Sunday, July 31, 2016

Israel: Tel Dan

Today we had another hiking tour to Tel Dan National Park, a lush nature reserve where you can see 40 century city gate and an altar structure where ancient offerings are made for religious purposes. Clear water coming from the snow melt of Mount Hermon flows through Dan River, providing water resource inside the reserve.

Dan River
Wading pool

Behind these stone walls is a shrine built during the time of King Jeroboam, a ruler of the northern kingdom of Israel. The Old Testament recorded numerous disgraceful actions during his reign as King. Jeroboam corrupted Jewish worship by building altar for golden calves, he replaced the place of worship from Jerusalem to Bethel and Dan. Jeroboam appointed priests who are not from the tribe of Levi.

"So the king[Jeroboam] took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan" 
-- 1 Kings 12:28-30

Entrance to the shrine
Golden Calf Altar
View on top
Below photo is the city's main gate, a triple-arched entrance made of sun-baked bricks reconstructed by the archaeologists. The gate was called "Abraham's gate" since the gate was built since the time of Abraham (15th C BC) or about 4,000 year old now. 

"And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan" -- Genesis 14:14

Gate of the Three Arches aka Abraham's Gate

Monday, July 25, 2016

Israel: Mount of Beatitudes

Right after our Sea of Galilee adventure we drove our way to Capernaum, the center of Jesus' ministry and also known as "the town of Jesus." The Gospel records twelve miracles in Capernaum, more than anywhere else in Israel.

During the 1960s,  the Franciscans Friars restored the old synagogues and discovered "The House of Peter" where early Christians meet together to fellowship.  In 1990s, the Roman Catholic built a modern church on top of the church ruins with a glass floor in the middle so visitors can still see the original church.

Our amazing tour guide Avi showing us the map
Identified by the Franciscan archaeologist as Peter's house
View of Peter's house from the top, inside the Roman Catholic church
Synagogue ruins
Depiction of Capernaum synagogue
Blue bus with their tour guide

Star of David engraved in wall

Then we proceed to the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus preached His Sermon on the Mount. Located on a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee, a modern church with Neo-Byzantine architectural design was completed in 1938. The Church of Beatitudes features octagonal floor plan, mozaic pavements with eight sides representing the eight Beatitudes.

Above picture believes to be the spot where Jesus preached The Beatitudes, the place has an amazing acoustic that whoever speaks on top will be heard by people below.

The Sermon on the Mount; The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12)

When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Our last stop was Tabgha on the shore of Sea of Galilee where Jesus appeared to the disciples after His resurrection. 

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.  “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” --John 21:1-7

You will find here The Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, another modern church built by the Franciscan in 1933 which incorporates part of an earlier 4th century church. The church was located in the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee

Church of the Primacy of St Peter
Modern-day disciples of Jesus Christ

Israel: Sea of Galilee

Our tour begins in a local shop where you get to buy various kinds of souvenirs. Then off we went for a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee where we have time of joyful praise and worship, we were lead to sing "How Great is Our God" in English and Hebrew lyrics. Afterwards Pastor Peter gave a short preaching from the Bible.

How the crew of the boat who were mostly Messianic Jews welcomed us and praised God for us visiting their country was memorable. He once said, "If you trust the news, you will not go to Israel, but if you trust God you will come."

Mosaic displays
Actual mustard seed
Our ride for the day

Pastor Peter Tan-Chi
Israel and Philippine flags

The experience was so surreal that I have to tell myself this is really happening. We sang Philippine and Israel national anthem while the flags are being raised inside the boat in the middle of the sea. At one point the head tour guide asked us to extend our both hands and face in one direction, he said that all the places that is covered by both hands can be found in the New Testament, in fact sixty percent of the events in the New Testament is right in front of us. I' not sure about others but being able to experience this gave me goosebumps and singing the song "How Great is Our God" was a humbling encounter, He was indeed Great and Mighty! 

The Sea of Galilee was most famous for Jesus' miracle of walking on water, 

Right away Jesus made the disciples get into the boat. He had them go on ahead of Him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Then He sent the crowd away. After He had sent them away, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray. [Remember that Jesus often sneaked away from other people to spend time alone with His heavenly Dad.] When evening came, He was there alone. The boat was already a long way from land. It was being pounded by the waves because the wind was blowing against it.
Early in the morning, Jesus went out to the disciples. He walked on the lake. They saw Him walking on the lake and were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said. And they cried out in fear.
Right away Jesus called out to them, “Be brave! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” - Matthew 14:22-27

Long table of colorful sides
Right after our wonderful experience in the boat sailing in the Sea of Galilee where Jesus performed His miracle of calming the storm, walking on water and inviting Peter to walk on water, we are in for a treat of St. Peter's fish lunch on a nearby restaurant.

Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” --Matthew 14:28-31

The sumptuous lunch features huge fried tilapia, fries, pita bread and variety of sides and salads. My favourite was hummus, a Levantine and Egyptian food dip or spread made from cooked and mashed chickpeas, blended with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic.

Fried Tilapia
Red bus peeps
Hello from the other side of the table :D

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Eight Things I Learned During Fasting

I need to make a confession, I am a person who gets easily distracted. I generally understand my goals but somehow, someway I find diversions along and then gets out of track. For the past weeks I have seen myself undisciplined with regards to sleeping habits. Oftentimes I will start checking one song in youtube at 10pm and then find myself browsing until past 12 midnight. There were also times after office I will open my laptop at home to watch some series or movie show after deciding to shutdown my laptop, I will continue watching on my phone.

The struggle is real and it keeps evolving. To think that is only sleeping routine, how much more with major issues and concerns.

CCF's mid-year prayer and fasting by some means re-evaluates my current routine and priorities. It realigns my thoughts and gives me a better sense of direction. Not just to exist but to really live fully.

1. Abstinence from social media, television and other noises of this world gives you ample time to sleep. Thankfully I had more than 8 hours of sleep for the past four days during our fasting week, first because there was no distractions, second because you don't want to feel hungry at night.

2. Fasting allows you to hear God more not because He speaks louder when you fast, you just hear Him better because you are quiet. It makes you more sensible to your surroundings. You start to notice people, the same people you saw before but didn't bother to look at because you're occupied with your phone. You hear the rain pours outside the window which you may have not realised before because you are too hooked in the net.

3. While fasting oftentimes require you to reduce the seemingly important activities in your daily routine like going to the gym or running, it is never passive. It is actively seeking His will in the more essentials of life.

4. Earnestly praying for others teaches you to be less of yourself and more compassionate to others by bringing their concerns through prayers. Prayer time become more meaningful because you are not only praying for your own instead you begin to see others in light of God. Eventually you'll realise when you pray for others, you'll never run out of prayers compared to when you pray for your own.

5. More than a yearly practice, fasting is a commitment with yourself to the Lord. Not because you know you are able to finish it but because you are certain that God will see you through until the last day. In the end, you really did not made God a favor, you made yourself one.

6. Fasting develops gratitude. It makes you appreciate what you have at the moment. You may not be eating the kind of dinner you wished you had but still you have something and for the moment it's enough.

7. Fasting encourages you to be hopeful. Hopeful for the day when you will break your fast. Looking forward for all the lessons you will learn and the things that God will reveal to you.

8. Fasting is intentional. You don't wake up one day and feel like fasting, who would like diversion from their convenient patterns of life? There are times you'd feel dragging yourself to it. But you have to deliberately make that decision to say no to your cycle and spend most of your energies seeking His voice.

The Lord expects us to fast, for Christians it was not an option, it is a command. For the Bible tells us in Matthew 6:16-18:
Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
Yes it can be challenging to break away from our comfort zones but if there's one thing that encourages me every time I do fasting, "When we fast and pray the battle is the Lord's."

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Israel: Tiberias

From Dead Sea, we travel all the way up to the northern part of Israel to the city of Tiberias. A city located at the western shore of Sea of Galilee. Established around 20 CE and was named in the honour of emperor Tiberius. We check in at Leonardo Plaza for a three day accommodation and the view from our room was mesmerizing.

We had a great time spent in this serene and quiet metropolitan with rich history, culture and at the same time close to mother nature. Having a pleasant cold weather, we enjoyed doing a leisure stroll in the neighborhood, along the promenade all the way to central boardwalk and even tried buying in their local stores.

The streets and roads are noticeably empty and most of the local stores are closed because it was Shabbath or the Sabbath, Shabbath is central to Jewish life and is religiously observed. It is a day of rest and celebration that begins on Friday sunset and ends on the following evening after night fall. Our hotel even have a Shabbath elevator where it stops in all the levels so people don't need to press the buttons as this is considered work.

Leonardo Plaza view from the plaza
Our hotel's reception area
Tiberias is one of the four Jewish holy cities, along with Jerusalem, Hebron and Safed. It is the largest city and the capital of Galilee.

Ohh but wait till you see the panoramic view of the city at night. It was magnificent with all the bright lights complementing the fading color of the blue sky, my camera can only capture a small portion of this fascinating sight. Nothing beats being actually there in that perfect moment and seeing it with your own eyes.

Tiberias is most famous in the Bible for the account of Jesus feeding the five thousand men,

After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias). A large crowd followed Him, because they saw the signs which He was performing on those who were sick... Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” ... So the men [sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted. -- John 6:1-2,10-11