Sunday, November 25, 2007


We went to the Dead Sea this weekend instead of studying. I put mud on my body. Now I feel like a baby's butt. (Not emotionally, it is my skin that feels like a baby's butt).

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Fascinating Discoveries

Some have asked why I moved my family across the world to study the Bible when I could do that in quality institutions in places like Dallas, Texas. It is a legitimate question and one that I could answer 100 different ways. My first response is "have you been to Dallas?" Another response is that I needed a break so I thought moving to the Middle East would be a perfect place to rest my body and mind. Another answer is that after working in churches for 13 years, Israel sounded safe and relaxing. Perhaps another answer is that I always encourage college students to take a semester to live in a different culture and I never had the opportunity to do that for myself so I dragged my family into this adventure. Still another answer is that I knew that I would have to leave my last church so I took this opportunity to check off some things on my "to do" list for life.

The most accurate answer is that what better place to study the Bible than in the land where the history actually took place. For example, as a family we looked at the passage in John 5 when Jesus heals the cripple man near the pools of Bethesda after walking to the pools and viewing them in person. Also, each week I have a Biblical Archaeology class (which is like taking gym class in college to raise the GPA) and we discuss the rise of the city of Jerusalem in Jewish theology and consequently in Christian circles and I can walk down the hill and look at the actual remains for the things we are talking about. You can compare studying the Bible here to someone moving to Italy to study Art, or to someone moving to Antartica to study ice, or even to someone moving to the Moon to study gymnastics (think about that one). You get the point.

Many of you want to know the things I have learned so far and I am not prepared to write a paper for all of you answering that question, but I can give a few startling new facts I have learned so far. 1) The number 30 bus doesn't always come, 2) It gets cold in Israel at night, 3) Cheddar cheese costs $10 per pound, 4) More people speak English here than in parts of Southern California, 5) it turns out that Jesus was a Jew.

Now you can rest easy knowing that I am getting my money's worth here.

More serious thoughts will follow in the weeks ahead.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Shabbat Shalom

One thing you will notice if you visit Israel is the frank nature of the locals and the apparent lack of friendliness and small talk. For example, if you walk passed a person on the street, make eye contact, and say “Shalom”, do not expect the pleasantry to be returned. When purchasing food at a store and you say “Todah (Thank You)” when you receive your item, do not expect to hear “You’re welcome”. One Israeli friend of mine even joked about the formal nature that Americans’ have when introducing friends to each other. According to the Israelis here, you do not need to be polite or formal, just begin talking. Unless you are from the Northeast, this comes across as rude behavior to most Americans. After spending some time here, it is easy to adapt to this culture and learn that it is not personal, it is just Israel.
With this said, there are two days every week when this culture lifts and the opposite of the norm takes place. Every Friday and Saturday, people great each other with “Shabbat Shalom” which literally means “Peaceful Sabbath” or you can translate this to say, “Have a nice and peaceful Sabbath”. In stores, on the street, and even on buses people transform into friendly faces and warm greeters. To add to this transformation, around 4:00 PM on Friday everything shuts down. The buses stop running, the stores close, people quit doing housework, and the focus for the next 26 hours is on God and family.
For us, we wake up Saturday morning, pack lunches for the day (which is technically prohibited for Jewish people), and walk to worship at our church. After church, we walk to the park usually with other families, and spend the afternoon making our way home. It is difficult to explain how relaxing this is. To spend the entire day walking, relaxing with family and friends, and whole-heartedly holding to the “do not do chores” rule is a nice way to live. It must be a glimpse of how it was in America before someone decided that we must always work and always be productive. Now it seems that if people are not at work, they are involved in organized sporting events, work around the house, frantically driving around town to run errands, or countless other activities that prevent true rest. I even have friends in America who work at churches and never have a day off. They justify it by saying that they rest when they really need it but is that really the point?
The point of resting on the Sabbath is to avoid all human efforts to produce and get further ahead in life. It is about taking time to reflect on God and the blessings that he gives us. I love the Sabbath and I fear my eventual return to America, where we do not even take off once sacred days like Thanksgiving and Christmas, will produce frustration. I know it is a part of the culture that I want to fight against and do all I can to preserve this age-old tradition of focusing on God and Family. If possible, I recommend re-arranging your lives the best you can to do the same and refocus on what matters.

Shabbat Shalom.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Evolution of the Senior Pastor

A few weeks ago I talked about the joys of my new life as a retired person. In this new life I spend around 50 hours per week either in class, studying, or reading in preparation for those classes. Because something is not right with me, I have added a significant amount of additional reading and study on a few topics that interest me outside of my coursework.
One of my major projects this year is to evaluate the Church in America and to take an academic approach at recognizing some major issues in hopes of coming to useful conclusions. So far it has been interesting to trace the earliest Pagan and Christian literature we have outside of the Bible to notice some trends emerging. In its infancy, the Church demonstrates an uncompromising commitment to Christ and works to live at peace with the Roman Empire and in recognition of their Jewish roots.
By the 4th century, we see various Bishops such as Ambrose of Milan wielding their influence and political power. These Bishops actually experienced open relationships with the emperors (Constantine in particular) and were even able to begin outlawing all religions other than Christianity. The church leaders gained an increasingly greater level of power while the “average” Christians seemed to gain less influence in their own churches. To demonstrate this change in thinking Ambrose says, “Palaces belong to the Emperor, and churches belong to the Bishop”.
It is interesting to note that as time moved on, the numbers of “Christians” dramatically increased and therefore the political influence of Christians also increased. Along with this, church leaders began to say things like “We are the head of the church”. Could it be that this mentality is the distant ancestor of the system we possess today with “Senior Pastors”? I am not sugessting that churches should eliminate the title of "senior pastor" because the culture in countries like the USA virtually make it impossible for people to understand the structure of a church without this position. But I do wonder if some of the problems in many churches today come from people believing that they are “the head of the church” while somehow forgetting that Christ is the head.
How many times do you hear senior pastors and congregants speak in terms of “My church or your church”? Does this type of thinking make church leaders too powerful and therefore too susceptible to needing to have it “their way”? Sadly, as the early Christian church shifted from a persecuted body of people all pursuing Christ and desiring to know and please Him to an organized political force led by powerful men, we see less and less evidence that these people had any relationship with God. History proves that some of these men actually did not have a relationship with God but enjoyed the power given by leading churches.
So as I leave Israel next year and most likely re-enter the Church world as a “Senior Pastor”, or even better, simply as a “Pastor/Overseer”, what can be done to avoid the mistakes we see so often today? Can churches today find persons for leadership like the ones described by Origen in the late 2nd century when he said, “We call upon all of those who are competent to take office, who are sound in doctrine and life, to rule over the churches. We do not accept those who love power”. How can Christian leaders ensure that they do not “love power” and how can churches ensure that their leaders do not “love power”?

Monday, November 05, 2007

To Live and Die in L.A. (or the West Bank)

This week our speaker at church was a man who starts Christian churches and schools around Ramallah and other parts of the West Bank. This is how he was introduced, “Our speaker today has a very credible and serious threat on his life so we are grateful that he is still with us… so please welcome …” He then got up and spoke without ever mentioning the threat on his life or the ministry that he does in the West Bank. He simply shared about the love of God and His acceptance of us. At one point he did mention the power of forgiveness and the need to pray for the forgiveness of those who persecute us but that was more in reference to the fire set at our church than in reference to the people who want him dead.
When he was done speaking the congregation was told, “Keep Isa in your prayers because the same people who killed Rami two weeks ago are the ones threatening his life.”
This is really the closest thing I have ever seen to the life of the early church. This is the closest I may ever get to understanding what it must have been like for Paul and the disciples of Jesus. The man I saw this week is simply counting the days until the enemy takes him down but he will not quit what God has challenged him to do.
At times it seems easy to say that we would die for Christ but mainly because we never really have to face that decision. I believe that if I was cornered and asked to “deny Christ or die” that I would gladly choose death. But if a threat was on my life that said, “quit your ministry or die”, I am not sure that I could continue. I would easily find a good reason to go somewhere else but here we see an example of a person who lives with a threat on his life everyday.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to go to work and wonder if he will arrive. What must it be like to walk from your house and hope that the people after you are not waiting on the street? Imagine the fear that must be overwhelming at times. The daily choice to live for Christ and follow His call in the face of these threats is difficult for me to fathom. Perhaps this daily reality that death lurks around every corner caused the apostle Paul to write, “For me to live is (for) Christ, and to die is gain”. I admit that my concept of this commitment to Christ and the consequence of following Him is lacking. Honestly, I am not even sure that I ever want to have this concept to become more real to me.

Truly it is easier to die for Christ, than to live for Him.

Friday, November 02, 2007

God's Chosen People

I hate to break up the good conversation that is happening in the previous blog, but I think we must take a moment to pay tribute to God's favorite baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. I found this Kippa proudly displaying the Red Sox colors. So all good Jewish people can pay tribute to the Red Sox and demonstrate their humility before God at the same time!