Pray for Our World: Palestine

Wall between Israel and West Bank

The Palestine Authority comprises two separate parts in the middle of Israel – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  They claim Jerusalem as their capital and control most of the major towns, but Israel controls the access points.  They lost most of their land in 1948 and the conquest of the remainder by Israel in 1967.  This event dominates the lives of most of the Palestinians living there. There are over 10 million Palestinian Arabs globally.  Between 2 and 3 million live in Jordan, over 1 million in Israel, and the rest spread elsewhere in the Middle East and the West.  Between Israeli occupation and Islamist persecution, there is not much of a Christian minority here.  88% are Muslim, 9% Jewish, and less than 2% Christian.  The Greek Orthodox and Catholic Church are the largest Christian churches.  Palestinian Christians find themselves attacked by both sides – Jews and Muslims.  Arab evangelicals, numbering in the thousands, feel rejected and isolated by Jews, Arabs and traditional Christians.

The origin of Palestine comes from the Philistines in the Old Testament Bible, who occupied part of the land of Canaan before it became the Promised Land that God gave to the Israelites as part of His covenant with Abraham and His people.  The land was flowing with milk and honey.  Moses described it as “a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey; a land wherein thou shalt not eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass”.  Even today, this same land has a good variety of climate, plants and animal life.  So you can see it is a complex identity that dates back to the time of Moses.  But, if you dig further in the history of the Old Testament Bible, the Philistines were a brutal people who worshiped pagan gods and sacrificed their own children, and treated the Israelites horribly.  This is the reason they were driven out of Canaan by God and the reason God set apart a people who would be an example of how God wanted us to live and to carry His Word forward to future generations.  Yet even the foreigner in the Promised Land was treated as one of God’s own as long as they chose to worship the true God.  No matter who we are, we must humble ourselves, realize our need for God, repent, and then His ways will be our ways.  It was true then and still true today.

In Jesus’ Words: Anger (Matthew 21:12-13)

jesus_and_moneychangers~ Matthew 21:12-13  Cleansing the Temple ~

Jesus went into the temple complex and drove out all those buying and selling in the temple. He overturned the money changers’ tables and the chairs of those selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer. But you are making it a den of thieves!”

Until now in the gospel of Matthew, the disciple and author Matthew has shown us Jesus’ magnificent compassion for the people, his miracles and healing, and has given us his great Sermon on the Mount.  But now we come to a more serious Jesus.  He is angry at what is taking place in God’s temple.  The gospel of John also records another similar event in which Jesus “makes a whip out of cords” and uses it to drive out the money changers.  Can you imagine Jesus quietly but deliberately putting together a whip?  This passage brings up many things to think about – the reverence of God’s temple (church), the authority that Jesus showed in carrying out these things, and the thought of God being angry, as demonstrated through His Son Jesus.  I have chosen to discuss the latter one – God’s anger and what does it mean.

Though this was a small demonstration with Jesus, the idea of God’s anger or wrath is perplexing to many, and sometimes uncomfortable.  But if you read the accounts of evil that took place in the Old Testament, you may ask why God has not done more. The enemies of God during that time were so evil that we can barely imagine it today. They cut off their captives hands and feet, gouged their eyes, filleted them and skinned them alive, sacrificed their own children to the gods, and even cut off the heads of children and made their parents wear their children’s heads on a rope around their necks. Unbelievable evil. The prophet Habakuk gives us a glimpse of this in his prayer in Habakuk chapter 1.

Why do You force me to look at injustice?
Why do You tolerate wrongdoing?
Oppression and violence are right in front of me.
Strife is ongoing, and conflict escalates.

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil,
and You cannot tolerate wrongdoing.

The prophet Nahum also sums it up nicely: “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power.” (Nahum 1:3)

First, we must recognize there is a higher power that created us and we are not of our own to do just anything we please in this world.  Ironically, as much as we might like to think we have control of our own destiny, there is so much more out of our control in this world – sickness, death, injustice.

Secondly, God hates evil and the effect it has had on his beloved creation. Evil (or sin) cannot dwell with God.  It is not who He is.  Otherwise God would be less holy and less trustworthy.

Third, God’s Old Testament wrath or anger is meant as a warning to keep us from falling into a deceitful trap which God knows is not the best for us.

Finally, through these warnings, God is drawing us to Jesus so that we may recognize our need for repentance and a Savior, and not have to experience God’s future judgment on sin and evil. This is why the birth of Jesus was such a celebrated celestial event! God’s promise to the world had finally come. Jesus changed the world. We no longer live in Old Testament times. God’s wrath and anger on evil was directed to the cross, where Jesus took our punishment. God wants to redeem us, to forgive us, and to bring us close to Him. But we cannot do that on our own. It is not a system of tallying up our rights and wrongs, or making sure we never make a mistake. That really would be a terrifying and unfair way to live. But instead God has given us a Savior who can fight the evil for us and fight our battles. With Jesus by our side, we never have to be afraid of anything in this world or the next. We are sealed with God forever. We are forgiven no matter what – past, present and future.

While it may seem scary or uncomfortable to think about hell and therefore how we can avoid it, it is much scarier to not think about it at all and leave our lives up to chance.

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In Jesus’ Words: Proof of Old Testament stories (Matthew 12:38-45)

jonah

Most people believe Jesus existed, some believe he is Christ, and others are somewhere in between – believing in a modern-day Jesus but not really believing all those Old Testament stories.  You remember the ones, taught to us a children in Sunday School… Jonah and the big fish, David and Goliath, parting the Red Sea.  Many of us stopped believing those stories once we grew up, but Jesus often referred to these Old Testament events and people when he was speaking to the Pharisees and the crowds.

~Matthew 12:38-45  Jesus and Jonah and the Whale ~

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.”
But He answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at Jonah’s proclamation; and look—something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the south will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and look—something greater than Solomon is here!”

“When an unclean spirit comes out of a man, it roams through waterless places looking for rest but doesn’t find any. Then it says, ‘I’ll go back to my house that I came from.’ And returning, it finds the house vacant, swept, and put in order. Then off it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and settle down there. As a result, that man’s last condition is worse than the first. That’s how it will also be with this evil generation.”

Jesus mentioned the Old Testament events for a reason.  He wanted us to know they were real, showing the power of God and the need for repentance.  And if Matthew, writer of the gospel, wanted us to believe his writings, which I’m sure was his goal, then he would not have mentioned the story of Jonah if it were not widely accepted as truth during that time.  He would have been laughed at and Jesus would have been discredited.  The pharisees often questioned Jesus about his motives, but they never disputed his references.

If you believe in Jesus, then you will believe what He says.  And if you believe what He says, then you believe in the story of Jonah with 3 days in the belly and all.  The entire Bible is woven together.  We cannot pick and choose parts to believe.  Just because an event happens one time, it does not have to be a normal occurrence.  God uses what is relevant to his people in each period of time. Today, a Jonah in the whale miracle would not be applicable, but we have many other miracles that are.
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