Friday, February 14, 2014

Pondering the heart of the Gospel on Day 2 in Israel

I hope you all are enjoying a wonderful Valentine's day.  I know this holiday can be difficult for many people.  I'd like to encourage you if you are sad today.  Just know that you are loved with an everlasting love by the one who made you and delights in you.

I think today is the appropriate day to share the next two places I visited in Israel on my second day.  Sorry for the length of this post, but I think you will enjoy it and agree with its appropriateness for this day at its end.  After the "Mt of Beatitudes" the group headed off in our bus for a place called Tabgha.  I know you might be scratching your head just like I did when I first heard we were going there.  I thought, "Where is that and why are we going there since I don't recall reading that name in the Bible?"

As a matter of fact, it isn't named that in the Bible.  It isn't too far from Capernaum, but a boat would have made getting there a little easier.  It is what some people think of as the "lonely place" that Jesus and the disciples went to after the disciples came back from a mission trip.  Check it out in Mark 6:30-46.  In that passage you will see that it didn't stay lonely for long.  The crowd followed them and Jesus had compassion on them and started teaching them.  But, it was a "lonely" place and there were no restaurants for the crowd to go to when they got hungry.  So, Jesus performed a miracle that we today call the "feeding of the 5000."

an olive press unearthed and sitting in the forecourt of the church
The name comes from the Greek word that means seven springs.  It was changed through the ages from Heptapegon to Et Tapega to Tabgha.  Don't ask me why, as I couldn't really tell you.  It is just the way languages work over the many long years.  This area of the Sea of Galilee has seven hot springs that feed the lake and draw fish to the warmer water.  So, it was a good fishing place too.  

the very famous loaves and fishes mosaic in front of "the rock" where Jesus is said to have laid the loaves and fished
During the first four centuries of the early church the Christians in the area kept alive the memory of Jesus performing this miracle in this place.  They even said he put the five loaves and two fish on one particular rock.  So, once Constantine became a Christian in the 300's, other Christians went to the Holy Land to find Holy sites on which to build churches.  Egeria, a Christian pilgrim in the late 300's, found a church already here with an altar built over a rock.  In 450 a larger Byzantine church was built on the foundations of the earlier church.  There were many mosaics put on the walls and floor of that church.  When it was destroyed by the Persians, many of those floor mosaics remained and were eventually buried only to be discovered again in the 1930's by an archeologist.  A new church was built to protect the mosaics and other artifacts - like the olive press seen above.

This Byzantine church had some of the most beautiful mosaics of the flora and fauna of the local area.  I have chosen just a few to show you here.

The next place we went was very close to the church of the Multiplication and is also in the area called Tabgha.  We walked to the Church of St. Peter's PrimacyIt also holds a long standing tradition from the early centuries of Christianity that this is the place on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection as found in John 21.

There were some stone steps outside this church leading down to the water.  I found several in the shape of a heart.  This is part of the reason why I think it is appropriate to tell you of this place on Valentine's Day.  

They say there were six foundations of double columns shaped like a heart that were used to build a church here during Byzantine times.  Just down from these stones and the church is the Sea of Galilee.  Here we read the story of Jesus and Peter at the end of John 21.  Remember, this was a place that had many fish because of the water coming into the lake from the springs.  There should have been lots of fish for the disciples to catch.  But, they didn't catch anything all night.  Early in the morning, they saw a man on the shore with a fire and fish over it.  The man asked them if they caught any fish and when they said "no" he told them to throw their nets to the other side of the boat.  They did and caught so many fish that they couldn't bring the net into the boat because of the weight of the fish.  They realized it was Jesus and Peter jumped in the water and swam to shore.

The other disciples came to the shore in the boat dragging the full net of fish.  Jesus told them to bring some of the fish they had caught for the fire and Peter went and dragged the net ashore.  It had 153 large fish in it.  Then they all had a breakfast party right there on the beach.  They had fresh caught fish and bread and the presence of the Lord to fill them up body and soul.  

When they had eaten, Jesus began to talk with Peter and He gave him a sort of commission.  He asked Peter if he truly loved Him more than his fishing buddies (the other disciples present).  Peter replied, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."  Jesus then told him to "Feed my lambs."  I'm sure you know the rest of the story - Jesus asked Peter three times variations of the question "Do you truly love me?"  and three times Peter answered "yes" with varying degrees of exasperation.  Jesus commands him to "Feed my lambs", "Take care of my sheep", and "Feed my sheep" after each affirmation from Peter that he does indeed love Jesus more than anything.

After reading this passage, we were given time to visit the church.  I joined others in walking to the shore and putting my hand in the water - just because I was there and could do it.  I decided to just sit a while and listen to the waves come to shore and to reflect on what Jesus was asking of Peter.  In a way, this was Peter's chance to wipe away his three denials of Jesus with three confessions of Jesus.  It is a picture of forgiveness and grace.  Not only did he deny Jesus, but Jesus is telling him to do the work of the church by telling him to Feed his sheep. 

It seems to me there is something of the heart of the Gospel in this story - not just for Peter, but for us.  What is the Gospel?  The good news that God has redeemed us for himself and no longer calls us "sinner" but "child."  What are we to do?  First and foremost, we are to truly love Jesus more than anyone or anything else.  We are disciples of Jesus if we know and love Jesus and are known and loved by Him - in other words, if we are His sheep.  Once we have our relationship to Him figured out or at least in process, then we can in turn feed others with the amazing good news of the Gospel.

Imagine yourself listening to the waves break on the shore.  Imagine being filled up body and soul with good food and the presence of Jesus.  Imagine Him asking you, "your name here, do you truly love me?"  How will you answer?  Is there anything or anyone that is standing in the way of you saying, "yes, Lord, I love you!"?  If you say, "yes", be prepared for Him to tell you to feed His lambs.  How will you do that?  What are some ways that you know you love Him and He loves you?  How can you tell those stories so that you are helping the Holy Spirit fill someone else up body and soul with the love that Jesus has for them?

What do you think of my idea that there is something of the heart of the Gospel in this story?  I just thought on the day we remember love it would be good to also think of the heart of love that God showed to us in Jesus.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Happy Birthday! January ESL

As soon as I returned from my vacation to Israel, I jumped into two ESL classes.  My beginning class was already started when I got to Lodwar.  The intermediate class was the next week.  Shadrack, my teaching helper, had started the beginning class and continued to do most of the teaching that week.  I  filled in with extra information to make the class more fun.

Fun!  "Fun?" you say.  Yes, fun.  This week of class my students were learning about birthday parties and some common feelings.  So, I got to make a birthday cake.  I forgot to take a picture, but it was lots of fun.  It was a vanilla cake with sprinkles added before baking.  I frosted it with chocolate icing and added some more colorful sprinkles.  I even found some birthday candles in Nairobi before heading to Turkana so I had five candles on the cake.  This was our fifth class since starting last July (August and December are off months for school here).  

Everyone in the class had been assigned a birthday during the first or second class.  Most Turkana people do not know exactly when they were born.  They guess at a year.  So, I took the year they guessed and assigned birth dates throughout the year for each student.  They know these birthdays are only for class, but it is still fun to have a date to call your own.  Anyway, the students learned the "Happy Birthday" song and learned about parties and blowing out candles.  They even learned the words for cut the cake.  I also got presents for each student and wrapped them in colorful paper.

The presents were helpful for their ongoing studies.  They included an exercise book, a pencil, pencil sharpener, eraser, two pens and a fun party toy.  They each made invitations and gave them to classmates to come to the party.  They also made a Birthday card for one of their classmates.  So all the students were invited and got to celebrate their birthdays at the same time.  We sang and wished happy birthday to the English class and then enjoyed some cake and juice.  The Students were very happy with their presents and played with the toys for quite a while.  We had colorful plastic discs flying all over the classroom from those toys.  All in all, it was a good class.

The Intermediate class began well, but didn't last long.  The class started on Tuesday and our numbers were down.  We had half of the class gone.  January is a hard month in Turkana.  It is drought season and people are hungry and looking for good grazing for their animals.  So it isn't unusual to have smaller classes.  This was the case with the beginning class too.  On Tuesday I brought in some teaching items that I bought in Israel.  It was so much fun sharing them with my students.  I also showed them many pictures.  We talked about what Galilee might have looked like to Jesus and the Disciples and then I showed them a little of what it looks like now.  They really enjoyed the pictures.

Tuesday was also the day that I woke up with a sore throat.  All day long as I taught I was slowly loosing my voice.  I called Shadrack and asked him to come help me teach the next day as I wasn't sure I would be able to.  We played "Who am I?" Tuesday afternoon so I didn't have to talk as much.  Each of the students was pretending to be some character from previous Bible stories that we have studied.  The rest had to guess who they were by asking yes or no questions.  It took some time for them to understand how to play, but eventually they got it.  It was fun, but it was clear by the end of the day that I did not have any voice left.

The next day one more student had to leave for a meeting.  So, we were down to three students and me with no voice.  Shadrack could have taught the lesson, but he wasn't really familiar with what needed to be taught.  So, I decided to just send the students home and save the lesson for February when more students might make it to class and hopefully I will have more of a voice.  That class will be next week and my voice is still iffy.  So, I'd appreciate your prayers!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Mt of Beatitudes - Israel Day 2

Israel Day 2 brought many sites and churches.  

It seems like Byzantine Christians (4th century and onwards) wanted to mark everyplace that might be related to Jesus with an elaborate church or shrine.  Kind of like when Peter wanted to build three tabernacles/ shrines on the mountain when he saw Jesus transfigured and talking with Moses and Elijah (Mark 9:5).  At any rate, when those churches were destroyed, they were rebuilt by the next group of Christians that came to the Holy Land.  Many of these original sites were traditionally the place where certain events took place and so that is why a church or shrine was built there.  Of course it was several hundred years after Jesus was walking around, so tradition could have it wrong.

Each day of this trip was full of places to visit.  I may have to divide the days up a bit so that my posts aren't too long.  The first official day we spent around the Sea of Galilee.  As we left on the bus, I snapped this picture of an early morning boat.  Fishing was banned in 2010 to try to replenish the aquatic life and it was unclear how long that ban will continue.  So, this boat at a distance helped me imagine the disciples fishing.

photo credit - images
This map will help you see some of the places we went on this day.  We started out going to the Mt. of Beatitudes.  If you look in your Bible, you won't find this place mentioned!  It is called this because this is where they think Jesus might have done some of his teaching - specifically the Sermon on the Mount.  (Mt 5-7, LK 6).  In Matthew it says that he saw the crowds and went up on the mountain and began to teach them.  In Luke it says he was up on the mountain and called the 12 apostles then he went down and taught them at a level place.  This could be the place where Jesus taught, but even if it isn't, it would be somewhere in the vicinity.  So we visited this place.


This is very close to Capernaum where Jesus seems to have been based during much of his time in Galilee.  It is also a natural amphitheater from the top.  So, Jesus could have taught here without raising his voice much and with a crowd below him or around him.  It has a wonderful view of the Sea of Galilee too!  The above pictures were taken below the Church that was put up here in the 1930's over an ancient church that was crumbling.  The next pictures are inside the church.

looking up into the dome - fish swimming around the water or in golden water
means - Praise You Christ!

The church also had some beautiful gardens around it where one could contemplate the words of Jesus and the beauty of the area.  As I think about the whole Sermon on the Mount as found in Matthew, it seems to me that Jesus is calling us to love as he loved.  He asks us to be humble, gentle, merciful, peaceful and to persevere under suffering.  He tells us to give up worry and to rely on him.  He calls us to live our lives so that even our enemies can see our love.  He tells us we will be known by the fruits we bear.  Are we growing and showing others the way to Jesus and thus producing good fruit or are we producing bad fruit by withering in his presence due to lack of abiding in him and showing the world that we can't rely on God?

This stone mosaic of the fish and bread reminded me of Jesus' words about a father giving his child a stone when the child has asked for bread.  Jesus goes on to say that our Father knows how to give good gifts to his children who ask him for something.  

Go back and read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7.  Imagine yourself in the crowd or sitting with the disciples listening to Jesus give this teaching on this hillside.  Be overwhelmed by how amazing this teaching is!  Jesus finishes by saying that the one who hears these words and does them (yes, not just hears but does!) is like a wise man who builds his house on solid rock rather than shifting sand.  Those people on that hillside went away from this teaching amazed.  Are you?  He taught like one who really knew what he was talking about, not like the teachers of that day or even of today.  He knows the Father and he knows how we should live.  I pray that we will all be like the wise home builder.