Penny and I have been traveling in Israel this past week with a group led by Danny Akin and Allan Moseley. The trip has been everything we hoped for and then some. There are 36 in our group of which several are Southeastern students; all of whom are a delight to share this experience with. We have travelled the Lebanese border, through Galilee, and are now in Jerusalem.

Some thoughts:

1. We must hold traditions; they must never hold us. Traditions are intended to remind us of what is greater than ourselves, of what is more important than us. We’ve witnessed some traditional observances that are beautiful and thought-provoking. Other traditions seem to have become straitjackets that bind the adherents. Note to the wise: never ride a Sabbath-elevator. The Sabbath will be over by the time you arrive at your floor.

2. This land is a microcosm of the whole world–for better and for worse. It seems like every type of terrain can be found here just a few miles apart. Lush greenery gives way to moonscape-like desert. Jerusalem, which is 2474 ft above sea level, is only 25 miles from the Dead Sea (which, at 1401 ft below sea level, is the lowest point on earth). We’ve met some wonderful people here–Jews and Palestinians–who we will cherish as friends forever. But the endless fighting between Jews and Palestinians, Muslims and Christians, and Christians against other Christians is so revealing of the human condition. These red signs were more than a little disturbing. They and their disputes are not unique–just more concentrated, distilled, and compact; in other words, the Promised Land contains an espresso cup of humanity.

3. Anything that does not have Christ at the center becomes an idol–even religion. Without God’s grace our best intentions and efforts become twisted into self-righteous, and that is always deadly. This is true even (perhaps especially) for us who claim the name of Christ. Our guide at the tour of the Garden Tomb hailed from Singapore (seriously, the whole world is represented here). Though he spoke with less than ideal English, his heart for Christ came through clearly. He reminded us that we don’t worship an empty tomb. We worship a risen Lord.