All Y’all Are the Temple

Today was quite cool compared to what we have experienced so far.  We hit 39C one day in Israel compared to around 20C today.  A nice break. And then rain!  It rained on and off all day, especially at the end of the day. We actually saw a little town flooded waist-high on our way back to our hotel with people scrambling to divert the water coming down the mountains.  It kept us from doing everything on RVL’s list, but it was still another high impact day. 
We started in the ruins of Priene, a city not far from Ephesus that I had never heard of and is never mentioned in the Bible. But the site was remarkable for a number of reasons.  And because it’s not a major site, it gave us plenty of time to linger in the main parts of the city. 

Priene was known for its beautiful temple to Athena (pictured below), built by the same architect as the Parthenon, and so we learned a lot about ancient temples and temple worship. Then we discovered that this was also the place of one of the earliest Christian house churches. A missional community.  It was both inspiring and convicting to think about this little community being built by God into His temple with Jesus as the gate–a temple that He intended to outshine the best that humans could ever build.  RVL reminded us that the words, “You are the temple of the Holy Spirit” were plural to singular and that His temple is always most effective as a Body in community.  As our Texan friends said well, “All y’all are the temple”. At one point, the group gathered around Bill, the other pastor in the group, and I to pray for us and our churches. I will never forget that moment. 

From there, we traveled to Didyma, which is a popular tourist destination, for good reason. It is the home of a massive temple to the Oracle of Apollo, which functioned for 2000 years until around 500 AD – one of the largest ever built during the Greek or Roman periods.

We learned about how people would access the oracle in order to determine their future, a religious practice which was clearly demonic. We were in awe, standing in this massive temple which took 300 hundred years to build and was active for 2000 years – meant to fill a human hunger for truth that God actually met through the gift of His Word. RVL ended the day in front of the temple, challenging us to immerse ourselves in His Word through daily reading and memorization – “hiding the Word in our heart.”  It is something he models so well.  I have never met anyone who has more Scripture memorized than RVL.  

Our group continues to do well. It’s very fun to hang out together in our new mishpagah/insula/family. Lots of laughs and tender moments. Tomorrow:  Ephesus!



Sardis – Asia Minor

Today is a guest post from Ron Steiginga. Enjoy!

Yesterday we travelled from israel to Turkey. In my mind it did not seem like it would be a big deal since we had taken two flights and over 14 hours to get here last week. Wrong! Our trip started out in TelAviv at Ben Gurion Airport where we went through extensive security checks which definitively reinforce the fact that the Israelis really need to take security seriously. After changed gates, overbooked flights, flight transfers and a long bus ride we finally arrived in Kusadasi, Turkey, where we gobbled a quick meal and were off to bed. Alarm at 5:45 am and up and on the bus before 7 am.

We bussed 2 hours to Sardis which is an archeological site significant to us since it is one of the New Testament cities referred to as one of the 7 cities of Revelations. (Look it up.). Like most of the sites we have been to so far , these places are much much older than the era in which the New Testament was written, so it’s a challenge on some sites for us (some of us) to absorb the sheer amount of history that is literally buried in layers on top of each other.

One of the key learnings of the day was the way the apostle Paul used the historical context of the seven cities when he addressed them in his letters. Each letter uses specific historical and geographic references to actual earthquakes which they had experienced in that time. This was so evident in Sardis where thousands of years of man-made glory was wiped out in a single earthquake. 

We also visited the Temple of Artemis which you will have to google yourself to see how horrible and pagan this place was. This was a low moment for us as we heard and sat in and envisioned the pagan rituals and demonic forces that were celebrated in this massive temple. Making it more difficult was the realization that many of our current society’s pitfalls and priorities are similar in so many ways.  

A symbol of hope was there too though with the miracle of a small church that was situated so close to the corner of the temple that was an obvious metaphor for the purpose of the church – us- each one of us – to be light and bring the love of the one true God and King to a world that so desperately needs it. Shalom into chaos.

We then proceeded to hike straight up the mountain to the ruins of the Acropolis where portions of ruined buildings dangled impossibly 2400 feet in the air. 

Lori and I are seeing so much and have to absorb so much information that we have mixed feelings of being overwhelmed, ashamed, convicted, exhausted, constipated (Lori asked me to delete that one) but most of all awed at what God has done through history through His Kingdom Priests, those who live in obedience to Him and put Him on display in everything they do to declare that OUR GOD REIGNS to the brokenness and chaos around us.

The picture shows us at the temple of Artemis and the mountain in the background is what we climbed to the Acropolis of Sardis. 


Two Fields and a Hill

I didn’t have a chance to write anything last night, so I’m catching up while on the flight from Tel Aviv to Istanbul.  From there we’ll be heading by flight to Izmir (in what is formerly known as Asia Minor) for the first leg of our Turkey tour.  We are going with huge anticipation of what we’ll see and learn and experience.  
This is a great opportunity to reflect on the style of teaching that RVL uses with us.  That struck me yesterday when we spent the bulk of our day in two different fields and on a mountain path.  We saw no other tourists and surprised a few of the locals by our presence.  

The first field was likely one of those “solitary places” where Jesus would retreat to with his disciples and where He fed the 5000.  The second field was on the ancient road from Nazareth to Capernaum.  A road that Jesus walked many times.  And the mountain path could well have been the one that Elijah climbed up and down when he took on the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18.  In each of these places, we didn’t simply focus on the fact that maybe “this was the place…”  Instead, we were deeply challenged to think about how the message of the Good News of our King impacted the ancient world into which that message was introduced, and what it means for us to live as a priesthood for the King today.  Profound.  

Yesterday, we also spent some time at Bethsaida, the fishing village where several of the disciples grew up.  There, I couldn’t help but think of 2012.  It was there that Todd, our leader, had the oldest men in our group read through the Sermon on the Mount for us.  It was a beautiful moment.  I remember John denOtter and also my Dad, which was moving.  I remember Joe DeWeerd, who since that trip, has passed away and sees the Kingdom in its full glory.  It was a rich experience to stand in that spot again.

We continue to be challenged with the core message that Jesus brought: our God reigns and we are invited not only to believe, but to live in a way that declares His glory and brings heaven to earth each and every day.  For the rest of our trip we will unpack how the first disciples lived that message and brought it into a worldview vastly different than their own. 

We are thinking about the elections today in Canada and praying that God will lead the process. 

Thanks for the encouraging comments on the blog and for your prayers!  We’ll update again when we have a chance!  Below is a picture of our group on that road from Nazareth.


A New Path

Today was long and full and we’re tired!  But our hearts are full.  We began the day at the side of the Jordan river, where RVL invited us to embrace John the Baptist’s call to be a people who live to show God to the world, and to do it by bringing shalom into the chaos and brokenness of our world.  We had a chance to opportunity to respond to the call by doing “mikvah” or committing ourselves by immersing ourselves into the Jordan.  It was a deeply personal and moving personal commitment for many of us, myself included.  Then we had a chance to cross the Jordan (which is beautiful, by the way), so we did!  Although it is very rocky, the water levels are low, which made it possible.  We can feel the sense of community between ourselves as Canadians and Americans grow in a sweet way.  Most of them are from Texas, and so we do our part by not going on and on about the series win by the Blue Jays 🙂

The renewing of our call prepared us to go to the Decapolis, the land on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which was pagan territory in Jesus’ day.  And we saw the evidence.  Beth-Shaen and Sussito are both impressive sites that speak to the power of Rome and Greek culture.  As incredible as both these cities were in their day, both were places in need of the Good News.  We were blessed to spend time in these sites and hear challenging teaching that brings the Bible to life.

We look forward to tomorrow!


Amazing Galilee

Today was a rich and full day.  For those of us who were here three years ago, we visited Gamla and Caesarea Philippi, two places where we had been before and one new place at Omrit. But even going back to familiar sites was profound.  RVL’s ongoing goal is to prepare us for the explosion of Christianity into Asia Minor and Asia and to understand how intentional Jesus was in preparing His followers for their mission.  

As we drove through the Golan Heights, Nadav, our Israeli guide, helped us understand some of the complexities of the conflict within this nation and around it.  We drove within sight of both Syria and Lebanon, which made some of the current troubles in the world feel very real.  We feel very safe, however, and blessed by the team that is leading us including RVL, Nadav and our expert bus driver Yigal.

We ended our day on what was once the Damascus road, where Paul had his life-changing encounter with God.  We sang and recited the Shema in that place.  A very fitting end to a great day.



And Off We Go…

Well, we were certainly packed in a full day!  Wakeup call comes at 6am, followed by breakfast and devotions and on the bus at 7am.  We were soon climbing Mt. Arbel, the mountain that overlooks the Sea of Galilee and a likely place for where Jesus climbed when he went off by himself to pray.  It’s a great hike and at the top, we reviewed the important geography of the area where Jesus did most of his ministry.   Throughout the day, RVL – a gifted and passionate teacher – began laying the building blocks of teaching for our trip.  We are exploring how Jesus stepped into a real and living history to bring the Good News of His Kingdom, to build on all that God did in the Old Testament, and to launch His followers into the world to live and breathe that Good News.  Over and over again, we were brought back to that amazing message:  our God reigns!
From there, we explored the excavation of the village of Korazin, one of the places where Jesus ministered.  There is a remarkable remnant of an ancient synagogue and “insula” or large family dwelling here.  

Our final stop was Capernaum, where Jesus lived when he began his ministry.  We sat in a 4th Century synagogue, built on the foundation of the synagogue that was here when Jesus was alive.  The sense of walking in the footsteps of Jesus feels very real in these places in Galilee.

Rob, Joy, John and Margaret, we thought of you often today as we revisited places you’ve seen too, but where the teaching today was both review and new preparation for the journey ahead.  

Heads and hearts full, we headed back to Nof Ginosar where a few of us went for a swim in the Sea of Galilee.  A refreshing end to an inspiring first day!  

Below are shots of our group climbing Mt. Arbel and listening to some teaching in the site of ancient Korazin.


Feet on the Ground

We’ve arrived!  I am writing this on the bus on the way to our place of lodging for the next four nights. Originally, we were supposed to go to Nazareth, but that’s changed and we are going straight to Nof Ginosar, a kibbutz on the Sea of Galilee where Lori, Jacquie and I also stayed during our first trip. We were thrilled to be welcomed at the airport by Ray Vanderlaan (henceforth referred to as RVL). It was also great to see Yigal and Nadav, the same bus driver and Israeli tour guide we had last time. They are both special and highly gifted men. 
Our trip went smoothly. A nine hour flight to Istanbul. A two hour layover and a ninety minute flight to Tel Aviv. Our bus ride is about two hours and we’ll be ready for bed. The time here is 7 hours ahead of Ontario.
At the start of the bus ride,  RVL welcomed us and gave us a brief orientation. We will be diving deep into the Biblical text, learning with our feet, our heads and our hearts. We can’t wait!

Here’s a picture of the six of us at Ben Gurion airport.  Shalom!