After ten days in Israel, we hopped on a plane and headed to Rome. Quite honestly, I am still pinching myself. I never imagined traveling to either historic destination, let alone both in one trip. Each day we walked in Jerusalem, we were face to face with where Scripture happened. I started marking my Bible by underlining and dating each location in Scripture that we had visited. Suddenly I realized that I would be marking almost my entire Bible if I kept up this practice.
In Jerusalem, there were many impressive sites. We went by cable car up to Masada, the location of Herod’s fortress and the place where the Maccabean Revolt concluded. We stood on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea from Caesarea, the place where Paul gave his testimony and defended himself before Festus. The view and the remains of Herod’s creation were big and impressive. We stood on a mountaintop overlooking the valley where Armageddon will occur.
But there was something different when we arrived in Rome. Big had a new definition. We walked down the street a few hours after arriving to find ancient columns beyond my comprehension. We suddenly understood where Herod got all his ideas that he brought to the Holy Land. It was as if I had been shrunk and was walking as an ant through the jungle. From the Coliseum to the Roman Forum to the Vittoriano, to the Sistine Chapel to St. Peter’s Basilica, it is as if the city were on steroids.
My daughter and her classical education can run circles around my knowledge of Roman history. I know that I am missing major gaps, but what I did gather was that the Rome of yesterday and the America of today suffer from some of the same debilitating problems. We take what is good and we make it about ourselves. We get lost in making an impression. We love our greatness so much that we eventually forget what and, more importantly, who is great. Even in a city steeped in religion, it is very hard to find the heart of God. Tradition after tradition, statue after statue, my eyes were amazed and my heart was saddened.
While the sad decline is easy to see in a city or a country, seldom do we see that decline in ourselves. Perhaps we all need to step back with the fresh eyes of a tourist to evaluate our own life. How much time do you spend doing things that impress you or impress others? In your success, do you take credit for what the King of Kings has done in you? Are you full of religious tradition but somehow empty of faith? Where is your life are you living with the false notion that bigger is always better? I challenge you to choose humility and meaning over pride and facades as we enter 2014.