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Strategic Genius or Just Crazy

Most of the Bible takes place in the middle east with the exception of bits that are focused more on the Mediterranean locations where Paul traveled. If I were to take a guess, I would say that many of today’s Christians don’t know why God would choose it as a location for his people. Actually, I’d be curious to know how many people even think about it. But I will still ask the question.

Why did God choose to give his people the land we know as Israel?

At first glance, from photos and with all the turmoil that we hear and read about, it’s tempting to think it the worst place to establish the Hebrew nation. And yet, this is the place God chooses.

 

Ruins of a village we visited that show the remains of non-Hebrew and later Hebrew inhabitants.  The road in the distance would be close to the route of the Via Maris.

 

And why is Jericho the first city the Israelites capture? To know this we have to know the geography. In the days of the Bible, the fortified city of Jericho was on the strategic road linking the Via Maris and the King’s Highway — the major trade routes of the ancient world.

This is a sign of God’s strategic genius!

Why and how do you establish your people as a major player in the world? By placing them in the middle of east/west trade routes, they had the ability to show the love of God to everyone. God desired his people (Israelites) to be different, to look different, to act different than the cultures around them in order to show them God, The God, was different, a God who loves. How do you establish your people? I can’t think of a better way to build their economy than by having control and influence over the trade routes.

How does this apply now?

You are not here by accident, neither am I. We have been placed in this time and in this place by God just as he placed the Israelites in the middle of trade routes. We may not have the financial benefits that Israel had in the ancient world, but we do have the ability to influence those around us. God calls us to be the ones who show his love to a world that so badly needs it.

Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Interestingly enough, this doesn’t come at the end of passages about witnessing and evangelism. The previous passages are the Beatitudes about mercy, kindness, righteousness, and humility.

David Willna is a Jewish man who studied and lived in California until he won $14,000 on Wheel of Fortune. David went to Israel intending to live for a year and yet was still there years later when author Bruce Feiler ran into him. Here are his words, taken from Feiler’s book “Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths.”

“The relationship between a person and another human being is what creates and allows for a relationship with God. If you’re not capable of living with each other and getting along with each other, then you’re not capable of having a relationship with God.” 

That kind of goes back to a sermon Ben Webb preached at our church a few weeks ago. You can’t honor Jesus’ command to love the Lord your God without honoring the command to love others.

How are you going to show God’s love to those you encounter each day? How are you going to bring shalom to the relationships you have with those in your community?

Dancing in the Desert

Deserts are hot.

That might seem like an obvious statement but until you have been there I’m not sure you really know what hot is. I know it was like that for me. Even for short hikes in between air-conditioned bus rides, the thing you want to carry the most is water. I can remember on my BEMA study trip to Israel/Turkey the hottest hike we had I was carrying between 4-5 liters of water and drank every bit of it. To be completely honest, the desert was one of my favorite parts of the trip and I often think about going back. As I was catching up on my personal study, I listened to a short devotional by Ray Vanderlaan that took me right back to the heat and rocks of the deserts we hiked.

In the book of Exodus, we find the Israelites leaving Egypt with Pharaoh pursuing them through the desert to the Red Sea. As the story goes, God parts the waters of the Red Sea enabling the Israelites to cross on dry ground but as Pharaoh crosses in pursuit, the waters close over his chariots. The very next verses are a song of praise sung by Moses’s sister, Miriam.

“Then Miriam, the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel (tambourine) in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both the horse and the driver he has hurled into the sea.” (Exodus 15:20-21 NIV)

The question that I have always missed, that I got from the video devotional, how did the women come to have tambourines? You are in the desert, carrying only what you are able and yet they brought tambourines instead of that much more food or provisions.

I meant really, who thinks to pack a tambourine for a long trip through the desert? I would have packed extra skins of water instead of a tambourine.

But maybe here’s the thought.

We will always face difficulties in life. We can let those moments knock us down or we can purposefully look for ways to celebrate. I think the women packed the tambourines because they knew they would have moments to dance, even in the desert because God was with them and would provide.

We can let life knock us down but we get up again. Why? I think as we learn to trust the whole story of God and our place in His story, we can trust that he will provide and have our backs. Maybe not in the way we think, or maybe not even in the way we hope or imagine, but he will always be with us. Even in the middle of difficult seasons,

we will find moments to dance in the desert, so it’s best to pack the tambourines.

Love, not Hate

I am very passionate about my faith, I believe in the power of Jesus Christ to bring healing and shalom to the chaos in the world around us. So that there is no misunderstanding, I also am strongly passionate about knowing and learning the Bible or as I refer to it, the text.  It is the main connection to knowing who God is, who Jesus is, and how we can bring shalom to our world.

One of the passages I take very much to heart comes from Matthew 22:37-40: And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Ben Webb preached on this a few weeks ago and one of the things that struck me the most is that you cannot embrace either command without the other.

To love God means to love others.

This might seem to be an obvious statement and I am sure almost every churchgoer would agree to it on the surface but it needs to be put into practice… all the time, no exceptions, even to those we wouldn’t normally associate with.

This is so important to understand… when we claim to love Jesus yet the things we say, do, or post on social media do not reflect the love of Jesus we are then a stumbling block to other people.  Ever wonder why so many people are turned off of the church?  It’s not because they are afraid of Jesus… it is the lack of love and kindness to outsiders that makes people question why the church is even necessary.

Jesus calls us to love God by loving others.

All others.

Gay or straight

Muslim, Jew, Christian, or those who claim to have no belief in religion

citizen or immigrant

Read intently the four Gospels of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

Who does Jesus criticize the most?  The religious leaders

and who receives his grace and kindness? Those who have sinned and those who struggle

Friends and anyone who may happen to read this and would consider yourself a follower of Jesus, we have to show love.  That has to be at the forefront of everything.  We can’t even begin to have a conversation about life struggles and sin if we haven’t built a relationship with people.  Spouting rude comments on social media is not bringing the kingdom of God to earth, it does nothing to bring shalom.

I love that we have started the Christmas season in the genealogy in Matthew.  Want to know why?  Because the genealogy of Jesus is full of unmentionables.

Tamar—family incest, read her story in Genesis 38

Rahab—prostitute, read her story in Joshua 2

Ruth—Moabite, an immigrant to Israel, read her story in Ruth

Uriah’s wife—Bathsheba committed adultery with King David then David commits murder, read the story here in  2 Samuel 11

Manasseh— a horrible King of Judah who sacrificed his own children to an idol, read about him in 2 Kings 21

For some reason, Matthew purposefully draws attention to these and so many more less than savory people in the line of Jesus.  And I would suggest that he is writing to show us that Jesus the Messiah is for everyone.  The mumzers or unmentionables, the marginalized, the weak, the sick, those that are struggling in life.  Jesus came for all!

As followers of Jesus, we don’t get to decide who’s in or who’s out… we are called to love God and love others… All of the law and the prophets stand on these two commands, without these the rest don’t even matter!

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