Saturday, July 31, 2010

God of Reversals - Naaman

2 Kings 5 opens with a pretty fascinating statement:

"Now Naaman, captain of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man with his master and highly respected, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man was also a valiant warrior, but he was a leper."

This verse tells us a lot about Naaman:

*he was Aramean (Syrian)
*captain of the army of the king
*great man in his master's eyes
*highly respected
*valiant warrior

But what struck me was the little phrase - "because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram." Naaman was a gentile soldier who God used to bring victory to Syria over Israel. The victory was not because Syria was more powerful or because Israel was unprepared, but because God gave the victory to Syria.

Remember, when you study the Word, you need to look for God - enlarge your understanding of Him. This verse tells us that at times God works in gentiles' lives and gives His people into the hands of their enemies.

The story goes on to tell that when Syria plundered Israel, a young girl was taken captive, who ended up being the servant to Naaman's wife. She told Naaman's wife that there was a prophet in Israel who could heal her husband. Immediately a letter was written to the king of Israel on behalf of Naaman, demanding that he cure Naaman, sent along with a hefty gift of money.

The king panics and goes into mourning because he has no idea what Naaman is talking about, knowing that he could not possibly heal Naaman, but Elisha hears that the king is mourning and he steps in and saves the day. "Send him to me and I'll take care of it."

So Naaman journeys to the house of Elisha with his horses and his chariots - quite an entourage, not a secret meeting but almost a parade - and knocks on Elisha's door. Elisha sends a servant to the door who tells Naaman to go into the Jordan River seven times and wash himself, and he will be clean.

Naaman becomes enraged that Elisha would not personally come to the door, but sent a servant in his place and he prepares to leave. What Elisha has asked him to do made no sense to him whatsoever. He reasoned that in Syria, there were better rivers than the filthy Jordan (I added "filthy" because I've seen the Jordan before) and if Elisha wouldn't come out to heal him, then he would simply leave.

But Naaman's servants intervened and basically reasoned with Naaman to go ahead and give it a try. Of course we all know the end of the story. The seventh time he comes out of the water, Naaman is healed of his leprosy. He then makes this statement:

"Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel..." (2 Kings 5:15)

...and then offers gifts to the Lord through Elisha, because he wants God's forgiveness. He knows that when he returns to Syria, he must enter the house of a false god and he wants to take dirt from Israel back with him so that when he offers a sacrifice, it would be to the God of that dirt (or that land, Israel). Elisha refused the gift and also eased Naaman's conscience by telling him to "...Go in peace." (v.19)

Okay, great story, Kristen. Tell me something I didn't know.

Just a few observations about the God of Reversals:

*God disciplines through outside sources - don't think that God's hand is not in it just because you are being called on the mat by an unbeliever. God is in control and uses whatever He pleases to get His children's attention and to accomplish His will

*God took away Naaman's debilitating, fatal disease - reversal of life - he was an unclean, walking dead man and God gave him life

*God also took away Naaman's debilitating, fatal spiritual disease - reversal of spiritual life - Naaman was given a glimpse of the God of Israel and it was irresistible!

*And finally, God wants obedience. He blesses obedience, and sometimes what He asks us to do doesn't make sense, but if we obey, He will bless. Dunking in that dirty river seven times made no sense to Naaman, but obedience brought cleansing and spiritual awakening. It brought him life.

What has God asked you to do that makes no sense? Forgive a repeat offender? Restore a broken relationship? Move from your comfort zone and plant a church? Open your home to a child who is not your own? Submit, submit, submit?

Naaman's story teaches me that the God of Reversals simple wants us to follow Him. How many times have we instructed our children to do something because our age and experience has taught us the hard way, but it makes no sense to them? What do we say to them? "Just trust me on this one..."

We need to trust the Lord and follow His lead because what seems strange to us, makes all the sense in the universe to Him.

One final observation - when Naaman was cleansed, what was his response? Did he walk away and say, "Well, of course, I am healed because I am a valued member of society and God knew what a great catch I would be?" No, he offered whatever he had to the Lord, begging his forgiveness.

When we see the hand of God work in a mighty way, what is our response? I think that I am so accustomed to God's gracious hand, that I don't even look for it anymore - I just expect it to be there. It's time for that to stop. It's time for me to fall on my face and beg forgiveness and offer all I have to the God of Reversals.

May your faith be strengthened and your walk be enhanced by looking at Naaman today! And may you respond in joy, just as Naaman did.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Final Day in Rome

On our last day of touring, we went to the Forum and the Colosseum. This first picture shows that the area we toured was rather centrally located. The Forum was the gathering place for the people. There were races and political courts that were held on this location. Each emperor built his own basilica there as well. You can see in this first picture (which we did not take, but because it shows the area so well I decided to use it) that there are several remains of aqueducts, amazing water transportation systems that Rome perfected throughout their empire. There are also many arches in this area, built by the various emperors to mark certain victories. As each arch was built, when an emperor would return to Rome victorious he would walk through the arches of the other emperors and end in the place that he would build his next arch.

This picture is inside of the Forum. It is said that Nero built a residence that spread from Palatine Hill to Capitaline Hill. These remains could be part of that residence.

This was Titus' arch. He had it erected after he ravished the Temple in Jerusalem and flattened the city in 70 A.D. On the inside of the arch is a picture of the looting of the Temple and in it, one of the characters is holding a menorah above his head. This is the earliest image of a menorah that is on record, and when Israel became a nation again, they used this image as part of their national symbols.

You can see the menorah in this picture.

This picture shows Titus' arch with the menorah with the Colosseum in the background. I threw this in for perspective.

On our way to the Colosseum, we passed Constantine's arch. As you can see, it is decidedly bigger than the other arches. Constantine, as I mentioned in a previous post, was a believer and the persecution that Christians endured under Nero all but disappeared under Constantine. I kind of wondered if all his buildings and statues and arches were bigger because God enlarged his wealth and his posterity because of his conversion...

The Colosseum was built by Titus about ten years after his victory in Israel. The Romans loved the games and whether they were man against man or man against animal, they were always to the death. It was kind of strange imagining the gathering in this spot with the sole purpose of watching someone be slaughtered. The games were free - a gift from the emperor to his people. There were open arched entries all the way around the building and it was said that it would only take 25 minutes for the place to fill or empty.

Here you can see straight ahead, the place where the emperor would sit (above the arch). We are on ground level but the ground is gone. These alleys and rooms were where the prisoners and animals would be held before the fights. Imagine how dark it would be down there, with no windows. Here the Christians would pray before being brought into the light to lay their lives down for Jesus Christ. Nero instituted the slaughter of believers. Before that, gladiators would be offered the right to fight for their lives. If they won 7 games they could win their freedom. Hardly any of them made it that far.

So that ends our trip to Rome. It is truly an amazing city. I think I may need to go back with my husband some day...

Thanks for sticking around for the tour!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rome Continued...

I posted this picture first, because it is a great reminder that everything in Rome is designed with the Vatican in mind. This was taken on top of one of the seven hills in Rome and when you walk to the far end of this picture, there is a beautiful landscape of the city. By the time we got to the wall to look out, we realized that in the center of the landscape was St. Peter's Cathedral. You can see it in this picture, in the dead center.

Our third day in Rome (second day of touring) started at the catacombs, where over 500,000 Romans were buried, including a pope or two. Since they have been discovered, the Catholic church has been working to remove many of the bones of the residents, but when you go down into these underground burial sites, the smell is still disturbing. I am not sure if it is because of the moist conditions added to the half million bodies, but it stays with you. We were not allowed to take pictures, so you'll have to trust me that it was creepy down there. You walk through narrow corridors, that occasionally have larger rooms hewn from the stone on either side, filled with long narrow rectangles carved into the stone to lay the bodies.

The tour groups were large and there were many in different languages going on at the same time, so I know I missed a majority of the narrative. There were mosaics high on the walls - pictures created to commemorate various Christian leaders. During the time of Nero, when the Christians were being persecuted, they would secretly meet down in these burial caves. That was probably the only reason why I wanted to see them.

It took about 40 minutes to get the stink out of our sinuses when we surfaced again.

The rest of that morning was filled with some quick site seeing. Rome truly does have seven hilltops on which the city was built. I think we stopped at three this day and hit a few more on the next day. Here are a few of the highlights from our ride:

This is our beautiful babes sitting on that wall I mentioned earlier, with Rome in the distance.

At that site was a church - my mom liked this mural because Mary is not hovering over Jesus like she is in most of the paintings. It was interesting - in the pictures where Mary is next to Jesus or behind him, her head is typically elevated higher than Jesus'. Keep an eye out for that when you seeing paintings of Christ. It will help you know the painter's view of Mary. Technically, when the church spread into Rome, there weren't Protestants and Catholics. When you look at the art, in the early years there is not an emphasis on Mary. As Nero tried to snuff out this religious movement, there was a bond that held the church together and it was not Jesus' mother, but Jesus Himself.

The girls found this tub outside of the church and thought it would be cool to jump inside and get their picture taken...what do you think?

One of the stops we made had a large wall surrounding an enclosed garden and basilica (church). In the middle of the wall was an old door with an empty key hole. There was nothing ornate about the door, and when we pulled up, it looked like we were parking in the back lot of a run down high school or something like that. The guide had us all get out and look into the key hole. And this is what we saw:

If you click on the picture you might be able to see it better. Foolish me - I thought it would be a statue of Jesus, reaching out his scarred hands to the sinner, but it was St. Peter's Cathedral. Hmmm...

We also stopped at several fountains in the middle of the city - not the normal City Hall structure that we see in America. This fountain is called Trevi Fountain. It has been in many movies, like "Three Coins in a Fountain" and was packed with tourists, taking in its beauty.

And finally, I wanted to include this square that we stopped and looked at. Behind me are large statues, probably 20 feet high, that Constantine carved for his bath house. (We'll talk more about Constantine later, but everything he did was on a massive scale.) There are some government offices in this square and there is also the "only place that you can get married outside of a Catholic ceremony" in these buildings. That is what the guide said - not sure if she meant that you could go to the justice of the peace here or what. I don't think they delineate between Christians and Catholics in Rome. You are either Catholic or you are not...

Anyway, the reason I posted this picture is because at the back side of this square was a large banner with a man's face on it. The man's name is Gilad Shalit, and he is an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped by Hamas near the Gaza Strip in June of 2006. When we were in Israel, they were preparing for a week long march, protesting his capture. The march started in the north of Israel and for a week, thousands of people walked the length of Israel, crying for Shalit's release. Orit told me that the day after we left, she would join the walk for the day, since it was going past where she lived.

This is a big deal in Israel, this man's release. When we walked into the square, I saw the face of the man (boy) and my first thought was, "Wow, he looks like that Israeli soldier." Of course, it was him and I was struck at how this issue is not simply an Israeli issue - there are groups all over the world demanding his release. Israel has offered 1,000 terrorists in exchange for this one soldier - the only condition is that the prisoners cannot live in the main area of Israel, they can only live in the Gaza strip. Hamas will not accept these conditions.

So, in closing, I am asking that you pray for Galid Shalit's release. I cannot imagine what he has been through, but this means a lot to Israel.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Trip Continued - On to Rome

The day we flew to Rome, which I believe was a Tuesday, began at 2:00 in the morning. We had returned home from Galilee at about 10 at night, and at that point, everyone showered and packed. I woke everyone up at 2, and we were in the car by 2:30. We arrived at the airport at about 3:15 at the airport, 2 and a half hours before our flight and we hardly had time to spare.

Mary and Hannah were marked as suspicious, and were stopped at every security check along the way. They also went through my suitcase, but it didn't pan out as thrilling as the two young girls' suitcases, so I wasn't quite harrassed as much as they were. We arrived at our gate with about 20 minutes to spare and soon, took off for Rome...or should I say Frankfurt. We flew through Germany and again, the girls really don't like the Frankfurt airport. We finally arrived in Rome early afternoon and headed to the hotel.

After settling into our rooms, we decided to make our way to Alfredo's, the original Italian restaurant that invented the famous Alfredo Fettuccine pasta dish. As the story goes, Alfredo's wife was terribly ill after having a baby and he was worried she would die. He went into his kitchen and determined he would make something she would eat. So he boiled up some homemade noodles, doused them with real butter and stirred in grated parmesan cheese. And voila! - (Yea, I know that's French) - she ate it and it a-save-ed her life-a! (There's the Italian)

Of course, when we arrived, it was too late for lunch and too early for dinner, so we went back to the hotel, slept off our jet lag and went back for dinner.

End day one.

Day two began with a tour of the Vatican. The Vatican is located in Vatican City, which is a country all by itself - it is not a part of Italy but is a nation all its own. Strange, huh? Thousands upon thousands of people converged on the grounds, of course with the hope of a glimpse of the Pope, which would miraculously take years if not centuries off their time in purgatory but that's a whole other story.

I am going to flip quickly through these pictures and try to explain what you are seeing but the first thing you need to know is that the Vatican is a museum. They have artifacts from every archeological dig known to man and if the dig was in Italy, they claimed the best items in the name of the Pope. So when I entered, thinking I was entering a church, I quickly realized that it is kilometer after kilometer of pagan images and man-worship. Mary was evident but not as strongly promoted as the concept of Pope.

That leads to the second thing you have to know. The point of the Vatican is to pound into the visitor the fact that Peter was given the keys to the kingdom by Jesus, therefore the Pope has ultimate authority here on earth. Painting after painting after statue depicts the scene of Jesus handing keys to Peter, usually with St. Peter's cathedral in the background.

And finally, for every painting of the life of Christ that is on display, there are four to five paintings of the lives of various popes. That speaks for itself.

Okay, on to the pictures:

You are not allowed to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel and you are really not supposed to talk either, so this is a poster of some of the paintings. This was my favorite room of all and it was rather small in comparison to the rest of the Vatican. I think I liked it the best because all it's paintings mainly focussed on three things - Christ's life, Moses' life or various people holding various forms of the scriptures, representing the transfer of the Word through the ages. In addition to these pictures, there was one REALLY AWESOME painting by Michelangelo of the final judgment. Incredible...I could have sat and looked at that alone for an hour...
This is just an example of a hallway of artifacts taken from archaeological digs...these are busts of Romans...
This was pretty impressive - it's Nero's bath tub - it was about 16 feet in diameter - a small pool, per can see how big it is by looking at the people standing to the right...
This is the hall of maps - nearly a kilometer of large wall hangings, all mapping out Italy and Rome's empire - all done without satellite imaging or even an airplane...interesting, huh?

This is the ceiling of the hall of maps...why let good space go to waste?

This is inside St. Peter's Cathedral. Let me explain what you are seeing. That dark brown gazebo in the back center is built above where Peter is supposedly buried. Only the pope is allowed to stand inside that gazebo and administer a service. It is MASSIVE! Then throughout the main room here there are statues of various saints - my favorite was probably the one of Helen, Constantine's mother, who promoted using the cross as a Christian symbol. Also I think a lot of popes are buried within the walls and floor...

Can you also see the wooden barrier to the right of the picture? This was a long wooden barricade, maybe 12 feet wide and ran nearly the length of the room. If you looked inside the barrier, there were mosaics on the floor, similar to what you see in the middle of this picture, but each mosaic represents the biggest catholic church structures in the world. Very strange...they didn't want anyone walking on them...

Oh, and there is a pope buried in a glass box that you can see there, too! Very yucky...

This is outside, in the square looking at St. Peter's Cathedral. The picture doesn't do it justice, except for the fact you can see how little the people are and how big the buildings are. Pillared buildings surround the square and there are specific points that you can stand on that give the image of open spaces or closed pillars - hard to explain - you'll just have to go to see what I mean. Do you see around the roofline of the buildings are statues? Various saints throughout the ages - they are massive...

After the Vatican, we went to...Alfredo's, of course! There is a story behind this, as well. A few years ago my mother took my son and his best friend (Hannah's brother) to Rome. They went to Alfredo's twice on their trip and to this day, Nathan and Christopher vow to return, solely for the fettuccine. So, since they went twice, we HAD to go THREE times...oh, the competitive spirit of siblings...

After Alfredo's, we, of course!

And after shopping we had a fashion show in the hotel rooms! Very fun...

Final thoughts on the Vatican...

I love a good museum. The next time I go to Rome, I am going to try to see if they would close their doors and only let me wander the halls for about three days straight. I don't know if they'll do it, but there is SO much to see and it is VERY, VERY crowded that it makes it hard to soak it all in.

As soon as I got past thinking I was entering a place of worship (God-worship), then I was fine. But there is so much worship of man going on in that place, it was rather overwhelming at times. So much history, so much abuse - I want to watch my Luther movie again now that I have seen the splendor of the Vatican, so that I can understand his outrage against the sacrifice forced upon the common man to create this heaven on earth. post we'll see more of Rome...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Happy Birthday, David!

To my best friend,

Just a quick note to tell you how thankful I am that forty-six years ago your mother had a smooth, safe delivery.

I'm thankful for your parents who demonstrated Christ's love to you on a daily basis, raising you in a godly home, letting you grow up in church, filling your mind with scripture in Awana, sacrificing to put you in Christian schooling and teaching you to work hard and finish what you start.

I am thankful for your brother and sisters who taught you to laugh often and probably how to ski and swim, and that family matters.

I'm thankful that you had Christian professors who poured into you in college, that you had soccer teammates who challenged you to play your best, and for Pastor Owens who let you fill in the pulpit when he was out of town.

I am thankful for the experiences my father exposed you to, teaching you that a second decision is always a better one, that biblical principles apply even to the business world and that above all else, your relationship with Christ would affect every area of your life.

I am thankful for my mother's trust of your character to allow you to faithfully serve the family after my father's death, who continues to encourage you in whatever direction you head and whose example has taught you to be responsible and generous with everything the Lord has entrusted to you.

I am thankful for the godly friends that God has strategically placed in your life to hold you accountable, to encourage you, to golf with you, to work with you and goof around with you, and to confront you when needed.

I am thankful for the children you have raised, as well as their spouses, who seek your counsel, love your advice, laugh at your antics, follow the Lord, and simply enjoy being around you.

And finally, I am thankful that the Lord has saved you, that He has paid the price for your sin, that He has given you the Holy Spirit and has equipped you for the work He has laid before you, that He continues to lead and guide, proving daily that He is the God of reversals and that He has a sense of humor, as well!

I love you, David, and I love the whole package that comes with being your wife. Thank you for sharing so many decades of your life with me, for being a faithful and loving husband, for being an involved father, for working hard, for fishing with me, for making me laugh till my sides hurt, for making me feel as though my advice is necessary when I know you are way smarter than me, and most of all, for listening to the Lord's call and acting on it.

As usual, I am excited for what our future holds.

Happy Birthday,


Thursday, July 22, 2010

God of Reversals - Hannah and Samuel

A common theme of the Old Testament is God's control of the womb. In Hannah's story (I Samuel 1-2) she is the barren wife of Elkanah. Elkanah had a second wife, Peninnah, who gave him children. Peninnah is called her "rival", who "would provoke her bitterly to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb." (1:6) Hannah had great distress and sorrow for her inability to carry a child, and though Elkanah loved her dearly, his love was not enough to take away her emptiness.

Hannah would travel with the family when Elkanah would go to sacrifice. At this time the Temple had not yet been built, and the children of Israel worshipped at the Tabernacle which was located at Shiloh, about 20 miles north of Jerusalem. One day her grief overwhelmed her and through her tears, she vowed to the Lord that she would give her first born to Him for His purposes and His service. She vowed that he would be dedicated as a Nazirite - this was a special vow that, in relation to service to the Lord, committed not to drink wine, not to cut their hair and not to touch a dead body. All these actions were outward signs of being fully committed to the Lord's service. This vow could be a life long vow, or for a specific time, and could be made by a man or a woman.

To make a long story short, the Lord accepted Hannah's vow and gave her a baby boy, Samuel. When Samuel was weaned, Hannah brought him to the Tabernacle where she left him with Eli the head priest to serve in the house of the Lord. Yearly she would bring him a new robe and the end of her story is that the Lord blessed her with 3 more sons and 2 daughters for her faithfulness (2:21).

God definitely reversed the course of this mother's life, and Hannah didn't live in ignorance of this fact. She fully recognized that God was a God of reversals, as seen in her prayer of thanksgiving and offering, when she left little Samuel with Eli. Let's look a bit at her prayer and you will see what I mean:

"My heart exults in the Lord; my horn is exulted in the Lord, my mouth speaks boldly against my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation. There is no one holy like the Lord, indeed, there is no one besides You, nor is there any rock like our God. Boast no more so very proudly, do not let arrogance come out of your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and with Him actions are weighed."

(Now observe her testimony of the God of reversals in the next few verses!)

"The bows of the mighty are shattered, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full hire themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry cease to hunger. Even the barren gives birth to seven, but she who has many children languishes. The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts. He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles, and inherit a seat of honor."

In reading these words, you have to wonder how much of this is pointed at her rival, Peninnah, don't you? But she proclaims the fact that God reverses what seems to be the course of life. He makes the poor rich, He brings low and then raises up, He takes those who have plenty and makes them work for bread, while providing for the hungry. And in her case, He took the barren and filled her quiver. She praises Him and gives the glory to Him alone.

And then she utters a prophecy that gives us reason to pause:

"For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and He set the world on them. He keeps the feet of His godly ones, but the wicked ones are silenced in darkness; for not by might shall a man prevail. Those who contend with the Lord will be shattered; against them He will thunder in the heavens, The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; and He will give strength to His king, and will exalt the horn of His anointed."

Let me make a few observations:

*Pillars of the earth - this is a reference to the leaders of the world. Hannah is declaring that God is in control of the world's leaders - He sets them into power. This concept is seen in the story of Nebuchadnezzar's fall (Daniel 4:25) as well as taught by Paul in Romans 13:1.

*Keeps the feet of the godly but silences the wicked - this is a promise of protection for the godly. Add that with her comment that might will not make man prevail, and my mind is drawn to the last days where the nations of the world will gather to wage war on God, but they are destroyed with relatively little effort (Revelation 19:19-21).

*She also prophesies that those who contend with the Lord will be shattered and says that the Lord shall judge the ends of the earth - again, this is a reference to the final plans of God for this earth

*And then she says something really unusual - she prophesies about a coming King, who will be strengthened by the Lord and exalted as His anointed. What makes this so unusual is the fact that at this point in Israel's history, they didn't have a king. Samuel was the one who annointed the first and second kings (Saul and David), so for this mother to utter a prophecy about a King is highly unusual. I also believe that in the context of the phrases above this prophecy, that Hannah was not talking about the future King David, but of Jesus Christ. He is the one who will judge the ends of the earth (Revelation 5) and He will reign on earth in the Millennial Kingdom (Revelation 20:4-6).

Now, my buddy, The Orange Mailman (see blog to the right) is my resource on the Davidic covenant and the Millennial Reign of Christ, so I am not going expound on this topic, but to say that Hannah's prayer is meant to be an encouragement for those of us who live in the last days. She is telling us to remember that God is a God of reversals. As we see evil abounding and taking over the hearts of men, as we stand amazed at the wickedness of world leaders, as we see the de-valuing of human life and the exalting and worship of creation rather than the Creator, we are not to be disheartened because God is in control. He will reverse things in the last days, He will judge the wicked and He will reign exalted.

Hannah saw first hand God's reversal in her life and she praised Him for it. Let us follow her example and praise the Lord when we see Him step into our lives in a mighty way, and let us also praise Him for His future plans that we can stand firm on by faith, knowing that He will prevail in the end.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Think on these things...

"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." Phil. 4:8

How much time do we think on these things?

As I look at the list, it's pretty obvious what we are to think on. Let me explain by posing a question - can you think on something that is lovely that is not pure? Can you think on something that is right that is not honorable? Or can you think on something that is true that is not of good repute? What in the world is pure, honorable and of good repute all at the same time?

I think the above verse is simply a different way to say Colossians 3:2 - "Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth."

Same author, just trying not to be repetitive.

So again, how much time do we think on these things? When we think on the things of God, we can't help but elevate our mind from the gossip and despair of this world - the dirty little details that make a story juicy aren't as appealing in the light of a holy and pure God. But for some reason (the flesh), we just love to hear the gossip. We love to believe the worst about people, and we just love a juicy story. It's almost disappointing to find that our assumptions aren't true - we'd rather set our minds on the things of the earth rather than the things that are holy and pure.

I am including myself in this group. It is a battle of the wills to not want to hear the gossip of this world. Even the most reputable news agency is filled with gossip and we are drawn to it like a magnet. I guess I am just saddened at how much I allow my mind to be drawn to this world in comparison to how much I purposefully set my mind on the things above.

It's an on going struggle but I will say this - when I do set my mind on Him, spend time with Him, refresh my soul in His living water and fill my head with His words, I have such a better day than when I fret about life, get busy with my to-do list and fill my head with the latest stories (local or national).

Friends, decided today to set your mind on God. Just like you set your alarm clock or set your oven timer or set the dinner table, put effort into it and set your mind on what is worthy of praise and excellence.

As a matter of fact, don't just think on them - DWELL on them.

Live there.

Allow holiness and purity to take up residence in your mind and see where it leads you...

Monday, July 19, 2010

The God of Reversals

Ever felt like you're up against a modern day Goliath? 

Yesterday, Dave spoke at a tiny little church in Muskegon - a new church that in it's short history has already experienced a split.  In addition to their worn congregation (splits rarely energize), our core team for the church plant was also in attendance.  Two churches coming together to worship One God.  

And the worship was sweet.

Dave preached from Psalm 107, charging both churches to boldly proclaim the steadfast and enduring love of God.

"Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His lovingkindness (steadfast love) is everlasting.  Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the adversary and gathered from the lands, from the east and from the west, and from the north and from the south."  Psalm 107:2,3

The psalm goes on to describe four scenarios where man was completely lost and desperate, and God chose to reach into the middle of the crisis and save. This is the testimony of the church - if we don't proclaim the good news, then who will?  

Near the end of his message, Dave said that "God is the God of reversals."  I really liked that statement. That is a statement of hope. When all hope seems lost, Jesus can change everything. Whether you are a wanderer who is completely lost and alone, or a prisoner in shackles and in utter bondage to sin, or you find yourself in the midst of a raging storm that is completely out of your control, or in the pit of addiction and rebellion, Jesus can meet you there and change your life.  He can give you hope and a future. He alone can defeat sin and addiction, and set you on a secure path.

But it doesn't stop at salvation.  Life's storms continue to pop up and wear down, even after salvation.  That's where the God of Reversals continues to show up in a big way.  Not sure what I mean?  Let me give you a few examples:

*Sarah longed for a child,  and twenty-five years later (at 90 years old!), against all odds, God gives her one

*Joseph, despite being responsible and kind-hearted, finds himself in slavery, abandoned by his brothers, falsely accused and forgotten in prison, suddenly finds himself second in command in Egypt

*The Israelites, finally leave Egypt after watching the power of God unleashed on the Egyptians, only to find themselves hemmed in between a sea of Egyptian soldiers and a sea of water, only to have the water part and dry ground appear, making their path to safety an easy one and turning their salvation into death for the Egyptian soldiers

*David, a young shepherd, visits his brothers in battle, only to find himself face to face with a warrior giant, defending the name of God, and with one flick of his wrist, against all odds, he brings down the enemy

*Jonah, running from the will of God, finds himself in the belly of a fish, awaiting sure death by stomach acid and strangulation, only to be spewed back to life and obedience by God's grace

*Gideon, hiding in a threshing floor, overnight becomes a mighty warrior, leading a miniscule number of soldiers to battle the forces of Midian, only to find that he never has to raise a sword, only his voice for victory

*A young Jewish virgin is told she is pregnant with the Son of God

*Peter awakes in prison to find his chains lying beside him and an angel guiding him through the darkness to safety

*The disciples in a boat discover that in three small words, the Master can control nature

*A chosen race of dead corpses are brought back to life without a single credit to their name - all for His glory, all for His purposes, all by His blood, against all odds... 

So, what Goliath are you facing this morning?  May I remind you that God is the God of reversals, and odds mean nothing to Him.  If you are called according to His purposes, then fasten your seat belt and watch Him change the unthinkable.

Remember how David's story ended?  David didn't close his eyes, cross his fingers and pray to be saved.  He used his God-given abilities that he perfected while responsibly watching a bunch of ignorant sheep, knowing all the while that God would be credited for the outcome.  He knew Truth and acted upon it.  He risked the well-being of his nation, truly went out on a limb, but boldly aligned with God, and God showed up in a big way.

So, here's my charge:

Be faithful in the small things.

Immerse yourself in the Truth.

And be prepared to give Him the glory when He does a mighty work in your midst.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sovereignty Series - Free in Christ

Does free will co-exist with God's sovereignty? Or is every choice, every action, every word pre-ordained and we're all just cast members in a really dark comedy?  Well, what does the scriptures say?

"If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven , will forgive their sin and will heal their land."  2 Chronicles 7:14

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  I John 1:9

"And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."  Acts 2:21/Romans 10:13

There is definitely a required response to the drawing of the Lord.  From a human perspective, the scriptures indicate that humble repentance and confession brings a response from God. There is responsibility on man's part to recognize their sin and respond to the gospel. From a godly perspective then, the ability to recognize is God-given.  Therefore a response is inevitable, because the blinders have been removed and the drawing of the Spirit causes men to respond.  

So, what about free will?  Is there any place for man to choose?

Yes, within the sovereign rule of God, man is given the choice of obedience or disobedience.

"Do not be decieved, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap."  Galatians 6:7

"...walk no longer as the Gentiles walk,...lay aside the old renewed in the Spirit of your mind...put on the new self..."  Ephesians 4:17,22-24

The epistles are filled with practical Christian living concepts.  The call to putting off the old self and choosing to be obedient - obedience brings blessing, sin brings suffering - this theme is all over the scriptures.  The sanctification process is a maturing, growing process.  Once saved, we now have the freedom to choose.  

Before salvation, we could only choose death - "For without faith it is IMPOSSIBLE to please God."  Hebrews 11:6  

But we are actually free in Christ - "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death."  Romans 8:2  
"It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1

Our freedom is from the bondage of sin. We can now freely choose obedience or disobedience. Without the blood of Christ, we have no choice. With the blood, we can choose to be obedient. Many want to believe that this concept of freedom means we are free from the law and don't have to abide by it - we are free in Christ - He paid the price for our sin and we are now free from the law.  


We are free from sin. We are free to obey God.  We have the Spirit and can make righteous choices.  Without Him, we're dead. With Him, we're made alive and ultimately free.  Sin doesn't have the hold on us that it did when we were dead in our trespasses and sin.  We can CHOOSE to live righteously (Joseph) or CHOOSE to be disobedient (Jonah) and guess what, God will deal with us like a loving parent.  Blessing or discipline.  It's our choice.

How does this free will work with a sovereign God?  

I have no idea.

Sorry, but somethings just escape my mental capacity.

But God's word teaches that He rules and reigns, that He chooses for Himself, for His glory, a people to be merciful to, and within His choice He allows them to choose blessing or discipline.

So I have to accept what the Word says without fully grasping the micro-logisitics.  And remember, I don't have to worry about it because He's God and I'm not.

I can remember years ago, Dave was holding a sleeping baby in his arms.  It was our daughter and she was a pretty rambunctious infant - rarely sat still but when she was sleeping, her little angelic face just warmed your heart.  Dave leaned forward and kissed the top of  her head. Then he looked at me and said, "Babies' heads smell so good."

Immediately I thought to myself, "Her head doesn't smell good at all.  I made it smell good with the baby shampoo I used at her bath time!"  But I didn't want to ruin the moment, so I smiled and nodded.  Now, if she was fussing or crying or running away from him at the moment, he never would have noticed her sweet smelling head.

Poor example, I know, but here's my point.  We smell good because of God. Not because of anything we've done. But we can choose to display our sweet smelling head or choose to throw tantrums and no one will notice.  But our head still smells sweet, because we are washed in the blood of Christ.

Okay, am I too twisted or are you staying with me?  

Free will comes into play when it comes to responding to the Spirit of God.  You can fight Him (again, Jonah) but He will ultimately win (and again, Jonah) because He is God.  Or you can surrender and walk in obedience, experiencing the freedom that is afforded to you because He choose you before the foundations of the world, He paid the price for you, He exchanged identities with you, He drew you and removed the blinders and saved you.

One final note, I have purposely avoided Romans 9, because in this sovereignty discussion, to use Romans 9 is, well, it's cheating.  Romans 9 removes all fairness discussion because Paul addresses that argument head on.  So, if you're still struggling with accepting God's sovereign choice in salvation, I give up.  Go read Romans 9 and argue with God about it.

Have a great day.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sovereignty Series - Mystery vs. Marionette


The age-old debate of free will vs. sovereignty in salvation continues to rage on. In my own personal experience, the heated conversations usually end with someone throwing up their hands and saying, "Well, if that's really what God is like, then no one stands a chance.  How fair is that?"  For some reason, a sovereign God who works as He pleases is offensive to the human mind.

Or perhaps it's only to the American, whose mind is so firmly set on freedom that any implication that man is truly not free but dead to sin causes an involuntary gut reaction.  

It's funny how we are such a young nation, but freedom flows through our veins.  Recently, my sister was in Russia picking up one of her adopted daughters and she was given a clear picture of the ugly American. She told me that in Russia, the people live for the government.  They are under the government's rule and have no rights but the rights given to them by the government whenever the government feels like doling them out.  That's why court dates come and go, depending on whether or not the judges feel like working.  

In America, however, the government exists to serve the people.  We have rights and we demand that they be exercised and upheld. If the government doesn't act quick enough, we'll get rid of them and replace them with a better and more attentive civil servant.  So when an American tries to act like they are in America, when in reality they are in Russia, the term "ugly American" comes into play.

I think you get the picture.  

I heard John MacArthur once say that God's sovereignty is better understood and accepted outside of America.  His point was that because we are so ingrained with the concept of choice and freedom, that we cannot grasp a sovereign concept - only democracy.  Choice.  Freedom. Rights. Justice.

But when we seek to understand God better, we absolutely must set aside our preconceived ideas and let His Word reveal truth.  

For example, wives, do we really need to submit to our husbands?  I mean, come on, some of us make more money than our husbands, we do more than our husbands around the house and we’re probably even smarter than them.  When that scripture about submitting was written, it was a different time, a different culture. Women have evolved – we’re doctors, lawyers, merchants and chiefs now.  Men and women are created equal and though we wouldn’t go so far as to say men should solely submit to us, we certainly think that God no longer requires women in general to be subservient to their husbands.  Right?

When we reason like this, we quickly forget that the reason we as women struggle with the whole submission concept goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden.  When Eve sinned, the consequence was the fact that women would forever desire to rule the roost, but God would not change His mind on home leadership.  It has nothing to do with culture, education or income.  It has everything to do with order, God-given roles and sin.

Back to sovereignty.  The angered response to a Biblical defense for sovereignty in salvation is, “Then we’re simply puppets. No one is responsible for their own actions because they don’t truly have a choice.”

Technically, they are right.  We don’t have a choice because DEAD PEOPLE CAN’T CHOOSE ANYTHING! 

It’s a matter of perspective.

If you start with a living, breathing, logical, healthy, smart, rational human being, then it isn’t fair that he doesn’t get a choice.  If you put a plate of spaghetti and a New York strip steak in front of this man, he should be able to make an educated choice.  Do I want carbs or protein for dinner?

But if you start with a dead body – do you really want me to describe a dead body here or will you take my word for it…he’s dead – and give him the choice of spaghetti or steak, guess what he’ll choose every time.  That’s right – nothing, because he’s dead.

Now, bring this dead man back to life and set a beautiful plate of beef tenderloin, mashed potatoes with gravy, French cut green beans and a warm roll in front of him, and do you really think he’s going to be angry because you didn’t wake up the dead body next to him and feed him as well? No, he is going to gratefully dine on your generosity and when the meal is done, he’ll ask you what you would like him to do next.  Right?

Okay, enough for tonight…trust me, folks…I’m not done yet…


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

On to Galilee

On our second (and last) day of touring in Israel, we headed north to Galilee. We passed a tel named Megiddo and drove through the Jezreel Valley to Mount Tabor. This first picture is our view looking down from Mount Tabor into the Jezreel Valley. It's pretty vast and the picture doesn't do it justice. Several interesting events have taken place in this valley or on this mountain:

*This is where Deborah joined Barak in his battle against the Canaanites

*This location is also considered traditionally where the transfiguration of Jesus took place (though it's not verified or proven)

*Below in the valley is where Gideon defeated the Midianites - it was fun reading that story on the Mountain and trying to imagine what 300 soldiers with pitchers and torches in their hands surrounding the Midianite army looked like

*But for those of you who know me, probably the most fascinating event still to come is the battle of Armegeddon, which will take place in this valley, between Megiddo and Mt. Tabor. It was interesting to me how vast and open the valley is - farm land abounds and the occasional town on the edges, but mainly wide open. Now if I were Satan, I think I would have developed this whole valley so that it would not be a choice battlefield for the last showdown between the enemies of God and the Almighty Himself. Then at least there would be one prophecy that was false. But no such luck...God is sovereign over all and this huge field, miles and miles of land, is simply waiting that final battle. Amazing! It's massive, by the way...

Next we went to Capernaum. After being rejected in Nazereth, Jesus made Capernaum his home town (Matt. 4:13). Peter, Andrew, James and John were all fishermen who came from Capernaum, as well as Matthew the tax collector. The town is well excavated and in this first picture you can see some of the ruins. Do you see the large structure in the back, built on top of the ruins? This is a church/synagogue and you can enter it to worship. It is built directly over the top of a large open ruin that is supposed to be Peter's house.

And here you go! Above us in this picture is the base of the church and below is the ruins of Peter's house. Not sure why they think this is Peter's house or why it was necessary to build the church on top of it, but it was interesting to see...

Here are more ruins - there were several olive presses. I explained to my girls with me that when Jesus said that it would be better for a millstone to be tied around your neck and for you to be tossed into the sea, than for you to cause a child who believes in Jesus to sin (Mark 9:42 and Luke 17:2), this was what He was talking about. That round stone would be the millstone.
Here is Orit standing in the synagogue. These ruins have a foundation that dates back to the time of Christ, but the majority of the structure is later than the first century.

After Capernaum, we continued north to the Syrian border. Mount Herman was in the distance, which is the very north of Israel. This area is the Golan Heights. In this picture we are standing on a dormant volcano (which has a name that for the moment has escaped me) and on this location is a military bunker. If there would be some kind of invasion to the north, this whole area would be evacuated and within six hours it would become an active military base. We toured the bunker inside the volcano and it was really fascinating. I'd love to tell you about it, but then I'd have to kill you...We felt safe, since there has been no fighting here since Israel captured the Heights in the late 70's. In this picture, Syria is behind us. Anything green and maintained is Israel, anything desert-like is Syria.

The Golan Heights is a key area for the security of Israel. From this point, the Israeli military can successfully protect and defend their nation from an attack from the north. Unfortunately, this prime real estate is one of the pieces that is on the negotiating table with the Arabs. Eitan believes that ultimately Israel will lose the Golan Heights to the Palestinians in the name of peace, but it will only weaken Israel's position and open them up for more trouble.

This is Hannah, Mary and Alex popping out of the top of one of the gunnery stations on the top of this volcano. The bunker winds deep into the volcano, with places to scope out the mountains and lands surrounding them, as well as places to rest and eat. Much of the bunker was closed to tourists, but what we saw gave us confidence that this area is valuable to the Israeli security.

Finally, we went swimming in the sea of Galilee. We made a pact before the day began...if we went swimming, we wouldn't post pictures on the internet of the event! So, being the faithful mother that I am, I am not posting a picture of the event, but if you come over, I'll show you them in person!

The sea of Galilee is very low, by the way. We need to pray for rain in Israel - they are truly in the midst of a drought and I know my friends asked several times if we would ask God for rain.

We ended the day eating at an Arab restaurant. It was a real treat. We sat at a table and they filled it with small plates of what they call "salad." There was several kinds of cole slaw, a variety of pickled veggies, humus and eggplant spread to dip your pita in - plates everywhere! Fresh pita was incredible and then we all ordered some kind of meat to add to our plates...way too much food! When we were done, they moved us to a different table and served us coffee that could make your hair fall out, watermelon and baklava, or their version of it. It was truly an adventure!

We got home around 9:30, showered, packed and then dozed until 2:00 a.m. Then we headed to the airport for a 5:30 a.m. flight. As you can tell, the trip was too short but we saw what we could and moved on to the next adventure.

There is something awe-inspiring to be where Jesus walked and to be where the events of the Bible took place. In America, we have such little history because we are so young, that I can't even compare what you see in Israel to something here. But I guess what amazes me the most is that God would extend His love and His presence to the Gentiles. He had His hands full with the Israelites. Why would He bother to add more trouble to the mix? But we have to remember that the Gentiles (that's you and me) were not an added thought. God didn't come up with a different plan and graft us in because He was rejected by His own people.

After Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to dedicate Him at the Temple. There they came upon a man named Simeon, who took Jesus in his arms and, quoting Isaiah, said, "Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel."

You see, Jesus was given for all peoples, Gentiles and Jews alike. This has been a part of God's plan all along. We know that before the foundations of the world were laid, God chose for Himself a people to be holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:3-5). This included Gentiles. And we also know that if we belong to Christ, then we are Abraham's descendants according to the promise (Galatians 3:6-9,25-29). So looking at the deep, rich history of the land and knowing how much God loves His people, I claim His love and that history as my own.

Don't you long for the day when faith shall be sight?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

From Joppa to Jerusalem

The day after the conference was a Saturday. This is the sabbath in Israel, and it is a day of rest for the nation and a day of worship for believers. The day starts for the Kashtans with Eitan, the husband, leaving the house around 7:30 a.m. to pick up congregants in his large 11 passenger van for church. He leaves early because he has to make two trips, dropping the first van-full off and heading out for a second round before the service begins at 10.

This particular morning their pastor was out of town, so Eitan was also preaching. Every service is translated into Russian and English, and this morning, Alon, the Kashtan's son who is in the military, translated for us. Also, Amir, another son, was home for the weekend from his military station, and he played guitar in the praise band. An Israeli soldier is never without his weapon, even when on leave, so he stood with a guitar in hand and his gun slung on his back...a very strange site to see for an American, but not so strange for an Israeli.

After the service, Eitan met with a committee who was planning a ministry outreach event for about 40 deaf Israelis at a beach nearby - the youth of the church would serve lunch to the group and the final details needed to be discussed. So with hands flying and interpreters keeping pace, that meeting lasted about forty minutes. Meanwhile, the two vans-full of passengers patiently waited for Eitan to finish, so that they could get their ride home. About an hour and a half later Eitan arrived at home, done with his taxi-ing, ready for dinner. After dinner, we made plans to head out to visit nearby Jaffa (Joppa), while Eitan prepared to go to a nearby town to preach in the evening service at a Russian church. He arrived home shortly before we did, which was nearly ten at night.

I tell you this because Eitan has done this for a decade. This is his sabbath routine. Granted, he doesn't usually preach in his own church, but there are times he does and he teaches the youth in addition to everything else on his plate. This man truly has a servant's heart and on his only day of rest, he gives it to the Lord. Truly a great testimony for all of us...

The picture at the top is our group sitting on some steps inside the city of Joppa. Joppa is the town that Jonah escaped to, to catch a boat as he ran from God's directions. Also, this is where Peter was staying when God gave him the vision of the cloth filled with unclean food - the call to go to the Gentiles. It is a beautiful city on the Mediterranean Sea and there are Roman ruins as well as great Hebrew history within its walls.

But I want to jump to the next day, when we visited Jerusalem.

This is a scenic shot of Jerusalem. If you put your finger in the middle of the picture and then drag it to the left about an inch, you will land right on top of the mosque that sits atop of the Temple Mount. The picture below gives a closer look at that site. But before we leave this picture, let me give you some perspective.

We are looking out across Jerusalem and the amount of Bible history that took place in this one frame is pretty incredible. I know this is hard to see but let me give you a few notes:

* On the far side of the city, where you see two towers, is the Mount of Olives - those towers are where two separate mayors thought the ascension took place...

* You can see in this picture, as well as the one below, the wall of the old city of Jerusalem

* The city of David is actually located just below this wall and to the left a bit - remember, the David did not build the Temple, but simply gathered the materials for his son Solomon to use

* From where we are standing, it is thought that this is where Abraham told his servants to wait and then headed with Isaac to that Temple Mount, Mount Moriah, to offer him as an act of obedience

Standing at this place, imagining it completely empty of structure, I tried to imagine Abraham's mindset as he worked his way down one hill, into the valley and then up to the place where God would eventually provide the Lamb. I think I could have sat there in silence for an hour or two and still not have grasped the significance of everything I was looking at. But Jesus told the Pharisees in John 8:56 that Abraham understood exactly what God was planning to do and he was glad. Abraham told his son that God would provide a Lamb - not a ram, which was given on that particular day, but a Lamb who would save his people and redeem his offspring.

And he was glad.

He rejoiced.

I think that sometimes we look at where Jesus walked and are reminded of His sacrifice and it brings a sadness to our hearts. We know we are responsible for His death and His tears over Jerusalem were tears over our sin as well. But His sacrifice is cause for rejoicing - His life is cause for celebration for those of us who know Him. It should produce gratitude and joy - yes, sorrow over our sin, but relief and praise in the work of the Son.

Which brings me to this picture. Here we are on the other side of the city. The Mount of Olives is actually to our right and beneath us are the graves of wealthy, lost Hebrews, who know the prophecy about the Messiah coming to Jerusalem and standing on the Mount of Olives. (Zechariah 14:4) They want a front row seat for that event, but the problem is that they don't think Jesus is the One who will be standing there. They don't know the true Messiah and as one of the girls said that day, "Boy, are they going to be surprised when they see Jesus standing there." In actuality, since they are dead, they already know that Jesus is the Messiah, right?

We ended that day at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. We ate lunch within the city walls and walked through the shopping district in Old Jerusalem, coming out at the Wailing Wall. The base of this wall is part of Solomon's Temple and it is here that the Jewish community comes to pray for the Messiah. There is a barrier to separate the men and women, and if you look closely, you will see that on the right side, it is packed with women, where the men's side has only a handful. This is not necessarily typical - I think it was more due to the time of day than anything else. There was a large group of boys in the square, singing and dancing - perhaps a bar mitzvah celebration or a class visiting the wall. If you go to the wall to pray, you are expected to back out of the area, not turning your back to the Holy Wall.

When you see the ritual set up that is void of Jesus Christ, this is the time to be sad. Knowing the suffering that took place in this area on your behalf should cause joy - seeing the rejection of this gift should cause sorrow. Do you see the difference?

We could have spent days in Jerusalem and not seen it all...but time ran out on us and we had to move on. I think it left a longing in the young girls' hearts to return to see more some day...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Women's Conference

It was a good trip - a true Wisen adventure! Over the next few posts, I am going to share with you various aspects of the trip, and hopefully you will enjoy the narratives as much as the pictures...

I need to start by saying that my mom is quite the guide. She is a walking and talking encyclopedia and at 70, there's not even a hint of slowing down! She was a delight to travel with and I thank the Lord for such a loving, knowledgeable mother who eagerly joined me for this adventure. This picture was taken at the women's conference, the morning after we arrived in Israel.

The conference was held in a converted warehouse. We had to take a freight elevator up to the second floor, where the church gathers. The sanctuary was beautiful but paled in comparison to the precious women who served and prepared for the conference. When we arrived at about 8 a.m., they were busily setting up tables for registration, making coffee and organizing for the coming lunch.

Here are my daughters (middle two) and Hannah (right side) who came with us from Michigan. On the far left is Liel - she blessed us with leading worship throughout the conference. She also translated my power point and ran the sound from the back of the room for the day. She is a little Israeli doll who leaves for her military service in the next week in the Israeli Airforce. She just graduated high school and like most Israeli citizens, is heading into the military before she will attend the university.

I spoke in three sessions at the conference. The topic was "Idols of the Heart." The basic message that I brought the women was this: If the goal of the Christian walk is to please the Lord in all that we do, this should cause us to obey His Word, which produces fruit of the Spirit in our lives. When we do not experience that fruit (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.) but rather negative emotions (anger, frustration, depression, anxiousness, etc.), then we can most likely point to something else sitting on the throne of our heart, which then causes us to disobey the Word, resulting in negative emotions. We looked at the lives of sisters, Rachel and Leah, who revealed the true desire of their hearts through the names they gave their babies. Neither woman found peace or joy in life, because the desire to be loved or have a baby was greater than their desire to please the Lord. In the end, we looked at how we identify the idols in our hearts and then talked through the three step process of removing that idol, renewing our mind in scripture and then replacing that idol with a godly practice.

The women were very receptive to the message, despite the fact that there were two translators working overtime in the room - the gal on stage beside me was translating in Hebrew and another woman was translating into Russian through headsets. Apparently, most services in Israel are translated in all three languages, so the women were used to this and not bothered by what felt like mayhem to me!

After each session, I had women line up to ask good questions. These women are hungry for the Word and desire to submit to God's will for their lives. One woman was the pastor's wife of a rather large congregation. I found out later that she tends to be rather protective of the women in her church. When my friends put out a new book (translated from English usually), she has to read it first before she will allow the women in her congregation to get it. She sounds kind of like me!

Anyway, she had never attended the conference, being unsure of what exactly went on at one. She had decided to come this year and check it out for herself. She did not bring any of her women, but wanted to be able to give an informed recommendation for the next conference. After the second session she came to me and introduced herself. She said she was concerned about what would be taught that day, but was delighted to hear that it was God's Word which was being boldly proclaimed. She told me that next year she was planning on bringing the women from her church. I was thrilled that she desired truth to be taught, not fluff or feelings, and her reservations were the norm for the women there. They were not taking a day out of their lives to have their ears tickled. Rather, they wanted to know God. They wanted to hear from His Word. I loved their soberness and their questions - many were Berean-like and I loved that as well!

Please pray for the women of the church in Israel. They have the same struggles that we have here in America - unfaithful husbands, rebellious children, family illnesses, financial strain, etc. Of course not all are struggling with these biggies, (yes, there are faithful husbands in Israel!!), but I guess what I discovered is that life is pretty similar all over the world. The big advantage that we have is our resources that aid in our walk with the Lord. We have thousands and thousands of books, as well as counseling ministries in the church that can come alongside us and help us through life. These women are pretty isolated. The body of Christ is strong in Israel, though very small. Fellowship is truly sweet, and as I sat and watched the women pray together, for each other, I was moved at their steadfast hearts. Despite the difficulties, these women truly know the love of Christ and are generous with it - they work hard, give much and are constantly hungry for righteousness.

Finally, I wanted to post a picture of my daughter-in-law, Mary. She was our official photographer and on this first day, the day of the conference, I didn't grab the camera and get a picture of her. This is her on the airplane. She was a doll, as well. With my other little girls, she served lunch, cleaned up and snapped photos. All of my team worked hard that day, even though we were a bit foggy due to jet lag. At one point in the conference, I was on stage and my interpreter was thanking the planning committee before we began the final session. My eyes started to blur and I thought to myself, "I sure hope I don't doze off while she's talking!" Thankfully I didn't, but I have to tell you - jet lag stinks...

Next time I will post a bit about our time in Israel...thank you all for your prayers for safety. We never felt in danger and rested in the hands of God the whole time we were gone!