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A True En Gedi Experience–it all ends with the Garden Tomb

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We just finished our first En Gedi Experience to Israel.  What an incredible journey!  If I could transport you for just a moment to sit at the back of our bus as we made our way through the sites, smells and sounds of Israel you would have been amazed along with me at the amount of laughter you heard, the vulnerability of sharing that took place, the transformation of lives we witnessed, the uniqueness of the experiences we had together, the beauty and excellence of the hotels and food we tasted, and the on-going fruit we are still experiencing from that time.  It was truly a one-of-a-kind experience that will never be forgotten by an of us.

From beginning to end, the Father showered His blessings on each of us, and our response was joy–lots of joy.  We started with watching a sunset together over the Mediterranean, and then proceeded on to Galilee where we walked the steps of Jesus and His disciples and experienced Mt. Carmel with Elijah.  We left Galilee to go to the region of John the Baptist, Abraham, and the temptation of Jesus in the desert, stopping at the Dead Sea and then we finished our time in and around Jerusalem where so much of our spiritual history began and will finish as Jesus comes back!

Some of the specific blessings we experienced were the two hour dinners each and every night with fun and stimulating conversation, the time of worship and Jewish dancing that we had together on a boat on the Sea of Galilee, the lunch we had with “Abraham” after riding camels to get there, the walk through water up to our knees in Hezekiah’s water tunnel in the dark, and our “float” in the Dead Sea finished by a spa treatment.  All of these unique adventures were experienced with an incredible sense of “family” in the sweetest sense of the word.

We had a guide and a bus driver that also became a part of our family and both were Jewish and are still searching to know Jesus as the true Messiah, which we talked about with them quite a bit.  They were both such a gift to us, and as we left them, we had a chance to pray over each of them and bless them, giving them gifts of appreciation and words of blessing.  During our last evening together as an En Gedi family, we shared what we had learned, and blessed each other in prayer, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room because we had grown to love each other in a way that is only explainable by the Spirit.  I had several people along the way ask me where I “got these people,” as it was such a delightful group to be with. Jesus said that “they will know you by your love for one another.”  That was so true of this special group of people.

Though all of those things were profoundly impacting, the most significant part of the trip was watching the transformation of our minds and hearts as we each encountered Jesus in different ways.  Whether through the incredible teaching of “When God came Near” from Dave Patty during our retreat time around the Sea of Galilee,  or through time with Steve who was a counselor that met with each of us, or through the times of reflection such as the one on the Mt. of Beatitudes in the early morning, or through fellowship over dinner, or in teaching times about Jesus as Dave taught us at significant sites along the way, or through unique experiences like the refreshment of En Gedi (a VERY special place to me) after hiking in the dry and barren land, the Lord spoke to each and every one of us in specific ways, transforming our hearts and lives to reflect His character and nature.  It was truly amazing.

We finished our time at the Garden Tomb, taking communion and celebrating a Messiah who IS NOT HERE but is risen!!  What an absolutely beautiful and appropriate way to finish our time together, and even there, among our group, our Jesus, the Risen Savior brought His resurrection power.  One of our En Gedi family needed to experience the freedom of forgiveness, and Jesus brought that freedom in those last moments as we shared in the “death and resurrection” of Christ at the Garden tomb.

It all ends there, really.  Anything of value was purchased in ultimate victory at that spot–forgiveness, life that’s truly life, intimacy with our Father, eternal riches and rewards, the righteousness of Christ, reconciled relationships with those we love, good gifts that we can freely enjoy, and His reign and final victory when this world as we know it is done.

Jesus rose as a victor at the Garden Tomb, and He will come back, riding on a white horse, claiming for His own all that He purchased that one glorious day.  As we entered the city of Jerusalem, Hana, our guide, played this song, and tears ran down several faces as we were reminded what awaits us someday in Jerusalem.  This is OUR future that was purchased at the Garden Tomb.  Rejoice with me that it all ends at the Garden Tomb if we know Jesus.  We are victorious, and we say “Come, Lord Jesus, come!”

Then once again the scene was changed,
New earth there seemed to be.
I saw the Holy City
Beside the timeless sea.
The light of God was on its streets,
The gates were open wide;
And all who would might enter
And no one was denied.
No need of moon nor stars by night
Or sun to shine by day,
It was the new Jerusalem
That would not pass away.
It was the new Jerusalem
That would not pass away

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
Sing for the night is o’er;
Hosanna in the highest,
Hosanna for ever more.
Hosanna in the highest,
Hosanna for ever more.

 

Our Father, chocolate chip cookies, and a song

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Sometimes I just get blown away by the intimate care and details with which my Father cares for His children.  I shared one of my own stories about the roll of tape earlier this year, but when I see His care for other people, it has a way of stirring my soul in love for my Father as I see Him through the eyes of others.  He is intimately acquainted with our ways, and when no one else “gets” us, He does.

Earlier this year, I invited a couple of friends of mine to come to Fort Wayne and participate in a time of prayer to seek God for freedom in some areas.  As I was shopping for food and getting ready for their visit, I was inspired to make some AMAZING chocolate chip cookies that I had just had at my sister-in-law’s house the weekend before.  (Here is the recipe if you are interested)

I cannot tell you the last time that I made chocolate chip cookies, but I had a sudden urge and inspiration.  As I was at the grocery store, I also decided to get 8 o’clock bean coffee, as I heard my Uncle Steve’s voice in my head, telling me that this brand of coffee is “the best and only” for him!  (I almost always buy Starbucks coffee for my house!)

It was only later that I found out that my friend loved chocolate chip cookies, as they were a favorite for him growing up.  His mom died when he was in his 20’s, and chocolate chip cookies are a piece of “home” for him that he doesn’t have very often.  I also found out that he only drinks 8 o’clock bean coffee every morning at home, as it is also his favorite.  The prayer time he was about to enter into was a place of great vulnerability, requiring much courage, and the Father was caring for him in very intimate and special ways that only He knew, providing a sense of care, safety and home through coffee and cookies of all things.  What a joy to be a vessel of His care and love in such a simple way.   It led me to praise, as I know that the same Father that cared for Him cares for me with the same intimate knowledge.

I was just in the Czech Republic for the Josiah Venture spring conference where Dave Patty spoke on the Fatherhood of God and being “Found by your Father.”  During the conference there were chances for people to pray together, seeking the Father for healing and for a revelation of His presence.  I was asked to participate in a time of prayer with two men that I know well.  In looking diligently for a place to pray that was quiet and relatively undistracted, we ended up in a little sound booth at the back of the meeting room.  As we were praying, the words from a song came to mind in regards to one of the situations we were praying about.  The words were, “He rescues the souls of men, oh, he rescues the souls of men.”  Right after I shared with the two men those words, the printer in the sound booth started printing something, and it was pretty distracting, so we were trying our hardest to concentrate.  We figured someone probably needed the song sheets to get ready to lead worship that night, so Josh, one of two I was praying with, pulled the song sheets off the printer.

Would you believe it was THE SONG that I had just given them the words for.  We all sat there in awe with tears streaming down our faces as we experienced the Father’s care for his son who needed to hear those words wash over a very traumatic time in his life that had held him captive for years.  “Almighty Infinite Father, faithfully loving His own….”

I just arrived back in Texas late last night, and I have a couple days at my sister and brother-in-law’s house in Dallas before attending a conference this week.  This morning I woke up after a long flight from Czech and a short night’s sleep, and there, in my sister’s kitchen, was a teapot, English tea, and half and half waiting for me.  I almost cried when I saw it.  Jesus “prepared a place for me” to meet with him through the hands of my sister, as He knows that I love to have tea and chocolate with him every morning, spending time with Him in His word.  As I came to my room with the tea, I took out the chocolate that my friend Connie gave me as I was leaving the Czech Republic–the second part of His Father provision for me in the little things that no one else may notice.  I praise Him for my sister and Connie who serve as an expression of my Father to me.

Our Father knows.  He longs to connect with us in intimate and personal ways.  Paul prays in Ephesians that the “eyes of our heart will be enlightened to know Him more” so that we can know “the height, the depth, the width and the breadth of His love.”  Oh that we will have eyes to see our Father’s pursuit of us–His desire for  intimate connection and communion with His children that He loves.

 

The colors of God…

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Have you ever thought about the COLOR that God has created?  Whether it’s in a sunrise, a people group, flowers or dyes of fabrics, His beauty and color assaults the senses at every turn.

A group of 13 of us just returned from the first En Gedi Experience in Israel, and though I often think of this land as being full of deserts and rocks and conflict,  together we experienced the truth of life and COLOR everywhere…vibrant, alive, and verdant beauty!  It’s hard to capture the benefit of that color to the soul (or at least my soul!  :-), but I felt like I tasted the full pallet of the beauty and diversity of God during our time in Israel.   As we saw the many places where Jesus walked, studied His character and heart during our teaching times, and built relationship with a wonderful group of His people, we tasted of the nature of our Father!

It leads me to worship.  I celebrate my Great God of beauty and color.  Though I could (and will eventually) talk about the incredibly sweet community we had together as His people, I really want to share the color and beauty that was all around us, and there’s no better way to do that than through pictures.  So, taste a bit of the feast that we were given by Him over the last couple weeks…

As I took in that visual feast and am now reflecting on it, I started thinking about daily life.  The color in these pictures came from a trip to another land–a special land specifically chosen by God.  It’s easy to think that the nature of God revealed through beauty and color in Israel is isolated to a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it’s His NATURE to create beauty and color.  According to Ephesians 2, just like with Israel, He has chosen my place in life for me before the foundations of the world.  As such, it also has to be full of beauty and color or it wouldn’t accurately reflect His nature.  No matter how barren things may seem, I know that He has provided beauty and color, as that is who He is, so I just need eyes to SEE it!  There seems to be more time and space to absorb special sights, sounds, tastes and scents on a trip than there is as I “run” through daily life.  I wonder if it makes Him sad, as He has created things for our enjoyment, and I often don’t have the time or eyes to see it.

I’m praying today that He “opens the eyes of my heart” to see Him–that I will “be still and know that He is God”–to see all the beauty and the color that He has created in my every day life–a cup of tea, spring trees, an airport lounge (today!! :-)), dear friends, a redeemed heart, a committed family, clean water, and many other things that I may not see as they are “normal.”  Oh, that I will SEE Him and worship, thanking Him for the many good gifts He puts right in front of me, as He promises that when I see Him I will become like Him.  I pray that for both you and for me today–to see Him, to worship and to become like Him–full of color and beauty, the WOW! kind of beauty and color that we saw in Israel.