Christmas Week – The Cast: JESUS

He was

and is

and is to come

 

Always God,

never began

 

Infinitely wise

 

He,

Father

Son

Holy Spirit

 

– One together –

chose us

 

before the beginning of the world

 

And He knew of the sacrifice

before He even made us

 

The selfless

and the painful

sacrifice

 

for we would need rescuing

before all was said and done

 

And, God,

in relationship with Himself

 

gave us His Son

and told us He would be called Jesus

 

for He would be the Salvation

everyone would need

 

He would save us all

from our sins

 

And we would not hold Him

in high esteem

 

nor love Him like we should

 

He would be introduced into this world

in the humblest way

 

for that is His nature,

humble of spirit

 

And the angels who have always known Him

marveled that He would

 

do this thing

for those such as us

 

The angels would praise

and glorify

and announce the King who was a child!

 

And prepare those closest

to this infant

 

so they would know the gravity

of the appearance of God

 

But non could have fathomed

the greatness

and boundless love

 

of this One and only God

made flesh

 

Before time, His was the earth

as His footstool

 

His was heaven beautiful

and pure

 

His was the universe

and everything in it

 

and yet…

 

He became nothing,

poured out for all

 

And so,

He is Jesus

 

The greatest of The Cast

in this true story

 

Tiny baby human

completely Divine

 

But, hear this!

 

The next cast member

is you!

 

for you are part of this story as well

the story of humanity in time

 

seen by an infinite God

 

What will you do with this Savior

of all mankind?

 

There is no neutral,

for He came for all

 

You must choose to accept

or your choice is already made

 

Choose Jesus’ love,

dear friend

 

Choose the One

who came for you

 

 

– Susie Stewart

 

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, He was named Jesus, the name the angel had given Him before He was conceived.

– Luke 2:1-21 (NIV)

 

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.

– Isaiah 9:2 (NIV)

 

For to us a child is born,
    to us a Son is given,
    and the government will be on His shoulders.
And He will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of His government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over His kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

– Isaiah 9:6,7 (NIV)

 

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

– John 3:16 (NIV)

 

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage;
rather, He made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    He humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place
    and gave Him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

– Philippians 2:6-11 (NIV)

 

 

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem.

– Isaiah 53:3 (NIV)

 

Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes.

– Ephesians 1:4 (NLT)

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Week – The Cast: Mary

My mind could barely grasp

the words I was hearing

 

An angel of God, Gabriel,

stood before me!

 

his presence overwhelming

bold

and beautiful

 

His words were like liquid gold

flowing,

 

“Greetings, you who are highly favored!

The Lord is with you.”

 

I struggled with his declaration

and I was troubled deep

 

But the heavenly being assured me

and calmed my fears

 

And then

the words I will never forget,

 

“You will conceive

and give birth

to a son

and you are to call Him

Jesus…”

 

Such confusion filled my head

but I knew in my inmost being

that this was from God

 

“He will be great

and will be called

the Son of the Most High.

The Lord God

will give Him the throne

of His father David,

and He will reign

over Jacob’s descendants

forever;

His kingdom will never

end.”

 

So many thoughts

but only one question,

simple and to the point

 

“How will this be

since I am a virgin?”

 

Without hesitation

the angel replied,

 

“The Holy Spirit will come on you,

and the power of the Most High

will overshadow you.

So the Holy One to be born

will be called

the Son of God.”

 

My Son

would be God’s Son?

 

I did not understand

but I knew God could be trusted

 

and I trusted

 

Gabriel’s parting words were,

“No word from God will ever fail.”

 

And with a heart full of joy

and a womb blessed,

I replied,

 

“May your word to me be fulfilled.”

 

I rushed to my cousin’s home

in the hill country of Judea

 

for the angel told me my aged relative

had conceived as well!

 

As I greeted Elizabeth

we both felt pure joy

and a knowing

 

that this moment

was profound

 

Baby John leaped in his mother’s womb

as the presence my Jesus was felt

 

And Elizabeth, too, was filled

with Holy Spirit fire!

 

The first of many

to worship my Divine

God-conceived

Son

 

My heart and mind

treasured the moment

 

Elizabeth shouted these words,

“Blessed are you among women,

and blessed is the child

you will bear!”

 

She knew!

Without a word from me

 

and I was humbled

by the exclamation

 

Elizabeth told me

I was blessed

 

for I had believed the Lord would fulfill

His promises to me

 

and I pondered what was said

and hoped

 

that all women would believe

the Lord’s promises

 

My spirit soared

and I spoke these words,

 

“My soul glorifies the Lord

and my spirit rejoices

in God my Savior,

for He has been mindful

of the humble state

of His servant.

From now on all generations

will call me blessed,

for the Mighty One

has done great things for me –

holy is His Name.

His mercy extends

to those who fear Him,

from generation

to generation.

He has performed mighty deeds

with His arm;

He has scattered

those who are proud

in their inmost thoughts.

He has brought down rulers

from their thrones,

but has lifted up

the humble.

He has filled the hungry

with good things

but has sent the rich away

empty.

He has helped His servant Israel,

remembering to be merciful

to Abraham and His descendants

forever,

just as He promised

our ancestors.”

 

I was at peace

with God’s plan for me

 

and I stayed with my sweet cousin

for three months

 

for that support of my relative

would help strengthen my heart

 

for what was to come

when I returned home…

 

the ridicule

the scorn

the gossip

the pain…

 

My betrothed,

so loving and kind,

couldn’t bear the news

that I was with child

 

without him…

 

He planned to cut ties with me privately

so as not to disgrace me publicly

 

But the Lord’s eye never left me

and an angel visited Joseph as well

 

to confirm the promises made to me

 

and we became man and wife,

my beloved and I

 

I treasured the days

of my Son growing inside me

 

singing lullabies

to God

 

I rejoiced at my cousin giving birth

to John, my Son’s forerunner and prophet

 

A census was required

and so

Joseph and I traveled to Bethlehem

 

the journey long and difficult

 

While we were there

it came time for our boy to be born

 

We searched everywhere

for just one room

 

but there was none

 

We were ushered into a place

meant for animals

 

It was unfathomable to me

that God’s Son might be born

in these circumstances

 

but there was no room

for us anywhere but here

 

So there,

in humble surroundings,

my child

and God’s child

was born

 

The pain

the blood spilt

the miracle

 

I had never seen anyone

so beautiful

 

I wrapped Him tightly

in clothes

 

and because there was no bed

I laid Him in an trough for animals

 

He, nonetheless, radiated light

and joy and glory

 

yet humility….

 

I could scarce take it all in

 

My mother’s heart treasured every moment

even as I lay exhausted from labor

 

My first experience

with the miracle of birth

was a holy moment

 

and I looked to the future with my God-Child,

unknowing of what that might look like

 

yet trusting God knew,

and I was His

 

– Susie Stewart

 

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; His kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women,and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for He has been mindful
    of the humble state of His servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is His name.
His mercy extends to those who fear Him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with His arm;
    He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as He promised our ancestors.”

 

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

…In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a Son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

– Luke 1:26-56; 2:1-17 (NIV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Week – The Cast: Joseph

We were pledged to one other,

Mary and I

 

and we longed for the day

when we would be man and wife

 

I loved her,

this young girl with dark eyes

 

and a heart full of God

 

Mary was my faithful betrothed,

she was the one I could trust

 

until one day…

 

She came to me

and, with trembling voice,

told me she was with child

 

and my heart broke in two

 

It was beyond my comprehension

that she would make this choice

 

this choice with so many consequences…

 

but my love for her

eclipsed my anger and disappointment

 

I planned to break our engagement,

a divorce of sorts,

 

so as not to embarrass

or shame the woman I loved

 

But God has a way

of stopping us just in time,

sometimes

 

and I heard from Him

in an unimaginable way!

 

One of God’s magnificent angels

visited me in a dream!

 

He told me not to be afraid

to take Mary as my wife

 

and that the baby growing in her

was placed there by the Holy Spirit!

 

The angel said that it would be a boy

and that I was to name Him Jesus!

 

because He would save His people

from their sins

 

As soon as I awoke

I was on my way

 

I ran immediately to my betrothed

and shared with her my love

 

and the beautiful message

she already knew in her heart

 

We would endure

the ridicule

the scorn

the gossip

the accusations

 

TOGETHER

 

for we knew that no matter what,

God was for us

 

I committed to her, and to God,

that we would not truly become husband and wife

 

in every sense of the word

until our son was born

 

But to everyone else

she became my wife

 

We traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem,

for I was of the house of David

 

and there our son was born,

ours and God’s

 

I wanted so much more for my small family

but because of the census, so many people flocked to this town

 

and my precious son was born

and laid in an animal’s trough

 

for there was no space for us

in a decent room

 

Surroundings aside,

I could not take my eyes off of this miracle child

 

and I could not have been more joyful

or more proud of this boy

 

who was not of my seed,

for God was with us

 

And I would dedicate myself

to raise this Divine Son along with His siblings

 

in a way honoring

the deity He was

and is

and is to come

 

– Susie Stewart

 

 

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement  quietly.

As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through His prophet:

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
    She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
    which means ‘God is with us.’”

 

When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

 
– Matthew 1:18-25 (NLT)

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.  (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

– Luke 2:1-7 (NLT)

 

 

Christmas Week – The Cast: Magi

I am considered wise

and knowledgeable

 

My life has been spent learning,

and handing out advice

 

I am one of many wise men

who traveled from the east

 

to see the One born

King of the Jews

 

We were compelled to see Him,

to worship Him

 

for a star rose in the sky

and we knew we must follow it

 

We traveled far,

the weightiness of our mission spurring us on

 

In time, we were intercepted

by a jealous king

 

Herod and his people

were afraid and disturbed because of the unkown

 

We, on the other hand, were filled with joy

and discovery curiosity

 

King Herod brought together

Jewish priests and teachers

 

and asked them where

this Messiah was to be born

 

Bethlehem of course

for that is prophecy’s place

 

for Messiah’s birth

 

Summoned then, by this jealous king,

we were asked when the star appeared in the sky

 

and he sent us on our way

to find this one-of-a-kind child

 

We did not believe Herod when he said

he wanted to also worship this Messiah

 

for we could see it in his eyes

that he did not believe in the child’s purpose

 

My joy grew as I saw the star once again in the sky

and we all knew to follow it

 

each step anticipating

Immanuel

 

And there He was in His home

with His mother Mary

 

I, and the other magi, lay prostrate

before the King of Kings so small

 

We worshiped Him

 

And we laid our treasures

at His feet

 

Gold

Frankincense

Myrrh

 

Earthly riches

Heavenly child

 

And we returned to our homes in the east

filled and satisfied

with having witnessed

 

the Son of God

 

– Susie Stewart

 

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship Him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
    are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
    who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find Him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship Him, too!”

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with His mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

– Matthew 2:1-12 (NLT)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Week – The Cast: A Shepherd

Why would the starry heavens open

to reveal glory

 

to someone

such as me?

 

I tell you,

I know not why

 

But that is what happened

one unforgettable night

 

just outside of Bethlehem

 

It was a beautiful, clear night

as we watched our flocks closely

 

We live out in the wilderness

away from the town and the people

 

It was just us

and it was just the sheep

 

But God

noticed

us

 

Believe me when I tell you,

He sent angels

 

lit with His glory and light!

 

They were as prisms

radiating pure white color

 

We were overwhelmed

and terrified

and humbled

and awestruck

 

One of them spoke,

“Do not be afraid!”

 

This angel of the Lord

spoke to us!

 

He was bringing us great news

and he said it would bring great joy

 

for ALL PEOPLE!

 

Humble shepherds

told this important news

 

for all the world…

it was more than we could take in

 

But then I thought…

 

about how the Scriptures said

that the Lord is the good Shepherd

 

…The LORD

is the good Shepherd….

 

and I thought that just maybe

He truly cared about lowly shepherds

 

and small sheep….

 

The angel then revealed news

that we could hardly believe

 

He told us that in David’s home town

of Bethlehem

 

the Messiah had actually been born!

The Lord!

 

And he told us how to find Him

 

Imagine,

the Messiah Lord

being born…

 

and he was wrapped in swaddling,

just as a baby should be

 

or a person ready for burial…

 

But just as we wanted to jump up

and find this small King…

 

the entire sky lit up

with the glory of many angels!!

 

So many

we couldn’t count!

 

We shielded our eyes

but we couldn’t look away

 

The most beautiful sight

we had ever seen!

 

They were praising God,

of course they were!

 

And we bowed low

as we struggled to take it all in

 

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.”

 

The most inspiring, true words

I had ever heard

 

When they left we took a breath,

stunned to our very core

 

and we got up and ran into David’s town

to see what the Lord had told us

 

There we found Him,

the infant King just born

 

and the God of promise

solidified His oath

 

to bring us the One to save us,

the people of frail earth

 

And we had to tell all,

for everyone needed to know

 

about love Divine

Messiah small

 

Hope for all the world

 

– Susie Stewart

 

 

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize Him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing Him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

– Luke 2:8-20 (NLT)

 

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    He leads me beside peaceful streams.
  He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to His name.
Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever.

– Psalm 23:1-6 (NLT)

 

 

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

– John 20:11 (NIV)

 

I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me,

– John 10:14 (NLT)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jericho Has a Gondola?

Hey Everyone!  I intended to blog everyday, and tried, but I just didn’t have the time, energy, or bandwidth to be able to.  So I will do my best to recapture each day, if not only for myself, to keep the memories alive.  This was the most special trip I’ve ever been on. Profound is an understatement.

Our hotel, the Ma’agan Eden Kibbutz Village on the Sea of Galilee was very beautiful, as you can see by these photos.  This is a Kibbutz, which is a communal living cluster of homes and occupations.  The hotel is part of it.

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What these photos don’t really show you is the sweeping view of the Sea of Galilee.  Taking that in was so beautiful.  Tiberius was right across the lake through the haze.  This time of year typically has a lot of haze.

It was interesting to observe Jews as families living and vacationing together.  A wonderful sense of community and togetherness.

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From this resort we headed out for a day of touring.

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As we were driving around in our bus we would often see huge groves of banana palms covered in a massive box of netting to speed up growth and preserve as much water as possible inside.

We headed to Capernaum (or as our tour guide Daniel referred to it, Ca-per-na-HOOM), first thing this day because it can be one of the hotter places.  Jesus spent two years here.

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We walked around and in the area of where the synagogue was.  You can see the difference in the color of stone from ancient times to more recent.  In Jesus’ day the stone was at the bottom, darker, volcanic.

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Being in Capernaum thrilled my heart.  I imagined Christ walking in this town, spending time with people, teaching, and healing.  He healed Peter’s mother most likely in this spot a modern-day church has been built over.  We spent some time praying in the church.

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We looked out at the water from Capernaum and stood with a statue of Peter with the inscription, “Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my church.” ~ Matthew 16

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We then drove through Tiberius.  What a cool town on the hills of the lake!  Andy was kind of obsessing over Tiberius.

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On to the Mount of Beatitudes!  Catholics have made this site, thought to be the place where Jesus spoke the Beatitudes, into a very beautiful spot to visit and worship in.

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By the way, we were very blessed to have Bob Siegel and his wife Dana along with us.  Bob is extremely knowledgeable in all things Bible and has his own radio program (bobsiegel.net).  He spoke to us on descending stairs as Jesus would have spoken to the people on that hill, being at the bottom of the group. The Missions Pastor from our church, Crossroads Community Church, who did such a great job of leading our entire group to the Holy Land, is standing next to Bob teaching.  Bob is his brother-in-law.

As we drove away from the Galilee area and headed south to the desert, I though a lot about how it would be to travel in the hot sun through these parts.  Not an easy thing.  Below is when we passed over one part of the Jordan River.

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As we followed along the Jordan River path, we were right next to the border with Syria and with Jordan.  You can see the security fences in the photos below.  It was sobering to see first hand what the Jews need to do in order to protect themselves from hostile neighbors.

Trees planted always made a stark contrast with the rocky desert.  Did you know that in the last 100 years, Jews have planted over 200 million trees in Israel?  It adds so much!

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One of the most shocking things for me during this day, was seeing Jericho.  In all my imaginings growing up, I did not expect Jericho to look like this!  Aaannd, modern day Jericho has a gondola!  Who knew?!

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In Jericho we stopped for lunch at the Sultana Restaurant.  When we stepped off the bus it was 117 degrees and when we left it was 119.  What?!?!  The food was delicious and I especially loved this dessert.  The staff of the restaurant were entertaining and made even our meal a drama.  One of our team members, Carlie, was used as a model to demonstrate a dead sea mud mask that you take off with a magnet!

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This man asked us if we wanted to buy a flying carpet.  🙂

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One thing I didn’t realize before visiting Jericho is how close in proximity it is to the Dead Sea.  All such a barren desert area.

Our guide brought our attention to a monastery cut into the mountains where they have kept the skulls of priests for hundreds of years, and to a very old sycamore tree like the one Zachaeus climbed.

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As we headed to Jerusalem, large areas that have held refugees were also pointed out to us.

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We saw surprising Jewish settlements in Arab areas, like this one on the hill.

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Bedouin camps camps at the foot of mountains.

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and Palestinian neighborhoods

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I was struck by the differences in Arab and Jewish neighborhoods.

We drove steeply uphill through the desert until we got to

Jerusalem!

What a vast, interesting, beautiful place.

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We overlooked the city from a place where many names were recorded of people who had given over a million dollars to help enhance and build Jerusalem.  One of the names you might recognize – Steven Spielberg.  Many Jews from all over the world contribute generously to furthering the building, education, agriculture, and more.

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Not far from this site, was Bethlehem.  We overlooked the city and the hills where the shepherds saw the angels at night.  It looked nothing like I had imagined.  I felt thankful to see what it was really like.  Bethlehem is a town that is mostly muslim now, which also surprised me.

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I took a small piece of this hyssop plant and brought it home.  It has a very strong scent.

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” ~ Psalm 51:7

“Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning.” ~ Exodus 12:22

“A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  When He had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.”

– John 19:29-30 

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This was a sharp, beautiful thistle, and a ginormous aloe vera plant.

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As if all of this wasn’t enough to fill a day, we got to go to a portion of the Jordan River and get baptized!  How wonderful is that?

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Thank you to Bob and Guy for baptizing us!  And thank You Jesus for giving us a reason to testify to new life in You!

 

We capped it all off with a night out near the Old City at a happenin’ mall.  We happened to be there for a light show and presentation.  The old is mixed with the new in so many amazing ways in this city.

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My favorite part of the evening was watching people dancing in the streets together.  It was joyful and just made me happy.

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So!  Believe it or not, that was all in one day!  The whole week the Israel Tour Company did such a phenomenal job making sure we experienced everything we intended to experience with the longer stay.  I’m so grateful.  Onto the next day!

 

I rejoiced with those who said to me,
    “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Our feet are standing
    in your gates, Jerusalem.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
    “May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
    and security within your citadels.”

– Psalm 122:1,2,6,7 (NIV)

 

Photos by Susie Stewart