May 22 – Trip to the Holy Land – Bethlehem (Shepherd’s Fields)

DAY 10 – BETHLEHEM – THE SHEPHERDS’ FIELDS

Theme: The Incarnation

Read  Luke 2:1-14

Bethlehem today looks nothing like it did at the birth of Christ. The sprawling city of 40,000 people is filled with street vendors, souvenir shops, tourist buses – even a mall. Obviously, Joseph and Mary had none of those conveniences when they made that long trek from Nazareth.

Today, the Church of the Nativity stands over a series of caves that may have been the location where our Lord entered this world. But as is often the case in the Holy Land, the decorations of a church building tend to obscure the surroundings of a supernatural event described in Scripture.

That’s the case in Bethlehem. So it’s helpful to make our way out of town to the shepherds’ fields. There, it’s not hard to imagine the account recorded by Dr. Luke, which has become some of the most famous words in the Bible:

“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 guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:4-7 – NIV)

Think about the glory of those words! The Son of God, the Creator of the universe, took a human body to identify with us. We call that “the incarnation.” The word means “in flesh.”  John says, “The Word became human and made his home among us” (John 1:14a – NLT).

Here’s the question all of us should ponder: Why would Jesus come to this earth?  Why would He “make his home among us?”   There’s only one answer:  He wants us to get to know Him. As God in a human body, He revealed what God is like.

The Apostle Paul probably quoted the sayings of early believers when he wrote these words… “Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith: Christ was revealed in a human body….” (1 Timothy 3:16 -NLT). The Apostle John continues, “He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.  And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son” (John 1:14b – NLT).

Prayer of reflection:  “Lord Jesus, thank you that you came to earth so I could know you.  Help me to comprehend today more of who you are and what you have done for me.”

Bob Fetterhoff

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May 21 – Trip to the Holy Land – Machaerus

DAY 9 – MACHAERUS

Theme: Suffering

Read Matthew 14:1-12

About 100 years before the birth of Christ, a mountaintop fortress known as Machaerus, was constructed over-looking the barren landscape of the eastern shore of the Dead Sea.  It stands alone, like Alcatraz, as a reminder of the horrific events that occurred within its walls.  Apparently, this fortress was utilized by Herod the Great, and eventually by his son, Herod Antipas.

The fortress is best known as the place of execution for John the Baptist.  Antipas ordered John’s murder because the courageous prophet had condemned him for his adulterous relationship with his brother’s wife.

What did John do to deserve this kind of cruel punishment and death? After all, Jesus said this:  “No one in history surpasses John…”  (Matthew 11:11a – MSG).

Apparently, John had the unique responsibility of “preparing the way for the Lord” (Matthew 3:1; John 1:23).  That responsibility included boldly preaching the need for repentance in preparation for the coming Messiah – even to the king of the country. And that cost him his life!

One of the paradoxes of the Christian life is that God will ask some of His faithful followers to go through times of great pain and suffering – all for the sake of the Gospel. Over the years, I have watched godly people suffer and even die. I have stood in their presence as they breathed their last breath … and marveled at their radiant testimony for Jesus. It feels like a holy moment as a child of God slips from this life to the next.

Perhaps you, too, are facing adversity, pain, even death. Could I just remind you of the privilege you have to reflect the character of Christ in your life – even in times of hardship? Paul, who knew so much about suffering, wrote:  “For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.”  (Philippians 1:29 -NLT)

Prayer of reflection:  Heavenly Father, would you help me to see the hardships and suffering of my life as a privilege to point others to you?

Bob Fetterhoff

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May 20 – Trip to the Holy Land – Bethany

DAY 8 – BETHANY BEYOND THE JORDAN

Theme:  Magnify

Read John 3:23-30

Who was the last of the Old Testament prophets? We might say it was John the Baptist. When he was asked about his identity, John replied in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “‘I am a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Clear the way for the Lord’s coming!’” (John 1:23 NLT).  Like many other Old Testament prophets, John’s responsibility was to point people to the coming Messiah.

John’s life was characterized by the eccentric, even the supernatural. His birth was announced by an angel to elderly and surprised parents.  Because of unbelief, Zacharias, his father, was unable to speak until he gave John his name at birth.  John lived in the desert, wore clothes made of camel’s hair and ate locusts and wild honey. He was a fiery preacher who proclaimed the message of repentance, attracted great crowds to his ministry, and baptized people in Bethany beyond the Jordan.

Finally, he came face-to-face with the Messiah and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NLT).  For the rest of his life, John had one primary message: “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” (John 3:30 NLT).   That should be the same desire of every Christ-follower.  The influence of Jesus in us should become greater and greater.

When he wrote to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul said, “…With all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20b-21 KJV).   What does it mean to magnify something? It means to make it bigger! When people look at us – the character of Jesus should be more and more evident.  They should see Him above anything else. Can you say that’s the heartbeat of your life?  It was for John!.

Truth is … if we live to magnify the Lord Jesus, life may not be easy.  It may be filled with challenges, hardships, even martyrdom.  But there is no greater privilege in life than to magnify the Lord “whether by life or by death.”

Prayer of reflection:  Lord Jesus, would you be magnified in my life today so that people see more of you and less of me?

Bob Fetterhoff

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May 19 – Trip to the Holy Land – Qumran

DAY 7 – QUMRAN

Theme: Accuracy & Authority of the Word of God

Read 2 Timothy 3:14-17

Do you believe the Bible is the Word of God?  If so, why?  After all, the Bible reminds us that “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16 – NIV).  How can we know that the Bible was originally “inspired by God?“ A stop at Qumran helps clarify this issue.

In 1947 in a cave of the Judean desert called Qumran, a Jordanian shepherd boy stumbled on to what is arguably the greatest archaeological discovery of the 20th century – the Dead Sea Scrolls.  He had no idea that the priceless clay pots of Qumran contained a wealth of evidence for the character of the Scriptures.

Before the Dead Sea Scrolls were uncovered, the oldest copies of the Old Testament, known as Masoretic texts, dated about 1000 AD.  Jewish tradition says that scribes carefully hand-copied each book in the Hebrew Bible so that no mistakes were made. In fact, if a mistake was discovered in an ancient scroll, it would be discarded and destroyed. When scrolls became frayed and worn, they also were destroyed.

But how do we know the scribes did not edit those ancient documents to make them look like they had supernatural origin? After all, in the Sixth Century BC, Daniel prophesied about four great kingdoms that would eventually rule the world 1500 years before the Masoretic texts were completed. How do we know that later scribes did not change the words of Daniel to make it look like he was actually writing prophecy about the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans? It’s one thing to describe accurately what has already happened in this world. That’s history! It’s something else to look ahead and accurately portray what will happen. That’s prophecy!

When the Dead Sea Scrolls were analyzed, they dated about 200 years before the time of Christ. That’s 1200 years earlier than those Masoretic texts!  The clay pots of Qumran yielded fragments, even major sections, of every book in the Old Testament, except the story of Queen Esther.  The scholars placed Dead Sea Scrolls and Masoretic texts side-by-side.  What do you suppose they discovered? You could basically draw an equal sign (=) between them. There were no substantial differences that threatened the theology of Old Testament authors.

In other words, God not only inspired His Word, He preserved His Word for all of us. If the Bible is not accurate, it is not authoritative. The Dead Sea Scrolls remind us that the Word of God we hold in our hands is reliable. It’s authentic. It can be trusted. “It is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 – NLT).

Prayer of reflection:  Father, help me to build my life around the accurate and authoritative teaching of the Word of God.

Bob Fetterhoff

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May 18 – Trip to the Holy Land – Ein Gedi

DAY 6 – EIN GEDI

Theme: Worship

Read Psalm 46:1-11

Nothing is quite as refreshing as a cool drink on a hot summer day! Maybe that’s one reason I love Ein Gedi so much. If you ever visit Israel in the summer, one thing is certain: the desert will be hot! Very hot! Like 110° hot!

Maybe that’s why Ein Gedi is so appealing. It’s an oasis in the middle of the Judean desert. High in the hills, water gushes out of the rocks to form a beautiful stream with several waterfalls. This gorgeous, natural garden becomes the life-giving resource for vegetation and animals in the area. Ibex and hyrax often satisfy their thirst by the pools of Ein Gedi.

David knew this area like the back of his hand. In fact, it was like his playground… his backyard. He may have killed a lion and a bear in the area. When King Saul threatened David’s life, the future king fled to the caves of Ein Gedi for safety.

One day, Saul came perilously close to capturing David. He went into one of the dozens of caves to “use the facilities,” not knowing that David and his men were far back in the darkness. “David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe” (2 Samuel 24:4 – NIV).  However, David was overcome with guilt because of his presumption.  His tenderness to God’s timing became the hallmark of his life.

No wonder David was able to pen great psalms like: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow”  (Psalms 51:2-3,7 – NIV).

Above anything, David was a worshiper! With this backdrop in mind, he wrote, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:1-2 – NIV).

David knew that the emptiness of life could only be satisfied by God himself. Pascal suggested that we have been created with a “God-shaped vacuum” that only He can fill.

Likewise, you and I were born to worship. We will worship something or someone, but we will worship. We might worship a job, a relationship, a hobby, a recreational pursuit, retirement, good health, or a thousand other things. We may not even realize what we worship – but we will worship.

Ein Gedi reminds us that only God can fill the void in our hearts to worship. 1600 years ago, Augustine wrote: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” So look at your life… Discover what you really worship. Realize that the emptiness in your heart will only be satisfied by the vitality of walking with the living God.

Prayer of reflection:  Lord, would you show me the emptiness of filling my life with things that substitute for genuine worship of you?

Bob Fetterhoff

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May 17 – Trip to the Holy Land – Mt. Nebo

DAY 5 – MT. NEBO

Theme: Holiness

Read Deuteronomy 32:48-52

Moses has often been called, “the greatest leader of Israel’s history.” Yet the Bible also describes him as “the meekest man in all the earth” (Numbers 12:3). He wasn’t always like that.

During the first 40 years of his life, Moses probably thought he was something special. Rescued from the reeds of the Nile River as an infant, he lived a charmed life in the palace of the king of Egypt. One day, he saw an Egyptian beating a fellow-Israelite, so he intervened and killed the man.

He fled for his life and came to the land of Midian, where he spent the next 40 years caring for the flocks of his father-in-law. He learned survival skills in the desert, an invaluable asset which God would use during the last third of his life.

One day God called Moses from a burning bush and commissioned him to lead His people out of Egypt following 400 years of bondage. Moses then led the Israelites on the Exodus through the Sinai desert, across the dry land at the bottom of the Red Sea, through Midian, around Edom to the brink of the Promised Land. Along the way God miraculously provided food and water for His people day after day.

On one occasion, Moses was commanded to speak to a rock so life-giving water could flow from it. Instead, because of his frustration with the griping of the Israelites, Moses struck the rock in anger. That one act of disobedience prevented Moses from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 20:12).  That might sound harsh, but God was emphasizing for all of us, and for all-time, that He cannot tolerate sin.  His standard is not 99%. His standard is absolute perfection. Anything less cannot be tolerated.

Moses was prevented from experiencing the land of promise because he did not uphold God’s holiness among the Israelites. (Deuteronomy 32:51).  Here’s the question everyone should answer: How am I preventing God’s blessing by my own disobedience? Is there some area of my life where God cannot pour out his blessings because I am not sensitive to Him?

Prayer of reflection:  Lord God, what have I permitted in my life that is hindering the work you want to do in me and through me?

Bob Fetterhoff

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May 16 – Trip to the Holy Land – The land of Edom & Petra

DAY 4 – THE LAND OF EDOM & PETRA

Theme: Believe

Read Numbers 21:4-9

Petra – just the word creates a sense of mystery!  Most people who visit the Holy Land today want to include a visit to this ancient city, built by the Nabateans in the 2nd Century B.C. A drive to Petra, “the red-rock city half as old as time” and one of the Seven New Wonders of the Ancient World, takes us through the Land of Edom in southern Jordan. During the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites were not permitted by the Edomites to go through this land which would have been the shortest route.

God’s people complained because of the hardships they endured in this desert. Frankly, it’s a barren place, so it’s not hard to imagine their grumbling!  In summer – the temperatures are brutal!  And the flies threaten to carry you away!   All of this caused the Israelites to long for the land of Egypt.  They griped against the Lord and His representative, Moses, so God brought judgment into their lives through venomous snake bites.

At God‘s instruction, Moses created a bronze serpent and lifted it on a pole. As the people looked to that bronze serpent, they were healed of the life-threatening snake bites.

Jesus used that example to describe the power of His own crucifixion. “And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. For this is how God loved the world:  He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-16 NLT).

What must we do to be saved?  Acts 16:31 tells us, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”  Genuine belief can be summarized in the word, “trust.”  Just as we lean all of our weight on a chair when we sit down, so God invites us to lean all of our weight fully on Jesus to receive the forgiveness that He alone can provide through His death on Calvary.

Prayer of reflection:  Lord Jesus, help me to trust you fully as the Only One who can secure my salvation for eternity.

Bob Fetterhoff

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