A Wondrous Winepress

A 2000 year old winepress made it happen. I stood there in awe at the thought that Jesus grew up there in Nazareth. There in that village set to look like the town at the time of Jesus the idea that I was in Israel traveled from my head 6 inches to my heart.

In Matthew 21: 33-42 Jesus tells a parable about the wicked tenants of a vineyard. In the parable Jesus tells of a master who “planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants.” On the hill where Nazareth village (the name of this recreation) is located there is a clear basin for a winepress with a deep pit to collect the wine slightly below. From pottery found in the pit, the winepress can be dated to the 1st century. Furthermore, just above it stands a recreated watchtower of which we told there were also indicators that this once existed as well.

Here then, in all possibility was the remains of a scene from Jesus’ childhood. Perhaps he himself pressed grapes into wine at this winepress. Such is speculation, but the power of this thought shoved into my imagination by this pit in the ground struck a chord in my heart. Here was Nazareth, the small and insignificant town of which one of Jesus’ followers would initially respond with “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46)

Briefly then, here is the theological takeaway. Here in this small 1st century village, Jesus grew up in obscurity. The Son of God spent many years building with his hands fences, tables, even possibly houses and walls. He attended the synagogue on the Sabbath. Imagine that, the lawgiver himself attending readings from the law. Jesus lived for much of his life an ordinary but fully human life, living out in perfect obedience to God the Kingdom life which he pass on to his disciples. He lived out an obscure, ordinary, and difficult life in 1st century Nazareth until his ministry. God the Son lived an obscure, ordinary, and difficult life but now shares his life with us. On the terraces of Nazareth he loved his Father by “growing in wisdom and stature, and favor with God and man”

Following Jesus is not exceptional or extraordinary. It is, however, a narrow way and few find it. But it is an ordinary life, lived in the common way which God intended for our lives to be – in jobs, with family, with neighbors, with friends and with enemies.

What IS extraordinary is Jesus himself. It is extraordinary that he gives us his life in all humility from his birth to his death and resurrection; much of that life spent in ordinary Nazareth. That God was willing on our behalf to take up residence in our flesh to live in a small Jewish town presses us to regard this wondrous mystery.

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Arrival

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24 hours of travel time later, I’m in Israel. After landing, collecting our bags, gathering our group we departed for Caesarea. No time is wasted here.

Between the long flight on which I got very little sleep to the jet lag that I’m fighting with sheer exhaustion, I’ll keep this post short.

The land is remarkable and tragic. A couple scenes from my day captures this so well. I stood out on the balcony of our hotel set right on the Mediterranean and marveled at the beauty of this sight.

The land is remarkable.

Yet as I stood there I reflected on a statement by a Palestinian on a sponsored piece from the Atlantic retracing the history of the conflict.He said that some Palestinians in the West Bank dream of seeing the sea.

The land is tragic.

At Caesarea we saw grand ruins of a Roman theater and hippodrome.

The land is remarkable.

At Caesarea we saw ruins of places where Christians and Jews were killed by the Romans for sport.

The land is tragic.

Why this land? It’s only my first day here! I don’t have any answers. This much I know though, this remarkable yet tragic land will one day be restored. But until then or until morning, I have sleep to catch up on.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

Revelation 21:1-3 (NIV)

Why this Land?

As I stood looking across the Jordan river, I thought to myself, “Why this land?”
I was in Jordan at the time, one year ago looking at the landscape God showed Moses prior to his death.

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the LORD showed him all the land, Gilead as far at Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, the Negeb and the Plain, that is, the Valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. And the LORD said to him, This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.'” Deut 34:1

Of all the places in the world to make a nation, why had God chosen this one? As I looked out on the dry plain of the Jordan valley it hardly looked like a land flowing with milk and honey.

Today, I left to see the land beyond the river. For the next 10 days I’ll experience the land promised to Abraham and his descendents, looking beyond that dry expanse to witness life in this enigmatic piece of earth. I’m keenly looking to learn about the distinctiveness of this land and the promise and problems it creates. The question “Why this land?” for me is first and foremost an invitation to learn more about God’s character and nature through the land he chose, inhabited and will return to.

As time allows on this busy tour, I hope to share some of these reflections with you as I’ve done in the past here on this site. I’ll be leading students through the spiritual dimensions of this trip depending on God’s grace to show up to them. We’ll be all over this small country looking at the ancient and modern worlds of this complex layered land.

Over

The Aegean Sea from Rafina – My home for a night

Today my trip is over. After 3 and a half weeks, I’m returning to my homeland. Over the course of my time here I’ve:

  • Personally met people from 11 different countries
  • Traversed 3 different continents
  • Traveled between Asia and Europe 13 times (Thanks Istanbul!) 
  • Learned phrases in Turkish and Arabic
  • Stayed in 6 different homes 
  • Flew on 9 flights
  • Visited 4 sites significant to Biblical and Church history
  • Heard countless stories of God at work
  • Lost my glasses
  • Purchased Contacts in Greece 
  • Almost missed 2 flights (arrived late to the airport) 
  • Lost my water bottle
  • Saw IKEA in 3 different countries 
  • Had dinner with Beduoins
  • Ate incredible food basically everywhere. (Avoided McDonald’s like the plague) 
  • Helped cook food for ~30-40 people twice. 
  • Thought the Turkish Passport control was going to put me into custody (they took a long time to look at my passport) 
  • Delivered clothes and gifts to friends and for refugees. 
  • Taught the Bible on a sailboat. 

I am blown away. When I try to take everything in, all I can come up with is that God the Father cared for me at every turn, his Son was with me in mind and heart, and his Spirit made this trip abundantly rich. 

Thank you for following this adventure with me. Your prayers and thought were so appreciated. 

See you soon! 

To be clear, I was not almost late for this flight just voluntarily late to board. Mostly to write this post.

30 Days of Prayer for Ramadan

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A Panorama of Amman, Jordan
As I write this the local mosque in Jordan is giving a call to wake up at 3:45am.

Why you ask?

Yesterday marked the start of Ramadan, the 30 day fast in the Islamic faith. Right now people are waking up to get in food and water before the sun comes up. While the sun is up, Muslims, of which this country is comprised of nearly 98% will not eat or drink anything. I’m only here for a few days of Ramadan but the cultural significance of the holiday is striking. Public spaces and houses are decorated, drinking water in public is discouraged (in some cases illegal), and of course there are calls to prayer at 3:45 in the morning.
During the month of Ramadan, an organization has put together a prayer guide for Christians to pray for the Muslim world. Being here has sharpened my focus for the needs of the Muslim world to hear the gospel, and shown to me some of the work that God is doing among the people here. I am so excited to come back and share with you what I’ve seen and experienced here but I want to invite you to join me in prayer during the month of Ramadan for the Muslim believing world. You can visit 30daysprayer.org each day to see the guide or you can order the full PDF guide here – https://www.pray30days.org/order/

I will be flying back to the States this Wednesday and I look forward to seeing many of you soon!

Moving East

Since leaving the boat, life has moved fast. I’ve visited two cities, been through airport security more times than I want to take the time to count, and changed continents at least 10 times. 

Currently I am waiting to board a plane to visit another city, Amman Jordan. I’m moving east – Greece to Turkey to Jordan. 

Greece was an incredible experience. Turkey, a remarkable time. Amman? You have big shoes to fill. 

I plan to offer more reflections and share more stories later but for now here are some pictures from Greece and Turkey

Sails up! Had some good sailing during my time on the boat
Where class was held (and meals and snacks and studying) 
Sailing with students (From left to right: Joel, Liam, Julianne, Chelsea)
The White Tower of Thessaloniki
The main Orthodox church in Thessaloniki
Roman Arch of Galerius in Thessaloniki
This inscription was found in a tunnel in Jerusalem. It was built during King Hezekiah’s reign to bring water to the city when it was being besieged by the Assyrians. (2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chronicles 32:3-4)
I don’t know what it says. Anyone know Sumerian?
The Hagia Sofia built in 6th century to be the greatest church in the world. For 900 years it was a church and for nearly 500 years it served as a mosque. Now it is a museum.

Hagia Sofia was my favorite sight that I visited. So much church history is in Istanbul.
The Blue Mosque – Got there as prayers were starting so only saw the outside.
Coffee is a big deal in Istanbul. Even bigger perhaps than in Chicago…
Selling stuff since 1461.

Teaching on the Encounter (or Reflections on Teaching on a Sailboat)

Today the baton passed.

Eight days after arriving here, my job here is done. One of the distinctive features of Torchbearers bible schools like the Kingfisher Project is that they bring in teachers for 1-2 week intensive classes on books of the Bible, Theology, or the Christian life. So my job over the past week was to teach  the book of 1 Corinthians to 13 students living on a 90ft sailboat. Now, that job passes to Wayne Weissman, who will lead these students in studying the book of Hebrews.

As you might imagine, a 90ft sailboat was a unique context to teach. It is, as I noted during my last trip here, a unique classroom environment. Class sessions were held in the ship’s galley around two large tables. Space was tight, but this proximity aids community.  Around these two tables, we ate together, we learned together, and we shared our lives together. In this way they were not so different than tables elsewhere.

At some point, I hope to write about the genius of tables. Though humble and common, they shine as one of the most ingenious creations of the human mind. Cars and computers take the fascination of many, but it is the table that exceeds them both in terms of versatility, enduring value, and significance to the human enterprise.

Despite the peculiarity of the setting, the commonness of the tables and the task meant that for all intensive purposes, this classroom was no different than others. What was most peculiar is that rather than being a student, I was their teacher.

Youth has its advantages. They are few, but lively. In teaching the only advantage is that one often shares that youth with those being instructed. In this way rapport with students came easily, but the challenge then was to navigate the narrow channel between over-identifying with the students in our youth, and over-emphasizing my status as a teacher. Throughout this trip, I felt this tension continually; At times I felt as though I was scraping the side of over-identifying with my students. This led one student to remark,  tongue-in-cheek, that I was a “student teacher”.

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The Corinthian Canal

Given my youth, I actually found that comment to be apt. Having recently graduated from Moody Bible Institute and nearing my 25th birthday, my identity as a student lingers in my insecurity as a teacher. Before coming to teach, I felt inadequate to the task, under-qualified and under-prepared. The teachers for other weeks were seasoned bible teachers who were 20-30 years my elder. Who was I to teach the book of 1 Corinthians to these students who were so near my age?

Yet the saying held true this past week, “God does not call the equipped, he equips the called.” As it turned out, I had all that I needed to teach, having received it from from the gifting of the Holy Spirit and my education at Moody. Furthermore, throughout the week, there were times where I saw God provide insight and clarity to a passage from a student’s comment or reading through the passage once again during class. As Wayne Weissman remarked to me, “It is God who does the teaching, we are simply his instrument.”

This does not mean that my teaching was free from mistakes. Far from it. First, I did not spend nearly enough time preparing how I was going to teach the class. Part of this was due to lack of preparation, but the other part was simply inexperience. I am still learning how to teach. Though Moody did have a class on teaching the Bible specifically, that class did not prepare me to teach an intensive class like this one. Second, I had some trouble discerning what to teach from 1 Corinthians. Not every interpretive issue, nuance, or cultural detail needs to be communicated, and while I don’t believe that I made the mistake of simply communicating a commentary, there were times where I recognized that what I considered important in the passage may not have been what was important for my students to hear. In the future, I hope to be more intentional to foster discussion and dialogue in these settings in order to better involve students and get a gauge on what they need to hear.

Overall, I come away from this past week with immense gratitude. Not only did God give me an opportunity to teach his word, of itself an immense gift, but also a reminder of countless memories during my trip, a wonderful group of students who I came love during my short time, and even a few conversations that indicated that the content of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was having an impact on the minds and lives of my students.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God ~ 1 Corinthians 1:18

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Kingfisher Project Class of Spring 2017