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Issue 1 2009

The Danger of Security

By Gary Alley

Adapted from a sermon given at Narkis Street Congregation in Jerusalem on Nov 29, 2008.

As we enter 2009 in the wake of the World Economic Crisis, it is a fitting moment to discuss the subject of “security”. To do this I want to broach the following subjects: the Advent season, the Kingdom of God, the current economic situation, the end of the world, the Kingdom of God again, and finally, the danger of security.

Advent comes from the Latin word, adventus, which means “coming”. During the four weeks leading up to Christmas, Christians fervently await the birth of the Messiah. The Christmas hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel is sung as a contemplative preparation for Jesus’ incarnation.

While the birth of Jesus is the primary theme of Advent, there is another motif that adorns Advent. The Latin word, adventus is the translation of the Greek, parousia, the word that is used to refer to the second coming of Jesus (I Thes 4:15; 5:23). The season of Advent serves as a dual reminder of Christ—first, his past birth as a babe and second, his future coming as king.

This past nativity season has caused me to reflect on the state of our fearful, post-9/11 world, and how we, as Christians, should live in it. As believers, it is one thing to hope for the glorious return of Christ, but it is another thing to always view events and politicians in a negative and libelous light with a subversive hope that they will play some part in assumed biblical prophecy.

Instead of seeking the ruin of our “godless” leaders and society, we should rather be seeking and pursuing the “peace and prosperity of Babylon” as Jeremiah commanded the Jewish exiles, “because if [Babylon] prospers, you too will prosper (29:7).” That is ironic. Seek the peace and prosperity of wicked Babylon because if it prospers, you, too, will prosper. Does that mean we conform to this world? God forbid. We are not of this world, yet we live in this world as a part of God’s kingdom movement. What did Jesus teach about the role of the Kingdom of God in this world?

It is a field where the owner sowed good seed, but during the night, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the good seed (Mt 13:24-30). When the good seed sprouted, weeds grew up with them. Instead of pulling the weeds up immediately, what does the owner do? He waits until harvest time, when the good and the bad will be harvested together and only then does he separate them. Why does the owner wait to get rid of the weeds? Because he does not want to endanger or limit his harvest, because pulling the weeds up early could compromise the roots of the good seed.

We “good seed” are in this world to grow up among and not apart from the weeds. God has not hired us as ethics referees or arm-chair morality judges. Yes, we are agents of change transforming our cultures from darkness to light; we should speak out about right and wrong. But we have not been called to replace our systems of human government with a theocracy or religious rule that oppresses those with whom we disagree.

Let’s be honest—this world is overgrown with weeds. Politicians can lie or at least necessitate bending the truth; a lot of pastors are not perfect and more often than not have skeletons in their closets; our parents can leave us somewhat scarred to badly damaged. From the day we are born, our cultures, countries, and families often implicitly promote some form of racism, prejudice, and xenophobia against those who are different from us and outside of our realms of familiarity. So, we see a lot of “weeds” or perceived weeds out there. They are the people we rub shoulders with every day; they are our neighbors; they can be family members as well. Yes, we can pray and even actively engage these “weeds” with our witness, our outreach, our missions, and the like. But at the end of the day, if a weed does not convert or become a follower of Jesus, we cannot hold that against them. We are not the judge. Jesus, the Son of Man, is the judge. All we can do is be faithful to what the Lord has called us to do. Be a light. Or as in the parable be a big, shiny, tall stalk of good seed.

During the past year, we have seen the prices of basic foods increase at a staggering rate and oil and natural gas’ prices more than doubled this past summer. While oil prices have gone down recently, this is probably a short reprieve, an artificial moment of relaxation. We are only in the calm before the tsunami wave consumes the shore line: the ocean tide has quietly pulled out, filling onlookers with curiosity and no sense of danger, but very soon a massive destructive wave will follow.

This tsunami wave is mostly subprime mortgages and their ensuing ripples. Subprime mortgages were illconceived and greedy loans primarily developed within the American real estate and banking industry to find more investment opportunities for worldwide speculators. When those loans began to fail, because people were not able to make the payments, personal bankruptcies came next. All these banks and financial institutions, now stuck with a tremendous amount of bad debt, also began to selfdestruct. Governments around the world then stepped in and attempted to save these banks. Yet, it has gotten so bad, that even countries like Iceland have gone bankrupt as well.

With the banks now under attack, their lending policies have gone from “no restrictions” to draconian tight measures that are suffocating business. Stock markets worldwide have descended swiftly with many stocks losing more than half their value. People’s once impressive retirement funds have shriveled up. Some people have lost almost all of what they had invested. But this is only the beginning.

As people get scared, they stop spending. Businesses close or scale back. Therefore people start losing their jobs. Then these people are no longer able to pay their debts and more bankruptcies follow. A vicious circle continues. No one knows when this will stop. It could take years. Without confidence an economy will not recover, and today all we see is fear and trepidation.

I believe that the fallout of this current economic recession will have a greater impact on our world than the World Trade Center terrorist attack of 9/11. Is the end of the world approaching? Well, at least “it’s the end of the world as we know it.”

That is because we have entered the Age of Globalism, where all countries and peoples are intersecting. Powers are shifting, the mighty are being humbled and the lowly are being exalted; globalism is creating a new playing field that can be accessed by more and diverse peoples. The internet is the new Tower of Babel that has united our languages, thoughts, and ideas. We are one village, with all the good and bad that accompany a village.

So we return again to, what is our part as believers within this new era of leadership change, financial fears, and demographic diversity? How do we live out God’s Kingdom in the face of many who are bunkering down and secluding themselves from the future?

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again and then in his joy went and sold all that he had and bought that field (Mt 13:44).

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it (Mt 13:45-46).

Both of these parables from Jesus employ financial world language— selling, buying, and investing. When the man and the merchant buy the field and the pearl, they sell everything they have to make their purchases. They are not throwing their money away; they are making calculated investments. They are not fearful; they are confident. That confidence breeds joy.

What is the kingdom of heaven? It is about following Jesus. What does it cost to be his disciple? We must sell everything for it. David Flusser says, “Selling all” is an allusion to “seeking first the kingdom and all these things will be added unto you (Mt 6:33).” Is there fear in following Jesus? No, because joyful confidence propels the disciple.

In the parable of the talents (Mt 25:14-30), we see a similar lesson. There is a man who owns an investment house and gives a sum of money to his three assistant investors to make him more money. When the man comes back he finds that two of his workers have earned a 100% increase on the amount entrusted to them, but the other worker has earned him zilch. This worker returns the exact amount of money given him, but without any interest. In the business world that is known as losing money.

Why did this assistant investor not invest the money? He was afraid of his boss. He was afraid of losing his money. As we mentioned before about the economy, fear breeds inactivity and paralyzes production; love, trust, and confidence on the other hand, promote action and spur on advancement. You cannot succeed if you never try. If one trusts God and believes He is good, then he is joyfully willing to takes chances in order to achieve a maximum return on God’s investment in him. Without great risk, there cannot be great reward.

Right now, there are a lot of things to be afraid of in this world. In the face of our doubts and frights, God requires us to trust him and to be faithful. Though the world crashes around us, we walk…forward and not backward, even one small step at a time. The kingdom advances; it does not retreat. God requires us to be risk takers.

We cannot put our trust in this world that is passing away, yet we also cannot turn our back on His children, all of humanity. We are called to be the good seed among the weeds until His final harvest. We have been called to be Jesus’ disciples, but to do that, we must relinquish all our personal agendas and safety nets. We must surrender our security in order to serve.

Can Anything Good Come out of Gaza

by Liz Kopp

The strip of land, about five miles wide and stretching twenty five miles along the Mediterranean Sea, is home to one and a half million Palestinian residents. It borders Israel on the north-east and Egypt on the south-west. While it is claimed by the Palestinian National Authority as part of the Palestinian territories, actual control of the area has been in the hands of the Hamas de facto government since June 2007.

Juxtaposed to the footage of yet another eruption of violence in the Gaza Strip Fox News intermittently interjected a special, “Escape from Hamas”, that carries a spark of hope for the region. Son of a top Hamas founder, Mosab Hassan Yousef, speaks candidly of his life as a Hamas militant in training. Disillusioned with Hamas and the cruelty perpetrated by its members on its own people, he found himself one day randomly invited by an English tourist to a Bible Study in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City. In the months that ensued, as Yousef studied the Bible, his life was turned around by one simple phrase uttered by Jesus, “love your enemies”. Yousef’s story is indicative of many that are taking place throughout the Middle East as more and more sons of Abraham search for truth.

As Israel increasingly opens the borders for humanitarian aid into Gaza, pray for the believers who live in the heart of Gaza City who courageously share the word of life with the sons of Ishmael. May we not be like Sarah pushing Ishmael out of our camp or like Hagar walking way in hopelessness leaving him to die in the desert but grasp the promise that he will live and become a great nation. Pray that the Bibles will make their way into the hands and hearts of many more “Yousefs” and we will yet see good come out of Gaza.

Karen & Her Clinic

By Christine Sakakibara

Over coffee every Sunday morning my neighbor Sasha and I solve world issues, discuss becoming successful writers, toss around ideas on making millions and lock horns on all manner of political issues. A couple of weeks ago, Sasha and I discussed her daughter, Karen, and her job as a child clinical psychologist in the Negev communities bordering Gaza. Recently she was very close to the site of a falling missile and had to rush to the football field to see if any kids were injured. She hears the missiles frequently and sadly even though she is on the front lines, earns a minimum wage for risking her life on a daily basis. I told Sasha she needs to write an email to all her rich relatives living the life of comfort in the USA, describing her daughter’s dedication and bravery to this suffering community in Southern Israel.

Karen lives in a one bedroom hut on a moshav, drives an old second hand car that breaks down constantly, gets no travel allowance, no allowance for working in a high risk area, and barely survives on her salary. Yet the only thing she complains about is her frailty in not being able to meet all the needs of the traumatized kids she works with. Karen spends a large part of her week working in an outpatient clinic, for child post trauma victims from Sederot. Her clinic and treatment center is a hut on Kibbutz Ruhama which is a 10 minute drive from Sederot. Before the Israeli military offensive into Gaza she would treat 30 - 40 children twice a week, but now is faced with double that number of children needing therapy. I saw Karen a few days later when she was visiting her mother, and asked her how she is feeling now that she has to spend most of her time in bomb shelters? She said she felt stressed and wondered if she was making an impact at all. She believes she now is displaying signs of secondary trauma, such as anxiety, being jumpy and overreacting to the slightest noise. She said however, she felt very comforted that there are people who are not even Jewish that care about her work with children suffering from post trauma.

Jerusalem Cornerstone Foundation recently came to Karen’s rescue and helped her financially to upgrade her clinic. Her budget for the clinic was so low that it only allowed her to do very basic repairs and painting. Now the clinic boasts good lighting, a play area, attractive and friendly children’s furnishings and warm floor coverings. When the kids walk in, they are more responsive and open about their anxieties and fears. Karen is to be commended for choosing to work with these children, she is a woman of courage and a true example of dying to self. She has chosen to reach out to some of the weakest and most vulnerable of Israel’s society. She is someone that needs to be encouraged and honored for her desire to treat these children. JCF, thanks to your gifts, was able to help transform this clinic in the Negev desert. This unexpected kindness gave Karen the emotional and financial support she desperately needed at this stressful time. Soon Karen will be faced with an enormous task of treating many more children as the escalation in recent weeks has reached even more towns and cities in her area. Her determination to make a difference and to address their fears will be so much easier now that her clinic is a warm and welcoming environment. The first step to their healing will begin when she welcomes them into her new child-friendly clinic.

Photo: Will, Sharona & Joshua Pong

staff profiles

Will and Sharona come to JCF from Bakersfield, California, where they served with a nonprofit organization training pastors in Africa. Their responsibilities there ranged from teaching on the ground in Africa to developing the organization’s financial infrastructure and strategic planning processes. Their skill-sets and experience are now being applied at JCF, integrating our vision and operations and developing our financial and accounting systems. They moved to Israel in October 2008 with their 1 1/2 year old son Joshua, and are expecting a daughter in April 2009.

Will was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, where he came to love backpacking and rock-climbing. He has worked as a design engineer in the hi-tech sector for over a decade, holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Oregon State and Stanford University, and is now pursuing Hebrew language studies.

Sharona was born and raised in Israel, where she has spent most of her life. Typical of a “third culture kid” she has lived and worked in many places, including the States where she finished high school and later returned to pursue her university studies. She holds a B.S. degree in Accounting and Finance from California State University, Bakersfield.