We rose this morning with eager anticipation to look out of the windows to see if the winds and rains would beat us for the second straight day or if the rays of sunshine would encourage the peach fuzz on our checks to rise, and to our delight the sun was beaming down. Some rose early enough to watch it majestically arise over the bank of eastern mountains. After another tasteful breakfast, Pastor Bob led us in a time of devotion – what could be a better thought than “Hear, O Israel.” Our hearts were prepped, and the challenge was imputed that we would allow this day to be one that we too could hear from God and marvel at His marvelous creations.
We boarded the bus with our wonderful driver Eli---who is also our lunch chef and headed to Masada. Be forewarned, there is no picture and no writeup than can justly describe what our eyes and minds took in this morning. There is even a notion to leave this section blank as it is near impossible to explain the magnitude of what was accomplished here some 2,000 years ago. There is a story about Christians who, amid persecution, climbed to this high mountain and fought off Rome for some time before coming to their death in avoidance of embracing the shackles of slavery. There is so much more to this mountain’s story! Ronen, our guide for the week, gave more knowledge than a presidential library as he shared the history of this mountain.
Let’s try to reduce the scale of the magnitude to help you sculpt an image that is near impossible to comprehend in a mind that was not there. If we tell you that Herod had a palace built on top of this mountain, it would be easy to say, no big deal --- if you were not standing with us today. If we told you that they would have had to carry all the materials up the mountain by hand, and probably with the use of slaves, you may not think much of it –because you were not standing with us. If we told you that on top of this mountain in the middle of the desert that the storehouses for food supplies were as wide as a football field, again you probably can’t get the scope of this – because you were not standing with us. Atop of this desert mountain there were swimming pools, bath houses, and a plethora of other water supplies wont sink in your imagination. If we asked you to build this magnificent structure without modern technology, with no cranes, not tractors, no computers, just Roman intuition, and their grit, you would begin to understand. Now, build this on top of the Willis/Sears Tower. Perhaps you got a little bit of a sense. However!! Now build it on top of nearly 3 Willis/Sears Tower on top of each other taking you to 1,424 feet in the air. The only way you could possibly fathom what our eyes took in is for you to be here. For this is the best that we are capable of sharing this experience with you. The best pictures we took will scarcely capture what our eyes viewed. Marshall gave a teaching on the rock and together we sung On Christ the Solid Rock We Stand, and then walked our way down the mountain.
We stopped in a small desert hut where we lounged on cushions that were laid on the ground. The cushions were as low to the ground as a squirrel retreating from the street. Two critical life teachings found their way flowing from Marshall's mouth like coffee at Starbucks. Hospitality- make the meal together not ahead of time. We must welcome people in. Hospitality is a way of life. Who are you inviting into your house -- into your life, that disagrees with you? The second concept was Shade in the Desert - It is hot in the desert! However, sometimes the heat of the difficult moments in our lives can make the desert seem like a walk-in freezer of an ice cream parlor. It is in those desert droughts that it is vitally important to recognize that we look to God and take refuge in His shade tree. The tree doesn’t remove the temperature, but it does give a refrain from the scorch of the heat of your situation. Just like this tent that we found ourselves inside of while being in the desert, sipping hot tea, and eating freshly made pita bread on the fire in front of us, God desires and has the ability to bring us comfort in the midst of the most difficult moments and seasons of life. After leaving the tent, we had the grandest time shepherding goats. Yes, We led goats! We have a new respect and admiration for the shepherds in the Bible. The shepherd David, the ones tending the sheep when Jesus was born, and Jesus who guides us to Psalm 23.
We traveled to our next destination Tel Arad, where Ronan began teaching about sheep. We read many Scriptures as we finally understood the value of sheep to a shepherd. Sheep are property—and just like our jewelry, watches, cars, and things, we place it in the house for safe keeping, so do some shepherds place their sheep inside of the house with them. Our eyes gazed upon Mt. Hebron as Ronan pointed and said they do it right there in that village, here in the wilderness desert. While outside of the walls of Tel Arad, Pastor Bob taught us about city gates. He asked, “What happens at city gates?” Everything happens there. It was the most vulnerable places of the fortress. It is here that the beggars, legal matters, request to see the king, prophets would speak at them, and people were let in and out of the kingdom. At the gate! The Kingdom of God has a gate, and it is described with beauty in the Scriptures. A gate in which we shall desire to pass but only Christ will be able to grant us access through.
As we walked through the gates, we followed a path that lead us to the highest point of the ruins. In the far distance a random single camel could be seen grazing with nothing else within a mile of sight was near it. In the very far distance, you could hear an Islamic call to prayer echo off the mountains in front of us. Pastor Bob led the people down by a temple inside of this area. He touched the altar and then proceeded to bring people into the holy of holies inside of the temple here. We then locked our eyes on the most holy of holies. There was only one problem, this temple is not supposed to be here. It is not set up the right way. It was a compromised temple concept. Perhaps this is a blended place worship. Worship to our God and pagan worship combined. A place of syncretism! May we be careful to allow only God to be the worship of our hearts and may it be as pure as honey from the comb. May Jesus alone be all that we worship in the midst of the cultural contamination that invades our space, internet, houses, and heart without invitation and it always overextends its stay. Pastor Bob lead an emotional charge to all who could hear his voice.
We made it back to the hotel on the bank of the Dead Sea where the group changed into their swimsuits and hotel robes as they made their way down to the water. The youth of our younger years filled our neurological brain capillaries as we immersed into the water to become floating objects in this highly salty concentrated body of water. If you looked beyond the surface what you could really see is a bunch of husbands and wives have the love of their dating years float to the surface of their relationship as they smiled and grinned at each other. Couples were begging to have their pictures taken with each other as they embraced in front of a dead sea with more life inside of them than the extravagant mountains that laid wonder in the backdrop! Off to dinner, and now to bed.
Until next time - Leroy Childress
Featured Signature Tour
Sep 3-14, 2023
Experience Israel for 11 days in the context of biblical history and personal faith.