a grain of mustard seed

And how can we understand the Kingdom of God?

Mark 40:30-32 ‘And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”‘

On our hike from Jericho to Jerusalem, we passed by several mustard trees. A mustard seed is the size of a pepper flake. The trees that the seeds grow in to are a little bit taller than an average sized man. This is the Kingdom of God. It began with Jesus, the first fruits, who came and conquered sin and death for all to increase the Kingdom of God from one into a nation of peoples from every tribe, tongue, and nation. One of my teachers sheds light on this idea often in pointing out that Jesus lived here in Israel. He died and he rose again in Israel and because of his work here in this small country, there are now students from Sweden, Oklahoma, California, and Ohio in Israel, studying the life and work of one man. This is the Kingdom of God. With beginnings as small as a mustard seed, the result is grand.

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a grain of mustard seed

“you are the light of the world”

Here in Israel, when you ask someone to explain a word or an idea, they don’t just give you more words. They give you a word picture. When Jesus was asked questions, he would often do the same. Consider the Sermon on the Mount. He uses so much metaphor and imagery. He gives his followers examples and I think it enhances their understanding of truth. For the next several posts, I want to show you all the imagery and metaphor that I have been able to soak up here in Israel. I want you all to see what I have seen in word pictures.

You are the light of the world! (Mt. 5:14).

While I was in Galilee, I got to stay with my class at a resort right on the Sea of Galilee. The first thing that I did there was go down and sit next to the sea. I have been memorizing the Sermon on the Mount and so I practiced there. The sky was cloudy, but the light from the sun streamed in through a few spots in the clouds and lit up the city of Tiberias. I came to Matthew 5:14-16, which says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see you good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” As I was saying the verses I was amazed that I was staring at the exact image that Jesus gave to his disciples. Tiberias is a city set on a hill. Light from heaven shone over it and made it visible and obvious to all who could see. Tiberias was seen, but not by its own power. The light could be traced back to heaven, giving glory to the Maker of heaven and earth. So, what does it mean to be the light of the world? It means to be like Tiberias, a city set on a hill that could not be hidden because the light that came from God made it visible to all men.

“you are the light of the world”

o you of little faith

(April 9, 2010)

Right now, I am sitting next to the Sea of Galilee looking straight across at the city of Tiberias. The water is calm and still. The sky is bright, but grey. There are only a few spots where the sun shines through the thick cloud cover. The sea is smaller than I imagined; I can see the land limits on every side from where I sit.

Many years ago, there were several men of God in a boat traveling this same sea. The weather was quite different than this day. They were in the midst of a storm and as it is written, they were far from land, the wind was blowing hard, and the waves were against them. They could not even see the land limits around them. In the middle of their struggle, they saw what they thought was a ghost. They were already terrified of losing their lives due to this great storm, but now that a ghost entered the picture, they were terrified all the more. But it was at this point, in the fear of the the unknown that they heard these blessed words: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” What comfort; what relief! What was once a ghost in their minds was now their Savior. One of the men was named Peter. He was a zealous one and he took heart and jumped right out of the boat to follow to the voice of this One walking on the water in the midst of a storm. He had his eyes fixed on his goal. He was confident and ready, but then, unexpectedly perhaps even to himself, the eyes of his heart turned to the left and to the right. He saw the great waves and the struggle of the winds. He lost sight of his goal and began to sink into the sea. Fear gripped this man as he cried for help to the One whom he walked towards in the first place. The next words he heard were these, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” The zeal Peter burned in his heart. It was his hope to have faith, he asked for faith, he desired it with passion, but he turned away. I am sure that he felt like a failure, like one who knew his spirit was willing but couldn’t understand why that spirit did not sustain his faith. He did not respond to the question asked. He perhaps had nothing to say. Maybe his words were not recorded, but the gentle rebuke seemed to be enough. Nothing more needed to be said.

In human terms, Peter had every reason to be afraid and to look away. In times of storm, the Lord says the same things to me: O you of little faith, why did you doubt? My first response is always incredulous. I want to look at my Lord and say, what do you mean? Look at what I am going through, don’t you see? Don’t you understand? I understand that you have plans that are bigger and grander than my little life, but look at what I am suffering! Like Peter, all I look at is the storm and I start to sink and then when I am sinking, I cry out for help to the one whom I was chasing in the first place, the one who rebuked me for small faith.

The Sea of Galilee is very small, but in the storm, the disciples could not see the other side of the shore. All they had to look to was Jesus. In the same way, in the midst of the storms of life, the shore is never far off. Eternity is within reach despite not being able to see it at times. The test comes when we can’t see it and that is when we have the opportunity to trust in the Savior, the author and perfecter of our faith, the One who WILL complete the work he began in each of us.

1 Peter 4:19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

My brethren, believe that you will look upon the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for Lord, let your heart take courage and wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27)

o you of little faith

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem”

A few weeks ago my Regional Explorations class went on a hike from Jericho to Jerusalem. That may not mean anything to most of you reading this blog and it meant nothing to me before I completed the journey with my class.

The hike from Jericho to Jerusalem is significant because Jesus took this trip with his disciples in order to get to Jerusalem for the Passion Week, which would be the week of his death. Jericho is 800 ft below sea level and Jerusalem is 2500 feet above sea level. That means that Jesus, his disciples, and my class all had to walk up in elevation a total of 3300 feet before reaching the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. This is the vertical distance. The horizontal distance, as the crow flies, is approximately 15 miles. We however, did not walk as the crow flies. Our route was about 18 miles long. As we began our hike, we were in Jericho and in the wilderness. It was dusty and very windy. We passed by several Bedouins (tent-dwellers) on our way up and even a few camels. For each of our hikes, we are all given a passage to memorize on the hike that corresponds with the biblical journey. This time, we memorized Matthew 20:17-19 and Matthew 20:29-34. The first is this:

17 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 18 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death19 and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

The first section above was a very sobering passage as we made our way to Jerusalem. We were not on a normal hike. We were making the same walk that Jesus had except when we got to Jerusalem, we would be picked up by a bus and taken back to the Moshav for dinner. Jesus would arrive in Jerusalem and be betrayed. He would suffer, and he would be crucified. The disciples did not understand what Jesus was about to do at this point. They prove that they don’t understand with the very next verses in Matthew when James, John, and their mother request that they might sit at Jesus’ side. Jesus responds with a lesson concerning greatness. He teaches that in order to be great in the Kingdom of God, they must become servants to all, “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v.28). It was as if the disciples were listening to Jesus tell riddles. They still did not understand. They could not see the cross, but Jesus could. In fact, there were several times during our hike from beginning to end when we could see Jerusalem from where we stood. Just think what it may have been like to be miles away from your death, but still to be able to look and see where it would take place. I would be simply terrified and yet Jesus used the time to teach his disciples. We continued on and began memorizing the second section of our memory verses:

29 And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him.30 And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 32 And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34 And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.

I am thankful that we had this passage paired with the first because it completes the picture of what Jesus was going to Jerusalem to do. He was still in Jericho when he performed this miracle, but he was in a hurry. His journey to the Passion Week had already begun and now there were two blind men bothering him to regain their sight. At first, they are told to be silent, but they continue to cry out. Keep in mind that they could not see Jesus. They only knew that he was passing by them because they heard. That is bold. After they cry out again, Jesus does what was unexpected from his disciples. He stops. He has compassion. He heals these two men. After they are healed, it says that they follow him. My teacher explained in class that he would not be surprised if they followed him all the way to Jerusalem. Jesus was not just going to Jerusalem to die. He was going to free a multitude of sinners from the bondage of death. He would open the eyes of the blind. The disciples were still blind, but even they would be give sight in due time that they might see the glory of the Lord and follow him.

We were almost to Jerusalem, and we were tired. We began to make our final ascent to the Mount of Olives. At this point we had been walking for about 8 1/2 hours. We had just walked 17 miles and now we had to walk the last mile at an intense incline. Previous to this hike, when I read in the Bible that Jesus traveled from Jericho to Jerusalem, it meant very little to me. I had no idea how tiring such a journey would be. I realized that Jesus was tired. He stayed tired for the final week of his life as well. Matthew 26:36-46 says that he stayed awake all night before his death to pray to his Father. The hour was at hand. He told the disciples to keep watch with him, but they fell asleep. We usually criticize them for sleeping on such a night, but which one of us can blame them, knowing how tired they must have been. Jesus even tells them that their bodies were weak. He knows that they were tired. He himself was tired. After finishing our hike, I went right to bed. If someone told me to take my rest later on, I am sure I would have acted as the disciples had. My flesh was weak and I would have listened to it in the same situation. For Jesus, death was before him. His flesh was certainly weak, but his spirit was willing. He willingly freed multitudes of men while he was tired. This was the walk to Jerusalem and this is our God.

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem”

sights and sounds of jerusalem

So far, my favorite place in Israel is Jerusalem. I was told by a few people before I left Cleveland that it would be, but I didn’t know what to expect. The sights and sounds are marvelous. The Old City is split into four quarters: the Christian quarter, Muslim quarter, Jewish quarter, and Armenian quarter. In the Muslim quarter there is a kind of square where venders are yelling in Arabic that you must buy their strawberries or bananas or whatever they are selling that day. I have certainly never been shoved around so much. It seems that everyone has an agenda and no one is going to get in their way.

Whenever we are touring through the Old City, my favorite times are when we go into the old stone churches. We always sing a few songs and I would put money on saying that it is the closest thing on earth to hearing the Lord’s angels. One time, we went into a church and their was a group from the Philippines in the church singing. It was beautiful to hear them singing to the Lord in their own language. Praise God that He created every language and hears every language!

West Jerusalem is very different than the old city. It looks much more modern with parks and museums and that is where I went into market a couple of days ago. Here, you see all the people from each of the four quarters hurrying around in the same place whereas the Old City is fairly segregated. It is a very diverse city. There are many languages being spoken at once and it ends up sounding like a muffled rumbling as people are hurrying through the city. There is nothing like it. I can’t wait to explore more.

sights and sounds of jerusalem

crunchy peanut butter > modern hebrew

Okay…Hebrew is hard. At this point, I’m not sure if I will ever be able to read in Hebrew, especially since the vowels are rarely marked. My day started with Hebrew class and Land and the Bible class. Today was the beginning of our second Shabbat here in Israel. When the sun goes down on Friday nights, work stops, the stores close, and as I learned, the buses stop running. It was raining today, but with a little bit of free time, I didn’t want to waste it. I went with a friend into west Jerusalem and we walked through a sook (sh-oo-k, open market). We caught the 1,45 bus into Jerusalem and because we missed lunch, that was our first priority. We found cheap falafel, which includes fried chick peas, humus, tomatoes, cucumbers, and french fries wrapped in delicious, warm pita bread which by the way is nothing like the pita bread in the states. We’ve got nothing on the Israelis. We bought some strawberries, nuts, apples, and of course, what are apples without peanut butter?

Everything was cheaper than usual because the venders wanted to get rid of everything before the beginning of Shabbat. The sun was already beginning to go down by this time and we walked to the bus stop to see if there would be another bus. We ended up catching a minibus ( a good reminder of Bolivia) for a good price and were dropped off on the outskirts of Abu Gosh, about 2 miles  from Yad HaShmona. We were happy that we were able to find our way back to the Moshav fairly easily.

I was glad to finally be able to go and experience the cultures of Jerusalem without having to take notes. We just jumped in and now, it will be easy to get around on our own and continue to learn about the people living here within this small city.

More adventures to come.

crunchy peanut butter > modern hebrew

language learning

While here in Israel, I am most excited about making friends and learning their languages. I will be learning Hebrew mostly within the classroom and Arabic mostly on the streets. I am taking a Modern Hebrew class this semester and the class is taught in Hebrew and my book is in Hebrew, so that will be interesting, but I know that I will learn a lot and quickly I hope. So far, I really only know the alphabet and a few simple phrases and words. At the Moshav, where we are staying, the workers in the restaurant that we eat are all Arabic. My dad would be happy to know that I pulled out the few phrases that I learned from him to talk with them on the first couple of days (I know you thought I wasn’t listening). Now I know a few of the guys by name and they teach me new words every time I go in for a meal. I met one of the workers, Sherif, and he speaks very little English. He stopped me outside one day and was trying to say something to me, but I couldn’t understand even a little bit. He looked frustrated with his hand over his face as he said, “one minute” and then ran back inside to ask another worker to translate for him. I waited and when he came back, he simply asked “how are you?” Despite the language barrier, I have a few friends at the Moshav and that is exciting. My entire class went to Jerusalem for the first time earlier this week and I met a Palestinian shopkeeper while we were exchanging our money. I spoke with him and he also taught me a few words. I saw him again today when a few of us students went into Jerusalem earlier today after church. He told me to bring a notebook and pen next time. That was Sababa (cool in Arabic)! The manager at our restaurant told me that in a month, he will have me speaking Arabic. I hope so.

language learning