I read this on the web today:
A wave of dust storms has recently hit Kurdistan region, as a result, only in Sulaimani 15 people were hospitalized due to breathing-related problems within the last 24 hours.It was accompanied by this picture:
The Director of Sulaimani Meteorology Directorate, Dara Hassan, denied whether the drought, which has threatened Kurdistan region this year, resulted in the dust storm, saying the dust storm is irrelevant to the drought because during the past years, Kurdistan region did not experience drought while it was occasionally hit by dust storms.
As he said, rain showers are expected with various ratios in different areas across Kurdistan by the end of the current month.
Now, don't get me wrong. It's been dusty, but I don't know where they took that picture. Mars maybe.
There was one day a week or so ago where it was really dusty. It was very strange for someone from Ohio, but it hasn't been as bad as that picture would suggest. At least not where I live.
Today, we found out that The Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq (AMSI) issued a fatwa.* No big deal. Happens all the time.
The fatwa was against Israel. Again, no big deal. Happens pretty much every day.
It was against heart surgeries for Iraqi children in Israel and the organizations involved in such activities.
Hmm. That's new.
You can read it in English here via Google translation. Or, if your feeling up to it, you can read the original Arabic.
Here are the important bits:
- AMSI calls on Iraq's Muslim neighbors to provide alternatives to Israel
- AMSI calls on Iraq's Muslim neighbors to pay for the surgeries in other countries
- Muslim families who go to Israel are being tricked into it and/or are traitors to Islam
- Those who go to Israel for surgery must be punished
- Those who help them go to surgery must be punished
Rumor has it that AMSI has also promised to pay for surgeries in Muslim Nations, but I can't find that in the English version.
Now, here's the break down in my opinion:
Good: Points 1 and 2. More surgeries mean more lives saved. I am all for that. Many of Iraq's neighbors have the facilities necessary to perform these operations (Turkey, Iran, Jordan) and many of Iraq's neighbors have the cash to pay (Saudi Arabia! and Kuwait - not to mention regional neighbors).
Bad: Points 3, 4 and 5. Calling these families traitors to Islam will only scare them away from seeking treatment to save their children or at least, it will add pressure into an already stressful situation.
And, of course, the call to punish those involved is a little over the top.
I don't know what has made AMSI take notice, but I hope that this can help raise awareness for a very real issue here in Iraq. Children do not have access to a health care system that has the tools to actually care for their health.
Even in the (relatively) prosperous north, the hospital system lags decades behind the west. And the east.
And the Middle East.
This isn't the place to debate the causes of this epidemic. We all know the list: Saddam, UN sanctions, the US invasion, insurrection, civil war. There's no need to argue of which caused (or causes) the most damage.
The important part is that we realize that children die here everyday. They die when something can be done, so I for one, applaud AMSI for shedding some light on the need and trying to get Iraq's neighbors involved.
However, it saddens me that their hate of Israel overshadows the very real happiness of each family that has a living child when they'd otherwise have died.
* A fatwa is defined as a legal opinion or a ruling issued by an Islamic scholar.
The problem is I don't have much to say.
As you can plainly see, I've posted a picture. This is, of course, me. I am trying to avoid having my picture taken while I eat what appears to be salt and banana soup out of the pan with a small blue spoon.
I really have no idea what was in the pan, but this picture is from Nila's first meal of bananas. You can see some really cute pictures of the event here.
Tomorrow, we're all going on a picnic, so I'm sure we'll have pictures of that.
According to AccuWeather.com, it should be upwards of 97 degrees for our picnic which should be grrreat. Angie has already promised to "freak out about the heat all day tomorrow."
In related news, I've read that half of the city's wells have gone dry. This is bad news for the city since they're unlikely to see a single drop of rain until October. It was a dry Winter and Spring, so they're hurting for water.
I've also read that diarrhea cases are on the rise in the city. Yikes.
I think it's good that we're heading back to Ohio in 12 or so days. Not just because of the water and diarrhea, but also because I don't think Angie can stand the heat much hotter than it is right now and our house is not Summer-ready; for all of our 24 hour power, we don't have enough amps to run even a single heating/cooling unit.
I survived last summer on ceiling fans and about 8 hours of electricity at night, but I don't think it's a good idea for babies.
He said, "If my sister, Angie, ever calls and tells me you did something wrong, I will come and punch you. Even if you move to California, I will get on a plane, fly all the way, punch you and come home."
"I'm not afraid of you. You can't get a visa."
Someone sent this to me and I want to share it with you. The original link is here.I think it's good. Moreover, it's pretty helpful for me today. Perhaps you'll find it helpful, too.
2 Corinthians 12Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago--whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows--such a man was caught up to the third heaven, And I know how such a man--whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows- was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.
On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses. For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me.Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me--to keep me from exalting myself!
Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness " Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Distorting the Message to Make It Marketable
One of the reasons biblical Christianity has to be so drastically distorted in order to sell it to mass markets is that the market wants power to escape weakness in leisure, but Christianity offers power to endure weakness in love.
Verse 9 just doesn't sell: "Jesus said [in response to Paul's prayer], 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." IN weakness? What the market wants is escape from weakness, not power in weakness. But to meet that felt need in the market the message must be distorted—and often is.
But by distorting the message to make it more immediately appealing, two things are lost:
- the truth of the message is lost, and
- the chance to meet the really deep need that we all have in the midst of adversity is lost.
So what I want to do—for the sake of God's truth and for the sake of meeting your deepest need—is lay open this text with as little distortion as possible. You have it in front of you. You be the judge.
Three Questions About Christian Weakness
We are going to talk about the Christian experience of weakness. There are three questions to answer in the time we have:
- What are the weaknesses that Paul has in mind here when he says, "The power of Christ is made perfect in weakness"?
- What is the source of such weaknesses? Do they come from Satan or from God? Or both?
- What is the purpose of such weaknesses? Is there a goal or an aim for why the weaknesses come?
I ask these three questions not only because they are the ones answered in the text, but because knowing these things and being reminded of them in our hearts as God's truth will give us the strength to live and endure and often even to thrive in the midst many weaknesses.
Bringing the Questions Closer to Home
Just to bring it closer to home, on Wednesday we had a really good all church strategy meeting. One of the songs we sang has a chorus that goes like this:
Since Jesus came into my heart,
Floods of joy o'er my soul
Like the sea billows roll
Since Jesus came into my heart.
As we sang it, I wondered how everyone in the chapel was processing that statement in the light of real life experience when sea billows of joy do not roll over the soul. Here's how I fit it in my own experience: Yes, since knowing Jesus, joy has rolled over me like the waves of the sea, but not always. There are times when the tide goes out. God is still God; joy is still joy; but I am baking in the seaweed on the beach waiting for the tide to come in.
What makes days and months and years like that livable is the grace and power of Jesus described in our text.
1. What Weaknesses?
What are the weaknesses Paul has in mind here when he quotes Jesus as saying in verse 9, "My power is made perfect in weakness"? And then says, "I will all the more gladly boast in my weaknesses"? And then again in verse 10 says, "For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses"?
Four Other Words to Fill Out the Meaning
I think the safest way to answer is to let the four other words in verse 10 fill out what he has in mind. What he summarizes as weaknesses in verse 9 he spells out in four other words in verse 10: insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.
- Insults—when people think of clever ways of making your faith or your lifestyle or your words look stupid or weird or inconsistent. When we were giving out "Finding Your Field of Dreams" at the dome, I heard one man say mockingly, "And the Lord said, Play ball." And all his friends laughed.
- Hardships—circumstances forced upon you, reversals of fortune against your will. This could refer to any situation where you feel trapped. You didn't plan it or think it would be this way. But there you are, and it's hard.
- Persecutions—wounds or abuses or painful circumstances or acts of prejudice or exploitation from people because of your Christian faith or your Christian moral commitments. It's when you are not treated fairly. You get a raw deal.
- Calamities (or distresses or difficulties or troubles)—the idea is one of pressure or crushing or being weighed down; circumstances that tend to overcome you with stress and tension.
Not Sin or Imperfect Behaviors
So you can see that what Paul has in mind here is not sin. He is not talking about a kind of behavior—like we might say he has a weakness for lust; or she has a weakness for overeating. Paul is not talking about bad choices that we make. He is not saying, The power of Christ is perfected in my bad choices. Or: I will all the more gladly boast of my bad choices. Weaknesses here are not imperfect behaviors.
What Theses Weaknesses Are
They are circumstances and situations and experiences and wounds that make us look weak; things we would probably get rid of if we had the human strength.
- If we were "strong," we might return the insult with such an effective put down that the opponent would wither and everyone would admire our wit and cleverness.
- If we were "strong," we might take charge of our own fortune and turn back the emerging hardship and change circumstances so that they go the way we want them to and not force us into discomfort.
- If we were "strong," we might turn back the persecution so quickly and so decisively that no one would mess with us again.
- If we were "strong," we might use our resources to get out of the calamity or distress as fast as possible, or take charge of the situation and marshal our own resources so masterfully as to minimize its pressure.
But in reality we don't usually have that kind of human strength, and even when we may have it, Christians don't use it the way the world does. Jesus tells us not to return evil for evil (Matthew 5:38–42). Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:12–13, "When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate." And then he added, "We have become like the refuse of the world, the off-scouring of all things." In other words, this kind of lifestyle, this kind of response to abuse, looks weak and beggarly and feeble and anemic and inept—at least it looks that way to those who thrive on pride and equate power with the best come back.
So the answer to our first question is that weaknesses are not sins but experiences and situations and circumstances and wounds that are hard to bear and that we can't remove either because they are beyond our control or because love dictates that we not return evil for evil.
2. Where Do They Come From?
What is the source of such weaknesses? Do they come from Satan or from God? Or both?
Paul's "Thorn in the Flesh"
Let's take Paul's thorn in the flesh as an example and see what his answer is. In verses 1–4 Paul describes what amazing revelations of God's glory he had been given—he was caught up into Paradise and heard things that cannot be told on earth (vv. 3–4).
How easy it would have been for Paul to think that he was already rising above the ordinary hardships and troubles of earthly life because he was given such a privilege. But verse 7 shows what actually happened: "To keep me from being too elated [RSV; a better translation would be: "to keep me from exalting myself," NASB, or: "to keep me from becoming conceited," NIV] by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from exalting myself."
Now this thorn in the flesh (whether it was some physical problem or some relentless enemies) is one of the weaknesses he is talking about. We know this because when he prays that God would take it away in verse 8 ("three times I besought the Lord"), the Lord answers in verse 9, "My power is made perfect in weakness." So the thorn in the flesh is one of the weaknesses we are talking about.
A "Messenger of Satan"
And where did it come from? Paul calls it a "messenger of Satan" (v. 7) given to harass him. So one clear answer is that some weaknesses come from Satan. Satan afflicts the children of God through his angels or messengers. His aim is destruction and death and misery.
But it is not that simple is it? Satan is not the only one at work here. God is at work. This thorn is not just the work of Satan to destroy. It is the work of God to save.
The Work of God to Save
We know this for two reasons. First, because Paul describes the purpose for the thorn in terms of preventing pride. But Satan's whole design is to produce pride not prevent it. That's how he kills: either with pride in what we have done, or despair over what we haven't done. Paul's revelations in Paradise made him vulnerable to pride and self-exaltation. So God uses the hostile intentions of Satan for Paul's holiness. Satan wanted to make Paul miserable and turn him away from the faith and the ministry and the value of the visions he had seen. But God wanted to make Paul humble and turn him away from self-exaltation. So God appointed the thorn of Satan for the work of salvation.
The other reason we know the thorn is God's work and not just Satan's is that when Paul prays in verse 8 that God would take the thorn away, the Lord says, No, because my power is made perfect in this weakness. In other words, I have a purpose in what is happening to you. This is not ultimately Satan's destroying work. It is ultimately my saving, sanctifying work.
Just like it was with Job—God permits Satan to afflict his righteous servant, and turns the affliction for his good purposes. (See also Luke 22:31–32.)
The Truth of God's Sovereign Grace
So the answer to our second question is that the source of our weaknesses may sometimes be Satan and his destructive designs for us; but always our weaknesses are designed by God for our good. This is why the truth of God's sovereign grace is so precious in the midst of hardship and calamity. God is in control of Satan. Satan does nothing to God's children that God does not design with infinite skill and love for our good.
Which brings us to the final question, which we have already answered.
3. For What Purpose?
What is the purpose of such weaknesses? Is there a goal or an aim for why the weaknesses come? Why insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities, troubles? Why can't I find a job? Why am I trapped in this awful marriage? Why does my dad have cancer? Why can't I have children? Why do I have no friends? Why is nothing working in my life?
Paul gives three brief answers about his own experience and I think they are tremendously important for us to live by.
Satan's Purpose to Buffet You
First, he says that Satan has the purpose to buffet you or harass you (v. 7). And so it is OK to pray for relief. That's what Paul did until he got word from the Lord. Pain is not a good thing in itself. God does not delight in your suffering. Satan does and he must be resisted.
God's Purpose to Humble You
Second, God's purpose over and through Satan's harassment is our humility. Paul was in danger of pride and self-exaltation and God took steps to keep him humble. This is an utterly strange thing in our self-saturated age. God thinks humility is more important than comfort. Humility is more important than freedom from pain. He will give us a mountain top experience in Paradise, and then bring us through anguish of soul lest we think that we have risen above the need for total reliance on his grace. So his purpose is our humility and lowliness and reliance on him (cf. 1:9; 4:7).
God's Purpose to Glorify Jesus
Finally, God's purpose in our weaknesses is to glorify the grace and power of his Son. This is the main point of verses 9–10. Jesus says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." God's design is to make you a showcase for Jesus' power. But not necessarily the way the market demands: not by getting rid of all our weaknesses; but by giving strength to endure and even rejoice in tribulation.
Let God be God here. If he wills to show the perfection of his Son's power in our weakness instead of by our escape from weakness, then he knows best; trust him. Hebrews 11 is a good guide here. It says that by faith some escaped the edge of the sword (v. 34) and by faith some were killed by the sword (v. 37). By faith some stopped the mouths of lions, and by faith others were sawn asunder. By faith some were mighty in war, and by faith others suffered chains and imprisonment (see also Philippians 4:11–13).
The ultimate purpose of God in our weakness is to glorify the kind of power that moved Christ to the cross and kept him there until the work of love was done. Paul said that Christ crucified was foolishness to the Greeks, a stumbling block to the Jews, but to those who are called it is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:23f.).
The deepest need that you and I have in weakness and adversity is not quick relief, but the well-grounded confidence that what is happening to us is part of the greatest purpose of God in the universe—the glorification of the grace and power of his Son—the grace and power that bore him to the cross and kept him there until the work of love was done. That's what God is building into our lives. That is the meaning of weakness, insults, hardships, persecution, calamity.
Hypothetically, let's say that I have a Kurdish friend who is desperate for a visa to come to the United States.
Let's also say that he doesn't qualify for the typical visas; he can't claim asylum, he doesn't have family in the US, he can't go to school, etc. Hypothetically, of course.
Let's go ahead and assume that he was also denied a tourist visa. He is young and single.
What would the options be?
Now that I'm thirty, I think I should reflect on the past.
The past two days.
My birthday started out in the best possible way: I slept in until 11:30 am.
At 5 o'clock we went to dinner at a local restaurant called "Generic Berry." It has a great rooftop terrace and cool Middle Easter decor.
They no longer serve dinner, just tea. So, we crossed the street and ate at a restaurant which none of us had ever been to called "Something In Arabic." Turns out it was a buffet. They had salads and dinner rolls and rice and soups and meatballs and even lasagna!
They also had jello with a picture of a flower made out of colored coconut. I did not eat it.
We ate and had a good time before blowing out the candles and eating some cake. I also got a phone call from Miranda. Thanks Miranda.
After dinner we went to the city's best sweet shop where we were met by a larger group of friends, both Kurdish and American. We had baklava and opened presents. Well, I opened presents. I got many fine things appropriate for Kurdistan!
But I did not get more Golden Spy.
Speaking of presents, Angie bought me a bunch of stuff from Amazon.com and had it shipped here. Then she lovingly wrapped it and took care to tell me not to shake it or secretly open it and retape it or touch it or lick it. Then she gave me one on Tuesday as a pre-birthday gift.
Then she got so excited that she gave me all of them on Tuesday. She couldn't take the waiting!
She got me a couple of CDs and books and tricked me with Kurdish candy. One of the books is called Invisible Nation. You should expect a post on it soon. I cannot recommend enough that you read it!
Today, we had a picnic at the lake which was not birthday-related, although the birthday song was sung to me.
Thanks to everyone who called or e-mailed or MySpaced to wish me a happy birthday. I really do appreciate it. Thanks, too to Mom and Mo for your Hoops and YoYo cards. They were both very funny.
Someone (I won't name names) left me this beautiful birthday wish. It's an homage to birthdays past.
I love it!
I have added my "call me" button again to the sidebar. I'm not shilling for phone calls or anything, I'm just saying it's there...
You won't actually get to talk to me, but I will be able to hear your message online. I even promise not to post it here unless it's really funny.
And I am officially 30 now by my watch, so get to callin'!!
However, this year you may find it difficult to know exactly when to celebrate. In my opinion there are really four options:
1) Midnight in Iraq
2) The time of my birth, but in Iraq
3) The time of my birth in Eastern Daylight Time
4) The time of my birth in Central Daylight Time
I have created a handy chart to help you decide exactly when you should celebrate my birthday based on your decision with some additional explanation below to help you choose.
I have not included a chart for gift giving, but don't let that make you complacent.
(In my browser there is a huge amount of blank space between this line and the chart. If you have this problem, too, just pretend that I put it there intentionally to create a more dramatic effect and to heighten suspense.)
|2008 Birthday Schedule|
|Time Zone||Midnight in Iraq||1:21 PM Iraq||1:21 PM Ohio||1:21 PM Texas|
|Iraq||12 AM April 10|
1:21 PM April 10
|8:21 PM April 10||9:21 PM April 10|
|Ohio (EDT)||5 PM April 9|
6:21 AM April 10
|1:21 PM April 10||2:21 PM April 10|
|Texas (CDT)||4 PM April 9|
5:21 AM April 10
|12:21 PM April 10||1:21 PM April 10|
Why celebrate at midnight in Iraq?
This is when I will consider it my birthday. I did not consider midnight in other time zones because I am not in other time zones.
Why celebrate at 1:30 PM in Iraq?
I don't know. This one is a bad idea. Don't do it.
Why celebrate at 1:30 PM EDT?
I was born at (or around) 1:30 pm, but not in Ohio, so this one doesn't make too much sense either, but I figure that, because I lived most of my 30 years in Ohio, it would be acceptable to celebrate at this time.
Why celebrate at 1:30 PM CDT?
I was born in Texas, so this is technically the correct time to celebrate. However, I don't want to wait until 9:30 PM to celebrate. Don't judge me.
I was informed by my mother that I was born at 1:21 PM, so I changed the chart.
RoboCop : Here are three perfectly good flights from which you can choose.Us: Umm, that's like one good flight and two that leave at 3am. Plus, that good flight isn't on Emirates, it's Delta. We want us some Emirates!RoboCop: Our travel agent doesn't have a contract with Emirates.Us: What if we forward you this itinerary we found ourselves on the internets? Can you book it?RoboCop: You can book it yourself and we'll reimburse you later.Us: ...
Dear Meekers,I am trying very hard to book your tickets, but I am having problems. I will keep trying.Love,RoboCop
William: Hi, thanks fa' callin' Emirates. Ma name's William.Me: Hi, William. I am calling from Iraq. I need to fly from Dubai to Columbus, but I need an e-ticket. The internet says I have to buy a paper ticket. Can you...William: Whoa, Whoa, Whoa. Sir. Sir. Sir. SIR! I'm gonna put you on hold.
William: So you want to fly from Iraq to Columbus?Me: No, Dubai.William: Hello. Hello.Me: Hello?William: I'm still here.Me: I am calling from Iraq. There's a...William: Iraq to where?Me: ... delay. There's a delay!William: We don't have flights from... delay? What?Me: STOP TALKING AND LISTEN TO ME, WILLIAM!!
Dear RoboCop,I am defeated.Please book the Delta flight with the travel agent.We love Delta.Delta, Delta, Delta can I help ya', help ya', help ya'? Remember that?Yours Truly,Rdmeeker