Showing posts from April, 2017

Forgiveness Among The Goats

Some of our band of Holy Land pilgrims will be leaving us today, but others of us will be journeying a bit longer, and one of the places we'll be visiting today is En Gedi National Park.  

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…

An Everlasting Name

Today is our last day of pilgrimage in the Holy Land, and no trip to the Holy Land would be complete without a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in the northern suburbs of Israel on Mt. Herschel.  

The meaning of the words Yad Vashem in English is essentially, "everlasting name," and comes from Isaiah 56:5, which reads: "To them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever."

The 2-3 hour tour through Yad Vashem is an incredibly sobering and heart-wrenching experience.  As you walk through the exhibits, you feel as though you are traveling deeper and deeper into darkness.  

I have found myself being brought to tears of repentance as I read the way that Christians all over the world twisted Scripture and did violence to the Gospel in order to justify not only their participation in the Holocaust, but also their indifference to it.  

How that must have…

Before The Rooster Crows

As we're on pilgrimage in Jerusalem today, our Holy Land pilgrimage will take us to the church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, a name derived from the Latin for "cock's crow."  

The church is built on the site where the High Priest, Caiaphas, lived, and where Jesus was brought to be interrogated after he was betrayed. 

Peter followed behind as Jesus was brought to Caiaphas bound and beaten, and he hung around outside in the courtyard of Caiaphas' house.  It was there that he denied Jesus three times, just as Jesus predicted he would--"before the rooster crowed" at the dawn.  

I've always been intrigued by how Peter had to escalate his denials.  Read through the passage and see if you find it interesting: 

69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.

70 But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.

71 Then he went out to the gateway, where …

The Sermon On The Steps

Today our band of Holy Land pilgrims will be visiting the Southern Steps of Herod's Temple.  These were also known as the Teaching Steps, because it was a common sight to see rabbis teaching their disciples upon them.  

You can still stand on a portion of those same steps not long after you walk on the first century streets that led worshippers and visitors to the Temple by a marketplace.  Jesus almost assuredly would have walked those same streets, and he undoubtedly taught on the Southern Steps.  

But the story that we'll be focusing on today is from Acts chapter 2---the Day of Pentecost, which occurred roughly fifty days after Jesus was raised from the dead.  It was the Feast of Shavuot, or the "Feast of Weeks," one of the great feasts in the Jewish tradition.  

The Feast of Shavuot commemorates the moment when God gave the Law to Moses--49 days after the first Passover when the Israelites fled slavery in Egypt.  

In Acts chapter 2, Peter stands on the Southern Steps …

The God of Angel-Armies Is On Your Side

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 si…

On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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…

Risen - Easter 2017

Hope is what you get when you realize that a different worldview is possible, a worldview in which the rich and the powerful, and the unscrupulous do not after all have the last word.- N. T. Wright.

Several years ago, I went to the Holy Land Experience amusement park in Orlando--which I think is now closing down.  It's a strange place, to be honest.  I'm not sure just how much of the amusement park itself is representative of the Holy Land... but it's an experience, so there's that. 

At the Holy Land Experience amusement park there is a replica of the Empty Tomb of Jesus.  This is a photo of the inside of the tomb:

Yes. That is a door in the back of the Empty Tomb.  I have used this before in a sermon, but it's just too good to not use again.  I can't tell you how many deep theological problems this back door to the Empty Tomb creates.  But there it is. 

I've had the opportunity to go on three different pilgrimages to the actual Holy Land in Israel, and am prep…

God's Friday

It is Good Friday---the day that Christians commemorate the death of Jesus on the Cross.  I read years ago that it was once called "God's Friday," but that "God's" eventually morphed into "Good" over the centuries. 

Regardless, Christian now call this Friday "Good" because through the death of Christ we believe that our old self with all of its baggage is crucified, put to death and buried with Him, which is definitely good news.  

Last night at the powerful Maundy Thursday service we held at my church, we stripped the sanctuary of all of its decorations as we concluded worship.  One of the other pastors and I took the large cross that hangs on the wall of the sanctuary down and carried it out.

When I looked back at the bare wall, I felt my emotions well up inside of me.  It was a helpless kind of feeling that I felt.  The loss of that familiar symbol hit me harder than I thought it would.    

Kathleen Morris once wrote, "Good Friday is…

A New Command

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day that Christians all around the world will be commemorating the Last Supper, the final meal that Jesus shared with his disciples before he was betrayed.  

"Maundy" is derived from the Latin word "mandatum," which means commandment.  This reflects the "new commandment" that Jesus gave to his disciples when he told them: "Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another."  

On this Maundy Thursday, I am reflecting on something that has long haunted me about the Last Supper, and it has to do with Judas, the Betrayer.  When they sat down to share the Passover that first Maundy Thursday evening, Judas had already made up his mind to betray Jesus, and had already taken money to do so.  The plan was in place, the die was set.  

Perhaps Judas wanted something more from Jesus--a revolution or an armed rebellion against the Romans.  His nickname "Iscariot" has led some to believe he was connected…