Israel Day 3: It is the Heart that Matters

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It’s 6am here in Jerusalem.  I’m taking stock of what I’ve seen, heard, and the conversations I’ve had on this trip thus far and I am struck to the point of tears this morning at one simple reality: It is the heart that matters above all else in the affairs of man.

Yesterday we met with Jerusalem Post journalist Herb Keinon who offered an insiders view of Prime Minister Netanyahu from his years covering Israeli politics, and traveling oversees and around the country with him.  Then we visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum here in Jerusalem.

The Yad Vashem experience was led by a tour guide who asked a lot of questions in order to convey her ideas and the thrust of the museum – perhaps it was just her style, but it was a good way to open up the lid a little and get people thinking about the deeper issues surrounding not only the Holocaust, but hatred and killing in general. The questions that summed it all up were: How could human beings do this to other human beings? What is it that happened inside their minds and hearts? What is the genesis of this grotesque defect? What can be done to stop it in the future?

Hold that thought…

After Yad Vashem, we had lunch with Brig. General for the IDF Reserves Nitzan Nuriel.  The lunch was nothing short of fantastic.  Nuriel is an amazingly candid and heroic man.  His vision of survival, optimism, and hope for future Israeli generations was clearly what surfaced during our time together.  He exuded strength, good naturedness, and resolve.  In short, this was one of the greatest leaders I have ever met in person.

During our conversation with the General, we asked many questions.  The dialogue was great – as it has been all week here in Israel.  And Nuriel seemed to echo what Keinon had said earlier in the morning, namely that long term peace and long term solutions to living in peace are elusive, and frankly probably not the way to focus all one’s efforts.  Living life to the fullest and best in-between conflicts is what counts, said Nuriel. What do we do with that time?  In the context of why he has hope for the future, Keinon put it this way, “Israel is remarkably good at finding solutions to short term problems.”

When you approach the problems these men are describing about Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Iran, Syria, the border with Jordan, and on and on, you come to quickly realize there is no easy solution. They are dealing with people who are not playing by the same rules.  A member of Hamas has one goal in mind: exterminate the Jews. If they die trying, so much the better – they aren’t afraid to die, because of all they’ve learned about their supposed rewards in the afterlife.  YET, many palestinians who live in Gaza or the West Bank simply aren’t as militant.  They want a life of their own, and they are people with rights as well.  Israelis, more than anyone I know, understand the fundamental gritty truth that Palestinians, Muslims, Arabs etc. are human beings with families, lives, and souls.

The rock and the hard place are coming into focus, are they not? How do you live next to people and sit across the negotiating table with people who want to kill you because you’re a Jew.  They are completely unreasonable – they are terrorists.  Yet, there are millions and millions of men, women, and children whose lives are at stake and if you come from a Jewish background, there’s no way you’re going to wantonly kill innocents in any battle – even to defend your own people.  This is a nation of people defined by the holocaust, and that means it has been indelibly marked on them the fact that all people are human beings – just as they are.  That is one of the impressions, by the way, that one learns from Yad Vashem.

Making it all Make Sense

In the evening we had the privilege of meeting with three start-up businessmen and women who were success stories here in Israel.  It was a great dinner at a fun Moroccan restaurant in the Center City portion of Jerusalem.  As fun as it was to meet them, I was even more moved by a meeting that occurred just prior with a Palestinian Christian Pastor. I won’t tell you his name because he’s suffered enough persecution and I’d like to protect his privacy.

This young pastor was about my age – mid 30’s – and is on the front lines of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Palestinians – Muslims.  He has been beaten, had his church bombed, had his friends harassed and on and on.  But he still continues to preach.  What does he emphasize?  Loving your enemy. Why? Because this is what Jesus taught, yes, but how is he able to do it?  Because His heart has been changed radically by God. 

And…his ministry is flourishing. People are coming to Christ.  Interestingly enough, it is this idea of “love” and an understanding of mutual humanity that bridges gaps on an interpersonal basis even among secular Jews and Palestinians.  The entrepreneurs we listened to last night confirmed that as well.  But the difference between common decency and the radical nature of Jesus’ love is that one promotes harmony until the other party wrongs us, while the other – the love of Jesus – helps us love people while they wrong us.

Why did men mass murder other men and women?  Why do members of Hamas blindly hate and target Jews – sacrificing their own citizens in order to do this?  These questions are deep, but not as deep as the answers to how these problems are solved.  If we acknowledge the depth of our sin and fallenness as humans, that is the starting point.  That is the obvious answer to Yad Vashem.  But what is the answer to the second question?  How is this nature overcome?  How is hatred and ignorance overcome?  By the love of Jesus Christ.  

This is a supernatural love, an alien love, a love not found naturally in the corrupt hearts of man. It is also a gracious love, a love which God has shed abroad in the hearts of men and women who share a faith in Christ.  For those who are Christians, we need to understand that the ultimate answers to the difficult questions of our time both here and at home, begin not at the military, political, or diplomatic level, but in the hearts of mankind.

Pictures from Day 3 below:

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Israel day 2

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We started the day today hearing from professor Reuven Hazan from Hebrew University. Mr. Hazan gave us an overview of the political/government system here in Israel. It was extremely insightful and very enjoyable. Israel is a Parliamentary democracy and, unlike the U.S., elects it’s governing body nationally and not by districts – in fact, the names of candidates aren’t on the ballot, only the party names. Vote for a party and you get the whole ball of wax – every candidate that the party chooses to install.

After each election the parties are allowed to send to parliament a certain number of candidates based on the percentage of what their party received from voters nationally.

After this morning session we toured the old city which included many of the holy sites you’ve likely heard of before.  These included the temple mount, the wailing wall (western wall), the church of the holy sepulcher and the room Jesus was believed to have eaten his last supper in.

For me, walking up the temple mount, knowing that Jesus had walked on those stones, and taught in that place, and that Peter had likely delivered his sermon in Acts 2 from that spot, was indescribable.  The best way to describe it would probably be to coming home.  A tremendous peace and amazement that lay unsettled in my gut – until the prayer at the western (wailing) wall whereupon I felt like for the first time in my trip I had met God in this place.  Mostly I attribute this to taking in all that I had seen, and then getting to come in prayer to the Lord.  When one pastor asked what I had prayed about, I told him that my entire mindset was dominated by thoughts of “come back quickly, Lord.”  I say that because there is an overwhelming sense – for me at least there was – that this is where it all took place.  And you want it to happen again.  You want Him to come again and to consummate His kingdom.

All the graves alongside the road leading up to the old city with the Mt. of Olives on the left etc. are there because they want a “front row seat” as our tour guide put it, to the coming of the Messiah —- now jokingly he said that the Jews first question will be “this your first time to Jerusalem?”  LOL!   For me, that resonated on a deeper level.  You see this wide swath of grave stones/head stones there laid out at the base of the Kidron as it wraps around toward the valley of Gehena and you realize they’re like seats in a movie theatre waiting for the great act of world history to sweep across the planes of that desert region and call them up to either judgment or to life everlasting.  Regardless, this is going to be the “place to be” so they say.

All of this sense, this feeling, comes to a nexus at the wall – at the time of prayer.  And needless to say it is very special.

We had several meetings after this.  One with a humanitarian activist from the Palestinian perspective, another with the leader of the Labor party opposition in the Knesset, and lastly we had dinner with an amazing journalist who is an Arab, Muslim, Palestinian, Israeli.  Crazy combination!  But that Palestinian perspective has been interesting.  Even the Palestinians we spoke with are against the Hamas, they think of Hamas as a terrorist group, and think of Barak Obama and John Kerry as closely aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood – at at the very best, empowering the Muslim Brotherhood!

Despite this sentiment toward Obama and Kerry, the Israelis and Palestinians we have met have been very very hospitable toward Americans and have nothing but good things to say about our country in general.  In fact, there hasn’t been an elected official, professor, journalist or expert of any kind that has not gone out of their way to thank us for coming at this time to show solidarity with Israel.  I can’t begin to describe how amazing it is to receive that kind of message from these men and women who have their lives in danger from terrorists every day.

Now, some of you have asked about my safety, and many are praying for me – thank you!  I want you all to know I’m safe, and couldn’t be enjoying this time more if I tried.  We’ve talked openly with people on the street, and because there has been a ceasefire for over 24 hours now (observed), we’re in good shape.  No rocket sirens thus far.

I’m pasting some pictures below of what I saw today.  This is only a sample, of course, but hopefully you’ll get a sense for what we saw and did today.  It was an amazing day.  The Israelis, I am learning, are a very courageous people.  Their political system is diverse, they have a unique outlook on life, they are surrounded by enemies, and they’re a beacon of freedom and morality in this part of the world.  It makes all the sense in the world, therefore, to stand by them in their efforts to not only exist as a nationstate (something Hamas’ charter puts them diametrically opposed to), but to thrive and to lead this part of the world out of the darkness of terror and radical Islam.

Several more amazing days in front of me.  If I went into everything I learned in each session and at every stop, these blogs would be way too long!  But needless to say, this trip is so well rounded that one cannot come away without a very thorough understanding of the geopolitical, religious, historical, moral, and military significance of this place.

Until tomorrow…Soli Deo Gloria!

The Last Super
The Last Super
Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Mount of Olives
Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Mount of Olives
The Temple Mount
The Temple Mount
Church of the Holy Sepulcher
Church of the Holy Sepulcher