Years ago some American missionaries stayed in our home. They told us about an animated evangelist they saw try to communicate to a Russian audience—through a less-than-animated translator.
The evangelist began, “Okay folks, tonight I want you to tell the Holy Spirit something! I want you to say, ‘Yeeessss!’” (pronounced with three syllables).
But instead of translating the passionate “Yeeessss!” the interpreter flatly translated, “Da.” And when the evangelist hollered, “Now, give God a hand!” the interpreter translated the words literally—and the audience stared at one another in confusion. (“Give Him what?”)
The words were translated, sure, but their meaning failed to connect.
Jesus, on the other hand, was a perfect translator. Here’s how.
On a wintry day in Jerusalem, Jesus walked in Solomon’s Colonnade—the long, covered, columned portico on the east side of the Temple—overlooking the Kidron Valley.
The conversation Jesus had that day occurred at Hanukkah—a celebration the Jews referred to as “the Feast of the Dedication” (John 10:22).
The feast had historical significance, which heightened the passion of those in Jerusalem. They encircled Jesus to ask Him a simple question.
His reply gave them more than they bargained for.
Today, some say Jesus never claimed to be God. But His words during that Hanukkah left little doubt.
The songs play it. The movies portray it. Even our church services have their part to play. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Yeah, well what if it isn’t? For many people, holidays bring up painful memories.
Sore spots from childhood or the loss of loved ones hit hard during this sentimental season. While many people celebrate the joys of Christmastime, others suffer lonely holidays.
During one of the most desperate times of King David’s life, the anointed future king of Israel found himself running from two separate enemies—hardly a time to celebrate. With the Philistines to the west and King Saul to the east, a distressed David sought refuge in the cave of Adullam (1 Samuel 22:1–2).
David felt very alone.
His situation offers encouragement to us during lonely holidays.
The superscription of Psalm 63 notes how David prayed the psalm in the wilderness of Judah, either while fleeing from King Saul or, later, from David’s rebel son Absalom.
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. —Psalm 63:1
The “dry and weary land” that David described also described his own weariness, and the lack of water around him served to surface an even deeper thirst.
At the height of his emotional and physical distress, David sought refuge in his spiritual life. He yearned for God.
Our physical needs are connected to our spiritual lives for that very reason.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
(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.
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.
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?
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.
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?