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March 9th, 2011

Holy Land, Holy People

Holy Land Holy People

The Land becomes holy because the Holy One stepped in the Land.

As strange as it may seem, the expression “the Holy Land” occurs only once in the Hebrew Bible (Zech. 2:16), twice in the deuterocanonical books (Wis. 12:3; 2 Macc. 1:7), and not in the New Testament. Today this expression is a most convenient one when referring to the territory of the ancient Israelite kingdoms and the locus of Jesus’ life and ministry.

Referring to this geographical space as “the Holy Land” avoids the complications that arise with two names that have contemporary political overtones: Israel and Palestine. Still, what do we mean when we use the expression “the holy Land”? A good place to begin in developing an answer to that question is with Zechariah, the prophet who coined the phrase.

Though Zechariah was responsible for the expression “the Holy Land,” an almost identical phrase occurs in Exodus 3:5. When Moses approaches the burning bush, God instructs him, “Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is “holy ground.” (The difference between the two expressions in Hebrew is a matter of a single letter).

The story of the burning bush assumes that God’s holiness is transmitted to the ground surrounding the spot where Moses experiences God’s presence. The ground is called “holy” because God is there. Perhaps Zechariah had this story in mind when he called the land of Israel “holy.”

In 70 A.D. the Romans conquered Israel and destroyed the Holy Temple and changed the name Israel to Palestine. The word Palestine comes from the word Philistines who were a nomadic tribe from Southern and Central Europe.

Zechariah’s prophetic ministry took place during a very difficult time for Jerusalem. Many of its people had returned from exile in Babylon several years earlier, but they were still disheartened, believing that God was not concerned with them or their problems. While many people rebuilt their homes, the city’s walls were still in ruins and – what was worse – the reconstruction of the temple all but ceased because of the economic and political problems of Jerusalem’s small population.

Two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, were able to lift the people’s spirits. The Jerusalemites took up work on the temple again and looked forward to a better future. Certainly part of Zechariah’s success was his way with words.

“See, I am coming to dwell among you says the Lord. Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord on that day, and they shall be his people, and He will dwell among you, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. The Lord will possess Judah as his portion of the holy land, and he will again choose Jerusalem” (Zech. 2:14-16).

Zechariah had his choice of two Hebrew words for “land”. He chose adama to its synonym rets, which has political and social connotations. The prophet wanted the people of Jerusalem to know that the very soil they walked on was holy because God chose to dwell with them in their city and that holiness was extending out to the rest of Judah from Jerusalem. The effect of the prophet’s words was electrifying. The people of Jerusalem enthusiastically took up the project of reconstructing the temple.

Within the space of four years, work on the temple was complete. Though the structure was not as magnificent as Solomon’s temple, divine services could be resumed. Just as important, the building itself was a visible, tangible proof of God’s presence in their land and in their lives.

Though the expression “the Holy Land” occurs only this once in the (Tanach) Hebrew Bible, the idea of a holy land became very important in both early Judaism and early Christianity. Both Jews and Christians expressed their belief in the holiness of the land in concrete and specific ways. For example, the catacombs found at Beth Shearim, not far from Jerusalem, show that from the Late Roman through the Byzantine periods (3rd – 7th centuries AD), Jews who lived outside of Palestine wished to be buried in “the holy land” so they arranged to have their remains sent to Beth Shearim to await the resurrection of the dead.

Christians built churches to commemorate events in Jesus’ life and made pilgrimages to “the Holy Land.” All this happened because Zechariah wanted his dispirited contemporaries to believe that they walked on soil made sacred by the presence of God in Jerusalem – that they lived in “the Holy Land”.

People who come to “the Holy Land” and only visit shrines or historical sites do not experience the totality of this land’s holiness. No pilgrimage is complete unless pilgrims come away with a greater knowledge and appreciation of the living religion of “the Holy Land” : Pilgrims ought to listen to learn from the people who welcome them to “the Holy Land,” who opens its shrines and historical sites to them, who serve them in many ways while they are on pilgrimage.

The prophet Zechariah coined the phrase “the holy land”. He did so to encourage the people who no longer believed that God was concerned for them – that God had abandoned them – that God was absent. The prophet wanted his people to recognize that the very soil, which provided their food, on which they built their homes, on which they walked every day, was literally charged with the presence of God. How could they go about even the most mundane of their daily activities without recognizing the real presence of God among them?

Pilgrims to the Holy land speak about their experience of God’s presence as they looked out over the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes, or as they walked the Via Dolorosa, or as they knelt to kiss the metal star that marks the place of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem.

But too many pilgrims miss the opportunity for another experience of the divine presence – a presence revealed in the faces and through the words of believers who call the Holy Land home.

– – – written by Capt. Mervin John Lobo

November 13th, 2010

Poem : The Old Paths

The Old Paths

I like the “Old Paths”, when Moms were at home.
Dads were at work. Brothers went into the army.
And sisters got married BEFORE having children!

Crime did not pay; Hard work did;
And people knew the difference.

Moms could cook; Dads would work; Children would behave..

Husbands were loving; Wives were supportive; And children were polite.

Women wore the jewelry; And Men wore the pants.
Women looked like ladies; Men looked like gentlemen; And children looked decent.

People loved the truth, And hated a lie;
They came to church to get IN, Not to get OUT!

Hymns sounded Godly; Sermons sounded helpful;
Rejoicing sounded normal; And crying sounded sincere.

Cursing was wicked; Drinking was evil; and divorce was unthinkable.

The flag was honored; America was beautiful; And God was welcome!

We read the Bible in public; Prayed in school; And preached from house to house
To be called an American was worth dying for;
To be called a Christian was worth living for;
To be called a traitor was a shame!

Sex was a personal word. Homosexual was an unheard of word, And abortion was an illegal word.

Preachers preached because they had a message;
And Christians rejoiced because they had the VICTORY!
Preachers preached from the Bible; Singers sang from the heart;
And sinners turned to the Lord to be SAVED!

A new birth meant a new life; Salvation meant a changed life; Following Christ led to eternal life.

Being a preacher meant you proclaimed the word of God;
Being a deacon meant you would serve the Lord;
Being a Christian meant you would live for Jesus;
And being a sinner meant someone was praying for you!

Laws were based on the Bible; Homes read the Bible;
And churches taught the Bible.

Preachers were more interested in new converts, Than new clothes and new cars.
God was worshiped; Christ was exalted; and the Holy Spirit was respected.

Church was where you found Christians on the Lord’s day, rather than in the garden,
on the creek bank, on the golf course, or being entertained somewhere else.

I still like the Old Paths the best ! Jeremiah 6:16

– – – poem “Old Paths” was written by a retired minister who lives in Tennessee.

September 11th, 2010

Book : The Pursuit of the Holy

The Pursuit of the Holy

Book : The Pursuit of the Holy by Simon Ponsonby

Simon Ponsonby gives fresh perspective to God’s invitation to “be holy as I am holy”

Can a godless society be expected to become godly without seeing what godliness is? Are Christians today willing to live their lives in such a way that they reflect God’s holiness? Simon Ponsonby’s The Pursuit of the Holy: A Divine Invitation tells the story of a holy God seeking friends among the unholy and bringing life to those who, left to themselves, would miss out completely on the joy of His promises. Ponsonby begins by looking at God’s essential and unique holiness and what it means for us as sinful human beings.

When we learn that God is actually moving towards us and not away from us, the command to ‘be holy as I am holy’ becomes reachable.

First, we need to understand what it means to be holy. The Bible uses the word holy in context with other words such as cleanliness, purity, blamelessness, glory, righteousness, godliness, and trustworthiness. These words provide a starting point for Christ-followers to understand the invitation to reflect God’s holiness and the fullness of what it means in our relationship with God. Ponsonby states that holiness is a way of behaving that is determined by the being of God—a life that becomes like the God who possesses holiness.

Rather than unattainable perfection, Ponsonby encourages others to understand that our pursuit of holiness is a life-long transformation process that is not only desirable but is also an exciting opportunity and offer placed before us to go for it. Holiness is a supremely positive word that reflects God’s desire to restore His children into His likeness. Moses and Isaiah are two characters Ponsonby uses to provide vivid windows into God’s restoration process. Careful study and examination of these men and their encounters with God reveal many things about the divine characteristics of God’s holiness:

* God’s holiness doesn’t preclude His visitation to sinners.
* God’s holiness doesn’t negate His revelation to sinners.
* God’s holiness doesn’t eliminate His desire to communicate with and show compassion for sinners.
* God’s holiness won’t destroy us if we repent of our sinfulness.
* God is gracious, forgiving, and cleansing, removing sin in an instant.
* God will employ us in His service, despite past failure, if we will only say, “Here I am.”

God was separated from evil. God isn’t darkness. God is light. God doesn’t lie. God is truth. In these examples, we can see that God doesn’t mingle good with evil, but He is wholly and completely separated from impurity. So in this regard, holiness is to be pure and separate from evil.

For God, holiness simply means to be separate from evil. For He is the great Creator, and there’s no impurity in Him: to be separate and distinct from evil is enough for holiness. Yet for the Christian, it takes on a slightly different form: we are to derive our holiness from Christ’s holiness. And so in this way, holiness becomes a slightly different goal.

If Christ is our holiness, then we have but one goal: to devote our mind and body to God’s using, and to separate ourselves from the uncleanness that is in the world. Holiness is a singleness of purpose. Yet this is true only insofar as the purpose that we are channeled towards is holy: this can only come from Jesus Christ.

Ponsonby wants people to understand the grace and mercy of God’s invitation to holiness. He writes that once we understand this, we will no longer desire to live as we once lived, as sinners. Instead, we will desire to live like God. “God-likeness, conformity to His character, is a pilgrimage, a journey made together. We are to walk and work with one another as a family of God’s children,” Ponsonby states. This pilgrimage is not one of subservient creatures before their Creator, neither of soldiers before their commanding officer, but of sons and daughters and lovers of God.

To be holy is to be fully alive, fully human, and whole, as God intended.

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