February 18, 2015

Last Day In Israel: a free day

Greetings Friends,

Well today was my final day in Israel. I have dual emotions. On one hand I am sad to leave this special place that has transformed me significantly, on the other hand I am thrilled to be heading back to be with my family again. As special as the Holy Land is, it is no substitute for Kealy and our kids ;)

Today was a 'free' day. We had no guide, no itinerary, just a day to go wherever we liked to as a group. We had some discussions last night about what people were still hoping to do and, other than shopping, no one had any great ambitions.

So we started later today and it was really quite nice. The itinerary is rigorous here because there is so much to see and do each day so to move at a slower pace today enabled everyone to catch up a little bit. I am feeling mugh better today and will hopefully be 'phlegm phree' ;) by tomorrow when we travel.

We began our day with a walk along the ramparts of the old city. It was really cool to see the views from the city walls and think of Isaiah 62:6-"I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night."

We also had an opportunity today to visit a special shop and place for discussion called, "The Shorashim Shop," where we listened to and spoke with a Jewish man whose family came to Israel from Canada thirty years ago. We talked about the Land, faith and the Bible. It was a great conversation.

After that we had a nice lunch under a canopy while it rained, then decided to finish our shopping and head back to the hotel. It was fun visiting all the shops again and enjoying the mix of locals and tourists from all over the world. This truly is an international city!

We enjoyed our final meal together as a group and are now each packing and preparing for a short night. We leave our hotel at 3:30am tomorrow morning for the Tel Aviv airport. From there we fly to Turkey, then LAX, the Portland where we will hopefully arrive at 10:30pm Thursday night. I'll be staying the night in Portland after the long travel day then driving home Friday morning to Corvallis.

Please pray for safety and health during our travel time as we return from this amazing and life changing experience. I will post a follow up blog next week when I've had a chance to process a bit more all the experiences we've had here in this special place. Thank u for your prayers and support and for following along during this amazing adventure!



February 17, 2015

Day 7 in Israel: the old city, shrine of the book and Yad Vashem

Greetings Friends,

Today was a fun day filled with some new experiences for me here in Israel. Unfortunately I'm still not feeling my best but I was able to complete the full itinerary today in spite of it.

We began our day back at the Western Wall at 7:30am. It was great to pray again at this amazing spot as the sun rose above Jerusalem. This time we went down into the Western Wall tunnels, where we could see more of Herod's 1st century Temple Mount and excavations that are still taking place, it was super cool to be underneath the current city and in the midst of so much rich history!

We went from there to the Israel Museum where they have a giant replica of Jeruslaem during the time of Jesus. It was great to walk around it and have all of the sites we've visited in the last few days come together into a visual picture of the city during the time of Jesus. Here at this museum is also stored the portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls, including the longest one found, the entire book of Isaiah. It was so cool to see the tiny Hebrew Text and be able to read it. I found myself with a deepened appreciation for the commitment those people had to copying the Scriptures and the contribution this finding has had on biblical scholarship.

After lunch in the old city we visited the temple institute where you can see life sized replicas of items used in the temple during the Old Testament period. Very cool visual once again.

We finished our day at "Yad Vashem" or the "Hall of Names" which is the holocaust museum here in Jerusalem. It is a powerful and overwhelming thing to take in. I found myself reflecting on what I would have done in the face of such evil and suffering and asked for strength to stand with the marginalized and oppressed of our day and time.

Each evening our group has taken time to share our favorite moments from the day and some devotional thoughts. It's been a great chance to get to know people in our group and process the days events through someone else's eyes. This is a transformative place and none of us are the same people we were when we got off the plane last week. God has used this experience to deepen our faith and broaden the depth of understanding we have about this important part of the world.

Tomorrow is a 'free day'. There are no sights or guided visits planned. We are going to sleep in and do some walking around in the old city and finish our shopping. I'm hoping to see some of the sites I missed yesterday and pick up a few more gifts for the kids;)

Until tomorrow!


February 16, 2015

Day 6 in Israel: a forced day of rest

Greetings Friends,

As I admitted before I have been battling a cold for the last few days here in Israel. This morning when I woke up it had worsened substantially. With three days left in Israel and a long flight home on the horizon, I decided to stay in my hotel room today and not go out with the group touring. It was a bummer to have to miss a day here in the Holy City, but the itinerary today was mostly things I had seen/done last time I was here and I am looking forward to the next two days which are new stops for me. I thought it best to try and beat the cold instead of prolong it.

Taking the day to rest was a great thing. I slept most of the day and am feeling one hundred times better with still another night's rest ahead before touring again tomorrow. It was actually kind of nice in a way to be quiet, read scripture, rest and process all that we've seen and done here so far on this amazing trip.

So thank you for your continued prayers for healing. They are working and God is good.

Until tomorrow!


February 15, 2015

Day 5 in Israel: Sunday on the Mount of Olives, the Western Wall and Bethlehem

Greetings Friends,

We had a beautiful Sunday morning here in the city of Peace: Jerusalem. I'll admit I've picked up a cold and am a little under the weather so I would covet your prayers for restored health. But God is good and I was able to still participate in this full and wonderful day!

We began this sunny Sunday at the mount of olives. The mountain where Jesus ascended into heaven and rode down to the temple on a donkey! We were able to walk the very same road that Jesus came down during his triumphal entry into the city. It was a beautiful site and a beautiful morning.

At the bottom of the hill is the Garden of Gethsemane, an oil press factory during the time of Jesus that pressed oil for the temple. The olive trees are still here to this day and a beautiful church sits over the spot venerated as the place where Jesus prayed in agony. I sat in the church and echoed the same prayer as Jesus, "not my will but Your will be done."

From the Mount of Olives we went over to the southern wall excavations and saw the main roads and steps leading up the temple during the time of Jesus.

We also visited the 'wailing' or western wall where people from all over the world come to pray. I'll admit this was the most powerful moment of the trip for me this far, to stand and pray in the city of peace with people from all over the world was an overwhelming experience. I prayed for my family, my church, for myself and for the peace of Jerusalem.

We drove from the western wall to mt Zion to the traditional site of the upper room and King David's tomb. At King David's tomb there were rabbis and Hasidic jews singing the scriptures and teaching the Torah. I enjoyed listening to them speaking in Hebrew, Spanish, French, German and English as people came by.

This afternoon we went to the city of Bethlehem, in Palestine. We had lunch and visited an olive wood shop where they had beautifully carved olive wood items. From there we went to the church of the nativity, the oldest functioning church in the world. Here the church is built over the cave where early Christians believed Jesus was born. It was a humbling experience to be on a place that so many Christians have visited for centuries and I was reminded of the great cloud of witnesses that has gone before us. The church itself is undergoing significant renovation and restoration now that the three sects of Christianity that oversee the church have finally agreed that work needs to be done. You can see the restoration work and me touching the spot where Jesus was born over on my Facebook page.

The sites here are all so close that they begin to blend together but each one strikes a different chord within me and I am learning new things at each of them even though I have been there before.

Jerusalem is also a very modern city and currently, as I write this, we are sitting on the bus at 5:30pm in rush hour traffic.

Tomorrow we visit the Temple Mount, Old City and the Garden Tomb.

Have a blessed Sunday. Until tomorrow!


February 14, 2015

Day 4 in Israel: The Desert and the Dead Sea

Greetinga Friends,

Happy Valentine's Day! There is not much proof of valentines day here but someone on our bus made cards for everyone and handed out M&Ms so that was fun! 

What an amazing day we have had today! The weather cleared and we had a gorgeous day down at rhe lowest place in the world: The Judean Desert and the Dead Sea. Just 20 minutes from the city of Jerusalem you drop 3300 feet down to the Jordan Rift Valley. Here we saw the desert fortress of Masada, the spring of En Gedi, the community of Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, we floated in the Dead Sea and finished the amazing day in the oldest city in the world, Jericho. 

Masada was our first stop, an amazing fortress built by Herod on top of a huge mountain. Going up by cable car you can see for miles around you. On top of the mountain was where the Jewish Revolt ended in 73 CE. Here almost one thousand Jewish Rebels killed their families and themselves rather than being enslaved by the Romans. You can still see the siege ramp built by the Romans up to the fortress today. 

We continued on to the Spring of En Gedi where David hid from Saul and cut off the hem of his robe in a cave. Over at my Facebook page you can see some cool pictures of caves. It is so cool to visualize these stories we know so well in the actual places where they took place. 

Next is one of my favorite spots, the site of Qumran. The site is where the Essene community during the time of Jesus lived. Their calling was to copy manuscripts of scripture and other important writings. The most significant archaeological discovery in Israel took place here in1947 by discovering the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Scrolls confirmed the authenticity and integrity of the biblical translations we have today. Very significant stuff. 

Next was the memorable 'swimming' in the Dead Sea. It is more like floating and is an incredible sensation. The mud in the sea is so mineral rich that it is great on your skin. We had a ton of fun floating in it and covering ourselves in mud! 

After swimming we swung by the city of Jerixho, an oasis in the desert. We saw the spring of Elisha and the ancient city of Jericho as well as the modernization  one. 

It was great to have a better day weather wise and we are hoping for continued good weather tomorrow as we visit the mount of olives, southern wall, mount Zion and Bethlehem. 

Until tomorrow! 


February 13, 2015

Day 3 in Israel: from Nazareth to Jerusalem

Greetings Friends, 

Today was a wild day. Wild itinerary. Wild travel. Wild weather. We covered quite a bit of ground today leaving from the Galilee this morning to head west to the Mediterranean sea then up to Jerusalem. It was hard to say goodbye to the Galilee this morning, I think there is nowhere else like it on earth, but there are a lot of exciting places still to see on our trip. The downside is the weather has not been great so it has limited some of the stops that we've made into shorter abbreviated trips. The last time I was here was in June and the weather was warm and wonderful. I got a bit spoiled then without realizing it. 

Our first stop was in Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus. A village of maybe 100 families during Jesus' time, today is a city of 70,000 people. It was fascinating to drive through and see the old well from Jesus' time still in use today. Being in Israel requires an active imagination to remove the modern and visualize the landscape and place of a particular period. In Nazareth we also visited Mt. Precipice where the villagers from Nazareth tried to throw Jesus off the cliff in Luke 4. On top there is a great view of many of the mountains and Jezreel valley below. 

From Nazareth we went to a strategic city in the Jezreel valley called Megiddo. Megiddo was a continually inhabited fortress for thousands of years and has been conquered 25 times. There are Canaanite, Israelite, Greek agnd roman fortifications here and it is fascinating place to explore because of its history, archaeology and strategic significance particularly during the reigns of Mkng David, Solomon and Ahab. Megiddo also overlooks the Valley of Armageddon where the writer of Revelation says the final battle between God and the forces of evil will take place. 

From Megiddo we went up to Mt. Carmel where Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. As we drive up the mountain there was rain, hail thunder and lightning. On top of the mountain was great views of the whole norther part of Israel as far as the Mediterranean Sea. Very cool. 

After Mt. Carmel we headed to the Med to Caesarea Maritima, a roman port built by King Herod during the 1st century BCE. It is one of my favorite places as it is also the site of the first Non-Jewish conversion to Christianity, a man named Cornelius. You can read about this powerful story in Acts 10. When we arrived the wind was driving HUGE waves against the palace and over the walls of the hippodrome. There was hail, snow and hard rain all mixed together and within minutes our clothes were soaked through. I posted a video of it over on my facebook page. We drove up the coast just a little to where Herod's aqueduct brought water along the coast into the port and had a chance to put our hands in the Mediterranean Sea. 

From Caesarea we drove to Jerusalem. The wind and rain continued but it is always a beautiful and powerful experience driving up into the mountains where Jerusalem is. As we drove I read psalms to myself that talk about the beauty and joy of being in this Holy City. I was particularly struck this time by Psalm 125:1-2-"Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, both now and forevermore." It is a moving experience to come over the mountains and see this incredible city which has been the focal point of humanity for so long. 

As we entered the city we paused on the bus and our guide let us through the ritual breaking of bread and sharing a prayer as we entered the city of Jerusalemem, a custom that dates back to when Abraham met King Melchezidek here In this place. 

We arrived at our hotel and I admit I fell asleep for a few hours before dinner. The travel and trying to take everything in and processing it can be quite exhausting, but in the best possible way. The hot is awesome and sits on a hill that overlooks the north part of Jerusalem and the Old City. 

We are hoping for better weather tomorrow and an opportunity to head down to Masada, Qumran and the Dead Sea.

Until tomorrow! 


February 12, 2015

Day 2 in Israel: The Galilee and cradle of Jesus' ministry

Greetings Friends,

Today was another powerful day around the Sea of Galilee. I keep pinching myself when I walk out of my room and am fifty feet away from the lake where Jesus walked and taught. I've had some amazing quiet time just sitting on the shore by myself, visualizing Jesus and his disciples and the crowds listening to Him teach and placing myself in each scene. God has a way of speaking to me in those moments that is fresh and new and very rejuvenating.

The weather was not great today. It rained most of the day until our last stop. I realized when I started the day that, even though we we're going to locations that I had been to on my previous trip to Israel, today would be different experiences and it was unfair to try and replicate whatever nostalgic recollection I had of my precious time here. That was a helpful attitude to carry with me today.

That being said, I partly got my wish. While I wouldn't classify our boat ride as a 'storm', when we took our boat ride on the Sea of Galilee this morning it was raining quite hard. It was much easier to imagine just how frightened the disciples would've been in a storm in a boat much smaller than the one we were in. We were able to visit a museum in Magdala (where Mary magdalene was from) which is a fishing port on the west side of the Sea. There they have discovered a 1st century fishing boat that would've been the same kind the disciples and Jesus used to travel around the region. It's a great discovery and a cool museum.

Our boat ride was full of people from all around the world and we sang songs in English, Hebrew and Ethiopian while on the boat...very cool.

After the boat ride we headed north to the northern end of galilee and the mount of beatitudes. It is a beautiful site where u can very easily imagine Jesus given his famous, "Blessed are those who..." Sermon from Matthew 5. After that we headed down the hill to "Peter's Primacy" one of my favorite places where Jesus had breakfast with Peter after his resurrection in John 21. It is a tranquil spot on the sea where you can easily visualize Peter and the disciples fishing and catching nothing until Jesus showed up. Inside a small chapel there is a rock venerated as the place where Jesus and Peter had breakfast. Again, it was great to visualize the restoration of Peter in this place. Inside the chapels and churches here you have to be silent so it is a wonderful time of quiet reflection between guides and your buses.

We continued on to Carpernaum, the home base of Jesus' ministry in the region. Here there are 1st century remains of Peter's house where Jesus stayed and the 1st century synagogue and city where Jesus preached and lived. It was so cool to stand in the middle of a place where we know without a doubt Jesus walked and lived. It is like visitng the hometown of a friend, where you inevitably learn more about who they are and why they are that way because of where they lived.

After this we had a special lunch. I'm normally not a big fish eater but I couldn't pass up a chance to eat fish from the Galilee, St. Peter's fish. Over on my Facebook page there's a great picture of the fish and the fun I had eating it.

After lunch we swung briefly by a spot on the Jordan River where many people are baptized. But, it was a bit cold and no one in our group was being baptized, and since we had seen the fresh beginning springs of the Jordan the water there looked less appealing.

Our final stop was a new one for me on this trip: Bet Shean. Here they have just recently excavated a HUGE Greek and Roman settlement from the first few centuries after Jesus. It is a huge excavation that I didn't know was here so it was very cool to see. At the far end of the site is a large hill where the biblical city of Bet Shean was located. It is famous as a place where the bodies of King Saul and his sons were displayed after being defeated at Mt. Gilboa three miles away. While it was quite a climb it was WAY worth the effort. It had beautiful views of the roman city, the Jordan Valley and the country of Jordan off to the East. Thankfully the weather had cleared up at this point and so we could see a long ways.

We finished our day with a drive through the Jordan Valley, such a lush, green area where cows and sheep were grazing and Date Palm and Mango orchards were in abundance. Back at our hotel I was able to watch the sun set while sitting on the shore of Galilee. I had about an hour to myself to sit, pray and read through all the Gospel stories that take place in this region. It is so cool to read God's word and look up and see where it actually took place. It is an amazing feeling.

Tomorrow we leave the Galilee and our first hotel and make our way to Nazareth, Megiddo, Mt. Carmel and the Mediterranean Sea. I am looking forward to tomorrow, but only after a solid nights rest. I have been able to FaceTime Kealy and the kids and that has been really nice. They are doing well!

Until tomorrow!