In typical church world, we try to help people grow by providing studies or groups to teach information about God. However, what is needed first is relational growth so we can become vulnerable enough to allow the Holy Spirit to humble us and grow us spiritually! Relationships teach us how to be transparent, selfless, vulnerable and loving. They teach us humility and how to show honor. They show us how to navigate our emotions and offer compassionate ears as well as a loving correction where appropriate. In an authentic relationship, we have the opportunity to invite someone else into the most intimate part of our being to join us on this journey called life! God designed us to be in relationship, not so we can gather every once in a while and act like we have it all together….No! He designed us this way because He knows the best way to thrive in life, while here or beyond our years on earth, is to deeply know others and be known!

Relationships, loving God and others, are the path to all aspects of health and growth – emotional, physical, and spiritual. Without them, we become bitter, hard, unreachable and unteachable – kinda sounds like a lot of people you’ve been exposed to in church facilities, doesn’t it? The thing is, the church was never meant to be an institution where people fake who they are, gather and sing, get a boost or a rebuke, and then go home and hide for another week or two. It wasn’t even meant to be a place where you get in a group or even serve at your local church building on a weekend. Those things are not church…We are The Church! So if every day, walking around human beings are in fact The Church Jesus and Paul spoke so highly of, saying this group will change the world, maybe we have a little relational work to do here! Maybe we need to engage with the people around us and learn how to love and live with one-another as we grow together in our relationship with Jesus! He is the glue that holds everything together – including relationships! I learned that lesson the hard way many years ago with my wife…a story I’d be glad to share over coffee or a beer sometime!

Friends sitting in a cafe

Friends sitting in a cafe

Relationships are the key to everything in this life and in the next! When asked what the most important message He can give to this world, Jesus responded with this:

Mark 12:30-31- 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.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Are relationships easy? No! Yet they are the most valuable investment you can make in this brief life to realize a wealth of knowledge, friendship and spiritual growth! Jesus knew this when He laid that out – love Him and love each other. So let’s stop just doing organizational church and start being The Church that He designed from the very beginning. Only then will we see true change in a world that has become far too institutionalized! Imagine a world where the Kingdom is built through authentic relationships where genuine empathy, compassion and love is the natural reflex! I want that world now, as it will be in heaven! Join me!

Golgotha - The Place of the Skull - Location of Jesus' Crucifixion

Golgotha – The Place of the Skull – The Location of Jesus’ Crucifixion

 

The Entrance to the Garden Tomb

The Entrance to the Garden Tomb

As Good Friday and Easter approaches, I have been swept back to Israel and the trip of a lifetime I was blessed to take in September of 2014. My heart races as I look at these pictures and recall the memories gained while in the Holy Land!  Once again, today, the pictures above has been heavy on my heart, not because of the finality typically associated with a burial place, but because of the hope permeating from and around the empty 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.

Most people at the time of Jesus’ burial thought it was the end of the potential new kingdom as they believed Jesus was to become the earthly King of Israel, ushering in peace to a land of turmoil.  The peace they were seeking was a fleeting peace; one that ends with our time on earth. However, He had a much bigger audience in mind!  This kingdom Jesus spoke of is one in which He would become the ultimate King – the King of Heaven and Earth!  The Kingdom in which He spoke of pointed to eternity…His heavenly Kingdom which is available to anyone who believes in Jesus and that He is who He said He was!

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.”

Can you picture the Mary’s faces upon hearing this news and seeing that He was gone?  Can you imagine the emotional responses of the disciples when they first heard the girl’s story?  Maybe a bit of disbelief, but I bet they all had a hope inside of them wanting to believe it with every fiber of their bodies.  And then that moment when they saw the risen Jesus…that had to be the most amazing moment of their lives!  I can envision His inner circle going through a series of Aha moments recalling the many times Jesus spoke about His death and resurrection and they simply did not get what He was saying!  I can envision the disciples walking by the empty tomb for years after this; they had to be shaking their heads with a smile saying, “Jesus, that was awesome!  You got me!  Thanks for including me on this amazing journey!  I have to go and tell everyone about this!”

The empty tomb and the resurrected Christ, as witnessed by so many people and recorded for all of us to read, is screaming to a lost and dying world – death has been beaten, Jesus is risen, and you can rise too!

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As Resurrection Day approaches, I pray we will all reflect on the moment when we died to our own selfish desires and became alive in Christ.  As you do, share your story with others along this journey as you never know if you could be the beginning of someone else’s resurrection story!

If you don’t have a relationship with Jesus yet, you can take care of that right now.  There is no magical prayer or even anything specific you need to recite.  You simply need to believe that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived a perfect life, took the sin of the world upon His shoulders to the grave and left it there as He rose back to life!  This is His amazing gift of grace that He offers to us so that we can spend eternity with Him – we just have to believe!  His gift of grace is really that simple and available to anyone who believes!

John 11:25 – Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying

I will close with this beautiful song by Casting Crowns…I love this song as it tells His story:

“Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me)”

One day when Heaven was filled with His praises
One day when sin was as black as could be
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin
Dwelt among men, my example is He
Word became flesh and the light shined among us
His glory revealed

[Chorus:]
Living, He loved me
Dying, He saved me
Buried, He carried my sins far away
Rising, He justified freely forever
One day He’s coming
Oh glorious day, oh glorious day

One day they led Him up Calvary’s mountain
One day they nailed Him to die on a tree
Suffering anguish, despised and rejected
Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is He
Hands that healed nations, stretched out on a tree
And took the nails for me

[Chorus]

One day the grave could conceal Him no longer
One day the stone rolled away from the door
Then He arose, over death He had conquered
Now He’s ascended, my Lord evermore
Death could not hold Him, the grave could not keep Him
From rising again

[Chorus]

One day the trumpet will sound for His coming
One day the skies with His glories will shine
Wonderful day, my Beloved One, bringing
My Savior, Jesus, is mine

[Chorus]

Glorious day, Oh, Glorious day

Merry Christmas to you all!  I pray this post blesses you as you use your drum to glorify our Savior!

Until I heard this version of The Little Drummer Boy performed by Pentatonix, I had not really “heard” the message in this song.  I have now listened to this version dozens of times and my eyes flood with tears every time as I have discovered something…I am the little drummer boy!

Pentatonix

Click Here to watch Pentatonix The Little Drummer Boy

Can you imagine?  A baby has been born to be King to usher His people into freedom.  Rumor has it that He will be born in a little town called Bethlehem, and there is a bright star shining above the place He will make His arrival.  Something is definitely different about this birth.  Curiosity sets in…then someone asks you, a little boy, “come and see this new born King.”  They add, “You can bring your drum along as well if you want to!”

You think to yourself, this is Awesome!  I get to see this new King and witness the beginning of His reign.  But wait, people are bringing gifts…I am poor and have nothing to bring Him as a gift.  Maybe no-one will notice since I am a young kid.  They wouldn’t expect a kid to bring a gift, so I will just hang back and see what this new born King is all about.

So you walk with the others, lightly playing your little drum as you walk along…after all, that is the one thing you really enjoy and you are not too bad either!  At least that is what your mom tells you.  Some of the adults tell you to knock it off or stay back and play quietly, but your joy in this moment can only be played out on your drum.  So you quietly continue, maybe even playing in your head.

Then you see above all the adults this animal stable, when all of the sudden everyone stops and are gasping in amazement.  They have no words, only awe.  But you can’t see…so you slip your way through the crowd to the front and you see people offering gifts to this little baby.  He seems so fragile yet there is power in this moment.  Could He really be the One everyone is thinking He is?  I sure wish I had something I could give to Him as a gift.

Your heart jumps out of your chest as your joy bursts out.  All along the way you had been playing your drum ever so lightly with an increasing joy in your heart as you made your way to this moment, this place.  You didn’t even think twice…you look to His mother and ask, “Shall I play for you…on my drum?”  She nods yes…the whole place stands and watches what is to come.  The animals seem to be swaying with the beat.  You are playing your very best and are completely lost in the moment!  You look down and realize that Jesus is taking in every note and then something amazing happens…He looks you in the eyes and smiles at you in the most kind and loving way you could ever imagine!  Wow, this new born King, Jesus, has accepted my gift, and you realize that the best gift you could have given Him was to play your drum for Him…your very best talent is your very best gift!

You look around and everyone is in tears as they have just witnessed a small child offering the greatest gift to this child King.  They all worship along with you as you pound away on your drum.  You lead them to a greater understanding of how we best honor Jesus by using our gifts and talents to the best of our abilities in worship of Him, the King and Savior of us all!  This moment will be etched in your soul for the rest of your life and you will retell the story until the day you die…the story of the day a little boy offered up his very best gift to the King of the World!  The day the Savior looked at you and smiled as He watched you share your joy with Him!

So, what is your drum?  What do you do well that you can bring to the King to honor Him?  Your drum may be a musical instrument or it may be the ability to sit down with someone and extent the love of Jesus to them.  Your drum may be playing basketball or acting in a play.  Your drum may be the very work you do on a daily basis.  Whatever your drum is, use it to honor and glorify Jesus…and when you do, close your eyes and imagine what it will be like to see Jesus looking directly in your eyes and smiling at you, saying, “Well done!”

ldrum

The Little Drummer Boy

Come they told me
Pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see
Pa rum pum pum pum

Our finest gifts we bring
Pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the kIng
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

So to honor Him
Pa rum pum pum pum
When we come

Little baby
Pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too
Pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring
Pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give our King
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

Shall I play for you
Pa rum pum pum pum
On my drum

Mary nodded
Pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time
Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him
Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

Then He smiled at me
Pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum

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Football coach Vince Lombardi died in 1970. As he died, Lombardi turned to his wife Marie and said, “Happy anniversary. I love you.”

John Wayne died at age 72 in L.A. He turned to his wife and said, “Of course I know who you are. You’re my girl. I love you.”

Bob Hope, to his wife Dolores when asked where he wanted to be buried, said…”Surprise me.”

Last words have a way of being remembered by those who are left behind to finish out this life on earth, especially by the loved ones in that person’s life!   When a loved one utters their final words here on earth, we remember them, cherish them, and if a request was made, we honor that request!

I can still remember the last words my father spoke to me before he died; “Take care of your mother for me.  I don’t think I am going to make it.”  As hard as that was to hear, those last words have guided my life from that point on!  The very first thing I did after my dad died was to lead my mother into a life-saving relationship with Jesus Christ!  I also look back to that moment as the turning point in my personal relationship with Jesus, as well as the beginning of a calling from God that is redefining my life mission and passion!  Through much trial, depression, sin and fighting with Him (and my wife), God used this moment to redefine my life and legacy.  He continues to this day to give me an eternal perspective that could only be realized by coming through the loss of my dad, and responding to his last words!

I am sure you have heard some last words in your life.  Whether it be a loved one, a celebrity, a sports figure you know…those last words will live on.  I am here to share with you the most famous last words ever uttered, and to challenge you to remember these words, cherish them and honor the request made in these final words on earth from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

“…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8

His final words tell us His heart and vision for our lives as His followers – Go (everywhere) and make disciples!  Making disciples is not as hard as many have made it out to be.  Discipleship is not taking a barrage of classes and getting a lot of head knowledge.  Discipleship is not knowing a lot about God; it is growing to know God – to be in relationship with Him!  Discipleship is taking our relationship with God and coming into relationship with others, walking with them and helping them take their next step in their relationship with Jesus.  It really is as simple as “love God and love others!”

So why is it that we take the last words of the people in our life and sear them into our hearts, and leave Jesus’ last words for someone else to take seriously?  We are to first love God with all or our heart, soul and mind and then go love others – if He is our first love, His words should have more weight than any words we hear!

My challenge for you right now is to study these last words of Jesus as He ascended to heaven, not only to cherish them, but to take action upon them!  Our faith is not a personal faith as some will say, one we keep to ourselves – that is no faith at all, and is simply a cop out for sharing Jesus!  Our faith is to be alive and active!  If we truly believe Jesus is our Savior and The way to be with the Father for eternity, how selfish is it for us to keep that information from those around us?

The fruit of a disciple of Jesus is to be a disciple-maker who not only makes disciples, but is one who makes disciple-makers!  Disciples make disciples who make disciples – and this is how we change the world through relational discipleship!

The Great Commission – The Church’s marching orders from Jesus!  These are Jesus’ words engrained upon my heart and calling, driving much of what I feel led to do and write as I press deeply into the call that God has placed over my life!

Matthew 28:18-20 – And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Yet, with these verses on the tip of my tongue, God has taught me another lesson from this passage that resonates with me deeply.  As with all of scripture, reading verses in context makes all the difference in the world!  And the previous two verses (16 and 17), often ignored or read over completely in the Great Commission, do just that:

Matthew 28:16-17 – Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 

The Sea of Galilee is the Most Serene Place to Visit!  No Wonder Jesus Spent so Much Time Here!

The Sea of Galilee is the Most Serene Place to Visit! No Wonder Jesus Spent so Much Time Here!

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You can envision the disciples overlooking the Sea of Galilee from the mountain as Jesus arrived and began the Great Commission!

There are four distinct stages documented here as to first steps the disciples took in fulfilling the Great Commission that are often overlooked as we enthusiastically dive into making disciples – and all four are personal steps disciples will go through at various times in their life and ministry.

  • Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee… – Galilee was (and still is) one of the most serene areas in all of Israel – it was also the place where Jesus and the disciples spent a lot of their time during Jesus’ three years of ministry. Jesus knew the disciples needed to get away for renewal, refreshment and regrouping before they began the quest Jesus’ was calling them to pursue.  We are no different!  In seasons of life and calling, as we embark on new endeavors, new challenges or even new career and/or ministry paths, we are wise to get away, alone with God, and focus on the next step in front of us.  This allows us uninterrupted connection to the Father in prayer and His Word, clarifying His direction He has planned for our lives.  Distraction-free environments help us see the next step God is asking us to take as well as discern how that step lines up with the direction God is calling us go.  So where is your Galilee and have you scheduled a time to go there soon?  Now may be the time to make those plans!
  • to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.Jesus made His appearance to the disciples after the resurrection and told them to go to the mountain of Galilee He directed. In obedience to Jesus, they went…and the rest is history!  Obedience to Jesus is necessary because if we are not in the will of God, our best laid plans will fail.  If we hear in our heart the still small voice of God prompting us to take a step of faith, have a conversation with a person, make a career move, stand up for what we believe, etc., our response is to be obedient to God and take that step.  But how do we know it is God’s voice prompting us?  If what we are “hearing” lines up with the character and nature of God, it is likely the Holy Spirit calling us out!  The bottom line for the disciple is this – if God asks you to go to the mountain, go!  When He leads, and we follow, He will use us to change the world for His Kingdom sake!
  • And when they saw him they worshiped him.The disciples went to the mountain in Galilee, and when they saw Jesus approaching them they went into full worship mode! When the risen Savior approached, how else could they react?  In our journey as we get away and alone with God, listening for His guiding voice that will direct our path as called by Him, our response is always to worship Him!  Not because He needs it, but because we need it!  He loves our worship, and when we show our love for Him through worship, we are reciprocating a love that is pure and honorable and lovely – which fills us with joy, peace, goodness, etc!  The only way we can truly honor God’s amazing gift of grace is full on worship!  He deserves no less!
  • but some doubted.– As Jesus approached the disciples, some still doubted He was who He said He was.  Some doubted that they would be able to fulfill the things Jesus was calling them to do – change the world!  Don’t we do this all the time as well?  When we feel a tug at our heart to, say, end global hunger…it seems overwhelming to think we could have any part of something so huge, doesn’t it?  Or we feel the nudge to talk to someone about Jesus who has been hostile to anything they deem “religious”.  Every time God calls us to one of His “missions”, we may have a bit of doubt that we will have to work through.  I thank God this verse was included in the Great Commission showing that the guys who formed The Church had doubts even though Jesus was right in front of them!  It also makes perfect sense why we would have some doubt about our calling since we can’t see Jesus in His earthly form.  Doubt is at the very essence of our calling from God because doubt drives us to dig in and discover why God is calling us and how it all relates to His character and our destiny.  Faith is not the absence of doubt…it is the choice to believe in Jesus, trusting He knows what He is calling us to be part of and knowing He can accomplish anything through us if we will simply trust and believe!

Broken down, here are the four ways to connect with God in the midst of His call as modeled by the disciples during their commissioning from Jesus:

  • Get alone with God, away from distractions that hinder hearing His voice through prayer and His Word.
  • Obey what He says; discerning what is right and from God. If what you are “hearing” lines up with God, trust it and obey!
  • Worship Him through music, nature, poetry, reading His scriptures, etc.
  • Understand that doubt is not the enemy; it can strengthen the understanding of the call and drives us to dig deep!

These four steps can and will help you discern the call God is placing in your life!  Simple guidelines as to how Jesus led the disciples as He commissioned them, and us, to change the world!  Now it’s your turn!  Discern the call God has for you, and change the world for Christ!  This world will never be the same!

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As I have navigated through many stages of life, one thing continually resonates in the lives of people I talk to, and it is such a powerful force that many sacrifice their convictions in hopes of satisfying those deep desires…Relationship!  Relationship comes in many different shapes and sizes.  Our relationship with a spouse looks different than a relationship with our kids.  Relationships with co-workers are different from family members.  Relationships with the clerk at the gas station take a different form than that of our best of friends.  Regardless of which relationship you are considering, it is apparent that we were designed to be in relationship!

When God designed us, He did so by creating us in His image.

Genesis 1:26 – Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

In that statement from God, something very profound occurs!  It starts by saying God said (singular) and then He said, Let us (plural) make man…woven into the very core of His creation of man was this idea of God being in relationship – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – yet being one God.  There has been much confusion and controversy over the idea of the Trinity, and many doctrinal statements have been made that have so many people scratching their heads or totally discounting the idea of a three in one God.  But, God didn’t build His word to confuse us!  He gave it to us to liberate us!

I truly believe that this “contradiction” in verse 26 (“God” and then “us”) is really quite uncomplicated.  Simply put, God is relational and He designed us in His image to be relational as well!

His plan is to be in relationship with us as we journey through this life building our relationship with Him as well as with those God has placed in our lives.  Yet, as we develop relationships with those around us, our primary relationship with God has to take first place in our heart and soul!  When we place God in His rightful place in our lives (first place), the other relationships we are engaged in just seem to work themselves out.  Having a Kingdom worldview keeps this life in perspective and focuses our heart on relationships.  Nothing in this world matters more than our relationship with God and our relationships with others!

How do you typically respond to people who don’t share the same beliefs that you have based on the understanding of God’s character and His Word?  Are you quick to extend grace?  Do you first judge?  Do you point out where you think they are wrong?  If, so, how’s that working for you?

It’s easy to look at the paragraph above and see how this way of thinking would not work with your spouse, your kids, etc.  Relationship with people is the gateway to extend the same grace that Jesus offers each of us, yet believers seem to be more content having convictions and pointing fingers rather than building relationships and introducing people to Jesus!  Even the first “professional” Christians, Jesus chosen disciples, were struggling with power of their supposed piety:

Luke 9:51-56 – As the time drew near for him to ascend to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. He sent messengers ahead to a Samaritan village to prepare for his arrival. But the people of the village did not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to Jerusalem. When James and John saw this, they said to Jesus, “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. So they went on to another village.

As Jesus followers, we far too often are quick to pronounce judgment on those who do not share the same beliefs, convictions or passions that we do.  Yet, time and time again, Jesus models for us exactly how we are to respond to opposition and how He deals with the self-righteous…first, He rebukes the religious for their pious behavior, and then extends love and grace to those far from Him.  After all, relationship is the most effective way to reach people for Jesus!  See it again here:

John 8:2-11 – Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

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Jesus scolds the religious leaders of the time and extends grace to the one caught in her sin.  That level of love and grace gives the woman an opportunity to respond to Jesus’ love in one of two ways – one way she can respond…she can extend trust to Him based on what He has done for her, and then heed His words of advice to go and sin no longer.  In doing so, she will then begin the healing process that is required whenever we are stuck in sinful behavior as well as reciprocate love to Jesus.  Another way she could respond…she could ignore His love and grace, keep on sinning, and eventually will find herself in the same situation – hopelessly in need of a Savior!

Our lives mirror this parable in so many ways!  Though we may struggle with sin (as defined by God) and maybe even disagree with what truly is sin (again defined by God and God alone), when we trust Him and turn our backs on sin, His healing begins in our lives!  When we turn our back on the loving boundaries that God has placed in our world and keep on sinning without the intent of “sinning no longer”, well…we get a world in chaos, not knowing what is right or wrong, confused as to what is good and bad, loving just or destructive.  You know, the world we are living in right this moment!  Though we try to change the Word of God to fit our lifestyles and beliefs -beliefs that have been shaped by this sinful world we live in and the unhealthy lives we have lived and grown up in – God’s Word is True, Just, Loving and never Changes!

So regardless of where you are in your relationship with Jesus, you have a choice to make.  Will you choose a relationship with Jesus?  If so, He loves you so much that He will call you out of your sin because He knows where sin leads – destruction and broken lives!  We don’t get to choose what is right and wrong – God has already chosen!  He didn’t choose what is sinful to hurt us…He calls out sin because it will destroy us!  That is why it took the death of God’s Son, Jesus, to pay for sin!  He loves you that much!

For those who already follow Jesus, we have to stop condemning and judging people for their sin!  We must start loving enough to build relationships with people far from God and then introduce them to Jesus once we’ve built that trust!  Afterall, He is the only One who can lead someone out of a sinful lifestyle, in His time!  It’s our job to love and introduce people to Jesus, teaching them all He commanded; it’s His job to change them from the inside out!  How about we do our job and stop getting in the way of Jesus doing His thing!

love

Recently, my wife Lisa and I were able to take a short retreat to Cincinnati to focus completely on our marriage as we attended a Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference.  Going into the weekend, we both would have said the weekend was really just a chance to get away and rest, and maybe takeaway some refresher tips for our marriage.  After all, we’ve been married for 23 ½ years and have seemingly gone through every struggle imaginable over those years and persevered, and eventually thrived, through those struggles…focusing on God really makes all the difference in the world!  However, we learned quickly that in every marriage, and likely every healthy relationship, when not being 100% intentional, we tend to take each other for granted and slip up in areas of connection and conversation.  I am so thankful that we were able to attend and invest in our marriage to ensure many fruitful years to come!  I highly recommend a yearly marriage retreat or conference for every married couple (and every engaged couple)…your marriage is worth the yearly investment!

As I began thinking more about some of the discussions during the weekend, as well as witnessing so many young couples struggling in the areas of love and communication, I was reminded of some very wise counsel we had received a few years into our marriage that really helped us gain a better understanding of how marriage works and thrives.  The area of challenge is love – is it a feeling or a choice?

Let me ask you this: If someone were to come up to you and demand for you to “Love Me!” what are the odds that you will fall deeply in love with that person at that moment?  Demanding love never works, and is likely to repel the other person, not attract them.  Yet, when we show someone we love them, making choices to love them by having conversations with them, doing things for them, placing their needs and desires above your own, not only will your love for that person grow, odds are they will reciprocate that love.  You see, people respond with love when you love them in practical ways.  That giddy “in love” feeling can be deceiving because when that feeling, or emotion, fades we have a choice – we either choose to love or we choose to run.  True love always chooses to love, even when the feeling of being “in love” wanes a bit.  Mature love is active!

Some will say the “in love” feeling will never fade; “I love him/her too much!”  However, ask any woman with kids who are nurturing and caring for them, taking care of them when sick, running them around to all their destinations, all while working and trying to maintain the family unit…that “in love” feeling either turns to resentment or she chooses to love her husband in the midst of the trials and child-rearing.

In our marriage, that “in love” feeling faded pretty quickly as we had been married for 6 months when we got pregnant with our first child.  How I wish we would have understood that love is a choice as opposed to a feeling early in our marriage…I believe it would have saved us a lot of heartache and pain.  Once we understood that love is an action, not an emotion, we were able to begin healing and start loving each other again because we wanted to…not because of a feeling, but because of a choice.  Like any stage of life, love grows and matures as it becomes part of who we are.  Once discovered, I can honestly say that I love my wife Lisa more now than I ever have!

I can say without any hesitation that any marriage can be healed, regardless of how deep the hurt and betrayal may be.  I have witnessed in many marriages, as well as ours, miraculous healing that can only be credited to God and two people choosing to not give up on the godly institution of marriage.  You want to know something key…your spouse doesn’t deserve your love!  And you don’t deserve their love either!  We are all broken and fallible individuals seeking love and acceptance.  The key to a thriving marriage is placing God first in everything you do!   When we keep God first, loving our spouses becomes an act of love toward God as well as our spouse.  Our spouse may not deserve our love at times, but God always does, and He says that we love because He first loved us:

1 John 4:19 – We love each other because he loved us first.

So remember these key tips on growing a healthy marriage:

1 – Love God first and above all else.

2 – Love your spouse because God loves you – you reciprocate His love by loving your spouse.

3 – Remember, mature love is a choice, not a feeling.

Every healthy and mature marriage requires these three steps, and every unhealthy, failing marriage can be healed by two people taking these three steps.

I can say with all the boldness I can muster that because God loves me, I love Him more than anyone else!  Because I love Him so much, I choose to love Lisa with all my heart and in my daily choices.  Choosing to love her because God loves me doesn’t cheapen my love for her…it actually deepens that love because our marriage now is firmly planted on the foundation of God’s love!  And no other love can be as solid as God’s love for us…after all; He sacrificed His Son Jesus because He loves us that much!

In the past few weeks I have had the incredible opportunity to visit two newly planted churches – Church of The Hills in Nashville, TN and The Cathedral in Flint, MI.  Along with other members of itown church, we set out to encourage and support these two new congregations as they get their feet firmly planted within their communities to reach as many people as possible for Jesus Christ…doing anything short of sin to reach people for Christ!  We fell in love with the hearts and sacrifice of these amazing people as they fulfill the call God has placed in them to be a local outpost in their communities loving God and loving those around them!  We’ve made some life-long friends as well, all while cheering one-another on from afar serving our local communities and introducing people to Jesus!

Supporting the local church is an awesome responsibility for us all because in every community the local church truly is the hope for that community as well as the hope of the entire world!  With so many individual churches in our communities, The Global Church (everyone who follows Jesus) must support one-another and understand that church is not (and should never be) a competition.  The Church is a living entity of individual gatherings of people who need to be working together to reach the world for Christ; putting aside differing styles and rituals that are simply preferences, not doctrine!

church-competing

Unfortunately the picture above kinda hits a sore spot, doesn’t it?  Far too many local gatherings have chosen to not read (or at least understand) the memo from Paul where he calls us to band together as The Church body to reach as many people as possible for the sake of Jesus Christ!  Instead, many local churches have placed themselves in the headship of The Church as the only means in the community to have a relationships with Jesus – yet Jesus said we, as His followers, are ALL in this together as The Church with many different members of the body who must work together for the good of every person who is far from God in our communities…and Jesus is the only head of The Church!

Romans 12:3-8 – For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

I recall a story Andy Stanley, Lead Pastor at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, GA, shared regarding a gay-pride parade set to pass in front of their rather large church building on a given Sunday morning.  Andy and his staff tried to think it through to try to have as many congregants and volunteers as possible already in the building before the parade was set to pass.  They discussed how to keep the congregation inside the building a little longer than usual as to not “expose” the members to what they deemed a moral concern, possible protest or at the least an ugly exchange.  They were more focused on hiding their “righteous” eyes than reaching a community of people who need Jesus as much as we do.

As the morning began brewing, Andy was feeling a bit convicted and torn – from what I recall in his story, he and some others went outside to see how things were shaping up.  His conviction was set in stone when he saw the small church congregation across the street lining the road and handing out glasses of water to all the participants in the gay-pride parade – smiles on their faces as they opened their hearts to those walking along!  Conversations were happening and a bridge to an unreached group of people was being built right across the street!  Wow!  This congregation understood what it means to serve the community, offer grace to all, and love our neighbors with the love of Christ!  The lesson Andy learned that morning has shaped the ministry of North Point to this day as they seek to extend grace and love to the very people most congregations won’t engage – people far from God!  How different might this story have been if the churches were on the same page instead of working it from their own angle?  Odd isn’t it…what is the purpose of the local church if not to love God and love others?  Those far from God are exactly who Jesus said He came to save, and when we follow Him, we should be no different:

Luke 5:32 – I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.

Now, something amazing happens when you break that down…Jesus came to save sinners who are lost without a Savior.  Every person on this planet has at least one thing in common – we are all sinners!  The difference between being lost and found is a simple act of faith – believing in Jesus Christ!  How pious we become when we somehow think we are better than someone else because we are in relationship with Jesus!  The fact that we are in relationship with Jesus ought to embolden us to engage the community around us and share the good news of Jesus’ amazing love and grace!  How do we do this?  We build relationships with people who God has placed in our path (co-workers, fellow students, gas station attendant, Taco Bell employee, Starbuck’s server, etc.).  As we genuinely love those around us, opportunities will arise where we can share our testimony, our story, of how Jesus has changed our lives.  It is through relationship that God created man; it is through relationship that God sent His Son Jesus to save this world; it is through relationship that Jesus died for you and me; it is through relationship where Jesus came into your life and changed you; and it will be through relationship where each lost soul on earth will have an opportunity to begin a faith relationship with Jesus to change their eternal path.

Jesus has one plan for the salvation of this world – The Church (ALL followers of Jesus).  Jesus poured into 12 men…upon His resurrection and ascension to heaven He set them loose with one goal in mind – get into relationship with people in your path, share the good news of Jesus’ incredible gift of grace, and help others on the path do the same!  Here is Jesus’ commission to His disciples, and in turn His commission for us as The Church:

Matthew 28:18-20 – And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Go – our commission to get into people’s lives and build relationships…you can’t build a relationship unless you are willing to go.

Baptize – as relationships are built we share our story of how Jesus changed our lives.  This is where people have an opportunity to hear the Good News of Jesus’ gift of grace and respond to that Good News by accepting that gift and beginning a relationship with Jesus.  When the topic of baptism is brought up we must also understand that water baptism is simply a public profession of one’s new relationship with Jesus – one next step in our faith journey proclaiming we belong to Jesus!  Though it is important to make that public proclamation, water baptism in and of itself is not a requirement of salvation.

Teach – we walk alongside those new in relationship with Jesus, helping them understand grace and showing them how to go into the world and begin making disciples through relationships.

“Go, Baptize and Teach” is the method Jesus commissioned us to make disciples who will learn to make disciples – this is how the world can be changed by a group of 12 men who passed it on to us!

Local churches and fellow believers; it’s far past time for The Church to come together and love one-another as we love those far from God.  When those far from God see how ridiculous individual church congregations treat one-another, they see the hypocrisy and want nothing to do with us!  When people see how critical “religious” people are in their comments or posts on social media as well in their arguments in the public square, why would we expect them to want join our mission let alone follow the One we say we follow?  God doesn’t want us to argue with people who think differently than we do.  No-one has been argued into the Kingdom!  Jesus wants us to love people who don’t know Him and get into relationship with people far from Him!  Only then will we have an opportunity to share the things that truly matter in this life!  People will want to know the One we follow when we actually reflect the One we follow!  So go out and show His love and grace to those around you – just as Jesus has extended His love and grace to you!  And cheer on the local congregations of people in your community who are reaching people for Jesus…the heavens explode with a party every time one sinner accepts salvation through Jesus.  Let’s join in that cheering and reach everyone together!

 

Who-is-Jesus

Over the past few months I have had several conversations with people who are genuinely seeking a relationship with Jesus; however, they struggle with believing the supernatural to be true.  I think if we are all honest with ourselves, we would admit that we have had similar feelings in our own journeys of faith.  Just as it is impossible to disprove God’s existence, it is equally impossible to prove His existence if you are trying to discredit Him from the start!

You see, when we have a bent toward non-belief, something has to happen in our mind and heart in order to accept and believe God is real!  Some will say they have a hard time believing because they are educated, yet some of the most brilliant people I know have deduced that God is real and He is the only explanation for such an intricate and creative universe in which we live.  In fact, I think believing everything came from nothing takes so much more “faith” than believing in a Creator.

One of the most amazing scientific observations for me is that there has been no evidence that has proven the Bible to not be true.  Instead, archeology has proven over and over the accuracy of the Bible and the existence of those recorded in the Bible.  After visiting Israel in 2014, I have a new understanding of how many archeological digs are going on now, and discoveries confirming the accuracy of the Bible are happening almost every day!  Scholars from the time of Jesus have confirmed Jesus existence as well as many other people recorded in the Bible.

Yet, discovering these site locations and seeing many with my owns eyes only increased my faith because I started with a belief that God exists and Jesus came to earth, died for my sin and was resurrected to live eternally with all of those who believe in Him.  The big question here is this…how do you shift from non-belief to belief?  I believe the answer in part lies in the following verse where Paul is addressing the people of Corinth:

2 Corinthians 3:14 –  But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ.

While living in this world, focusing on money and things instead of relationships and eternity, it is easy to think that God does not exist and we only live this life and then we die.  This world can be a dark place where it is difficult believing God exists, but in all reality (at least for those of us who do believe) it’s impossible for me to believe that God is not real when I see the amazing transformation in people who have been touched by God’s healing hand!  People cured from cancer; marriages restored after infidelity; drug addicts instantly sober and clean for years now; prisoners set free!

Many have said they don’t believe in miracles or don’t believe in the stories in the Old Testament, which alone I would agree are pretty hard to believe!  But, I truly believe Satan is simply clouding people’s minds with the unbelief of these things so that they will not be awed by who Jesus truly is!  If Satan can keep the veil over our eyes by focusing us on the little things, he doesn’t have to compete with Jesus on the most important thing – His love and Grace!  Again, when our focus is on anything other than Jesus our minds can be swayed to believe that everything came out of nothing, and the intricate balance of the cosmos just happened.

The key comes back to that verse in 2 Corinthians…the veil can only be removed by believing in Christ!  I doubt anyone would read the teachings of Jesus Christ regarding loving God and each other and say that is a load baloney!  I bet no-one would say that Jesus was wrong when He told the religious people of His day (those more focused on keeping the law instead of loving one-another) that they were all hypocrites and did not even know His Father.  The question, however, comes down to this…what will YOU do with Jesus? That’s the only question that really matters!  Let’s think it through a bit!

Starting with unbelief, or more specifically that everything we know of now started from nothing at the big bang.  Believing this means that you do not believe a Creator was involved in the creation of the universe and everything that makes up all matter.  Not even digging deep into the intricacies of life, just looking at that beginning moment, where did that bang originate?  And, what about before that?  You see, everything has to start from something.   Regardless of those beliefs, if you do not believe there is a God, a Creator, then why in the world would you even consider anything in the Bible to be true, especially the supernatural stuff?  When we start with a bias, in this case that there is no God, you can dismiss pretty much anything that you cannot explain and feel pretty good about your stance – except, it leads to nothing.  It’s hard to believe a man could turn water into wine or make a sick man well, let alone that everything was created in seven days.  You get the point!

However, say you start with a belief in Jesus – that He is who He said He is or at the very least that He may be who He said He is – and you seek to investigate His life with a true unbiased opinion.  You research and find that the earliest historians from Biblical times (Josephus and Eusebius to name two) record Jesus as being a real person who did some amazing things, along with the testimonies in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) from eyewitnesses in His life, is it easy to believe the man Jesus existed and that He was a great man.  Believing that He is the Messiah, our Savior, comes as we get to know this man and understand the life He lived on earth as well as the sacrifice He made on our behalf could only have come from a God who loves each and every one of the people in His creation.  Since the penalty for sin is death (sin always leads to death – death of relationships as well as physical death), either we pay with our life and spend eternity away from God, or we accept that Jesus did in fact walk this earth preaching the Good News (this is not disputed) and loved us enough to pay the penalty of death on our behalf…but (and it’s a huge but) He didn’t stop there!  He rose back to life so that we would have someone alive to follow as well as spend eternity!   Belief in Jesus is the catalyst in our life that will catapult our faith into depths of understanding and knowledge that can only come from God – removing the veil that Satan wants to keep over our eyes!  And belief in Jesus is the only way to spend eternity with God!  See how Jesus explains this to His disciples:

John 14:1-7“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”

“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”

If you can grasp Jesus as your Savior, do the miracles recorded in the Bible really seem like that big of a deal for a Savior like Jesus and a God big enough to create everything?  My earnest prayer for you is that you would seek Jesus with your heart and investigate His love and Grace.  I pray you discover the joy and peace that only comes from a relationship with Jesus!  When you accept His Grace and mercy, His love will be poured out on you and the veil will be lifted!  Again, all of life boils down to this one simple question: What will you do with Jesus?  Everything in all of eternity hinges on that single question!

Hello, let me introduce myself: I am just a guy…a guy on Valentine’s Day playing back the years of my marriage and realizing how blessed I am to be married to Lisa Marie Boyland.  So I thought I’d take an opportunity to brag on her a little!

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My lovely bride and I in Israel on our 23rd Anniversary this past year, September 28th, 2014

My wife’s heart is amazing!  The way she feels and shows compassion, seeking to help people take their next steps in relationship to Jesus, is inspirational to say the least!  Most every week she shares with me how she has had an encounter with someone God has placed in her path – someone hurting or angry, someone emotional or even possibly experiencing their last days on earth.  This side of my wife is the most attractive quality I see in her, and hearing her heart in these moments makes me realize how incredible she is and how much my love grows for her through these moments she shares with me!  Though I know she is beautiful on the outside, her inside is even more beautiful to me (and I am sure to those around her too)!

As I began to write a note in Lisa’s journal for Valentine’s Day (a journal in which only I get to write notes to her), a few verses from Proverbs 31, specifically the ones I list below, really jumped out at me as I look to the beauty, inside and out, of my incredible bride of over 23 years!

Proverbs 31:10-12, 26-30

10 An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.

11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.

12 She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.

26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

27 She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

28 Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:

29 “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”

30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Over the past 23 plus years of marriage, we would both say that we struggled a lot in our marriage, especially the first 8 years!  As it is in any relationship, when selfishness takes over our flesh, nothing good can come of it!  I was (and sometimes still am) pretty selfish!  However, once we gave complete control of our marriage to God (a choice we must make daily), He has led us to an amazing reconciliation and I can with complete honesty say that I love my wife more now than ever since I met her some 24 years ago!  Just to be clear, I am not talking about that giddy feeling that we get when first dating or when we are early in our relationships.  The love I speak of is a choice!  I choose to love her every day because God has revealed more to me through our relationship than in any other area of my life!  As He guides her, I fall even more deeply in love with her because God is at the heart of it all…and I can see God in the decisions she makes and the words that she says!

Over the past couple years God has been pulling me out of my comfort zone and calling me to step into something bigger than myself.  As I continue to discover what He has planned for me and my family, I continue to see how He is guiding Lisa in the plans He not only has for her, but also the plans He has for us as a family!  I am seeing more clearly now than ever how Lisa has sacrificed and loved me and our family in ways that can only be summed up as miraculous!  Her faith in God’s plan for our lives has become an active, daily journey where she trusts God fully, listens to His guiding voice, and simply responds by doing what He says!  We can all learn a little bit about obedience and love from this amazing woman of God!

As God continues to guide our family, and specifically our marriage, I just wanted to publically say how incredibly blessed I am to be loved and married to Lisa!  Next to God, there is no-one I would rather navigate life with than her, and I cannot wait to see how He plays this life of ours out as we press on toward the finish line!

Happy Valentine’s Day to a true Proverbs 31 wife!  Lisa, thank you for being an amazing wife and for loving me in ways that are becoming more unbelievable than ever before!  I love you more now than at any point in our marriage, and the best is yet to come!

I’ve often heard people say something along the lines of this:  “God just wants me to be happy”, usually followed by a description of destructive behaviors and possibly life altering choices.  Like the twisted deception that Satan gave to Eve in the garden – “Did God really say….” – this lie is still one of Satan’s favorite tools to deceive believers in this more recent culture of the selfie.  Unfortunately, God’s desire for joy in our lives has been misinterpreted into thinking that He wants us to enjoy the worldly desires that can only give us a brief and false sense of happiness which is fleeting on this earth.  However, God’s true desire for us to enjoy this life has nothing to do with us being happy!  No, His desire for our joy in this life comes from our holiness – something we cannot attain on our own!

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So, can we obtain true happiness (or pure joy) from worldly desires?  I don’t believe we can…yet, this is one of the ways Satan tries to trip up believers – if he can’t take away our eternal security, he darn sure will try to make us turn our backs on the true joy that we can only obtain through God’s character and His purpose for our lives.  Finding ourselves within His will is how we obtain the joy we read about in the Scriptures.  The feeling of happiness that Satan tries to make people believe is good is what Paul calls the worldly desires, or works of the flesh, that completely contradict God’s joy that we deep down desire more than anything!

Galatians 5:16-25 – But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

The litmus test is really pretty simple, but when we are lost in the moment we must step back and evaluate our thoughts and behaviors to see if they line up with the “works of the flesh” (which are from Satan) or the “fruit of the Spirit” (which comes from God).

To follow Jesus, and to obtain True Joy while we are here on earth, we must take every thought and behavior to task and see where it falls:

  • Thought or behavior from Satan – The works of the flesh – sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. (You’ve seen people living in this mindset, and true happiness can never be found here…only destruction and pain)
  • Thought or behavior from God – The fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (When you see someone with this fruit on them, it is a beautiful thing to see and to feel…unless Satan is feeding your mind with envy or jealousy – you know, those fleshly thoughts)

It may be hard to see in the moment, but as we step back and review our current life situations we will discover (if we are being honest with ourselves) either Satan has complete control of our lives or we have allowed God to lead our lives.  If we choose Satan (and it is a choice), our relationships and lives will end in a miserable death – after all, Satan is the father of lies and his lies always lead to death:

John 8:44 – You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

But, when we choose God, our relationships, choices, desires, and path will be led with an exceedingly abundant joy that can only  come from our Father in Heaven.  That kind of joy can only be known when we have accepted Jesus as our Savior and Lord and choose to repent of the desires of our flesh (sin) while standing firm on the belief that God has a plan for our lives, and that plan will always reflect God’s good and perfect character.  He desires that we live a life that reflects the nature of His Son, Jesus, and anything less is simply our flesh giving in to Satan.

Romans 14:17 – For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking [fleshly desires] but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

God does not want us to be happy; He wants us to be Holy!  No, we cannot be perfect, but we can choose a Holy joy-filled life that only God can lead us to…a life and joy that reflects the One who gave His life for us!  And the immense joy that follows our desires for holiness can only be described as Miraculous!

 

Even though this will be my final post in this series describing my pilgrimage to The Holy Land, the land of Israel and it’s people have forever been etched into my heart and will, I am sure, come up from time to time in future writings!

Our next stop is Megiddon (greek for Armageddon).  Megiddon is located approximately 30 miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee in the northern quarter of Israel.  Some info from the Jewish Antiquities informs us that Archaeologists working in Megiddo have unearthed an incredible 25 layers of settlement built on top of each other that cover a period of 35 centuries.

The city of Megiddo dates back roughly 8,000 years. The city ceased to exist after the Persian invasion of Palestine some 2,300 years ago and, today, nothing is left but the ruins of what once was a regional administrative and military center during the reign of King Solomon.

Megiddo’s long history is related to its strategic position overlooking the Via Maris, one of the main routes used for travel between Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia. The city is referred to in the New Testament as Armageddon, a name St. John derived from the Hebrew for Mount Megiddo, Har Megiddo. According to the book of Revelation, this is the place where the last great battle will be fought when the forces of good will triumph over evil.

The first people to inhabit Megiddo arrived during the Neolithic period. A watershed period occurred in the 20th century BC when it became a fortified city-state. Egypt later dominated the area then known as Canaan and massive walls were built around the city, which indicate Megiddo had become wealthy and required protection.

The first written reference to Megiddo, in fact the first recorded battle in history, is a detailed account of the 1479 BC invasion of the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III. The city subsequently became a center of culture and politics.

Megiddo is first mentioned in the Bible in Joshua 12:21. At that time, the city was inhabited by Canaanites. The city later came under the control of King Solomon, though there is some controversy as to how much of a connection he had to the remains that have been discovered. The Israelite connection to the city ended around 732 BC when the Assyrians conquered Palestine. Though the city was destroyed and rebuilt several more times, it gradually declined in significance. Most recently, Megiddo was the place where British General Edmund Allenby launched his attack against the Turks in 1917. It also served as a base for Israeli forces in the 1948 War.

One of the interesting parts of the excavation is the chariot stables, called Solomon’s Stables even though we now know they were built by King Ahab during the 9th century BC. The only parts that remain are the posts where the horses were apparently tied and troughs. A grain silo dates from the reign of King Jeroboam in the 8th century BC.

Today, water is considered vital to the security and survival of Israel. This has been true since ancient times, and is evident in many archaeological sites throughout the country, including Megiddo. Here, an ingenious system was devised so the townspeople would not have to leave the safety of the city walls to collect water. A vertical shaft was dug within the city to the depth of the nearby spring and then a tunnel was built connecting to the water source. We walked down 183 steps into the shaft, which is 120 feet deep, and then along the tunnel, which stretches another 215 feet before exiting at a lower point on the hill.

Excavations have Uncovered Multiple Civilizations at Megiddo

Excavations have Uncovered Multiple Civilizations at Megiddo

Megiddo strategically sits on a large mound overlooking the Jezreel Valley (the Valley of Armageddon).  Megiddo has historic and future significance as it is mentioned several times in the bible (one reference below) and will be the location of the final battle at the end of days!

2 Kings 23:29 – In his days Pharaoh Necho, king of Egypt, went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and king Josiah went against him; and he slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him. 

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The top picture is a panoramic view of the entire Valley of Armageddon, 75 miles in length by 25 miles in width (not the best picture though).  At the far northern end (if my directions were correct) stands an Israeli military base that has been there preparing for the final battle for a long time!

The pictures above show some small mounds across the valley that have historic significance as well.  Many of the famous battles in Israel took place on these mounds, one of which is the battle of Deborah.   Deborah and Barak headed one of the greatest last battles of the Israelites over the northern Canaanite armies. The battle is known as the “battle of Deborah”,  and was fought during the late 12th Century BC. It brought an end to the mighty Canaanite city of Hazor, and completed the conquest of Canaan, several dozen years after Joshua first entered Canaan and conquered most of the land.

Judges 5:1-2 – Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day:“ That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the Lord!”

It is amazing to know that this location will be the final battle that will usher us all into eternity with Jesus!

Revelation 16:16 – And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.

Our next stop was the port city of Ceasarea Martima, approximately 15 miles west from Megiddo, north of Tel Aviv by about 30 miles.  The ancient port city was constructed by Herod the Great about 25-13 BC and is the current site of one of the most amazing excavations of our time.  Israel has made this site a National Park due to the incredible discoveries!  Caesarea Maritima was named in honor of Augustus Ceasar. The city was described in detail by the 1st-century Roman Jewish historian Josephus. The city became the seat of the Roman prefect soon after its foundation. Caesarea was the “administrative capital” beginning in 6 AD. This city is the location of the 1961 discovery of the Pilate Stone (see below), the only archaeological item that mentions the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate, by whose order Jesus was crucified.

As you can see from the pictures below, this site was Roman in every archeological sense!  It was likely built as a port to bring in wealth so that Herod could build his palaces stretching all the way to Jerusalem and beyond to the Dead Sea (Masada).

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Pilate Stone

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Standing on the Edge of the Roman Coliseum

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Typical Roman Archway

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Port

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More Romanesque Columns

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The Amphitheater was amazing and is still used to this day!  A concert was being set up while we toured:

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Our final stop before our flight back to the USA was Tel Aviv.  Tel Aviv is a hopping city where the average age is in the early 30’s and is a technical hotspot for young people making their mark in the technological world!  Before visiting Israel, we saw an interview and tour of the Holy Land in which the guide said that Tel Aviv looks pretty boring and lacks a lot of the social scene until about 9pm…then everyone comes out to play!  We witnessed that full force as we spent some down time on the Mediterranean beach and walking along the shops on the boardwalk.  It truly is a beautiful city!

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Israeli Flag on the Breaker

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View from our Hotel Room

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One Final Shot of My Beautiful Bride and Me on the Boardwalk in Tel Aviv

Thank you for taking a tour of my journey to the Holy Land!  I pray that you have been blessed in some way by my ramblings and my curious nature.  Often times when people return from Israel they say that once you’ve been there your bible reading goes from black and white into full color…I can say that is 100% true!  Every time I read my bible now, I am looking for locations as in most passages of scripture site references are made.  I am now able to look at a map and see how the scriptures and journeys in the bible come to life and can even visualize the places where our amazing Savior lived and ministered to the people.  I am truly amazed that in this little strip of land called Israel, the history and future of the world revolves around what started here and will ultimately end here!  Even so, come Lord Jesus!!!  Shalom!

Our next stop will take us to the furthest most point in northern Israel overlooking a valley where Syria and Israel meet.  An interesting fact along the way was that the road we were traveling on was in fact the Damascus Road, the very road (unpaved of course) where Saul, being on his way to Damascus to hunt down “Christians” (located in modern day Syria), heard from Jesus and would later became Paul – from a Pharisee hunting down followers of Jesus and killing them, to writer of over 30% of the New Testament!  When you encounter Jesus, you really are radically changed!

Acts 9:1-19 – But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision,“Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.
The Damascus Road

The Damascus Road

We first visited the Nature Park at Tel Dan.  This site is the location of the springs where the Jordan River begins.  At this Nature Preserve, we had the opportunity to hike a trail along the Jordan River to see the springs where it begins.  The first picture below is one of the springs that feeds the rivers beginning, and just a few yards down stream you can see the river is already flowing with rapids!

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The Jordan River Just a Few Yards from the Springs

The Jordan River Just a Few Yards from the Springs

Just up the trail from the springs was the ancient temple of Augustus where worship of the pagan god Pan occurred.  This incredibly sick pagan worship involved sacrificing children to Pan in the carved out cavern in the following picture.

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Along the way there were still signs of war as random tanks were left after one of the conflicts between Israel, Jordan and Syria.  This site was just a few short miles from the border of Syria, a border where much conflict still occurs almost weekly!

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Our final stop this day was a dormant volcanic park overlooking the UN Facility at the Syrian border.  This is the site where ISIS had come in and kidnapped UN Peacekeepers from this site…however, Israel sent in forces to retrieve the captives and shortly after they shut down this facility.  This is also the site where earlier in the week a Syrian jet was shot down as it was heading toward Israel in the buffer zone where no aircraft are allowed.

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To the Left is the UN Facility, the Hills are in Syria, and in Between is the Buffer Zone

This was a very surreal area as it really brought to life how close all these warring nations really are.  The Middle East is a hotbed of conflict and it all stems around the Jews and the Arabs dating back to Abraham’s two sons – Isaac and Ishmael.  Isaac was the promised son in whom the nation of Israel would be born.  He was the son in whom the inheritance of this entire region was promised.  However, Abraham and Sarah were very old and impatient.  Sarah gave one of her maids to Abraham to bear a child, in which Ishmael was born.  Abraham was promised that Ishmael would also be a great nation and would be at war with Isaac.  Ishmael, as you have guessed, is the father of the Arab nation, and that conflict continues to this day!

Genesis 15 records the promise from God that He would provide Abraham and Sarah a son.  Genesis 16 records their impatience where Sarah gives her maid Hagar to Abraham and Hagar bears Abraham a son, and he named him Ishmael.  Genesis 21 tells of Isaac’s birth and God gives Hagar the promise that Ishmael will not be forgotten.  Isaac and Ishmael are both promised many descendents by God.  Because of Abraham and Sarah’s unbelief that God would provide a child through Sarah even in their old age, and their disobedient act of thwarting that promise, the Middle East is at war to this very day!

Next week, we will discuss the culmination of the ongoing wars in the Middle East as we visit Megiddo (the Valley of Armageddon) and also our final day in Israel at Caesarea and Tel Aviv!  Until then, Shallom!

 

On the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee lies a triangle of small towns of great significance in the life of Jesus. Capernaum is located right on the northern shore, while Chorazin sits between 2 and 3 miles northwest of Chorazin, and Bethsaida stands 3 miles east along the shoreline of Galilee.

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As recorded in the gospels, most of Jesus’ earthly ministry occurred on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  It was here where over half of Jesus’ parables were taught and most of the recorded miracles as well.  Capernaum became Jesus’ hometown throughout His ministry, possibly due to His own town of Nazareth rejecting Him and even trying to throw Him off a cliff (Read Matthew 13:53-58 and Luke 4:16-30).  Capernaum was a fishing town, making up most of the residents vocations.  It was on this northern shore where Jesus chose the disciples who would take His message of Grace to the world!

Capernaum was the home of Jesus’ chosen disciples James, John and Matthew.  Mathew, as you may remember, was the tax collector of the town of Capernaum:

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. – Mathew 9:9

Three of His disciples hailed from a nearby town called Bethsaida – Peter, Andrew and Philip:

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael, and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” – John 1:43-45

Among the many miracles described in the gospels from this area, I will mention two of the most recognizable:

After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. – Luke 7:1-10

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The Synagogue Built by the Centurion Mentioned in Above Verse.

And:

And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,“Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” – Mark 2:1-12

As we walked through Capernaum, we saw the synagogue where Jesus would have taught many days (same one the Centurion build from Luke 7 above).

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Closeup Showing the Size of the Columns in the Synagogue.

A little further down the the road we saw Peter’s mother-in-laws house where Jesus and His disciples stayed on many occasions while in Capernaum.  This site is covered by a Catholic Church, but at least it is still able to be seen underneath:

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The Metal at the Top is the Bottom of the Catholic Church.

I can see why this would have been a location Jesus spent much of His time as the beauty of this place on the Sea of Galilee is breathtaking – I can truly see why our guide, Mickey, has a strong desire to retire somewhere along these shores of the freshwater lake where the presence of Jesus can be felt in such a strong and serene way to this very day!

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View from Capernaum Overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

Statue of Peter - Peter was a prominent member of this community!

Statue of Peter – Peter was a prominent member of this community!  “Upon this rock I will build my Church” – Jesus

A couple miles northwest of Capernaum are the ruins of the ancient town of Chorazin.  The most prominent feature of this site is the ancient synagogue that is the center of the community.  Many artifacts and structures have been uncovered here.  Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida are mentioned in this famous passage spoken by Jesus where He condemns these cities for their unrepentant hearts in the full site of most of Jesus’ miracles while He walked the earth:

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you,Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” – Matthew 11:20-24

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The Seat for the Reader of the Scrolls in the Synagogue

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Ornate Archway

As seen in the following picture, the stone in which our guide is standing and teaching is called the Bema stone.  This would be where the reader of the scrolls, the teacher, would have stood while teaching in the synagogue:

Mickey Teaching us from the Bema Stone

Mickey Teaching us from the Bema Stone

Chorazin was a great place to see some incredible artifacts and also see how a small town would have functioned.  We then took a trip up the road to Bethsaida.  There is not much left at this location other that a small monument and an area to teach.  This place made a special connection for me because it is likely the place where Jesus fed the 5,000.  You can see in the picture below how this could be the place as the hill drops into the valley and at the time of Christ the Sea of Galilee would have come up into that valley and easily would have been a shoreline where Jesus could have stepped out of the boat (or back into the boat) for some teaching.

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In the Distance is the Sea of Galilee. Before Water was being Pumped out of the Sea, the Shoreline would have come up to the Treeline.

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Well Marked Bike Path

There was a great bike trail through this site, but you wouldn’t want to get off the path…there are still landmines that have not been detonated from the Syrian wartime all around this area – Syria is only a few short miles from this location.  We will discuss that more at our next stop, The Golan Heights and Dan.  Until then, Shalom!