Remembering and Rejoicing

Most of us on the tour bus were oblivious to the date on the calendar, though most knew it was Tuesday.  Placed together as part of a no-rest-for-the-weary visit to Israel almost a week before, we had become comfortably familiar with one another by this time.  On this particular morning, the bus left Jerusalem fairly early so we could explore many sights to the north before ending the day with the sun setting over the Mediterranean Sea at Caesarea while we worshipped the Lord with Joseph Prince and the musicians from Singapore.

The narration wasn’t as constant this morning as it usually was, leaving us to quiet conversation or contemplation.  Most of us knew today to be the last day of the official tour, and bittersweet emotions were just below the surface of most thoughts.  It had all come and gone so quickly.  Tomorrow, our group would be broken up and combined with others who were taking a side trip before flying out from Tel Aviv late in the evening.

Israel 2012 622Someone must have remembered what day it was.  They also knew Alex, one of our own, had a story to tell about this day, and urged him forward to share with the whole group.  It turns out this day was Tuesday, September 11.  Alex wasn’t just another tour member who had vivid memories of life before, during, and after that day, like the rest of us.  Alex was from New York . . . City, and he worked for Cantor Fitzgerald in 2001, in the World Trade Center.  His memories were up close and personal, and we really did need to hear them.

Though Alex told his story with obvious emotion, he did so without tears.  That was for the rest of us on the bus.  In the midst of the telling and the tears, however, we were greatly encouraged.  You see, though he couldn’t see it so clearly at the time, Alex now sees God’s grace in evidence in even the smallest of details of his life at that time, and he is full of joy and peace of Jesus.

He told of close friends and co-workers who died that day, in the very offices where he worked.  And he told, in specific details I can’t quite remember a year later, of a training course he was to have taken at another time – one that was either postponed or conflicted with his planned vacation.   But there was a last-minute opening in a different class that had him away from the office on that Tuesday morning.  Not only that, but it was out of the city, as well.   As if that weren’t enough, the name of the building where these classes was held was more evidence of God’s intervention – something like The Grace Building.

That day, Alex became the face of victory in Christ and His grace, not just in the sweet by and by, but in the sometimes not so sweet here and now.  Hearing his story of life through tragedy, and seeing the peace of Christ profoundly displayed even in the retelling, helped bring a present-day reminder that Jesus is alive and victorious.  He wasn’t just the Jesus of 2000 years ago in whose history we had been immersed all week.  He is Jesus Christ – the same yesterday, today, and forever!

Remembering today . . . and rejoicing!

An Open Heaven

This post isn’t as much an insight as a personal reflection.  Just back from another whirlwind tour of Israel, I am only now beginning to have cohesive thoughts and memories of my time there.  This trip differed in many ways from my first one, not the least of which was being there with TBN and Joseph Prince, meaning we had three powerful meetings in addition to the tour.

One of the meetings was held on the steps outside the south wall of the Old City of Jerusalem on Sunday night.  It is one of many areas that have been excavated far enough to find some of the original stones and steps from Jesus’ time.  These steps were there when Jesus was coming and going through the south gate, and they might have been the very places He stood (or sat) to teach.  That is where we sat (all 1800 of us!) to worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  (Just an aside – stone steps are hard, even though Jesus stood on them!)

One of the songs talked about an open heaven, and I was lost for a time to a place those words took me.  Somehow, it was more than just being outside with clear skies overhead.  It was more like the heavens were open to us who had gathered there that evening.  Here I was, so blessed and loved by my Abba, Daddy that He let me be part of a wide sampling of His living, breathing body of Christ, right there in His chosen land of Israel, and in the physical place where my freedom began – Jerusalem – worshipping Him!

As if that weren’t enough, He reminded me of the first time I experienced the open heaven.  It was in January 2006, with 350,000 Indians (and a few Americans) in Hyderabad, India, as we worshipped the Lord Jesus Christ together at a Joyce Meyer Ministries conference.  Just as in Jerusalem, so in India it was more than just being outside.  Here, it was with India.  In Israel, it was with the whole world!  But there was more He wanted me to grasp.

Still in that open heaven atmosphere, I found my heart yearning for the day I could be in China with a large gathering of Chinese believers, worshipping Jesus Christ under an open heaven in a place the government has tried so hard to squelch Christianity.  My natural mind says, “No way!”  But my spirit man says, “With God all things are possible!”  Even as I type these thoughts, excitement bubbles in my spirit as I consider what Daddy will do in His church in China.  I don’t know how and I don’t know when, but that doesn’t mean it’s only a maybe.

Amazing, this journey I took in only a few moments on the steps where Jesus walked.  I can’t help but wonder what journeys others took in those same few moments, and what other nations were pointed out.  What an adventure to walk in Christ – under an open heaven!

 

Going Up?

I am a very logical thinker, which affects everything I see and do.  For instance, when in a new place, if I have access to a map as we travel, I am able to lock that logical and organized information into my memory bank.  It becomes my reference when remembering various places I’ve been, and I “see” places as being up or down, to the right or left on that two-dimensional mind-map.  Thus, if I am in the north of a country, I talk about going down to something that is farther south (on the map).  Likewise, I would only speak of going up when heading north.  Why am I telling you all this?  To explain my confusion as I read about going up to Jerusalem in the Bible after I had been there in person.

I never noticed this phrase so much before, though I’d read the passages many times.  The ones of particular interest were of Jesus in Capernaum or Nazareth speaking of going up to Jerusalem.  These places are north of Jerusalem, so why would He say go up when He’d be going down?  Immediately around Jerusalem, it is true that you have to go up to get there, due to the hilly terrain and Jerusalem being on one of those hills.  Perhaps the people had all been there for the annual sacrifices, and would relate to climbing the hills and steps to enter the gates.  Also, Jerusalem is higher than many of the other places of the Bible in altitude above sea level, but, did they use that information then???

All this makes me wonder if it the statements might be more of a spiritual declaration, one that most people living then would have had no trouble grasping.  They understood Jerusalem was the place of the temple, with the Holy of holies, where the Messiah was to be, and where the ark of the Presence of God was currently housed.  For them, maybe it was a place to which they had to ascend, spiritually, no matter where they were, physically.

I’m sure there’s something more to know of Jesus Christ in this.   Below are a few references from both the Old and New Testament that speak of going up to or down from Jerusalem to help us all understand and know Christ more.

Old Testament Selections:

  • 2 Chronicles 36:23
  • Ezra 1:11
  • Zechariah 14:17-18

New Testament Selections:

  • Matthew 20:17-18
  • Luke 2:41-42
  • John 2:12-13, 5:1, 11:55
  • Acts 15:1-2, 21:12, 24:1, 25:1-9
  • Galatians 1:17-18

Through the Eye of the Needle

Matthew 19:23-26 NIV  23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”  26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

If you are like me, you read this story about the rich young man many times, picturing the tiny eye of a sewing needle you had seen around the house.  It made sense at the time, because a camel wouldn’t be able to get through that at all.  The more familiar I became with the story, however, the more the sewing needle picture didn’t work for me, since Jesus didn’t say it was an impossibility.  Then came the day when someone taught that this eye of the needle was actually an opening, not the full-sized gate, in the wall around a city.  For a camel to go through this eye, the load it carried had to be removed.  I understood, but still had to use my imagination.  Then came Israel . . .

As I toured Nazareth Village – a re-creation of what the life and times of Jesus would have been as he lived in Nazareth – I was excited to go through an actual eye of the needle.  Now it is not just something I imagined, but is tangible.  Now it is real for me and can be for anyone else who sees this picture!  Combining my camel ride (getting a hands-on experience of size) with stepping through this opening, I understand more vividly what Jesus was saying.  An empty camel would have a hard time getting through, as would a wealthy person who insisted on holding tightly to his belongings.

To avoid hitting my head when going through the eye, I had to bend over.  At the same time, to avoid tripping and falling, I had to lift my feet higher over the raised opening.  What a perfect picture Jesus painted for us.  It’s not impossible to enter the kingdom of heaven, but the only possible way is God’s – through Jesus Christ and His blood.  Now I can see more clearly what I couldn’t so many years ago, as I humbled myself to receive Him, leaving all my worldly works and goods behind.  Jesus had carried me through to our Father, where there are riches beyond compare!

Praise God!  That we might know Christ and make Him known – through the eye of the needle.

Follow the Tears

Why can’t I remember which song so moved me in worship that tears of joy streamed down my cheeks?  I thought I’d never forget!  Though sung in Hebrew, I joined in one accord in the Spirit with my brothers and sisters that Saturday morning.  Because of Who my God is, my heart overflowed.  Because He’s given me His heart for the body of Christ all over the world, I praised and worshipped Him.  Because He allows me not only to pray for, but go to them, my thankful heart could not be contained.

I was in Israel, worshipping with a wonderful Messianic congregation on this Saturday morning in their Shabbat service.  It just seemed too good to be true.  How many years had I prayed for this very congregation as a whole, and for many of the individuals, specifically?  But God!  My awesome God had made the way for me to be here with them in the natural, and the joyful tears of worship continued unabated.

In these moments, He gently reminded me of another Saturday, and of the tears that had flowed that day.  Was it really only the week before?  Had it really looked so bleak in those moments that I thought it almost impossible that I would be here a week later?  Those tears were so full of fear and disappointment – without hope.  The illness I’d been fighting for some time still had me firmly in its grasp, and I wasn’t sure I could physically handle the long flight and the exertion required on the tour once in Israel.  I was ready to give up after all these months of planning and preparing.

Holy Spirit ministered to me as I worshipped with tears of joy in Israel; likewise, He ministered when the tears were without hope in Him.  Both times, He enveloped me in the love of my Abba, Daddy, but the effect was different.  In one, He loved me away from focusing on my circumstances, then reminded me that He had called me to Israel at this specific time.  In the other, He simply immersed me in wave upon wave of His amazing love and goodness when my focus was already on Jesus Christ, my Hope.

Oh, the difference a week makes!  Rather, it’s the difference a focus makes.  That’s why the Bible tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus.  To think, I almost missed an experience with tears of joy in the Lord by succumbing to tears of hopelessness – all because I had lost my focus.

Hebrews 12:2-3 NIV  2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.