Starbuck’s of the New Testament

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Read Acts 17:16-34

 The Areopagus (Mars Hill) in Athens, Greece

I’m fascinated by culture-observers (for the most part).  Some culture-observers irritate me, however, because they seem to focus only on outward circumstances, the surfacy points of reference – the latest fashion, phone, trend of this, that or the other.

Digging around the fertile soil of the ancient land and writings:

I was captivated some time ago by a culture-observer named Paul.  You may know him better as the Apostle Paul.  Yeah, the guy in the Bible who “went toward the light” and got knocked on his kiester (and that was a good thing!).

During his journeys he was dropped off for a short season in Athens, Greece.  Been there lately?  Beautiful city not far from the Mediterranean, favorite tourist haunt, birthplace of the Olympics.  You know the place.

Paul was greatly distressed in his spirit as he did a walkabout.  It was recorded that he “observed” Athens with all of its idols, shrines and even a statue to An Unknown God.  This word “observe” could also be translated – examine, look closely, study.  Paul quickly became a student of the Athenian culture and all of its trappings, subtleties and nuances.  His heart became broken for them.

Next thing he knew, he found himself at the Areopagus.  What in the world is an Areopagus?  Sounds like an extinct dinosaur.  Nope.  Let’s let the Bible describe what it was – “Now all the Athenians and strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21).  Humph?  Sound familiar?

Paul used his observations as “springboards” of discussion and tied together many God-thoughts and insights, delivering them to the culture influencers.  He wanted to be a messenger of hope. Notice that some believed, some mocked and some said they wanted to talk further. 

Places of cultural influence.  That is how I’d describe many of our local Starbuck’s, Seattle’s Best or Caribou or whatever your local expression of a coffee shop would be.  Next time you’re at your local coffee shop, look closely and observe the types of conversation and communication taking place.

My point?  These meeting places, similar to the Areopagus, have become some of our key points of influence in culture today.

 Application to your situation in life?

  • Take time to slow down and observe your surroundings.
  • Take time to see the people and their hearts, not just a sea of faces.
  • Allow God to move your heart in the way His heart is moved for our world!
  • Be intentional about intersecting at key points in your culture.
  • Ask God to give you some “springboard” ideas with which to initiate a discussion that could lead to spiritual things.
  • Bathe every day in prayer and ask God to help you be sensitive so as to be a life-giver to those who need to know The Way, The Truth and The Life. (John 14:6)

The culture needs to know and see the “grounds” of our faith!

“Staying in Step…”

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Read Psalm 37, esp. vs. 23

I can’t say that I always appreciated my Jewish upbringing.  But, ever since I became a follower of Jesus understanding the Hebraic backdrop of Scripture has been monumental in my life.  Not only did Jesus use practical object lessons in nature, etc. but He also spoke of things in context of the Old Testament backdrop so that listeners would get it.

Let’s dig around the fertile soil of the Old Testament:

If you ever have an opportunity while in Israel to tour the Old City, make sure you get to the Southern Steps of the Temple Mount.  It actually is one of the rare locations where we can say literally that Jesus walked there.  While a good portion of First Century Jerusalem is well underground, such is not the case with the Southern Steps.  They’ve been wonderfully preserved since the First Century.

On one of our trips to Israel we had been taking a break from some excellent but intense teaching regarding Jesus’ ministry around the Temple area when our tour guide through in a nugget for free!

He asked us to notice that the steps leading up to the wall at the Southern Steps were actually irregular in structure.  Most of us are used to steps that are all the same length, height and width. Not so, these steps.  He pointed out from Jewish culture that some are a wider steps than others.  Some are thinner than others.

What was the point?  The steps were constructed in such a way that as worshipper ascended to the Temple Mount they would have to pay attention to where they were stepping.  There are fifteen wide steps out of the total and some suggest that they may have been one of the locations where pilgrims sang the fifteen Psalms of Ascent (120-34) as they went up to worship.

Each step would keep them in the rhythm of the Psalm.  This process would literally force them to keep their focus on the lyrics of the psalms and thus, stay in step with God’s truth.

So, how does this apply to your situation right now?

  • The main reason worshippers could simultaneously walk the steps and sing the Psalms is because they had committed them to memory.  The lyrics became part of their life.  How are we doing with meditating on the Word and even memorizing it?  Is the Word becoming part of our life?  (I’m asking myself the same question.  Boy, am I on the hotseat.)
  • God has a perfect rhythm for our life.  He doesn’t want us to get ahead, yet He doesn’t want us to lag behind – He wants us to keep in step with Him.
  • Dare I say that this rhythm is different for each person?  Maybe this is where we get the idea, “That person is marching to the beat of a different drummer”.  That’s not always bad.  In fact, it could be very liberating to discover your own rhythm with God and not worry what someone else’s rhythm is like.

As you trust Him, stay in step with God’s plan for YOU!

A Pressing Engagement

(For more information about Stan, go to www.stankellner.com.)

(Read Matt. 26:36-44)

 

I was totally awe-struck the first time I entered the beautiful garden area.  A cool breeze was blowing through the olive trees, which in some cases, are 1000-1500 years old.  A holy silence ran through the area.  I found it hard to believe that this place, The Garden of Gethsemane, was the place where Jesus felt more fully the weight of the world on His shoulders.

I so often forget the details of the account.  Not once, not twice but three times Jesus pleaded with the Father about letting the cup pass from Him.  The cup referred to is what we now call the Cup of Wrath. 

How could a place of such peace at one time in history function as the place of the most anguish one man will ever feel in the history of the world? 

How striking that Jesus would come to this place of all places.  You see, Gethsemane literally translated means, “a place for pressing oils”.  Now, what in the world would an oil press have to do with what our Messiah, Jesus, went through on that most horrific night?

Talk about truth from the rich, fertile soil of the Old Testament

Olive trees, olives, olive oil – these all form the backbone of life in Ancient Israel.  From the Olive trees are derived food, oil for lamps, wood for building, anointing of kings.  The list goes on.  A pretty important commodity in Israel.

What’s fascinating is the process from which the oil is derived.  Bunches of olives are place in a circular, carved out stone.  A very heavy circular stone is placed on top of the olives and this stone is pushed around the main stone vat by a donkey.  Round and round the crushing goes. 

Just when you think you are finished, the donkey goes around again, and perhaps, again and again.  The goal was to literally squeeze every last drop out of the olives, since they were in such high demand.  (Maxwell House coffee has nothing on this!)

Each time Jesus goes to the Father to pray, it’s like that much more is being pressed out of Jesus.  He was pouring out His soul on behalf of mankind.  He goes back the second time and that much more is squeezed out.  He goes back for yet a third time and “every last drop” is squeezed out of Jesus before He is arrested.

I can’t begin to imagine the anguish as Jesus was literally submitting Himself to the Oil Press of Sin and Judgment.  He had the cross to go yet. But I believe this was the point in the process where Jesus was literally emptied out so that He could more fully take on the role of substitute, sin-bearer, the Lamb led to slaughter.

Are you facing your own “pressing engagement”?  Are you finding yourself in a situation where it feels like your very life is being squeezed out of you?  Perhaps you are finding yourself at your own Garden of Gethsemane experience.

How can we apply this to our situation right now?

  • Thankfully, God is a big God and He can handle any and every question we throw His way.  He loves us and wants us to be honest with Him.
  • He knows that the more He empties me of myself, the more He can fill my life.  Reminds me of John the Baptist’s quote – “I must decrease…He must increase”.
  • What ever, and I mean, what ever you and I face in life, we must remind ourselves that Jesus is our High Priest who can sympathize with every pain we face.  He’s been there!

While God is pressing on us, He is also impressing in us!

God’s Beautiful Embroidery Work

(Dedicated to those in the challenging arena of life issues.  You serve in Pregnancy Centers, counsel on sidewalks, speak up as  government officials, pray without ceasing.  As we finish January, Sanctity of Human Life Month, I wanted to chime in with one more reminder of why you do what you do and do it so sacrificially!)

Read Psalm 139, but especially vs. 15

Wow!  Pretty awesome and intricate embroidery example pictured above.  At first, I thought it was a painting.  But nope! It’s embroidery.   

Embroidery is quite the fascinating art form.  Take a moment and think about how detailed the work, how gifted the embroiderer, the plan in mind, the beautiful outcome that reflects the mind and heart of the gifted embroidery artist.

Thoughts about embroidery draw me back to the rich soil of the Old Testament to a place where we find a very interesting example of this art form.  Turn to Psalm 139:15. It would bless you greatly to read the whole Psalm today, to remind you of God’s care for you.  But, for this blog post let’s focus on vs. 15:

“My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth.”

Did you catch it?  Skillfully wrought.  Some translations say, “woven together” or “intricately knit together”.  The word in Hebrew is Raw-kahm which means to variegate, mix colors.  Okay, I didn’t know what “variegate” meant either.  It’s the word used in the Hebrew lexicon.  Webster’s defines it this way –

to diversify in external appearance especially with different colors.

God chose such a marvelous way to have the Psalmist describe what every human being experiences – life in the womb.  We are told that in the womb we were intricately and beautifully embroidered with each passing day.  Wow!  What a picture! 

This truth was unbelievably driven home to me some years ago when I serving as head of a Pregnancy Medical Group.  One of our donors was a post-doctoral fellow with a major pharmaceutical company and served on the team that developed a well-known arthritis medicine.

We went to lunch one day and were chatting about life issues and particularly the awesome nature of ultrasound images.  During this discussion, he explained his work – microcellular biological research.  He made the comment that with today’s technology, he can see each and every cell.  Not only that but he can watch them in action – they know what they’re supposed to do; when they’re supposed to do it; with whom they are to interact, etc.

He went on to comment on how many of his colleagues around the U.S., many of whom are atheists or agnostics, are being challenged to their very core.  Could this embroidery, this intricate detail really be the product of evolution?  If not, is there actually a Creator of this whole picture?  If so, how would I find out who He is?

When one looks at an ultrasound image of a developing baby, you quickly recognize it isn’t just a mass of tissue without feelings, form or purpose.  There is a little life being formed in that womb – a life that is unique, intricately woven, filled with purpose and destined to make an impact on their world!

21st Century Applications?

  • Next time you are doubting that God cares for you, read Psalm 139, especially vs. 15.
  • Since God took time to intricately weave you in the womb, be encouraged that in your life right now, no matter what you are facing – God is intricately weaving all for good.
  • Contact your local pregnancy center and pray about volunteering, donating, praying for them.  Speak up for life, get involved at the polls, get informed, impact your world!

Your in good hands…with the Ultimate Embroiderer!

“In the Eye of the Hurricane”

Blog purpose – to dig around in the rich fertile soil of the Old Testament and draw out relevant, practical applications for 21st Century living.

Read Lamentations 3:22-23

Just what is the “eye of the hurricane”?  

The eye is a region of mostly calm weather found at the center of strong tropical cyclones.  In other words, it is a place in the middle of a fierce cyclone or hurricane where it is eerily quiet and calm.

In the midst of a crazy storm, there is actually a place of peace or calm.  Sound like your day or mine?  Things are out of control; yet in the midst of the chaos a peace overtakes you.  A peace that passes all understanding.  

Before we delve into the fertile soil of the Old Testament, I’d like to give you a quick view into Hebrew writing style and symbols. Acrostics were a very popular form in the ancient days that helped in memorizing and/or passing on truth to the next generation. 

Examples?  Proverbs 31:10-31 talking about the virtuous woman.  If you were to view this passage in the Hebrew language, you would notice that there are 22 traits described.  There also happens to be 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet.  So, as moms would teach their daughters about being a virtuous woman, they would literally be teaching them the ABCs or, better yet, the ABGs (Aleph Bet Gimmels) of how to be that type of woman.

Psalm 119 is another great example – 22 sections of 8 verses.  Each verse in each section begins with the same letter of the alphabet.  In other words, all verses in the first section begin with the letter “Aleph”, all verses in the second section with the letter “Bet” and so on.  How cool is that?

Another place where an acrostic is found is the book of Lamentations.  Open to Lamentations.  Okay, before I give it away, what do you notice about the structure of the five chapters?  I’m waiting.  Don’t worry; I’ve got plenty of time.  Take a look.

Yup.  You’re right.  Five chapters in the book.  Chapters 1, 2, 4 and 5 each have 22 verses. 

So, what does that mean?  Each verse in those chapters begins with one of the Hebrew letters of the alphabet.  

Notice anything different about the third chapter?  Bingo.  There are 66 verses, made up of 3 sections of 22.  Yup!  Each section contains the whole alphabet as the beginning letter for each verse.

Why an acrostic in Lamentations?  The book was written as a way to express national grief after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.  Perhaps God wanted Israel to have an easy way commit to memory the truth about their storm but also His presence in the midst of that storm.

I find it quite fascinating that Lamentations 3:22-23, some of the most encouraging verses of the Bible, are found where?  Smack dab in the middle of a book of Israel’s lamenting.  Where is the eye of the hurricane?  Smack dab in the middle of a chaotic, destructive storm.

What are some 21st Century applications?

  • Storms are inevitable.  No matter how we pray or hope or wish, often times God teaches us huge lessons during times of storms.
  • Even in the greatest storms of your life, there is a place of uncanny, unfathomable peace – resting next to God’ heart.
  • This peace in the middle of the storm isn’t cooked up by our PMA (Positive Mental Attitude).  No, it is the power and presence of God in your life.
  • Right now, you may be in the midst of your biggest storm ever.  Know that even there, peace is available – Philippians 4:6-7; John 16:33.
  • 

    God’s eye is on you in the eye of the storm!

 

 

 

“Buying up EVERY opportunity”

(Blog Post by Stan Kellner – www.stankellner.com)

Read Ephesians 5:16

As a follow up to my post last week “To Life, To Life, L’Chaim…” I want to continue mulling over the idea of being fully engaged in all that God has for us – whether it’s good, bad or ugly.  (Amazing how a crazy Clint Eastwood movie title has become such an all-encompassing catch phrase.   Also reminds me of the folks that say, “Watch out!  It’s going to get ugly!!)

Just in case you haven’t discovered by now – life isn’t always pretty.  Thankfully, it isn’t always bad or ugly either.  But, remember about L’Chaim – a full measure of joy and sorrow; a life fully engaged in the midst of both successes and failures.  That’s all part of the whole Megillah. (Hebrew word for “scroll” and specifically relates to the scroll of Esther; modern day meaning, similar to “the whole enchilada!”)

So, this brings me to the title of my blog post – “Buying up EVERY opportunity”.  As some translations say it, “Redeeming the time…” or “Making the most of every opportunity”.  I like the idea of buying maybe because I’m Jewish (Oy, such a deal I have for you!).  No, but seriously, the idea of buying brings with it the idea of depleting my resources so as to gain something special.  Sort of like God emptying me out for the sake of serving Him.

Making the most of every opportunity – you failed recently? Then squeeze that experience for all it’s worth; broken relationship?  what could you have done different (if anything).  A recent success? how did it happen?  What good principles did you apply” Who’s getting the glory – you or God?

While life has certainly dealt its harsh blows at time, I’m still a hopeless optimist (but now with a twinge of pessimism firmly planted).  Not a bad combo as far as I’m concerned.  I still hope for the best in a situation, in people, etc. but recognize that isn’t always going to be the case.

As my mom and I talked over the years (she passed on back in 2002) she would tell me that I was always in the thick of things.  I remember when my older sister had friends over, it wasn’t hard to find me standing right in the middle causing some type of trouble or cracking jokes. 

I have this insatiable sense that if I close my eyes just for a minute I’m going to miss something important.  (Yes, I do sleep at night and quite nicely thank you very much).

Side note – I heard a joke about one mogul talking to another.  So, Abie, how do you sleep at night?  Abie answered, “I sleep just like a baby.  I wake up every two hours and cry!”

Okay back to the original thought.  I have this sense that when I came out of the womb my first words were, “Okay, world, what did I miss?”

My point in all this?

All of us face the challenges of life to varying degrees.  Some handle them better than others.  However, how are any of us doing when it comes to engaging fully (that L’Chaim principle”) in the day God has given us rather than obsessing over what’s going to happen tomorrow, the next day or the next week? Yeah, I don’t like my answer either.

Key application points:

  • Opportunities are everywhere.  Take time to notice.  You don’t have to change the world for another person but how about changing their day!
  • We all have our pre-judgments concerning people we deal with every day.  Some we like to be around, some we like to avoid.  How about stepping out of your comfort zone by reaching out to someone “unlovely” and “unloveable”?  Last I checked, “God so loved THE WORLD…”
  • Okay, I’ll say it – I know Politics and Religion are the big taboos.  How about reaching across the “boundary line” and honestly engaging with those who don’t believe the way you do.  Not necessarily to change their mind but maybe just to understand where they are coming from.  Last I checked, we all bleed the same color.
  • Finally, I dare you to make it a daily prayer.  “Lord, help me to have my eyes, ears and heart open today that I might encourage someone who is in need.”

I’ll never forget the line from the movie Joe vs. the Volcano, where Meg Ryan is quoting her dad –

My father says almost the whole world’s asleep.  Everybody you know, everybody you see, everybody you talk to.  He says only a few people are awake.  And they live in a state of constant total amazement!

Are you awake?  Do you live in constant total amazement regarding how many opportunities God has given each of us in our daily lives; opportunities to change someone’s day, maybe just a little.  I pray so!

 

 

“To Life! To Life, L’Chaim”

(Blog post by Stan Kellner – www.stankellner.com)

Read John 10:1-10, esp. vs. 10

Remember the part in Fiddler on the Roof…wait a minute.  You haven’t seen it yet?  How shameful of you.  What would your mother think?

Quick, go to Netflix, download it, watch it, then come back to my blog post.  Just kidding.

But what I’m not kidding about is the awesomeness of the movie, Fiddler on the Roof.  So many moments, so many poignant thoughts.  Oy Vey!  What’s not to like?

One of my favorite parts is the scene where Tevya and Lazar Wolf struck a deal about Tevya’s daughter.  They lifted up the glass and sang “To Life, to Life, L’Chaim, L’Chaim, L’Chaim, to Life…” (You can view it on YouTube – just type in “to life l’chaim Fiddler on the Roof”)

Okay, first, a little Hebrew lesson.  (By the way, I know a little Hebrew.  He owns a tailor shop down the street!)  Okay, okay. Back to the lesson.

L’chaim.  Chaim is pronounced – cha – yeem.  How do I explain the “Ch” sound?  It’s like the “ch” in the German word “Achtung” – guttural, throat-clearing.  The root word in Hebrew is Chai – pronounced “chy” like, “Chy, how ya doin’?” (tee hee)

Chaim is the plural form of Chai.  So, as Chai generally means “to live”; Chaim tends toward the meaning of living a multitude of days or a full life. The “L'” on the front of a Hebrew word means “to”.  So, L’Chaim – to living a full life.

Thus, the reference to John 10:10 – “I have come that they may have life and life more abundantly”.  Abundant life.  Full life.  A full experience.  My cup runneth over.

I want to be careful not to step on too many toes of some TV preachers but abundant life doesn’t necessarily equal how much financial wealth someone has, how many cars, houses, toys, etc.  I’m not dissing those to whom God has blest that way. 

But the modern-day application of this term has been born out, especially as I know from my Jewish heritage, with life that has been oft lived in a ghetto setting or in the shadow of a cruel dictator or whatever.

The point being is this concept of full life or abundance goes MUCH deeper than material possessions or life circumstances.  It hits straight to the heart.  It strikes to the very core of our being.

L’Chaim is a phrase used in all kinds of Jewish settings.  It is often repeated at weddings, even funerals, Bar Mitzvahs, Shabbat (Sabbath) or all kinds of other get togethers or special events.  In our upbringing we would say it after having some Manischevitz wine (even though to this day I’d much prefer a nice White Merlot by Beringer…but that’s a whole different topic).  It’s much like the word “Salut” in the French language.

Okay, let’s dig a little deeper to see how it relates to you and me today, this idea of a full life or abundant life.

A key part of the Jewish wedding ceremony comes when the couple drinks from two separate cups of wine – the cup of joy and the cup of sorrow.  They can’t just drink from one or the other.  They both must drink from both cups.

The symbolism?  They can only experience full or abundant life when they experience a full measure of both good and ill in their lives. 

Scripture even tells us that all good makes us think we can do it on our own.  (Read Deuteronomy 8:11-20)  All ill can bring bitterness to the heart.  (Read Job 7:11)  A proper mixture of both reminds us of the fact that both the joys of life and the sorrows of life are allowed by Almighty God, our Abba who cares deeply for us.

So, as we journey through 2011, what are some of the take aways of this post?

  • GOD is sovereign, not YOU or ME.
  • Whether He allows it or causes it, both good and ill will come to the life of a follower of God.  (check out Lamentations 3:38 but also don’t miss 3:22-23)
  • If you are experiencing good times, be sure to give God all the glory for His blessings.
  • If you are experiencing ill times (as so many are in the U.S.), work hard to see God’s hand in your life.  Boy, do I know this one!
  • Give thanks IN all things.  (I Thessalonians 5:18).  This has been the toughest one for me during this most recent journey.
  • “To Life” brings with it the idea of celebration.  In the midst of your challenges, take time to notice moments that you can celebrate. 

My recent moment of celebration

  • Just today, as I crafted this blog post, I noticed an unbelievably red cardinal sitting on a branch in our backyard with the backdrop of freshly fallen white snow here in Ohio.  What a stark but beautiful contrast and evidence of God’s handiwork in His creation.  If He cares that much about a cardinal and snow, think how much He cares for YOU and ME.

So, to the snow and to the red cardinal I say, “L’Chaim!”