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Discipline of Sacrifice

Encouragement Inc. is studying the disciplines:  scripture, solitude, supplication, stewardship, singing, silence, serving, sabbath, sacrifice. All the study really needs to be applied!  I need to just do it! Anyway, last Sunday Jeff talked about sacrifice.  For me this is one of the hardest concepts to wrap my mind and my muscle around. So here are some of my thoughts.

By way of definition: when you decide to give up something valuable in order to get something more important.

By way of summary: 5 attitudes develop as a result of sacrifice.

  1. Freedom – sacrifice is the ultimate means to liberation. Giving up “my way”
  2. Surrender – happiness is not based on getting my way. Giving up “my rights”
  3. Identity – is found in Jesus, not in the sacrifice “giving up – yielding”
  4. Attention – If the greatest sin is forgetting God, then sacrifice makes us remember “giving allegiance”
  5. Imagination – renewing my mind includes new paradigms and perspectives.

The scene in National Treasure where Ben has to choose between saving the Declaration of Independence and Abigail Chase meant that one had to be sacrificed.  The scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade has Elsa dangling over the abyss with one hand on the holy grail and the other held by Indy. She thinks she can have her “cake and eat it too”, that she can have the grail and walk away with her life too, so she refuses to choose and ends up losing everything. Indy almost makes the same mistake until his dad gives him some advice.  He sacrifices the artifact for his life and the chance for another adventure. (Now that we saw the last adventure of the crystal skull, we might want to rethink the advantage of another adventure – that is Hollywood.)  The point is that without sacrifice, there is a life of regret; without giving up one good thing for something better, you end up with nothing but unhappiness.  When you think that you can have whatever you want, without giving up something in return, you can never really embrace and enjoy your choices.  For example, hypothetically, if you move across town to Downey for a cheaper rent and a new adventure, but you spend all your time complaining about the inconvenience of the drive, the lack of storage and the amount of stuff you had to let go of, the loneliness, etc, then you will never be able to recognize what God has provided and what new experiences He has for you there.  There are always tradeoffs.  At the end of the day, the question is not, “what am I willing to do to reach my goal?” but is, “what am I willing to sacrifice?”

Heb. 13:15 says that we are to continually offer a sacrifice of praise.  For me this means more than just an easy response for God’s blessings, protection and help.  That is not a sacrifice.  The times that God does not come through when or how we thought he would, and He seems very far away or silent, when I cannot see His goodness or I feel forgotten, praise is the last thing on my mind or in my heart. That is when I think it takes a sacrifice to lay down everything on the altar and thank a God I do not understand. That is when I make a choice to believe that God is still good and can be trusted. Real praise that continues regardless of my circumstances. God is honored. My faith grows.

 

Today I am 48 in the faith.  Boy I have a long way to go!

 

 

 

Clayton at 21~

the-walk

Dear Clayton,

You are officially an adult in the eyes of the law. I think about what I hope for you as you finish college and become a independent and godly man. You are more amazing than you know. That is partly due to your own choices, partly due to your heritage and all a result of God’s grace and favor. You are more and more like your dad all the time. I am so proud of you. I hope you have the happiest of birthdays! Here is a list of some of things that made your dad the man he was. It is not exhaustive but I pray you become like him as he was a reflection of the Lord.

21 lessons from your father’s example on how to be a Man:

  1. Be a Safe Harbor – Be known as the one others can turn to in stormy seas. Be courageous and brave; conquering your fears is euphoric. Defend others fiercely.
  2. Be a leader/a mentor/a hero – Earn the adoration of others who look up to you by having character. Have goals. (Goals are our friends)
  3. Have integrity – A man is his reputation. Loyalty and humility are defining qualities. Be committed and trustworthy; try your best and never give up. Tough it out.
  4. Be joyful – even in the direst of days there is humor to be found. Be silly. Light up a room with a contagious smile and infectious personality. Gratitude and Joy are a choice so be thankful always. Never learn the language of Whinese.  It will only make the journey longer.
  5. Be a man after God’s own heart – In all your ways acknowledge Him (Prov. 3:5.6)
  6. Celebrate life – it is meant to be embraced. Contribute. Get involved.
  7. Be a friend – cultivate real relationships that are deep and meaningful.
  8. Be a Barnabas – bring out the best in others and put them first. Compassion builds bridges.
  9. Be a family man – Your legacy is the most cherished inheritance. Never let your wife and kids doubt their importance. Honor  your heritage. Embrace the wisdom of all generations.
  10. Be flexible – not everything will go as planned. Adapt.
  11. Demonstrate generosity – even the smallest gesture has a huge impact. Pay it forward. Blessings are communal.
  12. Be prompt – time is our most valuable asset. Respect everyone and everything around you. Consider another person’s time as important as yours.
  13. Make your words count. (Col. 4:6 Eph. 4:15)
  14. Keep your word – Throw away the key and maintain a confidence. Always!
  15. Choose your battles wisely. This will result in more victories. Demonstrate tenacity with quiet confidence.
  16. Take the bull by the horns – show initiative and if something doesn’t work, fix it. Keep a strong work ethic. Persevere. (Mt. 24:13)
  17. Love – let it be your compass. (Gal. 5:6)
  18. Grieve hopefully. Tragedies will come.  Allow yourself to mourn.
  19. Own your mistakes.  Credit where credit is due/ Excuses are for cowards.
  20. Be a lifelong learner. Stay in the loop. Observe and pay attention.
  21. Be a firefighter.  Advance the kingdom (Jude 22)

Most importantly, call your mom — often!  Your dad never called his while I knew him only because his mom was already in heaven.  He did, however, call his dad regularly!  I love you!  Mom

Today as I write this I am in the middle of a move, which I feel like I have been in the middle of for 3 or more months. Every 10 years or so in our married life we have moved. This is 10.5 but it still fits in the rhythm. For me, I think it is a time of reflecting because I am also downsizing and purging. It is interesting that we spend our 20’s, 30’s and 40’s accumulating stuff and now I am spending the second half of life getting rid of it so that it will not burden my children! Everything I have is a memory of another time, or a special event, or a friend, or the history of our family. And yet, as I watch American Pickers I am shocked at the mounds of decaying treasures that weigh down a space and overwhelm a life.

Today though I am thinking most about something I cannot get rid of, a treasure I can never live without and that is my friends. During this season, I have been reminded of the blessing of friends as I have been fed, housed, prayed over, helped to pack, nudged to let go, given time and muscle. I cannot figure out how to begin to express the depth of gratitude I have. I do not deserve such love and kindness. I have been cared for in many meaningful and powerful ways; these are friendships that are not just “collected” as followers on social media. Rather, they are blessing me and reflecting God’s favor in practical ways. I am humbled by the amount of amazing people God has put into my life as friends. And I am more importantly I hope to find myself worthy of my friends.

 

I think of Frank Dempster Sherman’s prayer entitled Worthy of My Friends:

It is my joy in life to find
At every turning of the road
The strong arm of a comrade kind
To help me onward with my load.

And since I have no gold to give,
And love alone must make amends,
My only prayer is, while I live-
God make me worthy of my friends.

 

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.    Philemon 1:20

Can you imagine this holiday during Bible times? It definitely would have a different impression to see a wad of intestines on a card. Scripture refers to the bowels when it talks about tenderness and compassion. It is the word used to describe the seat of emotions. Somewhere along the line the heart became associated with love. It is probably a good thing too. Think about it: Titanic’s song would become “My bowels Will go on”, and Tony Bennett would have an entirely different song if he left his bowels in San Francisco! Elton John would sing, “Don’t go breaking my bowels!” Billy Ray would sing about his achy breaky bowels – TMI!!!!  The idioms would include: eat your bowels out, follow your bowels, die from a broken bowel, etc.  And I really don’t care to have a bowels to bowels conversation with anyone, do you?

 

I am not saying that the heart is not used in the Bible to express emotions; it is! We are to love the Lord with all of our heart. We know the heart is essential to life and it has become the metaphorical picture for pure devotion as the center of emotion. It sure would be different if we read let not your bowels be troubled!

So Happy Heart Day!   – it sounds so much better than happy bowels day, doesn’t it?!

 

JCM

My best friend has said goodbye to both of her parents.  They are part of the great cloud of witnesses.  They have shaped my life as well as their 5 children, 15 grandchildren, 25 great grandkids and 2 great-great grandkids.  I cannot remember many childhood memories without this family.  They went to my church, gave me my first job, taught me to like chili rellenos, prayed and played with me.  For better or worse, I am who I am because of Jay and Pat.

 

Ground Hog Day! Candlemas Day!

The prestigious prognosticator, Punxatawny Phil, saw his shadow today, which means we have 6 more weeks of Winter!  Even though I am certain that the weather and the seasons (especially in the calendarically challenged state of California) have nothing to do with a rodent and his shadow, I am so glad that this winter has brought enough rain to subside the California drought.

And the day somehow begs the question, what would I like 6 more weeks of, if I could have anything for longer!  People probably think I would want 6 more weeks of Jim.  Absolutely. 6 more weeks of my kids being mine?!  For Sure. And then I would say, 6 more weeks of soccer – yes! 6 weeks of summer? 6 more weeks of vacation? of pay? of life? Maybe!  I can think of the “obvious” answers, and I can think of what I would love to have less of for 6 weeks, including rent, work and football.  I think if I could have 6 more weeks to serve the King, like Simeon and Anna, that would be awesome!

Why bring them up? Because it is also Candlemas Day.  40 days after giving birth Joseph and Mary went to the Temple for purification and they brought forth their newborn son, Jesus, to the Temple. Mary was cleansed on this day. Jesus was presented to the Lord in the Temple on this day. During this time, an elderly holy man named Simeon was staying in Jerusalem. Simeon was told by the Holy Spirit that his death would not come until he saw the Messiah. When Simeon held the baby Jesus, he knew that Jesus had come for the salvation of all. Simeon stated that Jesus was “A light to the revelation of the Gentiles and the glory of thy people of Israel.”

Now that I have been to the land, I can picture the scene so much differently!  I can see the walk from Bethlehem to the Temple Mount, the area where they would have gotten 2 doves for sacrifice and a mikvah, a ceremonial bath.  I can imagine where Simeon was standing and what part of the temple Anna, an older widow, would have been relegated to. They served the Lord faithfully for all their lives. If I could have 6 more weeks to serve the King with joy, would I?

And although the dedication of Jesus would have been different from our child dedications today, even without a burnt offering, the sentiment is still there for those of us parents want to dedicate ourselves to nurturing children in the faith. One similarity, although theirs was probably unplanned, is the inclusion of elderly people (grandparents). 2 older folks coming out of the shadows and going on about how wonderful this new baby is, after Joseph and Mary come into the Temple to have a quiet moment to offer Jesus to God, was an added blessing for the new parents. Immediately they are again reminded that nothing will ever be the same again. And especially Mary had been learning to let go of any control of her life, and allow God to lead her. (As most new moms also realize!)

But think about the lesson of patience for both Anna and Simeon. They demonstrate how the most significant thing that had ever happened to them was right towards the end of their lives. Our society devalues older people and especially older women. We live in a culture that discourages us from growing old. But the example of Simeon and Anna contrasts for us, that in terms of our own ministry and discipleship, the best is always yet to come.

The older I get I hear more people say that they used to do “such and such”, but now they are too old; As if the real work of the church is doing things, planning events, being active. But praying for church is just as important as running it. And picking up the phone to have a chat with a friend from church who hasn’t been for a while is as much pastoral care as when the professional clergy visit someone in hospital. And I quite frankly cannot stand the whining and reminding me of what can’t be changed rather than celebrating the blessings of time and long life. In church there is no retirement age. While it’s true, we don’t actually value our elderly people enough, the story of Simeon and Anna challenges us about what ministry really is and who can do it. Most people would have disregarded Anna as an elderly woman who didn’t have much to offer the world because she was a bit religious, always in church praying. But because she was in church she was in the right place at the right time, and her wisdom and spirituality spilled out into those prophetic words said to Mary and Joseph.

The story of Simeon and Anna inspires me that whatever age I am, what is my calling from God for today, and for tomorrow? How am I serving him and his people, right now? Is there anything else I could offer? For Simeon and Anna the best was yet to come! That gives me hope!

Luke 2

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him.

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

 

Jim Mason

Today Judy’s daddy went to be with Jesus!  And Jan, who held Jim’s hand for over 60 years had to let go and of it for now.  He was a neat man and I am so glad I had the privilege of knowing him and calling him “family” for many years.  He had a great sense of humor, a sense of mischief and a positive outlook.  He was intelligent and musical and godly.  He loved well and lived well.

 

Lessons from the Holy Land

Tel Arad

When Moses led the children of Israel from Egypt to Canaan, the King of Arad picked a fight with the Hebrews—and lost (Numbers 21:1-3). This triumph also represented God’s grace to the Hebrews in light of an earlier defeat they suffered there as a result of their lack of faith (Numbers 14:45). God then led the nation on a long detour around the Holy Land to the east of Edom. Not surprisingly, the people “became impatient because of the journey” (Numbers 21:4). Why in the world would God lead them that way? The long way seemed senseless. Impatience replaced faith. And yet by travelling up and down the land east of the Jordan River God had a much more strategic plan to conquer the land from the middle! Many times in our lives it seems like we are wandering to nowhere or that God is leading us the long way. In our impatience, Arad seems like the best point of entry. But only God sees the map from above, so He alone knows the best way to move forward. A corollary thought is that grumbling only makes the journey longer. It may seem easier to complain about difficult circumstances than to keep following the path God has for us. We must maintain our commitment to obey God and hold fast to Him, unlike the descendants of Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, would later leave Jericho and resettled and yielded to the culture around them. The temple includes two stones that supposedly represent Yahweh and his Asherah, or wife! This is an excellent example of the corruption of true Yahweh worship and why the Scripture insists that God was only to be worshipped at the place which He chose (Deut. 12:1-8).

 

Beth Shemesh: Cisterns were very important in the land of Israel because of the long dry season and the relatively few natural springs. But a broken cistern was practically worthless. Cracked rock or crumbling masonry could hold only a small quantity of dirty water, or no water at all. Collecting and storing water in a broken cistern was about as smart as carrying a sieve for a canteen! We went into a broken cistern that could hold no refreshing water–not even a little bit! In fact they became places to put dead bodies. Cisterns did not become broken after some time of holding water. No, they were broken from the day they were built. They never held any water. This is always true of cisterns of our own making. Self-made attempts and schemes designed to find spiritual fulfillment apart from the Lord will inevitably result in failure–they are doomed from the start. Only God Himself can quench our spiritual thirst.

My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Jer. 2:13

Beth Guvrin: I was startled by this area, with the hundreds of caves found there. From the caves in Mt. Arbel, to those that provide sheepfolds in Bethlehem, to the Qumran caves that preserved the Hebrew text, the land is honeycombed with caves. I know that caves are mentioned all throughout the Bible and were used as stables, burial sites, hiding places, cisterns, oil presses, baths, columbaria, places of religious worship, were quarried for other places and more. The one thing caves cannot do is avoid the judgment of God (Is. 2:19). The Prophet Micah hailed from this area in Maresha, where building under the ground was easier than building above ground, and his most famous verse revealed God’s basic standard for those who would walk with Him: He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? —Micah 6:8. I was compelled to compare the caves to the hard hearts of the Hebrew people. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. — Proverbs 4:23

On topsoil one gets a panoramic view of the Hebron mountains and would never suspect a cave city underneath. Similarly, our hearts are hidden from view but protect everything else. By example, whenever there is something wrong with a computer, we pray that the problem is something minor. What we don’t want to hear is that the problem is with the “motherboard.” If the motherboard is broken, the rest of the device can’t be fixed. The Bible mentions several spiritual “heart conditions:” a hard heart (Exodus 4:21); a heart of stone (Ezekiel 36:26); a deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9); a perverse heart (Proverbs 11:20), and others. Like the motherboard of a computer, the heart is the control center; how am I safeguarding it?

Shephelah: In order to protect and control the land, the buffer of the foothills (Shephelah) was critical. Most of the battles happened in this zone. Throughout Old Testament history, Israel’s strength was determined by its control of the Shephelah.

If Israel had a presence in these valleys, they were strong. If they yielded and allowed the enemy to gain a foothold, they were weak. It makes me think of the spiritual implications. By way of example, as you take the high ground in your spiritual walk with God, realize that you always have an enemy attempting to get at you by gaining a foothold in your life. Stand firm and defend the land!

Dead Sea: Life is never better before God calls us; don’t look back to the former life.

Ein Gedi: After a few days in the desert, we visited this oasis that was David’s hiding place. I wondered as we hiked along at which of the many caves David hid from his adversary as a fugitive. Even when the enemy was vulnerable, David chose the right way. God’s way isn’t just the best way; it is the only way! The water is both powerful and peaceful and I can’t help but think about the 400 men who found refreshment in the same streams. I feel connected to this man who sought after the heart of God. I can see how he could compose such beautiful psalms in this setting. Ps. 42 says, “As a deer thirsts for streams of water, so my soul longs after you.”

Qumran: The people of this community were committed to God and his Word.

Galilee: The Sea of Galilee is a unique and harsh landscape that tells the story of life’s preciousness, fragility and determination to exist against all odds. The lake alone contains a variety of over 27 species of fish (some of which do not exist anywhere else in the world).

Capernaum: Most of Jesus’ miracles were done in this area, the headquarters of His earthly ministry. It was very moving to see the synagogue where he taught and Peter’s house, that Jesus visited often! As I reflected and read, I heard the Spirit speak through the word of Jesus. Woe to you, if after everything you have seen and been given, you still complain and expect more?! And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day” Matt. 11:25

Via Maris: Where God places us is no accident. Throughout biblical history, the land of Israel sat in an amazingly strategic position as the only intercontinental land bridge between the superpowers of the ancient world. The most important international highway of the Fertile Crescent ran the length of the land of Israel.

Any nation coming to or from Egypt, or traveling from the Mediterranean to the Gulf had to go through Israel. It’s all about influence. Unfortunately the nations influenced Israel toward idolatry rather than God’s people influencing the nations for the Lord as the world powers traveled through the land on the Via Maris. Ezekiel records how God lamented that Jerusalem’s placement as “the center of the nations” had borne no obedient fruit (Ezekiel 5:5). Similarly, God has placed us where we live, work, and worship in order for us to influence others for His glory (Esther 4:14). We have our own Via Maris. How often I pursue the wrong priority. My priority is Me. God’s priority, however, is God. As God appointed Ezekiel a “watchman to the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 3:17), so the Lord Jesus calls us to share God’s Word with those He brings to us and those to whom He takes us. God calls us to make disciples of the nations rather than to become disciples of the nations.

Caesarea Philippi: Everyone has a moment of acknowledgement. Peter answered truthfully that Jesus is the Christ. It is critical that happens on this side of the Mercy Seat; one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord! This declaration, followed by a hike up to Mt Hermon, where Jesus was transformed became confirmation.

 Tel Dan: In natural beauty, Tel Dan is amazing. For the Danites, it had everything necessary for abundant living. It was picturesque. It was convenient. It was invigorating. And it was a complete compromise of God’s will for the people to build their own temple. When Joshua parceled out the Promised Land, the tribe of Dan received a good portion in the south and west. But the location proved to be more than Danites could endure; so they left the land the Lord had allotted them, they migrated north, conquered Laish, and renamed it Dan. In addition to abandoning their territory, they also abandoned the God of Israel and erected a graven image to worship. By providing alternative places of worship, Jeroboam appealed to the laziness of the Danites. Worshipping at Tel Dan was far more luxurious than Jerusalem, and worshipping at Bethel was more convenient. Substituting the priests, the feast, the places—all were outside of God’s will. The world, the flesh, and the devil will always tempt us with Jeroboam’s words: “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem!” Sin has a way of offering more convenient and more attractive to our flesh. Our relationship with God must remain a matter of obedience before convenience.

Caesarea Maritima: Not everyone who promises you bread and circus is your friend. It may still cost you your freedom to yield to the enemy. Caesarea is frequently mentioned in the Book of Acts. Peter was sent by the Lord to share the gospel with a centurion named Cornelius who lived in Caesarea (Acts 10). This event opened the door for the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 11:18). How interesting that a city known for ethnic struggles between Jews and Gentiles would be the place that God chose to send the Jewish apostle Peter to proclaim the gospel to the Gentile Cornelius! According to the story, Peter had many reservations and had to be convinced by the Lord to go to the house of Cornelius. Could it be that some of the ethnic tension that Caesarea was known for contributed to his hesitation? It is possible that Philip, known as “The Evangelist” planted the first church in Caesarea. After teaching and baptizing the Ethiopian Eunuch, Philip is said to have preached in many of the cities along the coast, ending up in Caesarea (Acts 8:40). When Paul visited Caesarea later, on his way to Jerusalem, he stayed in Philip’s house where we are also told that Philip had “four virgin daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:8-9). Some of my heroes: Philip and his four daughters who are involved in ministry. The hospitality, purity and faithfulness of this godly family is stunning. Caesarea is the city of Paul’s imprisonment, where he was sent with a Roman escort to Caesarea to appear before the Roman governor, Felix (Acts 23:20-35). Paul ended up staying in prison for 2 years in Caesarea. Paul’s stay in Caesarea ended when he appealed to Caesar and was sent to Rome.

Jerusalem: The city is a city of walls. Stone is everywhere. This is one of the oldest cities in the world, perched atop a small mountain plateau that is an intersection of heaven and earth. This walled city creates a metaphor for the walls of division which various groups of inhabitants have built over the centuries. Yes, walls are built to protect and defend and yet those walls we build can never ensure our safety and survival. Real safety recognizes that vulnerability and runs to the strong tower : “The name of the LORD is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” Prov. 18:10

Gethsemane:

I was in His mind before the worlds were made,
I was in his mind before earth’s frame was laid,
because he knew me, because he loved me!

I was in His thoughts the night He prayed for me,
I was in His thoughts before Gethsemane,
because he saw me,
because He loved me!

I was in His heart when Calvary’s hill He climbed,
I was in His heart when he died for all mankind,
because he sought me, because he loved me!

I am in His mind, and soon he’ll come for me,
I am in His mind with Him in heaven to be,
because He wants me, because he loves me,
because he loves me!

Jesus was praying at Gethsemane before his arrest (for me), and I was struck with how very emotionally intense it was and then how odd it seemed that he had taken his disciples with him only to separate himself from them. Then it came to me that the very location of the event typified separation. Indeed, even though such a thing is never stated directly, the entire Mount of Olives is a symbol of division and separation. As I checked every mention of this location in the Bible, this signification became very clear. Knowing that the Mount of Olives is always associated with division affords us greater insight, because all that the Bible records as being said and done on the Mount can be considered from that perspective. Jesus made many visits to the Mount of Olives. In fact, it was “usual” for Him to go there when in the vicinity of Jerusalem . Every time Jesus visited Lazarus and Mary and Martha, He was on the Mount of Olives, for their village of Bethany was situated on the eastern slope. The road from Bethany to Jerusalem the Mount was a “sabbath day’s journey” from the city, that is, the maximum distance permitted by Jewish law for traveling on a Sabbath. On the back of his donkey, in the vicinity of Bethphage and Bethany, Jesus began his messianic entry into the Holy City, acclaimed by the festive crowds Luke, in particular, stressed Jesus’ frequent visits to the Mount of Olives, where he went to pass the night and to instruct his disciples and it was here that he ascended to Heaven.

According to the prophet Zechariah, Jesus will return not only in the same way, but to the same place. In a prophecy related to the end times, Zechariah declares, “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south” (Zechariah 14:4). The very location where David wept in defeat and where Jesus was betrayed and rejected will be the place where Jesus returns in triumph over all His enemies.

It was here that I had an interesting insight into the Cursing of the Fig Tree as part of a “sandwich” truth in Mark’s gospel. After the Triumphal entry, Jesus returns to Bethany for the evening. Mark tends to “sandwich” one account between two piece of another story.  In this case, he’s put the story of Jesus’ actions in the Temple between the cursing of the fig tree and the disciples noticing that the tree is dying. One of the reasons that this passage gives people fits is because it looks like Jesus is having a huge tantrum. I started talking to Ronen and ended up having a great conversation with David McCabe. First of all Jesus goes to a tree looking for food and when there is none, he cursed the tree (this is made even stranger by the fact that the description of the tree lets us know that this wasn’t the season for figs anyway)……next he starts throwing over tables in the Temple and screaming about “my house shall be a house of prayer and you’ve made it a den of thieves”…..the the disciples notice that the tree is dead.  If we take a look at the context, and the understanding that those who observed these behaviors would have had of what Jesus did, then things make much better sense.   Let’s start with the fig tree.  Jesus believed (as do Christians now) that he was ushering in the Messianic Age, the New Creation, the Kingdom of God.  He said over and over that “the Kingdom of God has come among you.”  One of the signs of the Kingdom was that the trees would always bear fruit……so hold that thought.

Now to the Temple.  The money changers were fullfilling a necessary role at the Temple.  Because Roman coins had Ceasar’s picture on them (a graven image forbidden by Jewish law) they couldn’t be used to purchase the offerings needed for making sacrifice in the Temple.  No mention is made that the money changers are overcharging (though this is often the story we heard growing up).  No, by overturning the tables and blocking folks from carrying things into the Temple area, Jesus is, in effect, shutting the Temple down!

Now He doesn’t do this for long.  It is a symbolic act; and that is important.  Jesus saw Himself as standing within the long line of prophets who spoke God’s word to Israel.  Many of these prophets engaged in symbolic behaviors, acted out parables if you will, to drive their point home.  With His actions temporarily shutting down the Temple, He is saying, “the Temple has come to an end.”  As He does this, He quotes from both Jeremiah and Isaiah passages that were leveled at the religious leaders of their day.  The quote from Jeremiah accused them of going after other gods, engaging in injustice, and then running back to hide behind the Temple as though their religion would protect them….like a den where thieves go to hide after robbing folks.

Now back to the fig tree.  The reason why the trees would always be in bloom in the New Creation  is that the things they stood for: healing, justice, equity among all people; these thing are never out of season.  So if the fig tree is a symbol for the way that the religous leaders (those who ran the Temple) are supposed to be ushering in the Kingdom-but aren’t…..then cursing it makes sense…..as does the symbolic shutting down of the Temple. Jesus’ actions (both in cursing the fig tree and in shutting down the Temple) were meant to warn and to invite people to change.  They were ‘lived parables’ about what God was saying to Israel-especially it’s religious/political leaders about what God wanted.  They still carry weight for us if we’ll let them.  They invite us to examine ourselves and the ways in which we live out our faith over against the vision of the Kingdom, the New Creation, that Jesus came to demonstrate. The religious establishment is a barren fig tree that is about to be cut off.  Where did Jesus have every right to find a fruitful religious heart in Israel – the temple.  Mark inserted the Temple demonstration into the narrative of the fig-tree to bring out the theological point of the Fig Tree sign. On the third day after the curse is pronounced (and after the events in the temple), the disciples see the tree and note that it is dead – withered from the roots up. The nation has gone past the point of no-return, they have rejected the Messiah. Jesus is saying something about his ministry at that moment in history; the meaning of this parabolic action is to see the religious establishment as “under the curse” and that they are being replaced by Jesus’ disciples.  This is why Mark inserts the Temple demonstration into his “Markan Sandwich,” he is point to the meaning of the curse of the fig tree.  Jesus came to his own people and they have rejected him.  He created a new Israel with twelve disciples (twelve tribes) who will receive the promised New Covenant.

 

Remembrance Stones from Israel

Ebenezer stones of Remembrance:

Galilee:

  • Areamos Topos – listen
  • Arbel- busy but never hurried or savor solitude
  • Capernaum – Follow Me
  • Qatzrin – Household of Faith
  • Tabgha – feed my sheep
  • Caesarea Philippi – who do you say I am
  • Tell Dan – faith is not convenient

Shephelah:

  • Azekah – play to your strengths
  • Beth Shemesh – no compromise
  • Beth Guvrin – soft hearts
  • Yad hashmonah – well watered garden
  • Qiryat Yearim – God never leaves you. Ever. Don’t leave Him!

Jerusalem

  • Southern Steps – Go and Tell
  • Azekah – play to your strengths
  • Beth Shemesh – no compromise
  • Beth Guvrin – soften your heart
  • Qiryat Yearim – God never leaves you. Ever. Don’t leave Him!
  • Western Wall – practice the presence of God
  • Gethsemane – love/in his mind
  • Mt of Olives – watch & pray
  • Yad Vashem – remember
  • Hezekiah’s Tunnel further up and further in
  • Bethlehem God with us!
  • Herodium It is good to be King

Jerusalem – Jesus is the Cornerstone

  • Southern Steps – Go and Tell
  • Western Wall – practice the presence of God
  • Gethsemane – God’s love never fails
  • Mt of Olives – watch & pray
  • Yad Vashem – remember
  • Temple Mount /Via Dolorosa/Sepulchre- Worship as a way of life
  • Pool of Bethesda – trust

Jezreel Valley

  • Caesarea Maritima – Share the good News
  • Beth Shean/Scytopolis – remove the mask

Negev

  • Masada – Never give up
  • Ein Avdat – Hospitality
  • Ein Gedi – Living Water
  • Qumran – faithfulness wins
  • Salt Sea – dead things live
  • Tell Arad/Beersheva – don’t yield to culture

Hold your camels – here are some other random observations:

  • No matter what you put in a pita (shawarma, schnitzel, falafel, kebab, French fries, hummus), it tastes the same! Yummy and earthy.
  • Ice and air-conditioning are amazing inventions (probably discovered by an inventive Jew). The dietary laws were definitely given to protect the survival of over a million people as they wandered in the desert without refrigeration. These clever people built cities underground. They used salt, which was in abundance. They learned to make the most of 7 species (plus manna and quail): figs, barley, wheat, olive oil, pomegranates, dates(honey), milk. The timing of the harvest seasons and the blessing of life depend on the rainy season. Sometimes we forget that God’s blessings come in the storms of life.
  • Even the land was designed to foster dependence. A land flowing with milk and honey does not mean a utopian paradise. Rather it means a different way of life than the Israelites had known before. (Similarly, people call Southern Cal a paradise, when it is really an overcrowded desert on a fault line!) God may keep us on the edge of our means, for there we more clearly recognize our need for Him. Even more, everything changes in this land so quickly: weather, terrain, from city to desert to mountains, from one religion to another, from untouched nature to intense. This land of extremes all packed into very tight space. Moving from the lowest spot on earth (the dead sea) to the holy of holies. The juxtaposition of such diverse and often antagonistic cultures of the 3 main world religions call this land home. There are visual parables everywhere!
  • Shabbat is necessary. Rest and realigning ourselves has become a luxury in this culture, but once again I am reminded that connection with the Almighty is not achieved any other way. Paul says that in Heb 4:11: “So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall.”
  • The world really is small for the believer! This was evident as we became good friends with the 50 others on our tour who love and serve Jesus and even saw people from “home”. (Tim saw his uncle)
  • Families are God’s idea. They are cool. There are many rooms in our Father’s house. The value of legacy and connectedness is for many future generations. The Bible and the land are not for the immediate only. It is an increasingly foreign concept for us to tame the land and prepare for others that we will never know! Learning that it is not about self.
  • The loud, proud, sometimes intrusive Jewish people have learned to have hutzpah. They can be compared to tsabras (a fruit that has a thick prickly outer skin but is very sweet); they are supposedly tough on the outside, but delicate and sweet on the inside.

Lessons from Israel

In April 2016, the Student Ministry team were invited to join GTI tours through Hume Lake to go to Israel on a Pastor’s trip.  Several of our team, Tim Hummel, Kelsey Crowe, Christina Marandola, Lacey Anderson and myself decided to go.  We signed up, saved our pennies and prepared through study and prayer. What an amazing privilege.

The trip of a lifetime is over.  I spent the first 2 weeks of 2017 in the Holy Land. People told me that going to Israel would be a life changing experience. It seemed disingenuous to see a place for the first time and say, “I am changed”. But, as I sit on this side of the trip, I now ask myself if and how Israel changed me.

I did my best to prepare for the trip and to make the most of the adventure while I was there. After coming home and facing piles of laundry, bills, packing to move and getting caught up at work (with jetlag), it would seem that the benefits of a trip like this can easily get shoved to the back of a full plate called “life”. Fortunately, we were given some helpful ways to debrief the experience as we came home; organizing and labeling pictures, keeping connected with new friends by way of social media, reviewing my journal and rewriting notes, and preparing short, medium and long answers to share with others. Yes, Israel was not a trip like a typical vacation would be; there is something powerful about this land where history comes alive and where a heightened sense of spirituality resides. It is embedded into the crevices of the cities and streets we journeyed through. Being there changes how I look at my own relationship with the Lord in the context of the landscape to which He has called me.

But how did it impact me? For starters, I would say that I did not have to go to Israel to have a vibrant relationship with Jesus, but it makes a profound impression to experience the land personally and realize my faith is rooted in events that occurred in real places. Reading the Bible and other study materials did not adequately prepare me for what I saw. As soon as I got there I could sense just how different Israel is from anywhere else in the world. Soldiers with machine guns are everywhere, and the obvious political conflict that so often is ignored at home is unavoidable. There is a renewed respect for God’s chosen people who have struggled throughout history. The emotional impact of the land, the sites, the culture and the passion of its people went beyond my expectation. Even the ordinary events like walking through a grocery store and breathing in the smells of the desert were more than I had anticipated. The rhythm of language and the intentionality of naming people and places that continues way past Bible times was startling.

It was amazing to “walk where Jesus walked”, to see the ruins of Caesarea where Paul was imprisoned, and experience Masada and its story of freedom or death. I was challenged as I visited Tel Dan to stand firm and faithful rather than shipwreck my faith for convenience. I pondered the idea that the place where the Israelites claimed the promise of the Abrahamic covenant was the same spot where John preached and prepared the way for the Messianic covenant by baptizing his cousin, Jesus. I slathered myself with mud, drank from the stream and threw a stone from a cave at Ein Gedi, watched a sunrise over the Dead Sea and danced on a boat while the moon rose, following a beautiful sunset over Galilee. I was impressed by the Jezreel Valley, as I contemplated the many Biblical events and the things yet to come. I laughed in the tunnel dug by Hezekiah and prayed in the same places that Jesus talked to Abba, Father.

As I walked the Via Dolorosa in the heart of the Old City, I could only imagine what life was like 2000 years ago. Many things were harder to imagine because of the modern life which has absorbed and muted the original landscape. The Church of the Nativity and the church of the Holy Sepulchre are filled with throngs of people from all over the world who come to witness the locations where Jesus was born, crucified, buried and resurrected. It is intense and mind-blowing, nauseating and fascinating all at the same time. I could not help but wonder how many are just visiting tourists and this is one of the stops, how many think that the sites hold some kind of “magical” power of blessing, and how few will never bow at the cross and yield their lives to the Lord.

I read the Bible differently because I have seen the land. Every time that I open my Bible for the rest of my life I will have a picture in my mind of the setting because I have seen it with my own eyes! I picked up a rock everywhere I felt God reminding me of a lesson to remind me that my faith is rooted in events that occurred in real places. It was incredible learning the Word of God with all of my senses. Further, I have a faith rooted in history—not mystery. The words on the pages of Scripture are supported by simple elements that can be dug out of the ground. They prove nothing, but they support it all. The Bible is not primarily a history book, but what it says about history is true. This reality reminds me of what Jesus said to Nicodemus: “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12).  I believed it without seeing it but as my faith has been given sight, I am blessed.

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