Going to Israel was a convergence of many things in my life. First, Whitney and I were praying about going to Brazil and giving our lives to full-time missions. Second, going to the land where Jesus walked is special in and of itself. And third, a growing awareness that I was missing “something.” That something was “off” or “incomplete” in my walk with Jesus and that it was affecting my life and marriage.
I was not disappointed as my needs were met in these areas. I can’t give every detail because that would be a really long essay, but I can sum it up into 3 main points. One, His unrelenting and unconditional love, two, our call to suffer in this life, and three, our call to go to the dark places.
This trip to Israel came at a divine time in my life. I’m 30 years old and it’s been 10 years to the month since I first believed and gave my life to Jesus. It has felt like a long, confusing, uncertain journey most of the time. On top of that, this season is the turning point for Whitney and I, going from complacency and comfort to stepping out into the unknown.
My Beloved Son With Whom I am Well Pleased
This is something I have believed in conceptually for a long time. But the proof is in the pudding as they say. If you say you believe something but your life shows differently, then the question of whether you really believe it must be asked. This past decade, I have been up and down frequently, I have refused correction from those around me, I have puffed up in knowledge, lashed out in anger to those I “love”, blamed everyone else, and isolated myself in insecurity and an inability to communicate to those around me. I have failed at “community” again and again and instead of just saying “the church sucks” I have to be honest and say it has something to do with me (Go figure).
Flash forward to Israel, as my best friend, Pastor Nick Padovani and I, strolled into the Jordan River to be baptized into the same waters that Jesus was baptized by His cousin John 2000 years ago. The previous few weeks leading up to this trip, Nick and I, from the suggestion of his brother Adam, had been reading this amazing “Hawaiian Slang” translation of the New Testament (It’s available in the Bible App under “Hawaii Pidgin”). It’s not only incredibly funny but incredibly anointed. For instance, John 3:16 reads, “God wen get so plenny love an aloha for da peopo inside da world, dat he wen send me, his one an ony Boy, so dat everybody dat trus me no get cut off from God, but get da real kine life dat stay to da max fovea.”
So here’s what happened: As I got into the waters of baptism, really praying that God would save me from my self, that He would save from turning everything He says to me into a theology to impress people with, that He would restore my heart in this season, Nick points up. I thought he was joking since he and I joke a lot together. But right as I came up out of the waters of baptism in the river Jordan, Nick pointed up at the 12 feet high cement wall, and there was a Scripture right there in front of the exact spot where we were being baptized. And to my complete astonishment, thousands and thousands of miles from home, having no idea the Hawaiian version is known outside of my little world, in big letters on this huge wall reads…from the Hawaiian translation….
Mark 1:9-11 from the Hawaii Pidgin version. Unbelievable. By His grace, this went through my mind and into my heart, I knew I was accepted by the Father according to the Scriptures and the witness of the Spirit, and I knew I couldn’t live the same anymore. I could no longer live in pride, insecurity, jealousy, envy, comparisons, and competition. It was time to grow up and put away childish things. Which led to the next point God made in Israel….
A Crown of Thorns
For those who know me well and are familiar with my writings, you know that I focus a lot on God’s joy. It was surprising then, that the first night I walked into my hotel room in Israel the phrase “man of sorrows” came to me. This is a reference from Isaiah 53, which spoke of the suffering servant who was to come. The One who would wear a crown of thorns and bleed down his face.
The Messiah, who Himself was the absolute delight and pleasure of the Father, lived in constant rejection from the world. The day after our baptism we went to Nazareth and stood on a cliff. Does anybody remember the significance of a “cliff” in “Nazareth”, the town where Jesus grew up? Hint: It’s not one of the cute parts of the manger story that we recite at Christmas time.
After Jesus was baptized in the Father’s love and began his ministry of “good news”, the people of his hometown Nazareth “rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.” (Luke 4:29) It’s a paradox, isn’t it? After the most powerful, beautiful, and joyful, declaration of “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased,” people literally try to throw Jesus off a cliff. That kind of situation will make God’s love practical real quick.
As I stood on the cliff in Nazareth I had to come face to face with my fear of rejection. I could write a book about the millions of times I have avoided people, places, and things out of fear of being rejected in my short 30 year life. It’s kind of like my religion. It’s the culture I grew up in. And it became my core identity. Always hide, always hold back, never be your true self, because you will get rejected and be hurt. But after really accepting the Father’s unconditional love, how could I persist in this insanity?!
I stood on that cliff and pictured Jesus standing there, with a literal crowd of people throwing insults at him, discrediting him, accusing him, and wanting to physically harm him. And I was strengthened as I remembered how Jesus handled rejection: “But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” (Luke 4:30) Jesus didn’t give a rip about being rejected. Yes, it hurt his heart, but it didn’t stop him from doing what he was called to do. He walked right through the rejection of man and went on his merry way.
Rejection, pain, and hurt are apart of life. Jesus didn’t keep us in denial and say that we would be able to avoid being hurt. Paul desired to “share in Jesus’ sufferings” becoming like Him in His death, that by any means Paul would attain the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:10). If we are going to live as God’s beloved, we are going to be ridiculed, rejected, and hurt. He promised us trials and tribulations, but that we could get through them with the power of His love. But He didn’t say we could avoid them. And that’s what the Father was correcting me on in Israel. Furthermore, to have any sort of relationship in this life with anybody, pain is required. Which leads me to the final point….
Into the Night
The site that really stood out to me was the Garden of Gethsemane which is on the Mount of Olives right across from Jerusalem. The place where Jesus prayed in agony, sweating drops of blood and praying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
We worshipped as a group in the Garden, and as I sang to the Savior with my eyes closed, I saw vividly a crown of thorns being put on my head. And I heard the phrase, “There is no love without pain.” I knew immediately that I have been avoiding so much in my life, relationships, finances, responsibilities, and most importantly my marriage. We really don’t know what love is apart from the painful cross that Jesus bore. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” (1 John 3:16)
Knowing and accepting in my heart that I am loved by Him, leaves me with no option but to accept a life of suffering and pain. I’m not jumping right into martyrdom here, I’m talking the pain of being responsible. The pain of being myself with others and risking hurt. The pain of accepting my weaknesses and letting Him teach me new things. The pain of accepting that I have been prideful with my knowledge instead of letting it lead me to love. The pain of laying down my life for my bride, like Jesus laid down his life for his bride.
There’s always going to be joy on this journey, but it’s a real journey. A journey into the unknown, embracing everything He calls me to. There is a part in the Song of Solomon that describes this new season. Pastor Nick, who has now written two books on the Song, explained to me this verse in Israel. It’s Song of Solomon 7:11 and it reads, “Come, my beloved, let us go to the countryside, let us spend the night in the villages.”
This is the part of the Song where the bride has fully accepted that she is loved by the Bridegroom and she now tells him, ‘Let us go spend the night in the villages.” She can no longer sit back. She is no longer content with just sitting around, she knows God loves her and she now needs to do something about it. So she tells the Bridegroom she wants to go into the dark places in the night. The forgotten places. The places where people sit in darkness. The villages without hope. She wants to respond to His love by laying her life down for the poor, the oppressed, the outcasts.
And that’s exactly where Whitney and I are. It’s time for us to GO. When Whitney came back from Africa and started talking about Brazil, I started responding in theological terms, offering well-worded explanations as to why I was unsure about us going. Then she told me something that still makes me laugh to this day. She said, “If He has risen, there is always a green light.” And with that simple statement, my theological defenses cracked and my walls of defense came crumbling down. What am I waiting for? Am I loved or am I not? And if I am, what am I waiting for? There is a world out there that needs His love. Into the night we go.
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