By Paul Gilbert
Let me begin today’s update with a most sincere, heartfelt apology to our dual US/UK Four Oaks citizen, Jo LeBlanc. She has assured me in good, Englishwoman fashion that it was all France’s fault! I believe it, as the French airport brought Jack’s and my suitcases 48 hours late just a few hours ago, while my dad’s luggage is, well...we are not sure where it is. None of these international shenanigans have deterred us in our Holy Land endeavors, thankfully, so here is a recap from the past couple of days...
It’s pretty cool how God arranged the first part of this trip. We have been able to hit many of the areas around the Sea of Galilee where Jesus spent most of his life and ministry. Interestingly/providentially, we have been seeing many of the places that we are studying right now in the Four Oaks sermon series in the Gospel of John - the miracle of the fishes and loaves; Jesus walking on the water; and the Bread of Life sermons in the synagogue at Capernaum. However, there is one John passage that has come particularly alive to me this trip, surprisingly so:
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him John 4: 21-23
Jesus makes the point here that true Christian faith and worship is not about a Place, it’s about a Person. God can and should be honored wherever we go – church, home, work, and football games (I’m not making a joke here). There are no sacred objects and spaces – only sacred hearts set apart to God through the person of Jesus Christ.
It’s interesting that of all the major world religions, Christianity is the one whose sacred writings, the Scriptures, places the least amount of emphasis on visiting “holy” places. There are no commands to make an annual trek or spiritual pilgrimage to a city. No encouragement to hoard holy objects for the sake of securing a spiritual blessing. Zero mention of granting special status to certain saints.
And, thank goodness. God knows the human heart all too well. We are always going to be tempted to make idols of things that we can see and put our hands on – which is precisely what has happened to the modern day Holy Land experience.
I call it, the Holy Land Heresy –where Ceremonialism trumps the Spirit.
Wherever our group has gone, it seems, whole industries and businesses have taken over the historical sites like the kudzu. It’s not just the Jesus trinkets, apostolic bubblegum, and holy Jordanian water that is pawned off on tourists for confiscatory prices. That’s bad enough. It’s heartbreaking seeing how so many professing Christians connect their very spiritual lives and souls to being able to touch, kiss, smell, handle, and bow down to inanimate objects. There is a sense among the throngs of Christian pilgrims here that somehow these places are just more holy, closer to God - full of some kind of spiritual mojo that is essential to their spiritual walks.
Folks, I am so glad that I am on this trip right now, and I hope to return again one day. I am learning a ton and having a blast. It is absolutely amazing to be able to connect the words of the bible to the life and history of a land. Maybe you will get to come one day – I hope so.
However, I want you to know that even if you NEVER make a trip to Israel, your worship and devotion to Christ will not be hindered one bit. Your bucket list might include a trek to Jerusalem to see the tomb and the temple site or to see the cave where Jesus was born in Bethlehem (good luck on that one - it's a 4 hour wait). If you never get to, though, don’t fret: God is looking for worshippers who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. Wherever you are, if you know Jesus, God is there.