Sorry I missed yesterday. I have been writing these blogs on my IPad and after 10 days my battery finally ran down. (and my IPad was out of juice too.)
I have been blessed for the last four days to wake up to the sun rising over the Golan Heights on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Each morning I slip out on our patio, careful not to wake Doris (I may be crazy but I’m not insane.) and spend a minute or two watching the sun fully embrace this beautiful part of the world. It is as if God bends down to His favorite part of the globe and kisses it a good morning.
The Galilee is a surprisingly beautiful part of this little country. I imagine Israel to be a dry wilderness, something akin to Lawrence of Arabia movies. Certainly it is that, in the south, the region of the Negev, down by the Dead Sea. But here, in the north, the countryside is lush, green, think Orlando, Florida, without the theme parks and a lot of steep hills. I love this part of the Israeli geography.
Today was our last day in Israel. We spent it in the Galilee. We began the day at the Church of the Beatitudes. Seated in a small amphitheater, with the green hillside behind us and the Sea of Galilee in front of us, Governor Huckabee walked through the “blessed art thou” part of the Bible. This is a great place to say that the Huckabees, Governor Mike and his wife, Janet, are great hosts. They are gracious, kind, focused on every detail. We are so grateful to them and to Chonda for making this trip possible. The Governor took the statements of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and commented briefly on each step. sitting there, close to the place where Jesus must have taught, I found myself introspective. Do I really hunger and thirst for righteousness? Does that “pure in heart” stuff have anything to do with me?
From the Church of the Beatitudes, we went to the walk along the beach at the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter. There, our guide told us of his conversion to Christianity and what it was like to be a believer in a Jewish school and community. We visited a boat, pulled from the bottom of the Sea of Galilee that dates to the time of Jesus. We ended the day taking a boat ride, not on the 2000 year old one. We watched the sun go down on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, setting behind the hills of Nazareth. We started the day and ended it in the same way, watching God place His stamp of approval on this incredible piece of real estate. What a way to end our trip to Israel, to spend our last day in the Galilee, this way. We said our goodbyes, shed a tear or two, exchanged email addresses, snapped the last pictures, and then boarded the buses for the two-hour drive to Tel Aviv.
It made me think about the last day that Jesus walked here. Although He was raised in Nazareth, just over the hill to our east, He spent most of His short adult years here in the Galilee. Capernaum, Magdala, Tiberias, these were the villages that Jesus frequented, where He taught, healed the sick, fed the thousands, and changed lives. From here He walked a couple of weeks to Jerusalem and paid His respects to His Jewish roots. One of those days, I don’t know which one, was His last day in the Galilee. One of those days, as He walked with the water lapping at His feet and the gorgeous, green hillside providing His backdrop, He knew that this was His last visit to this place, at least it this purely, earthly form.
Jesus was here when He received word that Lazarus, His dear friend was sick, deathly sick. We know from the story in the Gospel of John that He waited a few days before He started that two-week journey to Bethany. Perhaps part of that was that He hated to leave this place for the last time. Remember on the other side of Bethany was Jerusalem, the Triumphal Entry, the Last Supper, the betrayal by Judas Iscariot, the trial, torture, crucifixion, and death of Jesus. I mean, He IS Jesus. He sees all of that coming. Don’t you imagine He lingered for one more sunset, one more fish dinner, one more night of hearing the seagulls screech from the darkness over the Sea? This was His last day in the Galilee. Don’t you think He wanted to make it last?
Perhaps, you are facing a hard decision. Not even a decision, a change, a movement in life that you know is inevitable. The die is already cast, the thing has already been set in motion. But you stand, waiting, hoping beyond hope that maybe things will turn out differently. You are facing your last day in the Galilee and you are either, dreading for this chapter to end, or afraid to take the next step.
Fifteen years ago, I was sitting alone in an apartment in Orlando, Florida. My wife had left me (and rightly so), my sons wanted nothing to do with me (and rightly so). I knew what I needed to do. Seek help. Find a counselor. Tell the truth. Start the healing process. But I sat there, paralyzed with fear, immobilized by a broken heart, immersed in shame. I was hoping this day would just stop and I would not have to face the consequences, endure the pain. I just wanted to pull the cover over my head and hide there forever in my Galilee. Have you had, or are you having those moments? You know you have to confront your spouse. You have to tell your kids about the diagnosis. You know this ministry has come to an end. You know it is time to enter a treatment program. Whatever the details, most of us have spent the last day in Galilee at one time or another, unable or unwilling to move forward.
Here are some things I learned about facing those hard. hard moments from Jesus.
First, reluctant obedience is better than not moving at all. Jesus is slow to go to Bethany, perhaps because of what lies ahead, but He goes. Remember the parable He told about the two sons who are ordered to do something by their father. One says no, goes away and thinks about it, and then does what His father asked. The other quickly, flippantly says yea, but never really follows His father’s wishes. Listen, your heavenly Father made you. He knows how hard this next step is for you. He waits patiently for you to “come to your senses” and return home.
Second, grief is not a bad thing. We try to sidestep grief too often. Or at least cut it too short. The loss of a dream, the death of a hope, the final chapter of a season of life, is painful. It is not only alright but important to grieve those moments. I often say, the only problem with pain is that it hurts. Some of life’s most meaningful lessons come when we acknowledge the grief, live with it, and let God let us work through it. Jesus comes to Bethany, where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus live, and when He sees the grave of His friend Lazarus, He weeps. Again, this is Jesus. Do you think He doesn’t know what He is getting ready to do? But He says to us, “It is okay to grieve.” Mourning is not a bad thing. Hanging out in the Galilee for a little while as you process your pain, is not a bad thing.
One of the most difficult efforts, as a counselor, or as an individual, is knowing how much grief is enough. We can become stuck in our grief. We can mourn the loss or the change so long that reluctance becomes disobedience. God does not want you to stay stuck in the Galilee for too long. But the good news is, He will tell you when it is time to move on. There are no books that say, “you can miss an old friend this long and no longer. You have this long to get over the loss of a child and not a day more. You can long for your old job for this many days and then you HAVE to move on.” Jesus knew when it was time to leave the Galilee for the last time and head for Bethany. He knows that for you as well.
And here is the last lesson when you are facing those fearful, frightful, paralyzingly painful next steps, remember that God is on the other side of your decision, your situation. And God ALWAYS has your best interest in His heart. Jesus leaves the Galilee and turns His face to Bethany, Jerusalem, the Cross. And on the other side of that THE RESURRECTION. I left the apartment in Orlando and headed for a treatment center. On the other side of that was reconciliation with my precious wife, restoration with my amazing sons, and frankly, the most wonderful last chapter of my life that I could imagine. God is standing on the other side of your decision. I promise you that. He knows “the plans He has for you.” He knows how to “make everything work out for good.” He knows the beginning from the end and He knows what you need both, to get through this difficult time, and on the other side of it. Job. Marriage. Relationship. Health issue. There is NO deal that is so big that He cannot see through it. And He will take you there when you are ready.
We spent the last day in the Galilee. The sunset was gorgeous. The fellowship was rich. The fish dinner was magnificent. The hummus, well, after 10 days, it was hummus. We hated to get on the bus. We hated for the day to end. We hated to leave the Galilee. But we know that, on the other side of this trip, God has some incredible, serendipitous moments for us. Shoot, I’m going to get to see my grandkids. I have clients waiting for me tomorrow. I have the life that God has laid out for me, and at some point, I have to leave the last day in the Galilee and move on. And it will be good…
Thank you for taking this journey with me. Feel free to hook up with www.branchesblog.com and read any days you have missed or frankly about 15 years of my storytelling. And also remember… next year in Jerusalem.