Sufficient Grace

My journey through life in God's grace.

Sequence Failed Continuity

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“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will note leave you or forsake you.”    Deuteronomy 31:6

I didn’t plan to write today. The square on my calendar is full from morning till late evening. The contractor is here to fix several things in the house. Meetings begin at 9:30, then lunch with a friend at noon, more meetings and then church council this evening. Maybe in between it all I will be able enjoy a bit of the beautiful sunny, crisp day.

A day just like 17 years ago…

It doesn’t seem possible it’s been seventeen years. Our oldest granddaughter wasn’t a year old yet. The other two weren’t even, as Gia says, “twinkles in mom’s eye.”  Cancer hadn’t changed my world.

The title of this blog isn’t original. Google has several other blogs with the same title. They all have a similar theme–9/11 pilots who were supposed to fly on that bright sunny Tuesday.

Sequence Failed Continuity is air traffic speak for a flight that never reached its destination.

It appeared beside four flights that fateful day.

worm s eye view photo of plane between two high rise buildings

Photo by jacoby clarke on Pexels.com

American Airlines pilot Steve Scheibner was originally scheduled as co-pilot on Flight 11 from Boston to LAX on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  Late on Monday, September 10, Scheibner was scratched for Tom McGuinness who was a senior pilot. (You can read about Schreibner’s story on the other blogs with the same title as this one or view the short film his oldest son posted on YouTube called “In My Seat.”)

In the years since 9/11 we’ve focused on those who lost their lives and the families who lost loved ones. It is totally appropriate, in fact an obligation for us to never forget those people. The reports are that even more, nearly as many as were killed in the original attacks, have died due to illness from the massive quantity of asbestos that filled the air for weeks after the Twin Towers fell.

The stories of the heroes and those who were spared that day were popular in the weeks and months after the tragedy.

How many of us still remember them?  The “lucky ones” who were supposed to be on a flight but didn’t make it? The business man who got stuck in traffic and was late to a meeting at the World Trade Center? The mom whose child was sick and couldn’t go to preschool in the Towers?

Pilot Scheibner says he and his wife and their eight children couldn’t “go back to normal life” after that day.

Any of us who have experienced tragedy or a life-changing event know this. Those experiences cause us to change our outlook on life–sometimes momentarily, sometimes for the rest of our days.

Why am I here? What is God’s purpose for me? How am I going to use this for good?

Every person who’s last earthly day was September 11, 2001 had plans. Plans for the day, plans for the week ahead. Plans for their families and their lives. And probably many of them, like us had a lot of “someday” plans.  Someday I’ll read those books on my night stand. Someday I’ll call my friend from college who’s going through a divorce to see how she’s doing. Someday I’ll make time to go to church.

After 9/11, Scheibner says he could no longer be a “someday saint”.

Divorces, diseases, and death can leave us bitter. Or we can choose to use our pain to help others make life better.

I’ve chosen the latter for the rest of my life. Survivors of any tragedy would tell you it’s the better choice–for others and for ourselves.

What things are on your “someday” list?  What purpose for your life is God waiting to bless that you haven’t taken the time to notice?  Whose life is less complete because you’ve put your calling on the back burner?  When the number of your days are dwindling, will you look back and be thankful for heeding the purpose God created you for?   Or will you, like those flights, be sequence failed continuity that never reached your destination?

Don’t wait for another 9/11 to find God’s calling and purpose for your life.

Heavenly Father, thank you that no matter happens in our world, Your promises to be with your children never fail. Help us Lord to feel an urgency in our hearts to share love with others who are hurting, to use the talents and opportunities you’ve given us to share the Good News of salvation through Jesus. Give us boldness to shine Your light brightly in our dark world. In Jesus name.  Amen. 

Advice to my younger self

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“Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before and you lay your hand upon me. ”  Pslam 139:4-5

Recently I had the occasion to walk in downtown Waterloo (our neighboring city) along streets I hadn’t been on in a long while–at least not on foot. Usually if something brings me here, I’m in my car rushing from one meeting or errand to another, not paying attention to memories from long ago which came trickling in on this day.

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Thirty-six years ago my “career,” if you can call a part-time job a career, began downtown. That job changed my life in ways my young, naïve self could never imagine.

It’s always interesting to look back over our lives to see God’s hand directing our path.

My dad had insisted I go to school after high school to become a secretary. I’m confident he thought that was about the only job I was qualified for that would make a decent living and maybe land me a good husband. Dad was a stubborn, old-fashioned Irish-German that didn’t take easily to being argued against.

So, two years later, I graduated from our local community college with my AA degree in the Executive Secretary program. God had His hand on me even then. I learned shorthand and typing skills very well (thanks to many hours in the typing room doing timed writings!)

Four friends and I all interviewed for the same internship at a local brokerage office. I was hired for the three-month intern position and asked to stay on part-time when it was completed.

I thought I would just stay a few months while I looked for another job that would pay me enough to be able to move out on my own. The pay at the brokerage office wasn’t great, but the experience and wisdom I gained, like the commercial says, was priceless.

It was a professional office where everyone dressed in suits and skirts. Business people, attorneys and judges stopped by over their lunches to check stock prices. An old-style ticker tape machine chattered away in the reception area cascading a long trail of paper onto the carpet.

Being the only person in the office who knew shorthand made me a valuable employee for the nine stock brokers to communicate with their clients.  That skill paid off in a big way in the summer of 1982 when I got a call from our office manager asking, “How soon can you be here? The s*** just hit the fan!”

Our office had experienced several collapses of stock positions and “guaranteed” bond positions which our parent company had underwritten and consequently we had sold a ton of to clients. This last default of a huge holding of bonds issued by Gamble Skogmo Company was the beginning of a journey that would change the trajectory of my life.

I was suddenly working full-time. Every day consisted of taking dictation from the brokers and transcribing and typing reams of letters to clients who held these bonds. People were literally losing their retirement funds and life savings.

Four months after I was hired full time, my boss left for another brokerage firm to take over the regional office and asked me to come on board with him. We started transferring accounts, withstanding non-compete agreement lawsuits, trying to hold together a Cedar Falls office whose manager had been fired, build a new office in downtown Waterloo for us and three other brokers who came with us from our previous firm, bring on a new, first-time broker and all of it fell on top of my totally inexperienced desk!

I was only just 20 years old and so much less confident than I am today as are most of us without the wisdom of life.

God blessed those tumultuous times. Our office survived the lawsuits and mass of paperwork and fiery personalities. In April of 1983, we all came together in a beautiful, newly renovated downtown office. Many of those folks are still friends of mine today.

The most amazing thing that God orchestrated was introducing me to a man, who at the time I thought was extremely arrogant and made me very nervous on the job! That man was Tom Barbatti who eventually became my husband.

During my working years at the brokerage office, I used to walk to lunch along the banks of the Cedar River in downtown Waterloo for brief outdoor escapes from the stressful work.

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I thought about those times this day, thirty-some years later, as I walked along the same river. I thought about that young, naïve, self-conscious woman who I was then. What advice would I give her from my wiser, older self?

I would tell her she has no idea the journey that lay ahead of her.

I would tell her that God’s hand is over everything in her life and, even though she will stumble and make mistakes and some bad choices along the way, God is good and patient and can use her mistakes for His good and His glory.

I would tell her about the amazing ways she will grow in confidence in herself and the amazing things she will experience and learn and the wonderful people who will come into her life.

I would tell her she will be embraced with a love so deep from that man who made her nervous that she would wonder how God decided to bless her so richly.

I would tell her that she will be tested in ways she doesn’t believe she has the strength or courage to endure.  I would tell her she is much stronger than she can imagine.

I would tell her to savor every moment of life because it is short and fleeting but not to be afraid because her salvation is secure.

And I would tell her that our amazing Heavenly Father will show her His grace and draw her closer to Him through trials of fire and use her in unimaginable ways to bring glory to Him and touch family and friends for His Kingdom.

Heavenly Father, thank you that throughout my life—through my sins and stumbles and tears and fear and joys and moments—your hand has always been there to pick me up when I fell, to forgive me when I strayed, to carry me when I couldn’t walk on my own, to collect my tears and give me laughter and friends and family and beauty from ashes. I especially thank you for knitting all the pieces of my life together so that I am assured of my complete adoption as Your precious child.  Please continue to guide and lead me in the ways You have for me to share Your story. In Jesus holy name.  Amen.

 

 

Summertime

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“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  Psalm 90:12

Summertime and the livin’ is easy.  Porgy and Bess

There’s something about summer. Life is slower, maybe because of the Iowa heat and humidity. Kids love being out of school. Families are traveling for vacations. Lightning bugs wink in the dark night.

Growing up outside of Waverly, summer meant transforming the corn crib into our special hideaway so my sister and I and the neighbor kids could play.  My Aunt Nea lived in town close to the A&W, which isn’t there anymore.   We would visit her and walk to get an ice cream cone.  Then the big favorite was to go see the fountain on the Wartburg campus with the lights that would change from green to red to purple to blue.  I was at a conference at Wartburg a few weeks ago, and I’m happy to say the fountain is still there, albeit remodeled with newer lights.

Once in a while, summer would turn dark with a tragedy.  One year the brother of a classmate of mine was hit by a car and killed while he was crossing a busy street on his bicycle.

Another dark summer night, a few high school guys went to Cedar Falls and got into a fight. One of them was pummeled to the point of death. His friend drove him back to the Waverly hospital where he was pronounced dead.

There were a few times when the serene Cedar River would claim a life and then the water would churn with search boats and divers.

All of these events created a heaviness incongruent with the ease of summer.

Last week, our hometown of Cedar Falls experienced this tragic darkness in a horrible accident that claimed the life of a mom on a walk with her family.  I wasn’t a close friend of Kris Martinson, but I know the family.  She and I had played golf a few times, and we were always friendly enough to say hello and ask how one anothers’ families were doing.

In all of these instances, our natural human instinct is to ask “Why?”

But there is no answer to why.

Even though the circumstances were different, I know the sorrow and pain of death. And from that experience I can say, the only way to make it through each day, each hour is to lean on God.

That may sound trite and religious but, trust me, it’s the only way I have gotten out of bed and continued living since October 2016.

God is still on His throne.  He is still sovereign.

Yet the pain and grief we feel is real.  We can’t minimize those emotions or rush through them because life will never be the same. Our hearts and souls absorb the deep cuts and scabs form and scars remain forever.

Jesus wept for His friends Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus died.  He felt their sorrow. He showed compassion.

Sometimes I wonder if part of the reason Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus was because He knew Lazarus was coming back to this life from his heavenly home.

This world and our life here are not our home or our destiny.  Our lives on earth, no matter how many years we have, are just a vapor.

Our society tries to deceive us into thinking this life is the best it will ever get.  Satan tells us to live for today because it’s all we’ve got.  Or worse, the lie that we are immortal and we’ll never die.

But we will all die.  None of us are getting out of here alive.

So, while we grieve and pray for families whose lives are touched by tragedy, I take great comfort in knowing this life is short.  I know that Tom is at home in eternity with Jesus.  I know that I will be there one day with him.

I pray that God will help me always to number my days, to not waste one of them that He gives me.  To cherish time with family and friends and to share the Good News of His love so that everyone I encounter can be assured of life in eternity after this one where there will be no more sickness, no more dying and no more sorrow.

Heavenly Father—teach me always to number my days here on this earth.  Always keep me mindful that this life is not the real life You have for me.  Give me wisdom, Lord, to live a life that brings others to You and brings You glory. In Jesus precious name, Amen.

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Via Dolorosa, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, The Garden Tomb

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Monday, June 18

Scripture Reading: Luke 24:1-12

“This is amazing grace. This is unfailing love. That you would take my place, that you would bear my cross. You laid down your life, that I would be set free, Jesus I sing for all that you’ve done for me.” Phil Wickham

The old city of Jerusalem is much the way it could have been 2,000 years ago. The streets are narrow stone alleys between tall stone buildings. Garbage piles and the stench of them are prevalent. Small shops, some less than 10 square feet, compete for local and tourist shekels selling everything from camel skin bags to fresh produce to crucifixes to underwear.

 

We entered Old Jerusalem through the Herod gate. Inside this archway is the praetorium where Pilate washed his hands of his responsibility for Jesus’ torture and death sentence. This is where the Via Dolorosa begins.

Via Dolorosa means “the way of sorrow”. Fourteen stations of the cross line this stone pathway for nearly a mile where Jesus walked to Golgotha. When the Romans destroyed the city in 70 AD they took as many of the stones from the buildings as possible leaving the street stones buried where they were. Therefore, archeologists believe many of these could be the same stones Jesus walked.

 

 

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The last five stations are within the ornate Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site most archeologists and Christians believe is where Jesus was crucified and buried. It’s hard to imagine what it was originally like because of the elaborate interior decoration adorning the entire area.

The church is shared by six denominations–Catholics, Copts, and four Orthodox churches. There is a strict hierarchy for worship space and times among these churches. The day we arrived the patriarch of the Armenian Orthodox Church (think the Pope for Catholics) was right in front of us because a priest had died and they were having his service. This meant that the Armenian Orthodox would move to the “top of the pecking order” until another priest from another religion dies. (Politics and power struggles are nothing new in our current day!)

 

The Stone of Unction, the slab where they laid Jesus after He died, rests directly inside the door of the Church. Behind it are mosaics showing the disciples and women taking Jesus’ body from the cross. What struck me was the strong emotions depicted on the faces of the followers. It’s easy for us on this side of the resurrection to criticize and say they should have understood Jesus’ teachings about rising from the dead. But in that moment, this man who they had put all their hope and trust in and whom they believed to be the long-awaited Messiah was dead. What now? They had no hope and a lot of confusion and fear.

 

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The alternative theory of the resurrection site is the Garden Tomb. Contrary to the glitz of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, this peaceful, quiet English garden shows what the garden might have been like on that first Easter morning when Mary Magdalene met the risen Savior. Perhaps this may have been the spot, but no matter where Jesus was laid, the most important thing is this: There is no body. You’ll find no bones. THE TOMB IS EMPTY! He is Risen! 

Our group sang the old hymn “In the Garden” and received communion in the serene setting. It was the most emotional experience of the trip for many of us.

Another moving experience of the day was the visit to the wailing wall. On Monday and Thursday mornings, bar mitzvahs are held at the wall and we just happened to be there on one of these days. Safety precautions surround the area of the wall and visitors must go through security before entering. Men and women are separated and men are required to wear hats. The wall is an emotional site where hundreds of scraps of paper with prayers written on them are tucked into the cracks and crevices of the wall. Jews weep in this place where the second temple had been and long for the temple to be rebuilt.

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The Western (Wailing) Wall

This was the most touching, emotional day of the trip and a perfect way to end our pilgrimage.

Shalom.

Heavenly Father–thank you for your incredible love and grace for us. Help us always to remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us in that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Help us to live our lives every day so that by our actions and attitudes people will know that we serve a Risen, living savior who gives us, not only strength for this life, but blessed confidence in the hope of eternity. Thank you Jesus. Amen.

Masada, the Dead Sea and Jericho

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Sunday, June 17

Scripture reading: Deuteronomy 34

The scripture reading for today speaks of Moses climbing Mount Nebo where God gave him a glimpse of the Promised Land. We saw this mountain across the Dead Sea.

Because of Moses’ disobedience, he was not allowed to enter with the children of Israel. Pastor Brian commented that he always felt sorry that Moses couldn’t go into the Promised Land. However, Moses had been the right leader for the People of Israel at the right time. Going forward into a new land, it was time for a new leader, Joshua, to take over.

Pastor went on to share that, like Moses, all any of us can do is be faithful where and when God plants us. We are all just one link in God’s grand plan, but what a privilege He gives us to partner with Him! And occasionally God allows us a glimpse into the future, as Moses saw on Mount Nebo. The view is breathtaking!

Our first stop was Masada. French archeologists discovered this historic fortress in the middle of the wilderness. Herod originally used this plateau to build one of His palaces. In 66 AD, the Jews rebelled against Rome.

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A model showing Herod’s palace on Masada

Four years later, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and around 960 Jewish men, women and children took refuge inside Masada’s fortified walls more than 1,400 feet in elevation.  At first the Romans tried to wait out the rebels hoping they would starve. But the Jews proved resolute. Rome then sent 10,000 troops to build an earthen ramp up to Masada to try to break through the fortress walls. The residents of Masada used large rocks to roll down the ramp and throw at the builders to make their work difficult. These rocks and most of the ramp are still there today along with the encampment sites built by the Romans. The Jews fortified the walls with tree trunks on the outside. Imagine every day of your life watching your enemy come closer and closer to you, knowing you will either be taken captive as a slave or killed.

 

The rebel leader Elazar Ben-Yair rallied the people when it became obvious the Romans would soon breech the walls. He reminded the people of their pledge to serve only the one true God, not the Romans and their gods. According to the historian Josephus, the rebels agreed to a mass suicide. The men drew lots to determine which ten of them would kill the other nine and then kill himself.

While there is some doubt as to the complete accuracy of this account, the Romans did find hundreds of corpses. Only a few women and children escaped. Archeologists have found ten shards of pottery with numbers on them which may be the lots that the men drew.

Regardless of the details, Masada became a symbol of courage and bravery throughout Jewish history. The Israeli military still uses Masada today as the site of their swearing in ceremony.

We traveled on to Qumran National Park. The Dead Sea scrolls were found in the caves in this area in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd boy. A member of our group asked why these scrolls were significant to us today. Pastor Brian explained that they verified the complete accuracy of the Old Testament which means we can trust God’s word, our Bible.

One fascinating tidbit from Qumran was a large water cistern that archeologists estimate quit working in 33 AD. They found a large crack in the bottom. If you remember the passion of Jesus, when he died on the cross there was a huge earthquake. Many believe this was the cause of the crack in the cistern even this far from Jerusalem.

After lunch and a bit of shopping, we were off to the beach! Several of us braved the salty waters of the Dead Sea. This is the lowest point on earth at 1,340 feet below sea level. Because of the extreme salinity of the water, everyone floats! It is a strange sensation and the most difficult thing is getting your legs back under you. One lifeguard assured us that the 64 minerals in the water would make us look 20 years younger. We’re still waiting for that to take effect.

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The Dead Sea

After our shower, we boarded the bus for Jericho. This city is famous in the Old Testament where Joshua and the Israelites marched around the walls for six days and on the seventh, God caused the walls to fall. It is also the hometown of Zaccheus, the wee little man who climbed the sycamore tree to see Jesus. We passed “A” sycamore tree in Jericho, not “THE” sycamore tree. We also got to nibble on sycamore uts which are quite tasty–sort of like a milder pistachio. Jericho is also the oldest city in the world.

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Shalom.

Heavenly Father–thank you for your faithfulness to your people even when we, like the Israelites, are stiff necked and want to do things our way. Thank you for your word that shows us your love and grace. Help us to be like the Sea of Galilee in not only taking water in, but sending it back out; not like the Dead Sea where nothing lives or grows. Make our hearts and lives fruitful for you, Lord. In Jesus name. Amen.

Pater Noster, Mount of Olives, Gethsemane and the Flogging

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Saturday, June 16

Scripture Reading: Luke 19: 28-48

It’s difficult to believe, but each day of this pilgrimage gets better and more emotional. Today was especially touching as we saw what Jesus really went through in His “suffering” for us even before going to the cross.

Our first stop was the Mount of Olives from which Jesus ascended into heaven. More importantly this is where Revelation says He will return. Below is the Kidron Valley. Jesus traveled through this valley many times on His way from Jerusalem to Bethany. We walked down the steep path which would have been the trail Jesus rode the donkey into the city on Palm Sunday.  King David also fled from his son Absalom through the Kidron Valley. It is prophesied this will be the Valley of Judgment when Jesus returns and will run deep with blood.

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Jerusalem city wall from the Mount of Olives. The gate in the center is the gate Beautiful where Peter and John healed the lame man. It is closed until the return of Christ.

The Pater Noster (Lord’s Prayer) is one of my favorites of the trip so far. Mosaics from 168 languages represent the Lord’s Prayer in the major languages of the world. It reminds me that God will be praised by every tongue and every nation and makes me long for that day and His kingdom to come. It is built around a cave where it is said Jesus taught His disciples to pray.

 

 

The Garden of Gethsemane is a beautiful, peaceful place filled with olive trees and flowers. It’s easy to understand why Jesus came here to pray before His trial began. The Lord Wept Chapel here is designed in the shape of a teardrop. There are four vases in the corners representing catch basins for tears which have dried leaving salt behind in the vessel.

 

 

The name “Gethsemane” means olive press. This is appropriate not only for the olive trees in the garden but also because Jesus was under such intense stress He experienced a medical phenomenon called hematohidrosis–sweating blood. The Rock of Agony where it is said Jesus prayed is now in the Church of All Nations.  There is one tree in the garden that is estimated to be between 2200 to 2800 years old which would have been when Jesus was here.

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Judas Iscariot was paid thirty silver coins to betray Jesus–the amount paid for a slave.

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Our next stop was The Upper Room. This isn’t the real place of the Last Supper but a room similar to where it would have taken place. Jesus and the disciples would have been seated in a U shape with Jesus as the host seated on the left side second from the end. The place to Jesus right is the place of the protector–John. The seat to the left of Jesus was where the guest of honor would sit. This would have been Judas.

Four cups of wine would be served representing sanctification and judgment served before the meal, the third cup of salvation would be given after the meal. The fourth cup is the cup of praise which believers will drink in heaven. Likewise the bread would be stacked three on top of each other–the top represents God the creator, the middle is the high priest–Jesus to us, and the bottom is humanity.

There is a beautiful bronze sculpture in this room that was a gift from Pope John Paul II. It is an olive tree with three trunks twined together representing the holy trinity Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There are thirty-three branches which are cut off short meaning the thirty-three years of Jesus earthly life that were cut short. Stalks of grain and grapevines wind up around the tree representing the bread and wine.

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Below this room is a memorial for the tomb of David–again not the authentic tomb. Our guide, Johnny told us a story about King David having a secret room in the palace where he would go once every month. No one knew what was in the room. After he died when the room was opened there was a bag containing his clothes he wore as a shepherd. Legend says he humbled himself every month by removing all of his kingly robes and putting on the shepherd’s clothing to remind himself of God’s goodness to him.

We traveled on to the home of the high priest Caiaphas. The beautiful carved door leading in was carved by Jews, Muslims and Christians. Oh that we could all live together cooperatively like this work was done. Notice the rooster representing Jesus prophesy that Peter would deny Him three times before the cock crowed.

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The door to the Church of St. Peter

There was no death penalty in Israel during Jesus’ time nor is there today. This is why Jesus had to be tried and convicted by Pilate under Roman law.

Under this church were caves and dungeon-like rooms. Jesus was bound and taken down to this area. His clothes were stripped. His arms and legs were tied apart. A whip, probably a cat of nine tails, with shards of glass tied into the ropes would be used for the blows–twelve on each shoulder, twelve on the back of the neck and three on the chest. To increase the torment, when the whip was snapped onto the skin it was then dragged downwards tearing the flesh from the body.

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Our guide used Alex to demonstrate how Jesus would have been tied up and scourged.

The full understanding of Jesus’ suffering became vivid in this place. It’s easy to become complacent about what our Savior did for us. We repeat the words in the Apostles Creed every Sunday–He suffered under Pontius Pilate. Being in this place, realizing the pain and torment anyone would suffer was hard enough. To know that Jesus was totally and completely innocent without any sin but did this out of love for me was almost too much to take in.

We went into a pit further underground where Jesus would have been sent after the beating. Pastor Brian read the prophetic Psalm 88 (ESV). “I am counted among those who go down into the pit, I am like one without strength.” It was a solemn and powerful moment.

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Reading Psalm 88

Coming outside we saw steps which are the original which Jesus would have walked up to Golgotha where He would suffer more and be crucified.

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Steps that Jesus would have walked

 

 

We left Jerusalem and journeyed back to Bethlehem to the Shepherd’s field. During the days of Jesus, the shepherds lived in caves in the winter and tents in the summer. Before going to the temple for holy days, these shepherds would leave their sheep for four weeks to purify themselves. Some shepherds only required two weeks but these would have been tending the sacrificial lambs so the highest care was taken for purity. In the cave where the shepherds stayed is a simple altar.  This field was the same one which Ruth, Naomi’s daughter-in-law, gleaned and Boaz owned.

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Entrance to Shepherd’s Field

We were treated to lunch in a tent over looking the field.

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Our lunch spot

After lunch we journeyed to the small village of Bethany where Jesus often visited the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. There is a small chapel, the Sanctuary of Bethany which commemorates the friendship between Jesus and Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

We saw a culture dichotomy in Bethany. The area of the chapel is quiet and peaceful. As we walked back to the bus, children were playing on the sidewalk with toy guns and tanks that looked very realistic. Our tour guide explained that this is what they have grown up around and they don’t know any different.

It was a good day, but emotionally draining.

Shalom.

Lord Jesus–words cannot begin to express the overwhelming gratitude for your sacrifice through, not just your death, but unbelievable suffering you endured, all out of love for me. Help me, Lord, every day to remember that love and to be reminded that every person I meet is someone you died to save. Give me boldness, Lord, and fill me with your Holy Spirit to share your grace and love with others. In your precious name I pray. Amen.

The Jordan, the wilderness and Jerusalem

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Scripture reading–John 5: 1-15

Today was an amazing day.

We always begin with a scripture reading relative to what we will see that day and a devotional from Pastor Brian. The scripture verses talk about miraculous healings that Jesus did in Jerusalem. The religious leaders wanted to limit the power of God through Jesus. They were threatened by Jesus and jealous. They saw rules in black and white, but didn’t see the grace and mercy of Jesus.

Pastor Brian asked how many times we try to put God in a box? How many times do we not trust or believe He is big enough or powerful enough to help us? He challenged us to allow the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and minds to experience all of God’s fullness.

We left Tiberius and traveled inland towards Judea. At first we saw date palm trees which are a symbol of life. They are pollinated by hand and take nine months to bear fruit. Date palm trees live 80 to 100 years and turn to ash when they die. Sounds a bit like us as humans.

 

 

 

Soon we were in the wilderness which is truly desolate for miles and miles. We came to the spot in the Jordan River where John the Baptist taught and it is believed to be close to the spot where Jesus was baptized. Pastor Brian invited all of us into the river to reaffirm our baptismal vows. As we walked towards the river, we saw a white pigeon on the ground–a special sight! The ceremony was very moving.

 

 

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Reaffirming our baptismal vows in the Jordan River

From here we began our journey up to Jerusalem. On the way, many of us prayed the prayers of ascent which they did in the Bible–Psalm 121 through 134. As we came into the city, Johnny played the beautiful song “Jerusalem” sung by Pavarotti.

Our path to the old city took us through a cemetery up to the Lion’s Gate which is also called the Sheep’s Gate or St. Stephen’s gate where Stephen was stoned.

The Virgin Mary’s parents were Anne and Joachim. Her father worked in the area of animal sacrifice outside the temple. Her mother was barren until Joachim prayed and promised the Lord he would dedicate any child to the temple. This explains why Mary found favor with the Lord.

Church of St. Anne honors Mary’s mother and is built over the traditional place of Mary’s birth. Because of the extraordinary acoustics, many tourists take advantage by singing. We came upon a group of tourists from Japan singing beautifully. After they left, we also sang praises to God.

 

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Outside the church is the pool of Bethseda where Jesus healed the lame man who had been waiting 38 years.

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We also encountered our first Israeli soldiers here. Uniformed and armed, they were quite friendly, even inviting some of our group to have pictures with them.

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We left Jerusalem and traveled towards the West Bank territory (occupied territory) where Bethlehem is located. We stopped for lunch and did some shopping for olive wood nativity and other carvings to avoid the two to three hour line at the Church of the Nativity.

Three denominations share the Church of the Nativity over the place where Jesus was born–the Greek Orthodox, the Roman Catholics and the Armenian Orthodox. They are all allowed private prayer time in the church when the site is closed. Inside this vast area is decorated with ornate huge chandeliers and dozens of hanging oil lamps.

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In contrast to the church, the manger is a humble, simple cave. I can’t imagine Mary delivering her first child in this dark, dreary place. Jesus was most likely born in September or October because the sheep raised this close to the temple in Jerusalem would be sacrificial lambs for the fall holy days.

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The cave where Jesus was born

We all stood at the back of the viewing area and sang “Silent Night.”

Many archeological finds are best guess scenarios since the evidence or historical records are not 100 percent accurate. This is not the case for the Nativity. In 135, early followers of Jesus were flocking to the site of His birth. Jews were also coming to the temple in Jerusalem to worship on their holy days. Emperor Hadrian, like many Roman rulers throughout history, despised those who didn’t worship the Roman gods. He built a temple to Adonis over the site.  This is verified by the historian Justin Martyr (100-165) in his writing “Dialogue with Trypho” and also by Greek philosopher Origen.  When Emperor Constantine (327-529) sent his mother Helena to build churches and bascillicas where significant events of Jesus occurred, she easily found this site after learning of the history.

The first church was destroyed in the 6th century by the Samaritans and rebuilt in 565. It is the oldest church in Israel having been saved from the Persian invaders by the Wise Men. Yes, the same wise men that visited the baby Jesus. On a far wall in the church was a painting showing the Magi “from the East.” The artist had painted their faces to resemble those of the Persians. Even though they didn’t know,the significance of the painting, they decided not to destroy the church since their faces looked the same.

With the Jewish Sabbath beginning soon, I thought I’d share a few cultural facts we are learning about our Jewish friends. All of the restaurants at the hotels are kosher. This means there can be no dairy products in the area where food is cooked. One evening a young woman was walking into the dining room with a cappuccino and was told she couldn’t enter because it contained cream.  Of course there is no pork anywhere. Even McDonald’s in Israel do not serve cheeseburgers. The restrooms are on the floor above or below the floor where the food preparation takes place.

The Jews have a broad definition of “work” which cannot be done on the Sabbath. At sunset on Friday, a couple of the elevators in the hotel in Jerusalem switched to “Shabbat” elevators. These elevators stopped on every floor and opened so that no one had to “work” to push the button. We visited a Jewish prayer room on the sabbath and I wasn’t allowed to write notes because this also was considered “work.”

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Hebrew is written right to left. This is my first name in Hebrew below my English name.

Shalom.

Lord Jesus, thank you, not only for suffering and dying for us, but for leaving the majesty of heaven to become human. Thank you for humbling yourself to be born as a bay in a manger. Thank you for living a life on earth and facing trials just as we do so that we can be assured you understand all our needs and challenges.  Help us every day, Lord, to trust how big and gracious and amazing you are and that your blessings are never ending for those who believe in you.  In your name we pray. Amen.

Capernauem, Bethsiada, Sea of Galilee and Cana

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Scripture reading: Matthew 5: 1-14 & 18: 1-6

Thursday, June 14

We journeyed to Capernaum where our first stop was the Church of Multiplication.  It is believed Jesus performed the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 here.  An exposed rock in the floor under the altar is where Jesus blessed the bread and the fishes and gave it to his disciples to give to the crowd.

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The rock in the Church of Multiplication

In the courtyard of this church is a millstone used for pressing olives. This is the type of stone Jesus referred to when he spoke of anyone who leads a small child a stray would be better for him to have tied around his neck and thrown into the sea. (Matthew 18:6)

The olives are pressed four times.  The first pressing is the virgin olive oil of which of the top 10% is given to the Lord in sacrifice and the rest used for human consumption. The second press is used for soaps and hand creams. The third press of oil results in fuel used for lighting lamps. The pit mash that is left over is also burned for fuel.

The peacock is a symbol of Christianity. When a peacock dies, it takes a long time for the body to decompose. The colors of the body continue to get brighter and brighter after death. This symbolizes our life in Christ and hope of heaven where our lives will be brighter than our lives here on earth.

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Another symbol of the early Christian church is the fish or IXOYZ (ichthys). The Greek acronym translates to English as “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”  Followers of Jesus used this symbol in secrecy out of fear of the Romans and the Jews and others who were persecuting them. The floor of the chapel has several areas where the mosaic had been scratched out. It is believed that these were the symbol of the fish and were destroyed by some enemy of Jesus followers.

Capernaum was a spot for travelers coming across the Jordan into Israel to stop and rest. It was a crossroads of major intersections and site of the customs office. Jesus used this geographic positioning to spread His teachings by word of mouth with travelers who came through the area.

There is a temple in Capernaum because many Jews could not afford to make the trip to Jerusalem. Builders brought stones from Jerusalem to build this temple for a place where the Jews could learn and worship.

Outside the temple is a stand of ficus trees where we sat and listened to our guide, Johnny. It was very much how the disciples probably sat listening to Jesus teach.

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Johnny teaching outside the temple

We learned two lessons in the shade of the trees. Many of us are familiar with Jesus teaching about the mustard seed which is a very small seed that grows into a large tree. Jesus told his disciples if they had faith like a mustard seed they could move mountains. (Matthew 17:20-21) The mustard seed is also a perfect seed–there is no crease or break in it at all. Jesus may have been saying if you believe in me 100 percent, you shall move mountains. Ninety-nine percent isn’t good enough. How much faith do we have?

The other thing we learned was in reference to the incident when Jesus sent Peter to the sea to get a coin from the mouth of a fish to pay the taxes. (Matthew 17:27). Like children still today, when they see water,they will make a wish and throw in a coin. The children of Capernaum did this along the Sea of Galilee. When fish sense danger, they take their young into their mouths. This is probably how the coin got there.

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St. Peter the Fisherman

A new temple was built over the original but the old wall is still visible. Men sat in the main temple while women sat on the second floor because menstration makes them unclean. The “Sunday school” room was to the right of the main room on the main floor. In this room are etchings on the rock floors of games the children played. (They didn’t have iPads!) The gates of the temple face the Holy City of Jerusalem.

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Tic tac toe on the floor of the temple

Paul mentions in his letters that it is better for women to remain silent in church and ask their husband later to teach them. This sounds chavenistic but understanding that the women were seated separatly, imagine if all the women of your church were sitting in the fellowship hall during the preaching. They may be talking amongst themselves and miss part of the teaching. Then, in trying to find out from their neighbor what they missed, the whole group misses all of the teaching. Paul was trying to cause the least amount of distraction.

The ruins of Peter’s mother-in-law’s house are across from the temple. This is where Jesus healed her from a fever and she rose to serve them.

Pastor Brian arranged for a special addition to our itinerary. When his wife, Jen was a senior at Wartburg College she participated in an archeological dig at Bethsaida, so we went to visit the site. Jen was here the second year after the discovery and found a silver coin and a widow’s mite at the site of Peter’s house. The coin is mentioned on bibleplaces.com. Both Pastor and Jen were excited to see Wartburg listed on a monument sharing the universities and colleges working on the excavation.

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This is in no way meant to be disrespectful or sacreligous, but Jesus and his disciples had to have been buff! The terrain of this area is hilly and very rugged and rocky. They most likely saved their toenails by wearing sandals, otherwise they would have lost them going down hills all the time.

Our next stop was the Church of Beatitudes. Many churches and bascillas throughout the Holy Land were designed by Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi, including this simple beautiful chapel which has eight sides–one for each Beatitude.

From here we went to the Sea of Galilee to board a boat like Jesus and his disciples would have used. The Sea of Galilee is actually a very large, deep lake which is 159 feet at its deepest and averaging 80 feet in depth. It is 624 feet below sea level and 13 miles from north to south and 7 miles from east to west. Sitting low and surrounded by mountains, it is understandable how storms could arise quickly. However, we were blessed with a beautiful day–the calmest Johnny had seen in a year or two.

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Sea of Galilee boat

After our leisurely cruise, we stopped for lunch. Our choices were beef kebobs or Peter’s fish which is cooked whole–head, tail and all. Pastor Brian and 13-year-old Alex were the only adventurous ones to try it and both decided there were bones than meat. They questioned if it was worth the effort.

After lunch we traveled to Cana where Jesus performed His first miracle at the wedding. Cana would have been about a half day’s journey from Nazareth for Jesus and his mother and disciples. Many Jewish weddings take place on Tuesday, the third day of the week. This relates to the story of creation when God gave a double blessing on the third day.

Three kinds of guests would be invited to the feast which lasted seven days–friends and family, poor people who could share in the food and drink, and people of importance. Guests would be expected to bring gifts, which today is almost always cash.

Hospitality is extremely important even today in the Jewish culture so to run out of wine would have been extremely embarrassing. Jesus’ mother Mary believed in and trusted Jesus to help. This should be true of our lives today, no mater how large the problem.

Throughout this area of Israel are pomegranate trees, olive trees, mango trees, eucalyptus and grape vineyards. It is well irrigated.

Until tomorrow–shalom.

Lord Jesus–thank you for your teaching and miracles during your time on earth. Help us, Lord, to trust and have faith as small and as perfect as a mustard seed that we may trust you every moment of our lives until we are reunited with you in heaven. In your name we pray. Amen.

Caesarea, Elijah’s cave and Nazareth

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Scripture reading: 1 Kings 18: 20-40 & 19: 1-18

Wednesday, June 12

Our first full day in the Holy Land began in Caesarea. This area was named by Herod the Great for Caesar Augustus. We stopped at the Theater where Christians were fed to the lions. This rock theater is still used today for concerts and productions. The entire area was deserted for 800 years, covered by sand and overgrown with scrub brushes.


Have you ever wondered why the Bible talks about so many beheadings? This was a psychological maneuver of the Romans to remind the people that they were stronger than them and had overtaken their city. That is also why the heads of kings and military leaders in the Old Testament were taken into cities–to prove which side was the mightiest. The statues in front of the theater were all headless except one. The statue with its head intact is the one of the Good Shepherd–Jesus.

The site of Herod’s palace had a gorgeous view of the Mediterranean Sea. His pool below the cliff at the side of the sea was discovered by children digging in the sand and playing on the beach not that many years ago.

This is also where Paul was held captive for awhile. He was allowed to walk along the sea to a point about a quarter of a mile away. Herod built an aqueduct here to bring fresh water from the base of Mount Herman.

Our next stop was the Stella Maris monastery at the site of Elijah’s cave. This is believed to be the cave where Elijah hid out from Jezebel and where the Lord sent ravens to feed him and spoke to him.

We traveled on to the ancient city of Megiddo. This fortified city has been conquered twenty five times and each time the new conquerors built over the top of the previous city–another psychological trick.

Megiddo is strategically located at the crossroads of two highways so whoever controlled the city could reap the tax rewards. It is mentioned in 2 Kings as one of the cities that provided food for King David and King Solomon–also a money-making venture. It overlooks the valley where The Battle of Armageddon will take place. Perhaps not coincidentally it is within a stones throw of Palestine.

Lunch in Nazareth was falafel or shawarma–chickpea balls or chicken with fresh salad tossed together in a warm pita.

We walked up the hill to the Church of the Aunnunciation. This beautiful church is built over the site of the cave where Mary and Joseph and Jesus. All around the courtyard are mosaics of how the Virgin Mary is depicted in countries around the world. Inside the church the ceiling is shaped like a White lily which grows around Nazareth. In Isaiah it speaks of the Messiah as a “lily from the shoot of Jesse.” This is what this beautiful ceiling represents.

 

Our tour guide explained that, as Christians, we should be grateful to the Catholics for preserving all of these New Testament holy sites. The Muslim people and traditional Jews don’t care about these sites because they don’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah. One example–in the West Bank area there was an ancient Byzantine monastery that the Muslimns tore down and built a shopping center.

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Pastor Brian and Jen King With me by the aqueduct

Tonight we are in Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee. Tomorrow we will take a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee and visit Cana before going to Jerusalem.

Heavenly Father–we thank you and praise you for your creation, for your amazing love and grace for us and for your sovereignty throughout eternity. Your plans throughout history are so well observed here in this land of your Chosen People. Pour out your Spirit on us, Lord, that we might all be drawn closer to you, not just through “religion” but in an intimate relationship with you. In your son Jesus’ name. Amen.