23 April 2013

25 Years ... What a Journey!

Twenty-five years ago I had the great fortune of marrying Susy Scott - this cute, gracious girl from southern California. We met in Geneva, Switzerland and I was quickly smitten by her quiet strength and gracious living.
       We have traveled the world together - living in Geneva, Budapest, Amsterdam, California, and Colorado. Sometimes I have dragged her places, other times she has gone willingly!
       I have not always been the best partner to journey with, but Susy has hung in there and we have forged a relationship which I cherish. There have been priceless times (seeing Carly being born and that little squirt clasping Susy's fingers and Susy crying comes to mind) and times of sorrow and pain.
       We have been privileged to raise two kids and are quite proud of the young adults they have become. Each of us has parented differently and brought our unique personalities to Carly and Steven. They seem to be fairly well-adjusted people(!) and I hope that's some indication of our marriage and family being grounded in God and in commitment to each other.
       I have been in numerous leadership roles over the years, and with that comes a lot of stress - including stress on a marriage. I cannot imagine a better partner than Susy with whom to weather the storms and to walk through these leadership challenges. Susy has been the behind-the-scenes partner I have relied on all along the way.
       A couple of weeks ago we traveled to Israel together - took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, walked the streets of Jerusalem, even crossed the checkpoint together between Palestinian Bethlehem and Israel. It was the latest in a rich and wonderful journey that God has had us on together.
       So here's to 25 years together with Susy Scott of Malibu! I'm a very fortunate guy!

18 April 2013

SIgns of Hope in a Broken Land?

“Whatever the reasons, when forgiveness happens it is always a miracle of grace. The obstacles in its way are immense." ~ Miroslav Volf
       Very close to the Israeli-Syrian border on the Golan Heights is a directional sign which shows the distances to some high-profile locations. Most of them have seen tremendous strife and bloodshed over many years. The sign was sobering and saddening to me.
       Forgiveness, understanding, an "attentive heart and mind" is rare to find in the Middle East. Animosity between people is typical and rampant.
       But there are a handful (do I dare call them a "remnant?") of followers of Jesus who are seeking forgiveness and even reconciliation. They are Jewish believers and Arab believers - people such as Salim Munayer of Musalaha (Reconciliation). I will write about my meeting with Salim in another post.
       I am more convinced now than I was previously that the Christian voice is so critical in the midst of the intractable conflict between Jews and Arabs/Palestinians. The gospel turns the arguments on their head. We are called to serve, love, even forgive because Jesus first served, loved, and forgave (see I John 5 and elsewhere).
       Perhaps I will not see this change in the Middle East in my lifetime. But it is like planting an Olive Tree, which will not bear fruit for a number of years and then can live for centuries!
       People don't plant olive trees for themselves; they plant them for generations to come. We would do well to have such an attitude about learning to forgive the "other" as we represent Jesus to a broken world.

17 April 2013

The Full Serenity Prayer

I always thought the "Serenity Prayer" was only three lines. Today my spiritual director/counselor gave me a copy of the FULL prayer, which I had never seen.
     After days like I had yesterday, this expanded version makes perfect sense to me.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the thing I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Taking as Jesus did this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;
trusting that he will make all things right
if I surrender to his will;
that I may be reasonably happy in the life and
supremely happy with him forever in the next.

For Jodi - A Truly "Crazy" One

Our friend Jodi died a year ago. This is what I wrote at that time. Many people continue to miss Jodi; and we rejoice that all that life and exuberance which overflowed from her is now overflowing in the presence of Jesus! 

My memory of Jodi is one of exuberance, a smile and laugh which was contagious. She served as an elder when I pastored in Amsterdam; she always helped me laugh at myself even in the midst of an intense conversation.
       The other memory I have is from a photo which was taken my last day at Crossroads Church. It's a picture of Jodi with our friend and colleague Geertruyt. I have joked with her that they look WAY too happy on the day of my departure!
       But then I catch myself and remember that Jodi ALWAYS looked this way!
       Our friend Jodi died yesterday after battling cancer for a number of years. I was so privileged to have spent some hours with she and Stefan last month in their home in Holland. It was a precious time over American pancakes and good coffee.
       Jodi was so fully alive, even as she battled disease. She was full of faith, full of love for her husband and children, full of hope for life and for eventually being with Jesus.
       On the day in July, 2005 that Susy and I and our kids were sent off from Crossroads Jodi was one of the elders on stage with us. She cried, which caused us to cry. Tears of joy and tears of sadness. She blessed us and sent us as only Jodi could - with joy, hope, and that contagious smile and laugh!
       I will miss Jodi, as will so many other people.
       So here is to Jodi - one of God's truly "crazy" ones in the very best sense of the word!

13 April 2013

So, What DO I say about the Middle East?

I spoke to two groups of students the other day while in Jerusalem. I was nervous, wondering if I could say anything that would make sense in the midst of enormous complexity between Jews and Palestinians.
       Quite honestly, I feel the intensity of a variety of people watching and listening to my perspective after this trip to Israel.
  * There are the people from my "tribe," those Jewish friends and family who represent my roots as a Jewish New Yorker;
  * There are the people I work with every day - those dedicated to sharing the hope of Christ with Muslims in North America, Europe, and the Middle East. I work closely with a Lebanese Arab and have people on our staff from Jordan, Tunisia, and Afghanistan;
  * There are the people associated with the messianic movement in Israel, Los Angeles, New York, and elsewhere;
  * There are Arab Palestinian Christians who are friends and colleagues;
  * And last but certainly not least, there are people closest to me such as my daughter who has spent the past 4 months in the midst of the conflict of the Middle East.
       Here is what I shared in a devotional to 50+ students as we were overlooking southern Jerusalem:
       Micah 6:8 tells us that God requires three things of true followers of Him: to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. These three qualities are foundational to the Christian life, and most especially crucial in the midst of a conflict such as between Jews and Arabs. For me these attitudes are non-negotiable.
       I related the Micah passage to Paul's words in Romans 3:19-24, reminding us that ALL fall short of God's glory - Jew and Arab, male and female, young and old alike. We are fallen, sinful people - that's not exactly what anyone wants to hear. Nonetheless, it actually helps me process the enormity of the conflict in this land.
       Lest I "cast the first stone" at anyone, I need to check my own heart and see the darkness in it. I find myself much slower to blame and point fingers at those who would otherwise be my enemy.


09 April 2013

Complexity, Paradox, Contradiction in a Holy Land

The Middle East is anything but easy and simple. In a moment it can be tranquil and God-filled and in the next instant full of angst and heartbreak. This is my story from the past two days.
     I snapped this photo early this morning as we were getting on a boat on the Sea of Galilee. We were heading from the west side near Tiberias to the east side of the Decapolis.
     In a word, it was a pregnant moment of SHALOM. If a picture paints a thousand words normally this one painted a million for me today.
     A day earlier we traveled to the far north of Israel, to the Golan Heights and looked eastward into Syria - a land ravaged by civil war for the past two years. Our Israeli guide told us the history of the Golan Heights and how Israel captured the land in 1967 and then re-captured it in the 6-day war of 1973.
     Just as we were standing at the outpost/bunker of Israel gazing into Syria (at 10am on Monday, April 8) there was a countrywide (in Israel) 2-minute silence to commemorate the Holocaust. So there I was, a New York Jew with my new Israeli friend, bowing our heads together and vowing to:
ALWAYS remember...
NEVER be complacent when such crimes occur...
ALWAYS stand up for those who are being persecuted.
     It is our calling as Jews to do these things, because of our history of being persecuted! Except that my Israeli friend seemed a bit complacent that a mere 30 miles from where we were standing a Syrian father, or mother, or child was killed yesterday. Perhaps it was a government soldier, or a "freedom fighter," or a civilian. PEOPLE were killed yesterday across that border, just as my people were exterminated 70 years ago.
     Today was a new day in Israel for me. Perhaps Jesus wanted me to have that snapshot on the Sea of Galilee to remind me (and others) that the military outpost on the Golan Heights and the civil war in Syria ARE NOT THE FINAL WORD!
     Jesus is the Final Word - and He is our Peace!

04 April 2013

Israel, Day 2

We spent the day in the Shephelah, which is the hills west and north of Jerusalem and east of the Coastal Plain. Many battles were fought here over the years, most notably in the Valley of Elan and David defeating Goliath.
       I am admittedly a novice to the land of Israel, and I know that it is a very charged topic among Christians, Jews, and Muslims. But as we looked over this valley and read from I Samuel 17 it was pointed out that the message of the story is not that David defeated Goliath, nor that the Israelites regained their rightful place in the land.
       The point of the story is that "the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel." (I Samuel 17:46). In other words, this is a valley (and land) of MISSION... that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be known to the whole world regardless of ethnicity, skin color, or religious background.
       It is sadly ironic that today this land is so fragmented and divided. Clearly that is not God's purpose and plan for Israel (i.e. the people of God).
       Tonight we drove to the Dead Sea and will spend the next two days here - tomorrow into the Negev (Judean Desert) and the following day visiting sites along the western shore of the Dead Sea.

03 April 2013

24 hours later

We are driving on a bus from Ben
Gurion airport to our hotel. The 13-hour flight from LA to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines was LONG, but it's a great airline.
My only disappointment is that they did not serve Turkish coffee on Turkish Airlines!
Time to sleep for a few hours before our first day of the expedition!

02 April 2013

On a Jet Plane!

We are at Los Angeles International airport just about to board Turkish Airlines to Istanbul and onto Tel Aviv.
We are with a great group from Joshua Wilderness Institute from Hume Lake. We've had nice introductions to the staff so far.
Now for a 13-hour flight and getting into Israel Wednesday evening. A long trek!

Remembering Edith Schaeffer (1914-2013)

Edith Schaeffer, the co-founder of L'Abri with her husband Francis Schaeffer, died in Gryon, Switzerland last week. She was 99 years old.
       I met Edith for the first time in early 1986 in a cafe in Vevey, Switzerland. We sat at a table in the quaint, turn-of-the-century tea room. Edith insisted that we sit on the same side of the table, with no other guests with us!
       Edith and I were introduced by her son-in-law Udo Middelmann, with whom I worked at Food for the Hungry in Geneva. She was intrigued by all things Jewish, and even more so by any Jewish person who would call himself a Christian.
       I remember Edith asking if I had read her book "Christianity is Jewish," and I was embarrassed to say that I had not. She made sure that Udo would give me a copy at the office the next week.
       Our acquaintance was brief - we visited only a handful of times over a couple of years, then she moved back to America. What impressed me so much about Edith was her zest for life and her hope for the future.
       While she was clearly still grieving the loss of her husband, Francis, she never seemed to allow it to overwhelm her. There was too much good to do for the cause of Christ in the world. There were too many relationships to invest in, and too many projects to launch. There was no time to wallow in the past.
       Edith Schaeffer "slipped into the presence of the Lord" last week, just before Easter. Her resurrection day came a few days before ours.
       I am deeply grateful that God in His unique way had my path intersect with Edith Schaeffer's path. I will always cherish that winter afternoon in Vevey when Edith Schaeffer and I sat side-by-side and shared a slice of life together.