Turning from Black and White to Color

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How a pastor’s trip to the Holy Land is blessing others

In March of this year, my wife Erin and I went on a trip to the Holy Land with The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We spent ten days exploring many of the places that we had only read about and studied for years. While we knew that the trip itself would be incredible (and it was!), what we didn’t realize was the the long-term impact it would have on our personal relationships with God as well or our ministry in our church. What we discovered was that our time in Israel would transform us and our ministry in subtle, yet profound ways.

As far as our personal relationships with God, visiting the Holy Land was a faith-affirming experience. Both Erin and I have been followers of Jesus and students of His word for many years and have had our faith tested and refined through some difficulties. We have a steady assurance that God is He who says He is, and that His Word can be trusted. That being said, we walked away from our experience in Israel with a deeper sense of, “It is real.”

As far as our personal relationships with God, visiting the Holy Land was a faith-affirming experience.

From boating on the Sea of Galilee, to standing atop Mount Carmel, dipping our toes in the Jordan River, praying in Gethsemane, worshipping at the Garden Tomb—all of these experiences brought a new sense of authenticity to Scripture. Places that we had pictured (or failed to picture correctly) now have a concrete place in our minds. As you can imagine, our devotional times are now richer. I find myself more observant of the places in Scripture, and more eager to imagine the setting. I always knew that the Biblical locations were real, but now they feel that way, which invigorates my personal study in God’s Word.

Any experience that affects your personal relationship with God will naturally impact your ministry to others, and our trip to Israel was no exception. Most noticeable to others would be our personal stories and pictures that find their way in to a lesson or sermon now and then. When we first returned, I preached a passage from the Sermon on the Mount and was able to show the congregation our pictures from the Mount of Beatitudes. With our tour being in March, Easter was just around the corner, so we certainly shared our stories about visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, walking the Via Dolorosa, and stepping into the Garden Tomb. The stories and pictures have been valuable, but even more significant has been our heightened ability to teach with conviction and insight.

Journeying through the land of Israel not only colored in the lines of my personal Bible study, but helps me to more effectively paint the picture for those I teach. For many passages, I’m no longer pulling just from my study, but from my experience of being in the land that I am teaching on. As my high school Sunday school class worked through Joshua together, I could excitedly depict, in substantial detail, the Israelites standing on the banks of the Jordan River, waiting for God to do what only He can do. Do they need some of those details in order to learn from God’s Word? No. Does it help them engage the text and glean more from it? Absolutely. So while we may not explicitly reference our trip on a regular basis, it continues to make a meaningful impact in our ministry to others.

I am confident that we will enjoy reviewing our pictures and memories for years to come. However, it’s the ongoing impact of our trip that is most meaningful. God continues to use our experience in Israel to deepen our relationship with Him and to equip us to more effectively disciple others. For those reasons, we thank the Lord for the time He allowed us to spend with Friends of Israel in the Holy Land.

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Matt Montgomery

Matt Montgomery is the Assistant Pastor at First Baptist Church in Dubois, Pennsylvania.

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