The highlight of IBEX since the Negev Trip has been the presence of friends and family.

The day after the Negev Trip arrived, my parents (along with a group of about 40 friends and family) arrived here in Israel. For most of the week, they were touring on their own, but we did get to accompany them on a few trips into Jerusalem. I have seen my parents do lots of things, but I have never seen them barter with Arab shopkeepers before. I’ll have to admit, they held their own. Here is a picture of them on top of Petra Hostel, with the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer and the Dome of the Rock in the background.

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Early Friday morning, Rick Dennis arrived at the Moshav. He had been spending his Spring Break on a missions trip in the Cape Verde and decided to swing by Israel before heading back to the states. Rick’s arrival was exciting–Master’s Cup level exciting. I was clapping and giggling like a little girl when he got here. Casey and I were the only people who knew he was coming, so let’s just say we had fun at breakfast watching the reactions of our friends.

For most of the weekend, we all cruised around with the Friends and Family group, but Monday afternoon, we decided to use our time and tuition wisely and skip class. Rick, Casey, Besty, Laura, Whitney, Sarah, and I hopped in a Sherut and headed for Masada. When we arrived, they would not let us hike up the Snake Path, so we settle for the cable car and a longer tour of the top.

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I enjoyed being able to go back to a place like Masada and remember the things we had learned there. Seeing Rick’s first time reactions only made the visit more fun.

Once we reached the bottom again, we cruised toward the Dead Sea. The shore was almost deserted, so the seven of us floated, found some mud, and floated some more.

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Returning to these places was fun and exciting, but some of my favorite parts of the day were the sherut rides. I enjoyed catching up with Rick, as well as getting to know all my friends even better. We talked about friends, memories we have of childhood, times of spiritual growth, and how grateful we are for The Master’s College. We were all so thankful for how God has brought us to where we are and all the things he has taught us along the way. I remember watching my brothers go through TMC as grow so much, and I am now experiencing that blessing myself, and I praise the Lord for it!

Tomorrow, our group leaves for Galilee for the next eight days. I’m not planning on bringing my computer, so I will be out of the loop for the time being.

Shalom.

When we met in the hostel lobby at 5AM, there was just a trace of light on the horizon, so we turned on our headlamps and set out to climb the Snake Path up to the top of Masada. As we ascended, more and more color began to peak over the hills of Jordan, and when we reached the top, we watched the sun shoot its rays out over a new IBEX day–possibly the best day yet.

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By this time, it was only 6 AM, and Todd was not coming up to lecture until 8, so we had two hours to explore the fortress of Masada. Let me explain some of the history. Herod built up Masada to its full glory, complete with two palaces, one for business purposes and one for pleasure purposes. Masada is most famous for its role in the First Jewish Revolt, where the Jews made their last stand at this mighty fortress. The Romans laid seige to Masada for three years, building a siege ramp up the western side. However, the Jewish rebels enjoyed plenty of water and food from the vast cisterns and storehouses. Eventually, the Romans broke through the wall, and that night, the Jewish rebels (numbered just under 1000) committed mass-suicide. Personally, I think the William Wallace approach is more admirable.

The remains of the fortress are impressive, and the new morning was beautiful. We scattered all across the ruins, exploring the cisterns, the walls, the ancient bathhouse, and Herod’s sweet-action palace. Just the night before, I had read parts of Psalm 61 and 62 during the singing at chapel, but even now those Psalms were rich with new meaning. When you stand on the edge of Herod’s palace and look down at the world, you feel pretty safe–even if you’re surrounded by 15,000 Roman soldiers. Is our God not an infinitely greater refuge than even this!? That’s awesome.

Here’s a picture of the sun from a window in the walls.

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When Todd arrived, he shed more light on what we had explored, and before long, we went back down the Snake Path. Let me just say that going down seemed so much faster than going up. Here’s a pic from the bottom.

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We moved up the coast of the Dead Sea to the oasis of En Gedi, and we hiked up the Nahal David. I enjoyed this brief stop more than any on the trip thus far. At one point on our hike, we stopped at a pool fed by a cool refreshing waterfall. We frolicked in the water, threw moss at each other, took turns standing under the waterfall, and wondered if David and his men had ever done the same thing as they had sought refuge at this desert oasis.

We hiked a little farther to a bigger pool with a bigger waterfall, and Todd read Psalm 63. This Psalm was written by David in the Wilderness of Judah, which surrounds this oasis. As you sit beside these springs in the midst of a barren land, you understand the desire for water. Watching the waterfalls also helped me understand the idea of having a “river of life flowing out of you.” Water continually gushes out of these rocks to bring refreshment to dry nothingness, and eternal life is the same way. Because of Christ, living water continually springs out of our souls, bringing life to our dead hearts.

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Across the road from the Nahal David lies the deep Dead Sea. But you don’t really get to explore the depths of this sea because you float on it! Honestly, you have to try the Dead Sea for yourself to believe it. I felt like my body was one ginormous intertube; it makes things really awkward to swim when your body all stays on the surface. I’ll blog more about this later because I’ve already been back there. Here’s Jenny showing off her floating skills.

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Finally, we headed off to our last stop of the Negev Field Awesome at Qumran. The Dead Sea scrolls were found at this ancient Essene community. We toured the remains of the community, but the most exciting part of the stop was actually visiting Cave 1, which is unmarked and out in the middle of nowhere. In this cave, some shepherd found the first of a group of scrolls from 2000 years ago that explain the world of the New Testament and demonstrate the consistency of the text of the Old Testament. I think Peter is reading the scroll in this one.

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Honestly, it is hard for me to remember some of my thoughts from the conclusion of the Negev Trip, but I feel like I’ve spelled out many of them in this blog series. In just four days, I learned so much. And it seems like I am saying that all the time over here at IBEX…

Everybody is gone.

Rick and my parents left Tuesday morning, and all the rest of the parents were finally able to make it out just this morning. (Or at least we think they did.)

The extra time with the parents and the time with Rick turned out to be amazing, but there is a lot to blog about now and I’m behind, so here’s the plan for posting.

Today–Day 3 of Negev
Tomorrow–Day 4 of Negev
Friday–Fun with Rick
Saturday–IBEX goes to Galilee for a week

But for now, let’s get back to the Negev…

On Day 3, we woke up in the port city of Eilat, where we had spent most of the second day of our awesome Negev trip. The destination for the day was our hostel at Masada, so we spent the day driving through the Aravah, a desert valley that extends from the southern end of the Dead Sea to the Eilat and the Red Sea. We made a couple interesting (even tasty) stops along the way.

We stopped first at Timna Park–home to a whole host (that’s for Prof. J) of interesting things for IBEX students. Since the beginning of written history, people have been mining copper at Timna, so we were able to see and even crawl through some of the oldest copper mines in the world. Here is Casey discovering that he should stay in school to avoid a career as a copper miner.

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As you drive through the vast expanse of Timna park, you will also see many cool geological formations, such as Solomon’s Arches, Solomon’s Pillars, and Mushroom Rocks. (None of these have anything to do with the real Solomon.) We climbed on all of these and even sang in Solomon’s Pillars on the suggestion of Melody Talcott. Good call, Mel.

Here is Casey and Sarah on top of one of Solomon’s Arches.

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And here is Josh pulling a cliffhanger while trying to get on top of the Mushroom rock.

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Our last stop in the park was at a life-size model of the Tabernacle in the setting of the Wilderness.

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Our tour guide laid on the sybolism real thick, but it was very interesting the see the Tabernacle very close to what and where it would have been when the Israelites were wandering through the wilderness.

We made two more stops as we traveled North through the Aravah. The first was for lunch at Yotvata–a kibbutz known for its dairy products. Thankfully, the restaurant was not kosher, so I was able to enjoy a meat sandwich while I drank my chocolate milk and ate my ice cream. It was good stuff.

The second stop was at the Hai Bar Wildlike Park, where they are keeping and reintroducing animals that have historically resided in the Aravah and the Negev. We saw plenty of ostriches, snakes, oryx, hyenas, wolves, lynx, and even a leopard. The leopard must have had just as good of a lunch as we had, so he was chilling out and taking a nap.

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We arrived at our destination of the Youth Hostel at Masada in the early evening. That night, our group held a chapel service out on the balcony. I led the singing and we sang a couple songs about God being a refuge for us (Masada is a great setting to get you to think through those songs). Dr. Grisanti from The Master’s Seminary was traveling with our group that week, and he gave a sermon from Deuteronomy 4. The sermon was entitled “Our Incomparable God” and the key idea was “As we consider our God’s greatness, who our God is, and what he does, we should be transformed into children who effectively demonstrate His character to the world around us.”

Think about it: There is no one like the Lord. No one’s character can compare to his, and no one can even come close to doing the things he does. If we realize this, we should be different people. If we say there is no one like the Lord, we should live like it–fully devoting our lives to his glory and not settling for anything less than that.

Money quote from Dr. G: “We’re not talking about an abstract philosophical truth. We talking about a life-changing truth.”

Preach it.

I went to bed right after chapel because the alarm clock was going to go off at 4:45 the next morning. Bring on Masada and the sunrise.

Crazy Awesome Times

March 19, 2007

Sorry I have not posted again on the Negev Trip. Let me explain.

Last week, my parents were in Israel for the Friends and Family Tour. I was spending as much time with them as possible.

On Friday morning, Rick Dennis (my RA from Hotchkiss Lower Back) showed up on the Moshav, so I’ve been hanging out with him.

The flight of the Friends and Family group back to the States was cancelled because of snow storms in New York, so they stayed an extra day. On that extra-day, we took a bonus tour with Todd to Nebi Samuel, the pass at Michmash, Shiloh, and Mt. Gerizim. It was pretty sweet.

Today, I’m skipping my afternoon class to go to Masada and the Dead Sea with Rick and some other friends.

So life over here is crazy, but it’s crazy awesome. Hopefully, I’ll get back to the Negev soon.

Day 2 of the Negev field trip (which I like to call the Negev Field Awesome) started early. At 5:45, the alarm went off, and we ran out to the edge of the canyon to watch a pretty magnificent sunrise.

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Watching the sunrise reminded me of a line from a new Matt Redman song called “Shine.” It says, “We have seen the rising sun awakening the early dawn, and we’re rising up to give you praise.” Let’s just say that is the first sunrise I’ve seen for a while, so I did not exactly remember what the sun “awakening the early dawn” looked like, but it is glorious. Each morning displays the glory and faithfulness of God. (Psalm 19)

After breakfast, we loaded up the bus and drove South. For miles on either side, all we could see was wilderness. Todd used this opportunity to take the teaching way past the academic level. He gave us quiet time on the bus and off the bus along the side of the road in the wilderness to ponder the wanderings of the Israelites. Here are a couple of my musings:

1) The Wilderness could have been avoided. God had instructed Israel to enter the land, but after the reports of the spies, their lack of faith led them to reject God’s plan. Many times we end up in a wilderness because we did not trust God and turned to our own plan instead of his.

2) The Wilderness could have been instructive. We can learn so many lessons from the time the Israelites spent in the wilderness. Time and again, God displayed his faithfulness by providing bread from heaven or water from a rock. Remembering these things should develop in us an unshakable trust in God.

Here is a picture of Ron (a non-IBEXer who is taking Land and Bible with us) against the backdrop of the Wilderness.

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Our destination for Day 2 was the city of Eilat, which sits at the very Southern tip of Israel on the Gulf of Aqaba–part of the Red Sea, but we made a couple stops along the way.

First, we stopped at the Red Canyon. No biblical events happened here, but it is a very interesting canyon that was full of colorful rocks and cool geological formations. Second, we stopped at the Egypt border. But here’s a picture of me above the canyon that we hiked through.

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After these two stops, we arrived at Eilat and enjoyed lunch on the boardwalk before heading to the beach for snorkeling in the Red Sea. Snorkeling there was actually pretty legit. Plenty of colorful schools of fishies cruised underneath us, and purple jellyfish seemed to pop up everywhere. After we exited the water, we chilled out on the Israeli beach. Here’s a pic of PC and Lester with the Red Sea behind them and the country of Jordan behind that.

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We left the beach, crossed the street on the bus, and then started up hike up Mount Zephahot. From the top of this mountain, we could see Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Here’s a picture of my Travel/Study group looking out at the sunset and our destination–Egypt.

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Day 2 was the only day of the trip that really included “night-life.” The city of Eilat is a pretty big tourist town. Large, luxurious hotels line the coast–we stayed at a pretty sweet one ourselves–and a boardwalk with shops and restaurants stretches out for a couple miles along the beach. This was the view from my hotel room.

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I cruised the boardwalk with a couple of friends, and we ended up sitting on the the edge of a jetty watching fireworks going off across the Gulf in Jordan. Day 2 was definitely a contender for “Best Day of the Negev Trip.” It started off with a sunrise over a grand canyon and ended with watching fireworks from another country. In between that, we enjoyed snorkeling, the sunset over Egypt, and time to reflect on God’s faithfulness in the wildnerness.

But the Negev trip was only half-way done.

Tuesday morning, IBEX SP07 embarked on its first extended field trip. We left to spend four days wandering through and learning about the Negev–“the South.” In the Bible, the term Negev usually refers to an area at the South of the land occupied by the tribes, but in Modern times, the term refers to a rather large portion of the country that extends all the way south to Eilat, a port on the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea. This area includes much of the wilderness that the Israelites would have wandered through. Thankfully, we did not spend forty years there, but the four-day Negev trip was another high point in a semester that just keeps getting better.

Our first stop on the Negev trip was at Beersheba. This town was often listed as the southern end of the land of Israel in the Bible–“from Dan to Beersheba.” This city also played a prominent role in the lives of the Patriarchs, so we acted out part of the biblical narrative in front of the walls at Beersheba. Here is Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar.

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We visited another city nearby–Arad. This city is not so prominent in any biblical story, but you can see some pretty comprehensive remains of a settlement from 3000-2500 B.C. Just in case you are wandering, that is before Abraham ever heard of the Promised Land. Above these ancient ruins stands the remains of a large Israelite fort from the times of the Israelite kingdom. One of the most interesting things about this fort was that it included a miniature temple that even contained a “holy of holies,” but the temple was full of examples of syncretism–the blending of the worship of the true God with the false gods of the surrounding cultures.

We visited these two sites on possibly the greenest day of the year. I had to tell myself repeatedly that it usually looked much browner. Here is a picture of Arad and the fort there. Check out the wildflowers…

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From Arad we headed to Sede-Boqer, where you can see the house of David Ben-Gurion, who is to the modern State of Israel what George Washington is to the United States. To me, the most interesting thing about the house was not only the quantity of books, but also the variety of subjects these books covered. Also, Ben-Gurion decided to retire in simplicity at a kibbutz on the edge of our wilderness, when he could have lived in the lap of luxury.

From Ben-Gurion’s house, we went out into the wilderness–no more wildflowers. We stopped at Nahal Zin–an impressive canyon at the beginning of the Wilderness of Zin. If you like hiking, you should come to Israel.

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As we traveled further into the wilderness, we stopped at Avdat–a Nabatean city. The Nabateans lived in the times of Christ and were traders. They would take spices and other rare commodities from Arabia all the way to the Mediterranean coast. They knew the secrets of the wilderness and sustained a civilization where no one else could. One thing you learn when you see all these ancient ruins is how smart these ancient people were. They did some pretty impressive things without many of the technological aides we have. Here’s a picture from the ruins at Avdat.

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Our group stopped for the night at Mizpe Ramon, which sits on the edge of Mactesh Ramon–a huge crater that is six miles by twenty-four miles large. We arrived right at sunset, which filled the canyon with color. Our group had a blast running around, taking pictures, and having fun at the end of a good day. But the fun had not even started yet. The Negev trip was only going to get better. Here’s my favorite picture from the sunset; this one goes all to all my Hotchkiss brothers.

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I’m hoping to get a post up for each day of the Negev Trip. This trip was straight-up legit. We stopped at so many cool places and had plenty of time to learn not only academically, but also spiritually.

I hope to continue blogging this week, but my parents arrive tonight! I don’t think this should slow down the blogging train, but you never know what might happen at IBEX.

Giant of a Day, Pt. 2

March 5, 2007

I hate to do this, but I’m gonna have to wrap up the Shephelah post with just a few pics.

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We did some spelunking in some caves at Moreshet-Gath, the home town of Micah the prophet. The caves are from the period of the Jewish revolts against Rome. I’d forgotten how much fun spelunking was. Peter, Lester, Michell, and I are showing off our headlamps in this pic.

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We returned to the Elah Valley to pick out some smooth stones. We also acted out the David and Goliath scene. In this pic, David (Peter) is above to cut off Goliath’s (PC) head.

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We ended our day at Gath, and we raced up the tel just in time to catch a beautiful sunset. Just thinking about it brings a smile to my face.

The Shephelah was our last one-day Land and Bible field trip, but the fun is nowhere near being over. Tomorrow, we leave on a four-day field trip to the Negev, where we will study the patriarchs, snorkel in the Red Sea, float in the Dead Sea, climb Masada, and have the best time of our lives–enjoying our Creator, his work in history, and our friends in four more glorious days of IBEX.

Political Perspective

March 5, 2007

Check out this op-ed I found on the Jerusalem Post’s website today:

The GOP–the only viable choice

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Imagine being a disciple of Jesus.

You get to cruise around Israel with the Messiah for about three and a half years. And one day, you, two of your friends, and Jesus go up onto a mountain when suddenly, everything changes. Jesus is transfigured and shining in the light of his glory. Moses and Elijah–the heavyweights of the Old Testament–appear with Christ. The Father speaks from heaven. What an experience!

But check out what Peter (who was there at the Transfiguration) says.

“We ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…”
2 Peter 1:18-19

We have an amazing treasure in the Scriptures, and I am learning this more and more as I study here at IBEX.

The Bible is so precious. It is better than gold and sweeter than a parfait. (By the way, I think parfaits may be the most delicious things on the whole planet.) Through its revelation, we can know God! We can know the eternal life and salvation that comes through Jesus the Messiah!

As Christians, we should cherish God’s word. We should read it and think about it constantly, so we might savor the sweet flavor of Scripture forever.

That’s all for now. Hopefully, I finish up the Shephelah Trip before we leave for the Negev this week!

A Giant of a Day

March 1, 2007

Earlier this week I had to check the local weather forecast for a project I was working on. As I looked at the 10-Day forecast, I noticed a theme–rain. However, there was one notable exception to this theme as the forecast for Wednesday (our field trip day) was “Sunny.” It was in that moment that I really started to get excited about Wednesday’s Shephelah Field Study.

And when I woke up yesterday morning, the forecast was right, the sun was shining, and the stage was set for another incredible field trip.

Our field trip took us to four separate valleys of the Shephelah (pronouced shfay-LAH). This is the Hebrew word for foothills, and it designates a specific geographical area between the hill country of Judah and the Coastal Plain. This area is also rich in Biblical history, botanical beauty, and straight-up fun.

We made our first stop at Beth-Shemesh in the Sorek Valley. Many of the events of the life of Samson took place in and around this valley. Todd walked us through the whole story–even acting out one part with a carefully selected prop. (Yeah, that’s a jaw bone.)

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Beth-Shemesh is also the location where 70 men of Israel died for looking into the Ark of the Covenant. Clearly, Indiana Jones knew this Bible story.

Our next stop was one that I had been looking forward to since before coming to Israel. We went on top of the tel (hill) of the ancient town of Azekah, which towers above the Elah Valley.

You may ask, “What is so special about that?”

Did you ever sing that song “Only a Boy Named David” when you were a kid? Ever heard of a football game referred to as a “David vs. Goliath” matchup? Have you ever watched Hoosiers and heard the pastor read about David killing Goliath right before that small school wins the state championship?

It was 3000 years ago in the Elah Valley and with the help of the Lord that David slung a rock at the fearsome Philistine giant and won a great victory for Israel.

From the tel at Azekah, you can easily imagine the battle. You can picture the Israelites on one side of the valley and the Philistines on the other. You can almost hear the shouts of Goliath resonate through the valley. And you are reminded of the power of the Lord, who used a young man named David to slay the mighty giant.

Here’s a picture of a few friends imagining the battle.

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After we left the Elah Valley, we stopped in Beth-Guvrin in the Guvrin Valley. Here we did not talk about as much biblical history at first, but we looked at some impressive remains from the Roman era as well as the times of the Crusaders. First, we visited the ruins of an ampitheatre that would have been used for gladitorial competitions. The remians were still in pretty good shape, so we even sent a few guys down to the bottom for a little re-enactment.

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Of course, it’s important to remember that gladiators fighting there 2000 years ago weren’t playing games or having fun–they were fighting for their lives. Second, a small group of us checked out what was left of a Crusader era church. I could have spent a while exploring this place. The outside was pretty impressive with three big arches on the front, but that was only the beginning, for there was a lot left to explore inside the church and even underneath the church.

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We enjoyed our lunches as we sat upon the ancient ruins, but this was only a brief stop in an action packed day.

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To be continued…