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Israel 2008 445It was an ancient city with people living ancient cultures.  The problems were enormous.  Political figures were greedy, power-hungry, egotistical and full of self-centered pride.

Entertainment at the expense of the people was rampant.  Hostility was waiting for any excuse to erupt.  Military incursions were a daily affair.

Good people were losing hope.  Power was in the hands of officials who bent the law to satisfy their personal agenda.  Anger and intimidation overpowered reason, righteousness and love.

The world had sunk to a level where authorities would murder children to cover their own infractions and advance their influence.  Might was the premier.  Yet, the immoral posture of those in power had massive doubt.

To ameliorate the uncertainty and unrest among the population, appeasement was common place.  Bargaining to keep the general population below their boiling point was a part of the “passing the buck” and shifting blame and destroying the truth with bribery and false testimony.  Was any hope to be found for the human race so long ago?

Hope sprang eternal with a single sacrifice.  One died on behalf of the many.  It was not just a volunteer who stepped forward.

Rather it was the only one who could be a substitute for all.  Even the very wicked were represented by the perfect sacrifice of love.  Jesus, the Christ, willingly gave Himself as a substitutionary death for all.

That is Good Friday.  An ignominious death so long ago has impacted the eternity of all forever and ever.  His one submissive act to have His blood shed gave all mankind hope through the amazing grace of God’s redemption.

Yes, that is a mouthful.  However, it was that magnificent.  It was such a phenomenal act of mercy that even the world’s worst had a chance to turn, repent and believe.

That is why Good Friday is good.  It was a horrible day because of the death of the only perfect One.  Yet, it was the best event for mankind in anticipation of the new life to come.

photo credit: brucefong photography

There was a day when Jesus was walking with His disciples.  They were going to Jerusalem for a festival.  This company entered the city through the Sheep Gate, near the pool of Bethesda.

Five covered colonnades near the pool marked this distinguishing site.  A man was there who was born blind.  Jesus engages him in a conversation.

Many who are disabled crowd around these waters.  Those who are blind, lame and paralyzed make this location their daily routine.  The expectation of a miracle is on everyone’s mind.

Israel 2014 IFL 349The man talks with Jesus but has no idea who He is.  Instead, he only talks about his predicament.  When the waters are stirred, he is frustrated because there is no one who can help him into the waters.

Jesus asks the man the obvious, “Do you want to get well?”  Even the man does not pick up on this query.  He answers with his predicament.

Then, Jesus declares that the man is healed.  He orders the man to pick up his mat and walk.  The healed man does so.

Everything about this  miracle is immediate.  There is rehabilitation.  No transition time is necessary.

Although the man has never seen since he was born blind, his mind can process people and he can negotiate his physical locomotion.  The miracle is total.  Yet, the mystery that surrounds it linger.

But there were sour legalistic people around.  Some took the rules of living to the extreme.  They criticized the healed man for carrying his mat.

Israel 2014 IFL 348In their perspective it was work and no one who was serious about their Judaism worked on the day of rest.  It is ludicrous to understand the rationale of this encounter.  Nevertheless, this extremism speaks to the unwillingness of people to see their own sin and stubborn refusal to humbly come to Jesus and believe in His message of grace.

The man who was healed kept on expressing a simplicity of his faith.  He simply told his critics that he was just doing what the man who healed instructed him to do.  When challenged to identify Jesus, the man honestly responded that he did not know who He was.

Later, in Jesus’ quiet way he met the man who He had healed.  He told him to go and sin no more.  Bad things happen to those who sin.

This is the message at the pool of Bethesda.  God’s mercy comes to those in need.  When it does, then humbly obey with simple faith.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

Israel 2014 IFL 335There is a narrow road that swing uphill from the Kidron Valley.  The descent from the Walls of Jerusalem are not far behind.  It is natural to look up when the road starts to climb.

The road is narrow and winding.  Modern designers never would have planned the route like this.  It is another indication that today’s roads have simply followed the old roads of the past.

Lining each side of the now paved route are tall stone walls.  You feel penned in.  Yet, the sense of being on the right road is assured by our guide.

Israel 2014 IFL 336Not far along this journey is a gate off to the right.  Many pilgrims are filing in.  The sense of this being a very special place is in the air.

Once inside the gate, our guide gives us quiet instructions to follow the pathway and to speak softly.  People are meditating and this is a sacred site. Those words are just a vanguard of what our spirits have already sensed.

Israel 2014 IFL 338Inside the walls a security fence surrounded the grove of olive trees.  Down the middle gravel pathway stood the largest and apparently the oldest olive tree in the garden.  Its trunk was massive.

Scarred and twisted this old tree was still sprouting shoots into the sky that were dressed in new leaves.  Botanists tell us that this tree could very well be two thousand years old.  It stood tall, solid and unmovable before us.

Israel 2014 IFL 339Maybe it was a mere sapling when Jesus came here at night and wept tears of blood. The agony of the Savior may have soaked the ground with His ignominious perspiration.  Here He accepted the Father’s will to take on the sin of the whole world.

This task meant that He must die.  It is the penalty of sin.  Death is the only option available to bring sin to justice.

Our only redeeming option is to have a substitute that will die in our place. Jesus agreed to take our place.  He died on our behalf.

Israel 2014 IFL 342It meant that He would be separated from the Father.  That reality was what weighed on  Jesus’ heart that night.  Yet, out of love for us, He agreed willingly to do it.

No wonder a church stands next to this garden in commemoration of this great sacrifice.  Nations from around the world contributed to its construction.  Enter this garden, His garden and sense the forgiveness given through the great gift of love.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Israel 2014 IFL 326There is a special quiet place in the middle of all the hustle and bustle of the crowded active city of Jerusalem.  It has a panoramic view of the Ancient City.  The setting today is still serene.

After the miles traveled and arrangements that mark this once in a lifetime visit to the Land, it is well worth the altered course to visit this special site.  Traditionally, Jesus was here.  When His busy ministry captured all of His brief days in this region, He paused here.  The Gospel of Luke in chapter 19 verse 41, the event was captured.

Jesus looked over the city of Jerusalem and knew what would transpire. Israel 2014 IFL 324 As grand a city as it was and as fabulous a location of strength and faith that it was, it would fall because of sin.  Its people would be carried away into the Dispersion.

The heart of God for His people is captured in this tender moment.  Love clashes with the reality of impending judgment.  It is not cruel but necessary and consistent with the holiness of God.

Israel 2014 IFL 331Sin can never be tolerated.  It must be dealt with swiftly and definitively. Hope for a future is just as real.

Grace comes from the Almighty as well. He will bring the nation back.  Our moment of the hillside marks the reality of that anticipation from ancient days.

Here coffins are laid above the ground.  Families bury their loved ones here in sight of the city walls.  The closer they are to the walls the hope is that their resurrection will be splendid when the King returns.

Israel 2014 IFL 332Family members leave a stone on top of the grave tops to mark their visit.  Some day a reunion would take place.  All in the family would be reunited and their hope in the city when Jesus would reign there would be the focus of their faith.

Israel 2014 IFL 333A church stands on the grounds of this serene location.  It is surrounded by a grove of olive trees.  The design of the building depicts the shape of a human tear.

While our busy pilgrimage schedule was full, it was well worth the time to pause here and take in the love of God for His people.  Like a loving father who disciplines his children, our Heavenly Father will bring His holiness to bear on our lives when the ugliness of sin makes its presence known.   He loves us and does what is right.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Israel 2014 IFL 295Well into our tour of the Holy Land, the temptation is to say, “Once you have seen some ancient ruins, you have seen enough ancient ruins.” never seemed to bother very many at all.  Here in the Land what occurred at these sites was far more important than the site itself.

History was the feature of these gathering points.  The events of yesteryear gave great meaning to our lives today.  Few sites were as meaningful as the walk through the Via Dolorosa.

Here the possibility of following the last steps of Christ when He was brought to His place of Israel 2014 IFL 301crucifixion was sobering.  We looked on the old stone road that still had the old Roman games etched in the rock.  Perhaps the very soldiers who escorted Jesus from His flogging to the place of the skull gambled on this very site.

Today the stones shine like polished furniture from the millions of shoes that have walked over them.  But, in His day, Jesus stumbled on these rocks, dripped His sweat and blood from His brutal beating.  While we trudged among fast-moving shop keepers selling their wares, we thought deeply as the images of our suffering Savior filled our minds.

Israel 2014 IFL 302There are traditional stops along the way that commemorate some Biblical events and some extra Biblical stories.  Sorting out the real from the legends is not as important as concentrating on the real events that all agree are part of the events of the most important historic event in human history.  This pathway was the route that made it all happen.

The sellers of trinkets were trying to make money off of the scores of pilgrims.  To these merchants, it was common to come here each day and make a living.  But, for us pilgrims it was a sacred journey.

Israel 2014 IFL 303Our fine pilgrims were gracious and polite.  There was no ugly American among our group.  They kept the balance, worshiped quietly and took in the tourist options as well.

Our small group of 40 turned the corner of a narrow street and a courtyard broadened out to welcome us.  It was a very holy site.  Inside this door was the traditional site where the cross was placed on a rock.  Below is the site of the burial of Jesus.

Pilgrims from all around the world came here and crowded in to climax their journey.  It was loud.  This was a very crowded place.

Seekers and worshipers alike milled about.  Truth and legend were separate yet together. Sincere lives were wanting a moment for their souls.

photo credit: brucefong photography

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There is a great expanse of ancient steps just on the outer wall of Jerusalem known as the southern steps.  Here in the days of our Lord, Jesus would likely have walked here frequently, teaching His disciples as He journeyed between Jerusalem and Bethel.  Archaeologists have uncovered a sizable section of these historic layers of ascending and descending stones.

Our troupe of pilgrims gathered here on a Sunday morning.  It was the site for our worship service in the Old City.  We were all looking forward to a time of worship.

The guide took to the microphone and told us how significant this location was to all who follow the Savior.  His arm swung as he spoke about the likely movements of our Lord.  We could see Him in our minds eye climbing these very steps as He talked with His followers.

Israel 2014 IFL 271Then, Steve Green came up to the microphone and sang a song that stirred our souls.  We were 800 strong yet we were lifted high on the platform of worship.  Clearly the audience of One was receiving our praise that morning.

Next, Chuck Swindoll opened the Word and preached a powerful sermon.  He tracked the footsteps of Jesus and uncovered the significance of the city for Jesus’ final days.  2000 years ago this was the very site where people listened and saw what Jesus offered.

Once it came time to decide, Israel’s leaders chose not to believe Jesus was who He claimed to be. That left them with the horrible conclusion that Jesus was a blasphemer and must be punished by death.  Is man in his sin so wicked as to take the Son of God and kill Him?

All of us with our sin are culpable of this heinous deed.  Jesus died because we needed a perfectIsrael 2014 IFL 268 sacrifice to be a substitute for our redemption.  This perfect Son of God who walked on these steps where we sat did that for all the world.

The sun shone down hot on our travelling bodies.  It was warm.  The beads of sweat dripped down my shirt.

I touched the cold stone that was my pew on that Sunday.  Maybe Jesus stepped on this very rock so many years ago.  What amazing love He gave to all of us.

Never again would our tour group gather for another worship service like this.  At least on this earth, we would not.  Maybe again in eternity we will repeat this with countless saints and Jesus leading us in our praise.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Israel 2014 IFL 233The timing of our entrance to the Holy City was perfect.  We had been traveling throughout the Land of Israel for several days.  Our spirits were drinking in the spectacular sites and stories of old.  We were now ready.

Our buses made the steep climb up from the Jordan Valley, near Jericho.  The schedules in our hands announced that today we would arrive in Jerusalem.  Jet lag was under control and cameras were poised.

The driver and bus shepherds were synchronized.  Freeway signs pointed to the tunnel entrance to Jerusalem.  The meter markers alerted us to be ready.

At the appointed time the tour guide turned on the sound system.  His eyes met the bus shepherds.  The smile said it all.

He pressed play.  The song began.  It was the masterpiece, The Holy City.

The bus emerged from the tunnel. Before the eyes of all on our coach the city of Jerusalem unfolded.  Amazing lyrics lifted our hearts to the special place that this city has had in history, in our faith, in the prophetic Word of God and in the lives of people who traveled from all over the world to be here on this tour.

There was no talking on the bus.  The words of this majestic song filled every crevice of the bus.  Countenances told Israel 2014 IFL 237different stories.

Some were just happy to finally make this once in a lifetime pilgrimage. Others were holding back tears as the meaning of this place bombarded their minds.  Still others prayed quietly for the peace of Jerusalem.

I felt a deep honor to be their bus professor on this trip.  Through the past few days and into the next I would be privileged to begin each day with a devotional talk from the Word.  Now, I could focus on this city and the amazing things that happened with the lessons for all time that Jesus, our Lord and Savior, taught then and now.

Israel 2014 IFL 241To grasp the expanse of what we would cover, the buses converged on the Israel Museum.  On our first day in the City we would tour the model of ancient Jerusalem during the time of Christ. Under the beautiful skies of Israel this scale model shows the surrounding walls of the city.

Included is Herod’s Temple.  Everything in the model is 1:50 scale.  It covers over 21,000 square feet.

Imagining the movements of Jesus and His disciples is a marvelous experience.  The topography of the area helps seal in our mind the events of those days.  This spectacular city is now becoming very familiar.

photo credits: brucefong photography

Israel 2014 IFL 153There are many ruins in the Land of Israel today.  Archaeological digs are happening in many parts of this country. Construction by law is stopped when new foundations uncover a potential site that would be of interest to Antiquities.  The leftover relics and broken down buildings are of some interest but the events that took place there are especially fascinating.

Our buses rolled into the very small parking lot for a visit at Capernaum.  This ancient city was the headquarters for  Jesus during His Galilean ministry.  It was also the home of Peter, Jesus’ disciple.

The miracle of the lame man who was lowered through the ceiling took place here.  A foundation of the traditional home of  Peter is marked by the church built over the location.  Wrapping your mind around all of these great events calls for a moment of personal contemplation.

Many of  us who love the Savior are stunned at the archaeological discoveries.  Two synagogues were dug up here.  One was built on top of another.

The color of the foundation stones are different.  Their distinct separation shows the different times when they were inIsrael 2014 IFL 154 use.  Once a location for the synagogue was designated it was rebuilt in the same spot after an earthquake devastated the previous one.

This habit of rebuilding in the same location leads us to conclude that when Jesus was in Capernaum and teaching in the local synagogue, that He did so on the very stones that we were standing during our tour.  This sends shivers down my spine every time I have strolled over that synagogue floor.  Standing where Jesus stood and seeing the town before Him, looking into the  eyes of people searching for spiritual truth and giving them the words of the Father is a treat.

Israel 2014 IFL 155Off in the near easterly direction is the Sea of Galilee.  Up the westerly slopes of  the rising landscape is the site where Jesus likely gave His sermon on the Mount.  Nearby is a possible location of where Jesus fed the 5,000 after multiplying the fish and loaves.

God called me many years ago to speak on His behalf in this world.  He did not call me alone.  Many others answered the call to serve Him as well.

Reviewing that calling here on the synagogue floor where Jesus taught stirs my spirit.  He has captured His Word for all the world in the Scriptures and gives all of us who ministry an extra boost with special visits to remarkable places like Capernaum.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Israel 2014 IFL 076Sure, it’s the water.  People are always drawn to the water.  Like a glistening jewel it sparkles, refreshes, quenches and promises life.

The history of man’s activities is marked by events by the water.  On the shore, on its waves and through its weather, great bodies of water have marked the permanent etchings in human history.

Now, the Sea of Galilee certainly qualifies for this special status.  It has been the place of miracles, prayers and turning points in Christianity.  Here was where Jesus touched lives in history and keeps on touching lives today.

When we disembarked our bus in Tiberias, I could hear the water lapping on the shore.  Catching a glimpse of the water is a necessary hunger when visiting the Holy Land.  Our Savior spent many moments on these waters teaching, exhorting and demonstrating the faith that is at the heart of my life.

Early in the morning I stepped out on our balcony.  My camera came alive when the morning sun glistened on the surface of the Lake.  Seagulls swooped through the air and gave a special blessing of life to the expanse.

Israel 2014 IFL 072No pilgrim can come to the Land and not breath in deeply and treasure the anticipation of walking on grounds surround this remarkable location.  Our buses stopped at a vantage point high on the Eastern cliffs of the Lake.  It was here at this elevation, thousands of feet above the surface of those waters that temperature inversions play havoc on the waters.

With very little warning the warm air inverts with the cool air strata and send vicious winds tumbling through the ravines and valleys.  The acceleration of the gusts rip over the waters and turn a docile lake into a tempestuous storm.  Even those who make their living on the lake are at the mercy of those gales that have taken uncounted lives.

Jesus slept through such a storm.  When He was aroused by his terrified experienced seaman disciples, He merely spoke a word to silence the winds and to still the waves.  That action alone made it into inspired Scripture and it occurred right here on this Lake in front of us.

Is our faith that certain in what God the Creator can do?  When we are caught in a fearful storm of natural or human proportions, are we more afraid of our circumstances or are we resting in His great strength to protect us?

photo credit: brucefong photography

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From our home to yours,

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Joy to the world! The Lord is come
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing

Joy to the world! the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods
Rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat, repeat the sound in joy

No more let sin and sorrow grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make
His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found
Far as, far as the curse is found

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of his love
And wonders of his love
And wonders and wonders of his love!

Happy Birthday, Jesus! Hallelujah!

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