Stand With Israel

“And Jesus grew in wisdom & stature… Luke 2:52”

Regarding our last seven months in Israel… there is quite a lot to say, and we hope you take the time to read this to the end.

Since it’s Christmas time, we want to know if you remember what it was like when you believed in Santa Claus or if you ever believed.

If you did believe in Santa Claus, what happened after you found it was your parents who put all the gifts under the tree, and in your stocking, and your mom or dad who ate the treats you left out for Santa? Were you disappointed when your parents told you the truth? Or, maybe a kid at school spoiled it for you and seemed to take pleasure in spreading the rumor that there was no such thing as Santa. Wasn’t it usually the same kid who told you about the facts of life before your parents got around to it?

Becky and her siblings were raised with the knowledge that the traditional story about Santa and his reindeer and all the fun up at the North Pole was fiction. Her parents didn’t read “The Night Before Christmas” to them as if it were a true story, and they didn’t write letters to Santa or go to the Department Store to sit on his lap.

On the other hand, I had a more traditional childhood in that regard… in other words, my parents lied to me. My siblings and I were fully immersed in the Christmas mythology that gradually developed over the last 150 years and got tangled up with the real Christmas story.

The Greek philosopher Plato would call this kind of deception a noble lie… a pious fiction.

Leading up to Christmas Eve, there were plenty of presents under our Christmas tree marked “From Mom and Dad” or “Grandma & Grandpa.” And when we went off to bed that night, our stockings that hung by the fireplace were empty.

We sprang out of bed early on Christmas morning and bolted to the Christmas Tree. We began our careful inventory of the presents that seemed to spill out from the tree like the foam from our fizzies.
Yup, there were many more presents on Christmas morning… and the new ones were all marked “From Santa”… they weren’t there the night before.

After taking our inventory and several trips into our Mom & Dad’s bedroom, we sat in our pajamas wiggling and squirming… impatiently waiting for mom and dad to stagger into the living room before we could tear into our presents.

                                                           (Jimmy & Michael Christmas morning 1963)

It was obvious that Santa visited us while we slept. There were many more gifts, our stockings were stuffed with candy and toys… plus, and this was the real clincher… the milk and cookies we left out for Santa were half eaten, and the carrots for his reindeer were gone.
It may have been fiction, but it was magical fiction.

Speaking of fiction… (just kidding), Becky and I grew up in Pentecostal churches where a lot of stuff went on that didn’t happen when I was a Catholic, Presbyterian, or Baptist. In most Assemblies of God Churches, things like speaking in tongues, prophecy, and faith healing were dogma.

A section in Demos Shakarian’s book “The Happiest People on Earth” describes the healing of Becky’s grandpa, Oca Tatham. Oca had an eye injury and was miraculously healed at a Full Gospel Businessmen’s meeting.

I know and believe God still heals today. However… over time, the theological grid that is usually associated with the Charismatics and Pentecostals leads to the inevitable collision between what you’ve been taught to believe the scriptures promised to us… the things we prayed for and fully expected from God versus the frequently sobering reality of what happened or didn’t happen.

We witnessed that collision this summer in Jerusalem.

As you know, our flatmate Yonit Boyer had been battling stage 4 breast cancer, and we helped care for her last summer before she left for the US to be with her kids.

We got word last week that she died.

Yonit’s fight for life was the most valiant I’ve ever witnessed firsthand. Some people would look at her and say she was in denial and wasn’t accepting the reality of her diagnosis. Even as the disease was clearly and progressing, she continued to fight.

After we arrived in Israel last May, our friends Dr. Kent Barshov and his wife Yael, a feisty sniper with the Jerusalem Police Department, invited us to sublet from their regular tenants the townhouse adjacent to their own and to share it with Yonit. Our flat is in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Armon HaNetziv or East Talpiot. We’ve lived in East Jerusalem “settlements” since 2016. These are the neighborhoods that the world considers “occupied and illegal.”

Our row of houses was the first so-called settlement after the 6-day war in 1967. Across the street from our flat is a long narrow ravine populated by a pack of wild Jackals who howl at the moon every night and thin out the population of feral cats.

Beyond the ravine is the dingy Arab village of Sur Baher. Amid the piles of garbage and filthy buildings is a mosque with a towering minaret from which we hear the mu’addhin sing the call to prayer throughout the day. Sharing a flat with someone fighting stage 4 cancer doesn’t precisely epitomize a light and casual atmosphere. Still, the intensity of it fits with what it’s like to live in Israel; there is nothing light and relaxed about it. Both involve an unrelenting siege.

Living with Yonit fits perfectly into our sense of purpose because comforting his people is our clear mandate. Becky and I had recently lost both sets of our parents… even as I type those words; it still seems surreal. Watching the people, you’re close to losing their lives to disease forces you to wrestle with the tension that comes with standing in faith… of hearing “prophetic words” about being healed, how sickness and disease have been defeated, and how we’re just holding on to the promises, etc.

You know how it is… you try and stand… to honestly believe that God will heal. And you know what… some ARE… but most aren’t, and all you are left with are questions and a broken heart.

This isn’t a rant about healing. I’ve seen people instantly healed… crazy healing. I believe in it. Becky, for instance, had a bad knee… she couldn’t squat down without her knee giving out. A team from Bethel Church came to Jerusalem in 16.’ They prayed a simple prayer over Becky’s knee, and boom… immediately she could squat down with no pain, and she still can two years later.

This is about when sickness and suffering don’t get healed, leaving you with more questions than answers. Because when it comes to praying for relief from pain, suffering, and disease… not getting what you’ve desperately prayed for can be very discouraging. When it’s about life or death, it can be crushing.

We’ve all been heartbroken by tragedy and loss. We’ve heard the stories of women, for example, who were unable to have children only to miraculously… seemingly in answer to many prayers… finally conceive but then miscarry over and over.

Or they managed to carry their baby to term only to tragically lose them during delivery because the umbilical cord somehow got wrapped around the baby’s neck.

Or the father standing at the graveside of his five kids drowned by their distraught mother suffering from postpartum depression… muttering the platitude some Pastor gave him about The Lord giving and The Lord taking away.

So much sorrow…

People who’ve prayed and clung to promises… are often left sobbing on the floor with more questions than answers.

This sort of thing was problematic for me for many years. I loved the Jesus I read about in the Gospels. On the other hand, his Father… and the Holy Spirit seemed completely arbitrary… even unreliable, when it came to answered prayers or just making their presence felt in your life.

Why did that person get touched by God and not me? Why was that person healed but not the other one? You’re left wondering whether or not you had enough faith or maybe there was some secret sin standing in the way… there was someone you needed to forgive, some demonic force you haven’t rebuked correctly… or some scriptural promise you’re not quite holding onto in the right way.

The point is, the thought enters your mind that you’re just not doing it right or, in an even more evil scenario called limited atonement… you’re not one of the people God randomly selected to save before he created anything or anyone… so why should he heal you?

This scenario torments many people, and this summer, it crushed Yonit.

We’d sit and talk theology together… and although she’d heard bad things about the book “The Shack,” I persuaded her to watch the movie with Becky and me. It provided comfort and encouragement but collided with some of her core beliefs. Yonit was full of faith and fought for her life every day. But sometimes we’d come downstairs early in the morning, and she’d be sitting in the kitchen in severe pain, I’m told, that if it were any more intense, she’d pass out.

There she was… shaking her head… wondering aloud if she had enough faith… if there wasn’t something else she could do to get God to heal her. She seemed to be clinging to scriptures and prophetic words like life preservers. She was adrift in the middle of a dark ocean or like the Lion on The Wizard of Oz… mumbling to himself, “I do believe… I do believe… I do believe.”

Like many people, Yonit believed that God had a blueprint for her life and had thoroughly planned out every detail. When you look at life and God that way, and then the people you care about face disease or tragedy, you conclude that although God may not have caused it, He at least allowed it, so He must have some purpose in it and you’ve just got to figure out what it is.

What kind of pedagogy is that? What picture of God does that presuppose?

Pastor Greg Boyd calls it the Al Capone view of God. 

This past summer, just like Yonit, Esther Moore was fighting for her life against breast cancer. Esther is the 26-year-old daughter of the directors of one of the premier ministries in Israel. Esther passed away last summer.

During her battle, we followed along on the regular WhatsApp prayer alerts and updates from Esther’s parents. Along with literally thousands of people from around the world, we prayed and believed God for her complete healing.

If you’re in Jerusalem and want to receive prayer from people who know how to pray, that’s the place to go. Those are the people you want to have to pray for you.

The regular and sometimes daily updates they sent out could quickly be transcribed into a booklet. They included prayers, scriptures, songs, and prophetic words from serious intercessors… people from around the world who walk in spiritual authority… people who have seen God move, heal, and deliver in crazy circumstances. Those updates provided a lot of encouragement for Yonit, who, more or less, claimed them for herself.

Yonit’s and Esther’s battles were heroic, and we saw Yonit fight daily. She was more vigilant with her diet, thoughts, speech, and theology than anyone fighting disease I’ve ever seen.
She meticulously prepared her strict organic diet with a chemist’s precision. Then she’d pray and sing and blow her shofar. When you live in Jerusalem, you see many people blow the shofar. Yonit blew hers better than anyone we’d ever heard, including the men down at the Western Wall.

Many people who have lived and served in Israel for decades and have seen miracle after miracle… true veterans here… struggled with Esther Moore’s death. We understand this. Up to the day she died, Yonit believed God told her she would be completely healed and that she still had work to do.

You know how people think… Esther was a brand new mother of a special needs child, the young, beautiful, and godly daughter of two of the most faithful people you’d ever meet. Parents who personified serving… intercession… worship… people who have laid down their lives for others… for God, and decades they’ve been watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem.

You want to talk about storing up treasure in heaven.

And by the way… so the thought goes… what’s the point of storing up all that treasure anyway if you can’t cash some of it to get your daughter healed? Yeah… if anyone had faith or deserved to see healing, it was this community.

If God didn’t come through for them… what chance does anyone have?

And we’re back to God being arbitrary and capricious.

Then there are the people who think, well… if healing belongs to us… if it’s something that Jesus already gave us the title deed to… then all we need to do is make our claim in the courts of heaven.

Or… if healing were all about spiritual warfare… something to be fought for… a battle to be won… the reward for persistent faith, if that’s how it works, then Yonit and Esther would both have been healed.

And what a blow it would have been to the devil if they’d been healed. People’s faith would increase, and what a great testimony it would be…

But Esther died… and so did Yonit.

The late Messianic Jew Art Katz was not well-liked in Israel. He once said that to name this country “Israel” was presumptuous because the name “Israel” described a character that wasn’t true of the modern state. After all, it was secular and still in unbelief.

I disagree with Art Katz. There have been times when I’d like to punch Art Katz in the nose. I was surprised to read Art’s perspective. He didn’t consider that the founding fathers were making a prophetic declaration. When we name our kids, we sometimes declare the character they’ll grow into in advance.

Likewise, when the state of Israel was resurrected in 1948 as the national homeland for the Jewish people, their founding fathers chose the ancient name “Israel” for their new country. When they did, they stepped into a rich prophetic history. They declared over themselves and to the world what sort of character would be forged into them… what sort of people they would become.

Israel has struggled with difficult circumstances since the first day after her resurrection. No other country is constantly harassed, beset, and beleaguered like Israel. She works and overcomes repeatedly… and the character that her founding fathers prophesied over her is gradually taking shape.

Aren’t these the dynamics we all encounter in life?

We’ve met people here who lost their families in the Holocaust. We understand how people lose their faith through horrific circumstances. Maybe you’ve struggled with this yourself. We sure have.
These things are like birth; no one can go through it for you.

Theodore Austin Sparks called this process “The School of Christ.” Circumstances like these I’ve mentioned are like a hammer and anvil… where life’s profound and sometimes tragic dealings forge character into our lives, and there’s just no way around it.

The passage I quoted above says that Jesus grew… that he increased in wisdom, stature, and favor. Let’s pause on that… this is the Son of God we’re talking about… He grew… He increased in wisdom… isn’t that just mind-boggling?

The Greek word to describe that kind of growth is “Prokopto.” It’s a word that pictures a Blacksmith standing at an anvil gripping a piece of red-hot iron taken straight out of a furnace and then lengthening and shaping it by pounding on it with a hammer.

Out of the furnace and onto the anvil

If this is how Jesus grew… it’s how we all grow. 

Becky and I love getting out into the streets and mixing it up with the locals. This year we’ve been out more than ever… getting to know these people. We’ve encountered their unbelief and atheism, as well as the heartbreaking stories behind them.

The fancy theological word for this subject is “Theodicy,” which is why many people abandon their faith or refuse to believe in the first place. 

Some Jewish people who claim to be atheists are just using that word because their faith has no answer to the pain in life. We like to ask people to tell us about the God they don’t believe in… which usually leads to great conversations.

We’ve been living part-time in Israel since 2016 and still feel like rookies. But I want to share something with you that we’ve observed, and it’s one of the critical takeaways after living in the city that the prophets referred to as a furnace.

Here it is, straight from Jude 3 paraphrased…

Don’t give up… Fiercely contend for what you believe in. Agonize over it… that’s the Greek word. It means to struggle like you’re engaged in an intense battle for your life. 

Wholeheartedly practice earnestly, believing prayer, and never letting go of hope.

Then… at the same time… and just as wholeheartedly…

You’ve got to let go of outcomes…

Holding these things in tension seems like a contradiction, but it’s not; it’s what it looks like to participate in and introduce life from one kingdom into another. Yeshua/Jesus taught this by example.

“During the days of Jesus’ earthly life, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud crying and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and he was heard.” Hebrews 5:7

I love this picture of Jesus…

With loud crying and tears, Jesus contended for another outcome… and it says he was heard.

But he still died…

As Jesus hung on that cross, gasping for breath, he cried out, and with some of his last words, he expressed feelings that we’re all familiar with.

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Who hasn’t felt that? The Son of God Almighty felt forsaken.

Psalm 22:24 assures us that he wasn’t forsaken… but the point is he FELT forsaken. No other so-called religion goes here… that a “god” would go along with this is unthinkable.

But the real God joined himself to us and entered into our despair. The prophet Isaiah 53:3-5 describes the Messiah as a man of sorrows… acquainted with grief… pierced and crushed.

I don’t know about you, but I draw immense comfort from the reality that my Lord went through these things. I find further comfort in Hebrews 11, where the author reminds us that we’re in excellent company. That Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and the prophets… that all of these people died believing what God had promised them.

But they did not receive what was promised…

Wait… what??? How is that not welching?

CS Lewis wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

The author of Hebrews 11 says it this way, “We’re foreigners and nomads on earth… looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland”.

Since we’re surrounded by such a great crowd of witnesses who know firsthand what this life of faith is all about…

Let’s strip off every weight that slows us down… And let’s run with endurance the race God has set before us.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Hilly Billy

    This was an excellent read, Dad.

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