Monday, February 26, 2018

Celebrating Lent

Growing up I didn’t know very much about Lent, and it wasn’t part of my religious practice. But a few weeks ago, while talking with Father Fergus, currently a Franciscan Friar at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, he said that one of his favorite celebrations at the church takes place on the first Saturday of Lent. That got me thinking more about Lent and whether it was something that I should participate in.

After hours of research consulting a few websites and asking my friends on Facebook, I decided that it would be great to participate. One trusted friend told me that he has found his Easter to be much more meaningful as a result of Lent. A friend that I haven’t talked with in years shared that recently she has begun “doing a new good thing” for Lent instead of “stopping a bad thing.” I chose to go in this direction for Lent and have been having a good experience so far.

I also made arrangements to go with many other people, including Lani, five of our children, Scott and Karen Smith, and many BYU students. It was great to participate in the event, and much sweeter to be participating with so many people that I love and enjoy being with.

This was one of the first times I’ve heard the organ music playing. It was beautiful! The ceremony began with an entrance of the Bishop, who went into the holy sepulcher, and then into the chapel. Afterwards, there was a procession around the church where we essentially did the stations of the cross. Everybody received candles, and although the service was in Latin I was able to grasp bits and pieces. Altogether it was nearly two hours and our kids did great! Afterwards we all got to visit with Father Fergus and enjoyed doing that.

I think practicing Lent will become an ongoing part of my discipleship in the future!

Here's a video link to the procession if you're interested in watch more. The first couple minutes is of the initial entrance of the Bishop, towards the end is part of the stations of the cross while in chapel of Helena (I'd never seen it so bright), and the final part as we all walked around the aedicule. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Egypt Highlights

Egypt was incredible! We'll let pictures tell most of the story:

Inside one of the tombs at the Valley of the Kings.

Driving in a horse-drawn carriage to see the Luxor temple at night. Too bad Levi is allergic to horses, that put a damper on the magic.

Sailing on the Nile heading to our camel ride. Spending time with these amazing students was an incredible highlight of the whole trip.

Annemarie riding a camel in Egypt!

Magnificent overlook of the Giza pyramid.

Same overlook!

At Sakkara in front of the step pyramid.

This is the big one! Feel the majesty of the Giza pyramid...the only of the ancient seven wonders of the world that still exists!

One of my favorite pictures -- Sphinx + pyramids + great kids == awesomeness.

There were some very interesting mummies at the Egypt Museum. Most could not be photographed, but this one was an exception.

The Karnak temple was truly incredible!

More Karnak Temple!

Enjoying good times at the Luxor temple evening tour

Incredible sites were everywhere to be seen! This is the Colossae of Memnon.

At the temple of Queen Hapshepsut.

After a joyful camel ride in Luxor.

Did I mention that we loved hanging out the amazing BYU students?

One highlight of our time in Cairo was visiting a mosque.

Thanks for the amazing memories Egypt!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Great Field Trip!

Joseph and Katrina listening to Ellie explaining how the Almond Tree is the first tree to blossom in the winter. Thinking about Numbers 17:8 ​“And it came to pass, that on the morrow Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.”

“Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an almond tree. Then said the Lord unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it.” (Jeremiah 1:11-12).

Ellie points out a play on words in Hebrew between “hasten” and “almond.” Just like the almond tree is the quickest to bloom, so too will the Lord quickly fulfill his words.

Katrina and Rebekah help reenact a scene of biblical Rebekah drawing water from the well for Abraham’s servant.

Ellie shared about the importance of water in modern and ancient Israel:

“And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil” (Deut. 11:13-14).



We practiced shepherding. There were many shepherds in the Bible — Abel, Moses, Abraham, David and many others. We can learn leadership lessons from shepherding.

We next talked about the seven species in Deut. 8:8 — “A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey.”

Ellie talks about how in the verse “honey” refers to date honey...delicious!

Rebekah and Kate crush some hyssop together. This is one of my favorite parts of this field trip. Why hyssop? As this site explains,

When the Israelites marked their doorposts with lamb’s blood in order for the angel of death to pass over them, God instructed them to use a bunch of hyssop as a “paintbrush” (Exodus 12:22).

David also mentions hyssop in Psalm 51:7: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” David does not refer to physical cleansing—rather, he is asking God to cleanse him spiritually as he confesses his sin.

Hyssop also appears at Jesus’ crucifixion, when the Roman soldiers offered Jesus a drink of wine vinegar on a sponge at the end of a stalk of hyssop (John 19:28–30). This was, in fact, Jesus’ last act before He declared His work on earth finished and gave up His spirit. While the hyssop stalk may have been used for purely practical purposes (i.e., it was long enough to reach to Jesus’ mouth as He hung on the cross), it is interesting that that particular plant was chosen. It is possible that God meant this as a picture of purification, as Jesus bought our forgiveness with His sacrifice. Just as in the Old Testament blood and hyssop were part of the Passover, Christ is the true Passover lamb.


We enjoyed seeing several succoth and talking about what makes them kosher or not kosher. The kids loved the idea of eating and sleeping inside them. We will have to build one in our backyard next fall.


Saturday, December 2, 2017

Great times in Galilee

We just got back from an 11 day, 10 night trip to Galilee. It was incredible! My favorite part was quiet time to ponder at Capernaum, Magdala, and on the Sea of Galilee. Although I've been to Galilee a few times, I had had more pondering time by the 2nd day of this trip than all of the others combined. And that's good for me because I love pondering!

Time is insufficient to give a blow-by-blow of each site, so here are some highlights:

Loved Galilee campfires with my sweetheart!

Lani taught with power at Magdala!

Maria and I took this picture together at St. Peter's Primacy as we talked about John 21.

My favorite place in Galilee. So many incredible things happened here, and I always feel an amazing spirit out by the lake.

My favorite picture from our trip. Happy together on the Sea of Galilee.

We played a real turkey bowl on Thanksgiving. Great plays were made by all.

Took the four girls to a chocolate factory. It was incredible!

Loved Nazareth Village.

Especially the food!

Beautiful artwork was plentiful.

Yardenit is a beautiful place. 

Can't beat the Sea of Galilee.

Loved providing counsel from the so-called "Moses seat."

Mt. Carmel -- great location, great scriptures, great students.

Jewish Quarter Field Trip

This field trip isn’t flashy like going to Petra or Greece, or even like the ever-fun “Hezekiah’s 
Tunnel.” But I’ve got to say it’s one of my favorites.

Our first stop was the Wohl Musuem, also known as the Herodian Quarter. This site really helps us see the conflict between “the chief priests” and Christ. The people who oppose Christ in Jerusalem are an elite, wealthy group. These ruins show us how much the wealthy had and how much they had to lose if they were to lose their standing (see John 11:48). They are also dramatically different from ruins in villages like Capernaum, showing incredible disparity in living styles.

The elite who lived here had many luxuries -- mosaic tile floors (with no animal shapes), baths (for both ritual purity and luxury bathing.  (like the type of bath we have today). Stone bowls, cups, platters, beautiful dishes. Wall plaster in one home has an engraving of a Menorah, along with perhaps a table of shewbread. These are temple symbols, perhaps reflecting the experiences of the family who lived here. Amphoras show that the families here are importing Roman wine, fish sauce, other luxuries. This shows some really fine dining!

Where do priestly families get such wealth? Tithing, temple taxes, temple economy, — things that Christ may see as a burden on the poor that is enriching elite. This probably is a source of tension.

My favorite part of the museum was the palatial mansion, which is 600 square meters. There is a large open rectangular room. Stucco on the wall is made to look like Herodian blocks — like the temple. The roof (here a reconstruction) shows beautiful stucco designs. People in this home appear to have personal tableware, in contrast to poor people who were sitting around cooking pots dipping in bread.

You can see that there were beautiful frescoes — some that are charred, indicating the Roman destruction in 70 AD.

 The layout of this home is similar to what the gospel writers seem to have in mind as they describe Christ’s trial before Caiaphas. As large reception area, and adjacent to it is an open air courtyard. Nobody is arguing that this was the place of Christ’s trial, but it was certainly a place like it, and a place not very far away from that location.

“And Peter followed him afar off, even into the palace of the high priest: and he sat with the servants, and warmed himself at the fire….And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say unto him, Prophesy: and the servants did strike him with the palms of their hand.”

At the very moment they are mocking Jesus for not being able to prophesy who hit him, his prophesy about Peter is about to come true:

“But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak. And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept.”

Dr. Grey gave a powerful devotional contrasting Peter’s 3 denials with his 3 affirmations in John 21. We will all fall short, but we can all change and grow.


Our second stop was the Hurva Synagogue (see link for details). It was a beautiful building and fun to walk in this historical space. Lani and I got a picture together with Kayla from the top.


My favorite part of this field trip, and one of my top ten favorite places in Jerusalem, was the
Davidson Archeological Park.

We spent time at Robinson’s arch and saw stones from temple thrown from the Mount, down to the street. This reminded us of the Savior’s statement, “See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2).

Dr. Grey pointed out the trumpeting inscription and cited Josephus as stating that the “Pinnacle” of the temple would likely have been in this area (the southwest corner of the temple). We looked at stores where things were sold  and discussed the temple economy. This type of economic activity is also happening in the royal stoa area, where Christ would have cleansed the temple.

Finally we went to the southern steps that led up to the temple in the time of Christ.  These stairs are Herodian, some of the originals are still there. We read John 8:56 – John 9:7 and discussed how Christ may have passed the blind man while heading down these steps.

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon was a devout Christian. He visited Israel in 1988 and asked his guide to take him to a place where it was certain Jesus had walked. The guide took Armstrong to these stairs (including the worn stone at base of Double Gates) and said Jesus was an observant Jew and this is where Jews entered/exited the temple. He concluded: “Jesus stood on these steps, of that we are certain.” Armstrong prayed silently and then said: “It means more to me to stand here than to stand on the moon.”


Corinth was probably my favorite site of the trip. Two places that stood out were the Bema and the temple of Apollo.

The Bema (“judgment seat,” Acts 18:12) is where Paul was brought to trial in Corinth. Gallio, the proconsul, refused to take sides in the matter, judging it to be a religious issue that didn’t concern him. (Side note: we got to see the Gallio Inscription in Delphi; it is cool because it gives us a fixed time period for Paul’s ministry in Corinth).

We talked about some insights from the Acts account: Acts 18:4-6 “And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. And when Silas and Timothy were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ. And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.”

*Notice that Paul preached to both Jews and Greeks (converts) in the synagogue. He was upset with their rejection and declares that from now on he will go to the Gentiles. It’s also interesting though that he had previously declared that he would go to Gentiles (Acts 13:46). It made me think of Paul getting frustrated and saying, “I quit!” But he didn’t really quit.

“Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace:  For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10).

This touched me to think of Paul being afraid, hesitant perhaps in the face of rejection he has received. But receiving encouragement from the Lord, he pressed forward.

Connected with Corinth is of course the epistles 1 and 2 Corinthians. We discussed the context of 1 Corinthians, noting several passages that illustrate the divisions that were amongst the people. One of the solutions to this division is charity – I loved reading 1 Corinthians 13 in Corinth.

One of my favorite scripture accounts has been that of eating meat offered to idols (1 Corinthians 8). To me one the take home messages is to not focus on “It’s my right to do such and such,” but to rather ask myself, “How will doing such and such affect other people? We discussed this story in view of the temple of Apollos and had a great experience.