Bethlehem, considered the cradle of Christianity, is perhaps one of Earth’s most special places to embrace the Christmas spirit. Located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, it’s the “little town” where Jesus was born, and it attracts thousands of pilgrims at Christmas.
Bethlehem is the site of the Church of the Nativity, an underground cave where Christians believe Mary gave birth to Jesus. A 14-pointed silver star beneath an altar that the emperor Constantine the Great and his mother Helena had built around the year 338 marks the spot, and the stone church is a key pilgrimage site for Christians and Muslims alike.
I have learned many great things from pastor Bill Johnson, whom I deeply respect. One of these things is the power of our words. Your words become your reality, Johnson has argued in his sermons. We cannot separate who we are from what we say.
Of course, a politician’s policies are important. But so are their words. James, the brother of Jesus, warns us against the power of the tongue, likening it to a small spark that can set an entire forest on fire (James 3:5). “Sound bites” can have disastrous consequences.
Take Trump’s suggestion in April that COVID-19 could possibly be cured by injecting disinfectants in the body, “cleaning” the lungs. Health officials had to immediately warn the public that this would in fact kill you, as poison control centers all over the country reported a significant increase of household disinfectant ingestion.
Trump later claimed that his comment was sarcastic directed at reporters, even though he hadn’t been talking to them but to his medical advisors.
Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, said, “Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”
So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city with him. In those letters she wrote:
“Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them bring charges that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”
As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, “Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you. He is no longer alive, but dead.” When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard. 1 Kings 21:7-10, 15-16
While many consider the stories of the Old Testament, often framed by punishment and retribution, to be an example of God’s justice, the reality is that a comprehensive picture of justice is much more complicated. The Bible shows justice as not only an appropriate consequence for sin but also as an expression of appropriate concern for others. Righteousness before God means being in right relationship not only with God but others as well. Continue reading Biblical Justice: Making Things Right→
I think most of us can agree that peace is a good thing.
Yes, many support either Israel or Palestine as if they were soccer teams, but regardless of your political and eschatological views, you’re probably with me if I say that it would be good with less death and destruction in the Middle East.
Violence in Gaza is once again on the rise as the Israeli Defense Forces battle Palestinian protesters outraged by inhumane living conditions in what is often referred to as the world’s largest outdoor prison. The last time tensions flared Israel brutally bombed Gaza in response to Hamas’ missile attacks in 2014— killing over 2000 Palestinians and wounding thousands more. The story of Abraham’s conflict and reconciliation with the ancient king of Philistia (located in modern day Gaza) in Genesis 20-21 is an invitation to Jews, Muslims and Christians to each other through the eyes of faith.
Genesis 20 tells the infamous story of Abraham’s residence as an alien in Gerar, where he lies to Abimelech, king of Philistia, about the identity of his wife Sarah, saying she was his sister. Abraham expects the worst from this foreign king, assuming he will kill him and take Sarah for himself– since she is so beautiful. But after Abimelech takes Sarah into his harem God confronts him in a dream and Abimelech proves attentive. He dialogues with God, defending himself as innocent– and God affirms his integrity (20:5-6). Abimelech confronts Abraham about his lie: “You have done to me things that ought not to be done” (v. 10). He gives Sarah back along with many gifts, 1000 pieces of silver and a welcome to settle wherever they please (20:14-15). Continue reading Peacemaking in Gaza: Abraham’s Model→
As a Jew, I love Israel. There’s no way around that. In fourth grade I remember being assigned to write a report on any country in the world, and it was a complete no-brainer as to which country my report would be about. With great pride I decorated the blue-and-white report cover with the Israeli flag. Although seemingly irrelevant, I sprinkled some family recipes for things like matzo ball soup into the report, although now I see that the ethnic pride in recipes and that nationalistic pride in my peoples’ country really are not that far apart.
Years later, I’d get to take my first trip to Israel, and tour dozens of ancient Biblical archaeological sites. And where our Israeli tour guide could not take our group, but instead handed us off to a Palestinian tour guide, we also got to tour the ancient sites of the West Bank. As I came to realize how many places in my peoples’ history and my Bible were not under Jewish ownership but instead Palestinian, I started to realize that this did not sit well with my fantasies of what the “Jewish homeland” should be. My inner child wanted a complete restoration of what once was – I was living a fantasy of having walked back through the pages of the Bible, into the land of my Fathers and Mothers and into the “Kingdom of Israel” — with King David or Solomon, take your pick, ruling from Jerusalem, the Shekinah glory of God sitting on the Temple Mount in the Jewish temple, and every ancient parcel of land firmly a land for me, for us, the Jews. Continue reading Waking Up from My Fantasy About Israel→
A surging crisis on the current global horizon centers on so-called “Christian Zionism.” The controversy surrounding Christian Zionism arises from its association with political practices in the unceasingly and increasingly unstable Middle East region involving Israelis and Palestinians. Though an oversimplification, Christian Zionism is generally speaking a theological position with political implications.
However, Christian Zionism is exceedingly difficult to address because it exists in variegated forms, ranging from individuals or groups who generally support the right of contemporary Israelis to exist in their ancient homeland to extensively organized political activists with agendas of varying degrees of radicalism.
The former usually cite biblical and humanitarian values in vindication of their support for Israel. Some of the latter tend to be completely uncritical of Israeli policies and practices, openly aggressive against their opponents, and either totally unaware of or unconcerned with the plight of Palestinians and religious others. Much of the basis for the latter position appears to be built upon a specific form of dispensationalist ideology. Continue reading Is Pentecostalism Dispensationalist?→
Every two years, the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference takes place in Bethlehem, seeking to give a voice to the Palestinian Christian perspective of the conflict by asking, “What would Christ say and do if he were to stand at a checkpoint today?”