It is hot in the Judean Desert!
Jim and I first met Ray Vander Laan back in the mid-1990s when Focus on the Family began producing That the World May Know. As new videos in the series were released, each became a favorite in the Daly household. Jim and I would use these lessons for devotional times with our sons, Trent and Troy. Even as middle schoolers, our sons watched the video sessions and grasped many of the concepts.
For years, Ray kept inviting us to experience the lands of the Bible through one of his excursions. He would mention it every time Jim interviewed him for the Focus on the Family broadcast. But there was always some type of schedule conflict. Finally, in 2016, Jim and I were able to go to Israel with one of Ray’s groups. The trip was truly life impacting. And it was challenging—the 14 days included 110 miles of hiking!
There is nothing quite like hearing Ray teach on the murmuring Israelites who were wandering in the desert, when you’ve been hiking for hours in that same hot desert and murmuring a bit to yourself. You don’t just hear the message—you feel it.
It is extraordinary and moving to look down into what may well have been the apostle Peter’s house, where Jesus healed many; to stand in the actual valley where David picked up rocks from the dry riverbed to face Goliath; or to be immersed in the River Jordan where John baptized Jesus. It’s so humbling to stand in a garden that may be Gethsemane, listening to Ray teach about the night of Jesus’ betrayal—hearing again how He prayed alone while Peter, James and John were supposed to keep watch but slept. You stand there and can almost see the scene being described. You feel these moments. It brings the Bible to life.
The Judean desert
You sit—tired, hot and thirsty—under a small broom tree that provides just a bit of relief from the heat of the desert. Ray teaches on Psalm 121:5, which says, “The Lord is your shade on your right hand.” The metaphor of the desert and the shade comes to life as Ray compares them to the hard and painful aspects of life and God’s provision. The shade from the broom tree is minimal. It’s not the vast shade of an oak tree, but it provides just enough relief for us to continue our journey.
On another day, as you’re crossing the desert as the Israelites did—tired, hot and thirsty once again—you stop at a very small tuft of greenery that looks like a tiny patch of weeds growing through the sand. Ray astounds you with the insight that this is the “green pastures” that David writes about in Psalm 23. As Westerners, we imagine the green pastures as lush, beautiful and pastoral. But Ray says that this isn’t what David was experiencing. The green pastures of Psalm 23 are small tufts of grass between scattered rocks. Under the shepherd’s guidance, the sheep move from tuft to tuft, finding just enough to sustain them through their journey each day. Seeing this illustrates that God doesn’t generally give us more than what we need, or even what we think we need. He wants us to trust that He will give us just enough in each moment.
The lands of the Bible
Of course, I realize that many people simply can’t go on a tour with Ray Vander Laan. It’s physically demanding; it’s costly. And I don’t know what travel restrictions might be in place when you read this.
The next best thing is watching the That the World May Know series right at home. Ray’s rich knowledge of Jewish customs and teachings, as well as his understanding of the original Hebrew and Greek languages, illuminates passages of Scripture in fresh ways. Every teaching in the series shows us something new about God. And he clarifies the Scriptures in ways that we would not fully understand without the background Ray provides.
I am so excited about Ray’s in-depth teaching, and I want to share it with everyone. I pray That the World May Know impacts your family as it has mine.