Thursday, 17 March 2016

Israel Day 5 - En Gedi, Masada, the Dead Sea (and up to Jerusalem)

If you asked me to name my favourite Bible story it would be a tough decision but one of the ones on my short list would definitely be 2 Chronicles 20 where King Jehoshapat learns that there are armies on their way towards him, and they were encamped at En Gedi. He and all the nation seek God and God speaks:

"'Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God's. Tomorrow go down against them. ... You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you."

And the next morning they head out, sending the worshippers in front of the army, because they believed God. When they get to the watchtower Jehoshapat looks out and sees that the different armies had killed each other. God had fought for them.

En Gedi is also the place in 1 Samuel 23 and 24 where David hides from Saul, and then spares Saul's life.

In En Gedi we talked about how Jehoshapat and David knew who God is - they knew His promises and His character. As Jehoshapat starts his prayer to God he reminds God of all He had already done. God has given us so many promises to live and stand on, and we can rejoice in them before we see them fulfilled - we can send the choir out in front of the army because if God has said it, He will do it.

Our disciplemaking takeaway from here was:

All the promises are yes in Christ.

En Gedi is an oasis in the middle of a vast wilderness. It was weird to travel through so much brown and come to the one green spot. It made it so beautiful - it is a place teeming with life, all because it has water. There is even a date palm and a fig tree growing out of the rock alongside the waterfall. 

The view of the wilderness - and the Dead Sea.

Our second stop of the day was Masada, a fortress palace built by Herod the Great and where zealot Jews made their last stand against the Romans in 73 AD.

When this fortress fell to the Romans in 73 AD Israel ceased to exist until the 20th century. This happened within a generation of Jesus' death. On this hilltop we talked about how we cannot predict what problems will come our way, or what powers we will see topple in our lifetimes. Our disciplemaking takeaway was:

Don't be surprised when trouble comes - remember Christ has overcome.

Our third stop of the day was the Dead Sea! It was so strange to float in the mineral-saturated water. The mud is apparently very good for you so we all got muddy. There was no teaching here - just enjoying the sunshine and the lowest point on earth!

Leaving the Dead Sea our sights were set on the final destination of our trip: Jerusalem! It was incredible to enter the city. Some of us wandered around a little after dinner and then some of us headed to the hotel roof to sing worship songs. We repeated this each night in Jerusalem - and it was a definite highlight to sing worship in that place.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Israel Day 4 - Beit She'an, Wilderness Walk, night in Jericho

The doorframe in the hotel in Tiberias

It was fascinating to see how faith was lived out in ancient and modern day Israel. On all the door frames in the first hotel we stayed at they had affixed a mezuzah which has Deuteronomy 6 v 4-9 and 11 v 13-21

Our first stop of the day was Beit She'an, an ancient city that was devastated by an earthquake and so was abandoned. It sits in a really strategic location and this is where the Philistines placed Saul's dead body.

The hill in the above photo is the location of the city in those times but it has not been excavated.

The view from the hill.
The view from the hill.

Archeologists started excavating this place in 1921 and ended in 1996 (I think there were breaks in the work). But as I wandered around the site, and sat in the theatre in the first photo I imagined the work of excavation.

The work of showing up each day with your little shovels and brushes and the slow and steady work. The people who started the work in 1921 were probably not around to see its completion in 1996 and yet they still showed up day after day.

And I'm sure there were victories and discoveries along the way for those people but some of them would not have seen the finished work, the beautiful place they have left for the generations. 

It got me thinking about where God is asking me to be faithful, where He is asking me to faithfully show up and do what I can and join in His bigger, much more beautiful story. What am I doing now that in seventy years can be enjoyed by others? What legacy will I leave to the next generation?

Our next stop of the day was a hike through the wilderness! We hiked along the Wadi Qelt which is the route between Jericho and Jerusalem - a journey we know Jesus took many times. It was a beautiful hike, and we spent over three hours outside (we also stopped for a couple of talks along the way). 

One thing I haven't mentioned yet is the weather - it was over 20 degrees most days and a beautiful respite from the winter (as I write this post back home in Czech there is snow on the ground outside, and more forecast).

Along the hike we were able to see the Monastery of Saint George which was founded in 480 AD, and the hermit caves that hermits lived in in between weekly visits to the monastery.

On our first stop along the way in the wilderness we thought about Jesus' time in the wilderness - those first forty days after His baptism, and also the way we read that he often withdrew to desolate places to pray, especially before key shifts in His ministry. Jesus withdrew to pray and learn from the Father, even and especially in chaotic and tiring times.

Our disciplemaking takeaway from this time was:

Withdraw to the Father's presence to return on the Father's agenda.

We were given twenty minutes alone in the wilderness which was beautiful. Some of the verses that God reminded me of during that time were:

"Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. - Hosea 2:14 

"And the Lord will guide you continually    and satisfy your desire in scorched places    and make your bones strong;and you shall be like a watered garden,    like a spring of water,    whose waters do not fail."Isaiah 58 v 11

It is quite a narrow path - much of it we were all in a single file along the twists and turns. 

We stopped for a second time and looked at Jesus' priorities during the foundation phase of His ministry and what that looks like. We identified six priorities: prayer, building relationships, the Word of God, love, Christ (who He is), and vision.

The foundation phase of ministry doesn't always look impressive but it is so important. It is a phase we need to be faithful in and know what God is calling us to. Our disciplemaking takeaway from here was:

Know what time it is. 

There were different Bedouin shepherds and shepherd boys along the hike, with their animals of course.

The view from the hotel room.

We spent the night in a hotel in Jericho, which is in Palestinian West Bank. Our guide for the trip is Jewish so, although he has permission to accompany tour groups into Palestine during work hours, he had to stay somewhere else.

As I spent some time in my room processing the day it was stunning to sit there and hear the Muslim calls to prayer roll in off these hills. 

I'm sitting in my little flat in Czech writing this blog post and I feel like this day was maybe my favourite of the entire trip (if I had to choose). I loved seeing the different places, and being outside, and how tenderly God spoke about faithfulness and other things throughout the day. It's definitely the day I still feel like I'm processing the most, and the one I keep coming back to as I digest the trip.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Israel Day 3 - Caesarea Philippi, Capernaum, Mount of Beatitudes and the Sea of Galilee

Our day began in Caesarea Philippi, a place that was believed to be the birth place of the pagan god Pan. So in Jesus' day it was a place of pagan worship - people would even sacrifice babies into the cave you can see above to appease the gods in the hope that spring would return.

And it is to this place that Jesus brought His disciples in Matthew 13 and asked them who they say that He is. This is the first place where Jesus is declared the Christ and where Jesus declares that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church.

Gates are not an offensive weapon, they're a defence - which means that the church should be on the offensive. Jesus is proclaimed as light in the darkest place. On the cross Jesus won the victory and even in this pagan place Jesus can be declared as Christ and Lord. And it is Jesus who will build His church - it's His work and He will accomplish His mission. 

It is after this declaration of Jesus as Lord that we read He turns His face towards Jerusalem where He ultimately dies on His mission to rescue us. And as we follow Christ on His mission we also need to die - we need to die in obedience to Him, we may need to die to some of our hopes and dreams.

When we follow God in death we also follow Him through to resurrection. Once someone has died they are no longer afraid of death - they have no fear because there is nothing with which they can be threatened. They are dangerous and, like the seed that falls to the ground and dies, they are in a position to bear much fruit.

Dave teaching on the path of a disciple and the path of a disciple-making ministry.

Our disciplemaking takeaway from here was:

If you want to live you have to die.

Another picture of the cave.

One of the most beautiful things about our trip was we were there when Israel is in bloom! This is a very short season here and it was beautiful.

The synagogue in Capernaum.

Our next stop of the day was Capernaum, which was Jesus' home base for His three years of ministry. In this place we talked about Jesus' foundation in ministry and how He equipped His disciples. Our disciplemaking takeaway was:

You equip by doing with.


We had lunch on the shore of Galilee, eating the most common kosher fish found in the Sea of Galilee.

We then went on a bit of a hike along the Mount of the Beatitudes, where Jesus may well have preached the Sermon of the Mount. Somewhere along the way we sat down and talked about how Jesus taught for transformation. Our disciplemaking takeaway from here was:

To teach like Christ connect truth and life.

The Chapel on top of the Mount of Beatitudes.

The mustard plant and the Sea of Galilee

Our final stop of the day was a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee! It was incredible to cross the lake (yes, the Sea of Galilee is actually a lake) and remember all the Bible stories that we know happened on the lake or around it. 

On the lake we thought about Jesus calming the storm - and we know it was a dangerous storm because the disciples, who were experienced fishermen, were frightened. I love that they were frightened and probably had no idea how Jesus would help but they still went to Him. I want to be someone who consistently goes to Jesus, even and especially when I'm not even sure how He could help. And I want to be someone who faithfully leads others to Him. 

Our boat.

It was wonderful to end our day on the water and singing worship songs. 

Monday, 14 March 2016

Israel Day 2 - Sepphoris and Nazareth

The theatre in Sepphoris

Our second day began in Sepphoris, which today is an archeological site and in Jesus' day was the bigger town beside Nazareth. It is believed that Jesus may have worked here before His ministry began. 

It was really cool to see the ruins of this town and hear more about what life would have looked like in Jesus' day.

The theatre in Sepphoris

Our disciplemaking takeaway from our talk here was:

Small things have big significance when they are part of God's redemptive plan.

We talked about how we must always begin with the assumption that God is at work - because He is! And then we can be asking ourselves: what is God doing and how can I join Him?

In what small ways is God asking me to be faithful in joining Him in His work? Learning Czech is a long process filled with many unseen hours - but learning Czech is being faithful in what God has asked me to and I'm excited to learn it well (well, maybe more accurately, I'm excited to speak it well!). And building relationships with people in my community is a long process filled with many little moments but I'm excited to do that so I can share God with those around me.

A traditional lunch!
 After our time in Sepphoris we went to neighbouring Nazareth and started with a traditional lunch. The food was incredible, and throughout the entire trip it was fun to eat meals with and spend time with friends who are serving across central and eastern Europe.

In Nazareth they have a village set up so you can see how life would have looked like in Jesus' day. 

So we saw shepherds.

And a carpenter.

Hannah making wool.
And this lady making wool - and what was used to dye it. Being someone who loves to be crafty I particularly liked this! It was all so fascinating. We also saw how they pressed grapes and olives (two very different processes).

Our guide for our time in Nazareth village.

Our disciplemaking takeaway from the Nazareth village was:

People God uses always have weight below the waterline.

We thought about the people we see God use in the Bible and how they were faithful people who feared God, and had godly character. Without weight below the water a boat will just be forced along by the wind. So what areas of godliness is God asking me to grow in so that I will not just be blown along by circumstances?

Our third stop of the day was the Nazareth precipice, which could be the location of where the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus, and tried to push Him off the mountain, but He "passed through the midst of them and went away."  The valley the Mount overlooks is also the site of a few battles in the Bible - including Gideon and Saul. 

The disciplemaking takeaway from here was:

Without faith it is impossible to please God.

In Mark 6 we read that Jesus couldn't do many miracles in Nazareth because of their lack of faith - they were not without information about God, they were without faith. I want to be someone who not only believes in God but also believes Him - believes that He is who He says He is, and that He can do what His Word says He can do, and that I am who He says I am.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Israel: travel and day 1

The trip started with a day full of travel - I was not sad to be leaving the snow in Czech! I had a 4am, four-hour train from my hometown to Prague and then went through the pre-check-in security necessary for a flight to Israel. It was when we checked in that we heard our flight was delayed by six hours. It was a long day! But we safely arrived at our hostel in Tel Aviv at 1am... and promptly went to the beach to dip our toes in the sea.

Dave sharing with us on top of Mount Arbel.

Wednesday was the day everyone was flying in and we headed back to the airport to meet everyone. From the airport we went to Mount Arbel and after our wonderful guide for the trip, Andre, gave us some background information, Dave spoke.

The theme of the teaching of the trip was disciplemaking and it was so good to have the JV President teach us on location. In most of the talks there was a disciple-making takeway and the one for Arbel was:

The engine of movement is disciplemaking with your eyes on Jesus.

The Sea of Galilee from Arbel.

Throughout the trip we also memorised the Great Commission, and it's possible the Great Commission was given to the disciples from this place (all we know is that they went to a mountain in Galilee):.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you and behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Matthew 28 v 18-20 

The mustard plant

We spent the first three nights of the tour in Tiberias, which is on the coast of the Sea of Galilee.