A Look into the/Your Future

I saw the future yesterday in Israel.

Our guide, Hilik, drove us to Tel Megiddo. (A ‘tel’ is a man-made mound created by the accumulation of civilizations and millennia of people building one thing on top of the other. These mounds are often where archaeologists have their greatest discoveries—each layer telling the stories of history—since most ancient places have had more than one civilization in that place. (There’s a reason people want to build in these ancient sites {i.e. water source, natural resource, strategic advantage, crossroads, etc}.)

Megiddo has long sat at the crossroads of civilizations coming to dominate the world. Between the “Way of the Sea” and the N-S routes. (Credit for map from Bible Journey)

Now, Megiddo is a 9000+ year old city that has been built up and then destroyed and then rebuilt 26 different times. (Pretty incredible, frankly.) But Megiddo wasn’t knocked down and then set back up again that many times just because they had a bully or two as neighbors. Megiddo is the intersection of a critical crossroads of the East-West road from the handful of ports on the Mediterranean and the North-South road between Egypt and Mesopotamia/Europe. In other words, a lot of armies, empires, and civilizations have marched these two roads in one direction or the other to do damage to the other civilizations and empires they were determined to replace. So, needless to say, Megiddo has a history of being Ground Zero for Emperor’s egos and civilizations’ pride. At least 26 times, in fact.

So, here’s the thing. I believe in the Bible and it does a whole lot more than predict wild pictures of the future. The Scriptures say a lot about everyday life and how it ought to go (and not go). And the Scriptures are never off . . . even if they might seem like something’s off to us right now. (There’s a reason that the Bible is the Megiddo of Thought. While a lot of destruction and depravity may bring life and powers down all around us . . . there’s ol’ Megiddo still standing. Well, that’s the Bible.)

So, the Bible seems to imply that Megiddo is the future site of at least a 27th battle. But this war will be bigger than a fight between two armies . . . but rather all of them. And one extra piece: God’s in on this one, too. In the Bible, it refers to the Hebrew name for the place it will happen: Har-magedon (or, the hill of Megiddo). We English-speakers more popularly refer to the whole thing as the global and apocalyptic conflagration known as Armageddon.

View of the Valley of Jezreel from the 9000-year-old ancient site, Tel Megiddo

Well, from up there on Tel Megiddo, our guide pointed us to the modern roads that actually just put asphalt over the same exact ancient roads that every global army would march for thousands of years before us. At some point, everybody’s got to bring troops and equipment through navigable places to win wars. Well, this is the big one. Literally and futuristically.

So, I was looking down there into the Valley of Jezreel that lies below the tel and tried to imagine a future battle where every world power is bearing down on this place. Demons are pushing the hateful world leaders and the power-hungry kings to crack their whips closer and closer . . . and there will God be: set to meet them all. In all honesty, it’s a grim thing to think about. And, frankly, it’s not a pleasant thing to have to contend with as a theology about God, the future, Humanity, and everything in between. But, dude, you can’t go to Megiddo and only think about the past. Temporary civilizations ruling the region or ruling the world come and go there like frozen waffles in your freezer. They’re there today, gone tomorrow. Megiddo is as much about the future as it as its past.

What do I do with it all, then, you ask? Well, I stared at this vast valley and let a grim future overlay it in my mind’s eye. And, then, I let a peace overlay it. Friends, the apocalypse is way above my pay grade (and yours, too, before you start burning any calories commenting on any disagreements you might have with my reflections). It’s literally one verse in the Bible (Revelation 16:16). Not that I think that the Bible can’t say something powerful and true in one verse, but I think it says a lot about a lot of things in more than one verse, so I leave you with this.

Look around in the place you are right now. No, really. Look up from your phone, your computer, or your tablet. Look around. Don’t just see it. Envision it. Envision the valuable people who come and go there. Be absorbed with the setting there where you are. Get a vision of what terrible thing could happen here tomorrow if everyone eschewed God’s ways and went head-first into only living for themselves. Then, perhaps, consider also looking down/back at the tel below you—your family’s disasters and the generational rubble your life and family have had to be built upon. There might be a lot of secrets and a lot of damage in that basement. (And the basement below that one—because your life is more than one generation deep, my friend.) Well, what if you could learn from that tel . . . learn from that rubble? What if you could change how everything gets rebuilt? Where everything should go?

Now, stop that vision. And look up again. Envision tomorrow with God standing in the middle of the crossroads of that place. In the living room. In the board room. In the lunch room. In the lobby. In the bedroom. Instead of a grim future there, what if you could be the great power in that place that ushered God’s Presence into it. Not as the Destroyer or the Punisher or the Apocalypse-Bringer. But, rather, as the God who Loves each person that will intersect in a place. What if disaster could be averted for your family, your marriage, your company, your school, your team, or your church? Instead of finding war at that Megiddo, what if they found God and you with love and open arms?

Now, envision that kind of conversation. Envision that kind of future. Live that future. Invite God there to be the maker of peace. Those kind of futures shape the future futures.

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The Galilee, Caesarea Philippi, and Baptisms at the Jordan River: Day 8 in Pictures

The Galilee, Caesarea Philippi, and Baptisms at the Jordan River: Day 8 in Pictures

Caesarea Maritime, Megiddo, and Carmel: Day 7 in Pictures

Caesarea Maritime, Megiddo, and Carmel: Day 7 in Pictures

Masada, the Dead Sea, and Jaffa: Days 5 and 6 in Pictures

Masada, the Dead Sea, and Jaffa: Days 5 and 6 in Pictures

Looking towards Bathsheba, Looking towards the Sea, or Looking towards the Holy

It’s telling what we look at with the most intent.

Now, 6 days in to my full immersion into the Holy Land, seeing things as they are—they no longer have to be imagined by how my mind backfills in the ideas of Scripture. When we haven’t seen the real thing, our mind tries to fill in the blanks so we have something to hang on to and make real. Until this visit to the actual experience of the many places the great stories of the Bible happened, I—like many of you–had to just imagine.

Now, seeing it with my own two eyes, I won’t be able to see them any other way than they actually are.

And three images are now indelible realities in my mind as they no longer have to be imagined or guessed at. The essential view from King David’s Palace. The alluring view from Tel Aviv. And the meaningful view from the closest point to the Temple’s Holy of Holies that any Faithful One has had in two millennia.

DAVID. THE PALACE. AND THE VIEW. The places we read about in our favorite books can be magical in our minds. They’re big and grand. The grainy film of our mind’s eye—when we ponder the images only words have painted for us—is more often romanticized than realistic. When I read the about City of David as a young boy and even as a 40-something pastor, I saw grand gates and palaces and parapets. And while the original footprint of the Eternal City, Jerusalem, had walls and a palace, they weren’t as big as the sky and as wide as the ocean. The original city sat on about 12 acres inside walls narrowly stretched down a tight and harrowingly steep hillside. Now, Jerusalem’s royal palace did sit above the whole citadel like any castle in a fairy tell might, so it meant King David could see almost everything he’d need to see and even see some things he didn’t need to see. 2 Samuel 11 says when David should’ve been at work, he stayed home instead. And when all the servants and guards cleared out of his way, he went up to the top of the palace and could look down on not only his entire city below, but also the entire ascending hill opposite the citadel to his left. It’s never been clear whether Uriah and his wife Bathsheba lived inside the city walls or outside, but we know that the house’s top was within David’s eye’s view. And that could have been very possible anywhere in the city. But, we know he did see her because he liked what he saw. Her. Unclothed. Washing. And he kept looking. Looking so long that he couldn’t not have her. So, he slept with who he was looking at. And the inevitable pain that is sure to follow whatever dumb things we look at too hard at . . . did, in fact, follow David. His eyes got him what he wanted but also what he didn’t want. We have to be careful what we look at.

TEL AVIV’S VIEW. For a few days of this trip, I’ve not only been in Jerusalem, but also in Tel Aviv as a jumping off point for my day trips into the country. Now, if you’re not very familiar with modern-day Israel, Tel Aviv isn’t the capital, but it is the pulsing hub for Israel’s business life and entertainment culture. Tel Aviv is as modern as a city comes. Frankly, it appears to me that has quite a bit on our American cities. It sits on the Mediterranean Sea, so it has beaches and fun and surfers and nightlife. It’s got big buildings and all the modern buzz you’d want. It’s very young. And (and here’s the kicker), for how it really matters, it feels nothing like Jerusalem where all the religious expectations would cause some of Tel Aviv to reconsider its actions. I haven’t seen an Orthodox Jewish faithful person once in Tel Aviv. Nowhere to be seen. Here, they’re wearing American clothes, thumping base-y EDM at the beach, and acting like they’re all on an MTV show from the early 90s. Now, Tel Aviv isn’t ever found in the Bible because it wasn’t around then. But, the city that Tel Aviv was built around—Jaffa (pronounced sometimes Yafo or Joppa)—is in the Bible. Jaffa is most known for being the pushing off point into the sea for one infamous dude in the Old Testament: Jonah. It’s where Jonah began to take off for another fun beach opposite from the direction God had nodded him in. So, Jonah left from “Tel Aviv” to go to a silly town called Tarshish to get away from God’s religion. You probably remember how that story turned out.
“The difficulty of God’s calling and mission and lifestyle is easily avoided,” he thought. Avoid the religious stuff, go to Tel Aviv. Make a buck. Buy a tank top. Play some EDM. Find a girl on the beach. If that doesn’t work out, just travel! Just jump on a boat for the farthest place from Tel Aviv. “I can probably have fun there, too. Maybe there’ll be a job! But, I’m sure there’ll be a new beach with a new girl.” So, Jonah went where his eyes led him. But Tel Aviv never works for a heart that God wants to be whole more than the person who needs to be made whole. Tel Aviv’s never work for happiness. Just for doing something stupid and getting turned into fish food. Now that doesn’t mean we have to leave the big city to love and follow God. But, the big city’s gotta leave our heart so we can be looking clear-eyed for the right stuff.

The place along the Western Wall that is nearest to the place on the Temple Mount where the Holiest of Holies once sat.

One final place I’ve seen in the Holy Land: the place in the tunneling along the Western Wall of the ancient Temple Mount that is the nearest point on the Temple Mount (and the precise spot on Mount Moriah) upon which the original Holy of Holies was built around. Even though no Jew or Christian is able to access that physical point anymore where the Holy of Holies once sat (because Islam’s Dome of the Rock sits upon that place today), it doesn’t mean that that place doesn’t matter to the Faithful any more. As point of fact, the place you see in the picture is the closest spot to where the Faithful Jews say God’s Presence once resided in the Most Holy Place. Here, at this precise place, the Faithful now come to see it on this holy wall, to touch it, and pray to God above. They are looking for God even if the place He once lived is no longer there.

The stone nearest where the Temple’s Holy of Holies once sat 2000 years ago.

The good news is that God doesn’t live in buildings. He lives in hearts. He makes His home in those who look to Him for mercy, for hope, for direction, for conviction, for His calling and mission, and for invitation into His community and heritage.

Who or what are you looking at right now? Bathsheba? The boat out of town? Or the Beginning and the End . . . the Bright Morning Star?

It’s telling what we look at with the most intent.

Jerusalem and Jericho: Days 3 and 4 in Pictures

Jerusalem and Jericho: Days 3 and 4 in Pictures

Surprises in Jerusalem

There’s no replacement for actually going to a place and not just depending upon others’ pictures of it. Books can convey concepts, but they can’t capture smells, sounds, and just the raw scope of a thing. (As a resident of Colorado and so close to the incredible Rocky Mountains, we long ago learned how weak an understanding of these mountains a picture serves to reveal the magnitude and majesty of the Rockies with an iPhone—or even the best camera known to Man for that matter.)

An artistic rendering
of the ancient City of David.

The academics about Jerusalem pale in comparison to the actualities of Jerusalem. Yes, anyone on the internet can find an overhead map of the Old City and its ancient dimensions, for instance. But, you can’t capture the alleyways they call streets and their incredible bustle and color and spicy scents. Yes, you can draw a map of the walls of the original city of Jebus from 3800 years ago—the place the Jews now call the City of David—that would form the starting point of Jerusalem. But you can’t truly express how steep the walk up and down to the Kidron Valley is. Or the irony of the sounds of Islam echoing off of the hills from the chants coming from the al-Fakhariyya Minaret—one of four minarets on the Temple Mount alone. There’s no way to fully capture with picture or video how—down the Kidron Valley that so intimately borders the City of David on the east—ironic the sounds of the frequent chants of the Islamic azaan by the muezzin seem to the larger Jewish setting. This first chant from the high minaret precipitates other muezzin in a chain of minarets down the valley which fill the chants in the air—all while the Faithful of Judaism and Christianity traipse the immediate area admiring the ancient site of the City of David. You can’t possibly appreciate with pictures how the City of David—the place this whole thing called Jerusalem began from—is, in all actuality, an essential third-world experience . . . both around it and in it. It’s both stunning and devastating to think that every square inch is under dispute in this powder keg in the center of the home to the world’s three major religions.

The religious/cultural cauldron that is the City of David and the Muslim community immediately adjacent.

Jerusalem is a surprise to this guy—even a guy who’s spent the better part of his 47 years studying every word I could wrap my brain around about Her. My thoughts, my sermons, my writings . . . all have tried to paint a picture, but the Original makes everything else I’ve understood so much clearer now. So much richer.

Drawing of the Herod’s Temple—destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans. (Please note the small discoloration on the nearest wall. That shading constitutes what people see today as the Western Wall, but only represents 10% of what the wall once was.)

Now, just a 1/3 of a mile above the City of David, up Mount Moriah, sits the Western Wall of the Temple Mount (well, the stones that remain standing of the Western Wall, that is). In point of fact, only 10% of the old Western Wall of the Temple Mount (what people now refer to the Western Wall)—where 3.6 million come to pray each year. But, taking a deeper tour of the excavations of the old wall, you would see amazing and unanswerable things. In 70 A.D., along with killing thousands of Jews, the Roman Empire’s Titus desired to break the spirit of the Jewish People by tearing down the stones of their Temple. You will find many of these toppled stones stacked upon one another along where the Western Wall once stood, but one stone broke the breakers. Measuring 45′ (L) x 8′ (D) and 9′ (H), the Western Stone weighs nearly 600 tons. When Titus’ soldiers tried to the point of failing to push it from its perch, they just knew it wouldn’t happen and thus quit. This monolithic blocks sits there to this very day as testament to the power and humor of God.

The Western Stone of the Temple Mount. One of the largest building stones in human history.

The Western Stone surprised me—as did the incredible run below the city where these tunnels revealed 50 feet of depth below the place you see on the right. Herod’s Second Temple is still extraordinary to this day . . . and many would consider most of it lies in “ruins.”

Fallen stones on the southwestern-most portion of the Western Wall.

What’s the moral of this story? For many Christians, we have too thin and too thinning an experience of Scripture. And we should do something about that as our heritage is at risk when we treat it as if it’s unvital when it is so alive. Now, no, not everyone can enjoy the rich blessing I am able to—by traveling to the city where among all the things I’ve just shared, more importantly, our Savior would give his life on the Cross to reveal the love of the Father . . . not far from this place. But, our Total Story runs even deeper and more beautiful than we know.

Lastly, there are some who have made their mind up about the Christian Faith. Perhaps this is you. All I will say is, Christianity—for all its critics—is built on an incredible foundation. And it’s more than indisputable—much to its critics’ chagrin. It’s the richest story known to Human history and it launched from a place that was already mind-blowing and continues to be. Friend, God wants to make a Temple out of you and me . . . out of our fallenness and ruins. This story is more amazing than we know. But it’s just below the dirt, if we’ll let our dirt get turned up just enough to reveal it.