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:

Oh Holy Night

With each passing Christmas season it seems as though I get more and more excited with its advent (no pun intended), and enjoy each year more than the previous year.  One of my favorite parts of the season are the Christmas songs – not the annoying ones that Congress ought to pass a law against (we can snoop on people’s cell phone conversations but we can’t make “Grandma got run over by a reindeer” go away???), but the ones that move our souls to remember why the season is so special.

To that end, I thought about writing a few few posts about my favorite songs and what makes them so darn good. Hopefully this is the first of several…feel free to comment and tell me what your favorite songs are and why.

Oh Holy Night

I can’t listen to this song without something stirring inside. The song takes us back to that moment of incarnation in Bethlehem better than most musical reproductions of the scene. In the first verse, the scene is set, you hear about the starts, the night, and you are there.

You are also reminded of the plight of man.  Something has gone terribly wrong, and what is about to happen on this night is about to change, well, everything.  The verse says, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining.”  What are we pining for?  A Savior.   A Rescuer. The melody takes on a decidedly morose tone meant to cast some sadness on your heart, and remind you what is at stake…the fate of the world.

Then the second stanza breaks in:

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us praise His holy name
Christ is the Lord, let ever, ever praise Thee
 

This is where I lose it!  Haha!  Seriously though, let me explain:

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
 

These chains and the slavery are bound up in one idea, and it comes in a hint from the first stanza – sin.  The whole world is bound up together in one cataclysmic death spiral and we’re spinning out of control toward one not so particularly delightful end.

Jesus, the One whose birth we’re hovering about in our minds eye is the One who is breaking the chains – Jesus is the pronoun “He” here – and He’s breaking both the chains of slavery and oppression (inferring that this slavery isn’t so great, in fact its vile and its destroying us).  But it doesn’t stop there – the writer says that the “slave is our brother”, which could mean so many things, but in the context of the hymn what I think it means is that we are all slaves from the same family now having been redeemed by Christ.  French poet Placide Cappeau who wrote the original lyrics first had a verse which was initially translated, “He sees a brother where there was only a slave, love unites those that iron had chained.”

So the thrust of this sentiment is that we are all in bondage to sin.  It also has overtones that both physically free and physically enslaved all share in the brotherhood of mankind and are all slaves together until Christ redeems those who put their faith in Him.

It always “gets” me to sing that “in His name all oppression shall cease” because the idea here is there is this power – a real power – in the name of the baby being born. Why is that?  Because He is a being born a King!  Kings utter a word and servants obey. They go and do whatever their Lord tells them to do. When Jesus opens His mouth, every syllable necessarily brings forth obedience (think of the wind and waves obeying Him later in His ministry, and the creation coming forth at the beginning of Genesis 1).  It is awful comforting to think that at the word of our King all oppression shall cease.

Finally, the hymn breaks forth into doxology:

Let all within us praise His holy name
Christ is the Lord, let ever, ever praise Thee

 

Paul’s Romans 11 praise echoes in my mind, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever” (Rom. 11:33, 36)

When I sing this part of the verse, I realize that “all that is within us” praising “His holy name” is a call to respond to all the truth the writer has just impressed on our minds and hearts.  That truth is that though the world was lost in the mire and bondage of sin, though the oppression of life had seemed to rule the day, though the entire course of life seemed destined toward eternal misery, yet here is One who will snatch us up from death into newness of life!  This is the day, this is the hour, this is the moment when the “Christ” the “Savior” the “King” has come.

What a great song! I hope you can sing this song with gusto this Christmas as you ponder these profound and glorious truths in your heart.