the jerusalem experiment

I had lunch with my friend Bryan today and we talked a lot about an experiment/adventure he’ll be embarking on this coming year. Bryan is a seminary student at Bethel and is about half-way through an MDiv program, so he’ll be a pastor when he’s done. As part of his studies, he’s decided to take an unpaid leave from his position as director of high school ministry at a church in Minneapolis so that he can live and learn in Jerusalem and the surrounding “holy lands” this winter and spring. He’ll take classes at Jerusalem University College to study the ancient culture, settings and languages of Christianity while also taking “field trips” to several of the key biblical locations outside of Jerusalem (places like Egypt, Galilee and Bethlehem). I’m guessing to some of you it might seem like he’s basically studying abroad for a semester — which I’m sure many of you did in undergrad — but this is where the “experiment” portion of what Bryan is doing in Jerusalem comes into play. While he’s in this holy places, he’ll not only be experiencing the stories of Scripture in new and powerful ways for himself personally, he’ll also be including/inviting all of us (the Church) to join him in his adventures and learning. In fact, the very reason Bryan is doing this is as much for the Church back home as for himself (a bit like a missionary, but opposite).

Not everyone can go to the Middle East for 4 1/2 months, but Bryan has come up with a multi-dimensional project that will allow others to travel there with him (virtually), learning along the way about the God who revealed himself to the world through a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth.

Through daily online journal entries at (including pictures, video and discussion questions), a weekly podcast (weaving the stories and learnings of his travels into sermons) and culminating in a book titled A Land of Dust and Sun, Bryan will highlight several of the biblical sites he visits — writing about the geography, retelling the biblical narrative, sharing ways in why our lives can/have been shaped by those stories and inviting readers to find themselves within those stories and places — allowing us as his “fellow travelers” to discover intersections between our lives and the life of God’s story.

Bryan states as one of his deepest passions, “witnessing the Word of God come alive in the hearts of those who had formerly understood the ancient book as one that rarely (if ever) intersects our 21st century lives.” In light of that passoin, I believe the experiment he is taking on is incredibly relevant, and the resources that he will develop for the church as a result of this experiment will be invaluable. As you might assume, an undertaking like this requires plenty of support; spirirtually, emotionally and financially.

Here’s a few easy ways you can support this project:

  • Visit The Jerusalem Experiment website and watch the video Bryan made to explain more about the trip.
  • Add Bryan to your prayer chain at church or in your small group.
  • Tell some friends about what he’s doing (forward them the link to the website or to this entry to explain more).
  • Join The Jerusalem Experiment facebook group.
  • If you’re at all able, show your support by making a donation (big or small, it all helps) – there’s a link on his website to donate online using a credit card or through paypal. (Note: everyone who makes a donation will receive a free copy of Bryan’s book A Land of Dust and Sun, regardless of how much they give.)

f.o.t.s. // self-control

The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against these things there is no law.  (Galatians 5:22-23)

Nice job. You made it to the last day!

It wasn’t that hard, was it?

I hope that living out the Fruit of the Spirit has been a good experience for all of you and that it will last more than just these past 9 days. I hope you have learned a lot about yourself by living out the virtues God planted inside of you when you were created. Allowing the spirit to water and nourish those virtues so that they bear fruit in your life. I hope you realize that even though living by the spirit won’t guarantee that life will be easier, it’s a lot better than living by your sinful nature. It brings glory to God, love to your neighbor, and joy to your heart.

Tuesday is the last day of the challenge, Day 9 – SELF-CONTROL

Self-control could mean different things to all of you. It might mean not playing video games so much, not spending so much time on the internet, eating less junk food, or maybe even cutting down on how much you swear. Whatever it is that you need to control in your life, Thursday is the day to start making that change.

I realize I can’t think of all the possible things you need to do more often or less often to make your lifestyle healthier, but let me just give you an example in my life – hopefully it will help you figure out what things you need to work on.

I stay up too late. It’s not a mystery to me why I’m still tired when my alarm goes off in the morning, it’s because I stayed up later than I should have. I know how much better I feel when I get enough sleep, and I also know how terrible I feel when I wake up after staying up late the night before. The amount of sleep I get affects me all day (sometimes more than just one day). I know that to be the best person (and best Christian) I can possibly be…I need my sleep; that’s one thing I can control in my life.

Another things that many of us probably need help with is reading our Bibles more often. But it takes discipline and self-control to choose to read our Bibles instead of doing other things, like watching TV or talking on the phone.

My challenge for you on the last day of this is to make a list of some things that you need to change in your life that will be good and healthy for you. This doesn’t mean you have to completely eliminate some of the things in your life that you really like, but cutting back on some of these things is probably a good idea. Try making the changes you came up with for at least one day, or maybe even a few days, then see if you notice a difference in how you feel. I think you will, and you’ll probably even like yourself more because of your new self-control.

Again, thanks for taking this challenge and doing such an awesome job with it. Keep these emails to look back on if you think they’ll help you in the future. If you didn’t already notice, I posted each day’s message on my website – – so you can always find them there (or share them with others) if you’d like.

May the Lord bless and keep you. May his face shine upon you. May he be gracious to you and give you his peace. Amen.

(p.s. By the time many of you read this, I’ll be in Haiti to continue working on a documentary I’m hoping will be done this spring. Please pray for health and safety for me and the others I will be traveling with.)

f.o.t.s. // gentleness

The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against these things there is no law.  (Galatians 5:22-23)

How are you feeling with just two days left of this adventure?

I know yesterday’s email was kind of long and a perhaps bit deep for some of you, and I really want all of you to read these, so I’m going to keep this one short. I am only going to write a little bit, but then I’m going to give you some Bible verses to read.

Monday is Day 8 – GENTLENESS

Some of you are already thinking, gentleness? Does that mean I’m supposed to be a wimp all day?

Not at all!

I think it’s very fitting that Monday is also Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Whether you have the day off from work or school on Monday, I hope you take some time to remember and give thanks for the contributions of a man who fought for justice and equality without using weapons or any other form of violence. Martin Luther King was a great example of the spiritual gentleness we are going to try living out on Monday.

Gentleness does not mean you have to be delicate. It simply means that you have a gentle heart. That you care about people and try your best to understand how they are feeling, doing what is right for all people. It’s about being sensitive to other people as well as yourself. Guys, you can be gentle AND be a tough guy, you just have to be smart about it (be a “gentle”-man).

Basically, be a good person. Think about other people…not just yourself. Before making a comment, think about how it will affect other people. Don’t tease people. Stand up for what you know is right. Live the way you think God would want you to live. I realize that all sounds incredibly cliché, but these Bible verses might help. Even if you think you have this “gentleness” thing figured out, please read them.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.   (Philippians 4:4-5)

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  (Ephesians 4:2-3)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  (Colossians 3:12)

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.  (1 Peter 3:3-5)

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  (1 Peter 3:14-16)

Dear God, we admit that oftentimes we are not very gentle. Allow us the perspective to see how others perceive our actions and lead us to live in ways that are authentic and sensitive. Amen.

Day 9 – Self-Control

f.o.t.s. // faithfulness

The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against these things there is no law.  (Galatians 5:22-23)

I hope you all found ways to live out the fruit of “goodness” yesterday.

Sunday is Day 7 – FAITHFULNESS

You know, being faithful is kind of like being on a team. If your team loses a game, you don’t quit and go join the other team, do you? I sure hope not. A good team is made up of members who are loyal to the team. Teammates who trust and believe in each other. It’s the same in a family, in friendships, and at work.

But greater than the relationship you have with your teammates, family, friends, or someday even your wife or husband; the greatest relationship in your life is your relationship with God, a relationship we have no way of understanding except through Jesus.

Being faithful to God means that you will stay on his team, no matter what happens. Actually, this is where the analogy breaks down, because God’s team is not necessarily one we can “quit,” since God chose us and continues choosing us, because God is faithful even when we are not.

This may seem either really easy or really hard to you, depending on what you’ve gone through in life so far. Some of you may have experienced great loss (someone close to you dying, friends moving away, parent’s getting divorced, or something else), and if you’ve gone through something like this I think it’s natural to question God, be mad at God, and maybe even stop believing that God exists for a little while.

I wish I had a great response to those of you who have had your faith and belief in God put into question because of terrible things that have happened to you or your family, but I don’t…no one does.

A few years ago, doctors found a large tumor inside my dad’s heart and he had to be rushed into surgery to have it removed. I spent a lot of time with my family at the hospital and I can remember sitting in the waiting room as my dad was on an operating table with his chest and heart cut open and I asked God, “Why is this happening? Why my dad? Why our family?”

Luckily, everything with surgery went well and my dad has now fully recovered, but just because things went good does not mean I didn’t have to ask some serious questions of God and of my own personal faith.

I realize that it’s easier to say things like “God is faithful” when things work out the way we hoped (because my dad is okay). But would I still be saying “God is faithful” if I had prayed for my dad to be okay and he didn’t make it through surgery, if I didn’t have a father anymore? I sure hope so, but I don’t know.

What I do know is that God’s faithfulness does not depend on whether my dad lives through surgery or whether terrorists crash airplanes into buildings, or even if my team wins and your team loses. God has been faithful, loving, and fair since the world was created (and in case you forgot, that was a long time before any of us were living).

God’s faithfulness is constant. It’s always there, kind of like the wind is always blowing even if you don’t see it or feel it, or the sun is shining even if there are clouds covering it from view. God is faithful to us and as much as we are capable, we should remain faithful to God and each other.

I realize this is all kind of deep and like I said earlier, it may seem either really simple or really difficult, depending on what you’ve been through in life, but regardless of what you’ve been through, here is my prayer for all of us.

Dear God, Help us to be faithful to you. Give us an understanding that you created all good things and all praise and glory for those good things belongs to you, not us. Some of us have been through some really difficult stuff, and we feel like we have reason to question if you’re even there. Help us remember that you do not allow bad things to happen, but that we live in a world where evil exists and because of that, bad things can happen. We ask for your wisdom and strength to remain faithful to you, to our friends and families, and to the hope that we will one day live with you in heaven where there will be no crying, no hurting, and no worrying. Until that day, we ask for your protection and guidance. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

f.o.t.s. // goodness

The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against these things there is no law.  (Galatians 5:22-23)

I hope you had a good week. I’m sure you’re ready for the weekend.

Saturday is Day 6 – GOODNESS

The first thing I thought of when I wrote the word “goodness” was something that many of your parents or teachers might have told you when you were growing up.

“Bad is bad and good is good.”

Regardless of whether anyone has told you this before, I’m sure it makes sense. And following this cliché affords us the blessing of experiencing closeness with God instead of feeling as if we are separated or at a distance from our Creator (remember though, this distance is only our perception, since God is always with us, we just don’t always experience things that way).

Day 6 probably seems like a confusing fruit for some of you to live out. We know God is good (all the time), and that all the time (God is good)…but what does it mean to live out goodness? And why should we do it?

Here’s a short exercise for you using Scripture to help answer the questions “What does it mean to live out goodness?” and “Why should we live out the fruit of goodness?”

Let’s start by using God as our example and ask the question, is God good?

In Psalm 31 we read this about God,

Your goodness is so great! You have stored up great blessings for those who honor you. You have done so much for those who come to you for protection, blessing them before the watching world.  (Psalm 31:19)

So apparently God is full of goodness, but what does that have to do with us?

In the first book of the Bible, we read about how God created each of us,

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  (Genesis 1:27)

So we know God’s goodness is great (Psalm 31), and we just learned that God created us in his own image (Genesis 1), so then how should we answer this question in Psalm 116?

How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me?  (Psalm 116:12)

I think you all know the answer to that question. God is not only good, but God is a constant source of goodness, and since we were created by God – in the image of God – we should be filled with goodness for all people.

But you don’t have to take my word for it; Psalm 23 says it for me,

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.   (Psalm 23:6)

I’m really glad that so many of you are taking this so seriously and doing your best to live out the Fruit of the Spirit. Please continue to pray for each other because this is not easy, and remember that your struggles are normal. I’m hopeful that you’re experiencing a greater closeness with God because you’re living the way we have always been called to live, but until now we always thought of excuses not to try.

Dear God, help us live beyond our excuses by giving us the courage to faithfully continue becoming the men and women you created us to be. Amen.

Day 7 – Faithfulness

f.o.t.s. // kindness

The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against these things there is no law.  (Galatians 5: 22-23)

How did it go being patient all day? I know the weather and traffic are out of our control, but I’m guessing the cold commute has been trying many people’s patience lately, but perhaps for a day you were able to handle it a bit better? Even if “patient day” didn’t go so well, have you noticed a difference in yourself since you’ve been living out the fruit of the spirit all week? I hope so.

Friday is Day 5 – KINDNESS

The idea of being kind (showing kindness to others) is hopefully not a new concept to anyone. But have you ever stopped to think about how much it means to other people when you show them kindness? What does it mean to you when someone is kind to you? It feels good, right?

Paul, from the New Testament, went through all sorts of crazy times during his life. He was often treated unfairly because of his faith (he was beaten and put in prison, among other terrible things), and as a result he greatly appreciated it when people showed him kindness. There’s a story in the book of Acts about when he was on a boat as a prisoner and they were shipwrecked. When they washed up on shore they were treated with unexpected kindness.

Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand.  (Acts 28: 1-3)

How can you be an example of unexpected kindness to people around you today? Be thinking of ways you can be kind to someone else in ways that are simple, subtle or perhaps even unexpected.

Here’s a verse of encouragement for you.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  (Colossians 3: 12-13)

Dear God, thank you for your eternal and everlasting kindness. Help us show kindness to others in not only expected ways, but also through unexpected and surprising expressions of your loving kindness. Amen.

Day 6 – Goodness

f.o.t.s. // patience

The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against these things there is no law.  (Galatians 5:22-23)

Hello everyone. I hope you had a good day filled with peace.

Thursday is Day 4 – PATIENCE

This is probably going to be a tough one for many of you. Being patient with people is very difficult. It takes a lot of effort and practice to be/become a patient person. But just think of how great it feels when someone is patient with you instead of being on your case, whether it’s about getting things done or how you do things.

King Solomon from the Bible — a guy who is often considered the wisest man ever — talked about patience by saying, “a man’s wisdom gives him patience” (Proverbs 19:11).

We need wisdom to be patient. Wisdom is different than being smart. Many people say you need to be older (an “adult”) to have wisdom, but I’m not sure that’s entirely true. But it will definitely take some practice and requires not just thinking, but also being aware of what is going on around you.

So what is going on around you? How can you help others by being patient?

We need to be aware of people’s expectations of us as well as the expectations we have on other people. Although we can’t change what other people expect from us, we can work to be fair about what we think other people should be doing for us. We need to give others the benefit of the doubt, rather than assuming unfair things about them. We need to relax and quit worrying so much about what other people should be doing for us, think instead about what we can do for them, and then be patient when waiting for help from others.

God wants us to have a wonderful life that is full of joy. Learning to be patient will help us develop wisdom that will lead to a more joyful life. It will help us become a person we can feel better about being. Come to think of it, it will also make life a lot better for the people who are forced to spend time with us as well…so I guess everyone wins!

O God and Heavenly Father, Grant to us the serenity of mind to accept that which cannot be changed; the courage to change that which can be changed, and the wisdom to know the one from the other, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen. (Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr)

Day 5 – Kindness