Sunrise at Masada

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Masada was the final Jewish stronghold when the Romans took Jerusalem and the surrounding areas in the early to mid 70’s AD. It is small rocky plateau in the desert just west of the Dead Sea. Herod built a grand palace atop Masada in the 1st Century and ruins of his palace still remain.

Today you can climb (or ride) to the top of Masada and the best views are in the morning, when the sun is rising over the Abarim Mountains of Jordan (in which is Mt. Nebo, where God showed Moses the reaches of the Promised Land).

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Super Easy Scripture Slides and Images

I recently stumbled upon a fast and free way to make Scripture slides for Children’s Ministry (or any other ministry, for that matter) with an array of free and attractive backgrounds.

And it may already be in your phone/device.

It’s built into one of the popular apps out there – the free YouVersion app of the Bible (they’re not paying me to post this, btw 🙂 I just really like this feature and want to share about it).

I was using the app recently and saw a button I had never seen before. So I clicked on it. What I found was amazing. It was an option to make an image of any selected Bible verse over any background of your choice (your own or from their library). The settings make it easy to change the font, the font size, the colors, etc. Below are some steps and pics to show you how to do it.

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  1. First, download the app. Search “youversion” on your app store.
  2. Once you familiarize yourself with how to find a certain verse (which is intuitive), select a verse by tapping it. It will underline the verse with a dotted line and then give you a selection of options on the right.
  3. Then tap on the orange button (of a photograph), which will lead you through the step-by-step editing process.
  4. Once you have your slide, share it as you like! See the images below for a more detailed look at how it works.
Tap a verse you want to turn into a slide. It will underline it will dotted lines. Then click on the orange button on the right - the one with the image of a photograph.
Tap a verse you want to turn into a slide. It will underline it will dotted lines. Then click on the orange button on the right – the one with the image of a photograph.
Select an image from their gallery. Or you can use your own (the very first option).
Select an image from their gallery. Or you can use your own (the very first option).
Use the options under the image to change the font, size, and color of the verse.
Use the options under the image to change the font, size, and color of the verse.
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When you’re ready, tap “save.” Then you will see this image. Tap the “share” button to see your sharing options.

Then you can share the image by email, message, or social media. You can also save the image to your device and hence drop it into any slide show you are making (such as Keynote or ProPresenter).

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I love to use it to share a quick verse on social media or as a slide when I’m speaking or teaching about the Bible. It’s super easy to use and best of all, it’s free!

Bonus: Many of the most popular Bible verses (John 3:16, for example) have special pre-made images with artsy fonts and backgrounds. Those are fun to discover and you just have to stumble upon them when you go to those verses and then go to this “edit image” process.

Want more creative ideas for Children’s and Family Ministry? Sign up for my free newsletter here.

Need a speaker/entertainer for your next event? Check out my promo videos here.

Here are some slides I’ve made since I found out about this……

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Jerusalem IMAX Review

Jerusalem_205x305Yesterday, I saw the IMAX film Jerusalem at the Fernbank Museum in Atlanta. Put out by National Geographic Entertainment, it shows both the bloody history as well as the beautiful peoples and cultures who live there today.

I spent a semester living in the Old City of Jerusalem when I was in college for a study abroad program. I also got to re-visit Israel with my family last May for a few weeks. So this was a film that I was greatly anticipating ever since I heard it was coming out.

The film is a mere 42 minutes long, but it is fully packed with stunning fly-over shots, three-dimensionally moving panoramas, and everyday-life Old City action that really does make you feel like you’re shopping for fresh pita bread just inside of Damascus Gate. The soundtrack is driven by a recurring orchestral riff akin to tracks found in epic action movies (think Daft Punk’s Tron soundtrack).  The only sense it was missing was smell (think a mixture of Old City garbage, ferrel cats, incense, and baklava), but I guess IMAX technology hasn’t reached that level of development yet.

I have to admit, there were a few moments when I wanted to shout out loud “Oh Yeah!” when I saw these beautiful arial views of Jerusalem from various angles. But I kept my thoughts to myself out of respect for the other movie patrons. My eyes raced around the wraparound screen to find the spots where I lived, studied, and visited multiple times. It was a real thrill, and I will come back to see it again (and bring others with me).

It opens with a brief overview of the history of Jerusalem (starting with a nice 19th Century David Roberts painting of the city). The narrator explains why the city has been the centerfold of history, religion, and humanity – brutally fought over more so than any other piece of real estate on the planet. The reasons, of course, include being positioned at the crossroads of the world’s major continents, the elevated bedrock which served as a high holy place for worshippers, and the water coming from the Gihon Spring.

Then we learn about the three major monotheistic religions that call Jerusalem home: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (in that chronological order). Each is given equal attention and the unique culture of each is shown in a positive light. Three young women, each one raised in their respective faith community in Jerusalem, tell the story of their faith from their perspective. The film then displays how these women’s lives (and also their entire communities) live so close yet connect so little. The movie closes with the three ladies, well, I won’t spoil it for you. You have to go see it yourself!

I love Jerusalem the city. The main reason is because it holds so much meaning in the story of my faith as a Christian. But I also love it for the architecture, archaeology, the various people groups, the cultures, the politics, the inescapable intense global issues, and the gorgeous scenery (might I say heavenly?).

Visiting Israel with a Toddler

My wife and I celebrated our 10 years of marriage this past May by visiting Israel and the West Bank. It was a two and a half week trip and we have a daughter who is two. We decided that we did not want to be away from her for that long of a trip, so we brought her along.

We’re so glad we did, because visiting Israel with a toddler is an adventure that is memorable and well worth it. There are some unique challenges, but we would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

First of all, this was a self-made trip/tour. We did not go with a large tour group. We bought our tickets from IAD to TLV, stayed the first week in Jerusalem and the rest of the trip driving around the country in a rental car.

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On the roof of our first accommodation for the trip: the Ecce Homo Convent and Guest House in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.
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A lion statue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.
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Dressing up at The Citadel (David’s Tower) next to Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem.
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At the beach in Haifa.
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Reading Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

So here are some tips/things we learned about traveling half-way across the world with a toddler (some of these are specific to Israel sites and others are general travel-with-a-toddler things):

1. In-flight movies are your best friend on long-haul flights. We try not to let our toddler watch too much media (we don’t even own a television). But those little monitors on the transatlantic flights are a dream. Our daughter watched Lady and the Tramp three times in a row.

The flight attendants also gave her a little bag of toys and crayons. Of course, we also brought toys and books, but the movies were the real winner. It kept us sane and prevented an already uncomfortable situation from turning chaotic.

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ahh, an entertained child
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“I really think the rice and chicken pairs well with the apple juice, would you agree?”

2. Bring a stroller AND an ergo carrier/sling/wrap. That’s what we did – and it worked. We also have a frame hiker backpack, but that is a little bulky, so we left that at home in the States. The Ergo carrier did the same trick (our daughter is on the lighter weight of her age) and was a lot easier to travel with. That way, when we went out for the day on foot (often in Jerusalem), we had the choice of using the carrier when the terrain was bumpy (as it is in the Old City and around the valleys) and the stroller when we walked around the New City. We just planned out our days so that we left the stroller in our room when we knew we were going to do mostly Old City and archaeological sites for the day.

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At Dulles airport before checking in for a long trip!
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Bethlehem.
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“Can I take a nap yet?”
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“Please don’t fall, Daddy.”

3. The financial cost of bringing along a toddler is next to nothing (after paying for the plane ticket, of course). She was over two, so we paid for her plane ticket. But after that, she cost us about zero dollars or shekels. She was free at all museums, tourist sites, public transport, and even most restaurants (because the food comes out Mediterranean style – lots of generous plates for the table to share). She was also no extra charge at all of our lodging situations (which were convents, guest houses, and a bed and breakfast).

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Caesarea.

 

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Standing guard at Nimrod’s Fortress in the Golan Heights.

4. Speaking of lodging, we stayed at five different places over the course of the trip (Ecce Homo Convent in Jerusalem, The Bridgittine Sisters in East Jerusalem, The Masada Guest House at Masada, The Quiet Place B&B in Tiberias, and Stella Maris in Haifa). All five had something comfortable for our daughter, whether a folding crib or a spare mattress that we could lay on the floor – all for no extra cost. We simply checked ahead of time and made sure they had the crib or mattress available.

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On the front lawn of the Bridgittine Sisters Monastery on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem.

5. In terms of safety and security, we had no problems. Like any large city around the world, you need to keep an aware head on your shoulders after dark, but we weren’t out after dark with our daughter much anyway. We felt extremely safe the entire time we were in Israel AND the West Bank. The vast majority of people on both sides of that 1967-border are very friendly and look out for guests and visitors. It helps if you smile and don’t look scared all the time. Israel has some of the best defense and security systems in the world. And though you wouldn’t think it, Israel’s murder rate is LESS THAN HALF that of the USA.

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“Mommy and Daddy want to see archaeological remains at Tel Dan, but I just want to play in this huge tree!”

6. Our daughter also scored lots of bonus trinkets from friendly shopkeepers or restauranteurs. Locals loved meeting her and interacting with her (more so than in the USA). That made us feel very welcome and comfortable in the country.

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A yarn doll from “Mary” at the Nazareth Village.

7. One of the most meaningful aspects of bringing her along was watching her take in the entire experience. I don’t think this will escape her memory as she grows older. We have pictures and videos, and she even talks about things she did in Israel (3 months later). Some friends of ours gave us some kids books about Israel as a welcome home gift. She loves reading those and recalling her trips to Masada, The Dead Sea, The Sea of Galilee, Haifa, and Jerusalem.

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On the Sea of Galilee.
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The gardens at the Ba’hai Temple in Haifa.
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The Israel Museum.

8. We did go through Hezekiah’s tunnel with her (in the Ergo carrier). It was a little nerve-racking at first (the water came up to my waist at one point and the walls of the tunnel are VERY narrow – not to mention pitch darkness). But we finally got her a working flashlight and that calmed everyone down. We used the flashlights on our phones since we didn’t bring our own battery flashlights. It was an adventure, but if I did it again, I’d probably pass on the toddler-on-your-belly-through-Hezekiah’s-tunnel thing.

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Hezekiah’s tunnel with a toddler.

9. We also hiked the snake path to the top of Masasda at 4:30 in the morning with our daughter on my back in the Ergo. That was a wonderful experience – especially when I was passing other hikers and they made comments to me like, “show off….” What I do regret is taking the snake path back down after 2 hours on top of Masada. We should have just splurged and rode the cable car down. Either way, there is a huge complimentary brunch waiting for you at the Masada Guest House if you stayed there the night before.

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“I got up at 4:30am for that.”
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Masada at sunrise was well worth it.

10. Naps. So we were bad parents and didn’t always lay her down for a nap every afternoon. Hey, we were on the other side of the world and wanted to make the most of our time. Of course we were attune to her needs and made sure she was happy and healthy. But on our last full day in Haifa (towards the end of the trip), we laid her down for a nap in the convent around 2pm. We thought we could have a nice family outing that night after her nap. But that didn’t happen. Our daughter didn’t wake up until 8am the next day! That was her way of saying, “If you’re not going to give me a full daily nap on this trip, I’m just going to make up for it by sleeping for 18 straight hours!” She was bushed – and so were we. We just chilled in the room that evening and rested up before heading to a big day in Caesarea the next day.

11. Car seat. We rented from Eldan Car Rental, which was a great choice in my opinion (except returning the car to the Eldan lot at TLV was a little confusing due to some detour signage). We were able to add a car seat to the rental for some $30 extra, which was well worth not lugging a car seat with us halfway around the world.

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The car seat was only about $30 extra on the whole week of a car rental.

12. Sun and Water. We brought plenty of water and water bottles with us everywhere. One of the shopkeepers in Jerusalem told us that a trick some people use with toddlers who don’t drink enough water is to mix in some juice or powder drink mixes. We indeed tried that and I think it helped her stay hydrated! As for the sun, we made sure she had sunblock and a head covering or a wrap for her body or the stroller when the sun was too much.

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The wrap helped in the heat at Herodian.
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Our tour guide at Qumran.

I hope this helps anyone out there considering taking a toddler to Israel. I say “do it!” We made lots of fun family memories and it was well worth every penny and every pound of weight on my back.

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One happy camper.
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One of my favorite pics from the trip. Looking at candles together in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

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