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On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand

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Today our pilgrimage in the Holy Land will take us to the Jordan River and the Yardenit baptismal site.  

The site we'll be visiting is far from the traditional site where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, which is to the south, near Jericho.  This site also happens to be the spot where the Israelites miraculously crossed the Jordan River on their way to enter and take the Promised Land.  

Some scholars also believe that it's also the site where the river miraculously parted when Elijah struck the river with his cloak so that he and his apprentice Elisha could walk over on dry land.  Elisha in turn struck the river with Elisha's cloak when he returned from seeing his master taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire. 

So the baptismal site of Jesus (the traditional one) is pretty important.  

Mark's Gospel notes the baptism of Jesus with these words: 

9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up…

Blessed Be

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Today our Holy Land pilgrimage will take us to the Mount of Beatitudes, the traditional site where Jesus is believed to have delivered the Sermon on the Mount.  The Beatitudes are found in the first few verses of Matthew chapter 5: 

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for i…

The Gates Of Hell Are Shattered

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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; an…

Jesus On The Edge of A Cliff

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For the next couple of weeks my daily devotions will be drawing inspiration from the Holy Land, which is where I will be during that time frame--leading a group of 33 pilgrims.  

Today our band of Holy Land pilgrims will be visiting (among many other sites) the Mount of Precipice, a cliff just outside the city of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up.  

After Jesus is baptized by John, and then tempted in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights, according to Luke, he returns to Nazareth and is invited to read Scripture and teach in the synagogue.  

Jesus reads a prophecy from the prophet Isaiah: 

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,

19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

In a stunning claim, Jesus tells the crowd that this messianic prophecy was fulfilled through him.  Then when they begin grumbli…

The View From The Mountain

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For the next couple of weeks my daily devotions will be drawing inspiration from the Holy Land, which is where I will be during that time frame--leading a group of 33 pilgrims.  

At some point today our group of Holy Land pilgrims will be landing in Tel Aviv, Israel and will begin the arduous process of going through customs, retrieving our bags and somehow getting all 34 people in our group to the bus that will carry us to the Sea of Galilee.  

It's possible that on the way we will be able to make a stop at Mt. Arbel, a cliff that rises sharply on the west side of the Sea of Galilee to a height of nearly a thousand feet above the lake itself.  

Did I mention that the Sea of Galilee is not actually a "sea?" It's a freshwater lake that is essentially seven-and-a-half miles wide and thirteen miles long.  It's known in the Bible as the Sea of Galilee, but also the Sea of Tiberias and Lake Gennesaret (a word that means 'garden of riches').  

As you stand on top o…

Hearts Set On Pilgrimage

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For the next nearly two weeks I will be leading another tour group to the Holy Land (my fourth such group and my fifth overall trip to Israel), and my  daily devotions during that time will be using some of the highlights of this journey as inspiration.  I hope you enjoy.

"Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage." - Psalm 84:5

Today I will be leaving Austin to join 33 other pilgrims from all over the United States on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  You might be asking at this point, "Why are you using the word 'pilgrimage' rather than 'tour?'  Aren't you just leading a tour?"  

Technically, I suppose you could call what we will be participating in a "tour."  We will be riding on a tour bus to particular sites and we will be led by a tour guide once we get to these sites.  Additionally, the name badge I have been issued by the tour company indicates I am a tour host... so, there's that.  

But th…

Easter Isn't Over!

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Today is officially the second day of the season of Easter in the traditional Church calendar.  There are fifty days in the season of Easter, in case you were wondering, which begins on Resurrection Sunday and ends on the Day of Pentecost. 

Why is this important?  Why should we care about Church traditions?  To begin with, this reminder about the season of Easter helps us to remember that the Resurrection isn't just something that we celebrate one day a year.  How great it is it that Easter lasts almost two months?

Secondly, it reminds us that there is an alternative rhythm to life--one that enables us to break free from the breakneck pace, stress and oppression of the rhythms of our culture.  

I was at a pharmacy today and they were already tearing down all of the Easter decor to make way for summer advertisements. It was a harsh reminder of how we build up excitement for important celebrations, and then we can hardly wait to move on once they're over.  

We need to take our celeb…