Thursday, June 4, 2009


Picture: Iceberg

You've never heard of the icebergs in Israel?!? Me either. That's because there aren't any. This is just my visual representation of what I've been doing on this blog. I've used this illustration before in regard to people (with credit to Larry Crabb).... there's always a lot more under the surface than what you see above the water. In fact there's a Proverb that says "A man's heart is deep waters....." But that's not what I'm writing about. Some of you may think I've been writing a lot of blogs, but believe me, I'm only skimming the surface. I could write for hours and hours and hours on all I've seen and experienced. This little bit of writing is part of what I'm doing to remember some things from the trip and it's really been a lot of fun, just kind of letting my mind freeflow from what I've seen. Of course, freeflow for a former undergraduate engineering major just means throwing in a goofy line or two every once in a while. I'll be home soon, and maybe I will write some on the blog back in the states, but it's harder there because I have deadlines to keep, meetings to attend, and ministry to do.
To all of you who are old friends, new friends, and family: Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


I'm feeling a little melancholy tonight, not sad, just melancholy. Maybe it's just because I'm tired or maybe because my Israel adventure is coming to an end or I'm just longing to be home. Whatever the source of my mood the following is the story of a sad city, the ancient city of Beth Shan where we visited today. In the Scriptures we first hear about Beth Shan as one of the Canaanite cities that was never driven out of the land when Israel came to take possession of the promised land (Judges 1:27). Beth Shan was eventually conquered, but not by Israel, but by the persistent enemy of Saul and David, those nasty Philistines. In 1 Samuel 31 the Philistines eventually got the best of Saul and his son, Jonathan. It says that “the Israelites fled before them, and many fell slain on Mount Gilboa” (1 Sam. 31:1). By the way Mount Gilboa is easily seen as you drive around the Jezreel Valley like we have been doing in our bus. The Philistines first killed Jonathan. Then, it says that the Philistine archers “wounded [Saul] critically” (1 Sam. 31:3). Saul took his own life, and his body was found the next day by the Philistine aggressors. Here it gets gory... the Philistines cut off Saul's head, stripped off his armor, and they hung his naked dead body from the wall of Beth Shan. Fortunately some brave Israelites rescued the bodies during the night and buried the bones.

When David heard what had happened he sang a sad song: “David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son, Jonathan....” (2 Samuel 1:17). He sings of “how the mighty have fallen” and his love for Jonathan (2 Sam. 1:19-27). He ordered that all of the men of Judah be taught this lament.
Israel's geography is filled with peaks and valleys, up down and around every corner there is peak or valley. And that's real life too isn't it? There are peaks and valleys to living and we have to travel through both. Times of sadness come to all of us. Loss and grief are part of what it means to live. We don't deny it. We don't hide from it. Just read through the Psalms, and observe all of the peaks and the valleys of emotions that the psalmists struggled with. They are filled with lament. Sure there is a lot of praise in the psalms, but there is also a lot of sad songs, lamentations. This morning I read Psalm 130 which begins, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; O Lord, hear my voice, Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy” (Psalm 31:1,2). But we're always urged to move on through the valley, to put our hope in the God of the valley: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning” (Psalm 130:5,6). I don't know if you are in a peak or a valley today, but God is God of both.

As I was taking pictures at Beth Shan I noticed that high on the peak above the ruins of Beth Shan stands a tree, a lonely tree high on the hill. Look real closely in the middle of this picture and you will see it. And I was reminded that there was a man who hung on a tree. His name was Jesus. All who trust in his death on that cross overcome the wages of sin, namely death, eternal sadness and judgment: “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared” (Psalm 130:3,4). In the midst of my peak and valleys this is where I look. What else do we have?

Paul McCartney sang, "Hey Jude, Don't make it bad, take a sad song and make it better. Remember to let her into your heart, then you can start to make it better." If you read the rest of the lyrics to "Hey Jude" it's really not such a bad song (musically or lyrically speaking) about the importance of letting people into your life. And that's good advice. Unfortunately I will always associate this song with playing high school football because in my junior year of high school this was one of the songs that was always played in the locker room while we were putting on our pads. So, this song doesn't make me sad. It just makes my adrenaline start jumping and pumping.

Anyway, there's a better song I'm thinking about that goes more to the point:

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
the emblem of suffering and shame;
and I love that old cross where the dearest and best
for a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I'll cherish the old rugged cross,
till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
and exchange it some day for a crown.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


We took a ride on a boat out on the Sea of Galilee. I hesitate to call it a "Sea" anymore because it's more like a "Lake", much smaller than it looks on pictures of Israel. The body of water is only about 7 miles across east to west and 13 miles north to south. It was very moving to sit on the water where Jesus and his disciples had so many encounters together, to think that while some of the shoreline has changed the mountains and valleys are virtually unchanged. When the water is low during drought years you can actually find the ancient harbors. For example, we know that Capernaum was a heavy duty fishing village. Right next to Capernaum is Tagba, known for the 7 springs that come into the Sea of Galiliee providing an ideal place for Peter, Andrew, James, and John to do their fishing.

Last night we sat and watched the sun set over the mountains on the west side of the Sea of Galilee. Then as it turned dark the lights in Tiberias began to shine like a "city set on a hill." About 9 p.m. we sat in the dark by starlight and watched the F-15 jets make their run up to the Golan Heights border with Syria. Their green flashing lights were hard to miss with the eyes. The sonic boom was hard to miss with your ears. Israel is such a small country that we could see them in the sky all the way northup to the border, twenty miles away or so, and then they did a looping turn back south. A great night.


1. Peter's house where one of the earliest Christian churches met for worship;
2. The foundations of a synagogue where Jesus spoke; ancient Olive Press used to make olive oil.
"Then [Jesus] went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority. In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, "Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!" "Be quiet!" Jesus said sternly. "Come out of him!" Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him. All the people were amazed and said to each other, "What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!" And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area" (Luke 4:31-37).
We were in Capernaum today, pretty awesome to be right there on the shore of Galilee where the fishing boats docked, our Lord Jesus taught, and Peter was used by the Lord to help give birth to the Christian church.

Monday, June 1, 2009


I'm having a hard time loading pictures on this internet connection, so this post is totally verbal. We're at a hostel on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, somewhere near where the guy was running around crazy, and Jesus cast the demons into a herd of pigs. I still haven't seen any pigs here, although one of the guys who has traveled to Israel said that there is one herd of pigs. But, the building has to be kept up on stilts because you can't have pigs touching the holy land of Israel (apparently this is really true and we will see it in a day or two). That's what happens when your religion becomes rule based. I was trying to take a picture on Saturday afternoon and I was rebuked by some Jewish guys playing basketball that I shouldn't be taking pictures on the Sabbath. When I asked why they said "Because the rabbis said so." They were familiar with college and pro basketball so I asked them a couple of questions about Adam Haluska (former Iowa Hawkeye BB player from Carrol, Iowa) and they knew some about him as he plays for an Israeli professional team.

I took a dip in the Sea of Galilee late this afternoon which was nice after hiking all day. We were up in Galilee at Caesarea Philippi today. Caesarea Philippi was named by Herod Philip (one of the sons of Herod the Great) to honor Caesar (and himself). This is an area with powerful springs that bring wtaer out of the cliffs and ultimately into the Jordan River. This city is northeast of the place called Caesarea, so don't confuse the two. One of the remnants at Caesarea Philippi is an ancient cave/shrine structure to honor the Greek god Pan, a god of the woods who chased nymphs around trees. Woo hoo! He was a raw nature god: wild, sexy, earthy. There was a cave at the back of the shrine that some people believe was associated with the Greek idea of hell. So, with all of this in mind think of what happened when Jesus brought his disciples to Caesarea Phlippi.

It was here that Jesus asked his disciples, “Who to people say that the Son of Man is?”. Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Then Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:13-16). There are several interpretations of what Jesus meant by “the rock”, but I heard a new one today. It could be that Jesus was standing near this shrine to Pan, far away from Jerusalem, in the heart of paganism, and he was saying, “You see this rock mountain symbolizing the power of hell. Well, there is a more powerful rock, the rock of the gospel, and this rock is so powerful that hell can not stand against it. In fact, your mission is to storm the gates of hell, to see people transformed to live their lives for King Jesus and his kingdom.” So, all we know for sure about the context is that this important conversation took place in Caesarea Philippi, that there are big rocks there, and that rocks are certainly used in Scripture to refer to the strength, power, and stability of life in Jesus' kingdom. Remember Jesus parable about the wise man building his house on the stable rock rather than on the shifting sand? “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Mt. 7:24). And that's what it's all about.