Next Israel Tour Begins This Weekend!

I am excited for what God has in store for us on this next Israel tour. God has brought together 90 people for this next trip. It will be co-lead by Gordon Govier (biblical archaeology correspondent for Christianity Today magazine and editor of ARTIFAX magazine) and Pastor David Simon from North Carolina. Both Gordon and David have traveled with us before! For me, this will be my 60th Israel trip.

The Itinerary

Old City of Jerusalem

The Old City of Jerusalem

The itinerary we wrote for this trip is quite extensive! We head south first (through the Shephelah and Negev). We even spend one night in the Judean Desrt (Hanokdim) before climbing the Roman ramp at Masada the following morning.

We then head north through the Samaritan Hill Country to the Galilee area. The life of Christ comes into full view here!  We plan to stay for 3 nights on the southern end of the Sea of Galilee.

The trip ends in Jerusalem, with many unique experiences that await us here over the course of four full days. We plan to participate in the Temple Mount Sifting Project. We are even in this capital city of Israel when the US Embassy is supposed to move here. It should be an exciting (and crowded) time!

All-in-all, we will see about 60 biblical sites! Daily posts will be made about the trip to allow you to follow our day-to-day experiences.

Hikes

The Zin desert

The Desert / Canyon of Zin (Numbers 13)

A number of hikes are included on this trip as well. This includes hiking up and down many off-the-beaten-track archaeological sites (Gezer, Qeiyafa, Gath, Lachish, Arad, Avdat, Omrit, Gamla, Hippos, etc…) but also hiking in the Zin Desert, up the Roman ramp at Masada, to Cave 1 at Qumran, and up Arbel in the Galilee. We’ll even enjoy a 30 minute camel ride in the Judean Desert.

Pray for the group

Sunset Sea of Galilee

Sunset on the Sea of Galilee

So please follow us and pray for life-changing encounters over these next two weeks. The tour begins Saturday, with arrival in Israel on Sunday. The tour ends May 18th.

Shalom Shalom!

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Easter Hope

The garden tomb

The Garden Tomb, Jerusalem

The centerpiece of our Christian faith is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We call it our Easter hope! The wonderful words of the angel at the tomb says it all – “He is not here!  He is risen! (Matthew 28:6).”  If an ossuary (a small stone box containing the bones of the deceased person) would ever been found complete with the name of Yeshua on the outside and the bones of Jesus inside as Paul said, “our faith would then be futile (1 Corinthians 15:17).”  But that wasn’t the case!  The tomb was empty, not because of the body of the Savior being stolen nor because His followers hallucinated or made up the story. The tomb was empty because Jesus was literally raised to life.

In Israel, 100s of Second Temple Tomb (tombs dating to the 1st century) have been found. About 2 dozen tombs have actually been found in and around the Holy Sepulcher Church.  In my humble opinion, this is the most likely area of Christ’s tomb, in contrast to the Garden Tomb, which although is a much nicer atmosphere to consider the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection, is not a 1st century tomb but rather a classic 1st Temple (Iron Age) tomb.  But we worship the Person, not the place.  And we honor not merely tradition, but historical truth, and reality of Christ’s resurrection.

3 Tomb Reconstruction copyThe most likely type of Second Temple Tomb Jesus was laid in on Friday afternoon was an arcasolium tomb.  The most common type of tomb during the period of the New Testament was the koch (kochim, plural) or niche tomb.  However, it seems as if they angels in the resurrection story couldn’t sit at the feet and head of Christ (John 20:12) within a narrow and elongated niche tomb. Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb was a newly-hewn tomb (Matthew 27:60), and must have been a tomb of prominence. What a dramatic event it must have been for the women at the tomb who were told by the angels of Christ’s resurrection! What an amazing experience also for Peter and John who ran to the tomb shortly after!

Flowers at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem

Flowers at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem

So today, all the Christian world rejoices in the resurrection of Jesus! Easter lilies stand tall in celebration! Easter flowers bloom brilliantly as a sign of life!  May our lives also radiate the hope and joy of Christ’s resurrection!

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Our Redeemer Lives!

 

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The God of Abraham Praise

The God of Abraham PraiseI love the role music plays in our spiritual walk with God. God uses the power of the words and the beauty of the melody to speak to our hearts. Music is a blessing!

One hymn I have always enjoyed is The God of Abraham Praise. Both the words and the tune match well in my humble opinion. The words actually have a Jewish root. They originate from around 1400 AD from something called The Yig­dal of Dan­i­el ben Ju­dah, a Jew­ish judge in Rome. The lyr­ics are based on the 13 creeds of Mos­es Mai­mon­i­des (1130-1204). These words would later be par­a­phrased by Thom­as Ol­iv­ers around 1765 AD. The song and accompanying melody (also a Jewish tune) first ap­peared in The Gos­pel Mag­a­zine in Ap­ril 1775.

The God of Abraham PraiseMost hymnals which include this song only list 3 or 4 of the verses. However, there was originally 12 verses. Here are the words of this hymn ancient song written with Jewish lyrics that praise the God of Abraham:

The God of Abraham praise, who reigns enthroned above;
Ancient of everlasting days, and God of Love;
Jehovah, great I AM! by earth and Heav’n confessed;
I bow and bless the sacred Name forever blessed.

The God of Abraham praise, at Whose supreme command
From earth I rise—and seek the joys at His right hand;
I all on earth forsake, its wisdom, fame, and power;
And Him my only Portion make, my Shield and Tower.

The God of Abraham praise, whose all sufficient grace
Shall guide me all my happy days, in all my ways.
He calls a worm His friend, He calls Himself my God!
And He shall save me to the end, thro’ Jesus’ blood.

He by Himself has sworn; I on His oath depend,
I shall, on eagle wings upborne, to Heav’n ascend.
I shall behold His face; I shall His power adore,
And sing the wonders of His grace forevermore.

Tho’ nature’s strength decay, and earth and hell withstand,
To Canaan’s bounds I urge my way, at His command.
The wat’ry deep I pass, with Jesus in my view;
And thro’ the howling wilderness my way pursue.

The goodly land I see, with peace and plenty bless’d;
A land of sacred liberty, and endless rest.
There milk and honey flow, and oil and wine abound,
And trees of life forever grow with mercy crowned.

There dwells the Lord our King, the Lord our righteousness,
Triumphant o’er the world and sin, the Prince of peace;
On Sion’s sacred height His kingdom still maintains,
And glorious with His saints in light forever reigns.

He keeps His own secure, He guards them by His side,
Arrays in garments, white and pure, His spotless bride:
With streams of sacred bliss, with groves of living joys—
With all the fruits of Paradise, He still supplies.

Before the great Three-One they all exulting stand;
And tell the wonders He hath done, through all their land:
The list’ning spheres attend, and swell the growing fame;
And sing, in songs which never end, the wondrous Name.

The God Who reigns on high the great archangels sing,
And “Holy, holy, holy!” cry, “Almighty King!
Who was, and is, the same, and evermore shall be:
Jehovah—Father—great I AM, we worship Thee!”

Before the Savior’s face the ransomed nations bow;
O’erwhelmed at His almighty grace, forever new:
He shows His prints of love—they kindle to a flame!
And sound thro’ all the worlds above the slaughtered Lamb.

The whole triumphant host give thanks to God on high;
“Hail, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” they ever cry.
Hail, Abraham’s God, and mine! (I join the heav’nly lays,)
All might and majesty are Thine, and endless praise.

The words are a powerful testimony of God and His Being. He deserves our praise!

Here is a beautify piano rendition of the song performed by Fernando Ortega.

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Israel… Whose Land Is It?

Israeli settlements

A Jewish community in the so-called “West Bank.”

In referring to the physical land of Israel, the question “Whose land is it?” has been a popular one among world leaders, politicians, and even theologians and pastors. Some would argue that the whole peace process is based on being able to answer this one question. In some ways, it is complicated in terms of defining modern borders in a very ancient region of the world. In other ways, it is quite simple: We have one group of people (the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, or PA) who don’t want peace and who wishes for the total destruction of another group of people, Jewish Israelis. Very simply (and sadly), the PA doesn’t want peace with Jews (it’s in their Charter), while the Israelis want peace for everyone!

About this issue of land and so-called “settlements,” I came across a very interesting article written by Rachel Avraham. Rachel, a Jew, lives in one of these Jewish communities (a much better term than “settlements”) in the biblical region called Samaria (called the “West Bank” today). Her own experiences and perspectives are very interesting and insightful.

Jewish settlements, West Bank map

A map of Judea & Samaria (called the “West Bank” today).

Here is what Rachel Avraham (in a Jerusalem Online article) said –

Nevertheless, despite Israeli lobbying on the issue, US Secretary of State John Kerry also appears to think that the settlements are an obstacle to peace and make the two-state solution very difficult to implement: “The facts speak for themselves. The number of settlers in the roughly 130 Israeli settlements east of the 1967 lines has steadily grown. The settler population in the West Bank alone not including East Jerusalem has increased by nearly 270,000 since Oslo including 100,000 just since 2009 when President Obama’s term began. This is not to say that the settlements are the whole or even primary cause of the conflict. Of course, they are not. Nor can you say that if they were removed, you would have peace without a broader agreement. You would not. And we understand that in a final status agreement, certain settlements would become part of Israel to account for the changes that have occurred over the last 49 years including the new demographic realities on the ground. But if more and more settlers are moving into the middle of Palestinian areas, it is going to be that much harder to separate, that much harder to imagine transferring sovereignty and that is exactly the outcome that some are accelerating.”

“However, supporters of Israel often point out that the Fourth Geneva Convention specifically refers to belligerent occupations and the forceful transfer of people, not the voluntary transfer of civilians to areas that previously belonged to the Jewish people throughout the history that were recaptured during a war of self-defense.   They emphasize that Israel only regained the areas after the 1967 War, which was initiated only after Egyptian and Syrian troops amassed along the Israeli border, former Egyptian President Abdul Gamal Nasser ordered the withdrawal of UN forces, closed off the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and engaged in incitement on a daily basis and Jordanian forces attacked Israel. Furthermore, they note that the Mandate for Palestine that includes Judea and Samaria as well as East Jerusalem, which was incorporated into international law by the League of Nations at the Sam Remo Conference in 1922, recognized ‘the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine’ and sought to ‘encourage close settlement by Jews on the land.” According to UN official documents, all League of Nations resolutions are also valid for the UN.

In addition, when Jordan conquered the West Bank and Egypt took over Gaza, no one recognized their rights to these lands and at that time, there was no movement to establish a Palestinian state.  Furthermore, when Israel made peace with both Jordan and Egypt, both countries gave up their claims to these territories. Given this, the Israeli side argues that the pre-existing Palestine Mandate resolution that permits Jews to settle in the area is still valid for these areas and therefore the international community has no legal basis to tell Jews not to settle in areas over the green line.  As Professor Eugene Rostow, a former US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, has written: “The Jewish right of settlement in the area is equivalent in every way to the right of the local population to live there.”

“In legal terms, the West Bank is best regarded as territory over which there are competing claims which should be resolved in peace process negotiations – and indeed both the Israeli and Palestinian sides have committed to this principle,” the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs proclaimed. “Israel has valid claims to title in this territory based not only on the historic Jewish connection to, and long-time residence in this land, its designation as part of the Jewish state under the League of Nations Mandate, and Israel’s legally acknowledged right to secure boundaries but also due to the fact that the territory was not previously under the legitimate sovereignty of any state and came under Israeli control in a war of self-defense. At the same time, Israel recognizes that the Palestinians also entertain claims to this area. It is for this reason that the two sides have expressly agreed to resolve all outstanding issues, including the future of the settlements, in direct bilateral negotiations to which Israel remains committed.”

Jewish settlement or community in Judea

A Jewish community in the region of Judea

I think Rachel’s perspectives are grounded not only upon her own experiences, but with a good grasp of history as well. In answering the question, “Whose land is it?,” facts really do matter!  Sadly, one side (the PA) don’t care about facts. And until this changes (along with the hate for Jews), there will be no peace.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem & Israel. Pray for peace for Arabs and Jews alike!

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New Hallelujah (Christmas Version)

kaylee new hallelujahMerry Christmas everyone!

The day has arrived and we celebrate God’s redemptive history fulfilled in the coming of Christ!

The New Hallelujah song is no doubt familiar to almost everyone. If you have heard it before, you’ll recognize a bit of a twist on the words. I think you will enjoy this “Christmas version” of the song.

I also think you will enjoy who sings the song. The song is sung by a young girl named Kaylee and an accompanying children’s choir from the Killard House, Donaghadee, UK. According to their mission statement, Killard House is a “co-educational controlled school providing for children and young people with additional special educational needs. These include moderate learning difficulties, speech and language difficulties and autistic spectrum disorder.”  Kaylee has an incredible voice and sings with such poise!

To listen to Kaylee and this choir sing this song is quite inspiring!  It is truly remarkable!

Merry Christmas!

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O Little Town of Bethlehem

Church of nativity

The Church of Nativity in Bethlehem

MERRY CHRISTMAS! Bethlehem during the Christmas season is a festive place to be! Today, the city has a population o 20,000 or so (with adjoining neighboring cites – Beit Sahour and Beit Jaja adding a few more thousand), of which about 80-85% are Arab Muslims, and 15-20% or Arab Christians. There is a small but very strong evangelical presence in Bethlehem. The Bethlehem Bible College has held its own despite the deceasing Christian population. Be sure to continually pray for our Christian Arab brothers and sisters living in this ancient birth-place of Christ!

In this brief blog today, enjoy a video peek of Bethlehem and the Church of Nativity (one of the oldest churches in the world!). Manger Square will be quite active tonight (Christmas Eve) with choirs all over the world performing and services taking place.

Merry Christmas!

VIDEO:

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Silent Night, O Holy Night

Silent night ChristmasSilent Night is a carol that is used to conclude virtually every Christmas Eve service. The carol was written in 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber to lyrics by Joseph Mohr in the small town of Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria. Just  few years earlier (1816), Mohr had already written the lyrics of the song “Stille Nacht.”  The last verse contains the wonderful message of redemption –

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

Today, the carol has been translated into 140 languages. In fact, one of the special moments on each and every tour is to sing Silent Night in the Chapel of the Shepherds in Beit Sahour outside Bethlehem. Inevitably, there is another group somewhere from Europe or Asia who join us in singing this amazing carol in their own language. It always provides, as we say, “a little taste of heaven” when we sing the same tune together but in our own language. Quite simply, it is a goose-bump moment!

chapel of the shepherds

Inside the “Chapel of the Shepherds” in Beit Sahour

O Holy Night is also a carol used on Christmas Eve. It was composed by Frenchmen Adolphe Adam in 1847. The last three lines of the son are most powerful –

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,

His power and glory evermore proclaim.

His power and glory evermore proclaim.

Enjoy this harmonious and unique version of Silent Night sung by Sam Robson. This gentleman is unique in how he blends his voice into an amazing sound of Christmas!

Enjoy also this harmonious version of O Holy Night:

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Once In David’s Royal City

Bethlehem manger

Bethlehem, David’s royal city (Micah 5:2-4)

One of my favorite carols is an old English hymn called Once In David’s Royal City. The carol was first published in 1848 in Miss Cecil Humphreys’ hymnbook Hymns for little Children. In 1919, the song was used as the processional hymn for the Christmas Eve Service held at the King’s College Chapel in Cambridge.

I love this carol not only because of the beautiful harmony of the tune, but because of the simple but powerful lyrics. The words speak of the birth, the life, and the ministry of Jesus:

Once in royal Davids city,
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby,
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ, her little Child.

He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall:
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Saviour holy.

For He is our childhood’s pattern;
Day by day, like us, He grew;
He was little, weak, and helpless,
Tears and smiles, like us He knew;
And He cares when we are sad,
And he shares when we are glad.

And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that Child so dear and gentle,
Is our Lord in heaven above:
And He leads His children on,
To the place where He is gone.

bethlehemchristmasstarrightlandscapeThe carol takes me back to the town of Bethlehem. Today, Bethlehem is more of a city than a town, with about 20,000 residents. But 2000 years ago, this City of David was only a small town. The prophet Micah describes it this way –

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth (Micah 5:2-4).”

The video is produced and performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

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Christmas in Israel

Santa in Jerusalem

Santa walking on the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem

People ask me, “Do they celebrate Christmas in Israel?”  To be honest, that’s almost like asking “Does it snow in the winter in Minnesota?” Well, I admit that perhaps this is a bit of an exaggerated way of answering the question, but for sure both Jews and Arabs in Israel celebrate Christmas!

Of all my trips to Israel, I was only in Israel over Christmas once!  This was back in 1981-82 when I was a student in Jerusalem. But from the Facebook posts I see from Israel, and updates from my guide and driver who I use on all my trips, Christmas is in full swing in the land of the Bible.

Santa in Jerusalem

Santa on the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem

Now this would not be of surprise to you at all when I say that all over the world Christmas has been commercialized. The deeper meaning of Christmas has taken a back-burner to the way Christmas is celebrated around the world. Yet in Israel you see Christmas trees, people dressed as Santa, lights, and decorations. It’s a fun and festive time.

The YouTube video (below) gives you a god picture of how Christmas is celebrated in Jerusalem. Who would ever think that Santa would even make his way up on the Turkish walls of the Old City, walls that date to 1537-44 AD!  Imagine that… Santa hanging out on ancient walls built 480 years ago!

Of course in our Jewish communities of Israel, Hanukkah is celebrated. This year, Christmas and Hanukkah coincide virtually on the same date. The first day of Hanukkah this year actually begins at sunset of December 24th (remember that holidays and Shabbat always begin at sunset of the previous day). Counting 8 days of celebration, Hanukkah ends on January 1.

So enjoy the sights and sounds of Christmas in Israel!

 

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Christmas in Israel

Santa on the Mt. of Olives

Santa on the Mt. of Olives, Jerusalem

Christmas is celebrated around the world. Of the world’s 195 countries or so (depending on how you count a few of them), citizens in the most of these countries celebrate Christmas. This includes Israel.

Christmas is celebrated in Israel, a country where the presence of three faiths are practiced – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Within the Christian church, there are many denominations represented – Protestant (mainly evangelicals), Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Armenian, and Coptic, to name the majority of them. Within each of these denominations are various customs and traditions.

Christmas Tree in Nazareth

Christmas tree in Nazareth

In Bethlehem, a minority of Arab Christians live. Regrettably, over the last 10 years or so, more and more Christian Arabs have moved out of Bethlehem as well as other adjacent towns like Beit Sahor and Beit Jala). Whereas about 50% of Bethlehem was Christian back in 1995, only about 10% are Christian today. This is due primarily because of the intolerance of the Arab Muslim community, including the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. Thankfully, the Palestinian brothers and sisters in Bethlehem have stayed strong during this time of persecution. Remember them in your prayers!

Even in Gaza where 2,000 Christians live, their lives are constantly threatened because of Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist organization who rule there. Yet despite the persecution and intolerance, the joy of Christmas in Christian communities is still alive and well!

In Israel, Christmas is openly celebrated without persecution. Among the Israeli Arab communities (e.g Nazareth), seeing Christmas trees and lights is common. Also, with the Jewish Messianic community continuing to grow, celebrating Christ as Messiah is attracting more and more Israeli Jews. This is exciting to see!

Of course Santa appears once in a while all around Israel. The tradition of Santa is a world-wide phenomena regardless of country or religion.

The following 2015 video highlights the Christmas celebration in Israel.

May Jesus, the Savior of the world, be celebrated by more and more in Israel this season!

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