Day 5: Galilee, Gamala, Chorazin, and Hazor

Day 4: North and East Galilee

Day 3: Sea of Galilee; Capernaum,

Day 2: Israel blog, traveling North to Galilee

Day 1: (Israel trip with PBU Class) Holy Sites

From the Holy Mountain by William Dalrymple

From the Holy Mountain by William Dalrymple

August 17th, 2009


Just got from a serv-ation (serving + vacation) with the kids and grandkids in Ocean City NJ. That was crazy. At one point when Max (5) had a meltdown playing Uno, the pug went to the bathroom on the carpet, and another member of the family kept skipping Layne’s turn, Andrew (28) did the background noise for a nuclear meltdown. You had to be there.

My daughter Courtney who had worked in a Muslim country for a couple of years suggested I read “From the Holy Mountain” to prepare for my upcoming trip to a Muslim country with a team from seeJesus.

The author William Dalrymple is a travel writer who follows the footsteps of John Moschos, a Greek Orthodox monk, who had traveled through the Byzantium Empire in the 580s, but 40 years before the birth of Islam. So beginning at Mt Athos in Greece, Dalrymple travels through Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and finally Egypt visiting monasteries and what remains of the Christian communities.

Believe it or not, I had trouble putting the book down. Probably the best reason is that Dalrymple is a superb writer with a in-depth grasp of history. He has a remarkable ability to draw people out as he travels. And he is just plain funny. I think every third page I was smiling, reading stories to any family member that would be patient long enough for me to get the yarn out.

I have a whole new view of Islam because of the book. The early Byzantine generals that confronted Islam thought they were confronting a Christian heresy, and it sure looks like then when you see how rooted Islam is in the Orthodoxy and the religious ferment of the sixth century. For instance, the practice of praying prostate with your arms in front of you is an ancient Orthodox practice. The emphasis on the spirit world is Islams, dreams, angels and jinn are all rooted in the shape of Christianity in the Near East.

I also came away with a deeper awareness of monasticism and its power. For all its weaknesses, it provided the presence of God in a world dominated by lust and greed.

It also gave me a real heart for the Christians in the Middle East and what they are up against.

I can’t wait to talk about Jesus in that world.

Twin Dangers: Mysticism and Legalism

Twin Dangers: Mysticism and Legalism

June 15th, 2009


David Powlison and I have reflected that the two poles or bad tendencies in prayer that have stifled the church are legalism and mysticism. Legalism is more typical of conservative evangelical circles and mysticism is increasingly dominate in the broader evangelical world.

In the book, A Praying Life, I am quietly confronting both dangers. In the first section when I introduce praying life a child, my biggest concern is legalism. That is fairly obvious.

What is less obvious is the second section when I talk about asking, I am dealing with mysticism. What I’ve read of the mystics is that they are very in tune with the dangers of human self-will. But the result can be that they tighten up and make a move similar to Buddhism. In their zeal to annihilate the self, they kill desire and its close cousin of dreaming and finally hope. Most of the major books on prayer written in the last few years by relatively well known authors have mystical tendenies in them. I’m particularly gunning against the “floatyness” of mysticism in the first three chapters of this section (12-14). Without mentioning their names, I quote a number of authors who have mystical tendencies.

I’ve been struck at our prayer seminars in the last few years how difficult “asking” is for people.

Three quick thoughts on mysticism.

1. Mystics tend to get stuck in the darkness. To put it another way, they have the cross without the resurrection. In Part 4, I deal partly with that problem by encouraging all of us to see the story that God is weaving in our lives. The theme of hope that permeates the book comes from incarnate God who answers prayer.

2. Mystics can also get stuck in their depravity and not move out in love. I discipled a brilliant, educated couple once because the wife wanted to “experience Jesus” more. As I got into their lives, I told her that Jesus was at the bottom on the laundry basket. That sounds harsh but it fit her beautifully. Her husband had a full time job and cooked all the meals and did all the cleaning and laundry. She dabbled at some hobbies, but did no real work around the house except critiquing his work. She was particularly concerned about his occasional angry outbursts! She wanted to have a deeper experience of Christ without knowing love. I told her that you’ll start getting to know Jesus better when you start doing the laundry. Jesus was at the bottom of the laundry basket. That is just a simple exposition of John 14:21,23.

3. Mystics can get stuck in darkness and depravity because they search for experience. They are truly modern (in the Oprah sense) in that they’ve idolized feelings about God. You’ll see in the book how much I react to the idea of hunting for God as an experience. In Chapter 2, I stress that if you make prayer the center then it becomes a search for an experience with God, which is idolatry. This theme runs all through the book. For instance, in chapter 23, Praying Without a Story, I gently critique a woman who has made experience with God her goal in life. Experience has left her disappointed…as it always does.


Trip With Kim to FamilyLife in Little Rock

Loving in a Post-Male World

Mary Karr Interview on NPR

Person of Jesus in a Muslim Country

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