Israel: A Tour of the Holy Land

israeltour

I got mixed reactions from people when they heard I was going to Israel. Many were excited, thinking about the history behind the part of the world I’d be walking in, but others didn’t understand the point of going. It seemed too risky and expensive.

Jenn and I got to join our pastor from Albuquerque, and about 140 others from his church, on a 12-day tour of Israel. We walked the hills, streets and valleys where Jesus, David, Joshua, the disciples, and so many more walked thousands of years ago. It was definitely worth the cost and the risk!

I won’t even try to discuss the whole trip and all the things we saw – I don’t have time and a blog post or some pictures will never do it justice. We purposely chose not to take thousands of pictures, as we didn’t want to live the tour through the screens of our iPhones. We snapped a few hundred pictures, but we have lots of experiences that we will never forget!

Here are the highlights…

MEGIDDO

Our first main touring day took us to Mt. Carmel (where Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal – 1 Kings 18), then across to the valley of Megiddo, overlooking the valley where the battle of Armageddon will be waged (Revelation 16). It was a beautiful, lush valley, that Napoleon once called “the perfect battlefield.” On our left, we could see Mt. Carmel, and to the right was Jezreel, where Elijah outran King Ahab’s chariot when the rainstorm hit in 1 Kings 18. We stopped at Megiddo at lunch and even played frisbee in the place that will one day be the bloodiest battlefield the world will ever know.

MAGDALA

Near where we stayed in Tiberius, close to the Sea of Galilee, were the ruins of the ancient city of Magdala (where Mary Magdalene was from). Interestingly, this city was discovered only because a Catholic ministry wanted to build a sanctuary on the site, but had to check the ground beneath before they started building. Where they planned to build a sanctuary ended up being the site where they unearthed the oldest synagogue to date! Due to the date of this synagogue and its proximity to the Sea of Galilee, where most of Jesus’ miracles took place, it is highly likely that Jesus actually sat and taught in this exact synagogue! In America, when we prepare to build, all we have to worry about hitting is a gas line or a water main!

BOAT RIDE ON THE SEA OF GALILEE

One of our group times of worship was held on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee! Not only was it perfect weather and beautifully picturesque, but it was a panoramic of Biblical scenery. We sailed through the very waters where the disciples caught fish, faced storms, and where Jesus and Peter both walked on the water! On “the Jewish side,” we could see Tiberius, the Mt. of Beatitudes, where Jesus taught the famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and Hippos, the city Jesus would have pointed to when He mentioned His followers being like “a city on a hill” (Matthew 5:14). On “the other side” (what would have been the Gentile, pagan side in Jesus’ day) was the Decapolis, where Jesus healed the demon-possessed man called Legion (Mark 5). Jesus cast the demons out of the man into a herd of swine, which then proceeded down a mountain cliff and drowned in the Sea. We know which cliff it must have been because pig skeletons have been found beneath it in the Sea of Galilee! In the distance we could see the mountain cliffs where wind could quickly whip in, causing quick, dangerous storms, like the disciples faced a few times throughout the Gospels.

THE CITY OF DAVID

One of my favorite sites in Jerusalem was the City of David – the original Jerusalem. We stood on the ruins of what is believed to be King David’s palace, as it overlooked the city below. That site really helped us visualize Biblical culture even more as we looked out over the neighboring village. In American culture, it’s hard for us to understand how David would have seen Bathsheba bathing on her rooftop, or why she was even on the rooftop to begin with. But as you look out from his mountaintop residence over the flat-roofed houses below, it’s easy to understand. In addition, as our group took in the sites, we spotted a shepherd in the valley below, herding his sheep through the street up onto the nearby mountainside pasture.

THE OLD CITY

The old city – what you typically think of when you think of Jerusalem – was quite an experience. We toured the Western Wall, where thousands of Jews celebrated Shabbat (Sabbath) on the first evening we were there. Later that week we also got to see a few Bar Mitzvahs in progress! The Western Wall always has people at it, praying, reading prayers and Psalms, and writing prayers that they leave in the cracks of the rocks. The Jews believe the wall is the closest they can be to the former Holy of Holies, where God’s presence dwelt in the old Temple before it was destroyed. You’ll even read signs that say that God’s presence has never left the wall. Although I believe differently than the Jews who worship at the wall, I was convicted by their passion and commitment to their beliefs. What would our world look like today if Christians lived with that type of passion?

When we walked down below the level of the Western Wall, we saw the actual stones of the Temple that were the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 24 of the city’s coming destruction, which happened in 70 AD.

The old city is huge, and we didn’t have time to navigate most of it, but we walked through parts of the Arab Quarter and Jewish Quarter, where we did some shopping and eating along the way. The city walls are not only beautiful and artistic, but they are incredible feats of architecture. Some of the stones in the wall weigh between 400-600 tons (800,000-1,200,000 pounds) each!

EN GEDI, MASADA, THE DEAD SEA

We spent one day doing a bunch of hiking in the Negev Desert, as we toured En Gedi, where David and his men ran from Saul (1 Samuel 22-24). In the middle of the desert, we came across some beautiful, refreshing streams of water pouring out of the rocks. This was where David penned the famous words of Psalm 57 & 63:

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” – Psalm 63:1

Masada gave us a great overlook of the Dead Sea and surrounding desert area, and some incredible facts about the area that was once Herod’s mountaintop hideout. Floating in the Dead Sea was quite the experience as well. The Dead Sea is the lowest part of the earth – 1,300 ft below sea level. The water is over 10X saltier than any other water, and no animals can survive in the water. The minerals are very good for the skin though, and people from around the world come there for therapeutic skin treatments and products. We rubbed the mud all over ourselves, just to say we did it.

GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE

A few of us got to go twice to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was betrayed, arrested and abandoned. The whole group went during the day on one of our final days, and we had a beautiful view of the city and a great time of worship in the Garden. My favorite visit to the Garden however, was during one of our first nights in Jerusalem. Me and a couple other guys accompanied our Pastor, Skip, down the road that Jesus and His disciples would have walked after they met in the Upper Room, down through the Kidron Valley, and into the Garden. Sitting in the Garden of Gethsemane that night brought me to tears as I tried to visualize the agony Jesus fought through right there in that garden. I tried to visualize the panic of the disciples as they scrambled for their lives to escape the mob, and ran from the garden in dismay, not understanding what had just happened to their leader. What a night that was for them, and what a night it was for us, as we took in the sights and sounds, and spent some time praying together.

GOLGOTHA AND THE TOMB

We wrapped up the tour by visiting the sites where they believe Jesus was crucified and buried (for the weekend!). We saw what is believed to be Skull Hill (which now has an Arab bus station at the base of it), then got to walk into the tomb that they believe was Jesus’ actual 3-day resting place and the site of the resurrection. We had our final session of worship and teaching there at the Garden Tomb, and took communion together there as we remembered the price Jesus paid for us. I’ll never forget that scene!

It was a trip of a lifetime, and I hope to take a group of Awakeners back one day! A blog and some pictures will never do it justice – one day, you’ll have to see it for yourself. If you never make it to the current Jerusalem, that’s ok – you’ll get to see the all-new Jerusalem in the future. But it would be nice to have a before and after, just to compare Jesus’ future renovations!

Coming soon: 2 Sunday services

Today at Awaken, we tackled Joshua 3 – an epic chapter of faith and trust in the Lord and His power to fulfill His promises.

Without knowing any details about what was ahead, Joshua told Israel to pack up camp and head to the Jordan River. It was flooding when they arrived and crossing it would be impossible…unless God did it Himself. Following God’s vague instructions to have the priests bearing the ark of the covenant step into the Jordan, they witnessed a miracle! The Jordan River parted and all 2 million Jews walked across on dry land!

In addition to challenging everyone to step into their own Jordan River (whatever that looks like in their lives), we also had a practical way to take a step of faith as a church. Like Joshua and Israel, we don’t know much about the future except that we’ve prepared and God is with us. And since we don’t know much about what’s ahead, all we can do is take the next step in front of us. For us, that means adding a second Sunday service in a few weeks.

Except for Easter, today was the biggest service we’ve ever had at Awaken. We had chairs all the way to the back wall of the sanctuary! So…

Sunday, July 31 will mark our first Sunday with a 9am & 11am service. They’ll be identical services which will double our seating capacity and our serving capacity. Here’s more info…

Bible in 90 Days 7: JUDGES

Today is Day 19 in our journey through the Bible in 90 days.

Today we’ll finish up the book of Judges, read through Ruth (more on that tomorrow), and start 1 Samuel!

Judges is a fascinating book to me. Israel acts out what I’ve seen lived out in far too many lives – the downward spiral of sin.

Judges covers a period of about 400 years right after they had settled down in the Promised Land (we read about that in Joshua). It started on a high note, with the end of Joshua’s life. He had challenged them to choose who they would serve. Unanimously, they answered that they would serve God. Unfortunately, that decision didn’t last long.

Their problem began when they didn’t drive the natives out of the land like they were supposed to…

Judges 1:19 – …they could not drive out the inhabitants of the lowland, because they had iron chariots.

Judges 1:21 – But the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who inhabited Jerusalem; so the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.

Judges 1:28 – And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites under tribute (forced labor), but did not completely drive them out.

The rest of the chapter gives a list of people that they didn’t drive out of the land, like they were supposed to.

Sure, they set boundaries and put the people to forced slave labor, but they still lived there. That was the problem. That’s like going in for surgery and the doctor telling you, “Yeah, we got most of the cancer out, but what’s left shouldn’t be a big deal.”

WRONG! It’s a BIG deal!

That’s evident from the very next chapter. By the end of Judges 2, Joshua is dead, and Israel is worshiping Canaanite gods. That was quick, wasn’t it? What happened to Joshua 24:18?

Chapter 3 kicks off a series of (at least) 12 judges that God raises up to deliver His people after they screw everything up…over and over again.

Othniel was the first judge. He showed King Cushan-Rishathaim of Mesopotamia (say that 10X fast!) who was boss. There was a period of 40 years of peace after that…then Othniel died and Israel turned to idols.

Next up: Ehud. He holds a special place in my heart – he’s a lefty. He told King Eglon that he wanted to tell him a secret. His secret was… a dagger into his belly. Side note: Eglon was so fat, that the dagger went into his belly, handle and all, and was covered up by his fat. No joke. That’s good reading, right there! Ehud died 80 years later, and Israel went back to idolatry.

Next was Shamgar…

then Deborah…

then Gideon,

Tola,

Jair,

Jephthah,

Ibzan,

Elon,

Abdon,

and Samson.

4 times in the book, it mentions that there was no king, and it ends on an incredibly low note…

Judges 21:25 – In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

We’ve all been here at one time or another. Struggling with the downward spiral of sin. We allow it to remain in out lives because we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re in control. We’re obviously not. So we cry out, God rescues us, we love Him for it, but sooner or later, we’re back to the same old sin.

It’s time to break the pattern. God offers a much better life than that. Are you reaching for God’s best or settling for what the world has to offer?

Bible in 90 Days 3: LEVITICUS

Today is Day 10 in our journey through the Bible in 90 days.

It only took 2 days for us to plow through the 26 chapters of Leviticus. That’s a great thing, too. Leviticus is where a lot of people die in their Through The Bible In A Year plan. Leviticus is a gruesome, gory, bloody book that can be a very challenging read, especially Leviticus 13.

The theme throughout the book is God’s holiness and our duty to sacrifice to Him. Thankfully, that looks much different today than it did for the Old Testament saints! I don’t know if I could handle inspecting people’s sores, ridding houses of mold, and stoning people! That’s some heavy (and sometimes nauseating) stuff!

Here’s the point – all the sacrifices pointed to Jesus. The feasts, the festivals, the future pilgrimages that Jews would make to Jerusalem, the blood and gore – it all pointed to the slaughter of THE Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. God is very detail-oriented and demanded the best from His people and His priests. He didn’t want leftovers – He deserves better than that. When they gave Him their best, it was “a sweet aroma to the Lord.

We have the same duty today, whether you’re a “professional” in the ministry or not. Romans 12:1-2 details the sacrifice you are to make. It doesn’t involve a lamb or a bull or a goat. It involves a choice and a willing servant. Our bodies are to be presented to God as our reasonable act of worship. In other words, in light of what God has done for us, it just makes sense that we’d give our all for Him. It’s a choice. That slaughtered bull didn’t have a choice to get off the altar, but you do. Is the holy God worth it to you?

Next up in our journey: Numbers. I know, it sounds riveting. There’s some great stuff ahead – get ready!

Power to the No-Namers

“The No-Namers.”

“The Leftovers.”

“The Extras.”

Whatever you want to call them, you know who they are (or actually, you don’t). They’re the people who contributed to the movie, but didn’t make the credits. They played a very minor role in the movie such as walking down a sidewalk in a group of people or being one of many nameless customers in a store. Half the time, they’re only partially in focus while the focus and lighting is on the main actor(s). They seem unimportant, but in reality, the movie wouldn’t be the same without them.

It’s the same with a nameless group of people in Acts 11. I mentioned them tonight in my teaching and I was really intrigued by not only their lack of credit, but the powerful way God used them.

We’re given no names, only this description:

Acts 11:19 – “those who were scattered after the persecution”

and

Acts 11:20 – “some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene”

That’s it. No bios, no historical background, not even a nickname, just a quick description and location. Yet, look what God did through these no-names:

Acts 11:21 – “And ​the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and ​turned to the Lord.”

God used a group of no-names to help bridge the gap between the Jews and Gentiles! They were used by God to reach an unreached people group. I AM A GENTILE. I am included in the story of the Gospel because of the obedience of a bunch of people of whose names I will never know! These overlooked people changed the course of Christianity through their simple obedience. Plus, their obedience wasn’t as simple as we make it sound. The whole reason they left Jerusalem was because Saul (before Christ) was fueling a Satanic persecution against the church. These people risked their lives by continuing to share the Gospel.

Their names may have never graced the pages of Scripture, but their obedience was not overlooked. Neither is yours.