God Loves the World

As the season of Lent approaches, I have been thinking back to my trip to Israel last summer.

One cannot visit the Holy Land without feeling a tremendous sense of awe. Everywhere you look, there is Biblical history coming to life right before your eyes. Archaeologists are digging all over the region. They are unearthing amazing treasures and civilizations that have buried beneath centuries of sand and silt. It is fascinating!


One of my favorite places in Israel was a relatively new archaeological site on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. During a construction project in 2009, a 1st century synagogue was discovered in Magdala — the hometown of Mary Magdalene.

And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. — Matthew 4:23

Inside the synagogue archaeologists also found what some say is the most significant discovery in 50 years. The Magdala Stone is the earliest known artistic depiction of the Second Temple, which also bears the oldest carved image of the seven-branched menorah. There are additional carvings on this stone that may help archaeologists learn more about the Second Temple period.

Although the mid-morning temperature was approaching 90 degrees, I was covered in goosebumps. I thought to myself, “Jesus once stood in this very synagogue!” My dust-covered sneakers were standing on holy ground.

I would have lingered there all day if I could, but there were many more sights to see. But this was the first of many places in Israel where I felt the presence of my Savior.


Living History

On our second full day in Israel, we took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.

I cannot explain how that felt as I thought . . .
Jesus walked on this water.
He calmed its raging waves.
He walked along its shoreline.

As I touched the Western Wall, I felt his presence again. And again when standing on the Mount of Olives. And in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Now I am thousands of miles away from those beautiful places, but I feel Jesus’ presence more often. I’m sure he has always been by my side, but now I feel it deeply.

A New Theme

In my post-Israel life, I just completed my PraiseMoves re-certification. I’ll be leading a 6-week Lenten series that begins tomorrow. I’ve decided to focus on John 3:16-17. There is no other scripture or theme that captures the Easter story, or sums up Jesus’ mission on earth.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. – John 3:16-17

We don’t need to visit the Holy Land or stand in the Magdala synagogue to know how Jesus lived.

We need only to read his words, share his stories, and live out his teachings to feel his presence each day.

Sea of Galilee

Traveling Light

We’ve been home from Israel for a week now. I think I’m pretty much over the jet lag, and all the laundry is washed and put away. I added up all my Fitbit miles and realized I logged over 55 miles in 12 days. (I think at least 5 of those miles were logged walking through Frankfurt airport!)

My suitcase looks lonely though. I hate the thought of storing it away because it will probably be years before my next international adventure. Then again, I’d rather leave it behind and shed the impulse to bring every possible creature comfort from home.

I had a detailed packing list for our trip, but it grew considerably until I filled every last inch of my suitcase. Somehow I managed to stay under the checked baggage weight limit, even though I kept adding things up until the last moment. And it never occurred to me that I might want to leave space for gifts or souvenirs we might accumulate during our time in Israel.

Fast forward to Tiberias. After living out of my suitcase (and carry-on bag) for the first three days, I realized I probably didn’t need to pack that second bathing suit and extra sun dress. And I definitely didn’t need the fleece jacket or the Costco sized SPF 50 sunblock. Sure, I loved having clean clothing each morning, but I could have easily washed some things in the sink. By the end of our trip, I was envying those who packed a single carry-on bag or a trekking backpack. They looked so carefree as they navigated the busy hotel lobbies and crowded airport terminals. Why couldn’t travel light? Why do I feel the impulse to pack so many things I might want, rather than only those things I will truly need?


Perhaps the way we travel is a metaphor for life. Personally speaking, I do tend to carry a lot of excess baggage around with me. The stresses of daily life can sometimes feel like we’re dragging a heavy suitcase up a flight of stairs. It weighs us down and slows our pace. Why is it so difficult to let go of the things we are convinced we need, even when they have little real value in life?

But, oh, there is hope . . .

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭68:19‬

Amen! I say it’s time to lay those excess burdens down!

Going forward, I think a better approach to life — and travel — is to carry only what we need for the journey. 🙂