Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I Was Wrong (A Retraction)

Recently I posted an article in which I shared a letter I had written to a pastor. The letter was written in response to a conversation I had with a member of the church, regarding the church's efforts at a local "Relay for Life" event. When I asked the church member what the church was doing to get the gospel to the people in attendance, I was told that the church was not there to proselytize.

Today I heard from two of the church's pastors.

The information I was given that day was incorrect. In fact, contrary to what I was told, the church made a strategic effort to present the gospel to attendees, in a manner that was in keeping with the event sponsor's guidelines. The material they made available, some of which I am familiar with, is Christ-centered with a clear and biblical gospel presentation.

I was wrong. I have emailed the pastors to apologize and to ask for their forgiveness.

I apologized for being inpatient by waiting only five days before I posted the letter, instead of waiting a reasonable 10 or more days, by which time I would have heard from the pastors.

I apologized for honing in on the "we're not here to prosyletize" mantra I heard that afternoon from only one person--a mantra I hear all-too-often from Christians, even in the best of churches.

I apologized for any personal or corporate offense I caused to the church family as a result of my blog post.

And I apologize to you, the reader (and again, to the church).

In addition to the above I apologize for posting an article that was ultimately inaccurate, regardless of the information I received at the event that day.

I apologize for not being more discerning and for not taking the time to investigate the matter further before writing about it.

And I apologize for writing an article, which, in the end, did not bring honor and glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.

I alone am responsible; and I am sorry.

To any of my Christian brethren who may have been hurt or offended by the post, please accept my apologies.

Thank you.

The Other Side of Eternity

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Encouragement of a Discarded Tract

I spent Friday and Saturday evenings with my cross at the corner of Soledad Canyon Road and Sierra Highway, in Canyon Country (CA). Mahria and Amanda joined me on Friday evening, and Marissa joined me on Saturday evening. This particular intersection is fast-becoming one of my favorite local fishing ponds. It has lots of vehicle and pedestrian traffic and, with buildings on every corner, good acoustics for Stop Light preaching. The pedestrian traffic is a good mix of English and Spanish-speaking people, which gives me the opportunity to distribute tracts in both languages.

When Marissa and I arrived at the corner on Saturday evening, we immediately spotted one of the Spanish "Good Person" tracts (pictured above) torn and on the ground, near some bushes.

I have often heard Christians bemoan the fact that the gospel tracts they distribute are sometimes crumbled, torn, even burned before being tossed to the ground or into a trash can. Some Christians see such discoveries as failed evangelism attempts.

Some will see the above photo and count it as evidence against the effectiveness of gospel tracts, in conveying the gospel--Christians who see the manner in which the message is delivered as more important than the content of the message, Christians who see the distribution of gospel tracts as passe, unbelievers who read this blog and are predisposed to discount most if not all biblical evangelism methods, and blogosphere trolls who have only one gear in their communication transmission: negativity.

When I see a discarded gospel tract I smile--not because someone rejected the message (I pity such people), but because someone took the time to read at least a portion of the tract. I'm encouraged when I see a crumpled gospel tract on the ground. I count discarded gospel tracts as evangelistic wins.

I talk to evangelists from around the world. Sometimes they communicate their discouragement about not seeing more positive responses to the gospel, or about the amount of rejection and the level of animosity toward the gospel. My response is usually the same.
The only time we fail in evangelism (presuming it is done biblically) is when we fail to evangelize. The legitimacy and power of the gospel is not determined by the response of the person with whom it is shared. Salvation is of the Lord. Our responsibility, as Christians, is to obediently love God and to selflessly love people. And there is nothing more loving we will ever do for another human being than to speak the truth in love--to share the law and the gospel with them. They are responsible for their sin and their decision, and God is sovereign over all things, including salvation.
These truths apply to all aspects of evangelism, including discarded gospel tracts.

While it is true that some people will discard a gospel tract before ever perceiving what it is or before ever reading the tract, more often than not well-written, biblical gospel tracts are discarded for one of two reasons: the person was either convicted by the Law of God (Romans 2:15; Romans 3:19-20) or their hatred of Jesus Christ (John 3:19-20; John 15:23; Romans 1:28-32) is such that the mere mention of His name, even in written form, is offensive to them (1 Corinthians 1:18). A well-written, biblical gospel tract assaults the self-righteous and exposes the futility of their erroneous perceived goodness (Proverbs 21:2) while, at the same time, revealing their hatred of God (Romans 1:28-32). Is it any wonder some people destroy gospel tracts and discard them as trash?

If you are an unbeliever (someone who is not a born-again Christian) reading this and you have discarded a gospel tract in the past because you disliked or did not believe how the person in the mirror (you) compared to the mirror of God's law, yet for whatever reason you still believe God hears and answers your prayers (I mention this because I've talked to many people who believe this way), then know this. "If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination" (Proverbs 28:9). God ignores your prayers. They are an abomination to Him. Repent and believe the gospel.

The reality is this. When you die, you are going to stand before God and give an account for your life. Because God is good, He is going to judge you according to the perfect, moral standard of His Law. If you've ever lied, stolen, taken His name in vain, He will find you guilty of breaking His Law. And because God is good, He must punish your sin; and the punishment God has ascribed for sin is eternity in Hell.

But God is also merciful, loving, and kind in that He provided one way to escape that punishment; and that was through the gift of His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ: fully-God and fully-Man, without sin. He died a horrible, bloody death on the cross that He did not deserve in order to take upon Himself the punishment you rightly deserve for your sins against God. And then three days later He forever defeated sin and death when He rose from the grave.

What God requires of you is that you repent--that you turn from your sin, and by faith and by faith alone, receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me."

So, please, repent and believe the gospel while God has given you time.

You can discard this blog post if you like. Some will mock what I've written, here, while revealing their cowardice by hiding behind complete anonymity and pseudonyms. It will change nothing. God is still God and what He requires of every person remains unchanged.

Oh, and if you made it this far, you just read a gospel tract. That makes this post, like most discarded gospel tracts, a successful evangelism opportunity.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kirk Cameron Slams Stephen Hawking?

The famed British physicist Stephen Hawking has recently decided to take it upon himself to inform the world "There is no heaven...it's a fairy story." Hawking's latest provocative statements posed in opposition to the supernatural pushes the antithesis well beyond the boundaries of his previous antagonism unleashed in his last book titled "The Grand Design" in which Hawking surmises that the universe has no need for a Creator. Of course such outlandish claims have been rightfully criticized as nothing more than wishful thinking and speculative conjecture. Perhaps it would do Hawking some good to remember it was his fellow-man the late Astrophysicist Carl Sagan who said: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence!" It's time for Hawking to name that tune and onus up!

Hawking's hole plummets deeper as he continues to string together a myriad of inflammatory remarks. Most recently:  
"I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."
Hawking's genius has gone to seed. When Kirk Cameron was asked by TMZ to respond to Hawking's latest criticism of the supernatural, Cameron stated:

"To say anything negative about Stephen Hawking is like bullying a blind man. He has an unfair disadvantage, and that gives him a free pass on some of his absurd ideas. Professor Hawking is heralded as 'the genius of Britain,' yet he believes in the scientific impossibility that nothing created everything (Sir Isaac Newton called atheism 'senseless and odious') and that life sprang from non-life. To speak on issues of science and violate it's essential laws is like playing checkers with a someone who changes the rules when he's losing. Why should anyone believe Mr. Hawking's writings if he cannot provide evidence for his unscientific belief that out of nothing, everything came? He says he knows there is no Heaven. John Lennon wasn't sure. He said to pretend there's no Heaven. That's easy if you try. Then he said he hoped that someday we would join him. Such wishful thinking reveals John and Stephen's religious beliefs, not good science. They may imagine all they want, but I lost my faith in atheism long ago and prefer to stay within the realm of reality."

~ Kirk

Well said Kirk! It seems the scientific impossibility that nothing created everything is constantly echoed as the mantra of atheism these days. Have they willfully forgotten the very backbone of science... Causality! Every effect has an adequate cause yet such atheists dismiss the very foundation of science like a hack the moment it doesn't suit them! Causality has been constantly verified and never falsified and to negate it in their times of uncertainty is to be guilty of ad hoc

Even the famed skeptic David Hume has gone down in history stating "I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that anything might arise without a cause.”

Dr. William Lane Craig in a moment of brilliance and humor observed that the atheist's notions of something coming from nothing is like magic...no...even worse than magic!

“I submit to you that it is worse than magic. I mean, at least in magic, when the magician pulls a rabbit out of the hat, you’ve got the hat! And you’ve got the magician! But on atheism, the universe just pops into existence uncaused out of absolutely nothing. I think that takes more faith to believe than theism.”

Posted By: Street Apologetics  

Monday, May 16, 2011

Apart from ME you can do NOTHING

Friday, May 13, 2011

Yad Vashem and the Other Holocaust

I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.
Isaiah 56:5

Photo, "Hall of Names," by David Shankbone. Used in compliance with copyright requirements.

One of the most moving stops during my tour of Israel was our visit to Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Museum and Memorial. Yad Vashem is Hebrew for "a place and a name," and is taken from Isaiah 56:5. The national museum and memorial is a place of remembrance of not only the Holocaust itself, but also a place where visitors can meet the people who suffered and died during this world tragedy.

And this is what touched me most about my visit to Yad Vashem. There, I came face-to-face with not only the tragic event, but also with the people who lived and died as a result of it. The museum focuses not only on life and death for the Jews during the Holocaust. It also further humanizes those who experienced the Holocaust by chronicling life for the Jewish people prior to Hitler's entrance on the world stage.

The museum is filled with artifacts--personal affects of those who were murdered throughout Europe, during the Holocaust. The artifacts also include actual tools used by the Nazis to murder their victims and dispose of their bodies.

The layout of the museum is such that the visitor is taken through a chronological, historical tour of the Holocaust. It is remarkable how the museum's structure places the visitor not only in the period of time, but also in the shoes of those who experienced the Holocaust.

Yad Vashem is the type of museum, not unlike the Smithsonian, which requires multiple visits over several days to grasp the breadth of material presented.

Our tour began with a presentation by David, a senior representative of the tour company that facilitated our tour of Israel. During his presentation, he introduced us to the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations.

The Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations is a memorial to the Gentiles (non-Jews) who, in various ways and resulting in various consequences, did what they could to help save Jews from extermination, during the Holocaust. Each of the more than 23,000 trees in the garden represents and individual or family who were counted among the righteous by the Jewish people.

The tree to the left is a memorial to Corrie ten Boom, her father, and her sister. Corrie's father and sister were murdered in concentration camps. Corrie survived to have a Christian ministry that literally impacted the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I learned something fascinating about Corrie's tree. Her tree was originally planted in the 1960's. But her tree died on April 15, 1983. And what is significant about that date? Corrie's tree died the same day her physical life ended on this Earth and she began her eternal walk with God. The tree in the photo was planted following her death. That is why it is one of the smallest trees in the garden.

The first display I saw, in the first wing of the Holocaust Museum, set the tone for the remainder of my time in the museum.

On the wall as you enter the room is a quote by Kurt Tucholsky, taken from a letter he wrote to German-Jewish author Arnold Zweig. In German, the quote reads:
Aber ein Land ist nicht nur das, was es tut – es ist auch das, was es vertrÃĪgt, was es duldet.
The English translation is as follows:
A country is not only what it does - it is also what it puts up with, what it tolerates.
The Holocaust was not only a result of what the Nazis did to the Jewish people. It was also the result of what the German people put up with--what they tolerated. They voted Hitler and the Nazis into power. The German people, by and large, stood by and did nothing as millions of people were exterminated at the hands of their fellow countrymen. They sat idle as their friends, countrymen, and neighbors systematically disappeared from their homes, schools, and businesses only to be herded like cattle in trains to concentration and death camps within the borders of their own country.

The Holocaust was not only the result of the evil of one man or one political party. The Holocaust was the result of the collective, depraved indifference of a nation.

Alan Pearson brought the quote on the wall to my attention. We both fought back tears as we read and reread the quote. For the quote not only drove home a primary cause of the Jewish Holocaust, but it also drove home in each of our minds the primary cause of another Holocaust--one that has taken place for decades in our own country and around the world.

And what is this Holocaust? It is the systematic extermination of millions of unborn children, through the murderous act known as abortion.

A country is not only what it does - it is also what it puts up with, what it tolerates.

Millions of unborn children are murdered every year in the United States by their mothers, fathers, doctors who are charged to do no harm, politicians, religious leaders, political leaders, voters, and yes, so-called Christians.

The active slaughter by some and the depraved indifference of others has resulted in a Holocaust that dwarfs the Holocaust of the Jewish people. The Holocaust of the Jewish people was and is no less significant than the Holocaust of the unborn. But in shear numbers, the Jewish Holocaust was small when compared to the murderous rampage of the unborn that is taking place in the United States and around the world, today.

Every .75 seconds, an unborn baby is murdered in the womb somewhere in the world. Every .75 seconds. That means 42,000,000 babies are murdered every year around the world. 42,000,000. Seven times the number of Jewish people murdered during the Holocaust are murdered every year in what should be the safest place on planet Earth--a mother's womb.

I began this article by showing you a picture of the Yad Vashem Hall of Names. It is the last room one visits as they make their way through the Holocaust Museum. The ceiling is lined with photos of people who were murdered during the Holocaust. Below the photo-lined dome ceiling are shelves filled with binders. Each binder is filled with the names and whatever biographical information is available for those who were murdered during the Jewish Holocaust.

Now imagine such a room dedicated to the ultrasound images and names of the murdered unborn. A museum large enough to contain such a room would be an engineering and construction marvel that would rival the various man-made wonders of the world.

Soon, I will announce details regarding Living Waters' concerted world-wide effort to bring an end to the Holocaust of the Unborn. Until then I want you to remember the words Yad Vashem--"a place and a name."

Yad Vashem. God has given a place and a name for every murdered unborn child. Each baby is a precious child created in the image of God. Woe to those who murder or serve as co-conspirators in the murder of these precious children.

A country is not only what it does - it is also what it puts up with, what it tolerates.

The United States, along with many other nations around the world, stands guilty as charged.

And what about you?  Will you be remembered like those who are numbered in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations?  Or will you be remembered like the millions of Germans whose depraved indifference contributed to the murder of millions of innocents?

Hitler, Religion and the Holocaust

Apparently blogger has been having some troubles and wiped out this post.
Also see:
Euthyphro's Dilemma 
Must One Be Baptized To Be Saved?
True vs False Conversion
Who Made God?
Repentance and Faith Separate Stages?

Muslims Jihad in Jerusalem

Apparently blogger has been having some troubles and wiped out this post.

Also see:
Euthyphro's Dilemma 
Must One Be Baptized To Be Saved?
True vs False Conversion
Who Made God?
Repentance and Faith Separate Stages?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Two Tombs: One Full, One Empty

After a five hour delay in Tel Aviv, and a five hour layover in New York, we are finally in the air for the last leg of our journey home to California.

All-too-comparable to what I experienced on the Temple Mount as I stood next to the giant Muslim shrine was the brief time I spent inside what is known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

I was immediately struck by the darkness of the place. Icons of gold and silver were everywhere. As I walked in the front doors of the church, I saw a slab of polished stone. Around the stone were people, men and women, who were bowing before the stone. Some rubbed cloths on the stone. Some rubbed their hands across the smooth surface. Others laid prostrate atop the stone. Still others bowed to repeatedly kiss the stone.

It was obvious that the people were worshiping the stone, as if some power or comfort was to be had by making contact with this inanimate object.

I stopped several people to ask them the identity and significance of the stone. None of them spoke English.

I walked up a narrow spiral staircase to the right of the adored slab of rock. There I found a long line of people waiting to stoop beneath a wooden table to kiss yet another rock. This one, in the minds of many, marked the place where Jesus died on the cross. The area was dark, even though the light of the candles reflecting off the gold and silver icons and artistry was hard on the eyes.

I made my way down the stairs and walked to the left of the worshiped slab of stone, and around the corner. There before me was a large burnt structure. It was what many believe is the tomb where Jesus' body was laid, before His resurrection. The scene around the sepulchre was more macabre than that around the yet-to-be identified slab of rock, or the supposed site of Jesus crucifixion. Darkly lit. No joy on people's faces. Bondage. Opression. Works.

I couldn't take any more. I had to get out of there. I made my way to the front door of the church, returning to the sunlight and to others from my group who were standing across the courtyard.

I asked Erez, our tour guide, if he knew what the stone slab was just inside the entry of the church. With a smirk on his face (I think he sensed my consternation), Erez told me that the stone slab is believed to be the stone upone which Jesus' body was laid, after He was taken down from the cross. Catholic and Orthodox tradition hold that it was there that Joseph of Arimethea and others cleaned Jesus' body and prepared Him for burial.

Erez pointed out a very significant problem with this tradition. The stone slab dates back to only 1808, which replaced the 12th century slab that was destroyed sometime earlier. The slab is co-owned by the four main organizations maintaining the church--the Roman Catholic, Orthodix, Armenian, and Coptic churches.  There's no way it could be the stone upon which Jesus' body was laid.

But that didn't matter to the worshipers in that place.  People bent down to kiss and worship the stone, believing the stone is atop the site where Jesus' body was prepared for burial.

Christians worship a risen Savior. Yet the vast majority of the people inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre appeared to be in a state of mourning, as if they were mourning the death of Jesus. Captive to the various religions of works represented by the organizations that own and maintain the church, many pilgrims to the site are themselves buried in a tomb--a tomb of false religions based on works, with no real eternal hope.

Sadly, the tomb of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, while Jesus is not there, is filled with the souls of the religious--those who, unless they truly repent and place their trust and faith in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation, will one-day hear the Lord say, "Depart from me. I never knew you; you workers of lawlessness."

Thanks be to God that the day did not end on such a depressing note. We moved from a place of darkness to a place of light--from a place of death to a place of life--the Garden Tomb.

The contrast between the atmosphere of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and that of the Garden Tomb (an alternate site many Christians believe is the actual place where Jesus was buried and rose from the grave) is the contrast between darkness and light, night and day, mourning and joy, death and life.

One of the park tour guides led us to a place in the garden that overlooked Golgatha--the Place of the Skull. He was quick to point out that the likely site of Jesus' crucifixion was not at the top of the hill, but more likely at the bottom. The reason being that the bottom of the hill would have been a place of a great deal of activity, with large numbers of people walking by. The Romans used such locations for executions in order to strike fear in the hearts of the other citizens.

The area where Jesus would have been crucified is now a bus stop, which, if you think about it, is very appropriate. Just as there would have been people milling about the area two thousand years ago, most paying little or no attention to the death of Jesus; the same can be said of the world's population today.  They ignore the One who died and rose again for the remission of sins.

Then we made our way to the Garden Tomb. Unlike the sickening, ostentatious, and idolatrous decor of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Garden Tomb is simple, peaceful, respectable, beautiful.

And unlike the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which today is a tomb filled with mourners, many of whom are far from Christ; the Garden Tomb is empty!

For Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!

Archaeologically and historically, both the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb have much commending them as the sites of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection. But the Garden Tomb is the place I believe where these eternally-significant events happened.

The site has not been defiled by the religions of men. The site is a place of joy, peace, and true worship. And the mourning taking place at the Garden Tomb is the mourning of those who are blessed. For they mourn over their sin (not over the opression of religion and the worship of objects) and will be comforted by their risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Garden Tomb is empty--empty of anything that would take the attention away from Christ and put it on sinful men and their religions.

I saw two tombs that day--one is full, and one is empty.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Visiting the Abomination and Desecration

Abomination - A vile, shameful, or detestable action.

Desecration - The act of depriving something of its sacred character, or the disrespectful or contemptuous treatment of that which is held to be sacred or holy by a group or individual.

Our first stop of the day was our worst stop of the day. Frankly, it was the worst stop of the entire trip. It was our trip to what is called the Dome of the Rock. The Dome of the Rock, which is a shrine and not a mosque, represents the Islamic desecration of God's Holy Hill--the Temple Mount (Mount Moriah) and the former site of the three Jewish temples--the Solomonic, the Second, and the Herodian.

During the Muslim conquest of Syria, Jerusalem was surrendered into Muslim hands, in 637 A.D. The Dome of the Rock shrine was built between 689 and 691 A.D. The Muslims chose the location of the site because they knew that it was the former location of the Herodian Jewish Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. The Muslims also believe that it was from the rock now covered by the dome complex where Abraham almost sacrificed Ishmael (not Isaac, as the Bible teaches). They also believe that the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from the same rock.

As we approached the shrine, what welled up inside me was not excitement. Not at all. What welled up in me was anger. I was angry that the worshipers of a false god would desecrate such a holy place dedicated to the worship of the one, true God. The shrine is an abomination that will not go unpunished by the Lord.

When we came within a short distance of the shrine, our tour guide, Erez, pointed to a what appeared to be a framed piece of stone artwork. Erez showed us that the stone image was actually made from a single stone that had been cut into equal pieces and laid flat. The image created in the stone was a natural result of the cutting and mounting of the stone. There were a number of these stone pieces of art mounted on the outside of the shrine.

Erez, however, drew our attention to one piece of framed stone, in particular. This one:

Look closely at the image. What (or should I say who) do you see? If you said Satan or a demon, I think you would be correct.

This, I believe, is more than a mere apparition--more than simply seeing the Virgin Mary in a tomato or a piece of toast. This image didn't just suddenly appear. Nor do I believe it is the intentionally deceptive fabrication of human hands. The Muslims who constructed the shrine cut a stone and placed the pieces together. The result was an image on the side of the shrine that I believe represents a portrait of the originator of the false "religion of peace"--the Father of Lies, Satan.

I was uncomfortable the entire time we were on the Temple Mount. Just being in close proximity to the abominable desecration made me uneasy. I sat down in the outer couryard of the shrine, what likely once was the Court of the Gentiles during the time of the Herodian Temple, and I began to pray.

I looked east to the Mount of Olives. I looked to the area of the outer wall of the city where the Beautiful Gate stood--a gate that several hundred years ago had been sealed by the Muslims in order to prevent the Messiah from returning to the Temple Mount. And I prayed.

I pleaded with the Lord to return, soon. I prayed that He would destroy the shrine. I asked Him to restore His Temple and to punish the invaders who desecrated His holy hill. I also prayed that the Muslim people would come to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

During lunch, I shared with Ron Love how angry I felt while we were on the Temple Mount. I told him that it took everything in me not to open-air preach in the courtyard, outside the shrine. I explained to him that the only reason I didn't was that it could put the rest of our group in harm's way.

"You would have been killed." Ron said.

"I know." I answered.

Come soon, Lord Jesus, and set things right. Restore your Temple Mount and do away with the abomination and desecration that is taking place there, today.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Valleys of El Shaddai

Our first stop yesterday was the Israel Museum--home of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Second Temple Model--a 1:50  scale model of Jersulam (66 A.D.). The model, which is about an acre in size, provides a remarkable visuual experience of the times of Jesus Christ.

In the above photo, I am standing outside the Beautiful or East Gate of the city--the gate through which the Lord Jesus Christ will one-day make His triumphal re-entry into the city.

The most fascinating thing I learned while examining the Second Temple Model was that the name of God, "El Shaddai" ("God Almighty"), is literally written on the City of Jerusalem.

The letter "Shin" is the twenty-first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. And it looks like this:

You will find this letter, quite literally, all over Israel--on door posts, windows, and the sides of buildings. There is a Shin on the door post of my hotel room, from where I am writing this post.

The letter "Shin" is used by the Jewish people to represent God--"Shaddai." And what does this have to do with the City of Jerusalem?

In Ezra 6:12, we read:
May the God who has caused his name to dwell there overthrow any king or people who shall put out a hand to alter this, or to destroy this house of God that is in Jerusalem. I Darius make a decree; let it be done with all diligence.
And in the opening of the Book of Nehemiah, we read:
Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the capital, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, "The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire."

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, "O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.
The place where the name of El Shaddai would dwell would be Jerusalem.

Here's a picture of the Second Temple Model. The view is from the south end of the city, looking north.

Look closely at the photo. There are three primary valleys in Jerusalem--two surrounding the city, and one running north to south. The three valleys intersect at the southern-most point of the city.

The Kidron Valley (or the Valley of Jehoshaphat) runs along the east wall of the city. The Ben Hinnom Valley (or the Valley of Gehenna) runs northwest along the south end of the city. And the Tyropoeon Valley runs from north to south, from the area of the Second Temple, and just to the east of the original City of David, which is a small, banana-shaped section in the southeast portion of the city, just south of the Second Temple.

Here's a topographical map of the city. The three valleys are shaded light brown to make them easier to see.

The three valleys form the letter "Shin!"

The Lord of all Creation--of water, earth, and sky--the One who made the dry land, seas, and that is in them--and who, from eternity past knew where He would cause His name to dwell; created three valleys to form a Hebrew letter that would one day represent His name, in the exact location where His people would build His holy city.

El Shaddai, God Almighty did this to bring Himself glory and to allow His people to see with their own eyes a beautiful manifestation of His power and glory.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Tragedy of the Valley of Jehoshaphat

Jesus spent forty days with His disciples and others, after His resurrection. The last day He was with them, the disciples asked Him when He would restore the Kingdom of Israel. He reminded them that only the Father knows the time of the Lord's return. But He also comforted them by assuring them that the Helper, the Holy Spirit, would come upon them and they would be His witnesses to the uttermost parts of the Earth (Acts 1:4-8).

"And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Andwhile they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven'" (Acts 1:9-11).

The words of the angels served to validate what the prophet Zechariah wrote:
Behold, a day is coming for the LORD, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.
The Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives. He will likewise return, at an appointed time known only to God the Father. And the site of His return will be the Mount of Olives.

This is a look at the Mount of Olives from the westside of the Kidron Valley, just below the East Gate of the Old City.

You are looking at the site of Jesus' future return!

The prophet Joel further explains what will happen on that great and terrible day (Joel 3:1-16).
For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land, and have cast lots for my people, and have traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it.

What are you to me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia? Are you paying me back for something? If you are paying me back, I will return your payment on your own head swiftly and speedily. For you have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples. You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their own border. Behold, I will stir them up from the place to which you have sold them, and I will return your payment on your own head. I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, to a nation far away, for the LORD has spoken."

Proclaim this among the nations: Consecrate for war; stir up the mighty men.

Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, "I am a warrior."

Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there. Bring down your warriors, O LORD. Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations.

Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great.

Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.

The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the LORD is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel.
The prophets make it clear that Jesus will restore Israel to its proper place and He will judge all those who stood against Israel--every tribe, every nation, every tongue. Every.

The Valley of Jehoshaphat runs between the Mount of Olives and the Old City. In the times of Jesus and to this day, the valley is known as the Kidron Valley.

Here is a shot from the top of the Mount of Olives, looking down the western slope, into the Kidron Valley. You can see the eastern wall of the Old City in the distance.

Notice the rows and rows of concrete boxes on the western slope of the Mount of Olives?

These are the headstones of a Jewish cemetery. Some of the headstones date back to the times of Jesus. Many Jews have sought to be buried here because, in their mind, the location will serve as a front row seat to the Messiah's judgment of the nations that have victimized, opressed, and otherwise subjegated Israel over the centuries.

And herein lies the great tragedy. Not every Jewish person belongs to the true Israel. The apostle Paul wrote (Romans 9:1-8):
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.
The Jews who are buried on the western slope of the Mount of Olives are waiting for the judgment of the enemies of nation of Israel. At the same time, they are unwittingly waiting for their own judgment as enemies--not only the enemies of true Israel, but as enemies of Almighty God. For only those who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (both Jew and Gentile) will, in the end, be counted among the citizens of the true and restored nation of Israel.

The Jewish people buried in the cemetery on the Mount of Olives went to to their graves anticipating the coming of their Messiah--sadly, the Messiah they rejected in their earthly life.  How very sad.

It is the tragedy of the Valley of Jehoshaphat.

Oh Lord, save the people of Israel!  Bring them to repentance and faith in You, the Lord Jesus Christ!  May no more Jews be buried on the Mount of Olives who do not know You as their Messiah!

From Masada to the Mount of Olives

It's hard to believe the trip to Israel is already more than half over. And yet there is still so much left to experience in front of us.

The day began with a trip to the top of Masada. We traveled via cable car to reach the peak.

As we toured the site, we learned how the Jewish rebels lived and died atop the desolate mountain.  One of the archaeological artifacts I found interesting was a grouping of catapault projectiles that the Roman 10th Legion used to assault the mountain fortress.

But the most extraordinary artificat found at the site was a scroll of Ezekiel 37.  It was the only Old Testament scroll found at Masada.

Our time atop Masada was a fascinating history lesson and the view of the Rift Valley and the Dead Sea were spectacular.

Our next stop was the caves at Qumran--the location where one of the greatest biblical archaeological discoveries of all time was found--the Dead Sea Scrolls. With the exceptions of the books of Ruth and Nehemiah, partial and complete copies of the entire Old Testament, dating as far back as 200 B.C., were found by a shepherd boy, in the caves.

Cave 4 produced the greatest amount of biblical documents, the most significant of which was the Great Isaiah Scroll.

Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest known extant Old Testament copies dated back to about 1000 A.D. The Dead Sea Scrolls were dated 1,200 years earlier. The difference between the manuscript evidence of today's translations of the Old Testament, the 1,000 year old manuscripts, and the 2,200 year old manuscripts is negligible, which shows yet again the accuracy and veracity of the Scriptures we have today.

After lunch, we made our way to the City of David--Jerusalem. Along the way, we stopped for a few minutes at a West Bank Jewish settlement, which provided a panoramic view of the Judean Wilderness, with modern-day Jericho in the distance.

It is the area of the wilderness (pictured above) that is believed to be where Jesus was tempted by Satan for forty days and forty nights.

Considering the location, I shared a brief devotion from Mark 10:46-52, which is the story of the healing of the blind beggar, Bartimaeus. The focus of the devotion was the abandon with which Bartimaeus believed by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Before boarding the bus, we took a moment to take our first group picture.  I have no doubt that I'm making some new friends on this trip--friendships that will last a lifetime.

Our next stop was the Mount of Olives, which included a walk to the Garden of Gethsemane. In preparation for the experience, I read Jesus' Olivet Discourse (Matthew 25:1-26:2).

The view from the Old City of Jerusalem from the Temple Mount was awe-inspiring.

As I looked upon the Old City, with the idolatrous monument to the false god of Islam standing where the Temple of God should be, I thought of Jesus' lament for Jerusalem.

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord'" (Matthew 23:37-39).

There is so much more I can say about today's experiences. And maybe I will, in the future.

On another note: please keep the Production Team in your prayers. They are always a hard-working team; but I think the work they are doing, here, in Israel is really putting them to the test--physically and spiritually.

Oh, by God's grace, they are holding up well. That's just the kind of people they are. But again, please keep them in your prayers. The schedule and pace they are keeping in order to shoot thirteen episodes for Season Five of The Way of the Master is grueling.

And that's why you haven't seen any blogs from Chad. I'm sure when the dust settles (and there is a lot of dust in Israel), maybe when we get back home, you will hear much from Chad regarding his experiences and that of the team, during their time in the Holy Land.

Tomorrow we will visit the Israel Museum, which includes the Shrine of the Book where we will see the Dead Sea Scrolls. Then it is off to Palestinian controlled Bethlehem, where God became flesh and dwelt among us.

Until tomorrow.....

Thursday, May 5, 2011

From the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea

Today was another full and exciting day in Israel. Even though we spent more time on the bus than off the bus, we saw too many amazing things to put them all into one blog post. So, here are a few highlights.

When we approached the area of the West Bank, we had to switch from our regular tour bus to one that was designed specifically for the area. It is called a "security bus," which means it is bullet-resistant. According to our tour guide and brother in Christ, Erez, very few tours go deep into the West Bank because of safety and security concerns.

The contrast is so very stark between the Palestinian and the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The Palestinian settlements are, quite frankly, ghettos--and bad ones at that. Whereas the Jewish settlements are well-kept and very modern. While this may offend some, it's quite abvious to even the casual observer who cares about the land and who doesn't.

Our first stop was Elon Morah (The "Oak of Morah). This was Abraham's first dwelling place in the Promised Land. From that spot, we had an incredible view of the Jordan Valley, including Shechem, which is modern-day Nablus. Nablus is in the northern West Back and is about 40 miles north of Jerusalem. The Palestinian city has a population of more than 125,000 and is best known as the "Capital of Palestinian Terrorism."

The city is nestled between to low mountain peaks--Mount Gerizim (The Mount of Blessing) to the south and Mount Ebal (Mount of Cursing) to the north. Joshua 8:30-35 tells the story of just one of the remarkable events that happened on these two mountains.
At that time Joshua built an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, "an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool." And they offered on it burnt offerings to the LORD and sacrificed peace offerings. And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. And all Israel, sojourner as well as native born, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded at the first, to bless the people of Israel. And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.
Then we moved on to Shiloh.

As we made our way up the rocky path, which led to the archaeological discovery of ancient Shiloh, Ron Love and I talked about who had likely walked this same path before us--Joshua, the Judges of Israel, Samuel, Saul, David. It was at Shiloh where the Tabernacle of the Lord stood for more than 400 years (Joshua 18:1).

Erez pointed to a flat area that seemed to be set apart from the rocky foundations of the ancient city of Shiloh. He told us the area is where the Tabernacle likely stood.

Several of us walked down to the place. I couldn't believe I was now standing where the Tabernacle of the Lord once likely stood.

Earlier, as we stood in an observation tower, Erez told us that archaeologists found literally millions of shards of ancient pottery around the area of the Tabernacle, which indicated millions of people had been there, on the surrounding hills, encamped--probably during the three major festivals of the Jewish year.

As I walked from the site where the Tabernacle stood to the observation tower, I looked down and noticed piece after piece of what looked like red pottery. I picked one up to examine it closer. My heart quickened when I realized what I was holding in my hand--an artificat from ancient biblical times.

I continued to pick up pieces as I made my way back to the observation tower. They are so much more than souvenirs. They are tangible connections to a very real, historic, and spiritual past.

With each passing day in Israel, the Bible becomes all-the-more alive. I will never look at the text of Scripture again as simply true words on a page. Ever since I came to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ the Bible has been alive to me--God's living, breathing, active Word. But it is even more than that now. Now that I am seeing these places, touching these place, experiencing these places; the Word of the Lord is leaping off the pages of Scripture and captivating every part of my being, my soul.

I cannot thank the Lord enough for giving me this blessed opportunity to walk where the Patriarchs walked; to walk where the heroes of the faith walked; to walked where the disciples walked; to walk where Jesus walked.

There is more to tell, but it's getting late. And tomorrow is another full day as we head to place like Masada, Jericho, and the Mount of Olives.

But I would like to leave you with one light-hearted moment that happened, today. Please watch these two short videos (Part 1 and Part 2).

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

From Capernaum to Commercialism

I awoke to a beautiful sunrise over the Sea of Galilee. Another busy day was ahead of us. For me, it would also be a day of mixed emotions--wonderment, thankfulness, and disappointment.

Our first stop was the town where Jesus lived and conduct much of His ministry--Capernaum. The above photo is of Ron Love and I standing inside the remains of a 4th century synagogue, which was built on top of the remains of the synagogue where Jesus would have read the Scriptures and taught. The foundation of Jesus' synagogue is visble beneath the foundation of the 4th century synagogue.

The synagogue is surrounded by excavated foundations of homes from the time of Christ. Jesus walked on these streets. It was on these streets and in this synagogue where Jesus taught, healed the sick and performed other miralcles. It was an emotional time as our tour guide explained some of the prophecies that were fulfilled by Christ, during His time in Capernaum.

Then it was off to the Mount of the Beatitudes, the location where Jesus preached His most famous sermon--the Sermon on the Mount. And here's the traditional site.

Well, most scholars do not believe this is the actual location of where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount.  The location we visited is the location purchased and established by the Roman Catholic Church to commemorate the sermon. I was disappointed to learn that we would not be going to the historic site of the Sermon on the Mount, which is now farm land.

However, I was blessed to have the opportunity to share a devotion from the Sermon on the Mount, at the traditional site. For a couple of months, I knew what passage I would use for the devotion--Matthew 7:13-14. My topic was to be the necessity of a sense of urgency in evangelism. But I was never really settled in my heart and mind about the passage or the subject.

Last night, my heart was moved to share from Matthew 6:25-34. It is a favorite passage of mine and Mahria. The Lord has used it many times over the years, and quite frequently over the last 18 months, to minister to us.  And He has been gracious and kind while I'm in Israel to remind me of the importance of the passage in my life.

I believe the Lord's hand and favor was upon the change, for the devotion seemed to be a timely encouragement to some of the people in the group. As for me, the Lord used the devotion to show me yet again my utter unworthiness to open His Word and teach from it. And He also used the time to remind me to take heed to the Lord's commands in the passage, and to the plea I made to the members of our group.

Next, after a short trip to a museum where an excavated boat--one that would have been used for fishing by men who knew of Jesus and likely heard him preach either in the synagogue or in the streets--was on display.

We then boarded a boat to take a cruise of the Sea of Galilee. It was very peaceful on the water. Worship music played, and I spent time in quiet prayer to my Lord. It was a great time of fellowship with the group.

We hit a couple other sites and enjoyed a bus ride down a very steep and winding mountain road, along the demilitarized border between Israel and Jordan. Of course, the biblical history of Israel is fascinating. But so, too, is the recent history of Israel's rebirth as a sovereign nation.

I titled this blog "From Capernaum to Commercialism" because of our last stop of the day--the Jordan River and the traditional site of Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist. The historic location of the event is actually 60-65 miles south of the traditional site. But, due to military conflict in the area of the historic site, the Israeli government developed a traditional site in a safer area.

When we arrived I thought we had entered a poorly maintained theme park. Before I continue, I think it is important to note that I have no doubt that many people who have visited the location in the past, and who were there today, are genuine followers of Christ and the spiritual experience of being in the Jordan River is no less genuine for them. But what I saw today was, in some ways, heartbreaking.

Not far from the area where the baptisms were taking place, people were enjoying feeding the muskrats and catfish. It felt like I was watching two different areas of a theme park--Baptismland and Muskrat Cove. I wondered what the Lord thought of it all. Oh, no doubt He was blessed by those making genuine public professions of faith in Him. But what about the other activies? What about the false profession of faith hat might be taking place, no matter how sincere?

But then I remembered the Holy Land lies within a fallen creation superintended by a fallen human race. I must look back to that sunrise this morning that God allowed to beautify His creation; that He allowed so that I could observe with wonder His perfect artistry so I could see the sunrise and remember I was in the Land where His risen Son once walked, once bled, and once died so that I could have eternal life.

I hope these blogs have been both informative and encouraging.

Tomorrow...Shiloh, Jericho, and the Dead Sea.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Walking with Paul and Elijah

What an amazing day. It still hasn't set in that I am in Israel. As I write this post, I am sitting in my hotel room, which is in Tiberias, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

I had my first falafel, today. But that's not important.

The day began with a tour of ancient Caeserea by the Sea. By the grace of God--His grace that has allowed me to travel to Israel and His grace that has allowed the preservation of such an amazing, historic site--I had the opportunity to stand where Paul stood to make his defense and share his testimony before King Agrippa and a theater full of people (Acts 26:1-32).

Shortly after making his defense and his proclamation of the gospel, and having already appealed to have his case heard before Caesar, Paul, as a prisoner, set sail for Rome. And it was likely from the dock pictured above (or another in the same port) that Paul boarded a ship of Adramyttium (Acts 27:1-2).

Then we made our way to Mount Carmel, the place where the prophet Elijah mocked, defeated, and destroyed the false prophets of the false god, Baal (1 Kings 18:20-40). Mount Carmel overlooks one of the most famous and ominous valleys in all the world--the Valley of Jezreel. Most people know it as the Valley of Armageddon (Revelation 16:12-16).

As Ron Love, Chief Financial Officer for Living Waters, shared a wonderfully encouraging devotion from 1 Kings 18, I saw and heard in the distance two large Israeli military helicopters flying over the valley to an airbase on the valley floor. My thoughts immediately turned to God's revelation to John. It was surreal.

Tomorrow is another full day, which begins on the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. I will have the opportunity to share a devotion with our team not far from where Jesus likely preached the most important sermon known to mankind.

Several times, I have heard people say that once you've been to the Holy Land you will forever read your Bible differently. This trip has already shown me this is the case.

Your prayers for the teams and the leaders, as well as their families, is greatly appreciated.

Monday, May 2, 2011

We Made It!

We’re here! After a long 24-hour journey, which covered about 8,000 miles, we have landed in Tel Aviv and have made it to our first stop—the Dan Caeserea Hotel. I’ve got about an hour before dinner, so I just want to jot down some thoughts.

When we landed in Tel Aviv, we learned that Fox News was reporting that Navy SEALs killed Osama Bin Laden. For me, it was one of those “where were you when” moments. With all that’s going on in the Middle East, landing in Israel the day such an announcement is made is somewhat surreal.

Our first stop was the long lines at the Passport Verification area of the airport; then to collect the luggage of the 21 team members who were on our flight (the rest will arrive on another flight, soon), as well as the large amount of film, lighting, and sound equipment we brought with us. Fortunately, and by the grace of God, no one lost their luggage.

The only downside of our arrival was that the Executive Vice President of Living Waters, Emeal (“E.Z.” Zwayne) was detained by Israeli police and questioned. “E.Z.” is of Lebanese descent and has traveled to Lebanon. Needless to say, Israel’s heightened state of security affected “E.Z.’s smooth transition into the country. But all is well. “E.Z.” was released and has joined us at the hotel.

The rest of the Living Waters team has arrived at the hotel and we just enjoyed a wonderful dinner together. In a few minutes, we will have our first meeting to discuss tomorrow's activities.

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. It was poignant to arrive in Israel, today, considering all the hard work the Living Waters team has put into the soon-to-be released “Hitler, Religion, and the Holocaust” DVD.

Mahria just advised me via a Skype video call that the U.S. government has ordered a travel advisory for all Americans traveling abroad. Please keep us in your prayers.