Saturday, April 14, 2012

Israel Study Trip - Day 3

Today was another outstanding day. We focused on the Sea of Galilee.

Sermon on the Mount...
We started by visiting the Synagogue of Arbel, ruined since the 4th Century AD. From there you can see Mt. Hermon (still has snow on its peak), the highest point in Israel. And we talked about the Sermon on the Mount. A few high points:

Because an Israelite was to pray the 18 Prayers daily, which was difficult for a working man, each Rabbi would often give his people an abbreviated version. This is exactly what Jesus did

- "This is how you should pray: Our Father, which art in heaven..."
He starts off by establishing God as Father (the #1 way Jesus presented God was as a good father).
- He makes three requests, which can be summed up as: May Your name be glorified.

- Give us today our daily bread. This referred to the Manna, which required faith from the Israelites... they were only allowed to gather enough for one day. They were to trust that God would provide for them tomorrow as well. In other words, don't worry... that's what the people without God do. An Israeli sage said, "Whoever has bread in his basket and worries about tomorrow's food has no faith."

- Consider the flowers, which are here today and gone tomorrow. The flowers we saw today won't be herer in three weeks because the rains are finished. If God cares for them enough to clothe them in all this beauty, how much more will He care for us!

One of three cities that Jesus cursed. What is interesting is that the Hebrew version of the interaction of Jesus with the Pharisees is incredibly different than that of what western believers understand. They see it more as an argument among family than a blood feud which is often depicted in western writings.

In Chorazin we also learned that when Jesus referred in Matthew 6 to "practicing your 'righteousness' before men", the word he used spoke of giving to the poor. This same word is used for giving to the poor today. He talked a lot about being generous with the less fortunate. It appears that He taught this was a way to love God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength.

He we saw the probable ruins of Peter's house. Any time oral tradition preceded thy Byzantine Empire (4th Century), it is generally considered reliable by archaeologists.

The house that is considered Peter's was a large one with many rooms... actually, some houses form the same period had a central courtyard with over 100 rooms in them. This is what Jesus was referring to when he said to His disciples in John 14, "In my Father's house are many rooms." He was saying that heaven will be a communal place like these houses, with multiple generations and extended families under one roof.

It was also in Capernaum that Jesus met Levi (Matthew), who was sort of a toll & tax collector for this border town. Matthew walked away from his lucrative job in order to follow Jesus. Before he walked away, he threw a party so his friends could meet Jesus and understand why he was leaving everything. He wanted them to get to know Jesus.

Finally, it was at this very spot that jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law. And that evening many from the surrounding area brought the sick to Him to heal them, and He did! He used miracles as a way to emphasize that God was near to them and that He was bringing redemption. Miracles still attest to God's "nearness", that Jesus is the Messiah, and that God wants to redeem us!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Israel Study Trip - Day 2

The Land...
Today was amazing! We started out learning about the land itself: "A Land Between". It lies between the former Mesopotamian & Phoenician empires. All traffic north - south had to pass through here. It was literally the crossroads of the known world of that time. The major International Coastal Highway passed through here, as did the Jezreel Valley, which connected this Highway to the rest of the country inland.

It was from this place that God wanted to make His Name and His mercy & grace known. And it was this very place that God sent Abraham... it was like a podium from which to proclaim His nature and goodness.

The land itself is as much a character in Bible stories as the people themselves. The Bible takes place in time and space and to get the greater story you must understand both the culture and the land.

God told Abraham's descendants, "I'll allow you to live at the crossroads as long as you represent Me correctly. If you will obey Me, you'll live here forever. If you disobey, I'll take you out of this land until you're ready to represent Me correctly."

We then went to Caesarea. It was a city that Herod built in honor of the Romans who made him king of Judea. He even dedicated a temple here to Tiberius Caesar (while Tiberius was still alive). The only temple dedicated to a living Caesar. He built the 2nd largest port and the only all-weather port) in the Roman empire. And he built himself an amazing palace, along with a Hippodrome (horse racing), an amphitheater and a theater. Next to that stood the Crusader Fort, with a minaret from a former mosque inside. This place has so much history from so many periods!

Historically speaking it could have been the last stop on our tour. It was here that the angel appeared to Cornelius (Acts 10). Because of this the Gospel was first preached to the Gentiles... they received both the gift of salvation and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. It was also from here that Paul sailed to Europe, never to return.

Mt. Carmel...
Next we went to Mt. Carmel, which overlooks the Jezreel Valley. What an awesome view! From there we were able to see the Nazarite Ridge (where Jesus grew up). Jesus wasn't some hick from the backwoods. The Jezreel Valley was only a few miles from one side to the other... and the world passed through here! Whoever controlled it controlled the world.

We could also see Mt. Tabor - the scene of Deborah's victory over Sisera (Judges 4), Mt. Moreh - where Elijah raised the Shunnamite's son from the dead (Judges 4), and Jesus raised the widow of Nain's son from the dead (Luke 7), and Mt. Gilboa - where King Saul & his sons died in battle, where Gideon separated his men at the Brook (), and where Jezebel was killed(2 Kings 9).

Here on Mt. Carmel Elijah challenged the 450 prophets of Baal - the god of storms, high places and fire - to a duel for the hearts of the people. (1 Kings 18) Whichever god answered by fire was God. Of course they accepted. This was at the end of a 3 1/2 yr. famine.

Baal worship originated just north of here, and had been brought to Israel by Jezebel, the Phoenician princess that King Ahab married. He basically takes the fight to Baal's home court.
This mountain was easily seen for miles from 360 degrees. Basically, Elijah backs God into a corner. If God fails to come through, everyone will know it. If He does answer by fire, EVERYONE - even the surrounding nations - will see it!

You can read the story, but the high points are:

* The prophets of Baal built their altar, and started dancing around and "prophesying". Nothing happened.
* Elijah begins to talk some smack: "Maybe your God is going to the bathroom."
* Finally, he builds an altar and has them pour buckets of water on the sacrifice. Then he prays that God would answer by fire, and in doing so would turn the hearts of the people back to Him.
* Of course God comes through! And when the people turn back to Him, the rain returns. God always listens to repentant people!

Finally, we checked out Megiddo. It controlled one of the major passes into the Jezreel Valley. You could see layer after layer of archaeology. Both King Ahab & King Solomon built huge stables here for their horses, in direct disobedience to God's command that the kings not accumulate horses and chariots (the technological cutting edge weapon of that day).

In both of these kingdoms, everything looked great on the outside. Financially and politically they were well-off. But moral decay from compromise and disobedience was eroding the foundations. both of these kingdoms crashed with the king's successor.

I guess my biggest takeaway from the day was this: Obedience will enable you to stay in the crossroads. If you don't keep your heart right, your actions will follow. Then it's just a matter of time until you crash and burn!

The call to be in the crossroads comes with a cost: obedience!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Israel Study Trip - Day 1

As many of you know, my family and friends provided the opportunity for me to go on a 9-day study tour of Israel. So I'm in Tel Aviv tonight... eagerly awaiting my trip to the Mediterranean Sea and Nazareth tomorrow. I wanted to blog about my experiences as a way of inviting you to experience it with me, and as a way ot journaling my thoughts and feelings.

Unfortunately, since I don't have my laptop with me I won't be adding photos until after I get back.

Here's the first installment (it's not very exciting... check back tomorrow for the real deal :))...

Day 1
I flew out of Basel/Mulhouse airport on a cold and rainy day. The flight was uneventful. But I did sit next to a couple of young Israeli students. They explained that I was coming to Israel at the most beautiful time of the year - Spring. Because of the Spring rains there is green everywhere and the pools, lakes, seas, etc are all full.

Once I arrived at my hotel (Leonardo) I took an hour or so to walk around the area... it is dirty, but it looks as if they're really trying to bring urban renewal to this area. It is apparently a diamond trading area of the city.

I took a few photos, but there's nothing really photo-worthy yet. This part of the city is modern, with both high-dollar and decaying buildings. The autos are about the same as in Europe, with less German cars. And the building style is different.

I hate the feeling of being illiterate and unable to communicate outside of my native language. I had forgotten this feeling... I only get glimpses of it in France, but then we find someone that either speaks English or German. I'm used to being able to at least communicate in the language of the country I'm visiting (e.g. France, Italy, Netherlands). Hebrew is an entirely different world!

Another interesting thing was the number of people walking around with guns. A guy in flip flops and shorts was walking with a girl, and he had an assault rifle slung over his back. And this was only the first of many that I saw.

The rest of the group should arrive in an hour or so, and I want to be rested for the orientation tonight. I want to get as much as possible out of the trip, so I'm going to take a nap.

I've learned that there are 50 people on this trip. I've met three of the pastors of Seacoast, one of whom is over 7 of their campuses.

After dinner tonight they told us we'll be going to the Mediterranean Sea tomorrow, as well as visiting Nazareth (where I'll need to change into jeans). Can't wait!!!

I have been asking God to make this not just an educational tour, but an emotional and spiritual one as well. It was encouraging to hear the trip leader say that we WILL encounter God, although not where we expect Him. He'll probably show up in unexpected ways in unexpected places. That's exactly what I'm asking for!!!

I miss Robin and the kids already. I wish they were here to experience it with me. This is the most amazing birthday gift I've ever been given.