Feb 5, 2011

From Hebron, Israel-Hope and Incredulity

Reading Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
as we prepared to take Communion with our
Israeli and Palestinian brothers in the Holy Land.

It has been quite an incredible week here in Israel.  We have met with so many amazing leaders, both Christian and non Christian as we try to understand the complexity of their leadership context.  We also visited so many historical sites of great significance for the three faiths Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  

There is so much to reflect on that I hardly know where to begin.  I have a couple articles to write for the Chanhassen Villager and the Chaska Herald Newspapers due this coming Friday.  I am hoping that as I travel back home, I will get some thoughts together around key issues of faith that I have encountered throughout my travels here in the Holy Land. 

Abraham's Tomb inside the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.

For now, I feel a sense of brokenness and sadness. Echstasy of walking on the holy historical stones is tempered by a sense of sadness as I reflect on the pain of the living stones in the land.  Nothing captures this sense more than my visit to the city of Hebron earlier today where the tombs of both the Israeli and Arab Patriachs, Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebecca are located. 

The holy site is divided into two sections with one side serving as a mosque and the other as a synagogue.  The two communities are forbiden from crossing into the other's section. The soldiers are everywhere with guns at the ready in this divided city.  All over the roof tops you can see Israeli soldiers scattered.  

Isaac and Rebecca's Tombs stand side by side
inside the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. Jews are
not allowed this side of the building. They can
only view Abraham and Sarah's tombs that lie in the
middle from the Synagogue side 
Here, pain is visible in faces on both sides of the divide. "My business is dead.  I cannot get customers to visit my shop as it is on the other side of the security fence. I have no way of doing my work to earn a living under this occupation," laments one Palestinian young man as we walk down the street toward the Ibrahimi mosque that houses the tombs. 

"I envy you that you can visit the tombs of our Patriachs Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rebeccah.  I live here, yet I have never seen them.  Don't I have the right to see them too?  They are my ancestors.  Don't I have the right to visit the place where my Great, Great, Great Parents are burried?" laments a Jewish teenager with visible pain and longing in his eyes as we chat away near the entrance to the Synagogue, where we are watched by a band of seven soldiers in a jeep about ten feet away.  

There is Hope in the Land. Rabbis for Human rights
is an organization of Rabbis working to ensure justice
prevails for both peoples, Jews and Palestinians.

Madness is tangible in the very bricks that form the habitation of the residents.  At the bottom of the houses are Palestinians.  And then on the top floors of residential building the Israelis have build their homes.  Yet the two never meet.  Some of those living on the top floors throw their trash below and don't care where it lands.  An unbelievable place to walk. 

Why such hatred and seperation between brothers?  Why so much incredulity?  Why the contradiction in Abrahams' seed?   Why so much darkness in a place with so great light?  Even the eternal Light, Jesus Christ? 

Charles Dickens, had he walked these streets and observed these contraditions would probably have written:  "It was the best of places, it was the worst of places, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us we had nothing before us we were all going directly to Heaven we were all going the other way." 

But now faith, hope, love abide these three; but the greatest of these is love! 

Thank God Christ is not in a Tomb to fight over. 
He is Risen! Pic at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem
I just got done with all the research related meetings. So I am glad to begin packing and preparing to get on the flight Monday morning. I wish it was a little earlier so I can watch the Green Bay Packers win the Superbowl (Go Packers, Go!!).

For now I will have to be content with being here in this amazing place.  I am joining with believers here in Bethlehem tomorrow morning at Emmanuel Evangelical Church. They have about 200 believers. Pray that as opportunity avails, I will be truly encouraging to them. They are living out for Jesus in an extremely difficult environment.

Good day and Good Night from Hebron, Israel!

Jan 30, 2011

Christ on Your Nazareth Street

Enjoying the Fruit Garden, Nazareth Catholic Guesthouse

As I write this, I am in Jesus’ home town of Nazareth, Israel. As the locals say, He is the most famous all-time resident of the city. Upon arrival I had a great meal consisting of sesame seed chicken, rice, pita bread, and a sour Mediterranean salad served to us by very nice Catholic nuns here at the Rosary Sisters Guest House. I was hungry after a long day and so I devoured it delightfully.

I can’t help but wonder how different life was like for Joseph and Mary on these streets in the days before Christ was born. I wonder where it was and how the angel appeared to Mary in this little city to announce to her that she would be the mother to the Messiah. The two traditions, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox identify two different locations as being the place of the annunciation. Our guide suggested that it the Catholic tradition- Church of the annunciation, is the most probable rather than the spring of Nazareth which the Orthodox Church says is the place.

Beautiful Catholic Church and School sit a top Nazareth mountain

Looking around the streets as we arrived, I saw a number of young Palestinian guys standing here and there. Like a typical small town (even though it is a big city), there doesn’t seem to be much exciting and entertaining stuff that happens here. The streets are narrow. The terrain is steep. The architecture is ancient and immaculate, especially Catholic institutions that sit on top of the hills overlooking the city. A few mosques announce the hour of prayer. At best it is an extremely crowded city with the only room being to build up.

A narrow street in Nazareth. Possibly Jesus walked here!

Yet it is here that an angel announced the good news of the soon to be born King. It wasn’t in Rome, the political capital of the ancient world filled with amphitheatres and guaranteed Roman security. It wasn’t in Jerusalem the religious capital with the beautiful Herod’s Temple. Nor was it in Athens, the Greco-Roman intellectual and philosophical capital. It was here in the hilly back alleys and narrow streets of Nazareth where there doesn’t seem to be much exciting stuff happening.

Is it not wonderful that God can meet us wherever we are in the world? That you don’t have to be a Wall Street mogul, a cultural savvy, an intellectual, or live in New York for God to count you as worth something? Is it not amazing that in His book, it is not who we are or where we come from that matter but rather how deeply in love we are with Him? Joseph and Mary had devout hearts that looked heavenward.

Nazareth Church of the Annunciation- Greek Orthodox.
They could have easily been bored in this little town. They could have chosen better dreams and places to go. Somehow they chose God’s dream of hope and expectation and lived here. God did meet them here. God grew up here and walked these streets of Nazareth. He was known as Jesus of Nazareth. A compatriot to fellow Nazarenes.

I can imagine the many people that missed noticing Him because in their minds, nothing exciting could happen in these streets. Nothing good could come out of Nazareth. Yet here was where God’s mega blessing for the whole world walked for a good portion of the 33 years. This little and then obscure town had become the capital of God’s grace to the nations.

Amazing Canaan Fruit
What are you missing out on in your own surrounding? Do you notice God on your own Nazareth Street? Do you notice Him in that Minnesota snow fleck or Kenyan village morning dew rather than murmur? Do you notice Him on that farm as you look at your cow? How about in that unexciting office environment on the 10th floor of the high rise? Do you see Him? Can you hear His voice announcing heavenly peace? Do you notice Him in your little church? Or do you only think He is to be found in Los Angeles or in your city’s suburban mega church?

How about in your specific life situation that might not be so comfortable? Joseph and Mary weren’t living in the most ideal of circumstances. They were under the domination of Rome and lacked personal freedom. Decent jobs were hard to come by in their day. Whatever little they made through Joseph’s carpentry trade, a good portion of it had to be surrendered to the Roman authorities as tax. At best they lived like today’s Arab Israelis that walk these streets of Nazareth with restricted privileges.

Our gracious hostess in Nazareth

Are you in a similar predicament? Are you barely making it? I remember a few times when in our five year ministry we have barely made it. At one time my wife and I ate rice and beets for a week each meal even as we went about with ministry because our missionary support didn’t come in or a donor had decided that they wanted to give their money to a larger evangelistic ministry rather than a small one like ours (we’ve had a few of those). Then as we looked around we noticed Jesus. He was walking with us and alongside us. He was on our street too and not just on Franklin Grahams or Reinhard Bonnke’s. There are those times when I have stood on those dusty African streets and I saw Him working among the masses to give healing and hope. Not just in an American five star sanctuary.

Panoramic view
 Look around your Nazareth. Watch carefully for Him and listen keenly. For beyond the din, the scarcity, the boredom, and your tough terrain of life an angel of the Lord is announcing glad tidings for you. Indeed, Christ Himself has come to walk your street and experience your predicament for the purpose that He may redeem you. He is the Christ on your Nazareth Street.

From Nazareth!