90 Day Challenge vii starting on Sunday, April 28

Dear FPC family and friends, So we begin again another 90 Day Challenge as we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of Easter season.  It may not seem like a time to launch ourselves into some of the historical books of the Bible as well as a few minor prophets, but that is exactly what we are doing next.  Over this study we will be seeing the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges,  and the prophets Joel, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Haggai.  Each one takes place in a specific time and place and so some history will be needed to supplement the readings. My prayer is that Scripture will come alive for us as Jesus is alive and resurrected.  While the person of Jesus may seem very far removed from a Joel, you will find in this prophet a call that one day our sons and our daughters will be filled with the Holy Spirit.  This harbinger of Pentecost will bring us to today where we see the Holy Spirit alive and well  in the church. I pray that you will be enriched by your time in Scripture and that it will edify your walk with our resurrected Jesus.   Your servant in Christ, Pastor Bob
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Israel during Lent – Day 9

Israel Day 9
45 hours straight touring or traveling before hitting the sack Saturday night.  Shabbat Shalom!   Ours and Theirs!
Funny joke:  when President Trump visited the Western Wall, he wrote a prayer and put the prayer note into a crack in the wall. A reporter saw where he put the prayer and pulled it out of the wall.  It said, “Lord, it’s Trump, what do you need?”
Not funny joke:  Many land mines remain in Israel.   They are marked with signs in Arabic, Hebrew and English.  The English signs read “land mines”. The Hebrew signs read “land mines”.  The Arabic signs read “picnic area”
Today we flew from Tel Aviv to Moscow to JFK (by airplane) and were then bused to Strasburg and New London.   We all reminisced on what we learned and experienced, each of us reflecting differently but all of us reflecting profoundly.  
One theme common to most of us was a growing desire to read the Bible, now with the big picture of the Big Story having been brought down from the abstract and into the real, earthy, historical, lived world of God’s actual presence on earth  
A pilgrimage it was,  and we are all grateful for pastor Bob’s gracious and competent leadership.  On behalf of the whole group of us - - Well done Bob, Thank You!!!!!!!!!
What does a Jewish wife say when she looks in the mirror first thing in the morning?  “He deserves it!”.
Finally, Jerusalem is inhabited by Jews, Arabs, Christians, Bedouins, Muslims. returnees to the Promised Land from every country in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, Latin America (and more), secular Jews, (and more), and every combination of the above that you can think if.  In short, Jerusalem is a microcosm of the world.  The problems and joys of the world are on display here.  No wonder the Bible tells us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem!!  (Psalm 122:6. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! “May they be secure who love you!”
“לשנה הבאה בירושלים”
“Next year Jerusalem!
 
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Israel during Lent – Day 8

Day 8.  Last Day in Israel and What a Day it was.   Hezekiah’s tunnel.   701 BC.  Having 20 years earlier overrun and ended the Northern Kingdom of Israel forever, Sennacherib, King of Assyria, now threatened Judah’s existence.   In order to survive a siege, King Hezekiah had to plan for a reliable water supply.  So he had an underground aqueduct built a quarter mile long and our group walked through it to the pool of Siloam (John 9)! Pretty cool. . . And wet! The Western Wall (wailing wall)  We joined other pilgrims from around the world praying at this 2000 plus year old foundation of the Jerusalem temple. This writer wrote prayers for his wife, each of his children, their spouses,  their children, prayed those prayers, then left those written prayers in the wall, following that up with prayers for others.  It was a special and powerful experience leaving that wall with the deep sense that God is answering those prayers.   It was emotional for each of us to realize that the Lord of the universe notices and cares about and acts on behalf of each of us in the most personal of ways.  A Road that Jesus walked! Of all the sights we visited there was one where archaeologists are 100 percent certain that Jesus walked and we walked there.  Almost too big to take in.    The Garden Tomb Visited one of the two possible sites of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.  An Iraqi Jewish Christian woman was our guide and she could not have explained the Gospel, (God’s coming to earth to die for our sins because we are incapable of ridding ourselves of them) any more clearly! Right after that we had communion.   Think about that for a moment.  For most of us American citizenship is about our promise to remain loyal to America, expressed in the Pledge of Allegiance.  For a Christian, citizenship in the Kingdom of God is about God’s commitment to us as expressed in bread and wine symbolizing God’s giving his life for us.   Now what Kingdom that ever existed on planet earth has ever had a king like that?  God in Jesus is a King who has won the loyalty of his followers not by the sword but by a cross.  We watched a shepherd herd his sheep in the same shepherd field where King David tended sheep as a boy, just outside of Bethlehem.   That may be the same field where the shepherds would have heard the birth of Jesus announced.  Like wow! Viewed the wall between Muslim Bethlehem and outer Jerusalem, site of the Intifada in 2000.   We must pray for “the peace of Jerusalem” The Valley of Ellah  This is where 11 year old David jumped to the front of the line and said I’ll go.  He ran down to the creek, got 5 smooth stones and did what he had practiced since he was 5. He used his sling to fell the Philistine’s chosen fighter, a man named Goliath.  Each of us is bringing a stone home from that same stream home with us, reminding us that none of us is exempt from the call of God, nor are we incapable of answering that when we simply say yes and trust God enough to go. 
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Israel during Lent – Day 7 from Jeff

Day 7. Talk About Intense! The Temple Mount !  It is controlled by the Palestinian Authority with a huge Mosque and Giant Muslim Shrine of Gold on it!   Herod’s temple was twice as high as the Dome. Incredible! Before Jesus showed up, individual people were valued only insofar as they were of value to the rich and powerful.  Think of all the miserable slave labor that went into Herod’s ego building.  The poor were nobodies. But Jesus introduced something completely new . . . . the intrinsic value of every person regardless of status, race, and ethnicity.  He “named” people by noticing them.  A paralytic, a blind man, a rich tax collector, an ostracized woman, the list goes on! Like wow!  That was brand new on scene of humanity on earth and it endures today as not only a Christian value but a western one as well.  The Via Delarosa:  the path Jesus walked carrying at least part of the cross on which he would be crucified. It was a long walk! Jesus had chutzpah, guts, courage. It must have been beyond brutal.  As we walked where he walked, at least approximately, we were bombarded by bling, clothes, trinkets, souvenirs, soooo much stuff.  Trying to feel, think about, experience, contemplate God Himself, about to be crucified for us one minute while the next minute wondering what kind of gift to buy for a family member was awful.  But maybe it wasn’t.  Maybe that picture is exactly the picture we need to see. It is the picture of a humanity distracted by the idols of materialism which have enchanted and enslaved us, an enslavement that can only be broken by the agony of the cross.   Church of the Holy Sepulcher:   Built at the instruction of Emperor Constantine’s mom in the 4th century right over top of both Golgotha and Jesus’ Burial tomb (exact locations are educated guesses). Some of us touched the stone on which Jesus may have been prepped for burial.  Sometimes acts of veneration can be spiritually legit without being idolatrous Many groups sang from the altar of a 12th century church built by the crusaders we sang “lord prepare me to be a sanctuary”.  Other songs in many languages. Chills! Together yet-separate.  A Christian enclave in the midst of Muslim territory, real cool.  Yad Vashem.  Isaiah 56:5. The Holocaust Museum. A magnificent attempt to remember every name of every one of the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis.   Let no one ever fall victim to the sanctimony that allows one to think that one is not capable, in some way, shape or form, of the same horror that the Nazis perpetrated.  Mother Theresa said, “There’s a little Hitler in each of us”.  G.K. Chesterton in response to a newspaper asking what’s wrong with the world answered, “Dear Sirs, I am”.  The Christian who can give the same answer to the same question has come far in the a Christian life.  It’s the answer that explains the cross.  It’s the answer that elevates forgiveness as the Christian response to conflict, it’s the response that cuts through the death dealing pride that says I could never have been one of those Nazis.  Vad Yashem is more than Isaiah 56:5. It’s a monument to humanity’s incapacity to rescue ourselves.  Revenge,retaliation, and violence, humanity’s default reactions to wrongs never bring peace.  I liked a quote from inside the museum that read,”Better to save a Jew than to kill a German”. It’s not all the way there, but it’s a start.
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Israel during Lent – Day 7 from Ursula

We were set loose in the Old City of Jerusalem for 2.5 hours today, and one of my wanderings took me to a Coptic Church. It was incredible to recognize Kyrie Elaison sung in an unfamiliar tune. The Church of Saint Helen is situated over an enormous cistern of water. The spot was marked in 329 AD (according to a Spanish guide I overheard). While I didn't take pictures because a service was in progress, I found a picture of the sanctuary online. It was humbling to worship with other Christians who use unfamiliar traditions and read scripture in an unknown language, but praise the same God.
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Israel During Lent – Day 6 from Jeff

DAY 6. Judea. God Forsaken.  Those are the first words that came to my mind this morning as we entered the Judean wilderness/desert.  We traveled south along the western shore of the Dead Sea and, wow, is that sea and its surroundings dead or what!   It’s barren!  Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness were no picnic!   Why would God chose this place to be a homeland for his chosen people?  If this writer were God he would choose Fiji to form a chosen people.  Masada. Oh my Gosh!  Please google what happened there in 70-72 AD.   It was horrific. Too unthinkable to contemplate.  Masada is the symbol of Jewish resilience.  It’s their cry, “Never again!”  The IDF trains there.  Air Force jets tip their wings to it!   Jewish resilience bolstered by God’s covenant mean’s Israel ain’t going away! En Gedi.   A spring and small oasis in the Judan desert, complete with ibex!  David hid here from paranoid Saul!   More of the Bible becoming real!  If you’re a leader don’t be paranoid.  It looks really, really bad. Swimming in the already dead but still dying Dead Sea! As this writer was floating (impossible to sink in this Sea) on this gigantic lake he looked west to the mountains of Moab (enemies of the Israelites thousands of years ago & still today as property of Jordan), then to the south and west only to see desolate wasteland.  But then, looking north, the reminder came  that this water was once living water (meaning fresh and running and alive) flowing from snow on Mt Herman in the far north.  It is that living water which feeds the Sea of Galilee, which in turn becomes the Jordan river. It is that water where miracles happened, baptisms took place, across which the Israelites marched into the promised land and more!  And it ends up no longer living water but dead and lifeless in the Dead Sea So there we all were, paradoxically being buoyed, being borne, by that from which no man can live.  The thought then came that this is indeed how God works perhaps even most of the time.  A believer is so frequently buoyed, borne by God’s Spirit, carried even in the deadest of life conditions, even carried BY those horrific life conditions when God uses those conditions for our good in ways that we could never hope nor imagine.   No, this land is not God forsaken.  It’s rough, hard and not always amenable to life, but it’s not God forsaken.  It’s God Chosen, God inhabited, and God Blessed.   Maybe it’s a reminder to each of us that God is sustaining the very places where we sometimes feel forsaken.  Maybe you sometimes feel like your life is like a big, salty, dead, cold, muddy lake, located at lowest point on planet earth but something’s keeping you afloat.  If you find yourself thanking that Something, God Himself, for his Grace when Grace is nigh impossible to see, then you have come far in the Christian life.
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Israel During Lent – Day 6

This is from Ursula Rice... Quote of the day: "super chutzpah"
Even though this phrase was used by our driver, David, at the end of the day as we were trying to get to the unloading zone at our Dead Sea spa, that same spirit guided us through the day. We saw it in the audacity of King Herod, who built his fortress at Masada; in the dedication of the unknown scribes at Qumran, who lived a life of extreme faith and persistence in the desert, leaving us what have come to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls; and I myself dared to climb up to the top of the chain of David's Waterfalls at the Ein Gedi National Park, and maybe not make it back in a timely manner to the bus. Here are the pictures of the waterfall itself, the wet tunnels I ran, I mean, walked, through to get there, and the view of the valley and the Dead Sea beyond. Enjoy, because I certainly did. Praise God!
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Israel during Lent – Day 5

Day 5 Departed Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee for Gideon’s Spring, where Gideon wondered out loud, if God is supposed to be with us where is he since we’re hopelessly surrounded by Midianites?  God’s response?   I’m here, I’m with you and YOU Gideon are now going to switch from complaining to becoming the solution with God’s direction and God’s power.  How about you.  Where might God be calling you out of reticence and complaint to becoming part of the deliverance from whatever problem you’re facing? We drove route 90 south along the Jordanian border, observing the reality of life surrounded by those who want the elimination of your existence.  The battle between Ishmael and Isaac, between Jacob and Esau, between the Israelites and Canaanites perseveres.  Zionist’s see Jericho still standing as a Muslim Palestinian city right in the middle of Israel as an impediment to God’s will!   Palestinians refuse to surrender to the Zionist invaders.  What now?  It will be wonderful to behold what the Prince of Peace has up his sleeve!! Back on the bus to ascend  from the lowest place on earth, the Dead Sea, climbing one full Kilometer in elevation up to Jerusalem!   From quite warm to really chilly.  Doing so brought to life the Psalms of ascent, Psalms 120 to 134, which the Jewish believers in Yahweh would sing on their way up to worship at Passover, Pentecost And the Feast of Tabernacles. This trip is bringing the Bible alive to all of us!!! Jerusalem!!!! A Jewish Cristian who worships in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, prayed the Lord’s Prayer with us in Aramaic!  Walked the Palm Sunday path from the Mount of Olives thru Gethsemane to the Kidron Valley.  Imagine Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, walking or riding that route, entering the East Gate, approaching the opulence of Herod’s temple and seeing the seduction of his people by power, wealth, empty ritual, and materialism.  No wonder Jesus ‘trashed’ the place.  Some of us wonder if Jesus feels the same way about us Christians who have been co-opted by the empty promises of the materialism that captures our hearts.   One clue to how Jesus might feel about us is that he wept. He knew that the empty promise of Herodian wealth was a trap and that 70 AD was inevitable.  Can we learn from that? Tomorrow we play!   We’ll float in the Dead Sea!  No fish nipping at our heels!!
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Israel during Lent – Day 4

Day 4  The “Mount of Beatitudes” where Jesus gave his “Sermon on the Mount”.    There we listened to a testimony of one of our group explaining his healing from an inoperable brain tumor!  Recalling Matthew 6:33 where Jesus implores us not to worry, we sang “seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you”.  This is a teaching that every one of us would do well to remind ourselves of on a daily basis.  Boat ride on the Sea of Galilee!   The 15 minutes of peaceful silence there was huge for each of us.  From our boat we could reflect on the power of Jesus:  he walked on water, calmed a storm, made fish fill nets, fed 5,000, taught parables from a boat, crossed to the “other side” to outsiders to heal a demoniac, made Capernaum  his base for ministry, healed Peter’s mother-in-law, taught in the synagogue and more!   We stood in some of those places  We stood right above the synagogue  where Jesus taught.  We stood in the Golan region of the Decapolis where Jesus chose to go because he cared not just about “his own”.  Had lunch where most of us were served a whole fish that looked at you while you ate it. Yuck!  Concluded the day with another wonderful devotional at waters edge on the Sea of Galilee  Several of us were well prepared having watched a lightning storm light up the sea the night before.  It occurs to some of us that the home of the Prince of Peace is not a place of peace.  Israel is surrounded by those who hate her: Syria, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Hezbollah, Egypt, on and on the list goes.  Yet she survives, no, flourishes.  She is far from being God’s perfect servant but God made a Covenant with her and God does not break promises.  It seems to some of us that there is nothing on planet earth that has happened that has not happened here in one form or another.  The history and destiny of the world is right here in microcosm.  One day it will be set right. Instead of missiles and jets flying over, lions and lambs, Syrians and Jews, Muslims and Christians, Druze and Kabalists, Hindus, Buddhists, and whatevers will be breathing deep the breath of God in God’s inclusive Kingdom having been ushered in by Jesus Himself.  Jesus is the hope of the world.  Please google the song “Breathe Deep the Breath of God” by The Lost Dogs.  It captures the heart of God Tomorrow Jerusalem!!!
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Israel during Lent – day 3

Day 3  After overnighting in Netanya overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, we took off for Caesarea in the Sea, the location of one of Herod’s magnificent palaces, his Roman theater and his Roman Hippodrome, his racetrack for chariots and later place of throwing Christians to the slaughter.  It was in Caesarea when Paul was imprisoned for two years before losing his life in Rome. It was here where instead of pleading for his life he sought to convert his Roman captors, Felix and Festus.  Read Acts 22-26  On to Mt Carmel, where Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal.  From here we can see the valley of Jezreel, MT Tabor where Jesus was transfigured, Cana, Nazareth.....the Bible is coming alive!!  Off to Megiddo, the once magnificent most popular city of the region.  Whoever controlled Megiddo and therefore the trade routes, controlled the territory.  Can you just imagine Solomon capturing the sight, rebuilding it and then entering its towering gates in his chariot with full military escort!   So many battles there!  Add Har (hill) to Megiddo and you get the Armageddon of Revelation 16.  In the end those who would rather die than live will get their wish.  From there on to the Jordan River where 15 or more of us renewed our baptisms by immersion. Pastor Bob and Pastor Jeff had the blessing of doing the renewals and then Pastors Bob Jeff and John baptized each other!!!!  So very, very, very moving.  The call to live for God and serve Christ renewed!!!!!  Now to bed in Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee.  Each of us has a room with a balcony overlooking the Sea!!!   Are you kidding me???    We are right now in the little corner of the earth where God ACTUALLY PERSONALLY SHOWED UP!  It’s overwhelming.   It’s the most amazing thing that ever has happened on planet earth.  And its meaning could not be more profound and personal for you.  Why did God show up? BECAUSE YOU MATTER TO HIM.   If you can internalize that so that becomes your motivating force in life then your life will find itself increasingly blessed and increasingly fruitful regardless of circumstances.
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