Lie Down in Green Pastures???? What Green Pastures?

Another strange thing I learned from my trip to Israel is that all the Bible Story books I have read are WRONG!!!! How many of us have read the 23rd Psalm from a Children’s Story Book? All of them have a really cute shepherd boy, holding a really cute sheep, on a really lush, “Wisconsin-Looking” hill covered with green grass. The grass is always tall and green and the little boy is all laughing and smiling looking as if he is just about to roll down that big, soft, grassy hill to the beautiful stream at the bottom.

WRONG!!!!! As I was driving through the Negev Desert….Yes, I said Desert…..The tour guide explained that this was the region where David tended sheep. Now we were just about to enter the Judaen Wilderness, so if you haven’t read my post about the Wilderness suffice it to say that these deserts are barren and lifeless.

I intend to include a picture, but trust me, they are barren and lifeless. When I visited the rainy season was supposed to have begun. The people were all waiting for the first rain. Sadly, the rain had not come. This meant I was looking at the desert at its dryest and dustiest best….and it was dry!

The guide pointed out how the soil eroded and made concentric rings that rimmed the hillsides like stripes on a that Waldo guys red and white sweatshirt. He explained that the sheep used these “dust-paths” to get footing on the steep, arid slopes and that eventually paths were worn along these hills by the thousands of sheeps that grazed here. “Grazed?” I thought, “Grazed on what?” He further explained that the name of this Desert actually came from the Hebrew word for Shephed’s Place I was stunned. This would literally be the last place on earth where I would ever take anything to graze.

The guide then pointed out the brown, scraggly haze that , upon closer inspection, seemed to cover these mountains like five-o-clock shadow on your favorite grandfather. He explained that when the rains came all of that scraggly haze burst forth into abundant, delicious grass and ALL The cool Shepherds hurried there with all the coolest sheeps for a kind of a Grass-Fest.

Then our guide explained the 23rd Psalm. “You see,” He told us, “David wrote that Psalm to rejoice in the God who brought water and green grass to places where there was no water and green grass. As a lonely, dusty, shepherd-boy David had learned to camp….and wait….and wait…and wait with hundreds of tired, hungry, thirsty sheep…Until His God opened the Heavens and provided just what they needed….and just in time. David had learned…by doing…that His God had a way of doing this over and over and over again…and so he wrote this song to celebrate this facet of his God’s awesomeness. It could be called the celebration dance of the God who turns deserts into grasslands. I guess that was too long. The 23rd Psalm is way cooler. Anyone need a “Grass-Fest”?

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Joppa Day One

The flight over was kinda cramped. The fact that I flew thousands of miles traveling at air speeds of over 600 mph somehow gets lost when you spend twelve hours on what feels like an nothing more than a really overcrowded bus. We flew in across the Mediterranean Sea. I saw the city of Tel Aviv as I heard the engines gearing down to make our landing. I learned the city’s name means “New Life from the Old” (in a manner of speaking.) Tel Aviv is a city of contrasts.


But the city has not always been called Tel Aviv. It used to be called Joppa. Thousands of years ago the prophet of God was told to “GO UP” to Ninevah and preach God’s message of forgiveness. You all know the story. But Jonah did not “go up”. Instead Jonah…WENT DOWN to Joppa, and then WENT DOWN into a ship, and then “WENT DOWN” to Tarshish. Going down…not a good direction.
The Hebrew Word for disciple is $$$$$$$. It means “Ascending One or One Who Goes Up” In Israel all good things are up. Everyone in the Land “GOES UP- to Jerusalem”
Disciples go up!
Clear from your life people who encourage you to go down or go away from what God wants you to do. Add more people that help you turn and Go Up, Hear God, and Do Exactly what he says.
Going Down usually means turning away from what God wants us to do. Not good! Never good, but Jonah did it. We do it?
Because we want our will, not God’s will. It was simple then, it is simple now.
I was surprised to see that the beach, just looked like a beach; a beach in a modern city. In fact the day I walked the beach, it was morning, and hundreds of men and woman, who were passionate about fitness lined up in all of their spandex and Speedos to participate in a swim race.
There was no giant statue of a whale (there is a small cute whale fountain nearby in a park-not impressive). Nothing to mark the spot where Jonah disobeyed. No monument to his repentance. I was disappointed. Just a city. The ancient city of Joppa isn’t even ancient. It has just been “Disney-fied” to look ancient so people like me won’t be disappointed. So, Joppa is just a city. A city where a man a long time ago disobeyed God’s direct orders and went the other way. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised…that happens every day…even in my life…without monuments. The Jews did encourage “monuments” when you repented, but thats a different story for a different time.
I learned that Jonah’s name meant Dove. I didn’t know that. Doves are a sign of peace and Jonah was told to go to his enemies with a message of peace. Jonah didn’t want to do that because these were HIS enemies and He knew God would probably be “like-God” and do something nice…like forgive them. Inside Jonah probably thought the Ninevites were really too evil for even God to forgive, but he wasn’t willing to risk it…so he stowed away.
I also learned that the people of Jonah’s day were terrified by the uncertainty and brutality of the winds, waves, and weather. They were terrified of the sea and so they used the sea, but they didn’t like to cross it. Their solution was to build ships, fill them with things, and sale along the shore, well within site of land. Nothing to scary, wanting to stay in control. Make things easy. Make money, but stay close enough to shore to control my own destiny. If a storm comes up, I’m heading in! The shore is my friend. Not so much the sea…I can’t control the sea.
Jonah was a product of his world…his culture. He ran away. We know that didn’t work so well for him, so God had to use a great fish. The fish wasn’t “so-great” before God asked him to do something for Him. God must have made him just the way he was and equipped him for his special job in life. He probably wondered why he was so much bigger than the other fishes (…at school-Sorry!) Maybe he got teased. But when God asked Fred (thats what I’ve named him) to do something for Him, Freddy said yes (even though I am sure it made him uncomfortable). It even made Freddy sick…but he was willing to obey his God. Fish are smart that way. (I guess they have better schools- Sorry again)
I stood on the shore and used my selfie-stick to take pictures of the “Disney-fied” town of Joppa behind me. I heard the waves crashing. I collected some sand in a hotel shampoo bottle that I had emptied out for that purpose. I wanted to take the sand home…to remind me…to listen to God when He asks me to do something…even something hard…like loving my enemies. Say, weren’t the Ninevites God’s enemies long before they were Jonah’s? Strangely the people in the new-old city are still struggling to live in peace with their enemies and to love and forgive one another. I guess we all are…so maybe we should…
let Jonah….”off the hook” (Sorry!)

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Israel 2016

bxk14651_vista-de-jerusalem-israel-24800Well, I am off on a new adventure. Wednesday morning I will be leaving for Israel. I will be visiting Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

It was an unexpected trip. I had been invited to attend nearly a year ago. As June rolled around I finally made the decision not to go. The cost of the trip was $3500. It was just simply too much money to spend. It just wasn’t the right timing. I tried to convince Lori it would be good for us to visit now, while were were young an fit (relatively). She didn’t have any vacation time. “Who would watch the kids?” The church is in the midst of a transition. No, this was definitely not the time to go.

In late July I drove with a friend to a funeral in Cleveland. We talked a lot. When he got home he talked with the elders and together they decided that it might be good for me to take a sabbatical. A sabbatical is a time of rest designed for those in ministry to be refreshed and rejuvenated for continued ministry. I have never taken a sabbatical. I hadn’t even every really considered taking a sabbatical. Still, I couldn’t argue with them. I had grown weary and frayed and even a bit discouraged and tired of ministry. Perhaps they were right? Maybe this might help.

So I decided to find a cabin in the woods and get away without any cell service or internet….. Do you know how hard it is to find such a place nowadays? It was very hard. I struck out. I called so many places. The places I did find were not free or even cheap. It would cost me nearly $100 a day to get away for a month and rest…and eat. Then I ended up at a meeting seated next to the pastor who had originally invited me to Israel. “Jim, why don’t you go to Israel with us,” he asked. “We still have a spot open,” he said. Then it clicked, “I’ll go!” I went home and talked with Lori. I actually had $2,000 set aside and I had some more money available for continuing education. I talked with the board and we decided two weeks in Israel would be a great compromise to a month away.

So, now I have decided to go. Am I excited? Not really. I don’t know what to expect. I honestly believe God has arranged for me to make this trip. With that in mind I am excited to go and see what He has planned. So far this Fall I have spent a weekend on a mountain in Colorado, a few days in Gettysburg with my brother, and a week on the beach in Florida with my wife and family. At each place God has walked with me and reminded me of my calling and His work in my life. We have been facing some pretty discouraging storms and setbacks. I have really been anxious to get a “Word from God” regarding my future. And so I am grateful for this trip. Stay tuned and I will take you with me to Israel and I will share with you all the exciting things that God is teaching me.

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House Plans for “Widow’s House” Christmas Project

Wow, I can’t believe it.  Here are the awesome house plans for our new house.  My friend in Africa just sent me pictures of the widows current house.  You saw Lori standing in front of that house in our last post (yesterday).  This is the house now.  The rainy season wreaks havoc on these homes made of stick and mud.  The roof leaks constantly and the house creaks.  Those inside live in fear of the rains weakening the mud and stick to the point of collapse.  Here are the pictures of the house in its current condition.  I have also included a picture of the new blueprints for a cinder block home.  This is the home we will build.  The last photo is of the family that will live in this home.  This is the family we had the Birthday Party with while in Africa.  You can look back to see the story of the Birthday Party in this blog.  Our goal is to raise $5,000 to complete this home.  Please write to me today if you can help us with this project.  As we mentioned, Lori and I have decided to “kick-off” this project with our own gift of $1,000.  I do not include this figure as a boast, but simply to show that we are invested.  We are making this gift over and above our regular tithes and gifts.  Please join us.  Four more gifts of $1,ooo would complete this house.  Fifty gifts of $100 would complete this house.  Share this exciting opportunity with your family (especially your children) and help us a build a HOUSE for someone’s Christmas.  We will post pictures as the foundation is laid, then the blocks are laid.  What an exciting opportunity.  Join us!  (

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NEW POST for 2012 Join Us in Building a House for a Widow

Help us build a new house for this widow and her children before Christmas. Lori and Madison Zidan with Delsile in Swaziland 2011.

Wow, I can’t believe that we have been home from Africa for over a year. The last year has been a challenge. Making a trip to Africa to work with our missionary friends, as a family, was remarkable. The experiences that we had were unforgettable and life-changing. Coming home from such a trip is difficult because you have trouble translating your experiences to those who were not able to make the trip. Words seem to fall short of expressing the emotions that you felt or the uniqueness of the people you met or experiences you had. Pictures seem cliche or exploitative. I mean, how do you really explain visiting a destitute pastor and bringing he and his widow the only food they will receive in a month? How do you explain spending a day with a widow and her family and helping them walk to a nearby spring to carry home water? Before long you realize that you can’t adequately explain your experiences and you simply just try to get back into the routine. It is amazing how easy this is. Soon you are caught up in the hustle and bustle of school, and sports, and church.

After I got home I did preach a series of messages entitled “Go More, Give More, Grow More, and Share More.” In these messages I tried to challenge my congregation with the facts and data concerning the needs of the world and God’s heart for missions (cross cultural sharing). I also worked hard to increase our percentage of giving and adopt a strategy of trying to do more and more each year. Still, some of this challenge left people pinched or offended. There was misunderstanding and miscommunication. Satan hates the things that God loves and seeks to sow disunity wherever the seeds of God’s truth are planted. I am proud of our church. God has been so faithful to us and our heart for missions is growing.

Just this past Wednesday we heard the report of Rachael Luzader, a high school junior who just returned from a summer in South Sudan.  Another young college student just shared with us about his summer internship as a Bible translator in Vanauatu (island nation off the coast of Australia). Our church was heroic in its support of these two young people and gave generously to support these mission trips. Already in the past five years we have seen young people from our church visit China, Swaziland, Zambia, and Cameroon. Other teens have participated in short term (one to two week) trips to Florida, Nicaragua, and Mississippi. Truly the church is beginning to “lift their eyes” and see the world.

My purpose for writing this entry is to allow you to be a part of something really special. While in Swaziland we spent a great deal of time with the widow of a pastor that I worked with on my first trip to Swaziland. He left behind a wife and three boys. Delsile Dlamini lives alone in a small two room mud house. While I was there we talked with local builders. She needs a new house. We first believed we could complete the project for $2,000. New estimates suggest that it might take $4,000 to $5,000 to complete a house made of cement block with and adequate water collection and storage system. So many of you financially supported us while we were in Africa. For our family to stay in Africa for six months we had to raise nearly $30,000. Fortunately $12,000 of this total went toward the purchase of a vehicle; which we left with one of our African pastors. I have decided to allow all of you to be a part of this exciting project to build this home for this widow and her young family. I arranged for the construction of this home while we were still in Swaziland. I am working with a fellow missionary to oversee this project. Every dollar you give will go directly to the construction of this new house. If we hurry, we may be able to see it completed before Christmas. Lori and I have already committed to give above and beyond our normal tithes and gifts to fund this project. Lori and I are are giving $1,000. Any and all gifts are encouraged. No gift is too small.  Already Maddy has been saving and giving to this project. Recently Maddy received money for losing a tooth. “Can we send this to Delsile,” she asked? Leave out a jar in your home and encourage your children to give. We will keep you posted on the construction here and provide pictures of the progress.

I know we can’t do everything in this large needy world, but won’t it be awesome to build one house? We can do this together. I will collect this money in an account at our church. This will provide financial accountability and provide you with a receipt. If you would like to participate, write me an email at indicating the amount of your gift. Write your check or send your gifts to Christ Community Church 716 Westside Dr. Tullahoma, TN 37388. If you have any questions you can write me or you can call me at 931-247-8038. This is something I have wanted to do for a long time.

House Plans

Join Us,

The Zidan Family (now in Tullahoma)

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My Team

Well its 4:29 and I just woke up. Actually I am glad I made it that far. “Jetlag can be crazy”.

On the plane ride home, I ended up watching a documentary on the Manchester United Soccer Club. It showed all the highlights of this champion soccer team. I imagine the coaches and owners must swell with pride. Still as I walked around in the darkness of this apartment today, I looked in on my sleeping family. I know how these owners must feel. I am so proud of my family. Last night we got all our bags carried to our hotel room and then went for a walk. We all laughed and joked. We couldn’t believe we had traveled so far and were back so soon. It felt odd to finally be back in the US. We stopped at a Wendys for dinner.

My family did great. I am so proud of Caleb. He has grown up so much. He learned so much in his home schooling. He started to read. He memorized much Scripture. He spent the most time traveling with me to far away places and culturally weird situations. He passed me in physical height. He is really maturing in becoming a leader. He was really good to his brother’s and sisters. He learned the most Siswati and took pride in speaking it. He has developed his own spiritual discernment. I trust him more. I am excited about what he will do. He has become a young man.

Josh always had a smile. He never complained. He did “okay” in home schooling. He tried to read. He did the best at “jumping in and making friends”. He never asked for anything. He was willing to try new things. He probably recieved the fewest souvenirs, because he never really wanted anything. He kept an eye on his sister a lot. He was our best snake spotter. He was our hunter. He befriended our neighbors. He made us all laugh. He helped Lori prepare meals. He chopped, and baked, and one night made us dinner.

Maddy was the socializer. Everyplace we lived, she made friends. She was never at home. She spent more time with other families than any of us. She made the most friends. She truly became a part of the culture. If she saw a group of children, she joined them. Soon she would be leading games with the children or running off in a pack to play. She was our goat herder. She climbed the most trees. She will be missed the most, by the people we met. She held nothing back. She loved the most. She was Bruce’s best friend. She studied hard. Finished her work first. She played hard. She rarely whined or complained. She had her hair braided (it looks great). She learned the most verses (finished her Sparks book at AWANA). She lost two teeth.

Lori was amazing. If not for the strange surroundings different colored skin of the people we lived among, the kids would never have known they had left the US. Lori found ways to prepare the same food they were used to. She made things from scratch. She found things. She invented things. She made all the kids favorites. She kept the house exactly as she did at home (although in Africa, she often had the help of housekeepers-Actually this was challenging for her, as she didn’t get to do much gardening, etc). She opened our home to everyone. She hosted the most visitors. She made the best cookies, shared the most recipes. Our home was the “place to visit”. The other missionaries wanted to visit our home. The national people wanted to visit. She taught the children all of their school work. She kept them on task. She often had no car. She was often home with the kids alone for days on end. She nursed everyone, kept everyone clean. She followed me everywhere, attended classes, visited rural churches, took care of widows and orphans. She supported, everything I did. She talked with me each morning, she listened to me each evening as I talked about my day. She was my prayer partner. She read her Bible the most. She was the most content. She read over 35 books. She was, as she always is, my best friend. She was also the best friend of each child. She usually got up first (to get us all going) and went to bed last (making sure everything was in its place and ready for the next day (part of this was because of the tiny washing machine we were forced to use. It required many loads and we shared with two other apartments and the mission staff). She was awesome.

And we can’t forget Ashley. Every team has players that sit the bench. They don’t get to play as much, but are critical when they do. Ashley did perhaps the hardest job; she stayed home. She went to her first year of college alone. She faced sickness, car accidents, financial crisis, all alone. She couldn’t reach us by phone or internet. She was courageous. She prayed for us. She reminded others, where we were, what we were doing. She was our first encourager ( I guess you could say, cheerleader). And then, when our spirits sagged a bit, and we were all tired she came “off the bench”. Ashley came with her friend Sam, and joined our team. She joined all of our activities, she made friends, she spread her special joy. She made us all laugh. She encouraged us. She told us we were doing great and then she had to go home. She kept people praying for us at home. (Thanks Ash…Thanks Scham!)

I am still not sure what I accomplished on our trip to Swaziland. I don’t know what will appear on my “highlight reel” for that time in Africa, but I know I would never have been there without my team. Others may have thought, I was out in front, but I know better. When I think about that particular “game”, I will swell with pride, because of the team I was privileged to play with; my team. What a team.

Thank God, we don’t have to do ministry alone. I truly loved every day I spent in Africa. But I wonder, how things would have gone, without all the support I received from my family. I know it was challenging for me to ask them to leave everything and go to such a strange and different place, but they all did great.

Thank God for my family.

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A wise man once told me, “Son, life is about “making friends”. He demonstrated this to me by talking to everyone and making everyone feel comfortable. This man was my father. He still never meets a stranger and my kids will tell you, that I seem to be cut from the same cloth.

On this trip we thought about all we would be “sacrificing” and or leaving behind. We were especially sad, about leaving our friends. Our friends were sad, that we were leaving. We really thought we might even follow the Lord to Africa and be lonely. Nothing could be further from the truth. Tonight is our last night in Africa. We have only been here six short months, but we are exhausted from saying, “Goodbye”. For almost the last two weeks we have been saying goodbye, to all of our new friends. Tonight our neighbors came over and took the kids out for dinner while Lori and I finished packing. Right now, they are playing miniature golf in the hallway of our apartment building. We are all fighting back the tears and dreading saying “farewell” in the morning. How did this happen?

One of my new favorite verses is found in Acts 18 and verse 2. In this verse Paul has left his “home” and ventured out on several of his first missionary journeys. It would seem he had left behind his home and his closest friends. In verse 2 it is casually mentioned that Paul “finds” Aquila. It also mentions his wife Aquila. “Found”, what a peculiar choice of words. You see, we will find out by the end of the book of Romans (16:3,4) that these two people became Paul’s closest friends. When others forsook him, they did not. Consider for a moment, that had Paul, “stayed home”, he never would have encountered two people who would become so important to his life.

Todd and Deborah are the young couple who live in the apartment next door (the ones playing golf as I write). Todd was remarking how important the timing of our visit to Swaziland was to their life and work here. We added, that we felt the same way. We all marveled at how we thought we were making small sacrifices and giving things up, only to be amazed that God gave us much more than we ever gave up. Isn’t that just like God?

You know, we never “find” anything. It might be “new” to us, but God “places” things in our life. From Paul’s perspective he “found” Aquila when he traveled to a “new” city. The truth is God “placed” Aquila in that city. God was “going ahead” of Paul and giving him everything he would need (2 Peter 1:3). He was giving him blessings that would follow him throughout his life. He was making for him new friends that would enrich his life.

Today I had to say goodbye to some wonderful new friends. I hope I will see them again, on this earth. I may, I may not. Either way, I am so thankful, that God led me to this place to meet them. Mpendulu came to church today. He said, “I will miss you.” I stopped to visit Mandla, we both stood awkwardly as I made small talk about my flight arrangements and the possibilty that I might get to come back some day. At church we said goodbye to dozens of new friends. As we drove home, our cell phone wouldn’t stop ringing. In the morning several other new friends are stopping by to bid us farewell.

Tonight is our last night in Swaziland. The bags are packed and its almost time for bed. The long anticipated trip is now at its end. Where did the time go. I don’t know if I accomplished anything grand or glorious, but I do know that I met many wonderful people that I never knew before. Our paths crossed and we talked about life, and faith, and Jesus. When we met we were strangers. Now we are friends. What a miracle. Why do we make ministry so “hard”; after all its just about making friends. Little children do it without thinking (Watch a playground sometime). Adults seem to make everything more complicated. Now we are looking forward now to crossing the ocean and being greeted by all of our friends at home, but we are so thankful for all that God has done and all the wonderful new friends that we have “found”.

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