Sentiero Natura Monte Nero degli Zappini

We took this trail over the course of two and a half hours, including a time to stop for lunch. There are nice views of the Etna peaks and a walk through both the lava fields as well as through the woods.

This hike would be OK for our purposes with the people that we want to take. The only thing that I didn’t like about it was that, to complete it as a loop, the second half is primarily paved and, unless we did it incorrectly, returns on a road. Here is a map of the path that we took, starting and ending at Sentiero Naturalistico Rifugio della Galvarina. Here is the page on the Parco dell’Etna website for the trail.


Ceremonial Washing and Baptism

In the Jewish law, ceremonial washing was required to allow a man or a woman to be ceremonially clean before God. There were several situations in which a person could be considered to be ceremonially unclean and need to be washed. Those might include:

  • A woman’s menstruation
  • A man or woman’s discharge of sexual fluids
  • Contact with a dead body, either an animal or a person

In addition, ceremonial washing was also frequently performed in advance of celebrating the sabbath, or important days such as Yom Kippur or the festivals when the Jews would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

A new convert to Judaism would also need to be washed.

And finally – so to speak – they would also generally perform a washing for the dead prior to burial.

In these, and probably also other scenarios, the washing would need to be performed through full immersion in what they would call “living water”, meaning water that was running and continually refreshed. That might be a river, but was most frequently done in a pool or a bath that was connected to a fresh water spring, thus allowing the water to be refreshed by the continual running of the water from the water coming from the spring.

I mention this because today I have been reading in John 3 where both John the Baptist and Jesus were at the Jordan baptizing. Jesus and John had both been preaching a message of repentance from sin, and for this the people came to be baptized – probably in their minds, ceremonially washed, similar their prior Jewish custom.

But this washing was, indeed, different. In the Jewish custom, you don’t see cleansing from sin as one of the reasons to be washed and yet here, they are washed as a sign of repentance from sin.

Earlier in the chapter, Jesus points out to Nicodemus, who had come to him in the night from the Jewish ruling council, that if you want to enter the kingdom of God, you must be born of the water and of the Spirit. Jesus is talking about a washing that occurs from the outside – a demonstration of your repentance from sin and belief in Christ through the washing of baptism – and through the washing and rebirth of the person’s spirit by the Spirit of God.

“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’

John 3:5-7

This lasts even up to today. Jesus isn’t calling us to follow all of the requirements of ceremonial washing and by “ceremonially” clean. The ceremony of the rituals of sacrifice has been completed through God’s sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

Instead, he calls us to be completely clean, both inside and out, through a washing by water as well as a new birth – from death to life – by the Spirit of God’s work within us. Praise God that he comes for us to give us new life!


You are my refuge

David wrote these words in what is now Psalm 142 as he hid from the king, Saul, who was hunting him. David expresses this sentiment:

Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
no one is concerned for me.
I have no refuge;
no one cares for my life.

I cry to you, LORD;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”

Psalm 142:4-5

Even when we feel like things are crumbling around us, God is there. He is our refuge, the one we can run to and cry out for help, and he will respond.


Not Peter Pan, Not Santa Claus

There are stories that we hear as children that, at the time, we may or may not know are not real, but they enthrall us. If you think of Peter Pan, the story of a boy who is able to fly over Neverland, fighting the evil Captain Hook, and leading the Lost Boys to victory, you find a great story that any one of us would like to relate to. Good vs. evil. A love story with Wendy. Even the ability to fly with magic pixie dust… How great is that?

Or consider Santa Claus. How cool it is that there is someone who packs up a sleigh, flies it a light speed all over the world with flying reindeer, only to deliver toys to young boys and girls who will be excited to wake up the next morning.

In our post-Christian western culture, I think that we often have the tendency to look back to the stories that we heard about Jesus, either in church as we were growing up or in other places, in a similar way. We know that they should be true, but we can’t really put our finger on them, so it is easy to discount them. The facts become fuzzy and the reality, not to mention the implications of the reality, become difficult to comprehend.

And therefore, there are many that dismiss what they have heard and move on with the rest of their lives.

But these aren’t the stories of Peter Pan. These aren’t the stories of Santa Claus.

Peter, who was Jesus’s disciple and who became an apostle 2000 years ago, said this:

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

2 Peter 1:16-18

Peter is saying that the disciples didn’t create, nor listen to stories that someone else told. He says, in summary:

We were there.

We saw it.

And I’m telling you, this is for real.

Imagine what it would mean if there was a God who created you and me and everything that we see around us.

Imagine what it would mean if God decided to come in human form to live amongst his people.

Imagine if God himself spoke from heaven, declaring and confirming that this man, Jesus Christ, was actually divine. That he came from a spiritual kingdom that reins over all other kingdoms.

Imagine that he came to pay a ransom price of blood specifically for each of us, to win us back to be with God once again.

If that were true, it would change everything about our lives. It would change all of the priorities of our lives. We would no longer be so concerned about our positions of power or how much money we made. We would want to concern ourselves with knowing this One that came seeking us. We would want to align ourselves with him and everything that he says.

But we don’t need to imagine. Peter is clear: We were there.

And he isn’t the only one. There are many just like him. They aren’t making up Peter Pan and Santa Claus stories. These are facts that they are telling us. Let us live in the true story that God has told and that he is continuing to tell in our time, even today.


Trails on Mt. Etna and the Surrounding Area

I am wanting to start gathering more information and experiencing further some of the trails on Mt. Etna.

One reason is just to be able to get out more and experience more of the beauty of the area where we live. Another is that we would like to start being able to go together with other people on bike rides as part of Agape Bici, so we are needing some further information on where we can go and how difficult it will be for people should we take them there.

I want to start cataloging some of the trails and some of the various resources, so here is where I started this morning. I will try to come back on a regular basis and update this post with additional information and resources as I find them.

Sentieri – Parco dell’Etna – This page is from the official Parco dell’Etna website and lists a few of the more well-known trails around Mt. Etna. The page is written in Italian.

Trails hiked from this page:


Pride and Humility

This last Friday, we had a meeting with a man that has believed, and continues to believe deeply, in changing the world through politics. But in this discussion, there seemed to be a crack in his way of thinking because he started the conversation by saying that the people that he saw politically protesting that day were wasting their time.

“Why do you say that?”, we asked.

“Because they are just out there yelling and no one is listening. If you are going to protest, you need to be specific and you need to get people to listen.”

He went on to talk about how, in the 1970s in our area, people were committing violence to get the politicians to listen. He said that, while he didn’t condone what those people were doing in committing violence, he did understand it because it finally made the politicians listen to what was being said.

We went on to talk about needing true and lasting change, not just a temporary political change – one that goes into effect in one council or one administration and then changes with the next. Is there any way that could be accomplished? Is that even possible?

My other friend explained to this man that this is the nature of the revolution that Jesus started. What Jesus came to re-establish was the kingdom of God, with he himself as King over all. But instead of a kingdom that would have politicians who held up power, greed, or fame as its ideals, this kingdom would bring humility, generosity, and self-sacrifice as its modes of operation.

And so I was reminded of this when I was reading 1 Peter 5 this morning and I came to this section:

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:5-7

Interestingly, I have a situation going on my life at the moment where I have been experiencing anxiety related to a scenario like this one. But I love the reminder that Peter gives here when he says that we must not be proud and instead be humble. Often my pride can rise up and bring me to the point of demanding what I perceive to be my “rights” if I allow it to do this. But instead I need to cast my anxiety upon God in humility and he will make everything go forward in its right timing.

And so I think that this is the answer that our friend, from the beginning of this story, is looking for. If we mutually submitted to the authority of Christ and his ideals, we wouldn’t have scenarios of one person lording over another or one attempting to unjustly gain from another. Instead, we would have true and lasting change. Not change that can be made through politics, but a change that is made through a new and changed heart.


Grow Up in Your Salvation

Peter was writing to new believers that were scattered throughout the area that is roughly today the nation of Turkey. Many of these people have come to Christ through Paul’s church planting work and now Peter is calling them to continue to grow in their faith.

In chapter 2, Peter says:

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

1 Peter 2:2-3

What is it that Peter is saying when he says that these new babies should “grow up” in their salvation? Growing up, in a spiritual context, would refer to a few different things:

Righteousness: First and foremost, growing up means growing in righteousness. We have been reborn and made into a new creation, so we leave behind our old life of sin and live a life of righteousness. This is the first meaning of growing up.

Produce fruit of the Holy Spirit: Instead of producing fruit of the flesh, we begin to produce fruit of the Holy Spirit. Growing up in our salvation means to preemptively act in ways that accord with the fruits of the Spirit.

Produce fruit in the Kingdom of God: We look for ways to see the Kingdom expand. We make disciples of Jesus. We equip others to do good works. This produces more fruit.

In this particular case, Peter says that the people should crave pure spiritual milk. Very simply, Peter is saying that the people need to take their first steps in growing in their relationship with Christ. Peter is saying that this isn’t a simple “transaction” where the people were saved and now can just go on living their lives as they did before. No. Instead, he is calling them to growth, to become mature, to live as people who are growing beyond their infancy into maturity to adulthood.


Praise be to God

Last night, as we talked about how the Israelites rejected God as their king, and as Jesus came, he looked to re-establish this relationship, a man in the group looked at me a couple of times and said simply: I lay my head down on my pillow and sleep well at night.

This has a certain irony because this is the same man who, just the night before, had come to speak with us because he was raging about a scenario at work and felt like world was against him because of his employment situation.

This morning, we read 1 Peter and I noticed a simple, yet profound, statement that Peter makes in verse 3:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…

1 Peter 1:3

To believe in Christ is to believe that we are helpless, that we are lost, and yet God has come, in the midst of re-establishing his kingship relationship with his people, to save us from certain punishment and eternal loss. It is for this reason that we can and must praise God! If we truly understand our spiritual condition without him and his saving work in our lives, we realize that we have no hope whatsoever, except for the living hope that God has provided us through Jesus Christ. Without God moving to act on our behalf, we have no hope. We cannot save ourselves. Only he can save us – and he has come to do that in Christ. Praise be to God!


The Cross Was His Plan

As Jesus hung on the cross, the people passed by him and hurled insults at him. They were saying things like:

Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!

Matthew 27:40

What the people failed to understand was that Jesus came for this very moment. Jesus specifically put himself in that place. The Jews thought that they had convinced Pilate to crucify Jesus, but in reality, Jesus not only knew that he was going to be crucified, he intended to put himself on that cross.

The values of men and and the values of God often stand in definite contrast. In fact, they can be as starkly different as the difference between black and white. I think you can even see it in this particular scene.

The Jews believe that Jesus’s desire would be to continue living. In that case, Jesus’s value would be the things of our world. His life. His possessions. They believe this because those are the things that they value. They value the things of this world, certainly not the things that God values.

But the truth is that Jesus values the things that God values. He wasn’t sure that, in his humanness that he wanted to be crucified. Jesus prayed that, if there was another way, that God the Father would use that other way. Jesus knew that immense suffering was coming. He knew that immense pain was coming. But he told the Father that he wanted his will to be done, and that was the specific value that he was working under. Not to preserve himself. Not to live for his own benefit, but instead to live for the will of God the Father.

It wasn’t the Jews that killed Jesus.

And it wasn’t the Romans that killed Jesus.

It was God himself that killed Jesus. Read this from Isaiah, who wrote this more than 700 years prior to Jesus coming to earth:

Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

Isaiah 53:10

It was the Lord’s will to crush him. There were no surprises to God when Jesus was crucified. It worked out exactly as he planned it. God gave Jesus as an offering for sin, a sacrifice that was perfect. One sacrifice for all sin, for all time, for the past and the future. And it is the will of the Lord that is prospering. The Jews thought that their will, their desire, that was being done. And yet it was God’s will that was being accomplished, offering his people a way to come to him, the greatest gift ever given to mankind.



In Matthew 20, we see Jesus walking from Galilee to Judea, eventually on his way to Jerusalem. At one point, Jesus stops and pulls his disciples aside, yet again, and tells them that he will be condemned to death, mocked, flogged, and crucified, only to be resurrected and raised to life three days later.

And how do they respond? James and John’s mother comes and asks Jesus to allow her sons to sit at his right and left in his kingdom:

“What is it you want?” he asked.

She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

Matthew 20:21

You can see that Jesus patiently answers her and the rest of the disciples, but I have to imagine that Jesus is thinking to himself… What in the world??? Did they not hear what I just told them?

That’s my interpretation, of course, but wouldn’t that make sense? Imagine that you just said something that you think is super-important to your friends or family and they start talking about something else.

And why were the disciples thinking of something else? Only because they had their own ideas in mind. They had their own program for Jesus. They were ready to set him as the king over Israel because this is what they were expecting of the Messiah. That is who they were wanting him to be and so they started tuning out what he was saying to them. These truths of his real plan were hidden to them because of their own blindness and their own deafness.

How often is that the case for us? How often do we think we have God figured out and that we understand everything about him only to find out at some point that there is something new that we hadn’t considered and your perspective shifts?

Except for many of us, our arrogance and pride prevents us from really hearing and seeing what it is that God wants to say to us. In this case, Jesus is telling the disciples plainly what his plan is, and yet they can’t hear him because they have their own ideas about who Jesus is and what he desires.

I think that this should be a warning for us. Let us read the Word of God with the eyes and ears of our hearts open to seeing and hearing what Jesus is saying, not what we want to see or hear because it is our desire.