From the height of Masada to the depths of the Dead Sea.

Our trip through the holy land continued with a ride through the Negev (desert) on our way to the area of the Dead Sea. Our guide started off the day telling us we couldn’t go to Masada due to the heat (it would eventually make it up to 44 degrees Celsius, or 111 Fahrenheit, but it was not there yet and I’ve been through worse in D.C.). After being a little miffed at her for what I considered to be unprofessional behavior for a tour guide, we politely insisted on going, seeing how the trip was expensive and we wouldn’t likely be getting to Israel again and Masada is one of those sites we definitely wanted to see.

The Snake Path up the side of Masada.

The Snake Path up the side of Masada.

I had known the tale of Masada from one of my small group studies. We watched a video by teacher and historian, Ray Vander Laan, whose ministry is focused on understanding the Bible in light of the historical and cultural context in which God placed it. I highly recommend these video lessons. In addition, before I arrived in Israel I had just finished reading an excellent book titled The Dovekeepers, an historical fiction based on several women who were at Masada at the time of the massacre.

What is Masada?

Masada was a fortress palace built by the crazy and paranoid King Herod. It’s in the middle of nowhere overlooking the Dead Sea. In ancient times, the only way to get to the compound was via the snake path, a narrow, windy path that snaked up the mountainside. Anyone climbing the mountainside could be viewed for many miles by the guards (and killed if you were an invader). An extensive and brilliant water system allowed anyone living in the compound to have access to plenty of water to survive for a long time. Huge cisterns and long storage buildings provided enough food and water to sustain the inhabitants through many months of siege.

A view of Masada, the palace was spread across several layers . The path to the water cisterns can be seen along the side.

A view of Masada, the palace was spread across several layers . The path to the water cisterns can be seen along the side.

And that is precisely what happened around the year 74 AD. A group of Jewish zealots who wanted to live a life away from the big cities and out of the control of Rome established a compound at the vacated mountain top of Masada. The Romans could not abide anyone rebelling against them, even a small group of unimportant people in the middle of nowhere. They camped out along the dessert at the base of the mountain and laid siege. Waiting the Jews out was not enough, so the Romans got their slaves to start building a ramp. Many lives were lost, but finally the ramp was wide and high enough for the Roman soldiers to break through the walls and invade. While they were planning the final invasion, the Jews decided they would rather die than be enslaved, so 10 men were appointed to make their way through the compound killing their friends, families and neighbors. All but a handful of the Jews were dead when the Romans came through the walls.

Ruins of the storage rooms. There were many obstacles for invaders to get through before reaching the palace. Herod was a paranoid freak.

Ruins of the storage rooms. There were many obstacles for invaders to get through before reaching the palace. Herod was a paranoid freak.

Masada Tour

In the near 100 degree heat, we hopped on a gondola and zipped up to the top in no time. We stopped in shade to hear lessons from our guide and saw the palace baths, store houses, guard posts, dovecot (where they kept the doves who helped fertilize the orchards and were used for sacrifices), cisterns, mikvehs (cleansing baths), and the ramp the Romans built. It was totally worth the trip, the heat wasn’t that bad, and the views of the Dead Sea and down the mountainside were beautiful.

Ein Gedi

Cave in Ein Gedi

Cave in Ein Gedi.

After an easy ride down the mountain, we enjoyed some more Shawarma in the cafeteria before heading out to visit Ein Gedi, a lovely park where we walked along a path lined with Christ’s Thorn Jujube (the crown of thorns was made from branches of this tree) to a waterfall. It was so hot, we took off our shoes to wade in a bit before walking back and viewing all the caves—one of which may have been where David cut King Saul’s robe.

The Dead Sea Float

Floating in the Dead Sea.

Floating in the Dead Sea.

Our final stop of the day was a beach along the shores of the Dead Sea. The Sea has been evaporating a lot over the years, as was evident in the large distances from the current shore line to where it used to be. This body of water is famous for a number of reasons, mostly due to its chemical makeup and the fact it’s the lowest place on earth. It was formed by tectonic shifts near Haifa that created springs. These springs overflowed into the Jezreel valley and throughout the lands. All the minerals from the land were mixed into the water. The salt concentration is so thick that we had to be very careful not to touch our eyes. That old saying, don’t throw salt into the wound was never so relevant as I could feel the sting in every tiny cut in my fingers and toes. Mom and I lathered on some of the mud on the shore and floated for a few minutes. Our skin felt great but there was no swimming (just careful floating because of the buoyancy of the water) and it was so hot that we didn’t spend too much time in the water. It’s a nice experience to have and now I can say I did it. But it’s not the kind of thing you relish doing again. Upon existing the water, we delighted in the cold showers located on the beach.

Looking across the Dead Sea to Jordan. An interesting shape in the mountainside.

Looking across the Dead Sea to Jordan. An interesting shape in the mountainside.

It was interesting to look across at this large Sea all day and not see any boats or people or activity. In addition to the salt destroying boats that would try to sail, it is also the border between Israel and Jordan. So not so good to be risking a crossing like that.

That night we stayed at a Kibbutz, a type of farming commune that was popular in Israel for a time. Many still exist in various types of forms. I was not impressed by this one—the Kalia Hotel. The pool closed early so we didn’t have time to enjoy that on this very hot day (kind of weird considering guests are usually touring during the day). There was a mix up about dinner (they didn’t serve it other than on Fridays and holidays) so we missed that and were treated rudely by the diva at the registration counter. So two thumbs down on that place.

Dead Sea Scrolls

A portion of the Dead Sea scrolls at Qumran.

A portion of the Dead Sea scrolls at Qumran.

In the morning, we visited Qumran, the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Many years ago, a young Shepard boy was trying to get his goat to come out of a small cave when he discovered the jars left behind by members of the commune that lived there thousands of years ago. He told his father who told the local Sheik who sold them for a pretty penny. The area is very barren and is about a four day walk from Jerusalem. We learned more about how these desert dwellers survived using large water cisterns and planting date trees that sustained them in many ways. They prayed and wrote down spiritual stories in their scrolls, which they stored in air tight jars in caves to keep them safe.

All in all, the heat and desolation of this dessert area made me very grateful for our modern comforts—praise God for air conditioning and cars!

Next stop—our drive through the West Bank to the beauty of the Sea of Galilee.

View this clip from Ray Vander Lann’s series about the Dead Sea scrolls at http://www.rvl-on.com/clips/the-dead-sea-scrolls/.

Isaiah 48:21

“They did not thirst when He led them through the deserts. He made the water flow out of the rock for them; He split the rock and the water gushed forth.”

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A replica of the palace at Masada.

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The baths at Masada. You can see the steam pipes on the walls.

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A view of the Dead Sea from Masada.

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An outline of the Roman encampment at the base of Masada.

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Dovecot at Masada.

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The ramp the Romans built to invade Masada.

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One of the cisterns at Masada.

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A Christ Thorn tree at Ein Gedi.

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The salt works (where salt is collected) at the southern end of the Dead Sea.

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The bar at the beach along the Dead Sea.

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You can see how the Dead Sea is evaporating by looking at the docks and resorts along where the shore line used to be.

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Evidence of the heat of the day in the desert of Israel.

Oh little town of Bethlehem.

During our trip to the holy land, as our Jewish guide rested on the Sabbath, we took in a tour to Bethlehem. This little town, the birthplace of Jesus, is only a few miles from Jerusalem.

A massive wall with barbed wire separates the inhabitants of Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

A massive wall with barbed wire separates the inhabitants of Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

We were quite shocked to find a massive concrete wall with barbed wire on top lining the border between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Our guide George, who spoke several languages, including clear and fluent English, told us that back in the year 2000, some terrorists were coming into Jerusalem and attacking people. So, a wall was erected and the Arabs living in Bethlehem stay on their side and the Jews stay on theirs. It has cut down on the violence but as we passed through the security area, it was sad to think it had to be put up in the first place.

A view of Bethlehem and the hills beyond.

A view of Bethlehem and the hills beyond.

A large percentage of the very small Christian population (many are Arab Christians) are concentrated in Bethlehem. I’m not sure if George was a Christian or not but he was well versed in our faith, quoting the bible with accuracy, and we found it pleasing to hear someone who spoke of Jesus and the holy family with excitement and knowledge of the faith.

The Milk Grotto

A section of the Milk Grotto.

A section of the Milk Grotto.

The bus took us along Manger Avenue and up a steep hill to our first stop, the Milk Grotto. As the holy family was escaping the town to get away from Herod’s soldiers who were ordered to kill all the baby boys, they stopped at this grotto so Mary could feed Jesus. Of course now it’s a church that is built in and above the cave. It was quite peaceful and simple there. It is said that a drop of Mary’s milk fell upon the stone and it turned white. The white chalky substance is now collected and sold—mostly to women who are trying to conceive or who are pregnant. Our guide very wisely said that it’s not really about the act of mixing the substance with water to get some physical benefit but rather about faith.

Shepard’s Field (Ruth’s Field)

Shepard's Field

Shepard’s Field

Down the narrow curvy road we went and on to the Shepard’s Field. Another church with gorgeous mosaic paintings surrounded by an excavated area and park marked the spot where the Shepards of bible times hung out. These Shepards were blessed with the good news of Jesus’ birth, having heard the announcement from heavenly angels.

The Shepard’s Field is also called Ruth’s Field. Ruth’s story is one of my favorites. Ruth and her mother-in-law were poor widows and they relied on the kindness of the local farmers who obeyed God’s law regarding setting aside corners of their fields for the poor to harvest. Ruth worked hard to glean the grain left behind after the harvest and caught the eye of Boaz, a good man who protected her and eventually became her husband. Boaz and Ruth are Jesus’ direct ancestors.

The spot under the altar marks the place of Jesus' birth.

The spot under the altar marks the place of Jesus’ birth.

Church of the Nativity

Our next stop was the Church of the Nativity. This church was the only Christian holy site not destroyed in 614 A.D. by the invading Persians. Evidently they saw a mosaic on the church facade depicting the Magi dressed in Persian attire and thought it was a shout out to their prophet.

Lots of crowds headed toward this seemingly non-descript church off the narrow street on top of one of the hills of Bethlehem. We entered single-file through a low-framed door and made our way over to an area that covered a cave. As with some of the churches in Jerusalem, the orthodox sects that had a presence within this church decorated the area with paintings, tarps, depictions of Mary, incense burners, and relics among other items.

Dad has to stoop low to enter the Church of the Nativity.

Dad has to stoop low to enter the Church of the Nativity.

We waited in line to descend steps into a small area where there was an altar above the place where Mary gave birth to Jesus. The walls were covered with thick tarp and there was another altar where a couple of priests were offering communion to a few visitors. We took our turn and bent down to touch the rock under the altar. I lingered for a few minutes wanting to breathe in the Holy Spirit and to try to meditate about this holy place and what happened there 2,000 years ago. But alas, with a tour group, we were moved along to walk through the church. Below one area was a cave where the holy family lived for a time and where Saint Jerome spent time meditating and translating the bible into Latin (the first time that was done).

 

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A beautiful window in the Church of the Nativity.

The Obligatory Gift Shop

Our tour ended at Johnny’s gift shop where we found an assortment of goodies—many carvings of the nativity, crosses, and more from a special wood found locally. Not much wood is found in Israel, so this was somewhat unique.

The afternoon was spent strolling through the Old City shopping before we started our journey east.

 

Ruth 1:16

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”

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I thought this was kind of funny–a place near the Church of the Nativity.

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A beautiful painting in the church at the Shepard’s Field.

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The outside of the Church of the Nativity.

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The walls above the entrance to the cave where Jesus was born is decorated with paintings and more.

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These items were encased in glass near the entrance to the birth cave.

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Priests and nuns praying and offering communion to visitors in the birth cave.

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Beautiful tapestries and paintings adorn the walls of the cave where Jesus was born.

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A gorgeous old mosaic is partially unearthed in the floor of the Church of the Nativity.

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Sunlight streams through the roof of the roof of the Church of the Nativity.

Retracing the steps to Salvation.

Among our days in the Old City of Jerusalem, we spent time visiting holy sites of the Christian faith including the places Jesus was taken during his trial and crucifixion. Most of these sites have churches built over and around them so it’s somewhat difficult to get the feel of what it was like 2,000 years ago. And for the actual location of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, there are differences of opinion between the Protestants and the orthodox groups.

The Via Dolorosa, monks, shops and more outside the Church of Holy Sepulcher.

The Via Dolorosa near the Church of the Sepulcher.

My feeling after walking around was that as much as I like history and seeing ancient sites and wonders of the world, it’s the Spirit of God that is what moves us. That Spirit can be felt just as powerfully in a walk through the woods or along the sands of the beach as it can sitting in church or standing in the “spot” where Jesus was said to have risen from the dead.

Via Dolorosa

IMG_9891On a Palm Sunday in the spring some 2,000 years ago, Jesus entered Jerusalem through the Golden Gate (now blocked up) on a donkey to the cheers of the crowds. He spent the week praying, scolding, and preaching. On Thursday of that week, he dined with his friends one last time before heading over to the Garden of Gethsemane at the base of the Mt. of Olives. I imagine the hike they took to get there took a while and they had to go down and across the Kidron valley. I wrote before about the steepness of the Mt. of Olives, where He went up to pray to the Father that night. And then once taken by the soldiers, He had to walk back up the steep hill and through the Lion’s Gate—the beginning of the path up the Via Dolorosa.

The indentation in the wall where Jesus placed His hand.

the indentation of where Jesus placed his hand to balance himself while carrying the cross.

Via Dolorosa means “Way of Grief” in Latin. There are stations along the path that mark events that happened while Jesus carried the cross on the way to Golgotha hill, the site of the crucifixion. We stopped at these stations, starting with the churches that now represent where He was tried and beaten. We continued the walk up hill and saw an indentation in a wall where He stopped and placed His hand to catch His balance. As we hiked up the steps I kept thinking that His tortuous walk was made worse by the fact He had to do it uphill in the heat.

More stations marked points where Jesus fell down, saw his mother Mary, and was helped by Simon, the man who just happened to be visiting town on this fateful day. The walk ended at what is now the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

The lavish decorations above the altar of the rock of crucifixion.

The lavish decorations above the altar of the rock of crucifixion.

In Jesus’ time the location of the crucifixion and burial was outside the city walls. Back around 300 AD, Emperor Constantine’s mother decided these sites were located in the place that is now the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which houses the crucifixion rock, the place where His body was prepared for burial and the tomb where He was buried. The church is run by six different orthodox churches, each having a space in the church. Some in-fighting led to some interesting rules that were put in effect by the Muslims who were in charge of the city in the mid-1800s. One of the rules was “status quo” meaning everything that was in place at that time was to be kept exactly where it is forever. An interesting result is a ladder outside a second floor window used to help the monks get food and supplies during a siege is now forever in place as part of the façade. Another interesting fact is that a Muslim family holds the keys to the church and every morning one of the family members who has been named custodian, opens the doors.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. You can see the ladder outside the top floor window to the right.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. You can see the ladder outside the top floor window to the right.

Upon entering, we walked up some steep stairs and lined up behind the masses to get the chance to touch the rock encased in a lavishly decorated room. There was an altar there and a hole where they believe the cross was raised. My mom and I bent down to get our feel of the rock before heading down to see some of the other altars located throughout the beautiful church.

We did not go into the structure that is said to house the tomb. It too was decorated with HUGE candles outside the door. Across from the tomb structure was a beautiful open area with a high dome ceiling. The paintings on the ceiling were of the four gospel writers and in the center of the floor was a religious stone called an omphalos, marking what was once considered to be the center of the earth.

My parents and I thought the church was quite beautiful; however it didn’t really give us a spiritual feeling. As Protestants we weren’t awe-inspired by the all the decorations and incense.

Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb

Many Protestants believe Golgotha and the tomb are located outside the Damascus gate. We walked a little way down a road and reached a park-like setting called the Garden Tomb. It was absolutely lovely. It had a very tranquil feeling, natural in its beauty. From a bench we could view a large rock cliff. One of the reasons this is considered to be the location of the crucifixion is because the cliff appears to have a face on the side—thus the reason it was called the place of the skull. We continued along a path to the tomb, a cave-like opening in the wall of a cliff nearby. There is much evidence supporting the claim that this area is where the crucifixion and burial happened. What I know is that to me, it brought a feeling of peace and I could really imagine the events taking place here. (Here’s a video of the site with some information on the evidence.)

Golgotha near the Garden Tomb. A face can be seen in the rock of the skull.

Golgotha near the Garden Tomb. A face can be seen in the rock of the skull.

It was a great way to end a very long day of touring. It was now the start of Shabbat so we went home to cook some dinner and prepare for our visit to Bethlehem in the morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Garden Tomb had two places for bodies to be placed.

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The structure that surrounded Jesus’ burial place within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

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A station along the Via Dolorosa where Pilate convicted Jesus.

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A station along the Via Dolorosa.

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The place of Jesus’ anointment in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

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The Via Dolorosa.

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Through the archway lies a plaza in front of the Church.

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The keeper of the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

 

 

 

 

One city with many parts.

Our tour of Israel continued in the Old City of Jerusalem with a walk around the four quarters and visits to some of the holy Christian sites.

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The Zion Gate is riddled with bullet holes from the 1948 battle for Jerusalem.

Through the Jaffa gate, we walked along a main route through the Armenian section. Each section has one parking lot for everyone to house their vehicles. The Armenian one included an unexcavated Tel—one of many in the land. We arrived shortly at the Zion gate. This gate was riddled with bullet holes from when the British left and the Jordanians came to claim the city in 1948.

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The gates are at right angles making it hard for invaders to enter (and cars).

Dormition Abby, David’s Tomb, the Last Supper

Beyond the gate, we toured the Dormition Abbey, a church dedicated to where Jesus’ mother Mary “fell asleep”. And then on to David’s tomb and also the site of the upper room of the house where the last supper occurred. It was somewhat difficult to really feel the presence of either of those places in its time. Nothing was there that looked like it would have back then. We were reminded once again that most of these sites are probably not where the actual events occurred or where David was buried—but rather a place someone—whether they be ancient leaders or more modern scholars—decided to put a marker on it as the official site. There was no dining room table or anything obvious like that—just a little church structure.

Up top at the four corners of the quarters.

The rooftop of the four corners.

The Four Quarters

We continued through the Jewish quarter and climbed up onto a roof top area where we got a 360 degree view of the tops of the buildings of the city. This was considered the four corners—where the four quarters met. It was an interesting place—you could traverse across the roofs or go under and walk along the market alleyways.

There are no barriers between the four quarters (Christian, Jewish, Armenian, and Muslim) and everyone can walk freely through the city. The Armenians do have locked gates in some places because of previous violence but otherwise this city is a melting pot of cultures that most of the time live in peace.

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A view of the Cardo market from the rooftop.

Main Street and Shopping

The Cardo was Jerusalem’s main street about 1,500 years ago. We walked along this ancient thoroughfare, taking in the wonderful smells of spices and mid-eastern foods, browsed the touristy gifts and the linens and jewelry made by the shopkeepers and Bedouin traders, and felt some of the original stones that lined the ground. The Cardo was pretty wide, unlike the other narrow streets where the shops were just like they were thousands of years ago—pretty much cubby holes with men tending the store—some asleep in the heat, some chatting with friends, and others engaging tourists.

The smells of the spices wafted through the streets.

The smells from the spice shops wafted through the streets.

Negotiating is key in this culture. These guys were not afraid to start very high and I had to bring them way down and keep the shekel/dollar conversion in mind. I was delighted by one young man who made some earrings for me on the spot with pieces he had in bowls in his shop. Dad and I bought some gifts and trinkets and strolled through the markets on the Shabbat. We took a break at a nice little outdoor cafe and ate some more shawarma and falafel for dinner while watching the local kids biking and running in the streets. No playgrounds were in site but they found ways to entertain themselves and laugh just like the country kids. There were also a lot of cats who were fed by various locals and tourists—keeping out the rodents is a nice benefit of the strays in the streets.

Next time, we’ll explore the last of the Christian sites we visited in the Old City.

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A beautiful mosaic adorns the wall in the Jewish quarter.

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The rifle in the window above the street in the Old City was not real, or at least not manned.

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Shopkeepers chat during the long days.

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The ancient stones line the street.

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Children play in the open area of the Old City street where dad and I had dinner.

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It’s dinner time for these lucky kitties.

1 Corinthians 12:12-13 

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.”

You say Shawarma, I say yum!

This post is the second installment in the Holy Land series of our 2014 trip. Fresh off the plane, we got out of the airport with very little fanfare. An interesting tidbit about passport stamps in Israel—they gave us a small slip of paper that had our photo on it—a visa stamp that was not a permanent stamp in the passport. I’m thinking that’s to avoid complications for travelers who want to visit countries not so pro-Israel. Upon exiting the concourse, I saw a huge mezuzah adorning the wall. (A mezuzah is a blessing that is wrapped in a case—something you’ll see on the doors of Jewish homes and businesses.) Anyhoo, we were met by our guide and whisked off to stretch our legs in the ancient city of Jaffa.

First Stop: Jaffa

Jaffa is a 4,000 year old town on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, which is only about 100 years old. In Israel, our guide says that in order to be considered old, a building, ruin, or relic must be about 1,000 years old or more. Several hundred years is considered new.

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Andromeda’s rocks in Jaffa.

We walked to the top of a Tel, a man-made hill, and saw layers of excavation revealing the remnants of cultures from thousands of years ago. Before the modern age where we demolish and remove structures, people established towns by building on top of the ruins of previous inhabitants. This created layers of history that we now explore and learn from.

Jaffe is on the coast of the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. As we looked out over a marina, our guide told us the story of Andromeda and Perseus—the rocks Andromeda was placed on as a sacrifice (and that represent her) are said to be located off the shore near this little marina.

The Adventure of the Israeli Meal

After walking through a lovely artistic area, we sat down for our first meal. The owner placed a number of small bowls of various items on our table. Evidently in Israel, traditionally you are given a salad which is comprised of a number of bowls filled with delicious treats such as carrots, potatoes, eggplant, corn, humus, and baba ganush (among other dishes). The baba ganush was yummy and so were the flatbread pitas they brought us. We ordered some falafel and enjoyed the outside café with our new feline friends who came by for handouts. LOTS of cats run around wild in Israel. People feed them scraps and they earn their keep by keeping the rodents away.

Shwarma in the Old City.

Shwarma in the Old City.

Throughout our stay we tried a number of dishes we weren’t quite sure about that turned out to be delicious. A staple over there is a sandwich called a Shawarma—turkey that is cooked in lamb’s fat or oil, salad items, and humus wrapped in a big pita. YUM! On our first night, mom and I went exploring and sat down for a meal where the language barrier was a challenge. So we tried some soup called Kubu which turned out to be a delicious stew. We identified some meat and beets and decided it deserved two thumbs up.

Home Away from Home

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The Avissar House in Yemin Moshe.

Our home in Jerusalem for the next few days was an apartment, the Avissar House, located just a few minutes walk from the Jaffa Gate. It had a little terrace on the roof where I spent several wonderful nights under the stars looking across the road at the walls of the Old City and listening to the sounds of the night—a concert, some young people laughing, dogs, and the breezes through the pines around the neighborhood. Our landlord Yoseph was a kind gentlemen and we loved our accommodations nestled in a very cute pedestrian cobble-stoned street below the Montefiore Windmill in Yemin Moshe. Once we got settled and had a nice walk through the neighborhood to explore, we prepared for the day ahead, and with that we’ll explore the Old City of Jerusalem in the next post.

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The Yemin Moshe neighborhood–our apartment was below the windmill. This is a view from the Jaffa Gate.

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The view from Avissar House. The building across the road is David’s tomb and the “location” of the last supper.

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View from our terrace. The Jaffa Gate and walls of the Old City in Jerusalem.

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The Italians could take a lesson from the Jews. This is a typical meal–all the little “salad” bowls go with all the meals.

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The street sign in the artistic area displayed zodiac signs on pretty tiles.

He’s Ha-Ruach, the Wild Goose, or the Holy Spirit, but not the third wheel.

I’ve been having a little pity party lately—in a funk and wondering what I should be doing with my life. If you’re like me, maybe you are grateful for a job but not really working your passion. Do you sometimes question whether you’re on the right path or if you’re fulfilling a purpose? I’m also one of those people who like to be recognized for good and hard work and desire fairness in the world. That often leads to disappointment which leads back to being bummed out.

Recently, after some passionate prayer, God in His wonderful and wise way gave me guidance and comfort. Our new sermon series at church is all about the Holy Spirit. I was struck by how much He (yes, He, not it) is present in our lives. Without the Holy Spirit, we would be dust. He pumps our hearts and breathes life into us.

Our Pastor Mark said this morning that the Holy Spirit was like a humming bird, hovering over us at all times. I thought that was very prophetic because lately my niece and I have been spotting humming birds flying around. Something I haven’t noticed before. Gotta love those Godly coincidences.

The Holy Spirit fights for us—He contends for us—He helps us see the truth and fills the voids in our lives. And yet He gets treated like the third wheel instead of an equal part of the Holy Trinity. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are all important. I felt bad for the Holy Spirit, thinking about how much I don’t like my efforts to be ignored or taken advantage of. But on He goes, acting as our champion and guide, and not expecting anything in return.

So I’m going to start my days from now on thanking the Spirit and asking Him to fill me with his fruits. Love, joy, kindness, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

And I’m going to be thankful that the Spirit is given to all of us to complete God’s work, whatever that may be. After all, in Exodus, we are told that God filled Bezalel with the Spirit so that he could create the ark just as God wanted it done. Bezalel wasn’t a preacher or missionary, he was an artist and we are all God’s masterpieces so we can do good works here on earth.

I may not understand what God wants me to do with my gifts, I’m just an average business person, but they are His gifts to me and I’ll keep praying that somehow I’m doing my part in His perfect plan. Even if that means a few frustrating tears once in awhile.

Romans 8:26-27

“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.”

Do you have junk in your trunk?

Sometimes when sitting in church, I wander a bit during the sermon. My mind goes to all sorts of places—some spiritual and some secular. And sometimes during those moments  I get brought back with a proverbial slap and think, “WHAT?” The pastor said something huge that convicted me or recalled a memory that elicits an emotional response. And sometimes he says something that I never thought would come from the mouth of a spiritual leader.

Today our pastor was talking about how it’s okay not to be okay. That church should be a place where you feel God’s grace. Not a place for saints to pat each other on the back, but an emergency room of sorts for sinners. He then says, “Everyone’s got junk in their trunk.”

My immediate reaction was, “Did he just say that? I wonder if he even knows what that means.” He’s a pretty savvy guy who is very connected and aware of trends and current events and knows how to communicate with both young and mature audiences. Hmmm. After a minute (of what I’m sure was some silence after some awkward laughing) he said to take that literally. Okay, yes, if that’s the case, I have an enormous amount of trash, laundry, dog food, bags, soda, wood, and empty bags of chick-fil-a all strewn about my car. A little like my life, so okay, I’ll use that analogy and not take it personally that my pastor thinks I have a huge backside. Which I do, but that’s irrelevant. God loves all of me.

Anyway, fun aside, the message is clear and comforting to those of us who don’t quite make the grade of perfection. But that’s the point. Jesus was perfect and he gave himself up for us. That is what makes the gift worthy. We are not perfect. And no matter what your sin, don’t give up. God forgives everyone. Even Cain, the first murderer, got a break. God forgave him and protected him from the angry mobs, and Cain went on to have a productive life—a family, career, and a life worth living.

Do yourself a favor. Don’t compare your life to anyone else’s. It’s a losing battle. There are 7 billion people on this planet. Almost all of them are much poorer than you are. And there are people who seem better off. But you don’t know what is going on in their life, in their hearts, in their heads, or in their relationships. The only thing you should be concerned with is your relationship with God. He really doesn’t ask much of us if you think about it. Accept His gift and love Him. Then just try to be good. You can’t be perfect so don’t condemn yourself or give up. Just clean some of the junk out of your trunk and keep moving.

John Crowe on a road trip circa 1960s. John went on to lead a monastic life, with very few possessions and a strong commitment to God.

John Crowe on a road trip circa 1960s. John went on to lead a monastic life, with very few possessions and a strong commitment to God.

In memory of Greg Crowe.

The Masterpiece Fund was created to honor Greg Crowe, wonderful father, son, brother, and friend, who passed away on March 12, 2012. The purpose of the Fund is to help people in dire need and spread the good news of the Kingdom. Please visit www.masterpiecefund.org for more information or to make a donation. Please also pray for the fund to succeed and to be used for God’s will. Finally, I ask you to “share” with all of your friends. Post the link on your accounts (facebook, twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, blogs, websites, etc.) and send emails to your friends so that others can be blessed by the resources offered. If you have suggestions for resources (books, websites, etc.) please share them with us.

Greg had a powerful impact on a lot of people. And he surrounded himself with some pretty awesome friends who have been incredibly kind to our family, especially his children. We are grateful for the men and women who are acting as Christ-like role models for the kids so that Greg’s lessons and dreams for them will remain at the forefront of their thoughts. It was very important to Greg that his children know the love and grace of God.

On this second anniversary of Greg’s homeward journey, the family composed their thoughts about Greg. If you have stories, or want to share something about Greg, please make a comment below so his memory will continue in our hearts.

Carol (Greg’s Mom)
Greg was always ready for adventure. From his childhood throughout his life, his adventurous spirit took him to places such as the wilderness of Wyoming with some high school friends on a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) trip to the mountains of New York with his kids to missions near and far. He learned some serious survival skills that helped him when he lived in poor conditions during Campus Crusade missions in Communist-ruled Moldova, Romania, and Yugoslavia, where he helped people come to Christ and encouraged the Christians there.greg and H on the boat

I remember when Greg was just a young boy, we were climbing a skinny path to base of the Matterhorn in Switzerland, and he ran out to the end of a jetting escarpment overlooking a drop of a thousand feet or more. In my semi- terrorized state he says to me, “Hey mom, take my picture!” Later on, he dropped the camera full of pictures into the hole of a rustic privy high up on the mountain, then came out and said, “I think I can retrieve the camera, do you have a flashlight?” I remember hearing the bouncing camera fall down for quite awhile before thinking, “So much for those pictures.”

He loved playing sports with friends and with his kids, coaching their teams in soccer. He loved driving boats and pulling the kids on tubes and taking them to the sandbar in Walloon Lake, Michigan with the dog to play. And at night when he built a bonfire, it was always big and we feasted on s’mores.

His spirit showed in his humbleness and gentleness more often than not and his nature matured in his solid foundation of Christ abiding with him. His adventurous spirit lives on in his family and our memories.

Zenia (Greg’s daughter)
In movies, it seems like the dad is always telling the daughter to put something appropriate on. My dad did in fact tell Julia, Harmon, and Tyler to change on numerous occasions, like telling Harmon it was okay to wear different clothes after three days. Well my dad let me wear anything—sweat pants to church, flip flops in the winter—pretty much anything. Except the swishy coat. One time, when we went to a meeting and I had that coat on, you could tell it annoyed him. Before we went to the next meeting he looked me straight in the eye and said, “You need to change.” Sweat pants, okay. Ripped jeans, okay. Swishy coat, not okay. And then the only other time I happened to be wearing it, was when I went to his church. I had to get up in the middle of the service and while I was in the bathroom, he texted me and said I was never to wear that coat again. Those movie dads were lucky they didn’t have kids with loud swishy coats.

I want others to remember my dad by the fact that he often put others first.greg-and-kids-beach

Tyler (Greg’s son)
Tyler’s favorite memory of papa was driving with him to Michigan and the beach because he always made boring things fun. Tyler says, “Papa was not a selfish man and always put others first.”

Julia (Greg’s’ daughter)
Julia’s favorite memory of papa was when he would do funny imitations of mom and Tyler at the dinner table. “Papa cared more about his kids than himself,” she says.

Author’s note: As a side note to Tyler’s and Julia’s comments, I can agree that those trips in the car and dinner conversations were super fun. There was a lot of laughing and singing and quoting of movie lines. 

Dawn (Greg’s sister)
For many years I followed my big brother in everything he did. Why, I don’t know. He used to wrestle me to the ground and pick on me and leave me to catch the heat for “all the noise that was going on.” When Greg moved away to college I was thrilled to have the house to myself and even semi-moved into his room and enjoyed sleeping on his water bed. Yes, Greg had one of those cool, 80’s water beds. My peaceful domain was shattered when he returned for the holidays and ate all the food in the house, making me count the minutes until his departure. Years later I regret wasting those moments.

But God gave us some wonderful years together as adults. Time to become close friends and time for me to see the light in Greg shine through. His character was such that he accepted and loved others regardless of their relationship with God. I saw that kindness and how much he loved his family and loved playing with his kids and I knew I wanted that, too. So I followed him again. This time becoming a fan and follower of Jesus. One of the things I miss about Greg is his giggle. It’s contagious. I’ve embeded two videos Greg took of Julia and Zenia as kids and at the end you can hear Greg’s giggle. Glad to have that forever to listen to until we meet again in heaven.


John 11:25-26
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Random acts of kindness from our youth.

It seems to be a season of giving. My church recently did a series on giving and I’ve been seeing a lot of examples of generosity lately. As my niece puts it—you tend to become more aware of certain things happening around you when you are thinking about those things. I would agree. And maybe…just maybe…when you notice acts of kindness, you’ll be inspired to act that way toward others.

Sometimes those lessons in humility or bravery or kindness come from unexpected sources. Last week I heard of two examples of young college students committing random acts of kindness. Normally in our society, college students tend to be “poor.” So their acts reminded me of what Jesus said in Luke 21: 3-4, “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” I  think we could learn a lot from these two young people.

Hungry Woman Barred Entry

A friend of mine told me a story about her dauther who is a college student. It goes something like this.

“As I was waiting for my daughter to come out of this building from her appointment, I noticed she stopped to talk to a woman in ragged clothes sitting outside a restaurant. I was worried at first, then noticed my daughter going in to the restaurant. She came out with a bag of food and handed the woman some money.”

My friend asked her daughter what happened and she replied, “The lady had money to buy lunch but was not allowed in. So I went in to buy her lunch but just paid for it myself.”

The next day my friend checked her daughter’s bank account to discover a balance of $11. And she just spent $7 of it on a poor woman she didn’t even know.

Reese’s Pieces vs. Starbucks

My niece told me the other day she encountered a homeless man who asked her for some money. She told him she didn’t have any but she could use her bank card to buy him lunch at Starbucks across the street. He declined showing her a lack of teeth and inability to eat real food.

He then asked her to go to the CVS to buy some Reese’s Pieces. You are probably thinking what I thought at this point—the man is failing in the mental health department. Yes, he was ill, but that didn’t stop my niece from going out of her way to find some cash for him. She returned to the man and handed him some money for lunch. After pulling a secret agent spy-like maneuver, he left.

Wow, what can I say? Both these young women don’t have much financially but they gave of themselves. They gave time and respect to two human beings who needed love and support from those of us who are blessed with so much. I think most of us would have hurried on to what we thought was more important and rationalized not helping them. But the truth is, these two human beings were much more important than getting home faster or to an appointment on time.

Do you have any stories of generosity? Share them and help us inspire good deeds everywhere. And if you want some creative ways to share your blessings during this time of lent, check out 40 acts. We love creativity and sharing and this is right up our alley!

Proverbs 19:17
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.

generosity

Photo source: http://ryanpeterwrites.com/2013/06/matthew-and-money-generosity-is-always-right/

I can see Him in all the little things.

God loves our praise for all of His graces and blessings, regardless of how large or small they seem to us. Sometimes we only really see or give thanks for the big ones—saving a life, landing a great job, or finding love. But to me, it’s the constant small things that make Him shine and keep me happy and secure in His light. So here are a few things God has blessed me or others around me with lately.

  • My alarm didn’t go off this morning and He woke me just at the right time so I wouldn’t be late.
  • We got a snow day last week. I love the snow and we usually don’t get enough to have off work, so it was a nice break for a few hours.
  • My neighbors are some of the kindest and fun people I know. They stop in to check on my pets when I’m away so I don’t have to worry and I know my house and loved ones are safe.
  • My niece was walking along the beach last weekend thinking how she never has found a conch shell. A minute later she saw not one but a dozen or so on the beach. I’ve been walking that beach for 30 plus years and never saw that. This is a beautiful example of how God delivers WAY bigger than our hearts’ desires or even what we can imagine.
  • I left my keys in my door last night. God protected us by keeping potential bad guys away.
  • I have cats and I feel calmer when they are around and I can pet them. Lately, they have been running away and keeping to themselves, but over the last several mornings, just when I was thinking it would be nice to get a hug, they’ve popped up on my bed to say hello.
  • My small group friends always have great insight and give me things to ponder each week that help me become a better person and a happier one. My small group for the Spring just started up again at a time when I was starting to feel a bit down. It’s His perfect timing, delivering the comfort of good friends.

This is a lovely poem that inspired me to write this post. I found it on another blog and my apologies to the blog owner, since I can’t remember what the site was. But, the author of the poem is Helen Steiner Rice and is entitled “I’ve Never Seen God.”

I’ve never seen God but I know How I feel,
It’s people like you who make Him “So Real”…

My God is no stranger, He’s friendly and gay
And He doesn’t ask me to weep when I pray…

It seems that I pass Him so often each day
In the faces of people I meet on my way…

He’s the stars in the heaven, a smile on some face,
A leaf on a tree or a rose in a vase…

He’s winter and autumn and summer and spring…

In short, God is Every Real, Wonderful Thing…

I wish I might meet Him much more than I do,
I would if there were More People Like You.

Zephaniah 3:17

The LORD your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.

 

Grendel the dog loves the snow as well. Praise God for its beauty.
Grendel and snow