Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Jet-lagged Holy Land Observations
During the week I asked our guide what percentage of Israelis were people of ‘faith’. He told me that 80% of the citizens of the land would label themselves as being secular. That didn’t surprise me but it does disturb me.
Throughout history God has guided his ‘Chosen People’. He’s also disciplined them. Read through any of the prophets and you get a clear picture of God’s call to His people and a sobering reminder of the consequences of failing to heed that call. You see God’s love is coupled with the steely resolve of a God who wants obedience and allegiance. When Israel wanders they are disciplined.
I wonder if Israel is listening to those prophetic voices of Scripture any longer. I doubt that they are. And if they aren’t listening, not obeying, not heeding God’s call …what will God do to get their attention?
And I wonder what God will do to get our attention here in America? How many of us who claim to be people of faith are really far more secularized than faithfilled?
There were certain sites in Israel that didn’t appeal to me. I wasn’t taken by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the Mt. of Beatitudes in the Galilee, nor the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Why? They felt like testaments to a dead faith, the worship of stones and not the living God. I’m sure that’s not the case for everyone but that was my take-away.
In the case of the Churches of the Holy Sepulcher and Nativity I was bothered, I think, because both sites claimed to be the ‘one and only place’ where ‘it’ could have happened. To my way of thinking wherever ‘it’ happened isn’t as important as the actual birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
In the case of the Mt. of Beatitudes (and Holy Sepulcher) the people running it were more interested in maintaining order rather than creating an environment of invitation. When a ‘site’ becomes more important than the people visiting then something is a bit out of whack. It got me thinking about what we do in the American church and whether or not we're in the site preservation, image management, and program promotion business instead of focusing on life transformation.
I was struck by how much I don’t know. I’ve been a Christian for a long time. Been in ministry for a long time. I read the Bible, read about the faith and hang out with knowledgeable people. I even have a graduate degree that indicates I know some things. I know very little. I want to know more. Why? Because knowledge of what has gone on before me can be used by God to help direct my paths in the present.
Despite coming to grips with the fact that I know so little I also came face to face with my strong desire to love God more and to continue to be a ‘player’ in the advance of the kingdom in the here and now.
I walked away understanding Jesus better. He was a master of using what was within his line of vision to make a point. He spoke the language of the people …challenging them to think, to act, to change, to see life differently and to trust and obey God.
Walking in the footsteps of Christ helped me realize even more that the meek and mild Jesus we oftentimes portray is quite 'off base'. Meek and mild wouldn't cut it in the day and age Jesus walked this earth. There was a wildness, intensity, and savvy humor that come with the total package of the man we call Lord and Savior.
My traveling companions were an inspiration to me. Many overcame some fear to even come. Their desire to encounter the living God in the Holy Land strengthened my faith. I felt honored to stand in the River Jordan baptizing a good friend and helping others recommit their life to Christ. How cool is that?