Category Archives: Israel Trip

Israel Trip Days 8 and 9 – Last Days and There and Back Again

Day 8 and 9 – Last Days and There and Back Again

“You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

Isaiah 26:3

There is no adequate way to sum up the entire trip.  No one point that sticks out as more profound than the other.  The trip was more than just a visitation of a foreign land.  It was much more than an exploration of archeological sites.  This trip for me was a continuation and confirmation of who He is and the role that I am to play.  For the past two years, the Lord has enriched my desire for His Word.  The stories of the places where we visited are His stories.  They are not ours; Christian or Jew.  They cannot be claimed by a church, government, or religious order.  The sites, the very places where the patriarchs walked, places where Christ walked, are about faith not facts.  The issue is not what happened there.  If the evidence simply points to proof of the stories, if fear we miss the true meaning of the narrative.  We miss why those stories remain relevant even to our lives today.

It was truly amazing to stand on those sites in modern times.  To feel the Spirit in those places as I have felt Him at home.  To hear the stories that have meant so much to me in my faith while standing on the very place where they may have happened.  I could go on and on about how those times touched me, but that, I’m afraid, would cheapen them for you.  So I leave you with this thought.  Is the God that you serve living and active now?  Is the God that slew the giant, parted the Red Sea, and felled the walls of Jericho still living and active?  Or has He become a fairytale to you, a thing of legend, a bedtime story?  Is your God confined to the stories of the Bible, to the land of Israel or the nation of America?  Is your God too small?  Louie Giglio says that worship is our response to who God is…  do you know who He is?  Can you truly call Him “Abba” out of intimacy of experience?  Or are you stuck crying out “Father” without ever having felt His embrace?  Questions that we all must answer for ourselves.  No one can answer them for us.  We must be brave enough to ask them.  We must be strong enough to hear the answer.  We must have faith enough to follow.  Lord, may You teach us to know You for who You are in our everyday life.  May we have eyes to hear, ears to hear, and hearts that are ready to receive Your Spirit.  Thank you, Lord, for Your steadfast love that extends to us even in our sin.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

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Israel Trip Day 7 – The Tabernacle Tent, The Desert, Camel Ranch; June 11, 2011

Day 7 – The Tabernacle Tent, The Desert, Camel Ranch

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of His power.  After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…”

Hebrews 1:3

One of my favorite movies as a twenty-something year old male is of course the movie Gladiator.  In Gladiator, there is a line that is spoken by Proximo, the man who owns Maximus the main character. The line is something like this, “We are all shadows and dust.”  A profound and moving line depending on what part of the movie you’re watching.  Proximo was trying to speak to the equality of all men no matter what their economic position.  Obviously, this is a true statement when it comes to human interaction, but it misses a fundamental aspect of the human condition, the soul.  It denies what truly makes us human among many other things.  But the line does point to a very clear truth that we must all come to accept: we are living in the shadowlands.  I borrow the term from CS Lewis, and it describes so well the experience we had today.

In the morning, after checking out of the hotel and visiting the border of Egypt, we traveled to visit a full scale replica of the Tabernacle tent that the children of Israel used until the Temple was built by Solomon.  It was an incredibly moving experience not because of the religious experience but because every part is saturated with Christ.  Through the whole presentation Christ was being pointed to; from the singular entrance to the water to the sacrifice, a shadow of the Lamb was being thrust to the forefront.  Shadows and dust.  Things that have the shape of what is real, but don’t carry the fullness of the reality.  In this tent, Christ is seen as the fulfillment of the Law, the establishment of the New Covenant that freed us from our slavery to the Law.  What a beautiful picture.  He is the fullness of God.  The fulfillment of the Law.  The reality that for millennia cast the shadow to draw us to Himself.  What a beautiful day.  Lord, may we not forget what You have done, and how from the beginning of creation, You have been drawing us to Yourself.  May we be faithful and diligent to seek You and You alone. And may we find You even in the shadows.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

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Israel Trip Day 6 – Eilat, Red Sea, Midian, Jethro’s Tabernacle; June 10, 2011

Day 6 – Eilat, Red Sea, Midian, Jethro’s Tabernacle

“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the Gospel that you heard, which has been PROCLAIMED IN ALL CREATION under heaven…”

Colossians 1:21-23

So this might be a little different from what might usually be seen in an account from someone visiting archeological sites, but this is what struck me from today.  Partly this is coming because much of what we saw today will be culminated in what we see in the morning, so be patient and bear with me.  This morning we had some much needed free time in which we were given opportunity to shop, relax or scuba.  Scuba sounded great, and since I had never been I couldn’t refuse.  So for the majority of this morning, my sister Bekah and I snorkeled and went scuba diving in the Red Sea.  This makes the second time in a little over two weeks that I’ve been able to swim in the ocean, amidst the vastness and beauty of God’s creation and feel so overwhelmed by His glory.  If this trip has done anything for me, and believe me it has done much more than this simple thing, it has solidified the how truly worthy the Lord is of our lives and worship.

I was reminded today of the many places in Scripture where we are told that creation communicates the existence and beauty of God.  From animals, landscapes, weather, or microorganisms, God is speaking to us about who He is in His fullness.  So often we miss Him in the day to day.  We pass under the stars at night and neglect to acknowledge their beauty and majesty that pail in comparison to the God who knows them each by name.  Too often we enjoy good food, the kind of food that makes you look forward to each bite because of the mastery of the flavor, and in our enjoyment miss “tasting” the goodness of God.  So many times we have held a loved one in our arms and neglect feeling the embrace of our Father in Heaven.  How small we are.  How fleeting.  Lord, may I see you in everything.  From the moment my eyes wake in the morning to through the time I rest at night, may my thoughts and affections always be on You and Your Name’s Renown.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

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Israel Trip Day 5 – City of David, Upper Room, Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s Cave; June 9, 2011

Day 5 – City of David, The Upper Room, Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s Cave

“Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.”

Genesis 19:24-25

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him… “This is my body, which is given for you… This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

Luke 22:14, 19-20

Today has to have been the busiest day thus far on the trip.  We started at the City of David which is a huge complex and ended at the Red Sea (a four hour bus ride with stops along the way).  Sandwiched on almost either end of the trip are two of the most memorable stories in the Bible.  There was the valley where Sodom and Gomorrah once stood and there was the Upper Room.  I’ve always had a fascination with the story of God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  God’s destruction of a city based on the outcry against it.  God’s wrath poured out upon a city, to be wiped from the earth.  And not only the cities suffered, the land suffered too.  To look at it today, there is nothing green or growing.  There is no color of life.  There is only devastation.  God’s judgment was just and swift, but not without mercy.

I wonder how long they sinned.  I wonder how long the cries went up to God against those thriving cities.  God heard the cries of the Israelites in Egypt for almost 400 years, depending on the weight of their burden, before He acted on their behalf.  How long did Sodom and Gomorrah live in wickedness?  What signs did they ignore that could have brought their salvation?  Why does man choose the lies of his wicked heart over the truths of God?  Of course, all of these questions cannot be answered.  There is nothing left.  There are no stories left to tell.

Then there is another story.  One that has inspired great works of art.  One that to this day can be recognized by the image of one man sitting among His 12 friends sharing a meal that would prove to be his last.  It is a story of grief and joy intertwined.  It is a story of betrayal and love.  It is a story of justice and mercy.  I have never heard the story of Sodom and Gomorrah taught with any aspect of mercy.  I don’t think that many people teach the story unless it is to hate on some aspect of our twisted culture.  And rarely in the story of Christ do we throw justice into the mix.  We want to cry out against the injustice of the arrest, the illegality of the trials or the cowardice of the governing official.  We want to go back in time and swoop in and save Jesus and do some unfriendly things to Judas.  And as in so many stories from Scripture, we forget the part that we play in the stories.  We are not the innocent bystanders watching without blemish from a distance.  We are rarely the helpless disciples fleeing the garden because we weren’t trained to be bodyguards.  Most of us, if we are truly honest with ourselves, aren’t even the one who denies Him.

We are the Sodom and Gomorrah.  We are the ones who deserved destruction.  We are the ones who had ignored the voice of God for so long.  We are the ones who stand with outcries being called against us, and our own hearts are the first to testify to our wickedness.  But instead of receiving the wrath that we most certainly deserve, we receive mercy.  We receive mercy because Christ took the wrath that was meant for our sin.  Christ absorbed the wrath for Sodom and Gomorrah’s sin.  Christ received the justice that we deserved that we may now walk in mercy.  What a humbling thought.  Christ willingly stepped between us and the wrath of God toward our sin, so that in the Cross all things might be reconciled.  Grief and joy.  Grief over my sin. Joy in His sacrifice.  Without the mercy we receive through our surrender to Christ, our lives become like the wasteland that once was Sodom and Gomorrah.  Lord, may I not forget the end result of my sin.  May I not forget that You are a Just God like You are a merciful God.  Thank You for Your mercy.  Teach me Your ways that I may walk in the example of Your Son.  Thank You for the Cross.  Amen.

I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

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Israel Trip Day 4 – Zedikiah’s Cave, Via Dolorosa, Gethsemane, Jerusalem Prayer Center; June 8, 2011

Day 4 – Zedikiah’s Cave, Eden, Via Dolorosa, Gethsemane, Jerusalem Prayer Center

“… who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame…”

Hebrews 12:2

We spent most of our time today following the steps of Christ that led to the cross.  An intense time to say the least.  A time of introspection.  A time of worship.  A time of awakening for many of us.  Constantly throughout our journey, Christ’s command of taking up our cross to follow Him entered my mind.  We stood where Christ was given His literal one to carry.  We stood where the soldier’s mocked Him, beat Him, and gave Him His crown of thorns.  Throughout the day, my heart reached for Him, asking, begging, pleading, “Jesus, help me.  Give me strength to follow.  Give me grace to bear my cross in Your name.”

For years now I’ve watched people’s response to the Cross of Christ.  Some float away on a cloud of transcendental bliss at the thought of God wanting them so badly that He would kill His own Son.  Others coldly acknowledge its existence with self-deceptive exactness, never having felt the weight or love of the Cross.  Still others that I’ve talked to have denied its existence completely, citing scientific and historical evidence to the contrary.  It is truly rare, and I believe is becoming more rare, to meet someone who truly understands and has felt the weight of the Cross.  Still more rare is one who has felt its weight and responded with overwhelming and life-changing joy.  Joy like what Christ felt.  Joy like only the Spirit of God can reveal and ignite within a heart.  That’s where I want to be.  That’s how I want to live.

Christ’s joy was in reconciling all things unto Himself.  Christ’s joy was in redeeming what was lost in the Fall.  Christ’s joy was in humility of heart that served His Father as no one else in history could have done.  I want to follow that example.  I want my joy to be in humility to the point of death.  I want my joy to be in living so engulfed in the Spirit that I am no longer seen, that my name is no longer remembered.  I want Him to be seen.  I want Him to be known.  I want Him to be my all, whether in this life or in my death.

We’ve been teaching our guys in Sunday School that worship of God is our response to who He is and what He has done.  Christ is the fulfillment of all of that, so what is our response to Him?  Do we feel the wait of His Cross?  If we do, does it lead us to greater joy in following Him or does it lead us to sympathetic indifference to what the Cross calls us to?  What is our response to Him?  Lord, may my response always be “YES and AMEN” as I MOVE to follow your example in taking up my cross.  Help me to seek the joy of following the example of Christ, and may my deepest joy be found only in You.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

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Israel Trip Day 3 – Shepherd’s Field, Temple Mount Dig Site, Old Jerusalem, Holy Sepulcher, Western Wall; June 7, 2011

Day 3 – Shepherd’s Field, Temple Mount Dig Site, Old Jerusalem, Holy Sepulcher, Western Wall

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”

Matthew 23:37

I’ve long wanted to see the Western Wall in Jerusalem.  It has always been a fascinating place to me.  People come from miles away to get as close to the Holy of Holies as humanly possible without being a High Priest.  They press their faces to the wall.  Some stand in still silence.  Others rock back and forth.  Others still mumble or voice their prayers to God.  The wall is stuffed with prayers written in hope that God would somehow answer, believing Him to be somewhere behind the wall. He remains just out of reach.

As I’ve grown up, there have been key moments when Christ’s words in the Scriptures became vividly real.  Standing at the wall watching, praying, I was reminded of the Savior’s grief.  I couldn’t help but think about the prophets who were sent to Israel, proclaiming the truths that Christ fulfilled.  Proclaiming hope.  Standing in the midst of a people who pride themselves on keeping the Law of God.  Who carry with them the promises, the covenants, the patriarchs of my faith.  The same people who failed to see their Messiah.  My heart broke for them as they prayed to a wall.  Like it broke in Thailand, Japan, Korea, and Mexico.

It was a good day.  Not a day of peace, though.  It started at the lowly place of Christ’s birth and ended at the Wall where His people still look for Him.  It began in the quiet field where the Shepherd’s heard the great news of peace on earth and ended in the city where peace has not truly existed since the days of King David.  Lord, may we find you where you are.  May we see where you are moving and join you there.  Show yourself to Your people.  And bring Your peace to Jerusalem.  Bring the peace of your Son.  Bring salvation.  Amen.

I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

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Israel Trip Day 2 – John the Baptist’s Cave, Rachel’s Stone, Rehoboam’s Citadel, Samuel’s Tomb; June 6, 2011

Day 2 – The Cave of John the Baptist, Rachel’s Stone, Rehoboam’s Citadel, Samuel’s Tomb

“Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

Exodus 3:5

Today was such a busy day.  We had quite a trip travelling and hearing Moshe share about some of the archeological findings and military positions of the sites we visited.  But one stop in particular was most interesting to me.  I’ve done most of my overseas travel in places where Christianity is not one of the most common belief systems.  In Thailand I watched Buddhists flock to throw money at the shrine of a two-foot tall Jade Buddha statue.  In Japan I watched hundreds of patrons visit a Shinto Temple clapping their hands in prayer, hoping to get the attention of their god.  In Korea, although it was technically a Christian nation, I watched as people worshipped relatives long dead in hope of having luck for the future.  And today, in Israel, I saw devout men study the same Scriptures I carry in hope that in them they would find life.  All have broken my heart.  I held back tears as I stood in the middle of a room full of men reciting the Torah and offering up prayers.  It was explained to us that the place we stood at Samuel’s tomb was a most holy place.  A place where prayers had a better chance of being heard.  How dark that place felt.  How hopeless.

Not to mention the fact that the site where we stood was said to have represented the three great monotheistic religions.  The Jews held claim because the site is in Israel and Samuel was a Hebrew.  The Christians, if you can call them that, built a church there during the Crusades and used it as a staging point to the slaughter of thousands in Jerusalem.  Saladin added to the Christian church when he made the building into a Mosque.  As I reflected standing in the midst of such confusion, asking what makes a place holy, I could not help but think back to Moses or Moe as Moshe calls him.  When Moses stood in the presence of the Lord at the burning bush, God told him where he stood was holy.  It is the presence of the God that makes a place holy, set apart, sanctified.  That is why I sing without shoes.  The Lord is not bound to select places.  His holiness is not bottled in the bodies of men who once walked with Him.  As I think back on history and remember how so many flocked to icons, relics, and holy places hoping to receive from God what was already freely given.  Hoping that if they found the right place or item that they would be healed, provided for or saved.  Millions of people throughout history and even today want to find an antenna that can accelerate their prayers to God.  I look back on my own life and remember times of trying to find an easier connection with God.  A favorite posture, place, or way of saying things that would attract more attention to me and help God give me what I wanted.  Tragedies in life can often break our preconceived notions of how God works in His world.

I want to find God.  Not just here, the Holy Land, where people journey in order to be closer to God.  I want to find Him in my home, in my office, in my car, in my living room, at my church.  I want to see Him and where He is moving wherever He calls me to go.  Lord may I be sensitive to your Spirit’s work.  I love y’all more than you know.  Thank you for your prayers.  Grace and peace,

JOT

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Israel Trip Day 1 – The Valley of Elah; June 5, 2011

Day 1 – The Valley of Elah

The priest said [to David], “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you struck down in the Valley of Elah…”

1 Samuel 21:9

First and foremost, I want to let you know what these blog entries are going to be about.  I’m not real big on telling stories about myself or documenting events in such detail that you get to experience every nuance that I experience.  These next entries about my trip to Israel will pertain to why I came to Israel in the first place.  They will pertain to God’s revelation of Himself in a new way as I walk through the land of the Bible.  You will not get a step by step through all that we do.  For some of you this will come as a relief, for others maybe not.  Here we go.

I must confess something to you as we begin.  I was a little unsure how this trip would impact me.  I knew that it would, I just wasn’t sure how.  I’ve heard a lot of people come back from these trips and they want to know more about Israel.  They want to get involved in the politics, the culture, and the traditions.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.  Having lived in a different culture, it is easy to see how someone can become enamored with a new and exciting culture, especially when it ties to strongly to our faith.  I am not built that way, however.  I prefer the transcendent, the abstract, the intangibles that you can’t track through headlines and news report.  I am extremely interested in the experience.  And so my experience began in the Valley of Elah.

I’ve always loved the story of David and Goliath.  It mixes all the essentials into one brilliant act of God.  A boy with so much faith that the Lord grants him the ability to slay a giant and bring liberation to his people.  As a boy I remember approaching much of my pursuits wanting to have that kind of faith.  Wanting to be able to stand before giants and not be shaken.  Wanting to accomplish what looked like the impossible.  As we stood standing on a hilltop looking out over where the Israelites had camped, cowering at the voice of the giant.  Standing where David graciously yet defiantly told Saul he had no need of his armor.  Standing where a boy’s faith opened the door to the Golden Age of a nation.  I did not feel brave.  I did not feel strong.  I have no great accomplishments to claim as great moment of triumph.  But standing atop that hill and looking down, asking the Lord to help me know Him in a deeper way, I felt at peace.

The point of the story of David and Goliath and the reason that God allowed a boy to defeat a giant was not to provoke us to seek out giants to conquer.  It was to show us that our God was faithful.  God, in the moment the stone felled the great Goliath, was speaking to us, revealing to our narrow and often mixed up minds just how big He is.  There are no odds that make Him rethink His plan.  There is no strategy that can outmatch Him.  He is never short on resources, strength or foresight.  He is able.  No matter what, He is able.

I stood there on that hill and thanked an Amazing God for His mercy and grace that I should even have faith enough to acknowledge Him.  I want to face life as a man after God’s own heart.  I want to face life in faith.  I want to rest secure in the power of my God.  He has brought me so far in my faith since the times I used to imagine slaying giants in my backyard, but I still have such a long way to go in understanding who He is and connecting with how that should change the way I do everything.  On day one I can already feel the unrest in my spirit.  I want to be changed.  I want my life to bear fruit.  I want to be a man of faith.  Please pray for our ability as a group to see God for who He is while we travel through Israel.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

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