God


Five years ago today I lost my only sibling and someone I loved and admired very much. During those first weeks and months the tears flowed endlessly and still today, the pain is just as intense, but it comes less frequently (although still too frequently). I once read someone’s account of losing a loved one and it was very relatable. Grief is like a tsunami that pours over you with enormous pain. In the beginning, the waves come regularly and frequently. Over time, the waves come less often but the intensity of pain when they hit is still as strong as those first hours and days. 

Much has happened since that awful day. I wonder what Greg’s life would be like if he had lived and as much as I would wish him back in my life, I wrestle with knowing he is healed and where he ultimately intended to be—with our Lord in Heaven.
Recently a friend from my small group in church passed away. She was a mighty athlete competing in iron man challenges, but unfortunately was diagnosed with a somewhat rare and terminal disease that took away her abilities to live in the manner she was used to. We prayed for several years for a cure so she could be healed but in the end she went to the Lord too soon. Later, my wise small group leader said our prayers were answered because when she went to Heaven she was healed. She now has a glorious new body and feels no pain.

I remember many prayers I asked God for concerning my brother. I wanted his relationships to heal, his body to heal, and for him to find peace and happiness. And while he left us too soon (from our perspective), God healed him. He now feels no pain, he is with our Savior, and is awaiting us all in the Kingdom.

My parents, his children, and I miss him every single day. He was a glue and stable force in our lives. He was an amazing role model and I really wish he was still around to be an example of God’s love in his children’s lives. The way he lived his life and accepted me for who I was and his love led me to seek Jesus as an adult. God was in my heart but I was wandering lost for many years until my adult relationship with Greg took off and I saw how God could bring peace, a feeling of content, fun, and love in my life.

He affected many people in a positive way through his mission trips, work with Campus Crusade for Christ, volunteering at church, and being a solid base of support for friends, family, and others who just happened to cross his path.

Greg’s kids and our family and his close friends meant the world to him. He struggled those last years of his life, but was giving his all for his family regardless of how life was hitting him. I will never forget God giving us that last day. Greg called to ask me to come up to visit for no reason—just hey let’s get together. That was a week before he died. I really felt like God gave me that last day to see him and have fun before we would be separated for the decades I would have to live without him before God called me home.

So, I still spend some nights crying because he is gone and because of the fall out of being separated from some of my family members, and for the kids and my parents missing their father and son. But, I will always be grateful to God for giving me the best big brother a girl could ask for.

In Greg’s memory, our family created a charity called the Masterpiece Fund. We are honoring the character and principles my brother stood for by giving funds to people throughout the world who need love and support. Greg’s last bible study included a scripture reading from Ephesians 2:10 which inspired the charity.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for long ago.”

The pain of loss we feel when loved ones die is why we must remember to respect all life. Whether friends or strangers. If death of loved ones didn’t hurt so much we would not respect life at all. I think we need to remember that the death of strangers is as much of a pain to someone else as our loved one’s passing means to us. In honor of Greg, let’s remember what Jesus asked us to do.

“I give you a new command. Love one another. You must love one another, just as I have loved you.”
John 13:34

1 Joffa

Tel Aviv.

Our last nights in Israel were spent at a hotel in Tel Aviv very close to the beach—just our style. The hotel staff were very polite and helpful and directed us to a nice little restaurant with an outside deck where we could people watch and enjoy the cool evening.

We tuned into the news that evening and learned that there had been some shooting in the streets of east Jerusalem that day. We had originally planned on being in Jerusalem at the end of our trip, so we were fortunate our schedule was changed and we were out of the area at that time. This event was a repercussion from a terrible tragedy that occurred earlier during our stay in Israel. These two events would be the match that sparked a recurrence of violence between Hamas and the Israeli government and armed forces. Having met so many citizens of various religions and backgrounds, I have been saddened by the news that so many innocent people are being hurt, both physically and economically. Tourism pays the bills for a lot of people there and I’m sure they aren’t hosting many visitors.

The horned-rimmed altar at Tel Be'er Sheva.

The horned-rimmed altar at Tel Be’er Sheva.

Tel Be’er Sheva

For our last bit of sight-seeing, we drove a couple of hours to the Tel Be’er Sheva which is believed to be the biblical town of Beersheba. That bit of information didn’t tell me anything, but when we discovered this was the place where Abraham lived for a while and the well outside the gates is called Abraham’s well, I became more interested. When we arrived, we checked out a replica of a horned altar, which in biblical times was a square structure with four “horns” on the top of each corner that acted as a sanctuary for anyone running from the law or vengeful parties. If you grasped one of the horns, you were “safe.” You couldn’t be taken or killed or tried as long as you held a horn. In other times, the Jewish Kings set up a system similar to this but they designated entire towns where people could run to and be free from persecution–whether they were guilty or not. An interesting system–sorta, kinda of reminds me of that old movie “Escape from New York.”

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The steps down to the cistern at Be’er Sheva.

We also stopped by the well just outside the gates. An interesting factoid: in ancient times, the wells were located outside the city walls because their traditions hold that anyone who journeys through that land will be given access to water. In that environment, water is life and if the gates were closed at night and travelers came by, they could get water from the well. Not a great system for a defense of a city when under siege, but very hospitable.

We walked among the ruins that have been excavated on this hill overlooking grassy fields. The Tell had multiple layers of civilizations—some were from the Chalcolithic period, which was about 4,000-5,000 years B.C. Some of the walls were from the Roman period. We walked down uneven steep stone steps that ran along a square area (for lack of a better description) holding tight to the railing that led down to the huge cisterns. Again, a sophisticated system of water storage kept these people alive through the hot sun and long droughts.

It made sense that a community sprung up here as it was located at the intersection of two rivers. Through my camera lens I could see camels wandering around some of the fields—like the cows do at home. There are even camel crossing signs along the road.

All in all, a nice last stop to ponder the history of this ancient land.

The Carmel Market in Tel Aviv.

The Carmel Market in Tel Aviv.

Shopping and the Soothing Sea

At this point we were done hiking around archeological sites and were in the mood for a relaxing final afternoon. So, our guide dropped us off at the beginning of the Carmel market and we enjoyed a final Shawarma before hitting the market for our last chance to pick up gifts for some of my favorite little people back home. There were all sorts of products and food sold up and down this street. Just like in Jerusalem, the shops were small little cubby like holes with tables out front. I saw so many products—cell phone covers, backpacks, t-shirts, spices, sweets, jewelry, shoes, tourist gifts, and more. I had to get some shirts for my buddies Cayden and Carter. Wasn’t sure what their sizes were so I just told the man their ages and he did a pretty good job of picking the right shirts.

The beach in Tel Aviv.

The beach in Tel Aviv.

Back at the Embassy Hotel (which coincidentally was right next to the American Embassy), my parents took a nap and I headed across the street to a lovely beach. I paid some guy in an official looking t-shirt a few shekels to sit on a lounge chair and just enjoyed the sun and cool breezes. I went into the Mediterranean a few times—the water was so nice—not too cold and the waves were mild enough not to be scary. The crowds were sparse as it was a work day but one woman did come by and wanted me to get some kind of massage. After saying no thanks and her continuing to touch my legs, I had to get a little more firm in my tone, but she left and I thoroughly enjoyed a relaxing and wonderful day on the Tel Aviv beach before heading back to the hotel.

Smut cards scattered on the ground.

Smut cards scattered on the ground.

For our final dinner, my parents and I found a pizza place on the beach and had wonderful service from very friendly American transplants. We didn’t go looking for an American restaurant, it was coincidence and a nice one at that. On the way back to the hotel, I was surprised to learn how the smut industry in Tel Aviv conducts their marketing. They scatter business cards over the street where people will see them as they walk home. So basically the filth creates even more filth that someone else has to clean up.

Security

The next morning was an early one—which is never fun for me. As our guide was driving us to the airport at five in the morning she gave one more plea to us to tell our friends how safe it is in Israel and how there are no issues between the religious groups. The drive was a bit silent, not just due to the hour but we were all wondering if she had her head in the sand the last two days and didn’t notice TV reports of gunfire happening in the streets of Jerusalem and the tragic deaths of several boys on both sides.

I found it interesting that as fast and easy as it was to enter the country, it was a long, multi-layered process to leave the country. You would think it would be the other way around. Israel is known for its expertise in security (go figure). First was the very long line to get through the first part of the airport. This was just to check passports and have a quick (in our case) or long (for the single men and a few young couples) conversation with some guards. Next a quick stop at the airline counter, then on to what we would consider security in the U.S. They manage to do all this without making us take off our shoes. Hmmmm.

The Carmel market in Tel Aviv.

The Carmel market in Tel Aviv.

Final Thoughts

It was wonderful to see ancient biblical sights and rediscover the stories of the bible in the context of where they happened. There were beautiful places with grass and flowers and hills, and other places in the sandy wilderness where the ancient people learned how to survive without electricity and cell phones.

Going with a private tour guide had its pros and cons. We could map out our own itinerary (except we weren’t able to go to a couple of places because our Jewish guide was not allowed in the Palestinian towns). We were able to go at our own pace and change our mind as we went according to our moods and didn’t have to wait on others. But, if you’re going this route, make sure to have multiple conversations with multiple guides to make sure you are a good fit for each other as you will be spending a lot of time with this person. Our guide had some good points and some not so good points and at times we were annoyed with her, but all in all we tend to be grateful for our blessings, and when we travel we want to keep it positive and look to make it a great experience.

Lots of people hitch hike from the bus stops, not wanting to wait.

Lots of people hitch hike from the bus stops, not wanting to wait.

We learned quite a bit about history, archeology, the culture, and even some modern day politics from a number of guides, movies, books, and more. If you’re a Christian and want to have a spiritual experience along with a vacation, I would recommend going with a church group led by someone you’ll have a lot of fun with who knows what they are talking about.

We had a great time and as usual are grateful for the opportunity to travel and experience the wonders of our world.

Genesis 26: 3-4

Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham.  I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.

Revelation 21:1-3 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

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The land is barren and yet sometimes filled with Date Trees and other life sustaining elements.

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McDrive.

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The roofs are covered by water tanks. One of the ways people of the desert use resources to survive and thrive.

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Not just ancient stones and churches inhabit Israel. They also have interesting modern structures.

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A random scene of life in Tel Aviv. Old friends chat, others eat lunch and shop.

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A view of Tel Aviv from Jaffa.

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Goodbye Israel. A view of the coast from the plane.

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The land of Jesus. Carvings on the ship altar in the church of Magdala.

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So many gorgeous stain-glassed windows. This one in the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth.

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Another beautiful scene adorning the Church of Transfiguration.

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Roman pillars at Caesarea.

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A Roman aqueduct near Caesarea and the Mediterranean Sea beyond.

A section of the Baha'i Gardens in Haifa.

A section of the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa.

Our journey through the Holy Land was coming close to the end. We reluctantly left the Sea of Galilee and made our way west back toward the Mediterranean coast. It was fun to see random ruins along the side of the road. Our guide explained that in ancient times, inns dotted the roadway and were spread apart within a day of walking so travelers always had places to stay.

We drove through the Jezreel Valley, the area where Elijah worked and lived. It was in this region he met a widow and her son who were about to starve to death but fed him anyway and in return God took care of them. The drive through the country didn’t take long—it’s a pretty small country, so in no time we were on the coast at the port town of Haifa.

A cascading waterfall leads down to the bottom of the Baha'i Gardens.

A cascading waterfall leads down to the bottom of the Baha’i Gardens.

Baha’i Gardens

A friend of mine whose family lives in east Jerusalem and who visits her family each year, gave me some invaluable advice on what to do and see while in the Holy Land. I was very grateful for her suggestions, especially the recommendation to visit the Baha’i Gardens. We parked on the street and walked up to the entrance, all along getting a spectacular view of the steep hill filled with gorgeous trees, greenery, flowers, and a waterfall.

Our guide once again tried to dissuade us of going there but I ignored her and walked up to the entrance and into the gardens. I climbed up the first level easy enough and although the top portion was locked, I was able to see the garden up close. I grew up only two miles from one of the best botanical gardens in the country, Longwood Gardens, and have had the joy of seeing some beautiful artistry. But even with that comparison, I was very impressed by the clean lines of trees and flowers and the symmetry that went on and on up the hill to the temple at the top. The Baha’i religion is fairly new and I don’t know much about it, but they sure do have a wonderful garden in Haifa overlooking the port and the sea beyond.IMG_1594

From the gardens we drove to our lunch destination at a wine and chocolate shop. This was a happy place for me. We had a yummy pizza for lunch and I got to sample all four of my favorite food groups; chocolate, wine, bread, and cheese. They also had a very cool system for people who bought some sort of membership or subscription—a vat of wine stood in one of the dining areas where you could bring in your own bottles and fill them up with the current selection of wine. Yes, I want one for Christmas. Filled and smiling, we made our way to Akko.

The Crusader Latrines at the castle at Akko.

The Crusader Latrines at the castle at Akko.

Akko

This ancient city’s name is spelled a number of different ways; Akko and Acre among them. It has excavated castles and ruins, some built back in the Roman times and most of the current structure that has been unearthed stems from the Crusader period. It had been buried for a long time because the Bedouin leader who took control after the Crusaders, filled most of it with sand, knocked off the top part, and the built upon that. In more recent times it was used as a prison by the British during their occupation. In addition to parts of the castle including a Knight’s hall, a dining hall, tunnels, a sort of morgue, and a courtyard, we also toured a Turkish bath house (complete with a cheesy movie narrated by a fictional Ottoman). We learned a lot about the history and the centuries of invaders, but to be honest, I pretty much walked away more impressed by the Crusader latrines that had two levels, rows of toilet seats, and a sophisticated system of plumbing (at least for those days).

Caesarea

Looking down the Hippodrome at Caesarea. This middle part is where the chariots raced around.

Looking down the Hippodrome at Caesarea. This middle part is where the chariots raced around.

Down the coast we made a stop at a national park that was known in ancient times as Caesarea, a city built by Herod and named in honor of the Roman Emperor. I liked touring these ancient ruins and the location was lovely. My blood pressure always goes down when I’m walking along the sea coast, so a stroll down the path along the hippodrome was calming, even with the sea spray covering us and cooling us off.

We watched a great movie about the city and its history before walking up to the theatre. The seats seemed steep and we could see some of the original stone. As we descended the steps, a modern company of thespians were setting up for a concert of sorts to perform later. From there we stood among a few leftover pillars of Herod’s palace.

Caesarea was also the home of the Roman centurion, Cornelius, who was the first gentile convert to Christianity. He was a God-fearing man who was given a vision. He sent for Peter, who came to visit with him. This was a monumental event, because the Jews—the first apostles were all Jewish—did not mix with gentiles. It was considered an unclean act. But Jesus wanted His lessons and His grace extended to everyone and now it was time to spread the Word to all parts of the world.

An ancient Roman aqueduct near Caesarea.

An ancient Roman aqueduct near Caesarea.

Nearby we made one last stop at a section of an ancient Roman aqueduct. It was massive and stretched on for what looked like a quarter of a mile. It had large openings where some lovebirds were getting their wedding photos taken.

Our final destination was Tel Aviv, which I’ll cover next time.

Psalm 139: 9-10

If I climb upward on the rays of the morning sun or land on the most distant shore of the sea where the sun sets, even there your hand would guide me and your right hand would hold on to me.

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A view from the first level of the Baha’i Gardens out to the port at Haifa.

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Looking up the steps to the temple building of the Baha’i Gardens.

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The main courtyard area of the Crusader castle at Akko.

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The Roman aqueduct near Caesarea.

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The stands of the hippodrome at Caesarea. The colored blocks are depictions of how the walls were decorated back in its heyday.

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The remainder of the palace at Caesarea.

The self-service wine vat at the restaurant.

The self-service wine vat at the restaurant.

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The Baha’i Gardens.

 

A walkway at the Arbel Guest House.

A walkway at the Arbel Guest House.

Continuing our time in the Sea of Galilee, our accommodations at the Arbel Guest House were like staying at a cozy home. We had a two bedroom apartment with a mini kitchen and living room area and outside our door was a patio with table under a wood roof with lights. Upon arrival we went right over to the pool and had a glorious swim. A cute dog followed me to the pool and I looked around the gardens before getting ready for dinner. The Arbel Guest House is owned by the Shavit family. The father is a wonderful cook and we enjoyed one of our best meals in Israel—a pot of

Our apartment at Arbel.

Our apartment at Arbel.

lamb stew topped with ice cream for dessert. The entire surroundings—in and out—were homey, lovely, and comfortable. At night I lingered on the patio where I watched a group of tiny kittens skirt around the property playing and looking for food. After they ran off we got more visitors—some neighborhood dogs who were very friendly and also looking for the free handouts the owners put out when the dining room closes. The family was very friendly and helpful and I highly recommend this place—it’s even easy on the wallet!

Cana

Two of the Mary mosaics at the Church of Annunciation.

Two of the Mary mosaics at the Church of Annunciation.

In the morning we were picked up by our guide and began the day with a trip to Cana, the site of Jesus’ first miracle. He was attending a wedding and when they ran out of wine, His mother asked him to do something about it, so He turned some of the water jugs into the best wine they ever tasted. The bride’s father even mentioned how good it was because normally they serve the best first and the dregs last, but this time the best wine came last. Jesus did this because He was thinking about how wonderful it was going to be when we became the bride of Christ.

Here’s the context. Back in ancient times, when a woman and man became engaged, they went back to their respective homes and waited for the wedding day. At that point the man needed to build a house for his new bride and prepare a home for her. Once the house was ready to go, he could come and fetch her. When he did, everyone in town dropped what they were doing and they had a week long party (a.k.a. wedding reception). A motivated man would finish his house in a hurry. We are the bride of Christ as He is preparing a house for us in Heaven. We don’t know the exact date it will be ready, but when it is, He will come back for us and we have to be ready to go at that moment.

A reflective wall of stain-glass windows in the Church of Annunciation.

A reflective wall of stain-glass windows in the Church of Annunciation.

We went to the church in Cana and spoke with one of the Monks there. He said he goes where they send him but some places are better than others.

Nazareth

From Cana we climbed the hills of Nazareth, parked in a tiny gravel lot, and walked up the street to the Church of Annunciation where Mary was told by the Angel Gabriel that she was going to have a baby. The church was very large and quite beautiful with interesting stained-glass windows adorning the walls. Outside the church along a long porch we viewed the many mosaics of Mary and Jesus that were designed by artists from countries across the world and given to the church. Each mosaic depicted Mary as she would have looked if she came from that culture (e.g., the mosaic from Taiwan depicted an Asian-looking Mary in clothes that are worn in that culture). Inside the church we viewed a grotto area where Gabriel spoke to Mary. Ruins of the old town of Nazareth, which was very small, were visible underneath part of the church.

The ruins of Nazareth under the church.

The ruins of Nazareth under the church.

Somehow we made our way out of the town (no street signs in this place) and had lunch at a place called Meat the Best. We had another yummy meal with 20 bowls of salad and Shawarma.

Mount Tabor

In the afternoon we made our way over to Mount Tabor which is the site of the transfiguration. Jesus took two of his buddies (John and Peter) up a very steep and big hill (mountain) to the very top—maybe being closer to heaven made him feel closer to God or maybe the long, arduous walks were good for the soul. Once at the top, Jesus had a moment. I’ll let Mathew tell it. “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.”

A monk meditates on the view outside the Church of Transfiguration.

A monk meditates on the view outside the Church of Transfiguration.

The church grounds were lovely and we walked around looking out over the valleys and hills around us. More beautiful mosaics lined the walls and monks wandered silently around us.

Megiddo

Our last stop of the day was to the Tell at Megiddo. This is the site where the end of the world will come to a crescendo. The Hebrew word for mount (as in Mount Megiddo) is Har. If you put them together it’s Har Megiddo (keep going with it in its Greek form and you get Armageddon). Many major battles over the centuries have taken place here as it’s a major crossroads from and to the major cultural centers of the world such as Syria and Egypt. As we lingered at the top of the hill I could see the Jezreel valley below and the intersection of two roads. I took some video of the view (see below).

Excavated ruins on the Tel at Megiddo.

Excavated ruins on the Tel at Megiddo.

We walked around the site viewing the various ruins of the ancient city. There are 26 layers of ruins here—a testament to the importance of this area. And when Jesus returns, this will be the location of the last big battle between good and evil. Jesus will lead the army of heaven and defeat Satan and his cronies. I was imagining that battle as I looked at the horizon around us.

Back on the road, we journeyed back to our home at Arbel and another wonderful night in the pool and hanging out with the neighborhood pets before setting out for the coast the next day.

John 14: 1-3

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

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Making pancakes (or something) on the street in Nazareth.

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Mosaic of Jesus’ transfiguration (with Moses and Elijah and John and Peter looking on).

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An outside altar and benches on Mount Tabor. The hot sun shines through the slits in the ceiling cover.

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The Church of Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.

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A lovely stain-glassed window in the Church of Annunciation.

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A Mary and Jesus mosaic from China (on the porch wall of the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth).

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The pool at Arbel Guest House is cute, comforting and refreshing.

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The dining room at Arbel Guest House.

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Dessert was done in style!

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Lovin the cool waters after a day of hiking the gospel trails.

 

A door at the church in Cana with the Franciscan cross.

A door at the church in Cana with the Franciscan cross.

A short video view of the Jezreel valley from the top of Mount Megiddo.

My favorite part of our trip to the Holy Land was the area around the Sea of Galilee. This is the heart of where Jesus and his disciples traveled and it’s also a lovely area. If this was a lake at home there would be million dollar homes and resorts along the shores. Tiberius does rise above the water into the surrounding hills and there are a few resorts, but it seemed so peaceful with farms and churches for the most part.

Sea of Galilee at Capernaum.

Sea of Galilee at Capernaum.

Capernaum

After Kursi (see last post), we continued around the eastern shore toward the North and stopped in Capernaum, the town where Jesus lived and started his teachings. It was here that Peter built a house and where the Byzantines and then the Catholics built churches over ruins. The church there now is quite beautiful. There is a glass floor where you can see the rocks of the ruins of the house below. Jesus told Peter he was to be the rock upon where His church would be built. Peter had issues during the trial of Jesus but he was steadfast in his faith when Jesus was ascending to Heaven and leaving His message in the hands of his friends and disciples. He knew Peter had what it took to stick with his faith through any hardship. He was a rock of faith.

Peter's Church in Capernaum.

Peter’s Church in Capernaum.

The Church had a calming and peaceful ambiance. I was hushed by a monk when explaining a story to my dad—there were no “lessons” allowed inside the church. It was a perfect place to meditate with windows that looked out over the Sea of Galilee and the Spirit dwelling within. Outside, we walked around some more ruins of the village and sat by the Sea for a few minutes.

Tagbha

The church of the miracle of the multiplication of fish and loaves was our next stop along the Sea. There was a beautiful mosaic in the floor representing the miracle where Jesus fed thousands of people with just a couple of loaves of bread and a  few fish. I love this story for several reasons. The first is that recently I heard a sermon from Christine Caine who used this miracle to explain how God uses the uncounted—people who don’t “seem” to matter—to fulfill His miracles. You see, in those days, when crowds or cities were counted (how many people were there), only the men were counted. Women and children were not important enough to count. So when we read that 5,000 were fed, that was only the men—it was more like 10,000 or 20,000 fed if you include the women and children in the audience. So, that day along the shore as Jesus was teaching, some mother packed a small lunch for her son to take with him to hear the sermon. Two people who didn’t “count” were instrumental in the miracle of the multiplication of the fish and loaves.

Tagbha, church of fish and loaves.

Tagbha, church of fish and loaves.

I also love this story because I think God still blesses us in the same way over and over. The more we give of ourselves to others, the more we get back and then His blessing multiplies to others. The Masterpiece Fund, our family’s charity to honor the memory of my brother, Greg Crowe, is based on this principle. We believe that the more that’s given to the charity, the more it earns and the more we can give to people who maybe aren’t counted enough in our world.

A view of the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes.

A view of the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes.

Mount of Beatitudes

Back to our trip—from Tagbha we journeyed up the hill to the Mount of Beatitudes—the location where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. The spot was absolutely lovely—overlooking sloping grassy hills and the wind-blown waters of the Sea of Galilee. The Catholic Church there was very pretty, octagonal in shape with windows looking out on the water and gardens of the church property. I loved this place and we sat and rested peacefully while looking at the boats sailing on the water and the lovely trees and flowers surrounding the property. I could just see Jesus teaching and thousands of people sitting on the hillside listening to His beautiful words.

Church of Magdala

The Church of Magdala.

The Church of Magdala.

It was a long day but we had one more stop at a quaint and striking church on the shore of the Sea. A young man (an intern) who was a theology student and participating in a mission, guided us around the excavation site and through the church. This place was going to be a resort developed by a reverend where Christians could come on pilgrimages. But as what normally occurs in Israel, the law states you have to excavate land to check on any ancient finds in the land before new construction happens. Well, they unearthed an ancient synagogue and little town (the village of Magdala where Mary Magdalene came from).

The reverend built a church on the site to honor the women of the bible. Several small chapels with paintings of various bible scenes surround a central hall that leads into a larger sanctuary with a window that looks out to the Sea. The altar is built into a beautiful boat. This was a treat and the experience of being in this modern church was a fitting end to a day of touring the gospel trail.

Peter's church.

Peter’s church.

Our guide took us up around the western side of Tiberius to the Arbel area and a guest house that we called home for two nights. I’ll talk about that more later as it’s worth a great review all on its own.

 

 

 

 

Matthew 5: 1-11

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

The Beatitudes

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

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Entrance to Peter’s church where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law.

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Peter’s church in Capernaum–an octagonal structure built over old ruins.

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Statue of St. Peter. Mth 16:18 “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. “

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View of the Sea from the Mount of Beatitudes.

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The Catholic church on the Mount of Beatitudes.

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View of the church on the Mount of Beatitudes.

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The church of Magdala.

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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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 a little funny–a place near the Church of Nativity.

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One of the beautiful paintings on the walls of the church at the Shepard’s Field.

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A view of the Church of Nativity. Some construction was going on and it was tucked in off the street.

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The lavish decorations adorning the walls over the entrance to the cave where Jesus was born.

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These items were in a case near the entrance to the birth cave.

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Down in the birth cave inside the Church of the Nativity, a small area was being used by some priests and nuns for prayer and communion.

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Down in the cave on the walls around the rock under the altar where Jesus was born, tapestries and paintings hung.

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This beautiful mosaic floor is partially uncovered in the Church of the Nativity.

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Leaving the area where the birth cave was located and walking into another church connected to it where the holy family lived. The walls reflect the light coming through slats in the roof.

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, monks, shops and more outside the Church of Holy 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 in the wall where Jesus placed His hand.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

49 Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb has two places for bodies to be laid to rest.

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The Byzantine structure that surrounds the tomb located in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

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The location where Jesus what convicted by Pilate.

24 7th Dolorosa

One of the stations located along the Via Dolorosa.

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.

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The place of Jesus’ anointing located next to rock of crucifixion in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

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The Via Dolorosa.

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A simple sign over an archway that opens into a small plaza outside the Church.

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

 

 

 

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