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Holy Land Dispatch - Day Thirteen: Mustard Seed

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18 Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches." - Luke 13:18-21

Several years ago, during a trip to the Holy Land, we were walking on the trail that leads to the summit of Mt. Arbel, which overlooks the Sea of Galilee, and our guide pointed out mustard plants.  He took a dried pod from one of the plants, crushed it and let us look at the tiny seeds inside.  They looked like specks in his hand, insignificant, too small to be a seed--more like a bit of dust.

One of the many things I've learned from my trips to the Holy Land is that Jesus' teachings were often object lessons drawn from the world around him.  He would point to things (consider the lilies of the field) that were near him as he taught and often use popular sayings (a city on a hill) to help illuminate his teachings.

I can imagine Jesus doing…

Holy Land Dispatch - Day Twelve: Garden Tomb

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During this trip to the Holy Land, I had the opportunity to officiate at a service of Holy Communion with our group of pilgrims at the Garden Tomb.

There is some debate as to whether the Garden Tomb complex just outside the Old City in Jerusalem is the actual site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus.  I have to admit, each time I hear the arguments for the Garden Tomb as the actual site, I am swayed a bit.

Having the opportunity to officiate at a Communion service in the Holy Land is always an honor, but this year was very special.  As I stood before our group, I felt the presence of Christ so deeply it moved me to tears.

The reading I chose for the services was from Luke chapter 24--the story of the two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

These two followers of Jesus were heading out of Jerusalem, presumably to ensure that they weren't caught up in any further arrests.  Jesus meets them on the road, but they don't recognize him until he broke bread with them in an i…

Holy Land Dispatch - Day Eleven: "Valley of Elah"

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As part of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land this week, we visited the Valley of Elah where David defeated Goliath.

Most of us grew up with the story of David and Goliath as a story of someone small overcoming someone mighty by trusting in God and being courageous. 

But what I've come to believe is this story reveals that not only was David uniquely positioned and prepared to defeat Goliath but when David stepped on to the battlefield against him, the giant never had a chance.

In 1 Samuel 17, the Philistines (a more powerful rival tribe) were threatening the Israelites. Both sides were lined up on either side of the Elah Valley when this happened:

4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. 

The subtext here:  The dude was big. Like 9 feet tall big.

8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, "... Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjec…

Holy Land Dispatch - Day Eight: "Bethesda"

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The Pool of Bethesda is among the many sites that our Holy Land pilgrims will visit today. 

There is this story in the Gospel of John chapter 5 of how Jesus healed a man who could not even pick himself up off of the floor.  The man was lying beside the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem, along with a lot of other people who needed healing.

There was a superstition that after the waters of the pool were "troubled," the first person in the pool would be healed.  So day after day all of these sick people would gather at the pool and wait.  This man probably was brought to the pool because he couldn't walk or get up on his own.

6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”

That's a powerful question.  Lots of us say that we want to live differently.  We say that we are willing to do whatever it takes to be filled with joy, hope, and purpose.  We say that we want to live abundant, Resurrection live…

Holy Land Dispatch - Day Seven: En Gedi

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Our band of Holy Land pilgrims will be journeying to Israel's En Gedi National Park today. 

En Gedi is a beautiful and historic park with a great hike that leads you to the spring-fed David's Waterfall.  The waterfall is so named because of this story from 1 Samuel chapter 24 where a disturbed King Saul is chasing David into the wilderness near the Dead Sea.
24 After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of En Gedi.” 2 So Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats.Can I tell you that the descendants of the wild goats that are mentioned here are still roaming around En Gedi?  You can see them all over the place when you visit.  Let's continue the story, though:
3 He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. 4 The men said, “This is the day the Lord spok…

Holy Land Dispatch - Day Six: "Jericho"

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Among the many places we'll be visiting today in our Holy Land pilgrimage, we'll be spending some time at Jericho.  Jericho is now officially under the governance of the Palestinian Authority so our guide won't be able to guide us in an official capacity.

When you visit Jericho, you'll get the opportunity to see Elisha's Spring, a spring that once flowed with bitter water, until it was healed by the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 2:21), and you'll probably want to take a photo by the mosaic fountain that is emblazoned with the words, "The Oldest City In The World."

But it's the "Tel" that will take up most of your visit--a large hill with thousands of years of civilization buried beneath it.  The story that captures our imagination the most, however, is the one we find in the Hebrew Scriptures in Joshua chapters 5 & 6.

This is, of course, the story of how Joshua and the Hebrew people conquered the great walled city of Jericho without a sie…

Holy Land Dispatch - Day Five: "Gates of Hell"

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Today our pilgrimage to the Holy Land will take us to the ruins of Caesarea Philippi.

Ancient Canaanites worshipped there thousands of years before Christ.  These Canaanites engaged in barbaric forms of worship, including the sacrifice of infant children, which were thrown into the deep spring that pooled inside the massive cave at the back of the site.

This cave was often referred to as the "Gates of Hades."  More on that in a bit.

By the time Jesus and his disciples made the trek north from the Galilee to Caesarea Philippi, it had been shaped by Greek and then Roman influences, and was the site of the debauched worship of a variety of gods, including the Greek god Pan.  There was even a temple erected for the worship of Caesar Augustus.

In Matthew chapter 16, Jesus stands in front of the ancient temples with his disciples and asks them a question:  "Who do people say that I am?"

The disciples responded by saying: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and stil…