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
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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
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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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
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The Tour, the Guide, the Tell– and All I Learned in Israel

On our tour of Israel last week, we moved so fast and saw so many things that it was almost overwhelming. There’s an expression we use for new people at work who are trying to get assimilated into our company and are trying to learn and absorb too much information at once. We call it “drinking from a fire hose”. That phrase was used on our tour more than once because of all of the information and locations that came flying at us in a short time.

  

We went from the airport to Joppa to Tel Aviv to Caesarea Maritime to Capernaum to Magdala to the Dead Sea. We were on the Golan Heights, at the Syrian border, went into Palestine, and looked just across the border into Jordan. We stood in mountaintop trenches next to UN observers. Our tour took us to Mt. Carmel where we imagined Elijah confronting the prophets of Baal and looked out over Megiddo and the future site of Armageddon. We encountered diverse cultures and people. I even met a nice Palestinian guard!

We saw multiple levels of civilization stacked upon modern times, old times, medieval times, and ancient history. We visited museums and memorials, tells and tombs, boats and borders. Our tour took us from the Sea of Galilee to the City of David, and from Dan to the Dead Sea. We encountered religion and royalty, sometimes in the same place. (Y’ all, I was like FIFTEEN FEET from Prince William!)

 

It was a wonderful, bucket list tour. Our guide Shlomo Ben Asher was a teacher, a Rabbi and a fount of wisdom as he led us through the Holy Land (which is fitting, since the name Shlomo is a modern Hebrew derivative of Solomon). I’ll write more about him later, but for today I thought I’d share my poetic impression of the tour:

I once met a modern Rabbi from the kibbutz Ein-Shemer
Who took me through the Holy Land and showed me all the treasures there.
Shlomo son of Asher helped me look at Israel through his eyes,
Teaching our group of Baptist pilgrims just like Solomon the wise.
Ancient history came to life in Israel everywhere we went,
As we Moved faster than a nomad bedouin could unfold his tent!
We saw Israel’s treasures from the Syrian border to the South,                              Learning from the stream of wisdom as it came from Shlomo’s mouth!
From Joppa to the Dead Sea we were starting early, finishing late,
Learning more of history than Herod who was called the great!
Of Israel’s sumptuous banquet we could only get a little taste,
But led by Shlomo, Larry and Chad, we did not let a moment waste.

Somehow, like a miracle, I’ve slept almost where David slept;
I’ve seen fields and hills where sheep by the future shepherd-King were kept.                 I saw the very stars that glistened, listened as he sang his song,
And I saw his city in Jerusalem, still alive and strong.
I have seen the evidence where men unearthed the temple wall,
Reflecting on the fact that men and walls, like David, also fall…
I have seen Mt Carmel, where Elijah called for holy fire,
Where he called for Baal and his unholy prophets to retire!
I have witnessed tells where ancient truth was excavated out,
Centuries of dirt obscuring what the truth might be about,
And churches built on holy sites or old traditions they would tout,
With Truth and legend intertwined so much that it could make you doubt.

Like Elijah, I could look upon the Valley of Jezreel,
Thinking of its storied past and all the things it made me feel:
Will this tranquil place become the Armageddon battlefield?
Mary Magdalena, did you ever know or could you see
That groups would come from Mexico, that someday archaeology
Would find your village’s synagogue near the shores of Galilee?                               Your hero and your exorcism have been so far-reaching
That they brought us to this place, this week, for Shlomo’s teaching.

I have seen so many things I want forever to recall:
The oasis of En Gedi, where David went when he was chased by Saul;
Herod’s grand and ancient hall, and desperate Masada’s fall…
Going in the Garden Tomb, or praying on the wailing wall;
So many things both big and small, and in this list not nearly all!
Ancient Scriptures, Dead Sea floating, doing Galilean boating!
Marketplaces. Children playing. Rabbis swaying as they’re praying.
The Dome of the Rock, so mean in spirit that they will not let you near it;
The loud intrusive call to prayer–you can’t ignore it if you hear it–
The Holocaust, so much regret; so much the world should not forget…
Modern life and ancient tels are my mosaic of Israel.

I’ve been near the place where Peter wept because a chicken squawked!
I have heard of politics, where threatening words like trash are talked;
I have seen the marketplace where goods were sold and wares were hawked;
But I have seen the Holy Land, and walked where Jesus walked.

Men may turn from ancient truths and follow after new;
Men may scoff at Scripture and debate its point of view,
And men may say there is no God by what they say and do;
But I have been to The Holy Land. And I know it’s true.

 

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

David Failed: So Why Would We Want to Have a Heart Like His?

David was called “a man after God’s own heart”. It seems impossible that such a flagrant sinner could love God, yet there it is. It hardly makes sense, but when I really think about it, they could say the same thing about me…

 

David Had a Heart Like His

Start with a boy, who, tending sheep,
Beneath the stars, too in love to sleep,
Looks up at the heavens' glistening art,
And comprehends the Creator's heart.

Least regarded, chosen King--
Transformed by a giant, a rock, a sling!
A man who gazed at God above, 
And understood. And fell in love.

Powerful warrior, loyal friend,
Head of the kingdom without end;
Poet, prophet, singer: Dance,
Caught in the grip of God's romance!

Love the Lord and love His word!
Let your songs and praise be heard,
Reaching countless human ears,
Timeless for a thousand years!

But O! That sword can cut two ways:
For those same lips that sang God's praise
Will kiss their way into a fall,
A story shown and know to all...

Scheming, lying, murderous lust;
Broken hearts and broken trust,
Written down for all to see,
Captured for eternity.

Deep your capacity to transgress!
But deeper, a longing to confess:
To bring your contrite, broken heart
Back to the Maker's matchless art.

Honest now, with no pretense,
No vain attempt at self-defense,
Broken as a consequence...
Confessing, teaching us that THIS
Is how to have a heart like His.

Matthew 22:37: “And Jesus said to him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy god with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind…” In spite of all the despicable things he did, David loved God honestly and passionately. He’s not a role model because of the way he killed Goliath, or because of his valor in battle. We should pay attention to the way he acted when he failed utterly. If you haven’t been there, you will be. Consider David, and then consider yourself.

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

If… Then

IF Christ, then… What?

if... Then

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” (Philippians 2:1-2 NIV) These verses make an interesting checklist, with (to me) a somewhat unexpected and unusual outcome. The book of Philippians is often called Paul’s love letter to the church at Philippi, and his affection and encouragement are evident throughout. This short list of “if—then’s” is worthy of consideration. Paul says that if you are united with Christ, then there are natural results or consequences. The first question we’d probably have to ask is, “how do I become united with Christ?” Jesus taught his disciples about this in John 15, where he declared, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” He goes on to tell them that in order to live and to bear fruit, they need to abide in him, remain in his love, and keep his commands. Paul says here that this kind of relationship with Christ has results.

Once Jesus is invited, and once that spark is lighted,

Your growth will be ignited, and you can be excited

By the qualities provided to those who are united.

So, ask yourself: If I have a relationship with Jesus, does it ENCOURAGE me? Do I find COMFORT in his love? Does knowing Jesus provide me fellowship and COMMON GROUND with other believers? Has it made me more COMPASSIONATE and TENDER-HEARTED? If I am a follower of Jesus, then I feel encouraged, Check. Comforted, Check. The love and support of other believers, Check. Tenderness, Check. Compassion, Check! Completing that checklist will help you determine if you are properly connected to the vine. And yes, those times when we are impatient, rude, and selfish we probably aren’t “united with Christ” as Paul here describes (it’s not a salvation issue wherein we lose the saving relationship of faith, but rather a Lordship issue where we reclaim control and do things in the flesh apart from his love and leadership…) Paul says here that if we stay connected to Christ, these amazingly good things will be part of our daily experience. I saw a Facebook post the other day that advised adding “With a Chainsaw” to various book or movie titles, and it had some mildly humorous results. In this Philippians 2 list of “ifs”, Paul is advising us to add “IN CHRIST” to the solutions we seek for our everyday cares and worries. Life been tough lately? Be encouraged IN CHRIST! Feeling blue? Find comfort IN CHRIST. Impatient or frustrated with others? Find compassion and tenderness IN CHRIST. All of this, he says, will have a somewhat surprising result. Folks who are in Christ will be one in spirit, loving, and like-minded. Have you noticed all the divisiveness in our society? We are driven by opposite agendas full of selfishness and hate. Black versus white. Gay versus straight. Muslim versus Christian. Pro-Abortion versus Pro-Life. Red versus Blue. Rich versus poor. Crooks versus Cops. Paul says there’s an easy answer to all this division. Our nation, indeed our own hearts will never heal and come together through debate, or political action, or tolerance, or protest, or violence. We will only find unity in the healing power of the gospel. Contentious, hateful, divided? Find unity IN CHRIST.

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” (Philippians 2:1-2 NIV) These verses make an interesting checklist, with (to me) a somewhat unexpected and unusual outcome. The book of Philippians is often called Paul’s love letter to the church at Philippi, and his affection and encouragement are evident throughout. This short list of “if—then’s” is worthy of consideration. Paul says that if you are united with Christ, then there are natural results or consequences. The first question we’d probably have to ask is, “how do I become united with Christ?” Jesus taught his disciples about this in John 15, where he declared, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” He goes on to tell them that in order to live and to bear fruit, they need to abide in him, remain in his love, and keep his commands. Paul says here that this kind of relationship with Christ has results.

Once Jesus is invited, and once that spark is lighted,

Your growth will be ignited, and you can be excited

By the qualities provided to those who are united.

So, ask yourself: If I have a relationship with Jesus, does it ENCOURAGE me? Do I find COMFORT in his love? Does knowing Jesus provide me fellowship and COMMON GROUND with other believers? Has it made me more COMPASSIONATE and TENDER-HEARTED? If I am a follower of Jesus, then I feel encouraged, Check. Comforted, Check. The love and support of other believers, Check. Tenderness, Check. Compassion, Check! Completing that checklist will help you determine if you are properly connected to the vine. And yes, those times when we are impatient, rude, and selfish we probably aren’t “united with Christ” as Paul here describes (it’s not a salvation issue wherein we lose the saving relationship of faith, but rather a Lordship issue where we reclaim control and do things in the flesh apart from his love and leadership…) Paul says here that if we stay connected to Christ, these amazingly good things will be part of our daily experience. I saw a Facebook post the other day that advised adding “With a Chainsaw” to various book or movie titles, and it had some mildly humorous results. In this Philippians 2 list of “ifs”, Paul is advising us to add “IN CHRIST” to the solutions we seek for our everyday cares and worries. Life been tough lately? Be encouraged IN CHRIST! Feeling blue? Find comfort IN CHRIST. Impatient or frustrated with others? Find compassion and tenderness IN CHRIST. All of this, he says, will have a somewhat surprising result. Folks who are in Christ will be one in spirit, loving, and like-minded. Have you noticed all the divisiveness in our society? We are driven by opposite agendas full of selfishness and hate. Black versus white. Gay versus straight. Muslim versus Christian. Pro-Abortion versus Pro-Life. Red versus Blue. Rich versus poor. Crooks versus Cops. Paul says there’s an easy answer to all this division. Our nation, indeed our own hearts will never heal and come together through debate, or political action, or tolerance, or protest, or violence. We will only find unity in the healing power of the gospel. Contentious, hateful, divided? Find unity IN CHRIST.

 

Mommy, Where did I Come From?

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1, NIV). This simple statement provides an amazing foundation for the Bible. Just break it down and you’ll see what I mean. First, it addresses the notion of time by saying, “In the beginning”. It doesn’t try to quantify time or define it in a linear sense. It doesn’t apply assumptions to a geological aging process and come up with a number. It doesn’t say that God began with time or even that time has any particular relevance to God. It merely states that our heaven and earth had a beginning, and that God preceded them in existence. I’m sure early man would lay outside at night gazing up at the stars, or think while walking the world around him, “what started this? Where did all this come from?” Genesis 1 addresses those questions with profound simplicity. Second, it says, “In the beginning, God”. It makes a logical assumption about God, His place in the universe, and the nature of eternity. It presupposes God. Some scientists object to this because it was not observable, but I would submit to you that those same scientists are also basing many of their conclusions about origin on assumptions as well. To me, “In the beginning, matter”; or “In the beginning, gases were floating in the cosmos” is no more scientific than “In the beginning, GOD.” The notion of God existing in the beginning is every bit as logical and rational as any of those other things. Also, read that verse again and think about its perspective; it is talking about OUR beginning, not God’s. He was already in existence. There is no assumptive logic or attempt to try to explain where He came from. In our quest for logical, scientific answers to everything, God makes every bit as much (and perhaps more) intellectual sense as Random Elements affected by Random Chance. Third, Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” The writer of Genesis (Moses) knew that man did not create heaven and earth. Scientists today have confirmed this is true. Man can build some pretty nifty stuff out of created elements; he has yet to accomplish ‘creatio ex nihilo’ (creation out of nothing). But God designed, and God created. Walk out tonight and look up at the stars. Hold a baby. Look at a flower. Reflect upon the fact that you alone, of all the animals, have spiritual inclinations and moral obligations. All of those things make sense when you put them in context right after the sentence, “In the beginning, God created”. Placing the world of physical things into a spiritual context changes everything. It means that there is a God of order and intelligence, and that we are made in His image, with the ability for spiritual as well as physical sight. As you appreciate the heavens and as you walk the earth, remember who you came from.

The Right Kind of Revenge

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21, NIV) As Paul illustrates what love looks like, he paints on the canvas of human relationships. There are a few subtle points in this passage that are important. A loving person, Paul says, does not repay evil for evil. As he encourages us all to live at peace with those around us, he agrees with what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? ” (Matthew 5:44, 46 NIV). We are not to seek vengeance when we are wronged, and we can achieve justice by leaving things in God’s hands. Peace is impossible where people seek vengeance. Gandhi reiterated this when he said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”. Paul encourages us to “leave room for God’s wrath”. This is a striking statement in the middle of a chapter about love, and one of the subtle points that are important in this passage. God’s wrath is a fierce and righteous thing. It is never capricious or frivolous, but always just and appropriate. We can depend on it. It addresses wrongs and ultimately (rightly) punishes those who harden their hearts. In C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan the great lion is portrayed as loving and kind. But the characters who know him are filled with respect, and even somewhat afraid of him. He is civil and majestic, but fearsome and dangerous. When they describe him they always say, “Oh he’s not a TAME lion”. God’s wrath is something pure, far above our petty motives and selfish ways. Romans 12 says we should allow HIM to administer perfect justice instead of attempting to straighten things out ourselves. SO what does that look like for you? I drive a LOT in traffic (in my job, on vacation, traveling, whatever) and I am a fairly assertive driver on a road filled with timid, distracted, or just plain selfish people. Of course I myself am a GOOD driver. As a result I tend to be critical of other drivers, and even offer commentary on their lack of skill, concentration, and judgment. My entire family has noticed this through the years, and it is an area of my Christian walk where I have often been less than loving. As I have gotten older, I’ve made some progress behind the wheel, and have at least become a bit less outwardly demonstrative toward the distracted drivers around me (which means: I don’t purposely cut them off, make unnecessary hand signals, or run them off the road) but I haven’t really lived in peace while driving. I am trying to apply Romans 12 to my driving, so I can exemplify a different attitude in the car. (Some days good, some days still not so good…) I’m not sure that letting someone merge when it’s not their turn will “heap burning coals” upon them, but I could at least offer good in response to evil and trust God to provide justice. I’m making a commitment here to try to be a more charitable and peaceful driver. SO… what’s YOUR application of Romans 12? What keeps you from living at peace with others? What frustrates you about your enemies? Get out there and overcome evil with good. God says He will take care of the rest.

Strangers and Sojourners

We are getting ready to go on vacation today– and it’s one of those “once in a lifetime” vacations, to Rome (the eternal city) and Tuscany, the heart of Italian wine country and culture. We have been thinking about and preparing for this vacation for over a year, and it seemed as if this day would never come! We have spent hours thinking about going, looking forward to our sojourn in Italy. But now we are killing time today at home, waiting for our evening flight and in the meantime trying to think of what we might need in Italy, or what we may have forgotten to pack. We are also readying our home for our absence– our dog Abby is at grandma’s, the timers are set on a couple of lights, the potted plants are all near sprinklers now, and the thermostats are programmed. As I walk through our home, I feel strangely disconnected, knowing that I am leaving for even a short while to reside somewhere else. Even though our home is warm and familiar, I am looking forward to the journey ahead– new sights, new places and food, new friends, and new adventures! We have been so looking forward to this trip that it has affected our reading, our conversation, and our priorities. It’s amazing how an upcoming experience like this makes an impact on what we do and how we feel– and today we feel the thrill of anticipation, knowing that we will soon look upon work by Michaelangelo, DaVinci, and see first hand the wonders of ancient Rome… that anticipation is so pervasive that part of me has already left this familiar home and is projecting my thoughts to the trip ahead. I’m ready to go!

Then it struck me… I will also be going on a trip soon, one to the “eternal city”, one that will involve new places and friends, where the work of Michaelangelo and DaVinci will seem insignificant, and where growth, friendship, and revelation will be continuous and inspiring. Anticipation will be endlessly fulfilled and surpassed, conjoined with even more delightful anticipation that will be again fulfilled and surpassed. And I wondered… is THAT trip affecting my reading, my thoughts, my conversation? Has it changed my priorities? Am I looking forward to my ultimate destination with enough connection and assurance that I am preparing to go, taking care of details, and not feeling TOO connected to this familiar home? Peter said that we are aliens and sojourners, people on a journey to a wondrous destination, and that as temporary residents we should take care not to get too wrapped up in temporal pursuits. We are never told to ignore our place on this earth, but we are reminded of its brevity– so we should smell the roses, and appreciate not only where we are going, but we should also enjoy where we are, even when the season is temporary. May our journey enliven and transform us, and may we recognize the wonder in our sojourn, even as we anticipate the joy in our arrival!