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Archive for March, 2015

I am still learning how to live the life Jesus saved me into.  I’ve been His disciple for over 30 years.  Now I won’t argue that sometimes I can be a slow learner, but I believe it is more than that.  The forgiveness of our sins and the redemption of our souls from death to life takes place in but a moment when we repent, turn to Him and accept Him as our Savior and Lord.  But the process of sanctification takes a lifetime.  Standing still…remaining the same is really not a viable option.  It is well to remember this and to use the gifts He has provided to help us on our way.

When we become His, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit.  God comes to live in us in the form of the third person of the Trinity.  The Holy Spirit is our counselor, out helper, our advocate (John 14:15-21, 16:7-15).  The Holy Spirit is not an “it”, but rather a real and distinct person of the Godhead intimately connected to the Father and Jesus.  Looking at Jesus in the bible we observe a wise, loving teacher who also healed, delivered, and ministered in whatever way He determined was needed.  The Holy Spirit living inside the believer will do much the same to and through us.

However the Holy Spirit is gentle.  He will not force us to do what we do not will to do.  This is vitally important.  Even though Jesus saves us, He does not ruler as a dictator.  It is a day-by-day, step-by-step process of our relinquishing control to Him.  His Spirit, the Holy Spirit living inside us, will gently lead us into truth and right action. But we have the ability to choose to take the step He leads us to or not.  Jesus talked about this as dying to self and taking up our cross and dying daily.

It is a longer topic that we won’t dig too deeply into today, but a person’s willful defiance of the Holy Spirit can manifest itself in three negative outcomes – grieving the Holy Spirit, quenching the Holy Spirit, and blaspheme against the Holy Spirit.  I love the Lord and I do not want to offend the One Who paid such a dear price to redeem me, so I don’t ever want to do any of these.  However being truthful I know on a handful of occasions I have failed to obey and grieved the Holy Spirit.  It pains me to remember these times, but God is gracious.  He brought me through each of those with a greater love and determination to follow Him.  Suffice it to say my experience is a little like Peter’s.  Peter denied knowing Jesus to save his own skin and then realized he had done exactly what Jesus predicted.  He was broken and for a time his relationship with the Lord was strained.  This conviction though resulted Jesus’ restoration of Peter which brought him to a place of greater devotion and commitment.  Because of God’s grace this is possible for us as well.

This morning as I think of the other “helps” the Lord provides, I realize they are all subordinate to the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The bible is the divinely inspired Word of God, but it takes the Holy Spirit to make it come alive and apply it to our lives.  The Church is the body of Christ, but it takes the Holy Spirit to guide the leadership and connect the members so that the body moves in fluid, God-directed motion.  I have learned that rest and quiet time with the Lord is an essential ingredient in godly growth.  If we are not careful are lives can become frantic activity followed by a crash.  Our lives must have a balance that includes quality time, time when we are mentally sharp and spiritually receptive, to just sit in the Lord’s presence.  In these time the Holy Spirit will often make the connections of God’s Word to our life.

That is what I felt the Lord put on my heart to share today.

I also intended to share pics of Jerusalem with you during this Holy Week.  As we discussed yesterday on Palm Sunday Jesus rode into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.  He drove the money-changers and animal sellers from the Temple court yard.  Obviously the Temple is no longer there, but I have pictures of the wailing wall and the remnants of the Temple Mount that are now part of Dome of the Rock structure.

View from inside the Jewish Quarter toward the south end of the Mount Moriah with was also the Temple Mount

View from inside the Jewish Quarter toward the south end of Mount Moriah with was also the Temple Mount

Mount of Olives in the background and the south end of the Temple Mount on the left side.  The city of David goes down the south side of the Temple Mount below where the Temple stood.

Mount of Olives in the background and the south end of the Temple Mount on the left side. The city of David goes down the south side of the Temple Mount below where the Temple stood.

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This is the southwest corner of what was the Temple wall.  It was torn down by the Romans around 70 AD fulfilling Jesus prophecy.  Later parts of it was rebuilt as fortification through he Crusades era.

This is the southeast corner of what was the Temple wall. It was torn down by the Romans around 70 AD fulfilling Jesus prophecy. Later parts of it was rebuilt as fortification through the Crusades era.

Wailing wall which is actually a portion of the old Temple was that has been rebuilt as part of the Muslim Dome of the Rock structure.  Women side on the right and men on the left.

Wailing wall which is actually a portion of the old Temple was that has been rebuilt as part of the Muslim Dome of the Rock structure. Women side on the right and men on the left.

View of the men's side of the Wailing Wall.  People utter prayers, write them on pieces of paper, and then stick them into cracks in the wall.  We even found some around on the south side of the wall.

View of the men’s side of the Wailing Wall. People utter prayers, write them on pieces of paper, and then stick them into cracks in the wall. We even found some around on the south side of the wall.

View of the courtyard in front of the Wailing Wall.

View of the courtyard in front of the Wailing Wall.

Typical street scene in the Old City.  The Old City is inside the walls and it is divided into four quarters - the Jewish, Armenian, Catholic, and Muslim.

Typical street scene in the Old City. The Old City is inside the walls and it is divided into four quarters – the Jewish, Armenian, Catholic, and Muslim.

South wall of the Temple Mount.  My understanding is that it was torn down by the Romans, but later rebuilt as protection.  It now surrounds the Muslim Dome of the Rock and a couple of mosques.

South wall of the Temple Mount. My understanding is that it was torn down by the Romans, but later rebuilt as protection. It now surrounds the Muslim Dome of the Rock and a couple of mosques.

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This is the southeast corner of the Temple Mount wall.  Because the mount is falling away at this point this would be a high point, if not the highest point of the Temple.  The story of Satan taking Jesus to the high point and saying throw yourself down from here could have taken place at the top of this wall.

This is the southeast corner of the Temple Mount wall. Because the mount is falling away at this point this would be a high point, if not the highest point of the Temple. The story of Satan taking Jesus to the high point and saying throw yourself down from here could have taken place at the top of this wall.

 

Rubble uncovered from when the temple was destroyed in 70 AD.

Rubble uncovered from when the temple was destroyed in 70 AD.

I hope you enjoy the pictures and are edified by the blog.  Be blessed today and be the Lord’s blessing to someone today.

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My personal preference is majestic nature views like the vistas in Yosemite Valley or the view from Clingman’s Dome observatory.  However the morning view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives is impressive indeed.  Such was the view locals and pilgrims experienced as they crested the Mount and viewed the city over the Kidron Valley.

View of Jerusalem from the top of the Mount of Olives.  The golden dome is the Muslim Dome of the Rock which sits essentially on the site Jewish Temple Mount.  Going even further back into antiquity this is also Mount Moriah where Abraham was directed with his son Isaac.  At the last minute before Abraham sacrificed Isaac, God stayed his hand and provided a ram for the sacrifice.  See Genesis 22.

View of Jerusalem from the top of the Mount of Olives. The golden dome is the Muslim Dome of the Rock which sits essentially on the site Jewish Temple Mount. Going even further back into antiquity this is also Mount Moriah where Abraham was directed with his son Isaac. At the last minute before Abraham sacrificed Isaac, God stayed his hand and provided a ram for the sacrifice. See Genesis 22.

Zoomed-in view of the southern side of Jerusalem.  Shot 1 of 4 with each panning a little further to the north.

Zoomed-in view of the southern side of Jerusalem. Shot 1 of 4 with each panning a little further to the north.

Jerusalem, Shot 2 of 4.

Jerusalem, Shot 2 of 4.

Jerusalem, shot 3 of 4.

Jerusalem, shot 3 of 4.

Jerusalem, shot 4 of 4.

Jerusalem, shot 4 of 4.

It was along the path leading down from this point and into the city that Jesus was hailed by the crowd, probably numbering in the few hundreds.  Recorded in the gospels (Matt 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, John 12:12-19) they shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” “Hosanna in the highest.”  “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  “Hosanna to the Son of David.”  “Hosanna!”  “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”  “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.”

It is important to realize that Jesus was still an enigma to many.  Some saw in Jesus the political leader who would rise up and challenge the oppressive Roman regime and lead Israel to freedom.  Others saw a man who made outrageous claims of intimacy with God that bordered on blasphemy.  Many were devoted followers who believed Him to be a great prophet.  And some had even confessed Him as the Messiah, the Anointed One sent from God.  So within the crowd that lined the path and pushed around Him there was religious fervor, political fervor, and a few skeptics who watched, listened, and took notes to report to the religious leaders.

One telling scene during the descent which probably took an hour or more, was that Jesus wept over the city (Luke 19:41).  He knew the opportunity that the people of Jerusalem had, but He also knew that many would miss it.  In the midst of what should be pure celebration, Jesus is saddened by loss those who do not recognize Him will experience.  Unfortunately that is still true for many today.  God is present and alive in the world today, but many still miss Him.  They fail to recognize the time of the Lord’s visitation and their loss is an eternal loss.

That Jesus arrives in an understated manner is part of God’s approach to us.  This approach leaves room for faith.  While some religions believe it is acceptable to coerce conversions, that is not God’s way.  He values the relationship built upon faith.  When we exercise faith in giving up our lives to Him, then the gift He gives is an assurance that He is Who He says He is.

As I think back to my life before I gave my life to Him, I was a fairly religious person.  I think it is important to clarify, I could not see hypocrisy in my life because frankly, I don’t remember my church speaking too strongly against many of the sins I walked in.  I believed in God.  I believed Jesus was His Son.  I attended church almost every Sunday, said confession, and partook of the sacraments.  I tried to be a good guy and follow what the church taught.  What I did not do was regularly read the bible, pray, or live according to all that the bible said about believers.  OK, that sounds like a hypocrite, but from my point of view I was just trying to be like many of the other “Christians” I knew.   I guess I was just like a lot of people in the crowd on that first Palm Sunday waving palm branches and shouting, but not really knowing who Jesus really was.

That changed for me when I finally surrendered and asked Him to be Lord of all my life.  My belief about God and Jesus moved from belief to certain knowledge.  Doing “church” things out of duty morphed into living a life in intimate relationship with the living Lord.  And the Word of God became the source of my inspiration, information, and strength.

Admittedly there have been times when I have struggled to release something, but the Lord has graciously led me successfully through a number of those challenges.  I am sure there are still other opportunities to grow by either giving up something that I don’t really need or adding something the Lord wants me to undertake.  However I am confident that since He has been faithful to lead and help me through those before, He will continue to do so in the future.  Even though He was God’s Son, Jesus prayed and had to lean on God’s strength to pass through some of the tests that He undertook on our behalf.  This is a model for us to follow.

A thunderstorm rolled through early this morning as I was praying about what to write today.  At one point a brilliant flash of lightning streaked across the still black sky just as I looked up.  Jesus had the power to ask, nay command, the forces of nature to obey Him and they would have.  He even said at one point that He had to but ask and legions of angels would respond to His call.  But He did not seek to be spared by any of the means He had at His disposal.  Instead He obeyed the Father perfectly.  He took my place and He took your place on the cross.  He bore my sin and He bore your sin.  The penalty that we were under, He paid.

On Palm Sunday Jesus again set His face resolutely toward Jerusalem.  With raucous celebration around Him he crested the hill at the Mount of Olives and saw the city of His death, burial, and resurrection.  And while He wept, it was not for Himself, but for the city and those in it who would miss what He was doing.  Lord, help us to see, understand, appreciate, and act upon what you are doing in our lives and the lives of those around us – today and every day.  To You be all glory, honor, and praise today and forevermore. Amen!

Be blessed my friend and be God’s blessing to someone today.

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In 2014 we were fortunate to travel to Israel with a group from our church.  I enjoy learning about history and I am an avid student of geography.  Visiting the places where Jesus lived, walked, and taught was a dream come true.  And while I have studied the bible for over 30 years, being there made it come alive in a new and vibrant way.  This was just before the Arab uprising which stopped travel for several days.  As we progress through Holy Week for the next several days I will share pictures and stories from that trip.  To set the stage for Holy Week I will concentrate upon the trip prior to our Jerusalem visit today.

The three days prior to Jerusalem were spent in Galilee.  We visited Capharnaum, where Jesus was based through His time of ministry, as well as many traditional sites such as the Mount of Beatitudes, the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River, the Church of the Primacy of Peter where Jesus commissioned Peter to “Feed My sheep”.  An over-riding impression of Galilee was peaceful.  It was easy to picture Jesus walking through this land, ministering to people, healing, delivering, and teaching.  Galilee is fairly rural.  In Galilee the land is dotted with small villages surrounded by lots of fields and open spaces.  It is different from the US where rural often means a single farm surrounded by it’s fields.  I don’t remember seeing any homes remote from others.

When visiting places of historic consequence, I like to imagine what it was like at that time in history.  That means you often have to look past a lot of what has been added as well as seeing through the revisionist history.  Fortunately in the Holy Land you have two major benefits.  First, there is much about the land that has not changed dramatically.  Being such a highly contested area, there has been much ebb and flow to who is in charge, but not a tremendous amount of development that has significantly changed the land.  One of the most significant changes is that modern horticultural techniques have made the land bloom and grow more prolifically than ever, however this has not resulted in significant development and growth… at least not in Galilee.  Along the Mediterranean Coastline, yes, but not so much in Galilee.  The second reason it is perhaps easier to get the feel of what it was like 2000 years ago is that we have the most accurate living document from antiquity to consult when we read the bible.  The bible is far and away the most widely published and read document in history.  And unlike all other ancient documents, the bible can be compared to extant manuscripts from the first century showing the accuracy of what we read today.

One small detail.  I will refer to the Sea of Galilee by its traditional name from the scripture of Sea of Galilee.  However it is technically a fresh water lake.  Water flows in particularly from the snow melt and springs of Mount Hermon and it flows out by way of the Jordan River.

 

CAPHARNAUM

Matthew 4:13 tells us that Jesus moved to Capharnaum.  It was in this area that Jesus called Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, James, and his brother John.  (Matthew 4:18-22).  It was in this area that Jesus got into a fishing boat and taught the people as they lined the shore.  From this shoreline Jesus would climb into a boat with His disciples and travel to different places around the lake to teach, to heal, and to get away for quiet time with the Father.

Jesus' home during His ministry years.

Jesus’ home during His ministry years.

Ruins in Capharnaum.

Ruins in Capharnaum.

One of the stories set in Capharnaum is found in Matthew 8:5-13.  A Roman Centurion comes to Jesus asking for healing on behalf of his servant.  The Centurion’s faith in Jesus is so strong that Jesus is “amazed.”  (See verse 10)

Aviel, our guide, provides background on the ruins of the synagogue we are standing in.  Archeologists put the timing of this synagogue to around the 1st century meaning it is possible this was one of the places Jesus worshipped and taught in.  The construction cost was likely funded by a wealthy Roman centurion.

Aviel, our guide, provides background on the ruins of the synagogue we are standing in. Archeologists put the timing of this synagogue to around the 1st century meaning it is possible this was one of the places Jesus worshipped and taught in. The construction cost was likely funded by a wealthy Roman centurion.

The shore of the Sea of Galilee in Capharnaum.

The shore of the Sea of Galilee in Capharnaum.

 

MOUNT OF BEATITUDES

On a sea side hill about a mile from Capharnaum is the commonly accepted location of the Mount of Beatitudes (See Matthew 5-7).  A small church was erected in that location and visitors like ourselves come to walk where Jesus walked and see what Jesus saw.  We were there in early spring and everything was nice and green.  We were told that the beginning of April moves into the dry season and shortly browns and tans would be the predominant coloring.  As you can see, it was fresh, colorful, and alive.

 

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View southeast from the Mount of Beatitudes.  Mount Arbel is the peak just left of top center.

View southeast from the Mount of Beatitudes. Mount Arbel is the peak just left of top center.

View west from the Mount of Beatitudes.

View west from the Mount of Beatitudes.

View eastward from the Mount of Beatitudes.

View eastward from the Mount of Beatitudes.

 

Church on the Mount of Beatitudes.

Church on the Mount of Beatitudes.

View up to the church on the top of the hill that is the likely location of the Mount where Jesus gave the sermon on the mount, including the beatitudes.

View up to the church on the top of the hill that is the likely location of the Mount where Jesus gave the sermon on the mount, including the beatitudes.

 

CHURCH OF THE PRIMACY OF SAINT PETER

The Church of the Primacy of Peter sits on the water’s edge on the north side of the Sea of Galilee, a little below the Mount of Beatitudes.  This location is believed to be the same one described in John 21.  This makes sense since it is only a mile or two east of Capharnaum where the disciples would have likely headed after Jesus’ crucifixion.

Reading John 21 again, I am struck by how Jesus responds to the disciples, especially Peter.  First Jesus sought Peter and these other disciples out after they had gone back to Galilee.  Jesus had told Mary of Magdalene to tell the disciples He would see them again in Galilee.  In my mind I suspect they had “hung out” for a little while before they resorted to what was familiar to them – fishing.   Second He met them where they were and He met their immediate need.  An entire night without any success was instantly turned into overflowing success immediately following obedience to Jesus’ command.  Third He feeds them.  Notice that He already had fish and bread ready for them when they came ashore.  Finally the way Jesus restores Peter is telling.

Peter denied Jesus three times.  Jesus asks Peter three times does he love Him.  With each response I can sense Peter’s growing desperation to assure Jesus of his devotion.  I can’t prove it, but I believe that Peter carried with him a large burden of guilt because of his denial of Jesus.  There are not a lot of activities that are recorded in all four gospels.  When they are they are vitally important in God’s message to the church. Peter’s denial is one of them.

When Jesus forgives us, our sins are literally transferred to the ledger of “debt fully paid”.  We do not ever have to go back and pay that debt.  This is hard for some people to accept though.  As proud and brash as Peter was, it is likely that his sense of guilt was strong and would hinder the plans Jesus had for him.  Jesus’ three questions and three directives were directly aimed at demolishing the foot hold the enemy had in Peter’s life through that guilt.  Finally Jesus speaks prophetically to Peter to let him know that he will again face a choice to deny or follow Jesus and this time he will follow to the very end.

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The Primacy of Peter chapel.

The Primacy of Peter chapel.

Inside the chapel at the Church of the Primacy of Peter.

Inside the chapel at the Church of the Primacy of Peter.

Statue symbolizing Jesus reinstating Peter into leadership in the church.

Statue symbolizing Jesus reinstating Peter into leadership in the church.

The outside chapel at the Church of the Primacy of Peter.  We enjoyed a wonderful quite time as a church here.

The outside chapel at the Church of the Primacy of Peter. We enjoyed a wonderful quite time as a church here.

Having Church on the shore of the Sea of Galilee on the grounds of the Church of the Primacy of Peter.

Having Church on the shore of the Sea of Galilee on the grounds of the Church of the Primacy of Peter.

 

JORDAN RIVER

The place we visited on the Jordan River and had baptism was within a mile or so from where the Sea of Galilee empties into the Jordan River which flows the 75 or so miles south to the Dead Sea.  We were told that the lower Jordan River is fairly polluted due to the heavy use of the lower Jordan River for agriculture, but I don’t have any confirmation of that.  As you can see by the pictures it was a beautiful location.  The Jordan River below the Sea of Galilee for most of the year is a small, meandering stream rather than a large flowing river.  I find it so like our Lord to take a small and relatively insignificant river and infuse it with eternal meaning as the site of John the Baptist’s ministry and Jesus’ baptism.  The same is true of Galilee in general.  There are no large and prosperous cities.  The people seem to live quiet, modest lives.  It is such an understated place for the God of the universe to perform the vast majority of His earthly ministry.  But that was His plan and purpose.

Pilgrims coming up out of the Jordan River.

Pilgrims coming up out of the Jordan River.

The baptism site at Yardnit on the Jordan River in Galilee.

The baptism site at Yardenit on the Jordan River in Galilee.

Jordan River downstream from Baptism location.

Jordan River downstream from Baptism location.

Pilgrims awaiting the baptism at the edge of the Jordan River

Pilgrims awaiting the baptism at the edge of the Jordan River.

 

TIBERIUS

We stayed two nights Tiberius, the city built by Herod Antipas during this time and named after the Roman emperor.  For a time it was the capital of Galilee.  While much of Galilee was decidedly Jewish, there were Roman cities built during these years such as Tiberius and Sepphoris.  These cities were built from the excessive taxation of the local citizenry and strove to create a Roman feel in the backwoods province of Galilee.  These were pagan cities of the foreign rulers built to impress upon the local population the dominance of Rome and perhaps bring the influence of Roman culture.

View north from our hotel room in Tiberius.

View north from our hotel room in Tiberius.  I never was sure what that flare was, but it reminded me of Jesus teaching that a city set on a hill cannot be hidden in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:14)  About four hours after this picture we were on that Mount which happens to be just under the city shining in this picture.

Tiberius from our hotel.

Tiberius from our hotel.

View back at Tiberius from out on the Sea of Galilee.

View back at Tiberius from out on the Sea of Galilee.

Demonstration of the traditional "fishing" on the Sea of Galilee.

Demonstration of the traditional “fishing” on the Sea of Galilee.

One of our tour boats on the Sea of Galilee.

One of our tour boats on the Sea of Galilee.

The fishing fleet returning at days end to Tiberius.

The fishing fleet returning at days end to Tiberius.

The hills north of the Sea of Galilee

The hills north of the Sea of Galilee

Remnants of the morning shower that rolled across Tiberius and the Sea of Galilee at daybreak.

Remnants of the morning shower that rolled across Tiberius and the Sea of Galilee at daybreak.  It was so cool to wake up to this flash shower that quickly rolled down off the hill above Tiberius and onto the Lake.  It reminded me of the stories of Jesus calming storms such as the one found in Matt 8:23-27.

 

Over the next few days I will share a few other pictures and stories from Israel.  One of my biggest take-aways from the trip was that the Lord who is powerful beyond comprehension chose such a quiet and relatively non-descript area to send His Son.  We are talking about Jesus’ entire life and ministry spent in an area the size of New Jersey.  Today over 2 billion people all around the world call themselves Christians.  Amazing!  But that is not all.  Wherever you are, whatever you have done the same God who chose this unlikely piece of land to fulfill His amazing plan is asking you to be His and to allow Him to use you and your life for His glory.  He wants to pour His life into and through you just as He poured His life into and through Galilee 2000 years ago.  And just like He is not through using this Holy Land in His plan, He is not through using you either.  That is awesome beyond words!  Thank you Lord God Almighty!!!

Be blessed today and be a blessing.

 

 

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I am moved by how deeply, how passionately God loves us.  As we approach Holy Week I invite you to pause each day and plumb the depths of what God did for us… for you 2000 years ago.  He literally dealt with sin once and for all.  Jesus, God’s Son, performed the most gracious act ever undertaken because He loved and obeyed the Father and because they both love us.  Romans 5:8 says “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

I heard a story about a Railroad switchman many years ago that has stuck with me.  Back in those days switching a railroad from one track to another was accomplished by manually actuating sets of large, open gears that literally shifted the rails from one set to another.  The switchmen were the railroad employees responsible for knowing which tracks went where and how to keep the trains flowing smoothing through the yard without incident.  While this is all automated today, back then it was a task that rested upon the knowledge, quick-thinking, and physical strength of the switchman.  The story told was long before OSHA rules and regulations.

As the story was told to me one particular day a watchman had decided to take his young son to his work to show him the trains and give him an idea of what his dad did for a living.  The young lad was thrilled to see the engines and all new things in the switchyard.  While they are there another railroad employee approached the switchman with a question to which the switchman responded.  His son saw his chance to “explore” and slipped away.  The question it turns out reveals a significant drama unfolding.  A passenger train is barreling into the switchyard and has had a brake failure.  The father’s presence becomes providential in that he understands the gravity of the situation and is able to quickly determine what must be done to save the train and it’s passengers.  It’s fairly complicated, but with a few rapidly executed track switches he can prevent a certain crash and derailment which would injure and kill many passengers.  As the father runs from switch to switch making the necessary changes, he is barely ahead of the speeding train.  At the last switch he arrives with only a moment to look up before he must throw the switch only to realize making the last switch will send the train down the track where his son is seated playing with a piece of coal.  He has only two choices – either save his son and watch many people crash and die or make the switch and watch his son die.

I heard this story before I had children and it was hard to fathom the sacrifice the father made even then.  Today I have four children and it is even harder.  But this gives us a sense of the sacrifice our heavenly Father made in sending His Son, Jesus, to die for our sins.  Why did He do this?  The answer absolutely blows me away.  He did it because He loves me.  He did it because He loves you.  He did it because it was the only way we could be reconciled in our relationship with Him.

Sin… my sin, my choices to go my way, had put a barrier between the God who loves me and me.  But God never stopped loving me.  He never stopped loving you despite your sin.  In fact He knew we would be separated from Him so He made a way for us to be reconciled to Him.  He called a people group to be His chosen people.  Through this group He set up the process where by a substitution, a perfect lamb, could stand in the place of a sinner to take their deserved punishment.  The code of justice was served, the penalty was paid, and mercy was extended to the sinner.  But the blood of goats and lambs only rolled the penalty forward.  It foreshadowed God’s ultimate plan to send His Son, Jesus, to live a perfect sinless life among His chosen people.  And at the right time to become the one, perfect sacrifice for all people, for all time.  AMAZING… AMAZING LOVE!

For the person reading this right now, I believe God put these thoughts in my heart and encouraged you to read this so He can get you this message.  “He loves YOU with an amazing, hard-to-fathom, but true love.  You are so precious to Him that He gave that which was, and is, dearest to Him – the life of His Son, Jesus.  He purchased your salvation at the highest price imaginable because to Him, you are worth it.”

“Father, this day we thank you for your amazing love.  You absolutely overwhelm us with your goodness, your kindness, your mercy.  Although we don’t deserve it, we will receive it with thanksgiving.  And we love you in return.  Imperfect as it is, we offer you our love, our lives, our obedience.  God, please deepen our knowledge of You.  Help us to be transformed by Your Holy Spirit through the reading of Your Word and obedience to what it says.  Jesus, make your life inside of us grow more and more each day.  Let your love do its work in us and through us.  And love others through us today so that they might know You – the Lover of our soul.  Jesus, I pray this in Your mighty and powerful Name.  Amen.”

Be blessed and be a blessing today my friend.

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Many of us live lives that are damaged, bruised, and broken.  Even those who seem to “have it all together” often have scars and reminders of the brokenness we all must deal with.  Relationships with those around us – spouse, family, friends, acquaintances are subject to the influences of mood, circumstances, miscommunication, egos, and sin in all its varied forms.  It’s no wonder that from time to time we experience pain in every facet of our being whether it be emotional, physical, mental, or spiritual.  But this is not our end state.  Nor do we have to remain trapped in the lonely, unhappy place this brokenness takes us.  In John’s gospel we read.   8:31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”   There has been one thought that has rumbled through my consciousness all week that is tremendously liberating.  God promises to those who are His that He will never leave us or forsake us.  This is a bedrock truth that fits tightly with the cornerstone of faith which is Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. 

This truth was what Jesus said the day I turned my life over to Him.  As I knelt in the chapel at Camp Hardtner in the piney woods of central Louisiana I knew I had an important decision before me.  At 23 years of age I had been a church-goer all my life and seemingly for the most part, a pretty good guy…  But in reality I was living mostly for myself and there were plenty of times when the choice to do what I knew was right was overwhelmed by the decision to do what I wanted to do in that moment.  I was in Camp Hardtner because the leader of the youth group where I was helping had suggested that I go to the Cursillo weekend.  Well, a day and a half of being loved on by people who knew and loved the Lord combined with simple, yet powerful talks by people whose lives were being touched by a very real, very personal God had me in the chapel pondering what it all meant for me.

You see, I entered the chapel to get alone for a few minutes to gather my thoughts and try to process what I was hearing, thinking, and feeling.  But in reality I was coming to a divine appointment with Jesus.  As I knelt there looking at the cross in the chapel I started talking to God knowing that He was real and that He could hear me.  As I poured out my questions I became aware that I was not alone.  I realized Jesus was right behind me, listening to my words and listening to my heart.  I stopped talking and I just listened.  Then Jesus spoke to me.  Even though it was over 31 years ago, I remember the details very vividly.  He first clarified the question.  “Dan, will you continue living as you have been living or will you follow me?”  He didn’t have to say that my “following Him when it was convenient” wasn’t really following Him.  That was what the day and a half at the camp had brought into crystal clarity.  I remember at this point holding my hands in front of me, palms up.  I saw that I was holding up everything that meant something to me in life…my family, my job, my car, my reputation, even my future hopes and dreams.  I guess I subconsciously knew I was making an offering of my life at that point, but Jesus made it even clearer with His next words.  At that moment he referred to my left hand and He said, “Dan, this is your life… your parents, your brothers, your sister, friends, job, reputation, your hopes and dreams… everything that you call your own.  Everything that makes up your life now.”  And then He switched the focus to my right hand which at this point was empty since everything that defined me was resting in a pile in my other hand.  And then He said, “This is the life I offer you.  I promise you only one thing, I will never leave you or forsake you.” 

I knew I had a decision… the most important decision of my life.  I had a lot in my left hand compared to what was visible in my right hand – a life given to Jesus with only the promise that He would never leave me or forsake me.  But God gave me the faith and courage to make the decision for Him.  In my mind I offered up everything in my left hand, one by one, to God for Him to have and do with as He saw fit.  My family was the hardest, but at 23, my hopes and dreams were a close second.  Funny thing is, in releasing those things, whatever control they had over me was gone.  I still loved my family, in fact I believe I have been able to love more deeply, but since they were the Lord’s I did not fret over them.  In my case, the majority of the things that I gave up, the Lord allowed to remain and become better because they were now all viewed as gifts from God.  The things I needed to give up and be done with were easy to walk from since I had truly “turned them over to God”.  I forsook and left those things that were of no lasting value and I gained a relationship with the One who promised never to leave or forsake me.  I am reminded of a quote by the martyred missionary Jim Elliot.  He said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

The Lord’s peace gently came over me that afternoon which was greatly reassuring.  Our Father meets us in a manner that is perfect for us.  I have heard of others who are absolutely overwhelmed by God’s grace and power at the moment of salvation.  For me it was more like the tide turned and began to rise.  I knew immediately that God and I had entered into a life relationship and I experienced His peace, but over the rest of the weekend that peace and joy steadily grew.  By the time the weekend ended I had experienced a healing of my heart that I didn’t even realize I needed and my heart was truly full.

Today, some 31+ years later, I can honestly say God is faithful to His Word and to the specific word he spoke to me that day.  He has never left me or forsaken me.  That includes the times when I have stumbled in my walk.  It includes the few times when regretfully I grieved Him.  Even when I have gone through challenging and spiritually dry times, I could look back and see He was there with me through them all.  He has remained patient, loving, and present at all times.

As you read this, take heart because Jesus loves you and desires an intimate relationship with you.  If you are already His, take a moment to dwell on His promise repeated over and over in scripture (Jos 1:5, Psalm 37:28, Psalm 94:14, Hebrews 13:5, Isaiah 42:16, John 14 – 17) that He will never leave you or forsake you.  Rejoice in that truth.  If you are not His, I believe you are reading this as another time He is reaching out to you, calling you to Himself.  In fact, if you are willing it can be your moment of truth, your moment of decision just like I had in a little church camp many years ago.  I encourage you to take Him up on His offer.  While my life was already full of stuff, I didn’t realize there was still an emptiness until He offered me a life totally committed to Him.  I have learned that a Full Life in Him is way beyond a life full of stuff.  And while stuff fades, breaks, gets lost or stolen Jesus and His love will never leave us or forsake us… forever and ever, world without end.  Amen.

If you have made a decision for Christ today please let someone know.  And drop me a note as I would like to encourage you in your new life in Christ.

Have and unbelievably awesome day today.  Be blessed beyond all measure and be a blessing to someone else.

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The sunrise was glorious this morning.  I am so thankful I had an opportunity to see it.  The rich variety of color and texture that continued to change during those 15 minutes even as the chill in the air tickled my nose and fingers was amazing.  Pictures simply don’t do it justice… but I will continue to take them.

A theme that runs throughout the bible is that God is the omnipotent creator.   Genesis opens with a formless void and proceeds to describe God bringing into being all that was made.  Watching this sunrise I see God’s power, His artistic flair, and His supreme sense of beauty.  I guess there is one more thing – His perfect balance of timing.  While it only lasted for about 15 minutes, it was sufficient to lift my spirit and make a settled certainty for the day – “We are not alone – He is here!”

2015-03-18 07.28.27

2015-03-18 07.30.55

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Psalm 19:1-6

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. 

Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.  In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.

It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

It rises at one end of the heavens and makes it circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth.

 

Be blessed today my friend and be a blessing.

 

By the way, here are a few other sunrise or sunset pics I’ve taken over the past year.

 

2015-03-15 07.25.27 2015-03-15 07.27.22 2014-09-01 06.59.16 2014-09-01 07.05.41 2014-09-01 07.06.57 2014-12-19 07.19.26 2014-12-19 07.20.18 2014-12-19 07.41.29 2015-01-29 07.13.13 20140727_065434 IMG_5404 Labor Day at River 072

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The sales person pitching their wares will often tout their product with the line “An opportunity so huge you won’t want to miss it.”  If we listen just a little we are drawn in and before we realize it we are purchasing this must-have item that 30 minutes before had never seriously crossed our minds.  Such is the power of salesmanship.  There are amazing opportunities in life, but the majority of them arrive without the fanfare of a huckster working the crowd to drum up business.  In fact the greatest opportunities are often disguised as challenges, a difficulties, or a crisis.  Today the world faces a number of major challenges.  That means we are on the cusp of some amazing opportunities.  In times of trouble it is imperative that we fix our eyes on the Lord and follow His leading for the crisis to be transformed into the blessing that He can bring.  Let’s look at one of the opportunities today.

The rise of ISIS (and Iran) in the Middle East is a major crisis.    I have been perplexed by the lack of outcry from more moderate Muslims over the violent actions by ISIS.  We don’t know all the motivations, but I assume fear of being targeted by the extremists is part of it.  However my recent study of the subject reveals that the true nature of Islam is revealed in the rhetoric and actions of ISIS.  If we peal away the politically correct rhetoric and misrepresentations of the “religion of peace” and get to the heart of the teachings of Islam, we find a movement that is commanded to achieve world domination through whatever means necessary.  Lying and violence to achieve the spread of Islam is not just condoned, it is encouraged.  This is a sobering realization and one that is vitally important that we grasp.  What Hitler wanted to do in the name of the Aryan race, ISIS wants to do in the name of Allah.

Up to this point my prayer has been, “Lord please stop ISIS.”  “Lord, please protect our soldiers.”  “Lord, please give our leaders wisdom in dealing with ISIS.”  But yesterday I realized I was missing the opportunity that lies before us, an opportunity that I believe the Father wants us to participate in through our intercession.  That is the evangelization of the Muslim world.  You see, the Muslim faith exerts very strong restraining pressure to keep people from leaving the faith.  From the total loss of family and friends to loss of life, the negative societal implications for a Muslim to convert to another faith is practically overwhelming.  Yet today the stark, brutal nature of the religion and its moral bankruptcy when compared to the teachings of Jesus have never been more clear.  This presents an opportunity to reach moderate Muslims with the true Gospel of peace.

We support a dear family that has been ministering in Muslim lands in central Asia for 11 years.  They recently relocated to a country very close to Iraq.  Obviously I have been praying for their safety.  They answered God’s call to missions as a newlywed couple and now, four children later, they minister as a family of six dedicated souls.  The Lord has laid it upon their hearts to find people of peace.  These are Muslims who God has put the notion in their heart that there is something more, something greater, and they are willing to ask questions that Islam forbids.  In their last place of service the Lord brought a young Muslim family into their life because one member had a vivid dream of Jesus coming and speaking to them.

Our opportunity is to join with the Lord in praying these divine encounters into being.  There are many Muslims right now who are scared and searching.  While ISIS is making a big show of their brutality to westerners, they are that much and more brutal off-camera toward moderate Muslims.  This is a time when the door of opportunity to reach a very hard people group with the gospel exists.  Jesus specifically commanded His followers to pray for this in Matthew 9:38 and Luke 10:2.  From Luke, Jesus told them, “The harvest in plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.

Here are a few specifics that the Lord has put on my heart to pray for as well as suggestions our missionary friends have offered as prayer points.

1) Pray for the Lord to stir the hearts of Muslim people to seek Him.  This will include supernatural visitations of God’s power.

2) Pray for the Missionaries to make contacts with “people of peace” in other faiths who are open to talking about the gospel and truth.

3) Pray for protection, including invisibility from the enemy during the crucial formative stages of this movement.

4) Pray a hedge of protection for the missionaries, their families, and the new converts that God will bring into the body.

5) Pray for courage for Muslims to take their next steps and accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

6) Pray for Muslim families to convert so that home churches can begin in their homes.

7) Pray for provision for this work to go forward.  Provision is first God’s hand directing and leading all these efforts.  Second it is the prayer covering that we are talking about right now.  Third, it is the meeting of the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs of those engaged in this work.

May the Lord bless you today with His mercy in abundance as you go forth to love and serve the Lord.

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