O little town of Bethlehem

Dave asked me about Bethlehem today, and I was back in Israel, bending down to see the cave, seeing the crowds, hearing the Nigerian pilgrims breaking into song …

O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
Come ye, o come ye,
To Bethlehem.

O come let us adore him
Come let us adore him,
Come let us adore him,
Christ, the Lord.

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Jerusalem, Jerusalem

The song echoes through my heart and soul as I find my way back into daily life.

It began Monday morning in Jerusalem as I packed my suitcase, a background melody that matched the view from my hotel window–

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your voice and sing,

Hosanna in the highest, hosanna to the king!”

What an amazing experience it was to travel to Israel. This morning, I read Scripture passages about Solomon dedicating the temple, and I could visualize the Ark being carried up to the temple from the City of David. I saw the people making their way up the steps. I saw the throngs leaving the city in wonder and amazement, much like I left Israel.

Everyone said I would never be the same, and I knew it would be true, but even now I don’t know how to explain it. People told me that would be true, too. I was also told that the reason I was in Israel was because God said, “Come,” and I accepted His invitation. I immediately thought of God’s invitation to Uganda, where I traveled last month. Both countries have marked my life in inexplicable ways.

That last morning, I stood on the Promenade and gazed at the city, telling the Lord as I prayed that I would like to be able to return again one day.

Like so many places that I travel to, I have left part of my heart in Israel. I still can’t find the words to describe my experiences. Maybe they will come …

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Fresh honey from the comb in Mizpah Ramon

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Returning home

We are on leg 3 of our return to new Orleans. Once there, I will check in again for my final two flights back to Orlando. I can hardly wait to see Dave.

In the meantime, maybe another hour of sleep, some time with new friends during our mutual layover in New Orleans, and writing on my flights.

Great last day in Jerusalem, with a traditional Arabic dinner after visiting the Temple Mount and the site of the Garden tomb.

What a full and rich experience! I am so grateful.

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From the country to the city

Here I am in Jerusalem, the night before we fly back to the USA. What a few days it has been.

Our last morning in Galilee took us to Mt. Carmel, where Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal. It was a beautiful, cool, crisp morning with a light haze, but we could still see quite a distance. From Mt. Carmel, we headed to Caesarea by the Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, that is, with blues as incredible as any I’ve ever seen in Hawaii. The waves were breaking on the reef as we walked the promenade on the beach, visiting the site of Herod’s palace where Paul was held for two years.

From there, we made our way to Jerusalem, reading several of the Psalms of Ascent as we climbed the mountain slopes. Avner played “Jerusalem” as we neared the city. Coming around a curve, Jerusalem leapt into view, gleaming white in the afternoon sun. I think I gasped out loud. It was an exhilarating moment to finally see the City of David, the City of God, the location of so many familiar stories in Scripture.

We quickly made our way to Bethlehem as orthodox Jews hurried along the streets preparing for Shabbat. Our guide left us, as she does not have permission to travel into Bethlehem at this time, and once through the Palestinian checkpoint, our new guide joined us. Arriving at Manger Square, we joined the throngs making their way into the Byzantine church built atop the traditional location for the birth of Jesus. An hour and a half later, we finally entered the cave as pilgrims from Nigeria began singing “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” It was a touching moment to hear such devotion in their song, and to sense the common faith that had drawn all of us from across the continents to this place.

We began our day at the Promenade overlook that allowed us to enjoy a more detailed look at the city, and then spent much of the rest of the day, our first day in Jerusalem, in the Christian and Arab quarters. We began by visiting St. Anne’s and the pool of Bethesda, then making our way through the throngs on the Via Dolorosa and at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, followed by lunch and shopping in the Arab quarter. (I don’t haggle well, just in case you were wondering.)

Afterwards, we again braved the Via Dolorosa, this time going in the opposite direction, and heading out of the city. We boarded our bus for a trip across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives, where some brave souls rode a cranky camel, and we visited two sites, one a collection of first century ossuaries, and the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations, which was a welcome change from the throngs at the Holy Sepulcher.

Today, we spent much of the morning at the Holocaust Museum, then went to the Jewish quarter for lunch. On our way into the quarter, we found ourselves in the midst of a festive parade for a young man’s bar mitzvah, surrounded by family and friends, a trumpeter, dancing, singing and the sound of a shofar being sounded. They were making their way to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, where we found them after lunch. After a short time at the Western Wall, we toured an archaeological dig that runs the length of the Western Wall, touching stones from the Second Temple period, chiseled amazingly smooth with 3-3.5 inch borders all around the face. The stones were huge, like 14 ft. by 12 ft., and weighed six tons.

From the Western Wall, we went to the newly excavated Southern Wall and the Southern Steps, where pilgrims and worshippers would have climbed the Temple Mount to offer their sacrifices. Our final stop for the day was a virtual tour of the Temple Mount. All in all, good preparation for tomorrow morning, when we will be visiting the Temple Mount itself and the site of the Garden Tomb.

It is hard to imagine that tomorrow will be the end of our time here in Jerusalem, but we are eager to return to our homes and families. We will never be the same. We have seen this land that God loves above all other places on earth, heard His stories, had our hearts break as He has whispered to us, and come away with a new understanding of Jesus’ heart and message.

After lunch, we

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From the Sea of Galilee to the Golan Heights

Yesterday was filled with incredible experiences. We began the day with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. It was a bright, clear and crisp morning. The morning haze over the hills surrounding the lake was almost gone, and the lake was calm and quiet.

We embarked from the town of Tiberias, on the southeastern edge of the lake. Our guides surprised us by hoisting an American flag to fly alongside the Israelis flag, while playing the Star-Spangled Banner. We sang together, as they acknowledged the USA’s role in helping to re-establish Israel as a state.

Our devotion focused on four words in Scripture: fear, faith, foolish, and remember. Fear was the disciples’ response as the sudden storms hit them on this lake, and His response was to ask them about their faith. Faith can make us look foolish in other people’s eyes, but never to God. He cherishes the faith that we put in Him, and calls us to remember God’s great acts and character to nourish our faith.

Once back on shore, we drove to a nearby town and boarded Land Rovers for a two-hour off-road journey through the agricultural Hula Valley. Lots of laughter as we bumped our way through cotton fields and past bedroom-sized bales of harvested cotton, through groves of eucalyptus trees and blackberry bushes, and flooded gullies in the road before crossing the Jordan River and beginning our climb up the Golan Heights. Haggai, our friendly and experienced driver, would break off stems of anise and camomile for us to smell.

Mount Hermon was capped with snow (early this season), shining in the morning sun., so beautiful! The beauty was a sharp contrast for the narrative from Haggai as he explained that we were not to go past the barbed wire fences and yellow signs that indicated mine fields left behind by the Syrians who had occupied these heights for some years. At a vantage point looking north to Lebanon and east to Syria, our drivers made herbal tea for us while Elan, an articulate and engaging young man who lives in a kibbutz up in the Golan Heights, talked with us about what we were seeing and the international history, the crucial role of water in Middle Eastern life and conflicts, and the current day situation. (I captured both of his talks on video and am now trying to figure out how to upload it to Dropbox.)

We stopped for lunch at the Druze village of Mas’ade in the northern Golan heights, near Mount Hermon. I had labne, a type of very large crepe with a soft cheese spread drizzled with olive oil. Jimmy then introduced me to Magnum bars, an ice cream bar that is very rich (especially so for someone who hasn’t had sweets in quite a while). With all the walking and stairs I am doing, I think it was an okay treat, but I was back to proteins for dinner!

We made our way down Mount Hermon to Caesarea Philippi (see Matthew, I think it is chapter 16, beginning at verse 13). “The Gates to Hades” was where the people believed that the spirits of the gods would come up from the underworld, so the cave is surrounded by niches built to various gods, and cultic sex rituals would be publicly performed in honor of the gods. This is where Jesus chose to bring His disciples to ask them who they and the people thought He was, and where Peter professed Jesus as Messiah. It gives new meaning to understanding Jesus’ words, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Jesus brings good news to those who are hopelessly caught in superstition and depravity. He offers forgiveness, life, hope, honor and meaning.

I want to write more, especially about the Tel of Dan, but I have to be on the bus in 35 minutes. Today we walk in the footsteps of Jesus around the Sea of Galilee. He has been inviting me to let Him show me this place that He loves, much like I love the foothills of Hocking County and the islands of Hawaii. I am so grateful to be here.

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From earthquakes to the Crusades

Today’s adventures began with a visit to Belvoir, a Crusader castle/fortress built high on a ridge overlooking the Valley of Jezreel, or the Valley of Armageddon. The ruins were astonishingly peaceful, and the view of the valley was breathtaking.

From Belvoir, we drove to Beat Shean, an early Canaanitr city that had all the world had to offer, Colisum, amphitheater, public baths, expansive paved boulevards, enormous grand columns. It all came to an end suddenly one night with a massive earthquake that left the city in tatters, its grand columns flung across the elegant boulevards like Tinker toys.

Beit Shean’s place in Biblical history is that it is where King Saul’s body was attached to the wall as a public humiliation after his death. All that it had in worldlysplendor andopulence went away, as the city was destroyed.

From there, we visited Beit Alpha, an early synagogue with a beautiful mosaic, then on to Megiddo, where we saw the some of the early Canaanite construction, the gates and stables of Solomon’s time, and an altar where the Canaanites practiced sacrifices. Before leaving, we descended 180 steps into the ancient city’s water supply and got out cardiac workout for the day.

Our last stop was the Mount of Precipice overlook of Nazareth and the Valley of Jezreel. Nazareth has grown to a large town of 100,000 a 150,000′ surrounding and spreading out from the ancient town. Mount of Precipice gave us an amazing view of Mount Tabor, the location of the Transfiguration.

The views today were amazing, as looked out over scenes that Jesus would have found familiar. It is reasonable to suppose that as a young boy, he climbed the mountain we were on. Large white boulders we scattered over the ground on top of the mountain, along with trees and wild grasses. Truly beautiful.

The landscape here in Galilee is much greener than that down south in the Negev, while the high elevations are quite cool, even though the lower areas are very warm.

Jesus is leaping off the pages of the Bible, becoming more real to me with each place we visit.

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