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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.

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.

Storming the Gates of Hell

Bringing love, justice, and peace to the world

What is our role as the church? To discover this we need to look at Jesus and His work on earth. 1 John 3:8 states: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

The cross is victory over the powers holding people in bondage; sin, death, and the devil. As God’s emissaries, believers are called and empowered to continue the work Jesus began with his life, death and resurrection.

Jesus desires to use you to build His church and advance His kingdom. Matthew 16 helps you to better understand your role.

Matthew 16:15-18

He (Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied,

You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Gates of hell

Caesarea Philippi – Temple of Pan and Cave known as the Gates of Hell

City of false gods

Jesus travels with His disciples 20 miles north of Galilee to the district of Caesarea Philippi. In this area is a rocky hillside where shrines dedicated to the god of Pan, Echo, and Hermes existed. Next to these shrines is a large cave where a powerful stream once flowed, called the “Gates of Hell”.

The worshippers of Pan would perform human sacrifices in the cave and cast the remains into a natural abyss at the back of the cave.

The living God

In this area where other god’s required human sacrifice, Peter confesses Jesus to be “the Son of the living God.” God brings life, not death. Jesus promised in John 10:10, “I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly.”

An advancing kingdom

In this passage Jesus is saying,

The church will overcome these lesser gods – the god of Pan, Echo, and Hermes. Other gods focus on self, materialism, pride, fame, sex, power and bring death. I will build my church over these things and the gates of hell shall not prevail against my advancing kingdom.”

Storming the gates of hell

We advance the kingdom by charging the gates of hell, as inaugurated by God’s reign of love, justice, and peace. Where there is despair, bring hope. Where there is unbelief, bring faith. Where there is hatred, bring love. Where there is sickness, offer healing.

We are to be walking, talking, representatives of Jesus to the world.

Committed to the Church

Connect to a community of faith. You cannot effectively advance the kingdom of God on your own. Believers working together with a common goal make it happen.

We need one another. Paul refers to the church as the Body of Christ, with everyone having an important function. You need the church and the church needs you.

Promised victory

When we work together what does Jesus say will happen? “They shall not prevail against us!” The keys of the kingdom have been given to us.

Victory has been promised. We simply need to be willing to advance on the gates of hell.

The challenge

Commit yourself to the task of storming the gates of hell until His imminent return. Be intentional to turn people to Jesus at home and work by displaying His love, justice, and peace to the world.

Listen to my podcast “Build the Church, Advance the Kingdom” The podcast gives a more in-depth discussion of this passage of scripture.

What are some ways that you can storm the gates of hell? Share your comments below.

A Joyful World

Christ is coming again

My family and I love the various holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. Whether celebrated in Chicago, Missouri, Sudan, or Jerusalem, we love decorating, reflecting on the goodness of God and giving gifts, as modeled by the Father’s gift of the Son and the Magi bringing presents to Jesus.

joy

Photo credit: mmwm (Creative Commons)

Christmas music

We also love listening to Christmas music, especially songs bringing glory to God. The next few articles will give attention to some of the best known Christmas carols.

A Joyful World

Joy to the World, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room,

And Heaven and nature sing,

Prepare Him room

God sending His Son is joyful, defeating the works of the devil and providing the way of salvation. Will the world receive the King this holiday season? Will every heart prepare Him room?

Psalm 98

Issac Watts wrote the song, based on Psalm 98. Verses 4-6 read:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!”

His second coming

This song is sung to celebrate the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem yet Watts wrote “Joy to the World” to celebrate His second coming, when He gives lasting peace.

A coming judgement

Psalm 98: 7-9 reads:

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.”

Will you be ready?

Jesus came two centuries ago to the shouts of “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” He will come again for the church (His bride), and will rightfully and fairly judge the world.

The challenge

Prepare room for Jesus this Christmas. Allow the Greatest King to joyfully enthrone your heart. Experience the divine peace lacking in the world, coming from the Ruler of peace.

How do you express joy during the holiday season? Share your comments below.