Israel, Day Four: Bethlehem and Jerusalem

Entering Modern-Day Bethlehem

Because of the complexity of today’s Middle East, the town Jesus was born in no longer is found in Israel; it is in the Palestinian Authority.

Trekking into Bethlehem meant passing through sophisticated, heavily-armed border security. How ironic that the birthplace of the Prince of Peace is shrouded in barbed wire and machine guns.

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Graffiti

Inside the walls of Bethlehem, the huge security walls are covered in wall art and graffiti.

The plight of the Palestinians is wrapped in religion, culture, and politics.

Very quickly we could see that the economy inside is near-collapse.

The Palestinian soldiers were happy to wave our tour bus through when they realized we were Americans (our Hebrew guide, however, was forbidden to enter Bethlehem).

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Church of the Nativity

After a long walk, we finally arrived in Manger Square.

A large Catholic Church was built over the site of Jesus’ birth, one of the holiest sites in Christianity.

This church boasts the world’s longest-running worship service; it’s been perpetually worshiping Christ in one long service for about 1,500 years! Day and night, monks and holy men tend to their altars and worship.

To enter the Church of the Nativity, you literally must stoop low. This architecture is purposeful — all who enter the site of Christ’s birth should do so with great humility and reverence.

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Ancient Christianity

Walking inside the Church of the Nativity is like stepping back in time: darkness is everywhere, the scent of incense punches through the air, and every step takes you across ancient mosaic flooring and solid gold paintings from across the centuries.

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Three Wise Men

Over the centuries, the Middle East has been conquered by Muslim invaders, Crusading knights, and various other sects and groups.

This site was nearly destroyed by Muslims wanting to eradicate Christianity centuries ago. Legend has it that before torching this church, the invaders came across this giant fresco. Although you can barely make out the painting today, it depicts the three wise from the East who came to worship the Christ child.

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The Muslim invaders apparently came across this very fresco, saw the Oriental holy men depicted, and thus decided to spare destroying the site of Christ’s birth.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem near Jerusalem during the reign of King Herod. 

After Jesus’ birth a group of spiritual priests from the East came to Jerusalem and inquired of the people, “Where is the child who is born king of the Jewish people? We observed his star rising in the sky and we’ve come to bow before him in worship.”

( Matthew 2 )

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Ancient Art

The closer we got to the entrance of the Cave where Jesus was born, the more extravagant, the more fragile and the more ancient the works of art became.

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Everything you see that looks gold IS really gold.

High above the descending marble stairway leading into the Cave hangs this solid gold portrait:

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This is the Historical Spot where Jesus Entered Our World

This is Where Mary Gave Birth in the Cave

When the time of fulfillment had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the written law.

Yet all of this was so that he would redeem and set free all those held hostage to the written law so that we would receive our freedom and a full legal adoption as his children.

( Galatians 4:4-5, TPT )

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Inside Jesus’ Birthplace

The ceiling is low, the space is cramped, people are crammed everywhere as dimly lit Renaissance paintings peer at us from within the Cave’s blackened walls.

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The Site of the Manger

When they arrived in Bethlehem, Mary went into labor, and there she gave birth to her firstborn son.

After wrapping the newborn baby in strips of cloth, they laid him in a feeding trough since there was no available space in any upper room in the village.

( Luke 2:6-7 )

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The Church

Back above the Cave, we walked past worship services in progress and marveled at the ancient architecture.

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Look Closely…. Jesus is shushing you!

Look Closely…. Jesus is shushing you!

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O Little Town of Bethlehem

O Little Town of Bethlehem

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The Birthplace of Jesus is surrounded by Mosques

The Birthplace of Jesus is surrounded by Mosques

Allah (the Moon god) is the focus of the Crescent Moon atop these Mosques in Bethlehem

Allah (the Moon god) is the focus of the Crescent Moon atop these Mosques in Bethlehem

In the distance, Shepherd’s Field

That night, in a field near Bethlehem, there were shepherds watching over their flocks.  

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared in radiant splendor before them, lighting up the field with the blazing glory of God, and the shepherds were terrified! 

But the angel reassured them, saying, “Don’t be afraid. For I have come to bring you good news, the most joyous news the world has ever heard! And it is for everyone everywhere! For today in Bethlehem a rescuer was born for you. He is the Lord Yahweh, the Messiah. 

You will recognize him by this miracle sign: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a feeding trough!”

Then all at once, a vast number of glorious angels appeared, the very armies of heaven! And they all praised God, singing:

 “Glory to God in the highest realms of heaven!
    For there is peace and a good hope given to the sons of men.”

When the choir of angels disappeared back to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go! Let’s hurry and find this Word that is born in Bethlehem and see for ourselves what the Lord has revealed to us.”

( Luke 2:8-15, TPT)

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Onward to Jerusalem

And the time that David reigned over Israel was forty years.

He reigned seven years in Hebron and thirty-three years in Jerusalem.

( 1 Kings 2:11, ESV )

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Tour of Jerusalem’s Old City

There are three mountains that are referenced throughout Scripture.

They are found here: Mount Zion, Mount of Olives, and Mount Moriah.

In Hebrew thought, three mountains = three letters in the Hebrew word for GOD.

Zion Gate protects the City. It was specifically designed for archers about 500 years ago by the Turks.

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The walls are pock-marked with the bullet holes from past conflicts.

The walls are pock-marked with the bullet holes from past conflicts.

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The Upper Room

“And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.”

( Jesus in Mark 14:15, ESV )

This is the place where Jesus and His disciples had their Last Supper.

Tradition says that the Upper Room was built above King David’s Tomb.

It originally had a rooftop (Jesus said, “Come, let us ARISE…”)

This is where the 11 disciples prayed for 40 days after Jesus ascended into Heaven.

Peter also preached on Pentecost from the roof.

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Mount Moriah and the History of Jerusalem

According to Rabbinic tradition, the Mount (now covered by the golden Dome of the Rock by Muslims) is the site where God formed Adam from the dust of the earth.

Abram came to Mount Moriah 4,000 years ago in Genesis 22:

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

The stone (housed to this day under the Dome of the Rock) Abram used for the ram sacrifice is remembered as the foundation of the Jewish nation.

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Solomon built the first temple on Mount Moriah.

450 years later Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians.

Alexander the Great took Jerusalem for 200 years, followed by the Roman Empire.

In 70 AD, the Romans destroyed the Temple, leaving only a remnant of the Western Wall (known today as the Wailing Wall, the holiest site in Judaism). Israel ceased to be a nation and would not rise again for nearly 1,900 years.

In 320 AD, Helena (mother of Emperor Constantinople) came from Rome and destroyed all the existing pagan Roman temples. Helena replaced them with churches.

In 800 AD, Muhammad was born.

50 years after Muhammad’s death, a Calyph had a dream of Muhammad on a flying horse sailing from Saudi Arabia to the sacred stone on Mount Moriah. This led to armies of Muslims invading and destroying all the Christian churches. Muslims erected the Dome of the Rock on Mount Moriah.

Years later the Crusaders came and destroyed all mosques and built churches.

A Muslim leader eventually arose - Salahadin - who defeated the Crusaders due to the heat. He destroyed all the churches and built mosques.

500 years ago the Turks came to reestablish churches.

And in 1948, Israel was reestablished as the Jewish homeland.

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Church Security in an Unsafe World

Mid-Michigan’s NBC & FOX News affiliates recently covered our church’s pro-active security plan roll-out. I am thankful for the positive news coverage — below is their reporting:

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SAGINAW COUNTY, Mich. — Local churches have taken big steps to keep their members safe, following the recent mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs.

One church in particular, Life Church, is working with local law enforcement to increase security during its services.

“You think you’re going to a safe place like church, but terrible things can happen anywhere,” one church member said.

The lead pastor, Jonathan Herron, said his congregation expressed concern following the tragedy in Texas, so he took action.

“I started getting messages on my Facebook from people here at Life Church saying, ‘Does the church have a plan?'” Herron said.

He said he then reached out to the Saginaw County Sheriff’s Department and developed a more in-depth plan.

“We’re working with a lot of churches with training, but recently we did have one church in Saginaw County that asked to hire us… hire a deputy on duty, full uniform, with a car to be at their church services,” Saginaw County Sheriff William Federspiel said.

Herron said just having their presence makes him feel better as both a parent and a pastor.

“It makes me feel good when I bring my children to church on Sunday that they see a smiling sheriff’s deputy there to welcome them,” he said.

He said this change has encouraged more people to walk through their doors.

“Church is a light in the darkness and partnering with the Saginaw County Sheriff’s Department is just another way that we’re able to shine that light brighter, so people feel welcomed into a place full of hope and without fear,” Herron added.

Sheriff Federspiel said the department is working on holding active shooter situation training for churches in the area later in December.

The sheriff said his deputies are also making a point to make their presence known in church parking lots on Sundays.

I am a pastor diagnosed with Depression and ADHD… and it’s a gift to me

I’ve always dealt with mood swings throughout my life.  Some days my brain would be running a million miles a minute, flooded with thoughts and ideas.  Other days I felt like hiding under a thick blanket and binge-watching Netflix, unable to face the world.  I thought what I was experiencing was normal.  It wasn’t.

About a year and a half ago God tenderly and wisely allowed some crushing moments into my life.

When you start a church from scratch and it grows really fast, the reward for ‘being a success’ is leadership conflict.  In my case, a best friend blindsided me and a small group of people I loved tried to (unsuccessfully) hijack the church.  We navigated through that season by trusting God, walking in transparency and integrity, and keeping our focus on the vision of reaching people far from God.

I believe in the complete rule and sovereignty of God: there is no random chance in this universe that is carefully governed by a Grand Designer.  In the midst of the crushing, I knew there was a purpose.

When I noticed my mood swings becoming more intense, I made an appointment to see a Christian counselor.  Listen, there is no shame in seeing a counselor.  I believe everyone needs counseling!  I’m married to a licensed counselor and I have seen the benefits personally.  And now I’ve experienced the benefits too.

My counselor is awesome.  He helped me identify trauma and create healthy boundaries.  I love my counselor so much that I recommend him all the time to folks at Life Church Michigan.

Counseling alone didn’t solve the feelings I was grappling with.  I had dealt with mood swings all my life, but as our church has continued growing larger at a very fast rate — and thus more people creating more complexity on my plate — I talked to my wife to see if she was noticing changes in my attitude and emotions.  She encouraged me to talk to my general physician.

Long story short, I was diagnosed with mild depression, a hereditary chemical imbalance in the brain.  My doctor prescribed a low dose of medicine that I take daily and in the many weeks since being on this prescription, I’ve experienced a fantastic change in my outlook on life.  It’s like I can see and think more clearly now.

Further, I saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with something everyone who knows me has long-suspected: I have ADHD.  And I am so thankful to finally have clarity on why my brain takes off like a rocket some days!

I understand the stigma of mental illness, especially in Christian circles.

Today I enter my eighteenth year of full-time ministry and I have never, ever heard a sermon or message given that addresses the reality of mental illness.

Some well-meaning Christians might advise, “You just need more faith or you need to pray it away.”  Listen, I’m not insane but THAT advice is insane!  I would never tell someone stricken with cancer that it was their faultand that they just need to pray it away… I would encourage them to get chemotherapy and seek health from a medical doctor!

You see, God heals both through the natural and the supernatural.  Modern medicine is a miracle that we should thank the Lord for.  A thousand years ago, people prayed to not get the plague.  Today we just pray for a bigger television screen!

My diagnosis is a gift to me: God blessed me with a burden so that I could better understand my need for a Savior.  I cannot rescue myself.  Dealing with depression and ADHD allows me to lean on others.  Life is a gift and love is the point.

This past Sunday I shared my story during a message on parenting as an encouragement to our people that:

  1. It’s ok to not be ok… it’s just not ok to STAY that way!

  2. If you are a mom or dad who struggles with their mental or emotional health, our church will stand with you, pray for you, and cheer you on as you seek counseling or psychiatric care!

For what it’s worth, you can watch more of my story from Sunday’s message below (beginning at 18:04).  I hope this encourages you on your journey of discovering life and wholeness in Christ.


Israel, Day Three: Where Jesus Walked

Day Three in the Holy Land

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Our morning began on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, one of the world’s greatest locations of beauty.  

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I can almost imagine during creation how God scooped out this tranquil sea with His pinky finger, thinking of how the Son would enjoy three years of ministry along it’s shores. 

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Mount Arbel

Jesus pursued a robust, daily communion with the Father: 

  “Jesus went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone...” (Matthew 14:23)

 

 ” One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.”   (Luke 6:12)

The geography of Galilee has not changed in the past two thousand years.  With certainty, scholars have identified Mount Arbel as Jesus’ secret prayer location.  

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Standing where Jesus had so often spent time with the Father was deeply moving. From the top of Mount Arbel, Jesus could survey His entire mission field. Capernaum, Magdala, the Sea of Galilee... They are all right there. 

 

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In the photo above you can see a man-made dome.  On just the other side is the location where Jesus fed the 5,000. 

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Peter’s Primacy

Jesus always humbled Himself.  He would leave the high places to reach people in the low places.  

 

Jesus demonstrated this every time He came down Mount Arbel.  He also showed His love for others after His resurrection outside Jerusalem, when Jesus travelled north to pursue Peter.

 

After famously denying Christ three times at Jesus’ darkest moments, Peter must have thought he had blown it.  

 

When Jesus’ friends failed Him, He didn’t shame or lecture them.   Jesus cooked them breakfast! 

 

 “Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee...

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore...”  (John 21)

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“As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.

The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”  So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.

Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.

Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.”

(John 21:7-14)

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The Dead Sea

Finally we began the southern journey toward the Dead Sea and Jerusalem.  

In the photo below, you can see the ancient cliff where Jesus drove a herd of demon-possessed swine into the sea (Mark 5:13, Luke 8:33).

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The Dead Sea was amazing.  

After being warned not to swallow the water (it could be deadly due to the richness of the think minerals), we all jumped in.   

You literally float due to the heaviness of the mineral-rich waters. It is hard to describe what it feels like! 

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Israel, Day Two: The Gates of Hell

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Caesarea Philippi

In Matthew 16, Jesus of Nazareth led His disciples on a 3 day journey (on foot) to the far northern border of Israel.

Caesarea Philippi was a Roman center of Pagan worship. Imagine Daytona Beach Spring Break in college mashed with New Year’s Eve in Times Square and throw in sex acts with goats and infant burnings. That’s Caesarea Philippi in the days of Jesus.

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When you read the Scriptures, geography matters. Jewish rabbis liked to point to things as object lessons in their teachings. That is what Jesus was doing in Matthew 16.

When He brought His followers to this cave (which has remained virtually untouched over the past 2,000 years), He pointed out this very spot that was nicknamed by the locals: the Gates of Hell.

“Upon THIS rock I will build My church…” - Jesus in Matthew 16, at this very spot

“Upon THIS rock I will build My church…” - Jesus in Matthew 16, at this very spot

Now when you read Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18, you can see how it all takes on a deeper meaning: If Jesus starts something, He WILL complete it (Philippians 1:6)!

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This is view Jesus and the disciples saw as they looked out from the Gates of Hell.

This is view Jesus and the disciples saw as they looked out from the Gates of Hell.

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Why did Jesus begin this movement called the Church here?

Why not in Jerusalem?

Because in Matthew 16, Jesus is essentially telling us: “I’m not building Church for Church People; I’m doing it for THEM — the Romans engaged in wicked pagan worship. The local church is the PERFECT place for IMPERFECT people!”

Later in Matthew 17, Jesus journeys further north to Mount Hermon where Jesus is transfigured. The high place of Mount Hermon is capped in snow, which Hebrews understand to represent the holiness of God. God says, “I’ll come DOWN to YOU.”

Jesus then journeys DOWN Mount Hermon to Capernaum, which in Hebrew means, “Comforter.” Jesus took the path south that eventually leads down to the Dead Sea.

In everything Jesus said and did, the Son of God humbled Himself. The rest of the gospels show Christ saying, “Now that I have declared the Church, I will go and DIE for her.”

Israelis planted these trees in Galilee over the spot where Jesus fed the 5,000.

Israelis planted these trees in Galilee over the spot where Jesus fed the 5,000.

This is the spot where Jesus healed the Centurion’s servant in   Matthew 8:5-13  .

This is the spot where Jesus healed the Centurion’s servant in Matthew 8:5-13.

The Town of Jesus

The headquarters for Jesus during His earthly ministry was this tiny sea-side town, where Jesus preached in the local synagogue and stayed in the home of Peter. It is remarkable and powerful to walk along the very streets where Jesus Christ walked.

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The ancient Synagogue where Jesus of Nazareth preached.

The ancient Synagogue where Jesus of Nazareth preached.

Capernaum rests at the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee.

Capernaum rests at the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee.

These are the very shores where Jesus walked and called Peter, James, and John to leave EVERYTHING and follow Him.

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This is where Jesus stood in Matthew 4:18-22.

This is where Jesus stood in Matthew 4:18-22.

Peter’s House

Jesus spent a lot of time in these ruins — the ancient remains of Peter’s house.

A futuristic Catholic Church that looks like something out of The Jetsons rest above Peter’s house, with a glass floor that rests directly above where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law.

Peter’s House

Peter’s House

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This is where   Matthew 8:14-15   happened in world history.

This is where Matthew 8:14-15 happened in world history.

Capernaum’s Synagogue

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:35-38)

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Sea of Galilee

Day Two of our journey through the Holy Land ended with a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee.

It gave me goosebumps as I saw what Jesus saw while He was walking on these very waters.

This is where Jesus walked on water in   Matthew 14:22-33  .

This is where Jesus walked on water in Matthew 14:22-33.

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Israel, Day One

Four years ago today, I was on a life-changing journey through the Holy Lands.

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Walking where Jesus walked and exploring historical archaelogical sites throughout Israel transformed my faith from mere head-knowledge to 3-D, concrete reality.

Before Israel my Scriptures were black-and-white words.
After Israel my Bible is a full spectrum of vivid colors and imagery.

Now when I read a Bible story, I can picture in my mind the geography, remember the smells, and feel a deeper connection to ancient history.

Tiberius along the Sea of Galilee

Tiberius along the Sea of Galilee

I’ve always meant to blog about my journey, but every time I’ve started to in the past, I’ve always gotten distracted (cursed ADHD!) and never finished.

Having just brought home our fifth and final child, I feel a strong responsibility to document my travels in the Holy Lands for my children. I want them to know that Jesus is God, the Bible is true, Hell is hot and Forever is a long time.

Discovering that Christianity is rooted in physically-verifiable science and archaeology was a game changer for me, and I hope these daily blog posts provide a springboard for their faith journies… and yours.

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Joining me on my journey four years ago today were my best friends at the time, Luke and Dan:

Luke was one of the first people to get behind my dream of launching Life Church Michigan from scratch and his signature is one of three on our legal incorporation papers! Luke is a jokester who continues to be one of my buddies to this day.

Dan was my best friend. I discovered him in 2010 while hiring for an open worship position at my previous church and we quickly hit it off. In 2014, Dan uprooted his family to join our team again. We opened a church together in a former golf center, our families were close, and I provided the funding for Dan to produce his first radio single.

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HEROD’S AQUEDUCTS

First stop in Israel were the ancient aqueducts built by King Herod.

Yes, THAT King Herod.

Still standing to this day, these aqueducts line the Mediterranean Sea and brought fresh water 13 miles (!) from Mount Carmel.

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CAESAREA MARITIME

Next we traveled north to Caesarea Maritime, built by 8,000 people under the direction of King Herod. Over the centuries the site has been destroyed and rebuilt by Muslims and Crusaders.

The site is first mentioned in Acts chapter 10 and boasts the remains of one of Herod’s summer castles along the sea plus an ancient Olympic stadium. Gold medals used to be the only award at the Olympics; it was King Herod who first introduced the Silver and Bronze medals at Caesarea.

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In Acts 12:19, Herod Jr. came to Caesarea where he was struck down by an angel and eaten by worms. If you ask me, that’s a pretty bad way to go.

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RUN YOUR RACE

In Acts 25, the Apostle Paul is arrested and brought here.

Outside Paul’s prison cell was Herod’s Olympic track where he heard athletes practicing hard.

The inspiration for “races” in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Hebrews 12:1-3, Philippians 3:13-14, and 2 Timothy 4:7 in Paul’s writings came from this jail cell (which I am standing above in this next photo).

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Remains of King Herod’s summer castle on the edge of the Mediteranean Sea (note the ancient remains of a private swimming pool Herod had installed).

Remains of King Herod’s summer castle on the edge of the Mediteranean Sea (note the ancient remains of a private swimming pool Herod had installed).

Exploring the Olympic Stadium outside Paul’s prison with Jeff Kapusta.

Exploring the Olympic Stadium outside Paul’s prison with Jeff Kapusta.

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In Acts 25-26, Paul is brought before the Roman audience to plead his case.

Dan and I stood in the exact spot where Paul did. Acts 26:1 finally made sense; Paul “motioned with his hand” to quiet the crowd because he was facing an audience in-the-round!

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LEADERSHIP LESSONS

Two big ideas rang out to me standing where Paul stood in his chains:

  1. Don’t define your leadership by what you see RIGHT NOW. Paul had NO IDEA his impact… in chains! When you experience new challenges and struggles, you are growing! The leadership you are providing your church now will outlast you… just look at Paul!

  2. Paul was in prison. That’s tough. Yet Paul did not quit. He fought, finished, and kept the faith. Paul used his current struggles to write Scripture. There is always a struggle before a breakthrough!

Luke and I discovered a Sycamore Tree… the kind that Zacchaeus climbed in   Luke 19  .

Luke and I discovered a Sycamore Tree… the kind that Zacchaeus climbed in Luke 19.

MOUNT CARMEL

Next we travelled to Mount Carmel, the famous site where the prophet Elijah called down fire from heaven in 1 Kings 18.

It struck me that rain is rare in the desert. How does the sparse vegetation grow?

The morning dew, early in the morning, sustains life.

You will discover your sustenance if you will rise early for the dew.

The danger for leaders is when we focus on the rain (ministry out of memory) and forget the dew (fresh revelation every single morning).

This is the spot where Elijah called down fire from heaven.

This is the spot where Elijah called down fire from heaven.

Mount Carmel gives you a view of the entire landscape. Nazareth (a place of hope) is slightly north of Armageddon (the place of death).

Mount Carmel gives you a view of the entire landscape. Nazareth (a place of hope) is slightly north of Armageddon (the place of death).

The overpass marks where the false prophets of Baal were slaughtered in 1 Kings 18.

The overpass marks where the false prophets of Baal were slaughtered in 1 Kings 18.

The prophet towers over entry to this famous mountain in northern Israel.

The prophet towers over entry to this famous mountain in northern Israel.

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SEA OF GALILEE

Finally we wrapped Day One where Jesus walked on water.

I tried walking on the same water:

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7 Factors That Caused Life Church Michigan to Explode

The news is sad: over 85% of churches are plateaued or declining.

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I get asked all the time why Life Church Michigan is exploding:
Since launching 5 years ago, my church has grown from 0 people to 1,200 people and is now launching our third church campus.

Of course, God is making it grow (1 Corinthians 3).

For what it’s worth, here are 7 Factors I recently shared during a Fearless Leadership Online Coaching Event that I believe led to our rapid growth:

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  1. Early on, we identified WHO we were trying to reach and HOW to shepherd the four types of groups in every church.

    I go into detail on the four types of groups in every church during this recent Fearless Leadership Coaching Event.

  2. It starts in the HEART of the LEADER who ignites a PASSION in the PEOPLE.
    As goes the LEADER, so go the PEOPLE!
    Combining my speaking gifts with my passion for the Lost, my goal every Sunday is to have people leave the church talking about stories from the message.

  3. We decided to be a church that PLANS for 20% GROWTH ANNUALLY.
    10% growth = our power.
    20% growth = God’s power!
    All of our internal systems are designed for a church TWICE our size so that when we grow to that size, we are ALREADY READY for the INCREASE.

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5. Facilities are NOT a BARRIER.

The earliest Christ followers in Acts had NO facilities — what they LACKED in RESOURCES they GAINED in being RESOURCEFUL! I unpacked this in greater detail during the Fearless Leadership Online Coaching Event.

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6. We decided from Day One to be WILLING to do WHATEVER.

We unapologetically focus on the WEEKENDS: If you don’t draw a crowd, people will not say Yes to Christ (empty rooms kill your credibility)!

7. We created a STRONG INVITING CULTURE. A consistent product on Sundays = No Surprises for our people when they stick their necks out to invite friends to church!

BONUS TIP FOR LEADERS: BACKBONE. Get one.

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WANT TO SEE MY CHURCH?

Never Say No for Other People

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I'm a little fired up right now.

Someone just told me they didn't make an ask because they didn't think the person would go for it.

In other words, they said "no" for them.

They "passed" on behalf of the person without even giving them the chance to say "yes."

Let me tell you something...

When it comes to making things happen, everyone has a job.

Your job is to dream audaciously, act courageously and make big asks.

Their job is to say yes or no. And this is their job alone.

Never say no for other people.
Do you know why most church leaders don't lead growing churches?

It's not because they're not capable.

It's not because they don't want to try.
It's because they don't think anyone will buy in to their audacious vision for the future.
They say "no" for the church!



When I planted our church from scratch, I had to get people to buy into the vision and volunteer for an organization that existed only in my head. I had to pull off a miracle with very little money.


So I contacted all the local news stations asking if they would do an interview with me on live television.

Nearly every news producer didn't return my call.  Why would anyone give free, expensive airtime to an unknown, unproven local pastor with no people?

One did.

In what would have cost $35,000 to buy, I received free television airtime to talk about my new church start-up.

Are you kidding me?? That's impossible, right!?

Never Say No for Other People.

Last week, my wife and I found ourselves with a sudden, unexpected adoption bill well North of $15,000.

We were at the end of our rope.

We had no way to come up with that amount of money in 48 hours.

So I started a spur-of-the-moment telethon online.

Did I know if anyone would tune in?  No.

Would an online audience donate money for our cause?  I had no idea.

Was I assured that all my hard work and sweat and financial asks would result in reaching our goal?  Nope.

But I understood this principle of leadership: provision always follows vision.

Leaders have to jump off the cliff first if they expect others to follow.

For 35 hours live online, I shared my heart, we refused to give up, and we prayed that God would bless our efforts.

The end result?

We raised more than $15,000 in 48 hours from strangers online.

Never Say No for Other People.

You have a decision to make this week.

Big asks are part of leadership.

Will everyone support your crazy, audacious vision or goal?

Probably not.

But we will only ever be spectators of other people's achievements and triumphs if we take on the job of saying "no" for other people!