Israel/Palestine pt 4 | neighbors

At one point on our trip we traveled to Mar Saba, an ancient Orthodox monastery built on the walls of the Kidron Valley that dates to the 5th century.  Mar Saba is inland, near the Dead Sea, and as you travel you watch the land morph from green and lush to brown and dangerous.  

We were taking in the view as our van rolled toward the monastery, and our guides pointed out a narrow, ancient road below us.  They told us it was the kind of road that Jesus and His listeners would have had in mind when He told the story of a traveling man, robbed and beaten by bandits, ignored by religious leaders passing by, and rescued by a Samaritan. (Read the parable of the Good Samaritan here.) 

We talked through the parable together and felt that it was terribly relevant to the things we were experiencing.

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Israel/Palestine pt 1 | Bethlehem, then and now

Bethlehem, like a lot of places in the Middle East today, feels conflicted.  There's a church there that was built in the 4th century, and not too far from it you'll find something that resembles an outdoor mall where local residents and tourists mix to buy plastic toys and jewelry and food.  An Arabic chant over loudspeakers calls Muslims to prayer as Christians head to that ancient church to pay homage to the place where Jesus was born.  The real conflict isn't just cultural, though.  It's political, too.  If you look closely at that church, you'll see its facade pocked by bullets that were shot during a siege of Palestinian militants by Israeli Defense Forces in 2002.  Elsewhere in the city you'll find a refugee camp where 13,000 displaced Palestinians are living today.  And every once in a while you'll run into a concrete wall with barbed wire and sniper towers, interrupted by checkpoints, reminding you that you're in a contested land.  

At first, it all seems contradictory to the idea of a Holy Site.  But the more we reflected on the story of Jesus, the more we remembered that this is exactly the kind of world He was born into.  Everything was up for grabs -- the land, the authority to lead the people, the idea of what God expected of His people, and the means by which He would bring about His Kingdom in the world.  It's not surprising that Jesus wept or got angry from time to time.  He wrapped Himself up in our circumstances and felt the weight of a world in conflict.  We spent some time with a man named Mitri Raheb who feels that same weight today.  

Dr. Raheb (in the middle of the picture) is from Bethlehem, born into family of Palestinian Christians who have lived in that city for generations.  He eventually made his way to Germany where he earned his doctorate before returning to Bethlehem to pastor the Lutheran church there.  A lot of the people in his community don't see much reason for hope in their circumstances.  Some of them have no freedom of movement beyond those concrete walls.  Some of them don't have enough food or water.  Many of them have no reason to believe they'll be able to live for a dream.  Some aid does come to the area, but this community is hurting for an identity and a future as much as it's hurting for its basic physical needs.  


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headed to the Holy Land

Thanks to the thoughtfulness of a friend who invited me on the journey, I’m off to the Middle East in November. We’ll be traveling through Israel and Palestine, and though we’ll see some of the legendary sites, that’s not why we’re going. For a place called the “Holy Land”, most of the headlines that come from that part of the world paint a terribly unrighteous picture. There are a lot of people there who are afraid and angry (and for good reason). But there are also some incredibly courageous people who believe peace is possible, and that they have a part to play in creating it. We’re going to learn from them. I’m sure I’ll write a lot about this experience, but for now I wanted to tell you one of the reasons I’m excited about the trip.
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wake up!

You know the first service the Church ever held was an Easter service?  Well, not technically, I suppose.  But basically, Peter and the rest of his crew held a big open air Easter service at Pentecost.  Don’t believe me?  Check it out here.

The Holy Spirit comes sweeping into the lives of Jesus’ followers, and they begin proclaiming the wonders of God in languages that everyone in the diverse crowd of onlookers can understand.  Then Peter, the guy who could never get it right just a few pages earlier, stands up and preaches the sermon of his life and offers a wake up call to thousands of people who have been waiting for daybreak all their lives.  He tells them about Jesus – that he went into the tomb, and though he might have seemed like an ordinary man for that moment, he came out of that tomb and showed everyone that He was Lord.  It’s good news that Jesus is Lord, too. 

Money could be your lord, but it’s a pretty cruel savior.  Success or sex or friends or religion… same story.  If we’re going to find release from submission to these vacuous gods, we need a better Lord.  Jesus is the only King that actually deserves our lives. 

So we stand on the history of God’s people this weekend as we summon all our best.  We’re hoping to get people’s attention by making some noise (the marching band helps), by speaking clearly so the diverse crowd of onlookers that shows up at GCC can hear the message, by sounding the wake up call to thousands of people that matter to the King.  I couldn’t be prouder of my team this weekend… this was a challenge to pull off, but it’s been amazing day!  I don’t know what you’re doing this weekend, but I hope you experience the wake up call.  Jesus is Lord!  (and Happy Easter!) 

"whatever it takes" song available

Sometimes the ground crumbles beneath you.  You thought you knew who you were or what you were standing on, but then your identity gets shaken because of some disorienting moment that reinterprets your past or obscures your future.  

Sometimes the sky falls.  You were used to looking up to a God who seemed close at hand, who held everything together even when circumstances felt fragile.  But then you looked again and weren't so sure any of this really affirms the notion of that kind of God.  

I've been reading Moses' story and working with Ben, one of our video producers, on the story of a woman at our church to get ready to teach this weekend, and it amazes me how much we all have in common.  It doesn't seem to matter where we come from or when we live; sometimes reality seems too harsh and escape seems like the best option.  Sometimes our shortcomings make it hard to trust God to do His part.  

Several years ago, I was having a very hard time keeping my grip.  I felt like God had promised to see me through the hard stuff I was facing, but those promises seemed faint.  I went into the hospital, not really sure where this was headed, and I kept grasping for hope that seemed illusive.  The only thing I knew to do to keep my resolve was to sing something (I wrote in my last post that I pray better with songs than silence), so I wrote this song, "whatever it takes", and I've been returning to it this week as I think about all our stories and wonder what God might want to say to us in the next couple of days.  You can preview the song here, and if you'd like your own copy, head to the MY SONGS page to download audio or video.  

Hope to see you at GCC this weekend!

Whatever it Takes from Jason Miller on Vimeo.