Israel Reflections Days 8-9

Note: As much as I wish I was, I’m not back in Israel. The blogs for the second half of the trip in May have been sitting in my drafts folder all summer, waiting for me to have a couple of free days to process through them and add the final details. With less than a week before classes start up again, I finally found those days! Enjoy my reflections on the second week of our incredible trip. 

Day 8: Thursday

Thursday was a busy day, that’s for sure!

We spent the morning at Bet Shean (the largest city to be uncovered within the past 20 years)

Kursi (the location for what is known as the miracle of the swine), Tabgna (the location commemorating the feeding of the 5,000, and the instance when Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection and affirmed Peter’s love for him),

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and finally Capernaum (Jesus’ “hometown” during his ministry)

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The front of the temple in Capernaum — a “Type A” site where we know for a fact that Jesus was here

Each of these sites were fascinating, and there’s so much I could draw from each of them to share with you. But I actually want to focus in on the one that potentially sounds “least important”: Kursi.

Luke 8:26-39:

“They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying,  “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.”

I’ve always found this account (and the correlating ones in Matthew and Mark) to be interesting, albeit rather on the confusing side of things. However, the pieces that seemed to be missing for me fell into place with a bit more cultural context.

Why pigs? Why did they collectively stampede into a lake? Why did they drown?

Well, pigs were considered unclean animals. And as I’ve alluded to previously, large bodies of water in Jesus’ day were symbolic of chaos, and even often thought of as “the abyss” or entrance to hell.

The Legion of demons being sent out of a man and into that which was unclean, carried straight to the gaping mouth of the abyss, makes a bold, clear, and authoritative statement to the powers of darkness: “You have no place or power here. This is no longer Legion’s kingdom. The Kingdom of God has come! Leave, and wait for the appointed time of your judgement.”

They knew who Jesus was. When they saw Him, the man they were possessing fell to his knees, because they recognized Him clearly. Even a legion of demons has to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. They had to submit to the authority of the Son of God. Jesus Christ, bringing the Kingdom here, and defeating the devil in His birth, life, death, and resurrection. Every word is one of victory. This is our God.

But the story doesn’t stop there. The man, freed from demon possession and in his right mind, begs to go with Jesus and follow him closely. But instead, Jesus sends him out with the instruction to “tell how much God has done for you”. At it’s core, this story is missional.  The man went and told, and many believed. Those people formed churches. The eventual bishop of that area was one of the authors of the Nicene Creed. And that creed is held to be central by many worldwide church traditions. Gospel transformation is kingdom transformation, friends! What an incredible design our God weaves.

Day 9: Friday

Friday we took a trip back to the Old Testament, to the beautiful Mt. Carmel — the vineyard of God. We climbed over large rocks and through dense shrubbery, and eventually settled in a broad semi-circle overlooking a valley of lush agriculture.

And then, in our minds eye, we went back to a time where the beauty and life around us were dried up, and the people in the surrounding towns were confused about who the true God was, and where syncretism of religions was widely practiced (1 Kings 16-17).

The two “competing” powers were Ba’al, the god of fertility and rain, and YHWH, the God of the Israelites.

So God calls Elijah to announce a drought. No rain. God is stopping the best thing that Ba’al has going for him. And after three years of intense drought and famine, God calls Elijah to make another announcement: the time has come for the people to see who really deserves their worship.

We read the narrative in 1 Kings 18, starting in verse 19, when Elijah is speaking to King Ahab:

 “Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”

 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

But the people said nothing.

Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”

Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”

Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” So they took the bull given them and prepared it.

Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.

At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”

 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.

“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”

Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”

When my professor finished reading, he looked up and asked “Can you say that? The LORD is God Alone. The LORD is my God! Is that your answer too? Do not waver between two opinions. Not here on this physical mountain, not at home in your metaphorical valleys. Be faithful. Know that The Lord — he is God.”

Amen, and amen.

All Things New: Israel Reflections Days 5-7

Day 5: Monday

Monday morning started bright and early with breakfast at our Kibbutz on the Sea of Galilee and a ride to Gamla. When there, we hiked down to the ruins of a well-preserved synogogue and held a worship service, following the design of a service in Jesus’ day. The shofar was sounded, we washed in the mikvah, we entered voicing our prayers aloud, proclaimed the shemah, recited the amidah, celebrated the entrance of  the Torah, and participated in the deresha. Experiencing each step and being able and to commemorate and celebrate brought so much new insight and meaning, both to my perspective of worship throughout history and my understanding of what would have been routine for Jesus to participate in. 

Following the time of worship, some of us hiked up to the “camel’s nose” of Gamla, where, sadly, many zealots committed suicide by jumping off instead of being captured by the Romans after being betrayed by Josephus. 

Later in the day, we went to Ceasarea Philippi and sat on the same stones where so many others had sat, stood and worshipped…. except their worship was to false gods. In fact, it was demonic. Ceasarea Philippi was the site of the worship of the Greek god Pan — the god of water and fertility. Pan was depicted as a goat from the waist down and a human from the waist up, and his worship was nothing but evil: sexual relations between humans and animals, temple mistresses called nymphs, and a huge cave gushing with water, in which it was believed that Pan retreated to the underworld in order to bring fertility and prosperity to the people. 

It was here, to this place of perversion, that Jesus brought his disciples. Standing there, surrounded by so much darkness and filth, Jesus asked “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 

But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 

 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16)

Jesus chose to bring his disciples to one of the most disgusting places of idolatrous worship of his time, so that God could reveal the true identity of Jesus and proclaim, on that very spot, I AM. The Messiah has come, and he is here.

In the mess, in the brokenness, in the raw, repulsive, rampant kingdom of evil….there the declaration of the new Kingdom was made. The declaration that all things were being made new, that the strongholds of demonic perversion would lose their power, that the church would be established and rise up in truth — the Messiah has come, and everything is about to change. 

Standing directly next to the entrance to the underworld, hearing the rushing water pour from it’s gaping mouth, and most likely observing the misplaced worship of it, Jesus says, “…I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matt 16:18)

Jesus challenges the very heart of the evil worldview. He made a declaration into the evil culture, and established his church to replace the sickness and filth. 

As the church, do we? 

Let us not compromise our purpose, friends. Let’s love rightly, proclaim truth boldly, and flee temptation faithfully. 

The Messiah has come, and he is making all things new. 

Day 6: Tuesday

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35).

“Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him the Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray” (Mark 6:45-46). 

Tuesday morning began with a hike up Mt. Arbel and a clear view of the Sea of Galilee and the valley which Jesus walked through regularly during his ministry years. Here we gathered in the cool breeze and participated in Lectio Divina on Psalm 63, soaking in the word of God. 

Naturally, the question was raised, “Was Jesus here?” While we can’t know for sure, we do know that even if Mt. Arbel was not frequented by Jesus, there is mountainside nearby that was. 

This was his “solitary place”. His place of prayer, intercession, and refreshment. His place of personal communion with his Father, and encouragement for his soul. 

How often do I go to a mountainside alone to pray? And what am I missing when I don’t?

Day 7: Wednesday

Friends, Wednesday was a good day.  

We spent the morning overlooking Nazareth and the Jezreel Valley, being reminded of how Jesus grew up in what Dr. Kroeze calls “shoot-ville” — a tiny podunk town that literally means “shoot”, which was despised and looked on with condescension by other Jewish communities. However, the people were devout Torah-followers, and they knew the prophecy of a “shoot coming from the stump of Jesse”. They were actually expectant that the Messiah would come from among them. But when Jesus, after growing up with them, came back and took his place in the rotation of synogogue readings, proclaiming that the prophecy had been fulfilled, and that their expectations for the Messiah were met in him…. their response was not joy or celebration. Jesus called them out on their lack of faith, and Luke 4 tells us that instead they were livid and tried to throw him off a nearby cliff. 

Jesus knows rejection. Even his own did not believe. 

Later in the afternoon, we spent some time lingering​ on the banks of the Jordan River. Meditating on the baptism of Jesus, we were gifted with the opportunity to see with less western eyes and grasp a bit more of the depth and power of what this action truly was. 

We may not immediately catch it, but to Jewish eyes in Jesus’ day, witnessing his baptism paralleled​ strongly​ to the creation of the world. While we do see the dove as a symbol the of Spirit’s presence, eastern eyes would have immediately seen the “flashback” of the Spirit of God “hovering over the waters”. And while we hear God’s words over his son as an approval and a commissioning, they would have immediately heard the echoes of God’s expression of “very good” at the dawn of creation. 

Because in his baptism, what is Jesus doing? Inaugurating a new order

Jesus went down into the water, the symbol of chaos, and emerged with a new order in place. A new creation. A new way of living. A new hope for eternity. A new restoration for the brokenness of right now.  Takun Olam — to fix everything

Woah. 

We then were invited to go down into that same water — not as a re-baptism, although indeed remembering the dying and rising with Christ of our baptisms — in a commitment to identity with Jesus’ mission to be ambassadors of a new order, partnering with him in the work of restoration, fixing everything

Such an overflow of grace poured out. So humbled. So thankful. So amazed by my Savior. 

A new order. Takun Olam. Amen. 

The Desert Place: Israel Reflections Days 3-4

Friends, my head is spinning from all the information and insights I’ve been able to soak up within the past 5 days. My roommate is currently giggling at the emotional crisis I’m having trying to choose what to write on. It’s ALL SO GOOD! It’s as though my vision is being fine-tuned to see more clearly, and thus understand more fully and trust more deeply. Go ahead Lord…amaze me again. Every day. For the rest of my life.

Day
3: Saturday 

Saturday morning brought a ride through the negev up to Tel Arad, and the Canaanite and Israelite cities there. Before exploring the history and ruins of that site, however, we circled around a lone tree on the side of the dry, brown hill. This lonely green shrub is a Tamarisk tree — the air conditioning of the desert. Not only does it provide shade from the blazing sun, but its leaves exude little salt crystals. (We tasted the tree. It was definitely salty.) When the dew falls on the leaves at night and evaporates in the day, the resulting air flow is cool and refreshing. In the middle of the desert. Seriously y’all…how great is that?! 

We have record in Genesis 21 that Abraham planted a Tamarisk tree. Why? Scripture doesn’t exactly say. However, rabbinical commentary on the passage suggests that Abraham had a specific purpose in mind — providing a place for Isaac to study Torah and learn to know and love YHWH. Regardless of if that was his exact intent or not, one thing is for sure — Abraham did not plant it for himself. These trees are sturdy and strong, but at the beginning they take a long time to develop and grow. At 100 years old, why would Abraham plant a a tree that would take so long to be of any use? 

Because he was laying claim to the promise of God and planting it as an act of faith for future generations. 

Genesis `18:1`8-19 says “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” 

God chose Abraham to take responsibility in teaching his children, so that in turn the world could be blessed. 

Tamarisk trees are such a beautiful symbol of covenent. From one generation to the next. 

What Tamarisk trees am I planting? Am I cultivating a life centered on Christ that is equipping me to pour into the next generation?

(P.S. All my pictures for this day are on my camera….sorry about that friends.)


Day
4: Sunday 

This is Masada.

This is Masada from the (almost) top.

Sunday morning, the majority of our group made the long trek up Masada. Unfortunately, my back was being lame and I wasn’t able to conquer the climb alongside everyone else, but I did ride the handy cable car (an addition since Herod’s time) and meet them all at the top.

This is me, at the top of Masada, capable of smiling because riding cable cars takes a little less energy than climbing mountains. 

 

So what is this place? 

Masada is a fortress. It was first officially utilized for that purpose by Herod the Great, who used it to construct an elaborate palace on his escape route for if he ever had to flee the Jews. It was lavish (complete with a swimming pool), defensible, and strategic and powerful. There was only one way to get up, and it was well-sourced with water and provisions — the seemingly perfect hiding place. 

(After Herod’s time, Masada was again used as a fortress by a thousand zealots who took refuge there after the rebellion. They were seiged and eventually taken over by the Romans via the building of a ramp to the back of the mountain. However, instead of becoming slaves and subjecting themselves to abuse, once they knew they had lost, they chose to die instead. The father of each family killed his wife and children, and the remaining 10 men drew lots to see who had to kill the others, so that only one would have to commit suicide. When the army arrived to take over the next morning, they found only four women and children still living.)

Also significant about Masada, is that King David used it as a place of refuge. Take a look back up at those pictures of the rock, and then imagine yourself on top of it as you read portions of this psalm of David:

“I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold….for who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights…the Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Savior!” (Psalm 18)

Comparing David’s attitude while on Masada to Herod’s, we see blatant opposition of values. While Herod cries out “I am my own refuge!” David says, maybe in exhaustion and fear, “God is my Rock!” While Herod grasps vigorously for some sense of false security, David is fully confident in his secure status as one for whom God Himself is a fortress. 

In our first, visceral outcries in times of trouble, do we say “God is my Rock!” Or, like Herod, do we too often say “I am my own rock!” in our desperate cling for control? 

A steep mountain in the middle of the desert only protects to an extent. Our God is greater. Our God is stronger. He protects. And He is good. 

Into the Land: Israel Reflections Days 1-2

Shalom, my friends! I can’t even begin to tell you how incredible it has been to be IN Israel! Hiking, exploring, learning, reflecting, worshiping, and falling in love with Jesus, his character, and his faithfulness throughout history and today even more. Ah! So good. 

There is SO MUCH I would love to overflow from my heart to this post but I may or may not have hiked through a desert today and am very ready for bed, so I’ll be picking and choosing in order to keep it a bit more brief. Maybe. We’ll see. 

Day 1: Thursday

Thursday morning we arrived in Tel Aviv around 10:30am Israeli time (3:30am Michigan time). Our afternoon was spent at Tel Gezer, a hugely important city inhabited about 3100 BC, and strategically placed at the travel central of the world in that day. The Via Maris ran N <–> S and Jericho Road ran W <–> E, placing it at the literal crossroads of both trade and transportation. Whoever had control of the city of Gezer at that time bascially had control of the world. 

There’s a lot of historical/factual details regarding the city being conquered, rebuilt, conquered, given away, deserted, etc. that were fascinating, but one small piece of our time there was spent by a series of large, upright stones. While not Israelite, these specific stones were erected as memorials, as ebenezers — stones of proclamation. Although we don’t know now what they were a memorial of, their purpose still stands: right here, something big happened; right here, an identity-shaping event took place. And similarly, in the life of the Christian — right here, God revealed himself powerfully. Right here, I want to testify to future generations that God is God, and God is good. Here I raise my ebenezer, here by Thy great help I’ve come. So that the world may know. So that Christ may be glorified. 

What are some ebenezers in your life? How have you been able to proclaim the goodness of God? Also, enoy this phone-quality picture of my first Israeli sunset: 

   

Day 2: Friday 

Friday brought an early morning and four different locations to explore. We stopped at Bet Shemash and the Sorak Valley, Tel Azekah and the Elah Valley, Marasha, and Lachish. (If you can find those (except Marasha) in the Bible and comment the references, I will bring you something from Israel. Potentially a pebble. But I guess you’ll find out.) 

I absolutely loved the teaching tied to each of these places, but for the moment I’ll focus in on Marasha. 


It’s a bit difficult to see in this picture, but the wooden contraption to the left is a reconstruction of an ancient olive press. Olive trees are the most frequently mentioned plant in Scripture, being both sturdy and beautiful, and often an image God uses to communicate to his people. A unique characteristic of the olive tree is that you can’t kill it — one can simply prune it. And even when it is chopped and pruned down to a dry stump, it is out of that stump that a new olive shoot will grow. 

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse…”

Out of disobedience and destruction, rebellion and punishment, God cut down his people to a mere olive stump…but in his faihfulness and redemptive plan, did not wipe them out completely. Instead, from that stump, he brought new life…eternal life…life to the fullest. That is, Jesus Christ. What an incredible covenant-keeping God! And how beautiful that he uses the ordinary-everyday things such as the olive tree to communicate his perfect purpose and power.  So overwhelmed. So thankful. 

How else have you seen God bring life out of the dry places?  
That’s it for tonight, my friends. I’m off to bed. Blessings!

Because Jesus is Worthy: Life Update

Precious Friends,

Throughout the past few months, the Holy Spirit has been working in my heart to convict me of three things: 1) the comfort and self-centeredness of how I live my own life, 2) my apathy towards the transforming power of the gospel both in my heart and the hearts of others, and 3) the urgency of making Jesus known where his name has not yet been heard. A question that has been heavy in my spirit asks “Does the urgency with which I live my life show the depths of what I truly believe?” As I’ve studied, read, listened, and prayed into that conviction, I have come to the conclusion that up to this point in my life, it has not. And, in the strength of the Spirit, I want that to change. I no longer want the Great Commission to be an optional suggestion reserved for the perceived “super spiritual”, but a command that fuels my obedience and joy in making the gospel known.

Contrary to my preferences and penchant for comfort, I am distinctly feeling called to “go” – potentially long-term overseas to areas with limited access to the gospel. Included in this burden to go instead of stay, amidst unrest overseas and the real needs in the US, are the simple realities that a) there are 2.2 billion individuals and 6,000 people groups who are yet unreached and have limited or no access to the gospel, members of whom are dying daily without ever hearing the name of Jesus or knowing anyone who has, b) I, in the west, am not more worthy of the gospel than anyone else in the world, and c) despite political tension, in no country is it illegal to love people. These truths break my heart, and bring to mind Romans 10:14: And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?

The specifics of this call on my life are still vague, and the timing nebulous to me as of right now. I have no idea how or when I will be called to take the step of faith into long-term missions. But I am willing, and the cry of my heart resonates with the prophet Isaiah: “Here am I, Lord, send me” (Isaiah 6:8). However, I am certain that going well involves being well trained, and I am committed to finishing my college degree, if not higher education, and allowing myself to be discipled by healthy sending organizations in preparation. This is where I am asking you to partner with me. Those who go need to be sent, and oh, do I desire to be sent well. Would you consider partnering with me in prayer as I discern what the Lord has for me in the realm of long-term missions? It would be such a powerful blessing if you would stand with me in interceding in the following ways:

  • Perseverance and sincere attentiveness in academic pursuits (2 more years of bachelors degree, possible graduate work) and continued commitment to and discipleship opportunities within the leadership roles I already fill
  • Humility in being trained and discipled for work in missions, and opportunities to willingly and joyfully share the gospel here and now
  • The financial provision to remain completely debt free and eliminate that barrier in going overseas
  • Wisdom in discernment, attentiveness to Scripture, and faithfulness in prayer
  • For people mature in their faith and passionate about the gospel to walk alongside me and hold me accountable
  • That my burden and urgency for the unreached will not grow dim in this season of waiting

Additionally, as I seek to be trained and discern where and to whom God may be directing me, I have the incredible opportunities to be involved in two overseas trips in 2017. One to Israel with my school, Kuyper College, as a study tour in May, and one to Southern Asia in July, with Frontiers Mission Agency, for hands-on short term field training in preparation for long term work. I will be sending out more specific info on both of these, but if you’re interested in getting involved practically or seeing how you can pray specifically for those trips, feel free to contact me! 

Thank you, in advance, for your partnership, encouragement, support, and intercession. Your committed investment is the heartbeat of the church in the spreading of the Gospel.

Much Love,

Kristyn