The Need for a Life-Verse

I am currently working through Robby Gallaty’s newest book, The Forgotten Jesus. Pastor Gallaty’s goal in this book it to rediscover the lost Jewishness of the New Testament. It’s a great book, and I highly recommend it for any Christian seeking to deepen their faith (both lay and clergy). In chapter one, Gallaty discusses what he calls, “Bloated Christian Syndrom.” Essentially, we often overload our minds with massive amounts of basic introductory information about the Bible, but we never go any deeper. Gallaty says, “Learning biblical information doesn’t automatically produce spiritual growth. Having the right information is necessary, but it is insufficient. True growth must also involve repetition and reiteration of deep spiritual truths and their application to one’s own life.” (The Forgotten Jesus, pg. 33).

I believe that Pastor Gallaty makes a crucial point; we never allow the weight of a passage to just speak into our lives for a prolonged period of time. A few months back, I was asked to preach at a chapel service for my Seminary, United Theological Seminary (Dayton, Ohio). It just so happened to be the chapel service in which all the perspective students would also be attending. Therefore, to be cliche, we went with the theme of being called by God into ministry, and I chose to preach from Isaiah 6.

For five straight weeks, I read this text multiple times a day and just let the weight of it rest on my soul. For weeks on end, this passage of scripture became the very breath of God in my life. It was the first time that I had allowed a passage of scripture to speak into my life for such a long period of time. At first, I thought it would become boring and stale; however, every time I read through it, it spoke much-needed life into my spirit. It was from this moment on that I realized what a life-verse was and the need for them.

I have three life-verses: Romans 1:16; Isaiah 6; and Matthew 16:18. Every morning, I wake up and preach these truths to myself. These three passages are what help me cling to Christ and not burn out of ministry. I have found the importance of having life-verses and allowing the weight of those texts to rest on your soul and drive you closer to Jesus. So for the remainder of this post, I just want to share with you why I have chosen these as my life verses.

Why Romans 1:16? Frankly, it is because of Lecrae and Trip Lee. Back in high school, I loved hip-hop; however, much of the popular hip-hop music didn’t help with my Christian walk but often was counter to it. Back in 2006, I was introduced to music by Lecrae. It wasn’t corny Christian rap music, but it was quality hip-hop music with a positive Christian message. Subsequently, because of Lecrae, I was introduced to music by Trip Lee, and the rest is history. (Sorry Lecrae, but Trip Lee has been my favorite artist…but don’t get it twisted, I love ya, and God used you to change my life). I’m sold out on the whole 1-1-Six clique, even have it tattooed on my arm (which has allowed me to share the gospel with numerous people).

But after being a pastor and reading the text more clearly, the reason Romans 1:16 is my life verse is because of Romans 1:15 & 17. Here’s what they say: “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:15-17, ESV).

Paul says that he is eager to preach the gospel to those in Rome. But why? Becuase “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” But how is it the power of God unto salvation? Because in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed through Paul’s faith which then produces faith in others. It is because of the faith of Lecrae, Trip Lee, and those who discipled me who were eager and unashamed to share the gospel with me that faith was produced in me. Now, I too am unashamed and eager to share the gospel with others.

Why Isaiah 6? After working through that text for over a month, I came to a new realization about being called into ministry. Isaiah 6:8 is a pretty well-known verse that is put onto coffee mugs and t-shirts; however, it is often isolated away from its original context. We love to here: “The Lord said: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.'” The problem is that we stop reading. We don’t continue on and see to whom Isaiah is to preach and what his message is to be. God decrees that Isaiah’s ministry will have a have a hardening effect and that people will actually be driven away from God. He is to go and preach to people who will not listen to or understand what he is saying. I don’t know about you, but that is a hard message to hear as a pastor. You want me to go and pastor a church and pretty much kill it? I’m sorry God, I think I misheard you. Can you say that again?

Isaiah’s response is, “Um, how long do you want me to do this for?” And we think God is going to be merciful and encourage him, but then were surprised when God answers: “Until it’s a wasteland and only a tenth remain.” God doesn’t give Isaiah a length of time but rather how a sign of when he has accomplished his mission. I believe God does this so that Isaiah has to rely on the Spirit of God rather than himself to get through this time. It’s easier to make it through a set time frame than it is an indefinite period of time. Because Isaiah didn’t know how long this period of decline would last, he had to rely on the power of God to get him through day-by-day. He couldn’t count down the days because he never knew when it would end.

This passage has been one that I cling to in pastoral ministry. There will come days when you feel like an utter failure because people will walk away from the church and blame you. It is in those days that I turn to this passage and remind myself that successful ministry doesn’t always equate to growing numbers in the pews, but sometimes it’s the opposite. I love how the Rev. Mike Slaughter puts it when talking about his first year at Ginghamsburg: “I grew the church from 90 to 68 in my first year here.” And if anyone knows how it finished, Mike just retired from 38 years of faithful ministry at Ginghamsburg, and under his leadership, the church went from 90 to 68 to 5,000. Sometimes addition happens by subtraction.

That brings me to my final life verse. In the latter part of Matthew 16:18, Christ promises, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This verse takes a lot of weight off of the shoulders of pastors who believe in this promise. While we are the servants of Christ and his Church, it is ultimately Christ who builds his Church and not us. If your church doesn’t grow, it doesn’t mean that you are a failure. If your church does grow, it doesn’t mean that you are successful. Success is determined by how well you labor where you are. Do you love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength? Do you love your neighbor as yourself? Do you share the Gospel? Those determine your success, and the building up of Christ’s Church is left up to Christ.

Finally, I love the line, “…and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” We often think of that as a defensive verse. That no matter what attacks the Church, nothing shall conquer it; however, we need to read the verse more carefully. Gates were used as a city’s security and defense mechanism. The Church is called to be God’s active and offensive force in the world that drives back evil and darkness and pushes forth God’s love and light. Therefore, the gates of hell will not be able to stop God’s active force in the world that brings forth his Gospel.

So do you have a life verse? Do you allow a particular passage of scripture to just weigh on you soul for a prolonged period of time? Every day I wake up, I preach these verse to myself. By doing so, my relationship with God is not affected by the highs and lows of ministry, but it is predicated on who He is and the promises He has made. I strongly encourage you to refrain from Bloated Christian Syndrom, and instead stay in a text for a month and allow it to speak to you over and over again until it is woven into your very being.

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with You!

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Essentials For Church Camp Part 1: The Bible

(This is a monthly blog that I write for Lakeside For Youth, a church camp that I help out with every year. This is part one of a series that’ll I’ll be writing until camp starts at the end of June.) 

When my wife and I travel, Shelby always makes a packing list so that we don’t forget anything. I’m the opposite. I procrastinate until two hours before we leave, and I try to pack everything I think I will need. Typically what happens is that Shelby remembers everything, and I will forget at least three things that I needed to pack. Here is the moral of the story: make a list of what you need to bring to camp.

My goal is not to write a blog about everything you need from enough t-shirts, socks, and underwear; rather, I want to write a list of the spiritual essentials you should bring with you to camp. So for the next few months, every time that I am writing I will be writing about what you should bring to help you experience Jesus in a deeper and more profound way.

If you were to ask me the one thing everyone should bring to Lakeside it would be a Bible. When I say a Bible, I do not mean a Bible app on your phone or iPad or any other electrical device. When I say bring a Bible, I mean bring a Bible that has pages made of paper. Here’s why: when you use an electronic device as your bible, you will be tempted to check other apps or messages while you should be concentrating on God’s Word. Anytime that I have tried to use my iPad or Phone to study God’s Word, I always find myself distracted with messages and notifications scrolling on the top of my screen. I promise if you eliminate the opportunity for distractions, you will get a lot more out of your week at Lakeside.

If you’re new to reading the Bible you may ask the question: what translation should I read? The best translation for you is the one you read and understand. However, the overflow of Biblical translations may leave you at a loss as to which one to chose. My hope is to help you understand the differences in translations and how to choose a translation that best fits you.

Translation committees essentially take two approaches when translating the Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) texts to English. Some committees use a process called formal equivalence, which means they translate the Scriptures word-for-word from the original texts (i.e. ESV, NASB, KJV). Other committees use the process called dynamic equivalence, which translates more along the lines of thought-for-thought (i.e. NIV, NET, NLT). Recently, there have been two more approaches to language translation: paraphrase (The Message) and optimal equivalence (i.e. HCSB, CSB, NRSV).

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Many people prefer dynamic equivalents, such as the New International Version or New Living Translation, because they feel that they are easier to read. While they are easier to read, you have to trust that the translators made the right interpretation for you.

As a pastor and theologian, I prefer a word-for-word translation. The English Standard Version is my primary translation. I use it for personal study as well as the translation I preach from. I believe that as you grow in faith the more you want to move towards a word-for-word translation because you desire to know the exact words used in a particular passage you are reading.

If I’m not reading the ESV, then I will be reading the HCSB/CSB (the CSB is the updated version of HSCB, which was released this year). The CSB uses what is called an optimal equivalence approach, which means in the many places throughout Scripture where a word-for-word rendering is clearly understandable, a literal translation is used. When a word-for-word rendering might obscure the meaning for a modern audience, a more dynamic translation is used. If you’re someone looking for a translation, I highly recommend the CSB.

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When it comes to paraphrased translations, I really try to avoid them altogether. A paraphrase is a version in which the author expresses the Scripture in his own words. The most popular paraphrases are the Message and the Living Bible. While paraphrases can be helpful or inspirational, it is best to read them alongside an actual translation of God’s Word.

Ultimately, there is no perfect translation as all have their strengths and weaknesses. Something I have come to realize in learning Greek and Hebrew is that you still have to interpret the text in some form when translating it into English. Again, the best translation is the one you read and the one that helps you know God in a deeper and more profound way.

Let me make some recommendations. If you have never read the Bible or have found it difficult, try reading the Christian Standard Bible (CSB), New International Version (NIV), or the New Living Translation (NLT). If you have been reading a dynamic equivalence for a while now, try switching to a word-for-word translation such as the English Standard Version (ESV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the CSB, or the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). Most importantly, just get into the Word of God. You’ll never be able to hear from God if you never open His Word.

I can’t wait to see you at camp, and remember to bring your Bibles!

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!

 

Guatemala Mission Trip, Day 5

I’m sorry I didn’t post last night. Shelby had to use my iPad for band practice last night because she is leading worship this morning. We woke up nice and early yesterday to make sure we could see the sun rise over the mountains; however, it was really hazey and cloudy, and so we were unable to see it. So we took off on a day full of adventures. After getting stuck in traffic for awhile and stopping off at a superstore, we may our way to the coffee plantation of Cafe Azotea.

This was a dream come true for me. As many of you know, I am a huge coffee fanatic! I was finally able to see how the process of coffee from seed to cup happens. Our guide talked us through the history of coffee, the varieties of coffee, how different regions affect the flavor of coffee, and finally how they process it. After a history lesson, we were able to go outside and see the beans drying. Not only were we able to see them, WE WERE ABLE TO TOUCH THEM, HANDLE THEM, AND THROUGH THEM IN THE AIR!!! It was so much fun. It took everything in me not to start rolling around in the beans. After playing in the beans, we went over and watached the fermentation and washing process. We then were able to try the different roast of beans they had (by eating them, not drinking), and we also tried some local cocoa. We then traveled through the plantation to see the coffee cherries growing on the trees. It was such a beautiful scenery. Shelby has plenty of photos that I’m sure she will allow me to share. We finished the tour with a coffee tasting, and it was a great cup of coffee (Shelby even said it tasted good black). Shelby and I bought a bag of medium roast coffee, a jar of coffee jelly, and of course Shelby got her routine mug (I think she’s more obsessed with mugs than I am with coffee). What I am most excited about is the green coffee I bought! I am so excited to start roasting, and if it turns out well, I would be glad to share with y’all. 

After leaving the plantation we drove towards the volcano of Pacaya. We stopped of to eat some of the famous Pollo Compraro for lunch. We had been hearing about how good the chicken was all week, and it didn’t disappoint. We then embarked to the top of the volcano. We drove up as high as we could before embarking on horse back. Here’s a Gary Brill joke for you: “Gary Brill doesn’t ride a horse; He carries the horse between his legs.” But seriously, Gary hates horses and only made it about 40 minutes riding the horse before opting to walk the rest of the way up and down. However, I enjoyed riding the horse because it made me reminisce about how John Wesley rode thousands of miles praying, reading, and writing on the back of a horse. As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, it was a really cloudy and hazey day. The top of the volcano was covered in a cloud. We were literally riding horses up an active volcano in a cloud. It was so dense in some parts that I couldn’t see the person 10 feet away from me, at best they were a shadowy figure. It was also chilly and wet (we were in a cloud). In my mind I was picturing us going to Camelot or a scene in Lord of the Rings. It was eerily exhilarating. When we got to the top of the volcano, we stopped at the Lava Store, which has been featured and advertised by National Geographic. Everything they sell is made by local artist and encorporates lava rocks within the jewelry. We then went further into the volcano and roasted marshmallows and made s’mores over hot rocks. We didn’t get to see actual lava flowing because of the cloudiness, but it was an amazing experience. To pick up rocks that are hot or finding pockets of hot air all around the top of the volcano was intriguing in and of itself.

I am very thankful that Edger and Fountain spent their day taking us two these two amazing places, and I’m also thankful that Gary and Jeannie allowed us to do this. I can cross of 1 1/2 things of my bucket list (I still want to see flowing lava). I will soon be able to cross off another when I start roasting coffee. What a great God that we have! 

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you! 

Israel Immersion Trip, Day 6

It was a very cold and fridged day in Jerusalem. We started off by traveling to a Jewish cemetery that overlooks the old city of Jerusalem. With the sun just rising, the city sparkled and shined with splendor. It was one of the most beautiful sights I have seen in my brief lifetime of traveling. While standing in this cemetery on the Mount of Olives, we could see the Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock, the City of David, the Golden Gates, the Garden of Gethsemane, and much more. There is a beautiful thing about this cemetery, it was built on the hill overlooking the Golden Gate and the Temple Mount. The Golden Gate is the place where the Messiah and the resurrected people will enter through into the city of Jerusalem and make their way to the Temple to establish the Messianic Kingdom. These people who are buried in this cemetery have front row seats to the resurrection and the establishing of God’s eternal kingdom on earth.

We then headed down from the top of the Mount of Olives into the Garden of Gethsemane. We were privileged enough to be allowed into the Romitaggio del Getsemani, which is a private part of the garden that no one is allowed into. While standing in the garden, I could see all the places in which Jesus would spend his last few hours on earth, and at this moment, I was standing in the place where it all began. It was in this garden that he was crushed in spirit over what was about to come. It was here that Jesus prayed so heard he began to sweat blood. It was here that he gathered his half drunken crew to pray with him. And it was here that one of his close friends betrayed him with a kiss. As Jesus prepared for his final hours, I look at the location in which I am standing and in which he was praying.

As Jesus prepared for his final hours, I look at the location in which I am standing and in which he was praying. In front of me is the beautiful city of Jerusalem in all of its glory. Behind me is the Judean desert, where if Jesus wanted to escape would have been the perfect place to run. He could’ve hidden in the countryside for years and would’ve never been found. However, Jesus stays and he prays, and he prays, and he prays until it’s time for the Son of Man to be handed over. When that time comes, Jesus willingly submits to the Will of his Father, and he begins the suffering that saves you and me.

Next to the garden is the Church of All Nations, which was built in 1924. Every dome on the church was donated by a different nation to signify solidarity. The altar of the Church contains a large stone that is traditionally where Jesus laid and prayed during this night in the garden. This place was truly a place that was filled with prayer, and so I went and sat beside the bedrock and I prayed, and I prayed, and I prayed as Jesus had on that dark but beautiful night.

We then traveled across the street to the Davidson Archaeological Park where the old city and the Temple Mount has been excavated. As we stood on what was the original street in Jesus’ day, I looked up at the top of the never ending temple wall. It really put into perspective how massive this Temple was in the time of Jesus. Along the street, there were shops that would’ve been used for mikvehs (Jewish ritual cleansings) and the selling of animals for sacrifices. There was also a pile of stone that was left from the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 due to the Jewish Revolt.

We then worked our way over to the staircase of the Hulda Gate. This was the main staircase used to enter into the Temple. It would’ve been up these steps that Jews walked up to offer animal sacrifices. It would’ve been at the top of these stairs that there were moneychangers. Jesus would’ve walked up these stairs and with whip in hand driven out the money changers. I do not take lightly the place where I am visiting. I am literally walking in the footsteps of Jesus.

After leaving this site, we went through security to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, also known as the Wailing Wall to those outside of the Jewish Community. The Western Wall is where Jews go to pray and be near where the Temple used to stand. Jews for the longest time (and still today) are not allowed on the Temple Mount for various reasons (breaks Torah law and it’s controlled by Islam). So they began to pray at the Western Wall. Since it’s considered an Orthodox Synagogue, we had to put on kippahs (yamaka) as we entered this sacred space. Like the many Jews that accompanied us, we stood there at the Western Wall and we began to pray to YHWH. This too was a place filled with prayer; prayers of morning, prayers of rejoicing, prayers for God to come and restore what was.

We ended our day with going to the Israeli Holocaust Museum, Yad-Vashem. The name stands for, “A name and a place.” The Holocaust is always a difficult period to stomach for me. To see the devastation that ideologies can leave in their wake for the sake of progress; that because certain people are born into a certain ethnicity are treated as less. These people who were supposed to be “God’s elect people.” They were decimated for no other reason than being born to Jewish parents.

The structure itself is quite an interesting design. It is a triangular cement building that is not particularly long, which you would think that this building would be immensely long to remember all the Jews who were lost in this horrific time period. However, they make the building short for a specific reason: the journey looks short and easy with the light at the end of the tunnel only a few hundred feet away. However, as you begin to walk through you begin to zig-zag and become disoriented with where you are. As you being to read the information and look at the artifacts, you get lost as you look for the way forward. While the beginning of the end looked easy, it was a long and disorienting journey to make it. This design symbolized struggle the Jewish people went through in this short amount of time in human history; however, it has had a profound and longing effect on us.

The hardest part of Yad-Vashem was the memorial dedicated to the children murdered during the Holocaust. It was a dark room that used lights and the Gabriel’s Horn mirror effect to represent the millions of children who needlessly lost their lives. While in this dark room there were voices reading of the names, age, and origin of these murdered children. At the end, we all gathered together as a group and we all said the name, age, and place of origin of one person we heard.

The Holocaust really reminds us of the importance of the Imago Dei, that we are all created in the image of God. While we may not be able to agree on everything, this is the one foundation as Christians we must hold fast too. May God grant you the eyes to see his creation as he does.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!

Israel Immersion Trip, Day 3

Jesus, Jesus, and a whole lot of Jesus. Our day was filled with the sites of Jesus’s life and ministry in Galilee. What better way to spend a day in the Holy Land then going to the places where Jesus lived, preached, and made the Kingdom of God a realization? The best surprise of the day came early on. Rocky had opened up the curtain, and at that moment we saw the Sea of Galilee for the first time as the sun began to rise. After marveling for a few minutes, we went downstairs to watch the sun completely rise behind the mountains. Once we left our hotel, our day was a non-stop adventure across the Galilean countryside.

We began our journey by traveling to the city of Nazareth. This once small town of 400 people in the days of Jesus is now a thriving Arab city of 75,000. We made our way to the ancient location of Nazareth located on top of a mountain. It was there that we visited the Basilica of the Annunciation. At this grand basilica in a sunken altar, we found the place where tradition tells us that the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus. This house that Mary lived in was a small stone room. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to have Gabriel appear before her and announce this news. Tradition has it that Gabriel first appeared to Mary at the village’s well, but she was so frightened that she ran home and it was there that Gabriel reappeared and announced the good news.

After leaving the where the annunciation took place, we traveled to the Mount of Precipice. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 4, Jesus enters the synagogue and begins to read the Isaiah scroll. He declares the year of jubilee and that the prophecy of Isaiah has been fulfilled with his coming. This enrages the crowd in the synagogue and they drive him out to the Mount of Precipice. It was here that they planned to throw Jesus off the top of this mountain that dropped over a 1/4 of a mile. However, through a divine act of God, Jesus escapes and walks through their midst. Tradition calls this mountain the Leaping Mountain because it is believed that Jesus jumped to escape from the mob. However, this is the first time I have heard this explanation. I believe that it preaches really well, but I don’t know if I would come to that conclusion. However, while I stood at the edge of the mountain, I felt like I could see all of Israel. It was a really long way down. We made the joke that “if you’re going to throw someone off a cliff, you really mean a cliff. While I was standing there at the edge of the world, I could just imagine what Jesus was going through. Here he is standing at the edge of the world in front of an angry mob with nowhere to go. Either he jumps to his doom or the mob beats him and throws him to his doom. The only place Jesus had to go was into the presence of God. At this moment, Jesus trusted God. Whether that was him jumping or God performing some other miracle doesn’t really matter to me; what matters is that in an insurmountable situation, Jesus trusted God and God delivered Jesus.

After leave Mount of Precipice, we traveled to the traditional site where Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. On the Mount of Beatitudes, Jesus sat teaching in a natural amphitheater that looked out over the Sea of Galilee. While we were there, we took time to read the beatitudes and just reflect on the teaching of Jesus, but to also visualize the space in which Jesus preached this sermon. As I looked out over the sea, I sat down on a rock and just imagined what it must have been like to sit near Jesus and to hear him preach this sermon on the mount. How hundreds and thousand flocked to this man who preached good news to them. It was in this place that we got to experience Israel undefiled by modern construction and really experience what the land would have looked like in the time of Jesus.

After leaving the Mount of Beatitudes, we traveled down the mountain to the Church of Saint Peter Mensa Christi. In the shadow of the mountain where Jesus preached the sermon on the mount was the place where Peter jumps out of the boat when he sees his resurrected friend and savior. So excited, Peter doesn’t even wait for the others to take the boat into shore but jumps out and swims to meet Jesus on the shore. It is in John 21 where we see this story of Peter running to the resurrected Christ and embracing him even after having denied him three times before Christ’s crucifixion. Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him and to feed his sheep. It was in this place, on this shoreline, that all of this took place. I was standing and walking the shoreline where Peter jumped out of the boat and swam to his best friend, who also happened to be his Lord and Savior. I just stood there and looked out to sea with my hand in the water contemplating the emotions running through Peter. As the cold water washed over my hand, I just image Peter jumping out of the boat and leaving everything for the sake of being in the presence of Jesus. As I stood on this shore, I thought about what I would do if I saw Jesus standing on the shoreline. Would I leave everything behind and swim through this cold water to experience his warm embrace?

 

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Sea Of Galilee Shore where Peter walked with Jesus.

 

 

After leaving Mensa Christi, we traveled to the town of Capernaum. In Matthew 4:13, we are told that Jesus moves to Capernaum. It is here that Jesus begins his Galilean Ministry as the Messiah. This would remain his and his disciples’ base of operation for the duration of his three-year ministry. Capernaum becomes known as the town of Jesus. In this town, we were able to examine both a synagogue and a church that were in close proximity to one another and most likely we both in existence in the 4th or 5th century, a rare occurrence in the early church. I was standing in the city where Jesus lived and preached. I walked through the synagogue where Jesus probably taught. It was here that it all started. Jesus discipled Peter, James, and John along with the others, and from here the good news began to be preached to the ends of the earth.

 

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Synagogue In Capernaum

 

We finished our day by going to see a 2,000 year old boat that was found in the sea of Galilee. It is believed to be the type of boat that Jesus may have sailed around in. After examining the boat, we went on a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee. I no longer have to picture what it must have been like sailing across the Sea of Galilee; I have now experienced it for myself. While it was calm tonight, I could imagine how scary it must have been when a storm came out of nowhere and threatened the disciples’ lives. Here I was, in the middle of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus stopped a storm, where Jesus walked on water, and where Jesus did a lot of his discipling of his inner 12. Today was all about Jesus, and may every day be about him!

 

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!

 

Israel Immersion Trip, Day 2

Today we woke up to it storming outside, which is a rarity for Israel as it only rains here 30 days per year. But through the rain, we made our way to Caesarea to start our day. Caesarea became a prominent city in Israel towards the end of the 1st century b.c. when Herod the Great built it into a major port city. The construction was completed in 12 years around the 10 or 9 b.c. The city would transform rapidly into a great commercial center, and in 6 b.c. it became the headquarters of the Roman government in Palestine. Caesarea would become a prominent city in the Book of Acts starting in chapter 8. It is also in Caesarea that we have archeological evidence of the existence of Pontious Pilot, who erected a building in dedication to Emperor Tiberius in the First Century. As prefect, Pontious Pilot would have left Caesarea and traveled to Jerusalem to try Jesus as a criminal. It was a humbling experience to walk through the ruins of the grandest city of ancient Israel. It was from this place that God’s people would be ruled and oppressed by the Roman government; however, today it is a city of ruins.

Luckily, the rain had stopped towards the end of our time in Caesarea before we headed to Mount Carmel. We visited the site that is traditionally believed to be the place where the events of 1 Kings 18 took place. We stood atop of the mountain and looked down into the Kishon Valley. In this moment the story of Elijah became all the more real. High on top of this mountain, Elijah represented YHWH, the God of Israel, and challenged the prophets of Baal and Asherah. It was in that spot that Elijah called down the fire of heaven. It was in that spot that Elijah captured the false prophets. And it was from there that Elijah led the false prophets down into the Kishon Valley and slaughtered them.

From where we were standing, we could see a land soaked with biblical history, from the story of Elijah, to the history of the Kishon Valley, and off in the distance we could see Mt. Precipice and Mt. Tabor. It was on Mount Precipice that the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus as Messiah and tried to throw him off the edge. It was also on Mount Tabor that the Transfiguration of Jesus took place. In our eye-view, we could see the places where Jesus lived and ministered to the people of Galilee.

After leaving Mt. Carmel, we traveled to the other side of the Kishon Valley to Sepphoris (alternate spellings: Zippori). Sepphoris was the third largest city in Israel back in the time of Jesus. This major city was only an hours walk away from the town of Nazareth. As we walked through the ancient city’s ruins, we could look over to the mountain where present-day Nazareth stands. It was surprising to find out that Jesus lived only a few short miles from this major ancient city. In this city, there were 18 synagogues found in excavation (the average being 1 or 2 per city). It was also a very Hellenistic Jewish city. While we were there, we walked the limestone paved streets to the Nile House. The Nile House was a grand house with three massive wings connected by corridors and beautiful mosaics that ran throughout the house. We then traveled to the top of the hill where we visited the Dionysus House, a mansion built in the 3rd century a.d. and later destroyed a century later by an earthquake. Before leaving, we also saw another Roman Theater.

We finished our night with a visitation to the Jezreel Valley Winery, where we shared stories and tasted three different wines. The owners told us of how the art of wine making was lost and how they were attempting to rediscover and re-establish this lost art that meant so much to the nation of Israel. We said a blessing before we drank the wine roughly translated as: “Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe,

Creator of the fruit of the vine.” Wine is a powerful symbol for us as Christians. First, it represents the blood of Jesus that takes away the sins of his people. We drink of the wine in remembrance of what he has done for us and in anticipation of his return until we dine at his eternal banquet table.

Secondly, wine represents the life that comes from death. It is only by the death of the grape that wine can be made. When the grape is pressed, the natural yeast in the skin begins to ferment from the natural sugars in the grape and wine begins to form. It is only through the death of the grape can we receive the new gift of wine. So when we drink of the cup, we remember that through the death of Christ we are being made into a new creation.

So on our second day, we experienced many places that were vital to the story of God throughout the bible. While the day began and ended with rain, we did experience the warmth of the sun for most of the day. We finished by celebrating with good wine and fellowship in the Valley where Jesus made wine for his friends at a wedding. Tomorrow we will experience the Sea of Galilee and visit the hometown of Jesus.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!

Israel Immersion Trip, Day 1

After a 10 hour flight from Newark, we landed in Tel Aviv at 6:30 a.m. local time and hit the ground running. With no time for coffee, we began our day with modern day Israel. Our first stop was to a Jewish Boys School, where we learned about the education system in Israel. We also heard from a man named Aviv, who served as deputy mayor of Lod, Israel. He explained to us how the Jews and Arabs live at peace in the city.

After leaving the school, we traveled to Save A Child’s Heart Hospital, followed by Save A Child’s Heart Home (think Ronald McDonald House). Save A Child’s Heart is one of the largest undertakings in the world, providing urgently needed pediatric heart surgery and follow-up care for indigent children from developing countries. Their mission is to improve the quality of pediatric cardiac care for children from countries where the heart surgery they need is unobtainable. Thousands of children are alive today because of a small group of medical professionals who volunteer their time and expertise to perform life-saving cardiac surgery and train local medical personnel. All children, regardless of race, religion, sex, color, or financial status receive the best possible care that modern medicine has to offer.We even got to hang out with some of the children who are recovering or preparing for surgery.

After leaving the hospital, we traveled to Tel Aviv and ate lunch at a local restaurant, and it was interesting. We received many dishes of different foods, which pushed me beyond my comfort zone because I am a picky eater. However, I did try the majority of the food brought before us, but ultimately I stuck with lamb and kouskous as my main meal.

Following lunch, we went to the old city of Jaffa (the biblical city of Joppa). While traveling the city on foot, we saw the “traditional.” site for “Simon the Tanner’s House” in Acts 10. I say traditional because it’s believed to be where Peter had his vision of eating uncleaned food before going to Cornelius’s house; however, there is no way to prove it. In light of being there, we took out our Bibles and read a portion of the story.

We then walked down to an opening where we could see the Mediterranean Sea.If you are familiar with your Bible, then you know that Joppa was the major port city in the story of Jonah. It was in Joppa that Jonah set sail for Tarshish instead of going to Ninevah. This opening we were standing at looked out over where the port used to be. So while today was more about modern day Israel, we did get to experience some history of the biblical narrative.

We finished our day by visiting Independence Hall in Tel Aviv. It was here in 1948 that Israel announced and signed their Declaration of Independence, and for the first time since 70 A.D. were once again their own country. As I reflect back on my first day here in Israel, it’s striking to see how secular this part of the country is. Only 20% of Israel considers themselves religious. In a land steeped in religious history, the majority of the people do not even consider themselves religious. A nation that was birthed out of and defined by God choosing them no longer sees that as defining. While I have enjoyed this first day, I look forward to visiting the more historical and biblical sites on our trip.

Thanks for reading, and may the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!

 

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Port of Joppa
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Simon the Tanner’s House
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Statue of Jonah’s Whale

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