ALMOST ~ AM LOST

On Israel’s Shore – Caesarea Maritima

Herod the Great built Caesarea in about 10 BC.  He did the impossible – conquered an unruly sea and built jetties and an entire port on the Mediterranean Sea, complete with lighthouse, temples, a palace, and a hippodrome for chariot races and gladiator games. This city was home for Rome’s leaders – Pilate, Herod Antipas, Herod Agrippa I and II.

About 30 years after Jesus died, this city was the setting for Acts 26:28 where the imprisoned Apostle Paul gave his defense to King Herod Agrippa II and Festus.  Paul skillfully related his testimony, his story of conversion, and gave a reason for his life’s commitment to spreading the gospel.  In response, Agrippa uttered his famous words, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian!”

The Problem With “Almost”

Our guide for our recent study trip to Israel chose that setting to share his own personal testimony.  As we stood cooling off our feet in the beautiful Mediterranean, he described that as a rebellious young man, he decided he was finished with church and God and was leaving home to live his own life.

As a token gesture, he went to his home church to say “good-bye.”  That evening, the sermon was on Acts 26:28.  The speaker emphasized the irony of the word ALMOST.  If you switch the L and the M in that word, you come up with a related concept ~ AM LOST.  Being almost a believer is the same as being totally lost. How very, very sad.

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The result in our guide’s life was that God’s Spirit used that to break his rebellion and catapult him into seeking an intimate life-giving relationship with the Lord.  Eventually he went into ministry and has been training church leaders for 25 years.

We climbed up a small hill from the beach and walked out on to the very stone pavement where Paul spoke these words. How sobering to realize the ongoing living power coming from the Biblical account that took place right where we stood.

And how amazing to think that Paul’s words to “give thanks always for all things” were written during this imprisonment.  I am th(i)nkful for our brother Paul’s faithful testimony during that long test that God sovereignly allowed in his life. How often we become very impatient with how God has written our story.  We chafe and complain because it is hard for us and we don’t see the reason for the difficulties. Ever spend three years in prison for no good reason and wonder what God is doing?

Th(i)nkful For Grace

One of the outstanding lessons for me is that I am so incredibly thankful for “grace” – unmerited help and assistance from God.  That same grace that helped Paul through all he experienced as he was imprisoned and beaten is also fully available to me.  The grace that helped our guide respond to the challenge of Acts 26:28 is freely presented to all who desire to believe. Th(i)nkful that God is so merciful and faithful, quick to forgive, and slow to wrath.

Irony of the Aqueducts

Herod’s masterpiece on the Mediterranean – like so many other things he built in Israel – is in ruins, barely visible, just toppled rocks that beg for imagination.  The Caesarean aqueductsIMG_5834 that used to bring down fresh water from the foothills of Mt. Carmel are now dried and cracked.

But God’s living water, reflected in the life, words, and ministry of Paul, is still flowing steadily for all who would drink. People like our guide are still brought to life by the words of the living water uttered on that stone platform in Caesarea years ago.  And the flow, growing stronger and stronger these days, is reaching into the spiritual deserts of countries and communities that have never heard. Sola Deo Gloria!

Lives Still Transformed

Paul gave a compelling testimony of the saving and transforming power of Jesus Christ. So did our guide in Israel.  Your story is powerful, and no one can argue with it. Our friend Josh Chapmon is a videographer who has a ministry helping Christians record videos of their testimony simply using a smart phone to upload them to the internet. Check out God’s story in the life of Chris Dew!

 

 

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to be a Christian.”  And Paul said, “I would to God, that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.”

Acts 26:28-29

Th(i)nkful in Gethsemane

Journey to Gethsemane

Jerusalem. David and I were experiencing a dream trip come true.  Someone had provided a way for us to join a small study group to Israel.  All my life I had desired to see the places where Jesus walked and to have my eyes opened to the events of the Bible in an extraordinary manner.  I was full of thinking thanks as we actually walked along the old Jerusalem walls, into the Kidron valley, and up the Mount of Olives into the Garden of Gethsemane. The olive trees were astounding!

As we entered I realized that it was a lot smaller than I had imagined.  Probably one reason for that was the Church of All Nations that now occupies much of the area where the garden had originally been.  The word Gethsemane means olive press.  Since the Mount of Olives is covered with olive tress, that is a most fitting name.  The garden seemed more cultivated than I expected, probably more than it was when Jesus and His disciples had gone there 2,000 years ago.  IMG_5053A fence enclosed the garden, protecting the ancient olive trees, and beautiful flowers were growing in between the old trees.  I could see walkways, but people were not allowed to enter.

Th(i)nkful for Freddie

Not sure if I was super-exhausted from travel and walking many miles a day, or because I was truly aware of the immensity of what happened on that piece of ground, but I began to cry.  Tears were streaming down my face as I peered over the fence that surrounded the garden.  I was so very th(i)nkful that Jesus “saw it through.”  For my sake, he endured through the arrest and the illegal trial that night, and then the beatings, the mocking, and the agony of the cross the next day.  The overwhelming agony was sadly juxtaposed with the underwhelmed cluelessness of his disciples who were not even able to stay awake and pray with Him.  I don’t expect I would have done any better as I so often yield to the frailty of my flesh.

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A man inside the garden walked up to me.  He noticed my tears and was gentle and kind.  He said that he had been the gardener there for 21 years, and his father for 40 years before him.  His name was Freddie; his father was from Romania and his mother an American Jew. He asked me to wait a minute while he went to get something.  He returned with some small sprigs clipped from the oldest olive tree in the garden!  As we continued to chat with him, we found out that Freddie’s mother was very sick so David asked if he could pray for her, and he did.

Some of the olive trees there were so huge and gnarled.  I had never seen such trees in all my life.  I wondered if in fact some of them could actually have been there 2,000 years ago when Jesus was there?

2000 year old olive tree

Rosemary in Gethsemane

IMG_5454As an epilogue, I wanted to mention that someone once told me that there was a lot of the herb rosemary in the Garden of Gethsemane.  That connected with me.  I love rosemary, and to think that it may have been growing around the area where Jesus prayed brought me joy.  Perhaps he stroked His fingers over the rosemary and smelled it like I love to do. So I was on the lookout for that as I walked around the garden.

Sure enough I found it on the north side.  It was neatly planted in a row, but I am sure that when Jesus was there it grew more wildly.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and He said to His disciples. Sit here, while I go over there and pray. And taking with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, He began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then he said to them, My soul is very sorrowful , even to death; remain here, and watch with Me. 

Matthew 26:36-38