No Matter the Place, It’s Always the People

Back by less than two weeks from my third trip to Israel, finally over the jet lag that dogged me longer than expected, I pondered the questions posed several times during the trip. “What is your favorite part of the trip so far?” “What is your takeaway?”

ancient olive trees in Garden of Gethsemane

Had I enjoyed exploring the grottoes near the Lebanon border on the Mediterranean? Spending unhurried time in a less visited part of the Garden of Gethsemane? Worshipping with previously unknown brothers and sisters outside of Jerusalem? Spending the night in a Bedouin camp? Absolutely! But favorite? Honestly, no matter when that question was asked, I could only remember the most immediate sight explored. Visiting so many places, several brand new to me, in such a short time, I couldn’t consider each one individually until I was home looking at my pictures and reliving the memories.Rosh HaNikra and grottoes (7)

mini-Beduoin Camp  (2)I wasn’t focused on finding that one most significant aspect of the trip, but Holy Spirit pointed out that the people we toured with made it extra special. My husband and I remarked several times while in Israel how much we were enjoying the entire group. We could interact with anyone at any time and feel none of the usual barriers found with groups.

I believe this was a specially chosen, God-picked group of just over 30 people, ranging in age from 12 to 73 and coming from the US, Canada, Scotland, Great Britain, France, Philippines (via Singapore,) and Israel. But, is that what made it special?

In part, I’m sure, but I suspect God saw so much more when He drew each of us to sign up and follow through. And I know He began something with the members of this group. Or He continued something. Or He completed something. Maybe some of all three. But something was affected in the spirit realm because we were all together on this particular trip at this particular time as believers in Christ who love Israel. Besides that, my heart gets happy each time I see the faces in pictures or memories.

12183691_463541337181015_5349280319832619147_oThere is a possibility I may never know what He did, and I’m not at all bothered by it. I’m totally thankful simply to have been included. Just being thankful is a really peaceful place to reside. I think I’ll dwell here going forward, no longer demanding to understand with my mind what Christ fully understands already.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

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!

 

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.

All in the Heart

As I prepared for a 10-day journey to Israel, to take place the first two weeks of the official Christmas season, I grumbled a bit inside.  After all, why was this trip at this time?  It’s stressful enough to try to get everything extra done in December, without “losing” 10 days (plus the days it takes to get over jet lag!)  I made up my mind that I’d not do another trip at this time of year.  That was before . . .

Before I set foot on the land.

Jezreel Valley (Valley of Armageddon)

Before I saw the Jezreel Valley (also known as the Valley of Armageddon).

Before I experienced the Father’s heartbeat for His beloved Jews as they weep before the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

Wailing Wall – Jerusalem
Capernaum at Sea of Galilee

Before I wandered near the edge of the Sea of Galilee in Capernaum, right where Jesus was.

Before I saw the rock on which it is believed He sat as He blessed the 5 loaves and 2 fish before the miraculous multiplication took place.  Before I walked the very road Jesus traveled as He headed to Jerusalem with the crowds shouting, “Hosanna!”  Before I knelt on the floor of the dungeon in which my Jesus was kept overnight at Caiaphas’ house before His crucifixion.

Before I sat on the steps of the temple – the very ones where Jesus would have sat and taught.

steps leading into temple

Before . . . I saw that empty garden tomb!

My mind has been turned upside down because of this trip.  Now I can think of nothing better for this time of year than to be in the land of Israel, interacting with the people, Messianic and non-believer.  Now I can complete the important things of this season – truly, not everything we do is really that important – in the fullness of Christ and His peace.  Truly, Christmas is all in the heart.