Thursday, April 14, 2011

Worship at the Wall

Technology has been wonderful to us, enabling us to share almost daily what has happened to us on this tour of a lifetime. Our very busy last day schedule has not permitted us to finish this blog without buying another hour of computer time on a very busy, early morning, so we write from over the Atlantic Ocean-- 2,500 miles from touchdown at JFK in NYC. Let me fill you in on our last day in the Promised Land. The setting for our last day of this pastor’s educational tour was the bustling town of Jerusalem, filled with faces from around the world. How do I know? Listening to the languages spoken—Russian, German, French, Italian, Hindi, Farsi, proper British English, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, Dutch…and on the list goes…it has to….I could not identify them all. They practice many religions, as evidenced by the Muslim call to worship in the streets near the Arab market and the ornate Catholic sepulchers, the bowing and nodding at the Western Wall of the Chasidic Jews and the worship songs sung spontaneously by Protestants visiting the place where Jesus was beaten, awaiting his punishment. Yes, my friends, we joined people from other lands on many occasions to praise the King of King and Lord of All. It was life-transforming. Our hosts, Mark, and our guide, Mr. Ben-David taught us many things about the culture of this land. We spent hours exploring the central location of the Jewish culture on our last day: the Temple Mount. It is there where Jews gather unashamedly to pray, many with Torah in hand. It is there where these folks are joined by non-Jews who also leave their handwritten request gently pushed into a cranny in the wall. We were fortunate that the wall had been cleaned in observation of Passover so there was a lot of room to place a note. Placing a note at that location was significant for my spiritual journey. What I wrote was between me and the Lord. What I sensed sitting writing what was in my heart I will remember forever. After I wrote it, I looked up and came face to face with this massive, rugged dolomite structure. It reminded me of the awesomeness of God. It spoke of the permanence of His presence. I sensed that I was there all by myself in a sea of people and He wanted me there. He cared about what I had written. He would answer my heart cries. The Jews have a custom that your back never faces that Western Wall. You always approach the wall facing it. I was on the women’s side, cordoned off by a 6 foot semi-private man-made fence. I could see the men on the other side in all sorts of stages of prayer and interaction. The ages of the women varied—teens to elderly. They were respectful, submitting their deepest heart cries to their god. One young woman stuck out to me. She had her prayer book over her face and her ear against that Great Wall, in deep conversation. I stretched out my hand with my folded up prayer; it took three tries to find a spot where it would catch and stay. Even then, it fell near the feet of another woman sitting at that Wall. I picked up a note and successfully placed it in the wall. Shuffling backwards, I rejoined my friends. It was a moment I will never forget. I pray that you will encounter our awesome God in a moment like this one day. A moment that shifts your paradigm about who God is in your life, that enlarges the territory of your heart in such a way that God becomes bigger and greater than you can imagine right now. He is awesome; He is permanent; He is your God. Now, let’s live a life of surrender and worship.

Drop of joy at the Pool of Bethesda

For many years I (Andrea) have been dealing with a physical issue. I remember sharing about it with a dear older woman at Open Door over 7 years ago when she asked about something she noticed in me. I politely told her about it and she said she would be praying specifically about that for me. On many occasions she has prayed for many things in my life. Tuesday, April 12 something happened that resulted in a great praise. We were visiting the Pools of Bethesda. It is a large rocky area where water gathered back in Jesus day. It is not hard to imagine what happened that day recorded in John 5:1-24. I will not recount this familiar story. But I will tell you my own story…

Each pastor on this trip had two devotionals to give. We had finished listening to Nasir share what God had put on his heart about healing. Both he and his wife have been miraculously healed by the Lord from shingles that almost took his life and blindness and MS that left her in a wheelchair. Today they are full-time ministers, whole and healed. He shared that the Holy Spirit is a force in our lives. I had this flip-flop sense in my gut and we rose to “get to the next location.” I asked our host if we had five minutes. He first said no, then sensing this was an unusual request, he called everyone over. I courageously asked for prayer for this physical issue that has plagued me for as long as I can remember. Tears were unashamedly streaming down my face. I followed up on what I sensed in my spirit that the Holy Spirit wanted to do at this very special place. These friends I had only known for a week, laid hands on me, surrounding me like a fortress, speaking truth over me. We prayed with faith believing for a miracle, just like what the lame man experienced 2,000 years ago. It was a sweet concert of loving conversation to the Father we share, who meets our every need. I surrendered that moment to the Lord and His perfect work in my life. The physical symptoms that were quite regular in the sort of circumstances we were in that day were gone. Hallelujah! I know God has touched me. Sometimes our obedience isn’t for us. Elsa reminded me of that when we continued on our journey of faith that day. God used my bold request to speak into her life. Believe me when I say I almost did not speak up. The temptation was so real to just shrug off Mark’s decision and maybe even believe that “this was not my time; I guess I heard wrong.” But, thank God, this dear brother in the Lord perceived in his spirit something more was happening at the Pools of Bethesda. It was after the prayer was over that I learned I was not the first to take a bold step of faith. Mark pointed across the stone courtyard to another spot where a pastor named Sam was healed from Parkinson’s on a trip like this one. Later on Sharon shared with me that when she opened her eyes after prayer, she was looking down and saw a single teardrop on the rocks below. It had not dried, and you could see the wet on the rock. In her spirit she sensed the Lord's affirmation for my surrender that day. We formed a choir at the small cathedral located just a few yards away from the pools. The acoustics were amazing as we sang “How Great Thou Art” with abandon. For HE truly is GREAT!

Bon Appetit!

Back in Jesus day the commerce happened in the marketplace. Vendors sold fresh fruits, clothing, articles needed for everyday life. We experienced the Arab market on the ground level today, a sea of people bartering, calling out about their products. It is a fascinating experience to dicker with these merchants. Pastor Jim is actually very good at it. If I had only known what a shopper he is… lol!
We came away with a new sense of this community and how life in Jerusalem still happens today. We even had our first “American food” in Israel since we’ve been here—pizza. And it was delicious! The food has been absolutely amazing. They use the freshest ingredients, lots of fresh vegetables, meats and cheeses. We were always commenting that we never used salt. It was unnecessary, not because the food was already salty, but because the unusual combination of spices and ingredients they used. We enjoyed the likes of spinach with apples and mango sauce, fresh fish from the Red Sea, crusty breads, multiple kinds of cheeses, smashed chickpeas rolled into balls and fried (called Falafel), just delightful combination of tastes.

Sometimes God asks us to try new things, to get a new taste of life in our “oatmeal as usual” existence. I am so glad I went into this trip with the mindset to try so many new things. May it be a ‘taste” of things yet to come! Shalom and, like they always say when they serve you a meal in Israel—“bon appetit!”

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Heartfelt Agony

It was a day of agony. It was not as you might think, however. We had a very packed schedule after the frolicking in the Dead Sea yesterday. Today, Pastor Jim shared some amazing insights in the Garden of Gethsemane about the agony that Christ went through there in the garden of olive trees. To see the gnarly, knotted trunks of olive trees dating back to Jesus day made my heart just skip. The olive tree is not a particularly beautiful tree. The trunk is not smooth like other trees in the US. It is a trunk of character. As much as Christ displayed great character and obedience going to the cross, the real battle of wills was won not on the cross, but right there in the Garden. If he has not made up in his mind to purpose to go the cross there in the Garden, the war of wills would have failed miserably before his complete and selfless obedience paid for all of our sin. Not one of us is excluded from this powerful vignette. The day ended with another scene of agony as we visited the Holocaust museum commemorating the tragedy of inconceivable proportions in Germany in the 1940’s. While the world watched, millions of Jews died needlessly, painfully and without a chance or a choice. The moving, sometimes graphic pictures and artifacts were haunting. At the end of the exhibit was a unique room: rows and rows of bound books cataloguing the names of those who died. A shaft of light streaming through a hole in the pinnacle of the ceiling with a dome full of 600 pictures—faces of those whose names are written in these books. They had no chance, their voices will never be heard again. The name of the museum is Yad Vashem, a reference to “remembering the names.” God brought a song into my mind after seeing this museum. It goes like this: He knows my name…He knows my every thought; He hears my cry and -----me when I call…..I have to believe that our merciful God heard everyone of those 6+ million cries. The question is did we?

Camels and Friends at the Dead Sea

It all started with a camel. The kind we saw on the sides of roadways near the Dead Sea. A couple of the pastors in our group wanted to get a ride and a picture with a camel. So, we stopped by the roadside on their curious behalf. While walking in the parking lot, Jim noticed a snakeskin wallet on the ground. I almost walked by it, but decided to pick it up; the credit card and the large wad of cash inside the wallet was a sure indication that the owner was not going to be happy. I looked to the van that was parked nearby; no one was looking for anything. I went into the gas station/food stand to see if anyone might be alarmed that they were missing the pouch. Not finding anyone our tour guide gave me several suggestions as to what was appropriate to do in his country. God had already spoken the urgency in my heart to return it to this person who appeared to be from Russia. With a name like Svetlana, I was fairly certain it would not be someone from the US. Remember I blogged earlier about being in the movies? This was certainly turning into some sort of drama. I counted the money; over $3,000 in cash! A lost wallet with a large wad of American bills, a credit card from a German bank, a Russian woman missing items that are critical to the success of her vacation. I still did not know anything about her, but I was determined to get this wallet and all of the money back to her quickly. Our host, Mark, savvy with his computer while riding the minibus back to Jerusalem, googled Svetlana's name and by the time we arrived had found out enough information to give us another clue as to where she maybe. He then sent her an email, hoping for the best. Maybe something she had in her wallet could also help us: a paper with a SIM card. Our guide had made arrangements for us to eat dinner out at a neighboring hotel…and it just so happened that his contact at that hotel is Russian who left when she was 5 years old. She was able to decipher the SIM card phone number information that was in the Ukrainian language and made a phone call on my behalf. No answer…bummer. After we got back from dinner, I asked the hotel if anyone knew Russian that worked there. I was connected with the operator, Ya’el. She was so helpful; she called the phone number and with success! She conferenced the call so that I could hear the conversation with Svetlana. Over the course of the next 20 minutes, arrangements were made for Svetlana to come to the hotel and pick up her very significant belongings. She was almost in tears that someone would actually return her wallet with all of its contents. Ya’el promised to follow up with her along the way until the money and credit card were safely in her hands. As I was writing this story tonight, I was prompted to go downstairs and do my own follow up with Ya’el. God had prompted me to bring a new silver beaded bracelet designed with two prayer box charms to Israel. I knew I was going to give it away here to someone. Tonight was my opportunity. As I headed downstairs on the elevator, I was so excited to see if she was still here. Yes; she was getting off her shift at 1 am and I could see her. With great joy, I told her I had something for her and that she was the answer to my prayers. I handed her the bracelet which she instantly admired. With eyes welling up with tears, she thanked me. There we were two women from two different nations, thankful that our paths had crossed. I know that God used her to find Svetlana…I could not do it by myself. I was thankful that God’s Holy Spirit prompted me to act and to give. God gave me back a sense of contentment and satisfaction knowing that I was obedient and it made a world of difference in two family’s lives. The blessing of this trip to Israel has been multiplied over and over. Svetlana gave me a reward which allowed us to have a little extra money in Israel to cover unexpected expenses. God knew that we had a need and He provided as I was obedient. Hallelujah to Jehovah, the God of Israel!

Uniqueness Experienced

Have you ever heard someone say, “My life is like a movie?” or “They ought to make a movie out of that?” Today was one of those days for Pastor Jim and I. Picture that old James Bond 007 movie starring Pierce Brosnan where 007 is riding a cable car with some oversized gold toothed guy trying to knock him off as the cable car is speeding along a cable suspended many kilometers above the hard ground. We were on that cable car today (well, not that exact one, but one such vehicle of transportation.) We visited the ruins of Masada, a community living high above the Judean desert near the Dead Sea that was just mind-boggling. You may recognize the main characters of this drama on the heights: King Herod (remember his tie to Jesus?) and the Jewish zealots. The effects and remains are unparalleled in geological significance. I wish we had a shekel for every time our guide said, “no where else in the world can you find…..!” The landscape is breathtaking; the water is as clear and spectacularly blue as any island south of the United States. But, no where else in the world, can you float in a lake which in 33% salt. Pastor Jim and I bobbed up and down like a cork in the ocean in the Dead Sea. It was truly effortless, and the water was even warm! Those of you who say, “I don’t float” need to try it out. This place called Israel really is a paradise of sorts, vastly diverse in landscape, temperature, culture and spiritual significance. There really is no where else in the world you can find what we are finding here. We are walking through history, truth written in books including the Word of God. We see, sense, taste, experience this land and her history and as a result are drawn into a deeper walk with God. Won’t you come along sometime and walk with us? It’s as close as your own quiet time and not a cable car, but a plane ride.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Day of Contrasts

Little did I know that today would be a day of distinction, discovering stark comparisons in many areas during our fourth day here in Israel. These disparities were not all glaring, some were very subtle. Yet all were woven together to form a tapestry of surprise. Just when I thought I saw one thing, my eyes were opened to see the contrast…. On our way from Tiberias through Cana (remember the story of contrast that occurred here—Jesus taking everyday water and changing it into not so everyday wine), we stopped at a real live re-creation of Nazareth. (Check out www.nazarethvillage.comThis plot of land was discovered and Nazareth Village was born. Amidst the bustling city of post-Jesus Nazareth, there was a 1st century farm which was uncovered. It included terraces for farming, stone buildings and even a lookout for a shepherd for his sheep. This was such an amazing experience to see how people actually lived in Jesus’ day. Each character was true to the period; even the children dressed and played from that time (sorry, no ipods or xbox here). As we left the simple lifestyle of that farm, we encountered the vast complex city of modern-day Nazareth. Simple to complex…contrast. The drive through the West Bank was a real eye-opener. The lush green hills gave way to less and less vegetation. The diversity was great. Our tour guide has said it was going to be like this. He was right. Where elevated green hills, trees of many kinds and beautiful flowers bloomed, dry desert tan earth abounded for miles. Some of our group took naps on the bus ride through this area. They were really shocked when they woke up to what looked like Death Valley….contrast. The Word talks about the last battlefield in Revelation. We stood at Megiddo, the valleys of the different “ites’ before us. Amidst the ruins of 26 civilizations, layered upon on another, rock horse troughs, and vast altars for sacrificing children called out to us to remember the vast contrast between the spiritual warfare of the day. Evil is always pitted against good; only in this case however, our good God will be victorious…contrast. Bedouins, the nomadic Palestinian people eeking out an existence in Israel set up primitive shacks on the land. Think homeless people in the US, in shanty towns. The drive between the Dead Sea at 1,500 feet below sea level and the Dome of the Rock at 400 plus feet above sea level gave us a panoramic view of the famous salty lake. The Bedouins homes were overshadowed as we got our first view of the Holy City. Multi-unit housing, high rises, congested neighborhoods, modern transportation instead of camels.…a land of great contrast. We drove and walked in the steps of Jesus today. Most days in the US, we are good to pause to take in the life of Christ written on the pages of the precious Word He so wisely gave to us. We have seen authentic locations where Christ did life everyday, in contrast to letters on pages of our Bibles that only speak of His amazing life and ministry. We are thoroughly taken by the reality of Scripture as we see it come to life here in Israel. It is more than words on a page, history in letters. We are thankful that these facts are written for us to further believe. Seeing, my friends, really is believing. This life-altering experience only highlights what we are now able to see because we have seen with our own eyes this amazing place.…contrast. May you see God with new eyes today. Shalom! Pastor Jim and Andrea

Friday, April 8, 2011

Water from start to finish

Hello everyone! We have had quite a day today! We started out in Tiberias for an incredible breakfast of fresh fruits, salad, bakery, eggs, cheeses I've never heard of, etc. Then we drove to see the 2,000 year old boat at the museum near Capernum. It was totally fascinating. What a gift to the world to have such a treasure. We then sailed on the Sea of Galilee; Jim was in his element!! The sound of our voices singing and sharing rebounded across the still water. It was like sailing on glass. We were treated to the Israeli national anthem, and the US National anthem and flag raising as well. Our Canadian friends were troopers singing with us. The boat captain/crew demonstrated with agility and skill the art of fishing by net, Jesus' era style. No fish for us for lunch, but no worries. It was quite a sight to see Pastor Jim do a Jewish folk dance on the deck with 12 of his new friends. Fast forward toward Capernaum, the "town of Jesus." Remember the passages in the Bible where Jesus spoke to 5,000 or more people? I used to think, how in the world is that possible? Today, at the Mount of Beatitudes Jim and I saw first hand the reality of Jesus' ministry to the multitudes. It was such an eye opener; history, Biblical truth is jumping out at us as we listened to the Word on that hillside. Our faith is being validated and we are being drawn in to a supernatural experience here in the land of our Savior. Jim led an insightful devotion at the place that commemorates Jesus asking Peter if his love was for him. "Follow, no matter what" was the distinct and powerful word. Jesus is able to sustain even Peter's shaky faith and use him as a leader. He has that desire for us as well. As we stood in the grove of ancient trees outside the site of the destroyed synagogue from Jesus' day and heard about how God wants us to receive His spirit as a guide and to live faithful lives as leaders, I could not help but be grateful for this physical town as well as the new community of leaders/pastors which have now become our friends. Many pictures later, we found ourselves laughing, eatin falafel, the Israel national snack. We are so enjoying the new flavors of this country. The personal highlight of the day for us was putting on white robes over our swimsuits and wading into the chilly Jordan River. A community of Asian believers were singing, praising God as their friends were baptized. It was a powerful reminder of the God who loves all nations and people. We have heard less English here than I expected. Pastor Jim was baptized by our tourleader, Mark. He has baptized over a hundred of pastors in the 17 years he has been coming here. Jim then baptized me, which was an amazing experience. When we can, we will post some pics to the blogsite. The day long journey around the Sea of Galilee came to an end as we passed by the electric fence that secures Jordan from Israel. The winding mountain road reminded me of a great Cedar Point ride--windy, narrow and adrenaline inducing. This country is so diverse and beautiful, it is hard to describe. God sure had quite an imagination when he created this landscape. It is not hard to realize the diversity of both population and geography. WIth diversity brings a wealth of learning, and we are learning so much! Thanks for praying for us! We'll catch up with you around the next bend... Love and shalom, Pastor Jim and Andrea

Blessed beyond ourselves.

Hello friends,

We are certainly on the adventure of a lifetime, doing things we have never done and seeing a land we only dreamed that someday we would be able to see. Our flight was delayed going out of JFK--we left at 4:00 am on Wed. We have been all through Tel Aviv, experienced Joppa, picked up a rock from Mt. Carmel (remember the big BBQ contest held there?) We have been inspired as we walked through Caeserea in Peter's footsteps and stood where Paul once stepped into the awaiting ship to sail past Herrod's great temple at the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Today as we ate dinner (the food is beyond amazing) over the Sea of Galilee, we felt blessed beyond ourselves. Tomorrow we will see Galilee from a whole new perspective as we walk the shore, visit famous places in the Bible and later are baptized in the Jordan River. The only thing that could be better than this is if you were here in person to experience this with us.

Thank you for your prayers. Jim shares his first devotional at the place where Jesus told Peter to "feed my lambs" tomorrow morning at 10. (It will be 3 am your time.)

We are safe, well-fed, and have a wonderful and knowledgable tour guide. We look forward to sharing a ton of pictures and our hearts with you in the next several days.

Jim and Andrea

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The adventure of a lifetime!

Hello friends,

We are certainly on the adventure of a lifetime, doing things we have never done and seeing a land we only dreamed that someday we would be able to see. Our flight was delayed going out of JFK--we left at 4:00 am on Wed. We have been all through Tel Aviv, experienced Joppa, picked up a rock from Mt. Carmel (remember the big BBQ contest held there?) We have been inspired as we walked through Caeserea in Peter's footsteps and stood where Paul once stepped into the awaiting ship to sail past Herrod's great temple at the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Today as we ate dinner (the food is beyond amazing) over the Sea of Galilee, we felt blessed beyond ourselves. Tomorrow we will see Galilee from a whole new perspective as we walk the shore, visit famous places in the Bible and later are baptized in the Jordan River. The only thing that could be better than this is if you were here in person to experience this with us.
Thank you for your prayers. Jim shares his first devotional at the place where Jesus told Peter to "feed my lambs" tomorrow morning at 10. (It will be 3 am your time.)

We are safe, well-fed, and have a wonderful and knowledgable tour guide. We look forward to sharing a ton of pictures and our hearts with you in the next several days.
Jim and Andrea

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What Happens After We Die?

I’ve received quite a few emails about last week’s sermon. Seems the sermon sparked some questions and raised a few issues. I thought this might be a good excuse to jump back into my blog. So, I will use this blog to answer some of the most common questions I have received.

One of the more frequent questions is represented by this email:

Pastor Jim, during your sermon on Sunday, you made mention of the mortality of the soul, you stated that there was no mortality of the soul. I thought maybe I misheard or you misspoke, so I listened to the message again. At the 11:42 mark in your sermon, that was what you said, so now it raises the question as what Paul meant by "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." 2 Cor 5:8. Please explain.

Yes, Paul is stating his belief in the resurrection just like he does in Acts 24:15, Rom. 6:5, 1 Cor. 15, et al. Whether he is killed by his enemies or executed by the Romans, Paul says that is not the end. When I die, and my body is limp and absent of life, I will be raised from the dead to be present with the Lord. Verse 8 (and vv. 6&7 before it) recap the theme first introduced in 4:16-18. “At home in the body” means to dwell in “the earthly tent” (5:1), to be outwardly “wasting away” (4:16), to be away from the immediate presence of the Lord.

When we die, we don't stay dead, merely rotting away into all eternity. When this body dies, we will be resurrected into a new body where (as Christians) we will be present with the Lord. God will raise each of us from the dead. As you can see from the context in 2 Cor. 5:1-10, Paul is not contrasting the difference between body and soul, he is contrasting the difference between our earthly bodies and our heavenly bodies. When we die and this earthly body is destroyed, God will raise us up from the dead and give us new bodies.

The belief in the immortality of the soul, (that the soul doesn't die) is a very popular belief but is a dangerous lie first introduced by Satan in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:4). It was made popular by secular Greek philosophers like Plato and Socrates and has infiltrated first the Catholic church and then the Protestant church both to a deep degree. The Hebrew word for soul is ‘nephesh’ ("soul, breathing one, a person's lifesource" used of God giving life to Adam in Gen. 2:7). Using that word ‘nephesh,’ the Bible plainly states in Ezekiel 18:4 "The soul who sins will die." Our soul, that is, our life, has a lifespan, that is, we die, our soul dies. Our soul is mortal, not immortal.

When we die, all of us dies: body, soul, mind, heart, all of it. Again, it was the Greeks who introduced this idea that you can separate us into compartments: body, soul, spirit, mind, etc. The Bible sees each of us as a unity of personhood, not some tripartite or dualistic entity. It’s important that we recognize the Bible as our authority and not Greek philosophy.

It’s also essential that we maintain the centrality of the resurrection. It is the core doctrine of the Christian faith. If the soul does not die, there is no need for a resurrection. By definition, resurrection can only happen after a death. If you teach the immortality of the soul, that the soul never really dies, then you have no need for a resurrection and you have destroyed the foundation of the Christian faith. Read 1 Corinthians 15 where the first Christian theologian argues for the centrality of the doctrine of the resurrection. It might help to read it in a clear translation like the NLT where you can see the brilliance of St. Paul’s argument with more clarity.

If you have any questions (or comments), feel free to comment here.