Archive for the ‘Relational’ Category

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!

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!

last-ac597b7eca2b4a550ad15962eeeee42a

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!

IMG_7480

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!

IMG_4153

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.”

jesus-john8

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!

2014-09-28 14.46.28

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!

a941142fac974423a22cc060c11e4aa5-1

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!

 

Luke 2:1-20 – In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Bethlehem is the birth place of Jesus, yet the Christian community today in the city of Bethlehem is almost non-existent.  Bethlehem now has a Muslim majority (over 80%), and is governed by the Palestinian National Authority.  Nazareth is similar in that a very small group of people are Christian, and the only site preserved in Nazareth is a small plot of land where a farm is kept that mimics Jesus’ time.  Due to this fact, most of the biblical artifacts have been destroyed or covered up.  Sad how this group of people are going around destroying evidence of the Savior, when accepting Him is the only salvation they (and we) truly need!

Olive Harvesting at the Farm

Olive Harvesting at the Farm in Nazareth

Geographically, Bethlehem sits just 6 miles south of Jerusalem, and approximately 60-70 miles south of Nazareth – Nazareth is located in the region of Galilee (west of the Sea of Galilee).  So that journey for Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem was quite a hike, especially with Mary being pregnant.  Yet, with how small Israel as a whole is, it is quite feasible to understand how the journeys throughout the scriptures occurred!   I think we read where people traveled from one region to another and believe it must have taken months, but in all reality, days for many of the journeys from far north or far south to Jerusalem and surrounding areas!

On our visit to Bethlehem, we first stopped at the Bethlehem Olive Wood Factory where local artists carve many biblical scenes such as the one below that I really like, a scene where the disciples are casting their nets and taking the challenge to follow Jesus and become fishers of men!  This factory employs the very few Christians in Bethlehem today!

Artists at the Bethlehem Olive Wood Factory

Artists at the Bethlehem Olive Wood Factory

Olive Wood from Bethlehem Drying for Carving

Olive Wood from Bethlehem Drying for Carving

My Favorite Olive Wood Carving - "I Will Make You Fishers of Men"

My Favorite Olive Wood Carving – “I Will Make You Fishers of Men”

We then took a short walk to the Church of the Nativity, just a few short blocks away.  We were immediately met by a couple local Palestinian merchants who starting following us, trying to sell us several small items.  I made a poor choice along the way of buying a package of 20 post cards from a local kid for $1…because after I handed him the dollar several others followed us all the way to the bus trying to force themselves on the women to buy their items.  I really had a vision of why Jesus turned over the tables at the temple where all the merchants were selling items and stealing from the buyers.  The birthplace of our Savior has become a den of robbers!

Church of the Nativity

Church of the Nativity

As we arrive at the Church of the Nativity, our guide shared with us again that this is the traditional site of Jesus birth, which simply means that the Catholic Church placed a huge church over the site and gave limited access to what was inside.  The picture below shows a small glass “hole” to view where they believe Jesus was born.  It really is hard to know if this is the exact place of His birth, but what I left with was more of a feeling of angst over how ritualistic this place has become.  There were many ancient relics here including some amazing mosaics.  But I still left with a sadness over those who visit because they feel the only way to know Jesus is to pray at these Catholic churches in a ritualistic manner, often touching stones and praying that His power would pass through these items into them.  My Savior lives in me and I can talk with Him whenever and wherever I choose…it is so much more of a relationship instead of a religion!

Me and my Lovely wife at the Traditional Spot of Jesus Birth

Me and my Lovely wife at the Traditional Spot of Jesus Birth

Overall, I was highly disappointed in both Nazareth and Bethlehem.  Both areas have a corrupt influence in the religious and the governing bodies.  But one thing holds true here as well as many other places we visited – the reason the Muslims are ravaging these sites is because they fear the fact that Jesus is real and is coming back one day…and unfortunately, they follow a “religion” that will be on the losing side of eternity unless they accept Jesus as their true Savior and Lord!  It is easy to walk away from these areas discouraged and disappointed, and maybe even a little angry.  Yet, we are called as believers in Jesus Christ to love and pray for these people as much as our unbelieving neighbor.  My prayers have changed since leaving Israel…I pray a lot for the Peace of Israel, and I pray for those who are fighting against Christ to see Him for who He truly is – the One True Messiah who will return very soon!

As we celebrate our amazing Saviors birth this Christmas, remember to pray for those who are fighting hard to believe Jesus is not real.  I can understand how unbelievable this story of Christmas and the entire life of Jesus can be, yet I know there is a longing in every person’s heart for relationship with Jesus, who is in fact the only One who can fill the void this world has created in so many people.  Riches, possessions, careers, and even relationships with others cannot replace the desperate need that our spirit has to be united with God forever.  Without Jesus, we will always be left wanting more!  If you are a believer, intercede in prayer for those who are investigating Jesus…that they will come to know Him deeply during this Christmas season.  Pray also for those who are in complete denial of His existence, and feel that science, evolution or other religions explain away a Creator…remember, God created science as well and evidence always points to an intelligent designer!  Pray for those allowing personal sin to keep them from seeking out a relationship with Jesus.  If we had to clean ourselves up before coming into relationship with Jesus, He would have no followers!  We are all in the same sin sick boat, drowning without a Savior!

God has placed you in relationship with those around you for a reason!  He wants to utilize your relationship as you walk along side those in whom He is drawing into relationship with Him.  When Jesus said to love God and each other, He knew that this would revolutionize the world if only people would focus on those two commands.  So, how are you loving God and those around you?

Mark 12:30-31 – And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Thank you for continuing to read my blog!  I pray it has been a blessing to you and maybe even made you think, seek out Truth in the scriptures and/or drew you closer to Jesus in some way!  The next stop along this Holy Land journey will be The Sea of Galilee as we move north along the Jordan River.  Until then, Shalom, and Merry Christmas!

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

IMG_6690

Western (Wailing) Wall

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

2014-09-22 10.18.28

Bar Mitzvah Celebration

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

The Temple Tunnels

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

2014-09-22 10.08.50

The Stone that Defeated the Romans!

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

2014-09-22 10.08.17

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

2014-09-22 09.37.45

Outer View of the Same Area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014-09-25 09.13.06 2014-09-25 09.38.29

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

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

qumran6jars

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

Dead-Sea-Scrolls

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

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

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

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

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

Me and Udi - Our Incredible Bus Driver

Me and Udi – Our Incredible Bus Driver

Mickey - Our Genius Tour Guide

Mickey – Our Genius Tour Guide

The Dead Sea

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

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

It was Impossible to Sink

It was Impossible to Sink

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

The Dead Sea is Shrinking

The Dead Sea is Shrinking

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

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

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

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