Category Archives: Musings

Fresh and seasoned thoughts about the practice of Sabbath.

A Song and a Prayer for France

This summer, as Kristi and I toured Greece, Rome, and Israel, we came across amazing monuments and cathedrals.  Many of the places of worship we visited were not only designed to create a sense of awe and wonder, but also to allow for enchanting acoustics.

We discovered just how much a building’s design can amplify singing when we visited the St. Anne’s Church in Jerusalem.  Click HERE for a little more information on the church.

St. Anne’s Church is destination for choirs, soloist and singing groups.  We were fortunate enough to be there when another group broke out in song.  I don’t know who they were, or where specifically they were from, but I assume they were French.  They blessed us with an amazing performance.  My phone’s video does not do them justice, but playing this clip is enough to take me back to the St. Anne’s Church to experience it all over again.

Unity in Worship

As we listened to their song, I felt united with them in worship.  That’s the power of music: it binds us together at a level the words alone cannot reach.

Unity in Prayer

We find ourselves united with the French in a different way this week: through tragedy. Even though we are separated from them by an ocean, we can be present to them through our prayers.  May God bless  France in her time of suffering.

If you recognize the song, please send me a note in the form below.  Feel free to forward this to anyone who might be blessed by the song, or who may know the name of the tune.

Our Letter to the Mayor of Port Neches

Yesterday I penned a letter to the mayor of Port Neches in support of the cross at Port Neches Riverside Park. At prayer meeting Wednesday night I gave everyone in attendance the opportunity to attach their signature. 

It’s not my cross, it’s our cross. The letter is not only from me, it’s from us. The cross belongs to a community and not just an individual. 

I dropped our letter in the mailbox on my way home. 


Here is the text of our letter: 

Dear Mayor Johnson,

The prayers of First Baptist Church Nederland are with you and the city of Port Neches. We know that you have come under unfair scrutiny over the cross that stands in Port Neches Riverfront Park.

I, along with a number of members of FBC Nederland, attended the rally held at the cross last Sunday afternoon. I was pleased to see the hundreds of Christians who came out to participate in the gathering. I was even more impressed with your words of encouragement to the crowd.

The cross represents the culture and the unique history of the community of Port Neches. To remove the cross would be to deny the fact that Christians have helped shape the city of Port Neches into what it is today.

We pray for you, not only because you are seeking to protect the rights of the citizens of Port Neches to display symbols that are significant to their culture, but because we feel that God blesses the entire community when Christians call to Him on behalf of their leaders.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
NIV 1 Timothy 2:1-2

I am glad the Christians in Port Neches, Groves, Nederland, and the surrounding area, have had an occasion to come together around the cross. One person, who has taken offence to the presence of the cross, has united thousands of people who value the cross! It’s amazing how this has worked out.

We, your neighbors in Nederland, stand with you in support of the cross. Please pass our encouragement to keep the cross where it stands to the Port Neches City Council.

Yours In Our Common Cause,

Dr. Jason Burden
First Baptist Church


If you would like to join your prayers with ours as we support the Mayor and the City Council of Port Neches, please use the form below.  Together, we can keep the cross where it stands.

This Hits Too Close To Home. Leave Our Cross Alone.

I’ve seen news articles and have heard a little about the exploits of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, or the FFRF. They are the group that raises a stink about religious (mostly the Christian kind of religious) symbols on display in public places.


Here is a link to some of the FFRF’s court cases: Ongoing Lawsuits.

You’ll notice if you go to the link above that most of their work is focused on other states (meaning Not Texas). The FFRF has raised complaints in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Georgia, etc., etc., etc….

I have to confess, when I hear about a group suing to have baby Jesus removed from a display in Indiana, I don’t get very worked up. Maybe I need to take an empathy pill in the morning before I read the news.

I didn’t need that empathy pill this morning. When I opened my Facebook App today, one of the first posts was about a letter received by the Port Neches City Council complaining about the cross in Port Neches park.

Here’s a great write-up about the issue from the Port Arthur News: Group aims to have Port Neches Park cross removed.

Be sure to tell Mary Meaux at the PA News that she did a great job and ask her to keep us informed:

An Unfounded Complaint

I know, I know… I’m biased. I’m Pastor Burden. You wouldn’t be reading this if you thought I was happy about the issue. And if I was happy about the FFRF complaint about our cross, you probably wouldn’t read this blog anymore!

Don’t mess with our cross. There is ZERO reason for anyone to complain about the cross at Port Neches Park!

BUT, even if I wasn’t religious…even if I was against religion, there are still reasons to legitimately have the cross in our local park.

A part of our community’s culture.

When I drive through Nederland and Port Neches, I see a church on every other street corner. There are Baptists churches, Methodists churches, Catholic churches, Pentecostal churches, and more non-denominational churches than you can ‘shake a stick at.’ It’s safe to say that a preponderance of the population identifies with one stripe of Christianity or another.

It is not wrong for a municipality to allow its citizens to place meaningful landmarks on city property that appropriately express the community’s culture.

We live in the Bible Belt. A cross is a reflection of the values of the people who live here.

A source of values.

Since I brought up values, it would serve us well to remember the values the cross symbolizes.

The cross is a recognized symbol of sacrificial service. In our ego-centric culture, and in our me-centered time, we need daily reminders that there is a better way.

There is a way of becoming more that has nothing to do with having more.

Greatness, on a community level, has to do with how much we can give, and how many we can serve, and what we can contribute to the good of others.

Service, not celebrity, is what counts.

Selflessness, not selfishness, leaves a legacy.


A unifying symbol.

I mentioned the myriad of church buildings earlier. Christians are a divided group. We differ on worship styles, and carpet color, and church governance, and just about everything imaginable. But we all LOVE Jesus and we all believe he died on the cross. Even though we can’t get ourselves together for a regular Sunday morning meeting, we can usually find a way to join hands around the cross.

In previous years, Baptist churches from all around this area have gathered at Port Neches Park for concerts and celebrations. FBC Nederland has taken part in these events.

It’s a wonderful place for Easter Sunrise Services.

It’s a place where Christians, regardless of their complaints against one another’s doctrine, can find commonality.

There is strength in unity. Churches united around the cross can lend greater strength to a community.

Support the Cross

I support the cross at Port Neches Park. I hope you will join me.


I’m going to write a letter to the Port Neches City Council and to the city’s mayor. I doubt our letters, email, and calls will make the news like the FFRF letter has, but I’m sure our support will be heard. I’ll even be a Port Neches Indian for a day if it will help keep the cross where it stands!

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

NIV 1 Corinthians 1:18


Two Things to Remember to do Today: Thank a Veteran & Thank God for our Veterans

Almighty Father, Loving Lord;

Our Creator, Sustainer, and Lover of our Souls….

We come before you today to give thanks.

We give thanks for the millions of men and women who have given a portion of their time in the service of our nation’s armed forces.

We give thanks for those, who in peacetime and in conflict, answered the call to protect our great country, to defend the cause of freedom, and secure our rights and liberties.

We recognize today that the rights and liberties we enjoy as Americans have been purchased for us by the blood of patriots and by the tears of mothers who sent their sons and daughters into harm’s way.

We remember, on this Veterans’ Day, that our inalienable rights and God given liberties are maintained by the courage of those who wear the uniform that bears our nations flag.

We pause in this moment to express thanksgiving and gratitude to you, Lord, for our veterans: for the brave souls still with us, and for those who have been collected to your side.

Lord, thank you for giving us the selfless example of your son, who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Thank you that our veterans are a contemporary example of selfless service and a reminder that we are ransomed from tyranny, from fear, and from oppression because of their efforts.

Hear our prayer this glorious day. Bless our veterans. Bless the families of our fallen warriors. God bless our country. And God Bless Nederland.

In Christ’s name we pray….AMEN.

Thinking about De-Stressing

Kristi and I are starting a little project. It’s something that has arisen from conversations that keep occurring. It has to do with us personally, and just about everyone we run into.

We’ve been talking about Stress. Stress is toxic in so many ways and it’s unavoidable!

Our talking about stress has actually led to talking about getting rid of stress. I’m going to call that De-Stressing.

Stress comes into our lives from a thousand places. The phone ringing at 3 AM stresses us. Conflict with a co-worker stresses us. Traffic stresses us. Waiting in the checkout line at the store because someone wants to pay with a check stresses us. Being bombarded with Bad/Tragic/Disappointing News stresses us. Worry about our children stresses us. The stock market stresses us.  There’s no end to the list of what stresses us.

Taking Stock of the Sources of Our Stress

Before we can take control of our stress, we have to name the things that bring stress into our lives. Naming and categorizing our sources of stress is the start of taking control over the amount of stress we allow into our lives.

The source of much of our stress can be lumped into a few broad categories. Cataloging the sources of our stress makes the identification and de-stressing effort manageable.

From taking stock of my own life, and looking at the lives of those I love and serve, here is a smattering of categories for us to start cataloging our stress:

  • Relationships
  • Major Life Changes
  • Brokenness
  • Children
  • Finances
  • Busyness
  • Health

You may have a few other categories you would add to this. Depending on where you are in life, what you’ve experienced, and your expectations for happiness, you may have many more categories to add. But I figure that most of what we deal with, in one way or another, fits into one of these groups. We’ll flesh that out in the days to come.

I doubt that you are dealing with only a single category of stress at any one time. The fact is, we are all dealing with multiple sources at all times. The impact of any single source of stress varies, and the impact of the different sources rises and falls.

Naming helps us take control over that which is controlling us. Identifying helps us to turn the tables on our enemies and our problems. Diagnosis is the first step toward the cure, and if not the cure, at least the treatment.

De-Stressing News

We can’t function at our best if we are dealing with an overload of stress. We need to find ways to deal with the stress that is present, limit the stress that enters our lives, and lay the foundation for a de-stressed tomorrow.

Dealing with stress is like weeding a garden: the weed plucking process never stops. Finding, and killing, and limiting stress is a daily task. New stresses pop up where we least expect. Old stresses, weeds whose roots were not completely destroyed, resurrect themselves to be dealt with in fresh ways.

The good news: dealing with stress is worth the effort. When we address the stress that consumes our attention and saps our strength, we make room for better living, healthy relationships, and greater happiness.

More of this project will come out the more Kristi and I talk about it. Feel free to share your thoughts as well. Who knows all the ways we might be able to help each other de-stress.

Drop me a note about how I can pray for you to

The Inexplicable Word From God

JEREMIAD a long, mournful complaint or lamentation; a list of woes.

The painting of Jeremiah in the Sistine Chapel is a self portrait of Michelangelo. The elements of the painting all point to a tortured soul.

The word JEREMIAD comes from the name of our prophet Jeremiah. He is the most melancholy of all of the prophets of the Old Testament.

I always picture Jeremiah as the prophet that has the perpetual dark cloud over his head, even when all around him is sunny and bright.

He spoke God’s word, and God’s word usually went against the grain of what God’s people wanted to hear.

Perhaps Jeremiah is a prophet for our day. Our culture is heading down a path that is contrary to the way of God. We expect to blessed, and to continue doing what we want. That’s the kind of culture Jeremiah spoke to.

And the people hated him!

God’s word for us doesn’t have to make sense to us.

The word that came to Jeremiah wasn’t always terrible. Very often the message he delivered had a silver lining. God was not going to give up on his people. God wasn’t about to abandon them. God was going to discipline them, but not abandon them.

One of the most interesting words God spoke to Jeremiah came at one of the low points in Jeremiah’s life….

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. The army of the king of Babylon was then besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was confined in the courtyard of the guard in the royal palace of Judah.
NIV Jeremiah 32:1-2

Jerusalem was in shambles when God spoke to Jeremiah. The Babylonian army was knocking at the gates. The king of Judah was tired of Jeremiah’s mournful preaching so he had Jeremiah thrown into prison. The food supply was running out. Tensions were high and prospects for peace were low.

This is the message Jeremiah received:

Jeremiah said, “The word of the LORD came to me: Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.’
“Then, just as the LORD had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself.'”
I knew that this was the word of the LORD.
NIV Jeremiah 32:6-8

Buy Land?

God had to be kidding, right?

Who buys land when the Babylonian army is about to pour into Jerusalem and burn down the city?

Who buys land when they know they are about to be deported?

Who buys land with money that could be used to purchase the precious little bread that was floating around Jerusalem?

It doesn’t make sense.

But Jeremiah buys the fields and files the official documents away so that future generations would know that he purchased a field from his uncle.

Jeremiah questions God, but maintains his confidence in God

From his prison cell, Jeremiah prays:

“See how the siege ramps are built up to take the city. Because of the sword, famine and plague, the city will be given into the hands of the Babylonians who are attacking it. What you said has happened, as you now see. And though the city will be given into the hands of the Babylonians, you, Sovereign LORD, say to me, ‘Buy the field with silver and have the transaction witnessed. ‘”
NIV Jeremiah 32:24-25

Jeremiah’s lack of understanding was not a lack of faith. He followed through, though he could see the end result.

God responds with a question of his own:

I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?
NIV Jeremiah 32:27

When God speaks a difficult word into our lives, he is looking for us to trust him. God is looking to see if we will have faith enough to follow him, even when the way forward is no clearly spelled out for us.

God wasn’t just speaking to his prophet in this case. He was speaking through his prophet.

Everyone who witnessed Jeremiah’s purchase of the field would have seen the optimism in his action. The terror that was around them was only temporary. God’s ultimate message through his most depressing prophet was a message of restoration. After a time of discipline there would be a time of blessing. After a time of mourning there would be the sound of rejoicing.

Jeremiah’s messages were only half jeremiad. The other half was hopeful.

“This is what the LORD says: As I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will give them all the prosperity I have promised them. Once more fields will be bought in this land of which you say, ‘It is a desolate waste, without people or animals, for it has been given into the hands of the Babylonians.’ Fields will be bought for silver, and deeds will be signed, sealed and witnessed in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem, in the towns of Judah and in the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, because I will restore their fortunes, declares the LORD.”
NIV Jeremiah 32:42-44

Practicing Confidence in the Midst of Confusion

Jeremiah practiced an uncommon level of confidence in God, even when that confidence was not reasonably warranted.

The kind of confidence Jeremiah displayed was a product of his unshakable faith.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
NIV Hebrews 11:1

When we read the Bible, or hear from God in a moment of prayer, his instructions for us might not match up with our expectations. That doesn’t mean the instructions we’ve been given are invalid. It means we need to dig deeper. Maybe God is calling us out of our comfort zone and into the crucible. It’s in the crucible that steel is made hard and metals are refined. As we practice confidence in God, he is preparing us for the promises he makes to us, even in the midst of life’s confusion.

A Fragile Spirituality: The Story of Elijah

Elijah as an Old Testament Hero

We recently visited a few places in the Holy Land that are mentioned in the life of Elijah. When you read about Elijah in the New Testament, you get a picture of a powerful man, placed high on a pedestal. The book of James paints Elijah as a powerful man of prayer:

Elijah was a human being, even as we are. 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 5:17-18

When Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John, it was Moses and Elijah who appeared with him and spoke with him. Moses represented the Law and Elijah represented the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament. God gave the Law through Moses and he called the people to faithfulness to the Law through Elijah and all of the prophets.

Elijah’s Context

The story of Elijah begins as the connection between the people and God reaches a low point. The Davidic Kingdom has been divided. The northern kingdom, called Israel, has forsaken the worship of God and has been won over to the worship of Baal and Asherah. The kings of Israel are getting further and further away from their spiritual roots. Elijah begins his ministry during the reign of the worst king in Israel’s history.

In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel twenty-two years. Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to arouse the anger of the LORD, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him. 1 Kings 16:29-33

Elijah’s Prophecy

Elijah’s first sermon as a prophet is short and terrible. NO RAIN!

Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” 1 Kings 17:1

Not even dew. He’s a herald of the Bad News. Without rain, the country would be without crops.

There is something happening behind the scene here. God is sending a message to his people, not only through punishment. The god Baal, the one they are being led to worship by Ahab and his wife Jezebel, is also known as the Storm God. The people believe Baal holds the keys to the skies and at his command the heavens produce rain. Yahweh, Elijah’s God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has commanded the rain to stop in order to convince the people that he alone is God.

Elijah’s Boldness

Elijah doesn’t stick around after he delivers his message of bad news to king Ahab. God instructs him to flee Israel altogether. He stays first at a brook east of the Jordan river, until the brook dries up. After that, he heads north to Sidon.

After 3 ½ years of hiding Elijah comes back to Israel. Ahab has continually searched for him, but has had no luck in finding him. The king wanted to kill him for troubling Israel. When they meet, Elijah requests a contest.

Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” 1 Kings 18:19

We stood on Mount Carmel and looked out along the Jezreel Valley. Somewhere on this hill, Elijah’s contest took place.

From Mount Carmel you can see the Jezreel Valley. This is the area the book of Revelation refers to as Armageddon.

The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East…. Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in
Hebrew is called Armageddon
. Revelation 16:12-16


Elijah’s Prayer and God’s Response

1 Kings 18 tells the story leading up to Elijah’s victory on Mount Carmel. You can read about it HERE but we’ll skip down to the heart of Elijah’s prayer and God’s response.

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD–he is God! The LORD–he is God!” 1 Kings 18:36-39

What a demonstration of power! It’s hard to imagine what this must have done to the crowd that had been bored to tears waiting to see if Baal would show up.

There is a small Carmelite monastery on Mount Carmel today. Religious people throughout the centuries, inspired by the story of Elijah, and have sought out this mountain to live simple lives of prayer and worship. We were inspired, but we decided not to stay.


The Drought Ends

Immediately after the contest was won, and God proved himself to the people as powerful, Elijah began to pray again. We do not have the words he spoke, just the image and the results.

And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked. “There is nothing there,” he said. Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.” The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.'” Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of the LORD came on Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel. (1Ki 18:41-46 NIV)

God was not through working with Elijah yet. While Ahab is hitching up his chariot, Elijah is sprinting ahead to Jezreel. Elijah’s sprint was as much of a miracle as anything else that happened on this day. The prophet outpaces the king’s horses over the stretch of about 20 miles!


From High Highs to Low Lows

I don’t know how long Elijah stayed in Jezreel, but it probably wasn’t a terribly long time. Perhaps it was just long enough to pack a few things and then leave the country again, because as soon as Ahab gets home and tells his wife about what happened, Elijah is put at the top of the Most Wanted list.

It’s here in Elijah’s story that we begin to realize how fragile he is spiritually. This is the point in the story where Elijah should be gloating. He should feel invincible after calling down the fire of God, the rain of heaven, and then outrunning the king’s horses. He should be on top of the world, but he feels crushed by his fear of queen Jezebel. He runs for his life and ends up about 100 miles away.

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 1 Kings 19:3-4


God Calls Elijah to Another Journey: To the Desert.

Elijah must go further. God needs to get him all by himself to build Elijah back up.

Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 1 Kings 19:5-8

The desert is where the people of Israel, fresh out of Egypt, became familiar with God. Horeb was the place God gave them the Law. Horeb was the place they entered into a covenant with God. Horeb was the place they became a nation.

God calls Elijah to go back to that place where God spoke to Moses. God was about to reveal himself again, but this time it wouldn’t be through the thunder, or the fire or the storm or the earthquake.

God Speaks to Elijah in the Solitude of the Mountain

There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1Ki 19:9-14 NIV)

Sometimes we miss the voice of God because we are paying attention to the wrong things. We want the storm or the earthquake or the fire because they are plain and powerful and unmistakable. You don’t have to listen hard to hear them. It’s the whisper of God that causes us to strain. It’s the silence and the stillness of God that we can’t get comfortable with.

Elijah hears from God and he doesn’t appear to be changed. His answer to God’s question, “What are you doing here?” is the same both times God asked. It’s an awkward conversation to say the least. But God accomplished what he wants to accomplish. There is more planned for Elijah. God’s plan for him didn’t terminate in the Carmel victory.

Go Back, I’m not Through with You!

God worked through Elijah on Mount Carmel to win a battle for allegiance. Now, Elijah was being sent back to lay the foundation progress.

The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel–all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (1Ki 19:15-18 NIV)

God made Elijah the king maker. Elijah announced who the next king in Israel would be, Jehu (though he did not have the opportunity to anoint him personally). And God displayed his authority over all the nations by announcing who the king of Aram would be, Hazael. And God maintained the prophetic ministry by sending Elijah to Elisha. Elisha would receive a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, and prove to be just powerful as his predecessor.

The Cycle of Elijah’s Life:

Powerful – Fearful – Pitiful – Restored – Powerful

We are not always powerful. Very often we locate ourselves somewhere on the spiritual spectrum somewhere between powerful and pitiful.

Elijah was powerful on Mount Carmel. But as soon as Jezebel came after him, he became fearful. After weeks of running, when he had come to the end of himself, there at the Mountain of God, Horeb, we see how pitiful even a prophet can be. “I’m the only one!” he tells God twice.

We feel alone when we are pitiful. We feel abandoned and abused and neglected. Even on the Mountain of God, with the memory of God’s power fresh on our mind, we can become as pitiful as Elijah.

But God doesn’t give up on us. He speaks to us as he did Elijah: “Go Back!” It’s a command. At God’s command, Elijah is restored. He doesn’t whine. He doesn’t complain any more. He leaves the cave and he returns, in spite of the arrest warrants out for him.

The last picture we see of Elijah is a return to the power he experienced on Mount Carmel.

As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 2 Kings 2:11

We cannot always be as powerful as we want to be. Nor will we always be as pitiful as we think we sometimes are. We live most of our lives somewhere between these two extremes: either fearful or restored.

When we are fearful, we learn to trust God.

When we are being restored, we learn to thank God.

We are fragile in body, in mind and in soul, just like Elijah was. But God uses us all the same.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail;
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.

From Bema to Bema, and all of the Bemas In-Between

The Strategy of Paul’s Evangelism

Stone with 2 Corinthians 4:17 inscribed on it that sits atop the bema in the Corinthian agora.

Whenever the Apostle Paul entered into a new community, the first place he sought out was the place where Jews were praying and studying the Torah. Paul’s custom was to engage with people at synagogues.

Paul’s strategy for evangelism is stated here by Luke in the book of Acts as he records Paul’s travels to Thessalonica:

As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. NIV Acts 17:2-3

The third town Paul stopped at after Thessalonica was Corinth, where Paul stayed for 18 months, preaching the Gospel and making tents.

In Corinth, Paul met a married couple, Aquila and Priscilla, who were believers from Rome. They were expelled from Rome by Claudius in a persecution of the Jews. Aquila and Priscilla were tentmakers as Paul was. He began working with them and continued his trade until Silas and Timothy joined them in Corinth. From that point on, Paul focused exclusively on preaching the Gospel.

In Corinth, Paul makes a major shift in his evangelism strategy. The Jews in Corinth were agitated by Paul’s preaching. They became abusive toward him. Luke tells us that:

…they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” NIV Acts 18:6

This change in strategy wasn’t permanent. As Paul leaves from Corinth to travel to Ephesus we find him, again, going into the synagogue to reason with the Jews from the scriptures about Jesus being the Messiah.

Paul in the Agora

So where did Paul take his preaching and teaching? The marketplace.

Each town in ancient Greece had an agora. An agora is a market, or center for commerce. Corinth, in the first century, was a thriving town and would have had an active market. This was probably where Paul’s companions, Aquila and Priscilla had a tent shop.

A view of what remains of the Corinthian agora.

Other important civil functions took place at the agora. This would have been the area where the Romans held court. There were also temples and cultic places of worship in and around the agora.

Paul’s ministry in Corinth was extremely fruitful. Luke mentions a man named Titius Justus, who showed Paul hospitality. It is thought that Titius was a prominent person who was wealthy enough to be able to entertain the new church in Corinth at his house.

Another notable person mentioned by Luke is Crispus, the leader of the synagogue. He, and his entire household, believed Paul’s message and were baptized. This must have been a great encouragement to Paul since many of the Jews were hostile to his ministry.

As encouraging as the conversion of Crispus must have been, it did not change the attitude of the Jews in Corinth about Paul. Even as he preached in the marketplace, they continued to harass and attack him.

Paul at the Bema

The Jewish prosecution of Paul came to a head as they seized him and brought him to the Roman authority, a man named Gallio.

The place where they brought Paul was part of the marketplace. It was called the Bema. Bema is translated in Scripture as either Judgment Place or Judgment Seat. It was a raised area where a crowd could gather to hear speeches, and in the case of Paul, to hear the accusations and the verdict against him.

Paul would have been presented to the Roman authorities on top of this raised ledge to be tried as a lawbreaker.

This is a view from on top of the bema, the place where Paul stood accused.

Unfortunately, for the mob that brought Paul to the bema, the verdict was not what they wanted. The accusation was:

“This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.” NIV Acts 18:13

Gallio was unimpressed by the charges. As a rule, the Romans tried to stay out of religious disputes. They were glad to assert themselves when Roman control was at stake, but in matters of piety, they couldn’t care less.

When Paul tried to give a defense of his preaching, Gallio cut him off. Gallio said to the Jews:

“If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law–settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” NIV Acts 18:14-15

Gallio showed a great contempt for the Jews in Corinth. Upon hearing the verdict their anger flared and they turned on their own synagogue leader, a man named Sosthenes. Perhaps it was Sosthenes’ idea to bring Paul to the bema. Maybe Sosthenes thought they could get rid of Paul by making a nuisance of him before the Roman authority. Luke doesn’t give us any other insight into why the crowd turned on Sosthenes, but he does tell us that Gallio looked on while the mob beat him and showed no concern for him.

Paul was able to remain in Corinth for some time after this event. It’s amazing that the sequence of events in Paul’s ministry that took place in Corinth were very similar to events that occurred in most of the places Paul preached. Even more extraordinary than the recurrence of events in Paul’s ministry is that he maintained his ministry at all. How many lesser men have given up their task due to lighter difficulties?

Paul’s Persistence in Preaching

Paul’s confidence in the Gospel message is shown through his perseverance in preaching the message about Jesus, especially in unfriendly territory. Because of past experience, he knew his message would bring about attacks and reprisals, but for the sake of the Gospel, Paul continued preaching.

Where did he find the strength? How did he maintain his resolve? What kept him going?

I think Paul touches on this himself in the second letter to the Corinthians. Since they knew about his struggles while he was with them, he could pour out his heart to them. He writes to them and says:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. NIV 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Paul was not concerned with the bemas he faced in this life. His ministry was lived out between two other bemas, or Judgment Seats.

The Bema Jesus Faced

The first was the Judgment of Christ.

While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” NIV Matthew 27:19

Here we find a Judgment Seat far removed from the one Paul was brought to in Corinth. It wat not Paul who was on trial but Jesus. Pilate was the Roman governor in Jerusalem in the time of Jesus and Jesus’ life was held in the balance of his decision. Pilate was against killing Jesus but the crowd was so fervent in demanding his death that he consented rather than spark an uprising.

There were two men named Jesus present at the Judgment Seat, or bema, of Pilate that day. One was Jesus of Nazareth and the other was named Jesus Barabbas.

Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” NIV Matthew 27:15-17

The crowd, stirred up by the chief priest and the elders, called for the release of Barabbas, a criminal charged with insurrection and murder. When Pilate asked what should be done with Jesus of Nazareth, the crowd shouted, “Crucify!”

In front of everyone, from the bema, Pilate washed his hands and said, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your responsibility.”

To that the crowd replied, “His blood is on us and on our Children.”

We know the rest of the story. We remember that on the third day Jesus rose from the grave. He told us this would happen. It’s was God’s plan that he face the Judgment Seat in our place. For our salvation, he was condemned for us and he died for us. And to our great delight, the grave where they placed his body is still empty to this day as a reminder that the grave holds no consequence for us.

The Future Bema of Jesus

But there was another Judgment Seat that inspired Paul and kept him preaching with power. It was a future Bema, and Christ would be there as well. Instead of Pilate or Gallio holding court, it would be Jesus presiding.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. NIV 2 Corinthians 5:10

The destiny of every believer involves this Judgment Seat. Warren Wiersbe says that this Judgment Seat made Paul “ambitious for the Lord because he wanted to meet him with confidence and not shame.”

Paul pursued Christ with reckless abandon. He threw comfort and safety and security to the wind in order to be found faithful to his calling.

At the Judgment Seat of Christ Paul fully expected to receive a great reward.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. NIV 2 Timothy 4:7-8

Paul directs us with his words and with his example in the way we should live our lives in Christ.

So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.
2 Corinthians 5:9

The Location Most Central to Our Story

The Garden Tomb Area

We saved the best for last. 

All of Christianity starts right here, at the Garden Tomb. 

The history of the world hinged on this acre of land. 

The Gardem Tomb area contains two significant places: the tomb of Jesus and the hill called Golgotha. 

Here is a picture of Golgotha, the place Jesus and two others were crucified. 

You can make out the features that gave it the name “the place of the skull.” 

The tour guide brought out pictures taken of this location 105 years ago. It looked more like a skull then, but it still lends itself to a skull like figure. 

Someone built a bus depot over the mouth of the skull and the Muslims built a cemetery on top of it (their graves are still full).  

Unlike the popular images we often see of the cross, planted high on a hill, the cross of Christ would have been in a very public area. The Romans used crosses like we use road signs. The area of Golgotha is at the fork of two major ancient roads. It was a perfect location for the Romans to remind everyone who was in charge. 

The Tomb

After Jesus died, his body was taken off the cross and placed in a nearby tomb. 

At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (‭John‬ ‭19‬:‭41-42‬ NIV)

The tomb has not been altered much in 2,000 years. It’s just there. No decorations. No adornments. 

It invites you to come and see. It draws you in. It begs you to look inside. 

The original stone has long been gone. Here is a replica, but a good replica. 

The inside of the tomb barren, just as it ought to be. 

The place to the left is where they would have placed Jesus’ body. 

We stood in this tomb for a long while. We took our pictures, and then experienced a little resurrection of our own as we exited the door we came in. 


A Memorial Meal

To finish off our tour, we celebrated with the Lord’s Supper. 

Using matzah bread and olive wood communion cups, we prayed our prayers, recieved the elements, and sang a parting hymn. 

Being in the Garden Tomb brings the broken body and shed blood of Christ into a new light. 

Strange Signs

I posted this pictures on Instagram and Facebook earlier. I think the first one is a warning about Resurrection and the other warns about Worship. Worship is a natural reaction to the encounter of resurrection. 


Warning: Resurrection Happens Here


Warning: Resurrection Encounters Lead To Worship

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” 

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (‭Mark‬ ‭16‬:‭1-8‬ NIV)

There is more to come…

Catch up from previous post:
Different Hats and Funny Dresses

Baptism in the Jordan River



Following Peter and Paul Through Rome. 

Standing on Hallowed Ground