Happy New Year…and a look back at 2017 from Jerusalem!

“Shalom shalom” from Jerusalem!

“Shalom shalom” can be translated as “perfect peace,” such as in Isaiah 26:3…“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” As you probably also know, “Shalom” is often used as “hello” as well as “goodbye”, regarding which, I once heard a Jewish man quip, “I didn’t know if I was coming or going.” Well, we are hours away from bidding 2017 farewell, while welcoming in 2018! It has been an interesting year to say the least; momentarily I’ll recap a few things that stood out for me here in the Land. But first…

Messiah-mas in the Old City: God keeps His Word!
How quickly time passes. A week ago many people were preparing for Christmas, family get-togethers, and gift exchanges. For me, I was obviously away from my mom and sister and my extended family, and we missed each other: yet, time flies and it seems longer than just a week ago that people were celebrating the birth of Messiah.

For me, last Sunday night I went to a Christmas event at Christ Church in the Old City, where they had an open time from about 5:00 to 11:00pm of singing and worship, as well as fellowship and hot refreshments. It seems this evening is normally attended by 1) Christians in the earlier hours, 2) Messianics in the mid-hours, and 3) Israelis in the latter hours (who come out of curiosity, as well as just having something to do).


After about an hour of singing carols in the church, I found myself in the adjacent café sitting with two older Israeli gentlemen who were attending. David and Gideon* talked a with me little about Christmas, but then mostly about their families who were early pioneers in the Land; they also shared about their own travels around Europe in their younger days and their action during the ’67 Six Day War.

Eventually the subject got around to G-d and the Bible, and Gideon said that he believed in God (sort of), but that the Bible was essentially ‘just stories.’ As you may have already figured out, if the Bible isn’t true, then the Jewish people would have a difficult time identifying themselves as a people, as well as their right to the Land.

Gideon’s parents and grandparents came to Israel when there was practically nothing here in the way of Israeli political order and infrastructure, and he was proud of how Israel has grown since then. I asked him, “Gideon, have you ever read Devarim (Deuteronomy), chapter 30, where G-d says that  “…the Lord your God will bring you [back] into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers” (v. 5). Of course, the fuller fulfillment of the entire passage is when all Israel turns to the Lord, but even now, as foretold by Ezekiel (cptr. 37), there would be a process of restoration of Israel, even while they are in a state of unbelief.

I shared further, “Gideon, not only has this happened just as G-d has promised, it is continuing to happen today, right before our very eyes.” Though he did not know this about Scripture, he agreed with me, and as he would translate some of what David did not understand fully, I encouraged both of them to read the Scriptures and to seek the Lord.

To the North

Earlier this week, I received a call from some of my co-workers that they were going to the Galilee, but since their original driver was called away on an emergency, they needed someone to drive their rental car (CFI closed their offices this week, so we have had the week off).

This was my first visit to the Sea of Galilee since I have been here: frankly, I saw more of the Land in a week as a tourist than I have seen here in seven months. But that’s OK, I didn’t come here to play, but to work and help the Jewish people.

En Gev on the Eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee viewed from tour boat.  Nearby is Kursi, the town of Gadara where Jesus freed the men with the demons (see Matthew 8:28-34).
The Galilee has a particular beauty that you just have to see in person to appreciate. For one of our team originally from Kazakhstan, it was her first visit to this area, and she was clearly in awe of being there. We walked around Capernaum, Mount of the Beatitudes, took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee from En Gev, then drove up into the Golan Heights to a place called Gamla.
The ancient city of Gamla viewed from the lookout across the valley.

Though not so well known, Gamla is a fascinating site significant for its history, particularly in its role in the Jewish War against Rome in 66-73 CE. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamla

It has been 11 years since I was there last; and I must say that I missed not getting back there sooner. Gamla is home to the oldest synagogue site in Israel, which very likely hosted the Son of G-d where He would have taught in His Galilee/Gaulanitus (Golan) tour:

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching  in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about Him spread all over Syria…” (Matt. 5:23-24a).

Like Capernaum, it is an awesome thought to consider that you are in the very spot on which He stood, taught, and performed miracles (Mark 2-3).

1st century CE/AD synagogue at Gamla
In 2006 our team hiked to the very top of the mountain along a pretty rugged trail. This time one of our team and I made the same trek, it was exhilarating. Gamla has a similar history as the desert fortress Masada, where the Jewish defenders suffered similar fates. Upon reaching the top of Gamla, you not only admire the breath-taking view that includes the distant Sea of Galilee, but you quietly consider what happened on that very spot, where people chose to die free rather than to either be slaughtered or live as slaves to Rome. It is a perplexing situation one hopes never to be confronted with.
Me atop the summit of Gamla; Sea of Galilee in the distance.
In some ways I feel closer to G-d’s people there (and at Masada) than I do even in Jerusalem or the Western Wall; perhaps the tragic nature of Israel’s history is more focused there than at other historical places in the Land. Who knows? But I encourage you, if you have never been to Israel, ask the Lord if He would have you come and see the Land and His people. If you do, consider putting Gamla on your itinerary.

Stuff I remember from 2017
While I won’t bore you with too many details, here are a few details I remember from this year:
  • My last Shabbat at HOI: Sam prayed for me and Robert G and said, “Robert is going to work in Chicago, and Pat is going to Israel, where it’s safe” (everybody laughed).
  • Going away party from worship and dance team, and Laurie Taylor’s awesome “Psalm 122 cake
  • Writing my first blog when I arrived here (seems like yesterday)
  • Visiting an Israeli Army base and getting to talk with some of the soldiers
  • Going to ulpan and being asked by Dana the instructor to sing the first night, out loud (I sang “O say shalom bim romav…”). Still studying Hebrew.
  • Visiting one of the grieving families of a border policeman who was murdered by terrorists at the Old City a few weeks earlier
  • Seeing the Parade of Nations at Sukkot (video)
  • Spending time with Israeli friends and family over HHDs
  • Sukkot dinner with my next door neighbors in their sukkah
  • Catching up with old friends I have not seen in 4, 11, and 33 years
  • Spreading salt and light with the people you meet in passing, on the bus, and with your neighbors, for example…
Earlier this week I was walking through the Machane Yehuda Shuk (kind of an Israeli farmers’ market) and confronted by two young Israelis who wanted to give me a sample snack from their store there. They were both wearing kippahs which is some indication that they have a religious affiliation. We were talking in broken English and some Hebrew when one of them said something about Moshiach (the Messiah) coming soon.

So I asked him, “How will you know who the Messiah is?”

He (Jacob*) replied, “He will make peace with the Palestinians, and will build the Beit Miqdash, theTemple.”

Me: “So you mean, King Messiah, Moshiach ben David (Son of David).”

Him: “Yes.”

Me: “Have you ever heard about Moshiach ben Yosef?” (Son of Joseph) He said yes.

Me: “What does that mean to you?” He wasn’t quite sure, so I suggested, “A suffering Messiah? Like Isaiah’s Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53?” He agreed.

“You know, Jacob, some people believe that the Messiah has already come, and that Moshiach ben David and Moshiach ben Yosef are ‘echad’ (one), that they are one and the same person. Have you ever heard that idea?”

Jacob got very quiet at that moment as he began to think. So I shared, “I have heard that the story of Joseph is a picture of the Messiah: that he is rejected by his brothers, but in the end he gets to rescue them. That’s pretty interesting, isn’t it?”

He nodded, but he realized that he needed to give this some more serious thought, and I realized that I needed to move on. But I’ll be back in the shuk to buy stuff in the future, so hopefully I’ll see my new friend Jacob again.

Out with the Old, In with the New!
This weekend I decided to read back through my journal over the past year, just to reflect on my journey coming here and how the Lord has worked in the process. A year ago I believed the Lord was leading me, but, as some of you may remember, it was not without some reservation or concern regarding many details and responsibilities.
As I moved forward, the Lord has been faithful to lead and provide each step of the way: it is encouraging to recall the moments, obstacles, and challenges on this journey, and how, though I knew not how at the time, the Lord has made a way, and He used many of you to help answer prayers and to support my work with CFI here in the Land—you know who you are. Thank you so much for letting me be your hands and heart, reaching out to G-d’s Chosen People here in His Promised Land.
If I may encourage you all, begin this new year with a journal of your own: each day if possible, but regularly, simply write a Scripture verse or reference, an incident that concerns you, a prayer regarding that or something or someone else. And, when God answers your prayer, record it! You will find great encouragement as you look back and remember things you may have forgotten, and see with hindsight how God worked it all out. BTW, a Bible reading schedule is helpful too. Here’s one: http://oneyearbibleonline.com/reading-plan-downloads/
So as we approach this year’s end, and next year’s beginning, I leave you with wise words from Oswald Chambers, who has been a companion of mine for many years:

The God of Israel will be your rereward. — Isaiah 52:12

Security from Yesterday. “God requireth that which is past.” At the end of the year we turn with eagerness to all that God has for the future, and yet anxiety is apt to arise from remembering the yesterdays. Our present enjoyment of God’s grace is apt to be checked by the memory of yesterday’s sins and blunders. But God is the God of our yesterdays, and He allows the memory of them in order to turn the past into a ministry of spiritual culture for the future. God reminds us of the past lest we get into a shallow security in the present…

Security for To-day. “For ye shall not go out with haste.” As we go forth into the coming year, let it not be in the haste of impetuous, un-remembering delight, nor with the flight of impulsive thoughtlessness, but with the patient power of knowing that the God of Israel will go before us.

Our yesterdays present irreparable things to us; it is true that we have lost opportunities which will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ. Leave the Irreparable Past in His hands, and step out into the Irresistible Future with Him.

Here’s to a great 2018! Shalom Shalom in Him Who makes all things new,
PS. BTW, if you wish to give a year-end tax deductible gift, please go here and see directions. Thank you, and Happy New Year! 🙂


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