Maundy Thursday – Holy Week 2018

Thursday

A meal, a prayer, a cave

The Passages

John 14:23-29

“Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me.

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am. I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe.”

The Story

John tells us that “the time had come” so having loved those given to him he chose to show an example of that love. The Messiah took up a towel, wrapped it around himself as would a common slave and then began washing the feet of his friends. They were horrified at what he was doing, but like ripping your eyes away from an accident, the disciples couldn’t stop him. Peter tried, but he too was stopped in his tracks.

“I tell you,” Jesus said, “what I have done for you, you are to do for others.” This way of being, this service would be how the world would know the followers of Jesus. This act of self-giving was a simple way of showing the world how different Jesus-people would be from the rest of humanity. Service would be the way of operating. It was the standard approach to life.

John captures the heart of the upper room that night in a discourse that covers 5+ chapters. His words are filled with instruction, encouragement, challenge, and prayer. At one point, the disciples show their inability to “get it” but a passage later they say “finally, you’re speaking without riddles so we can understand.”

As they celebrated the Passover meal, the annual reminder of God’s rescuing of his people from the hands of Egypt and a cruel Pharaoh, Jesus gives them a new night to “remember.” He had already given them this act of foot washing, but then he redefines the bread (and the whole meal) as being a more perfect sacrifice. He takes a cup that was to symbolize the rescuing God at work, and says it is “his blood” poured out for the forgiveness of sins.

As the supper ends, they stand and sing a song as they head to the Garden. In what must have been a mix of emotions, they arrive – exhausted – and the Master invites them to pray. They couldn’t do it and Jesus prayed agonizing prayers to the Father. As the hours passed, Jesus would be betrayed, arrested, tried, beaten, embarrassed, mocked, and put in a cell to await the morning.

The one who’s creative power brought the earth and all creation into being, huddled, bleeding, in a water cistern awaiting his imminent death.

Devotional Thought

Maundy Thursday may be my favorite day in the entire Christian year. Certainly, Christmas Day is a blast, and Easter begins a season of 50 day’s culminating in Pentecost that takes my breath away. But Maundy Thursday is such an important and “on purpose” kind of day that it can’t be missed. The rest of the world rips onward but for those of us who open up our eyes and choose to enter into the story, this day has life changing properties.

And there’s so much to settle into – so many moments from this day (from that meal) that calls out to me and invites me to stay a while. The foot washing part has always been strange for me. I know a lot of folks who have problems with feet. For these folks its a creepy moment. I’ve been involved in a few foot washing services – it’s humbling for everyone. To take another persons foot and wash it and dry it is haunting. To have your foot cradled and washed by another is a moment unlike any other I have experienced.

I could dwell on the meal for days and write posts on what he was doing with bread and cup for a solid year. His prayer for the disciples to be strong and his prayer for those who would believe in him through the witness of those disciples (that’s us) often bring me to tears. He prayed for us – for me – that we would be ONE and that we would show the world the full extend of the Love of the Father.

But today I’m drawn to the cistern – to this holding cell that the Messiah was lowered into after his betrayal, arrest and “religious” trial. It was the pre-incarnate word of God that brought forth creation. That’s a lot of $5 seminary ideas for most people. Jesus is the word of God in the flesh (that’s what John 1 is all about). God exists eternally in 3 persons – one God, 3 persons (what we call the Trinity). Jesus has always been and before being born of Mary, the Word was ushering forth the creative expression of all that God is.

And there in a dark, damp, empty water cistern was this same Word of God. He sat there in the darkness – in the cold – alone – betrayed – bleeding while he awaited was still yet to come. In the pit he sat and he waited.

Humanity had yet released its full wrath on God, but it was coming. Pain and torment beyond my imagination was just hours away. Isolation and desertion had already begun, and in the end only a handful would stand weeping as he breathed his last. But for at least for a few hours, the Messiah huddled in a dark cave with the  sin of the world closing in on him.

I wonder what would happen if we chose to take some time of quiet today, even just 20 minutes, to sit with Jesus in that prison. To a degree, we all have been in a prison – many of us still are. To know that the Messiah sat there is a huge gift of hope for me. To me that means that when I am at my lowest, he is there with me. It means that when I feel alone, He is there. It means that when I feel full of myself and riddled with pride, he invites me to lower myself and choose a different way.

What do you and I need to do today to let this powerful day and moment not just pass us by? Can we find 20 minutes to be still and enter in with him? Can we choose to envision from this moment just a small bit of the extent of the Love of God for us?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, I am overwhelmed, already, by the depth of your passion for restoring creation. These next 24+ hours aren’t just a reminder of some sick production of God, but of a restoration that has baffled our minds ever since. Use these hours to remind me of your love. Use the noise…use the quiet…use the in-between moments to draw me to you. And as I receive that love, let me take up your command to love others in the same way with all I am. Holy Spirit fall fresh upon me as we await the return of Jesus. Let your kingdom and domain and power and authority fall on me. In Jesus name, amen.

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Wednesday of Holy Week

Wednesday

 A day of rest and preparation 

city-of-bethany

The Passages

Luke 22:1-6

The Festival of Unleavened Bread, which is also called Passover, was approaching. The leading priests and teachers of religious law were plotting how to kill Jesus, but they were afraid of the people’s reaction.

Then Satan entered into Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve disciples, and he went to the leading priests and captains of the Temple guard to discuss the best way to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted, and they promised to give him money. So he agreed and began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus so they could arrest him when the crowds weren’t around..

The Story

Judas. The guy we all love to loathe. His story is tragic. A part of Jesus’ 12 closest friends and yet in the end he took money to betray the Master. The Gospel writers do not paint a nice picture of Judas. When he is mentioned his name is connected to the following phrase: “the one who would betray him.” We are told that he was the money holder for the group but that he used to help himself to the change purse occasionally.

We know that his given name was Judas bar-Simon. The word Iscariot has all sorts of potential descriptions. The word Iscariot could be connected to his hometown – a city called Kerioth, a region in Judea. Another says that the word is similar to the Aramaic word for “liar” and that he was called this name after the events of Easter. It could have referred to the color of his hair – as the words background can mean red color.

My favorite of the possibilities has to do with a group called the Sicarii. This was a pretty radical group of Jewish rebels that were known for their skills with a blade. They were a group bent on revolution and ridding the Jewish people of Rome. It’s possible that this group didn’t do it’s primary work until after the time of Christ, but some form of it could have existed in Judas’ time

Regardless of what the name means, we still struggle with the character of the betrayer. Here is a guy, no matter his motives, who received a bribe of money to let a group of people that were widely known to hate the Teacher know the where’s, what’s, and when’s of Jesus’ actions. Maybe Judas did this as an attempt to push Jesus into action, but in any case he knew that a negative consequence could come about due to his choice. In any case, Judas took the occasion of a quiet Wednesday to make some plans and thus be entered into the discussion of one of history’s most despised individuals.

A Devotional Thought

Wednesday appears to have been a quiet day in the midst of this Holy Week. We are told no interactions of Jesus or of the 12. We can surmise that, if he hadn’t already, this was the time that Judas took to seek out the religious leaders. Everyone else in Jesus’ circle were either resting or preparing for what was to come. If he planned to celebrate the Passover the next night, then certainly a lot would be in the works on Thursday. It makes sense that everyone would stay close to home base.

There is another element that struck me this morning as I read over this passage. Beginning on Thursday morning. Jesus would be on constant movement ultimately until his death at around 3 pm on Good Friday. That’s 24+ hours of on the move plus all the emotional and physical pain that would be inflicted upon him.

As I reflected on that it became clear why a day of silence and quiet is so necessary for Jesus. Sure the disciples could be about planning the meal, but Jesus needed some time to prepare. He needed the opportunity to rest and renew one last time. This was no small feat that faced him (which I think he was fully aware of) and it would take all of who Jesus was to endure.

The Savior, the Lord of Life, the Master needed a day to prepare and be ready. Judas took that day of preparation to line his pockets. Jesus took that day to be still.

As we approach the next few days, I have a lot of preparation that is still in front of me, but that doesn’t mean I’m preparing. I have a lot to do, and even if I get it all done, it won’t mean I’m ready. I could go through this day, and the next few, with al my boxes checked and still not engage the moments before me that continue to change and challenge the world. And if I miss out, prepared though I may appear, I don’t just miss out on a holiday – I miss out on a chance to journey with my Savior.

What do you need to do on this day of quiet – this Wednesday of holy week, to prepare yourself? Maybe skip that evening show? Maybe have a conversation with your family about the days ahead? Maybe stay up 30 minutes later tonight and read the passages we’ve already gone over? Maybe look at a cross and sit in silence allowing the Holy Spirit to prompt and invite you in to God’s story?

Whatever you do, take some time to be silent and let your heart, mind, soul and body become prepared to interact with the story that will still change us, if we’ll let it.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, your word doesn’t tell us you did much on this day, but you had to have been doing a lot to be ready for what was to come. Use today to prepare me to enter into your passion. Invite me to be changed by what you endured and embraced for my sake. Give me time to be still and be with you. And as we rest tonight, give us a greater desire to not get caught up in the busyness of another week, but to seek out ways to encounter you. In your name I offer my prayer, Amen.

Tuesday of Holy Week

Tuesday

Clashes with the religious leaders, the end of the age, and back to Bethany

The Passages

Matthew 23: 1-8

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.

“Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’ “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters.

Matthew 24:1-8

As Jesus was leaving the Temple grounds, his disciples pointed out to him the various Temple buildings. But he responded, “Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!”

Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives. His disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?”

 Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.

The Story

On Tuesday, we have Jesus directly challenging those who would eventually arrest, try and hand him over to Rome to be crucified. John’s gospel repeatedly speaks about Jesus’ “time” either not yet coming, or just about, and then finally that the time had come. As Jesus nears his “time,” it appears he holds nothing back. He speaks as directly here as anywhere in the gospels.

Jesus and the disciples once again leave Bethany and head down the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem. At the start of the day, Jesus has positioned himself at the teaching steps near the Temple. This place was a gathering spot for the hebrews and a place to hear news and updates. As Jesus interacts with his followers, the religious leaders begin to pester him. They ask questions and they try to challenge him with trickery. Jesus doesn’t budge.

At first, Jesus enters into a sort of verbal sparring, but that ends quickly as He moves to direct confrontation. Jesus praises the teaching of the Pharisees and scribes (notice he doesn’t include the sadducees in this collection), but then warns everyone else – “do as they say but don’t do what they do.” Jesus calls them hypocrites, actors who put on masks and hide their true identity. They look holy, but it’s a show.

At one point, he begins to pronounce a series of “woes” upon the religious elite – they are as embarrassing to read today as they would have been intended on that audience. Jesus is poking a hornets nest when he says “you (the religious leaders) travel the world to find one single convert, and then you make them twice the son of hell that you are.”

Toward the end of the day, Jesus and the disciples head back to Bethany and Jesus speaks about a pretty devastating time. It begins with an innocent comment about the splendor of the temple, and turns into a judgment and prophecy. “Not a stone will be left standing” – the temple will fall. And if that’s not bad enough, Jesus says that people will be persecuted – those who call Jerusalem home, but also those who remain faithful to Jesus’ teachings. War isn’t going to end – violence will increase – it’s going to look pretty bleak.

But the Son of Man will come again – and glory and great power is going to overwhelm the whole world. An end will come.

A Devotional Thought

I don’t like Tuesday of holy week. It’s really an unsettling day. There is a lot of teaching that, if I’m honest, hits me square between the eyes. I used to think that Jesus disagreed with all the religious folks – that they all had missed the point and Jesus had come to set them straight. The gospels appear to paint that picture, but it’s not an accurate assessment.

Jesus certainly had a big problem with the Sadducees – they were the political arm of the Hebrew religion (often cozied up next to Rome). They were the power brokers. They were in charge of religion at the temple. They had become very wealthy “leading” the people in their religious duties, but they wouldn’t be what we would consider orthodox, or theologically sound.

The Pharisees were the heart of the religion. They were interested in the holiness that the Law of Moses demanded. They had a deep love of God and wanted to “protect” the gift of God’s revelation. Jesus was perfectly fine with most of the teachings of the Pharisees. He too was about holiness and loving God. When he is asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus doesn’t say “don’t kill” or “don’t lie” – he quotes the Shema, the prayer of the Pharisee – “hear o Israel, the Lord our God is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength.”

Jesus’ problem with the pharisee was that they talked a great game, but their talking was a mask for dark motives and intentions that consumed them. They weren’t wiling to be real about their own brokenness – it’s far easier to point out everyone else’s wrong rather than deal with your own. And so, “woe to you teachers.”

We live in a world that is constantly at odds with itself. We argue and fuss about everything. In America, we currently are fighting over the safety of our children and the polarization of how to protect them ignores the fact that deep down we all want the same thing – safety. What we don’t want to admit is that there maybe something underneath our masks that needs dealing with – again, it’s easier to say how wrong “they” are.

After Jesus denounces the religious hypocrisy, He looks to the symbol of the problem – a building that had taken the place of the God it was meant for. How often do I slip into a pattern of honoring some special sacred thing over the God who that thing is supposed to honor? I love my church but it can be consuming and it can distract me from true worship. I love the gifts God has given me – wife, kids, family and friends – but they too can become idols.

Tuesday of Holy Week reminds me that my mask is a danger, not only to myself, but to those around me. This day reminds me to pursue not just good teaching but good living. This day reminds me that walls tumble when they are put up in place of the Savior.

What masks are you wearing today? What gifts have become more important than the giver? Where do you hear the woes of the Master in your life?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, you spoke so clearly to the religious leaders. As I read these words I shudder. Could you be saying them to me too? Keep me from falling into the trap of the Pharisees. Help me put down my mask. Help me not just talk about following you, nor let me hide my own imperfections behind good words. Instead, let me walk openly and honestly – let me follow you and love you with my heart, mind and strength. Keep me from raising up idols – even the great gifts you have given me. And let me yearn and work for the time when you come again and when everything will be made right. Amen.

Holy Week Reflections – Monday

Monday

Cleansing the Temple, cursing a fig tree, weeping over Jerusalem, back to Bethany

The Passages

Matthew 21:1-22

 In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry, and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” And immediately the fig tree withered up.

The disciples were amazed when they saw this and asked, “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?”

Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.”

Matthew 23:37-39

 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

The Story

The Palms have fallen to the ground. A day filled with energy and excitement has come and gone. Depending on the Gospel account, Jesus either ended Palm Sunday with a cleansing of the temple, or with a sigh and a return to the Bethany. In any case, as the sun rises on Jerusalem, the energy around the dusty, miracle making Rabbi is mixed. His supporters still stand with him – though they are concerned. His detractors grow more restless and they begin to plan. Rome watches intently to see who will need to be stilled and stopped.

On Monday morning Jesus and his disciples, once again, make a journey down the same road as the morning before, but without the fanfare. On the way, Jesus is hungry and walks to a fig tree looking for food. When he finds none, Jesus “curses” the tree, which immediately begins to shrivel and die. The disciples are astonished and it appears Jesus shrugs it off – “even with a small ounce of faith, you can move a mountain.”

As they approach the city, and again depending on the account, Jesus either cleanses the temple, or he begins teaching and interacting with the worshippers coming to town for Passover. By the end of the day, Jesus begins to leave and as he makes his way back up the hill to Bethany he has a moment. Turning to look at the city, Jesus begins to weep. He cries over the city – not the bricks or the temple – but over the people who have made that city what it is.

“How I long to gather you, but you wouldn’t let me…your house is abandoned and desolate.”

A Devotional Thought

These 2 stories are strange. The first is just weird. The second continues to haunt and trouble me. And they are both great stories for the Monday of the week that would change the course of human history.

I love figs. I remember as a kid eating my grandmothers Fig Newtons after nap time. I remember trying to sneak into the pantry, trying so quietly to open up a sleeve and take a cookie or two. I also remember my grandmother warning me about eating too many of them. Figs are incredible little fruits and whether you get one fresh or dried, they are amazing little works of creation. In ancient times, figs were used not just for snacks and meals, but for medicinal purposes to treat a wide range of maladies.

This story of Jesus interaction with the fig though is weird. Hunger, sure I get that, but cursing it because it’s empty – what is that about? Obviously, Jesus uses it as a teaching moment on faith, but what else are we to learn from this story? Passover, which happens in March or April, isn’t the season for Figs. The leaves begin to blossom and there are often pre-figs (called taqsh) which bud and can be snacked upon. These little pre-figs are important indicators of what kind of Fig Season will come later in June.

It appears that this tree had none of these pre-figs. It was a leafy tree but it was not bearing a single piece of pre-fruit. To anyone living at that time, this tree would have been considered worthless – fire wood – not good for keeping. When Jesus walks up to it, he expects it (as would anyone else) to have these fruits and seeing none, he declares what the tree already is – useless and unable to bear fruit.

Sure it shrivels, but Jesus was only speaking to what the tree was already experiencing. When I think about a tree that is supposed to bear fruit and isn’t the image I get is one of “living death.” It’s not doing what it was created to do – bear fruit. It’s deceiving people from the thought or prospect of sustenance. It’s alive and yet it’s not living.

Couple this living-death with Jesus’ statement about faith and I think we have a picture of an expectation Jesus would have for his followers – it certainly appears that way to the authors. They got what he was saying and doing. His “cursing” the tree wasn’t a shock – it’s immediate shriveling, that was the stunner.

The second story is a haunting one. This moment Jesus has is almost out of place. As he leaves, he pauses and weeps. We only have one other occasion of Jesus crying – the death of Lazarus. A friend and a special city cause the Savior to pause and weep!

This city represented (and still does) so much hope and so much of the desires of God. Yet, it refuses to be brought home -to be what God longs for it to be. It was content to live inside the glory of it’s past stories. It was energized by epic moments of it’s history. It had the Son of God within its walls and yet it was about to turn upon him. And so the Messiah Weeps.

As I reflect on these 2 stories, I can’t help but wonder if fruit and unmet expectations aren’t important lessons for me today? There are a lot of distractions about – a lot of good and bad things vying for attention. There are cries for justice (Isaiah 42 is a good read regarding that today) and there are cries for peace. And yet, how much is missed out on because I won’t tend fruit or have a little more faith? I wonder how much weeping is done over my life and walk because I revel in some past moment of glory I had with God – while the Savior stands ready to be clutched close?

Prayer:

Father, I thank you for Mondays…and Lord, you know how hard that is to say. I thank you for this Monday and for the events of that day and for the warnings and invitations I am still given so many years later. You have planted me deep, help me in your grace to cultivate the fruit that you long for me to produce. Help me to stretch in faith. Help me to be thankful for the stories of yesterday, but always remember that you are still doing something today and will do something even greater in my tomorrow. Use this Holy Week to draw me closer to you and in doing so help bring about the Kingdom you desire in my world today.

IN Jesus Name, Amen.

Heaviness

A lot has happened in the last 24 hours. It’s an incredible thing to see things a second time after so many years. Many of the places we have visited are familiar. But even in the familiarity there are many new experiences and new ways of seeing the familiar. The Church of the Nativity is a very special place – you can sense thousands of years of pilgrims footsteps and prayers. As restorations continue, new elements peak from underneath years of smoke, grime and plaster.

There were also new experiences today. Seeing this mountain that Herod the Great had his engineers and slaves actually move was awe inspiring. From the top of this great man made mountain, you can see clear across southern Israel. You would have NO problem seeing what was coming from any direction – and that was part of Herod’s genius.

But I think 2 other moments were the incredible take-away’s of the day. The first came inside the High Priest Caiapahas’ house. This is the place Jesus was tried. It was where he was beaten. It was where he was imprisoned as he awaited Pilate, Antipas, and the cross. At one level of the structure is a place where prisoners were beaten – where Jesus may have been tied up, spat upon, punched and slapped. Below this level is a dried up cistern that would have been used as a prison or holding cell. Prisoners were lowered with ropes into a pit. Today there are stairs that will let you stand in this heavy space.

In that tight confined space, Bishop Fairley read words from the Psalms – “i have been cast down into a pit and I am alone.” The words were heavy. The space was heavy. The moment was a reminder of what the Savior endured long before the cross. His passion and destruction was complete – it was more than what I often focus on.

The other key element was dinner in the Palestinian area of Bethlehem with a Christian family. This is an area literally “walled-off” from the rest of Israel for the sake of safety. Understanding the conflict between Jew and Palestinian is no simple task. News agencies may like us to think that it’s simple, but they write for ratings and, in many cases, to keep a version rooted deeply in our hearts and minds. Eating dinner with this family was humbling. As we ate, other family members came in to say hello and we learned that their house was actually just a part of a larger structure built for the entire extended family. There was joy. There was hope (even when the father hadn’t worked in several days due simply to his address and a permit needed to leave Bethlehem). There was a sense of something deep and rooted in that house (it was a family redefined…at least from our western perspective).

As I sit here in my room reflecting, I find this heaviness both good -something i want to drink in slowly and fully – and something disturbing. It is disturbing because I find myself wanting more. Being in the pits is something most of us are familiar with and yet Jesus’ pit was very real – this family who opened up their home have learned to live within the pit. And I realize, in the pit is where God has done some great work in my life. It is in the pit where I have been fine tuned and the pressure has helped me be stronger.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not gonna start looking for a pit to jump into (physical or emotional). But I pray the next time I feel like I’m in one maybe I’ll remember the heaviness of this night, and I’ll whisper a prayer of remembrance and one of thanks.

Tomorrow onto the Temple Mount where I’ll be praying for you and then on to Jericho and the Dead Sea to test my buoyancy. Until then, shalom from Jerusalem!

Grace and Peace

jim

When History is more than story

One of my college professors invited me into a journey that changed my life. I remember sitting in a Life of Christ class with Dennis Ingolfsland when he mentioned this strange group of “historians” named the Jesus Seminar. I put the word historians in quotes because they were motivated largely by a presupposition about the historical truth of Jesus and the Christian faith. In further discussions, Dennis invited me to the incredible world of contextual Biblical Study – I began reading people like N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington III, and Joel Green (I was later able to study under both Ben and Joel and was introduced to their O.T. equal, Dr. Bill Arnold).

As a result of their teaching, I fell in love with Scripture in a completely new way. The stories became more than something to read as a nighttime story or to put on some green flannel and be wowed by legends. Early in life, I almost equated people like King David, Moses, Elijah and Gideon to the likes of Hercules and Perseus. Suddenly, mythology became rooted – it became real – it became something of substance.

That’s all intro for today’s post – today, I watched my boy experience a similar shift as ancient stories – people and places – turned real. Traveling to Nazareth and seeing a cave (albeit with a humongous church built on it), and seeing an archeological site that has uncovered 6000 years of history, and to see aqueducts and a theater built under the watchful eye of Pontius Pilate, and then driving into Jerusalem itself is like opening your eyes with a whole new set of lenses with which you can view the world.

These places have been important to me for years and, now, they are something I share with my son. Watching him stand on top of the aqueduct and interact with people like Bishop Fairley is something that makes my heart soar. And, since these sites mean so much to me, I was able to share things with my other traveling companions and hopefully increase their appreciation and love for not only the sites  but the stories that occurred there.

At one meal, one of my travelers said “I think more christians back home need to come here and see this – it just makes every thing so much more real.” Amen. I couldn’t say it better. When I say things like “coming to Israel is like reading a 5th gospel” I really not exaggerating. This country has boosted my faith once again. It has quickened my thoughts and is inviting me to deeper study and appreciation for this big book we drag out on sundays. Our scripture stories are more than bed time tales. They are life – they are alive – and they, like this place, can beautifully ruin your approach to life.

Tomorrow, we visit some of the holiest sites in the Jerusalem area; including: the church of the nativity, the Herodian, the shepherds fields, and Gethesemane. For dinner tomorrow, Alex and I will meet up with a Palestinian Christian family in Bethlehem and learn from them about living in this land.

But…that’s a story for another day, so from The Olive Tree Hotel, in beautiful Jerusalem, Israel…Shalom for now.

 

grace and peace

jim

Day 2 – Stunning, Overwhelming, and an Extremely proud daddy!

I used to tease my dad about getting emotional when my little sister or I did something. It really didn’t matter what it was – band, choir, grades (she has always been smarter than me), stuff he understood and stuff he didn’t, Dad always showed his pride in us with tears and smiles. Big strong marine that he is – his kids (and now grandkids always bring him to tears). Well, today was my turn.

I knew today was going to be one of those days that overwhelmed me, but I truly wasn’t expecting 3 moments that took my breathe away. The first was at the archeological dig for the city of Magdala (Mary Magdalene’s home town). this place was a new stop – only recently uncovered and dedicated since I was here last in 2013. We were given a tour by Father Kelly (great Irish man of God living here and helping the ministry of this incredible place). In this place that had been covered by dirt until 2009, was home to a synagogue dating to the 1st century – it was a place that Jesus would have known, would have visited, would have physically touched.

To truly capture this place would take multiple visits and more posts than I have words to describe. The most fantastic find (among so many) that I want to share was an inscription in the synagogue. In one of the stones “Jesus is Lord” was etched. That makes sense to me, but for it to be found in rock dating from around 40-60 AD confirms that the early church believed in the divinity of Jesus well before any councils and any generational shift (basically this means that the theory that the Jesus of faith was something dreamt up by the church years later for the sake of power is nothing but a dream of naysayers). I heard the words of Father Kelly and my mind popped. This was a game changing find!

Moment 2 happened on the Sea as I was asked to share today’s devotional. As a pastor, one of my absolute joys is to teach and share the stories of scripture. But, as I said in my previous post, this Sea of Galilee messes with you. I couldn’t really bring myself to preach – just read the story from Mark 4:35-41, and invite our fellow pilgrims to place themselves in the story and hear the words, the command of Jesus – “Be Calm! Be Still! Don’t Fear! Have Faith.”

If that wasn’t enough, having my son by my side reading filled my heart with so much joy. He ended up reading at 3 different locations (2 of which he wasn’t prepared for – and 1 of which had some serious OT names that were very difficult). He read with enthusiam. He invited people to feel what he was reading. He spoke with authority. He shared with passion. He incarnated what he was reading. I could see it in his face, I could see it in the other pilgrims, and I could feel my own pride and joy radiate.

Moment 3 is connected. We went to the ancient ruins of the city called Bet Shein. It was one of the 10 cities called the Decapolis in the book of Acts. II Samuel also has a pretty brutal story involving Saul in this story as well. I watched his inner child spring to action. He ran from place to place watching, exploring, soaking up the sites. I smiled as I watched him, remembering that I did the same thing 5 years ago. From the Roman bath house, to the public latrines (he wanted a picture by the row of toilets, but we couldn’t jump the line), to seeing the temple to Dionysius, and the amphitheater, Alex absorbed the space. We made it to the top of the tell where he found a tree used in the movie Jesus Christ Superstar. He was in heaven.

This moment, where scripture and history came alive to him was almost too much for me. The story we love – these 66 books that make up our Bible – is real. It’s rooted in history. It has a place. And Alex is not only seeing it, but it is swirling in him. It’s swirling in dad too. And it is truly a joy filled moment.

Tomorrow, we head to Nazareth, Megiddo or the valley of Armegeddon, and Caesarea Maritime on the Mediterranean Sea. These have been deeply moving places for me – let’s see how they touch us tomorrow. Again – another story, for another day.

Until then – Shalom from the city of Tiberius, in Galilee of the Gentiles, in Israel.

Grace and Peace.

Israel 2018 – Day 1 (plus a few hours here and there)

Reflections

There is a wonderful feeling that occurs when you come home. Sometimes it’s easy to misplace that feeling. Coming home on a normal day can be somewhat underwhelming. But go away for a while, and coming home is totally different…it’s like, well, coming home.
This “coming home” feeling has been my primary response these past 24 hours. Even Jimmy Nammour, our tour guide (and incredible man of God), saw me and said “welcome home.” So much is familiar and that is a very good thing. When folks would ask me if I was excited, my response was “of course,” but I also was unsure. Would I be disappointed? Would it mean or feel differently? Well, it’s been different but it has also been so comfortable.

What has already added to this trip has been the addition of my traveling partner, Alex. Traveling across the globe with your child and seeing things through his eyes is priceless. Watching him in awe of the clouds from the window of the plane, to arriving and being in a different culture has been fantastic. He is not a child anymore, but his joy and his appreciation for what is in front of him is truly a gift to me. And being able to watch the scriptures come alive as he stepped near the Sea of Galilee was beyond my words. His excitement at each stop has been like stepping back in time to Christmases when he was 5.
As for my own thoughts, the Sea of Galilee stills awes me. It certainly doesn’t awe me due to its size – it’s small compared to many I’ve been on in the States. But it’s almost like the sea itself has a soul – like it’s longing for you to experience what happened on it. At each stop this morning, the crashing waves were like reminders to be still and listen – to be silent.

Equally awe inspiring to me is this place Banais – or Caesarea-Philippi. This spring that feeds the Sea of Galilee has such a dark history – with pagan worship and sacrifices that would make me squeamish to think about. But it’s also a place where Jesus was confessed and accepted his title as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. In a place that was said to be the actual Gates of Hades, Jesus would say that the confession would make such dark places shake.

As the day comes to an end, I reflect with a smile and with a heart of thanks. So many have urged, encouraged, and helped make this trip possible for my son (and me). I am experiencing something that few will ever get to – and I am, again, in awe. This place means so much to me – it’s like I’ve come home. Tomorrow, I have been asked to share a devotion while on a boat going across the Lake – to say I’m excited might be an understatement, but that’s a tale and a story for another time.

For Now…Shalom from the city of Tiberius in Galilee of the Gentiles in Israel.

Silent or Silence

One of the more exciting stories in the Old Testament is found in 1 Kings 18. It’s a story of a bold prophet standing against a vile king, a hateful queen and 450 false prophets. It occurs following a very long drought – no rain that dried up and crippled the nation. The prophet of God was the easy one to blame – “he did this to us.” So Elijah is prompted by God to seek out the evil King and the people – he’s going to confront those who wanted him dead. They weren’t just apathetic to Elijah, they hated him.

The king receives word that Elijah is coming and so he summons all the people. The King is ready for a public trial and execution. As the crowd grumbles, the prophet turns the tables on everyone, “how long will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” The people are mad at Elijah, and Elijah reminds them that their current situation is of their own doing – they’ve chosen another provider, a different sustainer and giver of life.

The next line grips me. After this statement of challenge, scripture shares these words “but the people were completely silent.” Elijah then jumps into action and issues a real-life throw down to the people and the prophets of Baal. Make an altar, offer a sacrifice, and which ever God is real will consume the sacrifice. All agree, and for hours the prophets of Baal dance and cut themselves and make all kinds of noise with no return – no action on Baal’s part.

Elijah mocks the prophets lack of success and quiets the crowd. He sets up the altar, he prepares the sacrifice and then just to be very clear, he drenches every bit with gallons and gallons of water. Then Elijah simply prays “you are God, would you prove it to these people – let them see your power that they may see you and once again know you.” Simple words of longing – not to win, but to bring the people to repentance and to restoration.

And…then…the fire…fell. 

The sacrifice, the altar, even the dirt were consumed. The people responded and their hearts were turned back to the LORD. God won and the people hadn’t sought God, they just responded to seeing God’s glory. The prophets were dealt with. Ahab retreated and his wife threw a hissy-fit and Elijah…he went into hiding (but that’s another story).

As I re-read this story this morning, I was struck by that small line at the end of verse 21 – “but the people were completely silent.” I’m a big believer in taking time each day to be silent. In a world full of noise, we all need silence. Sadly, so many times the noise is hard to turn off – both externally and internally. It’s one thing to turn off the radio or even get away from AC/Heater fans or other noises – it’s another thing all together to let the demands and voices that are rattling inside our minds and hearts fade away.

Some of us reject silence because we’re so accustomed to noise that silence is unnerving. Some of us can’t handle the silence because there, in the quiet, we have to face things we would rather ignore. And yet, our souls need silence…we need quiet…we need a pause.

But silence can also be a very damning thing for the child of God. The hebrews gathered to confront the man who had brought such calamity on Israel. But Elijah came to confront the people with their wayward devotion -their divided hearts – their choosing of another to be their God. And the people were silent.

The phrase makes me shutter. How often do I let noises and distractions and even the longing to serve God become an idol – another deity that I choose to set up in front of the One who wants me to be found in His love and grace? Sadly, I know my answer. I don’t want to be silent in this way. I don’t want to rely on some big event to draw me to the arms of love. I want to be so aware of His glory that I walk around as that drenched sacrifice given consumed by the fire of his Holiness and grace.

Spending time…

When I was a teenager, my youth pastors were insistent that to be a leader in our youth group I had to be spending time growing my faith. Pretty much on a yearly basis, they would pull out the “TAWG” talk. Don’t know what the “TAWG” is? It’s an acronym for Time Alone With God. Honestly, I hated the talk. I hated it because TAWG Time sounds goofy (still does) but even more because I knew, even as 13 year old, that spending time with God was important for not just my soul but for my everything. I think another reason TAWG bothered me was because it sounds so simple – take time every day and be with God. My problem was that it was never as simple as it sounded. I struggled to make the time and then I struggled to feel like the time meant anything – like I was going through motions. I knew it mattered because even on my worst days, I could feel the lingering effects of connection with God (even when I didn’t feel the connection during my TAWG time). I can remember searching for devotional books or trying my hand at journaling or stepping out into the “read the bible in a year plan” only to be frustrated when the devo was dry, or my writing seemed blocked, or when I got to Leviticus. 

Now that I’m nearing 40, I still often have to force myself into times of TAWG. I can find the excuses – usually it’s the warmth of my bed on a cold morning – and I still struggle with devotionals or reading plans from my Bible App. But I also understand how much more important this time is – how needed it is – how much I actually crave it when I do oversleep. I don’t hear the audible voice as I sit and read and think and pray. I don’t have warm fuzzy feelings every morning. But I do know that the day has really begun once I drink that last sip of coffee and say amen. 

I’ve learned something since those yearly “TAWG” talks. My youth pastors probably even said this, but I was hung up on the duties and the tools more than the point. Spending time with God isn’t solely about what I do – it’s about who I do it with. I can read scripture and it can be like plodding through a muddy field. I can listen to worship music in my car and have all kinds of good vibes, but I can also do that with artists like Queen and Norah Jones. I can use the “Lord’s Prayer” or the ACTS model as a guide to prayer and say nothing more than words. But TAWG is more than doing some things – it’s about being with my Abba.

Henri Nouwen has said that the most important message we need to re-learn as a creation is that we are the “beloved children of God.” This God is not distant and unengaged. This God instead has chosen to enter into our story and make sure we can actually know him. I know the male-pronoun bugs a lot of people, but that’s getting hung up on small things. God has revealed himself as ABBA – as daddy. That’s not about male or female – it’s about intimacy and closeness. God wants you and I, his sons and daughters, to be with Him. 

Any parent knows that when a child calls out daddy or mommy, things are different. There is something about that closeness – that raw depth that just melts away all the other junk. “Hey DAD” sounds a whole lot different than “hey daddy.” This is what I’m learning my TAWG needs to be – it’s an opportunity to say “hey daddy – good morning, I’m so glad your my abba.” I don’t need another devotional book (I have plenty). I don’t need another reading plan (even though I use them every day). What I need is to remember that the God of the universe – the God of the seas and storms – the God of the ups and downs – the God who has blessed us with the gift of coffee – has set apart this time to be with me. It is my time with my daddy – the one who loves me beyond words. It is a time for more than something I could do – as if one more book could seal the deal – and instead a time to be. 
PS – one of the most recent distractions from being with my daddy has been the political insanity in the US right now. The noise is deafening. Calls for justice and mercy are as much a part of my heart as the blood that pumps through my veins. I abhor the thought of people seeking asylum and help being left out due to our fear. But I equally hate the rhetoric of both sides that is being used by good people. As I cringed at my social media feed this morning, I felt the nudge of the holy – “hey Jim, instead of being mad or irritated, how about pray for those involved? How about pray for the President – I mean really pray that his heart would be soft? How about turn off the noise and pray?” I think it’s time for some TAWG or maybe better yet Time With My Abba.