Entitlement

An attitude of entitlement looks bad on anyone. It is no doubt a by-product of our affluence and it’s a significant problem for parents, employers and for governments. What’s on my heart recently though, is the effect of entitlement on us as pastors and leaders. God has given us an amazing privilege and responsibility to shepherd His people. Those that we care for tend to put on us on a pedestal, admiring our sensitivity, wisdom and spiritual insight. (their opinions about us can change rather quickly at times!) This kind of trust makes us particularly vulnerable to over rate our importance to the ministry and to the organizations which we serve. A sense of our own self-importance, fed by accolades of success, can create space in our hearts for three very dangerous words, “I deserve this.”

These three words are not always wrong, but they head in the direction of entitlement. They are the words that likely coaxed David to violate Bathsheba, murder her husband and betray God and his kingship. They are the same three words used by some pastors to justify looking at porn, by others to abuse their expense accounts for perks and privileges, and by still others, to engage in emotional attachments that betray marriage vows.

It saddens me to say that these are not isolated incidents. They are not even the “celebrity pastors” whose failures we read about all too frequently. I am speaking about pastors and leaders within our BCMB community. Entitlement is a risk for us all. We are in a unique and privileged role and we are also in the midst of a difficult Covid season. 2020 has been a year of uncertainty and instability and the pressure is taking its toll. Like Frodo and Sam making their way through the Dead Marshes, deceptive lights promise us comfort and tempt us off the solid path toward destruction.

Please don’t hear me saying that you shouldn’t take care of yourself. Take time for rest, and renewal not because you “deserve” it, but because you are humbly aware of your own weakness and need. Be transparent about how you replenish your soul and invite others to speak into your life; to call you out if and when they see entitlement in your attitudes or actions.

Be honest with yourself about the temptations you’ve been courting. “Play the movie” of your indulgent thinking to its bitter conclusion and repent of it completely. Recognize that success and longevity in ministry don’t protect us from entitlement thinking, they make us more vulnerable. When you start thinking about what you deserve set your mind on Jesus and His astonishing love for you. And remember this promise, “Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 3:13

 

Rob Thiessen

BCMB Conference Minister

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Novel Idea

Novel Idea

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines novel as, “a new and not resembling something formally known or used; not previously identified; original or striking, especially in conception or style.”

The word novel has been much-used since the Covid-19 pandemic. The Corona Virus is called ‘novel’ because it’s a new strand of virus not seen before. Biologists and Epidemiologists haven’t come across this virus before. Hence, new or novel. We tend to use this word mostly in a positive context. ‘That’s a novel idea’, ‘the novelty hasn’t worn off yet,’ etc. But in the context of Covid-19, novel is not a good thing. It’s a new threat to our physical health. But is it a threat to our church?

Speaking of novel, my wife and I went to church this past Sunday for the first time since mid-March. That was a novel experience! For the past 6 months we were forced to readjust our deeply rooted habits of sitting in church on Sunday morning to watching and doing ‘church’ in front a computer in our living room. I have gone to church from my childhood (though admittedly often out of duty back then). For the first time in my life, I wasn’t allowed to do something I had done all my life.

So, this weekend, we decided to register and attend a Sunday service, along with 48 other individuals. Many of our BCMB churches have begun Sunday morning service, adapting to the restrictions imposed by our Health Department. As I sat in this large auditorium, feeling almost lost and out of place, I realized for the first time since March that church would not be the same going forward. Of course, I knew that church was going to be different, but I hadn’t experienced it yet. Now that I sat in a room that was 99% empty, following the lyrics to songs that were not on PPT, but you had to download onto your phone, I realized we are indeed in a novel time.

But what does that mean for the body of Christ, the Church? We have all seen or heard how churches tend to respond. On one end of the spectrum, churches will defy the government’s guidelines and operate as if the virus is not as significant of a threat, or they remain fully on-line, staying clear of any risk of spread through physical interaction. In either extreme (and the varying degrees of expressions in each extreme), the focus and drive seem to focus on how to hold on and retain to a semblance of how the church operated prior to Covid-19. But is that the response God hoped we would have when this pandemic came upon us? Should we see this as a test, a trial, or worse, a persecution?

In his hot-of-the-press book Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and its Aftermath, N.T. Wright suggests that there is actually a precedent to this situation. The churches in Acts also faced calamities that threatened the entire world. In Acts 11 we read of a prophet Agabus who came down from Jerusalem to Antioch and foretoled of a great famine that would come upon all the world (Acts 11:28). “So what do the Antioch Jesus-followers say? They do not say either ‘This must be a sign that the Lord is coming back soon!’ or ‘This must mean that we have sinner and need to repent’ – or even ‘this will give us a great opportunity to tell the wider world that everyone sinned and needs to repent’. Nor do they start a blame-game, looking around at the civic authorities in Syria, or the wider region, or even roman empire, to see whose ill-treatment of the eco-system, or whose tampering with food distribution networks, might have contributed to this dangerous situation. They ask three simple questions: Who is going to be at special risk when this happens? What can we do to help? And who shall we send?” (31).

Jordan Peterson said in a recent YouTube video I watched, “We are mobile creatures. We need to know where we are going, because all we’re concerned about (roughly speaking) is ‘where are we going’, ‘what are we doing, and why’.” This is hardly a novel idea Dr. Peterson discovered, but it’s true. The apostle Paul already recognized this drive in our humanity when he said, So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should (1 Cor. 9:26-27a).

It is hard to know where we are going when we don’t yet know what all the implications are – especially when the hardship is still in the midst of unfolding and continuing. We don’t know when or how Covid-19 will end. We don’t know what church life will be like in the aftermath of this pandemic. We don’t know what the long-term effects will be on those who contracted the virus. We don’t know what the financial fallout will be, both, for business and for churches. But N.T. Wright reminds us of a novel response that we may not have considered yet. One that is akin to how the early church responded. Rather than focusing on how we can survive, how our church will weather this, what would the response be if we invite Jesus to show us who the highest at risk from this pandemic? What can we do to help? And who shall we send?

The Coronavirus is a novel problem for our generation of churches. May God give us a novel solution to respond in a way that not only glorifies Jesus Christ, but shows the community around us, indeed the world, that, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are following his model. May he give us grace and mercy.

In Christ,

Denis Federau

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BCMB Convention 2020 – Friday Night Celebration Service

Friday Night Celebration Service

Our theme this year is: A Faithful Witness

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. ~ 2 Timothy 1:13

Everyone is welcome to join us virtually on Friday evening, May 1, 2020 for an evening of worship and celebration for all God has done, as we hear stories from some of our churches. We also look forward to honouring our retired missionaries for their years of faithful service.

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Turning Cope into Hope

Turning Cope into Hope

We are now seven weeks into this pandemic and the feelings of disorientation are growing. Covid cases appear to have “peaked” in some areas and there is talk about “reopening” our economy but at the same time here in BC we are hearing that the current isolation protocols will continue into the fall. The uncertainty is in itself deeply unsettling to us.

Then on Sunday evening Canadians were shocked to hear of the worst ever mass shooting in our nations’ history. Twenty three or more murdered in an incomprehensible rampage of evil in rural Nova Scotia.  While on the one hand Canadians are working together to “flatten the curve” of Covid 19. A fellow citizen, one of us, sets out to kill and destroy for no apparent reason. How are we to understand this and how do we help one another and our communities? Here are a few considerations,

  1. Encourage and lead our families and churches in prayer for the victims, their families and the people of Nova Scotia. We weep with those who weep.
  2. Look for opportunities to express public and tangible support for victims. Let’s stay alert to trustworthy platforms by which we might offer assistance. We care for our neighbours
  3. Address the unspoken questions raised by this tragedy. Where is God in this? Was this just a bad person? Is there any security and hope for my future?

I am not suggesting that any of us can adequately answer the profound questions of suffering and evil that we witnessed this week, but our suffering Savior has provided His answer at Calvary and at the empty tomb. This is his all sufficient and hope filled answer to our questions.

During these days people are coping with confusion, discouragement, and tremendous grief, let’s consult with Jesus daily as to how we can be with people.  Let’s share their burdens and assist them in practical ways. In various ways we can, by our lives and presence, lead them to Jesus who redeems our mess and turns “cope” into hope.

In Christ,

Rob Thiessen
BC Conference Minister

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Will Our Churches Survive Financially?

Recently, our churches have had to make some very difficult decisions in light of COVID-19, with regards to continuation of ministry, and also with regards to finances and employment. John Albiston, a Church Effectiveness Coach, has shared some valuable insight into this struggle that we thought we would pass along to our churches. Below, is a brief summary of the content he provides in his 20 minute video that follows.

Covid 19: How your church can survive financially

To survive this crisis your church must do two things:

  1. Reduce expenses
  2. Increase income

Reducing Expenses

  1. Mothball your facilities
  2. Reduce program costs
  3. Develop a staffing contingency plan
    1. Determine income thresholds
    2. Create a staff triage order
    3. Abandon tenure and hierarchy
    4. Prioritize tech and ability to connect
    5. Prepare yourself and your team for bi-vocational and volunteer options.
    6. Inform your people of government support options
    7. Do not abandon those you have to lay off!

 Increasing Income

  1. Make it easy to give
    1. Physical giving
      • Sanitized drop off
      • Safe pick up
    2. Online giving
      • tithe.ly
      • Is the 2.9% fee too much?
  2. Give them a reason why
    1. Formulate an action plan
      • For your congregation
      • For you community
    2. Cast the vision for involvement
      • By volunteering
      • By giving

If this seems like it would be helpful for you and your church watch the video below.

Shared with permission by:

John Albiston
Church Effectiveness Coach
Alberta & NWT District of
The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada

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Online Options for Churches Responding to COVID-19

As events unfold and we head into spring in B.C, there is a rapidly changing landscape for churches to navigate in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and the resulting risk assessments worldwide and in our province. As a Conference Office, we are carefully considering the health and safety of our church leaders and their members, given the wide spectrum of demographics and diversity in size and style of meetings. With this in mind, and with the situation continually evolving, we see that some of our churches are looking at options for moving their meetings to a smaller setting or cancelling them completely. In an effort to continue teaching, discipling, and mentoring through our current challenges, churches may consider engagement with their congregations in an online format.

We have compiled a few tips, links, and suggestions for those churches that are looking for a place to start, or for those that are looking to get creative and to expand their current online presence. This is by no means and exhaustive list and we would welcome feedback or additions through comments or email.

*we will be updating and adjusting this post as we come across new ideas or resources.

Important Considerations

  • Churches who are considering online service options, should note that worship music sharing online in this format requires a different CCLI License. If you plan to stream or to include worship music portions of your service for online use, please contact sandra@bcmb.org
  • When planning online service options, captioning your content may make it more accessible. We use a great transcription service that can provide fairly fast transcription for audio and video at a reasonable cost ($10 per hour of content, pay as you go).
  • Those members of your churches who are in the highest risk group (such as the elderly) may need assistance with basic needs such as groceries or medication. Consider dedicating time you would have spent on weekend prep or meetings with people, to calling and connecting personally with these individuals or forming teams to connect with them in helpful, low risk ways.

Ideas for Online Engagement

  • Record your sermon in whatever video method you have available. Upload the video to a free/paid Vimeo or You Tube account. Embed the video on your website or share the link. Congregations can watch at their leisure on Sunday or through the week.
  • Share recorded sermons on various social media platforms.
  • Provide a response mechanism (such as a Facebook Group), so that people can engage their thoughts prayers and conversations as part of the online worship experience.
  • Send out video or audio of a sermon along with sermon notes, questions, or other interactive content to keep members engaged.
  • Dedicate a mobile number where community can text their questions to.
  • Pastors or leaders can host Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, or Face Time meetings for live engagement, prayer, or discussion (be aware that not all users will have Google or Facetime)
  • Provide online giving options or permission congregants to stop by the church or mail their giving individually.

Helpful Links for Live-Streaming

Getting Off The Ground With Live-Streaming

Here are some basic things a church would need to start live-streaming their sermons:

  1. Good internet (Good upload speed): What is the minimum you can get away with?  Many of the Shaw packages have very small upload bandwidths.  5mb/s UPLOAD bandwidth would be right at the edge of doable, 10 is better.
  2. Camera with audio feed: Embedding the audio to HDMI.
  3. Encoder: Something that takes the HDMI Camera feed and converts to it to Data (USB or Network output)
  4. Streaming platform.  Facebook and You Tube both have free platforms that many have tried and struggled with.  This is one area that is probably worth paying for a service.  For example, a Vimeo Premium account which includes live-streaming.
  5. Website or somewhere to view streamed video.  The paid platforms will allow you to ’embed’ on a website.  The free (or cheap) ones do not.

The least costly for the best performance is probably something like this:

  1. Camera with audio input
  2. Black Magic ATEM Mini switcher (USB-C output)
  3. Streaming platform.  Vimeo Premium is $95/month when you pay for a year.
  4. Church website (you will need access to the backend and have a knowledgeable person that can embed it for you)

OR

  • If there are churches that for some reason couldn’t make this happen, you could also get a phone tripod and do a Facebook or Instagram live stream right from a phone. The audio wouldn’t be stellar but thinking realistically about churches with minimal resources, this is an option.

*Thank you to Northview Community Church for providing this quick list

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February 2020 Update on Church Planting BC

Dear BCMB family,

Church Planting has long been a vital expression of our heart to share the love of Christ with the people of this wonderful province. Healthy churches bear witness to the love of Christ in community and provide a context of mutual support as we learn to obey him in all things.

This last year has been deeply challenging for us with the release of C2C from Multiply. We are grateful for the many efforts to explain the factors that led to this result, but there remains for us all a sense of loss and regret. We appreciate the courage of leaders who are currently engaged in a careful review of Multiply governance to ensure that we learn from and correct our mistakes.

Currently, the BCMB Executive has formed an interim Church Planting Task Force to oversee BCMB church planting efforts. This team consists of:

  • Rob Thiessen (BCMB)
  • Denis Federau (BCMB)
  • Mike Klassen (Sunridge Community Church, Westbank)
  • Phil Collins (Willow Park Church, Kelowna)
  • Brett Landry (Christ City Church, Vancouver)
  • Joe Haynes (Beacon Church, Victoria)
  • Lee Francois (Crossridge Church, Cloverdale)
  • Willy Reimer (Willingdon Church, Burnaby)

We have been working since September to ensure that our church planters receive coaching and funding as needed (Currently 23% of our BCMB budget). The BCMB church planting contribution was previously administered by C2C through Multiply. That situation changed in August, following the release of C2C from Multiply, and BC church planting was moved to BCMB. Since that time, our task force has met with all of our church planters who currently receive funding and discerned the following action points:

  • We are excited to support new church planters, Shane and Nicole Fox, as they lay the groundwork for a new church in Penticton (see thewinepress.ca). They have gathered a core team of 3 couples in Penticton and are laying the foundation for a launch sometime in the coming year. We envision a unique opportunity this summer for BCMB churches to help this new church launch with strength.
  • A new couple Augustine and Arte Dhikvar are moving toward an apprenticeship for church planting under the supervision of New Hope Community Church, Delta, and pastor Wayne Driedger.
  • We are bringing to a close our financial subsidy for the ministry of Meta Communities and Denis Wilkinson in Vancouver. This ministry has been financially supported through BCMB and others for over 9 years. We are grateful for the faithful witness of Denis and Mistin and for the fruit that has come from their work. We have provided severance for the Wilkinson’s as they explore the next chapter of ministry in their lives.
  • Additionally, we continue support for:
                • Obidiah Kim (House For All Nations)
                • Jonathan Headly (Jubilee Church, Maple Ridge)
                • Heith Meikle (Christ City, East Vancouver)
                • Jake Lefave (Christ City, East Vancouver)
                • Ruben Zuniga – Spanish ministry (Broadway MB)
                • Reda Hanna (Arabic Evangelical Church)

Our prayer is that God will continue to call us forward to the communities of our province who need churches where the love of Jesus is overflowing and the gospel and Spirit are at work transforming lives. Please make time in your leadership meetings to pray and consider the role of your church in multiplying disciples through church planting.

If you have previously designated financial gifts for BC church planting through C2C or Multiply, those funds now go to BCMB who directs them to these BC Church planters and church planting initiatives.

We are especially grateful for the work of Reg Toews, with Multiply, who has helped us bridge this season of change. His ongoing coaching of church planters and assistance in helping us negotiate this transition has been invaluable. Reg’s ministry with Multiply concluded at the end of January. We have also contracted the services of “C2C Collective” to provide us with specific resources, such as church planter “assessment” and the church planter “incubator” training modules. These services will be financed through the faithful and ongoing giving of our churches to BCMB, through the subsidy designated for church planting.

As church planting has come back to BCMB, we are reminded of the momentum and energy brought to BC through C2C over the years. We have learned many lessons and saw the growth of a movement of “churches planting churches” that was directly influenced by C2C.  To name just a few….

  • Jericho Ridge Community Church (Langley)
  • The Shore (North Vancouver)
  • Christ City Church (Vancouver)
  • Reality (Vancouver)
  • Real Life Community Church (Surrey)
  • Crossridge Community Church (Cloverdale)
  • Beacon Church (Victoria)
  • Jubilee Church (Maple Ridge)
  • The Rock Church (Squamish)
  • Gateway Community Church (Pt Alberni)

In addition to these, we have churches who are using a “multi-site” approach to planting. Churches like Northview, North Langley, Christ City, Willow Park, Central, and Westside.

We continue to ask God to use BCMB to be salt and light in communities throughout our province, calling a new generation of leaders to plant churches. We thank God for the faithful churches who resonate with this call and financially support church planting, while ministering in their own communities. We thank God for the new churches and campus-churches that have been planted, knowing that without these obedient church planters and their newly founded churches, BCMB would have experienced attrition over these past years. We rejoice, as Paul did, when brothers and sisters become confident in the Lord and dare to proclaim the gospel without fear (Phil. 1:14 NIV).

Thank you for the many who pray at 10:02 and at other times. Please ask God to awaken our hearts to His mission and calling. Ask the Lord to impart faith and courage to us all so that many will come to faith, be discipled in Christ and establish new churches in our province.

 

In Christ,

Rob Thiessen
BC Conference Minister

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Why I don’t leave the Church

Recently I’ve asked myself, “Why do I go to church?” I’ve had ongoing conversations within our family about this. When we talk about our motives and our expectations, I soon discover that we go for different reasons; and some don’t attend at all. This blog is an attempt to understand the reason I should go to church on Sundays.

Every so often I come across articles, books, or blogs that address the disillusionment of many with our churches.  Our North American evangelical churches’ attendance seems to be in decline.

Try typing “why I left the church” into Google search and you are likely going to get millions of hits on the subject matter. On my last attempt, I got 173,000,000 hits! Clearly the subject is relevant.

The disillusionment that many experience in churches today is real. There are many reasons people feel disenfrenchised: hurt, internal strife, unwelcomed, disengaged or irrelevant messages, worship style, etc. These are all valid reasons to question whether to stay in one particular church. But, are they valid reasons to leave the church all together? I am not discounting or dismissing people’s experiences, I am merely asking if they are valid reasons to abandon the fellowship of believers altogether.

There are no doubt some who, at this point in reading my words, are saying, “I can have fellowship with other Christians outside the church.” True, one can. So, has church become irrelevant? If the aim to attend church is having fellowship with other believers, one can just gather informally at someone’s house, go for a walk, or, as is often the case today, have friendships that are mostly built through an electronic platform.

This brings me back to my discussions we had as family.

Why do I go to church? Is it a habit? Obligation? Peer pressure? Or, because I need it?

I grew up going to church every Sunday (or at least that’s what it felt like). I sometimes joke that the only reason my dad would allow me to stay home from church was if one of my limbs was falling off or I was deathly ill. Not going to church on Sunday was simply not an option. I’ve been told that in today’s world, church leaders consider someone a regular attendant if they show up twice a month. The role our church plays in our lives has dramatically changed.

Church used to be the place where people would find spiritual guidance from their pastor. It was the place where people would find solace and comfort during losses or tough times. If you needed help with something, you would find support in the church.

In other words, it was a place of community.

But what does Scripture say about the subject? Perhaps surprisingly to some, more than one might think. The most obvious passage that directly commands believers with regards to attending church is found in Hebrews 10:24-25,

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (emphasis mine)

The context of this passage is the gathering of the saints. The writer of Hebrews encourages the saints to continue in the habit of coming together so they can “stir each other up in love and good works.” These words might seem simple, but ‘love’ and ‘good works’ are often harder to do in the familial context. It’s when we know of each other’s warts, faults, and shortcomings, that we find it harder to love and accept. Yet, that is precisely the point.

Most of the apostle Paul’s writings were directed at churches in various regions dealing with various situations. Internal strife and disagreements, splits, quarrelling, dissension, lawsuits, sexual immorality, etc., were some of the issues Paul had to address in churches he either founded, or helped to establish. In his letter to the churches in Rome, Paul tears down the dividing walls between Jews and Gentiles – they are one in Christ; to the Corinthians, he paints the picture of a human body, which, though made up of many parts, functions together in harmony for one purpose. In his letter to the Galatians he reminds them that they no longer live under the Law, but are free in Christ; he also encourages them to bear one another’s burdens. He reminds the Ephesians that they are one in Christ.

To the Philippians he writes,

“ So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (emphasis mine) (Phil. 2:1-4).

He reminds the Colossians of the ultimate point of his ministry: to teach everyone with all wisdom that he may present everyone mature in Christ (Col. 1:28)

I think we’re getting the picture. A follower of Christ is not meant to exist in a vacuum. Their existence, growth, maturity, and purpose is anchored in the local body of believers. It is in the context of the local church where we serve Christ; it is in the context of the local church where we experience forgiveness and forgive others; it is in the context of the local church where we carry our crosses and follow Christ.

Nowhere in the New Testament do we read of believers being encouraged to leave the fellowship of believers because of its disfunctionality. The problems Paul addressed in his letters are, to a large extent, the very same problems our churches are facing today, yet he doesn’t give up – and nor should we. Rather than throw in the towel and abandon the body of Christ, let’s remember that perfection in Christ is not attained individually, but within the local church.

So, why do I go to church? Because I need it. I need to be encouraged, challenged, admonished, taught, and equipped to serve Christ. I need to be reminded that it’s not about me, but about others.

It is in the church where I pick up my cross to follow Jesus.  

Denis Federau
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The Journey of a Lifetime

The journey of a lifetime, for 13 anticipatory pilgrims, began on January 12th and lasted 10 days.  In those all-too-short days, we, a group of pastors (four from BC), and several spouses joined Dan Unruh on a whirlwind tour of Israel.  Eight days on the ground embraced over 4,000 years of history.  To say it was overwhelming, would be a gross understatement.  To say it was life changing, would fall into the same category.  Having explored the ‘promised land,’ I have come to experience a new richness in the Word, an appreciation of the foundation upon which our faith stands, and a taste of the complexity that is the middle-east.

Our journey saw us travel from Vancouver to Toronto where we boarded an El Al jet for Tel Aviv.  The flight itself was a novel experience from the interrogation by airline security staff before we boarded the plane, to the literally dozens of men who dawned their prayer shawls and tefillin and then filled the galley areas and exits to lift their voices in prayer.

From the moment we hit the ground we started running.  Our first stop was ancient Joppa, and it was here that the biblical narrative began to come alive in new and invigorating ways.  Looking out to the port area of the ancient city, I could imagine Jonah hiding in the bowels of the ship, trying to run from his divine assignment.  Looking up, I saw the traditional site where Peter stayed with Simon, the tanner, and received a vision from God to bring the Gospel to the gentiles, starting with Cornelius.  Not more than 10 metres away was a recently discovered stela erected by Pharaoh Thutmose III when he conquered Joppa in 1450BC.   All this, and I was only two hours on the ground in Israel.  I had to pinch myself as I realized that I was standing in the land where Biblical history had been made.

While I could recount every moment of the trip for you, every nuance and aha moment, allow me to share with you only three observations and experiences.

I had to pinch myself as I realized that I was standing in the land where Biblical history had been made.

Magdala:  Quite by accident, we stopped at a newly excavated site called Magdala; a fishing village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and, more significantly, the home of Mary Magdalene. The village is situated approximately 15 kms south of Capernaum, and the site was discovered when a developer determined to build a hotel on the lakeshore.  What was discovered, was a relatively intact first century Jewish community. It included one of a handful of first century synagogues that still had portions of the columns standing, seats ready to be used, and an ornate mosaic floor that looked like it had been placed there a week earlier.  In fact, given its location, at the foot of a mountain pass that leads to Nazareth in close proximity to Capernaum, and the record of Scripture (Matthew 4:23), it is highly likely that Jesus taught in this very location.  Apart from the wonder of the ruins, which were awe inspiring, and the tiled floor that retained its beauty after all these years, one thing struck me most:  My Saviour in all probability had taught in this very spot.  As I touched the floor and palmed the seats, my thoughts wondered if this was the very place where the incarnate Son of God placed his feet, or pronounced his Kingdom message.  The Word became alive to me in a way I had not expected.  I realized in a new way, that Jesus made himself available to the poor and downtrodden, to ordinary folk who needed an extraordinary touch from God.  It was likely here, in Magdala, that Mary first encountered Jesus.  It was likely here that the power of God began to break forth into the demonic stronghold of her life, setting her free to follow Christ as her Lord.  It was here that that eternity broke into the temporal and brought about a transformation that only God can accomplish.  It struck me that Jesus continues to break through into the lives of people possessed by sin and oppressed by brokenness.  It caused me to pause and reflect on how powerfully he had broken into my life to set me free, and how he continues to work to shape me into his disciple; living a life of worship.

As I touched the floor and palmed the seats, my thoughts wondered if this was the very place where the incarnate Son of God placed his feet, or pronounced his Kingdom message.

Other highlights on the trip included visiting Caesarea Philippi, the Golan Heights (the grazing grounds for the cows of Bashan), Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan Valley and river, Masada, the baptism site of Jesus, just to name a few.  I was awestruck, but nothing prepared me for my encounter with Jerusalem.  Rising up from the Jordan Valley past Jericho (which we couldn’t visit due to racial tension), we crested the top of the mountain and found ourselves poised on the top of the Mount of Olives.  From this vantage point, all of ancient Jerusalem, including the City of David, came into view.  There before me was Garden of Gethsemane; looking down across the Kidron valley (literally covered with graves) was the Eastern Wall of the City upon which sat the Temple Mount.  Rising up from the city wall lay the ancient structures that formed and informed biblical life.  From our vantage point, Jesus had wept over the City; from this same location, the parade that was Palm Sunday began, and in the garden below (and to the right) Jesus prayed in agony just hours before laying down his life for my sin.  There to the left, lay the ruins of David’s palace, the house of Caiaphas the High Priest: the location where Peter denied Jesus.  There, all the Gospels, and especially the Easter narrative, came to life.  It was almost too much to take in… frankly I could have stayed there for days just looking, pondering, wondering, and drinking in what I have only read about for over 50 years.

Two aspects of our visit to Jerusalem were particularly poignant and stick in my memory like no others.  One was the circus that made up the traditional site of Golgotha and the grave of Jesus.  The other was the desperation I discovered at the Western Wall.  I looked forward visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the traditional site of Jesus death and burial).  As we walked down the narrow streets towards the site, my excitement and anticipation grew. There beneath my feet, were the very paving stones placed by the Romans over 2000 years before.  I had heard that the site was unique in that some six denominations, all vying for control and a ‘piece of the pie,’ claimed the site as their own.  What I encountered was sad beyond measure.  Inside what should have been a sacred and holy site, Christian rivalry reigned.  Priests from various groups cajoled and jockeyed the crowd to ensure they were not overlooked.  At one point, as I took pictures of the traditional site of the crucifixion, a priest from some denomination or other told me to move on, while another tried to convince me that I needed to take pictures of his area of the shrine too.  It was sad to witness one group lay claim to an area while striving to out-do another.  The most unique discovery, was an appendage constructed on the back side of the tomb wherein some religious group tried to make its presence known, but would not allow anyone near to witness what they had enshrined.  What could have been a symbol of Christian unity, with various groups working together for the glory of Christ, had become the manifestation of what is all to frequently true of the church, wherein we find ourselves in competition with each other rather than striving to exalt our Saviour.

Inside what should have been a sacred and holy site, Christian rivalry reigned. 

The second aspect that struck me more than all others, was the Western Wall.  On our last evening, just hours before boarding the bus back to the airport, we went to the Western Wall.  There, at the foot of the Temple Mount, lay the remnants of the stones that the Romans had thrown down as they destroyed the Temple.  There, at the foot of the Temple Mount, remained the foundation stones that Herod had carved and placed as he built the second temple.  As we got closer to the Western Wall, I became increasingly aware of the numbers of people who had come to petition heaven in prayer.   Scores of men (men and women were separated) lined up along the wall, weaving and bobbing as they recited their prayers.  Others sat in desks reading the Torah, some repeatedly kissed the wall, while others tucked notes into the cracks of the foundations stones, all hoping their prayers would be heard.  Further along, an alcove gave access to an enclosed area where scores of others gathered to pray as close to the holy of holies as they could get.  The buzz of their prayers filled the air, and the movement of their bodies in a rhythmic ritual caused me to begin to bob too.  In that moment I had a flashback to the Mount of Olives, the mount upon which Jesus wept over the city.  In this place where men and women gathered to display their devotion and called for their Messiah, I was struck by the futility of their ritual.  On the one hand, I was convicted by the dedication that they displayed and the energy they poured into their prayers.  On the other hand, I was saddened to know that they did not know Jesus, the one who came in fulfillment of the Scriptures; the one who gives us direct access to the Throne of Grace.  It caused me to ponder my devotion in terms of my relationship with God.  Not one of ritual, but one of passionate prayer for the lost.  It caused me to feel compassion for these men and women who longed to encounter God.  It caused me, and continues to cause me, to wonder if my heart, like that of Jesus, is truly broken for the lost.  It caused me to experience conviction and the call of God to be on mission for the Gospel.

There is so much more that I could share, encounters I could recall, or observations I could make.  Some 2700 pictures recount the wealth of experiences that I encountered.   That said, above all, I encountered Jesus in a new and profound way.  I can visualize where we walked and talked.  I can see where he performed miracles and laid down his life.  Above all, I have come to understand the importance of the Church working together for his glory.  I have come to rediscover the urgency of the mission that we have been given.  I have come to fall ever more deeply in love with Jesus; and that is a journey of a lifetime!

It caused me… to wonder if my heart, like that of Jesus, is truly broken for the lost.

Ron van Akker
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