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The Doctor Is In!

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.



Shabbat Shalom!

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.



Shalom from Tiberias!

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.



Some Churches

I hope the posts this past week did not give you the impression that I think all churches are alike. They’re not all the same. Some churches are better than others. Some churches are more biblical than others, some are more orthodox than others, some are more healthy, some are more lively, some are more on point with God’s mission — some churches are better than others.

But nobody can make those judgments by looking at the name on the sign.

Now, I’m biased, but I think Central Church of Christ is a pretty great church. We mostly support Church of Christ understandings and traditions. We uphold baptism by immersion for the forgiveness of sins, we practice a weekly Lord’s Supper, and we enjoy our acappella singing. We’ve got a vision for Christian formation and a mission to serve our city and the world that I believe comes straight from God’s Holy Spirit. This is a great church!

But some of the best ways we’re formed and some of the more significant ways we minister are in partnership with Christians from other denominations. Our “4 Amarillo” worship services and our “4 Amarillo” week of Bible block parties and outreach projects are so important. What an undeniable testimony to the saving and uniting power of God in Christ!

Two weeks ago our elders and ministers went over to Polk Street United Methodist Church to pray with their leadership. Their Senior Pastor, Burt Palmer, is moving to Houston and that church is in an anxious time of transition. So we showed up at their leadership meeting two weeks ago to put our arms around our brothers and sisters in Christ and to put our hands on them and ask our God to bless them during this transition and to bless their congregation.

When people at Polk Street want to be immersed instead of sprinkled, Burt uses our baptisty at Central. This coming Friday, one of Burt’s last acts of ministry in this city is going to be in baptizing two Methodist teenagers in our holy hot tub!

Our unity with all Christians from all stripes and traditions allows us to see and experience just how big God’s Church really is. It drives us to our knees in gratitude to God for the greatness of his salvation activity throughout our city in hundreds of different ways. Central is just one small way God is drawing people to himself. The Churches of Christ are just a tiny part of God’s enormous salvation plans.

Yes, some churches are better than others. But all churches are better when we’re together.



Bronc Busters & Sod Poodles

Our new baseball team in Amarillo received more than 3,300 suggestions in its recent “Name the Team” contest and team officials have chosen the worst five of those entries as finalists. The wind has been taken out of my baseball sails with yesterday’s news that one of these names is going to become our local team moniker:

Boot Scooters – a nod to our western heritage
Long Haulers – an homage to Route 66
Jerky – a reference to the regional beef industry
Bronc Busters – again with the western heritage
Sod Poodles – the pioneer term for prairie dog

Seriously. This is what they’ve given us. And they’re asking us to vote for one of those five names.

I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. This is so incredibly disappointing. Embarrassing.

Beef Jerky? Truck Drivers? Two-Steppers? And as God is my witness, I’ve talked to more than a dozen people who were born and raised in Amarillo and have lived here longer than 50 years and they’ve never ever heard the term “Sod Poodle.”

I like “The Yellow City Smell” over these five stinkers.

I’ve been looking forward to the new ballpark and the new team for more than three years now. Since ground broke on the brand new downtown stadium, it has felt like we’re on the verge of something special. It’s been so much fun. Yesterday morning I was in an email conversation with three friends trying to figure out how to split up a season ticket package. We were picking seats, planning to put down deposits, looking at dates. And then the news broke in the middle of our discussion and it just sucked all the air out of everything. We dropped it. We quit. It was devastating. It completely ruined my day. I’m inconsolable. I’m questioning my faith.

I was going to buy the cap and the sweatshirt, I was going to put the logo on my laptop and the back of my truck. No matter what the team name, I was going to be all in. This was going to be something we could all embrace as a community, something to be proud of, something that would represent Amarillo to the rest of the Texas League and the rest of our great state. I was looking forward to being surprised by the genius of the new name and wholeheartedly adopting it and making it my own.

I can’t get behind any of these five finalists. I can’t cast a vote for any one of them. And nobody else can, either.

The pushback against the team has been swift and enormous. Before lunch yesterday there was an on-line petition demanding the team go back to the drawing board and give us five new finalists. There were more than 5,000 signatures on it before dinner. Today’s Amarillo Globe-News contains an editorial that characterizes the names as “underwhelming.”

Some of the names mentioned in the comments section of the petition make a lot more sense than the five finalists. The Amarillo Twisters. The Tumbleweeds. Hay Makers. Slammers. Yellowjackets. Bombers. I’m actually beginning to really like Hay Makers. It can refer to a knockout punch or a dramatic development, plus, you know, we do make a lot of hay up here. I think Cow Patties makes more sense than the five finalists. I’d rather go with something plain and generic like Eagles or Bulldogs or Mustangs than any of those five.

I have a theory. I believe the team threw Sod Poodles and Jerky in there just to get people talking, to stir up some controversy and garner lots of attention. Those awful names are guaranteed to generate passion and to make all the local newscasts. Those names gin up traffic and drive folks to the website where they feel compelled to help make sure a proper name is selected. The problem is that the other three names are dogs, too. The plan has backfired. Boot Scooters and Long Haulers are just as bad as Jerky!

The only hope here is that the baseball team’s experts are right and thousands of Amarillo residents and baseball fans are wrong.

I was in the stands at the old Arlington Stadium in the summer of ’93 when the Texas Rangers announced the name of the new stadium to open in 1994 as “The Ballpark in Arlington.” Rangers P.A. man Chuck Morgan made the official announcement in between innings of a home game and it was immediately and mercilessly booed by every person in attendance. I remember Rafael Palmeiro, who was playing first base during the announcement, bending over at the knees and gut-laughing at the terrible reaction. It was awful! The Ballpark in Arlington?!? How much did they pay a consulting firm to come up with that?!? It was criticized in the press and ridiculed by the fans.

And then it somehow became magical. And traditional. And almost sacred. When the naming rights were sold in 2003 and it became Ameriquest Field, we all hated it. Most of us don’t call it Globe Life Park. It’s still The Ballpark in Arlington. Majestic.

Maybe the same thing will happen with our team name here. Maybe a couple of years from now I’m OK with wearing an Amarillo Long Haulers T-shirt or driving around with an Amarillo Boot Scooters logo on the back of my truck. Maybe.

But I’d much rather see the next five names on the list.



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