2016 Guided Prayer Retreat

Here’s the archive of all 4 sessions from the “2016 Guided Prayer Retreat,” held at The Cove retreat center in Asheville, North Carolina on December 7-9, 2016.

SESSION 1 – PRAYER IS A CONVERSATION WITH GOD (Wednesday, December 7, 7:15 p.m.)

SESSION 2 – MAKING THE CONNECTION BETWEEN YOUR PRAYERS AND GOD’S ANSWERS (Thursday, December 8, 9:15 a.m.)

SESSION 3 – ACTING IN FAITH ON WHAT YOU’VE HEARD IN PRAYER (Thursday, December 8, 7:15 p.m.)

SESSION 4 – ENJOYING THE REWARDS OF YOUR ANSWERS TO PRAYERS (Friday, December 9, 9:15 a.m.)

Lana’s Hope – A Tribute

LANA’S HOPE: A TRIBUTE

by Eric and Lana Elder, their family
and the film 
team of Nouvelle Vie

Eric Elder Family with Hand Print

A few months ago I shared with you some raw footage of a video that a film team had taken of Lana and our family on November 1st, 2012, just two weeks before she passed on to be with the Lord.  

I’m happy to let you know that they’ve put together a short film for us that we were able to enjoy privately on the first anniversary of Lana’s passing, and that is ready now to share with you publicly.  It’s called, “Lana’s Hope: A Tribute,” and it compresses 8-10 hours of filming into a 15-minute tribute to Lana.  In it, the kids and I share with Lana what she has meant to us, and Lana shares her heart on topics like living life with no regrets, looking forward to heaven and living out the unique purpose God has for your life.

One of my favorite parts is seeing what our kids had to say about Lana, which they had secretly filmed that day, and which Lana and I were able to watch together a few days afterwards.

This short film was put together by Candice Irion, who also wrote last week’s devotional  that I shared with you regarding Valentine’s Day.  Candice is the original writer for the upcoming feature film called, Nouvelle Vie, which means “new life” in French, and which was written to give hope to others facing loss.

Candice interviewed us for this project, along with her husband, Josh Spake, and Drew Waters, who spent the day with us filming, laughing, crying, eating brownies and praising God.  Special thanks also to my friend, Russell Pond, and my sister, Marilyn Byrnes, who helped us out behind-the-scenes while we were putting this film together.  Candice also included several songs in the background from my piano CDs Clear My Mind and Soothe My Soul.

It’s a special film from a special day that we’ll treasure forever.

Without further adieu, I’d like to present to you “Lana’s Hope:  A Tribute.”  Click the link or the video below to watch.  I’ve also included a transcript below the video.

Watch “Lana’s Hope”

TRANSCRIPT

TITLE SCREENS:  The Nouvelle Vie film presents… Lana’s Hope: A Tribute

LANA:  When they told me the diagnosis, it was very shocking because I had taken really good care of myself.  I called my son Lucas.  Lucas was, you know, tearful on the other end.  I wanted my kids to come home from college, so I have all my kids here with me.  I get to see them a little bit longer.  And yet we’re all still praying for a cure.  We’re still praying that God can miraculously turn this around.  I’ve not lost hope in the fact that God is a miraculous God.

MAKARI: Hey, Momma, I just wanted to say that you’re the most amazing woman in the entire world.  You’ve given up so much so that I can be where I am and so that I can be who I am.  And I’ve learned to be strong because of you.

LUCAS:  I’ve tried to think back what I would have done different or if there was a better way that you could have raised us and I think for sure no, and you just completely nailed it.  And for everything you’ve given us just the whole way, it’s been completely a blessing.

JOSIAH:  She always did what was best for us, even if we didn’t like it sometimes.

BO:  Thanks for taking us to Triple Creek Ranch and skiing and to the Sand Dunes all those years.  I love you.

JOSH (to Kaleo):  If you could hold out your hands to show your Mom how much you love her, how much would it be?  KALEO:  That big?  KARIS:  That big?  KALEO:  This big!  KARIS:  This big!

KARIS: I’m so inspired by you and your faith through all this and the way that you love God.  You’ve taught us to love God the same way.  You have touched so many people and given them hope, and glorified God in everything that you’ve done.  And just the peace that you’ve had that has given all of us peace, I know.  And just to be able to look back on all of this and see how it glorified God, I’m just so thankful to God for you and having you as a mom.  I can’t imagine having anyone else as a mother.

MAKARI:  You’ve given up everything, but you would think that you haven’t given it up.  Even though I know that you’ve wanted other things that you were going to fulfill and I believe that they’re going to be fulfilled through each one of your children.  Because of what you’ve given us and what you’ve given up for us, you would say that you’ve gotten what you’ve always wanted.

ERIC:  For my children, just to say what Lana’s legacy is, I think that her heartbeat is to give.  She wants to give and give and give some more.  So I think that’s her legacy.  I just feel like she’s following Jesus in that she denies herself many times so that she can give.  I don’t think you can get better than that.

We’ve been married 23 years and we’ve known each other 28 years and they’ve been super.  All super.

I have no regrets.  I can’t complain that she’s being taken now.  How could I complain to God and say, “God, why did You take her?”  All I should be able to do is say, “God, thank You!  How could You possibly love me so much that You would give me 28 years with her?”  So I’m sad.  I’m disappointed if you go, but I cannot complain for one single day.

For me, as a Christian, I’ve already been given a new life.  Some people say, even if Lana dies, “We’re gonna pray and raise her from the dead.”  And I love that.  I would love to do that and I’ve prayed that for some of my friends in the past, too.  But the truth is, I already know what being dead is like and I’ve already been dead and Jesus has already raised me from the dead!  I’ve now got a new life and I’m going on.  I’m going to have a new life forever because of Jesus and what He’s done for me.

So we can pray that Lana would be raised from the dead and that might happen, but the truth is, she’s already been raised from the dead.  She knows what a dead life is like and she’s been given a new life already and that’s going to continue on for eternity, starting this very day.  And you don’t have to wait to die to be raised from the dead.  You can be resurrected, you can be redeemed, you can be restored anytime you choose to put your faith in Christ, ask Him to forgive you of your sins and He will take you to be with Him forever in heaven and give you a whole new life here on earth.

So that’s the hope that I have and the courage that I have, that your passing really is passing, as the Bible says, it’s “sleeping.”  You fall asleep and then you’ll be woken up by Jesus when He comes back for us. It’ll be a short sleep for you and maybe a long few years for us, but in the light of eternity, it’ll just be a blink of an eye, and I can’t wait to see you again.

LANA:  I would hope that the people watching this, that they would know that they have a unique calling in life.  Everyone God created so uniquely.  Everybody has different fingerprints, just so unique.  He has different dreams for them as well, but if they keep following God or asking God for direction that God will show them what their unique place is in the world, what they’re uniquely designed or created to do.  That they would keep seeking God and keep seeking the answers to what it is that they feel called to do.

JOSIAH:  Mom, I love you, and I want to say that you’re completely unique and unlike anyone else in the whole world and I love you.

LANA:  I have always tried to live my life with no regrets, just doing everything I’ve wanted to do.  Since my diagnosis, I’ve tried to live my life like I’m going to live.  I didn’t want to live like I’m going to die.  I wanted to live like I’m going to live and that’s all I’ve done.  There’s not like one place I say I’d like to go see still or anything I still need to accomplish.  I feel like I’ve done everything.

God has been such a loving God to me and I feel like I’ve been so blessed even now as I go through this.  He continues to, I believe, put things on people’s hearts to do, bring a meal, send a card, just call, text message and send encouraging words.  And I believe God prompts people’s hearts to do those things, and when they do them, it’s just so encouraging.  They’re such a blessing.  Even when I don’t even know them, it’s just nice to get a card in the mail, telling me that they’re thinking of me or praying for our family.  I just feel blessed to know that there are so many people around the world that are encouraging us and supporting us.  I just want to say a big thank you to them.  Love just continues to be the greater answer to our situations.

God’s love has never failed me because I just continue to see that love is the greater gift.  That’s why I feel so blessed.  When I was little, I used to pray every day for my husband, that I would have someone who would be like Prince Charming and love me.  And I really wanted him to love Jesus, whoever it would be.  And I wanted them to be like Jesus, because I wanted to marry Jesus when I was little, which I know now doesn’t make any sense!

So I prayed that every day that my husband in the future would be like Jesus, and I got even better than I prayed for, so that’s why I think my dreams come true all the time.  I love him (Eric) incredibly much.  He’s my prince.  I just want him to continue to press on with those things and I know he will and God will use him greatly.  God has a unique plan and I know that if you just keep following Jesus and asking Him for direction, you’ll do well and all your dreams will come true.

ERIC:  They have.  They already have.

LANA:  I know.  Love you, buddy.

ERIC:  I love you, too.

LANA:  When I think about going to heaven, I think about meeting Jesus.  And He has been my friend who I’ve talked to for so long.  I just imagine Jesus being there and greeting me and just meeting the angels and just peace and no more pain or sorrow.  None of that.  It just sounds really peaceful.

I know the kids and he are going to be in great hands.  Eric takes incredible care of me and the kids, so I’m not worried.  That’s another thing that makes passing into heaven at this time so peaceful.  But I know it’s hard for people that are left behind because I feel their pain.  I feel sorry for them because I would like to be with them as well.  But also, I just love Jesus and I’m looking forward to that day, too.

I’ve just had a great life.  My dreams have always come true and I just feel so super blessed by God and I can just go see Jesus at any time, that would be fine.

ERIC (describing the “Tree of Life” painting):  My cousin just wanted to celebrate Lana’s life and rather than focusing on her possible passing, to focus on the life that she’s given to so many people, including our family.  So this is my hand and her hand joined here and our arms being the tree.  And then all of our kids, six kids, putting their handprints on it as well.  And this is just the beginning of the life she’s brought to so many people.  There are so many people represented here, at least in this part, she really has been a tree of life.

ERIC (unwrapping a plaque):  This is really from me and from the kids and from everybody that knows you and it says, “You are loved.”  And you are.



If you enjoyed our recent series on how to keep trusting in God even in the face of significant loss, you can now get a paperback version for yourself or family or friends.  The book is called “Making the Most of the Darkness” and there are 3 easy ways to get a copy:   1) Buy the book directly from Amazon at this link, 2) Make a donation of any size to The Ranch from this link and we’ll send you a copy as our way of saying thanks, or 3) If you’ve already read these messages (as we’ve shared them online during the past year) and want to write a 1-2 sentence review on Amazon from this link, we’ll send you a complimentary copy of the book!  Just email us your name, address and a link to your review.  Your reviews help to get the word out about the book so we can get God’s Word out to even more people.  Thank you!

Making the Most of the Darkness , by Eric Elder

Living Life With No Regrets

We had a wonderful “Night of Worship” here at The Ranch last night! Thanks to those of you who came and to those of you who prayed for the night to be a blessed one. It was!

Thanks, too, for your gracious notes from places like the Philippines and South Africa, saying you wish you could be here. We hope to make this an annual event, so perhaps in the future we can meet many more of you in person as well.

During the night I shared 3 video clips of my dear wife Lana that were filmed last year on November 1st, 2012, just 2 weeks before she passed away. She had a message that I felt was perfect for the evening.

lana-living-life-with-no-regrets-image

So as we were worshipping outside by the bonfire, under the stars and with a half-moon shining, we projected the video of Lana onto the side of the barn and enjoyed hearing what she had to say to us about “living a life with no regrets.”

I’d like to share those 3 clips with you today as well. I believe they’ll be particularly helpful to you if you’re wrestling with a big decision and don’t know what to do, or if you’re just wondering how you can make the most of the life God has given you.

This video was shot by a film team who heard about our situation and offered to spend the day with us at our home, just to capture some memories for us and to offer hope to others who might face a similar loss in the future. Lana agreed, and we spent an amazing day with Drew Waters, Josh Spake and by Skype, Josh’s wife Candice.

Although the film team will be putting all the footage they shot that day into another format, editing it for their own purposes as background for an upcoming movie called Nouvelle Vie (which means “new life” in French) they’ve graciously allowed us to use the raw footage for other purposes like this.

I’ve posted these 3 clips in 1 video on our website at the link below, or you can read the message in the transcript below that.

Here’s the link to the video…

Watch “Living Life With No Regrets”

And here’s the transcript…

CANDICE: A lot of people in your position are very fearful, very scared, very worried, but you have come at this from a whole stance of hope, which is very, again I use the word profound. Because it’s unusual, and it’s so—you can just see how God is working and continues to work in your life. And so, describe what that peace is like for you and how it’s helped you battle fear, anxiety, being scared and stuff like that.

LANA: Well, I’ve always tried to live my life with no regrets. And so, whenever I had a big decision to make, I would think—obviously I would pray about it and ask God what’s best, and then I would just have to say, “Will I regret having made this decision?” Especially ones like—I went to college, I met my husband Eric in college and we got married shortly after college and I was pregnant with my first child and had to decide whether I would stay at home or work, and staying at home meant a severe cutback in pay. But I wanted to live a life of no regrets, so I decided I would rather stay home and be with my child, than have the money and have some other luxuries. And it’s a decision I’ve never regretted. So I’ve been a stay-at-home mom all my life—or since college. I know at times some people would wonder why I would get a college degree and then not even use it and stay home. But I remember thinking, even as I was making that decision, if something were to happen to me or one of my children—a death—I would have regretted going to work. So I was really glad—I mean, not glad, but when I found this out—it just made me glad that I hadn’t taken my life to go to work and missed seeing my kids grow up. It just changes everything. My kids, I just love to be around them. And so, having made that decision gives me great hope for situations like this that I made the right decision. It made some impact on our finances, but the other impact is, I think, much greater—the impact it had on my kids’ lives, because I wouldn’t have been able to take them to a lot of the programs like AWANA scripture memorization. I would have been too busy. And my kids, I love them, and they have great hope in God as well and love Jesus, and I think that’s because of the way they were brought up.

CANDICE: How do you describe the peace that passes all understanding in your life? What does that feel like? Describe that from your perspective.

LANA: The peace that surpasses all understanding is just really being with God. And when you’re reading scripture, or in worship, it’s so wonderful to have that peace. And even having made decisions, and seeing how they impact your life over the years, how that decision that impacts your life, and you know that it’s a good decision, that just gives you great peace, knowing that you did the right thing.

ERIC: Can I just have her clarify one thing, too, that not everybody chooses to stay home, if she just could talk about that, that this was the vision for what you [Lana] wanted to do, but other people are called to do other things, because she believes that strongly. I just don’t want to give the wrong impression. So maybe you could just say something about that.

LANA: Absolutely. Yes, I do want to clarify that. Not everyone is called to stay at home. There are certainly many instances where women are called to go to work, or both parents can go to work, but for me, it was really just what I was called to do. That’s just how God created me, just to be a mother and stay home with my kids.

CANDICE: I think that’s wonderful. The reason it’s wonderful is because I think you mentioned a couple things: One is that you would have been too busy to go to AWANA or scripture memory class and that greatly impacted your kids, and 2, you mentioned that, in situations like this, you’ve been able to spend your life with your kids. That’s what you wanted. And I think it just makes it perfect the point that you are in God’s will and right where you need to be, where He has you in this pursuit of what you’ve dedicated your life to, and so I commend you for that. I think that you have fulfilled that calling beautifully. Another question I had for you is, I wanted to see what some of the messages are that you have for Eric and your kids, so let’s start with Eric. What is something that you would like to share with him? What is a message you have for him?

LANA: Eric is just incredible. He’s incredibly talented and can play the piano, write music, do carpentry work, he knows everything about the computer, and he’s incredibly gifted. So I just want him to press on, keep going with a lot of the projects he’s already started. I know he has a couple that he and I have been working on together—the St. Nicholas project, talking about the life of Christ and how much he [Nicholas] was a believer in Jesus and that’s how he became so famous as St. Nicholas, our Santa Claus right now. So I just want him to continue to press on with things. I know he will and God will use him greatly. I love him incredibly much. He’s my prince and he takes incredible care of me and the kids. So I’m not worried. That’s another thing that makes passing into heaven at this time just so peaceful, because I know the kids are going to be in great hands, with Eric taking care of them.

CANDICE: Thank you for sharing that Lana. What about for the kids? What message do you want to tell the kids?

LANA: My kids have been just wonderful. I was blessed, again, to be able to homeschool, and Eric encouraged me to do that as well [because Lana wanted to try it]. He was a great encouragement, and my kids, I just know that they love Jesus. That’s been great comfort to know that they’re going to do great in life in whatever God has called them to do. I don’t know what they’re called to do, each of them yet, but I just know that they’ll do well, because everything they do, they do so well. I have no fear of anything going wrong, I just know they’re going to be blessed for the rest of their lives. I had 6 blessings. They’re awesome. I’m going to miss them.

CANDICE: What dreams do you have for your kids?

LANA: My dreams for my kids is just that they would love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. And they do that, and so whatever dreams that they have, I know that God will help them fulfill them, whatever it is. Because if they keep seeking God, they’re going to be on the straight path. They’ll do what God’s called them to do and so that’s my dream, that they would do that, they would just keep loving Jesus, and loving each other and loving their neighbors.

CANDICE: Lana, what dreams do you have for Eric?

LANA: Pretty much the same thing. Like I said, he’s incredibly talented, and gifted and can do anything, and he has great dreams for some projects that he’s working on, and I just pray that he can just continue to fulfill those dreams and do what God’s called him to do. I know that God has a unique plan for my family, but for everyone, God has a unique plan, and I know that if they just keep following Jesus, and asking Him for direction, they’ll do well. And your dreams [Eric] will come true.

ERIC: They have. They already have.

LANA: I know. Love you, buddy.

DREW: I’ve got a question for you. What do you hope that people watching this get from it?

LANA: I would hope that the people that are watching this, that they would know that they have a unique calling in life. Everyone God created so uniquely, like everybody has different fingerprints, just so unique. So I would hope that people watching this would know that God created them uniquely, that He has different dreams for them as well. But if they keep following God, or asking God for direction, that God will show them what their unique place is in the world, what they’re uniquely designed or created to do, that they would just keep seeking God, and keep seeking the answers to what they feel called to do.

DREW: Lana, I’ve got another question for you, and this is a very direct question, so I apologize for it, but you don’t seem fearful of death. Why is that?

LANA: I’m actually not fearful of death and I believe, the only thing I can attribute it to, is just having followed God for so long, waking up and talking to Him each day, throughout the day, He’s helped me through many things. And since I am talking to Him all the day long, death will be just like meeting Him and talking to Him all day long—but without my kids and family [laughter]. I don’t know why I don’t fear death, but God has been such a loving God to me and I feel like I’ve been so blessed throughout my life, like I said earlier, about living my life with no regrets, and just doing everything I’ve wanted to do. Even the past years, I’ve gone everywhere I’ve wanted to go. I wanted to go to Israel and see the Holy Land and I got to go there 5 years ago, and then miraculously got to go 2 years after that. So I’ve been to Israel twice and I’m so blessed to have done that. So I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do, and I don’t have—there’s not like one place I’d like to go see still or anything that I still need to accomplish. So I feel like I’ve done everything, and I can go see Jesus at any time. It would be fine. But I know it’s hard for people who I’m leaving behind. Since my diagnosis, I’ve tried to live my life like I’m going to live. I didn’t want to live like I’m going to die. I wanted to live like I’m going to live. So that’s all I’ve done, just keep going on with the normal day. But I know it’s hard for the people that are left behind, because I feel their pain. I feel sorry for them, because I would like to be with them as well. But also, I just love Jesus, and I’m looking forward to that day, too.

ERIC [later that day]: They just asked me to say a few words to you, and there’s just not enough words to express what you’ve meant to me. I remember on our wedding day, I just said to you that you were a gift from God to me and I wanted to treat you as a gift. You’ve been just a super gift, and I feel like I’ve unwrapped layer after layer of you. You’ve just given yourself to me in everything. You have sacrificed so much for me, for the ministry, for the kids—just everything. You’re a giver, and you’ve just given your life away. And I can’t think of anything better you could do with your life. You don’t just live your life, you give your life. That means so much to me, and I know that’s going to mean a lot to our kids, just to know that your life was not lived in vain, and that your death won’t be in vain if you do die. If you’re healed, hallelujah! That won’t be in vain, either!

I gave this to Lana—it’s a little plaque—for our anniversary back in April this year, and it says, “And they lived happily ever after.” It just reminds me of the joy that we’ve had together. You know, I’m going to cry a lot if you pass away. But I felt like God said, “Tearfulness is OK. Fearfulness is not.” So I think it’s OK to be tearful, but I’m not fearful, either.

And this just came in the mail today. I just got 2 more tiles for your collection here and I just wanted to unwrap this with you. This is a quote from Alfred Lloyd Tennyson. It says:

“If I had a flower for every time I thought of you, I could walk through my garden forever.”

It’s so true. I’m sure there won’t be a day that goes by that I don’t think about you. And this is really from me, and the kids and from everybody that knows you, and it just says, “You are loved.” And you are.

LANA: You’re really good at expressing your love to me all the time. You’re just always so kind and so generous. He [Eric] makes it easy for me to love him because he’s so much like Jesus, always thoughtful and kind and he puts me above himself all the time. He wants to make sure I’m taken care of. So I just appreciate these things, too, his gracious, kind gifts, thoughtful gifts, just incredible.

ERIC: Thanks. And I’m not like Jesus, but I was thinking just last week as you were just laying in bed and the pain was on you, and even in your pain you were writing a message to our subscribers in different countries and giving them hope and encouraging them with your hope. And I was just thinking of Jesus on the cross, just going through the pain and suffering for each one of us, and I thought, “Wow, you’re like Jesus! I’m married to someone like Jesus!” So I’m just so thankful to you and I just love you so much.

LANA: Thanks, thanks a lot. I love you.

JOSH: Let me ask you a couple questions. To your children, what is your wife’s legacy?

ERIC: For my children, just to say what Lana’s legacy is, I think her heartbeat is to give. She wants to give, give and give some more. And I think it’s hard for her to do. I think she’s struggled with it because we have so many needs. We all have needs. The kids have needs, and Lana has needs, and yet she’s just given so much. We give money away and we give things away and she gives food away and she just gives away. I feel like she’s a giver. I know that’s her heart, even for some of the projects we’re working on now, just to tell, for instance, the St. Nicholas story, of a man who gave his life away, too, because he was following the One who gave His life for all of us. So I think that’s her legacy. I feel like she’s following Jesus and that she denies herself many times so that she can give, and I don’t think that you can get better than that.

JOSH: How long have you all been married?

ERIC: We’ve been married 23 years, and we’ve known each other 28 years, and they’ve been super, all super. I have no regrets. I can’t complain that she’s being taken now. How could I complain to God and say, “God, why did you take her?” All I should be able to do is say, “God, thank You! How could You possibly love me so much that You would give me 28 years with her?” So I’m sad. I’m disappointed if you go. But I cannot complain, for one single day.

JOSH: How is she not replaceable?

ERIC: How is she not replaceable? I can’t think of how she is replaceable. I can’t imagine anything—I mean there is nothing that could replace her. She’s a unique creation of God—one of a kind. There’s no replacing any one of us. We’re all here for a reason, we’re all here for a purpose, just like Lana. There are lots of people that we love, lots of people that are friends, lots of people that do a lot for us and we’re really close to, and I don’t think any of us are replaceable.

JOSH: I’m going to ask one more question. So the heart of the story of Nouvelle Vie is finding life. And we don’t know what’s going to happen, right? You know God is a miraculous God and God could really pull through, or He may choose not to, and whatever it is, He’s glorified in all things. If God chooses to take your wife from you, how do you persevere? How do you go on?

ERIC: Nouvelle Vie means “new life,” and for me, as a Christian, I’ve already been given a new life. And some people say, even if Lana dies, we’re going to pray and raise her from the dead. And I love that. I would love to do that. I have prayed that for some of my friends in the past, too. But the truth is, I know what being dead is like, and I’ve already been dead, and Jesus has already raised me from the dead. I’ve now got a new life and now I’m going on. I’m going to have a new life forever because of Jesus and what He’s done for me. So we could pray that Lana would be raised from the dead, and that might happen, but the truth is that she’s already been raised from the dead. She knows what a dead life is like and she’s been given a new life already, and that’s going to continue on for eternity. So to me, that’s part of the hope of Nouvelle Vie, that it speaks about the new life that we can have right now, today, starting this very day. You don’t have to wait till you die to be raised from the dead. You can be resurrected. You can be redeemed. You can be restored, anytime you choose to just put your faith in Christ, to ask Him to forgive you of your sins. He will take you to be with Him forever in heaven, and give you a whole new life here on earth. So that’s the hope that I have, and the courage that I have, that your passing [Lana] really is “passing.” As the Bible says, it’s a sleeping, you fall asleep, then you’ll be woken up by Jesus when He comes back for us. It’ll be a short sleep for you, and maybe a long few years for us, but in the light of eternity, it’ll just be a blink of an eye. And I can’t wait to see you again.

You will reap a harvest, if you don’t give up!

Here’s my Video Devotional for the week of September 15th…

Watch “You Will Reap A Harvest, If You Don’t Give Up!”

And here’s the transcript…

Hi, this is Eric Elder and welcome to The Ranch.  I heard from someone who was talking about planting trees.  He was asking, “Do you know what time is the best time to plant a tree?”  And his answer was: “Twenty years ago.”

Of course, he’s right.  If you want a whole yard full of trees or a whole city full of trees, then the best time to plant a tree would be twenty years ago.  But then he asked, “Do you know what the second best time is to plant a tree?”  And the answer to that question is: “Today.”

Time goes so quickly that what was once twenty years ago, all of a sudden is today.

I’m actually standing here at The Ranch and I’m in front of a tree that my wife and I planted nineteen years ago.  It was our Christmas tree in our house and we brought it in in a ball of dirt for a few days for Christmas, and we brought it back out here to the farm – my Dad was living out here at the time – and we brought it out here and we planted it.  And now, here it is, nineteen years later, and we have a beautiful tree.

Well, it was great that we planted that tree, but we’ve been planting more trees throughout the years, because every year I keep thinking of that phrase, and I keep thinking, “You know, I should try to plant a tree, or another tree, or another tree, because if I keep planting trees now, someday we’ll have a beautiful garden.”

And this past December, we planted another tree.  In case you don’t know, my wife passed away in November, and so we bought a Christmas tree for her.  That’s over here, I’ll show you this one if you’ll follow me over.

So this is one that was just planted in the past 10 months.  This is our brand new little pine tree, and we’ll just see, we may have another tree that, twenty years from now, will be another beautiful tree, and we might have a tree that looks like this tree.

My point in telling you all this today is that I want to encourage you to keep planting.  Keep trusting God that He can take things in your life, and over time, He can make them fruitful.  Again, as I had mentioned that my wife had passed away, I was surprised that we had been planting some apple trees and plum trees and cherry trees out in a small orchard here.  And every year I’ll buy a tree or two and we’ll plant it, and together we’d go out and with the family we’d plant a tree.

Well, none of those trees have been producing.  It takes several years for those to get going.  And oddly enough, this year, for the first time, we’ve got some apples on the trees.  Not only that, but we have had cherries on the trees, and we’ve had plums on the trees, and we’ve had some peaches on the trees.  And even some of the newest apple trees, that normally don’t take root and don’t produce until, like seven years.  But these are just maybe three years old and we’ve got some apples already growing.

And it’s a great reminder to me – I feel terrible about my wife dying – it’s affected us, my family, like nothing else I can tell you.  But when I came out here this summer, and I started seeing fruitfulness, and these trees, they’re bearing apples, and they’re beautiful apples.  They taste great, and it’s the first time they’ve ever produced.

And I just think of the work that Lana did in her lifetime, and she’s borne fruit.  Not just here in the orchard, but in our lives and with my children, and in the lives of other people.  I just want to encourage you, don’t get weary of doing good.  If you’ll keep planting, God will produce a harvest for you.

The Bible says, “Do not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time you will reap a harvest if you do not give up.”

God will bring fruitfulness out of your life.  I want to encourage you in that and bless you today, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Lana’s Sweet Salsa

Here’s a little fun we had in the kitchen with my kids making “Lana’s Sweet Salsa,” from our home grown tomatoes, peppers and parsley, with filming by Karis and video editing by Bo and Kaleo!  A transcript and complete recipe follows. (Recorded September 15, 2013)

Watch “Lana’s Sweet Salsa”

Here’s the transcript…

Hi, this is Eric Elder, and here’s what’s cooking at The Ranch!

We’re going to make some homemade salsa.  We’re going to turn these garden tomatoes and wonderful peppers, jalapeño peppers, and onions — Bo is cutting up some great onions, crying over here.  Poor Bo, but he’ll be all right. And we’re going to turn them into “Lana’s Sweet Salsa.” We’ll check back with you in a minute.

All right. Now we’re taking the tomatoes, and we’re going to take the skins off and the seeds out. So we do a process called blanching. Bo is going to put them in the boiling water, put some tomatoes in there. And then it takes only about a minute in the boiling water.

And when they’re ready, he’ll take them out and put them in this bowl over here. And then we just take them out, and you can see how the skin just peels right off. And Josiah is over here, and he’s taking skins off. We run them under some cold water because they’re so hot to handle.

So then he will take the top off. And to take the seeds out, it’s easy to just cut the tomato right in half across the middle so it’s sort of a star shape. You can show them the star shape there. And then he can just use the back of his thumb and just pop the seeds out. You don’t have to get them all out. But if you get some of the seeds out, that makes the salsa taste better. And then when he’s done, he’ll pop them in the tray over here where later we’re going to crush them up when get them ready for salsa.

Now we’re doing the chopping of the tomatoes. We’re just taking the whole tomatoes. We put them in this pan, and then he’s using a little Pampered Chef chopper to chop them up. You can cut them with a knife, but this makes it really easy and just little bite-size pieces so you have them. And I want to separate the water from the tomatoes so I’m pouring it into a strainer because I want some of that water drained off. And I’m actually going to save some of that water for later, and we’re going to put that on the stove and reduce it.

So you just simmer it on the stove for a long, long time. You just let it simmer, simmer, simmer until it gets a nice thick paste in there, and then we’ll have that and it will give us extra bulk and put the tomatoes into the pan. We have about eight cups of tomatoes or more.

Over here we’re doing peppers and just cutting up the peppers. We’ll do the same thing to chop them up. We’ve already done the onions. And we’ve got about 15 jalapeño peppers, and we use plastic gloves when we cut these so I don’t burn my hands. That happens sometimes. And we’ll add the peppers, onions, and tomatoes, and then we’ll start cooking.

All right. We’re getting ready for our next step. While this is boiling for about 20 minutes just bring it to a boil and let it simmer down for 20 minutes. This is reducing nicely. It’s still cooking there. And it’s getting a little thicker. And then we’re going to add all these things. We’re supposed to add some cloves of garlic, but instead of chopping it up we buy it already chopped. So add some garlic in there, some salt, some cumin, some oregano. This is apple cider vinegar. And then we add — it seems like cheating, but it just helps out — a can of diced tomatoes, which you strain them again, put the juice in that one. And then two cans of tomato paste. That will give us a little extra thickness for us.

Joe’s doing some limes over here. We’re squeezing six limes. So that juice will go in the mix too. Put this all in. And Kaleo is over here. She just picked some fresh parsley from the garden, and she chopped it up with the food chopper. And you have to be careful when you pick fresh things. These are beautiful little caterpillars she found, but you make sure you don’t want those in your salsa.

We are now cutting these jalapeño peppers and I can barely talk. They’re really strong. And so that’s why I’m using the gloves, because you really don’t want to burn your hands. They really can burn you. I’m sort of cutting the middle out and then washing the seeds out. It’s the seeds that are even extra hot. So if you want more you can add some of the seeds, but these are already pretty hot. I’m going to put that in, and we’re going to chop them up.

All right. We’re ready for the last step before we get to eat it. This is two cups of the peppers, onions, and tomatoes that were raw that we put in at the beginning. We took out two cups and saved it for the end. It will give it a little fresh flavor. We’re going to pour that in and add more two tablespoons of brown sugar. This is what makes it extra sweet. It’s already been cooking with the other brown sugar. And then that reserved tomato paste we just put in. And so it’s all ready. We let it simmer for five more minutes and it will be time to eat.

And here we are with our final salsa. It’s all ready. We’ve stirred it up and we’ve just been enjoying it. And I am so glad that you watched this and to see how it was made.

I just want to remind you the Bible says, “Do not become weary in doing good, because at the proper time you will reap a harvest if you do not give up.” Sometimes you have to wait years for things like apples to grow. (Click here to watch our apple video). Other times, just a few months ago we planted some tomatoes, some peppers, some parsley, and today we’re enjoying the fruit of all that with our salsa.

Thanks for coming. We’re glad you were here to see “What’s cookin’ at The Ranch!”

Recipe for Lana’s Sweet Salsa:
(This recipe originally came from Eric’s sister, Marilyn Byrnes, but it was Lana’s favorite!  Hence the name, “Lana’s Sweet Salsa!”)

8 or more C. tomatoes, blanched, peeled, cored and chopped. (Drain off extra juice and reduce it in saucepan for use at the end.)
4 C. assorted green-type peppers….seeded and chopped (anaheim, passillo, hungarian wax, green)
2 C. jalepeno peppers, chopped (16 peppers = 2 C.)
1 1/2 C. onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can diced tomatoes, drained (reserve liquid and reduce for the end)
2 cans tomato paste
1 1/2 C. apple cider vinegar
6 limes, squeeze for the juice
3 t. ground cumin
4 t. salt
2 t. ground chipotle pepper seasoning
4 T. fresh oregano
4 T. fresh cilantro
6 T. brown sugar

Mix tomatoes, peppers and onions. Hold out 2 cups for the end.

Combine remaining tomatoes, peppers, onions with the rest of the ingredients. Bring to boil, stir frequently and reduce heat
immediately….simmer 20 minutes.

Throw in the reserved raw onions, peppers, tomatoes & additional 2 T. brown sugar. Add reduced tomato liquid. Simmer 5 more minutes.

Put in pint jars, with 1/4″ headspace, in a hot water bath for 30 minutes.  Makes 10-14 pints.

To Lana, With Love

A Celebration of the Life of Lana Jane (Olivero) Elder

To Lana, With Love

You’re watching TO LANA, WITH LOVE: A Celebration of the Life of Lana Jane Elder. (Also available on DVD from our bookstore for family and friends or those have slower or more expensive Internet connections.)

Hi, this is Eric Elder, Lana’s husband.  I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who came out for the visitation and celebration of Lana’s life last week.  It was one of the most beautiful services of any kind I have ever attended in my life.  While the service was filled with tears, it was tremendously uplifting as well! I’d love for you to watch the whole service online, which I’ve posted at the links below. To encourage you to watch, here are just a few comments from those who attended, including a friend who rededicated her life to God and asked one of my kids to baptize her right after the service!

“Wow. Feel like I have so much to say and no words at same time. Witnessed arguably the most beautiful event I’ve ever seen today…a true worship service celebrating the life of a mother of six who WON the battle with cancer. Permanently. A funeral is a very different event for those who understand this world is not their home.” “Of all the events I’ve ever attended where the Holy Spirit was really moving, never, in my entire life, have I seen God more glorified than He was at the funeral service for Lana. Thank you and each and every one of your children for reminding me of that, even when sorrows like sea billows roll.” “I was so heavy hearted at Monday’s visitation and upon entering the celebration of life on Tuesday. But I left that beautiful service UPLIFTED. You and the kids were able to bring us into His presence and share in the beauty of Lana’s life and her desire to share Jesus. It effected me profoundly.” “Recently I have been questioning whether God is even real or whether we just made Him up in an attempt to answer the unexplainable and to give us comfort when things are out of our hands. I prayed that God would show me a sign that He was really here. I was hoping this sign would come in the form of Lana being healed….. A week ago, Makari texted me telling me that her mom had died. I didn’t know what to do. I just cried. I started asking the same questions I had asked when my own mother died six years ago. God did the opposite of what I was hoping for. So on Monday, I drove to Bloomington, Illinois to be there for the services for Lana Elder. It was during the funeral/celebration of Lana’s life that God gave me His sign. Looking at Karis and Lucas and Makari and Josiah and Bo and Kaleo and Eric… There is absolutely no way that there is not a God…  At the end of the service, Karis had an invitation, and I went down and talked to her about what had been going on, and I rededicated my life to God. After the dinner, Makari and I were talking and we decided that I was going to be baptized right then and there because there’s no better time than the present. So on Tuesday, November 20, 2012, I was baptized in the well/waterfall by Makari in Eastview Christian Church in Bloomington, Illinois.”

Praise God! Even in death, Lana is bringing people closer to Jesus. Nothing is wasted when we give it to God. Hallelujah! Special thanks to Russell Pond, our good friend and film maker who came up from Houston to be with us for the service and filmed part of the visitation and all of the service for us. I’m so glad he did!  I think you will be too.

Lana Elder's cover for Memorial Service

Click the image above to view the program for Lana’s Memorial Service.

I’ve posted the service below in 6 parts, plus a montage from the visitation (recorded the night before).  I’ve also included the program from her service at the right if you’d like to read it here or follow along. Here’s Part 1 of 6, which includes:

Welcome and Opening Prayer: Pastor by Jason Sniff, friend Songs of Worship: led by Gary Marini, friend, Lucas Elder, son, and Makari Elder, daughter Song: “Hosanna (Praise Is Rising)” written by Brenton Brown Song: “Everlasting God” written by Chris Tomlin Scripture Reading: Isaiah 40:28-31, read by Makari Elder, daughter Song: “How He Loves” written by John Mark McMillan

Here’s Part 2 of 6, which includes:

Scripture Reading: John 14:1-3, by Mark Olivero, brother Expressions of Love: by Laurie Landsman, sister, and John Paul Olivero, brother

Watch “To Lana, With Love – Part 2 of 6”
Here’s Part 3 of 6, which includes:

Scripture Reading: Revelation 21:1-5, by Josiah Elder, son Dance: “I Can Only Imagine,” by Kaleo Elder, daughter, and nieces Shana, Tara and Erica Olivero and Rebekah Landsman

Watch “To Lana, With Love – Part 3 of 6”
Here’s Part 4 of 6, which includes:

Eulogy: by Pastor Eric Elder, husband Eric’s Hope: Video by Neuvelle Vie Scripture Readings: “What God Says About Fear,” Recorded by Lana Elder, with music by friends Brent Mitchell and Chuck and Lynette Giacinto

Here’s Part 5 of 6, which includes:

Invitation to follow Lana’s Savior: by Karis Elder, daughter Invitation Song: “It Is Well With My Soul” written by Horatio Spafford, sung by Lucas Elder, son

Here’s Part 6 of 6, which includes:

Closing Songs: “Happy New Life To You” and “O Come Let Us Adore Him,” led by Bo Elder, son, and the family Closing Prayer: by Mark Dossett, friend

And here’s the Visitation Montage, which includes:

Piano Music: by Marilyn Byrnes, Eric’s sister

Eric’s Hope

A friend of mine was producing an action movie in Dallas this summer and asked if my daughter and I would want to be extras in one of the scenes.  She said, “Yes!” so we took a road trip to Dallas.

The first night on the set, one of the other producers asked if I’d be willing to share our story of Lana’s battle with cancer, as we were still in the midst of it.  They wanted to use it as part of an upcoming project they were working on to give hope to other families facing cancer, called  Nouvelle Vie (New Life).  With a bit of fear, but a stronger desire to give hope to others as God had given us hope, I said, “Yes.”

So the next day we were filming again, but this time a different kind of film.

Here’s the 5-and-a-half minute video they shot that day, powerfully captured and edited by the talents of Reidland Tucker and Candice Irion.

I have watched it many times since then myself, and have been encouraged each time that as long as we still have breath, God still has a plan for our lives.

Watch “Eric’s Hope”

Update On Eric Elder Ministries – June 8, 2011

Here’s an update on our ministry, including some of my favorite cartoons!

Watch “Update On Eric Elder Ministries”

Introduction: Turning Sad Endings To New Beginnings

There’s a spot in Jerusalem where you can walk inside a tomb from the time of Christ. As you walk in, you can imagine what it must have been like for those who walked into Jesus’ tomb on that first Easter morning, when the angels greeted them with these words:

“Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay” (Matthew 28:6).

If you’d like to take a minute (well, about a minute-and-ten seconds), you can walk into the tomb with me and see it for yourself. Then read on to see why the story of what happened that first Easter morning is perhaps the most significant event that’s ever taken place in the entire history of Israel.

Watch “What Happened At the Garden Tomb?”

What I love about the Easter story is that just when it looked like all hope was lost, God showed up and showed the disciples that the death of Jesus wasn’t the end—it was just the beginning of something even better.

In a matter of days, the disciples went from thinking that their hopes and plans and dreams for the future had been dashed forever, to seeing that God had bigger hopes and plans and dreams for them than they could have ever imagined!

You can almost see their faces light up as God opens their eyes to the truth. Watch what happens as Jesus reveals Himself to two of the disciples as they walk along the road:

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus Himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing Him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked Him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” He asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed Him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified Him; but we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find His body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said He was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but Him they did not see” (Luke 24:13-24).

Take a look at the disciples’ faces when Jesus first walks up and starts talking to them.  The Bible says, “They stood still, their faces downcast.” I don’t know how exactly Jesus was able to hide His true identity from them, but I do know that it’s hard to see when our faces are downcast. But look at what happens as the story continues.

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if He were going farther. But they urged Him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So He went in to stay with them.

When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, and He disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.”  Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when He broke the bread (Luke 24:25 -35).

The disciples went from downcast to delighted, and as they did, their hearts began to burn within them. They were eager to learn everything they possibly could from this Man who was walking with them, so much so that they “urged Him strongly” to stay with them.  Then, when Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them, their eyes were opened to the Truth. Even though Jesus disappeared in that moment, their excitement about what they felt didn’t disappear. They got up at once and ran to tell the others the good news: This wasn’t the end at all, but just the beginning of something new!

There are times when you may feel like God, or people, or life itself has pulled the rug out from under you. It may seem like all your hopes and plans and dreams are crashing down around you. You might wonder how you’ll ever be able to get back up again. But I want to encourage you to do what the disciples did as they walked along the road. They stopped looking down and they started looking up.  They looked up to the One who held their life in His hands—the same One who holds your life in His hands—the One who gives each one of us “life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25b).

What may look like an ending to something in your life may in fact be just the beginning of something entirely new, something even bigger and better and more remarkable than you ever could have imagined. And if you think that’s just wishful thinking, just remember the Easter story, and remember the God who specializes in turning sad endings into new beginnings!

Let’s pray…

Father, thank You for the reminder that You can take the sad endings in our lives and turn them into new beginnings. Open my eyes that I may see just what you have in store for me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 1: Where Did Israel Get Its Name?

On the pages ahead, I’d like to take you on a “devotional tour” of the Holy Land.  In each lesson, I’ll be asking (and answering) a question about Israel and some of the major events that have taken place there.  My goal is to give you both a history lesson and a faith lesson: a history lesson about this land that is so precious to God, and a faith lesson that you can apply to your own life today.

I’d like to start with a foundational question: “Where did Israel get its name?”

To check your answer, keep reading on, or take a look at the short video clip at the link below that I recorded on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, at the western edge of Israel.

Watch “Where Did Israel Get Its Name?”

So where did Israel get its name? Israel was named after Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, whom God later renamed “Israel.”

Jacob got this new name after an all-night wrestling match with an opponent whom Jacob comes to believe is God Himself. At the end of the struggle, Jacob’s opponent declares, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome” (Genesis 32:28). “Israel” means struggles, or strives, with God.

So the land of Israel was named after the man who lived there. His twelve sons and their families became the twelve “tribes” of Israel and spread out to live throughout the land. The Bible says that the borders of Israel at that time extended from the desert in the south to Lebanon in the north, and from the Euphrates River on the east to the western sea, or Mediterranean, on the west (see Deuteronomy 11:24 and Joshua 3:1-4).

The land of Israel was actually promised to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, years earlier, which is why the land of Israel is often referred to as the “promised land.”

What I love about reading these passages in the Bible is that they are continual reminders to me that God keeps His promises, whether they are to all of humanity, as in the case of God’s promise to Noah that God would never again destroy the earth with a flood, or to a particular nation, as in this case of God’s promise to the Israelites that He would bring them into this land, and then bring them back again if they were ever taken away. When God makes a promise, He keeps it!

Here’s the original promise that God made to Abraham way back in the twelfth chapter of the Bible, about 4,000 years ago. God said to Abraham:

“Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3).

So Abraham obeyed and went. And when Abraham got there, God gave him this promise:

“Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you” (Genesis 13:14-17).

God also forewarned Abraham that his descendants one day would be strangers in another country and enslaved for four hundred years, but afterward they would return to the promised land. This took place when a famine came upon Israel, and Israel’s sons moved to Egypt to get food. As the sons’ families grew in number, they were enslaved by the Egyptians for fear that they would become too powerful.

Four hundred years later, God sent Moses to set the Israelites free and return them to their homeland. God reminded the Israelites of His promise,saying to them as they approached the promised land:

“Every place where you set your foot will be yours: Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the Euphrates River to the western sea” (Deuteronomy 11:24, and again in Joshua 1:3-4).

Almost a thousand years later, the Israelites were taken captive again, this time to Babylon. But again, God promised that one day they would return to their land. God told the prophet Jeremiah to buy a field in Israel, even though they were about to be taken away, to let the people know that one day they would return again and that,

“Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” (Jeremiah 32:15).

They did return about seventy years later. Another five hundred or so years later, Jesus was born in Israel. Except for a few years when Jesus was young, when his parents took Him to Egypt to protect Him from King Herod, Jesus spent His entire life and ministry in the land of Israel.

And when Jesus comes back again, He’ll return to the land of His birth, to Israel.

God keeps His promises!

From Genesis to Revelation, God talks about His promises regarding both the land and the people of Israel. It is a land that is truly precious to God. The Bible says,

“It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end” (Deuteronomy 11:12).

And it’s a land that reminds us that God keeps His promises, whether they’re made to all of humanity, or to particular nations, or to individual people like you and like me.

God loves you, He cares about your life, and He wants to see you accomplish all that He has prepared in advance for you to do. If God has made you a promise, hold onto it! God keeps His promises.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for the promises that You have made throughout history, and the promises that You have made to us in our lifetime. Lord, help us to remember Your promises, and to hold onto them tightly, knowing that You will always keep them. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 2: What Happened In Caesarea?

Today we’re headed up the coast of the Mediterranean Sea to the city of Caesarea.  Why Caesarea? Because something remarkable happened there about 2,000 years ago. To see what happened, take a look at the short video clip below, then read on to see how this story can apply to your life today.

“Watch “What Happened In Caesarea?”

So what happened in Caesarea? This is where Peter preached the good news about Jesus to Cornelius. And what makes it so remarkable? Because this is where God made it crystal clear that Jesus didn’t come just as a Savior for the Jews, but for anyone who would believe in Him.

The other thing that’s remarkable about this story is the way God spoke to Peter and Cornelius. God spoke in a way that was very specific, helping each of them know exactly what God wanted them to do next in their lives. Wouldn’t all of us love to have God do that for us! The truth is, He can, and often does, and if we read the story carefully, we can see some clues as to why God spoke to these two so clearly.

Here’s how God spoke to Cornelius:

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”

Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.

The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea” (Acts 10:1-6).

And here’s how God spoke to Peter:

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.

While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them” (Acts 10:9-20).

Did you catch why God spoke the way He did to Cornelius? And why God might have spoken to Peter the way He did?

In Cornelius’ case, the Bible says, “He [Cornelius] and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.” The angel then says very specifically: “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.” Then the angel proceeds to share with him what to do next.

And as for Peter’s case, his story begins with the words, “Peter went up on the roof to pray.” It was during that time of prayer that God spoke to Peter and revealed to him what he needed to do next, too.

Prayer in its most basic form is having a conversation with God. Sometimes it may feel like it’s only a one-way conversation, but I’ve found that the more I pray, and the more that I wait for and listen for and expect Him to answer, the more I actually hear God speak to me in return! It’s not rocket-science, but it does take is faith. And in Cornelius’ example, he didn’t rely on his faith alone, but he was continually demonstrating his faith in God by his good deeds. He was putting his money where his mouth was, so to speak. Or, as Jesus said it: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:22).

The beauty of this story is that God was not only moved by the prayers and gifts of these men, but God answered their prayers in a way that went beyond either of their expectations. For Cornelius, it opened up a whole new understanding of who God was and what He could do next to come into a more full and right relationship with Him. And for Peter, this opened a whole new door of ministry that he would have never realized even needed to be opened without his prayers and God’s response, that God wanted him to proclaim the good news about Jesus even to the Gentiles, meaning anyone who was not Jewish.

These are great lessons for any of us who want to experience more of God in our lives, and for anyone who wants to serve Him more fully.

If you’ve already put your faith in Christ, today’s a good day to thank God for what happened in Caesarea! And if you’ve never put your faith in Christ, today’s a good day to do that, too! Let God’s Spirit fall upon you as it fell upon all who heard Peter’s message that day when he said:

“All the prophets testify about Him [Jesus] that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name” (Acts 10:34-36,43).

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for speaking to people so specifically about events that were about to change their lives so dramatically. We pray that You would speak to us again today, so that we may hear from You and do all that is on Your heart for us to do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 3: What Happened On Mount Carmel?

As we continue our devotional tour of the Holy Land, we’re heading further north along the Mediterranean coast, this time to the top of Mount Carmel. It’s a beautiful spot where a powerful story took place about 3,000 years ago.

To hear a summary of the story in under two minutes, including how it applies to your life today, click the link to the video below.  Then continue reading the rest of the message below that to learn how God can answer your prayers in extraordinary ways, even though you may feel like just an “ordinary person.”

Watch “What Happened On Mount Carmel?”

So what happened on Mount Carmel? That’s where Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal and Asherah to a dramatic showdown. Many of the Israelites had strayed from God, worshiping Baal and Asherah instead. The situation had gotten so bad that God told Elijah to go to the Israelite king, Ahab, and tell him:

“…there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word” (1 Kings 17:1b).

So Elijah told this to Ahab and the rain stopped. All of Israel began to suffer. But neither Ahab nor the people turned back to God. After three and a half years, God told Elijah to go back to Ahab and tell him that the rain was about to come again.

Elijah went to Ahab and told him to meet him on Mount Carmel, where the dramatic showdown took place, and where God would answer Elijah’s prayers in a way that convinced the Israelites to turn their hearts back to God. It was after this that Elijah climbed to the top of Mount Carmel, bent down to the ground to pray, and by the end of the day, the rain poured down.

It’s one of the coolest stories in the Old Testament, and if you haven’t read it yet, or haven’t read it in awhile, I’d like to encourage you to read the whole thing sometime this week. You’ll find it in the book of 1 Kings, chapters 17-19.

While there are tons of helpful and encouraging lessons from these chapters—ranging from how God can provide for your needs even during a famine to how God can give you the courage you need to do some very difficult things—the lesson I’d like to focus on today deals with the question of why God sometimes answers your prayers and other times doesn’t—or at least not in the way you expected.

Sometimes God can knock your socks off with His answers to your prayers, like He did with Elijah’s prayers on Mount Carmel. The book of James even holds up Elijah’s story as an example of just how powerful prayer can be. James says:

“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops” (James 5:16b-18).

So Elijah was human, just like us, and God heard and answered his prayers in a powerful way. Yet did you know that not long after this event, Elijah prayed another prayer—one that he seems to have prayed as earnestly as the one before—yet God didn’t do what Elijah asked?

This other prayer took place after the showdown at Mount Carmel, when Elijah had to run for his life because Ahab’s wife had vowed to hunt Elijah down until he was dead. So Elijah ran as far as he could until he he was thoroughly exhausted. The Bible says,

“He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors’” (1 Kings 19:4b). 

Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.

But God didn’t answer this prayer, at least in the way that Elijah wanted Him to answer it. God didn’t take his life. God wanted Elijah to live, for God still had more for Elijah to do with his life.

So God sent Elijah an angel. The angel woke him up and gave him something warm to eat. After eating two of these angel-cooked meals, Elijah gained enough strength to travel another forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. And it was there on Mount Horeb that God Himself appeared to Elijah in a very personal way,

“…in a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12b).

God didn’t give Elijah what he wanted, but He gave him something much better: an angel of encouragement, strength for the journey, and a one-on-one visit with Elijah himself.

I want to encourage you today that God can answer your prayers as dramatically and powerfully as He answered Elijah’s prayers for rain. But God can also answer your prayers like He answered Elijah’s second prayer, not necessarily giving you what you want or expect, but giving you something truly better.

God loves you. He cares about your life. And He has things that He truly wants to do in and through your life. Keep praying earnestly that God’s will would be done here on earth, through you, just as God’s will was done through Elijah’s prayers at Mount Carmel.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for Elijah’s example of what it means to pray earnestly for Your will to be done. Give us Your wisdom and insight into the situations in our lives today so that we can pray for Your will to be done in them as well. We love You and thank You for hearing our prayers. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 4: What’s Going To Happen At Megiddo?

You may have never heard of Megiddo before, but it’s more than likely you’ve heard about what is going to happen there one day. And with a little help from the Hebrew language, you may realize that you have heard of Megiddo before in just a slightly different form. Take a look at the short video below to see this historical place with an important future. Then keep reading below to see how it can affect your life today.

Watch “What’s Going To Happen At Megiddo?”

So what’s going to happen at Megiddo? That’s where Christ will return for the final battle of all the nations of the world.

The book of Revelation prophecies about this coming battle, saying that the spirits of demons will go out to the kings of the whole world:

“…to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. … Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon” (Revelation 16:14b, 16).

Armageddon comes to us from the Hebrew words “Har” meaning hill, and Megiddo, referring to the city found there. So Har Megiddo means the hill of Megiddo, which translates for us into “Armageddon.”

It’s an unusual sight to look out and see the cars and trucks and buses going back and forth about their business at the base of the hill, knowing that one day all the nations of the world will gather here for that final epic battle, the one which has been depicted in so many apocalyptic books and movies.

But perhaps more sobering to me is the fact that since God has fulfilled so many prophecies found in the Bible already, it just follows reason that He will one day fulfill the rest as well, including the prophecies about this cataclysmic battle.

And from history, we know that this location has served as a battlefield for many battles before. King Josiah died here about 600 years before Christ in a battle with Pharaoh Neco of Egypt (2 Kings 23:29) and Sir Edmund Allenby of Britain launched a massive attack here during the first World War, to name a few.

The role of Megiddo as a military battlefield was summed up by Napoleon, one of the foremost military leaders of all time when he saw Megiddo in the early 1800’s. He is quoted as saying:

“All the armies of the world could maneuver their forces on this vast plain … There is no place in the whole world more suited for war than this … It is the most natural battleground on the whole earth.” (The Battles of Armageddon, pg. 142).

And Megiddo is situated in a primary trade route at the north of Israel, a location from which you can see the hills of neighboring countries who are even now poised and ready to do battle here. The inspiring thing about standing on the hill of Megiddo is that it makes me want to do right before God and men.

While God is certainly more forgiving and patient than I or anyone else I know has ever been or would ever be, there is still a limit to His patience. At some point, He must deal with sin, or He wouldn’t be a very good judge at all.

As much as I’d rather not think about it, there comes a time when justice must be done and we will all have to face judgment for what we’ve done. This day is often referred to in the Bible as the “Day of the Lord.” It’s a day that is referred to over twenty-five times in the Bible, including both the Old and New Testaments.

Several weeks before writing this message I had a dream in which I got an invitation in the mail. It was an invitation to an “end of the world party” to be held on June 6-7, just a few weeks from then. I don’t put much stock in the dream as anything prophetic, as even Jesus Himself said that no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, but only the Father (Matthew 24:36). But the dream did help me to think a little more clearly that day when I woke up!

I wondered: What would I do differently if I knew that the world was really going to end in just a few weeks? How would I spend my time? Who do I still need to talk to and what would I say? How can I help more people come into a relationship with Christ so that when the final battle does come they’re on the winning side?

And today I wonder: How would it affect your life if you knew that the end were just a few weeks away? It reminds me of a quote from Stephen Levine:

“If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say? And why are you waiting?”

God wants more than anything else to have a relationship with each one of us, including you and those around you. He knows how sin affects our lives in ways that we could never even understand. And He wants us to be freed from those sins.

That’s why He sent Jesus to earth, to die for our sins, so that all who put their faith in Him will be forgiven of their sins and spend eternity with Him in heaven.

If you’ve never put your faith in Christ, I encourage you to do it today. Don’t wait any longer, for no one knows the day or hour when He will return. And if you’ve already put your faith in Christ, share that faith with someone today.

Give them a call. Write them a letter. Send them a text, an email, or a link to this video and devotional. Remind them that:

“The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for fulfilling so many of the prophecies of the Bible already and we trust that You will fulfill the rest in due time. Lord, help us to live our lives in such a way that they become shining testimonies to You and help us to encourage those around us to put their faith in Christ so they can be on the winning side in the final battle as well. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 5: What Happened In Nazareth?

Our next stop on this devotional tour of the Holy Land is a city that wasn’t known as one of the hot spots of Israel. In fact, the Bible quotes Nathanael as saying,

“Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46).

But something good did come from there. To hear what happened there, take a look at this short video that I shot while at the Nazareth Village in Israel, a re-creation of what the city might have looked like back in Jesus’ day.  Then read on below to find out how God can work in your life through even the most difficult situations to accomplish His plans.

Watch “What Happened In Nazareth?”

So what happened in Nazareth? This is where Jesus grew up. It was also the hometown of Mary and Joseph and the place where the angel Gabriel came to Mary and said:

“Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:30-31).

But Jesus wasn’t born in Nazareth. In fact, His route to ending up here seemed rather circuitous.

Because of the Roman census, Mary and Joseph had to return to Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth. Then after Jesus’ birth, Herod found out that a new “King of the Jews” may have been born in Bethlehem and began a killing spree of all the newborn boys there, so Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt. After Herod died, Mary and Joseph returned again to Israel and went back to their hometown of Nazareth.

It may have seemed like Jesus and his parents were being yanked around by governments and kings, making their lives difficult at critical times. I try to imagine Mary being nine months pregnant, having to ride on a donkey to Bethlehem, then finding no place to stay and give birth to her child. I try to imagine their having to flee that city because a crazed king wanted to kill their young Son. I try to imagine their having to move to a foreign country when Jesus was small, with all the changes such a move from family and friends must have entailed.

Yet I’m encouraged to think that each stop along the way was not random. Each move was part of God’s divine plan for both Jesus and His parents. Hundreds of years earlier each stop along the way had already been foretold.

Getting to Bethlehem was the first stop in fulfilling the prophecies concerning the Messiah. When the chief priests and teachers of the law were asked where the Messiah was to be born, they replied:

“In Bethlehem in Judea, for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel’ “ (Matthew 2:5-6).

The trip to Egypt fulfilled the next stop. As Matthew said:

“And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’ “ (Matthew 2:15).

And the return to Nazareth fulfilled the third stop. As Matthew said about His return:

“So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene’” (Matthew 2:23).

So rather than a seemingly random chain of events moving Jesus from place to place, God had a plan and a way to use all of those events to bring about His will.

How does all this relate to you and me? I take encouragement from the fact that even when it looks like our lives are being pushed and pulled in various directions by people, governments, or difficult situations, that it may actually be God doing the pushing and pulling to fulfill His plans for our lives! And if it’s not God doing the actual pushing and pulling, at least it’s no surprise to Him what we’re going through. If God was able to foretell and use all of the events and situations that would surround the birth and life of His Son, then He is able to foretell and use all of the events and situations that we’ll face in our lives as well.

Rather than being upset at others who sometimes seem to be in control of our lives—whether it’s a boss or a job, a government official or a family member, a friend or an enemy—we can trust that God is the one who controls them all. And even if He doesn’t control them directly, for He has given each of us free will as well, God does know the hearts of men and women and He can work all things together for good.

Although Nazareth wasn’t a hot spot in the Holy Land in Jesus’ day, God wasn’t bothered by its reputation. It was here where God chose to raise His Son and it was here where the Bible says,

“Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).

Your life is not random and the places where you live and work and eat and sleep are not arbitrary, regardless of the reputation they may or may not have. God has a plan for you, for your life, and for the situations that you’re facing even right now. He wants you to trust Him fully with that plan and follow Him wherever He leads—whether that’s staying where He wants you to stay or going where He wants you to go.

Trust Him with every aspect of your life and let Him take control of the direction it takes. It’s good to make plans for our lives, but it’s also good to let God take control of those plans when He has a better one. As it says in the book of Proverbs:

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for taking the random events of our lives and giving them purpose and meaning in ways that go beyond what we could think or imagine. Lord, we commit to trusting You again today, giving You full control over the course of our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 6: What Happened On The Sea Of Galilee?

Today, we’re visiting the Sea of Galilee.  If you’d like to see—and hear—what the water looks like at the Sea of Galilee today, take a look at the short video below. It’s a beautiful spot in the land of Israel and the site of some of Jesus’ most memorable miracles. Then read on to see how putting your faith in Christ can help you through some of the toughest situations in your life.

Watch “What Happened On The Sea Of Galilee?”

So what happened on the Sea of Galilee?  This is where Jesus spent much of His time after He left His boyhood home of Nazareth.  In the coming weeks, I’ll be talking about several of the miracles that took place here that touched people’s hearts and lives.

But today I’d like to focus on two that took place out on the sea itself: when Jesus walked on water and when He calmed the storm that threatened the lives of His disciples.

Jesus is an expert at walking through storms. The miracle that He did on the Sea of Galilee wasn’t the first time He displayed His giftedness for this. Just before coming to the Sea of Galilee, Jesus walked unscathed through another storm that threatened to take His own life.

Maybe you remember that when Jesus lived in Nazareth, He went to the synagogue one day and read from the scroll of Isaiah. At first, all the people spoke well of Him, being amazed at “the gracious words that came from His lips.” But after quoting from the words of Isaiah—referring to the Messiah that was to come—Jesus added:

“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21b).

Imagine growing up in the same city with Jesus—the guy down the block who did carpentry with His dad—then He gets up and says that He’s the Messiah, the One about whom the prophet Isaiah had written about some 700 years earlier. You’d think that Jesus was either a lunatic or a liar. He couldn’t possibly be telling the truth, could He?

So the crowd turned on Him. The Bible says:

“All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove Him out of the town, and took Him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. But He walked right through the crowd and went on His way” (Luke 4:28-30).

The crowd went from calm to stormy in a matter of seconds. They went from praising Jesus to taking Him to the edge of a cliff to throw Him off within a matter of minutes. But Jesus wasn’t phased by their words of praise nor their acts of violence. He simply said what He had to say, then “walked right through the crowd and went on His way.”

So when the storm came up on His disciples on the Sea of Galilee some time later, Jesus wasn’t phased by it either. He and His disciples had just finished a long day of ministering to thousands, having heard earlier in the day that John the Baptist had just been beheaded. Jesus headed off to a mountainside to pray, telling His disciples to get into the boat and head to the other side.

The story picks up here:

When evening came, He was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

That’s when Jesus famously called Peter to come out to Him and walk on the water and which Peter did until he saw the wind and the waves and started to sink again. So Jesus reached out His hand and took hold of Peter’s and pulled him back up.

The story finishes by saying:

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:23b-33).

There are two things that I’d like to mention about this storm. The first is that Jesus is the one who sent them into it. And the second is that Jesus is the one who brought them out of it.

Just like in Nazareth, Jesus didn’t worry about the wind and the waves.  In the case of the angry crowd, Jesus had nothing to fear.  It was the crowd who was fearful by what Jesus was saying and acted wrongfully because of it. Jesus did what was right and when He was done He simply walked through the crowd and went on His way.

In the same way, when Jesus needed to get to the other side of the lake, He wasn’t phased by the fact that strong waves lay ahead. He sent His disciples into the waves and He went into them Himself afterward. Jesus wasn’t afraid of the storm. Jesus just kept doing what He needed to do and His disciples did what He told them to.

There are times when I’ve felt like I was being thrown into a storm—and it seemed like it was Jesus who was throwing me into it! I’ve learned that the best thing to do in those times is to hold onto Jesus as tight as I can. I know that Jesus knows best how to walk through them, whether I’m facing an angry crowd or some wind and some waves.

You may find yourself in the middle of a storm right now, too. The circumstances of your life may be buffeting against you. You may be facing things that are threatening your health, your family, your relationships, your job, your career, your finances or your friends. The threats may be very real and the prospects ahead may look very grim.

I want to encourage you to hold onto Jesus as tight as you can. Keep walking through the wind and the waves. Keep walking towards Jesus, the Messiah, the Author and Sustainer of your life. And even if you start to sink, know that Jesus is right beside you to take hold of your hands and pull you in close. Hold on tight and never let Him go. He’s the One who knows best how to walk through a storm. Let Him speak to you the words He spoke to His disciples that night on the Sea of Galilee:

“Take courage, it is I! Don’t be afraid.”

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for sending Jesus to help us through the storms we face. Thank You for reminding us that it’s sometimes even Jesus who sends us into the storms in the first place. Lord, help us to have the faith to trust in Him, no matter what, and to trust that whether it’s Him who sent us into the storm or not, that He’s the One who can bring us through it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 7: What Happened In Capernaum?

I was surprised when I visited the city of Capernaum to learn about all the things that Jesus did there. It shouldn’t have been surprising, however, for Capernaum served as the home base for most of Jesus’ ministry, having moved there when He left His boyhood home of Nazareth. To hear about some of the things that Jesus did in Capernaum, take a look at the forty-second video below. Then read on to see how Jesus is still working today in the same ways that He did in Capernaum.

Watch “What Happened In Capernaum?”

So what happened in Capernaum? This is where Jesus healed many people. Here’s a sampling of the healings that took place there:

  • He healed the centurion’s servant
  • He healed the paralytic and forgave him of his sins
  • He healed the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years
  • He healed Jairus’ daughter, raising her from the dead
  • and He healed two blind men.

The common thread running through each of these stories is that the people were healed by faith in Christ.

In the story of the centurion’s servant, Jesus commends his faith, saying:

“I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith…” Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour (Matthew 8:10b,13).

In the story of the paralytic, Jesus took note of his friends’ faith:

When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic,

“Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” … Then He said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home. (Matthew 9:2b,6b-7).

In the story of the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, Jesus said:

“Take heart, daughter, your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment (Matthew 9:22b).

In the story of Jairus’ daughter, Jesus said:

“Don’t be afraid; just believe.” … He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ (which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’ ). Immediately the girl stood up and walked around… (Mark 5:36b, 41-42a).

And in the story of the two blind men, before Jesus healed them, He asked them a question:

“Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

“Yes, Lord,” they replied.

Then He touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you”; and their sight was restored (Matthew 9:28b-30a).

It was this last story that surprised me the most when I read that it took place in Capernaum, for it was this story that inspired me to put my faith in Christ 23 years ago. I had no idea that it took place there in Capernaum until I was preparing for this trip to Israel. It was a detail I had overlooked at the time.

When I had read the story 23 years ago, I was walking along a road in Houston, Texas. I was about 7,000 miles away from Capernaum and it was about 2,000 years later. I was asking God for a healing in my own life. I felt like Jesus was asking me the same question: “Eric, do you believe I am able to do this, too?”

I thought about everything Jesus had ever done—how He healed the sick, walked on water and raised the dead. I thought if anyone could do it, Jesus could. So I put my hand up in the air, and for the first time in my life, I truly put my faith in Christ. Like the blind men, I said, “Yes, Lord.” And like the blind men, I was healed in that moment.

By the next day I had put my faith in Christ for everything in my life. I asked Him to forgive me of my sins and trusted Him to take me to live with Him forever when I died. (If you’d like to read more of this story, you can read it on my website at www.theranch.org.)

The course of my life changed that day, and it was all based on a story that took place in Capernaum. To stand there when we visited Israel and think about what happened then and how it had affected me now was astounding. What a blessing that these stories have been recorded for us and can touch our lives in such life-changing ways.

Faith in Christ is a powerful thing. But you don’t have to take my word for it—you can take His word for it! According to His word, it was by faith that the centurion’s servant was healed; by faith, the paralytic was forgiven of his sins and healed of his paralysis; by faith, the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years was healed; by faith, Jairus’ daughter was raised from the dead; and by faith, the sight of the blind men had restored.

If you need God to do something in your life that you can’t seem to do on your own, I’d like to encourage you to put your faith in Christ, and keep putting your faith in Him for everything in Your life. You’ll be glad you did.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for the inspiring stories of faith that took place in Capernaum. I pray that You would reach out to us in the same way today, doing the impossible for those who are willing to put their faith in You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 8: What Happened On The Mount Of Beatitudes?

The Mount of Beatitudes is one of the many hills that rise up around the Sea of Galilee. It was here that Jesus preached His famous “Sermon on the Mount,” blessing thousands of people who had gathered to hear Him speak. But why is it called the Mount of “Beatitudes,” and what else did Jesus do on this hill for those who gathered here? Take a look at the short video below to hear more and to get a view of the mountain itself.  Then read on to see how Jesus can bless you today—and how you can be a blessing to Him!

Watch “What Happened On The Mount Of Beatitudes?”

So what happened on the Mount of Beatitudes? “Beatitude” means “blessing,” and this is where Jesus spoke about the many blessings that God offers to those who believe in Him, such as:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled…” (Matthew 5:3-6).

This is also where Jesus demonstrated His blessings to the crowd by multiplying five loaves of bread and two fish into a feast that fed five thousand. The Bible says:

“Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to His disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand” (Mark 6:39-44).

It’s a remarkable story, and Jesus still does similar things today. I’ve written about one such story that happened to me recently on our trip to Israel—and even culminated for me at the very spot where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes. (I’ve included this story at the end of this book, in the concluding chapter called “Making A Chance.”)

But as practical as Jesus’ teachings are, and as remarkable as His ability to multiply loaves and fish is, Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes a step farther and offers us more: an abundant life in Him. But sometimes we’re the ones who shortchange what Jesus has to offer us.

I heard a story about a boy who went to his uncle’s farm every summer for a few days. When the boy would arrive, his uncle would greet him with pockets full of nickels jingling at his sides. After a few minutes of talking with each other, the uncle reached into his pocket and handed his nephew a nickel.

Throughout the next few days, the uncle did the same thing over and over, spending a few minutes talking with the boy, then handing him a nickel; doing a chore or two, then handing the boy a nickel; taking a walk down the road together then handing the boy a nickel. By the end of those few days, the uncle’s pockets were empty and the boy’s pockets were full.

The next summer, the same thing happened. The uncle began with his pockets jangling with nickels and at the end of their time together, the boy’s pockets were full of nickels.

After a few summers, the boy got an idea. The next time he visited his uncle at the farm, he was again greeted by his uncle with his pockets full of nickels. The boy said: “Every summer by the end of my time with you, you always give me all the nickels in your pocket. So I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you just give me all the nickels right now, then I can go do what I want, and you can go do what you want without me around to bother you!”

Although the boy’s idea had merit at one level, it missed the point entirely at another. The reason the uncle gave the boy the nickels in the first place was because he loved spending as much time with the boy as he could. The uncle wanted to be with his nephew, and their time together always turned out to be precious to them both.

You can almost see this boy’s idea start to crop up in the hearts of the people who followed Jesus. The day after Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes, more boats arrived at the place where the miracle had occurred, but Jesus was no longer there. The Bible says:

Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor His disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

When they found Him on the other side of the lake, they asked Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for Me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:24-27a).

Jesus went on to remind them that God is eager to provide for their daily needs just as He provided bread from heaven—in the form of manna—every day for forty years while the Israelites wandered through the desert. But then Jesus added:

“I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:48-51a).

While Jesus is glad to give you practical advice for living, like He did in the Sermon on the Mount, He wants to give you more. And while He’s glad to meet your daily needs, as He did for those who ate the feast on the hillside, He wants to give you more.

Jesus wants to give you a relationship with Him, the living bread that came down from heaven. He doesn’t want to just give you money for the trip, He wants to be your companion along the journey. He doesn’t want to just give you a roadmap to where you’re going, He wants to go with you and guide you there Himself. Your relationship with Jesus takes precedence over everything He could ever teach you, or give you, in a lifetime.

I want to encourage you today: come to Jesus for His teachings, for they can change your life; and come to Him for your daily bread, for He’s still a God who can provide for all your needs with baskets full left over.

But don’t stop there. Don’t shortchange all that God wants to do for you today. Come to Him for life, and life abundant. Come to Him for a feast that never ends—eternal life with Him, a life that starts here on earth and goes on forever. As Jesus told those on the hillside:

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty….If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:35,51b).

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for blessing us with Your life and Your words. Help us to look to You for our daily bread, but not to stop there. Help us to look to You for bread that will last forever, bread that comes only through an ongoing relationship with You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

 

Lesson 9: What Happened At Caesarea Philippi?

Caesarea Philippi is on the northern edge of Israel in a beautiful region known as Dan. But the things that took place there weren’t always so beautiful. To find out more, watch the short video below, then read on to find out how God can do beautiful things for you even if you’re in a very dark place.

Watch “What Happened At Caesarea Philippi?”

So what happened at Caesarea Philippi? This is where God revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Caesarea Philippi was also home to a cultic temple carved into the side of a massive rock that was called at that time “the gates of hell.” It was so named because of the infant sacrifices that took place there in the years leading up to the time of Christ.

With this background in mind, the words that Jesus spoke on this spot are even more meaningful. Here’s what happened, as recorded in the book of Matthew:

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:13-19).

I never realized until I went to Israel what a dark place Caesarea Philippi must have been in the days when Jesus was speaking.

The Temple of Pan had been built there a few hundred years earlier, and when people came to worship Pan, they would bring with them an infant child to be offered as a sacrifice. The child was thrown into the water that flowed from the rock on the side of the cliff. If the child went under the water and disappeared, that meant Pan had accepted their sacrifice. If instead, the child’s was dashed apart under water and its blood flowed into the river below, Pan had rejected their sacrifice. Either way, the child’s life was over.

Not only was this area known for this pagan temple, but the Israelites had also rejected God in this region hundreds of years before that. Way back in the days of King Jeroboam, Jeroboam ruled Israel from this area.  But for fear that the people would want to leave his kingdom and side with the breakaway kingdom of Judah, he erected two altars in this area instead. He made two golden calves and said to the people:

“It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” One he set up in Bethel and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there (1 Kings 12:28b-29).

So this region of Dan, at the northernmost border of Israel, which is so beautiful and hilly and rich on the outside, had been a place of great darkness spiritually. In Jesus’ day, with the Temple of Pan located there, it was an even darker place. Yet this is where God chose to reveal to Peter and the other disciples that Jesus was the Christ. The darkness wasn’t a problem for Him, for He was, as He called Himself, “the light of the world.” Jesus 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).

Perhaps you’re in a dark time or a dark place in your life today. Or perhaps you have family or friends who are surrounded by darkness. If so, I want to encourage you to take heart: Jesus can reveal Himself even in the darkest of times and places. In fact, based on the time and place where He made this revelation to Peter, Jesus seems to delight in doing just that.

I also want to encourage you to make sure your faith in Christ is profoundly personal. By that I mean, don’t just take someone else’s word for it that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Make sure that this is something that you believe deeply yourself. If you look at Jesus’ questions in the passage above, you’ll see that He started by asking His disciples what others said about Him. “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples replied:

“Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

It’s sometimes safe and easy to talk about Jesus in terms of what others believe about Him. If asked who He is, some people might say, “Well, my grandmother thinks He’s God, “ or “My parents believe He’s the Messiah,” or “My friends say that He’s their Savior.” But after Jesus asked the disciples what others said about Him, He turned to them directly and asked who they thought He was.

“But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?”

There comes a point in life when you can no longer rely solely on the faith of others to get you through the trials you’re facing. You can no longer waver between what others say about Christ. My prayer is that you’ll be able to say, like Peter said:

“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

“The Christ” (Greek) and “the Messiah” (Hebrew) both mean the same thing: “the Anointed One.”

If you’ve never put your faith in Jesus, trusting and believing that He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the One who came to die for your sins and bring light into your world, I encourage you to do it today. And if you’ve already put your faith in Christ, know that He is a Savior who delights in revealing Himself even in the darkest of places. Keep on praying that He will reveal Himself again and again to you, to your family and friends, and to the rest of the world.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for revealing that Jesus is indeed the long-awaited Messiah, the Savior of all who put their faith in Him. Help us to see that revelation for ourselves in a fresh way today, and help others see Him that way as well, no matter how dark it may seem all around them right now. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 10: What Happened At The Jordan River?

For today’s message, I’d like to take you to one of the world’s most famous rivers, the Jordan River in Israel. The waters of this river flow about 200 miles from the north of Israel to the south, passing through the Sea of Galilee in the north, then continuing its final destination at the Dead Sea in the south. To find out some of the things that took place on this historic river, take a look at the short video below that I shot on the banks of the river itself, then read on to hear about how very much God loves you—and how you can express your love back to Him.

(I’ve also included in the video an actual baptism at the Jordan River, this one of my son Josiah. You’ll note as you watch that there are some overly friendly fish in the river who love nibbling at people’s toes! The fish are harmless, but they do make the baptism all the more… uhmm… exciting!)

Watch “What Happened At The Jordan River?”

So what happened at the Jordan River? This is where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. This is also where John the Baptist baptized thousands of people, as did Jesus’ disciples.

The Jordan River has also been the site of many other events over several thousand years of history, such as:

  • when Joshua and the Israelites crossed the Jordan River on dry ground as they entered into the Promised Land (Joshua 3:14-17),
  • when Naaman was healed of leprosy in the Jordan (2 Kings 5:8-14),
  • when Elisha made an ax head float on top of the water (2 Kings 6:1-7),
  • and when Elijah was taken up into heaven after crossing the Jordan with Elijah (2 Kings 2:6-12).

But of all the events that took place in the Jordan, perhaps the most famous is the baptism of Jesus. And what makes that event so special to me is not just what Jesus did there, but what God the Father said to Jesus when Jesus was baptized there. Here’s the story, as recorded in Matthew chapter 3:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on Him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:13-17).

I love the fact that God, the Father, told Jesus, His Son, how very much He loved Him—even before Jesus did one miracle, before He healed anyone of any disease, before He preached any sermon, walked on the water, or raised anyone from the dead.

God, the Father, loved Jesus, not because of all that Jesus had done for Him, but because Jesus was His Son.

And the truth is, God loves you for the same reason, not because of all you’ve done for Him, but simply because you’re His son or daughter, made in His image, and created for a loving relationship with Him from the moment He conceived you (which, by the way, could have been long before the time that your parents conceived you…see Jeremiah 1:5, for example). God loves you. He adores you. He created you. And He has so much in store for you and your life.

The good news is you don’t have to go to the Jordan River to let God love on you. He’s glad to soak you in His love wherever you may be. How can you feel God’s love more in your life? One way is to just take a few minutes to sit and meditate on the truth that He does indeed love you. Read the passage of Jesus’ baptism again from Matthew chapter 3 and remember that He loves you just as He loved Jesus, even before Jesus began His ministry.

Remember that you’re His child, His little one, His beloved. Remember that He sent Jesus to die for the sins in your life, the messes that you’ve made, so that you won’t have to pay the price for those sins yourself. Remember that His love extends for generations to those who love Him. And remember that you really are special, a wonderful creation of the most loving Father in the world.

And while you’re considering this passage on Jesus’ baptism, can I also encourage you that if you’ve never been baptized to consider being baptized soon? There’s something special that comes from being obedient to the Lord’s command in this area. Jesus’ words about baptism were so important that He included them in His final instructions to His disciples before going into heaven. Jesus said:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19).

I’ve studied the topic of baptism for many years, yet I can honestly say that I still don’t understand it fully. But what I do understand is that something powerful takes place when a person is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I’ve seen baptism can touch people in so many ways, from realizing that they truly are saved and going to heaven, to feeling like their sins are dripping off of them as they come out of the water, to receiving new giftings from God to help them make the most of their new lives in Christ.

As a follower of Christ, baptism is one of those steps that demonstrate you are willing to follow in His footsteps, being baptized as He was baptized and then living the rest of your life as He lived His.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for loving us even before we ever did anything for You, and regardless of anything that we’ve done against You. We pray that You would pour out Your love on us again today in a way that we can hear it, see it, feel it, or otherwise sense it. Lord, we also pray that You would show us ways that we can express our love back to You, whether it is by being baptized ourselves, or in some other way, for our desire is to pour out our love on You as well. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 11: What Will Happen At The Dead Sea?

The Dead Sea was one of my favorite stops on our trip to Israel. Maybe it was because we had some extra time to relax there because of a change in our schedule. Or maybe it was because the land and the water were so unusually beautiful. But I think the main reason I liked it so much is because of what will happen there in the future. To see what it looks like yourself, and to find out what God is going to do there one day, take a look at this short video below. Then read on to find out what God could do in your life in unexpected ways as well.

Watch “What Will Happen At The Dead Sea?”

So what will happen at the Dead Sea? Everything will come back to life! To understand how dramatic this change will be, you have to understand how dead the Dead Sea really is.

The Dead Sea is the lowest spot on earth at almost 1,400 hundred feet below sea level. It’s also the saltiest body of water on earth, with a salinity of 30-33%, which is about six to seven times saltier than the oceans. Because of this, and whatever other reasons God has chosen, nothing is able to live in the Dead Sea whatsoever. There are no fish in the water, so there are no birds in the air. There’s no grass along the shoreline, and no algae growing along its edges. The Dead Sea really is dead!

For some reason, I used to picture the Dead Sea as some kind of smelly swamp filled with dead things. But actually there’s nothing “dead” in it. There are no dead fish on the shore and the water is as clear as crystal, giving a clear view of millions of shimmering crystals of salt that cover the bottom of the sea itself. In the Bible, it’s not called the Dead Sea, but rather the “Sea of Salt,” which is perhaps is a bit more descriptive. It’s also referred to as the Eastern Sea, as it is on the East side of Israel, and just southeast of Jerusalem.

Given this background of just how desolate the sea is, it’s even more remarkable to read about what God is going to do there one day. You can read about it in the book of Ezekiel, chapter 47. God gave Ezekiel a vision of the future, showing him the new temple that would one day be in Jerusalem. And out from beneath this temple, a river would flow—a river of life, all the way to the Dead Sea. Ezekiel says:

Then he led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Sea [the Dead Sea]. When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Great Sea [the Mediterranean]. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing” (Ezekiel 47:6b-12).

The prophet Zechariah also makes reference to this event, saying:

On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea [the Dead Sea] and half to the western sea [the Mediterranean], in summer and in winter (Zechariah 14:8).

When you’re standing at the edge of the Dead Sea, it’s awesome to consider that one day it will be teeming with life—that one day, living water will pour out from underneath the temple in Jerusalem to bring life to all the water touches, even filling this great basin of the Dead Sea with enough fresh water to bring this barren spot back to life.

Having read through many of the other prophecies in the Bible and visited the spots where they’ve already been fulfilled—such as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah that God foretold to Abraham and took place near here, or the birth of the Savior that God told Micah would take place in Bethlehem hundreds of years before Jesus was born—I’m reassured that what has been foretold about the Dead Sea, and its coming back to life again, will take place just as certainly.

And it shouldn’t be surprising that God can bring things that have been dead back to life again. I’ve seen Him do it in my own life, giving me a new birth over twenty years ago when I thought I was headed for death, then giving me an abundant life instead. And I’ve seen God do the same thing in the lives of countless others as well, breathing new life into marriages that were officially dead, or bringing forth new life from wombs that doctors had declared physically dead.

I think of ministries and churches and corporations that have been on the brink of bankruptcy, without a hope in the world, but through hope in God have come back to life more fully and fruitfully than ever.

God specializes in bringing the dead back to life! This isn’t to say that God wants everything to live, for there are some things that should die in our lives, and other things that have run their course and need to pass on so that something fresh and new can be birthed. But there’s no doubt that God can breathe life into anything that He intends to bring back to life!

Maybe there’s something in your life right now that feels like it is dead or dying and you see no way in the world for it to come back to life. But don’t put your hope in the world. Put your hope in the Lord God Almighty, the Author and Sustainer of life itself!

Before you give up on that which may look dead today, consider Him who gives life and breath to every living thing that you see around you today. Be encouraged that the same God who raised Jesus from the dead can give life to your mortal bodies as well. Be encouraged that the same God who breathed life into Adam, who was made out of the dust of the ground, can breathe new life into your family, your business, your marriage, your ministry. Be encouraged that the river of life that will flow into the Dead Sea will bring life to all that it touches.

God loves to bring that which is dead back to life! Let His river of life flow into your life today!

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for showing us how you can breathe life into the most desolate places on earth, and encourage us that Your river of life can touch our lives as well. Lord, help us to have the faith that You can and You will bring new life back into everything that You have said should come back to life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 12: What Happened At Sodom And Gomorrah?

I’m not usually a “fire and brimstone” type of preacher.  But if there was ever a time to preach a message on fire and brimstone, it’s today, because today we’re going to look at the time when God rained fire and brimstone down from heaven on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because their wickedness had become so great. To find out what happened there, take a look at this short video below, then read on below to learn how powerful God really is, and how God can use that power in your life today.

Watch “What Happened At Sodom And Gomorrah?”

So what happened at Sodom and Gomorrah? God destroyed them completely. The destruction that took place at Sodom and Gomorrah was so complete that nothing has grown again in that region for thousands of years.

Compare that to the most powerful destruction men have invented, such as the atomic bombs which destroyed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the war with Japan, and you’ll see just how powerful God really is.

When the bombs were dropped on those cities, they were almost completely wiped out within seven seconds. But if you visited those cities just forty years later, although you would have found those cities had changed, you would have also found that they were teeming with life again. Buildings, trees, and people had grown up all around them. I’m told that except for the monuments that were erected to remind people of the horrific destruction that took place there years ago, visitors may not even realize the cities were once destroyed.

Sodom and Gomorrah, on the other hand, have never come back to life, and it’s not been just forty years, or four hundred years, but more than four thousand years.

While the cities themselves no longer exist, the memory of what happened there is often repeated. Abraham talked about Sodom and Gomorrah, as did Isaiah, Paul, Peter, John, and even Jesus. As for the condition of the land beforehand, we’re told that it wasn’t always a barren wasteland, but it was at one time “well-watered, like the garden of the Lord” (Genesis 13:10). It was such a desirable land that Lot chose to live there when Abraham gave him his choice of where to live.

But as desirable as the land may have been, the people of the land left much to be desired. Their wickedness had become so great that God sent two angels—in the form of men—down to Sodom to destroy it.

Although God’s patience is longer than ours, even His patience runs out. And that time had come for Sodom. God didn’t want to have to destroy it. He even told Abraham He would spare the entire city if He could find even ten righteous people living there. But when the angels arrived and went to spend the night with Lot and his family, the men of the city showed how far their wickedness had gone. The Bible says:

Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them” (Genesis 19:4-5).

Lot pleaded with them not to do this to his guests, but the men of Sodom persisted, saying:

“Get out of our way. This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door (Genesis 19:9).

No matter what you might think about the topic of homosexuality, the idea of men forcibly having sex with other men goes against God’s beautiful design for sex.

Through a miraculous intervention of the two angels, God whisked away Lot and his family, and finally did what He hoped He wouldn’t have to do. Genesis 19:23-26 says:

“Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the LORD out of the heavens. Thus He overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:24-26).

Although Lot and his two daughters escaped, Lot’s wife looked back, against the clear instruction of the angels who helped them to escape. Perhaps she hesitated and looked back to take one last look at the city where she had spent so much of her life.  Or maybe she was just curious and wanted to see for herself just how what such destruction might look like.  But whatever the reason, her looking back caused her to suffer the same fate as those who had also so deliberately gone against God’s commands—commands that were not designed to restrict or limit them, but commands that would help them to live, and live abundantly.

When Jesus talked about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, He warned people:

“Remember Lot’s wife!” (Luke 17:32).

I want to encourage you today to do the same: Remember Lot’s wife!

I know that some of you are playing with fire. You’re doing things that you know are against God’s will for your life. Whether you’re doing them because you’ve always done them, or whether you’re just curious and want to see what it’s like, you’re still playing with fire. And God’s fire can burn you seriously—and for eternity.

God may have been patient with you this far and not yet brought the complete destruction upon you that He could bring at any moment. But don’t mistake God’s patience as His approval of what you’re doing. The purpose of His patience is to give you time to turn from your sin so that you can save yourself from the destruction that’s coming upon you if you don’t.

Remember Lot’s wife! Turn from the coming destruction while you still have a chance. Do it today. Don’t hesitate. Don’t look back. Don’t let curiosity kill you. If you’ve been looking at pornography, stop it today. If you’ve been considering, or engaged in, and adulterous relationship, end it today. If you’ve been abusing drugs or alcohol, stop it today. If you’ve been using God’s gift of sex in ways that are selfish instead of ways that lead to an abundant life, stop it today. Remember Lot’s wife, and live!

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for reminding us of Your incredible power and Your incredible patience with us. Lord, help us to throw off everything that hinders us from beautiful relationship with You and with those around us. Fill us with Your power to do all that You’ve called us to do today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 13: What Happened At Masada?

In America, the “Fourth of July” is not just a date on the calendar, but to us is a phrase that is synonymous with the word “Freedom!” In Israel, there’s a place called Masada that symbolizes for many Jews the fight for freedom as well, a fight that took place there back in 73 A.D.

To find out what happened and take a look at the mountain of Masada yourself, take a look at this short video below.  Then read on to find out how taking a stand for freedom can inspire and impact those around you as well.

Watch “What Happened At Masada?”

So what happened at Masada? This is the place where almost 1,000 Jews committed suicide. As gruesome as it may sound, the truth is that these people were so committed to the idea of staying free that they preferred to die free than to live as slaves.

Although the story of Masada doesn’t appear in the Bible, and the suicidal aspects of the story go against traditional Jewish beliefs, what happened at Masada still makes a profound statement about the lengths people are willing to go for freedom. In some ways, it reminds me of Patrick Henry’s famous words at the beginning of the American Revolution:  “Give me liberty, or give me death!”

But while Patrick’s Henry’s speech was a call to fight for the freedom in which they believed, for the 960 Jewish rebels who had been holed up in the mountain of Masada as a fortress from which they launched their attacks on the Roman Empire, fighting was no longer an option. The Romans had sent thousands of troops to Masada to take back this fortress that King Herod and others had developed over the years. (The word “masada” means “fortress.”)

Because of the steep cliffs that protected Masada from its enemies, the Romans could not simply rush into the fortress to take it back. Instead, they moved tons of sand and dirt over the period of three years to build a siege ramp from the base of the mountain to its top. The ramp, as well as the remains of the Roman camps that were built in those days to house the armies for those three years, can still be seen clearly today.

It was a massive undertaking by the Roman government that finally culminated in the year 73 A.D., within a generation after the time when Jesus Christ had lived and died.

But when the Romans finally reached the top of Masada and broke through the gates, they found that the battle for which they had prepared for so long would not have to take place. The 960 rebels had, days earlier, realized that a fight would not be profitable. And rather than giving up their freedom to worship God in the way they believed, they gave up their lives, dying free, rather than living as slaves under Roman rule.

The story of their faith and how they came to their final end was documented by those who lived inside Masada. Interestingly, as a way to avoid committing wholesale suicide which was against their own teachings, each man drew lots and took turns taking the lives of their own families and friends, until finally only one man remained who alone killed himself.

While there’s nothing scriptural to justify suicide, this story serves as a reminder of just how precious freedom really is, and to what lengths people will go to get it, rather than to live in slavery any longer.

It was the same sort of commitment the men who signed the U.S. Declaration of Independence made when they wrote:

“…we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor” (from the final sentence of the Declaration of Independence).

And many of those who signed the Declaration of Independence did give up their lives and fortunes because of that pledge of sacred honor to one another.

Christ calls us to do the same.

Jesus frequently invited people to “come and see” what the kingdom of heaven was all about, then challenged them to go deeper and to “come and die” for that kingdom of heaven.

Here are a few of the things that Jesus said about the cost of freedom that could come to those who follow Him:

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35).

“If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for My sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).

Jesus wants us to be as committed to Him and to the freedom that He offers as were those who were committed to freedom at Masada, as were those who were committed to freedom in America.

There’s a price to pay for freedom that Christ offers. But when you’re following Christ, any price is worth it. And once you’re willing to die for Jesus, you’ll find it’s so much easier to live for Him as well.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for dying for us to set us free, and help us to be willing to die to set others free as well. And Lord, help us realize that being willing to die for You will free to us to live for You even more.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 14: What Happened At The Qumran Caves?

The Qumran Caves are the site of what has been called “the greatest archaeological discovery of modern time.” To find out what was discovered there, take a look at this short video below. Then read on to see how this tremendous discovery can affect your life in profound ways today, too.

Watch “What Happened At The Qumran Caves?”

So what happened at the Qumran Caves? That’s where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. And the scrolls found at Qumran aren’t just any old scrolls. They contain the oldest hand-written manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, that have ever been found.

Because the scrolls were made of animal skins and parchment, both of which are easily carbon-dated, the ages of these scrolls have been reliably dated as having been written between the years of 200 BC and 68 AD.C and 68 AD. It was quite a find for the shepherd boy who discovered the caves and the scrolls back in 1947, and for the many scholars and archaeologists who have found more caves and more scrolls in the Qumran area since that time.

Among the thousands of scrolls and scroll fragments that have been found, at least a portion of every book of the Old Testament has been discovered to date, with the exception of the book of Esther. Multiple copies of some of the scrolls have been found, such as the books of Psalms, Genesis, and Deuteronomy, and some of the books have been found in their entirety, such as the book of Isaiah.

What makes this discovery so exciting to researchers is that the books are so very old. For instance, the Isaiah scroll is 1,000 years older than any previously discovered copy of Isaiah. And even more exciting is the high level of accuracy of today’s translations of the Bible when compared to these scrolls from the time of Christ.

Archaeological finds like those at the Qumran Caves continue to shed light and credibility on the Scriptures that we use today. In the words of the book of Isaiah itself:

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

When you look out at the barren mountains that surround Qumran, and see how the grass has withered, the flowers have fallen, and even the people who lived there have faded away, it’s an awesome thought to think that the Word of God still stands.

The fact that God’s Word has remained true for all this time confirms to me that the same words He spoke to the people back then, God wants to speak to you today.

When God says in the book of Jeremiah,

“I have loved you with an everlasting love,” (Jeremiah 31:3). 

He meant it then, and He means it today.

When God says in the book of Joshua,

“I will never leave you nor forsake you,” (Joshua 1:5), 

He meant it then, and He means it today.

When God said in the book of Isaiah,

“…those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

He meant it then, and He means it today.

God loves you, He will never leave you nor forsake you, and He will give you the strength you need to fulfill the purpose for which He created you, if you’ll continue to put your hope and faith in Him.

Even though the grass withers and the flowers fade away, the Word of God will stand forever, as evidenced once again by the ancient scrolls that were found in the caves at Qumran. God is faithful and true, and His Word is powerful and reliable.

Keep reading God’s Word. Keep hiding it in your heart and memorizing it regularly. Keep meditating on it day and night, as God told Joshua to do in Joshua 1:8. Don’t let this ancient treasure that has been preserved for so long be wasted. Keep opening up your Bible again and again, and let God’s Living Word breathe life into your daily walk with Him.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for preserving these ancient manuscripts of Your Word for all of these years. Thank You for confirming to us that Your Word is reliable and true, and for giving us the inspiration we need to keep reading it, memorizing it and meditating on it day and night, so that we may experience the fullness of the life for which we were created. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 15: What Happened At En Gedi?

In the midst of the barren hills that surround the Dead Sea, there’s a surprising oasis of life. It’s called En Gedi, where a fresh water spring pours over steep crevices in the rock, creating a series of beautiful waterfalls and pools as the spring winds its way from the top to the bottom. To find out how God used this oasis to protect and provide for one of the most famous characters in the Bible, take a look at this short video below. Then read on to learn how God can help you when you feel you are being treated unjustly.

Watch “What Happened At En Gedi?”

So what happened at En Gedi? This is where David came to hide from King Saul when Saul was trying to kill David. But Saul wasn’t always angry with David. In fact, David was one of Saul’s favorites. David was called to come and live at the palace to play the harp for Saul, bringing great relief to the king every time David played.

But when David’s fame began to grow as one of the best warriors in Saul’s army, Saul became jealous. Fearing that the people would like David more than him, Saul tried to kill David by pinning him to a wall with his spear.

David tried to talk things out with Saul, reminding the king that David had never done anything wrong against him, but the conversations appeased Saul for only a short time. Then Saul was back to trying to kill David again because of Saul’s burning jealousy. It soon became apparent that David would die if he stayed in the palace any longer.

So David fled. He went from place to place as Saul and his men tried to hunt him down. One of the places that God provided for David was En Gedi. The book of 1 Samuel says:

After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of En Gedi.” So Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats (1 Samuel 24:1-2).

If you were to visit En Gedi today, you would see why David fled there. It featured an oasis of fresh spring water in the middle of the barren hills that surround the Dead Sea, with many caves in the hills where he could hide. It’s an ideal spot to hide and be refreshed at the same time, and wild goats still climb the steep cliffs today, probably descendants from the wild goats for which the area was named back in David’s time.

It was in one of these caves that Saul stopped for a bathroom break. In God’s timing, it happened to be the very cave in which David and his men were hiding. The Bible says:

He [Saul] came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. The men said, “Today the LORD is saying, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’ Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe (1 Samuel 24:3-4).

But after cutting off the corner of Saul’s robe, David was conscience-stricken that he should not do anything to harm the one that God had chosen as king, nor would he let any of his men attack Saul. When Saul left the cave, David followed after him and called out to Saul:

“My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He said to Saul, “Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you’? This day you have seen with your own eyes how the LORD delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lift my hand against my master, because he is the LORD’s anointed.’ See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. Now understand and recognize that I am not guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. May the LORD judge between you and me. And may the LORD avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you. Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea? May the LORD be our judge and decide between us. May He consider my cause and uphold it; may He vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.”

David did three things at En Gedi that I think are worth learning from when we feel we are being treated unjustly

First, he fled from a bad situation. While God may sometimes call you to stay in a bad situation to do all you can to work things out, there are still those times when it’s truly OK to flee from it. David did his best to try to talk things out with Saul, but when it became apparent that his very life was in danger if he stayed any longer, he fled. Jesus did the same thing at times, escaping quickly from people and places where people wanted to harm or kill Him, such as escaping from a crowd that wanted to throw Him over the cliff, or fleeing from those who tried to stone Him at the temple, or when He escaped the grasp of those who tried to kill Him as He walked through Solomon’s Colonnade (see Luke 4:28-30, John 8:59, and John 10:39).

Second, David trusted God to protect and provide for him. Sometimes you may not want to flee from a bad situation because of the fear that something worse will happen to you. But if God is in it, He can protect and provide for you as well. God can provide a place for you like He provided En Gedi for David. It may not be like the place from which you came, but if it’s God’s provision, it can be just what you need, and a remarkable place in its own right. God protected and provided for the Israelites in the desert after they fled from their captors in Egypt, giving them manna and meat to eat for forty years. And He did the same for Elijah when Elijah fled from King Ahab, sending bread and meat to Elijah every morning and evening by way of birds who were directed by God to do so (see Exodus 16:35, Numbers 11:31-32, and 1 Kings 17:4-6).

Third, David trusted God to administer justice. Even though you may have a chance to administer justice yourself to those who wrongfully accuse or harm you, you may benefit by taking this lesson from David. He could have killed Saul himself, but then he would have had to face 3,000 angry troops next. By trusting the matter into God’s hands, Saul was eventually punished for his wrongdoings, losing his life in battle, and David was brought back to live at the palace, this time as king. Even Jesus, for as many times as He escaped from the hands of His captors, trust God to administer the ultimate justice when God told Him to lay down His life for those who sinned against Him. Because of this, the Bible says:

Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

Jesus trusted God to make things right in the end—and make things right He did—just like David trusted God, and just like you and I can do when we feel like others are treating us unjustly.

There are many other things you can do in situations like these, such as forgiving those who mistreat you (see Matthew 18:21-35) or calling for help from others who can step in and help with the situation (see Matthew 18:15-17).

Whether you flee or whether you stay, whether the situation improves or gets worse, know that God can protect and provide for you in the midst of it, and that He can work all things for good in the end. Remember David at En Gedi, and remember what the Bible says:

“… that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for giving us the example of David and Saul, so we can learn from them to see just how much You can do for those who love You. And Lord, help us to to keep putting our trust in You that You will always work all things for good in Your way and in Your timing. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 16: What Happened At Bethlehem?

Today we’re headed to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.  If you’d like to go with me into the Church of the Nativity and see for yourself the place underneath the altar of the church that has marked for centuries where they believe Jesus was born, take a look at this short video below. Then read on to learn why God might have chosen this place for the birth of His Son, and why having a heart like God’s can bear fruit even hundreds—if not thousands—of years later.

Watch “What Happened At Bethlehem?”

So what happened at Bethlehem? That’s where Jesus was born.

The Church of the Nativity has marked the spot ever since 327 A.D., when the church was built at the request of Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine. Helena was shown this spot on her visit to the Holy Land as the birthplace of her Savior, and she had a church built there to commemorate it. The spot had already been noted as the birthplace of Jesus for hundreds of years before that time by locals and historians alike, such as Justin Martyr in the 2nd century, and Origen of Alexandria in the 3rd.

It’s amazing to think that Jesus was born on this spot, but it’s even more amazing to think that Jesus was ever born at all. To think that God, the Father, would love us so much that He would send His Son into the world to live among us, to tell us of His love, and to demonstrate that love by giving up His life for us so we could live with God forever, that’s what’s really amazing.

As Jesus said so succinctly:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

But why Bethlehem? Why did God want His Son to be born there? As with most things God does, God didn’t pick the city of Bethlehem out of a hat of possible locations at the last minute. He had foretold it, hundreds of years earlier, through the prophet Micah:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).

But why? What was it about Bethlehem that made it so special that God would honor it in this way? I don’t know for sure, but I do know that there was another man born in Bethlehem about a thousand years earlier about whom God had said:

“I have found David son of Jesse a man after My own heart; he will do everything I want him to do” (Acts 13:22b).

God honors those whose hearts are after His own heart:  people who love God so much that they will do whatever He wants them to do, whenever He wants them to do it and however God wants them to do it.

And look what God did for David as a result:

“From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as He promised” (Acts 13:23).

I don’t think it was haphazard that God chose Bethlehem as the birthplace of His Son. It seems to me that because David had honored God with his life, God honored David with the life of His Son, even so many generations later.

Because of David’s love for God, God seemed to move heaven and earth, and even the Roman Emperor, to orchestrate things so that this descendant of David’s would be born back in David’s hometown. As Luke records:

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. …And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 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, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:1,3-7).

Even the angels made the connection between Jesus’ birthplace and David’s, as one of them told the shepherds on the hills of Bethlehem that night:

“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10b-11).

David was a man after God’s own heart, and God honored his heart even a thousand years later. I pray you’ll commit today to being a man or woman after God’s own heart. You’ll be blessed—and so will future generations who will be blessed through your faith.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for sending Jesus to us here on earth, to live and die for us so that we could live with You forever. Help us commit to being men and women after Your own heart, so that we can bless Your heart, and the hearts of those in generations to come. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 17: What’s The Capital Of Israel?

We’ve been traveling all around the country of Israel during this study, but now we’re going to focus on just one city for the remaining lessons: the capital city of Israel. To take a look this incredible place, and to see what the future holds for it, take a look at this short video below. Then read on to learn what happened there in the past and why what’s going to happen there in the future is so important to us all.

Watch “What’s The Capital Of Israel?”

So what’s the capital of Israel? Jerusalem.  Jerusalem became the capital of Israel in the year 993 B.C.—about 3,000 years ago—when King David moved from Hebron to Jerusalem. The Bible says:

“David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years” (2 Samuel 5:4-5).

Jerusalem also became the spiritual capital of Israel at that time, for soon after King David arrived, he had the Ark of the Covenant brought into the city as well. If you remember from the book of Exodus, the Ark of the Covenant was an ornate wooden box covered with gold which contained the “covenant” between God and the Israelites in the form of the Ten Commandments, inscribed on two stone tablets by the finger of God Himself. God told the Israelites that He would make a dwelling for His name there above the ark, and that from there He would meet with them and speak with them (see Exodus 25:10-22).

So even though God certainly isn’t confined to any one location, there was something special about this ark. When David’s son, Solomon, built the temple in Jerusalem to house the Ark of the Covenant, Solomon said:

“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain You. How much less this temple I have built!  Yet give attention to Your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that Your servant is praying in Your presence this day. May Your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which You said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that You will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. Hear the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, Your dwelling place, and when You hear, forgive” (1 Kings 8:27-30).

Throughout the Bible, God said that He would choose a place for His Name, a place where His presence would rest, and that people should seek Him in that place and worship Him there. For instance, in Deuteronomy 12, God told the Israelites:

“You must not worship the LORD your God in their way. But you are to seek the place the LORD your God will choose from among all your tribes to put His Name there for His dwelling. To that place you must go; there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. There, in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the LORD your God has blessed you” (Deuteronomy 12:4-7).

So when Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, people came to worship there from all over, and continued to come for the next thousand years until the time of Christ.

But when Jesus came, things changed. Jesus was, of course, Emmanuel, which means, “God with us.” God, through His Son Jesus Christ, came to dwell among His people in real live flesh and blood. As the apostle John said so eloquently:

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14a).

And God’s plan to dwell among His people didn’t stop there. He said that He would continue to dwell among His people wherever they lived, even after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus talked about these coming changes in a conversation with a woman from Samaria. The woman said:

“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem” (John 4:20).

Jesus responded:

“Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-24).

Less than forty years after Jesus said these words, in the year 70 A.D., Jerusalem was attacked by the Romans and the temple was completely destroyed, never to be rebuilt again.

Jesus foresaw this coming destruction of Jerusalem, and when He did, He wept over the city. The Bible says:

“As He approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace―but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you’” (Luke 19:41-44).

Although the city was destroyed as Jesus foretold, and the temple along with it, God was not done making His dwelling among men. God said that He would send His Holy Spirit to live within all those who put their faith in Christ. And so it is that now through God’s Holy Spirit He makes His dwelling among us. Now all of us can worship Him “in spirit and in truth,” just as Jesus said, from anywhere in the world. As the apostle Paul said, now we are God’s temple, and God’s Spirit lives within each of us (see 1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

But back to Jerusalem, there is no doubt that God still has a special place in His heart for this Holy City, and that He has special plans for it still to come. God showed the apostle John what’s to come in the future. John wrote:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).

It seems that God’s greatest desire is to dwell among His people, to live with them, talk with them, walk with them, and make His home with them.

From the beginning of its days as the capital of Israel, Jerusalem has a long history of being the place where God dwelt among His people. And according to the Bible, the New Jerusalem will be a place where God will continue to dwell among His people—for the rest of eternity!

Here in the mean time, praise God that, through His Holy Spirit, He can still dwell among us anywhere, anytime, at any moment, day or night, when we put our faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

If you’ve already put your faith in Christ, and invited His Holy Spirit to come and live within you, I want to encourage you to make the most of it. Worship God in spirit and in truth. Walk with Him. Talk with Him. Meet with Him every day and throughout your day. Recognize that God is with you right now and at all times. Remember that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and treat it with the utmost honor and respect. Then let God’s Holy Spirit flow freely through your life into the lives of others, letting God use your hands, feet, eyes, ears, and heart as His to those around you. God loves you and He loves the fact that you would let Him come in and make His dwelling within you. Make the most of it!

And if you’ve never put your faith in Christ, do it today! God wants to make His dwelling within you, as well and give you access to His unlimited love and joy, peace and wisdom, from this day forward. Put your faith in Christ today. Ask Him to forgive you of your sins. Then invite His Holy Spirit to live within you starting today and on into eternity.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for wanting to come and live with us. It’s overwhelming to think that You would want to do that, yet we know that is Your greatest desire. Please, Lord, continue to make Your presence real to us again today, and know that we look forward to living with You forever one day in the New Jerusalem. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

 

Lesson 18: What Happened On Mount Moriah?

Mount Moriah sits on what is perhaps the most valuable piece of real estate in the world. If it were for sale, I’m sure the price would be higher than anyone could pay. On some maps, it is marked as the center of the world, out of which everything else emanates. And in some ways, that’s probably true. For it was here on Mount Moriah that some of the most important events of history took place—and will take place again in the future. To find out what happened here, take a look at the short video below. Then read on to see how what happened here can make a difference in what can happen in your life as well.

Watch “What Happened On Mount Moriah?”

So what happened on Mount Moriah? This is where Abraham was going to sacrifice his son Isaac.

It’s one of the first stories recorded in the Bible where someone expressed their great faith in God, even in the face of great obstacles.

God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the sand on the seashore and as the stars in the sky. But there was one problem. Abraham didn’t have any children. Not even one. And he and his wife believed that all hope was gone. At least until God spoke to them.

But how could God fulfill a promise like this? Yet Abraham believed Him, and God began to deliver on His promise by giving Abraham and Sarah a son from their own bodies.

But then, the tide seemed to turn. After believing God, and seeing the fulfillment of His promise begin, it seemed like God was about to go back on his promise. God told Abraham:

“Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about” (Genesis 22:2).

It must have seemed ridiculous. If Abraham did what God said, not only was Abraham’s son going to be dead, but so was God’s promise. But if Abraham felt any of that, the Bible doesn’t record it. It simply says that early the next morning, Abraham saddled his donkey, cut some wood to make the offering, took two servants and his son Isaac, and set off for the place God had told him to go.

As he reached the spot, he built an altar, bound his son and put him on it. He took the knife in his hand, and just as he was about to slay his son, an angel of the Lord called out:

“Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”

The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:11b-18).

Abraham had proved himself faithful. And so did God. When all hope seemed to be gone, Abraham still believed God could fulfill His promise, somehow, someway, sometime. And because of Abraham’s faith, and God’s faithfulness, Abraham’s descendants are now counted in the millions, including those living today, and those who have lived over the past 4,000 years since this dramatic event on Mount Moriah.

The Dome of the Rock now stands on Mount Moriah over the massive rock rock where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac.

It wasn’t the only event that took place there. About a thousand years later, King David bought the threshing floor on Mount Moriah to build an altar and stop a plague that God had sent upon the people. When God saw David’s faith, He proved Himself faithful again by stopping the plague after three days, just as He said He would.

About a thousand years after that, Jesus walked up to the steps of the temple to teach the multitudes, a temple that was built over this very place where Abraham and David had expressed their faith. He, too, eventually expressed his faith here, by willingly being sentenced to death in the chambers of the Antonia Fortress at the base of the Temple Mount, and carrying His cross from there to the hill where He died for all of our sins.

And it was there that Jesus picked up his cross, and carried it to his death, the ultimate sacrifice that stopped the ultimate plague called “sin.”

So you can see how this spot has been the site of many acts of faith, from Abraham 4,000 years ago, to David 3,000 years ago, and to Jesus 2,000 years ago. And you can see why this spot has also become priceless to millions, whether their heritage is Jewish, Muslim or Christian.

One day, the Bible says that a river of life will spring up from this spot.  It will bring life to all that it touches, even the Dead Sea twenty miles away.

While Mount Moriah may not have been a very peaceful spot over the years, it has been a spot where many acts of faith have played out, and where God has proven Himself to be faithful—over and over again, and where He will one day prove Himself to be faithful yet again.

How does this all relate to you?  God loves it when people put their trust in Him, people whose hearts are fully committed to Him, in spite of how things might look around them.

Here’s what the Bible says about Abraham:

“By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned’” (Hebrews 11:17-18).

Here’s what the Bible says about David:

“I have found David son of Jesse a man after My own heart; he will do everything I want him to do” (Acts 13:22).

Here’s what the Bible says about Jesus:

“Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

And here’s what the Bible says about me and you, as written in Hebrews 11:6:

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that he exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

God wants you to have faith in Him, even when everything you see might tell you otherwise. God wants you to believe in Him, to trust in Him, to keep putting your faith in Him, no matter what, at all times, in all situations, believing that He exists, and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

Keep putting your faith in God, and He’ll prove Himself faithful to you, just like He proved Himself faithful to Abraham, David, and Jesus, right there on Mount Moriah.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for showing your faithfulness to those who showed their faithfulness to You. Help us to be faithful to You today as well, believing that You exist, and that You will reward those who earnestly seek You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 19: What’s Happening At The Western Wall?

The Western Wall, also called the Wailing Wall, is one of the most famous places on earth, but not because of all that has happened there.  The Wall is famous because of how close it is to something else.  To find out what it’s near, and what goes on there every day and why, take a look at this short video below. Then read on to find out how you can do the same thing they’re doing at the Western Wall every day, wherever you are on the face of the planet.

Watch “What’s Happening At The Western Wall?”

So what’s happening at the Western Wall?  People are praying.  They come here to pray from all over Jerusalem, from all over Israel, and from all over the world.

I was visiting a friend in New York before my first trip to Israel who said, “When you get to the Western Wall, will you say a prayer for me?”  I said I would, even though I knew I could pray for him just as well right there in New York, which I did.

But I also knew why he wanted me to pray for him there, in that spot:  because the Western Wall is the closest spot to the Holy of Holies, the place where God chose—out of all the earth—as a dwelling place for His name.

You may have heard this famous quote from the Bible before:

“…if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

But you may not remember the context in which those words were spoken.  The context was just after Solomon had finished building the Temple in Jerusalem as a place for God’s name to dwell.  Here’s what God said to Solomon when the temple was completed:

“When Solomon had finished the temple of the LORD and the royal palace, and had succeeded in carrying out all he had in mind to do in the temple of the LORD and in his own palace, the LORD appeared to him at night and said:

“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a temple for sacrifices. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among My people,  if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that My name may be there forever. My eyes and My heart will always be there’ “ (2 Chronicles 7:11-16).

So it’s easy to see why people would want to go to the Temple Mount to pray still today.  God promised that His eyes would be open and His ears attentive to the prayers offered in this special place.

And it’s easy to see why the Temple Mount is still such a sought after property in the world:  people want to be as close to God as they can get.  They want Him to hear their prayers.  They want Him to pay attention to their needs.  People want God to answer their prayers, so they still try to get as close to the Temple Mount as they can to pray.

And that brings us to why the Western Wall is so important.  The Temple Mount has changed hands many times over the years.  Solomon’s Temple was destroyed and rebuilt again, only to be destroyed again in 70 A.D.    The domed building that now stands above the rock of Abraham was at one time a Christian church, with a cross atop the dome.  There was also a time when an Israeli flag flew upon the Temple Mount.  The dome is now adorned with a golden moon, the symbol of the Muslims who control the Temple Mount today.  And as the third holiest site in Islam, it is forbidden for Jews or Christians to pray anywhere upon it—and if they are seen to be praying, they are asked to leave.

So today, the closest spot to the place where the Holy of Holies once was, and where Jews can pray, and Christians as well, for that matter, is the Western Wall, a 187 foot expanse of the wall that can be seen on the southwestern edge of the Temple Mount (the walls of the Temple Mount are not to be confused with the city walls that encircle the entire old city of Jerusalem, which Nehemiah rebuilt, and which are are further out).

But what many people don’t realize is that the Western Wall extends along the full length of the Temple Mount, and can be visited today in its entirety by descending into the rabbinical tunnels, an extensive network of tunnels that are said to extend underneath the entire Temple Mount as well.  The tunnels along the Western Wall have been excavated in recent years, and you can go down underground and walk along the entire length of the Western Wall, down to what would have been the street level during the time of Jesus!

It is spectacular to walk along this massive wall at its base, with its huge foundation stones, and there is one spot along the wall that garners particular attention: the spot that is said to be directly across from where the Holy of Holies once stood, the place where the Ark of the Covenant was located (and is shown in the picture at the right, and in video above).  It is remarkable to stand there and imagine that this is the closest we can get to the place where God chose for His name to dwell.

Having said all of that, there is a closer spot still where God has since chosen for His name to dwell:  within the hearts of all those who have put their faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.  As the apostle Paul told the Ephesians:

“I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:16-17).

If you’ve put your faith in Christ, God’s Spirit lives within you, just as Jesus told the disciples He would:

“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-16).

We all long to be close to God.  We want to be with Him and know that He is close enough to hear our prayers.  A new worship song by Dennis Jernigan, called “Breathe,” expresses this strong desire for intimacy with God by saying:

“Lean so close that I feel You breathe 

Lean so close You quench this thirst in me 

Lean so close You loose these chains in me 

Set me free… So I can breathe…”

Imagine, leaning so close to God that you could feel Him breathe!  The good news is that if you want to be this close to God, to talk to Him and to be sure that His eyes are upon you and His ears are attentive to your prayers, all you need to do is to put your faith in Christ.  If you’ve already done that, you need look no further than within your own heart to find the place where the Spirit of God Himself now dwells.

Lean close to God today.  Feel his breath on your cheek.  Let Him whisper the words He longs to tell you, and the words you’re probably longing to hear from Him as well:  “My child, I love you.”  Then respond to that love with a few words of your own.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for coming to dwell among us, both at the Holy of Holies and now within the temple of our own hearts.  Lean so close to us so we can hear You, see You, feel You, touch You, and thank You for being there so we can lean upon You as well.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 20: What Happened At The North Gate?

I’d like to tell you a very personal story today.  It’s about what happened to me at the North Gate of the Temple Mount.  But before I tell you my story, I’d like to tell you Ezekiel’s story, and what he saw, in a vision from God, at the North Gate of the Temple Mount.  It’s a beautiful picture of what it will be like when Jesus returns.  Take a look at the short video below to see where the northern gates of the Temple once stood.

Watch “What Happened At The North Gate?”

So what happened at the North Gate?  That’s where Ezekiel saw a vision of a river of life flowing out from the Temple, bringing life to all that it touched.  It was a vision for him, but it will be a reality for us one day, when Jesus returns.  You may remember some of Ezekiel’s story from when we talked about the Dead Sea, when God showed Ezekiel this river flowing from the Temple and said:

“Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing” (Ezekiel 47:12).

But that wasn’t the only vision Ezekiel had of what would happen at the Temple.  God had brought him there many times over his years as a prophet to show him what would happen, ranging from bringing judgment on those who had forgotten God, to bringing blessings to those who continued to wait on Him.

God used one of Ezekiel’s visions to speak to me one day.  I’d like to share that story with you to encourage you that God still speaks today as He did in the days of Ezekiel.

It happened just shortly after I quit my secular job to go into full-time ministry.  I felt God was calling me to do something full-time for Him, but I didn’t know what.  It was only a week or so after I had quit when I felt God calling me to the Holy Land for the first time.  As I prayed about the trip, I felt there were two places I should visit in particular:  the place where the Temple used to be and the place where Jesus died.  I asked God why He wanted me to go to these two places, and I felt He said: “I will reveal Myself to you there.”

So I had just finished writing these things down in my journal, which I was using during my prayer time with God, and was about to stand up to go on with my day, when I felt God say He wasn’t done yet.  “Open your Bible,” He seemed to say.  So I opened it up and began to read the words I saw on the page.  It was a passage from Ezekiel, chapter 8:

“In the sixth year, in the sixth month on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, the hand of the Sovereign LORD came upon me there. I looked, and I saw a figure like that of a man. From what appeared to be his waist down he was like fire, and from there up his appearance was as bright as glowing metal. He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me by the hair of my head. The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem, to the entrance to the north gate of the inner court, where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood. And there before me was the glory of the God of Israel, as in the vision I had seen in the plain” (Ezekiel 8:1-4).

There I was, thinking about going to the place where the Temple used to be in Jerusalem, and I felt like God was giving me very specific instructions about where to go on the Temple Mount.  In Ezekiel’s vision, he was picked up and transported to Jerusalem, between earth and heaven (by the hair of his head, no less!), and dropped him off at the entrance to the north gate of the inner court of the temple. It was there that God revealed His glory to Ezekiel.

I pictured my own upcoming flight to Israel, where I would be transported to Jerusalem, between earth and heaven (by plane, thankfully!) and heading to the Temple Mount as well.  I felt like God was telling me for some reason to go specifically to the place where the north gate of the inner court of the temple would have been.  Although the temple itself no longer exists, the location of the the north gate of the inner court was quite likely just to the north of the rock of Abraham, inside the Dome of the Rock, and where the Holy of Holies would have been located.

I stood up with renewed interest in whatever God wanted to reveal to me on this trip, and on that spot in particular.  I went home and told my wife about what I felt God was saying, and that if she needed to find me in Israel, to look for me at the north gate on the Temple Mount!

You can imagine my frustration when I finally got to Jerusalem to find out that the Temple Mount was closed.  It was the Muslims holy month of Ramadan, and I was told that the Temple Mount was closed off to non-Muslims. Each day of my trip, I went into Jerusalem and tried to get in, but each day I was turned away.

As I sat outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem one day, I read in my Bible about people who were anointed with oil when they went into service for God.  I began to wonder if God could somehow anoint me with oil as I was going into service for Him as well.  But where could I find someone who would anoint me with oil?  I couldn’t just walk up to someone on the streets of Jerusalem and ask if they’d do it!

The next morning, however, as I was talking to a shopkeeper about my desire to see the Temple Mount, but my frustration that I kept getting turned away, he told me that if I went to a certain door before 9 a.m., I could get in, for tourists could get in for a few hours that morning if they went before 9.  It was just before 9 a.m. when he told me, so I took off running for the door he had described.  After a quick search of my backpack, the men watching that door let me in.  I had made it onto the Temple Mount!

I headed for the Dome of the Rock and ran into a group of tourists who were going inside.  One woman was staying behind to watch their pile of backpacks, shoes, and cameras, as none of those things could be brought into the Dome. She said she would watch my things, too, and I stepped inside the Dome.

I went to the north side of the wide rock inside, where Abraham was supposed to sacrifice Isaac, and I stood and thanked God for bringing me there.  I asked Him to reveal anything that He wanted to reveal to me.  I was ready to hear it. I noticed a man to my right who had climbed up on the short base of a pillar inside the door to get a better view of the rock from above.  I continued my conversation with God, and after waiting a bit longer for anything He might say, but hearing nothing more, I went back outside.

I returned to the woman who was watching our pile of things, and she started to ask me a series of questions:  why I had come, what I was doing there, what kind of church did I go to.  I tried to politely answer her questions, but I was in a bit of a hurry to go and explore more of the Temple Mount.  I was, after all, waiting for God to show up!

But she kept asking questions, and finally said, “My husband’s a pastor, and he would love to hear all of this, but he’s still inside the Dome.  Could you wait till he comes out and tell him what you’re doing?”  So I waited.

When her husband came out, I saw that he was the same man I had seen inside the Dome on the north side of the rock of Abraham.  I shared with him why I had come to Israel, and about some of my recent experiences, such as praying for the healing of a woman who had cancer.  He asked, “When you pray for people, do you anoint them with oil?”  He said he found it helpful to anoint people with oil when he prayed for them, as it says to do in the book of James.

I was stunned.  I had just been praying the day before that God would send someone to anoint me with oil as I began my ministry, and here stood someone who just might do it, right at the place where the north gate of where the inner courts of the Temple would have been! I told them about my prayer, and asked if they might pray for me and anoint me with oil for my service to God.  They said they’d be glad to, and although they didn’t have any with them, they said we could buy some at one of the shops nearby.  Then, when their group took their next break from their tour, they’d pray for me.

I followed them as they left the Temple Mount, walking through the actual northern gates of the Temple Mount that are there today.  We walked along the Via Dolorosa, the path through the streets that Jesus was said to have taken when He carried His cross to His death.  We ended up at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the traditional spot where Jesus was said to have been crucified.  Then their group took a break.

We went to a nearby shop and bought a small bottle of “Anointing Oil from the Holy Land,” and went back inside the church to pray.  It was there, at the place where Jesus died, that they—and God—anointed me with oil for the service I had recently begun for Him.

It was a holy moment, as I realized what God had done:  He had brought me to the two places He put on my heart to come: the place where the Temple used to be and the place where Jesus died.  And it was in those two spots where God revealed Himself to me in a very personal way, showing me how clearly He speaks, and how clearly He answers prayers.  And it was in that moment that God ordained me for the ministry that I’ve now been doing for the past fifteen years.

As I flew home the next day, I thanked God again for speaking so clearly and personally to me, just as He has spoken to people throughout the ages.  What an awesome God we serve!

I want to encourage you today to listen carefully for God’s voice.  He still speaks today, not just about “big” things, but about the every day things as well.  But it takes time to hear Him clearly, and it takes faith to believe that what He says to you is true.  Know, however, that God loves those who seek Him, and when you ask for wisdom, He will give it to you generously.  As it says in the Bible:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:5-6).

Take some time to listen to God today.  Quiet your heart, open your Bibles, and ask Him your questions.  Then get ready to receive whatever He has to say.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for speaking to Ezekiel centuries ago, and thank You for speaking to us still today, through Your Word and by Your Holy Spirit.  We pray that You would again answer the questions that are on our hearts today, and that we would have the faith to believe You when the answers come.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 21: What Happened At The Southern Steps?

Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, yet he said that walking on the southern steps of the Temple Mount was even more exciting.  Why?  To find out, take a look at this short video below, then read on to learn how you can have exciting moments like this every day.

Watch “What Happened At The Southern Steps?”

So what happened at the southern steps?  That’s where Jesus walked.

When Neil Armstrong visited Israel in 1994, he asked his host if there was a place where Jesus would have walked—without a doubt—2,000 years ago.  His host, Archaeologist Meir Ben Dov and the excavator of the Temple Mount and southern walls in Jerusalem,  answered that the southern steps were, for sure, the steps that Jesus would have used when He walked up to the Temple.

Mr. Armstrong bent down and kissed the ground, saying that this was an even more exciting moment for him than walking on the moon.  If you were to go to Israel today and wanted to walk where you knew Jesus would have walked, you would go to the southern steps.

That’s because the southern steps, which have been excavated in recent years, served as the main entrance to the entire Temple Mount complex.  And we know from Scripture that Jesus went to the Temple several times throughout His life.  The Temple itself has since been destroyed, and the Temple Courts are buried under years of civilization and rebuilding.  But the southern steps can still be walked upon today.

The Bible says that Jesus first visited the Temple as a child, when Mary and Joseph brought Him here to be consecrated to the Lord (see Luke 2:21-40). The family then came back to Jerusalem year after year, as was their custom, for the yearly Feast of the Passover (Luke 2:41).

It was on one of these trips that Mary and Joseph lost Jesus as they were traveling back home, thinking that He was traveling back with relatives or friends.  After searching for Him for three days, they finally found Him, back in Jerusalem in the Temple Courts.  He was sitting among the teachers, listening to them, and asking them questions.  Upon hearing that His parents had been anxiously searching for Him, Jesus replied:

“Why were you searching for me?  Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49).

Then as an adult, Jesus often taught crowds of people there at the Temple Courts.  The Bible says that during the final week of His life:

“Each day Jesus was teaching at the Temple, and each evening He went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came early in the morning to hear Him at the Temple.” (Luke 21:37-38).

If just walking where Jesus walked sounds exciting—like it was to Neil Armstrong—imagine what it would have been like to hear Him speak!  Imagine being there in person, back in 33 A.D., and listening to the words that Jesus spoke, coming from His own mouth!

Imagine hearing Jesus tell some of His parables for the very first time, right there in the Temple Courts:  the parable of the two sons, or of the ungrateful tenants, or of the wedding banquet of a king.

Imagine Jesus answering people’s questions, whether honest and practical questions, or those that were asked by people in order to trap Him, with words that astonished all who heard them and silenced His critics.

Imagine hearing Jesus answer the question about whether or not it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, and then hearing Jesus ask you to take out a coin with Caesar’s image on it and saying:

“Give to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21).

Or imagine Him answering the question about the resurrection of the dead, and whether or not people would really live again after they died, and hearing Jesus say:

“Have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Matthew 22:31b-32).

Or imagine Jesus being asked what He thought was the greatest commandment in the law, and hearing Jesus say for the first time:

“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ “ (Matthew 22:37-38).

Or imagine watching, along with Jesus, as a poor widow passed in front of you and put two very small coins into the Temple offering, and hearing Jesus say:

“I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on”  (Luke 21:2-4).

All of these things took place at the Temple Courts.  No wonder the Bible says that all those who heard Jesus speak there—even when He was just twelve—were “…amazed at His understanding and His answers” (Luke 2:47).

No wonder the Bible says that the crowds who heard Jesus speak at the Temple Courts as an adult were “…astonished at His teaching” (Matthew 22:33b).

No wonder the Bible says that when He spoke during the feast that “…all the people came early in the morning to hear Him at the Temple” (Luke 21:38).

Maybe you wish you could have been one of those people who got up early in the morning to hear the wisdom of Jesus.  The truth is, you can be one of those people!

If you’d like to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to Him speak His words to you, words that are practical and words that answer the honest questions on your heart, you can still do it today.  You can pick up a copy of the Bible and read the words of Jesus, as recorded in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, recorded by people who heard Him speak those words in person—Matthew, Mark and John—and Luke, who personally and thoroughly researched the stories by asking eyewitnesses who heard Jesus speak to verify their authenticity, people who were still living at the time he wrote his book.  Some of you may even have “red-letter Bibles,” where the words of Jesus are highlighted in red so that you can find them easier, underscoring the words of this master teacher that were spoken 2,000 years ago.

Thankfully, the words that Jesus spoke back then are just as applicable to our lives today.  Jesus isn’t a teacher who is now dead and silent.  He’s just as alive and eager to speak to you today as He was back then.  As the Bible says:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

What a blessing it is to be able to walk where Jesus walked, as Neil Armstrong did, and what a blessing it would have been to hear Him teach in person at the Temple Courts.  But what a blessing it is that we can still come to Him every day, whether early in the morning, throughout the day, or late in the day, and hear the wisdom of God as spoken through Jesus Christ Himself.

Come to Christ again today—and every day—and let Him speak His words of life  to you.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for sending Jesus to speak to the crowds at the Temple, and thank You for those who recorded His words so we can continue to hear Him speak to us today.  Open our hearts to hear those words as we come to You again today and every day.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!