Israel: Third Wednesday

On Thursday, June 28, we flew from JFK (NYC) to Istanbul and ran to catch our flight to Tel Aviv, Israel. 2 out of 3 bags made it with the short connection but our flights were uneventful. Turkish Air treated us very well. Entrance into Israel was a breeze, nothing like reentry into the US at O’Hare. We were in our rental car in a matter of minutes. Tel Aviv is located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and is adjacent to the Biblical city of Joppa.

Our rental car is a small four-door Kia with a meter in the widow that blinks at you when you exceed the posted speed limit and dings when you get to close to the car in front of you. My passenger noticed it blinking quite a few times on our trip and stopped mentioning it as time went on! For the most part, our phone GPS did well on our trip and Jody was a great guide.

The first stop we made was at Caesarea Marittima, city built by Herod the Great as a port city in about 10 BC to honor Augustus Caesar, Roman Emperor. We ate a good Middle Eastern meal of pita, hummus, diced tomatoes and cucumbers. Yum. We sat stunned as we overlooked the aqua colored Sea. God has created a beautiful scene along this coast. We toured the ruins of the theater and stadium used for chariot and gladiatorial contests. The day was very warm and sunny so we appreciated the movie that had AC!

Caesarea (not to be confused with the Caesarea Philippi in Mark 8 which is located in the Golan Heights north of Galilee) is mentioned several times in Acts the biggest story is that of Peter traveling from Joppa (near the airport) and walking several days to visit a Roman military leader named Cornelius (a gentile -which broke the Jewish law). This is the first story of gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit – a gentile Pentecost!

The final stop for the day is Haifa where we spent the night. The hotel in Haifa proved to be an oasis of rest for us. We ate at the German Colony café around the corner, tried to walk to the Sea but came up empty, returned to the hotel, took a couple Tylenol PM’s and slept all night long.

June 30th proved to be another day of God’s amazing grace as we awoke knowing we could find no Christian churches in Haifa – so we held worship together on the beach. We thanked God for so many blessings, prayed for our family, Grace Church, and this walk of faith adventure that we are on, shared Scripture and closed in God’s blessings. We both confirm that the Sea water in Haifa is the cleanest water we have ever experienced. Honestly amazing.

We hit the road for Tiberias (only mentioned once in the NT: John 6:23 and Jesus never visited it according to Gospel accounts) located on the west side of the Sea of Galilee. It is less than a two hour drive from Haifa but we stopped in Cana (John 2 where Jesus turned water into wine) on the way. How can you pass up signs that mention the miracle as you drive through town? After a brief stop, we arrived in the seaside city of Tiberias. While the Villa Roca B&B left a little to the imagination, the view from the Sea with thoughts of all the gospel stories of Jesus flashed through our minds. It is here at this lake where most of the Jesus’ stories occurred. Words cannot express what that feels like.

We flip the calendar to July. We hit the road to Nazareth where Jesus grew up and lived into adulthood. The old city was relatively a small town which has grown into a sizable city making this short trip longer as we navigated the winding city streets. We stumbled upon a Nazareth religious institute outside the church of the Annunciation (built over the tradition home of Mary when she received the good news from the angel Gabriel (Luke 1). At the Institute we learned about the Jesus Walk, got a map of the trip Jesus took when he left home and walked to Capernaum (Luke 4:16-31) where he began his Galilee ministry.

The Luke 4 story describes Jesus being driven to the high point of the city where the religious leaders intended to throw Jesus down because they were upset with his message in the synagogue. As part of our walk of faith during this sabbatical, Jody and I began the Jesus’ Walk from the Institute to the precipice of the hill, about a five mile round trip walk up and down the hillside and city. We packed water, huffed and puffed and sweat like crazy – but in the end this walk of faith stirred our souls. My God sighting for the day was the helpful man who in his own gentle way encouraged our walk.

The Luke 4 story describes Jesus being driven to the high point of the city where the religious leaders intended to throw Jesus down because they were upset with his message in the synagogue. As part of our walk of faith during this sabbatical, Jody and I began the Jesus’ Walk from the Institute to the precipice of the hill, about a five mile round trip walk up and down the hillside and city. We packed water, huffed and puffed and sweat like crazy – but in the end this walk of faith stirred our souls. My God sighting for the day was the helpful man who in his own gentle way encouraged our walk.

We bought and enjoyed some wine from Cana on the way back to Tiberias. We decided on the top of the sweaty hill in Nazareth to head back to Tiberias and go swimming in the Sea of Galilee. The fresh water of the lake was refreshing. Fish nibbled on our toes as we sat navel deep in the lake. To our left is Capernaum, the lakeside home of Jesus throughout his ministry. It was from this town that he called his first followers, Peter and Andrew, James and John. Fishermen who caught fish like those nibbling on our toes!

We bought and enjoyed some wine from Cana on the way back to Tiberias. We decided on the top of the sweaty hill in Nazareth to head back to Tiberias and go swimming in the Sea of Galilee. The fresh water of the lake was refreshing. Fish nibbled on our toes as we sat navel deep in the lake. To our left is Capernaum, the lakeside home of Jesus throughout his ministry. It was from this town that he called his first followers, Peter and Andrew, James and John. Fishermen who caught fish like those nibbling on our toes!

Another God sighting happened as we sat in the lake and his name was Judah, a Jewish Christian man who in the last year moved from NYC and retired to the Golan Heights. We shared stories about ourselves, our families and our faith. This Jewish man clearly has a love for the Lord as Messiah. He expressed his heartfelt desire for his fellow Israelis to come to know the one who graciously offers life and love for this world. We walked back to the B@B blessed by the faith of Judah and ready for a quiet night.

Jody and I got up early to pick up the Jesus Walk around the Sea of Galilee. We went to Magdala the home town of Mary of Magdalene. After wandering around for a while we found the signs for the historic town of Magdala situated right along the lake. We walked in through a gate and found a gift shop that was closed and some young women doing some archeology work on a dig site below us. We learned that a few years ago, a hotel was going to build near the lake where they uncovered the remains of an ancient city – Magdala. As we walked along the site we saw the work done to discover homes, a synagogue, etc. Near the end of the site and close to the lake is a new Catholic church and a women’s center under-construction as a response to the story of Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:1-3). In the end, we could not find the trail head for the Jesus Walk from Magdala to Capernaum. Scratch that idea. Opps, we also got in a little rub because the site was not open yet that morning so we paid our fees and left. No worries – mostly!

After that little scrum, we left Tiberias a day early to enjoy Haifa again as we hit the Sea to swim and relax. Along the way we needed some gas and to eat breakfast. Our God sighting that day was not the irritated guard at the Magdalene site but the warm and hospitable Arab café manager where we ate breakfast. We were his only guest at the time and he prepared a delightful breakfast of pita, humus, fresh veggies, Arabic coffee and a sweet honey desert. He sat down with us and shared an Arabic coffee as we talked and shared stories of life.

Six hours on the beach and a man named Hamed were a second God sighting. I met him in the waves. We talked, rode waves, laughed and shared life together. Hamed is a Moslem from Nazareth who is teaches graphic design at a local school. While we agreed that it is not our place to change each others minds, I did say that it is ironic that a man from his home town has impacted my life so powerfully living so far away. That night we shared a wrap with both pork and veal, veggies and delightful sauces (babbagnush).

The time has come to begin at Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem. This is the month long program that accepted us run by Notre Dame University. We drove from Haifa back to the airport in Tel Aviv to return our rental car. Last night, Jody had prayed that she may meet a younger woman (there are only 3 women signed up for this program) among all of the clergy who could be a friend. As we board the bus at the airport to head to Tantur, who should jump in the back seat of the bus with us but a younger woman going to Tantur who is a High School principal!! The God sighting of the day! Who says God does not answer prayers!

After checking in, our room is nice, and the three of set off to take a bus to the Old City of Jerusalem. Our time was short but my best descriptors cannot do justice to the sights and smells of the Old City. The smells include: leather goods, ground coffee, baked sweet goods, meat hanging like goats and sheep, cut chicken, and the aroma of incense. These narrow streets are lined with all of these shops selling everything from the goods named above as well as household goods, candy, toys, books, and religious wares. The streets are covered with a ceiling of tin or other roofing, so it is an enclosed market with streets going this way and that. There are four quarters in the Old walled City: the Moslem, Christian, Jewish and Armenian. The streets are filled with adults and children, Moslems, Jews, Christians and a host of pilgrims from all over the world.

Jody, Lela (the principal from New Orleans) and I made a quick trip in through the Damascus Gate, into the Christian quarter and into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (the church of the resurrection and Golgotha). All I can say is it is a HOLY experience. While we stayed but a moment, my soul was touched. Lela helped us make a connection for Monday July 22 to spend the night in prayer in this place. More later on this – who knows what God will do in our souls! What a blessed opportunity! On our way out, we stopped next door at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. Thanks for your prayers! More next week!

Best Chai Tea ever!

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