Friday, February 25, 2011

Bones, Breath, and Resurrection

"Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. "
Ezekiel 37:5   

Somewhere over Austria

We’re zipping along at 538 mph groundspeed, about 4.5 hours into our flight back to the ATL. We have about 9 or so hours left to go.  I’m pretty tired, but can’t sleep a lick this time around. So, this is a good time to type up a blog entry and I’ll post it from the car on the way home.

We visited the Temple Mount and the Garden Tomb today before we left for Tel Aviv and our flight home. Words can’t express how big the Temple Mount is. I can see how it was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world. The Garden Tomb is the second site where Jesus is thought to have been crucified, entombed, and then resurrected. The other is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. You can make good cases about both locations. However, the issue is not where Jesus was resurrected, but that he was raised from the dead. He was not resuscitated; rather he was resurrected into everlasting life, defeating death and decay.

However, what impressed me most was a visit to the National Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem.  In English it means Hall of Names. If it is possible to depict the horror and the evil of the holocaust this museum does it. The building is grey concrete on the inside, no windows. It is shaped like a wishbone turned inside out. It is peaked at the top, but curves inward instead of outward. The design gives you a feeling of somberness and wonder. You zigzag through exhibits of personal belongings of holocaust victims, old film foot age of Nazi Germany, and personal testimonies of holocaust survivors. There is a mock up of a concentration camp bunkhouse and even an old cattle car which was used to transfer the prisoners by rail. They were herded into these cars like cattle being sent to the slaughter house. The last exhibit is called “The Room of Names.”

It is a circular room, probably 3000 square feet. On the walls of the room are black bookshelves that go from floor to ceiling, looks like 20 feet or so. On the shelves are hundreds, possibly thousands, of black binders in which each holocaust victim is recorded along with their personal information. They are not to be forgotten.  How can anyone say there was no holocaust? How ignorant is a person that makes that kind of statement!

God did breath into those bones and make them live. It is a resurrection story, the resurrection of the Jewish people from the ashes of the death factories to new life in Israel. If you have never been to Israel, you need to come. When you see how God has resurrected Israel, it won’t be hard at all to believe that Jesus Christ was
raised from the dead by the same God.
This gives you some idea of the size of the Temple Mount

Gordon's Calvary

Entrance to the Garden Tomb

Dome of the Rock

Sorry no pictures of Yad Vashem, they do not allow them to be taken. However,  you can google Yad Vashem and see some.

 I think I will continue this blog upon returning. I’ll follow the same format of theological reflection on everyday life.

Thanks for sharing this adventure with me. It has changed my life and my ministry. My prayer is that it may have had a transformative effect on your life as well.

Until next time, He is risen!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Anti-Babel

Revelation 21:1-2  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Revelation 22:1-2  Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb  2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

I am writing this in my hotel room with the window open enjoying the myriad of sounds from this fantastic city called Jerusalem. I am listening to the street noise, people talking in different languages, and the Mullahs calling Muslims to the evening prayers.  It is a cacophony you will hear nowhere else. This is my last night in the city, tomorrow we fly home and should arrive around 6:00AM. We will visit a few more place before we head to Tel Aviv and our 11 hour flight back to Atlanta.

We visited the Mount of Olives, Wailing Wall, archeological digs around the southern and western walls of the temple, went to where John the Baptist was born and the Biblical Museum. What a day. The whole 8 days has been overwhelming with emotional highs and way too much information to remember. We all have had an “excellent adventure.” But, many of us are ready to go home. A number have caught colds or some kind of word. The bus is filled with coughs and hacks. My sinus infection has returned! Drat!
There will be no post tomorrow because we will be traveling. So I want to give you a final observation of my experience here. Bear with me, stick around till the end because the beginning may seem random. But, I hope when you reach the conclusion it will be worth it.

The Tower of Babel, if you remember the story from Genesis 11 is after the flood when only one language existed. God confused the languages out of fear that humankind would become. It is at that time that people spread out and other cultures were formed. Life on this planet existed this way for thousands of year until the “anti-Babel.” That is, the day God brought us back together through Jesus Christ. You remember what that is don’t you? Pentecost. That was the day, here in Jerusalem, when Peter preached and everyone understood in their own language. What God scattered at Babel he brought together in Jerusalem through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Acts 2:7-8   7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?”

What I have experienced in Jerusalem is the in breaking of the Kingdom of God. If you look above at the texts from Revelation you will see that John, the writer of Revelation saw the arrival of God’s Kingdom as a New Jerusalem. Christ’s resurrection was the first of that Kingdom; the resurrection of the dead. Paul calls his resurrection the “first fruits.” (1 Corinthians 15:20  20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.) The kingdom is here but not yet. Yet, through my experiences here in Jerusalem, I can better envision its coming.

I can see it through my anti-Babel experience. That which was scattered has been brought together again. Yesterday at St Ann’s church by the pool of Bethesda pilgrims of all different cultures and languages were singing the great hymns of the faith, in different languages yet we “heard” them in our own language. French, English, German, Eastern European languages, Scandinavian languages, Spanish, French, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Hebrew, Arabic, and some I had no idea, they are all here in this city. We all know we need healing and we have come here, because it is here in Jerusalem the anti Babel. It was here on the day of Pentecost and it still is here. Jesus Christ is the “anti-Babel.” When will we learn that he is not just in Jerusalem?

I anxiously await God’s Kingdom. Come quickly Lord Jesus, heal the nations.

Jerusalem seen from the Mount of Olives

2000 year old Olive Tree in the Garden of Gethsemane

The Western Wall

The Birthplace of John the Baptist

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Pit

Today was another exhausting day but in a different way. We walked the Via Dolorosa. We visited the Church of the Holy Sepluchre, Antonia Fortress, Pool of Bethesda, , House of Caiaphas, The Upper Room, King David’s Tomb, Lazarus’ Tomb and the Church where Mary and Martha’s house was located. (The last two are in Bethany).

It was not as physically tiring as yesterday, but it was an emotionally draining day. Bishop Watson conducted a service of healing at Bethesda, the sight where Jesus healed the paralytic. Many of us were in tears. As I was anointed I asked to stand in for Mimi Jo, Dee Greenwell, and Bernie Williams. Many of us were in tears at the end of the service. To be anointed in the exact same spot where Jesus performed a miracle of healing was overwhelming.
Now what I am about to tell you, you probably have never heard before. You might think that walking the Via Dolorosa would be an emotional event. It wasn’t. Jerusalem is a very busy city with a lot going on and there was no way I could be contemplative. However, the visit to the church over the house of Caiaphas was  numbing.
On the side of the church is a beautiful mosaic of Christ bound , but in a way I have never seen. His hands are bound, but there is a harness around his body that is attached to a rope stretched straight up above his head. It gives the image that he is dangling or hung from the rope over his head.  Bear with me. I will get to an explanation in a moment.

The Pit from halfway up the stairs. The turned off the lights for us. Got really Dark
Now, how you ever wondered what happened to Christ over Thursday Night? Here’s how Matthew tells that part of the story. “When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death.  2 They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.” Where was Jesus that night? Well he was kept in the “Pit.” You see Caiaphas being the high Priest dealt with all petty criminals. So they needed a holding place for them. The holding place was a dungeon with a hole in the roof just big enough for a man to be lowered through. A roof that appeared to be about 15 feet high! There was one small observation window to observe the prisoners. But, the only way in our out was through the hole 15 feet up. The mosaic on the side of the building was Jesus being lowered into the pit; Lowered into a totally dark pit, alone. Suddenly for me, Jesus passion took on a new dimension of horror. How could what was done to Jesus become any worse? It did for me today and brought me to tears. As we left we hummed “What Wondrous Love.” 

The Outside of the building that is around Jesus' Tomb. It is contained in a much larger church complex.

The Hole in the roof of the pit. If you look closely you can see crosses carved inside of it. They are Byzantine Crosses carved during the Byzantine period circa 400AD
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

The slab on which Jesus' body was anointed for burial.
Yes, what wondrous love it is!

Human Styrofoam

On Monday, yesterday, we visited tow of the spots I have always dreamed of going to, Qumran and Masada. Qumran is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found and Masada is where the Jews escaped the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70AD. It took the Romans 3 years to be cable to scale the massive mountain and when they got there 973 women, children, men committed suicide. Today all Israeli Army recruits are brought to the site. We went to the summit in a cable car but several of us decided to walk down. Quite a walk.

After visiting Masada and Qumran we drove to Jericho for lunch. Jericho is the oldest continually inhabited city in the world. Here we had our Old Testament reading by the spring where this occurred:

2 Kings 2:18-25   18 When they came back to him (he had remained at Jericho), he said to them, "Did I not say to you, Do not go?"  19 Now the people of the city said to Elisha, "The location of this city is good, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful."  20 He said, "Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it." So they brought it to him.  21 Then he went to the spring of water and threw the salt into it, and said, "Thus says the LORD, I have made this water wholesome; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it."  22 So the water has been wholesome to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke.  23 He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, "Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!"  24 When he turned around and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.  25 From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and then returned to Samaria.

At Qumran

Coming down Masada
Not floating yet, but we will be.
The Dead Sea was quite interesting. We spent about an hour there 30 minutes of it floating. You just walk out into the water and sit and you pop up on your back. You can’t sink. No matter how hard you try. In fact it is even hard to stand up. The body is muddy is some place, in fact I sunk up to my knees at one point. And it is very rocky in others. It is something like 70% salt and it is the lowest point in the world.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Jerusalem, Rain,and I (Apologies to Joe Walsh & The James Gang)

What a change in scenery as we traveled down Highway 90 to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Galilee is lush and green and fertile. As we drove south towards Jerusalem we encountered the desert, brown, rocky and parched. Much different than the American southwest desert where there is some vegetation. Here nothing but brown sand, rocks and the occasional Bedouin driving his goats or sheep to the very sparse patches of grass. We even saw a Bedouin drive his herd through downtown Bethel very near the church of the Nativity.
Ff you like brown this is your place on earth.
The church of the nativity is the oldest Christian church in the world constructed in the mid 4th century by The Emperor Constantine’s Mother. This church was built before the Council of Nicaea, before what we believe as Christians was put in writing in the Nicene Creed! I touched the spot where Jesus was born; I touched the manger that is now encased in marble. This cave was huge! You could easily see how it could be used as a stable. Then we went to the Shepherd’s fields. I always thought the shepherds were some distance away, but it is probably only 2 miles.

The Church of the nativity was touching. But the highlight of the day came after our dinner at the hotel. At 6:45PM 4 of us walked to the Wailing Wall. We went in a pouring rain as the Muslims were being called to evening prayer. We passed through the metal detectors; saw a group of female Israeli Army women who were the guards for the night. They looked to be between 18 and 21 and were armed with M16s. It was a strange mixture of femininity and violence. We approached the wall in the pouring rain and had it all to ourselves! Well almost. It was just 4 United Methodist preachers and one Jew praying at the wall. My friend Andy and I had the same experience when touching the wall. It was like a small electrical charge ran through us. I did not want to let go. I prayed for those that are so sick at Tate. Mimi Jo, Dee, and Bernie. Andy and I decided we would go back every night.

The Birthplace of Jesus
Then we walked around the Temple Mount and saw one of the few undisputed places of Jesus’ Ministry. The Teaching Steps, the steps from which Jesus taught in the Temple. I witnessed the old convent on one side of the Temple Mount and the new on the other side. I witnessed both, in one sacred night, in the pouring rain, in Jerusalem. Tonight Jeremiah 31:33 become more than words, it came alive, truly the Living Word of God: "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

There is no doubt the Spirit of God is in this place.

Sorry, no pictures of the wailing wall. It was raining too hard to use the camera

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Thy Kingdom Come

Reading at The Mount of the Beatitudes Church

What a day today! We traveled the entire shore line of the Sea of Galilee. We rode a boat on the Sea of Galilee, visited the Mount of the Beatitudes where I read Matthew 5:1-12 to the group, saw the cave on that same Mount where Jesus would get away by himself and pray, saw the spot where Jesus fed the 5000, and the place where the risen Jesus appeared for the third time.  We went to Capernaum and saw the remains of a great synagogue, saw Peter’s mother in law’s house. This is the same house where she was healed by Jesus. Finally, our baptisms were reaffirmed in the Jordan River.

We are all dog tired both from what we have seen and what we have felt. It is all so overwhelming, Even at that, it has been a peaceful day in the presence of the Holy Spirit. But, it has also been a day to see the violent reality of the world in which we live. We traveled to the border with Jordan to see where the Decapolis was located. We saw the pillboxes and the mine fields and the barb wire. How must it be to live in a country where you are surrounded by those that want to destroy you?

Sea of Galilee
On the other hand, I did see the opposite of the barb wire, the mine fields, and the fear that goes with them. Through God’s grace I caught a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. I saw the nations gathered, I heard the different languages, and I saw the clerical dress of all the different traditions of Christianity. All of us together in the same time, in the same place, and for the same reason: Jesus Christ. It is possible for humanity to live together in peace, but it is only through Jesus Christ. I am now more convinced of that then ever.  I read this on the Mount of Beatitudes: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”(Matt 5:9) Lord God I saw your children today making peace.  I want to be your child, a peacemaker. I want to see an end to the barb wire and the mine fields and the fear. I want to see thy Kingdom come!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Miracle Out Of Nowhere

I am writing this post on the bus as we return to Tiberius from Cana. Today we visited Caesarea, Megiddo, Nazareth and Cana. We saw so much that it is almost overwhelming. We walked were Jesus walked, we visited the house where Jesus performed his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. We saw Mary’s house, Mary’s well and the churches built over them. I also learned that the manger Jesus was laid was hewed out of stone. It was not wooden. But the most interesting sight was the church built over the synagogue where Jesus preached his first sermon.  The sermon  recorded by Luke in chapter 4 that announced Jesus ministry, You would think that this synagogue would have been something ornate and special. But no, It was more like a small country church. There were only 200 people living in Nazareth in Jesus day. That’s it. Nazareth was nothing but a little redneck town of no consequence. Today it’s a city of 150,000.

Luke tells the story this way, Luke 4:14-21  4 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.  15 He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.  16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read.  17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:  18 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,  19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."  20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him,  21 and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." Of course after this they tried to throw him off a cliff. I saw the cliff too.

Jesus announced his ministry from a small synagogue, in a small backwater town. A ministry that would change the world. Today I stood on the same floor Jesus did when he read from the scroll of Isaiah. As Bishop Watson said all Christians participate in this miracle that has changed the world. A miracle literally out of nowhere.  For me that makes it all the more believable. The only way Christianity could have spread out of this little backwater town is if God was in it from the beginning. But, hey, don’t miracles always come out of nowhere?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

650 Feet Below Sea Level

Blogging tonight at 650 feet below sea level just below the Golan Heights! We had a mechanical delay last night but still made it to Tel Aviv  on time and arrive3d at our hotel on the Sea of Galilee at 10:00PM. Tomorrow we start bright and early at 6:00AM and will be touring the area around the Sea of Galilee tomorrow. What would surprise you is how well the Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews co exist. I will make a longer post tomorrow. Today was mostly travel. Going to bed. I have had 4 hours of sleep out of the last 36.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Great Adventure

I feel like the kids in the Disney commercial. You know the ones. They are so excited they can't sleep because the next morning they leave for Disney. Well, I had no trouble getting in my eight hours last night. Sherry will tell you that all I have to do is look at a pillow and I am sound asleep. But don't think that since I slept, I am not excited. I am excited, very excited, but I am even more thankful.

 I am thankful that the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church provides this opportunity. I am thankful for the people of Tate UMC who paid for my travel. I am even more thankful for the prayers and the well wishes of the people of Tate, my facebook friends, and others. This outpouring of love you have shown is both touching and a bit overwhelming.

It occurs to me, that maybe what I am most thankful for is the miracle of the Internet. Why? Because it allows the opportunity to take you along on this adventure. It reminds me of an old Steven Curtis Chapman song:

"Saddle up your horses we've got a trail to blaze
Through the wild blue yonder of God's amazing grace
Let's follow our leader into the glorious unknown
This is a life like no other - this is The Great Adventure

Come on get ready for the ride of your life
Gonna leave long faced religion in a cloud of dust behind
And discover all the new horizons just waiting to be explored
This is what we were created for

We'll travel over, over mountains so high
We'll go through valleys below
Still through it all we'll find that
This is the greatest journey that the human heart will ever see
The love of God will take us far beyond our wildest dreams

Yeah... oh saddle up your horses... come on get ready to ride"

You ready to ride?