The Wilderness of Judea—The Ultimate Getaway

How this place of escape and seclusion still speaks to us today.

Very few places in the Holy Land still look original. Most historic sites in Israel have some church, or a mosque, or a settlement, or thirty feet of civilization piled on top of them.

Judean Wilderness at sunset.

Photo: The Wilderness of Judea at sunset. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.

The places pilgrims come to see today show centuries of scars from the ruins and reconstructions of many faiths and peoples.

But in the Wilderness of Judea, one can see what the ancients saw. Deep ravines. Rocky terrain. Barren grades with scant vegetation. Horizontal lines cut in the hills betray generations of flocks that have worn trails like terraces in the stony slopes. Miles and miles of desolate land, interrupted only by an occasional camel, a shepherd with his flock, or a group of Bedouin tents with satellite dishes.

Bleak, inhospitable, stark, and harsh—the Wilderness of Judea has sat virtually unchanged for thousands of years.

It was the perfect place to escape.

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Pools of Bethesda—God’s Kindness and Our Repentance

What motivates you most isn't fear.

Very few people are drawn to God by intimidation. Instead, the Lord urges us to come to Him by revealing the kindness of His mercy. It’s a tremendous motivation.

Pools of Bethesda—God’s Kindness and Our Repentance

(Photo: Pools of Bethesda and Crusader chapel, courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Once we comprehend the depth of our imperfections, and the futility of our own efforts to remove them, we are in a position to respond to God’s kindness.

In this post, you’ll read how Jesus revealed this simple truth one day in Jerusalem with an act of mercy at the Pools of Bethesda.

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Good Friday Gives Your Shame a Choice

Understand the choice between sin's penalty and sin's remedy.

Good Friday wasn’t so good for Judas. The guilt-ridden betrayer of Jesus hung himself and then fell headlong, spilling his innards. Hence, the residents later named the place where it happened, “Akeldema,” or “Field of Blood” (Acts 1:18-19).

Judas may have chosen this place to die for a specific reason.

Good Friday Gives Your Shame a Choice

(Photo: Monastery of St Onuphrius, traditional Akeldema, courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Today, the peaceful Monastery of St. Onuphrius at Akeldema offers no clue to the fact that Judas killed himself at that site—nor does it reveal the Hinnom Valley’s sordid history.

  • Horrific atrocities occurred in the Hinnom Valley during the days of Judah’s kings (2 Chronicles 33:6; Jeremiah 7:31).
  • In Jesus’ day, the city dump lay in this gorge. Some suggest that fires continually burned the trash, and so Jesus used the smoldering landfill of Gehenna as an illustration of hell’s eternal flames (Mark 9:43).

Because Jesus compared the Hinnom Valley to hell, one has to wonder if this is the reason Judas’s desperate regret led him to end his life in this ravine.

Like Judas, you have failed. But Judas’ shame doesn’t have to be yours.

Good Friday gives your shame a choice.

Peter shows us why.

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Your Rededication to God Can Begin Right Now

Get back to where you once belonged.

If you have visited the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, you’ve likely seen the etching engraved on the top of the steps. It marks where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous speech, “I Have a Dream.” Standing in the shadow of Lincoln gave greater force to Dr. King’s words that day. The site intensified the message.

Rededication

(Photo: warrengoldswain, via Vivozoom)

I’m convinced that’s why Joshua regathered the young Hebrew nation to Shechem. The geographical context of his words played a significant role. They spoke as loudly as Joshua did that day.

And they speak to us.

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Your Shame and Its Surprising Solution

What to do when you feel dirtied by the world.

Shame hits us for one of two reasons. We feel shame because of something wrong someone did to us. Or we feel it because of something we did ourselves. Either way, it can feel smothering.

Your Shame and Its Surprising Solution

(Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com)

The Prophet Zephaniah writes: “The unjust knows no shame” (Zeph. 3:5). He means they have no awareness or regret over their sin—even though God makes known to them His righteousness every day.

But it’s what God goes on to say in the next couple verses how He did things to draw His people back to Him.

If your shame has smothered your life, you need to hear God’s words of grace.

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Chorazin—Sitting in the Seat but Missing the Message

Jesus explains why leadership remains a privilege, not a prerogative.

From a distance, Chorazin seems like it’s hiding. I don’t blame it for trying. After all, it remains one of the three cities in Galilee that Jesus rebuked for failing to respond to His message.

Chorazin—Sitting in the Seat but Missing the Message

(Photo: Chorazin’s ruins hide at center left. Courtesy of Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

The basalt ruins of Chorazin appear little more than a pile of rocks among so many thousands of others. Clumps of grass and volcanic rock offer a variegated green and gray to the hillside above the Sea of Galilee.

Unless you look carefully, you may not even see the city.

But Jesus saw it. So should we.

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A Balm in Gilead—Your Solution is Nearer than You Imagine

Why suffer when the remedy is just over the river?

Have you ever missed seeing something only to discover it lay in front of you the whole time? Misplaced car keys are one thing. But ignoring help is something else.

A Balm in Gilead—Your Solution is Nearer than You Imagine

(Photo: The hills of Gilead. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Few things seem more tragic than for someone to suffer when the remedy stood near all along. Why suffer when the remedy lies just over the river?

The Prophet Jeremiah asked similar rhetorical questions in his day:

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored? —Jeremiah 8:22

The words “balm in Gilead” give us more than the makings of a great spiritual song. They offer a principle we can apply today.

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Timna Park—A Portrait of Your Atonement on Yom Kippur

Enter a doorway to history—and view a picture of your salvation.

The best part of Timna Park is its least-known exhibit. Tucked away among the steep sandstone formations in Israel’s Arabah Valley sits a place most visitors never see.

Tabernacle model at Timna Park.

(Photo: Tabernacle model at Timna Park. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.)

Timna Park’s best-known attraction is called “Solomon’s Pillars”—beautiful Nubian sandstone formations that have nothing to do with King Solomon. The park also features relics from Egyptian idolatry as well as interpretive signs about ancient copper mining. But the best part? A full-scale replica of the Tabernacle stands in the very wilderness where Moses and the children of Israel wandered for forty years.

It is like entering a doorway to history—and viewing a picture of your salvation.

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How to Stop Looking for God in the Wrong Places

The world makes promises it can’t keep. It says the reason we’re unhappy is that we just haven’t found the right whatever yet. But if we keep looking, we’ll find it.

Looking for God in the Wrong Places

(Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com)

The right spouse, the right hairdo, the right salary, the right entertainment system, the right church, the right pastor, the right Bible, the right seminar, ad infinitum . . . ad nauseam.

You don’t have to be without Jesus to fall into the trap. Even those of us who do believe in Jesus can chase those shadows.

We may not know we’re looking for God. But we are.

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Saint George’s Monastery—The Value of Solitude with God

In our lives busy with people, it’s tough to appreciate the value of solitude. But one look at Saint George’s Monastery in the Wilderness of Judea gives us reason to pause and ponder the necessity of solitude with God.

Saint George's Monastery—The Value of Solitude with God

(Photo: Saint George’s Monastery. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

As I scanned the monastery’s blue domes and white arches that dot the colorless canvas of the wilderness, I marveled at the time and ingenuity it would have taken to build and rebuild these structures.  

I found myself wondering, Why would ANYONE want to live way out there? A friend of mine wondered if the monks in the monastery thought the same thing about us.

Sometimes in our hurry, it does us good to contemplate the value of solitude.

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