How Israel advocacy is changing the way a generation relates to their faith
Have you ever noticed that the book of Genesis, our introduction to God, His character, His emotions and His will, devotes just the first two chapters to creation, and chapters 12 through 50 primarily to one theme?
That’s right, two chapters on speaking the universe into existence, and 39 zeroing in on one thing. This one thing is the “big picture.” This one thing is covenant. The big picture of biblical covenant is about God’s decision to use a place and a people (Israel and the Jewish people) to establish His means of revelation and redemption in the earth.
An honest observation of the Christian under-30s would suggest that the next generation longs to be connected to the big picture. They want to exchange the catchphrases and bumper-sticker theology for the reality of genuine relationship with God and with people. They want to be a part of His story.
I believe connecting with covenant and finding ourselves in the progression of redemptive history is what determines whether our Bible is serving as our personal self-help book, or if it is occupying the place it should be in our lives, as the owner’s manual, instructing us on how to live our lives in accordance with His purposes.
If we fail to make the covenant connection, we risk the events in Scripture being shelved in our minds as historical fiction. We can miss the opportunity to see ourselves as heroes of the faith, and disqualify ourselves from living lives of significance that are joined to a risen and returning Savior.
A New Generation Experiences Israel
For the past seven years, I have been involved in leading an initiative in Israel that is connecting young Christian leaders to covenant. The vision behind the Israel Experience College Scholarship program is to give the best and brightest Christian college and graduate students an educated heart for Israel. By taking them to the land and giving them experiential knowledge of what’s really going on there, we’re positioning them in the bull’s eye center of the key issue of their age, and letting them decide the truth about Israel for themselves. Many of these young people return to their university campuses as informed ambassadors for the cause they now hold dear.
The goal is to equip the next generation of Christian leaders with an understanding of God’s covenant with the land and people of Israel so they can translate this into the influence they will one day be entrusted with. Not only is it important that tomorrow’s Christian leaders be raised up to stand with Israel, but imagine what would happen if Christians were unleashed to advocate for Israel in the fields of communications, government, business, the arts, science and technology, teaching, and more. By equipping tomorrow’s Christian leaders within their spheres of influence, we are empowering an entire generation to embrace what it means to be Isaiah 62’s watchmen on the walls of Zion.
Under the direction of Robert Stearns, we have trained scores of young Christian leaders in Israel, introducing them to Israeli leaders, Arab Christians, rabbis, journalists, diplomats, students and Israel Defense Forces soldiers. These young leaders are from secular and Christian universities; from Harvard, Pepperdine, Yale, Wheaton, Regent, ORU, NYU and the list goes on—with students coming from five continents.
One Israel Experience scholar (who appears regularly on Fox & Friends in addition to writing for Pajamas Media) made the “covenant connection” with Israel when he realized that what he thought was merely an interest in geopolitical affairs was actually the role he was called to play in the big picture. After becoming acquainted with the Jewish roots of his faith and the facts on the ground in Israel, he began to see his reporting on geopolitical events and terrorism as key to his role in redemptive history and in upholding covenant.
Who Gave Goliath Five Stones?
Did you know there’s a new David and Goliath story being told today? It’s a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and the parallels are as clear as they are outrageous. This modern version involves David’s lineage, the Jewish people. David’s people are the same.
And what about the Philistines, Goliath’s people? According to most accounts, the Philistines were “sea people” from some northern coast on the Mediterranean, and unlike the Jews, their language and culture are long gone. Interestingly, the Gaza that was an ancient Philistine stronghold is still called Gaza, and today has one of the largest populations of Palestinian Arabs. Different people, same land, and a subsequent labyrinth of historic and ethnic complexities harkening us back to a very important point: Modern-day Israelis are being unfairly dubbed the “Goliath” in the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Listen to one undergraduate student from Georgetown after three weeks with the Israel Experience College Scholarship Program: “Prior to coming to Israel I had a very one-sided view of what was going on. I saw the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians as a David and Goliath scenario with Israel as Goliath. I’ve been able to deepen my understanding and perspective of Israel and I see that’s not the case at all.”
This young man’s perception prior to visiting Israel is evidence of how Israel’s role as the persecuted and harassed underdog has been hijacked, and unjustly assigned to the other party. The roles got reversed because the situation was isolated from the big picture and the facts on the ground. However, actually being in Israel with the Israel Experience College Scholarship righted his perspective.
The parallels between the ancient David and Goliath and the current Arab-Israeli conflict exist, and I need to be clear on an important issue: My heart breaks for the Palestinian Arabs. This is the injustice: Palestinians are being kept impoverished and estranged—not by Israelis—but by fellow Arabs, with the help of the international community. This small people group is being treated as a pawn by the real Goliath, which is a multinational conglomerate fueled by enough oil dollars to make it seem like they’re the victims.
The other injustice is that Israel is painted as the bad guy. Israel, the lone real and functioning democracy in the Middle East where women and minorities have full rights, along with the Jewish people who barely survived annihilation in the Holocaust, are seen as Goliath ... even as they do everything within their power to pursue peace.
Keystone of the Big Picture
God is up to something and has been for a long time. That something is showing Himself faithful to His promise and redeeming humanity. That something is the big picture. I can’t stress enough the importance of covenant and how understanding it aligns us with the purposes of God. My hope is that sincere, Spirit-led examination of the big picture will result in our lives individually and corporately reflecting what we’ve seen in the Bible.
The Israel Experience College Scholarship program is one way the next generation is co-laboring with God and connecting with covenant. Graduates become empowered to hold and express a biblical worldview in regards to God’s covenant with Israel. They return home to impact their college campuses, and some have moved on to places like Capitol Hill, the EU headquarters in Brussels and the White House.
Chances are you’ve seen them on the news, you just didn’t know where they came from or how they got there. They are the Davids, the Daniels and the Esthers of our time. They are agents of justice; they are heroes of faith. They are world-changers because they’re cooperating with the God of Israel, the Author and keeper of covenant.
After studying at the Rothberg International School of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Michael Onifer joined Eagles’ Wings in 2005 as the director of the Israel Experience College Scholarship program.