Every year, for the last 10 years, I have made a walk that has become a rhythm in my life. It is a marker of sorts. One of the great blessings of my life is to lead people to experience the Bible in context. We hike the land of Israel from South to North and West to East discovering layers of meaning that once were absent from our understanding of Scripture. We learn how to be a disciple and even more importantly we discover Jesus as a man in his Jewish context.
I arrive in Israel 24 hours before the group to get acclimated, to clear my head, and to pray. I walk and I pray. I make the same walk each year retracing my steps from my hotel in Tel Aviv to the Old City of Jaffa and back again. The prayer-walk forces me to ask some clarifying questions each year. They are good questions, for every disciple of Jesus, to ask every once in a while.
Am I running from God? The Old city of Jaffa is “Joppa” of old.
“Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah, son of Amittai saying, ‘Arise and go to Nineveh, the great city, and call out against it for their evil has come before me.’ But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.” (Jonah 1:1-3)
There is a lot here but pragmatically it’s almost impossible to go to Jaffa and not think about the times in life I ran from the LORD’s presence and purposes. Today as I returned to the harbor I asked God to reveal to me ways I am running from His presence and purposes.
Am I worshiping anything/anyone other than the One True God? Old Jaffa is wrought with paganism and mythology. There is evidence of Canaanite worship in Jaffa. There is a famous rock feature in the sea called the Rocks of Andromeda. Legend has it that the King of Jaffa sacrificed his daughter, Andromeda, to the god of the sea, Poseidon, in order to gain favor and protection for the city from the sea. Consequently, a cult to Andromeda sprang from Jaffa. Today, Islam is prominently displayed in and around Jaffa along with one synagogue and one church that I have observed (There could be more). I can’t help but see the evidence of all this and turn inward. How easily the human heart chases meaning and idols. I asked God to reveal to me ways I am worshiping anything or anyone other than Him.
Can I walk among the people of the earth carrying the message of Christ?
“And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” (Acts 10:5-6)
The house of Simon the Tanner is nothing to look at but it’s right there in Old Jaffa by the sea just like the Text says. It’s a significant moment of reflection for me because it is the place where Simon was given a vision from God to go to people very different from him (people like me) with the gospel message of Jesus Christ. (Read all of Acts 10). That day his “God box” expanded and he realized it was not just for the Jews and that he would have to become proficient at walking among people very different from him to offer the gospel. Can I do the same? Can I walk among all kinds of people of the earth and carry the message of Christ to them or do I have walls up that keep me from being among the people of the world, that keep me from loving my neighbor, that keep me from sharing the gospel? Today I asked the Lord to reveal to me these things that get in the way and I begged Him to make me more proficient among all kinds of people with all kinds of belief systems.
Will you give me more fruit this year? The walk home begins with repentance (see questions 1-3) and culminates in begging for more fruit.
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (John 15:16)
Certainly I am begging for fruit to be born among the 32 others I will immerse in the Text and disciple over the next few days as we experience Israel. But, it’s more than that. I’m begging God for fruit that multiplies springing from my life this next year. I am praying for disciples who make disciples who make disciples. I pray this prayer confidently because I see clearly that disciples bearing fruit brings Him glory and accomplishes His purposes in the world. So I ask, “LORD, will you give me more fruit this year” like the persistent kid who says, “Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom…,” over and over again.
I didn’t see you on the road to Jaffa today. But, the questions whether you walked that path today or not, are profound. Ask these questions and open your ears to hear all that God may want to say to you.
Shalom from Israel.