Israel Trip 2012: Just Getting Started!

Hello everyone! I’m enjoying my sabbatical immensely; Israel has been amazing for the first 5 days. We really started our tour today with the larger group and after a full day of touring I am EXHAUSTED!


This will be very brief, because I am tired and we have an early morning.  I have more pictures, video, and many more stories of what we’re doing but this is just a thumbnail sketch.


IMG_20120224_034019We got in on Tuesday afternoon.  The flight was really hard, but we made it in one piece and our room in Tel Aviv was amazing.  We went to the market in Tel Aviv, called the Souq (that’s the Arabic word for “market”). It’s fun and a bit crazy, and the produce is HUMONGOUS. The picture to the left is Laura and Ellie in the souq, and this is actually pretty tame.  The souq is nuts and fun.




IMG_20120222_072205Wednesday we went with about 6 other people to old town Jerusalem.  WOW. We walked the old town wall from the Jaffa gate (far western gate) north and east to the Lion’s Gate, which is also the Eastern Gate which Jesus would have walked through on his way from the Mount of Olives to the Temple. It was unbelievable to walk Old Jerusalem. We toured the Museum of the Tower of David and shopped and enjoyed ourselves immensely. This picture is of Laura and Will walking through old town Jerusalem shopping.  This quarter is the Arab quarter, inhabited by Arab Christians.


101_4103Thursday we hopped in a bus and traveled to Haifa and Rosh Hanira, which is the northernmost city in Israel on the Lebanon border along the coast.  There are some caves there that the seawall has formed that reminded me of the movie “The Count of Monte Cristo.” We had a blast looking at them and touring the city of Acco, which was an important crusader city and had a really cool sea wall.  The pic at the left really doesn’t do it much justice; the water is amazingly clear and the cave openings were a sight to behold.  We had a great time and while this wasn’t really a “biblical” site (you could stretch a long way and say that Abraham came through here on his way from Ur), it was still cool.


IMG_20120224_053453Friday was pretty chill. We went to the Souq again with a bunch of the staff and bought some spices and souvenirs, then went to Jaffa and walked around.  Jaffa is the modern city we’re familiar with as Joppa, where Jonah boarded a boat to Tarshish. It’s also the place where Peter was staying in Acts 10 when Cornelius sent for him and the Gentiles first heard the Gospel! We walked around the old town, went to a flea market, and had a blast.



Today was a whirlwind as the tour started in earnest. We started the day in Caesarea, which is huge in Acts, and then went to Tel Megiddo (the site of the battle of the hill of Megiddo…aka Armageddon).  We left there and went to Mount Carmel, where in 1 Kings 18 Elijah had it out with the prophets of Baal for dominance in the religious landscape of his day. The view was ridiculous!


IMG_20120225_101913After Mount Carmel we went to Nazareth and stood on Mount Precipice, where it is believed that the people of Nazareth tried to throw Jesus over the cliff in Luke 4. It was intense.


I also want to put a few of the panorama pictures I was able to take in this post for you to see.  I am not at all sure that they will show up appropriately, but they’re awesome.


First: The Hippodrome in Caesarea


2.25 Caesarea Hippodrome seats


Next: The Sea Wall and Palace Ruins in Caesarea


2.25 Caesarea Sea Wall and Palace Ruins Panorama


Mount Carmel view overlooking the Jezreel Valley and the Mediterranean Sea


2.25 Mount Carmel East to West Panorama


Mount Precipice (Nazareth) overlooking the Jezreel Valley:


2.25 Mount Precipice Valley Panorama East to West


Mount Precipice looking back on Nazareth:


2.25 Mount Precipice Nazareth Panorama


Tel Megiddo:


2.25 Tel Megiddo View of Valley of Jezreel Panorama


We are doing tremendously and really enjoying ourselves.  I’m having a great time not really worrying about anything much, just being “present” with no cell phone, no email, and no responsibilities. It’s a lot of fun. 🙂  Israeli food is just fantastic, with fruits and veggies to die for.  Eating Kosher is kinda interesting (milk products in the morning, meat in the evening), and the Israeli coffee franchise called Aroma absolutely, positively, without a doubt would put Starbucks out of business in the states.


More later! Thanks for praying for us, keep praying!

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

And so the series ends. I finished the 7th book in the Harry Potter series and frankly I am sad to see them end. They were well written and for those who are fans of the genre they are great stuff.  As always, those whose consciences are bothered by magical stuff should stay away (but should stay away from Barbie Fairy Princesses too!).


Find a good plot synopsis here.  For my part, reading this series was for the purpose of seeing whether they are acceptable reading for my children.  As of the end of the series I would say that kids who have a firm grasp on the difference between reality and fantasy, age about 12 and up (depending on the child) should be fine with these books.  I also strongly encourage mom or dad to read them ahead of time and then talk through the themes and ideas in the book with their child.




This book follows Harry, Ron, and Hermione through what should be their last year at Hogwarts.  Instead it is a year of trying to hunt down the remaining pieces of Voldemort’s soul so that he can be finally killed. He is dag-nasty evil and he needs to go, and Harry is the only one who can do it.  There are lots of plot twists and turns in the book, but as you’d expect Harry comes out on top, Voldemort is killed once and for all, and the good guys win the day.  But it is a painful and difficult victory.


The Good


There were several themes to like throughout The Deathly Hallows.  First off, I was struck by how innocently and appropriately this series of books treats marriage! Fleur and Bill marry after Bill is pretty badly disfigured by a werewolf, and Fleur standing by her fiancée  and marrying him is touching.  Remus and Tonks getting married and having a baby is a touching story too.  I thought it a nice epilogue that we get to see Harry and Ginny married with children, and Ron and Hermione in the same way.  This book (and the series) really upholds the value and sanctity of marriage.


I also LOVE how the plot arc of the treatment of house elves comes to a wonderful close in this book.  Harry finds out that Kreacher can go where he can’t, he treats him with respect and in return is helped immensely by Kreacher.  And Hermione finally shows her feelings for Ron when he tries to help a house elf. Harry’s care for Dobby at his death is touching.  A major point in favor of this book is that the treatment of others who many think are beneath them is important and has consequences, and that is a lesson every adult and every child needs.


Good ultimately triumphs in this book, and that is worth celebrating.  More than that, it is very costly to Harry for win the Second Wizarding War. He loses many close friends in the Order, and several Weasleys who are nearly family to Harry are badly injured or killed.  Dumbledore, Harry’s near-father figure and near-God figure, dies.  He finds out that the only way to defeat Voldemort is to allow Voldemort to kill him because he is a horcrux, a recipient of a piece of Voldemort’s soul.  Harry’s action in the face of great fear and even of death is quite noble.


Harry has to make a lot of decisions in this book that are costly to himself and emotionally hurt those who Harry loves.  The most significant of this is that Harry really loves Ginny, but he stays away from her so that she can’t be used against him.  That is selfless and loving and worth noting.


Harry and his friends go out of their way to help others, even when it is costly to them.  I loved it when they infiltrated the Ministry of Magic and found themselves in a place where they could either leave or help some people who were in danger of being imprisoned falsely.  They stayed at their own risk and saved many lives, and that is absolutely praiseworthy.


Last but perhaps as important as anything, there is Severus Snape.  Harry HATED Snape throughout the books, and Snape is painted by the end of book 6 as a terrible traitor.  When Harry finds out how wrong he was about Snape and how Snape protected him for so long and was so instrumental in his ultimate victory, and how his killing of Dumbledore was a mercy and at Dumbledore’s request, he knows the truth and has to adjust his understanding of who this man is.  That is a fantastic lesson for kids to learn, in that we all have complex motives and it’s not always wise to judge a book by its cover.


There is more to like, but these are the big things.


The Bad


There is death in this book.  Several important characters die in it. (in this way it mimics the Lord of the Rings series in that important characters are not immune from death) None of those deaths are gruesome, but they can be emotionally intense. I think that the most intense one is actually Dobby, though Fred comes in a very close second. 


Also, there is a bad but not really bad issue in the book in that Harry uses two of the unforgivable curses (The Imperius and Cruciatus curses, only Imperius here), though he does so benignly and does no harm.  Further, it could be argued that they were used in a time of “war” and in a wartime act, and there are different ethics in war than in peace.  So I suppose it could be a discussion for parents on just war and ethics.


There are a couple of needless curse words in the book.  None of them are terrible, but they don’t add much to the plot and should not have been included. But I am a bit of a prude with that. Smile


Harry’s view of Dumbledore goes through many, many doubts in this book.  he really deconstructs the God figure and we find out at the end that Dumbledore was really flawed, like any human being.  He is no God.  While this could be bad, I actually think it is a positive because it reinforces that Dumbledore was not God or a God-figure, but a powerful man whose mistakes needed atonement.




Overall, this book is about a young wizard, put in a terrible and unenviable position, accepting his responsibility and despite the cost doing what it takes to carry it out.  That is very good, and even though Harry Potter has its weaknesses I think that it is good.  I am officially a fan.  Frankly I would LOVE to see J.K. Rowling pen a new series as a prequel, perhaps with James, Lilly, Severus, and Tom Riddle.  Perhaps with Dumbledore and how he became who he was.  Maybe the back story with Hagrid.  There are lots of angles to explore and I would read them all.

Use Your Shout Outs!

I love the TV game show “Cash Cab.” In this show Ben Bailey asks people trivia questions while taking them to their destination in his cab, and part of the game is that they have two “shout outs” that they can use to ask for help.  One is a phone call that they can make to anyone they know, and the other is a chance to pull over in New York City and ask a helpful stranger for the answer they need.  So many times people forget to use their shout outs! Even though the host reminds them, they forget and for some it costs them the game.


How often do we think that we have to be the solution to the problems around us? And even more, how often do we shoulder burdens that are way too heavy for us to carry because we think that we have to be able to help everyone solve their problems.


Maybe you’ve not struggled with this as much as I have, but I know that it runs wild in the pastoral community. Most pastors don’t go into ministry because they feel a deep longing to be underpaid and overworked; if that was their aim, they would enlist in the military or work in retail! (both of which I have done, FWIW) Most pastors aren’t egomaniacs looking to wield power over people or mama’s boys who want everyone to like them.  No, most pastors go into vocational ministry because they love Christ and love people and want to help people know and love Christ like they do.  They’ve seen the transforming power of God in their own life and want to share with others the grace they’ve received.


The problem that many pastors run into, and that many loving Christians who aren’t pastors share, is that in our desire to love one another and help people see Christ we try to offer answers that we don’t have and help that we don’t have the ability to give!  And when we do that, I always get a flashback to the only Tom Cruise movie that is worth watching:



I can just picture God looking at us and saying, “Son, your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash!”  I see this all the time, and have run across it in my own life rather pointedly. 


  • I have students and church friends who have friends struggling with self-harm, and come to me asking for advice on how to help their friend stop.
  • I know people whose family is making poor decisions and have been asked how to help them change.
  • I’ve been asked how to open the door for someone to change and not be angry with God anymore.
  • I’ve seen people struggle with personal past issues that spill over into current relationships and have both personally desired to help them have healing and had others ask me how to help them get back on track.
  • Recently someone laid their finances out for me and asked me how to overcome their family swindling them out of their retirement and their income.
  • I had a friend come and complain about their church and how broken the church is, and in frustration ask how to start a better one.


This past year, God has really, really shown me the folly of thinking that as a shepherd, friend, pastor, professor, etc. that I can fill all of these needs in someone’s life.  That’s a lesson He tells us all in 1 Corinthians 12!


Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4–7, ESV)


God never said that He gave one person all of the manifestations of the Spirit, but that He has given each one a manifestation or gifting to serve the body of Christ.  And that means that we can only do that which we are called and equipped and able to do.  To do more is working out of our area and is terrible not only on them but on us as well! In 1 Cor 12 Paul goes on to talk about the church using an analogy to our bodies, with different organs serving different functions.  Lungs don’t digest well; think about the last time you inhaled a drink of water or a bite of food and how that worked out for you!


Likewise, in the body of Christ when we try to do that for which we are ill-equipped it harms us and the body. 


Let me put a fine point on this.  Lately especially I have seen people trying to carry burdens for others that they just can’t carry.  I have done it myself, so I am not pointing the finger! Instead of carrying that burden or trying to be someone’s Savior, love them, support them, and give them a strong nudge to get the help they need from a part of the body that can help them. 


  • I told my friend with financial distress to go talk to our Crown teacher at church and a CFP that I know.  They know finances and can help!
  • For many of us, a good and helpful start is to encourage our friends to go talk to their pastor about their spiritual, emotional, and relational struggles. They at least have SOME training in helping in these areas, so encourage others to get help!
  • Pastors need to recognize their limits as well, and not try to be counselors or psychologists.  I have learned the hard way that it is far better to encourage someone to seek out better help than to try to muddle through with my limited abilities. And I thank God for the men and women who are professionals in the field of behavioral health who can offer assistance I can’t!


So do yourself and your friends and family a favor and use the “shout outs” that God has placed in your life! Be a good help, but don’t try to be everything.


How about you? Have you had to use a “shout out” recently? How has that gone?