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Bearing witness to God’s love

It’s been over a week now that we have woken up to a deep red sun rising through the smokey skies here in the Northwest. It’s a strange feeling to have hot, dry summer days with the sun barely visible because of the fires in British Columbia.

Imagine if you had no way of reading or watching the news, or you had been away for awhile can returned to this type of event. What might you theorize was happening in the world? You might be able to come up with all sorts of reasonable sounding explanations for why the air quality was so poor.

Ultimately, to know the truth, you would need to have someone explain to you what was happening (or go see for yourself). And that person would have had someone explain it to them, who had someone explain it to them, and so on until the source of information leads back to someone who has actually witnessed the fires for themselves. Just because you or I have only experienced the smoke and haven’t seen the fires for ourselves doesn’t make them any less real, or make our explanation of what is happening less valid than someone who has seen the fire. And just because someone might not about the fires at all, doesn’t mean the smoke isn’t there.

God’s love is always present for His creation. At some times and to some people, His love is as obvious as if we were standing directly in front of the flame. Often, it is more subtle – smoke on the horizon that shows us that something might be going on, but we aren’t able to quite name what it is. But He’s there, and He’s loving.

Sometimes we need someone to stop us and tell us about the source of this love. We need someone who can bear witness to the reality we are experiencing. As Christians, as those who have at one time or another been exposed to the flame of God’s love. And because of this, we are able to identify effects of His love and bear witness to those around us of that reality. Thought the Holy Spirit, we have eyes to see the reality of God’s love in our world and explain the ways He is working in the lives of others so they too can understand that reality.

What do you want your legacy to be?

The young adults from Berean went on a camping trip two weekends ago.  While there, someone asked me a question that has sat in my mind ever since.

The question is in the title…

I was caught off guard by the question.  It was the most serious conversation I had that weekend.  This is a very important question, because as I look at my past, my present, and my future, I only want to do what God wants me to do.  When He tells me GO, I go.  When He says STOP, I stop.  When He says SLOW DOWN, I slow down.  That’s what I want my legacy to stem from.  A pastor friend of mine back in Illinois once told me that a legacy should be built on and focused around those who come after you.  So that when they rise up and take our place, they will look at us and say “thank you”.

The most common way to illustrate legacy is the image of passing the baton.  I am sure you all know that after a lap, the runner holding the baton must pass it to the runner taking their place.  That’s a very simple way to describe legacy.  It works, but I wonder if there is a better way to illustrate it.  Honestly, the image of passing on the baton does not cover the consistent interactions that take place in real legacy-making.  A better image for understanding legacy would be planting a garden.  Incidentally enough, planting was a common symbol Jesus used in His teaching.  Trees are planted with the hope that they will grow to produce fruit.  But that hope is a long-term hope, because trees take years to grow.  Other plants take less time to grow, but need constant maintenance to make sure they aren’t choked out by weeds or wilted from too much sun or not enough water.  Clearly, gardening takes daily work.  The same is true of leaving a legacy.  Legacy is not simply emanating the life that you want to see others live, as though they were an audience watching you run a relay.  Legacy is a daily, personal interaction with a particular person or group of people from which they get to experience, on a personal level, the life you lead, as though they were a garden you are charged with tending.  Gardeners do not leave their gardens untended for a day.  They stick with it!

The same is true of legacy.  Legacy is not running solo like a relay racer, hoping people are watching you.  If you want to leave a legacy for those who come after you, place yourself in the position of genuine, personal, and consistent interaction with intentionally chosen people, so that when they will rise up to take your place, they will look at you and say “thank you”!

The Apostle Paul once wrote to one of his churches, “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God but our lives as well.” (1 Thes. 2:8)

Jesus Himself crafted his twelve disciples into men who would change the world with the truth of salvation.  He did this by intentionally selecting, interacting, and teaching them.

This is legacy.

Perfect Timing

Of all the vegetable or fruit plants we have had in our yard over the years, the ones that are most dependable are the raspberries. Other than some weeding, trimming and replanting some new shoots they are very low maintenance. There is something about the NW corner on our property that is conducive to the raspberry as I can remember having plants there when I was a child and when Teresa planted them again some years ago they took right off. So now is the time we enjoy the fruit as every day or two there are ripe ones to pick. The catch is a that there are always some just about ready and since you may forget tomorrow you are tempted to pick them today even though you know they would be better left. If you wait two days, then you may find them on the ground and wishing you had picked them before. When the timing is just right they come off the vine with hardly any nudge and are perfect on that day. It is all a matter of timing; too soon, too late or just the right time to pick (I am probably not going to have this problem with my fig tree since I only have two figs growing right now and the window to pick will be longer).

God’ timing is always just perfect and we are reminded as we see His hand at work in our lives and realize how caring and loving He is. Sometimes we might think He does something at the wrong time from our perspective, maybe we would not have chosen that particular time for that very important experience. However, His perspective is perfect and we are not always privy to His reasons but ultimately we have to ‘walk by faith’ and trust Him. The author of Ecclesiastes reminds us that ‘to everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven’ and we are so blessed to know that the season and time coordinate with His purpose and ‘all things work together’ for God’s good and hence ours. Whatever God brings into our lives right now we can be assured it is the perfect season, the perfect timing and fits with His perfect purpose.

-Pastor Jim

When Jesus Sat Down

There were quite a few from Berean Bible Church who traveled to the holy land in May. There, they were able to see a lot of Old Testament sites, monuments, and memorials. These many stops are testaments to the work of God in that land. Unfortunately, all good trips must come to an end.

As we all get settled back into work and summer routines, let’s continue to contemplate the powerful ways that God continues to use the Old Testament today. In the days of Israel, God used priests to perform sacrifices in the Temple. These sacrifices were intended to keep the people clean from their sins, to demonstrate their sincere repentance, and to worship the God of all creation. Every Jew who followed the law of Moses would bring these sacrifices and the priests would stand at their positions and perform their duties, sacrificing what was brought according to what the law prescribed.

Everyone who visited Jerusalem last month got to see where the Temple stood and learn how it acted as the cultural and religious center for the Jews. The Temple WAS and IS STILL an influential part of the nation of Israel.

But let’s move on to the here and now. Today, we can learn a lot from the Law of Moses. The Book of Hebrews is an incredibly profound treatment of the Old Covenant/Law of Moses and how it applies to us today.

Jesus Christ is the grand subject of Hebrews. Over and over again, the author of Hebrews demonstrates that Jesus is SUPERIOR to the Old Covenant Law in every aspect! Here, let’s look at what the author of Hebrews says about Jesus as the priest of a greater system than that of the Jews.

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Read Hebrews 10:11-14

“every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

Imagine being a Jew who is accustomed to offering sacrifices. You would go to the Temple and see the priests who stand there all day long taking the sacrifices of the people. Their work never ends, which is why they are always standing.

Now imagine being this same Jew and reading the above passage. Previously, you would be following the argument of the author of Hebrews. He had just written that there is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood (Heb. 9:22) but that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin (Heb. 10:4).

So, you are left wondering, “if the blood of bulls and goats don’t take away my sin, but if it must be blood, then whose blood is it?” The author of Hebrews knows.

Jesus Christ’s blood.

Jesus Christ’s blood takes away sins.

But the author of Hebrews does not leave us there. As a Jew, we would think that Christ would need to continuously offer his own blood to pay for our sins. Every time we sin, He would need to sacrifice Himself all over again in order to cover it. But the author of Hebrews once again proves that Jesus’ blood is SUPERIOR to the blood of the animal sacrifices.

His blood is SUPERIOR because it covers sin ONCE and FOR ALL!

…once for all…

There is no more constant work to be done. The priests at the Temple needed to STAND while performing their duties because the work of covering peoples’ sin was continuous. But Jesus SAT DOWN after offering his sacrifice, because His duty was completed forever. He does not need stand anymore, as if His work of sacrifice still needs to be done. The author of Hebrews says, “Christ offered FOR ALL TIME a SINGLE sacrifice for sins” (v. 12) and that through this single sacrifice “he has perfected FOR ALL TIME those who are being sanctified” (v. 14).

So, if we have trusted in Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice for sin, all our sins have been covered, even future sins. Jesus is SUPERIOR to the old priests.

If Jesus has paid for all our sins, why do we strive to do what is right?

Motive. A proper motive is key. From this scripture, we know that doing right things in order to make ourselves “right with God” is a wrong motive. Ask yourself if you are doing good things to make God proud of you. Ask yourself if you are doing good things to make Him forgive you for the evil thoughts, actions, and desires, for the selfishness, for the complacency in your life.

Ask yourself.

 

No, really. Ask yourself.

 

I know I often fall into this trap of believing that I can somehow impress God with my good behavior and service. I too often think that if I just do more good things, serve more at church, then maybe God will forget the things I have a guilty conscience for. And maybe as a result, I can finally be freed from the guilt and regret I always carry around with me.

As Christ-followers, one of God’s deepest desires is that we understand it is finished. We no longer need to strive to impress God with our service, make Him proud to be called our Father, or force Him to forgive us. That is no longer our motive for doing good, because He already forgave us. The theologian David W. Chapman writes…

“believers look to Christ and not to themselves for a cleansed conscience, full forgiveness of sins, and total flawlessness in the future.”

As the routine of summer kicks in, let’s keep this truth at the forefront of our minds as we serve those around us and seek to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Together, let’s have a different motive for serving the Lord…

 

 

What aren’t you reading?

“The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse; and all people on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:1-3

Sometimes I think that we can get so used to reading through the stories in the Bible that we skim over the small parts that actually hold great significance. I am guilty of that. Truth is, we remember the majority of the stories by their major events; Adam and Eve falling into sin, Cain killing his brother Abel out of jealousy, Noah building the arch that would save him and his family from the flood, and Abraham entering into a covenant relationship with God. We remember the moral of the stories, which is good! But that also tends to pull our focus away from the small details within the story that actually hold significant weight. I was reading up on the story of Abraham and wanted to familiarize myself with the Abrahamic Covenant and found that, though I read the first verse, I did not even think twice about the reality of it.

“Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”

It was easy for me to read it and just keep going because I knew the end of Abraham’s story. He became the Father of all nations. He was given children and grand children. He was blessed with land along with the promise that his name would be great. I didn’t even think about how Abraham must have felt in that moment hearing what God requested of him.  “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” If we were to put that into today’s terms, it may sound more like, “leave the relationships that have helped to shape and mold you as a person along with everything you spent your time investing in and go unknowingly in the direction of My choosing.”  WHAT?! Abraham was asked to start over! Not only that, he was asked to go without knowing where he would end up! Abraham knew that he was going to be taken care of because God told him that, but I imagine it was still an unbelievably hard experience he had to go through in leaving. He was courageous and obedient, whether he was happy in that time and state I don’t know. the Bible doesn’t tell us, but I do know that he set an example for anyone today that might be finding themselves in a time of transition and uncertainty. Did Abraham know where he was going? No. But he continued to follow and obey. He trusted that God would protect and provide for his life, just as He has called for us to do.

Now I would say that’s a pretty big lesson that I almost skipped over…

 

Final Day

As I awoke this morning to our last day in Jordan, I thought back and wondered how the Israelites might have have felt their last day in Jordan as they prepared to cross over to the land God promised to them.

A highlight of the morning was gathering in the lounge at the Marriott Hotel with all our travel mates and singing two songs together. Fadi, one of our guides, played the piano while Jihan, our other guide sang a few verses of hymns in Arabic.

We then headed north and Jihan shared the last half of her amazing testimony during the bus ride.  We enjoyed the drive from the land of the Nabataeans to the land of the Moabites.

Our first stop was in Madaba at the Greek Orthodox Church which contained a mosaic map of the Middle East made in the 6th century A.D. We then walked to lunch at the Food Basket, which is owned by a Christian lady. There we were able to enjoy a lunch of local cuisine and were served Makluba, which is a wonderful  rice dish with chicken.

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Next we headed to Mt Nebo which is where God showed Moses The Promised Land, and what a view we had in spite of the haze. Pastor Jim shared some scripture with us before we were turned loose to take pictures and view the mosaics in the Memorial Church of Moses. We were able to see the Dead Sea to the southwest, the Jordan valley to the west, the hills beyond Jerusalem which is only 30 miles in a straight line. It is amazing to think that we stood and viewed some of the things Moses would have seen.

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We then stopped at an art store that make the most spectacular mosaics I have ever seen. Several folks were able purchase jewelry or mosaics. Our trek then took us north to the land of the Ammonites to the city of Amman.

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Amman is the capitol of Jordan where half the population of the country live. A small villa costs around $200,000 dollars. We spent the last part of our trip touring West Amman.

Lastly, our guides surprised us with a stop at Starbucks where coffee, drinks, mugs, and goodies were happily purchased. We are now headed to our hotel where we can shower and relax before our 11:30 pm departure to Amman airport.

We look forward to returning to share this wonderful experience with our Berean family.

 

 

 

 

 

Petra

Our day for Petra broke beautifully with a cool morning in Ammon, Jordan.  We had a journey of about 3 hours that began on Hwy 15, the Desert Highway, or the way of the wilderness.  This took us through the beautiful and modern architecture of Ammon. The roads through the city were the widest and best maintained of any we’ve had on our trip.

Jordan has six public and nineteen universities and their best graduates are exported all over the world to some of the largest corporations.

Editors note: I have been missing my ESPN sports channel and haven’t seen a golf course anywhere. Ammon apparently has the only gold course in Jordan and is brown, not green.

We left the nice roads oaf the city and moved on towards Petra on bumpy roads. We transitioned to Hwy 25/35, the King’s Hwy, about 45 miles from Petra. Petra has a long history and the area is also known for Wadi Musa (the Spring of Moses). Petra became a World Heritage site in 1985. It became an international phenomenon in 1989 with the release of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” that featured it as the place where the chalice (holy grail) a of Christ resided. In 2007 it was named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

Our first gathering place in Petra was the circular marketplace. It is clean and has eating good places and many shops for souvenirs and local headwear  (scarves that tie around your head). Many of us bought the headwear, but Jim F became the King of Petra, buying 3 scarves and vowing to wear them on fishing trips when he returns home.

The walk to the Treasury Building in Petra is about 1.5 miles through the Siq, (the Crack in the mountains). The site features tombs that are either free standing square blocks or carved into the rock walls. Pastor Jim shared that this may well be the region of Arabia that Paul went to for three years to receive his direct vision of Jesus.
When the Treasury Building of Petra first becomes visible it quakes your breath away.

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A red sandstone structures that was rediscovered in the 1830’s. We were all “gazing” at the structure for the longest time.

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And then it was time for camel rides! Are you kidding me?? Riding a camel in front of Petra (can you say bucket list!!) Young and old took a ride including Sharon and Jennifer.

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We stayed and hiked around for a couple of hours and then a had to say goodbye to this wonder. No one wanted leave the beautiful circular shaded viewing area, but it was time to hike back.

We a had a perfect finish to a perfect day by swimming in the pool at the Petra Marriott Hotel. Special thanks to Pilgrim Tours for finding these great accommodations along the way. The view of the sunset over the Petra mountains from the cliff where there hotel was perched was magnificent!

Our guide, Fadi, treated us to some beautiful piano praise music of praise and worship in the hotel lobby. We sang along with him until it was time to board the bus for our last day. Heavy sigh.

Mark T