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Rockets Over Jerusalem

A few minutes ago our evening was again interrupted by the sound of sirens warning of incoming missiles from Gaza. Two nights ago, our anniversary date was cut short as we sat in the stairwell of a hotel in Tel Aviv, along with several Israeli’s, amidst the same glaring noise. Shortly after we decided to return home to be with our 3 kids in Jerusalem.

peace

Living in Conflict

Our family is often asked how or why we choose to live in a place of seemingly continual unrest. What we have found is that you can experience joy in the midst of conflict. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 5:9,

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

People naturally want to live peacefully. However, Jesus is not saying blessed are those living in peace, but blessed are peacemakers. Peacemakers actually live in the midst of conflict. In other words, blessed are those living in conflict and bringing peace. Godly joy is readily found in the worst conflicts.

C.T. Studd grew up the son of a wealthy Englishman. He felt compelled to fulfill Matthew 19:21, sold what he had and gave to the poor. He spent his life in China, India, and Africa. In a poem he wrote is the line,

Some wish to live within the sound of chapel bells; I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell.”

Studd discovered joy in the midst of conflict.

Taking Sides

America loves sports and Americans love to root for their favorite sports team. The World Cup displays people around the globe doing the same for national soccer (football) teams. The problem is that same mentality affects our view of people in the world. It’s easy to watch the news of middle east strife and put on display our competitive athletic nature rooting for blue and white or black, red, and green. To put on a kippa or Palestinian scarf and take sides in a conflict that takes lives on both sides of the line. But that’s not the Jesus way.

Defining Peace

Jesus lived at a time described as the “Pax Romana,” or Roman peace. Rome established and maintained peace through military might. Jesus, however, is referring to a peace (shalom) that makes a person whole, not the absence of war.

Peace is described as a state of mind, inward soundness, and well-being. When people tell me they are praying for the peace of Jerusalem I like to remind them to be praying for the well-being of all Jerusalem’s inhabitants – Jews, Palestinians, Armenians, Secular Israelis, Druze, Samaritans, Russians, Europeans…all who walk its streets and call it home.

The Peacemaker

Jesus was a peace-making Jew who cared for Jew and Gentile alike. He understood that the sun rises and rain falls on all mankind (Matthew 5:45). Paul describes Jesus as our peace, restoring relationships and bringing unity. “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…and he came and preached peace to you who were far off (Gentile) and peace to those who were near (Jew)” (Ephesians 2).

The coming of Jesus brings the possibility of peace.”

Mourning for this Land

Several weeks ago three young Israelis, Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel, and Gilad Shaar, were kidnapped and murdered near Hebron. A few days after their bodies were discovered, a young Palestinian, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was kidnapped not far from where we live and burned alive in the Jerusalem forest. Our family mourned for these sons of Israel and this son of Palestine. We prayed for the families and asked God to bring shalom to this land.

Jesus also shared, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). This mourning is both personal and global. A mourning over the state of the whole world as you see the moral mess and unhappiness and suffering of mankind. Mourning with an understanding that the wrongdoer is sick, in need of healing.

We mourn when rockets are fired from Gaza because the wrongdoer is in need of healing. He terrorizes residents of Tel Aviv and others throughout the land, who are forced to hide out in bomb shelters and stairwells. We met some of them. We mourn when bombs are dropped on Gaza and lives are lost. I watched a video of a toddler being dug out of rubble. A child, barely able to walk, growing up in a profoundly hostile world. This land needs peace.

The World’s Great Need

The great need of the world today is for a number of peacemakers. If only we were all peacemakers there would be no problems, there would be no troubles. So what does a peacemaker look like? What do they do?

  • The peacemaker has only one concern, and it is the glory of God amongst men and women.
  • Peacemakers are ready to humble themselves and ready to do anything and everything in order that the glory of God may be promoted.
  • Peacemakers are prepared to suffer in order to bring it to pass. They are even prepared to suffer wrong and injustice in order that peace may be produced and God’s glory magnified.
  • Peacemakers do not simply sit in a study and theoretically work out this principle. It is in practice that a person proves whether they are a peacemaker or not. {1}

Godliness

God has made peace. He has humbled Himself in His Son to produce it. That is why the peacemakers are ‘children of God.’ What they do is to repeat what God has done. Peacemakers have an element of godliness about them, lovingly restoring right relationships. God considers peacemakers as one of His own, like a proud dad making the claim, “That’s my boy!” or “That’s my girl!”

Loving God and Neighbor

As people with Israeli and Palestinian friends, we are occasionally asked, “So whose side are you on?” As a family who serves Jesus with a heart to follow in His footsteps and fulfill His command to love God and people – all people, we are on neither side.

Joshua 5:13-14 gives guidance, “While Joshua was there near Jericho: He looked up and saw right in front of him a man standing, holding his drawn sword. Joshua stepped up to him and said, ‘Whose side are you on-ours or our enemies?’ He said, ‘Neither. I’m commander of God’s army.’”

We are for all peoples and nations, to the glory of God!”

The Challenge & Prayer

May you have a heart to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and all its inhabitants, may you mourn over the state of the world, may you forge a growing desire to be a peacemaker in this world, and may shalom be experienced in this land and beyond its shores.

{1} Copyright 1959-60 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Grand Rapids. 1976.

A Civil War in Syria

Two things you are told not to talk about in America is religion and politics. Two things everyone talks about in the Middle East is religion and politics. Normally I do not write of political events but some explanation may be helpful as they unfold in Syria.

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Photo Credit: CAFOD Photo Library (cc)

Making Sense of the Middle East

Shiites and Sunnis. Iran and Iraq. Israeli and Palestinian. The Middle East is a diverse and challenging part of the world, often difficult to understand.

Overseeing a school in Jerusalem I work with the Founder, someone living in the Middle East for 30 years. In the Gulf War he watched from his rooftop when SCUD missiles were fired at Israel and subsequently shot down with Patriot missiles. Here is his summary of the current situation:

In the beginning

After the death of Mohammed there was a dispute over who should serve as his successor. Some thought his relatives should continue leading Islam; they later became known as Shiites. The Sunni think the person most qualified should lead.

Approximately 80-90% of Muslims are Sunni while 10-20% are Shia. Sunni-Shia relations experience both cooperation and conflict. Hardly a day goes by without news about one group violently attacking the other.

What about Iraq?

The majority of Muslims in Iraq are Shia but Sadam Hussein was Sunni. He ruled as a member of the minority group.
Presently, the Shia have selected a Shiite leader and the majority rules in Iraq, sharing a common Shia heritage with their neighbor Iran.

Figuring out Syria

The majority of Muslims in Syria are Sunni, but the current leadership follows a sect of Shia, the Alawites. With a minority group leading the country, other minority groups (Christians, Druze, Turkmen, and many others) maintain a measure of favor with the government and want it to remain in power.

Minority groups

When a minority group leader is in power in the Middle East, Christians are normally treated better because the leader needs their support. Minority groups work together to keep a minority leader in control of the country. In Iraq many Christians wanted Saddam Hussein to continue in power. They were treated better under his leadership. In Syria many Christians want to see Bashar Al-Assad remain in power because they have favor with him, even though he is not a Christian.

What’s going on with Al-Qaeda?

Founded by Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda is a network uniting multinational groups within radical groups of Sunni Muslim. Al-Qaeda envisions a complete break from all foreign influences in Muslim countries and the creation of a new world-wide Islamic caliphate.

The Arab Spring

Revolutions occurred throughout the Middle East in the Spring of 2010. Al-Qaeda groups took advantage of these uprisings and worked to establish themselves within the newly forming governments.

Groups backed by Al-Qaeda came to power in Tunisia (Ennahda), Egypt (Muslim Brotherhood), and are advancing in Libya.

Wanting control of every country in the Middle East, Al-Qaeda groups are trying to topple existing governments and are at work in Syria.

Suffering in Syria

Two million refugees, 100,000 people dead, 1,400 people killed by Sarin gas. The people in Syria are suffering. An Al-Qaeda backed group (Jabhat al-Nusra) wants President Assad removed from power. A smaller and less influential moderate Muslim group wants to take his place, something the U.S. is hoping will happen. The moderate group, however, only has limited military strength in Syria and cannot guarantee these results.

Double standards

If an armed militant group within the United States decided to overthrow the government, the citizens would expect military intervention.

Syria has challenges and the current government has not made the best humanitarian decisions, but when Al-Qaeda backed groups want control of a country the International community should act with great caution.

Why intervene now?

Since the civil unrest broke out in March 2011, one hundred thousand people are said to have died by both government troops and rebel forces. A chemical weapons attack left approximately 1,400 people dead (including 400 children) in a town outside of Damascus.

The U.S. president is now appealing to the International community to act.

Some 100,000 people have died from bullets and bombs but only now is intervention being requested? Children being fatherless is just as horrific as children dying?

With talk of shooting a few missiles at Syria, is this simply an attempt to save face?

America’s support of Al-Qaeda

America has military bases in Jordan but King Abdullah will not give permission for those bases to be used in an attack against Shiites in Syria.

King Abdullah knows once Syria’s current government is removed Al-Qaeda will be instrumental in the creation of a new one. Once the conflict in Syria is over Jordan will be next and Al-Qaeda will attempt to take over its government.

The Syrian government has stated if the U.S. attacks government installations, they are helping Al-Qaeda. American soldiers have anonymously been posting signs declaring,

I did not join the military to fight for Al Qaeda in a Syrian civil war.”

Many think it odd America is on the side of Al-Qaeda.

Why are other countries abstaining from this conflict? Are they unwilling to side with Al-Qaeda?

A war of attrition?

The Shiites in Syria, the current government, currently have the advantage in the Civil War. If America strikes communication platforms, military installations, and air strips, the advantage shifts toward Al-Qaeda.

The people gaining from an attack are the very people the U.S. wants to defeat in the “War on Terror.”

Is the U.S. hoping for a war of attrition, weakening both the Shiite government and Al-Qaeda fighters and making a way for moderate Muslims to gain control? This outcome is highly unlikely.

Praying for peace

The Hebrew word for peace is “shalom” and is best defined as wholeness or well-being. Pray for peace in the Middle East and for the well-being of everyone. May every group find wholeness in the midst of conflict and ultimately peace with God.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Rockets from Gaza

In the fall of 2012, Israel and the Gaza strip exchanged rockets. Having a rocket fired toward Jerusalem forced me to think about those facing a great number of rocket attacks. Sitting in the dimly lit bedroom of my children one evening, waiting for them to drift off to sleep, I wondered what it was like for families going to bed in Gaza City and Ashkelon. They regularly face threats of rockets and bombs.

peacemaker

The Gulf War – Operation Desert Storm

While attending middle-school I watched televised footage of American troops working to expel Iraqi soldiers from Kuwait, easily disconnecting the bombing and loss of life taking place an ocean away.

Bomb shelters in Ashkelon

We live within 50 miles of Gaza and, yet, it is hard to imagine the daily threat and stress of rockets fired 8 to10 miles away. Ashkelon deals with missiles fired from Gaza and the Iron Dome missile defense system shooting them down. Most of the rockets are destroyed but some pass through the defenses.

Funds were raised for bomb shelters in Ashkelon because of the continual threat. They were trying to find peace of mind in a challenging location.

Tragedy in Gaza

Israel responded to attacks by bombing sites within Gaza. Innocent people now live among the wreckage. A BBC correspondent stated,

“A mother in her wrecked home is scurrying around collecting her daughter’s dolls, dusting them off.”

By the time the firing stopped, 133 Palestinians and 6 Israeli’s were dead. Where will they spend eternity?

Praying for the peace of Jerusalem

Matthew 5:9 records Jesus saying,

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.”

Psalm 122:6 gives instruction to, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!” Many churches tell me they regularly pray for peace. What kind of peace are they praying for?

Palestinians keeping Jesus from returning

I was invited to a dinner in Jerusalem and met a Palestinian Christian whose family has always lived in Israel. He visited a church in the United States and was warmly welcomed as “a guest from Israel.” When people greeted him at the end of the service, a man shook his hand and said, “I’ve longed to shake the hand of a Jew from Israel.” The guest informed him he loves the Jewish people but was a Palestinian Christian. The church member pulled his hand away, turned and walked away.

These kinds of experiences cause Palestinian believers to ask, “What’s wrong with me; what’s wrong with my Christianity; am I keeping Jesus from coming again?”

The church keeping Jesus from coming

The only thing keeping Jesus from coming is the church fulfilling her mission, seeing people from every tribe and nation recognize Jesus as Lord. Matthew 24:14,

And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.”

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem

If praying for the peace of Jerusalem, pray for the Prince of Peace to infiltrate the hearts of all Jerusalem’s inhabitants. Pray for the secular Israeli, the orthodox Jew, the religious Armenian, and the hard-line Muslim to experience hope and love in Jesus.

May they experience His peace, even when sirens warn of incoming missiles! Hope is in the King of Kings and in His eternal confidence, not on being spared from tragedy.

The challenge

Embrace the commands of Jesus to love God and love people – all people.

Be willing to go and tell others about Him, teaching them about God and the eternal destiny found in Christ. Pray for peace and proclaim His message around the world.

What are some practical ways you can love, go, teach? Share your comments below.

Holy Land

God Dwelling with His people

What is the significance of the place called the Holy Land, the parcel of land located on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean? What makes a land holy? The answers are found in the narrative of Scripture.

Holy Land

The Bible as Narrative:

The Bible is written as a dramatic narrative, containing four parts:

  1. Exposition – Genesis 1, 2
  2. Complication – Genesis 3
  3. Climax – Revelation 20
  4. Denouement – Revelation 21-22

Genesis 1 and 2 (creation) covers the exposition, the part of the story describing the original state of affairs. Genesis 3 (the rebellion of man) lays out the complication, the part of the story disrupting the status quo. The main portion of the Bible develops the story, stemming from the complication (disobedience to God). Revelation 20 presents the climax, the defeat of evil. Finally, in Revelation 21 and 22 is the denouement, the New Heavens and New Earth. The denouement becomes the new status quo, after the complication is resolved.

Man and woman start in the Garden of Eden in full communion with God with both the tree of life and tree of knowledge of good and evil. Mankind finishes in the New Heavens and New Earth in full communion with God with the tree of life, having experienced the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and evil being defeated. Revelation 22:2 states, “The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River…The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations.”

What does this have to do with the Holy Land?

The Holy Land and older Covenant

The Holy Land is part of the creation story, with the Garden of Eden being the original location. The garden is the first place “flowing with milk and honey,” where Adam rules as a kingly priest and serves God in a garden-temple. According to Sam Brelo in his book God Dwelling with His Children in Paradise, “Adam, as God’s son, lived in Eden and therefore enjoyed the rest of God, symbolizing God’s sovereign rule.”[1] Adam is given the command to multiply and subdue the earth. The whole earth was to enjoy the glorious presence of God.

Adam failed to obey and was removed from the sanctity of the garden-temple. The first Holy Land became lost to mankind. As history unfolds the human race continues to rebel and attempts to become unified in a manmade sanctuary on the plains of Babel. God separates the nations.

Finally, the Lord sees promise in a man called Abraham and extends to him two promises: a kingly people and a kingdom land. A Holy Land is promised to Abraham as, “To the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)

God gave the Garden of Eden as an inheritance to Adam and gave Canaan, a type of the Garden of Eden, as an inheritance to Israel. Adam’s enjoyment of God’s presence and the first Holy Land were based upon obedience.  Obedience is the same condition upon which Israel may enjoy God’s presence and live in the second Holy Land. Leviticus 18:25 declares,

Because the entire land has become defiled, I am punishing the people who live there. I will cause the land to vomit them out.”

Similar passages are located in Deuteronomy 28:63, Joshua 23:16, and throughout the Old Testament. In Ezekiel 37-48 Israel’s redemption is described as a return to the Holy Land, as well as the reestablishment of the Davidic kingship and Levitical priesthood. Israel’s salvation meant dwelling with God around His Temple in a divine inheritance, the Holy Land.

Israel staying in the Holy Land with God was guaranteed through continued cleansing and holiness, as portrayed in the Law of Moses. Without atonement by various sacrifices and worship, Israel was subject to expulsion.

The Holy Land and new Covenant

The writer of Hebrews states Jesus fulfills the sacrificial practices of the Law by His supreme sacrifice. The Levitical priesthood also became fulfilled by His priesthood (Hebrews 7:18-19). Therefore, the Temple and Holy Land become better understood in Christ.

The writer of Hebrews also shares that although Joshua brought Israel into the Holy Land, he did not give them the rest of God (Heb 4:8). Sam Brelo gives insight, “the reason for this is that the Temple in the Holy Land is not the true dwelling place of God; it is only a ‘pattern’ of heavenly realities (Heb 8:1-5).”[2]

Jewish belief is based on the Torah, Temple, and Territory. Jesus on several occasions encountered people desiring an earthly kingdom. They hoped He was

the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).

They considered Israel’s redemption being the restoration of the nation and the cleansing of the Holy Land, more than mankind’s salvation.

Jesus brought fulfillment in a different way. Through the Incarnation the Lord would dwell among His people (John 1:14). Jesus would be the divine Temple, the place where God is experienced and worshiped.

Jesus also became the Holy Land. He states in John 15 of being the “true vine.” Connection with God would no longer be attached to a tract of land. Being part of the Holy Land would now require being grafted into Jesus. Jesus declared being in the Father’s presence was no longer territorial but spiritual. (John 14:1-11)

The Holy Land, where God dwells with His people, is the unquestioned inheritance of Abraham’s descendents. The Apostle Paul states the inheritance includes Jews and Gentiles:

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” (Galatians 3:7)

Being sons of Abraham is by faith and Jesus, God’s Son, is the centrality of faith. Those in Christ have become children with divine inheritance. The place of God’s dwelling is gained through faith. (Galatians 3:26, 29)

The quintessence of the book of Revelation is the New Heaven and New Earth, culminating in chapters 21 and 22. The vision of the New Heaven and New Earth is the climax, not only of the Bible but of the whole salvation story. The final vision is essentially a re-creation of the Garden of Eden, the garden-temple of God. The prophetic revelation brings believers to the hope of the final Holy Land, where the purpose of the Garden of Eden and the land of Canaan is fulfilled. With the creation of the New Heaven and New Earth, God establishes a new sanctuary where He and the children of inheritance dwell forever.

Defining the Holy Land

The Holy Land and its purpose is one of the important threads running through Scripture. God’s story begins and ends with Him living with His creation in a secure, peaceful and sanctified space. In the redemption story God calls Abraham out of Ur, giving Canaan to him and his descendants as an inheritance. The Holy Land belongs to God and He calls out the elect, providing a place where He can dwell with them. Occupying the Holy Land by Abraham’s descendants was conditional upon love and obedience to God.

In the fullness of time, God sends His Son to reveal His glory and to tabernacle among His creation. The Holy Land receives its fulfillment in Jesus. By abiding in Christ through love and obedience believers find peace and rest and are a sanctified temple of worship. This is experienced by the indwelling of His Spirit and is fully experienced in the New Heaven and New Earth, the place where the children of inheritance live unimpeded with God in the final and everlasting Holy Land.

God dwelling with His children in a holy dwelling place centers in Christ. The Good News to both Jews and Arabs in the Middle East is the same; God desires to live with His children eternally. Anyone can become His child and live with Him through Jesus. The Holy Land and its purpose are inseparably linked to having faith in Christ. Outside of Christ, there is no divine inheritance.

Whose side are you on?

Those who follow Jesus are to follow in His footsteps and fulfill His command to love God and people – all people. Those with faith in Christ are to be world-changers, showing equal value to all peoples and nations.

Joshua 5:13-14 gives guidance, “While Joshua was there near Jericho: He looked up and saw right in front of him a man standing, holding his drawn sword. Joshua stepped up to him and said, ‘Whose side are you on-ours or our enemies?’ He said, ‘Neither. I’m commander of God’s army.’”

When asked, “Whose side are you on, Arab or Jew?” respond,

Neither, I’m for all peoples and nations, to the glory of God!”

Revelation 7:9, “I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb.”

*To view the stop-motion film, Holy Land, click here.

**For a more in-depth study read, God Dwelling with His Children in Paradise: A Biblical Theology of the Holy Land by Sam Brelo. Available on Amazon.

1 – Sam Brelo. God Dwelling with His Children in Paradise: A Biblical Theology of the Holy Land. (CreateSpace, 2012). 6.

2 – Sam Brelo. God Dwelling with His Children in Paradise: A Biblical Theology of the Holy Land. (CreateSpace, 2012). 68.

Travel Safety

Tips for Traveling

I graduated from college with a degree in education. One of my professors advised us to provide commercial breaks in class. This post is a commercial break.

pacsafe

Keep safe with PacSafe

Some of our favorite traveling products come from PacSafe. They specialize in theft-proof purses, wallets, backpacks, and similar products. I have a wallet, camera strap and shoulder bag. Shellie has a purse, wallet and travel tote.

The benefits of PacSafe:

  • Protection against pickpockets: Smart zippers fasten to clips to keep the bags sealed.
  • Slash-proof straps: Lightweight, stainless steel wire runs through the straps to keep thieves from cutting them and running away with the bag.
  • Exomesh slashguards: Lightweight, stainless-steel wire-mesh lines the bags to keep thieves from cutting it and stealing items without your knowledge.
  • RFID protection: RFID-blocking wallets and accessories obstruct transmissions from RFID readers and safely keep your personal information.

Using secure products

Parts of the PacSafe safety require nothing being done, such as the RFID protection. The locking zippers, however, require you to diligently lock the bag. If you invest in a PacSafe product, use their features. When at a restaurant lock your bag to your chair, as they recommend. Make it hard for a thief to grab a safe bag and walk away, unnoticed.

Travel well

Travel safe! Do not have your travels ruined by things being stolen. Products are available to make a trip more enjoyable.

What traveling products do you prefer using? Share your comments below.