Monday, December 31, 2007

Retroactive New Year's Resolutions

Many of you know me well enough to know that I tend to be very rigid and driven by goals, schedules, and the pursuit of fame and fortune. Okay, so I am not driven by schedules.
Anyway, this is the time of year when many people like to make lists of goals for the New Year and they like to reflect on the year behind. Since I actually do not operate off of lists or schedules I thought this year I would write my 2007 goals now instead of worrying about what the year ahead might bring. It is like those of you who write lists for everything and if you accomplish something not on your list, you write it on the list retroactively so that you can check it off. Consider these my retroactive New Year's Resolutions.

X Have a baby: preferably a boy with blue eyes and dark hair. Oh yeah, with minimal crying and always happy.
X Miss a plane and spend a day in Zandorf on the North Sea in Holland.
X Bring a group of students to Uganda.
X Retire from my job and travel the world.
X Drive my car through a tree.
X Learn a new language.
X Rent out my home to friends and live in the Middle East.
X Become friends with a Monk, a Rabbi, an Armenian Priest, an Accomplished Archaeologist, and someone from Poland.
X Spend Christmas Eve in Bethlehem.
X Drink Turkish coffee with a Bedouin Arab.
O Sleep through the night without interruption. (This is for next year).
X Celebrate Chanukah with Jews who follow Jesus.
X Meet friends in England and spend the day with them and my family.
X Take time to think and study and prepare for whatever is next.

There is probably more that I should have put on my list but I do not want to set my goals for last year too high.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Last night on Christmas Eve my family drove 3 miles down to road to the crossing from Israel to the West Bank. We parked our car and went through the multiple turnstiles, passport checks, passed the heavily armed Israeli Defense Soldiers, and finally passed the enormous 30-foot high concrete separation wall into the Palestinian Territory. From here we took a five minute taxi ride to "Shepherd's Field" near the town of Bethlehem where we celebrated the birth of the Messiah Jesus along with about 50 other believers in Yeshua.
After singing songs about a baby born in the town where we were standing and about Angels appearing to shepherds in a field perhaps where we were, we headed to dinner with some friends. We ate a Palestinian restaurant called "the tent" and sat at the table with a couple (a Palestinian Christian and his British wife and 4 boys) and another couple from Bermuda with their two boys and we experienced Christian fellowship over some great food. For the first time since moving to Israel we heard Christmas songs playing in the restaurant and we realized that there is beauty in the simplicity of the season. God came to us and through him the earth can have peace. Our Christmas service contained no "special music", no dramas, no eloquent messages, and no promotion for a particular church. It contained people celebrating the messiah and then friends sharing food together before returning home.
As we returned home through the separation wall and watched an impressively armed escort leading dignitaries in a huge caravan into Bethlehem for the midnight mass we looked and saw graffiti on the wall. One piece of graffiti said, "Peace to earth and goodwill to men". The wall, the guns, the armored vehicles, the Israeli flags flying in site of the Palestinian flags, and the intensity of the conflict between these two people groups cannot hide the message that peace is only found in the Messiah. 2000 years ago Palestine they felt the pressure of the Roman government and longed for a leader to come and to deliver them from the "occupying" forces. He came to a town called Bethlehem and showed the way to peace. People still long for this message today so all followers of the Messiah Yeshua should show the way to peace through our lives. Let your Christmas this year fly in the faces of the "separation walls" and the hatred that fills our lives. Let us remember that flashy Christmas services and beautiful churches will never bring the message of Jesus to the world. Peace comes through our lives so may peace reign on earth and may there be goodwill towards men through your lives.
Merry Christmas

Don't forget to check out more thoughts from my wife at The Jerusalem Letters .

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Faith of Jews, Muslims, and Parents

Earlier today I was sitting at my desk attempting to work on some Hebrew translations and my two older sons came in to give me a reason to procrastinate. In an attempt to keep the conversation light, my oldest son asked, "Dad, what do you believe in that you cannot see?" As I prepared to answer he jumped in and said, "I believe in God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, air (because you can't see it), and Santa Claus. I smiled and told him that those are good things to believe in and he agreed but did say that grown-ups don't believe in Santa but he wants to this year.
Then tonight my wife showed me a letter that he wrote to Santa and it basically explains that he once believed and then didn't, then did, and then he stopped believing, but now he wants to believe because he has two requests for gifts. The point of this post isn't that my son wants to believe in Santa this year, it is really just to share one line from the letter that I loved. In his explanation that he wanted to believe in Santa again he said, "(now that I believe in you [Santa]), I believe in something that Jewish people, Muslims, and parents do not believe in".
I love the small lessons that we gain from the mouths of children. Here is my son living in a country dominated by Jews and Muslims, (and parents) and he acknowledges that he has to make a choice to believe. It reminds me of the passage in the book, "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" when the children are talking with the professor about the story the youngest sister, Lucy, told them about a magical world hidden in the wardrobe. When the older children tell him that the possibility of another world is too crazy to believe, he responds by questioning the quality of their education.
It seems that the ability to believe in the unseen is a trait we too often overlook. Even now I am doing research into Biblical texts and their literary environment and most of the scholarship begins with the assumption that religious texts are too incredible to believe. I agree with the professor that there must be something wrong with the educational system that does not allow belief. I side with Chesterton who once said that the incredibility of the story of Christ is the thing that convinces him it must be real. As the church father Tertullian said, "I believe because it is absurd".
For my son, belief in the unseen is perfectly acceptable even if Jews, Muslims, and parents do not agree. I personally side with my sons.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Another Deep Thought

We went to Jordan for the weekend and I saw this camel drinking coke. Another example of the amazing education I am receiving this year...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Food Fit For a King

In my travels around the world I have had the opportunity to experience some memorable times set around food. I've had some good memories such as having cheese and wine in a small cafe in the shadows of the Eifel Tower and some unique experiences such as eating hot dogs with mustard for breakfast along with Bosnian coffee in an orphanage in central Bosnia. This week I had a new experience that ranks near the top. As the country of Israel takes this week to celebrate Chanukah, the nightly lighting of the Chanukah candles takes place everywhere. This week after a late night of classes I stopped by the student "watering hole" on campus with a Jewish friend.
During the course of our discussions about our classes, our faith, and American politics, we were interrupted as someone brought a large Chanukia (Chanukah Menorah) and placed it on the bar. He then made an announcement that he was lighting the candle and began singing the traditional song. It essentially is a song/ prayer giving thanks to the God and King of the Universe for sustaining the Jewish people. In a moments time, the entire place was singing and celebrating this moment. As the song ends with "Amen", the entire place errupted in applause. I felt for a moment that I was sitting in an English pub watching World Cup Soccer and singing pub songs. Perhaps this is what it was like as the writers of the "great hymns of the faith" sat in pubs and inserted Christian theology into the songs in the bars.
The song ended then someone came around and handed out traditional "jelly-filled" donuts. As I sat with my Jewish friend from Boston eating donuts to go with our Israeli brewed beverage, we both commented that this was a first for us. We finished our donuts and conversation as the candles burned brightly on the bar (and as the thump of the typical Israeli techno music echoed through the room). We thought that we may be missing the atmosphere of the American Holiday season, but this was a nice consolation prize.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hag Samaech (Happy Holidays)

It is one of the Holiday Seasons here in Israel (although not the most important) and we are completely enjoying the entire experience. We celebrated the first night of Chanukah with some friends in the neighborhood complete with traditional donuts, traditional prayers, and games. My wife will give the full story at The Jerusalem Letters so check it out there.

One thing that really stood out to us was the enriching experience that the Festival of Lights or "Chanukah" has for followers of the Messiah Jesus. First of all, it was enriching just to be in Jerusalem where this event originally took place just as Jesus was in John 10 where it says he was in Jerusalem for the feast of dedication. In addition to that, this holiday has great Messianic symbolism and is worthy of a study so go and study because that is not the point of this post.

One thing that came out of our time last night was the hope for the Messiah and the belief that the Messiah will come during a "Year of Jubilee". This is a year that happens every 50 years and is intended to forgive all debt and return land to rightful owners. Basically it is a year of redemption and forgiveness. It is a year that puts all people back on equal ground before God. So it is plain to see why tradition says that the Messiah will come on a year of Jubilee.

I can't be exact on all of these dates but it looks like 1) During the time of Christ the year of Jubilee was 28/29 AD. 2) Jesus spent 3 or 4 Passovers during his public ministry. 3) Jesus was crucified in 32/33 AD. Which means that it is likely that the Messiah Jesus began his public ministry during a year of Jubilee. In other words, he came to forgive debt and offer redemption on the year the nation of Israel was commanded to do the same. I will do a little more research to check these dates but it is pretty amazing if this is the case. And if it is not the case, it is still pretty amazing that Jesus offers redemption and forgiveness of debts.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Ho Ho Ho

What's wrong with the world besides me? This Christmas season there are some department stores that are restricting Santa Claus' use of the term "Ho Ho Ho". They actually claim that this famous laugh by children's most beloved character may offend some women. Apparently the term "ho", even if used during a laugh, is a degrading term for certain women. No real alternative has been offered but I presume that they prefer a more politically correct term such as "professional woman of the night". Some might think it strange for Santa to bring up a questionable profession while laughing or for carolers to insert a comment about prostitutes in the course of spreading Holiday cheer, but if this makes these stores feel like they have protected women from hearing degrading names all throughout the ever lengthening Christmas season then I am all for it.
Okay, in case you do not sense the sarcasm in my (writing) voice allow me to tell you that this whole thing is pure claptrap (that is a thesaurus word for nonsense). This is one of those issues where some people make issues out of non-issues especially in light of the fact that Santa has been saying "Ho" long before rap music popularized a new use of the term. It is like when stores say they will not say, "Merry Christmas" because it is too religious and in the process they offend even more people than they would offend if they used the phrase in the first place. This over-reaction is also like when Christians boycott stores for saying "Merry X-mas" thinking they are proving a point (when in actuality the "x" in Christmas is the Greek letter that begins the word "Christ" so it is actually a Christian abbreviation).
The point is that people over-react too much. Just this week I was talking with a world-renowned archaeologist who writes for the journal "Biblical Archaeology Review" and he was criticizing the large number of pastors who cancel their subscriptions when the review publishes information that goes against their assumptions about the Bible. He told me that he just couldn't understand how pastors could have such weak faith. Here was a Jewish man saying that these Christian pastors should have a strong enough faith in Jesus to not be affected by information published in a journal. As I walked away from that conversation I thought about his point and how much I agreed with it and how much I see this overreaction everywhere.
I walked out into the cold Jerusalem air and thought that this would be a great year of celebrating the birth of Jesus here in His homeland. With Christmas less than one month away, the cold air and the lights (for Chanukah) put me in the "Holiday Spirit". I thought that all I needed was some Christmas music so as I walked to the bus stop I turned on my i-pod and I listened to 2 Pac sing "Ho Ho Ho". And now I am in the Christmas mood.