Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Don Benson- Celebration of Life


On behalf of my family we would like to invite you to come and celebrate the life of my dad with us on Saturday July 1, 2017.

We will begin with a viewing at 9:00am. From there we will have a Rosary service at 10:00am followed by a Mass that begins at 12:45pm. The location for these events is:
Mission Hills Catholic Mortuary
11160 Stranwood Ave
Mission Hills CA 91345

Following the funeral service we invite you all to join us for a meal beginning at 2:00pm:
VFW Post 6885
16208 Sierra Hwy
Santa Clarita, California, CA 91390


Donald Lee Benson was born on October 1, 1944 and passed into eternity on June 23, 2017. He was born in Redlands, CA and raised in Medford, OR. Don was preceded in death by his parents and leaves behind two brothers; Jim Benson and Bob Gilligan. Don also leaves behind his wife of 16 years, Marilynn Benson and his two children, Beth Diehl and Neal Benson. He has five grandchildren who will miss him dearly.
Don served our country for five years and was honorably discharged from  the Army. He graduated from Cal State Northridge with his bachelors degree.  Most of his teaching career was spent at Arroyo Seco Junior High School. Don enjoyed fishing, camping, visiting his family and spending time at the VFW. He had a great group of friends who miss him dearly. Don lived in Santa Clarita and was well loved by those who knew him.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Our Ever Present God

For the last almost five years I've served at Central Peninsula Church. My family arrived here just days after we went from two to three campuses. We've met so many different people, in different stages of life, in different areas of the Peninsula. It's been a wonderful learning experience serving at a large multisite church.

My great friend Rob Hall leads our North Campus. On May 28 I preached my last sermon up there (until they invite me back in a few years). I had a blast with the team up there. For my last sermon I had a stand alone. A stand alone sermon is one that isn't based in a series. I was able to connect with God and see what would be best for them. What came to mind was Psalm 20:7. My aim was to only preach on that verse but it would have been unwise to not preach the Psalm as a whole.

The sermon is timely for my life also with our transition. June 11 will be my last day on staff at CPC. It's been a great five years. I've served with some great people, learned a ton and grown a whole bunch. It's going to take an entire post on it's own to express my gratitude to CPC for the time I've been able to learn here. Until that post is ready, you can catch the entire message here on Vimeo

05/28/2017 - Neal Benson | An ever present God from Central Peninsula Church on Vimeo.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Foster City Campus Fun

Babe Ruth once said: "The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don't play together, the club won't be worth a dime."

I serve with one of the best teams in the world. We've played well together. We've won battles and fought the spiritual battle as a whole. I will miss this team. See I've been a big team proponent because I know the value of a team and how we can accomplish something together. I also know that every team needs to take a break from the daily grind and get out and have fun!
Last week our team practiced this. We had a staff retreat slotted in the month of June but with my transition our team decided we needed to have a fun day to celebrate all God has done here in the last five years. Different ideas were thrown out but what stuck was indoor skydiving. Now I had been indoor skydiving before but the rest of the team hadn't been. With the short notice not everyone was able to participate. In fact, one got sick the day before and one wasn't able to due to a previous injury.

We had a blast! We each took three flights and enjoyed [almost] every minute of it. Now the reason I share this is because some of you need to lead up and encourage others to have fun with your staff team or volunteer team. My team led up. They encouraged us to make this happen. They thought of the idea, helped plan the day and then we all laughed. Investing in team time is very important. Although this will be my last fun day with my team, we will all remember this for the rest of our lives!

Here is a video from one of my flights. Pretty stoked I started to get the hang of it and the instructor let me fly solo

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

3 ways to help us in this season

As many of you know our family is moving. It’s been a bittersweet process as we’ve talked with co-workers, neighbors and friends. Make sure to read the previous post on here to learn more about the move and God's call on our life. We've accepted a call to serve at Coastline Bible Church in Ventura. As we prepare for the move many people have asked: "How can I help?" At this point there are three ways you can help us, they all involve prayer:

Pray for CPC

For the last (almost) five years I’ve had the joy of serving as the Foster City Campus Pastor at Central Peninsula Church. For the last week I’ve had many conversations with people whom I love dearly. Pray for our church in this move. Pray for the relationships we have. Pray for the people we’ve invested our lives in to. Pray for the amazing staff team I’ve been able to serve alongside here.

A few times I’ve thought about this move like a tree being uprooted from it’s place in the ground. There is a process of getting that tree out of the ground and preparing to move it. When you move a tree it leaves a hole. It also leaves some of its root system where it was planted because you can’t get every piece of it. We hope that we leave enough of us here that people will remember who we are but keep more of us to spread to others.

Pray for Coastline 

As difficult as a move is, we know God is leading us on this journey. Coastline has prayed for our family’s arrival. They have prayed for God to call us there and to serve alongside them. They have had a wonderful interim pastor for the last thirteen months and they will miss him. He’s led them well through this time. Pray for Coastline (and the city of Ventura) to receive us with open arms. Pray for us to get connected in our next church family. Pray for the staff, Elders and members of Coastline to be blessed by our arrival.

Pray for our family

Our family has gone through a wide variety of emotions in this process. We’ve laughed well, shed some tears and had great conversations. We’ve also had tough conversations about leaving friends. There is some anxiety about moving in our home. We are venturing into a new season and need prayer. Pray for God to unite our family during this time. Pray for God to open the best home for us. Pray for our new community and that we can be a blessing there.




Monday, May 15, 2017

New Call: New City, New Church

Seventeen years ago I made a commitment to God. While sitting in a jail cell late at night I said: "God if you're real get me out of here and I'll do whatever you want." It was a Hail Mary, a last chance effort. Never did I imagine that commitment would involve being a pastor!

For the last almost 5 years I've had the privilege of serving at Central Peninsula Church. In 2012 we moved our family to the Bay Area to follow the call of Christ. It's been a great learning experience that added to the decade of pastoral experience I came here with.

When we moved here I was 32 and had mainly served with students. It was a big step for our family to move here. God has given me the joy of leading a team of leaders to impact our region. CPC has entrusted me to lead a staff team of people. Our Elders have worked with me to hone my preaching style and grow in communicating to adults. For a few years I was able lead the charge for the Global Leadership Summit here. There was a season of serving as our children's champion and helping create consistency on all three of our campuses. Mark invited me to travel with him to Rwanda and Cambodia. In addition to that, I've had the awesome opportunity to lead our Young Adults ministry.

When we moved here our kids had never been to school. Sophie was three and Leah was two. They both had their first day of preschool while living here. They both started Elementary school here. They both learned to ride bikes here. We also added Isaiah to our family. They all started snowboarding in Tahoe while living here. What a gift it's been to live here.

About six months ago my mentor called me and said: "Neal, I know a church in Ventura that would be a great fit for you. They're going to be looking for a new pastor soon." He knew I had been open to a new call on my life. So I began processing with my pastor and elders. I sought wisdom from my mentor and a close group of friends.

After a few interviews with the search team in Ventura they unanimously recommended me to the elders at this church. I met with the elders and they unanimously recommended me to the church. After a weekend visit I was offered the role when the church voted to call me as the Senior Pastor with a 98% affirmation!

A few weeks ago I enthusiastically accepted the call to serve at Coastline Bible Church in Ventura. This is a bittersweet decision. Charity and I are going to miss our Bay Area friends who have become family. But we're thrilled to follow God on this new adventure.


Our heart has always been for God to move us closer to family. In recent months my parents have had some health issues so this is great timing. This move puts us much closer to family and brings us back to our So Cal roots. The role is a Senior Pastor. I've always had a sense that one day God would call me to lead a church (I can share more on this one day). I'm stoked for this opportunity to lead Coastline in this next season.

My role will wrap up here at CPC on June 11. I invite you to come hear my last sermon. Later that day our church is throwing a party to celebrate what God has done here. Our daughters will finish school up here and then we'll move to Ventura.

Keep your eyes out as the next post here I will share three ways you can pray for CPC, the Benson family and Coastline in the upcoming weeks.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Purisma Creek Hike

Over the weekend we took the family on a hike. We love to get outdoors and help the kids have a love for nature. With all the rain we knew this trail would be gorgeous. We didn't know that with all the rain we would see so many banana slugs and fallen trees. We drove over to Purisma Creek and started the hike from Half Moon Bay. I've done the hike from Skyline Drive but found it better to start in Half Moon Bay with the kids.

We don't really hike for that long. We let the kids run around, throw rocks in the water and see how far they can make it. It's great because you see other families, talk with other hikers and get to enjoy all of God's creation. It's also a time for us to enjoy each other. We had lots of laughter (and some tears) on this hike. Watch the video we made to see a glimpse.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Suffering and God’s Judgment

The New Testament is filled with many different subjects. For the last couple months our church has been going through the book of 1 Peter. It seems that each time I preach I get the opportunity to preach on suffering. Peter hits on this subject a few times in the letter.

Peter continues writing about suffering and switches to talking about God’s final judgment (read 1 Peter 4:17-18). The “For” in verse 17 reaches back to the idea of Christians suffering in verse 16. Peter wants to keep the same train of thought but share more on the subject. Some Christians have a problem  with the idea that judgment will begin with God’s household. Peter could have written about those who have rejected the message of Christ, but he chose to begin with those who have accepted the truth of Jesus.

This line of writing is similar to what the prophets wrote in the Old Testament. Ezekiel, Zechariah, Amos and Malachi all have similar statements in their prophetic books. And Jeremiah, Zechariah and Malachi each write about the fiery ordeal and God’s judgment beginning with His people. Peter seems to have this perspective in mind as he attempts to encourage the believers in Asia Minor.

When we look at what the Old Testament prophets wrote and what Peter has written, we see that the grammar is the same but the theology is different. Let me explain. In the Old Testament, the judgment talked about was an annihilation of God’s unfaithful people. The people in the Old Testament were living lives of sin and God’s judgment was to come because of that. But what Peter is writing about is a purification of God’s people, a purification that will prepare them for the final judgment. The difficulties that God’s people encounter are designed to purify and refine believers so they will be ready to receive their final reward.

Then Peter quotes directly from Proverbs 3:34. He uses this to restate what he has just written. What does it mean when Peter writes: “It is hard for the righteous to be saved?” It is not hard for God to save people; that is not what he is writing. You can also translate hard to mean difficult. This is a continuation on the thought of suffering. The believer will endure suffering in this life. That suffering will be difficult. The suffering may be difficult now, but it will be worthwhile when Christ returns. I love what C.S. Lewis writes on the topic of suffering: “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.” There will be suffering but suffering, for a believer refines you.

These verses can also prompt a person to think more about personal evangelism. Have you thought about that question before? What will happen to the ungodly? Let that question bother you this week. Allow this question to take up space in your life as you encounter others this week. When you see people at work, the store, the coffee shop, your lunch spot or in your neighborhood think about what will happen to them in the end. Instead of only being concerned with yourself, think about those around you and their final outcome.

Peter never gives an answer to his question in verses 17 and 18. But the Bible tells us elsewhere what the outcome of the ungodly and the sinner will be. Their outcome will be eternal separation from Christ (Matthew 25:41). The Bible tells us that those who reject Christ as their Savior will experience weeping and gnashing of their teeth (Matthew 25:30). Allow these words from Peter to prompt you to share the love of Christ with others. If you’ve placed your trust in Christ, don’t keep that to yourself. Others need to hear the truth. You have people in your life who need the joy of Jesus. We can conclude from these verses that it’s better to suffer a little now for Christ than to be separated from Him for the rest of our lives.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Suffering for following Christ

For the last several months our church has been preaching through the New Testament book of 1 Peter. We've called this series Exiles because Peter refers to his original audience as Exiles in a foreign world.

You can listen to the latest message in this series right here!

4/30/2017 - Neal Benson | Suffering for following Christ from Central Peninsula Church on Vimeo.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Christians are the most persecuted group in 2016

Earlier this year I read an article in my newsfeed on my phone. The heading of the article stated that in 2016 a Christian was killed for their faith every six minutes. This means nearly 90,000 Christians were killed for their faith in 2016, equivalent to one every six minutes. The research was completed by the Italy based Center for Studies on New Religions. The annual study is set to release next month with full details.

You might find it interesting to know that the number of Christ followers who were martyred in 2016 is less than those who lost their lives in 2015. In 2015 105,000 Christ followers were martyred. The group commented that “It still makes Christians the most persecuted religious group in the world.” Most of the persecution took place in Africa in tribal conflicts. Many people who give their lives to Christ refuse to take up a weapon and fight with their tribe and therefore lose their lives.

The annual study also indicated that between 500 and 600 million Christians were prevented from freely practicing their faith. Right now Christians are being harassed in 110 countries around the world. While we freely gather here, there are other Christ followers who are forced to worship in private locations. But these followers of Jesus are worshipping Him, they aren’t allowing the persecution to stop them. They are worshipping God right now for His goodness in their lives.

Although you may not share a similar experience to other Christ followers around the world, have you noticed how suffering is a tool that God uses to shape your faith?

Have you found that some of the most difficult times are when your faith flourished the most?

Even if you’re not yet a Christ follower, have you found that times of suffering grow your character most?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

When too busy and your kid calls you out

Last month was busy for me.

It’s not all busy with work.
It was winter, which means I’ve was traveling more to Tahoe to snowboard (mostly with the kids).
I’ve been working out more and trying to stay fit.
It was Leah’s 7th birthday.
I also had a great opportunity to preach at Camp Pondo in So Cal.
These are just some of what comes to mind.

At the end of the month, on Friday night, Sophie said: “Daddy, are you staying home tonight?”

The question was hard for me to hear.
She didn't ask it in a sour tone. She didn't start whining or crying in the conversation.
She asked it very meekly and with a heart that conveyed how she has missed me that week.

I've written before about being an engaged parent. This was a reminder to me that I wasn't being the type of parent I've been before. It wasn't a drastic shift but my daughter noticed that I hadn't been as involved as in years past. Sophie knew that I was breaking my own rules and had worked five nights in a row (my goal is to be home more nights than I am out).

I'm thankful for her simple question. I'm thankful how she asked it. Some kids are asking the same thing but in a different tone or with different actions. If you read your kids actions and words what are they saying to you? My kid really just wanted more time with me and I'm thankful I was able to be around to give it to her.

I'm thankful for the time I get to spend with my kids!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

5 Places to Stop on The Road to Hana

On our first trip to Maui we heard about the road to Hana. In all honesty I had no desire to drive for 6+ hours to get to a small town on the other side of the island. As we talked with more people the trip kept coming up. Finally, once on the island, we heard a few more people say it's a must do.

With that, I started researching the road and found the best piece of advice on the internet. It said something like: "go as far as you can handle and turn around...". That was what we were looking for!

With that we started planning the drive that would carry us on the road to Hana. The car was packed with three kids, my wife and mom. We took off early. Here are the five stops we made and it was well worth the drive!

Honolulu Coffee in Paia 

This is a great little coffee shop at what I would call the last town you can stop in. The staff is super friendly and great to talk with. We stopped here both ways to get coffee. Charity ordered their most famous drink (just ask what it's called) and she loved it. I grabbed a decaf and it was super good.

Twin Falls

This is a great little walk/hike to take with your family. It's right off the road at Mile Marker 2. The mile markers start and then restart so keep your eyes out early. If you arrive early there is a good parking lot. If you park further away there are warning signs for theirs.

As for the hike, we actually walked a little further than needed. When you park, walk past the school bus on the large trail (you can't miss it). When you see the bamboo on your right make a left. This trail will take this straight to the water fall. You can walk further on the trail and see the top of the falls.

For us, the water fall was only on one side due to lack of rain. Either way it's still beautiful!

Garden of Eden 

We heard about this spot online initially. On the elevator I was talking with some guys and they mentioned it. After looking it up on Yelp I decided we needed to check it out.

Some tips: if you're in a group of five or more there is a discount. We also were able to get all three kids in for free since they are in car seats (booster seats count). Get some quarters at the entrance to feed the peacocks. Watch out for the ducks, they are persistent in wanting food.

Get out of the car and walk around here. There are some super cool trees you can see! Leah liked the Rainbow Eucalyptus tree. I wanted to see the old mango tree. You can also walk to see a waterfall overlook. The views up here were breathtaking!

Small pool to swim in 

We found a small pool to swim in about 3 miles before our last stop. We actually passed it and then came back. I don't know how to explain where it's at. If I said: "It's by the bridge after the corner" it wouldn't help you at all!

We pulled over on the side of the road, parked the car and headed down. It was a small path down to the pool. When we got there there was a few other people. They soon departed and it was just the Benson family. The water was cold (seriously cold), but I jumped in and started swimming. Isaiah wanted to come with and we swam to the other side. Being the great dad I am I encouraged the kids to come in and make some memories!

At the end I bribed them all with chocolate to get this great picture. In reality we had such a good time!

Halfway to Hana 

This is our journey on the road to Hana concluded. While doing some research it made sense to end here. We stopped for a shave ice and to stretch our legs. We ended up connecting with some locals and taking about pig hunting. Once the shave ice was done it was back on the road.

As I think back to our adventure I'm reminded of the creative nature of God. The road to Hana is full of twists and turns. There is beauty in the beach, plants and water. The lush, and untouched, beauty is something g to marvel at. If you take this adventure keep this in the front of your mind. Think about how awesome God is when you stop at these spots, hear the sounds and smell this wonderful place!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Kind Police Officer

One day our family was walking to dinner. When we do this walk we pass the police station near our house. I don't think ever seen any police vehicles pulling in or out of this station before. My thought always was we just missed the shift change. But on this walk it was different.

This day a police officer was pulling into the station on his bike. It was a time in our Nation where police officers were catching a bad rap. There was a wave of violence occurring in our Nation and the media was not giving law enforcement the best name.

As we neared the officer he took notice of our kids. He didn't have to do that. He got off his bike. He didn't have to do that either. He invited our kids to him, and gave them stickers. He also let the girls jump on the bike and posed for a picture.

This seems to be more of my normal experience with the police. Yes, I've had my share of negative experiences but in those instances I was breaking the law and gave the office reason to question me. As I've been an adult, with children, all of my interactions with the police have been positive.

I'm writing this about six months after it happened. I wish I would have done so earlier. I wish I could have helped provide a better image to those who serve my city when our country was highly emotional. But that didn't happen.

Maybe, just maybe, you'll read this post today and be reminded of the positive impact law enforcement has on our communities. I know I'm thankful!


Monday, April 10, 2017

An invitation at DUI school

A young man walked into his DUI, court mandated, class that Friday morning with a bruised face and stitches above his eye. Another night of drinking landed him in jail earlier that week. As he walked out of the small classroom, with hard plastic chairs, an older guy turned to him and said: “If you don't quit drinking you'll be dead in five years." The words hit the young man like a ton of bricks. He knew it was true but was at a loss for words at how to respond.

What he heard next wasn't what he imagined: "Do you want to go to church with me this weekend?" The young man almost froze. He wanted to say: "yes" but was so scared. He had heard this guy talk about church and was interested but also scared. After staring at this man he finally said what he was thinking: "yes, I'll go."

That Sunday Brett came to pick me up for church and began investing in my broken life. He taught me Scripture, bought me lunch and prayed for me. That invitation completely changed my life. My life was barreling down the freeway in a horrible direction. Over the next year Brett played a huge role in my early development as a young Christ follower. He taught me about reading God's word. Encouraged me to leave a life of sin and showed me grace like I've never seen before!

As Easter is approaching who might God place in your path to invite to church? You might be prompted by the Spirit to reach out to someone who is completely different from you. They may be a person at your work who you've started a relationship with and this is the perfect time to extend an invitation. God might nudge you to have a conversation that is out of your comfort zone. Now you don’t have to get a DUI to invite someone to church, but a simple invitation can change a life!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Our Opprotunity & Christ’s Victory

This week I had the opportunity to preach at our North Campus. We continued our series through the book of 1 Peter. We've been in this series for the last couple months. This weekend I preached on 1 Peter 3:13-22.

You can watch the entire sermon here and see what your opportunity is!

03/26/2017 - Neal Benson | Our Opprotunity & Christ's Victory from Central Peninsula Church on Vimeo.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sprinkles and Sabbath

On Saturday we try to Sabbath around our house. For me, this typically look like not being on my computer, not checking email and allowing work calls/text messages to wait a day. For Charity it usually means no doing dishes, not cooking and having a break from her normal routine.

Someone might wonder, “Why do you take a break from these things?” or “What is a Sabbath?” We take a break from these things to allow our family to rest and refresh together. We do it in obedience to a command God gave His people thousands of years ago:
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20:8-11
Some Saturday’s we’re successful at this and other Saturday’s we’re, well…not so much. This Saturday was one of those days where things were going great (kinda). I took the kids to donuts in the morning and then Charity and I went to a morning wedding. While we were at the wedding the kids made cupcakes with our neighbor who was babysitting them. After lunch we took a bike ride to the park and came home to let the kids frost the cupcakes.

In all honesty, I’m not sure how it happened but Isaiah got the sprinkles in his hand. He decided to see how many sprinkles it would take the cover the floor. It was a minor disappointment but thanks to the trusty vacuum I was able to clean it up. When I look back to the Sabbath I think that we had a good day. It was nice spending time with the kids and a little sprinkles on the floor isn’t going to ruin our day of rest.

Next time you’re trying to rest and something distracts you, don’t allow it to derail you. There is a difference between being derailed and being distracted. The sprinkles were a distraction and we recovered. Yesterday was a great day of rest for me! I hope you can enjoy that for yourself.

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.