After Chaos, A Storm
July 4 is drawing to a close and a severe thunderstorm has rolled in. The dog is a little concerned and is curled up in my office as I begin typing this post.
It’s a rather fitting image of the state of our country. Not 20 minutes away from my house a man has shot over 20 people today, killing some, during an Independence Day parade. The silent shock and following gloom was palpable all day in the North Shore region.
In a grim twist of irony, the killer’s father recently liked a social media post about protecting our 2nd Amendment rights “like your life depends on it”.
I’m imagining that this storm is finally washing away the remaining blood on the pavements in Highland Park. The street in my neighborhood looks like a river and my wife mentions that this kind of storm feels “cleansing”.
My mind immediately returns to another cleansing storm in August 2020. A Chicago man posted deliberately false information to incite a riot and succeeded. My neighborhood became a war zone overnight. Thankfully in this case there was no loss of life.
My wife and I woke up to businesses and the bank on our block being destroyed for no other reason than a pretense.
The following afternoon, a derecho pounded its way through Chicago, cleansing the dirty streets and sending the remaining rioters running for shelter.
Our 2nd Anniversary
Every year gets sweeter with you, Stephanie. 🥰
Recent times have been a chaotic mix for me, emotionally speaking. I’m beyond thankful for my wonderful and supportive wife. I’m thrilled every day to work in a place where I’m proud of the things I get to build. I also consider myself among the very fortunate who did not suffer from the financial or health effects of the pandemic, and was consequently able to render some degree of aid to those who were in need. I have very much to be thankful for.
And yet, I am also grieved by the amount of lawlessness and death happening both within and without my circles of personal interaction.
Tonight was something of a breaking point for me. I found out that someone who used to be a close friend had been accused of a murder most vicious and is now imprisoned for their alleged crime. Once the breathtaking shock wore off, a persistent feeling of heaviness made itself evident.
I don’t believe it was this individual news alone that brought about the sense of heaviness, but rather the combination of heavy topics being confronted daily. Discussing nuclear fallout preparedness with my wife for the first time, a discussion I thought I would never need to have, was another weighty moment for me as tears streamed down my wife’s face. Yet another weighty moment was when a friend from church, who had apparently spent last Christmas alone, rapidly deteriorated in health and died last month before any of us had a chance to see him one last time due to COVID restrictions at the hospital. The list goes on.
I felt like this increasing weight was becoming harder to bear.
Then, like a whisper, the words came to mind:
“But the Lord is faithful”
I open the BibleGateway website and, sure enough, it was from this scripture:
Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.2 Thessalonians 3:1-3, ESV
While I’m certainly not a first-century Apostle, I can testify without a doubt that it is the Lord who has gotten me this far and has been faithful beyond anything I deserve.
Many of you carry much heavier emotional burdens, and I cannot even begin to imagine how that must feel, but I know someone who does.
But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.Romans 8:25-27, ESV
Regardless of how I feel and why I feel that way, I will place my trust in Him even as the first-century Apostles had faith when asking for intercessory prayer of deliverance from wicked and evil men.
It only appears for roughly 12 seconds, rolling inbound to Chicago from Winnetka. It’s quickly forgotten by the next shot, a masterpiece in itself. “I’m a criminal”, says Kevin as he stares glumly down at the toothbrush he had just stolen from a shop.
It appears to be METX #149, a unit from the highly-successful F40PH series that was manufactured by Caterpillar-owned Electro Motive Diesel (EMD). According to Wikipedia, this locomotive was built between 1977 and 1989.
Somewhere between 2008 and 2012, #149 was rebuilt to newer specifications. As you can see, the external differences are minor, if not imperceptible.
Back in 2019, I used to commute for work to/from the city via the Union Pacific Northwest (UP-NW) line. During my morning commute on February 18 I snapped these photos of #149 heading inbound at 08:10 AM.
The locomotive was still in service since these photos were taken. I was able to find on RR Picture Archives and a video upload on YouTube that it was still operating in 2020.
Written by my friend Aaron Gann, reproduced here with permission.
Today on the eighth day of Hanukkah, let us focus on that of turning.
This week as we have celebrated Hanukkah, one of the most treasured traditions is that of playing a game called Dreidel. Now for those who don’t know, a dreidel is a small rectangular top with four letters, one on each side. Players first put game pieces in the center and then take turns spinning and seeing which side it lands on, which determines the player’s action in the game.
The four letters in particular are נ Nun, ג Gimel, ה Hey and שׁ Shin. These four letters stand for the phrase: Nes Gadol Hiyah Sham (A Great Miracle Occurred There). It is a call for us to remember, to look back and be inspired by the recollection of God’s deliverance.
During this game we remember that we are to resist the world, that we are to dedicate ourselves to The Lord, that we are to love The Lord with all our being and trust Him. We remember that just as the Maccabees cleansed the temple, so too does The Lord cleanse us, just as they gave The Lord all they had, so too are we to give, even if it seems like a pitiful amount. We also remember the Shamash, a picture of the Holy Spirit and of The Servant of The Lord, Yeshua The Messiah. We remember that He came as the Light of life for all men, so that through Him all people may become children of God.
Lastly we remember that though these previously mentioned miracles are wonderful, things that we as a people should never forget. Yeshua has performed an even greater miracle, for all that have accepted Him are now Born Again (John 3), previously we were all born of the flesh, born physically, but now we have been born of Spirit. We have turned from our old ways, for in Hebrew the word for repentance is Shuvah which means to turn back. We are now a new creation, holy and pleasing to Him. His Spirit now residing in us, has cleansed us from all unrighteousness and has now awakened us to a new life in service to Him. During this Hanukkah time we remember that Nes Gadol Hiyah Sham, a Great Miracle Occurred There. Or better so, as they say in the Land of Israel, Nes Gadol Hiyah Poh, and A Great Miracle Occurred HERE! During this season, let us take time to reflect on the greatness of the miracle that is Salvation From The Lord, Yeshua, and His ever present working in our lives.
Shalom and Chag Sameach
Written by my friend Aaron Gann, reproduced here with permission.
Tonight on the seventh night of Hanukkah, let us focus on our Lord and Saviour Yeshua, the Servant of The Lord, and the Light of the World.
Throughout much of history, Hanukkah has been seen as a Jewish holiday. Something that belongs only to Judaism and has nothing to do with Christ or Christianity for that matter. Thought often comes down to the fact that the Jews celebrate Hanukkah, while we Christians celebrate Christmas, and they often stand in stark contrast to one another. However as we have seen this week, Hanukkah has EVERYTHING to do with Messiah. Without Hanukkah, we wouldn’t even have Christmas, as there would not have been an Israel for Yeshua to be born into.
Ironically this holiday, while being the most popular of the Jewish celebrations, is not mentioned anywhere in the Old Covenant scriptures. The events are foretold in the book of Daniel and described in detail, however the holiday itself of Hanukkah is nowhere to be found. Even in what we would call the apocryphal books of Maccabees, it merely tells the story. However it IS mentioned in the Christian Scriptures, and so if one is going to be technical about what is what, then the scriptural authentication of the Hanukkah lies only in the books written of the New Covenant.
The passage in question is found in the Besorah (Gospel) of John chapter 10 verses 22-23 and which we read,
At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon.
Remember that Hanukkah means “Dedication” and so Yeshua was in Jerusalem during the feast of Hanukkah. During one of these eight nights Yeshua was walking in the Temple compound, specifically in Solomon’s Porch, an area that many believe was in the eastern section. However He was not alone for the passage continues,
The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
For the past few months, Yeshua had been doing just that. He had been traveling from synagogue to synagogue, proclaiming Himself to be the Messiah. Not only sending out His disciples with the good news of the Messianic Kingdom that would soon be at hand. He also has been Himself teaching, as One having His own authority and not on the basis of previous rabbinic sages. If that was not enough, He also had been healing the sick, curing the lame and casting out demons, works that should have at the very least rendered Him a great prophet. He even went so far as to perform special miracles that the Pharisees taught only the Messiah would be able to do. Yet these particular people still asked Him if He was the Messiah, because they would not simply believe on Him. Yeshua replies in this vein stating,
…I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me.
With this He begins His sermon to them, He says that He has ALREADY told them, and that the works that He has been doing are the testimony that what He says is true. However He does not stop there, instead He targets the real problem, not that His signs are simply not enough, rather because they lack faith in Him, and until then they will never believe. Continuing on He says,
But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.
Keep in mind that this was during the feast of Hanukkah, and as they tell the story they would undoubtedly remember that during that time the Jewish people were divided over the issue of Hellenization (an issue that was still ongoing due to the Sadducees). And so He begins to make a distinction, those that would trust Him as their Shepherd, and those that do not. For the ones who trusted Him recognized who He was, while the rest questioned Him and stood in opposition. He then goes on to state that those who have already placed their trust in Him, would be kept safe by Him, that He was the good shepherd who gives to His sheep eternal life. That they would not be able to be snatched out of His hand, because His Father had given them to Him, and His Father was greater than all, and that He Himself was the same as the Father. That He was God Himself. Now in answer to their accusations of He being obscure, He has now said a very clear bold statement, He and the Father are One.
They then begin to pick up stones in order to execute Him, for what they hear from His lips is a blasphemous statement, because they do not recognize Him for who He is. When He asks for what work are they doing this, they reply not because of a good work, but because He made himself to be God. He forced them to make a choice, and so they chose to reject Him as their shepherd. He then goes on to defend Himself in a very Rabbinic way,
“Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
He makes His point by saying that if the Judges themselves could be called gods by God, who were incredibly wicked, how can they claim that by He saying that He was the Son of God, called and sanctified by Him, that He was blaspheming.
If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.
He goes back to His first point, that He does the works of His Father, and that these works are themselves a testimony to His Messianic claims, and that if they cannot simply believe on Him, then believe in His works so that they may be led to Him. They would understand that He and the Father were One and the Same.
Therefore they were seeking again to seize Him, and He eluded their grasp.
Sadly, as John wrote in the beginning of His gospel, (John 1:11) “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him”. Though there was, and still is a believing remnant, many of His own people ultimately rejected Him as their Messiah, and continue to till this very day.
Tonight as we stare at the lights, let us reflect on what it means to be His sheep, to truly say in our heart, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”. What it means to truly rely upon Him and to follow Him, trusting in the works that He has performed not only in the world, but in our own personal lives. Tonight let us also pray for the world, that they may see the Light of the World, that those who are blinded, their eyes may be opened. Let us also focus specifically for a time, though the rest of the world is in need of a Messiah as well, upon the Jewish people. For they had become like sheep without a shepherd, still holding onto that Messianic hope.
Written by my friend Aaron Gann, reproduced here with permission.
Today on the sixth day of Hannukah, let us continue our focus on the Servant of The Lord, Yeshua The Messiah by talking about the Shamash.
Every night when we celebrate this holiday, we light the menorah, adding lights each night. To light these candles, one may not use any simple fire, nor may each candle simply light one another. Instead, the lights must be lit by a special candle, that which is called the Shamash. The word Shamash means “helper” or “servant” and its primary responsibility is to serve the other candles by kindling them.
Yeshua said to His disciples that they were to serve one another, just as He came not to be served, but to serve. That He who would be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, must be the servant of all. So too does the Shamash teach us this, for it is elevated above the other candles. Placed higher than the rest would seem to indicate a higher status, and yet it is not counted among the candles, instead it is lit every night in order to light others. This is servant leadership, which Yeshua exemplified. He is the Servant of The Lord who came to kindle our souls, awaken that which was dead to new life.
The Shamash also gives us another example of The Lord. Another name for this candle is the HELPER candle. Shortly before our Lord was executed, He told His disciples that when He left them, He would ask His Father to send the Helper. This Helper, which is also known as the Holy Spirit, is described in this passage as having two primary purposes. The first is to teach them all things, and secondly to bring to remembrance the things they had learned from Him.
The Shamash, though a picture of Messiah, is also a picture of His Holy Spirit which lives in the hearts of all believers. For it is He who brings to us the remembrance of the things of Messiah, just as the Shamash lights the candles for us to remember the story of Hanukkah. Just as the lights shine in the darkness, kindled by the Shamash. So too are we now children of Light, kindled by The Spirit of Truth.