A Story About My Mom

In honor of Mother’s Day let me tell you a story about my mom.

Way back when I was in sixth grade my parents decided we were going to change churches.  The church I grew up in, up to that point, was a very small country church and most Sundays if me and my brother weren’t there, they didn’t have Sunday school for little kids because we were basically the only ones.  Leading up to student ministry age my parents decided it would be best for us to go to a bigger church.  I was not a fan of this move.

Of course the church they picked was the biggest church in town.  I was now attending a class with at least 12 other girls.  When seventh grade started it was even worse for me.  I was introverted and did not have many, if any, friends at this bigger church.  My mom would make me go to Wednesday night student ministry events and I complained or sulked the whole way there, I sat in the back of the room, and as soon as it dismissed I was waiting for my mom.  Every week I would beg my mom to not make me come back and she never let me quit.  She would tell me to invite my friends from school, make new friends, don’t sit in the back, etc.

I never remember her being demeaning or demanding about this stage but she did know better than me.  It was a hard transition for me but eventually I did make friends at church, eventually one of my school friends did start coming to that church, eventually I came to love that student group, our student minister, and that church.  I consider that church my church home.

I tell you this story to encourage you, Mom.  Moms out there that know better than your kids, you don’t like to see your kids hurt or be uncomfortable but take heart, you know better.  My mom never let me quit.  My mom encouraged me every week to get outside my comfort zone.  And let me tell you, learning to get outside your comfort zone is no small task so start practicing early.  Even twenty or so years later I’m not a fan of getting out of my comfort zone but I know that God always blesses that leap of faith.

Even at 35 years old my mom encourages me daily, thanks to text messaging and e-mails.  She has been a champion on my side since the day I made her a mom.  Love you, Mom!

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Take Heart Small Group Leader

I love small groups.  I love to teach small groups.  My dorky self loves to find new small group material.  I even, on occasion like to write small group material.  But being a small group leader is hard…even if you do love it.

Leading a small group is hard for many reasons.  You do your homework and prepare a lesson and 2 people show up.  That’s hard.  You do your homework and prepare a lesson and more than two people show up but they don’t come back next week.  That’s hard.  You do your homework and prepare a lesson, new people show up, they love it, you get a text later that someone doesn’t like your group.  That hard.  You work full time and stay up late to prepare a lesson and wake up needing more coffee than the day before and then realize no one has clean socks in your house.  That’s hard.

Being a small group leader is hard but guess what?  People are hard.  If you are going to work with people you must know they are hard.  Once you get to know them they will share their hard stuff with you.  That is hard.  Life is hard.  But guess what?  I’m being reminded on a daily basis that God is in control.  Whether it feels like it or not, God is in control.  He’s in control of your small group.  He’s in control when it seems like you are spinning on a hamster wheel going no where fast.  He’s in control when a group member confides in you and your brain is reeling.  He is in control.

Take heart, Small Group Leader…

Mary on Saturday

I’m interrupting my Israel posts to reflect on the Saturday between Good Friday and He Has Risen Sunday.  Last night was our church’s Good Friday program and with several hundred Easter programs this weekend there was a dramatic element giving us all a visual of Jesus being beaten, hung on the cross, and put in a tomb.  But what struck me most during this portrayal was Mary, Jesus’ mom.  We assume she is a widow because you never hear of Joseph again.

Mary-6Why did she go to watch her son be crucified?

How could she witness such a site?

What did she do when darkness came?  He was in the tomb and she stone finished it.

Did she know He would rise again?  Did she know He would leave that tomb?

What must her Saturday have been like?  She witnessed an all day execution of her first born son and, more than likely, came home to His siblings who didn’t believe He was the Messiah.  I cannot imagine.  The heaviness in her heart.  The heaviness in her spirit.  The heaviness in that home.

Reflect on Mary’s Saturday today.

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Israel: Day 6 Jerusalem

March 15, 2015

This was the day we woke up in Jerusalem!  It’s located in the tops of the Judean Mountain range about 3,000 feet above sea level, 38 miles from the Mediterranean and 14 miles from the Dead Sea.  This day was jam-packed full of places!  First up, the Mount of Olives.

At the Mount of Olives you can see a Jewish cemetery which is the largest and oldest Jewish cemetery in the world and dates back to Biblical times!  The Jews believe the final judgment and resurrection will take place here.  The Palm Sunday Path located to the left when you look down from the Mount of Olives.  This is the traditional road most believe Jesus traveled as He made His Triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:28).

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Below is the view from the top of the Mount of Olives looking down on the Jewish cemetery.

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2015-03-15 08.53.53Above is the traditional site of the Palm Sunday Path and the way we walked down to the Garden of Gethsemane.

Once we walked down the steep and curvy road from the Mount of Olives we landed at the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-56; Luke 22:39-53).  This was unforgettable!  We were taken to a more private part of the garden and Mollie Duddleston led our devotional from this spot.  We were then given 10 or so minutes to sit throughout the area and pray with our spouses.  Below is the private courtyard we were praying in and under almost every tree there were couples from our team praying!  Breathtaking!

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As we left the Garden of Gethsemane we went to, what is called, Lion’s Gate, also known as St. Stephen’s Gate.  It is called St. Stephen’s Gate because tradition has it that Stephen was stoned near this entrance (Acts 7:54-60).  After passing through this gate we moved on to the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-16).

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When you hear “Antonia Fortress” you probably have no idea what it means.  I didn’t.  But today this site is called the Sisters of Zion Convent.  This convent is built over the pavement area of Pilate’s Courtyard where Jesus was condemned to the cross (Matthew 27:2, 11-31).  This is the road Jesus would have walked on to the cross!  Take that in.  Even today, on Maudy Thursday it’s hard to grasp we were on that road!  From this road that’s underground now under the convent Pastor Floyd led us in a special time of prayer.  We were challenged to think about our journey to the cross.  It is also ironic that as we are walking back up from this holy place we start to hear the Islam call to prayer.  Christ was mocked in this place and He is still mocked today.

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Our tour ended from here.  We went back to our hotel, had dinner at a New York Style pizza place down the road from our hotel.

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Israel: Day 5 The Middle of our Journey

March 14, 2015

Day 5 of the trip represents the middle of the road.  Up to this point we have learned so much and seen so much.  It’s hard to believe we have 5 days to go until our journey is over.  This day we visited a lot of Bible history sites as we made our way to our final spot, Jerusalem.  Again, like previous days the order in which we did these things is hard to remember. 

On this day we visited the ruins of the city of Capernaum, where Jesus is noted to have done most of His miracles.  From this site I was able to read Matthew 4:12-16 saying that Jesus came here after Nazareth just as it was prophesied in Isaiah 9:1-2.  Capernaum would have also been the customs’ station in Jesus’ day and high Roman officials would have lived here.

When you say the name “Chorazin,” most people would have no idea what you were talking about.  Is it a person?  Is it a place?  Well, it’s a place.  More like, it’s ruins of a place.  Chorazin was a city that Jesus cursed in Matthew 11:21-22 because the people would not repent.  In the early 300’s an earthquake destroyed the entire city and it has never been rebuilt.  It was a thriving city in it’s day but what Jesus said came to fruition.

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Judges 7 tells the story of Gideon and how he chose his soldiers.  We visited what they call Gideon’s Spring and saw this natural water as it now flows under a mountain.  It was also at this spring where Saul encamped the night before his death in the Philistine battle.  This site is also part of Israel’s National Park System.  A side note about Israel is that a lot of the Biblical history sites we visited were National Parks so the same time we are touring there might be a high school group doing science experiments on the rocks or taking a tour themselves.

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Also an Old Testament site was Beth Shean (Judges1:27; 1 Samuel 31:8-13).  This city protected the entrance to the Valley of Jezreel from the Jordan Valley.  Excavations have revealed 18 levels of occupation with 6 pagan temples!  Today Beth Shean is one of the largest archaeological excavation projects underway in Israel.

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Due to security issues we did not visit Bethlehem.  It is currently under Palestine rule.  As we were driving into Jerusalem on this night we stopped by a shop that sells items made from olive wood trees.  The family that owns this shop has a factory in Bethlehem but because there is such tension in the area tourists are no longer visiting Bethlehem so their business was failing. The city of Jerusalem allowed them to open a small shop to sell their items.

We ended the evening driving into Jerusalem.

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Israel: Day 4 Sea of Galilee

March 13, 2015

Confession:  As I read everything we did on March 13, the order in which we did it has escaped my memory.  But I am pretty sure this is the order.  Who knows?

We woke up this morning in the city of Tiberius on the coast of the Sea of Galilee.  Two blocks from our hotel is a fish market where fisherman sell the fish they caught that night.  It is safe to say that the fish you eat along this coast were probably caught the night before.  The photo below is from our hotel room giving you a great view of the city of Tiberius.

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From here we proceeded on to Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13; Mark 8:27; Matthew 16:13-20).  Dr. Paul Kim read from Matthew 16 here and reminded us that in order for Christ to build His church He needs us…all of us.  Caesarea Philippi is located at the foot of Israel’s highest mountain, Mount Hermon.  It is also here where, at this time of the year, the headwaters of the Jordan River were quite strong because of snow at the top of Mount Hermon.

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The photo below shows you how strong the headwaters were at this time of the year.  Our guide indicated it is very rare to see this headwaters this strong at all.

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Next we headed to the Mount of the Beatitudes.  This site is recognized as the traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount, the Mount of the Beatitudes.  It is now the site of an Italian convent built by the Franciscan sisters in 1937 with the money donated by Mussolini (when he was trying to buy his way into Heaven).  It was from this site Clif Anderson, from our Fayetteville campus, read the beatitudes.  It is believed it would have been a spot much like this that Jesus spoke because there is a natural amphitheater where it would have been easy for Him to speak to thousands without the use of speakers.

Later we headed to the Sea of Galilee (Mark 3:7-12; Luke 5:1-3; Matthew 8:23-27).  There is a small museum on one side of the water that houses a 2,000 year old fishing boat that was uncovered from mud in 1987 by some local fisherman and often called the, “Jesus Boat.”  We then boarded a large boat and set sail across the Galilee.  Sailing across the Sea of Galilee is an experience like no other.  Knowing you are on the very water that Jesus calmed during a storm, knowing you are on the very water that Jesus and the disciples sailed on many times during His ministry; it is still very hard to describe in mere words.  While floating our pastor read from Matthew 14:22-33 and reminded us all not to be afraid, rest easy and take courage in knowing you never walk alone.  The ride concluded with David McKinney leading us in, “It is Well With My Soul.”

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As if we hadn’t experienced enough the day concluded with baptisms in the Jordan River!

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Israel: Day 3 My Birthday

March 12, 2015

Nothing like celebrating your birthday with 50 of your newest friends singing “Happy Birthday,” on the first official day of our tour!

We started the day off by heading to Caesarea (Acts 8:40; 21:8-9; Acts 10; Acts 23:22-26:32).  On the way to the site our guide shared with us some facts about the land of Israel:

*This is the land God chose to make Himself known.
*We are pro-Israel but love Arabs, God created all and Christ died for all.*Evangelical Arab Christians are here and have the largest Christian school in the area.

When we arrived at Caesarea we are reminded that NOTHING in America is as old as the things we will see on this tour.  The thing I loved the most on this stop was the theater Paul would have appealed to Agrippa in Acts 26:24-32.  We are reminded in this passage that Paul used his personal testimony to appeal to Agrippa.  We all have a personal testimony we can use to influence others.  The photo below would have been Paul’s view from where he stood to face Agrippa.  The steps leading up from the wooden platform would have been where the throne sat in the audience so they basically have a 50 yard line view of the stage.DSCF7323

Once we left Caesarea we proceeded to Mount Carmel.  Fun fact about Mount Carmel is that Mark Twain visited in 1867 and referred to it as “God’s Vineyard.”  This part of our trip is covered in olive trees and other fruit bearing trees.  When we reached Mount Carmel our Missions Pastor, Doug Sarver read from 1 Kings 18:19-40 when Elijah contested the prophets of Baal there.  When you are at the top of Mount Carmel you can see down to the Valley of Jezreel.  God gave John a vision on the Island of Patmos establishing this valley as the site of the end-time Battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:16).  Something else that is interesting about this valley is that around the turn of the century this valley was a swamp.  God’s people began buying back portions from the Arabs.  They began drying up the swamp land through drainage and the planting of Eucalyptus trees.  Today this valley produces the highest volume of food per square foot in the world!  In the photo below you can see how fertile the entire land is below Mount Carmel

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After leaving Mount Carmel we headed to Megiddo, the royal city of Canaanites (Joshua 12:7, 21; Joshua 17:11).  The University of Chicago did the major excavations in this area where a water shaft 120 feet deep was found and connected to a spring outside the walls of the city.  This is where our guide, Avi, would have said, “People now think they are clever but they were clever back then too.”

The final stop for this day, before our hotel, was the city of Nazareth.  This is what I will remember on my birthday.  Nazareth is the place Jesus lived with Mary and Joseph, it is the place where Jesus attended school in the local synagogue (could you imagine being HIS teacher), and worshiped with His earthly family.  It was in a small synagogue here that Chris read from Luke 4:16-31 and said, “From this small space in this small town the gospel came.”  We all have our small roots we come from but God has great things in store for each of us no matter our background.

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This was only the first day of all day touring!  We learned so much yet still have so much to learn!  I had a great birthday and will remember this day for a long time!