Israel, my Beloved!

What a trip!  My head is reeling — I’m on information overload!P5010123

I’ve had so many friends and family members ask me to tell them about my trip, but I’m having a hard time doing so.  More than just going to amazing places, more than just seeing amazing things, more than just hearing amazing teaching, my trip to Israel was a spiritual experience that can’t adequately be explained — and, in some ways, more personal than I care to share.

How can  mere words express the thrill of…

…walking along the shores of Galilee where Jesus performed miracles and healings?  

…looking down on the plains of Megiddo, where armies will gather for the final war?P5040322

…staring in amazement at the vast, barren Judean wilderness, wondering how Jesus survived 40 days?

…going up, up, up to Jerusalem and seeing its ancient walls for the first time?  

…walking where my dear Savior, Jesus Christ, walked — over the Mount of Olives, up the southern steps, down Cardo Street, beside the Pool of Bethsaida…?

…retracing Christ’s steps and attempting to imagine the agony He endured as He prayed in Gethsemane, stood silent at Caiaphas’s house and in his dungeon, testified to truth before Pilate at the Roman Praetorium, carried His cross up the Via Dolorosa, and crucified at Skull Hill — agony He endured for me?P5070553

…shouting “Hallelujah!” when walking into the Garden Tomb and seeing it empty? (!!)

…continuing to weep over and pray for my dear friend Ronnie (my Jewish guide) and the rest of the unbelieving Jews?

The list could go on and on.  How can I put all this into words that another can fully understand and experience with me?  It’s impossible.  All I know is that I’ll never read the Bible the same way again.  I’ll never teach the same way again.  I’ll never pray the same way again.  Indeed, I will never be the same again

I may have left Israel, but Israel will never leave me.  A part of me remains in the land and I long to return.  As for me, Israel is no longer just a country; she is Israel, my beloved!


(For your own Israel experience, I highly recommend this Israel Study Tour by Precept Ministries International.  For more information, see

Even Men!

YOU-nique: Embracing God’s Design for You kicked off at our church this fall with a women’s retreat.  We took a “30,000 foot view” of the book’s topics; then we split up into small accountability groups for the 6-week study.  I made a promise to visit each class on their first night and commend the participants for taking the journey into YOU-niqueness.  I wasn’t prepared for what I saw as I entered the Wednesday evening 5:30 group.  There among all the women sat one, solitary, lonely man!  I was so surprised that I stutter-stepped as I entered the room.

“Clifford?  Did you not realize there would be only women here?  Do we need to find you some brave men to form your own group?”

“No, I didn’t realize it was only for women.  But I promised my wife that I’d go through this study with her and I’m going to keep my word.”  And so he did.  But that wasn’t the end…

We culminated our adventure wth a YOU-nique Celebration Tea in which all the groups joined together to worship God and to share what we had learned about our individual, unique designs.**  And, you guessed it — in walked Cliff!  His wife Rose walked in, rolled her eyes, and said, “I tried to talk him into not coming, but –” 

“I told her ‘No!'” Cliff interrupted.  “I always finish what I start.  Besides, I’ve never had hot tea before; thought I’d give it a try.”  With a sly grin, he sat down at a back table.  And may I tell you he enjoyed every minute of it!  But that wasn’t the end…

The next day was Sunday.  Cliff and I are in the same Sunday School class.  As the class was fellowshipping around coffee and snacks, Cliff called from across the room, “Donna, these guys want me to give up my man-card!”

“Clifford,” I answered, “you needn’t worry about those boys.  You are the only real man here!”  He turned and gave the guys an I-told-you-so grin.  But still that wasn’t the end…

Cliff felt that other men would benefit from learning about their God-given design.  So this past winter, he led a group of men through YOU-nique — or “MAN-ique,” as they preferred to call it!  In lieu of a celebration tea, they culminated their study with a B-Y-O-Steak Celebration! 

KnightYOU-nique is a non-gender specific study.  It’s for men and women, ages 16 and up.  Men, however, are not groupers or retreaters like women are, so it took one special man — a man-ique man! — to take the challenge.  Cliff went where no man has ever gone before and now there are 7 real men in Sunday School! 

So how about it, all you male readers? Are you a real man, not afraid to look into God’s mirror and discover your God-given design?  Come on, I dare you: Join the few, the proud, the MAN-nique!

PS:  Here’s a few of the men’s comments:

  • “From a man’s point of view, it’s good that men can open up with each other, find out how we are made and where we can grow with a true purpose because of our God-given makeup.”
  • “I’m very glad to learn that I do not have to stand on a street corner and preach!  I have a different set of gifts! I really got a lot out of men actually sharing their hearts, fears, and failures and supporting each other.”
  • “This program helped me understand my spiritual gift.  I struggled for many years with this.” I came to the realization that God never stops using me. I just have to have the faith to realize he will give me the words and actions needed to [serve] according to His will.”
  • “This is an awesome Bible study — a fresh new perspective on why we are who we are. I learned a lot about myself and how God wants to use me.”


**A separate YOU-nique Companion Guide (for Women) is available with all the directions and teaching notes needed to host a retreat and a celebration event.

Saints Win! Saints Win!

Saints logo-tinyPeople were screaming, car horns were honking, fireworks were popping as the Cinderella Saints won Super Bowl XLIV last night. Even yours truly, a diehard Peyton Manning fan, was acting quite the fool, jumping up-and-down and screaming. From the heart of New Orleans, throughout Louisiana, and across the nation, people were tuned in and turned on to Saints mania — 106.5 million to be exact, the largest television viewing audience ever!  Wow!

Now, if only we could get that lathered up over being a saint — a real saint, that is, not a football player or a team fan. 

Saint = chesidh (Hebrew) 

“…kind, benevolent, gracious…holy one”*

“Saint” is rooted in the Hebrew word chesed (often translated as lovingkindness).  One of the most important words in the Old Testament, chesed carries the idea of a superior bending down to perform an act of kindness for an inferior.  So when Christians are called “saints,” it has nothing to do with what they’ve done or how they live; it has everything to do with what God has done for them.   

Think about it: The God of the universe didn’t just bend down to perform some kind act; He came down to earth to perform the greatest act of kindness the world has ever known. He took our place on the cross, cancelled our sin debt, and paid the price for eternal life!  And to those who have accepted His gift, to those who believe in Him, God gave them the right to be called “saints.” 

Wow!  Shouldn’t we be doing a lot of screaming?  Shouldn’t car horns be honking? Shouldn’t fireworks be popping?  Shouldn’t the saints of God be more excited over this victory than over a ballgame win? 

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever (1 Corinthians 9:24-25). 

Let me put that in today’s vernacular. Only one team can win a ballgame.  So all the competing athletes get into a training program, learn to work together, and strive to be the best team possible.  All the winner gets, however, is a trophy and a title; a trophy that gets dusty, rusty, and forgotten, and a title that lasts only a year.

But saints?  Our victory has already been won through the cross of Christ!  It’s really, really true:

Saints win!  Saints win!

 Wooden cross - small

*From the Lexical Aids to the Old Testament included in The Complete Word Study Old Testament by Spiros Zodhiates (AMG Publishers 1994).

The Meaning of Life

Meaning of life-smallYou’ve seen the old cartoon strips: A man struggles and struggles to scale a high, steep mountain. He reaches the top to find a “wise man” sitting cross-legged and humming in deep meditation.  The climber kneels before the man and asks, “Oh, wise one, what is the meaning of life?”  Usually the cartoonist ends the strip with some wisecrack like, “Sorry, buddy, wrong mountain.  I’m the guru of income tax evasion.”

What is the meaning of life?  People have searched for it, pastors have preached on it, atheists have spurned it, pundits have pondered it, and cartoonists have exploited it.  It remains, however, an important universal question, one we’d all like answered. And I believe King Solomon, in his great wisdom, answered it for us in his research paper known as the book of Ecclesiastes.

God had given Solomon great wisdom and wealth.  So vast was his wisdom and wealth that his fame spread throughout the known world. Yet even with all this, Solomon felt there was something more, something he was missing. Life seemed meaningless.  The sun rises and the sun sets, again and again, over and over.  The winds blow, the streams flow, generations come, generations go. “What has been will be again; what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (1:9). To Solomon, life seemed boring and empty.  There’s got to be something more, he thought.  (Ever been there yourself?)

So Solomon set out on a quest for meaning. He devoted himself to explore all things under the sun to see if he could find the ultimate answer to the meaning of life. To do so, he denied himself nothing but allowed himself to experience everything. Did the answer lie in: 

  • Pleasures like laughter, folly, and wine?
  • A great house with beautiful gardens?
  • Possessions of all kinds, great and small?
  • Entertainment and the arts?
  • A harem — “the delights of the heart of man”?
  • Work, work, and more work?
  • Career advancement?
  • Much dreams and many words?
  • Money and net worth?
  • Youth and vigor?

After diligently searching all of these, Solomon found that they were “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” (1:2).  He found that you can’t stay in a state of pleasure all the time; sorrow and hardships eventually come. He also discovered that no matter how great a house you build or how much possessions and wealth you amass, you still die and leave them behind to someone else who did not work for them. And, although work is a gift from God that you should enjoy, it is not the most important thing; for no matter how hard you work to build a career or a business, at some point you must leave it to a successor. Youth fades; strength wanes; relationships change. And wisdom?  Yes, wisdom is better than folly but even the wise die and are forgotten. 

Solomon came to a somber conclusion: “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (1:14).  Sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it? Sounds like he’s saying there is no meaning to life.  Or maybe he’s just saying he failed to find the ultimate answer.  But did he fail?  I don’t think so; I believe he found the answer.  Look closer at his conclusion. Do you see it?

The answer lies in three little words: “under the sun.”  You see, as long as you look for the meaning of life in worldly things, you’ll never find it. The meaning of this life is found in the next life, when we are no longer “under the sun.” If you live for the things of this world, you will be sorely disappointed, for nothing on earth satisfies or brings fulfillment. If you live your life focused on the eternal things, then you’ll find meaning in the temporal things.  As Jesus taught, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). (See also the parable in Luke 12:13-21.)

Ecclesiastes is an amazing book.  I don’t profess to understand all of it, but what I do understand always jolts me back to reality. What am I living for?  If it’s for anything “under the sun,” then it’s meaningless.  As Solomon closed his amazing book:

Now all has been heard;

here is the conclusion of the matter:

Fear God and keep his commandments,

for this is the whole duty of man.

For God will bring every deed into judgment,

including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

LORD, shut my mouth!

“Don’t even bring up her name!  The mere mention of it makes  my blood boil!”

“I can’t believe he went behind my back like that!  I’m so angry I could spit!”

“Girl, I haven’t spoken to her in years!  Let me tell you what she did to me…”

“I know he didn’t mean it that way, but it still hurts.”

Ever been guilty of saying those words or something like them? Hurt feelings. A wounded heart. A broken confidence. We’ve all experienced them — and caused them. 

I remember years ago when a woman confronted me with an illustration I used in a Bible study. It was an inspiring story involving a mutual friend. She felt I was wrong in sharing it and called to tell me so. Even though I told her I had our friend’s permission to use the story, I couldn’t quite get her to see my side, so I gave the old “we’ll just have to agree to disagree” response. She wasn’t satisfied with that. She called another mutual friend and had her call me about my error. 

Now, I hadn’t known the first caller very long; I had known the second much longer.  We were very good friends and I was hurt that she had taken a side against me. After I explained the situation from my viewpoint, she became confused. She agreed that what I had done was not wrong but still was “disappointed” in me.  For what, I had no clue.

I confess to you that this was one of those times when God took over. I believe he literally put His hand over my mouth and kept it shut.  This was certainly not something my flesh did on its own! I found out later that the underlying problem was not with me.  The woman who initiated all this actually did not like the friend in the story and did not want her to get any accolades for Christian love and service! But the damage was done: my good friend (the second caller) and I were never as close as we were before that time. 

Though my heart was wounded, I refused to nurse any bitterness toward these two women.  One was a new Christian who was still living in the flesh; I knew she’d grow out of it with time, Bible study, and prayer.  The other was being deceived and I had to trust God to open her eyes.  Again, it was God who put this attitude in me. A few years later, just before she moved away, my friend confessed to me that she had been deceived by the other woman, that she’d been told things that simply were not true, and she apologized to me. She mourned over her mistake; I mourned over the years we had lost as intimate friends. 

In this story, God supernaturally kept my mouth shut, kept things from escalating, and put in my heart the desire to pray rather than retaliate. Oh, I could have shared a story about when I didn’t keep my mouth shut and things really blew up — but there were just too many of those stories to choose from! But I wanted to show you (and to remind myself) how faithful God is to fight our battles for us and to heal our wounded hearts.

Let me just say that James was absolutely right when he wrote that the tongue “is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts…”(3:8). The tongue is such a minor part of your body but it can do major damage to the Body. How much stronger the Body of Christ would be if all its tongues were kept under the control of the Spirit!

Author Kate McVeigh has said, “When you have a wounded heart, don’t nurse it or rehearse it, but curse it and disburse it, then God will reverse it!” That is so true!  It is also true that it’s easy to say but hard to do!  So I think I’ll just continue to seek God’s help, regularly praying, “Lord, please shut my mouth!” David put it much more eloquently when he wrote:

Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD;

keep watch over the door of my lips.

Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil…

Psalm 141:3-4a

The Truth Project (Part 2)

Glad you came back!  This may be a little more heavy than my usual blogs — a little more educational than inspirational — but it’s critical.  And congrads to Laura, the only bold responder to the questions!  And great answers they were!  Here we go with Dr. Tackett’s insights:

Question #1: Why was Jesus born?

Perhaps your answer included one or more of the following: to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, to serve, to give His life as a ransom for many, to seek and to save what was lost, to save the world/sinners, to take away our sins, to preach, to bring light, to bring abundant life, to do the will of God, to destroy the devil’s work, to bring a sword and division, to bring fire/judgment upon the earth, to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins, to give understanding so that we might know God.

All these were part of Jesus’s eternal purpose and earthly work. But there is one particular passage in which Jesus specifically states the “reason I was born and came into the world.” The statement occurs in John 18:37 when Jesus stood before Pilate, giving testimony to His kingship.  He said,

“In fact, for this reason I was born,

and for this I came into the world,

to testify to the truth.”

Everything Jesus said or did was based on truth — the truth — God’s truth.  As a matter of fact, Jesus testified, “I am…the Truth…”

Question #2: What is the name of the One the Father sent to be with us forever?

Most probably you answered “the Holy Spirit” or “the Comforter” — and you’d be correct.  But Jesus also called Him “the Spirit of truth” and said that when “the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide [us] into all truth.” Yet many, like Pilate, turn away from the truth; others may suppress it, distort it, reject it, or exchange it for a lie. 

Listen, my friend, a cosmic battle rages between the Truth of God and the lies of Satan — and the battleground is inside you.  You must decide on which side you’ll stand. Jesus said, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Listen to the Truth and stand on His side! Lies take people captive; Truth sets them free. 

Question #3: What is eternal life?

Jesus clearly defines eternal life for us:  Now this is eternal life: that they may know* you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”  Eternal life is knowing by experience the one true God and Jesus His Christ!

To know truth is God’s desire for all people for he “…wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”  So…

What is Truth?

It’s God’s Word!

It’s Jesus Christ!

It’s is the language of the Holy Spirit!

It’s the way to salvation!

And, to know the Truth is to have eternal life!

Now, how will you respond to the Truth?


*”know” = Greek gnosko = to know by experience

Scriptures on Truth:  John14:6; 16:13; 17:3, 17; 1 Timothy 2:4

Scriptures on the cosmic battle:  John 18:38; 2 Timothy 4:3-4; Romans 1:38, 2:8, 1:25; Acts 20:30; Galatians 5:16-17  

The Truth Project (Part 1)

Tomorrow morning my Bible study class will begin The Truth Project (TTP) produced by Focus on the Family.  The videos are set in a classroom of 36 diverse students who are being taught by Dr. Del Tackett, president of the Focus on the Family Institute.

My friend Cheryl and I attended training for TTP leaders last Saturday. We were very fortunate to have Dr. Tackett lead the training.  What an awesome teacher!  He began the training by asking 3 questions:

Why was Jesus born?

What is the name of the One the Father sent to be with us forever?

What is eternal life?

Many of us spouted off answers to each question, quite confident that we were correct.  Dr. Tacket accepted our answers graciously but continued to probe. “Well, there’s really more than one answer, right?” we reasoned.  As he expounded on the scriptural answers, both Cheryl and I immediately realized we had a lot to learn! 

I’m going to stop blogging here today, but I don’t want you to stop pondering.  Write these 3 questions down on a piece of paper and keep them before you all day.  Pray over them. Meditate on them.   Jot down any answers that come to mind.  Share them in a comment, if you like.

Return to the blog on Friday and learn the answers Dr. Tackett presented.  Amazing stuff!  And, they lead to the most important question you’ll ever have to answer…
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