers to question the correctness of Pluto’s classification as a planet.  On August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union adopted a new definition of “planet” which excluded Pluto.  The IAU created a new category of “dwarf planets,” and The Celestial Body Formerly Known as the Planet Pluto officially became Minor Planet (134340) Pluto.  Talk about being downgraded on a galactic scale!

Many people, including some in the scientific community, were not thrilled with the reclassification.  State legislatures in New Mexico and Illinois passed resolutions (seriously!) that retained Pluto’s status as a “legit” planet.  “To pluto,” the infinitive form of a new verb, entered English usage, meaning “to demote or devalue someone or something.”  “Boy, he sure got “plutoed” by the board of directors at the last meeting!”

What was the reaction of the former planet itself to the name change?  Nothing, as far as we can tell.  Apparently, it either hasn’t noticed or simply doesn’t care.  Its mass, rotational period, and orbital path have remained unchanged since 2006.  Imagine that!

All of us use labels.  Even the phrase, “I really hate to use labels,” is usually followed by the word “but” and a generous slathering of them.  Labels are convenient.  They are a type of “shorthand” that allows us to slap a tag on someone without being bothered by the hard work of really getting to know them, their character, their personality, or what makes them tick. 

Liberal; conservative; Republican; Democrat; redneck; snob; flag-waver; traitor; war-monger; peacenik; legalist; heretic.  Whether in religion, politics, or the culture wars, labels tell us how we should think about someone or feel about them.  Labels let us know what pigeonhole to poke them in.  Labels are for our own benefit, not for that of others.  Labels hide the humanity of other people and keep us from considering how much we share in common with all who have been created in the image of God. 

There is no way to prevent others from attaching names, labels, and epithets to us.  But names do not have the power to define us; they do not have the right to limit or bind us. 

“What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” (William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet).

It’s true of roses, true of planets, and true of people.

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May 2011