My women’s ministries friends, aka the “WMs” – who’ve attended hundreds of Bible studies and served even more community meals– will love learning about Qumran! We were privileged to visit this archeological discovery on our second tour day in Israel.
Located near the Dead Sea, Qumran’s fame comes from a break-away sect, known as the Essenes, who lived and studied there. In the surrounding caves, they left a magnificent legacy that we now call the Dead Sea Scrolls.
From the Qumran National Park publication: “The Essenes paid great attention to ritual bathing and purity. They lived a communal life in a settlement that was constructed to make them as self-reliant as possible. They had assembly halls, a central dining room in which ceremonial meals were eaten, a kitchen, ritual baths, a laundry room, a watch tower, a stable and a pottery workshop. Of special interest is the Scriptorium – the writing room – with its desks and ink stands, where the Essene scribes probably wrote most of the scrolls found in the adjoining caves.”
I loved learning that archeologists unearthed a dining and meeting hall and, in a nearby pantry, hundreds of pottery tableware pieces “neatly arranged in piles”. Give it up for a well-organized church kitchen that survived centuries and an earthquake!
Seriously, not too far removed in time or distance (by today’s standards) the early Christians were gathering around “the good book” and the table. “Day after day they met together in the temple. They broke bread together in different homes and shared their food happily and freely.” (Acts 2:46, CEV)
I wonder about the first follower of Christ who purposely came to the table “unwashed”. Who was the brave one who did not lather his hands, just so he could set up a dialogue that he’d first overheard from the lips of Jesus?
When Jesus finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him home for a meal. Jesus went and sat down to eat. The Pharisee was surprised that he did not wash his hands before eating. So, the Lord said to him: You Pharisees clean the outside of cups and dishes, but on the inside, you are greedy and evil. (Luke 11:38-39)
Currently, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, we’re constantly reminded, “Wash your hands!” That’s not only beneficial but necessary! Of even greater importance, though, is the need to cleanse our hearts. Scripture tells us:
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands,
you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double–minded. (James 4:8)
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. (Psalm 24:3-4)
So, let’s continue washing our hands and, at the same time, let’s allow the Holy Spirit to scrub our hearts and minds with the “soap” of God’s Word! (See Ephesians 5:26)
Stay safe, keep clean and be healthy!
Jim, Scott and Jeanie looking into one of the many ritual baths uncovered at Qumran
In our recent trip to Israel, we spent our first full day in Jerusalem. One of the highlights of the day and trip was spending time in the upper room. We stood in the room for several minutes and I thought of all that had happened in that room so many years ago.
The days leading to His arrest, Jesus spent time in Jerusalem and the surrounding area. According to Matthew 26, in the hours leading up to his prayer in Gethsemane and arrest, Jesus spent the afternoon and evening privately with his disciples. It was at that time he shared what we refer to as The Lord’s Supper with his disciples, washed their feet and released Judas to carry out his plan of betrayal. It is believed by many these events took place in this upper room.
After Jesus’ resurrection, He met with His disciples several times. John 20 records one of those meetings. The scene was in a home in Jerusalem, and was likely once again the upper room. The purpose of that particular meeting was for Jesus to visit with Thomas and help him deal with his confusion and struggles related to the Lord’s death. Read John 20 again and take note of the gentle way Jesus interacted with Thomas.
A little over a month later, moments before Jesus ascended to heaven He instructed his followers to return to Jerusalem and “wait for the Promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4). Verse 13 states they returned to the upper room where they had been staying. Shortly thereafter, on the Day of Pentecost, 120 followers of Christ gathered in that large room and “all were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4).
As we stood in the upper room, I imagined all he weighty experiences that took place in that room 2,000 years ago. The Supper, washing feet, Thomas being restored from a state of confusion and discouragement, and then the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Oh, if only those walls could talk!
Let us also consider the significant experiences in our personal life journey. During this time of quarantine, you can share communion in your home, either alone or with your family. We are restricted from meeting together, but we are not alone. We can use the phone and internet to connect with others and chat about our own experience with the Lord. We, like those 2,000 years ago, can turn a room in a home into an altar and experience the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s sing: “They were in an upper chamber, they were all in one accord when the Holy Ghost descended as was promised by our Lord…”
The Upper Room is in the southern part of the Old City of Jerusalem on Mount Zion and is perhaps best known as the traditional site of the Last Supper. The current structure of the room dates approximately from the fourteenth century, which accounts for the existing Gothic-era columns.
During this time we are “social distancing,” Jim and I are sharing some of our experiences in Israel earlier this month. As we planned our trip, I imagined being at the iconic Western Wall. This happened on our very first touring day, and the experience left me thinking a lot about the great privilege to be able to communicate with our living Lord.
Observant Jews enter the Western Wall plaza (which they consider the holiest site in Jerusalem, because of its proximity to the ancient Holy of Holies) and they carefully practice the protocol they have been taught for pleasing God in this place. The Western Wall has also been called the “Wailing Wall”, referring to the practice of Jews weeping at the site over the destruction of the Temples.
As I watched people gather to wash their hands before entering the plaza, I thought about the role of repentance in effective praying. I know that a clean conscience will help me have confidence as I present my needs to the Lord. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. (1 John 3:21-22)
I observed women (by the way, there is a separation of men and women at the wall) reading from prayer books, and I saw what seemed to be thousands of written prayers inserted into the crevices of the wall. I know there is some mysticism associated with this practice, but I took a moment to write out the prayer that is always on my mind and not far from my lips these days – physical healing for my brother. I wedged my petition into the wall as a tangible response to the invitation, “Cast all your care on Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) Then I joined hands with my cousins Jeanie and Laura, and we prayed for my brother.
And we prayed for Israel. May ritual give way to relationship!
Earlier this month, Gina and I flew to Israel. To say our experience was amazing would be an understatement. We would like to share a portion of that experience with you in our morning visit over the next few days.
Day One: City of Jerusalem
Our first morning in Jerusalem, we walked into the old city of Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate. Herod’s Royal Palace was immediately on our right. It is likely the place where Herod Antipas interrogated Jesus on the night of His trial (Luke 23). Stones at the base of the palace date back to the time of Christ. If only those stones could talk!
Directly across the street was Christ Church, founded 170 years ago and is the oldest Protestant Church in all the Middle East. As we entered the church we were struck by the beautiful architecture, the stained glass windows and stone walls. On one of the walls was the Apostle’s Creed engraved in Hebrew. We visited with one of the employees who had been a part of the congregation our cousins Scott and Laura planted a few years ago. He invited Gina and me sing. I sat at the beautiful black grand piano and we sang Amazing Grace and we wondered at all the songs and sermons that had been presented in that church through the years. (Listen to the acoustics in this beautiful sanctuary!)
“We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). The witnesses referenced were the multitude of first-century followers of Christ who had lived and died in faith. At the time of the writing, persecution of Christians was intensifying and many followers of Christ were considering leaving the faith and returning to Judaism. The author encouraged them to remain committed in their faith: “…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
As Gina and I sang in Christ Church I envisioned the many followers of Christ who worshipped as part of that congregation for the better part of two centuries. If only those walls could talk!
My friends let me courage you to remain firm in your resolve to serve and worship our Lord. Consider our Lord who ran His race, endured the cross and today is seated at the right hand of God the Father. Consider the many who have gone before us as well as the many who are watching to see how we will respond to the challenges of our day.
Let’s sing: “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus…”
In my devotional journal in January, I wrote, “What places will God meet me this year?”
That question came after reading the biblical account of the first murder (Genesis 4). Cain, in jealous rage, killed his brother Abel after Abel’s sacrifice to God was accepted and Cain’s sacrifice was not. God pronounced a curse over Cain, that left him homeless. (“You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”)
Even before he expressed fear about his physical safety, Cain declared his expulsion from the land to be an unbearable punishment. (v. 13) “Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence!”
In reality, we are never hidden from God’s view, and because He is omnipresent, we are never actually out of His presence. But we can be outside the fellowship of our Lord. The “ground” from which Cain was being expelled was the place where he had known God’s presence.
I reflected on places that have held spiritual significance for me. I revisited them mentally and contemplated what God did for me in each of those places. That’s a great exercise! When our son was a teenager, I stumbled onto his homework paper titled “My Favorite Place.” How delighted I was to read that his “favorite place” was the youth room of our church!
It’s an interesting time to be thinking about places of spiritual significance. My husband and I have just returned from Israel, where we visited many biblical sites (i.e. the tomb where Lazarus was resurrected at Jesus’ command, Elah Valley – where David killed Goliath, Cana – where Jesus performed his first miracle, and the list goes on!) Back at home, we’re enduring with everyone else the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. We’re especially saddened that the church cannot have public gatherings, and we are missing the in-person fellowship of our church family.
But it’s a good time to experience a special place of spiritual significance – HOME! A silver lining to isolation is the opportunity to meet God right where you live! If you are not in the habit of daily fellowship with the Lord, this is the time to begin! I predict you are going to love it so much that you will keep it up after life is back to normal and you are longing for a little seclusion!
Psalm 13:5 “I have trusted in your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if all of life’s challenges had quick and easy solutions? In Psalm 13, David referred to a challenge that was neither quick nor easy to resolve. Prolonged problems can produce discouragement and eventually cause a man to want to throw up his hands and quit. We see a glimpse of David’s desperation in verses 3 and 4.
“Consider and hear [my prayer] and enlighten our eyes.” To enlighten our eyes is to change our focus or perspective from our problem to our God. In verse 4 he wrote “Lest my enemy say I have prevailed against him.” David didn’t want his enemy to boast of his demise.
In verses 5-6, David wrote “But I have trusted in your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because He has dealt bountifully with me.” David made the conscious decision to trust God and sing praises to him. My friends, giving verbal praise to the Lord is part of what is necessary to change our focus from our problems to our God.
Continuing in 16:7-8 we read: “I will bless the LORD who has given me counsel; my heart also instructs me in the night seasons. I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.” In the heat of the battle David made a conscious choice to bless the Lord and focus on Him rather than the problem. In 16:11 you can see David’s confidence come alive: “You will show me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Coming to chapter 18, we read David’s testimony that God helped him walk with confidence in the face of danger. You, too, can walk with confidence when you choose to trust Almighty God and cultivate His presence through verbal expressions of praise and worship.
Philippians 4:4-9 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.
The Apostle Paul wrote this letter while in prison in Rome. Life must have been overwhelming for in chapter one he wrote of the benefits of dying and going to heaven. So how does one transition from a death wish to talking about rejoicing (to be cheerful and calmly happy), being gentle (patient), prayerful and thankful? Perhaps a key is found in verse 8 when he spoke of disciplining our thoughts by focusing on what is virtuous and praiseworthy. The result: “the peace of God will be with you.”
Without question, we live in troubling times. The threat of the spread of the Coronavirus has created a hysteria in our country. This is a time to calmly and purposely take the necessary precautions to protect the physical health of your family. As I write this devotion, Gina and I have submitted to a self-imposed two week quarantine at home because of our recent travels to Israel. After consulting with our board of deacons, we made the decision to comply with government recommendations and have suspended all group activities and worship services at the church until such a time government officials give us the “all clear” to resume our regular schedule of activities.
This is a time to take the necessary steps to ensure the spiritual health of your family. Block out a part of each day when you spend time alone in worship, prayer and reading God’s word. Participate in the audio and video teachings we will be making available.
This is also a time to let your light shine. Follow the advice from Paul and rejoice, be gentle with others (even with the guy who bought the last package of TP right in front of you), be thankful and focus on things virtuous and praiseworthy. We have the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. After all, a heart of peace is the result of focusing on the right things.
John 13:35 “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Loving people is a characteristic of Christians who are serious followers of Christ. The word love used by Jesus in our text is agape, the strongest expression of love that I know. It means to love someone practically and sacrificially, regardless of how who they respond to you. It means to give to someone without expecting any return. Coincidentally, love is part of the Fruit of the Spirit referenced in Galatians 5, which means loving others gives evidence we are under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Consider this: The people who are the most difficult to love are the ones who need it the most. You don’t need a pulpit to impact your community, you just need to love others.
As an emissary of God, Moses led the Hebrew people out of bondage in Egypt, and delivered to them the Law of God. As an emissary of the people, he called out to God in intercessory prayer. Consider these examples:
In Genesis 18, he interceded for people guilty of the sin of sexual perversion.
In Genesis 20, he interceded for a man to be healed of infirmity.
In Exodus 32, he interceded for people guilty of the sin of idolatry.
In Numbers 11 and 14, he interceded for the people guilty of the sin of grumbling. Grumbling seems rather innocuous compared to the sins of sexual perversion and idolatry, but to God, it was a sin and the people had to be judged.
In Numbers 12 and 16, he interceded for people guilty of the sin of causing division.
In Numbers 27, as he was preparing for the end of his journey here on earth, Moses interceded for his successor who would lead the next generation, Joshua.
We need a Moses for this generation today; someone to intercede for entire communities engrossed in sexual perversion and idolatry, for people involved whose attitudes and words that cause division, for people dealing with infirmity, and for people of the next generation.
In his book entitled PRAYER, E.M. Bounds wrote “Not only is prayer the medium of supply and support, it is a compassionate agency through which the pitying, longsuffering God has an outflow. Prayer is a medium to restrain God’s wrath, allowing mercy to rejoice against judgment.”
You don’t need a pulpit to make an impact on your community, you just need a prayer closet.
“Joash was seven years old when he became king, and did what the Lord considered right in the sight of the Lord all the days in which Jehoiada the priest instructed him” (2 Kings 11:21 & 12:2)
A seven year old king. Imagine. How in the world does a seven year old grow up to be a man who does what is right in the sight of God and successfully lead a nation? He didn’t just instinctively know how to do what was right in the sight of God; he was taught by the priest.
Consider this: Samuel was approximately 11 years old when he began to recognize the voice of God. Joseph was a teenager when he received dreams and visions from God. David was a teenager when he brought down Goliath. Mary was a teenager when she conceived the Christ Child.
Beloved, secular culture is fighting for the souls of our kids. Parents and grandparents, I implore you to be a Jehoiada and teach your children and grandchildren the stories in the Bible. The church is ready and willing to help. Capable teachers are in place every Sunday, eager to make the Bible come alive to their imagination.
Joash was a reformer who, early in his reign, repaired the Temple, restored true religion to Judah, and fought to destroy Baal worship. I pray for God to raise up a Joash in this generation. I also pray for a Jehoiada who will take seriously his responsibility to mentor the Joash.