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We are off-balance in the Holy Land.

October 14, 2017

IMG_4521I am sitting in a back courtyard of our Haifa hostel and it is a little before 8 in the morning.  On my breakfast plate are two hardboiled eggs, a handful of fresh olives, a small ball of Lebanese cheese, slices of tomato and a dollop of tahina sauce.  My luggage is next to me;  as soon as the group assembles, we head to Megiddo and then over to Joffa today.

The courtyard is nestled in the back of the hostel and is hidden from the alleyway by numerous plants including what looks like a lime or lemon plant over seven feet tall.  It is quiet even though we are near an extremely busy intersection.  I am sipping a maddeningly delicious Turkish coffee that is black as night and is more powerful than anything I have tasted in the States.  This is not to say that I don’t appreciate a good Weigel’s House Coffee now and again, but I have just discovered that when you finish your drink and the grounds cover the bottom of your cup, well then, brother, you’ve had a seriously strong cup of java.

We’re preparing to go back to Tennessee, and we fly our first leg on Sunday.  We will be in Germany for a spell, and I’ll let you know how that goes.

It seems as if we have been gone for a month or two.  I look at the photos of our first days in the airport and I wonder why it seems so far back down the timeline.

Masada was a wondrous visit that gave us a lesson on heroism and the brevity of life before eternity.

Bethlehem let us know that, in the midst of a mob of people, we can have a quiet and private moment in a church that celebrates Jesus’ birth.

The Dead Sea let us know that no matter how much we eat, we can still float.

The Galilee Boat gave us a great reflection of the historical reality of the small fishing type of boat that carried Jesus around the waters, and that we can appreciate the fears of the disciples in the storm (that boat was small, man) and the wonder-working power of the God-Man.

The Akko stronghold showed us the struggle of men in their religious differences. It also showed us how you can make a really nice big castle with a lot of cool hallways.

The Bahai Gardens showed us a beautiful landscape as well as how to pretend you understand the Hebrew-speaking tour guide when the English-speaking tour gets cancelled.  We didn’t understand a word, but then again the scenery filled with flowers, fountains, sculptures and pillared architecture made up for the lack of comprehensible narrative.

Caesarea reminded us that no matter how powerful man and his monuments may be in his own time, everything returns to dust.  Herod may have caused fear and grudging admiration with his iron-fisted rule and ingenious architecture, but we walk among his ruins today.  Such is life when limited to man’s simple abilities.

Joffa, Haifa, Jersusalem, Megiddo, Capernaum and all our other visited places taught me that there is one common phrase given to me by any other tongue I’ve encountered, whether it was this week’s Hebrew, Arabic, French or Greek. The common phrase that everyone used was whenever I was parting: bye bye.  It seemed that any time I talked with someone in a queue, in a store, in the street or at a park, they always felt most comfortable with their favorite parting phrase:  bye bye.  It’s pronounced in rapid staccato – a quick friendly way to greet an American in parting.

And most of all, we have learned a refreshing course in being off-balance.  We are unsure, and that’s a good thing.  We have been eating strange food. We are unsure of the exchange rate of dollars to shekels. We are uneasy with new rooms and beds. We are not used to the stifling heat of the desert.  We are constantly trying to understand these new languages and the cultures of the vast numbers around us.  We are off-balance, and as I said, that’s a good thing.  It’s caused us to re-adjust.  This means spiritually.

We lost our complacency the minute we stepped into the Tel Aviv airport.  The spiritual chance started almost immediately.  We started getting new energy in this new territory.  Our outdoor-patio devotional time was a running conversation of “why?” and “why not?” when it came to bold steps in the Bible and reaching out to Jesus.  It wasn’t a standard lecture-type of Bible time;  it got roaring with questions and exchange of ideas and truths among the whole group of students.  Our visit to the Jordan River resulted in seven students getting baptized and finding a new thirst for Jesus.  The dinner and bus conversations have touched on reaching the students of our school in new and dynamic ways.  One of our students had a chance to witness to a Joffa stranger.  Others have stepped into deep meditative spiritual talks with me and the other sponsors of our trips while on the bus, at a meal,  or walking down the streets of a town.  We are seeking balance in Jesus in new ways.  We like this off-kilter feeling; it is making us squirm.

Yet it’s not just moving forward for the sake of being busy.  It comes from a special intimacy that I – and I believe the students – have developed as the week has progressed.  This next story might help explain.

I recall walking through a tight corridor after leaving the Western Wall site, filing past the throngs of people.  The people were jostling and bumping us as we moved down the hallways and corners.  Coming toward us, I saw a little girl walking  a few feet behind her father and slowly losing  the pace.  She called out to him:  “Abba”.

Abba.

That’s the word for “daddy” that we can call our God!  Romans 8:15 came alive in a special way at that moment.  I heard that word spoken in a tender and pleading way, from the lips of a child who wanted to get back to the strong grip of her loving parent.  I looked around and raised my eyebrows at the student walking with me; he had heard it as well.  We heard the affectionate word that we Christians can use in our talk with God, and we heard that very special word right here in the blessedness of the Holy Land.

And I realized that it’s our special relationship with Jesus that is most cherished.  We want to get back into a better balance with Abba, God our dear Father..

What a day.  What a week.

Bye bye.

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