This is about the seventh time I have tried to get this blog done. My computer crashed five times after working on the blog about three hours each time. I also had a few other starts on it but for various reasons couldn't get it posted. Here is one last try.
After our time in and around the Dead Sea we made our way up to Jerusalem. Jesus, the Bible says, set his face towards Jerusalem, even though he knew it meant his death. We did the same with far less risk. We saw the various sites where he spent his last days: The Garden of Gethsemane; the Pools of Bethsesda; the House of Caiaphis, where he was tried; the upper room, where he had his last supper with the disciples; the Via Dolorosa, where he walked carrying his cross to be crucified; and the Garden Tomb where he was buried. We were blessed to have Gordon Reeve lead us through the Garden Tomb. Gordon was a former pastor at CRBC many years ago. He has led numerous tours to Israel and is currently volunteering at the Garden Tomb for three months.
We wrapped up our Israel tour at the Garden Tomb with a communion service. We read through Luke 23 and 24 meditatively and reflected on what the Spirit of God had taught us over the last few days. It was a very moving service. I think, without exception everyone in the group would say that Jesus has become more real to them, and the Bible has opened up in a new way because of our journey.
The group left for Canada on the 15th. After dropping them off at the airport in Tel Aviv I rented a car and drove to Bnei Dan Youth Hostel where Isaac, our guide had booked a night for me. Isaac warned me that parking is at a premium in Tel Aviv. That was an understatement. There was no parking at all at the hostel. They had no parking lot and all the spots on the streets were filled. I parked illegally and ran in to register at the hostel and asked for advice from the clerk as to how to find parking and he raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders, "Drive around until you find something." "But, I've been doing that for the last hour," I whined. "This is Tel Aviv," he replied, as if I should know this is par for the course. So, off I went in my rented car wondering if I would ever find a place to park. I was at the point of desperation when I pleaded with God to help me find a place to park. No sooner had I prayed that than a spot opened up right in front of the hostel just as I was driving by. Coincidence? I think not.
I tried blogging in the hostel yet once more and once more my computer crashed on me while I attempted to publish it. Another two hours of work down the drain. I am having lots of practice in patience. I gave up just after midnight and went to sleep waking up just after 8:00 am thankful for my first eight hours of sleep.
After showering I went down to the cafeteria and had some breakfast which was included in the price of my stay. There were a few other people there as well, all in their late teens and early twenties. I felt old, but thankful.
I checked out and walked across the street to the park by the river and sat on a bench and prayed and reflected on the events of the past couple weeks. I sensed a change in my heart. A calmness and a sense of peace enveloped my soul as I soaked in the love of Jesus. I was thankful. Then a bird pooped on my shirt. I laughed at the irony and moved over so I wasn't sitting under the branches of the tree above my head.
After a while I left the serenity of the park and headed into the traffic towards Haifa, near where the Freimans live. I would be staying with them for the next couple days. I met Willie several years ago on the website where we both keep our photos. He noticed my photos from Israel and commented on them and invited me to stay with them if I ever came back. This would turn out to be my third time with them.
On the way to the Friemans I stopped at a large mall to get some lunch and make another attempt at writing my blog where there was a good internet connection. Before finding a coffee shop I thought I would try out a MacDonald's hamburger to see if they were different than what we have in Canada. Bad idea. I'll leave it at that. After ingesting whatever it was I ingested I found a coffee shop with a good wifi signal and commenced working on my blog for a couple hours. I didn't get it finished before I had to leave for Friemans, so I closed my computer to add the finishing touches later, once I arrived at my next temporary home. It turns out that was another bad decision. I lost the blog again.
I said goodbye to the Freimans the next morning and headed to Mas'ada in the Golan Heights, on the Syrian border. On the way I stopped at my friends, Eitan and Shikma Chamberlin's for coffee. Eitan was my guide for three Israel journeys. He is a brilliant guide and Bible teacher. He studied at TWU in Abbotsford, as well as in Jerusalem. He has just finished writing a book on the disciples. The premise of his book is that most of the disciples, aside from Peter, were likely of bar mitzvah age, meaning thirteen-ish. If this is true it could shed some light on the obvious immaturity of the disciples and their constant bickering and fighting for the best spots. Would adult men really argue about who was the greatest? I would hope not — but perhaps. Either way, I am going to think about this while reading the Gospels and see if it makes sense.
I bid adieu to the Chamberlins and set my GPS for the Golan Heights to visit the Safadis in the Druze village of Mas'ada. The Druze religion is an interesting mixture of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, with a bit of reincarnation thrown in the mix. I arrived in their village and Mahmoud met me at a gas station on the main street and led me to their house. As with the Friemans, the reunion with the Safadi family was very comfortable. We picked up where we left off. The Safadi girls love to have their pictures taken so I spent a lot of time behind the lens with them posing.
After a good night sleep, I put in another attempt at writing this blog. Mahmoud was at a class on Hebrew culture and history. The kids were at school. Just before noon Rima, the mother and I went to each of the kids’ school. I visited Noor’s English class. I walked in the door and greeted everyone, “Hello!” In unison, they replied in kind, “Hullo!” I spent the next fifteen or twenty minutes answering their questions. “What is your name?” “Why are you here?” “Do you love Mas’ada?” “Do you love dogs?” And then from one girl, “You have beautiful eyes.” Everyone laughed. Then someone asked, “What is your job?” “I am a pastor. I teach people about God and the Bible and help us all to learn how to love better."
We went to each of the kids’ schools and met some of the students and teachers and then took them home. Later we went to a park for a picnic and to take more photos.
It’s been a phenomenal trip. Once again, I am leaving changed. I have a bigger picture of God. I have a truer understanding of who I am in light of who he is. God is always faithful in our journeys. We don’t have to travel to Israel to be changed. The change happens as we let the Spirit of Jesus do a work in our hearts. It can happen anywhere we let it. It should happen continually as we surrender control to him. It seems though, that sometimes we need to get away from the normalcy of our lives in order to get a clearer picture of ourselves. When we are busy in the usual hubbub we can easily miss some things God is trying to teach us. We need to slow down enough to hear. We each have our own way of getting to that place of quiet. I don’t think there is a right or a wrong way. Going to Israel is one of the ways I do this.
I left the Safadis in the Golan Heights for Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv at about 5:30 pm and trusted the GPS on my phone to get me there. After about 10 minutes I saw a hitchhiker ahead of me with his thumb out. I drove past him. Then I felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit to pick him up. It was getting dark and would be increasingly difficult for him to find the ride he needed to wherever it was he was going. I pulled over and backed up while he was running towards me.
“Where are you going,” I asked through the open window. He said the name of a town that I didn’t recognize in an accent that didn’t sound like the familiar accents I had grown accustom to in the last three weeks or so. “I have no idea where that is,” I said, but I’ll take you as far as I can.” He hopped in and we chatted freely. I found out that he was from Poland and he had just quit his successful advertising job and was traveling in Israel to “get his head on straight" so he could make a wise decision as to the next chapter of his life.
We talked for quite some time and then he asked me what I was doing in Israel. I told him that I was a pastor and that I try to come every couple years and take people with me to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and see the land where he lived and died and rose again. He responded with interest and said how amazing it was to him that everywhere you turn there is a place where some biblical event took place, like David’s skirmish with Goliath.
I asked him about his faith journey. “I was raised Catholic. I don’t know much about other faiths." I took that as an open door to talk about Jesus. “I don’t consider myself to be religious,” I said. That statement, as usually happens when I say something like that, was met with silence. I was careful not to break the silence. I wanted him to camp out in that confusion for a while. After a couple minutes he said, ”What do you mean? Isn’t religion your job?” I love it when that happens.
I went on tell him that God’s intention was never that we would live in fear of him and try to get his attention or to please him by our religious activity as if he will love us better for performing them. I also shared the good news that Jesus satisfied the law when he came. God’s desire for every single person is to receive, by faith, his gift of salvation that the offered by paying the penalty for our sin so we could be free from religion and the power of sin, and then enter into a relationship with him where he would continuously change us so that we would grow in our capacity to love each other.
More silence for a couple minutes. I could see the cogs turning in his brain trying to decipher the meaning in what I said and the implications for his life. Again I waited for him to break the silence. “That is so beautiful,” he said with all sincerity. “I’m going to have to think about that some more.” “That’s a great idea. This great news could very well be exactly what you have been searching for on your journey in Israel. It could change the direction of your life.” We both laughed. “It might,” he said.
In a couple minutes I dropped him off at the corner where we would have to part ways. I wondered what he would do with the Gospel of Jesus. Sometimes, in our zeal, we think we have to seal the deal. We think that if we can get the other person to “sign on the dotted line” that they gave their life to Jesus at a certain time and place, in our presence, we’ve finished our job so we can feel good about ourselves. It’s actually not our job to convert. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit.
I continued on my way. The drive was amazing and filled with memories. All along the path that my GPS took me on I was met with road signs pointing to the places where we had visited on our journey in Israel: Tel Dan; Caesarea Philippi; The Sea of Galilee; Capernaum; Tabgha; the Mount of Beatitudes; Migdal; Tiberias; Jerusalem; Megiddo; Nazareth; Beth Shean; Masada; Ein Gedi; Qumran; the Dead Sea; and many other places.
Each time I would see a sign drawing attention to the sites, my mind would meander to each of these places and I would get to experience them once more. My heart was filled with such joy and peace I have no way to describe it. Jesus met me all along the way. It was like he was telling me not to let my experience with him end once I boarded the flight back to reality. God is so good all the time.
I arrived at the airport in plenty of time, sped through security faster than I have ever done in my past trips to Israel. Once through I found a place to sit down so I could Skype with Ruthie. We chatted for over an hour. It was good.
I was able to secure a good seat on the plane so I had some extra leg space with no seat in front of me. I sat down with a Russian Jew. I asked him about his life. I found out about his family, his work, his perspective on the election that just took place a couple days prior, his take on the Palestine/Israel dilemma, and a myriad of other topics. Eventually he asked me what I was doing in Israel which led to another great opportunity to talk about Jesus. “I’m not religious,” he said. “Me neither,” I responded in kind. Stunned look. Raised eyebrows. Silence. More great conversation.
Three more flights to go. I actually didn’t know there were three more flights. My ticket said, “Toronto - Victoria.” I didn’t find out until just before boarding that I would have stop overs in Saskatoon, Calgary, and finally Victoria. Another long, not so straight journey. That’s how life is though. We want the straight route. No detours. No bumps, or turbulence. No discomfort.
We tend to think that if God is with us things should be more simple. Point B should naturally follow point A. Life’s not like that. It’s up and down, and across, and around, and some detours thrown in to make things interesting. And along the way God gives us divine opportunities he wants to open our eyes to. On each flight I had the chance to hear stories: of a nervous young Asian woman on her way to a job interview in Saskatoon; a business consultant who has a very interesting take on world economy, big business, environmentalism, Hari Krishna, and God; a very tall young man, newly married, on his way to coach an elite baseball team at a tournament in Victoria. We talked at length about his marriage, his experience playing ball in Japan with the Canadian junior team, his faith journey which included his parents getting disillusioned with religion and church.
At each step in my circuitous journey home I was able to share about the freedom of Jesus without preaching. God set these appointments up along the way so I did not have to force my opinions on anyone. I listened more than talked and asked questions more than gave answers. I saw Jesus at work.
I arrived in Victoria at about 11:45 pm. Robin Martens graciously picked me up, several hours past his bedtime and brought me to his place where I crashed for about seven hours. We went out for coffee in the morning and had a great time of catching up and sharing what God was doing in each of our lives.
Mike Clausen drove all the way from Campbell River to pick me up and drive me home. Conversation flowed freely as we got to know each others’ stories, how we met Jesus, and what he has taught us over the years. It was a blessing to have true fellowship with him.
At about 1:45 on Friday I arrived home to see Ruthie waiting for me at the door with a huge smile. We hugged for a long time and then shared God stories. It’s great to be home.
Thank you for walking with me on this journey. I look forward to more.
Blessings of Shalom with Jesus,