Friday, December 28, 2012

In Israel, in Samaria

Challenges Getting Here
I left Dallas on Dec 26, 2012 to co-lead a tour to Israel until Jan 6, 2013. Because of snow in Dallas and bad weather in Philadelphia our plane took off 4 hours late and we only had a 4 hour layover in Philadelphia on our way to Tel Aviv. International flights are never delayed and yet 15 of our tour members from Houston and 11 members from Dallas were able to run through the airport, go through special security and board the plane after we had been told the doors were closed! We took off an hour later than scheduled but we were all on board! We believe it was the hand of God to allow us all to experience this special time in the LAND (all of our suitcases didn't make the transfer!) We just got them delivered to our second hotel, 24 hours late, but not one complaint that I've heard. We are just feeling blessed to be here.

Unique Tour to Israel
This tour has some second-timers to Israel on it so my co-leader Dr. Paul Shockley and I tried hard to develop a tour that would have some new experiences in it for these people and yet cover the major sites for those who had never been to Israel before.

One of our changes was to spend our first night in the middle of Samaria!
The picture above shows the sunrise this morning from our hotel in Ariel, in the middle of Samaria. In moments like this I find it hard to believe that I am here, walking in the land of Abraham, Isaac, Jaocb . . . and Jesus! We spent time in Shiloh (where the tabernacle existed for 300 years, Elon Moreh (where God first promised Abrah the land and where Abram first built an alter to the Lord), Caesarea (think Peter, Philip, Paul), Mt. Carmel (Elijah and the prophets of Baal), and wonderful sites as we drove along the the LAND.

Last night I had the chance of a lifetime to listen to Menachem Gilboa tell his story. 

Menachem from Ariel told me the story of how 10 years ago he was able to wrestle a suicide bomber to the ground at a gas station outside his hotel. He later received a metal and citation of recognition form the IDF Command Central Region of the State of Israel. To realize the courage of this man to put his own life at risk to save 100 Jewish soldiers outside their buses, again reminded me of how great a love a person can have for others. After the terrorist was shot dead and Menachem was able to get up and start to walk away, a soldier shot the dead body again and the bomb exploded. Three soldiers were killed, many were wounded and Menachem experienced serious injuries. I felt the 5 mm ball bearings still lodged throughout his body. To hear his story, to speak to his wife Tova and to realize that 6 months prior to this explosion she had been injured in an explosion inside the hotel lobby, and to hear of their faith in God has been a very moving experience for me.
Preach/Teaching on Mt. Carmel
I love to preach/teach anywhere, but when I'm standing on top of Mt. Carmel talking about a God who Answers, I can get excited! The sun was setting over the Mediterraean Sea, the mountains of Jordan could be seen in the distance, the valley of Jezreel was behind me, no other group was on the roof of the Carmelite monastary, our group wanted to listen, and I had my Bible in my hand. Doesn't get too much better for a preacher!
Hotel on the Med
Tonight we are staying at the Palm Beach Hotel on the Mediterranean Sea. Tomorrow we start with Acco and then . . .  and we'll end up at Kibbutz En Gev on the east shore of the Sea of Galilee. I can hardly wait for tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

This year in Israel?

Join me in Israel this December (2012)

I'd like you to consider joining Dr. Paul Shockley and me for a unique journey into Israel whereby we will explore the best of Old Testament and New Testament Israel. This month is the last month to obtain the group travel rates we have negotiated.
If you want to make your own airfare arrangements, and you register for trip before August 30, then you can receive a $1,500.00 credit off total price. If you are seriously teetering, do not delay. Please do not hesitate to contact Paul R. Shockley or Stephen J. Bramer if you have any questions.
We will travel to places we all love to see, (e.g., Western Wall; Sea of Galilee), but also see places not normally seen (e.g., Akko; Samaria; Shiloh; Qumran Cave # 1). This would be a great tour even if you have been to Israel before. You'll see the best of the old and the best of the new sites. If you are interested, you can take a look the pictures on this page (click on them to increase their size) or at an e-brochure on front page of Paul's website: or I will be glad to email you a PDF copy of brochure.
Our trip will be between fall and spring semesters, December 26, 2012- January 6, 2013 and we think this is going to allow a number of people in education to go on this tour since the tours in the fall and spring are often during regular school days. Some businesses are not as busy during these two weeks and so this might be a great time to combine a week of vacation with normal holidays.
The weather will be cool with a possibility of rain. At this same time last year Paul and I spend two weeks in Israel and we loved the coolness, clear days, bright flowers and the beautifully green fields.
We are limiting this tour to a single bus so once it is full it is full! Consider putting down your deposit sooner (now!) rather than later.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Keeping shop in the Old City of Jerusalem

Today I left Bethlehem about 8:15 am and caught a Palestinian bus from there to Joppa Gate in Jerusalem. I walked down (with my suitcase and backpack) to Christian Quarter road to see some of my old friends only to discover that because of Ramadan (Muslim month-long festival) no one got to their shops very early!
9 am and only the bread man is about. My luggage is in front of Ali Baba Souvenir Shop owned by Shabaan.
Close by to where I was waiting was a small food shop so I had a tea and Turkish Delight with nuts. The owner is recently from California so we had a good talk. He insisted I sit in his chair and with my suitcase beside me I had a relaxed hour and a half before things began to come alive in this part of the city. Although it is the "Christian Quarter" many shopkeepers are Arab Muslims. It is called the Christian Quarter because it is where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (traditional place of Christ's crucifixion and burial) is located (today there are other churches and pilgrim rest places etc. in this part of the Old City).
Glad this shop was open for some "breakfast" of Turkish Delight with nuts!
During the month of Ramadan every good Muslim is to fast from sunup to sundown. This fast is not only to include food but water and cigarettes! (I think I noticed that some were especially grumpy by the afternoon!) After sunset they celebrate with eating and drinking and then get up early to have a big breakfast. Apparently, after eating breakfast my shopkeeper friends took another sleep! I was invited to a home tonight which is planning for 100 guests but I had to leave for the airport. I was really disappointed because it would have been quite a honor to be a guest in a home during Ramadan.
Later in the day I became a shop-keeper in the Old City of Jerusalem! Well, it was only for about 1/2 hour, and I wasn't too busy, but I helped some people, and I only accepted one shipment that the owner hadn't ordered! My 22 year long friendship with Shabaan (a Muslim who is celebrating Ramadan these days) resulted in Shabaan asking me to watch his shop while he took some people to another part of the city. I will record this as one of my accomplishments during this sabbatical year from DTS!
Shopkeeper in the Old City of Jerusalem!
I also spent much of my day with my good friend Zack who owns an antiquity shop at 24 Christian Quarter Rd. We drank mint tea (Zack is a Christian believer so he was not fasting, PTL) which is my favorite drink while sitting in the shops of the Old City. If you are ever in Jerusalem part of your experience so be to visit with Zack (and Shabaan)! Tell them Dr. Stephen sent you and they will treat you well.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Stars over Bethlehem!

"Stars over Bethlehem" — I've never been able to write or say that before but tonight I can. Tonight I went for a walk (with my good friend Charles Savelle who just arrived this afternoon) and I looked out over the town of Bethlehem from the neighboring, slightly higher in elevation, town of Beit Jala. The stars were just coming out as well as a sliver of the moon. And I stood there — realizing that over 2,000 years ago the wise men from the east had come here to Bethlehem to worship King Jesus. Nights don't get much better!

Tomorrow morning I leave this part of the country to spend the day in Jerusalem with some long-time friends and then I'll head to the airport for my flight home.
The modern city of Bethlehem (the church steeples [top center] mark the place of Christ's birth. Yesterday I was in Nazareth looking at the church that marked where Mary was told the Holy Spirit would put the Christ-child in her womb.
 On Saturday I'll be at the funeral of my very good friend Stan Johnson. I'm so thankful I can be home in time to honor him but I miss him so very much already. Glad he is home with Jesus.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Where David and the Son of David were born

Last night I got to Bethlehem, the "original" City of David and where our Lord Jesus Christ was born. I'll be careful what I write from here since there is always tension and I want to take care of friends that I make and not make it harder on them.
The trip from Amman to Bethlehem included a taxi to the border (10JD each [$14], an hour going through Jordanian passport control (and paying an 8JD [about $12]) exit fee. Then we purchased a ticket for the bus to take us across the Jordan River (3.5JD [$5]) and another ticket (1.3JD [$2]) for our luggage. The trip across the Jordan was about 3 miles but for various checks and unknown reasons the trip took about 3/4 hour. Then there was a long line as three or four buses unloaded at the Israeli passport control area (before when I have been with a tour bus we have proceeded to a different terminal). Bags and passports were checked, questions asked and answered, waiting was required but an hour and a half later we were through. Then we purchased a ticket in a shared bus (we ended up taking all 10 seats in one bus) for $10 each. This bus was supposed to drop us off at Damascus gate in Jerusalem but because it was Friday AND the first day of Ramadan the Israelis closed all the streets leading to Damascus gate. He dropped us off 1/2 mile away and we walked with our luggage to the bus station beside Damascus gate. However, no buses were running until after the Muslim prayers ended up at al-Aqsa mosque on the "Temple Mount" which Muslims call "Haram al-Sharif" ("The Noble Sanctuary"). Although Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink for about 15 hours each day during Ramadan, they still sell food and so were were able to purchase some bread and humus for a light lunch.
Entering into Bethlehem
We were able to get a bus (a Palestinian bus which cost us 5shekels [$1.25] each) that took us to the border "wall" between Israel and Palestine (occupied territory) and after going through light security we entered into Bethlehem. Some friends arranged some taxis for us and were got to where we are staying. Eight hours after we started we arrived! On a clear day, from the top of Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem, you can see tall towers in Amman!
Outside our kitchen balcony
Our accommodations are very pleasant and clean and our building is built on a hillside just outside where the "little town of Bethlehem" used to be. Today it is a busy, modern city filled with Muslims and Christians (non-Jew, non-Muslim) and only the Church of the Nativity reminds us of the place were Christ was born. The hillside that I look out on to could well have been were David once took his sheep to graze. I plan to take a walk to the top of a nearby hill from where I am told I can see Jerusalem probably 6 miles away (to the Old City).Wish you could be here enjoying this with me!
Remember, if you are wanting to join me in Israel this December, the bus is filling up. Take a look at the brochure and sign up today!  Take a look:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Facinating Amman!

Sometimes serving our Lord in a distant country without your family is hard. I miss my wife Sharon, my grandkids (Madelin, Soren and Marlow) and my adult kids and their spouses. But it is a privilege to serve our God and I sense that right now he wants me over here in Jordan. I'm having a great time teaching some YWAM students (with some interesting discussions at times), I've enjoyed speaking at chapel at the Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary and at the Nazarene Church.
I also enjoy traveling around Jordan. The driving can be an adventure (I just about ran out of gas along the Dead Sea and there were no gas stations until the north end! The last three days have included:

Touring Central (Hesbon, Arnon, Machaerus, Madeba, Mt Nebo, Dead Sea
Touring North (farm, Deir Alla, Pella, Um Quis, Jerash, Jabbok)
Touring South (Kerak Castle [think "Kingdom of Heaven" movie], Bozrah [main city of Edom], Sela [10,000 Edomite men killed here by King of Judah], Lot’s Cave [incest from which we get the Moabites and Ammonites], Muja River [outlet of Arnon River but all the water is captured before it can reach the Dead Sea)
And I enjoy the experience of living and driving in Amman, a city of over 2 million people with too many cars and not enough streets! As I was sitting here looking out the window (a conference call I was having with the Board of Directors of Insight for Living had just been dropped due to the weak signal here) I decided to take a picture of a "normal" scene outside my second story window at 7 pm in the evening on the main street in the downtown of Amman.

#1 A man is pushing a cart loaded with something slowly down the street.
#2 A van pulled up behind him. As I kept looking I realized this van had decided to stop and buy/do something on the other side of the "fence" along the street. This fence is to protect the pedestrians from the cars (See picture below).
Downtown Amman at 7 pm, 15 seconds after above picture
#3 A van is stopped, double-parked and is now backing up.
#4 A mini-van is delivering a number of bags and a man from the store is coming out with his cart to unload the van.
#5 A couple of men have apparently decided the sidewalk is too crowded (it often is) and so they are walking out in the street.
#6 A man is about to enter an oil-covered crosswalk and it is my experience no one will stop for him so he will have to dodge his way across the street (I do this at this exact spot a couple of times each day and it increases my prayer life each and every time.) If you step in front of a car they are polite not to drive over you but you have to step out in front first to find this out (and hope it is not some tourist who will run you over)!
Skype is a wonderful invention and I enjoy seeing my grandkids (hint to Joshua and Haleigh) every few days.
Notice the mannequin standing in the street in front of the parked silver car and the sugar cane stalks standing just behind the white truck ready to be squeezed into sugar can juice.
Friday we leave for Bethlehem. Today they closed the central crossing (across from Jericho) for some reason so I'd appreciate prayers for our crossing this Friday. Friday is also the first day of Ramadan, the month-long Muslim holiday so I'm not sure how all the details will come together. Praise God we serve a God who we can trust.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Bad Fall at Tel Hesbon

Tel Hesbon
On Saturday we rented two cars and the ten of us started off on a day's touring on the Medaba Plateau area of Jordan. We saw Tel Hesbon (captial of the Amorites in this area at the time of the conquest), the Arnon River Gourge (the "Grand Canyon" of Jordan, and the natural border of Moab), Dibon (where the Mesha Stele was found), Machareus (where Josephus says John the Baptist was beheaded)
The shore of the Dead Sea (Jordanian side)
the mosaic map of the Byzantine Near East in St. George's Church in Madaba, Mt Nebo, and finally a "float" in the Dead Sea. We did all this but I took a pretty good fall at Tel Hesbon.
I was climbing up the edge of an excavated part of Tel Hesbon (check your Bibles! It was the capital of the Amorites, where King Sihon ruled). I had just found a piece of Roman glass and as I stepped on a stone sticking out from the side (I had used it as a foothold on the way down) it gave away. I fell
YWAM students floating in the Dead Sea
maybe 12-15 feet, hitting first some ground and landing on some 12-16 inch rockpile. I laid there for a moment or two to make sure I wasn't seriously injured. Nothing with my head! I have a badly bruised heal, a cut on the other ankle, a very badly scrapped elbow, puncture hole in one hand and scrapped the skin off a 1/2 inch area on the other hand. I landed hard but so far nothing appears the worse for wear other than what I have mentioned. I did this at about 9 am this morning. I washed it out at the next stop and 10 hours later I have put antibiotic cream on it. My elbow has been
One of the reasons why I didn't go in the Dead Sea
"weaping" all day.
I just went to a pharmacy and bought some gauze to wrap it in for tonight and again tomorrow.
Not a bad view from my hammock! It was over a hundred degrees F, very humid and I was hurting from my fall but how could I not enjoy this beautiful creation of our God?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Sunday in Amman, Jordan

Sunday morning started with an early morning climb up to the citadel hill in Amman. It is probably an 5oo foot climb I'm guessing but for an old man like myself it was a good workout. The reason for climbing the hill was four-fold. 

One, it provides a great view of downtown Amman, especially the Roman theater and odeum. 

The view of the Roman theater (and odeum to the left) from the top of the Amman citadel (hilltop fortress)
Two, there are some ruins on top including the temple of Hercules, an ancient Islamic palace, and a Byzantine church.
The temple of Hercules
One of three dozen plaster human figures thousands of years old 
discovered at Ain Ghazai

Third, there is a small but great archaeological museum located up here. The contents of this museum are to be moved to the new Jordanian Archaeological Museum which has been under construction since 2005 I believe. As I mentioned previously it is now build but unopened. The only items I could see that have already been moved are the Dead Sea scrolls and related materials. It is a disappointment not to be able to see these right now but the museum was still worthwhile. The earliest paster-clay
Balaam Inscription
human figures ever discovered (they were found in AinGhazai in Jordan) anywhere are housed here, as well as the extra-biblical Balaam prophecy on plaster from Deir Alla in the Jordan River

valley, Nabataean pottery and items from Petra, and pottery and coins etc. etc. We were alone in the museum for much of the time and so it was wonderful and unhurried.

Four, we had the chance to read and talk about the story of Uriah and the events of his death while looking down from the city that Uriah was trying to conquer when Joab allowed him to be killed (2 Samuel 11). As we also talked about the events of David and
Although there are no walls left from the time of David, these later walls allowed the students to visualize how hard it would be to attach a walled city at the top of this hill.

Bathsheba the students found it easy to imagine how David could have looked down on her rooftop as they observed the way even today the houses are build down the sides of the hills in Amman.

Sunday evening was spent at the Nazarene Church where three
Jebel Amman Nazarene Church

students sang and I preached through translation. It seemed to go well and we spent an hour or two after church on the church roof terrace eating falafel and drinking 7-up!
Wish you could experience all that we are experiencing.

Friday, July 6, 2012

First Day with YWAM in Amman

Downtown Amman 10:30 pm
The first picture is of the traffic last night outside the roof terrace in the hostel where I am staying. 
Roman Odeum (small theater) taken from larger theater.
6-7,00 seat Roman theater in Amman, Jordan
A great day today in Amman, Jordan. I met with the 9 young people with whom I will spend the next 21 days teaching, sharing, eating, and touring together. A good time of sharing on the roof terrace (the streets were quiet since today is Friday, the Muslim holy day) and then a slow walk around the Roman ruins (odeum, theater, and nymphaeum). I've been here a number of times and the Roman nymphaeum (water fountain) has always been locked. Today the guard was present and let us in for a private tour! It's always good to have some firsts on each tour.
Roman Nymphaeum (water fountain)
 The students on this YWAM trip are great in their attitude and I'm looking forward to teaching them. I'll start tomorrow with a PowerPoint presentation on the land/geography/topography of Jordan and Israel to give them a sense of where they are and what to look for as we travel around. We are hoping to be able to rent a couple of cars for a few days next week to visit sites that are a distance from Amman. We'd love to go to Petra but the entrance fee is now about $75 each! Maybe Mt. Nebo will be a better option.
Keep reading for the latest!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Amman, Jordan

Just an hour ago I arrived in Amman, Jordan via Paris, France via Toronto, Canada from Dallas, Texas. What a sight to look down from the plane and view the region of Samaria with the Sea of Galilee in the distance and then to fly over the Decapolis city of Philadelphia (today's Amman with probably a million population I'm guessing). A great adventure awaits!
I am sitting in the second story of a hostel looking out on the busy, busy main downtown street where the stores are open and people are shopping and eating etc. . . .  by the way it is 10:27 pm and it still looks like it is 2 pm in terms of activity.
The students who I will be teaching for the next three weeks arrived this morning from India (where they have been ministering for the last 6 weeks) and so tomorrow we will start with a time of sharing, probably on the roof terrace if we can. Otherwise, I think the room I'm sharing with the male leader Kyle will become our classroom!
Pictures and my ongoing adventures here in the "other" holy land (in contrast to Israel on the other side of the Jordan) should follow in the days ahead.

Friday, June 22, 2012

YWAM Teaching in Jordan and Israel

In two weeks I will fly to Amman, Jordan (via Toronto, Ontario, Canada to visit my parents for 3 days) to join a group of 10 YWAM student/missionaries on a special year-long YWAM program called PHOTOGENX ( These young people have been traveling now for 3 months learning photography & communication (in Thailand), evangelism (in India), and starting July 6th they will spend six weeks digging deeper into the Bible (in Jordan, Israel and Egypt). I have the privilege of teaching them for the first three weeks and then my good friend and a Ph.D. candidate at DTS, Charles Savelle will teach them for another 3 weeks.
For the three weeks I will be with them we will be staying in hostels (basic, no AC!) in Amman, Jordan (downtown across from the Roman theater), and then in Bethlehem (Palestinian controlled West Bank city). Most mornings will be spent in the study of the Word and we will travel to see some of the places we are studying as finances allow. I will also preach in churches and at a chapel service at the Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary.
This is not my unusual teaching venue.
These are not my normal seminary students.
This is the way I am starting a year's sabbatical graciously given to me by Dallas Theological Seminary.
I am both intimidated and excited. It's hard not to be when you really don't know what lies ahead of you.
Pray for good health, an ability to sleep in very hot nights without AC, good relationships, spiritual conversations, ability to teach and so much more.
I'll try and keep you updated through this blog.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

"Church" in Sardis, Thyatira, Pergamum and Philadelphia

Most Christian try and attend church on Sunday, usually just one. Today I "attended" church in 4 of the cities to whom John wrote letters found in the Book of Revelation! "Attended" may be a bit strong. I walked around what was left of the ancient city and then read the letter written to that church. Even though none of these churches had buildings back in the first century, I was often looking at some things they would have seen too. And I always looked around to see where the residential area of the city was and tried to wonder if somewhere there was the house they had met in to read the letter from the Apostle John (on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ). What a day!
Two of the four cities I visited had little in the way of first century remains. Both Philadelphia and Thyatira are limited to a block in the middle of the modern city. Sardis and Pergamum on the other hand have extensive archeological remains.
After finding my way into the modern city of Akhisar , I "happened" on a small sign that said "Kültür Park" and after going around a few blocks I found what I hoped was there. Just a few pillars from a church building in about 600 AD. It was closed but I hung around and within minutes it was open and I got the opportunity to go inside the gate. I didn't however, find "brotherly love" in this city but then I only stayed 1/2 hour and I couldn't speak the language of anyone here either.

Sardis (modern Sart) was unbelievable. It had a huge temple (of Artemis) which was 1/2 mile away from the main ruins, a massive ancient synagogue dating back to the 3rd century AB, and a 2nd century AD Marble Court of the Imperial Cult, and other "stuff!" During Roman times the city was over 300 acres in size.

The city of Thyatira is today the modern city of Akhisar and the ruins lie right down in the middle surrounded by shops and restaurants. Not much to see really but the ruins reminded me that there was a city here when Revelation was written and somewhere in this area a group of believers met and read and probably reread the letter until they had memorized it. Just wish there was a strong Christian church in each of these Muslim cities today. I took a picture of this purple flower (not sure that it is from the plant that they made a purple dye from in this area) because it reminded me of Lyddia, the seller of purple cloths who was from this city even though Paul met her over in Philippi.

Pergamum (modern city of Bergama) had me heading back west towards the Aegean Sea. I knew there were remarkable ruins here but I didn't realize quite where they were! I had to take a cable car just to get up to the Acropolis and was stunned to see what they had built up top. A temple whose floor lay suspended above a carefully constructed arched platform to increase the size, and then a 10,000 seat theater that was build on the side of a STEEP sloop! I've been to many theaters but never have I been as in awe as I was of this one (even Ephesus with its massive 22,000 seat). It was because it was on the side of a mountain with a valley a river way, way below. I walked down took a couple of pictures and then walked up again. Just saying that the part of me that comes "last" is hurting tonight! As I read the letter written to this church again I was not disappointed that the early church hadn't left me a building to see but that as far as I know there is no vital gospel witness in this place. The teaching of Islam finally wiped out the church here. So sad.
Tonight I am a hotel that is about 200 yards from the Aegean Sea. I went for a walk along the beach and realized that Paul had sailed down this very sea a couple of times in his missionaries journeys to "Asia" (now Turkey).
I missed being at church today and singing the songs and hymns of praise and hearing the Word expounded from the pulpit. But I must admit, I really enjoyed my Sunday visiting the sites of four of the first century churches mentioned in Scripture.