The Poor

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I frequently read through online sites that offer examples of rabbinic storytelling.  I recently came across a tale entitled Half Way to Ending Poverty as retold by Doug Lipman.

“Rabbi Naftali of Ropchitz was known for his persistence–and for his wit. One day, he remained in the synagogue an entire morning, praying that the rich would give more of their money to the poor. When he returned home, his wife asked him, “Were you successful with your prayer?” Rabbi Naftali answered with a smile, “I am half-way there!” His wife looked puzzled. “Oh, yes” he assured her. “The poor have agreed to accept!” (source: http://www.hasidicstories.com)

What struck me about the story was not any great insight into social justice. Instead  there was a sense of futility of any expectation of an altruistic spirit by the “haves” to provide for all the “have nots.”  Okay, there are some great philanthropists out there, Bill Gates and the like.  But even these do not really dent the poverty gap.

The early church was remarkable in their compassion and selfless giving within the brotherhood.  Acts 4:32-35 reads,  “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.  Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need (emphasis mine).” 

This small “c” communism though, was not sufficient to end poverty altogether.  Nor did it make everyone even “well to do.”  It made it so everyone in the fellowship had enough, no more – no less, however.  It is only a chapter later that the greed (whether for wealth or for praise) slips in with Ananias and Sapphira.  They held back, which was not the sin in itself, but the lie was.  I have written about the attitude of wealth in the past (see post of the rich man and Lazarus).  But, are we any better?  Most of us using this forum will be comfortable materially.  Those in Europe or North America will statistically be among the most well off in the world. I am not saying we are all, “the haves, or have yachts”, but we are better off than the super poor of some other areas of the world.

It is here interesting to note Jesus’ words, “The poor will always be with you (Mark 14:7, Matthew 26:11).” Yes they are still here 2000 years on.  It is the second part of Jesus’ statement that resonates, however. “But you will not always have Me.”  Material wealth wasn’t the issue.  There was something more valuable on offer.

This is seen in part in Acts 3:1-16,  “Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour. And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple; Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us. And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them. Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.  And all the people saw him walking and praising God:  And they knew that it was he which sat for alms at the Beautiful gate of the temple: and they were filled with wonder and amazement at that which had happened unto him. And as the lame man which was healed held Peter and John, all the people ran together unto them in the porch that is called Solomon’s, greatly wondering. And when Peter saw it, he answered unto the people, Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go. But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses. And his name through faith in his name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.

The power of Jesus was manifest. Not only in the healing, but in the following faith and praise. Yes, while on this earth the poor may be ever present.  But even if the material wealth is not provided, spiritual well being is available to all.

No, I am not saying we have no obligation to aid those in physical need.  The example of the early church cited above gives us a model and an example.  But even as we share our relative wealth, we have an even greater treasure to share which is inexhaustible – the love of God, and the word of the Gospel.

And I pray (in all earnestness) that those who are “spiritually impoverished” will, like Rabbi Naftali’s poor, “agree to accept!”

Padre

Maple Pecan Salmon

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Maple Pecan Salmon

Here is a North American twist to the Honey Almond Salmon recipe.  It uses maple syrup and pecans to make a different sweet and sharp dish.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Salmon Fillets (100 – 150 g each)
  • Real Maple Syrup  2 Tbs
  • Dijon Mustard (prepared) 1 tsp
  • Apple Cider Vinegar 1/2 tsp
  • Pecan Halves 20-25 plus 2
  • Salt – just a pinch
  • Sunflower Oil – (just a splash)

Method:

Preheat oven to 190 C /350 F.  Place a large piece of foil into an oven pan and lightly rub with oil.  In a food processor blitz 20-25 nut halves into crumb sized pieces.  In a bowl mix the syrup, vinegar, and mustard, and coat the fish in it.  Then roll sticky fish into crumbled nuts. Place the fish skin side down onto the oiled foil, and gently sprinkle a pinch of salt onto each fillet.  Spoon any remaining crumbled nuts onto the fish, spreading it evenly. Then place an intact pecan half onto the coated fish.  Make a “tent” of the foil, and then place in the oven for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven, and carefully open the foil tent.  Turn oven to full and return for 2 to 3 minutes.  When juices are bubbling remove and serve fish using a spatula to lift it from underneath to leave the nut coating intact.

We served this with green beans and found it really tasty.

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Salmon with Maple and Pecan

Let me know what you think.

Padre

The Beauty of Practical Ceramics (and a stay at Riad Dalia)

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One of the outstanding features of my visits to the Middle East, Iberia, and Morocco is the beautiful tile work.  These are wonderful artistic expressions, and many of the hand decorated tiles are unique.  Even the stenciled ones make for fabulous mosaics that make the art and architecture stand out.

In Morocco (and in Iberia), I found not only the tiled walls, but even the pavements in places had intricate patterns and sidings.

 

 

 

Even the bathrooms featured tile patterns which made accented the copper sinks and presented an artistic atmosphere.

Riad Dalia - Fatima Room Detail (wash basin)

Moroccan tiled Bathroom

Riad Dalia - Courtyard Detail 2

Doors and Screens (and Tiles)

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Tiles and Hangings

The pictures above shows the beauty of how these features all come together to give a a scenery experience.  This sense of space and place really enhances life, and it is because of this that the motifs have been borrowed to create atmosphere elsewhere (see below).

 

 

 

Much (but not all) of this wonderful art was found in and around my hotel, Riad Dalia which was a terrific place to stay. I stayed at the Dalia for two nights, and enjoyed the peace, beauty and atmosphere of the place. Mohammad and his staff are truly wonderful people, and were helpful from the booking onwards. They arranged transfers for me on arrival and departure. I was greeted at the taxi stand and shown the way to the riad through the twists and turns of the madina (all this with them carrying my bags). I was given a bottle of cold water on arrival, and shown to my room which was beautifully decorated.

The quality of sleep was wonderful. The double bed was one of the most comfortable I have slept in whilst on travels (there was also a second single bed in the “chamber” which was softer as well). Since the room overlooks the courtyard there was ambient noise through the shuttered windows, but this was quiet chat on the first night, and a member of staff softly practicing traditional music on the second (a marvelous sound to drift off to).

The breakfast was served in the courtyard. Moroccan bread with butter, cheese, and jam; a boiled egg and freshly squeezed orange juice served on arabesque plates. The meal was tasty, and the coffee good. In fact, I should note that I found the juice far better than the “must have” juice at the Jamaa el Fna. The riad also offers other meals if you let them know you want them. While I didn’t arrange either of my evening meals here, I was served some very nice bread, tomatoes and juice just before my departure.

The helpfulness and attention of the staff can again be mentioned, as I was once again guided out of the narrow streets till I got a handle on the route on my second day. Staff members also helped with my bags to the pick up point on the day I left.

The courtyard, rooms, and common areas are really atmospheric, and the decorations gorgeous. I spent some very pleasant time just chilling in the shade of the courtyard.

Padre

Link to Riad Dalia

Joseph’s Dilemma

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The Angel Gabriel had brought Mary the announcement of her role in God’s plan.  She has accepted the call, but faced now telling her betrothed the news of her pregnancy. He was now placed in a dilemma. His virgin fiancee was with child.  He hadn’t touched her.  She must have cheated.  The law is clear, she should be stoned. But she claims there is an angel involved.  An angel!?! Right! But, maybe.  He loves her.  He doesn’t want her to die.  Maybe a quiet divorce. That might do.

Pastor Vince brought a really thoughtful message on this dilemma which is found in Matthew 1.  Here is a man determined to put his fiancee away quietly.  He literally sleeps on it.  God used the opportunity of his slumber to remove all doubts. “20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. 21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. 22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. 24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.”

Joseph has his own divine intervention.  The angel of the Lord not only upholds Mary’s account, but reveals the meaning of the pregnancy to Joseph. Pastor Vince noted that Mary and Joseph are prototypes in their transformation by the gospel.  Mary of the openness to God’s call, and her surrender to it. Joseph of one who was willing to look beyond skepticism and the “impossibility” of it all, and to accept faith beyond reason.

Joseph’s response to the dream is instant and decisive. He, “raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife.” He also, follows the instructions of the angel, and names his stepson – Jesus!  

There had been a 400 year “silence of heaven” in which there seems to be no prophet in Israel.  We often cite John as the breaker of the silence. But here we have Joseph receiving revelation from God. This revelation provided a testimony of Messiah’s mission, and names to be fulfilled.  Joseph acted on the call as much as Mary did, and they are wonderful models of how we should respond as well.

Thank you Vince, for drawing my focus onto this, it is a great challenge to be ready to answer the call.

Padre

 

 

Key Lime Marshmallow Pie

Here is another festive favourite.  It has a bright fresh taste with just the right amount of citrus zest and bite.

Ingredients:

  • Ginger Biscuits (Ginger Snaps) 300g
  • Butter 150g melted
  • Condensed Milk 397g-400g tin
  • Eggs 3 medium yolks
  • Limes 4 (juice and zest)
  • Mini Marshmallows 100 g

Method:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 160C/320F (or 140C fan oven). Grind biscuits to crumbs in a food processor or mash with mortar-pestle. Mix with the melted butter and press into the base and sides of 8 inch loose bottom baking tin or pie pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool.
  • Zest and juice limes, and reserve a small amount of zest. Whisk the egg yolks in a large bowl (about 1 minute with electric mixer or 5 by hand whisk).  Stir in condensed milk and whisk for 3 minutes then add the zest and juice and whisk again for 3-4 minutes. Pour the mixture into the base and bake for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and cover evenly with the marshmallows and return to oven until marshmallows begin to brown (3-5 minutes).
  • Remove and allow to cool thoroughly.
  • Before serving sprinkle with reserved lime zest.

For a less dense and less sugary alternative, omit the marshmallow topping and bake for 15 rather than 12 minutes, and serve with whipped cream topping after cooling.

Hope you enjoy it.

Padre

 

The Two Names of Messiah

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Micheangelo Madonna and Child

Pastor Vince gave us our money’s worth this week, with a sermon containing two great core messages.  I will focus on what I believe was meant to be his secondary theme, but one well worth our attention.

Matthew 1 reads, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”) (verses 20b-23).”

The musing Joseph facing the possibility of an unfaithful Mary, is given an angelic dream in which he is assured of Mary’s fidelity, but also of her divine role.  Within it Joseph is given two inspired names for the child.  Jesus (a proper noun which the child would bear), and Immanuel (a name which He fulfill as an adjective).   The first, His mission to be a saviour to the world.  The second, His essence as He was indeed “God with us,” as John records, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).”

Yeshua-Jesus came to restore the relationship which humanity had destroyed in Eden.  He was born to lay His life down that our self-full actions of sin, might be erased in His blood.  He truly was a saviour – a Jesus, for we had no way to redeem ourselves, for not one of us was righteous (Romans 3:10).

But He first need to show us the way.  His presence with us was illustrative as well as saving.  He dwelt among us, Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men (Philippians 2: 6-7).”  But despite being in all ways like us, Hebrews 4:15 proclaims: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.”  

Jesus/Immanuel dwelt among us, taught us, showed us the way, and set the example for us. Jesus/Immanuel gave His life, that the many might live – A true saviour. He was the fulfillment of prophecy and the embodiment of His two names.

Padre

 

Preaching the Word: Why Bother?

 

The dictionary says that to preach is “to publicly proclaim or teach (a religious message or belief)” or to “earnestly advocate (a belief or course of action).” This earnest proclamation of religious teaching has been a central approach to spreading the Christian message ever since Jesus sent out his disciples in Luke 9:2-3. They were charged spreading the word of the kingdom of God, and they were to do it not seeking the luxury of life, but as a commitment to the task itself.

Paul later encourages the young Timothy to “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear (2 Timothy 4: 2-3).”

Why preach? Go into to the world without purse or second coat, to be ignored by those who you address. Put your own credibility, and maybe even life on the line, so that people will not put up with you, but seek after a more edifying and convenient message than your own.  Why?

Because we are called to.  Jesus said to go into all the world and make disciples.  The message of that call in found in Romans 10, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (verse 13).” But Paul builds on this, and Jesus’ imperative “to go.” He writes, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? (vs. 14 -15b)”

Paul has developed this well.  The world is trapped by sin, but if it turns to God, they will be saved.  But they need the message sent. They need preachers. Paul goes so far as to say, that preaching is not just ordered, but is “compelled.” He writes, “For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)”

We proclaim as an act of love.  We preach in order for others to hear, and in hearing to respond.  We are to always be prepared to share the message, “in season, and out of season.” We are to rebuke and correct (as sin is real), but also we are to build up and encourage. We may be ridiculed by some, and ignored by others.  But we are to persist, woe unto us if we do not.  And our rewards will be not only from above, but there will be those who do listen and respond, and to them our labours will be seen as lovely, “As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news! (Romans 10:15b)”

Padre

 

Why Holiday Celebrations?

 

 

 

One of my students asked recently why we observe Christmas, which is not mentioned (or at least sanctioned) in the scriptures, but not Purim and Passover, which are actually mandated.  Okay, fairly deep question and one with several angles for consideration.

On one level we have the idea of the keeping of “days.”  Paul in his letter to the Galatians concludes chapter 3 with a discussion on how the coming of Jesus and that subsequently He and His sacrifice led to an adoption into the family of God, separate from the “Law.”  As such the “letter of the law” (if not its principles) has passed away.  He writes,  in chapter 4, “But when the set time had fully come,God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir (verse 2-7).”

He goes on to note that some in Galacia had turned to things (false gods) that bound them. He writes, “Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?  You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!  I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you (verse 9-11).”

Paul is suggesting that the Law of the Old Testament, and the god’s of pagan society both enslaved.  In keeping the strict calendar of observances people were binding themselves to functions and forms.

It can be argued, however, that Jesus Himself kept these days.  In fact, He also kept Hanukkah which was not biblically commanded (John 10:22).  While this is true, Jesus commented,  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).”  Until His words on the cross, “It is finished,” that fulfillment would not yet be complete.  Thus He kept the festivals of the Law that “all righteousness might be fulfilled.”

Does this mean that observing Purim, Passover, or Sabbath (for that matter) is wrong?  This question, in part, has been explored by a fellow blogger Pastor Mike which makes a thought provoking read.  But on a ride the fence (and simple) note, it all depends.  Are we marking these days as obligation?  Are we binding them on ourselves as law? If so, Paul’s concern of Galatians 4:11 seems to apply.

However, are we doing them as activities of praise and remembrance?  This seems to open a different aspect of consideration.  Jesus said, when we take the bread and fruit of the vine, we should do so in remembrance of Him.  In the Book of Acts and in Paul’s own writings (I Corn. 16:2) this was done on “the first day of the week.”  Is this “day” a “new obligation?” No. The remembrance is, but the day is not.  First Corinthians 11:25 notes it is “as often as you do it.”

Here we can approach the Christmas question.  We do it to celebrate the coming of Messiah.  It is, like the Lord’s Day, a remembrance.  And, for many Christians through the ages, it has been questioned.   Yes, it’s celebration is not scripturely commanded. In fact, some Protestants, and especially Puritans, even outlawed it (Cromwell’s England, and the Massachusetts Colony).   This may have been because the idea of “days of obligation” had come into many “high church” calendars, or merely because it was not found in the Bible.  In either case, they saw it too much like the Galatians’ keeping of days.

In the end, my (very unimportant) opinion is it comes down to heart.  Why do we celebrate Christmas?  To rejoice and remember the coming of our salvation. Why do (most) Christians not keep the Hebrew festivals? They are part of the old covenant, which the coming of Messiah fulfilled (and with that advent, the requirement to keep them passed away).

Padre

Red and Green Fish (Fish with Beetroot)

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“Red fish” and Asparagus

No it’s not a line from Dr Seuss’ One Fish, Two Fish . . . , but rather an  interesting way to cook “white fish” giving it some colour and a bit more flavour than is often found in cheaper fillets. While not necessarily intended as a seasonal dish, the colours do lend themselves to Christmastide.  So here we go with a recipe for “Foodie Friday.”

Ingredients:

Fish –

  • White Fish (generic white fillets, hake, or pollock) 2 fillets (100-150 g each)
  • Beetroot 4 medium prepared beets (not pickled).  I used store bought last time, but have peeled and boiled fresh beets in the past.
  • Balsamic Vinegar 1-2 Tbs
  • Black Pepper 1 tsp
  • Olive Oil 1 Tbs
  • Salt to taste

Asparagus Tips –

  • Asparagus Tips 8
  • Salt pinch
  • Slivered Almonds 1 tsp
  • Garden Peas (optional)

 

Method:

Place white fish fillets into bowl and add the juice of the prepared beets and a 2 tsp of vinegar (let rest for at least 2 hours). Mash the beetroot into a coarse “mash potato texture” and set aside.

After marinading the fish, place a piece of foil into a baking dish and lightly coat with olive oil.  Pat fish with black pepper, and then lay fillets onto foil.  Heat the beet mash in a pan and spoon onto fish and and drizzle with remaining vinegar and a small amount of beet juice marinade (do not overdo).  Fold foil into tent and place in oven for 20 – 25 minutes at 190 C/ 375 F.  In steamer place asparagus and stream for 6 to 8 minutes till bright green and still a little crisp.

Check fish with a fork to be sure it has gone flaky (beet mix will slow the cooking some). When done, place fish unto plate with a spatula and lay cooked asparagus on tip of beet topping, or serve on the side with cooked peas and sprinkle with almonds.

You may want to adjust both the vinegar and black pepper to your taste, but it is these that bring out the beet flavour in the fish. I like it a bit peppery.

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Beet Topping  with Balsamic

Let me know how you get on.

Padre

 

 

Morocco: Windows, Doors, and Arches

 

 

I am not a great artist, yet I do appreciate things of beauty.  Whether it be natural landscapes, or thoughtful and creative examples of human expression.  There are many wonderful examples of both in Europe, but in style and “exotic” quality, I really found Morocco had a lot to offer.

In today’s travel post, I am going to focus on some of the under appreciated aspects, many going unnoticed in European architecture: the doors and windows. Many of these that I saw in Marrakech were not the standard rectangular parallel posts and lintel construction, but ones that incorporated screening, rounded and peaked arches, and decorative paneling.

 

 

In the labyrinth of narrow allies and passageways in the old city, I was able to use the distinctive features of these designs to navigate along the almost uniformly pink walls. Some of these were augmented by spectacular tile-work, but most were purely identifiable by the patterned screens and arches.

The windows, as well as the doors, offered amazing diversity, and enhanced the arabesque feel of the experience.  Some of these has woven and carved screens, and others various patterns of coloured glass.

 

 

In the close allies and in the courtyards of riads and restaurants there we wonderfully crafted archways, whether as passage entries, or as features of fountains and even as “bathroom” fittings.

These artist expressions are not only beautiful, but practical aspects of the architecture, serving as landmarks and in some cases I am told in regulating the circulation of air to moderate the temperature of the areas.  For me though, they made for a culturally rich North African experience.  [They also make for some great travel photos].

I will blog on the wonderful Moroccan tiles in a future post.

Padre