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Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Jerusalem is like no other city that I have ever visited! Not the beauty, not the variety, not the landscape, not even the history—all of the usual things that people talk about when evaluating Vienna or Prague or St. Petersburg or Bangkok, or Beijing—no, perhaps it is the spiritual confrontation and the emotional upheaval on every corner that sets Jerusalem apart.

At the Wailing Wall, people wail! I was prepared for the praying and the rocking and the reading of Torah, but I was not prepared for the wailing! These are not the first Jews who have wept over Jerusalem.

The Tomb of David is one of the most artificial of sacred sites, a site that really no one believes to be anything but a fabricated holy site, and yet there were not just tourists, but worshippers there! No one is fooled, but still some fill a need to believe and worship!

At first we were all a bit disappointed with the Via Dolorosa—the Way of the Cross—supposedly tracing Jesus’ steps from the Place of Judgment in front of Pilate to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. First we were told that any real steps that Jesus might have taken would be about 65 feet below the level of the street upon which we were walking. That’s not so bad.  Then as we walked, we realized that virtually every step was lined with shops of all kinds—not just tourist shops, but all kinds of shops.

Instead of carrying a cross like a few pilgrims were doing or stopping soberly to read the crucifixion story step by step, most people on the Via Dolorosa everyday were trying to make a buck—that is, a shekel! Perhaps it was time to drive the money changers out of the temple!!  BUT . . .

. . . then it occurred to us that even on the very day of crucifixion, this street probably was not so different. The way was lined with shopkeepers who possibly noticed the soldiers marching down the street, followed by some poor guy going to be crucified.  And then they went back to their customers. After all, it was the third person today they were going to crucify!

That the monotony of the mercantile just went right on at the very hour that Jesus walked to the cross just messes with your emotions a little, doesn’t it!

The church of the Holy Sepulcher completely covers the traditional Mount Calvary, Golgotha, and the tomb of Jesus! Nice to visit, but it didn’t move me really because if there is anything true about the place, it is totally covered up by the attempt of Christians to protect it, to give it significance, to magnify—maybe even to proclaim.

I wonder what we are slowly hiding because of our needs to protect, to make significant, to magnify?

Our last stop—at three o’clock on Friday afternoon–in Jerusalem was the Garden Tomb, first suggested as the real site of Jesus’ burial just a little over one hundred years ago. A British organization has created a quiet, beautiful garden to surround this first century tomb. Whether or not this particular site has any greater claim to veracity than the more traditional site, the garden and the garden tomb are much more emotionally satisfying. A wonderfully Christian British lady who had taken her three-week holiday to work at the site gave us not only a wonderful tour but her testimony of faith. To find heartfelt faith, full of joy that “He is not here; he is risen” was a special gift.

And so it is with so many “holy” sites in Israel. Most of them have some rationale for their designation; few of them are anything but slightly educated guesses; but all of them are someone’s attempt to remember the work of God! You don’t have to believe in them or worship in them to be thankful that someone wants to remember and glorify God.

“It’s complicated!” Every Israeli, every Palestinian, every Arab, every Christian we talked with in Israel and Jordan, every one of them at some time in the conversation said the same thing, “It’s complicated!” Whether we were talking about the politics of the region, about faith, or about life in general, their answer was the same, “It’s complicated.”

For the political conflicts, for the social struggles, for the religious division, they are all right! We have been able to find nothing but complication.

Thank God for the simple, uncomplicated truth: He is risen!  Those who believe this truth do not need to wail.

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Today I learned that the Bible was even truer than I thought it was!

We spent two nights in Amman, Jordan among the children of Ben-Ammi, the son of Lot and “the father of the Ammonites of today” (Genesis 19:38). Our friend and sister from Germany Veronika (who often comments on this blog!) but who has lived in Jordan for 17 years had arranged for us to meet with three leaders of a local church in Amman to talk about LST.  Jordan is a country with religious freedom, but just by virtue of being such a small minority, Christians in Amman have to be bold and creative. These men are involved mostly in training Jordanians to plant and lead churches. Perhaps they will invite LST and someday you can come here and join them in their boldness!

Open your Bible to Deuteronomy 34 and read the first eight verses about the death of Moses.  It’s not an unfamiliar passage to me, but visiting Mount Nebo opened my eyes to how true it is. I had read the words “There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan . . . “ and I had always understood it to be either just metaphorically looking over the Jordan and seeing that part of the promised land you can see which would represent the whole land—or sometimes I even considered the possibility that Moses saw everything miraculously with the eyes of God!

Never did I think you could see the whole land from Nebo—but you can!  With the wind whipping around the mountain top, we hung on to the railing that Moses did not have and looked across the Jordan valley. On our left we saw the Dead Sea. On our right we saw the Sea of Galilee. The maps in my Bible never prepared me for that sight!

Everything is downhill toward the Dead Sea! We spent a couple of hours at Petra, the city of the Nabateans built into the red rocky gorges left by ancient winds and waters. After several days of awesome moments with sites of Jesus and Moses, it was a little disconcerting to go into such a pagan past, but our very last stop in Petra was a pagan temple that had been converted into a rock church in later centuries.

We sang Amazing Grace and listened to the words and music reverberate against the stones that had heard and seen so much for centuries. If those stones survive for thousands more years, I pray they will release the words of amazing grace over and over again to those who will hear!

Sherrylee talked us into riding camels back to the entrance of Petra. I know Rebekah rode a camel from her home to meet Isaac for the first time. I hope she was a better rider than we or she probably was in no shape to be very impressive when she dismounted. I’m quite sure that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all of us!

To cross between Jordan and Israel is no easy feat in today’s world. Joshua needed a small miracle and so do many people today! We paid extra for what they call VIP service at the border—slightly embarrassing, but it certainly eased the waiting in line and the hassle.

Being VIPs gave us a little extra time to add Qumran to our trip, where we looked into the very caves where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered. Sherrylee was the one who pointed out the incongruity of having lunch in the very place where Jesus fasted for forty days.

Before we even caught our breath, our van drove past Jericho and went up to Jerusalem, passing the Inn of the Good Samaritan. I hope we didn’t miss anyone on the side of the road.

We finished this marvelous day in Bethlehem–not a city of peace any more, I’m afraid. We dutifully went to the Church of the Nativity, where hundreds were standing in line to see the traditional site of Jesus’ birth. It’s just a silver star on the floor far below ground level today. Joseph and Mary would not have recognized it. But they wouldn’t have wanted to wait in the long lines to check it out anyway!

Next year—no, tomorrow in Jerusalem! Our last day in Israel and another opportunity to meet with Christians here to see if LST can be of any help.

P.S. I plan to post a few pictures soon! The ones of Sherrylee and me on camels may or may not be included!

 

 

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Today we stood on Mount Carmel in Israel, the home of King David’s wife Abigail and the place where Elijah did battle with the prophets of Baal (1Kings 18). It’s a great story of face-to-face altar combat, with Elijah talking smack to the false prophets and then destroying them—literally.

What did surprise me though was what could be seen from the top of Carmel. Looking southwest you can see Caesarea, which is located on the Mediterranean coast of Israel. Turning just a bit to your left you can see the mountains of ancient Samaria. Continuing in the same direction, Mount Gilboa rises above the valley, yes, the place where King Saul fought his last battle, then fell on his sword (1 Samuel 28-31). Without even moving your feet, but just by shifting your eyes to the left you see “the hill of Moreh” where Gideon did battle with the Midianites (Judges 7) and then Mount Tabor, where the judge Deborah sent Barak into battle (Judges 4).

One more slight turn in the same direction and you see the modern city of Nazareth nestled in the mountains above the plain of Jezreel.  The trees block your view further north or the list of geographical sites associated with biblical history would just keep going on, I’m sure.

It’s not that one can see these sites at all, rather that you can stand in one place and see all of these places at one time! 

I wonder if Elijah, while waiting on Mount Carmel for the prophets of Baal to get through with their empty incantations and gyrations, looked around and thought about all that God had already done to show Himself to people.

Imagine Jesus, Joseph, and Mary on their way to Jerusalem, walking down from their mountain home in Nazareth into the valley of Jezreel and Joseph pointing to this mountain and that mountain and this river and that rock and this pillar and over there—teaching Jesus the history of Israel every time they turned a new corner on their journey.

Perhaps God picked such a small and insignificant piece of His Creation for this very reason—for proximity, so that the very mountains He created could tell the stories of His marvelous ways!

 

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Day 1: Arrival

What is the first image you see when you get off the plane in Israel?

The whole transatlantic trip yesterday was quite uneventful—which is exactly the way you want it to be.  Sherrylee and I had arrived at the airport in DFW two hours early, and it paid off. When we got to the ticket counter, we checked on the possibility of upgrading to business class in exchange for mileage. The airline agent was very helpful, but it took over an hour to make it happen, but it did!

The ride across the Atlantic was a little bumpy, and the movie selection was not exciting (Captain America  and Green Lantern). I did finish the book I was reading Moneyball, which I found fascinating. The book is so detailed that unless you are a hardcore baseball fan like I am—and, yes, I’m still wearing black for the Texas Rangers—you probably want to stick to the recent movie release Moneyball with Brad Pitt. I haven’t seen it yet, but it has been highly recommended to me.

We arrived early in the morning in Frankfurt, rested for about four hours, stored our winter suitcase in the hotel luggage room as planned, and then headed back to the airport to check in on El Al, the Israeli national airlines.

I’ve been fascinated with El Al, since all the trouble of the 70s and 80s, with hijackings. During the 80s, there was actually a small bomb in the Frankfurt airport which was left near the El Al ticket counter, so for thirty years now I have had a mental note not to spend any time near their counters in foreign airports.

El Al has the reputation for the highest level of security, but I have always been thankful for security, so other than waiting in a couple of more lines, the extra security was just as it should be—effective!

The loading/unloading ramps in many airports now have lots of advertising. I love the Chinese bank that puts pictures comparing cultures: a squid in one culture is YUK and another YUM!  A cricket in one culture is GOOD LUCK and another culture A PEST! But that was not what was on the ramp when we walked off the plane in Tel Aviv!

I expected perhaps a picture of Old City Jerusalem, or a menorah, an ancient church, or the Dead Sea—something representing the deep, deep religious and cultural heritage of this country.

No, the first image on the wall across from you as you exit the plane is a big golden BUDDHA! In Thailand, yes, but not Israel!  Because it was all written in Hebrew, I don’t even know how the picture was being used, but the incongruity was unnerving!

Fortunately, I found equilibrium again after meeting our tour guide Nabil and our driver Omar. Before we were even outside of the airport, Nabil turned and said, “Are you a Christian?”  I said, “Yes.” I returned his question, and he said, “Yes, I am a Roman Catholic, born in Jerusalem.” Apparently his family has been Christian as far back as he knows. Today I want to find out what it is like to grow up Christian in Israel.  Nabil went on to describe himself as a Palestinian Arab Roman Catholic Christian with Israeli citizenship.

Do you know the word syncretism?  If I had internet connection now—which I don’t—I’d link you to the definition, but its basic idea involves the blending of diverse cultural or religious elements in a particular culture.  This may be the word that explains Buddha and Nabil—I don’t know yet, but that is one of the things we will watch for on this trip.

It’s 4am, and I’m sitting in the bathroom because I’m jetlagged and don’t want to wake Sherrylee up by turning on the light.  I think I’ll go back to bed and see if I can catch a couple of more hours of sleep before we start our tour of Galilee today!

Shalom!

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