Lessons from Israel
The trip of a lifetime is over. I spent the first 2 weeks of 2017 in the Holy Land. People told me that going to Israel would be a life changing experience. It seemed disingenuous to see a place for the first time and say, “I am changed”. But, as I sit on this side of the trip, I now ask myself if and how Israel changed me.
I did my best to prepare for the trip and to make the most of the adventure while I was there. After coming home and facing piles of laundry, bills, packing to move and getting caught up at work (with jetlag), it would seem that the benefits of a trip like this can easily get shoved to the back of a full plate called “life”. Fortunately, we were given some helpful ways to debrief the experience as we came home; organizing and labeling pictures, keeping connected with new friends by way of social media, reviewing my journal and rewriting notes, and preparing short, medium and long answers to share with others. Yes, Israel was not a trip like a typical vacation would be; there is something powerful about this land where history comes alive and where a heightened sense of spirituality resides. It is embedded into the crevices of the cities and streets we journeyed through. Being there changes how I look at my own relationship with the Lord in the context of the landscape to which He has called me.
But how did it impact me? For starters, I would say that I did not have to go to Israel to have a vibrant relationship with Jesus, but it makes a profound impression to experience the land personally and realize my faith is rooted in events that occurred in real places. Reading the Bible and other study materials did not adequately prepare me for what I saw. As soon as I got there I could sense just how different Israel is from anywhere else in the world. Soldiers with machine guns are everywhere, and the obvious political conflict that so often is ignored at home is unavoidable. There is a renewed respect for God’s chosen people who have struggled throughout history. The emotional impact of the land, the sites, the culture and the passion of its people went beyond my expectation. Even the ordinary events like walking through a grocery store and breathing in the smells of the desert were more than I had anticipated. The rhythm of language and the intentionality of naming people and places that continues way past Bible times was startling.
It was amazing to “walk where Jesus walked”, to see the ruins of Caesarea where Paul was imprisoned, and experience Masada and its story of freedom or death. I was challenged as I visited Tel Dan to stand firm and faithful rather than shipwreck my faith for convenience. I pondered the idea that the place where the Israelites claimed the promise of the Abrahamic covenant was the same spot where John preached and prepared the way for the Messianic covenant by baptizing his cousin, Jesus. I slathered myself with mud, drank from the stream and threw a stone from a cave at Ein Gedi, watched a sunrise over the Dead Sea and danced on a boat while the moon rose, following a beautiful sunset over Galilee. I was impressed by the Jezreel Valley, as I contemplated the many Biblical events and the things yet to come. I laughed in the tunnel dug by Hezekiah and prayed in the same places that Jesus talked to Abba, Father.
As I walked the Via Dolorosa in the heart of the Old City, I could only imagine what life was like 2000 years ago. Many things were harder to imagine because of the modern life which has absorbed and muted the original landscape. The Church of the Nativity and the church of the Holy Sepulchre are filled with throngs of people from all over the world who come to witness the locations where Jesus was born, crucified, buried and resurrected. It is intense and mind-blowing, nauseating and fascinating all at the same time. I could not help but wonder how many are just visiting tourists and this is one of the stops, how many think that the sites hold some kind of “magical” power of blessing, and how few will never bow at the cross and yield their lives to the Lord.
I read the Bible differently because I have seen the land. Every time that I open my Bible for the rest of my life I will have a picture in my mind of the setting because I have seen it with my own eyes! I picked up a rock everywhere I felt God reminding me of a lesson to remind me that my faith is rooted in events that occurred in real places. It was incredible learning the Word of God with all of my senses. Further, I have a faith rooted in history—not mystery. The words on the pages of Scripture are supported by simple elements that can be dug out of the ground. They prove nothing, but they support it all. The Bible is not primarily a history book, but what it says about history is true. This reality reminds me of what Jesus said to Nicodemus: “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12). I believed it without seeing it but as my faith has been given sight, I am blessed.