Why God’s promises to Israel should matter to your congregation
So, you haven’t quite figured out what to do with that “Israel” couple in your church. ...
They’re nice people—sincere and passionate—and your heart tells you they might be on to something, too. However, a demanding schedule limits you from really focusing in on what they’re all about. Not that you would have time to engage in another program on top of leading your congregation.
The building project, the short-term missions trip, the rewrite of the mission statement (not to mention more counseling, weddings and funerals than you know what to do with) are enough to make you run every time they approach you on a Sunday morning about hosting a Passover Seder. Compared to the immediate demands necessary to keep a busy ministry moving forward, the “Israel thing” understandably seems far-off, undeserving of a high spot on the priority list.
If you’ve ever found yourself in this kind of scenario, you’re not alone. Many pastors are generally positive toward Israel, and may even understand there’s something special in God’s biblical promises toward the Jewish people, but have just not found the time to give this issue significance in the day-to-day.
Due to the very diverse demands of pastoral ministry, it is often difficult to explore such a complex and deep issue as God’s plan for Israel and the Jewish people. Then there are the theological and political questions it raises as well as all the different terms flashed on the news—“West Bank,” Judea, Samaria, East Jerusalem, Settlements, Palestinians, Hamas and myriad more—which can be confusing to the point of exasperation.
Yet somehow, the Bible, the daily news and that passionate couple at church keep bringing Israel back into view, which may lead you to ask yourself, “What is the deal with Israel, anyway?”
Being raised in a missions movement, I knew the Word of God and truly had a heart for the lost. I learned that the Jews are God’s chosen people, but to me, Israel was ancient history. The only context I had for Israel was thousands of years old, and the pictures I saw of newly discovered artifacts dug out of the Holy Land (also thousands of years old) seemed to confirm this.
Today’s Jerusalem might as well have been Tokyo, and the modern state of Israel, Irian Jaya. It was just another country that needed God’s love and some Christians to bring them the gospel. Deep down, I think I was actually even more concerned about Irian Jaya because I reasoned that the Jews had already passed on the offer of Jesus, so from an evangelistic perspective, Irian Jaya was more urgent.
Moreover, an honest examination of my thought process would likely have revealed that I felt the promises God made to the Jewish people were now my promises—that every biblical promise made to Israel was now transferred and applied solely to the Christians like me. I have come to understand that both of these views do not add up in God’s Word.
Now, I have to admit that typically, any faulty thinking or ignorance I have had on biblical matters was usually due to the fact that I wasn’t paying enough attention in my years of Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, Sunday morning service, Christian summer camp, personal Bible study, Christian college ... you get the picture. Or maybe I had just skimmed over the passages that make clear God’s eternal purposes for His land and people.
However, it’s not just me who has missed this. The simple fact is that many other Christians have had similar misconceptions or lack of sound, biblically based knowledge concerning Israel as well. And I’m talking about really smart folks who pay attention to stuff. When those people happen to be Christian leaders, we run the risk of having entire congregations and streams not grounded in a biblical worldview, and unable to participate in the exciting work God’s Spirit is initiating between Jews and Christians today.
Everlasting Means Everlasting
So, back to that persistent Israel couple. When they read in First Chronicles 16 “Remember His covenant forever, the word which He commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac, And confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, to Israel for an everlasting covenant, Saying, ‘To you I will give the land of Canaan as the allotment of your inheritance,’” (vv. 15-18), those crazy people actually believe that when God says forever and everlasting, He means forever and everlasting.
They see the promise to the land which is now Israel as being to the actual descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (i.e. the Jews.) They look at prophetic declarations such as, “ ‘I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them. I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them,’ says the Lord your God,” (Amos 9:14-16), as promises being fulfilled in our day, before our very eyes.
The establishment of Israel again as a nation in 1948 was foretold and promised by God, see Is. 66:8, Isaiah 49 and Jeremiah 31. That passionate Israel couple at church—and millions of other Christians around the world—have discovered that this is not an occurrence isolated from their faith, but one that is significant to and affirming of their faith. In fact, they realize that if God’s promises to Israel and the Jewish people are not everlasting, then neither are His promises to us.
The very presence of a Jewish state in the Middle East, located on much the same ground where it existed as an ancient nation, is nothing short of a modern-day miracle. What this means to you and me, first and
foremost, is that God keeps His word! It also means that He is not finished with the Jewish people, and that His salvation plan for the nations includes His special promises to Israel. This confirms that when a promise is made to Israel in the Bible, it is really to Israel.
Hummus, Matza and CNN
I am a very practical man, and I have been in church work for a number of years. I realize you are probably not going to make Israel your primary ministry focus as of this moment. I do hope, however, that you will dig deeper and see for yourself that the biblical references and teachings about God’s covenant promises to Israel and the Jewish people are many; they are current, and they really do matter to the Christian worldview and the effectiveness of your ministry.
It’s not enough to understand Israel only through the lens of what happened thousands of years ago—nor should we let our principal source of information about modern Israel be CNN or The New York Times.
I encourage you simply to pray and ask God to reveal more fully His heart for Israel to you. Believe me, He will; and you will discover countless ways to bless Israel in your current ministry context.
Feel free to start by keeping it simple. You may not be able to devote a four-week sermon series on the subject, but you could make it the focus of a Bible study or home group. It may be premature to host an elaborate three-day Feast of Tabernacles celebration every fall as some churches do, but you could begin by praying on the first Sunday of October for the Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem and celebrate afterwards with pita and hummus.
You may even ask the Israel couple to help host a Seder meal during the Passover season. Trust me, they would love to do it.
You’re not the only one for whom the topic of Israel won’t go away. It’s the rest of humanity as well. God is bringing this issue to the forefront for every nation and every individual in order to give us all a chance to align with His heart and purposes for Israel. This is your opportunity to be part of the most exciting move of God in church history. Don’t miss it.
Joel James has been a leader in Israel-Christian relations with Eagles’ Wings for more than 10 years. In his role as director of development and external affairs, he interfaces with leaders and speaks to audiences regarding Christian support for Israel. Joel coordinates strategic initiatives, including the Jerusalem Celebration of the Global Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem, which is televised live worldwide from Israel the first Sunday of October, as well as the Jerusalem Banquet, which gathers Jewish and Christian leaders together annually in New York and Los Angeles. He and his family live in Clarence, N.Y.
Ways to Honor Israel
If you desire to respond to the Bible regarding Israel and make it part of your ministry, here are some suggestions.
Start with prayer. We have a mandate in Ps.122:6-7 to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Isaiah 62 admonishes those of us “who call on the Lord” (believers), to give ourselves no rest and “give Him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth” (v. 7, NIV). There is a worldwide prayer day the first Sunday of every October called the Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem. Mark your church’s calendar to pray Sunday, Oct. 7, alongside millions of Christians around the world. It can be as simple as declaring a scriptural promise over Israel in prayer. Go to daytopray.com for info.
Honor the root of our faith. Jesus said “salvation is of the Jews,” (John 4:22, NKJV) and “inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to to me.” (Matthew 25:40.) The apostle Paul speaks of a great mystery in Romans 11 that makes it possible for you and I to believe in and receive blessings from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
In Romans 9:4, Paul reminds us that “theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises” (NIV), and that we have received these from them and through them.
Host an event in your church to celebrate Israel and the Jewish people. Invite your local rabbi from your town and members of the Jewish community and be sure to keep it welcoming and focused on friendship and support rather than evangelism. You can also contact Eagles’ Wings for ideas at 1-800-519-4647.
Seek a biblical blessing in your ministry. There is a clear promise of blessing in Gen. 12:3, when God said to Abram, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you” (NJKV). Pastor Robert Morris, founding pastor of the fastest-growing church in America, Gateway Church in Dallas, wrote in the winter 2011 issue of Ministry Today that a secret to his success has been following the example of Rom. 1:16, “first to the Jew, then to the gentile” (NIV). Isaiah 40:1 tells us “Comfort, yes, comfort My people!” (NKJV) Instead of persecuting Jews in the name of Jesus as was done in generations past, Christians around the world are genuinely working to serve and bless the Jewish people and the land of Israel in the name of Jesus, because they believe this promise.
The Amos 911/Jerusalem Fund identifies ministries and organizations in Israel who have integrity and who are carrying out important outreach to Jew and Arab alike. To give to Israel through the Amos 911/Jerusalem Fund, go to daytopray.com/difference/donate.
A Look at Churches Supporting Israel
Eagles’ Wings has received testimonies from many churches that have become involved in what God is doing in Israel. Here’s how three churches are connecting their ministries to nations in the Middle East:
A new church plant located near Raleigh, N.C., Mosaic, has connected to Israel in a significant way right from its inception. Pastor Chad Slotta went to Israel for the first time with an Eagles’ Wings leadership mission in 2010. When he returned home, Slotta determined to make his church’s first-ever seed gift to Israel after being greatly impacted by his visit to the Eagles’ Wings Feeding Centers, which distribute meals to the poor and hurting in the country. Mosaic now supports this work regularly. The pastor has made it his mission to take others on their first trip to Israel as well. Mosaic has a church trip to Israel planned for this fall.
The Rock’s main campus in Anaheim, Calif., draws approximately 5,000. The congregation is pastored by Jerry Dirmann, whose vision for Israel has exploded in recent years. The Rock offers its members Watchmen on the Wall seminars, special training intensives taught by Eagles’ Wings that help Christians grasp both the historical and current importance of Israel and the Jewish people. The church annually leads a trip to Israel, where congregants are officially commissioned as “watchmen on the wall” by the city of Jerusalem.
With a strong focus on the next generation, The Rock has also been a strong supporter of the Israel Experience College Scholarship (IECS) program, launching an Israel Impact tour for young adults in the church. These young people have initiated a monthly forum at The Rock to talk about what Israel is currently facing, and to pray for those needs.
Additionally, The Rock prioritizes the annual Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem (DOPPJ) in October. All three of the church’s campuses, which include Spanish-speaking and Vietnamese-speaking congregations, make Israel a prayer focus during weekend services.
Jay Stewart, who pastors The Refuge, a multi-site church in Concord, N.C., is a strong supporter of the IECS program, and has attended the Eagles’ Wings’ Jerusalem Banquet in Los Angeles and New York. Although he already had a heart for Israel, Stewart said it took going to Israel with Robert Stearns for him to really “get it.” He added that The Refuge has experienced significant financial blessing by being proactive in supporting Israel. He encourages fellow pastors to begin reaching out to Israel by participating in the DOPPJ.
For more information on the annual prayer initiative, go to daytopray.com or call 1-800-519-4647.