Category Archives: Lessons from the Desert

Lisa’s Diary of Israel: Day 5—Lotta Masada

We got a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call today so we could get an early start to travel from Jerusalem to Masada.  We stopped in En Gedi early enough to see Nubian Ibex
(an animal listed in the Bible).  They graze and visit before they tour buses come through,
and then scatter to the hills of the wilderness.  We had stayed near the Jaffa Gate (oldest gate) in Jerusalem. The drive from Jerusalem through the Judean wilderness to Masada took about two hours, and went we from +250 meters to -300 meters below sea level.  We traveled early to escape the heat of the day, and it was still 105 degrees F.  Masada is in the Judean desert overlooking the Dead Sea.

We’re still getting used to seeing the amount of automatic weapons in the hands of young adults, since the Israelis are compelled to be in the military after graduating from high school (boys for 3 years, girls for 2 years).  Even when they’re not training, they still have their weapon with them.

So if they’re on a break,
you may see people in shorts and flip flops carrying their weapon.  We all took a cable car up, because the Snake Path walking trail was closed due to high temperatures.  Masada (Hebrew metsudhah) means stronghold.  King Herod the Great built the city and palaces for protection
between 37 – 31 BC.  75 years after Herod’s death, during the Great Revolt against the Roman Empire, the Zealots (Jewish rebels) ran away to the desert. It was a good place to hide because of the challenge for the Romans to follow. (There were no stairs then!) 960 Jewish people hid in Masada and used Herod’s stores of food.  Herod had employed Roman architecture for the bathing rooms – cold room (frigidarium), warm room (tepidarium), hot room (caldarium) like our sauna.  Everything below the black line is original archaeology.  King David may have used this stronghold when fleeing enemies
– but didn’t have stairs for access.  The columns and colors are original, over 2000 years old!

Psalm 59:9, 16 (HCSB) -“I will keep watch for You, my strength, because God is my stronghold.  But I will sing of Your strength and will joyfully proclaim Your faithful love in the morning.  For You have been a stronghold for me, a refuge in my day of trouble.”

(Even the birds find shelter in the stronghold.)  Psalm 62:1-2 – “I am at rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will never be shaken.”  Mosaic floors were popular in Jewish art of the Herodian period.  Byzantine West Gate  Artifacts and archaeology
tell much of the sad ending of Masada, when the Jewish people chose mass suicide
rather than being captured by the Romans.  It’s sobering to consider in whom or what we take refuge.Where do you and I seek our strength?”  (Overlooking the remains of the synagogue.)

Psalm 62:5-8 (HCSB) – “Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will not be shaken.  My salvation and glory depend on God, my strong rock.  My refuge is in God.  Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts before Him. God is our refuge. Selah [pause, and calmly think of that].”

(Guest author: Lisa Walkendorf. All photos and materials are hers and used by her permission. Thank you, Lisa! If you want to learn more about Israel, you can access all her trip notes here:

War Rooms and Prayer Saunas

Lavish dinnerEvery day was a feast in France, and not just because our hosts were good cooks!Discussion Every day was a spiritual feast too. FriendsOur purpose was to aid in work among North African refugees,Sunrise over French Alps around Grenoble but although we served from dawn ’til setting sun, Sunset in Grenoblewe’d come to the end of each day with a feeling of deep joy and thankfulness
for all the blessings we’d experienced as we tried to bless others. Rainbow over GrenobleTruly, you can’t out give God! Friends gatheringAfter a hard day’s work, we’d often have a marvelous evening meeting friends, Table Hockeyhaving fun together, eating, and hearing stories of redemption…Discussing Great Literaturemost often how God has worked to bring good out of tragic circumstances.Dinner PartyIn France, dinner parties last several hours, and it was often 10 pm by the time we’d head out for our return walk to the youth hostel where we stayed. Last rays of sun in French AlpsIn Grenoble, the sun sets about 9:30 in June, so our walk would be through the deepening shadows of twilight, and I’d be ready to hit the hay for sure! Setting SunNot so my cohort! We ended every night in what affectionately became known as the prayer sauna. We’d meet in the hostel’s library for a sweet hour of prayer.Panorama(This attempt at a panorama shot gives you a little feel:
It was stifling hot and humid in there, and we were tired, thirsty, exhausted
…maybe not even quite all there anymore! 🙂   ) LibraryThe amazing thing to me was that even though I’d be so sleepy I’d feel like I was going to pass out or fall asleep some nights (and yes, sometimes I actually did), Prayer Saunaby the time we were finished, I felt a surge of contentment and joy that perked me up until I really could get washed up and crawl into bed! Paul and ShannonAlso, I am convinced that more of the fruit of our labors resulted
from sweating it out in the prayer sauna at night than from working hard all day.Rainbow in FranceAre you flagging and in need of a blessing? Take it to the Lord in prayer!

 “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

“Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father’s throne
Make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief,
And oft escaped the tempter’s snare,
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

“Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
Thy wings shall my petition bear
To Him whose truth and faithfulness
Engage the waiting soul to bless.
And since He bids me seek His face,
Believe His Word and trust His grace,
I’ll cast on Him my every care,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!”
(William W. Walford, 1845)

Precious Transports

Teacups from EuropeBeing a good Brit, Alan loves tea. And tea cups. Teacup CollectionOur souvenir of choice, wherever we roam, is a teacup, and whenever I roam without my beloved, I try to bring him home an exotic new cup.

Carpet ShopSeveral years ago, after valiantly evading Istanbul’s 5 million carpet hawkers lining the entrance into the Grand Bazaar, we searched for “the perfect” Turkish tea set. The options were myriad. Alas, I got sidetracked by jewels, and after using our stash or lira on amber and various other pieces of genuine fake jewelry, we gave up our quest for tea cups and settled on a hand-painted bowl instead. Seula Shopping CenterBut, we often recalled that dazzling day and pined for a Turkish tea set, so you can imagine my flush of pleasure on spying a similar set for a song in Tunisia last summer! I bought it instantly and could hardly wait to present my prize to Alan. Shattered MirrorSadly, I did not oversee how the shop keeper packaged the treasure, and the beautiful mirrored, enamel tray splintered beyond repair in my luggage before I returned to America. Living Room Tea cups                                                        Alan was still pleased,
and our tea set occupies a space of distinction in our living room, Venetian Water Glassesbut I remembered back to the time Alan graciously hand-carried a set of water glasses home from Venice for us. They all survived in tact and are still as good as new today. Exotic Tea CupsIt occurs to me that in transporting things we truly treasure, we should personally oversee the entire process. Sound right? Did you know that once we put our trust in God and become his child, we become His treasure, bought with the price of his Son’s precious blood, and God personally oversees our transport to heaven?Tea Cups It says in the scripture that we are “sealed” by the Holy Spirit, who is the unseen Presence guiding us, leading us, and carrying us from this life to heaven. Precious Comforter of God! Like a tea cup inside a box flying over the ocean, we may not see the Hand that carries us, but He will deliver us safely at the end into God’s Kingdom of Light, where God will take joy in us (and we in Him) forever!

“God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage.”Cross in Window“Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.”
(2 Corinthians 1:21-22)

“We should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:12-14)


Lessons from the Desert: Bloom Where You’re Planted?

What else can I do beyond praying for the healing of this broken world?
Cactus in Tunisian wildernessWhile in Tunisia, I was struck more deeply by the significance of the admonition Cactus in Gardens  “Bloom where you’re planted” as I observed the ubiquitous cacti. Dry River Bed. Tunisia I don’t usually think of cacti as something that blooms
or is even intentionally planted, Tunisia. Cactus Fencesbut in Tunisia, cacti are planted in long rows to form hedges around crops. Tunisian Cactus and potThey are planted in gardens and used to adorn courtyards.Cactus FencesI suppose this is largely because they can survive drought
when most other plants would die out. Tunisia Cactus Flowerering Now, you might argue that most of the world’s cacti (and perhaps most of the world’s plants and people) aren’t “planted” but rather grow wild Tunisia Cactus flowers and trash…and if we’re a cactus,
we can hardly be expected to bloom in a barren wilderness! Tunisia. Cactus starting to flowerI beg to differ. Goat herder. TunisiaI believe that those of us who appear to be wild varieties
have still been planted by God, Herding Goats. Tunisiabased on David’s testimony that God was leading him no matter where he went, Wilderness through Tunisiabe it heaven or hell (Psalm 139:7-10).Wilderness of TunisiaAfter staring listlessly out the window at nothingness for hours on end,
I would say that the wilderness of Tunisia fits on that continuumBarren Land. Tunisia…possibly near the end. Tunisia Cactus everywhereFurthermore, I believe we are all encouraged to bloom,
regardless of our circumstances. Wilderness Road in TunisiaOn my trip, seeing a cactus punctuate the landscape gave me singular delight, and when I found some that were actually blooming, I was all agog! Blooming Cactus in TunisiaSo, even when we’re feeling as prickly as a cactus living in a desolate wasteland, let’s try to bloom.  Cactus. TunisiaWe might be one of the only plants tough enough to survive in such trying circumstances, and our little blossoms will doubtless bring joy
and encouragement to others. Cactus Flower. Tunisia“Let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.”
(1 Corinthians 7:24)

The Value of Salt: Pink vs White or What? شط الجريد‎ Šoṭṭ el-Jarīd

Pink River in TunisiaHave you ever seen a pink river? Chott el Djerid. Tunisia Pink River I saw one flowing into “Chott el Djerid” in Southern Tunisia. Salt Flats in Southern TunisiaIn Star Wars, Chott el Djerid is the setting for the Lars Homestead. Chott el Djerid. Tunisia in SummerWe visited in June, when temperatures sometimes soar to 122°F (50°C),
causing intense evaporation so that the lake becomes a great salt flat. Chott el Djerid. Tunisia 1In fact, Chott el Djerid is the largest salt pan in the Sahara Desert:
5,000 square kilometers (2,700 sq. miles)! Beautiful Pink Salt Chott el Djerid. TunisiaOne of the most fascinating aspects of Chott el Djerid is that the water
is tinged with iron oxide, giving the salt a beautiful pink tint! Pink Himalayan SaltIt reminds me of the pink Himalayan salts that have become popular in America, famous for some 80± trace minerals
and touted by health food enthusiasts as particularly beneficial.  Iron Oxide in water Chott el Djerid. TunisiaHowever, I can’t find any peer-reviewed scientific research to verify this. Salt crystals Chott el Djerid. Tunisia In fact, analysis reveals that some of the Himalayan salts also contain trace elements of radioactive substances like uranium, radium, and polonium,
not to mention substances that can be poisonous, like thallium. Colored SaltsIt seems the scientific stance is that these trace elements—good and bad—
are too insignificant to be helpful or harmful,
so it appears you can choose pink or white—or whatever—as your palate pleases. Salt Chott el Djerid. TunisiaHowever, keep in mind that white table salt is often enhanced with iodine, which is a particularly good thing for those of us who live in areas like the Great Lakes, where iodine deficiency has historically been a problem. Desert Roses Chott el Djerid. TunisiaIf you go pink, consider adding more dairy, soy, and ocean-harvested foods
to your diet, or find another good source for iodine. Mining Pink Salt. TunisiaWhatever you choose, you gotta love salt, right? Lake Chott el Djerid. TunisiaWhere would we be without salt to bring out the flavor in our foods?! Largest salt pan in Sahara Chott el Djerid. TunisiaHow about in our spiritual lives? Got any salty friends? How about you and me? Pink Salt Chott el Djerid. TunisiaAre we salty?  I wonder what trace elements we’re carrying…
I hope nothing radioactive or poisonous! Salt Crystals 2 Chott el Djerid. TunisiaFather, please refine us and enhance our spirits
so that we promote health in those around us.  Grains of salt Chott el Djerid. Tunisia“Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another” (Mark 9:50).

(All the photos were taken in Southern Tunisia last summer, except for the 2 photos of various salts, which were taken at my local grocery store here in Michigan.)

P.S.—If you want more information about this amazing salt flat, you can find it here:

Water Shortages and Aqueduct Projects

Edge of Sahara Desert. TunisiaIn the middle earth of nowhere’s desolate wasteland, Aqueduct Project 1someone found a spring bubbling up, and around that hot, mineralized water
an aqueduct project was born! Clear water in Aqueduct. Tunisia Water is just as essential to sustaining life as the air we breathe, but for those
of us who grew up taking clean drinking water and hot baths for granted, aqueduct projects may not seem as spectacularly vital as they truly are. Mineral encrusted reedI remember a couple of early experiences that shocked me into understanding water problems from a more global perspective. Nearing Tunisian Saraha DesertAs a teenager, I spent some time working among rural people in the mountainous region around Monterrey, Mexico, where even children were engaged in carrying water over a mile up steep slopes to help sustain their families, and a “bath” consisted of rubbing ash on the baby’s skin.  Aqueduct Project 2At 20 I taught high school in North Carolina and discovered that
a few of my students didn’t even have running water in their rustic homes. Flat barren desert in Tunisia But, it wasn’t until visiting the Sahara Desert last summer—with the sun beating down on me and nothing but sand stretching out for miles in all directions—that I finally understood the intense desperation thirsty people feel…and the lengths to which they’ll go to have their needs met. Aqueduct ProjectOn our trip to Tunisia,
the guide had us stop at one of these amazing aqueduct projects. Aqueduct Project 4 A complex structure was built to protect and transform
the water shooting up from a thermal spring. Aqueduct Project 5The precious water was air-cooled before being collected and channeled into an aqueduct that carried it miles through the desert.  Aqueduct in TunisiaWithout that aqueduct, no one could have settled in this desert region. Cracked Rock:Barren ground Spiritually, humans are no different.
Without the  the Water of Life, no spiritual life can be sustained. Aqueduct Project in TunisiaThere is an aqueduct project here in America to channel the western world’s abundant spiritual resources to parched lands around the globe.Tunisian Aqueduct It’s also called Aqueduct Project, and it’s being developed by my son,
Jonathan (about whom I wrote yesterday), and a team of students and scholars from around the world. Water in AqueductIf you have any interest in finding out more or helping out,
here’s the website: Beautiful Aqueduct. Tunisia“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).

(All pictures were taken in Tunisia last summer. In case you have trouble with calcium deposits in your drinking water…note the mineral-encrusted reed!)

Losing Sight of Water

Autumn Golden Oak leaves copyFor November, the weather has been spectacular lately.
It was 76° and 75° the past two days under an intensely blue sky! Autumn Lake The oaks out our back window shone like burnished brass, and in the golden glow of the late afternoon sun, the lake almost looked like the “deep blue sea”!Rocks and Sand in Tunisia As I stopped to thank God for the beautiful weather, my mind drifted back
to my time in the Saharan Desert of Tunisia last summer. Tunisia Desert Plain Without water, life isn’t possible. Surveying Sahara DesertWithout water, the entire world would soon become like the Sahara Desert. Desert Flowers and Palm Tree. Tunisia Can you imagine what would happen if we lost all our water? Tunisian Spring in Desert 10Rivers and seas would dry up, plant life would die, Names in Rock. Tunisiaand even human life would cease to exist. Southern Tunisia Rocky Desert Earth would become a dead planet, just like all the other the seemingly infinite number of lifeless atronomical bodies that are careening through space. Thick Clouds ABove the Earth Thankfully, God has enrobed  Earth with clouds and filled it with water Tunisian Spring in Desert 2to the tune of about 332,500,000 cubic miles (not much of which is in Tunisia). Oasis in Desert Hopefully, that will keep us hydrated for a good, long time, Tunisian Wilderness but there are few things as unsettling to me as being in a lifeless, barren desert, Tunisian Spring in Desert 8and therefore, there was hardly anything as soothing to me on our trek
as those rare, precious visits to springs of water. Tunisian Spring in Desert 9 But, as I looked back, the shocking thing to me is how petty I am!
I recalled stopping at a glorious spring…and that I lost my sunglasses there! Tunisian Spring in Desert 3 We searched everywhere, but to no avail. Instead of just sitting and soaking in the beauty, I got distracted by a (relatively speaking) very small inconvenience. Tunisian Spring in Desert 6 I don’t want to be a petty person, remembering the inconveniences of life; Tunisian Spring in Desert 4I’d like to become someone who remembers the beauty and goodness of the past, Tunisian Spring in Desert 5 …who’s able to put aside what she’s lost, and rejoice in the Water of Life, which she’s found (because—of course—it’s so often in our losses that we find Christ). Tunisian Spring in Desert “And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely” (Revelation 2:6). Tunisian Spring in Desert 7 “And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1).