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March 2014

Fasting, the Persistence of Faith

By GARY ALLEY

This week the observance of Lent began, where for the next forty days many Christians will fast or abstain from some type of food or practice in order to focus on Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.  On the other hand, the Jewish people will soon celebrate the exuberant holiday of Purim (Mar 16) which is typically known for its fun.  Purim commemorates the story of Esther, and how she helped save her people from their enemies.  Children dress up in colorful costumes, sing songs, and munch on candy, while the youth and young adults will party into the night.  But what can often be forgotten about joyous Purim is that it is also a story of fasting as well.

In the story of Esther, after Haman has convinced the king to set a date for destroying all of the Jews in his kingdom, Mordechai urges Esther to approach the king and to plead for the lives of their people.  A wary Esther tells Mordechai:

“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” (Est 4:16)

Another fact often overlooked in the story of Esther is that there is no mention of God or prayer in the entire book.  I think that absence can be explained by the presence of fasting.  In the Bible, fasting is almost always a public display of spiritual submission, a sign of repentance before God.  When Esther proclaims a fast, it is not farfetched to see there an implicit prayer seeking help from God in the most hopeless of circumstances.  Fasting is prayer on steroids.

But still, there is no explicit act of God in the story of Esther.  There are no pious prayers beseeching His salvation.  There is only humble fasting.

Today, our reeling world needs God in a most serious way.  Have we, as followers of Jesus, gone soft?  In contrast to Esther’s story, God is everywhere in our evangelical story—in our words, on our shirts and billboards, and especially in our creeds.  But are we desperate for God as if our lives depended on it?  Even when our prayers seemingly go unanswered and God does not seem to be there, do we give up?  Has our faith become fossilized?

This reminds me of a recent article in The New Yorker about the rise of atheism,

“Relatively peaceful and prosperous societies... tend to have a declining belief in a deity. But did we first give up on God and so become calm and rich? Or did we become calm and rich, and so give up on God? Of such questions, such causes, no one can be certain.”

Like Esther’s faith, we must be desperate and determined, not calm and rich.  God’s mighty works are never more evident than when we need Him most.

 

Charity Report:Your Gifts Helped these Individuals, Families, and Ministries during January-February 2014

JCF helped cover some of the funeral costs ($200) of Jenna, an Israeli Ethiopian, whose lungs were destroyed after inhaling chemicals when she had previously lived in Ethiopia as a young girl.    

Joe lives in a small rented apartment and a few weeks ago his heater completely broke.  JCF helped purchase a new heater ($383) for Joe, a German Jew who survived the concentration camps while most of his family perished.  

Nina, a mother of four girls and who also cares for a grandson, is under threat of eviction.  JCF helped cover rent for one month ($740) to give the family time to work with Israeli social services to find a solution for their situation.

JCF helped cover some of Betty’s tuition for studies in social work ($236).

JCF helped subsidize the electric bills of Rachel, an elderly Israeli woman, for the winter months ($235).

JCF helped buy a new washing machine for an Israeli family with six children ($500).

Emily, an Arab orphan, who is now a mother, needed help covering some of her utility bills ($300).

JCF helped pay for medication ($441) for Aubrey, a 64 year old Israeli divorcee who is undergoing dialysis and lives off her pension.

 

News in Israel

  • Rocket Ship Intercepted.  Israel caught a ship in the Red Sea this week which was carrying long-range Syrian missiles destined for the Gaza strip.  The smuggling operation was financed and directed by Iran.  For more, here. 
  •  Israel--High and Dry.  Ironically, after the rare blizzard in December, Israel has had a very dry, warm winter.  Since Israel has a semi-arid environment and only receives rain during the winter months (November-March), these missing rains are crucial for its survival.  This abnormal weather has also negatively affected the economy as well. 
  • Israeli Ultra-Orthodox Protest the Army Draft.  This week, Jerusalem witnessed a massive protest that completely closed the capital for most of the day.  Between 300,000 and 500,000 participants were bussed in from all over the country to voice their displeasure about the new draft rules.  While all Israelis after high school are required to serve in the national forces, the ultra-orthodox (also known as the Haredim) have historically been exempt because of religious studies.  The Haredim make up 10 percent of Israel's 8 million citizens.  Jesse Kopp, a freelance filmmaker and son of Chuck and Liz Kopp below, photographed the event.

  • Canon Andrew White,

    the Vicar of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, Iraq, spoke at Narkis St. Congregation in Jerusalem on Feb 1st.  He has served in Iraq since 1998 throughout many dangers and trials.  You can listen to his powerful testimony and message on "Suffering and Glory", here.

 

 

 

JCF News: Study Hebrew or Greek this Summer in North Carolina

BLC Biblical Hebrew and Greek Summer Courses in North Carolina.  The Biblical Language Center will be offering four week courses at Mid-Atlantic Christian University in Elizabeth City, North Carolina from June 22 to July 18, 2014.  The courses offered will be Beginning Biblical Hebrew: The Book of Jonah and Beginning Koine Greek: Select Gospel Stories and Parables.  For more information, write [email protected].

 

 

Join a JCF Israel Study Tour this Fall in 2014 

Have you always wanted to learn more about God's Word in its original context?  Have you dreamed about seeing the Holy Land in person?  This is your chance.  Check out all the groups and dates that you can join, here.

 

Prayer Requests and Praise Reports

  • JCF's Staff and Families' Health
  • Canon Andrew White and his flock in Baghdad whose church has been damaged by five bombs in the past three years.  The sectarian violence has only been escalating.
  • Rain for Israel.  For more information see above, "News in Israel".
  • Syria—Over 140,000 people have died and nearly three million refugees have fled the country in the civil war.  For an eye-opening perspective on how the violence has impacted Syrian children, watch here.
  • New Exhibit on King Herod at the Israel Museum, “The Final Journey of King Herod the Great.”  The exhibit will run from February 12 through the fall. http://www.timesofisrael.com/herod-gets-his-15-minutes/
  • Oil in Israel’s Future?  It is estimated that Israel has nearly 250 billion barrels of untapped oil shale reserves.  http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/01/31/why-israel-will-rule-new-middle-east/
  • Israel and Iran: A love story?  When war between Israel and Iran seemed imminent, Israeli graphic designer Ronny Edry shared a poster on Facebook of himself and his daughter with a bold message: “Iranians ... we [heart] you.”  http://www.ted.com/talks/israel_and_iran_a_love_story.html

Good News in the Middle East

 

  • New Exhibit on King Herod at the Israel Museum, “The Final Journey of King Herod the Great.”  The exhibit will run from February 12 through the fall. http://www.timesofisrael.com/herod-gets-his-15-minutes/
  • Oil in Israel’s Future?  It is estimated that Israel has nearly 250 billion barrels of untapped oil shale reserves.  http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/01/31/why-israel-will-rule-new-middle-east/
  • Israel and Iran: A love story?  When war between Israel and Iran seemed imminent, Israeli graphic designer Ronny Edry shared a poster on Facebook of himself and his daughter with a bold message: “Iranians ... we [heart] you.”  http://www.ted.com/talks/israel_and_iran_a_love_story.html