The Rest of the Story

The trip to Israel for 2015 is now history. We endured many challenges relative to getting there and getting home. We met many new friends. We ate, walked, read scripture, prayed, laughed, and even cried together. We saw places some of us thought we would never see, and we will never read the Bible in the same way again. When we read the Beatitudes, we will find ourselves overlooking the Sea of Galilee in our minds. When we read of Nazareth, we will be reminded of overlooking the Jezreel Valley from the Mount of the Precipice. When we encounter challenging circumstances, we can remember those words Jesus spoke to His disciples as He walked on the Sea of Galilee, “Do not be afraid. I am here.” When we celebrate Palm Sunday, we can picture for ourselves the Mount of Olives and the path leading into the city of Jerusalem. We can remember touching the rock of Calvary whenever we hear the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. And on Easter we can picture the sign on the door at the Garden Tomb with the words, “He is not here – for He is risen!” The trip itself is over, but the impact of the trip will live on in our lives.

I plan to post followup information to our trip as the days go by. Some will be personal reflections, while others will be photographs of our experience. I will also post the complete list of the places we visited and the scriptures we read there. If any of my fellow travelers have comments to share, I welcome them.

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Group Photo 2015

israel-group-2015

Yesterday (February 3, 2017), I was with a group of people who are considering the 2018 trip, and I was reminded I was supposed to send out a copy of the group photo taken at the Mount of Olives in March 2015. I had attempted to scan this after we returned from the trip, but a combination of issues with our scanner kept me from getting it done in an acceptable manner. And then, life happened and I forgot. Please accept my apologies.

If you would like a higher quality image than what can be downloaded from this post, or one to a different width/height ratio (this is 5 X 7), please email me and I will send it to you.

Israel 2015 Reflections – Mount Arbel

Mount Arbel is located west of the Sea of Galilee and rises more than 1200 feet above the surface of the water. For me, it is a landmark I had seen since my first visit to Israel, but this would be the first time looking at the Sea of Galilee from the summit.

Mount Arbel was the last place we visited at the end of a long day. We had already been to Bet She’an, Megiddo, and Sepphoris. I had planned a devotion for the top, but since I had never been there before I did not realize two things:

  • The bus cannot actually go all the way to the top. From the parking lot, there is a walk to the summit. The walk is about 1500 feet (one way) while going uphill about 100 feet. Not everyone was ready to tackle that climb, so some elected not to go to the top.
  • The top is a fairly large area, so the entire group was really spread out by the time I got there. (It remained my responsibility as Bus Captain to stay at the back of the group making the climb.) As I was reaching the top, many had already started back down.

So, from the perspective of the group as a whole, my devotion was a bit of a flop since I was the only one who heard it. Regardless, God and I had a great time together. The scripture was from Mark 1:35, “Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.” I was thinking, “This was an isolated place, and I wonder how often Jesus might have sat here looking out over this region.” I was also thinking Jesus did not go to an isolated place merely to get away from people. I think He went looking for a place where He would be isolated from anything that might be an obstacle between He and His Father. Jesus yearned for the closeness with His heavenly Father. While everyone else was heading back to the bus, I sat in this isolated place to satisfy my own yearning. It was good.

The view from the top of Mount Arbel is amazing. Although there was some afternoon haze, as we looked out over the Sea of Galilee, we could see the places where Jesus walked, taught, healed, and lived during His ministry. The view enabled us to put the geography of Jesus’ ministry into perspective.

When I returned to the parking lot, most of the people from the bus were resting at the park there and enjoying ice cream from the vending area. Only minimal encouragement was required for me to join them.

It was a great way to end the day.

Arbel Cliff from the Sea of Galilee. February 2009.

Mount Arbel is in the center, with the Valley of the Winds just to the right. Taken from the Mount of the Beatitudes on north side of the Sea of Galilee. March 2015.

Mount Arbel is in the center, with the Valley of the Winds just to the right. Taken from the Mount of the Beatitudes on north side of the Sea of Galilee. March 2015.

Mount Arbel, the Valley of the Wind, and Mount Nitai from near the shore of the Sea of Galilee. March 2015.

Mount Arbel, the Valley of the Wind, and Mount Nitai from near the shore of the Sea of Galilee. March 2015.

Some of the group from the 'White Bus' on top of Mount Arbel. March 2015.

Some of the group from the ‘White Bus’ on top of Mount Arbel. March 2015.

This is looking down toward the Valley of the Wind from the top of Mount Arbel. There are a couple of buses visible at the entrance to the valley. March 2015.

This is looking down toward the Valley of the Wind from the top of Mount Arbel. There are a couple of buses visible at the entrance to the valley. March 2015.

This is the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee as seen from the top of Mount Arbel. Nof Ginosar, the Mount of the Beatitudes, the Church of the Loaves and Fishes, the Church of Peter's Primacy, and Capernaum are visible. March 2015.

This is the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee as seen from the top of Mount Arbel. Nof Ginosar, the Mount of the Beatitudes, the Church of the Loaves and Fishes, the Church of Peter’s Primacy, and Capernaum are visible. March 2015.

This is part of the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee as seen from the top of Mount Arbel. The Mount of the Beatitudes, the Church of the Loaves and Fishes, the Church of Peter's Primacy are visible. March 2015.

This is part of the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee as seen from the top of Mount Arbel. The Mount of the Beatitudes, the Church of the Loaves and Fishes, the Church of Peter’s Primacy are visible. March 2015.

Overlooking the excavation of Magdela from the top of Mount Arbel. March 2015.

Overlooking the excavation of Magdela from the top of Mount Arbel. March 2015.

Many from the 'White Bus' were walking along the path on top of Mount Arbel. The afternoon haze limits visibility, but this is looking toward the east across the Sea of Galilee. March 2015.

Many from the ‘White Bus’ were walking along the path on top of Mount Arbel. The afternoon haze limits visibility, but this is looking toward the east across the Sea of Galilee. March 2015.

Israel 2015 Reflections – The Church of the Nativity (Bethlehem)

This church has always evoked odd feelings in me.

On one hand, it is a really special place. Think about it. Jesus is the person upon which, and through whom, the history of the world was forever changed. And this is the place (either here or near) where Jesus was born. In the 2,000 years since His birth, millions of people have traveled to this place to see, imagine, and experience this place.

On the other hand, it does not fit the image in my mind. The church itself was built over 1400 years ago. Imagine 1400 years of oil lamps and candles and incense. Consider 1400 years of pilgrims touching everything, and wanting to take a piece home with them. Think about 1400 years of maintenance on a tight budget.

The decor seems cluttered to me. There are globes and pictures hanging everywhere. I appreciate that people through the ages have offered gifts to God. As I stood and waited, I wondered about the people of faith who had stood in that same place before me, and offered gifts. Yet I also noted the gifts have accumulated over the centuries. It raised questions about what should be done with all of the gifts offered over the centuries. How do we honor and preserve the past while leaving room for today and tomorrow? (This is an issue in our churches also.) I do not have answers, but I wish it were more aesthetically pleasing.

Much of the structure was covered because of the major renovation underway. There were many visitors for whom this will be their only time to visit this place, and I felt badly for them.

The people in charge have an impossible task. They simultaneously officiate worship, welcome prominent officials, maintain and protect the building, oversee the current major renovation project, and herd thousands of unruly pilgrims through the grotto every day. It is enough to make a person a little grumpy. One official took being grumpy a little too seriously.

The church itself was built over the cave where Jesus was thought to have been born. There are steps leading down to ‘The Grotto.’ The walls have been covered to prevent pilgrims from chipping off small pieces to take with them. This leaves it looking more like a poorly designed church basement, than a sacred spot. The sheer volume of visitors means that even before I arrived at the bottom of the steps, someone was pushing from behind. They were as anxious to kneel on sacred ground as I, and their impatience resulted in common courtesy becoming even less common.

And there was the tension within me. The photographer in me wanted to capture the perfect photograph (or two or twenty). The learner in me wanted to hear a few more bits of information from the guide. The bus captain in me needed to keep track of everyone from the White Bus. The pilgrim in me wanted to quietly linger, giving the Holy Spirit time to speak to my spirit. The pastor in me wanted to get out of the way, so others might experience all God had for them.

As with other visits to this place, I came away with less than I had hoped. I was thankful for the opportunity, but remain more thankful for what was I experienced next.

Inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The opening in the floor allows you to see some of the mosaic floor from  the earlier church. February 2013.

Inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The opening in the floor allows you to see some of the mosaic floor from the earlier church. February 2013.

Inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. February 2011.

Inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. February 2011.

This is part of the mosaic floor inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. February 2011.

This is part of the mosaic floor inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. February 2011.

Inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. February 2011.

Inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. February 2011.

Inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The crowd is waiting for an opportunity to go down into the Grotto. February 2013.

Inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The crowd is waiting for an opportunity to go down into the Grotto. February 2013.

Inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. How many globes can you count? February 2009.

Inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. How many globes can you count? February 2009.

There was a lot of scaffolding inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem due to the major renovation taking place. March 2015.

There was a lot of scaffolding inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem due to the major renovation taking place. March 2015.

One of the officials inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. March 2015.

One of the officials inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. March 2015.

One of the globes hanging inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. February 2011.

One of the globes hanging inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. February 2011.