Preparing yourself to hike the Jesus Trail By: C4i

The Jesus Trail is a 65 kilometer direct connection to the life of Christ. It is a pilgrimage that has the faithful re-trace the steps of Jesus’ ministry. To travel where he traveled, how he traveled – by foot.

It is an incredible experience. Visit Zippori where Jesus learned Joseph’s trade as a carpenter. Make your way through the Old City, bustling with life and activity now just as it was in Jesus’ day. Finally, make your way to the Mount of Olives where Jesus wept and contemplated things beyond our limited human scope. It is a powerful way to bring the Word to life and really ground His ministry to the here and now.

While it is a powerful experience, it is also an arduous one. If you are thinking of making the hike (or any of Israel’s other amazing hiking experiences) you need to be prepared.

Make sure you’re healthy enough for the hike

By sport hiking standards, the Jesus Trail is not exceptionally difficult. There are plenty of stops along the way including cheap cafes and bed and breakfasts where one can take a break, get something to eat and drink, and rest for the remaining journey. The 65km distance usually takes 3-4 days to cover. But while a hiking enthusiast might think 65kms with plenty of stops sounds relaxed, it’s a very different experience for those of us with health conditions, infirmities, or who just don’t normally encounter that level of exertion!

Before you take on this hike, make sure to get plenty of practice. You don’t want to come all the way to the trail, walk for one day, and discover you’ve blown out your quads and can’t even move when you wake up! You’ll also want to be smart about any health concerns you might have. Walking 3 or 4 days in the Israeli sun is no small undertaking and it should be done with caution.

Bring the right gear, but pack smart

If you’re going to walk 65km, please do it in good quality socks and hiking boots! This is one of those areas where it definitely pays to invest in yourself. Nothing will ruin your trip faster than aching, blistering feet that have been sliding around in loose, scratchy socks and poorly fitted shoes. Make sure you bring the right footgear (moisture wicking socks, comfy and well-fitted boots) before trying to tackle this challenge!

You’ll want to consider the rest of your gear as well. A wide brimmed hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, changes of clothes, and of course water. Even with plentiful stops along the way, you don’t want to get caught out on a trail in the hot sun with no way to replenish yourself. You don’t want to weigh yourself down with too big of a pack, but you should always make room for water.

Depending on the season, you may want to pack a rain poncho or tarp. Hiking poles can also be helpful. You might also consider emergency gear such as a help whistle and flashlight just in case something goes wrong, and you get off course or get stuck out after dark. And of course, I recommend bringing a camera and notebook to document your journey!

Plan your trip

The two hiking seasons in Israel are fall and spring. Nobody wants to go hiking in the summer sun, it’s way too hot. Fall and Spring both bring their own advantages. The fall is drier, but the scenery isn’t quite as nice while the Spring brings showers, but also lush blooming flora. 

Scout the trail and make note of the various stops, motels, and bed and breakfasts along the way. Make reservations, bring the appropriate amount of money for the trip, and know your options if you come to a location that is closed, full, or just not usable for some reason. Thankfully, on the Jesus Trail, you’re never too far from civilization, so in a worse case scenario you can always call a cab and get a ride.

Prepare spiritually

Get the most out of your hike by preparing yourself spiritually. There are so many key locations you’ll visit while retracing Jesus’ steps - places like the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Cana where Jesus famously turned water into wine, and the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus held the Sermon on the Mount. Reread the gospels of the Apostles before you visit, look into the history of these locations, study up so you can fully appreciate what they mean when you stand before them.

As Christians, traveling to Israel always involves a lot of spiritual reflection, but it is something else entirely to actually travel as Jesus traveled and retrace his ministry. Be prepared to contemplate on what you see and feel and listen for God’s voice as you absorb the experience.

[Comment]

Churches of Israel: St. James CathedralBy: C4i

 
Israel is home to some of the worlds most beautiful churches, chapels, and temples. From landmarks like the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, to historic ruins like Megiddo, there is no shortage of skyline defining treasures and well-known tourist sites. But Israel’s historic marvels don’t end with what you have already seen in movies and documentaries, there is beauty tucked away in every corner of the country. 

One of these nooks is the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. There you’ll find one of the most ornately decorated churches in the world, the breathtaking St. James Cathedral.

The church itself is located in the larger St. James Convert, a sprawling compound home to thousands. A living, breathing, spiritual community. A city within the city where nuns, priests, children, teachers, and other people live and work and grow, all under the impressive shadow of the Cathedral, a densely packed center of spiritual pride and wonder that anchors the community. 

The cathedral is one of Israel’s only fully surviving Crusader-era churches and it shows that history. Built with impressively tall stone walls and turreted roofs, the cathedral looks like a castle. An ancient structure built to last. But as impressive as its exterior is, the true splendor of St. James Cathedral lies within.
Inside the halls of the church is an unbelievable collection of gilded altars, fine metalwork arches and decorations, and works of art. The effect is dizzying, a truly awe-inspiring sight to behold. The main ceiling is a vaulted dome containing hanging art including chandeliers, lamps, and many, many intricately painted ceramic eggs. 

The floors are covered in Kütahya handmade painted tiles. Each and every one of these delicate pieces of ceramic is itself a work of art, nestled together to create incredible murals. This is without mentioning every bronze engraving, handmade piece of pottery, and carved wood decoration that festoons every inch of the church. Flickering light plays off every polished surface. The church is not wired for electricity, meaning all this astounding work must be appreciated by sun and lamplight, creating a magical and changing effect as morning breaks, filling the church with golden light, brightens as the day develops, and as twilight falls gives way to candles and lamps. "Elaborate” does not do it justice.
 
 

This is joyous worship. An artistic devotion to God created by innumerable hands over hundreds of years. A collective work one can contemplate on and appreciate more and more as each small detail, each carved line and careful brushstroke stand out to the observer. 

But the cathedral isn’t just an artistic masterstroke, it is also a place of deeply relevant history. The church is dedicated to two martyred saints, St. James the Great and St. James the Less. Both towering figures of Christian history, one of the Jesus’ first apostles and a relative of Jesus. St. James the Great was beheaded by Harrod and the church is believed to be the site of his martyrdom. Indeed, the most important shrine in the church, the Chapel of St James the Great, is said to be the very spot he was killed. The head is buried in the Shrine, a chilling reminder of the persecution early Christians faced in the middle of a celebration of worship.

Access to the compound and the Cathedral is tightly controlled. Remember, this is not just a historic site, but a community. This is a working church, not a museum, and a working community of real people living their lives. As such, visitors to the compound must be accompanied by an Armenian guide. So, if you want to explore, you’ll need to plan ahead. Fortunately, the cathedral itself is open to the public at specific times without the need for an escort, as are a few other museums and libraries in the compound. 

[Comment]

Heroes of the holocaust: The love of Sofia KritikouBy: C4i

In these blogs we’ve detailed many stories of boldness and heroism. From housewives becoming spies, to teenagers fighting with the Resistance, there are many stories of exceptional acts of bravery. But it’s important to remember that perhaps the bravest act of all is to love without exception or thought of repayment. To love like Christ.

That was the kind of love that moved through Sofia Kritikou. Sofia was a humble woman of modest means. A single mother raising her daughter Agapi on her own, Sofia worked as a house cleaner and maid in Athens to support her small family. In September of 1943, the German army occupied Athens and the world she lived in began to change.

Immediately after the Nazis took over, the persecution of the Jewish population began. War time shortages put everyone into hard straights, so when rumors that extra rations  would be distributed at the central synagogue, people took the bait. This included the Kazansky family. The women of the family went to temple to see if they could secure some extra food for their children, only to find soldiers waiting for them. They were taken by the Nazis to Auschwitz and later murdered.
Devastated, the father, David Kazansky, took his remaining family and blindly fled. He had an older son, the 18-year-old Tsvi, a teenaged daughter, Liana, and the 8-year-old baby of the family, Jeny. David secured some false identity cards that claimed the family was Greek and hit the road, desperate to stay a step ahead of the Gestapo.

They meandered through the country, staying with relatives, friends, and acquaintances for short periods of time. It was a tough life. David was trying to pay his way with these families they were staying with, and the children were constantly being uprooted, never knowing where they would be sleeping next. He needed to restore some semblance of security and safety to their lives.

That’s when a friend got him in touch with Sofia. She was known as a hard-working and compassionate woman. The kind of person who put action to her words and cared for her fellow man. Despite her own precarious position as a single working mother, she didn’t hesitate when she was approached to help the Kazanskys. 

At first she thought she was just offering room to a family down on their luck. Sofia welcomed them with open arms. But soon the real plight of their situation was understood. But such was Sofia’s compassion and love that even with the knowledge that they were in fact a Jewish family, and all the terrors that could bring upon her and her own daughter, she couldn’t turn them away.

David’s work took him away from the family regularly, doing whatever he could to support this makeshift homestead. Tsvi, the son, eventually left to join the Resistance, visiting now and then while doing what he could to support fellow local Jews and men and women of conscience resisting Nazi rule. The girls, Liana and Jeny, stayed home and started becoming like daughters to Sofia and sisters to Agapi. 

They weathered it out together, a family united by perseverance and love in the face of oppression and hatred. For the entire rest of the war the family stayed with Sofia, skirting suspicion and dodging the eye of the gestapo. It wasn’t easy, they were impoverished, food was scarce, and Sophia worked from sun up to sun down every day walking miles to the homes she cleaned, but they made it work.
 
After the war, the family went their separate ways. David and Liana stayed in Greece, while Tsvi and Jeny decided they needed a change and moved to Israel to start new lives. But love brought this family together once and it would do it again. In 1964, Tsvi went to visit Sofia when he met Agapi again. Now a grown woman, they fell in love with each other. They married. Agapi converted to Judaism and together they moved to Israel, taking Sofia with them. Bonds of love tying them together forever. 
 
- Photo from Yad Vashem

Sofia lived in Israel till the age of 100, an honored mother and grandmother. A fairytale ending that was only possible because Sofia extended an open hand to the needy, because she risked herself to love like Christ. If you’re looking for a powerful example of how living in Christ should look, you’ve found it in Sofia.

[Comment]

Israeli history reaches for the heavens with Israeli astronautBy: C4i

 
- Photo by Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority
 
Israel is a land of history. It seems like not a month goes by without a story of some new artifact, some piece of history, being discovered. Israel is unique among the nations in that it has been the focal point for so many historic and important events, and also has a climate that lends itself towards preservation. 

But soon, one of these artifacts will be traveling to a very different environment and will make new history in the process. Eytan Stibbe will be accompanying the January Space X launch, breaking the orbit with a piece of Israeli history on his person.

Stibbe will be the second Israeli to go into space. Scheduled to launch off the planet and join the International Space Station as part of the SpaceX program, Eytan won’t be going alone. He’ll be taking a small, but important piece of history with him, a 1,900 year-old Jewish coin.

Stibbe became familiar with the coin, a recent discovery from the Judean Desert, after a visit with the Israel Antiquities Authority Dead Sea Scrolls lab in Jerusalem. It was a visit looking at Israeli history, the sheer breadth and scope of Israel’s story and place in the world’s development. It included private viewing of ancient scroll fragments, biblical texts found in Judean caves, and other rare and wonderous archaeological finds. One of those finds was that coin.

The coin is a recent discovery. Found in what is (distressingly) called the Cave of Horror in the Judean Desert. The cave gets its name from the original excavators who explored it, they were horrified to find the ancient skeletal remains of over 40 people in the cave, victims of the Bar Kokhba revolt nearly 2000 years ago. However, the cave also contained several significant historical discoveries, including a Greek translation of the Book of the Twelve and new scroll fragments of the Books of Zechariah and Nahum as well as several other unique artifacts. Heartbreak and triumphs side by side, very much the pattern of Israel’s history.

The coin has symbolic value for Stibbe. "I saw the coin, minted with the palm tree and vine leaf, that for me represent the connection to the land, the love of the country, and the desire of the population of Israel in those years for independence.” Stibbe hopes to take this philosophy and spirit with him to the stars. 

Stibbe will be joining Space X on a "tourist” flight, but he is no stranger to the sky. A former Israeli air force pilot, Stibbe distinguished himself in the service. During the 1982 Lebanon War Stibbe flew combat sorties into enemy territory and personally shot down five Syrian aircraft. This record makes him an actual "Ace Pilot” in the strictest sense of the term.

A bittersweet loss hangs over Stibbe’s upcoming flight. During his military service Stibbe served under another Israeli hero, Ilan Ramon, also known as Israel’s first astronaut. Ramon was a distinguished airman himself who was tragically lost in the Columbia disaster in 2003. Stibbe has since been an active force in the Ramon Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to the memory of Ramon. His January flight will be made in honor of Ramon and his family.

It's a heavy responsibility. Stibbe is not only carrying national pride and history into space, but the emotional weight of his lost friend and national icon. But what better place to free yourself of such a burden than in the weightlessness of space. 

[Comment]

The Christian act of HospitalityBy: C4i

When I was young, I was always intrigued by a verse from Hebrews. "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” It was something my mother used to reference when she’d give money to strangers in a parking lot. When she’d offer to watch over other kids for the day when their parents needed an emergency babysitter. When (despite my pleading) she would give oft neglected children across the street some of our leftover KFC, a delicacy we only ordered on birthdays, and I was heartbroken to part with. 

But even as a child it struck me as odd. The idea of angels in disguise, testing us to see if we are living up to our virtues. It’s a curious thought and one that will make you see outstretched hands in a different light. It’s certainly motivating to think that we could be being observed in the act, that an angel could be watching us as we make the mental calculation to spare some change or open our door. I always admired my mother for keeping that kind of mindset, for always being willing to help because, like she’d smile and say, "you never know.” 

But really, God has no need for angels to test us and report their observations to Him. He sees what we’re doing and what is in our hearts at all times, he already knows when we live up to the standards He asks us to and when we disappoint. And what is the difference to God between giving to an angel and giving to another one of his children? Do we believe He would value charity given to an angel more than He would value a helping hand extended to a needy child or a lonely soul? I don’t think so. 

While that verse is helpful for clarifying God’s expectations for us, it doesn’t really change anything if it is taken literally or not. There is no difference whether we’re talking to an angel, a small child, or a wandering drunk, our commitment to that person is the same. God wants us to love our neighbors no matter who they are or where they come from and show them hospitality. 

But what does hospitality mean exactly? In the times when Hebrews was written, hospitality served a very different function in society. Secularly, hospitality and etiquette was a defining social structure that maintained the freedom of travel and commerce in society. Between Christians though, it meant something more.

When the Church was young and persecuted, hospitality also meant survival. When preachers might have to travel far and wide by foot, either voluntarily as part of their mission or involuntarily to stay ahead of those opposed to the message of Christ. These wanderers hit the uncertain road with nothing but faith to guide them. They didn’t have the ability to make arrangements or "send ahead” for a room and meal at their destination. Frequently, they were not even sure what their destination was. They were dependent on open doors and hearths, on a seat at the table for a meal, on fellow brothers and sisters understanding their struggle and sharing what they had. A beautiful sentiment.

In our day and age, it is a very different thing to be a Christian. We are blessed to be free to worship without fear, and Christians as a group have flourished and thrived in North America. We don’t have wandering prophets making their way to our city with nothing be the sandals on their feet and the good book in hand. We don’t have fellow brothers and sisters in Christ dodging centurions and looking for a safe place to stay. We have safety, security, and prosperity.

Does that mean our responsibility is the same as those early Christians? Not at all. I would argue it’s far greater. God asks us to dig even more deeply and give even more freely.

Loving a brother in need, a social equal with the same beliefs as you, is easy. You have common ground to start from. There is the knowledge that you could wind up in the same position just as easily someday. The favor you do today comes with the understanding that it might be someday repaid to you.
How much more difficult is it to love the stranger. The person who is different from you, that you seem to share little common ground with on the surface. Someone who would be incapable of repaying you in the same way if the situation was somehow reversed. When we can embrace that person with an open hand and no expectations, that is when we can show real, Christ-like hospitality.

And if our ancient fellow Christians were expected to open their doors and share the last of their loaves and oil with a stranger who wandered in off the dusty road, what are we expected to share when we live in relative prosperity? We’re to give openly, without hesitation, without calculation. When someone asks for a hand, our first response shouldn’t be to think of what we can give without really missing it, but rather, we should be figuring out what they need and making sure they get it. 

As we celebrate this Christmas, a season of giving, let’s be inspired to show real hospitality. Reflect the generosity of Christ in your own life and give to those you don’t know, to the people you don’t understand or recognize. Whether or not they are angels in disguise doesn’t matter, they are God’s children just like us, and he wants us to love them like we love the brother or sister sitting next to us in Church. 

[Comment]

FROM THE DESK OF REV DR JOHN TWEEDIEBy: C4i

Dear Friends of C4i and Israel:

Traveling these days is full of challenges. Two staff members and I recently returned from an 8-day visit to Israel, where we toured the charities we support in the Holy Land. We also received four COVID tests along the way: one before departure, another upon arrival in Tel Aviv, yet another within 72 hours of leaving Israel, and finally, a random airport test for two of us upon landing home after a 12-hour transatlantic flight. Thankfully, all tests were negative even though we had been all over Israel, staying in various hotels, meeting many people, etc. 

This latest project tour, our first in more than two years because of the pandemic, was timely for several reasons, not least of which was the opportunity to assess current needs in light of the damage done to the Israeli economy, especially the tourism and hospitality sectors. While many are suffering hardships caused by a prolonged pandemic with no end in sight, charity officials and staff shared over and over again how C4i’s support has enabled them to continue helping the less fortunate.

Take, for example, Meir Panim’s facility in Dimona, located in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. C4i has funded the annual cost of meals for this facility for several years now; however, we discovered that, because the facility is not on local transit routes, some seniors, including Holocaust survivors, can’t take advantage of the facility’s meals and social programs. We hope to meet this need by providing a golf-cart type vehicle that will allow people to be brought to the facility or receive meals delivered to their homes.

Tents of Mercy in Haifa is one of two new charities C4i added this year. The staff shared how an old vehicle, in constant need of repair, is hampering their efforts to deliver essentials to those in need in the greater Haifa area, a northern coastal city with a mixed Arab-Jewish population and many new immigrants. Thanks to your consistent and generous support, we hope to transfer the funds for a replacement van early in 2022.

We also had the opportunity to visit Adi Negev – Nahalat Eran (formerly Aleh), a facility for special children and young adults with learning disabilities established by Major General (Res) Doron Almog when he couldn’t find adequate care for his son, Eran. Doron has devoted the rest of his life to caring for those who can’t care for themselves. His state-of-the-art desert facility, in Ofakim, is a model of what is possible when someone lovingly cares about others with special needs. 

For many years now, C4i has provided the necessary funds for the individual diets and nutrition required by children in Adi Negev-Nahalat Eran’s high dependency unit; because most can’t swallow, these children receive food via gastro tubes in their abdomens. Doron was there to meet us and express his appreciation for our steadily increasing financial support over the many years we have supported his efforts. Here are excerpts from a letter we received from him upon our return home:

Dear John, Heather, and Jennifer:

I want to deeply thank you for your visit today and your ongoing support year after year for our beloved disabled children and residents.
 
ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran with the support of you - C4i - is expanding and growing rapidly. We see the new rehabilitation hospital sprouting up before our eyes and anticipate the opening, scheduled for this year. Our research center has caught the attention of doctors and academics throughout the world and many have shown a keen interest in our research and its efficient progress…
 
Nearly a year ago we marked the 14 anniversary of the passing of our dear beloved son Eran. Nothing at ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran would have come to be if not for him. His spirit continues to be felt throughout the entire village, encouraging us to move forward for the benefit of those like him, the most fragile members of our society.
 
Thank you again for your kindness John, Heather & Jennifer. With your kind help, we will keep moving forward, making the world a better place. We are waiting for you here in Israel, and I can’t wait to tour you at ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran next year.
 
With much love to you,
 
Doron
 

I urge you to watch Doron’s testimony of how his son, Eran, changed his life – and continues changing the world. There is no more eloquent way to conclude this last letter update for 2021 other than to say that your generosity is now part of this beautiful story.
In Messiah’s service.

Rev. Dr. John Tweedie

[Comment]

Malham cave - The world’s longest salt caveBy: C4i

Imagine a crystalline mountain. A secret underground world made of some of the most delicate and intricate natural formations ever viewed by man. A sprawling network of subterranean tunnels and shafts that seem to extend forever. That place is a reality – The Malham Salt Cave of Mount Sodom.

Extending more than 10 entire kilometers underground, recent surveys have confirmed that the Malham Salt cave is the largest salt cave of its kind in the world. While the cave has been a center of interest for geologists and cave explorers for years, it is only thanks to modern technology and an international alliance of brave spelunkers that we now know exactly how impressive they really are.

It’s taken a long time to get here. Malham was discovered by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Cave Research Center in the 1980s. At this point, exploration was limited, even rudimentary. Researchers mapped the caves using tape measures and compasses, hand tools and old school techniques. It was a valiant effort made under difficult conditions, but the caves went mostly unmapped and unknown. 

Flash forward to 2019, and things are much different. The CRCenter joined with the Israel Cave Explorers Club to finally tackle the unimaginably huge task of mapping and fully exploring the Malham Salt Cave. Soon they were joined by the Sofia Speleo Club of cave mappers from Bulgaria and over 80 individual spelunking volunteers from across the world including the UK, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Armed with the latest in technological tools - including laser measurements, ruggedized laptops to survive the conditions, and the latest in climbing and safety gear.

Even with these advantages the work is slow and dangerous. Over the 10-day expedition in 2019, cavers crawled through 10-hour and longer days, slowly making their way over sharp rock formations, under salt stalactites, across icy channels, and through tight squeezes. All of this in a labyrinth of layered passages, tunnels, and plateaus that crisscross and overlap each other. A maze of salt, sheer falls, and narrow chokepoints that would send a chill up even the most experienced cavers spine.

Salt caves are totally unique phenomenon.  They are rare geological miracles that only exist in the few places in the world that can support them. They need dry and arid locations with a low sea level. Of course, that makes the area around the Dead Sea practically an ideal spot. Most salt caves are tiny, there are only a handful which can boast more than half a mile in length. Size is what makes Malham such an incredible marvel. It’s not just the biggest in the world, it’s the biggest by an order of magnitude.

Visitors to the cave are greeted by a large salt pillar near the opening affectionately referred to as "Lot’s Wife.” A large portion of the interior of the cave is covered in a fine layer of dust and sand that wafts in from the desert and settles over every surface. Deeper in though, the amber color recedes, and a pure crystalline white becomes dominant. 

Slabs of salt jut out at incredible angles within the deepest regions of the cave system. Stalactites and pillars made of razor-sharp crystals dangle from the ceiling and burst from the ground in unpredictable and beautiful ways. One area that is particularly dense with hanging white crystals has been nicknamed "the wedding hall” by cavers, a sort of naturally forming gala room fit for the most regal of ceremonies. 

Exploring the deepest recesses of the caves is a task for only serious professionals. However, the ICEC does run guided tours through the opening areas of the cave system that are still incredibly majestic. The Malham Salt Caves are a natural wonder that needs to be seen to be believed!

[Comment]

Keeping a prayer journal for a deeper walk with GodBy: C4i

 
Prayer is one of the most fundamental aspects of Christian life. It is our direct line of communication with God and our primary way of building a spiritual relationship with Him. 

It can also be a lot harder than people think!

Prayer should always be intentional and focused. It should be a meditative and reflective process where you examine your heart and ask God for guidance and forgiveness. Where you express appreciation for what He has given you and give thanks for His blessings. But all too often, it becomes a mindless routine. A jumble of words you mumble to yourself before falling asleep, or a rote list of requests like you were reciting a grocery list. Not exactly the reflective and meditative ideal.

One way to avoid this and add more intentionality, reflection, and spiritual investment to your prayer life is to create a prayer journal. 

What is a prayer journal?

Very simply, a prayer journal is exactly what it sounds like, a small notebook where you write out your prayers. More broadly however it’s a way to focus your conversations with God and be able to see how He moves in your life. It’s a way to add structure and perspective to your inner-thoughts and a way to see your walk with God take shape and grow over time.

Ironically, you’ll find by writing down your prayers, you’ll prevent them from slipping into that "laundry list” routine so many find themselves in!

Why should you keep one?

Keeping a prayer journal is helpful for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it helps you concentrate. When you are writing you need to be thoughtful and present – two qualities that go out the window if you’re just going through the motions with a very routine pre-dinner or before bed prayer. 

More long-term though, a prayer journal also helps you see how God is answering your prayers. Even the most faithful among us can be get frustrated. When life is hard and things seem dead set against us, it can be frustrating to pray to God and feel like He is not listening. But He is, I guarantee it. He is always moving in your life in ways great and small, ways you may not understand or even notice in the moment. But by keeping a prayer journal where you record what you are praying for, what you are grateful for, and what is going on in your life, it is easier to see those patterns. Over time you will be able to look back and see how He has answered your prayers (even if they were not specifically the answers you were looking for in the moment).

Lastly, it will make you more attentive in your prayers. When you can read over what you’ve prayed for in black and white, certain trends and behaviors stand out. Are you praying for other people or just yourself? Do you regularly ask God to help you with some personal struggle or failing but never have any details on how you’re trying to make that change in your life? These things will jump out after you’ve been journaling for a few months. It’s a way to help make yourself a more thoughtful and responsible Christian.

What do you need to get started?

A notepad, a pen, and 10 minutes to yourself. That’s it.

Seriously, a prayer journal is an intensely personal thing and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. All you need is a blank page to pour out your heart to God onto. Whatever the specifics of that are, or however that looks and works, is up to you and you alone.

Sure, there are plenty of different prayer journal templates and designs out there. There are some you can buy and some you can print off for free. Some prayer journals are broken up by prayer topic (prayers for family, prayers for illness, prayers for financial struggles, and so on). Some have prompts on every page, questions like "What am I grateful for today?” Or "what am I struggling with?” that can help guide your thoughts and entries. Other types of journals use a standard format like examining a bible verse every day. I know some artists who draw in theirs! 

Any of these ideas or templates can be wonderful tools. If you respond to that kind of structure or if any of those ideas seem fun, then I encourage you to seek those kinds of templates out. But if that kind of thing sounds overwhelming or difficult to keep up with, there is no need to make it complicated if you don’t want to. 

Personally, I like to keep things loose. Sometimes I’ll write directly to God as if I am praying to Him through the page. Other times I’ll write about something I saw or read that moved me and examine why it had the impact on me it did. Sometimes I’ll reflect on my flaws or the disappointments of the day, the worries that keep me up at night. Whatever is moving me at the time. The only bit of standardization I stick to is to always make sure I include the date of every entry. I find being able to look back day after day, and track where I was mentally and spiritually, very comforting.

How does it work?

The process couldn’t be simpler, just find a few minutes a day where you can focus and write about your prayers, your concerns, and what you are grateful for. The two most important things are consistency and reflection.

First, a prayer journal needs to become habit. You should try and make sure you write an entry every day, especially when you are just starting to really cement it as a daily activity. It’s not the end of the world if you miss a day or two every now and then. But being able to see the patterns in your prayers, thoughts, and how you are hearing God’s answers throughout your life is where a prayer journal really earns its value. 

Which brings us to reflection. You need to occasionally re-read what you’ve written. You don’t need to have a set schedule for this, just make sure it’s something you occasionally check in on. When you have a moment some lazy evening a few months down the line, read over what you wrote in the first few pages of your journal. Reflect on those prayers, what you were asking for, how you were asking, and think about what has happened since then.

By keeping up with your prayer journal and occasionally re-reading it, you’ll have a much more dynamic, open, and honest conversation with God. 

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Gaming and God (Part 2)By: C4i

 
In our last post we looked at how gaming has become a major part of many people’s lives and the dangers of consuming them frivolously. Today let’s dive into how games affect your personality and what steps you can take to make sure your gaming habit is consistent with your Christian values.

How do games make you feel?

Personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with the violence in Street Fighter. That might be surprising. Even if you’re not familiar with the series, you can tell just from the title that Street Fighter is a game all about fighting and in the last post I just said to be careful about what you put in your brain, so what’s the deal?

Simply put, Street Fighter isn’t very serious. While it is a series that features martial artists kicking and punching each other to claim victory, there is no blood, no one is permanently hurt or killed, and there are no victims. Fights in that game are much more similar to a boxing match than a mugging.
It helps that the characters and combat are very cartoony and archetypical. The disciplined karate fighter can channel his fighting spirit to throw fireballs from his hands (somehow). The 7-foot-tall Russian bear wrestler will grab his opponents and jump three stories straight up into the sky to piledriver them. Characters react to these blows with expressions worthy of the Three Stooges. Bug-eyed surprise, cartoon grimaces, and hokey one-liners aplenty. If you’re comfortable with watching the occasional schlocky kung-fu movie, the Street Fighter series should be around the same speed. 

But how does it make you feel?

While the violence may be cartoony, the competition is not. Street Fighter is a game about one-on-one face-offs between players. For the people who are into it, the battles are intense. That’s why there is a serious tournament scene for the game, with faithful spectators who tune into online streams in the thousands to watch tournament matches live, and prominent players who have risen to a kind of stardom within their sphere, collecting sponsorships and endorsement deals just like normal athletes.

This competition fuels players at all levels to get better at the game. To push themselves to learn more about each character and sharpen their reflexes for when they face them, and that’s good. I’d argue it’s character building – it’s all about setting goals and putting in the work to see them through. But with that competition comes dangers. Namely frustration, anger, envy, and self-hatred.

I’ve seen a lot of adults with steady jobs and good heads on their shoulder become absolute lunatics playing multiple games. When a losing streak puts them on "tilt” and a mild-mannered father of two becomes a profanity spewing barbarian. I’ve seen thrown controllers, rage-fueled diatribes, and tantrums fit for a 3-year-old. It’s not becoming in the least. 

One needs to know when a gaming hobby is becoming something destructive. If your play sessions with a game leave you angry, irritable with your family, and spiteful against the people who beat you, is it really enriching your life?

This can happen in all kinds of games. From the intense multiplayer competition of something like Apex or League of Legends, to single player games that demand perfection like Sekiro. If a title leaves you feeling worse than when you started, it’s time to either walk away from those games until you can put them in perspective or shelve them entirely if you can’t do that. 

It’s not a crime to say a game isn’t fun anymore!

How much time are they taking up?

Games are supposed to be entertainment. Too often though they can become an addiction.

Part of this is simple human nature. Games can be fun and it’s easy to want to do the fun thing over anything else. That’s something you must watch for and discipline in your life.

Part of it is also by design. Many modern games are loaded with features and hooks intentionally designed to make you want to play more and play longer day-after-day. Things like daily challenges with limited time rewards, season passes that drip-feed new content in like a never-ending treadmill, ongoing stats and public leaderboards that demand you keep up a certain level of activity to place well in them. All of these little hooks can insidiously drive you to focus on something that was supposed to be a diversion. You end up more invested in a game while real life passes you by.

If your gaming is causing you to ignore more important things (school, work, family, relationships) it might be time to give them a rest. This isn’t limited to gaming, the same can be said about any hobby or activity. But gaming seems to have a special vice grip that is difficult to escape, so we need to be extra warry of it.

How can I make sure games are a healthy part of my life?

You need to control your gaming intake and ask yourself questions about what you are consuming and prioritizing in your life. Here are a few things you might want to reflect on to make sure you’re in charge of your games and they are not in charge of you.
  • How often do I game? Do you mostly play on the weekends? During a commute? At night? Whenever you can? During those times, what else could you be doing? Are the kids still up? What does your partner get up to during that time? Is there anything more important you should be focusing on?
  • How long do I tend to play? How many hours a week do you think you game? It can be easy to lose track when you’re enjoying something. Next time you sit down to play, note the time you start and the time you end. Write it down each time you play for a week and find out how close you were to your estimate. 
  • How do I feel when I’m done playing? Are you more relaxed? Did you have fun? Or are you more upset and frustrated than anything else? Make sure your games are leaving you in a better condition than when you started.
  • What does my family say about my gaming? Do you ever get subtle (or not so subtle) hints from your spouse that you’re spending too much time with a controller in your hand? Do your parents or siblings seem to have to fight for your attention? It might be time to reprioritize. Nothing made of polygons will ever have a bigger impact on your life than the people in it. 
  • Could I play this next to Jesus? If you can’t honestly answer yes, then you know in your heart you’re making a mistake. Because Jesus IS always with us and for all intents and purposes IS on the couch with you when you play.
  • How has this game enriched my life? There is a positive side to gaming! Many games can leave us with a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, or inspire us to push our limitations. While you need to be wary of the negative influences gaming can bring into your life, it’s important to also acknowledge the positive.
Reflect on your habits and how you game. Gaming isn’t new and scary anymore and we have to acknowledge that it is a big part of many people’s lives. Just make sure it is a positive part of yours!

[Comment]

Gaming and GodBy: C4i

 
When I was young, gaming was still considered a new and mysterious thing. I remember attending Sunday school sermons where well-meaning but perhaps poorly informed youth pastors warned about the insidious distracting power of too much gaming and the moral-corroding violence of "Resident Doom.” I’ll admit, when I was a teenager at the height of my PlayStation days, I used to giggle at their seemingly out of touch views of what gaming was. To me, games were cheap entertainment and little else. Making a big deal out of them seemed a little silly.

Now that I’m an adult though, I think those out of touch youth pastors might have had the last laugh.

Games are no longer new and mysterious. They are not something that only teenaged boys are into. Games are for everyone! Boys and girls as young as three cut their teeth on Paw Patrol mobile games. Older kids and teenagers (especially in this last year of Covid) socialize and converse through games like Minecraft and Fortnite, they’ve become casual hang out spots like the mall might have been 20 years ago. Most of my adult friends play games to some degree or another, from the busy mom who likes to unwind with a bit of Animal Crossing at the end of the day to the 45-year-old lawyer who STILL drives hours out of town to play in Street Fighter tournaments. 

But for as prevalent as games are, now I find I’m the one who worries about them becoming a distraction. I see the violence and content in some of the most popular series of games out there and I have to wonder about what Jesus would think if he was on the couch next to us while we played them. So as Christians, what should we be looking out for when it comes to games?

What are you putting in your brain?

There are lots of games out there and most of them are harmless fun. There is nothing wrong with jumping on a few goombas in Mario or following the adventures of Ace Attorney Phoenix Wright as he tries to solve another mystery. These are fun pieces of entertainment just like your favorite TV shows or books.

But there are some games that give me pause. When I see things like Grand Theft Auto, a series which centers realistic depictions of violence, crime, and sexualization, or war games that delight in coming out with more and more realistic depictions of battle and bloodshed every year, I get discouraged. Some of the most popular and bestselling games out there seem to be nothing but poison for your mind. 

While there has never been a proven link between criminal behavior and playing violent crime games, that’s not the point. The worry isn’t that playing a game like that will lead you to commit those acts in real life - it is what they are doing to your heart. There is a kind of crime of the soul to take joy in simulated acts of barbarity. 

Let’s put it this way. Yes, I know you would never walk into a convenience store, shoot the clerk in the stomach, and watch him bleed to death on the floor while you clean out the register. You’re not a monster. So why do you enjoy doing it in a game? What is appealing about simulating that act, even in a safe environment where no one is hurt?

Some people say the enjoyment is in pushing these taboos, for having a chance to "play” at terrible things you would never actually do. But that is a very dangerous thing. When you re-wire your brain to accept the unacceptable, even with a lot of provisos and context, you are doing the devil’s job for him.
The things you put in your brain become a part of you. Next time you pick up the controller to play a game, ask yourself if what you see on screen is something you are comfortable making part of yourself. If the answer is no, find another game.

This is the most important question to ask yourself while playing, but far from the only one. We’ll look at more in part 2 later this week!

[Comment]

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