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This is one of the last sunsets I saw at Yad HaShmonah. As I watched those last few sunsets from the ruins of the ancient synagogue, I began to reflect on my time in Israel in order to prepare for the inevitable questions that would come when I got home: “What was your favorite thing at IBEX?”, “How was Israel?”, or the totally unanswerable “What did you learn at IBEX?” This post is an attempt to answer that question.

I learned so much about so many things during my time at IBEX. I learned about the land of Israel and the Jewish people. Before I went, I did not understand the strategic importance of the Central Benjamin Plateau or the difference between Sephardic Jews and Ashkenazi. As I studied in IBEX, I discovered all kinds of new things about the Bible. Now I understand the general chronology of the life of Christ and I can see the settings for so many of the stories of the Bible in head. Even though I was on the other side of the world, God used different things to teach me about ministry in the dorm and in the church. Through my professors, I saw what it looks like to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”

As you can see, it is hard for me to be concise about the things I learned at IBEX, but here’s my best shot: It’s real.

The Bible is completely true; it is absolutely real. The events of Scripture are not fables; they are historical. The attributes ascribed to God in the Bible are accurate; he really is loving, faithful, and holy. There really is no one like our God, and because of this reality, my life should never be the same.

The night before we climbed Masada, Dr. Grisanti gave a sermon that capsulized the semester. He spoke on Deuteronomy 4 and the incomparable nature of God. And he brought everything full-circle. Yes, it’s real. Yes, our God is incomparable. So what? He said, “We’re not talking about an abstract philosophical truth. We talking about a life-changing truth.”

If it is real, my life should be different. I should be serious about holy living. I should never attack the character of God by worrying about the future or complaining about the present. I should pursue friendships that will encourage others to godliness. I should be passionate about sharing the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ to others. And I should be full of praise and thanks to God for raising me from my state of spiritual death and giving me new life–eternal life–in Christ.

During church on our last day in Israel, we sang the song “To God be the Glory.” One of the verses spoke very accurately about SPO’7.

“Great things he has taught us, great things he has done
And great our rejoicing through Jesus, the Son
But purer and higher and great will be
Our wonder, our transport when Jesus we see”

Yes, heaven is also real. And because of the gospel, we can look forward to rejoicing there with Christ forever. It’s real, and I’m psyched.

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Yesterday, I ate my first In-N-Out Burger since January. It was good.

And in case you didn’t catch it, eating In-N-Out again means that I am back in Southern California.

IBEX is over.

The last couple days in Israel, I started to realize how my time there was so suddenly coming to an end. Pretty soon I would not be waking up in Israel, spending all day every day with the amazing people of SPO’7, or learning from some of the best professors I have ever had. I would be diving back into my life in America, catching up with friends, and looking for a job.

But as I watched my last sunset from the synagogue ruins at Yad Hashmonah, I realized that my IBEX experience was over and only just beginning all at the same time. Yes, my life was about to change drastically, but it had to eventually; I could not stay at IBEX forever. And while the people I was with and the places I went were amazing, the most important thing about IBEX was what I learned about the Lord. As I return to my life here in California, a lifetime of enjoying the Lord that I got to know better at IBEX and applying the things I learned there begins.

While leaving IBEX was certainly sad, this realization fills me with excitement to return to return to my old life, but not necessarily to my old lifestyle. I want to read the Bible with delight and freshness everyday and memorize it so that I might meditate on it constantly and consistently. I want serve Hotchkiss better as an ARA next year than I did this year. I want to love people more than I fear them. I want to be more passionate about personal holiness and evangelism.

IBEX is gone, but the Lord is not. He is the same in Santa Clarita as he is at the Sea of Galilee. I learned a lot at IBEX, but that knowledge is all worthless if it does not change the way I live here. That’s why I’m excited. And that’s why I say my IBEX experience is over but only beginning.

This week I will be catching up with friends and family, so I doubt I’ll be blogging. Hopefully next week I will begin a productive summer of blogging, posting some about IBEX (especially the Egypt Chronicles) but also whatever else I want to write about.

Shalom.

Todd’s Surprise Gift

April 29, 2007

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If you polled the students of SP07 and asked them what made this semester so special, one of the top answers would be “Todd.” Throughout the semester, Todd endeavored to teach us about the land of Israel and the Bible and to remove the need for maps at the back of our Bibles because they are now “burned on our minds.” And through studying in that class and by going on the most amazing field trips, we more fully understand the stage on which the events of the Bible were played out. However, Todd’s instruction did not end with the geological composition of the Shephelah, and over the past months he has shown the students of SP07 his concern for us and his love for the Lord.

With our Land and Bible class winding down at the end of March, Todd decided to open his home each week for “Tuesdays at Todd’s.” During these times, we would pack out his living room and pick his brain about everything from teaching to easchatology to photography to Bible study to the topic every college student is thinking about–dating. I wish more professors would do things like this with their students; interaction like this does not require an IBEX environment.

Over the last few days, Todd has taken a few more chances to invest in SP07. On Friday night, he spoke at our last chapel service for the semester. 2 Timothy 2 provided the text for his message, and his message provided a new context for this epistle to us. Paul wrote this letter as his last words to Timothy; Todd taught from this text as part of his last words to us.

Tonight, Todd gathered us in the miklat in the evening for a “surprise.” As we were all debating whether the surprise would be edible or framable, Todd walked in and revealed that the surprise was a letter–an ancient letter–and he proceeded to recite Ephesians to us from memory. After I got over the realization that he had memorized the whole book, I was blown away by the content of this amazing letter in which Paul speaks of “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” When you hear all of the words of this epistle together in one sitting, you easily see Paul’s train of thought. In this letter, he teaches so much about what we have “in him” and how this should affect our lives. I left the miklat tonight with a few friends in silence as we were challenged by Paul’s words to the Ephesians and inspired to memorize God’s word and let it dwell in us richly. Later this evening, I was talking to my friend Austen, and he commented on how neat Todd’s “surprise” gift was. “You can see how Scripture is the most important thing to [Todd], and that was his present to us.”

Within a week, I’ll be eating some non-kosher goodness at In-N-Out, but as life returns to “normal,” I hope that in many ways my life will never be the same after my time in IBEX. I want to delight more in the Word. I want to commit myself more to the ministry in Hotchkiss and at my church. I want to be more passionate about evangelism. I do NOT want to forget the things I have learned this semester in this amazing place with this amazing group taught by amazing professors–like Todd.

Egypt: Conquered

April 22, 2007

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At 10:15 PM on Saturday, April 22, 2007, Patrick Carmichael, Abi Cottrell, Whitney Krauss, and I strolled up the dark road that leads to Yad HaShmonah.

We were returning from a nine-day journey that had taken us through flash floods and sleepless nights to three different countries and a thousand good times. We spent eight of those days exploring the sights of the Egypt, from the pyramids to the temple at Abu Simbel to the frigid top of Mt. Sinai. We left without much a plan and returned to Israel thinking that we could not have planned a better trip.

There is no way that I can do justice to this trip in just one post, and there is also no way that I can do a series of posts now with how busy school will be for the next week. Therefore, one of my summer goals is to blog “The Egypt Chronicles,” which will tell the story of our amazing journey through words and pictures.

About a year ago, I remember reading a blog by Brad Smith about a trip he took to the land of Egypt. He talked about his adventures, but he also discussed Psalm 139 and how his experiences had brought his thoughts to this Psalm. And as I sat awake in the wee hours of the morning on a night train from Cairo to Luxor, all I could think about was Psalm 139. Even though I was in the midst of the most foreign experience of my life, God was there. The truth of his word remained constant, and I could enjoy the same nearness to God that I can enjoy here at the Yad or back in California. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me…

When we returned last night, we were surpised to find how much the Yad felt like home after our time in Egypt.

I was also surprised to find how much reading I still had for a Modern State book review that is due on Thursday, so now I am off to more reading from Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem.

You should go read Psalm 139.

Peace.

Off to Egypt

April 13, 2007

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In two hours, Patrick Carmichael, Whitney Krauss, Abi Cottrell, and I are embarking on a 9-day journey to Egypt and Jordan. Just the other day, PC looked at me and said, “This is one of those times that we are going to look back on when we’re older and say, ‘That was one of the best times of my life.'”

It’s gonna be awesome.

See you in 10 days.

Easter is a great holiday, a wonderful mixture of the beauty of God’s creation in Springtime and the glory of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, possibly with a side of the final round of the Master’s. For me, this Easter was especially delicious because I spent it in Jerusalem–the place where it all went down 2000 years ago.

Last night, our “Life of Christ” teacher Bill Schlegel took us around the city on a hike that traced the steps of Jesus in his last night. We started on the Western Hill, probably near the location of the Last Supper and ended at a rolling stone tomb outside the city. Reviewing the story of Jesus’ last night required much walking, and we were quite tired as finally returned to our hostel shortly after midnight.

As we walked through the city and read the Gospel accounts of what happened, Jesus’ words stood out to me. He was about to leave and die; what would he say to his disciples? As you think about the words of John 13-17 in this context, the words strike you with more of their full weight and force. I was encouraged to “abide in Christ” and to make more efforts to let his word “dwell in me richly.”

This morning, we woke up before dawn and walked to the Garden Tomb for a sunrise service. Yesterday, we had sung “See What a Morning” (written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, check the Gettys out here) at Jerusalem Assembly–the church we attend every Shabbat. When we arrived at the Garden Tomb, we were all excited to see this song listed on our song sheets. In a city dominated by Islam, Judaism, and Catholicism, I was so refreshed to worship the Risen Lamb with so many other believers (1400 people attended.) The singing was Christ-centered and joyful; the sermon was encouraging and challenging. To top it all off, the weather was beautiful–or as the song says, “gloriously bright with the dawning of hope in Jerusalem.” This has been a special Easter for me.

Last night, Bill said something on our walk that struck me. He pointed out in the text where Jesus says it would have been better for Judas if he had not been born. He also said that because of Christ and salvation, we do not need to have that perspective. Because we know the Risen Savior, it is a good thing that we have been born.

As he was talking about this, my mind did what it normally does–found a movie quote that coincides with the present topic of conversation. I thought about “It’s a Wonderful Life” when George Bailey tells Clarence that it would have been better if he had never been born. (This, of course, occurs after he explains to Clarence that “money comes in pretty handy down here, bub.”) As the movie turns out, George realizes that he has a wonderful life, and he expresses this joy as he so memorably runs down the main street of Bedford Falls shouting “Merry Christmas” to everyone & everything he passes.

For true Christians, this kind of joy should be the permanent state of our souls. When we realize the glorious magnitude of the resurrection, our hearts should be full of “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” (1 Pet. 1:8) Our sins are forgiven, death has lost its sting, the Evil One has been defeated, our eternal future is secured–it is finished, and our Savior is alive!

He is risen.

He is risen, indeed.

What do you know about that, Bert!?

On the Way to Galilee

April 5, 2007

On the first day of our “Galilee Trip,” we did not even see Galilee because we took our time traveling through the coastal regions of the land of Israel. This journey brought us to two spectacular destinations: Caeserea and Mount Carmel.

When you tour Israel, you see many things built by Herod the Great, and every one of them is impressive, from Masada to Herodium to the Temple Mount. However, none of these rest in such a picturesque location as Caesarea.

This city was nothing until Herod the Great made it a light on the coast of Israel. By using innovative construction methods, he built a monumental, man-made harbor–complete with lighthouse. Many other remains are scattered throughout the city, including a theatre and a hippodrome (used for gladiatorial competitions and chariot races.) Of course, Herod built himself a pretty sweet palace right on the coast. In one wing of the palace tha just out into the ocean, he even had a fresh water swimming pool.

How did he get fresh water? He built an aqueduct that brought water from higher regions to the north all the way to this great city.

In biblical history, Paul spent two years imprisoned here and gave defences before Felix, Festus, and King Agrippa II. As I walked through the ruins of Caesarea, I realized that while I may be impressed by what Herod built, now it is nothing more than something interesting to see. Paul did not build any impressive buildings, but what he did still affects my life today. Herod lived in the lap of luxury; Paul lived in a jail. Now Herod is a memory, but the fruit of Paul’s work can be seen in the lives of people like you and me.

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In this picture, I am playing the role of Herod Agrippa I. In this picture, I am giving a speech on my own awesomeness. If there was a next picture, it would show me getting eaten by worms.

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Here’s a token Hotchkiss pic under an arch in the aqueduct.

In the late afternoon, we made our way up to the top of Mount Carmel and the monastery at Muhraqa, the traditional location for the showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. The roof of the monastery gives you a great view from the Jezreel Valley (including Armageddon) to the Mediterranean Sea. From this one spot, you can see the setting for so much biblical history. Therefore, Todd likes to use this spot to teach.

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Of course, the main story we discussed at this site was that of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. The whole story is summed up in this one line: “If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”

The truth is simple: The Lord is God; therefore, we should follow him whole-heartedly. In this next picture, David Wreesman and I are standing in front of an Elijah statue. Elijah is standing over one of the prophets of Baal, all of which were killed because they were leading Israel astray. Do not listen to the false ways of the world–the Lord is God; follow him.

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That’s all for this post of Galilee Trip sweetness. These next couple weeks are the busiest of the semester academically, so the posts might not be as frequent.

Until next time, enjoy the pics, sleep well, follow the Lord.

Step Onto Liquid

April 1, 2007

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Last night, I returned from an eight-day field trip to the region of Galilee. The beginning of the trip already seems so long ago because of all that we have done in the last week. We studied hard; five of the eight days were set apart for Land and Bible, so we were learning about the geography and history of the places we visited. We played hard; we still had plenty of time to spend hanging out on the shore, hiking through beautiful valleys, listening to Israeli tanks practice, crossing the border into Jordan, and enjoying our friends. We learned and thought about the teachings of Jesus in the places where he actually gave them.

When I named my blog “Step Onto Liquid,” I was thinking about Matthew 14:22-33 and the story of Peter starting to walk on the water toward Jesus. Last week I tried to walk on the Sea of Galilee myself, but all I ended up doing was stepping into liquid. One of the highlights of the week for me was a boat ride on the sea. On the boat, we reviewed two stories from the life of Christ–Jesus calming the storm and walking on water. As I thought about these stories, I realized how incredibly applicable these stories are to me.

After stilling the sea, Jesus asks his disciples, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”

While this query was meant as a rebuke for the disciples, it also challenges me. If Jesus came to me in the middle of the storms of my life, I get the feeling that he would ask me the same question. Why are you still afraid? How small is your faith?

Too often, Christians overlook worry and fear as minor sins. However, they are gross and directly attack the glory of God. Think about it. When you worry, you are basically saying, “God, I know about all the great things you have done. You created the world. I have read in the Old Testament about all the many ways you worked through your people in the Old Testament. I have studied the life of your Son. I know he stilled the stormy seas and walked on water. I know he rose again. And I believe that you have saved me and that I will be with you in heaven forever. BUT…I still do not trust you.”

Nothing about that kind of attitude qualifies as a “minor” sin. When you worry, you are going against everything you say you believe about God. If we really do believe what the Bible teaches about God, we should always have faith in the Lord.

This is just one of the many lessons from the Sea of Galilee trip that I hope to never forget.

For the next two weeks, we are back at the Moshav before we get a week for Travel/Study Break. (I’m going to Egypt.) So I am planning on blogging up Galilee for the next two weeks, so stay tuned.

I’ll wrap up this post with the words that Jesus spoke to Peter as he called him to step onto liquid.

“Take heart; it is I. Do not afraid.”

Those words still ring true.

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…