Following His Steps... to Caesarea Maritime

Following His Steps… to Caesarea Maritime

Caesarea stood as the pride of Rome.  A symbol of strength on the Mediterranian Sea raising its’ fist against the Jewish population they ruled through brutal oppression.  Here Herod the Great sought to show the world his might and prove that the Jews would forever be under his thumb. 

From stadium seats surrounding the amphitheater, Rome made sport of slaughtering Christians.  If a Jew refused to bow the knee to Ceasar, his punishment was sure.  Lions would be released into the arena and would feast on their flesh, serving as entertainment to the foreigners of Israel. 

While the beauty of this sea port is still evident today, the ground still cries out with the blood of the saints, persecuted and killed for refusing to deny the name of Jesus.  Through their witness, faith in Christ lives on.  The faith I now possess is testament of their dying love for the preservation of God’s truth.

Traveling with us is a persecuted pastor, imprisoned in the countries of Bhutan and Nepal for preaching the Gospel.  In spite of regular beating and torture, he refused to deny his Lord to secure his freedom.  As the book of Hebrews so aptly described him and those persecuted before him… “the world was not worthy of them”.  How poignant to see John Monger stand on the same soil where other heroes of the faith gave their lives for their unwavering devotion to Christ.

I sat with John at lunch and asked about his 15 month imprisonment in Nepal.  He was promised instant freedom in exchange for denying Christ.  Was this a temptation hard to resist?  I will never forget his answer… “There was no temptation,” he said. “It is impossible to deny Christ as Lord when He is truly Lord!” 

When asked how he withstood the constant torture and beatings, he responded with a quiet smile.  “It is a great joy- a privilege- to receive a beating for the Lord Jesus!  Let me be beat… let me be spit upon… but never let me deny Jesus!”

Later last night we sat together again and chatted about his walk with Christ since his release from prison almost 20 years ago.  He told story after story of the ways God reveals Himself to him daily.  I walked away marveling at the blessed intimacy he shares with the Lord.  I long for that too.  But I am also keenly aware that such intimacy comes most often through persecution and trial.  I do not wish for these things.  I pray that God would change my heart to embrace those things most uncomfortable to me, that I would know some measure of such intimacy with my Savior. 

I am reminded how little my faith costs me.  Never have I sacrificed anything of great value for my Lord Jesus.  Not once have I been placed in a position to choose life or death in His name.  I once heard a statement I will not soon forget… "How can one expect to die for Christ, when he fails to live for Him?”

I am given daily opportunities to live for Christ; to take step after step in obedience to his quiet promptings.  Each time I step out in faith I open the door for another opportunity to hear God’s voice and once again obey.  And so goes a life of faith… step by step – obey once – obey again.

I have not yet been asked to suffer physically for Christ.  But I have been nudged continually to step out in faith to do things I would rather leave to someone else.  I have heard God’s call to tasks I know I cannot do in my own strength.  He has drawn me in recent years far outside my comfort zone, and I have learned that comfort is over-rated when compared to the joy found in obedience.  And with each “Yes Lord”, I am discovering a deeper intimacy I have not known before. 

I likely have a long way to go to know even a measure of the intimacy with Christ John has come to know through his faithful witness.  But God invites me nearer still through every quiet call to obedience and the opportunity to say “yes” with my choices that honor Him.  As I do, I too can discover the sweet intimacy and overflowing joy John knows.  I rest tonight knowing that God has a specific purpose for my life that might look vastly different than John’s, but through simple, daily obedience can both know a sweeter and sweeter intimacy with the God who created us for that very purpose.  What a sense of joy I already feel for the promises of God guaranteeing a hope filled future for all of us who are called as His children! While I still have breath, there is much work to be done in His name.  May I glorify Him with each step of my journey...


Following His Steps... to the Mediterranean Sea

Following His Steps… to the Mediterranean Sea

I am embarrassed to admit that, like Eve and all the women before me, I often question God’s goodness and loving kindness toward me.  I am engrossed in every detail of my life and wonder if He cares about them near as much as I do. I underestimate my worth to Him and feel insecure when the twists and turns of life take me by surprise.  I am often tempted to look to others for my identity and forget that God alone holds the keys to my heart and can meet my need for intimate love in the most personal of ways!    

My time in prayer every day almost always includes a plea for Him to remind me of His love- so unconditional and free.  He often answers me so personally and tenderly that I am brought to tears. 

Last year, while walking along a sea wall next to the Mediterranean, the waves crashed over unexpectantly and swept with them a beautiful piece of sea glass!  I picked it up and hid it in my pocket as a love gift from the Lord.  He knows how much I love the many treasures I have collected from the ocean in years past, and this one, from my first day in the Holy Land, seemed especially sweet.  But within only moments, He made it clear to me that I was to give the sea glass to a fellow traveler.  I did, albeit a bit reluctantly. 

I asked the Lord yesterday, while walking along the Mediterranean again, if He would remind me of His love through a simple piece of sea glass from this holy shore again.  I had barely stepped onto the sand before I found a white feather (another story all together!) and then a piece of sea glass… and another… and another!  I would be foolish to believe this was a matter of chance!  In the smallest of treasures, God pronounces His tender love for me, His child! 

Earlier this year, a precious friend bought a t shirt for me to wear as a reminder of His love.  I even brought it along on this trip!  On days like today, I need not wear it as a reminder, but a proclamation…  HE LOVES ME!

Following His steps… to Joppa

Following His steps… to Joppa

We landed in TelAviv at sunset on this Nov day. Our first stop was nearby Joppa, appropriately name the Ancient Gateway City to Israel on the Mediterranean Sea.  As I stood at the highest point in Joppa, I looked north toward the beaches of the Sea and could see the lights of modern day high-rises and hear the noise of bustling vehicles and airplanes overhead.  I tried to block out all that was new and imagine it as it might have been when Peter sat on the rooftop of Simon the tanner’s home somewhere nearby over 2000 years ago.  (Acts 10)

God had suggested the unthinkable in Peter’s vision… Take the gospel message to the Gentiles!  So unbelievable was this message, it was repeated 3 times before Peter awakened from his trance.  Even then, as he sat wondering what it could all mean, the Spirit interrupted his thoughts to say that three men were at the door looking for him.  He should go with them without hesitation. 

What was Peter to say when it was revealed that a Gentile man had sent for him and was waiting to hear the Gospel message?  Worst of all, he was a high ranking official in the oppressive Roman Guard.  Surely God did not intend to spread the Gospel to Gentiles such as these…

I wonder if Peter remembered Jesus’ parting commission and heard His words echoing in his ears as they suddenly had meaning like never before…  “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel”

Peter was slow to understand, yet he obeyed!  He left Joppa with the unexpected messengers the very next morning and made the journey up the coast to Caesarea (which we will actually visit tomorrow!).  God was commissioning Peter to carry the good news to a world not even looking for Him, and though this was not a part of the plan as Peter understood it, He was obedient to the Spirit’s call.  As a result, Cornelius and his entire household were the first gentiles to receive the Holy Spirit, as evidenced by their speaking in tongues, just as the Jews had on the day of Pentecost.  A new movement had begun because of the obedience of one…

What a contrast this is to the story of Jonah, whose journey had brought him to this very place over 750 years earlier.  Jonah had not come to Joppa to obey God’s commissioning.  Instead, he had come to run.  He would board a boat bound for a destination far, far away from Nineveh and the godless Gentiles God longed to use Jonah to reach.

Jonah ultimately obeyed, (even though it took three days in the bowels of a fish to convince him!) and he preached repentance to the people of Nineveh.  They responded by tearing their robes and turning their hearts toward God, but the Lord’s predictable mercy in response to their repentance, angered Jonah. 

These Gentile people had long been the enemies of God and Jonah failed to understand what Peter would 750 years later… God’s promises had begun with Abraham, but were never intended to stop there.  His intentions had always been that the entire earth would be blessed through the seed of Abraham’s faith and all those who would follow him in it.  His people were slow to understand a mercy that extended far beyond their human hearts could reach.  In the process, they risked missing His way all together. 

I must take a deep look inside myself as I stand in such holy places and honestly evaluate who I am.  When God beckons me to a plan foreign from my own… When God reveals Himself to me and asks me to extend His unexplainable mercy to my enemies, is my response one of immediate obedience or am I quick to run in the opposite direction with excuses for my disobedience?

Do I obey even when I don’t understand or do I rationalize and declare with my choices that I’d rather God overlook me and use someone else?  Will I be counted among those who discover joy in the service of the Lord, even when it takes me to places I never expected to go?

Peter’s obedience swept him into a ministry that would ultimately expand to millions around the world long after he was gone.  Even I would be counted among the fruit of his obedience.  As a fellow Gentile, you would too!

Jonah, on the other hand, was burdened by his sluggish obedience and on top of a traumatizing three days in the belly of a fish, he never discovered the joy Peter knew at the repentance of the lost. Tragically, he will forever be known as a joyless man who ran from God and was slow to obey. 

As I stand on these shores, I have a decision to make.  I need not wonder which would honor God and glorify Him as the Lord of my life.  Let my legacy be written like that of Peter’s… quick to listen; immediate obedience without questions; and immeasurable joy in being used by God for a redemptive plan so much bigger than I could ever imagine.  Count me in…