Blog

Tidbit Thursday: The Sycamine Tree and Forgiveness

As Jesus was walking with His disciples in Luke 17, He paused by a sycamine tree to make a specific point about forgiveness. Why should we care about this tree and what does it have to do with forgiveness?

And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you. (Luke 17:6 KJV)

The sycamine tree had a robust root structure that plunged deep into the desert soil to tap into underground water sources. Because of its deep roots, drought or sheering it off at the base posed little threat. It was incredibly difficult to eradicate once established. It would inevitably resurface.

Scripture talks about not allowing any bitterness to take root in our heart because eradicating unforgiveness is incredibly difficult. It grows deep, watered by any offense that lies hidden in the soil of our heart. Left alone, unforgiveness will establish deep roots and produce bitter fruit that surfaces through angry thoughts, words, and deeds.

But there is more.

The spiritual parallels between unforgiveness and the properties of the sycamine tree are chilling.

Wood from the sycamine tree was the preferred material for building coffins and caskets. It grew quickly and was readily available in many places. In fact, Egyptian archaeologists have discovered small boxes made from sycamine wood at the base of mummified sarcophagi. These sycamine boxes remained uncorrupted for at least 3,000 years. Unforgiveness remains in us, corrupting our heart and mind until we allow God access to eradicate it.

Also, the sycamine tree was only pollinated by wasps. The wasp stuck its stinger into the heart of the fruit to initiate the pollination process. The tree had to be “stung” in order to reproduce. Think of how many times you have heard someone say, “I’ve been stung by that person once, but I’m not going to be stung like that again!” You can almost see the poison of unforgiveness pollinate every bitter word they utter. Can you hear the pounding of the casket maker’s hammers?

Finally, the sycamine tree was planted where two paths met. Its large trunk and stout branches offered shade to travelers as they paused to decide which path to take. When you and I get hurt – emotionally, mentally, or spiritually – we stand at a crossroads.

We have the choice between the dark, burdensome path of unforgiveness or the Son-drenched, freeing path of forgiveness. The choice really is ours.

As children of the living God, we must believe that the process of eradicating bitter roots is never a hopeless endeavor. Jesus told His disciples in Luke 17:6 that uprooting unforgiveness is possible if a person has the faith of a grain of mustard seed.

In Him is our only hope of freedom from destructive bitterness. Since that gift of hope comes from God (Ephesians 2:8), we have access to an abundant, unlimited supply of the poison’s antidote.

Regardless of how deep the hurt or how long we have let it reside, it is never too late to surrender our unforgiveness to God for permanent eradication.

In God’s hands, the casket maker’s career is short lived.

Bible study on Forgiveness.

Tidbit Thursday: Epiphany Around the World

People around the world are celebrating Epiphany today, January 6th. Meaning “manifestation” in Greek, Epiphany has been celebrated since around 361 A.D.

To Western Christianity, it marks the arrival of the Magi (or Three Kings) to the toddler Jesus in Bethlehem. In Eastern Orthodoxy, Epiphany commemorates Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River.

Since Epiphany arrives twelve days after Christmas, it is also known as Twelfth Night. People across the globe celebrate it in many interesting ways:

  • In the United States and the United Kingdom, Epiphany marks the day to take down Christmas decorations since many believe that it is bad luck to do so before January 6th.
  • In some Eastern Orthodox countries, Greece, and Bulgaria, priests bless crosses and throw them into frigid waters. Young men dive in after them believing that the first to find the cross will be blessed with good luck for the new year.
  • In Spain, the Philippines, and some Latin American countries, Epiphany is known as “Dia de los Reyes Magos” where Three Kings bring gifts to good boys and girls who leave out their straw-filled shoes the night before. It is traditional to bake a Rosa de Reyes cake and hide a small doll inside that represents the baby Jesus.
  • In Italy, children eagerly await the arrival of a kind, wise witch named “La Befana”, who leaves gifts for them.
  • In Belgium and the Netherlands, Epiphany is called “Drie Koningen.” Children dress as the Three Kings then visit neighbors’ homes to sing songs and receive treats and coins.
  • In Ethiopia, Epiphany is called “Timkat“, where tradition holds that Three Kings brought the Ark of the Covenant to their country. A miniature Ark is placed on the church altar, and they re-enact Jesus’ baptism. Since Ethiopians do not follow the Gregorian calendar, they celebrate two weeks after January 6th.

For Christians, Epiphany – also called the “Thirteenth Day” of Christmas – centers on the visit of the Magi from the East. Epiphany emphasizes the manifestation of God in the flesh of Jesus Christ. Jesus has entered our darkness and shines His true Light (Isaiah 60:1–2).

There is beautiful symbolism in the Magi’s three gifts to Jesus: With gold they confess His royalty; with incense, His deity; and with myrrh, His priestly sacrifice (Matthew 2:11).

As the Magi were guided by the star find and worship the newborn King (Matthew 2:5–11), so God calls us to look to Him to find and worship the Lord (Isaiah 60:3–6).

I pray that we diligently seek Him in 2022, full of His hope, His love, and His light.

Tidbit Thursday: Beekeeping at Notre-Dame

Visiting cathedrals around the world is a passion. I love their centuries-old architecture, Bible stories captured in stained glass, and their stunning beauty. As I work on a special 2022 ministry project involving cathedrals, my favorite one came to mind: Notre-Dame in Paris, France.

The first time I visited Notre-Dame was in October 2008. While my friend headed to the Louvre, I spent an entire day absorbing every inch of that magnificent cathedral, inside and out. I could have easily spent a week.

When Notre-Dame was engulfed in a devastating fire on April 15, 2019, I watched the television coverage with tears streaming down my face. The original stone had been laid on December 12, 1163. The world was witnessing almost 900 years of history going up in smoke.

But like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, so is Notre-Dame. Over $1 billion in worldwide contributions sparked one of the most famous and expensive restorations in history.

During my research process about Notre-Dame, I discovered a delightful tidbit. Since 2013, 35,000-40,000 honeybees have called Notre-Dame Cathedral home. The bees are of the Brother Adam Buckfast variety, and they live in three hives on the sacristy roof. The bees miraculously escaped the fire and are thriving.

The beautiful connection between God and honey appears throughout Scripture.

  • The Promised Land was described to the Israelites as a land flowing with milk and honey – a sign of abundance, ease, and prosperity (Exodus 3:6-8).
  • Honey was often given as a special gift between friends (Genesis 43:11).
  • Two places describe God’s Word as sweeter than honey (Ezekiel 3:3 and Revelation 10:9-10).

Notre-Dame is a stunning house of worship. God’s praises have been sung there for nearly nine centuries. That is what makes any cathedral truly beautiful: God’s people lifting their voices in prayer and praise to our triune God.

If you enjoy Advent calendars, Notre-Dame Cathedral is offering a free Advent calendar online that reveals interesting facts about the cathedral each day through December 25th. You can find it here.

This Christmas, as we enter our beautiful houses of worship to celebrate the birth of our Savior, I pray that God’s light shines bright in your soul as you hear His sweetest words:

For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Tidbit Thursday: Bible Reading Checklists

As 2022 approaches, many people resolve to read the Bible daily – or at least more often. Recently, I have been asked repeatedly what guide I use for reading through the Bible.

Reading, studying, and memorizing God’s Word is vital to how we love, forgive, and serve as Christ followers. Hebrews 4:12 tells us: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Scripture is not just a Christian checklist – it is hope on the page. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

Encouragement and hope.

Who doesn’t need more of both? Especially nowadays.

Whether we need the grace in Romans or the love in John’s Gospel, we need God’s Word to take root in our heart. I don’t know about you, but as I read the Bible, it often reads me. Convicts me. Transforms me. That is precisely what it is supposed to do through the Holy Spirit’s power.

God faithfully guides us to the precise verse we need each day – often before we realize just how much we needed it. Sometimes He equips us with a verse that someone around us needs to hear that day.

God always knows our needs.

Years ago, I created four Bible study checklists that I still use interchangeably to this day. I have already printed fresh copies for when the calendar turns to 2022.

The four choices are: (1) a general Bible Reading Checklist to read at your own pace; (2) a 90-Day Bible Reading Plan to hear Scripture’s overarching story; (3) an Historical Overview Bible Reading Plan that is lined out a bit differently; and (4) a One Year Bible Reading Plan.

Download one or all four here.

If you have resolved to read the Bible more in 2022, I pray that these tools are useful along your journey. Share them with a friend or two. They just might want to walk the journey with you.

Advent blessings!

Thursday Tidbit: Festival of Lights

My Nativity from Bethlehem carved from a single piece of olive wood.

Growing up in a traditional Jewish family, Jesus participated in the traditional Jewish festivals. One of those festivals was Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights.

Isn’t it fitting that the Light of the world celebrated the Festival of Lights?

We are drawn to light – we cannot help it. Light offers a point of reference when darkness threatens to swallow us whole. We gravitate toward light for illumination and warmth. As Christians, light represents hope and rescue us from eternal darkness.

Hanukkah is happening as we speak (November 28-December 6, 2021). Since Hanukkah means dedication, it is also called the Festival of Dedication. It commemorates the Jewish victory by the Maccabees in 165 B.C. over the Syrians to regain political and religious freedom.

Hanukkah is also referred to as the Festival of Lights because the sacred temple lamp is said to have burned eight days on one day’s supply of sacred oil, all that was left. The menorah, a special nine-branch candleholder, is lit today on each of the eight days of celebration.

The menorah is also described in Exodus 25:31-40 as the lampstand made of pure gold set up by Moses in the tabernacle in the wilderness, and later in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Lutheran Church in Tel Aviv contains a stunning menorah in its stained glass.

There is no reference in the Old Testament to Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication, or the Festival of Lights. It happened during the 400 years of God’s silence between the Old and New Testaments.

However, in the New Testament: “Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade” (John 10:22-23).

The Light of the world strolling near the temple during the Festival of Lights paints a beautiful, meaningful portrait. Seven centuries before Jesus walked along that colonnade, Isaiah foretold: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shown” (Isaiah 9:2).

Just think of how many people strolled past the Light of the world clueless about His true identity.

Just as the lights of Hanukkah, Advent, and Christmas overcome darkness, so the darkness of this world is overcome by our Messiah, Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the light of the world; whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Jesus honored the Jewish feast of Hanukkah as a tradition that showcased God’s faithfulness in preserving His people. Jesus knew that celebrations matter. Remember the wedding in Cana? And even though Hanukkah, Advent, Christmas, nor Easter are celebrations commanded by Scripture, they invite us to pause our crazy days. To remember God’s grace. To spend meaningful time with each other.

Regardless of any darkness you and I face in our world today, inner peace prevails because of the Light of the world. So, whether you light a menorah, an Advent wreath, or a Christmas tree, remember the reason for the celebration:

For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

*A special thanks to Rev. Kevin Parviz whose material provided the facts for this post.

Tidbit Thursday: The Sling and the Stone

David vs. Goliath is one of the most iconic stories in the Old Testament. Our culture has latched onto this story to describe any time we root for an underdog. But the original story is much more dramatic considering the weapon used.

As the Philistines square off against Israel, Goliath steps out to engage the Israelites in a battle technique known as “representative combat.” Each side picks one man to represent their army and whichever man triumphs gains victory for the entire army. There is a lot at stake.

Goliath taunts Israel twice a day for forty days, but King Saul only cowers. Then a small shepherd boy shows up on a cheese run to bring refreshment to his brothers and check on them at the battlefront. David was like an old school Uber Eats.

David shows up as a courier, not a warrior.

As he talked with them, behold, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him” (1 Samuel 17:23).

David had probably never heard anyone curse God. I mean who would have the nerve? As David demands to know what will be done to the one who insulted God, Saul overhears the fuss and summons David.

And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:32, 36). 

Saul knows the stakes are high. If he sends David into representative combat and David meets defeat, they all lose. And even though Saul is the tallest Israelite and looks most capable, God looks at the heart. Saul finally agrees to send David to face Goliath. I wonder if he started dictating his last will and testament as soon as David stepped onto the battlefield. And can you imagine the Israelite army’s reaction at their representative? Wait…what?

Years ago I watched a documentary describing weapons used in ancient times. The demonstration regarding the sling and stone was riveting. The scientists set up a watermelon on a pole to represent someone’s head. Then they picked up a sling and stone similar to what David would have used. The stone would have been anywhere from a golf ball to baseball in size.

The scientists placed the stone in the sling, backed away to a good distance, wound it up, and let it fly. The cameras clocked the stone at over 100 mph. The watermelon exploded on impact.

Goliath literally never saw it coming.

Goliath relied on his size. David relied on the size of his God.

The next time you face a battle of any kind, remember that God has gifted you with special tools that the enemy severely underestimates. Love, compassion, forgiveness, and His mighty power within you that provides the strength you need to be victorious.

The enemy may see you as a courier, not a warrior.

But God looks at your heart.

Stand strong, mighty warrior!

Ministry Update

I’m excited to share with you very soon about amazing new developments at Artesian Ministries. As I have transitioned into full time ministry, God has opened many wonderful opportunities, including ways we can partner together. I’ll be reaching out soon. In the meantime, please meet my new Board of Directors here. I am so honored to serve with them and you. God’s blessings!

Giving Thanks on the Sea of Galilee

The crisp, clear morning air felt invigorating as our group of 35 pilgrims climbed aboard this old Israeli fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee last week.

Across the water on a distant hillside, we could see the city of Tiberias.

Along another shoreline, palm trees waved in the gentle breeze from the village of Magdala where Mary Magdeline lived.

We set sail on smooth waters and marveled at the 360 degree view of the very shores where Jesus performed so many miracles.

Some were overcome with emotion. Some could only grasp for words to convey their amazement. Some could not wipe the smile from their faces at the sheer joy of sailing where Jesus had sailed!

And we gave thanks.

I read portions from Matthew 14 where Jesus walked on water. Where Peter walked on water. Where Jesus rescued Peter even when Peter’s faith faltered in the storm.

As Scripture rang out over the glassy surface, we remembered how He had faithfully rescued each of us from storms, as well.

And we gave thanks.

We read where Jesus calmed frightening storms, swirling waters, and anxious hearts as His peace filled us to overflowing like those ancient boats overflowed with fish.

Teaching and reading Scripture from a boat on the Sea of Galilee, Nov. 2019

Then as worship music played, we praised God on the very water where God in the flesh had sailed.

We sailed past Bethsaida where Jesus fed the 5,000 with two small fish and five barley loaves and gave thanks that He fills for our every need. We glimpsed the temple ruins of Capernaum where Jesus taught near Peter’s home and gave thanks for His living and active Word.

JESUS.
HAD.
BEEN.
HERE.

Jesus sailed with us that very day on the boat.

By the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is with us every moment of every day. Wherever you find yourself this Thanksgiving, take comfort that you are never alone.

His love never fails, never stops, and is never conditional. His unconditional love for us took Him all the way to the cross.

And for that beautiful truth, we give abundant thanks.

The Dead Sea, An Oasis, and Goats Galore

After six hectic tour days, today was truly a soul refreshing break. Strengthened by another delicious breakfast at the hotel, we loaded up the bus and headed toward our first stop: Ein Gedi.

Ein Gedi is a lush oasis in the middle of the Judean desert. After miles of desert and desert mountains, our eyes feasted on field after field of date palm trees (a successful cash crop here). Who knew these existed in such abundance here!

Ein Gedi literally means “the spring of the kid (young goat)” and we saw some of those goats almost immediately! These Ibex are wild and in abundance in these desert mountains, and it was such a treat to see them roaming wild!

Ein Gedi takes its name from a freshwater spring which flows from the rocks over 650 feet above the Dead Sea. When King Saul heard that David was in the vicinity of Ein Gedi, he gathered several thousand soldiers and hunted for David in these very caves. There’s a LOT of history in these caves.

It was in these very caves where David hid from Saul and wrote many of the Psalms (1 Samuel 23:29). We started out the day hiking up to the springs where David spent much of his wilderness time running from Saul.

The morning grew warm and the climb was not for the faint of heart, but we did it! The hidden springs along the way and shade toward the falls felt refreshing from the inside out. It felt like we climbed Mount Everest, so naturally we took a group victory picture!

From Ein Gedi, we headed through the desert to Qumran. This settlement was home to the Essenes, a devout set of Pharisees who moved out to Ein Gedi because they disapproved of many religious practices in Jerusalem. From here they wrote all of the Old Testament scrolls over and over by hand and sealed them in clay jars to faithfully preserve the Old Testament texts. The only book not found was Esther. The scrolls were discovered by a boy in 1947 and have verified the accuracy and reliability of Scripture. Hallelujah!

Then we headed to the Dead Sea! The saline content in the Dead Sea is 37%, which means no living organism can survive in it. The beautiful, panoramic view of the Dead Sea from the highway roads was truly stunning!

We finished this day refreshed and better acquainted as brothers and sisters in Christ. What a most perfect day!

Walking Through Old Town Jerusalem & Bethlehem

It’s hard to know where to begin when you travel through Jesus’ life in 10 hours. On this crisp 45 degree morning, we began at the Temple Mount in Old Jerusalem, which is built on Mount Moriah (the place believed to be where Abraham offered his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice to God).

Atop this Temple Mount stands the famous Gold Dome of the Rock. The morning sun glinted off of the gold-plated dome made it feel like it would burst into flame at any moment!

As we left the Temple Mount, we walked the Vio Dolorosa, the last steps that Jesus walked through Jerusalem toward Calvary. The route winds itself through the Old City of Jerusalem, starting at a school near the Lion’s Gate and ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion).

The old streets bustled with people of many languages, shopkeepers hawking their wares, and street vendors offering a strand of beads for a few shekels. It was a sensory overload as vivid color and noise were everywhere – except inside the churches. There is a Lutheran Church in Old Town Jerusalem and it was fun to see Wayne behind the altar (even if it was only for pictures)!

The Via Dolorosa took us through the 14 stations of the cross where it was powerful to see the traditionally-held places where Jesus was condemned by Pilate, received His cross and then fell under its weight.

It seemed only fitting that such a spiritually meaningful journey ended at the Church of Holy Sepulchre. There has been a church on this site since 326 AD and is believed to be the location where Christ was crucified. Old Byzantine mosaic tiles and beautiful frescos were lit by dozens of suspended lanterns placed there by Christians, Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic churches.

There was so much history and spiritually powerful meaning along this route that I could hardly catch my breath at times.

Finally, our group gathered at the Western Wall for a personal time of prayer and reflection. Some of us wrote out prayers on small pieces of paper and stuffed them into the cracks of the Wall as we prayed (a tradition there). Tears ran down my face as I prayed for the people and situations that God laid on my heart.

We walked out of Old Town of Jerusalem inspired, tired, and awed. Then it was time for Bethlehem! We enjoyed a scrumptious lunch upon arrival, then given a rare opportunity to see how olive wood is gathered and carved by hand and machines.

Naturally, a stop in the shop that produced those items was given! (That’s a post for a different day.) The angels made the announcement HERE! The shepherds heard the message HERE The star shone RIGHT HERE.

The Church of the Nativity sits just next to the Shepherds’ Hill Church, both honoring Jesus’ birth and the proclamation of the shepherds: “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a Son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed him in a manger.” Luke 2:6-7

We are back at our hotel in Jerusalem for the evening, marveling at God’s grace, love and provision for each of us.

Sunrise on the Sea of Galilee

Today was simply incredible! My morning began by watching the sun rise over the Sea of Galilee as its cool breezes and lapping waves provides the soundtrack to my prayers. As I looked out over the calm waters, the realization hit home hard: Jesus walked on THIS water. Jesus performed miracles on and around THIS water. Jesus preached by THIS water. JOY!!

We enjoyed another incredible breakfast at the hotel, then it was “All Aboard!” in a replica wooden “Jesus boat” to set sail across the Sea of Galilee. The captain welcomed us by turning the boat into an American vessel for our journey by playing the Star Spangled Banner. The American and Jerusalem flags waved majestically side-by-side in the morning sun as we sang our national anthem.

I read the account from Matthew 14 of Jesus (and Peter) walking on the very waters on which we sailed. The captain played several familiar worship songs as we sang, visited, sat in silent awe, or let emotions roll down our cheeks. Meanwhile, these words rang fresh in our minds: And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Matthew 14:32-33

We disembarked to tour through the Jesus boat museum where we saw a beautifully preserved fishing boat that had been discovered and excavated in the 1980s that dated back to Jesus’ day. The archaeologists identified 12 different types of wood used on that boat, indicating its constant fishing use over a long period of time. There is a good chance that Jesus knew or came in contact with the owners of this very boat!

By 10:30 am, we were back on the bus headed to the Mount of Beatitudes. It was a busy, bustling place. Wayne gathered us on the steps facing the front of the church and led a powerful devotion while reading the beatitudes from Matthew 5.

As we drove away from the Mount of Beatitudes toward Capernaum, the panoramic view of the rolling hills and mountains around the Sea of Galilee was simply stunning.

Capernaum is the seaside location where Jesus spent much time with Peter and teaching in the synagogue. Built over the original black stone synagogue of Jesus’ day, the remains of a white stone synagogue stood dramatically. A boat-shaped church has been built over the site of Peter’s home to help preserve it.

We had worked up quite an appetite, so we stopped at a local establishment and ordered the famous “Peter’s Fish.” Yes, they serve it head and all! I’m not accustomed to my food staring back at me, but this was a special exception.

All gone! 😂

Our next stop was Tabgha, a Byzantine church dating from 350 AD, commemorating the place where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed the 5,000. We walked on intricate mosaic tiles that were over 1,500 years old!

Our final stop for the day was at the Jordan River where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. We remembered our baptisms in a special ceremony in the Jordan River. God’s gift of baptism was celebrated with joy, tears, and raw, beautiful emotion. How very appropriate that the Jordan River ends at the Dead Sea — the lowest place on Earth. “Our sins are carried to the depths of the sea to be remembered no more.” Micah 7:18-20

We are back at the hotel on the Sea of Galilee for the night, my mind still whirling at what we experienced today. It is sobering and surreal to walk the very same places as Jesus and His disciples walked over 2,000 years ago. Sweet dreams, fellow disciples.