11 February 2018

First world problems... adventure in travel


I've heard people talk about 'patience' for years. And they talk about how to achieve or gain patience. Usually it's through inopportune times or struggles that patience is learned. I think I get it. I'm not noted as a very patient man. So what does that say about my struggles? Not a thing. It says a lot more about my responses to those struggles and how slow I am to learn.

Case in point. Last Sunday I left my hotel at 7 am in Jerusalem and took a ride to Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion Airport. Easy. Check in with my box of goods was easy, which is rare for me there. But wait, my flight to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines was delayed. OK, no dramas. I'm happy to sit there for a few minutes. They said, "it won't be too long, maybe 15 minutes." Not a problem. I have a new book I'm reading. 15 became 30; 30 became 45, and 45 became "You are going to miss your connection in Istanbul, Mr Mendelsohn." Oy. What was the problem anyway? Seems the inbound plane had not left its location yet. So, wait, if the plane hadn't left yet an hour ago, and it would take 2 hours for that plane to arrive at Ben Gurion, then you and your computer already knew that I would miss my connection. That means your computer or you should have re-organized my travel plans and gotten me a ticket on another airline, so that I could be in Berlin about my scheduled time. But they didn't.

So they flew me eventually through Istanbul about 2 hours later, and I sat in the airport for a bit, watching the rain pour down outside. Then my final flight took off, and I got to Berlin. About 10:30 pm, and the place looked like a ghost town. No personnel to meet us, but what did meet me was a demolished box rounding the carousel. I was really tired after spending the whole day going almost nowhere. Who thinks of finding offical personnel at that point? I was glad that my box was in hand. I was glad to be in Germany and had to get to my AirBNB. They had been awaiting my arrival there since 3 pm.

So I got to my housing. The next morning I logged onto Turkish Airlines website and sent the above photos, with a nice note about my rain-soaked luggage and brutalized box. After another email from Turkish, asking for more information, I sent along with a narrative of the interaction, an invoice for the products which I bought in Israel and which were in the demolished box. Several more emails came from the official website, maybe even from a person (although no one signed it.) Finally yesterday morning I opened an email from the airline. The word was "The evaluation process related to your baggage is completed. Please click the button above to see your evaluation result. For your questions, you can make contact with us by message." Fantastic. Any reasonable person would have paid me what I requested. If there were issues, any reasonable person would have both checked the inbound baggage service, the Istanbul connection, or something to verify my allegation, and the photo evidence. I was shocked when the result of their 'investigation' was a most disappointing disregard.

Again unsigned. No apology. No admission. Did I learn patience? Is it too late for me to learn that just now? Lord, give me another chance.

Two days ago, on Friday I left Berlin to fly to Detroit, outside of which I'm writing this morning. I checked in to the Lufthansa Airline flights to Frankfurt and then to Detroit on Thursday morning. No problem. Took the taxi on Friday morning at 7 am to Berlin airport without a problem. Got to the counter and the agent took my luggage (new box) and handed me my boarding passes. All good. Phew. But wait, I noticed she had given me three passes. I only had two flights. Oh, maybe the 3rd was a receipt for baggage. Nope. It was a triad of flights, and now my flight from Frankfurt actually went to Dulles (Washington, DC) and then another from Dulles to Detroit.

What? The counter agent didn't say a word. She didn't inform me of any changes to my routing. I had received no notification from Lufthansa (even though they had my mobile phone number and my email address in my profile) When I asked, the agent actually didn't know anything as to why my non-stop had been removed from my reservation. "That's all I know," she said.

Instead of arriving into Detroit at 2:15 pm on Friday afternoon, I would now arrive at 6:30. OK, not horrible, really, as I would sit in the Frankfurt lounge for a while, but maybe United airlines would know what happened. It was a code shared flight with Lufthansa. The agent I rang in Chicago saw my new arrangements on her computer but was surprised that Lufthansa had not informed me, and they had actually created a new reservation altogether. If I had not rung the United agent, United would have canceled the rest of my flights from Detroit through SF to Sydney. Wow... thanks (for nothing) Lufthansa.

Seems as though a major snow storm was making its way in and through Michigan, hitting Detroit fairly hard and dumped 7 inches of snow on the airport through Friday alone. Eventually, my flight from Dulles, delayed 5 different times from its 5 pm departure to 10 pm, and then was canceled at about 7:30 pm. Again the United airlines personnel helped me a lot and secure a new flight on American Airlines, although from Reagan National not from Dulles, but with plenty of time for me to make it from Dulles. They organized my baggage, a voucher for a taxi, another voucher for a meal... and I sat on the American flight which left at 10:30 pm, arriving into Detroit at midnight. (6 am in Berlin)

My friend Glenn Harris fetched me from the airport and took me home with him for a wonderful night/morning of hospitality.

These adventures in travel were simply first-world problems. I didn't have to shovel the snow at the Detroit airport. I didn't have to work on the baggage services. I just sat most of the time. I was able to put the problems in perspective due to God's grace. Seeing things from His point of view-- that's a gift!

Did I learn patience? Was I really patient during those 5 delays?

Was I a patient man ever during this experience?


This is a hard one to calculate and to evaluate. But in the last couple years I've been self-evaluating a lot, and honestly can say, "Yes, Bob is growing in patience." I was able to relax on Friday; I had no control and freely yielded to the Lord. It was faith, personal faith in the God of the universes, which allowed me to relax. The Bible says the 'fruit of the Spirit' is love, joy..."patience... self-control." (Galatians 5.22-23) In other words, God is producing this fruit in me, as I stay connected to Him. It's not a function of my willing, white-knuckling. It's not a function of personal religious manipulation. It's a function of faith in the Lord, who is the Spirit.

As a result of that recognition, and observation... I'm more and more humbled and thrilled that the Lord Himself is making Himself real to me, and making His life in me that much clearer. Thank you, Lord. Thanks be to God.

03 February 2018

Super stuff

This week, the moon showed up fully for the second time in a month. That gives it the title of "Blue moon," a term which means just that, a full moon appearing twice in any calendar month. And somehow this particular full moon was also labeled "Super." That term has to do with distance from the earth to the moon. During a 'supermoon' the moon is at perigee, that is, the closest spot to the earth in its elliptical orbit. OK, so we had a Super Blue Moon. I love double dipping. And it was pretty amazing to view.
Here's an example of what it looked like. The half moon on the left is the normal size; on the right is how it actually appeared last week.
The only ones who saw the moon of course, were those who looked up.


Tomorrow is 4 February and if you have a television and live in almost any of the 200 countries in the world you will know that there is a game of football being played in the north of the US, in Minnesota, between the New England (think Boston) Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles. A regional affair, but nationally and now internationally considered, watched, gambled on, and cared about. Over 100 million in the US will watch, at least the first half, and then the Super Halftime show with Justin Timberlake. Many watch only for the commercials! I will be in Berlin, Germany and the game will begin at about 1:30 on Monday morning, so I'm hoping that I will find a friendly pub open and with a comfy chair to watch the 4-hour contest. Isn't the game only 60 actual playing minutes? Yes, but they have to leave time for the super commercials which cost an arm, leg, and corporate equity for each 30-second spot. If you want the real cost in US dollars, it's 7.7 million. Yes, for 30 seconds. Yup. Super. Just to watch. You have to watch!

'Super' by definition means 'above' as in 'superlative' or 'superior' or even 'supernatural.' Great, marvelous, fantastic, tremendous, excellent, splendid, terrific, superb, brilliant, ace and cracking are synonyms. I consider the word overused, as most people are looking for alternates to 'awesome' or 'absolutely' in normal conversation. What most people mean by 'super' is actually 'ok.' I am in Israel as I write this and the colloquial here is "B'seder" meaning "everything is in order" but really it's simply "ok." Some say "nachon" which again means "all good." Or really simply "ok." I've actually been hearing more "OK" here this week than ever before. Maybe the Yank "OK" is winning over the Hebrew. 

Seriously, "OK" is normal. And I'm ok with normal.

This week I was on a bus sitting next to a woman named Lior. Her name carries the word "Light" in it. We spoke about the full moon, the supermoon, etc. I told her during the conversation that most of life is boring. That most of our world is mundane and ordinary. She took issue with that. She is young and enthused and was heading to a yoga class. No, she retorted, life is great. Look at the moon! And sunrise! I noted that the sunrise lasts only a few minutes. And to be fair, I love sunrise, but you cannot grow crops in sunrise. Most of the day is the long, slow, painful reality of sun blazing on us. Then again we have the inspiration brought us by sunset, but it's also ephemeral. She finally agreed; we just had to find what each term really meant. 

I agree; there are super moments in our lives. But not very often. Sunrise lasts only a very small percentage of the 24-hours we call a day. But there are sunrises. Those are wonderful and could be given the term 'super.' 

When people say 'every day is a miracle' I argue with them. But when they say that 'supernatural' things happen, I'm totally with them. Yes, and that's why the ministry of Yeshua was so noticeable. He went about healing and doing good. He performed miracles like feeding 5,000 folks from a little boy's lunch. He walked on water in the Galilee. He raised Lazarus from the dead. These were not ordinary; they were EXTRAordinary. They were not natural; they were SUPERnatural.  When the Romans killed and buried him, they thought the natural would carry on. Surprise of surprises! On the 3rd day he rose from the dead and was seen by 500 Jewish people afterwards. That's SUPERNATURAL.

I enjoyed the supermoon.
I hope to enjoy the Super Bowl.
I really love the God of the Universe who does wonders and brings his Supernatural life to us, each of us who look up.

20 January 2018

Look what came out of that rock!

Moses was a fairly older man when the incident I'm going to share with you took place. Maybe 100, maybe 114 or older. That's getting up there. And he was a leader of a large group of Jewish people. Maybe 3 million or so by that time. One old guy leading a large crew of wilderness wanderers. I see trouble ahead...how about you?

The scene takes place in a village named Kadesh on the outskirts of the Edomite region immediately after Moses' older sister Miriam dies. (Recorded in the Bible in Numbers chapter 20). There is no water and the people send up a lynching party, or at least a union workers party to tell Moses and his older brother Aaron how they feel. The crowd didn't really offer any suggestions, but only came to k'vetch. No surprise there.

Moses and his brother pray. They hear from God that they should 1) take Moses' rod, 2) assemble the people and 3) speak to the rock. Pretty straightforward. Simple. 1, 2, 3. OK, so Moses takes his rod (check), and along with Aaron gather the people (check). Then Moses in no uncertain terms calls them rebels and expresses some pent-up rage against them. Verse 10: “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” 

Maybe his own remonstration distracting Moses, or his grief was more severe than he could handle, but for whatever reason Moses didn't just speak to the rock. He struck it ...twice! Not really such a bad thing, when you think about it. Water did come out of it, so the need for a dialogue with the rock was overshadowed by the compensation of the running water, which was enough to feed the cattle, all the livestock, and the people of Israel. Great response. Thanks, Lord!

Except, wait a minute. God had told Moses to speak to the rock, and instead he spoke to the people. He was told to take the rod, but not use it. And he used it. He got famished. (That's a Yiddish word meaning 'mixed up). And as a result, God got miffed. He told Moses that his actions demonstrated a lack of faith. Ouch. In fact, God said that his term of leadership would be ending soon, just before bringing the Jewish people into the Promised Land. "Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” (verse 12)

There you have it. One sin and you are out. 

My friend Gregg Dennington wrote a blog about this chapter and its impact. 
"Moses was showing the children of Israel that God was furious with them.
Only problem is, God was not furious with them. For some reason, He had great compassion on them. And great mercy. Even though these people complained against Him, God wasn’t angry with them at all. What He wanted was for them to see His great love, patience, care, and generosity toward them. But that’s not what they saw, was it?"
After commenting about our responsibility as leaders to represent the Almighty well, Gregg said something that really hit me today. 
"They’re watching how we respond to their failures. They’re watching how we respond to our own failures."
 Wow, how do people notice my failures? And they are watching how I respond to them. Very insightful. I agree. Who is watching? My kids. My wife. My staff at work. My neighbours. Listen, I fail God, all too often. I am not perfect. No one would have ever imagined I was. I am short-fused at times. I get bothered when people don't pull their weight or work hard for the money someone pays them. I fail to love people as I should. 

OK, so what do I do with my own failures? Cover them up? Excuse them? Excuse myself? Not a chance! I expose them, usually after someone else shows me my faults and I admit my sins before God and whoever told me. I am quick to admit failure. I want God to make me better. I claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection. 

Moses and Gregg helped me today. 

Maybe this story will help you, too. 

When God says 'speak', then speak.
When he says strike, then use that rod.
And to the recipient.
And in the timing of the Almighty.

That's what I'm doing today.
See, it's not that hard.


__________________
Num. 20.2aAnd there was no water for the congregation; band they assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron. 
Num. 20.3 aThe people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, “bIf only we had perished cwhen our brothers perished before the Lord! 
Num. 20.4aWhy then have you brought the Lord’s assembly into this wilderness, for us and our beasts to die 1here? 
Num. 20.5 “And why have you made us come up from Egypt, to bring us in to this wretched place? aIt is not a place of 1grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, nor is there water to drink.” 
Num. 20.6 Then Moses and Aaron came in from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting, and afell on their faces. Then the glory of the Lord appeared to them; 
Num. 20.7 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 
Num. 20.8 “Take athe rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.” 
Num. 20.9 So Moses took the rod afrom before the Lord, just as He had commanded him; 
Num. 20.10 and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “aListen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” 
Num. 20.11 Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and awater came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. 
Num. 20.12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “aBecause you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” 

Num. 20.13 Those were the waters of 1aMeribah, 2because the sons of Israel contended with the Lord, and He proved Himself holy among them. 

03 January 2018

Woody, death and 'just in case'

I remembered the movie when it came on my movie channel today, but didn't remember all of it. "Cafe Society" is another Woody Allen movie with big star power and plenty of references to New York City vs Los Angeles, jazz music, a Jewish hit-man and issues of true love. Nothing new there.

The movie was released in 2016, and carries a conclusion by Ben, played by Corey Stoll, a veteran Woody Allen cast member, who is busted for his murdering the neighbor and extortion and countless other crimes. He receives the death sentence and as you would expect from Woody Allen, at the end he searches for the meaning of life (especially in death.) He wants assurance that there is something more, and welcomes Father Brolian in his last week of life. Ben Dorfman, a Jew, is seeking solace and the comfort that Christians seem to have as they finish this life. 

Bobby, the nephew of Ben, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is scandalized. Mind you, if someone else wrote other chunks of this screenplay, this section was handwritten by Woody himself. His concern with death and meaning has been apparent throughout his career. I remember a 1985 movie "Hannah and her sisters" where the Jewish main character (then played by Woody) goes on a search-for-meaning which includes a stint at a Christian bookshop in NYC (which was actually my old barber shop. More on that later)

BEN: You know, we didn't have time for this, but when the end's near, you need somethin'.
BOBBY: Yeah! And you don't wanna be buried as a Jew in a Jewish cemetery?
BEN: The Jewish religion doesn't believe in an afterlife.
BOBBY: Right. I guess, but I can't believe what I am hearing from you.
BEN: I have to know that all this just doesn't end. You know what do I mean? I have to believe that a part of me keeps goin'.  We all got a soul, right Father?

[For your further study, this whole section of the script is as the bottom here.]

Even though theology is not Woody's strong suit, and even though Judaism does have official reference to the afterlife, most Jewish people would agree with Woody's character's conclusions. So the problem does exist. 

The assurance of something more, that this life doesn't just end-- I believe this is inbuilt, hardwired into humanity. We ache to go on, to last, to dwell well and to dwell long. The Bible even says, "He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end." (Ecclesiastes 3.11)

So how do we go on? How do we make it to the other side, as Ben longed, and I believe, as Woody longs?  Maybe this YouTube I made will help unpack some of my thoughts. See the YouTube here. 
I'm pretty sure that the only pictures which we readily recognize, the angels in all white, on a white cumulus cloud, plucking a harp on one side, and a devil with red pitchfork and anger on the other-- I don't think that's what heaven and hell are really about.

But getting to heaven-- that's hardwired into us. And then there's the issue of the 'just in case.' What would it kill you if you don't believe, to go ahead and believe? Some use the phrase "Pascal's Wager" to describe this gamble.

Whether you agree with the authors' conclusions here about Pascal's Wager, the thinking is worth reading and considering. Here's a long article with philosophical thoughts. Here's the link. 

Just in case there's a heaven, Pascal argued, why not believe it?  I'm not sure that this would be enough, and certainly falls short of the biblical definition of faith, BUT it's way better than knocking religion altogether. So said Pascal.

What do you say?

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

THE SCRIPT SECTION:
Despite the efforts of two high-priced lawyers, he was sentenced to die in the electric chair at Sing Sing.

BEN: This is Father Brolian. He's guiding me down the stand to Christianity. Today, we discussed the sixth Psalm. "O Lord! Do not punish me in anger. Do not chastise me in fury, right Father?"
BOBBY: Ben, Ben, I'm flabbergasted!
BEN: You know, we didn't have time for this bullshit, but when the end's near, you need somethin'.
BOBBY: Yeah! And you don't wanna be buried as a Jew in a Jewish cemetery?
BEN: The Jewish religion doesn't believe in an afterlife.
BOBBY: Right. I guess, but I can't believe what I am hearing from you.
BEN: I have to know that all this just doesn't end. You know what do I mean? I have to believe that a part of me keeps goin'. We all got a soul. Right, Father?


NEXT SCENE: Back at Ben's sister's house. The speakers are all Jews. Which line is given by which person is inconsequential.

First a murderer, then he becomes a Christian. What did I do to deserve this? Which is worse? He explained it to you.
The Jews don't have an afterlife.
We are all afraid of dying, Marty!
But we don't give up the religion we are born into.
I'm not afraid of dying.
You're too stupid to appreciate the implications.
I didn't say I like the idea. and I will resist death with everything I have. But when the Angel of Death
comes down to cut me down, I'll go. I'll protest. I'll curse. You hear me? I will go under protest.
Protest to who? What the hell are you gonna do?? Write a letter to the Times?
I will protest in silence. Because my whole life, I pray and I pray and there's never an answer!
What are you saying?
No answer, is also an answer.
Too bad the Jewish religion doesn't have an afterlife. They would get a lot more customers.

FINAL section I'm referencing in this blog:
In late July, Ben was executed at Sing Sing.
He died a Christian and stated he wanted to be cremated. Ben had requested his ashes be scattered in Manhattan. And Bobby scattered them outside an establishment that had given Ben many evenings of pleasure.

Read the whole script at: https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/movie_script.php?movie=cafe-society
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
The whole of Psalm 6:
Psa. 6.1 ¶ O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger, 
Nor chasten me in Your wrath. 
Psa. 6.2 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am pining away; 
Heal me, O Lord, for my bones are dismayed. 
Psa. 6.3 And my soul is greatly dismayed; 
But You, O Lord — how long? 
Psa. 6.4 ¶ Return, O Lord, rescue my soul; 
Save me because of Your lovingkindness. 
Psa. 6.5 For there is no mention of You in death; 
In Sheol who will give You thanks? 
Psa. 6.6 ¶ I am weary with my sighing; 
Every night I make my bed swim, 
I dissolve my couch with my tears. 
Psa. 6.7 My eye has wasted away with grief; 
It has become old because of all my adversaries. 
Psa. 6.8 ¶ Depart from me, all you who do iniquity, 
For the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping. 
Psa. 6.9 The Lord has heard my supplication, 
The Lord receives my prayer. 
Psa. 6.10 All my enemies will be ashamed and greatly dismayed; 

They shall turn back, they will suddenly be ashamed. 
Despite the efforts of
two high-priced lawyers,
he was sentenced to die
in the electric chair at Sing Sing.
This is father Brolian.
He's guiding me down the stand to Christianity.
Today, we discussed the six Psalm.
O Lord! Do not punish me in anger.
Do not chastise me in anger, right father?
Ben, Ben, I'm flabbergasted!
You know, we didn't have time for this bullshit,
but when the ends near, you need somethin'.
Yeah! And you don't wanna be buried
as a Jew in a Jewish cemetery?
The Jewish religion doesn't
believe in an afterlife.
Right. I guess but I don't believe
what I am hearing from you.
I just have to know that all this just doesn't end.
You know what do I mean?
I need to believe that a part
of me keeps goin'.
We all gotta soul.
Right, Father?
First a murderer,
then he becomes a Christian.
What did I do to deserve this?
Which is worse?
He explained it to you.
The Jews don't have an afterlife.
We are all afraid of dying, Marty!
But we don't give up the
religion we are born into.
I'm not afraid to die.
You're too stupid to appreciate the implications.
I didn't say I like the idea.
And I will resist death
with everything I have.
But when the Angel of Death
comes down to cut me down,
I'll go.
I'll protest.
I'll curse.
You hear me?
I will go under protest.
Protest to who?
What the hell are you gonna do??
Write a letter to the Times?
I will protest in silence.
Because my whole life,
I pray and I pray
and there's never an answer!
What are you saying?
No answer, is also an answer.
Too bad the Jewish religion
doesn't have an afterlife.
They get a lot more customers.
In late July, Ben was executed at Sing Sing.
He died a Christian and
he wanted to be cremated.
Ben had requested his ashes
be scattered in Manhattan.
And Bobby scattered them
outside an establishment
that had give Ben many evenings of pleasure.

Read more: https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/movie_script.php?movie=cafe-society
Despite the efforts of
two high-priced lawyers,
he was sentenced to die
in the electric chair at Sing Sing.
This is father Brolian.
He's guiding me down the stand to Christianity.
Today, we discussed the six Psalm.
O Lord! Do not punish me in anger.
Do not chastise me in anger, right father?
Ben, Ben, I'm flabbergasted!
You know, we didn't have time for this bullshit,
but when the ends near, you need somethin'.
Yeah! And you don't wanna be buried
as a Jew in a Jewish cemetery?
The Jewish religion doesn't
believe in an afterlife.
Right. I guess but I don't believe
what I am hearing from you.
I just have to know that all this just doesn't end.
You know what do I mean?
I need to believe that a part
of me keeps goin'.
We all gotta soul.
Right, Father?
First a murderer,
then he becomes a Christian.
What did I do to deserve this?
Which is worse?
He explained it to you.
The Jews don't have an afterlife.
We are all afraid of dying, Marty!
But we don't give up the
religion we are born into.
I'm not afraid to die.
You're too stupid to appreciate the implications.
I didn't say I like the idea.
And I will resist death
with everything I have.
But when the Angel of Death
comes down to cut me down,
I'll go.
I'll protest.
I'll curse.
You hear me?
I will go under protest.
Protest to who?
What the hell are you gonna do??
Write a letter to the Times?
I will protest in silence.
Because my whole life,
I pray and I pray
and there's never an answer!
What are you saying?
No answer, is also an answer.
Too bad the Jewish religion
doesn't have an afterlife.
They get a lot more customers.
In late July, Ben was executed at Sing Sing.
He died a Christian and
he wanted to be cremated.
Ben had requested his ashes
be scattered in Manhattan.
And Bobby scattered them
outside an establishment
that had give Ben many evenings of pleasure.

Read more: https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/movie_script.php?movie=cafe-society

25 December 2017

Who says this is a miracle?

The year: 1980. 8,500 people screaming in the arena. According to Wikipedia, "The "Miracle on Ice" refers to a medal-round game during the men's ice hockey tournament at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, played between the hosting United States, and the defending gold medalists, the Soviet Union. Here is the last 60 seconds video to watch.  The announcer asked, "Do you believe in miracles?"

Mario Chalmers is an Alaskan basketball player whose career at Kansas University was stellar and launched his continued career in the NBA. In the 2008 championship game, KU played Memphis in San Antonio. With 10 seconds left, Memphis had the lead and Derrick Rose was shooting 2 free throws. Easy, no problem. Except Rose as the entire Memphis Tigers team had done all evening, missed another free throw. KU had 10 seconds to get a 3-point play to tie. They had shot only 2 3-pointers all game. But Mario sank his with 2 seconds left and sent the game into overtime. Here's the video of the last 10 seconds of regulation.  The next day, the papers called Chalmers' shot a miracle.  (I disagreed, but that was another blog)


The word 'miracle' is often misused, even abused. Every breath is a miracle, some say. If Susie will notice Larry at the year 9 dance, it will be a miracle. They sell miracle cures for hair loss and any number of other first world troubles on late-night television. 

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish rabbi Shmary Brownstein of Chabad writes about miracles quoting Maimonides and Rabbi Tzvi Ashkenazi (1660-1718) among others. Brownstein explains that what we refer to as nature is actually miraculous and “unnatural.” It is only because “natural” events happen all the time that we take them for granted.

But how is nature and above nature or unnatural all the same? Philosophically that doesn't work.

He says, "In the words of the Talmud, “The one to whom the miracle is happening, does not recognize the miracle.”... Extraordinary miracles wake us up to the fact that all of life, down to the minute details, is one big miracle...Maimonides, in his Guide for the Perplexed, writes that all supernatural events were “programmed” into the world at the time of creation...In our daily prayers, we thank G‑d “for Your miracles that are done for us daily.”"

If it's supernatural, then it's not natural. If it's extraordinary, then it cannot be ordinary. Right?

Think about it. When men on ice skates slap a puck into a net 4 times, and their opponents do the same only 3 times, the 4-times men win the game. That's not a miracle. When Chalmers hit the 3-point shot with 2 seconds left, it wasn't a miracle; it was a great shot. 

But miracles do happen. 

Kris Samons of Probe Ministries quotes C.S. Lewis well in this answer:
"It’s very interesting that a common word used for miracle in the New Testament can also be translated “sign.” A miracle is a sign that God uses to point to Himself; the same way we follow signs to find a museum or an airport.
An interesting question may arise. Does something have to break a natural law for it to be a miracle? C.S. Lewis defines a “miracle” in his work by the same name as an interference with nature by a supernatural power. Obviously, to interfere with natural law may not necessarily mean to break the natural law. In fact, nature and “supernature” become interlocked after a miracle occurs and nature carries on according to the change wrought by that event. A science example: the law of inertia (Newton’s first law of motion) states that an object will remain in rest until an external force is applied. Nature can only move from event to event through supernatural intervention.
Deists believe that it was only at creation that the supernatural and the natural related. But we Christian theists believe that God has intervened in nature by its inception, sustained it by His preserving power, and will redeem it through the final act of intervention. The creation and incarnation of Christ are the perfect examples of supernatural inertia (another way of referring to a miracle), not to mention their conclusion as well, in His second coming. God is still in the business of working miracles. And we wait eagerly for that greatest miracle of them all–the redemption of all creation."
Sign-- the Hebrew word is "OAT." Like in Isaiah 7:14. "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel." Virgins don't have babies. So when a virgin walks around the village insisting she has not had relations with a man, and brings a child into the world, that would be miraculous. And Samons' words are true again as this sign God used to point people to Himself. 
That's the story of Christmas. Mary, Joseph, the baby, Bethlehem. It's all there and it's all a sign. Have you seen the sign? Do you know which direction it's pointing you?

The birth of Messiah was like this: "When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. and Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. but when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet (Isaiah): “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” 

And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus."(as recorded by Matthew in chapter 1:18-25)

That's a sign.
Where is it pointing?
Where is it pointing you?

Merry Christmas.


11 December 2017

Hanukkah begins Tuesday...some questions and answers

What does Hanukkah celebrate?

Happy Hanukkah! This is the Jewish holiday celebrated worldwide in December each year, which marks the anniversary of a military victory about 2100 years ago. The occupier of the land of Israel then was a Syrian Greek king named Antiochus the Fourth. He was not good for the Jews, and even went so far as to outlaw the Jewish religion. He ordered us Jews to worship Greek gods. In the year 168 B.C., his soldiers massacred hundreds of people in Jerusalem and desecrated the holy Temple. They built an altar to Zeus and sacrificed pigs on it.


The story goes that one man, Mattathias Maccabee, and his five sons rose up in a little village named Modi’in, and called on the Jewish people to join them against Antiochus. Their call was successful, as many joined in the fight. Mattathias died a couple years later, and his son Judah Maccabee took over, and finished the recapture of Jerusalem.

When they entered the holy Temple, they found the desecration overwhelming. They rededicated the place to the Lord, and celebrated for 8 days. They probably were celebrating Sukkot, a Jewish holiday they could not practice during the final stages of the war against the Syrians a few months earlier.

The word ‘dedication’ is the Hebrew word “Hanukkah”, so when we celebrate Hanukkah, we are celebrating the dedication of the holy Temple 2100 years ago, and for messianic Jews, we are dedicating ourselves again and again to the Living God and to His plan, who loves all people in December, and throughout our days. Happy Hanukkah!


What is the meaning of the Menorah?


The Bible describes a lampstand (Exodus 25.31-34) that was in use in the Holy Temple about 2000 years ago. It had seven branches and was lit with oil. So, the modern Menorah is similar, but not the same as that one. We use nine branches in the modern menorah, which many title a Hanukkiah.
The legend of Hanukkah is retold that when the Maccabees entered the Holy Temple and sought to ready it for regular use again, they found only one small jar of oil that had been prepared. This jar would have been enough to burn for only one day, but amazingly the little amount lasted for 8 days. So that’s why some people celebrate the holiday for 8 days.
But why 9 branches then?
The ninth candle is a servant candle, which is used to light the others in turn.
The menorah in Bible days was a reminder of God’s light being given to all people, representing His knowledge, His presence, and His glory. Yeshua, our Messiah, and the Servant of the Lord, declared Himself to be the “Light of the World” in Jerusalem, and we as Messianic Jews agree. Happy Hanukkah!


Did Jesus celebrate Hanukkah?

Today when we say ‘holiday celebrations’, we often think of foods, greeting cards and family gatherings, as in celebrating Thanksgiving or Mother’s Day. It’s unfair to link this to the same in ancient Israelite practices. That said, the use of Hanukkah as a marker in the Scriptures is clear. Remember the Older Testament ends before Hanukkah had even taken place. Hanukkah marks a military victory in 165 BCE.

Did Yeshua celebrate Hanukkah? He was in Jerusalem, in the Temple, at that time. John chapter 10 records “At that time the Feast of the Dedication (or Hanukkah) took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Yeshua was walking in the temple! The Jewish leaders gathered around Him, and asked Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”  Yeshua answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me…I and the Father are one.” (John 10.22-30)
Did Yeshua celebrate Hanukkah? Let’s just say he noticed it, was in the right place to observe it with the Jewish people, and used the occasion to declare Himself the Light of the World and Messiah of Israel. What do you think about that? Have a happy Hanukkah.

Is Hanukkah a Biblical Feast? 

Neither the word, nor the holiday Hanukkah is found in the record of the Older Testament, since the canon, the official collection of what is in the Scriptures, was closed before the military victory of the Maccabees occurred. So, the Jewish Bible, the one Yeshua read, has no mention of the story of Antiochus and the Syrian Greeks, of Judah Maccabee and the few beating up on the many. The story of Hanukkah is similar to the story of David and Goliath.
That the Newer Testament mentions the holiday (John 10.22) as a marker of a time when Yeshua was in the precinct of the Holy Temple is significant. But most non-Jewish Christians don’t celebrate Hanukkah at all.
Many Jewish believers in Jesus do celebrate the holiday in measure, that is, in some form or another. Whether with dreidels or latkes, with sufganiyot or family gatherings, Hanukkah is a great time of year to remind ourselves of God, and of His love for us.



Is there a Messianic significance to Hanukkah? 

There is no prophetic significance about a coming messiah from the annals of the Jewish people and the holiday of Hanukkah. It is a great time of year, in Israel when the weather is getting colder, and in Russia, Europe and North America, as a sort of answer to all the glitter and merriment of Christmas. In the Southern hemisphere when the weather is warming and summer approaching, the joy of that season is great, but again, nothing is messianic about this holiday.
That said, however, the Messiah did proclaim Himself as deity on Hanukkah. (John 10.30) That proclamation was in direct answer to some Jewish leaders who wanted to know what Yeshua was saying of Himself. On that occasion, in the precinct of the Holy Temple, Yeshua identified Himself as equal with the Father God.
What was the reaction of the crowd, especially of the leadership? They picked up stones to stone him! (John 10.31) They knew what He was saying. Their anger was palpable, and yet He eluded their grasp. (John 10.39)
What is your reaction to the claim—Yeshua claimed to be deity. What do you think about that?  Happy Hanukkah!


Is there any connection between Hanukkah and Christmas?

The only real connection is the calendar-sharing between the two holidays. Before 1930, the commercialism and consumerism which drives the Christmas season and gift purchasing in these days was not known. I know, it’s hard to imagine a year when we don’t see Christmas glitter and sale items beginning in October in your favorite stores, but before the turn of the 20th century, Christmas was a quiet, at home, or at church, holy day. In 1930 or so, when Coca Cola began in their advertising, using a department store Santa in a red suit, the Christmas we know in these days was born.

As a direct result, Jewish families, who were left out of the traditional Christmas because of religious convictions, created a new Hanukkah, with increased gift giving and decorations which would have been completely unknown 100 years earlier.

But the only real connection between Christmas and Hanukkah is that Yeshua, the Light of the World, whose birth was trumpeted by angels and shepherds and wise men 2000 years ago, may not have been born were it not for Hanukkah. If Antiochus and any other evil anti-Semitic king had been successful in wiping out the Jewish people, then there would be no Christmas. After all, Christmas is a Jewish holiday. It’s the celebration of the birth of the greatest Jew who ever lived. Who do you think Jesus is? Have a happy Hanukkah!


Can our family celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas? 

So many families today are blends of races or religions, of step-children and 2nd partners, that it’s often hard to keep track of traditions and compatibilities. At this time of year, when people of faith want to lock into history and future, we heartily recommend an honest celebration of holidays.

If your family is composed of someone Jewish and someone Christian, perhaps a mutual joint celebration of each, in the integrity of each holiday would be warranted.

For Jewish people, Hanukkah is the story of God delivering us from evil and oppression. We were freed to practice our religion however we saw fit. According to the Bible, Christmas, or the birth of Yeshua, celebrates the deliverance of all people from sin, and its power to oppress and dominate us. Both holidays are about freedom and about God.

Don’t blur them into being neither fish nor fowl. What I mean is don’t use a Christmukah bush or something which would demean both holidays of their deeper meaning. Let Hanukkah talk about God; let Christmas talk to you about the birth of the King of Israel.

Happy Hanukkah! Shalom.


25 November 2017

Timing-- it is everything

Before mobile phones, we used to agree with another for a time to meet, at a location, and caught up with each other. We had to listen, to write things down in a diary, and remember to be there. At that time. If we were late, or forgot the appointment altogether, the other person was frustrated, and ever checking his watch. I remember having an appointment in Wollongong and traveled there to meet a man who stood me up. No response; no apology; you can bet there is no continuing relationship!

Nowadays, that would be all sorted with a call to another, for each of us would have a phone, and it would be turned on, and we could notify each other of any train delays or other situations which would prevent our keeping the appointment.

Waiting for another can be frustrating nonetheless. A husband and wife who are in the same house trying to get to the movies on time, or the grandmother who has to check the kettle one more time before she leaves home, all the while the family is in the car, and the patient father not honking the horn to hurry her up, describe similar frustration possibilities.

On the airplane I'm always fascinated when we are delayed from departure due to whatever reason they tell us, and then the pilot tells us in his opening in-flight remarks that "we will make up some time" by doing something. Wait, if he could have taken a shortcut anyway, why don't they build that into the flight plan? I mean, we aren't on a scenic tour of a 2-lane highway; we are flying at 500 miles per hour for goodness' sake. So if they could have gone faster, why didn't they do that without the delay?

Delays and timing. Tough to be out of control with these realities.

Back in Bible days, Abraham the father of faith, was told he was going to have a son, actually an entire line of family that would be as plenteous as the stars of the heaven or as many as the sands on the seashore. Not bad, he might have thought at the time, but he was in his early 70s when he heard those words. I'm in my late 60s now and think this would be remarkable. I only have three adult children. How could they produce so many?

But wait, Abraham was father of 0 adult children at the time. He waited a while, but by the time he was in his 80s, the clock was ticking, and he took matters into his own hands. At the suggestion of his wife Sarah, he took her handmaid Hagar and had a baby with her. That boy, Ishmael, became what we call today many of the Arab nations. Abraham was 86 and still the promise of God to him was not fulfilled.

This part of the story finishes with the birth of Isaac, the son of Promise (Genesis 21). Fourteen years after Abraham took matters into his own hands, God answered. The timetable of man is not the timetable of God. Look at the results of Abraham's inability to wait. The Middle East is filled with people from one side of Abraham's lineage waging battle with those on the other side. They really are cousins, but often dreaded enemies. Shortcuts don't always help.

What about King Saul, the first king of the nation of Israel (about 1,100 BCE)? He was told to wait until something happened and to wait 7 days specifically. This is recorded in 1 Samuel chapter 10. From a message given by David Wilkerson we read this, "The kind of pride I'm talking about is an impatience to wait for God to act in his own time and way. It rushes to take matters into its own hands. After decades in ministry, I'm convinced this is one of the greatest temptations facing any true Christian: to act hurriedly on our own when it appears God isn't working fast enough.

Saul committed this very sin at Gilgal, early in his kingship over Israel. The prophet Samuel had anointed Saul as king, and now the two men discussed the great war that Israel faced against the Philistines. Samuel made it clear to Saul that he was the man divinely called to break the bondage that the Philistines held over Israel.

As the time for war grew near, Samuel commanded Saul to wait for him before moving into battle. All the people were to gather at Gilgal to seek the Lord for direction, and Samuel would return with a specific word of direction from the Lord. He told Saul, "Seven days shalt thou tarry, till I come to thee, and show thee what thou shalt do" (1 Samuel 10:8).

Simply put, God alone was to remain in total control. The war plan against the Philistines was to be all his doing. Samuel represented the voice of the Lord, and through him Israel would receive supernatural, sovereign guidance. God himself was going to form all of Israel's plans and show them how to wage war.

So Saul was to wait at Gilgal for word to come from Samuel. But the war commenced sooner than expected, when Saul's son Jonathan smote a Philistine garrison at Geba. When this happened, Saul blew the trumpet to gather all the people together at Gilgal.

Yet as he waited there, Saul grew impatient for Samuel to arrive. The Philistines were on the move, but according to God's command Saul himself couldn't stir until Samuel brought forth the word to direct Israel in battle.

Meanwhile, the Israelite army was in a panic. They were a small, motley militia with not a single sword among them. All they had were axes and farm tools, while their enemy was made up of 6,000 horsemen, thousands of chariots, and soldiers who appeared to them as numerous as the sand on the seashore. As that massive, well-armed Philistine military drew near, Saul's men got scared. Soon they were deserting on all sides.

God knew all along that Israel would be in this situation. Indeed, this was the very war crisis that Samuel had discussed with Saul to prepare him. No matter the size or might of their enemy, the Israelites were to gather in faith to wait on God for his clear word of direction. This wasn't just to be a matter of waiting, but of "waiting until" — until the word came, until direction from heaven was given. Samuel had told Saul clearly, "Wait till I come to thee and show thee."

Instead, Saul gave God a deadline to act. He didn't declare it, but it was a deadline he determined in his heart. Saul decided that if a word from above didn't come by a certain time, he would do whatever was needed to save the situation.

"And (Saul) tarried [waited] seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. And Saul said, bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering" (1 Samuel 13:8-9).

Impatiently, Saul moved ahead, sinfully acting as a priest to make the sacrifice. Little did he know that Samuel was just around the bend. Soon the prophet would arrive, smelling the sacrifice Saul had offered and becoming incensed at the king's sinful impatience.

Samuel was just a few hours late because Saul was being tested.

I'm convinced Samuel was delayed because God spoke to him clearly, telling him exactly when to arrive. You see, this was a test to see whether Saul would believe that God could be trusted. It would tell whether Saul would patiently wait in faith even if things were not right on schedule.

The fact is God had orchestrated it all. He had wanted to give Saul a testimony of humble dependence on him in all things, especially in a dark crisis. But Saul failed the test. He looked at the worsening conditions and it all appeared hopeless. Logic told him the hour had gotten too late, that something had to be done.

Can you picture yourself in Saul's situation? I hear him reasoning to himself, "I can't take this indecision any longer. God sent me to do his work and I'm willing to die for his cause. So, do I really have to sit here doing nothing? I have to make something happen or this will be the end. If I don't act, everything will spin out of control."

Saul felt a gripping need to act immediately in the situation. And finally his impatience overwhelmed him.

I have to admit, this is where I have failed at times in my walk with the Lord. At certain times I have not waited for direction and taken matters into my own hands. I simply don't like feeling helpless and anxious. I have never felt more so than when we moved back to New York in the 1980s to start Times Square Church.

After years on property we owned in Texas, I was once again subject to the mercy of landlords and building superintendents' schedules. When things didn't work I had to wait, and it made me impatient. For a while we rented space from theater owners on Broadway, and I grew anxious to have a building of our own. I cried, "Lord, there's so much to be done in New York and so little time. How long do we have to wait? We need you to act."

Yet time after time God patiently answered me, "David, do you trust me? Then wait. Having done all you can, stand still and see my salvation."

You have heard the expression, "The hardest part of faith is the last half hour." I can testify to this over and over from my years in ministry. The most trying period is always right before the answer comes, just before God works his deliverance. That's when we begin to wilt and faint. Suddenly, we're tempted fiercely to make something happen on our own. This can lead us into confusion and plans that are not of God."

That long message was delivered by David Wilkerson Ipictured) in 1988 and published on the World Challenge website on June 28, 2010

Brad Bigney in his book Gospel Treason writes about this sin, and he calls it part of idolatry, "God is not always on our timetable. That was the problem with the Israelites." He references a situation with the Golden Calf. The scene took place just a few weeks after the Exodus, when God delivered the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery.  Moses had gone up on Mt Sinai a few weeks earlier to receive what we would later learn to be the Ten Commandments on two tablets of stone. Bigney writes, "They thought Moses had been gone too long. "he's not coming back," they said. "We have to take care of this ourselves." It's the same thing we struggle with now-- timing. God's timing is not our timing. So we turn to something we can control, even though it serves us poorly. Our idols serve us so poorly; they hurt us, they cost us-- but we think they're more predictable than God is, and they keep us in the driver's seat." (page 29)

This is a long blog, and usually I would apologize for this. But the subject is so important, I don't want to diminish it by being cute or understating. Let's be honest about our own idolatry and failures. Let's be repentant and acknowledge God's role in our lives. Let's turn to Yeshua, our Saviour and Timekeeper...He is our life, and the one who both informs us of God's will, and gives us patience by His Spirit until that will is accomplished.

Shabbat shalom-- rest well.