Sunday, June 25, 2017


The world-wide flood that the Bible teaches took place during the days of Noah is one of those stories that is so fantastically extraordinary that I think that most people in these days do not believe it actually happened. Even some people who believe the Bible have serious doubts about the literal interpretation of the events as they are described in the Scriptures.

This sermon is not intended to be an argument for or against any opinion, but because people are often so passionate about this subject, one can hardly speak on it without addressing some of the geological and hydrological, as well as a couple other aspects of the flood.

Broadly speaking, although I acknowledge that there may be some allegorical language used when describing the events on the flood of Noah’s time, I still accept the events as described as being true. One does not need to be an intellectual Neanderthal to hold to this view, and if you care to do some research, there are some good resources available.

I would first like to address two questions rather briefly so that I can move on to the real topic of this sermon. The first of the two questions is this: Where did all the water come from so that the entire earth could be flooded? And the second question is: How is it possible that one pair of every kind of animal, including the dinosaurs, could fit on the ark?

Water, Water Everywhere

Because the amount of water needed to cover the entire surface of the planet is so great, many people believe that the flood did not literally inundate the entire planet, but was a flood that may indeed have been great, but perhaps limited to the local area surrounding that region. To Noah, it would have seemed like the whole earth had been covered by water, but if there had been astronauts circling the globe at that time, they would have radioed back to Houston that most of the planet still has large regions of dry ground (probably Houston would not have been one of these areas).

It is a rather small matter to me and it is perhaps possible that the flood was limited to the region of Noah’s neighborhood, but the account does say that “all the high mountains under the heaven were covered.”[1] Because of the wording here, I would say that a fair reading would say that the text means to imply that the flood was indeed world-wide.

Fountains and Windows

Then where did all he water come from and where did it go afterwards? Let’s look closely at the account of the initiation of the flood itself:

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights. (Genesis 7:11-12 ESV)

The text speaks of the waters of the flood having two sources: “the fountains of the deep” and “the windows of the heavens.”

At the time of Noah, the formation of the earth was still in its early stages, and I believe that the geology of the planet was probably much different. The difference could have been that there were no great oceans at that time, and much of the volume of the water of the planet was locked up in great aquifers underneath the surface of the ground.

Also, the topography of the landscape may not have been so irregular as it is today. In this age, the earth has very high mountains and very deep valleys. In Noah’s day, the land surface must not have been entirely flat, since the text tells us that during the flood, even the “high mountains” were covered, but perhaps the mountains may not have been as high as they are today. More on this in a moment.

When the flood began, these gigantic aquifers burst forth as the “fountains of the deep.” The huge volume of water they contained surged up out of the ground in great quantities. I conjecture that this was because the crust of the earth began to break up, causing what we today know as the tectonic plates. The breaking up of the crust triggered great movements in the continental land masses, causing them to collide with one another at places, and forming great mountain ranges. Also, the outpouring of these waters must have been so violent that the surface of the ground was eroded and altered rapidly and significantly, forming deep canyons and gullies.

This was the first source of the water for the flood. The second source of the water was “the windows of heaven,” which were opened to allow the rain to fall for forty days and forty nights. Concerning this, many people believe that at the time before the flood, the earth had a huge canopy of water-bearing ice crystals that encased the entire planet. The theory, in fact, is called the “Canopy Theory.” At the initiation of the flood, this canopy began to collapse, causing great quantities of water to fall for many continuous days, forty in all.

These are just ideas, that’s all. I am sure that any actual geologist would scoff at my explanation for its simplicity, and I grant that all this is conjecture, nevertheless, I do believe that the earth went through some violent changes during the days of the flood.

Then Who Pulled the Plug in the Bathtub?

“But if this be so,” you may ask, “what happened then to all this water?” Let’s again look at the text concerning the end of the flood:

The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually. At the end of 150 days the waters had abated (Genesis 8:2-3 ESV)

We can see that the text tells us that “the waters receded for the earth,” and that they “abated.” Where did they go?

One idea (and one that I agree with) is that when the “fountains of the deep burst forth,” it was because the crust of the earth began to collapse in certain areas, such as in the Pacific and the Atlantic basin. The waters that had once been confined to aquifers burst onto the land. When the crust had reached its limit in its collapse, the water that at first had rushed forth out of the aquifers, now began to recede back into these areas of depression, causing the great oceans. As I mentioned a moment ago, another result of these catastrophic events may have been that some of our great mountain ranges were pushed up the continental movements.

All this also involves much conjecture, but it is conjecture that is at least allowed by the text. Also, if you care to investigate further, it is also allowed by what we know of the geological history of the earth.

And there is also this: whatever you choose to accept or not to accept concerning the flood, everything is merely conjecture. We were not there to see it. At least with the flood of Noah, we have an ancient written record that is found not only in the Bible, but in some modified ways, is also found in the history of other traditions around the world. It seems clear at least to me that something extremely and fantastically extraordinary happened at that time.

The Floating Zoo

Then how was it possible for Noah to fit at least one pair of every species on the ark? Estimates of the number of species on the earth today range from two to fifty million! Noah’s boat may have been massive, but not that massive!

First of all, I need to mention the dinosaurs fitting on the ark. The ark may have been huge, but as we know from their fossils, dinosaurs would have taken up a lot of space! Besides this, what about feeding them?

Don’t you think it would have made sense for God not to send full-grown specimens of the dinosaurs, or even any large animal? Young specimens would certainly take up less room, and would not eat as much (unless they were teen-aged specimens). Perhaps all of the animals were young, regardless if they were large or small animals in their adulthood. This also makes practical sense, since young animals would have more reproductive years ahead of them in order to repopulate the earth.

Second, we need to clarify what is meant by the words species. Generally, this word is used to describe a group of animals similar enough genetically to be able to interbreed and produce viable and fertile offspring. For instance, two types of cows can do this, but not a horse and a cow. This also is a simple definition and some may have a few nuances that they would like to add, but we will go with this for now.

I also need to make a distinction concerning degrees in evolution. Thanks to our educational system, evolution has become the new truth in our society, and the fact that God created every kind of animal is largely put down to religious myth. But by believing in creationism by God does not mean that one must completely discount any changes at all that may occur in succeeding generations of animals.

The classification system that we use today and by which we categorize the animal kingdom into “families” and “species,” as well as the other divisions, was largely developed by the Swedish botanist and zoologist Carolus Linnaeus in the eighteenth century. The Bible did not use this system, since it was written much earlier. The Bible speaks mainly of animals in “kinds.”[2] It is quite apparent from chapters such as Leviticus 11, that the created “kinds” is a much broader classification than our present-day classification of “species.”

Thus, beginning with the fact that we are dealing with unlike terms of animal classification, and then added to this the largely dogmatic acceptance by many people of evolution, along with their unqualified denial of any type of creation, we can see that this is a discussion that gets long and ugly. That is not what I want to do here. I have something more important to talk about. That subject is the man named Noah – an astounding and admirable individual. He was not perfect by any means, but he has much to teach us.

The Age of Wickedness

The assessment of the state of the world during the days of Noah is given to us in Genesis chapter six, verse five: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

We do not know what it would have been like to live in such a depraved society. In our society today, even the most hardened criminal, if he is not pathological in some sense, has at least a spark of goodness in him. There is something within him that calls him to greater decency, and to which, if we only knew the path to reach that higher part of his personality, we could appeal for reformation.

But evil does not arise only from criminality against society. Wickedness can come even from within the society itself. When the virtues and the standards of morality of a society as a whole have degraded sufficiently, the civilization itself is one of wickedness.

This apparently was the case in the days of Noah. I do not know if the writer of Genesis could have used any more extreme invectives than he did: “Every intention of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually.” The people of Noah’s day had descended so far into wickedness that there apparently was no hope of reform.

Listen to what the writer’s commentary was of the society of that day: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”[3]

The world was violent in Noah’s day; that much is clear from the statement. But did you notice that another word appeared in this sentence? The word is the word “corrupt.” The word in Hebrew is shachath. It appears almost 150 times in the Old Testament and is translated in various ways: destroyed, harmed, marred, ravaged, spoiled, wasted, corrupted, and other ways as well.

The central idea is something that is brought to ruin. The earth had been brought to ruin.

After the first mention of this corruption, this fact is repeated a second time in this passage: “And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt.” It was as if at the first time God saw the corruptness of the earth, he did nothing concerning judgment, in order to give the people of the earth time to correct their ways.

In truth, this is exactly the point that Peter later brought up in the New Testament. “The patience of God was kept waiting in the days of Noah,” Peter said.[4]
This was especially true during the construction of the ark. The building of the ark was a massive building project, and as far as we know, only Noah and his three sons were the carpenters. It took them many years to build the ark. Those who have done the math say that it may have taken between forty and one hundred years to complete the construction.

Peter also called Noah a preacher of righteousness.[5] During all of the years in which he was building the ark, Noah told the people of the great flood as a judgment on their wickedness that was coming. Of course they did not listen. Surely they mocked Noah and his family all of those years. They did not believe that God could send such a great quantity of water that the entire earth would be flooded. That is, if there was a God.

“I Am Sorry that I Made Man”

But indeed, there was a God, and we read that he came to regret that he had made man on the earth. “It grieved him to his heart,” the text tells us.

The Lord then went on to say “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”[6]

These words are problematic to some people. They are bothered by the fact that God could come to such a place where he would say that he was sorry he had created these things. “Isn’t he God?” they ask. “Why didn’t he do it right in the first place?”

But these words are not troublesome to me. Well… I should clarify that a little. They are indeed troublesome in the sense that the world had descended into such a wicked condition that God had to say this. However, the fact that it was possible for God to come to a place of such great regret so that he thought that he had to make a new beginning – the fact that there is this possibility is not troublesome to me.

Of course God could have made a first creation that functioned perfectly, one that was like a fine running machine. It would have been like you or I having a car that was perfect in every way. Imagine a car company that made automobiles that never broke down or even deteriorated in any way. You never had to change the oil and the tires never wore out. It never got dirty and even forever kept that new car smell!

I have to admit that it sounds great, and I also have to admit that some people identify so closely with their car or truck that it is almost a part of them. They seem almost to have a love affair with their vehicle. But no matter what they think, that new car can never love them back. It is a machine. It does not choose to function perfectly just because it loves you and wants to please you. It has to function in this way! It has no will of its own.

God wanted to create people not only whom he could love, but who also would love him back. But that meant introducing a very dangerous ingredient into to formula – something our perfect car does not have. That ingredient was a will that was free. As a result of this, we are free to choose whether we want to love God, or not. When this is the case, things can go wrong.

Indeed, during the days of Noah, things had gone wrong. So wrong, in fact, that it brought so much grief to God that he decided that he had to blot out those living beings that he created, not only man, but also animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens.

The World Under the Curse of Man

This brings up another question that may be troubling. In fact, for me personally, this is more difficult than the creation of men and women with free wills. The question is this: If it was man who became wicked, why did God see fit to blot out not only most of the human race from the face of the earth, but also most of the animal kingdom? What did they do? They were just running around in the forest.

Like it or not, from the very beginning, we as men and women have been put in charge of what happens to all living creatures on this earth. Do you remember what God said at the dawn of history during the days of creation? “Let us make man in our image… And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”[7]

Implied in the word dominion is responsibility. Having dominion over something does not merely mean that it is ours to do with whatever may please us. Having dominion does not allow us to abuse the resources and mistreat our natural environment. God has placed us here as the groundskeepers of his garden. Of course we are allowed to live off what the garden produces, both of its fruits and its animals, but we are also responsible to ensure that these have an existence as God intended them to have.

When he created the creatures in the beginning, he looked at what he had done and said, “It is all very good.” There was only one thing that could bring it to ruin, and God knew this from the beginning. That single thing was that he had given his gardeners a free will. They had the power to be worthy of what God had given to them to tend, but they also had the power to fail. During the days of Noah, the people had failed and failed miserably. They had rebelled against the creator of the garden.

But there was one man that was different. The text continues, “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

I will have to wait until next week to speak more of Noah. He was an extraordinary individual who has much to teach us

[1] Genesis 7:19

[2] min in Hebrew, in Genesis 1:11–12, 21, 24–25

[3] Genesis 6:11-12 ESV

[4] 1 Peter 3:20

[5] 2 Peter 2:5

[6] Genesis 6:6-7

[7] Genesis 1:26 ESV

Sunday, June 18, 2017


When we were living in Venezuela many years ago, on one hot afternoon, a young man named Carlos sat on our veranda and under the trees in the chair opposite me. We were enjoying the shade and the breeze, and we were talking about the fatherhood of God.

“Since becoming a father myself,” I told him, “it is not quite so difficult for me to understand some of the things that God, as our Father, has been willing to do for us in the past, and still is doing for us.

“When I look at my own children, there is so much of myself that I see in them. This is not surprising, since they have inherited half of their genetic factors from me. When God made man, we are told that God made us in ‘his image.’ It is not that I understand all of the truths that are involved with this phrase, but whatever else it means; it means that when God looks at us, there are some things of himself that he sees in us.”

Carlos seemed to be listening intently to what I was saying, so I continued speaking.

“I am also able to understand a little more about the lengths to which God has been willing to go to redeem us. I do not pretend to comprehend entirely or even a small portion of all that is involved in our redemption, but what I am beginning to see is that it is God’s great love that was his motivation in redeeming us. I can see this fact because of the love that I find I have for my own children, even though my own love is far from perfect.”

Here Carlos stopped me.

“For me,” he said, “this is very difficult to understand. Certainly, I do not have the perspective of a father, only that of a son. Nevertheless, among my friends and I, we do not have an image of a father as one who loves us. All of us have had fathers who lived detached from family life, and who, on the occasions when they would come home, usually came home drunk and held us all in terror.

“Our fathers came home not to love us, but to beat us,” he said.

Sunday, June 11, 2017


(Much of this post is a repeat of the blog posts that I made when I went to Ethiopia. However, the people of my church told me that they wanted to hear more about the trip, so I used some of this to speak on a subject that has not traditionally been a part of most Christians in America)

The town of Lalibela is in northern Ethiopia, and is one of the oldest of Christian pilgrim destinations in the world. As I said in my earlier posts on Ethiopia, the primary reason that I went to that country was to see my son Levi. However, as he and I went up to the town of Lalibela, it was also with a sense of pilgrimage that I traveled to that place. It is this subject of being a pilgrim that I would like to speak on today.
With this in mind, before I tell you about the city of Lalibela, I need to go into a little of the history of how it became a center of worship.
Very early in history, even before the birth of Christ, there were communities of people in Ethiopia who had converted to Judaism and practiced their faith according to the Mosaic Law. The exact origins of these communities are unknown and shrouded with many theories (which I won’t go into right now). There are still some of the Jewish faith in Ethiopia today, although many had emigrated to Israel in the 20th century under Israel’s Law of Return.

The Birth of Lalibela
When we move ahead in history from the Old Testament times to the second century after Christ, we come also to the time of the establishment of the city of Lalibela. Even a great deal of this more recent history is unknown to us, and much is open to the interpretation of whatever historian one cares to read. However, the general consensus is that the city began its role as a site of pilgrimage for Christians during the reign of the king of the region of that time, one Gebre Mesqel Lalibela. It was after this king that the city was named. The first two names, Gebre Mesqel, of the king literally mean, “Servant of the Cross,” for Lalibela was born into a Christian home in the year 1162.

Monday, June 5, 2017


Not many days before he was to be crucified, Jesus was a guest at a home in the village of Bethany, a place not far from Jerusalem. The house was that of one Simon, a man who had been a leper but must have been healed some time before, presumably by Jesus. The man was still called “Simon the Leper,”

When Jesus was in the house of Simon the leper and as they were at the table, a woman approached Jesus with a vial of very costly perfume. The vial was made of alabaster, which is a soft stone that was often used for sculpture and, as in this case, to make household vessels. The perfume that it contained was very valuable, probably worth about three hundred denarii. This amount may not mean anything to you or me, but one denarius was what a man was often paid for one day’s work. This made this container of perfume worth almost a year’s salary. 

At the Feet of Jesus

The woman, it turns out, was Mary, the sister of Lazarus. Lazarus was the man whom Jesus had brought back to life some time earlier. Just before Jesus had done that, Mary had fallen at the feet of Jesus and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32).

At the time, Mary probably thought, “It is too late now.” Indeed, at that point, Lazarus had already been entombed four days. Despite this, Jesus called Lazarus to come forth from the tomb. With the call of the voice of Jesus, the one who had been dead appeared at the opening – alive!

On yet another occasion, Mary was again found again sitting at the feet of Jesus. At this time, despite the work around the house that her sister Martha thought important, Mary saw the greater need at that moment to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his teachings (Luke 10:39).

Now here again, not many days before the crucifixion of Jesus, Mary was once again found at the feet of Jesus. She knelt down and broke the spout on the vial of perfume. Presumably, the vial had a spout with a stopper of some kind. It must have had one where someone had put in the perfume at the beginning. 

Mary’s Commitment

But Mary did not pull out the cork. She did not merely open the vial. She broke the spout. This act of breaking the vial was one of commitment. It was not the same as removing a cap so that she could pour out a portion of the contents. Whatever Mary intended to do with the perfume, she meant to use all of it.

Sunday, May 28, 2017


For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

These are the words of the Apostle Paul in describing the Christian life. We often hear about “living a life of faith” and “walking by faith,” and we are fond of calling ourselves, “people of faith.” These are all very pious sounding words, but sometimes we do not really understand what it means to walk by faith.

On the other hand, walking by faith is often misrepresented and ridiculed. Christians are sometimes accused of having a “blind faith” and placing hope on something that, deep down, they fear does not really exist.

Mark Twain, for all his wit and writing ability, did great damage in mischaracterizing the life of faith with the much quoted statement of one of his characters: “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” (Pudd’nhead Wilson). Also in our culture, it is common to refer to a “pie in the sky” type of faith, which ridicules the life of faith by implying that Christians are placing all of their hope in some future promises of heaven that do not actually exist.

Both of these references have their elements of humor, and if we do not take them too seriously, we can laugh at them. But unfortunately, they have also mischaracterized what actually is a walk of faith. 

Two Walks

However, if these characterizations of faith are not true, then what does it mean to walk by faith? The Apostle Paul is quoted as saying “We walk by faith, not by sight.” Just what does this mean? What is it to walk in faith? Is it true that those of us who practice walking by faith, walk in blind trust, without sight and without any evidence whatsoever?

If it might help in your understanding, here is how I would compare a life of walking by faith in contrast with a life of walking by sight alone: 

Walking by Sight

Walking by sight can be likened to what a man or woman may do when they stand in a doorway of a room. They do not immediately enter, but only stand in such a way so that they can see all that the room contains. They are able to simply stand in the doorway without making any real commitment to enter. Finally, when they become satisfied that they know sufficiently what is in the room, they may choose whether or not to go inside. Their commitment to act only follows their sight. It does not go before.

Sunday, May 21, 2017


An experience that I had in Addis Ababa reminded me of something that I wrote many years ago. When I arrived in Ethiopia, Levi told me that I needed to be careful of street boys who may surround me and try to lift my money clip.

As it turns out, this did happen from time to time as I walked alone. Only once did it get a little physical, but no big deal.

In our own country, we know that we have many adults that live on the streets of our cities, and I am sure that there are also many minors that are homeless and living on the streets. Nevertheless, in some cities of Latin America, and also apparently at least in Ethiopia, boys living on the streets can be a genuine security problem, even on a busy street in full daylight.

Our first reaction to being accosted by these young boys is understandably reactionary and negative, and I am not claiming that they are all misunderstood and misled adolescents. However, there may be some other factors that we do not know.

Hence the story from Lima, Peru. What I write below is not actually my story, but it was told to me by a man had opened a home for street boys and who shared with me some of the stories of the boys that had come into his home. (There are no real names in this essay).


Pedro is no longer a boy. He has grown into a young man and works as a janitor in a rescue home for street boys of Lima, Peru. He is married, has a child and is a believer in Jesus Christ – but this only after many years. And he still carries some scars in his soul.
When Pedro was born, his mother died in the delivery. He had an older brother and a sister, and for some years, the father kept the family together. Then, when Pedro turned four years old, his father called him into the room.

“Pedro,” his father said, “you are now four years old and for four years we have been waiting to tell you something. You are now old enough to understand. First, listen to your brother. He also has something to tell you.”

Saturday, May 20, 2017


(scroll down for parts 1-12)

Perhaps the best known of the churches of Lalibela is the church of St. George. This church is the best preserved, most likely owing much to the fact that it is the most recent of the churches to be sculpted. In some ways, it was surprising to me that a church was constructed in Africa that commemorates St. George.

Like many historical figures, St. George is not only a person of history, but also of many legends. As an historical figure, it seems that George was born in Lydda of Cappadocia (now central Turkey) to Christian parents. His father was named Gerontius, a name I kind of like because it means “old man” (I suspect that we get our word Geriatrics from this word). This Gerontius, the father of George, was a well-known soldier in the Roman army. However, despite his name, Gerontius died when George was only fourteen years old.

As in many military families, the son followed his father in this career. Gerontius had been one of the finest soldiers in the Roman guard. Thus, when George enlisted, the Roman emperor at the time, a man by the name of Diocletian, was happy to have George also join his forces.

However, after some time, things changed in the Roman Empire. Some time after George became part of the Imperial Guard, the emperor Diocletian suddenly became opposed to Christians and ordered that all the soldiers should offer up sacrifices to the Roman gods.

George, not only a Christian by name but especially by conviction, refused to do so. What was more, his refusal was not done in secret, but in front of the other soldiers and even in an audience with the king himself, before whom George strongly held to his conviction as a believer in Christ. Diocletian did not want to lose George as a soldier, and tried to convince him to renounce his faith by offering him many gifts of land and money and slaves if George would make a sacrifice to the gods of Rome.

After repeated refusals, the king then subjected George to many torture sessions, three times from which he had to be resuscitated only to endure more torture. Before his death, George had distributed his wealth to the poor. His end came with a public decapitation on April 23 of the year 303. Among the witnesses to his death was a pagan priest and a Roman empress, who thereafter also became Christians.

His body was returned to his birth place of Lydda. Almost immediately Christians from the area visited his tomb, recognizing him as martyr for the faith.

That is the story of St. George, at least the part that is at least
somewhat substantiated by history, but George’s story goes far beyond this. For instance, you have no doubt heard of how St. George slayed a dragon. This event is said to have taken place in a now unknown location, but one which had a small lake, in which the dragon lived. The dragon carried a plague that was ravaging the countryside, so in order to keep the dragon appeased, the townspeople would feed it two sheep every day.
Woodcut by Albrecht Dürer

Eventually however, the town ran out of sheep. After that time, so the story goes, each day one of the children of the town was given to the dragon for his food, each child chosen randomly by lot from among the village children.

This was the case until the lot fell on the daughter of the king. The grief-stricken king offered the people of the town all of his wealth and half of his kingdom if his daughter could be spared, but the people would not have it. They demanded the king to feel the pain that many of them had already felt.

Reluctantly, the king complied with the decision of the people. His had his daughter dressed up as a bride, since she would never see her wedding day, and brought to the lake to be fed to the dragon.

However, as chance would have it, George happened upon the situation. As he was speaking to the girl, asking her why she was dressed the way that she was, the dragon emerged from the lake. George, instead of fleeing the dragon as the girl had told him to do, instead made the sign of the cross in the air and charged the dragon, seriously wounding it with his lance. After some additional dramatic details in the story, George then struck the final and fatal blow to the dragon.

So that then, is the legendary part of the story of St. George, at least the shortened account of it. It may seem incredible, but it is accepted widely enough that the image of St. George on horseback slaying a dragon is seen on many coats of arms, and the sign of his cross found on several flags of nations and cities. During the Second World War, Winston Churchill named his own personal aircraft after the name of St. George’s lance, Ascalon. I am told that there are several sculptures of Saint George battling the dragon in Stockholm, the earliest of these inside Storkyrkan (The Great Church).

And, as we see now, the image of St. George battling the dragon is also found in the town of Lalibela, Ethiopia. Not only is
the image of George on several wall hangings in some of the churches, but the cross of St. George elaborates many of the window openings. But King Lalibela did not stop there paying honor to the saint of old. The entire structure of the Church of Saint George is made in the shape of what we know to be his cross, patterned after the sign the saint made in the air before charging the dragon, while mounted on his steed and brandishing his lance Ascalon.

There are those of us who may question what we might see as the sometimes excessive veneration of past saints, but we should not be so harsh in our condemnation. After all, the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews also brings many of these saints of yester-year to our attention, calling them “A great cloud of witnesses that surround us.”

In our culture, wearing the football jersey to honor our favorite player, or a tee-shirt emblazoned with our favorite rock band seems always to be acceptable – even to church. Instead of this, why do we not honor some of these men and women of the past who teach us that true virtue is not that you can throw football, or hash out some mean chords on a guitar, but true virtue can be found in doing good, in helping people, and in staying strong in our Christian convictions in the face of great persecution?

Don’t know where to start?

Hebrews, chapter eleven.

Sunday, May 14, 2017


(Scroll down for parts 1-11)


It was not until fairly recent decades that there has been a road to the town of Lalibela that has been better than barely passable. Before just several years ago, there were no vehicles in Lalibela, no petrol stations, and little to offer in regard to services for travelers. Lately however, much work is being done on the road. I believe much of this is owing to the fact that the church site of Lalibela was named a historic site by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in 1978. Even with this, when Levi and I traveled to that town by backcountry bus, much of the road was still under construction.
It was largely a long and dusty ride of about seven hours from Dessie, with one stop to pee on the side of the road if you needed to, and one more stop later for lunch, or perhaps to look for a more discreet place to pee if you were too embarrassed the first time (if you had managed to hold it for the additional three hours). The entire way we crammed ourselves into school-bus type seats with our luggage on our laps.
As on my other bus rides in Ethiopia, the green plastic store bags were occasionally passed back to car-sick passengers in the bus, soon to be filled and then thrown out of the window. Thankfully after that first experience on the bus up from Addis Ababa, I had no further need for a bag to be passed to me. Seemingly I had made my adjustment to the bus rides over the mountains and around the sharp turns of the roads of Ethiopia (see part 7).

At the bus station in Lalibela, the manager there was somewhat surprised to see us. “Most foreign tourists come here on the airplane,” he told me.
I suppose that is true, but I was also told by someone that some Ethiopian pilgrims come even on foot to Lalibela as part of their pilgrimage.

The eleven rock churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia remained largely unknown to the world for many years. I call them rock churches instead of churches made of stone, because they are not stone churches in the traditional sense. These are not the work of stone masons who began the structures by laying a foundation of stone footings, and then building upon the footing with succeeding courses of stone. This is the way in which we usually think of stone churches.

The churches of Lalibela however, are monolithic in structure. That is to say, they are chiseled and carved from one solid piece of rock. This is not done from the bottom up, but rather from the top down. Most of the structure of the churches was made by first chiseling straight down into the rock of the mountain, or perhaps into a side, leaving only the rock that was to remain as part of the structure. Any material that was chiseled away and not wanted had to be carried away. Only the rock of the building itself remained.
Thus, these churches were not of stones that were cut from the mountain of their origin, made into blocks, and then constructed into a building at another site. The churches of Lalibela were made from stone that was undisturbed from its origins. In this way, it is said that the churches are made from “living stone.”

The clearest example of all that was involved can be best seen in the Church of St George. Here, a nearly forty-foot deep cavity was chiseled straight down into the rock of the mountain, leaving only the middle intact. Until the cavity had been completed to its full depth, there was no entrance into the excavation except from the top. That means that all of the rubble from the removed debris had to be carried up and out the top. It was only when the cavity was dug to what would be the floor, forty feet down, that a cave-like entrance was added.
Then slowly and painstakingly, the inner church began to take form. The churches of Lalibela are not crude hollows cut out of rock, but are ornately designed, complete with door and inner supporting arches, elaborate windows and door frames, and interior and exterior columns. The builders very obviously exceeded far what was merely necessary to make their churches. This was a labor of love, and labor that held deep spiritual meaning for the people of that time.
However, despite the fact that these were magnificent structures that held deep meanings for their builders, and despite the fact that Ethiopia also had large communities of Christians in the early centuries, 12th century Ethiopia was not medieval Europe, and for hundreds of years the churches of Lalibela remained unknown to the outside world. It was not until the 1520’s that the Portuguese began to explore the area and came across the city. 
In the first of these expeditions to this region, the priest Francisco Alvarez who accompanied the group wrote of these magnificent buildings, describing them in some detail until finally concluding with these words:
“I am weary of writing more about these buildings, because it seems to me that I shall not be believed if I write more…but I swear by God, in Whose power I am, what I have written is true.”
After visiting these churches, I will say the same. In an earlier post about Levi’s village I mentioned that there are some experiences that cannot be described with even a thousand words, and if a picture is truly worth a thousand words, then even a thousand pictures are not adequate. What I will tell you about the churches of Lalibela can never be adequate to describe them. The best that I can hope to do is to give you some sense of what it was like for me to see them.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


(scroll down for parts 1-10) 

The Christian Pilgrimage 

It was for two reasons that the Emperor Lalibela saw the need of providing a destination of pilgrimage as a necessity for the people of Ethiopia. The first of these reasons was the very great distances required for the pilgrims to travel to the original Jerusalem. So great was distance to Jerusalem of Judea that, for many Ethiopians, a pilgrimage to reach that faraway land would never happen. Also there was the fact that even if they could do so, the Jerusalem of Judea had suddenly fallen under the control of the Saracens. I wrote about these two reasons in the previous post. 

It was for these reasons that Lalibela began the construction on a city that was to eventually be so intimately associated with him that it also took on his name. The city was to be built as a representation of what the emperor experienced while he was in Jerusalem, and it was meant to become the object of Christian pilgrimages, especially for the Ethiopian pilgrims. 

We of the western Christian societies have largely gotten away from the notion of religious pilgrimages. It is unfortunate that we have allowed this to become so. A pilgrimage is indeed travel, but it is travel for a specific purpose not recognized by most modern day tourists. The reason most people want to tour a new place in these days is mostly self-centered. The modern day notion of travel is for personal entertainment, and little else. 

The religious pilgrimage is not the same type of travel. The religious pilgrimage is not for personal entertainment nor is it self-centered. It is instead God-centered. Certainly, as in any travel, there are new things to see and new things to experience. But the goal of the pilgrim is not to be able to snap a selfie of himself or herself in front of a cool building so that he can post it on facebook to see how many “likes” he can get. The goal of the pilgrim is to regain what has become lost in his relationship to God. 

From time to time, all of us need to regain what becomes lost. As we work in our day by day lives in this world, our personal relationship with God becomes soiled with the filth of the society in which we live. It is for this reason that daily Scripture reading and prayer are important, and it is for this reason that weekly gatherings of worship with other like-minded believers in Christ is important. 

Also, it is for this reason that on occasion, a Christian pilgrimage may also become important. Not only do we set the world aside for a few moments so that we can read the Bible and pray. Not only do we leave the world aside for a couple of hours so that we can go to church. In a pilgrimage, we leave the world aside for a more extended time for the purpose of regaining the perspective that we need to maintain in our relationship with God. 

We may even endure hardships in the journey, but these hardships also play a key element in a pilgrimage. They help us to reestablish the priority that our relationship with God is of greater importance to us that any personal comfort or enjoyment. A pilgrimage is in fact meant to show us that our relationship with God is everything.

The concept of the pilgrimage is given to us very early in the Scriptures. “Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me,” God instructed Moses (Exodus 23:14).

Psalms 120-134 are all what are called the “Songs of Ascents.” These were songs that were sung by the worshipers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem in their thrice yearly pilgrimages.

One of the few details that we have recorded for us about the childhood of Jesus was that every year his parents brought him on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. It was on one of those pilgrimages that Jesus had stayed in the temple to ask questions and to learn of the opinions of the teachers. 

The city of Lalibela in Ethiopia was constructed for the purpose of pilgrimages. Thus, what I will describe to you beginning with the next post is not meant to be a travelogue. Rather, it is meant to be the account of a pilgrimage.

(I will finally begin to tell about the city in the next post)