Sunday, January 27, 2008


Through the years of bringing groups to Israel, I’d like to think I’ve learned a few things. For intance, the typical tour group arrives in Tel Aviv and travels up to Galilee first and then swings southward to finish their Holy Land tour in Jersualem.
The first few times I visited here, we followed that route, and I noticed that our tour members became more and more fearful and stressed as we approached Jersusalem. So I have designed my own itinerary that goes against the flow. We start in Jerusalem and end in the Galilee. Israelis call this area “THE Galilee” like Texans call one part of our state “THE Panhandle.” No self-respecting Texan would say, “I’m from Panhandle.” In the same way, the Jews speak of the region surrounding the Sea of Galilee (actually Lake Genneserat) as THE Galilee.
The Sea of Galilee is the lowest fresh water lake in the world, sitting at 600 feet below sea level. It is seven miles wide at its widest point and 14 miles long. Since it is the only fresh water lake in Israel, the Israelis use it as their national swimming pool, and in the summer the shores are packed with Israeli tourists.
Having traveled here for 14 previous trips, I’ve figured out WHY Jesus chose Galilee to be His home and base of ministry – it’s just SO much more peaceful, beautiful, and slow-paced than the rat-race that is Jerusalem. In Jerusalem there are crowded streets, noisy vendors, and rude city-slickers. In Galilee, it’s the country, where life is slower, and people are friendlier and it’s a lot quieter.
When you study the gospel accounts, Jesus really didn’t care to visit Jerusalem often. Imagine this – from an early age you realize that one day when you visit Jersualem you’re going to be arrested, tortured, and put to death. No wonder Jesus only visited Jerusalem when it was required of Jewish males to visit the city for the Jewish Festivals. And when He did visit Jerusalem, there was always a powerful sense of conflict as the Jewish Mafia took every opportunity to question and discredit this rabble-rousing rabbi from the sticks of Galilee.
So when I bring a group to Israel we see the sites, fight the crowds, deal with the traffic...then we escape to Galilee to end our trip. The fields are ripe for harvest in Galilee. The vegetation and plant life is remarkable. Banana trees and citrus groves cover the landscape. It’s like living in the country instead of the big bad city.
I think Jesus had an aversion to the big city life of Jerusalem and preferred the quiet, pastoral setting of Galilee. He probably would have liked John Denver’s song, “Thank God I’m a county boy!”
When our groups visit Galilee, we don’t stay in one of the many fine hotels in Tiberias. Instead, my favorite place to stay is at the Nof Ginosar Kibbutz guest house. This tranquil quiet kibbutz is located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee near where a 2,000 year old fishing boat was found in the mud and was removed and displayed at the kibbutz. We can’t say for certain it was a boat Jesus used, but for sure it was the kind of boat that Jesus would have ridden across the lake. The idea of putting 13 guys in a boat that size gives new meaning to the term “close fellowship.”
Whenever our groups arrive at Nof Ginosar, you can almost hear the audible “ahhhh” as they see the lush vegetation and the Sea of Galilee only 75 yards away. As, I’ve said, I certainly can’t fault Jesus for wanting to live and minister here – it’s some of the most peaceful tranquil settings in the world in the midst of a country that is usually nervously preparing for the next attack.
The sites in Galilee where Jesus fed the 5,000, spoke the Sermon on the Mount and healing and ministered are all easy to find since they happened within a small area surrounding Capernaum.
The nature of a Holy Land Tour group reflects the difference between Jerusalem and Galilee. We rush frantically through the sites, pushed, and crowded by the people in the narrow streets of the old city – probably much like it was in the time of Jesus.
Then we finish our journey in Galilee where there is mostly green hills, open space, and friendly country folks. Jesus knew what He was doing by choosing THE GALILEE. That’s why I love spending the last three days of our trip here. The footprints of Jesus are found wherever we walk!