Highlights of the Holy Land

In May of this year, my husband and I had the privilege of traveling to Israel with a small group of friends from our church. Even though this was a bucket list trip for us, it developed into much more as the allure of the Holy Land captivated us.

Some of our highlights were:

  • Caesarea by the Sea: Situated on the stunning Mediterranean Sea, this is the ancient Roman-style city that Herod built complete with a man-made harbor and system of aqueducts. Viewing the sapphire blue sea, it’s easy to understand why he selected this spot. Even more enlightening is the realization that many New Testament heroes resided or spent time here, including Cornelius the Centurion and the Apostle Paul. As a side note, Herod was struck dead in the stadium here (Acts 12:19b-23).
  • Jezreel Valley: From Mount Carmel, we observed this immense flat valley and comprehended this is where Armageddon will take place. There is an Israeli Air Force Base located there and we heard multiple planes taking off.
  • Mount of Beatitudes: Located next to the Sea of Galilee this hillside area is a natural theatre providing perfect amplification. As Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount, everyone in the crowd, including the rear portion, would have been able to hear him.
  • Boat Ride on the Sea of Galilee: It was a beautiful day for a boat ride, but we heard tales of how suddenly storms pop up over this body of water. While his disciples were in a boat, Jesus walked toward them during one of these storms and they almost didn’t recognize him. The question, “Do we miss Jesus in the storms of our own lives?” challenged each of us.
  • Baptism in the Jordan River at Kinneret: Despite being a commercialized site and the fact that I was baptized by immersion almost 40 years ago, this experience touched me deeply as I renewed my commitment to Jesus Christ. Fish even nibbled on my legs!
  • Masada: Expecting to see just an oversized “Alamo,” we were overwhelmed with the enormity of this fortress masterminded by Herod. The story of the 1000 Jewish men, women, and children who defended it from the Romans, eventually choosing mass suicide over enslavement, was awe-inspiring.
  • Camel Ride: Well, what can I say … something I always wanted to do, even if it was through a parking lot.
  • Wadi Qelt in the Judean Desert: Also known as the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23) and where we saw the steep and tortuous path portrayed in the parable of the Good Samaritan. There is a monastery built into the cave-laden cliff, inhabited by Eastern Orthodox monks, with a history of offering hospitality to pilgrims.
  • Jerusalem: Despite the gold-hued Muslim Dome of the Rock being the most recognizable feature of the city, the panoramic view was breathtaking.
  • Mount of Olives: The sight of the holy cemetery and the immense number of tombs astonished us. The Jewish people believe that when their Messiah comes, the dead will rise and walk to the Temple Mount. They believe this close proximity will allow them to be first; but, not to be disrespectful, I chuckled when I thought of the scripture, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16, NIV).
  • House of Caiaphas (High Priest during Jesus’ ministry and trial): Built over the spot of what historians and archeologists believe to be Caiaphas’ home is the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu. As you make your way down below it you will find yourself in a dungeon where they believe the soldiers contained Jesus in advance of his crucifixion. It was sobering viewing the grooves in the walls where guards would have secured our Savior’s arms.
  • Garden Tomb: Located just outside of the walls of the Old City next to a rocky hill resembling a human skull (Golgotha—where Jesus’ crucifixion occurred) is a tomb that may have been the location of where Jesus’ body was laid to rest preceding His resurrection. Although there are differences of opinion among scholars as to the actual site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, we experienced intense emotions when we entered the tomb.

These are just a dozen highlights from our trip, and yet there were so many other memorable spots. Venues such as Mount Carmel, Caesarea Philippi, Capernaum, the Golan Heights, Harod or Gideon Springs, the Dead Sea, the view of Mount Moriah, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Western or Wailing Wall, and the Via Dolorosa are among those places. Several people told us Scripture would transform from black and white into color after spending time in Israel. We agree that yes, the trip definitely added another dimension to our study of God’s Word. If you get the opportunity to visit Israel, the Holy Land, go!

And remember, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6, NIV).

© 2018 APearlofGreatValue.org. All rights reserved.

 

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Soil Conditioning

Gardening is one of my pleasures in life. This spring I’m busy transplanting rose bushes, adding hydrangeas, and calculating what herbs to grow this season. It’s my version of “crop rotation.” As we dig the holes for our shrubs I’ve learned the importance of digging a very large hole, and since we live at the coast, it’s important to amend our sandy soil with rich, fertile loam. If we don’t take that precaution our plants will never thrive.

The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke convey Jesus telling the parable of a farmer who sows his seed. This threefold repetition points out the importance of the message contained in the illustration, so we need to pay attention. Some seed falls along a path where it was trampled on and birds ate it up. Some lands on rocky ground, but when the plants begin to grow they wither due to lack of moisture and shallow soil. Even more seed falls among thorns, which grew up with the plants and choked the good plants out. Finally, the remainder of the seed fell on good soil where “… it came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown” (Luke 8:8, NIV).

Scripture informs us the seed described in Jesus’ parable is God’s Word. If the seed falls along the path, it means we’ve heard God’s Word, but don’t understand it. Satan steals it from our hearts; we do not believe and therefore are not saved. If it falls on rocky ground, we’ve received God’s Word with joy, but we have no root and fall away once difficulties arise due to not being firmly planted and established. If it falls among thorns, we’ve heard God’s Word but the worries, concerns, and pleasures of life choke out His truth and we do not mature in the Lord.

However, if the seed falls among good soil, we’ve heard God’s Word and we keep it and persevere in life. We produce a crop—evident by our good works, compassion for others, and all the fruit of the spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23.

How do we ensure God’s Word falls on good soil?

Discipline is the slow-release fertilizer that continually works to fortify our soil.

Discipline is defined as, “training that corrects, molds, or perfects moral character” (Merriam-Webster.com). For the Christian, this training implies an ongoing process and would include practices such as prayer, reading and studying the Bible, attending church, and fellowship with other believers.

But it is through setting aside time with God that we become acquainted with Him and His Word. We cannot neglect to pray for wisdom and discernment prior to Bible study, asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate Scripture. Furthermore, meditating on the Word provides the necessary time to listen and understand. Luke 8:18 (NIV) charges us with, “Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.” We’re to understand and become mindful of God’s Word in order not to forfeit it. Read Scripture, know Scripture, memorize Scripture.

Discipline requires time, commitment, and practice. As we fertilize and enhance our soil with discipline, only then will we become fruitful and produce a crop.

Father God, Please help me to grow in the knowledge and understanding of your Word. I know it’s only by disciplining myself to spend time alone with you and in your Word will I be able to safeguard the condition of my soil. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Bible Truths:

The Parable of the Sower appears in the following three gospel accounts:

Matthew 13:3b-23

Mark 4:3-25

Luke 8: 5-18

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Are You Buckled Up?

I know I’m not alone as I look around and wonder where truth is. The days of issues being black and white have disappeared and been replaced by relativism and vagueness. It has even penetrated the church, as many churches no longer stand on truth these days.

In Ephesians 6:14, the apostle Paul begins illustrating the full armor of God. The first piece of armament he describes is the belt of truth: “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.” Merriam-Webster.com defines truth as a “transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality.” Furthermore, Ephesians 1:13 clarifies that the word of truth is the gospel of our salvation. The gospel of Jesus Christ is truth.

I’m seeing many people wandering around with their pants falling down (literally and spiritually) these days.

Are your pants sliding down because your belt has become unbuckled?

There’s a reason Paul lists the belt first, as the rest of the armor will not stay in place without it.

What is the foundation of my life?

What am I basing truth on?

What do I fall back on during times of difficulty?

Are my decisions lining up with God’s truth?

These are challenging times in our culture and in our churches. God’s Word is clear about our individual responsibility to accept and share truth. Only when we hold steadfast with our belts of truth buckled, will we be able to successfully live in this world and be an instrument of change. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8, NIV). His Word is truth and never changes. Therefore we can stand on His truth, and be sure of tomorrow and that we’ve won the victory.

Father God, Thank you for providing truth through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Help me to stand firm in this world, with my belt completely buckled, and represent your truth to others around me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Bible Truths:

John 14:6 (NIV): “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

Ephesians1:13a (NIV): “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.”

© 2017 APearlofGreatValue.org. All rights reserved.

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A Psalm 119 Approach

Excitement bubbled inside me as my husband and I finally made the decision to redo the majority of our master bathroom. Then we faced the dilemma of where to start. A multitude of decisions piled up in front of us and the choices seemed overwhelming. Glass shower enclosures, bathtubs, tile, paint—the list appeared endless. It became obvious before tackling this project we needed a game plan. Understanding exactly what our needs were was vital. This encompassed determining exactly what needed replacement and what would fit within the space we had. Only then did we proceed to look at and determine which models/tiles/fixtures fit our budget and needs, making our selections from those options. And finally, we applied our choices to our remodel through the contractor we hired.

Breaking down our remodel into several stages guaranteed us the success we desired to complete our project. And so it is with studying the Bible. At first it’s overwhelming, but by formulating an approach to scripture you can successfully study and understand God’s Word. As we read scripture and search for its meaning and application to our life, I perceive three stages:

Discern, Decipher, and Digest God’s Word.

Psalm 119 displays the heart of the Psalmist as he declares the priority of God’s Word in his life. How I desire to have the same nature—a heart yearning for God’s Word and placing it first in my life.

  • Discern

Before we read and consider scripture, we first need to discern what our goal is or more simply put, where we’re headed. Discern means “to detect with the eyes and to come to know or recognize.” Verse 18 of Psalm 119, asks the Lord to, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” A good first step for all of us is to seek discernment about what to study in order to see these “wonderful things.” Perhaps you’ve felt the Lord’s leading to participate in a group Bible study, Sunday school, or home fellowship using a predetermined course of study. Or, you know the Holy Spirit is nudging you to investigate a particular book of the Bible or do a topical study on your own.

I desire to recognize treasure in God’s Word, so I pray for discernment and awareness as I read and consider scripture in the course of study He has laid out for me. Verse 125 takes us deeper with, “I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes,” which leads us into the next stage.

  • Decipher

Merriam-Webster.com defines decipher as, “To make out the meaning or interpret the meaning of.” Thus, when we decipher a passage of scripture we succeed in understanding or interpreting it. Verse 130 conveys this process with, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” Pray for the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and give you insight, when you read your Bible. Additionally, there are many resources to take advantage of in our research, and a reliable Bible commentary, dictionary, handbook, and atlas are indispensable. With these materials accessible online, we have information readily available as we delve into scripture.

When we inspect and decipher God’s Word, he will give us understanding. Verse 27 promises, “Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders,” which transitions us into the following phase.

  • Digest

Our final stage involves digesting His Word. When we digest something, we meditate on it. I’ve heard different pastors and Bible teachers compare meditating on God’s Word to a cow chewing its cud. A cow will lie in the field all day savoring the food he has eaten. As we assimilate and properly digest scripture, the “nutrients” are absorbed in us, and we will be ready to apply the truth we have learned. As we go about our day we can contemplate truth. Verses 15-16 declare, “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.”

A thoughtful, step-wise approach to our bathroom remodel brought about our desired result. In the same way, by discerning, deciphering, and digesting God’s Holy Word, we can discover truth and apply it to our lives. May we all aspire for a heart devoted to scripture as that of the Psalmist who penned Psalm 119.

Father God, I desire to know more of your Word, but sometimes I look at the Bible and feel overwhelmed. Please assist me to discern what to study, enable me to decipher scripture, and finally help me to digest your truths. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Bible Truths:

Psalm 119:36 (NIV): “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.”

Psalm 119:133 (NIV): “Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.”

Psalm 119:148 (NIV): “My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.”

© 2017 APearlofGreatValue.org. All rights reserved.

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Awesome is a Word Reserved for God

A brightly shining sun filtered in to the screened porch where a group of us had gathered on a nice spring afternoon. Awesome is a Word Reserved for GodAs we were sipping our sweet tea, one of the women was sharing some special things which had happened to her recently. It was a normal conversation, but it didn’t take long for another lady to say, “That’s awesome!” Hearing that phrase bothered me, and I quietly cringed.

We speak words carelessly these days, tossing them around lightly. While describing a vacation, a new purchase, or an event someone witnessed, often the typical response is, “Awesome!” I find my spirit disturbed, as

Awesome is a word we should reserve for God.

Merriam-Webster.com defines awesome as, “Causing feelings of fear and wonder; extremely good.” If we unpack it further, the definition of awe is, “An emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime.” This tells me our sacred living God who reigns with authority is awesome.

One of the first Biblical uses of the word awesome occurs in Exodus 15:11 when Moses and the Israelites were singing praises to God for their deliverance from Pharaoh and his army. “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (NIV) This praise paints a picture of God’s attributes, and gives us a glimpse of His awesomeness.

Everything about God is awesome, and several distinctions which stand out are:

First, God’s deeds or works are awesome. God created the heavens and the earth; He orchestrates events and accomplishes miracles. I stand amazed at his workmanship. “Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man’s behalf!” (Psalm 66:5, NIV) Even in today’s crazy world, God’s mighty hand is evident as we view His creation and witness what He does in our lives.

Second, God’s love is awesome. God’s love for us is complete and perfect, and we see in the Old Testament the prophet Nehemiah praying, “O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands.” (Nehemiah 1:5, NIV) God’s love is perfectly demonstrated when He came to earth as Jesus Christ to die for our sins. “He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever—holy and awesome is his name.” (Psalm 111:9, NIV) God’s gift of salvation to each of us who believe in Him epitomizes His love for us. Now that is awesome.

Third, God’s name is awesome. We are to hold His name in high regard, treat it with respect, and cherish it in our heart. “Let them praise your great and awesome name—he is holy.” (Psalm 99:3, NIV) As I go about my day, I praise God’s sacred name for He alone is holy. Nothing else comes close.

God’s works, love, and name are important considerations when we choose our words and form our conversations. I pray I will select my words carefully, and remember awesome is a word reserved for God.

Father God, You alone are awesome. Your deeds are magnificent, your love is complete and perfect, and your name is Holy. Please help me to treat your name with the esteem it deserves. You are mighty and awesome, and I thank you for your love. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Bible Truths:

Exodus 34:10b (NIV): “The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you.”

Psalm 65:5 (NIV): “You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.”

Psalm 68:35 (NIV): “You are awesome, O God, in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people.”

Psalm 47:2 (NIV): “How awesome is the Lord Most High, the great King over all the earth!”

Deuteronomy 10:17 (NIV): “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.”

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