Gene Ort's Blog


A Life Altering Evening in Capernaum

by on Jul.30, 2017, under Common Man Commentary, Israel

“Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.””
Matthew 9:13 ESV

First century housing and synagogue in Capernaum. Home to Jesus and Matthew..

How revealing this passage is to the true heart of God. Mercy and Grace are attributes of love. Sacrifice is a transaction to satisfy a debt, a payment made. Commerce.
Our Father ( the heavenly one ) would prefer the love of a broken sinful child to the satisfied check list of the dutiful loveless. He wants my heart, not my completed list of kept rules.

The story of Matthew’s invitation from Jesus is moving to me. I relate to Matthew in many ways even though I lack the notorious tax collector elements. I do though remember well the way I was treated by the religious authority figures in my early life as a recently “saved” hippy in the early 70’s. In the days before I learned to conform to the look and feel of organized religion I was very aware of the ” I didn’t quite fit in ” vibe coming my way. I remember telling my friends that I was glad to be a Christian in spite of the church. I did however learn to adapt and “fit in”. The nearly shoulder length hair was cut, I only smoked cigarettes in private and I shed a hand full of unacceptable vices.
I think I had something going for me that helped me “stick it out”. My very early days in Christ following were spent away from the organized church where I had accepted Christ. I pretty much dove into the little paperback New Testament bible on my own. Me and Jesus, getting to know each other. I worked the night shift at a horrible factory in Kalamazoo Michigan and was quickly branded a Jesus freak. If you don’t go out partying there is a lot more time for study. I had a true heart changing experience with Jesus on a personal level. It began to shift the way I thought and lived. For months I had almost no contact with organized church.
As things do, that changed when we moved back to Niles and I got involved with a Jesus movement hippy church where I had first accepted Christ. After a brief period of euphoria, things fell apart at the hippy church. Eventually we attended a traditional local church where the adaptation “took on steam”. I did in the church what I had learned to do in other areas of my life. I worked. I volunteered. I signed up. I climbed. I achieved in the best way I could. It was the best path to self importance I had ever found. I found out that the church loves work-a-holics. Somehow in the process I had drifted away from the Jesus I had met in those early days of isolated learning. I was very involved in church related stuff. The activities were a great substitute ( or so it appeared) for authentic relationship with Jesus. I had successfully traded in my friendship with Jesus for transactional religion. The effects on my soul were devastating. Several traditional church’s later, I was invited into a discipleship friendship without even knowing it by a guy named Rob Wegner. He happened to be a pastor at the church I was attending. He was the first pastor in a long line of pastors who invited me into his life and began this discipleship journey without ever calling it that. We spent time together. He shared special books with me. It looked a lot like friendship with Jesus as the centerpiece.
As I think back on those days there is a similarity to what Rob did with me and what Jesus did with Matthew in vs 9:9. Rob said : Wanna come with me ? Jesus said : Follow Me. One translation has Jesus saying ” come along with me”. The point of this is not so much about celebrating Rob’s friendship and discipling but to point out that discipleship is not a program. Its foundation is in relationship which is always going to look a lot like friendship.
So, this passage has a funny twist for me.. It’s Matthew writing about how he met Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. Maybe I’m just easily entertained but that’s a bit comedic to me. It also makes me lean in a little. There is a pretty good chance he is telling the story well. He says.. later at Matthews place.. Jesus was there with his people and some of Matthew’s buddies also show up. These are not ” church folk “.
Before we talk about the religious guys hanging around to watch over Jesus’s actions lets address what doesn’t make friends. Scolding. Lets say Jesus knows that Matthew is a tax collector. I think that ones pretty clear, it says that he found him in a tax collectors booth. It’s pretty widely known that the Jews ( and most everyone else) all hate tax collectors, so the invitation to hang out with Jesus had to take Matthew a little by surprise. He a pretty famous guy that people call Rabbi ( teacher). Rabbi and the Jews in general are not allowed to even be near tax collectors and sinners of any kind.
They are there .. hanging out.. talking .. eating some lamb.. maybe sipping a little Mogan David.. This does not sound adversarial to me. It does not sound like a church service. It sounds like people sharing a meal together and sharing life. Getting to know each other. I cant see Jesus scolding Matthew and his buddies for their many sins, pointing them out, one by one. I think that would have ended the party pretty quickly. Instead we see them ” getting cozy” according to what the Pharisees say. This ” getting cozy” with sinners sets the religious guys teeth on edge. This would be viral all over Facebook and the news if it happened today. ” Jesus, has been hanging with sinners ! ” Somebody would have gotten video. So Jesus.. who has been calm so far with his new friends suddenly flares up in the direction of the “religious know it all’s “: Who needs a doctor ? The healthy or the sick ? Go figure out what this means: I am after Mercy, not religion ! I am here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders !

People do not fall in love with people who scold them until long after they know that they are loved by them. We love people who see past our flaws and love us anyway. That kind of love makes us better people. Jesus is telling everyone in the room that he wants Love ( which always requires mercy ) and not dutiful, transactional religion!

I am struck again by the beautiful heart of Jesus, who is the face of God for us to see.
This is who He is ! Jesus wants to help us escape the gravitational pull of dutiful religion and embrace love, His natural language.

Mercy and Grace.. even for me.. a friend of Matthew’s on a life altering evening in Capernaum.


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Sermon on the Mount

by on Jul.16, 2017, under Israel, Uncategorized

This is located very near to where it is believed “The Sermon on the Mount” was given. It is very near the northern most point of the Sea of Galilee where the Jordan river enters the lake. It’s walking distance to Capernaum. It’s a few hundred yards from where the fishermen of the first century would have kept their boats.

Jesus says : “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. “But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.” When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying—quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭7:24-29‬ ‭MSG‬‬ edited.

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Israel Study Tour 2017 – Courage in the Promised Land

by on Jun.04, 2017, under Common Man Commentary, Gene, Israel

A few years back, I was part of a team of guys who went to Egypt to travel the way of the Exodus. It was an extraordinary trip.  We saw Cairo, cruised the Nile river, visited the museum..hung out at the Pyramids.. then we followed the path the Israelites took as they exited Egypt… we however.. had a van, complete with an armed guard. We camped at the base of Mount Sinai and then we climbed it. There are several older blog posts that speak to that trip.

That trip ended at Mount Nebo where Moses was stopped by God from entering the promised land. As I stood there.. looking at the signs with the posted mileage to a variety of Israeli cities I had a definite sense that my trip was not complete. I needed to go to Israel.  After a couple of failed attempts I presumed the trip just wasn’t going to happen. So I went to Manchu Pichu. That was 2015. In April of this year I got an email from Walk The Text saying there was a cancellation and they asked me if I wanted to go. It seemed to be perfect timing.

This blog is about that trip. In May I took part in a study tour of Israel called: Walk The Text, lead by Brad Gray. It was a wonderful trip. Great people and a great teaching.  With respect for the tour I wont be doing to many “spoiler alerts” to deminish any ones future trips.  I wont be following any particular order.

On the first day.. stop number three, we found ourselves on a hillside overlooking The Valley of Elah, the location of the famous battle between David and Goliath. The picture is from the Phillistine side of the battle called ” SoKor”. I found setting on that side a little disconcerting. As the teacher (who is brilliant) told the story with many details I had never known before, the story came to life in a way I never imagined.  One fact that had been left out of the story that I have heard many times was the path the Philistines were taking on their destructive journey to Jerusalem. David’s home town, Bethlehem was directly in the way. At that time it was nothing more than a village and easily destroyed leaving everyone either killed or enslaved.  When David saw the Philistine encampment, it was clear to him that failure to defeat them would mean doom for his family and everyone he knew.

Everyone knows the story so repeating it would be silly, but there is one part of it that I have never heard discussed when I was in attendance.

The story portrays David in this larger than life and reality perspective that I think is over glamorized and romanticized. I think David has a strong faith in God to deliver both him and the nation of Israel but I don’t think he was completely without fear of the super human monster called Goliath and the Philistine army that were spread out on the hill in front of them. That just goes against every experience I have had as a human being and the experiences recorded by everyone one else in the Bible, even Jesus on the night he was betrayed before he was crucified.

David was afraid, but he did not let the fear alter his response to what he saw needed to be done. There was to much at stake. The story does indicate that David had experienced God’s intervention into crisis situations in his past which would have indeed increased his confidence in God.. but giants and armies are giants and armies. To pretend this was no big deal diminishes the very real danger that was present before everyone there. I think it’s important to allow David to be human. A human who knew God, but a human none the less.

I was reminded today when a good friend became vulnerable and open about some anxiety he had been experiencing. I think there are few human charactoristics more powerful than that kind of disclosure. The openness often clears the path for all kinds of inner healing to take place and gives the rest of us a boost of encouragement to help us face our own fears.. I have many..

As I prayerfully pondered what he shared, this is what I wrote :

“There is a type of courage that comes directly from God. Its not to be confused with bravado, a pretense of immunity to fear that we see in our culture. The courage that comes from God is the unique ability to “do it afraid”. This kind of courage is not the absence of fear. It says: what must be done, must be done regardless of how I feel at this moment. It comes from a knowing we are not alone. It pushes back the fear for the good of those around us. The core of this kind of courage is love. It denies the self the false luxury of paralyzation. This power to do it afraid comes from God alone and is modeled in the words of Jesus: “May this cup of suffering pass from me.. but not my will, but your will be done!” Spoken in prayer to God in the garden of Gethsemane.”
— for those of us who know what its like to feel the fear of uncertainty and the frailty of life this side of heaven.


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