King of the Hill: Herod, not Hank!

King of the Hill, Herod. Not Hank!

Henry the 8th had Hampton Court; Louis VIX & Marie Antoinette had Versailles, Ludwig II built Neuschwantstein, for 1000 years the Brits have had Windsor. From each of these famed places monarchs have shaped history, ruled kingdoms and influenced culture. We don’t necessarily think about these people, but their continued presence in our lives, no matter how trivial, remains. Henry VIII, for example, is truly as responsible for the creation of the Protestant movement as Martin Luther. Ladies, if you wore a white wedding gown, you can thank Queen Victoria for beginning the tradition when she married Prince Albert (no cigar jokes —-and he’s not in a can). And who among us has not quipped crediting Marie Antoinette with “Let them eat cake!” During the French Revolution? Historians now believe she never said those words.

Many years ago riding with the daughters of our friends, Pam & Ron Robinson, we left SeaTac airport on the road headed toward Seattle. With Anna and Mary Kathryn in the rental car Thaedra and I took off to take these girls to spend their Spring break with their parents. Ron was at the Fred Hutchinson Center receiving extended treatment after having received a bone marrow transplant. If not for being there with this family we would not have seen it. While passing by the Boeing plant … which stretches miles along the highway … we sawMount Rainer. It is so incredibly large that it doesn’t look as if it could be real. It arose in the distance, a mass of earth protruding into the sky capped with snow all around. We all couldn’t believe this massive natural wonder in front of our eyes.

Driving through the desert just about 10 miles south of Jerusalem in anticipation of seeing Herod the Great’s final resting place I was reminded of Mt. Ranier’s grandeur. Curious to know if the Herodium mount might compare. To set the record straight, it did not…although it was big. Only God can make a Mt Rainier, but Herod, known as the master builder, created quite the impressive fortress. His intent was to built high enough that it could be seen from the Holy City, Jerusalem. From the top you can see the Mount of Olives just beyond the Kidron Valley.

Herod served as Judea’s Jewish ruler from approximately 50 B.C. – 4 A.D. I’m sticking with the Before Christ and Anno Domini. This before common era & common era political correctness thing is a bunch of hooey. Shocking I know, but iNotes doesn’t recognize Domini as a word, but knows what hooey is. Not sure why I’m surprised from a technology out of the Silicon Valley.

Think about this guy for a moment. He is the Herod who rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem (2nd time). He built more than 15 palaces, 7 massive fortresses and multitude of public buildings. He lived an opulent lifestyle, ruled powerfully, maintained the power of the world in his hands.

At the news of Christ’s birth Herod is the guy who sent the Magi, he’s the guy who ordered the murder of every Jewish baby – subsequently what made Joseph and Mary to escape with Jesus to Egypt by night (for reference, Bethlehem is only about 5 kilometers from this spot; the Sinai peninsula to where they escaped is approximately 270 kilometers south).

There were many truths about Herod. Two resonate with me today:

First, a little baby born a few miles away in a cave among livestock manure to a teenager intimidated him. Second, as powerful as he was, Herod was an extension of the Roman Empire and ruled (basically served) at the pleasure of the Roman government. It was good work if you could get it.

As Herod approached the end of his life he ordered even more dirt and rock be placed upon the top of this mountain palace. By continuing to increase it’s height, Herod helped insure himself a prolific eternal tomb. He is buried within a tunnel system deep inside the mountain. This high vantage point also affords views of the Judean wilderness where Satan tempted Christ for 40 days. Like many places in the Holy Land, years of digging and excavating have revealed what visitors can see today atop this huge hill.

But Herod, just like everyone died. I’d dare to say that if he had not been so prolific in Jesus’ story he would have faded away with the mists of time except for some placeholders in Israel & Middle Eastern history. He was, in the end simply a man, who ended up as my daddy’s favorite comedian, Jerry Clower, would say “Grave yard dead.” Earthly kings come and go, dynasties and monarchies rise and fall. This is a good place to be reminded that nothing lasts forever except God’s providence. Let me just leave it at that and share some images of what’s left of Herod’s man made mountain fortress.

Armageddon, ‘Merica, Can I get an Amen?

Armageddon, ‘Merica, Can I Get An Amen?

To the men of my Stretcher Bearers group: this speaks, somewhat, to Jay’s comment at Kevin’s house back on Feb. 8th. Remember? Jay said: With all the news: CNN, NBC, BBC & FOX put out there at us constantly,take some time everyday to step back and “breathe.” These pics are just a of the guys from Stretcher Bearers. Now, on to Megiddo.

It plays upon our deepest fears…..the unknown.  Anticipating the forthcoming with no clear idea of what exactly lies ahead.  

 

This is Tel Meggido.  The place is beautiful and peaceful, but it has not always been this way.   Translated back into its Greek and Hebrew name we recognize Meggido as Armageddon.  If you don’t know about this, then let me introduce you to the place I have twice personally visited rather than the fear inducing future event I learned to dread as a child.  

 

Growing up in a church as many of us did, people around me used words and terms like “the rapture,” “the second coming,” and  “the end of days.”   Ironic, funny or sad some churches have historically scared or coerced followers into obedience with guilt and fear all the while preaching a message of love.  This control mechanism allows(ed) hierarchical churches to become power brokers in people’s lives and, for The Roman Catholic Church, for example, to amass some of the greatest earthly fortunes recorded (if you’re offended by this thought, log off now).

Revelation, written by the Apostle John, mentions Armageddon only once (Rev. 16:16) stating the kings of the world would be gathered here in the final conflict against God.  The prophesy that Christ will fight earthly governments and bring an end to human suffering in this place recalls images that scare little kids, like I once was, who grew up going to Vacation Bible School, Royal Ambassadors (a Baptist boys’ thing) and Sunday School.  Trying to teach children about prophetic, imagery rich poetry adults cannot understand is futile.  Yet attempts are made, people get turned off; and, for the most part, discussion of the “final conflict,” end times, and eschatology (big S.A.T. Seminary word for the study of end times) is kept closed mouthed.

 

Ask around and you’ll hear people mention every excuse imaginable for not being involved in a faith community.  So many “reasons” and “rationales”: Our son’s baseball league travels on weekends, we have “so much going on” (seriously people, who doesn’t), people in the church are hypocritical (no joke—every single one of us is ), Sunday is our family time, I don’t like the preacher (I’ve never met one who appeals to all people), the church wasn’t there for us when we needed it (where were you when the church needed you?), etc.  

 

The one thing I have learned is this:  Christianity is not for perfect people.  I think this is the biggest misconception among people involved in faith communities and people who are not.  Christians make mistakes all day every day.  We gossip, we spend too much, we eat too much, we work too much, we set double standards, we drink too much, we lust, we fail to seize opportunities to serve, we pass by people who need our help, and we pass judgment way too much.  Yet, we remain hopeful that people will look at us and say: “Hey, I really want to be a part of your Christian fellowship.”  Hard sell?  Maybe.  We don’t help ourselves a lot of times. Despite all of this God offers forgiveness and grace.

 

On January 29th I watched the State of the Union address.  Republicans cheered while Democrats sat stoically in position out of obligation.  The posture of the entire chamber evidenced the character our American political system has assumed…and it is truly pathetic!

 

Our founding fathers envisioned a democratic republic.  There always has been and always will be contentious debate.  The difference between now and a couple of hundred years ago, for that matter—prior to CNN; (thanks Ted Turner) is the drama is broadcast constantly over multiple media venues.  The continuous 24 hour news coverage brings drama to American mainstream life.  Moment by moment commentary does not in any substantive way reflect the truth of the party system our founding fathers envisioned.  The pendulum will swing among administrations and within the terms of administrations.  Rather than detailed coverage of each spoken word, it is the end product of the political process that is important.  As Americans we have all become prey to news network moguls: CNN if you’re liberal; Fox News if you’re conservative.  They ALL seek to entertain us and capitalize on America’s collective need to be constantly fed and entertained.

 

The media exacerbates the power struggle.   But what the heck does any of this have to do with a 10 acre rock fortress remain in the Jezreel Valley?

 

Historically, Meggido controlled an important juncture along a road, the Via Maris, between major trading powers , Mesopotamia and Egypt, in that cradle of civilization on the Fertile Crescent (bet most of you haven’t thought about those words since 3rd or 4th grade social studies). This positioned Megiddo to be a prime place for battling.  If you controlled this fortified city, then you controlled the passage way to one of the major trading routes in the ancient world….and everyone wanted that power.  The story here unfolded from 3400 B.C. until it was abandoned around 350 B.C.

 

Archeology has revealed 25 layers of civilization where approximately 30 cities existed one built atop the previous one. Megiddo saw massive, epic battles resulting in complete destruction. This site’s history is as rich as it is deep.  One of the dig sites shows civilizations’ layers lost to history.  Estimated to have been established during the Bronze Age, the town has seen building by and control of Persians, Babylonians, Canaanites, King Solomon – (the period of the first Jewish Temple), Assyrians, King Ahab (a real person, Jezebel’s husband – not just a Ray Steven’s song character), Persians, and Egyptians.   It is safe to say that life here was anything but safe and peaceful.  It is hard now to imagine this site has seen more battles than any other site on our planet. 

(This shows a dig section where people fro the University of Pennsylvania has dug to unearth the layers of rebuilt and conquered and rebuilt again Megiddo).

 

I am not one to question Biblical truth.  However, within Methodism founder John Wesley’s Reason-Tradition-Scripture-Experience paradigm approach to faith I believe it is prudent to consider where historical Biblical lessons and current events intersect to navigate our future.  

 

Back to our State of the Union.  The internal American power struggle we face is as powerful as the external threats Megiddo’s citizens faced over its multiple B.C. millennia history.  The old cliche about a house divided falls is….well, look what happened to Rome.  

 

We are so incredibly worried about charging Hilary, finding Russian collusion, threatening government shutdowns to prove a points to Trump and to the Pelosi-Schumer delegation about immigration, releasing memos, and talking about that dossier that we cannot make progress (or admit any has been made).  Our two parties are so busy fighting each other’s credibility that the media will not focus on issues impacting day-to-day life.  By the way, who uses the word dossier? It cracks me up to hear tele-journalists throw this sophisticated sounding word around and in the same report cannot get subject-verb agreement and personal pronoun use correct.

 

Truth: both sides of the aisle need to be careful; politicians live in glass houses; almost all of them. Some more vocally than others – cast stones.  Yet, we continue to empower these people with our votes, pay them with our tax dollars and support them generously into retirement.

 

It is not a pretty picture.  One final thought on the political state in America as it relates to my aforementioned thoughts. At the foot of the cross, there is no differentiation between Democrats or Republicans, Dreamers or Natural Born Americans… and, well, you can populate your own list.

And people say they have issues with church?

 

So, what do you fear?  Armageddon, the event described in Revelation as opposed the place shown and described here?  Do we fear America’s future?  Seriously, beyond our individual personal political persuasions how truly “scared” are you for yourself, your family, your neighbors, your finances, your freedom to express your beliefs and faith?

 

It’s something to think about; it’s something to pray about; and it’s something ask ourselves as both Christians and Americans: are we ushering in an American Armageddon?

Other notes: Today we also visited Caesarea Maritima built by Herod the Great. It is the place Jesus’ followers were first called Christians and the placed from where Paul was sent to Rome as a prisoner. Here are a few shots.

What if Mary Magdalene Lived in My Trailer Park

From the foot of Mt. Arbel on the other side of this “hill” from Nazareth lies Migdal; we know it by it’s most famous resident, Mary of Magdala.

You might know her simply by association. The woman at work…you know, the one they say cheats on her husband. People talk about her behind her back, an easy subject of juicy gossip. After all the rumors are….(you fill in the blank). The problem with this scenario is that it is not true; the problem is complete misconception and an explosion of untruth by people who don’t talk with her and don’t invest anything in a relationship with this woman who desperately needs a friend. Follow me through a couple of paragraphs to set a stage.

Professionally, I operate and administer a mobile home park investment company. If it involves mobile homes, trailers, modulars, you name it, then my family, my staff and I have probably seen it. One of my favorite jokes is: What do a hurricane and an Alabama divorce have in common? Sooner or later one of them is gonna claim the trailer!

Mobile home parks in the South have historically been called trailer parks. They come with all kinds of pre-conceived, and often well deserved, bad reputations (poor management can mess up anything). Think: jacked up cars, mangy dogs tied to trees, chicken coops, beer cans —- or Jack Daniels if the party was good, and rusty appliances sitting on dilapidated decks.

People in “trailer parks” also get a bad wrap. You can rest assured if there is a tornado in Mississippi that CNN will go directly to the place where the worst mobile home destruction has taken place. I won’t mock anyone, but you can bet the words “truck… AND I’ve never seen nothing like it…” will be spoken by someone with a “The South will Rise Again” hat. I say this somewhat in jest, but why is it you do not ever see a school teacher or office manager interviewed? Seriously, people in the South do have teeth (and so do almost all people in Mobile Home Parks).

Demographically, we think about trailer park residents as second class citizens. Before I continue let me clearly and emphatically state that nothing could be further from the truth. Society has systematically relegated drug dealers, hookers, low wage factory workers, red necks, etc to places like trailer parks. Thanks, Hollywood. Like everything else, your stereotypes screw up everything!

The truth is that our residents (and I’ve had tens of thousands over my 27 year career) are just like everyone else. Our market is a mix of moms and dads, single parents, young couples, singles, young professionals, contract workers, paralegals, nurses, chefs, skilled factory workers, hospitality workers, some college educated … all seeking to build a better life. For financial reasons, sometimes for lease flexibility options, they choose to reside in manufactured homes.

It’s fair to say over the years we have had our share of unsavory characters. We’ve also had some of the best. I share all of this information to ask: how likely would you be to engage in a relationship with someone unlike you simply because we don’t relate to a place he or she lives? How likely are we to talk with and engage the misunderstood woman at work or a modern day Mary Magdelene?

(Inside the chapels here, this is one of 4 mosaics. 160,000 Murano glass tiles depict Jesus driving out Mary’s 7 demons).

Ironically, the first place we see Mary of Magdala mentioned in scripture (Matthew 27:56) is at the end of Jesus’ life as he suffers on the cross. Yet in the additional 13 times Mary Magdalene is mentioned we learn more about this mysterious woman.

Today we visited Magdala or at least the place it once existed. Like many Holy Land sites its history reveals itself through the puzzle of archeology. It was a small village of 3000 to 4000 known as a fish processing industrial town at the foot of Mt. Arbel. It’s story is fascinating, there is a link included at the end if your interested.

(Excavations of town and the synagogue in Magdela.)

Mary M. Is often misunderstood. People frequently think she may have been the female sinner mentioned in Luke 7, but reread it. There is not any reason to believe it is her or reference specifically to her. We know Christ cured Mary M of seven demons.

We also know Mary M accompanied Mary, mother of Jesus, to the tomb the third day after the cruxfiction to find him missing. Can you, especially you moms, imagine the stone cold numbed Mary M feels as she accompanies Mary Mother of Jesus to prepare His Body after cruxifixction? Mary M, frequently, is in the company of other women. She supports Christ in his ministry.

More interesting than any of this, scriptures tell us Mary Magdela was the first person to witness Christ after this resurrection. He charged her to go tell the disciples He was risen. Can you imagine, simply imagine after everything that had happened what she must have thought? And the disciples? They were probably wondering who spiked the olive oil!

As for rumors and discussion she married Jesus: I don’t know. I truly don’t care. I’ll leave that to the wondering, hypothecating minds of speculative theologians and guys like author Dan Brown who make millions writing Da Vinci Code genre novels.

If this woman were formerly of ill repute (and she was absolutely someone who was previously “demon possessed”) in modern day terms and she was from somewhere outside your demographic—-the trailer park at the county line, for example, then how would you treat her? How do you treat her? We encounter Mary of Magdala in someone we meet every time we leave our homes!

Like many other Bible characters we are given just enough information to make Mary M tremendously misunderstood. I have this quirky approach I like to call FaceBook theology…maybe philosophy. Even if you’re not on Social Media you’ve seen the MEMES. My favorite and the one that applies most appropriately to today is this one:

Who knows what Mary M was battling then; who knows what the Mary M you’ll meet tomorrow is battling?

As we drove away from Magdela today I thought about Mary M. and this place she lived. Why did they bring us here….to a place that is not even a place any longer? What would the takeaway be? It hit me: Be kind.

We live in a world characterized by division. Division by racial tensions, inequality among the sexes, struggles across demographic classes, and more. Every group jockeys for position. It’s tiring and sad; there is no end in sight.

The truth is if we are all created in God’s image, then I believe He doesn’t divide us as we divide ourselves. We are called to treat one another with kindness, to respect the dignity of humanity and the Divinity He placed within each of us even when we don’t understand (and I often don’t understand), and to honor God by loving one another as He commanded. Be kind

Hook, Line and Stinker

Hook, Line & Stinker

For Michael Adams, Martin Davidson & Tim Enten & Jason Goebel

We boarded the boat this morning just like the last trip, except today I knew what to expect. My travel companions did not. We’d see the shores of the Sea of Galilee, learn about how much of Jesus’ life revolved around this body of water, sing Amazing Grace or another hymn, do some other things, and recall how fishermen since ancient times have cast nets in these waters to harvest fish for a living. Today my mind returned to last September.

On Labor Day morning 4 of us loaded the gear and headed out of Little River, SC on Jason’s boat. It was time to fish. At a nearly infinitive number of spots along the way we saw schools of bait size mullet. Those little things stink stink stink when they die…ugh! As we got really close to shore approaching some dense schools Jason gave control of the 28’ Regulator in shallow fast moving water over to Michael. Tim and I mentally high fived each other when we realized we weren’t even on the radar to maneuver the boat. Jason, carefully balanced on the bow, threw the 10’-12’ cast net repeatedly into the schools attempting to pull in bait fish. In jerky motion with water smacking us from many directions, no fault of Michael’s, the boat went back and forth—I swore, through not fault of his, Jason was going to end up in the water. The banter between those two was stressful, but very funny at the same time. I, not being much of a sportsman, had $20 and a cooler that could’ve saved the whole scene had we stopped by a tackle shop…but think, then we would have missed all of this! We made memories that day.

Fast forward a couple of weeks. My very best buddy, Tim, the one from the Labor Day boat trip decided he wanted to learn how to masterfully cast a net. Our friend, Martin, spent hours instructing us, mainly Tim, how to throw a cast net into the surf at Holden Beach. After we realized we’d have to put down our cigars to be successful, things took a positive turn. Even though we have A LOT of fun we’re not always the brightest duo. Again, we made memories that day.

The stories and mystique of the water at the Sea of Galilee run deep (pun possibly intended). On these shores Christ met Simon Peter & Andrew casting their nets (Matthew 4:18-22) much more masterfully, I am certain, than my friends do (not me…remember, I’m the wuss at the tackle shop). Christ calmed these stormy waters by His hand; He invited Peter out of the boat and had him walk on the water; Jesus fed the 5000 on the banks of this Sea (at the place now called the Church of the Multiplication), and into these waters the demon possessed swine ran and drown themselves after Christ drove the evil spirits away.

Water’s imagery pervades the Bible everywhere. It signifies life, trust, and purity. It is beside a well in Nazareth, where Gabriel first appears to Mary to announce to her she would bear God’s son (this place called Mary’s well now housed inside a Greek Orthodox Church is not a place with which many people are familiar). Even the essentially lifeless Dead Sea offers capitalists a plethora of opportunity to sell bath & spa related products (somebody please tell me now how I’m going to keep Thaedra from shipping home 25 pounds of bath salts——they are pretty awesome I must admit).

Jesus told Simon-Peter and Andrew to fish for men.

Here are some images of the ride today.

(Leave it to me to find birds, not fish on a sea,)

I began today this story talking about a few of my friends and their cast nets. I very specifically selected them for a reason (none of them, other than Michael, had any idea I’d be publishing this—-sorry fellas). In a sense, I’m calling them out, because if you saw them on the street you’d think they were simply regular guys living regular lives. To know them a little better means to know that they reflect Kingdom work.

Michael is one of many people I know who has worked in missions abroad serving in Guatemala. He has left his extremely comfortable first world life to serve and to build to be an instrument of grace and agent for change among people he’ll never see again.

Martin (white shirt, below) might be the smartest person I know. I’ve only begun to know him well, but in this time I have watched him serve our church, become highly committed to our men’s prayer and devotion group, and recently step up after his father’s death to be a rock solid foundation on whom his mother can depend. He is a model son.

Tim (green shirt) has worked intensely hard for our church (much of it behind the scenes) to edify it and improve it for current and future generations. Congratulations to him for recently being recognized with a prolific and well deserved missions-service award. In many ways he is an unsung hero people will not ever understand.

Jason (Capt. in the white) inspires me. Vocationally he uses his extreme intelligence to help people navigate medical and cardiology issues. But he is just a real dude…the kind of person you like to hang out with and want to get to know better…approachable, sincere, a you get what you see kind of man. He is real people there for folks when they are really scared about heart surgery.

You wouldn’t look at this group of men and see a 1950’s era bunch of conservative, maybe a little socially repressed “church men.” They are by every standard, modern, open minded full throttle ahead guys who who reflect the light of Christ—and I’m pretty sure they don’t even think about it. In identifiably unique ways each of these friends has been and continues to be a fisher of men. Today on this Lake called Gennesaret, this Sea in Galilee, I am thinking of some of these friends and what we are all called to do with our gifts and how we are called to cast our nets.

All The Way to Hell & Back-

All the Way to Hell and Back-

I think Winston Churchill must truly have been a crusty old fart! Our friend Jacquie has a precious new baby bull dog who’s face reminds me of Sir Winston. But I also think he was pretty awesome….the polka dotted blue bow ties & Romeo & Julietta cigars add an endearing charm. Mr. Churchill is often quoted. Recently, just before the credits rolled at the end of “Darkest Hour” his quote rolled across a black screen reading: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Inspiring, right?

The Prime Minister is credited, and probably not enough in my humble opinion, for standing up to Hitler and saving not only the Commonwealth, but all of Europe. During all of this Churchill said: “If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going!” Speaking of Hell, we saw the gates of it today.

Walking toward the hillside it’s the kind of place you’d expect to see on a Disney or Universal backlot tour. There should be action adventure shots filmed here or possibly a take of Kong as this could be a great backdrop for Skull Island. But as you arrive at the imposing red cliff ahead you realize you have arrived at the remains of Biblically prolific Caesarea Philipi. The names sounds so adult Sunday School and so Biblely or Christiany— my friend Tim made that word up a few years ago; it fits. In actuality, this place was a terribly ungodly settlement.At the expense of sounding like Andy Rooney I’ll ask: Do you ever wonder why we gauge stuff in the Bible as all happening two thousand years ago? Seriously, everything did not happen when Jesus was around.There was a highly mixed population here who worshipped the pagan god Pan, a creature that supposedly had a 1/2 man & 1/2 horse body. He was the god of outcasts. Caesarea Philippi was a Pagan community worshipping Pagan Gods.The people here believed that the entrance into this cliffside through the pagan temple was the actual gate to Hades….yeah, I didn’t go in (and don’t anybody tell me to, either). The rocks and ruins in the side of the mountain below show the remains of temple to the pagan god Pan. Now about that 2000 year thing…the answer here is easy. Christ reveals himself here in very real ways. Jesus knew what a wicked, pagan, cultural mess Casarea Philipi was. He brought the disciples here. Imagine Him talking to the Disciples here and the power of symbolism with the proclaimed gates of Hell in the hill just behind him. Here He said to Peter: “I tell you that you are Peter and on this Rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.” The name Peter is derivative of Petra or Petros meaning “stone rock.” (Matt 16:18). It is easy to consider literal and figurative meanings.Here Jesus also asks His disciples “Who do you think I am?” Check out the full reference in Matthew 16:13-20From a historical perspective the Palestinians conquered this area in the first century, B.C. They wanted someone who would have a very strong hold on this place. Herod the Great took the crown and reigned over this territory. His son, Herod Philip, eventually ruled over this area. This was named Caesarea after Caesar Octavian and Philipi to differentiate this place from the Caesarea (Maritima) on the coast (the one where Paul was held before being sent to Rome). There are remains of Herod’s absolutely gargantuan palace (there were lots of Herods and even more palaces). The interesting thing is that it is so big that when archeologists unearthed it a major, modern road had been constructed over it. Ironically, one of the palace tunnels runs directly under the road…seriously…. visitors can safely pass from one side to the other. (We saw it on the first trip, but not today).Jesus literally took His disciples to the place many people believed to be the gates of Hell to reveal Himself. For a place to have been pagan filled and evil ridden to be the back drop for Christ’s revelation that He is the true Messiah created a study of contrasts. Against the gates of Hell in ancient Caesarea Philippi 12 men saw the hope of the light Heaven and one man, Peter, the Rock, became the foundation of the Christian Church. Churchill’s words apply to faithful living “…failure is not final.” There is hope. “The courage to continue is what counts.” No group of people ever learned this more than the disciples. They went all the way to hell and back to learn this lesson, to forge ahead, to build the Church.Other stops:We spent a little time at the Primacy of St. Peter. It’s a place on the shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus appeared to the disciples after His Resurrection. We also visited the Mount of the Beatitudes. I’ll post about it later. Katie, Thaedra & Meagan all remembered their Baptisms in the very cold Jordan River; those images are theirs to share.

Final note: a few friends I knew about,and quite a few more unbeknownst to me attended Andrea Bocelli’s Romazna 20th Year Tour in Charlotte on February 9th. He surprised the audience when the incredible Kristin Chenoweth joined him on stage. She enthralled and entranced the entire Spectrum arena with her version of “Upon this Rock.” The entire time she sang this I could not help but recall being in Caesarea Philippi the first time in 2016 and anticipate our return today. If you have a another few minutes, then check out the video someone posted on YouTube from a similar performance from the NYC tour stop. https://youtu.be/n3oLAQmWn_4

This Blog’s for You: Dilly Dilly!

We made it! After crossing several oceans and the Swiss & Italian Alps, we landed in Tel Aviv to connect with Victor, to meet our tan bus family for the next 8 days, and to head cross country for our first few nights.

(Alps from the air as captured by Julia)

If you’re driving along the road between Tiberias and Tel Aviv heading toward the Sea of Galilee and look way way way over to your right you’ll see a set of Golden Arches perched miles away up a hill. To be perfectly honest everywhere I go I see McDonalds. The chain’s founder, Ray Kroc, would be delighted. Hamburgers for all; and although I remain uncertain I bet you can’t get that disgusting McRib in Israel. It is, among other things, unkosher. This particular McDonalds just happens to be in Cana. Yes, that same Cana of Galilee where Biblical history records Jesus having performed his first miracle. Rather than stopping our tour group cruised by rapidly racing toward our Tiberias hotel.

(We were so far away I couldn’t snap images; these are Google’s)

This is exactly what happened on my first trip. Thus, I was really excited to see Cana on an itinerary I read in preparation for today.

As luck would have it, or lack thereof, the same thing happened today. Guess who clicked on the wrong tour? (Brian Barger: I contemplated taking an Israeli Uber back over, but then I remembered that article you e-mailed me. I’m not even sure they have Uber in Israel, but I’ll get back to you on that ‘cause going to the mall later).

We didn’t get to go to Cana…the wedding site…where He turned water into wine! I had been hassling my wife: No, Thaedra, they would not miraculously have shown us how to turn Deer Park into Cake Bread or Rombauer Chardonnay. And even though she wouldn’t say it back to me she’s thinking: Honey, you’re weren’t going to see anybody turn water into Maker’s Mark (we are, afterall, traveling with the Kentucky Conference of the United Methodist).

I love a great party…hosting one and attending one. The wedding party chronicled in Cana may be the most epic, enduring and discussed party in history. Can you imagine being there? Can you imagine being the father of the bride? After preparing for who knows how long to join your daughter to her betrothed while your neighbors watched and judged every social move you made. And then, the unthinkable happens. You run out of wine. Yep, the bar is dry … and the wedding singer is still going strong (what in the world must that have sounded like in first century life…I’m thinking Adam Sandler’s character strumming a lute in ancient middle Eastern garb—-really bad imagery).

Among my group of friends we crack up and goof off often. Fishing, card games, fire pits, monthly prayer group, dinners with our wives, and plenty of good times are characterized by many toasts & cheers. You can bet someone ALWAYS throws in the perfectly timed humor and quick witted “Dilly Dilly” made famous by the prolific Bud Light tv commercials. If, by chance, you are not familiar with these, then you probably didn’t watch the Super Bowl earlier this month or any television in the last six months. You need to YouTube them——it means you need a quick lesson in pop culture and to get out a little. If you don’t know what YouTube is, then please seek help from the nearest teenager or millennial (quite seriously).

It just so happened that among the guests at this wedding in Cana were Mary and Jesus. Now there’s a guest list for you…top that! As the scripture goes Christ’s first miracle was turning multiple large cisterns of water into wine. The result was fine wine, too, not the lower quality wine guests would customarily have expected toward the end of a wedding banquet maybe after their senses were dulled from overindulging already. Jesus made certain that not only could the host provide quality wine through the main part of the wedding party, but He provided the best wine for last. As importantly, people took notice and talked about it.

The story, found in John 2:1-12, reveals the same truth: a Life of faith in Christ offers us the best a along the way culminating in His loving salvation in the end. Just like the wine didn’t run out, the love and life God offers, like the wine at the wedding, are abundant.

Here’s to the hosts who extend hospitality, here’s to the partiers in Cana, here’s to Jesus for extending His grace & love through His first miracle, here’s to the people who realized what He did – and still accept His gift, talk about it, and share it with the people around them today. I remains something to celebrate and something to recognize. To this I give a resounding Dilly Dilly!

Interesting Fact: it is historical, sanitation, and health care fact that ancient people used wine and other low grade alcohol to purify their water. It was the only practical way they had to kill bacteria. When boiling water was not an option as little as a 2% of a vessel’s volume and sometimes more, included alcohol for it’s antiseptic properties. Likely, people developed an “immu

Zac Galifianakis, Wolfpacks & What Happens in Israel Doesn’t Stay in Israel

Did you see it? The Hangover….the first one. It’s the hilariously funny, sickly offensive, highly immoral movie about a bachelor party in Las Vegas. One of the first scenes features the bride’s brother, the nerdy, dopey dude in the group played by Zac G. taking the other 3 much better looking, sophisticated guys to the hotel roof on the Vegas Strip. He wants them all to cut their hands and make a blood pact to become a Wolf Pack. It was stupid! Next, the guys have a toast (which Zac has ruffied) and insanity, which none of them recall the following morning save for a small point and shoot camera, begins.

It was February 7, 2016. Drizzling, freezing cold rain fell on the members of the “red bus.” Victor Nammour, my friend whom I proclaim as Israel’s greatest tour guide and Ambassador, led the group including Mark, Juna, Susi, Brandon, George, Julie, Bob, Rusti, Sharon, others and me through the streets of Old City Jerusalem. Old City is much like it was in Christ’s day (except for the electricity, duh!). Merchants, ancient stone streets, incense aroma, hustling crowds characterize this center of commerce.

 

 

(From 2/7/16: part of our group on the Jerusalem streets).

Our feet were wet; lips were purple; we were freezing. In certain places streets were so narrow that when cars would pass by we’d have to step into doorways and allies to let motorists pass. When stinking exhaust fumes warmed us, we gladly welcomed the choking stench. At one point one of the ladies tripped. The lens from her exceptionally nice camera hit so hard it popped off a rolled a few feet away. We were hungry, we were tired, we were walking the path of Jesus Christ along the Via Dolorosa, we did not have anything but complete awe and reverence.

And then, there it was: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

 

 

It is Golgotha; the place where Christ was entombed, the place from where he was resurrected. From here the Romans tried to end His story. From here the story lives!

 

 

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You might ask yourself: What the heck does a secular, rated R movie like The Hangover have to do with anything Holy Land? We’ve all heard it: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” And those guys did a pretty good job keeping their trip to themselves (remember them going through the camera shots at the end….Carrot Top?…I’ll leave it there).

Paragraph disclaimer: this is all over the place, try to follow me: Zac didn’t get his 4 man blood wolf pack in the movie. The events of Christ’s 33 year life, death & subsequent resurrection did not stop with four guys (12 in Jesus’ case) stifling the story of how Christ bought our salvation with His blood. Pentecost came, the Holy Spirit moved, and fast forward all the way to 2017 where we live in His world marked by His life. In every culture, even when it is not acknowledged, some aspect of modern living is set as a result of Christian tradition. I speculate that even ole Kim Jong’s Juche calendar (created in 1912) was, in some backward way predicated upon, if not set in protest to the Gregorian Calendar. Somebody want to let him in on that? He might spontaneously combust—-but I completely digress.

The Holy Land’s beauty is that what happened there did not stay there. It radiated and shone throughout the world. News spread so that His story could unfold throughout creation.

Wait a minute.

Am I using the past tense?

I’ll rephrase my conclusion.

The Holy Land’s beauty is what happens there shines through the world. News spreads so that His story can be told throughout creation.

(Below: lamps above place where Christ’s body believed to have been prepared for burial.  The stone beneath the lamps dates to Christ’s time. )

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(Top right: place believed to be where the cross of Christ stood on Golgotha; 2nd right: top of entry to Christ’s tomb where He remained  for 3 days (photo prior to 2017 restoration); bottom left: best shot I could get of entire tomb enclosure: it’s HUGE)

One week from today 4 incredible women and I shall depart to meet Victor in Tel Aviv to venture through the Holy Land. As in February 2016 I invite you to join us on the journey through Galilee, Ein Gedi, Palestine, and Jerusalem. Hopefully, you’ll see a fresh approach to an ancient land…peppered with relatable pop culture analogies….all of which pervade modern living. This is my approach to telling the story because I believe God can be found everywhere and related, in someway, to every situation, to tell a timeless story of His never ending Mercy & Grace.

Let’s roll! Next stop: Ben Gurion International, Tel Aviv.  

Two last things:

(1) I intend no disrespect whatsoever to Christian faith and intend no comparison between the secular movie and Bible other than to say some stories spread; some stories do not. If we cannot live in a secular world and reflect the love of Jesus Christ by our actions, then we might as well hang it up.

(2) If you read the first blog back in 2016, there still isn’t a Hard Rock Cafe in Israel, but the hummus and falafel are killer! Can’t wait.

If Buzz Lightyear titled this it would read: “To Bethlehem and Beyond!”

 

What is it that stirs your affection for the Christmas season? After already shopping on Amazon, decorating a “Grinch” themed Christmas tree, and getting excited about a blow out party, this question hit me hard on the first Sunday of December. Our church’s Chancel Choir performed Lessons & Carols attempting to put us in the correct mindset for Advent, scripture was read, hymns and carols sung. This year, however, I could not help but wonder about the journey to manger while they performed “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” To hear the words and imagine the scene this heralded classic conjures up is to envision a quiet, still, sleepy town. Without much commerce and a boring existence by it’s residents one might think of a place from folklore…from the pages of a children’s bedtime story.

The truth about Bethlehem began to unravel itself to me not quite two years ago. To remember my grandparents saying “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” best summarizes the reality I internalized about the small modern day Palestineian town I visited in 2016 to see where God entered the world more than two millennia ago.

Driving south approximately 10 miles from Jerusalem we arrived by charter bus into the Westbank station. On foot tourists pour onto narrow traffic filled streets bordered by businesses and ladened with car fumes. Enterprise thrives. Touristy shops woo passersby to purchase a “special” gift for someone back home. Carved olive wood figures of the Holy family, Holy water and bronzed postcards promise Bethlehem’s memories will linger well beyond the day’s tour. Business people capitalize on trendy Western ideas…think Stars & Buck….latte anyone?… and the Hard Rock (not even close). Incidentally, it took me a while to figure out why I couldn’t find Christmas ornaments in this predominantly Muslim populated region.

 

 

On foot and donkey Mary arrived with Joseph in Bethlehem, his ancestral home, to find a town robustly alive as each Jew had been ordered to return to register for the Roman census. Commerce and bustling activity enlivened the small, countryside village to the point no one could adequately accommodate the pregnant girl. Like the modern streets today’s tourists encounter, the Holy couple found them crowded and commercialized…at least by first century standards. They settled in for the evening in the stable….umm…make that the cave where the local innkeeper housed livestock. Not far from this cave is the field…the only livestock field in Bethlehem (not something history could mistake) where the lowest class peasant shepherds would be stunned by angels announcing the Messiah’s birth. It’s funny…maybe even sad…depending on how you look at it…that when you visit the field now it is marked by a large entry arch resembling a theme park attraction that says “Gloria en excelsis Deo”

 

 

We ascended the hill toward a rock like fortress topped by a belfry. One could liken the Church of the Nativity more to a medieval European castle or prison than to a holy shrine. Here, through an incredibly short door (constructed low so that people from days of old mounted on horses could not enter and deface the church) and through the highly ornate Greek Orthodox worship space pilgrims arrive at the entrance to a grotto a few steps downs. To your right you see a space where Mary is said to have given birth to God’s Son. Steps away is the spot marked by structure that reminds guests of a fireplace structure marking where the child was placed…in those swaddling clothes…among the animals in the stable. If you rewound time and stripped away the silk fabric coverings, gilded gold and silver oil lamps, and marble floors, you would be standing in a cave. The present day embellishments are nothing more than man’s attempt to honor Christ’s birthplace….Christ’s birthplace….it bears repeating because in this place they tell us Christmas, as God intended it to be, originated.

 

 

Centuries before Martin Luther erected the first Christmas tree, a world away from Bing Crosby’s idealistic White Christmas, in a culture that could never imagine a festive rum beverage like an Egg Nog, before some genius Coca Cola marketing person introduced us, somewhat sadly, to a secular St. Nicolas, guides proclaim Jesus Christ entered the world in this space. Wow! That He entered the world at all should be gift enough; to be near the space…potentially in the very space He entered should be life altering, perspective changing.

So much has changed since Mary gave birth to His son. So much has changed since February, 2016 when my travel group first experienced Bethlehem. The world is a different place; my world is a different place. North Korea is a larger threat, the Opioid crisis has exponentially proliferated; a president with no political experience was inaugurated; children graduate; Alzheimer’s claims our loved ones; dear friendships change and change us; people we love become afflicted with cancer; young couples fall in love and marry; #MeToo victims step forward …. and this list could go on ad nauseam.

This coming February Julia Brotherton, Cindy Carpenter, Katie Dirks, Thaedra & I shall join my friend, Victor Nammour, in the Holy Land to follow the steps of Jesus through His homeland. We shall be in the Church of the Nativity at some point during our pilgrimage. It is not a vacation, rather a mind opening, heart broadening exercise.

Someone created an online video recently I can only loosely recall. It’s message: “God doesn’t hate gay people, you hate gay people. God doesn’t love America, you love America.” Fill in the blank with almost any hot button religious or socio-political issue (prayer in schools, 2nd amendment rights, taxes, partisan politics, Confederate statues, etc.) and you can get mad. It’s easy to get mad at Nancy Pelosi, Paul Ryan, Roger Goddell, Meryl Streep, Kim Kardashian, and cancer, and taxes, and AIDs, and crystal meth, and Racism, and… anything that does not fit into our subjective plans. The video’s message made me think about how we put, if not force, God into our proverbial box, to be shaped by our individualized paradigms. We conveniently make God into what we want Him to be so that we can rationalize our perspectives. We build ourselves and condemn other people so that we can feel good about our lives. This truth can be a tough pill to swallow, until we humble ourselves to consider we are all, as we are told in Genesis, created in His image, to honor Him. Christ came not only to redeem us, but to be a great equalizer among us. Like it or not, we are all His children loved equally by Him.

This Christmas through the fudge, the “Let it Snow”, broken blown glass ornaments, piles of wrapping paper, lost gift receipts, travel frustrations, already looking ahead to New Year’s Eve plans and being completely irritated by another radio station playing “It’s Christmas” (r.i.p. Tom Petty) I am reminded of a single Bible verse. It might be the Bible verse people remember most often; it may be the most quoted….almost to the point it sounds cliche. But, the words of John 3:16 are never cliche: “For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” This is the gift of God to us; the true gift of Christmas.

It took me almost two years to realize it. Having been in the place He arrived and anticipating a return to it complete with the thoughts and emotions it evokes stir my affection for Christmas.

What stirs yours?

Merry Christmas