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Israel Day #3

“When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The LORD hath done great things for them. The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.” – Psalm 126:1-3

The seventh Psalm of Ascent could have been written in the sky as we visited our last stop today.

Mary Magdalene is one of my favorite Bible characters. Her love and loyalty toward Jesus always stirs me when I read the scriptures.

Mary got this name because she was from Magdala, a town archaelogists had given up on finding.

Kinda like most people had on Mary.

See, Mary was an obvious sinner. She was demon possessed seven times over.

And Magdala was a small town. About a decade ago, some contractors stumbled upon the ancient site during construction. What the archaelogists discovered afterward was a wealthy and religious fishing town of around 200 people.

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When you’re messed up like she was, in a small town, news traveled fast. Mary became the woman everyone shunned.

When Jesus was asked why He tolerated Mary’s presence, He said it was because those who’ve been forgiven much, love much.

And Jesus forgave Mary of a lot.

As I stood at the excavated synagogue, I couldn’t help but picture Jesus teaching there, as was his habit in Galilee. And I couldn’t help but think that a shunned failure like Mary possibly found forgiveness on the very seats I leaned on.

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Wherever it was that she met Jesus in the town, when she did, she found freedom, hope, and a new purpose. God “turned again” her “captivity” and replaced her sorrow with laughter.

I lingered at that ancient synagogue. I’d never seen anything like it, but it felt very familiar. Because Jesus came to my town and set me free too.

Jesus came to seek and save what was lost.

“They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” – Psalm 126:5-6

I’m so thankful Jesus rescued me. That He came and found me. That He forgave my much sin. And I have great joy now because of all He’s done.

You don’t have to be in Israel to tell Him that 🙂 And you don’t have to be in Israel to serve Him joyfully from this day forward. Why not follow Mary’s example today?

Below are links from Facebook to earlier videos I put up from Day #3.

 

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Israel Day #2 Blog

“Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” – Psalm 124:8. 

Many of the Psalms of Ascent included praise to God for delivering them from enemies. Today I visited two places that reminded me of God’s love and grace as two people were surrounded by their enemies.

The first one was Paul in Caesarea by the Sea. Originally built by Herod the Great, the city became the capital of the Roman province of Judea and remained the capital after the Romans expelled the Jews and renamed the province Palestina (after Israel’s worst enemies – it means “land of the Philistines”).

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As I stood in the place where Paul gave his defense, it brought to life just how alone he stood in the judgment hall. And yet Paul boldly preached the Gospel to the pompous crowd.

How?

Because the person he spent time with each day was far more impressive than any of those dignitaries.

He met with a God who flung worlds into existence.

He met with a God who is always holy and never does wrong.

He met with a God who loved Him infinitely despite his own failures.

The only Person whose opinion mattered at all stood right beside him the entire time.

It was only fitting a half-hour later when we saw the rubble of the Roman palace where some of those dignitaries lived. I, on the other hand, am a living stone that remains because of Paul’s faithful testimony.

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The second one was Elijah on the top of Mount Carmel. As we studied in the garden next a monastery dedicated to God’s triumph over the priest’s of Baal in 1 Kings 18, I couldn’t help but notice God’s love in v30-31.

Elijah is outnumbered 450 to 1. And he’s got no help from the people. They’re similar to Paul’s audience. Maybe not as hostile, but on the fence until they see the results.

Yet, after all the failed shenanigans from the priests of Baal, Elijah doesn’t lambaste the people for being double-minded. He doesn’t chastise them for leaving him alone to battle these wicked men.

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“And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me.” – 1 Kings 18:30.

He invites them close enough to the incoming fire which should wipe them out for their idolatry. God says as much when He makes idolatry a capital crime in the law of Moses.

But Elijah knows His God. That while He is holy, He is always looking for a reason to pardon. That God is there already, waiting for His people to draw near so He can consume the innocent sacrifice instead of them.

Kinda like He did for me on the cross.

“As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the LORD is round about his people from henceforth even for ever.” – Psalm 125:2. 

I wasn’t at the mountains around Jerusalem today, but neither were the Jews when they sang these two songs. They did so in anticipation of where they were going. To remind them of the faithfulness of their God to protect them.

I’m so glad God gave me these reminders. That His love is unfailing, and He never leaves or forsakes me. Won’t you come near, wherever you are right now, and find the same?

I posted a few video’s earlier on Facebook. You can see them below if you want everything in one place.

Israel Day #1

“Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the LORD our God, until that he have mercy upon us.” – Psalm 123:2

This verse from the 4th Psalm of Ascent especially hit my heart today. We spent the afternoon at Tel Aviv, the 2nd largest city in Israel. It’s Biblical name is probably most familiar to you as Joppa.

The place where Jonah purchased a ride that landed him in the belly of a fish.

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It’s also the place where Peter raised Tabitha from the dead. But the place that moved me the most was the house of Simon the Tanner.

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It’s probably not Simon the Tanner’s house. But his house did exist in this area. In Acts 10, we find Peter sitting on top of the roof, possibly one like this. While there, the Lord gave Peter a vision of kosher and non-kosher animals, and told him to eat them.

Peter refused, but the Lord told him not to call something unclean that He had cleansed. Through that he realized that Jesus died for Gentiles too.

Because of that day, the Gospel spread beyond Israel all the way to a place called Orlando, Florida. The place a Gentile named Will Ramirez gave his life to Jesus two thousand years later.

There I was standing in the place it all started. I’m so grateful the Lord gave Peter that vision. I’m so grateful Peter obeyed the Lord and shared the Gospel with Cornelius. I’m so glad someone took that message from Joppa to me.

The Lord showed me mercy thirty years ago, and my eyes still wait with expectation on His mercy. Tell someone about His mercy today!

#calvarychapelorlando

The video’s below are re-posted from Facebook earlier today. They briefly shared the 2nd and 3rd Psalms of Ascent.

Thankful all is not vanity

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher. Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” – Ecclesiastes 1:2.

Yikes.

Not exactly an encouraging scripture. Yet it sums up the whirlwind that is the book of Ecclesiastes.

King Solomon wrote it to chronicle his search for a fulfilling life. As one of the wealthiest, wisest, and most powerful men in history, he was more qualified to answer that question than any other.

He pursued education, pleasure, great accomplishments, career, religion, wealth, philosophy, and philanthropy in his search.

The result?

None of it fulfills.

And even if you achieve your goals, death comes far too quickly for the enjoyment to be worth the investment.

Yikes.

It’s easy to dismiss Solomon as jaded, frustrated, or just plain grumpy. If that were true, then why is it that so many of us are on the same journey, and find the same results?

In a world with increasing violence, hatred, and division, our problem isn’t a lack of passion in our pursuit of fulfillment. People are doing crazy things in their attempt to find meaning in life.

Like Solomon we suffer from trying to find fulfillment in something besides a relationship with God.

“What profit has a man of all his labor which he takes under the sun?” – Ecclesiastes 1:3

If we poke our head up above the sun, beyond what we can see in the natural, we’ll find something that is worth it. That’s what Paul promised.

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be all of you steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, inasmuch as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 15:58.

I’m so glad that life does have meaning each day because there’s a God out there who loves me and wants to know me better. I’m so thankful that as I live my life to know Jesus better and fall more in love with Him, it has great value.

Have you taken the time today to talk to the Lord about what He wants you to do? Or to learn more about Him? If not, set aside whatever you’re doing, and take a few moments to live above the sun 🙂

 

 

Thankful for Getaways with Jesus

“I have rejoiced in the way of your testimonies, as much as in all riches.” – Psalm 119:14

After sending his disciples out, Jesus took His disciples away from the hustle and bustle of life to a quiet place (Mark 6, Luke 9). There are other instances of this in Gospels as well.

These catch my attention because scripture gives us glimpses into these meeting, but not many details. All we know is that Jesus spent quality time with them away from their normal activities.

I recently returned from a leadership conference that serves a similar purpose. We gather with fellow pastors and leaders to hear what Jesus would say to us away from the hustle and bustle of the places we serve.

I’m always amazed how the Lord meets me there. I often go with expectations that God is going to give long-sought answers to prayer or freshen vision for an aspect of ministry.

But my favorite part is when God puts on the wrestling suit and charges out of the bushes.

There’s something reverent, holy, painful, and endearing when God wrestles with me in these moments.

You know what I speak of. God confronts you on an issue you weren’t prepared to address or didn’t know was a problem. You’re shocked. There’s a bit of you that cries out “Hey, what’s wrong with you! Why did you tackle me?”

There’s even the question of whether of not it’s God who’s speaking to you.

But then you stop fighting, and you listen to that still small voice which says, “I had to get your attention – Now that I have it, let’s talk.”

And then, God gently and lovingly breaks you.

I’m so thankful that God loves me enough to get me away from the hustle and bustle so I can hear His quiet voice speak to my specific needs. I’m so thankful He loves me enough to tackle me when I’m a bit hard of hearing.

Have you considered that God might be calling you away too? Maybe there’s a conference or a meeting at your church God’s been prompting you to attend. Have you considered that it’s time to stop fighting God, and to give up your time doing other things so you can get away with Him?

On a side note, if you’re looking for some personal getaway time in the Word, check out the messages from the conference I attended at seccpc.com. I know you’ll be blessed like I was!

Thankful God is With Us

“And God remembered Noah, and every living thing…” – Genesis 8:1

I was driving today and the radio announcer brought up that it was the 14th anniversary of September 11th.

I remember that morning like a video permanently etched in my mind.

I remember seeing the 2nd plane hit.

I remember watching the first tower fall. The smoke. The shock. The tears.

I remember all the questions and fears afterwards.

I remember nervously boarding a plane just a few months later and praying most of the way.

I remember thinking, I bet things like this would happen more often if you didn’t love us so much, God.

Fifteen years later, I see a world that’s more violent than ever.

It’s not difficult to believe the words of Christ in Matthew 24:22, “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved.”

I’m so thankful that God is still with us. That despite how we ignore or despise Him, He doesn’t forget about me and the rest of the world. That He’s actively involved in our lives.

Take some time today to stop. Shut off the TV. Hug your family. Get on your face and thank God for His precious mercies that allow any of the good things we have in life.

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassion’s fail not.” – Lamentations 3:22.

 

Thankful God still speaks

Our church is fasting today. When the Lord laid it on my heart to call our church to this venture, I didn’t know what to expect.

All week I’ve been blown away by the excitement and anticipation from our congregation. It was like that moment in a theater when everyone is sitting on the edge of their seat wondering what will happen next.

I’m so blessed to serve a congregation that is hungry for the Lord and expects Him to work 🙂

In light of this, I’m not sure why it surprised me that God starting speaking to my heart early and often. On the drive to the church, God revealed something inside my heart that needed to change. Then he confirmed it in a conversation this afternoon in which the talk was nowhere near that topic.

Should we expect anything less from our God?

“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear.” – Isaiah 59:1

Come. Let’s talk about this.

Aren’t those the words ever on God’s lips through his prophets? It’s in those times of prayer and fasting that the Lord gets hold of us in the way only He can.

He places His finger on our stubborn sins, cronic fears, hopeless doubts, and weakened courage. And then He speaks.

Oh, the voice of God calling out to us through His Word. It’s the same voice that made the hearts burn of those two disciples who walked with him on the road to Emmaus.

I’m so grateful the Lord still speaks. That He cries out “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”. That He knows right where I’m at, what’s best for me at all times, and answers my feeble cries.

Are you under a burden right now? Stop what you’re doing and take some time to fast and pray. Don’t get the Big Gulp on the way home. Skip Taco Bell. Get a water bottle instead and then really do some business with God.

And I don’t mean the accusing “Why aren’t you fixing this, God?”

Speak those words that you fear the most.

“What do want to do in me right now – right in the midst of this crisis? I want all that you want for me and you have my full attention.”

Then open your Bible and read. He’ll speak 🙂

Thankful for Job’s Ending

“Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy? Will you torment a windblown leaf? Will you chase after dry chaff? For you write down bitter things against me and make me reap the sins of my youth.” – Job 13:24-26

Such pain-wracked words break my heart when I read them.

Yet here lay Job in all his agony. Frustrated by the tormenting accusations of his “friends”, he pours out his request to God.

“Please, God! Tell me what I’ve done wrong if indeed this is your judgment. I’m looking all the way back into my youth to see what I could repent of to undo this pain!”

How many times have we been there? Trying to figure out what God is doing and wondering if He’s still there.

Oh, He’s there. And His testimony is all that matters.

“Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that fears God, and eschews evil?” – Job 1:8.

Job was confused. He was frustrated. His faith was tested to the point of breaking.

But it held. For in the midst of his painful questioning he also utters the words of deepest dependence.

Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” – Job 13:15.

Those words. Their triumphant cry rises amid the tears of affliction and doubt. A confidence surging against the tide of despair.

That is our inheritance as children of God and we must lay hold of it.

“Be you also patient; stablish your hearts……You have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” – Job 5:7a and 5:11b

I’m so thankful that the gates of hell will never prevail against the church. That in the end we win! That each day is a day to take ground back for the kingdom, not to give it up.

Are you struggling under a weight of frustration or pain? Take some time today to cry out to the Lord. Lay all that pain out for Him that His love might hold you close, and a wellspring of faith surge in your heart. God always gets the last word!

 

Thankful Jesus is Coming

“Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which you have, that no man take your crown.” – Revelation 3:11.

Hold fast.

It means to keep carefully and faithfully. To not discard or let go.

In a world that sees increasing pain, confusion, and strife, there is the temptation to fail in this command.

To become frustrated, jaded, or hopeless.

Or lighten one’s grip on the plow as it strikes rocky soil repeatedly. To look back.

There is the danger of parading experience, the mumbo-jumbo of academia, or relevancy as the answer to the increasing pressure to discard or let go.

What did the church of Philadelphia have that they weren’t to let go of?

“…for you have a little strength, and have kept my word, and have not denied my name.” – Revelation 3:8b

Cling to the truths found in God’s Word and the character of Jesus.

Simplicity in the midst of an ever-more complicated world. That’s a breath of fresh air.

And we’re to cling with what little strength we have left, knowing that Jesus is returning soon.

“And every man that has this hope in Him purifies himself, even as He is pure.” – 1 John 3:3.

I’m so grateful Jesus is returning. That He will fix this messy, hate-filled, confused world which He bled for. I’m so thankful that my job in the meantime is clear.

Hold fast.

Are you feeling like life is frustratingly complicated? Take a moment and thank the Lord for giving you His Word, His character, and the promise of His soon return 🙂

 

Thankful To Be Counted Worthy

Today I received a letter from Americans United for Separation of Church and State. It advised me that while our ministry “may address ballot referenda and engage in other forms of issue advocacy”, we “may not use congregational resources to advise people to vote for or against specific candidates for public office.”

I was then informed that the IRS has recently formed a specific wing (PARC) “to investigate allegations against houses of worship for potentially unlawful forms of campaign intervention.”

These unlawful practices include the distribution of voter guides.

“Did not we straitly command you that you should not teach in this name?” – Acts 5:28.

Oh Will, some might say, no one’s telling you you’re not allowed to talk about Jesus. Don’t make this into something it’s not.

But I’m not.

The Good News of Jesus Christ means there’s a problem. That problem is sin. Your sin. My sin. That which lacerated the Son of God’s body, ripping and tearing away flesh. That which nailed my Jesus to a cruel cross to bear the wrath of a perfect God who won’t ignore the vile selfishness that inflicts so much pain in and upon those He created.

Your selfishness. My selfishness.

The Gospel only makes sense when there is an understanding of my wickedness which separates me from God.

And that means churches talk about sin. It means we address wicked policies and wicked people. It means we address the adultery, lying, theft, hatred, gossip, pride, hypocrisy and folly of republicans, democrats, independents, congressman, presidents, businessmen, fathers and wives.

“We ought to obey God rather than men.” – Acts 5:29.

This isn’t about politics. Politics doesn’t change lives.

This is about the Great Commission. We’re called to seek and save Americans, not America. To go out into all the world and make disciples, by preaching the awesome news that Jesus died for our wickedness, and to teach those who receive Him how to have a deepening relationship with Him.

When I read about the life of Stephen, and his martyrdom at the hands of the political leaders of his day, I admire his willingness to die in order to spread the love of the One who died for him. I often look at my Christian life and feel very small in comparison to him.

And as such I’m so thankful today “to be counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” That the church I serve at has stood for truth faithfully enough to receive a threat. I’m grateful my God is enthroned on high, far above the politics of man. I’m thankful that He’s more than able to give the necessary courage to speak the truth in love come what may.

“And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” – 2 Timothy 4:2.

Have you considered lately that trials and troubles are evidence that the enemy sees you’re doing something right? Take a moment today to thank God that your life has been counted worthy to register on the enemy’s radar 🙂