Holy Land 2017: Day 8

Tags

, , , , , , ,

To read about our trip from the beginning, start here.

The last day :( I don’t know how, but the trip absolutely FLEW by! Today, we left Jerusalem and went to the Dead Sea region, and finally got a taste for the desert.  Our drive to the first stop was so interesting! On one side, we had the Dead Sea (which is huge btw), and on the other there were mountains, but they were just sand, no vegetation at all! Every now and then we would see a little grouping of plants, which indicated there must be an underground water source.

Our first stop was at Masada.  This was a site that I really didn’t know a thing about before the trip, but I am so glad I got to go! This is a “stronghold” (that’s the definition of Masada in Hebrew), that is up on a natural mesa near the Dead Sea. there is a path to hike up to the top, but of course, our guide Ron made us “chick chock” to the top so we took the tram.  Next time I go to Israel, I will be hiking! Once you get the top, the view is breathtaking! The only Biblical reference of Masada is in 1 Samuel and 1 Chronicles when David camps with his soldiers at the “stronghold” (1 Sam 22:3-5,24:22, 1 Chron 12:1-16). When Herod was the ruler (right before Jesus was born), he fortified the stronghold and it was nearly impregnable.  Following the Roman destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, many Jews fled here to take one last stand against the Romans.  In 73 AD, the Romans finally captured Masada, and discovered that all of the Jews had chosen to kill themselves instead of being subject to Roman slavery.  These 960 Jews were the last free Jews until Israel became a state in 1948! Among the ruins, we saw what used to be Herod’s palace, including murals and mosaics still preserved, a synagogue, various housing structures, and the channels and cisterns used to funnel rain water to the stronghold.

We caught a glimpse of the desert oasis Ein Gedi as our bus flew by.  This whole region is where David spent a significant amount of time fleeing from Saul (how fitting that our bus was fleeing by? hahah).  Near here, David cut off the end of Saul’s robe in a cave while he was relieving himself (1 Sam 24), and it is also believed that he wrote Psalms 57 and 142 in a cave in the area.  Additionally, the Moabites and Ammonites and Edomites gathered here to attack Jerusalem, but King Jehoshaphat gathered the people to fast and pray, and God caused the armies to fight each other instead of attacking Jerusalem (2 Chron. 20:1-30).

Our next stop was Qumron.  This is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Ron made a short story very long as he told us the story of how they were found, but I will only share my concise version :) There were some Bedouins where playing around throwing rocks into crevices and caves  in 1941 when they heard a rock hit something inside of a cave.  The came back the next day with ropes and things to climb up and discovered multiple vessels with scrolls inside.  They tried to sell them in the nearby town of Bethlehem, but no one wanted them. So they ended up giving them to a local shoemaker.  He asked one of his professor friends about them, and the professor friend, realizing their value, bought them.  He then announced their discovery, but due to the value, the Bedouins figured they would check if there were any others. They sold most of them to the shoemaker, even tearing some up in order to get more money from him.  The shoemaker, then in turn, sold them to the professor, making quite a fortune for himself.  One of the greatest discovery in the caves was the oldest complete version of the book of Isaiah.  It turns out that the scrolls belonged to a group of Jews who set up a little village similar to a university where people could come and study and live a communal lifestyle. Archaeologists think they hid the scrolls when they heard of the coming invasion of the Romans, intending to return, but they never made it back.

We ended our day at the Dead Sea.  So awesome! I had heard all of my life that you can sit in the water and read a newspaper, so I obviously had to try it, and we got a great picture of my uncle doing exactly that (nevermind that the newspaper is in Hebrew :) ). The water felt normal while we were in it, but left an odd feeling on our skin once we got out.  And let me tell you, truly floating is an amazing feeling! Pro tips: wear strap on sandals like Chacos as the ground is sometimes hard to walk on, and be prepared with your own hotel towel(s) in the shared showers and changing rooms.

That evening, we decided to take in the city at night before leaving the following day.  We hopped on the train to Jaffa Street and the Mamilla Mall.  There were both tourists and Israelis out and about enjoying the evening!

And that was the end of the eighth day, our last day! Stay tuned for my next post with travel tips and observations for your next trip to Israel…

Advertisements

Holy Land 2017: Day 7

Tags

, , , , , ,

To read about our trip from the beginning, start here.

Today, Good Friday, I am posting our adventures from Day 7.  Once again, our tour could not have been planned better in anticipation of Easter this year. On this day, we remembered what happened 2,000 years ago on the first Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday!

We started the day at the Damascus Gate where we saw the ruins of the gate from the time of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (135 AD) . Our guide Ron also explained to us an interesting feature of all of the gates to the old city.  Going through each gate, sometimes there is an area within the gate building itself, but you always have to turn right to enter the city.  This is because invading soldiers would have their sword in their right hands and shield in their left. When you have to go around a corner on your right, it is harder to protect yourself with your shield! Pretty smart thinking, guys! There were ladies inside the gate bargaining over some grape leaves, and then the old city market in the Christian and Muslim quarters.

Next stop was the best stop of the entire trip. We visited the Garden Tomb.  And, surprise, it’s empty!!! Now of course, this may not be the exact tomb, but it is highly likely that this is indeed the tomb where Jesus’ body laid for 3 days. Just a few steps away is the area we believe is Golgatha, the place of the skull, which is outside of the city walls.  This is consistent with Jewish custom that death sentences would be executed outside the city walls, and the bodies buried on the far outskirts of the city.  Today it is a bit hard to see the shape of the skull in the cliff-side, due to weathering and a recent earthquake, but you can see some historical photos here that more clearly show the shape.  Unfortunately, the area directly under the cliff-side is now an Armenian bus stop *facepalm*. Golgatha is also right next to where they found a very large garden, which had a tomb carved into the rocks.  The tomb itself, is also laid out in a way that would suggest it is the actual tomb. The entry is to a larger chamber, with two smaller chambers to the right, and there is a groove outside where a large stone could be rolled in front of the entrance.  There is quite a bit more evidence supporting this theory, and you can read about it here.

We had a free afternoon to explore Jerusalem! Patty, Mom, and I decided to go check out some more of the Old City.  Our main goal, was to find the Lion’s Gate, because my sister had told us about it before we left on the trip, so we wanted to make sure and grab a picture with it.  Of course, we had walked by it the other day, but Ron had us “chick chocking” all around the city, so we didn’t have time to stop and take any pictures.  So today, I became our fearless leader, and we snaked our way through the Muslim quarter until we finally found the gate! Then we snaked our way back through (I had no clue which way we were heading, but you gotta fake it till you make it!), and we found a cute little cafe to stop at for lunch.  After that, we continued exploring the markets in the Muslim and Jewish quarters. Since we still had quite a bit of time before we needed to meet back with the guides, I went off to the Ben Yehuda pedestrian street.  This was quite a bit newer than the markets in the Old City, and I ran into some of the others from our trip!

Our evening was definitely the most important on the entire trip.  We all returned to the Garden Tomb for a service and the Lord’s Supper. Pastor Jeffress spoke from directly in front of the empty tomb about Matthew 28 and the significance of the empty tomb:

  • Christ died for our sins, just as He said
  • Christ conquered death, just as He said
  • Christ will deliver us from death, just as He said

We sang there in front of the empty tomb, we sang as a part of the Lord’s Supper, and we sang in front of Golgotha, over the Armenian bus stop.

That night was our last night all together in Jerusalem, so we decided to go check out the rich King David Hotel and the most beautiful YMCA in the world.

And that was the end of the seventh day! To be continued…

Read about Day 8 here.

Holy Land 2017: Day 6

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

To read about our trip from the beginning, start here.

Today is Maundy Thursday, and I couldn’t think of a better day to post our touring adventures on Day 6! Hope you enjoy :)

After gaining our crash course in the Old City of Jerusalem yesterday, we enjoyed a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of the Old City.  We spent the morning over on the Mount of Olives, just to the east of Mount Moriah (aka the Temple Mount). I didn’t realize how close this was to the Temple Mount, until we were actually here. The view of the temple from this vantage point must have been spectacular! We began our day at an alcove near the top with a view down over the Temple Mount, where we sang “Jesus Messiah” – I hope that it echoed all over the Temple Mount and surrounding area (just like the Arab calls to prayer from the loudspeakers on the Temple Mount do). Then Pastor Jeffress spoke about 7 main differences between the rapture (when Christians meet Jesus in the air) and Jesus’ second coming (when Jesus returns to the Mount of Olives after the Tribulation):

  1. Rapture: no more prophecies need to be fulfilled for this to happen. 2nd Coming: still many prophecies left to be fulfilled, including rebuilding the temple.
  2. Rapture: we will meet Jesus in the air (1 Thess 4:16-17). 2nd Coming: Jesus’ feet will touch the earth on the Mount of Olives and it will split in half (Zech 14:4).
  3. Rapture: Jesus will return to Heaven. 2nd Coming: Jesus will establish His kingdom on earth with the Church.
  4. Rapture: this was a mystery given to Paul to reveal. 2nd Coming: Jesus talked about this and the Tribulation as it will be the last chance for the Jews to repent, and it was also discussed in the Old Testament.
  5. Rapture: the earth will not change. 2nd Coming: part of the curse on the earth will reverse, and the earth will have a partial “renovation”.
  6. Rapture: Satan will run rampant on the earth after the rapture. 2nd Coming: Satan will be bound up for 1,000 years after the 2nd coming.
  7. Rapture: will happen instantly. 2nd Coming: will take some time

Jesus will win in the end! He closed with this very timely passage (given our location) from when Jesus ascended to Heaven from the top of the Mount of Olives:

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.'” Acts 1:10-11

After this great message we began walking down the mount to stop off at some other interesting points before reaching the Garden of Gethsemene. First, we walked into the cemeteries that cover the sides of the mountain. Following some of the same traditions I mentioned yesterday that led to the Muslims building their cemetery blocking the Eastern Gate of the Temple Mount, the Jews all yearn to be buried here on the Mount of Olives.  They believe that when the Messiah comes for the first time, he will descend the Mount of Olives, resurrect the Jews, and enter Jerusalem through the Eastern Gate.  Contrast this partially flawed tradition, with how Jesus first entered the city on Palm Sunday.  He did come over the Mount of Olives, but he was riding on a donkey, and weeping over the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Next, we walked to a church built on the side of the mountain.  Inside, behind the pulpit, is a window looking out over the Temple Mount, with an image of a cross that completely blocks the Dome of the Rock. As we were continuing on down the mountain, we saw a stone set up remembering Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.

And then we reached the Garden of Gethsemene. It’s original name comes from the Hebrew Gat Shemanim, which means “(olive) oil press”. This was a wonderful, peaceful oasis. There is a magnificent church on one side of the winding mountain road, that has a beautiful portico and steps in front directly across from the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount.  On the other side of the winding mountain road is the rest of the private garden.  It is still filled with olive trees! We sang again here and Pastor Jeffress spoke again about Jesus’ last night here in the garden.  Jesus was prostrate on the ground, praying fervently, because He couldn’t imagine being separated from God the Father.  His death would be the ONLY time in all eternity for God to be separated from Himself.  Talk about theological conundrum!! But, praise the Lord, Jesus submitted his will to God’s.  It is interesting to note here, that Jesus was in the midst of a mighty struggle in prayer, but then when the trial came, He was calm. Contrast that with the disciples falling asleep that night, but then falling apart when Jesus died! After this message, we had time to find a spot in the garden and pray fervently to God.

I have noted some of the Biblical references above for the events that took place on the Mount of Olives, but here is a more comprehensive list, for reference. 2 Samuel 15:30-37 King David flees here when he learns of his son Absalom’s treachery, 1 Kings 11:7-8 Solomon built pagan shrines here for his wives, Ezekiel and Zechariah both prophesy about here, Matthew 21:1-11 Mark 11:1-10 Luke 19:28-40 John 12:12-16 Jesus makes his Triumphal Entry from here down into Jerusalem, Luke 19:41-44 Jesus wept over Jerusalem, Matthew 24-25 Mark 13:1-37 Luke 21:5-36 Jesus describes the future of Jerusalem, Matthew 26:36-56 Mark 14:32-52 Luke 22:39-53 John 18:1-11 Jesus prays here before being betrayed by Judas, Luke 24:50-53 Acts 1:9-12 Jesus ascends to Heaven.

After our lovely morning on the Mount of Olives, we went over to the Old City and entered through the Zion Gate on Mount Zion.  Near here is the traditional location of the Upper Room where Jesus and the disciples had the Last Supper.  The current building was built by the Crusaders.  We then had a little bit of free time in the Jewish quarter and we found a lovely little cafe for lunch.

Our afternoon touring was primarily in the ruins of the City of David.  Not to be confused with Bethlehem, this City of David is on a hill just to the south of the Temple Mount, where David built his fortress.  Later, his son Solomon built the “Old City” of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.

There are still teams on site at the City of David, excavating and discovering more about the original City of David.  They have found various artifacts here, including a bell from the robe of a rabbi, a stone used to indicate an animal was pure and good for sacrifice, coins, and jewelry.  We also saw where they found a dog cemetery.  This is from the time of the Persians, as dogs were holy animals in the Persian culture.  One of the largest discoveries that we were able to truly experience was the underground tunnel system.  In order to have fresh water for the city, David had his workers dig a tunnel, starting at 2 different sides of the hill to bring water from the Gihon spring to an open pool, known now as the pool of Siloam. We crawled through the tunnels and went down to where the pool would have been.  From the pool, they built a set of steps leading up to the Temple Mount, in order for the people to be able to use the pool as a ritual bath before heading up to the Temple.  Because they were quite a steep set of steps leading up, they also built a drain underneath them to carry water down without knocking over the people walking up.  During the Roman siege in 70 AD, many Jews hid underneath the steps in the drain.  When the Romans discovered they were there, they blocked off the entrances and lit the tunnel on fire and killed all of the Jews within.

The Siloam area is mentioned specifically a few times in the Bible: in Nehemiah 3 the wall of the pool was repaired, in John 9, Jesus tells a blind man to wash in the pool, and in in Luke 13, Jesus recalls when a tower under construction in Siloam collapsed.

Our last stop of the day was to the St Peter in Gallicantu, which is built on top of the ruins of a Byzantine church. which was on top of the traditional location of Caiaphas’ house.  This is where Jesus was held in prison.  Additionally, Gallicantu means “cock crowing”, which remembers this as the location where Peter denied Jesus 3 times.  Down underneath the church, we saw the ruins of a house and dungeon, which would have been used to hold prisoners.

And that was the end of the sixth day!  To be continued…

Read about Day 7 here.

Holy Land 2017: Day 5

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

To read about our trip from the beginning, start here.

Today was jam packed – almost overwhelming! But also amazing! We started at the Temple Mount, and explored the surrounding area.  Currently, the Palestinians control the Temple Mount itself (don’t ask me how that makes sense). This meant we had to go through pretty intense security just to get to the Western/Wailing Wall, and even more to get inside the Temple Mount.  Once inside, our guide Ron was extremely careful with what he talked about as we had Palestinian guards trailing us everywhere we went. Up on the top, we saw the Dome of the Rock mosque and the demonic image on the marble by the entrance.  We didn’t get to spend too much time up here, nor is there much that the Israelites have been able to study or verify as original from the time of King Solomon, as they have not had any real access to the Temple Mount since it was last destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.  However, we did hear that there is a stone step that has been clearly identified as belonging to the steps from when Solomon originally built the temple.  We also heard about some of the recent plumbing plumbing issues they had at the mosque.  Turns out, the Palestinians are so afraid that something will be discovered under the ground that they brought in Jordanians to fix the plumbing, instead of allowing the Israeli plumbers to complete the work and have access to dig under the Temple Mount.  We walked around the top of the mount and saw the Eastern/Golden gate that would have been used by Jesus every day during the last week of his life, since he was staying on the Mount of Olives – directly to the east of the temple.  Unfortunately, the gate was built over by the Byzantines, and later closed off so that a Muslim cemetery could be planted directly on the other side of the wall.  This is supposedly because the Jewish tradition is that the Messiah will enter the Eastern Gate (just as Jesus already did!).  However, since the Jewish priests can’t enter a cemetery, they thought this would prevent his coming! (Granted there may be flaws in this retelling as I missed part of what Ron was saying, but I got generally the same idea from a quick google search and it appears the original reasoning was also flawed :) )

We then exited the Temple Mount near the Lion’s gate to go see Bethesda.  This is where Jesus healed the lame man by the pool in John 5. The church on this site has amazing acoustics, so Mom, Patty, and I led our group in singing “Amazing Grace”.

Next we went quickly through the Catholic Via Dolorosa (more on where we think it actually happened later). This is more based on tradition, and things they say happened as Jesus was carrying the cross, but there is very little Biblical evidence to support most of it.  It begins in the Muslim Quarter at the site of the Roman fortress on the northwest corner of the Temple Mount, and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where they traditionally believe is the sight of Jesus’ death and burial and resurrection.  As we were going along the Via Dolorosa, we were walking all through the Muslim Quarter and saw all of the little Arab shops and tiny walkways.

Next we walked through sections of the Jewish Quarter. The feeling here is far different from the Muslim Quarter.  We saw various parts where ruins were discovered, including the old cardo (main street) of Jerusalem. The Jewish quarter used to be the slums where many Jews were living in the 1800s.  When one of the Rothshilds came over from the US, he saw the poverty and wanted to help his fellow Jews, however, he wasn’t able to give his money, unless it was for public use.  So, he built them a hospital, schools, a synagogue, and a loan house that poor families could live in for a year.  After the 6 days war in 1967, the Israelites finally had control of the area and immediately began to excavate. They found the ruins of large houses beneath the ground, which are mostly likely the houses of the priests from before the temple was destroyed.  They also found a young girl that had been killed by a Roman spear during the siege of 70AD, immediately before a building fell on her.  However, all of the Muslim houses and buildings that had been built right up to the walls of the Temple Mount, were left untouched by the Israelites.  More on that history below.

After lunch, we visited the Western/Wailing Wall.  We had to stay on the women’s side, but I snuck a picture of the men’s side! The women’s side was packed from end to end with women praying.  Many of the women had their children with them, and were showing them the different traditions they practice, including not turning their backs to the wall.

Next, we went into the Davidson Center, which preserves the southern wall and the southwest corner of the Temple Mount. I so wish we could have spent more time her!! But what we did get to see was pretty amazing.  It is in this area, where the Israelites began doing some serious excavation after the 6 days war in 1967.  We saw the ruins of some ritual baths, the remains of the arch that lead to the entrance of the Temple Mount used by the merchants, and one of the largest stones found in the wall from the time of Herod.  Our group then gathered on the southern steps where Pastor Jeffress preached and about the sermon Peter gave on these very steps, as recorded in Acts 2 ~ A child of God, speaking the Word of God, empowered by the Spirit of God, is unstoppable!

That night, some of us did an optional outing to the Western Wall at night to explore the tunnels underneath the Muslim Quarter! As I mentioned above, the Israelites immediately began clearing out everything that was built up near the Temple Mount after the 6 days war in 1967, however, they were not able to clear out the Muslim houses.  That means that the only parts of the Temple Mount walls that are exposed today are the eastern wall (where the cemetery is), the southern wall (inside the Davidson Center), and the southern half of the western wall (aka the wailing wall).  Right after the war, the Israelites did try to begin digging under the wall, but the Muslims found out and put a quick stop to that.  However, before they caught on, a Jewish rabbi saw what may be the ark of the covenant buried underneath the wall, but it was closed up before he could verify it. But, this is not stopping the Israelites from digging up and under anything they can, just stopping once they reach the wall.  So, we got to explore down one of the tunnels they have built along the western wall, beneath the Muslim quarter, but down on the level that would have been street level at the time of Jesus! We saw arches that would have been the walkways leading up to the temple, the front of stores along the cardo, and the largest stone in the wall discovered to date – it is larger than a charter bus!! We walked all the way to the end of the wall, and saw where the construction on the cardo stopped when Herod died, and some of the stones that were ready to be laid! We kept going a little farther, to where they discovered the aqueduct pools used to catch rain water built by Herod, right by the Roman fortress.  One of the other interesting this we saw was where they reached the bedrock of Mount Moriah when building the temple mount.  Instead of cutting into it, they had it beveled to look like cut stone and blend in with the rest of the Herodian stones.

And that was the end of the fifth day!  To be continued…

Read about day 6 here.

Holy Land 2017: Day 4

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

To read about our trip from the beginning, start here.

Today, we made the journey from Tiberias to Jerusalem.  It was a 5 day walk, and we joined in with the other Jews traveling along both shores of the Jordan.

Oh wait, that was how Jesus did it! We took a bus :)

But our route showed us the distance the Jews used to cover multiple times a year for the important feasts and holy days at the temple in Jerusalem. Today, it is quite a different sight along the path, given the tension with Palestine (I think this is kind of the same thing as the country Jordan??). There is so much history behind this region, and I can’t pretend to even know enough to properly understand why it is the way it is today.  However, I can tell you what we observed along the way, and what our guide Ron shared with us. Currently, the border between Israel and Jordan is the Jordan River.  However, the land that is contested is on the western bank of the Jordan (ie. the Israel side).  The problem that we were able to observe, was the large amount of land that has been settled by the Palestinians on both banks of the river.  For some reason, Israel is not able to force them off of their land on the west bank.  As such, there are zones that cover the entire west bank identifying where the Israelis and the Palestinians are allowed to be.  Zone A is for Palestinians only (Jews/Israelis would not be safe or protected here), Zone C is for the Israelis, and Zone B is for both aka where the roads are.  The strangest part about this is that the Zone C neighborhoods have barbed wire fences and almost look like a prison, while the Palestinian neighborhoods are free and open.  Ron lives in one of these Zone C neighborhoods and described how they have guards (often volunteers) patrol their fences.  Do you see how strange that is? All of the west bank is owned by Israel, but the Israelis are afraid for their safety, and the Palestinians aren’t!  Also, we could see where they have built the wall along the border.  They call it a wall, but only 7% of the entire border is actually a wall, the rest is a highly sensitive fence alerting the guard patrols to anything touching the fence.  The walls are in the highly dense areas where neighborhood activity (think about kids playing with a ball) could trigger an alarm if there was only a fence, but a wall would completely block things from passing over.  Along the west bank, this fence/wall is quite far inland on the west bank side, as it would be harder for the patrols to guard if the fence was truly down in the valley created by the jordan river on the actual border.

Enough of me talking about something I know very little about…let’s talk about the places we visited along the way! Our first stop was to Beit She’an, also known as Beth Shan or Scythopolis.  This was probably one of the sites that fascinated me the most! I have always loved Roman history, and this was what I would call my first real, immersive experience in Roman ruins! The history at this site goes back thousands of years.  First, there is the Tel (refer to here where I discuss the Tel at Megiddo). This Tel has a top layer from the time of King Solomon, and then older layers below. When the Greeks conquered the settlement, they did not build on top of the Tel, but spread out around the hill and renamed the city Scythopolis. Next the Romans conquered, then the Byzantine era (Christian Romans), then the Muslims, and it continues.  Each of the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Muslims added their own details to the site.  The whole area was destroyed in a great earthquake in the 700s AD.  This left much of the city ruins in tact, and is what we were able to experience.  This area and this city are mentioned various times through Scripture, but one of the most notable times was when the Philistines hung the bodies of Saul and his sons on the walls of the city (1 Samuel 31:10-12).  When David heard about that, he cursed the mountains of Gilboa, and even to this day, trees don’t grow on it (2 Samuel1:17-27).

fullsizeoutput_5ab8

Some of the key sites we saw were the amphitheater, theater, cardo (main street), Roman baths, and temple.  We also saw a bathroom!!

As we continued driving south, we saw greenhouses and fields of produce covering the land near the Jordan River.  We also saw rolling hills that were very rocky, and we could make out various caves where the shepherds stay while following their flocks.  Then, all of a sudden, there was nothing green around us! We had moved from the lush northern lands to the dry almost desert land of the Jerusalem area.  We drove by the modern city of Jericho, and our bus sang “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho”.  I followed this with the Veggie Tales song “Keep walking, but you won’t knock down our walls”, but no one joined in with me :(

Our next stop was at a more likely location for Jesus’ baptism, as it is closer to the region where John would have been for his ministry in the desert. At this site, there were some people from other tour groups getting baptized, and we could look directly across the river to the Jordan side where they have a full guard.

Right before we arrived in Jerusalem, we stopped by Genesis Land to visit Abraham’s tent for lunch. He showed us great hospitality, told us his story, and let us meet his camels!

And then we reached Jerusalem! Our bus driver turned on “Jerusalem” by the Hoppers as we made a triumphal entry…and of course the main chorus of the song was stuck in our heads the entire rest of the trip!

We went straight to the Israel museum.  We didn’t spend too much time here, as we were mostly outside, and the temperature had dropped at least 20 degrees from our last stop at the Jordan River.  However, we were able to see a large model of the ancient city of Jerusalem before the temple was destroyed.  Ron pointed out to us many of the sites we were going to see, and many places we would find interesting.  We also went into one of the buildings there that houses many of the Dead Sea Scrolls (more on that to come).

Before heading to the hotel, we stopped at the Haas Promenade for an amazing view of the Temple Mount and surrounding hills of Jerusalem.

fullsizeoutput_5ae2

That evening, we had the option to visit the Friends of Zion Museum – check it out here!

And that was the end of the fourth day! To be continued…

Read about Day 5 here.

Holy Land 2017: Day 3

Tags

, , , , , , ,

To read about our trip from the beginning, start here.

Ever since arriving in Tiberias, and in our first 2 days of touring, the Sea of Galilee created a sublime backdrop.  The hills along the far shore were mysteriously cloaked in a veil of mist.  This morning was no different, and the water was as smooth as glass.

17505045_10158466905850083_254884550562716087_o

We set out for a boat ride in 2 boats tethered together so that our entire group of 200+ had room.  Our family was last to board, but we ended up getting the best seats! Once we reached the middle of the lake, Pastor Jeffress shared the story of when Jesus calmed the storm in Matthew 8:23-27.  He talked about how storms in our lives are natural, God is aware of them, He will use them to grow us, and He will deliver us through them.

Before heading back to shore, the boats split up, and we asked our boat drivers to teach us an Israeli dance! See the video here.

We spent the rest of the day in the far north of Israel in the Golan Heights.  Our first stop was to Caesarea Philippi. This area was originally settled by the Greeks, but after the Romans conquered, King Herod built a temple here, and passed it along to his son Herod Phillip. It was near here that Peter declared Jesus as the Messiah in Matthew 16:13-20. Pastor Jeffress also spoke here about Peter’s confession and Jesus’ command to surrender to God, sacrifice daily what you want for what God wants, and obey Him. I wish we had more time to spend here, as the area is beautifully nestled in the hills.  We visited the nature preserve, but where only able to see the caves and waterfall from afar, before we had to “chick chock” on to the next stop. (“chick chock” means hurry up – it was our guide’s favorite phrase!)

17505219_10158466909230083_2275751657189199532_o

Next, we traveled to Tel Dan.  On the way, we passed by fields with caution signs all along the fences.  Our guide Ron told us that the Syrians left land mines in this area after the Syrian war, but didn’t ever collect them.  The funniest thing, though, was the cows grazing along happy as could be! Ron said the cows not only help find the mines, but are quite tasty when they do find a mine haha

Tel Dan is one of the northernmost cities in Israel.  Oftentimes, the land of Israel will be referred to as “from Dan to Beersheva” in the Bible. This is where the tribe of Dan settled after they were unable to claim the land they were allotted further south.  It sits along the River Dan, which flows into the Sea of Galilee.  An interesting archaeological find here was an arch from over 4,000 years ago, which predates when the Romans claimed to have invented the arch.  We visited the ruins of the gate to the city from the time of Ahab.  Our guide explained to us that there would have been a wooden gate covering the entrance that would be closed at night.  If you were accidentally outside the gate when it closed, they had a little crawl hole that one person could fit through to get into the city.  They called it “the eye of the needle”! One of the most interesting findings (in my opinion) was the pedestal by the gate where the king would sit and hold court.  Some of the major Bible stories that occurred here are Genesis 14:13-16 Moses travelled here to rescue Lot from Kedorlaomer, 1 Kings 12:26-33 Jeroboam (1st king of the northern kingdom) set up idols here to prevent the people from returning to Jerusalem, Jeremiah 4:15, 8:15-16 this is the gateway through which Judah’s enemies pass through on the way to Jerusalem.

17545602_10158466914310083_6125992601075584895_o

We had lunch at a kibuts in their hotel.  A kibuts is a group of people that live together in unity in order to share the work and also share protection.  They are all modernizing, but they were originally extremely useful as they Jews were coming back to take over the land, but needed protection and couldn’t work the land alone to provide enough sustenance.  They would all share the work, share any profits, and provide protection for each other.  Now, they are expanding to grow more produce to sell, create attractions or hotels for visitors, and allow people to work off of the kibuts (but their income goes back into the group pot).  They also will pay for the children to have the best education, and they have time to decide if they will stay on the kibuts after graduation or if they will move out.

After lunch, we had a really moving afternoon when over 60 people were baptized in the Jordan River! Mom and I marveled over remembering when Jesus was baptized, and God’s voice came down from Heaven saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:13-17.

And that was the end of the third day! To be continued…

Read about Day 4 here.

Holy Land 2017: Day 2

Tags

, , , , , ,

To read about our trip from the beginning, start here.

We spent our second day touring around the Galilee region. Once again, we were amazed by the beautiful rolling hills covered in lush vegetation! As we drove along, our guide pointed out to us a valley that Jesus would have most likely walked through.  As everything was so new to us (and still is), he helped us connect the places we visited each day.  Specifically, just on the other side of the valley between some hills was the town of Nazareth that we had visited the day before.  Jesus would have traveled from Nazareth to visit Magdalena and Capernaum and other sites around the Sea of Galilee.  This would have been a normal days walk (approx 20 miles…ridiculous to think about now, but that would have been entirely normal during His life!).

Our first stop was to the Mount of Beatitudes.  Here, there is a beautiful garden and church, both of which display the beatitudes. We had worship and a message from the pastor on generosity to those around us, as we know with certainty the future for those who believe in Christ, and those who do not (loosely following the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7).

Next, we visited Magdala.  This site has a very exciting ruin that was only recently discovered, which made visiting it quite special.  You can read more about the story here.The main ruin that our group focused on was the 1st century synagogue. Our guide at the site (her name is Mary..from Magdalena…get it ;) ) told us that this is 1 of only 7 1st century synagogues that have been discovered.  Additionally, because of its location along the Galilee, it is fairly certain that Jesus would have taught here during his years of ministry in the Galilee region. One of the other components to the ruins relates to the eventual downfall of the village.  As this village is near the northern end of Israel, it would have been one of the earlier locations conquered by the Romans.  As the archaeologists were digging, they found very clean cut square stones and other round stones that definitely belonged to the synagogue, but they were not with the other synagogue ruins…they were blocking the main road and blocking the entrances to the little shops in the market – in an attempt to keep out the Romans!

We stopped for lunch at this little hole-in-the-wall restaurant, not sure what it is named haha, but I figured I would do like the Israeli’s and have fish by the Sea of Galilee!

We made a few quick stops in the afternoon to see the 2,000 year old boat that was found almost fully preserved in the Galilee at Nof Ginosar (called the “Jesus Boat”), and to see Peter’s Primacy (Matthew 14:13-21, John 21).

Our last stop for the day was to the ruins of the town of Capernaum.  Some of the key events here: Matthew 4:13-16, Matt. 4:18-22/Mark 1:16-21, Mark 1:21-34/Luke 4:31-41, Matt. 8:5-13/Luke 7:1-10, and Matt. 8:16-17/Matt. 9:36-38/Matt. 11:23-24/Luke 10:15. This is where Jesus spent almost the entirety of his ministry before heading to Jerusalem. I loved seeing all of the beautifully carved stones in the ruins and the synagogue.  We also saw an octogonal building that was a 5th century church, possibly built over the site of the Apostle Peter’s mother-in-law’s house.

And that was the end of the second day! To be continued…

Read about Day 3 here.

Holy Land 2017: Day 1

Tags

, , , ,

I am pretty sure I have now experienced what they call an “out of body experience”. As I sit here drafting up the first of many posts about our trip to the Holy Land, I have only been back in the good Ol’ USofA for about 20 hours, and I almost can’t believe I even left.  As a first time Christian traveler to Israel, I am feeling all of the feelings.  Everything my more traveled friends told me about Israel is so very true.  And I am beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to go.  Let’s just call it “Life Changing”.  Now enough blabbering, let’s talk about the trip!

After arriving in Tel Aviv and enjoying a nice long night’s rest in Tiberias, we began our tour.  The best part – we didn’t have to lift a finger, Inspiration Tours and PTV took care of all of the details! This was especially nice for me as I was in charge of Mom since Dad couldn’t come ;) As we hopped on the bus, our entire group was shocked by how lush the surrounding area was! We saw all sorts of animals, greenhouses, vineyards, citrus trees and other varieties of trees.

Our first stop, and most immersing site, was the YMCA Nazareth Village.  Talk about traveling back in time! They have a wonderful site preserving what little is left of the tiny village of Nazareth.  In the words of Nathanial “Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:43-51), but let me tell you, the SAVIOR of the world came from there!! God truly uses our weaknesses for his glory, and we could see this through the tiny speck of Nazareth on the map.  

Next, we climbed to the Tel of Megiddo.  [A “Tel” is a fortified city, and today, is usually a hill.  Ancient civilizations would pick a location to build their kingdom based on water, protection, and food.  If the kingdom was destroyed by natural disaster or conquering humans, they would rebuild on the same site, on top of the older civilization.  Thus the newest ancient ruins are at the top of the hill over countless older ruins] Megiddo may not be familiar to you, but if you have read Revelation, you will most definitely remember that the final battle between the forces of good and evil will take place here at “Armageddon” before the Judgment Day (Revelation 16:12-16). Armageddon is merely a different way to say “Megiddo”.  

Once we got to the top of the Tel, we could look out over the Valley of Armageddon (also known as the Jezreel Valley), and picture the great battle taking place here! Pastor Jeffress gave his first of many powerful sermons from this vantage point over some of the key events in Revelation.

Before leaving, we climbed down through the tunnel built by the ancient residents of Megiddo.  This tunnel was built to allow the people to access water when the city was under siege without being seen outside of the city walls.  This city is also mentioned various times in the Bible, including when King Solomon fortified the city (1 Kings 9:15), King Ahaziah died here (2 Kings 9:27), and Josiah unwisely tried to stop Pharaoh Neco and his army when they were marching through (2 Kings 23:29-40)

 

At this point, we had only accomplished half of the items on the agenda, so we had lunch. We went to Caesarea Maritima (by the sea).  I absolutely loved this location, as it was my first time to visit ancient Roman ruins (besides Bath in England).  Here we saw so many interesting sites, including ancient ports combined with pagan temples, a hippodrome, and a theater.  Here, we also saw a very important piece of history that once again provides further historical evidence corroborating what is in the Bible.  While excavating the theater, a stone was found on the ground that wrote of Pontius Pilot.  Before discovering this stone, there were no historical artifacts or writings that mentioned him, outside of the Bible.

Caesarea Maritima is mentioned multiple times throughout Acts as it is where Philip the “Evangelist” lived (Acts 8:40, 21:8-9), and it was visited by Luke, Peter (Acts 10), and Paul (Acts 9:30, 18:22, 21:8-16).  Additionally, Herod Agrippa I was struck down by God at the hippodrome (Acts 12:19-24), and it is where Paul spent nearly 2 years under house arrest (Acts 23-26).

Our last stop of the day was to Mount Carmel where Elijah and the prophets of Baal had a contest.  And in case you forgot the story, God won! (1 Kings 18)  Pastor Jeffress gave yet another powerful message on this story and the powerful prayer.

fullsizeoutput_564f

And that was the end of the first day! To be continued…

Read about Day 2 here.

Banff, Alberta, Canada

Tags

, ,

These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise…oops wrong line! These are the solo travels of a fair lady from Texas.

I began my adventure in the hopes of escaping the very mild winter in Texas for a snowy wonderland in Canada.  And this introvert had no problem going alone! Of course, I made sure to read up on solo travel tips, as well as thoroughly researching the areas I was visiting in advance. So, selfie stick and passport in hand, I landed in Calgary, Alberta on a Thursday to a light layer of snow and fresh flakes falling.

Now if you are traveling alone to another country, be prepared to answer all sorts of questions from the customs officers.  I was asked everything from my job, my hotel, and why I didn’t have a boyfriend or husband who would travel with me!

When traveling to Banff, you fly into Calgary, then have a 2 hour drive to Banff.  As it was winter, and this Texan should not drive on ice/snow, I took the Banff Airporter, which was perfect. The desk for the Banff airporter, was nestled between a picture of a moose and the desk for the Rocky Mountain Wheelchair tours. This quaint location was where I heard my first Canadian “oh ya” of the trip.

Once we made it to Banff, after being awed by the scenery on the drive from the airport, I got settled in my room.  My hotel, the Rundlestone Lodge is wonderful! The rooms are very nice, and the beds are so comfy! As someone sensitive to scratchy sheets, that means a lot! The hotel is about 3/4 of a mile from the downtown area, a straight walk down Banff Avenue.  So I grabbed my water bottle and my jacket and set out to explore! The town is a classic mountain town with many cute shops and restaurants.  There is also a beautiful Presbyterian church at the north east edge of downtown that is picturesque with the mountains behind its mint green steeple.  I stopped for dinner at the Bear Street Pub, where they fed this hungry bear! Fantastic pizza, especially with their signature dipping sauce: honey and a homemade spicy sauce.  Delish!

12961234_10156818187310083_5944800286045331004_o.jpg

Friday, I had a relaxing morning then, made my way to Mt. Norquay to grab lunch and use a sightseeing lift ticket. I planned this perfectly without even realizing! By taking the first day to just sight see, I could watch the skiers and see how they got on the buses and be prepared for my ski days. Certainly helped clear out uncertainties! I rode the North American Chair up to 6,900 ft where the views were breathtaking. I couldn’t help but stare in awe and praise to my Creator! They have a tea shop at the top of this lift that was carved into the mountain.  It has amazing views, but I imagine most people don’t realize it is there, as the only ski runs up there are double black diamonds.  Certainly not my level ;)

12983263_10156818178410083_7942770691896215170_o.jpg

I went to the Banff Upper Hot Springs that evening, and the entire time I was in the water, I was staring at the mountains off in the distance. I cannot find the words to explain, nor do I have any words at the moment. I am simply in awe.

A bit practical advice, should you choose to visit the hot springs: grab a towel from your hotel room (why pay for one?!) and bring a plastic bag or something to protect your belongings from your wet swimsuit and towel.

On my way back from the hot springs, I stopped off at Eddie’s Burger Bar and had the most delicious elk burger ever! Ok, maybe it was the only elk burger I’ve ever had…but it was so good!

Saturday, I went on a fantastic tour with Discover Banff Tours to Lake Louise.  This company knows what they are doing! They have nice buses that pick up a small number of passengers, 9 people were on my tour.  The tour guides also do a great job of helping us meet the people adventuring with us on the tour, sharing the history of the area, and stopping at the most scenic places for prime selfies.  My guide was Hugh and he even had some old and interesting pictures to supplement his stories.  He told us shortly after the tour began to keep an eye out for bears as they had already been seen “oot and aboot” this spring. Sadly, we didn’t see any, even along the railroad tracks where they will go scavenge for food that fell off the trains through the winter.

As we took the scenic drive from Banff to Lake Louise on the old original highway, he shared with us the history of the area.  As they were building the railroad across Canada to claim all of the land and settle the country, a couple of workers discovered the vermillion lakes at Sulphur Mountain in 1883.  The railroad was an important part of shaping modern day Canada, as it was the reason Vancouver joined Canada instead of the U.S.  The Canadian Pacific Railway Company that built the first transcontinental railroad in Canada also built beautiful hotels all along the railway fashioned after chateaus.  After the discovery of the hot springs at Sulphur Mountain, William Conrelius van Horne, with the railway company had the Banff Springs Hotel built in 1888 to capitalize on the tourism potential in the Canadian Rockies.

Along our drive, we came across a fantastic view of the railway at Morant’s curve.  This view was on the cover of National Geographic.

12973119_10156818179200083_7843115892862727443_o.jpg

After the informative and scenic drive, we arrived at Lake Louise.  One of the unique things about Discover Banff Tours is the Hot Cocoa and Maple Sugar Cookies they provide.  We had our treat upon our first sight of the lake, standing in front of the Lake Louise Chateau.  Many people were out exploring the lake and the natural skating rink the Chateau maintains in the winter with a beautiful castle ice sculpture.

The tour guide also provided us with snowshoes so we could walk across the lake and explore the surrounding forest.  I certainly did not want to miss out, so I strapped on my shoes and started across the lake with 3 other young Canadian girls also on the tour.  We had a blast making our way across and figuring out how to use the snowshoes.  I’m pretty sure we looked like idiots half the time, but it was worth it! The snow cover on top of the lake was up to my knees, and Hugh told us that the lake doesn’t completely that until late June.  Halfway across the lake, I made an interlocking BU in the snow #sicem At the other end of the lake, is the small stream that was frozen over, but slowly trickling along water from the glacier high above on Mount Victoria that feeds Lake Louise and gives it this brilliant blue color in the summer.

12977078_10156818179710083_8153110251352367332_o.jpg

Sunday, I decided to take another tour with Discover Banff Tours.  I went on the Johnston Canyon Icewalk.  Once again, I am so happy I went with a tour group, and this one specifically as their guides are so knowledgeable and they provide everything you need.  On this tour, they had some grippers we could strap onto our boots, kind of like cleats, that helped us walk on the ice.

Johnston Canyon was formed when a whole side of Mount Ishbel fell off and slid almost a mile away.  As the glacier on that part of the mountain started melting, it began to form Johnston Canyon in a weak point in the rock.  This was such a fun tour as most of the time is was just our tour group of 11, walking along small steel walkways bolted to the canyon wall, with the little frozen creek running along below us, and surrounded by nature.  

Excitingly, I took my first successful live photo at the lower falls! The lower falls, about ½ mile into the canyon were so pretty.  The mist coming off the fall freezes, creating a frozen outer layer, with the water continuing to fall underneath.  The water itself is moving too fast to freeze, creating a beautiful sight.

12976992_10156818182820083_3723582342276054837_o.jpg

Once we got to the upper falls, it was much harder to see the moving water underneath as there was quite a thick layer of ice.  In fact, it is so thick that people climb up, and we were able to watch someone climb up while we were there.

One of the other interesting facts the tour guide shared with us was the wildlife overpasses and underpasses along the Canadian highway.  Through the national park in the Rockies, Parks Canada had multiple wildlife overpasses and underpasses built to help keep animals off the highway and safe from the cars.

The next 4 days were all ski days.  I skiied at Lake Louise, Mt. Norquay, Sunshine Village, and then at Lake Louise again.

12961353_10156818188200083_48681465797730427_o.jpg12901521_10156818189060083_4690670469009414592_o.jpg12957574_10156818189580083_7625917096302445711_o.jpg

I really liked Lake Louise, especially when it was clear enough to see the lake and the chateau in the distance.  There were also a couple of lodges up in the mountain with resting areas and food.  Norquay was a lot smaller and very icy.  I don’t think they were having a good year for snow, but I used that day to practice my turning skills on the bunny slope.

Sunshine Village was a fantastic place, very different from any other ski area I’ve been to.  When you first get there, it’s kind of confusing as there are not any slopes.  You quickly realize that you have to take the gondola to get up to the ski base.  I don’t know if this is actually true, but Sunshine Village seems to have been around the longest of all the ski areas.  It has multiple different lodges with all sorts of character.

12973551_10156818191085083_3010619627614505637_o.jpg

My last full day in Banff, I had another sightseeing lift ticket, so I decided to go back up to Sunshine Village for lunch.  Afterwards, I went to the Banff Springs Hotel to explore and relax.  I spent a few hours there just wondering around.  Literally every details was considered in decorating and building the chateau.  It really feels like you are in a castle! There was a woman playing classics on a harp in the lobby, so I found a sweet spot with a couch to curl up and read and listen.

And so ended my trip to Banff, a beautiful snowy adventure. As William Cornelius van Horne uttered “if we can’t export the scenery we will have to import the tourists”, consider me imported!

12967306_10156818185930083_4328635076050981451_o.jpg

Waiting with a Purpose

Tags

, ,

“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.”

Psalm 130:5

I think we humans have a very hard time waiting.  We have our own plan and idea for when things should happen…of course I am usually way off of God’s timeline, but sometimes we have the wisdom to use the period of ‘waiting’ to continue God’s work.  In fact, I find that usually the ‘waiting’ period is not intended to be a ‘waiting’ period, it is a ‘living’ ‘loving’ ‘learning’ ‘leading’ period.  In my experience, it’s a LOT of learning, and quite a bit of living can blossom during these periods.

Unfortunately, we mere mortals can take this time that is filled with purpose and turn it into a wasted time, and a godless time.  The first thing that came up as I was studying this topic was when Moses went up on the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments.  Before he went up, this is what he said to the elders:

Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.” Genesis 24:14

God was doing something great up there with Moses, giving him the commandments that are essential for us to live a life pleasing to God.  But the Israelites got bored of waiting and decided that this must not have been the god that was powerful enough to perform the plagues and separate the Red Sea and free them from slavery in Egypt.  So they made up their own gods and ‘built’ them out of their gold jewelry.  It’s kind of silly looking at it now, and I’m sure it’s a tragic comedy up in Heaven, for the Israelites to think that some god they made up and built with gold was powerful enough to perform the miracles in Egypt and those performed in the lives of their forefathers that they knew all too well.

Contrast this story of godless waiting, with the multiple exhortations by David in Psalm to wait on the Lord, here are just a few examples:

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:14

“In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” Psalm 5:3

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” Psalm 37:7

“Lord, I wait for you; you will answer, Lord my God.” Psalm 38:15

Oh to have such faith, hope, and courage to wait for the Lord and not turn to my own resources and capabilities.

How are you spending your time as you ‘wait’ on the Lord?