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!

Magdala

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

Steps of Faith

בוקר טוב (Pronounced “boker tov”.)

This was our morning greeting from our wonderful tour guide, Sonia Waters, for the past two weeks while in Israel. Most days we left our hotel at 8:00 a.m., carrying along with us everything we would need for our day’s journey. For me that meant my backpack, hat, sunscreen, iphone (for photos), map of Israel, Bible, shawl (for holy sites), passport (for unexpected checkpoint boarding by border security), and lots of water. Our seasoned bus driver, known only as Govanni, made sure the on-board cooler was always re-stocked overnight. Bottles were $1 US or 3₪ Israeli shekels, which was much cheaper than tourist spots, where we paid up to $2.50 for a bottle of water.

Govanni could navigate the the steepest mountains and the tightest parking spaces to get our luxury tour bus to and from its destination safely.  He spoke little English, but was always cheerful and helpful. He remained in the background or stayed on the bus for most of our excursions, but always had the AC cranked to the max by the time we returned, exhausted and overheated from the 90+ degree desert sun. I learned on our final day in Israel that Govanni likely saved the life of one of our tour members, rescuing her from an undertow at a beach in Tel Aviv. Praise God for his quick response!

It is impossible to share in words or pictures what this trip meant to me being so close to the stories I have read in the Bible all my life. The dusty roads, rocky cliffs and briny seas I visited all came together like the pieces of a puzzle as Sonia explained Biblical history at each site. Tears welled from my eyes when I stood on the Mount of Olives and saw Jerusalem for the very first time, and when I prayed at the Western Wall.

View of Jerusalem, taken from the Mount of Olives

 

This was no ordinary vacation. For me, it was a tour of emotions, and deeper understanding of my faith and its roots. History came to life where Jesus once stood and preached the gospel message inside this synagogue at Magdala on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.”
‭‭Mark‬ ‭1:35-39‬

The journey continued as I walked on the remains of the original stone street in Jerusalem where Jesus once walked, possibly carrying his cross to Calvary. I was baptized in the Sea of Galilee and floated in the Dead Sea. I sat in the Garden of Gethsemane and wandered through ruins of ancient kingdoms. These were quite literally steps of faith.

I will share more in future posts, and hopefully create a link with both photos and narration so you can get a small glimpse of what I learned on this trip of a lifetime. And if you ever have the opportunity to visit the Holy Land — GO!

As I close this post, please join me in praying for peace throughout the Middle Eastern region. I also want to offer a special thanks to Dennis and Tina Karp of https://chosenpeople.com/site/Chosen People Ministries, our friends (and neighbors!) who organized this amazing trip. I am so grateful for their invitation to join the tour.