"Amazing Grace: Not just a Hymn at the Israeli Government Press Office's Christian Media Summit" Published: Times of Israel October 29, 2018

Christian media from 140 nations 
     Media professionals representing an estimated reach of 1 billion Christians-from Korea to Indonesia, Kenya to Finland, US to UK and Australia to Philippines-all arrived with a deep interest, a desire to learn more, and unwavering support for Israel. The welcoming warmth expressed by Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, President Reuven Rivlin, and GPO Director Nitzan Chen were evident from the moment they stood at their respective podiums in different venues.
      The summit also included addresses by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Jerusalem’s mayor Nir Barkat, and many leading experts and panelists. Four day-long tour options highlighting Israel’s culture, economy, agriculture, or visit to Judea and Samaria filled the schedule. They planned our days together with excellence and education. I’m a Christian Zionist and have traveled to Israel many times. Each time, I learn more about this small nation and its citizens who teem with vibrancy and celebrate life despite the ever-present shadows of terror. This trip was no exception. Three moments stood out as pictures of the clear-cut friendships between Jewish leaders and their Christian media guests. 
     On our first night, the GPO welcomed us with a Gala feast, music, dance, and remarks from PM Netanyahu and Ambassador Friedman. Nitzan Chen as emcee declared, “We need Christian media because we know that you love us from the bottom of your hearts.” The Prime Minister commented, “You are ambassadors of truth; not merely the greatest ambassadors that Israel has in the world,you’re champions of truth. You're standing up for Israel and we stand up for you.” 
     The first moment happened when the Prime Minister pulled up a chair after his remarks at the Gala and sat down on the stage to listen to Ambassador Friedman’s greetings. It was as if he was saying, “I’m among friends, I can relax.”  
     The second moment occurred at President Rivlin’s residence a few days later after we ate lunch on the lush, beautiful grounds. While we awaited the President’s arrival to speak to us, Nitzan suggested we sing several Jewish songs. He asked author Norma Zager from the Beverly Hills Jewish community to lead out in Jewish songs. Then he looked around asking for Christian songs. I sang professionally in my younger days and found myself popping up to lead our Christian media to sing “Amazing Grace.” It was the first hymn that entered my mind since it's like the national anthem of the world. Nitzan later told me, “It’s the first time a hymn has been sung in the President’s home.” A precious moment indeed!  It’s estimated that this hymn is sung 10 million times a year!
     The third moment also took place at President Rivlin’s residence. Jerry Johnson, CEO of National Religious Broadcasters made inspiring remarks which represented all of us in the room. National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), an American organization, is the largest Christian media organization in the world. Johnson thanked President Rivlin for speaking up for religious minorities in Israel, including Christians and then read NRB’s 2018 Resolution supporting Israel.  President Rivlin had spoken earlier about his 8-generation family of Jerusalemites who first arrived in 1809. Jerry referenced Rivlin’s father’s love of poetry and went on to recite a portion of the poem, “Jerusalem.”  All of us in the room could identify with the poem composed by William Blake.  “Bring me my bow of burning gold; bring me my arrows of desire; bring me my spear; O clouds unfold! Bring me my chariot of fire! We shall not cease from battle strife, nor shall the sword sleep in our hand, ‘til we have built Jerusalem in this fair and pleasant land.” 
     The three moments I described are a far cry from the distrust between our two communities over the centuries. I’ve been directly involved in the pro-Israel Christian movement for almost twenty years and have observed a loosening of caution and a building of trust which has grown exponentially. During the Second Intifada, when tourism tanked amidst the terror, enough Christian groups decided to come to Israel anyway. Anecdotally, I think it meant something to Israelis that we came as friends to stand with friends in a crisis. 
     A few years later in 2005 the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) initiated outreach to the Christian community. As a result, when Christians began attending AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. to help build relationships with members of congress, the Jewish community was surprised to see us. And even a little cautious. When they learned that we cared about bipartisan work with Congress to strengthen the US-Israel relationship, understandable caution grew into many close relationships over the last 13 years. Christians United for Israel came along in 2006 displaying the commitment of its Christian members with its numerous “Nights to Honor Israel” all over America. I often comment when speaking to the Christian community that God has given us a second chance to demonstrate our goodwill and commitment to the Jewish people.

     The synergy that continues to develop between Jews and pro-Israel evangelicals is timely. Increased threats against Israel- born of hatred and intransigence- have given our Christian community opportunities to add actions to our heartfelt prayers. I daresay thousands of large and small organizations, ministries, and individuals are part of a tapestry of help to Israel. We are indeed stronger together. 

      And the hymn “Amazing Grace?” Here’s the historic back story. When slave ship Captain John Newton penned the hymn “Amazing Grace” in 1772, his words in the first line conveyed a powerful message of sorrow and repentance for his heinous wrongs against African peoples. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” When GPO Director Nitzan Chen requested a Christian song from the 180 media professionals gathered at President Rivlin’s home on October 16, the hymn took its place as an emblem of unity symbolizing a Christian community dedicated to reversing history’s horrific anti-Semitism. Blending both Jewish and Christian songs reflected the ripened warmth and strength between the two faith communities. 
     Like John Newton whose life took a transformational turn against evil, God has given the Christian community an opportunity to turn the tide of the past with prayers matched with actions to express our love and commitment to the Jewish homeland and the Jewish community worldwide.

Small Beginnings

President Teddy Roosevelt
   I love history and minored in it when I attended college. In films and books, I enjoy documentaries, biographies, and autobiographies of people who changed the world in a compelling way. I highly regard past and present history as a valuable resource to provide context for current events.  
     Recently I researched a few famous inventors and ran across Italian-born Guglielmo Marconi.(1874-1937) Beginning in the early 1890s, he began experimenting in his attic drawing on previous research from other scientists who had not considered the possibilities of using it to enhance communications. His experiments finally led him to invent wireless technology.
      His first transatlantic transmission gained success 1903. It was former President Teddy Roosevelt (September 14, 1901 – March 4, 1909) who helped Marconi make history when he sent the first transatlantic wireless telegram message from America. Its recipient; Britain’s King Edward VII. 
   Here are the messages:
"In taking advantage of the wonderful triumph of scientific research and ingenuity, which has been achieved in perfecting a system of wireless telegraphy, I extend on behalf of the American People most cordial greetings and good wishes to you and to all the people of the British Empire."  THEODORE ROOSEVELT Wellfleet, Massachusetts Jan. 19, 1903
     Response from England's King Edward VII:Jan.19, 1903  "I thank you most sincerely for the kind message which I have just received from you, through Marconi's trans-Atlantic wireless telegraphy. I sincerely reciprocate in the name of the British Empire the cordial greetings and friendly sentiment expressed by you on behalf of the American nation, I heartily wish you and your country every possible prosperity."  
Marconi with his wireless equipment

Are you struggling with small beginnings?  Here is scriptural advice: Zechariah 4:10  "Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.""It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and threw into his own garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”
   Even though he won a Nobel prize in Physics in 1909, Marconi, in his wildest, most brilliant dreams, could not have imagined today’s wireless capabilities. I wonder though how often Marconi felt frustration about his invention in his decade of trial and error? Did he question himself? Lose heart? Consider giving up? Yet, know that he was indeed persistent because he eventually enjoyed a success which was world-changing. 
     What can we draw from this historic moment more one hundred and fifteen years ago? Many of us have either founded businesses, ministries, organizations, or churches. Days and even months and years passed by and we wondered, "Will this work? How do we survive financially? Are we on the right track?" 
     We also face the same questions in our personal lives. Maybe we are dealing with overcoming a circumstance or sin and we are not progressing quickly. Even falling. And often. Maybe we are trying to have consistent Bible study and we are missing weeks in a row. A marriage needs repair and we are frustrated. Two steps forward. One step back.
     Take a moment to reflect on a baby’s first steps. A baby is not an expert with first steps. They fall. Wobble. Cry. And yet, they keep their adventure alive struggling to stand up. God has placed within us an innate sense of drive. A baby finally walks and becomes the rip-roaring toddlers we love and chase after until we are exhausted. It’s a process. Step by step. Like Marconi. Like every great undertaking, invention, project, life skill and relationship.  Luke 13:19  "It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and threw into his own garden ; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches."  #TakeHeartTreesGrow

The Divine GPS

     When I was in elementary school, my Daddy taught me how to read a road map and to calculate the best routes from town to town and state to state. It has served me well since he taught me such a useful skill, especially when I got my South Carolina driver’s license the day I turned 14! Yes! In those days, 14-year-olds could get their day license. As a teenager, I felt the exhilaration of liberation!
Hungary/Romania Road sign
Photo Credit:Romania-Insider 2013
     My husband grew up in the south Bronx. New Yorkers'   massive public transportation system made car ownership  un-necessary. I serve as the official navigator and often drive.  One of Paul's nicknames for me is a “human compass.” My greatest achievement occurred when we drove from Switzerland to Romania in 1991 with a road map, trying to decipher signs in other languages and confusing roads. We didn’t make one wrong turn. My husband was amazed. That was in 1991 before Global Positioning Systems became fully available to the public in 1995.
     Most of us now rely on some sort of GPS using Google, WAZE, or built-in navigation. Often though, when Paul and I are on a road trip nothing substitutes for a consultation with my Atlas road maps! I enjoy looking at the bigger picture and the colorful maps.
     As in all amazingly astounding inventions, ideas, creations, and guidance, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob created the first GPS. He led the enslaved children of Israel out of Egypt after 400 years; leading them into their previous territory that had likely changed drastically after 70 Israelites migrated to Egypt under Joseph’s rule. His heavenly GPS took the form of fire and cloud. An organic way to implement directions! He WAS the GPS. By day, they turned toward the cloud and by night the fire. Exodus 13:21 describes it this way: “By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.” NIV
     Exodus 13:22 reiterates the cloud and fire combination: “Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” The Israelites’ ancient journey informs our walk with the Lord in our modern-day world. If the Jewish people trusted the cloud and the fire, the Presence of God, they stayed on the correct route. When they whined, complained, and transgressed deciding that they could not trust God’s direction, their lives fell apart. They even wanted to go back to Egypt rather than follow the pillar of cloud and fire. Instructive for us!
     When we keep our eyes on God for direction, we remain in the best place possible. Rocks and ruts may fill the road but the right direction is Ever Present. Looking to Him, His word and His counsel sustains us just as He sustained the children of Israel for 40 long years. Sometimes, even our fancy GPS systems are confusing.

Yet, the Lord never fails us. Day and night, let’s continue to look to Him, our true GPS!

Love and Unity Hand in Hand

     Our world is desperate for love. When the body of Christ works in unity, others are drawn to His love. Yet, when the world sees discord and division within the Christian community, our light flickers and sometimes goes out.
     The antidote for discord and division is choosing to focus on the essentials. Every other facet of our faith flows from two facts of history: The Lord Jesus Christ died on the tree for our sins and three days later, rose up from the grave. That is the bedrock of what Jesus said about His mission on earth. It's what His disciples highlighted as they preached the Good News near and far after His Ascension. Paul  said in 1 Corinthians 2:2 "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures."
     When we set our minds on the essentials asking the Lord for His Holy Spirit’s aid, our unity is enhanced. The lyrics of a familiar hymn written in the 1960s by Fr. Peter Scholtes says in part, …” We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, And we pray that our unity will one day be restored, And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, Yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love.” His song was inspired by what Rabbi Jesus said to His first-century Jewish disciples in John 13:35,  “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
     Love makes unity possible and reflects the parts of a whole like instruments in an orchestra. And just like an orchestra practices their unity in many rehearsals prior to their concerts, we in the Christian community must practice unity to express God’s love to a world that needs it.
Photo Credit: Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
     Achieving unity is a process. We must be intentional, allowing each other to express our own special purpose by following the model of a well-tuned orchestra. Imagine yourself as an instrument in an orchestra. Would unity be achieved in the following scenario? What if the violin said to the cello, you must look like me! Or the clarinet said to the piano, your notes must sound exactly like mine. Should the flute say to the cymbals, play musical notes like I do? Of course not because there are four distinct groups of related musical instruments; woodwinds, brass, percussion, and strings. Yet, they all read from the same sheet music.
     A full-size or philharmonic orchestra has 50 to 100 musicians. Like every orchestra, beautiful music requires a skillful conductor. The conductor is familiar with every instrument, knows every note of the musical score and gives the exact timing and entrance of each instrument. For example, the conductor knows when one instrument must play softer and when another has missed a cue all the while understanding that each instrument is necessary for the composition. Under his careful direction, unity and harmony blend. Looking to their conductor, members of the orchestra learn respect for the part each instrument must convey including their own.
     In the body of Christ, composed of many denominations, we have a Heavenly Maestro Who wants to unify us so that we may express His love to the world. Like the four sections of an orchestra, we are diverse and each has a part to play. And similar to an orchestra reading the same sheet music, we read the Bible. Using the same “biblical sheet music” a world looking for love will find it when we are “one in the Spirit and one in the Lord.”
     Practicing unity to strengthen our expressions of the Lord’s love is beneficial to us too!  Psalm 133:1 says it best. “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! “


     We hear a lot about “fake news” today but it is not a new phenomenon. I'm not in the habit of “looking around every corner” for satan but evidence abounds signaling his destructive activities on earth from the beginning of time. While it's certainly far better for a believer to gaze on our genuine Jesus than a counterfeit who likes to pose as an angel of light, discernment is key.
     Evil abounds in so many forms and that's not fake news. But fake news manifests in another form. It's the lies that the enemy of our souls whispers into our minds or assaults in our emotions. 
Real and Fake Money.jpg     That fake news goes something like this:
You are not loved. You have no worth. You'll never make it. Forget being a success. You're a failure. You’ll never get over the trauma or pain you've experienced. You won't ever find fulfillment. You blew it. Just give up. God won't accept you. You're too bad. I could add many more fake news headlines from this voice of condemnation. 
     Identifying the enemy’s fake news is an important skill for believers. Be on the lookout for fake news. The most effective tool is to read and meditate on what God thinks about you in scripture. One of my favorites is Romans 5:8 (NIV)…But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
     In the same chapter, we find another treasured truth: Romans 8:38-39 …” For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
     After many years of following the Lord, the mystery of His love grows sweeter and I remain astonished at these truths. The Bible is packed with verses which are available to us to build a bulwark within ourselves to fight off the fake news with God’s good news. I encourage you to create your own list of good news verses to help you navigate life’s rocky roads.

Passion Governed by Wisdom

     We're living in an election season where passions enliven conversations. Passions can easily transition into incivility, unkindness, and downright confrontational conflict.  We have passions about, for example, what the Lord places on our hearts, pursuing lifelong interests, parenting, professions, goals etc.
     Yet, when encountering injustice or mistreatment, this definition of passion can come into play: "a strong and barely controllable emotion.”  I easily identify with this definition since it is challenging to control emotion while simultaneously believing in something I view as important. And as a parent, I have marched into situations as a "Mama Bear" where I was defending my children. Now in my seventh decade of life, I remain an activist with strong opinions. I have grown to appreciate and embrace as best I can that my passions must be governed by wisdom. Wisdom requires self-control. I can't access self-control unless I ask for the power of the Holy Spirit.
     The bible gives signposts, warnings, and promises:
• Proverbs 29:11 “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.”  Wise people will aim toward calm while simultaneously expressing passion about what or who they value.
• Proverbs 3:13 “Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding.”  It’s good to be reminded that blessings come when we find wisdom.
• James 1:19-20 “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”  This verse is also instructive.  Take note of these words HUMAN ANGER. Human anger will lead to name calling, abusive conversation, and yes, fights, murders, and wars. 
     Another kind of anger is RIGHTEOUS ANGER. Its definition is “a reactive emotion of anger over mistreatment, insult, or malice of another.” It rests on divine or moral law where anger rises up during unjust, mean, or unworthy situations.
     Our best example for righteous anger- also called indignation- is Jesus Himself. This story is told in all four gospels. Matthew 21:12-13 “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” He said to them,“ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”
     Scripture went on to say in John 2:13-16, “And making a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And He poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And He told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade."  It was clear that Jesus was defending His Father in heaven and was angry that the house of prayer had been overtaken by buying, selling, and commerce. The Temple’s purpose had been subverted from holy into profane. Religious leaders of the day had allowed the Temple to become a place of greed rather than glorifying God.
Photo Credit: The Word in Pictures
     In modern times, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi displayed righteous anger-in civil and gentle ways- for just causes where others had suffered mistreatment. They displayed passion governed by wisdom!
     I found a quote by St. Thomas Aquinas, (1225-1274) who was a venerated theologian, jurist, and Italian Dominican Friar. Here’s his viewpoint articulated in his Summa Theologiae: “He that is angry without cause, shall be in danger; but he that is angry with cause, shall not be in danger: for without anger, teaching will be useless, judgments unstable, crimes unchecked.” His conclusion was that “to be angry is therefore not always evil.”
In summation, “Be angry but do not sin.” Ephesians 4:26

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