Who Is Persecuting Palestinian Christians?


No one needs to ponder whether Christians in Palestinian territories are suffering terribly. They are. Who’s to blame?

Christian persecution middle eastThere are very strong voices in the media and in political circles who point out that Israel is the country doing all the killing. Sure, Hamas is firing hundreds of missiles into Israel, but they don’t end up killing anyone because of Israel’s advanced “Iron Dome” defense systems.  Meanwhile, Israel’s rockets do reach their targets, and, so, more than 100 Palestinians have been killed in recent fighting. Palestine has been an area of Christian influence for centuries. And Israel has been an unwelcome occupier of the land since 1948. Protected by her western allies, Israel is responsible for exerting its disproportionate force in such a way that Christians in Palestine are the ones who end up suffering.

Against this view, there are those who argue that Israel has done no wrong. They point out that Hamas—a known Islamic terrorist organization—has been in control of Palestine since 2007.  In the last decade more than 4,000 rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza.  The rockets are fired by Hamas, Al Quds, and others, who launch the rockets from hospitals, elementary schools, and apartment buildings in order to prevent Israel from fighting back.  If Israel were to fight back, she would inevitably kill civilians, which would then create “martyrs” for media manipulation.  The entire affair is as cynical as it is sordid.

What if—instead of being sucked into the bi-polar, geo-political warfare being waged from both sides—what if we could hear directly from Palestinian Christians? Maybe we can. They have been speaking out for the past couple of years.  From a 2012 Gatestone Institute report,

In a rare public protest, leaders and members of the 2,000-strong Christian community in the Gaza Strip staged a sit-in strike in the Gaza Strip this week to condemn the abductions and forced conversions in particular, and persecution at the hands of radical Muslims in general.

Most of us are not experts on the political machinations of the Middle East. We rely on news reports, testimonies, and research we hope we can trust. And we must do our best to make sense of a situation that always seems to inflame passions more than light the way of truth. It isn’t easy. But here’s a thought.

Given the fact that these Christians are living in Hamas-controlled Palestinian territories, they would be applauded by their government and by the sentiments of the general population if they blamed Israel. Blaming Israel would be the most natural, most agreeable, and most simple statement for them to make.  But they have been doing the opposite. They have been protesting the treatment they are receiving at the hands of Hamas and their own leaders.  They have been saying that their people are being kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. And they have said this publicly at their own risk:

The protest has further aggravated tensions between Muslims and Christians in the Gaza Strip, which has been under the control of Hamas since 2007.

Leaders and members of the Christian community now fear reprisal attacks by Muslim extremists. Some have appealed to the Vatican and Christian groups and churches in the US, Canada and Europe for help. 

It seems to me that it would take much more courage for them to speak against their own Muslim (Hamas/PA) leaders than it would for them to Israel Flag God Favor Israel Ethnic National Christspeak out against Israel. Thus, I tend to believe that Palestinian Christians are in fact being persecuted by and, consequently, have been suffering at the hands of Hamas and other Muslim radicals in Gaza.

I’m not saying that Israel is always right. I don’t believe that. I don’t even believe that the land and geopolitical entity we now call Israel is particularly favored by God (as I have explained here).  There is no doubt that Israel’s wartime mentality is creating a terrible hardship for many, even if Israel has taken the unprecedented step of announcing ahead of time where and when she will strike. (See here for particular stories with varying degrees of blame toward Israel).

What I am saying, however, is that Palestinian Christians have been persecuted by the Hamas-led Palestinian authority. And at least some Palestinian Christians have been trying to speak up about it.  They feel that the media are punching the mute button toward their voice-boxes because their complaints don’t fit the typical political script.

At the end of the matter, of course, it does not matter who is to blame as much as what will we do? Will we help them with our prayers (1 Cor 1:8-11)?  Above all, let us pray that Christ Himself would be their strength, their hope, and their refuge through this awful storm in which they seem to have lost all their earthly allies.

For Krauthammer’s take on current Israel-Palestine crisis:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-krauthammer-moral-clarity-in-gaza/2014/07/17/0adabe0c-0de4-11e4-8c9a-923ecc0c7d23_story.html

 

 

 

What About Christians in Palestine?


What’s going on with Christians in Gaza where the Palestinian Authority is in control? The Gatestone Institute wants us to

The Coat of arms of the Palestinian National A...

know.

The following post can be found in its entirety at Gatestone Institute, an organization dedicated to educating the public about what the mainstream media fails to report on matters of human rights and freedom.

“The truth sometimes hurts; that is why the Palestinian Authority has been working hard to prevent the outside world from hearing about many occurrences that reflect negatively on its leaders or people.

In recent years, the Palestinian Authority leadership, often with the help of the mainstream media in the US and EU, has been successful in its effort to divert all attention only toward Israel.

Following are examples of some of the inconvenient truths that the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank do not want others to know about:

– Over 100 senior PLO and Fatah officials hold Israeli-issued VIP cards that grant them various privileges denied to most Palestinians. Among these privileges is the freedom to enter Israel and travel abroad at any time they wish. This privileging has existed since the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO in 1993.

– Out of the 600 Christians from the Gaza Strip who arrived in the West Bank in the past two weeks to celebrate Christmas, dozens have asked to move to Israel because they no longer feel comfortable living under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

– Dozens of Christian families from east Jerusalem have moved to Jewish neighborhoods in the the city because they too no longer feel comfortable living among Muslims.”

Read entire post…

Is God Always on Israel’s Side? (Part 3 of 3)


If what has been said already about Israel is true, then a question arises, “What about the nation of Israel today?” In this finalIsrael Flag God Favor Israel Ethnic National Christ part (of a three-part series), we’ll look at what the Bible says about Israel as an ethnic/national people.  The key text for this discussion is Romans 11.

The question we are asking is, essentially, the same question Paul asked when he discussed this topic (which might be an indication that we are on the right track).  Paul’s question, “I ask, then, has God rejected his people?” The answer is, “By no means! For I myself am an Israelite…” (Romans 11:1).

Romans 11 is notorious for the difficulty scholars have had coming to an agreement over its contents. I will offer you my thoughts on it to help you make sense of the chapter for yourself.  Here is the way I read Paul’s statement.

First, it is not as though God’s plan has failed just because Israel (nationally/ethnically) has been cut off from God’s favor, “for not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Romans 9:6).  Paul acknowledges that the situation after Christ is not so far removed from the situation before Christ; it has never been the case that everyone within the borders of ethnic or national Israel were actually the chosen of God.

God’s people have never been characterized by ethnicity. They have always—since Abraham—been characterized by faith—humbly believing as true that which God has revealed.  The issue has never been about birth or land but always about mercy (so Romans 9:14-15). So, Paul states in 9:7, “not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.”  Children of God were always and still are children by faith, not by birth.

Second, God has an over-arching, sovereign plan for all nations and people, including for Israel. In Romans 11:11, Paul asks, “did [Israel] stumble in order that they might fall?” His question wonders whether Israel is forever lost to Christ in the plan of God. His own answer is, “May it never be!” This verse (11:11) alerts us to the fact that God has a plan for people—including for people whose heritage is Jewish—through Jesus Christ.

Third, God’s plan displays an unexpected irony in that the present rejection of the Jews has the built-in purpose of making them jealous of the outpouring of salvation to the Gentiles (See 11:11).  The fact that God’s people are now those with faith in Christ is expected to make the Jews (who had all the original promises and covenants from God) jealous—so that they, too, might be brought back to covenant love with Him.

At his own realization of the glory of God in putting together such a comprehensive scheme for Jews and Gentiles regarding salvation through Christ, Paul worships, shouting forth, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways….”

Israel Flag God Favor Israel Ethnic National ChristFourth, for now, a hardening has come upon (ethnic/national) Israel. This hardening allows an on-going opportunity for the full number of non-Jews to come in to the kingdom. As Paul says in Romans 11:25, “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”  What is important to remember is that the hardening is partial, meaning not all Jews even now are rejected. Some are accepted by God through Christ. Some are believers.  Paul stated that he was such an Israelite.

And so, any Israelite who stops his unbelief will also be brought into the family of faith and the kingdom of God (11:23). The partial hardening means some Jews are now being saved.  Now is the time for the full number of Gentiles also to come into the kingdom of God, along with some of the Jews.  “And in this way all Israel will be saved” (11:26).  Jews and Gentiles together become one body with one Lord in one faith through Jesus Christ.

The favored people of God are those who have faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.  Apart from Christ, there is no kingdom or covenant promise for any other people. In these last days, God has spoken to us in His Son, Jesus.  Anyone who has the Son, has life. Anyone who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  National Israel is in a favored place only in the sense that there is a gospel witness in that land. May the Lord indeed grant for many to come to Christ through the preaching of this gospel.

Debates are sure to continue concerning Israel and concerning Paul’s instructions in Romans 9-11.  These chapters divide Amillennialists from Dispensationalists and Dispensationalists from one another. Nevertheless, one basic truth pierces through all theological distinctions like a sword pierces through a chink in the knight’s armor: he who does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 5:12).

Those who take confidence in living on a certain strip of land or having a Jewish sir name should re-think their basis of security, taking no confidence in the flesh.  Rather, like Abraham, they should have faith in God. Christians—those who by faith have received the promises of Abraham—must always remember to stay fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith (for Gentiles and Jews alike).

Is God Always on Israel’s Side? (Part 2)


Earlier, Acts 13:32-39 was quoted, but not in its entirety. When the complete quote is included, we see that the early church Dreidel God Israel Christ Kingdom landproclaimed more than the fact that Christ is the fulfillment of Israel, He is the realization of the Son of God. As such, Christ is also the fulfillment of the kingdom. So, Acts 13:34 offers this prophecy from God about Jesus: “I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.”

Talk of David in the Bible is always significant because David represents the fulfillment of Old Testament Kingdom promises. David is the prototypical king of Israel. This prophecy fulfilled in Acts 13 is an acknowledgement that Jesus has come as the King of the Israel of God.  Thus, our contemporary over-emphasis on the national entity of Israel is a diminishing of the glory of the eternal kingdom which has already begun for God’s people in Jesus Christ.

The issue of emphasis in the New Testament is not national, nor ethnic, and it isn’t even about a parcel of land; the issue is Christ the king and His kingdom people who are “in him” by faith.  There is still a future fulfillment in Christ at the consummation of His kingdom, which brings about the new heavens, a new earth, and a new Jerusalem from above.  So, the Apostle Paul was able to speak of a new reality in Galatians 6:15-16,

“For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.”

Clearly, the Apostle Paul makes Christ’s faithful out to be the true Israel of God. The reason is that those born again are “in Christ.” Those in Christ are in the true Israel of God. They are the fulfillment of the kingdom promises of the Old and New Testament.  Thus, the Apostle Peter would say of us who are in Christ,

1 Peter 2:9, But you are a Chosen Race, a Royal Priesthood, A Holy Nation, A People for God’s own Possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God…

The people of God—God’s Holy nation—is not Israel, but us who belong to Christ. The kingdom belongs to Christ and to those to whom He gives it. Jesus died the “King of the Jews,” and when He rose again and ascended into heaven, he guaranteed a new future which inextricably sewed heaven and earth together into a new reality which He will complete on His return.

Star of David Israel Nation Christ KingdomNotice the significance of each point in 1 Peter 2:9. Christians now are the “chosen race,” first mentioned in Isaiah 43:20.  Christians are now the “royal priesthood and holy nation” of Exodus 19:6.  [Yes! Christians are the nation of God’s favor.] Christians are now the “people for God’s own possession,” mentioned first in Exodus 19:5. In short, Christians are the children of God, the chosen for His kingdom.  Thus, no one [including Jews living in the land of Israel]—no one can come to the Father except through His son, Jesus (John 14:6). Christians are those who have thus come to the Father.

The original covenant promise from God came to Abraham. It was through Abraham that Isaac (the child of promise) and Jacob (the father of the 12 tribes of Israel) came about. The faith of Abraham is completed in the coming of Jesus Christ. So, again, Paul the Jew would say, “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7-8). “So, those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.”

From the beginning, Abraham was to serve as a light to the nations, and, in Abraham, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. They were originally blessed through the light of Abraham’s offspring–Israel, which shone (in varying degrees of darkness) until the arrival of the true Israel of God: God’s only begotten Son, Jesus. Now that Christ has come, everything has changed into a glorious reality of his eternal kingdom.

If you belong to Christ, you are Abraham’s descendant, an heir according to the promise (Galatians 3:29).  If you are in Christ, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…” (Hebrews 12:22).  In short, all the promises of God (including those in the Old Testament) are “yes and amen” in Christ Jesus.

To Be Continued Again? What about the future of national Israel? Stay tuned.

(In the meantime, you may want to read, “Is the Holy Land Really Holy?”)

Is God Always on Israel’s Side?


English: English translation of hebrew version...

English translation of Hebrew. Map of the twelve tribes of Israel, before the move of Dan to the North (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I honestly dislike controversy. I try to avoid it. But the things which matter most to me are always on collision course with the things that others decide are too “controversial” to speak about in polite company.  Marriage, families, protecting babies, and the freedom of religion—all these are important realities which rile abortion supporters and those who wish to dismantle the traditional family.

Above all else, I care about Christ and sharing God’s love with others. So, I have to speak concerning the controversial subject of Israel (because it involves Christ). I read a popular Christian post which proclaimed that God is always on the side of Israel. I do not think that is true—at least not in the way the author meant it.  Before I explain further, I heartily agree that the nation of Israel needs our support, considering that it is freedom’s best ally in the Middle East, and many of her neighbors are busily working to see her annihilated.

That being said, the Bible nowhere offers warrant for saying the present nation of Israel is comprised of the people of God.  The land and the people filling it have no hope of being part of the kingdom of God without faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6).  Like the novelist Anne Rice, I understand the presence of the Jews as an “immense  mystery” without a natural  solution.  It takes God to explain the existence of Jews in this world, and it may well be that at some point in the future there will be a great outpouring of faith towards Christ among the Jews (Romans 11:25-29).

Nevertheless, the present nation of Israel does not exist as a vessel of God’s special favor.  The reason is simply this: The concept of Israel is a personal concept in Scripture, not a national one. The present nation of Israel is a national entity, not a personal one.

In the Bible, Israel is a person. Originally, Israel is the name given to Jacob after he wrestled with the angel of God (Genesis 32:24ff).  Israel later became the collective name for the twelve tribes of Israel (which, of course, was a reference to the twelve sons of Jacob).  The original, biblical understanding of the name Israel was a reference to a person.  This person represented other people.

In a foreshadowing of the Christ who would later come to fulfill God’s purposes for His people, Exodus 4:22 says, “Thus says the Lord, Israel is My son, My firstborn.”  Again, in prophetic utterance, Hosea gets a word from God: “When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1). All the prophecies about God’s Son—Israel—have seen their fulfillment in Christ, who came not to abolish the law, but to complete the law and the prophets.  So, in Matthew 2, Jesus was taken as a child into Egypt so that Hosea 11:1 would be fulfilled—out of Egypt, God called His Son.

The concept of Israel and the person of God’s Son both find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  Acts 13:32-39 speaks of early Christians preaching Christ as the fulfillment of these prophetic words:

And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus as it is written in the 2nd Psalm, ‘You are my son, Today I have begotten you.’ 

The Apostle Paul (in Romans 9:6-8) spent much time and energy pleading with the Jews (who occupied the land which today makes up Israel) so that they would stop taking comfort in their ethnicity.  He spoke plainly that their hope was not to be found in “Israel” but in Isaac—not in the flesh but in the promise of God.  In other words, Paul says, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel… this means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise….”

To Be Continued (Let your mind chew on these thoughts, while I get ready to post more tomorrow)

Is the Holy Land Really Holy?


Is it okay to watch a movie in your church sanctuary? What about the Holy Land, is it really holy? These are but two of the practical questions I sprung on my Sunday school class recently. How would you answer?

Your answer would betray your allegiance to your concept of sacred space.  Do you believe there are places on the

Sacred Space Tremper Longman

Book by Tremper Longman on Sacred Space

earth which God particularly esteems?  Recently, I posted on a chapel dilemma facing Muslims in Denver.  The question of sacred space came up in that post because Muslims were separating into a different room from Christians, presumably for the sake of holiness.  Do we Christians recognize any place on earth as more holy than any other place?  Or, put more bluntly, is the sanctuary the actual house of God?

To answer these questions, simply turn to John 4, the story in which Jesus interacts with the Samaritan woman at the well. You might remember the important answer Jesus gives her concerning worship: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

The significance of his answer is seen in the context of the woman’s question. She had asked Jesus about the proper place of worship: Was the proper place of worship in Jerusalem or on Mt. Gerizim? Sacred space was the issue she addressed.  Jesus’s answer was that the Father demanded sacred people, people set apart by the Spirit through the truth of the gospel.

The question of sacred space had taken a decidedly different turn upon the arrival of Jesus Christ.  Jesus was called Immanuel (which means God with us). Jesus was God coming to the earth to dwell among us (John 1:14).  The presence of God was not limited to any place, but, rather, was enshrined in this one man from heaven, Jesus Christ.

Therefore, those longing to be in the presence of God need not make a trip to Jerusalem to the temple.  All they need is to be with Jesus.  Wherever Jesus lives, there is the unique presence of God on the earth.

So, sacred space is anywhere and everywhere the sacred people (saints) happen to be.  The temple of Christ’s body is actually the church (1 Corinthians 6).  He tore down the old temple and raised it up three days later. Christ now dwells in the presence of His people. Thus—because Christ is present with His people—His people make up a new and living temple, one not made by human hands. Each person who is in Christ is a living stone in the temple of God.  Sacred space is anywhere and everywhere you find the church.

Therefore, the building in which Christians gather is not necessarily any more or any less sacred than the building which houses the local coffeehouse. Not coincidentally, many churches meet in coffeehouses and bookstores, clothing shops and even restaurants and bars.  The place is not sacred unless the people are sacred (filled with the Spirit and the truth).  If the people are sacred, then the place will be, too, so long as the people are gathered there in faith.

In other words, God doesn’t meet with His people in the sanctuary because the sanctuary is His house.  God meets with His people in the sanctuary because that happens to be the place where his saints have gathered.

Movies can be watched by the church for the glory of God in the sanctuary, but the concept of a Holy Land is obsolete in Christ whose kingdom extends over all the earth (Matthew 28).

I am curious as to whether this makes sense to you? It can be a little confusing. So, as always, your thoughts are appreciated.

Example of Political Importance


As Christians, we are told often to keep out of politics.  I agree that the power, purpose, and glory of the gospel far exceeds political ideology.  Nevertheless, this article from Victor Davis Hanson gets to a few root issues which demonstrate that politics matters.  Political decisions have sweeping influence over the lives of millions.  The dangers are real, and life and death often hang in the balance.  Granted, the gospel is much more significant in that it is the aroma of death to death or life to life; however, the gospel ought to be employed for human flourishing so that we rightly acknowledge that human beings alone are created in the image of God.

Victor Davis Hanson does a nice job in this article of outlining the ramifications of our political actions.  He appears to me to grasp the severity of the various political situations presently being mishandled.