Did you hear the story about 2 guys?

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9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”   Luke 18:9-14  NIV

Now Humility in our culture is a cherished virtue. We like the person who somehow maintains a humble shyness. So … We like Jesus’ ending to his parable. BUT we do a disservice to Jesus and this parable if we keep it on this surface level.

This Pharisee was a self-made man, but why in the world did he make himself that way?

The answer is that he made himself that way because he believed that

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and not being like those other people left him impressive to God.

And that’s what had to make this story so amazing when it was first told. The guy popping his buttons was by every definition in his culture a good man. He was exactly who he claimed to be.

And the tax collector?

He was exactly who he said he was, too — a dirty rotten scoundrel, a collaborator, a crook, an IRS scandal in the flesh, an unclean sinner.

Yet Mr. Pharisee of the Year turns out to be the bad guy, and the terrible sinner turns out to be the good guy. What an incredible reversal it was for Jesus’ listeners!

Jesus told this parable to “some of them who trusted in themselves” (v. 9).  In other words, the issue here is not just pride vs. humility but how we expect to be right with God.  Jesus comments that only one of these two went home “justified” (v. 14).

So what if Jesus is doing theology here?

There’s a thought.

What if the parable has something to say about God? 

Something like:

            If you want to be justified before God, God will have to do it for you.

Note that the Pharisee’s prayer never asks God for anything, certainly not to make him just. The tax collector, though, needs God for everything.  He falls on God’s mercy like a dying man, like the dead man he is.

That’s what Jesus is saying. We need God if we want to be right with God.

And the place where that begins is where we die to our pride and beg for mercy.

Truth is, these two men are dead men standing, one dead in his own self- righteousness, and he doesn’t know it, the other dead in his sin, and he knows it, and he pleads for mercy.

Jesus reminds us that we are not justified by the hours we put in at church, the good deeds we do, the church we attend, or the number of Bibles we own.

We’re right with God because God has made us right in Jesus Christ.

Thank God, for the gift of Justification given through Jesus Christ.

Now that’s a story worth telling over and over …

 

 

Ash Wednesday: I Give Up!

What have you given up?
Somehow Lent has become a season where we declare to one another what we have given up.
Sacrifice was not intended to be an activity to boast about, but rather an inward activity to aid in reflection and growth.  After all a fast was not to be about giving up food; it is was to about gaining fellowship with God.

This Lenten Season give up something so that something else can be gained.
Give up an hour of television or video games to pray or study the bible;
Replace that craving for chocolate with a craving for prayer or thoughts of God could work for you?
Give up your daily trip to Starbucks in order to … Oh no! now I am meddling, but you get the idea.
What will you sacrifice?
What will you choose to say, “I Give Up!” in order to gain a more disciplined life of faith?

Find your thing or things and declare with me, “I Give Up!”
Let’s journey together this season and gain a deeper insight into Christ’s individual call on our lives.

Monday Morning in Indy

In some respects it seems we have only arrived …

and in another as if we have been here a lifetime …

no matter the perspective we have a life to return to in Indiana.

We came as tourists with much to see …

we have the souvenirs, the stories, and the pictures to prove it.

But somewhere along the journey we also became pilgrims.

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What’s the difference?

A pilgrim takes joy in the journey with the understanding that the journey only exists because of the destination and the destination lights the journey with joy.  The pilgrim is interested in some thing at the end of his pilgrimage.

And the driving force for every pilgrimage is a desire to be with God. To know God. To grow closer to Him. To see God in a new way.  To hear what He is teaching us.

So for each of us … somewhere along the journey …we have become pilgrims.  Each discovering anew some thing that informed, strengthened, renewed, energized our faith. We are prepared to return home, but we are not the same.

We will sort through all of our pictures.

We will deliver gifts.

We will even have more than a few stories to share.

But we will also come home not quite the same

… and for that we are grateful.

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all that we have seen has been filtered through a cross

… and the joy of an empty tomb!

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As you encounter us in the coming weeks, ask about our trip

but also give us time to find the words that can go beyond all that we have seen …

all the trinkets and momentos we have brought back … all the pictures we have taken …

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Give us time to find the words to convey what it has meant to become pilgrims walking in His Steps in the Holy Land and now at home.

 

A Pleasant Surprise and Familiar Places

We have a plan. Walk to the Damascus Gate and beat the crowds. CHECK

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Shop and drink some coffee. CHECK

 

Visit a Museum. CHECK

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Have Lunch. CHECK

And about that Surprise.

I cannot recommend visiting the Tower of David Museum MORE!

Hidden in this gem of a place …

Remnants of the Wall that Nehemiah rebuilt.

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A Stone from the Hulda Gate – an entrance to Temple of Jesus’ Time.

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Oh and Spectacular views from the top of Herod’s Defense Tower – yes that Herod!

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All in all a great day inside the Old City.

Can’t wait till the day comes for another visit.

Now to pack and head for home.

 

Walking in the Shadow of the Cross

We visited the place where Jesus was taken after the arrest in the Garden. These steps to the house of Caphais would have been steps that Jesus walked. These are the steps he willingly walked up knowing where they would take him. It is fitting that they are mostly blocked off – allowing only a few of the steps to be walked upon.

I am not sure I know what it means to walk these steps.

From here we visited the Antonio Fortress. The place where Jesus was kept by the Romans and the place where the journey with the Cross would begin.

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From here we began our walk along the Via Dolorosa – the Walk of Sorrow. We were early, but we were not alone. We were joined on our journey to the cross by a group of Korean Methodists. The sang songs along the way – we knew the tunes and the words, but we listened as they sang in a language unfamiliar to us. We were blessed to share our journey with them.

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We arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – the place of Calvary and the Empty Tomb, but it is not what we expected.

This place is ornate and indoors! But it is also a place revered for over two centuries as the place. People from all over the world come to this place and discover the tomb is still empty.

We finished our day in a place that was calm and serene – The Garden Tomb. This is a place that looks more like we want the place of the Empty Tomb to be.

The end results are the same – the tomb is empty. We checked!

We ended our time reflecting on our journey and sharing communion in the garden.

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We are preparing to return home, but we are not the same.

And we are not sure how to tell that story, but the words will come … in time.

Tomorrow: a free day to explore the Old City

Monday Morning in Bethany

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We traveled to Bethany this morning. For Jesus this would have been a short walk from the Mount of Olives – for us a longer drive thru security checkpoints and around the wall that separates the West Bank, but that’s another story.  Bethany is a place Jesus was familiar with and visited often when He was in Jerusalem.

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As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42

We so want everything from the Bible to be black and white – a simple choice – this or that. Even this story like so many others is reduced to a choice – are you Mary or Martha? How will you respond?What if the answer is both – and? That would be much more like Jesus – pushing our boundaries to include more – busy at the work to be done AND engaged in worship and being with Jesus.

That’s what we have been doing – busy getting from place to place AND taking time at each place to reflect on the things of Jesus – or as our guide Mike says, “Take time to take a Soul picture that will stay with you.”

We finished our day with a visit to the Garden of Gethsemane. This was a busy place filled with Marys and Marthas. The prayers of God’s people are richer when you hear them in so many different languages. The Church of All Nations is a place where people of all nations come and become united in one language – the language of prayer.

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My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.  Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.  Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them. John 17:20-26

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May prayer unite us all amidst our many differences.

Tomorrow: The Passion of Jesus

Worship on the Move …

We start early for our travelling worship service. Our worship experience begins with Prayer and Study as we visit the Western Wall and take time to pray.

We even sang a hymn on the street corner while we waited for our bus to pick us up for our next stop.

It’s time for some teaching … where else, but the Teaching Steps. This is the place where Jesus would have taught on a daily basis (Luke 21:1-4; 37-38 NIV).

This is where Peter would have preached on Pentecost. We paused here to listen again to the stories of Jesus.

Years ago Neil Armstrong (a Purdue Grad) visited these Steps and said, “I am more excited stepping on these stones than I was stepping on the moon.” After today, we can understand his feelings.

After Lunch in Jericho – yes that Jericho – where the walls tumbled … Wee little Zacchaeus climbed a tree … in this place our worship continued.

We visited the place in the wilderness where the River Jordan flows – a place where John the Baptist would have come and where Jesus was baptized.

John was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. Mark 1:4-5

People from everywhere came to John. Why? What must that have been like? Were there people are everywhere? How many different dialects were being spoken? Was the crowd that came to John made up of people of all colors and nations?

And perhaps the crowd today resembled the crowds that John witnessed. And perhaps the desire to be like Christ is played out in a place that allows one to do something Christ did in the water of the Land that Christ walked.

I began to teach (okay I was preaching) to our group about the value of Baptism and the importance of remembering our baptisms as a covenant with God. We baptized one of our travelers for the first time at the age of 70. And people from all over were watching and listening. We encountered groups from Japan, France, Philippines, Korea, Brasil, Italy, India, Mexico, Croatia, Greece, and Germany to name just a few. They are Orthodox, Methodist, Christian, Baptist, Catholic, Pentecostal, you name it.

Then it got interesting because while they are from all over the world – they are there for the same reasons. That would explain the group of adults from France who are Catholic asking an American Methodist Pastor to bless them with the water of Jordan.

So I did one after another after another … merci beaucoup … and an embrace.

We are one.

I hope that in some way I capture the feeling of John the Baptist as people came from all over to be baptized. It was truly humbling and amazing!

We then journeyed thru Jericho and headed back to Jerusalem. We stopped and viewed the area that is traditionally the place of the 40 Days of Temptation and hit the Jericho Road. We had one last stop – the Judean Wilderness.

This wilderness is nothing like you have ever seen. The Jericho Road lays at the bottom of these rocky hills and provides some relief as their is a stream that runs at the bottom providing water, but the rest is filled with treachery.

To speak of wandering in the wilderness means hardship, loneliness, and death.

You can’t help but look out on this space and wonder what wilderness of life has taken precedence in your life … oh and that was the same thing a few other groups were pondering on the hillside – they weren’t from America either, but we didn’t bother asking where they were from … we knew it was more important that we were all trying to get to the same place – a deeper understanding of a life with Jesus and an escape from our own wanderings in the wilderness of life.

At the end of this Sunday … we have a better understanding that we are loved by God … after all we have the life of Jesus to prove it. So we leave our Sunday knowing that our Faith Matters – now and forever.

Tomorrow – A visit to Bethany, the shepherd’s fields in Bethlehem, and the Upper Room.