Enemies of the gospel

Dear friends,

Yesterday was the last, great day of the Feast of Tabernacles, the day on which Jesus cried out in the temple courts: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”

Just on the eve of the great day, doctors at the Sheba Medical Center partnered with our Gaza coordinator Amar to rush newborn Yakeen in an ICU ambulance to safety in Israel:

And Alena shares from the hospital that today they took Yakeen in for emergency surgery to open up the choked aorta that was depriving her body of its blood flow:

Her mother also expressed her gratitude for the work of Shevet. She said that “you become tired for us,” which is a phrase that’s often used. I remembered my co-worker Amar’s efforts of coordinating everything between Israeli and Gazan authorities, hospitals and ambulances; it is an uphill battle and never an easy task. So I told her that Amar works with his heart for every child, and as those who know the love of God in Jesus, to help and love others is our duty.

And newborn Abdullah, who was himself transferred to Israel for emergency surgery 12 days earlier on the very eve of Yom Kippur, already returned back to Gaza today, now bearing the scar that will be lifelong testimony to his redemption:

It seems to me that in recent years a child from Gaza has been ransomed in this way on the eve of virtually every one of the great Torah holy days. What a way for the people of Israel to honor their king!

The families of these children again and again confess that the Jewish people they encounter during these visits are more caring, more respectful, and more honest than their own people back home. And I share that not to praise the Jewish people, but to praise our Arab neighbors. We see throughout the scriptures that God loves it when we confess our shortcomings and those of our people (see for example Daniel 9). He is so ready to forgive our sin and transform our hearts if we will only come before him and acknowledge our need.

How absolutely vital it is that we are that kind of people as well if we hope to carry the fragrance of Messiah into the Middle East. We won’t impress our very religious neighbors here with the pretense of holiness and piety that is often mistaken for true faith. They are far more expert at religiosity than we!

But if we were to come openly confessing our sins, that would get attention. What kind of people are these who are not ashamed to tell what great sinners they are, and what great things God has done for them?

It was in this spirit that I shared a link last week about an admired Christian leader who appears to have preached one thing and lived another. A couple of friends of our community wrote back and expressed that they were hurt by the way I expressed this. It’s rare to get this kind of feedback, and I’m still evaluating how I could have judged the situation in a better way.

I certainly can’t judge this leader for struggling with temptation and for falling. I and every other believer I know are in the same fight to crucify the flesh and walk by the spirit, and while we hope to win the war we are not assured of winning every battle.

But through our years of community life we’ve seen that the absolutely crucial component is honest confession. We’ve experienced every kind of sin in our midst, from lying to theft to drunkenness to sexual immorality. And no matter what the sin, the affected person remains a cherished member of our community, as long as they’re repentant and ready to tell the truth before God and also before his people.

The only thing that breaks fellowship for us is to deny the truth of what has happened, or to deny the truth of scripture when it reveals that our behavior is sin. So often we find ourselves turning back to 1 John 1:

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

It should not surprise us that many among our churches–where the wheat and the tares grow up side by side–know the language of the gospel perfectly, and are even convinced of its truth; yet when the moment of testing comes they will lie and deny their sin. And if this continues they reveal that they do not in fact have faith that the Son of God is the only and sufficient remedy for our sin. If he were then what are we hiding from?

These are in fact enemies of the gospel. They put not only their own salvation at risk, but can cause tremendous collateral damage to others. Whole churches can become cultures of pretense and hypocrisy. And when the salt of the church is removed, whole civilizations can be given over to judgment and destruction. (See Avner Boskey’s latest thought-provoking analysis of what is happening in the US and its churches, “The earth is polluted by its inhabitants.”)

Friends, it’s not given to us to change whole cultures, and it’s a waste of our time to stew, fret and complain about what other people are doing. What is given to us is the blessed opportunity to yet become honest, broken, confessing sinners. Psalm 32 is a good place to start.

“Seek the LORD while he may be found,” Isaiah says. “Call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

Doing so may save not only ourselves, but our families and our close communities.

Jonathan for Shevet Achim

“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133).