Two Events, Two Moments for Hope

I’ve been looking forward to February for some time. It will truly be here before you know it. The month will be filled with opportunities for ministry, discipleship, and more than 13,000 miles on the road and air.

The two big events for February, as far as we are concerned, are our Holy Land trip and the called General Conference. In this week’s pastor’s note, I want to share with you about both of these important moments.

Holy Land Trip

We are excited to take approximately 20 people to the Holy Land from February 4-13. We will visit Tel Aviv, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jericho, and, of course, Jerusalem. As well, we will visit the place where Jesus was born, where he was crucified and rose from the grave, and other important sites of our faith and spiritual heritage.

One of the holiest stops on the trip is praying at the Wailing Wall. This site is the most holy place in Jerusalem for Jews, as it is close to where the Holy of Holies – the symbolic place of God’s holy presence in the Temple – was located and is a place of deep prayer. Throughout the day, people will gather to this spot to pray and reflect.

Part of the custom at the Wailing Wall is to leave your written prayers in the cracks. Doing so is an act of giving your prayer. Twice a year, these prayers are collected and the papers are buried in the Mount of Olives.

We encourage you to send your personal prayers with us to place at the Wailing Wall. There is a basket outside of the sanctuary where you can leave your prayer. These will be prayed over at the wall and placed in the cracks. You have until January 27 to place your prayer cards in the basket.

During the trip, however, there will be several ways you can follow along with the pilgrims in Israel. We will provide a daily video wrap-up on our Facebook page and will post photos along the way. As well, our sermon on February 10 will come to us from Israel. You will not want to miss worship that day! We will provide time for those who went on the trip to share about their experiences as later date.

Please be in prayer for everyone who is going on the trip. One of the blessings of this experience is how this has become an ecumenical trip filled with people from various communities and churches in our area.

General Conference

February also brings with it the special called General Conference in St. Louis (February 23-26). As some of you know, I will be at General Conference assisting the work of the Kentucky Annual Conference’s Communications staff. You can learn more about General Conference, its importance as the only body that can speak officially on behalf of the United Methodist Church, and what will be discussed by visiting the Kentucky Annual Conference’s General Conference resource page.

My honest hope is we will continue to be a witness of Jesus Christ that is making disciples of Jesus Christ by how we honor both the Great Commandment and Great Commission. I have a great hope for the church and believe the church has a great future ahead of it, as I have shared with you previously.

As we prepare for General Conference, I invite you to attend the Concert of Prayer, sponsored by the Pennyrile District, on February 3 at 3 p.m., at Frist United Methodist Church in Hopkinsville. This event will focus on specific times of prayer for our entire church and provide opportunities for us to remember our connection with one another. The focus of our February 17 worship service will be on praying for the entire church as we enter this season.

Do Not Be Afraid

Both of these moments can lead to fear. Will everyone be safe in Israel? What will happen to the mission of the church? Please do not be fearful of anything. Jesus encourages us to be people who do not live in fear, but to live with a sense of hope. May that be who we are in these weeks to come.

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Israel Travel Blog Final Thoughts: An Amazing Journey

I’m sitting in the Newark Liberty International Airport. It’s been a long day. Our plane arrived at 4:30 a.m., and a friend and I don’t leave again until 2:30 p.m. We have walked around the entire airport and now we wait for our flight to be called.

As I sit here, I am struck with how easy it would be to offer a quick reflection that attempts to tie together all we saw and experienced during our adventure to the Holy Land. I could talk about seeing the tomb, the crucifixion site, riding on the Sea of Galilee, teaching by the Mediterranean Sea, and so much more. I’m sure the thoughts I would convey would describe the sense of wonder and amazement that I and many others were left with throughout our journey.

Yet, something doesn’t sit well with me in rushing towards trying to put it all into perspective. It just doesn’t seem to be the right time. Sure that time will come and it is needed to understand what I saw and how it reflects to my ministry, my faith, moving forward. I’m struck, though, with a sense to just wait on that.

I need time.

Time to rest to recover from an exhausting and grueling trek around the Holy Land. Time to recover, as well, from a potential injury while walking around the limestone walk ways that were filled with more dimples and bumps than a Nike golf ball.

I need time to look at the pictures and remember where I was and how I felt in those moments. I need time to smile once again at the realization that, yes, I was actually there.

I need time to simply pray. Pray that God will reveal more about what this experience means for me. Pray that God will use this trip to be a blessing to others. Pray that this will not be the last time that I walk those streets.

It’s easy to rush to finish a journey and move on to the next, but today I’m recognizing the need to slow down and sit at the garden some more. So, just as we did yesterday as we walked around the garden where Jesus likely rose from the grave that first Easter morning pondering the significance of that moment, the journey, and our lives, I find myself wanting to remain in the garden this day.

I’ll walk out of the garden in time, but today and perhaps for some days to come I just want to sit and ponder.

I hope you’ll understand.

Note: If you are in the Lawrenceburg, KY area, Claylick UMC will host a discussion session on Sunday, February 19, at 4 p.m., to talk about the trip, and to answer your questions about the Holy Land.

Israel Travel Blog Day 8: Even Though I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Throughout this trip, one of the constant refrains has been how the Holy Land experience of has made brought the Bible to life. One person has said that it has made the Bible go from black and white words to colorful images.

None so more than Psalm 23 and Luke 10:25-37

When we think of Psalm 23 we are drawn to the image of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I think it is easy to take the image as a symbolic reference to life’s difficult trials and even death itself. We look to this Psalm for assurance at funerals and in struggles, and rightly so. I don’t believe, however, that we think of the Valley of the Shadow of Death as a real place. Continue reading

Israel Travel Blog Day 7: Journey into Conflict

It would be easy to write tonight’s column about visiting the place where Jesus was crucified, to talk about what it was like to pray there, to describe the emotions from praying where he was laid to rest, and what it was like to visit the entire Old Jerusalem areas. I will save those for another occasion.

Tonight I’m drawn to the many interactions of conflict we encountered as we walked throughout Old Jerusalem. You couldn’t help but notice it. The signs of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians were all around us. Continue reading

Israel Travel Blog Day 5: An Unforgettable Moment

It was a moment I will never forget.

Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and standing on a row of bleachers at Roman theater at Caesarea Maritiama, I was able to deliver a devotion for our tour group. The passage was from Acts 10 where Peter goes to Caesarea to meet with Cornelius and recognizes that God shows no partiality in regards to expressing love. I talked about how we are called to welcome all people and to make room for the people in a world that seeks to keep people out who are different than we are.

It was easily one of the high holy moments of my ministry. I would rank it up there with being commissioned, all the baptisms I’ve been able to participate in, and preaching at my hometown church. Continue reading

Israel Travel Blog Day 4: By Land and By Sea

Our second full day of touring was a challenging day. Well, at least that is for me.

Since we landed in Tel Aviv on Monday evening I’ve been dealing with a swollen foot. It comes with the territory when flying for 11-hours and, as well, when you have a right foot that easily swells and sprains. Yesterday’s touring just made it worse, which led to me visiting an Israeli drug store to purchase an Ace bandage.

That seemed to help today, but for most of the morning I was in a lot of pain trying to walk around. The trip to the Holy Land is an experienced filled with walking, so to be down a foot has been difficult. Walking to our boat to tour the Sea of Galilee was an exercise in hopping more than walking. The same goes for our tours of the church that honors Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 and the one that honors Jesus’ third appearance to the disciples following his resurrection.

One of the things that I committed myself to doing was not stopping. This is an once-in-a-lifetime experience, so I was not going to let a bum foot keep me from enjoying the day.

I’m glad I had that perspective, because today was a wonderful day of holy encounters meeting the presence of God in these sites. Continue reading

Israel Travel Blog Day 3: An Amazing Journey Begins

Breathtaking. Amazing. Wow.

Those were the words that often expressed my sentiments at the various sites we visited on this our first day of touring in Israel. The amount of Scripture and history we covered in just a few short hours is enough for a lifetime. That we have seven more days to go is just unbelievable.

We began the day by visiting the Gospel Trail. This is a former Roman Road that Jesus would have walked during his journeys in Upper Galilee. It is known as the Gospel Trail, today, because it connects Capernaum, Cana, and Nazareth together. The whole purpose of this trip was to walk where Jesus walked and to gain that experience firsthand. On the Gospel Trail we literally walked where Jesus walked.

That began to put the day into a holy context from the start. The rest of the day would build on that moment. Continue reading