Arrival in Beer Sheva.

This month feels unusual. It should be unusual, as this month I have begun a PhD in archaeology. This month I have also moved country to the Negev desert in southern Israel. The two are connected.

I want to take some time to tell you a little bit about how I got here.

I left school with little understanding of what I wanted to do in life. I liked English- I enjoyed reading and hoped I might be able to be a writer or an artist. I had a set of good A-levels and GCSEs so I began an English degree at University College London. But that degree felt like a drag. I pushed on through essay after essay, because I felt sure it was the way to fulfill my dreams. It made sense logically. My mind could comprehend a natural path from English student to journalist to writer in maybe 10 years. But somehow it didn’t feel right.

As I was praying one morning in my apartment in the final year of my English degree, I felt God speak to me clearly. He said, ‘I have anointed you as an archaeologist’. I had been on an archaeological dig in the summer of that year with a friend of mine from school who seemed as bored with his archaeology degree as I was with my English degree. I had enjoyed the dig, but when God said those words, they sounded as crazy to me as I have no doubt that they did to you as you read them. I didn’t even know it was possible to be anointed as an archaeologist never mind what it meant, but something inside me knew that this was not just me and I was going to have to accept what God said one way or another.

So I looked at the archaeology section of my university website and scanned through the Master’s degrees. I didn’t want to do another Bachelor’s degree. The prospect of studying alongside another group of undergraduate students, many of whom were only in it for the beer, held little appeal. I saw one degree which sounded interesting- MA in archaeology of the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East- and I remembered how God had always drawn me to Israel since I was a child listening to prayer updates from a man called Lance Lambert in my parents car- he had a nice voice… I thought that I would go and speak to the course convener for this MA and see whether he thought it would be possible to do an MA in archaeology after having finished a BA in English. To my astonishment, his response was that it was what he had done at Oxford. This was the first in a number of unusual circumstances which were about to occur.

It turned out that my university was the only university in the country that provided a kind of ‘conversion course’ in archaeology that would allow me to proceed straight to MA level. Not only that, but the archaeology department was asking for students who wanted to participate in a dig in Israel that summer. At once I remembered what I had heard God say in a time of prayer during the first year of my BA. ‘You’ll go to Israel at the end of your degree.’ It made no sense at the time, but it’s exactly what happened.
While on that dig, I fell in love with the country I visited, despite how unromantic my experience was. I had no convenient schedule of visits to holy sites with expedient accompanying Bible readings. I used public transport with pathetically stunted Hebrew addressed to nonplussed drivers who evidently had no intention of speaking any English. I stayed in student dormitories with cockroaches as roommates.

I find that the little impressions God gives that catch unawares are often the most significant ways in which He speaks to me. One of those occurred while I was on excavation for the first time in Israel. As I wandered around the empty university campus in the height of summer, praying quietly, I had a sense – just an impression but undeniable, that I would study there for a long time.

And here I am beginning my PhD at that same campus. It could take 5 years to complete and a minimum of 4.

This is a much abbreviated account. I returned to excavate again at the same university in the middle of my MA, and I did not have to push to study here. My soon-to-be PhD supervisor approached me during the dig and asked me about my plans after my MA. It was maybe our third or fourth conversation and he essentially offered me a PhD on the spot.

At every turn, I have found that God is writing an amazing story as long as I’m not the one that’s in control. There are plenty of other tales to tell, and I am sure that there will be many more to come. The common denominator in all of them being my lack of forward-planning. I could never have planned these things.

But God did, before the foundation of the world, according to the Bible.

…He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will… (Ephesians 1:4-5, NKJV)

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10, NKJV)

I heard a saying recently, flying around on social media. It says, ‘Life isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself.’

Don’t believe it. You aren’t capable of writing a story like God’s.

I think the point of all this is that God is a God who makes way, as long as He is the one who gets executive creative oversight.

Jesus says in the book of Revelation that He is always standing at the door knocking and waiting for someone to let Him in. We pass this scripture off as one for evangelism, but Jesus addressed it to believers. I am convinced that too often we who claim to love Him are the ones who are leaving Him out in the cold. He wants to write our lives as miraculous stories that only He could tell so that He will get all the glory, but the truth is that too often we still want to be sheep going our own way just like it says in Isaiah. He has to be the one Who makes the way. I leave you with the scripture from whence comes this blog’s name- it seems fitting…

Do not remember the former things,
Nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?
I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:18-19, NKJV)

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Isaiah 43:19

Dear friend,

The scripture above has for a long time been significant for me, not so much as a divine direction or instruction, but really just in that it has always felt familiar.  I can’t remember the first time I heard the words,

I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19)

But, when the ‘way’ first opened for me to work with a university in southern Israel which is located well within the desert of which this scripture speaks, I began to take notice.

For someone who may have stumbled across this page in the endless availability that is the internet, I am a Christian.  I was brought up in a home that valued the truth that everything I have as a Christian, and the very constitutional foundation of my nation as a UK citizen, has passed to me through one unique and remarkable people; Israel.  My whole ethical code and system of values began to be birthed when the Creator spoke to one man living in southern Iraq and told him to go to the desert.  When Abraham became God’s friend, did he know that God would use him and his family to show who He was to the whole world?  I believe God still wants to do that.

In the verses that follow Isaiah 43:19, God repeats His statement but adds something special:

…for I give water in the wilderness,
    rivers in the desert,
to GIVE DRINK to MY CHOSEN PEOPLE,
21     the people whom I FORMED FOR MYSELF
that they might declare my praise. (Isaiah 43:20-21, emphasis added)

When God asked Abraham to be His friend, and to come with Him to the desert, He created a nation.  He separated Abraham and his family to Himself by showing them Who He was.  This family that became the nation of Israel experienced an intimacy with God that no other family had access to.  In the prophet Jeremiah, it actually says that God ‘married’ Israel around the time that He gave Moses the ten commandments.  He became united with this nation in a way He never has with any other; and it all started with friendship.  Ultimately, God sealed His commitment to this nation by becoming personally part of it in Jesus.  Do you know that Jesus has a nationality?  Some Christians think that when Jesus came, it meant that God had finished with Israel as a nation; their purpose was accomplished and now He could move on to everybody else.  I think exactly the opposite.  When God became part of Abraham’s family personally, He committed to them in an astounding and unprecedented way.  It is a miracle and a mystery that through the cross and through personal identification with Jesus I can become part of that family too as an adopted child, but I am certain that God’s plan is still to ‘give drink’ to His natural family in Jesus.

So in this space you will probably hear some news updates, maybe even some archaeology for the geek followers.  I will probably talk about God a lot and share some of the things He has shown me about Israel.  For now, thanks for getting this far – hope to see you again some time soon.