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High Five Thursday!

Have you ever been reading a story in the Bible and thought, “Man, if only I could have been there!”

Top 5 Biblical Fly-On-The-Wall Moments

Elemental Escape (Exodus 14:15-31)

How awesome would it be to be standing in the crowd with God on one side in a blazing column of fire while Moses is on the other side blasting an interstate highway through the sea? The chaos, the terror, the power, the elemental forces being tamed and manipulated right before your eyes.

It gives me chills just thinking about it.
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Now You See It… (Joshua 6)

There one minute; gone the next. The impenetrable walls of the mighty Jericho stood before the Israelites in all their pride and glory. After some lovely afternoon strolls around the city, a bit of yelling, and some Louis Armstrong, Jericho was reduced to a pile of rubble and ashes. Well, except for that one brothel.

Americans can’t get enough of destruction films in which the White House, the Capitol Building, and the Empire State building are destroyed by natural (or unnatural) forces, e.g. Independence Day, Deep Impact, 2012, etc.

This would be better than any of them.
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The Original 300 (Judges 7)

Long before Leonidas and his merry band of Spartans held off hordes of Persians, ninjas, and rhinos (???), there was Gideon. He was chosen by God to lead Israel’s armies in a counter strike against the evil Midianites, all 150,000 of them. Israel turns out 32,000 recruits to defend their nation. Even with that they are outnumbered 5-1. Through a series of questions (Are you afraid?), and grueling physical challenges (drink from this stream), basic training narrowed the field to 300 men, armed with nothing more than a pot, a torch, and a trumpet. Sounds like they got their battle strategy from the latest issue of Martha Stewart Living.

Anyway, the part of the story I would love to overhear and see is the conversation between God and Gideon as he explains his whole plan of attack. A saner man would have just walked away, but I guess Gideon was just crazy enough to believe that God knew what he was doing.
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The True Underdog Story (1 Samuel 17)

This is the story to which all other underdog scenarios are compared. The battle of David and Goliath.

We all know the story. The little shepherd boy (who for some reason always looks about 9 on the flannel graph) musters up the courage to fight the giant in a head to head (or head to waist) battle. One little stone goes up, up, up, and the giant comes tumbling down.

The part I wish I were there for is the part we don’t talk about in the children’s songs or Sunday school. After Goliath falls, David runs up, takes Goliath’s ginormous sword and beheads the not-so-friendly giant. Like a boss.
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Seeing is Believing (John 20:24-29)

This scene has always fascinated me. We know that Jesus experienced a physical resurrection, yet his body no longer seems to be bound by the laws of physics. He still eats and drinks, he still walks and sits down, but he can also walk through walls or something. Not quite like Casper, but somehow able to appear and disappear in the blink of an eye.

Well, the apostles are all gathered together behind closed and locked doors (rough neighborhood?), but this time, Thomas is with them. As if on cue, Jesus appears and shows Thomas his battle scars. I’m not so interesting in seeing the resurrected Christ. I don’t need to see to believe. I’m more interested in the physical, spiritual, and emotional response given by Thomas. His is the most sincere and profound confession in all the gospels. “My Lord, and my God.”

Jesus Called Them One By One

My wife and I were talking the other day about how to make the Bible more relatable to teenagers. The go-to Characters seem to be Joseph, David, and Timothy. These three started out their journey with God early in their teen years. But after awhile, these stories tend to lose their novelty and their impact.

Then we got to thinking, what about the apostles? Most of our lives, we have viewed Jesus and his apostles like this:

Not only are they white (??), but they’re all old. Two even have gray beards!

But really, how old would the first disciples have been? Probably between 17-25. Barely old enough to have beards, much less gray ones!

Peter and Matthew were probably the oldest, given that Peter was married and Matthew was an established tax collector. But the others were probably not much older than high school seniors when Jesus called them. Jesus himself was only about 30. Why would he go calling disciples as old or older than he was?

Even Paul was probably not much older than 25 when he was called.

Granted, a 17 year old in 1st century Palestine was not exactly the same as a 17 year old in 21st century suburbia. But the simple realization that many of the disciples and many of Jesus’ friends (Lazarus, Mary, Martha, and others) would have been in their late teens or early twenties makes the story of Jesus that much more accessible.

Yes, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.” But he also called teenagers and young adults.

Jesus Knows Me

I saw this wooden wall plaque on Etsy. I think it is so cool. We talk all the time about how Jesus loves us, but it seems so philosophical. This twist of the familiar children’s song reminds me that to be loved is to be known.

Jesus knows me personally, intimately. And I love that.

Salt, part 4

The hodgepodge crowds from around Galilee gathered together along the shoreline of the Sea. They anxiously waited to hear what this teacher would say. The rabbi stood atop the hill, looking down towards the crowds below, full of fishermen, bakers, farmers, and businessmen. A hush fell over the people, and the rabbi said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

And so begins the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus begins his most famous sermon with blessings. When Jesus blesses the poor in spirit, the meek, those in mourning, those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, people in the crowd new, “Hey, he’s talking about me.” These are the peasants, the outcasts, the beat-down, the lonely, the poor, the broken, and the have-nots. They were not among the spiritually elite. They were ordinary, helpless people who longed to hear some good news from God, because according to their preachers and rabbis, God blesses those who have it all together.

Not according to this rabbi. This rabbi says that God blesses those who are on the down and out. He comes down, meets them where they are, and blesses them.

After finishing the blessings, his next words are, “You are the salt of the earth.”

Who is the salt of the earth? My whole life I heard this verse in the context of Christianity. Those who have been saved by God, those set apart from this world, and those who are perfect example of following Christ — those people are the salt of the earth. Right?

But in context, Jesus is talking directly to these people who are spiritually starved. They are tired, run down, and tossed aside. They don’t have it all together, they don’t have all the answers, and they certainly don’t feel set apart for anything. Yet these people are the salt of the earth.

What are some of the qualities of salt? Most people know that salt is used to season food that is bland, and it can be used as a preservative, like for meats and such. But as we’ve seen over the last few posts, salt can be used to purify and cleanse. It has healing aspects to it. And salt was extremely valuable in ancient times.

So when Jesus says that these people are the salt of the earth, that term is loaded. They bring flavor to the complacent world around them. They are preserving the world from certain ruin. They purify and cleanse the sin that so easily infects mankind. And most of all, they are valuable. They have worth beyond imagine.

That’s good news! This is a blessing within itself.

So be salt for someone — offer healing and cleansing to those in need, and add some flavor to the complacency of life.

And know that you are salt — you have value and worth beyond compare, so let God use you.

Getting all Philosophical again

Here are some ideas that have been running through my head over the last few days. A lot of it is along the lines of Plato, who happens to be my favorite Greek philosopher. It’s part philosophy, part theology, and a dash of psychology. I hope it doesn’t come out too confusing….

There is a law in physics which says that everything which happens has a cause, and nothing which is caused to happen can be greater than the cause. Energy is (in a way) lost.

There is also a law which I have observed (a more philosophical/subjective law) which says that nothing created can ever be as good as the creator. For example, a human will never create a robot which is as “good”/perfect (mentally, emotionally, socially, etc.) as the human creator. A poet can only create a poem that is limited by linguistics. The written or spoken words, however, will never be as “good”/perfect as the original ideas within the mind of the poet. The artist can only do so much under the limitations of the physical paint or chisel. The work of art will never be as good/perfect as the original vision of the artist.

Creation can never be as good or better than the creator. The only exception to this is when a father and mother “create” a child. That child has every ability to become as good as or better than his father. He can be smarter, better looking, more successful, have a better marriage. He is the same flesh and blood, yet he has the capacity to become better.

When God created the world, he said “It is good.” It was never perfect. It was never intended to be perfect. It could not be perfect and never will be perfect – because God, who is the only Perfect being (who was, is, and will be), created it, and in doing so could not have created it “perfect.” It could only ever be “good,” but not “perfect.”

Even man, whom God poured His heart and soul into (quite literally) was only ever “very good.” Mankind, the only creation created in the “Imago Dei,” still could not be perfect because mankind was created out of the dust of the earth – an imperfect material.

Mankind has longed to be perfect. Being “good” isn’t good enough. We want perfection. So much so that if we see something imperfect – a misspelled word or a poorly drawn circle – our mind adjusts so that it is comprehended as perfect. But nothing we do, nothing we create will ever be perfect, because we ourselves are not perfect. If a perfect Creator can only make that which is “good,” what becomes of the creation of imperfect creators? Luckily, the perfect Creator stepped in and gave us a little guidance at various times.

Through Abraham, He created a nation we call the Jews. They were the “chosen” people of God to whom He gave the Law (or Torah) by which they were to live. In doing so, he gave them a good Law, but not a perfect one. It couldn’t have been perfect since it was created and put into imperfect words by which imperfect beings were intended to live…perfectly. Only by doing so would they truly, completely, perfectly, be able to enter the presence of the perfect Creator. But the Law, being an imperfect creation, didn’t work. These imperfect people could not keep the imperfect Law perfectly. Seems pretty hopeless at this point in the story.

But remember the exception to the rule about imperfect creation? A man’s offspring is the only “creation” of his that is able to be as good or better than the man himself. This is where Jesus of Nazareth enters the story. He is not just another man “created” by God, but rather inseminated by God. Adam was created out of dust and was therefore unable to rise to the standard of the Creator. Jesus was procreated by God, thus enabling Him to rise to the level of his Father, that is, perfection.

So what about us? We are still his imperfect creation. That is, until we are “born again” into Christ. We have now become “His offspring” to quote Paul quoting a Greek poet. If we have been born again, we have become “sons of God.”

The implications of this I will leave to you.

Holy Land Saga, pt. 2

Day 2: Mon 11/17/08


Bethsaida:

This was the home town of Peter, Andrew, James, and John. It was a small fishing town off the coast of the Sea of Galilee with a population less than 800. I say “was” because Bethsaida is one of the three cities in which Jesus preached that is no longer a city. Bethsaida, Capernaum, and Korazin are the three towns that Jesus actually prophecies against because of their unbelief, and none of those three towns are functioning cities today.


One of the coolest parts about the site is the location. From the hill upon which the town was located you can see the Mount of the Beatitudes, the Mt. of Tiberius, Capernaum, and most of the rest of the Sea. I would like to have seen it in the days of Jesus.


Sea of Galilee:

After seeing Bethsaida, we went down to the Sea of Galilee and were able to take a boat out onto the water. The feeling of being out on the very Sea that played such an important role in the ministry of Jesus was incredible. Words cannot accurately describe how awesome it was. All the Sunday school stories were flying through my head: Jesus calming the storm, walking on the water, preaching offshore in a boat, crossing the Sea to the mountains on the opposite side to find some privacy, telling the disciples to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, visiting the Sea and cooking breakfast after his resurrection. The Sea of Galilee and the surrounding cities played such a major role in his ministry that it’s difficult to even list all the events that took place in and around the Sea.


The boat ride itself was really fun. When we first set off from shore, the crew raised an American flag alongside the Israeli flag and played the national anthem, which was kind of cool. The crew also let us sing some songs and have a devotional time out on the water. After that one of the crew members gave us a fishing demonstration with the same type of net that would have been used in the first century. We didn’t catch anything (and we tried both sides), but it was still cool to see how these nets worked.


Back on shore, we went inside a small museum dedicated to the so-called “Jesus Boat.” It is the remains of a 2000 year old boat which was miraculously well preserved. It dates back to ca. 50BC, and was most likely still in use up until the Romans marched through Israel in the late AD 60s. It is speculated that this boat may have belonged to one or more of the disciples, like Peter or James. We know that very few fishermen could actually afford their own boats, much less one as large and as top-quality as this one. We do know, however, that Peter was living in the more up-scale town of Capernaum. We also know that James and John were the sons of Zebedee, who was a wealthy enough fisherman to have hired hands working for him. It’s possible that this 2000 year old boat could have either belonged to one of those families, or it could have at least been a boat in which Jesus road or from which he preached.


The Sea of Galilee may not be that large, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in beauty. The way the water and the surrounding mountains come together is an inspiring sight to behold. I can see why Jesus liked this area so much.


Capernaum:

There are really two main features among the ruins of Capernaum: Peter’s house and the Synagogue. Capernaum is one of those three towns which is no longer functioning as a town and stands in ruins as Jesus prophesied. We do know that it was in use for a few hundred years after the time of Jesus because of the synagogue which was built in the early 4th Century AD. This synagogue was actually built directly on top of the synagogue in which Jesus would have preached in the town on several occasions.


The most famous feature of Capernaum by far is the house of Peter, in which Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. This is one of the few exact spots in Galilee of which we are completely sure that Jesus was there. We know this because after only a couple generations a shrine was set up in that exact location. Peter’s house, right off the Sea of Galilee, was well known to all the disciples and many of the early Christians, so not enough time had passed for the exact location to be forgotten.


Today, there is a Catholic church constructed virtually hovering above the foundations of the house. Thankfully, we can look below the church building and see the whole foundation of the house. Ironically, the Catholic church holds Peter to be the first “Pope,” yet the very fact that he had a mother-in-law disqualified him from actually being a priest, much less the Pope.


Mt. Tiberias:

This mountain is the only lookout point (at least the only one accessible in the Israeli side) from which the entirety of the Sea of Galilee can be seen. Interestingly, the forest on the top of the mountain through which we hiked is called the “Switzerland Forest” because the majority of the funds to put in the trail and the lookout were provided by Jews who emigrated from Switzerland.


The view from the top is spectacular to say the least. By the time we got to the lookout point, the water was beginning to turn all shades of deep blues and purples. The sky around us was mellowing softly, and the breeze was blowing through the trees. It was fitting that our guide, Yosi, played a song for us on his flute that was inspired by the beauty of this region.


Mt. Tiberias overshadows the city of Tiberias, which is the largest city on the Sea of Galilee. If you remember, the Sea is called the Sea of Tiberias at many points in the gospels. The city, the mountain, and the Sea at one point were all named in honor of Emperor Tiberias who took over after Augustus. Bernice, sister of Felix (governor of the region in Paul’s day), had a palace in Tiberias. She, like many tourists today, made the city on the Sea her winter home because the climate is more tropical along the coast of the Sea. According to our guide (and Josephus) she was the most evil woman to ever step foot in Israel. I won’t go into great detail as to why he said that, but I just found it interesting.


“Mount of the Beatitudes”:

Our last stop of the day was on the Mount (hill, really) where Jesus delivered his famous Sermon on the Mount. We arrived at sunset, which was absolutely phenomenal. As the sun was dipping below the hills, we read from Matthew 5-7 in the possible location where Jesus would have given the sermon. A more perfect scene could not be set.


The way the hill is set up, it makes sense why Jesus chose this spot. The shoreline at the base of the hill is flat for about 100 yards or so. From there it rises sharply upward for about 30 feet and then levels off again for a couple hundred yards. This explains why Matthew records the sermon as taking place on a hill and Luke records the sermon as being given on a level place. It’s both, really.


Anyway, there were some key parts of the sermon that resounded more resiliently in the actual context of even modern day Israel; sayings like, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” or “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…” There is still much fighting going on between Israel and her neighboring States over land and borders. The Jewish people are still caught up in an unhealthy sense of nationalism, which I believe could parallel that of the 1st Century. Jesus was basically telling them to stop fighting, stop worrying so much about the politics of everything, and pursue those things which are more important. Be peacemakers, not rebels and rioters. Seek God’s kingdom, not the kingdoms of man. It’s a lesson the Jews needed 2000 years ago, it’s a lesson they need today, and it’s a lesson that American Christians also need to take to heart.