Beautiful Things

Stunning.

That may be the best word to describe the overwhelming sense of awe one experiences when entering into The Land. Even the decor in the airport. God has indeed blessed the people of Israel with an amazing and undeniable ability to reflect our Creator’s creativity!

In our first stop we visited the port city of Jaffa. It’s a fascinating city, with a rich history that connects God’s love to the world. Our guide was unpacking it’s biblical heritage when he made an interesting observation: “Every beautiful structure in the Bible was started by the Jews, and completed by the Gentiles.”

I don’t think I heard another word he said.

Started by the Jews. Finished by the Gentiles. The Temple’s foundation was Jerusalem stone, and completed with cedar from Lebanon. The Gospel goes first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. The Bride won’t be arrayed in all her glory until all the nations are invited.

The tapestry God is crafting starts in Jerusalem. The one He is finishing will include thread, yarn and cotton from every tribe and language on the face of the earth.  God loves His creation. Every one of us. His love and beauty are on display for all to see, and is still yet to be seen.

We have a part in the completion of the story.

We are both seam and seamstress.

We are both clay and potter.

We are both ink and writer.

What is God making you into? What kind of song? What type of sculpture?

Not to worry! Three I know for sure. It’s beautiful. It will take people’s breath away.

And. He will finish what He has started.

First to the Jew. Then to the Gentile. Until the whole world knows that God makes beautiful things out of us.

To the praise and glory of His Name.

 

Freeing the Hand of God

There’s an interesting and unique dynamic among the people of Israel. A tension that must be lived with on an everyday basis. There’s no escaping this daily reality.

 

How to live with in grace and live with unimaginably pain filled memories. How to live in freedom and not live in fear. How to look forward and not be afraid to look back.

 

I’m not an extensive traveler. But in my limited excursions, I can tell you what I have come to observe with my eyes. I’ve seen the unimaginable poverty of Haiti. Exposed to the bleak conditions of India. Experienced the paralyzing despair of the Deep South. Observed the grim wrinkle-laden faces of the post-Communist Eastern Europeans.

 

Everyone wears their pain. We each just wear it differently.

 

Then there is Israel. A people and a land who live with the daily awareness that most of the world is against them. Not indifferent towards them. Actually against them. Weapons are trained on them from literally every direction. Simply for being Jews.

 

In So Cal we live with the possibility of an earthquake on a daily basis. We know that the Big One is coming. We also know it has been over 25 years since the last significant quake hit us. So still knowing that the possibility exists, we live as though it hasn’t happened. And won’t happen again.

 

But earthquakes don’t have faces.

 

Today, we met a family who saw the face of terror.

 

The Ortiz family. Their son opened a package on The Jewish holiday of Purim. A time of gift-giving. This ‘gift’ was a bomb that cut through his entire body. By the grace of God, he is alive and living a somewhat regular life, attending college in New York. But how do you go on living, knowing the horrific combination of pain, anger and fear that lives in your heart!

 

How do you get out of bed? How do you laugh again, knowing that there are people who want you to die? How do you give gifts again, living with the memories of your son’s blood on your walls? How do love again, when the resentment and anger rise with you in the morning?

 

These were the questions we had for our new friends. Their answer I will never forget. It may be the most important reason for my coming to Israel this year:

 

Forgiveness freed the hands of God

 

While I know and believe in a Sovereign God, I found this answer to be compelling on so many levels. Because the essence of the Christian faith is predicated on God’s unmerited forgiveness to His incredibly rebellious creation. Once forgiven by God, the highest form of love by the forgiven is indeed forgiveness. It may be the most certain and powerful expression by those who have come to understand our own depravity in the face of God’s unwavering offer of grace to those who can comprehend even a small fraction of our unworthiness of such kindness.

 

Forgiveness frees the hand of God

 

It allows the flow of grace to continue unobstructed.

 

It allows the expression of the Gospel to have a face.

 

It allows the recipient to discover the trailhead to the headwaters of continuous refreshing.

 

It allows the captive to be set free. And remain free.

 

It is what sets the Christian faith apart from all others.

 

So today I choose freedom. It’s why Jesus came into this world.

 

Will you choose it as well?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rescuing

“I don’t know what a Jew is,

I only know what a human being is.”

Pastor Andre Trorme, Righteous Among the Nations, France


We have just returned from visiting Yad Vashem. The holocaust museum in Israel. As you might imagine, it is an incredibly moving and overwhelming experience. Words can’t describe.

Once again I am drawn to the people the Jews have named The Righteous Among the Nations. My eyes fill up as I consider the untold acts of heroism by men and women around Europe who saved Jews while putting their lives in harm’s way. Without an established network of communication, they did what seemed like the only right thing to do. They rescued.

The RATN were Catholics, Protestants, and Atheists. They were from Poland, Denmark, Italy and France. They were men and women. Young and old. Parents and grandparents. But they had one thing in common: a courageous love of human beings whose lives in were being placed in tremendous jeopardy. It mattered not that those who were being oppressed were not countrymen or kindred. It mattered not that they were compatriots or congregants. All that mattered was that they were human beings, and they needed the help of another human being. I plan to write much more about the RATN in the future.

A new horror has begun to emerge in our time. One in our own country. Yes, even in our backyard. There are thousands of young women who are being sold into sexual slavery in the United States. Some are trafficked from Asia and Europe, while others are abducted from the streets of the middle class suburbia and turned into a piece of property that belongs to a pimp, who works for an unthinkable monster perpetrating crimes against women at an alarming rate.

Friends, it’s Economics 101. Demand and supply. The sexual appetites of men have spiraled out of control with the easy and constant access to pornography. At some point, the male brain is no longer responsive to the simply viewing images. The eyes of a man are never satisfied, Solomon accurately noted. And a new holocaust is beginning to build momentum. Right under our noses. Hidden in plain sight.

“Rescue those being led away to death. Hold back those staggering toward slaughter.

If we say we knew nothing of this, does not He who weighs the heart perceive it? Will he not repay man according to his work?”

Confirmation

And the Lord said,”Rise and anoint him, for this is he.” 1Samuel 16:12

I started blogging on my first trip to Israel two years ago. My goal then, and now, was to help you see and feel a what I was experiencing. To make the invisible become a little more visible. However, I don’t think I can ever do justice to the mountains of Ein Gedi.

Ein Gedi is the remote dessert oasis that David retreated to in an effort to escape the murderous wrath of his father-in-law, King Saul. It is a unique blend of wasteland and a rock climbers paradise. Blazing hot, red sand combined with sheer, rugged and impossibly vertical cavernous walls lining the canyons of Ein Gedi. It is the perfect place to flee. One would have to be incredibly motivated to continue the pursuit once it had reached this region.

Which is exactly the case with King Saul. Overcome with jealousy for the new found and well deserved favor that David has achieved, the King is hellbent on ending the threat to the status quo. David has found a cave in the mountains of Ein Gedi, with enough room to accommodate his 600 men. (Trust me, it’s possible!)

The back story. Saul has proven to be a puppet king, doing what the people wanted rather than obeying the voice of the Lord. As a result, the Lord has had Samuel anoint David to be king. One problem. Saul is still on the throne. It is not a matter whether  David will wear the crown, but when. It is a promise he lives with, as well as a tension.

He is not the first person to live in the already and not yet. Caleb lived over forty between the time God promised him the hill country as an inheritance in the land of Canaan. Mary lived nine months, treasuring the knowledge that the baby she carried was no ordinary child.

Back to the story. David and his men are hunkered down in the back of one of the many deep caves of Ein Gedi. Suddenly loud voices are heard outside, accompanied by the distinct sounds of many horses. It’s Saul and his men! David’s men quake with fear. Then, in  walks Saul. Alone! He needs to “relieve himself.” Of all the caves! David’s men are buzzing, whispering into to his ears to seize the moment. This must be the Lord, they insist! Strike him and down and assume the promised kingdom. This is confirmation!

It would be hard to deny. Had  God really directed Saul into the one cave David had made his hiding place? The potentail for a Hollywood moment was there. Picture it: King walks into a cave by himself. Moments later, David emerges from the same cave holding the head of the King. All Saul’s men bow down and pledge their service to the new king. Must be God!

Did God want the boy who had taken down a giant named Goliath to become King by killing a man with his robe down? Imagine his first press conference. “Uh, King David, how did it happen? Tell us how you killed King Saul?” Next question!

Back to the cave. Despite overwhelming pressure to take the easy route of instant gratification and a spike in public approval, David refuses to take the bait. He knows that one day he will wear the crown. It’s not a matter if, but when. It’s not a matter of whether, but how.

He knows that what is gained through disobedience can only end in disaster.

Are you waiting for God has promised? Are you in the tension of the “already and not yet?” If so, you are in good company. Caleb, Mary and David would encourage to wait. To wait patiently. To wait on the Lord. He who promised is faithful, and He will do it. Even when all signs are pointing to confirmation, listen to that still small voice that says not yet. He is not slow in keeping word.

It’s not a matter of whether  He will, but how He will.

Crossing Ahead

I mentioned earlier that the theme of our time in Israel has been courage.  The subject continues to dominate the landscape of our experience. Yet it just dawned on me a moment ago. Call it an epiphany, or may be just a firm grasp of the obvious.

“Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous…” Joshua 1:6,7

It’s a huge hint as to what life will be like for the people of the promise. Yes, it will require courage to cross over the Jordan. But it will take an equal, if not greater, amount of courage to remain in the Land. Receiving the promise of God is one thing. Laying hold of it is another.

Perhaps this is just another metaphor of our lives as Christians. We spend an inordinate amount of time considering the offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. Once we step by faith into the promise of new life, we may mistakenly believe that this is both the beginning and the end of the Christian experience.

We forget that though it requires courage to enter the Land, and  we will need more courage to live in it. We must be very courageous.

Jesus said that He came that we may have life, and have it abundantly. “Life” may be the equivalent of entering the Land. “Life abundantly” may describe how we are to live in it. To take life courageously and take hold of the life that is truly life. I suggest that this was designed to be one and the same.

Jesus didn’t come to be only a Savior, but Savior and  Lord.

So here’s to courage to enter the life that Jesus came to bring to the World. And here’s to the sustained courage required to live the life!

 

A New Man

It’s still hard to speak about.

Even though it has been so many years. I am frequently asked to tell my story, which I do with some reluctance. I do so only to give others hope. Maybe even you. If Jesus Christ can change my life, He can change yours too.

I grew up in the region of the Gerasenes. We were on the wrong side of lake, so to speak. The Gerasenes is located on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. We are a mixture of Jews and Greeks, farmers and fishermen. We are perhaps best known in Galilean region for our massive cemetary on the rolling hillside, the only one in our community.

People came here to get away from the city. We are loners, fiercely private and very protective. Outsiders are not given a warm reception, often treated with open contempt.

This is my home.

I have fond memories as a child. Working the fields with my father, enjoying the Sea with my siblings. But my life took a different turn in my teenage years. I became a hellion. Lawless. I was a thief, a drunkard and a bully. I brought shame to my family, forcing my father to remove me from our home.

I have no memory of the next five years of my life. None whatsoever.

The only knowledge I have of those years comes from little sister. She apparently never stopped hoping and praying for me. She says that I lost my mind, wandering aimlessly through our city and yes, even our graveyard. I began to terrorize our entire community. When the authorities attempted to subdue me, their chains could not contain me.

I was a man possessed.

One day that all changed. Jesus of Nazareth had relocated to the town of Capernaum, just a little north of us. Rather than pursuing a large haul of tilapia that morning, He made the unexpected decision to enter our town. I can’t imagine what would make Him think that was a good idea. Looking back now, I’m eternally glad He did!

My sister says that as soon as Jesus climbed out of the boat onto the rocky shoreline of the Gerasenes, I confronted Him. With full force, completely naked and screaming profane words I came at Him. It was a merciless and file display of evil. So I am told.

This is where I begin to remember again. Inexplicably I found myself sitting at the feet of Jesus. Dressed and in my right mind, my heart was racing with joy! What had happened! I felt like was a different person! Here I was, in the posture of a student waiting to be asked by the Rabbi to become a disciple. To follow Him.

I was ready to leave the Gerasenes. I had no life here. I was hated, and rightfully so. I wanted a new life. A second chance. So I asked Jesus if I could join His group and begin a new life. To my surprise, He denied me. Rather, He said, “Stay here and tell everyone what God has done for you.”

That’s exactly what I did. Looking back, I think I may have been the first missionary to be sent by the Lord Jesus. I didn’t want to stay here, but now I see the beauty and wisdom of my Savior. Who better to be a living proof of the goodness and power of God to our community than me, sadly? I was an object of scorn, ridicule and fear for years, and who had been transformed in a moment into an object of grace, love and hope.

If He can do that for me, what can He do for you?

Courage

Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is remaining committed to a course of action in spite of fear.

This has become the dominant theme on our trip to Israel this year. From the stories we have explored, to the sites we have visited and the people we have met. The catalyst has been courage.

Today we visited a kibbutz called Nir-am. It is located approximately three miles directly east of the Gaza Strip. This small farming community, founded in 1946, was home to be 500 men, women and children when I visited in the early Spring of 2009. Currently there are only 350 occupants. The reason? Nir-Am has been struck by over 150 missiles, known as Qassams, launched by their neighbors to the west. The air raid alarm sounds approximately 10-20 times a day, giving the residents a 15 second warning to reach safety in the event that the missile is heading toward them.

I saw this clip on YouTube two years ago and watched it again today. This young woman tells her heart-breaking story more powerfully than I could attempt to summarize. Please take the time to watch, and remember a small community of peaceable families who live with the threat of random violence on a daily basis. By choice.

This is what courage looks like.