Monday, November 19, 2012

War in the Middle-East: Mercy from God in Christ Jesus

“I read my Bible to see what people ought to do, and read my newspapers to see what men are doing" - John Henry Newman.
Twitter  lucienforJesus
Two stories grabbed my attention this week. The big story that came at us so suddenly without any warning, was once again, hostilities between the Palestinian group Hamas operating in the Gaza Strip and the Israelis. This recurrent war between  the Jewish nation and one of the many Muslim groups and countries that are opposed to its very existence, has implications for conflict far beyond the narrow confines of the borders they share in the Middle East. As the “Christian” West, including the only super power left in the world, the USA gives tremendous moral and material support, including very sophisticated weaponry, to the Jews. Thus provoking very strong Anti-American and Anti-Christian reactions from fanatics in the Muslim world, which, in part, along with events which took place in Mecca and Iraq, may have contributed to the atrocities which occurred on 9/11 and other such events across the western world.
Already newly elected President of the USA, Barack Obama has been confronted with a challenge, especially given the fact that “ the Brotherhood” which now rules Egypt, is the “ father” of the splinter group Hamas. And one wonders if Romney had been elected, and who reportedly said during the campaign that, “ no daylight should exist between America and Israel”, what might have been the reaction of the Israelis to overtures of peace from the Egyptian leader. And so now the entire world, once again, is being subjected to horror stories brought to us on live television. Just tonight we saw reports of eleven Palestinian civilians perishing in an attack from the Israelis who thought they were targeting Hamas terrorists. No doubt the bloodletting on both sides will continue, and we pray that there will be no escalation of the war. A final thought! How did we ever get here? War between two groups of people, two great Religions, who both claim Abraham as their spiritual father!
So what did I read in the Word of God this week as I was forced to contemplate “war in the East….war in the west …everywhere there is war”, according to Bob Marley?
 As I sought God’s mercy for a friend who is ill, I was led to the Chapter 9 in the book of Romans in which is found this verse:

“ It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but  on God’s mercy. Romans 9:16.

But the interesting thing is that this statement from St. Paul emerges during a very heart wrenching reflection on the fact that  his fellow Jews, to whom God revealed Himself in a very special way, had rejected Jesus Christ, the only Son of the very same God. As so St. Paul writes:

“I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and all the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen”.    ( I wish someone would point that out to the Jehovah’s witnesses who claim that Jesus is not equal to God, but only a Son).  Romans 9:3-5

Then Paul makes this  further statement which arrested my thoughts:

“ It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “ it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned”. In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's’ offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: “ At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.
Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’ purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls – she was told, “ The older will serve the younger. Just as it is written: “ Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.
What then should we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,

 “ I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,

And I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion”.
Romans 9: 6-15.

And then comes the verse about God’s mercy.

Comment – I am no expert in Biblical studies, but in this context of war once again in the Middle-East, the kind of never ending war, which has spawned conflict across the globe, I am forced to wonder how, what are essentially “two tribes of Abraham”, could come to this bitter end?  As the God of Abraham, the Isaac and the God of Jacob, and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is a God of compassion and peace. This is the same God, who in Christ Jesus, calls us to “bless those who persecute you”, and to “forgive those who trespass against you”. Further, this is the very same God, who in Christ died on the Cross of Calvary, just outside Jerusalem, for all mankind. The very same city against which, we are told, Hamas successfully launched missiles this week, but which fell short of their target. The answer to the dilemma is very clear. “Not all descendants of Abraham are his children”.
Therein lies the problem of the entire human race. As not all who are created in the image and likeness of God are His children. As like St. Paul’s fellow Jews, we have all fallen short of God’s glory. And Word of God reveals that Jesus “ came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children not born of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God”. John 1:11-13.

So therefore, until either Israel or the Arab world, or any other “ tribe” in the world comes under the Lordship of Christ, we will continue to have “ wars and rumours of wars”. For the reality is that even though the West supports  the state of Israel, ostensibly because it is “ Christian”, or perhaps more accurately because it has been an ally in a very dangerous part of the world, Jews are not automatically Christian, because they are Abraham’s children. Nor is the West to be considered under God’s special favor because many Christians live there. That’s why many non-Christians and I would imagine Christians too, in the USA, wondered where God was during 9/11.
God’s mercy and compassion are beyond working out, but we know that His love and mercy and favor rest in a special way on those who submit to the Lordship of His Son and our Redeemer Jesus Christ. This is the only message that the Jews and Hamas need to consider. This is the only message that the entire world needs to consider. This is the message that I sent to one journalist in particular, and many in general this week, as the Lord continued to guide me in an ongoing discussion on the “ correct faith”.
Saturday November 17th.
After reading Isaiah 53, which is  essentially a prophetic word about the crucifixion of Jesus for the sins of "all who have fallen short of the glory of God", this word in Isaiah 55:6-11 NIV  is both very instructive and encouraging.

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near ( shades of Psalm 32..vs 6 a repentance Psalm...therefore let everybody pray to you while you may be found, surely when the mighty waters rise they will not reach him)
Let the wicked forsake his way
and he evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are my ways your ways, declares the Lord.

As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
it will not return to me empty
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Comment...the single greatest impediment to faith in this modern world is a lack of understanding that " God's thoughts, and God's ways are higher than our ways".
A reality discussed again  thousands of years later  in a "conversation" St. Paul had with the Roman church to which he wrote his now famous letter. And in which he wrote, in a different context...which has resonance with the current Israeli Hamas " war".... and  also  very relevant to  a discussion on " the correct faith", these famous words:

"It does not, therefore , depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy". Romans 9:16.

I pray God that all of us will seek that mercy, which is offered freely in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is the "gospel" Truth.

The other related  story which I heard during a service which I attended today, was shared  by a Baptist preacher at Tarrant Baptist church, and which was carried live on TBC FM radio, featured two " women" in the Bible, also arrested my attention. One a " woman of wisdom". The other "a woman of folly". Based on Proverbs 9. Both represent two competing worldviews according to the Pastor. One draws its wisdom from having a fear - being in awe, being in dread of offending - of the Lord. And therefore always wishes to please this Almighty God,regardless of laws and customs which encourage us to do right. And at the end, opting for God's wisdom and Truth results in an invitation to a heavenly banquet. The other is loud and undisciplined, determined to follow its own truth. Seemingly very inviting and rewarding but in the end results in an invitation to death. The Pastor classified them as " Two competing claims", and invited us to chose wisely. 

The world outside the narrow confines of the church walls needs to hear that kind of sermon from inspired men of God. The readings for today in my church all point to the  'end times", the second coming of Christ and judgment. And one of the them,  from the letter to the Hebrews declares " that it is terrible thing to a fall into the hands of the living God". That's where the " woman of folly" will lead the unsuspecting and the arrogant and those who continue to reject the shed Blood of Christ. All of us, therefore, who have decided to follow Jesus, are mandated to bring the " good news" to others and to pray for peace, and to be like Paul " in anguish for his/our brothers and sisters" across the world. Whether they be Jews or Muslims, Palestinians or Americans, Romney or Obama. Because there are only two competing worldviews. One that leads to eternal life in Christ. The other leading to destruction. So let us not take sides in this terrible war, but pray that God's mercy may rest on those who opt for, and promote peace. And pray that all of  humanity may someday come to know Christ and of His love or the entire world.