Monday, 26 June 2017

Ants and an encounter with God!

Our second stop of the day was the church that was built at the site where it was believed Caiaphus' house stood. It was here that Jesus was brought to on the night before his death and kept over night. It was also the place where it is believed Peter denied Christ three times. 

The church was a beautiful sanctury in the madness of the city and the church was full of beautiful pastel paintings on the walls and brightly coloured stained glass. One of the paintings that spoke to me was one that showed Jesus in ropes, stood before a crowed who are shouting and jeering at him. Above him, a number of of angels hold a cross, whilst God looks on the scene with sorrow and torment on his face. It reminded me of this famous verse: 

We went downstairs to the cellar where Jesus may have been kept. It was in this place Jesus would have waited feeling scared, exhausted and full of sorrow. We considered that Jesus did this, took our sin and died for each of us. As we stood in the presence of God we sang: 

"There is a redeemer, Jesus, God's own son
Precious lamb of God, Messiah, Holy one
Thank you oh my father, for giving us your son
and leaving your spirit till the work on earth is done.
When I stand in glory, I shall see his face,
There I'll serve my king, FOREVER
In that holy place"

We went outside and stood in a beautiful garden overlooking Jerusalem. There was an amazing statue depicting Peter's denial. We pondered how Peter must have felt, and the difference of experiences from that to the shores of Galilee.

As I sat, I watched a large group of ants going about their business, oblivious to what was happening for us in that moment. In my spirit, I sensed God saying to me that this is the danger for me as I go home. There have been many moments that I have shared with God and I must actively seek to keep them in my heart so God will continue to work in me. 

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Promises and protection

Today we traveled to the Dead Sea area and we started at Kumaran. Here we saw the place where the Dead sea scrolls were found. The area was amazing, there was cliff after cliff and the whole land seemed barren. However in a pretty non-descript place these life changing scrolls were found. 

Looking over the area, I marvelled at how God works. How the seemingly impossible, with him, becomes possible and how he works things together to make sure his plans come to pass. I decided, whenever I struggle to see God's plan, or whenever things seemed hopeless I would think of this place, because if he could ensure then 'needle in the haystack' was found, he can do the impossible things in my life. As Jeremiah 29:11 says: 

Our second stop was an amazing mountain palace built by Herod in Masada. It was the place of a showdown between revolting Jews in the palace and the Romans on the hillside. It was an astounding place. It was amazing that it had even been made in such an inhospitable place. Not only that, but it was such a place of luxury. 

The heat was pretty intense and as we wandered, we hopped from shady spot to shady spot, even these spots were few and far between. this trip has certainly made me consider more some of the imagery that there is in the bible. I came across Psalm 121:5

What a promise!

We then made our way to the dead shores of the dead sea where we spent some time floating around and enjoying the views. It was a bizarre feeling, a bit like a cork bobbing about, but it was a stunning place. 

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Around temple mount

In the afternoon we spent some time at the Southern wall of Jerusalem. Here we looked at some of the ruins left from the period of the second temple. We stood on the steps where Jesus would have definitely walked when he came to Jerusalem for festivals. 

We sat and considered how the area may have looked when the temple was still standing and what it means for us. Helen set a picture of what the temple would have been like at feast days. The sights and sounds, the hustle and bustle, the mayhem of it all. She then said. "The temple doesn't sound or smell like the house of prayer we imagine today." This really challenged me. I expect a house of prayer to be calm and peaceful but that isn't always the case, God can also be in the hubub. 

I also considered that the bible says we are the temple of the holy spirit. Sometimes in church we can discount people because we don't believe they can become our vision of the temple, calm, ordered and compliant but God can be found in any heart that is given to him. I pondered, how many people am I discounting today? 

Helen also discussed that in John 1:14 it says "The word became flesh and dwelt amongst us." The Hebrew root for dwelt is also the same as Tabernacle. Jesus became our tabernacle/temple so we no longer need to be bound by law. Something I was so grateful for as we visited the western wall. 

After security checks and a bag search, we made our way to the plateau, here the wall towers high and the glittering gold of the dome of the rock can be seen. The wall is partitioned into men and women's sections so I left Paul to go and place my prayer. I had been really looking forward to this moment. I felt this would complete my pilgrimage to the holy city.

I stood at the wall and spent a few minutes trying to find a space to place my prayer. After I had done so, I took in the sight before me. People were rocking back and forth in prayer. Others were screaming, crying and wailing. I saw some backing out of the compound, not willing to turn their back on the prayer they had just made. 

I was reminded that through Jesus' death, the curtain of the temple was torn. I can now come before God and offer my prayer as Hebrews 10:22 says: 

Thank you Jesus that you have made a way. 

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Remembering the past

Today our journey started at Yad Vashem, Israel's holocaust memorial. It is set in a beautiful hillside in Jerusalem and the aroma of rosemary, a herb representing remembrance, fills the air. We are shown round the museum by a guide called Debbie, whose parents went onto the Kinder transport to Britain and survived the war. 

Our first stop was to the Children's hall of remembrance, a truly moving place, where the light of five candles are reflected with mirrors around the room. The effect is like a million stars sparkling. As we passed through, the names of the children were read aloud, a seemingly never ending list of names. 

We then went into the main museum which followed the story of  6 million Jews who were led to their death. Our guide brought this number to life with stories of individuals who were victims of the holocaust, some who died and some who survived the horrors. 

As we made our way through room after room packed to capacity with people, we soon got very tired and as I found a little seat away from the crowd, I reflected on how I was getting a little glimpse of how these people must have felt as they were pushed into cattle carts and traveled to their deaths. 

The most harrowing moment for me was when we entered the final room. Around the room stood box files of evidence about what had happened to the 4 and a half million individuals who were killed.  But also around the room there lay empty shelves waiting for the story of the other one and a half million people who were killed. Each of those people had a story. They had a family, friends, hopes and dreams. I then considered this song: 

I have a maker, he formed my heart, 
before even time began, my life was in his hands.
I have a father, he calls me his own.
He'll never leave me, no matter where I go. 

He knows my name, he knows my every thought
He sees each tear that falls and hears me when I call. 

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Healing in Jerusalem

We entered Jerusalem through the Lion gate. We then walked to the ancient pools of Bethesda. We sat in the gardens of the church and read from John Chapter 5. we considered how in verse 8 Jesus told the man to: "Get up, pick up and walk!"

For me, however, I considered how the man had been looking for healing wherever it could be found. He couldn't even get into the pool but he was desperate to cure himself. 

When Jesus saw him, his first words were, "Do you want to get well?" So often we look to other things to give us the healing only Jesus can give. We need to look ONLY to him and faith that we will Get up, pick up and walk!

We went inside a beautifully simple church and sampled the acoustics singing 'Praise my soul, the king of heaven' it gave me goosebumps! 

We then stood and looked over the ruins of the pool of Bethesda. At the side of the pool was a plaque that read:

'Jesus is all-powerful, omnipotent; He always has ways and means to help you.'

We need to go to God believing he can and will heal us so that we can Get up, pick up and walk. 

Having visited Bethesda, we went to view some ancient ruins of the old which wove their way through the Jewish Quarter. After a lovely gluten free lunch, Paul and I walked to get our first glimpse of the Western wall. It was a fascinating view, watching people assembling and praying as music and singing filled the air. It felt very bitter sweet as the Al Aska mosque and dome of the rock loomed over this little piece of Jewish faith. 

After re-joining the group, we made our way through the winding bazaars to the Holy Sepulchre, the place where Catholics and Orthodox Christians believe Jesus died and was buried (and rose again!) Like the crowded streets we had just walked through, the courtyard was full of hustle and bustle. However, after a powerful meditation by Eric, we entered the church. 

We followed the last stations of the Via Dolorosa and saw people react to this holy place. I really struggled in there. Maybe it was the business, maybe it was the different style of Christianity, but I failed to see and hear from God. 

Sunday, 11 June 2017

The Garden Tomb

Our final destination of the day was 'The Garden Tomb'. It was a little place of quietness and peace in the bustle of Jerusalem. We arrived and was greeted by a lovely English guide who took us through the three stages of the place. 

We sat and overlooked the place believed to be Golgotha, as the guide explained the torment Jesus would have endured during the last moments of his life. He reminded us that through his death, we have life and forgiveness. 

Looking at Golgotha, one thing that struck me, was the way that there was a Muslim cemetery that has been built on top of Golgotha. On the side of the wall, just above the place Jesus would have been crucified, was emblazoned, in Arabic, 'Allah is God' For a little while I got a bit angry, but on reflection, two things occurred to me

One - that if the worst another faith can do is to put death next to the place that God conquered death, then what a mighty God I serve! 

Two - It is interesting that the statement is placed beneath the place where Jesus said:
"Father forgive them, for the know not what they do"

We sat in the garden and the guide explained about the biblical and historical evidence for the tomb. We then had the chance to visit the most likely place where Jesus was buried and rose again. As I walked through the door  and entered the dimly lit tomb, I felt his presence and I felt the joy of knowing it was empty . 

We then sat in a corner of the garden and after singing 'How deep the father's love for us' we shared in communion together. As the sun shone on my face I sat and basqued at the joy of the death and resurrection of my saviour, best friend and Lord. 

"I will not boast in anything, 
No gifts, no power, no wisdom.
But I will boast in Jesus Christ, 
His death and resurrection. 

Why should I gain from his reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom." 

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Ascending to Jerusalem

We soon started our ascent to Jerusalem, and as we did the psalms of ascent that David wrote. The final Psalm of Ascent 134 rang in my head: 

Soon I had my first glimpse of Jerusalem. My heart started beating fast...Wow! 

We drove into the city and sat on the Mount of Olives. Surprisingly it was very quiet and we didn't need to push through crowds. As we sat overlooking Jerusalem, the presence of God was tangible. This is the place where Jesus ascended to heaven and this is the place he WILL come again!

We sat and contemplated this and sang Amazing Grace. It was overwhelming and I wept. Wept with joy at his amazing grace, wept with thanks that I was here and wept with sorrow for Israel, for our world and for humanity. 

We soon after descended the mount to the garden of Gethsemane. The trees stood in the garden were from the same roots of the ones that would have stood the night Jesus was arrested. 

As we sat outside the church of all nations, Helen and Eric spoke. I couldn't tell you what they spoke about as I was in awe. I was overwhelmed by being here in Jerusalem, at a place so significant to me and my faith. 

I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene,
and wonder how he can love me, a sinner condemned, unclean. 

For me it was in the garden, he prayed "not my will but thine"
He had no tears for his own grief, but swept drops of blood for mine.

How marvelous! How wonderful! and my song shall ever be:
How marvelous! How wonderful! Is my saviour's love for me!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Thirst in the wilderness

Our first stop today was Beit She’an, a fabulously preserved ancient town. It was on the tel that Saul and his son’s headless bodies hung. It was also part of Decapolis in a later period.

We saw impressive bath houses, shops and theaters, but it was soooo hot! After seeing some amazing pillars that had been felled and split by an earthquake, Paul and I decided to take an opportunity to rest and recoup in the shade.

As I sat with a drink, I considered the importance of water in the bible in a completely fresh light. Christ as the living water was a pretty big deal! The refreshment and rest that Christ offers surpasses that of a cool drink on a hot day. It is life saving, life transforming and life giving.

After our visit to Beit She’an, we began our journey through the Judean wilderness to Jerusalem. As we travelled we saw the border with Jordan and miles and miles of arid wasteland. We stopped for lunch in a little cafĂ© and after a welcome meal of chips (!)  I sat outside in the intense heat and pondered. This was Sunday morning and although it was lunchtime for us, at home our church were gathering for worship, I was reminded of psalm 42.

A short while later, I was meeting with God in a powerful way! 

Monday, 5 June 2017

The Sea of Galilee

Our final stop of the day was to see the Jesus boat – a 2000 year old boat discovered on the shore of Galilee. After we had seen this we then went on our own ride over the sea of Galilee.

Words cannot even begin to describe my experience there and even writing this, I can feel tears coming to my eyes. As we began our journey with the beautiful sun on our skin, we listened to songs of worship. I simply couldn’t stay in my seat or keep my hands by my side and as we sang ‘My Jesus, My Saviour’ the tears poured. Then the Bethel version of ‘It is well’ played. As the music washed over me, I was reminded of the promise Jesus had given me already on this trip, and the words from the song brought such deep peace.

Paul was then asked to read from Mark 4:35 where Jesus calms the storm. It was overwhelming to know that the very story happened where I was sailing.

Then, after a short thought we sang 10,000 reasons. This song is so special to me because it holds special significance to my mother-in-law Jean. It was bizarrely significant because Jean hated it!! We had many discussions about the song and she wouldn’t be swayed into liking it! Ironically it was played at her funeral and has become very precious for many of her family including my step-daughters. Our trip to Israel was in memory of the great woman of faith, that was my mother-in-law, and so this moment was especially cherished. As I sang the song, I treasured the memories of her, I thanked God for the profound influence that she had on my life and thanked God for the opportunity to come in her memory.

These moments on the sea of Galilee I will never forget. 

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Standing where Jesus Stood

At Capernaum, our next stop, we saw some of the ruins of the town Jesus did much of his ministry in. We sat in the shade and read from Mark 1. Sat in front of the ruins of the Synagogue, we read how Jesus healed people, cast out demons and ministered to them in that very place.


Later as I stood in the synagogue I could sense his power and authority in that very place.

In a church over the top of a house it is believed Jesus resided in, I saw a young man on his knees before Jesus and I just had to sit and pray and thank God for his son.

We then went to Bethsaida, a small, quiet and pretty non-descript ruin. As we sat listening to the chorus of the crickets, Eric reminded us that God uses ordinary people for extraordinary things. Peter, Andrew and Philip came from here and God turned their lives upside down. As I considered how God will transform nobodies into somebodies, I thought of the ministry God is using me in. I thank God that he sees beauty in my ashes and somebody in my nobody.

After lunch we visited Yardinet, by the river Jordan where it is believed Jesus was baptised by John. It was astounding! As we walked through, we heard and saw a group of Africans being baptised. As the children played in the shadows, person after person came forward to be baptised. The singing was heavenly and the joy was so infectious and Paul and I wanted to go and join in their celebration.

Whilst we were there we saw Americans, Indians and Dutch people to name just a few, worshiping God and being baptised in the river.

As I dipped my toes in the cool water of the river I was overwhelmed by the love, joy and peace that Jesus brings.