The Israel Report

19 Feb

I have said it before and I’ll continue to say it because so many times, this awesome body of believers in the saving power of Jesus Christ has proven it.

This is not a small church. This is a God-sized church.

There is absolutely no reason I should have been able to go to Israel. There is also no reason I should have been able to go for the third time in fifteen years.

What is even more remarkable is that the first two were free but this time, it was asked that we pay a large portion of it out of pocket.

This church recognized the biblical significance of Israel. They recognized the importance of partnership with Shlomy and Miriam Abramav and they stepped up to the plate in an amazing way. The majority of this trip was paid for by my church family. You gave nickels, dimes, dollars because you believed that this was important and you supported the idea of your Pastor going. You guys are truly awesome.

To tell you everything about this trip Israel would take a couple of hours. And certainly, if you would like to have my wife and myself over for dinner, I would be honored to come tell you everything there is to tell!

But for my purposes today, I will simply share with you three things.The land. Shlomy and Miriam. The Bridge of Hope.

First of all, let’s talk about what I saw in the land of Israel.

There is an eight hour time difference between Texas and Israel (incidentally, when anyone there asked us where we were from, we did not say “The United States”, we said “Texas”). So when it was 2 p.m. there, it was 6 a.m. here. Needless to say, when we stepped of that plane, we were already exhausted. It was 10 a.m. there so when I texted my wife to say we had landed, it was 2 a.m.. Praise God my wife keeps her phone in the other room!

The first place we went was Caesarea Maritima.

caesarea

According to the book of Acts, Caesarea was first introduced to Christianity by Philip (the one who baptized the Ethiopian) who later had a house there in which he gave hospitality to the Apostle Paul. It  was there that Peter came and baptized Cornelius and we learned that the Gospel was not just available to the Jews but to anyone who would receive.

I love that story… I love it because it has special meaning for me.  I know that though I am not an Israelite, though I am not a Jew, I have been adopted by God into His family. That adoption took place when I recognized what He did on the Cross. I understood that I could not save myself. I understood that He paid the penalty for my sin. Like Cornelius, I was a Gentile who received the Gospel and my name is now written in the Lambs Book of Life (Heaven’s roll sheet).

What about you? Do you realize that Jesus died for you as well? Do you understand that you cannot get to Heaven on your own accord?  You have a chance to be adopted into the family of God but only by agreeing to follow after Jesus and surrending your life to Him.   There is no other way.

From there we went to Mount Carmel, which is one of my favorite stories in Scripture. I remember visiting there seven years ago and saying excitedly to my Mom… “Do you realize where we are?”

carmel

That’s the centerpiece of one of my favorite stories of Biblical history. That’s where Elijah called down fire from Heaven.

Do you remember that story? It’s in 2 Kings 18:17-40.

Elijah was one of the greatest of all the OT prophets. During the dark and difficult days of King Ahab and Jezebel he was a voice in the wilderness and light in the darkness that existed.

He was willing to stand in the gap for God when it was needed most.

And the big showdown on Mt. Carmel is the climax of his life.

There was a severe famine in the land after 3 years of no rain.

King Ahab wanted to blame Elijah for causing the problem.

The bold prophet goes nose to nose with this wicked king and tells him the truth about himself and what is happening in the land.

Ahab challenges him to PROVE IT and the showdown is ON.

Elijah is going to publicly embarrass and expose Ahab’s false gods.

It’s the GREAT CONFRONTATION.

The Living God of Heaven v. The false idols of men of earth

Who is in the majority? There are 450 prophets of Baal and another 400 of Asherah all eating at the Kings table. As then you have Elijah’s own countrymen who followed these false gods.

Then you have one prophet plus God. Who would you wager would win this confrontation?

This is essentially the same battle that we face today as Christians. The names may have changed but nothing else has. Faithful Christians who are standing on the Word of God against the unbelievers of this age, with all their idols, and unfaithful brethren, who have departed and deserted the truth.

Paul once warned Timothy that in “the latter times, so shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (I Tim.4:1-2)

We must stand firm and strong against the forces of evil just as Elijah did on Mt. Carmel – and not compromise.

Elijah challenged the people to make up their minds. ” How long will you hesitate between two opinions?”

The Hebrew word PASACH means to limp. The people were limping from God to Baal and Baal to God. It was time to make a decision, and stop sitting on the fence.

Who is on the Lord’s Side? We must make the same decision, and the sooner the better.

The Prophets of Baal had failed to contact their god. Despite all their ranting and raving, scratching and screaming – NOTHING

Now it’s Elijah’s turn to show the POWER of God. He builds an altar, presents sacrifice, pours on water and PRAYS.

The result is AMAZING – fire from Heaven, everything consumed, Zap – God’s response is immediate, instantaneous and spectacular.

The Response from the People is one of Awe and Respect for the God of Heaven.

THEY HAD SEEN GOD!!!

Needless to say, it was once again a thrilling experience. I was jet lagged, tired, a little cranky, and thrilled to be there.

I would then spend a few days with Shlomy and Miriam which I will get to later.

But after I got back from that time with them, it was back to touring that amazing land.

One of the first places we got to visit was the Western Wall… better known as the Wailing Wall.

wailingwall

If you’ll recall, the Temple was the centerpiece of Jewish life during a great portion of Israelite history. Conceived by David, built by Solomon, it had housed the presence of God.

Twice it was destroyed and even now, we know that Christ will come to that Temple again at the Second Coming. One problem: it’s not there now. Now, there is a muslim mosque standing just to the left of where it used to be. The western wall of that mosque was actually the western wall of the Temple.  And the Muslims, bless their hearts, allow the Jewish people to pray at that wall. As you stand there, you can see prayer requests placed into the crack of the wall.

That same day, we saw the ancient Pool of Siloam (John 9:1-11), went through the original quarters of King David, and walked through a portion of Hezekiah’s tunnel.

The next day, it was a visit to the Garden Tomb, the place traditionally believed to be where Christ’s body was to have rested before He rose again.  In the distance was Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified.

garden-tomb

Now, nobody knows for sure that this was the place.  But standing there and being reminded of that event and how it changed the course of history.  The truth is it changed my life as well as many of yours. For some of you, you have yet to experience the power behind that empty tomb. But please, if you hear nothing else, hear this:  You and I are sinners according to Romans 3:23. We are separated from God, according to Romans 6:23, because of that sin. But that second part of that verse lets us know that Jesus came to provide us the precious gift of eternal life.  And Romans 5:8 explains why.. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved.”  And we can receive that salvation by turning our lives over to Him, recognizing that He is Lord and that He died on the Cross for our Sins (Romans 10:9) Why? Because He is the only way to an abundant and eternal life (John 14:6).

I got further reminder of what my Savior did for me as I stood in the Garden of Gethsemane where the part of him that was fully man prayed for another way out, to not have suffered the pain of the Cross. Nevertheless, He went just the same.

gethsemane

I stood on the Mount of Olives where Christ is said to first land when the Second Coming occurs and got a beautiful view of the Temple Mount.

temple-mount

And then I saw where the Pool of Bethesda used to be. John 5 tells this story about a man who laid there for 38 years supposedly waiting for someone to help him get to the water in that pool because he believed that water had healing powers.  Jesus goes up and asks him “Do you want to be healed?”

bethesda

Why would Jesus ask that question? For the same reason that many get asked that same question today. Because many people do not want to be healed from their afflictions. They do not want to be healed from their sin of lust. They want to keep looking at pornography. They do not want to be healed from their sin of hatred. They want to keep nursing a grudge. They do not want to be healed. Oh, they’ll talk a good game. But when it comes down to it , they would rather not let go.

But to the ones who do want to be healed, Jesus says the same thing to them that he said to that man. “Get up, take your mat, and walk.”  IN other words, healing from those types of afflictions is there for you.  Now, don’t misunderstand. There are many physical afflictions where God may choose not to heal for one reason or another. But when it comes to the types of habits I have mentioned, God wants to deliver you.  So get up and walk in Him!

I teared up as I visited a school for victims of terror in Shiloh

shiloh-school

(which is also the site where the tabernacle set for 369 years and where the prophet Samuel was brought to Eli to be raised up in the ministry).

tabernacle

I enjoyed hearing David Rubin, a former mayor of Shiloh who you will also have a chance to hear in Cleburne at the end of next month.

david-rubin

My group went to Qumran where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered.  Probably no other discovery has helped authenticate the stories of Scripture and given us greater insight into those times than these scrolls.  To get to be there where they were discovered and even see one of the caves where they were found was indeed awesome.

dead-sea-scrolls

On the last day, we were exhausted and we still had a banquet to attend that night.  But our tour guide, Kirah, wanted to make one last stop. And she took us to a place called Perat.  This turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises of the trip. There is a monastery built there in the side of the mountain because it is believed that it was in a cave near there where Elijah was fed by ravens as he hid from Queen Jezebel during his time of depression.

perat

Now, I have to tell you that this trip was incredible! It was not my first trip to Israel. As a matter of fact, it was my third.  And yes, I did get to see some sites I had not seen before. But this trip was more amazing not because of the sites but because of Shlomy and Miriam Abramov.

abramov

Let me first say that Shlomy and Miriam, whom many of you have met before, treated me awesomely well. In the four days that they hosted me, they treated me like a king. Taking me to Masada and even for a soak in a sulfur bath at the Dead Sea spa.

dead-sea-spa

I had my own apartment with a kitchen and a living room. They insisted on paying for everything.  They were incredibly gracious hosts.

I knew about their ministry, “Awake Israel”, before I came to Israel this time. But to sit and visit with them gave me a clearer insight into what God has called these amazing people to do.

They are committed to bringing the Good News of Salvation to the Jewish People, mainly in Israel.

For many Jews, their Jewish identity is more cultural than it is religious. But this doesn’t mean that their Jewishness is unimportant to them. Most Jews also think that the opposite of Jewish is Christian and so for them to consider Jesus is problematic because it means considering losing their Jewish identity. Therefore in witnessing to Jewish people about Jesus it is important to stress that they do not need to give up their identity as Jews in order to embrace Jesus as Messiah.

But the biggest problem is this: one can be jailed or ostracized for sharing their Christian faith in Israel. In fact, if you share Christ with anyone under the age of 18, it is most certainly a jailable offense.  And lets not forget all of the fighting that goes on there and the huge population of Arabs that also hate the Jewish and Christian people. Shlomy and Miriam basically put their whole livelihood on the line every day by seeking to share Jesus there.

Now unlike you and I , they can’t just go to a mall or street corner and start preaching. Rather, they have fellowships at their house, community get togethers.

Shlomy has had an interesting life… having once been a bodyguard for men like Ariel Sharon and Sylvester Stallone… and he has written several books about his experiences that also tell of his conversion to Jesus. He was actually led to Christ by Miriam when they were still getting to know each other. Every place I would go, Shlomy would engage people in conversation. Then, as he would leave, he would give a copy of his book (which contains a clear outline of how to come to a relationship with Jesus) and ask them to read it during their spare time. In America, we may criticize that and say he should be more bold. In Israel, that IS bold.

I was already fond of Shlomy and Miriam but previous visits with them when they had come to the States. But after my time with them, I can truly say I love them and am honored to be partnering with such godly people in a “Bridge To Hope”

This brings me to my final point. What is a “Bridge to Hope”.

One of the greatest, yet often untapped resources for Johnson County churches is the Christian Heritage Foundation.

The Foundation was started in 1982 by Walter and Mary Ann Mize. Walter was a successful Christian businessman who felt a burden in his heart to do more for Jesus. The foundation was created with the idea of helping churches in their mission for Jesus. They offer to help churches in Johnson County in three areas… evangelism, outreach, and benevolence.  This church has been able to do much because of the foundation and their willingness to partially fund many of the things we have been able to do including Vacation Bible School, Thanksgiving in the Homesteads and Christmas and Easter outreaches.

Shortly before he died, Walter got a burden for Israel. He wanted to do more for the people of that country.  God fulfilled that vision when a few years ago, my friend Kevin Bentley was hired to head up a new organization called “Johnson County For Israel” and their main purpose was to begin building Bridges to Hope.

The idea behind this is to pair churches in our area with Christian churches or ministries in Israel. It is not necessarily a monetary partnership but one of encouragement.  It is to seek to help them out in whatever way possible, especially through prayer, in their evangelistic efforts.

Why is this necessary? Why should Christians in America support Israel?

First, let me say that there are many who do not. There are many who subscribe to something called “replacement theology”. In fact, there are churches in Johnson County that subscribe to it. It is the idea that when the Jews rejected Christ (John 1:12) , that they were replaced with those who came to salvation.  Therefore, they say that anytime the Bible refers to blessing  Israel, it is really talking about Christians in general.   This is a huge error.

Let me be clear that a Jew cannot enter Heaven simply for being a Jew than I can enter Heaven for being a Texan. It is only through salvation in Christ that we get to Heaven. So the Jews do not have an automatic pass.

But the reason we support Israel goes all the way back to a pact that God made with Abraham.

Genesis 12: 1-3

Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

The second half of the verse is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, the promised Messiah and Savior of the world. The first half of the verse clearly means that God will bless those who bless the people of Israel and curse those who curse them.

We need to bless Israel by continually encouraging those in government leadership to support them. As a nation, we must never turn our back on Israel. But honestly, one of the best ways to support Israel is for us to point them in the direction of Jesus. And the best way for us to do that is to support Israeli Christian ministries in their efforts.

it should always be remembered by Evangelicals that we are to follow the admonition and command of the Apostle Peter, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who ask you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

 

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