Why I Can't Stop Going to the Holy Land

Next March (with the lovely Robin and others) I will be taking my fifth trip to Israel. I can't wait.

I honestly look forward to every trip as if it's my first. It's a trip I honestly believe every follower of Jesus should take. And even more so, every pastor--as early as possible in their ministry. My first Holy Land trip was in 1987, when Robin and I borrowed money to make the trip, believing that initial investment would pay rich dividends in our years of ministry to follow--and it did.

But (as I am sometimes asked) why keep going back? What could possibly make it worth repeated visits? Doesn't it get boring? Isn't it same ol' same ol'?

Fair questions. And not all that hard to answer, though there is no way to adequately describe the spiritual, intellectual, and cultural blessing I derive from every visit to the land of Jesus, the apostles, prophets, and patriarchs. But I will try.

1. The sites and sights of the land of the Bible revive me spiritually. Never fails. This is partly due to the way the lovely Robin and I approach our trips, as prayer-and-Scripture pilgrimages.We don't go as tourists, we travel as pilgrims. We pray in the Garden of Gethsemane and at the Western Wall (and insert tiny folded prayers into the cracks in the wall, like many, many others). We read Scripture aloud in the very places where they were written and the places they describe, such as standing in the city gates of the Old City and reading Psalm 122:2 ("Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem") or stopping at the caves of En Gedi and reading of David sparing Saul's life there (1 Samuel 24). We meditate silently on the Beatitudes at the site of the Sermon on the Mount. We sing and pray while floating on the Sea of Galilee.

2. It energizes and informs my Bible reading and study. Words cannot describe what happens to a person's Bible reading, studying, and preaching once you have sailed the Sea of Galilee, and been baptized in the Jordan. Or taken an early morning journey starting at the Gihon Spring, in the City of David, and traversing the actual tunnel of Hezekiah (dug underneath the Ophel in Jerusalem about 701 B.C.) and ending up at the Pool of Siloam. Or the side trip Robin and I and a half dozen good friends took our last morning in Jerusalem, when we took a cab to the village of Bethany, and walked the Palm Sunday route Jesus took from the traditional site of Lazarus’s tomb to the Temple Mount (see photo above). The topography and scenery of that three-mile walk will stay with me forever, and springs to my mind, of course, every time I read of Bethany or Palm Sunday or Lazarus, Mary, and Martha in my Bible. You can hardly take a step in Israel without touching something of Biblical significance. And it lasts long beyond the time in Israel; Robin highlights and dates in her Bible places she's been, so memories constantly inform her reading.

3. I learn something new every single time I go. In fact, after my last journey (the fourth, remember), I listed twenty new things I learned on that trip (see here). I could easily have listed twenty more. Every time. And on our next trip (see the full-color brochure here) we'll be visiting some places I've never seen, such as the Valley of Elah (above, where David triumphed over Goliath), Emmaus, Jacob's Well, the Herodion, and more. And even beyond those new experiences, if the pattern holds true, I'll learn still more at every place we visit.

4. I love the people we travel with. Time after time, we've started and enjoyed and deepened some of our most valued friendships with people we may never have known (or known so well) otherwise by traveling with them through the land of Jesus. And there is a special bond we share forever after, a delightful fellowship of co-pilgrims.

5. I love the people of Israel. Israelis and Palestinians. Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and others. I laugh every time someone says, "You from America? I have a cousin in Cleveland!"

6. Beyond the "facts" and details I learn on each trip is a less quantifiable but more valuable kind of learning I derive from each trip. Every time I absorb more of the culture, topography, spirit, and truth of the place. It opens my mind's eye to more and deeper ways of approaching and understanding God, the Bible, Jesus, and myself. It is hard to describe, but anyone who has been there knows--and especially those who have been more than once. It is a place like no other, with application to my life like no other.

These are just six of the reasons I can't stop making trips to Israel. They are much more than informative; they are  transformative. They have made me a better reader, student, preacher and teacher of Scripture--and person. They have been worth many, many times the money I've spent on them. And I gain so much from every trip that I immediately make the next trip a high priority.

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