Bradd Morgan grabbed me on the way to the bus leaving the waterfalls of En Gedi. The news he had for me was so unbelievably and surprisingly wonderful, I almost got emotional. I’m getting a little emotional typing this right now.
Yesterday morning eight of us climbed the ancient Snake Path up the face of Masada in the Negev Desert. Bradd and I almost died together on that rock. We finished the climb in about 50-minutes, but it was brutal. Reagan Crossnoe told both of us at the top that neither of us will have to take a stress test for the next five years. We passed, but barely.
The weather here in Israel is like it is almost everywhere: about 15 degrees hotter than normal. The highs every day since we arrived have been in the 100s. And even after soaking our feet in the pools under David’s Fall, I was still extremely hot and dry and thirsty. And Bradd says to me, “Hey, they’ve got Dr Pepper in the gift shop.”
He said it casually. Almost a little too casually. So much so that I wasn’t exactly sure what he had said. So I asked, “What?” And he said it again, “There’s Dr Pepper in that gift shop.”
And I thought, “Don’t lie to me now, Bradd. Don’t be messing with me right now, brother. Don’t lie to me. Because if you’re lying to me, well, you know, you and I won’t be able to be friends anymore.”
He wasn’t lying.
They were ice cold, I mean freezing cold, way in the back of the cooler. Twelve shekels each. I grabbed four. And Valerie and I were good all the way to Qumran.
It means, “Let’s go!” in Hebrew. “Yala!” And we hear it a hundred times a day in Israel from our wonderful tour guide Anton and our super-skilled bus driver Gesan. We’ve arrived at our destination, “Yala!” It’s time to load up and go to the next place, “Yala!” We’ve conducted the head count, we’re all here, “Yala!” We’re running behind on our schedule, “Yala!” And by now, day three of our sight-seeing tour in Israel, we’re all saying it. For everything. It’s time for the meeting, “Yala!” I’m going back for more dessert, “Yala!”
I may write more about our bus driver later, but I’ll give you this now: Our Lord said it was impossible for a man to drive a camel through a needle; but that was before he met Gesan.
We began our day with a treacherous ride in three taxis to the top of Mount Tabor, the supposed site of Jesus’ transfiguration. I’m increasingly convinced of the authenticity of this place as the true location of the divine revelation of Jesus with Moses and Elijah. Both historical and traditional evidence keeps rolling in. We scoped out the walls of the fourth century church and the baptistry that was built there and toured the current Franciscan church that was erected there in 1921.
We also spent some time in Nazareth, ate a picnic lunch under ancient olive trees at Sepphoris, and hit the ruins of Chorazin, the fishing village on the north side of the Sea of Galilee that Jesus famously condemned.
Because today is Sabbath, the roads were mostly empty and we had the sites mainly to ourselves. Of course, that also means the little store next door to our hotel is closed so I can’t find any caffeine. But we had another great day in Israel. We leave the region of Galilee tomorrow for the Negev Desert where, hopefully, it’ll be a little cooler than the 105 and 107-degree days we’ve had up here.
The Sabbath has begun in Tiberias and we are avoiding the far left elevator at our hotel on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. Day Two of our sight-seeing is under our belts and I’m posting pictures here as fast as I’m able. As you know, you can click on the pic for the full size and click again to really blow it up.
We began the day at the Church of the Beatitudes on the north side of the Lake and then made our way north to the ancient city of Dan where Jeroboam constructed his ill-advised high place. We spent a great morning hiking the trails along the headwaters of the Jordan River on the way to one of my favorite sites, Caesarea-Philippi, where Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah, Son of the Living God.
We also toured the remains of King Agrippa’s palace and government buildings and drove through the middle of the Golan Heights.
Then we giggled as Anton pronounced Jesus’ hometown as Ca-FER-na-Hoom! And we wrapped up the day with a windy boat tour around a choppy Sea of Galilee.
Dale is spoiling Valerie rotten, buying her ice cream bars after every lunch. And Anton says she has a happy face. She does.
We are at the end of Day One of our ten-day tour of Israel — slightly sunburned, almost exhausted, and more than ready to tackle all that Day Two promises to provide. I’m mainly just going to post pictures here for the next week or so; there’s too much going on to do any deep reflecting in this space right now. As always, just click on the picture to get the full size and click on it a second time to blow it up. Just know that we’ve got a great group — 18 from Amarillo (Brice and Becky are from Amarillo, NOT California), 8 from Colorado, and 2 from Tennessee — and we’re having a blast.
We began our day at Herod’s palace and government center at Caesarea on the Sea, taking in the massive theater and hippodrome, the palace and swimming pool, the Byzantine and Crusader structures, and the eight-mile aqueduct from Mt. Carmel. Then we drove the eight miles to see the site where our God sent fire to burn up Elijah’s soaking wet altar, ate lunch at a Druze restaurant on the way down, walked around Megiddo, the traditional site of the final war between good and evil, and spent some time at the Church of the First Miracle in Cana.
Our middle daughter, Valerie, is here with me in Israel — first ever trip over here for her. So, as you can imagine, a lot of the pictures you see here over the next several days are going to feature her. What a great blessing it is to share this wonderful land and its inspirational sites with her!
Now we’re in our hotel in Tiberias, right on the west banks of the Sea of Galilee! We’ve had a nice dinner, some of us have strolled the boardwalk by the lake and had some ice cream, and now we’re getting ready to turn in.
No late night Dr Pepper for a while. No Mexican food or Seinfeld or cell phone calls or texts. But it was 104-degrees today, the wind was blowing at 35-miles-per-hour, and it’s dusty. It still feels like home.
Troy “Big Daddy” Cullum’s funeral was today at Central and I was triply blessed.
One, I was so honored to give the eulogy. Any time I’m asked to do a memorial service, it’s a tremendous privilege. It’s one of the great blessings in being a congregational minister. People invite you in to their most sacred moments — the births of babies, the deaths of loved ones, the victories and tragedies. We preachers stand in places most people never get to: those places where heaven and earth meet, those places where God’s presence is thick, those places where our Lord comes to be with his people. It’s an honor and an affirmation. It’s holy.
Two, I was thrilled to re-connect with so many great people I went to school with at old Dallas Christian. “Big Daddy” had maintained close friendships with some of the best men and women ever turned out by DC and a bunch of them came up here for the service. Kyle Douthit, Todd Denton, Brian Crisp, Darla Dunn, Mike Shelton, Darby Doan, Clay Dillard, and Micah Goodspeed — oh, my word! Other than seeing Darla at a Great Cities Missions fundraiser one time about four years ago, I’m sure I haven’t seen any of these folks since 1985! What a great joy to talk about Coach T and Coach Richmond and Mrs. Sorrells and old friends, to make those re-connections with people who know the same people I know, who know the same stories I know. What a gift from God to realize that he has been involved with all of these people for the past 33 years. We’ve all been on different paths in different places, we’ve had different experiences and different ups and downs, but our Lord is faithful to carry us forward in the ways that are best. We are all characters in the same eternal narrative. It’s comforting. It’s warming. It’s good to be reminded that our God is at work in and through everybody for his great purposes.
And, three, I was so blessed to see our church come together in powerful ways to minister to the Cullums. Shane and Doug are there for Troy’s son, T. J. Mary and Sara and Jamie are there for Berkley. Mindy and Robin are there for Morgan. Huddle leaders and class teachers and Sticky Buddies and elders and Becky Nordyke’s gang of church ladies and our amazing church staff, all jumping in this week to love and encourage, to comfort and minister.
Nobody wanted this funeral today. Nobody was prepared for this. It’s awful.
And, yeah, it’s also kind of beautiful.
Troy’s sudden death Sunday morning leaves a heavy void that’s going to take a long time to heal. But he also leaves a lasting legacy for his family and friends — a brilliant and shining example of a life well-lived in Christ Jesus for the sake of others.
May God bless Troy’s family. May God receive his servant “Big Daddy” into his faithful arms. And may God bless all of us with the strength and faith and confidence that he is able to keep whatever we trust to him until that big day.
Forty years ago this summer the Texxas World Music Festival, more commonly known as the Texxas Jam, brought together eleven bands — Van Halen, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Heart, Journey, and Eddie Money among them — to perform in the first of what became the largest and longest running outdoor concert series in world history. The Texxas Jam ran for eleven years at the historic Cotton Bowl and I was there on the 120-degree floor of that stadium with over 100,000 people for the final four.
The Texxas Jam is where I learned to love rock and roll concerts. It’s where I first saw The Motor City Madman swing from a cable onto the stage wearing nothing but a loin cloth and totally command the stadium for over an hour. It’s where I saw Bon Jovi perform at 11:00 in the morning when their only hit was “Runaway.” I was there when Deep Purple did “Smoke on the Water” and Boston played every cut from their “Third Stage” album in order. I saw Sammy Hagar completely lose his voice and Van Halen’s bass player Michael Anthony step up and sing Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” I saw Eddie play “Eruption.” Live. Twice. The Scorpions, Night Ranger, and Loverboy. Bachman Turner Overdrive, Whitesnake, and Poison.
The concerts are legendary. Heat strokes and fire hoses. Surprise appearances by Nugent and Hagar. The Eagles protesting weather conditions and the rough accommodations for an hour before finally taking the stage. Blown amps and stolen guitars. Fifteen hours of wall-to-wall rock and roll from some of the biggest bands in music history. There was nothing like it before and nothing like it since.
So, I was immediately interested when a chat box popped up on the sidebar of my KZEW – Vokal screen a few weeks ago advertising a 40th anniversary Texxas Jam Tribute concert at the Texas Music Museum in Irving. It was being billed as a two-day event with Texxas Jam memorabilia, documentaries, guitar contests, and several tribute bands playing the actual sets from those famous concerts. I contacted my brother Keith in Austin and we quickly decided we would buy our tickets and meet in Dallas to experience the event together.
Then the venue changed to the Longhorn Ballroom in downtown Dallas. It went from a two-day event to a one-day deal. The Heart tribute band cancelled. I contacted the promoter by email and he assured me everything was good. Their website promised “more surprises,” which gave me a great deal of pause, but the tickets were purchased, the plans had been made, and we pressed on.
We showed up Saturday at just after 12:00 noon. There were only eight or nine cars in the parking lot. And it was way too quiet. And weird. No documentaries. No memorabilia. No crowd. Keith and I felt like we had crashed a Vokal staff party. We were the only ones there who weren’t working for the show or related to members of the bands. The MC came over to us and introduced himself personally — we stood out that much! The MC was never certain of the lineup. He read fun facts about the Longhorn Ballroom from a page he printed off the internet. They thanked sponsors and touted the food truck and jewelry booth like we were at a small town arts and crafts fair. And nobody showed up.
Seven guys participated in the Eddie Van Halen guitar-playing contest which was basically a showcase of seven different ways to get into and out of “Eruption.” At one point one of the contestants flicked his guitar pick at us in the audience and it was so quiet in there we heard the pick hit the wood floor! It bounced within about 24-inches of my feet and nobody made a move. That pick just laid there on the floor for almost a minute before somebody to my right mercifully walked over to retrieve it. After they announced the winner, with all seven contestants still standing on the stage, the MC said “Hopefully we’ll do this again next year and it’ll be better.” Seriously.
During the Joan Jett tribute concert the band dropped the instruments and mics for the audience to sing the chorus to “I Love Rock and Roll!” and it was dead silence. It was incredible! The first words the MC said after the Joan Jett show were, “Now back to the tamales,” referencing the food truck he was talking about before the set.
We were took. Big time. I feel like a huge sucker. The promoter tried to make up to us by giving us free replica concert posters from the inaugural ’78 Jam. I took one and, yeah, it’s hanging up in my garage right now.
I made the drive and spent the time and money because I wanted to see the documentaries and the memorabilia. I wanted to be reminded of some of those really fun and free and wild moments from my youth, I guess. I wanted to watch the interviews and hear the stories and see the history. The last thing I would have ever done is drive more than six-hours one way to listen to some cover bands. Give me a break.
But the bands were actually really good, especially the Van Halen and Whitesnake tribute bands, VHX and Sinners and Saints. I actually enjoyed it much more than I thought I would — it was quite a surprise. Their music was crisp and clean and to-the-note exactly like the studio sound of the records. The lead singers have worked a long time to perfect the look, the voice, the mannerisms, and the stage quirks of David Lee Roth and David Coverdale. If you squinted your eyes and let your imagination go just a bit, these guys looked and sounded just like the bands I saw in my youth. And, as Keith mentioned a couple of times, where else are you going to hear these great songs performed live like this? Van Halen will never sing “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” with that same lineup from ’78 – ’85. Whitesnake is not doing “Here I Go Again” with Coverdale. This is it.
And it worked. For a brief moment, as insanely lame as most of it was, it worked to remind us why we love electric guitars and a driving beat. It was not a totally wasted day.