Suffering Puts Us on a Slippery Slope: Don’t Slide Down!

Maybe there’s more to suffering than we realize; David seemed to feel that it might just have a purpose… “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth—Praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:1-3, NKJV)

What Did Bono Say About Suffering?

This Psalm of David provided the lyrics for U2’s song “40”, and it gives us hope when we are in the midst of hard times. Being patient while suffering is not my best thing, and God’s timing does not always seem to be aligned with my need for instant gratification. Perhaps there’s something to consider about that… If you really think about it, impatience is essentially a selfish thing; it comes from elevating one’s needs or wants above all else. I see it on the roads every day as someone runs a stop sign or races up to pass people and cut into a merge lane.

suffering merge

It happens at almost every intersection as the people in front of me are so busy on their phones that they don’t see the light turn green and move forward, costing those of us behind them a chance to make the light. Their selfishness aggravates my impatience, which I then share with others, creating a chain of selfishness that just goes on and on. I realize that I am using something relatively trivial (impatience in traffic) as an example of suffering, but it is something we can all relate to.

But Wait There’s More

There are far more horrible pits to fall into, and there are certainly many circumstances in life that call out for God’s help. Even as I write this, I know it can seem glib and insensitive: after all, I’m not the one suffering, and it’s easy to give “spiritual” advice about it. So please, dear reader, accept what comfort you can from what follows, and use faith to take suffering to another place. It worked for David, and he faced many difficulties in his life–whether it was arrogant brothers who belittled him, a King who tried to murder him, being exiled and alone, dealing with private sin and public failure, or losing a child…

Every day people have to face bad news at work, in their relationships, or with their health, and situations can feel hopeless. Living in a Covid world has touched almost everyone with difficulty and tragedy. Depression is far more common these days, and suicide is up dramatically in the United States since 2000. Social distancing and isolation only make things worse.

In Psalm 40, David is saying that when we are in danger, when we are isolated, when we are stressed or insecure, we can turn our problems over to the Lord. I know that sounds like a simplistic answer, but exercising faith in God offers a positive alternative to hopelessness.

Is There A Different Possibility?

We may not have a choice about circumstances, but David points out that we can choose our response to them. I don’t want this to sound insensitive, but suffering and hopelessness can be selfish acts. If we focus only on ourselves and our circumstances, we embrace the negative and dismiss the possibility of God. It may be that He has something redemptive that can come out of even terrible circumstances. Romans 8:28 says that “All things work together for good for them that love God, who are called according to His purpose.” If that’s true, then perhaps God offers alternatives when circumstances knock us down.

We can either slide into the pit of selfishness or call out to the Lord. His word says He will hear us and elevate us; He will provide firm footing and clear direction. It is easy to get bitter in this life. Culture is capricious and shallow; Politics are driven by selfish agendas; people will disappoint you; even your own body will someday fail you. David says that in the midst of troubles, God put a new song in his mouth. Perhaps you also have troubles. Life has thrown you a curve ball. You are in a miry, suffocating pit where there seems to be no way out. Instead of slipping, stand…

Another Possibility

The Living God is ready to put a new song upon your lips, one that will strengthen you and confound everyone around you. It may even be that our suffering is intended to create some greater good. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “Always sing in the midst of trouble. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” When you find your song in the midst of troubles, not only will you discover a firm foundation in a life full of shifting values and events, but others “will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord.”

Being patient during difficulties sometimes seems impossible. But if there is an eternal life, and if the disappointments in this life could help someone else (anyone else!) trust in the Lord and attain that everlasting life, then perhaps they are not only disappointments after all…

A New Song

My days were wrapped in silence, filled with anguish, mired in pain;
The sunrise turned to grey as all the sunshine turned to rain.
My life became an effort just to live another day;
I slipped into a pit, surrounded, stuck in miry clay.
So since I couldn’t help myself, I called upon the Lord.
I listened to His message, and I stood upon His word.
His comfort gave me hope, and His assurance made me strong;
His spirit filled my hopeless heart and gave to me a song.
And so amidst the miry clay, no matter what life brings,
I’ll lift my eyes up to the Lord, and trust. And hope. And sing.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Mary Treasured Jesus in her Heart. God Treasures You the Same Way

Out of the several accounts of the life of Jesus, only Luke offers us this quick observation: Mary treasured Jesus. That’s a logical thing to say about how a mother would feel about her child, but it speaks volumes about Mary and Jesus. It also might speak volumes about YOU. After twelve-year-old Jesus had been left behind in Jerusalem and was found teaching in the temple, Luke offers us our only glimpse of his childhood and development:

“Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:51-52 NIV)

It’s a little intriguing to think about Jesus as a boy, and we can speculate about what he must have been like. Comedians have always joked that it must have been tough being Jesus’ sibling, since you would always hear, “Why can’t you be like Jesus? HE behaves!”

treasured

In the Apocryphal gospel of Thomas the boy Jesus is depicted as performing some whimsical miracles, which is probably why that book stayed apocryphal and didn’t become part of the Canon. But in point of fact, not much is written about the boy Jesus, except for Luke’s anecdote about Jesus staying behind at the temple at age 12 while his parents headed back to Galilee. It doesn’t tell us everything, but even this brief account reveals a few things that are interesting to me.

Luke reminds us that Jesus grew in four ways: wisdom (mentally); stature (physically); in favor with God (spiritually); and in favor with man (socially). This well-rounded growth indicated a life balance that all of us should consider while making those New Year’s Resolutions. It also indicates that Jesus was developing into a young man who was preparing to fulfill his mission.

Jesus (at aged twelve) was obviously gifted as a teacher and amazed the scribes and rabbis in the temple. In his interaction with them and his parents, he seems to demonstrate a poise and maturity beyond his years; but most of his amazing qualities were kept fairly private.  Luke says that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart”, even if they weren’t vividly evident to others who were there.

If you are a mom or dad, aunt or uncle, or friend of the family, perhaps you have spent time around a toddler or a small child. Think of being amazed at their development. Think of being overwhelmed by little things they do, from imitating you to discovering something with wide-eyed wonder… When you have a toddler in the house, you don’t need to watch tv! All of the cuteness you can stand is right there in front of you!

treasured children

What things have you observed in little ones and treasured in your heart? Mary knew all of those things about Jesus and she treasured them. But don’t miss this: since we are made in our Father’s image, it stands to reason that God feels the same way about us; He watches our development, he sees us grow from spiritual babes into spiritual toddlers, and he treasures us in his heart. Have you ever equated how your Heavenly Father feels about you with the way you cherish an infant, or laugh out loud at a toddler’s antics?

I bet He takes the same delight in you, and is just as interested in your growth and development. Your picture is in His wallet; your crude but well-meaning artwork is on His refrigerator. God loves us not just for who we are but also for who we will become as we trust Him to help us navigate our path in a complex and fallen world. Certainly He enjoys our growth the same way we love seeing our children and grandchildren grow.

Luke says that Jesus grew in four dimensions: mentally, physically, spiritually and socially. Like you, Jesus grew up in the real world. Like you, he was treasured, appreciated, and loved. That’s probably a good thing to remember as we head into the New Year. Treasure those things in your heart, and grow.

Treasured

Mary watched as Jesus grew, and marveled at the things he knew;
From the humble manger’s start, she treasured Jesus in her heart,
Like any mother’s heart would do. Did you know someone treasures you?
One who loves to watch you grow, desires to teach you all they know,
One who loves with all His might, and watches you with great delight!
He loves you now, and every minute; His wallet has your picture in it!
He adores your every move, and offers you a Father’s love.
By every way it can be measured, understand this: You. Are. Treasured

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Magi: There’s a Reason why They call Them the “Wise Men”

“After they [ the Magi ] had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:9-12, NIV)

Most Nativity scenes show three wise men at the manger, and Christmas lore is rich with images of and legends about them. The Magi are a fascinating part of the Christmas story, with their camels and trappings and gifts, and they deserve some study because of their place in the series of events spoken of in Matthew. They are mysterious figures, thought by some to be kings of Persia, or possibly Zoroastrian priests who studied the stars as part of their religion.

It has also been suggested that perhaps they descended from Jews who had been exiled to Persia but rose to positions of prominence, (think: Daniel, or perhaps Esther and Mordecai) That possibility seems logical because it might explain their familiarity with OT prophecy about the Messiah.

They also seem to be ancient amateur astronomers, but consider this: We sometimes forget that the ancients had clearer views of the night skies than we do (no city lights to cloud their view), and plenty of time on their hands (no sitcoms or prime time TV to distract them). The average shepherd probably knew as much about the position and movement of the heavens as some current astronomers do, and the Magi grew up studying the stars religiously.

Here are a few quick trivia facts about them: 1. Nowhere does the Bible mention only 3 three wise men; it explicitly mentions three gifts, brought by Magi.

2. It is highly unlikely that there were three guys traveling alone through the desert on camels. With gifts of such value, there had to be a group large enough to protect itself, and they probably had some soldiers or cavalry with them… (That might be why Matthew says “Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him”. A large party of armed men made folks nervous in those days.)

real magi

3. They didn’t make it to the manger. At the time of Christ’s birth, they were probably approaching Jerusalem to talk to Herod.

4. Lots of folks have tried to associate the star with a known astronomical event, and there may have been one initially; but at the end, since the star rose and led them to the child, it is likely that it was a unique manifestation, such as God’s radiance in the Shekinah, that provided guidance for the last leg of their journey.

5. They saw not a baby, but a young child (clear difference in the original Greek), and came to a house, not a stable. Jesus was weeks if not months old when they presented their gifts…

6. The tradition of our Christmas gift giving comes at least partially from the gifts of the Magi. Like them, we should bring what we have and lay it at the feet of Jesus!

7. Joseph isn’t mentioned here, which doesn’t mean he wasn’t around, just that he wasn’t mentioned. (He is around later when Jesus is 12 and they find him teaching in the temple, but that is our last Biblical reference to Joseph).-

Finally, after seeing the young boy and worshipping him, they returned home by another route. My BSU Director Glen Norris used to teach the version of the Bible that said, “They went home another way.” He always maintained that anyone who really meets Jesus, and truly worships Him, will be fundamentally changed by that experience, and go home “another way”. So the wise men not only took another route, they became different types of men, fulfilled by faith and encouraged by events. As result, they went home with new perspective, new motivation, and new direction. My Christmas and New Year’s prayer is that our world could open the true gift of Christmas and do the same thing. As you reflect on the origins of Christmas, may you, too, be wise…

(Even though the Magi may have been accompanied by cavalry, there were probably some camels along, and it is entirely possible that the tradition of camel transport still makes sense. So that is where this poem came from…Not necessarily historically accurate, but I like the idea)

The Camel
Slow he rises! Hideous, hairy: hollowly he plods his course,
His hump-backed and misshapen body carries its express remorse.
Glaring eyes with bushy eyebrows–stinking, spitting ugly beast!
Of all mankind’s domestic creatures, he must be the very least.
Men for centuries have mocked him: used, abused him without care–
Silently he bears their scorn, ungainly walks the earth aware
Of comfort in his secret: “Fools! These men will never know
That once I heard the baby’s cry, saw where the star did go,
And brought my Magi bearing gifts, and watched them bowing low.”

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Herod May Have Been Great, But Here’s Something Else: He’s Really Obviously Depraved

“When [Herod] had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ (Matthew 2:4-6, NIV).

Herod acted like he was helping these wise men from the East, but he was actually trying to use them for his own ends. Probably because of his declining health, Herod stayed and sent them to find out where the Christ was located so that he could then eliminate this new threat to his throne.

We’ll look at the Wise Men a little closer tomorrow. But, “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18, NIV). This is when the birth of Jesus started getting REAL, ya’ll.

Herod

Herod murdered a bunch of young boys in Bethlehem, just playing the odds and assuming that he would catch this newborn king among them. He chose to kill all boys two years and under to spread a wider net because some time had passed since he sent the Magi to Bethlehem and then waited for their return, so he wanted to make sure he got the would-be Messiah. That means a number of babies were killed senselessly in his attempt to eliminate the threat to his power.

Reliable estimates suggest anywhere from six to twenty children would have been murdered by Herod’s men. (Hmm, I wonder if these men covered their identities and wielded swords.) This despicable act—not so different from some of the things we read about in the paper today—became known as “the slaughter of the innocents”, and has been questioned by historians because it was not widely mentioned in extra-Biblical sources.

However, historian R. T. France, addressing the story’s absence in “Antiquities of the Jews”, argues that “the murder of a few infants in a small village [is] not on a scale to match the more spectacular assassinations recorded by Josephus”. After all, Herod killed people who were well-known in Jerusalem—including his wife, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, and three of his own sons—so the act of killing a few unknown infants out in a small village may not have been front page news at the time… This event is still today one of the main things we remember about Herod the Great—and one of the great tragedies connected with the birth of Jesus. Yes, his birth is good news, tidings of great joy; but that good news still comes to a fallen world full of people who need to hear about God’s love.

Amazingly enough, a little baby who could save the world and who would teach nothing but love had evil and implacable foes, men who would kill rather than acknowledge him. I’ve always felt like the persistent hatred and vitriol about Christ (don’t people use his name to swear?) actually validates his identity. If he was just a passing nobody, he would have been forgotten long ago, as forgotten as the Scribes and Pharisees who argued with him in the temple. The fact that so many folks from both now and then resist him so vehemently makes me think that there are larger spiritual stakes involved, and that he must have been something more than a pretty good rabbi.

There was passionate resistance against Jesus, enemies who would twist words and commit murder to keep him from fulfilling his mission. There were men who bristled at the very name of Jesus, who didn’t want it mentioned or valued. Amazingly enough, there still are! Have you ever why so much hate is directed at a man who taught nothing but love? Why his very name is used as a curse word? This Christmas season, people here in America are demanding that manger scenes be removed, and that Christ be taken out of Christmas. Apparently there are still people who don’t want to allow him to be king… After all these years, men are still trying to eliminate the baby Jesus. Some things, it seems, never change…

Herod’s Boast

The winter had been hard; so when they showed up at the gate,
Armed to the teeth and sitting horse, of course I made them wait.
Their coming caught us all off guard. And yet they brought that news,
Something about a star they’d seen, and a new king of the Jews…
My counselors confirmed the Scriptures also contained some clues:
The rumor was, a king would rise somewhere in Bethlehem;
I must admit my humor was not the best it’s ever been,
Confronted with these Magi and their horses, and their men…
But I kept my composure, sent them out, told them to bring
Me any information they could find about this king–
This tiny new usurper who would dare to steal my throne!
My family learned when they could not leave well enough alone,
That Herod is not pleased with other applicants to his court:
I’ll see to it this infant’s reign–just like his life–is short.
This little king, his family and all the world will learn
How Herod treats his rivals, when the Wise Men all return…

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Not Your Average Genealogy. Not Your Average Result

The Bible is the story of the coming Messiah, but average person in 7 BC  certainly didn’t see THAT Coming! Heck, even the above average Bible scholars missed it, too! I mentioned recently that Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus was distinctly different than most Hebrew scholars would have expected. Here’s why:

The fact that Matthew’s genealogy included women was highly irregular in a patriarchal society. Since their inclusion was such an unusual thing to do, we are going to take a closer look at those women to see why on earth Matthew flaunted convention to mention their names…

Tamar was the first woman mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy, and has perhaps the most unusual story, from Genesis 38. She was a Canaanite woman married to Judah’s son Er, who died prematurely (it says the Lord ended his life because he was evil). In that culture, it was incredibly important to honor God by having offspring to carry on the family name.

Your average family today would have a hard time relating to what came next: Judah instructed Er’s brother Onan to fulfill his duty by impregnating Tamar. He had sex with her but stopped short of impregnating her. Apparently God took this very seriously, because He ended Onan’s life then and there. Judah had a young (remaining) son Shelah, but he didn’t want to risk him, so he sent Tamar home, hoping she’d forget all this and go away.

The young widow Tamar– alone, traumatized, used, rejected by Judah and his sons, separated now from Yahweh’s people, and mistreated in the eyes of the law — could have slunk home and into obscurity. But she apparently wanted God’s blessing and favor so much that she’d do anything to get it.

average

So she veiled herself, posed as a prostitute, and got Judah to stop while traveling and have sex with her. Apparently it was not unusual for an average guy to take a “rest stop” while traveling. Because she was veiled, he did not recognize her, and she required him to leave his ring, his corded belt and his staff as payment. (I said it was an unusual story).
Normally for her to act as a prostitute would be punishable by death. But Tamar’s motives were pure, and in this circumstance she was acting to fulfill God’s law and honor God’s intent. Upon being found pregnant, she revealed her actions to Judah: “As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.” Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not sleep with her again. (Genesis 38:25-26 NIV)
Tamar was restored to honor, and her son Perez is listed among Jesus’ forefathers. Long story to say this: by including women at all, Matthew has broken more than just traditional genealogical lines. He has served notice that the coming Messiah is not necessarily what the Elders expected. His lineage not only involved a woman, but a NON HEBREW woman. It was not a random, pristine royal birth, but an incredibly complex series of events, woven into a human history replete with evil men and messy circumstances. God’s preparation for the coming one was amazing in its details and astounding in its intent. This Jesus, born in Bethlehem, did not have your “average” genealogy. But then, he was not your “average” guy.

Tamar

This story in the Bible has me just a bit confused;
It seems to be about a girl who’s sexually abused.
There’s cheating and betrayal, there is intrigue and there’s lying;
Men are out on business trips with hookers! Men are dying,
And this story’s in the BIBLE! The Messiah’s family tree!
The Bible says some stuff that I just didn’t expect to see!
It’s honest and it’s real, and I believe it must be true;
I wonder, when you read, what does the Bible say to YOU?

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Remain in Me: What if the Christian Life was as Easy as Just Staying in One Place?

A lot of people work hard at being religious. But what if you only have ONE Job…to REMAIN? Consider this unusual challenge from Jesus: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:1-4 NIV).

In the last of the seven great “I am” statements that John recorded for posterity, Jesus claims to be the true vine. In an agricultural society, this may have resonated more deeply than it does today, but it DOES sound more personal than “I am the Wi-Fi, and you are the device.” So step back into a somewhat simpler analogy and consider for a moment that you are a branch on the vine. Perhaps you can picture a vineyard (like Jesus’ listeners would have), with orderly rows of plants that have been cultivated and cared for.

remain

Left to themselves, the vines would be wild and unkempt, but the perfect symmetry of the vineyard suggests planning and hours of work. Focus in on one plant. The vine is about as thick as a man’s arm, and grows to a height of about 4 feet, with the branches going up another two to three feet from there. From the ground up, your vine has clean lines that are unmarred by unruly shoots or stragglers until it spreads out in glorious abundance at the top.

The branches extend in an orderly fashion, and every one of them is laden with rich, colorful fruit. Just picture the clusters of deep Concord blue grapes that hang seductively from the branches, bursting with flavor and promise. This is what everyone in the audience would have been thinking, and they would be hanging on Jesus’ words almost like the grapes they were picturing in their minds…

Jesus tells them that he is the root and trunk, and is therefore the true source of all life, nourishment, and growth. Without being connected to him you cannot grow, and you cannot bear fruit. The Vine and the branches have a natural, harmonious relationship.

Our status: connection
Our purpose: bear fruit
Our job: remain

Seems almost too easy that our only job is to “remain” in him… We are connected, we have access to intimacy with one who loves us, and we are just supposed to stay that way, right? But stop and think: Before you say “that’s not too hard”, think of the difficulty we humans have with loving relationships—high divorce rates, estranged family members, fractured friendships…we have a hard enough time staying connected with those we are closest to, without even counting politics or all of the people we don’t even know…

So perhaps it’s not really all that easy to do what Jesus commanded us to do: “Remain in me”. Because there are distractions, aren’t there? The world calls us away from his abiding presence, and we stay too busy to remain in contact with him. And as if those distractions weren’t enough, we have our OWN interests and passions to lead us away from him. We get impatient with his slow and subtle guidance, we get a little selfish, and we… Separate.

Find a few minutes to connect today. Think about your vine, and picture it bursting with succulent grapes! What fruit do you want your life to bear? Reflect on the fact that Jesus said (John 15:5), “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” Graft your dry, impatient, selfish branches back into the vine. Feel his strengthening words flow into you, endure the pain of productive pruning, and bear fruit. It’s what you were created to do.

The One Job the Branches Have to Do

You are the branches; I am the Vine.
Your fruit will result in the finest of wine,
As your grapes find expression in succulent growth:
Rich flavor or color? I offer them both!
Seductive, however, the world can distract;
You must stay productive, and keep fruit intact,
For the world would destroy it or steal it from you,
To hinder what you were created to do!
There’s also some pruning that you must endure
For that maximum growth that is fully mature.
For you to survive both temptation and pain
This reminder will serve as a simple refrain:
I am the Vine. Stay connected. Remain.

To purchase my newest book Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

The Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, and the Churches in Jerusalem: What Do They Have in Common?

In Jerusalem the number one business is tourism. Hotels and buses are filled with pilgrims anxious to see and touch Holy sites like the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, or the Wailing Wall. There are more buses running around Jerusalem than you will see anywhere this side of Branson, Missouri.

dome rock

It is truly impressive to see the devotion that pilgrims have to their sacred sites. Millions of people come each year to insert written prayers into the Western Wall, and to pray earnestly as close to the site of the Second Temple of Jerusalem as they can. It is thought that being closer to the Temple is being closer to the presence of God, thereby putting prayers almost directly to the ear of God, where they will surely be heard. Orthodox Jews and devoted Christians come to the wall in hopes that the Lord will surely answer prayers delivered so close to His house.

dome wall

There is an interior passage on the other side of the wall where a special group of women pray daily, bringing their petitions before God with continual supplication. Their reverent whispers echo softly in the secret passage, flying up through stone walls on butterfly wings to the heavens. The women pray fervently at the wall, perhaps with a prayer-book or Scripture to guide them, or perhaps with eyes closed as their lips move in silent supplication. Unlike the outer wall, this sacred space is reserved for women who are committed prayer warriors locked in spiritual battle with grief or longing or darkness…

dome women

Out and above the wall on Dome of the Rock, access is also limited. The Dome Mosque was built in the 700’s on TOP of the old Temple site, and is restricted these days to almost all “outsiders”. Only Muslims are allowed there, and there are guards at every entrance to keep tourists and non-Muslims from looking into the Dome. It is considered holy by the Muslim faith because it houses the rock where creation originally occurred; it is also where Mohammed allegedly rose to heaven with Gabriel, and where he went to pray (in a story very similar to the Transfiguration) with Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Westerners and Christians have been kept out of the Mosque for almost two decades, and Jews do not enter the Dome because it is a violation of Jewish law. There was an opening where a door was being repaired when we walked by the Dome, and the guard hurried out to move us away from the entrance lest we see inside.

dome guard

A group of women sat in the doorway and gave us dirty looks as we tried to catch a glimpse of what was inside, but alas! The religion of peace apparently doesn’t want outsiders. Their zealous devotion has created a shield around the Mosque…

At Churches and Christian holy sites, the devotion is also amazing. Pilgrims kiss the stones where Jesus may have been killed or prepared for burial, and the stations of the cross along the Via Dolorosa are venerated by the followers of Christ. People come from all over the world to lay prostrate, to reach and touch, and to experience the thrill of walking perhaps where Abraham or Jesus walked. The religious fervor and devotion of these pilgrims is touching and inspiring. (Interestingly, it was matched on our trip only by the curiosity and desire of celebrity-seekers who were trying to see Prince William up close!) But as I watched all of this devotion directed at holy sites and sacred places, I wondered if it was not perhaps the teeniest bit misdirected…

Matthew 28:5 “The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

For me the truth in the Holy Land was not about the many amazing places we visited, or in the archaeological tells, or in the Church of the Nativity or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher; I appreciate the tradition behind those sites and the fervor with which people respond to them. But for me, in thinking of the Living God who said, “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” I couldn’t find spiritual excitement in rocks, or walls, or Domes nearly as much as I found it in an empty space…

dome tomb

Reflection After the Wailing Wall Upon an Empty Space

Prayers are offered at the wall by Saints and Rabbis lifted high
In supplications large and small, regardless of the passers-by…
There a Rabbi bobs his head and there a tourist walks around,
While holy prayers are being said with passion on this holy ground.
Will Yahweh in His heaven hear as saints and Pilgrims seek this place?
And will they know that God came near, and offers peace? And love. And grace.
The Dome above the Temple rock is covered up with sheets of gold,
While guards at every entrance block all touring pilgrims, young and old…
And pilgrims come here every day to see these holy, sacred sites,
To look and see, to kneel and pray, to replicate religious rites!
When in Bethlehem we trod, in Churches, or in Galilee,
I wondered: does the living God reside in things that we can see?
We saw another wall of stone that opened to a burial room
And stood within it, all alone, Rejoicing in the empty tomb!

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

His Amazed Parents Must Have Said, “I Thought He was With YOU”!

When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they (too) were amazed… (Luke 2:42-48 NIV)

amazed

This is the only anecdote Luke shared about the boy Jesus, the only real scrap of information we have about his formative years. I have always wondered how he became aware of his supernatural capacity. Did it happen all at once, or bit by bit? Certainly he was commissioned for public ministry at John’s baptism, but we are not really given clarity about when he knew who he was and why he came.

This story offers a couple of clues: first, at age 12 he demonstrated wisdom and comprehension beyond his years, which amazed the teachers at the temple. Men who were able to teach in the temple courts had generally spent a lifetime in the Scriptures and studying at the feet of other rabbis, so the fact that Jesus could astonish such men was no small thing. But interestingly, it says in verse 48 that when his parents saw him, “they were [also] amazed”, meaning perhaps they had not really seen such precocity in their son before now… When Jesus told them he must be about his Father’s business, Luke says in verse 50, “they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.” This incident at the temple was new information to Mary and Joseph, and therefore was new behavior on their son’s part.

I like to think that Jesus enjoyed a fairly normal childhood, playing and learning and growing alongside his brothers and sisters, that his formative years were full of joy and growth and love. (And yes, Jesus had siblings. Mark 3:21 and 31 speak of his mother and brothers seeking him, and in Mark 6:3, the people from the village ask, “Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?”) Jesus grew up in fairly large family, playing with his brothers and sisters. Perhaps they played hide and seek in the village, or chunked rocks at a nearby stream. Somehow I think that his early years connected him with his creation, deepened his compassion for mankind, and contributed to the love and resolve that later carried him through his mission. Russ Massey, my BSF teaching leader in Conroe, taught logically that if Joseph died fairly soon after this happened, then Jesus would have assumed (as the eldest son) familial responsibilities, helping Mary run the household, and that he assumed some of the burdens of running a family.

But I hope that in the years leading up to this he had carefree moments of play and laughter as well, bathed in the love of parents who knew all too well how special he was, waiting and watching to see how the prophesies would come true. This “I thought he was with you” trip to Jerusalem was probably Mary and Joseph’s first big “Aha!” moment that the Time was getting closer at hand, and that Jesus truly was gifted in ways that had been foretold. I wonder if it changed their relationship with him, and what they began to learn about him from that point going forward…

Say, when was your first big “Aha!” moment about Jesus? Has it changed your relationship with him, and is there something more you can learn from him going forward? When you see him in a new way, you’ll discover who He really is (like Joseph and Mary, and the guys at the temple) Perhaps you, too, will be amazed!

“I thought he was with YOU!” Or, “Wow, we thought he was with THEM!”
But here they were, a long day’s travel from Jerusalem,
And Jesus wasn’t there. Joseph and Mary turned around
And searched for several days before their precious son was found.
They found him in the temple, calmly sitting there unfazed,
Reasoning with the elders. Everybody was amazed
At all the wisdom he displayed, when all was said and done:
A page had turned. His parents knew his mission had begun…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Masada: A Story of Desperation and Death Before Dishonor

One of the most fascinating places we went to in Israel is the Desert fortress Masada, located about 20 km east of Arad overlooking the Dead Sea. Statistically it is one of Israel’s most popular tourist attractions, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site based on its historical value. It is striking in both its location and its history.

Built by Herod the Great from 37-32 BCE, this remote palace and fortress seems like it would be impregnable. After visiting Israel, one of my most vivid impressions is connected to why the king known for his vindictive paranoia was called “the Great”. But when you take into account all that Herod built and accomplished, I’d have to say he may have been the third greatest King of Israel, after David and Solomon. Certainly his legacy as a builder was unrivaled except perhaps by Solomon. He is famous for the grand scale of the Second Temple, but he also built extensively in Jerusalem and in Judea. He built the port of Caesarea Maritima using huge innovative concrete blocks to create a harbor. He also built the pagan city of Sebaste and eleven remote fortresses such as Masada, Herodium, Alexandra, and Hyrcanium. Each fortress contained a palace where Herod and his family could escape if there was a revolt against him, and contained living quarters, storehouses, bath houses and all the amenities. He died in about 4 BCE, and some of his projects (like the Temple) were finished after his death.  His accomplishments as a builder were impressive, and Masada is still an impressive testimony to that.

During the Jewish rebellion against Roman occupation that led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, a group of Jewish zealots took Masada in 66 AD and slaughtered the Roman garrison there. It was one of the earliest acts of rebellion by the zealots and  the beginning of several years of Judean revolt against Rome. The 900 some-odd defenders held Masada for six years, even as Jerusalem was besieged and laid waste. The rebels were able to live on Masada because of the huge cisterns used to catch rainwater during the infrequent storms. We had the opportunity to go down into one of the cisterns, and the sheer scale of it may give you some idea of how well Masada was built and how uniquely it was provisioned to support a group determined to stay in the fortress.

The Romans, busy destroying Jerusalem, were for awhile content to build a wall around the base of the mountain to keep any rebels from escaping. Remnants of their wall and encampments are still visible from above.

But Rome did not preserve its Empire by tolerating rebellion. In 72 AD they laid siege to Masada and over a few months built an earthwork ramp with a gradual grade to take a battering ram to the wall. In the Spring of 73 they completed the access and took as many as 15,000 men to go in against the 960 defenders. The ramp they built is still visible from atop Masada today:

I can’t imagine hating someone so much and being so ruthless that you would commit vast resources and troops to kill men, women and children you had already trapped and contained, but that’s how Rome did business. Imagine being in Masada with your families, watching the hated Romans get closer to your position every day. Imagine feeling hope slip away, and of coming to grips with the certainty that not only were your going to die (which may have at least provided some honor to the men), but you knew your wives and daughters would be brutalized and raped; your children, if spared, would know only a hard life of servitude and slavery. Imagine facing the inevitable, and having to make choices based on those incredibly limited options. When they breached the wall, the Romans found only two women and 5 children alive. Everyone else on the mountain was dead. The women then told how the men, led by Elazar, drew lots to see which of them would perform the ultimate service by killing the others and thus spare them the brutality of rape, torture, and enslavement to the Romans.

Elazar, in his final speech to his fellow zealots, said this: “Since we long ago resolved never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God Himself, Who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice… We were the very first that revolted, and we are the last to fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God has granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom.” The men of Masada exercised their courage to protect their families in the only way they could imagine, and removed them from harm’s way by making the ultimate sacrifice.

Paul may have displayed a bit of that same spirit when he said in Galatians 5:1, “Stand fast, therefore in the liberty with which Christ has made you free, and be not entangled again with the yolk of bondage.” He was talking about being totally committed to freedom in Christ instead of walking in legalism, but his intensity of commitment is the same, and he is exhorting us to exercise Grace with the same sense of desperate devotion later shown by the rebels. When it comes to sin, don’t give in.

I will remember Masada, with its palace and its dusty walls and its deep cisterns; but I will also remember the rebels who died there, proud and free, honor intact.

 

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

The Garden: Why It Stands Out in a Week Filled With Meaning and Connection

Matthew 26:36 “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here in the garden while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

When people know that I just got back from Israel, they always ask, “What was your favorite place?” And because we experienced so much in such a short time, that is really a tough question to answer. We saw a synagogue in Magdala where Jesus may have preached; we sailed upon the Sea of Galilee. We explored Masada, with its grim legacy of freedom. We floated on the Dead Sea. We visited the Holocaust Museum. We saw Oskar Schindler’s gravesite, and sat on the hillside where Jesus may have preached the Beatitudes. We were at the Syrian border, standing in trenches just down from the UN observers. We saw the lush water garden at Dan, and dipped our toes in the Oasis of Ein-Gedi, where David hid from Saul…

We visited the Israel Museum, went to a laser light show one night at the Tower of David, and we prayed at the wailing wall. We got baptized in the Jordan River, and we went inside the empty Garden Tomb. As I recounted in an earlier blog, we had life-changing encounters at the Holocaust Museum and at Rachel Bluwstein’s grave. We saw Holy sites within ornate churches and walked the Via Dolorosa. We even saw Prince William from a distance of about 15 feet!

We saw all of those things and more, and experienced everything from tourist fare to Holy ground. But my favorite place was perhaps one of the quietest and least ornate. We went into the Hermitage next to the Garden of Gethsemane and spent an hour reflecting on the betrayal of Jesus, and on his garden prayer. As we looked out from the Mount of Olives to the Old City, we wondered how his best friends could not pray with him for even one hour. How could they have DONE that on such a night?! Peter, James and John swore to be loyal to Jesus and yet they left him alone in his most difficult trial. They could have been connected to Jesus, but they lost their focus and did their own thing. They allowed something merely physical to disrupt a unique opportunity to be spiritual there in the garden…

Guess what? We all do that every day. Before we judge the disciples too harshly, try to pray for an hour before you fall asleep on any normal day. Try to live spiritually when you are tired or hungry or impatient. Try to put Jesus first.

Two things: don’t forget that when he was all alone in the Garden, Jesus prayed for you and me. He thought about us, and in John 17:20 He asked His Father to give us unity and security in Him. Tonight before you fall asleep, claim that.

Second, take a moment and reflect on how often we forsake Jesus for something physical. To me, the amazing thing about the garden was that even on the night he was betrayed, he: Never. Betrayed. Us. Spend a moment to read his prayer in John 17 and see if it doesn’t inspire you to want to pray like he did. As I sat there overlooking the Old City, I rediscovered how far I fall short, how selfish and unspiritual I am, and how grateful I am for a Savior who completed his mission no matter what.

Where, Lord, in Gethsemane did you lay down and pray?
Where did Judas lead the guards to come take you away?
We know that in 2000 years no man has found it yet,
The place you prayed in agony, with tears and blood and sweat…
I’m sitting on the Mt of Olives, looking at the Dome,
Feeling like a pilgrim who will soon be going home.                                                     Just like John and Peter in the garden, I regret
The many times I fail to pray with you, or just forget–
Knowing that you sat near here the night you were betrayed,
Alone because not even one of your disciples stayed…
Jesus help me in my weakness pray the way you prayed.

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Six Million: Trying to Count the Uncountable Cost of the Hopes and the Dreams and the Lives that Were Lost

It may seem somewhat incongruous to take some time on vacation and visit a memorial commemorating six million murders, but after doing so I think it may be almost impossible to understand Israel without going to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. It is a sobering experience.

I was pretty familiar with the details of the Holocaust. I had read stories and books about it, and I have seen pictures of its horrors. To be honest, I felt like there was not much I could learn that I wasn’t already aware of. But the museum documents and displays every aspect of the Holocaust and the systemic execution of six million people in such a way that it is impossible to walk through it unchanged. Yes, it was the story of man’s inhumanity to man; yes it was tragedy on a cosmic scale; but more than that, it was six million individual tragedies, the stories of neighbors and loved ones and families who were torn apart or destroyed. It put names and faces onto the vast, unimaginable statistics..

It reminded us of the interrupted vacations and weddings, of families torn apart, and of cruelty visited upon people who did not anticipate it or deserve it. The children’s Memorial spoke eloquently of what some would like history to forget: among the six million killed, there were 1.5 MILLION children lost to their parents, to the world, to the future. To us.

As heart-rending it is to think of the children, every story from the Holocaust is important. The people and families behind them are important, and they shine like lights in the darkness, calling all of us to remember, and to be accountable. As painful as it is to remember, it would be even more tragic to forget. Having been jarred to reality in the midst of a bucket list vacation, I stand with Israel, and with Israel I say: Never forget. Never again.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.” (Psalm 122:6, KJV)

A Reflection After Visiting the Holocaust Museum and Memorial

Take six million stars and simply wipe them from the sky;
Would the void they left be big enough to catch your eye?
Would the world take notice of the loss they signify?
Take six million families, and tear them all apart.
How much could you reconcile, and where would you even start?
Would that have an impact on the average human heart?
Take six million living souls and heap them in a grave.
Would it change the world to think of those we cannot save?                                       Standing on the sideline is a choice you cannot waive…
Pray for peace in Israel, and pray that they’ll be brave.

 

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

The Guide Who Was More Than a Guide, On the Tour that Was More Than a Tour

If you are going to travel in another country, it helps to have an interpreter or guide to help you find your way. When you travel in Israel you are challenged by the diversity of cultures, by the multiple layers of history dating back to ancient times, by the influence and juxtaposition of three major world religions and by the volatile political climate. In order to navigate such a complex set of conditions, you’d need a guide who understands the land, its people, its religions, and its history. You would require a guide who could work in several languages and who could move seamlessly through the multiple layers of culture and tradition.

This guide would need to understand the Biblical perspective of both the Jews and Christians, and have the ability to relate events in the Bible to geography and archaeology without being overbearing or condescending. Such a guide, were he or she to exist, would need to be practical, aware of logistics and trip details; they would need to be scholarly, aware of the Bible and what it says; they would need passion to relate to the depth of feeling such a trip incurs; and it would help if they were artistic, able to discuss Hebrew poetry and music in such a way that it brings the Old Testament alive to Western pilgrims. They would need to convey Israel’s journey, from the early Zionist movement to the latest political events, with an intimacy and familiarity that invites the Pilgrim to step inside the experience and connect to it in ways they had not anticipated.

In Israel, we found such a Guide. His name is Shlomo Ben Asher. Shlomo is a modern derivative of the name Solomon, which is fitting because both men are known for their wisdom. Shlomo is a native Israeli, raised in the Kibbutz Ein Shemer, and he was our guide and tour manager for nine days in Israel. Shlomo served in the Israeli army, has a lovely family, and is by parts CEO, professor, archaeologist, linguist, vocalist, musician and story-teller. He is a published author (Legacy Interrupted, available on Amazon Books) and a gifted guide. Our group was both fortunate and blessed to enjoy his professionalism and his passion on our tour.

Shlomo read us the Beatitudes in Hebrew. He educated us about the difference between tradition and confirmed authenticity, without ever once denying or insulting traditional sites. He took us to places most Christian tours do not get to go. He played  Hebrew music on the recorder, and he sang and chanted to us in Hebrew, or led us in group songs, both Christian and Jewish. He took us to Oskar Schindler’s grave, the Holocaust Museum, and to the Kinneret Cemetery overlooking the Sea of Galilee. It is the burial place of Rachel (pronounced “Rakhel”, or Raquel) Bluwstein, a famous Israeli poet.

Shlomo read her poetry to us with depth and passion, enlarging our perspective on longing, on connecting, and on Israel. She spoke of the son she never had, and lamented that she had not borne him to be part of the Israel she loved. It was a feeling that seemed to surface over and over during our trip, the passionate connection of people to the land, and of the deep desire to be part of God’s promise to Abraham. I sensed that passion in our guide, and I feel indebted to him for introducing me to Israel the way he and Rachel Bluwstein saw it.

Our journey only scratched the surface of Israel, but it connected all of us to this Holy Land, this place where God confirmed His promise to bless all of the world. I will never know modern Israel as well as Shlomo Ben Asher, but I returned home with a deeper appreciation for God and for His people. My prayer is that He would be our ultimate guide, and would continue to lead us into His promises.

How does this American understand the fabric of this Holy, sacred Land?
Are secrets hiding in this tell? Is it the passion of (Racquel)                                          who longed to bear a son to join the legacy of Israel?
Do I see woven in this thread the contributions of the dead,                                            and is this legacy new and strong in Shlomo’s words and Shlomo’s song?
It is not in the things I know. So I will Be inquisitive,                                                           and hear my rabbi speak the words of Solomon, revisited.

 

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread