Living Crossroads

Read Matthew 4:13-16

  (The very beautiful gateway to the city of Capernaum)

One of my favorite cities to visit while hosting Israel trips is the city of Capernaum or in Hebrew Kfar-Nahum.  Capernaum is on the northwestern side of the Sea of Galilee and was famous in its day.

Digging in the fertile soil of the ancient land and writings .

Capernaum was the major center of trade and commerce in Galilee. The international trade route from Egypt through Palestine to Syria and Mesopotamia passed near Capernaum. Located only three miles west of the eastern border of Galilee at the Jordan River, the town became a port of entry and customs checkpoint. A collector of customs from passing caravans, Matthew would also collect fees for fish caught in the lake, levied by Herod Antipas who, in effect, owned the lake.

Roman military personnel were stationed at Capernaum under the command of a centurion. Recent excavations indicate that a military garrison was quartered east of the town. These mercenary troops enjoyed a complete bath installation and other excellent facilities. This would have been the residence of the centurion who built the synagogue in which Jesus taught (Matt 8:1-13; Luke 7:1-10). This garrison served Herod Antipas, the governor of Galilee, under Roman rule.

Capernaum became Jesus’ “headquarters” for almost 2 years of his ministry.  He recognized that the placement of the city was key.  Capernaum sat on the Via Maris “the way of the sea”.  This was the most strategic route that connected Asia and Africa through the ancient land of Israel.  Everyone had to pass through or by this city.

Jesus knew that this was a key crossroads of culture.  Capernaum becomes an example to us of how we are to be a “Living Crossroads” in our culture.

A crossroads was a place of influence, power, impact, a place to stop along the journey for refuge and refreshment, a point of reference, a strategic junction of trade.

How do these crossroads truths apply to my situation today?

  • Have you recognized that God has placed you in this world to be a strategic spiritual crossroads for others?
  • What are some hindrances that are keeping you from being the effective crossroads God wants you to be?
  • Who has God placed in your life today to which you are to be a “living crossroads” for them?
  • What are some ways you can be an intentional “living crossroads” in your community in the days ahead?

Crossroads means someone has to cross your road.


“That I Might Save Some”

Read I Corinthians 9:19-23

Carob Pod and Seeds

The apostle Paul took seriously the charge to reach his culture any way that he could.  As I Corinthians 9 describes – he became all things to all people.  Here was the goal – “that I might, by all means, SAVE SOME”.  He recognized that he couldn’t save everyone, that was Jesus’ job.  But Paul could do his part in “saving some”.

Regarding the “Save Some” concept, my mind darts back to 1997 and our first Israel trip.   (We’ve been on a number of others since then as hosts).  We were soaking up the sights, sounds, smells, historical insights and faith lessons of the ancient Middle East.  What an experience.

During a certain part of the tour, we found ourselves in modern Jerusalem standing in front of Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum.   Our wonderful tour guide started to weave the story about what is called, “The Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations”.

Our guide went on to explain the concept.  Lining both sides of the walk way are Carob trees, planted in honor of those Gentiles who did what they could to save Jews during the horrific holocaust period.  It was truly fascinating to see the plaques at the bottom of each tree.  Wow, there was one dedicated to Oscar Schindler and even one dedicated to Corrie Ten Boom!

Our guide answered the question that was on everyone’s mind – why  were Carob trees planted as symbols of the efforts of Righteous Gentiles?

Digging into the fertile soil of the ancient land and writings:

Carob seeds, in ancient days, were used by those who would weigh the preciousness of gems.  In other words, a gem might be described as “24 Carob gold”.  Sound familiar?  It should.  Over the centuries, carob got changed (perhaps through mispronunciation) to the word “carat”, which is what jewelers and gem cutters use now.

He finished his story by describing that the Jewish people planted these Carob trees in honor of the Righteous Gentiles because of how unbelievably precious (like gems) their efforts were to save Jews.

They recognized the risks, the sacrifices, the danger of protecting Jews during that time and they wanted to plant a memorial to those precious Righteous Gentiles that would be a reminder of their victories in the midst of troubling times.

How does this apply to your situtation today?

  • Are you willing to do whatever it takes to reach people with the Good News?
  • Are you going to allow some momentary setbacks to defeat you and knock you out of the running?
  • Are you being intentional about praying for those who need to hear?
  • Keep in mind that Jesus is the Savior of the world, not you or me.
  • All He is asking of you is to do your part in “saving some”.

My some and your some are a wonderful sum!

Who’s Impacting Who?

Read Acts 10:1-2

Hippodrome at Caesarea

I’ve never been to Las Vegas, NV – the Gaming Capital of the World – except to have a short lay over at the airport on the way to California.  However, I’ve been to another Las Vegas type place, a place that you probably would never think of.

Okay, Stan, you’re talking about Atlantic City or Rio or Monte Carlo or St. Louis right?  Nope.  I’m talking about the Las Vegas of Israel.  Uh what?  There was a Las Vegas in Israel.  Well, not exactly but pretty similar.

The place? Caesarea.  Yes, the place that formed the backdrop of last week’s blog about a Jew and an Italian.  Let’s do like TV shows or movies often do when a tragic or explosive scene is taking place and all of a sudden on the screen it says, “Thirteen hours earlier”.  CSI NY just did this the other night.

Digging around the rich soil of the ancient writings and land.

Caesarea was THE place.  Caesarea served as the Roman capital of Israel.  Pilate was there.  Herod built a palace there.  But, further than that, it was the key entry point for the Roman Soldiers as they came for their temporary duty assignment to Israel in the first century.  Yup, thousands of troops came there on TDY!

Herod built all kinds of things to entertain the troops, things like a hippodrome where chariot races, etc. took place.  He also built a number of other establishments that will go unnamed in this blog post but you can imagine.

The place was a “sin magnet”.  Even devout Jews who lived in the area tended to settle north of town to be just far enough away from the sin but close enough to the necessary activities of the day like commerce, going to the market, etc.

I find it fascinating that in the midst of this sin and rampantly ill behavior, we find one named Cornelius who was “a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household and gave alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.”

Yikes!  Can you imagine such a testimony?  One who lived in the midst of the sin magnet and yet maintained a God-focused perspective!!

According to Roman history, Centurions were military men who formed groups of 100.  They were men who rose up in the ranks and were recognized for their bravery and leadership abilities.  Cornelius was a highly ranked Centurion of the Italian cohort.

However God did it, Cornelius’ heart was soft and prepared for Peter’s message about the gospel.  That’s why he and his family were ready to respond so quickly to Peter’s proclamation in Acts 10.

So, how can these truths apply to our lives today?

  • God has called many of us into the “thick” of the marketplace, whether it’s on Wall Street, Main Street, Bourbon Street, Christian bands going into mainstream venues, folks reaching into urban areas.  How are we maintaining our testimony in the midst of “sin magnets”?
  • Is the culture impacting us more than we are impacting the culture?
  • Like Cornelius, are our hearts fertile soil for God’s leadership in our lives?
  • Finally, like Peter, are your spiritual antennae up as you live in the “thick” of the marketplace, daily asking God how you should live and who He wants you to impact today?

Remember – light dispels the dark but too much darkness can overtake the light!

“A Jew and an Italian…A Connection Only God Can Make!”

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Read Acts 10


Ancient Ruins at Caesarea

I grew up near Boston and enjoyed the ethnic communities with all the different lifestyles, foods, traditions, etc.  I’m a Jew and I went to school with many Italians.  For the most part, we all got along very well.

Digging in to the fertile soil of the ancient land and writings:

Not so much, the history of Jews and Gentiles.  In fact, if one was to do historical research, they would find a rift as deep as the Grand Canyon that separated Jews and Gentiles by the time the first century rolled around.

I won’t explain it all here but suffice to say – when a Jew saw a Gentile coming they would literally cross the street to avoid this “lower than life” species.  Even on the Temple Mount there was a wall that separated the Jewish and Gentile worshippers.

Along comes Peter (a Jew) and Cornelius (an Italian).  The story – a military man on temporary duty assignment from Rome to Caesarea, a town just north of modern day Netanya on the coast.  He is a God-fearing man who receives a vision that someone is going to come and tell him “the rest of the story” (as Paul Harvey would say).

Next member of the cast, a good Jewish boy named Peter, living near what is now modern day Greater Tel Aviv.  He, too, receives a vision but his was just a bit different.  He sees a sheet come down from the sky with VERY unkosher animals and the Voice says, “Peter, kill and eat.  What I have made clean is clean”. 

I can hear it now, like a Seinfeld episode.  “Jerry, we’re supposed to eat unkosher stuff?  Oy Vey!  I’d sooner lose my job at Yankee Stadium then to eat unkosher!” Well, you can let your imagination run wild regarding Peter’s reaction.

Whatever the case, Peter is obedient, goes to Caesarea and prepares to speak to Cornelius and his household (apparently quite a large crowd).  So, here’s Peter, a gifted Jewish communicator, preaching from his kishkes and before he comes to the punchline, Cornelius says, “Okay, we believe.  Let’s get baptized”. 

I can picture Peter – “Wait, Cornelius, I’m not done yet.  I still have some good stuff.  How can you be convinced already?

God did a marvelous work whereby He fulfilled Cornelius’ spiritual journey by using Peter.  How unexpected but how awesome for God to show up in such a spectacular way.

Here are a few relevant truths to apply to your life:

  • Don’t assume who God wants to use to reach someone.  It could be YOU!
  • Don’t assume who God wants you to reach. It could be your most distasteful co-worker or neighbor!
  • Don’t assume what God will use to reach them.  A Jew who just broke his kosher “fast”!
  • Don’t just sit on your “tuchus” (Yiddish for your back end) when they say “I believe”.  Get em baptized, baby!

Surrender to God – the Ultimate Networker!