Lessons from the Sower’s Field

Ever worried about the “one-in-four” opportunity for success in following Jesus? Visit an actual sower’s field in Israel, and you’ll see a different truth! Here’s a 60-second devotion we made for the Christian Television Network.

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Best news ever!

John’s record of Mary’s discovery is still changing the world. Here are three voices sharing the best news the world has ever known.

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The Fifth Cup

Have you ever wondered why Jesus used such unusual language in the Garden of Gethsemane when he wrestled with his coming crucifixion? Instead of praying, “I don’t want to die!” he said, “Please take this cup from me.” Here’s the reason … and one of the most memorable clips you’ll ever see concerning the Last Supper.

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Secrets from an ancient quarry


Look closely along the walls of Zedekiah’s cave and you’ll see the distinctive, quarrying marks of the ancient stone masons.

Just a few feet from the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, there’s a forgotten gate to the past.

Thousands of people stream in and out of the Damascus Gate every day. It is easily the most colorful and dramatic of the city’s eight major gates. It’s a shock to your senses to enter it for the first time. Merchants are selling everything from toys to fresh produce, and the noise of shouting vendors is incredibly loud. The smell of spices fills the air, and the gate itself will make you feel as if you’re walking back in time. And the gate is old, built almost 500 years ago!

But if you really want to go back in time, take 125 steps to the east, and then look down. You’ll see a narrow entrance and a bored ticket-taker. The gate he guards? It’s more than four times older than the one above him. Many would argue that it is far older than that, dating back to some of the first kings Jerusalem ever knew.

Almost no one ever visits the largest ancient quarry in Jerusalem, but 2,100 years ago, it was a massive area of work.

Stone masons working for Herod the Great quarried the cave for years, cutting out stones and leaving a massive cave that stretches for five city blocks underneath today’s Muslim Quarter of the Old City. Want to know where the great stones of the Western Wall were originally found? Explore this cave – they call it “Zedekiah’s Cave” – and you’ll see the evidence of where the cutters left off with the last row of stones.

But this is more than a walk back in time, or a tour of masonry history.


The Old City Walls near the entrance of Zedekiah’s Cave are supported with some of the ancient rock that was “Mt. Moriah.” These stones weren’t of a quality the masons wanted. They were part of the “stones the builders rejected.” Very close to this location was another hill the builder’s rejected … and this hill looked like a skull. They called it “Golgotha.”

When you finish your visit to the cave, take one more look at the Northern Wall of the Old City. It’s easy to see the remnant of rock that once covered the hills of what we now know as Jerusalem. When Abraham brought Isaac to “Mt. Moriah” more than 3,000 years ago? There was no city. There were just massive hills of rock, waiting on history to build, expand, and rebuild the great city. This side of the Old City will help you visualize this more than any other place.

As any stone mason would know, eventually the good rock was all gone from this area. When workers decided the quality of stone in a particular vein of rock was no longer of high-enough quality, they packed up, left that area and searched for another quarry. There are several places around Jerusalem where the masons reached the end of the line, including in the far reaches of Zedekiah’s Cave.

Above ground, one of those left-behind sites looked like a human skull. Because of that, people gave it a nickname. They called the hill “ Golgotha.” In one way, it was nothing more than a place where the stone masons decided to no longer work the rock. In another way, people began using it as a gruesome place of execution.

One of those executed there? Jesus.

One thousand years before, Psalm 118 had spoken of a day when God would use something as routine as a stone quarry to provide the backdrop of history’s most important event. Hear the words again:  

The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone.

This is the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:22-24, NASB)

He was the cornerstone.

Crucified in front of rejected stones.

And it was the Lord’s doing.

Trust this God who gives such an amazing grace gift.

And rejoice in it.

Want to visit Zedekiah’s Cave with Pastor Andy Cook? Travel to Israel with him, or tap into the resources that can help “bring Israel to you!” experienceisraelnow.com

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Facing your giants

On a Sunday when the History Channel starts its epic look at the story of the Bible, here’s an on-location look at one of the Bible’s most famous stories. It’s a video (5:45) we shot in the valley where David defeated Goliath. There are two messages here. First, the geographical landmarks of the story cast an undeniable vote for the Bible’s historical integrity. And second? If you’re facing “giants” in your life, don’t be afraid of the battle!

Want to visit the Valley of Elah with Pastor Andy Cook or find more resources like this video? ExperienceIsraelNow.com!

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A massage from God!

After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of Ein Gedi.” – 1 Samuel 24:1

For a few minutes, our group traveling in Israel was a little tentative.

If we were going to take a swim, it would require the middle-aged awkwardness for most of us to strip down to our suits. If we were going to get in the water, there would also be that momentary shock of moving from desert heat to the cold water of Ein Gedi’s natural pools.

But once a couple of hikers were in the water, the rest followed suit, pun intended.

ImageEin Gedi doesn’t have the largest swimming holes you’ll ever find. Most are smaller than many backyard pools in America. But once you step away from the 100-degree heat of the Judean wilderness and find the shade of Ein Gedi, you’ll never forget the experience.

Waterfalls pour dramatically over the cliffs. The Dead Sea sits like a perfect picture at the bottom of the oasis. Thick foliage surrounds the pools, but the harsh nature of the desert is never more than a few feet away. An occasional small deer – the ibex –  can be spotted relaxing in the shade.

Our group took only a few moments to fall in love with the water. After a few days of hiking in the harsh desert, this was a taste of heaven.

We played in the waterfalls, and the sensation of water pounding on our shoulders was incredible. “It’s like a massage from God,” one traveler shouted to another. Both laughed, and ducked under the water for one more delightful session.

Remember when David was hiding from King Saul? The record in the Bible tells us he liked to hide in Ein Gedi.

Fresh water to drink. Refreshing swims. Small deer ready to be hunted and roasted over a fire. Caves for cover and fruit from the trees.

No wonder he hid there. The only surprise, perhaps, is that he ever left!

Soon enough we had to leave Ein Gedi, too. But I’ll be back, and I can already feel the water pounding on my shoulders …

Want to visit Ein Gedi with Pastor Andy Cook? Visit experienceisraelnow.com for details on his next trip, and to find more resources that will help you learn new lessons from the land of the Bible.

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Healing in his wings

But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. – Malachi 4:2, NIV

There was a woman who once memorized the words of Malachi.


People memorize Psalm 23, of course. They sometimes tackle the Beatitudes, and the Lord’s Prayer is a given. But Malachi?

Desperate hope will lead to desperate actions. And this woman, the Bible says, had been sick for a long, long time.

She also had heard of a miracle working rabbi who was visiting the towns and synagogues of Galilee.

He had healed lepers, it was said. There were rumors of blind men seeing, and lame men dancing.

Was there room in the rabbi’s bag of miracles for a woman who simply couldn’t stop bleeding?

It was embarrassing, this problem. It was life-threatening. Worst of all, it kept her isolated. It even affected her ability to attend times of community worship.

But while this problem had taken away all her money and energy on visits to doctors, it had not taken away her faith. She believed with all her heart that if God willed it, she could be healed in a moment.

She had a test for the rabbi. If he really could heal her, she’d know it by one action, and by one obscure passage from Malachi’s preaching.

The Messiah, Malachi had promised, would have “healing in his wings.”

The Hebrew word for “wings” is the same word for “fringes.” The context of word would allow you to know whether the conversation was about birds or about the tassels that hung from the clothing of Jewish men.

ImageBirds have wings. Butterflies have wings. Men have fringes. And the Messiah? He would be such a man of God that even a touch of his fringes would bring healing.

You get sick enough, faith will find a way to touch those fringes.

When the opportunity finally came, she reached through the forest of legs around her, stretched with all her might, and touched the tassels.

It was the same thing he’d done that morning, when he had first put on the garment. He had touched them throughout the day.

This was no secret. Every religious and righteous man touched the fringes of his robe while he prayed. It was so common, the fringes became synonymous with his prayer life. In one act of tremendous faith, she stretched out to touch this rabbi’s prayer life!

If you know the rest of the story, you know about her healing. You know the Jesus stopped and blessed her for her faith. Luke 8 has the story, if you’d like to read it.

And today has the opportunity for faith – the same kind of faith this woman had.

It started with hearing the words of scripture, continued with remembering the words of scripture, and brought a miracle when she acted on the words of scripture.

Follow that formula, and miracles won’t be far behind.

Want to travel to Israel with Pastor Andy Cook? Visit experienceisraelnow.com for details on his next trip, or for other resources that will help uncover more secrets from the ancient paths wherever you are today.

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The selfish virgins

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. – Jesus, in Matthew 25

My friend Joseph has a shop in Jerusalem that never fails to fascinate me.

OK, it’s actually Joseph who’s fascinating, but his shop acts like a magician’s bag of tricks, just waiting for the show to start. 

When I take groups to Israel, our travelers love the free time we give them in Jerusalem, and there’s little better than hanging out at Joseph’s shop and listening to the stories. 

Once, I saw a small jug and dared ask how much it was. It easily fit in my hand, and looked a little like a child’s toy. It was obviously old. Most things in Joseph’s shop date back to the time of the Bible. This jug, he told me, dated to the First Century. That’s when Jesus lived.

“How much would this cost?” I asked.

“Oh no, no!” Joseph said. “This oil jug goes with this oil lamp. They were found together, and they go together!”

I grimaced. Oil lamps from the time of Jesus are expensive!

Then Joseph proceeded to tell me a story that I already knew very well. There were 10 virgins, Jesus had said, who wanted to go to a wedding. Five were wise, and five were foolish.

“Joseph,” I interrupted, “I know this story.” What I wanted was a price, not a children’s Sunday school lesson!

“The foolish virgins took only their oil lamps as they waited for the wedding to start,” he said, ignoring my seminary education, “but the wise virgins took their lamps … and their oil jugs.

“This,” he said, holding up my little jug, “is an oil jug. And this is the lamp. It’s like a battery.”

And for the first time, I saw something. The lamp doesn’t hold a lot of oil. The jug doesn’t hold a lot of oil. When five girls wanted to borrow oil for their lamps? There simply wasn’t enough to share. When it comes to oil lamps and oil jugs, you only get enough for you.

The five girls who wouldn’t share weren’t selfish. They were benefiting from a wise choice they had made earlier in the day. And when the wedding came, they were allowed inside for the party while the five others were left in the dark.

Jesus was making a point in sharing this story, and Joseph had finally shown it to me. You’ve only got enough ability in you to make a decision about eternal life for you. You can’t make this call for anyone else. No one else can make it for you. You’ll either be wise or unwise when it comes to eternity, and the choice you make will be 100-percent your responsibility. 

No one in the crowd objected to five “selfish” virgins. They knew the reality of small oil lamps and tiny jugs with the reserve supply. They got the point Jesus was making. 

And as Joseph packed up yet another expensive purchase for the preacher in Georgia, so did I.

Want to travel to Israel with Pastor Andy Cook? Visit experienceisraelnow.com for details, and for more secrets from the ancient paths.

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The Hard Places

“Stand at the crossroads and look;
    ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
    and you will find rest for your souls. — Jeremiah 6:16

My favorite photo of Israel? It’s one with a view no one in the Bible ever saw. Not Jeremiah, not David, not Paul. None of the important Christian scholars had a chance to study it. When my pastor was in school? It wasn’t available for him, either.

Until the space race, until the technological miracle of orbiting satellites, no one ever had the chance to see a photo of the Bible’s homeland from 500 miles up in the sky. Of all generations, these views have been reserved for us. I have studied them for hours.

At that height, it’s impossible to see any of the people, and only the largest cities leave a mark on the landscape.

Mostly, it’s just land.

ImageBut what an unusual piece of land it is. There’s an ocean on the western border, a great desert to the east, and the entire southern half of Israel might as well be moonscape. There are craters and canyons, ridges and valleys, and almost no signs of life. The western slope of the Judean Mountains and the northern stretch of Galilee farmland is delightfully green. But the lower half of the country is about as foreboding a place as you’d ever want to see.

Very few people live in the hard places. And in the Judean Wilderness? No one lives there. Shepherds may traverse the hills, and Bedouins might find spots along the edges, but no one would choose to stay in the wilderness.

It’s a land made of rocks, sun-scorched sand and an occasional scrubby plant. There are no fresh-water streams. The Dead Sea is at the bottom of the hill, but no one can drink the water and live.

Interesting that God would intentionally take some people to the wilderness.

Moses spent time in the wilderness. Maybe he was in the Sinai for most of those 40 years of waiting. When Elijah ran for his life, he would travel though the harsh Negev. John the Baptizer came out of the Judean Wilderness.

After his baptism, where did Jesus go? He started his ministry with 40 of the most challenging days of his life … in the wilderness.

It has been said that God gave the Promised Land to his people, but that he kept the wilderness for himself. And anytime God wanted to do something great with a person, he took that person to the hard places. If you can learn how to live in the wilderness, depending completely upon God for your survival, then God can use you for his purposes anywhere.

Ever been to a really hard place? One of those wilderness places?

You might even be there now.

If not, the unexpected, unpleasant journey into hard places might come tomorrow.

Whenever it happens, if you find yourself in the wilderness, in some kind of horrible, confusing maze of life—don’t forget the lesson of Jeremiah 6:9–19. Stop. Look around. Ask for help. Ask for the ancient path, the good way. When you find the way, walk there. Don’t worry if most of the crowd is going in another direction. Follow Jesus alone.

And count on it. The rest you’ve longed for . . . is coming.

Want to travel to Israel with Pastor Andy Cook? Find details of his next trip and many more secrets from the ancient paths at experienceisraelnow.com.

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Finding faith in a cave

When David journeyed to the Caves of Adullam, it was more than a physical trip. It was here where he re-captured the giant-killing faith he’d known as a young man.

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