Day 10: A little sign-watching in the Old City

I’ve seen lots of signs in the Old City.

Besides people-watching, you could say I’ve being doing a little sign-watching.

(And, just like the people, some of the signs are…well, interesting).

Religious people like to look for signs.

Signs that confirm a way God is leading.

Signs that affirm God’s presence…or an answered prayer.

Signs have been a part of religious history all the way back to the days of Noah when God gave Noah a sign that he would never flood the earth again.

Most of the signs we talk about in religious circles today are the signs telling us when Jesus is coming back…

Or, at least when we think he’s coming back.

Not all of that talk is bad, but I think it totally misses the point.

Here’s what I mean…

Today, I visited a place called the Garden Tomb.

The Garden Tomb is the location where some believe that Jesus was crucified and buried (others believe it’s where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built).

Now, I am not an archaeologist, so I won’t even try to argue for one location over the other at this point.

But, I will show you what I saw today…

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That door in the middle leads to an empty tomb.

An empty tomb reminds us that Jesus is alive!

And, he is coming back someday.

But, I don’t think he wants us to debate and argue and obsess over determining when exactly he’s coming back.

I think he just wants us to be ready…and help others be ready.

I think he wants us to live that “life to the full” that he came to give us now and for eternity.  (John 10:10)

And, not worry so much about watching the signs, but about making disciples of the people we see around us.

 

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Day 9: Walking the Old City

We walked a lot today.

We also saw a lot of people…from every tribe and tongue and nation (or at least it seemed that way).

The morning started with a visit to the location of the Upper Room, where Jesus had one Last Supper with his disciples before his arrest.

From there, we walked to the Garden of Gethsemane, where we spent time praying alone (appropriate, don’t you think?).

And, then it was a journey to Caiaphas’ House, where Jesus was first questioned after his arrest and Peter denied that he knew Jesus three times.

And, then the rooster crowed…

Finally, we walked to the place called Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified.  Today, it’s a religious site called Church of the Holy Sepulcher…and it was full of lost people.

Two things stood out to me in all that walking and people watching.

The first thing is, I followed a lot of people.

I watched the people in front of me, like where they turned and how fast they were going and where they stopped to look around.

And, it got me thinking…

Who are the people that I “follow” at home?

Who are the people that I watch to see where they are going in life…and when they stop to look around?

Who are the people who are just a little ahead of me in my faith who are leading me in the right direction…people that I can watch and follow and move closer to God with?

We all need those kind of people in our lives.

The second thing that stood out to me today was that this world is full of lost people.

People who have chosen different paths thinking they will lead to God…but they don’t.

In some ways, it’s been easier for me to see those people here in Israel than back home, but it made me realize that I need to see the lost people God puts in front of me no matter where I am.

And, maybe…just maybe…I can be the one who God uses to lead them to Jesus.

I can be that person worth following.

My hope for all of us today is that the people we choose to follow are leading us to Jesus, and that our eyes are open to the ones who haven’t found him yet so we can lead them to him too.

 

12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  John 8:12

 

 

 

Day 8: Slow Down

Slow down, Jason…slow down.

So, I’m in the laundry room of the place we’re staying on the Sea of Galilee, and I’m waiting for a dryer.  There are only two dryers, but one of them is done with its cycle.

So, now I just need to wait for whoever is coming to take their clothes out…

A minute or two later, a young man walks in and opens the dryer.

Now, here’s what I’m thinking at this point…

I’m clearly waiting for the dryer, so if I’m that guy, I would get all of my clothes out of the dryer quickly so that the next person could use it.

Clearly, that’s not what he was thinking.

Slowly, methodically, he pulled out each piece of clothing and proceeded to fold it.  And then carefully stack it.

Slow down, Jason…slow down.

So, I finally get my clothes in the dryer and walk to dinner.

And, there’s a line.

No big deal.  I can handle lines.

But, have you ever been in a buffet line and the people in front of you can’t make up their mind, and then they do make up their mind and slowly, methodically, put food on their plate?

Yeah…me too.

Slow down, Jason…slow down.

Apparently, I don’t like to slow down (amazing what you learn about yourself when stop your daily routine for two weeks!).

Something else I learned recently on this trip comes from the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19…

In 1 Kings 19:9-12, the Lord speaks to Elijah.

Remember that story?

He doesn’t speak to him in the great, strong wind.

He doesn’t speak to him in the earthquake.

He doesn’t even speak to him in the fire.

Verse 12 says that God speaks to Elijah in “the sound of a low whisper.”

Or, in some translations… “a still, small voice.”

In Hebrew, that same phrase is translated, “whispering of the gentle silence.”

I love that!

I also know that it’s hard to hear the “whispering of the gentle silence” if I don’t slow down.

Anyone else with me?

(One of the things that I’ve tried to do on this trip is to slow down and notice the small things or the details that we easily miss when we rush from one place to another.  Below, I’ve included some of my favorite pictures of things that I’ve found when I’ve slowed down.  Hope you enjoy them!).

 

 

 

Israel Day 7: 7 things I’ve learned in Israel

In today’s blog, I’m going to share seven things I’ve learned in Israel.  These are things I’ve learned while at the locations/places listed below.  Hope you enjoy learning along with me!

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The Jordan River is much smaller than I imagined…BUT here are some cool facts I’ve learned about it:

2,600: the number of feet the Jordan River drops from its source to the Dead Sea.

264: the number of billion gallons of water that flow through the Jordan River every year.

1: the number of hours it takes for 7 million gallons of water to flow from the Dan tributary into the Jordan River.

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The Dead Sea is the lowest spot on the earth’s surface at 1,294 feet below sea level.

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King Solomon built the First Temple on the same site where…

God provided a sacrifice for Abraham as he was about to sacrifice his son Isaac.  (2 Chronicles 3:1)

God stopped the plague against the Israelites.  (2 Samuel 24:15-18)

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The Sea of Galilee is 12.5 miles long and 7 miles wide, with a total circumference of 32 miles (you can see all the way around it).

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Mt. Hermon stretches for a distance of 30 miles and reaches 9,000 feet at its highest point…it also serves as a major source of water for the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River.

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The Old City of Jerusalem is divided into four quarters…the Jewish Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, and Armenian Quarter.

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There’s a saying in Israel that goes like this…

“If you want to get rich, you go north; if you want to get wise, you go south.”

The land of Israel is “divided” by the rich and fertile land in the north (around the Sea of Galilee), and the spiritual center of the land in the south (around Jerusalem).

And, that totally makes sense when you see and experience the land of Israel.  It’s an amazing, beautiful place, and I’m learning a TON of stuff.  Thanks for learning with me!

 

Day 6: Shawarma and other adventures…

So, we’re sitting at the top of Mount Arbel this morning, which overlooks the Sea of Galilee and the modern city of Tiberias.  And our guide is telling us all about the geography of the land (he does this very well, by the way).

Anyway, this man is a secular Jew, which basically means he doesn’t share the same beliefs that Christians have and he does not practice the Jewish religion either.

But, this guy knows the Bible better than many (or even most) Christians I know (which is weird and sad both at the same time).

In the middle of telling us about the geography around the Sea of Galilee, he starts comparing the water levels of the Sea of Galilee with the water levels of the Dead Sea.  And, then he says this…

“If you are only receiving and never giving, you are dying.”

(I’ll just leave that there for a second for you to think about…)

Okay, so the views from Mount Arbel today were…

Amazing

Breathtaking

Awesome

Incredible

I could go on, but I won’t.

In the pictures you see below, I hope that you can at least get a glimpse of what I saw today.  Also, for any Princess Bride fans out there, see if you can find the picture I took of the “cliffs of despair.”  I’m almost positive they filmed that famous scene in the movie there…

After Mount Arbel, we visited the town of Magdala, which may have been where Mary Magdalene was born.  A 1st century synagogue has recently been found at this site which is pretty cool.

Next, we went on a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.  I have no words.  I’ll try to share my thoughts with you in the form of these pictures…

We ended the tour part of the day in Kursi, an archaeological park near the place where Jesus cast the demons into a herd of pigs (great story, by the way…and fun to act out with a bunch of middle school students in the “pit” back home at Sunrise).  This was also the site of the ruins of a monastery from the 5th century.  Check out some pics from that below…

Finally, I ended the day with another swim in the Sea of Galilee.  This time, I took my phone with me and got some incredible pictures of the sunset.  Here are just a few of them…

Oops, I totally forgot one more important detail of the day…

I ate shawarma for lunch and it was delicious.  And, I may have eaten another Magnum bar.

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Okay, so back to the quote I started the blog with today…

Jesus said that he came to give us life to the full.  And that life starts now…today.

But, the only way that you can live that kind of life…the life that God created you for…is to be a giver.

Because, as our secular Jewish guide even knows, if you are only receiving, you are dying.

And, that’s no way to live.

Israel Day 5: PJ’s top 5 adventures…so far

Israel Day 5:  PJ’s top 5 adventures…so far

Today, I thought it would be fun to share my top 5 adventures of the trip…so far.  So, here you go…my top 5 adventures in Israel (in no particular order).

Exploring the Old City of Jerusalem—walking the streets, looking in the shops, and watching the people.  It’s amazing the sheer volume and diversity of people and stuff there is to see in the Old City!

Swimming the seas—okay, so I actually floated in the Dead Sea, but that was quite the experience.  Earlier today, I watched the sunset as I swam in the Sea of Galilee (which, by the way, is more like a big lake than a sea…).

Walking through Hezekiah’s tunnel—this was cool…and dark…and wet.  But, amazing when you think about how the tunnel was designed and built!  Hammers and chisels for 533 meters…

Eating some local food—started the week off with a falafel pita, ate some local ice cream and a famous Magnum ice cream bar (or two), and topped it off with a whole fish!

Finding things that remind me of home—the Cubs on a yarmulke (a little weird), a YMCA in Nazareth, the Lego Batman movie in Hebrew, and…a windmill in Jerusalem!

Well, there you go…my top 5 adventures in Israel (so far).  My hope as I continue this adventure is to share more of these experiences and some more of the stuff I’m learning too.  Hope you enjoy following along!

Israel Day 4: Acting like Jesus

Israel Day 4: Acting like Jesus

Sepphoris

Nazareth Village

Nazareth Precipice

Israel Day 4 started at a place called Sepphoris.  During the time of Christ, it served as the capital of Galilee, as well as its largest city.

Today, in the middle of what remains of the city, is an outdoor theater.  With enough seating for up to 7,000 people, this theater was the center of activity for the city.

So, as we’re sitting on the theater steps, talking about the plays and town meetings that were often held there, I hear this…

“The term ‘hypocrite’ in Greek origin translates ‘actor’…and in that cultural context would have been considered a positive, descriptive term.”

Wait…what?

Isn’t a “hypocrite” a negative, descriptive term?

Doesn’t Jesus call out all the Pharisees and religious leaders as being “hypocrites?”

And, don’t we call Christians who don’t act like Jesus, “hypocrites”?

Well…yes.

But, think about it this way…

An actor is someone who plays a part.  Someone who is pretending to be someone that they are not.

That’s what actors are supposed to do, you know.

And, we don’t want to be like that.

Playing the part of a Christian…pretending to be a follower of Jesus…acting religious (like the Pharisees).

That would just be acting (or “hypocritical”).

But, what if the point was to become like the One we follow by acting like him?

Then, we wouldn’t just be actors anymore…

We’d be like the One we’re acting like.

And, I think that’s the point.

Acting like Jesus so that we become like Jesus.

Anything less than that would be, well…hypocritical.

 

Israel Day 3: a day of irony

Israel Day 3:

Temple Mount

Pool of Bethesda

Western Wall

City of David

Hezekiah’s Tunnel

Today was a day of irony.

It started with waiting in line to enter the Temple Mount.

The Temple Mount today is a Muslim holy place…in fact it’s the third highest ranked holy place for Muslims to visit in the world.

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The irony is that the Temple Mount is built on the original temple of Jerusalem.

You know…the temple that the Israelites built and used to worship God.

The one where Jesus overturned the tables.

The one where animal sacrifices were performed for the sins of the people.

You know…that one.

So, it’s historically sacred to the Jewish people.

And, now today it’s sacred to the Muslim people.

See the irony?

Right after visiting the Temple Mount, we visited the Western Wall.

The Western Wall is where Jewish people go to recite their prayers to God.

It’s located directly behind (literally on the other side of the wall) of the Temple Mount.

One side of the wall is Muslim.

One side of the wall is Jewish.

So, there’s one irony.

But, here’s what I can’t stop thinking about…

The Jewish people are very religious.

They are devoted to God.

They pray with great emotion and sincerity.

But, they don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah.

So, they jump through all sorts of religious hoops in their devotion to God, and they do it religiously and sincerely day after day after day.

But, they’re missing Jesus.

And, everything in the Bible points us to Jesus.

He’s the answer…the only answer really.

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But, here’s the irony for me.

The Jewish people here are religiously devoted to God, and they don’t even believe the Gospel.

We (Christians) say we believe the Gospel, and then we religiously devote ourselves to lesser things…like family, and sports, and work, and comfort, etc.

We know the Messiah that the Jewish people are still waiting for.

But, how devoted to him are we?

Religious devotion to Jesus is an every day thing.

Not a Sunday morning thing.

Not a prayed-a-prayer-when-I-was-a-kid-so-I’m-good kind of thing.

It’s an every day decision to follow Jesus with every day actions, where your actions prove your decision to follow him.

The Jewish people have this figured out, but they don’t know Jesus.

Christians know Jesus, but we don’t really follow him.

See the irony?

 

20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 5:20

 

 

Israel Day 2: finding joy in unexpected places

Day 2:  Finding joy in unexpected places
Herodium
Jordan River
Dead Sea Float
WadiKelt hike
Today started at Herodium, the location of one of Herod’s eight palaces.  It also happens to be the site of Herod’s tomb.
This is the same Herod who sent wise men to find Jesus.
The same Herod who later had all the male children two years and younger in Bethlehem killed when he realized the wise men had tricked him.
You know…that Herod.
So, here we are sitting next to the remains of Herod’s palace, with the town of Bethlehem off in the distance behind us.
And, we’re reading the account of the birth of Jesus.
We’re learning just how powerful and how wealthy and how ruthless this Herod was and how Jesus was born not far from his palace.
And, in that time and space, we start to sing…
Joy to the world.
Yes…that joy to the world.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!  Let earth receive her King…
Never would I imagine singing those words sitting next to the ruins of Herod’s palace and overlooking Bethlehem off in the distance.
I found joy in an unexpected place.
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Fast forward to later in the day, where we hiked in the same wilderness Jesus was tempted in.
The same wilderness where travelers (including Jesus) walked back and forth between Jerusalem and Jericho.
And, in a time of quiet, I wondered…where is the joy in this place?
Where is the joy in remembering that Jesus spent 40 days and nights here being tempted by Satan?
What was he thinking when he was alone and tired and hungry?
Where was the joy?  Did he find any joy in that desert?
And then I remembered these verses from Hebrews 12…
“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Jesus found joy in an unexpected place.
And, we can find joy in unexpected places too.
I know I did today.
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Maybe like Jesus, you find yourself in your own wilderness…your own desert place today.
Don’t give up.
There’s joy to be found in unexpected places.

Israel Day 1: Perspective and Rocks

Blog Note from PJ:  Over the next ten days, I will be using my Verse O the Week blog to journal my experience in Israel with Sonlife.  Hope you enjoy following along!
Day 1:
– Mount of Olives
– Scale model of Jerusalem
– Dead Sea Scrolls
– Valley of Elah (David and Goliath)
Day 1 in Israel was all about perspective and rocks.
Perspective came standing on the Mount of Olives, looking out over Jerusalem, and thinking of Jesus when he said…
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you would not!”  (Matthew 23:37)
I was reminded of Jesus’ love and his desire to care for his people…and how so often we refuse him and go our own way.
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Perspective came standing over the “city of Jerusalem” (a scale model), looking at the pools of Siloam and Bethesda, and thinking of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman when he said…
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever.  (John 4:13)
 I was reminded that Jesus is the only one who can quench our thirst for meaning and hope and purpose and peace…and how so often we look for those things in other places only to find ourselves more thirsty.
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Perspective came looking at ancient scrolls and artifacts, and thinking of Jesus when he said…
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”  (Matthew 5:17-18)
I was reminded that all of Scripture ultimately points us to Jesus…and our only hope is in him.
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Perspective came looking for rocks near the Valley of Elah, where a young shepherd named David picked up rocks, and used one of them to kill a giant named Goliath.
I was reminded that God gives us all that we need to fight the “giants” that we face in our lives…but we still need to take whatever he gives us and do something.  
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We can’t live in fear of our “giants.”  We can’t avoid them forever.
But, we can beat them with God’s help.
What “giant” are you facing today?
What has God given you to fight against it?
Praying for God to give you his perspective today…and a few rocks to beat whatever giant you are facing.
PJ