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 in Nazareth: Jesus’ Childhood Home

Following an excellent hotel breakfast in Netanya, Tel Aviv, we struck out toward Caesarea. Along the way, Ori (our Jewish guide) taught us several Hebrew phrases such as please, thank you, and good morning. He also taught us how to count to ten in Hebrew, which was fun to hear recited with Texas accents.

Caesarea is both a nature and archaeological site in Israel. The roads leading toward the remains of Herod’s seaside palace and port were lined with colorful flowers and olive trees. The cool sea breeze felt wonderful as we made our way into the remains of the first century Roman amphitheater, which faces the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

We gathered on the steep stone seats and I read from Acts 10 where Peter shared his first Gospel message here in Caesarea with the Gentiles through Cornelius. “God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” (Acts 10) I love Cornelius’ intentionality to gather his family and friends to hear the Gospel!

Next to the amphitheater are the remains of Herod the Great’s palace, which is slowly being swallowed by the sea. (This Herod was responsible for the slaughter of the innocents as he sought to destroy Jesus as a child.)

We stood in the very spot where Paul made his appeal to Herod to be tried before Caesar in Rome! We walked down the hillside to marvel at Herod’s 20,000 seat Hippodrome that hosted his chariot races. Before leaving Caesarea, we dipped our toes in the Mediterranean surf.

Our group looking out over the Hippodrome.

As we left Caesarea, we passed vast banana plantations being cultivated for commercial revenue. It was surprising to see rows and rows of banana trees in the middle of the desert! We stopped to be awed by the architecture of Herod’s famous aqueducts that brought fresh water into Caesarea from 15 miles away.

From Caesarea, we made our way to Mount Carmel. Wayne taught a very thought-provoking message about Elijah and his contest with the prophets of Baal from 1 Kings 18. There is a stunning panoramic view from the top of Mount Carmel across the Jezreel Valley. We enjoyed a hearty lunch with the most incredible array of fresh, colorful vegetables before leaving Mount Carmel for Megiddo.

Megiddo is so much more than simply the future site of the biblical end times battle. Megiddo stands at the most strategic crossroads in all of Israel. Active excavations have uncovered impressive fortifications, including this stone edifice built by none other than Solomon!

As gusty winds and storm clouds gathered around us, I shared portions from the book of Revelation about the epic end times battle as we looked over the very fields where it will begin. Then we made our way down 180 steps into the cool darkness of an ancient water well that was drilled through the heart of Megiddo’s mountain to provide/protect fresh water supplies into the city in times of conflict.

Megiddo

From Megiddo we headed straight to the bustling city of Nazareth (Jesus’ childhood home). The Church of the Annunciation sits where it is believed that the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah. The modern façade holds beautiful carvings of Gabriel and Mary at the top with the four Gospel writers etched below.

The courtyard’s colonnade holds dozens of mosaic artwork pieces donated from various countries which depict the annunciation. The diversity and beauty of each piece took our breath away.

The Church of the Annunciation is a working church, and there was a service being conducted as we entered. Careful to be respectfully silent, we made our way down around the church, marveling at the vast painted ceiling and art pieces lining the walls (once again showing various country’s interpretations of the annunciation). The contribution from the USA here was an incredible three dimensional likeness of Mary.

We descended the steps to view the place believed to be Jesus’ childhood home with Joseph and Mary.

We made our way back to the bus to depart for our hotel on the Sea of Galilee. We passed through Cana as night closed in and saw the church on a hill where Jesus turned water to wine in his very first miracle.

We arrived at our hotel to sit down and enjoy a most scrumptious buffet together as we exchanged impressions about our eventful day. Everyone was dumbfounded at the variety and beauty of this delicious feast.

Walking some of the places today where Jesus walked and spent time as a child reaffirmed the continuity of the past into the present where Jesus still lives inside of every believer. What a beautiful pilgrimage. Thank you, God, for a truly remarkable day!

Suicide’s Silent Cry

This past Tuesday was World Suicide Prevention Day.

That very same day, a well-loved young pastor, mental health advocate, husband and father of two, Jarrid Wilson, committed suicide. He had been open with his struggle both through preaching and social media. Only hours before his death, Jarrid tweeted this:

His death sent shock waves throughout the Church at large. His young widowed wife and fatherless sons now face a very different future.

People who struggle with thoughts of suicide don’t want to die, they just want to stop hurting. And it’s a moment-by-moment struggle. For professional counselors and mental health professionals, every day is suicide prevention day.

Many people have asked how to respond if someone is brave enough to tell you that they’re struggling with suicide — or have actually attempted it. Let me share a first-hand account.

Six years ago, five minutes into a lunchtime conversation with a former co-worker, she looked at me with haunted eyes and said: “In November, I tried to kill myself.”

Stunned, I could only stare at my friend, tears welling up and spilling over. She had emailed the day before asking to meet for lunch. Just to chat and talk about a new venture in her life. We hadn’t seen each other in months. 

“I didn’t believe anyone cared if I was gone,” she said. “My family dynamics, my health struggles, financial stress – it just became too much. I was just so very tired.”

Her attempt wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. She had researched on the internet an over-the-counter drug that would be a lethal combination with her prescribed medication. She drove to the store, made the purchase, took the pills, and went to bed. 

She silently assumed her husband, family and friends didn’t care. That they wouldn’t miss her. She never expected to wake up again. But God had other plans.

When she awoke the next morning and realized her suicide attempt had failed, she confessed to her husband. He was beside himself and rushed her to the emergency room. The doctors informed her she had miscalculated the lethal dose by a mere 200mg. 

Looking back on that dark time, she realized that God gifted her with a new perspective. She sought counseling and shared hard, honest feelings with her family. She opened up to her church’s small group, who inundated her with love and support.

After years of struggling silently, she had reached her breaking point. Perhaps you can relate to breaking points.

Her story served as wake-up call for me.  I felt as if I had let my friend down. That I wasn’t there when she most needed me.

That experience made me realize that I need to have more conversations with friends about stuff that matters instead of the weather or latest TV program. To ask how they’re doing – really doing – and listen without interruption. 

It is easy for busyness to take the front seat, allowing those around us to slip through the cracks under a façade of “Everything’s fine.” 

If you know someone who is enduring a difficult season, call them. Send an email. Drop by. SOMETHING. Let them know you care. It may provide a 200mg difference.

We need to keep talking about mental health issues. People are suffering and we cannot be silent simply because it makes us uncomfortable.

I love you and do not tread lightly into this subject. It’s a privilege to pray for you and wrestle through the Scriptures together to find certain hope and strength. 

If you are reading this today and find yourself at a breaking point, please reach out to someone. A family member. Pastor. Friend. Trusted co-worker. SOMEONE. Because you are not alone.

You matter.
You are worth fighting for.
Jesus gave His life so you could live.
You are cherished.
You are loved.
Reaching out for help is BRAVE.

The comments are open. Let’s talk. 

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE: (800) 273-TALK (8255)


Donna’s brand new individual and small group Bible study: “Perseverance: Praying Through Life’s Challenges” (based on the book of Nehemiah) is now available through Concordia Publishing House and currently on sale at Amazon.

As School Starts, An Ode To Mamas

As I drove past kids walking to their first day of school this week, God brought moms to mind.

While kids spend their days learning, moms will spend their days leisurely watching daytime television, going out to lunch with friends and taking long naps until their bundles of joy arrive home from school.

Yes, I jest.

Motherhood is so much more than anticipating unencumbered days while youngsters expand their brains with higher education. You’ll organize a million small things to nurture the welcoming, safe space that accomplishes the big things.

Sometimes I wonder: What special considerations did God ponder as He created mamas? Perhaps, just perhaps, it went something like this:

“I need a nurturer. Someone willing to rise before dawn, cook breakfast, pack a child’s lunch, flag down the school bus, work all day making the house a home, cook again, eat supper, then go upstairs and stay up past bedtime reading stories to eager ears.”

So God made a mama.

“I need someone willing to sit up all night with a sick child, and nurse them back to health with boundless love. Somebody who can cheer loudest, sew a new dress from scraps, demonstrate how to twirl, make play dough from scratch, and teach a round-eyed pre-schooler how to build a castle.”

So God made a mama.

It needed to be someone who could tie a ponytail holder from pipe cleaners, bread ties and curly ribbon and will finish her 40 hour work week by Tuesday supper, then clear the dishes and sit back down with her children to log another 50 hours checking arithmetic, sounding out vowels, and calling out spelling words.

So God made a mama.

“I need somebody strong enough to discipline when necessary, yet gentle enough to push a swing, decorate cupcakes, trim a Christmas tree, and kiss a scraped knee. Somebody who forgives transgressions with a smile, defends her child against a harsh world, yet stops her car in traffic to patiently wait for stray ducks to cross.”

So God made a mama.

It had to be somebody who would love deeper than the oceans and see the glass half full. Somebody to bake, make, wake, support and encourage and chauffeur and teach and plant seeds and keep singing through the hard times. Somebody who would teach them about Jesus, how to serve others and be kind and brave, and wrap a family together tight with the soft, strong bonds of prayer.

So God made a mama.

And one day long hence, dear mamas, when they visit you during college breaks, you will chuckle, and then sigh, and be speechless with tear-filled eyes, when your child says with a thankful heart that some day they want to be a parent — the best mama they can be — just like you.

As another school year begins, it is my delight to heartily applaud and fervently pray for all of you incredible mamas as you do the hard work, the important work, the necessary work that few people see of being the best mama God made you to be.

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed.” Proverbs 31:25-28

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Donna’s brand new individual and small group Bible study: “Perseverance: Praying Through Life’s Challenges” (based on the book of Nehemiah) is now available through Concordia Publishing House and Amazon.

Two Questions Women Shouldn’t Ask

During a leisurely lunch with three dear friends some time ago, horror stories and scars surfaced around two familiar topics.

Among the four of us, two are married with children, one has never been married or had children, and one is divorced with no children. We range in age from 35-51 and are committed Christ followers.

First, I need you to know something. This post took significant time to write and pray through because it’s rather blunt about sensitive topics.

This post isn’t a vent — it’s a plea borne out of loving others. That being said… 

Throughout our adult lives, my three friends and I have been asked two questions so many times that we’ve lost count. To this day, we remain flabbergasted that some women haven’t caught on. There are two questions that plainly shouldn’t be posed to another woman — unless she’s your BFF or a close second.

Question #1: Why aren’t you married?

Stated like that, this question isn’t really a question. It’s a judgment. 

Since I didn’t get married until I was 29, I fielded that question a LOT of times. We met when I was 23, dated for two years and were engaged for four years while he finished post-graduate college. During those six years, if we would have collected $1 from each woman who asked me why I wasn’t married yet, we could’ve easily paid for the wedding and honeymoon four times over.

As our conversation continued, my three friends and I realized that more often than not this question was posed by married women. That’s tantamount to a millionaire asking an unemployed person why they aren’t buying a mansion.

Even if asked in a caring or flattering way (perhaps she thinks highly of you), it still stings. Believe it or not, some women ask it to intentionally inflict emotional or social harm. And trust me, those on the receiving end can tell the difference.

I’ve also been asked innumerable times since my divorce nearly ten years ago why I have not remarried, along with who, when and whether or not I am dating. Frankly, the answer is entirely too personal to discuss nonchalantly with casual acquaintances. So I never bother. 

Last month, a Christian friend whom I hadn’t communicated with in a while asked about my dating status. When I responded that I was not seeking to be in a relationship, she typed a stunning one-word response: “Disobedient” — immediately followed by, “You’re not a nun.”

Wow. Currently, I am more content in Christ, peaceful and purpose-filled than at any other time in my adult life. But she didn’t ask about those things. She simply judged one aspect as the whole story and moved on.

If you are single, divorced or widowed, perhaps you need to hear this today: God gave marriage as a blessing, not an entitlement or commandment. He did not create us as half a person seeking another half to “complete” us. We are whole and complete in Christ alone. The rest is all grace.

I loved serving God as a married woman. I love serving God as a single woman. Simply put, God calls some women to serve through their marriage and others through undistracted singleness. The key is a passion to love and serve God no matter your marital status.   

And the second question… 

Question #2: Don’t you want children? 

Again, stated like that, this isn’t a question. It’s a judgment.

This question has caused more scars in my life (and my three friends) than any other. It presupposes so many things that it’s hard to know where to begin addressing it.

Asking a single woman that question is cruel — whether intentional or not. Perhaps having children has been a lifelong, unfulfilled dream that has cost her many sleepless nights and a river of tears. What if she believes marriage should come first? Should she rush out to the nearest bar and hook up with the first man she sees? Should she rush to the sperm donor bank and sign up? 

Asking a married woman that question presupposes that she is physically able to bear children. Perhaps she and her husband have tried to conceive children for years only to face financial hardships due to unsuccessful fertility treatments. No woman should ever be expected to share her private struggles or physical condition to justify why her home isn’t overflowing with children.   

My ex-husband and I were married for thirteen years, but didn’t have children. We trusted God’s plan that if He wanted us to have children, He would provide. I believe we would have been wonderful parents. But now looking back on divorce, I believe God knew best. 

Some people have pulled out the Christianity card. “God designed women to have children, so you’re disobeying if you don’t have them.” Yes, people have actually had the audacity to say such an unkind thing to me and my three friends in the past. And when such a statement comes from someone we hold dear, the wound plunges deep. 

Some people have played the adoption card. “So many children need good homes, why aren’t you willing to adopt?” Stated like this, that question is also a judgment. Perhaps she is, in fact, willing to adopt, but is still thinking and praying through the many considerations of such a monumental commitment.  

Simply put, no woman owes another an explanation to these two extremely personal questions. Over time, I’ve learned to smile and deflect the tension. However, the pain inflicted still takes significant prayer, extending relentless forgiveness, and time for God to heal.

The bottom line? Those two questions negate God’s sovereignty. They infer that we need to follow cultural norms or our own plans instead of submitting to His. If no one has ever asked you either question, you are among the blessed minority. 

If you are unmarried or do not have children, please hear this truth loud and clear:

Despite your marital or parenting status,
   God loves you right now
   Just as you are. 
   Precisely where you are.
You can joyfully, successfully serve him today.

Following God isn’t about conforming to some cultural mold of how others believe our lives should look. Remember the Apostle Paul? The Apostle Peter? One was married, one was not; one had children, one did not — but they made a powerful difference for God’s kingdom from their individual, God-designed circumstances.

God can use any person at any time in any place for His holy purposes.

No tangible thing on this earth makes us more or less of a Christian. Following Christ never hinges on whether or not we’re married or have children. It’s about being in relationship with Him. It’s about our desire to know Him and be fully known by Him. To rely on Him for our every need. To receive His immeasurable love and amazing grace into the deepest recesses of our soul with overwhelming gratitude.

So to my fellow women who have been on the receiving end of these two questions: I love you. I know what it feels like and I’m so sorry for your pain.   

And to those women who believe it’s okay to keep asking another woman either of those questions, STOP.

PLEASE STOP. 

They damage — and even kill — friendships.

*These wonderful friends are not members of my home church. They read this post when I originally wrote it and gave permission to share the generalities of our discussion in the hope of shedding much needed light on this sensitive topic.*

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Donna’s brand new individual and small group Bible study: “Perseverance: Praying Through Life’s Challenges” (based on the book of Nehemiah) is now available through Concordia Publishing House and Amazon.

Pastor Pyle

After nearly eighteen hours of travel, our group of 35 pilgrims arrived safely in the Holy Land. We were tired but exhilerated! Our Imagine Tours guide met us at the airport holding this greeting sign that provided us all a hearty chuckle to start our adventure.

I’m uncomfortable. 🙂

After climbing aboard our bus, we headed straight toward Jaffa – the modern name for the biblical city Joppa. The Hebrew word Joppa means beauty, which was evident by its breathtaking location overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

Our first order of business was to try out the local fare for lunch that included falafels and shawarma (meat cut into thin slices, stacked in a cone-like shape, and roasted on a slowly-turning vertical rotisserie).

Our first meal in the Holy Land!

We walked through Joppa seeing the seaport that Solomon used to import cedar logs from Lebanon which were used to build the original Temple of God in Jerusalem. It was from here that Jonah attempted to flee God’s calling to preach to the rebellious people in Nineveh.

Little Luther waving from Jaffa

We wound our way through narrow stone streets and walkways to spend some quiet time in the Church of St. Peter, which is believed to have been built over the site of Simon the Tanner’s home where Peter received the missionary vision from God in Acts 9-10.

St. Peter’s Church in Jaffa, Israel

Wayne gathered us for a time of prayer overlooking the city to pause our busy feet and minds to ask God to bless our time for this great spiritual adventure.

Wayne gathering us for prayer overlooking Jaffa, Israel

We concluded our day with a delicious meal of local fare of grilled fish, a plethora of fresh vegetables, and mini lamb burgers at our hotel in Netanya, Israel. Even though we were in the middle of a bustling city that is home to nearly a quarter million people, the sea breeze and beautiful shorelines of the Mediterranean Sea beckoned within walking distance.

Thank you, God, for getting us here safely an starting off our adventure in such stunning surroundings!

Dear Pastor: Will You Forgive Us?

Pastors have answered a high and difficult calling. There are few things that boil my blood faster or put my feet on a soap box quicker than when I hear God’s people hurling mean-spirited or spiteful comments at God-loving, servant-hearted pastors.

It gets ugly when sheep turn on their shepherds. And Satan, along with the world, watches. Smiling.

I love to intentionally encourage my pastors. When I see them at some mid-week church function, I am fully aware that they may have faced strenuous spiritual warfare. The enemy has likely lobbed a stream of fiery darts at them, whether it’s tough counseling sessions, disheartening church politics, or the death of a member.

It’s critical to convey to our pastors and pastor friends just how vital they are to God’s work and His church — to let these grace-filled men of faith know how much they, their families, and their ministries mean to so many.

So…to my pastors, all my pastor friends, and your beautiful families:

You embrace the calling to be crucified with Christ, yet sometimes we are the ones pounding in the nails.

Please forgive us.

You take up the cross of Christ without hesitation because it is not merely your day job–it’s your very calling, passion and purpose. Yet sometimes we watch from comfortable pews without lifting a finger as you stumble under that staggering weight alone.

Please forgive us.

You love us enough to sacrifice family time, shorten vacations and make yourself available 24-7-365. Yet when you need to unplug and allow God to recharge you, we haughtily demand your instantaneous appearance.

Please forgive us.

When life blindsides us with loss, relationship difficulties, health scares or financial burdens, you are the first to offer prayer and call in the posse to help. Yet when you need us, we wear busyness as a badge to dodge.

Please forgive us.

You willingly live in a glass house with our noses pressed against it, gracefully shouldering our smart aleck remarks and quick judgments. Yet when you lovingly ask us accountability questions, our self-righteous indignation could choke God Almighty.

Please forgive us.

But I want you to hear loud and clear: You are not expendable.

You are VITAL.
You are VALUABLE.
You are LOVED.

As you stand at the vanguard of deadly spiritual warfare, it’s an amazing privilege to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you on God’s battlefield. To heartily encourage you when you are weary. To follow where God calls you to lead.

THANK YOU for your integrity and tireless commitment.

Church, when was the last time you prayed for your pastor?

One Night Lit the World (Advent, Week 3)

Have you ever been in a situation where you were too terrified to speak? Shocked into frozen immobility?

Imagine for a moment the night of Jesus’ birth from the shepherd’s point of view. Suddenly their peaceful, starry night sky lit up with the glory of the Lord! And if that wasn’t enough, then an angel of the Lord dropped in with a heavenly message.

Can you even imagine? No wonder the angel’s first words were, “Do not be afraid.”

That shekinah glory of the Lord that Luke records here refers to the splendor and brilliance that radiates from God’s very presence. Scripture tell us that the shekinah glory manifested in the pillars of cloud and fire that led the Israelites out of Egypt. It shone from the burning bush for Moses. It appeared in the brightness of the cloud at Jesus’s Transfiguration.

The glory of the Lord was quite an attention-grabbing, heart-stopping manifestation, indeed. It was a sign of both God’s nearness and His remoteness.

And the Levitical shepherds of Bethlehem were completely surrounded by it. After 400 years of God’s silence where His glory never visibly shone over His people, God made His mighty presence unmistakably known.

Though the shepherds were likely terrified, the angel’s announcement did not foreshadow gloom and destruction. He trumped the Good News that the Savior promised by God had finally arrived!

And the angel’s Good News was not limited to the shepherds, but intended for all people. Not just those who are good for goodness sake. It was the Good News of the Gospel that Jesus Christ had arrived into this world to save all who believe from eternal separation from Him.

God’s plan of salvation promised in the Garden of Eden had finally been put in motion that night. That one, extraordinary, life-giving night. And God tasked those shepherds to get the word out.

It was an announcement of great joy that we are privileged today to share with others — especially during this beautiful Advent season. It is God’s message of love, reflected in the innocent eyes of a Baby.

The shepherds didn’t realize that they would be hearing the heavenly announcement that night which would change the course of eternity. That it was a night like any other in all of history before or since.

Those stunned shepherds were privileged to be part of one extraordinary night that changed the history of the world and become bearers of a story full of wonder.

So, like the shepherds, the angel reminds us, “Do not be afraid.”
Don’t be afraid to receive the Good News.
Don’t be afraid to believe that it is for you.
Don’t be afraid to celebrate with great joy that your eternal address has changed from lost to found, because of the sheer grace and vast love of God almighty.

Joy to the world, the Lord has come!
Let earth receive her king.
Let every heart prepare Him room,
Let heaven and nature sing! 

 


We would be honored for you to join us on this life-changing tour.

 

Join Me in the Holy Land

It was a warm desert day when I stepped into the Garden of Gethsemane that morning eight years ago. The sun fell in slants over the ancient stone wall, illuminating the centuries-old olive trees.

So this is where He prayed, I thought.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” … Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” Matthew 26:36, 38

This is where Jesus sweat blood as He contemplated the unfathomable suffering of the cross.

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39

I found a secluded spot in the Garden that morning and fell to my knees. I poured out the shattered heart of a fresh divorce and the fear of becoming lost in the random shuffle of life. This was the intimate place of further still. The place where God met me alone amidst my greatest sorrow to began the healing process.

Then our group then went to Calvary where we received communion … looking straight at the empty tomb.

Words simply cannot describe that moment. That is why I want to share the experience with you!

Pastor Wayne Graumann and his lovely wife, Kathy, have joyfully partnered with me to offer a 10-day Biblical tour of the Holy Land. Wayne baptized me 27 years ago and holds a very special place in my heart.

He and I will tag-team teach at various sites on our journey, which include: Nazareth, Cana, a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, Caesarea, Megiddo, Mt. Carmel, Mt. of Beatitudes, Capernaum, Bethsaida, Jaffa, the Jordan River, Caesarea Philippi, Jerusalem, the Mt. of Olives, Palm Sunday Road, Garden of Gethsemane, Western Wall, Via Dolorosa, Bethlehem, Qumran, a float on the Dead Sea, Jericho, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, Pool of Siloam, and the Garden Tomb (Calvary).

Won’t you join us?

Imagine Tours & Travel has led tours to Israel for over 20 years with excellence. Your 10-day tour price includes: round trip airfare, deluxe motor coaches, first class hotels, guided sightseeing, entrance fees to sites visited, breakfast and dinner daily, all taxes and fuel charges, and all gratuities.

Detailed Tour Information
Registration Form

We welcome all adults who desire to walk where Jesus walked: men, women, couples and singles. We know it takes time to plan, stockpile vacation time, and save funds, so we are letting you know 16 months in advance of our departure!

I pray that you will join us on this life-changing adventure!

If you have any questions whatsoever, please reach out to me directly at dpyle@artesianministries.org.

Riding a camel on the Mount of Olives!

Experiencing sunset in the Holy Land

New Wine Out of This Old Wine Skin

In September 2017, I visited a vineyard in upstate New York at the height of harvest season. My eyes feasted on the lush, green canopy under which large, juicy bunches of purple grapes hung from sturdy vines. Every slight breeze that ruffled the green oasis carried a sweet smell of ripe, luscious goodness.

I wanted to settle in and stay a while.

It was night and day compared to the last time I visited Gage Farm Vineyards during winter. The pruned vines appeared as lifeless sticks — old and unusable.

The harvest season offered a vision of lush abundance that caused a deep sense of peace and contentment. The winter season looked harsh and felt like hope had been pruned away with the canopy.

I walked down many rows in that vineyard during both seasons, Bible in my hand, reading John 15. Jesus tells His disciples: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1). Those words made sense amidst the harvest, but seemed out of place in winter.

God brought to mind the parable in Matthew 9:17: “No one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.”

Winter looked and felt like an old wine skin.

Settling in and staying a while in winter never crossed my mind. I kept thinking, “How can these cold, lifeless sticks produce new wine?” My eyes desperately scanned each row for signs of life.

That’s how spiritual winter seasons feel. Sometimes it seems that God prunes so much out of our life it leaves us wondering, “How in the world is there anything left to prune, God?” We feel like a bloody, useless stump looking around a barren winter stick yard.

Maybe you are there right now. Maybe you feel the blood frozen on the stump of your dreams. You may be tempted to believe that the spring thaw is never coming. After all, what use is an old wine skin?

Let me tell you, fellow branch in God’s vineyard, God never prunes for the sake of pruning. He’s not trying to make an ornamental bonsai tree out of your life. God prunes to make us abundantly fruitful for His glory.

He promises: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) You and I may have some years under our belt and feel like an old wine skin.

But hold on a minute.

The Lord promises that His mercies arrive new every day (in every season) — even in winter. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23) He creates in us a clean heart — a heart transplant at our baptism.

We’re going to be spending some time in John 15:1-17 over the summer because there are beautiful truths we need to understand if we are to survive and thrive as a branch in God’s vineyard.

Whatever season you are experiencing, take heart. We may long to settle into the lush canopy full of ripe goodness, but harvest does not appear without winter pruning.

Only the Vinedresser sees the future of the branch. When God prunes us, He holds us safely in His mighty hands as He clears away the extraneous thoughts, words, and deeds from our life.

Sometimes when the winter is severe, you may think that He is absent.

Just remember, beloved, He is holding you TIGHT.

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear … for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

 

Coming July 5, 2018, a brand new DVD Bible study series: