“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.” Acts 20:22
Seven years ago, I came to Jerusalem with seven other pastors. To describe our story sounded like the beginning of a bad joke: A Presbyterian, a Lutheran, a Southern Baptist, an Anglican, an evangelical ministering in the inner city, and Heather…however you might describe her…
To say the trip changed my life in profound ways sounds ridiculously cliche, but I’m not sure how else to say it. I learned the value of pilgrimage (and the nuances between it and travel), the practice of the spiritual discipline Stations of the Cross, the diversity of and the beauty of the Body of Christ with all of her flaws and inconsistencies, the significance of understanding church history, and the importance of learning to live in the tension of faith and reason that is at times difficult to reconcile.
More importantly than anything else, however, is that I encountered God in a new way and my reading of Scripture took on new depth. The ancient theologian and historian Jerome referred to Israel as the Fifth Gospel, referring to the idea that the land itself revealed something of God’s character and helped us to understand something of his story. When I came here seven years ago, I felt as thought Jesus excitedly took me by the hand to show me the places where he walked, experienced life, and discovered through human eyes the beauty of his own creation. Through that process, I fell in love with him in a new way and fell in love with the land where he lived and served.
Today, I am here once again. Different time. Different context. The teaching team from National Community Church has come to explore the Holy Land together with a few dozen other soon to be great friends. We echo the statement Paul made 2,000 years ago that we have come to this place, compelled by the Holy Spirit, and we do not know what will happen to us here. Hopefully, prison and hardship doesn’t await us here like Paul expresses in the very next verse. My prayer is to be taken captive once again by the awe and wonder of a God who one day decided to leave his home to come wrapped in the skin of his own creation in order to rescue those he loved.