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May 2017

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem..."


Jerusalem’s name is only proclaimed once in the Bible in double use—when Jesus repeated the great city’s name with pregnant emotion—“Jerusalem, Jerusalem!”  His double use marked the gravity of the moment—like an exasperated parent chiding a child or a weary teacher pleading with a pupil.

It took God speaking a young boy’s name twice, “Samuel, Samuel!” for him to finally answer—“Speak, for your servant is listening.”  “Moses, Moses!” arrested the attention of a lost shepherd and induced the labor pains of the Hebrew nation’s birth.  A young man was saved from slaughter when his father responded to the shout of his name, “Abraham, Abraham!”

What urgent message was Jesus trying to convey to Jerusalem’s inhabitants? 

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem…You who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you…”

Why were the prophets killed, and why were those sent by God stoned?  Prophets were God’s messengers bringing His word to the people and, especially, to rulers, like kings and priests.  Often, we find that these messages from God were rebukes against the abuse of power, political corruption, or syncretistic idolatry in the land.  A prophet’s job was to swim upstream against the currents of the religious elite and the royal throne, bringing God’s warning against wrong practices. 

Obviously, prophets were not popular.  They were often perceived as annoying, agitating, and socially stigmatizing.  There have always been people in the world who are troublemakers—those who irritate us and make us feel uncomfortable; but how do we differentiate between those who are opinionated loudmouths, and those who speak a word from the Lord? The foundation for a prophetic word is the truth.

Jesus said, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” retorted Pilate (John 18:37-38).

What is the truth about truth?  This is the great debate.  “Truth” can be different for those on one side of power than for those on the other side.  As they say, there are two sides to every story.  Yet, who decides what is wrong and what is right, what is sin and what is righteous?  Even in the Bible, that debate raged.

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter (Isa 5:20).

Blurring the lines between good and evil is an ancient fraud that has conned humanity since the Garden of Eden.  Power and privilege were never sanctioned in the Bible as arbitrators of piety.  Instead, since the time of Samuel, the prophetic voice was empowered as an ethical check and balance towards Israel’s monarchy.  When a king went astray, these autonomous prophets were to speak God’s correction to help realign the nation’s priorities.  Yet, over time, some of these prophets got on the payrolls of the kings.  This conflict of interest compromised their prophetic office and muted God’s voice.  And so, as time went on, we see that this professional class of prophets stopped challenging the monarchy when called upon by God.  Instead, their petrified prophetic positions began modelling the perversion that spread throughout the nation.

And among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen something horrible:
They commit adultery and live a lie. They strengthen the hands of evildoers,
so that not one of them turns from their wickedness (Jer 23:14).

A false prophet’s results were a continuation of sin’s status quo, while a prophet of the Lord sought real repentance—did the people turn from their wicked ways and did their lives change for good? 

I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message;
I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied.
But if they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people
and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds (Jer 23:21-22).

The prophet Jeremiah spoke against smug spiritual complacency as Babylonian forces slowly constricted around Jerusalem and its temple.

“‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things?  Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you?

“‘Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel.  While you were doing all these things, declares the Lord, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer. Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in…”

…as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die!  Why do you prophesy in the Lord’s name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?” (Jer 7:9-14; 26:8-9)

As Jeremiah pointed out, Shiloh, the place where the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant had been stationed for many years prior to Jerusalem, had been destroyed.  Jerusalem would be no different than Shiloh.  Just a few years later, in 587 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar would raze Jerusalem and its temple.

More than 600 years later, Jesus resurrected Jeremiah’s prophecy, challenging a new generation of Jerusalem residents and their temple rulers trying to placate another foreign empire, the Romans.  Weeping over Jerusalem, Jesus said

“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.  The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side.  They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling.  “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him.  (Luke 19:42-47)

Like Jeremiah, Jesus’ prophetic voice would be silenced by those in power.  And both times when God’s prophetic words were ignored by those in charge, the city where God put His name, Jerusalem, would be ruined and its holy temple desolated. 

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you,
how often I have longed to gather your children together,
as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.   
Look, your house is left to you desolate” (Luke 13:34-35).

In a world fraught with disagreement and divisiveness, it is easy to point the finger and blame others.  Self-righteousness is not just a religious malady; its a human condition.  A prophet of the Lord, on the other hand, cries for repentance and shines light into the darkness of all hearts.  To find the truth, each of us must open our hearts to prophetic examination and allow soul-searching scrutiny.  While isolating ourselves from scriptural critique will appease our flesh, it will also harden our hearts.  God’s truth is found in sackcloth and ashes.


Charity Report: Your Gifts Helped these Ministries, Individuals, and Families during March and April 2017

Minnie is a low-income Israeli single mother who needed help in sending her son to Poland for a Holocaust memorial trip.  JCF contributed $278 to the costs of the trip.

Over the Passover holiday, JCF helped thirty needy families with their grocery bills ($1,700).

Sharon is an Israeli divorcee with four children.  The family lives in poverty and her extended family is not able to help her financially. Since her electricity was disconnected due to unpaid bills, JCF helped cover half of her electric bill ($566).

The Lone Individuals is an Israeli support group for those with no family.  The ten members from the ages of forty to fifty meet regularly for support and social interaction.  Once a month, the group meets at a coffee shop to enjoy one another’s company.  JCF donated $566 to continue these monthly coffee outings for the rest of the year.

JCF helped cover the tuition for the children of an Arab Christian family living in Jericho ($700).

Linus is a 14-year-old Israeli boy with autism and is very limited in what he can do. In December his health deteriorated. He lost consciousness twice and needed to be resuscitated. He was in the ICU for 3 weeks in an induced coma. His parents did not leave his side during that time and were not able to work.  Since Linus was released from the hospital, his family has moved back home, however they are having a hard time making up for the lost income.  JCF helped cover some of their expenses ($451). 

Jerry is a single elderly Israeli man with no family or support. He lives from a small pension which barely covers his expenses.  JCF bought him some new clothes and shoes ($225).

Iraqi Christian Refugee Family Flies to Australia

The end of ISIS in Iraq is drawing near with the Iraqi army’s final push to take Mosul after eight months of intense fighting.  JCF has also been encouraged this past week with other good news concerning a family from the Mosul area.  With ISIS’s entrance into northern Iraq four years ago, a large-scale evacuation of Christians occurred in the region around Mosul.  Shortly after, JCF met two Christian refugee families newly arrived to Jordan in November 2014.  Since then, JCF has not only been giving assistance to both Syrian and Iraqi refugees through the Nazarene Church’s work in Jordan, we have also been earnestly seeking asylum for Christian refugees, like these two families who live in fear for their lives.

This last week we celebrated as JCF bought plane tickets to Sydney for a family of four who were accepted into Australia as asylum seekers.  JCF gave $5,000 towards the tickets and a little extra to help cover their initial costs in Australia.  Ghassan, his wife, and their two little girls flew out of Jordan and arrived safely to Sydney on May 24th.  Initially, they will be living in government absorption housing as they learn English and acclimate to Australia.  Please pray for them as they begin their new lives in a land very different than Iraq.  Also, continue to pray for Ghassan’s brother-in-law, Levon, and his family, who are also seeking asylum in Australia.

Ghassan and his family on the far left after first fleeing Iraq (November, 2014).

Ghassan and his family before boarding a plane to Australia (May, 2017).

ISIS ending in Iraq, weakening in Syria, strengthening in Egypt.  Turkey—erratic.

With the soon coming defeat of ISIS in the city of Mosul, Iraq will be rid of the last major stranglehold of the Islamic extremist group in their country.   ISIS, though, still breathes in the shadows of Iraq, as witnessed by the recent targeting of an ice cream shop in Baghdad that killed dozens. Also, ISIS's damage done to Iraq’s Christian community will not be reversed in the short term as many of those families have sought asylum in the West. 

ISIS in Syria is also facing major losses over the last months as America has strengthened Kurdish forces who have gone toe-to-toe with ISIS over the last four years.  Kurdish forces are now within four kilometers of Raqqa, ISIS’s capital in Syria.  Yet, Turkey, the Kurds’ longtime enemy and America’s ally, has entered the melee in Syria and is attacking the Kurds instead of ISIS. 

President Recep Erdogan, who recently consolidated his power over the Turkish nation after last summer’s coup attempt, has targeted any followers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who he has accused of the July 15th coup attempt that left nearly 270 dead.  So far, the United States has not acquiesced to Turkey’s demands for Gulen’s extradition.  Turkish officials have responded with brutish efforts to force capitulation. 

Since  Oct. 7th, Turkey has imprisoned and ridiculously charged American Christian pastor, Andrew Brunson, a 23 year resident of the country, with membership in the Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization.  Many see Brunson and his trumped-up charge as a bargaining chip for Turkey’s aim to extradite Gulen from the United States.  During Erdogan’s recent visit with U.S. President Trump in Washington DC, Turkish Secret Service brutally attacked Kurdish protestors outside of the Turkish embassy with little resistance from the local police.  Trump also brought up Brunson's release to Erdogan during that May 16th visit.

Islamic extremist attacks continue to rise in Egypt against the Egyptian army and Coptic Christians. ISIS seeks a foothold within Egypt through its porous borders and corrupt government. Coptic churches have been bombed and church groups massacred.  Families are beheaded and outposts are insecure.  In response to this climate of instability in Egypt, Israel has increased its vigilance against ISIS attacks on its southern border.


News in Israel

U.S. President Donald Trump visited Israel last week (May 22-23), becoming the first American president to visit the Western Wall while in office.  While in the Old City of Jerusalem, Trump also visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is the traditional location of Golgotha and Jesus’ tomb.  He met with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem as well as his Palestinian counterpart, President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.  Trump’s visit was part of a whirlwind eight day tour where he stopped in Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Italy—gatekeepers of the three monotheistic religions—Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.  Trump’s strategic scheduling emphasized religion as a crucial element in combatting extremist terrorism.  Instead of concentrating on terrorism’s political or social causes, Trump zeroed in on “barbaric” religious ideology.

He said in Saudi Arabia, “This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it…This is a battle between good and evil.”  He continued, “Religious leaders must make this absolutely clear: Barbarism will deliver you no glory — piety to evil will bring you no dignity,” he warned. “If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and your soul will be condemned.” 

Israel celebrated the 50th year of Jerusalem’s reunification after the Six Day War of 1967.  Jerusalem filled the past week of May 21-25 with multiple events marking the Jubilee year since Jerusalem’s reconsolidation.  From Jordan’s invasion and occupation of Jerusalem’s Old City in 1948, no Jew was permitted to visit any Jewish sites in Jerusalem’s Old City till June 7, 1967 when the Temple Mount and Western Wall were liberated by Israel’s Defense Forces. Here is the recording and transcript from that fateful day.

 In Our Hands,” a new docudrama about the Six Day War by CBN Documentaries, opened in select theaters with new showings in the coming days.  Here is the trailer.

Here is another documentary, “Six Days in June” by Ilan Ziv, on that 1967 war.

The Biblical Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) began last night, May 30th.  This festival is also known as Pentecost, or the 50th day of counting the days between the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest.


JCF News: Teranne Arentsen, JCF Biblical Study Tours Administrator

Teranne Arentsen has been working with JCF Biblical Study Tours since 2015, helping facilitate tour correspondence and logistics.  She first volunteered in Israel at Christ Church for a few years before returning to live here in 2010 with her husband, Niek, whom she met during her prior stay in Israel.  She has an M.A. in Religious Studies from Hebrew University.  Niek, her husband, also has an M.A. from Hebrew University in The Bible and its World and is currently working on a PhD in Hebrew Language. Both Niek and Teranne have a passion for teaching the Bible and its languages.  They have two young boys, Amos (4) and Asaf (1).


Come See the Land of the Bible in 2017 with
Yoni Gerrish and JCF Biblical Study Tours

  • Tour with Pastor Doug Baker from Los Angeles (June 10 – 24, 2017)
  • Tour with Pastor Peter and Nelly Mechielsen from Australia (June 29 – July 11, 2017)
  • Tour with Dr. Larry Ehrlich from San Francisco and Chicago (Oct 28 – Nov 11, 2017)
  • Tour with Tom and Eliza Henderson from Denver (Nov 11 – 22, 2017)

 For more information on how you can join one of these tours, here.


Biblical Language Center begins its Summer Biblical Hebrew Courses in Israel this June

Randall Buth and the Biblical Language Center (BLC) will begin eight weeks of Biblical Hebrew courses on June 18.  The beginners class is designed specifically for students with little or no background in Biblical Hebrew.  BLC's classroom is a fun and interactive environment with instruction and activities all conducted in Hebrew.  For more information, here.

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.