marriage. sex. hard. good.

HAPPY VALENTINE’S WEEK _ day five

Tom and Gloria led a newlywed couples group that Jen and I were a part of back in the late 90s. He was a judge. She was a teacher. Retired now, but then they were such an encouragement to a small group of couples many of whom Jen and I still connect with. One of my favorite quotes from their teaching:

“Sex is the barometer of the marriage. Typically, if you are healthy sexually, you are healthy in all other areas.”

I remember walking out of our first time together with the group. Jen looked over at me. I looked over at her. About to unlock the car door, I declared, “We aren’t that strange are we? Other couples struggle, too.

It was a sigh of relief more than an insightful statement. In American church culture, it is way too common to uphold image pretending that your marriage is fine when it is not really. And it is also way too common to equate difficulty with bad or “not working,” rather than understanding that the equation of one and one becoming one only works when the cancerous selfishness that hinders oneness is chemo-therapied out. Which certainly is not easy.

It is also way to common in American church culture for the church to let the mainstream of our culture talk about sex more than the element of our culture who worship the Creator of sex. The church needs to talk about it. Candidly. Openly. Expectantly. While there are certainly appropriate settings for those conversations, they must be had. And if the church continues to be passive on the subject, then we better keep expecting to not reap what we are not sowing.

We are not sowing for sexual health in our marriages, as a general observation. Why not? It’s not like married couples don’t want to have healthy sexual relations! And it’s not like those who aren’t married are cruising along just fine in their sexuality! Shame on the church for not being bold in such a significant area, our local church expression included.

My wife and I do not claim to have the healthiest of sexual relationships. We do have five kids, so it is a fruitful practice. But, we will admit that we have a lot to learn. We have learned some lessons the all-to-hard way, though. Two of those lessons I want to pass along to you, provide a link to a Family Life article that is worth the read, and then provide the link to a blog post from a gal that if you aren’t reading her writings you should be.

TWO LESSONS ON SEX WE ARE STILL LEARNING...

(1) openly communicate to one another about preferences even when your insecurity is screaming at you to just shut up.
We have learned the hard way that when we don’t communicate about desires and preferences and perspectives in our sexual relationship, we do not experience the oneness or the pleasure we hoped for. In fact, bitterness and resentment can creep in, and neither of those are helpful ingredients for a sweet-tasting sex life. So, even when it is hard, we try to lovingly share our thoughts. Two tips for sharing, though – don’t share in the midst of the moment unless you want to kill it, AND don’t hear “you stink at sex” when your spouse is only communicating about one instance or one angle.

(2) cultivate for the bedroom in every other room of the house.
This is certainly not original to our learning. We have heard this from so many sources and have found it to be true. How we flirt, encourage, challenge tenderly, touch, strategize, parent, and work on tasks together  in all the other rooms of the house during the entirety of the day has direct influence on what happens in the bedroom during those private moments of the day. A “you are my man” look from Jen. An “I believe in and appreciate you” conversation from me. So many instances outside the bedroom that shape what happens in the bedroom. Or another room if you get adventurous, but that gets tricky with five kids and is material for a sex book not a blog post :)

TWO ARTICLES
…that I challenge you to take the time to read. One comes from Family Life – CLICK HERE to read it. The other offers some amazing insight and story-telling from Ann Voskamp. She is the author of a new book entitled One Thousand Gifts and is the author of the blog “A Holy Experience.” It has been quite some time since an author has engaged and inspired me like Ann Voskamp. You should take the time to read her post “how to {make} Love.”

THE BOTTOM LINE:
Cultivate for sexual health. If you don’t sow for making love, don’t expect to reap getting to actually make it. If as a couple you will commit to cultivate for sexual health, you will be surprised by the overall health of your marriage because of all the conversations and affection and connection that is needed before skin on skin occurs.

14 Run to me, dear lover. Come like a gazelle. Leap like a wild stag on the spice mountains. [Song of Solomon 8:14, the Message]

a bonus _ SCRIPTURE MEMORIZATION ASSIGNMENT FOR THE HUSBAND
Try to memorize Song of Solomon 4. Then share your Scripture memory with her. Whisper it to your bride as you slowly and intentionally remove her clothes and pull her close. You’ll be glad you did. :)

wives, are you respecting your man?

HAPPY VALENTINE’S WEEK _ day four

Yesterday we asked a question relating the importance of a husband loving his wife. Today, we ask the wives – ARE YOU RESPECTING YOUR HUSBAND?

Dr. Emerson Eggerichs suggests in his insightful and thorough book Love and Respect that the deepest need of a man is RESPECT. I agree with him, not that he needed me to. But I do.

The man needs respect even more than sex. In fact, I along with many others would suggest to you that sex in a marriage is more than a pleasurable indulgence to the husband. When a wife offers her vineyard for the enjoyment of her husband, he feels much more than the pleasure of climax. He senses deep in his core that his wife respects him enough to open herself up to him completely vulnerable and in full intimacy. He hears from her – YOU ARE MY MAN!!!

Wives out there, if you withhold sex from your man as a form of penance, you are doing more damage to him than you could ever understand. Husbands out there, do not use this thought as a you-better-give-me-sex card!!! You love your wife like Christ loves the church, and she will want to open herself up completely to you.

Read how seriously Paul took this precious gift and act of worship that husbands and wives experience together in 1st Corinthians 7:1-5.

1 Now, getting down to the questions you asked in your letter to me. First, Is it a good thing to have sexual relations? 2 Certainly—but only within a certain context. It’s good for a man to have a wife, and for a woman to have a husband. Sexual drives are strong, but marriage is strong enough to contain them and provide for a balanced and fulfilling sexual life in a world of sexual disorder. 3 The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality—the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband. 4 Marriage is not a place to “stand up for your rights.” Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or out. 5 Abstaining from sex is permissible for a period of time if you both agree to it, and if it’s for the purposes of prayer and fasting—but only for such times. Then come back together again. Satan has an ingenious way of tempting us when we least expect it.

The Bottom Line.
Wives, if what we posted yesterday is true, and so many of you have declared that it is, then understand this fact – your husband is less likely to lead and more likely to become passive in the arenas of his life where he feels overwhelmingly disrespected. In your tone of voice, in how you look at him, in how you touch him, in how you support him, and in how you encourage him, does your husband know that HE IS THE MAN (at least to you)?

33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. [Ephesians 5:33, NLT]

Thoughts? Praying husbands and wives will experience love as deeply and intimately as God intended us to.

do wives really want to be led?

HAPPY VALENTINE’S WEEK _ day three

I recently had the privilege of teaching a couple’s weekend for @theWellTally in Tallahassee. BIG THANKS to Dean and the team for letting Jen and Noah and me get away for two days and hang with such an awesome representation of that happening church family. One of the topics I taught was simply this – WIVES WANT TO BE LED.

It is a touchy subject, especially in church culture when so many, in my opinion, have taught female submission like it’s a version of male dominance in the marriage. That’s not what the Scriptures teaches at all.

I am amused at the fact that the entire context of Ephesians is not taken into account when we quote the “women must submit” stuff to people. Some cultures around the world certainly still hold to this. Check out the photo to the right I took while in line in Jerusalem to see the Western Wall of the old Temple Mount. Some husbands like to play the “submit or get hit” card, as I have heard one guy joke. Maybe we should consider two things.

(1) Leading is loving.

Paul wrote in Ephesians 5 that women should submit to and respect their husbands. But this verse comes in the context of an entire letter that emphasizes unity. It also comes in the context of a verse no one seems to read when quoting the wive submit verse. That’s the verse immediately prior to the wives submit verse. Read Ephesians 5:21-25 here in the New Living Translation:

21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. 25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her…

Did you notice verse 21? Submit to one another. Makes you think back to one of Paul’s other writings:

3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. [Philippians 2:3-4, NASB]

Our marriages, or any relationship for that matter, won’t work without mutual submission and striving for oneness in the relationship. If both spouses think of the other spouse before self, then the marriage works. If they don’t, the marriage falls into what Emmerson Eggerichs calls “the Crazy Cycle” and the whole thing spirals downward.

Do wives really want to be led? My wife and so many wives I have talked to say ABSOLUTELY YES, if leading includes loving. And it does.

Jesus, with complete authority above everything, did not hold tightly to that authority, but instead of disrobed and washed His followers feet (John 13). But that selfless, loving act was LEADING them. He showed them how to lead and love and have authority. Not by dominance. By serving.

I wonder sometimes if Paul wrote that verse about wives submitting as a practical tip more than some theological principle. Think about it. Everyone you talk to in leadership will tell you that two-headed monsters don’t work. Why would they work in a marriage? Someone needs to be able to make tough calls. Both husband and wife need to give energy and creativity to the direction that the family is going, but someone needs to take up the flag that declares that we are for sure going there. And Paul declared that the husband must do that, but in a loving way.

Husbands. May we lead for the sake of ONEness in our marriage, not for the sake of “I WON” (the husband always getting his way and his interests upheld).

(2) How a husband leads says more about how they themselves are a bride than they realize.

What? Husbands a bride? If you follow Jesus, you are a bride. The church is described as “the bride of Christ” in the Scriptures (the marriage metaphor for the people of God is highlighted in both Old Testament and New Testament contexts). If you follow Jesus, you are a bride. And I want to declare something to you: Husbands, you will struggle to love your bride unless you surrender to be a bride and learn what it means to be a bride.

John McArthur said:

“The Christian husband displays what he thinks of Christ by the way he treats his wife.”

Why? Because if we are to love our wives like Jesus loves His church, His bride, then we are declaring how we think Christ loves us in how we love our wives.

Wives – you chime in. Do you want to be led? How are you being led well? How do you wish you were being led? Leave any comments below. Praying this will prompt some great conversation in your marriage and in other relationships as you value growing in oneness.

Husbands – let’s process this one. May we lead and love well. This video below is of a song by Sanctus Real has been both an inspiration to me as well as a prayer of mine for my marriage and family. I hope it encourages you, too.

(you may have to watch it on YouTube, since it is an official “vevo” video. you should, though. it’s worth the watch!)

are you living loved?

HAPPY VALENTINE’S WEEK _ day two

Could it be possible that you and I think so much of ourselves that we can’t even think of each other? We know that putting the interests of the ones with whom we walk in relationship above our own interests is vital to the life and health of a relationship. So why is it so tough? Whether it’s because of paralyzing insecurity or all-consuming arrogance (which is just another way of expressing insecurity), self-absorption is epidemic, even when we don’t intend to think only of ourselves.

Like in my marriage. I don’t get up any morning of the week and think, “Today I will be selfish. I will hurt my with my insensitivity. I even hope she cries.” If you get up any morning of the week and think that about anyone, then you need help. Just saying.

Like with my kids. I don’t plan my work schedule ever while thinking, “I am so tired of tucking my kids in bed at night. This trip will be a good break from reading One Fish. Two Fish. Red Fish. Blue Fish. for the 1037th time. I want them to know that I don’t really care anything about kissing them good night. I have more important pursuits.” If you ever think that about your kids or even your neighbor’s kids, the ones who picked on your kids and you secretly are hoping that their Capri-Sun leaks uncontrollably, then you are sick. Sick I tell you!

Like my brother who lives in northern Tibet (really just Booneville, MS but it may as well be that far away). I never approach a week thinking, “I don’t want to call him this week. In fact, I don’t ever want to call him again. He snorts on the phone a lot and then doesn’t pay attention to me like he has four boys running around the house or something.” Seriously. If you ever think that about a sibling or friend or even that annoying lady who called to sell you identity protection on your credit card but baits you in by telling you on the voice mail that she needs to talk to you about your credit card and fraudulent charges, then you really are a selfish, selfish person and may God have mercy on your soul. Well, except for that lady who fraudulently called you about the possible fraudulent charged. That one is okay.

What am I even saying here? That while we all certainly tend toward self-absorption and it is epidemic in all of our lives evidenced by our actions daily, we aren’t necessarily starting the day hoping to be that way. But when a relationship gets tough or a spouse hurts you or a sibling offends you or a friend’s fondness seems to have waned, then we typically respond by highlighting our interests offended against rather than putting theirs above our own. Why?

Could it be because we don’t LIVE LOVED?

Jesus actually taught that we would need to deny ourselves daily (Luke 9:23). He also declared that believing that God loves us leads to abundant life in the right now as well as in the not yet (John 3:16).

That’s right. John 3:16. The ultimate overused Bible verse. The ultimate football game Bible verse. The ultimate Valentine’s Bible verse. Yes, the ultimate life Bible verse. Why?

Because its implications are most profound. If you believe that you are loved by the Ultimate Lover, then you will be made to become less and less insecure and selfish day by day as well as freed to be enabled and empowered to live loved breath by breath.

When we trust that we are loved, then we can quit living to be loved and rather live to give love. We can grow through our insecurities instead of being paralyzed by them. We can tame our need to highlight ourselves and become more and more genuinely interested in highlighting others.

It won’t change overnight, those self-absorbed tendencies. But with surrender to be cultivated into we can in turn blossom something out of our lives that we could not have reaped on our own. We need the Holy Spirit to blossom this in us and through us.

22 But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, 23 not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. 24 Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified. 25 Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. [Galatians 5:22-25, the Message]

Are you living loved?

HAPPY VALENTINE’S WEEK!!!

day one post_THE MANSLATER.

Let’s start the week off funny and progress to more heart-felt as we move toward Friday. That sound okay? Check out this silly but truth-in-every-joke kind of video about “The Manslater” that a friend shared with me. Admit it. Some of you will actually try to order one today. The sad thing is that we men do act this insensitively too often. Well, I don’t want to speak for you. I know I do too often. Thankful for a loving and patient wife.

Here’s the video. Get ready to laugh…and cry :)

Here’s a preview of the rest of the week:

  • TUESDAY_are you living loved?
  • WEDNESDAY_do women really want to be led?
  • THURSDAY_are you respecting your man?
  • FRIDAY_sex.

sailing the Sea of Galilee

REFLECTIONS ON ISRAEL || sailing the Sea of Galilee
[January 3rd, 2011]

The day began with Erik and me hanging with Dad on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The sun rise, the steady breeze, the hundreds of sea birds, and the sweetness of fellowship with the two men from whom I’ve learned the ways of Jesus made this a most memorable start to the most memorable day of the trip.

We arrived at the Galilee Boat Museum for a boat ride on the infamous lake. Before we did, they ushered us into a room that contained one of the only boats found and excavated from the beach along the sea. It is believed to be from the early 1st century. We walked out to the boat. Along the way, some guy named Tim LaHaye walked by with a group going the other way. You may know him as one of the authors of the Left Behind series, a popular novel series that tells a fictional, imaginative story based on one view of Revelation. Various comments were made from folks in our group about Tim Lahaye, since we all have various insights and conclusions about Revelation and competitive dislikes with those who disagree. Seems strange all the divisiveness caused by a book that reminds and unites together all the people of God around a secure hope for eternity.

The boat we sailed on was much like you might imagine a wooden fishing boat to be. Except that it could hold over 40 people sitting all around the deck. We sailed out on the sea, Erik and Dad and I sitting together at first taking in the fact that the three of us were sitting together sailing on the Sea of Galilee. The scene was breathtaking, and the thought of all that happened on this 8 mile by 13 mile body of water is both staggering and sobering. The engines were turned off out in the middle and we coasted a bit, so that we could reflect and worship together. We certainly did reflect, but not before Erik and Dad did their best Titanic impersonation.

Philip, a pastor from New Orleans, shared a devotional on the sea while we drifted. Here’s a brief summary. Very meaningful. It resonated with so much of what I believe Jesus and His ways to be about. Jesus, as a man empowered by the Spirit, got Himself into trouble with the religious leaders of the day because of the stark contrast of how He lived out the ways of the Kingdom, the “will be,” in the midst of those who lived to keep their positions and prestige in the Roman kingdom, the “right now.” When people see the “will be” in the “right now,” they long for the One who showed us and now empowers us to live “on earth as it is in heaven.” We reflected and sang “Our God Is Mighty to Save.” As we returned to the dock, we were serenaded by the skipper and crew with Hebrew folk music and even did a folk dance. It was fun.

We next arrived at the Mount of Beatitudes. It is actually difficult to write much about this experience. I am so taken by the teachings of Matthew 5 to 7 that I had much anticipation for this site. My friend Rob shared a few thoughts with the group. His brother-in-law Robert (confusing huh?) then led us in singing the song “Blessed Be Your Name” (You Give and Take Away). It was a moving moment for Erik and me. This song was a sustainer after Mom and Dad’s accident and when Mom was taken on. To be singing it on the hillside where Jesus talked about forgiveness and security in light of the past two years’ experiences for both of us, we were deeply moved. By the way, the flowers there are still dressed better than I imagine King Solomon to have dressed.

We stopped at Korazim next. It is now ruins of a community that gave us insight into the type of village that Jesus would have frequently visited. We learned there that “living water” is water that is always available to you rather than water that once-for-all quenches your thirst (makes John 4 make more sense). This came up because of the very well-kept ritual bath there and what it symbolized for the Jews. Men would bathe there for renewal. Women for renewal of life after a menstrual cycle. We learned that at each harvest time, the whole village would travel together for pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This happened normally three times a year – during the fall fruit harvest for the Feast of Tabernacles, during the spring harvest or beginning of barley harvest traveling with animals for Sacrifice for Passover, and during the summer harvest and beginning of 1st fruits for Pentecost. The fact that the whole village would go together made more sense of why Joseph and Mary lost Jesus when he was 12 years old. They would have thought he was just hanging back with friends or something and moved along. I guess it truly took a village to raise a kid.

There was a well-kept “Seat of Moses” there, as well. It was a place where those who often thought too much of themselves would sit, based upon the fact that Jesus spoke against those who typically sat there. The Synagogue in the ruins at Korazim was amazing to behold. For the first time, it clicked to me that the people sat around the room and allowed for kids to run around with them and listen and families to interact as they would worship and read from the scrolls. Everyone was quiet when the Torah was read. There were personal prayers offered, some singing, and conversations all around. Sounded more like our church family, which made me want to keep moving more and more toward this conversational atmosphere which we already have developed.

We headed from Korazim to a roadside lunch spot for, you guessed it, schnitzel. I actually thought it was really good. We just had it every day.

After lunch, we stopped at the place called “The Primacy of Peter” (John 21). It is believed to be the place where Peter had the breakfast with Jesus that would initiate Peter’s restorative healing following his denial of Jesus and would change the course of the direction of his life as the early leader of the Way of Jesus. David Lema, director of the Miami Center of the New Orleans Seminary, shared a both hilarious and heartfelt devotional as only a Cuban could (I love David). On that spot now sits a rebuilt chapel with a heritage back to the 4th century. The Catholic tradition points to this site as the place where Jesus charged Peter to be the leader of the early church and thus the 1st Papal figure. We looked over David’s shoulder as he was speaking toward the water on which Peter and the actual Head of the Church walked. He mentioned the movie “The Shoes of the Fisherman” as a must-see for us as we reflect back on this day.

We walked down to the shore there. Erik got their first. So much is on all of our minds, from the surreal setting we were in to the very real and not-t0o-distant loss of Mom. Erik sat reflecting. Dad didn’t walk on water, but after 17 fractures in his left leg and 10 in his right, it was miraculous how he walked across the smooth, slippery rocks to where Erik sat. They leaned against one another. We all just leaned on each other, reflecting, listening, taking in the sight and sound and smells of this lake where Jesus centered His ministry.

From there we arrived at Capernaum, the town where Jesus spent so much time and did so many miracles and possibly resided for long visits to Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus must have done many signs there, for He Himself commented on them in His rebuke of the religious leaders in Matthew 23. Matthew, Peter, and others were invited to follow Jesus here.

16 Passing along the beach of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew net-fishing. Fishing was their regular work. 17 Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” 18 They didn’t ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed. [Mark 1:16–18, the Message]

We saw what many suggest is the actual home of Peter’s mother-in-law. And we studied Scriptures from the Gospels related to Capernaum while sitting together in the most developed and preserved synagogue we have seen yet. They manufactured mill stones there, making sense of why Jesus referred to millstones several times in His teachings. There is also a remarkable church building here constructed over the ruins of Peter’s mother-in-law’s home.

I asked Dad to share with me briefly of the time when Jesus invited him to follow. Here is what he said:

On the way back to the villas, we stopped along the cliff edge where it is said that Jesus cast demons into pigs. That had to make every Jew chuckle. They don’t seem fond of pork. Me, I can’t wait for Four Rivers to open out here in Winter Garden. But back to Israel – Dad shared a few thoughts with the group there. We were in the bus, though. One of those strong winds blew up upon the water. It was very windy. We were cold and hungry.

So, we went back to Deck’s restaurant in Tiberias for the 2nd night in a row instead of eating back at the villas. It was that good.

getting agrippa on a peace of schnitzel with dan

REFLECTIONS ON ISRAEL || getting agrippa on a peace of schnitzel with dan
[January 2nd, 2011]

The air was clear the morning of the 2nd. The view of the Sea of Galilee met us with a “good morning” as we walked out the door of our small seaside villas on the southern shore. I skipped breakfast to grab some uncrowded wifi in the lobby, hoping to text with Jen, or skype, before she went to bed back home. Others had the same idea. Not so much maybe to text or skype, though. New Years Day back home meant lots of college football bowl game scores to get updates on. It was kind of interesting how we all wanted to know the score even while immersed in Israel. I admit it. I did, too. But it helped me get a better grip on why people from other countries mutter under their breath, “Crazy Americans!”

Dad shared from 1st Peter as though Peter standing beside the sea. It was a bit surreal to me at that moment I recall. Here was a man whom I had heard teach from the Scriptures countless times. Familiarity normally breeds contempt, but in my case it had bred desire to have recorded every wise word that this rabbi named “Dad” had ever taught us, both for my sake and for the sake of my kids and for the sake of the “church” at large to whom he had given so much of his life. It was also a bit surreal to think of this not-so-long-ago lame man who could not walk standing beside the Sea on which His Savior walked teaching the teachings of this Savior who had given him a second chance after a run-in with a ’98 Expedition.

A jeep ride awaited as we drove up the eastern side of the Sea past the Golan Heights across the upper stream of the Jordan River onto the Chorazin Heights. Following an overcrowded bathroom stop near the Lebanon border, we were on board of  jeeps that held six to eight passengers each. The air was brisk. We were offroad after a mile’s journey from our pick-up spot. Heavy rain left behind a muddy, bumpy path down the hillside, past the apricot and pomegranate trees, and into the Hula Valley. It once was a vast lake, drained for settlement and farming. The colors, even in early January, were a stunning green and yellow. The caravan made it back to the upper stream of the Jordan River. We crossed together. and began our ascent up the Golan Heights.

During the ascent, there was a history-lesson stop upon a small plateau that looked back northwestward across the Jordan over the Hula Valley. We took in the panoramic landscape as we heard of the pandemic aggression of this region, particularly during the 6 Day War of 1967. Some evangelicals of that late-1960s period I am sure got their panties in a wad as they analyzed the border aggression through the lens of so-called Biblical, apocalyptic literature (we would soon run into Tim LaHaye – a post for another day). The Israelites weren’t as concerned about eschatology as they were another exile. The battle that followed was so short and decisive that some of the Jews must have thought back to the underdog, miraculous victories of Joshua when they first entered this land. Our guide told us of the impending ego-boost. The saying became, “Let’s go take Syria, and then we will decide what to do after lunch.” The war less than a decade later deflated that pride somewhat, but the Israelite military continues to stand strong.

We finished the climb of the Golan Heights (near the border with Syria), driving by several looming reminders (land mines sign) of past conflict on these cowboy hills. The bus waited for us at a gas station / ice cream shop. Some indulged.

We loaded the bus and headed over to a better viewpoint of Mt. Hermon, the highest mountain in Israel. From that vantage point, we not only saw the mountain to the north, but we also looked east beyond a UN border-patrol base there to keep the peace between Israeli and Syrian troops. Damascus was barely in view in the backdrop. I could only think of Paul / Saul. Where was he in this area when the Son blinded him (much like the noonday sun was blinding us)?

Lunch was in a small village up the road and included a schnitzel pita and a magnum ice cream bar. We then drove on to Caesarea Philippi. The beauty of this natural setting and the mystique of the ruins of Agrippa the Second’s palace captivated us all. Lan Leavell shared about the story (Matthew 16) when Jesus asked His followers, “Who do you say that I am?” In the midst of the diversity of this people from the time of Jesus, the home of many religious expressions including the cult of Pan, Jesus asked His followers to weigh in on who these diverse people said that He was. Then He asked them to declare their personal views among the many views of that city at the time. It made that foundational story come alive more than it already was to me. We walked along the gorgeous nature walk that led us through the woods to the ruins of Agrippa’s palace. They were amazing. The construction of that day left some of the men who had construction backgrounds in awe. I took a picture of one of the keystones that held together multiple arches that 2000 years later held up the ceiling under which we were standing.

The day was nearing its end. We bused over for a final stop at Tel Dan. It was the home of the earliest known Biblical artifact – the gate through which Abraham actually entered when he came to Dan (Genesis 14). Dan was also connected to the story of Ruth, and it was the home of the altar that Jeroboam defiled (1st Kings 12). It was actually quite staggering to look upon the gateway through which Abraham had walked some 4000 years ago.

That night, we escaped away to Tiberias, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, and ate at the highly-recommended “Decks” restaurant. It was quickly evident why it was so highly recommended. The food and service was excellent. The setting beside the sea majestic. Amazing memory with my dad and brother and several other folks who have meant the world to our family. I was grateful. It was a special way to close out such a special day. Not to mention an opportunity not to eat more schnitzel. No offense to you schnitzel, but we were having lunch together with you everyday. A little steak and fish and sweet potatoes and mushrooms and fresh salad and bread was a welcome break from what would continue to be the lunch staple of the entire trip.

We went to bed knowing that tomorrow we would sail the Sea of Galilee. It was what I had looked forward to the most as we prepared for the trip. And we would soon be out on the water…