|Jewish citizens in Gaza fleeing from Palestinian ambush during funeral for Israeli mother and her four children, who were killed when terrorists stopped her car and emptied their magazines on the faces of the family.
By Ari & Shira Sorko-Ram
The Gaza strip is a teeming mass of 1,300,000 poverty-stricken Muslims in a beautiful 360 kilometer strip along the Mediterranean Sea slightly more than double the size of Washington D.C. This area, whose border with Israel proper is 51 kilometers, is also home to about 7,500 Israelis who are dispersed throughout the strip in various settlements.
Gaza, of course, was the old stomping grounds of Goliath and his four giant brothers who headed up the armies of the Philistines, and who were implacable enemies of Israel. The citizens of Gaza today are just as intransigent and unappeasable today as those early Philistines from whom the Palestinians have adopted their name.
Now, for the umpteenth time, an Israeli prime minister is attempting to disengage from some of the areas won by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, and which are mostly populated by Arab Muslims.
At this moment in time, Ariel Sharon's plan is to unilaterally withdraw the Israeli army and remove all Jews from the Gaza strip. President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair approved the plan, but Sharon's own party members voted it down (non-binding) in a referendum. (Those party members who voted against the plan constitute about one percent of Israel's Jewish population.) Clearly, the nation is split over the disengagement plan. Yet, if the polls are to be trusted, a majority of Israelis want to leave Gaza.
WHY SHARON WANTS TO LEAVE GAZA
Human loss is what it is all about. Let's compare figures: The U.S. has a population of almost 300,000,000. Since the Iraqi war began a year ago in March, 556 Americans have died by hostile fire, and another 207 through accidents and other means. (As of May 7, 2004) Another 2,546 have been moderately or seriously injured. Fifty Americans have been killed in Afghanistan since 9/11. The British, with a population of 60,000,000 have lost 58 soldiers in Iraq.
Now consider Israel's losses. Israel's latest phase of her continuous 100-year war with Muslims began on September 29, 2000, when Yasser Arafat declared war on Israel after Ariel Sharon personally visited the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount where Solomon built his Temple and where Yeshua preached his Gospel. Arafat began his second Intifada because he said the Temple Mount was holy only to the Muslims and no Jew should be allowed to set foot where “Muhammed ascended into heaven on his white horse.”
Since the beginning of that declaration three and a half years ago, Israel with a Jewish population of less than 5,000,000 Jews, has suffered 950 Israelis killed by Palestinian terrorists 673 civilians and 278 soldiers. (as of May 7, 2004 http://www.idf.il/) Men, women and children have been murdered by rocks, stabbings, running over, lynching, point-blank shootings, drive-by shootings and shooting at vehicles and homes. Four hundred and fifty Israelis have been killed by suicide bombings, 38 by car bombings and 61 by other types of bombs. A total of 6,338 Israeli civilians and soldiers have been wounded many have been turned into paraplegics and quadriplegics, blind, deaf, deformed and brain damaged.
It is because of this carnage that successive prime ministers of Israel, from both the left and right, all tend to come to the conclusion that for this tiny Jewish state to continue to exist, Israel must strategically withdraw to sustainable borders.
FIRST PRIORITY, LAND OR PEOPLE?
How should intercessors for Israel pray into this Middle East quagmire? Asher Intrater, elder of our congregation, Tiferet Yeshua, writes about his prayer priorities as a Messianic Jew living in Israel:
"All of the land in Israel belongs, by divine covenant, to the Jewish people. Claims of the Islamic world of ownership of the land of Israel are a direct rebellion and challenge to the Word of God. All Christians are called to stand with Israel in these end times. Islamic terrorism is a horrible evil whose intent is to destroy human society. It is immoral for the nations of the world to ask Israel to give up any of its territory. The Bible portrays all human conflict as culminating in a great war where the forces of evil join together in an attack against Jerusalem, which God considers to be an attack against Himself. Yeshua is portrayed as returning, at that point, at the head of a heavenly army to destroy the nations that attack Israel.
"In addition, there is a terrible double standard in which Israel is being asked to treat all Arabs within Israel with "western" style human rights, and allow all of them within Israel to maintain their property and citizenship; whereas anywhere there is Muslim rule, all Jews must surrender all property and flee for their lives, or be brutally murdered."
Asher goes on to say, "I am a fervent Zionist; my wife and I and our four children are Israeli citizens; and my two older boys currently serve as commanders in battle units in the Israeli army. And as far as the Disengagement Plan goes, I think it is a terrible plan. But at this point, it is the best one available. The current terrorist war against Israel is complex and multifaceted. There are more issues than just the land. There are military strategy issues. There are financial and social and educational and moral issues as well.
"If Sharon, as the commander in chief of the nation of Israel, and Shaul Mofaz as the defense minister, and Moshe Alon as the head of the Israeli army, all say that it is better for us to pull back from positions where there are a relatively small number of Jewish settlers in the midst of major Arab populations, toward positions where we can have more effectively defensible borders, then I believe I should be supporting them with my prayers, asking God to give them wisdom in directing this nation.
"It is difficult enough for us to be sending our children out in the forefront of the battle against terrorism. Should we also do that in areas where all the most experienced military commanders are saying that the positions are strategically unwise, if not untenable? The Israeli young people are courageous and willing to risk their lives to defend their country, but not to do so stupidly and wastefully.
"I agree with the most radical proponents of total land possession for Israel. However, land possession is not the ONLY issue involved. When you stress one issue to the lack of others, you can make a mistake, even when what you are saying is right. There are other issues in Israel, such as the moral collapse in schools, drug use, sexual abuse, religious coercion, unemployment, violence, mental and emotional traumas, and on and on. Caring for these issues must also be on the agenda.
EVANGELISM, EVANGELISM, EVANGELISM!
"Most of all, there is the issue of evangelism. Praying for the land without praying for Israel's salvation accentuates only one aspect of God's purposes for Israel. When evangelism is avoided, then other issues get a bigger share of the emphasis than what is due." [End of quote] http://www.revive-israel.org/
Praying for the spiritual salvation of the Israeli people is the key to every other aspect of her well-being. Let's face it: Israel is experiencing the same oppression from evil neighbors as she did in Bible days and for the same reasons. It's in black and white.
They abandoned the Lord the God of their ancestors…This made the Lord burn with anger against Israel, so he handed them over to marauders who stole their possession. He sold them to their enemies all around, and they were no longer able to resist them. Every time Israel went out to battle, the Lord fought against them, bringing them defeat, just as he promised. And the people were very distressed. Judges 2:12-15 (All Scriptures are quoted from NLB unless otherwise noted.)
Do you notice? There is no rebuke here from the Lord for giving up her land or retreating before her enemies! Rather, God himself handed Israel over to the enemy. Not that the people were conscious of their sins. Each was doing the best he or she knew how, trying to be a good person at least relatively speaking much like today. But it wasn't good enough for God.
In those days Israel had no king, so the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. Judges 17:6
That is why the Lord's anger burned against his people, and he abhorred his own special possession. He handed them over to pagan nations, and those who hated them ruled over them. Their enemies crushed them and brought them under their cruel power. Again and again he delivered them, but they continued to rebel against him, and they were finally destroyed by their sin. Psalm 106: 40-44
ANGELS, NOT ARMIES
Israel's superior number of soldiers or advanced weapons will never be the reason that she will have victory in her land. It will only be when her people cry out to God. Yet, Scriptures tell us that even while Israel is under judgement for her sins, God is watching over her, waiting for her to turn to Him for help.
Even so, he pitied them in their distress and listened to their cries. He remembered his covenant with them and relented because of his unfailing love. Psalm 106: 45
But when Israel cried out to the Lord for help, the Lord raise up a man to rescue them. Judges 3:9
Through the decades of years we have spent in Israel, we have seen plans without number come and go, Israeli plans, American, European, Russian, and, of course, UN plans. None have ever gotten off the ground. So far, as badly as Israel is willing to give up her God-given land, she has been unable to do so. The Palestinian leaders ultimately say "no" to every offer, because they want it all or nothing. “All” is another word for Israel’s demise -- through terrorism, war or by overwhelming the Jewish democracy with 5,000,000 Muslim “refugees” to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Galilee. But God will not tolerate a total destruction because, in His foreknowledge, He knows that Israel is going to be saved first spiritually, then physically.
And so Israel's suffering continues as she battles against her enemies - unable to win and unable to make peace - until she turns and calls upon the Name of the Lord.
While Israel is still under attack, here is an absolutely essential note of caution: Any nation that attempts to devour Israel on the pretext that it is doing God's will must know the Lord will ultimately destroy that nation.
My people have become lost sheep…all who came upon them have devoured them; and their adversaries [Babylon] have said, "We are not guilty, inasmuch as they have sinned against the Lord…." Jeremiah 50:6-7
Here is what the Lord says about Babylon, as representative of the nations that attack and devour Israel:
Look, I am raising up an army of great nations from the north. I will bring them against Babylon to attack her, and she will be captured…. [because] you rejoice and are glad, you plunderers of my chosen people..." Jeremiah 50:8-11
HOW TO BE ON THE LOSING SIDE
This is what the Lord Almighty says: My love for Jerusalem and Mount Zion is passionate and strong. But I am very angry with the other nations that enjoy peace and security. I was only a little angry with my people, but the nations punished them far beyond my intentions. Zechariah 1:14-15
Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations [that fought against Israel], as he has fought in times past. Zechariah 14:3
In conclusion, we must always keep in mind the cardinal rule: Israel is God's example of how he deals with mankind. War and attack is a result of a nation's sins. Not necessarily the sins of the people or the rulers of that moment, but because the cup of wrath has been filled over a period of time until it overflows.
God said that humility, prayer, seeking his face and turning away from wickedness will bring forgiveness to the people and healing to the land. II Chronicles 7:14
In our Saturday service last week, the soldiers in our congregation came forward for prayer. The whole congregation prayed for their safety, for the safety of all the believing soldiers and for the entire army of Israel.
Many of our members were crying at the slaughter of 13 soldiers in one week. The last two were shot as they tried to help a Palestinian woman bring food to her family. All week the terrorists used their chldren as human shields as they targeted Israelis in the streets of Gaza. Grief and despair has overcome our nation this week as we look on helplessly to the butchering of Israeli soldiers’ bodies into little pieces by gleeful Palestinians.
Yes, it is good to pray for the land. But it is better to make it our first priority to pray for her people! Israel's people must first be redeemed before all her land is redeemed.
Yeshua's words are always the bottom line: And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process. Is anything worth more than your soul? Mark 8:36-37
We cannot lose sight of the fact that as important as the land of Israel is, each Jewish person is worth more than the whole world. Besides, God has told us He will hear those prayers!
For a nation has come up against her….In those days and at that time," declares the Lord, "the sons of Israel will come…weeping as they go, and it will be the Lord their God they will seek. They will ask for the way…that they may join themselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant…. Jeremiah 50:4-5 NAS
A CHANCE OF A LIFETIME!
By Ari & Shira Sorko-Ram
The two of us were traveling from Los Angeles to Dallas and we decided to take the opportunity to stop in Colorado Springs to meet Pastor Ted Haggard of the mega New Life Church because we had just finished translating his book, Primary Purpose, into Hebrew.
We felt the book was important for Israel, as it's theme emphasized the absolute importance of congregations and pastors in the same city and vicinity loving and cooperating with each other and fellowshipping together - not only for the good of the whole Body, but for the absolute betterment of each individual congregation. That is a vital message for Israel!
We had made an appointment with Pastor Ted's secretary to meet him on a Monday. But somehow, the appointment had fallen through the cracks and when we arrived, we were told that there couldn't have been an appointment because the Pastor didn't even come to his office on Mondays. While we were wondering what to do, Pastor Ted happened to stop by his office and walked into the room. We presented him with the Hebrew version of his book and told him a little of what we are doing in Israel.
Minutes later, a dear friend of ours, Karen Duncan also came by. We had forgotten that she had moved to Colorado Springs to be the pastor of women in New Life.
As the conversation ensued, Pastor Ted began to tell us of the vision that God had given him concerning small group ministry within his congregation. Before we go any further, it is important for us to state that we were acutely aware of the extreme importance of home group ministry in our own Tel Aviv congregation.
We had come to believe that it is the only way we know to give opportunity for a constant flow of new people to enter our congregation and make strong, healthy and close relationships with other members especially as we are soon to pass the 200 mark. A pastor, even with a faithful staff and several elders, is hard-put to personally nurture more than a couple of hundred sheep!
Secondly, establishing home groups is a sure-fire way to raise up leaders in a congregation. When a person or couple takes on the task really, the privilege of starting and building a home group within their own home, they are receiving on-the-job training for leadership, period!
However, it seemed to us that we were facing some pretty large obstacles to get small groups off the ground in our congregation. Yes, we have a few very successful small groups. But we have found that the Israeli personality especially those born in the land (as opposed to Jewish immigrants) is individualistic to the extreme. And Israelis usually have relatively tiny homes or apartments; they have little or no extra money even to buy refreshments for a home group. They work long hours often six days a week although many companies are now changing to a five-day-week schedule, a fact that blesses every Messianic pastor in Israel.
Because of all these difficulties facing our members - of which the majority are native-born Israelis - it has been really tough for even a fairly mature member to get a home group of Israelis off the ground. Sometimes, one would start, only to die out after a few months.
At the same time we continue to be convinced that for Israel, small groups are the key to growing a large congregation of local Israelis. Israelis who receive salvation and join our congregation often face persecution and rejection by family and friends some more than others. But we can assure you that all, to some existent, feel opposition to making Yeshua their Lord and Savior. Israeli believers need a close-knit group of friends and companions as they pioneer faith in Yeshua in their locale.
So back to Pastor Ted. He began to explain to us how the Lord had given him a vision and a plan to reach the people in his city of Colorado Springs. He told us one of the characteristics of the residents in his area is a strong independent personality.
Well, there may not be too much else in common between citizens of Tel Aviv and citizens of Colorado Springs. But we can tell you with certainty that one of the dominant traits of a native-born Israeli is also a strong independent temperament.
Israelis do not fit in well in a regimented system!
As we listened, Pastor Ted told us that he was in the middle of a revolution in small group thinking, taking into consideration this independent disposition - which, incidently, he believes best fits the Western mind in general. He found that his people are far more excited about starting a home group if they can do it in connection with some activity that they love to participate in themselves. Therefore, New Life now has many groups that want to participate in a variety of Bible studies. But they have hundreds of other small groups which meet together around a myriad of other themes.
New Life Church has groups that go fishing, train dogs, have cooking classes, secular book discussions, drama classes, do-it-yourself car mechanic classes, business forums, marriage enrichment courses and multitudes of other gatherings. All of them include either a time of worship, or testimony, or Scripture reading or prayer. One or more of those elements make the gatherings a home group of New Life Church.
Pastor Ted calls his creative style of personal relationship gatherings, "Free Market Small Groups." Each group meets for a semester of several months. At the end of a semester, a person can decide if he wants to continue in the same group, or join one or even more than one other groups. The aim of the free market small group is to move an unsaved person in whatever state he is in, towards salvation and a lifetime of growth in the Messiah. Each semester the goal is to see perceptible forward movement in each person, no matter what stage that person is in. In five years, New Life Church has grown from 4,800 to 9,000 members.
In our Tel Aviv congregation, Tiferet Yeshua, we see a dramatic shortening between the time it takes an Israeli to hear the Gospel to when he or she receives Yeshua as Redeemer and Lord. Nevertheless, we must not forget that we are often witnessing and preaching to new Israelis who have absolutely no prior knowledge of the Gospel. Therefore, even if they accept the essence of the Gospel quickly, in order for them to become healthy, productive believers, they need hands-on discipling and they need believing friends.
As we read the small group material that our friend Karen Duncan sent us from New Life, we began to think and pray how we could instill this vision and organizational know-how into our own budding leaders. A bold idea took hold of us: to bring a select group among our core members to the United States to see first hand how the free market system works. And so on June 20th we and our elders Eddie and Jackie Santoro are flying to Colorado Springs with a number of our leadership - a total 28 Israelis. Among us will be a very dear Arab brother, Joseph Haddad, pastor of the Nahariya Lebanese Church, and his son Amir. They too want to learn how to incorporate the free market concept into their own Lebanese Arab congregation in Northern Israel! What a testimony to the way God brings Jew and Arab together!
We have been meeting together with this group for several months now praying, planning and reading the small group material. We have translated the Ted Haggard's book, "Dog Training, Flying Fishing and Sharing Christ in the 21 Century" into Hebrew, and also the Small Group Leadership Resources manuel. (Which leads us to the fact that no matter what area of enrichment we wish to bring before our congregation, we have to go through the cumbersome and ponderous not to speak of expensive process of translating all materials into Hebrew!)
But the rewards are so great! As we watch the salvation of the Lord extended to our precious Israeli people, no cost or sacrifice is too great to see the people of Israel come to the Hope of Israel, their own Messiah!
But there is more to this trip than Colorado! On the second week, 20 of our group will fly to Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas to observe a Youth with the Nations week in action, as over a thousand teenagers check out CFNI for a possible future Bible school and experience a fabulous week of spiritual renewal. We will meet with CFNI's youth leader, the music leader and technical personnel as we observe how they use media and innovative methods to reach the youth.
We will also be trained in “human video” at Trinity Assembly in Duncanville, Tx. and youth ministry at Church on the Move in Tulsa.
We are determined to absorb all the principles we can get on our 17 day journey in the U.S and aculturate them for our Messianic Jewish congregation in Tel Aviv! And we plan to come back to Israel, full and overflowing with purpose and confidence that the Lord is ready to work mightily among our Israeli people.
And so we ask your prayers as this group of 28 Israelis Jew and Arab make their way to the U.S., June 20-July 6. This is part of a process of raising up a new generation of Israeli leadership for the ministry of reconciliation between Israel and her God.
Many of you have contributed to give these young leaders the chance of a lifetime to see first hand what God is doing among His people in the United States. There will certainly be many more Israelis who will find their peace with God as a result of the equipping of our members for ministry on this trip. Thank you!
PRAYER ALERT: Please pray for five of our team who have not yet been given American visas. We are reapplying for these young people!
Dear Maoz Partner,
While we evangelize the lost and disciple the believers, one of our greatest joys is to distribute your gifts given to istandwithisrael.com to the Messianic Jewish believers in Israel.
When the Spirit of the Lord came upon Yeshua, He put the poor at the beginning of the list of those he ministered "to preach good news to the poor."
God is very pleased when we "look after orphans and widows in their distress." "If a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food, and we wish him well but do nothing about his physical needs," the Scriptures say, "What good is it?"
Can you believe that in tiny Israel 36,000 small businesses were forced to close last year? So your gifts to istandwithisrael.com are truly God's way of helping His ancient people.
An elder from the Carmel Assembly, Haifa, Danny Sayag, wrote us,
Thanks so much for what you have done to help those in our flock. One you have helped is a lady who was born during the holocaust in Poland, and who made her way to Israel after the war. During her teen years, she had a revelation that Yeshua was the Messiah, but knew of no other Jewish believers for many years.
Due to the severe economic crisis in the Land, she was laid off her job of many years. Unemployment is high and it is especially hard for a woman in her 60's to find work. She is a widow with no other financial assistance, but does whatever little jobs she finds to supplement her income. She is deeply grateful for your assistance.
A pastor in the Tel Aviv area writes:
Indeed the istandwithisrael.com fund has been an incredible blessing and has esponded to a longstanding need to help individuals and families in great needs. As a pastor, it has been a tremendous blessing to have such a compassionate and generous fund to turn to. I was faced with my own financial dilemma. My tax year had ended and I was faced with a colossal tax bill which I could not afford. The love of the istandwithisrael.com fund blessed me "beyond," and totally removed the financial pressure sitting on me. Freed from the pressing burden, I do not have to seek ways to procure additional funds but can concentrate on the ministry set before me. S.B.
We are also continuing to give a portion of your gifts to victims of Islamic terrorism. Those who gratefully receive these funds are amazed that Messianic Jews and Christians would bless them in their sorrow.
Each month we receive your gifts for istandwithisrael.com, and each month we nearly always empty the fund to help the poor among the Messianic believers of Israel and victims of terrorism. When we say thank you, we are saying it for them. What a way to bless Israel, Abraham's seed!
For Zion's sake,
Ari & Shira Sorko-Ram