Sunday, July 31, 2011

Living Stones in God's Temple

On our travels through biblical times with Ray Vander Lan he brings us back to Priene, Turkey. In Priene everything was dedicated to the goddess Athena. There was even a fountain in the middle of the city. Out of the mouth of the fountain came fresh water and families told their kids that the water came from Athena.
As Americans we drink water every day. The water comes from drinking fountains, bottles, faucets, the hose, etc. How many of you thought of God the last time you drank or looked at water? I know I didn’t. We take water and drink of it as if it is just there. The Lord provides us with food and water. The believer in Priene could stop at the fountain and declare God. We can do that to when we drink a bottle of water or have a water gun fight. God provides the water!
Next stop is the temple of Athena. The temple was huge and was crafted by an architect that crafted one of the 7 wonders of the world. In the temple they provided food, clothes, medical care, entertainment, and sometimes even daycare. The temple helped in the name of Athena. The temple showed the world how great she was and what she provided.
Now imagine we are part of the small home church in Priene. Your son or daughter spent the day with a friend and they went to the temple of Athena. Your child comes back and says, “Where is ours? Where is the temple to our God? Where can we go to see how great our God is?”
How do you answer these questions?
Let me show you the picture God paints:
In Isaiah: “Listen, you who pursue righteousness and seek after God. Remember the rock from which you are cut and the query from which you were chosen.  Remember Abraham your father and Sarah who gave birth to you.
1 Peter: “As you come to him the living stone, rejected by men but chosen by God. You also as living stones are being built into a spiritual house.”
Corinthians: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are the temple of the Holy Spirit and God’s spirit lives in you. If anyone harms God’s temple God will destroy him for God’s temple is sacred and you arte that temple.”
You know where God lived in Priene. Not in some big temple but in those people. He lived in and among them. Each one of you and me is a stone. And we have been hand chosen from the query to form God’s house. Everyone is a stone and chosen for a specific place and God forms us chip by chip. Some are chosen for the big stone in the front of the house that is seen by everyone. Others are chosen for the small but crucial stone that is in the foundation. The one that nobody sees but everybody needs.
God said I don’t want to live in a temple made by human hands. He says I want to live in you. He would rather live in you than the biggest most beautiful temple in the world.  The spirit of God lives in every stone but they must all work together to build the temple. Being a disciple is being part of a community where God lives by His spirit. The community is not only to encourage and teach text. It is where we live to declare to the world that the presence of God is in us.
The proof that God is in His people is that they love one another and his people. And so what happens when the community of God does not get along. The message of God is hidden.
If we look at the temple of Athena today the greatness is scattered around a field. It is in ruins and is a dim memory. But what if for God that is how His church and the temple looks, in ruins, broken apart. We as a church need to look like God’s temple in which the Holy Spirit lives. Not just a place where people can get powerful teaching and God’s word, but a community that lived in the presence of God.
May God’s presence live in the world, because it is in you!!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Presence of God: a counter-cultural community

                What happens when you have to teach God’s message to Greeks and Romans who live in a very different culture?
Next stop is actually not in Israel but in Priene, Turkey. Priene had Athena as their Goddess. The city was around 35 to 40,000 people. The city was around a 2 day walk from Ephesus. In the city there was a group of people that started to live for Jesus the one true God. Now we will see what it is like when the message of God reaches a Greek or Roman city.
                An Agora is a cross between a mall and a flee market. It is where things are sold and bought under the watchful eye of the Agoranamos who sits on a chair in the middle of the market. Before goods can be sold at the Agora they had to be devoted to the different Gods of the Agoranamos. As people would walk up with their gifts they would pinch some incense of the God being honored on their goods. So what would happen if a follower of Jesus came to sell?
The Agoranamos would say, “Welcome citizen please go dedicate your goods to Zeus thank you. “
The Jesus follower would reply, “But I don’t believe in Zeus and will not put incense on my goods.”
Agoranamos, “Well then you cannot sell your pottery here.”
So now this little community that wants to be like Jesus can’t be involved in the economics of their world. They cannot buy and sell. Their neighbors look down on them.
There was also a small theatre in Priene called a bouleuterion which means council. A council meeting would happen here almost like a governmental meeting today.  It looked something like this:
As you can see from the picture of present day Priene there is a square stone in the middle. When the bouleuterion was in session they would put a basin on top of the stone with burning coals. On the stone there were engravings of the gods: Aggalopias and Apollo. As one would walk into the bouleuterion they would put incense into the basin acknowledging that they follow and honor the gods. But the followers acknowledge that they follow God not the gods like Apollo or Aggalopias. So fellow believers that decide to follow Jesus would lose their spot on the city council.
Would you put incense in the basin?
 Being a follower of Jesus was to be counter cultural. You lost your economic edge, you lost your political power, you are a nobody.
How do you show people God? Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit declares the Lord.
Being a disciple is to rearrange your whole life. Not just as an individual but as a community. The movement of God in Priene was so powerful that it began to unravel the social order in this Roman community. You see in the Roman world there was a caste system and when big feasts would happen the top people would eat first all the way down to the slaves (if there was anything left). But then you have a community that was following Jesus and when they had a feast everyone ate at the same time. Slaves ate with those of high class with no separation. Everyone became brothers and sisters. In this community you did not have to say one word because the way you lived unraveled the whole system put in place by the Romans, but not by might or economics or politics. But by the Spirit of God.
There is another example in this community of the sacrifice the followers of Jesus made. To find it we go to Prytanium which is close to the term county hall in English. In the county hall there were pillars with the city laws and a basin where they offered sacrifices. Every day there would be sacrifices in the main temple Athenia but also in the Prytanium. This was done to sacrifice to other gods besides Athenia. So let’s say you walk past the “mayor” of the town and he is getting ready to give a sacrifice. He asks you what god you worship and you say the God of the Jew the God of Heaven. He would say okay let us sacrifice to Him also and you say no we can’t I don’t believe in those gods. The mayor will be flabbergasted because you will anger the Gods and risk the whole city. But you have become cross cultural but there is more.
There was a mound of dirt at the entrance of the “county hall” and there was a hearth burning in it with fire dedicated to the goddess Hestius. It was believed that fire came down from the gods to mount Olympus for the people and it burned there continually. So one day a group of people carried a torch to mount Olympus from Priene to light the torch and brought it back to light the hearth. This is what was used by all the locals in their home for heat and cooking food. They did not have matches or lighters. It was also believed that the fire would wash away all offenses to the gods. But guess what the people following the one true God did not have a fire in their house. That would be honoring the goddess Hestius. No heat or cooking of food and a lot of cold cuts to eat. They had no fire because they were living for God and it was a sacrifice they made.
The early believers came and showed God in flesh.
They lived in community.
It was a community where every god promised a good life. What did the one true God followers bring to this hellinistic community? Nothing, but the love of God in flesh and a totally different way to live. A cross cultural way to live.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

When the Rabbi Says "Go"

This is the second of five sessions on this DVD. This next session focuses on Jesus leading the disciples and showing them how to live. It begins by showing us the Northern Temple to Caesar. King Herod (the one from the Christmas story) built 3 temples to Caesar. The Northern Temple cast a shadow on the road to Damascus (the road Paul was blinded on). This temple brings up a topic in the fore front of many disciples’ minds. Do we pay taxes to Caesar or at the time of Jesus, Tiberius son of Caesar? This is because Caesar was seen as a god. And in the Greek the term taxes was more like tribute. They were asking Jesus: do we pay tribute/respect to Tiberius?
Jesus first asked, “Who has a coin?” and then with the coin in hand he asked, “Whose image is on the coin?” The coin had a picture of Tiberius and the inscription on the coin read: “A worshiped son of a worshiped God.” Jesus said to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Caesar is not God, but his coin says he is. This might not mean much to us today, but this is what got a lot of the disciples killed. Because they will accept all things about Caesar except that he is God.
Jesus takes the disciples to Eremos Topos which in the Greek means “a solitary or uninhabited place.” He went here to pray and worship God. Jesus told the disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee and go to Bethsaida. As they did this Jesus went to the hillside to pray. The disciples eventually hit a storm and Jesus watched them all night. At the fourth night which probably means 4 am He went out on the water. Jesus walked by and they thought it was a ghost. But then someone says no it is Jesus and Peter asks to walk on the water towards Jesus. Peter got out of the boat so he could be like his rabbi.
If you want to follow a rabbi you have to get out of the boat. Jesus began to sink. Jesus pulls him up and says, “Oh ye of little faith why do you doubt?” Peter not only loses confidence in Jesus, but primarily Peter lost confidence in who he is as a disciple. If we are going to be disciples it is not only the passion and the confidence to be what he called us to be. It is also a belief that we can be who Jesus wants us to be. I have had enough of staying in the boat. Whoever is in Jesus must walk as Jesus walked.
Discipleship is:
-knowing the text
-knowing the Rabbi
-being in community
-having the passion
-it is wanting to be like Jesus more than anything else in the world and knowing that he believes in you.
                The disciples were then sent to cities like Scythopolis like I mentioned earlier: a place with running water, a university, and theatres. The disciples went from their small village on the sea of Galilee to this great city because the great city was missing something. It was missing something very important and that is what the disciples had to offer. They had Jesus to give this big city and He is better than running water or a theatre.
                Tell me that doesn’t impress you. We are often impressed by what people can do i.e. the pyramids, the Eifel tower, and the Dragster at Cedar Pointe. But we walk right past the beautiful mountain God made to see the pyramids or some building made by man. We live in Scythopolis a place with running water, sewage system, and entertainment everywhere. And the world view in a place like Scythopolis is that it is all about fame, being successful, big houses, riches, and there is no room for God. Do not get caught in that world view. Do not let it drive you.
Let God be your drive and show the Scythopolises of the world what they are missing!!  

Friday, July 15, 2011

When the Rabbi Says "Come"

                As promised I have the first session of “Faith Lessons in the Dust of the Rabbi.” It begins by taking you to the Decapolis city of Scythopolis. Scythopolis was a huge city next to where Jesus grew up. He would have known of this city and it was very advanced for Biblical times. It had running water, a theatre, an Arena, a university and a Temple. But Jesus did not choose any of His disciples from this big city.
                Where did He go?
He went to the triangle along the Sea of Galilee. The first town was Bethsaida which means “fishing village.” There were no theatres, no university, and no running water just a simple rural village of about 600 people. From this village came Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Phillip. The next two stops were Korazin and then Capernaum. He did not go into depth with who came from these cities, but he moves on to explain what a disciple was in Biblical times and today.
What is a disciple?
A disciple lived in community, but not everyone in a community was a disciple. First, one should know that the villages mentioned revolved around the synagogue. This was the school and teaching in the community. Each synagogue had a Moses Seat. This is where the person reading the Torah would sit to read the scripture because it was the words given to them by Moses. Jesus even sat and read from the scripture in Moses seats from village to village. The torah would then be kept in the Holy Ark and when it was taken out to be read people would dance for joy, touch it, and even touch it to their lips. The people would come to the synagogue to learn from the Torah, but not everyone that came to the synagogue and knew the scripture was a disciple.
The school was connected to the synagogue.  This is where disciples began. By the age of 12 or 13 most Jewish boys and girls would know the Torah and have it memorized. At this point many were finished. They were done learning the Torah and would begin the family trade. But some would have the ability and passion to move on to be taught by the Rabbi in what was called Beth Midrash. It focused on the deeper meanings of the Torah (Tenah). From this group a select few would look for a Rabbi and seek to become a Talmeed-disciple. Talmeed directly means or refers to someone who wants to be what the Rabbi is. Both a deep commitment and passion to follow them around everywhere they went. They were consumed every minute of every day with God and His word.
Are you a Talmeed?  Do you have the passion and the commitment?
From there you would find a rabbi and say may I follow you? If he saw the fire he might say “come follow me.” But most would get turned down and decide that they did not have what it took and go work the family trade. Very few would become rabbis and make their own disciples.
But how did Jesus pick his disciples?
Jesus went out and found ordinary people doing something ordinary: fisherman, carpenters, and tax collectors. They did not get into anyone’s rabbi school, they did not have the training, and they thought they were not good enough. But Jesus picked them and told them they have what it takes! He took ordinary people like me and you. Remember Jesus said, “You did not pick me I chose you.” It took time but the disciples became like Jesus by spending everyday and every moment with Him.
Do we have the fire?
Do we understand how much he wants to be with us?
How much time do we spend with Him?
How badly do we want to be like Jesus?
A student is not above his teacher, it is enough for a student to become like his teacher.
Now it is our turn!!! Be a Talmeed!!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Texas here I come

First off I want to say that it was awesome to see all my friends in Indiana these past few weeks. It was my first time home for the 4th of July in 3 years and it was a blast. I am now headed to Texas for training with West Point. It is called CTLT “Cadet Troop Leader Training.” The goal is to have me follow around a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army. I shadow him or her for 3 weeks and learn what it means to be an officer in the Army. This is to make sure I understand what I am getting myself into. I am looking forward to this experience to see what to do and in some cases what not to do.
The timeline for me is to first do this training. Then fly back to West Point. I have to meet with officers at West Point to explain why I want to leave. This could take anywhere from 1-2 weeks. This is because I have to turn in all of my stuff and fully resign from West Point. After the week or two is up I will be able to leave and as I do I will reapply to West Point to get back in the next year. After this is done I will come home for my friend’s wedding on September 10, 2011 say bye to everyone in Indiana and head to Israel late September. Because I have not rose enough money for a ticket I have not bought one yet, but it will probably be around September 25th.
That is an update on my timeline and what I am doing. Stay in touch.
Your Friend,

Monday, July 11, 2011

Where will you be staying?

So I have found out my official location in Israel. That is Kibbutz Ruhama. The word Kibbutz means gathering. It is a collective farm in Israel. The members work cooperatively and usually do not hold private property. It is a very unique set up especially for Americans to see. As an American, I feel we can be very individualistic. We often focus on our needs before the groups needs. I am not trying to call anyone out it is just what I see. It is what I see in the way we live life. But Israel is different in a good way and I hope to go more in depth with this when I truly experience it.
Kibbutz Ruhama was established in 1944 by Russian Jews whose purpose was to invest money into Israel’s agriculture settlements. This kibbutz was the first settlement in the Negev desert, because of this it used to be barren desert land. But the first settlers really made it bloom. It is now green with trees and yellow with wheat. The kibbutz currently has 450 people and it is 220,000 acres big. Half of the 450 people are over 80. This will be really neat considering all of the knowledge I can gain.
According to “The kibbutz itself is a beautiful place to live, with open gardens, a small store, a library, work-out room and an open-air pool in the summer. We also have a dining room, but not like it used to be – and it is only open at lunch time. Kibbutz Ruhama is surrounded by a nature reserve. If you leave the kibbutz through any of its gates, you walk into the middle of a huge nature reserve. It’s great being able to leave the house and go on a hike so easily - rolling hills and blue skies. One of the reasons people give for loving Ruhama so much and wanting to live here is its remote location, and new families are starting to become interested in moving to live here.”
So this is where I will be for 8 months to a year. I will send pictures when I arrive, but I thought you all should know. I am super excited and can’t wait to get there!!!
Your Friend,


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Ice Cream Social!!!

            The ice cream social was a success and I would like to thank everyone that came to help me raise money. From the ice cream social I raised $200 which gets me closer to the plane ticket I need to go to Israel. I have $1200 to go to raise for the plane ticket. And I know God will provide as he always does. Please continue to pray for me and follow along on this journey. But that is enough about money.
God is doing great things in my life as I get ready to go. Right now I am working through a video devotion called “Faith Lessons in the dust of the rabbi” by Ray Vander Laan. Ray walks around Israel going where Jesus taught and puts a picture with what you read in the Bible. It has been so cool watching and learning. As I watch and learn I will put my notes on this blog so you can learn as well, but I recommend you get a hold of it if you can. It was put on by Focus on the Family and really has some cool teaching points.
On the note of updating my blog I will do it as often as I can. I apologize that this is my first post in over a month. I have been so busy, but that is no excuse. I want you to come along for the journey and that can’t happen if I don’t update you on my journey. So I will do better.
Talk to you soon.

Your Friend,