Friday, December 18, 2009

Something practical that you can do for the holidays. (Please help)






Did you know that 1 out of every 6 people on the planet does not have access to clean drinking water? That totals up to 1 BILLION people. Furthermore, every night 800,000,000 people go to sleep hungry because of lack of enough food. Those are staggering figures, I know. And it is often just too difficult to wrap your mind around something that big.

How would you like to do your part to make a dent in those figures?

I didn't want to use any pictures of the starving child by a dry well, because I don't want to GUILT anyone into contributing. But I do want to talk about a very serious subject and tell you about a way that you can make a big difference. So hear me out, and just think it over.

Like I said, 1 out of every 6 people on the planet do not have access to clean water. This, and the lack of proper sanitation kills 3,975 children every single day. This lack of clean water also results in horrible diseases for both children and adults. Never mind the results of not getting enough food.
The odd thing is, there actually is plenty of food and water for everyone on the planet. In fact, America alone grows enough food to make the whole world fat. (I should know.) The problem is the infrastructure and lack of proper distribution of the resources.

Well, I'm going to give you the chance to change some of that for an entire community. You see, my friends Tom & Deb are working on raising enough funds to purchase a well for a community of 150 people. This will give the entire village clean drinking water for years and years to come. They are doing this as a memorial for their son, Ian, who passed away this past year from a brain tumor.
I have long thought that "Christians" in America are good at Talking about the Gospel, but we are often pretty lousy at living it out. (And I include myself among the guilty.) I contend that you can't really have any type of true faith unless you are willing to put that faith into action. What Believers do in this world is the witness of Christ in their lives. Without some actual "Orthopraxy" (Right Actions), then all of your "Orthodoxy" (Right Thinking) doesn't really mean a hill of beans. So here is a chance to live out your faith a little.

Actually, I'll just let Deb explain it herself. This is from an e-mail that she sent to a bunch of us.

Until Ian got sick, we were “blissfully unaware” of the suffering that much of the world lives with on a daily basis. We understand all too well that some things cannot be changed; they must somehow be accepted. But we have hope and feel drawn to enter into the circumstances that can be changed. One of the things we’ve felt our hearts drawn to is children who die of preventable causes – like hunger and lack of clean water.

To mark what would have been Ian’s 8th birthday on July 19th, 46 of us went to Feed My Starving Children and packaged 14,400 meals in two hours. That was enough to save the lives of 38 children for one year! We were delighted that the parents of these 38 children wouldn’t have to walk in our footsteps – at least not this year.

We have long supported World Vision and when we received their Christmas Gift Catalog this year our hearts were drawn toward the idea of supplying Clean Water. Lack of clean water and proper sanitation kills 3,975 children every day – that too is something that can be changed.

Before the year anniversary of Ian’s homegoing, on February 19th we hope to raise enough money to provide a Traditional Well for a community. It would allow 150 people to have safe water everyday for years and could cut that communities child death rate in half.

We can’t do this alone…so we’re humbling asking for your help. If you would like to help, here are some ways:

  • Download a brochure, print a few copies out, and share them with people you think would be interested in helping. Note - it is a double –sided brochure.
  • Most importantly: Pray that God would use this opportunity to show an entire community in a very real and practical way that Jesus loves them.

Thanks for considering joining us in this life-giving effort! Have a Wonderful Christmas!

Tom & Deb Henderson


The target is to raise $2,600, and the good news is that they are already 25% of the way there. Please don't think that you have to give an arm or a leg...any amount is welcome. Also, please don't think that God will make you a millionaire just because you give money to a ministry. (Like some crazy preachers say) But you might just put a smile on Jesus' face, and you have to admit that that would be pretty cool.

Peace

Joe
P.S. Do me a favor and spread the word about this. I think it would be AWESOME if tons of folks got involved in this.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hanukkah: Why Jesus had a dreidel when he was a kid.


I was running some errands this morning and NPR had a program on titled "Hanukkah Lights." I had forgotten that this evening is the beginning of Hanukkah. So I drove over to Fishman's Market & Deli in St. Louis Park. St. Louis Park is heavily populated with Jewish folks, so it makes sense that there would be a kosher market in the hood. I had never been in there before, and had always been curious. So why not?

It reminded me a bit of living in Jerusalem. There were numerous accents being spoken, and lots of guys with yamakas & long black coats. I bought some potato pancakes, tehina and some hanukkah snacks.
The city of S.L.P. used to have a big menorah next to the bridge across Hwy. 100 that they would light up. I didn't see it this year or the last. I hope they didn't take it down out of some P.C. nonsense. It was a part of the tradition of the season and I liked it.

Unless you are jewish you might not know much about hanukkah. So I shall now school you on it. But first I want to point out something that almost no one knows about. Hanukkah is mentioned in the New Testament AND Jesus celebrated it. This would make a lot of sense since he is jewish and grew up in Israel.
In John's Gospel, chapter 10:22 it says "Then came the Feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade." Well guess what? The Feast of the Dedication IS Hanukkah.

For those of you who have only a foggy idea of what it is, Hanukkah (חֲנֻכָּה) also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean revolt in the 2nd century B.C. It is observed for eight nights, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calander, and may occur from late November to late December on the Gregorian calander...which is the one that we use.

The festival is observed by the lighting of candles on the nine-branched Menorah. One additional light for each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night. An extra light called a Shamash (Guard) is also lit each night for the purpose of lighting the others, and is given a distinct location, usually above or below the rest. The "shamash" symbolically supplies light that may be used for some secular purpose.

The history around all of this goes like this: Around 200 BC Jews lived as an autonomous people in Israel/Judea, which was controlled by the Seleucid king of Syria. (Alexander the Great had conquered everything in the region, and when he kicked the bucket his empire was essentially split into 4 different kingdoms. This was one of them.)
The Jewish people were originally granted religious freedom but after Antiochus IV got the throne in about 175 BC things got bad. Antiochus called himself "Epiphanes" which meant something like "The Magnificent." Others referred to him as "Epimanes," which basically meant "Nut Job." Under his reign, the Temple in Jerusalem was looted, Jews were massacred, and Judaism was effectively outlawed. In 167 BC Antiochus ordered an altar to Zeus put up in the Temple. Then they sacrificed pigs on an alter to Zeus.

This was a really, really bad idea. As it turns out, there were plenty of jews who didn't take to kindly to un-clean animals being sacrificed to a pagan god in their sacred temple. So Mattathias, a local priest, and his five sons, led a rebellion against Antiochus. His son Judah became known as Yehuda HaMakabi ("Judah the Hammer"). By 166 BCE Mattathias had died, and Judah took his place as leader. By 165 BC the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was a success. The Temple was liberated and rededicated. The festival of Hanukkah was instituted by Judah and his brothers to celebrate this event. After recovering Jerusalem and the Temple, Judah ordered the Temple to be cleansed, a new altar to be built in place of the polluted one and new holy vessels to be made. According to the Talmud, olive oil was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was required to burn throughout the night every night. But there was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared by the Jewish sages to commemorate this miracle.

So there you have it. A whole new holiday was born. Hanukkah is not one of the High Holy ones that Moses instituted, but it's still important. Did God really work a miracle? I don't know. I wasn't there. But He certainly could have because He just does things like that, you know. I choose to believe it happened.
You can read more about it if you pick up a catholic bible. They have some extra books in there that are not considered Holy Scripture, but still have some value. There is a series in there called the Book of Maccabees. You can also pick up a copy of Flavius Josephus' book "The Antiquities of the Jews," which was written shortly after the failure of another jewish revolt in the late 60's AD. (He is also an-extra biblical source on the existence of Jesus.)

I really think that Believers need to know more about Judaism. We tend to look at Christianity through Grecco-Roman eyes. (That mindset is deeply engrained in our Western culture) However, everything biblical springs right out of Jewish culture. I mean for Pete's sake, Jesus IS the promised Jewish Messiah. He will sit on King David's throne and rule forever. So I think we would do well to understand our roots more.

After I post this I am going to put up my little Hanukkah stick-ums on my window. It's my little shout out to a little boy who played with a dreidel up in Nazareth a long time ago. He grew up to make the biggest difference in the whole wide world. OY!

Happy Hanukkah!

Joe

P.S. One more word about King David. He is largely responsible for most of the Psalms, and was quite the musician. Bono, of U2, says that King David was the Elvis of the Ancient World. Awesome!


Monday, December 7, 2009

Hope mixed with Podcasts


I know that it has been almost a month before I got around to posting anything on the blog, and I did get a few complaints about that. I'll explain more about those weeks and the frustration I was dealing with in a future post. Today I just wanted to cover two things.

First: The the first real rays of hope that I've had as to getting back into a classroom.

Second: I thought I would put out a list of podcasts that I enjoy & have helped to keep me sane over this past year.

I dropped off my application today to a school that I worked at before. (Not full-time. I was a "Para", a teaching assistant working with kids with Special Needs) Last week I sent in an app. to another district. I have some connections to both schools...and that is ultimately what makes all of the difference. So for once, I actually have a shot at getting an interview. If I can get that, I now I can sell myself.
Now, there are some downsides to both potential jobs. Saying "Yes" to either of them does mean taking a leap of faith. Either choice puts my fall-back option of working at the grocery store in jeopardy. (Not that I wouldn't be happy to say "Good bye," but I need that just in case.) The store is essentially under new management, and they would be more than happy to see people like me, who earn the top wage that part-timers can earn under the Union contract, go away. They have made it pretty clear that whether or not we have Union cards, they won't hire us back. So...
Either way, those of you who pray, I would ask you to pray for me and this situation. I'm desperate to get on with my life and get back in a classroom. I actually feel like I finally have some hope after a long, long time of wandering.


Alright, on to my free gift to you all.

The following are links to various sites that podcast. I'll split them up into Religious (I hate that term) and Secular...with an explanation as to what they put out. If you have never subscribed to any podcast before, no need to fret. It's a lot easier than it seems. All of them will end up in your I-tunes anyway. From there you can put them in your MP3 player, I-pod or even burn them to a CD.

Christian Spirituality: (I like that term much better.)
#1. http://www.marshill.org/ <--- this is the church that Rob Bell & others preach at. Their podcasts only go back to the past 12 weeks. I HIGHLY recommend this site. Just go to the "Teaching & Worship" page and you will see the link.

#2. http://rockbridgecommunity.org/information/staff/1/ <--- this is a site that my friend Abe turned me onto. The Lead Pastor is a guy named Matt Evans. You will have to put up with his Southern accent, but once you get over that it's really good stuff. Just go to "Watch & Listen" to find the downloads. (I particularly liked his sermon titled "Losing my Religion.") Thanks Abe.

#3. http://www.scumoftheearth.net/ <--- this is a worship center in Denver, CO. It was started by the members of Christian Punk band. (Hey folks, Jesus is big enough for everyone, and one size does not fit all) I've downloaded their stuff but haven't had a chance to listen to it yet. My friend Tyson worships there, and I trust his heart & judgement.


Semi-Secular (Hybrid):
#1. http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/ <---- this is a program produced by Minnesota Public Radio (Yay for us!), and is probably the most Pro-Religious program on the air. I say Religious because it certainly isn't only about Christianity. Krista Tippet, the host, interviews folks from across the spectrums of Faith. I bring this site up because I think it is extremely important to be well informed. If you are a Believer, you have no excuse for not attempting to understand (In humility) someone else's point of view if you expect to be an effective witness to them. God gave you a brain for a reason, and I certainly believe that Jesus expects you to make full use of it.
I will say this, Krista Tippet has done some absolutely outstanding interviews with the likes of Christian thinkers such as Chuck Colson, Gregg Boyd & Richard Cizik. For some odd reason, the way she interviews these Believers, the folks who listen to them get a much clearer understanding of proper, orthodox Christianity then they would by listening to most of the weirdo preachers on the T.V.
My personal recommendation is to search for her interview with Richard Cizik, the former V.P. of the National Assc. of Evangelicals. (It's towards the bottom on the I-tunes link) It's titled "The Evolution of American Evangelicalism" from April 12, 2007. Believe it or not, this interview cost him his job. The Religious Right didn't like it...so you listen and decide for yourself...I mean it.

Secular: Interesting and just for fun.
#1. http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/ <---- Did you find science boring as a kid? Then this site is for you. I don't know how these guys do it, but they make science hysterical, fascinating and amazing. You can download all of their stuff straight from their main page too. Listen to the show titled "Parasites" and you will learn how John D. Rockefeller is largely responsible for the invention of the Outhouse, and how cats cause Schizophrenia in humans. (I always knew that cats were the spawn of Satan.) Trust me, this is good stuff.

#2. http://www.npr.org/rss/podcast/podcast_detail.php?siteId=5183214 <----Think you know the news? Try this weekly quiz. (I linked you straight to the podcast page)

#3. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/ <----- if you are a huge fan of Dr. James Kennedy, Rush Limbaugh and Jerry Falwell, AND find that you need copious amount of extra fiber in your diet to take care of business...if you know what I mean, well this site isn't for you. However, if you like to be challenged by great stories (Some of which are very Pro-Believer), hear readings from great & incredibly funny writers then listen to it.
Most of what This American Life puts out does tilt to the Left. But I have to say that they really make me think...and laugh! And thinking is something that most people don't do enough of these days.

SO, there is my list of my favorite podcasts for you to peruse. If nothing else, do take a look at the Mars Hill site...you won't regret it. Also, if you have some podcasts that you think I would like, PLEASE let me know.

Peace

Joe

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Poor in Spirit" at Cub Foods.



The strangest thing happened at work tonight. I realized that Jesus has been doing something new & fresh in me that I simply had not noticed before...but I am so thankful for now.

The story goes like this; I was trying to change the garbages last night when some of the gals who work in the Deli pointed out a guy who was munching away at the Taco bar...without having paid for his food. In other words, he was shoplifting.
So I went over to this fellow and explained in a nice, calm voice that he really needed to pay for his food first. When he opened his mouth to speak he just about caused my nose hair to melt. He was extremely & sloppily drunk.

Now, I want to explain a few things about myself before I continue. First off, I used to have a volcanic temper...mostly when I was a teen. There are a few things that still can cause me to pop a bolt. This guys situation is one of them. I've been hit by a drunk driver before, so I have little sympathy for people who go out drunk in public. Secondly, I don't like thieves very much either. Thirdly, one of my weak spots comes in the area of "Justice/In-justice." I don't like seeing bad people get away with stuff. I tend to enjoy seeing bad people humiliated in public...or worse. In the past, and other folks at the store can bare witness to this, I have furiously confronted thieves at our store, and I would even be looking for a fight.

Tonight something odd happened that I simply cannot claim as my own doing. As soon as I confronted this guy a thought popped into my head. "This man is Poor in Spirit." When that thought popped into my head everything changed. (I'll explain more about that a bit later) I found myself reverting to my old Teacher Voice that I used in my classroom working with "At-Risk" kids. I kept my voice calm and sympathetic...I actually WAS genuinely sympathetic, which is not in my nature, and thought out how I/we were going to get this guy up the stairs and into the office until the cops could get to the store.
It took a group of us to get him up there, and even to keep him there. Once in the office, the drunk guy wanted to fight a few of us. He was a big guy too...drunk, but still big. It was 5 on 1, so we would have taken him. (Still an elbow to the nose hurts regardless of the victory.) But my heart really hurt for this guy, so I just kept talking calmly to him. He settled down enough that there was no violence. The cops finally came and he was taken away to sleep it all off. I was relieved because I honestly worried that if he had simply walked out, he would have passed out somewhere and froze to death. I think it's possible that I might actually have saved his life.

Here's the facts though. That type of pity, sympathy, what have you, is simply NOT LIKE ME! Under normal circumstances I wouldn't have cared all that much what became of him. "Hey, you go out drunk, pass out and freeze to death, GOOD! The world will be better off without you." But all I could think about is "This man is poor is spirit."

When Jesus began his epic speech on the mountain, he began it with an announcement. He said "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." In the Greek, the word for Blessed has the very large concept of "God is on the side of..." So, God is on the side of the poor in spirit. Being poor in spirit is NOT a good thing. In fact, it's really bad. In essence, being poor in spirit means you are a complete & utter LOSER! And yet Jesus claimed that God was on the side of all losers, the thieves, the drunks, the addicted, the unfaithful, the un-religious, the liars...and so on. God doesn't want people to stay in that situation, but His blessing is already theirs.
That sounds very counterintuitive, but I think it's true. No one can EARN God's grace. He extends it to all of us because that's just what God does. The question is whether you will receive it or not.

The following is a link to the Mars Hill church in Michigan. I highly recommend that you subscribe to their podcasts. It's easy enough. It will ultimately take you to your ITunes download thingy. This is where Rob Bell preaches. Anyway, search for the sermon "Blessed are the poor in spirit," and download it. (It was preached on 9/13/09...if that helps) I promise that you won't regret it. I have never heard anything like it before. I can't listen to it with out crying.


Heck, if you can't download it, contact me and I'll just mail you a copy.

I suppose the point of all of this is how much Jesus has changed me over these past few years. I'm quite a jerk much of the time. In fact, according to a fellow employee I am at present an "Ass." Still, tonight something good happened, and I can't claim credit for it. I really believe that Jesus opened my eyes for a brief moment and showed me how he sees a drunken thief. Jesus doesn't look at that man with contempt or hate. He looks at that man in pity and love. I am very thankful that Jesus showed me his worldview for a moment.
I am far from perfect. I can be a jerk. I get frustrated because I am currently not teaching. Still, I have to confess that over these past two years of not being in a classroom, and essentially stewing in a grocery store, it has afforded me time to work on what really matters. Thanks to people like my friends Tom, Abe, Pastor Scott, the guys in my "Heart of Warrior" group, the folks at Living Waters, authors like Don Miller & Brennan Manning...and even speakers like Rob Bell, Jesus has drawn me closer to him. I find that in some very odd ways my worldview is being transformed more into his worldview.

I would not trade that for the world.

Peace

Joe