Saturday, July 21, 2012

We are now in Jerusalem, staying in the Ecce Homo Convent.  We have a wonderful view of much of the city.It is on the Via Dolorosa (the way of suffering).   It is Shabbot (the Jewish Sabbath).  Yesterday was the first full day of Ramadan for Islam.   There is much coming and going with the moslems going to the Temple Mount (the Dome of the Rock) and Jews going to the Wailing Wall for prayers.  On our last night in Nazareth, we attended an adoration at the Bassilica of the Anunciation. 
When the priest carried the "host" around the congregation, virtually all bowed.  Our friend Habib, stated that Catholics believe that the actual presence of Christ is among those gathered.  This is very similar to the Jewish belief that when the "Ark of the Covenant" is opened that the presence of God is there.  Both would believe that a priest or rabbi must intercede for the people.  We have only been in one mosque, (Abraham's mosque) in Hebron,  though the moslem practice of veneration of relics and religious objects appears much the same.
  This is in contrast to our biblical understanding that Christ entered the Holy place once for all and opened the way that all believers may commune and fellowship with God.   He is the mediator of the New Covenant  (Heb. 11).  Since Christ has done this, let us celebrate His work for us.
The religiosity of the people here is astounding, though it is only through Christ, (the living water, bread and word), that  man and women receive true life and peace.
Here in Jerusalem, a biblical passage (Ps. 84) became clearer.  Verse 5 says that "Blessed are those whose heart are set on pilgrimage, to Zion, as they pass thru the valley of Baka."  The psalmist likely meant the valleys of refreshment that pilgrims to Jerusalem would experience.  The key thought is the focus of going up to the temple.  As a Christian, my faith pilgrimage, must be focused on the exalted triumphant Christ, (Lord and Savior) who now dwells in the heavenly Zion.
  As we have traveled throughout Israel, and visited many geographical places, where events took place, the historical story of Jewish worshipers (including Jesus and his family) traveling to Jerusalem in this difficult climate is amazing.

A picture from Mt. of Olives looking towards Old Jerusalem at the Golden Gate.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

This is our final day in Nazareth.  We volunteered in the morning at Nazareth Village. Several of us worked at cleaning out donkey stalls.  It is unmercifully hot, the temp around 95 F with high humidity.
Yesterday was a very interesting day, with stops at Tel Dan, about 10 kilometers from the Lebanese border, Baniass, and Caesarea Maritama.
Tel Dan is an historical site from the time of Jeroboam, with an altar (the high place).  It was one of the places that he set up the bronze calves for the people to worship, so that they would not return to Jerusalem, and might politically follow Judah.  It is also the headwaters of the Jordan River, and even though this time of year is extremely hot and dry, it was very cool where the river paths were close to the water.

Baniass had a Roman temple, and is also thought to be the place where Peter made his confession of Christ as savior and messiah.  Jesus was in the area of Caesarea Philippi and asked Peter, who do men said that I am.  After Peter's response,  Jesus stated,  "You are Peter, the rock, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
This is most important.  Today a Jewish man heard us talking English, and asked,  "Are you Americans?"  After we identified ourselves, he said "Christians should continue to be faithful." When asked if he was a christian, he said, "o no" and pointed to his yarmulke,  but said the christian faith is dying in Israel. Christianity has a common element to Jewishness.  It has much similarity.
Part of the reason that it is dying in Israel, is the exodus of Arab Christians because of their difficult life.  They are being replaced in many former Christian neighborhoods by moslems.  Also the extensive settlement development also contributes to this decline.  The failure of the church is one of the more significant themes that I have contemplated for some time.  Here in Israel, the picture is clearer as to how the church deviated from the Kingdom that Christ announced.  Pastor Phil Kniss, (Park View) who is along on the trip purchased some Mustard Seed as a gift, for the congregation in New Orleans that they have been a sister congregation with .   The New Orleans church uses Mustard Seed as a symbol of how the Kingdom of God expands.

Here as we follow the history of the church, it is clear to see that it has not been driven  by the Kingdom of Heaven, Mustard Seed Parable (Matt. 13), but influenced by the kingdom of earth, ( power and might).

I will include a picture of  the Tel Dan high place and Nimrod's stronghold with Mt. Hermon on the left.

Monday, July 16, 2012

We are now in Nazareth-in the old city.  It has a distinctive Mediterranean feel.  The streets are very narrow and older building.  We are staying in the Fauzi Azar Inn.  It is more like a hostel and we are all sleeping in the same room which is o.k. but very warm, (there is no A.C.).  We have visited the Arbel cliffs which overlook the sea of Galilee and Zippori -named after the supposed burial site of Moses's wife. It is an excavated site and has a Roman road and floor mosaic's in houses and in the synagogue. Below is a floor mural picture.
Last weekend we stayed in the Jewish settlement Nokdim and observed Shabbot with our host family
 (Eiyal and Nina Shamir).  He is a scribe and we have a picture of him copying Tefilin (the frontlets between the eyes and carried on the arms, as well as scroll work.   There is a pic of him at work, copying a tefelin, (it contains two chapters in Exodus (God delivering them) and two in Deuteronomy (Hear O Israel).  We also had shabbot dinner with a another young couple (Hanani and Daniella). We had very good conversations with them.  They were polite and respectful and were interested in our lives. Our only tense conversation occurred when I asked about registering land and how it was done.
Their settlement is close to ancient Tekoa and there are Palestinians who live close by.  The land issue is central to the trouble between Jews and Arabs (a non jew whether Muslim or Christian).  Hanani said that we have right to the land since it was given to us by God.
In other meetings with various folks and the gentleman who set up our stay, incidents were recounted of murders that have happened over the last 30 years in the area (15).  They were determined to state that Jews treat the non jews fairly and that 99 plus percent of the non jewish population wants to coexist.  This differs from the story we heard when visiting the Nasser farm at Tent Of Nations- (name).  There story was the struggle to remain on the land even though they have land records that go back to the Ottoman rule.  The property is on a high hill, surrounded by other settlements on hills and Israel's settlement strategy is to build on hills for security reasons.  Hanani admitted that as one of the reasons land will be taken, (for security reasons).  The negative effect on the Palestinian villages is that it cuts them off and makes travel to other places very difficult because they need to by-pass where Israel controls entry.   The tension between Israel's right to the land and the injustice that has been imposed on non Jews is very real and difficult to sort out.  Many that we talked too support a one state solution, (particularly the Palestinians), although some progressive thinking Jews did as well.  Another aspect of our stay in the settlements was the sense of a deep and rich tradition, both religiously and culture wise that continues to shape their identity.  It is much deeper than many that we encounter in the states.  Probably most like the Old Order communities in the tradition sense.
Along with that is the story of Jewish migration back from all parts of the world and in the dozen plus persons that we had an audience with, that was their story of return from South America, the States,
South Africa, Europe, Ethiopia, and North Africa.  It is a phenomenon that can only be explained as having biblical, and providential origins.

Above is a picture of a Zipporri floor mural,  Eiyal, the scribe at work, and a picture of the Judean Desert near Nokdim.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Today we walked through the security wall at Bethlehem, to experience what Palestinians do each time they want to cross.  One can understand the security to a point, after dealing with suicide bombers, but the difficulty this poses to the average Palestinian is unbelievable.  Our host family has strong opinions about Israeli practices and intentions.  It will be interesting to talk with the Israeli settlers at our next home stay. 

Our Bible era studies portion, involved visiting Qumran, (Picture) where all the Old Testament scrolls except for Esther were found.  It was about 108 F and how men could have lived here is incredible.
We stopped at the Jordan River,(Picture) where Jesus was baptized by John.                                      We then went to Jericho,(a picture of an old Sycamore-fig tree like the one Zacchaeus would have climbed to see Jesus), and saw the archeology of the various periods in its history.  It is proclaimed as the oldest city in the world.  We also climbed 3/4 of the way up the Mt. of Temptation, where Jesus was tempted after fasting for forty days.

Monday, July 9, 2012

We have been here in the West Bank for two days, and have experienced many things,from the encroachment of Israeli settlers on what is Palestinian land to visiting many sites in the Bible.    We saw yesterday the area where the lord appeared to Abraham and Sarah.  Seeing it now is hard to comprehend it happening.  We also have seen some of the tremendous constructions that Herod the Great accomplished obviously with many servants.  The building of three large water pools and the aqueducts that run for approximately 12 miles.  We have also seen way to many young Israeli soldiers patrolling vacant streets or at checkpoints.  Walking an empty street in Hebron which is off limits to Palestinians and encountering a patrol with automatic rifles is unnerving. 
Our host family of Orthodox origin is very gracious and the wife is a wonderful cook.
I will add a picture.   Solomon's pool built by Herod  the Great.

Rich and Lois

Thursday, July 5, 2012

This is a picture of the Miller's on last weekend's quilt tour in Kalona