Monday, May 18, 2015

Israel Trip, Part 3

Day 3 of our tour started out drizzly and cold.  Huddled under umbrellas, we took a brief look at an old church that was built to commemorate the location where Jesus cast demons out of men and into pigs.

It's pretty incredible to see mosaic floors that have stood the test of hundreds of years' time!

Shortly after that stop, the sun came out!  We made our way to the Tel Dan Nature Reserve where we enjoyed a lovely nature walk that included lots of foliage and rushing water.  This is the location of multiple natural springs that feed into the Jordan River.  It was a very refreshing place to be!

Some of our team on the hike.

Eventually, our hike led us to ruins that were the location of this passage in Scripture:

"And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David: if this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah.  Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.  And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan.  And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan.  And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi." (1 Kings 12:26-31)

A re-creation of the altar structure that likely would have been used in Jeroboam's day built on top of the original ruins.

Up the steps you see to the right would have been the "high places" that we read about so often in the books of Kings and Chronicles where pagan worship took place. 

High places were also located at the city gates (the stone altar in the background is an example).  I love this verse that was posted about King Josiah and his legacy: "And he...defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense...and brake down the high places of the gates..." (2 Kings 23:8)

Another verse says, "Moreover the altar that was at Bethel, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, had made, both that altar and the high place he brake down, and burned the high place, and stamped it small to powder, and burned the grove." (2 Kings 23:15)

Overall, visiting the city ruins at Dan was an enlightening field trip into understanding this part of Old Testament history.

Jumping back into the New Testament, our next stop was Caesarea Philippi where Jesus' famous conversation with the disciples took place in which He asked them, "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?"  Due to the natural springs that are also found here, the area in Jesus' day was dedicated to the worship of a false god named Pan who supposedly lived in nature.

Shrines which remain from the idolatrous worship that took place here.

Over to the left, you can see a large cave opening in which was a giant rock slab used for various forms of sacrifice to Pan.

As the conversation goes between Jesus and His disciples, Peter answers the question with, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."  Then Jesus says to him, "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.  And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."  (Matthew 16:13-19)

Nathan believes that Jesus might have been using this well-known rock as an object lesson to illustrate His point that He would build His church upon Himself (THE rock), and the various rocks of paganism and death would never overcome it.

 A Syrian rock hyrax (also known as conies in the book of Proverbs).

More beautiful views of the natural springs.

We continued our tour along the Golan Heights and eventually came to a small town (whose name now escapes me) where we stopped for lunch at a modern-day olive press.  After eating pizza, we were shown a video about how this family-run business has developed an innovative process for not just making high quality olive oil but for using the whole olive - skin, pit, and all! - to make all-natural skin care products as well.  In the picture, Nathan and another guy on the team are washing their hands after trying out the exfoliating olive wash that left one's skin feeling so soft!  I really enjoyed the learning experience and the opportunity to support this unique Israeli business.

Sampling the olive oil with bread.

That's a lot of olive oil!

The olive press is located in a beautiful facility...a warehouse of sorts with trees and birds inside!

After buying out their gift shop (or so it seemed!), it was time to load back on the bus.

The snow-capped peaks of Mt. Hermon

Here I am standing on the border of Israel and no-man's-land, with Syria just beyond it.  We could hear artillery fire coming from Syria's civil war conflict and were reminded just much of a powder-keg the Middle East is!  It's really amazing to learn how God has super-naturally protected and preserved His people in the midst of it all.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Israel Trip, Part 2

Day 2 of our tour of Israel consisted of more sites around the Sea of Galilee!

First up, a boat ride across the sea itself!

Part of our tour group ready to enjoy the ride!  Notice that while there is sunshine for the moment, rain clouds lurk in the background...

Sometimes the lake looked green...
...sometimes, it looked blue.
(That is the city of Tiberias on the far shore.)

While on our journey across the lake, a rain storm blew over us (a very common experience on this body of water due to its unique location between the Golan Heights and various other mountain/hill peaks).  Even though it wasn't a very big storm, it was enough to cause 2-3 foot swells in the waves which then splashed over the sides of the boat.  Everyone tried to find a place to keep dry, but such places were very limited!

As we were chugging our way through the turbulent water, being tossed to and fro to a degree, I couldn't help but think of Jesus' disciples and the kind of boats they would have used for fishing 2000 years ago.  Theirs were much smaller than ours, powered by oars and not an engine.  No wonder they were scared out of their wits when a storm came upon them and Jesus was asleep in the boat!  Those waves were likely engulfing their entire fishing vessel as they were tossed like a little cork in the midst of it all.  Yes, I think I would have been scared too!  It certainly would have been a miserable experiencing trying to maintain control of the boat in such a tempest...especially "in the evening," as the Scripture passage says, when visibility would have been extremely limited due to darkness.  And then to think, Jesus just stood up, calmed the storm, and immediately all was at peace again...

See what I mean about the Bible coming alive because of experiences like these? :)

Here is a picture looking back over the lake after we reached the other side.  You can see how the rain storms are isolated to certain areas of the water.  It's really unique how the weather operates here!

After embarking on land, our group toured a little museum area that houses a restored boat from Jesus' era, but I didn't find it interesting enough to take pictures of! ;)

Our next stop was the Biblical sit of Capernaum, the town where Jesus made His home after being rejected in Nazareth.  Capernaum was right on the banks of the Sea of Galilee and was also the home town of the Apostle Peter.  Capernaum is no longer an inhabited town, but the ruins here were very interesting to see.  In the above picture are ruins that once made up the walls of homes in the main residential area.

The Synagogue

While much of the original stone work was destroyed and rebuilt a couple hundred years after Jesus, those dark gray stones on the bottom layer were original to the time of Jesus' day.

What is believed to be Peter's house sits under a Catholic church that was built to commemorate the site.

Here we are after a hike down the Mount of the Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

Another mountain we visited that day is called Mount Arbel.  Many people believe it was the location where Jesus was transfigured and possibly from which he ascended into heaven.  Of course, that is just speculation.  Regardless, it was a well-known mountain peak in His day and a likely spot where He could have been at one time.  The panoramic views were amazing!

Our final stop for the day was a famous baptismal site along the Jordan River.  Everything about this site was beautiful!  The palm trees...

the flowers...

...and of course, the river itself.

(You can see people being baptized in a roped off area on the left-hand side.  Unfortunately, it's become a commercialized site where many people get baptized by some random employee there regardless of their true understanding of salvation.  Some just want the experience of being dipped at a "holy" site.  You can even buy the "holy" water in bottles at the gift shop for a souvenir.)

Did you know Israel was this pretty?

Meanwhile, back at the cabin...I decided to try out our new "dinner bell." :)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Israel Trip, Part 1

A little over a week ago, Nathan and I returned from the trip of a lifetime: an all-expense-paid tour of Israel!  We are so very grateful to the incredibly generous friends who made it possible for us to take this much-needed "vacation" to such a historically-rich, Biblically significant country of the world!

I'll admit, Israel was never on my bucket-list of must-see places...I figured I would get to see it one day anyway when the King is there reigning! :)  However, when the offer came to send Nathan and me together to see the sites and expand our understanding of the Bible by visiting the place where so much of it took place, it was an offer we couldn't refuse.  And I'm so glad I went!  Our 8-day tour was packed to the brim with sightseeing and learning.  It was like drinking from a fire hydrant of interesting facts, important information, and living history...and I'm still processing it all.  I will say that a tour of Israel lived up to its claim of making the Bible come alive in even deeper ways than every before!

Now that we have been home for a time and are just about recovered from jet lag and mountains of laundry, and have reconnected with our boys (who stayed with my parents) and gotten back on a home-life routine, I am finally getting around to sharing some of the 300 pictures I took during our travels.  :)  We saw so many neat places and made lasting memories...I want to adequately capture those memories as best as possible via blog posts over the next few days and weeks as I'm able to squeeze in time.  So stay tuned for lots more segments to the story!  Here is Day 1 of the tour to get us started...

Welcome to Casesarea by the Sea.

This was once a bustling sea port and favorite palatial dwelling place for both King Herod and Pontius Pilate.  It's easy to see why they liked this beautiful, refreshing location so much!

The Mediterraen Sea 

The few palace ruins that remain intact, mosaic floors and all, despite the sea's perpetual beating over 2000 years' time.

Numerous other ruins are scattered throughout this site as well.

The workmanship of the artisans of the Roman era was something amazing to behold.

I learned that according to proper terminology, a theater was a semi-circle shape of seats facing a stage where dramatic performances took place.  An amphitheater was a complete circle (or oval) of seats surrounding an arena where events like chariot races, gladiator fights, and human vs. wild beast show-downs took place.  This picture shows the original site of the theater in Caesarea, though it was destroyed and rebuilt overtime.  This is where the Apostle Paul made his famous defense before King Agrippa in Acts 26.

These chairs are not usually here, but we were touring the site the day before Israeli Independence Day, and they were expecting a large crowd for various festivities.

In the background, you can just make out the Mediterranean Sea.  In the foreground is Ron, one of our Israeli tour guides during the trip.

A Roman aqueduct amazingly still intact, despite its close proximity to the sea.

Our next stop of the day as we journeyed north toward the Galilee was Mt. Carmel where Elijah's showdown against the prophets of Baal took place.  From the top of Mt. Carmel, we looked down over the Valley of Megiddo, also known as Armageddon.  Numerous battles throughout the Bible's history took place in this valley, and at the end of time, the enemies of the Lord will gather here before one final battle against God.

For now, Megiddo, one of the most fertile valleys in the world, is beautifully green and full of farms and vineyards.

Next, we made our way to the Nazareth Village, a small recreation of how life in Jesus' boyhood days might have looked.  I thoroughly enjoyed our time at this site as we observed daily life in a simple village context.  Also, the Christian tour guide here was very insightful with the facts he shared from that era.

An olive tree.

A shepherd at work.

A wine press.  Do you see the notch in the rock?

Grapes would have been placed in the upper chamber and stomped on with bare feet.  The juice would then run down the spigot notch in the rock to the lower chamber where it would be scooped out in buckets across the ledge to the left for making into juice or wine.

This is an olive press.  Olives were placed in the basin, and a donkey was hitched to the stone.  Around and around the stone would be pulled, crushing the olives' flesh and breaking them apart.

Then, the crushed olives were placed into baskets much like this one.

The baskets were placed under the wooden circle/post you see at the far right.  Under the basket was a hole in the ground for catching the oil.
  The stone weights in the foreground were used to create the pressure needed on the basket to extract the oil.  The first press was the extra virgin olive oil used for offerings to the Lord and eating.  The second and third press brought forth a lesser quality oil that was used for other daily needs such as candles.

A re-created synagogue much like the one in which Jesus was invited upon His return to Nazareth to read from the scrolls.  This was the time he proclaimed his Messiah-ship from Isaiah 61.

Another Preacher of the Word. :)

The "carpenter" or builder of Nazareth.

Hannah, the weaver of Nazareth giving us a demonstration of her work.

Nazareth Village - a peek into the past in the midst of a modern, bustling city.

Next stop: the Sea of Galilee!  
I was amazed by how pretty this part of Israel was. So many rolling green hills, farms, vineyards, olive groves, and of course, the beautiful blue lake itself!

For three days and nights, while we toured all the sites in the area, our group stayed in these cozy little cabins right on the water.

Now this is starting to feel like a vacation... =)

Sunset over the lake.

To be continued...