Anyone who has taken John’s Bible geography class knows about “the land between”. The tiny strip of land wedged between two dominant empires, Egypt and Mesopotamia, was a major trade route, and traders, travelers, sellers and armies wanted (in Bible times and even now) to control it. This little strip of land that God promised to His people was the same strip of land already occupied by their enemies, and those folks were not keen on the idea of handing it over.
Coming out of Egypt, God (through Moses) told His people: “Turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland and in the Negeb and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon…See, I have set the land before you, Go in and take possession of the land, that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their offspring after them,” (Deut. 1:6-8).
God was saying – “Trust me! Obey me! Believe me! Follow me!”
The problem was, they were afraid of the Amorites and the people in the Arabah and the hill country and the lowland and the Negeb…and every other opponent who raised their eyebrows at them. They weren’t sure there would be enough manpower to “thrust out” those enemies (even though God said He would go before them and fight on their behalf, Deut. 1:30). They were afraid there wouldn’t be enough rain to grow their crops (even though God said – if they were obedient – He would give them the early rain and the late rain, Deut. 11:13-14). They didn’t know where they would live, or what they would eat or drink (even though God said He would give them “houses full of all good things that you did not fill and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant”, (Deut. 6:11). They were tempted to, instead of defeating the people, form coalitions and make covenants and intermarry and show mercy (even though God specifically said not to, but instead to “devote them to complete destruction”, Deut. 7:2 f).
So, this land was a testing ground of the Israelites’ faith. God wanted them to trust Him to take care of them, to defeat their enemies and provide for all of their needs. But most of them were hesitant and fearful. And – how are we any different? God wants us to trust Him to help us defeat our spiritual enemies, to care for us and provide for us. But we hesitate. We think we can handle things on our own just a little bit better than God. God says “Give” but we say “But God, I need this money…what if we don’t have enough?” He says “Forgive” but we say “But God, you don’t understand…this person really hurt me!” He says “Confess” but we say “But God, I can’t do that…it’s too embarrassing and people will see that I’m not perfect.” He says “Wait and see what I will do” but we say “But God, I need this taken care of RIGHT NOW.” He says “Love ME” but we say “Okay…I love you, but I love all of this other neat stuff in the world too.” We are far too faithless.
Long ago, God put His children in this tiny strip of land to test and prove their faith. Some excelled and some failed. They trusted Him sometimes, but at other times, they did nothing but complain and turn their backs on Him. He never stopped loving them and calling them back home, though.
We, too, are living in a testing ground of faith. He put us here on this earth to test and prove our faith – as it has been said, this world is the perfect soul-making environment. It makes us long for Him and long for our eternal home. We utterly fail Him sometimes, and turn our backs on Him – but He loves us still, and continues to call us back to Him. He “delights to show mercy” and “will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea,” (Micah 7:18-19).
Our day yesterday (I’m not really sure what day or time it is, the last time my Fitbit synced (sank? sunk?) was in Newark, so it says it’s 10:53, but here it’s 5:53 a.m. Wednesday, I think. If anyone has ideas of how NOT to use cellular data but to somehow make my Fitbit sync to the time here, let me know. Otherwise I’ll be doing mental math, adding 7 hours to what my Fitbit says, and I’m not a genius with math!
Our group this year consists of 23; some we’ve known for years and years, and some we just met in Newark yesterday (or the day before…whatever.) 😉 Gary Massey is with us this year to help with the teaching (many of you will know him, he was part of our filming trip two years ago.) He brought his daughter, Lauren, with him. Jonathan Moore is also here again this year to teach, and he brought his wife, Kim, and their son, also Jon (we have FOUR Jon/John(s) this year!) Longtime friends Will and Pat McDonald from Victoria, TX are here, as well as old (longtime!) friends Chuck and Elizabeth Misenheimer. Chuck and Elizabeth are here with Jim and Debbie Hays from the Buda, TX area. Ron and Dodie Allen are here from Tennessee, John and Betsy Phillis from New Mexico, Nathan Adams and his son, Jonah, from Alabama, Therington and Ann Nunnally from Mississippi, and Luke Griffin (many of you will know him from PTP) is here with his mother, Debbie Mitchell (from Alabama). We already feel like old friends!
Flight from Newark to Tel Aviv was nice and boring, which is just the way I like them…except for long and sleepless. We were in the row behind business first class, separated by a curtain, and again this time there were Orthodox Jews seated in front of us. When the cabin lights came on, they got up and put on their prayer shawls and kippahs and phylacteries and recited their prayers. I always find it interesting.
We met Tsvi and Lindy at the airport here – it’s so good to see them again! A few quotes from Tsvi yesterday: “Ask any question. There ees no bad question…the word ‘shy’ does not exeest here in Israel!” “Tap water are safe to dreenk.” “Here we haf modesty kit: cover knee, cover shoulder!” (Edit 12 hours later…Gary thought Tsvi said “modesty etiquette”…but John said no, Tsvi did say “modesty kit” – some sites will provide you with something to wear – they call it a modesty kit – if you aren’t modest!) Speaking of Trump, “he ees eenfinitely better than the one before, but….he ees unpredictable.” John asked about the Syria bombing…Tsvi said “I theenk eet was a good thing, some of eet he ees saying ‘there ees a new sheriff in town’ but the language people talks over here ees definitely deeferent than you guys talk at home.” Sorry…I just have to type it the say he says it!
We ate lunch in various places in Joppa – some of us had pizza type pastries, and some found falafel and schnitzel. After lunch we walked up to the top of the hill that overlooks the port, and here John talked to us about the testing ground of faith, and reminded us how Solomon had brought cedars from Lebanon down to use in the building of the temple. They were floated down on barges into the port of Joppa, so they probably would’ve been seen from this vantage point. John said that we drove down on the “Via Maris” – the “way of the sea” and then he said that “we are on this same highway. There are a lot of blessings here. These people (in Solomon’s time) were committed to building God’s house. Are we building our own house? Are we building up the house of God?” He reminded us that we need to be thinking about the blessings we can contribute and receive while we are here.
In Caesarea, we walked through the ruins of Herod’s palace, seeing the sea level swimming pool and the Hippodrome and many old mosaics. There are remnants from many civilizations here – not just from Herod’s time but some Byzantine ruins as well. Gary talked to us here about Cornelius, the Roman centurion who was a “devout man” and feared God. After hearing Peter, he became the first Gentile Christian. Gary talked about the location of Caesarea and how it was “God’s loading dock” to take the gospel to Rome and the rest of the world beyond. He reminded us that the only reason that Festus, Felix, Pilate, Herod and other men are “important” to history is because of Jesus. He said that “Caesarea was built by tyrants and oppressors but God used it as a pathway of blessing” to the rest of the world.
We got back on the bus, all looking and sounding like zombies, and made the quick trip back to Netanya, also on the Mediterranean coastline. We had a great Israel style buffet dinner and then met on a cliff overlooking the ocean just after sunset. Jon talked to us about our priorities. Solomon seemed to spend much more expense and materials on his own palace rather than God’s temple – why was that? Were his priorities out of place, and are ours? He mentioned the book of Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways.’ (Haggai 1:4-7).
Our lights were out by 10…but by 4 a.m., John was fidgety, and I said “should we just get up?” Before the words were out of my mouth he was jumping out of bed, ready to go. Yes, he’s still horribly chirpy and cheery in the morning. I’m not. 😉
The internet is great here – but it isn’t always. I’ll try to post when I can…not that any of you are waiting, but I know some family members back home like to know what we have going on. As always – please forgive typos and errors…I’ll correct them later!
Incidental – the shower doors here are bizarre, to me – they only half cover the shower. The whole back section gapes open…I may have gotten more water on the floor than in the shower – but it was a great shower and I feel human again! And here’s the view from our balcony this morning!