Read: Matthew 3:13-17 (www.biblestudytools.com/nrs/matthew/3.html)
Sing: Shall We Gather at the River, UMH 723
Once we were safely ashore and back on our bus we continued down (south) along the Eastern shore of Lake Galilee. It wasn’t very long before we knew that we were coming to the south end of the lake: the hills on our left began moving away from the lake and were displaced by flat plains of cultivated fields. According to all the maps I have ever seen the Jordan River flows south out of the southern tip of Lake Galilee, but fact is stranger than fiction. The actual outlet of the Jordan River is about .5 miles northwest of the southernmost part of the lake. Then the river does not flow south but for the first ¼ mile it flows west/northwest.
After we crossed the river we took a quick left and stopped at the Yardenit Baptismal Site on the Jordan River, which is owned by the Kibbutz Kvutzat Kinneret. There are no Biblical references or archeological evidence to baptisms occurring here in ancient times. But it is possible that some Christian baptisms did occur in or around this site. However, this site was created in 1981 by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism as an ideal place for Christian pilgrims to be baptized in the cool waters of the Jordan River. At least one expansion has been made to this site and it now serves over 400k visitors per year.
Coming out of Lake Galilee, the waters of the Jordan River are a beautiful green that reminded me of the Guadalupe River in Texas or the Green River in Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. There were five of us from our group of 23 who wanted to reaffirm our baptisms in the Jordan River that day. We were given white robes to wear but we had been warned ahead of time that these robes become see-through when they get wet. So we had other garments to wear under our robes as we prepared ourselves for this wonderful experience. What none of us was prepared for was the water temperature. I was cold. It was January 8, so we should have had some idea that it would be cold but it was really cold. Did I mention that the water was cold? Well, it was!
We took photos first – a very good idea! Then Steve waded in to act as our baptizer – God bless him! He did a great job: we all got dunked and then headed as quickly as possible to the changing rooms where we could take a wonderfully warming shower. While I was waiting my turn in the river, I used my empty Coke bottle from lunch to capture some Jordan River water to bring back home with me. I have used some of that water in every baptism I have done since and still have most of it left.
What a wonderful experience! And what a wonderful first day in Israel.
Read: Mark 4:35-41 & Read Mark 6:45-52
Sing: Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me, UMH 509
When we left Capernaum we continued our clock-wise drive around Lake Galilee. We crossed the Jordan River at the top (north) of the lake and then headed down the eastern shore. The shoreline here was still the beautiful green we had seen on the western shore but the hills appeared to rise up more abruptly on this side of the lake. About half the way down the east side we stopped at the Kibbutz Ein-Gev for lunch and then a boat ride on the lake.
A kibbutz is a collective community in Israel. The first kibbutzim were agricultura,l but today they encompass other industries (including fishing and dairy farming here), tourist stops and hotels. An individual member of a kibbutz is called a kibbutznik. There are about 250 kibbutzim in Israel and though they began as a blend of socialism and Zionism, most have now been privatized and no longer practice communal living. Ein-Gev was founded in 1937 and has a population of 680 kibbutzniks.
We had a nice family style lunch that included about five different side dishes to go along with the main course we each ordered separately. The most popular choice for most groups (including ours) was fresh fried fish from the lake. Because I like to do new things when I am in new places, I got my fish with its head still attached. And even though we were not sitting by the windows, we still had a nice view of the lake as we ate.
As we talked and ate and took photos, we also noticed that it had started getting more cloudy outside. When we finished our meal and walked down to the harbor we could feel that the wind speed had increased and now Lake Galilee appeared to be quite choppy with a few small white-caps. But the boat ride was a real pleasure. Our crew kept the speed low and the boat cut through the waves quite well – it was a smooth ride and no one got seasick.
When we got out into the middle of the lake we could see the hills rising up both on the east and the west and we could also see the low areas where the Jordan River flows in from the north and out to the south. It was hard to imagine that sea-level was 600 feet above us. We remembered the stories of Jesus calming the storm and walking on the water and we knew that we were in good hands. The three pastors were invited to try a walk on the water ... but we all declined and decided to get back to shore the regular way.
Read: Luke 7: 1-10 (www.biblestudytools.com/nrs/luke/7.html)
Sing: Silence, Frenzied, Unclean Spirit, UMH 264
From Pastor Mike: Just a little over a mile northeast of Tabgha Valley, along the shore of Lake Galilee, lies the ruins of the village of Capernaum. Capernaum is the Romanized version of the Hebrew name Kfar Nahum, or Village of Nahum. The archeological evidence suggests that this village was founded by the Hasmoneans in 2nd century BC and that it was actively occupied until the 11th century AD and that there is no connection with the Old Testament prophet Nahum. This was a fishing village and appears to have had about 1,500 residents during the time of Jesus. The ruins were discovered in 1838 and there are two highly significant Biblical sites here in excavated Capernaum.
The synagogue of Capernaum is of special interest. We learn from Luke 7 that a Roman centurion helped build the town’s synagogue. It is easy to see in the ruins of Capernaum that the most widely available stone was black basalt – even the common folk of the town were able to build with this local product. The foundation stones of the first synagogue are still in place under the white limestone walls of the later synagogue, which may have been a Christian pilgrimage site. The black basalt synagogue is where Jesus taught and cast out a demon from a man (Luke 4:31-37).
When Jesus left the synagogue he went to Simon’s home where he found Simon’s mother-in-law sick and in bed with a high fever. Today, in the midst of the corona virus, this would be alarming for us. We would get her to an emergency room quickly. It was even more alarming in Jesus’ day. In those days a high fever meant she was going to die. A few people might recover but those were thought of as miracles. Jesus healed her and she started getting lunch ready.
Parts of this home are still standing today. It was specially marked by Christians in the first, fourth, and fifth centuries. First century Christians appear to have used this home as one of the earliest “home” churches. An interior room was used as a gathering space for prayer and worship. When Christianity became legal in the fourth century, local Christians and Christian pilgrims marked this as a special place. Then in the fifth century Christians built an octagonal church around the interior room. (The octagonal shape was a sign that they felt this place was especially significant.)
In 1990, a memorial church was completed over the 1st, 4th, and 5th century churches. It is a plate-shaped sanctuary with a glass floor at its center which allows pilgrims a chance to look straight down into those ancient structures. The modern church is built on concrete pillars that suspend the octagonal shaped disk over the excavated remains.
Our visit to this site was inspirational. The story of the faith of the centurion has always been one of my favorites, and now I have been in the synagogue he helped to build! Then you add to that that this is also the synagogue where Jesus taught and cast out a demon – well, this is why I came to the Holy Land – simply awe-inspiring! And then to walk just a few yards away and see a place where the early Christians worshiped together really does bring life to these stories.
Read: John 21 (www.biblestudytools.com/nrs/john/21.html)
Sing: Great Is Thy Faithfulness, UMH 140
From Pastor Mike: Adjacent to the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes, but stretching all the way down to the lakeshore, is the Church of the Primacy of Saint Peter. This site commemorates the stories in John 21.
As we entered the front gate we noticed one the seven springs flowing down toward the shore. The grounds are lovingly maintained and included several outdoor worship areas we passed as we followed the stream to the lake. Close by the lake, and on our left as we descended the valley was the Church building.
The Church and its foundations are built of black basalt rock quarried from an ancient lava flow that once covered this whole area. Inside the Church the altar sits behind a rock which rises up out of the floor. This rock is called “Mensa Christi,” the Table of Christ – it is the rock on which Jesus built his charcoal fire as he waited for his disciples to come ashore.
Back outside we finished our walk down to the lake. The shoreline here is rocky with dark stones; something I did not expect. This is a good fishing area because the fish are attracted to the warmer water coming into the lake from the seven springs. The warm springs of this valley and the ancient lava flow are both connected to the Great Rift Valley which allows us to stand on dry ground 600 feet below sea level. I reached down to scoop a handful of water and cooled my face and forehead. What a privilege it is to come to this place.
As we walked back toward our bus we stopped at one of the outdoor worship sites. This area includes a sculpture of Peter and Jesus called “Feed my Sheep.” I could hear Peter saying, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
Do you love Jesus?
I pray that each of us will be able to find the forgiveness which Jesus offered to Peter in this place.
Read: Matthew 14: 13-21 (www.biblestudytools.com/nrs/matthew/14.html)
Sing: 'Break Thou the Bread of Life' UMH 599
When the pilgrim Egeria visited this area in the 4th century one rock close to the highway (Via Maris) was said to mark the place where Jesus had fed the multitudes with five loaves and two fish. A primitive Syriac church had been built around 350 and a larger Byzantine church in 450. In 614 the church was destroyed in the Persian invasion. In 1932 the site was uncovered and the beautiful mosaics which can be seen today were found and preserved.
The present church was built in 1982 and is owned by the German Association for the Holy Land and is maintained by the Benedictine Order of Jerusalem. This church was built in such a way as to incorporate the ancient mosaics into the modern floor including the famous mosaic of two fish and four loaves – the artist considered Jesus to be the fifth loaf! But the most striking feature is the rock under the altar upon which Jesus placed the loaves and fish as he blessed them. The mosaic of two fish and four loaves is directly in front of the rock and altar.
Before we entered the sanctuary our group gathered in the church courtyard and I read the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish from Matthew 14 to our group. One great help to us as we toured was our “Whisperer” system – each individual was given a receiver with one earphone and Nader, our guide, operated the transmitter. This allowed Nader to speak softly and as long as we were within a hundred feet of him we could hear what he was saying.
Nader told us that because of the reference in Mark’s account of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes to having the people sit on the “green” grass that this must have happened in January or February. For the people of Israel winter is the rainy season, when they get most of the moisture they will have for the year. Nader said that the green fields we were enjoying in early January would be turning brown by early March. This is illustrative of at least part of what Jesus is teaching us here: Jesus is the bread of life and while he is with us we must enjoy the benefits of his presence.
A few months after we were here a small group of Israeli terrorists entered The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes and set fire to the office area and spray painted graffiti on the walls. Apparently these people do not want any non-Jewish places of worship in Israel. This unreasonable attitude makes them as intolerant as the Muslim terrorists who threaten the very existence of Israel.
Fortunately, these radicals are a very small minority and have little influence in a country were Jews, Christians, Muslims, and non-religious people are learning to live peacefully together and all of them depend heavily on tourism.
Enjoy what you have and think less of what you do not have.
Read: Matthew 5: 3-10 (www.biblestudytools.com/nrs/matthew/5.html)
Sing: 'He Leadeth Me: O Blessed Thought' UMH 128
As we drove north along the western shore of Lake Galilee we turned away from the lake and began climbing Tabgha Valley. We made a couple of switch-backs going up the valley and then turned right off of the main road and entered the grounds of the Church of the Beatitudes.
This octagonal-shaped (representative of the eight beatitudes) Roman Catholic church was designed by Antonio Barluzzi and completed in 1938. It sits uphill from the ruins of a Byzantine era church dated to the late 4th century.
The earliest written account of a Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land is by a woman named Egeria who traveled here in the 380’s. She tells of a cave in the hillside at the Seven Springs “upon which the Lord ascended when he taught the Beatitudes.” Archaeologist Bargil Pixner says, “The terrace above this still existing cave, called Mughara Ayub, must be considered the traditional place of the Sermon on the Mount. The hillcrest of Eremos indeed offers a magnificent view over the entire lake and the surrounding villages. The cragginess of this hill meant it was left uncultivated and enabled Jesus to gather large crowds around him without causing damage to the farmers.”
The Beatitudes are, of course, the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in which he proclaims the availability of the kingdom of heaven to all who would enter and describes the character of those who would dwell therein. Jesus gives such a graphic description of the openness of God’s kingdom that he has to declare that he is not abolishing the Law but giving it its full meaning. Jesus then gives many examples of what he means by “the full meaning” of God’s Law.
The Church of the Beatitudes is one of those spots where, when you first see it, you know that your time there is going to be too short. I could have stayed for hours contemplating the contrasts between the blue sky, the blue water, the green earth, and the lovely sanctuary that fits so well into its surroundings. In this place of beauty and peace Steve read the beatitudes out loud to us.
Blessed indeed are all who hear these words and know that the kingdom of God is open and available to each of us. The kingdom of heaven is near – it is now here!
Read: Luke 6:12-19 (www.biblestudytools.com/nrs/luke/6.html)
Sing: Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah UMH 127
The name “Tabgha” is a corruption of the Greek name Hebtapegai or “Seven Springs.” The Tabgha Valley is on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, also variously called the Sea of Kinneret, the Lake of Gennesaret, the Sea of Tiberias, or Lake Galilee. The lake is approximately 64 square miles or 41,000 acres. It is 13 miles x 7 miles at its longest and widest. Tabgha is a small valley which forms a natural amphitheater overlooking the lake below. Local Christian tradition places three major events of Jesus’ ministry in this valley: The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7); the first feeding of the multitudes (Mark 6:30-44); and Jesus’ resurrection appearance to seven of his disciples (John 21).
During our January visit the valley was beautifully green, the storm clouds continued to move away, and we were blessed with a beautifully sunny morning. Our guide, Nader Mascobi who is a Palestinian Christian, told us that this lovely, peaceful valley lies between two sites of violence and carnage.
The first site was on our left as we rode our tour bus to Tabgha. In yesterday’s photo of a rainbow there is a large hill on the left hand side, this is Mount Arbel. On the north slope of Mount Arbel there are cliffs which are dotted with caverns. In 38 BC, the caves in the Arbel Cliffs were occupied by Jewish zealots who were resisting Roman rule. They were pulled out of the caves with hooks and ropes by troops under the command of Herod (the Great) when he was trying to consolidate his rule of Israel.
The second site of carnage is a battleground from the Hasmonean period (about 145 BC) which lies to the north of Tabgha on the plains of Hazor (1 Maccabees 11:67-74). This was one of many battles between the armies of the Seleucid Empire of Syria and the Jewish Hasmoneans. This particular battle was between troops commanded by Demetrius II Nicator (Seleucid) and Jonathan, the first ruler and high priest of Israel.
This area which had seen more than its share of bloodshed was the spot which Jesus chose to proclaim the availability of God’s kingdom with:
There is not a person or a place which God cannot cleanse and make holy!
Thanks be to God!
Read: Matthew 4:23-25
Sing: Dear Lord and Father of Mankind UMH 358
Our flight from Dallas to Newark was late due to 3 inches of snow in Newark. So, we missed our first half-day of touring. When we landed in Israel on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015, it was already late in the afternoon. By the time we got our luggage loaded on our bus a light, cold drizzle had begun to fall. Because of the overcast skies and the impending sunset, it was fairly dark as we left Tel Aviv and as we approached our destination of Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee, it was totally dark except for the occasional flash of lightning. We got our luggage put away, ate supper at the hotel, and then went to bed (I had been awake for about 36 hours).
I awoke refreshed in the morning, anxious to start my Israel adventure. I immediately went to our window to check the weather, but I was not prepared for what I saw: the deep blue water of the Sea of Galilee surrounded by beautifully green hills. I was awe-struck! The Sea of Galilee sits at about 600 feet below sea-level and is surrounded by hills except on the north where the Jordan River flows into it and on the south where the Jordan River flows out. The Jordan River valley, the Sea of Galilee, and the Dead Sea are all part of the Great Rift Valley that starts in southeast Africa.
In my readings and Bible studies, I occasionally come across a reference to the area we call “Galilee” as “the Galilee.” I wanted to know, “Why the ‘the’?” What I found was that the Greek name “Galilee” is derived from Hebrew words that mean “the area,” “the circle,” or “the region. These “names” were usually used derisively in the same way that you or I might say, “The Boondocks.” The Galilee is divided into three parts: Upper Galilee, which is west and north of the Sea of Galilee; Lower Galilee which is west and south of the Sea of Galilee; and, the Sea of Galilee, or Lake Tiberias, itself.
The city of Tiberias is perched on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee just below the mid-point of the lake. It is considered one of Judaism’s four holy cities along with Jerusalem, Hebron, and Safed. Our hotel was on the south side of Tiberias and as we drove north through the city most of our attention was concentrated on the beautiful lake to our right and the hills all around. We could still see some of the storms of the night before moving off to the south and the east when suddenly it appeared. Looking due north, just as we were leaving the north end of Tiberias, we saw a rainbow over the Sea of Galilee. This was not the last wonderful sight we were going to see from inside our moving bus, but fortunately I got good photographs of two of them. This is going to be a GREAT trip!
This is the newest piece of artwork in my home. I bought it less than a year ago in Tyler. The Lifeway Bookstore was having a sale and I got this for half price. Isn’t that a riveting tale?
This quote from the Song of Songs, hanging above the headboard in my master bedroom, could have a very different meaning depending on whether or not I am married ... and whether or not I am a Christian. Of course it would seem a bit silly for me to have this in my home if Scripture was not meaningful to me. And most of you know that I have been a widower for over ten years.
There are those, many of whom have been serious Bible scholars and/or faithful followers of God, who read the Song of Songs as an allegory of the love between God and a human being. I have never been a fan of allegorical readings. Perhaps I have a lack of imagination. But I tend to see the Song of Songs more as a TMI (too much information) love story of a man and a woman.
But, I am perfectly capable of taking a verse or a piece of a verse out of context and using it for my edification. So, for me, this passage means that I have found myself in my love of God. I am uncomfortable saying that “I have found God.” God has never been lost. But when I saw this, and it was hard to miss because it is about feet feet long, I knew just where it would go in my home.
Do you know the one your soul loves? Thank God, I do.
This is another piece whose origins are uncertain – at least in my mind. I know that we have had it in our home since at least 2005. Maybe if I searched old photos I could pin that date down a little better. But that date is not very important.
This passage from Isaiah 40:31 – “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles” is around 2,500 years old. That is significant!
The Lord God is speaking a message of hope through Isaiah to the people of Judah who have been conquered by the Babylonians. Some of them have been taken in captivity to Babylon, and the rest are just struggling to survive in and around the city of Jerusalem.
The people who are held captive in Babylon will be led back to Jerusalem by God on what you and I would recognize as a super highway: “make a straight road for the Lord our God; fill in the valleys; flatten every hill and mountain; level the rough and rugged ground.”
This passage is used in describing John the Baptist as “someone shouting in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord!’”
I also use Isaiah 40, in funerals for its words of comfort and its encouragement to rely upon the strength of the Lord. These last five verses of chapter 40 encapsulate that thought.
Do not wait until you are weary. Turn to the Lord before you stumble and fall. Trust in the Lord and find new strength. Soar like an eagle and walk and run without getting tired. We all need to hear this message today!
Trust in the Lord!
In matters of faith, we at First United Methodist Church, Sealy put primary reliance on the Bible. In scripture, we understand that we are all God’s children; therefore, we will be a church that cares for the needs of our church and local community through prayer, deeds, inspiration, and love in the spirit of Christ.
Caring for the needs of our church and community through prayer, deeds, inspiration and love in the Spirit of Christ.
Sunday Worship: 10 am
Adult & Children & Youth Sunday School 9 am
First Kids Mother's Day Out
(Tuesday & Thursday; 8am to 2pm; Ages 1-3)
Rev Pat Bell, Pastor
First United Methodist Church Sealy
200 Atchison Street
Sealy, Texas 77474