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fullsizeoutput_2b80The darkness is on the way. You can feel it creeping in. There is no way that it can be thwarted.

These woods are familiar. A handful of times I have walked these grounds and emerged safely each time. But, there are beasts nearby.

Humans who make a mistake when four-footed creatures lurk nearby, will regret a bad choice, a fear induced flight, or an all-out terrified panic. An outdoor spirit and personal confidence are your best friends. Never let fear loom bigger than it really deserves.

Never turn your back on creature. They have instincts to attack when prey runs away. That’s the way God created them. Besides it is not possible to outrun an animal which has twice as many legs to help it race.

This is their habitat. Each animal can duck branches that will take down a clumsy human. They can deftly leap over fallen logs, dodge tree limbs, and scurry around impenetrable bushes.

When a human panics, the sounds of a charging nocturnal creature are hideous. Thunderous snarls, earth-shattering growls, or spine-tingling screams have an affect on people that melt the bravest into a puddle of helplessness. If a prowling beast puts a human on the ground, it is game over; the predator wins.

Confidence comes with keeping a clear head. I know where I am on the property. The direction for my safe exit is fixed in my mind. Carefully, I scan the woods for my escape route. Darkening woods change with the shifting shadows of the looming night.

My carefully selected gear solidify my surface bravery. I know my equipment. It makes me dangerous to the animals in the woods. They are on notice that this human is the ruler of these woods.

Courage comes from certainty. Bravery wins the night because of experience. Dependable equipment gives layers of protection not just for survival but for domination.

I emerge from the woods where the night has claimed those grounds. Yes, I am safe and sound. For me it is a matter of faith in the darkness. I am delighted that trust in what is dependable has pushed aside what fear tries to claim.

photo by brucefong photography

Israel 2014 IFL 401There is a military presence in Israel that we do not experience in America.  Modern warfare and international threat are a part of an Israeli’s daily routine.  They go about their errands and travels without distraction from the weaponry and what those trappings of war could mean in a day that has the potential to erupt into violence.

On my tour I have subtly glanced at the presence of soldiers who were around.  When a man in fighting fatigues is in my vicinity and he is heavily armed for an altercation, I take notice.  Yet, there is something unique about Israel and its presence for battle.

You can look exclusively at the weaponry or you can look into the faces of the soldiers.  The guns and ammunition tell you that these soldiers are ready to fight.  They are colleagues who will fight together and for each other.

Yet, their collegiality supersedes their armament.  There is calm in their countenance.  A joy is pervasive among these young combatants.

They are not nervous about carrying weapons into a crowded square, packed with people from all around the world.  Locals mix in with pilgrims are part of the gathering that these sentinels are to guard from harm.  A successful sense of calm and security come with the presence of these warriors.

Israel 2014 IFL 402Each one carries his armament like he is comfortable with them.  That confidence comes from splendid training and experience.  Preparation like that gives us visitors a peace that frees us to enjoy our visit.

At the same time that sense of peace is held in check.  The very presence of the military reveals that the threat to peace is ever-present.  Contrasting political views vie for dominance.

Some want only peace and have proven their willingness to coexist.  Others are not so gracious.  That tension is the basis for placing these soldiers in our presence.

The spiritual world is the same.  We are surrounded by the trappings of spiritual conflict.  There is an invisible yet clear presence of an enemy who is constantly attempting to derail those in pursuit of righteousness.

We have been given the equipment to battle successfully against the wiles of the Devil.  They are listed for us as pieces of armor.  Each item is effective but we need to practice, train and utilize them until we are comfortable with them.

Our battle calls for truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, Word and prayer.  These are for our protection.  Are we comfortable with each and all?  Being prepared for war is wisdom.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Joshua 18-20

Part 2 of 6

 

The nation of Israel was now in the Promised Land.  Joshua had led the Israelites through major military battles and watched God fight in front of them for victory after victory.  Then, God gave the nation rest.

 

Joshua spoke on the behalf of the LORD.  He told them that now they could take their allotment of land and finish up driving out the remaining people who were the enemies of God and by doing so expand their own borders.  Caleb had done just that.

 

However, the rest of the tribes balked at taking such initiative on their own.  Joshua was annoyed with their reluctance.  He gathered them together and scolded them.

 

He reminded them that the LORD had given them the Land.  They were not expected to gain victory on their own.  Instead, they were challenged to claim what was already given to them.

 

The Levites, however, were not rewarded as the rest of the tribes.  They did not receive a land inheritance.  For them the privilege of serving the nation as priests is their reward.

 

Very few of us in ministry have any grand ideas of getting rich in what we have been called to do.  We simply look to God for our needs and love our life of service.  In the end we trust His saints to take care of those who serve them spiritually.

 

More later…

Israel 2014 IFL 354The pace that our trip to the Holy Land was maintaining pushed the limits of our human ability to retain the overload of information.  It is a challenging task to decipher what our pilgrims can receive and how much we can push them to give full value to their once-in-a-lifetime tour.  While it might seem strange, giving them a respite helped increase their capacity to take in more.

Along the journey a momentary glimpse of something unique could seal the faith of a pilgrim with a visual reminder.  Constantly we were looking at this or seeing that.  Yet, a moment of beauty from a single window bringing in the sunlight from the outside into the dark dingy cavernous stone cathedral was captivating.

God’s created sunlight lit up the ceiling of an ancient architectural wonder like only a postcard could do.  It happened between moments of our guide giving one of his many lectures.  The crowd of people were being directed to another location.

As we waited for our turn to file out, I glanced up.  The arches of the ceiling and roof were reflecting the physics of structure and the aesthetics of design.  God lit up the shades of stone and the strength of engineering to give one of those beautiful moments when faith not just felt but also seen.

Israel 2014 IFL 360Stepping out into the sun was a reward.  Inside the building sunlight was relegated to a single portal.  Now, it was the dominate attraction in the sky.

Floods of sunlight showered on the foliage around me.  A tree burst out in yellow blossoms.  Each was reflecting the radiant light of the stellar ball of fire.

The pedals captured the rays of light.  Brilliant puffs of color decorated our canopy of shade.  God was reminding us that this was the Land that He promised His people.

If we would live by faith, we too would enjoy His fulfilled promises.  There was nothing that the God of creation could not do.  With faith everything was possible.

Israel 2014 IFL 364The powerful light was too much.  I looked down.  There my eyes rested but found another amazing delight.

The symbol of our faith was there.  Representing the joy of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the grave grew up by my feet.  Easter Lilies blossomed just at the right spot on our tour.

My mind was contemplating the reality of my faith.  The beauty of my faith was there for my eyes to stroke.  Faith is a saving reality and beauty to behold.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Joshua 15-17
Part 4 of 6

In contrast to Caleb’s securing his borders and expanding his territories, Judah is not as successful. The description for the large tribe is disheartening. Here the Scripture simply says “Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites.”

Some may sympathize and justify Judah’s effort as being their best. Yet, the lingering consequences of this failure impact Israel’s future. Jerusalem as a city is impacted for generations.

The subtle truth is that Judah could not dislodge the enemy. A stubborn enemy is not overcome by our own efforts but how we depend on God to work through us to achieve His objectives. If Judah had come before the Lord and sought His strength instead of depending upon their own strength, the outcome would have been different.

Failure in faith is contagious. What we choose not to do or overlook in our faith efforts discourages others from trying. Remember those who are watching and depending on your initiatives to exemplify faith living.

More later…

There was a day when Jesus was walking with His disciples.  They were going to Jerusalem for a festival.  This company entered the city through the Sheep Gate, near the pool of Bethesda.

Five covered colonnades near the pool marked this distinguishing site.  A man was there who was born blind.  Jesus engages him in a conversation.

Many who are disabled crowd around these waters.  Those who are blind, lame and paralyzed make this location their daily routine.  The expectation of a miracle is on everyone’s mind.

Israel 2014 IFL 349The man talks with Jesus but has no idea who He is.  Instead, he only talks about his predicament.  When the waters are stirred, he is frustrated because there is no one who can help him into the waters.

Jesus asks the man the obvious, “Do you want to get well?”  Even the man does not pick up on this query.  He answers with his predicament.

Then, Jesus declares that the man is healed.  He orders the man to pick up his mat and walk.  The healed man does so.

Everything about this  miracle is immediate.  There is rehabilitation.  No transition time is necessary.

Although the man has never seen since he was born blind, his mind can process people and he can negotiate his physical locomotion.  The miracle is total.  Yet, the mystery that surrounds it linger.

But there were sour legalistic people around.  Some took the rules of living to the extreme.  They criticized the healed man for carrying his mat.

Israel 2014 IFL 348In their perspective it was work and no one who was serious about their Judaism worked on the day of rest.  It is ludicrous to understand the rationale of this encounter.  Nevertheless, this extremism speaks to the unwillingness of people to see their own sin and stubborn refusal to humbly come to Jesus and believe in His message of grace.

The man who was healed kept on expressing a simplicity of his faith.  He simply told his critics that he was just doing what the man who healed instructed him to do.  When challenged to identify Jesus, the man honestly responded that he did not know who He was.

Later, in Jesus’ quiet way he met the man who He had healed.  He told him to go and sin no more.  Bad things happen to those who sin.

This is the message at the pool of Bethesda.  God’s mercy comes to those in need.  When it does, then humbly obey with simple faith.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

Joshua 12-14
Part 2 of 6

We all make decisions that end up being determinative in our lives. These decisions are the result of choices that we make. Some times these are agreements others are partnerships and still others are unilateral promises.

God leads us into challenging situations in life. When He does we must be ready. Decisions and choices will meet us. Wisdom to choose well and complete any steps of obedience will be essential to faithful living.

Over the years I have taught many students. I make them a promise that no matter where they are or what happens in their lives, if they are hurting and need someone I will be there. They can call me or come and see and I will help them.

Whenever that call has come I have answered. It calls for some immediate decisions and choices but God has always been faithful through helping those in need. Tough moments have come along with those cries for help, but God’s mercy has always been a part of those moments to come alongside someone in need.

More later…

Israel 2014 IFL 326There is a special quiet place in the middle of all the hustle and bustle of the crowded active city of Jerusalem.  It has a panoramic view of the Ancient City.  The setting today is still serene.

After the miles traveled and arrangements that mark this once in a lifetime visit to the Land, it is well worth the altered course to visit this special site.  Traditionally, Jesus was here.  When His busy ministry captured all of His brief days in this region, He paused here.  The Gospel of Luke in chapter 19 verse 41, the event was captured.

Jesus looked over the city of Jerusalem and knew what would transpire. Israel 2014 IFL 324 As grand a city as it was and as fabulous a location of strength and faith that it was, it would fall because of sin.  Its people would be carried away into the Dispersion.

The heart of God for His people is captured in this tender moment.  Love clashes with the reality of impending judgment.  It is not cruel but necessary and consistent with the holiness of God.

Israel 2014 IFL 331Sin can never be tolerated.  It must be dealt with swiftly and definitively. Hope for a future is just as real.

Grace comes from the Almighty as well. He will bring the nation back.  Our moment of the hillside marks the reality of that anticipation from ancient days.

Here coffins are laid above the ground.  Families bury their loved ones here in sight of the city walls.  The closer they are to the walls the hope is that their resurrection will be splendid when the King returns.

Israel 2014 IFL 332Family members leave a stone on top of the grave tops to mark their visit.  Some day a reunion would take place.  All in the family would be reunited and their hope in the city when Jesus would reign there would be the focus of their faith.

Israel 2014 IFL 333A church stands on the grounds of this serene location.  It is surrounded by a grove of olive trees.  The design of the building depicts the shape of a human tear.

While our busy pilgrimage schedule was full, it was well worth the time to pause here and take in the love of God for His people.  Like a loving father who disciplines his children, our Heavenly Father will bring His holiness to bear on our lives when the ugliness of sin makes its presence known.   He loves us and does what is right.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Joshua 12-14
Part 1 of 6

A traveling salesman was on a routine drive through his Southwestern region.  His territory included the vast and sparsely populated area of New Mexico.  During his journey from one population center to the next, he spies a lonely Native American woman walking along the highway.

Not only was it odd to see anyone walking in the harsh desert, the notion of a woman walking alone was very curious.  As he drew closer, he was even more surprised that she had a burden.  In her arms she was carrying a saddle.

He pulls over and offers her a ride.  She climbs in and after a few moments he comments, “That is a very nice saddle.”
“Thank you…got for husband.”
Smiling while running her hands on the finely tooled leather works she nodded and then continued, “… good trade.”

More later…

 

Joshua 11
Part 5 of 6

Joshua’s success is indisputable. The military conquests are a historian’s marvel. Yet, the Scripture is clear. It was the LORD who directed this acquisition to Moses.

Nevertheless, God fulfilled this direction to Moses through his successor, Joshua. If God skips a generation to do what He says He will do it is not His failure but His mysterious timing. No one can ever say that God is late.

Furthermore, Joshua seemed to know that he was fulfilling what God had directed his mentor. He himself was not selfish but carefully and responsibly gave to the tribes what God wanted them to have. Leaders who are unselfish bring even more glory to God through their honoring God’s people than they do by what they achieve as a leader of men.

Peace from war comes when God wants it to happen. War can be God’s way to bring about the peace that will give people real rest. Peace is not a matter of the absence of conflict but the application of divine justice against the lives of those who rebel against the Almighty.

More later…

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