Tangible Evidence that Confirms the Accounts – Israel Initiative 2015

My name is Ben Bryant. I am a Master of Divinity student at Shepherd’s Seminary and live in Raleigh, North Carolina. Today, (Dec 7) was my first full day in Israel. We started our tour by travelling north from Tel Aviv to Caesarea Maritima, the once spectacular city built by Herod the Great in the first century BC. I appreciated the historical and biblical significance of it as Dr. Bookman described it. Historically, this city was an important commercial and administrative center. It was also the place where God worked in a wonderful way to bring the gospel to Cornelius and to show Jewish believers that the Gentiles could be equal members of Christ’s body as described in Acts 10-11. Later in Acts, Paul would be held there to give his defense before governors Felix and Festus, and then before King Herod Agrippa II (ch. 24-26).
Seeing this site gives me a better sense of what this city was like in the first century. It was a city dedicated to pagan worship, including the imperial cult. But even in Caesarea Maritima, there was a Roman centurion that worshipped the true God. It was to this city that the Holy Spirit sent Peter to preach the good news.

We also traveled further north to Mt. Carmel to ascend to Muhraka. This name comes from an Arabic word for “scorching.” It was here that Elijah likely confronted the prophets of Baal and Asherah and where God sent fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice. It was hard to imagine what the sight must have looked like.

From the summit of Mt. Carmel, we could see a panoramic view of the Jezreel Valley. The place where the city of Jezreel was located could also be seen in the distance. It was helpful and somewhat humorous to envision Elijah running past Ahab’s chariot to reach that place. In the distance was Mt. Gilboa, the battle site where Saul killed himself (1Sam. 31:4). Seeing the distances between places in the region put the biblical narratives in perspective.

We visited Megiddo as well, was an important strategic city built by Solomon (1 Kings 9:15). The three cities identified as being built by Solomon in 1 Kings 9:15 have been unearthed, and archaeologists have discovered identical gate houses in each. This provides strog evidence for the historical accuracy of the Bible, as each city dates to the reign of Solomon and their similarity demonstrates the same person built all three.1

Though I believe God’s Word is to be believed no matter what, it is exciting to find tangible evidence that confirms the narrative accounts of Scripture. This sort of discovery is good for preparing Christians to answer objections about the authority of God’s Word.

Learning the stories of Herod, Elijah, Paul, and others in the places they happened is a powerful way to envision the circumstances they were in, as geography played a large role in many of the accounts of the Bible. I am encouraged by the faith of Elijah when he prayed for drought and rain. I am also impacted by the horrific stories of Herod Agrippa’s and Saul’s deaths.

The most exciting event of the day was climbing up to Muhraka and catching a glimpse of the broad valley that God had providentially placed as the stage of so many important events–both past and future.

Jesus’ Humanity and God’s Grace – Israel Initiative 2015

ii15-Matthew-Karlstrum-01Hey there! My name is Matthew Karlstrum and I am a student from the West Institute in Laramie, Wyoming. I am studing in the 1-year master’s of theological studies program. My wife Kristin and I moved to Laramie specifically so that I could attend the West Institute. I chose this particular program in large part because of the Israel Initiative. This trip is a once in a lifetime opportunity for both my wife and I. We are very grateful for God’s provision and Shepherd’s commitment to the education of its students through the experience of this trip.

Now to the good stuff. Today we are on our 5th day in the city of Jerusalem. We spent much of the day visiting sites related to the events of the night before Jesus’ crucifixion through to His death, burial and resurrection. We started the day by walking to the site of the last supper and then to the garden in which Jesus went to pray for encouragement. This was a quick stop before walking to the place where tradition places the crucifixion and burial place of Christ. While this most likely isn’t the site of these events it was a great place to contemplate the events of that night and the work of the father that was accomplished through the son. Seeing all that we’ve seen on this trip and visiting the physical places that God chose to glorify Himself through the sacrifice of His son for the redemption of you and me has been invaluable to developing my call to ministry. I can definitely see that God has me and my wife here for our good and His glory! It was great to contemplate Jesus’ humanity as he prepared to complete the task in which he was sent to accomplish and how God provided the strength and courage to Jesus in that hour. This trip has made this narrative more vivid and real for me and my wife. We will always look back to this time and the places in which we visited as we continue in our service to God and the ministry of spreading His word.


Who Has Believed What we Have Heard? – Israel Initiative 2014

Written by David McManus, MDiv student at Shepherds Theological Seminary.

Today is a special day.

I was born on February 22, but I was born again on December 16. Thirteen years ago today the Lord violently and abruptly arrested my hell-bound path, and changed my life eternally. I didn’t grow up in the church. In fact, if my family owned a Bible, I don’t know where it was kept. I grew up an angry child of absentee and alcoholic parents, and I hated the world, and God (if He even existed) for it. The feelings of bitterness defined my behavior and my worldview for many years, and on that day thirteen years ago, the last thing that I was looking for was salvation.

And yet, He called me; He drew me; He justified me; He saved me.

who has believed

As if that was not enough, less than a year later, He brought me my future wife, saved since six years old, raised in a Christian family, and attended Christian schools her entire life. She motivated me to grow in my new faith, and God used her to push me deep into His Word. He moved me into Christian education where I could not only do what I loved, coaching and teaching, but I could do it in a Christian environment, sharing my faith, and mentoring young people who shared some of my experiences. He has made me a father twice-over to two amazing sons, and it has been through this continual learning experience that I have come to a greater understanding of a loving, and yet demanding, heavenly Father. He called me into His service full time a little over three years ago, and I have been serving in ministry and pursuing a seminary education for His glory. It has been an earth-shattering thirteen years (at least in my little corner of the world), and I am so humbled and grateful to be serving my Savior and striving to bring Him glory for what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do.

You may be asking by now: “Isn’t this supposed to be a blog about your Israel trip?” Well, let me see if I can tie this all together. On my thirteenth birthday in Christ, I stood overlooking Bethlehem, the earthly birthplace of my Lord and Savior. Dr. Bookman talked today of the application of Isaiah 53:1, “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him,” to not only the cross but to the cradle as well. The king of glory was born in the most irregular of circumstances and the most humiliating beginnings, and yet, God had chosen this as the path to redemption and the realization of ultimate glory. I thought about King Jesus today and the craziness of improbable outcomes, in the sense that this Christ child lying in a lowly manger would one day conquer death and save the souls of so many.

The first words of the Lord spoken through Isaiah in 53:1 are, “Who has believed what we have heard?” It is a history that only the sovereign God of the universe could conceive and accomplish. I thought back to my own life and my less than ideal beginnings and all the things of this world that said I should have been a statistic, a cautionary tale of an angry and neglected kid, and a stereotypical case of one who ultimately fell prey to the sins of his father. Instead, beyond any reasonable explanation, the Lord elected me to salvation

In 1 Timothy 1, Paul explains that he was once a blasphemer, and persecutor, a violent man, and the chief of sinners. He then writes in 1:16, “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost [sinner], Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” I stood in Israel today, in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, as a husband, a father, a seminary student, a pastor, a born-again believer and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Who has believed what we have heard?”


Was Blind but Now I See – Israel Initiative 2014

Written by Joshua Komis, MDiv student at STS, Cary Campus. Thursday, December 18, 2014.

“Teacher, for what sins is this man blind?” In John 9, Jesus and His disciples come across a blind man in Jerusalem. The disciples are quick to assume the worst about this man they’ve never met, but Jesus said that this blindness was meant to lead toward the glory of God (v. 3).

As I stood by the excavated edge of the Pool of Siloam this afternoon, I recalled this familiar passage from the Gospel According to John. I stood on the steps where Jesus very well could have stood that day in Jerusalem so long ago. I cannot say that this was a “holy” site or a magical experience, but the Scriptural narrative took a life of its own in my mind as it was read out loud.

Stone StepsI found it interesting that instead of simply speaking or touching the blind man, Jesus put mud on the eyelids of this man and told him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. John takes care to mention that this event took place on the Sabbath, which lends assistance to understanding. The Pool of Siloam was a ritual cleansing pool for the Jews who were about to make their way up to the Temple. Hundreds, possibly even thousands of Jews would come to this large (possibly one acre) pool and cleanse themselves before going to worship.

Jesus knew that this blind man desired to have his eyesight back. Yet, He also knew that even more importantly, this man needed to be clean in order to go to the Temple on the Sabbath. He gave this man the impetus to go to the waters of Siloam, where this man was thrice cleansed over. As he responded by faith, God cleansed his heart. As he responded to Jesus’ directions, he was cleansed from blindness. When he entered the Pool of Siloam, he became ritually clean to visit the Temple.

I climbed the recently excavated steps of the first century street that led up to the Temple Mount. I could mentally picture this formerly blind man leaping for joy and seeing for the very first time. Since he did not see Jesus’ face, the next time he talks to his Savior, Jesus reveals His identity to the new believer. I cannot even imagine what emotions this man felt at that moment.

Despite all of the excitement we must recognize the poignancy of the disbelief of the Pharisees. They examined the newly healed man twice and “grilled” him over his experience. “We know this man Jesus is a sinner, tell us how he opened your eyes.”

As Dr. Bookman explained this story, one thought leapt out at me. This man who was blind from birth was enraptured by all of the new sights that assaulted his senses. Of all of the amazing things and people that he saw, he was most amazed by the unbelief of the Pharisees.

John 9:30 and 33 say, “The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes…if this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”(John 9:30-33 ESV)

Praise the Lord for this man’s faith! This man understood a fact about faith: man can believe in his heart without seeing his physically present Messiah. On the other hand, just because one sees with his own eyes does not mean he will believe in his heart. Jesus’ miracles are meant to show people that He is the Son of God. He and He alone has the power to open the eyes of our heart as well as our sight.

We find this poignant truth at the steps of a simple pool called Siloam.

In the famed words of the believer John Newton, “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.”

Finding Treasure in Israel – Israel Initiative 2015

At the Jordan River, Dec 9I have been looking forward to attending one of the Israel trips since I began at Shepherds Theological Seminary in 2013. And now that I am on the tail end of my studies for the Master of Arts in Church Ministry, this is the perfect culmination of my education. My name is Jared Laskey and I am currently in the process of church planting in Virginia Beach, VA.

This morning, December 9, began with my Israel Study Trip roommate (Corey Staton) and I quickly strolling the beach at Hotel En Gev, nestled along the Sea of Galilee. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking. I think we both were still in awe that we were now here, walking among and seeing locales we had only read about in Scripture. I could see off in the distance Mount Arbel, a place we visited yesterday which may have been the mountain where Jesus gave His disciples the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). That has always been a Scriptural passage of significance to me as it was one of the first verses I memorized when I began my discipleship journey at 18 years of age, in 1998.

After breakfast I took time for personal devotions, standing on the beach looking outward to the sacred land. I read the Scripture aloud, to an audience of one, reading, “Make me know Your ways, O Lord, lead me in Your truth and teach me…Good and upright is the Lord…He leads the humble in justice and He teaches the humble His way…Turn to me and be gracious to me for I am lonely and afflicted…”

This ended with, “Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for You. Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles.” (Psalm 25).

We loaded the bus and then began the adventurous day seeing this land, with our knowledge increasing and reverence for the Word deepening in our ever expanding minds as we went from place to place, strolling Scripture everywhere we went and hearing Dr Bookman’s profound insight every step of the way.

Stopping at Chorazin, located nearly 3 miles north of Capernaum, Dr. Bookman walked us down to where the mikvah was. The mikvah was a place for a ritualistic bath for purification. Though the mikvah is not mentioned in the Old Testament, its practice emerged during the intertestamental period and may have been a precursor to John’s baptism of repentance. Chorazin was mentioned in Luke 10:13-15 and Matthew 11:20-24, where Jesus had performed many miracles yet pronounced, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”

Dr. Bookman and the students on this trip had a pleasant surprise at Chorazin as we met Dr. Mark Bailey of Dallas Theological Seminary. He shared several insights to us, saying at one point(and I will paraphrase), “It is better to come to Israel at the beginning of your ministry rather than at the end, because it shapes what you do and how you love your ministry.”

Dr Bailey and Dr Bookman

This day had many other treasures, such as when we visited Tel Dan, where Jeroboam, who was appointed king of the northern kingdom in 931 BC, presented calves of gold to be objects of worship, as recorded in 1 Kings 12. Among this place were also remnants of recent history as we saw not only the high place of worship, but also trenches and pill boxes that formed a 360 degree perimeter along this hill side, left behind from the Syrian military in 1967. Being a veteran of OIF and OEF I took great interest in this and could see in my mind how soldiers lived among this site, in the recent present day and in antiquity.

This trip to Israel is simply astounding. Everywhere we go I am in awe of God. If you go on this trip, the biblical text comes to life. I cannot wait for the adventures to come in the days ahead.

Jared Laskey

Embracing the Lessons of Israel – Israel Initiative 2015

ii-Kristie-JonesGreetings from Israel. My name is Kristie Jones and I am a third year seminary student at Shepherds Theological Seminary. I live in Raleigh, NC and I am pursing a Master of Arts Degree in Church Ministry with a focus in Christian Ministry. I work in women’s ministry in my local church and assist in mentoring young women in our youth ministry.

This trip has been life changing. I will never read or study the Bible the same way again. This experience has caused me to look at life, theology, and ministry through different lenses. My faith has been strengthened and replenished. Each day as we move from destination to destination, I cherish and embrace each lesson learned.

Today we traveled to several destinations. The two locations that I would like to share are Shiloh and The Mount of Olives. Shiloh was previously a major place of worship in Israel. It was here that Joshua erected the Tabernacle once the children of Israel traveled through the wilderness from Egypt. The Tabernacle remained in Shiloh for over 300 years from the time of Joshua through the period of the Judges, and was where the people of Israel went to worship and participate in annual feasts. It was in Shiloh that Joshua divided the allotment of land between the tribes of Israel. Hannah the wife of Elkanah prayed at the Tabernacle for a son and was given Samuel (I Samuel 1:1-28). The story of Hannah is one of my favorite biblical narratives and to be able to see the very place where this story unfolded is nothing short of amazing. It was in Shiloh that Samuel the son of Hannah and a prophet grew up under the guidance of Eli the priest. Eventually Shiloh was destroyed by the Philistines around 1104 BC who also carried off the Ark of the Covenant. The Tabernacle was later rebuilt in Jerusalem.

The second area for discussion is the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives sits east of Jerusalem and is an important part of the landscape though not part of Jerusalem. It is mentioned in both the Old Testament and New Testament. The Mount of Olives serves as a burial place and has thousands of graves. At the bottom of the Mount of Olives is the Garden of Gethsemane. This is where Jesus went and prayed before being betrayed by Judas before being taken for trial (Matthew 26:36). Jesus also wept here over Jerusalem. This site is now the Dominus Flevit Church. During our visit to the Mount Olives, I reflected on the life of Jesus and that many of the aspects of his life occurred in this very location.

As I continue on this trip, I plan to use each experience to better serve in ministry. As I work in women’s ministry particularly with young women, I will share this experience to help them become Christians and strong disciples of Christ. I am thankful for the Israel Initiative and for those who make this trip possible.

It’s not about me: Lessons from Israel – Israel Initiative 2015

ii15-Sterling-Ottun-01Yesterday we hiked up a 900 foot mountain cliff that overlooks the Dead Sea called Masada. King Herod designed and contrived the building of this fortress city. King Herod is known for two things: His building projects (building the unthinkable) and making enemies (he made them daily). Masada is a perfectly exhibits both of these things.

Masada is located in the Judea wilderness. Here it is dry and virtually nothing grows. This is the same wilderness in which Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights and David fled from Saul. Upon this fortress King Herod built steep walls, had two palaces (one for personal use and one for dignitaries) , deep cisterns scattered all over the mountain top for long term water supply, and he had workers bring tons of fertile dirt up the mountain so food could grow for a long term food supply, bathhouses, and a synagogue.

This fortress, sole purpose was a place that if an uprising in Israel happened he could seek long term safety and refuge. This is the same power hungry, paranoid, child-murdering king we read about in Matthew 2:1-18.ii15-Sterling-Ottun-02

Truth be told, as believers in ministry, we can all have a bit of King Herod in us. Instead of building projects, in ministry we attempt to build our own mini-kingdoms. We can take undue praise and glory, for things that the Lord as clearly orchestrated and built though the work of His Spirit and His Word. Second, in ministry we can develop enemies. How often do we see churches falling apart because of relationships? And often seeing church leadership not being peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) in the process? Unfortunately both of these things all too much are the norm rather than the exception.

It’s important to look at the ruins of Masada and ask ourselves if we are building something that truly lasts? Is my ministry truly Christ driven or me driven? Do I have relationships that are currently in ruins?

Unfortunately, in the past I have done some kingdom building and had broken relationships. Christ is willing to set these things right if we do our part and repent and give up the sin driving them.

Remember it’s not about me, it’s all about Jesus.

Sterling Ottun, Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling, Church Ministry