Traditions, Truth, and Praying with Your Eyes Open

The Western Wall challenges us to ask why we do what we do.

Some people find it hard to identify with the Jews who rock before Jerusalem’s Western Wall. When I first saw them, the prayers seemed odd. Then I thought about my traditions. Are they any less bizarre?

The Western Wall challenges us to ask why we do what we do.

(Photo: Men praying at the Western Wall. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Oddness just comes in different flavors. They’re called “traditions.” For example:

  • Jews pray with their heads covered; we take our hats off.
  • Their prayers are public and often loud; ours are private and quiet.
  • They rock back and forth and pray from a book; we bow our heads, close our eyes, and utter unrehearsed words.

It’s easy in the familiarity of our own traditions to shake our fingers at the oddities of others. Jews pray while rocking, Muslims kneel with their bottoms in the air, and Christians bow our heads and close our eyes.

But blend any tradition—bowing, standing, prostrating, rocking, kneeling, or jumping—with no personal relationship with the true God, and it’s pointless.

How can we make sure we don’t confuse truth with tradition?

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The Valley of the Kings – God’s Amazing Sovereignty Displayed in a Pharaoh’s Life

How Amenhotep II illustrates the tension between God’s sovereignty and our choices.

The Pharaohs buried in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt, are more than history. The New Testament uses these kings to illustrate truths to strengthen our walk with Jesus Christ.

The Valley of the Kings – God’s Sovereignty Displayed in a Pharaoh’s Life

(Photo: The Valley of the Kings. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

When we picture Egypt, we picture pyramids —those iconic burial places of the pharaohs. But pyramids posed a problem. Pyramids left no doubt where the treasures of the pharaohs were buried. It was x-marks-the-spot for grave robbers!

So the pharaohs of the New Kingdom, beginning in the mid-16th-century BC, moved their burial places from the area of Giza to Luxor, or ancient Thebes. At the bottom of a mountain that had the natural shape of a pyramid, the pharaohs, the queens, and other officials carved their tombs from the walls of the valley—easily hidden.

The Valley of the Kings contains at least 63 tombs, with more no doubt to be discovered. The most famous discovery occurred in November 1922, when British archaeologist Howard Carter and his team discovered the amazingly intact tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, or King Tut, who reigned about the time of the book of Judges.

But a pharaoh most people have never heard of is the one the Bible uses to teach us most.

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Chasing the Surprising Geography of the Presence of God

How can God be somewhere and everywhere at the same time?

It’s hard to imagine an omnipresent God dwelling in one place. And yet, every December we celebrate the fact. God dwells in the confines of a human body. And He is also everywhere.

But the incarnation isn’t the first time God has localized His presence among His people.

Presence of God

(Photo: Olive groves near Bethlehem. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

God is both omnipresent and present. King Solomon summed up the seeming contradiction when he prayed:

Will God indeed dwell with mankind on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You; how much less this house which I have built. —2 Chronicles 6:18

From creation to Christmas—and from today to eternity.

Let’s take a quick geographical journey and follow movements of God’s dwelling place among us.

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Pools of Bethesda – God’s Amazing Kindness and Our Courageous Choices

What motivates you most isn't fear.

Very few people are drawn to God by intimidation. Instead, the Lord urges us to come to Him by revealing the kindness of His mercy. It’s a tremendous motivation.

Pools of Bethesda—God’s Kindness and Our Repentance

(Photo: Pools of Bethesda and Crusader chapel, courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Once we comprehend the depth of our imperfections, and the futility of our own efforts to remove them, we are in a position to respond to God’s kindness.

In this post, you’ll read how Jesus revealed this simple truth one day in Jerusalem with an act of mercy at the Pools of Bethesda.

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This is Why God Invades Our Comfortable Lives

Lo-Debar shows what happens when comfort dulls our sensitivity to God.

Everything was going so well. A good job. Promising future. Nice place to live. Peace among peers. Then God got involved, and it all changed. Ever had that happen? Me too. So did Israel of old.

Lo-Debar: Why God Invades Our Comfortable Lives

(Photo: Umm ed-Dabar, possible Lo-Debar. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

The Hebrews sought opulent furniture, the finest food, first-class entertainment, the best wine and perfumes. But they did not seek the Lord.

Sometimes God invades our comfortable lives. Here’s why.

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Surrendering Your Will to God in Difficult Times

How Jesus' decision in Gethsemane is the only path to peace.

I have discovered that the most difficult battles in life simply mirror Jesus’ struggle in Gethsemane. His words to the Father remain the most challenging words we could utter:

Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done. —Luke 22:42

Surrendering Your Will to God in Difficult Times

(Photo: Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus surrendered His will. Courtesy of Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.)

Surrendering your will to God in difficult times is often harder than the trial itself.

Our greatest challenges come not from those circumstances that press in upon us, but from the internal struggle to surrender our will to God. We enter Gethsemane daily and have to drag my will to the Father in prayer.

Here’s how.

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When You’re Ready—But Nothing Happens

Peter's experience at Caesarea may explain why.

You’re ready for a change. You’ve asked God to open a new door in your life, and He has taken years to prepare you for it. Finally, you’re ready. There’s just one problem. Nothing happens. You just hover. 

Caesarea, where Peter met Cornelius

(Photo: Caesarea, where Peter met Cornelius. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

The plan of God includes preparation and waiting. But why do you have to keep waiting once God has prepared you? What else must you do for God to open the door?

The Apostle Peter experienced something at Caesarea by the Sea that may explain why your progress is delayed.

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How to Give Your Child Back to God

Hannah's decision at Shiloh shows us how to prepare.

Giving your child back to God can be a tough decision for parents. Eighteen or more years of sacrifice, commitment, and training suddenly bring you to a point of no return.

How to Give Your Child Back to God

(Photo: Shiloh, where Hannah brought Samuel. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Whether it is for college, for the military, or in the natural course of growing up, giving your child back to God is a point every parent has to face.

Hannah’s story shows us how to prepare for it, and then, how to do it.

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Why God Will Lead You Unwanted Places

The Holy Land helps us discover the joy of surrendering to God

God will lead you places you would never choose. Unwanted places. Because the Lord is greater than we can imagine, it makes sense He wants for us more than we ever dreamed. The Holy Land proved it so. 

Why God Will Lead You Unwanted Places

(Photo: Sunset over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

God wants you to trust Him, and you’d like to do so. He wants you to glorify Him, to know Him, and so do you. But really, you often want to trust God only when you understand Him. Too often, that desire to know the Lord slices His list of attributes in half.

When you and I settle for anything less than all of God, we also settle for less than all we can become.

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Tel Dan Stele—Providential Ironies in Favor of King David (And You)

How a stone inscription offers encouragement to your spiritual life.

Sometimes archaeology gives us a gift. The ancient site of Tel Dan in Israel has a large, rock wall—a city gate from the time of Solomon’s temple. There archaeologists unearthed the Tel Dan Stele —a marvelous vindication to biblical history.

Tel Dan Iron Age gate near where the stele was discovered

(Photo: Tel Dan Iron Age gate near where the stele was discovered. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

In the courtyard of Tel Dan’s gate complex, a large engraved stone—an ancient basalt stele— gave hard evidence that King David was no King Arthur legend of Hebrew history.

It also offers encouragement to your spiritual life. Here’s how.

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