No New Jerusalem Just Yet

No New Jerusalem Just Yet

1000 BCE – David conquered Jerusalem from the Jebusites

586 BCE – The Babylonians destroy the city.

440 BCE – The Persians let the Jews rebuild the city.

330 BCE – Alexander the Great takes the city.

167 BCE – Antiochus Epiphanes sacks the city.

164 BCE – the Maccabees take the city.

160 BCE – the Seleucids take the city back. (and this goes back and forth for awhile)

133 BCE – the Hasmoneans take the city back.

20 BCE  – Herod the Great rebuilds Jerusalem around his massive temple complex.

70 CE – Titus’ Roman legions burn the place to the ground.

130 CE – Hadrian rebuilds the city as Aelia Capitolina with three pagan temples as its main features.

326 CE – Constantine rebuilds Aelia as a Christian city, with the Church of the Resurrection as its central feature.

614 CE – Jews take the city with the aid of the Persians; they kill 50,000 Christians and try to rebuild the temple.

628 CE – The Byzantines take the city and kill the Jews.

637 CE – The Arabs take the city and try to balance the demands of the other religions in the city.

1099 CE – Crusader armies take the city and destroy mosques, expelling the Muslims.

1187 CE – Muslim armies retake the city,  destroy churches and expel the Christians.

1244 CE – Khwarezm mercenaries on their way to Egypt sack and destroy the city. The Muslims think about rebuilding the city walls, but decide it isn’t worth it.

1536 CE – Suleiman the Magnificent has the city walls rebuilt, even though cannons have made walls obsolete

1922 CE – the British take over the city as a mandate

1948 CE – the Jordanians get the city from the British and it is theoretically “internationalized”

1967 CE – the Israelis stampede the Jordanians and take the city. They bulldoze anything they don’t like.

The history of Jerusalem has been a bit tumultuous to say the last. Control of the city has been passed around more than a re-gifted fruitcake. Valleys become streets. Streets become markets. Church become mosques, which become churches and then mosques again. The place is pretty much chaos.

Anyone who thinks that God’s kingdom is fully realized or is even closed to being fully realized in our present day or any age previous has not studied Jerusalem.

There will be no peace in this earthly Jerusalem until its King – Jesus Christ – returns and brings in the New Jerusalem. Today, we see this only in foreshadowings but one day it will be a reality.

Attacks that Never Come

Attacks that Never Come

High above a pass in the Golan Heights sits Qala’at al Subeiba – “the castle on the cliff”. It was built by the Ayyubid Sultan Al-Aziz Uthman, the nephew of Salah ad-din, in the late 12th century. His successors then expanded the fortress in the early 13th century as part of an effort to repel the Sixth Crusade. The Muslims feared that the crusaders would land in Acre and from there attack the Ayyubid capital at Damascus, which lies only forty miles to the northeast.

As it turned out, the Sixth Crusade never turned into much. The German emperor Frederick II negotiated a peace with Sultan Al-Kamil who allowed Frederick to be crowned King of Jerusalem, but basically amounted to a paper victory. Within a decade, Acre fell to the Ayyubid forces and the crusades shifted their focus from the holy land to problems at home.

Qala’at al Subeiba was a massive fortress that never saw use. It was a defense against an attack that never came. It is ruins now, as it has been for over five centuries.

Our perceptions of danger is sometimes more than the danger itself, isn’t it? I think that it is all too easy for Christians to fortify the wrong places in their lives. We build great apologetic arguments and theological treatises, but we abandon justice and mercy. Jesus warned us about this, reminding us that it is hypocritical. “For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23)

Our first priorities should be our commitment to Christ. Our second priority, which goes hand in hand with that commitment, is our love for our family, friends – and even enemies. Our defense against the attacks upon us should be grounded in these much weightier things.

There’s no point building massive fortresses high on hills if we are not first strengthening and stabilizing these vital ground-level points.

Flowing Water

Flowing Water

Psalm 42 pictures the world of the Banias River, one of the three sources of the Jordan River. The Banias rises in the Golan Heights, near the site of ancient Caesarea Philippi, and flows through what is now a National Reserve. It is possibly the most beautiful spot in Israel. The Banias has several beautiful cascades and the water moves swiftly. Because of this, it is both clean and cool.

Jesus spent at least a little time in this area (Matthew 16:13-20), and unlike many of us modern believers, he would have been familiar with the connection between this area and Psalm 42. The heart of this psalm was his heart as well.

If you take a few minutes to read Psalm 42, you will undoubtedly be struck by the beauty of its natural setting as well as its somewhat glum central verse: “Why are you downcast, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God. ” (vv 5-6, repeated in v 11)

It is the nature of flowing water to churn. What is cast down is once again brought to the surface. This is the nature of its continual movement and renewal.

Did Jesus go to Banias at a time of difficulty? Was it a spiritual retreat where he was able to renew his heart? We do not like to think of Jesus in these human terms, but the Scriptures beg us to do so.

Let us join our Lord in the retreat to the flowing waters which churn our souls and bring us back to the surface renewed and strengthened. Let us long for the moving work of God within us that teaches us to again hope in the Lord.

Kings and Mountains

Kings and Mountains

According to the historian Flavius Josephus, when Herod the Great defeated the Parthians in 40 BCE, he decided to build a great citadel to memorialize his victory. He quite literally removed the top portion of one mountain and used it to construct an artificial cone on another. Inside the cone, he built a massive palace complex. Protected by four defensive towers and a number of epic perimeter defenses, the palace itself was seven stories tall with a theater that seated over 600 and a bathhouse that could accommodate many guests. The palace rose in the middle of the cone, above the defensive structures and could be seen from miles away. The entire complex is known as the Herodyon.

What is man’s greatness compared with that of the ebb and flow of history? As soon as Herod died, the Herodyon was abandoned. Its frescoes and mosaics have crumbled and faded. No one could maintain the massive site for any period of time, and when rebels occupied it in 130 CE, it was easily taken by the Romans.

What we seek to build will soon crumble. Brand-building and marketing campaigns, Wall Street investments and corporate dominance – these are wisps of dream soon abandoned and forgotten.

If you would build something of worth, then become a slave of Christ. If you would have your efforts count, then put your shoulder to the yolk of the Savior. I would rather be a little known servant of the Lord than a builder of crumbling palaces of my own desires.

Moments of Peace

Moments of Peace

Sunsets in Galilee are amazing.

Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) is 600 ft below sea level and the lowest freshwater lake on earth. It is 64 square miles of freshwater surrounded by verdant hills on all sides. To put it simply, Galilee is a peaceful place.

This was not always the case. Before the 1967 war, the place where we stayed – Kibbutz Ein Gev – was routinely shelled by Syrian artillery in the Golan Heights. Every building in the Kibbutz is less than fifty years old.

It is hard to think of such a peaceful place as the site of such violence, but this is a disturbing reminder that no peace on earth is permanent. The moments of peacefulness and quiet should be treasured, as they are glimpses into the presence of the Prince of Peace.

The chaos of this world encroaches swiftly and suddenly and peace is crowded into moments that are all too fleeting.

Seek peace where He can be found. Know it is the Peacemaker who gives them to us.

Too Casual?

Too Casual?

I am all for casual dress. I am a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy during the week. I like to be comfortable. I love my driving caps, and my pair of bright red Converse All-Stars. I do not, however wear those things when I am ministering publicly.

That’s not to say I somehow transform into Fundy-Pastor on Sundays or on hospital visits. Sometimes, I wear a coat and tie to our congregation’s worship gatherings; but generally, I wear a nice button-down shirt and khakis.

Like I said, I am all for casual dress.

But (and you knew that was coming!), can church leaders be too casual? I submit that they can.

What do I mean by too casual? Here’s a checklist:

  1. Ripped jeans – actually anything that is ripped or torn.
  2. Skin tight t-shirts (particularly with horrendous pseudo-hipster silkscreening)
  3. Belts made of canvas
  4. Suit jackets with epaulets
  5. Paint splatter (nothing bothers me more than intentionally dirty things)
  6. Mascara (ok, ladies you can wear it. I was referring to men.)
  7. Unkempt facial hair
  8. More than one stretchy bracelet around either wrist
  9. Any kind of “ironic” advertisement, like a mechanic’s shirt with a nametag embroidered on it (especially if it says “pastor”)

(#5 and #9 do not apply if you actually ARE a mechanic or painter and have to come to church straight from work.)

I just think that a pastor should be clean, neat and together when he is speaking or leading. His clothes should be clean and ironed. His appearance should communicate preparation, not primping. (I have written similar things about leaders who dress to gaudily and showily as well.)

What gets me about this too casual look adopted by some church leaders is that it is intentional. They are adopting a slovenly appearance because they believe it makes them more relatable, that it helps them connect with their audience.

And I’m sorry, but I don’t see anything “relevant” about wearing dirty, ill-fitting and/or damaged attire. There is nothing in me that says, “Wow, that guy tries really hard to look cool” and equates it with Scriptural instruction or moral authority. All I see is the legions of youth leaders I encountered as a teen and rolled my eyes at when they tried to act my age.

People are going to disagree with me, and that’s ok. I am not a bishop telling my underlings how to behave. This is just my opinion. I don’t have Bible for it or anything. In fact, since those who dress too casually use “cultural relevance” as their justification, I will as well.

I believe it is “culturally relevant” for church leaders to communicate a certain level of maturity when performing the functions of their office. (How can you argue with cultural relevance?) My standards of dress are simple – clean, neat, in good repair.

I don’t care if you wear a shirt designed not to be tucked in. I don’t care if you wear jeans. I don’t care if you wear sneakers. I don’t care if you have a fauxhawk or a soul patch or sideburns or a lumberjack beard (I think those are kinda awesome, actually!) or you frost your hair.

Wait. No, I do care if you frost your hair. You’re a dude, embrace your manliness and do not frost your hair.

Wear pink (if you must!). Wear salmon. Wear pastels. Wear dress shoes. Wear a tie (if you can tie one correctly). Wear whatever.

Just be clean and neat. Respect the congregation, and they will respect you.

Ok, tirade over. Now to go check Facebook and see how many people defriended me over this.

Why Stream Video?

Why Stream Video?

Recently, we bought a webcam and set it up in our worship space. It is nothing great, and the quality is not all that fantastic. Our streaming service is a free one, which means there are ads slapped at the beginning and end. (Apparently, they ran an ad for the Mormons this week – OY!)

Why stream?

Some churches stream their services in HD with cool effects and lots of wiz-bang. We don’t have time for that. That’s not our purpose.

Our simple reason is that we wanted to offer something – anything – for those who are part of our church family and could not be with us on a Sunday. We have a lot of folks who travel on weekends and miss being with us. We also have some folks who are sick or elderly and are unable to join us. As with all things, our purpose is relationship – just doing something to help people who are away connect with their church family.

So, if you are a part of Bedford Road and you’re going to be away or busy, you can still catch the service on our Ustream channel or on the Ustream tab of our Facebook page. There are also Ustream apps for iOS and Android.