Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | November 14, 2018

She Deserves To Be Alive

In what is perhaps the most bizarre and creepy advertisement in favor of abortion, The Agenda Project Action Fund managed to reach a new low. Their forty-second video ad, titled “The Chosen,” draws you in with the disarming image of an absolutely beautiful baby girl — and then hits your sensibilities right in the gut.

As the video starts, the baby girl is gently cooing and reaching toward the screen as Brahm’s “Lullaby” plays in the background. A few seconds in, a message is displayed on the screen: She deserves to be (pause added for dramatic effect) loved.

A few seconds later another message appears on the screen: She deserves to be (pause) wanted.

Finally, a third message appears on the screen: She deserves to be (pause) a choice. This followed by the hashtag #StandWithPP.

A wise man once said that what lies in the well of the heart will, sooner or later, come up in the bucket of speech. This ad, although not new, certainly dredged up a bucketful of depravity from the depths of an organization that has no problem with ending life in the womb, and perhaps out of the womb. The ad can be interpreted as promoting both abortion and infanticide.

According to this ad, being a choice ranks right up there with being loved and wanted. They are all equal as far as the Agenda Project is concerned. This ad lays out the criteria they believe a child needs to meet in order to avoid being aborted. And since a child in the womb of an abortion-minded woman is neither loved nor wanted, then the choice to terminate that life is acceptable.

Why is it that a baby is a baby only when it is convenient and only when it is loved and wanted by the mother? Why is it that when it is not convenient then the baby is reclassified as tissue or clumps of cells?

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason observes, “If the unborn is not human, then no justification for abortion is necessary. It would be no different from having a mole removed or a tooth pulled. But if the unborn is human, then no justification for abortion is adequate.”

Choices do indeed have consequences — and the preborn are always on the losing end of choices made by those who deem they are neither loved nor wanted or have come at an inconvenient time (as if the child had anything to do with that). Mother Teresa observed, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”

The Agenda Project Action Fund website claims that they don’t spend big bucks to buy media so that they can impose their ideas on America. “Instead,” they claim, “we create remarkable expressions of our values which spread because truth cannot be ignored.”

The Agenda Project has indeed communicated more than their values, they have also imposed their ideas. They certainly have a right to do that, even if their ideas are based on a worldview that favors the strong and puts the weak and vulnerable at risk. Even though I do not like their ad, it is at least an honest reflection of their values. No question about where they stand.

Yes, every child deserves to be loved and wanted. But every child also deserves to be alive. If we are not careful, by denying the right to life to the preborn, we will unwittingly contribute to building the gallows that may one day put our own lives in danger if we are ever classified as unloved and unwanted.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | November 6, 2018

After the Mid-Terms

Today, record numbers of Americans are casting their votes in the mid-term elections. In a few hours, we will know the new makeup of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Early forecasts indicate that both Democrats and Republicans may each have something to be happy about.

After the mid-terms we will enter into the next news cycle in which pundits will do their thing. Personalities on both sides will point to the sky and declare that while it may not be falling just yet, from where they stand it certainly appears to be sagging a bit more than usual.

After the mid-terms, we can be assured that the political dialogue, such as it is, will continue. I use the words “such as it is” to describe our dialogue because we have seemingly lost the capacity to treat those with whom we disagree with kindness and respect.

When we replace the exchange of ideas with the exchange of insults we create the kind of static that makes it hard to listen to one another — or to want to listen to one another. If you cut off another person’s nose then it really will make it hard for them to smell your rose.

I am praying that, after the mid-terms, the winds of respect and civility will return and blow away the toxic clouds of vitriol that have us all gasping for air. We must not allow our political views to obscure our view of people and their inherent worth as those created in God’s image. We must not disparage others or wish them harm just because they hold a different view.

As a Christ-follower, I believe that God is ultimately in control. And if God is in control then nothing under His control can ever be out of control. He is moving history in a meaningful and purposeful direction. Our frustrations stem from not knowing what God knows and failing to recognize His ways.

After their exodus from Egypt, the Israelites were guilty of complaining much about Moses, their leader. On those occasions when they either ran out of water or bread, they complained that Moses had led them into the wilderness to die. The people based their happiness on having to see God act on their behalf in a certain way. If God failed to act in the way they wanted, then they complained.

Moses, on the other hand, looked beyond the acts of God to consider the ways of God. He did not have to see God perform certain acts in order to be assured that God was acting. He understood the ways of God — that God had a greater purpose for His people that transcended their fears and the signs they wanted in order to feel better about their journey through the wilderness.

That’s why the writer of Hebrews used a particular Greek word to describe Moses’ servanthood — the word “therapon” from which we get our word therapy and therapist. Because Moses understood the deeper ways of God he did not panic when the water or the food ran low. He knew that God was up to something bigger, that He was in control, and that He would work out His purposes.

I believe that God is up to something bigger and that He uses the most unlikely people to accomplish His purposes. I am therefore committed to trusting Him regardless of the outcome of the mid-term elections. If candidates for whom I did not vote are elected, then that is my cue to pray for them and to ask God to give them the wisdom to lead us well.

I love America. Having traveled to almost fifty countries, I can say with all certainty that there is no better place on earth — and no other place I want to live. I am grateful to live in a country where I can exercise my right to vote even though that right does not guarantee the results I may want.

Here is what I will not do after the mid-terms. I will not speak ill of those who are elected or who hold a different political view. I will not allow politics to become the determining factor to friendship or fellowship. I will not panic and declare that the sky is falling. I will not lose hope or give in to despair. And I will not trust my limited understanding.

Instead, I will love people regardless of the political banner they fly. I will treat others with respect and not allow unwholesome speech to come out of my mouth. I will continue to believe that God’s ways are good, that nothing catches Him by surprise, that His thoughts are higher than mine, and that His ways and purposes are beyond my understanding.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | September 30, 2018

Nepal’s True Treasure

Nepal is a land of unparalleled natural beauty. I’m talking about hard to put into words kind of beauty — the kind that takes your breath away, mesmerizes you, and leaves you slack-jawed and speechless. When in the presence of such beauty it really is best to just remain silent and let your head and your heart do their work of turning it all into something you’ll never forget.

Beyond the natural beauty of Nepal lies its true treasure — the various people groups that call this magnificent slice of geography their home. For everybody in America, cross-training is an exercise routine. For the Nepali people it is a way of life. From the time they are young, the folks around here become conditioned to walking up and down precarious mountain trails, often toting heavy loads.

For the past week, my team and I have served with our partners, trekking to villages in the Himalayas that redefine remote and rugged. Getting to these villages was nothing short of the kind of pain that makes your lungs scream as your legs question your sanity. And in this place, every step seems to lead you toward the clouds on trails that would make a mountain goat think twice. But, persistence pays off.

Bobby and Breck, a couple of the guys on our team, set off with our partners-turned-guides on a backpacking trek high into the mountains. They visited village churches where people gathered with friends and neighbors to watch the Jesus Film. Packed into small stone structures with low ceilings, men, women, and children sat on the floor and watched the story of Jesus unfold before their eyes.

For these church members, this was their first opportunity to see a story that they had only heard previously. It gave them a deeper understanding of the gospel narrative and how the pieces fit together. It was the kind of experience that works itself into dreams and will continue to play in their minds as they do their daily work.

For our guys, this challenging trek was an opportunity to hike slowly among the people, to have conversations along the way, to observe life as it is, to share meals in humble homes — essentially to build bridges of love that lead to meaningful interaction between people of different cultures. No wonder folks asked them to stay longer.

My friend Terry and I set off to do the same, to visit churches in remote areas. Our strategy involved driving on sketchy mountain roads and then hiking the rest of the way in. Our partner had asked us to teach on selected spiritual development topics in the churches. Some of those in attendance walked from as far as three-hours away in order to take part in this training. Humbling to say the least. That is what a spiritual appetite looks like.

A highlight for me was getting to meet a young man who pastors a church of about fifty people — amazing when you consider many of the villages are not much larger than that. This young pastor lit up the room with his smile. He radiated a contagious joy. I instantly liked him even before we were formally introduced.

And then I learned that his days are likely nearing an end. A little more than ten years ago a large tumor began to grow on his head. The prognosis was that he only had a short time to live. He found a doctor that agreed to help him but who was later killed in a plane crash. With no one to turn to, this young man turned to God and humbly asked for ten more years to serve Him.

That was eight years ago. He told us that he knows his days on this earth will soon end and has no complaints. He is grateful to God for giving him every single day. He determined a long time ago to not waste those days bemoaning his horrible condition but instead to embrace and to make the most of every day.

The young pastor invited me to take a photo of his tumor to serve as a reminder that we all deal with our respective thorns in the flesh. We can allow these things to either embitter or encourage us. He has chosen the latter and it has made all the difference for him and those to whom he ministers. Every day, that ugly tumor reminds him to do something beautiful for God. Totally inspiring.

We are now headed back to the States. As I write this post at thirty-five thousand feet with the impressive Himalayan range slowly fading out of sight, my heart is full. Our friends in Nepal blessed us with their hospitality, their smiles, and their words of gratitude because we had traveled so far to spend time with them.

When we parted we did so with the understanding that our next reunion may likely be when those from every nation and from all tribes and languages are standing before the throne and the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in our hands, crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-10). I look forward to that day.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | September 13, 2018

The Making of Cooper Potts

Last week almost 1,600 people gathered in two venues at Kingsland to celebrate the life and to honor the memory of Cooper Potts. Although Cooper was only sixteen years-old when he died, he had packed more living into those years than some do into a hundred. Having known Cooper since he was just a toddler, I watched him grow up to become a remarkable young man.

It’s important to emphasize that Cooper did not become the young man that we all knew and admired in a vacuum. He became that young man in the context of a loving family — surrounded by parents, siblings, and grandparents that loved him and whom he loved as well.

Cooper was fortunate to have Dave and Kara as his parents, not because they are perfect, but because they understand their role as parents.

When Cooper was born, Dave and Kara realized that they had brought into this world a living soul who will live forever. And from that moment on, they embraced their responsibility to be Cooper’s primary faith trainers and to prepare him for eternity.

Dave and Kara did not abandon Cooper in a spiritual wasteland of worldviews hoping he might find his way into a meaningful life. Instead, they intentionally guided their son to embrace a biblical worldview.

From the day Cooper was born, Dave and Kara began to prepare him for the day he would die. And that meant intentionally guiding him to receive the free gift of eternal life that God offers us in Christ Jesus.

In addition to that, Dave and Kara gave Cooper and his siblings another gift — the gift of a stable and secure home. One of the greatest gifts that parents can give their children is to love one other.

Something powerful happens when husbands love their wives and wives love their husbands. That love becomes a barrier to the things that can destroy a home — to the things that can fill it with fear. Consequently, Cooper never went to bed afraid, he never woke up afraid, and he never returned home from school afraid.

Cooper was also the beneficiary of the good things that can happen when families eat meals together. Perhaps in this case the Potts may be something of an anomaly but they really enjoy family meals. They understand the power of the table to bring family members together where they can look at one another and have meaningful conversations. Cooper loved the family table.

If there is one word that characterizes the home in which Cooper was raised it is love, not perfection. The Potts bunch is just a normal family that learned the value of harnessing the power of love — the kind of love that forgives, that keeps no record of wrongs, that does not allow the sun to go down on any anger, that looks out for the interests of others, that shows kindness, that covers a multitude of sins, and that binds hearts together.

The Potts family also understands the importance of doing life in community. The threads of their lives are woven into the fabric of their local church. They have invested much in building relationships over the years.

They also know that it is dangerous to sail alone because Satan is a pirate looking for a ship without a fleet. So, on that awful day when the world seemed to go wrong for them, they found that they were not alone. The ongoing outpouring of love and support they have received are the dividends of what they have invested.

This is the context in which Cooper’s character was shaped — home, family, church, and community. These are the ingredients that went into the making of Cooper Potts.

After Cooper’s memorial service I heard from several families. Some lamented that they never sit together at the table for family meals. Others said they wish they had a more close-knit family or had done some things differently through the years. Some regretted not taking responsibility to be the primary faith trainers in their home.

That said, it is not too late to do something to change the trajectory of your family life. While going back to make a new start is never possible, it is possible to start now to make a new ending.

Dave and Kara remind us that loving our kids means so much more than giving them stuff. It means preparing them to live a life pleasing to God, to think of others and not just themselves, and to embrace the hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

If we fail to prepare our children for eternity, then what will it matter if we showered them with every toy and convenience and upgrade. All we will have done is to make our homes a more comfortable launching pad into a godless eternity.

Worldview matters. Take ownership. Parent responsibly. Hug your kids and tell them you love them every day — as many times as possible.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | September 1, 2018

My Heart Takes Me Places

A defining moment — these are the words that describe what happened to my heart as I traveled by train across the Gobi Desert in 1998. As the train made its way from Ulanbator, the capital of Mongolia, to Beijing, I read the book of Acts and reflected on the movement of the gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

The last command of Jesus was simple and strategic — tell the story at home and then move toward those who have yet to hear the good news.

Although it took the stoning of Stephen to get the ball rolling, it did not take long for the church to embrace the last command of Jesus and for the movement to pick up steam. The church scattered and the gospel started to make its way across Asia Minor and beyond.

As my train rhythmically swayed its way toward Beijing, I sensed a new resolve in my heart — to move in the direction of those who had yet to hear the good news and to use my influence to motivate others to do the same. My heart was being drawn toward people with limited or no access to the gospel.

This past week I ventured to Rwanda to work with David Leatherwood, a Kingsland member who moved there to do kingdom work and who shares my heart for hard places. My friends James Meredith and Jay Jackson joined me on this kingdom adventure to strategize on how to reach those who subsist in villages along the Congo-Nile Trail in Rwanda’s Western Province on the eastern side of Lake Kivu.

Our plan — to use mountain bikes to venture into the mountains in order to connect with the people who live there. Simple. And when these bikes are not being used for this purpose, to set up a business to rent the bikes to adventurers interested in biking the Congo-Nile Trail. This will generate money to help this new ministry to become self-sustaining.

My friends and I assembled fifteen mountain bikes and outfitted them with panniers. Then we ventured out to personally see what it will take, logistically, to pull this off in this beautiful country known as the land of a thousand hills.

We began with a trip to a point on Lake Kivu where we met the boat that would take us to the starting point of our trek. A thunder storm showed up ten minutes after we did and turned our one-hour boat trip into a two-hour-plus excursion on a lake caught in the teeth of a storm. We arrived shivering and soaking wet and lost our first opportunity to visit the villages.

The next morning we had an early breakfast, packed our wet gear, and started our trek. It became immediately apparent that we had dived into the deep end of the pool as we mostly peddled and pushed our bikes up steep trails. Starting at mile-high elevation, we gained more than 1,700-hundred feet in elevation in the first mile and a half. Painful. Before the end of the day we peaked at an elevation gain of 3,900-feet. Also painful.

The people in the villages along the trail live in one of the most magnificent places I have ever visited — and one of the hardest. The sad reality is that it takes longer for the gospel to make it to people who live in hard places. And unless we are willing to be inconvenienced and do hard things, then people who live in inconvenient and hard places will likely not hear about Jesus. Very sad.

We met lots of beautiful people along a forty-mile stretch of the trail. This involved a lot of technical riding in what can only be described as an epic trail in mountain biking lingo. This was the hardest ride any of us had done to date. But, painful as it was, every mile gave us greater insight into the possibilities of reaching people.

I have learned over the years that the best insight comes when we are onsite. This scouting mission confirmed as much.

At the end of the day we sat around the table, exhausted and dirty and without much appetite but hungry to converse about how to reach the villages along the trail. We now had a better and totally realistic idea. But it all hinges on connecting with people who want to do something hard for the kingdom — whose heart is leading them to venture to inconvenient places.

Our partner has already submitted his business plan to the government. This next week a government official will visit him to look at his stable of bikes and to ask a few more questions before approving the business. Once that is done then he will set things in motion — hosting kingdom-minded adventurers who will saddle up to take the good news to hard places.

The story of Acts is still unfolding as the gospel continues to make its way to the ends of the earth. We have the incredible opportunity to be a part of that story as we join countless Christ-followers through the centuries whose heart took them to hard places. Because they were willing to do so the gospel reached us. May we allow God to use us to do the same for those still waiting to hear along the Congo-Nile Trail and beyond.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | August 27, 2018

Remarkable Rwanda

I am visiting Rwanda for the first time and I am beyond impressed. Of all the countries I have visited on the African continent, Rwanda is by far the cleanest and, I must add, beautiful. From the manicured streets of Kigali to the dirt roads leading to countless villages, I was hard-pressed to see a single piece of litter.

Rwanda’s cleanliness is not something that happened by accident. Rather it is a testimony to the visionary and intentional leadership of President Paul Kagame. My friend and host David Leatherwood explained that there are mandatory days on which all Rwandans participate in cleaning the streets and beautifying their surroundings.

This among other initiatives has resulted in a pristine environment as well as social and economic reconstruction that has set Rwanda on a successful course into the future. Rwandan’s are consciously committed to building a better Rwanda — by eliminating one piece of litter at a time and more.

What makes all this even more remarkable is that only twenty-four years ago, Rwanda descended into the tragedy of genocide. Hollywood movies like “Hotel Rwanda” tell the story of how Rwanda became hell on earth as the majority Hutu people engaged in the slaughter of the Tutsi. Earlier today we had lunch at Hôtel des Mille Collines, the real Hotel Rwanda.

The saddest part of this slice of Rwanda’s long history is that upwards of half a million people lost their lives. So, for Rwanda to have made such strides from the hell of genocide to the Rwanda of today is indeed remarkable. I am still trying to process it all. I can name no other city that I have visited on this continent that even comes close to what I have seen in Kigali.

Our primary focus this week is to help our friends the Leatherwoods to prepare for the launch of their new mountain biking expeditions business — a platform they will harness to bring the beauty of Jesus to the hearts of Rwandans along the Congo-Nile Trail. Located along Lake Kivu in Rwanda’s wildest corner, this trail is a bucket list destination for mountain bikers from around the world.

We have spent the past two days assembling mountain bikes and getting things ready for the launch of their business. Papers have been filed with the government. Things are in motion. We will also spend a couple of days bike-packing to villages along a portion of this epic 141-mile off the beaten path trail. This will help David to plan the various riding options he will offer as a part of his business.

My friends Jay and James and I still have a lot to do in our remaining time here. We trust that God will use this new initiative to reach into the hearts of people who still remember what it was like to see the ugliness of hell unleashed on their country.

We want for all the people groups in Rwanda to know that Jesus always offers something better — better then death, better than violence, better then hatred, better than genocide. He alone can transform hearts and lives into something remarkably beautiful. Along with our friends the Leatherwoods, we long for the day when His beauty will be reflected in the hearts of all Rwandans.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | August 17, 2018

To My First Grandchild

My Dearest Little One,

It’s me — your grandfather. Although we have not formally met, I wanted to write to tell you how excited I was to receive the wonderful news about you from your mom and dad. They were a little bit sneaky about it all but managed to do a pretty good job of surprising us with the news about you.

To say that your grandmother and I are excited would be an understatement. We are excited times infinity. We are counting the days and hours and minutes until we welcome you into the world. And honestly, those days will simply not go by fast enough for us.

For now, we are wearing the generic labels of grandfather and grandmother. That, however, will change when you get here. As our first grandchild, you get the special privilege of giving us new names. The other grandkids (we hope there will be many) will just have to follow your lead on the name thing.

Exciting things are happening in your life right now. Hour by hour, God is involved in the process of making you and helping you grow. He is personally marking every single cell in your little body with the unmistakeable signature of His image. And although it doesn’t show up in your sonogram pics, God has already placed a crown of dignity and glory and honor on your precious little head. He loves you.

Even though you are not here yet, you have already changed our lives. We are already in love with you — crazy, madly, head over heels in love with you. Your grandmother and I pray for you (and for your mom and dad) every night without fail. So, when you arrive, just know that you don’t have to do a single thing to earn our love. You already have it.

You will be excited to meet your mom and dad. They are two really special people whose love for you is beyond measure and who are ready to welcome you home. Your dad is adventurous and caring and has never met a stranger. He will always have your back, stand at your side, and lead you with wisdom. Your mom is amazing and fun and sweet and creative and will always be there to protect you, comfort you, and embrace you. You will have lots of fun with your mom and dad — guaranteed.

I could write so much more about your great-grandfather and your aunts and uncles but just know that they all feel the same way about you. They love you and are so excited that you will join our family. You will also get to meet Panda and Tux, your mom and dad’s kinda hyper little dogs. They are lots of fun.

I have had to stop several times as I write this just to wipe the tears from my eyes. They are good and happy tears — each one filled with gratitude to God for sending you our way. All of us in your family are committed to giving you the best childhood ever. We want to bless you with good memories that you can enjoy for a lifetime.

So for now, we must wait. You will be here soon. We will continue to pray for you every day as we wait for your arrival. Your mom will have lots of visits to her doctor. Your dad will call to give us updates. We look forward to seeing more sonogram pics so be sure to smile. We love you, precious little one.

Your Grandfather (aka, whatever name you will give me)

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 31, 2018

The Next Generation

Each of us are stewards of our own generation — essentially a narrow slice of time in which to serve God’s purpose. After that, we die and return to dust. However, what we do in our generation does not have to die with us if we will own and responsibly serve God’s purpose while we have opportunity.

In a sermon that Paul preached on his first missionary journey, he said, ”Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed.” (Acts 13:36). But, what David did in his generation impacted the course of redemptive history because he served the purpose of God.

One way in which we can impact the course of redemptive history is by investing in the next generation. By so doing we help to ensure “that the generation to come might know” (Ps. 78:6) God and understand His purpose in the world. We must therefore teach the successive generation to “put their confidence in God” and “not forget the works of God” and “keep His commandments” (Ps. 78:7).

One of the best things we do at Kingsland is to invest in ministry interns — young people who have expressed an interest in serving and learning about all-things ministry. Mentoring and encouraging those who will take the reins of ministry long after we are gone is strategic in the work of the kingdom.

I had the special privilege of having eight missions ministry interns this summer. We spent the first week and a half meeting with many of our local ministry partners throughout the greater Houston area. The purpose of these meetings was to gain greater insight into the value of strategic partnerships and understanding the importance of cooperating with others in order to reach our community for Christ.

Our interns also assembled more than fifteen-hundred of our Go Beyond Explorers Kids Club packets for our Vacation Bible School. We also did some team-building Crossfit training together - in the heat. I especially loved the upbeat and always positive attitude of each member of the team. They brought smiles to faces and blessed others wherever they served.

Five of my interns spent the month of June in Alaska. They served with GraceWorks Alaska, our partner in Anchorage. Our interns led volunteer groups from around the nation that served neighborhood kids in city parks throughout Anchorage. Many kids came to faith in Christ through this initiative.

The interns who stayed home helped with a million details of trip preparation for our student ministry mission trips that sent over four-hundred volunteers around the globe. Each of our interns was assigned leadership responsibilities on a student trip and helped shepherd our students as they served others.

All of my interns spent the balance of their time in July serving with our partners at The Hangar in Brookshire. Our missions ministry has invested much in developing this strategic ministry location that is reaching kids and families. They engaged in a variety of tasks — from cleaning bathrooms to working outdoors to serving neighborhood kids.

Today is the last day of our summer missions ministry internship. I am going to miss all of the energy, excitement, and joy that our interns generated on a daily basis. But I am so encouraged by what I have seen God do in their lives. I have received so many encouraging text messages and emails from those touched by our team.

I am proud of each of our interns and wish them the very best as they return to their respective schools in the coming days. They served well and will no doubt continue to do so as they return to their college campuses. I am confident that God will use them to reach their own generation and, long after I am gone, to invest as well in the next generation.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 20, 2018

Exploring Bethlehem

O Little Town of Bethlehem is one of the most beloved and well-known Christmas carols. The carol was written by Phillips Brooks, an Episcopalian priest from Philadelphia. Brooks visited Bethlehem in 1865 and wrote the words to the carol three years later for the children of his church to sing at their annual Christmas program. Today, Brooks’ carol is enjoyed by people all over the world.

Bethlehem was known as “the city of David” (Luke 2:4). The name Bethlehem means “house of bread” and is located only a few miles from Jerusalem. Seven hundred years before Jesus was born, Micah prophesied that the Messiah, a descendant of David, would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Because of its significance in the biblical narrative, our students spent a day exploring Bethlehem on our recent trip to the Holy Land.

The Church of the Nativity | The Church of the Nativity was built over the cave that tradition marks as the birthplace of Jesus. Guests must enter the church through a very low door called the Door of Humility. This door was created in Ottoman times to force even the most important visitor to bow low as he entered this holy place.

We reviewed the story of Jesus’ birth at the Church of the Nativity. The traditional site of His birthplace is enshrined in the grotto beneath the choir area of the church. Jesus was not born in this building but in the cave it enshrines, a place where animals were once kept. “But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son…” (Gal. 4:4) who “emptied Himself” (Phil. 2:7) and was born in the most unlikely of places and laid “in a manger,” a feeding trough for animals (Luke 2:7)

The Shepherds’ Field | The good news of Jesus’ birth was first announced to poor Jewish shepherds (Luke 2:8-10). This is significant because shepherds in Jesus’ day were regarded as social outcasts and were among the most scorned individuals. Their work made them ceremonially unclean and kept them from participating in the religious life of the community.

While visiting the site of the Shepherds’ Field in Bethlehem, our guide reminded us that God chose ordinary shepherds, not priests or kings, to be the first to hear the news of His Son’s birth. And, common shepherds would be the first to welcome Jesus — the Lamb of God. These ordinary men could not keep silent about what they had seen and heard and unwittingly became the world’s first evangelists. Their first priority after seeing Jesus was to spread the news about Him. We should do the same.

The Herodium | The Herodium is a fortress-palace built by Herod on top of the highest real estate in the area. We hiked to the top of the hill to look at the ruins of this once-great palace. The Herodium is an active archaeological site where workers are painstakingly working to peel back the layers of history.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Herodium was one of the largest and most luxurious palaces in the world. Herod spared no expense to build the biggest and the best on the highest mountain so that the world would know there is a Herod. Today, the Herodium and all of Herod’s palaces and fortresses lie in ruins. Herod is remembered as the megalomaniac who became paranoid and killed many people, including babies (Matt. 2:16-18), in an effort to maintain his power.

Herod had wealth and lavish palaces in which to dine and sleep, but Jesus had “no place to lay His head” (Matt. 8:20). Jesus did not leave a legacy of palaces or architectural accomplishments. Instead, He left something much more lasting. And, what Herod the Great feared (Matt. 2:3) came to pass. The baby born in Bethlehem beneath the shadow of his palace became a greater king than him and changed the world forever.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 17, 2018

Exploring Desert Places

Masada is one of the signature must-see sites while visiting the Holy Land. Our students visited this imposing mountain fortress that rises 1500 feet above the level of the Dead Sea. This place has an interesting but sad history, one that has led the Jews to resolve that Masada will never fall again.

When Jerusalem fell to the Romans in AD 70, 960 people followed a Jewish patriot named Eliezer Ben Yair to this rock plateau. Herod the Great had earlier recognized the strategic significance and built an impressive “bug-out” palace at the top — just in case. It was a seemingly impregnable site.

The Roman army besieged Masada for two years and reached the top only after building an impressive earthen ramp. When the end was near, the patriots atop Masada chose to take their own lives. And, to make a statement, they left all of their food stores and water in place to show the Romans that they could have continued to survive. They chose instead to die as free people rather than face slavery at the hands of their enemies.

From Masada we made our way to the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on the planet. This super-salty lake lies 1,300 feet below sea level in the Jordan Rift Valley between the Wilderness of Judah to the West and the mountains of Moab to the East. Absolutely nothing lives in the Dead Sea – no fish or seaweed or plants of any kind. That’s why it’s called the Dead Sea. Water flows in but it does not flow out.

Our students had an opportunity to float in the mineral-rich but slimyish water of the Dead Sea. Later in the evening we considered how the Dead Sea can serve as a metaphor for those who take in Bible nutrition but never burn off the calories. Taking in truth but never applying it leads to a dead spiritual life that benefits no one.

From the Dead Sea we made our way to the oasis of En Gedi. This is the place where David hid when he was fleeing from Saul (1 Samuel 23:29). We hiked through the Crags of the Wild Goats where Saul took three thousand men to look for David and his men (1 Samuel 24:1-2).

At the end of our hike we stopped at a beautiful waterfall tumbling down the canyon wall. Unlike the water in the Dead Sea, this was living water – cold and refreshing. This water does not disappoint. On our hike out of the canyon, we stopped to watch Ibex drinking from the streams of En Gedi — and reflected on David’s words, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for Thee, O God” (Psalm 42:1).

One of our students remarked that prior to coming to the Holy Land, she had always read the Bible in black and white, “For the first time,” she said, “I am seeing the Bible in color.” That is one of the benefits of making a pilgrimage to the place where our biblical worldview unfolded. My prayer is that our students will always long for God even as “the deer pants for the water brooks.”

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