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Archive for April, 2015

Recently I heard some guys reminiscing about our high school days and one of them commented with a sigh, “Those were the best of times.”  I’ve pondered that a good bit since then wondering is that true in any sense of the phrase.  While this becomes a reality for some this absolutely does not have to be true.  One of our slogans at church is “The Best is Yet to Come.”  I believe that.  Not because I am locked into a positive-thinking mindset.  (Although I do see this is better than a negative-thinking mindset.)  But because God’s Word promises this.  Also I have seen what happens to people who are fixated upon the past.  They usually have a wreck in their immediate future.  It’s like trying to drive while constantly looking in the rear view mirror.  It doesn’t work for very long before you are piled up into a tree.

Sadly for some, perhaps many, the high school days are the high point of life.  The freedoms most of us enjoy during high school are significant and growing.  The responsibilities most of us have are generally much less than what we will encounter a little later in life.  Finally, there’s the “small pond” effect.  You do not have to be really big to be the biggest fish in the pond.  In a similar manner, in high school it is easier to be the “star” because of the small population.  I experienced that.  In high school I had my accolades, but when I got to college I disappeared into the mass of humanity just trying to figure things out.  Until I connected with a small group that helped give me an identity, I was invisible.

While I am ready to move on to the wonderful promises the Lord for His children, I’m reminded that there are many variations on the theme “those were the best of times”.  The marriage that started strong and somehow lost its way and ended… the promising career that crashed… the health and vitality that drained away in sickness and ill-health…  the era of raising a family that gives way to scattered family in distant reaches with infrequent contact.  The reality is life changes and it ebbs and flows over time.  Not every experience is a mountain top.  And every mountain top does not have to be big and dramatic.  Our two year old grandson loves his grandpa.  At the moment we get to see him a lot.  When he hears me come in he charges to me with his arms raised and a big grin to give me a hug.  I realize I am very fortunate that I get small “Best of Times” reminders like that pretty often right now.  Don’t miss this though.  I could miss them.  If I did not respond with the same warmth and love that Jasper shows to me, I am pretty sure I would lose this wonderful gift.

There is a reason I recognize this small “Best of Times” gift.  I know my Father loves me and He wants the best for me.  Actually He wants the best for every one of His children.  In fact His offer of adoption is available to everyone and He wants to shower us all with His love.  Some of His love and grace already falls upon those who have not yet come to Him.  The country we live in enjoys freedoms and prosperity perhaps greater than any country ever has.  And it goes back to the grand experiment of our founding fathers who built this nation upon Judeo-Christian beliefs.  If we have eyes to see, if we take time to really see, we can perceive many ways that small blessings come our way.  Why is this important?  If you are in a valley time, and they happen to all of us, you are not meant to remain there.  An important step in getting out of the valley is to keep looking up, keep seeking a way up, keep praying for a path up.  God wants us to go forward, to come on up.  If we get stuck wallowing in regret, self-pity, and blaming, we look down and back rather than forward and upward.   God’s desire is to bring us through the valley to even higher ground than we were on before.  The world, the flesh, and the devil conspire to keep us stuck in the valley.  Choose the higher ground and keep striving.

Fortunately God has given us a guidebook, the Bible, which has numerous passages that affirm this desire for us to keep progressing unto more Best of Times.  Jeremiah 29:11 was written to the Jewish exiles in Babylon, but the Lord also had it written for us.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  The prophet Isaiah was also God’s mouthpiece to the Jews 2700 years ago and to us today.  In one of the valleys that the Lord brought me through, Isaiah 41:10 became a life verse.  “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  If we keep our focus looking back or looking at what we have lost we will miss the good things that God has ahead of us.  How do I know God has good things ahead?  Well I take Jesus at His word.  In John 10:10 He tells us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they (that is His followers) may have life, and have it to the full.”  Another translation says it “that they may have abundant life.”  Either way it fits my description of the “Best of Times”.

The final reason I am certain that as good as it gets here it still falls short of what the future holds, is because this is not my home.  Our final destination is with God in heaven.  Now I won’t claim to know what it is totally like, but occasionally I believe the Lord has given me hints.  On the gorgeous late spring day when everything conspires to be absolutely beautiful, the Lord whispers, “It’s better than this.”  When I have gotten to some breath-taking vista and I am admiring the view thinking how absolutely amazing it is, I hear Him say, “This is just a foretaste…”  When my heart is light and bubbly because of the love one of my children or wife has blessed me with, I sense the Lord say, “I love you more than this.”  WOW!

I am thrilled to be on this journey of life.  The hope, anticipation, and excitement of what lies ahead is truly bubbling inside me at this very moment.  I look out the window to the grey threatening sky of an unusually brisk spring morning and my heart is thrilled because there are sunny days, beautiful vistas, and a heavenly home filled with God’s unfathomable love ahead.  Truly the Best is Yet to Come!

I pray that wherever you are, whatever you are going through, that the Father will give you a foretaste of the “Best is Yet to Come” He has in store for you.  I know of some family and friends who are walking through challenging times.  I pray that you will be encouraged as God provides tangible support to you through this time.  For others who may be in the doldrums, which constitute a fair amount of our life, I encourage you to see and enjoy the little glimpses of the “The Best” He puts in your path.  Be encouraged.  He has no forgotten you or forsaken you.

Final thought.  The way Jasper responds to me and to his daddy is a picture of how we can respond to our heavenly Father if we want to bless Him.  My heart soars when this little guy comes running to me with joy on his face just wanting to be in my arms.  I think our heavenly Father’s heart desires the same from us.

Have a wonderful day.  Be blessed and be a blessing!

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Over the past few weeks I have taken more time to study one of the chief “villains” in the Easter story, Caiaphas, the high priest who orchestrated Jesus’ crucifixion.  While I have contemplated the Easter story hundreds of times through the years, I have always just lumped Caiaphas and his father-in-law Annas into the group of evil religious leaders who conspired to have Jesus killed by the Romans.  While true, I realize this superficial look misses a vital lesson that we need to consider in our walk with the Lord.

  • How did these men who were steeped in the religion of the Jews miss the coming of the Messiah?
  • As the prophecies were fulfilled why did they not stop, reconsider, and acknowledge that Jesus was who He claimed to be?
  • Finally when Jesus rose from the dead, why did they not get the message then?

Answers to these questions will help us find the right path that they failed to see.  Simply stated “Wrong Motives Made Them Miss the Messiah

For these men, religion defined by their interpretation of the Law, meaned everything.  Most importantly it trumped the relationship aspect that God desires to have with His children.  King David was called a man after God’s own heart because He was passionate to know the Lord.  You can’t help but see this intimacy in many of David’s psalms – see Psalm 51, 91, 139 for good examples of this intimacy.  For Caiaphas the protection of the “purity” of the Law was His responsibility.  As high priest he was the final arbiter in disputes and interpretation of how it was applied.  Viewing his role as the primary custodian of the Law, Caiaphas took exception to any view of the religion different from his.  When asked by one of the religious leaders what the greatest commandment was Jesus response was not about religion but relationships.  From Matt 22:35-40:

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 22:37 (Deut. 6:5) 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 22:39 (Lev. 19:18) 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus’ message of a relationship with God and particularly His boiling the Law down to two keys struck the religious leaders as a direct attack on everything they stood for.  They saw their religion threatened and their defenses were on the alert to any further subversion of their religious practice.  Their religion made it hard for them to see the living God among them.

There was also the potential political threat of Jesus teaching.  Jesus was amazingly popular.  He brought a message to every man, woman, and child of a God Who loved them deeply, Who care for them intimately, and through signs and miracles wrought by Jesus’ hand, was actively engaged in people’s lives.  Under the Roman occupation though popular figures were considered a threat who could marshal the masses to rebel and this was not acceptable.  Both the Romans and the Religious leaders were determined to prevent a rebellion, therefore Jesus walked under a cloud of suspicion.  On a number of occasions Jesus pointedly rejected the political route even though many in the crowd clamored for Jesus to fulfill the popular interpretation of the conquering, kingly Messiah.  But both the Romans and the Religious leadership heard the crowds, they saw them growing, and they felt the threat to the delicate balance in this hotbed of sedition.  Their political view made it hard for them to see the living God among them.

Annas’ was of the Zadokite clan.  The high priesthood had resided in the Zadokite clan for hundreds of years.  When Alexander the Great conquered and rose to power he transferred power away from the Zadokite clan.  The Romans however restored power to Annas’ ancestors building a political and financial relationship that was mutually beneficial to both parties… at the expense of the general population.  Taxes, fees, exchange rates, and monopolies on religious essentials allowed the priestly families to become incredibly wealthy.  They in turn shared some of this wealth with the Roman’s in the form of tribute.  To the religious leaders Jesus assault upon the money-changers and vendors selling animals in the Temple was more than just an attack on their prescribed religious practices, it was an attack on their carefully crafted and extravagant livelihood.  Their lifestyle and the financial pipeline from the religious practices that poured lots of money into their pockets made it hard for them to see the living God among them.

Finally as the story of Easter plays out the religious leaders’ anger, hatred, and rage finds its full vent upon Jesus.  That Jesus does nothing to resist them, nor does He do anything to try and deflect their accusations causes the mock trial, torture, and execution to progress rapidly.  In approximately 24 hours Jesus goes from kind and gentle leader of a small band of disciples to a dead body in a grave.  The book “Killing Jesus” by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Duggard brings to light much of the context and backstory that we may not pick up just from reading the biblical text.  The high priest and religious leaders broke numerous religious laws in the way they handled Jesus’ case, however they justified it all on religious and political expediency.  On the third day, when the tomb is opened and the body of Jesus disappears despite a Roman guard stationed at the tomb, I would think that they might have second thoughts about who Jesus was and the validity of their actions.  Instead they make up a story about the body being stolen and attempt to carry on life as normal.  Their pride and their guilt made it hard for them to see the risen God among them.

We’ve looked at roadblocks to recognizing and accepting the Lord for Who He is.  It is also true that these same obstacles will keep us from growing in our faith.  Jesus has called us to live an abundant life.  But it is important to realize that this abundant life begins and ends in our relationship with Him.  Every one of the areas mentioned above: our religious observations, our political leaning, our lifestyle and financial provision, even our emotions are to subservient to our knowing and growing in Christ.  The message of Easter is that Jesus is Alive.  Let us live fully in the reality that Jesus is Alive and wants to live in us more fully every day.  Say “YES!” to Jesus’ continuing work in you and you will experience His love in greater and greater measure day by day.

Be blessed my friend and be God’s blessing right where He puts you today.

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John, the beloved disciple, concludes his gospel with an interesting sentence.  John 21:25 says “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”  While many of us have a few noteworthy accomplishments and amusing anecdotes from our life, Jesus’ life is the life above all lives to be studied.  Although He lived for a relatively brief period, He is the central figure of history.  The book that describes His life is the all time best-seller.  It is printed in more languages than any other book.  And despite repeated attempts to blot out His story and crush His people, the church continues to grow.  As believers in Jesus we have a responsibility to become followers of Him.  In Matthew 7:21 Jesus said, Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  How do we do this?  In reality this is a simple, impossible task.  We simply read the book that tells us about Jesus and God’s work in the believers, the bible, and then we do what it says.  It is impossible for us to do this perfectly in our own strength.  That is why Jesus to sent the Holy Spirit to all who would follow Him.

As a young believer I heard someone explain the difference between being intelligence and wisdom.  Intelligence is the ability to grasp and understand large amounts of information.  Wisdom is the ability to apply the information one possesses in the right manner.  I witness this in my work with plant managers and leaders in manufacturing.  The truly special leader is one who possesses a good intelligence and exercises excellent wisdom.  Many are the leaders who are intelligent, but do not walk in the most wise fashion.  In Matthew 10 Jesus gave directions to His disciples as they were being sent out on a brief training mission.  In verse 16 we read  “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”  Jesus does not want us ignorant of His work.  He admonishes us to become as knowledgeable as practically possible, yet walk in humble innocence. 

Our church is a good example of what God can do through a group of committed believers who seek to follow Jesus every way we can.  We are a bunch of imperfect people seeking to know and serve a perfect God.  One of our Pastor’s tag lines is a simple phrase, “Read the Word.  Do what it says.”  By doing that we see people come to faith by the dozens and even hundreds.  We do not have a final count, but as of 9 am on Sunday morning we had already seen over 200 people come to faith in Jesus.  And at the 9:15 service at our campus I saw dozens more come forward and make a profession of faith.  This is a wonderful thing to see.

This is the first vital step into the abundant life Jesus calls His followers into.  Being the first step carries the certainty that there are many steps to follow, too many and too varied to be addressed in a short post.  However the Holy Spirit, who seals every believer at conversion, is able to lead and guide each believer into the life God calls them to.  The Holy Spirit knows what is needed, what is not, where we must go, what we must do.  In short, the Holy Spirit is God living in us to guide us into all that we need to know and do.  The caveat here is that the Holy Spirit is still subject to the will of the believer.  Jesus desires to work in concert with us.  Our willful obedience, not our coerced obedience, is God’s desire.

Today, I encourage you to do a few things that may be new.  First, ask the Lord to instill a fresh desire in you to know Him better.  Second, ask the Lord to show you anything inside of you that is hindering your taking your next step in faith.  Third, read the Word and ask the Lord to help you do what it says.  Fourth, listen and respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  He will always lead you in accordance with the Word of God.  In fact the bible and the Holy Spirit are always perfectly in synch.

The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the bible to put down the words we read.  It is the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer who gives us the ability to read, understand, and follow what it says.  If you feel lead to do something that is contrary to the bible, then stop and seek the Lord’s clarification.  I have had the Lord prompt me to do things that I thought were odd, things that definitely took me out of my comfort zone, things that I normally wouldn’t have thought to do, but I have never had the Holy Spirit prompt me to do something that is against the scripture.  Let this be a safeguard for you.

In the post-resurrection days, the Church literally exploded into life.  People recognized that God had done the most amazing thing the world would ever know.  It remains the pivotal point in all of history.  And people were moved to live in a radically new way, following the teaching of the One who had conquered death and called them to this new life.  We have the opportunity to follow in their footsteps.  Jesus calls us to Himself and then into the unique life He has equipped us for.  Immerse yourself into learning about and following the One who loved you so much He went to the cross on your behalf.

Be blessed today my friend.  And be a Spirit led blessing to others.

 

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The world was forever changed on Easter morning.  On Friday sin was judged and the just penalty was paid in full.  On Sunday the Lord rose triumphantly from the grave proving He had not only paid the penalty, but He defeated death, hell, and the grave in the process.  ALLELUIA, JESUS IS RISEN!  THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED!

In Friday’s post I shared pics from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher over the most likely site of Golgotha and the empty tomb.  Just outside the current city walls there is another potential site where there was a rocky face that had the appearance of a skull and an empty tomb in a garden.  During our trip to Jerusalem last spring we visited this site.  Whether this site is the actual burial place or not, it much better depicts what it would have looked like.  I share these pics with you today in hopes that this Easter you experience God’s grace in a new and powerful way.  He died for you and He rose for you.  Lift up you heart, your hands, your voice to Him this day… and be thankful!

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Picture from around 1900 of what the rock face looked like.  This was also beside a major road out of Jerusalem which was another necessary characteristic of the Roman's.  Crucify in a very public place to send a message to other would be rebels.

Picture from around 1900 of what the rock face looked like. This was also beside a major road out of Jerusalem which was another necessary characteristic of the Roman’s. Crucify in a very public place to send a message to other would be rebels.

Communion shared in the Garden Tomb.  Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of Me."

Communion shared in the Garden Tomb. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”

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Between the delivery of the promise and its realization is the “Tween Time”.  On Good Friday Jesus died.  Through the Holy Sabbath that followed the disciples, His followers, the religious leaders, even the Roman authorities lived in the ‘tween time.  Consider what each group must have experienced through this day of waiting.

His disciples were crushed.  They had lost their leader, their friend, the One they had left their lives and livelihood to follow.  They had thought He was going to become the leader who would set them and their nation free from Roman oppression.  They were Jesus’ closest friends and confidants.  Simply losing someone dear is a terrible shock.  But they had thought Jesus was so much more.  Now He was gone.

They were also very afraid.  It was bad enough that the religious leaders had it out for Jesus, but the Romans had actually carried out the execution.  And one thing about Roman justice when it came to even a hint of rebellion, they were not afraid to squash it ruthlessly.  If they had crucified Jesus because they felt He was a threat to Roman rule, then His disciples would soon follow.  Recent uprisings had seen not only the leader crucified, but dozens and sometimes hundreds of their followers crucified as well.

In varying amounts they were also ashamed.  They fled when Jesus was taken.  They were not able to stand this simple test.  Peter personified this sense of guilt for the group.  He promised to stand with Jesus going to the garden, but within just a few hours he had denied knowing Jesus even with an oath.

His other followers were bewildered.  They too had put their hopes in Jesus.  Many had experienced healing at His touch.  Others had been set free from demonic bondage.  Thousands had seen and experienced His miracles whether in the food that multiplied when He prayed or through sermons that touched the heart.  They knew these things that had happened were real… or at least they thought they were real.  How could it be that the One who demonstrated such power had so quickly been taken from them?

The religious leaders were a mixture of smug assurance that a very real threat had been eliminated and still a little wary since the impostor had spoken a number of time about “life after death”.  While they felt confident that Jesus’ death would put an end to this growing challenge to their power, they took steps to ensure no further complications could arise by the Galilean’s followers taking His body and saying He had arise.  They convinced Pilate to have the tomb carefully guarded.

The Roman authorities were probably not too terribly worried about the whole issue.  Pilate, for His part, was not particularly pleased that he had to stoop to being the pawn of the religious leaders in this incident, but his tenuous hold over this restive Roman province was predicated upon a good “working” relationship with the Jewish leaders.  As requested, a Roman guard posted at the tomb of this man, Jesus, was a simple final task in this unsavory business.  Soon the Passover would be over and he could return to Caesarea away from these religious fanatics.

On this Saturday everyone was convinced a climax had been reached, the curtain had drawn closed, and Jesus’ life and mission had been completed.  Jesus’ powerful presence had been the engine that was driving the movement and now He was gone.  While no one really knew what to expect a couple things were certain.  The religious leaders had stopped this movement by cutting off the head and the disheartened, frightened band of disciples and followers were certainly in no condition to keep it going.  This Jesus movement was a thing whose time had passed.

At least that is what they thought on Saturday in the ‘tween time…

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Good Friday is a time to remember what Jesus did for us.  He was innocent.  But He chose to die in obedience to the Father and out of love for us… for you and for me.  Consider what He did.  For the story from 4 perspectives Read Matthew 26:57 – 27:61, Mark 14:43 – 15:47, Luke 22:47 – 23:56, John 18:1 – 19:42.

He was innocent.  He never sinned.  At a time of great political tension in the land Jesus did not antagonize the foreign power that ruled.  In fact His message and heart reached out to the Romans who listened and were receptive to truth.  Remember the Roman centurion who asked for prayer for his servant.  Jesus’ only “issue” was that He stood up to the religious authorities and He called them out about their hypocrisy.

He was powerful.  He did not have to die.  He certainly did not have to die the brutal way He did… if He chose not to.  When He is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, His followers begin to mount a resistance, but Jesus tells them to stop and that He could overwhelm His accusers with 12 legions of angels.  But He chose to obey the Father’s plan and submit to them instead.

He was gentle.  When Jesus faced His death, He laid aside any and every attempt to soften the path.  I woke up at 3 this morning and I immediately thought about Jesus.  At that time He was probably with the Sanhedrin.  He had already been beaten, spit upon, and cursed by many.  He was nearing 24 hours being awake.  Don’t forget the intense sorrow He had experienced in the garden, sorrow and anxiety so intense that He had sweated blood.   Already He had to be close to physical and emotional collapse.  Yet He stood and He took their worst.

He was beaten and battered.  In addition to the beatings He took from the religious leaders and the temple guards, Jesus was brutalized by the Romans who were professionals at administering pain and death in the most horrific fashion.  Seriously, the Romans knew how to inflict the utmost pain and humiliation upon a person.  It was a key ingredient in how they kept such a large empire under control.  Make the penalty for resistance and rebellion so unbelievably cruel and painful that almost no one will stand against you.  These were Jesus’ executioners.  The most realistic portrayal of this is in the movie – The Passion of Christ.  It has been a part of my spiritual discipline to watch the movie on Good Friday primarily because it portrays what Jesus went through… for you and for me.

He was loved and He was being separated from the ones He loved.  The images of His mother, His disciples, His close followers mingled in the crowd of “haters” as He was led to Calvary had to pain Him further.  But even more excruciating had to be the separation from His heavenly Father for a time.  In fact this is probably the biggest deal of all.  Jesus, the One Who existed in union with the Father from before the world began, was about to experience something that happened only this once in all eternity.  As judgment passed on Jesus for all mankind’s sin, His Father turned away.  When the sin was judged, Jesus knew separation from the Source of all life, His heavenly Father.  Matthew captured this moment in Matt 27:45 – 46.  Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  We know why today.  The Father’s love desired to make a way for us to be reconciled to Himself.  The demands of justice had to be met.  Through the death of the only sinless, perfect soul, our redemption was purchased.

Again I encourage you to take the time today to let the weight of what Jesus did rest upon your soul for a little while.  When we understand how much He did for us… how low He was willing to go to reach us… what great a price He paid for us, we cannot help but be deepened in our love and devotion to Him.  That God loves you so much that He experienced Good Friday is amazing beyond description.

Receive the Lord’s blessing today in rich abundance.  And share His blessing with those He brings into your life.

Here are pictures from our trip to Jerusalem.  Actually we walked the Via Delarosa exactly one year ago today.  I begin with pictures of the Garden of Gethsemane.

Garden of Gethsemene

Garden of Gethsemane

Ancient Olive Tree in the Garden.  This tree is hundreds of years old.

Ancient Olive Tree in the Garden. This tree is hundreds of years old.

Inside the Church of All Nations in the Garden.

Inside the Church of All Nations in the Garden.

The altar in the Church of All Nations is directly over a large rock outcropping that was in the Garden.  This is a likely place where Jesus prayed.

The altar in the Church of All Nations is directly over a large rock outcropping that was in the Garden. This is a likely place where Jesus prayed.

The Garden of Gethsemene was the location of an Olive Press.

The Garden of Gethsemane was the location of an Olive Press.

Our guide indicated that while these trees are possibly over a thousand years old, they roots continue to send up shoots and they live for thousands of years.

Our guide indicated that while these trees are possibly over a thousand years old, the roots continue to send up shoots and they live for thousands of years.  So these roots existed at the time Jesus was arrested here.

Front of the Church of All Nations.

Front of the Church of All Nations.

Next is the area where the Roman fortress Antonia was located.  Here the final part of Jesus’ mock trial was completed, where the Roman scourging took place, Where He was dressed in a purple robe and a crown of thorns and mocked, where he was disrobed, and where His march to Golgotha began.

This is the Church of Condemnation.  The area surrounding the "Stone Pavement" mentioned in John 16:19.

This is the Church of Condemnation. The area surrounding the “Stone Pavement” mentioned in John 16:19.

Inside the Church of Condemnation.

Inside the Church of Condemnation.

In the Church of Condemnation

In the Church of Condemnation

This is the Stone Pavement where Pilate tried to release Jesus.  He brought Jesus out wearing a crown of thorns and wearing a purple robe.  But the crowd, incited by religious leaders, shouted, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"

This is the Stone Pavement where Pilate tried to release Jesus. He brought Jesus out wearing a crown of thorns and wearing a purple robe. But the crowd, incited by religious leaders, shouted, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

Details on the Stations of the Cross.

Details on the Stations of the Cross.

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Inside the Church of Flagellation.

Inside the Church of Flagellation.

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Standing at the beginning of the Stations of the Cross

Standing at the beginning of the Stations of the Cross

The following shots are several of the Stations of the Cross as we wind our way through the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem.

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These final pics are from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is over the most likely site of Golgotha (also referred to as Calvary) and the Garden tomb.  This church was built in 326 AD.  It is also called the Church of the Resurrection in the Orthodox Church.

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This altar is over the rock that is believed to be Golgotha, the “place of the skull” where Jesus’ cross was erected. Here a pilgrim leans in to kiss the rock.

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This slab is supposed to represent where Jesus body was laid in preparation for burial.

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Good Morning this Maundy Thursday of Holy Week 2015.  For much of the night I pondered and prayed about what to share this morning.  Holy Week is climactic in the life of a believer as we relive Jesus final earthly hours and culmination of why He came.  As I alluded to yesterday Jesus came with a primary purpose and a number of secondary purposes.  Some of His secondary purposes were to give us an example of how to live, to touch lives in His day that were later recorded so we would know how to minister, and to send the Holy Spirit to live within us who would further our living and ministering in faith.  His primary purpose was to give Himself up as a perfect sinless sacrifice for sin so that through Him everyone would have a path to forgiveness and restoration with God the Father.  I heard on the news this week that a recent study found that over 50% of youth and young adults do not know the reason for the Easter season.  That is sad.

I am praying for a groundswell of truth seeking for I am convinced that if people seek truth, they will find God.  This is never more accurate than if they simply look into the facts about Jesus.  I have spoken with unbelievers and invariably their response has fallen along a couple of distinct lines.  Either they don’t want to be bothered by seriously considering the claims of Christ or they simply have never taken the time to weigh the evidence and apply logic to determine what is true.  In my experience the root of unbelief for those who have heard the gospel and not accepted it has always been a sin they were not willing to give up or look past long enough to consider is Jesus who He said He is.

One of the things I have done a lot in my career as an engineer is Root Cause Analysis.  The most effective way to get to the real reasons a failure occurs is to diligently gather all the evidence, make sure it is valid and accurate, and then put those pieces of evidence together to see what story it tells.  I have been involved in hundreds of these investigations and if this process is followed, we always resolve the issue.  However I have seen a number of situations where the investigator approached a failure with a preconceived idea of what the root cause was and the investigation did not go well.  You see, if we approach a question with a bias ahead of time, it becomes much more difficult to accept the evidence at face value.  We look for evidence that supports our hypothesis.  In many cases unconsciously.  In others it is conscious and willful.  We will overlook or dismiss evidence that does not fit our hypothesis.  Additionally when we have a bias from the outset, we are not able to effectively apply logic.  Remember that one of the key principles of logic is that when all the evidence is weighed, if all other options are eliminated, then the remaining option, regardless of how unlikely, must be true.  (I think I heard the character Sherlock Holmes say that recently.)

The ultimate question then becomes “Who was Jesus?”  People who haven’t investigated all the facts and applied logic will often respond, “Oh Jesus was a good man.”  “He was a wise and good teacher.”  Or perhaps they will even go so far and say what Islam says about Him, “He was a great prophet.”  However those are not valid choices as the ultimate declaration of who Jesus was.  To make the claims He made and to suffer an indescribably cruel and painful death as He did, there are really only three choices.  One he was insane and delusional in the most extreme sense.  Two He was the greatest deceiver who has ever lived.  Or three, He was who He claimed to be.  Jesus claimed to be God’s Son – to be One with the Father.  He claimed to be able to forgive sins.  In John 14:6 we read “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one come to the Father except through me.'”  These are extremely bold claims.  A good man does not make Himself equal to God unless that is Who He truly is.  Otherwise He is either a deceiver or mad.

The evidence is pretty substantial.

  • We have eye witness evidence from multiple sources of the life and miracles of Jesus.  They are amazing stories.  And if we do not allow our biases, either for or against to sway us, then we put those into the “validation bin” to determine a little later if we admit them as true and valid.
  • We have the number of prophesies in the ancient Hebrew sacred texts (the Old testament of the bible) written 400 – 1000 years before Jesus’ birth that fit what we know about His life perfectly.  Many of these were fulfilled completely independent of any thought or action He could have taken.  Here are a few of the 100+ prophesies fulfilled in the life of Jesus.
    • Virgin birth
    • Born in Bethlehem
    • Herod’s killing of all male babies in Bethlehem (except Jesus who had escaped to Egypt) after Jesus birth
    • From the lineage of David
    • The manner of His death
    • The advent of John the Baptist
    • Plus many more to numerous to capture here.
  • The fearful disciples who hid themselves after the crucifixion were transformed into life long evangelists after His resurrection.  Eleven of the twelve were martyred with John the only one to suffer a natural death albeit in exile because of His faith.
  • Jesus’ body was never found.  This is really huge. Remember the key principle about logic mentioned above.
    • If the disciples had stolen the body (highly unlikely) one of them would surely have broken and confessed when under the threat of death.  And while it is possible a person might die to cover up a lie, that such a large group of people maintained the same story speaks to the truth of the tale.
    • If the authorities had taken the body all they had to do was show the body and the movement would have been stopped at the outset.
  • The number of post resurrection appearances Jesus made.  All told Jesus appeared to over 500 people after He was ressurected.  And because of this they were transformed into faithful followers even through persecution and death.
  • The accuracy and validity of the bible.  This is actually evidence to support the validation process.
    • The bible is far and away the most studied book of antiquity.
    • There are more high quality ancient manuscripts of the bible than any other book from antiquity by far.  Some of these manuscripts are from within just a few decades of the original documentation.  A recent ceremonial mask from Egypt was found and carefully studied.  I believe the date was from around 80 AD.  The mask was made from papyrus that had short selections of the Gospel of Mark in it that authenticated current texts.
    • The dead sea scrolls found in the Judean desert in 1947 had a large number of Hebrew texts that proved the accuracy of current texts.
    • Along these lines, an understanding of the absolute rigor and holy reverence with which the Jewish scribes approached the copy of the texts ensures the highest level of accuracy and attention to detail.
    • The secondary sources such as the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus that support the historical details surrounding Jesus and the time and place He lived.
    • Even the manner of the biblical writings supports its authenticity.  A consistent message and story is presented with enough variability to show it was compiled by different persons with slightly different perspectives.  The minor differences do not in any way take away from the central tenants of the faith, but they do reveal an integrity in documentation and copying.  This supports the argument that what we have today is in the same form as the original writers, some eyewitnesses and some recorders of eyewitness accounts, intended.
  • The growth of the church from the humblest of beginnings, ie. one man crucified upon a Roman cross after only a three year itinerant ministry in a very small, remote, and isolated province of Rome, to the 2 billion Christians in the world today.
  • Lastly, the lives of people throughout history and continuing today, who are changed because of knowing the risen Lord.  Jesus is alive today and He is still meeting people and transforming them through His mercy and grace.

I am one of those people Jesus has changed.  I have met the Lord.  He has saved me.  He has brought much positive change in me.  I would love to say I am totally faithful and complete in every way, but I am not…yet.  I, like all faithful believers, am a work in progress.  But I am growing because He is real and He is walking with me, helping me to become more and more like Him.

Dear friend, I hope this has encouraged you today.  If you are a believer my desire is that this provide a reinforcement of your faith and help you share that faith with others.  If you are not yet a follower of Jesus Christ I invite you to dig deeper and see if what I have written is true and accurate.  Ultimately I was convinced by the life that I saw in people who claimed to know Jesus and lived with a vibrant, tangible faith.  The rest of the information just solidified my faith once I accepted and started following Him.  Since this is Easter, I encourage you to go to a bible believing church this Sunday and ask the Lord to speak to you.  See if He won’t speak a message of love to you heart.  What do you have to lose?

Be blessed today and be a blessing.

Oh, one more thing.  Three year ago I wrote a blog that is really cool family story called Quest for Truth.  If you want to read about a practical application of Truth Seeking.

 

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