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Israel Day #6

“Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth, may Israel now say: Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth: yet they have not prevailed against me.” – Psalm 129:1-2.

The enemy of our souls is liar and murderer. Israel has always been surrounded by their own enemies, and in the 10th Psalm of Ascent, they remembered how their enemies had treated them, and how the Lord delivered them.

This also served as a reminder that often those enemies afflicted them because of their own sin.

Have you ever ended up in enemy territory because you disobeyed God? Yeah, me too. Especially in my youth.

But the enemy didn’t prevail.

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When I gave my life to Christ, His Word was a balm to my soul. It became my one solid plot of ground. The one thing I knew stood sure.

As we visited Gideon’s Springs, God’s Word washed over me afresh. He is good. He loves me. And He’s leading me.

I’m so grateful for His Word. That it reminds me who He is and how much He loves me. That His grace is revealed on every page.

I’ll leave you with some words from the 11th Psalm of Ascent. Wait on His words from the scripture today, and let them wash over you as He speaks hope to your heart 🙂

“I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning. Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” – Psalm 130:5-8.

Below are two Facebook videos I shared earlier today. I’ve placed them here if you want to see everything all in one spot.

Israel Day #5

“Blessed is every one that feareth the LORD; that walketh in His ways.” – Psalm 128:1

As the Jewish people approached Jerusalem, they would sing this 9th song of Ascent. They start it by reminding themselves that God knows best and God’s way is best.

Trusting Him and doing things His way brings blessing upon your wife and children, and satisfaction in everything that you do.

The reason Israel needed these reminders is because there are so many examples of those who failed to do so in their history.

Tel Dan made me re-visit this principle anew.

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See, after Israel conquered the Promised Land under Joshua, God divided the land between the 12 tribes. The tribe of Dan was given the coastal plain by Joppa.

Beachfront property!

But they didn’t like it. There was a group of Amorites holed up in the Valley of Sharon who needed to be conquered. So, they took the easy way out. Instead of trusting God and doing the hard things, they went looking for a “better” place to settle down.

And as often happens when I disobey God to lean on my own understanding, Satan provided an attractive alternative. The City of Laish, a place where people lived the easy life.

They were Phoenicians, but they lived in such a remote area that they never had to answer to anyone.

So, the tribe of Dan wiped them out, took their city, and made it their home. Miles away from the land God gave them.

This dissatisfaction with God, and His plan for their lives, led to idolatry. So, when Jereboam rebelled against the king and set up his own kingdom, it wasn’t a hard sell for him to get Dan to buy into his new worship system.

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As a result, Jereboam set up two temples with golden calves where the northern tribes could worship “the Lord” instead of going to Jerusalem.

“And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan.” – 1 Kings 12:30.

When the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom, they burnt Dan to the ground. It became swallowed in a jungle, only to be recently discovered. Their city didn’t last.

Not only that, but Dan is 1 of 2 tribes not mentioned in Revelation 7 when it lists those that God will use to evangelize the world during the Tribulation period.

The other one? Ephraim. The location of the other golden calf.

“For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.” – Psalm 128:2

It’s been awesome for me to see how the Psalms of Ascent have coincided with my journey through Israel. I’m excited to trust my God and His ways more than I ever have. I’m determined to be grateful for all He does for me and all He plans for me.

Are you trusting Him and His plans for you?

Below are links to two videos I posted earlier on Facebook if you want to see everything in one place.

Israel Day #4

“Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” – Psalm 127:1

The 8th Psalm of Ascent was written for Solomon, the young man who would someday be King. It’s only fitting the Lord spoke to me about my call today.

Now bear with me. This is longer than normal, but I’m going to get a bit personal.

God had been speaking many things to my heart over the first three days, but each venue today brought a specific challenge to my calling as a Pastor. To be faithful. To trust Him. To find satisfaction in Him alone.

In my battles with depression years ago, I used to say to myself, “Nice guys finish last, idiot. And you’re trying to do things the right way, Will, so get used to losing. Get used to failure. Get used to watching God do things through others. You’ll never experience that.”

The emotions behind such thoughts were extremely powerful. And very tormenting.

While Jesus helped me to control thoughts, they still have taunted me from time to time.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” – Matthew 5:6

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The truth is nice guys don’t finish last. Jesus promises otherwise. So, I must keep being faithful.

Because there was another guy who thought he knew it all. An alpha male who took life by the horns. When Jesus asked to borrow his boat so he could teach the multitudes, Peter had no issues.

But then Jesus started to tell him how to do his job.

“And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.” – Luke 5:5.

The enemy of our souls doesn’t fight fair. The same one who whispered the lie that nice guys finish last often bludgeoned me with the accusation of, “You’re not a nice guy, Will. You fail Jesus all the time”.

That’s the double-edged sword of depression. It appeals to your pride, and then smashes your face into the mud because you know you have nothing to be prideful about.

Peter obeyed the Lord, and Jesus did a better job with Peter and his boats than Peter ever did! But when Peter realized how foolish he’d been to question the Lord, he fell on his face before Jesus.

“Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord…And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” – Luke 5:8b and 5:10b.

Jesus didn’t pile on and say, “You’re right. I’m out of here you arrogant know-it-all failure.” He called him to the ministry!

“It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.” – Psalm 127:2

There in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, the same spot where Jesus called Peter, the Lord reminded me that serving Him isn’t about stressing out and taking life by the horns.

It’s about a good night sleep because I’m resting in the One who loves me infinitely, longs to bless me, and still wants to use me when I fail.

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Isn’t our Jesus awesome? I’m so thankful for a God who loves me. Who speaks to me right where I’m at despite all my frailties and hang-ups. If God’s entrusted you with an area of service, are you resting in His love?

Below are two videos I posted earlier on Facebook.

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.

 

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 🙂