Why Should Christians Visit Israel?

I have been in Israel for the past week with a group from White Fields and Calvary Chapel Brighton.

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We spent the beginning of our trip on the coast, visiting Joppa and Caesarea, both important sites in the Book of Acts, and then headed up to the region of Galilee, where Jesus did the majority of his ministry. Then we drove to Jerusalem, following the Jordan River, and passing places such as Gilgal (see Joshua 4) and the site of Jesus’ baptism and the wilderness where he was tempted directly afterwards.

After seeing some important places in Jerusalem, including the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, the southern steps of the Temple and the Western Wall, we spent a day at the Dead Sea, visiting the place where Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, seeing En Gedi where David hid from Saul in 1 Samuel 24, and going to Qumran where the Dead Sea scrolls were found and where John the Baptist was likely connected.

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Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, looking over the Kidron Valley

We will conclude the trip by visiting the Pool of Bethesda (John 5), following the way of the cross to Golgotha and seeing the garden tomb.

The trip has been incredible. I have particularly enjoyed getting the lay of the land and realizing the distances between places, and what they look like. Praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and standing where the church was born on Pentecost have been incredible experiences.

Why Should Christians Visit Israel?

Someone jokingly suggested that the benefit of visiting Jerusalem is that you can get the “before and after effect”: when the New Jerusalem comes (see Revelation 21), you will be able to compare it with the Old Jerusalem and see how much it’s improved! (Personally, I hope they clean up the Muslim Quarter a little bit…)

Interestingly, there is a neighborhood in Jerusalem called “New Jerusalem”. I went there, and it was nice, but not “streets of gold” nice. I’m looking forward to the real thing 🙂

All joking aside, there is one key reason why it is beneficial for Christians to visit Israel: Because, out of all world religions, what makes Christianity unique is that our faith is not based on abstract concepts, but on historical events which either happened or they didn’t.

What you learn from a tour of Israel, is that the New Testament accounts stand up to scrutiny. The New Testament talks about real places and real people and real events which had many witnesses, and which have been verified by archaeologists and historians. As Paul the Apostle said: “These things were not done in a corner!” (Acts 26:26)

In fact, because archaeology is a relatively young science, archaeologists are uncovering new findings all the time, and their findings corroborate rather than contradict New Testament accounts.

A visit to Israel is helpful for Christians, because it builds your faith in the historical events upon which Christian faith is based. This has been my first trip to Israel, but I expect it won’t be my last.

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Olive Trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. Some are over 2000 years old. #eyewitnesses
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Recap of Recent Travels

I just got back on Saturday night from a 2-week trip, during which I was in NYC, Turkey, Hungary, Ukraine – then a quick jaunt to Southern California, before making my way back home just in time for daylight savings! My internal clock was so confused by that point that losing one more hour of sleep didn’t even register.

Hungary

The purpose for the European trip was to visit White Fields‘ missionaries and ministry partners in Hungary and Ukraine. I got to spend time with Pastor Jani and others from Golgota Eger, the church my wife and I started back in 2005. We also spent time in Budapest at Golgota Budapest and with the leaders of the Anonymous Ways Foundation which helps to rescue women out of sex-trafficking.

Ukraine

After a few short days in Hungary, we flew to Kiev, Ukraine where Mike and I taught at a Pastors and Leaders Conference for Calvary Chapel Ukraine. Our topic was “movement dynamics” and we gave biblical and practical instruction about leading missional churches for about 50 pastors and church leaders from all over Ukraine.

Kiev

On Sunday morning I had the privilege of preaching at Calvary Chapel Kiev. Here is the video of that service if you’d like to watch it:

After church we spent some time with George Markey, one of the pastors of Calvary Kiev, and he shared with us the vision for urban church planting in Kiev – a city of about 5 million people. Their vision is to plant 30 churches in Kiev in 5 years! This year their goal was to begin with 2 church plants, and God has already raised up people for those in the northern Obolon region of the city and in the southern Teremky region. Please join in praying for God’s work in Kiev through Calvary Chapel and for this big vision they have for church planting!

Ternopil and Kharkiv

Sunday evening, three of us got on an over-night train to Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine, near the Russian border – while Mike and his wife Marika took a train in the opposite direction, to Ternopil in Western Ukraine to visit friends from Calvary Chapel Ternopil.

In Kharkiv, we visited with friends from Calvary Chapel Kharkiv, including Pastor Victor Fisin and Assistant Pastor and missionary Nate Medlong, whose aunt is a member of our church. Nate and his wife Diana are on the front lines of ministry to orphans and children in the foster system in Kharkiv. God is doing great things through their ministry, so please keep them in prayer.

UETS

Returning to Kiev, I got to speak to the students of Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary on Tuesday morning, and then we spent time with one of the teachers and the director of the seminary afterwards. UETS is a doing a great work, raising up pastors and leaders from all over the former Soviet Union. They have a strategic partnership with the seminary I am currently attending: London School of Theology (LST), and they have several hundred students attending their many campuses all over Ukraine and one other former-Soviet country. Pray for their work!

California

While the others from the team came back to Colorado, I had one more trip before I came home: I went to Thousand Oaks, California for the first Expositors Collective – an interactive seminar for young people who have a desire to preach and teach the Bible well. As one of the leaders, I coached a group of young men who had a range of different experiences: from Bible college students to interns, to a staff pastor who sometimes preaches at his church. It was a great event, and one that was geared towards ongoing mentorship. This was only the first of what will hopefully be an ongoing collective to encourage expository Bible teaching in the next generation. For more information, check out expositorscollective.com

It was a great trip, but I’m glad to be home, here where God has called me to be!

“I don’t want any presents, I just want my daddy”

A few weeks ago I was preparing to go out of town for 10 days.

For the past several years I have taken trips like this one to visit different ministries and speak at churches and conferences. Last year when I was preparing to leave, my kids were sad that I was leaving, but when I told them that I would bring them TĂşrĂł Rudi from Hungary, they cheered up and asked me, “When are you leaving?!”

But this year was different. My daughter was very upset that I was leaving, pretty much to the point of being inconsolable. In an attempt to cheer her up I told her that I would bring her back a present from one of the countries I was visiting, and I asked her what she would like.

Her response broke my heart: through her sobs she said, “I don’t want any presents, I just want my daddy.”

In Exodus 33 there is an interesting story. After God had heard the people’s cries and saved them from slavery in Egypt, brought them through the Red Sea and provided for them in the wilderness and entered into a covenant with them, the people had turned their backs on God and created a golden calf to worship instead. God chose to forgive them for this, but in Exodus 33 he told them: Even though you haven’t kept up your end of our deal, I’m still going to give you the Promised Land. I will send an angel before you, who will protect you and who will give you victory in all the battles you face. BUT… I will not go with you.

Think about what God was saying… He was testing them: Did they only want Him for the things He could give them, or did they actually want Him?

Essentially, God was offering them success, security and prosperity – without Him. He wouldn’t be there to tell them what to do. They could live their lives however they wanted, and they could have everything they wanted.

Sounds like a pretty good deal, right?

But rather than being excited by this offer, we read that the people mourned when they heard this “disasterous word.”

I wonder how many of us would consider this a “disastrous word” and bad news, that we could have everything we want — without God. I’m sure there would be many people who would be quite fine with that offer: if they could have success, security and prosperity and no God around telling them what to do and what not to do.

And yet these people were willing to give up all of those things, in order that they might have a relationship with God! It’s the same sentiment that was expressed by my daughter on the eve of my trip: “I don’t want any presents, I just want my daddy.”

The claim that many detractors and critics of Christianity make, that one of the only reasons people are religious is because they view God as a “cosmic fairy” or a genie in a bottle, whom they can invoke to give them what they want. But this flies in the face of that!

Let me ask you: What if you could have everything that you’ve always dreamed of having: money, success, the dream house, the trophy spouse, fame and recognition, and/or whatever it is that you dream of having — but without God. Would you be excited by that prospect, or would you consider it “disasterous”?

What we see later on in Exodus 33 is that Moses, having come to know some of who God is, makes a bold request: he asks to see God’s glory. Because here’s the thing: one of the defining characteristics of a person who has truly come to know God is that they want more of Him.

May we be those who come to know God in such a way that we want more of Him, and desire to know Him more than we want the “presents” that He can give us.

“Should I Not Have Compassion on that Great City?”

Greetings from Kyiv, Ukraine! I have been in Europe for the past week on a ministry trip to visit some ministries that White Fields Community Church partners with in Hungary and Ukraine, with the focus of my trip being here in Ukraine.

I got a good price on a multi-destination ticket with Turkish Airlines. Part of the reason for the low price is that it included a 12 hour layover in Istanbul. I can understand why for some people that would be a terrible inconvenience, but for me on this trip it was a great added bonus! Recently I’ve been teaching classes on the history of Christianity, and Constantinople is a big part of it, so I looked forward to the chance to get to see the “New Rome” and the old capitol of the Byzantine Empire along with the Hagia Sophia – the largest Christian church in the world for nearly a thousand years, and a building that changed architecture.

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Inside the Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), built in 537 AD!

Istanbul, with 14 million people, is the largest city in Europe. During my time there I went to the Asian side of the Bosphorus Strait, and from there I could begin to get a glimpse of just how big this city is. It was great preparation for the conference I was coming to teach at in Kyiv on the topic of “Vision for Our Cities.”

I was reminded of the message of the Book of Jonah, which is summed up in the final verse, where God says to Jonah, “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left?”

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Looking across the Bosphorus from the Asian side, toward the “Golden Horn”

Jonah’s view of Nineveh was that it was a city full of terrible sinful people who did terrible sinful things, and that they deserved God’s wrath. He was frustrated and upset by the fact that God wanted to offer them a chance to repent and receive mercy. But God spoke to Jonah at the end, and pointed out that Jonah was more concerned about plants than he was about people. God, on the other hand, cares more about people than plants – and so therefore, how could God not care about a city full of his most masterful creation, whom he loves? God wanted Jonah (and us) to understand the way that he feels about people, and about cities full of people: he loves them and we should too.

“And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left?”

On the streets of Istanbul and in the public transport areas I saw a lot of refugees from the Middle East. While I was in Turkey, the United States issued a ban on bringing laptops and tablets onto flights originating from 10 airports in 8 muslim-majority countries, including flights originating from Istanbul, something which will affect me on my flight home. The ban came as the result of the discovery of a plot to put explosives into an iPad.

As I walked through downtown Istanbul towards Taksim Square, I began wondering what it would be like for someone to do Christian ministry in that city. I was surprised at how European it was; aside from the mosques and minarets, most of the city looks like any other large European city.

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Galata Tower and a typical European neighborhood in Istanbul.

At the same time, I remember the news about German missionaries who were killed in Turkey a few years ago, and I realize that it would not only be difficult, but also dangerous for someone to do Christian ministry there.

Cities in general are “humanity magnified.” And because of that, there is inherently a dual nature to all cities: on the one hand they are full of the pinnacle of God’s good creation: people who are made in His image – on the other hand, we are fallen and so cities also have more brokenness, danger and sin.

The story-line the Bible tells is one which can be summarized in four points: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration. That means that because of Jesus there is hope for humanity.

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Istanbul: very European and yet unquestionably Muslim

A Google search helped me find some international churches in Istanbul. I pray for their safety and for them to have effective ministry in this great city. May we truly understand the message of the Book of Jonah and may God give us His heart for cities like this one.

Preaching While the Bombs Fell

Just a few blocks from Buckingham Palace and a short walk from Big Ben and Westminster Abbey is a building which has been used to influence London and the world greatly.

Westminster Chapel, pastored by G. Campbell Morgan and then by Martyn Lloyd-Jones has served as a light to the city of London and to the UK for over 150 years.

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It was G. Campbell Morgan who invited Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who had studied to be a medical doctor rather than a minister, to come and serve with him and be his successor at Westminster Chapel.

Lloyd-Jones was from Wales, and had been serving at a small village church there. At the time, doctors were considered the true heroes of society, whereas Christianity was already in steep decline in Britain. To give up a career in medicine to pastor a small church was considered a fools errand by many, but Ll0yd-Jones’ decision to become a pastor rather than work as a medical doctor had been aided by something he had witnessed from one of his mentors as he was studying to be a doctor:

He witnessed a doctor who was at the top of his field, the most respected position in that society, who supposedly “had it all” – and yet he had fallen into despondency, hopelessness and depression because of a failed marriage. Having witnessed this, Lloyd-Jones would later say, helped him to decide that he wanted to help people in a way that went beyond just caring for their physical bodies, he wanted to be a doctor for the soul.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones became the pastor of Westminster Chapel in 1939, right before the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. The people of Great Britain knew what was coming: they had seen the aggressiveness of the German military, the how the Luftwaffe had no qualms about bombing highly populated areas. They knew that soon the war would probably come to London, and they were right.

In 1939, Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached a series of sermons which prepared his people for the war. He told them that whether the German bombs killed them or not, they should be prepared to stand before God, and he urged them to embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ as their hope.

Throughout the war, as people evacuated London, Martyn Lloyd-Jones continued to preach to those who gathered at Westminster Chapel. On one occasion, a bomb fell only a few yards from the church during a service, causing the plaster from the roof to fall on the heads of the congregation. When the bomb hit, Lloyd-Jones was praying. He paused for a moment, and then finished his prayer, and went on to preach his entire sermon.

Theologian J.I. Packer sat under Lloyd-Jones’ ministry and called him “the greatest man I ever knew – not just brilliant, but wise.”

Westminster Chapel continues its ministry in its efforts to be “a prophetic voice to London, the UK and the nations.” Their website here.

A documentary was made about Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ life and ministry a few years ago called Logic on Fire. Here’s the trailer for it:

Addison’s Walk

I took my family for a walk the other day down a path called Addison’s Walk: a mile-long footpath around an island created by the river Cherwell in Oxford, England. The island and the path are part of Magdalen College, one of the 39 colleges that makes up Oxford University.

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It was there on Addison’s Walk that CS Lewis and his friend Jack, AKA J.R.R. Tolkien, had a conversation late one night after dinner, which Lewis later said was a turning point in his journey from atheism to Christianity.

Tolkien and Lewis both taught at Oxford and they were both part of the Oxford literary society known as “The Inklings”. The Inklings would meet regularly at two pubs in Oxford: the Eagle and Child, which they nicknamed “Bird and Baby”, and the Lamb and Flag. Both pubs are still there today, on opposite sides of the same street. At their meetings, the Inklings would discuss literature and share their writings with each other. It was at the Lamb and Flag that Tolkien read his first drafts of The Lord of the Rings.

Lewis and Tolkien shared a love for stories. They both felt the power of stories, and Tolkien had written a book titled, On Fairy Stories, which discussed how even in a scientific age, an “age of reason,” for some reason, people still desire to hear and to read fictional stories, even stories which talk about a supernatural world. The reason for this, he said, is that the characteristics which make up all the stories which people love: good overcoming evil, escaping time, overcoming physical limitations, interacting with non-human creatures and other-worldly beings, etc.; these reflect the deep longings of the human heart.

The reason we can’t get enough of these stories, Tolkien argued, is because deep down we believe that this is the way the world SHOULD BE, even if it’s not the way it currently is. The reality of life is that good doesn’t always win, that eventually we are separated from those we love, and so on – but even if this is how things are, it’s not how we believe that they should be. And so we love to read stories which describe life the way we believe it should be.

CS Lewis agreed with Tolkien on this point, and believe that this was indeed the power of stories. However, Tolkien took it one step further that night on Addison’s Walk: he told his friend CS Lewis to consider the gospel story of Jesus Christ. This story, he said, contains all of the elements which make every great story great: love which overcomes death, life out of death, victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, overcoming physical limitations, the promise of a world where things finally will be the way they should be… Lewis agreed.

Then Tolkien went one step further: he said, the gospel story of Jesus Christ is not just one more good story which points to the underlying reality, it is the underlying reality to which all other stories point.

The gospel story of Jesus Christ is not just one more good story which points to the underlying reality, it is the underlying reality to which all the other stories point.

CS Lewis then asked how he could be sure, to which Tolkien encouraged him to look at the historical facts surrounding Jesus’ resurrection.

It was that conversation which CS Lewis credited with leading him back to Christian faith. He went on to be one of the most effective apologists for CHristianity in the 20th century, partly because he was so intelligent, partly because he had been an atheist and was personally familiar with the arguments against Christianity, and partly because he was a layman and not a Christian minister.

I walked with my kids along Addison’s Walk, along the River Cherwell, and I told them the story of how Clive Lewis and Jack Tolkien had taken that walk along the same path, and I told them how Tolkien had shared with his friend this message of the gospel, and how all the things which cause us to love the stories we love point to “the true story of the world” – the story of Jesus and what he did for us.

As I did, my voice cracked a little bit as I tried to hold it together; you see, my heart has these deep longings as well. The promise of the gospel is that these things will not only remain longings, but one day they will once again be true, because of what Jesus did for us.

Finishing Up the Trip

Yesterday was our final full day in Ukraine. We spent the day running errands and going around with Ben to look at different properties the church in Svitlovodsk has their eye on to purchase.
Svitlovodsk, with the Dniper river in the background
As part of our support of the ministry there, White Fields donated towards their building project. They currently meet in a 50 square meter (500 square foot) space in an office building, with a few extra rooms for children’s ministry. They estimate that for 60,000 USD they should be able to either buy land and build something from scratch or buy and refurbish a building. Pray for them in this regard.
In the evening we held part 2 of the Work as Worship seminar. Travis taught and then he and I fielded questions on the topic. It went really well and I think that we could easily fine tune this seminar and present it elsewhere. It is a topic which affects all people but something evangelical Christians fail to teach on enough – or to give a comprehensive enough vision for. I look forward to how we might be able to bring this teaching to our church in Longmont.
Travis teaching Work as Worship seminar: part 2 at Calvary Chapel Svitlovodsk

Right after the seminar ended, Levi, the assistant pastor and worship leader, drove Travis and I to Boryspil, where we stayed at a hotel near the airport, and then at 3:30 we woke up and got to the airport by 4:00am.

We had a 5 hour layover in Frankfurt, so we took atvantage of the great public transport here and went into the city. If you’ve been to Frankfurt, you know that there’s not a whole lot to see, so that was plenty of time.

Right now we are in the airport waiting for our flight to Denver. It’s been an extremely fruitful trip, but it will be great to be home.

Here are a few pictures from yesterday and today:

The first rule of cross fit: always talk about cross fit. Apartment building in Ukraine.
Glorious Soviet Air Force Jet in Svitlovodsk
Downtown Frankfurt
…always talk about Crossfit. Frankfurt Stock Exchange
Frankfurt City

 

 

A Day in Kyiv

We arrived yesterday to Kyiv and have been staying with George and Sharron Markey. George's dad pioneered Calvary Chapel church planting in Ukraine, where there are now around 20 churches.
About 9 months ago George and his family moved back to Kyiv from Ternopil, where they had planted a church several years ago, to lead the church in Kyiv after the previous pastor stepped down. When I lived in Eger I had come to Ternopil twice to work with George and visit the church there.
After we arrived yesterday we went with George to the church office where he had a meeting, and then we got to walk around the city center of Kyiv.
In just a little bit we will be heading to the conference center for the Pastors and Leaders Conference which begins this afternoon. Jani and TĂĽnde from Eger are on their way; I'm hoping they'll be blessed, instructed and encouraged by the conference and get connected with the Ukrainian Calvary Chapel leaders.
Here are some pictures from downtown Kyiv:

Dniper River in Kyiv
Mother of the Motherland Statue and Great Patriotic War Memorial

Famine Memorial

 

Good Times in Eger and a Surpise in Heves

Yesterday we spent the day in Eger. The church here has a car, which we were able to borrow and I was able to Travis out to see the site where we do our English Camp outreach every summer.
A couple from the Eger church, Zakk and Mira joined us and we went to Heves, where in 2010 we started an outreach fellowship which morphed into a gypsy church. Before I left Hungary, this ministry really took off, and it has continued to be a big part of the Eger church's outreach focus.
It was a weekday afternoon, so not everyone was around, but 20 or so people gathered to see us.
While we were there, some people came up to me and showed me their 4 month old baby – a baby they had named after me, Nikolasz, because I had been their pastor! I was blown away and honored and humbled that someone would have felt so impacted by our ministry there that they would name a child after me.
I prayed over their church and over a woman who is sick, and then we came back to Eger, where we met with people from the church there. The church organized an open house for people who wanted to come and see me, and it was a great time of catching up.
Afterwards Travis, Jani and I went out to the thermal bath in Demjén until midnight and talked about life, ministry, church and family before returning to our apartment for the night.
We will see Jani and TĂĽnde again on Friday, because they are coming to Kyiv for the pastors conference I'll be teaching at. Please pray for their family and the ministries they lead in Eger; they are doing well and doing a great job with the church. It has been wonderful to see Jani develop as a pastor over the past 4 years.
Currently we are on the train to Budapest. I have a few meetings today and will teach tonight at Golgota Budapest (Calvary Chapel Budapest), and Travis will be getting together with NĂ©meth Laci, the pastor of Golgota DĂ©l-Pest to go see the city and to discuss the ministry Laci leads to combat human trafficking in Hungary. Laci is doing a great work, and we would really like to find out if there is anything we can do to support him and the work he is doing to set people free from modern-day slavery right in his own backyard.

Some of the people we met with in Heves
Little Nikolasz, who was named after me
Communist statue at the site of our English Camp. It says Faithfulness to your nation, Faithfulness to your party!
Hanging out with people from Golgota Eger at Jani and TĂĽnde's house