Click below for few restful moments on the shore of Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee)
Click below for few restful moments on the shore of Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee)
Eleven days in Israel with theologian/rector David Pileggi from Christ Church Jerusalem as our tour guide, our heads are certainly filled with new information and insights about the scriptures! I will save those academic thoughts for another time but wanted to share these delightful and unexpected observations. Spiritual formation is often shaped by our wanderings when we notice those simple things around us. Here are some of my observations…
1) Shabbat is cool.
Shabbat. Sabbath. Taking a break. Resting your body, releasing your responsibilities, giving others time off from work. In Hebrew, Shabbat is the word for Sabbath, and they take it very seriously in Israel, even those who are not particularly religious or pious. Shabbat begins at sundown Friday evening until the appearance of the first three stars on Saturday evening. Good wine and sweet bread are important parts of the Friday evening Shabbat meal. Blessings are given. Family. Tradition. Relationships. Cultural rhythms create stability.
Stores close. Preparations the day before were made to prevent working on Shabbat (including cooking although I heard cleaning up is often relegated to the men). Shabbat elevators automatically keep running by being set in motion before Shabbat starts. They are programmed to stop/open/close at each floor, so no one must push buttons to make them work. Even hand dryers in the bathroom have a sign saying not to use them on Shabbat. The world pauses to remember the goodness of our God and our covenant as a faithful people.
Rest. Play. Conversation. Exercise (I guess so long as it doesn’t feel like work). Since almost everything is closed during Shabbat, we took a long walk through nearby parks. It was a wonderful sight. Children and families playing, walking, dancing, chatting; groups of friends sitting around and telling stories; it was almost surreal. We were told the story of a young girl who was given permission to watch television for one hour on Shabbat. She commented, “I usually only watch about five minutes because I want to go out and play with my family.” Wow.
Shabbat. Sabbath. Ancient traditions normalized in a modern world. Pretty cool.
2) Cats got a place in the choir.
At least in the urban areas, dogs have owners and cats have territories. We only noticed one stray dog during our trip (plenty playing at the dog park under the watchful eye of their owners) while cats seemed to be spread fairly evenly across the land. I don’t remember these semi-feral cats ever being in pairs or with kittens. They seemed to have a solitary role in the fabric of Israeli society, like “Cats, we feed you scraps, we don’t harass you, we make sure you are fed but not overfed, so you take care of us by keeping the rodent population under control. Deal? Deal.”
In the ancient city of Jerusalem, with literally millions of good hiding places for disease-spreading rodents, we never even got a glimpse of one rat or mouse darting across the many streets or passageways. The feline forces were often curled up while on duty but seemed to have their own posts to guard. All God’s creatures got a place in the choir (except rodents) and Israeli cats seemed to be quite happy with their role in the pageant.
3) Children are the same everywhere.
Children laugh, chase, fall down, cry, slowly get up, hug, and start the cycle all over again, especially when other children are near. They bolt towards their parents when startled. Children misbehave. Parents respond and get embarrassed. Yet, with few exceptions, parents deeply love their children, and are often exhausted with all the matters of parenting. People are people are people although our brokenness and sin has not only separated us from God, but from those with whom we share humanity. We all feel the same range of emotions. But we all get some things right and other things wrong, and each life matters.
Regardless if one is a Jew, Christian, Muslim, Druze, Agnostic or Atheists; Liberal, Reformed, Conservative, Hasidic; from every tribe, nation, and language on earth, all people, every family looks remarkably the same in terms of the stresses of daily life. Again, and again, I was reminded of our common experience of humanity, whether in the airport, hotel, restaurant, grocery store, park, or just pushing a stroller down the street with another child in tow.
Cultures, religions, and societies certainly differ, but at the core of our faith is a love for others, even with those we differ including our perceived enemies as Jesus commands us. We need this simple recognition of our common experience. Others love their children just as we love our children. They grieve when a child is sick or dies, just as we do. They have dreams and hopes just as we do. Realizing this commonality is a small start towards a more just world.
Jesus taught, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” Matthew 5:43-45
4) Kibbutzim (plural of Kibbutz) have adapted.
A Kibbutz is a uniquely Israeli/Jewish model for collective settlement and safety. The Kibbutz is an intentional community, often connected with agriculture but not always. They collectively produce work/income for the members. We stayed in a very nice conference center on the southern edge of Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee) owned by a Kibbutz. One of the leaders of the Kibbutz provided a tour. The compound was very nice with housing, a grocery store, schools, collective laundry, and sheltered areas for times of war or rocket attacks. The community had about 150 voting members and over 300 people including children.
In 1948, when Israel was being re-established, many of the new citizens were coming from the Russia and other countries where collectivism and socialism was standard. The Jewish people have a long history of clustering together throughout diaspora – being scattered among other countries as refugees. The Kibbutz was a natural way to survive and ultimately, thrive. Everyone shared equally in the work and benefits of the community. Major decisions are made by vote.
I first learned about the Kibbutz concept as a teenager and found myself fascinated by the concept of shared possessions and tasks. After I became a follower of Jesus, several of us took a deep dive into what it means to be part of a “Christian Community” where we share assets and a common mission. Koinonia as experienced by the early church in Acts. This was the first time I saw a Kibbutz “up close and personal”.
What struck me about this experience? Kibbutzim in the first generation (at least this one) were strictly “all things in common” while over the following generations, they gravitated towards individual ownership as younger generations became less committed to the common identity. This reflects a worldwide shift towards individualism, capitalism, materialism, and placing the individual above the community. These “isms” often have a dark side: selfishness, greed, pride, and decreasing concern for the needs of others. What do we have the right to decide for ourselves verses what is ultimately decided by a higher authority? Orthodoxy is yielding to the biblical and traditional authority. Comfort seems to be the soil in which egocentrism grows.
Being part of a community (primarily the church) helps keep our individualism in check. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:23-25
5) Rough places teach character.
Rev. David Pileggi, our erudite tour guide, asks the question, “Why do you think God gave this barren, strip of land full of rugged wilderness—through which major armies of other countries would march, pillage, and destroy over thousands of years—to a people he calls His Chosen?”
Several of us knew part of the answer, “Being at this crossroads of the ancient world allowed for the spread of the gospel.”
“What else?” David asked.
The answer didn’t come to my mind although others may have known.
David paused and said, “The barrenness and vulnerability of the land required God’s people to depend on him.”
The rough spots, those things that we don’t want to do, the fear and uncertainty of life, the threats and enemies of God, all serve a purpose. The Jewish people are our exemplars. They remind us that we are never alone. Come what may, God is with us.
We stand on the shoulders of a brave, resilient, and faithful people who carry ancient traditions into many cultures, in many place, over thousands of years. Through Jesus, we are grafted on to their blessing, and a blessing to be a blessing. This only comes by living and going into rough places. As Isaiah the prophet proclaimed and John the baptizer quoted, “A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Isaiah 40:3.
We too smooth out the rough spots to prepare a way for the Lord.
“Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” Deuteronomy 8:17-18
Note: I have five more observations from our trip but wanted to ponder them some more first. On our trip, we learned a ton about biblical history and archaeology. So far, we’ve even dodged the COVID-19 virus! Israel is the heartbeat of three major religions of the world. As a followers of Jesus, our lives were changed by this experience as we saw history right before our eyes. I hope you too have the opportunity to visit the Holy Land. Shalom.
THE GENERAL THANKSGIVING
ACNA Book of Common Prayer 2019
Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks
for all your goodness and loving-kindness
to us and to all whom you have made.
We bless you for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for your immeasurable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ;
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies,
that with truly thankful hearts
we may show forth your praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up our selves to your service,
and by walking before you
in holiness and righteousness all our days;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.
What others are saying about DEAFCHURCH 21: Vision for a New Generation
Jesus used “sign” language to reach people who were deaf to the gospel. He changed water to wine, fed the multitudes, and raised the dead to life. In DEAFCHURCH 21, Drs. Ayres and McClain explore the meaning of “signing” the gospel in the secular age. We hear first from those whose passion is to love the Deaf community with the good news of Jesus Christ. We are given a seat at the table for a lively discussion on the issues facing an effective and faithful ministry to the Deaf world. The authors face the challenges with honesty and hope, and develop a dynamic theology of ministry that takes the example of Jesus and the early church seriously. When Jesus said, “Whoever has ears, let them hear,” he wasn’t talking about sound waves; he was talking about the gospel. DEAFCHURCH 21 is a clarion call to wisdom and to action.
Dr. Doug Webster
Professor, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University
Have you ever been pulled into a social media conversational thread because…well, you couldn’t resist? That’s the sense I had as I began reading DEAFCHURCH 21. The authenticity of the dialogue reminded me of how attracted I am to people who ‘keep it real’ – and how certain I am that faithful pointing to Jesus Christ in a world gone wacky may have more to do with our posture than our proclamations. Deaf believers are legitimately a distinct culture. This book’s discussion is a gift from marginalized brothers and sisters in Christ that can encourage us all.
Dr. Dave Rahn
Sr. Ministry Advisor, Youth For Christ USA
DEAFCHURCH 21: Vision for a New Generation explores both the Missio and Communio components of ministry with, for and by persons who are Deaf. Embracing the contemporary challenges of our intensely secularized society, the authors have provided a resource for current and future pastoral workers in Deaf ministry to explore and reflect on how to best support Deaf persons through their spiritual faith journeys, both in our own faith traditions and collaboratively from an interfaith perspective. A “must read” for those called to leadership in the Deaf Church. An inspiring invitation to encounter and accompany!
Mary O’Meara, Executive Director
Department of Special Needs Ministry, Archdiocese of Washington, DC
Drs. Ayres and McClain have written a must-read primer for anyone considering the Deaf Ministry. As a Deaf educator who teaches ASL and Deaf Culture at the University level and has been part of the Deaf ministries in different denominations, I agree that ‘the sacred assembly across the ages has been one of helping to recognize, and even helping to usher in, the Kingdom of God.’ And see this quote as a metaphor of how it’s necessary for Deaf ministry to come together to partake in a spiritual quest to find God. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to educate themselves on Deaf ministry priorities and challenges.
Stephen J. Hardy, II,
ASL Lecturer at the University of Florida
The most successful Deaf Churches/Ministries, for decades, have been generational churches, often not affecting the generation prior nor just after their own. Historically, as congregational members age and die—so does the work. DEAFCHURCH 21: Vision for a New Generation both academically and spiritually recognizes, addresses, and challenges these well-worn trends. The text is a clarion call for young Deaf men and women who are born again and led by the Spirit to respond to the Spirit’s wooing to reach beyond generational margins into the Deaf Community with the purity of Christ’s message of hope and healing. This is definitely a good read for all and worthy of use in academic settings.
Dr. JoAnn L. Smith,
Director, University of Valley Forge Deaf Ministry Program
Much like a trip to my local optometrist, DEAFCHURCH 21 thoughtfully and boldly adjusted the lens of my soul to see with clarity the issues and opportunities that face the Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities across our country. I felt a deepening conviction, even as the power of the transformational message of Christ was amplified. This is a call to action: One that the church of Jesus Christ must honor. While the lens of my soul is now calibrated to see the problem in a fresh way, so is the clarity of hope that comes when followers of Jesus live into their calling.
President/CEO, Youth For Christ USA
Grounded in strong scriptural understanding and sound theological doctrine (both provide a firm foundation for ministry) and infused with real-life examples directly from online and face-to-face focus groups, DEAFCHURCH 21: Vision for a New Generation presents a blueprint for successful Deaf ministry. Ayres and McClain tell this story as only people experienced in cultural understanding and grounded in authentic faith can tell.
Ben A. Sharpton
novelist, educator, minister
Having been part of a variety of Deaf ministries and churches for roughly 30 years, I have witnessed the birth of some, joined some in the middle of their growth, and sadly, seen others end. This book resonated with my experiences of what works and what doesn’t. What Bob and Rick present here comes from sound wisdom and the Holy Spirit’s guidance. The authors have reflected well our Lord’s desire for Deaf people of all backgrounds to come and know Him. This book is an excellent tool to spur deep reflection if you desire to form a Deaf Church in this century.
Teacher, Trainer, Youth Leader
Unlike historic efforts in this area, the authors draw on Deaf voices, as well as experienced Deaf and hearing church leaders, to identify historic failures of such ministries. Courageously, the authors address historic issues of oppression, empowerment, and the need to embrace the marginalized. Their challenge is rooted firmly in Biblical truths for achieving God’s vision for Deaf Ekklesia. This text is an inspired “Vision for a new Generation”—must reading for anyone currently involved in Deaf ministry or thinking of setting up an outreach to members of the Deaf community.
Dr. Jan Humphrey
Educator, Ministry Leader, Certified Interpreter-Canada & US
Author of So You Want to Be an Interpreter
If you are looking for a prescriptive model for what a Deaf church should look like, you won’t find it here. What you will find are thought provoking discussions to stimulate further thought about the unique challenges and opportunities of Deaf churches. One sentence in the book sums it up: ‘The calling for the Deaf church is twofold: renewal of a faithful, biblical understanding of what it means to be the church in general and a specific commitment of the distinctiveness of a linguistic and cultural ministry to the Deaf community.’
Terri Chapman, Director
SIL International Global Sign Languages Team
Whether you are in the ministry, an educator working with the Deaf, or are a Church historian, DEAFCHURCH 21 offers readers a unique perspective on the historical contributions of the Church that have almost been forgotten. The book superbly succeeds in highlighting the Church’s role in shaping today’s Deaf culture, their understanding of spirituality, and identity within society. By means of social media, the authors capture the current challenges Deaf individuals in the Deaf Church community face on a daily basis. Furthermore, the book’s structure allows for further thought and discussion at the end of each section and serves well as a course textbook.
Sharon M. DiFino, PhD, CCC-SLP
Clinical Assistant Professor, Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, UF
Students have touted Deaf Diaspora: The Third Wave of Deaf Ministry as one of the most influential books of their college studies. It is therefore thrilling to anticipate the effect this book will have on those in current and future ministry with Deaf people. It is a thorough and essential call to all who are involved with Deaf outreach, to keep the gospel of Christ central. The principles and values apply to both Deaf and Hearing Christians, and the collaborative effort to create a framework for application is a glorious glimpse of the Church carrying out Christ’s mission.
Alta Johnson, Adjunct Professor,
ASL and Deaf Culture, Moody Bible Institute
If God had ever said to me, “Bob, I can either give you a million dollars or let you be part of the instructional staff at the University of Florida, you choose.” … I would have replied, “Who needs that much money? Go Gators!”
As someone who grew up in Gainesville, earned my undergraduate degree in education at UF, and walked around the campus of UF with Kathy on our first date, I never dared dream that one day, I would sport a UF nametag and have at least some influence on the education of 240 students who refer to me as “Dr. Ayres”.
You can recognize me on campus as the old guy with a backpack, riding an orange, electric bicycle and with a somewhat giddy smile of amazement on his face.
In my head, I’m saying to God: Lord, I just cannot believe you opened this door for me to be on this campus! I get to instruct some of the smartest, most motivated young people on the planet. Certainly, I can now die a happy man (though hopefully not anytime soon). Riding a bicycle through masses of cars, bikes, scooters, skateboards and anything with at least one wheel—the most daunting, are the drivers with one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding a smartphone—these things often bring me much closer to Jesus than I anticipated.
Yet God’s favorite word seems to be, “Surprise!”
Now, for the reality check: it is only fifteen hours a week, provides occasional opportunities to teach, and is not a permanent position. I have other things God is calling me to do so I may or may not apply for a full-time position. Yet this experience is the fulfillment a young boy’s dream and satisfaction for an old man’s ego to bear the title: Adjunct Lecturer – University of Florida.
My parents have passed away, but they would be so proud. Both were career educators (graduates of UF) and Dad taught at the college level for a couple of decades. He loved going to graduations (which I certainly do not) and he was always advising undergrad students to major in math. Dad would often remark, “You can succeed in any profession, if you major in math.” Mom was our greatest encourager and believed that her kids could anything with enough time and effort.
Isn’t it funny, that at 63 years old, even with both parents gone, I still want to make them proud. By the way, I didn’t major in math… which may explain why an offer of a million dollars from God wouldn’t hold that much sway for me.
The point of this blog (besides sharing my exuberance) is to pay attention to the blessings of today. Never have so many, had so much, for so long. Pause from stressful distractions in life to pause, breathe, look into the eyes of your loved ones (both two and four-legged ones), pick up a good book, or just ponder the gifts in your life. They embrace us.
In fact, I bet you could name half a dozen really cool things in your life right now! For one, you are God’s precious creation and he is good, all the time. One of my colleagues says that God “winks” at us sometimes to remind us of all the good things in life.
Join me in taking a moment and notice something good in your life. Look around. They are right there; somewhere in your heart, mind, or line-of-sight.
As God winked and said, “Surprise!”
I responded, “Go Gators!”
O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!
In the frantic nature of our current day society, we can become easily overwhelmed with a sense of go, Go, GO! Far too often, we fall into the trap of thinking “more is better” in our busy schedules, as though the world depends on us. Sometimes busyness masks control issues which are expressions of deeper trust issues. When we pause, and slow down enough to recognize that God is already working—inside us, through us, and around us—we can more intentionally and calmly reflect this loving and all-powerful God in our thoughts, words, and deeds.
Is life intended to be a race towards some human-conceived goals? Or should we spend more time strolling in the park, holding the hand of our heavenly Father, in a deep, child-like desire to please him? The scripture shows God is most focused on the state of our hearts. He simply calls us to be faithful and pay attention to what is around us.
We serve a God who is often revealed in silence. The prophet Elijah heard God in the “sound of a whisper” following the flurry of strong wind that shatters rocks, rattling earthquake, and scorching fire. Psalm 46:10 reminds us to “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” John 15 takes us deeply into the importance of a life of abiding. Jesus often withdrew to the solitude of the desert for undistracted prayer. Regular prayer is not about “trying harder” but creating space by clearing our minds. God initiates. We respond.
God can transform our busy, broken lives into new and beautiful creations. Success is not necessarily a by-product of faithfulness. God exists in our failures, too. His primary call is for caring relationships, regardless of what the day brings.
So today as you start your day with more on your “To Do” list than can possibly be accomplished, pause and remember God’s presence. We cannot work our way into his favor; we are fully accepted by his grace. We cannot be good enough to earn his love; he already loves us. We can try to push him away from our thoughts, but he already knows them… and his grace is sufficient.
Let’s choose to respond, by recognizing our need, and his provision provided through the cross. Now is the time to enjoy a relationship with the Creator who knows our deepest, most painful secrets, yet passionately loves us so completely. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!” Yes, lots to do today! What a gift.
Lord, you have examined my heart. You know my thoughts. You know everything I am going to pray before I pray it. Yet you wait expectantly for me as a parent waits for a distracted child to notice a gentle smile. Help me do no less, nor any more, than you want me to today. AMEN
City of Pah! Devos for Those in the World of Deaf/HH Teens (A&M Books, not yet released) by Bob Ayres with contributions from friends & colleagues