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My Easter Tribute

The rabbis teach that a prayer is not an actual prayer, unless it begins with blessing God.

Father God, Abba, I praise you this morning from the depths of my soul. I bless your Holy Name; the name that is above every other name. Every fiber of my being this morning shouts out praise and adoration and thanksgiving for who you are and all you’ve done. There is no person, being, or power greater than you. Many and great are your enemies, yet they fail and falter and fall defeated by the mere whisper of your son’s mighty name: Jesus.

This morning I anticipate the celebration of your resurrection tomorrow morning. Scholars and theologians may debate the physical calendar dates or whether you remained in the grave for 3 actual 24 hour days. But this morning sitting in my humanness, completely aware of what I would be and where I would be headed had it not been for your finished work on the cross and by conquering death and the grave, I have no argument. All I can do is command my soul to bless you and to cry out It is finished! IT-IS-FINISHED!

            Yesterday we remembered mankind’s darkest hours. Oh what it must have been like to be there on that dreadful day! Oh the anguish you must have felt upon uttering the very words that would seal your fate: “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” What torment your mind and spirit must have gone through at the increasing relevance of being both natural and supernatural. My precious Savior, your heart must have shattered to a million pieces as you watched mankind thirst for your blood in such an animalistic display of hate and violence. Did you for one second regret ever creating us? Like you did in the days of Noah? Did your eyes plead with Judas, for his sake and for yours as you knelt and tenderly washed the grime off of his feet? Did the sword of your own words return to pierce your heart when Peter, one of your three dearest friends denied he knew you? He denied three years of close intimate friendship! He denied the moment upon the mountain where you selected him to be among the three you would reveal yourself to in fullness. He denied your calming of the sea and your feeding of the 5,000. He lied! He lied at your expense.

My sweet Jesus, lover of my soul, my most intimate friend, I did this to you. I mocked you and slandered you and betrayed you and denied you. My adulterous, murdering, lying ways sent you to the cross. My pride pounded the nails deep into your wrists and feet. My placement of other gods before you mockingly pushed the crown of thorns into your head. And my betrayal and denial were the sword thrust into your side causing blood and water to flow.

You were the perfect lamb, spotless in every way, which was chosen as a final sacrifice for my sin.

Your word tells us that in the days following your death you went into the darkest pit and you fought. You fought for me; the very one whose sin condemned you to death. You fought like a champion for the heart of His beloved. You conquered death and the grave and you now hold their keys. You fought and killed my depression. You placed upon my head a crown of beauty. You redeemed my future. Chains of fear and condemnation and hate and anger and lust and jealousy and pride once bound me. But it was for freedom you set me free. Freedom. Freedom! I walk free, and speak free, and live free all for the sake of your glory. My freedom was purchased with your love.

That would have been enough. For a man to love me so much that he would literally take my place in death would have been enough for me. But, it wasn’t enough for you. You did the unconceivable when on the third day you rose from the dead. You fulfilled your word, death could not hold you, and you came back.

I’ll sing your praise forevermore.

I’ll live for the sake of your fame in all the earth.

I won’t compromise and I won’t back down.

I will command my soul daily to bless you.

I’ll dance a crazy dance, for you have displayed extravagant love.

I’ll shout from the rooftops:

“You are my God!

You are my God!

You are my God!

You are my God!

You are my God!”

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Living for Eternity

Hebrews 4:12 tells us that the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.

I don’t know any more accurate words to describe the world’s most treasured book. I’ve heard it described as a “love letter” from God. And although each word is etched strategically to convey God’s love to us and for us, the words “love letter” are not the words God chooses to describe this ancient piece of history, prophecy, and literature. Nor does He refer to it as our “daily bread.” Yes. I recognize the desperate need we, as Christians have to eat of it daily. And, boy do I notice the difference in me when I don’t! But again, God never calls His word our daily bread. Nor does He refer to it as Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Yet, it serves as thus. Rather He chooses to paint for us a picture of a living, breathing organism. God says that His Word is alive. This imagery gives me physical chills up my spine! His Word is alive! As I begin to view God’s Word as living, I can’t help but to travel back to some of my fondest memories, as well as those I’d like to forget, and in each slide-picture in my mind I now see the companionship of a constant friend, the Word of God.

God also chooses to give us the word picture of a sword. Not just any old sword, though. He describes one with two edges so that no matter which way it is used, it leaves the person penetrated and forever affected and scarred by its powerful blow. He also says that the one wounded would be laid bare before God and man.

Viewing God’s Word from this perspective has led me to recognize specific times in my life I have felt the piercing of God’s Word.

My earliest memory was around the time I received Jesus as Lord. I was only 4 or 5 years old, but I remember vividly my spirit responding to the Word of God. My Sunday School teacher was teaching us about the Apostle Peter’s restoration after Jesus’ resurrection. Three times Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” And three times Peter replied, “Lord, you know that I do.” And with Jesus’ final response my little spirit quickened by a divine piercing. “Then feed my sheep.” That moment and that story would be significant to me for the rest of my life. However, it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties and pastoring young adults that I recognized God was calling me at 4 or 5 years old to feed his beloved sheep.

I will bear the scar for the rest of my life from the incision I received upon reading “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” In Psalm 122:6 when I was 19 years old. And I am a daily reflection of 1 Corinthians 1:27 which says, But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

But there is one specific passage I have been inflicted with at a much deeper level than many of the others.

“All these great people died in faith. They did not get the things that God promised his people, but they saw them coming far in the future and were glad. They said they were like visitors and strangers on earth. When people say such things, they show they are looking for a country that will be their own. If they had been thinking about the country they had left, they could have gone back. But they were waiting for a better country—a heavenly country. So God is not ashamed to be called their God, because he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)

 This is the one I have not been able to “shake myself awake” from since the first time I memorized it 16 years ago. It profoundly infiltrated every facet of my life to where I was left with no option, but to attempt to live it out daily.

I left home when I was 19 years old and never returned. Why? I love my mother and father and brother and sister passionately. I have the fondest memories of our God-allotted time together. But since leaving, the word home has not resonated with me as a physical, earthly place. I weep today because of the pain these words may have caused them over the years, but I receive comfort from my father’s words, which I have heard him speak on countless occasions:

     “I gave the three of you over to God.”

And I receive assurance from my Heavenly Father’s Words as revealed in the following story from Mark chapter 10:

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[a]”

 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it isto enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.

I shudder at the Truth of God’s Word realizing that He included the prospect of leaving children. This is where the sword digs deeper. And is that a scraping I feel as He divides my soul and spirit? Is it possible that I may one day drive or fly my most treasured valuables, my two daughters, to a far off place where we part with an all-encompassing embrace, a kiss whose memory I will try to draw from until eternity, and the most fervent prayer I have ever prayed? Will I repeat my father’s words?

I gave the two of you over to God.

 More weeping.

This is living for eternity. I am only a stranger, a visitor here on earth. I live looking forward to the day I find myself in the place I can truly call home. I have left homes, and mother and father, and brother and sister. I have surrendered material belongings and lived in scarcity. I have sat and feasted at the table of kings according to this world’s system, only to consume the meal of a pauper the next day; all for the sake of the Kingdom.

Please don’t misconstrue my words as arrogant or boastful. My longing is that I may never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. (Galatians 6:14)

But rather, receive my words as an explanation for the seemingly unconventional way I live my life, and as an invitation to meditate on the same agonizing passages of scripture I have been wounded by.

In light of the clarity expressed in God’s Word and after contemplative surveying of my most prized possessions, I am faced with the same challenge every day:

     Will I live for eternity or will I live for today?

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Lessons from a Mega Church

Driving away from the bright lights and big city of Las Vegas yesterday morning and through the desert, 45 minutes to the small town of Indian Springs, felt a lot like coming home after being gone for far too long. Some things were exactly as I remembered them: The casino where we’d have late night meals after church services, the gas station where we’d spend way too much money on soda, chips, and Chester Fried Chicken, the high school, and the park.

And then there was the church.

This tiny little military building stands as a literal oasis in this dessert town. It is a place where people have found hope, restoration, and acceptance for decades. It is in this place that I, and at least a hundred other young adults over the years, began to get our “feet wet” in ministry. Several nights every year were spent in this tiny church ministering to the children, youth, and adults of this tiny town. Our days were spent doing school assemblies in the high school gym, and outreaches in the park. We would roll into town with our team and vans and trailers filled with props and costumes and sound equipment and for the rest of the week we would be used to impact the town for God and then pack up and roll out until the following year.

Now I was returning after five years away.

Yes. Many things were just as I had left them. But many things had definitely changed. Over all, the people had changed. The children were taller, the youth were now married and having families, and the adults… many of their faces were now inscribed with the beautiful lines that told of their many joys and sorrows.

My first encounter with Echoes of Faith in Indian Springs, NV was in the summer of 2000. I was at the Christ for the Nations Institute youth camp, Youth for the Nations, along with two other team mates, recruiting for the discipleship program I helped lead. I was ministering in an afternoon session when I noticed the face of a young man sitting in the front row. There was something about the smile on his face and the joy in his eyes that kept drawing me back to him. I know now that it was God shining through him that kept bringing me to stop and speak right in front of him; almost directly to him.

Through that young man I met Pastor Kimmie Guerino, a woman who would challenge me for the rest of my life to be who God created me to be, to serve exactly where God has placed me, and to love people fiercely without the guarantee of a transformed life. The message of love recorded in I Corinthians chapter 13 is etched in her DNA, pumps through her veins, and saturates the lives of every person she spends time with.

Pastor Kimmie grew up in Indian Springs, and in a sense has never left. Through the years she has poured herself out on the people of the town. She has given of her time, money, and energy so that the people she loves would know the love of Jesus. And many times she has waited, like the father in Luke chapter 15. He waited for the return of his son and when he saw him still a ways off, he ran to meet him. I have seen Pastor Kimmie welcome the wayward sons and daughters of Indian Springs with honor and dignity and freedom from all judgment.

She has prayed for, cried with, and personally trained the youth of her town. And when many pastors would have tried with all of their might to keep these young people in order to build up their churches, Pastor Kimmie, using her own personal resources, sent them off to the very ends of the earth in order to build God’s church.

Today I want to honor Pastor Kimmie and I want to honor Echoes of Faith in Indian Springs, NV. I also want to honor Jesus’ Bride, His Body, the Church; which is comprised of many tiny churches. These are churches of which without them the Body could not function.

I Corinthians 12: 12 tells us that the body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.

We will probably never see Pastor Kimmie televised live preaching to a sports stadium filled with hundreds of thousands of people. But, we also may never see Joel Osteen, Bishop TD Jakes, or Francis Chan knocking on the doors of the homes in Indian Springs delivering Christmas gifts to their families or bringing the elderly to a community meal. These highly influential men of God cannot boast of the same hundreds of young people Pastor Kimmie has personally discipled since they were babies and sent out for the sake of the Kingdom. They also cannot boast of the many who have married and are raising families. They bought homes just outside of town. Yet, they make the 45 minute drive every week, often twice or three times a week out of hope that they might impact the town the same way Pastor Kimmie has impacted them.

For many years I found myself listening to the ever popular spiel about church growth. And I have walked away from those sessions with a very judgmental eye. There was a time, I am ashamed to admit, when I would walk into a church and take the liberty to point out every reason they were not “growing.”

I wonder if the same finger pointing was going on in the Church in Corinth. Maybe the “mega churches” were instructing the smaller churches to be more like them in order to “grow.” Maybe, just maybe this is why Paul taught them that “the body is made up of many parts.”

I wonder if the little churches looked at the mega churches and thought, “we might be better off to dissolve ourselves and join them.” Maybe their feelings of inferiority caused Paul to teach that if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.

I am beginning to learn, as I step into every type of church imaginable across this nation that if the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the Body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be.

 He placed Pastor Matthew Barnnett in the inner city of Los Angeles to reach the addicts and prostitutes and gang members. He placed Pastor Bill Johnson in Redding, CA to be an agent for His miracles to flow through. And He placed Pastor Kimmie Guerino in Indian Springs, NV to reach the people who might be missed as others drive through the desert giving little or no attention to its inhabitants.

If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one Body. (I Corinthians 12:14-20)

This weekend I walked into Echoes of Faith in Indian Springs, NV, looked around at the less than 50 people sitting in the seats and realized that all of these years I was honored to be speaking in one of our nation’s only, true mega churches.

Pastor Kimmie Guerino along with members of Echoes of Faith Church.

*Note: Every year Pastor Kimmie , through Echoes of Faith Church, provides Christmas gifts to the families living in Indian Springs, and takes about 20 to 30 the Youth For the Nations camp in Dallas, TX at the cost of $400.00 per individual. She also provides a monthly meal for the elderly of the community. If you would like to give to Echoes of Faith to help with the costs of these projects please contact me and I will get you in contact with pastor Kimmie.

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The Adventures of Ellie & Bobo (Story I)

Hi friends! The following is a story I’ve written for children. I began this series several years ago and would love to share it with you monthly for feedback. All of the stories will come out of Proverbs as a way to teach children lessons on wisdom. My hope is to one day find an illustrator and have this series published. Please read it to your children or children you know. I’d love their feedback and yours.

The Adventures of Ellie & Bobo

Character backgrounds: Once upon a time there lived two sisters, but this story is not about the sisters. It is about their trusted Buddies – Ellie & Bobo. Ellie is a soft-spoken, dainty, stuffed Elephant, and Bobo is her best friend. He is very loving, very strong, and somewhat dopey. He is a rather large, stuffed monkey. Every time Ellie & Bobo are out of sight from the sisters a miracle happens!

Story I – not titled

One morning Ellie & Bobo woke up late. This hardly ever happened. Bobo rubbed his eyes as the bright sun shined in from the large bedroom window. “What time is it, El?” he asked Ellie.

Ellie sat on the edge of the bed with her mouth wide open in surprise, staring at a small pink and yellow clock. “It’s already 10:30!” she said in horror.

“Where are the girls?” Bobo asked.

Ellie found a letter left on the night stand and read it aloud.”

 

Dear Ellie & Bobo,

            We are going to visit Gramma and Grampa today. We’ll be back tonight.

 

                        Love you,

                        Eden &Leia

 

Suddenly Bobo got a huge smile on his face and asked Ellie, “Do you know what this means?”

“Time for an adventure!” Ellie shouted as she danced around the room.

They hopped off the bed and tiptoed out of the bedroom. After double-checking that no one was home, they skipped down the hallway into the playroom. There were slides to slide down, cars to drive, books to read, pictures to draw, and mats to tumble on. Ellie & Bobo played to their hearts content without realizing how quickly time had passed until their tummies growled with hunger.

 

“Huh? Did you hear that?” Bobo asked Ellie.

“It’s your tummy, silly. You’ve played so hard you’ve worked up an appetite and so have I,” she said.

“Let’s eat!” they said as they locked arms and bounded down the hall toward the kitchen.

They rummaged through every cupboard and drawer and the refrigerator:

“Nothing good.”

“Nothing good.”

“Eww! Gross!”

“How old is this?”

“Do people really eat this stuff?”

And then they came to one particular cupboard. They opened it up and their mouths watered. This cupboard contained all of their favorite foods: candies, cookies, chips, and chocolates! They ate their way to the back of the cupboard until they realized there was no back to this cupboard! This cupboard led to a very special place where everything was made of sweets and could be eaten! Their eyes widened in surprise when they realized that the grass they were walking on was made of marshmallow and the trunks of the trees were fudge. Every flower was a different colored gumdrop, and the stream that ran along side them was grape soda! Very slowly Bobo picked a flower and popped it in his mouth. Ellie watched him to see what would happen. And just as slowly as he ate that flower, a huge smile appeared upon his face.

“Ellie, you’ve got to eat a flower,” he said handing her a bright purple flower.

Ellie popped the flower in her mouth and with delight moved to pick a leaf off a nearby tree. “Try this leaf and tell me what you think.”

Bobo ate the leaf, “Yummy! Tastes just like a potato chip!”

Ellie & Bobo ran and skipped and danced through this special place eating everything in sight. And suddenly it happened. Just as Ellie reached for a licorice tree branch, Bobo reached for the same one. Ellie yanked, and Bobo yanked harder. Bobo gave Ellie a mean look and Ellie gave Bobo one right back. The fight was on! They tumbled and rolled all around, neither one of them letting go of this one tree branch. All of a sudden they heard a loud “rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrip!” And Ellie started to cry.

“My seams are tearing!”

Bobo got a sick feeling in his tummy and they heard another “rrrrrrrrrrrrrrip!” This time the sound was much louder.

“Mine are too!” shouted Bobo.

“What’s happening to us?” asked Bobo.

“I think we’ve eaten too much!'” Ellie said. “I don’t feel very well.”

They sat on the marshmallow grass in this not-so-special-anymore place with upset tummies and didn’t say a word to one another for a while.

Ellie started to feel sorry for the way she behaved. “Bobo, I was being so selfish and thinking only of myself. I saw all the pretty, tasty treats and wanted them so badly I stopped being nice to you.”

“I did the same thing and I ate so much I made myself sick,” Bobo said. “What should we do now?” he asked.

“I think the best thing we can do is learn our lesson. We were being selfish and selfish people cause trouble, Bobo. I don’t want to cause trouble for people, especially not for you. You’re my best friend” Ellie said.

“You’re my best friend too, El. It’s so easy to be selfish and it feels so good at the time. It’s hard to think of others before I think of myself,” Bobo said with tears filling his very sorry eyes.”

“I know what you mean, Bobo. But we are lucky that God will help us remember others, if we ask Him to.” Ellie replied.

And right there in the middle of chocolate, gumdrops, and marshmallow Ellie & Bobo got down on their knees and prayed.

“Dear God, we’re very sorry for being so selfish. We were only thinking of ourselves and we were not thinking of each other or of you. Please help us not to be selfish and to think of others. Please heal our tummies and put us back together. We love you. Amen”

Bobo opened his eyes and looked at looked at Ellie. “Ellie! You’re seams are stitched again!”

“Yours are too, Bobo!”

“And my tummy doesn’t hurt anymore,” Bobo said.

“Neither does mine!”

They held hands and danced around in a circle before heading back to the cupboard.

Later that night when the sisters returned home they found their children’s Bible laying open on their bed displaying these words:

Selfish people cause trouble, but you will live a full life if you trust the LORD. Proverbs 28:25.

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What’s the Deal? Part 2

We had the amazing opportunity last week to do four hours of teaching with a group of 25 young adults in Federal Heights, CO. Our topic was the very subject we will be bringing to Las Vegas, Southern California, Phoenix, Albuquerque, and Dallas as we continue on our five week long journey:

God’s heart and plan for Israel and the Jewish people and how we as Christians have a vital role in it.

As we have been journeying together with the Lord ministering to the Church and blessing the nation and people of Israel we are asked often: What’s the deal with Israel?

The following is an essay which was written about 5 years ago and can be found on the Zealous 8:2 website http://www.zealous82.com. There really is no need for me to rewrite it as it is written so well. I hope the lord sparks something new in you as you read it.

If you or someone you know is between the ages of 18 and 30 and would be interested in a tour of Israel designed for young adults please message me for information on our upcoming June tour.

Zealous 8:2 Young Adult Adventure Tour June 2012

What’s the Deal with Israel?

Why are so many Christians starting to get interested in the nation of Israel? Is this the Israel of the Bible, the Israel of God, or merely the result of human politics with an unfortunate name? Do we as Christians have a connection with the nation and people of Israel by virtue of our faith in the God of the Bible, the God of Israel? If you have ever asked such questions, then we have attempted to answer them, or at least give food for further thought. Our intention is to offer a resource to the honest enquirer.

It’s about God, not Israel

What I mean by this is that God’s relationship with Israel is primarily about Him and not about them. Whenever we make God’s dealings primarily about the people, we have put the cart before the horse. We have made man, not God, the starting point and primary focus of His work. God always takes the initiative when relating to men, because we cannot. He always relates to men on the basis of who He is rather than who they are. This is the principle of grace. The issue of Israel in the Scriptures is all about the character and of God. We cannot afford to lose sight of God’s sovereignty in His choosing Israel and the Jewish people, nor make this relationship primarily about them rather than Him.

It’s about His Glory

It is important to understand that God desires to bring Himself glory in the world, and this forms part of His motivation in every action He performs. (This does not mean that love, mercy, holiness, and the other characteristics of the Person of God are not also present in His actions, only that a desire for His personal glory is always present). Since God desires that all men know Him, His character must be displayed in dramatic visible ways. It is evident in His work of creation, the stars declaring the praises of God (Ps. 19:1), in the sending of His Son (John 17:1, 5), and in His action of saving people (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14). The same is true in His dealing with the nation of Israel. Ezekiel chapter 36 speaks clearly of the return and re-establishment of the nation of Israel, and God clarifies His motives for doing this, “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake” (Ezek. 36:22), that is, His reputation and glory. God is working in Israel for His own purpose and glory, demonstrating powerfully before the nations that He is faithful to His promises (Ps. 105:8–11); He is able to fulfill His Word. If the issue of Israel is this important for God, it should be for us as well.

It’s about Salvation

God used Israel to bring salvation to the world. All the major biblical characters, the people God used in His plan for salvation, were all of the people of Israel. Moses, David, all the prophets; basically, all the heroes of the faith came from Israel. Jesus (Yeshua), the Man Christians know as Messiah, was and is Jewish. All the apostles were Jewish. All the books of the Bible (save Luke and Acts) were written by Jews. The 120 people in the upper room on the day of Pentecost were Jews. The entire early church was Jewish. It was only later, under the ministry of Paul, a Jew, that the Gospel was taken in a substantial manner to the Gentile nations. As a person who is of European descent, I have to acknowledge that while God was dealing with Israel (and had been dealing with them for thousands of years), my ancestors were pagans, worshipping creation rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:20–25). God chose Israel to reveal Himself to the world, and if it wasn’t for Him choosing and using them, we would still be in this same desperate situation, without hope in the world (Eph. 2:12). The same is true for every nation and people on earth. God used Israel to bring salvation to the world. We see in this the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that, “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen. 12:3).

It’s about Our Identity

The issue of Israel is about our identity as believers. While the center and root of our Christian identity will always be found in Jesus Christ (Yeshua HaMashiach), the Scriptures teach us that we have become a part of redemptive history that precedes His work, which began with Abraham. In Romans chapters 9 to 11 Paul says that Gentile believers in Yeshua HaMashiach have been grafted into Israel, or, using his analogy, we as wild olive shoots have been grafted into the cultivated olive tree of Israel (Rom. 11:15—25). This olive tree has been cultivated by God, over millennia, by the following (Rom. 9:4—5):

  • “the adoption,” the fact that God entered into relationship with them, choosing them to be His special people
  • “the glory,” the wonder of being chosen by God to be His special people, out of all the earth
  • “the covenants,” those solemn promises which define the nature of the relationship between God and Israel
  • “the giving of the law,” which Paul describes as holy, just and good (Rom. 7:12), a revelation of the character of God, who is holy, just and good
  • “the service of God,” that Israel was called to be a priestly nation in service of the God of heaven
  • “the promises,” which God made to Israel
  • “of whom are the fathers,” the fact that all the heroes of the faith were of the house of Israel, including the patriarchs, the fathers whom God loves (Deut. 10:15)
  • “and from whom, according to the flesh, Messiah came,” that God used Israel to birth Yeshua into the world.

God has, by His grace, grafted Gentiles, who were outside the promises and without hope in the world (Eph. 2:12), into this rich heritage by faith in His Son, Yeshua HaMashiach. This rich heritage should therefore form part of our identity as believers.

It’s about World Redemption

We live in a day and age in which more prophecies are being fulfilled than any other time in history except for the first coming of Yeshua HaMashiach. These prophecies are focused around the re-establishment of the nation of Israel. These events, which were long foretold by the prophets and recorded in Scripture, are unfolding in our day and age. What do we mean? Let’s look at a basic outline of prophetic events:

  1. Isaiah 66:7—10 spoke of the birth of the nation of Israel in a day. This happened in 1948, the first time Israel was a sovereign nation since the exile to Babylon in 586 BC.
  2. Many prophecies speak of the return of the Jews from the four corners of the earth (Jer. 32:37–41; Ezek. 20:34, 34:13, 36:24; Zech. 8:7–8). Since the nineteenth century, millions of Jews have returned home to the land of Israel.
  3. Yeshua said in Luke 21:24 that Jerusalem would be trampled by the Gentiles. Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 and AD 135, and came under Gentile control. This agonized the heart of the Jewish people who have always viewed Jerusalem as their spiritual home. However, thankfully, this was not the end of the story, for Yeshua added, “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” In 1967, during the Six Day War, east Jerusalem was recaptured and came under full sovereignty of the Jewish people for the first time in 2,600 years (Also see Zech. 8:7–8).

What does the fulfillment of these prophecies mean? Yeshua clearly linked these events to His imminent return (Luke 21:27–32). It is therefore an exciting time in which to live, for we are seeing the unfolding of prophetic events long foretold by God and recorded in His Word. God is fulfilling His Word and we are alive to see it.

It’s about you

The issue of Israel affects you. If we love God, then we should love what He loves. If He loves Israel, so should we. If God longs to see Himself glorified in Israel, so should we. If God is working in Israel, which He clearly is, so should we. Loving and supporting Israel isn’t primarily about Israel; it is primarily about loving what God loves, because we love Him. It is about choosing to embrace for ourselves what He has embraced for Himself out of our devotion to Him. We serve God by serving His plan and purpose for Israel.

Secondly, we need to understand that we are indebted to Israel (Rom. 15:27). God used Israel to show His great mercy to us. Perhaps we should be involved in showing them the same kindness we have been shown through them?

Lastly, understanding what God is doing in Israel (see the section, “It’s About World Redemption”) is about understanding the nature of the day in which we live. The New Testament clearly describes the signs of the times that will precede the coming of Messiah. These signs are most clearly seen when looking at Israel. We are not saying this will happen in the next 10 years, next 50 years or even our lifetime. We are merely pointing to the signs of the times. We need to hear the words of Yeshua:

“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly” (Luke 21:34).

Let’s shake off the cares of this world and pursue God with the passion and zeal that He deserves. Let’s be zealous for Him. Let’s be zealous for what He is zealous for.

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What’s the Deal?! Part 1

Patrick & me on the Mt. of Olives. Our first trip to Israel.

I’m sitting with my family of four in our tiny 2-door Honda Accord driving through Kansas City. Our car is loaded down with everything we need for five weeks of life and ministry. In the next five weeks we are schedule for over 20 meetings in six states. Just a few hours ago I was finishing up the last few of our dirty dishes before locking up our house to leave. I was listening to CFNI’s You Are Holy when I was overcome by the powerful sense that I was preparing to do the very thing I was born to do. I’m not talking about that thing that wedges itself into your heart and mind when an inspirational speaker at youth camp preaches a message about dreams. I’m talking about actualizing my role in God’s plan on the earth.

We will spend the next five weeks speaking to young adults about God’s heart for Israel. We will be teaching them what the Bible says concerning Israel and equipping them to stand with and bless the nation of Israel the Jewish people.

When Patrick & I first got involved with this ministry I was asked the same question by several people.  And even now, upon meeting new people, I receive the same question:

Are you Jewish?

No. I’m not Jewish. I’m Mexican-American.

Well then, did you grow up around a lot of Jewish people and Jewish culture?

No. I grew up in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods and can’t remember having even one Jewish friend while I was growing up.

Well, then why Israel? Why do you love the Jewish people so much? What’s the deal with Israel?

I love Israel and the Jewish people so much because when I was four years old I met and fell in love with a Jewish rabbi named Yeshua, Jesus. At the same time I met and fell in love with His Bride, the Church. And as I learned to walk with Jesus I also fell in love with His Word. And as I read through His Word I find that from Genesis 12 through Revelation 22, God is speaking to Israel, about Israel, or giving us instructions for living because those who have received Jesus as Lord and Savior are grafted into the Olive Tree, Israel.

If I had to pin-point one specific time when I began loving Israel I would have to go back to some of my earliest childhood memories growing up in church. I loved hearing the Bible stories taught each week in Sunday School. And I especially loved the flannel graph pictures. One of my favorite stories was the story of Peter’s restoration over breakfast after Jesus is resurrected to life. I remembering thinking about how great it would have been to be alive during Bible times living in all of the places I heard about from my Sunday School teacher. I remember the excitement and jubilation that always enveloped our church during the Easter season as we prepared for our annual Easter production; the costumes and music, and the massive sets constructed to turn the entire sanctuary into a Jerusalem market place. It was all so exciting! Little did I know that the Lord was beginning to plant the tiniest seeds and that one day they would flower and bear fruit.

There were sporadic times since then when the Lord brought my heart back to Israel. But the one moment that stands out to me was when I was 19 years old. I had just moved back home after a year of discipleship and ministry training in Phoenix, AZ. It was my first Sunday morning back in my home church – an elementary school cafeteria. For some reason I had the hardest time entering into worship that morning, so I sat down with my Bible on my lap and began reading the first page it opened to. My eyes fell on Psalm 122:6 –Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…

I had read that verse and heard it quoted thousands of times since I was a little girl. There was even a popular song on Christian radio when I was kid that said “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” So I’m sure I had even sung those words before. But this time I knew that something significant was set in motion when my eyes fell on those words.

I’d like to say that I immediately began studying everything I could about Israel and Jewish culture and that I even began taking courses in conversational Hebrew. But I didn’t. The truth is, I didn’t do one single thing in regards to Israel for a lot of years. However, I always knew Israel would play out in some way in my life.

I spent the next 12 years of my life working for and directing an intense discipleship and ministry training school for young adults. I met and married my husband and we had our two daughters and we worked hard and gave of our time and energy and resources to discipling young people.

We loved our ministry and the young people we ministered to very much and never would have chosen to leave it or them. However, in 2007, the Lord used a series of painful events to show us that our time there was done. We graduated our last class that May and instead of sending our resume` out to other churches we believed we were to wait. Wait for what? We were not sure except that we knew God would direct us.

We spent some of the darkest days of our lives from 2007-2009. We experienced what felt like the death of our ministry, a horrible miscarriage, painfully critical words from people we loved, and destructive, invading lies from the enemy during that time. I can recall many dark moments with my face buried in the couch as I screamed at God for abandoning me. And then I would feel so heavily condemned for those thoughts that I’d end up with my face in the couch again, this time begging God for His forgiveness.

It was at the end of this dark period, when we were sure that we would never do ministry again, that we were introduced to Bridges for Peace. We were invited to attend a conference in Florida. We had every intention of going, but then time got away and our lives got busy. Our oldest daughter started school that fall, my grandfather got deathly ill and we had to drive to California, and then there was the constant lack of finances. About one week before the conference, as we were packing to go to California to say our good-bye’s to my grandfather, we got a phone call. The gentleman on the phone began telling me that funds were raised to fly both me and Patrick to the conference and to cover our conference registration, which included an evening at Disney World. After a quick conversation where I was told to expect another phone call where I would be given flight information I sat on my couch thinking Who are these people?! Funds were raised? By people we had never met before?

A few days later, and still under a very dark cloud, we found ourselves in Cocoa, FL hearing a message that we had never heard before. We were hearing and reading scriptures and passages that we had read and heard since we were both children. But we had never had them presented this way. And the more surprising thing was that they were making more sense to us than ever before. We received hours of teaching and never grew bored. We were the foolish ones sitting at the edge of our seats with our mouths wide open in awe. I felt, for the first time in my life, the Word of God as a double-edged sword. I could almost physically feel it piercing to the division of my soul and spirit. It was just the Word. But it wasn’t presented as symbolic or allegorical. It was presented as the history of an actual people and an actual Land. And it was presented as prophetic word concerning an actual people and an actual Land. And I was taught that it was my history and prophetic word concerning me because I’ve been grafted into that people. The Word became more exciting to me that night than ever in my life.

The next morning we were in a time of prayer for Israel. I’ll be honest, I was a bit intimidated. I hoped we wouldn’t have to lead out loud. I had been in church my entire life and now I was wondering How do you pray for Israel? I knelt at the altar silently listening to the prayers in the room. And then, feeling no pressure to, I began crying out to God. I don’t remember what I said word for word, but it had to do with all the years that I spent discipling young adults and how I had missed a vital part of God’s Word – His heart for, words to and about, and His plan for Israel and the Jewish people.

Patrick & I decided that if God ever chose to put us in a position of influence with young people again our focus would be the entirety of His Word; which from Genesis chapter 12 to Revelation chapter 22 is centered on Israel.

So, here I am watching the sun set over the plains of Kansas heading to Colorado.

The Eastern Gate from the Mt. of Olives. Jesus will return here and enter the city through these gates!

The Western Wall.

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Copycat

A few nights ago my husband & I were privileged to be ministering in the Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. One night during worship I had my eyes opened to a very startling and sobering truth. I can’t tell you what songs we were singing but I had my eyes closed and hands raised when I had the strange notion I was being watched. I opened my eyes and lo and behold there my two daughters were standing near the stage with their little necks craned so that they could see me! They immediately turned back toward the stage and raised their hands.

My immediate response was to giggle. “They’re copying me!” I thought to myself.

I continued on in worship and as the music picked up with a quicker beat I began to sway a little back and forth. Again, I felt the eyes and when mine met theirs they quickly turned away. And now, those two precious little heads began to sway in the same direction and with the same lack of rhythm as my sway.

It was becoming both fun and funny to me! They were mimicking me move for move. When my hands went up, theirs did too. When I swayed, they swayed, and in the same direction. When my eyes closed and my expressions became intense or passionate, their eyes closed and their faces scrunched up and became intense and passionate.

Somewhere in this little match I watched my girls transition out of a game of copycat with mommy and into standing before their Master in pure, childlike, fully abandoned worship. I watched their little lips, as they no longer followed the words to the songs being led. Now they were creating their own words. They began offering their own prayers and words of love and adoration to their savior.

This revelation moved me to weeping and landed me on my knees. Holy Spirit began to remind me that I am being watched and the most important people in my world are following me – the two little souls who I have been trusted to lead and guide and train so that they will walk in the way they should go. I became an ugly, blubbering mess of Mama on my knees!

I’ve been in that place before. Before stepping out on a platform to preach, or leading a team across the country, and often times as I sit down to write. Those moments turn into times of pleading with the Lord, “Lead me as I lead them!” But those moments, as precious as they are, will never compare with the awe, fear, and reverence I felt in this one.

I was never the girl who dreamed of being married and having children. Growing up my aspirations were toward having a career. Growing up in church I remember all of my friends wanting to work in the church nursery and hold the babies. And as a young woman entering discipleship and ministry I remember hearing everyone talk about getting married and having kids. As I continued in ministry I just couldn’t fathom “slowing down” to raise children.

Fast forward many years and I found myself 27 years old, holding this little person who was so tiny, yet powerful enough to open wide this chamber of my heart I never knew existed. Twenty months later her sister followed and another chamber, unbeknownst to me, burst completely alive. And the God of the universe, the one who fashioned them in my womb, who knows every one of their days and mine, knows the number of hairs on their heads, and has set them apart for a purpose unique to them and intended for His Name’s Sake has chosen to entrust me and their father with them; to train them up in the way they should go so that when they are old they will not depart from Him.

This could be an overwhelming and bewildering thought for us as parents when we look at the world around us as it vies for the attentions and loyalties of our children. How are we to fight against such a strong pull and win?

We are given excellent examples as we read through the Word and they can all be summed up in one word: Discipleship.

Webster’s dictionary defines a disciple as “one who believes the teachings of a master,” and goes on to say that the disciple may help to “disseminate those teachings.” From this definition many in the Church have come to understand discipleship as taking place when a more seasoned Christian teaches a newer convert to believe with faith the things written in the Bible. “All you have to do is believe what it says.”

However, if we will view discipleship from the premise of its origination, in first century Israel when Jesus walked the Land calling several men to be His disciples, we would discover a very different definition.

In Jesus’ day discipleship did not take place in a classroom or by receiving instruction sitting in a synagogue pew. Discipleship took place in every day life. The roads they walked along, the hillsides and the seashores became their classrooms.

Discipleship in the first century took on the same characteristics as parenting was instructed to when God delivered the Israelites from Egypt. In Deuteronomy Chapter 6 verses 1 and 2 Moses instructs the people, “These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.” In verses 4 through 8 he says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” There was to be very little time in the family’s day where the parents were not teaching their children about the goodness of God.

And so it was with discipleship. A disciple learned from his master in the morning, day, and night as they walked along the way, prepared meals, and worked at a skill. And the most important skill a disciple would learn would be that of imitation. The disciple learned not only what his master believed and to believe it also, but to act upon those beliefs in the same manner his master acted. It would not be uncommon, and in fact was often expected for a disciple to speak with the same words as his master, for him to respond with emotion as his master would; and many physical gestures and mannerisms of the disciple were but a reflection of that of his master. He was not just to believe his master, but also to become his master. This process was not the byproduct of force, but of the disciple’s zealous love and commitment to his master.

Upon learning about discipleship in the Hebraic world, discipleship the way Jesus did it, a light bulb went on in my mind. Initially I thought, “Who wants to be an imitator? Aren’t we to be individuals?” And then I thought of the countless kids, teenagers, and young adults I’ve ministered to over the years: countless individuals trying desperately to be “individual,” but really only becoming imitators of someone else trying to be an individual.

And then I thought of myself. I was always imitating someone else. To look back at pictures of me in middle school and high school and since you would only see a girl wearing the same clothes seen in magazines or on schoolyards through out the country during that specific decade. My friends and I dressed the same, talked the same, listened to the same music, and teased our bangs into the same exact style.

Everyone will imitate someone in some aspect. Who then will I have my children imitate. The Apostle Paul knew this truth well and that is why he instructed his spiritual sons and daughters in the church in Corinth saying, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

I make a million wrong decisions every day. I am nowhere near the perfection of Jesus. I do however seek with all of my heart to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

No, I have not already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also Christ Jesus laid hold of me. I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:10-14)

If my daughters will see this in me, then after strong contemplation and sobering awareness I say to them, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”

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Upon This Rock

Rainbow Falls Smokey Mountains, TN

I’m sitting on a rock in front of our destination – Rainbow Falls in the Smokey Mountains. Some of God’s most glorious beauty is before me. The atmosphere is clean as I breathe in the cold mountain air. My skin is lightly touched by the spray of the falls. And the roar of the waters join with the song of the birds and the rustling of the trees as a very light rain begins to fall.

My husband is doing his best to snap as many pictures as he can right before he slips, plunging his entire right foot into the icy cold water. He hardly gets upset! We are feeling so alive! And just beyond the fall I see soft, golden brown hair bouncing from between the trees. I hear child-like laughter as I glimpse two little heads bobbing up and down. My two daughters have made their ways past the falls and are now jumping from rock to rock, squealing with such delight. In one split second my heart transitions from pure rapture at the sights and sounds and smells around me to a biting sadness. I want to be with them! I don’t want to stay on this rock! I want to jump and laugh and not worry about falling. I want to cross the narrow log bridge without holding on to the rail. Why don’t I?

Why do I stay on this rock? The atmosphere is heavenly, but it was not created for me to simply gaze upon it. It was created for me to be a part of; for me to wedge my way into it becoming a participator of its splendor. It’s not a one dimensional picture book, but more of a pop-up. And I am to leap in it, to run and skip and laugh out loud. A rip-roaring, belly laugh! Why do I stay on this rock?!

I’ve concluded that it’s not because I broke my elbow when I was 7 years old, or because I was in a body cast when I was 8. It’s not because I broke my wrist when I was 19 either. It’s beyond the fear of physical endangerment. What is it then? Why do I stay seated on this rock?

I’ve resolved that it is decades of failures that keep me sitting here. Pounding in my heart are words spoken over the years that have caused me to question; and words held back that I desperately needed to hear. I’m planted here for fear of falling. I fear disappointing those I love most. What if I get up and run and leap and jump from mossy stone to mossy stone, laughing and roaring about and then suddenly fall. Will my daughters see that Mommy isn’t strong? Will they begin to view me as foolish? I am paralyzed, unable to move from this rock because of a lifetime of being told how I should behave and having pointed out to me what might be deemed ridiculous, unnecessary, and unacceptable.

In my paralysis my mind flashes forward to the next 60 to 70 years. I’ve so much life left in me. There are so many places for me to go. There is laid before me the gift of a stunning adventure. If I give these words and thoughts and fears permission to have their way I will find myself for the rest of my life gazing upon a one-dimensional picture book.

I’m reminded of what the Psalmist and King said in Psalms 27:13 and I become “confident of this: I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.” A twinge of fight rises up in me. I don’t want to just see it. I want to participate with it! With fear and trepidation I determine, with a quivering heart, to Forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead, to press on, even with shaky hands and wobbly knees  toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. With slight hesitancy and increasing determination I reconcile to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and run, not tiptoe, but run and leap and jump with perseverance the race marked out for me.

Finally, I leave my rock to head back down the mountain. The rain is falling a little heavier. I cross the log bridge; this time hands-free. And up ahead I see the sweetest little head bobbing from rock to rock and I hear her angelic voice say, “Bounce with me, Mommy.”

Deep breathe. Release. Here I go.

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Intro to a Slave Girl

 “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.  What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” Romans 6:17-22

In writing this, you the reader must know that I have stepped over the ledge. For years I have wrestled with the idea of starting a blog. For the past several years my husband has brought it up at least once every 3 or 4 months. And two years ago I actually started one. I also abandoned that same blog after only a couple of weeks.

There are several arguments I can give for not writing a blog before. The argument I use most often is that I am not an expert at anything. I’ve tossed several ideas back and forth in my mind only to realize I know hardly anything about anything! I think my biggest and truest argument, though is that I fear I will find out that I lack commitment.

As I begin 2012 I am ready to squash both of these hindrances. I want to view this blog as a relationship; my relationship with you. Whoever you are and however many of you there are, I will be committed to you. As far as being an expert, I have one area of expertise: my own personal journey with the living God and how it has been the bedrock of my life and everything it entails. If you’re interested in revelation on life and God as received by  a Lover of Jesus, Wife, Mommy, Daughter, Sister, Friend,  Zealot, Disciple, Slave, Advocate, Pilgrim, Stranger, Alien, Pastor, Preacher, Teacher, Writer, someone who is Forgiven and Healed, then join me.

The great love of my life, my husband, informs me that I tend to be long-winded. I do not intend to change this. I will however, only post once a week. I hope you’ll stick with me. And I hope we’ll become good enough friends that you will introduce me to your closest friends.

Here we go, let’s take this leap together.

Your new friend and a Slave to Righteousness,

Rebecca

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