Monday, November 12, 2007


internet access has been hard to come by and expensive, so apologies for the 3 of you (ok, 2) who were hoping for updates from Israel. I tried really hard the first night here and then lost the whole thing and have been too pissed off at the internet to try again.

I have been taking good notes, so I'm going to post some of the highlights. Get ready... this is a good bit of stuff. Overall, incredible trip. We stop at at least 4 places a day and most of them have exceeded expectations.

I'll put some pictures on another post as soon as i get enough bars to upload...

Day 2 (Day 1 was the plane ride)
We went to the Valley of Elah, where David fought Goliath, as our second stop after leaving the airport. This is cool because I just preached it and spent a lot of time in it. Hard to believe it’s really the Valley of Elah because it’s not marked and now it’s a farmer’s field. That being said, you could easily imagine armies lining up on the mountains on either side of the valley, getting ready for battle. We picked up a few rocks and that was it. I could spend a day walking around this valley imagining what it was like and exploring.

Later that day we headed to Joppa, which is basically Tel Aviv. Hard to tell much about Joppa. There was a museum with some ruins but we didn’t go in it. It’s right on the Med. This is where Jonah caught the boat to escape God’s call to Ninevah (Jonah 1). It’s also where Peter got his vision with the sheets coming down and God telling him not to consider unclean what God has made clean (Acts 11). As an aside, I could live in Tel Aviv.

It is crazy to think that these locations are where these stories took place. The Valley of Elah. Really. It’s crazy to think that within the mile around where I slept last night Peter got this vision from God that opened up the gospel to the gentiles. It’s crazy to think that Jonah got on the boat right here. It’s hard to feel connected to these stories because our culture is so radically different and they are some pretty crazy stories. I don’t know if this makes the stories feel more true, which might be what I was expecting. It may make them a lot more possible, or likely, seeing where they actually were supposed to have taken place.

Day 4
We’ve been hanging around the Sea of Galilee and went to Capernaum, where much of Jesus ministry took place, today. In a word – sleepy. I guess it was small town then and there is surprisingly little going on now.

We ended up north in Caesarea Philippi. This was one of the stops I was most looking forward to and it was everything I expected. They have a plaque there talking about how they threw sacrifices into a crevice in the back of the cave. If they saw the blood running in the river, that signified to them that the sacrifice was rejected. It makes sense that these were understood as the gates of hell. It was definitely used to worship Pan in the day of Jesus but it doesn’t appear it was used to worship Augustus, Zeus and others. They were all worshipped there, though. The thought that this is where the church was born is incredible.

Day 5
One of our stops was Jericho. The excavation isn’t that exciting here given the significant things that happened here in the Bible, but there is a tower with some stairs that are apparently 10,000 years old. The stairs are the archeological evidence used to say Jericho is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. I climbed down them. I’m fairly certain this is not a regular occurrence. There were no signs explicitly forbidding climbing the steps, just a beaten up fence and a gate over the stairs that was movable. So I figured, ‘How often do you get to climb a set of 10,000 year old steps?’ The ‘Tourism Police’ started walking up the hill to where we were, but our group held them off. Only then did the thought occur to me that ‘spending time in a jail in the West Bank’ is close to last on my list of things I want to have to do in life.

FYI, the Dead Sea rocks… we stayed there for a night. You float. I mean you couldn't sink if you wanted to. And it's beautiful.

Day 6
Church of the Nativity
This is Nabil, our guide’s, home church (he’s a Palestinian Christian; great man; we’re getting an education). He’s worshipped there his whole life. I had low expectations and the outside of the church did nothing to raise them. It’s pretty bland and doesn’t look much different than it’s surroundings. Then we went into the Greek Orthodox section of the church. It’s hard to describe. Definitely old, but tacky too. There were some mosaics surviving from the 4th century under the floor, very cool. But the lamps they had hanging looked like they came from a yard sale and all the pictures are so old you couldn’t see them. Then we went downstairs into the cave where Jesus was (allegedly) born. They believe this because early Christians gathered at this spot to pray and an emperor was eventually so threatened by it that he built a temple to a pagan god over it. Then Constantine built a church over it.

You go down these steps and get on your knees and there’s this star with a hole in the middle that you touch and this is apparently where Jesus came into the world. I can be a world-class cynic but it was all I could do to hold myself together here. Maybe it was low expectations. Maybe it was the act of bowing low. Maybe it was the fact that the early Christians gathered here, which gave it more validity in my mind. But the thought that this spot that I may have just touched is the spot where Heaven landed on earth, where God became man, was insane and intense. I wish I’d had an hour or a day there but you have to keep moving.


At November 12, 2007 6:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

jeff- thanks for sharing your experience. i feel like i am back there again. vicki paxton

At November 12, 2007 9:22 PM, Blogger jason said...

Dude - thanks for sharing. I am so glad you have the chance to experience this. I can't wait to hear more stories.

Your kids are telling everyone their dad is in Israel... it's kinda funny. I showed Michael where it is on the globe in his room. Matthew then told me "if daddy is there, I can't see him." Micheal looked at him and started to explain... then he just gave up. I laughed.

At November 12, 2007 10:41 PM, Blogger Shannon Smith said...

If you get locked up, you can explain how it was part of the experience. You can tell people how you wanted to see how Paul felt when he was in prison.

Thanks for the update.

At November 13, 2007 2:11 AM, Blogger jeff said...

that's hilarious about matthew and michael... oh to have that on tape.

trying VERY hard not to get locked up...

looks like no pics. to long and expensive to upload. the internets aren't as fast here.

At November 13, 2007 11:18 AM, Blogger Sam Ed. said...

If you get locked up, I have hook-ups in the Israeli government. Don't ask how...just know it's true.

At February 21, 2008 3:51 PM, Blogger Shannon Smith said...

Dear Jeff,

Israel's been great. You left me there three months ago. I'd like to come home now so we can catch up.

-Your forgotten blog.

At May 22, 2013 7:27 AM, Anonymous BobbleHeads said...

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