Archive for May, 2017

Wet Bar Wednesday

May 31, 2017

Our recent family trip to Europe cemented this reality in my mind – that whether traveling through Europe, the Middle East, or the Orient, cocktails are far more of a rarity than here in the US.  But one cocktail advertised heavily throughout the many countries we passed through in Europe is the Aperol Spritz – sometimes just referred to as a Spritz.  We loved it there as a refreshing and light drink in the midst of a hot day of sightseeing.  We continue to enjoy it now that we’re home, despite the fact that it’s not a very common drink in the US.

Aperol Spritz

  • 3 parts Prosecco
  • 2 parts Aperol
  • 1 part club soda

Combine the ingredients over ice and stir.

Aperol originated in Italy early in the 20th century but took a while to catch on.  It was developed as a before-dinner drink (aperitif), designed to stimulate gastric juices in anticipation of food.  It has a bitter orange base but also includes rhubarb and several botanicals.  It is lighter, sweeter, and has half the alcohol content of Campari, a close cousin.  You can purchase Aperol at a well-stocked liquor store, but likely won’t find it in the average supermarket liquor section.

Prosecco is an Italian white wine.  Generally it is thought of as a sparkling wine and a cheap alternative to champagne, but there are still (non-bubbly) versions of Prosecco as well.   While wine referred to as Prosecco is referenced as far back as the 16th century, it is likely the wine has been produced far longer under different names, with Roman historian Pliny the Elder praising Italian wines from the regions associated with Prosecco for their health benefits.  It is generally served chilled.  Trader Joe’s has two very tasty (and inexpensive) Prosecco options, or you can purchase better pedigreed Prosecco at a good wine or liquor shop.

The drink has a light, sweet taste, but the sweetness is not overwhelming and it is very well balanced by the bitterness inherent in the Aperol.  It’s a pretty drink (I serve it in a wine glass, though a champagne flute could also be used), and it really is very refreshing when the weather heats up.  Enjoy!

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Three in a Row

May 31, 2017

Scanning the news this morning I came across three interesting articles.

The first is a not-so-veiled criticism of President Trump’s ban on certain electronic devices in airline cabins – meaning passengers have to put these items in their checked luggage instead.  As I reflected on this  article, it strikes me as one of the dumbest articles I’ve recently read.

The article ignores the fact that lithium ion batteries are “inherently volatile” beyond wanting to criticize a policy decision.  If they’re that dangerous, why are they allowed on flights at all?  Why are we using them in electronic devices that we carry with us everywhere if they are essentially the equivalent of little time bombs?  Wouldn’t the article be better aimed at critiquing why such a volatile substance is accepted beyond the parameters of certain airline flights from certain countries?

The second article is a great discussion of what may appear to be  rather arcane Supreme Court ruling that actually has a great deal of actual and potential impact for consumers everywhere.  I’ve long been distrustful of the growing trend of virtualizing ownership.  Seen most clearly in computer operating systems and software, it’s the idea that you don’t really own a product, per se.  Rather, you are paying for the right to access something that still belongs to someone else and who has ultimate say over what you do or don’t do with what you’re accessing.  Physical and intellectual property issues are critical not just for their economic implications but in terms of privacy and consumer rights.  Definitely worth a read through!

The final article describes the renaming of a NASA project to send a probe closer to the sun than ever before.  Instead of calling it the Solar Probe Plus (which is admittedly a lousy name!), it is being renamed the Parker Solar Probe in honor of a scientist.  But the article immediately reminded me of one of my favorite author’s short stories – The Golden Apples of the Sun.  It’s the name of both one of his short stories – about a manned trip to the sun to actually scoop up and bring back to earth some of the sun’s essence – as well as the anthology that includes the story.  Since Bradbury’s story pre-dates Eugene Parker’s solar scientific contributions, I think it’s at least worth considering.  Plus, The Golden Apples of the Sun is a far more beautiful name for a solar probe!

Reading Ramblings – June 4, 2017

May 28, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Pentecost Sunday – June 4, 2017

Text: Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 25:1-15; Acts 2:1-21; John 7:37-39

Context: Pentecost is the Greek word for 50th and indicates the 50th day after Passover. In the Old Testament it is referred to as the Festival of Weeks (Exodus 34:22). Pentecost was the second of three annual holidays which required all able-bodied Jewish men to come into the Lord’s presence, either outside the Tabernacle or the Temple. Pentecost was associated with the end of the grain harvest, and was a time for celebration after hard work. This was the reason for so many Jews from so many places in Acts 2. It was the perfect opportunity for the Holy Spirit to witness in power to a great many Jews, many of whom would have been present in Jerusalem for Passover and would be personally familiar with Jesus’ execution and the proclamation of the empty tomb. So it is that this crowd will be convicted of their sin and respond to Peter’s call for repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (which isn’t technically part of today’s reading but is the highlight of his sermon that we begin to hear today!).

Numbers 11:24-30 – The Holy Spirit arrives on Pentecost and ushers in a new era, in which God the Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of all of God’s people, beginning with the apostles. Until this time, the Holy Spirit only came to some people, such as the elders of Israel in this reading. Moses expressed his desire that all God’s people should be blessed with the indwelling Holy Spirit, but it wouldn’t be until 1500 years or so later that his prayer would be granted. We are blessed in a way that many of God’s people through time could only imagine. Earlier in this segment, (v.17), God indicates that He will share his spirit so that Moses does not have to bear the burden of God’s people alone. So the Holy Spirit is a means of strengthening the people of God, allowing us to share one another’s burdens. Although the Spirit’s presence is manifest by prophecy in v.25, it is important to note that this was a temporary reaction, perhaps intended as a demonstration of the newly appointed authority of these leaders. While the Holy Spirit undoubtedly still does provide prophetic insight and wisdom to some people still, it is not something that we should expect of all God’s people. God provides his good gifts according to his good will, not our personal preferences or expectations!

Psalm 25:1-15 – The psalmist expresses hope and trust in the Lord’s provision, so that he will not be overwhelmed by adversaries (vs.1-2). He bolsters this confidence by confessing that God never allows his people to be put to shame for his sake (v.3). Rather than focus on his own ways of saving himself, the psalmist asks for God to teach him, and to help him focus on God’s Word (vs.4-5) so that he is patient for God’s timing. He encourages God to answer his request based on God’s steadfast faithfulness which He has demonstrated with his people from of old (v.6). He also asks that God would forgive his sins and not hold them against him (v.7), something that might cause God to refrain from responding to his prayer. He then begins to extol the virtues of God, affirming that God does indeed lead and guide his people who seek him, and that wisdom is to be found in following God’s leading (vs.8-10). Perhaps burdened by his sins, he once again asks for forgiveness (v.11) before affirming the wisdom of following God’s leading, and the blessings that are to be found in such obedience (vs.12-14). He concludes this section of the psalm with the assertion that God will indeed rescue him from the predicament alluded to in the opening verses.

Acts 2:1-21 – I wish that we would read through all of Peter’s Pentecost sermon instead of breaking it into pieces! The Holy Spirit’s presence is indicated in ways reminiscent of God’s presence in the Old Testament, particularly Exodus 19. Luke’s description indicates a real event, with real manifestations that were both audible and visible to those gathered in the room with the disciples. We aren’t sure how many believers are there. It could be interpreted as just the twelve, based on the end of Acts 1. Or it could mean a larger assembly of all those who had come to faith in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, though that seems like an unusually large number of people for a single gathering. There are more than a dozen different ethnicities mentioned in vs. 7-11 so perhaps it is more than just the twelve who are there and are gifted with the ability to speak in tongues. Verse 14 indicates only that Peter and the other eleven disciples stand up or are already standing, perhaps at the forefront of the group, during this event. As Jesus’ inner circle it would be most appropriate for them to stand in order to bear witness and answer the questions of the crowd. The main question to be answered is not how is it that the disciples can speak in these other languages, but rather, what is the meaning of this event? God’s people recognize that there must be a reason why these uneducated men are suddenly speaking in different languages, and it is this question that Peter seeks to address in his sermon.

John 7:37-39 – The presence of the Holy Spirit is indicative of life itself. This new life in Christ is not contained within the individual but naturally flows out as an expression of love towards God and towards others. The disciples, therefore, really don’t have an option. When the Spirit moves them, they respond. When people ask them what it means, Peter steps forward to speak. These are actions motivated by love for Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. We often worry that we will be unprepared in the moment to give testimony to our faith, but we should trust that God the Holy Spirit himself will be there to give us the words!

What flows from us in faith is not simply evidence of our own life in Christ, but as we speak the Word of God and the Gospel to others, it is actually life-giving to them as well! The Word of God that goes out from us carries the power of the Holy Spirit to bring life to the one who hears. While we may find our words inadequate or awkward, the Holy Spirit can use them as the source of life.

Movie Review: The Book of Eli

May 24, 2017

I’ve wanted to see The Book of Eli for some time.  I’m a fan of post-apocalyptic films and on a long trans-Atlantic flight recently I had the opportunity to finally watch it.  Visually it’s impressive.  The fight scenes are brutal and sparse.   Characters are basic and two-dimensional, but the acting is fine if not exquisite.  I felt like Gary Oldman was re-channeling his Zorg character from The Fifth Element, but that’s fine as well.

My interest was piqued by the centrality of the Bible in the movie.  Denzel Washington’s character, Eli, possesses a very rare commodity – a Bible.  Most Bibles were wiped out after the nuclear holocaust, viewed widely as a leading contributor to the catastrophe.  Eli is on a mission to deliver the Bible to the West Coast for reasons not altogether clear even to himself.  Oldman’s character, Carnegie, is the tyrant of a small town and has been searching in vain for a Bible for some time.  Both men need and want the Bible, but their reasons differ.  Eli needs and wants the Bible to give it away, believing that in doing so, he is contributing to humanity.  Carnegie needs and wants the Bible as the ultimate tool of coercion and control of the masses.

Fascinating interplay, but I was disappointed but the very shallow treatment of Scripture in the movie.  Oh, don’t worry, there are a few verses scattered throughout .  But I mean the overall understanding of the importance of the Bible is lacking.  Both characters see the Bible as the single-most important book on earth.  But Carnegie sees it only as a means to control others, not understanding the source of this power which ultimately would undermine what he hoped to accomplish with it.  And Eli thinks the Bible basically says “to do more for others than you do for yourself”, without recognizing that such a message could hardly be responsible for nuclear annihlation.

The movie gets it right – the Bible is the single-most dangerous and subversive book in all of human history.  But it fails to really take this seriously and explore what that means and why.  It presents both Eli’s faith and Carnegie’s utilitarianism as relative equals.  One is nicer than the other, but both are viable responses to the book.  Both basically use the Bible for personal ends – one is more altruistic at first blush but Eli is just as ready to defend his faith – which he has barely any grasp of – and use of the book as Carnegie is.  Is that really altruism?

The Bible is dangerous and subversive to any institution of power or control as it removes all authority to God.  Both Eli and Carnegie can’t make sense of this beyond their own limited perceptions.  We are not free to do things as we see fit.  We are responsible to a Creator who will judge us, as Eli whispers to a thug he has just severely roughed up.  It’s phenomenal to me that the writers/directors could think that Eli could be wandering westward for 30 years, reading the Bible every single day, willing to defend it with his life, yet completely unaware of the true power and story it contains.  It’s baffling that someone could see the Bible as dangerous simply for saying be nice to each other.  The Bible goes well beyond that – to demonstrate that we can’t even do that one little thing, and that we are dying because of our failure, a failure we can’t overcome on our own no matter how much we might attempt to.

It’s an interesting post-apocalyptic movie but it had the potential to be so much more, and there were brief moments I thought it might succeed.

Back in the Saddle

May 23, 2017

For the past month I’ve led my family on an international exploration.  Over 30 days we were in ten different countries working with five different languages (six if you include Swiss German) traveling by plane, train, automobile, bus, boat and on foot.  We visited 20 different people and while I haven’t calculated the total distance we covered yet, I’m estimating that including the flights to and from the US West Coast, we’re a bit over 15,000 miles.  We saved four years to make this a reality, planned and executed every step of it on our own, and had an amazing experience that will stay with us the rest of our lives.  It was exhilarating and exhausting, every bit as fantastic as we imagined and better than we could have hoped.  We are grateful to God, friends, family, and all those who prayed for us and helped to make it a reality.

But now we’re home so I’ll start writing again.  Talk more with you soon!

Reading Ramblings – Ascension Day (Observed) – May 28, 2017

May 21, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Ascension Sunday ~ May 28, 2017

Texts: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

Context: Technically this is the Seventh Sunday of Easter, and Ascension is actually Thursday May 25. But I’ve made it a habit in recent years to follow the readings for Ascension Day on Sunday. Otherwise, the Ascension of Christ gets omitted from the liturgical cycle completely. Rather than move directly from the Resurrection to Pentecost Sunday, I think it’s critical to spend a Sunday contemplating the Ascension.

Ascension answers the question of where our Lord and Savior is now. Is He still roaming the earth resurrected, appearing to people unawares like the disciples on the road to Emmaus? No. He is at the right hand of the Father. Is Jesus in my heart? No, He is at the right hand of the Father. Has He abandoned us? No. He promised to send the Holy Spirit after his Ascension (John 14:15-31). It is the Holy Spirit who abides with me and makes my heart his home in a way I cannot begin to understand, but trust implicitly. As such I have two advocates on my behalf before God the Father – God the Holy Spirit within me and God the Son in the presence of God the Father. I don’t need Jesus’ mother or saints or dearly departed loved ones to pray to on my behalf – 2/3 of the Godhead are already doing this!

The Ascension also reminds me that I am waiting for something other than death – I await the return of my Lord. This is to be the anchor and focal point of my life. As He has gone, so He will return. Come Lord Jesus, come.

Acts 1:1-11 – Luke’s depiction of the Ascension is a slightly more detailed account than the one he provides in the 24th chapter of his gospel. Luke wrote a two-part account of the Christian people (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3), organizing it into one part detailing the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ and the other part detailing the history of the Christian church following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. The Ascension becomes the logical break point and unifying point of these two distinct but inseparable stories.

Jesus’ disciples expect now that He has been miraculously raised from the dead, Jesus will usher in his kingdom in power immediately (v.6). But this is not the case. What He accomplished in overcoming death must be told to others, so that they might come to faith in him as well. This will be accomplished in stages – starting in Jerusalem, the center-point of God’s covenant people, then extending outwards to all the Promised Land and then to the world beyond. This is the task of the Church – to bear witness to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and to disciple people in the implications of this reality for their lives today.

Psalm 47 – A victory psalm that proclaims the sovereignty of God. Very appropriate as we continue to reflect upon our Lord’s victory over our ancient enemies of Satan, sin, and death! The Ascension is part of this victory. Jesus accomplished everything that He was sent to. He now awaits God the Father’s perfect timing to usher in the kingdom of heaven in power and glory throughout all of creation. Yet we, the faithful, already perceive this kingdom, already live within it, are already citizens of it through baptismal faith, and already sing the praises of our King! God does not reign at some indeterminate time in the future – He reigns now, and one day all of creation will see what we see by faith to be true as evidenced in the resurrection of the Son of God.

Ephesians 1:15-23 – Paul beautifully elaborates on the reign of God celebrated in Psalm 47. The full glory of God is made evident in the resurrection and ascension of his Son, Jesus the Christ. Jesus already sits in glory, already exalted over every other principality and power of creation, already sovereign and supreme by virtue of his perfect obedience, even to death. Not everyone recognizes his authority or respects it, but this is a temporary state of affairs, indicative of rebellious arrogance or willful blindness. What we, the faithful already receive and experience will one day be made clear to everyone, even those who would prefer to remain blind to the reality of Jesus’ sovereignty.

Luke 24:44-53 – Luke summarizes Jesus’ final days with his disciples after his resurrection. Although Luke is not one of the twelve disciples, he knows at least some of them firsthand and therefore has access to their memory of events. Jesus provides his disciples with the ability to understand Scripture – meaning the Old Testament – as a preview and pointer to himself and his work. What the leaders of God’s people were unable to see or refused to see is made clear to these simple and relatively uneducated men. The substance of this revelation is not generic or non-specific, but particularly related to Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection on behalf of humanity for the forgiveness of sins. His disciples witnessed these events in his life but did not of their own accord understand them, certainly not within the context of Scripture.

The work of the Holy Spirit continues to be that of opening the minds of the faithful to the truthfulness of Scripture in regards to the accomplishment of the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth. So it is appropriate that faithful men and women continue to dedicate their lives to the study and interpretation of God’s Word. As well, it seems clear that we should expect the Holy Spirit’s revelatory work to continue to be directly linked to and centered upon Holy Scripture, rather than some sort of new and unprecedented revelation. The Holy Spirit needn’t reveal something new to us. What is necessary is contained in the Word of God referring to the Word of God made flesh. While there may be much that we would like to know, what we have is sufficient (John 20:30-31, 21:25).

As such, we should make the study of God’s Word an important aspect of the life of faith rather than relying on unsubstantiated and spurious leadings of the Holy Spirit – which might actually not be the Holy Spirit’s leadings or teachings. We should expect that what the Holy Spirit reveals to us will be directly related to the Word of God passed down to us, and certainly not in any contradiction to this Word.

Jesus is not merely risen, He is ascended. He is not simply ascended, He is returning. This is what we look forward to. This is the conclusion that we are to center our lives around, not the other miscellaneous events that so often cloud and complicate and clutter our horizons. It isn’t marriage or children or retirement or death that are the endpoints we anticipate, but rather our Lord’s return.