Category Archives: Israel

2021: Hopeful Realism for the Year Ahead

It is my delight and honor to work for Made to Flourish, A Pastors Network for the Common Good (www.madetoflourish.org). Our mission is to help pastors and their churches integrate faith, work and economic wisdom for the flourishing of their communities. We have the honor of presenting ideas, fostering relationships, and sharing practices that will help local churches thrive. We do this with a set of values that guide our efforts. One of these values is “hopeful realism.” We believe that the Risen Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit and willing agency of God’s people, offers substantive hope that we can see redemptive progress in the world. This hope is tempered by the realism of a sinful, broken world.

In this spirit of hopeful realism, I offer the following observations about the coming year in proverbial form and look forward to many discussions with readers in the months ahead.

Hope: America voted toward the middle and the extremisms of white nationalism and woke socialism do not guide the values and visions of most people.

Realism: Even with a majority of Americans in the middle, it is the loudest voices of influence that often wield power and alertness is called for in this moment.

Hope: The Middle East is realigning as Israel and several Sunni Arab nations recognize that Iran is a threat to all, and economic and military alliances are in their best interests.

Realism: The enemies of the Jewish state are many. They include progressives within Israel and in the West. If a new Administration opens the door to unqualified Palestinian influences, the gains of the past four years could be lost.

Hope: Churches and charities has risen to the COVID moment and will continue to be a source of generosity and innovation in the year ahead.

Realism: Many organizations will need to change or find themselves closing their doors. This includes churches and charities that do not adapt to the economics and sociology of this moment.

Hope: The creativity and innovation afforded by the crises of our time are bringing new relationships, new opportunities, and humbling many who we enslaved by complacency and pride. People are reaching out across cultural, ecclesial and racial divides and finding common cause in helping all have access, equity, and opportunity.

Realism: Agitation propagandists and groups designed to “organize” do not want peaceable debate and principled compromise. They will continue to call for radical changes unwanted by most but demanded by shrill voices who make the exception the rule and continually create new victims.

I remain hopeful because I believe in the goodness and power of God and in the potential of every person who will submit their lives to Christ. I remain a realist because we are in a broken, sinful world and people operate out of their lower, sinful nature far too often. My final hope can be expressed this way: May God grant an awakening that revives the church and reforms society, overflowing to justice for all. As I express this, realism kicks in and I know that great good is often the product of much suffering. We have tumultuous days ahead, and we can be at peace if we will trust our Sovereign God.

Why Hannukah Matters in 2020

The Books of I and II Maccabees record the story of Jewish spiritual and military courage from 167-164 BC as they resisted the forced Hellenization and oppression of Emperor Antiochus Epiphanes IV. This evil leader desecrated the Second Temple by building an altar to Zeus and sacrificing a pig in what was the Holy of Holies to the Jews. In addition to this demonic symbolism, Antiochus prohibited Jewish observances and promoted the vilest pagan practices. Under Judas Maccabeus, the Jewish revolt brought liberation to Judea and the reconsecration of the Temple in 164 BC.

During the reconsecration, the Menorah remained alight in spite of the shortage of oil. The victory over oppression and the miracle is the basis of the Feast of Hannukah that is celebrated every December by Jews around the world. It is a time of gift-giving, feasting, and remembrance. Christians recognized this important moment, honoring God’s intervention and seeing the light of Hannukah as emblematic of the Light of Messiah Jesus (see the Gospel of John, chapters 8 to 10).

Why does Hannukah matter today? The courage of the oppressed Jews is inspiring. But the Hanukkah story is more than a memory or a holiday moment. In the 21st century, we are living in a moment of great anti-Semitism, with vile slanders and actual violence against Jews increasing exponentially. The number of anti-Jewish incidents far exceeds any “Islamophobia” pushed by the elites in the media. The movements in the West to Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) the State of Israel for her purported oppressions of the Palestinians is simple anti-Semitism disguised as political correctness. Advocates of BDS seek the complete delegitimizing of Israel and hypocritically declare they are only anti-Zionist, not anti-Jewish. But examination of the leadership and money behind these groups reveals an agenda that wants the Middle East “Jew Free” and the elimination of the only democracy in the region! When one hears, “From the River to Sea, Palestine will be free” it is a call for elimination, exile, and extermination disguised as advocacy for the oppressed.

From the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BC to the founding of Israel in 1948, The Jewish people had no land to call their own. Out of the ashes of the Shoah came a new state that is a gift to the world, a beacon of toleration and innovation, freedom and opportunity. Hanukkah celebrates this new reality as well as the victory over Antiochus over two millennia ago. The nation of Israel is a world leader in compassion around the world, medical advances, technology innovation, and entrepreneurial start-ups. She also demonstrates that contentious domestic politics and national cohesion can coexist.

Lovers of liberty of all faiths (or none) should applaud Israel’s existence and condemn anti-Jewish expressions wherever they occur with the same passion as those that defend Islam, Christianity, or any other expression of religion and conscience. When we see the light of a Menorah, may we rededicate ourselves to liberty for all.

Inconvenient Insights for a Polarized World

This week after Groundhog’s Day and in remembrance of the Bill Murray comedy of reliving the same day over and over again, it is right to reflect on some enduring challenges:

We have miles to go in our pursuit of justice for women and men of all classes and cultures.
We can celebrate Christian contributions to social progress, and we must deeply lament historic ecclesial complicity with oppression.

We can criticize Israeli policies, but most of the responsibility for lasting peace rests with Arab leaders acknowledging Israel’s right to exist as the national home of the Jewish people. Israel is not a western colonial imposition, but the historic home of an ancient people. The new plan presented by President Trump (and quietly endorsed by some Sunni Arab states in the region) is an opportunity that the current Palestinian Leadership is willfully ignoring.

Billions have been lifted out of poverty in my lifetime due to global trade, with access to new markets. We still have too many food, banking, and job deserts in our own American cities.

Our national debt and deficit spending reveal cowardice and a lack of concern for generations yet unborn. Both parties are guilty, and it will take both parties cooperation to find solutions.

UN officials admit that their proposals for climate change amelioration are of little practical use, except for the transfer of trillions in wealth. Unless China, India, and Russia sign on, little progress can be made. Every proponent of free trade and/or climate change skeptic must also care more deeply for the ecological life of our planet. Good environmental stewardship means a good economy for our grandchildren.

Let’s find a new way to fund education of all kinds without a lifetime of debt on graduates and ever-increasing tuition prices.

A rebirth of civility begins with an affirmation of the dignity and worth of each person we meet. We must end caricature, insults, and stereotyping of those different from us.

“Solving” the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

At first glance, this title is both arrogant and unneeded. After all, haven’t there been multiple peace accords, from Camp David (1978) to Madrid (1991) to Oslo (1992) to Camp David (2000) again? Nobel Peace Prizes, smiles and handshakes and promises of “final negotiations” all win world approval…only to break down, with both sides blaming the other.

With the recent relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem (in accordance with U.S. legislation since the 1990s), all the tensions come to the surface again. Gaza rioting at the border wall, Syrian rockets, Iran and Turkey calling for the destruction of Israel – same song, new singers.

What can be done? The EU and many others keep calling for Israeli “restraint” as rockets from Gaza and the Golan rain on Israel and hundreds of terrorists attempt to infiltrate through tunnels. At the same time, Palestinian Authority leader Abbas continues to perpetrate the nastiest antisemitism, refusing to acknowledge 3000 years of Jewish history in the land, rejecting the truth of 6 million dead in the Holocaust and refusing to accept Israel as the national home of the Jewish people. Anti-Jewish sentiments continue to grow throughout the world.

What can be done?

There is a pathway forward. It is truly “the road less traveled” and will require heroism for success. If pursued, however, an era of genuine peace and prosperity is possible. Here are the necessary conditions for a “final” accord:

  • Israel’s existence as a sovereign nation with a right to peace and security is essential. Extermination chants of, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free” will only continue the conflict. Until Palestinians and other Muslim leaders say yes to Israel as a nation, no peace is possible. Egypt, Jordan and others are reaping the benefits of not being at war.
  • Demanding the return of all descendants of people displaced in 1948 is a non-starter. Clear borders, generous aid and economic opportunity can help a new Palestinian State prosper…if they will end their perpetual war.
  • The Palestinian Authority, with help from others, must end ties to Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda and others that only want the elimination of Israel. The PA must renounce a tradition of Islamic deception (taqiyya) that allows for truces, but no true peace.
  • Israel will relocate many settlers once the new boundaries are established. It is unrealistic to expect pre-1967 boundaries, but the aforementioned accords open the door to two sustainable states.
  • Economic development and a potential free trade zone could transform a new Palestinian State from one of dependent refugee camps to a sustainable and flourishing participant in the local and global economy.

Underneath the details are the moral and spiritual evils associated with antisemitism and the delegitimizing of the Jewish people’s right to a secure home. All of the above points are only possible when Jews are seen as equal human beings and not dehumanized as dogs and pigs, bloodthirsty bankers and enemies of Islam. Israel leaders are not leading an “apartheid” state, they are not “Nazis” and the border wall has actually saved hundreds of lives. Israel is not perfect, but there is NO moral equivalence between the only democracy in the region and the hatred taught from birth in the territories surrounding Israel.

All forms of neo-Nazi thinking must be rejected. All Leftist canards about Israeli oppression need severe modification in light of empirical evidence.

Peace is possible, but the burden is 90%+ on Palestinian, Arab and world leaders to accept Israel as a gift of freedom, ingenuity and morality for the world.

It’s Complicated

The Ukraine and Russian imperial aims.
Syria: who are the “good” and “bad” guys?
Israel and a two-state solution: Is “recognition” of Israel necessary?
Immigration: cheap labor or cheap votes?

Welfare and food stamps: who “deserves” help?
“Affordable” Health Care: someone pays.
Immigration: How do we remain hospitable and make citizenship and the rule of law meaningful?
What moral values will we enforce in a civil society?
Religious convictions and conversions: are affirmations of truth now “intolerance?”

It’s complicated being thoughtful.

It’s easy to shout and smear.

For our future I hope civil and principled discussion will take place and reasonable ideas prevail.

The alternative is anarchy and new totalitarianism.

Let’s choose thoughtfulness.