Israeli Geopolitical Considerations in a Spiritual Context

By John Sharpe

I have recently returned from a two week trip to Israel. I co-led a 5 man team to Nahariyya for the purpose of renovating a bomb shelter for Israeli residents, who are unable to pay for their shelter to be upgraded into habitable condition after decades of neglect. The recent Hizbollah missile attacks on northern Israel cities, including Nahariyya, precipitated a flight back to using private and public bomb shelters and sometimes for periods exceeding three weeks.

After my congregation raised the necessary funds to pay for the renovation, our team traveled there to handle the upgrades. For a week, we worked in the bomb shelter – plastering, painting, installing equipment, paint, restrooms and other upgrades. The first purpose is to love and support the Jewish people in Israel by giving them sense of mind and comfort. We also share our faith in the Messiah if they so inquire, which is normally the case, simply because they are shocked that Christians would be willing to support them in such a way. Needless to say, we establish meaningful and fruitful relationships with the local residents. We cherished our time with them and will be staying in touch. Meanwhile, as Hizbollah mobilizes near the south Lebanese border, these local residents will be able to utilize their shelter!!

A trip to Israel produces a myriad of spiritual experiences, from significant discussions to an overwhelming sense of the Lord’s presence in many holy sites located throughout the country. Discussing religion and spirituality is not taboo; in fact, it is mostly the opposite. Undoubtedly, many return with an extensive list of insightful questions that cause one to think harder and more in-depth about what they believe. During the next few weeks, I hope to write a little about some of these questions I encountered. Trust me, I don’t claim to know the answers, but I look forward to sharing my thoughts.

A litany of opinions sprouted from numerous foreigners about the recent Israeli flotilla raid. “Amid so much international media coverage and scrutiny, how could they botch something that bad?” Now, this question alone is interesting, but if we compound it with the general question of Israeli’s role in God’s broader plan, ie the End Times, etc, it always becomes an intriguing topic, right? It’s intriguing because, at least in my congregation, which is a very strong supporter of Israel and loves the Jewish people, it doesn’t help when Israel seemingly behaves poorly. I emphasize the world seemingly and here I come to my main comments. Let’s try and give a little love to our friends caught in the heap of antagonistic neighboring countries, this little country where Jesus chose to manifest on the earth, die and resurrect.

I study geopolitics as a side hobby. Essentially, geopolitics is the study of how nations behave relative to one another based on their geographic placement in the world. States take into account the geographic advantages and disadvantages in world politics and general foreign policy. In particular, geopolitical analysis is important when considering Israel – the only functioning democracy in the Middle East. For a state the size of Israel, which is about the size of New Jersey, it must operate based on strict geopolitical guidelines. To survive, it must act preemptively, ally itself with a supra-regional power (the US), and secure its borders from military and terrorist attacks. It must concentrate on three immediate issues – the Palestinians, its immediate neighbors (Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon) and supra-regional enemies (Iran). I can elaborate further about each of these areas of interest, but with regards to the flotilla raid, I need focus on all three. In effect, the flotilla raid seemed to be a mixture of mistakes and intentional action. The flotilla violated the official Israeli maritime regulations. Instead of being pragmatic, the Israelis took an aggressive action. Let’s remember that there are two active terrorist groups watching Israel’s behavior – Hizbollah and Hamas. If Israel bows to international sentiment, these groups become emboldened and more apt to stage attacks against Israel. If Israel, however, remains aggressive despite UN condemnation and international outrage, these two groups will remain less aggressive. The flotilla raid was, in my opinion, an open statement directed towards Hizbollah, Hamas and Iran with the intent of inflicting fear in order to reduce weapons and arms smuggling. Could they have conducted the raid better, or even restrained themselves and inspected the flotilla in another way? Yes. But I simply want to point out that there are other factors affecting their decisions, as is always the case with international foreign policy.

My heart goes out to Israel. The media portrays it as an aggressive state actor, yet it is has exercised more military restraint than arguably any other country. It is strong, but bear in mind it is because its neighbors are relatively weaker. It is vital that the US continue its support of Israel, because the US serves as a counter-balance to the larger enemies of Israel, namely Iran.

Moreover, how can we not spiritually and materially support Israel? OK, I am going to come out and say it ya’ll – I am not a replacement theologist. I have decided that the scripture does not clearly point to the church as the replacement of Israel. Rather, I believe the church is “grafted in” to the original “root” of Israel. Paul says, “…it is not you who support the root, but the root supports you.” (Rom. 11:18). Here are some reasons why Christians should support Israel:

The Example of Jesus, his first disciples and Paul : “…to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile.” (Rom 1:16)

Gratitude to the Jewish People : I think we owe the Jewish people a debt of gratitude for the blessings we have received from them. “salvation is from the Jews…” (John 4:22).

Trust in God’s faithfulness: His covenant with Israel is an everlasting covenant. Paul states concerning ethnic Israel, “regarding the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake; but regarding election, they are beloved for the sake of fathers” (Rom 11:28).

Israel’s Central Place in Prophecy : God promises to restore Israel in the last days (Amos 8:14-15).

The World to Come : The names of the 12 tribes will be inscribed on the city gates of Jerusalem (Rev 21:12).

Honoring God’s Promises : God promises to bless those who bless Abraham and curse those who curse him (Gen. 12:3)

Prayer : We are told to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Pslams 122:6).

Over time, I have realized that God has put a love in my heart for the Jewish people. My hope is that the Christian community can begin to go deeper and learn about the Hebraic roots of Christianity. There is so, so much to learn and grow from. Such research only invigorates the Gospel message and illuminates further our Messiah, Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus Christ, in Hebrew).

Shalom to everyone out there. I look forward to posting again soon. Next time I will cover more spiritual and theological points.

*Big shout out to Hebrew4christians.com for some references above!

The Scandal of Grace

Grace.

By far, the most commonly used word in Christianity (well, and love).

Why is Christianity different than any other religion?

Grace.

Why are we given a chance at an eternal relationship with God?

Grace.

Why are you forgiven? Saved? Loved? Pursued?

Grace.

If you’ve been around Christianity long enough, the novelty of this word has worn off. The meaning has dissipated. The impact has become boredom.

Ya, Ya, Ya, grace. Been there. Done that. Heard it a thousand times.

More than just a spiritual issue, there is some science behind the reason we lose interest in grace.

As John Ortberg writes, “When we first learn [a surprising concept], our minds may keep returning to that thought the way they do to a surprise promotion. We can’t stop thinking about it. However, the day will come when you can stop thinking about it – and not because you’re a spiritual failure. Neurons respond to novelty, and what ceases to be novel ceases to cause neurons to fire.”

Our minds get used to the idea and it ceases to be surprising and fresh!

I’ve been reading Philip Yancey’s “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” (I have to admit I’ve never read a Yancey book). There were a few moments that literally overwhelmed me with tears.

I had forgotten about the reason I feel in love in the first place.

GRACE.

The servants screwed up. The King was punished.

There is nothing we can do to make God love us more.

There is nothing we can do to make God love us less.

It’s free. We don’t deserve it.

I once heard a Mark Driscoll sermon where he said, If you are a sinner and haven’t asked for forgiveness (an unrepentant sinner), God hates you.

In other words, he concluded, God hates sin and the unrepentant sinner. He doesn’t buy into the axiom “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.”

I don’t buy it. I understand all the truth about God’s holiness, justice, and righteousness, but if we throw the scandalous mathematics of grace out the door, we don’t have God.

The economics of grace don’t make sense. As humans we believe in the “eye for an eye” type of economics. God doesn’t. His mathematics are silly. His economics are scandalous.

May God refresh the novelty of the scandalous, ridiculous, atrocious mathematics of GRACE!

In conclusion, here is a modern day parable of grace, written by me!

As a skinny 17-year-old kid from Miami, Alex Rodriguez was selected number one overall in 1993 and signed for $1.3 million by the Seattle Mariners.

The Mariners groomed him from day one to become one of the best players of all-time. He took his lumps, made lots of errors, and wasn’t always the best player on the field. But through it all, people within the Mariners’ organization loved him, cheered for him, and challenged him.

The before you know it, Alex becomes ARod and one of the very best players in baseball. His day of glory was coming. Despite the Mariners offering ARod plenty of money to make him happy and stick around his first family, he chose to pursue much greener pastures to the tune of $252 million with the Texas Rangers. During this time, he rose to stardom and eventually was traded to the New York Yankees.

He was the biggest star on the best team on the brightest stage.

He dated Madonna, Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz.

He forgot about his time with the Mariners. He never credited them with his success. In fact, he frequently talked bad about his experience.

And he was the biggest star in all of baseball.

Then one day, his skills begin to fade. The fans in New York begin to boo him. The supermodels are no longer interested. He turns to steroids, to drugs, to anything else to make him the star he once was.

His life becomes a living nightmare.

Hitting .147 with no homeruns and six RBIs in the middle of the 2015 season, the New York Yankees turn him loose and in fact demand he pays back every single dime they ever paid him. He is literally kicked out on the street.

He walks across the country and comes to Seattle, hoping to just find a meal or two and a place to sleep.

Instead, Safeco Field is packed with 45,000 fans. The scoreboard lights up as ARod enters the stadium! The crowd goes wild!! All 45,000 fans are on their feet screaming “Welcome Back! We love you! We are so happy you are home!”

The president of the Mariners greets ARod and says, “Alex, welcome home. We’ve been waiting for you to come back in eager anticipation. We are going to pay your entire debt to the Yankees, we are going to pay you an infinite amount of money, and we are going to put you on the starting lineup. More importantly, you are a part of our family and we love you no matter what you do.”

Although this modern-day parable is a bit silly, this is the scandalous grace of God!

Undeserving. Free. Costly. Amazing.