Whose peace is it anyway?

Recently, Pope Francis made a comment to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that created a global furore.  Apparently, the Pope had said that Mahmoud Abbas was or could become an ‘Angel of Peace’ to Israel.  The comment was followed by prolonged debates over Italian translation and a general outrage that culminated eventually in a personal correction by the Pope himself.

So what was all the fuss about?

To an Israeli, the idea that anyone would call Mahmoud Abbas an ‘Angel of Peace’, whose history of praising known terrorists responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Israeli civilians as well as numerous cases of incitement such as the notorious call for ‘Days of Rage’ in 2014, is understandably offensive.  Not least in respect of failed attempts in the past year by the Palestinian Authority to form a lasting unity agreement with the terrorist group, Hamas, and whose very insignia depicts a map with Israel transformed entirely into an all green Palestine.

To me, though, the Pope’s comments highlighted a much deeper misunderstanding in the so-called ‘Peace Process’.  I have no doubt that Pope Francis is sincere when he states that his words had only been intended to encourage Abbas to pursue peace, but what I really wondered is to what kind of peace was the pontiff alluding when he said it.

Recently, I have been gripped by a passage in Isaiah 32,

Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
And righteousness remain in the fruitful field.
The WORK of RIGHTEOUSNESS will be peace,
And the EFFECT of RIGHTEOUSNESS, quietness and assurance forever. (Isaiah 32:16-17 NKJV, emphasis added)

Global leaders have been hammering away at the ‘Peace Process’ for decades now, and it has proved much more static than its name suggests.  The approach of these leaders has not progressed far beyond that of a frustrated parent who tells their two toddlers to kiss, make up and share their toys; it’s been patronising and has betrayed woeful ignorance of the region.  The problem is that the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority are not toddlers and neither are the people they govern, and the history of violence and hatred between Jews and Arabs in this little portion of middle eastern land runs back deep into history.  Leaders in the UN, in the USA and in the EU and now the Pope act like peace is something both sides can just wake up one day and decide to do, and they completely miss the key issue; righteousness.  Peace is the effect of righteousness.

Recent negotiations and agreements have often demanded concessions, but they have never demanded righteousness.  In 2014, hundreds of known and convicted Palestinian terrorists were released from Israeli prisons just to keep Mahmoud Abbas at the negotiating table.  In 2005, thousands of Jews were removed from their homes in the unilateral Israeli disengagement from Gaza; an act which was the first time in history that any nation had voluntarily relinquished land to a group that had not yet accepted peace.  In the midst of all of these negotiations, there has also always been the ‘elephant in the room’ of the ultimate lack of commitment by the PA to the ‘Two State Solution’.  Their global branding is, as mentioned above, a green map of Israel.  They still refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.  Their ultimate end is what it has always been; the elimination of Israel.  Negotiations, with a seemingly endless supply of international pressure for Israel to make concessions, are a mere means to that end.

The Middle East needs peace, but it needs righteousness first,

But seek FIRST the kingdom of God and His RIGHTEOUSNESS…  (Matthew 6:33 NKJV, emphasis added)

There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.”  (Isaiah 48:22 NKJV)

World leaders are seeking a peace that comes from human decision, but God says genuine peace is an effect of spiritual transformation.  They are all too keen on developing ‘peace plans’ and ‘peace proposals’, but they have no plans or proposals to institute righteousness.  The reality is that they could never develop such plans as long as they don’t seek God.  Peace and righteousness actually both belong to one Man, and can’t be instituted by anyone else.

Peace I leave with you, MY PEACE I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  (John 14:27 NKJV, emphasis added)

Jesus describes two kinds of peace; peace that He gives and peace that the world gives, and He says the two are in total opposition to one another.  The world is offering and even trying to enforce a peace in the middle east, and Jesus is also offering His peace plan.   The two plans for peace in the middle east are in a deep and fundamental conflict with one another.

Some Christians would probably say that I’m being very negative – and that what I’m saying means we should just give up on peace in the middle east altogether.  That’s NOT what I’m saying.  I’m saying that peace comes only in the revelation of a Man, Jesus, Who IS our righteousness and peace.

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might BECOME the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor 5:21 NKJV, emphasis added)

For He Himself IS OUR PEACE, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity… (Ephesians 2:14-15 NKJV, emphasis added)

The problem to me with the Pope’s statement to Abbas is not really so much to do with Abbas’ track record with Israel, but more that it suggested that any man other than Jesus could institute peace between Israel and those who, quite frankly, would rather that Israel didn’t exist.  I’m realizing more and more that when we are praying for peace in Israel and the middle east, we are praying for the revelation of Jesus above and beyond anything else.

Isaiah 32 begins by describing His peace plan,

Behold, a KING will reign in RIGHTEOUSNESS,
And princes will rule with justice.
A MAN will be as a hiding place from the wind,
And a cover from the tempest,
As rivers of water in a dry place,
As the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. (Isaiah 32:1-2 NKJV, emphasis added)

Peace will come with the increase of Jesus’ government in the middle east.  It will only come with prayer, and with the expectation of the Kingdom of God coming in power.  Peace of the heart, peace between brothers and peace to nations only comes with His righteous government.

 

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Thoughts on the storm or, ‘How to not pray like a pauper’.

I love the feeling in the air just before a storm.  I love the tense, sweaty heat and the thickness in the atmosphere that makes it that little bit more difficult to breathe.  It feels like, in that heavy moisture, there is actual pent up energy that is about to be released in a display of power.  Of course, it’s just water, but it feels like power, and I love the sense of expectation it creates.  If you’ve got an umbrella, you’re carrying it; you’re wearing a jacket that’s waterproof on at least some level.  You know that something is about to happen, so you get ready.

In the Bible, thunderstorms are associated many times with God’s power.  In Job 36, Elihu, the only one of Job’s friends whom God does not rebuke, says,

He covers His hands with lightning,
And commands it to strike.
His thunder declares it,
The cattle also, concerning the rising storm. (Job 36:32-33 NKJV)

And a few verses later in chapter 37,

HEAR attentively the thunder of His voice,
And the rumbling that comes from His MOUTH.
He sends it forth under the whole heaven,
His lightning to the ends of the earth. (Job 37:2-3 NKJV, emphasis added)

There is revelation of God in storms.  In fact, in the Book of the Revelation it says that lightnings, thunderings and voices proceed from God’s throne.  The feeling just before a storm of energy in the atmosphere that’s just about to be released gets me excited about God’s presence.  That heaviness and closeness and thickness reminds me of the Holy Spirit hovering or brooding over the ‘surface of the deep’ in Genesis 1, right before God spoke into chaos and confusion and commanded it to be eradicated by His light.  God IS light.  He doesn’t have light; He IS light.  He is pure energy and power.  That’s why John described lightnings and thunderings coming from the throne; it was the closest thing he knew to the sheer power he was witnessing.  The difference between God and atmospheric pressure is that God is ALWAYS full of pent up energy and power that is just waiting to be released.

And He wants to release it; ALL the time.

Sometimes, I think we get the idea that God is withholding His power and presence from us, as if He wants to see us beg and plead and fast for 40 days so that He knows we’re really serious.  What kind of Father is that!?

If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how MUCH MORE will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ASK Him!” (Luke 11:11-13 NKJV, emphasis added)

Jesus says that if the Father withheld the Holy Spirit from us, He would be an evil Father.  We have a GOOD Father Who longs to be with us and give us His presence in the person and power of the Holy Spirit.

I think too often we come back to the Prince Who has taken our pauper’s rags, and we try to give Him back the Royal Garments He has clothed us with.  I have noticed this particularly when praying for Israel.  Our faith in God’s desire to release His power over the Jewish people is often so low, that we resort to begging like paupers instead of ruling like princes.

But you are a chosen generation, a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may PROCLAIM the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (1 Peter 2:9 NKJV, emphasis added)

For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He has covered me with the ROBE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, (Isaiah 61:10 NKJV, emphasis added)

Jesus has clothed us in His Royal Robe of Righteousness.  We are supposed to make Royal proclamations based on God’s Word.  How much more in regard to Israel, for whom God has guaranteed so much in His Word.

And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”(Romans 11:26, NKJV)

I think we need to move past the place in prayer where we are begging God to release salvation in the earth and recognize that the ‘storm’s brewing,’ the Spirit is brooding, and God is just waiting eagerly as a loving Father to release His presence and power when we ask as His children and proclaim as His princes (and princesses…).

The other thing I like about the feeling before a storm, is that it tells us we need to get ready.  I am certain that, in every moment, God is ready to release His power in an unprecedented way.  The question really is whether we are ready to receive it.

Who cares about Jerusalem?

Jerusalem is mentioned over 800 times in the Bible; more than any other city.  Babylon, the second most mentioned city, has only 286 scriptural occurrences.  If references to the ‘city of David’ and ‘Zion’ are included, Jerusalem is mentioned over 1000 times.  The word occurs more times in the KJV than the words ‘sin’, ‘grace’ or ‘faith’.  Evidently, if we are interested in the Bible, we must be interested in Jerusalem.  Likewise, if God wrote the Bible then He must be interested in Jerusalem too.  In fact, if we search the scriptures we find that God is more passionate about Jerusalem than any other city.  In Isaiah 62:1, He says,

For Zion’s sake I will not hold my peace, And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, Until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns. (NKJV)

In Zechariah 8:2, He says,

‘I am zealous for Zion with great zeal;
With great fervor I am zealous for her.’ (NKJV)

In Luke 19:41 we see Jesus weeping over Jerusalem.  It is the place where He died, where He was raised from death, where He ascended, where He poured out the Holy Spirit, and to which He said that He would return and live with mankind forever.  If God is so passionate about Jerusalem, and we want to draw near to His heart, we ought to be asking Him why He cares so much about this city, and if He would help us to care about it too.

It is clear from the Bible that God has a plan for the city of Jerusalem and that He wants us to play a part in seeing His plan fulfilled.  The modern state of Israel has had its share of conflicts in its short and troubled history, and Jerusalem has seen more conflict than maybe any other city.  Our first focus is to pray for peace.  But peace means more than just an end of conflict.  The ultimate peace that Jerusalem and Israel needs is the peace that was declared to the shepherds by the host of angels in Luke 2:14 that was from God towards men.  As in Isaiah 62, we pray for righteousness and salvation in Israel and Jerusalem.

Here are some brief points for prayer:

  1. Pray for peace and protection. (Psalm 122:6; Psalm 83:1-5,18; Psalm 121:4; Zecheriah 2:5)
  2. Pray for restoration and healing. (Jeremiah 30:17-18; Isaiah 61:4; Amos 9:11; Isaiah 51:3)
  3. Pray for reconciliation and forgiveness.  (Romans 11:18; Ephesians 2:15; 1 Peter 4:8)
  4. Pray for wise leaders and just government.  (Proverbs 21:1; James 3:17; Proverbs 14:34; Mark 3:24; Isaiah 9:6-7)
  5. Pray for believers and salvation. (Isaiah 44:3-5; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Joel 2:28; Ephesians 3:16-19; Romans 11:25-27)

Isaiah 43:19

Dear friend,

The scripture above has for a long time been significant for me, not so much as a divine direction or instruction, but really just in that it has always felt familiar.  I can’t remember the first time I heard the words,

I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19)

But, when the ‘way’ first opened for me to work with a university in southern Israel which is located well within the desert of which this scripture speaks, I began to take notice.

For someone who may have stumbled across this page in the endless availability that is the internet, I am a Christian.  I was brought up in a home that valued the truth that everything I have as a Christian, and the very constitutional foundation of my nation as a UK citizen, has passed to me through one unique and remarkable people; Israel.  My whole ethical code and system of values began to be birthed when the Creator spoke to one man living in southern Iraq and told him to go to the desert.  When Abraham became God’s friend, did he know that God would use him and his family to show who He was to the whole world?  I believe God still wants to do that.

In the verses that follow Isaiah 43:19, God repeats His statement but adds something special:

…for I give water in the wilderness,
    rivers in the desert,
to GIVE DRINK to MY CHOSEN PEOPLE,
21     the people whom I FORMED FOR MYSELF
that they might declare my praise. (Isaiah 43:20-21, emphasis added)

When God asked Abraham to be His friend, and to come with Him to the desert, He created a nation.  He separated Abraham and his family to Himself by showing them Who He was.  This family that became the nation of Israel experienced an intimacy with God that no other family had access to.  In the prophet Jeremiah, it actually says that God ‘married’ Israel around the time that He gave Moses the ten commandments.  He became united with this nation in a way He never has with any other; and it all started with friendship.  Ultimately, God sealed His commitment to this nation by becoming personally part of it in Jesus.  Do you know that Jesus has a nationality?  Some Christians think that when Jesus came, it meant that God had finished with Israel as a nation; their purpose was accomplished and now He could move on to everybody else.  I think exactly the opposite.  When God became part of Abraham’s family personally, He committed to them in an astounding and unprecedented way.  It is a miracle and a mystery that through the cross and through personal identification with Jesus I can become part of that family too as an adopted child, but I am certain that God’s plan is still to ‘give drink’ to His natural family in Jesus.

So in this space you will probably hear some news updates, maybe even some archaeology for the geek followers.  I will probably talk about God a lot and share some of the things He has shown me about Israel.  For now, thanks for getting this far – hope to see you again some time soon.