Archive for the ‘Vision’ Category

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!

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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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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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!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Western (Wailing) Wall

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

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Bar Mitzvah Celebration

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

The Temple Tunnels

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

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The Stone that Defeated the Romans!

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

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

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Outer View of the Same Area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dead-Sea-Scrolls

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

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

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

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

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

Me and Udi - Our Incredible Bus Driver

Me and Udi – Our Incredible Bus Driver

Mickey - Our Genius Tour Guide

Mickey – Our Genius Tour Guide

The Dead Sea

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

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

It was Impossible to Sink

It was Impossible to Sink

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

The Dead Sea is Shrinking

The Dead Sea is Shrinking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 dancing-rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

walks-on-water

Matthew 14:25-33 – 25 And in the fourth watch of the night He [Jesus] came to them, walking on the sea. 26 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. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Often times when we read this passage the first thing we point out is the fact that Matthew didn’t have enough faith to stay above the waves.  Jesus even says he had little faith and doubted.  How pious we must be in our thinking to believe we have even a fraction of the faith required for such a miraculous water walking endeavor!  We need to give Peter a break for the amount of courage it took for him to even consider stepping out, let alone actually going through with it!

When reading this passage again today, what really stuck out to me was the fact that when Peter had His eyes focused on Jesus he was actually walking on water!  How cool is that!  Yet, when his focus turned to what was going on around him, seeing how the wind was crashing the waves against the boat, he began to sink.  It’s all good when we have our eyes dead set on Jesus, but when our focus shifts away from Him, life seems out of control!  The parallel to our lives is astounding to me in so many ways!

I recently had a conversation with a young person who is in the middle of a tug-of-war in their mind between accepting Jesus’ gift of eternal life and living the life they know, can relate to and are comfortable with – a life where they have finally found love, comfort, safety and forgiveness from people going through many of the same life struggles.  Like this person, most of us tend to think we have to figure it all out and possibly “clean up our act”, whatever that means, before taking a step of faith in making Jesus Savior and Lord.  The problem is…none of us have our act together either before we accept Jesus or after!  We are human and are all lost in need of a Savior.  Jesus is ok with our “lostness” as long as we don’t stay there forever…He loves us too much and desires us to spend eternity in relationship with Him as well as live an abundant life here on earth – abundant in love, grace and forgiveness!  You see, Jesus doesn’t want us to try to clean up our messy lives before we come to be with Him; He wants desperately to walk with us through our struggles and show us what unconditional love really looks like.

It is easy for life to get in the way of so many important things, especially when it comes to God.  We think we have to “get things done” or feel we are too busy to make God a priority in our lives.  However, our messy, busy lives are an indication that we are too swamped to NOT make Jesus the priority in our lives!  With Jesus at the center of our entire lives perspective changes, love increases, compassion abounds, generosity flows and life fills up with joy and meaning!  Life is still difficult, but with an eternal perspective, one that Jesus gives us when our priorities are in the right order, our struggles become opportunities to grow and build relationships.  That is the freedom that the bible talks about…freedom to live our lives while inviting Jesus to guide our hearts and minds as we seek to become more like Him – not because we are trying to gain His favor, but because that is how we respond when we love someone!

So, in what ways are you taking your eyes off Jesus and beginning to sink in your circumstances?  Where are you feeling God’s nudge to step out in faith, out of your own boat, and take an impossible step toward Jesus where you only see the possibility of drowning?  Maybe your next step is to trust in Him, to begin an incredible love relationship with the Creator of the Universe!  Regardless of where you are right this moment, I believe Jesus wants you to simply focus on Him, and don’t look down!

If you have questions on how to take your first step of faith, making Jesus your Savior and Lord, please check out NeedHim.org or feel free to contact me.  A relationship with Jesus changes everything for eternity!  This life is fleeting…where do you intend on spending eternity?