Thursday, December 23, 2010

Without a Trace

I got a message from a friend the other day wondering if I could recommend a book for her book club. I told her about a few books I had read recently and then suggested she go to my blog for reviews of a few others. I decided I should go look at my blog myself and see what was on there for book reviews. It was then I realized that I hadn’t written one book review since December of last year! I have read books in the past year – really!

So, I thought today would be a good time to tell you about an awesome series of mystery/romance books I read this past year. I tend to find an author I like and then read his/her stuff until I either finish the series or grow tired of them. When my friend (a different one than previously mentioned) gave me Colleen Coble’s book Without a Trace, she raved about it. It wasn’t long before I knew why.

There are a number of reasons to like Without a Trace; interesting characters, a fascinating look at search and rescue dogs, just enough hint at romance to keep it interesting, one woman’s determination to put some closure on the loss of her son and husband, and a mother-in-law who, despite a series of painful events in her life, shines with the love of Jesus. But, I think my favorite thing about this book is the mystery.

Sometimes when I read a mystery, I’ve got it pretty much figured out by the middle of the book. Of course, I do watch NCIS on a very regular basis so maybe I’ve just learned so much about crime solving that I’m better at it than the average person. But, I doubt it. This book, however, keeps you guessing up until the very end. I love that!

Without a Trace is the first in a series of four books called the Rock Harbor Series. All of the stories are centered around life in a small town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a intriguing cast of characters, and the most lovable canine you’ll ever meet (even if you’re not a huge fan of dogs.)

I’d highly recommend buying the entire series from the get-go because you’ll be dying to find out what happens next once you get started reading. That said, the fourth book in the series borders on being disappointing. The mystery is still there but, to be honest, it’s kind of an “add-on” book. I think I actually read that the author intended to write the three books in the series and the publisher pushed her for a fourth. Basically, everything was tied up in a neat little bow (which I personally enjoy) at the end of book three and I feel like book four muddies the waters a bit. I don’t like muddy water.

I’ve got more great books to tell you about but they’ll have to wait for another day. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, after all, and there is much to be done. Someday, I’m going to get to this point in the Christmas season and be at a place where I can sit in the living room, start a fire in the fireplace, turn on all the little white lights, and just read for fun. This, however is not that day; maybe next year. A girl can dream, right?

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Rest of the Story

I decided I'd better get the rest of the Israel trip pictures up on my blog before I completely forget which picture is what. As on my last blog, the description of each picture comes before the photo.

Our third day of touring began at the church in Tabgha where Jesus feed over 5000 with five loaves of bread and two fish. (The story is in Mark 6 though there wasn't an actual church there at the time.) As is so often the case, this church was built over "the rock" where it's believed Jesus stood when he blessed the bread and fish. A mosaic of loaves and fish has been placed in front of the rock to commemorate the miracle.

We were able to participate in a baptism at the Jordan River. It wasn't the same location as Jesus was baptized, but it was the same river. Still, very cool.

John's baptism in the Jordan River.

Looking down on the ruins at Bet-She'an. I wrote about it on this blog post.

You see that hole in the rock that looks like a doorway? That's the cave at Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

We spent one night at the Dead Sea and had time to enjoy the area before leaving in the morning. Being as we'd checked out the pool filled with Dead Sea water at our hotel the night before we didn't feel compelled to actually take a dip in the real Dead Sea. I tell you what, when my VERY white skin floats to the surface, it could actually blind someone. I couldn't take that chance. But, John got a picture of these guys floating away. Even skinny "sinkers" would float here. You do NOT, however, want to get this water in your eyes or mouth.

Mt. Masada was where King Herod had a palace built should he need to escape. This is a model of what his palace looked like in its day. I wrote about Masada here.

Some of the ruins at Mt. Masada.

En-Gedi is where David hid from King Saul (Story in 1 Samuel 24:1-7.) You see that goat at the top of the mountain. He's a descendant from the goats that David hung out around. I'm sure of it.
This would be a great water source for David, but for all the goat scat on the edges. Maybe back then they didn't worry about that kind of stuff.

The city wall around Old Jerusalem. It's not original. Well, I suppose it was original at some time, but not from Jesus day. Earthquakes and all.

The spot where Jesus carried his cross up the hill is called Via Dolorosa. These crosses were along that street. Twenty points to whoever knows what those flags are for. None of us thought much of them until we realized that we kept seeing them in lots of different places. While here we saw two guys (very good looking, I might add) pick up one of the crosses and go running up the street, with a camera crew following them. One of my teammates was scolded for taking a picture of the whole scene. It wasn't until the third time we saw the flags and camera crew that we realized they were filming The Amazing Race. Truth be told, I still wouldn't know if some of my teammates hadn't figured it out.

I've always pictured the Via Dolorosa as a quiet city street. Not so much; it's a market place.

Praying at the Western (Wailing) Wall. This, of course, would be the men's side. If you look closely, you'll notice the third guy in has an AK47 over his shoulder. He's SERIOUS about his prayers.

The Garden of Gethsemane.

I'm not exactly sure what the place is called where we are standing but in the background is Jerusalem.

Getting into Bethlehem isn't quite as easy as driving to the Twin Cities. There are several layers of security to pass through; which is easy if you happen to be an American tourist. If your Jewish, and live in Israel, I don't think it's even possible. I found the Peace banner on the outside of the wall almost sad.

This is the proclaimed birth place of Christ. Just how you pictured it, right?

Since no one REALLY knows where Jesus is born, I've moved it to this location. It looks more realistic to me. It's a cave where they know shepherds kept their sheep. And seriously, doesn't it just feel better to picture Jesus being born here than in that shrine? I thought you'd agree.

Apparently, it was "learn about the American Pilgrims" day in Bethlehem. It just so happened to be Thanksgiving day.
Matthew 27:33 talks about the "place called the skull" where Jesus was crucified. Do you see the eyes in this rock? The mouth is covered over by a parking lot, but we saw a picture of what it looked like before that. It's believed by many, that it was near this spot where Jesus was crucified, outside the city walls of Jerusalem.

This little (well, not really all that little) ditch area is where they believe the stone was that closed up the grave where Christ was laid after his death. They were able to roll it in front of the tomb this way. Apparently, it was pretty heavy - estimated to be about 2.5 tons! The step there in front of the door is definitely NOT original.

The tomb is empty! You can't really see the whole picture here. On the other side of the tomb (to the right), is another spot to lay someone to rest but the "foot area" isn't dug out like this side is, indicating that it was a tomb for two people but only one person every laid here, but HE HAS RISEN!
And that concludes my little visual tour of Israel. Hope you enjoyed it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pictures - Finally

Well, finally, a few pictures from our trip to Israel. Thanks for your patience. I'm not sure if it's due to jet-lag or the fact that I got about six hours of sleep in the last 48 hours of our trip that has had me down for the count the last couple of days. Regardless, it's good to be home and fun to look back at all that I saw. So as to be clear, the description of the picture is above the picture.

This was our amazing team right before we checked in at the Minneapolis Airport. See how fresh we all look? I'm just glad we didn't wait to take this picture on the day we arrived home. Let's just say, it wasn't pretty. Caesarea Maritima - If you're going to build a city, you need water. King Herod had this aqueduct built around 4 B.C. so that a city could be established in an otherwise dry region (if you don't count the Mediterranean Sea, that is.

Caesarea Maritima - Another view of the aqueduct. Our guide kept saying it had "no cement, no glue." Somehow, this always brought to mind the little bottles of Elmer's glue. Do they still make that?

Caesarea Maritima - This amphitheater is part of King Herod's Masterpiece city. There was actually another level of seats above the ones you see here. They were moved by the Turks to build a new city. You know, because it's so much easier to move an amphitheater than it is to build new. Caesarea Maritima - Part of King Herod's private palace. Nice view, huh?

Meggido - This ancient city is believed to be over 5000 years old. Eighteen different civilizations have lived on this mountain. It overlooks the Jezreel Valley where it's believed that the battle of Armageddon will take place. King Solomon added the city gates and stables about 3000 years ago.
Meggido - The round shaft to the left was an altar from the Cannanite times which, if I got this straight, was near when King David lived. But, don't quote me on that. I was pretty wiped out from the heat and jet-lag at this point in the journey.

Meggido - I'm standing in the water works tunnel shaft built by King Ahab to supply water into the city so if it was under attack the residents could get water without going outside the city gates. It's 30 meters long (about 32 yards) - amazing really, considering when it was built. Oh, by the way, this picture was taken right before I almost passed out.

Nazareth - at the Church of the Annunciation. See where all those people are looking? That's where they believe Mary's house was located and she heard from the angel Gabriel; unless she heard from him at the well. One of the two. Apparently, young Jewish women didn't do much else other than stay home or get water because they believe that Gabriel spoke to Mary in one of these two places.

Nazareth - Inside the Church of the Annunciation looking through the Jerusalem cross towards the altar. Nazareth - Just as we were leaving the Greek Orthodox church that covers "Mary's well" this priest came out to do services. I would post a picture of the well, but you know, it's a well. Picture it - stones shaped into a round hole - money at the bottom. BUT, it may be the well where Mary was standing when she was visited by the angel, Gabriel. If indeed, he visited her at a well.

Tel Dan - Headwaters of the Jordan River. Tel means archeological mound and this particular mound is the region that the tribe of Dan, one of the 12 tribes of Israel, was appointed to after the Israelites crossed into the promised land. (I think - pretty sure I got that part right. Check it out in Joshua 19.)

Tel Dan - this was a beautiful park preserve in addition to being the land where the tribe of Dan ended up.

Caesarea Philippi - This is where Jesus asked Peter "Who do you say that I am?" (Matthew 16:13-19)Capernaum - Why did I post this picture? Just because I like it.

Capernaum - I believe everything in this picture was from the 4th Century A.D. (with the clear exception of that metal supporting post that I was tempted to edit out.) It's built on top of the synagogue where it's believed that Jesus healed the man possessed with a demon. (Luke 4:31-36) Capernaum - This the the site believed to be the home of Peter's mother-in-law whom Jesus healed. (Luke 4:38-39) A church has been suspended over it and from the inside there is a glass "floor" that allows you to look down inside.

The Mount of the Beatitudes; though I'm guessing it didn't look like this in Jesus time. Still, it was a beautiful spot.

John and I both loved the Sea of Galilee. I didn't realize it then, but John's dad had told him about when he went on the Sea of Galilee 15 years ago which made John that much more excited to see it.
By now, I'm sure you're tired of looking at pictures. I know I was tired at this point on the trip. Amazingly, we've only made it through day one and two. I'll post more pictures in another day or two and give us both a chance to rest in the meantime.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Home Again

As I write this we are at the end of our very long flight home. I'm getting excited to sleep in my own bed tonight. Actually, I'll just be excited to sleep. Our last day in Israel could be referred to as the day that never ends. But, it's all good.

On Friday we had a free day to do as we wished. Several times during our tour our guide would tell us about something and follow it with "and you can find this artifact at the Israel museum." So, that's what John and I decided to do; go to the Israel museum. It probably would have been good if I'd written down everything that our guide had mentioned because by the end of the week my head was about to explode with information and I had no idea what I'd even come to see. Still, we could have spent two full days there and not seen it all. After awhile though, it's hard for me to get excited about another rock or vessel from 13 B.C. (And yes, I know that's suppose to be B.C.E. but I just think that's dumb.)

The Israel museum also houses the Dead Sea Scrolls in one, very carefully climate controlled building so when we were done with the rocks, vessels, iron works, and such, we headed over the see them. Earlier this year we went to the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit when it was in St. Paul and were just a wee bit disappointed that all we got to see were scraps of paper when we'd been anticipating scrolls. All that to say we were hoping to see something more in Israel.

We got to the first spot where one of the scrolls was to be and it said "this document has been temporarily removed from exhibit." Not a good start. Then, we saw this huge round wall in the middle with what looked like an actual scroll. As I'm looking at it I hear on our audio tour that this is a facsimile of the original book of Isaiah. A photo copy! Are you kidding me? I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever see an actual "scroll" because by now, we were running out of places to look. Eventually we saw an authentic looking scroll, about three feet long, from the book of Isaiah, or at least that's what it said. I have to take their word on that because my Hebrew is rusty.

The museum closed at 2:00 because it was Shabbot (Sabbath) and the Orthodox Jews all need to be done working, and home, by sundown. Well, they don't have to be home, but they aren't to be doing any work after that time. At our hotel, there was even a Shabbot elevator that stops on every floor so that they don't have to push a button, thus doing work. Man, was there a elevator full of annoyed people when my friend accidentally got on the Shabbot elevator and pushed the button for level 4. The elevator went straight to the fourth floor, which meant that if they needed to go to the second or third floor they'd have to ride all the way to the top and all the way back down. I think she was glad to get off.

Before we got back to our hotel we went and did some shopping in the markets not owned by the Jews. I don't really enjoy shopping in foreign marketplaces where you need to barter to get a decent price. Some of the shop owners were very pushy and that just sends me over the edge. It's really not safe for me to shop there because I stink at bartering and would rather over pay than try to talk them down on the price. So, rather than pay hundred of dollars for therapy to recover from this ailment of mine, we just found a nice shop owner, got the souvenirs we wanted, and went back to the hotel to rest a bit before we had to clean up and get ready for our 1:00 AM departure for the airport.

So, here we are, after a short five hour flight to Amsterdam, a four hour layover, and an eight hour flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis, finally home from an amazing trip! Thanks for reading my blog posts while I've been gone. I'll have a few pictures up in the next couple of days.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

He is Not Here - He has Risen!

Thursday, November 25

This will most likely be my last post from Israel. We leave here late tomorrow night (well, technically Saturday morning so whatever we do from here on out, I'll have to wait and tell you about when I get home.

Today is a day of Thanksgiving. I want to start my blog today by saying just how blessed I feel, for a number of reasons. First off, it's our son, Scott's, 23rd birthday. For that, I'm very thankful. In addition to that, I've been able to spend this Thanksgiving visiting the birthplace of Christ, and later the tomb from which He rose. There is nothing in my life for which I'm more thankful than to have Christ's forgiveness and promise of eternal life.

Let me tell you a little about our day. We started off by going to Bethlehem, which is currently under Palestinian control. Our guide isn't allowed to go into Palestine because he is Jewish so we were dropped off at the border where we made our way past concrete walls, barbed wire fences, gates, and a demilitarised zone before we met up with our guide for the morning. It was an odd experience.

From there we made our way to the Church of the Nativity, where again, there was a shrine built over what is believed to be the birth place of Christ. After standing in line for about thirty minutes (which we were told was a short wait) we saw a little tiny alcove where Mary gave birth. I'm not buying it. But, a little later we saw a cave that dates back to 3 B.C. which looked way more like what I picture in my head when I think of the birthplace of Christ. So, since no one really knows, I decided that I'm just going to call this the birthplace of Christ, but shhh...... don't tell anyone or they'll build a shrine over it.

We also saw the Shepherd's field right outside the city similar to the one where the angel of the Lord proclaimed the Savior's birth. There were even sheep there! Today, Bedouin shepherds raise their sheep in this area and our guide told us that they give a name to each sheep and when the shepherd calls that sheep's name, the sheep comes to him. I thought it was an excellent example of the verse in John 10:14 where Jesus says "I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me."

After making our way back into Israel we went to a church built to commemorate the birth place of John the Baptist, and also the place were Mary went to visit Elizabeth when she found out she was pregnant with Jesus.

By far, my favorite part of the day, and really my favorite part of the trip was visiting the Garden Tomb. From here you can see the rock that is referred to as "Skull Rock." It seems much more likely to me, that this is the place where Jesus was crucified. It's easy to see why it's called "Skull Rock" when you look at the two caves near the top that look like eyes separated by the "bridge of the nose" between them. You can see a photo there that shows what used to look like the "mouth" but is now a parking lot."

The nice thing here is that there is NOT a church built over this site. It is actually owned by the British and run by a Christian organization. We had a British guide who boldly proclaimed his faith in Jesus.

As for the tomb itself, there is some fairly strong evidence that this actually was the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea used to bury Christ.

After visiting the tomb our team sat in the garden and shared communion together. What a powerful time to remember that Jesus isn't in Bethlehem, He isn't on the cross, and He isn't in the grave. It is empty, for HE HAS RISEN, and will come back again to reign over this land!

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On the Via Dolorosa

Tuesday, November 23

It has been another full day as we visited Old City Jerusalem. I knew, when we decided to come to Israel that many of the Biblical sites were just a guess as to their approximate location. I mean, let's be serious, it's not like all of this just happened in the late 1800's. I also knew that many of the sites have been taken over by the Catholic or Greek Orthodox church, and been basically enshrined and made to look very ornate. I suppose it's been done to honor Christ, but frankly, I found it all a little disappointing. On the other hand, were they not preserved in some way they could be completely gone. What I hadn't counted on is the fact that many of the ancient sites have actually been buried underground due to earthquakes and more recently, bombings. I suppose when you are talking about a country that is this old, it only makes sense, but being as I live in the United States, which has only been inhabited for less than three centuries, it had just never crossed my mind. All of this to say that much of what we saw today was more recently built, for instance the Jerusalem wall was rebuilt in the early 1500's.

Today we saw the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed the lame man. The story is in John 5:1-15. It was kind of cool to see it, but the pool has obviously dried up because I didn't see any water at all.

The Via Dolorosa was probably the most moving part of the day for me. This is where it is believed that Jesus carried his cross up the hill to Golgotha after he'd been mocked, whipped and beaten. The Via Dolorosa is basically a crowded marketplace and it all seemed so wrong in light of what happened there, but I've been told that it was a marketplace when Jesus walked it also.

Despite the hundreds of people milling about, I actually had a moment when I was totally overcome with emotion. Along the Via Dolorosa they have what is called the Stations of the Cross. Each station represents something that happened in the last day of Jesus' life. Station five represents the spot where Jesus walked past his mother, Mary. Right about that time one of the women on our team mentioned that Jesus was about the same age as her daughter (33) when he was crucified. Our oldest son is about a year and a half shy of 33 and when that crossed my mind right after passing station five all I could think about was how painful that would be for Mary. I can't imagine watching my son die in such a manner. I could hardly handle it when they had to have dental work!

Eventually we made our way to the church of the Holy Seplucher. This is basically a shrine over the spot where it is believed Jesus died. It seemed like the entire city of Jerusalem was in the church with us today and the whole thing was not what I was expecting. It's hard to picture Jesus hanging on the cross when there are gold candelabras and tile mosaics everywhere. Like I said earlier, this was a little disappointing.

Before we left the City of Jerusalem we had a chance to visit the Western Wall, sometimes called the Wailing Wall. I never really understood before why this is considered such an important place to pray but today our guide explained that this part of the wall was, at one time, the part closest to the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Of course, as Christians, we believe that our access to God was opened up on the day that Jesus gave His life for us and the veil to the Holy of Holies was torn in two. One thing I found interesting was that the women had one section in which to pray and the men had another section, about twice the size. Hmmm.....

My favorite part of the day was visiting the Garden of Gethsemane. Oh sure, it may not be the exact garden but you can certainly picture Jesus going there to pray as it looks out on the city of Jerusalem. It was here that Jesus spent his last night asking God to take away his cup of suffering, and yet praying for God's will, not his. There was a prayer sign in the garden printed right under the verse which records this prayer from Matthew 26:39. It says "O Jesus, in deepest night and agony You spoke these words of trust and surrender to God the Father in Gethsemane. In love and gratitude I want to say in times of fear and distress, "My Father, I do not understand but I trust in You." That about sums it up, doesn't it?

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Field Trip Day

Today was our day for a little relaxing. We had the opportunity to "swim" in the dead sea. Our hotel last night had a "Dead Sea pool" with water from the Dead Sea pumped into the pool area which contained about five or six different kind of "spa" experiences. John and I checked it out last night so decided not to swim in the actual Dead Sea today. I knew before, of course, that is was very salty, but I didn't realize that is also quite oily. They say it's very good for the skin, blood pressure, arthritis, etc. etc. I wouldn't recommend it for anyone with an open wound, however.

I thought it was extremely amusing that at the Dead Sea they have a lifeguard tower. Seriously, it would be impossible to drown. IMPOSSIBLE! I imagine, though, that people might sometimes need help standing up again once they have floated to the top. When I was floating on my back in the Dead Sea pool I tried to put my feet down and couldn't do it. It was like trying to defy gravity. I'm still not sure how I actually was able to stand up but I'm fairly certain it involved a lot of flailing about.

We only had two stops today. The first was at an area called Mt. Masada. I'm talking a serious mountain here. Thankfully, there was a cable car to get us to the top, though some of the other visitors walked up and down on a switch back trail. Our guide said it would take about 45 minutes to walk up (three minutes on the cable car) but let me assure you, had I tried, I would still be there seeking shelter for the night.

Mt. Masada doesn't really have a lot of Biblical significance but is still an interesting historical site. First, King Herod had a palace built there on the side of the rock. It was an amazing palace, and really an incredible work of architecture considering it was built before the time of Christ. Herod was a bit paranoid and had this palace built as a place to go hide should he need to escape his enemies. The interesting thing is, he NEVER used it. Not once; didn't even see it!

Later, in 66 AD, when the Jewish rebels were being persecuted by Romans they fled to this area to seek asylum. Eventually, the Romans surrounded them and were planning to attack. Knowing that they'd be slaves to the Romans, with it's ensuing torture, the Jewish men chose instead to kill their families and themselves before they Romans reached them. Apparently, there is a movie from the 60's called "The Siege" that captures the whole story. I thought the fact that they were able to stage a movie on this mountain was pretty much of an amazing feat in itself considering the equipment available that many years ago.

Our cable car ride back to the bottom of the mountain included at least 20 - 30 Israeli high school and junior high aged school kids. This was but a small portion of the approximately 4500 kids we saw throughout the day! I might be exaggerating with my estimation but it looked like Israel had declared today, Tuesday, November 23, as "school field trip day." We also learned that for every 20 kids there has to be an armed guard that travels with them. Let's just say we saw a fair number of AK-47's today and I'm very grateful that the United States and Israel are friends.

Our second stop was at En-Gedi where David hid from King Saul in caves when Saul was trying to kill him. The story is in 1 Samuel 24:1-7 and let me just say that those caves don't have the most pleasant of odors. Verse 2 talks about the "rocks of the wild goats" and those goats seem to still live there today and leave quite the scatological messes around. On the upside, there is a beautiful water fall that flows between the rocks so at least David didn't go thirsty.

The goats here are called Ibex and the other animal scurrying about on the mountainside were Hyrex, which look something like a woodchuck, or possibly a beaver without the big tail. For such a short, squatty little animal, they sure do run fast.

There won't be a blog posting tomorrow night. Internet isn't exactly cheap in our hotel so I'll wait until Thursday to post both tomorrow's and Thursday's activities. Tomorrow we'll be doing a walking tour through the old city of Jerusalem so there will be plenty to write about. I can't wait!

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Kosher McDonald's - NOT the Highlight

Today wasn't as busy as our first two days, which is good because, quite frankly, I needed a bit of a rest. Much of our day was taken up moving from our hotel near Tiberias to a new hotel on the south end of the Dead Sea. When I asked our guide what town our hotel is in tonight he said, "It's not a town; just a hotel area." Seriously, there isn't anything other than hotels here. I think the nearest city is 150 miles away and apparently the nearest gas station is 10 miles away. I hope he remembered to fill up the van!

But, I'm getting ahead of myself here. We started this morning by going to a church in Tabgha. The altar in this church is built around a rock where it is believed that Jesus stood when he fed the 5000 (which was really more like 15,000 when you include the women and children) with five loaves and two fish.

From Tabgha we went to the baptismal site on the Jordan River. Our church practices believer's baptism (or baptism by immersion) and we all (with the exception of a couple who had been here before) participated in a re-dedication baptism in the same river where Jesus was baptized by John. The actual site where Jesus was baptized is now located in the country of Jordan so while we were in the same river we weren't actually in the same spot. Still, it was very cool.

After our baptism we headed to the ruins of Bet She'an (spelled Beth-shan in my English Bible.) It is here that the Philistines took over the city after the death of King Saul, cutting off the head of Saul and his sons and hanging their bodies on the city wall. I know, gruesome story, but that's how it reads in 1 Samuel 31:1-10. Despite the gruesome details of the story it really was awesome to see the old pillars that lined what was the main road of the city. The whole city had at one time been buried underground but has been excavated over the years. Of course, they've had to restore some things but it's easy to tell what is newer and what really dates back thousands of years.

Having had enough chicken shish kebob or fish the team decided today to have lunch at McDonald's. It was a kosher McDonald's which meant no cheeseburgers. Apparently, a kosher meal never has both dairy and meat served at the same time. This was all fine with me because I don't eat cheeseburgers anyway. What I didn't realize was that kosher meat - even at McDonald's - tastes much different than your regular Mickey D's burger. Thankfully, John had ordered light and he finished off my hamburger once I gave up after two bites. I would say that the fries and Coke I had were just a couple levels lower, nutritionally speaking, than the pita bread and hummus lunches I've been having. Oh well, as they say, tomorrow is another day.

Our last stop for the day was at Qumran, the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered in 1947. Our guide pointed out a cave where 30,000-40,000 scraps of the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1952. Here also, we saw remains of an ancient city. The entire Old Testament, with the exception of the book of Esther has been found in these caves. The were originally discovered by a shepherd looking for one of his goats. The story is that he was too tired to go searching in every cave so he threw a rock into the caves to see if he got a response. When he heard it hit some of the vessels that the scrolls were found in, he went in to investigate. No word on whether he ever found the missing goat.

All in all, it has been an excellent day. We're done a little early tonight and this hotel has an amazing hot tub, dead sea tub and sauna so, until tomorrow . . . Shalom.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

So Much!

Again, there was so much to take in on this our second full day in Israel. This morning we visited the remains of the ancient city of Dan (though were not totally convinced that the remains were all that ancient) where we saw the headwaters of the Jordan River. We took a beautiful walk through this, now, national park.

Next, we stopped at Caesarea Philippi, which, interestingly enough, is different from Caesarea. To be honest, I wasn't feeling great by the time we got there so I may have missed a few things but in essence there is a HUGE rock there that is simply stunning if you are into rocks. By "rock" I mean basically an entire hillside of solid rock, complete with a huge cave. It was here that Jesus asked Peter in Matthew 16:15 "Who do you say that I am?" After Peter replies "You are Messiah, the Son of the living God," Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 16:18 "Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church. . ." I'm pretty sure Jesus didn't mean the physical rock that we were looking at but it sure makes for a cool analogy.

One of my favorite stops of the day was at Capernaum. Here we saw remains from the old city of Capernaum and the synagogue where Jesus healed the man possessed by a demon. The story about this is in Luke 4:31-37. The remains we saw were actually built on top of the original synagogue from the time of Jesus but was very cool. There is also a church there close by that was built so that it basically hovers above the remains of Simon Peter's mother-in-law's house. If you keep reading in Matthew 4 down to verse 41 you'll see the story of how Jesus left the synagogue and went to this home and healed Simon Peter's mother-in-law and continued that day healing many people. We had a time of prayer and scripture reading at this site which made the whole story just come alive.

We ate lunch by the Sea of Galilee. I still have to pinch myself to believe that I'm really here. Some of our team members chose to have what is referred to as St. Peter fish for lunch. Our guide said it tasted a lot like tilapia but even better. This was no filet of fish, by the way. We're talking whole fish, complete with head, tails and bones. I actually ordered chicken but due to my still somewhat upset stomach really ended up only eating the pita bread that came with the meal. It may be the mainstay of my diet while I'm here but I figure if the Israelites can live on manna for all those years that they wandered about in the desert, I can go a week on pita bread with no serious side effects.

After lunch, we went to the spot where Jesus taught what are now referred to as the Beatitudes. Let me just tell you that in Matthew 5:1 where is says Jesus went UP THE MOUNTAINSIDE, they aren't kidding. It's not like the Rocky Mountains but it's not just a few steps up from the beach either. It was a beautiful area that is maintained by the Catholic church. I'm pretty sure it looks nothing like it did in Jesus' day but still it's easy to see where Jesus might have stood and taught to the masses who gathered around on the mountainside.

There was so much that we enjoyed today but I'd have to say the highlight for both John and I was at the end of the day when we took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. It wasn't what I'd call stormy but still there was quite a breeze and the waves were a bit choppy. While we were on the boat we read the story of Jesus walking on water found in Matthew 14:22-32. I was a bit overcome with emotion as I gazed out on the choppy water, knowing it would have been much worse on the night when Jesus walked out on the stormy sea. And then, I began to wonder if Jesus just stepped over each wave or if he kind of jumped from the top of each wave to the next one. (Sometimes I worry about the way my brain works.) No matter how he did it I just don't think I'll ever forget how the sea looked today and how Jesus desires for me to keep my eyes on him when I feel like I'm sinking under the waves that this life brings.

After dinner tonight we actually went out and waded in the Sea of Galilee, now were watching the Vikings/Packers game, and tomorrow morning we're going to get baptized in the Jordan river. What an wild sequence of events, huh?

Thanks for reading. I'll be back at you tomorrow. I hope you don't mind the rather lengthy posts. Besides updating you, it helps me process the day. Shalom.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Huge History Lesson

Right now I feel like I've crammed a year's worth of college history into one day. It was such an amazing day, I don't know that I can do it justice in just a few paragraphs. I want to start by saying that I'd love to post tons of pictures every day but it takes too long to upload them so I'll stick with just one and post more when I get home.

We started the day in Cesearea which, even without it's rich history, is a beautiful area. It's known as the Beverly Hills of Israel. One of the most fascinating things we saw was an aqueduct that was built before the time of Christ to bring water into the city. The most amazing thing about this aqueduct, other than the fact that it's still standing, is that is has archways all along it to hold it up and yet no sand or cement was used between the rocks it's built from. This aqueduct was built under the reign of King Herod, and amazingly enough, went all the way to his palace that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. You've got to give him credit, he knew how to pick a good real estate spot.

Right around the corner from King Herod's palace we saw the amphitheater that was built for the purpose of entertainment. It was pretty cool, and had there not been a hundred or so other tourists there at the same time, I might have broken into song or something. At this same location we saw the Hippodrome where they used to have chariot races. Apparently, "hippo" means something like circus and no real hippos were involved in these races, though I do think a hippo race could be quite entertaining.

Our next stop was Mt. Carmel where Elijah had a little show down with the prophets of Baal. You can read the story in 1 Kings 3:17-40 but the Reader's Digest version is that Elijah basically told all these prophets of the "god" Baal that his God was stronger so they set up a little competition which ends in the prophets of Baal being a tad bit disappointed in their "god" but the God of Elijah shows up big time and does a miracle so big that it can't be denied as "coincidence."

One of the coolest parts of the day for me was looking out over the valley that you can see from Mt. Carmel towards Mt. Tabor and as I looked at it I could imagine the story of how Deborah helped defeat Sisera as told in Judges 4 - 5. It's one of my favorite Bible stories because it's a woman, chosen by God, to lead the people into battle. (And they say women's lib is a new thing.) But, the reason it was so cool for me is that I could actually picture the battle taking place, even though I had forgotten that the army Deborah lead all met up that day on the top of Mt. Tabor until our guide reminded us of that, literally about three minutes before it came into my mind.

After we left Mt. Carmel we headed to Megiddo where it is believed that the final battle of Armegedon will take place. Well, the battle will be in a valley, but to see it we had to walk up to the old city that was built around the time of King Solomon. By now, the temperature was about 80 - 90 degrees and humid. It was actually pretty awesome to see the old city but like I said, it was hot and by the time we got to the top of the hill, I was a little ill; a rather annoying combination of heat and jet lag mixed with a body that has apparently skipped the workout center just a few too many times recently. Then, we walked down 183 steps to see how they got water into the city using an underground tunnel. We actually walked through the tunnel and out the other side (another 80 steps up!) It was at this point, I considered just lying down and waiting for the paramedics to show up, but I persevered, rehydrated at lunch and was fine the rest of the day.

Believe it or not, we fit all of this in BEFORE lunch which we had at the YMCA. I was surprised by the luncheon location but it really was pretty good.

After lunch we visited just a few more sites before we quit for the day. First we went to the Church of the Annunciation which is built over the house that is believed to be where Mary, Mother of Jesus, lived and was visited by Gabriel. It doesn't really matter to me whether it was the exact house where Mary was visited by Gabriel, or if Gabriel met her someplace else, but it was just kind of cool to see what the homes were like around the time of Christ. The ONE picture I chose for today was taken UNDER that church and shows the ruins of Nazareth from when Jesus walked the earth.

We left this church to head to a Greek Orthodox church which is over a well that Mary most likely used. The Greek Orthodox church believes that this is where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. Like I said, my faith does not depend on where Mary heard she was going to be the mother of Jesus. I enjoyed seeing both spots.

As we headed to the Kibbutz where we'll spend the next two nights, we stopped at "Sea Level" and looked DOWN on the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is approximately 650 feet BELOW sea level. Our kibbutz is on the Sea of Galilee and it's a beautiful location, which I can only imagine will be much quieter than last night's stay in Tel Aviv.

Phew! No wonder I'm so tired tonight. It was a LONG day and tomorrow promises more of the same. Time to get to bed.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

First Impressions

Two planes, 13 in-flight hours, not so much sleep, and we've arrived in Tel Aviv. There are always funny stories along the way but my favorite today was when I asked the woman next to us if she was going to Israel for fun. She said, "No, unfortunately not. I'm coming to visit my mom and sister." Apparently they aren't all that entertaining.

Tel Aviv has a beautiful HUGE airport. Getting through passport control went quickly but then we went to get our bags and apparently all flights that had just come in were using the same baggage carousel. You see all the people in this picture?

When we got our bags, there were just five people left waiting! It was like having a huge cruise ship of people all getting off the boat at one time. But, on the bright side, there was no lost luggage.

O.K., it's been a long day so I'm going to give you a quick overview of my first impression of Tel Aviv. As we drove to our hotel we saw palm trees, bougainvillea trees (or are they bushes?), a freeway, a metropolitan skyline and smog. And suddenly, I thought I was in Los Angeles!

Today is Friday and the Israelis are celebrating Shabbot. It's a huge family night and as we were walking around town we saw families at the park, having a fabulous time at 9:00 at night. Everyone seemed to be having fun and it was great to see families spending some quality time together.

We had dinner at our hotel. It's all part of the package deal. It was fine, Nothing I'd consider outstanding. I decided to be brave and taste this little delicacy wrapped in grape leaves. I'd had something similar to that when we were in Armenia that wasn't too bad so I was living on the edge. Welll, it just about put me over the edge. It tasted as though it had been pickled and if you've ever been out to eat with me you know I DON'T LIKE PICKLES. Let's just say it wasn't pretty.

But, after dinner we took a walk down by the Mediterranean Sea to a lovely little restaurant called Max Brenner. Max Brenner specializes in all things chocolate. We'd heard about it before leaving home. Here's just a sample of someone's dessert.

It's probably best that we're leaving here in the morning so that we can't go back there. The poor waiter. We hadn't stopped for local currency yet, and let's just say, he was incredibly patient with us as we figured out how to pay. You can't put your tip on the credit card so one of our team member had some change. We showed him the change and asked if it was something like 40 shekels. It was more like 40 cents. Good thing we asked or he might have thought of us as cheap!

Well, time for bed. Hopefully more tomorrow.

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