The Garden Tomb is the traditional site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection.  The Garden is now owned and maintained by The Garden Tomb Association, a non-denominational Christian group ensuring that the site stay intact and a destination for many believers while in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.  The Garden Tomb is an alternate site from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where the Catholic Church has built a massive church over a site they believe to be the location the crucifixion took place.  However, the Garden Tomb site meets the criteria surrounding the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus in all four gospels.  There is no way to be sure, but the location along with proximity of the crucifixion site and tomb seem to match this site better than any other!

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View of a small portion of the garden

The first thing you see upon entering the gate is the beautiful garden full of vegetation and paths to take in the beauty all around.  This site is very serene and allows for each person to reflect and worship in a peaceful and powerful way.

Golgotha - The Place of the Skull

Golgotha – The Place of the Skull

As we make our way through the garden, we arrive at an overlook where we see Golgotha – the place of the skull – where Jesus was crucified.  Just below the “skull” (not shown in the picture) is a bus station placed there by local Muslims.  This is something you see all over Israel, the Muslims destroying places of biblical significance to try and cover-up the truth in the Scriptures.  Thank God that The Garden Tomb Association was able to purchase this site and gate it before any more damage could have been done to this historic site.

Luke 19:17 – Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).

We then make our way toward the Garden Tomb, no more than 30-40 yards from Golgotha as I recall.  Again, with the proximity of the tomb to the place where Jesus was on the cross, this site has all the makings of the actual place where our Savior died, was buried and then rose again!

The Entrance to the Garden Tomb

The Entrance to the Garden Tomb

Matthew 27:57-61 – When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

It is a very surreal experience seeing the tomb and then entering it to find this sign, driving home the point:

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He is most certainly not in there, and the words that Mary Magdalene heard from the angel of the Lord rang in my ears as I came out of the tomb:

Matthew 28: 1-7 - Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”

We ended our visit to this amazing site with communion while we sang some well known hymns.  I sobbed as our group served one-another communion at the location where my Savior, Jesus Christ, was raised to life, knowing one day soon He will return to take those of us who call Him Lord and have accepted His gift of grace home to spend eternity with the Father!  I long for that day more now than ever before…and as He has said at the end of the book of Revelation; “I am coming soon”…even so, come Lord Jesus!  I pray you have accepted that gift of grace as well, and I look forward to spending eternity with you and with Jesus!

The next post on this journey will be centered upon the birth of Jesus as we celebrate this season of Christmas!  Until then, Shalom!

 

 

One of the most emotional stops along this entire journey for me was The Mount of Olives.  This site has so much biblical, historical and present day significance, some of which I hope to present to you here.  The Mount of Olives is located east of the Temple, just across the Kidron Valley.  The Garden of Gethsemane is directly across the valley from the Golden Gate (Eastern Gate) of the Temple.  The actual distance from the Eastern Gate to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives is less than 3 football fields as the crow flies – approximately 300 yards.  That alone gives great perspective as to how short a distance it was for Jesus to go outside of the city walls and pray in the garden.  Down and then back up the Kidron Valley is a bit longer (obviously), but still a very short distance to walk.  Interestingly, the Jewish people are not allowed to “work” on the Sabbath, so they continually create “laws” to govern what is considered work.  For example, when walking on Shabbat (Sabbath), they are only allowed to walk approximately ½ mile, so a Sabbath days journey would be possible from Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives or vice versa!

Acts 1: 12 – Then they [His disciples] returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet [Mount of Olives], which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.

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Our visit began as we drove from the eastern side of the Mount of Olives and as we crested the hill the view of the city of Jerusalem was breathtaking!  It is at this point where Jesus wept over the city as He arrived from Bethany (just east of the Mount of Olives).

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Luke 19:41-44 – And when he [Jesus] drew near and saw the city [Jerusalem], he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

We arrived at our stop and walked down a steep road toward the Garden of Gethsemane.  Along the way, we passed thousands of concrete coffins where many Jewish people have been buried over 3 millennia.  When one visits a gravesite at the Mount of Olives, the tradition is to leave a small stone on the coffin to signify that someone visited.  As you can see, some sites were covered with stones, while others have none.

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As we entered the Garden of Gethsemane, I was awestruck by the ancient olive trees present in the garden.  Although it is unlikely that these trees were present when Jesus prayed here, the root system is still intact from that time.  You see, in 70 AD the Roman Army destroyed everything in their path.  The trees were all cut down and the wood used by the soldiers.  But, the root system stayed intact and over the next 2,000 years some of these large trees remain and are protected.  These olive trees are among the oldest in existence today!

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I spent much time in reflection at this place taking in the beauty of these ancient trees, knowing that Jesus spent a lot of time here in prayer and reflection.  It was here where we discovered that the word Nazarene comes from the outer layers of the olive tree.  As you can see from the picture, the olive tree is hollow on the inside, being held up and strengthened by the outer wood of the tree – the Nazarene!  Jesus is known as the Nazarene – the One who strengthens us and sustains us while holding us up against the storms of life.  What a great metaphor!

As we pressed on through the olive grove, another breathtaking site was before us.  Looking West from the garden, across the Kidron Valley, stands the eastern wall of the Temple, and the Eastern Gate is directly across from us, seemingly a stone’s throw away.

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As you can see, the Eastern Gate has been sealed up!  Here was a great faith builder for me… the Ottoman Turks (a Muslim empire) sealed up the gate in 1530 AD to keep Jesus out when He returns!  Isn’t it amazing that even the Muslims know He is coming back (and God used them to fulfill prophecy by sealing the gate), and they believe He will descend from the Mount of Olives and enter the Eastern Gate just as the scriptures say:

Ezekiel 44:1-3 – Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east. And it was shut. And the Lord said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it. Therefore it shall remain shut. Only the prince may sit in it to eat bread before the Lord. He shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gate, and shall go out by the same way.”

Zechariah 14:4 – On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward.

Here’s another interesting tidbit…of the over 150,000 Jewish graves upon the Mount of Olives, many famous people have been buried there and their coffins have been identified in many cases – one of which is Zechariah, the one God used to prophecy Jesus’ return to this very site!

Something else you may be able to see in the pictures are the graves in front of the Eastern Gate…these are Muslim graves placed there in hopes of keeping Jesus out once again.  Tradition says that a Jewish person cannot walk over a grave, so apparently the Muslims feel that Jesus will be more about the traditions kept by man than the redemption of His people and His Kingdom…I’m thinking these graves will not be the only man-made tradition or ritual that Jesus will trample when He returns!

We then visited the Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony) located on the Mount of Olives.  This is a church at Gethsemane, built over the rock on which Jesus is believed to have prayed in agony the night before he was crucified.  It’s amazing now to understand that while Jesus prayed from this spot, He would have been able to see the crowd of people coming across the Kidron Valley to arrest Him…and yet He continued to pray for God’s will to be done, all the while knowing He was going to die for the sins of mankind!

Luke 22: 39-53 – And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?”And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

I was emotionally spent after this visit knowing that Jesus, my Savior, spent a lot of time here and ultimately was taken from here to begin His sacrificial journey to the cross.  He prayed and sought out God’s best plan of saving each and every one of us, and followed through with His sacrifice on behalf of those of us who will follow Him!  Will you follow Him too?  It really is that easy – you must believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins, was laid in a tomb for 3 days and then was resurrected back to life to usher a way for your salvation! Our only response to that amazing grace once we truly believe is to accept His free gift of grace and to love Him with all our hearts and seek to live the ways that honor Him – by loving others the way He first loved us!  If you have ever accepted that gift of grace (or if you just did) the Mount of Olives will be a significant place for you as well because someday soon Jesus will return to that spot in all His glory!  Are you ready for that day?

 Luke 12:40 – “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Matthew 24:30-31 – “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

I truly pray that you have accepted the amazing gift of grace that only Jesus offers.  If you have any questions or would like to take that first step of faith, please contact me or someone in your area that can help answer any questions you may have about this man Jesus and the incredible gift of grace He offers us!  You can email me above under Contact Rob.  We are all sinners, and His grace is enough to cover every one our sins – regardless of how bad you may think they are!  He is big enough to handle it!  Trust Him!

Next stop we will visit the traditional site of the Garden Tomb and Golgotha!  Until then, Shalom!

Via Dolorosa – The way of suffering.  This is the traditional path that Jesus walked as He carried the cross that He would die upon for our sins.  This post will make for a great Bible study as there are many scriptural references here referring to the stations along the Via Dolorosa.  So, grab your bibles and let’s walk along the way of suffering.

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This first map is an overview of Jerusalem.  As you can see, the Via Dolorosa begins at the Lions Gate (in the current Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem) and winds its way into the Christian Quarter.  The path covers approximately 550 yards, and along the path are 14 stations noted with biblical references (as they apply) as to the possible location of where these historical events took place.

City Overview

Below is a map of the Via Dolorosa noting each station by number.  I have included scripture below as a means to study the significance of this path for our daily redemptive lives.

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Station 1 – Jesus Condemned to DieMatthew 27:22-23

Station 2 – Jesus Takes Up His CrossJohn 19: 15b- 17

Station 3 – Jesus Falls For the First Time
This is a traditional site. There are not any scriptures that reference Jesus falling a certain number of times. However, we can imagine that He might have done so. Therefore, let us remember the totality of what He suffered on this day.

Station 4 – Jesus Meets His MotherLuke 2:21, 22, 25, 34, 35

Station  5 – Simon of Cyrene Takes Up the CrossMark 15:21

Station  6 – Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
Traditionally, a woman named Veronica removes her veil and wipes the blood and sweat stained face of Jesus. When she later looks at the veil, she sees that the imprint of His face remains on the cloth used to cover hers.
Station 7 – Jesus Falls the Second Time
The intention of remembrance of this traditional site is that as Jesus endured the painful way.

Station  8 – Jesus Meets the Holy Women of JerusalemLuke 23:28

Station  9 – Jesus Fall the Third Time
The intention of this site-this Ninth Station of the Cross-is to remind us to preserve even within our own faults.

Station 10 – Jesus is Stripped of His GarmentsJohn 19: 23

Station 11 – Jesus Nailed to the Cross
It was the third hour when they crucified him. ~ Mark 15:25

Station 12 – Jesus Dies on the Cross Luke 23:44-46

Station 13 – Jesus Taken Down from the Cross &

Station 14 – Jesus is Placed in the Tomb ~ Mark 15: 43, 46

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One of the Stations along the Via Dolorosa – Station 5

 

I realize this post is more of a study than a guide as to what we witnessed.  The reason I have chosen this path is because while we traveled the path, we did not have a lot of time to contemplate the suffering or even stop at each station for reflection.  This path is a very busy road winding through the city with bustling traffic and loud shops all along the way!  Going back through these verses has given me a greater understanding and heart for the way of suffering!

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The busy street along the Via Dolorosa

 

I pray as you study these few scriptures along the way that you will connect deeper to the One who was willing to take this suffering for you because of the deep love that He has for you!  I pray you get to know Jesus deeper through His suffering!

The next post we will discover the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane!  Until then, shalom, and Happy Thanksgiving!

The Pool of Bethesda

In the late 19th century, and then confirmed later during repairs in 1988 near St. Anne’s Church and The Sheep Gate, located in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City Jerusalem, an amazing discovery was made.  Until this discovery, the validity of this pool described in John 5 was in question, causing many to doubt whether the writer had even been to Jerusalem or if he was simply telling a story much later than the times of Jesus.  The historic archeological discovery confirmed the existence of the Pool of Bethesda and supports the miracle biblical account in the Gospel of John:

John 5:1-9 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.  Now that day was the Sabbath.

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Excavation of The Pool of Bethesda

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At the bottom of the large pool at Bethesda

Biblical Model of Pool of Bethesda in Jesus Time

Biblical Model of Pool of Bethesda in Jesus Time

In the text above, John describes the pool as having 5 roofed colonnades which was not a normal pool design.  Many pools were rectangular, but something was special about this one located near the Sheep Gate.  Archeological evidence shows that the pool in fact was rectangular at the base but separated into two basins by a wall, thus creating a 5 sided pool, each having a portico (porch roof).  The excavating revealed that the southern basin had broad steps with landings, indicating that it was actually a mikveh (ritual bath).  The northern basin provided a reservoir to continually replenish and purify the mikveh with fresh, flowing water through the dam between them.  Jerusalem’s pilgrims would flock to the Bethesda Pool to purify themselves and, at times, would also seek healing!

Jesus miracle at this site has many significant aspects.  One that is called out in the scripture above is that the healing he provided was on the Sabbath.  This was a common problem for the religious leaders of Jesus day and they often called Jesus out for healing on the Sabbath.  You see, even to this day, Jews in Jerusalem (and many orthodox Jews around the world) are constantly rewriting the “rule book” on what God designed the Sabbath for in the first place.  The Sabbath was given by God for us to have rest and to refresh us.  It was never designed for man to be subject to the Sabbath…the Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath!

As we arrived in Israel, we arrived on the Sabbath, so this religious tradition was ever present when we arrived at our hotel the first night.  We were somewhat prepared for the Sabbath, but not fully prepared for what we would witness.  We knew the Jews treated the Sabbath very differently than we do in America, but I think we were still a bit surprised at the ritualistic nature of the Sabbath by the local Jews.  For example, only one elevator functions on the Sabbath…the Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) elevator.  It continually runs up and down and stops at every floor.  If a Jew is on the elevator, non-Jews are not to enter the elevator…some in our group were shooed away for trying!  The elevator stops at each floor because it has been deemed that pushing an elevator button is work, and no work can be done on the Sabbath in Jewish traditions.  Something that must get exhausting is that the rules must always be changing as technology changes – is pressing a touch screen phone considered work?  There is debate over the use of touch screens, but the consensus of articles I have read say that it is not permissible to use a touch screen on the Sabbath!  Unfortunately, ritualistic behaviors in Jewish traditions, as well as in American denominations, have taken away from the focus of the Gospel – it is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ that we are saved, not by works or traditions…and our response to this amazing gift of grace? We love God and love others!  It is not so surprising then to read about the Pharisees constant battle with Jesus over the Sabbath since this Sabbath battle is still happening to this day!

The Upper Room

We then visited a traditional spot representing what the Upper Room may have looked like where Jesus and the disciples met for the Passover meal:

Luke 22:7-13  Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover

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The Acoustics in the Upper Room were Amazing!

It is impossible to know the exact location of the upper room described here, so this traditional site was just a glimpse into what that room may have looked like.  We also saw that there were upper rooms all over Jerusalem, many of which may have been used!

An interesting thing happened while we were in this upper room.  Because it is a traditional holy site, many people visit here, so there is an armed guard – a secular guard at that.  The acoustics were amazing in that room, so we began singing a hymn that resonated through the room and out the doors.  Shortly after the first verse of the song, the guard came running in and told us we must stop, that if we wanted to sing we could go find a church!  So we stopped, and left the upper room.  We were thinking along the way, we just had church, with The Church Jesus commissioned to go into the entire world and declare His name.  Differing opinions I guess!

It was a beautiful walk along the street with a statue of King David and his harp and the Zion Gate to the city.

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Statue of King David and his harp

Zion Gate

Zion Gate

In the next post, we will take a trip along the Via Dolorosa (The Way of Suffering – the steps Jesus took to the cross) as we visit the Old City Jerusalem!  Once again, until then, Shalom!

The Western Wall
If you’ve ever seen images of Jerusalem, the next picture will likely be familiar to you. The Western Wall (or the Wailing Wall) is the only fragment of the Great Temple to survive Roman destruction, and the Jewish people hold fast to the belief that God’s Divine Presence has never departed from the Western Wall. For this reason, Jewish people spend time here in prayer and meditation, often times memorizing the scriptures as they pray them at the wall.

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Western (Wailing) Wall

The Western Wall Plaza is the cleared area in front of the exposed portion of the Western Wall. It allows for approaching the wall in a dignified manner and provides a setting for national events such as Jerusalem Day ceremonies, Chanukah candle-lighting and Sukkot. It also provides a place for personal ceremonies such as bar and bat mitzvahs for 13 year old Jewish youngsters of Israel and abroad.

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Bar Mitzvah Celebration

Until some 700 years ago, the entire length of the Western Wall was accessible, but gradually the Muslim population built houses and buildings up against the wall of the Temple leaving only what we see today as completely exposed. Jews who continued to pray at the Wall began winding their way through narrow alleys under the structures to reach it until Jordan occupied Jerusalem’s Old City in 1948. At that time, Jews were denied access to the Wall. But, with Jerusalem reunified in 1967 and the Wall joyously restored to Jewish people, the plaza in front of the Wall was cleared, allowing all comers to approach the Wall. The Wall has become a unique place of prayer and a symbol of Jewish national unity.

The Temple Tunnels

We had an amazing opportunity to go down into the Rabbinical Tunnels that lead to and along the Western Wall of the Temple to the same level of streets at the time of Jesus. The street we walked on was the very same street where Jesus walked as He approached the Temple!

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The Stone that Defeated the Romans!

The picture above is a section of the wall with a huge stone that has major significance. This stone is the stone that defeated the Roman army from destroying anything further when they conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. This stone was laid by King Herod and was the outer stone of the Temple wall along the road where Jesus walked, and as we walked along the tunnel and reached our hands out to run along the stone, we could only imagine how many times Jesus and His followers would have done the same thing!

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Praying at the Western Wall (in the Tunnels) at the Closest Accessible Location to the Holy of Holies

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Outer View of the Same Area

These two pictures above show a section of the Western Wall that is closest to the location of the Holy of Holies inside the Temple. The Holy of Holies (or The Most Holy Place) was the place in the Temple where the veil would have been hung to hide from view the Presence of God. This veil is the veil that is torn from top to bottom by God when Jesus dies on the cross…thank God it didn’t end there as we will continue to see in later posts!

Matthew 27:50-51 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.  And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.

Many come to this inner section of the Wall as well to offer up prayers because they feel they are closer to the Presence of the Lord at this location than any other – approx. 90 meters. However, as believers and followers of Jesus Christ, we can come to prayer with full confidence of His Holy Presence right inside of us regardless of where we are in location!

1 Corinthians 3:16 – Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

One interesting side story of our trip: One evening, we walked from our hotel to the Western Wall at night – absolutely beautiful at night, but due to the holiday and the tensions no photos were allowed to be taken. It was the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah, and there was a tinge of unsettledness in the air (maybe a bit more than a tinge). As we passed an opening in the street (actually, many these streets are through tunnels under the Muslim structures above) a group of Palestinians were protesting (which they do often, especially around Holy days) and a riot was breaking out. Our band of Americans was ushered through the street quickly by the military and the police to ensure our safety. I was at the end of the group and noticed that the military was not allowing anyone (including Orthodox Jews) to return the way we came! After an amazing visit to the Wall and the tunnels at the edge of the wall, we were set to return when I remembered the military not allowing people to go the way we came. One of our men in the group spoke to an officer that told us it would be a good idea for us to go another route back to the hotel because it would be very likely that our group would be stoned by the Palestinian uprising! Yikes! Thank God for discerning hearts and the Israeli Military! It brings back many thoughts of scripture where people picked up stones to kill (or at the very least harm) anyone with differing beliefs than those carrying the stones. It’s still happening today!

We are just getting started on this journey in Israel, and many of the places coming up continue to be eye-opening and life-changing for me in so many ways! I can’t wait to share more as we make our next visit to the historical and biblical site of the Pool of Bethesda and the Upper Room. Until then, Shalom!

We now move north along the western edge of the Dead Sea to a place called Qumran, located on the western edge of the northern third of the Dead Sea.  This is the place where an amazing discovery occurred in 1947 by a young Bedouin (or Nomad) shepherd.  Several stories have floated around of the circumstances of the find – from three kids throwing stones in caves to the young shepherd chasing after a goat in his care.  Regardless of the details, they all agree that a young shepherd boy made one of the most incredible discoveries of biblical proportions…see what I did there?

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Over the years of 1947 to 1956 approximately 100,000 fragments and full parchments were discovered confirming the accuracy of translation of the scriptures we read to this day!  Several more have been found during the past decade, but the majority were found between those dates.  The only scroll of the Old Testament not yet found has been Esther, yet many other unknown compositions were found among the jars giving historical and cultural significance to the region as well as this unique group of scribes.  Often times when we think of scribes we think of an older person sitting in dim candle light writing all day long…when in fact, the average life span of this group of scribes was only 34 years of age!

It appears that this group of scribes hid the writings of most importance to them (and it would seem to us as well) either shortly before or during the Great Jewish Revolt against the Romans around 66 to 70 AD, preserving them in the desert heat, seemingly for us to discover in order to keep the sanctity and validity of the scriptures intact forever! (Picture below is of jars housing the scrolls when found in the caves)

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Now get this…these scrolls comprise the oldest copies of books from the Bible in existence, some written as far back as 250 BC, while others around 65 AD.  At some of the other locations, like Masada, scrolls were found from around 135 AD.  To put this into perspective, before this discovery the oldest manuscripts that had been located were written around 800-1000 AD!  1,000 plus years between the manuscripts and yet they match in context and clearly confirm the validity and accuracy of the text we read today!  Kinda throws the theory that states the bible is not accurate to the original texts right out the window, don’t you think?

Dead-Sea-Scrolls

Our local guide and scholar also shared that this was likely a place where John the Baptist would have been due to his personal cultural differences (read into this the camel hair clothing and diet of locusts and honey as well as his nomadic tendencies) being much the same as this community of scribes.  If not, this group of people would have lived in very much the same way as described of John.

Later in our trip, we were able to visit the Jerusalem Museum where many of these scrolls are on display (unfortunately, no photos can be taken of the scrolls at the museum).  My wife Lisa and I were astonished by the fact that the languages written on these scrolls is very similar to these languages today (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek) and that even Israeli children could read these scrolls and see how the scriptures we read today do not vary from those written even before the time of Jesus!   2,200 year old scrolls displayed on the walls of the museum with children able to walk right up and read the same scriptures they can read at home!  It was a great site seeing young people reading the scrolls in the museum as someone older explains the reality of the text to them…relational discipleship in action!

Our next stop will be The Temple where we experienced the Western (Wailing) Wall and the Rabbinical Tunnels along the Western Wall that are still under excavation!  Until next week, Shalom!

Ein Gedi (Oasis in the Desert) sits less than a mile west of the Dead Sea at the southernmost third of the sea.  It is mentioned several times in the bible (Joshua 15:62, 1 Samuel 24:1, 2 Chronicles 20:2 and Song of Solomon 1:14) because the area, having a spring, offered up many amenities the surrounding desert wilderness did not offer – such as fresh, flowing water, vegetation, and fragrances used for expensive perfume as described in Song of Solomon 1:14 – My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Engedi.

To us though, it was still the desert with a spring for a quick refresher, yet the story of this spot was brought to life as we saw history come alive all around us!

1 Samuel 24:1 When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi (Ein Gedi).” 

In this passage of scripture, Saul is trying to find David to kill him because Saul doesn’t want David to take his throne.  David retreats to the wilderness, and within this desert wilderness, the spring of Ein Gedi provided an oasis for survival and the caves above provided relief from the heat of the day and the cool of the night as well as refuge from his oppressors.  It is in the wilderness where David composes some of the Psalms that are recorded in scripture.  One of these Psalms came to life for me as we approached the spring flowing down the rocks into a waterfall.

IMG_6585-001

As we refreshed ourselves in the cool water of the spring, a majestic Nubian Ibex made his way down from above to get a drink at the spring above the waterfall.  He then walked to our left to rest in the shade as we marveled at the timing of this magnificent sight.  We discovered that our pastor had been praying all morning for this to happen to solidify the moment and etch it into our memories forever.  As I snapped this picture below, I had made my way up toward where he was standing.  He was not amused and begun to snort and stomp (caught his aggravation in the second picture), which was my cue to go no further, take the shot and head back down!

Here he is as if posing for the shot!

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Then, we get to see the angry Ibex letting me know, that’s close enough!

Ibex 1

The Psalm that flooded my thoughts was this:

Psalm 42:1 As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.

The caves below were likely among the caves where David spent time in hiding from Saul.  Can you imagine Saul (the King), needing to relieve himself (read 1 Samuel 24:3), and choosing to climb these cliffs to do so, only to stumble into the actual cave where David and his men were hiding?  Incredible!

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I could envision David sitting at the edge of the spring or even from one of these cave entrances above as a majestic Ibex descended to the spring for a refreshing drink of cool water.  The sight was so very inspiring to me, as I am sure it was for David as he sought refuge at this oasis in the desert wilderness.

With each stop my heart and mind grows with understanding and amazement…what we read about in the bible is so very real and being proven every day in Israel.  The more they unearth the more they discover the accuracy of the scriptures!  Thank you for taking this journey with me as I begin to pen words to what I witnessed and discovered while visiting this amazing place!  My life and ministry will forever be changed as the reality of the scriptures is living deep within me and my memories!

In the next post, that reality comes full circle as we visit Qumran, the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered!  Until then, Shalom!

Recently, I took a short hiatus from work and writing to embark on a journey to the Holy Land, and upon my return I’ve been gathering my thoughts and notes from the most amazing trip I have ever taken!  Over the next few weeks I’d like to share that experience with you through pictures and words. This experience will forever change the way I read and understand the Bible, and the people of Israel have become permanent residents in my heart and prayer life.  I pray this little journey with you will be a blessing to you as well!  Something Jews say when they are longing for home is, “next year in Jerusalem”, but I think the pastor who coordinated this trip to Israel said it well when he said, from this day forward we will say, “remember when we were in Israel…”, as we long for the return of Jesus, remembering how we walked in His steps and visited the places where He began a work that has changed the world!

Our journey began as soon as we landed in Tel Aviv, Israel.  We met our guide, Mickey, and headed toward the bus where our driver, Udi, awaited our group.  Mickey is a wealth of knowledge, consistently teaching us from the scriptures at each and every one of our 30 plus stops.  Udi gets kudos for the most incredible driver, maneuvering the bus at 90 degree angles through crazy traffic, always with a smile!  Once on board, we headed toward the Dead Sea which is toward the eastern edge of Israel (Tel Aviv on western edge)…with the entire country of Israel being the size of Rhode Island, traveling between sites is just a short bus ride, and many times a walk, to the next incredible evidence of biblical proportions (pun intended)!

Me and Udi - Our Incredible Bus Driver

Me and Udi – Our Incredible Bus Driver

Mickey - Our Genius Tour Guide

Mickey – Our Genius Tour Guide

The Dead Sea

We arrived at the Dead Sea after dark and checked into our rooms and then gathered for dinner.  I may say this more than once, but the food is absolutely amazing in Israel!  From the hummus at every meal, to the salads, falafel (my new favorite food), breads, veggies…I was beyond satisfied with the food and could easily change my entire diet to a Mediterranean style!  But enough of the food…now I am hungry!

After dinner, a small group of us ventured down to the Dead Sea to float.  The Dead Sea is 30% salt, so the buoyancy is something that is flat amazing!  You cannot sink!

It was Impossible to Sink

It was Impossible to Sink

At 417 meters below sea level (almost 1,400 feet), the Dead Sea is the lowest surface point on the face of the earth!  As obvious by the name, nothing can live within the Dead Sea due to its salt and mineral content.  Yet, the sea is mined for these minerals, and even a “lower” (south of the original Dead Sea) portion of the sea has been formed for mining and distributing the vast amount of salt and minerals found in that body of water.  You see, water flows into the Dead Sea but there is no outward flow…all fresh water enters the sea and then become part of the mineral sea.  A lot of the water evaporates due to the harsh climate, so it is not surprising that the sea is shrinking.  What is surprising is that it is shrinking by 11 inches per year!

The Dead Sea is Shrinking

The Dead Sea is Shrinking

Something amazing in scripture is how Ezekiel describes the end times…when Jesus returns.  He describes how fresh water will flow from the temple toward and into the Dead Sea, and once it enters, the Dead Sea will become fresh.

Ezekiel 47:8 And he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea (Dead Sea); when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh.

Being right there, it is easier to understand how this could occur.  The distance between the Temple and the Dead Sea is only about 12 miles (as the bird flies).  Based on that, and the fact that the Dead Sea is shrinking, it becomes increasingly clear that once God releases the water from the area of the temple, and it flows directly toward the Dead Sea that is continually getting shallower, this prophecy can, and will, be fulfilled!  Whether it be by a miraculous transformation of salt water to fresh, or simply an overtaking of the remaining salt water by the fresh water, it was prophesied to occur thousands of years ago!  Prophecy is playing out in so many ways in Israel, we just have to keep our eyes and ears open enough to be amazed by the accuracy and validity of the scriptures!  The way I read scripture has forever changed!

Next post we will visit Ein Gedi – the Oasis in the Desert!  Until next time, Shalom (Peace)!

John 21:15-17 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 

 Many times when we read this passage of scripture we hone in on the fact that Peter has denied Christ and it reads like Jesus is calling him out and making sure, three times, that Peter gets it.  But what if this is really a call to Peter to stop playing “church” and start living it…stop wanting to be fed and start feeding others?  To stop following to gain more knowledge and understanding of Jesus and His message and start applying that message to his life and those around him?  I believe it is the same call Jesus is laying out to us right now!

Jesus is saying to Peter, and us – you say you love me; now show it by how you respond to that love – by making disciples.  Grace is a free gift and there is nothing you can do or say to gain it, yet as followers of Jesus our mission was never to be content with simply knowing Jesus and gaining more head knowledge about Him.  Our mission is to make disciples which takes the focus off of us and places it back where it belongs – on Jesus!

You see, Jesus knew that Peter was ready to begin changing the world (part of Jesus’ plan all along), yet he had to make a choice – since I have denied Jesus, I can wallow around in self pity and focus on me, me, me…or, I can choose to take what I know about this amazing Savior, and what I have learned from Him about love and grace, and share it with everyone I come in contact with from this day forward.  Thank God that Jesus challenged Peter to step out of the “feed me” mindset and into the life-changing world of making disciples!  The Church was born out of this not-so-subtle mind shift, and seems to be all but collapsing today because that mind shift has reversed!

His message for us is the same…as followers of Jesus it’s time for us to stop expecting to be fed by our local churches and start feeding ourselves.  It’s time to stop simply going to a church and start being The Church.   The local church is not a place for believers to come for primarily faith feeding.  The local church is there for community and deployment!  We build community with one-another and serve within the local church.  We are family, and family serves one-another well!  We also come together to be deployed to be a light in a world gone mad.  When members of local churches are inwardly focused, they become stagnant.  Serving and giving seldom happen at the level God desires because it’s not about Him anymore, it’s about us!  What a sad place for a believer to be – so inwardly focused that they miss the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of so many!

If you ever start thinking that your life in Christ is about you, you need to step back and realize it has never been about you…it has and always will be about Jesus!  Let’s lead our lives as though that were true…because it is!  Living for Christ and serving others by extending His love, mercy and grace is how followers are to respond to His love – feed and follow:

John 21:19b  And after saying this He said to him, “Follow me.” …and history continues! 

In Part 1 of this post on Let It Be Love, we discovered how Paul placed in the context of the “Love Chapter” an idea that, at the surface, doesn’t seem to fit the mold of love…putting away childish things.  Not that is doesn’t make sense, but that it is often misquoted as a way to tear others down instead of build them up.  Yet in full content of Paul’s message, he is saying that in the context of Grace and Love, we must put away self-righteousness and self-centeredness in order to grasp the love and grace that Jesus offers and expects us to pass along!

So, Paul continues on in verse 12 with the pay off!  When we put aside those childish ways of thinking, allowing His love and grace to flow through us to those around us, we begin to see His reflection in our own lives (12)…we begin, in part, to love like Jesus loved and reflect a little more of His character and actions in our own lives!  We get a glimpse of what we will know fully once we are in the presence of our Savior!

1 Corinthians 13:12For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 

This chapter ends with a bang, driving home the point that love is what the follower of Jesus must default to in relationship with the people around each of us.

1 Corinthians 13:13 – And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

You see, with the Grace of God as the True North in our navigational compass, extending grace in love to others becomes a natural response to the free gift of eternal life that Christ offers us – what an amazing gift of grace!

As God continues to mold my faith and relationship with Him, my understanding and application of grace has increased ten-fold – yet there is so much more to learn about that amazing gift of grace that only Jesus can fully offer us!

A song that has a special place in my heart and deep meaning for how God is teaching me right now is a song from the group Family Force 5 called “Let It Be Love”.  I feel this song shares so much Truth and nails grace and love like few others!  Enjoy this song and lyrics below for a great word picture of Grace, and let Love through Grace lead your relationships with everyone around you!  Grace and peace to all!


 

FAMILY FORCE 5

“Let It Be Love”

I’ve never seen a soul set free
Through an argument
I’ve never seen a hurt get healed
In a protest
But I’ve seen sinners turned to saints
Because of grace
It’s love, love that lights the way
Love that lights the way

<Chorus>

Let it be our arms wide open
Bigger than the words we’ve spoken
Let it be a heart for the broken
If we’re gonna light, light
Light the way
Let it be love, let it be love, yeah
Nothin’ but love, nothin’ but love, yeah
Let it be love, let it be love, yeah
It’s love that lights the way

It’s not about the stand we take
But the grace we give
It’s not about the name we make
But the life we live
Heard about a King who sat down
Took my place
True love gave His life away
It’s love that lights the way

<Chorus>

Stronger than every fear
Comfort for all the tears
It’s where the war is run
And it has overcome
Louder than the loudest shout
Deeper than the deepest doubt
We’ll watch the walls fall down
We’ll watch the walls fall down

<Chorus>

judgmental-christian

Have you ever heard someone use a bible verse to, in the “Christian” way, rip someone else apart?  Scripture is often misused to let someone, or a group of someone’s, know that they are not living up to the self-righteous standards of an individual or group who is stating the verse, usually in a legalistic or Pharisaical manner.

As I was studying this week, something from the “Love Chapter” in 1 Corinthians popped off the page.  It almost appears to not even fit in this passage about love, and yet it is a common verse that I have heard people use to beat others down who don’t agree with them, who are new to the faith or even just checking the whole Jesus thing out…and it is used completely out of the context in which Paul places it within this chapter.  The verse is:

1 Corinthians 13:11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 

If I read this verse (11) with a law mind-set (where we have to keep all the rules for God to love and accept us) it is easy to pull this verse out of this chapter and pound someone else over the head with it, especially without the proper understanding of the passage (context) or the greater understanding of God’s love (grace).  However, this is a chapter on love, and Jesus personified love through His amazing gift of grace!  When reading scripture, we must read it through the eyes of grace, not condemnation!  First of all, scripture is to be used as a mirror, for the reader to develop a deeper relationship with God and gain understanding into His character.  It’s not to be used to tear others down!  Second, when interpreting what His word is meaning, you have to get the context of what the writer is saying.  Here, Paul is teaching that regardless of the gifts God has given each of us (1-2), the incredible faith we may possess (2), or the amazing generosity we may show (3), without love (defined in verses 4-7) we are nothing (2), gain nothing (3) and are just an annoyance to those around us who may be far from God (1)!

1 Corinthians 13:1-7 – 1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

So, with an understanding of what love is through the lens of grace, we can read on and see that when completeness comes (10), that is when we move on to be with Jesus, all our abilities and limited knowledge we have gained through our own strength will disappear (8-10) and become complete through Him and His grace!

1 Corinthians 13:8-10 – 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 

Then we come to verse 11, the very verse I spoke of previously in this post.  Yet, in the context of what Paul is saying, as children we are self-centered and always trying to coerce others into believing and thinking what we believe and think based upon our limited understanding or knowledge.  As children, we tend to focus less on loving people and more on getting our way; less on meeting people’s needs and more on changing their minds; less on extending grace and more on passing condemnation.  You see the pattern?  It is a vicious cycle that can lead to the opposite of freedom that Jesus offers!

1 Corinthians 13:11- When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 

Check back next week for the conclusion of this post (Let It Be Love – Part 2) where we discover the pay off of in heeding Paul’s words and aligning our life with that of Grace through Jesus Christ!  Until then, read 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 and prepare your heart for grace and love through your life in Christ!

0alergic

Far too often, “Christians” are willing to talk amongst themselves while posting stuff about the things they don’t agree with or are completely against either in regards to faith or in the world in general, yet very few are willing to get into the lives of people far from God and introduce them to our Amazing Savior, the man who’s Grace is enough for all of us!  Many would rather make a point with their opinion rather than make an eternal difference in someone’s life…who do you want to be?

What if each of us, this week, would focus on being light to those who don’t know Him and stop posting or communicating any sort of negativity of the things we don’t like or agree with?  The world offers up more than enough negativity, but as followers of Jesus, we have the only real message that can offer up life and freedom!  Let’s live in that freedom and be people in whom those who don’t know Him yet want to be around and want to build relationships with that can lead to true Freedom that only Christ can offer.  The world has enough reasons not to follow Jesus, yet unfortunately those reasons have nothing to do with Jesus, mostly His followers!

Remember, Jesus spent a lot of time with people who were far from God, and shunned those stuck in their religious practices and law focused mindsets…and those people Jesus spent time with liked spending time with Him because Jesus loved them and wanted to be in relationship with them more than try to force Himself on them.  Jesus had every right to condemn people for their sin, yet He chose relationship over religion.  We must do the same if we ever want to become more like Him!  We choose relationship with God and with others while God changes us and them from the inside-out!  Without relationship, transformation can never happen!

The Grace Jesus offers requires absolutely nothing from us because, in Him, it is finished!  Once we truly understand this amazing gift of grace our response will be to love God and those around us because we are a new creation in Jesus – being transformed by Him and Him alone.  It is impossible to love those far from God if we are consistently focused on the stuff we don’t like or have negative opinions about (can be politics, sports, weather, movies, someone’s outfit, etc.)…we must be passionate about loving people far from Him and building relationships with them as we live out our lives in Christ and share Him with those far from Him!  If we are completely unattractive to people around us who don’t know Jesus how do we ever share the message that saved us?

If people are not attracted to the message we are sharing in the same way they were attracted to Jesus and the early church, it is likely they are not hearing the same message that Jesus and the early church was presenting…the Gospel is attractive and freeing!  Is the message we are sharing attracting people or repelling them?

Time for believers to stop arguing with other believers (or worse, while non-believers are in the picture) about individual opinions or bents and start loving one-other and more importantly loving people far from God…love, not opinion, is what our neighbor needs!  Let Grace do it’s work in our hearts as we extend grace to those around us – Grace breeds grace!  Every word we say matters and potentially has eternal consequences…make your words and actions count, and give God all the glory!

Matthew 12:35-37 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.  But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

dialogue

Thanks to my wonderful wife for dialogue-ing with me about this topic and suggesting that I write this post!

We are living in a monologue world!  We receive messages in monologue form all day long – from News to podcasts, from TV to sermons, most information we receive is brought to us in a one-way communication stream.  What I feel has happened over the many years of this type of information overload is the erosion of the simple conversation…a dialogue with another human being!

Solomon warned us of this monologue form of communication:

Proverbs 18:2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

I was having a conversation with my wife the other night about this topic as she and I had both listened to different programs discussing communication…one from a female source (Mid Day Connection) and one from a male source (Mark Merrill).  Often times men get a bad rap because we tend to be fixers (trying to fix everything especially when it is not being requested of us)…and unfortunately we tend to monologue about how to resolve an issue more than listen to the heart behind the issue.  Yet, women can also fall into the trap of trying to get across their point more than listening in a two-way conversation.  Again, I feel this is because we have been trained by media and even many parents to communicate this way, and I think society is a prime example of why this type of communication is sucking the life out of relationships of all kinds – marriages, friendships, coworkers, family, etc.

As Solomon has said (many times in Proverbs) only fools want to hear themselves more than others in their lives.  True relationship can only happen when mutual respect and love are offered up from both people in that relationship.  Our love for God is poured out to those He places in our paths and lives, and those relationships are strengthened during conversations that include mutual respect!  Jesus made it very clear the importance for relationship in fulfilling His plan for us:

Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law.  Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Love is the key to everything, and love cannot be expressed in a simple monologue…at least not for very long!  Simply put, Monologue is forcing my opinions on you to try to get you to like me or make you change your mind. Dialogue is expressing our opinions to one-another with the hopes of a deeper understanding and relationship! 

My challenge for you this week is to pay attention to the conversations you have and see if you are more of a monologue-r or a dialogue-r.  In doing so, you will also notice how others communicate with you.  The goal though is not to get others to change their method of communication; the goal is for us to become better communicators of the message God has given us.  Listening screams to the people around us that they are important and worthy of our attention and love – and love is the message that God is pressing into us to not only receive from Him, but to share with others!

 dancing-rain

A week or so ago I was having a conversation with my wife and quite frankly, I was a bit discouraged…kind of like when an outdoor activity seems all but lost because an unexpected rainstorm has invaded our plans.  For some time now I have been feeling the desire to move into vocational ministry, however, at least at this moment, I don’t see myself as someone who will speak to groups of people…I am leaving that up to God, though!  Yet, over the past year I have felt an even more direct call into ministry from God; something that is constantly brought to my mind by God in every moment and circumstance of my life.  My discouragement has come from not knowing exactly where God is specifically calling me!  It seems odd to me that God would call me into ministry yet not give me specific marching orders, even though I intuitively know that is not how He works in my life.  Something I struggle with almost daily…learning to find joy when it rains!

James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Maybe my call is not so different than others who have been called.  God has simply given me one step at a time and once I am obedient and take that step, He shows me the next.  Many of the steps so far have been either faith steps or connections with people – I truly love when God prompts me to connect with someone He has brought to my heart and mind.  Some great relationships and deep friendships have developed and are developing through those interactions in which God was the only reason to connect!  Most of the trials I have been dealing with have indeed produced a steadfastness that has sustained my desire for relationship with God and with the people He has led me to (or to me).  I now see those trails (at least once I reflect) as opportunities to grow and discern God’s call in my life.

So, how do you respond to trials or disappointment?  How do you handle the victories and wins in your life and ministry?  In those moments, what do you think God is trying to teach you?  How can you and those around you grow during times of trial?  Do you have people in your life willing to pour into you even when trials come along?

Perspective makes all the difference when it comes to disappointment and trials.  Having a loving God in our life really does help us to see the struggle with joy knowing that the only way we can grow is to press through the trial and seek God to understand what it is that He wants us to discover.  Even though that way of thinking can be very difficult in the moment, having people around you who will remind you of God’s plan and purposes in your life can help keep you on the path that God is choosing for you…and besides, genuine relationship allows us to build each other up even when struggles rear their ugly head.  That’s how my lovely wife built me up the other night, simply by reminding me that the trials I am facing are opportunities to grow and take that next step of faith…answering His call one step and relationship at a time, especially when it rains!

grace-n-peace

After listening to a sermon from Tullian Tchividjian on Grace, I confirmed what he was saying and took it a bit further in looking through all of Paul’s letters in the New Testament.  Tullian had taught that in the letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, he began with a phrase many of us have read countless times, and likely read it as a greeting or a formal way Paul began his letter.

Romans 1:7 – To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

What I found was that in fact Paul began all his letters this way!  Why?  Have we read the opening of his letters wrong all along or was this just a simple greeting?  You know as well as I do that Paul didn’t haphazardly write fluff into his letters, so I tend to believe there was a deep purpose for the words that Paul had chosen.

Grace and Peace are the crux of this simple yet profound greeting, and the point of the entire Gospel message!  This is why I believe Paul wrote them into all of his letters:

Grace and Peace are not a simple greeting in Paul’s letters, but a summary of the Gospel…Grace is the root, Peace is the fruit!

Grace – The only reason we even have the opportunity to spend eternity with God is the amazing gift of Grace!  Grace is something we cannot earn in any way.  Grace was personified in the Lord Jesus Christ when He came to earth, lived a sinless life, and died for all the sin of mankind.  But that was not it!  He then beat death, rose from the grave affirming that He was in fact the Son of God and was completely capable of forgiving our sins to allow us access to eternity with God!  The resurrection shows the world that the living Savior came to set the captives free!  That is Good News!

Peace – Receiving the Grace of God, accepting and believing Jesus’ conquering sacrifice on our behalf, allows us to live a life that looks different from the world around us.  Our circumstances do not define who we are any longer.  We are a new creation of amazing value – we are part of God’s family and our eternity is secure!  With that kind of assurance, we can live a life of Peace while working through whatever trials come our way with an understanding that our life here is only a brief blip on the road of eternity!  Living a life of Peace focuses our thoughts on the things that really matter, the stuff that God cares most deeply about – people!  With that kind of focus, we get to join God’s plan of loving people into the Kingdom!  Peace is the fruit of our accepting God’s Grace and living that Grace out in our lives!

And that is the Gospel of Jesus!  The Gospel is summed up in two words – Grace and Peace!  Paul was simply sharing the Gospel in a nutshell while the rest of his letter was written to flow from the simple message of Grace and Peace – the root and the fruit of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!  The same Gospel that radically changed Saul into Paul saves us to this very moment!

The question on the table is simply this: have you accepted His Grace so that you can live a life full of His Peace?  If not there is no time better than right now!  His followers may not be all that attractive to you (after all, we are all messed up hypocrites being transformed by the Grace of God), but He is the most amazing person you will ever meet!  He loved you so much that He died to set you free from guilt and shame, disgust and pride, addiction and fear, sin and death!  If you were the only person in the entire universe, and this still chokes me up, He would have still come to die for you to satisfy the need for death to cover sin…that’s how much He loves you!  He really is that good!  He fulfills an eternal hole in which every other religion, fame or fortune cannot even come close to fulfilling.  His Grace is enough, and His Peace is so refreshing!  It’s available to you, right now!  Will you accept?