Nicole and I recently participated in Dr. Russ Moore‘s delegation to Israel, a trip facilitated and paid for by The Philos Project. Our group was made up of four ERLC executives, one seminary provost, and six SBC pastors from around the country. The objective was to get first hand perspectives of the various players involved in the current Middle East conflict, especially as it relates to Israel. Nationally, we met with Arabs, Armenians, and Israelis. In terms of religion, we met with Muslims, Christians, religious Jews, and secularists. Politically, we met with those on the left, right, and centrists. Vocationally, we met with a variety of leaders. For example, one of Israel’s leading peace negotiators for the last twenty years, a major player for Israel that has spanned the US administrations of Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama. We met with a leader of the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem, the head of the Dome on the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the second most holy site in the world for Muslims, after Mecca. We met with a US Ambassador, a leader among the Armenians, a leader in Israel’s medical industry, the head of a key Jewish-Christian relations think tank in one of their universities, and a leading figure in Israeli journalism who was formerly part of the Palestinian Authority’s media. My favorite part of the meetings was the opportunity for dialogue with each after they advocated their particular perspective on the conflict in the Middle East.
Between meetings, we got to see some interesting sites. One that really affected me was standing on The Golan Heights looking out over Syria and literally watching the civil war. To hear the “ka-boom” of a bomb and see a rising mushroom cloud made the conflict incredibly personal.
In 2008, I was in Israel and stood on the Mount of Olives and asked our Father if one day Nicole and I could travel through Israel together. Much of our 6,000 year Christian history unfolded in Israel, and so the biblical sites are not just markers from some ancient nation, they are part of OUR story as disciples of Jesus Christ. So, in between meetings, getting to see Nazareth and Galilee, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and the southern dessert with Nicole was really special to me. Our Father is really good to us.
Overall, the trip was obviously a rare and unique opportunity to personally look behind the curtain of the Middle East conflict. I left with many takeaways, but here are three key ones:
1. NEHBC and many other Southern Baptist churches need to be renewed in a proper discipleship of our members regarding Israel and the Middle East. The absence of discipleship on this matter has created a void that has been filled with misinformation and unbiblical thinking amongst God’s people. Because the subject of Israel and the Middle East is so central to the Christian narrative, and is by God’s design intricately related to what is happening in the world today, we cannot afford to let this subject matter go unaddressed.
2. Russell Moore is God’s man for Southern Baptists for such a time as this. After observing him interact with major influencers from a wide range of ethnicities, religions, and political positions, it is clear that Dr. Moore is convictional, courageous, and gifted by God to serve as the head of our ERLC. I realize this is not news to anyone in the SBC, but it bears reaffirming.
3. The Philos Project is a trustworthy and brilliant resource to equip Christian pastors for biblical discipleship and engagement in Israel and the Middle East. Their objectives and approach are sound, kind, and fair. I really appreciate what they are about.
Footnote: Our layover on the way to and from Israel was Paris, France, so since our flight plan was putting us there anyway, we decided to stay over for three days. The horrific ISIS terrorist attack on Paris took place five days prior to our arrival. One of the effects of the attack was mass cancelations by tourists. As a result, Nicole and I felt like we had run of the city for three days. We knocked out the major sites quickly and had lots of time just to walk around, drink coffee, and spend time together. We are really grateful for those three days together.