Many people have never lived a day without knowing the name of Jesus. They grew up with the hymns and knowing the gospels. Others have taken their knowledge of the Savior further through intensive study, Bible school, or even seminary.
Although many years of knowing Christ often carry with them the danger of familiarity—i.e. complacency—not everyone falls prey to the threat. There is, in fact, another danger.
All of Jesus’ disciples grew up knowing their Bibles. They lived in anticipation of the Messiah. And finally, they had found Him.
- By the time Jesus brought His disciples to Bethsaida that day, they had followed Him for more than two years.
- They carried with them the admiration of the crowds.
- They were leaders, promised by Christ to reign with Him.
What else was there to gain? They had gone as high as they could. Many of us might slip into the same error of thinking.
For the faithful follower of Jesus, there is another danger beyond complacency.
Few choices last a lifetime. Most require daily, deliberate reminders. Joshua knew this well. Immediately after he and the young nation of Israel entered the Promised Land, they made a beeline to a particular valley between two mountains.
God had commanded half the people to stand before one mountain and the other half to position itself before the other. Each group was to shout either the blessings or the curses that Israel would experience as a result of their response to God’s Law (Deuteronomy 11:29).
As they shouted, their voices echoed in the city of Shechem, which lay in the valley between these hills. Before God’s people would conquer and settle the land, they affirmed their obedience to God in the very place where God had promised the land to Abraham (Genesis 12:7).
The significance of the place served to strengthen their commitment to God.
If we’ll listen, it can strengthen ours as well.
Think of the places most significant to you. That’s right, the places. What makes them so special? Most likely, it’s not the places themselves but the events that took place there.
- The camp where you accepted Christ
- The old barn where you became engaged
- The park where your firstborn learned to walk
In our lives, events make places significant because of memories. But in biblical times, it was often just the opposite. The place itself often played a major role in causing a significant event.
The lands of the Bible offer more than a mere backdrop for the stories of the Bible. These places played an integral role in shaping the lives of those who lived there. God designed it so.
And for us, understanding how the land shaped its people gives us tremendous insight into understanding Scripture.
Even more, it gives us a glimpse as to how God uses even geography in our lives today.
Every Christian who takes a journey to the Holy Land experiences life change—especially if they prepare for the tour. I don’t mean we learn some secret that stops our struggling. The change occurs another way.
A Holy Land tour exposes us to the context of the Bible in a way we never imagined. We gain a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the Word of God. And God uses Scripture to change us.
But then . . . we come back home.
We face the stack of bills. The yard that needs mowed. The bloated inbox at work. And our luggage has two weeks’ full of dirty laundry. Suddenly, the benefits of your trip to Israel get shoved to the back of a full plate called “life.”
You’ve invested a lot in your Holy Land tour—both in finances and in time—far too much to lose those benefits to the tyranny of the urgent.
After taking and leading many trips to Israel, I have discovered these 7 ways to keep the benefits of a Holy Land tour.
One of the biggest surprises to Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem occurs when they step inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection falls short of the expectations of many Christians accustomed to Western worship.
Gold drips from icons. Chanting fills the spaces. Incense rises between cold stone walls. Six sects of Christendom betray jealous rivalries over the goings-on within. Territorial fistfights even occur on occasion.
Without proper mental preparation, a Christian pilgrim may see only the distracting depravity of religion that has affixed itself to this site like barnacles on sunken treasure.
But if we look past today’s traditionalism to history’s tradition, we find an unbroken connection to the central event of all time—the redemption of the universe.
For in this place, Jesus Christ died for your sins and rose again.
Do you have a buffer zone between you and what can harm you? I’m talking about putting a safeguard between you and evil influences that can cause compromise in your walk with Jesus Christ.
Interestingly, this concept of defense didn’t originate in the New Testament. We see an illustration of it throughout Old Testament history in an unusual place.
Between the Philistine plain and the Hill Country where God’s people dwelt lay 10 miles of low rolling hills. This buffer zone was known as the “Shephelah.”
The hills of the Shephelah were a geographical buffer that represented a spiritual barrier. You have a Shephelah in your life as well.
Here’s a lesson on how you can guard it.
I have seen the Old City of Jerusalem from every direction. From the north on Mount Scopus. From the east on the Mount of Olives. From the south at the Haas Promenade. From the west atop the Citadel. I’ve even flown above it in a helicopter.
But the most unique way I’ve seen the city is from atop its walls.
(Photo: Atop the wall of Jerusalem ramparts. Photo by James Foo)
A visitor can walk atop most of the Old City wall of Jerusalem, accessed at the Jaffa Gate and Damascus Gate. The walk has railings on the inside and high stone walls on the outside, so safety is assured. Explanatory signs along the way give understanding to the history that occurred nearby.
More than once, I’ve walked on the ramparts, a matchless and wonderful way to see both inside and outside the Old City.
This quick tour travels atop the wall of Jerusalem from the Jaffa Gate to the Dung Gate.
Where there is water in Israel, there is life. And where there isn’t water? The rule in antiquity was simple. Pray for rain and dig a cistern.
God used a simple, physical resource like rain water to teach the spiritual truth that He alone is the true source of life. This truth hasn’t changed for us.
I recently had a man in his 60s tell me, “I have to spend daily time in the Scriptures. I mean every single day. I need it.” His words simply affirmed what the Bible makes clear for all of us.
The need for water illustrates the need for truth—both essential for life.
If you’re feeling dry in your spiritual life, there’s only one way to slake your thirst.
The annual holiday Yom Kippur begins this evening. It always reminds me of a surprising conversation I had in Jerusalem at the Western Wall. A Jewish woman approached me and engaged me in a talk.
She somehow knew my affiliation with a radio ministry and told me we needed to broadcast to the nations God’s way to be saved. I told her that was, in fact, our passion.
She smiled and shook her head no.
Then she shared with me a list of things all Gentiles need to do in order for God to accept them. I recognized some of the standards as being from the Ten Commandments, and I told her so. Again, she smiled and shook her head.
“Those commandments are for the Jews,” she said.
“Do you keep them?” I asked.
No Christian pilgrim who visits Jerusalem misses the Garden of Gethsemane. The small section tourists get to see represents just a portion from the large groves of olive trees that still grace the slopes.
These olive trees crouch behind the rock walls of the Church of All Nations. Beautifully manicured pathways accent about a dozen ancient trees. These grow behind black handrails to protect the branches from souvenir-snatching visitors.
Today, crowds of Christians shuffle through the tiny garden like cattle through the Fort Worth Stockyards. But centuries ago on the early morning of April 3, AD 33, no Christian would have wanted to be there.
In fact, the few believers who were there scattered like frightened rabbits.