Out of Control

May 30, 2007

The Egypt Chronicles, Part 1

At 2:00 PM on Friday, the 13th of April in 2007, sixteen IBEX students gathered at the Reception of Yad Hashmonah to wait for the van that would transport them to a world of adventure known as Travel/Study Break. The previous week had been full of homework and frantic preparation, but all of those things were put aside now for an exciting journey that would take the students to another continent and a different world from anything they had ever known. I was one of those students.

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My group consisted of Abi Cottrell, Whitney Krauss, myself, and Patrick Carmichael. We had absolutely no idea what we were getting into. While we had attended a few lectures on Egypt, we did not know what kind of adventure was right around the corner. We entered the week with a simple plan: Do everything we possibly can. We figured we could fill in the specifics later.

That afternoon, four Travel/Study groups loaded into the same sherut (a 20-passenger minibus/van) that would take us to Eilat, a port city on the Red Sea and the border with Egypt. As the sherut ride began, we spent the time in fun games and merry conversation. Moods were soaring; we had left the school books behind for adventure. We drove past Qumran, the Dead Sea, En Gedi, and Masada, but we barely looked out the window as we rode on with our “been there, done that” attitude. We were on a new journey.

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However, as we continued on the road through the wilderness, we encountered something new—rain in the desert. Thanks to the knowledge we had acquired in our Land and Bible class, we quickly realized a few things. First, if it’s raining here in the low desert, it’s probably raining more in the hill country. Second, if it’s raining in the hill country, then water is probably draining through the valleys to the lower altitudes of the Dead Sea and the Aravah. Third, if water is draining to lower elevation, we were probably going to see some flash floods.

Soon enough, we reached sections of the road completely covered in rushing water. At each of these sections, a line of cars would wait to cross. The first few were rather shallow, so our large sherut crossed without a hitch. We reached another crossing that did not seem too much worse than anything else we had crossed, so we jumped to the front of the line of cars and used the left lane to cross the newly formed river.

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A smaller car was also crossing on our right, but as we continued along the road, this car began to drift closer to us, forcing us nearer to the edge of the road—a drop of a couple feet into a raging river of muddy water. Eventually, we had to stop moving forward, and as we did our engine stalled. So there we sat in the middle of a flash flood crossing, with water rushing at us from our right and the edge of the road only a couple yards away on our left. On both sides of the crossing, people got out of their cars to observe our predicament.

Eventually, our engine started again, but as it did our sherut lurched briefly towards the left and the edge of the road before the engine stalled again. If they were not before, things were definitely tense on the bus now. I began to plan what I would do if our sherut did go off the edge of the road or if we had to abandon ship.

Finally, our engine started again. This time, we slowly moved forward and we were able to turn away from the edge of the road. We made it across.

While we thanked the Lord for bringing us safely through the flood, we did not know lay ahead of us on the road. Would we have another experience like that? Would we be able to make it all the way to Eilat? Thankfully, that flash flood crossing was the last we would encounter on our journey.

As we continued South, Whitney and I started to talk about our river-fording adventure. We both agreed that it was an “out of control” experience; we also concurred that we do not like those occurrences when we feel completely helpless with no control over the present situation. Whitney pointed out that control is only ever an illusion. No matter how much power you think you have over your circumstances at any moment, the reality is that your life is outside of your own control. We are all in a bus lurching toward the edge of the road—except for the grace of God.

Our trip was off to a smashing start. We had not even made it to the border before encountering the first adventure in a week that would be full of them. And we were reminded that no matter what we had planned, God was in control.

We spent the night in Eilat, all of us going to bed early because at 5AM the next morning, taxis would be waiting outside our hostel to take us to Egypt.

A Couple Things

May 29, 2007

My parents returned yesterday safe and sound. I enjoyed seeing them again, and I was also glad that my responsibilities of taking care of Buddy were over.

Tonight, we celebrated my mom’s 50th birthday and went to see the newest “Pirates” installment. One word review: weird.

I’m hoping to start “The Egypt Chronicles” this week.

In the meantime, check out my friend Derek Brown’s blog. He’s working through a Jonathan Edwards essay on spiritual pride. Right now I am reading an Edwards biography and Mahaney’s Humility, so this blog series is the perfect blend of those two ideas. Hopefully, I blog more about what I’m learning from those two books later.

Night, night.

Speaking of Rivers…

May 27, 2007

My parents’ home is not located near a river, so I was surprised to find one rushing down the street as I left for church this morning. As I turned the corner I quickly discovered the source. A busted fire hydrant/water pipe had busted just up the street and was shooting water 40+ feet into the air. I don’t see that every day.

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This car (above) was going for the free car wash.

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It’s just been Buddy (my parents’ dog) and I at home this weekend. Don’t think that means it’s been a quiet weekend. Buddy and I probably provide 90% of the noise in the house anyways.

One thing I have enjoyed this weekend is reading blogs from the New Attitude Conference, a conference headed up by Joshua Harris for singles and young married people. The conference features the usual lineup (Mahaney, Mohler, Dever, and Piper, + Harris and Simmons.)

You can check out the live blogs with Challies and the Rebelution.

The theme of the conference is discernment, and in a few of the messages, I have noticed the topic of church involvement being mentioned. I certainly hope that my generation of Christians becomes passionate about the Word and devoted to the Church. That could mean exciting things.

Live by the River

May 26, 2007

Last night I finally broke down and watched the IBEX Year End Show for the first time since coming back. The Year End Show is a picture slide-show that lasts for over an hour of pure goodness. For me, watching those pictures is like watching a dream. I look at them and think, “Wow, those people really had the time of their life.” But then I realize, wait…I was one of those people! I’m still struck by how awesome IBEX was, and I can’t believe that only three Friday nights ago I was watching the Year End Show for the first time in the miklat at the Yad in the land of Israel with all the rest of SPO’7.

It’s easy to look back on those days and think to myself, “God was so good at IBEX.” That is definitely a true thought. God was amazingly faithful to me and the rest of SPO’7, teaching us all things we never expected to learn while drawing us closer to himself. But sometimes that thought brings a bad implication, as if I’m saying God was better then than he is now. False.

As my friend and future RA would always reminded our group, “God is good all the time.” Each day God is the same, he doesn’t get better or worse. He is always amazingly faithful. The problem is that we do not always realize this. Our minds are easily distracted and our hearts prone to wander. So how do we live life with this “God is good all the time” mindset? Psalm 1 helps us out.

“But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.”
-Psalm 1:2-3

The key is this: meditate on God’s word. Live by the river and send your roots deep into the truth of Scripture. Then you will not be shaken by a change in the climate. You will prosper and bear fruit. And most importantly, you will know that God is good all the time.

Too Early

May 24, 2007

Not everything about IBEX was perfect. Exhibit A: The birds. Each morning, I would be awakened before my alarm clock by noisy birds about a foot from my head (through the wall.) While I usually enjoy the natural sounds of birds singing on a sunny day, I did not enjoy the sounds these birds were making. Why? It was simply too early.

This illustration brings me to American politics. Before I returned from Israel, I was surprised to read that the Republicans were already holding their first presidential debate. “It’s only May!” I thought. “The general election is still a year and a half away. It’s too early.”

When I returned home, I was able to watch some of the second debate, and I was disappointed in what I saw. So much of what was being said was just political noise. And it’s too early for that. I wish these guys were still spending more time governing and grappling with the big issues like the Middle East and our economy instead of fishing for supporters with juicy sound-bites for bait.

I hope voters do not feel pressured to pick a candidate yet. The Iowa Caucuses are still 7 months away. Watch the candidates and look for one that really seems to have a grasp of the issues. Right now if anyone asks me who will win or who I am voting for, my simple response is, “It’s too early.”

Nails in Our Pockets

May 22, 2007

Today I listened to C.J. Mahaney’s first message from this year’s Resolved Conference while I was driving down to LAX.

The sermon was entitled “The Suffereing Servant,” and to get straight to the point, the message was an exceptional look at the gospel from the text of Isaiah 53. One of his main points was that Christ died for us, even noting how many times personal pronouns like “we” and “us” are used. But he made his next point even more personal.

Christ died because of us. Isaiah says he was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. Our sin created the need for the cross; we are responsible for Christ’s death. Mahaney quoted Martin Luther as saying, “We all walk around with his nails in our pockets.”

I do not think about this aspect of the gospel enough; I too easily forget the connection between my sin and the cross. I think pride often keeps from making this connection. I don’t want to think that much about my sin and its terrible consequences.

Anyways, if you want to listen to the sermon, check it out at the Resolved website or the Resolved podcast in the iTunes Music Store. I’m sure Mahaney’s passionate words will help you go even deeper into the glories of Calvary.

I love summer for so many reasons. Warm weather. No homework. Jack Johnson. Guilt-free Sunday afternoon naps. Trips to Orange Country and Corona to see my brothers and sisters (and a super-cute nephew.) Braves baseball. The beach. Golfing with Grandpa. Reading. Hanging out with friends until all hours of the night.

But while summer is a great season that is usually marked by some rest and slower pace of life than school, it is often a season of wasted opportunity. Many times I have entered the summer with a list of goals that never materialized. As usual, one of my goals is increased reading, so I started last week by reviewing Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. I read this book as a freshman in Biblical Fundamentals, but I wanted to start my summer by refreshing my mind with the words of this book.

The writings of John Piper have greatly impacted my still young life, and I’m sure they will continue to do so. Reviewing Don’t Waste Your Life gave me opportunities to think about what I wanted to do with my life and helped me to look 10 years down the road at what I would like to do. It motivated me to not waste my life, but more specifically it motivated me to not waste my summer. As I thought about what I read, I quickly found two ways I could easily waste my summer: entertaining sin and neglecting Scripture.

Anyone can waste their life; it’s really not that hard. In fact, most people do waste their lives as they spend their days under the bondage of sin. Sin wants to destroy your life and turn it into a big waste. While Christians are freed from sin’s power, we can still waste our lives by entertaining its evil. How many Christian ministries or families have been destroyed by sin? How many Christians have spent years of their life regreting sinful decisions they made–even ones they made as a Christian? If I want to waste my summer, entertaining sin is the easiest way to do it.

I can also waste my summer by neglecting God’s word. After my time in IBEX, I am more convinced than ever about the wonders of the Bible. From beginning to end, its pages are filled with life-changing truth. As I study the Bible, I do not need to pace myself because I could spend a whole lifetime searching the Scriptures and not uncover all the glories they contain. So if I want to waste my summer, I can just neglect God’s word. If I barely read, hardly think about it, and never memorize it, this summer will nothing but a regret six months from now.

I am excited about this summer, but I do not want to come to the end of it and think I have wasted it. I want to maximize these months for God’s glory and my good.

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This is one of the last sunsets I saw at Yad HaShmonah. As I watched those last few sunsets from the ruins of the ancient synagogue, I began to reflect on my time in Israel in order to prepare for the inevitable questions that would come when I got home: “What was your favorite thing at IBEX?”, “How was Israel?”, or the totally unanswerable “What did you learn at IBEX?” This post is an attempt to answer that question.

I learned so much about so many things during my time at IBEX. I learned about the land of Israel and the Jewish people. Before I went, I did not understand the strategic importance of the Central Benjamin Plateau or the difference between Sephardic Jews and Ashkenazi. As I studied in IBEX, I discovered all kinds of new things about the Bible. Now I understand the general chronology of the life of Christ and I can see the settings for so many of the stories of the Bible in head. Even though I was on the other side of the world, God used different things to teach me about ministry in the dorm and in the church. Through my professors, I saw what it looks like to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”

As you can see, it is hard for me to be concise about the things I learned at IBEX, but here’s my best shot: It’s real.

The Bible is completely true; it is absolutely real. The events of Scripture are not fables; they are historical. The attributes ascribed to God in the Bible are accurate; he really is loving, faithful, and holy. There really is no one like our God, and because of this reality, my life should never be the same.

The night before we climbed Masada, Dr. Grisanti gave a sermon that capsulized the semester. He spoke on Deuteronomy 4 and the incomparable nature of God. And he brought everything full-circle. Yes, it’s real. Yes, our God is incomparable. So what? He said, “We’re not talking about an abstract philosophical truth. We talking about a life-changing truth.”

If it is real, my life should be different. I should be serious about holy living. I should never attack the character of God by worrying about the future or complaining about the present. I should pursue friendships that will encourage others to godliness. I should be passionate about sharing the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ to others. And I should be full of praise and thanks to God for raising me from my state of spiritual death and giving me new life–eternal life–in Christ.

During church on our last day in Israel, we sang the song “To God be the Glory.” One of the verses spoke very accurately about SPO’7.

“Great things he has taught us, great things he has done
And great our rejoicing through Jesus, the Son
But purer and higher and great will be
Our wonder, our transport when Jesus we see”

Yes, heaven is also real. And because of the gospel, we can look forward to rejoicing there with Christ forever. It’s real, and I’m psyched.

Since midway through my time in Israel, I have been looking forward to my first weekend back in the States. Why? Because I would be spending time with some of my best friends in San Diego and then enjoying a few days with my family at Disneyland. My weekend started in Hotchkiss and ended at Disneyland, so here are a few pictures and thoughts from the happiest weekend on earth.

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On Friday night, I attended my first TMC graduation as a student. I had been to my brothers’ graduations, but I did not anticipate how different this one would be. This time, I recognized the names of the people that were walking across the stage. They were not people I had met one time while visiting my brothers; they were people who had discipled me and been my RA, led singing for the 3rd graders at GComm with me, and roomed with me at IBEX. Also, the future seemed to be approaching rapidly as I watched my friends get their diplomas. Two years ago I watched my brother graduate, but two years from now I will be the one shaking JMac’s hand.

Enough of the ceremonies…

After graduation, a group including my roomate Jordan, his siblings (Charlotte and Tim), my RA and his sister (Rick and Katie Dennis), and my friends (Bailey Haigh, Ryan Patterson, and John Lafferty) headed down to Vista (near San Diego) to hang out for the weekend at Rick’s grandpa’s house to celebrate graduation. We slept in on Saturday, but then we headed to the beach.

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The guys busted out the skimboards and showed off their prowess of gliding over the water.

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We had a good time. Eventually, Rick and Tim felt compelled to dominate the high seas on Rick’s raft. Turns out the high seas can be rough…

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The beach definitely feels better when you know you are not postponing some paper you should be working on.

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Our time at the coast was just the beginning of our good times in San Diego. Turns out that all you need to have fun is a dictionary, paper, and a few pens. We played a few solid rounds of Dictionario (think Balderdash–you just pick your own word out of the dictionary.) I think only two people in our group were actually trying to come up with serious definitions. Most of us go straight for the funny, and although I had the time of my life in IBEX, I do not think I laughed that hard in Israel.

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On Sunday, I met up with my whole family at Disneyland for a big Mother’s Day/Mom’s 50th Birthday celebration. For her birthday, she bought us passes. After a semester on the other side of the world, I definitely enjoyed catching up with the fam in such a magical environment.

I will never outgrow my love for Disneyland. The whole place oozes fun. During this trip, I took notice of the employees. Even driving through the parking lot, you do not feel like you are at a theme park owned and operated by teenagers (yeah, I’m talking to you, Six Flags.) Somebody who looks like he could be your grandpa takes your ticket as you come in, and all the employees are nice. While getting ice cream at a stand, Christa asked a worker how her day was going; she replied, “I work at the happiest place on earth.”

My favorite attraction at Disneyland is the Matterhorn (especially at night,) and our first night in the park, we walked on the ride three times in a row during the fireworks. As we flew down that beautiful, snow-covered mountain, the sky lit up above with the best pyrotechnic display I have ever seen. It made me happy (see face below.)

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It was a big weekend for my super-cute nephew, Tyler. His dad, being diligent to train up his son in the way he should go, taught him how to feed the ducks at the Hungry Bear.

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He also got to meet Mickey Mouse, which was definitely a highlight for him. As soon as he saw Mickey, his face lit up. He kissed Mickey’s nose as we gathered for a picture. But by the end of our time at DLand, he was one tired little dude.

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Now I am settled back at the Blakey Cabana in Santa Clarita and looking for a job. While part of me would love to fast forward to SLS retreat and the beginning of school, I honestly am excited about this summer. I hope to read a lot, memorize Scripture, start studying for the LSAT, hang out with friends and family, prepare to serve Hotchkiss next Fall, take advantage of the pool in the backyard, and–you guessed it–blog. See ya next time.

Yesterday, I ate my first In-N-Out Burger since January. It was good.

And in case you didn’t catch it, eating In-N-Out again means that I am back in Southern California.

IBEX is over.

The last couple days in Israel, I started to realize how my time there was so suddenly coming to an end. Pretty soon I would not be waking up in Israel, spending all day every day with the amazing people of SPO’7, or learning from some of the best professors I have ever had. I would be diving back into my life in America, catching up with friends, and looking for a job.

But as I watched my last sunset from the synagogue ruins at Yad Hashmonah, I realized that my IBEX experience was over and only just beginning all at the same time. Yes, my life was about to change drastically, but it had to eventually; I could not stay at IBEX forever. And while the people I was with and the places I went were amazing, the most important thing about IBEX was what I learned about the Lord. As I return to my life here in California, a lifetime of enjoying the Lord that I got to know better at IBEX and applying the things I learned there begins.

While leaving IBEX was certainly sad, this realization fills me with excitement to return to return to my old life, but not necessarily to my old lifestyle. I want to read the Bible with delight and freshness everyday and memorize it so that I might meditate on it constantly and consistently. I want serve Hotchkiss better as an ARA next year than I did this year. I want to love people more than I fear them. I want to be more passionate about personal holiness and evangelism.

IBEX is gone, but the Lord is not. He is the same in Santa Clarita as he is at the Sea of Galilee. I learned a lot at IBEX, but that knowledge is all worthless if it does not change the way I live here. That’s why I’m excited. And that’s why I say my IBEX experience is over but only beginning.

This week I will be catching up with friends and family, so I doubt I’ll be blogging. Hopefully next week I will begin a productive summer of blogging, posting some about IBEX (especially the Egypt Chronicles) but also whatever else I want to write about.

Shalom.