Feb 29, 2012

What I Want vs What is best

I want a cheeseburger and fries...what I should have is a turkey sandwich and salad.

I want another motorcycle...what I have right now is more than enough bike.

I want to stay up and goof around...what I should do is to go to bed at a reasonable hour so that I can be productive the next day at work.

I really don't feel like working out and exercising...what my body needs is regular activity to stay healthy.

One of the ways we grow up is when we learn to do what is best rather than doing merely what I want. When an individual doesn't make this transition, they can look like an adult, but they will forever be children.

But worse, when we don't learn to make this transition, we will leave a wake of heartache and broken relationships.

Because if the primary way in we base our decision making is determined by what I want rather than what is best, our lives will end up in a mess.

America, it's time to grow up as a generation, as a nation, and as a people.

Feb 28, 2012

God's Plan Works if You Work the Plan

God's plan works, if you work the plan

Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind...(Romans 12:2)

We were not meant to live lives like everyone else.

  • Our marriages are supposed to be qualitatively different
  • Our financial lives are supposed to be demonstratively different
  • Our relationships with others are supposed to be a blessing
  • Life is supposed to be the abundant purpose-filled life
When Jesus was explaining why God had sent him on this mission to earth Jesus replied, "I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).

God has a plan for how we might live into transformed lives. 

We need to replace faulty thinking about who we are and what life is supposed to be about, and replace them with God's truths about what who we are and what our ultimate purpose is.

And as we download God's truths about marriage, finances, relationships, decision-making etc., and when we start putting them into action, transformation is the result.

God's plan works, if you work the plan.

God's plan works. That's the first part.

But, in order for God's plan to be realized in individual lives, we have to put those truths into action. It's not enough to know that God's plan works. It's not enough to know that healthy eating and exercise leads to healthy lives. We have to put that plan into action. We have to eat healthy and we have to exercise. And if we stick to that plan, the plan works.

If we do our part, God's plan works. 

So what are you waiting for?

Get out there and start putting God's plan for transformation to work.

God's plan works, if you work the plan.

Feb 26, 2012

What Really Matters is Jesus

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher
One of the interesting things about traveling in Israel is that almost every place we go, people there seem to be certain that their place is where Jesus was born, where Jesus was baptized, where Jesus was crucified, where Jesus was buried, etc.

The truth is, no one really knows with any certainty.

In fact, there are multiple places that say that their place is where the actual event occurred. For instance, both the Church of the Sepulcher and the Garden Tomb claim that their place is where Jesus was crucified and resurrected.
The Garden Tomb

Both of them can't be right.

Jesus only died once and only rose once.

So what are we to make of all this?

The truth of the gospel doesn't depend on a particular location. The truth of the gospel is all about a particular Savior.

I don't mind that we don't know the exact places where Jesus did this and where Jesus did that. Because they're just places. What really matters is that Jesus did those things.

I am glad that we don't have the original cross or the know the exact places of particular events. Because human beings have a tendency to make idols of such things.

Can you imagine people saying such things as:

  • "I got to touch the cross of Jesus" 
  • "I sat in the very stone where Jesus rose from the grave" 

The truth of the gospel has nothing to do with venerated places and icons. The truth of Christianity has everything to do with a God who so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, so that whosoever should believe in him will not perish but have ever lasting life.

Feb 25, 2012

Looking for Fish that Tastes Like Cheeseburger

For Lent, I decided to give up beef, chicken, and pork.

In the past, I gave up all meat and that was crazy hard for me. I can confirm that I am not and will never be a vegetarian. That just isn't going to happen.

Because that was so hard, I tried giving up just beef. But that was way too easy. You can always find chicken or pork and because of that I really didn't have much of an issue giving up beef.

So this time around I am choosing to give up beef, chicken, and pork. I am sticking with fish. I am finding this to just about right. I don't like fish. I like meat. Fish is not meat...at least in my book. Fish is fish.

Also, finding fish I like is difficult. The problem is I like fish that doesn't taste fishy. I like meat tasting fish.

I just got done walking all over JFK airport in NYC looking for something to eat. There's not much fish going on in this place. I ended up eating a way overpriced fish sandwich at Wendy's. Must say, not as satisfying as a cheeseburger would have been.

So every time I long for a burger or a steak, I am reminded of how much Jesus gave up for me when he took on human form and left the glory of heaven to be rejected, crucified, and buried.

Another thing that Lent has confirmed for me is that we're really messed up people.

You see, because of my heart issues, I really don't eat that much meat to begin with. I haven't had a cheeseburger in months.

But, wouldn't you know it, as soon as I gave up beef, chicken, and pork for lent I have been craving a cheeseburger.

What's up with that? I can go months and not really miss it. But I give it up for God and now my body craves it.

And it's not just me. As I have conversations with others about this, I am not the only messed up person!

We are all messed up!

That's why we need the God of grace.

That's why we need to exercise our spiritual disciplines.

Because, left on our own, we really are our greatest weakness. 

Feb 24, 2012

Making the Best Lemonade

The 8 who missed the connecting flight chilling at the Delta Sky Lounge at JFK
By now, I should be at Seatac waiting for my luggage. By now, my wife would have met me and given me a hug and a kiss. By now, I should be thinking about what I am going to eat with my wife for lunch.

That is what would have been happening had our team made the connecting flight to Seattle. But in reality, only 4 made that connection. The rest of us are stuck in JFK waiting for our flight at 5:30pm.

Anytime you miss a connection its a pain. Missing the connecting flight after a 12 hour flight on an absolutely jammed packed 747, after being up most of the night because there was a toddler throwing up and crying - that puts missing a connecting flight into a whole different category.

But everyone's trying to keep a good attitude.

As Preston says, "It could could be worse. I could be out on the farm milking cows. And this is way better than that!"

That's right Preston, this is way better than that indeed.

We are safe, we are healthy, and we will be going home.

Feb 23, 2012

Christians...We're all on the Same Team!!!

Ladder has been there on top of the entrance of the Church of the Sepulchre since 1854
What would happen if Christians worked together as if they were on the same team, instead of working against each other?

That's not just a rhetorical question.

When pilgrims visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, they will notice a latter right above the main entrance to the church. What is remarkable about this ladder is that it has been there since 1854.

What is the spiritual significance that it would be at such a prominent place in one of the most important churches in Christian history?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

But why is it there?

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is shared by six denominations: The Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Coptic Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, and the Ethiopian Orthodox.

The problem is that these churches are so at odds with each other about who gets to use what space at what time, that they can't agree on anything.

The ladder stands above the entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepluchre precisely because the churches that are stewarding this space on behalf of God can't work together.

How embarrassing and shameful is that?

Friends, when will we start acting like we're on the same team? Because until we do, we're not going to make much of an impact to a world who is laughing at us.

Feb 22, 2012

Day 8 in Israel

The final day of touring...

We will have a free day tomorrow before catching the 11pm flight from Tel Aviv to Seattle via New York. Most of the folks from LCOP will be doing their final shopping and touring Jerusalem for their last day. I will be spending the day in the hotel preparing for the sermon this weekend back home.

This day started by visiting the Israel Museum and the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition. There is 50-1 model scale of what Jerusalem looked like during the days of Jesus.
A model of what Jerusalem looked like during the days of Jesus
The Temple Mount
Herod's Palace in the background with the three towers

The main steps leading into the Temple Mount and the porticos
After spending the morning in the museum, we then went to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. A local cantor led us in a time of reflection. Even though none of knew Hebrew, the music was unmistakable...laments of a people who had suffered greatly. It was quite moving.
Clark spending some time in reflection at the Holocaust Museum
The statue below depicts a famous Jewish poet in Poland who used his wealth and notoriety to shelter the Jewish orphans whose parents had been murdered by the Nazis. At first the Nazis left him alone, but there came a time when they came for the children. The famous poet was given a chance to be spared by the Nazis because of his notoriety, but the poet chose to go to the gas chambers with his orphaned children. He too was gassed to death in one of the concentration camps. This is a statue to remember his sacrifice for the children.
Going through the Holocaust museum is not easy. And you might be wondering why this was scheduled as part of a pilgrimage to Israel for our church members, and particularly on Ash Wednesday.

I think it's fitting that we spent time in the Holocaust Museum on Ash Wednesday.

We love happy endings.

We love Easter.

But we forget that Easter is only possible because Jesus endured the atrocities of Good Friday, and because he paid the debt of the sins of the world in hell.

There is no Easter without Good Friday and the cross.

Just as there is no Christianity without the cross, there is no way to understand the ethos of modern day Israel without the holocaust. As ugly and tragic and horrific the Holocaust was, it is why Israel is the way she is today.

After the Holocaust Museum, we went back into the Old City into the Jewish quarters. There we the recently discovered ruins of the main card, the main street of ancient Jerusalem, and the ruins of the wall that Hezekiah built when he was king.

As we were walking out of the Jewish quarters into the Armenian quarter, saw a sign that I just had to take a picture of.
St James St marks the start of the Armenian quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem
The final place we visited today was the Garden Tomb where many believe Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected.

Place where some believe is the Place of the Skull, or Golgotha. Do you see the face of a skull in the rocks?
What is intriguing about this particular spot is that the most likely place where Jesus was crucified was not on top of the hill of Golgotha. That's the way many pictures and movies depict the crucifixion of Jesus. The way Romans did crucifixions was to choose a busy boulevard where many people would be passing by. And in many of the cities where the crucifixions took place, even while the people were dying, people would just be about their regular business without even giving a second thought to the crucifixions. "Oh, another guy the Romans put to death."

The place where the crucifixion of Jesus most likely took place is now a parking lot for a busy Arab bus station right next to a mosque. There are hundreds of people going through here every hour without the slightest idea of what God did for all of human kind right at the spot where they are getting on and off the buses to go about their busy days.

But that's the gospel story.

God steps right into our daily lives. It's in this very life you and I live that God wants to enter our world.

That's incredible!

That's good news.
An Arab bus stop where Jesus was likely crucified
We finished our pilgrimage to Israel at a quiet spot in the garden next to the tomb. We prayed, read scripture, shared the holy sacrament of the Lord's Supper, and sang the only hymn that seemed appropriate "How Great Thou Art!"
The Garden Tomb
One more day and we will start our journey back home. Already, my mind is switching gears as I start thinking about Edie Brewer's memorial service on Saturday, and as I start the preparations for the sermon for this Sunday.

Life goes on.

But God is there.

And for our LCOP folks, they will never be able to read the Bible stories in the same way ever again.

There will be a place, a smell, a landscape, an experience that will go with the stories of how God chose to break into our story so that he can make his-story.

That's what pilgrimages are for.

Thanks be to God!

Feb 21, 2012

Day 7 in Israel

Another fantastic day in Israel.

We left for Masada, the Dead Sea, and Qumran via the Jordean Desert. It's remarkable how quickly the landscape changes once you leave Jerusalem. 

The desert is a beautiful place but I can't even begin to imagine traveling through the desert without the comfort of an air-conditioned bus. When we left Jerusalem it was in the fifties but as soon as we arrived in the desert the temperatures were in the 70's and 80's. 
The views from Masada are amazing. You can see why the desert monks chose this place as a place of refuge. If you didn't know this place was here, there would be very little purpose for coming here.

Herod the Great built a palace here to escape the cold winters in Jerusalem.

And as you know, this was the place where the last remaining free Jews made their last stand against the Romans.
You have a commanding 360 degree view of the entire landscape. That's the Dead Sea in the distance.
The ruins of Herod's private residence
You can still see the ruins of where the Romans made their camps to lay siege on Masada. The Romans completely encircled Masada. There were over 10,000 Roman soldiers against 300 or so Jewish resistance fighters.
One of the encampments of the Roman soldiers below Masada 
This is the ruins of Herod's public palace. This is where he conducted his official business.
A model of Herod's private palace, equipped with his own bath house and sauna
When the Romans realized that the Jewish rebels had enough water and food to sustain themselves, they began building this rampart to break through the surrounding walls that were protecting the Jewish rebels. They used captured Jews from Jerusalem to build this huge earthen rampart. The Jewish rebels had no choice but to rain down burning oil, rocks, spears, and arrows on their own countrymen to protect themselves.

In the end the Romans were able to break through the defenses. But because it was close to sun down they chose not to attack that evening.

It was that fateful evening when the remaining 300 rebels and close to a 1,000 civilians chose to take their own lives rather than become slaves to the Roman Empire.

Beautiful mosaic dating to Herod the Great in his official palace.
After spending the morning on Masada, we took a break to float on the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is by far the saltiest water I've ever been in. As soon as you immerse yourself, you can feel a burning sensation against your skin. The water is oily from the many minerals in the water. This is an experience like no other.

The beautiful Dead Sea 
The water was cold but once you got in the water, it was quite pleasant...that is besides the burning sensation.
Floating on the Dead Sea
The final stop of the day was at Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by goat herders. One of the goats went astray and when a goat herder went to find the goat, he discovered some caves. When he threw a rock in to hear what the cave contained, he heard the rock shattering against pottery. When he went in to investigate what was there, he discovered vases containing old scrolls.

And the rest is history.

One of the reasons why the find at Qumran is such a treasure is because prior to the Qumran discovery, the oldest Old Testament text available was about a 1,000 years old. But the Dead Sea scrolls date to pre-Jesus days. When archaeologists started studying the Dead Sea Scrolls, they were pleasantly surprised to discover that our Old Testament is identical to the scrolls from Jesus' days. That proves that what we have in the Old Testament has been handed down to the modern days without error.

The name of the place, Qumran, comes from the river that flows during the rainy season in the area.
Rain water flows downs in a rapid during the rainy season
One of the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered

Feb 20, 2012

Day 6 in Israel

Sunrise over Jerusalem - View outside my room
Started our day this morning at the House of Caiaphas, where Jesus was held prior to his trial. The view overlooking the city and Kidron Valley is fantastic.

Statute of Peter denying to know Jesus three times before the cock crows
The modern day church that sits on top of where people believed Caiaphas resided
Kidron Valley
View of the Old City of Jerusalem
Looking across to the Mt. of Olives
We then visited the City of David. They have found the ruins of the palace of David and the origins of the first wall that surrounded the City of David - Jerusalem in David and Solomon's time.

Ruins at the City of David
City of David
After exploring the ruins and Hezekiah's tunnel that connected the city to the water source, we then went back up and entered the Old City through the Dung Gate. This is one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament. You can read about the builder of the Dung Gate in Nehemiah 3:14.
The Dung Gate
The Walls of the Temple Complex
As we entered the city, there were hundreds of people there to celebrate Bar Mitzvahs, complete with drums, horns, singing, and dancing.

The Western Wall
People praying at the Western Wall
Men only section of the Western Wall. 
Bar Mitzvah celebration
After exploring the Western Wall, we took a lunch break in the Muslim quarters at a restaurant that is dug into the wall/cave. When's the last time you had lunch in a cave?

A model of the Second Temple
The Dome of the Rock peering over the Western Wall
Southeastern View of the Wall

The original steps leading up to the Temple Complex
View of the Southern Section of the Wall

Men who gathered to sacrifice would have to take a ceremonial bath to cleanse themselves. They would walk down on the right to bathe, and climb up on the left ceremonially clean.

One of the last stops of the day was at the supposed location of both the tomb of David and the place of the Last Supper. No one can know with any certainty that these are the actual places. However, we can be sure these events did take place on Mt. Zion.

One of the most interesting parts of visiting this site was seeing Christians praying at and touching a niche that is in the church complex there. What should be noted about this niche is that it's not Christian. It was built there by the Muslims when they controlled Jerusalem. It was placed there to help orient Muslims to pray toward Mecca.

Without knowing that, people were in tears praying and crying as they were touching this niche as if the niche had some great spiritual significance.
As I have been reflecting about my time in Israel and in Jerusalem, one of the things that we can say for sure is that this is the land where God entered human history. Without a shadow of doubt, this is the land in which God's story intertwines with our story to make his-story. What is important is that God acted, and God continues to act. 

There is a danger in making "holy" sites and shrines. It's not the place that is holy. It's the God who enters into our space that is holy. And without this God, no place is holy.