One Tree, Many Branches

One special field the Father has cultivated in me over the years is my love for Israel- His Covenant People and also His Covenant Land.  About twelve years ago, the Lord truly broke my heart. I had been clicking around the tv channels one day when I came upon a show covering a religious service. The two men on the stage were a Lutheran minister and a Jewish rabbi. The minister was asking forgiveness on behalf of his Christian brethren to the  rabbi and the Jewish congregation. He referred to the Jews as their ‘elder brother.’ I just wept. I had never heard this type of public confession or this choice of relationship with the Jews from a Christian leader in my life- at least that got my attention like it did this time. I was finding myself also asking forgiveness for the atrocities that were committed during the Holocaust- especially for those that were committed by professing Christians. During this somber moment, I clearly remember the Lord telling me, “Pray for Israel.” Honestly, I had never before had an inkling of a desire to do such a thing and at the time I didn’t really understand what He was asking of me. “Who is Israel?” was my first question! And my second question was, “Why would I, a 32 year-old American gentile woman care about a country the size of New Jersey on the other side of the world, or a people group I had very little interaction with?” It didn’t make any sense to me. But I could not deny what the Lord was telling me or the ache I felt in my heart. I knew I needed to first figure out who Israel was if I was to obey His instruction to pray.

I started with a few phone calls. My only Jewish-Christian friend gave me some guidance, though I could tell my inquiry baffled her a bit. When she came to accept Yeshua (Jesus) years before I met her, she seemed to have left most traces of her past Jewish heritage- at least from what I saw at church. I didn’t know her all that well. What she did in her home may have given me a different perspective than what I saw during Sunday morning. Though I do remember she loved to dance during worship. That may have been influenced by her Jewish upbringing. I would watch her with admiration, wishing I could express myself that freely and joyfully!

The Lord was so gracious to me as He continued to plant seeds of truth. Below are a few verses He led me to that helped me figure out how this ‘holy whisper’ about Israel fit into my life (and into the bigger story unfolding according to the biblical account):

Genesis 12:1-3

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

Psalm 122:6

‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
    “May those who love you be secure.’

The next passage of Scripture explaining the relationship between Jews and Non-Jews is a bit long, but it is well worth a complete read through, so don’t skim! I’ve chosen The Message translation because it speaks my language very clearly. I hope you are blessed by it. Please look up another translation if you prefer.

Romans 11:11-31 (The Message) ‘Ingrafted Branches’

‘The next question is, “Are they down for the count? Are they out of this for good?” And the answer is a clear-cut No. Ironically when they walked out, they left the door open and the outsiders walked in. But the next thing you know, the Jews were starting to wonder if perhaps they had walked out on a good thing. Now, if their leaving triggered this worldwide coming of non-Jewish outsiders to God’s kingdom, just imagine the effect of their coming back! What a homecoming!

But I don’t want to go on about them. It’s you, the outsiders, that I’m concerned with now. Because my personal assignment is focused on the so-called outsiders, I make as much of4449810873_bbbc35e470 this as I can when I’m among my Israelite kin, the so-called insiders, hoping they’ll realize what they’re missing and want to get in on what God is doing. If their falling out initiated this worldwide coming together, their recovery is going to set off something even better: mass homecoming! If the first thing the Jews did, even though it was wrong for them, turned out for your good, just think what’s going to happen when they get it right!

Behind and underneath all this there is a holy, God-planted, God-tended root. If the primary root of the tree is holy, there’s bound to be some holy fruit. Some of the tree’s branches were pruned and you wild olive shoots were grafted in. Yet the fact that you are now fed by that rich and holy root gives you no cause to crow over the pruned branches. Remember, you aren’t feeding the root; the root is feeding you.

It’s certainly possible to say, “Other branches were pruned so that I could be grafted in!” Well and good. But they were pruned because they were deadwood, no longer connected by belief and commitment to the root. The only reason you’re on the tree is because your graft “took” when you believed, and because you’re connected to that belief-nurturing root. So don’t get cocky and strut your branch. Be humbly mindful of the root that keeps you lithe and green.

If God didn’t think twice about taking pruning shears to the natural branches, why would he hesitate over you? He wouldn’t give it a second thought. Make sure you stay alert to these qualities of gentle kindness and ruthless severity that exist side by side in God—ruthless with the deadwood, gentle with the grafted shoot. But don’t presume on this gentleness. The moment you become deadwood, you’re out of there.

And don’t get to feeling superior to those pruned branches down on the ground. If they don’t persist in remaining deadwood, they could very well get grafted back in. God can do Unknown-10that. He can perform miracle grafts. Why, if he could graft you—branches cut from a tree out in the wild—into an orchard tree, he certainly isn’t going to have any trouble grafting branches back into the tree they grew from in the first place. Just be glad you’re in the tree, and hope for the best for the others.

I want to lay all this out on the table as clearly as I can, friends. This is complicated. It would be easy to misinterpret what’s going on and arrogantly assume that you’re royalty and they’re just rabble, out on their ears for good. But that’s not it at all. This hardness on the part of insider Israel toward God is temporary. Its effect is to open things up to all the outsiders so that we end up with a full house. Before it’s all over, there will be a complete Israel. As it is written,

A champion will stride down from the mountain of Zion;
    he’ll clean house in Jacob.
And this is my commitment to my people:
    removal of their sins.

From your point of view as you hear and embrace the good news of the Message, it looks like the Jews are God’s enemies. But looked at from the long-range perspective of God’s overall purpose, they remain God’s oldest friends. God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty—never canceled, never rescinded.

There was a time not so long ago when you were on the outs with God. But then the Jews slammed the door on him and things opened up for you. Now they are on the outs. But with the door held wide open for you, they have a way back in. In one way or another, God makes sure that we all experience what it means to be outside so that he can personally open the door and welcome us back in.’


So, this was the beginning stage of my newfound love of Israel. I consider it the closest thing to a life transformation, next to my salvation in Jesus. I guess I could better describe it as the fruit that flourished from my wild branch because of the strong vine it was now connected to!

The Light of Life: Lessons from Hanukkah (Days One-Seven)

Our family embarked on a spiritual journey in late November. We decided to purchase our own Hanukkiah and light the candles each night. We have talked about the holiday of Hanukkah before, but it was time to put it into practice and allow the Holy Spirit to lead and teach us. (Okay, yes, it was mainly because of my urging, but they were great sports!). So, each night, we went through a devotion looking at various aspects of the holiday, the biblical significance and the practical application to our lives. It was a very rich experience. Below is a ‘journal’ of the evening lessons. I hope that they are a blessing to you and will encourage you to try it with your own family next year!
Okay, here’s our picture from day one of Hanukkah. We are clearly rookies at this and are learning as we go!  (I discovered that we weren’t suppose to insert all of the candles right away. At least we litphoto-3 the right ones- from right to left!) We devoted the lesson to the historical story of Hanukkah. It’s an eight-day celebration commemorating the victory of the Jews (led by Judah Maccabee) over the Syrians. The Syrian ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes, had devastated Jerusalem in 168 B.C. by defiling the Temple and prohibiting Temple worship. It was a terrible time of persecution for the Jews. But Judah and his small, but courageous, ban of Jews stood up for their faith and took back the Temple! When it was time to rededicate the Temple to God, there was only enough oil to burn for one day, but the Lord miraculously kept the oil burning for eight days until they could make more. (Hence, the eight-day holiday. And by the way, Hanukkah means ‘dedication.’)
Lesson: God was a faithful miracle-worker then and He still is today!
Day two we learned about the Shamash candle. This is the middle candle that is used to light all the other candles.  Shamash means “servant.’ What a beautiful picture of Jesus, who is the ‘light to all mankind.’ John 1:1-14 speaks of this Light that has come into the world…
‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testifyconcerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’

I love the passage in Philippians chapter two that describes Jesus as a servant (a Shamash):
‘Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a photoservant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ (Philippians 2:6-11)

Application? Serve others like Christ did. Consider others more important than yourself.

Days three and four of Hanukkah (or Chanukah? Or Hanukah?), we looked at the practical uses and biblical symbolism of olive oil. Olive oil was the type that was used in the Tabernacle and Temple Menorahs, as well as the Hanukkiahs.

Throughout Bible times, olive oil was also used for cooking, medicine, anointing and lighting. Before candles, Menorahs only used oil in the lamps (and many still do today). I have a clay oil lamp and bottle of olive oil from Nazereth, Israel, so we decided to light it as well. Pretty cool.

In several verses throughout the whole Bible, oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit. We read this awesome passage about how we are like the clay vessels and how the Holy Spirit indwellsphoto in us, like the vessel holds the oil. The wick ignites as our faith is ignited in our hearts by God’s power and knowledge!

‘For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.’ (2 Cor 4:6-7)

Application? Let your light shine!

On day five, we continued our lesson of the olive oil (which was the type of oil used to light the Temple Menorah). We took a closer look at the tedious process of extracting oil from the olive fruit- the ancient method of the olive press.

Unknown-9Did you know that the Greek name for olive press is Gethsemane? The olive press, or gethsemane, was a circular stone basin where the olives were poured into. Then a very heavy millstone (pulled by an animal) crushed the olives and the extracted oil dripped down into a groove in the basin and into a gathering pit at the bottom.

This, of course, ties in perfectly to the Easter and Passover stories, but it also expresses the very reason Jesus came to Earth two thousand years ago as a baby. He came to die. He was the promised Messiah that the prophets spoke about and yearned for!

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

Do you see the picture of the olive being pressed? And what comes out? The life-giving oil. photoHe came to take the heavy burden of sin upon Himself to give us life. Jesus is the Giver of Eternal Life!

Yesterday, we read the verses in 2 Corinthians 4:6-7. The next three verses in this passage are the following: ‘We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.’ (2 Cor 4:8-10).

Application? Remember the eternal life-giving Holy Spirit that is in us that gives us hope and strength in times of affliction and persecution. Jesus already took the crushing punishment of death for us so that we may have life; abundantly now and forever!

On days six and seven, we looked at the history, elements and symbolism of the seven-branch Menorah). In Exodus 25:31-40, we learned the Lord instructed Moses that the Tabernacle Temple was to be made of one solid block of gold and molded into seven branches. Lesson? The people of God are to be unified, but are diversified.

Jesus also expresses in John 17 His desire that His followers would be unified. ‘I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, photojust as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.’ (John 17:20-23)

This Menorah symbol is also mentioned in Revelation 1:12, 20, which represents the seven churches or congregations of Asia Minor and symbolizes the worldwide body of believers. ‘I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands,…The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.’

Application? Strive for unity within the body of Christ.

Day eight has been recorded in its own entry, titled, “Hanukkah: Preparing the Way to Christmas!”

What’s a Lizard Doing in a King’s Palace?

wstlnd-green-gecko-351Years ago, I remember my Pastor speaking about Proverbs 30:28, which states, The lizard you may grasp with the hands,
 yet it is in kings’ palaces.’ I thought at the time, “What an obscure verse to base a sermon on!” But as he shared the meaning behind the biblical passage, I understood and was encouraged. But I would’ve never guessed how that message would again resurface in a fun and profound way soon after that service!

I was preparing to leave for my trip to Israel when I was sitting in church listening to this ‘lizard in the palace’ message. The basis of it, was that you never know where God may place you. He might just position you, (as small and seemingly insignificant as you think you are) in the King’s Palace. I immediately thought of Esther. I wondered if, as a young Jewish girl, she ever imagined herself as ‘Queen Esther.’ But there she was, chosen amongst all those beautiful ladies, to be Queen of the mighty Persian Empire! Now, that’s being placed in a position of influence!

Fast-forward two weeks from the sermon; I am touring a miniature model of Jerusalem,

2templ_modelright outside the actual city of Jerusalem. It was a beautifully intricate piece of art, depicting what the Temple would’ve looked like at the time right before it’s destruction in 70 A.D. We could walk all around the temple. We could locate where the Holy of Holies would’ve stood, where the Gentile Court would’ve been, and the covered Portico where all the Israelites walked around, hustling and bustling with their families and friends. I guess the portico would’ve been like our church lobby today- full of activity, people and exuberant conversation.

And then, I spotted an interesting site- the place where the presiding King resided during His stay in Jerusalem.  Just as I was taking a quick photo of the King’s quarters, a small gecko runs into the picture! (Oh, how I wish I could locate that photo once again! If I do, I will add it here!) It was an amazing moment. Instantly, I thought of that sermon I had heard two weeks prior. Was this a prophetic sign to me? I don’t know, but it tickled me. It also gave me confidence to know that if that happened to be my journey and I suddenly found myself in a place of great influence, I could trust that God would be with me and that He put me there for a purpose!

I don’t believe things happen by chance, but sometimes we don’t see these opportunities coming. Just as Esther was put in a royalty position at that important time of history, I believe He can choose to do that with any of us at any time. But there’s always a choice to trust God and be courageous…or not.

Esther’s relative, Mordecai, says to Esther, ‘For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?’ (Esther 4:14)

Esther had to make a choice. Thankfully, Esther sought the Lord’s wisdom and guidance through prayer and fasting before taking action. The result was that her patient, courageous and God-led plan influenced King Xerxes to save the Jewish community living in Persia (which were her relatives and herself, as well) from annihilation! I might add, it also led to the vengeance of their enemies (Haman the Agagate and company).

We are not to think of ourselves as bigger or smaller than we really are. Instead, we are to trust in our God who is bigger than any challenge we may face.  May God be truly glorified in and through our lives!

The Lord is looking to-and-fro for Esthers of the world who will be courageous and trusting wherever He may place them. The great news is, He will never leave us or abandon us when He calls us to stand for Him!

Jerusalem Day!


Today is Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day). Jerusalem Day is the 46th  anniversary of the liberation and unification of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, now and forever!!!

Scan 84

In 2004, my husband and I had the privilege of marching in solidarity with the Jewish people in the Jerusalem Day parade (in Jerusalem). We started our parade walking down their ‘main street,’ Ben Jehudah Street. Shofars blowing, people cheering and clapping, dancers dancing and Israeli flags waving. What a proud and joyful experience to be a part of!

We spent two weeks in Israel with a Christian organization, Bridges For Peace. We were Scan 85there for an intensive training program; learning from Jewish, Christian and Arab experts, visiting historical and modern day sites and experiencing the traditions of the Israeli culture. Being in the homeland of our Jewish Messiah, Yeshua, and getting to know ‘his family,’ the Jewish people, was an unforgettable Scan 87experience for us. There are few places in this world that you can stand in the very place where Scripture was written! Our Jerusalem Day parade concluded at the Western Wall- the outer wall of where the Temple stood. Why is Jerusalem still significant today? Because Jesus the Messiah will one day return to Jerusalem to reign over the whole Earth! (For more information about this topic, please read Dr. David R. Reagan’s excellent article at

 “I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judahwill be besieged as well as Jerusalem.  On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves.” (Zechariah 12:2-3)

In honor of Jerusalem Day, we ask that you join us in PRAYING for the peace of Jerusalem.

View this miraculous video of this day in 1967! Amazing footage of the liberation of Jerusalem 46 years ago today:

(Translation of the Hebrew audio)

“We are entering through Lion’s Gate”
“We are in the old city!”
“The Temple Mount is in our hands!”
“Blessed are You LORD our God who builds Jerusalem”
Sound of the shofar — ritual trumpet.

For more information about Jewish-Christian relationships and the biblical connections, please go to this blog: