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Thursday, October 04, 2007

For Israel: Prayer & More?

I really try to steer clear of political issues. It's not that I don't care. Rather it is that they are often so complex that my simple mind cannot understand them. So for me to speak on political or global issues puts me at great risk of sounding naive, or like a fool. That said, I need to talk about Israel today. It has been on my mind a lot lately. I'm not sure why.

Israel is certainly in the news a lot today. But I often wonder if the average American (or the average person anywhere else in the world), really grasps why. In 1948, following World War II, the British withdrew from their mandate of Palestine. The UN then partitioned the area into the Arab and Jewish states, an arrangement rejected by the Arabs. Subsequently, the Israelis defeated the Arabs in a series of wars. But that didn't end the deep tensions between the two sides. There's been fighting ever since. To be sure, Israel has one of the most sophisticated defense departments in the world --- largely funded by the U.S. The Palestinians (Arabs) largely have nothing in terms of military might. They fight with terrorist strategies mostly. For nearly 60 years now, Israel has had to put up with the ongoing bouts of terrorism and the conflict uprising. But Israel has thus far prevailed --- and maintained her democratic independence. However, I believe the issues are much deeper than just Israel's independence.

There seems to be an assumption amongst modern-day Christians. If it's really there, it is probably based on poor theology and ignorance of history --- both crimes of which most Christians I know could be easily convicted. Jesus said, "I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." He meant what He said too. But did He mean what we think He meant? I suspect not. We may think, for example, that America is immune to the open persecution already prevailing against Christians elsewhere in the world because of Islam. Perhaps we forget that there are many places (such as Turkey) where Christianity once flourished --- but where today Islam exerts absolute control.

Biblically, we can count on Jesus' words to be true. There will also be an expression of Christ's church here on earth. But that is the end of His promise. It is an exaggeration of Scripture to think that somehow He meant to ensure the existence of a Christian comfort zone. But we forget that, apparently divorcing ideology (and theology) from reality.

I went to Israel a few years ago. While there, I traveled around the country and its two largest cities, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I hired a guide and asked him to take me to the West Bank (i.e., Palestinian) settlements, where nearly 200,000 Israeli's live with hostile neighbors. We had to take a detour between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that Saturday --- because there were Palestinian snipers on the freeway. We ate lunch at a fabulous outdoor cafe on the beach in Tel Aviv --- with a view of a bombed out nightclub. The week after I returned, I was dismayed to see on TV that the Sbarro's restaurant where I had lunched in Jerusalem --- had been hit by a suicide bomber.

In Israel, one does not have the option of divorcing ideology from reality. When a Jew boards the public bus in the morning, he knows he's taking his life in his hands. A Islamic suicide bomber could be sitting next to him. Sometimes they are. Israel in fact demands a reality that most of us have never even dreamed about. In a democracy, where freedom of religion is guaranteed, people try to co-exist with other people who want to destroy them. They are forced to respond by confronting their comfort zones and changing the ways they think and behave. You know Sbarro's could be blown up today, but you eat there anyway.

Whatever distance we Americans think we have from the rising tide of jihadist Islam, we probably owe in some part to the heroism of the Israelis who live on the front lines of the battle for Western civilization as we know it. And I'm not talking about military war here. Israel's determination to remain a democracy sits squarely in the middle of twenty-two (22) Islamic dictatorships. It is a massive demonstration of noble courage. With only about 6.4 million people (76.4% of whom are Jewish and 2.1% of whom are Christians), on a land that is smaller than New Jersey --- it would be far easier to just evacuate the whole place!

Israel is not perfect. I was surprised to find a rather sizable gay district in Tel Aviv. And massage parlors in Jerusalem. The western wall of the temple in Jerusalem is overlooked by condominiums with satellite dishes. Traffic is an abomination. Airport security is wretched. Prices are high, pollution is choking the land, and well, all the typical problems of modern-day society are there. It has its weaknesses as weaknesses and flaws. But there is no question that, measured by any standard, Israel is standing on the side of all that we consider good and right.

Oddly enough, the American Christians seem relatively unmoved by and uninvolved in Israel's struggle. We choose to ignore the reality of the approaching danger. Most of us drive to work instead of taking the bus. Most of us are not Jewish. So the problem seems abstract and irrelevant. There are some exceptions. John Hagee, pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, has lead a strong movement of Christians to stand with Israel in opposition of Islam's evil plan to rule the world. (There I said it. That is the issue!) But it's not nearly enough.

An almost nuclear Iran, led by a modern-day Hitler madman and the bloodthirsty Hamas, who joyfully offer the blood sacrifice of their children to kill Jews, are just two of the looming demonic powers aimed against Israel right now. In many ways, I believe they are aimed against us here in America as well.

On its northern border, Israel faces the armed and violent Hezbollah. In the south, Israel faces a Hamas-run Gaza Strip, that is heavily armed with sophisticated weapons. Just over the horizon stands Iran, a country that moves closer every day to building the nuclear weapons it has already threatened to drop on Israel. Though these enemies appear desperate and disconnected, they are not. Iran is the brain that controls this multiheaded beast and the bank that feeds it. Hezbollah and Hamas are said to be nothing more than proxies, armed, trained and directed by their patrons in Iran. There is a carefully orchestrated attack by Iran (i.e., Islam) to close the noose around Israel's proverbial neck.

Perhaps history is the irony repeating itself in Israel too. During last summer's war with Hezbollah, an Israeli soldier and writer, Michael Oren observed that the conflict looked very similar to the Spanish Civil War. In that war, which preceded World War II, Nazi Germany armed and trained the Spanish fascist allies. According to Oren, "The world had a good warning about what Nazi Germany was really all about, but they didn't do anything about it. Soon it was too late and the Nazi Germans were upon them and conquering most of Europe. Here in this war, we've had good foresight, a good vision of what Iranian backed Islamic terrorism is going to look like."

Now I'm not one to read Biblical prophecy about the end times and leap to Israel's defense. (Frankly, I find those people to be annoying!) But I don't believe we have to subscribe to an end times theology to take an active interest in Israel. If Israel doesn't stand strong, Islam advances. Does anything really believe it could be God's will for Islam to advance further?

We Christians, who love Israel and all that it stands for historically and Biblically, can stand with Israel simply based on the Great Commandment, where Jesus said we are to "Love your neighbor (Israel) as yourself." There is no doubt that Israel will be at war again in the future. When she does, will she be prayed up? Will we leap to her defense with our own military might? Or will we stick our heads in the stand --- while a 23rd Islamic state is established in the region?

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