Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Stop poking God in the eye

I Samuel 11 tells the fascinating story of how Israel came to be united under Saul’s kingship. As with all Old Testament stories, God has given them to us so we can learn from them and apply the principles revealed therein. This story is no different, and even gives us invaluable insight into how the Lord views events happening in our own lifetime.

In this chapter, the Ammonites come up against Jabesh. The people of Jabesh seek terms of peace but are presented with a horrible proposition; in return for peace the Ammonites want the right to cut out the right eye of every man and bring a reproach on all Israel.

Apart from the stigma and shame attached with having a whole community’s eyesight disabled, it is also evident that the Ammonites sought to ensure that Jabesh remained immobilized, defenceless against future attacks. If the men of Jabesh could not defend themselves well with both eyes, removing the right eye would certainly ensure that even in the future they would not be able to rise to the challenge and the Ammonites could seek further sacrifices for “peace” whenever they desired.

On May 19th, 2011, the President of the USA announced a change in policy regarding his country’s position as peace broker between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Whereas previously no administration had outlined what it believed was the territorial starting position for negotiations, but had left that for the two parties to work out, President Obama stated that the pre-1967 borders should now be the basis for the renewal of talks. Areas that do not fall within these territories, such as many Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria, along with historic Jerusalem (so-called East Jerusalem), could be resolved, the President said, via land swaps.

The Group of Eight leaders, representing the most economically powerful nations on earth, were swift to endorse Obama’s position in a statement released on May 27th, 2011.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israel’s premier, was quick to reject this new approach since it would return Israel to a territorial position that is not defendable. Every American administration up until this one has understood that after all the wars Israel has fought to defend itself against the Arab plans for her annihilation, she requires defendable borders to live in peace and security.

Not only that, but if the pre-1967 borders are the starting point for peace, Israel faces again the shameful prospect of having to send in its own armed forces to forcibly uproot thousands of its citizens from their homes as the world watches on through the lenses of western media companies that have systematically reduced these people to dehumanized illegal settlers, and blamed them for the lack of peace in the entire region, if not the world.

Make no mistake, the Palestinians do not recognize Israel’s right to exist, and they have always sought an agreement with Israel that leaves the door open for further attacks on her sovereignty. Like the Ammonites, they offer peace in return for Israel’s shame. They will only come to an agreement if the Israelis cut out their right eye by removing their so-called settlements, and in so doing, also return to a situation where they are more vulnerable to further attacks. Unfortunately, the US President has led the way in adding considerable weight to their cause and the Israelis, like the people of Jabesh, find themselves isolated and outnumbered in this conflict.

Going back to I Samuel 11, we find that the people of Jabesh seek help and their messengers reach Saul. But, the Saul they find is not sitting in a kingly palace with thousands of troops at his command; he’s out in the field herding flocks. He had been crowned king already, but not all the people accepted his appointment and it seems as if life just went back to normal for Israel and Saul, up until this point that is.

When Saul hears the news, something remarkable happens. The Spirit of God comes upon him and he becomes extremely angry. He hews a yoke of oxen into pieces, sends them throughout the land as warning of what will happen to the oxen of those who don’t come out to fight, and he manages to raise an army of 330,000 which goes on to demolish the Ammonites and save Jabesh. The people rally around Saul after this victory, gathering in Gilgal to renew the kingdom and make Saul king before God.

Saul clearly didn’t have the force of arms to back up his threat, but the fear of Lord fell on the people as Saul followed the Spirit’s leading and this brought forth salvation.

It’s not often that we associate the Holy Spirit with anger, or righteous indignation as some translations use. We are more accustomed to the Holy Spirit bringing peace or joy in the face of adversity. But God is clearly able to experience the emotions we humans know and when the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, He can even impart on us His very personal feelings regarding a situation.

In Zechariah 2: 8 it says of Zion, “he who touches you touches the apple of His eye”. Your eye is the most sensitive part of your body. When the Ammonites came to Jabesh with the intent of cutting out the men’s right eyes, they didn’t realize that they had poked God in the eye, in His most sensitive area, and aroused His anger. It’s a warning to all nations that would seek to come up against Israel to dispossess her of her God-given inheritance.

In these days when the nations are out repeating the mistake of the Ammonites, the question for us is how in tune are we to the Holy Spirit? How well are we connected with God’s feelings on the issue? Are we outraged? Are we speaking up to ensure that our nations are warned as to the consequence of their actions?

Like Saul, we have been anointed, but haven’t yet received a kingdom. I Peter 2: 9 says we are a “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation”. We don’t have physical armies under our command, but our power is in the fear of the Lord. He will bring the victory.

Isaiah 41 confirms that the Lord will deliver Israel and will destroy those who come against her. We should speak words of comfort to Zion, to let her know that her God will surely rescue her, while also speaking a word of warning to the nations about how they treat the people of the covenant. Never has there been a time when these messages are more important.

For the sake of our own nations, we must find our voice and tell our leaders to please stop poking God in the eye.

Friday, April 22, 2011

In or out of Jesus this Easter?

At the ICEJ’s 2010 Feast of Tabernacles celebration in Jerusalem, David Pawson made some comments on being "in Jesus" that really stuck with me. It's not a concept I’ve often heard explored from the pulpit yet it essentially defines for the believer how the world is divided from God's perspective. Our Father in heaven sees us as either being in or out of Jesus. The concept is simple, easily understood, and to a lot of people, totally offensive.

I can fully understand the world not embracing such a seemingly extremist worldview. The Word of God tells us that the message of the cross is foolishness to those that are perishing (I Corinthians 1: 18).

What's disturbing to me is that among those who consider themselves to be in Jesus there is a trend underway to deny either who He is, the completeness of His work on the cross or even the necessity to be found in Him for salvation. And the world loves it.

A recent piece in Time Magazine (April 25, 2011) entitled “Is Hell Dead” celebrates the controversial view mega church pastor Rob Bell has espoused in his new book, “Love Wins” wherein he casts doubt on the central notion that when you pass from this life you must be found in Christ to avoid hell and find entry into heaven. Bell believes that none of us know who will and who won't be in heaven, a point I’m willing to grant him, but you have to achieve some amazing theological acrobatics to get around Jesus’ simple words "No one comes to the Father but through me". In other words, God can reveal Himself to anyone at any time, even in their dying moments, but there’s still only one way to get saved. So, while none of us can truly know definitively who will and who won't be in heaven one day, we do know that no one gets there unless they pass through the correct door, and that door is Jesus.

This controversy has rocked the evangelical world, and rightly so. For those of us who are more closely involved with Christian Zionist work in support of Israel you may be forgiven for doubting if this could have any impact on our corner of the evangelical world. I would have discounted it myself had not the Christian Zionist movement itself had difficulties in sticking to the script (as in Word of God) as far as Jesus is concerned.

The magazine Israel Today was recently embroiled in a heated debate surrounding the reaction of leaders of the Messianic movement in Israel to a pastor who had denied the divinity of Jesus. This wouldn't be of much concern did it not reflect a larger problem in the Messianic movement where agreement on the true identity of Jesus is a major issue. If Rob Bell is denying that Jesus is the door, there are Messianics are trying to redefine what that door looks like.

And if that's not disturbing enough, there's another group, also involved in supporting Israel, who are trying to reinterpret how the Door works. They call themselves Ephraimites and their belief that salvation is reserved only for those who are physically Abraham's seed not only ignores the references in Galatians to Jesus being "the seed", in which we find our identity, but also effectually undermines the complete work of Jesus on the cross. Has John 3:16 become so familiar to us who have memorized it since our first day in children's church that we have ignored its simple yet powerful message?

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life"

The "door" that is Jesus is open for anyone and everyone because God loves the entire world. That door is divine because Jesus is God's only son. Enter through that door and you not suffer an afterlife in hell, but rather heaven in the presence of the Father.

This Easter, let's honour the work of Jesus in its completeness, and ensure that we are found in Him that we may join Him in the resurrection!