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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Jesus Shows How to See Yourself through 3 Amazing Truths

The Lord’s Words on the Temple Mount Urge Us to Keep it Real

As Jesus made His way toward Jerusalem for His final Passover, He repeated a principle to His disciples several times. The repetition for them ought to echo in our own minds as well.

Jesus Shows How to See Yourself through 3 Amazing Truths

(Photo: Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

What did Jesus say? Very simply:

The last shall be first, and the first last. —Matt. 19:30; 20:16, 27

The principle rubs against our grain because we want equity with others, and we feel justifiably peeved when someone gets something for nothing or when they elbow their way to greatness ahead of us (20:1-16-24).

Jesus redefined greatness as servanthood—first as last—and used Himself as an example who came to give His life for others (vv. 25-28).

His words continued in Jerusalem.

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Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre Shows Our Need for a Savior

How the site demonstrates the need for the place it hallows.

One of the biggest surprises to Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem occurs when they step inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection falls short of the expectations of many Christians accustomed to Western worship.

Gold drips from icons. Chanting fills the spaces. Incense rises between cold stone walls. Six sects of Christendom betray jealous rivalries over the goings-on within. Territorial fistfights even occur on occasion.

The Holy Sepulchre's dome covers Christ's tomb

(Photo: The Holy Sepulchre’s dome covers Christ’s tomb. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Without proper mental preparation, a Christian pilgrim may see only the distracting depravity of religion that has affixed itself to this site like barnacles on sunken treasure.

But if we look past today’s traditionalism to history’s tradition, we find an unbroken connection to the central event of all time—the redemption of the universe.

For in this place, Jesus Christ died for your sins and rose again.

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The Day Jesus Cracked a Joke

Why the truth is harder to choke down than camels and gnats.

Eight dollars,” the Arab quoted me in perfect English. The stinking camel he held beside him shifted its weight, and I could have sworn the beast smiled at me.

Hard to believe, but a short ride on a smelly camel outside of Jericho will set you back eight bucks. I wanted to walk away, but with my daughter eager to ride, I forked over the cash.

Hypocrisy—Choking Down a Camel

(Photo: Camel rides outside of Jericho)

Clinging to carpets strapped on as a makeshift saddle, she hung on.

The beige beast got up rear first, hurling my daughter forward and tilting the horizon to 45 degrees. The owner began leading the camel on a quick lap around the parking lot with my daughter, now six feet higher, hanging on with all four limbs.

It’s almost as if God created the camel for comic relief in life.

But that’s not all. Jesus used it to teach us something.

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Why Self-Promotion Isn’t Always Bad

One question hits the reset button on our motives

Okay, I need to be honest. I’m glad my book launch for Waiting on God is over. Self-promotion can make me really uncomfortable. But not for the reasons you think.

Why Self-Promotion Isn’t Always Bad

(Photo by Photodune)

It’s not that self-promotion is wrong, per se. It doesn’t have to contradict humility. (I’ll share why in a minute.) Rather, all that self-promotion made me at times concerned (this is tough to admit) that I might appear anti-humble. Which, in effect, is the same as being anti-humble.

Maybe you’ve been there. By being concerned with how we are perceived, we waver between the high road of humility and the swamp of pride. It’s really tough to move forward in the Christian life when ego is stuck to your shoes like a glob of gum.

Know what I mean?

But just because our motives are often mixed (even on our best days), that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t self-promote at times.

Here’s why that’s true. And here’s one question that helps us hit reset on our motives.

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What Eavesdropping at Starbucks Taught Me

6 lessons from listening to others' conversations.

While waiting to have lunch with a friend last week in Franklin, TN, I sat at the local Starbucks to do some work. At 9:30 in the morning, the place was packed.

What Eavesdropping at Starbucks Taught Me

(Photo: Starbucks in Franklin, Tennessee)

The busy coffee shop had a small footprint, so I sat at the only available place —a wide table by the door. Usually I work at Starbucks with my earbuds plugged in, but I forgot them. So I heard every conversation at the table.

In the two hours I sat there, I overheard 6 different conversations.

I’m glad I did.

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5 Good Lessons from a Bad Example

Sometimes the best lessons come from the worst examples. Maybe you had a parent who disciplined out of anger. Or a pastor who wielded his Bible like a billy club. Or a boss who abused his or her authority.

5 Good Lessons from a Bad Example

(Photo by Photodune)

It’s easy to dismiss lousy leaders as incompetent, arrogant, or uncaring—and unworthy of our attention. But it’s hard to examine their flaws and failures so as to apply their bad example to our own lives.

The Bible often makes good use of a bad example. Scripture records the failings of many—not like some grocery tabloid would—but to show us why we should make good choices (1 Cor. 10:6).

The Apostle John took up his pen and wrote for us 5 good lessons from a bad example.

Thankfully, these are 5 lessons we don’t have to learn the hard way.

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Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged—What Jesus Meant

Thankfully, He told us what He meant so we don't have to guess.

The best-known Bible verse used to be John 3:16. But our culture has a new favorite. In fact, it has become the trump card played to justify any and every lifestyle. It’s even a quote from Jesus.

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged—What Jesus Meant

(Photo by Photodune)

The phrase is often quoted as “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” While the meaning is the same, it’s interesting we have learned the wrong wording from the 1611 King James Version. It should be: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” The verse often is taken to mean nobody has the right to judge anybody for anything at any time.

The problem? The verse has a context. Jesus told us what He meant.

When Jesus spoke these words on the slopes surrounding the Sea of Galilee, He wasn’t saying never to judge. He simply warned about doing it the wrong way—by telling us how to make judgments the right way.

And believe me, it ain’t easy.

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