24 October 2013

When Hanukkah meets Thanksgiving

When Hanukkah meets Thanksgiving by bobmendo
When Hanukkah meets Thanksgiving, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.   “Delivered from Fear: a Jewish Thanksgiving Story”

by Robin Joseph Blaha, guest writer

I know that most people don’t think of Thanksgiving as a Jewish holiday. But I always will. That’s because during Thanksgiving weekend 1973, I experienced the most wonderful, most mind-boggling—and most Jewish—moment of my entire life. It made me truly thankful on that Thanksgiving and every day since.
Believe me, what happened that weekend was as big a shock to me as it probably will be to you when you read about it. But, as they say, let me start at the beginning . . .

Born in Chicago in 1951 into a Jewish home, I am the oldest of five—four girls and a boy. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. My dad was part owner of Joseph Electronics with his brothers and father. Later he sold his portion of the business and became a stamp dealer.
Being Jewish was important to me but didn't have much to do with God. It was mainly about holidays we kept as opposed to holidays our gentile friends kept. I did like getting out of school on the High Holidays, and we attended temple once in a while on those occasions. The services didn't mean anything to me, though, and at times I had an irreverent attitude at temple. The most memorable holiday was Passover at Grandma's house. She made all the traditional foods from scratch and I loved seeing cousins at that time. We did light candles at Hanukkah and sang the blessing over the candles, but again, God wasn't a part of it.
In my early childhood I was plagued with fear. Although my parents were always there, they weren’t “there for me” emotionally, so I dealt with my fears alone. When I was fifteen, I started experimenting with alcohol, and my fear slowly gave way to rebellion. I began lying to my parents and going places they didn’t want me to go. I became a thief (stealing from my employer) and a shoplifter. By the time I was eighteen I couldn’t wait to leave home.
When my sister Judy’s Jewish friend Joann told her that Joann’s brother was at a communal farm, we decided to check it out. We knew the farm was near Freeport, just a couple of hours west of Chicago, but we never got directions. We tried to hitchhike to the farm, couldn’t find it, kept on going and ended up in Berkeley, California! There we tried LSD, and Judy nearly died. Fortunately, the LSD had no effect on me. We had to call our dad, and he wired us money to fly back home.
Nevertheless, I continued my rebellious lifestyle, which spiraled out of control. I became promiscuous, a drug abuser and an alcoholic. I should have died a number of times because of how I was living. My adolescence and young adulthood were so filled with confusion and rebellion that I don't remember even thinking about my Jewish identity. I do remember that I did not believe in an afterlife but believed, “When you're dead, you're dead.”
In the meantime, Judy had found her way to the farm. It turns out that the farm was a kibbutz-like community of believers who used the name Y'shua to worship Messiah, kept Shabbat and celebrated the Hebrew feasts. Judy learned about Y’shua (Jesus) and came to believe in him as the Jewish Messiah. When the pastor and his wife prayed for her, all of the bad effects from her LSD trip came to an end.
I was living in Ohio in 1973 and went home for Thanksgiving. Judy and my sister Lynne started telling me about Jesus and how he had changed their lives. Although I thought they were crazy, when they invited me to a local meeting that weekend, I went. The preacher was talking about the return of Christ and that we all needed to have our hearts right with him before he returned. I really didn’t understand what he was talking about because I had never heard of Jesus Christ before, except as a swear word. I had no idea that “Christ” was the Greek word for Messiah. But I knew I was not right with God.
When we got home, my sisters kept telling me I needed to be “saved.” Because they were new believers, they couldn’t really explain to me how. Finally Lynne quoted John 3:16 to me with my name in it: “For God so loved Robin, that he gave his only Son, that if she would believe in him she would not perish but have everlasting life.” In that moment I experienced a miracle. God himself revealed to me that this was true. God loved ME! He gave his son to die for ME! I began weeping and thanking him for loving me. Intellectually I didn’t understand yet, but I believed. I was “born again,” a new creature, as the New Testament describes it in that same chapter, three, of the Gospel of John [link to John 3:1-8]. Jesus had died to pay the penalty for my sin and I was forgiven.
Looking back, I realize that God had been drawing me to himself. I had some idols, and God had been tearing them down one by one. One of them was Neil Young. When I went to see him in concert, as the fans were calling out requests, he told them to shut up. I also idolized my friend's boyfriend—until I saw him scared and running for his life. God even used the movie Soylent Green to show me how bad the world was.
But that same weekend, immediately my parents took me to the rabbi’s office (as they had with Judy) so he could talk me out of my new faith. After he was done talking, I went out into the hallway of the temple and declared, “I believe Y’shua is the Messiah!” I don’t know if anyone heard me, but I knew it was true. After the weekend, I drove Judy back to the farm. The people there more fully explained to me all that Jesus had done. One week later I moved in.
God instantly delivered me from destructive habits such as drinking, smoking, drugs, promiscuity and swearing. The farm was a wonderful place for a broken person to mend. We learned to worship God, to love one another and to work together. A young man Steve had already been there three years, and in 1980 we were married. We have two children, Dan and Sharon, both now adults, and four beautiful grandchildren.
Through the years God has continually been working on me in other areas such as fear and anxiety. In every situation I have learned to trust that he truly loves me and is taking care of me. I have known him for 40 years and he is still changing me. When I do wrong, he makes me aware of it; I want to repent and stay right with him.
Steve and I own a reading clinic which we operate from our home. My workday involves one-on-one teaching of students who are either struggling with reading in school or who want to get a good start before going to school. My faith plays a very important role in what I do. I pray for my students, especially those with special needs.
God has brought me through many difficulties and has caused me to grow with each one. He is a most faithful loving Father. Slowly but surely he has delivered me from all my fears.

16 October 2013

When Israelis Encounter Yeshua (Jesus)

Some of the reactions of Israelis is not unlike the reactions of Jews in Australia, Germany, Russia, and everywhere. The issue of Yeshua is certainly central to many of us, and coming onto the radar of many. We hope this video will assist you in sorting things out, and in determining, "Who is that man?"

Breaking Bad... evaluated

breaking-bad-blog-600w by bobmendo
breaking-bad-blog-600w, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.
Guest writer: Andrew Barron

I got hooked on Breaking Bad this past summer when I read an interview with the show's creator. He said something like, it was hard for him to believe in heaven, but it was harder not to believe in hell. I have been following the 'chemistry-teacher-turned-methamphetamine-kingpin" up to its conclusion last night. It has been a riveting ride.

I was fascinated by the lead character, Walter White. He is a complicated man whose behavior always kept me guessing. Both a villain and a dupe, his actions were disgraceful and pitiable. He was capable of intentional malevolence and violence as well as sensitivity and charity. His bout with cancer made him a cancer on all he came to know.

After watching five seasons of this Emmy award-winning series, I found myself haunted by the question: "Under the right circumstances am I capable of the same?" "Could I be Walter White?"

Holocaust Survivor Yeheil Dinur would say yes. Dinur testified at the Eichmann Trial in 1961. After his opening statement DeNur fainted and was subsequently unable to resume his testimony. A film clip from Eichmann's 1961 trial showed Dinur walking into the courtroom only to see Eichmann for the first time since Auschwitz. The clip shows Dinur crying hysterically and then collapsing.

Dinur later explained that he saw Eichmann in a simple business suit for the first time. He was not the godlike army officer who had sent so many to their deaths. This Eichmann was an ordinary man. "I was afraid about myself," said Dinur. "... I saw that I am capable to do this. I am ... exactly like he. Eichmann is in all of us."

Breaking Bad has placed something steadfastly punitive at the core of its world: the dreadfulness of getting what we deserve - a world of law, barren of grace. The only way Walter White could ever be redeemed is the same way any of us whom the law pronounces broken and bad are - by restoration through God's good grace.

10 October 2013

Gravitational pull

Gravitational pull by bobmendo
Gravitational pull, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.
I like my grandson. I think of him a lot these days. He's only two years old and lives in the US, but we see each other now and then. This day I was taking his photo he was playing with sand in a sandbox. And discovering so much about life and sand and gravity. I liked what I saw. I think he liked what he learned that day. Gravity works. And things fall to the ground.

Tonight I saw the new movie out this year named Gravity. It stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, who are the only actors to play visible roles in the film. Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone who is a mission specialist on her first space shuttle mission, STS-157, accompanied by the commander of the shuttle, astronaut Matt Kowalski, played by Clooney. During a spacewalk to service the Hubble Telescope, Houston warns Stone and Kowalski that a satellite has been damaged causing all kinds of space matter to fly and that they must abort their mission.

The rest of the movie is the story of survival when the parts of that old satellite begin hitting the shuttle and then other outposts in space.

I liked the movie. I liked the cast. I liked the sense of wonder I experienced. The Variety writer Justin Chang posted that the film "restores a sense of wonder, terror and possibility to the bigscreen that should inspire awe among critics and audiences worldwide."

You can't however get away from the final scene which I will not give away. NO need for a spoiler alert. Suffice it to say, the title comes into play clearly, for the cast and for my grandson. Gravity works.

I am thinking of the idea of gravity tonight and about Stephen Hawking. According to Hawking, the laws of physics provide the real explanation as to how life on Earth came into being. The Big Bang, he argues, was the inevitable consequence of these laws 'because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.'

As John Lennox, professor of mathematics at Oxford University writes, "Laws themselves do not create anything, they are merely a description of what happens under certain conditions."

Lennox goes on to say, "What Hawking appears to have done is to confuse law with agency. His call on us to choose between God and physics is a bit like someone demanding that we choose between aeronautical engineer Sir Frank Whittle and the laws of physics to explain the jet engine"

Read Lennox's whole argument Lennox

So it's late at night and I saw a sci-fi movie but still can ponder things like wonder. I wonder if there were inaccuracies in the movie. I wonder if the scenes of earth were similar to what astronauts see when they are orbiting. I wonder what I would do if I had similar problems in space-- what would I do?

Listen the film has problems, not technical, but real. Or at least Bullock and Clooney have problems. Do you think you won't have problems? And what will you do with your real problems tomorrow or next week? I liked the movie's portrayal of problem solving, sometimes even hallucinogenic problem solving with unreal latch openings, but solving nonetheless.

I find the final scene's gratitude useful in my problem solving.  As if Bullock could affirm, "no matter what happens in my life, with my daughter, or with the blue-eyed man at the end of my tether, ... I'm grateful." And saying, "Thank you" is awesome.

Of course, knowing to whom to say it is even better. I recommend you say 'thanks' to God, and not to your lucky stars or to Gravity. You (and my grandson) can be thankful for gravity, but to say 'thank you', you have to have a person to welcome this gratitude.