Review: Pilgrimage – My Journey to a Deeper Faith in the Land Where Jesus Walked

pilgrimageAuthor: Lynn Austin
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers, 2013
Rating: 4/5 stars
Amazon Price: $10.87

Bottom Line

From January 5-17, 2017 I will be in Israel both for a class and a pilgrimage. The professor of the class recommended that we read this book before we leave for Israel, so I decided to pick it up and give it a read. Lynn Austin skillfully uses her pilgrimage experience to illustrate what the Lord spoke to her through allegorical devices, yet she also utilises bad theology, such as symbolic baptism, unanswered prayer whenever God did not say “yes,” and failing to recognise the Lord’s Supper for forgiveness of sins. The purpose of the book, however, is not to expound on doctrine but rather to write about her pilgrimage experience. To this, I think she has accomplished rather inspirationally and it has made me even more excited to visit the Holy Land this coming January (2017) and eager to experience what the Lord has planned me to see.

Chapter 1: The Wilderness of Zin

wildernessofzin“Israel’s downfall didn’t come when they were homeless wanderers in the desert, but when they lived in cities where they were self-sufficient and well fed” (22). In this chapter, Lynn Austin recalled the time she hiked in the wilderness of Zin, a desolate desert similar to that which the Israelites wandered through for 40 years. Though the Israelites questioned God at times, they were always reminded that they have no choice but to trust in God as their Source and Provider of life. It wasn’t until they were used to having nourishment and other goods readily available that they stopped relying on God and began to rely on other things. God did tell them, “When you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock” (Deuteronomy 8:12-15).

I expect I will likely understand and sympathise with those Israelites who wandered through the Sinai Wilderness when I walk in the Negev, which is just east of the Sinai Wilderness. Yet it is interesting to note that it is when we have nothing when we trust God the most, for that is our only option. Yet when we have almost everything we need, it is harder to trust Him and we forget about Him. After all, if we have all we need, why do we need God? That is our irrational, foolish, and sinful thinking. It is ironic that we need God more when we have a lot of things than when we have nearly nothing.

Chapter 2: The Judean Wilderness

The Masada plateau.

The Masada plateau.

Lynn Austin describes the next stop of her pilgrimage: Masada, where the Jews during the Siege of Masada in AD 70 looked down from the plateau and saw they were surrounded by Roman soldiers. Thinking they were the last of the Jews, they hid a scroll of Ezekiel where it records, “Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O My people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel… Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land” (Ezekiel 37:12, 21). And today the nation Israel has returned with approximately 7 million Jewish people.

From her experience on Masada, Lynn Austin notes, “God always keeps His promises. Even in times of cataclysmic upheaval and change, God’s love and faithfulness are unchanging” (37). If there is anything to be learnt from the Old Testament, it’s that it tells the story of God’s faithfulness to His people even while they remained faithless. St. Paul summarises it perfectly, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). Israel’s historical apostasy and faithlessness has served to prove God’s faithfulness to His people. God’s faithfulness is undeserving. It is God’s nature to remain faithful to His people simply on the basis that He has promised it. What makes His indefatigable faithfulness to His people more amazing is that this faithfulness is undeserving. We humans function on contingencies—we often make promises on the basis of, “If you do this for me, then I will do this for you. If you fail to do this for me, then I will not return the favour; neither will I seek to reconcile it.” Yet God does not base His relationship with us on contingencies. Conversely, He says, “I will do this for you even though you will fail Me. I will seek reconciliation with you through My Son.” Though God does make demands under the Law that we must obey, and obedience comes with rewards, He still remains faithful when we break the Law. Again, Israel’s history shows this. They broke the Law repeatedly, and although God mandated their just punishment, He still made Gospel promises to reconcile His people to Himself. We ultimately find this reconciliation in Christ.

One of the motifs of Scripture she likes to discuss is thirst. She experienced a lot of thirst in the wilderness she hiked in and describes her sympathies to the Israelites who suffered worse and likewise complained of thirst. She allegorically connects this to spiritual thirst. She says, “I can’t sip from an hour-long church service on Sunday morning or dash off a hasty prayer or gulp down a daily Bible verse and expect them to sustain me any more than I can expect a glass of water to last for a week” (40). I expected her to connect this to Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4Instead, she uses John 6:35, “Whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” It works for the message she’s giving, yet I think we don’t fully get the point unless we also look at John 4:13-14, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” In this context of Jesus’ pedagogical method, it becomes clear to us that the lack of thirst Jesus is speaking of is one He fills for us spiritually. This satisfaction is found in Him alone.

Lynn quotes Jeremiah 2:13, “For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Water is the sustenance of all life. Without it, life would be impossible. Without Christ the living water, eternal life is impossible; He is the one who quenches our spiritual thirst. We often use other means to sustain ourselves—pop culture, false religions, sexual identity, sexual intercourse, etc.—yet the One True Sustainer is Christ the Son of God.

I have two gripes with what she says in this chapter. The first is when she calls baptism a “symbolic cleansing” (42). Baptism is not a symbolic representation; something real happens. This is not the place to talk about what baptism does, which I cover here in a specific section. But for biblical reference, refer to 1 Peter 3:21which blatantly says baptism saves us, as well as Romans 6. The second is when she recalls a time when she desperately wanted a second child and she says, “…after four years of waiting, my prayers continued to go unanswered” (52). She eventually ends the anecdote with saying God blessed her not with one child, but two children. Later, she mentions she continues to wait for many of her prayers to be answered (53). It is necessary to point out that before her two blessed pregnancies, God did answer her prayers. He just didn’t answer them with a “yes.” I have found—and Scripture attests to this—that God answers prayers with either “yes,” “no,” or “not yet, because I have something better in mind.” In her case, it was the third answer. I don’t know where we get the idea that answered prayer is only when God says “yes,” but it’s certainly not from Scripture. She may still be waiting for many of her prayers to be answered, and she may never receive some answers she wants, which will unfortunately cause her to view her prayers as being unanswered if she continues to think answered prayer is only when God says “yes.” God does not answer every prayer with a “yes.” Just because we don’t get what we want when we pray doesn’t mean God did not answer. He did answer; it just wasn’t the answer we wanted.

Chapter 3: Crossing the Jordan

Photo Credit: Peter Schwartzstein, National Geographic

Photo Credit: Peter Schwartzstein, National Geographic

Lynn Austin makes an appropriate allegory between the Israelites arriving at the Jordan River and when we become Christians. When they arrived at the Jordan River, the Israelites soon discovered they had enemies to defeat. Corresponding to this, she says, “Many of us naïvely believed that once we became Christians and entered God’s Promised Land, our lives would immediately become heavenly” (57). Many imagine the Christian life as one of abundant prosperity and happiness, yet Scripture never portrays the Christian life in such a way. Certainly, it speaks of prosperity in God and the joy of the Lord, yet the prosperity it speaks of is spiritual prosperity rather than material, and the joy of the Lord is not the same as happiness as we understand it as 21st century, materialistic people who live in highly developed societies. The Lord may certainly choose to bless His child through wealth if He so chooses, yet the Scriptures do not promise this as the outcome of the Christian life on this side of the eschaton (nor on the other side, for material wealth will not matter compared to the riches He will bestow upon us). Like arriving at the Promised Land, when we become Christian we face immediate enemies. As soon as we become Christian, Satan paints a bull’s eye on our backs and colours it in and begins to throw those “flaming darts” at us (Ephesians 6:16). To Satan, we are like dart boards, and he throws many things our way in order to stick doubt and unbelief into us, whether it be through suffering, militant atheists, worldly temptation, or demons.

As she walks up to Jerusalem, Lynn Austin recalls her personal discipleship with Christ. She makes the following recollection, “When I look at this rugged terrain and the steep, breathless climb to Jerusalem, I wonder why we have tried to make the Christian life a comfortable one… I often forget that the only way I can follow someone is if we are both moving, not sitting still” (69-70). I like to imagine discipleship as an intense game of follow the leader, where we follow the leader and do exactly what he does. In the same way, we follow Christ our leader—we go wherever He goes and do our best to imitate what He does. We don’t always imitate the leader in the game perfectly. In the same way, we don’t always imitate Christ perfectly, but at the end we will become like Him (1 John 3:2). I appreciate that she makes this connection because one message I always preach is that the Christian life is not a comfortable lifestyle. Christ warns us that tribulation is going to be a normal part of the Christian life, while He also encourages us that He has overcome the world (John 16:33); and we are more than conquerors through Christ (Romans 8:37). The Apostles all suffered terrible deaths, such as being speared, beheaded, and crucified upside down—all except for John the author of Revelation, who was exiled on Patmos and died of old age. But that’s part of bearing our cross (Luke 9:23). For more on this, read my article with Geeks Under Grace here.

Chapter 4: Jerusalem

jerusalemDescribing a time when she was unsure of God’s will for her life, Lynn Austin quotes Psalm 48:12-14, which the Lord had brought her to read both then and while she was in Jerusalem, “Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will guide us forever.” Zion is synonymous to Jerusalem, in case you’re unaware. Then she writes, “God invites not only me, but all of us to walk into His kingdom, to look around, to see what He has done and what He is doing, and then to find our purpose and calling in serving the next generation” (80-81). This is another appropriate allegory. Zion has been God’s kingdom for a long time, and within it He dwelled in the Temple. Now He dwells in the new temple Christ. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14)—or literally from the Greek, He “tabernacled” among us. Christ is God’s kingdom incarnate, and thus He says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

Christ is God’s kingdom and His righteousness; if we seek Him, the rest will follow. In Him we will find our spiritual vocation. I strongly believe each of us has a spiritual gift in which God uses us to speak to specific ministries. For some it might be prison ministry, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, youth ministry, or what-have-you. For me personally, it is not only congregational ministry as a future pastor, but also geek ministry. Thus He has called me to use my writing skills He has blessed me with to write for Geeks Under Grace as well as the passion to start my own ministry called Lutheran Geek Ministry. (Along with Christ being God’s temple, we are also temples of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?”)

Continuing the motif of living water in her book, Lynn Austin draws a brilliant analogy. She was at the pool of Siloam where Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water'” (John 7:37-38). Along with this, she cross-references Jeremiah 2:13 again, “for My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Cisterns are manmade devices that eventually crumble and decay and when left unchecked, becomes a source of disease. The source of the pool of Siloam, however, was a spring—natural, living water. Thus, Jesus proclaims He is the fulfilment of the living water. He is the one who purifies and never runs dry.

Through Christ we also become sources of living water. Here comes Lynn’s analogy: “We have an overflowing abundance of information and tools to help us in our Christian walk, a reservoir of religious freedom to draw from, yet we’re often guilty of hoarding it in cisterns instead of letting it flow freely from us. We attend Bible studies and Sunday school classes year after year, storing up life-giving water but never sharing even a cup of it with others. Water that doesn’t move becomes stagnant and dead, a breeding ground for mosquitoes and disease” (94). Thus is American Christianity; it is much like moral therapeutic deism—going to God only for ourselves in order to feel better about ourselves. Even if we don’t fall victim to MTD, many of us go to church and attend many Bible studies but only keep the Gospel to ourselves. We lack the fortitude to share the Gospel with others. We have the blessing of religious freedom in our country while other countries do not have the freedom we have to share the Gospel with others, although our freedom is gradually dwindling. We ought to take advantage of this religious freedom while we still have it to bring the Gospel to other people in our lives.

Chapter 5: The Temple Mount

Southern wall of what remains of the Temple Mount.

Southern wall of what remains of the Temple Mount.

Now at the Temple Mount, Lynn recalls in Scripture when Jesus warned that the Temple would be destroyed. “And as He came out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down'” (Mark 13:1-2). Talk about a buzz kill. Yet Jesus is the true Temple whom we go to. Imagine if Jesus walked among us today, and people marveled at the heights of the Twin Towers in New York City, and Jesus said, “Do you see these great towers? No stone and no glass of it shall remain when it is thrown down.” Would we have taken Him seriously? Some probably would’ve taken it as a terrorist threat and blamed Him when it fell. The Temple was destroyed on the 9th day of Av, which was the same day the Babylonians destroyed Solomon’s Temple in 586 BC. Jeremiah likewise gave a warning to King Hezekiah about the Babylonian destruction to come, but he didn’t listen.

Jesus gave other warnings in Scripture, a lot of which still apply to us today. Yet do we listen to them? Lynn recalls one of them, “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). She recalls another, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36). In light of these warnings, Lynn asks, “How should we live now, with Jesus’ warnings in view” (108)? Jesus warned that as wickedness increases, the love of many will grow cold. It’s not difficult to find this when we look around today. As wickedness is increasing—the acceptance of homosexuality, transgenderism, and abortion—the love of Christians is growing cold. Many Christians are turning to hate rather than the grace of the Gospel in the face of this growing wickedness. Indeed, even Christians’ love for God is growing cold as they ignore His Word about such wickedness and embrace the wicked acts. Today, many Christians are engaging more in the cares of this life than the cares of Christ, and He has warned that the day of His return—the day of judgement—will come upon such people like a trap.

itsatrapTo combat against this, Jesus says we must pray. Lynn Austin connects this to her marriage, where she and her husband make sure to always communicate and spend time together. She says, “The foundation stone of every marriage is communication, taking time to talk to each other, listen to each other, share our joys and needs and worries. It’s the heart of our love relationship with God, too” (109). God wants us to talk to Him—He wants us to communicate to Him our problems and needs not because He’s not aware of them (because He is), but rather so we may learn to trust in Him. How can we expect our relationship with God to grow if we don’t talk to Him?

Chapter 6: Holy Week

Ford Madox Brown. "Jesus Washing Peter's Feet." 1852-56

Ford Madox Brown. Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet. 1852-56

In this chapter, Lynn recounts her experience as she retraced Jesus’ steps during Holy Week. When she enters the place where the Last Supper took place, her guide tells the group they’re going to wash one another’s feet. Her reaction was one of repulsion. “I don’t want to bare my feet in public, much less have someone near enough to smell them” (134). I would react the same way. When I’m in Israel and my group also sees this place, if the guide says we’re going to wash one another’s feet, I know I’m going to have the same reaction. My feet will be dirty and smelly at that point, so no thank you. Although like Lynn, I will have to humble myself and allow someone to wash my feet as I wash theirs. She says, “The ritual exposes our stubborn American individualism. We don’t want anyone to serve us so intimately, glimpsing our ugly blisters and the dirt we keep carefully hidden” (134). She’s right. As an American, I’m highly individualised. As an American, I have the mindset that if something needs to be done for me, I’d rather do it myself not just so it’ll be done correctly, but also because I’m a very private person.

I’m certain many of you reading this would have the same reaction as well. If we would react this way when a simple person offers to wash our feet, imagine how the disciples reacted when Jesus our Lord and Master offered to wash their feet. Indeed, Peter had the audacity to say “no” to Jesus. Lynn comments, “[Jesus] knows all of our warts anyway, so why not bring them into the light and let Him wash us clean” (135)? I couldn’t have said it better myself. Jesus knows all your sufferings and imperfections, so you might as well confess them to Him and let Him aid you. After Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, He says, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:12-14). On this, Lynn comments, “If He humbled himself in the role of a servant, then I need to, as well” (135). Jesus gave us the perfect image of a servant, most indicative in His washing the disciples’ feet. Even though He is Lord and Master, He humbled Himself as a servant to serve those He loves. We, likewise, are to do the same for one another.

When she gets to the Lord’s Supper, she says, “Each time we partake in His body and blood, we’re affirming that we are His disciples, that we will do whatever the Lord tells us to do instead of following our own stubborn desires” (136). Sure, that’s a creative allegory to take from the Lord’s Supper, but it’s more than that. When Jesus administered the bread and wine, He said, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). Making the allegory she made, it is likely she’s Baptist and as a good Baptist, she fails to recognise something real that happens when we partake in Christ’s body and blood. When we partake of His body and blood, He forgives our sins, as He has said. But this is not the place to refute reformed/Calvinist (read: deformed) theology.

Chapter 7: The Judean Countryside

joshuagibeonOne thing that makes Lutherans distinct from other denominations is that we are keen to see God’s gospel in the Old Testament. Most Christians prescribe His gospel to the New Testament alone, yet we see it all over the Old Testament as well. Fortunately, Lynn Austin recognises God’s gospel in the Old Testament. At the fortress of Latrun in what was once ancient Judea, Lynn recalls the account of Joshua leading the Israelite army to capture the Promised Land. Before this, he made a terrible mistake of making a treaty with the enemy Gibeonites without consulting God, when God had explicitly told him not to make alliances with anybody. After realising his mistake, it is likely Joshua despised himself for his guilt. After all, he is human, and we likewise despise ourselves when we disobey God. Yet in spite of his disobedience, God showed Joshua grace and mercy (gospel).

Standing before the city of Gibeon, likely realising at this moment the horrible mistake he made, God does not lead him into judgement as is expected and deserved. Instead, He says, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you” (Joshua 10:8). From where Joshua and the army were camped, the journey to Gibeon was uphill for over 15 miles. Imagine walking uphill for 15 miles in full battle armour. On this, Lynn comments, “The road back after we’ve disobeyed always seems uphill, doesn’t it? Maybe the strenuous effort will remind us not to repeat our mistake” (158). Yes, returning to the Lord after realising we’ve disobeyed Him may seem an uphill, strenuous journey. But even more, like the grace and mercy God showed Joshua, God shows the same grace and mercy to us through Christ for the forgiveness of sins, especially in the sacraments. We can look back to our baptism and remember God killed our sin and made us alive in Christ (Romans 6), and we receive His forgiveness in Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. Even when we mess up big time, we can come before the Lord’s Table and remember our Baptism and receive God’s grace and mercy in forgiveness as we repent.

Lynn makes another great allegory. At the end of the battle, Joshua commanded some soldiers to put their feet on the necks of the surviving kings, saying, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the LORD will do to all your enemies whom you fight” (Joshua 10:24). Perhaps Joshua was recalling what the Lord had spoken to him all those years ago when he succeeded Moses, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). Likewise, Lynn says, “His orders to us are clear: ‘Put to death the misdeeds of the body’ (Romans 8:13)” (159). As Paul says to the Ephesians, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31). We are to conquer “any fortresses that are still under enemy control… We’re commanded to consider ourselves dead to sin, not keep it on life-support or make a peace treaty with it” (160).

Chapter 8: Galilee

galileeNow in Galilee—the headquarters of Jesus’ ministry and the hometown of Peter, Andrew, James, and John—Lynn Austin asks, “Why not make it the Christian church’s headquarters, too? Why not build a sprawling religious campus with a 4,000-seat auditorium and a ministry center and a healing hospital and a discipleship training school” (183)? I flinched when I read this. Why is is that we seek to build large buildings to gather thousands of people and make ourselves culturally attractive? To my relief, she continues, “It might be our natural tendency to build impressive monuments for Christian ministry, but it isn’t God’s way. We are supposed to go out into the world, not wait for the world to come to us, even if God has to turn our comfortable lives upside down to get us to do it” (183). Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with church buildings, but these megachurches that exist have the habit of preaching God’s Word inadequately, most falling into false doctrine (such as Joel Osteen). Yes, having a church building where God’s people can gather is a blessing, but Jesus also commands us to go out into the world and make disciples, baptising them, and teaching them His commands (Matthew 28:18-20). Not all of us can go far, but the point is not for every Christian to travel to far away lands but to get out of your house and go! This can be in your own local community, the next county over, wherever you think God can use you. Remember when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet as an example of humble servitude? We’re not supposed to make ourselves look fancy and attractive because then we just look like everybody else; we are to humble ourselves and put ourselves in positions where we can serve others, representing Christ to mankind.

One gripe I have in this chapter is that when Jesus sat with Peter one particular morning after he had denied Him three times, she says, “Peter repented and accepted Jesus’ forgiveness for his failures and denials” (194). No, he did not “accept” His forgiveness; Jesus forgave him without needing his acceptance. When we repent, we do not “accept” Jesus’ forgiveness. When we repent, He forgives us unconditionally whether we accept it or not. God’s forgiveness is not based on our “accepting” it. When I committed a particular sexual sin several years ago, I repented nearly every day because I could not accept God’s forgiveness. Yet my inability to accept His forgiveness did not mean His forgiveness was null. God still forgave me in my repentance because I recognised the error of my ways and my need for His grace and mercy. Just because I couldn’t “accept” His forgiveness doesn’t mean His forgiveness did not occur. We don’t “accept” God’s forgiveness; we receive God’s forgiveness.

Chapter 9: The Far North

dannaturereserveAt the Dan Nature Reserve (she says “Preserve”), Lynn sees the remnants of pagan worship. “From paradise to idolatry is such a short, swift fall,” she says (208). The Israelites walked away from God so many times, but so do we. Lynn says, “How easy it is for a new generation to walk away from the God of their parents. How simple to follow a new path, never noticing how far it takes us from God, especially when it makes our lives more pleasurable and convenient” (209). I could not help but think of the people in my Millennial generation. So many Millennials abandon God for less demanding philosophies and belief systems—beliefs they can reshape into how they want to live rather than how God mandates we live. It becomes discouraging for Millennial Christians like myself when the larger percentage of our generation would rather worship celebrities, Hollywood, homosexuality, transgenderism, and abortion instead of God. They abandon God for these false idols.

Yet these pagan remains give Lynn hope. She says, “The only reminders that a pagan culture ever flourished here are a few scattered remains of their worship area and a remnant of their mud-brick wall. In spite of the odds, evil does not win in the end. God does” (209). Currently, worship of homosexuality, transgenderism, abortion (autonomy), and other liberal ideologies are ubiquitous, yet their pagan beliefs will not last. In the end, their iniquities will be annihilated.

Chapter 10: Sabbath Rest

sabbath-restAfter He delivered the Israelites from slavery, God said to them, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). As she observed the Sabbath with some Jews, Lynn correctly says, “Holy means ‘set apart,’ ‘dedicated to the service of God'” (219). She describes how the Jews stopped all their work not in a legalistic way, but recognising the Sabbath as a gift. One day out of the week, God invites us to take a break from all our work and rest in Him. What a gift that truly is. As Americans, keeping the Sabbath is extremely inconvenient. Our inboxes and voicemails would be full of messages. We would experience withdrawal symptoms after spending a whole day away from social media. I know I would. “We live as though it’s up to us to keep the wheels of the universe in motion, as if our work is more important than honoring God” (220). How right she is. I myself continue to do work on the Sabbath. I will edit and publish someone’s article for Geeks Under Grace, and Sunday is usually when I do most of my homework for university.

God calls us to rest on the Sabbath, and I think we Christians need to do this more often. Not doing any work on the Sabbath is not legalistic; it is a gift from God to take a break. We Americans work a lot, and a lot of the times we can’t imagine taking a break, whether it’s from work, social media, or our smartphones. Yet God gives us the gift of taking a break from all these things. Lynn makes the following observation, “Devout Jews honor God by rearranging their weekly schedules around Shabbat [Sabbath], planning for it ahead of time as if preparing for an honored guest” (220). We Americans do just the opposite. While devout Jews plan their week around the Sabbath, we plan the Sabbath around our week. If we don’t have enough time for God, that’s okay with us. If we only have time for one hour at church on Sunday, we think that’s sufficient for a whole week. Indeed, we are to prepare for the Sabbath for an honoured guest, for that honoured guest is Christ Himself, whom we find at the Lord’s Table in His body and blood.

After reading this chapter, I want to challenge all Christians to do what the devout Jews do—plan your week around the Sabbath, not the other way around. Lynn observed that even if the Jews’ work wasn’t finished, they would still stop and observe the Sabbath. Even if you’re not finished with whatever work you’re doing on Saturday, still take the time to stop and rest on the Sabbath. It is holy—set apart. The Sabbath is a day unlike the rest of the days of the week, and we should treat it as such. It is not legalistic but a gift because, as Lynn adequately puts it, “On the Sabbath we remember to rest on God, trusting Him for all of our practical needs such as our daily bread and for strength in our trials. The Sabbath helps us to remember to rest in God, trusting Him for our salvation, knowing that none of the work we do will ever gain us entrance into heaven. And it helps us remember to rest for God, because when we organize our lives and our work around a special day to honor Him, He is glorified” (222).

Conclusion

Overall, Lynn Austin’s Pilgrimage book is a good read. As an allegorical writer, she made a lot of great allegorical lessons to learn from Scripture. While she exhibited poor theology, it is important to remember expounding on theology was not her goal in this book because she’s not a theologian. Rather, her goal was to share with the world her pilgrimage experience and what she felt God spoke to her. She accomplishes this well. This book is especially good to read if you’re leaving on a pilgrimage to Israel yourself, like I will on January 5th; read it before you leave. The allegories she used are helpful for readers to introspect on their own lives. The book is even more helpful for those preparing to leave on a pilgrimage to Israel. The biggest take away to get from this book and a personal pilgrimage is to recognise God’s faithfulness to His people. Just as God was faithful to the Israelites, so He is faithful to us today through Christ our Lord.

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