Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Israel, Day Five - - Old City Jerusalem

Where to begin?  So much awe, reverence, joy, fellowship, communion with believers ... I must tell you: there is no place like Israel.  Nowhere.  Ok, so this

We began at 9:00 at The Church of All Nations, which is built upon the site tradition holds was the Garden of Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives.  The name, Gethsemane, means "olive press".  To gaze upon olive trees over 2000 years old!  This present sanctuary was built in 1924 and is the 3rd such structure constructed on this site.  The first, a Byzantine basilica, was constructed in 380 C.E.  The second was erected in the 12th century.  When we arrived in the sanctuary, a Catholic priest was holding mass, in Polish.  That's the thing about Jerusalem.  Even at this season when the crowds are lower, you will still see and hear tour groups in all languages.  I had never witnessed a Catholic mass.  (All my Catholic friends, please forgive me!)  We were told to be silent in the church which, of course, was beautiful!  Right in front of the altar has been conserved the Rock of Agony, which tradition holds as the place where Jesus prayed His prayers that last night before captivity, while perspiring blood.

After leaving the church, we went a short distance on up the hill on the Mount of Olives to Church of the Pater Noster (Latin, for "Our Father").  The church is so named because it features several mosaics of the Lord's Prayer, in 171 different languages!  Here is a picture of the mosaic for the Esperanto language:

Sanctuary, Church of the Nations, Jerusalem, Israel

In the delightfully simple chapel, there was a hush even as a large tour group entered, then knelt to pray.  There was also a place to write prayers in a book, along with the customary Catholic candle-lighting opportunity.  This chapel more than any other reminded me of the simple church building in which I grew up.  

Everywhere on this campus were large mosaics like the one you see above.  Some of them had the gospel of Matthew's ending to the Lord's Prayer; others did not.  That gospel is the only one which includes "for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, amen."

Next, we stopped for a late breakfast - - coffee and sweet roll - - before walking through the Jaffa gate into the Old City.  The Old City was reconstructed, on a smaller scale from the one destroyed by the Romans, in 325 C.E.  Cobblestone streets through narrow alleys are lined with shop after shop after shop.  Here are a couple of pictures to help you visualize - - - it is impossible to describe.


Each merchant entreats you to step into his shop and peruse his wares.  I did not see even one female shopkeeper, fyi.  There were jewelers, potters, purveyors of Jewish objects, spice merchants, fruit vendors, baklava makers, leather goods merchants, clothing vendors...I could go on and on.  Remember my Facebook friend, who had asked me to find her a GA Bulldog tee shirt?  Yep!  Found it (thanks to Jiries)!  In Old City Jerusalem, no less, when I had expected I'd find it in a more "modern" area.  What an absolutely amazing place Jerusalem is!  

Josef, one merchant we visited - - a friend of Jiries' - - is a jewelry merchant (uh-oh, Hubster!  Shoulda gone with me to tell me "no"!).  Inside his shop is an authentic Roman well (think 1 C.E.) . This merchant's family now owns it.  They have lived there above the shop for over 300 years, passing down the jewelry craft from son to son.  The brother from whom I bought "a bauble or two" (ahem!) has another brother (also a jeweler) who taught at the Art Institute of Chicago for a time.  Here is a picture of Josef:

To Christians, the most sacred sites of the faith lie in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  The Emperor Constantine's mother, Helena, was the driving force for establishing this place along with its historical significance.  It was in 325 C.E. the church was constructed.  Such magnificence!  There, we saw a huge rock outcropping which tradition holds was part of Golgotha.  Worshippers stood in long lines today for an opportunity to approach the place where the cross was believed to have stood.  Another popular place for penitents is the stone slab on which Christ's body lay. (First picture below) Christian pilgrims kissed the slab and wiped it with scarves to transfer a blessing to them.  Thirdly, there was the actual sepulcher itself, around which a small shrine inside the rotunda of the church was constructed.  While we were there, the crowd was contained so that three priests (Greek Orthodox, Armenian Christian, and Coptic Christian) could process through one-at-a-time, swinging their incense burners and chanting.  The smell of the incense was amazing... Each one processed into the sepulcher, festooned it with incense and then came out swinging more from their highly-decorative censers.  So moving!


Can you smell that incense?
We did not stand in line to enter the sepulcher, because we would have been there "all day", and this is "low season" for visitors!  I cannot begin to imagine, seeing today's crowds, what it would be like in spring or summer!

Jiries' (our guide's) parents live in Old City, near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  After we left there, he took us to their apartment to meet them.  His Arab ancestors were converted by the Crusaders, hundreds of years ago, to Catholicism.  Generations of his family have lived in this same converted convent for over 200 years! When we arrived both elderly parents were gone - - each to see separate doctors.  His father is troubled with an infection in his hand; his mother is having knee pain.  We never did get to meet his mother, but his father soon arrived and was as sweet as could be.  Precious, precious Christian brother!  I wish we had gotten to meet Mrs. Martha, Jiries' mother.

From there, we went to the Wailing Wall.  Oh.My.Goodness....y'all, I can't even.....But, I'll try, ok?

After passing through security, we went down a long flight of outside steps, to a plaza at the base of the wall.  The plaza was large.  There we saw a ceremonial washing fountain, which we observed Jewish women using.  As Debbie and I approached the wall, there were scores, maybe even hundreds of Jewish women, of all ages, holding prayer books and praying - - lips moving, bodies rocking, eyes closed.  Some were standing touching the wall.  Some were sitting in chairs, prayer books in their hands.  Some young mothers were pushing strollers.  I saw one toddler with her Hebrew prayer book in hand.  Debbie and I approached the wall individually, each of us laying our hand on it while we sent our prayers winging heavenward with theirs.  If you asked me to pray for you at the Wall, I did.  I also prayed for some who did not ask.  Then, after sticking my little folded paper of remembrance into a crack of the wall and covertly snapping a few pics with my phone, I the Muslim call to prayer rang out over the plaza, just like it does five times every day.  Words fail me.....


When we stopped by the tee shirt vendor's tent today, we had to wait a few moments until he finished his prayers, bowing repeatedly toward Mecca.  Afterwards, he rolled up his prayer rug and served us.

The devotion(!) of the people of Israel - - not just the Jews, but also the Christians and Muslims, is one of the most humbling things I've ever witnessed.  Just sitting here writing about it fills me with awe!  We Protestants, because we believe in the continuity of salvation (beginning with the decision to accept Christ as Savior, and continuing on until and after death), tend to take our Lord Jesus for granted.  We can be SO distracted by other pursuits!  I know you are thinking:  "Well, they do what they do to earn their salvation, or so they think".  Maybe so....or maybe they just madly love their God.  Could it be that also?  As I said this afternoon over coffee:  "We make time to do the things we love for the people we love."

We had late afternoon coffee at Mamilla Mall (sort of like Outlet Shoppes of Atlanta, but ritzier), outside Old City and near our flat.  Then, we drove by the City of David archeological site.  Today, it lies outside the Old City walls.  In the first century C.E. though the city inside the walls was much larger, and David's house/complex lay within.  Of course, that first century city of Jesus' day was razed by the Romans in 70 C.E.  I wish we had had time to more intently explore the City of David archeological site, since remains from King David's era have been recently uncovered.  But, it was getting dark then, and our day was done.

Much to contemplate and pray over.
Tomorrow, we plan to see Galilee and Capernaum.  It will be our longest day yet, as those towns are a couple of hours away.

It's said there is a Super Blue Moon out tonight.  I guess that makes this trip officially "once in a blue moon"?  🙏🙌

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Israel, Day Four - - Rest and a Museum

We "hit the ground running" when we arrived in Israel this past weekend.  By today, we needed a day to rest.  I spent the morning cataloging the many pictures our group has made over the past few days.  It is easy on a trip of this sort, I have found, to forget what a picture actually represents.  I tried to remedy that today and plan to work on it more this evening.

At lunchtime we walked over to a nearby restaurant where we met some attorney associates of Debbie's for lunch.  Both the men are expat Jews, who lived formerly in New York and New Jersey.  The older gentleman was especially fascinating to talk with.

After lunch we came back to the flat so that Chris could send in some homework (I kid you not), because he had a 10:00 East Coast deadline for the assignment.  Chris is a high school senior, doing dual enrollment.

In the late afternoon we walked a couple of miles to The Israel Museum.  What a fascinating 3 hours we spent there, and still did not see everything. We were there at a perfect time, the evening, and at no time did I feel "crowded" by others or rushed by them.  Much of the time, I was in an exhibit alone!  I only took one picture, because photography is prohibited inside the museum buildings.  But, my favorite exhibits were the following:

  • an amazing exhibit of actual Dead Sea scrolls.  Seeing these was the perfect complement to our experiences at Qumran yesterday.  You will recall Qumran being where the scrolls were found.
  • the outside exhibit of the city of Jerusalem in 68 C.E., right before the Roman invasion and subsequent "fall" of the city to the Romans.   This is a 3-D relief map which you can walk around while listening to the audio segments pertaining to it.  So interesting!  That is the one picture I did take, and it is not of good quality, nor is it of the entire map.  It will give you a sense of the exhibit though, which is why I have included it.
  • an exhibit showing the clothes and artifacts of Jewish births, marriages and burials
  • an exhibit walking you through the Jewish calendar and each of the holy convocations (major feasts), seeing artifacts associated with each feast
  • seeing various synagogue artifacts, such as Torah scroll holders, finials, covers, etc.
  • walking into reproductions of 3 ancient synagogues from around the world
We took a taxi home, thank goodness!  Our feet were so tired!

One humorous note and then some logistics.
A friend back home sent me a picture of a UGA bulldog sweatshirt and asked me to find her one like it that says BULLDOGS in Hebrew under the picture.  I have yet to find it, despite much searching.  Chris thinks she is punking me, lol.  May be.....

I had a bit of a scare after returning from the museum - - an unrecognized charge on my credit card.
In what I thought was a cautious move, I only brought one card with me on the trip.  When fraud was suspected this evening, I immediately called my wonderful credit card company, Capital One, whom I cannot say enough good things about!  The suspected charge was an iTunes charge.  SO, I needed my Apple ID and password.   Again, to be safe, I use different passwords for different things and do not have them memorized.  I made pictures with my iPhone of the PWs I thought I might need on the trip.  And, when this situation came up, LO!  I had the password I needed.  Thankful!!  I just need to blast those pics off my phone when I return home.

Ok, that's all I've got for today.  Tomorrow, we (finally, lol) head into Old City Jerusalem.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Israel, Day Three - - - Navel of the Earth

We very much missed our friend, Debbie, today as she was on the other side of Israel, doing the work that brought her here.  She will be in late tonight.

In her absence we set out this morning for the Dead Sea area.  On the way, we made a stop in Bethany.

Bethany is part of Area B of the West Bank, which means it is under Palestinian control.  Bethany, also called Azariya, is not very far at all from Jerusalem.  However, getting there is another matter.  It is about a 30-minute cab ride from Jerusalem.  Bethany is very similar in appearance to Bethlehem, because of the culture, the Muslim ambience, styles, traditions, the economic level, etc.  One of the fascinating things about the various communities and towns of Israel, from a sociological standpoint, is the effect the religious beliefs and political leanings of the people on how they live their lives.  There are highly visible differences from community to community.

In Bethany, we went to the site believed to be where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived and very close by, where Lazarus was buried.  The site is right in the middle of the bustling town.  There is a Greek Orthodox church standing on the property, as well as a Muslim mosque.  The story of Lazarus and indeed the site is viewed sacred by both Muslims and Christians.  The small church we viewed was built in 1967.  Previously, there were other churches standing on the property, with the first being established in the 3rd century A.D.  Because of earthquakes and other events, those structures were ruined.  Similarly, the mosque right at the tomb is the second one, since the 1300s.  This is the thing about all these "holy sites" over here:  SO much time has passed that it is very difficult to prove that the thing you are actually seeing is the very one you read about in the Bible.  I'd say that, in most cases, it isn't.  For example, we saw the Jordan River yesterday.  Did we see the exact place Jesus was baptized?  No.  Has the river changed somewhat in the past 2000 years?  Yes.  I mean, you just have to appreciate these historical sites for what they are and not get tangled up in complete authenticity.  We saw a tomb today.  Was it very much like the tomb Lazarus was buried in? Yes.  Was it the very one he was buried in?  I don't know.  It's possible it was.  It's possible it wasn't.  If it wasn't, then very likely the tomb of Lazarus was a very similar one nearby.  You see what I mean?

Leaving Bethany, we again resumed our trek southward toward the Dead Sea.  Our next stop, though, was the Qumran National Park, where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered.  Archeologists have uncovered a great deal about the monastic order of Jewish men who lived in this desert at the edge of the Dead Sea.  The group's community was situated up on a bluff, with the towering cliffs and caves above them.  Below them was the Dead Sea.  We learned how devout these men were and how diligently they studied and copied the scriptures.  Also, we were able to walk around and view several components of their community - - the eating hall, several ritual bath facilities, the accountant's office where over 300 pieces of silver were unearthed, the kitchen, the animal pen areas, and so forth.  We saw the first cave where scrolls were discovered in clay jars, quite accidentally by a Bedouin shepherd, 1900 years after the Essenes hid them.  These men were obviously great engineers and quite intelligent.  The community was destroyed around the time the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  In fact, the soldiers took it over as their garrison for a period of time.  When the Six-Day War ended in 1967, the area was once again reclaimed by the Israelis; and, the park you can visit today was developed.

From there, we went a short distance to the Kalia beach complex on the Dead Sea.  Being here in January, we are in "the off-season".  There were not many bathers in the waters, although there were a few.  A dozen, maybe.  My traveling companion today, Christopher, eagerly prepared to float in the waters.  I know I should have had more enthusiasm for it, but it was cold today, y'all!  I contented myself with sitting on the beach for a few minutes while Chris floated effortlessly in the extremely buoyant waters.  The shore of the Dead Sea is black mud, for which the area is famous.  The cosmetics industry in this area is big commerce.  Dead Sea bath salts, black mud masks and cosmetics of all kinds flourish as the rich minerals of the area are combined with argan oil and other beautifying ingredients.  I saw a salesperson apply the black mud to a woman's face and then use a tissue wrapped over a magnet to clean it off.  Water would not wash it off.  The magnet drew the minerals to it, through the tissue.  I was pretty amazed at that, actually!

The Dead Sea is shrinking.  I mentioned to you that, years ago, the water came several miles farther inland, all the way up to the cliffs of the Qumran community.  Not anymore, nowhere near.  In fact, you can see a metal stair/pier structure behind the blue line in the picture on the right.  That USED to be at the water line!  Now, the land that the Sea formerly covered is rich farm land.  We saw many farming endeavors, making great use of that mineral-laden soil.  Modern irrigation techniques have made that possible.

Isaiah 35:1-7 and 41:18-20 are passages that speak about the once-barren desert land of Israel again "blossoming like a rose".  During the time of the Canaanites, the land was extraordinarily fruitful.  Even in Jesus' day the people were able to cause the land to produce healthy flocks and delicious fruits/vegetables.  After the Dispersion, the Diaspora of the first century, other peoples (Turks, for example) ruled the area, but never developed it to its full potential.  However, modern farming techniques and excellent stewardship of the returning Jewish people have made not only the land of Israel very prosperous, but the Jewish people there financially successful as well.  The passage below was written in 2011.

"Since the Jews returned to this land, things have changed dramatically.  One author in the 1800’s counted the trees in Palestine and reported there were less than a thousand.  Today there are more than 1.2 billion fully grown, mature trees.  There was a conscious and concerted effort by the Jews to plant trees.  Today, half of their trees are forest trees – half are fruit trees.  Currently, Israel exports about 80% of its fruit harvest.  As good as it is in the land today, during the Millennium it will be increased dramatically."1

How beautiful to witness the transformation of this "navel of the Earth"! (Ezekiel 38:12, Jubilee Bible 2000)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Israel, Day Two - - Judea

I'm amazed at how much we managed to pack into a six-hour tour today!  Jiries picked us up at 9:00 a.m.  We set out for the "Judean wilderness".  One of the things I've realized is why in the Bible they would talk about "going up to Jerusalem".  It was not merely a compass-point, going north.  Jerusalem is set on a high hill, 260 feet above sea level.  As we rode south toward Jericho, our ears were popping.  In the space of a very few miles (about 10), we were at sea level.  Pretty intense!  Then, there's the matter of temperature change.  The difference in temperatures in Jerusalem versus Jericho (although they are not but about 30 minutes from each other) is 15-20 degrees!

By the side of the multi-lane road from Jerusalem to Jericho is a monument of sorts, built there to commemorate the site of The Good Samaritan story.  Farther on is a little park/turn-off, where you can get your picture made at a large sign proclaiming that you are now at sea level.1  In our case, LO!  A bedouin and his camel were there as well!

Jiries has made the acquaintance of this bedouin man before and told us he has four wives.  < 😬>
His 10-year old male camel's name is Shofo (pronounced ShooFoo).  Did you know camels growl?  Sort of like a dog.  But, Shofo, despite his growling, was very cooperative as our little party climbed on his back (one at a time), and posed for pictures.  It was quite fun.  I was amazed to watch Shofo bend his legs in keeping with the design of his Creator.  So perfect for the animal's desert role!

The bedouin peoples live much as their ancestors have lived for thousands of years, although not in great riches.  (Above, I'll post a picture of a bedouin community, as taken from the side of the highway.)

On we went, down, down to where the road turns off toward Jericho.  Before turning, we stopped at a little cafe for a cappuccino and croissant.  We sat and talked for about 45 minutes and then proceeded on through Area A.  Yes, Jericho, although in the opposite direction from our travels yesterday, is in Area A, as is Bethany, which we passed on our way south.  Jericho looked a lot like Bethlehem, although it was much flatter.  Jericho is desert-like.

Jericho and Damascus vie for the title "oldest city in the world".  Excavations are ongoing in Jericho, with ruins dating back 11,000 years.  But, for a time Jericho was not inhabited.  Damascus is the oldest, continuously-inhabited city in the world.  (Damascus is in Syria.)

A funny thing happened as we began to enter town.  Another taxi driver pulled alongside us and began to talk through the window to Jiries (in Arabic, of course).  He was offering to drive us to our first stop and tour us through.  Jiries was affronted.  "What does it look like I'm doing?", was his response.  "No thanks!"  We all laughed about it.

So, our first stop in Jericho was a Russian orthodox church perched so tenuously (so it appeared) on the side of the mountain, it looked for all the world like it could fall off any second.  Jiries said that the last time it was "restored" (after an earthquake DID send parts of it tumbling down the sheer precipice) was in the 1950s, 1953 - - I think.  The name of the church is "Church on the Mount of Temptation", because it commemorates the time when Jesus went out into the Judean wilderness for 40 days and then up into a high mountain.  It was there Satan appeared and tempted him to sin in various ways.  I'll never read that story again (Luke 4:1-13) without seeing it in my mind's eye from my vantage point today.

One can only drive so far up the mountain.  After that, you must get out and climb over 170 stair steps to reach the monastery.  Only two aged monks live on the grounds now.  One of the more interesting things we saw there was a small group of nuns (in their black habits - - they looked Greek Orthodox) who desired to draw water out of the spring which flows out of the mountain at that place.  And draw they did.  The water fountain, an antique system, comes right into the monastery itself.  They were so excited to capture some of that water in their water containers.

Leaving the mountain, we stopped at the site of some previous Jericho excavations, around which a touristy store, restaurant, etc. had been built.  There we shopped the famous Hebron glass, and I splurged on a small candle holder.  Not cheap, but very unique and beautiful.  Hebron is a few miles south of Jericho.  Both are in the section of Israel called the West Bank.

We arrived at the Jordan River at around 1:15.  This famous river (pictured above) is part of the border between Israel and the country of Jordan.  Accordingly, there were Israeli soldiers on our side and a lone Jordanian solder on the other.  Each side had a lovely pavilion leading down to the water.  On the Jordanian side, a group of Russian-speaking believers was getting baptized (or renewing baptisms, whichever applied).  Standing on the Israeli side, I dipped my toes in, and that was it.  The river was brown, not terribly wide and not fast-flowing.  However, as far as rivers go in this part of the world it was a fine specimen.

Leaving the Jordan we headed back "up" to Jerusalem, where our exciting day of touring ended around 3:00.  My friend, Debbie, left shortly thereafter with another driver for the West Bank city of Ariel, to begin her attorney work.  She won't return until tomorrow night.  A few minutes later, after freshening up, Christopher (Deb's 17-year old nephew) and I left for church.

When making our travel plans, a Facebook friend (the same one who recommend Jiries) recommended a evangelical Christian/Messianic Jewish congregation with a Sunday evening service.  Amazingly, it is only a 30-minute walk from our rented flat!  Off we went, in search of something to eat along the route.  Jaffa Street is a bustling, busy street.  Imagine a lower-dollar, more middle class Buckhead/Peachtree Street, plopped down in Jerusalem.  Many, many orthodox and reformed Jews, as well as Christians and "who knows?"ers were walking up and down Jaffa.  We ate delicious pasta (mine was sweet potato ravioli with an amazing tomato cream sauce) at  Hillel Cafe, and then hurried on to the service.

We were so blessed to worship with these fellow believers!  At the same time we were worshipping here in Jerusalem, our loved ones back home were worshipping in our home churches.  The Church Universal....such a beautiful work of God!  King of Kings Community meets in an office building auditorium, but it simultaneously broadcasts its service on Facebook Live and also posts its services later online.  We sat near the front of the balcony in the center, surrounded by probably 300 other worshippers.  The music was well-done, contemporary yet reverent.  At the end of the worship segment was a prayer and then a woman came to the platform to read the Torah reading for that Sunday, as well as another Old Testament reading, then finishing with a New Testament passage.  The preacher came up next.  His text was Joshua 3:9-17.  At the end of the service, people were given an opportunity to give and then as the worship band played, an opportunity was extended for people to come forward to speak to a prayer partner and pray with them.

I pray you were so touched, challenged and encouraged by your church services today.  After the service we walked back to the flat and were in for the evening.  Tomorrow, the Dead Sea and the Qumran caves!




Saturday, January 27, 2018

Israel, Day One - Bethlehem

Visiting in another country is such an adventure!  This morning, while attempting morning grooming rituals, we discovered we had no hot water.  You see, the water is supposedly heated via solar panels on the roof.  But, you may remember me saying it was pouring rain yesterday, a distinctive "fly" in the solar "ointment".  There is a back-up plan in place, we rejoiced to see!  However, the back-up hot water heater did not work well either.  Hmm....the King David Hotel this flat is not.  Well.

We departed with Jiries, our driver, a little after 10.  First stop was a breakfast cafe within walking distance to the Mt. Scopa campus of Hebrew University.  Breakfast featured omelets (including for me a chickpea omelet), a mixture of cukes and tomatoes (with a oil and lemon dressing), avocado, sauteed red peppers, mushrooms and delicious green olives (with pits, I discovered).   That bountiful breakfast, with coffee and juice - - oh, and I forgot the fresh bread - - ran about $10 American dollars.

After breakfast, we went to an observation point between Mt. Scopa and the Mount of Olives (which is in the part of the city called the Mount of Olives).  From there, we saw up close our first olive tree.  It had no olives on it, as they ripen and are harvested in October.  Looking north, we could see the Judean hills where tomorrow we'll visit Jericho and also way in the distance, Mt. Nebo.

Next we went to another observation point in front of the Intercontinental Hotel.  As we exited the car we could hear the Muslim call to prayer, something I'd never heard in person before.  Eerie...  Debbie posted audio of it on Facebook and tagged me.  I'll share it in a bit.  Jiries pointed out a local man there with a camel, warning us to avoid the camel as it is a tourist trap.  (He said there'd be camel opportunities later?)  At any rate, he told us a story about a woman who inquired about climbing atop the camel and was told it was free.  Up she got.  The camel stood.  After a couple of minutes she was ready to dismount.  The owner then quoted her an insane price for dismounting the camel.  The getting on it was free - - the dismounting costly.  smh...We avoided the camel.  Instead, we took in the beautiful panoramic view of the Eastern face of the Old City.  Figuring prominently was the Eastern Gate, which I detailed in yesterday's post.  The view we were seeing today was a perspective similar to the one Jesus would have seen.  Fascinating!  Just down the hill from where we stood is a huge cemetery where wealthy, religious Jews are buried.  Jiries said it costs around $100k for a plot there.  Wealthy Jews desire to be buried there so that when Messiah comes through the Eastern Gate they will be first to see him.  From that point and down to our right, we could see the Church of the Garden of Gethsemane.  We did not stop there today.

On our way to Area A, we passed through a newish (about 20 years old) settlement of repatriated Jews, from all over the world.  Very clean and neat and beautiful.  Previously, the settlement had been hilly farm land.  You are wondering what Area A is?  Israel has Areas A, B and C.  Area A encompasses the city of Bethlehem, which is a Palestinian area.  Jews are not welcome to enter.  (Jiries is an Arab Christian, with Israeli citizenship.) . In fact, we saw a menacing sign proclaiming that for Jews to enter is a violation of Israeli law.  Bethlehem has few Christians (only 10%), many fewer than 20 years ago.  Dividing Bethlehem from Jerusalem is a huge wall with barbed wire at the top.  It is covered in political graffiti, some by the famous graffiti artist, Banksy, from England (we think - - no one really knows where he's from).  Would you believe there was graffiti featuring the likeness of Donald Trump?!
There is a gate in the wall that is opened when the two municipalities need to trade lawbreakers.  It is also a place for political demonstrations that occur regularly, particularly on Friday nights.  We saw in the alleyways, lots of street detritus (used tear gas containers, etc.,) which had been cleaned up after many demonstrations and just shoved aside.  In some ways Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem looks like a 3rd-world country.  It was fascinating to see the difference between territory controlled by one group, as opposed to another.

Leaving the wall, we went on to rendezvous with an official tour guide, who took us through the Church of the Nativity, there in Bethlehem, of course.  Almost every "holy site" has a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox church built over the top of it.  There were too many fascinating things about this church to list, except for one.  When we got to the supposed location of where the Baby Jesus was born, there is a star in the marble floor.  Now, there was a huge press of people in front of us.  You have to walk down some marble steps through a very narrow doorway, down into this grotto or cave.  We Westerners usually picture the stable as an open-air, barn-like structure.  In reality, his birthplace was more like a cave.  Here is what really touched me, though.  The tour group in front of us was Eastern European, Russian we think.  Almost every one of them - - - when they got to that star in the floor?  They knelt down and kissed it.  Yep, they did.  I don't know.  That really got to me.

Sign on the doors to the large chapel of the church, where they broadcast from Bethlehem on Christmas Eve:
"If you enter here as a tourist, you would exit as a pilgrim.
If you enter here as a pilgrim, you would exit as a holier one."
We were forbade to speak or otherwise make any noise in the chapel.  Sit, pray, slay, whatever . . . but do it in contemplative silence.

After visiting the church we went to a local souvenir shop to support the local Christian economy.  Jiries knows the Arab Christian family that owns the shop.  We had planned to purchase souvenirs anyway.  So, we did our part.

I was designated to "ride shotgun" with Jiries today, while Debbie and Chris sat in the backseat.  Jiries is a great driver, but I could not avoid a couple of yelps along the way.  You can't ride around this area without hearing a cacophony of horns.

Lunch was next.  We had something called shawarma.  As we entered the small Bethlehem cafe that serves this Turkish treat, we saw chicken and beef roasting on vertical spits.  The cook sheared off little pieces of beef (we all chose beef) in a way that made me think of Arby's for some weird reason.  The meat was placed on a soft, moist tortilla-like wrap.  We added a yogurt and dill sauce, as well as some fermented slaw.  We had a side of fermented (hot pink) rutabaga and "fries" with that.  The sandwich was delicious and huge!  Both Deb and I brought half of ours home; we ate the rest for our dinner tonight.  The hot pink rutabaga tasted sort of like a dill pickle, just not near as rubbery.

After our very late lunch (around 4:00 local time) we headed back to the flat with one more stop on the way: Shepherd's Field.  This is a park-like area in Bethlehem with a church set near the middle.  It commemorates the occasion of the shepherds on the hillside, "watching their flocks by night".  The basilica on the top surface is shaped like a small rotunda, with frescos painted all round the interior, punctuated by the stations of the cross.  Inside this smallish church we encountered another tour group, this one Italian.  Leaving the little chapel, we went around to its back side and below to see an example of the caves where the shepherds lived and raised their families.  Inside the cave meets a Christian church now.  We saw the communion table and other elements present.  The ceiling in the cave was very low.  Jiries confirmed my spoken-aloud suspicions that the "stable" where Jesus was born was probably a cave very similar to this.

Back at the flat, the three of us sat at the table and talked politics, world views, current events, etc. over some hot tea for an hour or so.  Then, we put on our coats and headed down the hill (about 1/3 of a mile) to the 24-hour market.  We could see our cold and damp here, so far at least.  Who'd have thought? To visualize the market, think "convenience store on steroids".  It is fascinating to purchase food when you can't read the labels.

Note to all you future Southern Belle travelers to Israel: do NOT forget your hairspray!  I have deduced there is none to be found in the entire country.  Mousse?  Yes.  Foot powder?  Yes.  Suntan lotion? Yes.  Hairspray.  Nope.  (Sigh!)

Friday, January 26, 2018

Arriving in Israel

As you regular visitors know, this is a devotional, exegetical bible-study sort of blog.  Due to my present circumstances, it is going to look more like a travel blog.

At 5:05 p.m. local time, my two friends and I arrived at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, Israel.  Just writing those words seems unreal.  My very confused body only adds to the surreality of the experience.  Local time is now 8:30 p.m., as I begin this post.  That is seven hours ahead of good old Eastern Standard.  Even though I was able to sleep for about six hours on the plane (it's an 11-hour flight from JFK to Tel Aviv), I'm going to head off to bed after finishing this first entry.  None too soon....

It was pouring rain when we arrived.  Our driver, Jiries, commented how unusual it was for them to get such a "gully washer".  (You can imagine he did NOT use that terminology...) . I replied that we had just brought "showers of blessing".  :)

Arriving in the neighborhood where our rented flat is, we tried to find it with no success.  The locals who were renting it to us via Airbnb were not answering the phone.  In the pouring rain, my close friend from childhood, Debbie, and Jiries were wandering around trying to find the place.  It was tense for a few minutes.

Our neighborhood lies within walking distance of the Old City.  In fact, and I'll take a picture in the daylight tomorrow, you can see the Temple Mount from our balcony.  The neighborhood used to be near the border between Israel and Jordan, years ago before the war, and snipers would regularly shoot down onto targets from the tops of buildings.  Chris, Debbie's 17-year old nephew (and my other traveling companion), read online that the Israeli Black Panther party was founded in this neighborhood.  The upper floors of the buildings are newer than the lower ones.  Our flat is on the 3rd floor.

Jiries drives a Skoda, which is a manual transmission car (a newer model) made in the Czech Republic.  He is a very capable driver, based on his driving us from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem this evening.  He will be taking us on tours for part of this week that we are here.  Because we arrived at the start of the Sabbath, the airport was and the roads have been practically deserted.  Driving near Old Town Jerusalem we saw many Orthodox Jews walking, wearing their ecclesiastical regalia, including big black hats (tonight with rain slickers over them).  Visitors to orthodox neighborhoods must enter on foot.  No vehicles are allowed, and we are not sure if that is merely a Sabbath phenomenon or not.

I stared at the walls of the Old City, straining to see through the car's rain-strewn windows.  The city walls were last rebuilt in the 1541 by an Ottoman Turk who ruled the Ottoman Empire for over 40 years, Suleiman the Magnificent.  Jerusalem has 8 city gates, including the oldest....the Eastern Gate (also called the Golden Gate or the Mercy Gate) which faces the Mount of Olives and which was sealed shut by Suleiman in 1541.  Suleiman was one of the greatest of the Ottoman caliphs, and he ruled the empire for 46 years.

Perhaps the holiest gate in all the city, Jews have long predicted that when their Messiah comes He will enter through the Eastern Gate.  (Is there any wonder Suleiman sealed it?)  Suleiman was too late, though.  Jesus entered the city through the Eastern Gate on Palm Sunday, riding on the back of a donkey.  Messiah has already entered through that gate in triumph, (see Matthew 21) with worshippers shouting, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!"

Zechariah 14:4, Ezekiel 43:4 and 44:1-3  and 46:12 are all passages/verses that are interpreted by Bible scholars as being messianic prophecies and some having dual fulfillment.  Jesus fulfilled some OT prophecies when when he entered the city through the Eastern Gate on the first Palm Sunday.  Because Zechariah 14:4, a "return of Jesus Christ" or "second coming" scripture, indicates that His feet will not only touch down on the Mount of Olives but will literally split the mount in two, it goes to follow that He would afterwards enter the city again by the Eastern Gate.  Scriptures even describe it as being sealed (centuries before that occurred).  How marvelous to anticipate that great day when it will be opened yet again, on the day Messiah returns!

Shabbat Shalom!  And, good night.....

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Wacky Grace?

I should really be packing, I suppose.  It’s late, and tomorrow morning near noon I’m heading to the airport for the trip referenced in my last post.  But, being a morning person, I’ll get up early and kick it into high gear.  Besides, I’ve got this on my mind and wanted to share it while it is “warm”.  Writing or packing?  Writing wins every time, lol.

Tonight, at the Bible study my husband leads, he was reminding us of the depths of the love of God.  Someone commented that it is hard to fathom how God could love Mother Theresa or Billy Graham and puzzling how He could love everyday Christians, like us.
“We are so prone to think of salvation in terms of merit”, another group member said.

Then, we took it to the other end of the spectrum.
A news item came across my device this afternoon.  The serial child molester, Larry Nassar, the gymnastics team doctor who molested over 150 young girls - - - was sentenced by a judge today.  The judge’s comment, upon giving the man 175 years in prison, was, “I just signed your death warrant.”

Here’s where Christianity gets ultra-wacky, in the eyes of the world.
Just like the thief who was sentenced to death in 29 A.D., and hung beside the Son of God on a cross, this pervert, this “horrible example of humanity” is but one prayer away from redemption.

Crazy Love.  That’s what Francis Chan called it in his book of the same name.
The almighty One, who dwells in unapproachable light, the glorious One, who (inexplicably!) pursues us relentlessly, to the very brink of our physical deaths with His invitation to perfect love...

Consider that that man who abused all those young girls could, with one sincere prayer of repentance and acceptance, be forgiven of every sin he has ever committed.  It doesn’t matter if I forgive him or if you forgive him, or whether we think he “deserves” salvation.  What matters is what the Word of God says, and that is that the only perfectly holy God wants to rescue and redeem him.

More “wackiness”....
Not a single human being ever born has ever “deserved” God’s forgiveness, or eternal salvation.
Not one.

The “Billy Graham” of Jesus’ century was the apostle Paul.  If ever a man was “the perfect Christian”, it was he.  Right?  If ever a man “deserved” to get into Heaven it was Paul. Yes?
Hear his words from Romans 7:24.......

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Or, this:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
Romans 7:15 (ESV)

Hmmm....sound familiar?
None of us deserves God’ mercy, God’s favor, God’s forgiveness, His redemption, His restoration.

Salvation is all about Him - - - His sacrifice, His love, His pursuit of each of us, each human soul, all born dead.....dead in our sins.

Larry Nassar .... the apostle Paul
Jim Jones ..... Mother Theresa
Adolph Hitler .... Billy Graham


The same invitation was extended to all, and still is to all who live and breathe today.
Those guilty sinners (all) who accept the invitation, who accept Him, live ultimately in Heaven forever.
Those who don’t ... don’t, thereby writing their own eternal “death warrant”.  No earthly judge has the power to do that.

“Wacky nonsense”, says the world.
“Devastatingly beautiful, amazing grace”, cries the grateful, rescued sinner!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Paid Back With Interest

This is a mystical verse.
We are back in Proverbs, continuing our exploration of this book.

The one who is gracious to the poor lends to the LORD, and the LORD will repay him for his good deed. 
Proverbs 19:17 (NET)
How can that be?

God commands us in other places to be kind to those who have less then we do.  Some of those scriptures are:  Deuteronomy 15:7-8, Matthew 10:42, and Luke 6:38, to name a few.

He also tells us that He owns "the cattle on a thousand hills", which is a picturesque way of saying that He owns it all.

“Listen, my people, and I will speak;
I will testify against you, Israel:
I am God, your God.
8I bring no charges against you concerning your sacrifices
or concerning your burnt offerings, which are ever before me.
9I have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,
10for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
11I know every bird in the mountains,
and the insects in the fields are mine.
12If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.
Psalm 50:7-12 (NIV)

So, ok, He owns it all.  I don't think any of you would dispute that.  Then, what is all this about us "lending" to the Lord when we help those who are struggling and suffering?!

I believe it has to do with "lending a hand".  God is, of course, Spirit.  We are His "hands and feet" when we do His will here on Earth.  Oh, He can certainly utilize angelic beings whenever He wants; and, He does, usually unseen.  However, when we obey Him by ministering to "the poor" (which can be defined as anyone who needs our help), then we are lending Him a hand by being His instruments of blessing.  He works through us in this physical domain to bless others.  In that way we are "lending to the Lord".  We are lending our hearts and wills and bodies.

God promises that we cannot out-give Him.  Isn't that a beautiful promise?  In his book, James (1:17) describes Him as the ultimate Giver.... of "every good and perfect gift".  He will be a debtor to no man.  In fact, when we are generous with what we've been given, I don't believe God just "pays us back".  I firmly believe He pays us back...with interest!

Recently, I've been a little grumbly with God about my finances.  We recently had to purchase a new oven for the house, when I felt our old one should have lasted at least a couple more decades.  We have a flawed heating system in the basement, which we can't currently afford to replace....I have even sinned by questioning God as to where the financial abundance is that I am currently seeking.  Ridiculous!

This sinning of mine is because I've been focusing on only one type of "pay back", you see.  Living in our materialistic society here in the United States, it is easy to develop tunnel vision where "blessing" is concerned.  When I broaden it out to include blessings of all types, I realize how God has given me much, much, much more than I have ever given to others OR to Him.  And, that shift of focus rightly provokes waves of extreme gratitude, washing over my soul.

Here's a recent example of the Lord's largesse.
Later this week, I'll be traveling with a couple of friends very far from home. (My menfolk had no desire to go.)  I've been granted an opportunity to visit a part of the world I've never seen, one I've wanted to experience for a very long time.  The next time I post, it will be from 7 time zones away.  I look forward to sharing my experiences there with you here in the blog.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

All By Myself

The past couple of days lots of us have been rather isolated from the community-at-large, because hazardous weather conditions have kept us in our homes.  For some, that has been blissful family time.  For others, well....the Christian rapper Ludacris posted a vid on his Instagram of his kids going a little stir crazy.  Got to love the one in the diaper and furry boots.  Ludacris is begging the area school system to open back up immediately! 
As we say in the South, "bless his heart".

Though some of us enjoy a hermit-like existence more than others, we were created for fellowship with others who are like-minded.  In the Christian context, that is fellowship with other believers in Jesus Christ as Savior as Lord.  However, this is not the primary fellowship for which we were created.

The first, primary, most crucial fellowship is with our Creator and Savior.

Proverbs 18:1 ESV
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
he breaks out against all sound judgment.
He created us for this fellowship with Him, not isolation from Him.

This morning, I got up and began my morning routine, the 3rd step of which is to take a tiny little pill that I've had to take daily, before breakfast, for the past 27 years.  Usually, that goes predictably.  It's a habit, right?  Not this morning.  I don't know what happened, other than I put the water in my mouth.  Somehow, though, it got up into my nose, which caused extensive coughing, hacking, gagging, spitting.  I found myself staring at the little pink pill in the sink.  (No, I was not the red pill from The Matrix movie, all you smart alecks out there.....)

Here's the thing:  humans were not created to inhale water, which is apparently what happened to me this morning, even though I had done this same routine some 18,000 times successfully.  When we act, intentionally or not, against how God created us, we do not flourish.

Sometimes, the results of our actions are immediate, like with my pill escapade this morning.  Other times, it takes more time to become evident, like a slow-growing tumor.

Those who don't know Jesus Christ as Savior are isolated from God in the most extreme way.  They are literally dead, spiritually.  Sometimes, they have deliberately chosen this path.  Other times, they are deceived into thinking they are worshipping the Triune God - - Father, Son and Holy Spirit, when in reality they are merely worshipping a false god of their own choosing.  And then, there are those who have not ever heard the gospel message.

We who belong to Jesus, who claim Him as our Lord, though, are not immune to the perils of today's proverb either.  Even though God's Holy Spirit actually lives within us, we often deliberately make choices to isolate ourselves from Him.  Why?  Because, as the proverb says, we want to seek our own desires.

Then, there are those of us who isolate ourselves with the Lord and become "so heavenly minded we are no earthly good".  There is no virtue in that either.

If you learned to ride a bicycle or to snow ski or some other physical skill that provides enjoyment, what sense does it make to afterwards never do it again?  "Ok, now I've learned to ride the bike.  I think I'll put it away and never ride again.  Mark that off the list."  That makes no sense!  Those are the words of someone without sound judgment.

The Christian life is designed to be lived both vertically (our communion with God) and horizontally (our communion with others).  It is designed to be practiced, not hoarded.  The bounty of spiritual gifts Christians are given when the Holy Spirit enters them are meant to be used, both for the glory of God and for the advancement of Jesus Christ's kingdom.

I was talking with my son's sweet girlfriend a few days ago.  She had gone on her first snow-skiing trip (she's 19) and had learned to ski that first day she was on the slopes.  But, it was not without falls, aches and pains.  This beautiful young lady is in great physical shape.  She is majoring in dance in college.  Still, she fell several times in learning to ski.  Finally, she mastered it and was able to spend the second day on the slopes skiing successfully with my older son.

Oh that the Christian life were so unilateral!  A few falls, and we'd "have it".  But, no.  
And, because the resplendent walk is full of detours, potholes, skinned knees, sore muscles, even broken bones at times ... some of us respond by isolating ourselves from our God or from each other.

Has that happened to you?  Are you "there" now?  

If God has called you to a brief period of isolation from others, for a specific purpose .... and He sometimes does this .... well and good.  Those periods of isolation are never meant to be permanent though.  If you are truly seeking Him during such a time, He will equip you to return to the community of faith.  Because that is how He made us.

So about that pill....I picked that little, pink sucker up and, the second time around, swallowed it down.  Here are a few verses to encourage you to draw nearer to God today, no matter how far away you are, or for whatever reason.

The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth.
Psalm 145:18

To all who call on Him in truth.  Hmmmm....

Draw near to God, and he will Draw near to you. 
James 4:8a (ESV)
James, who wrote these words, was the half-brother of Jesus (Mary was his mother too).  For part of Jesus' earthly ministry, he thought Jesus was a lunatic (Mark 3:21).  After Jesus' resurrection though, James became a believer, went on to be the head of the Jerusalem church and died a martyr's death.  That's some cred, I'd say.  Here's the rest of that verse:

Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
James 4:8b

He did not mince any words, did he?  

And, finally this morning, the beautiful words of Isaiah:

"Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat.  Come, buy wine and milk, without money and without cost. "Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance. "Incline your ear and come to Me Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, According to the faithful mercies shown to David.
Isaiah 55:1-3 (ESV)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

January Soup

Contrary to most people, I love January.  It gives me an opportunity to do my own version of "hibernation".  In the midst of frozenness, seeming barrenness and quiet, the winter days continue their creep toward more daylight.  In the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I begin to feel oppressed by the gradually shortening days.  This was exacerbated when I worked full-time.  In those days, I had to be on the job by 7:00 a.m., which meant I rose from the rack before daylight and frequently returned home from work in the dark.

Another great thing about January is soup.  I love to make fresh soups here at home.  My "mens" are not as fond of my concoctions.  But, that's ok.  What I am unable to eat fresh I put away in little freezer containers to enjoy later.

A third thing I like about January in the South is that we receive most of our "severe weather" in this month.  In my full-time educator days, severe weather meant an unexpected gift - - an extra day off from work.  Depending on the state in which I taught, sometimes those days were even "free gifts" - - we were not required to "make them up".  In the 1981-82 school year, when I taught in the middle of a cornfield, in Fisher, Illinois, we missed about a month of school.  Yet, because of the governor's decree that these were "act of God" days, we were not required to make them up.  This Southern girl was enthralled, even when thick sheets of ice formed on the INSIDE of the large picture windows in the den of the rental home.  Severe weather just meant more hibernating!

After the radical hustle and bustle of the Christmas holidays January comes to me as a welcome friend, a joyful respite from all the falderall. 

God created the Earth such that creation needs times of rest, in order to rejuvenate and to be more productive later.  Farmers know that they cannot plant the fields with the same crops year after year.  If they operate in such a way, the ground will eventually become so depleted of necessary nutrients the crops will not flourish.  Today, I look out my window to see the many hardwoods that surround my home.  Their branches are bare and they look dead.  But, they are not.  They are merely resting, gearing up internally for spring, which should arrive in a few short months.

There are times in our lives when we truly need to hibernate.  Those periods may come in the dead of winter.  Or, they may come anytime.  They often come during a period of transition, especially an unforeseen or unwelcome transition.  I've read that some refer to such periods as "winter of the soul", with some components that are challenging and even painful.  But, we must also acknowledge the presence of God's life, hidden under the ice and snow, waiting, working, ready to burst forth with the obvious beauty and life that characterizes spring!  And, not only acknowledge such Presence, but embrace His deep work in our souls.

It is a sound biblical principle to lean into such periods of rest, rejuvenation and renewal.  Consider that even the Bible itself was silent for approximately 400 years (the period between the Old and New Testaments).  Jesus likewise had periods during His ministry where he "escaped" both the crowds and even His closest companions (the disciples) to go off and be alone with God in prayer.

Psalm 96:8 is a good verse to contemplate in the "dead of winter".

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
8Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come into his courts.
9Worship the Lord in the splendor of hisa holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth.
Psalm 96:7-9 (NIV)

"Ascribe" is translated from the Hebrew word,  hā·á¸‡Å« , which is translated "give" or "bring", like you would bring an offering in worship.  It is more than merely an affirmation of truth.  It is a truth meant to be celebrated in worship, giving our indescribable God the glory that He is due.  No matter our circumstances, no matter our current "season".  If we allow Him, He will take those disparate pieces of our lives and brew them into something even more beautiful than each ingredient was separately.

Winter can be a harsh, life-stealing month.   As I sit here and blog in the comfort of my warm home I am mindful that it is God, my Provider, Jehovah-jireh (the name of God which means "God provides"), who gifts me with heat and shelter.  He not only has provided, but He also sustains me thorough the cold winter months of life.  I praise Him and thank Him for that!

Now, then, ... it is supposed to snow tonight. The ingredients to make a rich soup are waiting. 

Golden Austrian Cauliflower Cream Soup
My recipe is an adaptation of theirs.


1 head cauliflower, cut into pieces
1 pkg Kroger Mirapoux Mix (frozen bag of chopped onion, celery and carrot)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons any no-salt seasoning blend, adjusted to taste
2 cups carrot juice
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup raw cashews or 1/2 cup raw cashew butter
5 cups chopped kale leaves or baby spinach


Place all the ingredients except the cashews and kale in a pot. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are just tender. Steam the kale until tender. If you are using spinach there is no need to steam it; it will wilt in the hot soup.

In a food processor or high-powered blender, blend two-thirds of the soup liquid and vegetables with the cashews until smooth and creamy. Return to the pot and stir in the steamed kale (or raw spinach).
Calories 351; Protein 14 g; Carbohydrates 45 g; Sugars 14 g; Total Fat 16.3 g; Saturated Fat 2.9 g; Cholesterol 0 mg; Sodium 237 mg; Fiber 9.1 g; Beta-Carotene 17404 ug; Vitamin C 104 mg; Calcium 190 mg; Iron 6.2 mg; Folate 233 ug; Magnesium 201 mg; Potassium 1531 mg; Zinc 3.1 mg; Selenium 9.9 ug