Tuesday, August 7, 2018

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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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Monday, November 16, 2015

The Forgotten 93 Percent

    Today, Governor John Kasich added Ohio to the list of several other states that are refusing to accept even one refugee from the war torn areas of Syria and other nations.  This announcement is purely political and is entirely lacking in common sense and human compassion. 

    Judging by the Facebook posts I’ve been reading for two days, I’ve just offended many of my friends. 

I don’t care.

    Why? Because if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are completely ignoring nearly every instruction that Jesus ever gave.

Let me explain.

    It is obviously apparent that terrorists have infiltrated the flood of refugees landing in Europe and elsewhere.  But while estimates of how many terrorists might be among them range from a few to as many as 15 percent, most estimates go no higher than 7 percent.  Still, considering that there are hundreds of thousands of refugees, 7 percent is a lot.  Allowing 10,000 refugees into the United States could mean admitting 700 terrorists.

That is unacceptable.

So why do I think that Governor Kasich and a whole host of other politicians have it wrong?

    Because closing the doors on legal immigrants, even in the face of this enormous threat, conveniently ignores too much human pain and suffering.  Before I get around to Jesus, let’s first take a look at who these refugees are and why they are fleeing to other countries.

    The civil war in Syria isn’t just about one group of radicals who are fighting against the government.  We think that way because we think of the Confederate States fighting against the Union, but that example is just wrong.  In Syria, there are literally dozens of armed factions that are warring, not only with Syria’s government, but against one another.  And so thinking that this is like the Rebs against the Yankees doesn’t really do it justice.  Instead, imagine that every church that you passed this week represented the headquarters of a different armed group.  Imagine that, in your community, the Baptists are fighting the Lutherans, the Catholics are killing Pentecostals, and the Republicans are at war with Democrats.  Not only is your neighborhood a war zone, every week or two, another group tries to capture it from the group that captured it the last time.  Some towns have been blown up and shot up multiple times, churches have been burned, women raped, and entire towns lined up in the streets and murdered.

This is daily life in much of Syria.

    And so, not surprisingly, a lot of people, both Christian and Muslim, have left their homes, their families, and all that they own, to literally walk across several entire countries in hope of finding something better.

Are there “bad guys” mixed in with the “regular” refugees?  Yes.

But those of us who claim to follow Jesus are called to see the world in a different way.  Not through the lens of Democrat or Republican, but through the lens of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.

    If we look at what Jesus taught, we won’t find words like revenge, retaliation, or retribution.  We won’t find instructions to hate our neighbor or to fear the foreigners.  Instead, what we find are instructions to be merciful, compassionate, loving, and helpful.  Our mission is to rescue the lost, heal the sick, clothe the naked, and help others find hope and a future so that they too might hear the message of the Prince of Peace.

    We have every right to be concerned about the possibility of allowing hundreds of jihadi terrorists into our country, but that fear cannot allow us to slam the door on the 93 percent who are only looking for a place to live that won’t get blown up next week.

    It is convenient and easy for politicians to preach from a pulpit of fear and xenophobia.  But as Christians, we are not called to follow the teachings of John Kasich or any other politician.  We are called to follow the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t expect us to be stupid or act foolishly.

We remember that Jesus teaches love, mercy, and compassion, but he also said, 

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16 NIV)

We are called to be merciful, but to be smart about how we do it.

Governor Kasich and other politicians are looking for easy, and popular, solutions but in doing so they sell Ohio, and the people of the United States short. 

We are smarter than they give us credit for.

We are more than capable of sorting through the refugees and discerning which ones can be allowed in safely.

It won’t be easy.

But we can do it.

And it’s the right thing to do.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Helium, God, and the Church

Most of us want as little of God as possible.

    We don’t want to admit it of course, but God scares us.  My friend Brian Baer once read a meditation in our Sunday school class called “Just a cup of God please.”  It said that God is prepared to pour out blessings on us through a fountain the size of Niagara Falls.  But we come prepared to collect it in a tea cup because we’re afraid of what God might do with us if we had more.

    The other day I saw a yard sale sign with balloons attached to it but the balloons had been there too long.  Instead of floating, they just sort of hung there.


    As I drove by, it occurred to me that our churches are a lot like that.  We are like a balloon.  We are a vessel that takes its shape by being filled with the Spirit of God.  The more of him we contain, the more we begin to take the shape that he intends for us, the more we look like what God intends for us to look.

But to get there, we have to be stretched.

    Balloons aren’t useful unless they are stretched.  Until they are stretched, and dangerously close to bursting, they do not, they cannot, do the thing that they are intended to do.  If they aren’t stretched, they just hang there… lifeless.  

That's exactly how many of us are.  We want God to come into the church, but too much of God frightens us.  

Being stretched is hard.

It scares us.

    We’re afraid of what might happen if we allow too much of God to come into our lives.  When balloons are too full they fly away or they burst.  We’ve read the stories in the Bible.  When God fills people up, scary things happen.  Life feels like it’s out of control.  Lives are changed.  God asks people to do things they’ve never done before.

Like helium in a balloon, when God comes in we get stretched.

    But if a balloon isn’t stretched by the helium in it, there isn’t enough to overcome the effects of gravity that is pulling it down and it just hangs there.  Lifeless.

    Likewise, even though it might feel safer, when there isn’t enough God in us to stretch us, then there isn’t enough of God to overcome the evil in the world that drags us down.  Without enough of God in the church, we look just like every other human organization. 

We don’t have enough God in us to take his shape.

I know that it’s scary.

Being stretched is uncomfortable.

Being filled with God feels dangerous (and it is).

But if we aren’t filled with enough God to really stretch us…

                  …we will never fly.


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Friday, May 1, 2015

Baltimore - A Rush to Judgement?

I wish everyone would shut up for a minute.

But probably not for the reason you think.

    I waited a long time to write anything about the riots in Ferguson, Missouri because I wanted to try to understand the issues.   

    But this time, after watching and listening to media outlets talk about what is happening in Baltimore I don’t want to wait.  I am posting now, not because I think I understand what is happening, but because I am convinced that almost no one does.

Every media outlet, every reporter, every politician, and a great many bystanders have taken sides.

    Just like the Ferguson case, and the Travon Martin case, and so many others, everyone seems to be absolutely certain that they know exactly what is happening and why.

Everyone is rushing to judgement.

    They judge the police.  They judge Freddie Gray.  They judge the mayor.  They judge the President.  They judge the protestors, the rioters (those are vastly different groups), they judge the victims of the violence, and people are even judging the parents of the people in the streets. 

    Christians are often accused of being judgmental, but this is ridiculous.  Everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike seems to think that they know so much about what is happening hundreds of miles away in Baltimore that they can stand in judgement of people they’ve never met and who they know almost nothing about.

I wish everyone would all shut up and listen for a change.

As I watch and listen to the reporting from Baltimore, all I seem to find is more questions.

What exactly happened in police custody that led to the death of Freddie Gray?

Did Mr. Gray really have surgery on his spine only weeks before his arrest?

Did that matter?

Did the mayor tell the police to allow the mayhem to continue when it might have been stopped much earlier?

I could ask questions all day but it seems clear that, so far, there aren’t very many answers.

    And without answers, all the self-proclaimed experts (left, right and center) should slow down their rush to judgement until they actually have some facts.  Right now there are too many things that we just don’t know.   
Instead of rushing to judgement, why don’t we listen instead?

We all want justice.

    But we should be careful to find the facts so that there can be justice for everyone.  There needs to be justice for the police, the demonstrators, the rioters, the politicians, and especially for the victims.
Investigating, finding, and sorting through the facts are all things that will take time.

While we wait, instead of judging everyone, why don’t we do something helpful?

    Why don’t we try to find ways to help those who lost homes, jobs, and businesses?  Can our politicians and academics find ways to reduce poverty and joblessness instead of just pointing fingers at each other?  Why not volunteer with some charity or aid group to clean up and rebuild Baltimore?  We should all take the time to listen and understand people with whom we disagree.

    Instead of pretending that we know exactly what is going on and who is to blame, our time would be better spent trying to fix the problem and help Baltimore heal.  And while we’re doing that, we should talk less and listen more.

Instead of judging, try donating.

And if you are so inclined, I’m sure that everyone involved could use your prayers.


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