Europe’s voicelessness in its own moral wilderness.

Yesterday, a rally of some 7,000 people gathered in Brussels to protest ‘against terror and hate’.  The march was led by some of those wounded or present at the suicide bombings at Belgium’s main airport and metro station on March 22.  Responsibility for the attacks which seized 32 lives was assumed by the militant group, Islamic State, who had also asserted their claim on the Paris attacks in November which killed 130 people.  The demonstration which took place yesterday is reported to have been subdued; carried out in relative silence.  The march was intended to mark a public display of ‘disgust and solidarity’ and yet it seems that neither expressions could find their voice.

Perhaps this voicelessness has no greater significance than the numb feeling which grips victims of extreme brutality, and yet on the other hand there may be more involved than the muted solemnity of mourning in yesterday’s gathering.

For the last 6 months Israel has experienced a wave of terror unlike any previously experienced in its almost 80-year history since the foundation of the modern state.  It has been dubbed the ‘Lone Wolf Intifada’ by many sources referencing the lack of organisation or co-ordination in the attacks carried out by individuals as young as 12.  It has also been referred to as the ‘Knife Intifada’  or ‘Stabbing Intifada’ referring to the principle form which attacks have taken, although weapons other than knives have also been used including automatic firearms, scissors, petrol bombs, and vehicles used to ram civilians or public servicemen.  A report released by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the end of March stated that there have been 338 attacks since September 2015, of which 42 were vehicular rammings, and 83 shootings; the rest stabbings.  34 Israelis and foreign tourists have been killed and 413 injured.  If molotov cocktail and rock-throwing attacks are included, the numbers are dramatically higher.

The response in Western media (not just in Europe) has been outrage, but of a completely inexplicable moral standard.  A comment piece published in the UK’s Daily Telegraph on 23 February titled, “The media is twisting the knife into Israel over the ‘lone wolf intifada'”,  aptly illustrated the problem.  A backwards form of reporting was employed from almost the outset of the wave of violence with a BBC report on one of the most shocking stories in which a Palestinian terrorist stabbed 4 Israelis (one a 2-year old, and another its mother) in Jerusalem’s Old City.  Two of the four were killed leaving a widow and a fatherless child.  The BBC’s initial headline read, “Palestinian shot dead after Jerusalem attack kills two.”  The headline was changed after complaints.  But the headline reflected only the first case of a reporting style which stubbornly upheld an equal apportioning of blame and outrage to what were viewed as two sides in a morally ambiguous conflict.  This also carried within it a false equivalence between attacker and victim, particularly piercing in its hypocrisy in the case of the 2-year-old child who evidently, by these standards, must hold a portion of the blame for the death of the terrorist who killed its father.  Occasionally this equivalence and statistical bartering for moral superiority handed the high ground to the terrorists such as in a case of 3 Palestinians who were shot dead while carrying out stabbing attacks on a number of Israelis (only one being killed).  The headline in The Irish Times read, “3 Palestinians, 1 Israeli Die in West Bank Incidents.”

Perhaps the voice of Europe’s moral outrage has been compromised, although certainly not consciously, in the localisation of terror in its own cities.  Can Europe assign equivalence to those who attempt to bring terror, confusion  and death and those who uphold order and law in Israel, and then at the same time with integrity uphold outrage against the same forms of terror, confusion and death in its own cities?  Some might suggest that media biases do not reflect the views of the masses, but McDonalds only serves cheeseburgers because people want to eat cheeseburgers.  Likewise, the Western media only presents stories that people will consume most easily.

The result of this dissemination of duplicity is that Europe can find no voice in the face of the same forms of terror which seek to destroy civilised society in Israel when they appear in its own cities.  It is confused about its own cause and that of its enemies.

“How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. – Mark 3:23-25, NASB

I am not calling any nation or group of nations Satan, but the justification of terror and violence in Israel as something equivalent to the actions of the forces of order is both a Satanic and demonic agenda that Europe has been agreeing with in recent months.  When that same demonic agenda comes to bring death home to Europe, it is little wonder that Europe can find no voice to its own outrage.  I often even seem to hear attempts to ‘understand the motivations’ behind such violence in Western media, or even ‘find common ground’ and ‘dialogue’ with such groups.  Confusion and moral fuzziness seems increasingly prevalent.

I have no delight whatsoever in seeing in Europe the kinds of violence that have been common in the Middle East for many years, but I have little surprise either.  Europe cannot find a physical defence against such forms when its moral and spiritual defence against them has become so weak and faltering.  If a defence is to be raised, it must be raised first in absolute moral and spiritual outrage against the entire philosophy of those who engender such acts, no matter against whom or in which location they take place.

Today, April 18, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated the intentions of the government in Israel to deal decisively with whatever forms of terror arise, as the IDF have issued warnings of escalation over the Passover season.  With Independence Day on May 11-12 also often leading to violence and demonstrations following, it is a time when public servicemen must be especially alert.  But Israel is wise in its policy of absolute intolerance of terror and its refusal to negotiate its intolerance in any circumstances or pressure.  Europe and the West must find a similarly uncompromising moral voice if it is to counter the assaults which may come to it in the future.

In John 10, Jesus describes good leadership.  First He describes Himself in contrast to an antagonist, the ‘thief’, saying, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  The difference between Jesus and the ‘thief’ is stark.  Jesus comes to bring life, and the thief comes to bring death.  The terms in which these two opposites are described are absolute.  Jesus then goes on to describe His own leadership in contrast with bad leadership.  He describes himself as the Good Shepherd, a good leader who will defend His sheep against the wolves that come, but the bad leaders or ‘hired hands’ are those who flee when the wolves come:

He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. – John 10:12, NASB

God has promised that He will be a shepherd to Israel (Ezekiel 34:11-15; Psalm 80:1; Jeremiah 31:10).  He will protect her from the wolves, and He will give grace to a government that seeks to keep His people from wolves.  But for Europe and the West, it remains a choice whether its leaders will agree with the One who gives life, or the one who brings death; and whether the leaders of nations will take a stand against the wolves, or flee from them.  May God give grace for them to choose His heart, submit to Jesus’ perfect leadership and agree wholeheartedly with life and not death.

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Arrival in Beer Sheva.

This month feels unusual. It should be unusual, as this month I have begun a PhD in archaeology. This month I have also moved country to the Negev desert in southern Israel. The two are connected.

I want to take some time to tell you a little bit about how I got here.

I left school with little understanding of what I wanted to do in life. I liked English- I enjoyed reading and hoped I might be able to be a writer or an artist. I had a set of good A-levels and GCSEs so I began an English degree at University College London. But that degree felt like a drag. I pushed on through essay after essay, because I felt sure it was the way to fulfill my dreams. It made sense logically. My mind could comprehend a natural path from English student to journalist to writer in maybe 10 years. But somehow it didn’t feel right.

As I was praying one morning in my apartment in the final year of my English degree, I felt God speak to me clearly. He said, ‘I have anointed you as an archaeologist’. I had been on an archaeological dig in the summer of that year with a friend of mine from school who seemed as bored with his archaeology degree as I was with my English degree. I had enjoyed the dig, but when God said those words, they sounded as crazy to me as I have no doubt that they did to you as you read them. I didn’t even know it was possible to be anointed as an archaeologist never mind what it meant, but something inside me knew that this was not just me and I was going to have to accept what God said one way or another.

So I looked at the archaeology section of my university website and scanned through the Master’s degrees. I didn’t want to do another Bachelor’s degree. The prospect of studying alongside another group of undergraduate students, many of whom were only in it for the beer, held little appeal. I saw one degree which sounded interesting- MA in archaeology of the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East- and I remembered how God had always drawn me to Israel since I was a child listening to prayer updates from a man called Lance Lambert in my parents car- he had a nice voice… I thought that I would go and speak to the course convener for this MA and see whether he thought it would be possible to do an MA in archaeology after having finished a BA in English. To my astonishment, his response was that it was what he had done at Oxford. This was the first in a number of unusual circumstances which were about to occur.

It turned out that my university was the only university in the country that provided a kind of ‘conversion course’ in archaeology that would allow me to proceed straight to MA level. Not only that, but the archaeology department was asking for students who wanted to participate in a dig in Israel that summer. At once I remembered what I had heard God say in a time of prayer during the first year of my BA. ‘You’ll go to Israel at the end of your degree.’ It made no sense at the time, but it’s exactly what happened.
While on that dig, I fell in love with the country I visited, despite how unromantic my experience was. I had no convenient schedule of visits to holy sites with expedient accompanying Bible readings. I used public transport with pathetically stunted Hebrew addressed to nonplussed drivers who evidently had no intention of speaking any English. I stayed in student dormitories with cockroaches as roommates.

I find that the little impressions God gives that catch unawares are often the most significant ways in which He speaks to me. One of those occurred while I was on excavation for the first time in Israel. As I wandered around the empty university campus in the height of summer, praying quietly, I had a sense – just an impression but undeniable, that I would study there for a long time.

And here I am beginning my PhD at that same campus. It could take 5 years to complete and a minimum of 4.

This is a much abbreviated account. I returned to excavate again at the same university in the middle of my MA, and I did not have to push to study here. My soon-to-be PhD supervisor approached me during the dig and asked me about my plans after my MA. It was maybe our third or fourth conversation and he essentially offered me a PhD on the spot.

At every turn, I have found that God is writing an amazing story as long as I’m not the one that’s in control. There are plenty of other tales to tell, and I am sure that there will be many more to come. The common denominator in all of them being my lack of forward-planning. I could never have planned these things.

But God did, before the foundation of the world, according to the Bible.

…He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will… (Ephesians 1:4-5, NKJV)

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10, NKJV)

I heard a saying recently, flying around on social media. It says, ‘Life isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself.’

Don’t believe it. You aren’t capable of writing a story like God’s.

I think the point of all this is that God is a God who makes way, as long as He is the one who gets executive creative oversight.

Jesus says in the book of Revelation that He is always standing at the door knocking and waiting for someone to let Him in. We pass this scripture off as one for evangelism, but Jesus addressed it to believers. I am convinced that too often we who claim to love Him are the ones who are leaving Him out in the cold. He wants to write our lives as miraculous stories that only He could tell so that He will get all the glory, but the truth is that too often we still want to be sheep going our own way just like it says in Isaiah. He has to be the one Who makes the way. I leave you with the scripture from whence comes this blog’s name- it seems fitting…

Do not remember the former things,
Nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?
I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:18-19, NKJV)

Practicing His presence. Preparing the heart.

Major shifts come in life.  Moving from one place to another can often seem like a whole re-engagement with the world, and ultimately messes with all our self-certainty.  Such shifts are a welcome release for our spirits which are most of the time too clogged down by the power of habit.  Our habits actually need to be crushed once in a while to prove to ourselves that our minds are incapable of coping with the challenges of life.

I’m going home and a homecoming is always a celebration.  The prodigal runs into the Father’s arms and a radical shift takes place in his identity.  Radical because he is ‘re-rooted’.  Without homecomings, we lose track of where we are and are eventually without purpose and without roots.  Just going along the way we’ve started because we’ve started and so we have to finish.  Sometimes you don’t have to finish.  Sometimes you just have to drop it.

As I’m waiting for confirmation of some things before I begin to move forward in the next steps of my career, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which my heart is invested in circumstances.  Too often our identity is affirmed by what we do and our routines.  A crisis is triggered when the routine is interrupted.  The severity of the crisis will be determined by the measure of this investment.  Stability is not routine.  Routine leaves a person gutless, with no power of decision.  I pray that I would be continually saved from routine by a living present.

Serenity is the possession of the spirit that is not invested in or identified by circumstance.

King David and his son, Solomon, had an understanding that man’s purpose and identity are not defined by any circumstance of life, but are much more profound.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He also has planted ETERNITY in men’s hearts and minds [a divinely implanted sense of a purpose working through the ages which nothing under the sun but God alone can satisfy]…  (Ecclesiastes 3:11 AMP, emphasis added)

Whether he knows it or not, every man is caught in the tension between the eternity of his creation and the immediacy of his daily life.  A sense of limbo in times of waiting or uncertainty can actually be healthy when it reminds us that we have a home and a stability outside of present circumstances, whenever we choose to embrace it.

David described it this way,

For we are ALIENS and PILGRIMS before You,
As were all our fathers;
Our days on earth are as a shadow,
And without hope.  (1 Chronicles 29:15 NKJV, emphasis added)

The sense of loss and instability in a time of waiting, or what many Christians would refer to as a ‘wilderness period’, is actually man stepping into his true identity which is far more enduring than a circumstance of life.  Man should feel like a stranger in the earth; his home is not on earth but in the heart of God where he was formed.  A soul estranged from the heart of God is inevitably in a perpetual identity crisis until it returns.  The despised times of waiting, or better continuing, are the real substance of life where character is formed.

The Westminster Catechism states that,

Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

When we find our identity in God, we suffer tension, but find the glory of our creation.  A spirit that has this root is stable and has no hope in the circumstance of life, but in a living hope which far exceeds and extends beyond the earth.  According to the book of Hebrews, Abraham found this hope along with Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua and many of the other figures of Jewish history.  They didn’t see their hope on earth, but were unshaken, because their identity was in God and their perspective was eternal.

 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were STRANGERS and PILGRIMS on the earth.  For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a HOMELAND.  And truly if they had called to mind that country FROM WHICH THEY HAD COME OUT, they would have had opportunity to RETURN.  But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.  (Hebrews 11:13-16 NKJV, emphasis added)

Jesus has prepared a place for you.  Live in God.  Practice His presence.  Be identified by heaven.  Be always at home.

 

This blog entry is dedicated to Tim Shey, the High Plains Drifter whose pilgrimage on the roads of America reminded me that I am a stranger on the earth.