A trip to Israel. The question would be: Is it school? Is it work? Is it a vacation? The answer, YES! For a preacher of the gospel, it is like school. My whole life I’ve heard a trip to Israel is the equivalency of a 4-year degree in bible college. Listen to me, I agree and with Nedal (our tour guide) you are getting your masters in the process as well. I honestly don’t know if I have ever met a more knowledgeable person in my life. A Palestinian Christian. A student of the Bible. A master in history. And a college professor turned into a 23-year veteran our guiding tours around this beautiful country. Ask him a theological, geographical, or a historical question and he can give you an answer before he blinks to lubricate his eyes! It’s honestly amazing. He is funny and protective not allowing any street vendors to take advantage of us. We’ve enjoyed him so much, we have already re-enlisted him for our next tour. This guy knows the Bible, he knows history, and he knows Israel. All of the perfect recipes to give you the needed information to blow your mind and answer all of your questions all at the same time. He is so good I have expressed interest in bringing him from Bethlehem to Corryton to do a seminar at our church on the nation of Israel. Ha! He said he would love to. It may just eventually happen. We have all come to love Nedal this week. So yes, for a preacher it is like school. My iPhone has never had more notes in it than this current moment. I am trying to absorb all that I can, with hopes it will only add to my preaching. How about work? If you ever come to Israel and walk these hills, you will find that yes, it is work. Warren Wiersbe called this place, “A land of hills and valleys.” One walk up the Mount of Olives or around Bethlehem will leave your lungs working and your legs burning. It is no joke. It has deepened my appreciation for the physical strength of Jesus, the disciples, the patriarchs, and the tour guides who daily have navigated this part of the country. You think East Tennessee has hills, you have seen nothing until you come to Israel. Trust me! So yes, I would say that it is work. How about vacation? Yes, I would say that too. I am with a group of people that I have meshed with. People from all ages. From a couple who has been married less than a year and in their very early 20’s; to an 87 year old saint that we call Nascar Nana, and then everything in between. To visit these sites and worship with them in some of the most sacred places in the world has a way of uniting your hearts and strengthening your bonds. If for this reason alone, I pray to bring a group next year from the flock that I pastor. I can guarantee it will strengthen our church. No, it only is it like a vacation because you are with people you love, but you get to see cool things and try things you’ve never done. My point in all of this is that a trip to Israel is good for the body, the soul, and the spirit. You learn, you exercise, and you grow!
Today was a therapeutic day for us. I am not a spa kind of guy, most men aren’t, but I took full advantage of a dip into the Dead Sea today. Check that one off the bucket list! It is true … you CANNOT sink! Drown, yes, because we saw an oriental man almost do it today. No joke. Medics got him out and transported him to a treatment facility because of all of the salt intake. Scary moment, but we will move on. The salt and minerals are so rich that it has many medicinal advantages. Today truly was the soften my skin has ever been. For it to even touch your tongue though is enough to make you gag. I’ve never experienced anything like it. You just fall back, and the water catches you and you stay afloat with hardly any effort at all. The only energy you expend is to keep yourself on your back without bobbing over like a fishing float. I will admit that is was refreshing to swim in a sea where you knew there was absolutely NO KIND OF SEA ANIMALS lurking in the waters beneath you. No kind of life lives in this sea, at all. People from all over the world where there at this lowest point in the world, rubbing the Dead Seas black mud literally all over my body. Me, no thank you, just my arms. It was one of the neatest experienced of my life. We swam for about an hour and half, took us a nice break, showered off and headed back to hotel for some rest and relaxation.
The Dead Sea
Our group floating in the Dead Sea
I do want to share two quick stops we made before our Dead Sea adventure though. One of them was to the cave of Qumran. If this name does not ring a bell, I will remind you that it was the piece of territory overlooking the Dead Sea where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. How neat it was to see the very cave that a shepherd threw a rock in breaking a vessel that contained much of the original scroll containing the book of Isaiah. Thousands of fragments have been found only deepening our conviction that God gave us a Word and it was recorded by Holy men who wrote as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Caves in Qumran containing the Dead Sea Scrolls
My favorite stop today was out in the middle of the Judaean Wilderness. A desert of nothing but hills and valleys. No wildlife, no people, no nothing. A desert that rest anywhere between 90 to 125 degrees. It was hot and dry. It was huge. My iPhone could never have even come close to capturing is vastness. I don’t have the rhetoric to explain it. You ask, “What could be so intriguing about a desert?” All of the biblical significant that happened there. In the picture below, you will see me standing on a revenge that dropped off to a valley below that was at least 200 feet down. Up on the side of the mountain across the valley was an old road you could see winding along the side of the mountain. That little road has been there for thousands of years. It was that road that they would travel from Jericho to Jerusalem. To walk from Jericho to Jerusalem was a 2-day journey (23 miles) and an ascension of 3200 feet. Along this road many times robbers would hide in the desert and mug those who were traveling. When Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan the image he was painting was of one traveling along this road who was mugged and left to die. We know he was on this trail because Luke 10 says that he was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and this was the only road to lead there. It was a very common traveled road. But it was just as common for a person traveling to, “fall among the thieves, be stripped, wounded, and left half dead.” Of course, when the priest and the Levite passed him by, the Good Samaritan came along and helped him. Where we visited today the road come very close alongside of a deep valley in the desert. If you look closely you can see the valley below. Often these savages, after beating and robbing a traveler, would throw them down into the valley where they would either already be dead or die. This valley is referred to in the book of Psalm. David would have traveled this same road many times, and he references it in the most famous Psalm in the Bible. He says in the 23rd Psalm, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …” This valley is none other than that valley. Still today referred to by the local who live here, The Valley of the Shadow of Death. And here I was standing right over the top of it. And to know that David, the king and the shepherd had walked that little tiny road that was nothing more than a path was astounding. Another man walked that road as well. He was the forerunner of Christ. John the Baptist, lived in this wilderness. Having been through this Judaen wilderness and knowing that John the Baptist lived there, tells me that this guy was a man’s man! When the Bible says that he came out of the wilderness, this was the wilderness the Bible speaks of. Mark chapter one says, “Behold I send my messenger (John) before thy face, which shall prepare the way before thee. The voice of one crying IN THE WILDERNESS, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” We decided to test it and we shouted the verse aloud as we could and my, my, you should have heard it echo from those hills. Our guide said on a still day that it’s possible to hear that shout for up to 10 miles away. Imagine John shouting that “Prepare the way…” and all that may have heard that echo into those hills and crevices in that wilderness. It was so neat!
Valley of the Shadow of Death
Today was a light day but we need your prayers tomorrow. It has finally reached the climax of the trip as we finish these last three days. Over the next couple of days, we will go to the Holocaust museum, Calvary, the garden tomb, and the Mountain of Ascension where Jesus went back to the heavens. Tomorrow for the first time, we go inside the walls, into the old city, known as Jerusalem. So far, other than today, we have logged some miles. Walking anywhere from 12-16 miles a day. Tomorrow we have been warned it will double. We are looking at logging 20-25 miles a day. Pray for us. The positive is that Jerusalem is so high that it is actually very cool. About 45 degrees in the mornings, peaking out at around 75 degrees. So, the temps are great for us Tennesseans. It’s funny to see the Israelis and Palestinians wearing big coats, toboggans and even ear muffs in this 60-70 degree weather. They are freezing, and we are loving it! We do have some older people that are struggling with the trek, so please help us pray that God will give them added strength the next two days and we all will pull together and help them walk the city. It’s tiring and long days, but worth every single step as we continue tracing the steps of our blessed Redeemer.
Blessings, Pastor Justin