Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Whenever I bring a group here to Israel, we always visit Masada. Masada has little Biblical significance. However, I love seeing the fabulous hanging palace that Herod the Great built there (and only stayed in twice). The palace "hangs" on the edge of a cliff, and it gives us more insight into the megalomaniacal mind of the ruler who tried to kill the infant Jesus (and did kill several of his sons and his favorite wife!).
To me, Masada is a must-see site for anyone who wants to also understand the modern issue of Israeli/Palestinian relations. Another advantage of visiting Masada is that it allows our groups to enjoy the unique experience of floating in the Dead Sea. You can’t drown there because the Dead Sea is 10x more salty than any other body of water on the planet. The consistency of the water is more like thin jello than water – you float on top and can cross your legs, fold your arms behind your head and read a newspaper while floating. You can even take a can of coke and enjoy it …. That gives new meaning to a “coke-float!" (Plus those who haven’t ventured into the ocean since they saw the movie "Jaws" can enjoy the water with full assurance that there are no sharks, crabs, or fish because nothing lives in it).
Masada stands as a powerful sentinel overlooking the Dead Sea. Centuries before Herod transformed the top of the rock plateau into a city with lush gardens and a extravagant surplus of water, it served as a perfect fort. It was protected by sheer cliffs on all four sides – and could only be climbed by a snake trail that was easily defendable.
The story of Masada really isn’t about Herod’s palace, but what happened in 73AD. This was toward the end of the Jewish rebellion against Rome that had resulted in the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
A group of almost 1,000 Jewish rebels fled to the desert to escape the Romans. They established themselves on the top of Masada. The Roman army surrounded Masada and decided to just wait until the Jews ran out of food and water. But Herod had stockpiled so much food and water that the Jews would mock the Roman soldiers by pouring gallons of water over the sides of Masada each day. This infuriated the Romans because water was scarce and each solider received only a small ration.
The Romans finally decided to build a ramp on the western side of Masada from which they could attack the mountaintop fortress. When they started the ramp, the Jews tossed huge boulders from the sides of Masada killing and injuring the Roman soldiers. So the Romans countered by using Jewish slaves to build the ramp. The rebels stopped throwing boulders because they recognized the slaves as their own friends and family members.
Finally the massive ramp was completed and a huge wooden war machine complete with a battering ram was raised in front of the wooden gate of Masada. The Jews then packed layers of rocks between layers of successive wooden gates, so the battering ram only packed the rubble tighter. The battering ram pounded away until it was shattered. Then the Romans set fire to the wooden gates. For a moment, it seemed as if a miracle of Biblical proportions was happening because the wind shifted and ignited the Roman war machine! However, the wind then shifted again and the gates of Masada were burned and breached.
By this time, it was late in the afternoon, so the Romans retired to their camp confident that early the next morning they would enter Masada and slaughter the Jewish rebels. After all, they weren’t going to escape.
What happened that evening is based upon the writings of Flavias Josephus. Faced with certain death in the morning, the rebels faced a harrowing choice. Their leader was Elazar ben Yair, and Josephus has recorded the impassioned speech that Eliazer made that night. Here’s an excerpt of Eliazer’s speech:

“Noble Jews, you who decided long ago not to submit to the domination of the Romans or to that of any other nation and to obey only God, Who alone has the right to command men, now the time has come to demonstrate by your acts that your heart truly nourishes these feelings.
The enemy desires nothing more than to hang us alive. As great as our resistance will be, we will not be able to avoid an onslaught. Nevertheless, the Romans cannot prevent us from denying them our lives by giving ourselves a noble death, ending our days together with the people who are the dearest to us...
If up until now, we have been sustained by the hope of being able to take revenge in some manner on our enemies by courageously resisting, this hope has vanished. Why delay running to our own deaths while we still have the possibility and of granting it to our wives and to our children since this is the greatest kindness we can do them? We were born to die: it is an inexorable law of nature to which all men, however happy and healthy they may be, are subject. But our nature does not at all oblige us to suffer the outrage of servitude, to see, in our cowardice, the honor of our wives and the freedom of our children ravished when it is within our power to spare them through death.
After having heroically taken up arms against the Romans and scorned the offer they made us to spare our lives if we would accept it from them, what kind of treatment could we expect from their resentment if we fall into their hands alive? The strength and the vigor of the healthy would only prolong their agony and the oldest would not be pitied less because they would have greater difficulty enduring their agony. We would see our wives carried away into captivity and would hear our children, irons at their feet, imploring us in vain for help. Who is preventing us from saving ourselves from servitude while we can freely use our arms and our swords? Then let us die with the people who are dearest to us rather than live as slaves.”
Contrary to popular opinion, what happened that night wasn’t mass suicide. Jewish law strongly forbids suicide. When you understand how this act was carried out, only one man committed suicide. First, families were gathered together, then ten men were chosen by lot. The father in each family used his sword to slay his children and wife, then one of the ten men came and killed the father and laid him beside his family. Then the ten men drew lots and one was chosen to kill the other nine men. And then that last man fell on his own sword – the only one to actually commit suicide.
The next morning, the Roman army marched onto Masada expecting a final bloody battle, only to be met with the sound of the wind and the sight of the bodies of 960 Jewish men, women and children who chose death before dishonor.
By the way, if you’re unfamiliar with the story of Masada, rent the DVD “Masada.” It’s pretty accurate. If Hollywood gave an Academy Award for “facial expression without speaking” then the look on Peter O’Toole’s face, (who played the Roman general) when he arrived on Masada, would easily win the Oscar!
You may wonder, if they all died, how do we know about these events – and especially the speech of Eliazer? It’s because two elderly women and several very young children were found by the Romans hiding in an enormous cistern. One of the women was educated and spoke five languages. She might have been chosen to record and report the speech and the events. Josephus’ record is supposedly based upon her eyewitness account.
To understand Masada is to understand Israel. The events of Masada are fully woven into the fabric of modern Israel. For the first 50 years of modern Israel’s history, they have almost been suicidal in their protection of their country. If they had lost any of their wars, Israel would have ceased to exist. Israel is still surrounded by enemies. That’s why all teenage Israelis, both male and female, are required to serve in the military (which may be one reason Israel doesn’t have some of the same teenage rebellion issues we have here in America!)
For many years, new recruits have participated in a ceremony at Masada when they finish basic training. They hike 15 miles in full gear and then run up the snake trail to the top of Masada. After camping out, they are sworn in as Israeli soldiers just after sunrise. Afterwards, they march to the southern end of Masada and shout three times in Hebrew: “MASADA SHALL NEVER FALL AGAIN! MASADA SHALL NEVER FALL AGAIN! MASADA SHALL NEVER FALL AGAIN!” That Masada mindset has been the rallying cry for years.
My friend and tour guide, Rueven, has wisely pointed out that while this “die before dishonor” mindset served Israel well through the last half of the 20th Century, many Israeli leaders have been reconsidering the value of the Masada Soulution for this reason: MASADA HAD NO SURVIVORS … and Israel must survive.
Is there any way for there to be peace in Israel before Jesus returns? Only God knows, but more and more Jewish leaders are embracing the thought that the MASADA SOLUTION is not the answer.


Monday, January 28, 2008


Our tour group from Texas visited Nazareth this weekend, and I’m always amazed at the changing nature of the city. We visited a remarkable Christian site called “The Nazareth Village” which is a recreated Biblical village that portrays what buildings looked like and how people lived and dressed during the time of Jesus. It was well researched and presented in an interesting and educational way.
In the New Testament, Nazareth is the place of two earth-shattering announcements – one private and one public. First when a young virgin girl named Mary was visited and given an announcement by the angel Gabriel. She heard the announcement that she had been chosen by God to give birth to the Messiah. That was such an important announcement that there is a huge Catholic Church built over Mary’s home called The Church of the Annunciation (the white building in the background of this photo).
The second big announcement was made publicly and it never resulted in a large church being built. It happened in Jesus’ home synagogue of Nazareth, when a 30-year-old homegrown carpenter, and a son of a carpenter, made a sensational announcement to the people who had know them for most of his life. At this time, Nazareth had a population of about 400, so everyone knew Jesus.
He had already been traveling around doing a little teaching and there was even word that He had done a few miracles in Capernaum. His family and friends were anxious to hear gossip about what He had been doing.
Jesus was invited to teach that day. As is the custom to this day, He stood to read a section from the scroll of Isaiah. When the Torah or Prophets were read, the members of the synagogue stood (that’s one reason we stand to read the scriptures at our church). Jesus chose this particular passage from Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then He rolled up the scroll and gave it to the attendant and sat down to teach. (The older I get the more I enjoy sitting on a stool to teach sometimes – hey, it’s the way Jesus taught at His church!) He didn’t beat around the bush with a few jokes or promote an upcoming trip to Jerusalem. Instead He made an announcement – and it was a bombshell: “TODAY THIS SCRIPTURE IS FULFILLED IN YOUR HEARING.” Only eight words in English, but those words shook the world. Every good Jew knew that the prophecy in Isaiah 61 was for the MESSIAH only. And hometown boy Jesus simply says, “Today (not next week, or next year) this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Meaning; “Pay attention, I have a very important ANNOUNCEMENT: I AM THE MESSIAH.” (mumble, mumble, mumble among the synagogue crowd).
At first the audience wasn’t too upset because they thought surely Jesus was just trying to get their attention, but the more He talked, the angrier they became. Jesus went on to make the revolutionary, blasphemous claim that the God of Israel also wanted GENTILES in His family. Jesus used two illustrations. One, during the famine when Elijah was God’s man, there were many Jewish widows in need of food, but God sent Elijah to a GENTILE widow – the widow of Zarephath in Sidon (mumble, mumble mumble within the crowd). Then Jesus said that during the ministry of Elisha there were many JEWS suffering from leprosy, but God chose to cleanse only one – Naaman the Syrian.
At this point, the crowd grew furious and rushed upon Jesus, grabbed Him, and they planned to throw Him off a cliff and stone Him on the spot. But it wasn’t the right time, nor the right mode for Jesus to die, so He just walked through the mob and walked away from Nazareth.
Today, Nazareth is a teeming city of almost 100,000 people. It is the largest Israeli Arab city in Israel – yes, there are Israeli Arab citizens (in fact 17% of Israel’s population are Arab). For much of its history since the resettlement, Nazareth has been a stronghold for Christians in Israel (3% of Israel’s population are Arab Christians.). About 20 years ago, Nazareth’s population consisted of 70% Christian and 30% Muslim). Today the ratio is reversed with Nazareth having a population of 66% Muslim and 33% Christian (the 2006 photo shows Muslims in daily prayer in front of the Church of the Annunciation).
It’s worse in Bethlehem – only 20 years ago Bethlehem would have been 90% Christian and 10% Muslim. Today you’d be scraping the bottom of the barrel to find 5% Christians in Bethlehem. Since Bethlehem is within the Palestinian-controlled territory, the persecution and removal of Christians has been deliberate and often brutal. Lands belonging to Christians for generations were “claimed” by the Palestinians.
It’s sad to see how the Muslims are replacing Christians and taking over Nazareth as they did Bethlehem. In answer to the question of this blog: IT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE ANYTHING IS GOING TO COME OUT OF NAZARETH IN THE NEAR FUTURE.
But the good news is that something good HAS come out of Nazareth – actually Someone good! Jesus Christ. Once a teacher asked Jesus, “Good teacher ….?” Before Jesus answered his question, He had one of His own. “Why do you call me GOOD? There is none GOOD but God.”
Indeed, Jesus is GOOD because He is God! Pray for the Christians in Nazareth as they deal with the encroaching spread of Islam in their city.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Through the years of bringing groups to Israel, I’d like to think I’ve learned a few things. For intance, the typical tour group arrives in Tel Aviv and travels up to Galilee first and then swings southward to finish their Holy Land tour in Jersualem.
The first few times I visited here, we followed that route, and I noticed that our tour members became more and more fearful and stressed as we approached Jersusalem. So I have designed my own itinerary that goes against the flow. We start in Jerusalem and end in the Galilee. Israelis call this area “THE Galilee” like Texans call one part of our state “THE Panhandle.” No self-respecting Texan would say, “I’m from Panhandle.” In the same way, the Jews speak of the region surrounding the Sea of Galilee (actually Lake Genneserat) as THE Galilee.
The Sea of Galilee is the lowest fresh water lake in the world, sitting at 600 feet below sea level. It is seven miles wide at its widest point and 14 miles long. Since it is the only fresh water lake in Israel, the Israelis use it as their national swimming pool, and in the summer the shores are packed with Israeli tourists.
Having traveled here for 14 previous trips, I’ve figured out WHY Jesus chose Galilee to be His home and base of ministry – it’s just SO much more peaceful, beautiful, and slow-paced than the rat-race that is Jerusalem. In Jerusalem there are crowded streets, noisy vendors, and rude city-slickers. In Galilee, it’s the country, where life is slower, and people are friendlier and it’s a lot quieter.
When you study the gospel accounts, Jesus really didn’t care to visit Jerusalem often. Imagine this – from an early age you realize that one day when you visit Jersualem you’re going to be arrested, tortured, and put to death. No wonder Jesus only visited Jerusalem when it was required of Jewish males to visit the city for the Jewish Festivals. And when He did visit Jerusalem, there was always a powerful sense of conflict as the Jewish Mafia took every opportunity to question and discredit this rabble-rousing rabbi from the sticks of Galilee.
So when I bring a group to Israel we see the sites, fight the crowds, deal with the traffic...then we escape to Galilee to end our trip. The fields are ripe for harvest in Galilee. The vegetation and plant life is remarkable. Banana trees and citrus groves cover the landscape. It’s like living in the country instead of the big bad city.
I think Jesus had an aversion to the big city life of Jerusalem and preferred the quiet, pastoral setting of Galilee. He probably would have liked John Denver’s song, “Thank God I’m a county boy!”
When our groups visit Galilee, we don’t stay in one of the many fine hotels in Tiberias. Instead, my favorite place to stay is at the Nof Ginosar Kibbutz guest house. This tranquil quiet kibbutz is located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee near where a 2,000 year old fishing boat was found in the mud and was removed and displayed at the kibbutz. We can’t say for certain it was a boat Jesus used, but for sure it was the kind of boat that Jesus would have ridden across the lake. The idea of putting 13 guys in a boat that size gives new meaning to the term “close fellowship.”
Whenever our groups arrive at Nof Ginosar, you can almost hear the audible “ahhhh” as they see the lush vegetation and the Sea of Galilee only 75 yards away. As, I’ve said, I certainly can’t fault Jesus for wanting to live and minister here – it’s some of the most peaceful tranquil settings in the world in the midst of a country that is usually nervously preparing for the next attack.
The sites in Galilee where Jesus fed the 5,000, spoke the Sermon on the Mount and healing and ministered are all easy to find since they happened within a small area surrounding Capernaum.
The nature of a Holy Land Tour group reflects the difference between Jerusalem and Galilee. We rush frantically through the sites, pushed, and crowded by the people in the narrow streets of the old city – probably much like it was in the time of Jesus.
Then we finish our journey in Galilee where there is mostly green hills, open space, and friendly country folks. Jesus knew what He was doing by choosing THE GALILEE. That’s why I love spending the last three days of our trip here. The footprints of Jesus are found wherever we walk!

Friday, January 25, 2008


This week I’m enjoying the opportunity to escort a group of 50 Texans around Israel for them to experience the sights and sounds of the land where Bible events happened. One of my greatest thrills is watching their expressions as the Bible “comes alive” in the places where His story occurred.
Yesterday we started the day by spending time in the traditional location of the upper room where Jesus and His disciples ate the Last Supper. This was the same location where 120 disciples gathered on Pentecost and the church was born.
Then we moved a few hundred yards away to the church that has been built over the house of Caiphas where Jesus was placed on trial. Tradition says that between the time of the illegal night trial and the sunrise when He was taken to Pilate that Jesus was lowered by ropes into a pit that had once served as a cistern. Outside this church are the remains of the stone steps that led from that part of old Jerusalem to the Kidron Valley and the Mount of Olives. These steps were certainly the ones that Jesus and His disciples walked, so this is one of the places where you can be sure you’re walking where Jesus walked.
Then we visited the Garden of Gethsemane and once again I knelt at the Rock of Agony where it is believed to be the place where drops of blood fell from the brow of Jesus as He prayed, “Take this cup away, but not my will, but yours be done.” The word “Gethsemane” means “olive press.” It was the place where olives were beaten off the trees by rods and then placed between grinding stones that forced the virgin oil from the olives. How appropriate for Jesus to pray in this place since He was under great pressure and strain as He faced the cross.
Our group spent some time in a private part of the garden among ancient olive trees whose roots certainly go back more than 2,000 years. Every time I’m there I can easily visualize the sight of the string of torches descending from Jerusalem as Judas led the Temple police to arrest Jesus.
We walked along the via dolorosa (the way of suffering) and stood on the very pavement where Pilate spoke with Jesus and turned Him over to the Roman soldiers where He was subjected to their cruel and vulgar treatment.
We finished our day at Golgotha and the Garden Tomb. You may or may not know that there are two purported sites for Calvary. For Centuries the Roman Catholic Church has claimed that the location is where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built. I’ve visited there several times, but I’m not convinced that is the correct location.
This site was first established by Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, who visited Jerusalem in the 4th Century when she was 80 years old. She claimed to have had a dream that directed her this location. The story also claims that while at this site, she discovered the pieces of the cross, which when used to touch a sick person would heal them. She also claimed to have found the nails of the crucifixion. In order to assist her son in his military conquests, Helena placed one nail in Constantine’s helmet and another in the bridle of his horse. If that’s true, that’s an interesting final use of the nails that pierced the hands of Jesus.
In addition, many scholars estimate that the location of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was actually inside the city walls at the time of the crucifixion. The writer of Hebrews informs us that Jesus was crucified, “outside the city.” When you see maps or models of Jerusalem during the time of Jesus, many of them have to manufacture an incredible “jog” in the layout of the walls to make the Church of the Holy Sepulcher appear as if it was outside the city.
I join many evangelical Christians in leaning toward the validity of the site often called “Gordon’s Calvary” or better known as the Garden Tomb. British General Charles Gordon is often associated with the location because in 1885 he was the first public figure to give credence to the location that was excavated in 1842.
If one wonders WHY the site was not excavated until the 19th Century, you must realize that Jerusalem was under Roman and then Muslim control since 70 A.D. except for a few years when the Crusaders had captured the city. But they were much too busy defending the Holy Land to even think about looking for Holy sites.
There are several factors that cause me to lean toward the Garden Tomb location: (1) Just look at the rock face – it looks like a skull. Photographs taken in the mid 1800’s reveal that it looked even MORE like a skull 150 years ago. (2) Nearby an empty tomb of a rich man was discovered. We know he was rich because it is located in a large garden (as the scripture says) because a huge cistern was discovered. Wealthy men in Jesus’ time were often farmers or vitners. Jesus told the story of a wealthy vineyard owner who had the money to travel away and leave his employees in charge. The primary necessity of an ancient vineyard or garden in Jerusalem was a constant and large water source. (3) The site is located outside the ancient city walls at the intersection of three main routes. The Romans executed criminals in public places to gain the maximum impact. (4) Muslims often unintentionally “marked” Christian sites by burying their dead there in order to “desecrate” it from future worship. For instance, there is a large Muslim cemetery located in front of the Eastern Gate of the Temple mount. This was to discourage the thought of the Messiah ever entering there since walking over graves would make a good Jew defiled. (But that won’t make Jesus hesitate for a second when He returns in His glory!). And, you guessed it: there is a Muslim cemetery directly on top of the skull rock face in the Garden Tomb area. (And there is no Muslim cemetery at the Holy Sepulcher – hmmm, the Muslims could have easily converted that church to a cemetery during the centuries in which they had total control of Jerusalem.
You can study the issue for yourself and come to your own conclusions. But the main truth is NOT where it happened, but WHAT happened! “CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS – THE RIGHTEOUS FOR THE UNRIGHTEOUS – THAT HE MIGHT BRING US TO GOD.”
Whether the Garden Tomb’s Golgotha is the actual location where Jesus died or not, I must confess that everytime I stand there I am in awe. I’m reminded of a story I heard about the late Dr. R.G. Lee when he visited Jerusalem for the first time. When his group arrived at the Garden Tomb, Dr. Lee ran ahead of the group and when they arrived they found him kneeling in prayer as he gazed at the skull-shaped cliff. The tour guide asked him, “Oh, Dr. Lee, have you been here before?” Dr. Lee smiled and said, “Oh, yes. I was here 2,000 years ago. I was on the heart and in the mind of Jesus when He died for sinners.” I have the same experience whenever I look at this hill.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


On Monday morning, January 21, I departed with 50 travelers to visit Israel, the land where Jesus lived, walked, taught, healed, lived, died, and was resurrected. (And it happens to be the location where He will come again!) After a bus ride to DFW, a 3 hour flight to Newark, and a 10 hour flight to Tel Aviv, we were greeted on Tuesday afternoon by my friend, Reuven Solomon who will be our tour guide for the sixth or seventh time. We arrived at the lovely Renaissance Hotel time in time to check in and eat a delicious buffet – then everyone was ready to do battle with the pesky little foe named “jet lag.” I was in bed by 10pm last night and slept until 5 which is a pretty normal night for me, so we’ll see how I make it today! Jet lag is that insidious fatigue that makes your eyelids heavy when you’ve just traversed several time zones. Some of our travelers often succumb to naps on the bus between sights and become members of the “I slept today where Jesus walked” club!
I think this is my fifteenth trip to Israel, so in a way I always feel as if I’m coming home. I first visited Israel in 1974 when I was a student at Samford University. I was a part of about 12 students and one Archeology Professor who came to study and practice archaeology and see the Biblical sites. Our accomodations were in Christ Church Hospice in the old city of Jerusalem. We stayed for several weeks in cold, bare dorm rooms with bunk beds and meals consisted primarily of a large pot of thin potato soup with all the chunks of homemade bread you could eat. After spending all day sifting through dirt in a 4ft by 4ft square using nothing but a kitchen spoon and a toothbrush, that soup and bread tasted heavenly!!
Actually, we were there while the Yom Kippur War was going on, but, hey, when you’re a college kid, you’re used to a lot noise. Jets streaked over the sky constantly, tanks were in the streets at night, and we could hear distant rumblings that weren’t thunder. In other words, we had a blast!
Since that original trip, I’ve been bringing many groups to visit Israel, and I’m happy to say we utilize somewhat better accommodations (although I still can’t pass up potato soup if it’s on the buffet!). My greatest joy is watching the faces of the friends I bring when they realize for the first time that they really are looking at the same scenes Jesus viewed. The ride across the same Sea of Galilee where Jesus sailed (and walked). They really are walking in places where we know He walked. For the first time, these people who love the Bible are able to form a mental image of events in the Bible. They come away with a visual frame of reference of Biblical events that they could never have by simply reading books or even watching a movie about the Holy Land.
So, we’re off today to visit the Western Wall, the only remaining part of the Temple Mount during the time of Jesus (often called the “Wailing wall). Check out this 24/7 video feed of the Western Wall – http://www.aish.com/wallcam/ if you‘re watching it, we’ll wave.
We’ll walk through the narrow streets of Jerusalem which look much like they did when Jesus carried His cross through there 2,000 years ago. We’ll visit the Rock of Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus fell on His face and prayed “not my will but yours be done.” We’ll have our own private worship experience among the Olive Trees in the Garden of Gethesemane where Jesus was arrested. We’ll end our day at the Garden Tomb – and I’ll be able to report to you again – IT’S EMPTY! He is not here, He has risen from the dead!
If you’re reading the blog and have specific questions about the sites, I’ll try to answer some of them if you leave a comment.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Last Sunday morning, I woke up at my usual 5am time to spend another 90 minutes “praying in” my message for that morning. Around 6:30 I sat down with a cup of coffee, the Tyler Paper, and turned on Headline News.

It must have been a slow news morning because the featured story was about a group of Christians in the Dallas area who believe that Interstate 35 is the “Holy Highway” prophesied in Is 35:8 (Is 35 = I-35, get it?) The HNN report showed a group of Christians standing beside I-35 praying fervently for the people traveling on the highway. To be honest, they came across as a bunch of “crazies” which is probably what the producer of the news piece wanted.

In case you haven’t heard or seen the story, Isaiah 35:8 says, “A highway shall be there, and a road, and it shall be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean shall not pass over it. But it shall be for others. Whoever walks the road, although a fool, shall not go astray.” (That’s KJV which is the only one they’re using).

Three years ago self-described prophet and God Channel regular Cindy Jacobs was preaching in a Texas church when she said she made the first public connection between the interstate and Bible verse.

"It's amazing that there's a scripture that talks about the highway of holiness and there's an actual one," said Jacobs, who co-founded Generals International ministry in Red Oak, Texas, which leads the Light the Highway movement.

Cindy has enlisted other pastors and churches along I-35 from Laredo, TX to Duluth, Minn. to join her in her quest to Light the Highway. One of the pastors who has joined her is Austin’s Promiseland Church pastor Charlie Lujan. His quote is interesting. He said, “Everything we do, we want to make sure scripture is backing us up. I-35 being Isaiah 35, it just matched.”

Many of the I-35 Highway of Holiness proponents believe that the collapse of the bridge on I-35W in Minneapolis last year was a warning sign from God that more prayer is needed in our nation.

Not every pastor is convinced this if from God, however. Bob DeWaay, pastor at the Evangelical Twin City Fellowship in St. Louis Park, Minn. scoffs the effort saying, “God isn't going to determine how He works based on the highway system.”

My first reaction was that these are religious nuts, the kind that give all Christians a bad name. But being the optimist that I am, I see some positive things about the “light the highway” movement.

1. It’s good to PRAY anytime and anywhere. Any movement that mobilizes people to pray for our nation and travelers on any highway shouldn’t be discouraged.

2. These people take the Bible seriously – if not correctly – at least seriously.

3. These people believe that God is still active and real in our world and that His Word is to applied to our time – even to something as seemingly mundane as a highway.

However, there are a few sound arguments against what they’re doing.

1. Reputable Biblical scholarship cannot justify using the number of a Bible chapter to correspond with a highway number. I believe that God’s Word is totally without error, but the original text of the Old and New Testaments didn't even have chapter or verse divisions. The present chapter divisions in our Bibles were invented and inserted in 1205 by Stephen Langton, a professor in Paris who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury. He followed the chapter divisions of the Old Testament used by Jewish rabbis in 1330 for the Hebrew Old Testament.

2. There is always a danger of taking scripture out of context to “match” a personal belief (called "proof texting"). I’ve said many times that “a text without a context becomes a pretext.” This is an extreme example of this.

3. It’s always dangerous to “play God” and try to announce that God was repsonsible for tragic events. Blaming God for the bridge collapse on I-35 falls into the same category as those who agree with Pat Robertson’s statement that the 9/11 attacks were sent by God as punishment for homosexuality and abortions in America.

So is this legitimate? Only God knows. But since I live closer to I-20, I feel left out, actually. The travelers on I-20 need prayers too.
Hey, I may have found an I-20 verse! Is 20:2 says “Go and remove the sackcloth from your body, and take your sandals off your feet.” And he did so walking barefoot naked and barefoot … for three years.” On second thought … never mind.

This reminds me of when I was a pastor in Alabama. A rabid Alabama Crimson Tide fan drew me aside and took his Bible to PROVE to me that ‘Bama was superior to Auburn. He opened his Bible to Ezekiel 20:29 and read, “What is this high place to which you go? So its name is called Bamah (which he prounonced ‘Bama) to this day.” I laughed when he finished reading it …. Only to look at his face and realize HE WASN’T KIDDING! Oh well.