Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Sophie's First Diamond

This weekend Sophie got her first diamond. You might be thinking: "You gave your 8 year old daughter a diamond?" It wasn't set in a ring. It wasn't affixed to a post that would sit in her ear. Her first diamond wasn't white.

Sophie's first diamond was black. It was found at Northstar after taking the chair to the top. One of the first things she said she wanted to do that day was to take the chair to top and ride a Black Diamond. She wanted to ride a black diamond and she did awesome!

As I think about Sophie and riding her first black diamond with her I have four thoughts that come to mind:

This didn't happen overnight 

Sophie isn’t a professional snowboarder. She started riding last season. I’ve been working with her on balance and agility for years hoping that she would love snowboarding as much as me! She used to take gymnastics and that really helps with her balance. It took us many rides on the bunny chair, lots of Skittles and other motivation tools to get here.

It took lots of work 

Sophie woke up early in the morning for this last trip. She’s spent many hours in the back of the car to get to Tahoe. She’s gone on some fun days of riding with me. We’ve had days where the weather is so nice that you can ride in a long-sleeve shirt! She’s also gone riding on Days were it’s been 5 degrees when we left the house. She’s braved the cold and rode in storms that will make grown men leave the hill. She’s fallen her fair share of times and put in the work to make it happen.

It took courage 

I’ve talked with a few people about her accomplishment and they’ve said: “She did what?” Or someone said: “I don’t have the guts to do that.” It didn’t dawn on me at first but her first black diamond took a bunch of courage. I can’t image how big that hill looks to her. She is half the size of almost everyone else on the hill. She had the courage her point her board in that direction when she could have chosen a different one.

It was a little scary 

When we stood on the top of the hill I could see it in her face. She looked over the side and it was scary. Her eyes grew wide. I’m sure her heart rate increased. It’s a gnarly feeling when you can see the top but you can’t see the hill you’re going to slide down; I’ve been there. But she conquered her fears. She didn’t let fear win that day.

As I think of four thoughts I can’t help but think about how many so many people never get the thrill of riding a black diamond. I started thinking about how Sophie riding a black diamond can be used to describe the Christian life that many people miss out on.

Some people think that Spiritual Growth happens over night and it doesn’t. It takes many days of sitting with God. There are times when it feels like God is no where to be found and times when it feels like God is sitting right next to you. Growing as a Christ follower takes time and an investment. It calls someone to step out in faith, to leave what they know to be comfortable and follow Jesus. Sometimes this call brings a person to places they’ve never been or locations they are afraid of.

Being a Christ follower takes courage. It requires leaving the comforts you once knew and embracing the truth of Christ. Some people are ridiculed, disowned or rejected by those they love. But as I look at those who are truly following Christ they know the benefits. They are experiencing the thrill of riding a black diamond!

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The Dead Rat

As humans we’re great at justifying and diminishing our sin. We pretend it’s not there or ignore it, hoping it will go away. It’s like taking Advil for a broken leg. Let me tell you how nasty our sin is. Two summers ago I woke up in the middle of the night and smelled this horrible smell. I knew it was the smell of death, because I lost two hamsters as a kid, but I was so tired I went back to bed. The next morning was a Sunday, so I went off to church early. My wife texted me around 8 am and said this, “I think there’s something dead under our house.” I knew she was right, but I just told her to open the windows and air the house out.

After church I got home and the house smelt fine. But before we went to bed we shut the windows and the smell of death returned. I knew what I had to do. I had to crawl under the house and see what was there. So I geared up: I put on old dirty pants, an old sweatshirt and my kid’s headlamp. I grabbed a hoe from the garage, incase I had to fight off any wild critters, and went under the house. It was a long crawl but as I neared the opposite side of the house, right under my bed, I saw this little nest in the corner. Now I was ready for the battle!

I started poking at it with the hoe. I actually was wishing I had something better because I was waiting for something to jump out and eat me. All my irrational fears expressed themselves under the house that night. Nothing came out, so I pulled down the nest down and began opening it to see if that was really the problem. There it was, a big old nasty dead rat! The smell was horrible. I had a bag with me and cleaned up the mess and made my way out.

Because I love my wife and value a fresh smelling home, I crawled under the house to clean up the mess. This dead rat is what your hidden sin is like. You’ve hidden sin in your life, closed the windows so no one can see it, and are pretending it will disappear. There are too many times in your life you haven’t dealt with the sin immediately. If you have hidden sin in your life, I implore you to fight the sin. Gear up, do the hard work, and clean the sin out of your life so you can live the the righteous life God is calling you to.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Young Adults Teaching Series- Love Story

Each year I enjoy teaching a series, for young people, that focuses on love in one way or another. When I was a High School Pastor we would alternate years from teaching about love in general to teaching about love in relationships. It seems to always be a hit when you teach about sex in the church; people are curious and want to know what you have to say and what the Bible has to say.

Let me tell about the teaching series we just completed in our Young Adults Ministry. Here is the series overview and a quick overview of the series that I shared with all the people who would be teaching:

Love Story is a five-week teaching series designed to help Young Adults understand what God says about: love, sex, dating and relationships. The series is designed to build on itself to help people grow in their understanding of God’s truth. Some people may have never heard these passages preached. Some people know these passages well. Some people are living contrary what God’s Word instructs. Some people have a legalistic view of love based on an experience earlier in life. The truth of God is radically different than what our world says about these topics. Our main objective is to the teach the Word of God with grace and love in this series. We have an opportunity to help people grow in their walk with Christ through these five weeks.

Here is a broad overview of the series:

Week 1 (February 2, 2017)
Main Text: 1 Corinthians 13:1-4

Week 2  (February 9, 2017)
Main Text: Ephesians 5:21-33

Week 3  (February 16, 2017)
Main Text: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Week 4  (February 23, 2017)
Main Text: John 8

Week 5  (March 2, 2017)
Main Text: Matthew 22:37-39

The sermons are up on our new app and will be on the website soon!

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Living a Godly Life

Our church is currently in a almost five month series where we're going through the New Testament letter of 1 Peter. This study has been a great study for me and for our church.

If you have ever felt like a foreigner anywhere you’re going to be able to relate to the people Peter is writing to. Peter writes this letter to a group of believers in Asia Minor who are being persecuted for their faith. He is going to give them instructions about being Christ followers in a foreign land. What he wrote almost 2000 years ago is the encouragement many of us need today as we live as foreigners here in the world — maybe not a foreigner in citizenship, but a foreigner because your citizenship is in heaven.

This was a fun sermon to preach on 1 Peter 2:11-12 especially after returning from Israel. The feeling of being a foreigner was fresh in my mind. Peter gives two encouragements to the people in Asia Minor.

Peter encourages Christ followers to live in right relationships within their society. The first part is expressed in the negative when he instructs them to abstain from sinful desires. The second part is expressed in the positive when he tells the believers to live good lives.

Listen to the entire sermon here to get the full message!

02/19/2017 - Neal Benson | Living a Godly Life from Central Peninsula Church on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Lent- What I'm giving up

Many people know that today is the first day of Lent. Now in all honesty, I'm not much of a Lent person. It probably comes from my lack of understanding of the season of Lent. I did a quick Google search and learned that Lent falls in the Christian calendar, that is good because I always thought it was more of a Catholic tradition.

There are a few things I know (or I think I know):
  • Lent lasts for 40 days
  • Fat Tuesday is the day before
  • Lent is a time to abstain from something so you can focus on God
  • Lent begins on Ash Wednesday
  • It ends right before Easter
Now I've never been to an Ash Wednesday service and this morning I had a friend ask me if I'm leading the Ash Wednesday service. Our church doesn't have an Ash Wednesday service but I'd like to attend one in the future.

This year I'm giving something up for Lent. My goal is to be on my phone less. This will come in the form of not going to the folder on my phone titled "Games." The reason for this comes from I find that I can easily check out by sneaking to my phone and playing a quick game. That turns into 5-20 mins on my phone playing games. I'm really hoping to be more present in this time and connect more with God instead of being on my phone as much. 

One year for Lent I gave up social media and I was thinking about doing that again but wanted a new challenge. I was joking with my wife this morning about what I'm giving up and said: "Well I guess I'll be watching more on YouTube." I really hope that it doesn't end up that way. It will be an intentional process for me to avoid what can be such a quick habit.

I look at this period of 40 days to similar to a fast. I've never fasted from food for 40 (but I would like to). I have fasted from food for 3 days before and it was tough. It is a mental disciple. When I think about fasting its a time to abstain from something to focus more fully on God. It's a time to give up something, not to just give it up, but to use that time to connect with God. That is my hope during this season of Lent.

Are you giving anything up?


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Israel 2017- Day Nine

We woke up this morning to some light rain. It’s crazy to think this is our last full day in Israel. We have experienced so many different things. This is my first visit to the Middle East. If you ever get an opportunity to come visit you might think that much of the area looks like California. That was my same thought. There are also times it has reminded me of Europe (especially Italy). It’s been a wonderful trip, it’s been the trip of a lifetime!


The Temple Mount

Our first stop today is to stand on the location where Solomon built the Temple to the Lord. The original Temple was destroyed by the Assyrians when they conquered Jerusalem around 700 B.C. The Temple was rebuilt (I think by Nehemiah, but I might be wrong). If I understand correctly, the location was expanded by Herod to the Temple Jesus would have visited. The second Temple, what our guide kept calling it, was destroyed around 70 A.D. when the Romans conquered Jerusalem. I don’t think the Temple has ever been rebuilt.

The people of Israel are allowed to come here whenever they would like. But the Rabbinical priests don't encourage them to come because they know don't where the Holy of Holies is located. In Jewish law only one person is allowed to enter the Holy of Holies and they don't want to accidentally step there. Therefore many Jewish people have never visited this location.

The Muslims did build the Dome of the Rock on this exact location. They, the Muslims, believe this is the place where Abraham came to sacrifice Esau to the God. This is the same story that you find in Genesis 22 but the Bible tells us it was Isaac who Abraham brought to sacrifice. Currently the Dome of the Rock is built on this site. From what we learned it's not a Mosque. This is a memorial site for Mohammad. Charity and I went to take a picture here and we were told that we cannot touch each other in the area.

In this same area you can see The golden gate. This is also called the Eastern Gate. It is currently closed with rocks. The Bible tells us that Jesus will come through this gate when He returns. The Muslims don’t want Jesus to return so they have piled it up with rocks. To make it even more difficult, they have buried people in front of the gate. From what I understand, the thinking is that Jesus would never step on a grave. The dead bodies are to deter Jesus from returning in this manner.

The Lions Gate

After existing the Temple Mount we stopped briefly at the Lions Gate. This is one of the many gates a person can use to enter the city of Jerusalem. Solomon is the one who originally constructed the lions gate. This is not the exact gate that Solomon made. Another name for this gate is “Stephen’s Gate”. The gate this secondary name because it is believed this is the gate Stephen was taken out of to be stoned in Acts 7:54-60
When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

The Pool of Bethesda 

We continued moving around the city. Our next stop was defiantly more cheerful! We came to the location of the Pool of Bethesda. This is the lowest point in the city of Jerusalem. There wasn’t any water in the pool and it is basically an archeological site today. You can look down but can’t enter it. This location is about 100 meters from The Temple location. So people would be worshipping near by while invalids were hoping to be healed. If you have some time read John 5:1-9 to learn more about the pool.

Via Dolorosa 

We walked the Via Dolorosa. You may have heard of this street before. Via Delarosa means “the road of suffering.” It's the path Jesus would have walked as He went to Golgotha to be crucified. The road has fourteen stops (some say fifteen). We stopped at each place except for the ninth stop. It was so much to take in. I wish I could share with about each stop but you’d get bored and stop reading, so let me share just two or three.

The stop that sticks out most to me is where Jesus met Simon in Cyrene. I think this was either stop four or five. At this location there is a rock on the wall. History tells us that at this location Jesus became weak and almost fell. He touched His hand on the wall to brace Himself. Charity and I each touched the location where it’s said that Jesus touched.

The other stop that sticks out to me is where Jesus was crucified. I’ll write more about that location in the next section. At this location there are three stops, maybe four, right next to each other. The stop where Jesus would be nailed to the cross. The stop where He would be raised on the cross. And the stop where he would be taken off the cross. These three stops are ten feet from each other. It was overwhelming just being there. Writing about it makes me all the more grateful for what Jesus endured for my sin.

The Church of the Holy Seplica 

This church was built on Golgotha. Golgotha is where Jesus was crucified. My first thought was; “This ruins a perfectly good location” but what do I know. In reality it preserves the location. By building the church here it claims the ground so no one else can build here and ruin the site.

The church also covers the tomb where it's said Jesus was buried for three days. It was once a garden and now it's in a huge church building. I wish we could see what this place looked like 2000 years ago. I’d love to have an opportunity to see what this location looked like before the church was erected. It would be cool to see the rock, to see the grass around, to see the landscape. Thankfully it doesn’t matter for my faith. It matters that Jesus did this for me.

While here we stopped at a location where people would have buried. The tomb we saw holds two people, next to each other. We are not sure if Jesus was placed in this grave, history tells us not. There was a line, about an hour long, where you can walk into the tomb that is said to be where Jesus was. We didn’t do this part but I bet it was awesome.

The Garden Tomb

After lunch we went to one last location. It’s called the Garden Tomb. Now with all I just wrote this is going to be tough to get so bear with me. In 1860 the owner of this site discovers a tomb. When the Biblical knowledge is taken into account there are thoughts that this is where Jesus was crucified and buried. Knowing this, in 1894 the Garden tomb association purchased the site.

The site is really what I think the crucifixion of Jesus would have looked like. This location is north of the wall of Jerusalem. Our guide, for this portion, had great information about the site, what would have taken place here and Biblical knowledge.

It’s tough to really know what site is the real site. I can see great information for both of them. This location has what looks to be a skull in the background. This would fit with Golgotha and death. You could see a great garden and there is a tomb cut in the stone. We actually were able to walk in this tomb.

In the end, I’m thankful that Jesus died for my sins. It’s overwhelming to think about what He did for us.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Israel 2017- Day Eight

It's raining today as we begin our journey. It’s not just sprinkling rain but it’s raining. We can’t pray for no rain because Israel needs the rain. We’re hoping the bus to begin our adventure!
On our way we drove around the city of Jerusalem. The city is not super big, it's only 1 Kilometer square. We just passed the Kidron Valley as on the way to our first stop. We're on the eastern side of Jerusalem at this point.

Mount of Olives 

Our first stop was the Mount of Olives. It was tough for me to completely focus here because the rain was falling in my eyes. This location sits on the hill next to Jerusalem. You have a great view of the Kidron Valley, Garden of Gethsemane and the wall. I was trying to image what it would have looked like in Jesus’ time. No homes lining the hillside. No streets winding through the valley. No cars rushing past. I imagined the hills covered with green contrasting the bright blue sky. That is the kind of dreaming I do I rainy days.

The Mount of Olives used to be covered with olive trees. At this time in history it's covered with graves. The people began to bury the dead there and slowly all the trees were cut down. We did see a few olive trees but I imagine there were many more.

The Mount of Olives is a place that Jesus knew well. Each of the Gospel’s makes mention of the Mount of Olives. He slept in a cave here before. He also was on the Mount of Olives when He sent a few of the disciples to find the room where they would celebrate the Passover meal. This is the place Jesus liked to teach from.
Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple. Luke 21:37–38

Gethsemane 

From the Mount of Olives we walked down towards the city of Jerusalem. This is the way, not the exact path from what I understand, Christ would have walked down to the city. Near the bottom we visited the Garden of Gethsemane. The garden still has olive trees flourishing in there. The Olive trees are gnarly. Some have huge bases and you can tell they have been grafted many different times.

Gethsemane is an olive press in the Hebrew language. The word means something to the effect of hard pressed. Learning this in the Hebrew helps to understand what Jesus was experiencing during His final hours on earth. This is the place where Jesus went after the Passover meal. He brought Peter, James and John with Him. He asked them to stay awake while He prayed:
They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”  He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Mark 14:32–34
Next to the Garden is the Church of the Nations. From what I gathered it’s a large Catholic Church serving people of all languages. It's a massive church. The interior is gorgeous with all the decorative walls and ceilings. When we entered there was a small Spanish service taking place in the front. The first thing that caught my attention was the sound of a person wailing loudly. I wanted to get a better look at was happening and soon felt like a spectator and not a participant in what God was doing.

Kidron Valley

We also saw the Kidron Valley from the bus. This is the Valley between Gethsemane and Jerusalem. The Bible doesn’t give us much about location except for one verse:
When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove, and he and his disciples went into it. John 18:1

Hezekiah's Tunnel 

After coming to the south side of the wall of Jerusalem we jumped out of the bus. We walked down to Hezekiah's tunnel. There is a good walk to get to the tunnel; it goes down stairs and stops at some points of interest. There is a dry route and a wet route you can take for the tunnel path. The wet route is about a forty minute walk through a tunnel with an active spring flowing through. There is no light in the tunnel and some spots are as short as 5 and a half feet. The tunnel is about two feet at the narrowest points. I was the rear guard and brought up the back.

About half way through the tunnel we turned all the lights off. It was pitch black. We sat in the darkness, eyes open, for about three minutes. Nothing changed. There is no light in there at all. It was pitch black! Our guide shared that because we are so far in the tunnel and so far underground that it is always pitch black in there. There is no ambient light coming through the tunnel.

As we walked I looked at the walls and thought about the work it would take to create a tunnel like this. The tunnel is not a straight tunnel. It’s quite curvy. We learned that Hezekiah wanted it completed quickly so he had groups start on each end and meet in the middle. It seems to be an architectural feat to accomplish this and they did!

After walking the tunnel we stopped at the hotel to get dry.

The Upper Room/The Last Supper 

After getting back on the bus we came to the Upper Room. This is not the Upper Room that Jesus would have been in. This is the Upper Room the Crusades would have built but either way it’s nice to think about being there. Our guide shared with us about what would have taken place in the upper room. This is where Jesus would have celebrated the Passover before He was falsely accused and sentenced to death. It would have been a time of festivities for Jesus to celebrate.

The Last Supper is when Jesus gave us the breaking of bread; what we know as communion. I love imaging what this would have looked like. These men sharing the evening together, celebrating, laughing and listening to their teacher. I would love to see the scene, the looks on their faces and hear the conversation.

The Western Wall

Our final stop of the day was the Western Wall. This location is more commonly known as the Wailing Wall. We took some time to talk about the significance of this wall. It was originally a supporting wall for the Temple. The Temple of Solomon was destroyed by the Assyrians. The Temple was rebuilt but was destroyed in 70 A.D. by the Romans. People from all over the world to pray here.

The wall has two sides; a male side and a female side. Men and women are not allowed to pray together on the wall. I was required to wear a yamaka to approach the wall. I didn’t know what I would pray for as I approached the wall. When I saw it I noticed it’s smooth surface. Before I even touched it I looked to see what others were doing. Some were praying out loud while others stood silent. Some moved as they prayed while others sat.

I touched the wall and was immediately overcome with emotion. I looked at the smooth surface where many others had touched just like me. I thought about how many thousands had been there. I could only thank God for saving me. I was in awe of His presence and tears began dripping down my face. I’m not sure how long I stood there. I could have stayed longer by my yamaka blew off in the wind.

Today was a packed day. It was emotional from the start to the finish. I cannot express how thankful I am for this opportunity!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Israel 2017- Day Seven

This morning we prepare for our archeological dig. I've been told that most people will find something on this dig! The drive is about an hour from our hotel. It's been so wonderful getting all this time with Charity!

Bet Shemesh

On our drive we briefly stopped by Bet Shemesh. This is the location where the people were working in the fields when they saw the Ark of The Covenant that was returned by the Philistines. Bet Shemesh is a very important city that was given to the Levites. It was a border town between Dan and Judah.

Bet Gurvin

One thing we're doing while here is participating in an archeological dig. This part of our trip takes place in Bet Gurvin national park. We stopped here to pick up an archeologist who is helping to give us info on the trip. She said that our stop here is in the most beautiful time of year! The weather is great, the hills are green and the sun is shining (mostly; we've had some rain). It felt great walking past these signs on our way to the dig.

In Israel they have found over 35,000 unique archeological sites. We're in the area of Maresha. I wasn't sure what this part of the trip would be like. There have found 5000 caves in this area.

We participated in a legit archeological dig here! Rob found a bowl. Abby found a bowl. I found a brick. Charity found pot shards. Jim found a pot handle. Mark found a big brick. It was so cool. I think everyone in our group found something.

After our dig site we went to another cave system that hasn't been excavated yet. It was very interested to see this area and what life was like. From what they've found they can tell the people are very wealthy. They have different kinds of pots. They've found perfume jars. In the cave, we walked, there is a room for raising pigeons.

The people of Maresha actually filled these caves when they left the area. I think they left because of the Romans but I might have heard that wrong. When they left they filled these caves with rock, soil and all the items they didn't want to carry. We were told that this was basically their trash dump and by working through it we can learn more about them.

If you have a chance to visit Israel I would put this stop high in your list. It was totally worth it! At the end we were allowed to take pot shards that won't fit any of the bowls or pieces they have. In the caves you can't take anything, it would be stealing from the Israeli Antiquities Authorities.

Valley of Elah

On our way back to Jerusalem we stopped at the Valley of Elah. It's a beautiful valley with two small hills on either side. The hill on the west is a little larger and the one on the east a littler shorter. Near the shorter hill there is a small stream. The stream was empty at this time of year so we grabbed a few smooth stones.

This location is best known for the battle between the Israelites and Philistines. You can read this story in 1 Samuel 17. It's most famous for the battle between David and Goliath. The Israelites are perched on one hill and the Philistines are on another hill. There is a shouting match and David finally accepts the challenge from Goliath. David doesn’t go because he thinks he can defeat the champion, he goes because he knows will defeat him.

We read the story of David and Goliath while here. You can picture David coming down to the stream and picking up the smooth stones. The story says that he picked up “five smooth stones”. Some believe that Goliath had four bothers, others think that David just wanted to make sure he had enough ammo incase he missed the first time. After we read the story, Liam and I ran to the top of the hill to get perspective of what it would have looked like.

The valley is beautiful. It was all green and lush. The valley is so lush, they are now growing crops down in the middle. I can imagine the two armies staring each other day for all those days. I can imagine the Israelites sitting on the hill and wondering what the outcome will be. If they allow the Philistines to win this battle, how much more of their land will they take?

Israeli Museum 

Our final stop for the day for the Israeli Museum. We spent about two hours here. I heard someone say: “You can take three days and still not see everything here.” Our main focus was two things: We saw the replica of Jerusalem and the scrolls found in the caves of Qumran.

The replica of Jerusalem is not a small replica. I would say it’s at least 75 feet long. It encompasses the different time periods of Israel. You can see how small Jerusalem was in the time of David and how it expanded afterward. There is a replica of the Temple that King Solomon built. You can see the wall that Hezekiah built. It is amazing to think that someone recreated this. How come it’s amazing? Because the man who did this was not allowed in Jerusalem because all Jews were evicted from the city at one point (I missed the date). He did it from memory and books!

The next stop was the scrolls found in the caves of Qumran. The scrolls were saw were fragments that had been preserved. There is a facsimile copy of the scroll of Isaiah that was found. This was most interesting to see.

After our journey today we came back to the hotel to rest. We’re putting in some walking miles. I can’t believe we only have three days left here!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Israel 2017- Day Six

This morning we woke up in Jerusalem. We've been traveling a ton and starting to feel a little tired. The temperature is much colder here than it was by the Dead Sea. If you’re planning to visit Israel, I’ve heard this is the best time of year. I would rather throw a jacket on than be burning hot! If you’re planning to come and visit here I would say the weather has been great! It did rain a little today but it wasn’t too bad.

Shepherds Fields 

Our first stop was the shepherds field. This is the location where the angels came to visit the shepherds and announce the good news of the birth of Christ (Luke 2:8-18). Now we obviously don’t know exactly where it happened but we had a chance to visit a cave where shepherds would have slept and kept the sheep. The shepherds used to stay in caves. We visited a cave in the ground here. They would bring their sheep into the cave for protection from wild animals. This is also the area where David might have taken his sheep.

It’s interesting that the angel would bring this news to the shepherds. Shepherds weren’t well respected at the turn of the century. History tell us that many of them were slaves. They were considered dirty and lesser in society because of their occupation. Shepherds were chosen because they traveled. This means they would have spread the news to others based on their transient nature of finding food for the shepherd
Used as the social media of that time.

When they went immediately it means they would have left their sheep in the open field or in the cave that night. It was a risk in an area full of wild animals. At that time in history there was lions, tigers and hyena in the area. God protected them as they traveled the 4 kilometers to Bethlehem. It’s different standing in this area thinking it was once considered to be the wilderness. Today it is surrounded by a city but thankfully the area has been protected.

Bethlehem

Our next stop was the city of Bethlehem. Bethlehem is most known for the birth of Jesus Christ. Before the brith of Christ there are a few other events that took place in Bethlehem:
- This is where Rachel, the mother of Joseph, was buried
- This is the hometown of Naomi (Book of Ruth)
- This is where Ruth stared in the hit movie, how to find a loving husband (Ruth 2)
- Since Ruth is the grandmother of king David, this is his hometown

We learned that the city has a population of about 50,000. Of this number about 80% are Muslim and about 20% are Christian. The region has a population of about 200,000 in total. Our guide for the day (we had to get a new guide for today only) had a ton of current information as well as historical data to share.

We're standing in The Church of The Nativity right now. The location is believed to be the birthplace of Christ. How do we know this? When the Romans came in the did their best to destroy all areas of Christian worship. They built an altar here and it saved the location from being built over. Basically, the Romans helped to mark out many of the locations that are important to Christ followers.

It’s crazy to think that Believers have worshipped here for over 1500 years. There three different groups that worship here: Armenian, Greek and Roman Catholic. The church is currently undergoing renovations. This is the first renovation that has taken place here in 300 years.

As we walked down to the cave where Christ was born it was a moving experience. This is actually one of the few locations where we have been told “this is where this happened”. Mostly our guide will say: “It happened in this area” or “This is where we think it happened”. While standing in the cave we had a chance to see where Jesus would have been born and then were the manger would have been placed (Luke 2:1-7). I got all misty-eyed thinking about what Jesus did for me!

Bethlehem will no longer be words on a page for me. Bethlehem will be images in my head. It will be sounds in my ears. It will be memories that I pray won't fade away. It will be pictures on my camera. This town we visited has me so much joy because this is where Christ was born, this is where my life changed!

Jerusalem 

This afternoon we rested. We've been going hard and we were tired. After relaxing this afternoon, Charity and I walked to the Old City of Jerusalem. We looked at shops, did some window shopping and then grabbed a slice of pizza.

After dinner we went to Christ Church. It's the oldest Protestant Church in the city (If I remember correctly). We really enjoyed the service. The entire service used no amplification. The roof is rounded and the acoustics sounded great. Worship was super good and very moving. We went to the 7pm service and honestly I was a bit tired. The pastor spoke about choosing life from Deuteronomy 30:11-20.

We just made it back to our room and it's time to sleep!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Israel 2017- Day Five

This morning we woke up and looked at the Dead Sea. We decided to go and take another float in it before we left. As we rushed to our our suits on we ran down the shore as the sun was rising. It was a gorgeous sunrise, the water was cold but the company was great.

Our adventure today begins in the south of Israel and we will work our way to Jerusalem. The first three spots we're visiting today are all in the vicinity of the Dead Sea. From each of these locations I've been able to see the Dead Sea.

Masada 

What a fascinating location. The town of Masada sits on the west side of the Dead Sea. It's 30 meters above sea level; which is about 100 feet above sea level. This is a high mountain because the Dead Sea is around 430 meters below sea level or 1400 feet below sea level.

There are two ways to the top. The ancient way is the snake path and the modern way is the gondola. The snake path takes about 45-60 mins hiking. The gondola takes about 4 mins. I took the gondola.

Once on top we walked around the city. It's a very large ancient city. It has a double wall to help keep the city safe. If I understood our guide correctly, the wall was built by Herod the Great. The location was used as his winter home. We saw the remains of his winter home and it was very elaborate.

The city has large store rooms. They would have carried: wood, food and supplies to the store rooms. Herod wanted to store enough food there to survive for 1000-2000 years. He created a sophisticated system to gather flood water for the city.

After the fall of Jerusalem the Romans came and attacked the city. They encamped the city, built a wall around it (on the ground) and  started to advance. They took seven months to build a ramp to the city so they could tear down the wall.

After tearing down the first wall they found the second wall. Hey continued to tear this wall down. The Jewish people built a third wall, out of wood, and the Romans set fire to this wall at night. They waited to attack until the morning.

The Jewish people gathered that night to discuss their situation. A well respected man suggested they all kill their families and then kill each other so they won't be captured by the Romans. The men agreed and followed the plan. The Romans came in the morning and found everyone dead.

This story breaks my heart. It was tough to hear what happened at this location. Although we have a beautiful site it came at a huge cost.

En Gedi 

The springs of En Gedi are located in the desert of Judah. It’s awesome to think we’re in the middle of the desert of Judah right now. This is where David would have taken the sheep in his care. He would have spent nights in this region sitting under the stars. He would have written songs out here. He would have grown in his relationship with God out here.

Where we visited today is where David was held up in a cave while he was fleeing from King Saul. We don’t know what the exact cave is and that is ok. There are many caves in this area. The area also has two springs and a few waterfalls. We stopped at the first waterfall on our walk. It was such a great sight to see; a waterfall in the desert! I crossed the stream to touch the water and it was cold. Another surprise for me.

This area seems to be full of wildlife. It makes sense with their being a spring here. We saw a unique rodent that I’ve never seen before. I shot some footage and will try to edit it one day. As we turned into this place we also saw what our guide called a deer. It wasn’t like the deer I’m used to seeing. I would have called it a goat based on size and horn shape.

Qumran 

Our next stop today was Qumran. There is way too much for me to write about this location. This is the famous location where in 1947 a young shepherd was tending the sheep. A sheep was frightened and ran into a cave. The shepherd was lazy and instead of going in to help the sheep he began throwing stones into the cave. Stone after stone and then he heard a unique sound, the sound of a clay jar breaking.

The sheep came out and he returned the flock back to his home. Later that day he returned with his cousin and found the scrolls from the jar. The scrolls are believed to have been written by the Essenes who once lived in this place. The first scrolls were found in 1947 and you can read more fully about them, by someone more qualified than me, on the internet.

What I can say is that since this day, there have been over 900 scrolls found in this region. There is also an archeological site where they have discovered the location of the Essenes community. The Essenes would have copied the Old Testament scrolls and it seems they hid them in the caves.

There are other scrolls that give us information about the Essenes people. The scrolls are information about their way of life, community and requirements. This is by far, in my opinion. the most important archeological discovery of the 20th century!

Jerusalem 

Our final stop today was Jerusalem. We had a long day and I’m exhausted! I’m looking forward to learning more about Jerusalem as this will be our home for the next few days.

I did learn something new on the drive here:
The western side is the Jewish side and the eastern side is the Palestinian side. The city has long been divided. I don’t know too much about this part of history but am looking forward to learning more.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Israel 2017- Day Four

This morning we packed our bags and said goodbye to the Sea of Galilee. I had a great time visiting this region. As the morning began Charity and I were able to FaceTime our kids right when we woke up. It did my heart good to see my daughters smiling and happy. Isaiah was asleep but he's doing good too!

Bet She'an 

Think Beth Shaen from the Bible. This is where King Saul's body was hung after he died in battle. You can read this story in 1 Samuel 31. In King Saul's time, the city was on the hill. It wasn’t the larger Roman city that it became later on.

As the city grew it became Roman territory at some point. Historians think that from 69 BC to 749 AD it was a growing city. The city was destroyed in a great earthquake during the Israeli earthquake of 749 Archeologists are currently restoring the city and rebuilding it with what they’ve found. They have uncovered a huge footprint of the city that includes a: Roman Bath, Hipadrone, theatre and amphitheater.

This location would have been a Roman city in the time of Christ. It's highly unlikely that Christ would have ever visited this city because of the lifestyle of the Romans. There would have been nudity in the Roman Bath, death in the Amphitheater and licentious behavior.

On the drive 

Today, while we drove from location to location, we saw a handful of sites. The first thing to catch my attention was the Jordan river. We would later visit this amazing river.

We also saw sheep and shepherds. Most people might think: "what's so special about that?" For me it was great to see shepherds still here. I saw herds of sheep with men watching them. It reminds me to King David and his childhood. It made me think about how boring it would be for a young man. He has no phone. No text messages. No Instagram. He sits outside, alone, with no phone and watches the sheep. It looked a little like babysitting but the sheep can take care of their themselves.

The third thing I saw that caught my attention was caves in the mountains! I thought about David hiding in caves and running from Saul. I'm not saying that happened on the road we drove up north but it made me think. It made me think about sleeping in a dirty cave in the side of the hill. There is no restroom in the cave. No running water. And honestly it seems sketchy!

I did see, what I thought, was a couple caves that were lived in. They looked like they had a large mouth at the entrance to the cave. They have a cover over the mouth of the cave. What a tough life to be a shepherd living in a cave. There were articles outside the cave that made me think families are living in them. I’m still processing what that must be like…

Jordan River 

We're pulling up the Jordan river right now. Israel has stopped up the Jordan River at the Sea of Galilee but it still has some water in it. The water is cold and dirty. There are three major events, from the Bible, that happened at the Jordan river. This first is the Israelites crossing the Jordan as they entered the Promised Land (Joshua 4). The second is when Elijah strikes the river with his cloak and it parts in half (2 Kings 2). The final event is the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3).

I was surprised to see how many people were being baptized at the river. Some were being sprinkled and others being dunked. I’m not going to make a point on what way to be baptized in this post, but focus on the fact of people following the example of Christ. It was refreshing to see so many people being baptized. I’m not sure if it was a first baptism or second but they are following Christ!


The final thing I noticed here was how Jordan is on the opposite side. If you jumped in the river and swam for 10 seconds you would be in a different country! There were guards, on the Israeli side, to help keep safety. Our guide told us not to jump in and scare the guards. It was an interesting sight to see.

Temptation Mountain

After leaving the Jordan we went to the Mountain where Jesus was tempted. Immediately after being baptized, Jesus heads into the wilderness where He is tempted (You can read the story in Matthew 4). It's a large mountain where the story is thought to take place. There are caves in the side. It's a dry mountain with little life on it.

The life at this mountain is people who are walking up and down to see the sight. At this site we took some time to just look at the mountain and immerse ourselves in the story. It was quite a site to see this location. This is also the location where the spies from Joshua would have fled after leaving Jericho. My friend told me I would be surprised to see how close things here took place next to each other; he was right.

Jericho 

Our next stop was the city of Jericho. There was a sign that said: “Jericho, the oldest city in the world.” I can’t vouch for the sign but makes you think. We stopped at the location where it’s believed the battle of Jericho occurred. I was trying to image what the land would have looked like with no buildings. What would it have felt life for Joshua, and his men, to march around the city. Where would they have returned to after each circle around the city?

The city is a modern city now with buildings, hotels, cars and people all around this location. There are doing archeological digs to find out more about the site, who inhabited it and how they lived.

Dead Sea 

By this point of the trip I was super tired! We got into the bus and drove to our final location, the Dead Sea. I’ve heard stories about this place but never imaged how cool it could be. It was nearing night so we put on our trunks and headed down to the beach. The Dead Sea is high in salt content. So high that no plants or animals can live in it. There are no fish in this sea. It was weird to see a body of water, so large, with no one fishing it.

We had our fair share of laughs down here with our good friends. We floated. Smiled. Took pictures and laughed more. No matter how hard you try, you float. You can stand straight up and you float. It’s crazy!  I was super thankful for my GoPro and being able to bring it in the water with me. Now I did keep it above water because I wasn’t sure how bad the water was for it.

Our guide gave us some information about the Dead Sea. It has dramatically receded in the last 50-60 years. There is little water emptying into the Dead Sea. Also, it is dead because it doesn’t let out any water. It’s the lowest place on planet earth sitting 1400 feet below sea level. That is astonishing to think of. It has it’s own ozone layer down here.



What a great day we had! I’m exhausted and it’s time to get to bed. Hope you enjoy what I’m learning.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Israel 2017- Day Three

Around midnight Charity made it to the hotel! It's great having her with me for the trip now! Its been fun to share with her all our group has already done. It’s also been great seeing the joy on her face at seeing the sights.

Arbel Cliff 

Our first stop today was to the Arbel Cliff. It's a large cliff on the west side of the Sea of Galilee. It over looks the Galilee region and has a great view. Our day is a little hazy so our view wasn't fantastic. I can imagine that on a clear day it would be spectacular!

I’m not sure if you know but I’m afraid of heights. It was a little scary for me being up here. I did walk over to the edge and stand by the railing. It helped me to see the the initial drop isn’t too bad. The natural landscape on top was beautiful. There were rocks and green grass that lined the trial.

At the top I saw some of the men and women who serve in the Israeli army. I have been interested to talk with them and was able to. Every Israeli person serves in the army. The few I spoke with were kind enough to take a picture with me!

Cana

Our next stop was Cana. This is where Jesus' first miracle happened. Many people know it. It's the account in John 2 where He turns water into wine. Some people wonder why this was His first miracle. I’ve never taught the passage but I can say it was very interesting learning more about the miracle while being here.

In this town there are two churches that claim their location is where Jesus preformed the miracle. One is a Catholic Church and the second is a Greek Orthodox Church. They are basically across the street from each other. And I’m not talking a big road, this is a modest one way road in a community. I'm not sure if either location is the right location but it was nice to visit the area.

Nazareth 

Our third stop today was Nazareth. Nazareth is the home town of Jesus. It's not His birthplace but His hometown. During Jesus' time the city was maybe 250-400 people.
Currently the city is approximately 70,000-80,000. We spent our morning at Nazareth Town. It’s a small town that is set up to model what Nazareth most likely looked like in the time of Jesus.

This place is a must see if you are planning to come here. They have olive trees and many branches granted in. We learned about pressing olive oil and how it was made while here (check out the picture of the olive press). They also have livestock. There was a woman who was making thread and then weaving it into a blanket. After our visit we had lunch at the place.

We also visited the church of annunciation. This is where Gabriel came to share the good news with Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus. The building is beautiful and very close the Nazareth Town. We took a quick walk through it and I was impressed by it’s marvel. In all honesty, I was also bummed to see such an ornate church empty and with little room to hold a worship service.

We also saw the church synagogue here. It’s an interesting name because it seems so contradictory. The crusaders built this house of worship where they think the synagogue from Jesus' time period might have been. It can be used for a church or worship service.

The location of this site is where Jesus would have most likely read the words of the prophet Isaiah. The account is found in Luke and a great ready!

Zippori 

This is a historical site we visited that has no Biblical mention. With its proximity to Nazareth, scholars think Jesus may have worked in this area, with Joseph, when he was younger. It would have been a long walk for Jesus but could have been accomplished in a day's time. They could have worked in this area for a few weeks at a time before returning home.

We spent a good amount of time here today examining the ruins, looking at tile floors from 1700 years ago and looking at the synagogue. I really enjoyed being outside, listening to our guide and thinking about this area. Its amazing to see the scope of the archeological site here. Historians think the site is mostly Roman but there is a section that is thought to be Jewish. This is determined by the building and decor. For example, the Romans would have used tile floor with illustrations while the Israelites would have used a simple pattern.

Overall it was another fun day of adventuring! I'm so excited we're one this trip and have this chance to enjoy it here!

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Israel 2017- Day Two

This morning I woke up to the sound of the Sea. It was the Sea of Galilee. I saw it at dawn and the sun beginning to rise over the Golan Heights. After breakfast we loaded into the bus for a full day of travel, sight seeing and being in awe of this beautiful land.

The Sea of Galilee 

The first adventure we took this morning was a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. The Harbor was directly across the Sea from our hotel in Tiberius. Since it was a little windy this morning the captain chose not to sail across the Sea of Galilee. I was a little bummed on that but understand.

Some facts our guide shared about the Sea of Galilee:
24 kilometers from North to South
12 kilometers from East to West
45 meters deep

It's hard to explain all my thoughts from standing on the lake, it's going to take time for me to process them. As I stood there I thought about Jesus walking on water, I thought about the feeding of the 5,000 that happened right there and about how much of Jesus' public ministry took place right in this area. I didn’t speak much on the boat ride (that is odd for me) but simply thought about the area. It made me think about my own walk with Christ and how this trip is strengthening my faith and encouraging me.


Gadara/Kursi 

After being on the Sea of Galilee we went to Kursi. This is the location where it is believed that the demon possessed man met Jesus (Mark 5:1-20). The location has the ruins of a monastery that was built in that area. The exact area is unknown but you can see how they are close to the correct spot. The hills are steep and I could imagine seeing the pigs rushing down into the water. Unfortunately the water is much lower today than it was 2000 years ago so this changes the entire layout of things.

Korazin 

Just north of the Sea of Galilee sits Korazin. This is a town where Jesus visited and was saddened by what He saw.
Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.
Matthew 11:20-22
It was hard for me to picture this town. It was above the Sea of Galilee but I couldn’t imagine living there. It is far from water but the view is spectacular. It could be a great location for farming or a middle spot to stop as you go further North in Israel.

There is the ruins of a synagogue here. The great thing about these locations is there is so much history that it has been preserved. You can walk around these communities and see the ruins and visualize what it could have been.


Tel Dan 

After Dan was given their allotment in Israel they didn't exactly like it. They decided to send a group to find a land more suitable for them. Most of the tribe of Dan ended up relocating to the Northern point of Israel. Their relocation was a snare to them. It open up a door to sin. Instead of closing the door to sin they kept opening it more and more.

This is the location where Jeroboam seduced Dan into idol worship. Their is the remains of a false altar that was meant to be a model of the altar in Jerusalem. Instead of going to Jerusalem to worship Jeroboam created this altar to keep the people of Dan loyal to him. In his attempt to keep their loyalty, he led them away from the Lord.


Caesarea Philippi

This location is where Peter confessed Jesus is the Messiah. It's located at the very top of Israel. We didn’t visit the modern town here but saw the location, on the outskirts, where Bible scholars think the conversation between Jesus and His disciples occurred.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 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. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Matthew 16:13–20
The location is a ruin where idol worship was practiced for about 600 years. When Jesus has this conversation He is looking at a place where idol worship was alive and being practiced on a regular basis.

The Sermon on The Mount

Many people are familiar with this sermon. It was where Jesus gave His first sermon. It happened on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. We visited the site where it’s believed that Jesus gave this sermon. The landscape would be ideal for giving this message. It’s on a hill and perfectly situated for natural acoustics.

There is also a monastery here and some orange trees super closer. The church on the site was super packed. I could tell there were more Catholic people entering this location by their actions in the building. I was impressed with the dedication and heartfelt worship I saw here.

I really wish we could have spent more time at this location, in fact I’m thinking about going back tomorrow with Charity when she gets here.

Capernaum 

This is the location where Peter’s mother-in-law lived. In an attempt to preserve the home, they built a church above it. I kind of understand the thinking but also think it ruins the location. The original home is in the middle and it’s thought that in the second century the home was expanded to the second wall.

This home was right on the sea. It was also fifty feet away from the local Synagogue. When I read Mark 1 and saw where Jesus was in the Synagogue and  then went to this home I thought the distance was much further. It wasn’t far at all. The water is only another 200-300 away from the home.

The Synagogue has been rebuilt at some point with marble stone. It looks very nice but is still not in perfect shape. The places make you use your imagination to think what they would have looked like.

Overall, today was a huge day! I want to experience more of this place and take more time to take it all in. Writing these thoughts, while they are still fresh, has been very helpful to me! I hope you’re enjoying.