Israel 2013

The Dew of Hermon

Today, we travelled all the way to the top of Israel, to its borders with Syria and Lebanon, getting a great view of Mount Hermon.  Some 3000 metres above sea level, it is the highest point in the area and is a significant landmark.  Our tour leader remarked that it was the first time he had seen Mount Hermon without snow on it.

Along the way, we began our day with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Because every journey seems to have a soundtrack, the ship’s captain played praise music for us while we sailed.  For a few moments, however, we stopped the boat, silenced the engine and the music, read Scripture and took in the sights around us.  Within such a short distance, we could see several sites that involved significant moments in Jesus’ life and ministry:  the place where he named Peter “Rocky”, the synagogue and Peter’s mother-in-law’s house at Capernaum; the place where Jesus performed the miracle of feeding the five thousand.  It is moving, to say the least, to walk where Jesus walked.

Travelling up the Golan Heights, our tour guide told us about the political aspects of the acquisition of this land, and how Syria left it filled with land mines.  In several places, viticulture has taken over, and the mines have been replaced with vines!  However, there is still a very obvious military presence there.  The United Nations has a base quite near the border.

We visited Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus challenged his disciples – amid the pagan temples – to identify the Son of Man.  Flowing by, sourced by the melting snows of Hermon, was the beginning of the Jordan River.  “How good and pleasant it is,” wrote the Psalmist, “when kindred live together in unity!  It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the bear, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes.  It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.  For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore” (Psalm 133).  The Dew of Hermon, via the Jordan, eventually flows south toward Jerusalem!

After Caesarea Philippi, we went to Dan, and saw two ancient gates, including the so-called Abraham gate, which is over 4000 years old.  Four Thousand Years!  And it’s only in the past 15 years that this has been discovered.  When Abraham accepted God’s call to come to the promised land, he will have walked past that gate.  Unbelievable.  But oh, so real.

Real:  that’s what a trip like this does for the Bible.  It makes it real.  That’s what it’s doing for me.

Israel 2013

Stepping into Galilee

Today, we left Akko, the port city that was known as Ptolemais in Bible times, and headed south, through Haifa, to the ancient city of Caesarea Maritima where Herod the Great had a palace (and where the only archaeological evidence of the existence of Pontius Pilate may be found).  There are some remarkably well preserved ruins there, including part of the hippodrome and most of the theatre.  What is even more remarkable about this place is that it was only uncovered in the 1950s; a farmer was tilling his ground, and got stuck on something.  When he uncovered what it was, it began an archaeological dig that revealed some amazing pieces of the puzzle that is the history of the Holy Land 

From there we visited Meggido, a strategic battle site in the history of this land, and one which John was probably envisioning when he depicted the battle of Armageddon in the book of the Revelation.  From the top of this hill, you can see a long way; we walked uphill a long way, too!  And we descended all 183 stairs to an ancient aqueduct that ensured the fort was not cut off from needful fresh water.  Then, we climbed another 80 stairs to get back to ground level.  A pretty fair workout for us all.

From Megiddo we went on to Nazareth.  What we picture in our mind’s eye as a little hick village in the middle of nowhere is now a bustling city of some 75,000 inhabitants, virtually all Arabic in race; there are some Christians – perhaps 20 percent, but almost everyone else is Muslim.  We visited the first-century depiction of Nazareth Village, a project begun by the YMCA that is now its own foundation.  The folks who put this on are not kitschy about it at all, but there is a sense of authenticity about this ‘museum’.

We then visited the Mount of the Beatitudes, where pilgrims remember the time Jesus spoke the Beatitudes, recorded in Matthew 5.  We have no way of knowing if it was the actual place where he spoke the words, but it is a place where that is remembered.  From there, we watched the sun set over the Sea of Galilee.

Tonight, we are staying at a kibbutz on the south shore of the lake.  A serene place indeed!

(Tried to post this last night, without success.  This morning, the sky is clear, there’s a gentle breeze, and the roosters across the road are crowing with great vigour!)

Encouragement From The Word, Israel 2013

Power and Affection

I’m writing  from my hotel room in Akka, Israel, not far from Mount Carmel – the site where Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal.  My wife and I actually visited that site today.  Remarkable!

We’re part of a clergy study tour group, led by a friend and colleague of mine who has much experience and expertise in so doing; it was great for us to be able to get ourselves to the airport in Toronto and consign ourselves to his care, without a worry of our own, for the 8 days we will be away.

One of the things that I noticed right away on our flight was the disproportionate – though not surprising – number of Jewish people aboard.  It was the IMG_0932first day of Hanukkah, so presumably, some folks were coming to Israel to celebrate the Festival of Lights.  Several of our fellow passengers were Rabbis; it was fascinating to watch them rise with the sun (which happened early, since we were travelling eastward), put on their prayer shawls and phylacteries, and offer their morning prayers, facing Jerusalem.  There is a sense in which watching these men in their very public devotion and dedication encouraged me in my own “public display of affection” toward the Lord.  Of course, Jesus told us to pray in secret (Matthew 6.6), but too often, we offer no indication that we have a life-changing faith we practise.  How can you display your affection for God in these days?

When visiting Mount Carmel, I was reminded of the story in 1 Kings 18 of the time the prophets of Baal, a false god, were teaming up with Ahab and Jezebel, the king and queen, to discredit Elijah and bring disrepute to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  God showed his power by sending fire from heaven not only to consume an offering, but to soak up all the water that had been poured on and around it.  It really was a remarkable story, and a remarkable scene to stand at.  We were shown the place where Elijah killed those prophets.  The very spot where the showdown took place has been, for over 150 years, the site of a monastery, in an order named for its location:  a Carmelite community.  There still are monks there today.

What if we brought these two ideas together?  What if we displayed our affection for God through a demonstration of his power?  It wouldn’t have to be fire from heaven; it could be something as simple as loved shared where it seemed least likely, or a hand offered in the midst of a busy life.  It could also be something decidedly flashier, but it wouldn’t have to be – it would just need to be consistent with who you are in Christ and how you serve him faithfully.

So what power will God demonstrate through you?

You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples” (Psalm 77.14).

Israel 2013

We’ve landed!

After a slightly bumpy but otherwise uneventful flight, we had a safe landing at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. People started clapping as the wheels touched down, and I was thinking, Don’t clap yet! We’re travelling down the runway at 200 miles an hour! Clap when the plane stops…on purpose!

I discovered that even with 120 volts to plug in my CPAP machine, I can’t sleep sitting up in confined quarters (and Air Canada’s seats are not exactly roomy). As a result, I’ll be running on fumes for the rest of today.

It was fascinating to see so many Orthodox Rabbis rising to pray toward Jerusalem at various times, especially as the sun rose (which, when you’re flying eastward, catches up with you quickly!). It prepared us, I think, for what we will see.

We won’t know, though, until our fellow traveller who has been detained is released so we can get on the bus and get going!

Grateful for God’s grace and travelling mercies.

Israel 2013

Israel 2013: Here we go!

Later today, my wife and I will embark on a pilgrimage, a journey neither of us ever expected to take.  We are going to visit the Holy Land.

We will fly directly from Toronto to Tel Aviv, and immediately get on a bus to begin our tour, hitting the ground running, so to speak.  We are travelling as part of a clergy tour; it will be led by a friend and colleague of mine, who has taken such trips many times before.  I look forward to arriving at Pearson Airport and consigning myself to his care, knowing that we will be in good hands.

We will visit many biblically significant sites:  the place where Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18); the sea of Galilee, where Jesus and the disciples spent so much time; the Dead Sea, in the caves above which were found the Dead Sea Scrolls, which have added so much to biblical scholarship; Jerusalem, where the temple was; Nazareth, where Jesus grew up; and Bethlehem, where he was born.    At this moment, it seems surreal that we will walk where Jesus walked.

As it turns out, we will be there for Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights.  While this may make for more crowds, it will also make for a more joyous atmosphere; seeing joy on the faces of people is always infectious, so we expect to see an added cultural dimension as a result of the timing of our journey.

It really is a pilgrimage:  it is a religious journey.  It is a trip which, for me, has one sole purpose:  to make the Bible three-dimensional.  To be able to see, in my mind’s eye, the place about which I am preaching from Scripture should, I hope, make me a better communicator of God’s truth.

Please keep us, and our group, in your prayers.  Ask God to grant us safe travel both in the air and on the ground, and ask the Lord to give us both a meaningful experience and the opportunity to slow down enough to take it all in – and rest!  And watch this space for updates, time and WiFi permitting.


Encouragement From The Word

Two Jacks and an Aldous

On this day in 1963, it is seared on the memories of those who were living at the time that John F. Kennedy, then President of the United States, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  But did you know that two other important figures in the world died on the same day, albeit under less tragic circumstances?

Aldous Huxley, the English writer, known for such works as Brave New World, also died on November 22, 1963.

The other famous person who died that day was Clive Staples Lewis.  C.S. Lewis, known to his friends as “Jack”, was a philosopher and, arguably, one250px-C.s.lewis3 of the greatest defenders of the Christian faith in modern times – at least later in his life.

Lewis was not always a Christian, nor was he always someone whom many might consider a ‘model’ Christian:  he smoked a pipe, enjoyed quaffing a pint in the local tavern, and read (and wrote) a lot of philosophy.  He came to faith in the middle of his life; he had been baptized into the Church of Ireland, and fell away as an adolescent.  It was in no small part due to the influence of his friend and pub-mate, J.R.R. Tolkien, that he returned to the Christian faith in his thirties and, through study and debate and God’s grace, left a lasting legacy to the church through his writings.

Charles Colson, while serving time in prison because of his involvement in Watergate, came to faith in Christ by reading Lewis’ Mere Christianity.  Colson then went on to found Prison Fellowship, a ministry to inmates, ex-inmates and their families, which has changed the lives of countless men and women through the years.

Colson is just one example of a person whose life was changed because C.S. Lewis’ life was changed.

The ripple effect of life-change is what changes the world.  You don’t have to be a philosopher, or an elegant writer or eloquent speaker, or even an ex-con, to change the world.  By living your faith authentically and intentionally, you can change the world by being used by God to change the lives of others in your circle of acquaintance.

Live your life fully in Christ.  Live your life passionately in Christ.  Live your life purposefully in Christ.  Pray for God to use you.  And watch the difference you make, just by being real with God and with others.

But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume” (2 Corinthians 2.14, NLT).

Biblical Messages

The Cornerstone

Today, at St. Paul’s, Nobleton, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the dedication of our current church building.  It was great to meet so many people who had come from near and far who had been part of the process of making St. Paul’s the church we know and love today.  I had the privilege of preaching the Word and speaking about “The Cornerstone” – from Matthew 7.24-27 and Psalm 118.1-4, 19-29.  Give a listen here:  

Encouragement From The Word

I once was blind…

I’d like you to read this story.  See if you find the humour in it…

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth.  “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.  We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work.  But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes.  He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!

His neighbors and others who knew him as a blind beggar asked each other, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?”  Some said he was, and others said, “No, he just looks like him!”

But the beggar kept saying, “Yes, I am the same one!”

They asked, “Who healed you? What happened?”

He told them, “The man they call Jesus made mud and spread it over my eyes and told me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash yourself.’ So I went and washed, and now I can see!”

“Where is he now?” they asked.

“I don’t know,” he replied.

Then they took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees,  because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and healed him.  The Pharisees asked the man all about it. So he told them, “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!”

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath.” Others said, “But how could an ordinary sinner do such miraculous signs?” So there was a deep division of opinion among them.

Then the Pharisees again questioned the man who had been blind and demanded, “What’s your opinion about this man who healed you?”

The man replied, “I think he must be a prophet.”

The Jewish leaders still refused to believe the man had been blind and could now see, so they called in his parents.  They asked them, “Is this your son? Was he born blind? If so, how can he now see?”

His parents replied, “We know this is our son and that he was born blind, but we don’t know how he can see or who healed him. Ask him. He is old enough to speak for himself.”  His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue.  That’s why they said, “He is old enough. Ask him.”

So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.”

“I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!”

“But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?”

“Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

Then they cursed him and said, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses!  We know God spoke to Moses, but we don’t even know where this man comes from.”

“Why, that’s very strange!” the man replied. “He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from?  We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will.  Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind.  If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.”

“You were born a total sinner!” they answered. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out of the synagogue.  (John 9.1-34, NLT)

Did you see the humour in that story?  An innocent man gets his sight restored, and the leadership won’t rejoice with him; they just want to overanalyze the situation.  And the man born blind thinks it’s because they want to be his disciples!  What a hoot.

But more importantly:  did you see yourself in that story?  Were you once blind, and now you see?  Jesus might not have made mud from spittle for you, but he did place someone in your path – a parent or grandparent, a pastor, a friend – who helped open your eyes to God’s activity in your life and in the world.

Rejoice!  Give thanks for those people who have spoken into your life and helped you on the path of discipleship.

Encouragement From The Word

Chaos, and the alternative

Chaos.  It’s all around us.  And if we’re honest, we don’t like it one bit.

My wife and I have lived in a few days of chaos this week as the windows in our home were replaced.  It’s amazing how frustrating it can be not to have a clean, flat surface on which to work!  (Of course, that was my fault; I probably could have moved furniture away from windows in such a way that I might have been able to function better.)  Still, to find very little of what resembles normality in the house even for a few days can be jarring.  We don’t like chaos, even when the end result is extremely beneficial.

Many people, though, live with chaos as part of everyday life.  Consider those who live with addiction (both the addict and his/her loved ones), those who struggle with mental illness of various kinds, and those who live under the spotlight of pressure to perform, whether famous or not.  By the choices they make or the decisions imputed upon them, there are folks for whom chaos is their norm.

Consider what the Lord Jesus said:  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14.27, NIV).  The peace that Jesus gives is the exact opposite of – and the antidote to – the chaos on which we live.  It is a gift from God, and it is our initiative that opens that gift.  Jesus offers us his peace all the time, yet too often we spurn his gift.  We get ourselves wound up so that we don’t even realize that peace is an option.  When I was wound up tighter than a two-dollar watch earlier this week, I know it was because I was choosing to live in the chaos instead of live in the peace of Christ.

What about you?  These days, with all that’s in the news, it’s easy to point fingers at those whose lives are filled with chaos, all the while living in a chaos of our own.  Are you choosing to live in and with the peace Jesus gives?  When you name him as Saviour and Lord, Jesus is ready to breathe his breath in you, live his life through you, and fill you to overflowing with his peace.

Take a moment right now.  Breathe deeply.  Ask the Lord to fill you with his peace.  And live intentionally from within that peace he gives.

Biblical Messages

There’s No “I” In “Team”

The third letter of John is not a passage often taught on, but it has great lessons for the church in facing conflict.  Diotrephes was a leader in a house church in Ephesus who was not a very good team player, and John has to prepare to deal with the situation he has caused.  You can listen to the message here:

Encouragement From The Word

Our special day

Today is a special day for Christians around the world.  It’s known as the Feast of All Saints, or All Saints’ Day.  In our culture, it has become the homely, dumpy cousin to the more popular and dapper All Hallows’ Eve, or Hallowe’en.  But I think All Saints’ Day is worth making a fuss over.

If you have any familiarity with the Apostles’ Creed, you know that this historic statement of Christian faith has us affirm a belief in something called “the 0ac8554309Communion of Saints”.  What is the Communion of Saints?

Put simply, it’s that company of faithful followers of Jesus who have died and already are spending eternity in God’s holy presence, and us.  We who follow Jesus here and now are included in the Communion of Saints.   In that sense, All Saints’ Day is our day – the day all Christ-followers can rejoice in the gift of God’s covenant faithfulness toward his people, past and present…and future.

You may have heard the story before, but it bears repetition.  One time, a child was sitting in church, looking at the stained glass windows.  He wondered about the figures depicted in the windows, and asked his mother, “Who are those people in the stained glass windows?”

“Those are saints,” she replied.  Just then, the clouds blew away, leaving the sun to shine on the windows without obstruction.

“Oh, I get it,” said the little boy.  “Saints are people the light shines through.”

Indeed, he did get it.  Do you?  Is the Light shining through you this All Saints’ Day?

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5.16, NIV).