After last week’s blog covering Human Cloning, I thought a little lighter topic might be appropriate. A peek at the impact of architectural styles in churches seemed to me to fit the bill. In a 2008 article by Tobin Perry entitled “Architecture Survey: Unchurched Prefer Traditional Styling for Churches Outside & In (http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=27767), offers some interesting insights. It reviews a survey conducted by LifeWay Research for the Cornerstone Knowledge Network (CKN), a group of church-focused facilities development firms. The upshot of the study was that people who don’t go to church are sometimes and somewhat “turned off” by the recent trend toward utilitarian church buildings. “By a nearly 2-to-1 ratio over any other option, unchurched Americans prefer churches that look more like a medieval cathedral than what most think of as a more contemporary church building. “, according to the article.
I have to agree – this is consistent with my own experience. I have visited a number of churches that have adopted the big-box style of architecture over recent years. “Harvest” churches come to mind, but there are a number of them. My personal observation is that these churches also tend to be more ecumenical in their outlook, modern in their style of music, and casual in their manner of dress at worship services. Often, the worship center – rarely identified as a “sanctuary” these days, possibly with good reason – are readily convertible to a basketball court or a concert hall.
I think that in some ways, this is a reflection of the lives of many modern Christians. We relegate Christianity – and especially our personal worship – to whatever fits in with the other priorities in our lives. The vast majority of our time is spent on work and recreation, with a very minor slice of it devoted to the cause of Christ. In cases where the worship center itself is required to be multi-purpose, I think it says a great deal about us. We are unwilling to set aside a physical space devoted solely to organized worship; that space must also be used to satisfy our entertainment and recreational desires.
I think the reaction of the 1,684 adults surveyed (adults who had not attended a church, mosque, or synagogue in the previous 6 months, is one element of a growing skepticism about the authenticity of Christians around the world. Another reason that the world so often views us as hypocrites.
A lot of folks are searching for just about any other way to explain the phenomenon though. “Quite honestly, this research surprised us,” said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research and LifeWay Christian Resource’s missiologist in residence. “We expected they’d choose the more contemporary options, but they were clearly more drawn to the aesthetics of the Gothic building than the run-of-the-mill, modern church building” Stetzer suggested that the unchurched may prefer the more aesthetically pleasing look of the Gothic cathedral because it speaks to a connectedness to the past.” Sure – that’s it; it’s just nostalgia. But wait! The very next sentence in the article says this: “Young unchurched people were particularly drawn to the Gothic look.” As a Valley girl might reply: “Duh.” It’s not a trip down memory lane that people are hungering for; it’s a meaningful worship experience. It’s a connection to God that comes from focused, devoted conversation between God’s children and their heavenly Father. Does this require a specific kind of building to occur? Of course not. But is it perceived as being more likely to occur in a building that is clearly devoted unreservedly to that purpose? You bet. Meaningful worship of Almighty God is a serious business, and deserves to be set apart from the trappings of entertainment and sport. And whether people realize it or not, that is what they are feeling when they express a preference like this. In my opinion, that also applies to the respect (or lack thereof) expressed by Christians by what they wear to worship services, as well as the tenor of their music and their behavior in the worship center. The more casual we become, the less we care about what we are doing, and who we are there to honor. It’s just that simple.
Denomination didn’t matter much in the survey either. “The Gothic style was preferred by both unchurched Roman Catholics and unchurched Protestants, according to the survey. ??”I don’t like modern churches, they seem cold,” said one survey respondent who chose the Gothic design. “I like the smell of candles burning, stained-glass windows, [and] an intimacy that’s transcendent.”
Finally, and from my perspective one of the most telling points in the article, was an assessment of the desirability of the church to “the unchurched” in terms of whether it is a “good place to hang out”. Here’s what the article says: “Finally, the survey looked into what sociologists call “third place” gathering spots. First place gatherings are where a person lives, Stetzer said, while second place gatherings are where a person works. Third place gatherings are where a person comes “to hang out,” he said.” In the last few years churches have begun creating third place environments where the lost can come and just hang out,” Stetzer said. “This study asked the question, what kind of places do the unchurched like to come to do this?” More than three times as many people chose a sit-down restaurant (47 percent) rather than any other single response. Other locations that topped the list include: a bar or nightclub (15 percent), a local coffee shop (13 percent) and a sporting event or recreational activity (5 percent). ??According to the survey, the reasons they meet with friends where they do is because these places are relaxing (62 percent), casual (55 percent) and fun (29 percent). “
Unbelievable. These guys are trying to make churches into comfortable hangouts – places that will compete with sit-down restaurants, bars and nightclubs, and coffee shops for peoples’ free time. Now I have nothing against congregants having a place to fellowship with one another and have coffee together, and so on elsewhere on the church property. All of the churches that I attended growing up, had a kitchen and a Fellowship Hall for that very purpose. It enabled the potluck dinners, wedding celebrations, and other social events that appropriately surround a living and vital church family. But when we are designing utilitarian worship centers to be “multi-functional spaces” to attract people who want to have a place to “just hang out”, we are missing the point. That’s what YMCA youth centers, shopping mall food courts, and Starbucks’ are for. It’s what many folks do at the local bar & grill. It is not the purpose of a house of worship, devoted to honoring God.
What do you think?
A long-standing topic of science fiction, human cloning is now very close to possible – and may already have occurred. If it has occurred, it has been well hidden from public view, and understandably so. The ethical implications of human cloning are not insignificant. During cloning, a female egg – not yet fertilized by male sperm – is removed from the female host. (Women are born with about 1.5 million eggs, and over their normal life span about half a million are actually issued from the female reproductive system. Clearly, women have them in massive surplus. The same is true for mens’ sperm, of course – the percentage of male sperm that is actually successful in fertilizing a female egg is infinitesimal. Again, God has provided a massive surplus.) After the egg is withdrawn, the female “half” (the female chromosomes) are extracted from the egg, and replaced with a “whole” (or complete) set of chromosomes (either from a male or female), and returned to a female womb for gestation.
Philosophically, cloning opens up a world of speculation about the human soul – whether cloned individuals have a soul, whether they share the soul of their original “twin”, and whether they are indeed even recognized by God as individual human beings since other men basically replicated them. It can hardly be thought of as a new life, since from a physiological perspective it is the same individual as the donor. Yet, essentially that is what occurs in natural identical twins. The same combination of DNA spontaneously divides, resulting in two physiologically identical but autonomous people – and I don’t believe anyone has ever seriously questioned whether each of them has a distinct soul.
Another way to examine this is to look at the possibility of using human cloning to produce replacement organs and/or appendages for amputees and individuals whose hearts, kidneys, or other organs are failing but who would otherwise go on to live many productive years. If a soldier who lost his leg to an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan could have his leg replaced – good as new – because cloning could grow him a replacement leg in a laboratory, would there be any harm in that? I think most of us would agree that it would be a spectacular breakthrough in modern science, and would be ecstatic that such an operation was now available to such American heroes. Technology is not far from that point now.
Scientists could grow human organs from a combination of cloned human tissue and animal hosts. In 2002, for example, an “ear” was grown on the back of a hairless mouse. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/1949073.stm) This was done as part of a research effort aimed at growing replacement human livers. In this case, the “human” ear contained no human tissue – it was bovine (cow) tissue grown over an artificial screen-based trellis that dissolved over time. However, the use of animal parts in humans has a long-standing history of success – ranging from pig valves in human hearts to biogenetically re-engineered blood products from guinea pigs used to replace clotting factors in the blood of hemophiliacs. It requires no leap in logic to see that a human womb will not be the only way to enable cloned human tissues to mature.
But what if, in order to achieve that goal, the entire body had to be grown in the laboratory – not just the leg – and the balance of the body discarded? Is that tantamount to abortion, or murder? It seems clear that if the entire human can be grown in vitro, then it is a creature that could live independently, therefore qualifying as an independent human life. Then the matter is not so clear-cut. From my perspective, it seems to me that if scientists can grow only the leg, that’s wonderful. If they can grow the lower half of the body, and have to discard the balance, then that is also acceptable. But if they have to grow an entire human being – including a heart to pump blood through the new appendage and a brain to control the muscles of the heart as well as all the nerves, and so on – then we have a real moral dilemma.
One perspective is that the donor should make this decision. It is the donor of the chromosomes who has literally contributed a portion of his or her own body as the seed material for the formation of the new appendage – or torso – or complete new body. It is essentially his or her own (extended) body in question, and therefore his or her own property.
This sounds eerily like the argument of abortion rights advocates today, who claim that a woman should have the right to abort a baby because she is exercising her right to control over her own body. However, there is a meaningful difference in my view, because (with the exception of rape) that controlled decision was made at the time the female engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse. When the egg was fertilized, and the embryo was fully formed, a new and unique human being came into existence. The decision was made, and anything that occurs after that point to terminate the pregnancy is a deliberate action to end a unique and physiologically complete human life; an action usually referred to as murder.
In this case, then, if the appendage can be developed in vitro only by growing a complete human body and discarding the balance of that body, is that a decision which can morally be made by the donor because the new body is just an extension of his or her own flesh and blood – not mingled DNA from two separate individuals to create a new and independent life through normal human intercourse? The new body – containing a heart and a brain – is really an extension of the existing one; it is not unique in a physiological sense. Yet it represents – at least from a human and biological perspective – a complete human being; a person.
Thus far, the Christian community has not had much to say on this matter, and even less to say that makes sense. While the Bible does not speak directly on matter of cloning, some Christian authors like David Pratte (http://www.gospelway.com/topics/morality/cloning.php) have formed opinions and published positions on the matter, attempting to reason their way through the dilemmas introduced by cloning on the basis of biblical texts that are not entirely relevant. For example, Mr. Pratte asserts that God created “a proper way for humans to reproduce” (pointing to Genesis chapter 1,) and that “Cloning is a different means of reproduction from what God ordained. It does not involve a man and his wife reproducing by the means God ordained. That would seem to make it, in general, a violation of God’s intent. It changes what God authorized to something that He did not authorize (see Prov. 3:5,6; 14:12; Jer. 10:23; 2 John 9; Matt. 15:9; Col. 3:17; etc.).”
This argument makes little sense to me. God created legs so that men could walk, but I do not believe that man’s recent advances in automobile and aerospace transportation offend God. Operating an automobile does not involve eschewing a “God ordained” process in order to replace it with a man-made one. It merely enhances our ability to move around the planet. In the same way, I don’t believe that mainstream scientists in genetic medicine are proposing that humans give up natural intercourse-based fertilization and pregnancy, replacing it with the widespread use of test-tube babies.
Mr. Pratte also asserts that among the very limited reasons he can identify for human cloning is the production of children in homosexual relationships. He says: “The reasons for cloning include a way for lesbians and homosexuals to reproduce, since their sexual practices are inherently sterile. This is clearly sinful, because homosexuality is sinful (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Rom. 1:24-27). Further, it would produce a child that did not have a morally proper family to raise it.” I take no issue with Pratte’s perspective on homosexuality, because he is accurately reflecting God’s perspective – as is clear from end-to-end in the Bible. A society’s willingness to accept any practice is not an indication of its acceptability to God – as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah discovered. But the basic argument that cloning should be ruled out because it enables people in gay relationships to produce children is just silly. As illustrated in the example of the amputee above, there are sound medical opportunities for the application of cloning technology. The fear of enabling more gay and lesbian families to produce offspring is a spurious rationale at best. Although it is not a perfect analogy, it’s a bit like saying that people should never have started frying food because it has contributed to gluttony, which – like homosexuality – is clearly identified in the Bible as a sin.
Pratte’s final argument is – in my view – the most compelling, and indeed the only one that holds water. But it holds an ocean of water. Here it is: “The cloning process (as done now in animals) involves numerous “rejects.” When an egg is “fertilized” by cloning, it is often found to be imperfect or otherwise unacceptable, so it is “discarded” — i.e., killed, aborted, murdered. This is done repeatedly, in all cases of “cloning,” until an acceptable individual is achieved and implanted. This means that, if scientists experiment in cloning humans, they will necessarily abort dozens (probably hundreds) of humans before they ever succeed. And even if the cloning process is developed and improved, every attempted cloning will still involve discarding human beings! This is what is wrong with all forms of “test-tube babies.” Hence, cloning is inherently sinful for all the reasons that deliberate abortion of humans is sinful.”
However, while it may reflect current circumstances, it is likely that Pratte’s premise will prove false over the years ahead. We will not always need to destroy a bunch of fertilized eggs in order to yield a sound one. It is very likely that scientists will develop a method that does not require discarding “imperfect” embryos over time. I have a high level of confidence that Pratt’s statement: “every attempted cloning will still involve discarding human beings!” is untrue. This will naturally occur as materials, technologies, and our knowledge base all grow and mature. In the same way that the rates of death during childbirth have declined as our medical technology has improved, the techniques surrounding the cloning process will mature and reduce the need for discarded fertilized eggs. Of course, even one discarded egg is one egg too many. But we still have some incidences of childbirth infant mortality and severe birth defects, and we do not stop having children. We strive continually to reduce the incidence rates and keep reproducing. While it’s true that we do not have to clone people to survive as a species, human cloning offers clear opportunities for the medical profession that could enable many talented and intelligent people to lead much longer and more productive lives.
In the mean time, here is a set of assertions that I make which are not provable, but I have great confidence in. They reflect merely my own opinions:
What do you think?
PS: I have never met Mr. Pratte, whose article I have referred to a number of times in this blog. However, I would like to mention that – while I don’t agree with several points in his reasoning, I have great respect for him. Producing a written position and publishing that position in such a controversial topic area takes courage, and Mr. Pratte is clearly a intellectually courageous man. It also shows that Christians can think critically about complex issues from daily life, and have a desire to address them from the perspective of the Bible. I have enormous respect from Christians who engage their brains as well as their hearts, and grapple with these topics to help themselves and help each other in our continuing spiritual journey. Conversely, I have much less respect for those who don’t. From my perspective, Mr. Pratte is a value-adding Christian; I hope I will have an opportunity to meet him one day.
In response to the question: “What is the biggest struggle facing Christianity today?” (http://www.casadeblundell.com/jonathan/the-biggest-struggle-currently-facing-christianity/) an individual calling himself Mike said this: “The biggest threat to today’s Christianity is Modern History and Modern Science. Every day, both of these disciplines come across more and more information. Unfortunately, a lot of the information gained either discredits Christianity or does nothing to support it. This is the information age. It is getting harder and harder to convince people to have blind faith in anything. Before the Internet, you didn’t really have a choice in the information you were given on a daily basis. You had basically 2 to 3 places where you could accrue knowledge. School, Church, and Work. It was what our parents had, our grandparents had, and so forth. Not so today. The world has gotten to be a very small place. If religion is going to survive, then religion is going to have to get its story straight. The Vatican should allow their artifacts and libraries open for study among outsiders. The most sought after relics of ancient history are that of Christian Origin. If they ever existed, they are out there somewhere. They are possibly rotting away in some wealthy person’s personal art collection. I would say about 95% of the history of Christianity (or any religion for that matter) is in the possession of private collectors completely hidden from Historians and their followers. Who knows what the real impact this may have. It could be Earth shattering or it could be nothing. All I know is that as each day goes by, the more religion will dwindle into the shadows. I want to believe these artifacts are out there and genuine, but I have a heavy part in my heart that tells me, not in my lifetime. Now I apologize if I hurt anyone’s feelings with this, I am only relaying what I have learned over my quest for the truth about Christ and Christianity. Point to the Bible all you want, but until you can define the exact location of the Garden of Eden, Noah’s Ark, The Ark of The Covenant, Christ’s Cup, The Cross He was nailed to, or better yet, ANYTHING with the word “Jesus” written during his lifetime that was not in the Bible, etc, etc, etc. Then it didn’t really happen. It is just a great story much like The Lord of the Rings.”
The tragic aspect of Mike’s discourse is that it so closely aligns with the ignorance and arrogance of many of our nation’s leaders. It is no coincidence that President Obama, during his election campaign, described Americans opposing his candidacy as “Bitter people clinging to their bibles and their guns.” It’s only natural that leaders reflect the attitudes of many of the populace, or they would have difficulty getting elected. (Of course that’s not the only factor involved, or things would often turn out much differently.)
Mike’s comments appear to boil down to these three assertions:
I have no idea who Mike is, and I have no desire to insult him, but I have to admit that this strikes me as some of the most illogical and unintelligent reasoning I have ever seen.
First of all, on point number 1, there is voluminous physical evidence for an incredible amount of what the Bible records, including locations of incredible biblical importance. Today, in the country of Iraq, the cities of Babel and Ur still exist. Nahor, Ninevah, and a myriad of other examples also exist; I’ve seen several of them myself. ( will place excerpted lists of some of the historical sites described in the Bible at the conclusion of this blog, along with the web site from which they were excerpted.) Secondly, I have never seen artifacts with the names of most historical figures inscribed on them – from Genghis Kahn to Alexander the Great – but I don’t doubt that they existed. In the case of Jesus Christ, the most widely known and widely loved historical and spiritual figure the world has ever known, to doubt His very existence – at least His historical existence – is beyond the pale. Even those of us with a public school education recognize the certainty there. As to the third point – that the Internet has now made available information that diminishes the validity of biblical claims or the credibility of Christianity, is completely untrue. While it is true that there are a wealth of things in the Bible that are not well understood – certainly many things that I do not understand – that is no proof that they are untrue. I don’t understand why gravity exists (and neither does anyone else on Earth), but it does exist. The Internet has indeed changed forever the volume and breadth of data available to most of the population of our planet. However, it has done nothing to diminish the veracity of Jesus Christ or of Christianity. It simply “broadcasts” existing data – much of which truly is inaccurate, and founded upon opinion or speculation – much like our friend Mike’s comment.
However, to the overall thesis of Mike’s statement that Christianity is losing credibility, I want to share the following information: In my blog post entitled “The Bible and the US Constitution”, I point to an article authored by Linda D. Stanley. (http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1734108/the_decline_of_church_attendance_in_pg2.html?cat=7) In it, Stanley observes: “The Gallop Poll reports that Christian Americans are declining in number. The report shows that in the first year of tracking, 1948, 91% of Americans identified themselves as belonging to some form of Christianity. The Gallop report conducted in 2008 showed this number had declined to 77% of Americans who identify themselves as belonging to some sort of Christianity. It appears that the Catholic denominations have remained steady at about 20-23% since the late 1940’s while the Christian sector has declined from high 60% down to a steady stay at 55-57%. It would appear that it is possible that many Americans are moving to other religions that have been popular in other areas. The truth is that this same Gallop poll reports that in 1948 only 2% of Americans reported no religious affiliation while in 2008, 12% of Americans claimed no religious affiliation. It appears that Americans are in fact losing our faith.”
On a strictly numerical basis, America is indeed drifting further and further from both the US Constitution and the basis for much of that constitution, the Bible. That drift is not attributable to greater information volumes or accuracy streaming in from the Internet or any other source. It is not a function of Christianity being disproven. It is not the dearth of physical artifacts with the name of Jesus scrawled across them. It is the natural (and unhealthy) entropy resulting from an increasingly easy and less disciplined life. It is the (unfortunately) consistent pattern of modern societies as they become increasingly affluent, self-indulgent, and self-centered. It seems that the more educated we become, the wealthier we become, and the more comfortable we become, the less likely we are to rely upon God who provided all of the blessings we enjoy in the first place. The results are obvious, and they include declining church attendance, heightened divorce rates, and a myriad of other unsavory phenomena. The problem facing Christianity is not one of credibility, it is one of commitment on the part of those who claim to be Christians.
What do you think?
Biblically Important Locations in Israel
Known in Hebrew as Megiddo, a giant fortress and city was built here by King Solomon (1 Kings 1 9:15); in the New Testament referred as site of the “final battle”.
“The House of the Fisherman” – the place where Jesus was active as a preacher and healer. This is the location of the homes of Jesus’ followers, Peter, Philip and Andrew as well as the location where Jesus healed the blind man (Matthew 11:21; Luke10:13; John 1).
An ancient city with a glorious past. King Saul and his sons, who lost the battle against the Philistines at nearby Mt. Gilboa, were hung from its city walls (Judges 7:4-8). Bet She’an is one of Israel’s most prominent archeological sites, with a major Roman theater, the Roman-Byzantine Cardo (main street), giant columns, mosaics and a yet-to-excavated tel (excavational mound).
Caesarea Philippi (Banias)
Named for the god, Pan, Panias (or Banias in Arabic) was built as Caesarea Philippi by Philip, son of Herod, at one of the sources of the Jordan River. Jesus visited this site together with the Disciples (Mark 8:27; Matthew 16:13-23).
Cana in Galilee
Site of Jesus’ first miracle – the transformation of water into wine at the Wedding Feast (John 2:1-11, 4:46-54). Site of Cupola dedicated to the messenger, Bartholomew, (Nathaniael) (John 21:2).
An important Jewish town from the time of the Second Temple located north of Capernaum. Chorazin was rebuked by Jesus for its lack of faith (Matthew 11:2; Luke 10:13).
Located on the Sea of Galilee shore, Capernaum was the center of Jesus’ Galilee Ministry. Jesus’ lived here for a substantial period, healing the sick, preaching in the synagogue and performing miracles (Matthew 9:1, 4:13).
Mount Carmel is associated with the prophets Elijah and Elisha (Kings I 2, 15:4, 25). A Christian holy site based on the story of the Prophet Elijah and the miracles he preformed atop the mountain.
Carmelite monastery at the site of the struggle between the priests of Ba’al and the Prophet Elijah (Kings I 18:14-17),
Know today as Daburiya; a town of Zebulun (Joshua 19:12), where Jesus cures the epileptic boy (Luke 9:37-43).
Near Mount Tabor, home of the medium (witch) of En-Dor (Samuel I 28:7-25).
Galilee (Sea of)
Also known as the Lake of Gennesaret, Lake Tiberias and Lake Kinneret.
A comparatively small lake, fed by the River Jordan and lying 600 feet below sea level, where violent storms rush down from surrounding mountains causing very rough water. Here Jesus rebuked the winds and the sea (Matthew 8:26) taught from Peter’s boat (Mark 3:7-9) preformed the miracle of the Multiplication of the loaves and fishes (Luke 5:1-11) calmed the storm (Matthew 8:23-27) and walked on water (Mark 6:45; Matthew 14:22-23). The lake’s northern shore-stretching from Mount Arbel to Hyppos – is known as the Evangelic Arch (Matthew 4:15).
The Sea of Galilee is one of Israel’s four seas and, in addition to being a repository of dozens of Christian holy sites, is a vacation paradise for Israelis and tourists. The largest city on the lake is Tiberias, one of the four holy cities of Judaism, and the beaches and villages surrounding the lake are a haven for tourists. Christian visitors, in addition to visiting the shore-side shrines, sail in fishing boats and tourist launches across the water.
Battle of Saul (Samuel I 28: 4).Canticle of David on Saul and Jonathan (Samuel II 1: 17-24).
Joshua captures and burns the city (Joshua 11:10-14); Deborah and Barak (Judges 4: 2); rebuilt by Solomon in the tenth century B.C (Kings I 9:15).
Known today as Susita, Hyppos, like Bet She’an, was one of ten Greco-Roman cities known as the Decapolis. Located atop the Golan Heights with a panorama of the Sea of Galilee, this area is mentioned in the Miracle of the Swine (Matthew 5:14). This area may have been one of the world’s first Christian metropolitan communities.
The installation of the Tribes (Judges 1:27-28).
Israel’s most important river, feeding the Sea of Galilee and Dead Sea. Jesus was baptized in the river by John the Baptist near Jericho (Mark 1:9-11). John Bethabara was also baptized here (John 1:28).
River at the foot of Mount Carmel, mentioned in the Song of Deborah (Judges 5:21); “Elijah led them to the river Kishon” (Kings I 18:40).
Identified as the site of the Miracle of the Swine (Luke 8:26-33; Mark 5:1; Matthew 8:28-34; Luck:8). Nearby is Tel Hadar, where Jesus succeeded in feeding the 4,000 (Matthew 15:29-34).
Known today as Migdal, this was the birthplace and home of Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:1-2) who was the deserted woman who was healed by Jesus and become one of his followers. She was a witness to the resurrection (John 20:1).
The Mount of Beatitudes
The hill at the northwestern point of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-8). With its view toward Capernaum and Tabgha, the hill is shaped with a natural hollow that serves as a natural amphitheater amplifying the speaker’s voice.
Nain (near Mt. Tabor)
The village where Jesus brought back to life “the dead son of the widow” (Luke 8:11-18).
The city of Nazareth is located in the heart of an undulating valley, where Jesus spent his boyhood and lived with Joseph and Mary (Luke1:26-38).
The site of the “Synagogue Church”, where Jesus preached commentaries on the Book of Joshua (Luke 4:16-30) and the Leap of the Lord (Luke 4:29) when Nazarenes attempted to throw Jesus over a cliff.
Known in Hebrew as Zippori, Sepphoris was a major 2nd /3rd century city that was also home of Joachim and Anna and birthplace of Mary. Here is the Franciscan Church of St. Anna dedicated to the mother of the Virgin Mary (Luke13:32).
Site of the Miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes, and the post resurrection appearance of Jesus (Mark 6:34-44; Matthew 14:14-21; John 21:15-19; Matthew 16:18-19).
A prominent hill (mountain) southwest of the Sea of Galilee, with very little foothills. It was at foot of Mount Tabor that Deborah and Barak defeated the forces of Sisera. Mount Tabor is believed to be “the high mountain” which Jesus ascended and, before the eyes of Peter, James and John, underwent the Transfiguration; afterwards he was seen conversing with Moses and the Prophet Elijah (Matthew 17:6-13; Luke 9:28-36; Mark 9:2-8).
A spa town built by Herod Antipas (John: 6:23) to honor Tiberius Caesar. After the fall of Jerusalem it became a center of Jewish learning and is considered one of the four Holy Cities of Judaism.
Here in ancient Kiriat Yearim ,the Ark of the Covenant rested for 20 years before being brought by King David to Jerusalem, 15 miles to the east. Aphek (Antipatris)
Today know as Afek. The Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant at Aphek (Sam I 4:1-11). Paul brought to Antipatris on his way to Caesarea for trial (Acts 23:31). Was built by Herod in honor of his father Antipatris.
Today known as Anata: birthplace of Jeremiah the prophet (Jer: 1:1).
One of the five Philistine cities. Philip the Evangelist baptized an Ethiopian near here (Acts 8:26-40).
Meaning, “House of God”. Where Jacob dreamed of “Jacob’s Ladder” (Genesis28:19). The Ark of The Covenant at Bethel (Genesis 31:13, Judges 21:19, Kings I 13:11; King II 2:2). Today, Bethel is a community of 3500, twenty miles north of Jerusalem.
A village between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, site of the Shepherds’ Fields of the Nativity account (Luke: 2:8-21).
Translates as “House of Bread” (Hebrew), “House of Meat” (Arabic). Bethlehem was where Isaac’s beloved wife, Rachel, died giving birth to Benjamin (Genesis 35:18-19, 48:7). Birthplace of King David and site of his anointment by Samuel (Samuel 1 16:1). Birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4). Just south of Bethlehem are the pools of Solomon, that have provided water for Jerusalem for three millennia (Song of Songs 4:12).
Built as Caesarea Maritima by King Herod to honor Augustus Caesar, it was capital of the Roman province of Judea during Jesus’ day, a vast city complete with stadiums, temples, palaces and a giant port built out into the Mediterranean. Caesarea was home of the first gentile convert, Cornelius, a Roman centurion baptized by Peter (Acts 10). Peter and Paul passed through Caesarea, and Paul was imprisoned here for two years until he was brought to Rome. Paul embarks for Tarsus (Acts 9:30), Philip preaches (Acts 8:40).
Present-day “Dothan”. Joseph finds his brothers (Genesis 37:14-17).
Elah (Valley of)
Valley Of Elah: David’s contest with Goliath (Samuel I 17). Nearby are the excavations of the Roman-Byzantine city of Bet Guvrin, and Sorek, home of Delilah (Judges 16:4). Unchanged for three thousand years, this location includes the brook where David selected the stone to slay Goliath, still gurgling. Emmaus
Where the resurrected Jesus met Cleopas and Simon and shared a meal with them (Luke 24:13-35). One of the only Biblical sites whose modern-day location is unclear. It may have been a site adjacent to Latrun, midway between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, whose Trappist monastery is built atop what is believed to have been home of the good thief crucified with Jesus, or near today’s Qubeibe, midway between Jerusalem and Ramallah, site of the Emmaus Church.
The Ark of the Covenant is placed on a cart and driven to Bet Shemesh (Samuel I 6:16).
Gerizim (Mount) and Ebal (Mount)
Mount Gerizim-mount Ebal: Israel assembles on Gerizim and Ebal (Joshua 8:33).
A blessing on Gerizim, a curse on Ebal (Deuteronomy 11:29-30).
“And Solomon built Gezer” (Kings 19:16-17).
At 1,020 meters (3,315 feet), the highest village in the Land of Israel. Site of tombs attributed in the Middle Ages to Gad the Seer and Nathan the Prophet (Chronicles II 11:5-12).
Hebron – Kiryat Arba
Hebron, one of the four holy cities of Judaism, was the home of Abraham and where he bought the “Cave of Machpelah in the field of Mamre” as a burial site for his family (Genesis 23:1-12; 25:8-10; 35:27-29; 50:12-14). David was anointed King of Israel in Hebron and reigned here seven years until the capture of Jerusalem (Samuel II 5:1-5).
Herod the great built a towering edifice over the cave, which survives to the present day as a mosque and synagogue, shared by Muslims and Jews, who both venerate the tombs of Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Lea, Jacob and Rebecca.
Traditionally believed to have been founded by Japheth, son of Noa, Jaffa is one of the oldest towns of Israel. Cedars of Lebanon sent by King Hiram of Tyre and destined for Solomon’s Temple were unloaded at Jaffa (Chronicles II 2:15) and Jonah embarked for Tarshish from Jaffa (Jonah 1:3-17). Peter was here, in the home of Simon the tanner where he prophesied the vision of the pure and unpure animals (Acts X 10:5), and where he brought Tabitha back from the dead (Acts 9:36-42).
Vies with Damascus as “the oldest city on earth”. First town conquered by the returning children of Israel under Joshua (Joshua 4:5-6). Prophets Elijah and Elisha (Kings II 2:18-22). Near Jericho, the Monastery of St. John (Kasr El-Yahud) recalls the site where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.
It was here that Peter healed Aeneas.
Samaria – Sebastiye
Founded as capital of Israel by King Omri in 876 BCE (Kings I 16:23-25). Town taken by the Assyrians (King’s II 17:5-6). The prophet, Micah, rejoiced in the Sebastiye’s impending destruction (Micah 1:6). Philip preaches in the city (Acts 8:5). Peter and John come to the city (Acts 8:14).
Sharon (Plain & Valley of Ayalon)
The fertile valley of Sharon (Isaiah: 35:2). The drive from Tel-Aviv and Ben-Gurion Airport to Jerusalem passes through the Plain of Sharon and the Valley of Ayalon, where Joshua bade the sun stand still (Joshua 10:12-13).
Present-day Nablus originally Roman Neapolis or Naples, site of the Tomb of Joseph. Abraham passes through, coming from Ur (Genesis 12:6). Agreement between the sons of Jacob and Shechem (Genesis 12: 6-7). Jacob buys a “parcel of land” at Jacob’s Well (Genesis 33:19). Joshua renews the Covenant with God (Joshua 24). Origin of the Samaritans (Kings II 17: 24-41). Jesus and the Samaritan women at Jacob’s Well (John 4:7-11).
Jerusalem – The Holy City for Christians
The New Testament tells the story of Jesus’ frequent visit to Jerusalem including the final fateful week commending with the triumphal entry on what is now Palm Sunday, and the crucifixion and resurrection at what is now Easter.
It was here in Jerusalem that Jesus and the Disciples celebrated the Passover Seder meal atop Mount Zion (the Last Supper). Here is Gethsemane, at the base of the Mount of Olives, Jesus spent the night before his arrest by the Romans. Jesus was tried in Jerusalem by Pontius Pilate and condemned to die on the cross, the standard from of Roman execution. And here Jesus was crucified and hurriedly buried before the onset of the Sabbath. When the family of Jesus returned to the tomb after Sabbath, they discovered it empty… and it was 39 days later, from atop Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, that Jesus is believed to have risen to heaven. In addition to locations related to the life of Jesus, holy sites in Jerusalem are connected with the lives of Mary and the Disciples. It was in Jerusalem that the world’s first Christian community was established.
Jerusalem: The Mount of Olives
Jerusalem: Mount Zion
Jerusalem: Mount Moriah (The Temple Mount)
Jerusalem: The Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross)
The mile long route through the Old City of Jerusalem, leading from the Antonia Fortress – where Jesus was condemned by Pontius Pilate, to Golgotha – Calvary hill – the place of the crucifixion. The Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross) is marked by 14 Stations, each a chapel or marker depicting an incident in Jesus’ final mortal journey. The traditional site of Golgotha – Calvary is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Some Christian denominations consider the Garden Tomb, outside the current Old City walls, to be the true site of Golgotha – Calvary (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19).
Site of an ancient tel in the northern Negev. Includes remains from the early Canaanite period (Numbers 21:1, Joshua 12:14).
A southern border city from the biblical period of settlements in Israel. Called Be’er Sheva (seven wells) in memory of the seven wells dug by the servants of Isaac (Genesis 26:33).
The Dead Sea – (Salt Sea):
Iraq’s Biblical Ties
One of my favorite secular songs is called “From My Head to My Heart’ by Evan and Jaron. One line in the song says “The furthest distance I’ve ever known is from my head to my heart.” It would appear, based on some recent blog traffic, that the Christian Church is suffering somewhat from the same malady. (http://www.casadeblundell.com/jonathan/the-biggest-struggle-currently-facing-christianity/)
In a May 3rd post asking people to list “The Biggest Struggle for Christianity”, and anonymous responder said: ” The “church” needs to quit talking quite so much about visions, plans, strategies, new teachings/ authors/ bands/ missions/ buildings/ teams/ heresies, and just start being the heart/ hands/ voice/ compassion of the Body of Christ, every Christ-follower, everywhere, everyday………………..so, what are the chances of that happening in our church-enterprise culture?“ I think this person put his or her finger on an interesting phenomenon.
More than a decade ago, our pastor at the church we attended back in Phoenix asked me to help him refine and document a “Vision Statement” for our local church, and present it to leading members of the congregation. I did as he asked, and although the experience helped me to develop a close relationship with those congregants, it raised lots of red flags. I found that the congregation and the pastor in that case were well out of synch – a situation increasingly prevalent, and described in my blog entitled “Pastoral Predicament”. Not long afterward, the pastor was ejected from the church on the basis of misconduct. The congregants of the church basically felt that there was no need for a “Vision” or a “Mission Statement” or any of the other business types of trappings in a Bible-based church. The Bible clearly lays out the functions of the church in the New Testament, as well as the roles and responsibilities of specific church officers.
Several years later, my brother shared with me that the pastor in his church had enrolled the services of an outside consultant to develop a strategic plan for their church in northern Illinois – the church in which I grew up. The plan looked very much like a strategic plan for a business. It included a background section, a description of the church itself (history, size, revenues, attendance patterns, and so on) as well as a very thorough market study (how many people in each surrounding town, the religious affiliations of that population, demographics related to ages, and so on) and some recommendations. It was all very business like (what our anonymous commenter referred to as “our church-enterprise culture”. As it turns out, the church involved has plummeted since that time in terms of attendance, giving, and outreach (both mission outreach and local community impact). Poor pastoral leadership was devastating to what had once been a vibrant Christ-centered lighthouse in the community. I think our anonymous commenter would view these circumstances as validating evidence of the assertion about our modern “church-enterprise” culture. Clearly, the respondent’s message was that modern Christian churches need to be much less “head”, and much more “heart” driven.
There is biblical precedent for this in 1 Corinthians Chapter 1, where the Apostle Paul is admonishing the church at Corinth, and says: “Some of you are saying ‘I am a follower of Paul’. Others are saying: “I follow Apollos’, or ‘I follow Peter’ or ‘I follow only Christ’. Has Christ been divided into factions? Was I , Paul crucified for you?” By way of summary, Paul introduces this topic by saying: “Let there be no divisions in the Church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” Later in this same chapter, he says: “So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish.” And finally, in verse 25: “This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans.”
The church of Jesus Christ was never meant to be run like a business. The models of church and business have diametrically opposing purposes, with business devoted to making as much money as possible to enrich shareholders and employees. A church based on the example and teachings of Christ is devoted to glorifying God, reaching the world with the message of salvation that is only available through Jesus Christ, and meeting the spiritual needs of its members. It is characterized by sacrifice – even sacrificial giving – rather than acquiring material possessions. Often I have observed that pastors want to emulate the success that they perceive among the business people in their congregation, and so they begin to emulate business practices in their churches. I believe that’s a mistake.
What do you think?
In a May 2010 web article, the question was asked: “What do you see as the biggest struggle or issue currently facing Christianity?” (http://www.casadeblundell.com/jonathan/the-biggest-struggle-currently-facing-christianity/) One response from Angus Mackie of the UK said: “In Western Society there is a crisis due to a breakdown of trust. Who do people trust? Politicians/ banks/ churches/ adults/ police/ scientists? I hasten to add that I am not particularly thinking about the recent problems facing the Roman Catholic Church but these do form part of the problem. All have had a bad press. I believe that Christians in privileged societies need to return to basics and live Christ-like lives that build trust and point individuals to the Master we serve. Why should non-Christians trust Christ if we do not live loving, humble, obedient, self-sacrificing lives in the Master’s way? ?Rabboni (my Great One) let me be trustworthy for Your sake!”
The Bible makes it clear that Christians are supposed to place their trust in Jesus Christ, and in Christ alone. Many passages underscore this, including I Timothy 4:10 (“For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, specially of those that believe.”), I Timothy 6:17, Hebrews 2:23, II Corinthians 1: 9 and 10, and II Corinthians 3:4. But there are others in our daily lives that we really need to place some level of trust in, else we wouldn’t be able to function on a personal level in society or even in daily life.
Consider the results of a US nation-wide poll related to trust conducted by Gallup in 2010. (http://www.pollingreport.com/values.htm): People were asked “How would you rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in these different fields?” Respondents rated the following categories “High or Very High”:
Druggists / Pharmacists………….71
Grade School Teachers…………..67
Day Care Providers ……………….47
Nursing Home Operators…….…26
Members of Congress………..……9
It seems to me that there are many lessons to be learned from this data, and perhaps several legitimate perspectives from which to view it. For example, it seems to reflect a kind of “degree of general loathing”. Those professions near the bottom are the professions commonly regarded as the typical untrustworthy types: Lawyers, Executives, Advertisers, Politicians, Congress Members, Car Salesmen, and so on. These are certainly fields I would hope my children would avoid as avocations.
Another perspective would be a comparative one: It is interesting to look at the comparative ratings of clergy members and nurses, for example. Clergy people are less often regarded as highly trustworthy than nurses, military officers, grade school teachers, doctors, and police officers. There is a real message there about the loss of trust among the general public in clergy members specifically, and probably about a loss of trust in churches – perhaps even in God – among Americans.
A third approach would be to look at these numbers in light of major current events. For example, is the comparatively low level of trust is clergy related to recent scandals among Catholic clergy members that have so often been reported in the news? Is the loathsome view of trustworthiness among politicians – especially members of the US Congress driven at least in some measure by shenanigans like the “Cornhusker Kickback “and the “Louisiana Purchase” that accompanied the passage of Obamacare, stories about “Cold Cash Jefferson” who was found with thousands of dollars hidden in his freezer, and so on? Probably so.
Then there is a more practical, day-to-day aspect of trust in our lives. How much do you trust your spouse? How much does your spouse trust you? How would your children respond if they were asked: “Has your parent ever lied to you?” It’s not just a question of “Who do you trust?” – It’s also a question of “Can YOU be trusted?”.
Would your son, daughter, brother, sister, aunt, or uncle, nephew or niece follow your guidance on day-to-day matters like which clothes look good on them, who is a good hair dresser, or what new restaurants they should try? Very likely, because there really isn’t much risk involved in trusting you there. How about things that are a bit more important, such as recommendations about financial planners, stocks to invest in, recommendations for a blind date? More risk is involved, and generally fewer people will follow the advice of less trusted confidants. Still more important elements include recommendations for baby sitters, day care centers for the kids, long term care facilities for aging parents, and exactly how much do you trust that young man that is dating your daughter? Then there are those items that comprise the acid test: Whether to enter the military, whether a certain person would likely be a good spouse for you, and whether a person is to be trusted as the executor of your will or to act on your behalf as part of your living will, should decisions about whether to treat you in the event that tragedy strikes, and you cannot make those decisions for yourself. It’s harder to trust when the decision being made is the determination of your life or death.
Trust is an interesting thing. Sometimes it’s learned – like the trust between a parent and child. Sometimes it’s earned – like the trust between an employee and his supervisor. Other times, it just comes from experience – like trusting that the electricity will be there when you need light urgently in the middle of the night. One of the oddities of trust is that it isn’t uniform. For example, I think most of us wouldn’t think twice about stepping between our loved ones and an armed aggressor. Yet we don’t always trust that those same loved ones will unfailingly tell us the truth. In addition, our trust is often tempered by other emotions and motivations. For example, we might not tell a loved one the truth if we believe they will be offended, or will think less of us, or become angry. I was sometimes less than truthful with my parents during my teens, and looking back on those times I think all these factors came into play. Similar situations arise with spouses. Remember that commercial: “Does this dress make me look fat?” Whoa. Some questions just aren’t worth answering.
In the end, as the Bible tells us, God alone is fully trustworthy, because God alone is both omniscient, and without sin. He always knows the truth and He is incapable of lying. As Christians, it’s our job to come as close to that as we can, because we represent God to non-Christians, and because we should reflect the attributes of God in our behavior toward one another. That’s exactly the point of the question posed by Angus Mackie at the opening of this article: “Why should non-Christians trust Christ if we do not live loving, humble, obedient, self-sacrificing lives in the Master’s way?” Because we are neither omniscient nor sinless, none of us is fully trustworthy. But the closer we come to emulating Jesus Christ, the more trustworthy we become.
Mackey was right, in my view, when he said: “Christians in privileged societies need to return to basics and live Christ-like lives that build trust and point individuals to the Master.” Certainly those of us in privileged societies need this admonishment, but the truth is, so does everyone else. I have seen a lot of poverty and despair and I have seen a lot of privilege and wealth. It does often seem that those in this world who are less truthful and less forthcoming often rise to the top of various professions, and the less truthful and trustworthy excel in those professions listed at the bottom of the Gallup Poll described above. I have certainly experienced it among the ranks of business executives in my own career, and I have observed it among the ranks of politicians as a Government employee. As other blog postings have shown, the world turns increasingly away from Christ. As it does so, it’s only natural, I think, that less trustworthy, less truthful individuals will achieve more success and higher standing among peers with similar values. And that does not bode well for the Christian in secular society. I often think that the desire to succeed in professional ranks and social standing is directly correlated to one’s willingness to compromise – even compromise about the truth, sacrificing the implicit trust of others.
Ultimately then, it comes down to following God and sacrificing some measure of success in this world by being truthful and trustworthy, or becoming the “go along with anything, say whatever you need to say, and do whatever you need to do” type that so often rises through secular society. God’s guidance on this is clear. Trust Him and take the narrower, harder road even though it requires sacrifice. The crisis of trust that Mackey refers to isn’t a cause; it’s a symptom. The cause is Christians who aren’t willing to make the sacrifices that Christ demanded of His followers. It is simple disobedience and lack of Christian commitment – a story as old as Christianity itself.
What do you think?