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Showing posts from September, 2019

Holy Land Day Eleven (Tuesday): 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 subjects…

Holy Land Day Ten (Monday): The Southern Steps

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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 and deliv…

Holy Land Day Seven (Friday): David & Saul At 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 spoke…

Holy Land Day Six (Thursday): Jericho

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Today as part of our Holy Land pilgrimage, we'll be spending some time at Jericho, and reading from Joshua chapter 6 in the Hebrew Scriptures

This is, of course, the story of how Joshua and the Hebrew people conquered the great walled city of Jericho without a siege.  The text tells us that all they did was march around the city, as God commanded them, and the walls miraculously fell down.

In the 1980s the Irish band The Call recorded a wonderful song entitled "The Walls Came Down" that included these lyrics drawn directly from Joshua 6:

Well they blew the horns
And the walls came down
They'd all been warned
And the walls came down
They stood there laughing
They're not laughing anymore
The walls came down... 

Then the band shifts from singing about Jericho to a topic that was pressing during the time the song was popular:

Well they blew the horns
And the walls came down
They'd all been warned
But the walls came down
I don't think there are any Russians
And there ain'…

Holy Land Day Five (Wednesday): Caesarea Philippi

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

Ancient Canaanites worshipped here 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 still…

Holy Land Day Four (Tuesday): Renewal of Baptism

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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.

That particular site also happens to be the spot where the Israelites miraculously crossed the Jordan River on their way to enter 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 out of …

Holy Land Day Three (Monday): Mt. Of Precipice

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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 grumbling that he's nobody special ("Isn't this Joseph's son?"), and how dare he make the extraordinary claim that he is the Messiah, Jesus goes on to chide them for th…

Holy Land Day One (Friday): Departure

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For the next nearly two weeks I will be leading another tour group to the Holy Land (my seventh such group and my eighth overall trip to Israel), and the daily devotions during this 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

Tomorrow 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 designation I have been given by the tour company indicates I am a tour host... so, there's that.

But t…

Ticking Away The Moments

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For time is inches.  W.H. Auden

I've been thinking lately about how interesting our perceptions of time are, and how those perceptions change depending on our perspective. 

For example, there is a perception of Time that makes it feel as though it lasts forever. 

You know this feeling when you are waiting in line at the DMV or enduring watching a kids' talent show where your kid went first and now you feel obliged to sit through all of the other kids and their "talents." 

But Time also feels fleeting when you are doing something that you enjoy.  You know this feeling when you decide to close your eyes "just for a minute" on a Sunday afternoon, and you wake up hours later with drool on the couch pillow. 

The other day this snippet from a poem by W.H. Auden showed up in my morning reading, and I wanted to share:  
In headaches and in worryVaguely life leaks away,And Time will have his fancyTo-morrow or to-day. This poem reminds me of two very important things that …

Not A One Size Fits All

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"...there is no deeper pathos in the spiritual life of man than the cruelty of righteous people."  - Reinhold Niebuhr

When I was fifteen years old, I didn't really stop believing in God per se... I just stopped caring. 

There were a thousand little moments that contributed to my agnosticism, but there was one in particular that has stuck with me for years.

It was on a Sunday night and as was our custom in Baptist-world, we were in church.  I was sitting in a whole row of teenagers that night, right behind one of the church elders (deacons, for all you non-Baptist types). 

We were a giggly bunch that evening.  The services were mind-numbingly boring, so we amused ourselves by passing notes, flirting--you know, just kids being kids. 

I wasn't even all that talkative, but for some reason, that elder singled me out.  It was probably because I was the outsider in the group---the only kid in the pew who hadn't been raised in the church, and whose parents he wasn't frien…

Being Fully Present In The Present

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I had this church member many years ago who absolutely thrived on conflict and drama.  

Her favorite thing to do was to create a problem through gossip, innuendo, or straight-up lying, and then put herself forward as the only person who could solve the issue. 

I once told someone that it felt like the woman was suffering from Churchy-Munchausen-By-Proxy syndrome.  

I later learned that she would do the same thing in her neighborhood, community organizations where she volunteered, and even in her family.  

I also learned that there were significant aspects of her personal life that were out of control and complete chaos.  She placed tremendous pressure on herself and internalized all of the trials and tribulations her family faced.  

It became clear that it was far easier for her to create problems and then try (unsuccessfully) to solve them than it was to face the real issues she was dealing with on a daily basis.  

I think we all do this to some extent--maybe not as severely as my former c…