Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Readers Vote: One Blog or Two?

Currently I maintain several blogs.  Two or three for myself, and one for church.  Of my two main blogs, I have one where I post my weekly sermons, and another where I post opinions, commentary, and other things that aren't really sermon material.  Each of these two blogs has their own subscribers, and each has their own email list.  Lately I've been thinking of merging these two together in order to save a little time, but also, since the output of my opinion blog is a little sporadic, so that readers can see a more "regular" output.

Of course, the content of these two are a little different and so I understand that those of you who subscribe to one, may not be all that interested in reading the other.

But the only way I can know what you are thinking, is if I ask.  So below is a one question survey so you can tell me what you think.

Thanks so much for your time.



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Friday, February 12, 2016

Are you Connected?

Not long ago, my wife, Patti, and I visited Caesarea Maritima in Israel, an ancient ruin of a city built by Herod the Great around 12 B.C.E.  Before Herod took control of it, Caesarea was nothing more than a small fishing village, but he built it into a center of trade, politics, and power.  Caesarea became the administrative capitol for Pontius Pilate and the home of the tenth Roman legion.  In that place, Herod managed to build one of the largest man-made sea ports ever built in a place that had no natural harbor.

But in order to turn a small fishing village into a bustling, powerhouse of a city, Caesarea needed water. .. a lot of it.  And so, Herod built an aqueduct that would carry water to the city from the mountains more than 7 kilometers (about 4 miles) away.  In some places the aqueduct ran underground, in others above it, and in places where they needed to maintain its height, it ran in an elevated channel that was supported by enormous stone arches.  As we visited Caesarea, we could still see it on the beach outside of town.

Herod’s aqueduct was used for over a thousand years, and although it was repaired and rebuilt several times, what is seen to day is nothing more than a dry and empty ruin.  Even as a ruin, it is still imposing and impressive.  But as impressive as it is, Herod’s aqueduct is useless.

As I looked at this massive structure, I was reminded of a story that I read a number of years ago which asked whether our lives were intended to be pools or channels.  The answer is given to us by none other that Jesus in John chapter 15 where he said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  What Jesus tells us, is that our function as followers is to be a channel that carries his strength from the source to the fruit.  We aren’t the roots and we aren’t the grapes.  We are the branches.

And so it is with the aqueduct.  Our calling is not to receive God’s message, his Spirit, and his power and store it for later.  We aren’t meant to be dams, lakes or reservoirs.  Instead, our job is to be like streams, rivers or the aqueduct.  We are meant to be channels through which God’s grace, mercy, love and strength can flow into the lives of others.

But too many of us look just like the aqueduct in Caesarea… dry, useless, and empty.  We remember better days when we were once filled to overflowing, but somewhere along the line we became disconnected from the source.

Rivers are powerful because they are connected to the source of their strength in the mountains.  Herod’s aqueduct was useful because it carried water from mountain springs to a thirsty city.  But disconnected from the source, rivers and aqueducts are nothing more than dry relics of a better day.  The only way that they can do what they were intended to do is for them to remain connected to the source. 

The same is true of us.

Whether we think of ourselves as branches or aqueducts, our role is the same.  Our mission is to carry the message and power of Jesus Christ to a world that is desperately thirsty.

But the only way we can is for us to keep drinking from the spring.  When we think that we’ve had enough, learned enough, studied enough, or done enough and we stop drinking from the source, we become disconnected, dry, and useless.

Every city needs water.

The world still needs the mercy, forgiveness, compassion, strength, and love of Jesus.

But the only way the world can get what it needs...

                                                              ...is for us to stay connected to the source.


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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Israel: A Culinary Adventure

As many of you know, my wife, Patti, and I recently returned from a two-week pilgrimage to Israel.  The trip was nothing short of amazing and you can be sure that I will write several more posts about our time there.  But first, I want to describe the culinary adventure that came with our trip.

Any trip to a new place, whether it is to another town, another state, or to another country always gives us the opportunity to try new things.  When I used to travel for my employer, some years ago, I always tried to be open to experimentation.  I learned that it was fun, and painless, to try local foods, drinks, and be open to learning a little about culture and people. 

But the two weeks we spent in Israel went far beyond my previous excursions.  Every day our hotels would serve enormous buffets for breakfast and dinner, and every day we would stop for lunch at some amazing local spot. 

In two weeks, I tried more new food I have in any other decade of my life and it was glorious.

Those who know me know that I am not generally a fan of breakfast.  The choices that we have for breakfast in American culture bore me.  I don’t much like French toast, pancakes are better for lunch or dinner, and while eggs and bacon and cold cereals are great, I get tired of them. 

And this leads me to the culinary revelation of our trip.  The world of breakfast is far, far, bigger than the choices we have in American culture.  And those new choices were wonderful.

I discovered that fish was an acceptable, and to me fantastic, offering for breakfast.  At various times there was herring, smoked herring, pickled herring, salmon, smoked salmon, raw fish (not sure what kind), and a few other fish that either I don’t remember or which were never identified.  We also had shakshouka, a Middle Eastern egg dish, in which eggs are poached in a tomato and vegetable sauce.  This was good, though not my favorite.

Almost every breakfast (and many dinners) also offered goat cheese, salty white cheese, labane (yogurt cheese), white Bulgarian cheese (20-30% fat), cream cheese, fresh local yogurt, and Greek yogurt.  I list these all together because it sometimes became difficult to discern which were cream cheeses, and which were yogurts.

And many meals also offered hummus, couscous (which I never managed to sample), many varieties of eggplant, Israeli salad, a variety of other unnamed vegetable salads, and halva which looks sort of like a cheese, Braunschweiger, or liverwurst.  It isn’t meat at all but made with sesame paste and honey.  It’s a little crumbly but has a slightly sweet taste.  And there was also a dessert that was something between tapioca and rice pudding but made with a grain that no one could adequately translate.

Lunch was often some variety of falafel, which for the uninitiated, is sort of fried “meatballs” made with chick peas) or shawarma, which is a spicy shaved chicken (shaved off of a spit much like good Greek gyros) with vegetables and served in a pita bread or in a “roll bread” that was a bit heftier than a tortilla, thinner than a pita, but about the size of a tortilla at Chipotle.

And then there were the breads that were served at every breakfast and dinner.  They varied from day to day, but although none of them were labelled, there were breads that resembled challah, butter knots, sesame twists, and tons of other varieties.  There were rolls, fresh pita bread that is far better than anything store bought here at home,  Jerusalem bagels (which are not bagels in the American sense, but a forearm-long, oval shaped, slightly sweet, bread), pastries like rugelach (sort of a chocolate, hazelnut, crescent roll)and others that were variously drizzled in honey or sugar.

And of course there was fruit.  Every day there was an offering of oranges, kiwi, apples, grapefruit, fresh tomatoes, dates, olives, and the discovery of the week (for us), flora fruit.  Our introduction to this was at a snack stop after a worship cruise on the Sea of Galilee where the snack place across from the gift shop had the usual offering of soft drinks, juices, sweet rolls, but also offered a sort of a fruit smoothie that we didn’t recognize.  We asked the proprietor two or three time what it was, and every time we swore that he was saying, “Four.”  We assumed that there was some sort of language barrier and he was telling us the price, but after several attempts he took a small cup, poured out a taste, and offered it to us.  It tasted like some combination of mango and citrus and was so good that Patti immediately bought the regular serving.  It was only after she was halfway through it that we asked our tour guide what it was and he identified it as “Flora” fruit.  As the days passed, we saw this fruit again and again in desserts ranging from something akin to gelatin molds to a topping on something that resembled cheesecake.  They were all delicious.  Some later googling gave us a possible common name, persimmon.

From a culinary point of view, every day was a new adventure and despite my list, I’m sure that I’ve forgotten a few.  More than that, every day I lost count of the things that we saw on the buffet, could not identify, sampled, and still had no idea what it was.

In all, we had a lot of fun sampling as many things as we could (even if we never knew what they were) and our culinary world got a little bigger.

Travel is all about adventure.

Never be afraid to try new things.

Often times, that’s half the fun of your entire trip.


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