Saturday, May 31, 2008

In AND out

I have been reflecting on our trip to Israel. There were so many experiences to talk about.

When we arrived in Tel Aviv, we went through security at Ben Gurion Airport. It was a little unnerving, because we flew all that way, and then stood in a line to go through "passport control." That should not be a big deal since we both had passports and a good reason to enter the country. However, Pam had a little problem. Four days before we left, I noticed that her passport had her listed as a "male" and not a "female." I called the US Passport service and they told me I needed to get to Houston to fix it, before the trip. That would have cost hundreds of dollars and there were no guarentees. So I called Delta Airlines and they said, "Bring the passport, and your birth certificate. Then act like nothing is wrong, and if they bring it up, act really surprised and pull out the birth certificate."

That sounds like an easy solution unless you are the person who is trying to get in and out of a country like Israel. So as we approached passport control, I could feel some tension and anxiety on Pam's part. That, added to a transatlantic flight overnight and it is a little hard to act like nothing is wrong.

We went to the booth and I gave the lady my passport. She asked me for the reason for my entry into the country ( "Bible Study tour of the country"), put a couple stamps on it, looked at a computer and said " okay."

Then the moment of truth. Would she see the "m" instead of the "f"? Would she think we were trying to pull a fast one? Would she notice that Pam is obviously a woman and this is a typo? Would she wonder if there was some terroist connection, pull her out of the line, take her to a room with one light bulb and interrogate her? The answer? None of the above. That was my prayer. I had prayed that she would not notice, not ask any questions and just let us through.

Well that is what happened. As we walked into the country of Israel, we high fived and thanked God. Then we went on our merry way.

Fast forward two weeks later..... now we have to get out of the country. Here is what I found out... at 9 PM on a Sunday night, it is harder to get out of Israel than it is to get into it. I guess that surprised us a bit. As we stood in line with our luggage, men and women were looking us over, along with the rest of the group.( Alot of profiling going on there.) We were told that if we got pulled out of the line , we were to answer the questions honestly, be patient, don't go on and on about answers and be courteous.

That instruction by our tour people bothered me just a little bit. Shouldn't Christians do all that stuff anyway? You would think so, but even that evening we saw some of our group get a little irritated, gruff, and even rude.

Once again, just like upon entry, I could feel Pam getting anxious. What if they pulled her out of the line? Well, she had nothing to worry about. They pulled our travel partner, Dale, out of the line. We watched him answer the questions confidently and kindly. Then we moved on.

Going out of the country, they x-ray everything. Pittmans had their luggage x-rayed twice. We sailed through. The questions by security were basic. Have you been with your bags at all times? Did anyone give you anything to carry on the plane? Interestingly enough when you fly in the states, you don't get all those questions any more. But Israel has the toughest and most thorough security in the world.

So, both coming and going, with a little anxiety because of a typo on the passport, we got in AND got out.

A couple other things about security. The top question I have gotten about our trip is, "Did you feel safe?" The answer is absolutely. We saw very few guns. We saw no millitary in the airport (that was a suprise). We never felt threatened in anyway, even in a land where they live under threat of bombs from the North, East, and Southwest of Jerusalem.

Lastly, I think I figured out who the air marshalls are on transatlantic flights. They are the guys who never sleep on a 10-13 hour flight. On both flights I noticed guys who didn't sleep. They read, watched movies, played video games. They did not talk to anyone, even those they were sitting next to. But no sleep, even though everyone else was. I thought, "Well that is comforting...they are working as air marshalls." But I did not attempt to ask. It would not seem right to lean up to a guy and say, "Hey, are you an Air Marsahll?"

More to come...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Trip update

Its been 15 days since last post. I had hoped to do so from Israel, but internet access was spotty...and I chose to use the internet time I did have to let the kids know we were doing well.

So what do you say about a two week Bible teaching tour of Israel? I have been home for 36 hours and I am still more or less speechless ( that may be the effect of jet-lag). I doubt that is true... simply put, this trip was incredible. To go and walk in the land of Christ is such a humbling experience.

People ask what I liked the most. It is very hard to say. There was so much. I loved the archeology. I loved places like Bet Shaan. There is a great story behind this archeological marvel. The actual place is where the enemies of Saul and Jonathon nailed their bodies to the wall. It was discovered about 20 years ago by a farmer who was plowing some ground. His tractor hit something and when he started digging and found the very tip of a Roman column. Not knowing what he had, but suspecting something, he let government officials know. They swooped in, took all his land, and begin excavating. What they found was amazing. A large city that had some of the classic columns, a Roman theater that seated several thousand people, a main North/south road commonly called a "Cardo" ( for heart). The East/West road was also very impressive. This was the area that most of the commerce took place. Addiitonally there were major religious sites , along with a "tel" ( or a mound) that was very impressive. The visit there set the stage for much more in the way of archeology that has revealed so much history in Jerusalem.

I loved Jerusalem. Of course the highlight was to study God's Word, looking at many of the steps of Jesus and be able to see it. Besides the walls and the different spots like Gethsamane, Golgotha, Caiahphas'house, the city of David, and the Western ( wailing- a term the jews do not like) wall, I think I was amazed by the topography of the area. Jerusalem is built on a series of hills... with large valleys below. To see the Kidron Valley, the Valley of Hinnom, and the central valley was amazing. I think that seeing that and understanding the physical test of walking all of that area over and over was striking to me.

Multiply that a hundred times when walking down the Mount of Olives as Jesus entered into the city in what is called the "triumphal entry", and you have something pretty special. Then take that feeling and begin to think about what Jesus was really doing when he entered into Jerusalem, knowing that he was on his way to his death! It is almost too much.

Personally, it was so amazing to share this experience with Pam. She had been there 30 years ago. But honestly, so much had changed in that time that it was nearly a new experience for her. She did so great, and was such an encouragement to me. All the while, knowing that her kids were half a world away, and one of them expecting a child in the coming days.

We also shared the trip with a couple from our church. Dale and Linda Pittman had gone to Israel 4 years ago, and since that time had wanted to invite us to go with them. I could not imagine taking that kind of trip on our own and getting as much out of it. They were so reassuring, generous, and good to us. Special friends who love God, love His Word, and the land of Jesus.

There is alot more to write consider this a start. God showed himself to me in some very significant ways. What a blessing.

More to come....hopefully with some of the 900 pictures that Pam took. ( Yes, I said 900! Digital cameras are pretty cool.)

PS- Baby Grace is close to coming- any day now. So pray for Elizabeth and Nathaniel.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Trip...

Pam and I are leaving tomorrow morning for Israel. We are excited about the trip. We are traveling with some friends from the church. We will be gone about 14 days. Our kids will be in and out...coming and going during that time.

Our "trek" takes us to New York City, the to Tel Aviv, 6 days in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, and then 6 more days in Jerusalem. Pam has been before (in college),but I have never been in that part of the world.

I will be posting along the way, so check back once in a while.

Meanwhile if you want you can pray for us...there are a couple things on our minds...

One, we are looking forward to what God will teach us through this trip. To be where Jesus walked, taught, lived and died... and then rose from the dead is a bit overwhelming. We know that God can bring a depth and richness to our lives through this.

Two, this is "getting away." I find that I do better when I am far away. So pray that I will "decompress" from all the church life, and just enjoy the moment.

Three, you can pray that Elizabeth's baby will hold off from coming until we get back. We do not expect the world to stop for us. But it would be nice is baby Grace comes while we are in the neighborhood. It is a small thing, but one of the considerations and matter of prayer for us. So far, everything is great!

Four, pray for our saftey. It is kind of wierd going into a world zone where there is such unrest... just this week Beriut broke out in a kind of mini-civil war. Although we will not be in those areas, again we are in the neighborhood. I think it will be really good for us to be somewhere where they do not enjoy the same freedoms we do here in America. I love our country, but I am sure that I will have a new appreciation for it all.

Last, you could pray for our kids. While we are gone, Lydia and James will be packing and loading to come back to Owasso. ( To arrive on the same day we get back!). Joel is beginning to make new preparations to relocate as well... Abigial will be getting out of college, coming home, flying to Chicago to help Lydia and James move back...and Elizabeth and Nathaniel will be making last minute preps for the biggest change in a lifetime...a baby.

So you can see it is a busy time for us. It is a time of rich blessings from God. We thank Him for our lives.

Thanks for praying...



Saturday, May 03, 2008

A Cultural Experience

Last week, I traveled to Atlanta to attend a conference. It was a little out of the ordinary for me in that I joined Children's and Youth workers for this conference. Gray hair was at a premium.

I went because our Children's Minister wants to introduce an event to our church that will change alot of what we do. He recognized that it would be a different approach and wanted me to see it in action. I won't go into it right now, except to say that it is exciting, innovative and I think has great potential.

But there are some observations that I made beyond just the programming itself.

One, the future of the church is incredibly bright. I believe that leadership is a key to the further expansion of the church in the world. It is not the only thing, but it is very important. Throughout the ages, from the beginning to this day, leadership has been important to God. He uses people. Most of this conference was led by people younger than me. Some were alot younger...young enough to be my sons or daughters. I loved it. I loved their passion. I loved their focus on Christ. And I was especially excited about the desire of so many to learn from the Word and share the Word of God with a future generation.

History proves that different methods are needed to reach future generations. Some think the things we are doing now are things they did in the first century. ( Sunday School, Hymns, church buildings, ministry teams, Bible colleges etc.) All of that looked different then than it does now.

I think I got a glimpse into what the future will hold(to some degree.) It is not neccesarily what I would have designed. But then again, when I was a children's minister we would sit the kids down, sing "Deep and Wide", and then have a sermon. They don't do that any more...and I am glad. Things have changed.

So music styles, leadership styles, dress, and haircuts are different now. But through and through, the messages that came through were focused on Christ and Word based. That is very encouraging.

Two, the creativity of this new generation of leaders is amazing. They are learning to harness technology in order to relate to kids and families. They are bold. They use their imaginations. They are willing to learn from their mistakes, and not go back, but try again.

This is especially encouraging to me, because in just a few weeks our first grandaughter will be born. Baby Grace will be born into a world that is pretty scary. But there are churches out there that are committed to helping families speak into their children's lives in creative and true ways. At one point this week, I just stopped listening for a moment and thanked God for these people who serve each week in nurseries, children's church, as small group leaders, and sponsors.

Pam and I prayed that our kids would have other people who would be in influence in their lives. Each of them did... each of them had godly people who modeled Christ, held them accountable, and encouraged them, often saying the same things we were. But if you are a parent, you know how it is... sometimes it has to come from someone else.

We pray the same thing for our grandchildren as well.

Third, I was encouraged by one speaker who challenged the entire group ( 4,000 strong) to not buy into the current christian fad of cultural relevance and instead just be about Jesus. His message was powerful. It was a call to the Word of God, to the things that Jesus was about, and a challenge to not become part of the "Golden Calf movement of relevance and social justice." He said that Jesus was relevant, but that he called the culture to change... not the the church to change to the culture. He said that Jesus was all about feeding the poor, helping and healing the sick...but he never made that the final goal. This was about transformation and being part of a transcendent kingdom...One that spans the decades and centuries. One that takes the eternal truth of God and reminds people that when Jesus came, John said, "He came full of GRACE and TRUTH." ( John 1)

That message was it for me. There were lots of things, but to hear this group embrace this thought and still want to go back to their churches of all sizes, demoninations and conditions and teach people, young and old about Jesus was so uplifting and encouraging.

The last observation is this. We have a great staff of men and women who give so much of themselves. Our Children's minister is passionate about kids. His willingness to take a risk inspires me. What he is doing is risky. He will get some push back. But I will be right there with Him, because I have seen where he believes that God is taking Children's ministry. His team ( several of whom went with us),are so wonderful, committed and creative. Add to that our Youth Minister, the Assistant Youth minister and their love for FCC and the youth of our community, you have an awesome team.

What's even better is that these "departments" want to work together with families. They want to be more systematic in their approach to teaching the kids and working with parents. They want to see a child come through 12 years plus in the church and not walk away from Christ when they go off to college. These are their concerns.

God is up to looks different. But then it again what God was up to 20 years ago looked really different... the only thing that happened is that we all got older.

Thank God for His creativity and his desire to reach people across the world with the message of Christ.