The Fullness of Good and Tension
This morning started with far less of a jolt for me. In fact, the early wake-up call allowed me (and most all of us) plenty of time to sit on our balconies overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The calming impact of the still water with the lingering fog that hung overhead was the perfect picture of what today held: stories that reminded us that so often the good in our lives comes with tension looming nearby.
Kibbutz Misgav Am
Our day started at the border of Israel and Lebanon. Sitting amidst a vast scene of vegetation and homes is a wall (a border) that reminds the Israeli community living there of the tension that exists. Our group filled the seats of a small room with a view of Lebanon while an Israeli from the kibbutz explained the tension of knowing that those living just over the border could disrupt their safety at any time. And yet, this 150-person kibbutz is utterly committed to living there as a reminder that their loyalty is to Israel. It was obvious that theirs was the kind of passion that drives people to not only follow their beliefs but insist on seeing them through—even when their degree of safety is unknown.
Following the kibbutz, we headed to Caesarea Philippi, which marks the headwaters of the Jordan River and the place of Peter’s great confession of faith in Jesus Christ. We began by sitting under trees on stone seats listening to a devotional by our Field Ministries manager, Ty Perry. He focused on the message Christ gave to the disciples there. Why in the midst of this pagan city, a location known for fulfilling every fleshly desire, would the Lord Jesus Christ come and give His challenge to consider who He is? Ty then turned the question to us: Who do you say that Jesus of Nazareth is? What idols do we have in our hearts that are standing in the way of a pure relationship with the Lord?
As we pondered this, we took the pathway up many stony steps to see the cave that was once believed to be the gateway to hell. While incredibly impressive, it reminded us that a life given only to the flesh is one that produces stone hearts. Giving up everything to follow Christ is the only source from which fresh springs of life can flow.
From there we went to a Druze restaurant where there was absolutely no tension because the food was incredible and I loved every bite. (Okay, that’s just my opinion, but it was great!)
Along our travels today, we learned that the eucalyptus we saw growing were indicators that there were abandoned Syrian army posts nearby. Not native to Israel, the eucalyptus were remaining transplants from the soldiers. We saw apple trees and cherry trees and terraces cut into the stone of enormous hills to create flat landings for planting agriculture. Truly, Israelis know how to make the most of every opportunity.
After lunch, we passed through the Golan Heights where we saw several volcanoes (no longer erupting) that run parallel to one another, along with rows and rows set up by Jewish settlers to harvest grapes.
Our next stop was a site overlooking Syria onto the Golan Heights, one of Israel’s most beautiful areas. I don’t know about you, but when I hear the news of Lebanon or Syria and any of their tension with Israel, I imagine those cities farther away. But today was a reminder of how close they are to Israel, basically right in their backyards, so to speak.
Our tour guides reminded us while we were there of the trials and tribulations experienced during the 1967 Six-Day War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and, more recently, continuing tensions with Syria.
While we came to the Holy Land to be that much closer to the stories of the Bible and experience the sweetness of every site, it’s good to be reminded of the tension of today.
Following the visit to the Syrian border, we passed countless cows (Dan Price reminded me these are the cows of Bashaan from Psalm 22:12!) and ancient cemeteries alongside the road. We parked at Gamla, put in our earbuds for our listening devices so we can hear our tour guides perfectly from wherever we stand, and headed along the path that would lead us to the historic city of Gamla, also known as the “Masada of the North.” With vultures surrounding overhead (remember with good, there’s always tension nearby), we enjoyed the sites of the Byzantine village and indescribable views of Gamla, and we received a quick dive into Jewish history.
From there, we enjoyed a beautiful drive with a front-row view (as in from our side-of-the-bus windows) of the Sea of Galilee with a sun shining so brightly through the clouds that it reminded me that even when the good and the tension exist together, God is always creating something beautiful in the midst of it.
Our final site this evening was in the city of Magdala—an ancient city unearthed only recently, with an excavation that started in 2006 and took approximately 10 years to complete. What archaeologists discovered were the ruins of an ancient church and a town with what appeared to be markets or vendors. Signs of rocks stacked in the ancient doorway indicate that the owners were attempting to protect their property when the Romans invaded their land.
Here, we were reminded of the story of Mary of Magdala. Jesus cast out seven demons from her, and she later became the first one to His tomb after His death—only to find Him resurrected.
It was a beautiful place.
We then headed to the famous Lido Decks Restaurant on the waters of the Sea of Galilee where we were greeted with open arms by the owner and served endlessly by a legendary wait staff. From stacks of fried onions to hummus, salmon, lamb, fresh focaccia, mango sorbet, and more, the meal along with the strung lights and dancing catfish in the water made it an evening to remember.
Now, all tucked into our hotel rooms on the Sea of Galilee, we’re all ready for sleep.
As I consider the incredible moments of today, I hope we all remember that the story of Jesus is not just a good one—written to make us feel better—but one of overcoming tension for the sake of fulfilling His calling.
Be encouraged, you’re loved by a really awesome God.
Until tomorrow! Good night!
Blog author: Karen Katulka
Director of Marketing & Communication
The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry
Photos: Dan Price
Assistant Director of International Ministries
The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry