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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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
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
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...
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
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
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
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
Travel is all about adventure.
Never be afraid to try new things.
Often times, that’s half the fun of your entire trip.
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
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”
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
We remember that Jesus teaches love, mercy, and compassion,
but he also said,
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.
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
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
Like helium in a balloon, when God comes in we get
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
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…
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
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
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
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.