Friday, December 24, 2010

My Gift to You … a Personal Translation of the Christmas Story

Isaiah 9:6 (or 9:5 in the Hebrew)

(translated by Dr. James V. Garrett)

For a Child will be born to us, a Son will be given to us and it will come to pass that the government [will be] upon His shoulders and He will be called Counselor of wonder, mighty God, eternal Father, the Prince of peace.

Matthew 1:18- 2:12

So [is] of the birth of Jesus Christ: Mary, his mother was agreed to be married to Joseph, but before they came together (in marital relationship), she was found to be holding in her womb [a child] by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph, her husband-to-be, being just and not wishing to disgrace her, desired secretly to send away her.

And while he was thinking about this, behold, an angel of Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, “Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid to take along Mary your wife-to-be, for in her [That] which is being caused to be born is from the Holy Spirit. And she will give birth to a Son and you will call His Name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.

Now Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod. And behold, magi (wise men and astrologers) from the east arrived in Jerusalem saying, “Where is the One being born [as] the King of the Jews. We saw His star near the east and we came to worship Him.”

[Upon] hearing [this] King Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And gathering together all the high priests and scribes of the people, he enquired [of them] where the Christ [was] to be born.

And they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophets:

“And you Bethlehem, land of Judea, by no means are you smallest of the rulers of Judah, for from you will go forth One characterized by leading My people, Israel, Who will tend [them] like a shepherd.”

Then Herod quietly (or privately) called the magi. He found out from them the time the star appeared. Then, as he sent them into Bethlehem, he said, “While traveling, search with care for the child. And when you might find [Him], inform me [so] that I also might come to worship Him.”

Then, after hearing the king, they proceeded and, behold! the star that they saw in the east proceeded them until it came and was positioned over [the place] where the Child was. And beholding the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great gladness.

Then, coming into the house, they saw the Child with Mary His mother. Next, falling to their knees, they worshipped Him. And [upon] opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. Then, being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went away to their country by means of another route.

Luke 2:1-20

And it happened in those days [that] there came an order from Caesar Augustus for all the Roman Empire to be registered. This registration first took place while Quirinius was ruling the Syrians. And every citizen went to be registered, each into his own city

And Joseph came up from the Galilee, from the city of Nazareth in Judea, into the city of David which called Bethlehem, because he [was] from the house and ancestry of David. [He came] to enroll for himself, together with Mary the one both being engaged to him and pregnant.

And it happened while they were there that the days for her Child to be born were fulfilled. And she gave birth to her firstborn Son and she wrapped Him in baby clothes and placed Him in a feeding trough because there was not a place [for them] in the guest room.

And there were shepherds in the same region living out doors and keeping guard by night over their flock. And an angel of Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shined around them and they feared with a great fear. And the angel said to them,

“Do not fear! For behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be to all people. For today there is born to you in the city of David, a Savior Who is Christ the Lord and this is a sign to you: you will find a Baby being wrapped in baby clothes and lying in a feeding trough.”

And suddenly, it happened that a number of the host of heaven appeared with the angel praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace among men.”

And it happened as the angels departed into heaven, [that] the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go indeed to Bethlehem so that we might see this event that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”

So they left in haste and found both Mary and Joseph, and [they found] the Baby lying in a feed trough. And after observing [Him], they made known [around them] concerning the matter that had been told them concerning this Child. And all, upon hearing [this], marveled concerning the proclamation that had come through the shepherds.

But Mary kept all these things and considered them in her heart.

Then, the shepherds returned honoring and praising God because of all the things they heard and saw, just as it was said to them.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas Blessings from the Garrett Family to Yours

Christmas Israel 4

We hope this letter finds you celebrating this joyous Christmas season. 2010 has been another year of excitement, learning, and growth for us and we want to bring you an update on a little of what has taken place in our lives during this past year.

Cheri was ordained this past year as a recognized Minister of the Gospel. Her ministry has been strong as she has led Children’s ministry here at our church in the south suburbs of Chicago. She has also ministered faithfully in Bogota and Medellin, Colombia as well as in Bethlehem, Israel this past year. Through her teaching and leadership, her area of ministries in the church is growing stronger on a consistent basis. Keeping our ever growing family connected and encouraged and motivated is one of Cheri’s greatest passions.

As we reported last year, we are now Pastors of Family Ministries at Christian Life Center in Tinley Park, IL. After Amber & Ed graciously opened their home to us for the first 7 months we lived here, God opened an awesome door for us to purchase a home in Mokena, IL (which we absolutely love.) God continues to teach us new things as we faithfully minister for Him.


Crystal, David, and Isaac continue to live in Maumee, OH. Crystal is teaching English at Monclova Christian School in Monclova, OH where she enjoys teaching and ministering to her students. Isaac continues to be a “Papa’s Boy” for sure. David has again been promoted at his job with Brush Wellman in Elmore, OH, and Isaac just continues to grow in stature, and in every other way. He is such a delight to the entire family with his little clownishness and loving spirit.

Amber, Ed, Aubrianna, Annaliese, Lillianna, and Eddie continue to live in Bolingbrook, IL. Amber is a neo-natal nurse at Edwards Hospital in Naperville, and Eddie is the Media Director at Christian Life Church in Tinley Park, IL. Aubrianna, our big five year old continues to be in love with swimming and dancing. She is also an excellent big sister. Annaliese continues to make her place in this world. She, too, loves to swim and dance and be a great, big sister. Lillianna continues to grow … and climb … and crawl into the shower/tub fully clothed; she is a delight to all of us. And finally, little Eddie arrived on Thanksgiving morning (2010) weighing in at 8 lbs. 15 ounces and once again, evening out the boy girl ratio of grandchildren at 4 boys and 4 girls.

Jamie, Crystal, Christian, Carson, and Chloe live in Ashland, OH where Jamie works with a consulting company and where he continues to participate on the worship team at his church. Their family is not so little anymore and our big six year old Christian leads the way with his loving, gentle, and inquisitive spirit. And he is doing great in Kindergarten by the way, Carson follows suit with a heartwarming smile and a tenderness, yet mischievousness that cannot be beat. Chloe continues to simply light up a room with her gorgeous smile. The younger two are also doing great in their local pre-school. Crystal is a stay-at-home mom raising her babies for Christ.

Jim continues to stay (too) busy in ministry. Serving as Pastor of Family Ministries at Christian Life Center in Tinley Park, IL, he is delighted to work alongside Cheri in ministry every day. He is also teaching Foundation of Bible Study (Hermeneutics) at Ashland Theological Seminary-Detroit as an Adjunct Professor. Both Jim’s & Cheri’s hearts’ calling is to teach pastors, and youth and children’s pastors/leaders in a seminary, university, and/or church level and in doing so, to impart knowledge, vision, and passion to reach this generation. They have been able to do that broadly this past year in Bogota, Medellin, Israel, and in the Chicago and Detroit areas.

Highlights this year were three great family vacations: one to Honolulu, Hawaii, one to the Outer Banks of NC (with Crystal and Isaac), and the other to San Juan, Puerto Rico. A highlight of all of these was waking up on our first day in Hawaii to the unfamiliar sounds of Tsunami warnings. And yes, we survived the Hawaiian Tsunami of 2010. We love to travel … and doing so together makes it even more special.

Our family has done well this year. We have gloried, and we have struggled, but God has brought us through all of these things with the intent of growing us in Him … to complete us. We are ever thankful that He who began a good work in us will complete it! It is our desire for you and your family to know His hand and grace and mercy in your life as He truly brings you through things … with the intent of growing you … and completing you so that you become everything He created you to be and you will live in the fullness of His destiny and purpose for you!

May God richly bless you this Christmas Season and in 2011! It promises to be a year of God’s destiny and purpose for us!

Jim & Cheri Garrett

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Hanukkah or Christmas?


An interesting question.

A friend, colleague, and professor recently posed the question whether we as Christians should defend Christmas or not. His basis for discussion is that Jesus certainly does not need our defense and further, that most Christians who would defend Christmas probably would do so for the retail aspect. Hmmm. Interesting observation.


Personally, I think we SHOULD defend it … but simply for the reason of NOT giving up ground (as in a “slippery slope” where the enemy continues to take and take and take until there’s nothing left to take.)

You see, I really can’t defend Christmas as being the birth of Christ because all evidence points to the fact that it is NOT; instead it is a “carry-over” or loan from the ancient Romans and their Saturnalia Festivals … marked by all kinds of tomfoolery and reversals of social roles, in which even slaves and masters switched places.

Rome was notorious for assimilating various customs and holidays of conquered peoples with their (Rome’s) own customs and holidays.


In fact, Christmas has nothing to do with Christ other than sharing His name.

Hanukkah, on the other hand, is an eight-day celebration of God miraculously providing ceremonially pure oil when the Jews worked to restore and rededicate their temple after it was desecrated by Antiochus IV, King of Syria in the 2nd Century BC. According to Jewish religious writings, there was only enough consecrated oil to fuel the Menorrah flames in the Temple for one day. The oil, however, burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil. (This story is recorded also in 1 and 2 Maccabees in the Apocrypha … which by the way is good historical contextual reading.)


Jesus Himself observed the celebration of Hanukkah (or the Festival of Lights as it is also known as) in the Temple as recorded in John 10:22-39. There are also many who feel that Hanukkah makes the “time of conception” of Jesus within Mary’s womb. This would certainly coincide with similar thought that would place the actual birth of Jesus during the Festival of Tabernacles or Sukkot. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus may have been born during the “Feast of Tabernacles?” (And the Word became flesh, and dwelt [tabernacled] among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NAS)


I am not ready to release Christmas to secularist/atheist who would dare to attempt to take one more thing from the Christian world.

Also, in 50 plus years, I have gotten familiar with my own personal traditions connected with Christmas (and I’m pretty sure I’m not ready to give those up.)

But I did make my own feeble attempts to observe and respect Hanukkah this year. (And besides, 8 days of Gift giving/receiving beats that daylights out of one day of such.)

And I’m pretty convinced that Jesus was born sometime in our near Sukkot.


So I guess I’ll do it like this: I will celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah … and even though Christ wasn’t born on the day we celebrate as Christmas … and even though He really ISN’T the reason for the season, I will continue to honor Him, love Him, and share Him … on December 25 and every other day of the year.

Merry Christmas … and Happy Hanukkah!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Christmas Challenge

I want to challenge each of you reading this.

So often at Christmas we end up focusing on giving and receiving … so much so that we often forget Christ in the process.

So here’s my challenge.

What if we wrapped our giving … at least part of it … in giving outside of ourselves and our immediate families.

Our church has, in cooperation with several missionaries with who we have relationship, put together a catalog of needs and prices where you can give to a need somewhere around the world.

Honestly, its kind of hard to describe.

Here at the church, w actually have a physical catalog where we can choose the item(s) we want to give to these needs. But for you, we have also put this catalog online where you can choose and give online.

Will you check it out … and give outside yourself this Christmas season.

Here’s the link:


Saturday, December 04, 2010

Israel 2010- Final Thoughts (Maybe)


We’ve tried to put some time between our last posting from Israel; we wanted to think through the things we have seen, heard, touched, tasted, and experienced.

So what did we walk away with?Christmas Israel

I (j) had an experience that actually began in Bethlehem. There I saw that Palestinians could go back and forth into Jewish Israel with little difficulty BUT Jews were not allowed to enter Palestinian controlled areas. I was angry with the Palestinians, even though our guide there was a Palestinian Christian. But God has a wonderful way of speaking to my heart when I am walking in personal headiness and sin; He gently reminded me that He loves the Palestinians too … even having a plan for them. I was ashamed, humbled, and changed with this thought.

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I also was touched by the devotion many people had to different relics of Christianity. We noticed in Cana how dedicated (superstitious) some were to an actual place (even though we know that it WAS NOT the actual building where the wedding of Cana had taken place); it was built much later. You can call this what you will but the best thing I can think of is simple blindness … We MUST maintain that our faith is in Jesus Christ and not in places or events.

Cana-site where Jesus turn water into wine5

I also fell more deeply in love with the Jewish people. I know that many of them have not yet put their trust in Jesus Christ as the Messiah but I am readily assured that the Church HAS NOT replaced them and is, in fact, to be used to jealously draw them into a proper relationship with God. Please understand, they too must come to the Father through Jesus the Son BUT, they are still God’s chosen people and He definitely has a plan for them. (And cool-ly, you and I get to be a part of that plan.)

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Did we experience an earth-shattering change? I don’t think so (but I am still chewing on it.) Instead, I think I (j) received a deepening of that which He was already working in me … but the jury is still out on that one.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hanukkah 2010

Many have been asking me if we as Christians should celebrate Hanukkah. This blog is in response to those questions and will hopefully whet your appetite to begin this observance for yourself and you family. Those of you with children will find that your kids can especially appreciate it: they get eight days of gift-giving instead on one.



In 167 BCE the Syrian-Greek emperor, Antiochus, set out to destroy Judaism by imposing a ban on three of their recognized laws and customs. All three maintain Jewish cultural integrity and were thus threats to the Greek culture.

An Israeli leader named Matityahu and his five sons, known as the Maccabees, started a revolt against Antiochus and succeeded in evicting their oppressors. The victory was a miracle on the scale of Israel defeating the combined super-powers of today. Having regained control of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews wanted to immediately sanctify and rededicate it. In order to do so, they needed ritually pure olive oil to re-light the Menorah in the Temple. Only a single cruse of oil was found however; this was enough to burn for just one day. For ritual purification laws, they needed oil sufficient for eight days until new, ritually pure olive oil could be produced. A miracle occurred and the one-days-worth of oil burned for eight days.

Jesus and Hanukkah

Also known as the Holiday of Lights, Hanukkah provides a wonderful time of the year to remember and commemorate the great miracle that God has done for all of us, by giving us new light and life through Jesus Christ our Lord. And because Jesus celebrated Hanukkah at the Temple, as Christians we can celebrate Hanukkah, the “Festival of Lights”, as we rededicate our lives to Christ and acknowledge Him as the perfect and true light of this world.

In fact, Jesus preached three sermons in which He declared Himself the “light of the world,” and all three could have been during Hanukkah.

Jesus replied, “My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.” (John 12:35-36).

Just before Jesus announced that He was the Light of the world, He had shed His light upon the consciences of those who accused the adulteress (John 8.) John also records Jesus healing a blind man (9:1-12) at about the same time that Jesus declared Himself to be the Light of the world (8:12 and 9:5).

But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing![1] (John 9:5-7)

Christians and Hanukkah

Therefore, it is perfectly acceptable and even suggested that we as Christians celebrate Hanukkah as well. For 2010, Hanukkah is observed from December 1-9. Below is a suggested “first” observance of Hanukkah that each of us can follow.

Observance of Hanukkah

I suggest that you read the story of Hanukkah so that everyone will have some understanding of it. It is found in 1 Mac. 4:52–59 which is an apocryphal book found in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles. You can also find it online. (By the way, these apocryphal books are not dangerous to read; they are simply non-God-inspired books but they DO bring great historical information … especially concerning times between the Old Testament and the New Testament.)

1 Mac. 4:52–59 – “Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-eighth year,  they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering that they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving offering. They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and fitted them with doors. There was very great joy among the people, and the disgrace brought by the Gentiles was removed. 
Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev” (NRSV).

In observance, we will light Hanukkah candles for eight days. These are held in a special Hanukkah menorah that has nine candles spaces instead of the typical menorah that has seven. Eight of these spaces are of identical height. The ninth space is probably of a different height and is reserved for the “helper” candle that is use to light all others.


Two blessings (three on the first night) will be said each night prior to (but during the time of) lighting the candle(s).

The first blessing thanks God for the commandment to “kindle the Hanukkah lights.” We therefore recite the blessing before lighting the candles, and then proceed to carry out the commandment.

The second blessing praises God for the miracle the candles publicize, and is therefore said as the candles are being lit.

Hold the lit “helper” candle in your right hand and say:

1. On the first night of Hanukkah, this blessing is added signifying that it is the first time that the Hanukkah lights have been lit this season:

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who gave us life and kept us and delivered us to this time.

2. Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us by Your commandments and has commanded us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.

3. Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who performed miracles for Your chosen people at this season, in days past.

Lighting the Menorah

On the first night of Hanukkah, a single candle (or oil wick) is lit, on the far right side of the menorah. On each successive night an additional candle is added, from right to left (two candles lit on the second night, three on the third…) until finally, on the eighth night, all eight candles are lit. It is customary to light from left to right, with the newest candle lit first. You should allow the candles to burn themselves out.

The candles are lit by a “shamash” or helper candle, which after being used to light the other candles, takes its own special place on the menorah – usually in a place slightly set apart and/or higher from the rest.

· While lighting the candles themselves, Hanerot Halalu is traditionally recited.

· Once the candles have been lit, Maoz Tzur is traditionally sung.

When To Light

The candles are lit starting at nightfall, and should burn for at least half an hour. On Friday afternoon, the candles are traditionally lit before sunset, to avoid lighting on the Sabbath. By putting longer candles in the menorah (or thick Shabbat candles on tin foil), the lights will still be burning after it grows dark.

Where To Light

The glowing Hanukkah candles are meant to advertise the holiday’s miracles. At home, place the lit menorah in the window where passers-by can see its light.

While lighting the candles themselves, Hanerot Halalu is traditionally recited.

We light these lights
For the miracles and the wonders,
For the redemption and the battles
That you made for our forefathers
In those days at this season,
Through your holy priests.
During all eight days of Chanukah
These lights are sacred 
And we are not permitted to make 
Ordinary use of them, 
But only to look at them; 
In order to express thanks 
And praise to Your great Name 
For your miracles, Your wonders 
And your salvations.

Once the candles have been lit, Maoz Tzur is traditionally sung.  Maybe you would like to read them instead, at least for your first observances.

· O  mighty stronghold of my salvation,
to praise You is a delight.
Restore my House of Prayer
and there we will bring a thanksgiving offering.
When You will have prepared the slaughter
for the blaspheming foe,
Then I shall complete with a song of hymn
the dedication of the Altar.

· My soul had been sated with troubles,
my strength has been consumed with grief.
They had embittered my life with hardship,
with the calf-like kingdom's bondage.
But with His great power
He brought forth the treasured ones,
Pharaoh's army and all his offspring
Went down like a stone into the deep.

· To the holy abode of His Word He brought me.
But there, too, I had no rest
And an oppressor came and exiled me.
For I had served aliens,
And had drunk benumbing wine.
Scarcely had I departed
At Babylon's end Zerubabel came.
At the end of seventy years I was saved.

· To sever the towering cypress
sought the Aggagite, son of Hammedatha,
But it became [a snare and] a stumbling block to him
and his arrogance was stilled.
The head of the Benjaminite You lifted
and the enemy, his name You obliterated
His numerous progeny - his possessions -
on the gallows You hanged.

· Greeks gathered against me
then in Hasmonean days.
They breached the walls of my towers
and they defiled all the oils;
And from the one remnant of the flasks
a miracle was wrought for the roses.
Men of insight - eight days
established for song and jubilation

· Bare Your holy arm
and hasten the End for salvation -
Avenge the vengeance of Your servants' blood
from the wicked nation.
For the triumph is too long delayed for us,
and there is no end to days of evil,
Repel the Red One in the nethermost shadow
and establish for us the seven shepherds.

If you would like more information, Google “Hanukkah Messianic” or try this site:

[1] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible : New Living Translation., 2nd ed. (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004), Jn 9:1–8.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Israel- Day Nine

As I begin, allow me to lay out a plan. I know that it will take days and perhaps even weeks to assimilate what all we have seen, felt, tasted, heard, and experienced. With this post, we hope to show the scenes and brief snippets of our last day in Israel, 2010, but we also understand that these are mere snippets; they do not share what God is doing in us through this marvelous experience.

We started off the day by a trip to the ancient City of David. Here is the former home/ palace of King David himself. This is the place where so much happened, including the spying of Bathsheba as she appeared on her rooftop to bathe. Of course, as you look around this place, it becomes very easy to see how this could have happened because the entire place is built on the side of a mountain.

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From here we headed over to the Southern Wall of Jerusalem. This is another of my favorite places here because you can see actual bedrock where Jesus actually walked up to the Temple. You are truly walking where Jesus walked. Too, you can see the irregular steps leading into the Temple. These mean that one had to cautiously and thoughtfully enter His presence.  (See Cheri placing her foot on the bedrock where Jesus could have very possibly place his own foot!)

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The Tomb of David (that we visited) was probably not the actual place of his burial, Instead, it is a place of reverence and honor. It is also a very beautiful place where you can truly think and hear God.

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The Via Dolorosa (Latin meaning Way of Sorrows) is a large portion of the street upon which Jesus carried His cross on the way to Calvary, (It was a little disappointing how commercialized it is here with all of the shops.) There are portions here also of actual stones upon which Jesus walked. This, too, was an exciting find for us as again, we walked where He walked … this time on the way to His crucifixion. We did have an interesting altercation with a shop owner/street vendor (which caused difficulty in remembering WHY we were here) but were quickly reminded of God’s forgiveness and His mercy.

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From there, we went to the Church of the Last Supper/ Upper Room. We know that this structure was not here but we are for sure in the proximity where these events happened.  It was here that Jesus had some of His final words to His disciples. It was here that Judas left to betray Christ. And it was here that the church was birthed in the day of Pentecost. We even wanted to hear the sound of a rushing mighty wind while we were here.Israel 11182010 (123)

The area known as the Cardo was another 1st Century spot where we were able to see streets as they were at the time of Jesus. This was a very beautiful area and was situated in the Jewish Quarter of the city. As far as sheer manmade beauty, this was as good as they come.

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Our next stop was the Antonia Fortress. We actually sat among the steps where Jesus was tried and perhaps even beaten. This was a great place of remembrance and introspection. It was also a very beautiful place.

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The Pools of Bethesda are ancient ruins where healing took place and where Jesus Himself performed healings. The area was very beautiful and the understandings that Jesus ministered here caused this place to have great attraction to us.

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The Garden Tomb is one of the sites that many feel is the actual place of Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. It certainly has many of the necessary ingredients to be the right place. Our guide here was marvelous and convincing. Everyone was thrilled to see the empty tomb and I was thrilled to minister communion to all present. I had everyone give their communion to someone else (among us) as a symbolic giving of the Gospel to those around us. One missiologist has said that everyone should hear the Gospel once before anyone has heard it twice. What better way to remember this than in the midst of God’s chosen people, in the midst of His empty tomb, and among those we love and care for.

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Our closing banquet featured a small, intimate buffet where we got to appreciate our guide and our driver and where we were able to present Pastors Jerry and Chris as well as Melva with tokens of our appreciation for them.

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Our last day had some intimate and powerful times of worship…in the place where Jesus was beaten for us…in the darkness of the Arab quarter as we declared Him as Lord and King….and in the Garden Tomb where He was crucified, buried and rose again.  We are so thankful to God and changed by God through this amazing experience in Israel.

Then we went to Tel Aviv to go through a lengthy security process. (It is a pain in the backside but I am thankful for the protection it gives us.) Now to settle in for a loooooooooong flight from here to New Jersey, then Chicago. We are glad to head home but do so with sadness in our departure.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Israel- Day Seven

Today was a great day of ministry, information, and shopping. In fact, when we walked to the bus this morning, we were accosted by vendors selling bags 5 for $10.  After all the clamoring to make purchases and of course the fact that we have shopped EVERY day Pastor Jerry asked us if we still had “Financial Peace”.  Great reminder Pastor! We started things off by heading to a Jewish village south of Jerusalem that reflected the Jewish struggle in their own land. This kibbutz now turned settlement stands modernly much as Masada does historically as a stand by the Jews for their right to live in their own land. It also stands in opposition and argument to the modern push to get Israel to divide its land and give part of it away.

The living memorial of this kibbutz is a solitary tree that has stood throughout the life if this settlement, including the seeing of many defenders’ deaths as they stood for what they owned and what they believed in.

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Even more beautiful were the living memorials to the efforts of these men and women; these are their beautiful and playful children.

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From here, we traveled over into Bethlehem. It was interesting because we entered into Palestinian territory and therefore had to transfer both buses and drivers because the PA will not allow Jews into their territory. (I don’t understand why Palestinians can travel freely back and forth but Jews cannot … in their own land.) One beauty of this, however, was that our Palestinian guide was also a Christian and gave me great insight into the events and emotions of the tumultuous land.

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We went into one of the Shepherds’ fields (behind the YMCA) where we spent some time in one of the caves. Abraham, our guide, shared with us the thoughts that the shepherds who received the announcement of the birth of Christ were probably watching the special sheep: the ones being prepared for the Passover sacrifice. This was a great perspective in relation to Christ’s incarnation.

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Cheri also taught here regarding the truths of Bethlehem: the fact of its smallness and obscurity (as well as others) and how we could each expect Christ to use us no matter how insignificant we may feel. (I (J) love to hear my wife teach.)

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Then we went shopping in a Palestinian Christian store where they specialized in olive carvings. We were able to pick up a small nativity piece which I think is very beautiful.

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After transferring back to our normal bus, we headed over to a Jerusalem Prayer Center where we were all briefed in the political scene in Jerusalem and where we prayed for a couple of hours for the government, the land, and the people. This was an awesome time where I especially sensed the move of the Spirit in a Chinese pastor. I did not understand a word she said but I could tell she reached Heaven.

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From here, we went over to the Knesset, the Israeli government center where we observed and revered the large menorah. I then led the pray for the peace of Jerusalem as we surrounded that menorah.

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Finally, after a long day, we ate supper and called it a night.  At this point in the trip we are on sensory overload,..,trying to take in sooo much in such a little amount of time.  What I do know is that God is bringing new revelations to our hearts about Israel and the Jewish people that is forever changing us.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Israel- Day Six

This morning we left the Dead Sea and headed for Jerusalem. I genuinely love the Dead Sea area and its exotic-ness but I dislike the one night at the hotel and then pack up and leave. But such is life.

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Our first stop today was another of my favorites, Masada. I have realized that if you love God AND you love the Jewish roots of your faith, that you are apt to fall in love with His chosen people as well. So it is that we love the Jews and all things that cause us to be reminded of their heroism and destiny. The story of Masada is a beautiful (tragic) story of a group of people’s determination to die in freedom rather than live in slavery. Their story is beautifully told through the geography of Masada.

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It was also cool that while we were visiting the ancient synagogue, some of our team had the privilege of witnessing a sofer as he was copying the Scriptures.

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We also saw some very cool school kids who were visiting Masada as a field trip.

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From there we headed to Ein Gedi, the oasis where Saul was chasing David and where David cut off a portion of Saul’s cloak. We had visited this place before as an archaeological dig but neither of us had witnessed the beauty of this desert oasis- including the wildlife, the acacia trees, and the spring … and yes, Cheri had to dip her toes in the spring of Ein Gedi.

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Finally, we headed to Jerusalem and I could not have been more  excited about our crowds response upon entering the city. They were ecstatic.

In Jerusalem, we visited the Temple Institute where I (disappointingly) did not get to take any pictures BUT we did get to learn a great amount about the temples past as well as the temple future. It is amazing when you begin to realize how much preparation has already gone into the Third Temple. Everything except the building of the Temple and the finding of the Ark of the Covenant is in place.

We then went to the Western Wall where we all got to pray and sense God’s Spirit. All of our people were in total thrill mode at getting to pray at the kotel, Judaism’s holiest place of prayer (because of its proximity to the site of the ancient Holy of Holies.) I know that many of them even tucked prayer notes in the wall for others to pray over.

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We were also surrounded by soldiers as this day marked their vow/oath of allegiance to the nation of Israel … all in front of the Wailing Wall.

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From here we headed to the Garden of Gethsemane where we meditated and prayed for the Jews. We also got to witness Ellis’ and Donna’s passion and history with/for this place. We were really proud of them.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Israel- Day Five


Today, we have departed from the area of the Galilee. If you have been to Israel, you probably understand my sadness on a couple of levels. On the one hand, we have left the place of the early ministry and even childhood of Jesus Himself. Second, we have departed the “comfort zone” of the Gospel: that area where growing took place and, although sometimes confronted with argument and difficulty, the place where many of our familiar New Testament stories of healing and deliverance occurred. On a much more worldly level, however, we have also had to pack our bags in the area where we have slept for four nights and now move on to an area where we will be for ONE night- Arghhh!

We are south of the Galilee and have actually visited some of my (J) favorite archaeological places today.

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Our first stop was Beit Shean, an ancient city that saw much occupation although none of it Hebrew occupation. Biblically, it figures in with the story of King Saul as this is the place where his head was displayed after it had been severed from his body. It was definitely a place of much occupation however because there is a huge Tel here (which I (J) climbed this time.) It was well worth the journey (although my hips and knees were throbbing afterwards.)

Atop the Tel was an ancient home of an Egyptian leader and, as fascinating as all of that was and is, the best part for me was found in seeing the recorded cylinder in that home and its recording of the name of King David. In this day of scoffers among the scholars who are telling the world that the Davidic and Solomonic reigns were Hebrew myths, evidences such as this one provide a little excitement (although such IS NOT necessary for my faith.)

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Cheri wandered around the “spa” and theatre just sharing, viewing the ruins and sharing.  It was a nice time.

Our next stop was one of my two all time-favorite non-religious Israeli stops and that was Qumran. Of course, this is the place of the initial finds of the Dead Sea Scrolls and good-old Cave 4 provided a great backdrop for teaching from Melva and me (J.) I taught briefly three things: 1) that it does take “mad-men” to follow God into such a desert wilderness as this. But 2) God mightily used those madmen and the desert’s harsh conditions to preserve His Word and to illustrate to the world His ability to faithfully preserve what He has inspired. He brought it back to us in His perfect timing. (In fact, I shared that the same God who inspired the writing of His Words preserved those words … and the same God who inspired the writing and the protection of those Words, inspires our reading and doing of those Words. Selah.)

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3) I shared regarding the mikvahs that are found throughout the Qumran community. It is probable that John the Baptist had served there in Qumran (or at least among its residents.) These individuals practiced ritual cleansings (mikvaot) probably twice per day: each time as a cleansing before undertaking a holy deed. It then becomes important that John the Baptist then went to baptize (Mikvah- ritually cleanse) Jesus in order to “launch” His ministry. Now, baptism can be seen as a “launching of our next undertakings for Christ.”

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Finally, I shared that we were truly standing upon Holy Ground itself because of the great preservation and launching that God had done … and for this people’s stand for righteousness.

We left Qumran and headed to our evening destination, Le Meriden on the Dead Sea. I am so exhausted, I simply want to take a shower, eat, and sleep … but we will see what happens while Cheri gets her well-needed and well-deserved spa treatment.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Israel- Day Four

Today we celebrated Shabbat in Haifa, Israel with Ohalei Rachamim and Rabbi Eitan. Thankfully, we had headphones with translations in English as this service was conducted entirely in Hebrew. (I was even more thankful when I traded in my Russian translation headphones for English ones.)

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Rabbi Eitan is a jewel of a man who grew  up out of the 60s Hippy movement, came to Christ at the time, and eventually sensed the call to preach and surrendered.  A lot of the congregation were Russian Jews who have received the revelations of who Jesus is and they follow Him.  They are precious people.

Israel 11132010 (29)Not only did we worship in Hebrew (and it was a wonderful time of worship!) and hear the Word translated but we also celebrated communion together. One of the most awesome times of communion we have experienced in quite some time.  Many came for prayer in this service and God gave me a word of encouragement for Rabbi Eitan.

Shabbat is a gift from God to His people.  A time to rest from our labors and the stresses of life, a time of worship, a time to hear from His Word and be reminded of His promises and His blessings, a time to fellowship with friends and a time to enjoy our family.  I truly believe this is a practice that we as Gentile Christians should make a part of our weekly lives.  We would be healthier, happier and more in tune with our God.

We then travelled to another Druze village where we (again) had falafel and Cheri had schnitzel in a pita. It was all marvelous and the vegetables surrounding it made it even better.

We travelled from there through some hill country and wound up in one of my favorite digs, Tel Megiddo. Much is to be seen here including marvelous city gates, stables, and a water system cut through the earth. Biblically, this Tel dates back to Solomon and Rehaboam (and even earlier.) Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we were unable to see most of it. (again thankfully, I had already been there and had seen most of it several years ago. Additionally, I am able to read updates about Tel Megiddo on a consistent basis.)

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As we headed in for the night, we passed through Nazareth (which is a MUCH larger town than I expected.)

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Our last stop for the evening was the church of the Wedding of Cana. I was deeply bothered there because of all of the obvious superstition that was rampant, including throwing money into some of the ancient ruins and being remarried in the church itself. As a surprise, each couple (who desired so) were treated to a renewal of vows and the gifting of roses to the wife. I additionally purchased a ketubah, a Jewish certificate of marriage, for our marriage.

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Tomorrow we head out for the Dead Sea and Masada. I anxiously await this time.

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