Blessed..

I’ve taken a few days off from blogging as the dreaded jet lag and the last dregs of the cold I’ve been battling got the better of me. I find I write at night and the reality is that the past few nights sleep caught up with me too quickly! I’m going to trust that the rest I’ve taken was what I needed and was it’s own holy observance.

Today I feel blessed – sometimes in the life of faith we get used to all the good things that God brings our way and we kind of forget how blessed we are. It’s nice to be reminded.

It’s nice when that reminder comes from something that happened in your community of faith that you didn’t make happen – when you are blessed by the efforts of another leader. Today while I was preaching and leading worship with Geoff, our youth – under the leadership of one of our sustaining elders who has taught that age group faithfully for many years – were making an art installation.

They used Kraft paper and made a giant name-of-Jesus covering for the window in the youth room in our Christian Education wing. Coming home from another engagement this afternoon, I could see the letters from one of the upper windows in my house.

This is what it looks like on the inside:

The light shines in the darkness, my friends, and the darkness cannot put it out.

This Lent, may you know that you are blessed. May the name of Jesus show up in unexpected and beautiful ways in your life. May you continue to journey in His light.

Transformation…

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”

‭‭Ezekiel‬ ‭36:26‬ ‭NLT‬‬

I had the opportunity to see Beauty and the Beast with friends this evening. I loved the 1991 animated Disney feature and have been excited to see this live action recreation for at least a year.

Sometimes, when you’ve anticipated a movie for that long, the reality falls far short of your hopes. I’m so very happy to say that this was NOT the case this time. The movie was every bit as enchanting and beautiful as I’d hoped it would be.

As a pastor, I tend to watch movies with one eye trained to see any glimpses of the Gospel that might occur. You’d be amazed how very often theological moments show up in film.

And I found myself deeply touched by the message of the transformative power of love in this movie. When Belle declares her love for the Beast, everything changes. The beast himself becomes human again, and the ruined, frozen wreck of his castle is restored to wholeness as the shimmering rays of the sun bathe it it golden light.

I admit it – I was moved to tears. It was an Easter Sunday moment. When love – the self-sacrificing love of Jesus – overcame the power of sin and death forever.

This Lent, may you know the transformative power of God’s love as embodied by Jesus, who is the Christ. May you journey through the sometimes dark and frozen days, with the confidence that Easter Sunday is coming…and it changes everything.

Home…

“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

‭‭John‬ ‭14:2-3‬ ‭NIV‬‬

There is something about the Holy Land. It is precious and special to me. It is a place I hope to continue to  visit throughout my life. 

So coming to the end of our tour is a sad thing. Because I love it here. And the time we’ve spent here has been beautiful. 

At the same time, today I have felt a tugging in my heart – a longing for my own bed, my own house, the sweet doggy who lives with me there. I am ready to return to my country, Canada. 

It turns out that I love to travel. (This has come as a surprise to me over the past few years. Travel usually involves flying and I hate flying, so I thought I hated travel. It turns out that I love travel enough to tolerate the flight!)

 I love to go new places and have new experiences. I love to go away. I love to explore. But part of what I love about all of that, is coming back home again. Knowing that though I may wander, there is a place that is my own, to which I will return when the wandering has come to a close. 

Jesus promised his disciples that tough they would be parted, he was going to prepare a place for them. He promised them that he was making a home in his Father’s house, a place where they would all be together again.  

This Lent, may you know that the sense of home you have on Earth doesn’t compare with the sense of home you will have in Heaven. May you know that Jesus goes to prepare a place for you, and he will come again to bring you to where he is. 
Above: The sun over Jerusalem. View from my room in the Dan Boutique. 


Above: Mom, Dad, Andrew and Sarah enjoying shopping in the Old City. 
Above: I didn’t know we had a park here! 
 

Above: Ridiculously good gnocchi at the Train Station near our hotel. 

Treasuring these things…

Today we started out with time in the private Garden at Gethsemane, visited the Church of All Nations, made our way to the pools at Bethesda and sang in the beautiful Church of St. Ann, walked the Via Dolorosa, explored the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and we travelled to Bethlehem to the Church of the Nativity.

Another amazing day. I always touched by the grotto of the manger in the Church of the Nativity. In our Christmas cards in North America, we imagine a wooden stable. But Israel is a land of stone. And it only makes sense that the manger would be a grotto – a small cave.

To be there again, to sing Christmas carols right inside the grotto, to share prayer beside the manger with the pilgrims who have made this journey, is such a beautiful thing.

My favourite part of the Christmas story is this line found in the Gospel According to Luke:

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:19‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I have this image of Mary making dinner or hanging out the wash and finding herself reliving the night that her first son was born, and wondering at it all, all over again.

I find I do that with my memories of Israel. I’ll be preparing a Bible Stidy or choosing a hymn or writing a sermon and I’ll trip over something that brings me right back to this place, and I’ll feel the wonder of it.

We’ll sing a carol at Christmas and I’ll have images of the very place the lyrics are describing, because I have been there. And it’s no longer something I have to try to imagine or something I’ve simply decided to put my trust in. I know what the stone grotto looks like, I’ve laid my hand on the bedrock there.

I wish I could bring everyone who believes in Jesus to this place. I urge you – if you get the chance to come on a pilgrimage to the Hoy Land, do it. It will be the best thing you could ever do for your faith.

This Lent, may you have experiences that strengthen your faith. May you treasure up all these things and ponder them in your heart. And may you know it’s not just a story. It all happened. For real. Right here.

(PS The only bad part of today was that my Dad was not feeling well and needed to return to the hotel for rest for most of the day. I’m sure he’ll be fine, but prayers are always appreciated!)


Above: the Church of All Nations.


Above: Pilgrims in the private Garden at Gethsemane.




Above: Station 8; Sign pointing the way to the Holy Sepulcher; pilgrims walking up to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (grey dome with the cross on top); our pilgrims on the steps outside the Holy Sepulcher.


Above: a pilgrim prays in the grotto of the manger.


Above: marks left by pilgrims over the centuries at the grotto of the manger.


Above: interior shots of the Church of The Nativity.


Above: the Shepherds’ fields surrounding Bethlehem.

Sustaining faith…

Today we walked the tunnels under the Western Wall of the Temple, visited the Western Wall (where Jews go to pray), went to the Temple steps, walked on a Roman Cardo (road) from Ancient Jerusalem, visited the Upper Room (where the last supper and Pentecost took place), and visited Yad Vashem (the holocaust museum). 

Another amazing day in an astoundingly beautiful and deeply spiritual city. For me, the Temple Steps were the highlight of the day. We know that Jesus visited the Temple. 

The Gospel According to Luke tells us: 

“Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover.”

‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:41‬ ‭NIV‬‬

So the Temple was well known to Jesus. He went there during his childhood with his parents for Passover and he continued this practice into adulthood. 

The thing is, there is only one entrance to the Temple. You either go up the Temple Steps and in or you don’t go at all. 

So while scholars might argue about whether the other places are exactly right, no one argues about the Temple Steps. He was there. Period. 

Last time I was in Jerusalem, my parents and I took a photo of the three of us touching one of the exposed (ie original, or not-reconstructed) steps. It was our great joy to do so again today. 

For me, the first photo of our hands on those steps was a great comfort while my Dad underwent treatment for cancer last year. To recreate the photo today was a declaration of victory over the disease and of how our faith continues – changed by the experiences of the last two years, I’m sure, but still strong and vital. 


This Lent, may you take a look at the things that have sustained your faith during trying times. And may you find that your faith is alive and well today. 

Above: St. Andrew’s pilgrims praying at the Western Wall. 


Above: Mom, Dad and I on the Temple Steps. 


Above: Sarah and Andrew McCaig on the Temple Steps. 


Above: a chance meeting with the guide from our last tour! How lovely it is to meet friends in Jerusalem!


Above: The Roman Cardo. 


Above: shops from ancient times along the cardo. 


Above: Pilgrims walking the Cardo. 

The pit…

Today we started the day at Masada, traveled to Jerusalem and went to Caiphas’ house to see the pit where Jesus was held before his trial, went to Genesis Land where we endjoyed the hospitality of Abraham, and visited the Museum of Israel to see the scale model of Jerusalem as it was in Jesus’ day and the Shrine of the Book (where the scroll of Isaiah, as discovered in Qumran, is on display). 

The most impactful moment for me today was the time we spent in the pit in Caiaphas’ house (the church of St Peter in Gallicantu). We read the account of Jesus’ arrest (Matthew 26:57-68) and then Psalm 88. 

One of the things that modern Christianity struggles with is dealing with the ugly parts of the story. We want to rush to the point where Jesus is risen and all is well and we are forgiven. It’s the main  point of the story, to be sure, but we do Jesus – and ourselves – a disservice when we look away from the pain it cost him. 

It wasn’t easy to do what he did. He suffered for it – physically, mentally and emotionally. And we can’t just breeze past that because it makes us uncomfortable. When we hurt because of the things Jesus went through, we draw closer to him. 

The pit in Caiaphas’ house is an ancient cistern. Carved to hold water in a desert country. It had not windows, no doors, no stairs. The only way in was to be lowered on a rope through the hole at the top. There was no escape. 

In the pit we read a psalm of lament –  Psalm 88 (here are some verses from it):

“You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.

You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, LORD, every day; I spread out my hands to you.

Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. You have taken from me friend and neighbor— darkness is my closest friend.”

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭88:6, 8-9, 16-18‬ ‭NIV‬‬

As one of my favourite Christian singers writes, “you did that for me.” For us he suffered. For us he was outcast. For us he bore a pain we cannot fathom. 

This Lent, may you not turn away from the suffering of Christ. May you know that he did it for you, and for me, and for all.  And may you know that because he did, you are forgiven. 

Above: Riding the cable car up to Masada. 


Above: Looking down on Herod’s quarters at Masada. 


Above: I can’t believe I get to be in these amazing places with my folks! 


Above: The beautiful city of Jerusalem. 


Above: Riding a camel with my Dad!


Above: The scale model of Jerusalem as it would have been in Jesus’ day. 

New learnings…

Today we set out from Ein Gev toward the Dead Sea. We made stops at Qasar El Yahud (the site where Jesus was baptized), went to Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, stopped in at the Ahava factory outlet and spent the afternoon enjoying the therapeutic waters of the Dead Sea. 

I have been continually impressed during this tour by the theological depth of the comments made by our excellent guide, Avie Gad. He has often shown me things I hadn’t understood before about some of the sites we have been visiting. He has often made connections between the Old and New Testaments that I hadn’t made before. Today was no different. 

When we arrived at Qasar El Yahud   – the site of Jesus’ baptism, Avie asked that we open our Bibles to the book of Joshua, we read: 

“And the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses.

Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.”

Joshua‬ ‭3:7, 15-17‬ ‭NIV

So when Joshua crossed the Jordan, the waters parted and the people walked across on dry ground. 

Then he had us turn to Elijah’s story and we read: 

“The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.” Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” And he replied, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on. Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.”

‭‭2 Kings‬ ‭2:5-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

So Elijah stuck the water with his cloak, and the people passed over on dry ground (later after Elijah went up to heaven in a chariot of fire, his apprentice Elisha struck the water with his cloak and again the water parted and he was able to cross on dry ground). 

Then Avie had us turn to the Gospel According to Luke. And we read:

“When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.””

‭‭Luke‬ ‭3:21-22‬ ‭NIV‬‬

So for Jesus – it wasn’t the waters that parted, but the heavens. (Avie Gad taught me that.)

While the prophets are powerful and able to perform miracles, Jesus is different. And he is identified as different in the same place that Joshua, Elijah and Elisha  parted the waters. The Heavens part for Jesus in this place of miracles and the voice of God declares that Jesus is His son. 

What a beautiful thing to learn in such an amazing place. 

This Lent, may God lead you to new learnings. And may the things you discover deepen your faith and strengthen your walk with God. 


Above: Leaving the green and fertile Galilee. I have never seen so many flowers in this country!


Above: Selfie with my Mom. You can’t tell in the picture, but my feet are in the Jordan River!


Above: Presbyterian women with their feet in the Jordan River (left to right: Nancy, Sarah and Grace). 


Above: The awesome Avie Gad teaching us all at the Jordan River.  


Above: Dad with the cave of trh Dead Sea Scrolls in the background at Qumran. 


Above: Fuzzy Angus on the bus, looking at the Dead Sea. 


Above: walking down to the sea from our hotel with the desert cliffs in the background. 


Above: Mom and I floating in the Dead Sea. 


Above: Selfie with Mom at the Sea. 


Above: Sunset view of the Dead Sea from my hotel window. 

Strength…

“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭16:13-18‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Today we travelled to Tel Dan, visited Caesarea Phillips, climbed Nimrod Castle, ate Druze Pita on the side of a volcano and learned about the situation in Syria from a vantage point on the Golan Heights. 

Caesarea Phillipi is one of my favourite places in Israel. The fact that Jesus stood in front of what was understood tonne the gates of Hell in his day and declared that he would build his church and Hell itself wouldn’t prevail against it is of great comfort to me. So many of our churches are dying these days. But Jesus continues to build His church – maybe not in the way or the places that we understand, but his promise is true: the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. 

When we feel small, it’s important to remember that we don’t have to rely on our own strength. Our strength is in the Lord, the maker of Heaven and Earth.  
This Lent, may you know that you don’t have to rely on your own strength. May you know that your strength comes from the One whom the gates of Hell cannot prevail against; the One who will overcome death with life; the One who saved you then, and saves you still. 

(Videos instead of pictures today!)

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Sailing and Magdala…

I’ve been having troubles with the wifi here. Couldn’t get the photos of Sailing on the Sea of Galilee and exploring Magdala to post. Let’s just give it a go and see if I can get this done!
Below: sailing on a rather rough Sea of Galilee. 

Below: exploring Magdala. 

The Jesus-era Synagogue:


Private Mikva (ritual bath):


The gorgeous church at Magdala – mosaics in the side-chapels, the boat in the main chapel, the painting of the healing of the woman with the issue of blood in the lower chapel, Nancy and Grace taking off their shoes to walk barefoot where Jesus walked (ancient pier in the lower chapel).