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)

qumran6jars

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?

 

 

Back to school

By now, most students in our area are back in school. It’s a time of getting back on schedule, seeing old friends and making new ones. This time of year offers some great opportunities in the area of relational discipleship as well. Whether you’re a student, parent, teacher or anyone who comes in contact with kids, teens and college students, you can make a difference in the life of someone else.

Mark 12:30-31 (ESV)

30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

This is a passage that typically rolls right off the tongue. So the big question is, “Who is your neighbor?” Yes, we are to build into lives in our actual neighborhood, but God’s definition of neighbor is so much larger than ours. I believe, and I feel scripture backs it up in the story of the good Samaritan, that God’s definition of neighbor is anyone He places in our daily path. The person in line at the checkout, the cashier, the police officer, your server, your students, friends, etc…they are all our neighbors if God has somehow placed them into our lives.

I know this is not rocket science and may not be at all new to you, but I’d like to throw out a challenge to you this year, right now. Find a way to implement relational discipleship into your life as the new school year begins. Here are just a few short examples of how we can make a difference:

If you are a teacher, find ways to engage kids at a personal and maybe even spiritual level.  You can teach in a way that shares biblical principles, and when asked, share where those ideas come from.  Open up the conversation for your students to ask questions, even if only one-on-one.

As a parent, you have many opportunities to share the love of God with different “neighbors”.  Your child’s teacher can really use a partner in you as a parent, not only in helping in the classroom and volunteering for parties and field trips, but in encouraging her or him throughout the year and maybe even being there for them in a time of need.

As a student, live out your life in Christ in such a way that shouts you are different…in a good way!  Remember, people are always watching us to see if we will live out what we say, so living out your faith means the simple things like:

Don’t lie, at all!

Do all school work and chores to the best of your ability.

Show compassion to those around you.

Look out for those being bullied or just ignored, and show them you care by getting to know them.

Respect your teachers and their authority.

And for any adult at all, keep your eyes open for any kid that needs someone to come alongside them and care about them.  There are far too many kids out there who need an adult to show them they are valuable.  If a fraction of the adults in any community would simply mentor one kid, each community would be completely transformed.  Bullying would reduce.  Suicide rates would drop drastically.  Childhood depression and anxiety would be rare instead of completely normal in our schools today.

Simply put, and as the famous quote goes, you were created for such a time as this. Making disciples begins with a relationship, and relationships begin when one person steps out of their little world and enters into someone else’s world. Heading back to school presents a fresh start in our lives as disciple makers. As you dig in, keep your eyes open to those around you and keep your heart open to anyone God prompts you to connect with…it’s an amazing thing feeling a prompting from God to make a connection, and actually going through with it by starting a conversation. Who knows, that person may become a life-long friend and/or better yet, you may have the joy of introducing them to our amazing Savior! Sharing the Good News always begins with a conversation, and conversations happen best when relationship has been established. Take relational discipleship back to school this Fall…you will be blessed beyond measure, and those blessings, when shared, become contagious!

 

fishers-of-men

Matthew 4:19 And he [Jesus] said to them [His Disciples], “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

 

Simple and brief message here of what it means to be a Disciple who makes Disciples:

Follow me – Our Active Response to God’s Grace

And I will make you – Jesus Active Response to Our Following Him

Fishers of men – Our Transforming Life as We Become More Like Christ and begin Making Disciples

Though our salvation requires nothing but faith in Jesus, once we give our life to Christ we begin changing from the inside-out.  His heart begins shaping our heart…the things He loves we begin to love.  As we begin to deeply love Him, His love for us expands in the way we love those around us.  What an amazing circle of love God has created!  His greatest commands were to Love God and Love others…makes perfect sense because to love God can only grow into a love for people who, after all, were created in His image!  Love truly is the only way to live!

I would expect that many cringed when they read that title!  I am sure some even thought this was a false statement.  I pray you read on and then decide what you will believe…as for me, I have made my decision based in part on the following scriptures (but not limited to these scriptures alone):

Romans 5:8 But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us

This world we live in is far from being worthy of a Savior; yet, God so desires a relationship with humanity, His lone creation made in His image, that He was willing to offer up the only sacrifice that was worthy enough to cover the fate and sin of the world, the sin that we deal with on a daily basis.  That sacrifice was God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and He is the only reason we have hope in the sin sick world we live.  How amazing is it that even while we were still living out our sinful desires and wicked ways, He died for us!  Grace personified in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

Yet, we still keep falling into the trap that we have to do something, anything, to gain or keep His love for us…as if we have the power to change God’s heart.  Through His grace, Christ has provided a way for us to live with God eternally – the sentence for sin is death and He beat death on our behalf!

grace

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 

Grace has been given to all who have faith in Jesus, making Him Savior and Lord!  No works or deeds are required of us to gain His love or grace…if Jesus required our works to gain His grace, then His sacrifice was not required!  There is nothing we can do, we must simply put our faith in Him that it is done!

No works….here’s a thought provoking statement that goes against the grain of religion: Not even the work of repentance can gain you the free gift of God’s grace.  If the verse above holds true, our salvation, the free gift of grace, does not hinge upon our repentance!  If it did we would have a means to boast in what we have done!  So the question, “can I be gay and a Christian” really does make sense as one’s salvation doesn’t hinge upon our sexual orientation or any other behavior or lifestyle, regardless if you feel it is a sin or not.  Our salvation hinges solely on Christ’s work on the cross, and His sacrifice is enough to allow us the grace to trust in Him and let Him work within us to make us who He wants us to be!  Our repentance can only come after we have accepted the gift of grace as a response to love we have for Jesus and Him alone.   Repentance comes out of who we are becoming through Christ, but in no way proves a hindrance to our salvation.   Repentance is between you and God, not for you to point out in others!  Each one of us has enough sin in our life to deal with without pointing out where we feel someone else is falling short!

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

What “good works” has God created you to accomplish?  Too often we look at the verse on the tail of verses 8 and 9 and say, “see, we are supposed to do works (including but not limited to repentance) to stay in His good grace.”  But that is not what Paul is saying here.  He is simply saying that God created mankind for a purpose…and each of us has a calling from God.  His calling in our lives is the only “good works” we can even hope to fulfill!  And here’s another caveat: we must read these words for our own lives and not try to force something upon others.  God is working in each of our hearts in different ways, so my calling looks different than yours.  When the bible refers to “good works” it is always in relation to people around us, not in relation to God!  With God, it is finished through Jesus!  God never needs or wants our good works, but our neighbor does!

Romans 11:6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

Another great reminder of this truth – Grace is a free gift for those who have faith in Jesus!  That is it, no extra’s, no repentance, no getting cleaned up before beginning a relationship with Jesus, no condemnation…simply a loving God offering up a relationship with Him by trusting that Jesus is who He said He was and having faith that God’s grace is enough. 

At this point there is usually a big, BUT…yet, in God’s word that is it!  We can add all the works we want to the new believer, but it’s not biblical!  There is nothing we can do to get “better” or “do good”.  His grace means It Is Done! Finished!  When we try to add things to do for the new believer we are in essence sentencing them to a roller coaster faith that will have them on highs when they are performing well and lows when they forget to read their bibles or fall back into that sin that had them captive for years.  What the new believer needs is a relationship with you!  They need someone who is navigating this faith life to come alongside them and build a relationship with them right where they are…it’s seldom enough to give someone a list of things to do and expect them to build a strong faith life built on grace.  We need to be in relationship, doing life so that true biblical discipleship can happen!  That is why I love the term Relational Discipleship – it encompasses the need for relationship in the discipleship process!  Just like in our faith, relationship is the key to everything…and after all, Jesus modeled it first!

John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

THIS IS GOOD NEWS!!!  We must remember that Jesus did not come to condemn, and His people must not condemn either!  As followers of Jesus, what we can do is build relationships, point people to our Savior and love them enough to walk with them as they make eternal decisions!  We can be disciples who are making disciples while allowing the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of those in which we are in relationship!  God is big enough and in control enough to allow us to love our neighbors while He transforms them…it is His job to change people He wants to change, not ours!  Our job is to love God and love our neighbors which requires relationships built on grace!

This post is based on a topic I have briefly written about in the past, at least as a descriptive term, yet God keeps bringing this to my mind as I interact with people in my daily life.  The topic is this: is God’s word a mirror in your life, or do you simply use it as a hammer over the lives of others?

Most of us have witnessed the extremes of the hammer position, whether in person or in the news.  Westboro Baptist Church is just one group with the extreme hammer view…and I will add their method and view is completely unbiblical and from the pit of hell!  They condemn and protest against the military (at the funerals of our fallen heroes no less) and against the LGBT community in ways that are an embarrassment to those of us who are truly trying to follow Jesus, as well as ridiculous and intolerable to those in which the hatred is being spewed.  Apparently the whole “love God and love your neighbor” thing doesn’t show up in the translation of scripture they are using!

hammer mirror

Before we get too used to pointing fingers at these extremists we must take a look at ourselves as well.  When we judge others based on their sins, in a small way we are following a similar type of thought that the extreme positions follow.  It may not look like it on the outside, and I am sure the actions do not equate those of Westboro or even the typical street “preacher” (or pharisaical condemner might be a better descriptor), however, when we condemn others based on their sin (either in our thoughts or by what we say) we are doing the same thing.  In Romans 1, Paul lays out a barrage of descriptors of the unrighteous (those not “good enough” to be His children).  But then he throws a twist at the readers in Romans 2 who were likely reading this and pointing the finger at those they deemed unworthy based on their sins:

Romans 2:1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 

He is showing us that we are all in the same boat!  Without Jesus’ sacrifice none of us can live forever with God!  We cannot be “good enough” no matter how much we try…we all need Jesus!

The thing is, the Bible was never meant to be used as something to morally and spiritually impress upon others…it is meant to be read as a mirror reflecting God into our lives as we grow to be more like Him.  It’s His word to guide us, to help us become more like Jesus in our daily life and in the way we treat those around us.  When we use God’s word as a hammer, beating down people around us because of their behavior, we are acting like the Pharisees…and you remember how Jesus responded to them:

Matthew 23:25-26 25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

Jesus was not impressed by the amount of knowledge the “religious” people (Pharisees) had, that they memorized much of the scriptures and had many laws trying to make other people follow the rules they deemed proper and biblical.  Actually, Jesus, like many of us are today, was sickened by the religious groups, just like Westboro Baptist, and called them out on it often!  Jesus spent a lot of time with people who the religious had already condemned to hell.  And the incredible part to me is that those people who were the furthest from God really enjoyed being around Jesus and spending time with Him…many times taking their first real steps of faith with Him, but even if they chose not to take steps they truly liked spending time with Him.  Relationship always trumps religion!  Jesus knew fully how to build relationships and speak Truth with love and grace!  So, the real question here is this: if we are becoming more like Jesus every day, then do people far from God even want to be around us, let alone like us?  Are we spending time in places where people do not already follow Jesus, or do we stay comfortable in our little self-proclaimed holy huddles?  Are we spending time with our Savior, building a relationship with Him and reading His word as a mirror that reflects who we truly are, or more importantly who He is in us, so that we can extend that same love and grace to those around us?

I’d love to say I sit behind this screen with no judgment of others, but that would be a lie.  However, I do know what is True, as God defines Truth, and to not apply that Truth to my life, and share what God is pressing on my heart with you, would be in direct disobedience to God!  The way we treat others is a direct representation of who we follow…like it or not!  When Westboro spews their hatred in the name of God, it makes me sick to my stomach and angry because that is NOT who my Savior is by any stretch of the imagination and in no way reflects any attribute of His character!  Our actions may not be as vocal or public as theirs, but they are still stemming from the same basic thought…we believe we are more righteous than many around us and we’ve decided it is somehow our job to point it out to them!  As I grow older I continually see glimpses of how God wants me to grow in relationship with Him as well as in relationship with those He places in my path.  Amazingly enough, when I see the reflection of God’s word in my life it brings unspeakable joy to me and extends out to everyone around me!  Oh I wish those moments were more often than they are…however; it is so much easier (at times) to grab my hammer and shatter the mirror that God wants to use to reflect His Son instead of making the right choice by extending His love to those around me  no matter how lost they may seem to be.  Using God’s word as a hammer is simply saying that we are on the same plane as God…and that is a very dangerous place for a believer to think they belong!  How amazing would life on this earth be if those who follow Jesus would simply stop hammering people and start paying attention to His reflection in all of us…loving God and then loving others in His name!

Hammers make great tools when you need to nail something to a wall, but they are not appropriate to use when we want to “fix” or change people!  The only person we can change is ourselves, so we need to stop trying to change others!  The mirror of God’s word is the way to grow (and change) as we reflect the image of the One who created each and every one of us!  So start the habit now and begin to see every passage of scripture as a note written specifically to you and you alone…then and only then can God begin showing you how love really can change the world, one reflection at a time!

#Mirror>Hammer

Adventure

Numbers 14:24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.

 Prior to God proclaiming His intentions to allow Caleb to enter the land flowing with milk and honey, God directed Moses to send out spies into the land and report back what they found.  Joshua and Caleb were the only men to see the land as good and prosperous…the others saw the danger and obstacles that stood before them if they were to enter the land to claim it.  Joshua and Caleb trusted God’s promises…the others trusted only what they could see!

God has used many hard times in my life to refocus my heart.  I have had times where I trusted my own intuition over God’s direction only to discover that my choice caused me to go down a path that took me away from God (remember Jonah?).  Yet, the most fruitful and joyous times in my life have come from obedience to His promptings in my heart and the direct paths He  laid out in His word.  Some of the most incredible relationships I now have came directly from God giving me a little push to make contact with someone…and whenever I do act upon that nudge, He never ceases to amaze me with the friendships and discipleship that takes place – both in my heart and in my new friend’s heart!  Just gotta listen and act!

How about you?  When God places a difficult situation or a specific person in your path, do you typically see it as an insurmountable obstacle…one in which you see no possible good outcome?  Or do you see an opportunity to trust God and grow closer to Him through the process…possibly forging a new relationship and likely becoming more like His Son?

When we trust God and His word, life begins to make sense.  Through His word, God shows us the priorities we need in our lives – Him first, then our spouse, kids, family, friends, etc.  Simply keeping those priorities would take care of most of society’s problems.  With God first in our lives, it makes sense for us to love our spouses sacrificially, even making them a higher priority than our kids!  With that kind of mutual matrimonial love, divorce would cease to exist and broken families would be a thing of the past.  Kids would not grow up without a parent!  Prisons would close down!  There would be no more loneliness or strife.  Alas, we live in a broken world, so many of these perfect scenarios are reserved for heaven…or are they?  Jesus said we are to live life (here on earth) abundantly!  Maybe keeping these priorities is the key to living a true abundant life….

Caleb did just that!  God had made a promise to deliver the people of Israel to a place that would sustain all their needs and bring joy to them for many generations to come…after all, it is the Promised Land and is still being fought for to this day!    Caleb spied out that land with God’s promise in mind…His view of the land was that of a new property owner scoping out how amazing his new residence will be and the possibilities of a future there.

We could learn a lot from Caleb.  How would your life look if you were to believe the promises of God and live your life as such?  He truly seeks to give you a future and a hope through the plans He has made for you, as is written in Jeremiah 29:11-13.  God’s promises and plans for each of us are a huge puzzle where God somehow, someway, miraculously makes them all fit and come together to fulfill His plan for our lives!  It’s up to you – will you cower in fear of the future and what may come, or will you act upon His promptings and promises and join Him in the grand design He has laid out for your life?  Your God-given adventure awaits!

Check out the lyrics to this song – Already There by Casting Crowns:

From where I’m standing
Lord it’s so hard for me to see
Where this is going
And where You’re leading me

I wish I knew how
All my fears and all my questions
Are gonna play out
In a world I can’t control

When I’m lost in the mystery
To You my future is a memory
Cause You’re already there
You’re already there

Standing at the end of my life
Waiting on the other side
And You’re already there
You’re already there

From where You’re standing
Lord, You see a grand design
That You imagined
When You breathed me into life

And all the chaos
Comes together in Your hands
Like a masterpiece
Of Your picture perfect plan

When I’m lost in the mystery
To You my future is a memory
Cause You’re already there
You’re already there

Standing at the end of my life
Waiting on the other side
And You’re already there
You’re already there

One day I’ll stand before You
And look back on the life I’ve lived
I can’t wait to enjoy the view
And see how all the pieces fit

One day I’ll stand before You
And look back on the life I’ve lived
Cause You’re already there
You’re already there

When I’m lost in the mystery
To You my future is a memory
Cause You’re already there
You’re already there

Standing at the end of my life
Waiting on the other side
And You’re already there
You’re already there

You are already there