Israel 2013

The Dew of Hermon

Today, we travelled all the way to the top of Israel, to its borders with Syria and Lebanon, getting a great view of Mount Hermon.  Some 3000 metres above sea level, it is the highest point in the area and is a significant landmark.  Our tour leader remarked that it was the first time he had seen Mount Hermon without snow on it.

Along the way, we began our day with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Because every journey seems to have a soundtrack, the ship’s captain played praise music for us while we sailed.  For a few moments, however, we stopped the boat, silenced the engine and the music, read Scripture and took in the sights around us.  Within such a short distance, we could see several sites that involved significant moments in Jesus’ life and ministry:  the place where he named Peter “Rocky”, the synagogue and Peter’s mother-in-law’s house at Capernaum; the place where Jesus performed the miracle of feeding the five thousand.  It is moving, to say the least, to walk where Jesus walked.

Travelling up the Golan Heights, our tour guide told us about the political aspects of the acquisition of this land, and how Syria left it filled with land mines.  In several places, viticulture has taken over, and the mines have been replaced with vines!  However, there is still a very obvious military presence there.  The United Nations has a base quite near the border.

We visited Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus challenged his disciples – amid the pagan temples – to identify the Son of Man.  Flowing by, sourced by the melting snows of Hermon, was the beginning of the Jordan River.  “How good and pleasant it is,” wrote the Psalmist, “when kindred live together in unity!  It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the bear, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes.  It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.  For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore” (Psalm 133).  The Dew of Hermon, via the Jordan, eventually flows south toward Jerusalem!

After Caesarea Philippi, we went to Dan, and saw two ancient gates, including the so-called Abraham gate, which is over 4000 years old.  Four Thousand Years!  And it’s only in the past 15 years that this has been discovered.  When Abraham accepted God’s call to come to the promised land, he will have walked past that gate.  Unbelievable.  But oh, so real.

Real:  that’s what a trip like this does for the Bible.  It makes it real.  That’s what it’s doing for me.

Israel 2013

Stepping into Galilee

Today, we left Akko, the port city that was known as Ptolemais in Bible times, and headed south, through Haifa, to the ancient city of Caesarea Maritima where Herod the Great had a palace (and where the only archaeological evidence of the existence of Pontius Pilate may be found).  There are some remarkably well preserved ruins there, including part of the hippodrome and most of the theatre.  What is even more remarkable about this place is that it was only uncovered in the 1950s; a farmer was tilling his ground, and got stuck on something.  When he uncovered what it was, it began an archaeological dig that revealed some amazing pieces of the puzzle that is the history of the Holy Land 

From there we visited Meggido, a strategic battle site in the history of this land, and one which John was probably envisioning when he depicted the battle of Armageddon in the book of the Revelation.  From the top of this hill, you can see a long way; we walked uphill a long way, too!  And we descended all 183 stairs to an ancient aqueduct that ensured the fort was not cut off from needful fresh water.  Then, we climbed another 80 stairs to get back to ground level.  A pretty fair workout for us all.

From Megiddo we went on to Nazareth.  What we picture in our mind’s eye as a little hick village in the middle of nowhere is now a bustling city of some 75,000 inhabitants, virtually all Arabic in race; there are some Christians – perhaps 20 percent, but almost everyone else is Muslim.  We visited the first-century depiction of Nazareth Village, a project begun by the YMCA that is now its own foundation.  The folks who put this on are not kitschy about it at all, but there is a sense of authenticity about this ‘museum’.

We then visited the Mount of the Beatitudes, where pilgrims remember the time Jesus spoke the Beatitudes, recorded in Matthew 5.  We have no way of knowing if it was the actual place where he spoke the words, but it is a place where that is remembered.  From there, we watched the sun set over the Sea of Galilee.

Tonight, we are staying at a kibbutz on the south shore of the lake.  A serene place indeed!

(Tried to post this last night, without success.  This morning, the sky is clear, there’s a gentle breeze, and the roosters across the road are crowing with great vigour!)

Encouragement From The Word, Israel 2013

Power and Affection

I’m writing  from my hotel room in Akka, Israel, not far from Mount Carmel – the site where Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal.  My wife and I actually visited that site today.  Remarkable!

We’re part of a clergy study tour group, led by a friend and colleague of mine who has much experience and expertise in so doing; it was great for us to be able to get ourselves to the airport in Toronto and consign ourselves to his care, without a worry of our own, for the 8 days we will be away.

One of the things that I noticed right away on our flight was the disproportionate – though not surprising – number of Jewish people aboard.  It was the IMG_0932first day of Hanukkah, so presumably, some folks were coming to Israel to celebrate the Festival of Lights.  Several of our fellow passengers were Rabbis; it was fascinating to watch them rise with the sun (which happened early, since we were travelling eastward), put on their prayer shawls and phylacteries, and offer their morning prayers, facing Jerusalem.  There is a sense in which watching these men in their very public devotion and dedication encouraged me in my own “public display of affection” toward the Lord.  Of course, Jesus told us to pray in secret (Matthew 6.6), but too often, we offer no indication that we have a life-changing faith we practise.  How can you display your affection for God in these days?

When visiting Mount Carmel, I was reminded of the story in 1 Kings 18 of the time the prophets of Baal, a false god, were teaming up with Ahab and Jezebel, the king and queen, to discredit Elijah and bring disrepute to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  God showed his power by sending fire from heaven not only to consume an offering, but to soak up all the water that had been poured on and around it.  It really was a remarkable story, and a remarkable scene to stand at.  We were shown the place where Elijah killed those prophets.  The very spot where the showdown took place has been, for over 150 years, the site of a monastery, in an order named for its location:  a Carmelite community.  There still are monks there today.

What if we brought these two ideas together?  What if we displayed our affection for God through a demonstration of his power?  It wouldn’t have to be fire from heaven; it could be something as simple as loved shared where it seemed least likely, or a hand offered in the midst of a busy life.  It could also be something decidedly flashier, but it wouldn’t have to be – it would just need to be consistent with who you are in Christ and how you serve him faithfully.

So what power will God demonstrate through you?

You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples” (Psalm 77.14).

Israel 2013

We’ve landed!

After a slightly bumpy but otherwise uneventful flight, we had a safe landing at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. People started clapping as the wheels touched down, and I was thinking, Don’t clap yet! We’re travelling down the runway at 200 miles an hour! Clap when the plane stops…on purpose!

I discovered that even with 120 volts to plug in my CPAP machine, I can’t sleep sitting up in confined quarters (and Air Canada’s seats are not exactly roomy). As a result, I’ll be running on fumes for the rest of today.

It was fascinating to see so many Orthodox Rabbis rising to pray toward Jerusalem at various times, especially as the sun rose (which, when you’re flying eastward, catches up with you quickly!). It prepared us, I think, for what we will see.

We won’t know, though, until our fellow traveller who has been detained is released so we can get on the bus and get going!

Grateful for God’s grace and travelling mercies.

Israel 2013

Israel 2013: Here we go!

Later today, my wife and I will embark on a pilgrimage, a journey neither of us ever expected to take.  We are going to visit the Holy Land.

We will fly directly from Toronto to Tel Aviv, and immediately get on a bus to begin our tour, hitting the ground running, so to speak.  We are travelling as part of a clergy tour; it will be led by a friend and colleague of mine, who has taken such trips many times before.  I look forward to arriving at Pearson Airport and consigning myself to his care, knowing that we will be in good hands.

We will visit many biblically significant sites:  the place where Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18); the sea of Galilee, where Jesus and the disciples spent so much time; the Dead Sea, in the caves above which were found the Dead Sea Scrolls, which have added so much to biblical scholarship; Jerusalem, where the temple was; Nazareth, where Jesus grew up; and Bethlehem, where he was born.    At this moment, it seems surreal that we will walk where Jesus walked.

As it turns out, we will be there for Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights.  While this may make for more crowds, it will also make for a more joyous atmosphere; seeing joy on the faces of people is always infectious, so we expect to see an added cultural dimension as a result of the timing of our journey.

It really is a pilgrimage:  it is a religious journey.  It is a trip which, for me, has one sole purpose:  to make the Bible three-dimensional.  To be able to see, in my mind’s eye, the place about which I am preaching from Scripture should, I hope, make me a better communicator of God’s truth.

Please keep us, and our group, in your prayers.  Ask God to grant us safe travel both in the air and on the ground, and ask the Lord to give us both a meaningful experience and the opportunity to slow down enough to take it all in – and rest!  And watch this space for updates, time and WiFi permitting.


Encouragement From The Word

Two Jacks and an Aldous

On this day in 1963, it is seared on the memories of those who were living at the time that John F. Kennedy, then President of the United States, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  But did you know that two other important figures in the world died on the same day, albeit under less tragic circumstances?

Aldous Huxley, the English writer, known for such works as Brave New World, also died on November 22, 1963.

The other famous person who died that day was Clive Staples Lewis.  C.S. Lewis, known to his friends as “Jack”, was a philosopher and, arguably, one250px-C.s.lewis3 of the greatest defenders of the Christian faith in modern times – at least later in his life.

Lewis was not always a Christian, nor was he always someone whom many might consider a ‘model’ Christian:  he smoked a pipe, enjoyed quaffing a pint in the local tavern, and read (and wrote) a lot of philosophy.  He came to faith in the middle of his life; he had been baptized into the Church of Ireland, and fell away as an adolescent.  It was in no small part due to the influence of his friend and pub-mate, J.R.R. Tolkien, that he returned to the Christian faith in his thirties and, through study and debate and God’s grace, left a lasting legacy to the church through his writings.

Charles Colson, while serving time in prison because of his involvement in Watergate, came to faith in Christ by reading Lewis’ Mere Christianity.  Colson then went on to found Prison Fellowship, a ministry to inmates, ex-inmates and their families, which has changed the lives of countless men and women through the years.

Colson is just one example of a person whose life was changed because C.S. Lewis’ life was changed.

The ripple effect of life-change is what changes the world.  You don’t have to be a philosopher, or an elegant writer or eloquent speaker, or even an ex-con, to change the world.  By living your faith authentically and intentionally, you can change the world by being used by God to change the lives of others in your circle of acquaintance.

Live your life fully in Christ.  Live your life passionately in Christ.  Live your life purposefully in Christ.  Pray for God to use you.  And watch the difference you make, just by being real with God and with others.

But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume” (2 Corinthians 2.14, NLT).