Archive for the ‘Focus’ Category

How often have you heard someone recite the words “be content in all circumstances”, paraphrasing a familiar verse from Philippians. Paul states:

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Philippians 4:11

Usually, when someone is teaching this scripture, discussing it among friends, or even in a particularly untactful comment to someone who is struggling, they are referring to a circumstance in which someone does not feel content, but not really getting to the entire message Paul is sharing. It doesn’t start with being content, it was a learned process (see verse above where Paul says he learned…). But how do we learn to be content? Just like in almost every scripture in the Bible, we need to study context and read the entire passage to discover what the author is teaching us.

In this verse, contentment was learned by Paul, and thankfully can also be learned by us. The key in Paul’s message lies a little earlier in his letter to the Philippian church.

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

Did you catch the key to Paul’s, and our, contentment in verse 14?

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Do you think Paul was content, the way he describes contentment in chapter 4, when he was a Pharisee killing Christians? I don’t! I believe his contentment began when he believed in Jesus, was baptized, and then learned contentment by answering the calling Jesus gave him to preach ands spread the gospel as a missionary! His contentment is directly connected to his calling, or better yet, his answered calling. Jesus gave him His plan for Paul’s life, then Paul obediently said yes, and found contentment in life because he started doing exactly what he was created to do!

Simply put, Paul gave his life to Jesus, answered the calling Jesus had placed for his life, and found contentment in every and all circumstances because he was on the path chosen for him. We can also find that same contentment, by following God’s calling for our lives!

So, now it comes back to us…what will we do with what we learn? If you find yourself lacking contentment in life, you can’t just BE content in any and every circumstance. You may be able to fake it for a while, but that inner calling will eventually come to the surface until you make the decision to listen to the God-given calling inside of you and press into that direction for your life.

There are many ways to move into that direction, once you discover what God has given you a burden to do – you know, those times you feel so strongly about ___________ that you just can’t contain the emotion or desire to do something about ____________. One way is to take that “passion” and dig into God’s character and word and see what He says about it. Another is to talk with others about what you are feeling and work out your thoughts and possible direction you can move to make an impact. You can also ask others who have a similar passion within their calling and God may develop a relationship between the two of you in which leads to even more change! But most importantly, listen to the Holy Spirit’s nudges! You know, those times where you feel a strong desire to call someone out of the blue, connect with someone brand new (maybe even someone out of your typical network of people – even if they are way beyond your normal reach), volunteer in your community, write a post, read a book, etc…the possibilities from a creative God are endless!

Something to keep in mind when seeking your calling is that there will be many distractions that will attempt to alter your course of action. The best way to discern if you are heading in the direction of your calling is to check your thoughts out with God’s word. If what He says in His word doesn’t line up with what you are thinking, it is likely a distraction. His calling will never be contrary to His nature, character or His word.

So what is your next step? It may be to go to the first step and accept the free gift of grace that Jesus offers each and every one of us – salvation through the grace of Jesus! If you have questions about salvation, I’d love to have that conversation with you!

Maybe it is to read and reread Philippians to get a feel for how Paul learned to be content…I know this has been a letter I have been parked in lately as I discovered the key to contentment. Maybe it is to look through your social feeds or watch the news/ read the headlines and see if God prompts your heart. It may also be to dig deep into yourself and ask loved ones what they see in you as a calling/passion, including what gifts you possess (those things you are naturally good at). But first, ask God to reveal His calling for your life! As you talk to God about this, He will reveal some things to you that will blow your mind! Thoughts that may seem contrary to who you are, but then He does His thing and shows you how you were designed to think and act upon His calling.

I’d love to hear about your journey whether just starting or a long-time coming. Please feel free to reach out or comment about your calling, and as always if you’d like to talk about contentment and/or calling, know I am always here for you! You can email me at rboyland01@gmail.com or connect via the form below.

I can’t wait to see more and more of you discovering your calling and taking steps toward fulfilling your purpose! Let’s make the world a better place by engaging in our communities and using our calling to change the world…you in?

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As I was laying in bed this morning, I felt prompted to weigh in on what I feel is the biggest problem in America that has led to the current sports figures kneeling during the National Anthem. Likely, what I am writing here will resonate with you in spirit and hopefully more so in action, as well as likely causing some angst in many of you as well – which is fine with me because I feel it is something God is pressing into my heart to share. So here goes:

NFL Players Kneeling During National Anthem

The real problem resulting in all of the protests (on every issue regardless of political, social or faith-driven beliefs) is the lack of courage people have to engage with one-another directly – in the church or in community. Worse, this lack of courage, along with all of the cheap and cowardly shots people take upon one-another daily from the safety of their computer or phones, only seems to be super-fueled by the media – not just journalism either, but more so, social media. That is the biggest oxymoron of our time – there is nothing social about social media anymore. Maybe there never was! What social media has done to our culture is allow most people to hide behind their keyboards or phones and communicate with their own bias and opinion while spewing hate as if their ideas are the only ones valid, all while judging everyone else as if they are completely ignorant. That might be a nicer way of saying that small minds and cowardly people will engage in every way possible without actually engaging in a way that leads to reconciliation! If you don’t have to actual talk to someone face-to-face, it’s easy to demonize them and their thoughts, words and beliefs. Cowards act done in this manner, not people seeking to make this world a better place.

So here we are, watching the NFL players sit during the National Anthem and almost everyone is weighing in on the subject with so much venom in which, in my opinion, is not representative of the Man I follow. But it is not just this most current topic that everyone is up in arms about. Lest we forget, this same pattern has been occurring almost weekly! And every issue is important! Racial violence, political unrest (on all sides), religious uncertainty, gay vs straight, rich vs poor, black vs white, muslim vs christian, stand or kneel – the list goes on…

All these issues along with social media are just a symptom of the real problem though. The real issue is so simple, and would be transformative to our communities, nation and world if we would just grasp this simple, yet profound solution that is not new – it actual was spoken throughout the New Testament by Jesus and His disciples, as well as public figures from our recent past like Martin Luther King Jr…and the beat goes on and the masses keep their ears plugged to what would really make this world a better place. Simply, if we would engage one another in face-to-face conversation and relationship, almost all of the hatred, anger and violence would dissipate as we begin to see other people as brothers, sisters and friends! We would begin to feel their pain and struggle and would help them seek out a solution to whatever is on their heart and mind, and they would reciprocate the love to us in our struggle as well. And maybe, just maybe, our heart hearts might grow three sizes that day!

I have a very good friend who also happens to be a black man. I am a white man. I believe when we first started hanging out we were both wanting to become closer friends to not only understand each other and where we come from culturally, but also we see a similar hunger in each other for loving people and extending God’s grace to one-another and those God has placed in our lives! Our conversations are sometimes raw, and I know for a fact some of the questions or comments I have made have been very naive and probably sounded pretty ignorant – I even encourage him to call me out and tell me if something I say or ask is stupid or biased…and he has – and he never judges or condemns me as we are in relationship and love one-another as brothers.

One day I had heard a talk at a conference presented by a black man who was describing his daily life as a young black man – driving through Los Angeles and passing police cars along the side of the road. He said about 7 out of 10 times, especially if he had another black man with him in the car, he would get pulled over for random things and usually let go without incident – but there were also many times where he feared for his safety from the men and women who were employed to keep them safe just because of bias and color. Guns sometime pulled as they approach the car. You know, fear on all sides can be a fuel that breeds destruction! And your immediate reaction to the last two sentences is a tell-tale sign of your bias regarding this issue facing some of our fellow human beings and brothers and sisters in this world on a daily basis.

This was just a small portion of this mans talk, but afterward I was having a discussion with a couple white pastors from the south, and they were trying to justify what the police had been doing in pulling them over, making assumptions that they must’ve been doing something wrong – speeding, acting suspicious, playing “their” loud music (his words), etc. I was saddened that these church leaders had completely missed the point of the talk in the first place, and worse chose to judge someone without even attempting to understand or engage simply based on their color and the situation described. They missed the message because of their bias – this young black man was reaching out to an arena full of leaders from every nationality to begin a conversation and start a relationship that may lead to a healed nation. He sought out a conversation, they simply wanted to justify their own bias without engaging the real issue or making a difference.

Back to my friend – after I returned from that conference I asked him about being pulled over by police in Anderson, IN. I asked him how many times in the past year he had been pulled over. He said, “I don’t know for sure, but I do know that I get pulled over often, many weeks I get pulled over several times, and even more if I have another black man or youth in my car.” When I told him I hadn’t been pulled over for at least 10-15 years – and that time for a tail light and he was just informing me of the light being out – I began to understand a bit more of his struggle and felt another level of compassion for my friend and what he goes through on a daily basis, even here in the midwest!

My goal in writing this post is not to give my opinion on a topic or social issue (but I will do that at the end though). More than likely, my opinion will be different than at least half of you reading this post. But isn’t that the beauty of relationship? When we engage with one another over real topics and deep issues, we grow! A very wise New Testament writer states it this way:

James 1:2-4 MSG – Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

That verse, as with many others, is written specifically to Christians, but applies to all. The only way for anyone to grow in any meaningful way is through the challenges of life. We are not lacking challenges in 2017, that is for sure. If your not sure, look at the headlines or venture onto your social media account and peruse the hot topics of the day. Pick one that resonates in your spirit and then take it to a place that few are courageous enough to go – find someone with a different view than you and ask them to meet you for coffee or a beer and have an honest, inquisitive discussion with the sole purpose of building a relationship and understanding why someone would come to an opposite conclusion than you on such an obvious topic (in your opinion). That is where God does some of His best work – in relationship! Discipleship is done in relationship. Jesus taught and led through relationship. Paul was a missionary spreading the gospel through relationships. For real change to occur, change toward reconciliation and loving one-another, we must not sit out and hope someone else engages in culture. We are not even called to just pray about someone else engaging the issues – prayer must lead to action. No, this call is for you to be part of the solution, and no-one gets a pass! If we will not engage one-another face-to-face, we have no right chiming in on the topics we don’t agree upon – bravery behind a screen is just cowardice! We have to stop this endless cycle of hate and turn toward one-another in love in the hope of building a mutual respect through relationship SO THAT real change can happen and lives are changed for the better.

So I challenge you now (don’t wait) – think in your heart about a social issue or topic that you have strong opinions about (even if it is something you see no possible other way of viewing it correctly) and put it into words. Then, seek out someone that may have a different opinion about the issue and meet them to start a conversation. Not to seek to change their opinion, but to seek to understand them through relationship.

And to lead well and not just share my opinion on this subject socially – I will start! I have many opinions about topics that likely run contrary to what many church people are posting. One topic that has caused a whole lot of controversy in local churches has been, “can a gay person be a believer in Jesus and go to heaven”? It is amazing to me how many times I hear people ask that question! Or worse, people state their opinion in an argumentative way that simply puts up more walls. Writing that sentence for me sounds absurd, but that is because I have an opinion that has been deveolped by engaging in deep relationship with the people in whom this sentence really affects, and have dug into God’s word and His character to make a determination that I feel comfortable sharing. It is this – YES, a person who is gay can be a follower of Jesus and enter into heaven! If by reading that sentence you became real uncomfortable or even a bit confused or angry, that is where relationship comes in. Reach out to me at rboyland01@gmail.com or below contact form and lets begin a conversation!

This entire life is about relationship and we were created to be in relationship! Social media and the bait-click driven comment sections of articles have created a culture of cowardly people who will spout off hatred from behind a screen (in the name of the first amendment, by the way….the very same thing many who are protesting peacefully are doing), but will not actually be part of any solution, taking steps toward one-anotherness and leaving behind the division and judgmentalism that is killing humanity.

Man, if I were an enemy of people, I would develop differing opinions and create ways for people to express those opinions in anger without any consequences for their actions, and then make sure there are an equal amount of people that have the exact opposite opinion, spread a little judgment and hatred, and lead the extremists to take their anger to levels of killing and fighting, and then sit back and watch the work I had created and call it good! Seems like the enemy has been doing an incredible job (in his opinion) in creating division in humanity, don’t you think?

We are better than this! Engage in real conversations with people who think differently than you and watch relationships form and unity to happen regardless of the different opinions. Different opinions have the potential of expanding our worldview beyond our little minds and into a level of love and grace that has never been seen in this world – well, maybe in one person a little over 2,000 years ago, and the thing is that same love and grace is available to each of us today as well. And becoming more like that, extending His love and grace to those around us, is the only way for this generation of people to actually make a difference and build a better world, one relationship at a time!

As of May 25, 2017, I am officially a Certified Life Coach! It’s incredibly funny to me how so many around me have told me that I should be coaching, yet I didn’t see it. I truly love to build relationships and mentor those who desire mentoring or discipleship, but never thought of myself as a Life Coach. That all changed when I began a conversation with a good friend, let’s call her Heather (because that is her name), and she only confirmed what my wife had been saying for a while now – I am already Coaching in my everyday relationships, and this is exactly how God has decided to gift me and develop a passion in me for people and relationships. So here I am, answering that calling in my life, and praying God allows me a fruitful practice where I get to help as many people as He will lead to Three V Coaching in the coming years!

So many times when we are going through a rough patch or tough situation we are referred to a pastor or counselor for counseling, however, in many situations what we truly need is a coach helping us discover the path that will lead us to freedom. Now, coaching is not therapy, counseling, mental health care, etc., but in many cases a pastor or counselor is giving advice or spending a lot of time with people in a counseling role, when what they really need is a coach who is there in relationship to foster a healthy and focused life, helping you get on your desired path.

So now I come to you, the one who is reading this post, and ask, humbly, will you help me spread the word about Three V Coaching? As I get fully immersed into the coaching role, my hope is to network with people who share a passion for relationships and helping people get from where they are to where they, and God, wants them to be in life. That network could be with pastors and leaders who could refer those coming to them for counseling, yet they may just need a coach to help them through this stage of life. Other opportunities can be business owners and community leaders who would like to connect employees or others to a coach. Through coaching, I have a unique ability to help others discover the right steps they need to take to get where they desire to be most vocationally, personally or spiritually. Many times in life we can feel stuck, knowing we are meant for something…well, more! This is where a coach can come in and help guide your thoughts toward your goals. It is very easy for us to fall prey to the lies that bombard us on a daily basis – you know, you’re not good enough, you’re too stubborn, out of shape, not worthy, you’re almost 50 and feeling a tug in your heart to do more with your life (ok, that has been mine) and the list goes on and on. It is human nature to fall into the traps of approval addiction, people pleasing, and so on. As a coach, I can help you get your thoughts on the true path which leads you to freedom!

Three V Coaching stands for Vision, Venture, Victory. My minute-by-minute desire in forming this practice is to help people develop a Vision for their lives in which they can be proud of and truly desire, Venture together into the renewal stage of life where we form goals and habits around what is true in your life so that you can live in freedom, the Victory of a satisfied and fulfilling life you have always desired. Sounds like an ominous passion pursuit, and I even feel that way writing this, yet as we break down the lies that have guided us, develop steps and goals weekly, and begin seeing the fruit of the efforts taken, the light gets a little brighter in the tunnel we feel we are in, and life begins to be more tangibly joy-filled. Life is so much sweeter when we are on purpose and in relationship. Coaching is a relationship solely focused on trust, leading from your Vision, through Venture and on to Victory! My question now to you is, will you join me?

Please share the word, pass this post along, refer a friend or family member, or contact me yourself and let’s see how I can serve you as your new Life Coach!

Contact me at threevcoaching@gmail.com or at 765.621.6537 and let’s build a relationship!

Check out the website and new blog at Here!

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!

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!

 

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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!

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!

 

Matthew 3:13-17Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.  And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

The Jordan River flows from the northern border of Jordan (southern border of Syria) along the eastern border of Israel (western border of Jordan) and ends as it enters the Dead Sea.  The Jordan River at the northern most point in Israel flows a couple miles south of the Sea of Galilee.  So when Jesus traveled from the region of Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized, it was a semi-short distance from where He was at the time (probably no more than 12-15 miles depending on how far south John was baptizing!  I love the idea of this prophet of God, John the Baptist, baptizing people in the Jordan for each person’s public repentance of their sins, and yet Jesus, the only sinless person to ever live, made His public appearance to be baptized by John to begin His ministry!  It was truly an honor to be baptized in that same river while we visited Israel!  Kind of surreal knowing that our Savior, the Son of God, Jesus Christ was baptized in the same river 2,000 years ago!

Going Under at The Jordan River!

Going Under at The Jordan River!

Celebration!

Celebration!

On our way to Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, we stopped at a place called Bet She’an, an archeological site approximately 15 miles south of the Sea of Galilee.  This site is the location of some amazing discoveries including a 7,000 seat Theatre, a Roman temple, bathhouse, and a column lined street that is a common site in many Roman archeological digs.

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Main Street through Bet Sha’en – Column Lined Roman City Street

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Theatre at Bet She’an

This is also the city mentioned in 1 Samuel where Saul and his sons bodies were found after their deaths:

1 Samuel 31:8-13 – The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. So they cut off his head and stripped off his armor and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people. They put his armor in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan (Bet Sha’en). But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose and went all night and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and fasted seven days.

We then boarded our chariot (actually, a Mercedes bus driven by our amazing bus driver Udi) and headed down to our hotel in the city of Tiberias.  Upon arrival and check-in, we headed down to board a tour boat to take a peaceful boat ride around the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Lake of Genneseret).  The Sea is actually a small lake approximately 13 miles long and 8 miles wide and around 141 feet deep.  It is the largest fresh water lake in Israel.  This body of water is also the lowest fresh water lake on Earth at levels nearly 700 feet below sea level.

Ready to Board our Boat

Ready to Board our Boat

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!

As we sailed across this amazing body of water, I thought back to the many stories throughout Jesus life that took place all around this lake.  In the next post I will discuss our visit to the northern shore and surrounding areas of Capernaum where many amazing things occurred and are documented in the scriptures.  However, this day, I was drawn to the following scripture when out on the water:

Matthew 14:22-33 – Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.  And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

It was amazing actually being on the same water where Jesus and His disciples often crossed, fished and even this fateful day recorded in history when Jesus walked on the water and Peter went out to Him.  Often times we look at Peter’s story and say how small his faith must have been in many situations, but how many times have we actually made an attempt to fully trust Jesus at His word and step out in faith to follow Him?  Yes Peter eventually sank, but for that brief moment in history, Peter too was a water walker like Jesus!  There is a simple yet powerful point here…when we keep our eyes firmly set on Jesus, we seldom sink!  It’s when our eyes fall from the Savior and distractions take over that our greatest trials occur!  So where in your life have your eyes wandered away from Jesus, and how will you get that focus back?  Trials and struggles will occur, but when our eyes are focused on Jesus, we grow from those trials and they no longer become the driving forces in our daily lives.  I know living that way is sometimes easier said than done when in the middle of the struggle, but remember these words form Jesus:

John 16:33 – “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation (trouble). But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

The peace of Jesus comes with or without the storms in our lives as long as our eyes are focused on Him, after all, as Jesus says, we will have trouble in this world, this life, but He has overcome the world!  And as followers of His, so have we!  Embrace Him now and choose peace within the storm!

Next stop we will visit Capernaum and the sites around the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee!  Many miracles and events occurred to the north and I cannot wait to share those with you next time!  Once again, until then, Shalom (Peace be with you)!

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

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

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

jerusalem from mt olives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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!

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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!

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! 

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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.”

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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!

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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!