Pilgrimage to Israel 2022

Pilgrimage to Israel 2022

by Dr. Jim Miller

Read along with Dr. Jim Miller as he publishes pictures and a blog on the pilgrimage to Israel, May 26 through June 10, 2022. Keep this group of First Church Tulsa pilgrims in your prayers as they travel. As soon as updates are available, they will be posted here.

Day 9 - Friday, June 3, 2022

Jerusalem - The Holy City

This morning we left for Jerusalem, the holy city, seven miles from where God entered time (Bethlehem) and lived among us. Here, in this city, Jesus took up the cross, laden with the sins of the world, and defeated death, sin and the devil. By His resurrection power, we ourselves live.

We drove south from Pilgerhaus and entered Jerusalem through a tunnel. As the bus came out of the tunnel, the stereo system started playing the three tenors singing, The Holy City. It was a moving entrance into what many call the epicenter of God's activity –– driven by His love for the world.

We found our way to the Legacy Hotel, our new home for the coming week –– just two blocks from The Garden Tomb, and very near the Damascus Gate of the Old City.

After dinner a group of us walked to the Old City and visited the Western Wall. As the psalmist puts it: “We are standing inside your gates, O Jerusalem!....All the people of Israel --the Lord's people-- make their pilgrimage here. They come to give thanks to the Name of the Lord.” (Psalm 122)

The joy of being here together continues. Friendships are deepening. Gratitude for God's gift of community is obvious.

Thanks for your ongoing prayers.


Day 8 - Thursday, June 2, 2022

A day of deeply mixed emotions

This morning, on the quiet and beautiful shores of the Sea of Galilee, we awoke to the news of tragedy in Tulsa –– five people killed at the Natalie Building of St. Francis Hospital. 

After breakfast, we gathered in a circle of chairs on the terrace overlooking the Sea, and prayed together for our city and those affected by this most recent event. It was a poignant reminder of the chaos and evil that has invaded our world and our hearts –– and the desperate need we all have for a Redeemer, Someone who can turn the human heart toward that which is life-giving.

Georg, the German Director of the Pilgerhaus, joined us in prayer and shared a bit of his story with us. We thanked him and his team for their services to us and then we boarded the bus bound for Jericho.

On the way we stopped at En Harod, the Spring of Harod, a beautiful nature reserve on the slopes of Mt. Gilboa. It’s here, in Judges chapter 7, that we read of Gideon and his battle with the Midianites. He’s assembled 30,000 troops for the battle –– but is told by the Lord that it’s too many: “If I let all of you fight ... the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength” (7:2). This may be the most luring temptation we face: the idea that we don’t really need a Redeemer to fix what’s wrong in the world –– just a bigger army, or more technology, or more talented political leaders. Whether we think nationally or personally, our strength is sufficient.

But the Lord Jesus instituted the Eucharist (...remember Me!) to keep us vigilant against the notion that we can do life on our own –– and in order to strengthen us by His mercy and grace.

From En Harold we drove to one of the oldest cities in the world, Jericho, made famous by God’s mighty act in bringing down the walls –– after Joshua and the people of Israel marched around the city walls seven times on the seventh day. The shofars sounded, the people give a mighty shout –– and the walls came down! What a strange way to win a battle. I wonder what kind of dividing walls in our own lives might fall –– if we opened ourselves to God’s way of doing things? 

It was a day of deeply mixed emotions –– but many reminders of the Lord’s redemptive work and mighty acts. Thanks for your ongoing prayers.


Day 7- Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Arbel and the shores of Galilee

This morning we left early for the Cliffs of Arbel, not far from our guest house on the shores of Galilee. The site is described by Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, as a long-standing hideout for Jewish rebels - first, against King Herod (30 BC) and then against the Romans (AD 66-70).

More importantly for our purposes, Mt. Arbel offer a stunning view of the Sea of Galilee and surrounding villages. Many scholars think it likely that Jesus would have taken his disciples here, and considered their mission, as they looked down upon the villages they would encounter. Some even think it was the mountain from which Jesus gave his great commission.

From Arbel we drove to Yardinet, on the shores of the Jordan River where 13 of us climbed into the waters to reaffirm the promises spoken over us in our baptism. As we sat together prior to the reaffirmation, I saw a family that had come alongside our group, holding towels and white robes. I welcomed them and asked them if they were waiting for another group. "No," and the father said that they were hoping to have their four-year-old son, Anthony, baptized. Another young man with them, named Julian, asked if he could reaffirm his baptism. And so, we welcomed them inviting them into the waters of the Jordan.

We arrived home early to the Pilgerhaus and a dozen or so went into the Sea of Galilee, just a few yards from our guest house. Surely, a young Jesus would have done the same with his friends.
It was a glorious day in Galilee. Thanks for your ongoing prayers.


Day 6 - Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Another beautiful day in the Galilee!

We drove north from our guest house straight to the Golan Heights region of Israel—about 65 miles. Our first stop was the Tel Dan Nature Reserve, a beautiful place offering forested hikes amid the rushing Dan River —one of the three sources of the Jordan River. It’s an absolutely beautiful part of Israel. Tel Dan includes an important archeological discovery of a high place golden calf altar built by King Jeroboam around 930 BC.

Next, we drove to Caesarea Philippi, which in the first century was a largely Gentile part of ancient Israel. The story of this place in the Gospel of Mark is found in chapter 8 — and serves as the hinge of the whole gospel story.

A smorgasbord of religious options are literally carved into the rock cliffs here — niches and grottos where figures of gods and goddesses were visible and on offer. It’s here, in this place, that Jesus poses the remarkable question to his followers, "What are people saying about me? Who do they say I am?"  And then he added, "How about you? Who do you think I am?"

I’ve been here many times — but have never had the experience we shared on this visit. As our guide, Rann, was telling the story of Caesarea Philippi, I noticed a young couple on their knees before the niche of pan, just yards from us. Pan is one of the Greek gods — especially popular among what are sometimes called the mystery religions. They were reading prayers from a book titled, Dionysian Hymns — and then, at times, singing with a single drum.

When the couple finished their worship, I asked if we could visit with them for a few minutes. They were very open and welcoming to our questions. They were pagans from Lithuania, worshiping via hymns and prayers to Dionysius, an ancient Greek god. They spoke of their search for finding “the face of God”, the most obvious of which, the man said, are the rocks and hills, the birds and skies.

I asked if we could could offer a prayer and they were welcoming to this. The young woman handed me her prayer book — “Oh,” I said, “I’d like to just pray without the book — if that would be OK?” She smiled and nodded. And then I prayed that the Lord might bless all of us and each of us — by making Himself more fully known. And that He would guide this couple (and each of us) in our search for Him. “As a Christian,” I added, “I pray this in the name of Jesus.”

From Caesarea Philippi we drove to a former Syrian military site in the Golan Heights. Our guide, Rann, who served as a paratrooper in the Israeli Defense Forces, gave a bit of the history of this strategic territory —now annexed by Israel.

On the way out of one of the military bunkers, I slipped on some pea-gravel and went down quite unexpectedly and inelegantly. The fall was not serious but involved multiple cuts and bruises on my right hand and arm. The response to my dilemma was immediate and gospel-worthy!

Ben Peterson helped an old man to his feet; Ellie Swan began pouring (her precious!) water over the cuts and abrasions on my right hand. Amy Swails and Mary Putnam must work for EMSA! They came from nowhere with an impressive supply of bandages, gauze pads, medications, ointments —and other accoutrements. Amy even told me she had a chest compressor if I needed that! I’m pretty sure I could have asked for a pace-maker and this team could have delivered!

Dr. Tom Marberry gave this impromptu medical team a five-star award for their speed of assistance and preparedness!

I found myself thinking: what if every wounded person received the immediate care and attention that came so quickly to me? What if the Christian community offered that kind of rapid response to those wounded by life’s brokenness, by sin, by heartache and sadness? My little medical team sprang into action to comfort and heal. It was a deeply appreciated gift at a critical time. A visible sign of the Gospel!

It was a remarkable day in the Galilee! Thank you for your continued prayers.

Day 5 - Monday, May 30, 2022

Cana and Nazareth

Day 5 took us to Cana in Galilee where, according to John's gospel, Jesus demonstrated his authority by turning water into wine at a wedding. We began by going to a beautiful chapel and witnessing the re-affirmation of wedding vows from three of our married couples, Dr. Tom and Mary Anne Marberry, the Rev. Anthony and Kelly Scott, and Mark and Ann Kachigian (married in September and now living in New York). Each couple told a bit of their story, captivating the listeners with both light-hearted and, sometimes, poignant remembrances. Tears were shed by more than a few witnesses.

Tom and Mary Anne are very close to fifty years married; Tom's eyes glistened when he reaffirmed his promises. Anthony and Kelly shared funny stories from their early dating years. Mark and Ann have both lost their spouses to illness and death. Ann read a beautiful statement that declared the Lord's miraculous grace in their coming together.

From Cana we drove to Nazareth, the tiny village where Mary and Joseph met --and where Jesus grew up. Scholars usually estimate the town in Jesus' day to be approximately 50 families --maybe four or five hundred people. Today, the population of Nazareth is about 84,000.

We stopped in what's called "Nazareth Village" --a brilliant reenactment of what first century Nazareth would have been like in Jesus' day. We learned much from our special guide, Yosi (Joseph), who walked us through the olive grove and vineyard. He showed us an olive-press, describing how it works. Heavy stone slabs were lowered onto olives that had already been crushed in an olive crusher. Gradually, the slabs' weight squeezed the olive oil out of the pulp, and the oil ran into a pit, later to be collected in clay jars.

Yosi told us that the image of an olive press offers a vivid picture of Jesus' suffering. The weight of the sins of the world pressed down upon him and crushed him. Gethsemane, of course, is a Hebrew word that literally means: the place where olives are crushed.

We also visited the vast Church of the Annunciation, the traditional site of where the angel Gabriel met a young Jewish woman, named Mary, and declared that she would give birth to a child. Mary's question, "How can this be since I am not married?" is followed by her commitment: "I am the handmaid of the Lord: let it be to me according to your word!"

We ended the day by going to the top of Mt. Tabor, the traditional site of the transfiguration of Jesus.

It was a beautiful day in Galilee! Thanks for your ongoing prayers.

Day 4 - Sunday, May 29, 2022

Galilee, Capernaum and Magdala

Well, Day 4, turned out to be quite a day. We will not soon forget it. We visited some of the most important archeological sites in the Galilee. We walked into the small ancient fishing village of Capernaum, the hometown of Jesus' Galilean ministry for two or three years. It's impossible to overstate the historic importance of this site for Christians. Jesus taught and healed many here. He used it as a base of operations, traveling quickly by boat to many villages surrounding the Sea of Galilee.

Capernaum, Jesus' hometown

We sat under a small grove of trees among the ruins of Capernaum and began to talk about Jesus’ demonstrated authority — both in his teaching and in the miraculous signs he offered. And then came the question: “Do you think Jesus still does the miraculous today?”

"Circle of Miracles"

And then, for close to forty-five minutes, we heard story after story of the Lord’s work in our lives —his miraculous, redemptive, life-giving work today. They spanned the gamut of life — from physical healings to spiritual awakenings, from sustaining grace to miraculous provision. I will forever remember this place as the “Circle of Miracles”; I’m confident that we all left strengthened by simply listening to one another — and hearing that the Lord has been (and is!) at work among us. Talk about the importance of community — sharing life in Christ together!

Synagogue in Capernaum --built over 1st century synagogue

From Capernaum we drove just a few minutes south and came to the ancient village of Magdala, made famous by a woman named Mary Magdalene (from Magdala). Fifteen years ago a first-century synagogue in Magdala was discovered, and it stands today as one of the most remarkable archeological finds in Israel.

Jesus would certainly have taught and worshiped in this synagogue — as it stands very close to Capernaum on the main road leading travelers to the south of Israel.

A very beautiful and recent church stands on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and very near this synagogue. It’s named, in Latin, Duc In Altum (“Put out into the Deep” — Luke 5:4 —Jesus’ words to his disciples).

The acoustics in this church are like Carnegie Hall, absolutely beautiful. We sang a song in the round: Father, we adore thee, lift our hearts before Thee; how we love you! Ron Pearson would have approved! A downstairs chapel contains a remarkable painting of the woman (with the issue of blood) who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment and found healing. In the painting, her hand is caught in the moment that she reaches low (amid the sandals and feet of the men) and touches the garment.

The day concluded with a boat-ride on the Sea of Galilee. The engines were eventually turned off and we sat quietly on the sea, reflecting on the many gospel encounters that happened somewhere very near where we sat. Some of the crew showed us how the fishing nets (with weights attached) would be flung into the sea, dropping quickly, and then pulled up again — with hopeful fishermen awaiting.

Prayers were offered, songs were sung —this group of Presbyterians even learned a couple of Jewish dances (another miracle!). A remarkable day of blessings. Thank you for your ongoing prayers.

Sunrise on Galilee from the PilgerHaus (our guest house)
The Church of the Twelve Apostles (Greek Orthodox, Capernaum)
Lifelong best friends: Suzanne and Pris
Peacocks on the grounds of the Orthodox Church; they are said to carry many facets of Christian symbolism (including the resurrection -- shedding their feathers every year and growing new, more beautiful, ones)... Also: the all-seeing eye of God.... (eye on feathers)

Day 3 - Saturday, May 28, 2022

Israel College of the Bible, Caesarea by the Sea, Mt. Carmel

Our first stop today was the Israel College of the Bible, a remarkable Christian training school with several hundred students, both Hebrew and Arabic speaking. Sheila Gyllenberg, a faculty member here, spoke to us about what the Lord is doing in Israel, particularly among Jewish young people. You might check out some of the testimonies offered at their website: https://www.oneforisrael.org/israeli-testimonies.

We met a young graduate named Celesty, an Arab Christian who simply brims with the love of Jesus. She works in the video technology wing of the College and shared how the school is using technology to share the gospel (see https://www.oneforisrael.org/about-us/jewish-evangelism-in-israel/).

Next, we went to Caesarea by-the-Sea located on the coast of the Mediterranean. This was a stunningly beautiful Roman city in the time of Jesus, built by order of King Herod the Great --and it later became the official residence of Pontius Pilate. Before 1961, some scholars doubted the existence of Pilate and discounted the biblical record about him. But in that year, a dedicatory stone was discovered here identifying Pilate as the Prefect of Judea under the reign of the Emperor Tiberius (AD 14-27) --an inscription that perfectly aligns with the gospel accounts.

It's hard to overstate the importance of this city in the early stages of the Christian movement. Cornelius (Acts 10) a Gentile military man lived here in Caesarea when an angel of the Lord visited him and orchestrated a visit between him and Simon Peter, living 30 miles away in Joppa. This encounter made it obvious that Gentiles were included in (and invited to!) the new covenant that Jesus inaugurates.

The apostle Paul is imprisoned in Caesarea (Acts 23-27) for at least two years. Four of our "prison epistles" come from this period and this place.

As we left Caesarea we stopped to view the ancient Roman aquaeduct into the city, and walked the beach for a while. Some (like Diane, Katy and Ellie!) looked for sea-glass.

Our final visit was to Mt. Carmel --where Elijah met the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18). Larry Scott gave a moving reflection on Elijah's experience ---and then his deep depression following it.

Our guide, Rann, shared with us that he was reared in an atheistic Jewish family but came to faith in Jesus at age 45. A remarkable man --and a much-valued member of our team.

At 5:15 p.m. or so, we pulled into the long driveway of the Pilgerhaus --our home for the next five nights. Sitting on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, near Capernaum, it is one of my favorite places on the planet.

May the Lord hold you and draw you to Himself ---causing you to brim with gratitude and joy. Thank you for your ongoing prayers.

Day 2 - Friday, May 27, 2022

Shiloh, Mt. Gerazim, and the Samaritan Hill Country

We awoke this morning in the beautiful hill country of Samaria. Our day trip involved, as it were, a day in the Old Testament --fitting, I think, as we seek some biblical context prior to focusing on God's mighty acts described in the Gospels.

Our first stop was biblical Shechem, mentioned for the first time in Genesis 12:6-8: "Traveling through Canaan, Abram came to a place near Shechem and set up camp the great oak tree of Moreh." Centuries later, when the people of Israel finally made their way into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua (1350 BC), they permanently set up the mobile "tabernacle" in Shechem.

There is an ongoing archeological dig in process here and there must be thirty men and women working under tents, sifting rock, and excavating the site. A Byzantine (AD 300 - 600) Church was unearthed here and large, beautifully intact mosaic floors are visible.

A remarkable exhibit offered a hologram of the tabernacle, describing in beautiful detail both its construction and purpose. The tabernacle was the visible sign of the representative presence of the living God among His people. The twelve tribes of Israel moved throughout the desert for forty years and whenever they moved, they set up the tabernacle in the very center -- a reminder that the Lord wants to be at the center of our lives and communities.

I Samuel chapters 1-3 tells the poignant story of Elkanah and Hannah on pilgrimage (!) to Shiloh to worship God at the tabernacle. While there, Hannah offers an emotional prayer to the Lord, asking for the blessing of a child. A year later she gives birth to a boy named Samuel. We took time to sit quietly and lift up our own prayers before the Lord -- not far from where Hannah offered hers.

We begin every morning with prayer and a Scripture reading -- followed (on the bus) with a brief ("I bet you don't know this!") introduction to a member of our team. Today, for example, we tried to guess which member of our team had shot a bison, gone heli-skiing, and plays college tennis as a student at John Brown University. The last clue gave it away - beautiful Ellie Swan! 

Tomorrow (Day 3), we visit Israel College of the Bible in Netanya, Caesarea Maritime (by the sea), and Carmel Mountain --on our way to the Galilee. Thank you for every prayer on behalf of this team and our pilgrimage here!

Every blessing in Christ,


Day 1 – Thursday, May 26, 2022

First Church Tulsa group walks in the footsteps of Jesus

Twenty-six pilgrims left for Israel yesterday, leaving Tulsa at 12:15 p.m. and arriving at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv at 6:30 p.m. (Thursday night, Israeli time). There were a few anxious moments with flight delays and close connections but in the Lord's grace and goodness, we are all here - staying the night in the hill country of Samaria (the West Bank). 

We're glad to welcome the Rev. Anthony and Kelley Scott (Pastor and First Lady) from First Baptist Church, North Tulsa, as our honored guests. It will be a joy to share two weeks walking in Jesus' footsteps with this beautiful couple.

We are also glad to announce that Ben Peterson is the first recipient of a gift from the Larry and Allison Langholz family – a gift established for the purpose of assisting young people to go to Israel.

On the grounds of our hotel is a full-sized replica of the Tabernacle that the Israelites set up during their forty years of meandering in the desert, a visible sense of the invisible presence of the living God within their midst. This is fitting since our first visit tomorrow will be to biblical Shiloh, the place where the tabernacle was placed (I Samuel 1-3). The story of Hannah and her prayers for a child, eventually born to her: Samuel, describes events that happened to her when she and her family went on pilgrimage to worship in the tabernacle in Shiloh. We follow Elkanah and Hannah on pilgrimage.

We will also visit the valley between Mt. Gerazim and Mt. Ebal. Moses describes how he set six Israelite tribes on Mt. Gerazim and six on Mt. Ebal, with instructions to remember the Lord's blessing and His covenant. To do so means blessing for the people; not doing so brings destruction and curse. You'll find the story in Deuteronomy 11.

I love being with 26 brothers and sisters in Christ – eager to see, learn and respond to the grace that comes to us right where we live. It remains astonishing to me that we are now standing in the part of the world in which God became flesh and first dwelt among us!

Love from all of us, to all of you!