29 October 2012

Natural Disasters as "Acts of God"

I have been glued to the Weather Channel this evening watching the news of the monster storm named Sandy.
       It has been especially unnerving to me because my immediate family lives in New York City, on Long Island, and in Washington D.C. All locations have been in the bull's eye of this storm.
       As I was watching the Weather Channel one of the commentators said, "these acts of God are nothing less than spectacular."
       I have always felt a bit "miffed" by blaming God for natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy. It really can mess with one's understanding of God as a loving and merciful God.
      But the more I consider it, the more I have to live with very very "good" as well as the very very "bad" with God. If God is God at all, only He can create something so powerful, awesome, and awful as a tornado or spectacular lightning. If God is the all-powerful, all-knowing, the "alpha and omega" it seems to me that I cannot pick and choose when and how He can be all-powerful.
       The words of God to Job are ringing in my ears from Job 38:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
“Or who shut in the sea with doors
    when it burst out from the womb,
when I made clouds its garment
    and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed limits for it
    and set bars and doors,
11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
    and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?
12 “Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
    and caused the dawn to know its place,
13 that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
    and the wicked be shaken out of it?
14 It is changed like clay under the seal,
    and its features stand out like a garment.
15 From the wicked their light is withheld,
    and their uplifted arm is broken.
16 “Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
    or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
    or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
    Declare, if you know all this.

26 October 2012

Don't Worry, I'm Still Jewish

I have attended a course at Fuller Seminary this week on "The Arab-Israeli Conflict and a Theology of Reconciliation," taught by Salim Munayer. I am going to write multiple blog posts on this, in large part because it is just too much to digest otherwise.
       First, I want to calm fears that I might renounce being Jewish or something, after spending a week in a course with a Palestinian Arab. More specifically, some people may be concerned that I have abandoned a "strong" view of Israel as the people of God and their claim on the land.
       My questions about Israel's role in God's redemptive plan started long before this class. To be blunt, I have deep concerns about national/political Israel of today being the successor to the Israel of the Bible.
       Let me quickly say that the people of God, Israel, has not been written off by God and I find "replacement theology" thoroughly wanting. And, I believe that the Christian Zionist movement is equally inadequate.
       Salim's challenge to me around Palestine and Israel is not really about who is right and who is wrong, but rather how genuine followers of Jesus can own and acknowledge their historical narrative AND learn to appreciate the others' historical narrative.
       Here is what I mean: Jewish people have a narrative of the holy land that says this: "Before the nation of Israel was birthed there was relatively few people living in Palestine and the Jews claim and caused the desert to bloom."
       The Palestinian narrative says something like this: "We were fruitful and lived in the land for centuries before 1948 and we were hospitable toward the Jews and welcomed them into the land as a religious people."
       If you are reading this and thinking to yourself that one of these people are wrong and one is right then you have just illustrated Salim's point. Until all sides in the conflict see that our own narrative is incomplete and even inaccurate at points we cannot begin to relate to one another.
       Until all sides also seek to understand and even sympathize with the others' narrative there can be no conversation or beginnings of reconciliation. This is a HUGE challenge.
       What is fascinating is that the more I seek to understand the Palestinian narrative of the Holy Land the more my identity as a Jew is "safe." My fear in entering into my "enemy's" narrative is that I will lose my own identity. The very opposite happens.

20 October 2012

Multicultural Homogeneity

My friend Judy made a comment to me during a board meeting today of the Alumni Association of Cortland State (my alma mater). The board was discussing creating a a culture of diversity. Quite the spirited conversation.
       Judy then wrote a note to me which said, "multicultural homogeneity." That's EXACTLY what we were talking about. The conversation was "safe" and "limited." It was a discussion about cultural and some ethnic diversity.
       Basically the conversation went something like this: "What is the ethnic demographic of the current student body and how can that be reflected on the alumni board?" 
       Now that is totally legitimate. A noble goal. But it IS multicultural homogeneity. It is  not a broader, fuller sense of diversity. No religious diversity. No political diversity. No sexual diversity.
       I prefer to use the term "limited diversity" on the board, because there are boundaries to the diversity being considered. Let's call it what it is.

19 October 2012

Nomadic: Traveling Through America

I have some "nomadic" tendencies. Place me somewhere to live and after about 5 years I get antsy to be moving. The sheer size of America has afforded me the opportunity to travel, to wander, to explore.
       Earlier this week I was in Indianapolis for a few days (Susy went with me), I then flew to Las Vegas to buy a vehicle from a friend, and the next day I drove 700 miles back to Denver. Today I take off for two days in New York and then join Susy in Los Angeles for a week.
       As I drove east on Interstate 70 in Utah the other day I took out my iphone and shot a couple of photos of the spectacular scenery. Brilliant blue skies, leaves on the trees turning color, bright sunshine.

18 October 2012

"Vote Biblical Principles"

It is SO politically incorrect to critique Billy Graham, of all people! But I don't know about Rev. Graham's statement on his website this week urging people to vote for candidates who base their decisions on certain biblical principles.
       This is Rev. Graham's statement:
"The legacy we leave behind for our children, grandchildren and this great nation is crucial. As I approach my 94th birthday, I realize this election could be my last. I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me that America will remain one nation under God."
       What I hear Rev. Graham saying is that we should support candidates who support these specific positions, presumably in this priority order also:
1. Support the nation of Israel;
2. Protect the sanctity of life;
3. Support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman
OK, I can (more or less) agree with these three things (as long as Israel is seen as a sovereign, modern nation-state and not as a fulfillment of biblical Israel).
       However, Rev. Graham made a decision to make a public statement urging people to vote for candidates who support "biblical principles." Well if you do that I think people should be challenged to support candidates who support all biblical principles that relate to public service. I can think of three others:
1. Caring for the "foreigner" in our midst;
2. Providing for the welfare of widows;
3. Caring for the poor and needy in society;
4. Support for all sovereign nations and support for all peoples rightfully seeking freedom (Western Sahara, Palestinian land, etc.)
       What probably would have been better is if Rev. Graham took a step back and did not enter the political fray. You are finishing well, Rev. Graham. Please continue to do so!

13 October 2012

STOP! Don't Give that Political Contribution!

Estimates are that more than $1.2 billion will be given to political parties and Political Action Committees to election the next President of the United States. More than $900 million has already been given.
       I'm very concerned about this next $300 million. If you are someone who is inclined to give a contribution to a political cause in the next 3 weeks, DON'T DO IT! Please!
       Instead give that money to a non-profit taht is impacting people's lives for the good. There are many of them. I will list just one here.
       I know that politics is important, and that the upcoming election is meaningful in ways. However, it is not so meaningful to merit $1.2 billion mostly in advertising! Re-direct your investing! Here's one idea:
Hands of the Carpenter: A faith-based nonprofit community in Denver that uniquely serves single mothers and widows in need by addressing the often overlooked issue of transportation.
       Hands is a tremendous ministry serving single moms in very practical and helpful ways - keeping their cars running well so they can raise their families and get to their job.
       Right about now Hands needs an infusion of donations to keep up with the demands on the ministry. Please give now by clicking HERE.

11 October 2012

A 14-Year-Old Fights for Her Life

Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani who has advocated for educating girls in her country, was shot for her "radical" views. The Taliban has taken responsibility and has said that if she recovers from her wounds they will try to kill her again.
       For those of us who attempt to build bridges between Christians, Jews, and Muslims for the sake of sharing the gospel, we must not be silent on this issue.
       While there are a few Muslim leaders who are speaking out against the Taliban, there are far too few of them. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood has not condemned the attack.
       When the leaders of Westboro Baptist Church call for violence against homosexuals we who are Christians must speak out against such hatred and bigotry. If Muslim leaders want to be people of peace they must roundly condemn the Taliban and do everything in their power to do away with this radicalized movement.
       Tens of thousands of Muslims in more than 20 countries recently protested when a B film ridiculed Mohammed. The news of the film spread like wild fire as governments and political parties in Islamic countries disseminated clips from the movie. Why is there not equally vocal protests in Muslim countries when the Taliban perpetrate such horror?
       Those of us who "seek the peace of Jerusalem" and tell about the Messiah who is the "prince of peace" we must call Christians, Jews, and Muslims to seek true peace. We must also condemn movements such as the Taliban who seek to destroy peace through terror.

10 October 2012

"He who saves a life saves the world entire."

The Talmud states, "Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world."Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5; Babylonian Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 37a

       The latter part of the passage was the inscription on the ring given to Oskar Schindler by the 1,100 Jewish workers in his factory, those who were fortunate enough to survive the Nazi genocide (see video clip below).
       Last night we sat around the fire pit and quoted this verse as four of us considered how one person's life trajectory could be changed by our actions. I was staggered by the influence God has given human beings, how much incredible good (and bad) we actually can do.
       Of course it is never enough. Schindler saved 1,100 people, but he regretted that he did not save more. And therein lies the tension - we might do something heroic, self-sacrificial which may help someone dramatically. It might even save a life. And yet there is always another orphan, another homeless person, another wayward soul who is desperate for help.
       Perhaps this is the precise place of the People of God - the Israel of God. Ultimately only God saves, but He uses a body of His followers who are His instruments of that saving power. In this sense the Talmud is correct, with a twist: He who God uses to save a life God uses to save the world entire - which is His good plan in the end.

09 October 2012

Today I Turned 50

Today I turned 50 years old! This was my day -
I woke and kissed my wife Susy good morning - reminding me how fortunate I am that half of these 50 years have been spent with her!
       We went to New York Bagels and had bagels and cream cheese - reminding that I am Jewish (as if I needed reminding)
       Later in the morning I went to see my counselor therapist - reminding me that at 50 years old I am still a bit of a mess and need to grow up.
       In the afternoon I got a great massage - reminding me that I am 50 years old;
       Susy and I went out to dinner for sushi;
       In the evening we sat around the fire pit with our good friends Dan and Lizzy, sipping an amazing bottle of 20-year-old port which Dan brought, smoking an amazing Padron cigar, and having life-giving conversation, which we very often do with Dan and Lizzy;
       This evening I applied for my AARP card. Can't wait for the discounts to begin!

08 October 2012

"Better is a handful of quietness..."

"Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind." ~ Ecclesiastes 4:6

I live a loud life - on the phone, on Skype, on planes, trains, and automobiles. I'm on the go a lot. I like it that way (most of the time).
       Then I read, "Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil." Ugh! Hmmm....
       Some years ago I learned a valuable lesson when I "hit a wall" because I was living to loud, too fast, too frantic. It has to do with rhythm and pace.
       I can live loud for seasons but not for years. When I work I work hard. Then I need to  unplug and "play hard." For me this is what it looks like to be a recovering Type A personality.
       So I listen carefully to God's wisdom in the book of Ecclesiastes - to discover again and again a "handful of quietness" and to not allow myself to be overrun by "two hands full of toil." This is very good for my soul, especially as I turn 50 years old in a few hours.

07 October 2012

Ecclesiastes 3: A Time for Everything

These words from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 for too familiar for some of us. I have spent some time the past days dwelling (lectio divine) on the words that are highlighted.

For everything there is a season,
a right time for every intention under heaven —
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to discard,
a time to tear and a time to sew,
a time to keep silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Comforting words and haunting words - all at once. Much to contemplate and dwell on.

06 October 2012

A Search for Jesus

I do not personally know Billie Mintz, but I am intrigued by his quest. He is a film-maker in Los Angeles who is searching for Jesus. I hope I get to meet Billie some time and share my faith journey with him.
       Have a look at the trailer created for his 40 Days of Jesus trek.

Forty Days Trailer - Extended Version from Imagin8r on Vimeo.

05 October 2012

Reading Ecclesiastes the Week I Turn 50

I am reading the Book of Ecclesiastes this week before I turn 50 years old. I am reading it in multiple versions: NIV, NLT, The Message. I have to chuckle at The Message paraphrase sometimes, although it does hit close to home as I consider turning 50. Here's what I mean:
"Life’s a corkscrew that can’t be straightened,A minus that won’t add up."
~ Eccl. 1:15
"Much learning earns you much trouble.The more you know, the more you hurt."
~ Eccl. 1:18
"Then I took a good look at everything I’d done, looked at all the sweat and hard work. But when I looked, I saw nothing but smoke. Smoke and spitting into the wind. There was nothing to any of it. Nothing."
~ Eccl. 2:11
"The best you can do with your life is have a good time and get by the best you can. The way I see it, that’s it—divine fate. Whether we feast or fast, it’s up to God. God may give wisdom and knowledge and joy to his favorites, but sinners are assigned a life of hard labor, and end up turning their wages over to God’s favorites. Nothing but smoke—and spitting into the wind."
~ Eccl. 2:24-26

Now don't get depressed by this blog! There is more to Ecclesiastes than chapters 1 and 2. I will post more in the coming days before my birthday.

04 October 2012

What Ministry People Can Learn from Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln has a lot to teach those of us who are pastors and in ministry, especially when it comes to sacrifice, suffering, and servanthood.
       Lincoln once said, "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."
       When people have power (such as when I was a senior pastor of a large church) you eventually get to see their character.
       In the case of some of us in executive leadership positions, our character is wanting when the going gets tough.
       Here are three "quiet" ways leaders exercise great servant leadership:
1) They sacrifice first. When the church or ministry budget has to be cut (as many have the past several years), the senior leader takes the first and deepest cut. Always. I find it strange that churches and ministries are so hush-hush about the compensation of their leaders. Would we feel awkward or embarrassed if people knew our salary? If so I suspect something is wrong.
2) They deflect attention from themselves and onto the success of others. Lincoln did this the many times he acknowledged and honored the soldiers who had died on the battlefields of the Civil War. The war and the issues around it was never about Lincoln himself and him protecting himself.
3) They are generous in success and humble in failure. Lincoln said, "The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just." I do not know what is more challenging for a leader - success or failure. I have observed that when leaders are successful there is a great temptation to become their own "god," shutting themselves off from others' input. Rather than becoming self-effacing they can become self-absorbed and self-obsessed.
       I personally know a few leaders who, at the moment, are sacrificing greatly for the good of their ministries and congregations. The vast majority of people do not even know of these leaders' sacrifices. That's how these leaders would want it - no fanfare, no applause. Just humble spirits who want to serve people with grace.

01 October 2012

Grabbing a Ref, Really?

Last week on national television Bill Belichick grabbed a referee after the game. Belichick was trying to stop him to get an explanation of a field goal call.
       Belichick was fined $50,000 by the NFL. This might seem like a lot of money to us, but it .0066% of Belicheck's $7.5 million annual salary. But this is not even the real issue.
       And the issue is not that these are "replacement refs."
       The point is this - does a football game matter THAT much that you need to grab a referee? What IS the place of sports (youth leagues to professional) in our mixed up culture!
       Last summer I was umpiring a baseball game in the "Global World Series" in Colorado (by the way, it was NOT a global tournament and was NOT a WORLD series). It WAS a very competitive tournament with teams from all over the Midwest and Mountain states.
       There was an ALL-GIRLS team in an all-boys tournament. And the girls were very,very good. I umpired a game in which the girls came back from a 7-0 deficit and won 8-7. In the last inning when they went from losing 7-6 to winning 8-7 I called one of the boys out on a called-strike-three.
      The head coach rushed at me from his position as third base coach. The coach proceeded to bump in the chest. I ejected the coach, which also means he cannot coach the following game either.
      The next game was played by this same boys' team and a different opponent. The head coach was on the bench coaching his team! I called the umpire director and asked why he was on the field. The director told me that the tournament director made this decision. Why? Because the team paid a lot of money to be there and the coach would pull his players off the field and would demand their money back.
       Believe me, I am NOT comparing myself with the NFL and professional sports. But there IS something in me that screams, STOP IT, when it comes to the competitiveness in sports. Not just in America either, by the way.
       Can we not direct our passion and energy to other more worthwhile causes or interests can the competition on a football field or baseball diamond? Are there not other more worthy causes than who wins my kid's baseball game?