Today was a chance to take a brief hike with Dan Sered, head of Jews for Jesus in Israel, and take in some quiet. Yesterday ended an eight day trip with 37 leaders from CRU. We explored Israel, beginning with a trip in Caesarea last Wednesday and ending yesterday with a stop at the Shepherd’s Field near Bethlehem. This is my sixth journey to Israel, the third in the last six months. God seems to keep bringing me back, though much of my passion remains with the church in Lebanon. I find myself in both worlds, convinced more than ever that the hope for peace in the Mideast rests with an awakened church doing the hard work of reconciliation.
Some take aways: There really is no place like this land. There is the beauty and solace of the Sea of Galilee, the arid and stark conditions in Masada, and the rolling hills in Bethlehem. Jerusalem is the epicenter where numerous faiths converge, and it can play with your own. It does mine. I look at the Orthodox Jew standing for hours at the Wailing Wall, or a Moslem man rolling out his carpet on the Temple Mount and bowing in reverence and prayer—and I ask myself if my devotion holds a candle to theirs.
This is a place you can let your imagination fly. I stood on the top of Mt. Arbel and considered the long trek Jesus often took from Nazareth to Capernaum and back. What was it like to have 5000 walk out of your sermon over by the sea, and then head the 40 miles home to unbelieving brothers egging Him to go to His death in Jerusalem? I tried to visualize Elijah confronting Ahab on Mt. Carmel with the question, “How long will you believe in everything, which amounts to nothing?” (We need more Elijah’s today). I looked at the vast plain of Megiddo and tried to imagine armies from ancient Egypt to Napoleon crossing it. I sat on the edge of a vast cliff in Nazareth and imagined a hometown crowd wanting to throw Jesus over a cliff. How did He walk through them?
Taking in the sites also raises lots of questions. Why did Jesus send the blind man to the Pool of Siloam, a difficult journey at best, when He could have simply said, “Be healed”? Why did He immediately heal the paralytic at Bethesda, a man unlike the blind man, who had no interest in believing? Why does the holiest site, the church of the Holy Sepluchre have such an unholy feel? The ladder is still there leaning against an outside wall, as it has for nearly 100 years because six different religious caretakers are protective of their turf. It is such an embarrassment to our faith.
One day we stood at Beit She’an where Israel’s first king (second if you are counting God), Saul, once hung on a wall, headless (pay back for Goliath). Saul has to be one of the most flawed characters in Scripture. He reminds me of our day, where people want someone who looks like a king, someone imperious like the nations. Israel got what it wanted. Will we? Saul looked the part, but was hollow inside. He was head and shoulders above others, but his physical stature could not make up for the pusillanimity (smallness of soul) inside. Saul’s death cleansed the land, making way for David. The next day we sat in Ein Gedi, reflecting on his wilderness experience and why it is so necessary for all of us. As Nelson Mandela once put it, every leader must cross the desert.
I could go on. There is no place like the Mt. Of Olives to read the Upper Room Discourse in John 13-17, a dialogue Jesus had with His disciples before He crossed the Kidron and met those intent on arresting Him. The irony is that, as John puts it, they came with lanterns to arrest the Light of the world. One more poignant memory. Near Caiaphas’ House stands a church built over the ruins of where Peter denied Jesus. I couldn’t help but think it odd that the Catholics would build a monument to one’s failure. I am grateful God chooses to forget mine.