Israel Journal 2008

November 17, 2008 (Day 12)

Monday morning.  Today is a little bit slower start.  Since we got a little ahead yesterday, and since we have a long flight at the end of the day, our bus doesn't leave until 10:00am.  We headed toward the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Via Dolorosa. What's a "holy sepulcher"?  It's that church in Jerusalem that makes the news every once in a while when the various denominations start fighting and the police have to be called.  It's the oldest church in Jerusalem, and according to some of these religious sects this is where Jesus was crucified and buried.  Except not all the facts seem to fit, but who's counting?  Anyway, it's a very "religious" place, filled with all kinds of gold and silver stuff, candles, and people doing silly things like kissing a holy rock and rubbing their handkerchiefs on it.  We took some pictures and now can say we saw the place.  Next we headed down the famous "Via Dolorosa", the "Way of Sorrows" where the Catholic church has determined that Jesus walked carrying His cross from the place where He was condemned by Pilate to where He was crucified.  Even though there are some places with holy looking plaques on the walls, it's mostly an Arab bazaar, lots of shops and places to barter.  And even if perhaps this was the route that Jesus took (I'm not too sure), it's not at the same level as Jesus' day, it's about twenty feet above it (all those layers of civilization).  Anyway, it was sure a fun experience walking through all the sites and smells.  Very old world.  We even found a place our Lutheran friends might like - a Lutheran school.  Next we hopped on the bus and went to something extra we hadn't planned on originally, Yad Vashem - the Holocaust Memorial.  We first stopped to eat lunch in the cafeteria and then spent the next two hours walking through one of the most sobering museums imaginable.  It's hard to conceive the horrors and tragedy that God's chosen people have endured in the last hundred years.  Words are hard to find to express the depth that this place touches you.  As you walk through the exhibits, people are silent, some are crying, all are touched.  When you visit Jerusalem you must make this a priority. After getting back on our bus, our next stop was outside the Damascus Gate, the spot known as the Garden Tomb.  When archaeologists and Bible scholars gained access to Jerusalem back in the mid 1800s, they began to notice that some of the traditional sites didn't really seem to fit the Biblical text, such as the site of Jesus' crucifixion.  The author of Hebrews states that Jesus died outside the city walls, but the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is inside the ancient walls.  Many other facts seem to point that they got the site wrong.  But there is a site outside the Damascus Gate that seems to fit a lot of the description in the Bible.  It's a beautiful spot located right next to an Arab bus terminal.  There's the stone cliff face that looks like a skull ("Golgatha" means "place of the skull").  There is a rich man's tomb.  It is located in a garden near the "skull place".  Maybe this is the place, maybe it's just a good way of remembering the real thing, that Jesus not only died for our sins on a cross, but rose again on the third day.  After touring the grounds, we were given a spot to gather as a group, sing some songs, and share in communion.  It was a wonderful way to wind up our tour (or almost wind it up).  I shared on the work of the Holy Spirit from John 7, and reminded the folks that God wanted to take us deeper in our relationship with Him, through the Holy Spirit.  Our trip to Israel has been wonderful, but God doesn't want this to be the closest we've ever been, He wants us to walk with Him daily.  We got back on our bus and headed off to a Messianic Kibbutz for our "farewell dinner".  When our dinner was over, we got back on the bus and headed for the airport.  We've now made it through check-in, security, and are waiting in a beautiful airport (Ben Gurion), waiting for our flight.  Boarding starts in 45 minutes, our flight leaves at 12:40am (Tuesday morning).  And best yet, free wireless internet!  That's how I'm able to send this off before we leave.  Our flight home is going to take somewhere between 15-16 hours, we ought to arrive at LAX at 6:30am Tuesday morning.  We hope to see you all Thursday night at church.  Keep us in your prayers for the flight home!

The pictures are:  Folks kissing the holy rock; the bazaar along the Via Dolorosa; a Lutheran school near the Via Dolorosa; the empty Garden Tomb; Our good friends Meir and Leor at our farewell dinner.

November 16, 2008 (Day 11)

Sunday morning.  For what would be one of our longest days yet, we got up a little extra early.  This morning we need to be on the bus by 7:45am.  We're going to try and squeeze in some of tomorrow's events in today and then have room to do some extra things tomorrow.  To start our day, we headed off to the Temple Mount.  Later in the day we'd see the Jewish side of things, but we started our day by getting in line to go on top where the famous Dome of the Rock is located, along with the Al Aqsa mosque.  These are some of the Islamic things that have been built on top of the Temple Mount over the years.  There is a kind of beauty on top of the hill, but its also a little bit creepy as well.  The folks who follow Mohammed have tried their best to fill up the mount with Islamic things - then if anything is ever touched or destroyed they have a reason for global jihad.  As we walked out of the Temple Mount, we headed over to Bethesda, a place where there were pools of water, some thought they brought healing, and Jesus healed a paralytic man there (John 5).  Next to Bethesda is the church of St. Anne's, one of the oldest churches in Jerusalem, beautiful stone building with awesome acoustics.  It's a favorite place for groups to come and sing a'cappella.  When we walked in there was an Asian church (but speaking English) just ahead of us and together we made some beautiful music.  Very, very sweet.  Next we got back on the bus and swung around to another side of Jerusalem.  We visited a place referred to as "the Upper Room", not the real upper room where Jesus held the first communion or where the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church, this room was built 1,000 years later.  But it gives you a hint of the place.  We visited a place known in tradition as David's tomb.  Next we swung by an area known in Jesus' day as the "Cardo" or, marketplace.  Much of this area has been dug up by archaeologists, and then modern buildings built on top.  As you walk down the stairs you are walking back in time, back to the 1st century.  Next to the archaeological displays are shops, and yes we did more shopping. Next we headed back toward the Temple Mount, this time to make an appointment we had to go through a tunnel along the Western Wall (known by some as the "Wailing Wall").  Before we got there, we saw a display of a huge Menorah, built by the Temple Institute folks for the next Temple.  It apparently has over $5million worth of gold on it.  We arrived at the Western Wall and had a few minutes to burn before our appointment with a tunnel.  Some of us went up next to the wall where Jews go to pray.  The Western Wall tunnel was a new treat for me - there has been quite a lot of excavation done by the Israeli government alongside the base of the Temple Mount.  At one point there's a very, very long narrow tunnel that follows the edge of the Temple Mount retaining wall built by Herod.  There's a spot in the middle of the tunnel parallel where it is thought that the Holy of holies might have been.  A small prayer spot has been set up there, it is apparently a great privilege to be chosen to pray there.  We walked by carefully as we passed through the tunnel.  After getting returning to the entrance of the tunnel, we spent a few more minutes out by the Western Wall, then hiked out past the city gate and bought some fresh sesame covered bagels to hold us over until our early dinner.  Next we walked back into the Temple area and walked down along the southern wall, seeing some of the huge stones at the southwest corner left over from the Temple destruction in 70AD, then around to the "Southern Steps".  This is a wide staircase that ascended up into the Temple, it was also known as the "steps of teaching", a popular place for the rabbis to teach.  It is one of the few places where we absolutely know that Jesus walked.  It's also a great place to stop and teach a little from the Bible.  It was my turn to teach, and I had a real great lesson planned.  In fact I stayed up late the night before getting ready, even though my wife was encouraging me to just go to bed and trust the Lord.  When we turned the corner to see the Southern Steps, there was a group already there, having arrived just before us.  The more we looked at them, we began to notice that some of them were yelling and waving at us.  It was our friends from Calvary Chapel Anaheim!  After a lot of hugs, we decided it was Mark's turn to teach (since I taught for him at Caesarea Philippi).  I should pay more attention to my wife - I'd get more sleep - but I do have a great, short message in my pocket just in case.  Maybe I'll use it tomorrow.  After winding things up at the Temple, we began a journey back in time.  Our bus driver took us out of the city, heading north on the road towards Jericho.  After about 20 minutes we hung a left, pulled down a little road, and ended up at a place known as "Genesis Land".  We knew this was coming, but we really didn't know what to expect.  We walked into the gift shop and was greeted by a man in ancient shepherd clothing who called himself "Eleazar of Damascus, servant of Abraham".  He gave us a little background and then we headed out the door to get ourselves loaded up onto CAMELS!!!  Two to a camel.  Deb and I rode together.  Our camel was a young camel, not quite as docile as the others, a bit edgy, and what a ride!  As a group we road down the road for about five minutes, around the corner, and ended up at a compound of tents owned by a man calling himself "Abraham".  The tents were on the edge of a hill overlooking the Jordan valley (read Genesis 13).  By the way, we were quite glad when we finally managed to get off our camel.  Quite glad.  Abraham greeted us and led us into one of his tents.  He talked about his journey from "Ur" (in modern Iraq).  He talked to us about his journey with God, the true God.  He talked to us about ancient hospitality.  And then his "servants" served us dinner - like something you'd get from a generous host 4,000 years ago.  We all decided it was about one of the best things we'd done all week.  After a dinner of bread, vegetables, chicken, and little meatball things, we had a small dessert of dried fruit.  When dinner was done, we WALKED back to the bus (we were quite relieved to hear that you don't ride the camels after sunset), then drove back to our hotel and the 21st century in Jerusalem.  What a day.  A wonderful, magnificent day.  Tomorrow we're going to get a late start (10am), but it's going to be an even longer day, winding up at the airport, a plane leaving at 12:40am Tuesday morning, and arriving in Los Angeles on Tuesday morning at 6:30am.  It's likely you won't be hearing from us until we get back home, and then we'll tell you about our last day in Israel.  Keep praying for us!

The pictures are:  Dome of the Rock; Bethesda; Singing at St. Anne's; The Temple Menorah; Woman praying in the Western Tunnel near the Holy of Holies; The Western Wall; Camel ride to dinner; Eating at Abraham's tent.


November 15, 2008 (Day 10)

Saturday morning.  We woke up this morning in Jerusalem.  The city of David.  It is Shabbat (the Sabbath) so things are going to run a little differently today - some of the elevators run a little funny (the designated "Shabbat Elevator" will stop on every floor so the observant Jew doesn't have to push a button).  The breakfast was just a little different, not sure anything was warm.  But it was all good.  We got on the bus by 8:30am and headed off to the Mount of Olives for our first stop.  Leor gave us some history of Jerusalem through the ages while we looked out over the Kidron Valley, the famous "Dome of the Rock" and it's golden dome gleaming in the sunlight.  We walked a little down the hill, through a Jewish cemetery, and stopped for a bit at the chapel built to commemorate where Jesus wept over Jerusalem.  It was my turn to teach, and I shared from Matthew 24, the "Olivet Discourse" where Jesus taught on the signs of the last days while surrounded by his disciples on the Mount of Olives.  Jesus started off by saying that the Temple would one day be destroyed, stone by stone.  Here we are looking across at the Temple Mount, the Temple having been destroyed in 70AD by the Romans.  My point was that if Jesus was right about the first part, He would probably be right about the second part - the signs of His second coming.  We can see the signs being fulfilled right before our very eyes.  Jesus said we should "watch" - we should be aware of the days we live in.  He also said we should be busy doing His work - He's left us here to be a part of building His kingdom.  After my message we walked down the steep narrow road, known as the "Palm Sunday Road" where Jesus rode a donkey as He entered into the city of Jerusalem for His last Passover.  At the bottom of the hill we stopped at the Garden of Gethsemane.  The "public" garden is owned and operated by the Catholic Church.  There is a big beautiful church there, the "Church of the Nations".  The trees in the garden are very, very, very old, some suggest these trees might date back to the time of Christ.  Did I say that there were a lot of people there today?  It felt like we were in line for a ride at Disneyland.  After getting through the crowd at the public garden, we walked across the narrow street to a "private garden" where we could take some time to pray and think about what happened there.  The trees there aren't so old, but the setting is still pretty much the same.  After getting back on the bus, we headed off to the Israel Museum where there is a huge scale model of Jerusalem, what it would look like in Jesus' day.  On the same grounds is a museum dedicated to the Dead Sea Scrolls - an awesome exhibit displaying some of the original scrolls found at Qumran (see last Thursday's entry).  After getting back on the bus, we headed back to the Mount of Olives where we were going to try and kill two birds with one stone.  There is a Christian fellow named George from Bethlehem who owns an olive-wood carving factory.  His stuff is legendary.  He has a shop on the Mount of Olives.  Leor worked out a deal that he would bring us by to do some gift shopping as long as this fellow provided us lunch.  Such a deal!  We got some really cool olive wood things (we bought a carving of Caleb and Joshua carrying fruit back from the Promised Land) and a free lunch to boot.  Actually I think George did good business today.  After charging our credit cards to the max, we got back on the bus and headed off to the northern side of Jerusalem where we got out and looked out over the "shepherd's fields" towards the city of Bethlehem.  Now that Bethlehem has been given over to the Palestinian Authority, there aren't too many tours that go there any more.  As we got off our bus, we were greeted by an Arab shepherd and his flock of sheep.  I'm not sure it was a coincidence.  He was hoping we'd give him money to take his picture.  Oh well, it was still cool to see the sheep.  And one goat.  Back on the bus, we headed southwest toward the valley of Elah.  This is where the Philistines were out to challenge the Israelites to a duel to death (1Sam. 17).  The Philistines were represented by a huge giant named Goliath and who stepped up for the Israelites?  A young shepherd boy named David.  Pastor Allen shared at this site from the famous story of victory by a young boy, his slingshot, and his amazing God.  It was starting to get on in the afternoon, but we still weren't done for the day.  We made our way to the coast and visited a spot the was a first for me, the city of Joppa (or, Jaffa).  This was the ancient port city of Israel.  This is where Solomon had his timber shipped in from Lebanon to build his Temple.  This is where Jonah tried to catch a ship for Tarshish to run away from the Lord.  This is where Peter raised a gal named Dorcas from the dead and where Peter saw his vision leading to the gospel being preached to us pagan Gentiles.  It was getting a bit late and the sun was going down, but it was a pretty neat setting.  We got off the bus and walked along the coastal town area - artists, shops, food, and another beautiful Mediterranean sunset.  Deb picked up a bag of honey-roasted mixed nuts - pretty tasty snack at the end of a long day.  We boarded our bus, headed back up to Jerusalem, where we arrived just in time for another delicious dinner.  It's off to bed now (after a little studying for tomorrow) and an early start for tomorrow.  Tomorrow we see more of Jerusalem.  We're seeing things in Jerusalem I didn't see last year - perhaps it's because our beloved tour guide Leor lives in Jerusalem.  Good stuff.  You've got to come next time.  Keep us in our prayers.

The pictures are:  A really, really old olive tree at Gethsemane; Rich teaching on the Mount of Olives; Calvary Fullerton at the Mount of Olives; An olive wood masterpiece - don't even ask how much it costs; Allen teaching at Elah; Buying nuts in Joppa

November 14, 2008 (Day 9)

Friday morning.  We woke up this morning at the Dead Sea.  Our room on the 16th floor has a magnificent view of the Dead Sea, the valley walls on the Israel side, as well as peering across the Dead Sea to Jordan.  This morning in my quiet time I was sitting on the balcony as the sun was coming up over the mountains in Jordan and reading in Ezekiel about God's pronouncements on the kingdoms of Ammon, Moab, and Edom, all the while facing those nations.  Strange stuff.  We had set up with Greg and Lauren to rendezvous at the lobby at 7:00am and then head down to the waters edge to go floating in the Dead Sea.  I said "floating" because it's not quite swimming, you can't go too far down in the water, you just float way on top.  The water feels a little bit oily, but not bad, they say it's 38% salt, and you better be careful you don't get it in your eyes (ask Greg and Lauren about that) rumor has it your eyes sting a bit if you get it in your eyes.  But not to worry, you can simply get out of the water and rinse off any time you feel like it.  Deb went in first and discovered that all you have to do to float it get your feet up a bit and you float, whether you want to or not.  You can "fly" across the water, coasting with your hands and feet all the way in the air.  Very, very cool.  Whoever talked me out of it last year is in trouble.  This was definitely an "E" ticket.  After rinsing off, we walked back to the hotel, showered, and met for breakfast in the "dining" room - more like a luxurious banquet feast kind of thing.  We all agreed we had never seen layouts of food like this place.  I'll include a picture of one of the food counters.  After breakfast Deb and I went back to our room and had a video chat with the home front - the internet is a wonderful thing - we're sitting at the Dead Sea and are able to see and chat with our sons in Fullerton.  We loaded onto the bus by 10:00am and headed off to our first stop of the day, Ein Gedi.  It means "spring of the young goats", not a bad name considering all the wild ibex goats we saw roaming around.  This time of year the goats come around from all over because of the water at Ein Gedi - during the spring last year we didn't see a single goat.  We sang some songs and I taught a brief study from the end of 1Sam. 23, and Psalm 57, where David is fleeing from Saul and hides out at Ein Gedi.  David talks about finding shelter "under the shadow of His wings" (Ps. 57:1), some think it might be a vague reference to the cave he was hiding in - but a reminder of how we can find shelter in the Lord from all our difficult times.  Ein Gedi is a beautiful place for finding shelter - I see why David chose that place.  After the study, most of us hiked up the canyon along the creek to where there used to be an ancient cave (perhaps where David hid, perhaps not), and there is a beautiful waterfall there with lush greenery in stark contrast to the surrounding desert cliffs and rocks.  It got a bit hot and sweaty, the hike was a little strenuous, but well worth the effort.  Next time, if you come with us, it's worth getting yourself into shape for this hike.  Another "E" ticket - two in one day!  Back on the bus at 12:30pm, we voted and decided to hold off on lunch until we got to Jerusalem, about an hour's drive.  We hit the road and Leor continued to educate us about all things Israeli as well as playing favorite songs on his iPhone for us (Casting Crowns).  The road to Jerusalem is a bit steep and at times our bus slowed to get up the hill, but the road is mostly two lanes wide both ways, a beautiful highway to Zion.  Along the way we passed through the barren hills of the Judaean wilderness and saw little Bedouin settlements on the side of the road.  Before we entered the city, we stopped at a new settlement being built on the outskirts of the city, not just to see the latest in Israeli construction, but to stop and pray for Leor's new home - it ought to be finished in February or March, he and his wife will own their first home.  When you enter Jerusalem, you enter through a tunnel.  As you come out of the tunnel you see the city spread out before you with the gleaming "Dome of the Rock" off to your left.  Our driver Mayer continues to amaze us at his driving skills.  We made our way through the city and stopped at a kibbutz on the north side of Jerusalem for lunch.  Another beautiful Israeli lunch - I had beef stroganoff, Deb had schnitzel (fried breaded chicken patty).  From our dining room we could look across a small valley to the city of Bethlehem.  After lunch some of the folks ordered some custom jewelry (like rings with whatever you want molded into it) to be delivered before we leave.  Back onto the bus and our next stop was to see Leor's wife Karen - if you recall she just had a baby last week, Leanne (we had a little hand in naming her), and he also has a 7 year old daughter Kelly.  Karen brought her girls out to the bus and we all got to "ooh" and "ahh" over the beautiful family.  Leor had not seen them for one whole week as he has been out showing us around. We got back on the bus and headed for our hotel, the Regency in Jerusalem.  Pretty fancy looking digs.  Our room is as nice as the one at the Dead Sea.  When we went out onto the balcony outside our room we had a surprise - about a mile away from us, straight across from our room, you could see the Dome of the Rock (located on the Temple mount), due south of us.  Just to the left of that is the Mount of Olives.  An incredible view.  I don't know how we ended up with such a great place.  God is pretty good.  Way good.  Tomorrow we start our big time exploring of Jerusalem.  Keep us in your prayers.

The pictures are:  One of the breakfast counters at the Dead Sea; Deb floating at the Dead Sea; Rich teaching at Ein Gedi; Waterfall at Ein Gedi; Leor and his beautiful family; the view from our room in Jerusalem.

November 13, 2008 (Day 8)

Thursday morning.  We woke up this morning to the sound of rain.  Not a heavy rain, but pretty steady for an hour or so.  By breakfast time, the rain had stopped and the sky was beginning to clear - especially clear looking across the Sea of Galilee from our front porch.  Today is going to be a bit of a travel day.  We have to get from Sea of Galilee all the way past the halfway point on the Dead Sea, all by traveling on the road alongside the Jordan River.  We have some planned stops along the way.  We boarded the bus with all our bags packed around 9:00am and waved goodbye to our home away from home at Ma'Agan.  As we headed south, our tour guide Leor Ilan told us a little more about his testimony.  He came to the Lord in 1978, at age 15, while hitchhiking around the country of Israel as a teenager.  He hooked up with some "Jesus People" down in the Sinai (when Israel still controlled the Sinai), and they began to win him over through their kindness.  He eventually gave his life to Yeshua.  He shared the importance of kindness and relationships in leading people to the Lord.  Sometimes well meaning Christians come to Israel and try to win Jewish people to Jesus, but all they do is preach and don't have much of a witness.  It's important to show love to people.  Along the way we passed Beit She'An, passed roads that led towards the ancient city of Shechem, and drove around the city of Jericho.  After about two hours of driving, we passed the northern coast of the Dead Sea, and it began to rain on us.  At the Dead sea.  One of the driest places on the planet.  Rain on our windshield as we drove.  How cool is that?  It's at this point that we pulled into the site known as Qumran.  This is where an Arab shepherd boy stumbled across some ancient scrolls in a desert cave as he was looking for a lost sheep and stumbled onto the greatest archaeological discovery of all, the Dead Sea scrolls. We watched a movie about the ancient Essene community who lived there - a community of devout Jewish men who lived apart from society to be pure, to study the Scriptures, and to make copies of the Scriptures.  Some have suggested that John the Baptist may have been associated with this men at one time.  When it became evident that the Romans were going to wipe out the Jewish nation, they carefully stored their Scriptures in pottery jars in caves in the hills.  Because of their work, we have proof that the Bible is the ancient document it claims to be - their scrolls date back 2,000 years, to the time of Christ.  We had some time to explore the ancient ruins of their community, and then spent time buying gifts at the gift shop (including those fabulous Ahava skin products for the women, manufactured just down the road from Qumran), then picked up some lunch in the cafeteria before boarding the bus for our next stop.  From Qumran we headed further south past En Gedi (we'll see that tomorrow) toward Masada.  The road was still a bit wet in places.  We even drove past a spot where there was a flash flood (no mom we weren't in danger), and the road had been briefly closed earlier in the morning, but it wasn't a problem for our bus.  We arrived at Masada.  Check it out on the web.  It was a fortress/palace built by Herod the Great (same guy that built Caesarea, rebuilt the Temple in Jesus' day, and lots more).  He built this complex on top of a plateau that's kind of like an island in the sky.  The thing is something like 1500 feet above the Dead Sea.  You take a large cable car from the valley floor up to the top of the plateau.  From there you see the little city that Herod built, cisterns, storage warehouses, sauna/bath house, two palaces, houses for the servants, guard towers and barracks for soldiers, you name it. Apparently paranoid Herod built it in case he needed to escape - and supplied it with enough stuff to last 1,000 people for ten years.  Herod didn't use it much, and after he died it was pretty much abandoned ... until the time of the Jewish Revolt that took place around 64 AD, leading to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, when a band of close to 1,000 Jewish zealots fled to Masada and tried to hold out there against the Romans.  It worked for awhile.  They were able to survive on the supplies that Herod had left there years earlier.  But eventually the Romans built a huge siege ramp up the back wall and breached the wall.  On the morning that the Romans were to enter the city, they found a surprise.  The Jews had decided that rather than become slaves to the Romans, that they valued their freedom so much that they would rather die than surrender.  They had all killed themselves.  Perhaps you saw the movie.  It's quite a moving story, a story about the value of freedom.  It's so moving that the Israeli soldiers who are finishing their bootcamp (all young men and women at age 18 are in the military) are taken up to Masada for a ceremony (we caught a glimpse of some of them). By 4:00pm we began the cable car ride back down to the valley floor and on to our bus.  It was about a half hour drive further south to Ein Bokek, where our hotel is for the night, the Le Meridien.  Quite fancy digs for such simple people.  Google it and you'll see what I mean.  I guess we have to suffer.  We think we might leave just a little bit later tomorrow, perhaps we'll go float in the Dead Sea or something.  We sure appreciate your prayers.

The pictures are:  Deb and Linda at Qumran; Yes Tony the Magnum does exist; Greg and Lauren at lunch; Leor tells us the story of Masada; Israeli soldiers at Masada; the view from our simple hotel.

November 12, 2008 (Day 7)

Wednesday morning.  Our day began a little later today, not quite as much to do as previous days.  After breakfast we loaded onto the bus by 9:00am and made our first stop at a shop at a local kibbutz that specializes in dates, date products, and all kinds of delicious things.  Wonderful smells of spices fill the air.  It was a big hit with our group.  We loaded up on dates, candies, all kinds of things.  Next we headed south to the site of Beit She'An (or, Beth Shan, or Scythopolis), about a 45 minute drive.  Of all the archaeological sites in Israel, this place takes the cake.  Thirty years ago there was just a hill known as Beth Shan.  Today it's a historian's theme park.  The hill is the site of the ancient Israelite city of Beth Shan, but at various times it was occupied by various peoples.  Something like 25 layers of various civilizations are there.  When King Saul was killed by the Philistines (1Sam. 31), they took his headless body and fastened to the city walls of the city that was at that time controlled by the Philistines.  When the Israeli archaeologists began to work on the "tel" (the hill), they unknowingly discovered a much larger city in the valley below the hill, a city dating back to the time of Jesus, the Roman city of Scythopolis.  The thriving city was located on the intersection of two major trade routes, was quite a city of affluence, and quite a pagan place as well.  Apparently the city was destroyed by a huge earthquake somewhere around 700AD and buried in rubble.  What the Israeli archaeologists began to uncover was a huge ancient city with markets, bathhouses, temples, a coliseum, homes, and a huge outdoor theater (several times the size of the one in Caesarea).  As you walk through the gates into the site, it kind of takes your breath away.  Our tour guide Leor gave us a short history of the place, and then Pastor Allen taught on the life of King Saul, a man who was changed by the Spirit of God, but one who made the mistake of covering his sin instead of confessing it.  We then had over an hour to explore the vast site.  I could tell you about the Roman "lavatory", but then you might have just eaten dinner before reading this...  It got quite hot this morning, the sun burns pretty warm in Beit She'An and we were more than a little sweaty.  After gathering the group, our next stop was lunch at Sachne, a short drive away, and a beautiful park built around a natural spring.  The Israelis have created a beautiful lake for swimming.  Some of the folks brought their swimsuits and enjoyed the water.  After a restful break in the park, we got back on the bus and headed off to Ein Harod, another short drive to a spot in the valley of Jezreel, located between Mount Gilboa and the hill Moreh.  Ein Harod is a spring that comes out from the base of Mount Gilboa.  The Israelis have built a family style park there with picnic tables, swimming pool, and lots of grass.  When we arrived, we got a little surprise.  The weather reports had been predicting rain, and it finally arrived.  In a couple of hours we went from hot sun to rain.  We decided not to let a little rain stop us, so we hiked the few hundred yards up to the base of Gilboa to the spring.  It is thought that this might be the location where Gideon gathered his troops to face the Midianite invaders (Judges 6-7).  We gathered under a tree (to keep out of the rain) and sang a few songs (like "Let it rain" - hah!) and I shared some from the story of Gideon.  God used an unlikely method to bring a victory.  This small army was equipped only with trumpets, and torches inside clay pots.  When the signal sounded, they broke the clay pots, blew their trumpets, and the enemy collapsed onto themselves.  Paul writes in 2Corinthians 4 that we are like clay pots with a treasure inside, the light of the gospel.  Paul seems to indicate that we too at times are "broken", and the world around us sees God's light in us, in our brokenness.  God uses broken people.  The world needs to see that God works in the lives of broken people.  By the time I finished our study, the rain had stopped, we walked back to our bus, and headed off to our kibbutz. We're now getting ready for our last dinner at the kibbutz Ma'Agan, tomorrow morning we head south to the Dead Sea.

We sure appreciate your prayers.

The pictures are of Beit She'an, Deb at the Sachne waterfall, Linda in the rain at Ein Harod, Greg and Lauren at Ein Harod.

November 11, 2008 (Day 6)

Tuesday morning.  We tried to get an earlier start today because yesterday we didn't get all the things in that we wanted to do, so we were going to try and squeeze them into today's schedule.  After breakfast we were on the bus by 8:00am and headed off to the northwestern coast of Galilee to the spot known as the "Mount of Beatitudes".  The place is called that because it seems the best candidate of any place around Galilee where Jesus would have been able to preach to the multitudes.  And of course the message He preached was known as the "Sermon on the Mount", which starts with the passage known as the "Beatitudes" ("blessed are the ..."), hence the name "Mount of Beatitudes".  The spot has a beautiful Byzantine styled Catholic church on the site (designed by Bertolini, financed by Mussolini), but we decided to opt out of the "churchy" thing and hiked around the church to a spot overlooking the Sea of Galilee.  I have to admit I was a bit disappointed.  Last year we were here in the springtime, and the field was green, lots of flowers, birds chirping, and we were able to go down into the field, sit down, and have a Bible study.  It was my turn to share from the Scriptures and I was hoping it would be a little like last year.  But it's November (not April), the fields are dried, brown, and mown.  Not a lot of flowers.  We stood on a spot overlooking the hill, surrounded by trash and dirt.  Oh well.  The birds were still chirping and you could still get a little of the picture of what it was like that morning when Jesus taught the crowds on the hillside.  You can read it for yourself - we simply read Matthew 5-6 out loud.  Jesus was talking to real people in a real world surrounded by real things.  He upset a lot of their ideas about God and religion.  Jesus is wonderful.  After heading back onto the bus, we headed northward for a day on the Golan heights.  Our first stop was "Dan".  Dan is right on the border of Lebanon, at one place perhaps 50 yards away.  Dan is important in a couple of ways.  First, it is one of the three main tributaries into the Jordan River.  There's a huge natural spring there that is pouring out from the ground water that comes from the snows of Mount Hermon to the north.  Second, it was a place of idolatry, where King Jeroboam set up one of his alternative worship sites for the northern kingdom of Israel (1Ki. 12:29), setting up a temple and golden calf, causing the northern kingdom to fall away from God.  We walked along the headwaters of the Jordan River through a beautiful nature preserve, and then on to the site of the cultic temple.  Pastor Allen taught on Jeroboam, encouraging us to stay close to God and not allow our fears to lead us astray.  On the way back to the bus we passed two more archaeological sites - the gates of an ancient city dating back to the days of Abraham (2000BC, Gen. 14:14), and the gates of a later city dating back to the 8th century BC.  Back on the bus, we headed down to Kfar Blum, a kibbutz in the Hula Valley, where we had a delicious lunch.  After lunch we went back up into the hills to Caesarea Philippi, you see it on the maps as "Banias".  The Roman city was actually named "Panias", but the Arab folks have a hard time pronouncing the letter "p", so it is "Banias" on the map.  It was named after the god "Pan", half goat, half man, the guy with pointy ears who plays the flute.  There was an ancient temple to the god Pan where goats were sacrificed and thrown into the waters, waters which are one of the other main tributaries to the Jordan River.  We had a surprise at Banias.  I was scheduled to do the teaching.  As we are getting off the bus, up pulls a bus carrying our friends from Calvary Chapel of Anaheim, Pastor Mark and his tour group.  We decided to combine our groups for a few minutes, I led worship and taught from Mark 16 where Jesus is in Caesarea Philippi (Banias) and He asks the disciples "who do you say I am?"  Peter is the one who responds "You are the Christ".  I shared on the authority of the believer, the authority that Christ gives us in prayer.  It was very neat to see our friends, and an honor to share with them.  After we wrapped things up in Banias, we headed up the hills to learn more about the "Golan", the northeastern territory that is disputed between Israel and Syria.  Our tour guide Leor gave us a history of the wars of Israel and their struggle for survival.  We went up to Mount Bental, an outpost looking over Syria.  Deb and I got a mocha latte and I introduced her to the famous "Magnum" bar - the world's best ice-cream bar, found only in Israel.  Deb was impressed.  As we toured through the Golan we stopped for a bit at one of the settlement towns, Qazrin, were we got a glimpse at life on the edge of war.  We made it back to our kibbutz at Ma'Agan and are getting ready for dinner.

We sure appreciate your prayers!

The pictures are:  The view from the Mount of Beatitudes, the headwaters of Jordan at Dan, ancient gates at Dan, at Dan - you want to take my picture?, and leading worship at Banias.

November 10, 2008 (Day 5)

Monday morning.  We had a big day ahead of us. After a typical kibbutz breakfast (from the buffet I had scrambled eggs, french toast, roll w/apple butter, expresso) we got on to the bus and headed east and north along the Sea of Galilee to a spot called "Korsi", the land of the Gadarenes, and the spot where Jesus met a man known as Legion.  In the gospel accounts (Mark 5), Jesus cast a lot of demons out of the man, the demons went into a herd of pigs, and the pigs all went running off a cliff into the lake, committing mass suicide.  There were ruins of an ancient Byzantine church there.  We explored a bit, sang some songs, and got back on the bus.  Next we headed around to the docks at Capernaum (on the north of the Sea of Galilee) where we got on a large wooden boat and headed southwest toward the land of Gennesaret.  We stopped about halfway and had a short Bible Study.  We're blessed to have another church group on our tour, Valley Christian Fellowship from Tulare California.  They are led by Pastor Allen Orr.  Allen and I have been taking turns teaching at the various sites, and Allen shared a short Bible study out on the Lake.  Then we headed to Nof Ginnosaur, where Timothy and I had stayed last year in Israel.  We got to see the "Jesus Boat", an ancient 2,000 old boat that was discovered covered in the mud a couple decades ago.  Dating back to the time of Jesus, it was quite a feat to get the boat dug up and preserved before it dissolved after being exposed to the air.  We did some shopping at the store at Ginnosaur, then got back on the bus.  A few in our group were running a bit short of cash, so we took the bus in to the city of Tiberias (on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee) and stopped at an ATM.  By this time it was getting close to lunch, so we changed our plans around and headed off to lunch back on the southern end of Galilee.  Timothy will remember our famous "fish lunch", grilled Tilapia, whole, fish eyes and all.  Those less inclined settled for cheese pizza.  After lunch we headed back around the lake to Capernaum (felt like we were driving in circles, and we were). A word about the weather - it's been a bit on the warm side here - high 70's maybe low 80's.  We take jackets with us on the bus but haven't needed them yet.  We hear the weather is going to cool down the next couple of days, maybe even some rain, we'll see.  Back to our day - Capernaum is a wonderful archeological dig on the northeast coast of Galilee.  Those of us who study the Bible love the place because it was sort of a "home base" for Jesus and His disciples.  Peter's mother-in-law was healed here.  We're pretty sure which house was her house (and the Catholic church has built a monstrous building that sort of hovers over the ruins). The paralyzed man was let down through the roof to be healed by Jesus here.  Jesus taught in the synagogue at Capernaum - and we saw the synagogue.  Very neat place.  You gotta come and see it.  Pastor Allen taught again and Leor Ilan (our guide) did a short study from Romans 11, how God is not finished with the Jewish people yet.  By the time we were finished in Capernaum, it was getting close to 3:30pm and we still hadn't been to the Mount of Beatitudes and the baptism spot on the Jordan River.  We decided to postpone the Mount of Beatitudes in favor of the Jordan River.  We can go back to the Beatitudes tomorrow morning.  The spot on the Jordan River used for baptisms is not the spot where Jesus was baptized (that's far south from here near Jericho), but a few years back some Christians donated some money to have a site built to allow Christians to be baptized in the Jordan.  A kibbutz runs the place, and it's very well kept.  For $10 they rent you a robe, a towel, and you get a handy-dandy pocket brush for a souvenir.  Best yet, pastors get in free.  Seven folks in the group thought it would be cool to get baptized again in the Jordan (most had already been baptized), so Allen and I got to get a little wet.  The water was a bit cold going in, but you get used to it after a few minutes.  Just a little touch of what it was like in the days of Jesus.  The sun was going down and by the time we finished it was dark.  One more note:  Our kibbutz (Ma'Agan) is just beautiful.  It's RIGHT on the Sea of Galilee.  You look out our front window and you see Galilee.  Lots of beautiful trees, flowers, crickets chirping at night, birds chirping in the morning.  Absolutely wonderful.  We're getting ready for dinner now (served at 7:00pm) and off to bed early for another long, wonderful day tomorrow.

The pictures:  Oil press at Korzi, end of a perfect fish lunch, Peter's mother-in-law's house, Baptism for Lauren at the Jordan

November 9, 2008 (Day 4)

It's Sunday.  In Israel, Saturday is the day off for the whole nation.  The work week begins on Sunday.  We think of going to church, they think of going to work.  We had a great breakfast this morning - scrambled eggs, little tiny pancakes, lots of yummy stuff.  We boarded the bus at 8:30am and headed up the east side of the lake (Sea of Galilee) to the ancient city of Chorazim (also called Korazim, Chorazin).  Its a city only mentioned twice in the gospels, and not in a very flattering way.  Even though Jesus apparently did some of His miracles there, these people were not interested in following Jesus.  The only record we have of Chorazim is of Jesus pronouncing "Woe" (Mat. 11:21) to them for their rejection of Him.  The city is nothing but ruins today, stones of black volcanic lying in piles where a city and its synagogue once stood.  From Chorazim we traveled around the lake to Mount Arbel, on the west coast of Galilee, the highest point along the lake. As we were pulling into the parking lot we were a little concerned, the lot was filled with buses of Arab students.  Sure enough, as we walked up to the top of the hill we were surrounded by loud Arab teenagers.  And it's Sunday morning and we were planning on having church at Arbel.  Hmmm.  We decided to stop about halfway up and broke out the guitar.  It was a bit hard to concentrate with lots of kids making a lot of noise - they seemed intent on walking off the path to walk by our group.  It was my turn to teach, and I was sharing from Matthew 14 where Jesus has heard about His cousin's death (John the Baptist) and how Jesus tried to get to a lonely place to pray, only to find a noisy crowd following Him into the wilderness.  It seemed like what we were experiencing.  My idea was to encourage our group to pray for each other, then finish the passage where Jesus sent the crowd away and still spent some time up on a mountain (like Arbel) to pray.  By the time we had finished the passage, all the Arab teens had gotten onto their busses and left.  It was like God had staged our whole morning.  It was cool having church in Israel.  After church, we got on the bus and headed off towards Megiddo, but first stopped for lunch.  We stopped at a buffet and had a delicious lunch (I got chicken, Deb got stroganoff).  Then back onto the bus where we left for the ancient city of Megiddo.  Megiddo is a "tel", a hill made up of layers of civilization built on top of each other.  Megiddo was a key city in the valley of Jezreel, located at two main crossroads in northern Israel.  It was a key to controlling commerce through the land and was fought over many times throughout the centuries.  In fact the "tel" has 25 layers to it, the oldest dating back to 5,000BC, some layers dating to the times of King Solomon and King Ahab.  Your interest in Megiddo is tied to the fact that it's the city around which the battle known as "Armageddon" (Rev. 16:16) will be fought.  The word "Armageddon" is based on the Hebrew words meaning "Hill of Megiddo", the city where we were exploring.  Megiddo is a huge, fascinating archaeological dig.  The Israeli government processed the site like cutting into a multilayer cake.  Among other things they uncovered palaces, 16 layers of pagan temples, stables for hundreds of horses under the reign of King Ahab, a large community grain silo, and coolest of all was an underground water system.  King Ahab had a tunnel dug through solid rock to bring water from the nearby spring at the base of the hill into the city, so they could have water even during a siege.  It was a bit of exercise (183 stairs down into the tunnel) but well worth it.  Oh, and from the top of the hill, you get a great view of the valley below, known as the Jezreel Valley or also as the Valley of Megiddo where among other things there is an Israeli air force base - and we got a couple of surprises when several fighter jets took off with their sonic booms.  We got back onto our bus, and headed back to Ma'Agan (our kibbutz) for dinner. On the trip back, we got another couple of surprises.  Some of the jets came roaring through the Jordan River valley (where we were driving), it seemed just a couple hundred feet above our heads.  We're now in our room, getting ready for dinner in the dining hall and then off to bed.

The pictures are of the ruins at Chorazim, the view from Arbel, the grain silo in Megiddo, and a peek inside the Megiddo water tunnel.

November 8, 2008 (Day 3)

Hey gang,

It’s our second day in Israel. Today is “Shabat” (Sabbath), so things Jewish will be closed today. We started off with a late breakfast and got on the bus by 9:00am. It was nice to sleep in a bed after last night’s long, long flight. We headed toward the coast to the ancient city of Caesarea. Built by Herod the Great, it’s a great bunch of archaeological finds. Beautiful weather on the coast. We talked a bit about how the gospel got started going out to us Gentiles, right there in Caesarea (see Acts 10). We went through the ancient theater, saw the ruins of Herod’s palace, and walked through the hippodrome – not it’s not a home for hippos, but a gladiator kind of arena where Herod held his ancient games and horse/chariot races (like the Olympics). Then on to the bus and up north where we saw a portion of the ancient aquaduct built by Herod to bring water to his prized city of Caesarea. Back on the bus and up north toward Carmel. We stopped at a falafel stop and some in the group had their first (and not last) taste of falafel. Falafel is a deep fried ball of garbanzo bean paste. You eat it in pita bread with different kinds of veggies (I had eggplant and cabbage). After lunch we headed on to Mount Carmel where the prophet Elijah (1Kings 18) challenged the prophets of Baal to a showdown – Elijah calling down fire from heaven. We ended our day of touring by going a little further north to the city of Akko (or, Acco, or Acre, or ancient Ptolemais). Not much Biblical ties in Acco, but it’s history lies in the days of the Crusaders, and we toured through the ancient Crusader ruins – great halls, escape tunnels, cool stuff worthy of an Indiana Jones movie. We ended up on the wall looking over the bay with a beautiful Mediterranean sunset. We’re now on the bus heading back to the kibbutz on the Sea of Galilee, dinner, and bed.

The pictures are of the aquaduct at Caesarea, Linda and Lauren tasting falafel, and sunset at Acco.

Keep us in your prayers,

Rich and the gang in Israel


November 6-7, 2008 (Day 1,2)

Hey gang,

We’ve arrived safe and sound in the wonderful land of Israel.  We got an extra early start Friday morning to our cross-planet jaunt.  We arrived at LAX (airport) at 8:30am, our flight didn’t leave until 1:45pm.  Even though that sounds like a bit early, it was nice to beat the crowds that were anticipated – we flew on a Boeing 777, and the flight was packed.  And Israeli security, world class.  It takes extra time getting through all the questions and interviews, but you feel completely safe as you fly.  And even though we had to sit around a bit after we got through security, it was nice to not have to bite our nails hoping we’d get there in time.  Our flight was non-stop from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv (Ben Gurion airport).  Fourteen hours.  Ten hours of time shift.  We took off in Los Angeles around 2pm and arrived in Tel Aviv around 2pm.  We’re now 10 hours ahead of you all – so even though it’s Friday morning for you, it’s Friday night for us. Even though we appreciated the non-stop flight, it is hard to get much sleep.  We’re all pretty bushed.  After making it through customs in Tel Aviv, we met our tour guide, Mr. Leor Ilan (yes I spelled it correctly).  He’s a proud papa – his wife gave birth to a baby girl a couple days ago, but she made him get out and lead our tour because they could use the income and she’s got a large family.  You could be praying for his wife Karen, she had some complications from a caesarean delivery, but as of tonight things are looking better for them.  Leor got us out of the airport, onto our bus (there will be sixteen of us on a bus that seats probably 40).  We had a two hour drive north to our lodging.  We’re staying at the Ma’agan kibbutz located on the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee.  We’ll be here for six nights, each day taking trips throughout the Galilee area and exploring the land of Israel.  After the Galilee, we’ll head south and stay at the Dead Sea for a night, then end with three nights in Jerusalem.  We’ll be leaving early Tuesday morning the 18th (12:40am) and arriving home in Los Angeles on Tuesday morning around 6:30am.  We’re all heading off to be a bit on the early side now because we’re all quite tired and have to get used to the time change.

The first picture is of the inside of the bus.  The second picture is of us at dinner.  The food in Israel is spectacular.

Pray for us and keep checking your emails for updates.  In case you miss any of the updates, I’ll also try to update the church website (, look for “Where in the World” and follow the links.

Pray for us!

Rich and company