Wednesday 30 March 2016

Israel - the final post

Our group!

I hope you've enjoyed the posts about Israel! I am so thankful for the incredible opportunity to go on this trip, a week of learning and refreshment, the wonderful people I experienced it with, being part of a missions organisation that cares for and equips its missionaries so well, and how tenderly He speaks.

Those of us who serve in the Czech Republic

As I sit in my little flat in the Czech Republic the things I am still processing are - what is God asking me to be faithful in? Where is He moving and asking me to join Him? And then I have just a deeper desire to know Him and His goodness - especially through spending more time in His Word and in prayer. 

Friday 25 March 2016

Israel Day 7 - The Garden Tomb, the Mount of Olives, the Southern Steps, the Walls, and the last night

On our last full day in Israel we started by going to the Garden Tomb. We were shown around by a delightful man from Cornwall. Some people think this is where Jesus was crucified and buried but it's a lot more likely that it was where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is. However, the Garden Tomb site looks and feels a lot more like what it would have in Jesus' time so in some ways it felt more authentic.

Here we talked about the resurrection and how Jesus spent the days after his resurrection, how much he loves us and delights in us. We took communion in this place and sang worship. It was beautiful.

This day was International Womens Day - and the gentlemen of JV bought all the girls flowers! 

We also went to the Mount of Olives to overlook the city of Jerusalem.

The last part of our tour was the Southern Steps, at the Temple. The steps are of varying depth so you had to think as you approached the Temple, and think about where you were going.

Here we talked about Pentecost, which possibly happened on these steps. On that day three thousand people repented and we baptised. Peter and the disciples, who not that long ago were hiding, are boldly proclaiming the gospel and the risen Christ throughout Jerusalem.

We talked about how God is already moving and accomplishing his purposes, and we obey by joining his moving. And that we need to pray for boldness so we can see increased fruit. And we need to ask God for more. 

I spent the afternoon walking along the city walls and doing more exploring. It is a fascinating city!

That evening after dinner we had another time of worship on the roof and a time of praising God for all that He is and this time on the trip. After our time of sharing what God had been teaching us through the trip, and prayer, we headed out for ice cream! It was a fun way to end the trip.

Sunday 20 March 2016

Israel Day 6 - Upper Room, Gethsemane, Caiphas' House, Holy Sepulcher, Wailing Wall

On Monday we spent the day doing a rather chronological walk through Jerusalem, based on Jesus' last days and hours.

We started by walking around part of the Jerusalem city wall to the Upper Room. 

This sculpture was in the Upper Room and I wish I could remember all the beautiful symbolism behind it - there are olive branches because Jesus is our peace, and enabled us to be right with God.

We remembered the humility of Christ and his servanthood - washing the disciples' feet, addressing their concerns, and teaching them. 

Next we went to the Garden of Gethsemane where the above two photos are from. There we remembered Jesus' time in the garden and his intimacy with the Father. Jesus wants us to go to him - to be persistent and disciplined in going to him. This place is where the battle to be obedient happened. 

Our next stop was Caphais' house - where the church of the rooster now sits. This is one of the few places where we can say "Jesus was here" and be fairly certain about it - there is a lot of evidence, including very unique archeological elements, that prove this is Caphais' house, where Jesus was taken and questioned.

Again the two questions asked in this place are - is Jesus the Messiah and is he the Son of God? And at the same time that Jesus was saying "I am", Peter was in the courtyard declaring "I am not [his disciple]". Even in the midst of our failures, Jesus is at work and it's his faithfulness that carries us.

Then we went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is a fascinating place. Six different Christian denominations share the building today, but two Muslim families are responsible for the keys (one family can carry the key, the other can use it). 

Before we went in we went to a quiet courtyard and reflected on Jesus' death on the cross, which possibly happened in this place. 

Writing this blog post months after I am in awe of the stillness of this place - and the overwhelming sense of God's sovereignty in the death of his Son that was ... for you and for me. 

It is awe-some in the truest sense of the word. 

After such a deeply emotional time it was kind of strange to go inside the church and wander around. So many rules and rituals that Jesus came to shatter... and some of them seemed beautiful as they were done out devotion to God, but they do not save people.

I spent quite a bit of time in the place - the Romanian president was there at the same time so that caused a little more chaos and meant I didn't see everything. But the beauty of that dark, slightly-chaotic and ritual-filled church is that Jesus is not there - He is Risen! 

I spent some time that afternoon wandering around Jerusalem - the beautiful markets, and piles of dates and spices. 

Around dusk I went to the Wailing Wall (the men's section is in the first picture, the women's in the second). It was a beautiful place to experience, and felt different. But oh-so-good a reminder that I don't have to go to a special place to pray to God but that I can boldly approach His throne, with confidence! Oh, it is an incredible thing! 

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.