Tuesday, November 19, 2013

O... burning hills of Bethlehem?

I figured that title would catch your attention ;D I'll get to the burning hills in a minute

The Wall of Life

Last week a group of ten went to West Jerusalem to see the movie Ender's Game. I've been anticipating that movie way too long to let somebody's comments on facebook taint my expectations. I won't spoil yours either. After the movie, we wandered around a bit and stumbled upon a Christian cemetery with one of the most captivating murals I've ever seen in my life. It's called The Jerusalem Wall of Life Mural. This mural, which spans probably 100 feet, depicts the entire Bible story in one huge image. Or at least it will. It's still a work in progress. One portion of the mural made a significant impact on me with its beautiful symbolism. I'll let you figure it out yourself.

A small portion of the Wall of Life Mural


We went to Bethlehem last week! On the way we went to the Herodium, a memorial to the earthly king Herod the Great. It ended in the shepherd's fields of Bethlehem, where the birth of our Heavenly King was announced.

The Herodium (inside):
One of Herod the Great's most grand palaces and also his burial site, built atop an artificially-enlarged mountain.

At the end of the day, we sat and pondered the birth of Christ on a hillside shepherd's field of Bethlehem.

Shepherd's Field in Bethlehem: still in use today!

We also saw an episode from modern politics when some arsonists threw some makeshift explosive onto the field across the way, and we watched a chunk of weeds burn and fizzle out. Some border patrol guys came and stopped whatever they were trying to do by shooting some smoke-like projectile toward them.

Note: Just in case your heart is racing, these were just some kids trying to start a fire. We were way, way out of their throwing range, plus there was no reason for them to aim at us.

The Shepherd's fields of Bethlehem. I saw a flock in the bottom of the valley, and a shepherd leading a different flock at the top of the ridge. It's still used for the same thing today!

O, burning hills of Bethlehem...

Anyway, here was the real highlight of that day. It goes back to a theme which keeps repeating itself in my life lately: "Yisra-el." Israel. God Prevails. He's in the details. I happened to stumble upon a quote that morning on Facebook. It seemed intended for me in two ways. First was that it referred to Bethlehem, to which I was going that very day. Second, it emphasizes that God puts us in each other's lives in order to influence each other, just as he puts the stars in the sky to influence each other. And in the scheme of the Plan of Salvation, stars can indeed represent people! Anyway, here's the quote:
"The same God that placed a star in a precise orbit millennia before it appeared over Bethlehem in celebration of the birth of the Babe has equal, if not more, attention to the placement of each of us in human orbits, so we may, if we will, illuminate the landscape of our individual lives, so that our light may not only lead others, but warm them as well."
- (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "That My Family Should Partake", 1974, pg. 86)
Have you ever thought of that? God had to place the star in just the right spot thousands of years ago! And not only that, when he blew it up in a supernova, or whatever he did to make it shine, it had to be timed perfectly to coincide with Jesus' birth! And yet he gives just as much, if not more attention to you and me. Yisra-el. One of the reasons I am here right now is because of the people I needed to meet. God knows who I need to become and who can help me do it.

Now then! On to more adventures...

I'm an archaeologist!

Many years ago, the Muslim community decided to do some construction work on the Temple Mount. Turns out this is a really big deal, digging aimlessly with giant backhoes on one of the world's most culturally and spiritually saturated pieces of land. Yeah, that could have been thought through a little better. So the Israeli government jumped in and confiscated the dirt from this project, which was sure to be filled with pieces of history. I got to go sift through some of that dirt with my friends, and wouldn't you know! Megan Bassett and I got the find of the day: A Hasmonean coin! This was a half-shekel most likely from the Second Temple period, which covers Christ's lifetime. These were the coins Jews would use to pay for their sacrificial animal at the Temple.

Half-shekel coin, probably used to purchase animal sacrifices during the Second Temple period

I'll be famous! Megan will be... more famous!
Unfortunately we didn't get to keep the coin, and they actually find an average of one of these a day. But it was cool that we were the ones to find it!

Exploring the Temple Mount

Today and yesterday our class got to explore more of the Temple Mount. I guess I've never explained what that is, have I? Silly me, acting on assumptions. Brief history lesson: King David wanted to build a temple, but he couldn't because he was a king of war. So instead he collected the materials and built the foundational platform upon which the Temple would rest. His son Solomon then built the actual temple when he was king. That temple and its successor (2nd temple), are destroyed completely (Luke 21:6, Mark 13:2).

Temple Mount in the Second Temple Period (517 BC - 70 AD)

Temple Mount in front of the Golden Gate, which used to lead to the ancient Temple. It is now walled shut.
Shout out to the peeps in the pic! Jamison Peterson, Jordan Lenhart, Alena Tuttle, Makena Madsen, Cam Cardon, Kristen Fitts, Sarah Jensen (I hope that's you!), Emily Clifford, and Kinsey Ferrell (twice!)

As you can see from the sphere above, the Temple Mount is still around today. We explored the Kotel Tunnel, which leads along the side of the Western Wall, underneath all of the houses that are now built there. We saw some of the original stones from Herod's Temple (2nd temple) still supporting the mount. There are several stones which weigh 570 tons! How in the world do you transport something like that without electricity? I don't know, but Herod was a genius of a builder.

That stone on the right is massive: 570 tons!
Both inside the tunnel and outside on the south end of the mount, we also saw piles of rubble. This rubble is the very stone that was turned over when the Romans destroyed the temple. Much of it is still there!

Rubble from the destroyed templeStill sitting next to the mount 2000 years later!

Standing where Jesus stood

This morning, I stood at the old southern gate of the Temple mount, where most of the traffic in and out of the temple probably traversed during Jesus' time. Most places in Jerusalem aren't the same as what you read in the Bible, because they are buried some 3 meters below the ground. However, we're quite sure that the stairs at the south of the Mount are the same ones from Christ's day. And you know what that means?

I really did walk in the footsteps of Jesus today. I am a witness.

In the Savior's footsteps
Me standing on a stone where Jesus almost certainly walked.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

I have witnessed many things

So! Here's a few pictures to show you, so that I can use less words in today's blog entry.

As always, be sure to check out the latest on my photosphere album for some of the best-of-the-best.

So, let's start with the most important stuff first! I just had to buy this hoodie. It was worth it. A couple of us have this shirt now. Take that, name brands!
Lindsay Hawkins and me wearing our Pumba shirts. Take that, name brands!
(And Becca Pearson photobombing in the back =D )

Next up, I was thinking that maybe this is a little more important... I went to the zoo a week ago. Yeah, it was like most zoos. You know, there were animals and stuff. But! Here's what made this one interesting: the animals actually move around and do stuff! I swear that never happens in Utah. Maybe it's too hot there. So yeah, there were lots of monkeys, and they were fun to watch.

Speaking of monkeys... we went into the lemur section of the zoo, and there was a staff member there who would help lure them onto our bodies with a piece of food. We got lots of pictures of it. So fun! Oh yeah, and then at the end a REAL staff member came and told us we're not supposed to touch them. Turns out that first guy was uh... not a staff member. Whoops! Well, it was a whole lot of fun getting lemurs to climb all over us.
My room mate, Nick Hardy. Check out his band's new album!
Did I mention they have battled bands against Imagine Dragons? NBD...

One more thing! I guess this one might be important, too...
We went to Jordan for four days last week and saw some great stuff. Among them were:

  • Mount Nebo - where Moses looked into the promised land of the Israelites. On a clear day, you can see the mount of Olives and even the Mediterranean sea from there! Be sure to turn around to see the statue of the brazen serpent.
  • Machaerus - The traditional site of the death (beheading) of John the Baptist. It was on top of a mountain as well. They have a lot of those out here.
  • Jabbok River - Where Jacob wrestled the angel of the Lord. After prevailing against the angel he was given the new name of Israel, which means "God Prevails." Ever thought about that? Jacob put forth everything he had and won, and yet the moral of the story is that God prevails. He is in control. He is leading our lives. Ever since we visited this spot, God has confirmed this to me over and over. God prevails. He is in control. Things will all work out with His plan. Just stick with him, and you'll be okay.
  • Petra - One of the seven modern wonders of the world. It's a giant city carved into the stone walls of a miniature grand canyon. You'll recognize the structure behind me from Indiana Jones and the Last crusade, Transformers 2, or Mission to Mars. There are dozens of spots like this, but this one is one of the most well-preserved. The other one is the monastery, which you can see below.
"The Treasury" in Petra

"The Monastery" - a huge, huge structure at the top of a mountain with an altar inside.
See the photosphere album link for a much better-quality view

We may or may not have hired Kirk Jeppesen to sacrifice Melissa Boud to the pagan gods while we were at it...
I got to take a camel ride with Karren Hunsaker!

  • Bethany Beyond Jordan - The site of the Savior's baptism. It's a really special experience to visit there with the many other people of other faiths that believe in Jesus Christ. In fact, just across the bank we saw a group of people dressed in white being baptized.

I sat along the edge of the Jordan River, washed my feet in the river and thought to myself, "What does it matter if I wash my feet here or not? Why does it matter if I come here at all? God is not a respecter of persons. He doesn't consider one person more righteous because they go on a pilgrimage to see the River Jordan. So why do I care so much about being here?"

And then the Spirit whispered, "Because you can testify that you, too, have seen this with your own eyes. You are a witness."

I am a witness! Not only have I physically seen much of the Holy Land (and much more to come), but I am a spiritual witness of what happened here. God has always been involved in the dealings of the world. He has always been intimately involved in the details of my life. He is real. He is involved in your life, too. Pay attention! You may be missing what's going on in your own life! Just take a minute or two each day to look back on what He has done, and He will always show you what he did for you.