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Archive for the ‘Holy Land’ Category

For many people a visit to the Holy Land becomes a sort of “fifth gospel”. For me, it became a lens though which to read the pages of the written Gospels and I am stunned at how much clearer they have become. I am now leading a 10 day Pilgrimage to the Holy Land leaving from Aberdeen, Scotland 16th-25th March 2011.

I feel that, if at all possible, people should take the chance to visit if they can; there is so much to see, hear, learn, experience and share. Blogs, books, photos and presentations can certainly peak our attention, but nothing beats the personal experience. A pilgrimage to the Holy Land is more than pious tourism and few, but the cynical, would see it as a “Christian Disneyland”. Indeed I found it to give me an awareness not only of the past, but also the present.

I became aware that the Holy Land was an amazing experience of spirituality, education, and culture.

Model of Jerusalem on eve of destruction 70 AD

Visits will include Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea and Qumran, as well as allowing free time for relaxation and private exploration. We will walk along the Via Dolorosa, sail on the Sea of Galilee, float on the Dead Sea and ascend the Mount of Masada by cable car.

If you’re interested in joining this adventure then please get in touch.

For more information see the attached brochure. Holy Land Pilgrimage 2011

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This week is Holy Week. During this week the Church remembers the final week of Jesus’ life, from his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday through to his resurrection on Easter.

Below is a map, adapted and published back in 2008 by the English Standard Version Bible Society www.esv.org  that marries the locations and events of Holy Week.

Click on the image below to go to the Google Map, then click on each flag to see a summary of the events at a particular location on that day.

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I had an operation on my wrist last week, and find that the restricted movement that has been imposed upon me for the next 10 days means I’m looking for things I can do without causing too much pain. I decided video editing was a safe thing to do – use one hand, point and click. Okay there have been a few moments when I’ve forgotten and tried to hold a button down, but the sharp pain up my arm reminds me it’s not the thing to do! Anyway, I’ve put together a short video of my trip to Israel and include it here to give you a flavour not only of the trip, but also of the sights and sounds of land.

 

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For many people a visit to the Holy Land becomes a sort of “fifth gospel”.   For me, it became a lens though which to read the pages of the written Gospels and I am stunned at how much clearer they have become.    I am now in the process of making inquiries about organising and leading a 10 day Pilgrimage to the Holy Land in October 2010.   I feel that, if at all possible, people should take the chance to visit if they can;  there is so much to see, hear, learn, experience and share.

Model of Jerusalem on eve of destruction 70 AD

Model of Jerusalem on eve of destruction 70 AD

Blogs, books, photos and presentations can certainly peak our attention, but nothing beats the personal experience.   A pilgrimage to the Holy Land is more than pious tourism and few, but the cynical, would see it as a “Christian Disneyland”.  Indeed I found it to give me an awareness not only of the past, but also the present.  

I became aware that the Holy Land was an amazing experience of spirituality, education, and culture.

I became aware that forgiveness and compassion are desperately needed not only between individuals, but also countries. 

I became aware of the awesome responsibility that we carry and the fact that as Christians walk this earth, peace ought to follow.

I became aware that the Holy Land was a place where the scriptures came alive.

So if anyone is interested in joining me on this adventure then please get in touch.      

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Over the past weeks I have tried to encapsulate my thoughts and experiences of the remarkable six days I spent in the Holy Land.

It has to be said – Israel is an exceptional place. The country is modern and efficient, geared for tourists with excellent roads, facilities and hotels, and lying comfortably alongside the modern, is the historical. 

The biggest change and challenge to my thinking is the fact that the  21st century Israeli and the 21st century Britain are not very similar – either in their culture, their way of life, or indeed their outlook on life.   The Israeli in their understanding and practice of religion, seem to have an underlying possessiveness and aggressiveness.  The people seem to have a siege mentality, (perhaps with good reason), but the sight of young men and women, everywhere, even in casual dress, carrying a gun equally casually, was somewhat sad and disconcerting.    As someone on the tour remarked “It’s a nervous country”.   And yet at no time did anyone feel uncomfortable or threatened, a strange contradiction.

Streets of the Old City

Streets of the Old City

Israel has an incredible biblical history and the country is dedicated to excavating and preserving it – probably its greatest achievement.  The department of antiquity must always be consulted when a new building project is proposed and no one can dig without their permission.    It wasn’t uncommon to see archaeological digs set up just yards ahead of a railway line being laid, or a building site ready to lay foundations once the area had been checked.  (Even the land for an extension to an already existing home has to be checked and cleared first).   Yet what they have done and continue to do, is to the benefit of the entire world.   But sitting alongside the fact that they are so careful to protect the past and will not let anyone dig without proper permission and prior excavation, is the fact that they have not been averse to building a wall of separation wherever they like.   This wall is effectively cutting off Bethlehem and also cutting off access for Palestinians to homes, places of work, property and land – the ruling being: if anything is unattended or not lived in, or land not work on for seven years, it becomes the property of the State.  For a people who were walled up in Ghettos in European countries during the last war I see some kind of paradox here; and cannot understand why they would do something to another people that they condemned being done to them. 

The Palestinian territories are so interwoven with Israel, that I cannot see in my mind how these can be separate countries. To a great extent, we have the impression that the Palestinians and the Arabs (Jordanians) hate the Israelis. I do not know how true that is.   I think it is not so much a religious difference, as a territorial issue – “they have stolen our land”.   And yet some also say they would be content to live side by side if it meant they could live without fear and have basic human rights and freedoms.   We had an Arab Christian guide and an Arab Muslim bus driver, and one of the Anglican ministers told us that his mother’s family were Jewish and many had died in Auschwitz;  all spoke of their wish for peace and for acceptance in this divided land.

For the country to be appreciated and enjoyed some judgment has to be suspended and faith must be dominant – not difficult to do, since there are so many things that connect us to our Christian past in this country and to our Jewish roots too.

Overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem

Overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem

Has this trip affected my relationship with God.   I’m not sure – it has certainly in no way undermined it.  But it has given me a better connection to my Christian heritage.   It has made me focus and read Scripture in a different way; being in the land and the areas where Christ walked and where the events of his ministry and life unfolded was an amazing experience.    So perhaps, in time this will go some way to deepening not only my understanding, but also my relationship with God as a follower of Christ.  

We saw a lot, but barely scraped the surface, and I would go back in a heartbeat   

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A boat ride on the Sea of Galilee was one of the highlights of our trip to Israel and a great way to end our pilgrimage.   It seems such a simple thing, and yet I enjoyed being on the lake and looking around at all the places we had been over the past few days and all the places and incidents we had read about in Scripture.  The lake is 15 miles long and 8 miles wide and is known by many names.   To Christians it is known as the Sea of Galilee, but road signs direct you to Lake Kinnereth (from the Hebrew word –  harp – the shape of the lake).   The Gospel writers Matthew, Mark and John speak of the Sea of Galilee, but John also calls it the Sea of Tiberias, and Luke calls it Gennesret.   There was no word for lake in the Hebrew language, so any large body of water is called a sea.

Boat on the Sea of Galilee

Boat on the Sea of Galilee

On this water Peter, Andrew, James and John spent many of their working hours – wondering where best to cast their nets, lamenting a poor catch, and struggling with full nets and with unexpected storms.   (Then they were called by Jesus and spent many of their ministry hours – wondering where best to cast their nets, lamenting the fact that all did not follow, struggling with the new church’s understanding of what they were about, and facing the storms that their ministry stirred).  For us, it was a beautiful day with fairly calm waters and there was a breeze, but no one was afraid for their life, unlike the disciples who were scared for their lives. “Lord, don’t you care that we are perishing” they would ask.  Of course he did care and he stilled the waters.  

Here I am Lord - Sea of Galilee

Here I am Lord - Sea of Galilee

About half way across the owner slowed the boat down and held her steady as we read scripture and sang – I the Lord of Sea and Sky (Here I am Lord).  I thought about how Jesus spent so much time around this peaceful lake; his whole Galilean ministry was focused around this area, and those who heard and followed him were local fishermen.  I tried to imagine him there, in that peaceful setting, and of course, I remembered it wasn’t always peaceful for him.

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Church of the Beatitudes

Church of the Beatitudes

Overlooking the Sea of Galilee is the Mount of Beatitudes and commemorating Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is the Church of the Beatitudes; the church is octagonal symbolising the eight beatitudes.   The setting is amazing – cool and quiet gardens overlook the Sea of Galilee, and the panorama would have been much the same as when Jesus conducted his ministry in this area;  all in all, an excellent place to contemplate some of the best-known Christian teachings.   

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
      for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 Blessed are those who mourn,
      for they will be comforted.
 Blessed are the meek,
      for they will inherit the earth.
 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
      for they will be filled.
 Blessed are the merciful,
      for they will be shown mercy.
 Blessed are the pure in heart,
      for they will see God.
 Blessed are the peacemakers,
      for they will be called sons of God.
 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
      for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Of course Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount contained more than just the beatitudes.   (See Matthew chapters 5 to 7).  There is great wisdom in Jesus’ words, but more than that, Jesus’ words are eternal and have the power to change the world, and if we would just live by them we would know great peace in our lives.  What Jesus was speaking about were the principles at the heart of Christian living.  Jesus taught about important attitudes and behaviour: anger, deception, desire for revenge, marriage and divorce, enemies, and so on. Instead of money and material possessions, believers should be making God and His work the chief priority. He also had something to say about religious hypocrisy. Prayer, giving and fasting are all very good, but if they are done just to get praise and admiration, then they are valueless.   And he ended with these words:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

The Sermon on the Mount points us in the right direction and teaches the things that Jesus cares about.  Maybe we should read it and reflect on it more often.

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