Friday, June 29, 2012

Jerusalem...a Personal Journey

In The Way of the Lord, Tom Wright says about The Way to Jerusalem: The test of whether pilgrimage is genuine is therefore the question, whether you’re prepared for God to remake you instead, lovingly to break the brittle ‘you’ that you’ve so carefully constructed, to soften the clay in his hands until it’s ready to be remoulded, and then to make out of you what he had in mind all along, which may be quite different from what you wanted or expected. Jerusalem is a symbol of God’s great expectations, which will by no means coincide with our own. The only true way to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem is to go, like Abraham, not knowing where you are going, or who it is that you will meet when you get there; to suspend a clinging and anxious belief as well as a skeptical unbelief, and simply to be: to be open, to be still, to wait in silence for the strange God who still comes to those who wait in silence. The road to Jerusalem stands for the deeply inviting, yet deeply threatening, journey into the presence of the one true God, where all is known and all is unknown, where all is asked and all is promised. And that, whether or not we ever make the geographical journey to Jerusalem itself, is the pilgrimage to which we are all summoned.

On the first day of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I asked the Lord to reveal to me an area that had become a stronghold in my life, something that was hindering my worship of and walk with him. Through that prayer, I became aware of an area where I cycled into unbelief with regards to His activity in a particular area of my life. It was at Capernaum, standing over the site where Peter’s mother-in-law was healed, that I met with God in prayer and asked him to heal my unbelief with regards to this particular circumstance. Over the course of the next few days and since returning home, I have  experienced a change in my thoughts, prayers and hopes with regards to the area in which I formerly lacked true belief in His willingness and timing. Quite some time ago, the words from Hosea 2:14-15 leapt off the pages of my Bible as if the Lord were speaking directly to me:

behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
And there I will give her her vineyards
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.

I had no idea what type of “wilderness” experience would follow or how the Lord would lead me through it, but He has tenderly spoken to me through every stage and I have sensed His gentle leading. I enjoy how Tom Wright explains: every Christian goes through cycles of discovering God, adoring God, institutionalizing God, domesticating God, denying God, and then, please God, rediscovering God again…God cannot be contained or imprisoned, and will always break out elsewhere and do things we didn’t expect.
I can honestly attest to the cycles described and am encouraged by what he goes on to say: those who are truly learning the pilgrim way learn to listen, in scripture and sacrament, in silence and in suffering, for the voice of the one who loves them more deeply than they love themselves, and who therefore must ask us the questions we have not dared to face, and must ask of us that which we would rather not give.

And so it was a physical pilgrimage that brought me to a spacious place of letting go and fully trusting Him and it is a spiritual pilgrimage in my heart that continues to draw me nearer to the side of Christ where He reveals, heals, forgives and changes me to love Him more.

As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. – Psalm 42:1-2
It was in Jerusalem, stop the Mount of Olives, where Jesus taught the disciples how to pray.

Coming down from the Mount of Olives, Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44)

The Jewish Cemetery

They place stones instead of flowers on graves when they have visited.

The Christian Cemetery. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Nazareth and Mt. Carmel

While in Nazareth, we visited the Basilica of the Annunciation, a modern Catholic church built over the cave where it is believed the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary:
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” – Luke 1:26-33

Nazareth is also where Jesus spent most of his boyhood and grew into a young man. After being baptized in the Jordan River and the temptation in the wilderness, Jesus returned to Nazareth where his first recorded sermon was preached:
And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” – Luke 4:16-19

Leaving Nazareth, we went west to Haifa, one of the most beautiful places we visited. Haifa is located between the Jezreel Valley and the Mediterranean Sea.

Upon arriving at Haifa, we took a cable car ride to the top of Mt. Carmel.

This is the site where Elijah, full of faith, knowing in his own strength the fire would not come down, but that God would provide, challenged the prophets of Baal (see 1 Kings 18:20-46). I love this story of faith and can relate to how, even after Elijah had a tremendous victory, he cycled into a time of despair:
But Elijah went up to the top of Mt. Carmel; and he crouched down on the earth and put his face between his knees. – 1 Kings 18:42

Just when Elijah intensely feared that perhaps God had forgotten about him, he sent his servant to look for rain:

 He said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” So he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go back” seven times. It came about at the seventh time, that he said, “Behold, a cloud as small as a man’s hand is coming up from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, so that the heavy shower does not stop you.’”In a little while the sky grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy shower. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. Then the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and outran Ahab to Jezreel. – 1 Kings 43-46

Just like Elijah, I have had some highs and some lows, and when my greatest fears, worries and moments of unbelief try to take me over, I’m looking for one small cloud and believing that yes, God has not forgotten me and a heavy rain is coming. I'm not sure what the view from Mt. Carmel looked like in Elijah's day, but I certainly enjoyed thinking about his story and walk with the Lord and my own walk with the Lord as I stood and looked out at the beauty of the Mediterranean coast.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Megiddo, located at the southern end of the Jezreel Valley, was a fortified city as early as the third millennium BC.  At least twenty levels of habitation have been discovered at Megiddo with each one built on top of the ruins of the preceding city.

The Jezreel Valley from atop Megiddo...

Words cannot describe the scene from the height of Megiddo looking out across the Jezreel Valley.

Megiddo has been the site of three major historical battles: in two separate battles the Egyptians conquered the Canaanites and later the Kingdom of Judah, and during World War I Megiddo is where the Allied troops attacked the Ottoman Empire. I cannot fathom the number of lives lost in battle at this site.

Notice the round altar in the center of this picture...

Here we were looking down into the grainery. There were two sets of stairs, one for going down into the grainery and one for coming up out of it.

Going to check out the tunnel for the ancient civilization's water system...

Ok, Y'all...this was my Goonies moment...I had my backpack on, ready to explore, and I could hear water running down below in the dark cave-like tunnel...

Gratefully we made it out to the other side...

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Jordan River

I’m not exactly sure what my expectations for the Jordan River were, but I was surprised by the narrowness of the river, the murkiness of the water and the strong sulfuric smell as we made our way to the riverside.
In studying more about this important biblical site, I’ve learned what a vital role it had in the founding of Israel. Joshua led the Israelites through the Jordan River as they entered the Promised Land. It was after crossing through the Jordan that the Israelites looked back to the Exodus, the wilderness, and finally crossing the Jordan that they saw the means by which God had made them his people and set them free.
It was also in the Jordan River where John baptized Jesus.
Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?” But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him.Matthew 3:13-15(NLT)
Webster defines baptism as an act, experience, or ordeal by which one is purified, sanctified, initiated, or named.
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” – Matthew 3:16-17(ESV)
For us, baptism is symbolic of our washing of sins by being plunged into water and coming into a new life as a follower of Christ when we are raised from the water. Just as crossing the Jordan was a defining moment for Israel and a defining moment in the ministry of Jesus, baptism is a defining moment for us as it demonstrates the beginning of our Christian pilgrimage, or walk with Jesus as our Lord.
People still go to the Jordan River to be baptized.

 We were blessed to hear a devotional from our church Pastor while we were there.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Galilee...Part Two

Capernaum, an ancient fishing village, is where Jesus and his disciples lived and ministered.
And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea – Matthew 4:13

The Synagogue made of imported white limestone is a stark contrast to the local black basalt of the rest of the village.

The women's court...

Jesus taught in the synagogue of Capernaum and healed many from diseases:
When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.”  But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant,‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. – Matthew 8:5-13

And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.  And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.  And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.  And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” – Mark 2:1-12

Knowing that this was the very town where Jesus healed so many brought me to a place of prayer and reflection. I know Him intimately as my Jehovah Rapha (Healer) and met with Him in prayer as I stood in the modern church that is built directly over Peter’s house, where Peter’s mother-in-law was healed.

And when Jesus entered Peter's house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. – Matthew 8:14-15

There is a glass floor so that we could see directly into Peter’s home below. We were moving so fast and seeing so many things, our days were incredibly full, but this was one moment where I had a quiet moment to pray and ask Jesus for healing in a particular area of my spiritual life. Lord, may I rise to serve you in all the work you’ve prepared for me to do.

Moving on from the ancient ruins, we visited The Church of the Primacy of Peter, located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee.

See in John 21 how Jesus appeared to the disciples a third time after the resurrection and the events that happened here:

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.”  He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish.  That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea.  The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”  So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.  Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish.  This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.- John 21:4-14
This is also where Jesus reinstated Peter after his three-time denial of Jesus at the crucifixion (John 21:15-19).