Lent is the season leading to Easter where many Christians decide to give something up for 40 days. The main point of this is to create some discipline in your life that will help you draw near to Christ by pondering Jesus love whenever you crave that thing you gave up. The season of Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter. However, if you ask Siri on Ash Wednesday how many days until Easter she will tell you, 46. Yep, that's right, 46 days. What gives?Read More
I’ve told this story enough in the past week that I felt compelled to write it down. This is the story of how my dad passed, and also how I experienced the peace of Christ like never before after intense sorrow and sadness like I had never known. it encompasses my experience the past few weeks. It's not depressing, so if you're trying to avoid depressing news, you are safe to click here.Read More
"I thought when I grew up that everyone would be an adult and act differently. Now that I'm middle aged I realize that grownups are really just older (and usually heavier and balder) high school kids."Read More
The Syrian refugee crisis, terrorism, illegal immigration. These are hot topics in the news. I don't do politics on the internet (the reasons why are in a forthcoming post, not this one) but I think what I read in Proverbs 19 today addresses this in a non political way. Here is Proverbs 19:17 in 2 different translations:
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,
and he will reward them for what they have done. NIV
Mercy to the needy is a loan to God,
and God pays back those loans in full. The Message
What does that have to do with refugees? My hunch is most of these folks at this point are needy. I think being a refugee defines itself as being needy. Those of us who identify as followers of Christ know that we are called to help those in need, regardless of their race, creed, religion, etc. In fact, giving people practical help is an incredibly effective way to share the good news about Jesus! Jesus died and rose again so that we could live life differently! Is their better way to show the world the love of Jesus than caring for those most in need, and doing so because Jesus told us to? I don't know how to take in to my house a Syrian refugee, but there are lots of organizations that are mobilizing and helping in the midst of this crisis. World Vision is one of them, and perhaps you can make an investment that "God pays back in full". If you'd like to, you can do so here. Click this. Just to be clear, I don't think the Lord is going to pay you back in full in this life. I think this is an eternal investment you are making, one that "neither rust nor moth can destroy". This is an eternal investment.
My freshman year in college I lived in a humongous dorm on the campus of the University of Texas. Like most dorms the people on my hall were a random assortment of dudes from all over Texas with a variety of backgrounds and belief systems. Many of us got along great and developed bonds that would last for many years. However, in any situation where random people are put together in a long term living situation there will be some people who don't quite fit in with everyone else. Most times these folks are just a little awkward or "different" and we had some of that on our hall. When reading Proverbs 17 this week I was reminded of a particular guy on our hall who wasn't awkward or terribly weird, but he definitely didn't fit in well with the rest of us. I thought of him (I don't remember his name) after reading this verse:
Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker;
whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.
The reason I thought of him was because of the following horrible story that caused this guy to become an outcast on our hall. There are quite a few homeless people in Austin, and at the time many of them lingered around the University of Texas. According to witnesses; this soon to be vilified hall mate saw a homeless man lying on the ground. He proceeded to approach the man and then offered him a candy bar asking "Would you like this?" When the man responded and reached out for the candy bar he laughed at him and then ate the candy bar himself taunting the man who was clearly not in a good place and most likely very hungry. When we heard about this on our hall, even the most callous person wanted to fight our hall mate. It was truly disgusting behavior.
It seems that everyone, regardless of their awareness of scripture, agrees this is horrible behavior. Let's take it to the next level though, how often do we gloat over someone else's disaster? Maybe not in your community, but I think our culture has created an environment where we do gloat over the disaster of people who are more well known than we are. It seems the country, the press, and twitter users are anxiously waiting for some celebrity to fall from grace, make a mistake, go through a divorce, or have a mental breakdown. Our willingness to pile on these people is equally disgusting. While it is specifically wrong to mock the poor, it's also a real problem if we seek to make ourselves feel better by relishing the bad fortune of someone who is rich or famous or powerful or all three. Let's stop participating in the cultural pile on and instead remember that while "famous" people may look like their life is some kind of pleasant fantasy, the reality is they have at least as many problems as the rest of us and probably more. Maybe we should take some time to pray for them from a distance instead of mocking them from a distance.
I'm a big fan of team sports. While I enjoy individual sports, if there is ever an opportunity to play as a team, I'll pick that option every time. Running is an individual sport and at this point in my life it's the only sport I participate in regularly. A few years ago I had the opportunity to run in a 12 person relay race across 230 miles and it was a blast. Why? Because whenever you get to do things with people and work together towards a common goal, that just makes the experience that much better. When it comes to big decisions in my personal and professional life I prefer team sports as well, which is a segway to the verse I chose from Proverbs 15:22.
Plans fail for lack of counsel,
but with many advisers they succeed.
Refuse good advice and watch your plans fail;
take good counsel and watch them succeed.
Too often I've seen calamity take place in friends and coworkers lives when it could be avoided by consulting a few trusted friends or colleagues. In any situation where we are required to make a decision we can always use others input, because we only see thing from one perspective. I'm continually surprised by insight I get into sticky situations, topics, issues and events by including others in the conversation. Even more so when I get the perspective of someone who disagrees with my initial opinions. I think one of the great crimes of growing older is that we naturally begin to surround ourselves with people, ideas and inputs that we already agree with and we start to shut out the people we know we don't agree with. We essentially surround ourselves with "yes" people and don't let anyone or anything challenge our ideas and opinions. This doesn't make our ideas and opinions stronger, it actually makes them weaker because they aren't tested anymore. It's like a muscle that goes unused, it gets weaker. So bring on the counsel of wise advisers and make sure you get some dissenting opinions in your life every once in a while to keep you fresh.
When driving I always seem to choose the wrong lane to drive in. Traffic is heavy, cars are backed up, and I make a decision to switch lanes into the lane that looks like it will move faster and save me time. Invariably I choose wrong and that lane ends up being the slow lane. This drives me crazy, because I feel like I'm getting tricked by the false hope of a better traffic experience. Oftentimes life presents the same conundrum. Here is where this thought popped up in Proverbs 14:
"There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.
Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief."
There’s a way of life that looks harmless enough;
look again—it leads straight to hell.
Sure, those people appear to be having a good time,
but all that laughter will end in heartbreak.
The world is always offering us the easy answer, the quick fix. But rarely is the easy answer the best one. More often the quick fix leads to less pain and struggle now but significantly more later. A few examples that illustrate this:
eating that greasy (and delicious) fast food instead of taking the time to make something healthy for yourself
spending money now on fun instead of saving for future needs
saying "yes" to someone now so you won't have to say "no" until later
choosing to live a lifestyle that focuses on your own pleasure and comfort instead of giving your life away to Jesus and to other people
cheating on your homework when you were in school to get it done, but missing out on learning the information for the test later.
You get the point. So what do we do? How do we avoid the way that leads to death?
In my office, we've worked hard to create an environment of thinking things through. We try to make every decision with next year, the next 3 years, and the next 5 years in mind so that we don't rob from the future to satisfy our immediate needs. Personally I try my best to implement this principle in my own life, to varying degrees of success. Ultimately the best way to take the way that leads to life is to cling to Jesus, walk with him daily, put into practice the way Jesus lived and taught. Think differently than what you see on TV or Facebook. We are called to be different, not weird different, but different than how the rest of the world functions. Jesus wasn't like anyone else in his town or culture. He lived a life that was in many ways opposite of everyone he knew. We are to do the same thing. If our lives don't look any different than our friends who aren't serious followers of Christ then we have to ask ourselves whether we are a serious follower of Christ. Don't get caught up in the way that leads to death, it's the easy way, the way that everyone else is going. It may look in the moment like it's the best or the most fun, but we know it ends in tears.
I could write a lot more on this topic, but my goal was to keep these short and sweet so people will actually read them.
"Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man." - Friedrich Nietzsche
I'd like to respectfully disagree with Mr. Nietzsche, and while I'm at it I'd like to flee with great haste his outlook on the world. I hold to the idea that hope is a valuable ally. Something to cling to and focus on in times of trouble or doubt. Today's proverb of choice speaks directly to this.
"Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life." Proverbs 13:12.
Have you ever had a hope extinguished? It is more than likely that you have. If that is the case you know how demoralizing it is when something you longed for, excitedly expected, and hungrily anticipated is snatched away. It's like a kick in the gut or more beautifully stated, "it makes the heart sick". The moment you realize that some great dream won't come to fruition or some long sought opportunity is gone is a taste ( or a big gulp) of despair. Sometimes that can send us into a tailspin and a pit of thought that begins to compound negativity. However, just because we begin to circle downward and hear voices that tell us there is no hope, that still doesn't mean those voices are true or that hope is lost.
That's the great thing about hope is that just when it seems extinguished it often flickers back, sometimes when we least expect it. And when that hope blossoms into a raging fire and then ends with a "longing fulfilled" there is nothing more encouraging, satisfying and inspiring, and that of course leads to future hope, and helps ignite that flame years later when we once again face a "hope deferred".
The Message version:
"Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick,
but a sudden good break can turn life around."
We are coming around the home stretch on our trip and there is still much to see and more to learn. The sheer amount of interesting cultural and contextual (1st century context) that we are getting is formidable. I'm only scratching the surface on the amount of info we are digesting.Read More
This post is going to blow your mind! This was the day when my head exploded and I had a hard time digesting so much awesomeness. Yeah, that is a lot of hyperbole, but that's what I'm good for and this was in the top 20 days of my life. By the way, I'm several days behind, so I'm typing this a couple days after the fact.Read More
I'm a day behind after yesterday's early evening. I went to sleep immediately after we finished dinner at 8pm. Sadly, Jessica flew home this morning with 2 other wives (this was part of the plan) so I'm flying solo now with the other 53 people in our group. I was way more sad that she was leaving than I was anticipating. I'm glad she was here for at least part of the experience, but now I wish she would have stayed.
So Day 5 we did quite a bit, I'll hit some highlights. We went to one of the cities of the Decapolis, these 10 cities were all very greek/roman and were not Jewish, so Jesus and other jewish folks of the day would have avoided them like the plague. I'm blanking on the name of this particular city this moment and I'm in a coffee shop with good wifi but not near my notes so I'm going to go with Scythopolis. There is a huge excavation of this entire city that was very focused on commerce and entertainment, because the Romans figured out that the way to keep people happy was to entertain them. Sound familiar? They had public toilets and below is a picture of a bunch of our staff reenacting the scene of public toilets, thankfully they are no longer in use.
From there we went to Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus and the location that Mary received her vision from the angel about Jesus forthcoming birth. Below is a picture of what could have been Jesus childhood home. Whether it was or not He certainly lived within a stones throw of this location because the ancient town of Nazareth was not much bigger than a couple of football fields. In the first century the population was only about 600 people, now its quite developed and about 80,000 people live there. Crazy to think that the boy Jesus grew up here. The town is on a ridge overlooking a well travelled valley where the end of the world may happen.
This is the church that is built over the ruins of the small town Nazareth. It's very well done with mosaics from around the world.
Not too far from Nazareth is the ancient city of Cana which literally no longer exists. It was destroyed in 66AD by the Romans and never rebuilt. We just "happened" to see a rainbow singing over the former town in the picture below. If you look at the base of the mountain behind the rainbow that is where Cana was located. If you aren't familiar with Cana, it is the location of the scene in John 2 where Jesus turned a large amount of water into wine during a wedding. Classic story that we YL leaders are very familiar with so it's fun to see this location. Another fun fact, there are 2 different families with us that have daughters named Cana, so the rainbow showing up at this time was a nice touch. Thanks Jesus!
What we did the next day is so mind blowing I had to make a separate post. Get ready for some seriously, insanely cool stuff!!!!!
December 25 is not the only day that Christmas is celebrated around the world. The eastern churches celebrate Christmas at different times in January, therefore it is still Christmas time over here in Israel. There are different churches that celebrate Christmas on January 6th, 7th and 19th.
Thoughts on the birth of Jesus
- He was most likely born in the summer because otherwise the shepherds wouldn’t have had their sheep in the fields. If the sheep were in the fields in the non summer months they would have been crushing the crops or eating the seed, however if it was in July -September they would have been in the fields after the harvest.
- Jesus was probably born outside, not in a barn. The word “inn” is probably more accurately translated “guest room”. There was most likely no room in the guest room of Jospeh’s family because everyone was in Bethlehem for the census or because Mary’s pregnancy was a shame filled controversy. On top of that Jesus was probably born outside because that would be less messy and ceremonially unclean.
- The Magi are really most likely Jewish wise men who were living in the East because they were operating their own religious system that was outside of Roman politics and influence. Herod, who was king at the time was appointed King by the people that ruled over Israel, these wise men were seeking the real King who’s star they had seen.
- The manger was definitely made out of stone, like this one.
Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir...of Sorts by Ian Morgan Cron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Loved this book! If you're looking for a book that is troubling, inspiring, challenging and hilarious all at the same time, this book is for you. Mr. Cron tells the tale of his life growing up with an alcoholic who worked for the CIA. It's the story of his families survival in the midst of their father's spiral into the depths of his disease. It is also the story of the author's own journey to faith through a combination of the sacred, the terrible and the mundane. He recounts this journey with a surprising amount of humor that makes the book incredibly hard to put down. I highly recommend this book!
Here are just a few quotes I liked from the book, there were many more but I don't want to spoil it for you:
Humans are the only creatures that require pageantry and ceremony in their social diet. (Ever met a squirrel that wanted a wedding?)
Cron, Ian Morgan (2011-06-07). Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir. . . of Sorts (Kindle Locations 591-592). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Frederick Buechner once wrote, “The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.”
Cron, Ian Morgan (2011-06-07). Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir. . . of Sorts (Kindle Locations 768-769). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
View all my reviews
Letters to a Young Life Leader by Bob Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
No one knows Young Life better than Bob Mitchell. Literally he was a kid when YL basically started in his house. He grew up in and with Young Life. Served in every capacity possible, including as the President of the ministry. Bob Mitchell was a part of Young Life from it's infancy, through it's adolescence and now far into his own old age. In this book he boils down the basics of what makes Young Life unique, attractive, successful and timeless. Everyone who leads or cares about Young Life should read this book, because you will love it!
View all my reviews
You can purchase the hardcover version of this book immediately here.
The Kindle version is available at Amazon here.