Galilee

Galilee 1

This is Galilee.

Most likely, Jesus walked this very hillside to spend time in prayer.  Perhaps he stopped here for lunch with his disciples, or stood at this very spot to teach a crowd of eager people – I’m picturing five thousand people trampling the brush on this hillside.

It’s one of the most surprising truths of the New Testament – Jesus didn’t spend much time in Jerusalem.  Jerusalem!  Epicenter of Israel; city of the Great Temple; home of the high priest; obsession of the prophets; yet mostly avoided by Jesus?  Why?

Jesus was spending time in the rolling hills and small villages of Galilee instead.  Jesus was hanging with fishermen, tax collectors, political outcasts, prostitutes, and a boatload of hard-partying characters with super sketchy backgrounds.  Jesus was blue collar.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, religious leaders, insulated from the common people by layer upon layer of pomp and pretension, sharpened their knives for the kill.  Who was this Jesus to steal the hearts of the people and upset the status quo?

If you want to take in the history of Israel, the struggle of the centuries, the essence of Judaism, and the pinnacle point of the Gospel – the death and resurrection of Christ  – go to Jerusalem.

If you want to get a feel for the heart of Jesus – go to Galilee.

Forty years ago I sat on a hillside in Galilee, opened my Bible and read the words of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount.

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

(Mat 5:1-10 ESV)

It was 1974.  Picture shoulder length hair, a handlebar mustache with gnarly sideburns, backpack and a bandana.  I was 20 years old; a new believer in Christ, less than two years old in the faith.  Syrian forces were shelling the Golan Heights just 20 miles away. Israeli Jets screamed above at treetop level. The explosive sound of armed conflict echoed in the distance as I opened my Bible to read these life changing words of Christ, spoken on a hillside in Galilee.

It was then and there I realized Jesus Christ came to start a revolution – not a political revolution, or an armed revolution – but the only revolution that can ever truly change this broken world: a revolution of the human heart.

Jesus began his ministry and centered his ministry in Galilee. It was here Jesus came preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:23). It was here Jesus taught the common people about a radically different kind of kingdom; different than anything they had ever experienced or imagined. It was here Jesus put the love, power, and grace of God on display and invited followers to join him in his mission to a broken world.

40 years later the world is still at war. Today, hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees are massed in Lebanon, just tens of miles north of Galilee.  Not far away, camps of Islamic extremists are scattered near the Syrian border at the base of the Golan Heights.  The brokenness of our world is intense, and it’s never far from the hills of Galilee.

40 years later the words of Christ still hold absolute sway over my heart and mind.  I’m all-in on joining Christ in his mission to bring the love, power, and grace of God to broken lives in a broken world.

This May: Galilee, the Sermon on the Mount, the good news of a different kind of kingdom, and a fresh commitment to Jesus Christ the Risen Lord.

 

 

Jerusalem / Galilee / Oxford

Jerusalem 3

  • Stimulate the mind
  • Engage the heart
  • Fire up the imagination

That’s the assignment. But how? The answer might look different for someone else. But for me, it’s clear:

  • Jerusalem
  • Galilee
  • Oxford

So that’s the plan — the itinerary — for May, June, and July.  It’s going to be a special season of focused study, personal reflection, and spiritual development. I can’t wait.

Here is a basic principle of pastoral ministry: “You cannot impart what you do not posses.”  I heard this years ago from Alan Redpath, a man who spent a lifetime in pastoral ministry and spoke with a brilliant British accent to boot.  He was explaining to a group of young pastors, myself included, the only way to have something meaningful to share with others: make sure you have a steady stream of meaningful input in your own life.

So after 24 years of ministry at River West Church, our church leadership has encouraged me to carve out 3 months for personal input. My wife Maureen and I will be heading out together on this quest. My prayer is that the overflow of this season of input will be a blessing not only in my own life and marriage, but for the life of the church as well.

But why Jerusalem?

Jerusalem is the epicenter — the showcase of history. It’s history is more meaningful, intense, and colored with ongoing significance than anyplace else on earth. Jerusalem is brilliant with beauty, yet ever clouded with controversy.  Has there ever been a place of greater joy and sorrow, victory and defeat, or competing claims to truth and devotion?

Benjamin Disraeli put it like this:

“The view of Jerusalem is the history of the world; it is more; it is the history of heaven and earth.”

And in the Book of Psalms (137:5-6)

“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.”

Or John Tleel (Jerusalem Quarterly)

“It’s not easy to be a Jerusalemite. A thorny path runs alongside its joys. The great are small inside the Old City. Popes, patriarchs, kings all remove their crowns. It is the city of the King of Kings; and earthly kings and lords are not its master. No human can ever possess Jerusalem.”

And finally, the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 13:34-35)

“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 were not willing!  Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

In the quest is to stimulate the mind; engage the heart; and fire up the imagination, there is no better place in all the world than the city of Jerusalem.

Next post: Galilee.

 

 

Don’t Quit

Darren-Small

This is my friend Darren Larson.  Darren is a pastor and a church planter.

I’ve known Darren for 17 years.  That dates back to when he was a single guy in college, volunteering as a ministry intern at our church.  17 years later, he is married to Kelly and has two beautiful kids.  Less than two years ago, Darren and Kelly planted a new church in Woodinville, WA – Imprint Church.

Last Sunday I spoke at Imprint church on behalf of a ministry in Rwanda called Africa New Life.  There was an amazing response and over 40 kids in Bugesera, Rwanda received ongoing sponsorship by members of Darren’s congregation.  I don’t have time to unpack everything that means right now, but I can tell you that it’s absolutely life changing and world changing.  And there’s only one reason why that life-changing, world-changing Sunday took place at Imprint Church last week.

It’s because Darren didn’t quit when others might have.

I visited Darren several years ago on a Sunday morning at another church. I’ll let the church remain anonymous and simply refer to it as – “The Death Star.”  This was a church that struggled to survive for many years and went through a whole series of pastors with dismal results.  That’s when they invited Darren, fresh out of seminary, to come and turn it all around.  Darren called me for advice; asked me if it was a good idea to become the pastor of this struggling church.  I said, “Yes, of course, how bad can it be? It’s not like Lord Vader is wandering the halls!”  But the reality was worse than I could imagine.  I was there for a visit. I saw it in person; felt it in person.  I know people can be mean, even church people, but this was ridiculous. I can’t go into details.  Suffice it to say, I felt like punching people and quitting the ministry after one day at that church. How pathetic is that! But Darren and Kelly were there for a year.

Lots of people would have quit the ministry after that and never looked back.  Not Darren and Kelly.  God opened another door of ministry for them and they went through it.  They just kept moving forward, trusting Jesus, through all the pain and difficulty.

That’s called PERSERVERANCE. The Bible is big on this quality.

Want to make a difference in a broken world? You might have to take an emotional beating from some really mean people – even church people – and then just keep on going.  You can’t stop. Don’t throw in the towel. Yes, you can cry, pray, struggle, hang tough, and keep your eyes on Jesus; but don’t quit.

As I got up to speak at Darren’s church last Sunday all of this was playing out in my mind. I knew God was going to do something big.  I was blown away by the eager response of the congregation.  But in my heart, I was secretly marveling at the faithful perseverance that allowed that moment to happen.

Thank you, Darren and Kelly, for not quitting. The children of Rwanda thank you.  The church of Jesus Christ is rich because of your willingness to push forward through pain.

And what about the rest of us? What about our struggles and challenges in following Christ in a broken world?  Let’s do this: Read Romans 5:1-5, say a prayer, and keep going.

You can learn more about Imprint Church Here.