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February 2015


A Loyal Love

By GARY ALLEY

Once, Jesus was asked by a biblical scholar,

“Which commandment is the most important of all?”
Jesus answered, “The most important is:
‘Listen, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ (Mk 12:29-30)

In his response about the greatest commandment, Jesus quoted from the book of Deuteronomy, and more specifically, a passage of scripture known as the “Shma” within Jewish tradition.[1]  Dt 6:4-5 is a command to the people of Israel to follow God’s Law completely and unequivocally.  This call to obedience is curiously phrased as “love.”  How can one command love?  Who can command that love?

Only a king can. 

More than three millennia ago, powerful kings controlled not just their own people but other lands and rulers.  To maintain their requisite loyalty, covenants were written between these “big kings” and other “little kings.”[2]  Political loyalty in the Ancient Near East was typically expressed by the term “love.”  “Loving the king with one’s entire heart signified the severance of all contact with other political powers.”[3]

What was a political oath of allegiance in the Ancient Near East was reconfigured as a vow of faithfulness to the one God of Israel.  In contrast to the surrounding gods, the Lord permitted no other rival.  He allowed no compromise in love.

Is it any wonder that Jesus’ repeated message to his people was the Kingdom of God?  He reminded them that the Lord was still their king and He demanded from them their love and loyalty.  Jesus’ Kingdom movement epitomized this unconditional surrender to the Lord—“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God.”[4]

Additionally, Jesus included a second commandment to further clarify the extent of this loyal love. [5]

The second commandment is: ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself.’
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The expert in the law said to him, “That is true, Teacher; you are right…

[these] are more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mk 12:31-32a, 33b) 

Our love for others, like our love for God, is emphatically commanded—you will love.  The same covenantal language is applied.  Just as we are brought into a relational agreement with the Lord, so too, we are wedded in covenant with our neighbor.  If we want to enter Jesus’ Kingdom movement, there are no other options but this loyal love for our fellow man.

Not surprisingly this story of the biblical scholar[6] and Jesus ended with…

When Jesus saw that he had answered thoughtfully, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mk 12:34)

It is hard enough that God asks us for our undivided loyalty.  Harder still is being loyal to my brother or sister.  Working out what this loyal love looks like on a daily basis is a Kingdom challenge and prerogative.

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.
For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen,
cannot love God, whom they have not seen. (I John 4:20)


[1] The Shma, Shema, or Sh’ma is Dt 6:4-9.  The first word in Hebrew in this passage is “shma”, meaning listen, hear, or obey.  It has been used as Jewish liturgy for more than 2,000 years.

[2] There are two groups of ancient historical documents which provide information on this political practice—the Late Bronze Age Hittite and the Neo-Assyrian vassal treaties.  The Hittite kingdom was located in modern day Turkey, and the Assyrians were found in the area of today’s northern Iraq.

[3] Weinfeld, 81.  Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, Oxford: Clarendon (1972).

[4] Lk 9:62

[5] Scholarship has noted that Jesus was a part of a larger Jewish phenomenon in the first century which understood “love of neighbor” as encapsulating the Law.  For example, see Hillel’s discussion with a would-be pagan convert to Judaism: “A pagan came to him saying that he would convert to Judaism if Hillel could teach him the whole of the Torah in the time he could stand on one foot. Rabbi Hillel replied, ‘What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole Torah; the rest is just commentary. Go and study it.’ (b.Shabbat 31a)” Also Rabbi Akiqva was quoted as saying the whole of Torah was summed up by loving your neighbor as yourself.  (b.Sanhedrin 38a; Midrash Tanchuma, Parshat Pinchas, sec. 10)  Also see the Apostle Paul in Rom 13:8-10 and Gal 5:14.

[6] I have idiomatically translated Mk 12:28’s “εἷς τῶν γραμματέων” or “one of the scribes” as “biblical scholar” because of the first century Jewish scribe’s function as an expert of the biblical text.

Update on JCF's Work with the Syrian and Iraqi Refugees

By GARY ALLEY

 On Jan 27-28, Yoni Gerrish and I traveled to Jordan with Shahade Twal, a representative of the Nazarene Church here in the region.  On this visit we began distributing funds that were collected from JCF donors this past month, and we also continued to learn more about the needs of both Syrian and Iraqi refugees that have fled from the violence that has consumed the region in the past four years.

In all, it is estimated that more than 3.8 million Syrians have fled their country since its anarchic spiral began in March 2011.  As mentioned in the last JCF newsletter (Dec 2014), the country of Jordan is facing an immense humanitarian crisis with more than 600,000 Syrian refugees* flooding its land from north to south.   Most of the Syrian refugees in Jordan are Sunni Muslims who have become enemies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite, who is aligned with the Shia Revolutionary Guard of Iran and their proxy army, Hezbollah.

Jordan’s Iraqi refugees are another hard-to-count group.  Since the First Gulf War and with the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iraqis have often used Jordan as a safe haven during times of turmoil.  With the ascension of ISIS and its conquest of Christian areas in northern Iraq, a new wave of Iraqi refugees have entered Jordan, fleeing for their lives.  Most current Iraqi refugees are Christians, with more than 7,000 entering Jordan in the past half year seeking religious asylum in the West.

The first great lack among the refugees in Jordan are basic daily needs—food, water, shelter, clothes, and medical care.  As refugees, they are not legally allowed to work and, therefore, often find themselves between a rock and a hard place—either trying to work illegally or watching their families suffer.  JCF is partnering with the Nazarene Church in Jordan as they visit daily with families and assist them with their needs.  With the cold of winter, heaters, kerosene for heating, and blankets, have been an essential help during the recent months.

During this visit, we also found a great need for education.  Since Jordan’s national education system is already overwhelmed with their own citizens, the children of the refugees are often left with little to no educational opportunities.  We have begun looking into possible ways that JCF can facilitate future educational possibilities.  We have begun funding the start-up of a facility to train refugee children in English and computers.  We are also contributing school tuition for some Iraqi children to attend classes this semester.

Another obvious challenge that currently faces Iraqi Christian refugees is immigration to the West.  As a shrinking and threatened minority in Iraq, many Christian families are adamant about leaving their homeland because of the rise of religious persecution in the wake of ISIS.  Immigration, though, is not guaranteed and its bureaucratic process can be long and drawn out, very expensive, and discouraging to the average family stuck in limbo.  JCF has begun helping some families that are attempting to find a better and safer life for them and their children.

JCF would like to thank everyone who contributed in such a powerful way towards the needs of the Syrian and Iraqi refugees last month.  More than $90,000 has been collected, and we have already distributed more than half of that towards current work in Jordan.  We will continue to provide future updates about the refugees in Jordan.  When possible, we will also try to tell some of their stories.  If you would like to help a specific family on a monthly basis, please let us know.  Most importantly, continue to pray.


* Most believe the real unofficial number of Syrian refugees is over a million.  This week, the Jordanian government has begun a program to account for all refugees, requiring them to have their irises scanned.

 

Charity Report:Your Gifts Helped these Individuals, Families, and Ministries

Ariella, is an Israeli housewife with ten children between the ages of 10 and 26. Her husband has heart problems and asthma and cannot work.  Ariella suffers from diabetes. Their oldest son has cerebral palsy and is mentally handicapped. He lives at home and needs constant care. Their second son also had cerebral palsy and passed away three years ago. Their daughter suffers from chronic, severe asthma and needs an oxygen tank in order to breath. Recently, her situation got worse and she is now confined to her bed and requires close supervision. Another 14 year old daughter needs several dental treatments which cost around $1,100 after a special discount. When the Israeli social worker visited their house she noticed that the house was poor and neglected. The refrigerator does not work properly and the little girls sleep on the ripped sofa in the living room.  JCF helped pay for part of the daughter’s dental treatment ($650).

JCF gave $785 towards Hanukkah gifts for needy children living in Jerusalem.

JCF contributed $367 towards the university tuition of Brittany, a Christian Arab living in Jericho

JCF continues to support the work of Beit El, a Messianic Jewish Ethiopian Congregation in Jerusalem.  Recently, the congregation arranged counseling for Sylvia and her husband who have marital problems and are unemployed. Also, the congregation has helped Gerry and Alice, whose daughter suffers from epilepsy and eye problems which are affecting her schooling.

 

News in Israel and the Middle East

  • Israel will hold elections next month, on March 17th.
  • Shevet Achim, a Christian community that brings children from the Middle East to Israel for life-saving heart operations, has just welcomed in its first Iraqi Christian refugees for heart operations.
  • Over a month since the bloody attacks on the office of the Charlie Hebdo magazine and the Jewish grocery store in Paris, an Israeli journalist walked around Parisian neighborhoods filming reactions to his Jewish presence.  Watch here.
  • Over the weekend in Copenhagen, Palestinian-Danish citizen, Omar El-Hussein, shot up a public debate on Islam and free speech, killing one filmmaker and wounding others.  Later, he killed a Jewish guard at a synagogue while a bat mitzvah was happening.  Five Danish police officers were wounded during the weekend attacks as well.  There are 6,000 to 7,000 Jews currently living in Denmark.
  • With the appalling immolation of the Jordanian pilot, Moaz al-Kasasbeh, this past month, ISIS has once again shocked the world with its unrestrained brutality.  Even more unbelievable, it is suspected that al-Kasasbeh’s manner of execution was suggested and determined by ISIS’s social media followers. 
  • ISIS also staged a mass execution in Libya this past week of 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt, beheading them on Libya’s seashore.  The video of their martyrdom was entitled: “The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church.”  After the killing, the executioner speaks in English and points his bloody knife towards Europe across the Mediterranean Sea and says, “We will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission."
  • A detailed article has come out this week, giving a fresh and thoughtful analysis on the apocalyptic nature and unsettlingly intentions of ISIS.
  • Israeli Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, is planning to speak before the United States’ Congress on March 3rd in order to warn against Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
  • Randall Buth gave a sermon at Narkis St. Congregation in Jerusalem on the scriptural and theological context of recent Islamic extremist attacks.  Listen to it hereThe Name of Jesus is a Silver Bullet.
  • Entering the Kingdom of Heaven: The Legacy of Dr. Robert Lindsey at Narkis Street Congregation in Jerusalem.  From May 29 to June 2, 2015, Narkis Street Congregation will host a conference on their former pastor, Bob Lindsey, and his legacy as shepherd, scholar, and passionate disciple of Jesus. More here.

 

Prayer Requests and Praise Reports

  • The Syrian and Iraqi refugees.  See article above.
  • Christians throughout the Middle East who face increased persecution for their faith.  

  • Israeli Elections on March 17th.

 

JCF has been giving toward Holocaust survivors living Jerusalem.  This is an update from the International Christian Embassy which we have been partnering with.

 
There are approximately twelve needy and very lonely Holocaust survivors in Jerusalem who have been receiving loving care and companionship from an aid organization with whom we partner.   These Survivors receive monthly checks to support them economically and receive regular volunteer visitors, which is also very important to them.  A very nice program was begun to link boys from a local institution for disadvantaged children and youth, to some of these Holocaust Survivors.  This has greatly benefited both the teenage boys and the elderly survivors.
 
Loneliness is a huge problem to people who have lost all their family and often their spouse.  Visiting some of these Jerusalem Survivors regularly ourselves, we know how important this program is which supplies both financial and emotional support.  
 
The donations of JCF have been used in part with help to maintain the ongoing expense of supporting these survivors in Jerusalem with monthly help in form of coupons for food items.  The other part has been used to cover maintenance problems in their homes. For example, when our staff visited a 90 year old Survivor, her small, modest apartment was quite dark owing to a broken slatted shutter which could not be raised and had been like this for more than a week.   Having received the gift from JCF, we were in a position to immediately arrange its replacement.  One of hermost  terrible memories is from her home town of Yasi in Romania where she suffered terribly from violence and terror.  She lost most of her family and witnessed people being pulled out of their homes and killed.  She finds it very difficult to talk about those memories. She is suffering from many health problems, does not have children, and lost her husband many years ago.  Visits from Christians like us mean the world to her.