“Christ at the Checkpoint” (CatC) is a biennial conference sponsored by the Bethlehem Bible College since 2010. The conference claims to be “theology in the service of peace and justice” but its true purpose is to fundamentally change the way that Evangelicals in the West read the Bible in order to fundamentally change their political stand regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict-and through them, to affect their political leaders. Instead of reading the Bible in its historical and cultural context in order to understand what the inspired prophets and apostles communicated as the Word of God, organizers of CatC want us to read the Scriptures only “in the shadow of the occupation”, that is, filtered through the Palestinian Arab’s POV and political aspirations. The result is “theology” divorced from God’s originally intended meaning; “theology” as clay reformed in the CatC potter’s hand to serve a one-sided, anti-Israel Palestinian political program.
Ever since the first friends of Yeshua, there has always been a remnant of Jewish people who believed in him, even though for most of history they would simply assimilate into Christian churches and become invisible as Jews. Today, things are very different, but it was once assumed that one had to choose between being either Jewish or Christian, and many left their Jewish identity at the threshold when they came to church.
At the same time, Christians didn’t have access to the Bible for most of church history, but depended on priests to teach them - often in Latin. Understanding of the Scriptures was limited to only a few. But all that changed after the Reformation and development of the printing press around the sixteenth century, as more Christians were able to read the Bible for themselves. They could finally search the scriptures and see that God was certainly not finished with the people of Israel. People became excited as they saw that God promised to regather his people back to the land of Israel, and that he would also bring them back to himself in revival. This led to a more determined effort to reach the Jewish people with the gospel in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and expectations of Israel’s regathering grew.
One of the greatest things about Israel is that it’s a safe place for Jewish people to come and not feel nervous about their Jewish identity. As Golda Meir said; “Above all, this country is our own. Nobody has to get up in the morning and worry what his neighbours think of him. Being a Jew is no problem here.”
As tension increases in the Ukraine and the Middle East, Israel is roundly criticised, and people often forget that Jews have been kicked out of scores of countries and made very unwelcome in others. Thanks to God now they at least have one place they can truly call "home". But abroad, the underlying hatred sometimes brims over, and Jewish people are attacked - just for being Jewish. 2014 has seen some terrible incidences of anti-Semitism already, particularly amid the recent upheavals in the Ukraine.
Abraham was called “friend of God”. What an amazing thing to be called. One of the places where we see this friendship at its most tender is the time when God calls Abraham to sacrifice his son on a particular mountain. What happened on that mountain reverberates throughout the whole of history, and Abraham shared some of the most painful emotions of his friend, God.
In a recent article,1 Ludwig Schneider (founder of IsraelToday magazine) argues that Jesus' words about himself are "ignored or overlooked since they do not fit in with traditional theology." Schneider's remedy calls for refocused attention on these "taboo words" in order to break away from human tradition and to discover the real Jesus. The "taboo" list includes verses primarily from the Gospel of John2 and a few other verses from Paul's letters.3 In each of these verses, Jesus expresses his dependence on God without referring to himself as God. The point of Schneider's article is clear enough: theologians who claim that Jesus is God ignore the real words of Jesus and manipulate God's Word for the sake of theologically empty rhetoric, or simply put – a la Schneider – Jesus is not God.
With John Kerry's renewed peace plans, the question of Israel as a Jewish state is back in the mix again. Many people think that the need to separate state and religion is obvious, and that Israel has no right to demand that the whole country is run according to the Jewish religion. But is it really true that it is possible to separate the state from the dominant worldview? Can you imagine always having to work and send the kids to school on Christmas day? Or being obliged to order your life around another religion’s festivals? Transport stops when you don’t want it to, the shops close when it’s not your holiday, but life carries on as normal at Christmas and Easter? Can you imagine not being free to have your children christened or dedicated in a church, or being able to officially get married in a church? These are things that everyone takes for granted in "Christian" countries, whether the citizens are really Christians or not. But the truth is that for many centuries, Jewish people have had to live under circumstances that conflict with the Jewish way of life.
Holocaust survivor, Henia Bryer, recalls, "I had an operation once and the anaesthetist comes and looks at [the number tattooed on] my arm and he says, 'What is this?' And I said, 'That's from Auschwitz.' And he said, 'Auschwitz, what was that?' ...And that was a young man, a qualified doctor". Shockingly, people are growing up without knowing about what really happened.
Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day in Europe and the United States of America, but all too often, acknowledgement of the Nazi atrocities and subtle anti-Semetism sit uncomfortably alongside each other. It is hard to forget the horrors of the Holocaust, but while some actively deny the scope or even the very existence of the atrocities, others simply grow up unaware of the history we vowed never to forget.
We are hurtling into a largely unknown future and we are living in very troubled times. This statement is true today in Israel and it could easily have been said with equal accuracy in previous millenia. The Bible shows that God well understands the insecurity of living in tumultuous times with threats growing on every side, and has some great counsel for us to follow. Judaism itself has incorporated some of God’s principles about dealing with future-phobia into its very fabric. As we read the news and see tensions picking up pace, let’s consider what the God of Israel has to say about facing the future.
As believers, our desire and aim - indeed our destiny - is to become more and more like Yeshua... to be "conformed to his likeness", as Paul puts it in Romans 8:29. As his children, we want to grow and to change to become more and more on his "wavelength", so to speak.
We want to see things the way God sees them, through eyes of faith. We want to feel how God feels and have his perspective on our lives, the lives of others, and the matters around us. We want to think the way he thinks and be in alignment with him - to be living more fully in his truth.
If we ever see something differently to God, guess who's wrong! God, though very far above our thoughts and understanding, will always be our moral yardstick that we are measured against.
However, this can be difficult. Sometimes it goes against the grain to agree with God's choices and to feel the same way as he does. Why does he seem to have this special tenderness towards Israel in particular, and does he really expect us to join him in it?
It was the first year of King Darius' reign, and the long exile of the people of Israel in Babylon would soon come to an end. Daniel was reading his Bible. Then, the penny dropped...
He wrote, "I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes." (Daniel 9:2-3)
He realised that the prophecy was going to be fulfilled very soon, so he rolled up his sleeves and got praying with all his might. But why? If he knew that God would do this anyway, why did he have to ask for it?
What can we learn from this mighty man of prayer?
Tonight we will move into 2014 AD. In Israel, 31st December celebrations are known as the holiday of “Sylvester”. Only a handful of other countries in the world celebrate New Year’s Eve by this name, and whilst it’s great as believers to celebrate 2014 years since Yeshua our Messiah came to live among us, “Sylvester” is something many Jews feel ambivalent about. Israelis love to party, but some feel uneasy joining in the global jubilation.
The abbreviations BC and AD (Before Christ and Anno Domini - the year of our Lord) are hard to swallow for most Jewish people, for whom Yeshua is a blot on the historical landscape and definitely not their Lord. In Hebrew, they talk about years before “the counting” and years of “the counting” without mentioning what (or who) started this whole Western counting business. It is not a calendar markation system that many Jewish people are comfortable with, mostly because the followers of "that man” brought so much persecution for Jews.
As the Christian world gears up for Christmas, the wonderful prophecy of Isaiah 9:6 “Unto us a son is born”, will come into focus once again. But perhaps less familiar to many is the treasure just two verses before it, in 9:4: “For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.”
It’s easy for Christians to gloss over texts which have war and battle in them, thinking that they are rather primitive and brutal, irrelevant to us in the twenty-first century. And brutal they may be, but no word of scripture will ever become irrelevant. It is eternal, true, and cannot be broken. And often there is treasure buried in these unlikely places, if we steady ourselves to gaze on the less comfortable, the confusing, and seemingly contradictory texts.
The Day of Midian, it turns out, has everything to do with the coming and birth of Yeshua!
Israel and the whole Middle East has been battered by wintry storm Alexa, which brought bitterly cold weather, pouring rain and a lot of snow. What had been one of the dryest winters for decades suddenly became awash with water as the freak storm hit. Amazing images of Jerusalem under a foot of snow have been splashed across the local news, and of Gaza looking more like Venice, complete with boats punting along, bringing supplies to the needy. Although many are suffering because of the weather, Syrian refugees shivering in flimsy tents, and residents of Ramallah enduring days in the dark and cold with no power, rain is usually seen as a blessing in this region. And Israel is utterly dependent upon the heavens to give the earth the rain that it needs.
Every year in Haifa, a multi-cultural city where Jews, Arabs and many others live side by side, there is a month-long festival to celebrate the holidays of the three main faiths; Hanukkah, Christmas and Eid. The roads are shut off, stalls are put up, and shows are planned for each weekend. People come from all across the city for the celebrations and cultural events.
This is the twentieth anniversary of the “Holiday of Holidays”, and whilst some might feel uncomfortable putting these faiths in such close proximity, it provides a wonderful opportunity to share the gospel of Yeshua. This year, Arab and Jewish congregations joined together for the campaign “There is hope!” and brought the message to all the communities of Haifa, whatever their background might be.
"Do not cast me off in the time of old age. Do not forsake me when my strength fails." (Psalm 71:9)
I have heard people say that the word 'old' is degrading - an insult! But is it?
"Old" is a beautiful word in Scripture, conveying dignity, maturity, and purpose. The question is: What meaning do we give old age?
The Word of God teaches us that old age is a blessing from God, and that longevity will characterize the kingdom of the Messiah (Exodus 20:12 ; Isaiah 65:18). But unfortunately, for many old people nowadays, their reality is the opposite experience. Why is that?
Johnny Khory, manager of the only Messianic care home for the elderly in Israel, shares his thoughts...
“At that time, they were celebrating the feast of Hanukkah in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon.” (John 10:22-23) Jesus’ best friend, John, tells us that Jesus was in Jerusalem for Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication. So why don’t his followers celebrate it too? Well, some of them do. Hanukkah is a Jewish feast, but not one of God’s commanded feasts in the Bible. The holiday is famous for its nine-branch candlestick (instead of the seven-branch one mentioned in Exodus) and also for donuts. But the roots of the story might be more Biblical than most people realise.
"A heated debate in the ultra-Orthodox world about claims that Rabbi Brod used Christian imagery, stating that the wine signifies blood and the bread meat," screamed the subheading in Haaretz newspaper.
The article read: "Rabbi Menachem Eliezer Shach held a difficult ideological battle against Chabad, and it is attributed to him saying mockingly 'Chabad is the closest religion to Judaism'. Some ultra-Orthodox now claim that religion is secretly Christianity".
Chabad is a stream of Judaism founded in 1775 in Russia, and the name "Chabad" stands for Chochma, Bina and Da'at - Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge. Many within the movement are waiting for their 'Messiah', Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, to reappear again from the dead, but there are overlaps with Christianity which might feel a bit too close for comfort for some.
“Isaiah 53 has been called ‘the torture chamber of the Rabbis and ‘the guilty conscious of the Jews.’ The Jews run from this chapter like from the black death.” “Do you know that the Jews all over the world know about Jesus so that they can be sure to reject Him? They have to know to reject Him; it’s in their culture.” “Who (among the Jews) got it? Who understood it? Nobody: 500 in Galilee, 120 in the Upper-room.” — Excerpts from John MacArthur’s sermon at Founder’s Week on Feb. 8
At the closing session of Founder’s Week at Moody Bible College in Chicago, Pastor John MacArthur delivered a sermon from Isaiah 53 which stirred up different reactions among the student body. Most students thought that the exposition was powerful, but many also felt uneasy about some things that were said about the Jewish people, such as the examples above. One student among them was Yonatan Arnold, who explains how these statements sounded to him as an Israeli Messianic believer.
So hallowe’en came and went last week like a bump in the night, and Israel marches on, unmoved. We don’t really have hallowe’en here in Israel. Life here is full of much more serious concerns than scary costumes, but still, have you ever wondered why anyone would enjoy watching horror movies? To dwell on that which is evil and frightening? So many people have a great fear of being lifeless zombies, just trudging through an apparently meaningless existence. They might try rollercoasters, scary movies, illicit affairs... just to feel the adrenaline of fear pumping through their veins, reassuring them that they are truly alive. But life in God’s fast lane, as anyone who has lived with him for any length of time can tell you, is full of dynamic challenges, terrifying plunges, and great joys.
And it was about this time of year, coming up to Hanukkah, that Yeshua was walking around Jerusalem two thousand years ago, and saying the words that would be recorded in John 10. He let out the secret of real life to anyone who would listen: he told them that it was he who had the capacity to give life in all its fulness.
There is a difference between jealousy and envy, but we use the words as if they mean the same thing. One is sinful and the other describes God. Envy is coveting - wanting something that you do not have, and in this Facebook age, it’s all the rage. People pour over each other’s pages, over sculpted images, often designed to make others envious of the super life that they have. Instead of being thankful for what we have, people ignore the wise adage that “comparison is the thief of joy” and envy eats them up. Joy is deflated like a balloon.
But sometimes jealousy, which is quite different to envy, can result in boundless joy! Let me explain what I mean.