I am somewhere between New York and Salt Lake City, near comatose after 15 hours on a plane. The journey began in Tel Aviv, where I have been for the past week. It’s really a blur, arriving at 4:00am last Sunday morning and teaching 8 hours each day Sunday-Thursday. I was asked to come back and again teach ethics. Here ‘s what I know for sure—there’s something immoral about leg space on today’s flights!
For the past year and a half, God has been introducing me to the church, really for the first time, For the last three trips, it has not been an exploration of the land. Israel for me has been taxi rides and busy streets and classrooms. I am grateful for this. Like most travelers, my previous trips have focused on Galilee and Masada and Jerusalem, oblivious to what God was doing on the ground in spiritual communities in places like Haifa and Natanya. So I am catching up. All of us need to catch up.
Here is what I am learning from spending time with pastors, students, leaders of a college, as well as the international head of Jews for Jesus. The church in Israel is a mix of Jew and Arab, comprised of people both very young in their faith and others who are mature and very dedicated. There is a strong sense of survival. They live in a nation surrounded by countries filled with deep hate and intentions to destroy it. Within, suicide bombers have been replaced with something more sinister and unpredictable—regular and random acts of stabbings.
Beyond the more immediate is a broader world less and less inclined to support Israel. Prophetic conferences and dispensational theology created a large tourist industry with evangelicals coming to support Israel and pray for the fulfillment of future divine promises. But there has been some theological shifting over the last 25 years. Some very outspoken evangelicals are less inclined to see something special about Israel and prophecy, and more concerned for justice and Palestinian causes. Not that justice and mercy are wrong; it’s just that there isn’t the automatic support for Israel that there once was.
And then there are the religious layers surrounding the church in Israel. The Orthodox Jews see the evangelical church as a dangerous influence; certain orthodox Christians see evangelicals as a cult; and some, like the Catholic church, view Israel as God’s people and believe evangelism of Jews is unnecessary and counter-productive. Meanwhile, the government keeps its distance. Any expression of support would bring huge criticism from the Jewish community. Mix internal divisions and secular culture (which makes up the vast majority of Israel), and you sense a formidable challenge to the advancement of God’s kingdom.
But just as God did not forget His people in Egypt, God is at work opening hearts. I was told of a former Palestinian terrorist who has come to faith. I met a former Mafia boss from Haifa who is now a pastor. I am told the Israeli army, which requires mandatory service for all citizens, has come to respect Jesus followers because they demonstrate unusual respect and honor. I visited the new headquarters of a strategic ministry in Tel Aviv, poised to reach Jewish leaders.
So add the church of Israel to your prayer list. To anyone planning to visit the holy land, make sure you find ways to engage with the holy church.