A Conversation about Priorities I’ll Never Forget

I got my first suicide-threat phone call during my first year when I served as a pastor. I drove to the neighborhood and found the address in a row of massive homes with fine-trimmed lawns.

A Conversation about Priorities I'll Never Forget

(Photo: By Whipwhopwoo. Own work. CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

I rang the doorbell and a woman with a severe look cracked the door and eyed me without saying a word.

I began the brief conversation. “Hello, uh, I received a call about . . .”

“He’s around back,” she interrupted. The door slammed. I made my way to the back of the mansion and saw one of the several garage doors open. Inside, I found a man sitting on an upside-down bucket.

His bloodshot eyes looked up at me.

How the Jordan River Reflects Your Spiritual Life

Have you noticed how often hymn writers use the Jordan River as a metaphor for transitions in the spiritual life? That may be because the Bible does the same.

How the Jordan River Reflects Your Spiritual Life

(Photo: Jordan River north of Sea of Galilee. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

The Jordan River usually flowed a hundred feet wide at the place across from Jericho where Israel crossed over into Canaan after the Exodus (Joshua 3:14–4:23). But because the Israelites crossed at flood stage, the river surged much wider and deeper.

  • When the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant stepped into the Jordan, the water ceased its flow 16 miles upstream.
  • This left a stretch of dry land some 20 miles wide for the nation to cross en masse, perhaps several thousand abreast.

Joshua compared the miracle of the parting of the Jordan River with the miraculous parting of the Red Sea (Joshua 4:23). He linked the power of God that allowed them to enter Canaan with the power that freed them from Egypt.

This was a critical comparison. Why? The same grace that redeemed them from bondage led them home.

This also reflects our own spiritual lives.

Living Life in the Balance with God

To hear Moses describe the Promised Land, it sounded as if it offered vast natural resources—a land where food was plentiful and lacked for nothing (Deut. 8:9). Well, true and not true.

Living Life in the Balance with God

(Photo: Grapes left on vine after harvest in Israel. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

The land had streams, pools, springs, wheat, barley, grapevines, figs, pomegranates, olives, and honey. Sounds pretty nice. Sign me up.

But this good land existed in a delicate balance of nature—and God tipped the scales. The Hebrews would learn that God alone made the good land “good” in direct proportion to the gratitude, praise, and obedience of His people.

The same is true of our lives.

How to Find the Rest of Your Life

Last week I had an unusual experience. Cathy and I rented a car and drove through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for several days. We had no agenda but rest.

How to Find the Rest of Your Life

(The beautiful Biltmore estate in North Carolina.)

For an achiever like me, a vacation can feel like a waste of time. Usually my vacations mean time off from my regular work to do chores around the house or to do a writing project.

But last week was strange. I actually took a vacation to rest.

  • I turned off my work email and never opened it. (Yeah, the swelling number of emails showing in my Mail icon tempted me.)
  • I got a full night’s sleep every night.
  • I even found some roses to smell. (Real roses.)

But it was tough at times. Why do we struggle so much with rest?

I think it’s a spiritual issue.

Your Fear is a Spiritual Struggle

We fear what we think may happen in the world we see. But the world we don’t see is the source of our real fears. Our spiritual lives hold the solution to it.

Your Fear is a Spiritual Struggle

(Photo: By Alex Micheu Photography from VILLACH, Austria Uploaded by Sporti CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

That’s what happened with Jacob.

Returning to the land of Canaan forced Jacob to face a problem he had run from 20 years earlier—his deception of his brother Esau. As he approached the border of Canaan, angels of God came to meet him.

The presence of the angels gives us a critical reminder during our times of fear.

4 Views of Jerusalem Every Visitor Should See

I doubt you’ll meet a person who goes to Israel without seeing Jerusalem. It’s the most important city in history, and it offers so much to see. But often, it’s seen only from this view.

4 Views of Jerusalem Every Visitor Should See

(Photo: Jerusalem from the east. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

There are many great views of Jerusalem. Like looking at the various facets of a diamond, each direction offers a different perspective on the same city.

Here are 4 views of Jerusalem every visitor should see—from the north, south, east, and west.

Good news: 3 of the views are free.

Do You Understand the 2 Kinds of Forgiveness?

The Bible’s teaching on forgiveness can seem confusing. Even contradictory. In fact, over the years I’ve heard one question more than any other.

Do You Understand the 2 Kinds of Forgiveness?

(Photo By Todd Quackenbush. Courtesy of Unsplash.com)

On one hand we have the marvelous promise that once we believe the gospel message—that Jesus died for our sins and rose again—we have forgiveness of all our sins.

All of them.

But that begs a question: If Jesus has already paid for our sins, why then does the Bible tell us to confess our sins for forgiveness?

It’s because the Bible teaches two kinds of forgiveness.

Do you understand the difference?

What Makes the Holy Land Holy? Or You, for that Matter?

As often as we use the name, “Holy Land,” amazingly, the phrase only shows up in the Bible on rare occasions. In fact, you can count them on one hand.

What Makes the Holy Land Holy? Or You, for that Matter?

(Photo: Painting of Moses and the burning bush, Mar Saba monastery. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

The first man, Adam, had a name that means “man,” and it relates to the word adamah, meaning “ground,” from which God formed him. Accordingly, when Adam sinned, God cursed the ground to which Adam would return when he died.

It seems surprising, then, that the first use of the noun form “holy” in the Hebrew Bible finds its connection with the ground. God told Moses at Horeb:

Remove your sandals, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. —Exodus 3:5

So, what makes the holy land holy? Or for that matter, what makes you holy?

Same answer.

Rephidim—How to Win the Battle You Face Today

You wake up to it each morning. It follows you as you go through your day. It’s waiting for you in every room and conversation. Your battle cleverly disguises itself in many forms.

Rephidim—How to Win the Battle You Face Today

(Photo by Photodune)

Your battle appears as a person, or as money, or as a tense situation at the office.

But the reality is that the battle you face each day has another source. The fight that God’s people faced at Rephidim proved that point.

The battle is spiritual—and there’s only one way to win.

Bethel—Finding the Only Gateway to God’s House

There has always been only one way to God—even in the Old Testament. That way is by grace through faith in the object of God’s choosing. Bethel gives us a peek at that way.

Bethel—Finding the Only Gateway to God's House

(Photo: Modern Beitin, ancient Bethel. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

In his flight to Haran, Jacob spent the night at Bethel, where years earlier his grandfather Abraham had heard God promise that he would receive all the land as far as he could see. There, Jacob dreamed of a stairway to heaven, and the Lord repeated to him the promises that Abraham received.

Shaken, Jacob awoke and cried:

How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. —Gen. 28:17

Jacob named the site Bethel—“house of God.” The dream gave more than a vision of God’s house.

It offered a foreshadowing of how to get there.