Today would be a good day to be on the Sea of Galilee

We’ve just started to plan our next study tour to Israel and Jordan in 2018, which of course has got me thinking about some of my favourite places in that part of the world. I love the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem and the beautiful history of Caesarea, but for a tranquil place to contemplate and reflect, a favourite place of mine in Israel is the Sea of Galilee. I’d love to be able to spend the day there today.

What do I love about the Sea of Galilee?

Many of the places in Israel feel like a tour through church history, seeing how previous generations have chosen to remember places that have biblical significance. So the first time I visited the Sea of Galilee, there was a sense of relief at its untouched natural beauty – “they can’t build a church on this!”

The Sea is somehow both bigger and smaller than I had imagined it to be.

Visiting it brought many stories to life. Reading through the gospels, the Sea is almost a character in the narratives as Jesus and his disciples transverse back and forth across it …

fish from it …

experience storms upon it …

and even walk on it.

When I returned to spend time in this part of the world by myself, I stayed in one of the most beautiful and tranquil guesthouses I have ever visited and had the privilege of this view out my window:

It was a wonderful, peaceful place for reflection and contemplation, whether at dawn …

as the sun rose …

… or after dark.

What did I learn from the Sea of Galilee?

There is something beautiful and pristine about many bodies of water. But this one is special to me because of its connection to the story and history of One Man.

As a follower of Jesus, I walk in his footsteps metaphorically every day. Being able to connect that tangibly to real places is a wonderful privilege. It brings a concreteness and a specificity to my faith.

But the bigger truth it teaches me is not so much that I have walked where he has walked, but that I have a God who has walked where I walk. Who entered into human history and everyday life and experienced beauty and sorrow, tiredness and energy, rest and bustle, food and water and sunlight and dirt and noise and taste and smell and everything else that makes up the ordinariness of my life. And somehow the fact that he has done so transforms it all and makes it all new, inviting me into a new experience every day of walking with him.





Making compassion (and prayer) personal and the faithfulness of God

Three years ago yesterday I blogged about the 284 Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. I was challenged by the way we often respond/react to things when they touch our own lives directly but find it harder to show compassion for situations that we can’t relate to.

And I was moved and inspired by another blogger’s idea to choose one of the kidnapped girls and pray for her by name. I chose Mairama Yahaya. I have tried to remember her and pray for her as often as I can, but it has been three long and busy years. I have not been as faithful in my prayers as I would have liked to be.

Yesterday, the Nigerian government released the names of 82 girls who have been freed. Mairama’s name is number 10 on the list. God has been faithful in remembering her. He has heard and answered the prayers of her family, friends, and strangers around the world. I am overwhelmed by his faithfulness.

But three years is a long time. My prayers for Mairama must continue as she walks the difficult road ahead of her, as she recovers and re-enters and is reunited with a life she likely thought gone forever.

Mairama doesn’t know me, although I trust we will meet one day when all things are made new, but she has taught me much about God’s compassion and faithfulness, and the challenge they are to my own apathy and faithlessness.

And as I look around at all that is happening in the world today, in Syria, in Yemen, in South Sudan, and in many other places, I am again challenged to consider how I can overcome the apathy and selfishness of my own culture, and find ways to connect to people who are not like me and yet are just like me.

My God is a big and faithful God. Three years from today, who knows what influence our prayers (and actions) might have had in the lives of people who desperately need our compassion if we will start today?

Today would be a good day to be in Lisbon

My blogging frequency has slowed a bit recently, but after a couple of prompts to get back into it, I’m heading into another Monday morning with a place I’d love to be able to visit for the day. After discovering some authentic Portuguese custard tarts in Adelaide this weekend,  I’d love to go back to the place where I discovered these delectable treats … and just enjoyed the vibe of a really cool city for a few days.

What did I love about Lisbon?

While Lisbon might not have some of the “big ticket” tourist items of other places in Europe, it was one of my favourite stops on my recent trip. It’s just a lovely city to wander and get lost in.

Apparently the world’s third hilliest city (after La Paz and San Francisco), Lisbon’s geography makes for good exercise as well as great panoramic views.

Navigating the hills has led to some innovative methods of public transport including the beautiful Santa Justa elevator …

… and the cool Gloria funicular.

The city’s coloured buildings and tiled facades add to the funky vibe.

The city’s architecture testifies to the passage of time, like the intricate details on the facades of the gothic Jerónimos monastery.

While walking the walls of the São Jorge Castle is like stepping back into medieval times.

Contrasting this is the brand new Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology built on the bank of the Tagus River with a roof made for walking, gathering and people watching.

And of course, discovering the Pastel de Nata was a true joy …

… and has made me disavow the custard tarts of my homeland as unworthy to share the same name!

What did I learn from Lisbon?

Lisbon is also a ‘city of churches’, with plenty of old, beautiful, and quirky places of worship to visit.

The Sé, Lisbon’s Cathedral, is nearly 900 years old and I found myself sitting in its pews just trying to imagine all those who had preceded me in taking time out in this same space to pray and worship.

Excavations in the church’s cloisters point back even further, to Roman times. If only walls could speak …

Lisbon is a city that speaks to me of everyday lives. Of people who have made their way and made their mark. Of fun and family and fortitude and fortune and food and faith – all the things that make up a life and together make up history.

And as I sat in Lisbon’s main square on the final night of my visit, I marvelled at the combination of the setting sun and the statue of the Risen Son, watching over the city. And I remember that wherever I go, as I make my way through the everyday things of life, as the passage of time happens to me too, this is what keeps me centred. The dawning of each new day bringing God’s mercies anew, and the reality of an Easter Sunday dawning that is making all things new.