Inside Israel

We recently returned from a robust trip to Israel.  While our itinerary was jam packed, certainly every site we saw is a well tracked path.  So, I will not post pics of Masada, Jerusalem, the Western Wall, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea or even the Armenian Quarter  (ok, maybe one)…

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Yousef*, our Arab Christian tour guide, expounded a depth of spiritual and historical knowledge as a native with 20 years experience leading Americans through Israel and Palestine.  He introduced himself as a “true believer in Jesus Christ” and often taught scriptural truths as related to various historical sites. It was obvious that he had a love for all the people we encountered – Jews, Muslims, Bedouins, and Druze – rich or poor.

It is not only what Yousef shared of Israel that still stirs my heart but what he revealed about us.

Yousef challenged the group at every Christian/religious site, “Can anyone describe what happened here?” “How was this place significant to Jesus Christ?” “Who was Herod the Great?…”  Either most of the group was shy or had little Biblical foundation.  While traveling at great cost and distance to see religious sites, most of the group was either unwilling or unable to converse in Biblical truths.

Yousef shared his experience during the tumultuous ‘Second Intifada’, 2000-2005, a time of violent uprising between Palestinians and Israelis.  He left Israel during that time, traveling to USA to possibly relocate to relative’s homes.  Job opportunities were sparse for him but what he recalls to us is this:  “I visited their church and was sure they would be focused with concern and prayer for the crisis in Israel.  When I came to the meeting however, they were all talking about which pizza had the best cheese.”  I felt a collective inner shame for the sated Body of Christ, isolated and disinterested in the suffering of distant brethren.

Our tour ended with an exhortation and plea,  “When you go home, open your Bibles, read them!  Let all that you’ve seen bring the words to life.”  Referring back to his time in the United States Yousef opened his heart, “I left the States in 2005 – I missed the dirty, noisy streets of Jerusalem!  I love this country and had to return….but now I regret it.  There’s an undeniable stirring, an certain unrest and hostility.  I tell you for sure, it is not ‘if’ war breaks out here, but ‘when’.”

As elsewhere in the Middle East, particularly Syria, the Christian population is suffering and shrinking.  Once 20% in Palestine, now Christians are 1%, fewer than 10,000.  Many may be ‘nominal’ Christians but even still my heart was burdened.  With the nonstop traffic of tour buses from all over, I wonder how many of these sojourning Christians will seek and receive a burden for these brethren?  Multitudes flock to religious icons and shrines, but how many will align with the burden of Christ’s heart for His people?

If we will “open our Bibles and read them” we too will see, it is not ‘if’ but ‘when’.  If we take our salvation with certainty, we must take the prophecies of scripture with like conviction in our hearts.  A celebrated authority will arise, the charismatic Antichrist.  Betrayal, violence, and chaos are destined for Israel.  Yes, God Himself with be their victory and triumph, but what is our role as Christ’s Body in the world?

I loved every bit of Israel and my visits to Palestine.  I want though, more than any itinerary and tour, to realize what the Holy Spirit is showing me – Lord, align and press in my heart your truths and views of this great land.

Go to Israel while you can.  See everything, there’s so much!  But let the Holy Spirit be your inner tour guide and open your spiritual eyes with heaven’s view!

(*not his real name)

 

God in the Midst of a Jail Cell

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The Lord revealed important truths to me as I shared the Gospel with parolees and inmates.  One is eloquently expressed by Charles Spurgeon in “What the Farm Laborers Can Do and What They Cannot Do”  Farm Sermons, The Spurgeon Archives. (great article, can read:  here)

Let us now think of what you cannot do. You cannot, after the seed has left your hand, cause it to put forth life. 

I learned this best when working with Ms. “M”, who was on parole for manslaughter.   Ms. M was very receptive to parole and a positive working relationship was easily established.  She was also very receptive to the Gospel and was grateful to receive a Bible, sermon tapes and church invites.  Home visits were meaningful as her two children were happy to see me.  Ms. M brought her children to special church events however, while she wanted her children to learn of the Bible, she herself remained carnal and unsurrendered.

I became a bit really discouraged, it seemed that two years of counsel and prayer yielded little. In fact, things worsened…Ms. M relapsed into drug use and became non compliant to treatment.  I was very concerned as a violation for a violent felony offender would result in significant jail time, a hardship for a single mother.  After a two years of community living, would she now go back to jail?

Finally, there was no choice.  Arresting her unleashed a torrent of drama, tears, and even anger….then pleading….but the die was cast.

I transported her to Rikers Island, shut her in a holding cell, and lodged the warrant.

Normally a VFO (violent felony offender) would be mandated to minimum one year incarceration however, it seemed that an exception was happening for Ms. M.  In fact, she was released within several weeks, mandated again to a program, and reported to my office.  I was ready for the same-old same-old…..but things had changed.

Her heart erupted as she shared….

When you locked me in that cell I sat on that bench crying, my head in my hands…I was so angry and felt like such a failure…when I opened my eyes I noticed a torn piece of paper on the bench.  It was just a scrap from a Bible tract….on it was half a verse from Acts.  When I read it I broke down and gave my life to the Lord!

I was speechless.  After all the sharing, inviting, godly counsel and admonishments, a half a verse in a jail cell brought her to repentance and surrender!  I could see how the Lord moved on her behalf, expediting her release, returning her home to her children, and revealing to her His faithfulness.  She planted herself in church and opened her life to serving God.

I often share this testimony with others to encourage them (and remind myself!) that we cannot “make anything happen” but God Himself takes action when we are faithful to sow seeds, serve as He calls, and pray for Him to intervene.

I am so grateful when the Lord confounds me!

 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.  (I Corinthians 3:7)

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Only God Can Make It Happen

 

God in the Midst of a Package

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In my recent post, “God in the Midst of Parole”, 8/18/17, I shared the testimony of Ms. G.  This testimony is an ‘addendum’ to that.  After Ms. G entered the residential program,  I prepared a ‘package’ for her with encouraging tapes and a cassette player.  Before reaching her program, I had to make eight home visits. While I never carried anything while making visits (typically I walked through the neighborhood and needed to have hands free) I made an exception this day and carried this package to the eight home visits.

This testimony was submitted to the tape ministry who provided the sermon tapes.

The Lord really used this package!  Parolees whom I visited all asked, “Is that for me?”  When I said “no” they responded, “Oh…I thought you were bringing me tapes.”  The Lord really lifted my heart, seeing these rough and often troubled ex-felons actually disappointed that a package of Christian tapes is not for them.  But I always carry tapes in my safari vest to give out…

This ‘package’ became an object of testimony.  One visit that morning was a ‘pre-release’ visit, to meet with family members before the inmate is released.   This inmate’s mother, ‘Ms. B’  was very receptive to me and we discussed her son’s release and the home in general.  Unexpectedly, this mother opened up and began to speak of her troubles, hardships, and fears.

Her (soon to be released) son had been in and out of prison, never did well, then got syphilis which spread to his brain.   Her grown daughter is also in and out of prison and was recently released and has AIDS.  Ms. B is raising her daughter’s children whom I met in the home.  Ms. B is gainfully employed downtown near Ground Zero and expressed the recurring turmoil and fear she has since the terrorist attacks.

Finally she said, “I never share my troubles like this!  I’m sorry to take your time and bother you”.  (Actually, I cherish this trust and opportunity).  I gently suggested that she might come to church.  That invite opened the door to minister the Gospel.  I asked her where her daughter was living.  She said, “Such and such shelter program.”  (Which is adjacent to the residential program where I am taking the package!)

I said, “Ms. B, see this package?  I’m taking it to the residential program next to your daughter’s shelter. ”  The door opened to share Ms. G’s testimony,  how the Lord moved in her life, bringing about change and giving her real hope.  Ms. B was so encouraged.  I gave her some tapes from my pocket and she asked what our church believes.  Her countenance lifted, “Please, make sure you write down the address!”

 

Yes, God was in the midst of that package but only because He abided in my heart.  I believe it is the Lord’s presence and our zeal to share Him that can make anything special in our hand…especially when it’s gifted to others.

Unlike our culture, the Lord never needs or seeks the wealth, resources, the natural talents of people or fancy technology to reveal Himself.  Sovereign God of the universe seems to choose ordinary things like a shepherd staff, rounded stones, a basket with fish and bread, even dirt mixed with spit….His spit.

I want an expectant and zealous heart, knowing that the Holy Spirit moves through what seems ordinary, small and humble.

“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”  (Romans 12:11)

“Lord, I pray for a renewed zeal for You and for the lost.  Help us to see that wherever You place us and whatever You give us has potential for eternal value.  Incline our hearts toward Your will and weigh our hearts with desire to fulfill it.  Amen.”