Meant for Good: A Study of Joseph

On April 11, 2023, my brand new Bible study through Concordia Publishing House hits the shelves: Meant For Good: A Study of Joseph. And here’s the cover!

Similar to the depth of my Esther study, this study goes deep into the life of Joseph in the Book of Genesis. Joseph’s biography occupies more space in Genesis than those of Adam, Noah, Abraham, or even his own father, Jacob.

Although that should be reason enough to study Joseph’s incredible journey, he experiences family conflict and unfair treatment that many of us can relate to today.

What You Can Expect

This Bible study has meat and lots of it. Did you expect any less? Over eight weeks with five days in each lesson, we dive deep into Joseph’s incredible journey from Canaan to Egypt.

Get your bible, pencils, notepads and bible highlighters ready, because we take an epic adventure through Genesis 37-50. New insights and familiar passages are sprinkled through each week like treasures waiting to be re-discovered.

Each week includes an introductory of which chapters in Genesis will be covered, along with key questions to answer individually or in small groups.

Each week ends with a very special section called “Go Quiet, Go Deep.” This is where we take a pause from the journey. Quiet our minds from distraction. Remember what the Lord has showed us so far. And ask Him to make that lesson personal. Applicable. Relevant to us right now.

Joseph is a Portrait of Jesus

Out of all the Old Testament cast of characters, Joseph offers us a remarkable picture of Jesus. In my opinion, he more closely modeled Christ than any other. In countless ways, the life of Joseph illustrates the future life of Jesus. Specifically:

  • A shepherd deeply loved by his father.
  • Hated and rejected by his brothers.
  • Put into a pit to die but was raised up.
  • Sold for pieces of silver and turned over to Gentiles.
  • Endured severe temptation but did not sin.
  • Accused falsely but spoke no defense.
  • Cast into prison yet shared a message of deliverance.
  • Honored among Gentiles yet rejected by his brothers.
  • Married a Gentile bride.

The Story

The story begins with Joseph in the land of Canaan as a seventeen-year-old dreamer—literally. As one of two sons born to Jacob’s favorite wife Rachel, favoritism plays a significant role in the story of Joseph. After all, Jacob had been his mother’s favorite.

In Jacob’s eyes, his son Joseph was the favorite even though he was not the oldest son. Joseph had ten older brothers and one younger brother. Sadly, Joseph’s mother Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin, the youngest son.

God gave Joseph the extraordinary gift of interpreting dreams. However, Joseph had not yet mastered the art of tact, timing, or knowing his audience. When he tells his brothers that one day they will bow to him, it becomes clear that even though Joseph’s gift was intact, he was not able to read a room.

One day, Jacob sends Joseph to check on his brothers who are tending their flocks far away. But Joseph never makes it back home.

The 20-Year Saga

The brothers accost Joseph, strip him of his many-colored coat, and throw him into a waterless pit. They ignore his cries, decide to leave him in the pit to die, and sit down to enjoy lunch together. Then Judah offers up a Plan B to make some extra cash instead.

Then Jacob’s sons (all except Benjamin) agree to pull Joseph out of the pit and sell him to Midianite traders for twenty pieces of silver. They return to their father Jacob and promptly lie about what happened.

Pause a moment. Can you imagine what Joseph is feeling? He is rescued from the pit (yay!) only to be sold for money (what?) by his very own flesh and blood.

The Midianites take Joseph to the land of Egypt. Then Joseph is sold to Potiphar, who holds a significant position in Pharaoh’s Egyptian court, to work as a slave.

As Joseph works diligently in Potiphar’s home, Potiphar’s wife takes notice of Joseph and tries to entice Joseph into sleeping with her. He flees from temptation and her repeated offers, only to be falsely accused and thrown into prison.

Spiritual Bootcamp

And so begins Joseph’s spiritual boot camp which lasted more than twenty years. The amazing truth about God’s spiritual boot camps (basically, our whole life) is that He never leaves us. Ever. God’s faithfulness to us never wavers.

During those twenty years, Joseph oversees Potiphar’s home, eventually oversees the prison into which he was thrown, and interprets four additional dreams along the way. The whole time, the God of Abraham is working in Joseph’s life. Molding. Shaping. Preparing.

Even though Joseph’s brothers stripped him of his coat, they could not strip him of his godly character.

Egypt’s Second in Command

After interpreting Pharaoh’s two confusing dreams, Pharaoh elevates Joseph to the position of second in command over Egypt. In addition, God populated the house of Joseph with a wife and children. A new family. Even though Joseph was far from home, God blessed him in what Joseph referred to as “the land of my affliction.”

Eventually, all of Egypt understood that Joseph’s elevation to prominence was a good thing. Joseph’s diligence and excellent administrative skills successfully navigate Egypt through seven years of famine. His industrious, tireless work ended up providing a multitude of nations with food during the devastating famine.

Forgiveness

Joseph could have easily leveraged his powerful position to retaliate against his older brothers. He could have blamed them for stealing the life he had planned. He could have allowed hate and bitterness to take root in his heart. Instead, Joseph forgave wholeheartedly and embraced reconciliation.

We behold the Gospel story woven like a scarlet thread throughout Joseph’s narrative. The struggles that Joseph endured remind us how vital it is to let God’s love and forgiveness lead us.

Joseph’s story is not a rags-to-riches phenomenon. It is a picture of relentless, God-honoring faith.

For All the History Buffs

If you are a history buff like me, you will devour the historical smorgasbord in this Bible study. My previous study on Esther unearthed the nuances and culture of the Persian empire. With Joseph, we dive headlong into ancient Egypt. (Cue the singing of “Walk Like an Egyptian.”)

Ancient Egypt

Originally starting out as several independent cities along the Nile River, Egypt was formed from an Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt, which unified around 3100 BC. Egypt was one the largest kingdoms of the ancient world and led the charge regarding cultural and economic influence until it was conquered in 332 B.C. by the Macedonians.

Image from here.

Joseph’s story takes place during the historical time of unified Egypt, which was considered to be one of Egypt’s greatest eras. 

Egypt’s Pharaohs

We also study the historical timeline and Egyptian lineage particular to Joseph’s story. We peek into the fascinating world of Egyptian pharaohs. This Bible study pinpoints the precise pharaoh that Joseph would have served under according to historical fact.

This allows us the rare opportunity to discover what that pharaoh focused on and his geopolitical agenda. Consequently, we can ascertain some of the historical responsibilities that Joseph would have been responsible for under that pharaoh’s reign.

Image from here.

Joseph’s Lineage

As one of the sons of Jacob, Joseph’s brothers and Joseph’s sons eventually comprise the twelve tribes of Israel. Joseph did not have his own tribe. There is no tribe of Joseph. However, the sons of Joseph – Ephraim and Manasseh – form the twelfth tribe together as a double portion of God’s blessing to Joseph.

The Lessons from Joseph Apply Today

Regardless of his circumstances, Joseph never wavered from following the Lord. He was a diligent worker, faithful witness, and capable administrator.

Joseph’s example issues a challenge even today: Will we choose to become victims of our circumstances and give up or will we trust God to bring beauty from ashes and excel?

Even though God would use Joseph mightily, the learning process was long. That same truth applies to us. It may be a long time before God deems us ready for the tasks He has planned for us.

I could not have written in-depth Bible studies twenty years ago. God’s instruction over time has produced a much better vintage.

Joseph could have given in to bitterness. Easily. Who would blame him? Yet he responded to broken dreams and difficult circumstances with a strong faith that propelled him from the pit of slavery to the pinnacle of power.

God Faithfully Prepares Us

God Almighty diligently prepared Joseph to help Egypt’s great nation survive utter destruction. But that preparation did not come in a safe classroom. Joseph learned and honed his extraordinary administrative gifts in two places he never thought he would be – in slavery and in prison.

We may not be able to see how God is preparing us during our difficult times, but rest assured there is a holy purpose for our pain.

The Bottom Line

Even though Joseph experienced extraordinary hurt and adversity, God’s promise to be with him remained faithful. Joseph endured jealousy and sibling rivalry in his father’s household. He survived mistreatment and a murderous plot by his older brothers. He was thrown into prison for resisting temptation. He could have easily allowed his woes to become his focus.

Instead, Joseph looked up and trusted God. And because of the great faith that God instilled in Joseph, a multitude of people would owe Joseph their lives—literally.

Can you relate to waterless pits and unfairness in your life? This new Bible study is so relevant for our current times.

God uses Joseph’s journey to provide invaluable insights regarding how to live wise, bold journeys of faith—fully trusting Him every single day. May God grant you and me such tenacious faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You can pre-order “Meant for Good” right here.

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What Does Rain Symbolize in the Bible?

The Bible often uses the image of rain to describe God’s provision for His people. He uses rain to water the earth and provides nourishment to it. Yet, rain also symbolizes other significant elements.

Table of Contents

  • The Symbol of Rain
  • God Our Provider
  • Judgment and Destruction
  • Rain as God’s Punishment
  • Renewal, Restoration, and Revival
  • Seasons Matter
  • Hebrew Words for Rain
  • Physical Need for Rain
  • Rain Can Symbolize the Anger of God
  • Rain Also Symbolizes God’s Blessing
  • Rain Reflects God’s Eternal Grace
  • God’s Rainbow of Promise
  • God’s Rainbow of Faithfulness and Hope
  • The Bottom Line

The Symbol of Rain

Rain is a powerful symbol that we can interpret in a variety of ways depending on the context in which it appears. Rain depicts God as our source of physical and spiritual life. Yet rain can also appear as God’s act of judgment against sin or wrongdoing.

Rain (or some form of it) appears over 100 times in the Bible. It holds special significance that is important to understand along our spiritual journey. What exactly does rain mean and symbolize throughout Scripture?

Photo by Liv Bruce on Unsplash

God Our Provider

In the Old Testament, God is the provider who gives life-giving water to all living things (Genesis 2:5, ESV; Psalm 145:8, ESV). He is also seen as the source of refreshing rain for the land.

For example, the farmer’s hope in times of drought and hunger (Deuteronomy 11:10, ESV). In this way, God provides sustenance and refreshment in times of need.

Photo by Ed Leszczynskl on Unsplash

Judgment and Destruction

But what does rain symbolize when God sends a deluge over the whole land? Flooding rain is often associated with God’s judgment. Remember the story of Noah?

The Great Flood recorded in Genesis 7-8 resulted from God’s wrath against sin. God sent rain for 40 days and 40 nights (Genesis 7:12, ESV), which flooded the entire earth.

The floodwaters rose so high that they covered even mountaintops. All dry land disappeared and killed every living creature except those aboard Noah’s Ark. Even though rain is often associated with giving life, it can be destructive when wielded by a holy God. 

There are instances when God withheld rain from falling. Without water, nothing can grow or live and disease becomes rampant. We cannot survive without life-giving rain that God sends from His heavenly storehouses.

Photo by Elias Null on Unsplash

Rain as God’s Punishment

But what does rain symbolize when it does not come? Withholding rain is often associated with God’s punishment, though not always complete destruction. When we see references to rain in the Bible, we need to keep in mind that it might not always be a positive thing. 

Here are some ways that rain appears in the negative sense that foretell God’s punishment:

  • Dark Clouds
  • Dry Ground
  • Rainy Season
  • Difficult Times
  • Hard Times
  • Dry Season
  • End Times
  • Last Time
  • Late Rain
Photo by Max Saeling on Unsplash

Renewal, Restoration, and Revival

Even though the Great Flood was God’s judgment, there were blessings when the pouring rain ended. When Noah’s ark landed after being afloat for almost a year, Noah sent out a dove to find out if there was any dry land.

After a few tries, the dove returned carrying an olive branch. Noah realized that his family could soon disembark and begin their new life together. The first thing they did was worship the Lord and begin planting a vineyard to make new wine. Revival!

Photo by iuliu illes on Unsplash

Seasons Matter

As Christians, we know that seasons not only occur in nature, but they occur in our own life journeys. Some seasons bring joy, while others usher in hardship. Yet each season holds God’s specific purpose.

Spring seasons bring new life and growth to every living thing. Fall brings the harvest of God’s plenty. And winter reminds us that rest is necessary for all other seasons to reach peak production. So let’s look at what rain symbolized in Scripture during various seasons.

Photo by Mario Dobelmann on Unsplash

Hebrew Words for Rain

Three Hebrew words denote rains of different seasons. Yoreh or moreh refers to the early (or former) rain. Melqosh refers to the latter rain. Geshem refers to the winter rains.

The Early Rain

The rain of autumn commenced around late October or early November. These early rains (also called former rains) lasted for two months as heavy downpours. Each time I toured the Holy Land in November, cloudless beautiful days greeted our group. Perhaps climate change has altered this in our current times.

In God’s Word, we find these early rains in Hosea and Joel:

  • Yoreh: “Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge Him. As surely as the sun rises, He will appear; He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth” (Hosea 6:3, NIV).
  • Moreh: “Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for He has given you the autumn rains because He is faithful. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before” (Joel 2:23, NIV).
Photo by Johnny McClung on Unsplash

The Latter Rain

The rain of spring falls in March and April. These latter rains (melqosh) serve to mature the planted grain. No rain usually falls after April until the early rains in October or November:

  • “He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil” (Deuteronomy 11:14, ESV).
  • “In the light of a king’s face there is life, and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain” (Proverbs 16:15, ESV).
Photo by Christina Rumpf on Unsplash

The Winter Rain

The rain of winter commences in the middle of December and lasts through March. Heavy winter rain (geshem) often refers to an ominous, damaging, or destructive rain. There is no prolonged fair weather in Israel between October and March.

  • “And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights” (Genesis 7:12, ESV).
  • “Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin assembled at Jerusalem within the three days. It was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month. And all the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of the heavy rain” (Ezra 10:9, ESV).
Photo by Lola Guti on Unsplash

Physical Need for Rain

Rainfall is vital to agriculture, which is also true throughout the Bible. Crops such as olives, dates, figs, wheat, barley, and grapes all thrive in the Middle East. Without sufficient rainfall, these crops would not be able to grow.

Livestock such as sheep and goats also enjoy rainfall, as they need water to drink and grass to eat. 

Not only is rainfall important for plants and animals, but it is also essential for every human being. Water is necessary for all life; without it, we would perish. This is especially true during the hot summer months.

Absent rainfall, rivers and wells run dry leaving no source of fresh water. Disease and death often result from unclean or stagnant water. We need rain and the clean water it brings to survive.

Photo by Jeffrey Workman on Unsplash

Rain Can Symbolize the Anger of God

In 1 Kings 17, we see God’s anger. It says “Now Elijah…said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word?” (1 Kings 17:1, NIV)

At this point, Elijah challenged Ahab (the king of Israel) because they had endured a 3-year drought. The prophet Elijah wanted to see if Ahab would turn back to God despite any other consequences.

First Kings 17 later reveals: “For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land’” (1 Kings 17:14, NIV).

True to His Word, God sent a heavy downpour within 24 hours that amounted to seven years worth of rainfall. That’s a LOT of rain.

Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

Rain Also Symbolizes God’s Blessing

One of the most common ways rain shows up in the Bible is in reference to the blessings of God.

Psalm 147 offers a great example of this symbolism of rain. It represents the many blessings God bestows on His people. “Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre! He covers the heavens with clouds; He prepares rain for the earth; He makes grass grow on the hills” (Psalm 147:7-8, ESV).

Here are some ways that rain appears in the positive sense that reflect God’s blessing:

  • showers of blessing
  • good luck
  • abundant rain
  • rain dreams
  • appearance of the rainbow
  • sign of the Covenant
  • power of God
  • good land
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Rain Reflects God’s Eternal Grace

Isaiah 30 paints a beautiful picture of the eternal blessings believers will experience.

“And He will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and bread, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous. And on every lofty mountain and every high hill there will be brooks running with water” (Isaiah 30:23, 25a, ESV).

Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

God’s Rainbow of Promise

After talking at length about the significance of rain, we would be remiss if we left out rainbows. Rainbows are one of the most popular symbols in connection with rain. Regardless of our current popular culture’s definition, what is God’s purpose for rainbows? What do they mean?

In ancient times, rainbows represented a sign from God. People would see the rainbow and remember God’s promise in Genesis:

“And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh'” (Genesis 9:12-15, ESV).

Photo by David Brooke Martin on Unsplash

God’s Rainbow of Faithfulness and Hope

God’s famous appearance of the bow to Noah is not the only time rainbows slip into the pages of Scripture. Among other places, rainbows also appear in the Book of Revelation:

“At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne” (Revelation 4:2-3, NIV).

We see here that the rainbow continues to be a symbol from God. The rainbow encircling the throne reminds believers of His faithfulness, mercy, and hope. Rainbows remind us that God is always with us regardless of the storms we experience.

The rainbow is one of nature’s most beautiful and awe-inspiring symbols from God. Apart from that vision in Revelation, rainbows symbolize hope, change, and new beginnings.

Every rainbow reminds us of God’s never-ending love and His covenant to never leave us or forsake us. No matter what storms we face in life, God is always with us and He will see us through to the other side.

Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas on Unsplash

The Bottom Line

God promises that every believer receives an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit in us provides the crucial discernment we need each day. In His strength, we can face every season of life we experience, whether stormy or temperate.

Rain represents many different elements in the Bible. Blessings and grace to judgment and punishment. The spiritual meaning of rain goes deep. Regardless of life’s storms, we trust that our heavenly Father holds the weather, our lives, and everything else in His mighty hands.

In the New Testament, Jesus also controlled the weather when He calmed a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:22-32, NIV). In every instance, God commands complete control over nature.

There is no element that He cannot command into submission. What comfort!

No matter what storms or challenges God’s children face in life, our God is always in control. Spring, Summer, Winter and Fall.

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Why Are Catholic and Protestant Bibles Different?

I did not know that Catholic and Protestant Bibles differed in their number of books until my early twenties when I began attending church regularly and digging deep into Scripture.

Why are Catholic and Protestant Bibles Different?

Naturally, my first question back then was, “Who’s right?” Thankfully, thirty years later God has matured that question into, “What does each Bible contain, how do they differ, and where did that difference originate?”

Let’s begin to answer these questions by first laying the groundwork for how scriptural books were determined and chosen as they appear in both Bibles.

The Biblical Canon

The biblical canon is the collection of scriptural books that God has given His people. They comprise the Bible we hold today, distinguished by their divine qualities, reception by God’s people, and apostolic connection (either by authorship or association).

Typical questions regarding the assembly of the biblical canon generally fall into two broad categories: historical and theological.

Photo by Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash

Historical Questions

First-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus lists 22 Old Testament books that were accepted by the Jews. His list is confirmed by another first-century Jewish source, Philo of Alexandria, which includes exactly the same books as our present thirty-nine books of the Old Testament.

By the turn of the millennium, a Jewish canon of Scripture was largely in place and defined. In fact, there is not a single instance where a New Testament author cites a book as Scripture that is not contained in the current Old Testament canon.

In the New Testament canon, 22 out of the 27 books were widely accepted as Scripture by the second century. Even though disputes over some of the smaller books (such as 2 Peter, Jude, James, and 2-3 John) were not resolved until the fourth century, the core of the New Testament canon had already been in place for roughly two centuries.

Wartburg Castle, Germany
Wartburg Castle, Germany (2022 tour)

Theological Questions

Two questions lead the charge in this category. How do we know that the books included in the biblical canon were the right ones? How can we discern that a book is given by God?

Genesis 1 establishes that God created the heavens, earth, and everything in them. We know this to be true because we see God’s own attributes reflected in His creation (Psalm 19; Romans 1:20). Creation contains beauty, harmony, excellence, and power, all divine qualities we expect to find in God’s special revelation.

Believers also recognize the voice of the Lord in the Bible, as confirmed by Jesus: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27, ESV).

Also under the theological umbrella is the fact that canonical books are written by God’s inspired prophets and apostles. Only those specifically commissioned by God can be His mouthpiece (Romans 1:2; 2 Peter 3:2; Mark 3:14-15; Matthew 10:20; Luke 10:16).

Martin Luther’s Bible, Wittenberg, Germany (2022 tour)

How Do the Catholic and Protestant Bibles Differ?

The Pentateuch

The Pentateuch (or books of the Law) contains the same five books in both Bibles: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

The Minor Prophets

The Minor Prophets contain the same twelve books in both Bibles: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

The Major Prophets

Both Bibles contain these five books of the Major Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel. However, the Catholic Bible has one additional book: Baruch.

Poetical and Wisdom Books

Both Bibles contain these five Poetical and Wisdom books: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. However, the Catholic Bible has two additional books: the Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach.

Historical Books

Both Bibles contain these twelve Historical books: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. However, the Catholic Bible has four additional books: Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, and 2 Maccabees.

What Part Does the Apocrypha Play?

The books of the Bible not included in the Protestant Bible are usually called the Apocrypha, meaning “hidden books”), Old Testament Apocrypha (since all are included in the Catholic Bible), or deuterocanonical books (from the Greek word meaning “belonging to the second canon” or having secondary authority).

This third set of books, or “extra books”, were not considered to be divinely inspired but regarded as worthy of study by the faithful. These books were written during the Intertestamental period of those four hundred years between Malachi (the end of the Old Testament) and Matthew (the beginning of the New Testament).

Translation Issue

Since Greek was the common language of the Eastern Roman Empire, some of the later Jewish books were written in Greek instead of Hebrew. These later books were only included in the Greek translation of the Old Testament called the “Septuagint.”

Between 383 and 404 AD, St. Jerome translated the whole Bible into Latin, which was the common language of the Western Roman Empire. When he translated the Greek New Testament and the original Hebrew Old Testament into Latin, he also translated the Greek “Apocrypha” – those extra books.

However, he diligently included notations that they were not part of the original Hebrew Old Testament. Unfortunately, later copyists neglected or omitted St. Jerome’s notations, and soon his whole Latin translation was considered of equal divine authority.

What Books are in the Apocrypha?

The Apocrypha consists of the following books: Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Tobit, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, Epistle of Jeremiah, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, Old Greek Esther, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, Prayer of Azariah, Song of the Three Holy Children, Prayer of Manasseh, 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, and Psalm 151.

Castle Church, Wittenberg, Germany
Castle Church, Wittenberg, Germany (2022 tour)

The Impact of the Protestant Reformation

During the 16th century Protestant Reformation, Protestant scholars, including former Catholic priest Martin Luther, rediscovered the importance of both the original Hebrew Old Testament and the Hebrew language in which it was written. 

As a result of their rediscovery, many of these Protestant Christians did not accept the Greek additions (Apocrypha) as authoritative or part of sacred Scripture, but only the original Hebrew books of the Old Testament.  

Printing Press, Wittenberg, Germany
Printing Press, Lutherhaus, Wittenberg (2022 tour)

The First Printed Bible Editions

Before Protestant Reformers lodged their objections, the very first printed edition of the King James Bible included the Old Testament Apocrypha. Consequently, Roman Catholic Bibles today include seven books of the Old Testament Apocrypha as part of sacred Scripture.

Following the objections of these Protestant early church fathers, the second and subsequent editions of the King James version excluded the Apocrypha. Protestant Bibles exclude it from the biblical canon to this day.

Today, some Bibles include the Apocrypha as an appendix or provide a companion resource that separates it from the original Hebrew Old Testament.

Interestingly, the Gutenberg Bible does not contain the Apocrypha, as it was a printed version of the 3rd century Vulgate, which also omits the Apocrypha.

Gutenberg Bible, Library of Congress

The Dead Sea Scrolls

Located east of Jerusalem, the mountainous landscape of the Judean Desert plummets an astonishing 1200 meters to the lowest point on earth: the Dead Sea. This region near Qumran boasts rocky terrain, intense heat, and numerous desert caves. I have been there more than once and it is stark, to say the very least.

Some of the most dramatic stories in the Bible happened in that region. David ran from King Saul to seek refuge in those mountain caves. Jesus rejected the temptations of the devil in that barren desert.

Qumran, Israel
Judean Desert, Israel (2022 tour)

The Greatest Discovery

Yet in 1947, a young Bedouin shepherd was tracking stray sheep among those limestone cliffs lining the northwestern rim of the Dead Sea near Qumran. He stumbled upon a cave tucked into a crevice of a steep rocky hillside. Curious, he threw a stone into the darkness and was startled to hear the sound of breaking pots.

That sound echoed around the world as what turned out to be the greatest archaeological discovery of the twentieth century: the Dead Sea Scrolls. Buried in large clay pots in the arid sands of eleven Qumran caves for thousands of years, the shepherd boy’s discovery revolutionized our understanding of history and religion.

Clay jars, Qumran (2022 tour)

The Significance of the Scrolls

Also known as the “Qumran Cave Scrolls“, they contain significant religious literature dated between the third century AD to the first century AD. The scrolls include biblical manuscripts (books found in today’s Hebrew Bible) and non-biblical manuscripts—other religious writings of historical fact circulating during the Second Temple era, often related to the texts now in the Hebrew Bible. 

While Hebrew is the dominant language contained in the Scrolls, approximately 15% of the Scrolls are written in Aramaic and several are written in Greek. The materials making up the Scrolls mainly consist of parchment, although some are papyrus. Interestingly, the text of one Scroll is engraved on copper.

Why are the Scrolls so Vital?

So what does this have to do with our topic? Among the Dead Sea Scrolls are partial or complete copies of every book in the Hebrew Bible, all of which are contained in the Protestant Bible.

However, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority, three works of the Apocrypha are found among the Dead Sea Scrolls: Ben Sira (also known as the Wisdom of Ben Sira, Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus), the book of Tobit, and the Epistle of Jeremiah. These are included in today’s Catholic Bible, but not the Protestant Bible.

Timeline

The official list of Catholic books was pronounced at the Council of Trent during 1545-1563 AD. The Council of Trent was convened by Pope Paul III for all Catholic clerics in response to the Protestant Reformation. 

Over three separate sessions, the council reaffirmed the authority of the Catholic Church, codified scripture, affirmed Catholic doctrines, reformed abuses, and condemned Protestant theology. They also established the vision and goals of the Catholic Counter-Reformation.

Protestants of the Reformation are credited with removing the additional seven books from the Protestant Bibles. They argued that since those seven Apocryphal books were not contained in the Hebrew Bible they should not be a part of the Christian Bible.

Bottom Line

As a Protestant, I am guided by the 66 authoritative, inspired canonical books of the Old and New Testaments. The first time I read any part of the Apocrypha was when I wrote my in-depth Bible study on the book of Esther. Since then, I have read through other books in the Apocrypha.

Bible Study on Esther

However, I do not hold or teach the Apocryphal books to be the inspired Word of God. They do not act as a plum line for my spiritual journey.

I trust the Holy Spirit’s work in those vastly smarter Christian biblical scholars from long ago who did the hard work of deliberating, praying through, and assembling what we hold today as the Christian (or Protestant) Bible.

Studying the Bible has been the single greatest tool (apart from the Holy Spirit) that God has used to increase my faith and come to know Jesus personally. If you are new to Bible study, start with the book of John which provides a stunning, in-depth story of Jesus our Savior. Knowing Him changes everything.

To God alone be the glory.

The Dead Sea, Israel
The Dead Sea, Israel (2022 teaching tour)

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The Mandela Effect and the Bible

Has the Bible been affected by the mysterious and controversial Mandela Effect?

The Mandela Effect and the Bible
Photo by Antonello Falcone on Unsplash

I admit to being a tad out of the loop, but before a few days ago I had never heard of the Mandela Effect. The only thing I knew as “Mandela” referred to an incredible man who had been elected President of South Africa.

However, the more I ventured down the research rabbit hole, the more I learned about the Mandela Effect. Frankly, different things I read about it came off as fake content, fake news, or just plain out there.

What is the Mandela Effect?

If you have never heard of the Mandela Effect before, join the club. Let’s collectively add some new words to our vocabulary, explore the concept, and take a new look.

The Mandela Effect is a phenomenon in which a large group of people shares a false memory. The term was coined by writer Fiona Broome, who discovered that she and others distinctly remembered Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 1980s, when in fact he survived and went on to become South Africa’s first black president.

Photo by Owen Cannon on Unsplash

There are numerous examples of the Mandela Effect influencing people’s memories of seemingly “well-known” aspects of popular culture. You may recognize a few of these.

Popular Examples of the Mandela Effect

To give you some easy examples, here are a few of the most popular Mandela Effects — the ones that seem to affect the most people, and be the most mind-blowing. The best way to ascertain a Mandela Effect is to ask a question, one which most people feel confident they will know the answer to.

1. Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker

Image credit: (Lucasfilm)

What famous movie line does Darth Vader say to Luke Skywalker at the end of The Empire Strikes Back? This seems to be the one that blows most people’s minds. Almost every fantasy world movie fan on Earth who has seen the movie will immediately state, “Luke, I am your father.”

In reality, this line does not exist. Rather, Darth Vader says, “No, I am your father.” As a Star Wars fan, I am embarrassed to admit that I remembered it wrong all of these years. Saying Luke’s name seems much more dramatic!

Despite the fact that millions upon millions of people claim to have watched The Empire Strikes Back dozens, if not hundreds, of times, they still carry false memories of its most famous quote.

2. Snow White and the Mirror

Image credit: (Disney)

What does the evil queen recite in the mirror in the film Snow White? That’s simple. “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” I mean, right?

Wrong again. She actually says: “Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” Don’t feel bad, I got it wrong too.

Like The Empire Strikes Back, there are millions of people who have seen Snow White an inordinate amount of times who will argue that she says, “Mirror mirror” until they find the clip on YouTube or pull out their old VHS tape to verify it.

Even then they might insist that their copy of the movie or clip they found online must have somehow changed because there’s no way they could misremember such an iconic cinematic moment.

What Causes the Mandela Effect?

The most likely — and simplest — explanation is when a collective false memory gains truth through cultural reinforcement. In other words, we hear something misquoted so often that the inaccuracy somehow morphs into truth.

Photo by Shubham Sharan on Unsplash

Having a “Mandela Effect” experience can be disturbing. It can cause someone to truly wonder about their experience or even question their certainty about other experiences or beliefs they hold true. For example, you are probably still disturbed if you thought the queen said “Mirror mirror.

I ran across several other explanations for the Mandela Effect including parallel realities and worlds, time travel, strong delusion, and alterations to the timeline of history. As I said, I went down quite a colorful research rabbit hole. However, all of those “reality principle” explanations are off-track for this post.

What in the world does all of this have to do with Scripture?

The Mandela Effect and the Bible

Non-Christians sometimes attempt to apply the Mandela Effect to the Word of God itself. However, after grasping what we talked about above, I wholeheartedly disagree. That being said, sometimes our recollection of the Bible is not immune to the Mandela Effect.

The Mandela Effect is not just reserved for popular culture and movie lines. You and I have seen it with regard to some popular verses and stories from the Bible as well. The original version and the popular version of beloved passages, if you will. Here are a few examples:

Exodus 34:14

Without looking it up, complete this verse: “…for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is _________, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14, ESV).

Do you remember what goes in that blank? Jehovah? Yahweh? Elohim? Lord? God? All wrong. The verse actually reads: “…for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

Look it up yourself in any translation. God self-identifies as Jealous. Culture and the world perceive jealousy as negative. However, God’s jealousy over us reinforces His love and protective care.

Matthew 18:20

Let’s pick a verse that may be familiar to a more significant number of people. Complete this verse: “For where two or ______ are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20, ESV).

What word goes in the blank? For where two or more gather in my name… right? Wrong. The verse actually reads, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Look it up yourself in any translation.

While some may perceive that “three” lessens the power of “more” in this verse, it actually elevates the meaning extraordinarily. “Two or three” means that it does not take an army to get God’s attention. He knows each one of us personally. Every hair on our head. Every tear we shed.

The Mandela Effect is Different From Inaccuracies

Let me be crystal clear. How we remember Scripture does not in any way affect its accuracy. As the Dead Sea Scrolls have proven, God’s Word remains true and unchanged over the millennia.

I am referring to Bible verses that people remember since they were kids in Sunday school. Certain passages, or even ideas, that they are sure are accurate simply because they have heard them in a certain way over their lifetimes. Our memory cannot change the accuracy of what God breathed onto the page.

Perhaps the Mandela Effect has increased in recent years thanks to the internet. We have easier access to nearly limitless information that spouts whatever they believe to be true in their own words. We need truth to guide our lives, not a perceived truth.

The Truth and Reliability of the Bible

The great Reformer, Martin Luther, taught in the Catechism, “I and my neighbor and, in short, all people may err and deceive. But God’s Word cannot err.”

Referred to as the inerrancy of the Bible, it simply and profoundly means that the Bible is the Word of God, and God cannot err; therefore, the Bible cannot err. 

Scripture declares emphatically that “it is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18, ESV). The Apostle Paul tells us of the “God who does not lie” (Titus 1:2, ESV). He is a God who, even if we are faithless, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13, ESV).

God is truth (John 14:6, ESV) and so is His Word. Jesus said to the Father, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17, ESV). The psalmist exclaimed, “The entirety of Your Word is truth” (Psalm 119:160, ESV).

I don’t know about you, but I crave God’s solid truth in a world full of magic mirrors.

Conclusion

So has the Bible been affected by the mysterious and controversial Mandela Effect? It can certainly affect how human beings remember certain Bible verses, but it does not alter or affect Scripture itself.

It is crucial that we become Bereans regarding what we learn and hear around us (especially on social media updates). What does that mean?

Bereans “…received the Word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11, ESV). They tested a person’s every word against Scripture to determine truth.

Such a focused stare on God and His Word easily debunks any fake news that we glance at.

I pray that we are Bereans in our diligence about God’s Word — in its learning, its application, and especially how we live it out each day.

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What Is The Last Sentence In The Bible?

As a writer, I realize that there are two important elements in anything I write: the beginning and the ending. A strong opening draws in people and keeps them reading, while a powerful close gives readers a nugget to take with them or linger over.

So what about the best-selling and most shared book of all time?

How Does the Bible Begin?

Genesis, the first book in the Bible, is riveting from the very beginning. The first words in God’s holy Word are spell-binding:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2, ESV).

What an action-packed opening! Those words create a sense of great anticipation. When something or someone is “hovering”, the story becomes a scene poised for motion. It is a glorious moment to savor as God prepares to breathe new life throughout the earth.

It is important to note that the book of Genesis actually picks up in the middle of the story, so to speak. Part of God’s great story has already happened. An epic battle has already taken place.

God has already cast Satan and a third of heaven’s angels to earth in rejection. It’s almost like the passages above could be depicted as God hovering over the aftermath of a smoky battle scene.

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

However, since all of Scripture is inspired by God, I do not believe biblical writers focused solely on writing extraordinary beginnings and endings. This whole book of life is extraordinary, filled with God’s purpose for our lives.

Yet it is still instructive for us to look at how the biblical writers wrapped up their stories and letters in an attempt to understand why. The ancient texts of the Old Testament are important, but since the final words in the Bible are contained in the New Testament we will focus there.

Why Do Final Words Matter?

If you have ever sat at the bedside of someone who is taking their final breaths on earth, you know the answer. No one uses their final moments to talk about the weather. Or how they should have devoted even longer hours at their corporate job away from their loved ones.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Listening carefully to someone’s last sayings is one of the little ways that God reminds us of what matters. A modern-day burning bush, if you will, to get our attention back on relationships – both with Him and those He places in our lives.

Our only wise God never wants us to forget the Son of God and what His sacrifice secured for us. Life. Eternal life with Him through faith because He loves us too much to be separated from Him forever.

The last day that I was sitting by my Dad’s bedside, he whispered about love. How much he loved Mom and his four daughters. How important it is that we love one another (and we certainly do). And how fast time slips through our fingers.

By Noon, he was gone and finally seeing God face-to-face. Even now twenty years later, Dad’s last words linger in my soul as if he declared them in a loud voice instead of a soft whisper.

Photo by James Kovin on Unsplash

The Last Words in the Gospels

As we work our way toward the last sentence in the Bible, the importance of last words also holds true in each of the four Gospels. Do you know them?

1. Matthew

Matthew ends his Gospel by quoting Jesus in the Great Commission, which believers embrace to this day as a personal call to action:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV).

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

2. Mark

Mark contains two endings. The second one is not found in all manuscripts, and the first version ends abruptly on a cliffhanger:

So then the Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs” (Mark 16:19-20, ESV).

3. Luke

Luke wraps up his incredible biography of Jesus by revealing what Jesus’ followers did. This provides an excellent contrast to what Jesus told his followers at the end of Matthew. The impetus? Our actions need to match our words:

Then He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands He blessed them. While He blessed them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:50-53, ESV).

4. John

As a writer, I particularly connect with the ending of John’s Gospel. I love hearing stories. I love telling stories. And Jesus’ stories are the best:

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25, ESV).

Photo by Will van Wingerden on Unsplash

What About the Last Book of the Bible?

The last book in Scripture is the book of Revelation. In it, God teaches about His new creation – a new heaven and a new earth. It offers a startling account of the end times as God revealed it to the Apostle John.

Some have unwisely taken the words of the prophecy of this book out of context and tried to predict the end of the world. That’s not the point of the book of Revelation.

John reveals visions of wondrous and seemingly strange things about the heavenly places. He describes the vivid divine power of our heavenly Father, a holy city, and the kingdom of God for those who receive eternal life through faith.

He used symbols and symbolism to convey significant messages – in code if you will – to the first-century believers. He did not want to risk his messages being destroyed by his captives, so he wrote using references that only believers would understand.

John was the only one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples who died of natural causes. He lived to be approximately 90 years old, which was astonishing at that time. Many people today do not even live to see their ninetieth birthday.

The Last Sentence in the Bible

The last sentence in the Bible is a beautiful spiritual blessing: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Revelation 22:21, ESV).

Why grace? Look around the world. Do you see much of it on the street corners? Look around our neighborhoods. Do you see in the houses down the block or across the field? Look around our hearts. How often do you need to be reminded that God’s grace is for you?

What is so Amazing About Grace?

Philip Yancey wrote a whole book about his personal quest to answer this question. In it, he wrote: “Grace is the church’s great distinctive. It’s the one thing the world cannot duplicate, and the one thing it craves above all else–for only grace can bring hope and transformation to a jaded world.” (What’s So Amazing About Grace, Zondervan, 2002). Over one million copies of this book have been sold worldwide.

The Greek word for grace in the last sentence of the Bible is charis, which refers to the merciful kindness of God. Period.

Grace means that God exerts His holy influence upon believers to strengthen us, and increase our faith in, knowledge of, and affection for Him.

Photo by Kouji Tsuru on Unsplash

Craving Grace

Even if we do not realize it, we need grace. In fact, our souls crave it. Grace fosters hope and serves as a holy catalyst for change. No matter what we have done or how badly we have sinned in the past, grace wipes the slate clean toward a bright future.

We may have difficulty seeing grace among believers on a consistent basis, but we will always find grace for us each day in Scripture. As Philip Yancey so wisely stated, grace only comes from God. We do not find a such source in the world.

Grace is so paramount that the Apostle Paul ended the overwhelming majority of his Epistles (letters) with a recurring reminder of God’s grace. A few examples:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14, ESV).

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (Philippians 4:23, ESV).

Photo by Kyle Thacker on Unsplash

Why is Grace Significant?

Every effort to define grace runs the risk of missing the mark. Jesus never used the word himself. However, studying the context usage helps us better grasp the wonder of grace. The events and actions of Jesus’ life communicate grace as something better lived out than written about.

Grace is amazing because it typically works contrary to reason and against the grain of common sense. In a world that is organized around “you get what you pay for” and “you get what you deserve,” grace turns all achievement philosophies upside down.

God’s love for us has no strings attached. No earned approval strategies. In fact, grace is never anything a person can get or work toward. Grace only arrives as a gift that must be received. 

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Letting it Linger

When we finish reading the Bible or arrive at the end of any book, we usually follow one of two courses. The first is to read the last line fast and quickly close our Bible, glad to have finished another book. Check!

The second is that we sit still, allow the ending to sit with us, and contemplate its final words. Perhaps even read the last sentence again. May I suggest that we follow this course with Scripture?

When we read the last sentence of the Bible or the last sentence in any one of its books, take time to sit still for a bit. Linger over that final sentence in the context of what came before them.

And friends, the final words in Scripture are certainly worth lingering over: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Revelation 22:21, ESV).

Amen.

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21 Essential Items for Your Ultimate Israel Packing List

Israel is one of my favorite places on God’s beautiful earth. Known throughout the world as the Holy Land, it is one of the planet’s foremost religious, spiritual, and cultural centers. From cosmopolitan and trendy Tel Aviv to soul-stirring and ancient Jerusalem, this country is a must-see.

I have led numerous tour groups to Israel over the years and just returned from a very special Advent tour. Visiting Bethlehem during Christmastime was truly incredible. I understand from experience the most important things you need to take in order to make your journey enjoyable, comfortable, and memorable.

Israel’s cultural, geographical, and religious diversity can make it difficult to know what to pack for your visit – especially if this is your first time. From essentials, basic necessities, Bible, spiritual growth tools, and understanding the dress code, this is a comprehensive packing list. Ready?

What to Pack for Israel – 21 Essentials

1. Power Adapter

In Israel, the power outlets require 230 V, 50 Hz, and type C and H power sockets, which is different from what we use in the United States. Though some European plugs will fit into Israeli outlets, it is best to use an international power adapter that works for nearly every country. I have used this one for years and it continues to work like a dream with hair dryers, straight irons, and everything in between. Just be sure that whatever adapter you take works in an Israeli outlet.

Ladies, I use this hairdryer, because it comes with a built-in international converter. Used with the adapter above, I have never blown a hotel outlet!

2. Pashmina Shawl/Scarf

A pashmina scarf or shawl for ladies will be endlessly useful when traveling in Israel. It can be used for layering, as a head or shoulder covering for entering holy sites, tied into a skirt to cover your knees in religious sites, or as a swimsuit cover up at the beach during summer travel. Versatile, stylish, portable, light, and breezy, I never regret bringing one of these on my trip.

3. RFD Protected Bag or Wallet

Whenever you travel to a big city in Israel or a particularly crowded, touristy destination (such as inside Jerusalem’s old city walls), it is imperative that you protect yourself from the risk of pickpockets. The best way to avoid being the target of pickpocketing is with a quality cross-body bag (for men, a neck wallet).

I have carried this one for years, and have it in both purple and brown. It is large enough to hold your valuables, such as cell phone, ATM cards, credit cards, cash, and passport, and has separately organized pouches so you can quickly and easily access your journal, map, water bottle, and other necessities.

4. Travel First Aid Kit

When traveling to a faraway destination like Israel, medical supplies are smart. Israel’s terrain contains hills, sand, and rocks, so small scrapes and blisters may rear their ugly heads. The last thing you want hindering your progress or causing unnecessary discomfort is an exposed, untreated scrape or blister.

I always pack this first aid kit because it is compact and covers just about everything that could arise. And very important: I have carried it through international TSA several times without issue.

5. Packing Cubes

If you want to become the savvy traveler you always dreamt of being, start using packing cubes! I have used these packing cubes for years. They will help keep you organized while traveling, which prevents becoming overwhelmed trying to find what you packed. These cubes also come with a separate bag to store your dirty laundry so as not to mix them with your clean clothes.

6. Travel Insurance for Israel

Whenever you travel to a foreign place, regardless of the destination, it’s imperative to make sure you’re covered in case of an emergency. Getting travel insurance is simpler than you might think.

I prefer to use Trip Insurance Consultants because of the variety of coverage and price levels it contains. My church also uses them for travelers on our mission trips. By planning ahead and getting travel insurance you can potentially save yourself the hassle and the expenses that come with flight cancellations, lost items, theft, and medical emergencies. It’s one of those things that I simply do not travel internationally without.

7. Long Skirt

As Israel is one of the world’s most significant religious centers, women should be sure to pack a long skirt or dress for visiting holy or religious sites. In Jewish or Muslim neighborhoods throughout the country, particularly in Jerusalem, modesty is key.

As Israel can get quite warm, especially during the summer, you will want to have a breezy, lightweight skirt to keep cool and covered. You can also use the pashmina listed above to cover your shoulders and knees at religious sites, rather than packing an extra skirt. Easy!

8. Camera

There is nothing worse than traveling to a spectacular place, taking photos, and later realizing that they are low-quality. In a destination as fascinating as Israel, you will want to have an excellent camera to properly capture the experience.

The camera that I use and highly recommend is high quality yet, comes with all necessary items, and is small enough to carry everywhere in your front pocket.

9. Prescription Medications

This almost goes without saying, but I’ll list it anyway. If you take regular prescription medication, pack it in its original bottle and be sure to pack a copy of the prescription, as well. Should an unforeseen event delay your return home, you do not want to be caught without a way to refill your necessary medications. I simply use my smallest packing cube (mentioned above) to hold any and all medical items.

Also, do not leave behind your essential over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen. With all of the walking and the hilly terrain, ibuprofen is a lifesaver!

10. Daypack

Israel is a very compact country, about the size of New Jersey. Yet it is absolutely packed with sites, cities, and diverse activities. Your days may include exploring cities, visiting museums and holy sites, hiking in the desert, and swimming in the Dead Sea.

A reliable day pack to carry a good supply of water, electronics, and any outfit changes is a necessity. I have used this reliable backpack for years and it is still going strong.

12. Portable Charger

Another incomparably useful travel item is a portable charger. If you’re relying on your smartphone to navigate or use as a camera and it runs out of battery in an inconvenient place, you may find yourself in a bit of a bind. A small, easy to carry portable charger can be a lifesaver when you really need it. I have this charger with both two and three USB charging portals. They charge many devices at once many times over.

13. Sunglasses

Israel enjoys a mild, Mediterranean climate, so you can expect a lot of clear, sunny days year-round. A good pair of UV-protected sunglasses will be essential to shield your eyes from the intense rays of the desert sun. In this pic, I climbing En Gedi where David hid from King Saul’s jealous rage. It was a gorgeous day.

14. Comfortable Walking Shoes

Plan to do a lot of walking when in Israel, especially in cities like Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Tel Aviv. The traffic congestion makes walking the preferred mode to get where you are going faster. You will want comfortable shoes that look appropriate, especially when you enter religious sites like churches or synagogues. I prefer Skechers, but any comfortable shoes with excellent support will work.

Quick story: During one summer trip to Israel, a woman in our group tried to enter the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem with open-toed sandals. Although the sandals were not necessarily the problem that time of year, the blingy cross plastered on top of them was highly offensive to the locals. They equated the crosses on her feet to “walking on Jesus” in disrespect. Blingy is cute, just be courteous as to what that bling contains. Nice sandals are just fine.

15. Rain Jacket or Travel Umbrella

Some will say that you do not need to bother. I have been caught in rainstorms more than once, trust me you need one or both. A waterproof jacket with a hood works just fine for any kind of weather. If it’s a cooler time of the year, the jacket also serves as an extra layer for warmth instead of a heavy coat (which you do not need).

16. Water Bottle

Israel is a dry country – it’s the desert! You need to be sure to remain hydrated. It is a good idea to carry your own water bottle so that you always have a ready supply of fresh water. Yes, bottled water is abundantly available, but we do not need any more plastic in the world’s landfills. I love to take this one because it folds up to fit easily in my airline carry-on bag and saves space.

17. Extra Pair of Glasses or Contacts

If you wear contacts, like me, you will need to pack an extra pair. When those desert winds blow, the air contains sand particles – especially during their dry summers. I always pack a pair of extra contacts, as well as backup eyeglasses. If you strictly wear eyeglasses, it’s a good idea to pack your spare pair just in case uneven terrain causes a stumble.

18. Washcloth

Out of all of the hotels (of various shapes, sizes, and price ranges) that I have stayed in throughout Israel, only ONE supplied washcloths. They are not provided as a hotel staple like here in America, so it’s a good idea to pack one for washing your face or other basic necessities.

19. Swimsuit and Water Shoes

You can swim almost year-round in Israel thanks to its mild climate. You may opt for a water hike through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, a float in the Dead Sea (this pic at the Dead Sea is from my 2019 tour), or other water activities. Hotels can provide towels, so do not take up valuable luggage space by packing a towel. Just be sure to take a few extra plastic bags in your daypack for your wet swimsuit and water shoes.

20. A Copy of Your Passport

This has literally saved my bacon in the past. Always, and I mean always, carry a copy of your passport. I tuck mine safely in my carry-on luggage side pocket. If you lose, or simply cannot find, your passport, this copy will be a lifesaver in getting you back home with much less hassle.

21. Bible and Journal

Last, but by no means least, Christians need to take your Bible and a journal. You are walking where Jesus and His disciples walked! I have used the same travel Bible for years. Each time I have read or taught from a particular passage, I wrote the date and location in the margin. Years later, each time I come across one of those marked placed, I remember the sounds, smell and feel of each location as if I was there again.

Journaling along the way is so important! I have used this one for years because it is a handy size and uses refillable, lined paper. The handmade leather has only gotten more beautiful over time.

Traveling to Israel will deeply impact your spiritual journey more than any other location. Ever. Out of all the places on earth, God chose Israel as the birthplace and ministry of His Son, Jesus Christ. Walking in His footsteps and experiencing Jewish culture will forever change you from the inside out.

I hope you this list has been helpful! I pray that you will join me on my next Holy Land tour in March 2024 (details here).

Trust me when I say that you will never read Scripture the same again.

God will turn your life, heart and soul upside down.

In the best way.

Caesarea Aqueduct, December 2022

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Seven Powerful Truths About Biblical Self-Discipline

Many of us start a new year with a list of items or disciplines that we want to improve or initiate. Especially if we have faced years of struggle or defeat in particular areas of our life.

As Christians, we have been set apart to be holy for the Lord. He provides all of the tools for success. However, growth in personal holiness is largely determined by our commitment to self-discipline.

Some Christians view self-discipline as leaving God out of the equation. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, nothing could be more harmful. We cannot advance in grace without godly, foundational discipline.

Before other disciplines can be successfully administered, whether in our health, finances, relationships, or spiritual walk, self-discipline must come first.

What Does the Bible say about Self-Discipline?

Self-discipline is usually not a popular subject except in two scenarios: (1) a new year rolls over and we make resolutions to change or improve, or (2) we have succumbed to destructive sin that has resulted in harm to ourselves or others. However, self discipline is a good work that results in greater knowledge of God and His plan for our lives.

In our culture, and even among many Christians, reminders of self-discipline are resisted. Some go so far as to call it legalism or trampling our Christian liberty.

God’s Word is clear about the importance of personal discipline. Those who label such instruction of the Lord as restrictions to their freedom in Christ are choosing to put on a spiritual straightjacket instead of the armor of God.

Here are seven powerful truths that we need to understand about biblical discipline:

(1) What Is Self-Discipline?

The Greek word translated as “discipline” (enkrateia) comes from the root krat, which denotes power or lordship. Self-discipline means exercising power over one’s self. It is the ability to keep our inner desires, thoughts, actions, and words under control. Every believer is instructed to exercise this self-control over his or her own life (Gal. 5:23).

This power that we need comes from the Holy Spirit in us. The light of the Lord in every believer gives us all the power needed over darkness to master any type of discipline.

The next generation desperately needs to see living examples of how to embrace and flourish while following the discipline of the Lord. We can display vital, unspoken words of encouragement written on the canvas of a believer’s life who is wholly submitted to the Father’s instruction.

(2) What Self-Discipline Is Not

To best understand what self-discipline is, we need to grasp what it is not. The opposite of self-discipline is self-indulgence. We have all been there in one form or another. But the Word of God is clear: a self-indulgent lifestyle produces “the works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19-21).

Sinful deeds are the inevitable result when we lack self-control. Self-discipline brings every thought, word, and deed captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Any expectation of personal holiness and spiritual growth requires self-control.

Two Erroneous Views of the Christian Life

Two erroneous views of the Christian life—Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism—distort the truth of self-discipline:

  1. Pelagius (AD 354–420) was a British theologian who taught that man has the inherent ability to both save and sanctify himself. He claimed that a person is able to accomplish godly behavior through their own sheer force of will — that mere knowledge of God’s will was all that was needed to discipline himself through sheer determination.
  2. A second erroneous view is semi-Pelagianism, which assumes that man has some ability or willpower to sanctify himself in partnership with God. In this joint venture, God and man are co-contributors to self-discipline. God gives a measure of grace, but man supplies the rest.

Pelagius was denounced as a heretic by the Council of Carthage (AD 418) for this fatal teaching and semi-Pelagianism was likewise declared heretical by the Western Church in the Second Council of Orange (AD 529).

Unfortunately, his thought process lingers with us. Many people today falsely believe that they can simply will themselves to be whatever they want to be. This erroneous dependence on our own inherent ability can lead to serious sin and God’s rod of correction.

Saint Augustine (AD 354–430) taught the truth from biblical text that God is the sole author of man’s salvation and sanctification. By His sovereign grace, God alone regenerates spiritually dead sinners. Augustinian teaching rightly understands that only God can produce authentic self-discipline in the believer.

The wise son or daughter of God realizes that spiritual discipline is key to resisting temptation and sin. Without self-discipline as a way of life, our spiritual lives are out of balance and subject to God’s discipline. The longer we neglect Christian discipline, the longer we prolong spiritual maturity.

Simply put, if we do not discipline ourselves through the Spirit’s strength in us, God Himself will discipline us (Heb. 12:5–11). One way or another, there will be discipline in our lives.

Given our tendency toward sin, disciplining ourselves for the purpose of godliness is a daily, if not hourly, struggle. Shirking this responsibility brings about the discipline of the Almighty.

(3) Who Produces Self-Discipline?

This virtue of self-control is given to every believer as a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). There are nine aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. Self-discipline occupies the final position, assuming a place of strategic importance.

In other words, self-discipline sums up the previous eight qualities. The work of the Spirit reaches its consummation in self-control.

As a vine produces fruit, self-discipline is created exclusively by the Spirit. Self-control is never self-generated; rather, it is a work of grace within us. Though we actively practice it, we simply bear this fruit of self-discipline.

As sap flows into the branch, producing fruit, divine grace must fill the believer, producing self-control. The self can never produce self-discipline. Only Christians living under the Holy Spirit’s guidance can live self-controlled lives.

(4) What Does Self-Discipline Look Like?

The Apostle Paul provides an outstanding visual for us. He compared our Christian journey to an athlete training for athletic competitions: “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in small things” (1 Cor. 9:25).

For a runner to be victorious, he must submit his entire life to the strict discipline of rigorous training. The athlete’s strenuous workout demands that he seriously restrict or even refuse individual freedoms. He must embrace a proper diet, sufficient rest, and intense training. Every area of his life must be brought under the Spirit’s control.

Paul adds, “I do not box as one beating the air” (1 Cor. 9:26). A champion boxer must have a clearly-focused aim in the ring, not wild punches that never land on his opponent. An undisciplined believer beats the air in his fight against sin.

Paul also warns that a champion athlete must beat his body into submission or be disqualified from the race: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest…I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). He urges that we discipline our bodies to resist sinful desires or forfeit the prize.

(5) What Is the Price?

Believers have liberty in Christ to pursue what is not forbidden in Scripture. Just remember that victory always comes at a price. The Christian life is no different.

This necessitates that we exercise self-discipline in areas like health, sleep, time, money, and entertainment choices. Anything that hinders us from winning the prize has to go.

Exercising self-control means relinquishing control of our lives to Jesus Christ. That is the paradox: giving up the control of self allows us to gain self-control. God, in His great love for us, enables us to exercise self-discipline, an absolute necessity for victory over sin.

(6) Bible Verses To Focus On

There are no two ways around it: Bible study and hiding God’s Word in our hearts are key to spiritual disciplines of any kind. Neglecting this quiet time with our loving heavenly Father is a recipe for failure. Here are helpful verses for our journey:

  • Jesus maintained, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). In our own willpower, we cannot do anything that pleases God. Only by God’s enabling grace can we exercise self-control in our ongoing war against sin.
  • “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). That is, Christ must be mightily working within us.
  • Every Christian is responsible to pursue holiness, yet God must work within us to produce personal godliness (Phil. 2:13–14).
  • “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
  • “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11).

(7) Practical Ways to Stay on Track

In this life, Christians face trials of many kinds – including a lack of discipline. But by the grace of God, He provides many tools that we can implement to stay on track. Here are a few very practical ways to make clear today:

(a) Begin with God

In the New Testament Paul simply states: “Train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). Embracing self-discipline (and pursuing holiness) translates into hearing biblical preaching and teaching, participating in corporate worship, the Lord’s Supper, regular Bible reading (download free plans here), meditation, prayer, and fellowship if we are to win the prize.

(b) Write Out a Plan

This means you need to have a plan in place. I use my calendar to ensure that proper time is allotted for Bible study, attending worship, and intentional prayer time.

Whatever system works for you is what will work for you. If you are OCD, perhaps cross-referenced, color-coded calendars are in your future.

Regardless of the method — phone reminders, calendars, or sticky notes on mirrors — utilize them to secure your plan. And follow it! Here is a guideline you might find useful.

(c) Solicit Accountability Partners

Accountability partners are always a good idea. When it comes to godly living and spurring each other toward self-discipline, each of us will struggle along the way.

Surrounding yourself with one or two solid accountability partners who will not let you off the hook is one of the most helpful and practical steps we can take.

One of my accountability partners pointed me to this book, “Atomic Habits“, that I have found extraordinarily helpful in my ongoing self-discipline journey.

Bottom Line

The most important place to start is on our knees. As one of God’s children, He alone gives us the grace and strength we need for self-discipline. We cannot generate it on our own. But what Scripture tells us is clear: when we seek God, we will find Him (Jer. 29:13).

His Word of truth will equip, sustain, and empower us to win the prize. There is nothing like that pure joy!

{Some of these links are affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase through that link, the ministry may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your ministry support!}

Best Bible Reading Plans

Many people have never read the Bible cover to cover. That’s not a judgmental statement, because it used to be me! Nothing has completely transformed my life more quickly than spending time reading and studying God’s beautiful words every day of the week. God’s Word is living and active, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, transformation happens from the inside out.

Perhaps as you start this new year, daily Bible reading will provide a “soul reset” that you need to combat the world’s daily chaos. And that chaos, confusion, and dissension seem to gain momentum every year. We need God’s Word in our hearts, so let’s be intentional about it.

Do you want to pick a Bible reading plan that you won’t regret committing to for the next season? I have done all the work for you digging deep to find the top ways to read the Bible broken down in daily readings. These free downloadable plans vary widely, and you will likely be surprised by all the different approaches to help you read the Bible.

Why Read Through the Bible?

Reading and hearing God’s Word increases our faith (Romans 10:17). To that end, each checklist will guide you through the entire Bible at your own pace. Some days may go faster than others, but the whole point is to stay in God’s Word. His wonderful truths instruct, guide, and teach us, and provide the encouragement we need to shine His light in a dark world. And friends, this world NEEDS His light.

During your journey through Scripture, ask God each day to speak to you directly from His Word — whether you read a whole book of the Bible, an entire chapter, or one verse at a time. Approach His words of absolute truth with expectation. His story is our story.

Print off one of these free Bible reading plans and tuck it into your Bible. Make the commitment today to read through the most profound, life-changing truths ever written. You will never be the same again. His Words will hydrate you from the inside out.

One-Year Bible Reading Plan

This 52-week Bible reading plan methodically works through the whole Bible in one year. It combines readings from the Old Testament, New Testament, and Psalms each day to work through the entire book in a calendar year. Begin each day with prayer, asking God for discernment, and dive into each day’s reading. {Download here.}

Bible Reading Plan At Your Own Pace

This plan offers a lot of grace space when your days get busy. This plan allows you to pick up where you left off, no matter how long it’s been since you read the last entry. Once you get used to reading God’s Word on a regular basis, you can move back to specific books of the Bible or Scripture references where God has specifically touched your heart.

A dedicated Bible reading schedule is important, but if you are just starting out give yourself a lot of grace. If you miss a day, or a week, or feel like you are just shuffling pages, it’s okay. Your spiritual walk over the course of a year and your whole life takes diligence and patience. Trust in the Lord and how He will work through His Word in your heart and mind. {Download here.}

Historical Overview One-Year Bible Reading Plan

This Bible reading plan offers a basic outline of the Old and New Testaments, then fills in readings with more detailed books. You will read the entire Bible with this historical Bible reading plan!

The Old Testament readings follow a historical overview, then moves to the prophetic literature, followed by the wisdom literature, and Psalms (some twice). The New Testament begins with Christ’s birth, then moves into Acts (Luke’s sequel), followed by Ephesians (Paul’s teachings), the pastoral epistles, and so on. {Download here.}

Read The Bible In 90-Days

This 90-Day Bible reading plan is very different from the others. In biblical times, the Word of God was passed orally, learned orally, and memorized by hearing it orally. A pen and paper were not standard staples back then. Usually, only the rabbis in synagogues had printed copies of God’s Word. This plan allows you to hear the Bible as those people back in biblical times.

This is not a competition with yourself just to say that you have completed it. You WILL see God move in ways that you haven’t before if you walk through the Bible passages and listen. Even if you actually retain only a small portion of what the Bible says in each reading, you will retain what He wants you to hear for a long time – perhaps for your lifetime.

Pray each time you read to hear what God wants you to hear and be able to let the rest go. This is not a Bible study. This is a Bible reading. Absorb what you can. Listen. He will help you.

Setting a goal is important with this particular plan because each day’s reading takes an average of 45-60 minutes. Since our listening can easily become distracted, commit to actually reading a Bible rather than listening to an audio version. Take your Bible everywhere!

You are on an important mission, so grab additional reading time whenever possible: waiting to meet friends, waiting for the oven to preheat, a 10-minute break at work, waiting in your child’s school car pick-up line, or even arriving early at church and read before worship. Even 10 increments help. {Download here.}

Bottom Line

As you commit to walking through your daily or weekly readings, you will discover what a tremendous asset and great springboard it is to know what it means to live a Christ-centered life. That’s the bonus part of the plan!

Over time, you may discover a preferred Bible version, choose to jot down study notes as you read, write down some meaningful passages in your own words, or even venture past the daily reading assignments as God moves your heart toward His. The key is following those spiritual nudges as God brings them about. And He will.

There will be parts of the Bible that will be difficult to understand, but do not lose heart! The history of Israel in the Old Testament historical context sometimes seems harsh. We see a wrathful side of God in some of the battles.

But as you spend time in God’s Word on a daily basis, you will see God work and move in different ways. You will see His helping hand, His good way, and His unquestionable love for you.

Keep Going

When you finish a year plan, select another year’s reading plan! Studying the Bible is a lifelong adventure that never becomes stale. If you are not part of a bible class at church or in your community, I challenge you to find one. Such group Bible studies are a good resource to engender a stronger tie and accountability to maintain your own desire to keep moving forward.

There is no one way to read the Bible — that’s the beautiful part. There are many foundational passages of Scripture (such as John 3:16), and reading them in context is key to understanding God’s Word and His plan for your life.

I pray that this journey draws you closer to Jesus and inspires you to show His love and forgiveness to a world that desperately needs them.

All Four Plans for Free Downloading and Printing

  1. One-Year Bible Reading Plan
  2. Bible Reading Plan at Your Own Pace
  3. Historical Overview One-Year Bible Reading Plan
  4. Read the Bible in 90-Days

{Some of these links are affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase through that link, the ministry may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your ministry support!}

Bethlehem: The Church of the Nativity

Only six miles south of Jerusalem in the West Bank stands the oldest continually used place of Christian worship in the world, Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. Originally built in the fourth century on the spot Christians hold as the birthplace of Jesus, historical sources reference the site as early as the second century.

Today, the Church of the Nativity is one of the most important sites of Christian pilgrimage, alongside Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Earlier this month, I led a group of thirty pilgrims to visit Bethlehem and its beautiful Church of the Nativity. Visiting in December took on special meaning as the birthplace of our Savior. Leading up to our visit and during our time there, I learned the extensive and powerful history of the Church of the Nativity which will inform your next (or first) visit to this incredible church.

Preserving A Holy Cave and Constantine’s Church

Commissioned by the Roman emperor Constantine in the fourth century, the first church built at the site was consecrated on May 31, 339. However, by the mid-third century, the site had already taken on a sacred position. Early church Father Origen writes about a cave in Bethlehem that was known to be the place of Jesus’s birth.

Thus, Empress Helena journeyed to the Holy Land in 327 AD and a basilica was constructed above the cave, parts of which still exist today. This church consisted primarily of an octagonal altar located directly above the cave, with a five-aisle nave and an atrium.

Intricate mosaic tile floors were part of the original Byzantine church, and they can still be seen today. Wooden floors have been built over the mosaic flooring for its protection, but at certain spots, special hatches have been installed that can be lifted to view the original fourth-century mosaics. There was a collective audible gasp when our group was able to view them. They are stunning, to say the least!

Justinian’s Church of the Nativity

Constantine’s original Church of the Nativity stood until the early sixth century when it was partly burned down. Although it is uncertain what event caused the fire, many believe that it was a result of the Samaritan revolts, which were responsible for the burning of several other churches in the region. Nevertheless, Emperor Justinian reconstructed the church soon after. It is this Justinian basilica that still stands today, although numerous modifications have been made through the centuries.

Many modifications and refurbishments occurred during the Crusader period (1099–1291 AD); however, some sections of the church still preserve Constantine’s original fourth-century construction. The Justinian church changed the octagonal altar area into a cruciform (cross) shape. The nave was extended and the atrium was covered to construct a narthex. Justinian erected fifty, 18-foot tall columns along the nave and transepts constructed from local stone quarried near Jerusalem’s Old City.

The courtyard and columned walkway offer beautiful places for reflection, prayer, and simply sitting and pondering what happened here over 2,000 years ago. The key is to never forget the history and miracle of the Christ child’s birth as you walk through the church and grounds.

The Crusader Period

Unlike most other churches in the region, the Church of the Nativity remained relatively unscathed between the time of Justinian and the modern day, avoiding destruction during the periods of instability and turmoil that accompanied the Sassanid, Islamic, and Crusader conquests.

Part of this was due to the church’s distance from Jerusalem, and the relative insignificance of Bethlehem for the region’s strategic defense. The church’s survival even led to stories and legends that it was miraculously protected from such events.

Islamic Rule

During the early Islamic period (c. 634–1099 AD), a Muslim prayer space was introduced into the church alongside the traditional areas of Christian worship. The site remained a pilgrimage destination for western Christians during this time. In 808 AD, Charlemagne sent a mission to the church to record its various details and possibly even carry out some repairs.

On June 7, 1099, the Crusading Franks conquered Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity. The following year, Baldwin of Boulogne’s coronation as king of the Kingdom of Jerusalem took place inside the church. Baldwin II would likewise be crowned king at the site in 1119.

During its years under Crusader control, extensive repairs and modifications were made to the church, mainly to bring it into conformity with the Latin rite. The basic plan of the Justinian church was left in place, however, as well as many of the various architectural features, including the columns. The Crusaders further encircled the complex in a large wall, parts of which were later incorporated into various monasteries that still stand today.

Beginning in the Crusader period, numerous murals, mosaics, and paintings were added to the church, including the lavish wall mosaics that are still partially preserved today, and the column paintings of various saints and supplicants, which were likely a joint venture between the church leaders and wealthy pilgrims.

The Church from Saladin until Today

Upon Saladin’s conquest of the Holy Land (around 1187 AD), much of the Roman Catholic clergy left the Church of the Nativity. Nevertheless, the church suffered very little damage and Christian worship continued at the site under the Greek Orthodox, Armenians, and other Christian traditions. Eventually, the Roman Catholics returned. The Church would continue relatively unaltered until the Ottoman period (1516–1917 AD).

Under the Ottomans, much of the marble, which had once decorated the Church of the Nativity, was plundered, possibly to be used in refurbishing Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock. Since graven images are strictly forbidden according to Muslim law, many of the faces of the images on the columns were removed and unable to be restored properly.

Although still in use, the church would enter a long period of decay. Likewise, the central nave of the church was used for non-worship purposes, including legal proceedings and even housing Ottoman troops in the middle east when required. Eventually, church officials regained control over the church although, over the next several centuries, it continued to fall into disrepair.

The Modern Church of the Nativity

In 2012, the Church of the Nativity was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site. At the time of its listing, it was considered in danger due to its poor state of preservation. However, in 2013, church officials and conservators began massive renovation projects on the church, restoring it to much of its former glory, Today, nearly two million visitors and pilgrims visit the church every year.

The entrance into the church is called “the Door of Humility” and was constructed during the Ottoman period. This small rectangular doorway is less than five feet high. In order to pass through this door, visitors are forced to bow down as they enter the church. The fact that visitors and pilgrims have to bow down in order to enter the Church of the Nativity has a theological significance: We must humble ourselves in order to approach God.

Accessing the Site Where Jesus was Born

The cave area where tradition holds that Jesus was born is located underneath the church’s altar area. Access is gained by descending steep marble steps into a grotto-like area. Various religions have donated ornate oil lamps that clergy and priests ensure are kept burning around the clock all year long.

The traditional place of Jesus’ birth is marked by a 14-point star, which signifies that Jesus is the son of David. Why a 14-point star? The Hebrew name for King David, dwd, has a numeric value: (d = 4) + (w = 6) + (d = 4) = the number 14. Also, three sets of fourteen generations separate Abraham and the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:17).

Visiting Bethlehem in December

Visiting Bethlehem in December is magical, to say the least. As the birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem is a must-stop this time of the year during the holiday season. I lead private groups on tours of Israel and this “Christmas city” where the birth of Christ took place is always a favorite. The low temperatures are in the 40s, while the average temperature in the daytime is in the 60s. December is not the coldest month and I have never encountered inches of snow during this time; however, snow has been known to happen in December.

This first month of the winter season means that winter shadows create excellent opportunities for taking beautiful photographs. December is one of the lowest UV index months, as well, and the average rainfall is minimal. Winter conditions requiring snow removal are exceedingly rare. Cold winds and snow showers are rare this time of year, as well. Cloud cover and the dew point are low, though a wet day may happen (as it rained briefly when our group was there).

The Bottom Line

It is important to understand the historical and traditional significance of Christian holy sites. However, we cannot leave out the spiritual significance. Bethlehem, according to God’s Word, was the place hand-picked by God before the beginning of time to welcome His Son into the world.

Bethlehem was intentionally chosen by our Creator. And our Creator intentionally created you.

If you ever have a chance to visit Bethlehem, do not let the physical beauty of a church diminish the spiritual significance of that beautiful place.

{Some of these links are affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase through that link, the ministry may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your ministry support!}

Carry-On vs. Checked Bag: Which One Is Best? Important FAQ

The best travel experience begins by knowing what and how to pack your travel items. Now that travel has pretty much returned to normal, many are planning trips for the first time in a long time. So refreshing ourselves on the basics is always a great idea.

I feel very blessed to travel regularly. I just returned from leading a 10-day Reformation Tour through Germany and next month I will lead a 10-day tour through the Holy Land through Israel.

Although I am not a certified travel expert, I am a well-seasoned traveler of over 35 years who has logged plenty of real-time airline miles.

I hope that this guide covers everything you need to know about baggage categories, as well as extra tips like what to pack in which and essential accessories that keep your suitcases organized and safe.

Two Main Types of Luggage Categories

Carry-ons and checked bags are the two main types of luggage categories that airlines designate for both domestic and international travel. So how do you choose the right sized luggage and what are the differences between a carry-on vs. checked bag?

Overview of Carry-On vs. Checked Bag

What is carry-on baggage?

This is baggage that you take with you in the passenger area of the airplane. It can be stored above the seating in the overhead bin space, or if small enough, underneath the seat in front of you. Airlines usually allow one carry-on suitcase per passenger.

What is checked baggage? 

This is baggage that is stored in the cargo area underneath the airplane. Your check-in baggage is tagged and handed over to the airline’s conveyor belt at flight check in before you head over to security. Depending on the airline, you may be able to take multiple checked bags. This could be helpful if you are moving abroad or going on a long trip.

Guidelines for Carry-on vs. Checked Baggage

Size

The biggest difference between a carry-on vs. checked bag is size limits. Airlines may have slight differences in their suitcase size restrictions. However, the standard maximum dimensions for both international flights and domestic flights are:

  • Carry-on: 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches
  • These measurements are height x width x depth of the suitcase and include the wheels (and account for the handle being tucked away.) These are usually stored inside the airplane cabin in an overhead compartment.
  • Checked: 62 linear inches
  • Checked baggage can be any size up to 62 linear inches, which is equal to the height + width + depth measurements added together. These are always transported in the cargo storage space underneath the airplane.

The maximum dimensions may vary slightly by airline, so be sure to check your airline’s different rules.

Helpful tidbit: In recent years, many airlines have placed a stand at the airport check-in counters with slots where you can insert your carry-on to see if it fits the airline’s regulations. Confirming your free carry-on size helps to avoid the dreadful checked bag fee.

A larger checked bag or unusual/bulky luggage that holds a large musical instrument (think cello) or golf clubs requires special handling and usually incurs an extra fee.

Weight Restrictions

Typically, there are no weight restrictions for carry-on bags and airlines won’t make you weigh it. But there are a few, like budget airlines or smaller regional jet planes, that instill a weight limit on carry-on baggage, so you’ll just have to check the specific requirements of the company you’re flying with if you have heavy carry-on bags. The standard maximum suitcase weight for checked luggage is 50 lbs/23 kg.

Packing Restrictions

There are certain things you are only allowed to pack in checked luggage and certain things you are only allowed to pack in carry-on luggage. One of the most common examples is lithium batteries, which cannot be placed in a checked bag.

Fees

Whether or not you are charged for baggage is dependent on the airline and your fare. Fare is usually divided into tiers like Basic Economy, Economy, Business, Business First, and First Class (among others). Most airlines offer a free checked bag with a premium class ticket but may charge for checked baggage with lesser class tickets (domestic or international.)

Low-cost airlines, such as Spirit or Ryanair, charge bag fees on their basic fare. You may also incur an additional fee if your bag is overweight.

Helpful tidbit: Many airlines allow passengers to have both a carry-on bag and personal item bag. The personal item bag must completely fit underneath the seat in front of you or it will be counted as a carry-on. Personal item bags usually consist of a purse, laptop bag, small backpack, or a diaper bag.

Important Factors When Choosing Carry-On vs. Checked Bag

Storage Capacity

There is an obvious difference in storage capacity between a carry-on vs. checked bag. Carry-on bags are perfect when you want to pack light. They are ideal for weekend trips or short getaways, since they weigh less and make for a smoother, more convenient airport experience.

For longer or seasonal trips, checked luggage might be needed to fit all the items that you require. For instance, a ski trip to Canada carrying bulky winter clothing and snow boots usually results in a checked bag.

Portability

Carry-on baggage is lighter and easier to maneuver, which can be a factor in deciding whether you want to take along a checked bag. For example, when I get away to the remote Smoky Mountains for a writing sabbatical or to finish a book, I do not carry bulky checked bags to haul up the mountainside to a cabin. I choose Airbnbs that have a washer and dryer so that I can reuse the same clothes.

Risk of Lost Luggage

If you are traveling with checked baggage and have connecting flights, your bag has a greater chance of getting lost in the shuffle. Here are a few tried and true ways to avoid such a conundrum if you have a connecting flight to your final destination:

  • Ask at check-in if your bag is flying directly to your final destination. If not, you will need to get off the plane at your connecting airport, pick up your bag at baggage claim, and check it in again at the airline counter. This usually only happens if you book separate flights/tickets.
  • Keep the tag that prints with your checked bag label. At the end of the long label that prints with your luggage tag sticker, there is a small square with your contact information. This will help airlines locate your bag.
  • Attach a luggage tag with your personal information. You should tag your luggage even if you are flying carry-on only in the event that you arrive at the gate and the airline makes you check your carry-on bag. This can happen when flights are full and they are expecting little space available by the time boarding ends. Write your full name, phone number, email, and address on each tag.

The only sure way to avoid lost baggage is to travel with carry-on bags only!

Price

Carry-on bags are often free on most major airlines, except for the scenarios we have already covered. Checked baggage fees can be hefty, with most starting at $50 per bag. Again, check with your specific airline.

Carry-On & Checked Suitcase Essentials

Whether you go with one or both, these tools are essential to both carry-ons and checked bags.

  • Packing Cubes
  • Packing cubes are the ultimate packing tool for saving space in your suitcase. My go-to cubes are listed below.
  • Small Luggage Scale
  • Weighing your suitcase is easiest with a portable luggage scale. The benefit of this is that you can pack this lightweight scale in your suitcase. This is especially helpful for the international tours that I lead in order to bring souvenirs back home without exceeding the checked bag weight limits.
  • Luggage Locks
  • Some suitcases already come with locks, or you can attach a TSA approved lock. This ensures no one tampers with your bag.

What To Always Pack In Your Carry-On

There are a few items you should always pack in a carry-on bag no matter how you’re traveling. These include:

  • Important travel documents (itineraries, passports, boarding passes, vaccine records, etc.)
  • Jewelry and any other valuables
  • Prescriptions/Medications
  • Extra travel outfit
  • Electronics (including chargers)

Whether or not you bring a checked bag, I always recommend bringing a carry-on bag. It serves as an extra place to keep valuables safe, reading material, fun activities to occupy you during the flight, or even for storing items that you may have bought in the airport.

Pros & Cons Overview

In summary, when it comes to a carry-on vs checked bag, here are the main pros and cons:

Carry-On Pros

  • Skip the check-in counter lines
  • Skip baggage claim
  • Travel light

Carry-On Cons

  • Limits how much you can bring

Checked Bag Pros

  • Accommodates extra items for a more comfortable vacation

Checked Bag Cons

  • More cumbersome and heavier
  • Baggage fees
  • Less convenient airport experience
  • Risk of getting lost with flight connections

Essentials to Pack Regardless of Luggage Size

First of all, reliable luggage is crucial. After using soft-sided luggage for years, I switched to hard-sided luggage seven years ago. They simply last longer. My luggage set is shimmering purple so that it sticks out among the plethora of black bags. I bought this 3-size set in November 2015 and it is still going strong after thousands of international travel miles.

With reliable luggage in place, these are the essentials that I routinely pack which make travel easy, comfortable and stylish.

Packing Cubes

These light weight, sturdy, and breathable packing cubes (with laundry bag included) have made traveling a dream. Organizing clothes by type or occasion saves SO much time. Mine are aqua because I love color!

Collapsible Reusable Water Bottle

Not only is a reusable water bottle environmentally friendly, a collapsible one saves space and I can trust its cleanliness. Many airports are now equipped with water bottle filling stations with cold, fresh, filtered water.

Robust Portable Battery

I cannot imagine traveling without my smartphone. It provides instant access to maps, local information, flight delay notifications, and so much more. Consequently, I bought this portable battery charger in September 2017 and never looked back. With two ports, it can charge my smartphone and laptop simultaneously for multiple hours each.

Noise Cancelling Wireless Earbuds

A dear friend gifted me with these noise cancelling wireless earbuds for my birthday and they are phenomenal. I can put on soothing music to sleep or work while in the air and they block out every noisy distraction. She could not have picked a better gift for a busy traveler.

An Actual Camera

I love taking pictures, so when I lead a multi-day international tour or go on vacation, I use an actual camera to take better quality, frameable photos. Photography may not be your cup of tea, but if it is, this camera has proven to be easily portable, takes high quality photos, and is an absolute winner.

Travel Pillow

Though I usually do not travel with my own pillow on domestic flights, it is a neck saver while sleeping on international flights. I like this particular one because it is not bulky behind my neck. It wraps around and provides much-preferred side support. I also like that it is machine washable so that I always have a clean pillow.

International Power Adapter

U.S. plugs are different than the rest of the world, so you need a power adapter for international trips. I have used this one for years and it has never failed. With 4 AC plugs and 3 USB adapters in one device, I have successfully used my flat iron while charging my laptop and smartphone simultaneously. Since this adapter works in both Europe and Israel, I do not need to keep track of two different adapters.

Travel Hairdryer with Built-In Adapter

U.S. hairdryers are notorious for blowing international hotel outlets because of the high voltage our hairdryers use. Consequently, I use this simple Conair travel hairdryer with a built in converter, along with the adapter that I just mentioned above. I used them multiple times on my recent trips through Germany and Israel and the combination worked beautifully with no blown hotel outlets or ruined hairdryer as a result.

Laptop Backpack/Organizer

Though I only take this laptop backpack if I am going on an extended ministry or writing/research trip, it has proven to be invaluable. It is lightweight, water proof (great for electronics!), and has USB chargers on both the outside and inside. It also offers plenty of room for notepads, itineraries, research papers, magazines, and other travel necessities.

Travel Journal

As a writer and travel enthusiast, a travel journal is vital for capturing thoughts, prayers, ah-ha moments, God nudges, and much more. I have used this one for years because it is a handy size and uses refillable, lined paper. The handmade leather has only gotten more beautiful over time.

Although there are many other travel items that I could mention, these are my mainstays that I rarely leave home without.

Final Thoughts About Carry-On vs. Checked Bags

I have traveled both with and without checked bags, so the best choice depends on what your trip requires. Traveling light with a carry-on results in a less expensive and less cumbersome travel experience. However, it requires diligence while packing in such a limited space.

Carry-on only travel is ideal for weekend and short-term trips, budget travelers, and even feasible for longer trips if you are able to do laundry. 

Checked luggage offers the freedom of taking everything you want, but lacks comfort in other aspects, like navigating through the airport or around your destination once you arrive. It also comes with a higher price tag, so budget travelers may feel the pinch.

Traveling with checked bags might be necessary for long trips, easy-to-navigate destinations (think paved U.S. city streets with hotel luggage porters vs. European cobblestone streets and historic hotels with three flights of stairs instead of elevators), and travelers who have a little extra to spend.

One final important consideration is the type of your accommodation – a hostel or small Airbnb apartment may not be as roomy with large suitcases as a spacious hotel room provides.

I hope that this experiential information has helped answer questions you may have had about carry-ons vs. checked bags. Also, I hope that my go-to travel items spark your imagination and wonder of traveling.

Happy trails!

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