Israel – Day 5

Our fifth day in Israel began with some time at the Dead Sea.  We were able to rest just a bit at the lowest place on earth: 1420 feet below sea level.  The Dead Sea derives it’s name from the fact that absolutely nothing can live in the water because of the high levels of salt.  Although we know it as the Dead Sea, the locals call it the Salt Sea.  The vast majority of the water that pours into the Dead Sea comes from the Jordan River to the north.

After a good breakfast and some time to study we headed out and began to work our way up to Jerusalem.

Masada – The first stop of the day was a very exciting one for me because it included an incredible hike up one of the most amazing mountainsides that you will find in Israel.  The story of the fortress at Masada is an incredible one filled with sorrow.  In order to tell a long story in a short time I will give you a brief summary.  Masada has been a place of refuge and protection in Israel for several thousand years, however in the 1st Century BC, Herod built an amazing palace there for his own protection.  He was primarily looking for protection from Cleopatra, but he was also a paranoid schizophrenic, so he was convinced that everyone was out to get him.  After his death (caused by his own pride) and several years later the zealots moved from Jerusalem down to Masada in order to be free from the control of the Roman empire.  In 73 AD, shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem, the Romans decided that Masada had to go as well, so they surrounded the mountain fortress and began to wait.  What they didn’t realize was that the zealots had enough food and water for 4 years stored there so they were fine.  Eventually the commander, a man named Silva decided to leave and come back later.  In 74 AD the Romans built a siege ramp that still exists today.  After two months of labor by 5,000 soldiers, the Romans were ready to conquer the 960 men, women and children that lived at Masada.  The Zealots decided to burn almost everything and take their own lives rather than be brutalized, raped and sold into slavery by the Romans.  Now to this day the Jews have a saying: “Masada will never again fall.”

Slide3

En Gedi – Our next stop for the day was at En Gedi which means Spring of the Goats, and yes there are wild goats called Ibex that you can see there.  There are also Rock Badgers and one of our friends got bitten today while trying to feed them!  En Gedi is the location of the events surrounding 1 Samuel 24.  Samuel describes for us how David is being hunted down by King Saul because of a jealous rage.  David and his men have taken refuge in the high ground surrounding the waterfalls at En Gedi.  You should really read this story and imagine this amazing spring and waterfall that would have provided amazing shelter and refreshment in the midst of a scorching desert (and yes it is that).

Slide2

Jerusalem from Mount Scopus – Mount Scopus is a part of the Mount of Olives which is significant for several reasons.  The Mount of Olives is the location of Jesus’ ascension and one day of his return.  It was also I’m not going to take much time describing Jerusalem tonight except to say this: coming into the city that God chose for Himself I am completely overwhelmed!  This is the city that Jesus came to in order to die – and He did that for me and you!  Let that sink in.  He died the death I deserved to die!  Now, I will show and tell you more about Jerusalem in the coming days, but for now, I urge you to remember that God is not done with Israel!

Slide1

One more quick teaser for you: tonight I visited the Western Wall which is one of the most holy sites for Jews today because of it’s close location to the previous Holy of Holies in the Temple.  Check out the religious Jews praying today at the wall.  We will see you tomorrow!

Slide4

Israel – Day 5

Israel – Day 4

This morning started with an early rise time and ended with an amazing relaxing time to reflect.  Let me share with you where we were able to visit and what we were able to accomplish.

The day started with capturing a talk about communion and small groups from the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  Galilee was the sight of the very first small group as Jesus and 12 men lived, served and learned together.  Now, on to the rest of the day!

Megiddo – This is likely one of the most influential Tel’s in all of Israel.  First, what is a Tel?  A Tel is cone shaped mound with a flat top where civilizations had been built on top of each other over many many years.  At Megiddo at least 26 different layers of civilization have been unearthed.  Meggido is also a location that has likely experienced the most battles in all of the world, and the book of Revelation tells us that there is still one more to come.  Now, I know that I have mentioned Meggido before in this blog, but today we actually spent time filming on this site and I can’t wait to show you some of the amazing lessons that we can learn from Meggido and their great city defense.

P1010821

Bet She’an – This site contains two very important towns: a Roman city and an Philistine village.  These towns are important for two very different reasons.  First, the Philistine village was close to the site of a great battle between the Philistines and King Saul.  The Philistines were mad over the killing of Goliath by David and they attacked the Israelites.  Saul was killed in the battle and his body was hung on the gates of the city at Bet She’an.  You can read about this in 1 Samuel 31.  Don’t miss what led up to this battle in 1 Samuel 28.  Saul refused to obey the Lord and his lack of trust and disobedience led to his demise.

The Roman city located at Bet She’an is as impressive as I’ve seen to date.  Housing an amazing amphitheater, public bathhouses with spas, an amazing road system including a sewer system and even heating and cooling systems for the homes, Bet She’an is an impressive display of the Roman lifestyle.  This is important because the Romans lived for today, similar to what we tend to see in our culture.  The Romans did not believe in the afterlife and because of that they would eat, drink and be merry.  Today, the city stands in ruins – a lasting reminder that there is an end and we must be ready!

P1010085

Bethany by the Jordan – Our next location for the day was at Bethany by the Jordan.  This site should be distinguished from the Bethany located about 5 miles outside of Jerusalem, the Bethany where Lazarus was raised.  In John 1 we read that Bethany by the Jordan was the location of much of John the Baptist’s ministry.  In fact, it was at this site that he baptized Jesus, beginning his public ministry.  Here, John declared: “Behold (look, pay attention) the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the whole world.”  What a bold statement – not just your personal sins, not the sins of the nation – but the sins of every individual in every nation!

Now this particular section of John 1 leaves us with a great question.  Who/what is the purpose of your life?  John’s purpose was to point to Jesus.  What about you?

Qumran – Qumran is the site of one of the most important archaeological sites of all time and certainly the most important of the last 100 years.  At Qumran, 2 young boys were trying to find one of their animals in 1947 and they threw a rock into a cave and heard a funny sound.  When they went into the cave they discovered a covered pot containing scrolls.  Over the next several years nearly a dozen caves were discovered and 981 manuscripts of different books of the Bible were discovered.  Every book of the Bible except Esther was found here.  Now, to understand the background – Essenes (scribes who’s job was to copy the Bible) located themselves around Qumran and faithful copied the Scriptures and safely stored them in an incredibly dry environment.

Now, why is this so important, because it validates that the copies of the Bible that we have today are accurate, back 1000 years further than we had before this find.  Qumran reinforces for us that the Bible is absolutely trustworthy.

P1010173

Tomorrow we will be climbing Massada, we will also be in En Gedi, but most importantly we will be heading up to Jerusalem!  I can’t wait to show you the city where the most important events in all of history took place.

Israel – Day 4

Israel – Day 3

Day 3 was a very busy day that started quite early for us.  We were recording videos this morning at 6 am on the Sea of Galilee and then we had to have breakfast and be on the road by 7:30.  Here is a brief summary of the sites that we visited today:

Mount Arbel – On the western side of the Sea of Galilee rises a mountain that has a significant cliff on one side.  This particular mountain is significant for at least one major reason: that of it’s affect on the weather around the Sea of Galilee.  When we read of storms coming up quickly on the Sea of Galilee it is often because of the wind tunnel that is created on the northern side of Mount Arbel.  High winds are created in the valley that then spill out onto the Sea making very dangerous conditions.  Maybe the storm that we read about in Matthew 8 as Jesus is sleeping in the boat was caused by the high winds that often come from this tunnel.  Don’t miss the question that the disciples begin to ask as they witnessed Jesus’ miraculous control of the wind and waves: “What kind of man is this”?  By the way, that is an important question for each of us to answer.

P1000588

Bethsaida – Next we traveled up the coast to the city of Bethsaida – a fishing village on what used to be the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Today, when you visit the ruins of Bethsaida you will notice that the Sea is nearly 2 miles from this location.  It’s hard to imagine that the fishermen of this town would carry equipment and boats 2 miles to work everyday!  What we now know is that they didn’t.  The Sea of Galilee and much of Israel sits right on the rift of 2 plates causing a fault.  The Asia Plate and the Africa plate meet here and occasionally there are significant earthquakes.  Over the past 2,000 years earthquakes have changed the location of the Sea at the northern edge.  This town was very prominent in Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Peter, Andrew and Philip were all from the town of Bethsaida.  Check out Mark 8 and see how Jesus healed a blind man in Bethsaida.  You may also want to examine Matthew 11 to see the clear judgment pronounced against Bethsaida because of their rejection of Him.  Bethsaida forces us to ask the question – have we truly chosen to follow Jesus, he urges us to come and see, but he calls us to go and die.  At some point his offer will cease and you want to be ready.

Chorazin – One of my favorite locations so far was next: Chorazin.  Chorazin is another one of the towns that Jesus spent much of his time in during his earthly ministry. Regularly Jesus could have been found teaching in the synagogues around Galilee, one of which was at Chorazin.  Today at Chorazin you can see the remnants of a 3rd Century synagogue.  This was not the synagogue in which Jesus taught, however it was very close to his time.  It was at this sight that an amazing discovery was made: an actual seat of Moses.  Every synagogue housed a seat of Moses where the Rabbi would sit and teach from the Law and the Prophets.  Jesus would have sat and taught from the seat of Moses in this location!  You will be seeing more about this particular location during our Six Days To Die series.

P1000661

1st Century Boat – Next we were able to see an amazing archaeological find from the shores of Galilee – a fishing boat from the 1st century.  This was very much like a boat that Jesus and his disciples would have traveled in during the many trips across the Sea of Galilee.

Capernaum – The town of Capernaum became the home-base for Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, in fact often the Gospels call Capernaum his “home” even though he was actually from Nazareth.  Jesus spent much time here.  It was here that Peter’s mother in law resided and was healed by Jesus while laying on her death bed.  Check out Matthew 8 to read about this miracle as well as the healing of a Roman Centurion’s servant – which took place in Capernaum.  The picture below is from the Synagogue in Capernaum, a place where Jesus would have taught and declared his Gospel.

P1000708

Tabgha – Our next stop was a location that I had never heard of and you won’t find this name in your Bible, however it is likely the site of a few very important events.  Tabgha is the location of 7 hot springs right on the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee.  These 7 hot springs make a very attractive fishing spot for the local fisherman – including those 2,000 years ago.  Many now believe that this location might have been the spot from which Jesus called Peter and Andrew to “follow Him and become fishers of men”.  If this is that location – what an important sight.  All of Christianity is based on the fact that Christ died for all, and now: found people find people!  That was Jesus’ agenda then and it is remains today.

Secondly, this may also be the location from which Jesus met Peter after his epic failure.  Peter had denied Christ three times and subsequently Jesus restored him next a “fire of coals” on the beach.  Check out John 21 and remember the amazing compassion of our God.

Sea of Galilee – Tiberias – The last portion of our day was spent out on the Sea of Galilee next to the city of Tiberias.  The location of Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea is the reason behind the Sea also being called the Sea of Tiberias.  At this location we took time to reflect on the miracles that took place actually on the water.  One of which is the walking on water of Jesus and Peter.  Wow, what a reminder!  Check out Matthew 14 and remember that knowing and trusting Jesus always go hand in hand.  You can’t trust Him if you don’t know Him and if you know Him you should trust Him!

Tomorrow we will be moving on from the Sea of Galilee to the areas around the Dead Sea.  Stay tuned for more to come!

Israel – Day 3

Israel – Days 1 and 2

Over the past 3 months I have been preparing to travel to Israel to study and to produce videos that we will be using in an upcoming sermon series at Oak Grove.  The series is called Six Days To Die and it’s all about the last 6 days of Jesus’ life.  We are actually recording at many of the sites where Jesus spent his last week and we will be showing them to you in our series starting on Easter.  You will want to see this or check it out on our website if you can’t see it live.  I have now been in the country of Israel for a little over 36 hours and I am very grateful to be able to share with you what I am seeing and learning. So, let me give you a quick rundown on the first two days.

Day One

P1000322

Day one started at the Mediterranean Sea!  We landed in Tel Aviv at approximately 8 in the morning local time and went directly to our first site.  After spending just a few minutes looking at the Sea and a first century aqueduct built by Herod to supply his beach house at Caesarea, we then traveled about 5 miles down the beach to Caesarea.

Caesarea – Caesarea is the location of several important Biblical events including one of the imprisonments of Paul while waiting to be transported to Rome.  It is likely best known however for the palace that Herod built right on the sea.  The picture above is of the remains of Herod’s personal swimming pool right on the sea.  Herod was a very complex man who was likely a very demented man, but he accomplished much.  However, despite all of his great efforts, you can’t help but recognized that his kingdom has crumbled and the Kingdom of Christ (whom he tried to have killed as a baby) has continued to grow and expand.

Mount Carmel – After leaving Caesarea we traveled to Mount Carmel.  I’ve always envisioned Mount Carmel as one mountain but I learned that it is more like a range of mountains.  Mount Carmel is the location of the great battle that took place between Elijah and the prophets of Baal.  Check out 1 Kings 18 and read about the Baal worship taking place and Elijah’s faith in the promises of God.  Also, from the top of Carmel you can look down and see the Valley of Jezreel which is also know as Megiddo – the site of the yet future battle known as Armageddon which you can read about in Revelation 16.

After visiting Mount Carmel we finished the day by arriving at our home for the next 3 days: The Sea of Galilee.  More on that later.

Day Two

P1000562

Day two began with traveling to a northern location known as Dan.

Dan – Dan is one of the northern most locations in Israel and was a very important location during the divided kingdom time period in the history of Israel, shortly after the death of Solomon.  Dan is also mentioned several times in the Old Testament concerning the promises of God for land: Israel was to inhabit the land from Dan to Beersheba.  Now, to understand Dan, you need to read about a man named Jeroboam in 1 Kings 11 and 12.  Since Solomon refused to obey God, God promised the 10 northern tribes of Israel to Jeroboam.  1 Kings 11:35-39 says:

I will take the kingdom from his son’s hands and give you ten tribes. 36 I will give one tribe to his son so that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I chose to put my Name. 37 However, as for you, I will take you, and you will rule over all that your heart desires; you will be king over Israel. 38 If you do whatever I command you and walk in obedience to me and do what is right in my eyes by obeying my decrees and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you. 39 I will humble David’s descendants because of this, but not forever.’”

If Solomon’s problem was that he didn’t obey God, Jeroboam’s problem was that he didn’t trust God.  God made promises to him and he was afraid of losing his kingdom, so he built major places of worship at Dan and completely disobeyed God because of a lack of trust.  This site is actually visible today!

Caesarea Philipi – Caesarea Philippi is a very important location in the northern portion of Israel where Herod built a temple at the mouth of a great cave that originally had a very deep spring flowing out of it.  This became a site of great idol worship (see the picture above).  It was here that Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do people say that I am?” in Matthew 16.  You’ve got to read this passage.  Now, if you are a Christ follower, remember this – Jesus went to a place of great idol worship and boldly declared that the gates of Hades would not prevail against his church.  This is a bold reminder to be actively engaged in your culture to see people know and follow Christ.

Kursi – the final location for the day was on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Kursi is a site that has been traditionally thought of as the location for the events of Mark 5 and Jesus’ interaction with a demon filled man.  This site was incredible because you can see caves above in the hills and a steep slope below where the demons might have gone into the pigs and ran down the hills into the Sea of Galilee.  When you read this account, don’t miss verses 18 through 20 which say this:

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said,“Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

Even here Jesus is all about found people finding people!  Now, we will be traveling more tomorrow so there will be more soon!

Israel – Days 1 and 2

Measuring What Matters – part 2

When something really matters to you, you measure it.  If you don’t measure it, it doesn’t really matter!

Whenever I go out in public with my family, especially around large crowds, I inherently find myself doing random head counts.  You know…one, two, three, okay we’re good!  I am continually counting because I want to make sure that I don’t lose a child.

Recently, I was involved in running the Kansas City Half Marathon.  I ran with a very good friend of mine.  When the race was done our families met us and we spent time recovering and enjoying the kids events.  As we were preparing to leave and heading to the cars we did a head count and found that one child was missing – one of my friend’s kids.  All of us stopped and frantically began searching for his little girl.  After about 10 minutes she was located and our collective heart rate finally started to come down.  Now, remember where this story began, we were counting and making sure we had everyone.  This is why we count…because we care.  We care what we accomplish and we care about bringing others with us.

Today, I want to share with you the second piece of information that we measure every week, every month, every year at Oak Grove.  We believe that saved people serve people.  2

Over this past year we have been able to measure and track how many people are serving on a regular basis and how many volunteers it takes to actually create a warm and welcoming environment for the gospel each week.  Here is what we know: currently we have 85 adults who are serving on a monthly basis.  Why do these numbers matter?  They matter because we truly believe that you can’t be a maturing Christian without learning to engage and serve others.  Jesus Himself talked often about serving and He personally demonstrated a servant’s heart over and over.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:45

This is why we measure the number of people serving on a regular basis, because saved people serve people.

So, how about you? Where are you serving?  Are you serving with your small group?  Are you serving in the community?  Are you serving in your neighborhood?  Are you serving at your church?  Remember: saved people serve people.

Now, one last question: where do you see opportunities for us to serve in our community?  This year we want to expand the ways that we serve in Kansas City and I would love to hear your ideas.

Measuring What Matters – part 2

Measuring What Matters – Part 1

Years ago in a seminary classroom, (I’m not actually sure which class) I was challenged with the following words:

When something really matters to you, you measure it.  If you don’t measure it, it doesn’t really matter!

At the time I bristled under those words.  There were a number of things that I thought mattered to me, and likely they did, but they didn’t matter enough for me to intentionally and repetitively do something about it.  After a bit of thought I decided to embrace the statement and begin measuring what really mattered to me.  Since then I have received both criticism and praise on this practice.  However, I am even more convinced today that this axiom holds true.   So, today begins the first of a several part series that I will be writing concerning what really matters to me and what matters to the church where I serve.

2 members of our staff and myself visited another church outside of our state and we heard phrases that sounded like some of our values and so we decided to make them our own.  These phrases became the basis of what we now measure on a weekly, monthly and even yearly basis.  The first phrase is this: Found People Find People!  Let me explain.

1

Reading the New Testament brings a common theme to light: God is interested in all people knowing and following Him.  Another common theme is that God wants to use us in that process.  Here at Oak Grove we aim to practice and live out these themes by connecting with people who are yet to know Him.  We think that when you are found by Jesus that you begin to find others.  Found people find people.  If you follow this blog or our Facebook page you will soon see a recap of all the people who went public with their faith in 2015.  These stories are so powerful.  However, there are dozens of stories still being written right now.  Thank you for Praying, Investing and Inviting with us and thank you for practicing: Found People Find People!  We measure this because we believe that every number has a name, and every name has a story, and every story matters to God!

Want to know what else we measure at Oak Grove?  Part 2 is coming…

Measuring What Matters – Part 1

Lent: What’s That All About?

lent

To be fair, I’ve grown up with a faith tradition that did not celebrate or even really talk about Lent (okay, maybe sometimes I even heard people make fun of Lent observations).  This always bothered me (the making fun part) because, while there were many who didn’t take Lent seriously, it did seem like an important observance for many others.  Maybe it was even a spiritual growth tool for some.  I am all for that.  Now, I am not writing for or against the observance of Lent in any way in this post, I simply want to share a few thoughts that have come to my mind as I’ve learned more and more about Lent.  No matter where you stand on this observance, I hope you can appreciate some of the thoughts behind Lent.  Here are a few of my thoughts:

  1. Lent is a reminder of the frailty of life – and that reminder is healthy.  The Bible is filled with reminders of how short and frail our lives really are.Psalm 103 for example reminds of this:15 The life of mortals is like grass,
        they flourish like a flower of the field;
    16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
        and its place remembers it no more.
    17 But from everlasting to everlasting
        the Lord’s love is with those who fear him

    This passage reminds us of the fact that we don’t have a clue how long our lives will be and we should make sure that we are ready for the end of life.  This is one of the major positives of Lenten observations.  Often a minister leading Lenten services will place the ash on the forehead of those in attendance and say: “Remember, we come from dust and to dust we will return”.  Now, this can sound very dark and scary, but from my perspective, it is a great reminder of two things: 1) we are not God and we can’t control this life – even it’s length; 2) We need help for life after death.  Don’t miss verse 17 in Psalm 103 – it reminds us that God’s love is with those who turn to Him, and it is everlasting -unlike us!

  2. Lent can be a reminder of the need for repentance – but be careful of the emphasis.  When you celebrate Lent, there is a reminder of how much we need to repent of our rebellion against God and turn to Him.  With many Lent observances we are urged to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16) and this is a very helpful exercise, however, check your motivations.  Are you repenting to earn something from God or are you repenting because you truly believe that the life of a Christ-follower is to be one of worship – meaning that we turn away from sin, not as a means of earning, but as a means of praising our Savior.  Check your motivations.
  3. Lent can remind us of HOPE!  Remember the Words: “Your will return to dust”?  These words are a reminder that you and I will die.  Without Christ, these words are very dark and scary, in fact, without Christ, these words are hard.  But, listen to the words given to us concerning Christ from Hebrews 10:14 – For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.  What a huge reminder of the hope that we have in Christ – He has made us perfect forever!                                                                                                                                 
  4. Warnings: there are two warnings that I would share with you if you are involved in thinking through and participating in Lent observances – either at home or at an organized event.
    • First – remember that you cannot ever earn anything from God.  He is a gracious God and He has provided for our forgiveness and for our lives out of his grace.  Any observances that stirs you to believe and practice based on personal merit will not lead you toward the one true God, but instead towards a personal righteousness and that is anti-Christ.
    • Second – if you do decide to participate in Lent, keep in mind Christ’s teachings concerning fasting.  Here is what he says in Matthew 6 –                                      

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

In other words, guard yourself against the temptation to share with the world what you are giving up during Lent, and let your observance be truly something that you sacrifice in order to hear the voice of God more clearly and spend more time, talent and treasure on serving Him and others.

 

Lent: What’s That All About?