Thursday, April 14, 2011

Worship at the Wall

Technology has been wonderful to us, enabling us to share almost daily what has happened to us on this tour of a lifetime. Our very busy last day schedule has not permitted us to finish this blog without buying another hour of computer time on a very busy, early morning, so we write from over the Atlantic Ocean-- 2,500 miles from touchdown at JFK in NYC. Let me fill you in on our last day in the Promised Land. The setting for our last day of this pastor’s educational tour was the bustling town of Jerusalem, filled with faces from around the world. How do I know? Listening to the languages spoken—Russian, German, French, Italian, Hindi, Farsi, proper British English, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, Dutch…and on the list goes…it has to….I could not identify them all. They practice many religions, as evidenced by the Muslim call to worship in the streets near the Arab market and the ornate Catholic sepulchers, the bowing and nodding at the Western Wall of the Chasidic Jews and the worship songs sung spontaneously by Protestants visiting the place where Jesus was beaten, awaiting his punishment. Yes, my friends, we joined people from other lands on many occasions to praise the King of King and Lord of All. It was life-transforming. Our hosts, Mark, and our guide, Mr. Ben-David taught us many things about the culture of this land. We spent hours exploring the central location of the Jewish culture on our last day: the Temple Mount. It is there where Jews gather unashamedly to pray, many with Torah in hand. It is there where these folks are joined by non-Jews who also leave their handwritten request gently pushed into a cranny in the wall. We were fortunate that the wall had been cleaned in observation of Passover so there was a lot of room to place a note. Placing a note at that location was significant for my spiritual journey. What I wrote was between me and the Lord. What I sensed sitting writing what was in my heart I will remember forever. After I wrote it, I looked up and came face to face with this massive, rugged dolomite structure. It reminded me of the awesomeness of God. It spoke of the permanence of His presence. I sensed that I was there all by myself in a sea of people and He wanted me there. He cared about what I had written. He would answer my heart cries. The Jews have a custom that your back never faces that Western Wall. You always approach the wall facing it. I was on the women’s side, cordoned off by a 6 foot semi-private man-made fence. I could see the men on the other side in all sorts of stages of prayer and interaction. The ages of the women varied—teens to elderly. They were respectful, submitting their deepest heart cries to their god. One young woman stuck out to me. She had her prayer book over her face and her ear against that Great Wall, in deep conversation. I stretched out my hand with my folded up prayer; it took three tries to find a spot where it would catch and stay. Even then, it fell near the feet of another woman sitting at that Wall. I picked up a note and successfully placed it in the wall. Shuffling backwards, I rejoined my friends. It was a moment I will never forget. I pray that you will encounter our awesome God in a moment like this one day. A moment that shifts your paradigm about who God is in your life, that enlarges the territory of your heart in such a way that God becomes bigger and greater than you can imagine right now. He is awesome; He is permanent; He is your God. Now, let’s live a life of surrender and worship.

Drop of joy at the Pool of Bethesda

For many years I (Andrea) have been dealing with a physical issue. I remember sharing about it with a dear older woman at Open Door over 7 years ago when she asked about something she noticed in me. I politely told her about it and she said she would be praying specifically about that for me. On many occasions she has prayed for many things in my life. Tuesday, April 12 something happened that resulted in a great praise. We were visiting the Pools of Bethesda. It is a large rocky area where water gathered back in Jesus day. It is not hard to imagine what happened that day recorded in John 5:1-24. I will not recount this familiar story. But I will tell you my own story…

Each pastor on this trip had two devotionals to give. We had finished listening to Nasir share what God had put on his heart about healing. Both he and his wife have been miraculously healed by the Lord from shingles that almost took his life and blindness and MS that left her in a wheelchair. Today they are full-time ministers, whole and healed. He shared that the Holy Spirit is a force in our lives. I had this flip-flop sense in my gut and we rose to “get to the next location.” I asked our host if we had five minutes. He first said no, then sensing this was an unusual request, he called everyone over. I courageously asked for prayer for this physical issue that has plagued me for as long as I can remember. Tears were unashamedly streaming down my face. I followed up on what I sensed in my spirit that the Holy Spirit wanted to do at this very special place. These friends I had only known for a week, laid hands on me, surrounding me like a fortress, speaking truth over me. We prayed with faith believing for a miracle, just like what the lame man experienced 2,000 years ago. It was a sweet concert of loving conversation to the Father we share, who meets our every need. I surrendered that moment to the Lord and His perfect work in my life. The physical symptoms that were quite regular in the sort of circumstances we were in that day were gone. Hallelujah! I know God has touched me. Sometimes our obedience isn’t for us. Elsa reminded me of that when we continued on our journey of faith that day. God used my bold request to speak into her life. Believe me when I say I almost did not speak up. The temptation was so real to just shrug off Mark’s decision and maybe even believe that “this was not my time; I guess I heard wrong.” But, thank God, this dear brother in the Lord perceived in his spirit something more was happening at the Pools of Bethesda. It was after the prayer was over that I learned I was not the first to take a bold step of faith. Mark pointed across the stone courtyard to another spot where a pastor named Sam was healed from Parkinson’s on a trip like this one. Later on Sharon shared with me that when she opened her eyes after prayer, she was looking down and saw a single teardrop on the rocks below. It had not dried, and you could see the wet on the rock. In her spirit she sensed the Lord's affirmation for my surrender that day. We formed a choir at the small cathedral located just a few yards away from the pools. The acoustics were amazing as we sang “How Great Thou Art” with abandon. For HE truly is GREAT!

Bon Appetit!

Back in Jesus day the commerce happened in the marketplace. Vendors sold fresh fruits, clothing, articles needed for everyday life. We experienced the Arab market on the ground level today, a sea of people bartering, calling out about their products. It is a fascinating experience to dicker with these merchants. Pastor Jim is actually very good at it. If I had only known what a shopper he is… lol!
We came away with a new sense of this community and how life in Jerusalem still happens today. We even had our first “American food” in Israel since we’ve been here—pizza. And it was delicious! The food has been absolutely amazing. They use the freshest ingredients, lots of fresh vegetables, meats and cheeses. We were always commenting that we never used salt. It was unnecessary, not because the food was already salty, but because the unusual combination of spices and ingredients they used. We enjoyed the likes of spinach with apples and mango sauce, fresh fish from the Red Sea, crusty breads, multiple kinds of cheeses, smashed chickpeas rolled into balls and fried (called Falafel), just delightful combination of tastes.

Sometimes God asks us to try new things, to get a new taste of life in our “oatmeal as usual” existence. I am so glad I went into this trip with the mindset to try so many new things. May it be a ‘taste” of things yet to come! Shalom and, like they always say when they serve you a meal in Israel—“bon appetit!”

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Heartfelt Agony

It was a day of agony. It was not as you might think, however. We had a very packed schedule after the frolicking in the Dead Sea yesterday. Today, Pastor Jim shared some amazing insights in the Garden of Gethsemane about the agony that Christ went through there in the garden of olive trees. To see the gnarly, knotted trunks of olive trees dating back to Jesus day made my heart just skip. The olive tree is not a particularly beautiful tree. The trunk is not smooth like other trees in the US. It is a trunk of character. As much as Christ displayed great character and obedience going to the cross, the real battle of wills was won not on the cross, but right there in the Garden. If he has not made up in his mind to purpose to go the cross there in the Garden, the war of wills would have failed miserably before his complete and selfless obedience paid for all of our sin. Not one of us is excluded from this powerful vignette. The day ended with another scene of agony as we visited the Holocaust museum commemorating the tragedy of inconceivable proportions in Germany in the 1940’s. While the world watched, millions of Jews died needlessly, painfully and without a chance or a choice. The moving, sometimes graphic pictures and artifacts were haunting. At the end of the exhibit was a unique room: rows and rows of bound books cataloguing the names of those who died. A shaft of light streaming through a hole in the pinnacle of the ceiling with a dome full of 600 pictures—faces of those whose names are written in these books. They had no chance, their voices will never be heard again. The name of the museum is Yad Vashem, a reference to “remembering the names.” God brought a song into my mind after seeing this museum. It goes like this: He knows my name…He knows my every thought; He hears my cry and -----me when I call…..I have to believe that our merciful God heard everyone of those 6+ million cries. The question is did we?

Camels and Friends at the Dead Sea

It all started with a camel. The kind we saw on the sides of roadways near the Dead Sea. A couple of the pastors in our group wanted to get a ride and a picture with a camel. So, we stopped by the roadside on their curious behalf. While walking in the parking lot, Jim noticed a snakeskin wallet on the ground. I almost walked by it, but decided to pick it up; the credit card and the large wad of cash inside the wallet was a sure indication that the owner was not going to be happy. I looked to the van that was parked nearby; no one was looking for anything. I went into the gas station/food stand to see if anyone might be alarmed that they were missing the pouch. Not finding anyone our tour guide gave me several suggestions as to what was appropriate to do in his country. God had already spoken the urgency in my heart to return it to this person who appeared to be from Russia. With a name like Svetlana, I was fairly certain it would not be someone from the US. Remember I blogged earlier about being in the movies? This was certainly turning into some sort of drama. I counted the money; over $3,000 in cash! A lost wallet with a large wad of American bills, a credit card from a German bank, a Russian woman missing items that are critical to the success of her vacation. I still did not know anything about her, but I was determined to get this wallet and all of the money back to her quickly. Our host, Mark, savvy with his computer while riding the minibus back to Jerusalem, googled Svetlana's name and by the time we arrived had found out enough information to give us another clue as to where she maybe. He then sent her an email, hoping for the best. Maybe something she had in her wallet could also help us: a paper with a SIM card. Our guide had made arrangements for us to eat dinner out at a neighboring hotel…and it just so happened that his contact at that hotel is Russian who left when she was 5 years old. She was able to decipher the SIM card phone number information that was in the Ukrainian language and made a phone call on my behalf. No answer…bummer. After we got back from dinner, I asked the hotel if anyone knew Russian that worked there. I was connected with the operator, Ya’el. She was so helpful; she called the phone number and with success! She conferenced the call so that I could hear the conversation with Svetlana. Over the course of the next 20 minutes, arrangements were made for Svetlana to come to the hotel and pick up her very significant belongings. She was almost in tears that someone would actually return her wallet with all of its contents. Ya’el promised to follow up with her along the way until the money and credit card were safely in her hands. As I was writing this story tonight, I was prompted to go downstairs and do my own follow up with Ya’el. God had prompted me to bring a new silver beaded bracelet designed with two prayer box charms to Israel. I knew I was going to give it away here to someone. Tonight was my opportunity. As I headed downstairs on the elevator, I was so excited to see if she was still here. Yes; she was getting off her shift at 1 am and I could see her. With great joy, I told her I had something for her and that she was the answer to my prayers. I handed her the bracelet which she instantly admired. With eyes welling up with tears, she thanked me. There we were two women from two different nations, thankful that our paths had crossed. I know that God used her to find Svetlana…I could not do it by myself. I was thankful that God’s Holy Spirit prompted me to act and to give. God gave me back a sense of contentment and satisfaction knowing that I was obedient and it made a world of difference in two family’s lives. The blessing of this trip to Israel has been multiplied over and over. Svetlana gave me a reward which allowed us to have a little extra money in Israel to cover unexpected expenses. God knew that we had a need and He provided as I was obedient. Hallelujah to Jehovah, the God of Israel!

Uniqueness Experienced

Have you ever heard someone say, “My life is like a movie?” or “They ought to make a movie out of that?” Today was one of those days for Pastor Jim and I. Picture that old James Bond 007 movie starring Pierce Brosnan where 007 is riding a cable car with some oversized gold toothed guy trying to knock him off as the cable car is speeding along a cable suspended many kilometers above the hard ground. We were on that cable car today (well, not that exact one, but one such vehicle of transportation.) We visited the ruins of Masada, a community living high above the Judean desert near the Dead Sea that was just mind-boggling. You may recognize the main characters of this drama on the heights: King Herod (remember his tie to Jesus?) and the Jewish zealots. The effects and remains are unparalleled in geological significance. I wish we had a shekel for every time our guide said, “no where else in the world can you find…..!” The landscape is breathtaking; the water is as clear and spectacularly blue as any island south of the United States. But, no where else in the world, can you float in a lake which in 33% salt. Pastor Jim and I bobbed up and down like a cork in the ocean in the Dead Sea. It was truly effortless, and the water was even warm! Those of you who say, “I don’t float” need to try it out. This place called Israel really is a paradise of sorts, vastly diverse in landscape, temperature, culture and spiritual significance. There really is no where else in the world you can find what we are finding here. We are walking through history, truth written in books including the Word of God. We see, sense, taste, experience this land and her history and as a result are drawn into a deeper walk with God. Won’t you come along sometime and walk with us? It’s as close as your own quiet time and not a cable car, but a plane ride.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Day of Contrasts

Little did I know that today would be a day of distinction, discovering stark comparisons in many areas during our fourth day here in Israel. These disparities were not all glaring, some were very subtle. Yet all were woven together to form a tapestry of surprise. Just when I thought I saw one thing, my eyes were opened to see the contrast…. On our way from Tiberias through Cana (remember the story of contrast that occurred here—Jesus taking everyday water and changing it into not so everyday wine), we stopped at a real live re-creation of Nazareth. (Check out www.nazarethvillage.comThis plot of land was discovered and Nazareth Village was born. Amidst the bustling city of post-Jesus Nazareth, there was a 1st century farm which was uncovered. It included terraces for farming, stone buildings and even a lookout for a shepherd for his sheep. This was such an amazing experience to see how people actually lived in Jesus’ day. Each character was true to the period; even the children dressed and played from that time (sorry, no ipods or xbox here). As we left the simple lifestyle of that farm, we encountered the vast complex city of modern-day Nazareth. Simple to complex…contrast. The drive through the West Bank was a real eye-opener. The lush green hills gave way to less and less vegetation. The diversity was great. Our tour guide has said it was going to be like this. He was right. Where elevated green hills, trees of many kinds and beautiful flowers bloomed, dry desert tan earth abounded for miles. Some of our group took naps on the bus ride through this area. They were really shocked when they woke up to what looked like Death Valley….contrast. The Word talks about the last battlefield in Revelation. We stood at Megiddo, the valleys of the different “ites’ before us. Amidst the ruins of 26 civilizations, layered upon on another, rock horse troughs, and vast altars for sacrificing children called out to us to remember the vast contrast between the spiritual warfare of the day. Evil is always pitted against good; only in this case however, our good God will be victorious…contrast. Bedouins, the nomadic Palestinian people eeking out an existence in Israel set up primitive shacks on the land. Think homeless people in the US, in shanty towns. The drive between the Dead Sea at 1,500 feet below sea level and the Dome of the Rock at 400 plus feet above sea level gave us a panoramic view of the famous salty lake. The Bedouins homes were overshadowed as we got our first view of the Holy City. Multi-unit housing, high rises, congested neighborhoods, modern transportation instead of camels.…a land of great contrast. We drove and walked in the steps of Jesus today. Most days in the US, we are good to pause to take in the life of Christ written on the pages of the precious Word He so wisely gave to us. We have seen authentic locations where Christ did life everyday, in contrast to letters on pages of our Bibles that only speak of His amazing life and ministry. We are thoroughly taken by the reality of Scripture as we see it come to life here in Israel. It is more than words on a page, history in letters. We are thankful that these facts are written for us to further believe. Seeing, my friends, really is believing. This life-altering experience only highlights what we are now able to see because we have seen with our own eyes this amazing place.…contrast. May you see God with new eyes today. Shalom! Pastor Jim and Andrea