Jerusalem day is here! What an incredible privilege to be here in Israel during this time of celebration. Israel is an amazingly diverse country. From the sandy deserts of the Negev to the waterfalls & fruit trees of the north. When driving for an hour you’ll feel like you’ve been transported into a different planet.
There are wonderful things about each city but none have captured my heart, and the heart of many others, like Jerusalem.
There’s a reason why God calls this city ‘My resting place forever’ (Psalm 132:13) and declared ‘If I forget you O Jerusalem let my right hand wither.’ In Hebrew it is not translated as ‘my right hand’ but literally ‘My right.’ (yimini) which could even refer to Yeshua the Messiah who sits at the right hand of God.
That is how strongly God's heart is connected to this special city and how much he cares for the people who dwell in it.
WATCH SHORT FILM ON JERUSALEM BELOW:
“Jerusalem is built as a city that is compact together…” (Psalms 122:2)
Jerusalem is known as a boiling pot of different cultures, religions & ethnicities. This creates an overwhelming amount of energy, tension and something we Israelis call the ‘balagan factor.’
Balagan is a slang word for: a crazy mess or utter chaos.
Although the 'balagan factor' can make life here frustrating, it also makes life more interesting! Everything is one big adventure because you never know what's going to happen...
Walking on the precarious stone laden path through the Arab shook (market) in the Old City of Jerusalem is an overwhelming experience. Voices, colours, sounds, smells & lights merge together in a symphony of life.
Shoppers bargain with merchants; store owners entice unsuspecting, naive tourists into their little shops with promises of hot tea or a cup of strong, Turkish coffee. Religious Jewish women & men bustle through on their way to pray at the Western Wall, and then there's me - trying to take as many photos as I can to capture the energy and vibrant existence of this unique place.
There is an indescribable feeling of interconnectedness between the people here that creates an atmosphere of warmth and security. Hospitality is highly valued and expected within communities and friendships.
However, this can be overshadowed at times with racial tensions, hostilities and sometimes outright violence. Stabbings do take place in the Old City of Jerusalem ( as occurred recently). Even on this day that we visited and took these photos, we returned home to find out that a terrorist was arrested for throwing a firebomb at police on the Temple Mount.
Many have this perception of Israel and immediately think about war, violence and empty desert land; yet Israel is so much more than that! The people who live here have persevered through immense hardships and have built up a once empty wasteland into a flourishing, fruitful country making a difference through technology, innovation & art around the world.
In other countries we are taught to 'keep to ourselves' but here in Israel the 'don't talk to strangers' rule doesn't apply!
It is difficult to put into words what it’s like to live in Jerusalem. I was recently posed this question from a girl travelling from Ireland who was studying art in Jerusalem for a semester. “So do you like living in Israel?” She asked inquisitively.
I smiled. “I’m very thankful to be here and appreciate the blessing that it is, but it’s not easy… you really have to fight to live here.”
Her eyes widened “What do you mean? Have to fight?”
I just shook my head. I’ve always struggled to try to explain the challenges most Israelis have to face on a daily basis when deciding to make Israel their home.
As much as living in Jerusalem is a celebration as our hearts burst with joy and appreciation for living in God’s Holy City… it is also a battle, as we walk through turmoil, pain and tragedy, sacrificing so much to remain in the place we love so much.
I was recently chatting with a friend in Canada who was asking me what’s new with me and how Israel has been doing after facing over 900+ rockets being fired into Gaza just a few weeks ago.
“Well, since the ceasefire things have calmed down quite a bit… but there have been fires raging out of control destroying nearby villages…” I paused not sure whether or not to keep going.
That was enough for him to hear. “Why don’t you just come back to Canada? It’s so much safer here!” He said, utterly baffled that I would chose to live in what may seem like such a treacherous country.
I debated whether or not to tell him about the rest of the stories I had from this week - narrowly avoiding a tarantula outside, a scorpion in our bathroom, a snake in my sister's house, tick bites, traffic accidents and potentially poisonous spiders under the couch... And that’s not even the half of it.
I didn’t tell him about the thorn I stepped on that was so massive it pierced completely through the sole of my shoe; or the time I couldn’t get home until 1 am because there was a bomb threat at my bus-stop; or the other many stories left unsaid - of struggle and of overcoming the intense trials we face here in the Land.
“Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions.” (Ezekiel 2:6)
Even though Israel can seem like an incredibly dangerous place; and yes, even though there have been times of panic and uncertainty.... I have never lived in a country where I felt so safe & secure.
I know that crazy things happen here but I also know who is on my side, and if God is for me who can stand against me?
Despite the challenges - the missiles, the terrorism, the snakes, spiders & scorpions, Israel is our home. It is not only the place that God calls us to be; but the place that He, Himself chooses to reside.
“The Lord has chosen Zion, He has desired it for his dwelling place forever.” (Psalms 128:5)
“Blessed be the Lord out of Zion, who dwells in Jerusalem” (Psalms 135:21
“Israel, especially Jerusalem, is no place for the weak.” We often say when faced with seemingly unbearable challenges that would be non-existent in nearly any other country.
To live in Israel you have to be tough. Or in other words “to live in Israel you have to rely completely on God’s strength, grace & protection to survive.”
This is the side of Israel that many of us don’t get to see or experience from the seat of an air-conditioned tour-bus. I love that so many people want to come and visit Israel, in fact we plan on leading a pilgrimage/tour here in Israel in 2021! (CLICK HERE FOR REGISTRATION) (click here to get on waiting list!)
All I’m saying is that there is only so much you can experience in 10 days. Living here in Israel is a much different story than just sight seeing for a few days.
I attended Tehillot Yisrael (Praises of Israel), the annual Messianic worship concert in Jerusalem where all the top believing musicians and song-writers record a new album of their new songs during a live event.
“If I forget you O Jerusalem let my right hand forget it’s skill! How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign Land?” (Psalms 137:5)
We felt so excited so finally be back in Israel to worship God among our people in Jerusalem!
As we pulled into the parking lot, I felt myself growing more and more anxious. My senses were on high alert even though nothing out of the ordinary was happening around us.
I brushed it aside as 'just my imagination' and we continued on walking together to the concert in a public building in the center of Jerusalem (unaware of the impending danger).
Suddenly hoards of religious men (and even young boys) descended upon us, screaming and shrieking on high pitched whistles that were painful to hear. They blocked the doors so no one could get into the concert and held up signs (in Hebrew) saying ‘Be careful! Missionaries!’ We watched - stunned that this was actually taking place before our very eyes in a city that is supposed to be known for its religious tolerance - tolerance; that is, for everyone it seems except Messianic Jews.
The situation quickly escalated, as they began screaming curses at those trying to get into the concert, shoving them away from the doors and arguing with the police that were attempting to keep things under control. Young girls began to break down into tears and elderly couples were terrorised and overwhelmed.
No one was evangelising in any way, shape or form. We were not doing any kind of outreach. We weren’t even teaching from the New Testament. All we wanted to do was sing praises to God!
The atmosphere was so thick with hate and malice it made everyone feel panicked and overwhelmed. One by one we managed to get past the crowds of the religious protestors and made our way into the concert.
I was filled with such anger at the injustice and discrimination that took place. Yet at the same time, we prayed for God’s mercy and forgiveness over these people who truly thought they were doing God a favour by persecuting us.
“The time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a holy service to God.” (John 16:2)
Harp player at Jaffa Gate - Old City Jerusalem
Inside, the concert finally began and the most beautiful voices lifted up their new songs in worship to the God of Israel. Together we sang Scriptures from the Psalms - giving praise and honour to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.
The intense, ear-shattering racket of the religious Jews outside contrasted sharply with the angelic praises of the worshippers inside.
“For it is good to sing praises to our God, For it is pleasant, and praise is beautiful. The Lord builds up Jerusalem; He gathers together the outcasts of Israel.” (Psalms 147:12)
Jaffa Gate - Old City Jerusalem
“Let us go to the house of the Lord. Our feet have been standing within your gates O Jerusalem!” (Psalms 122:1-2)
The people of Israel are resilient. We refuse to let our faith die down or our praises be drowned out by the hatred and noise of those against us - from whatever source.
This is the heart of the believers living in the Land and it’s the reality that we face on a daily basis.
We refuse to let fear control our lives. We put our hope and our trust in God to deliver us, to preserve us and uphold us in times of trouble and turmoil.
"When I am afraid I will trust in You." (Psalm 56:3)
We may face many enemies but we walk confidently knowing that our God is mighty and able to save us from their hands. "Lord, how they have increased who trouble me! Many are they who rise up against me. But You, O Lord, are a shield for me,My glory and the lifter of my head." (Psalm 3:1-3)
As the worship concert ended, we decided to sing one more song in Hebrew. “If our God is for us, who can stand against us? I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”
Girls praying from Jewish prayer book at Western Wall, Jerusalem.
It takes an astounding amount of courage for the people of Israel to plant our feet in the ground and say ‘armies may rise against me, war may break out, my bank account may be in the minus again, my car may break down, I may have been cheated & stolen from, I may not be able to get to work or school again today because the religious are protesting again BUT….
I will not be shaken. I will not be moved. God is on my side.
“He who keeps Israel doesn’t slumber or sleeps." (Psalms 121:4)
Just because we follow God and we are in the will of God it doesn’t mean things will be easy. It doesn’t mean the enemy will roll over and give up against trying to destroy us.
However it does mean that God will fight for us. That He will protect us. That night as riots broke out we fought this intense spiritual battle with one of the best weapons we have - worship.
Worship is not just the three slow songs played in church before the sermon starts on Sunday morning. I’m finding out more and more that worship is means of spiritual survival here in Israel.
Worship pushes back darkness, opens doors, changes lives and transforms our hearts. It continues to give the honour and glory to God and brings beauty into this world in the midst of much evil and corruption.
I am incredibly blessed to live in a city (just outside of it) as special as Jerusalem.
I could go on forever about different aspects and unique elements that make up the city, I could give you a long history lesson of the biblical significance of this place.
Instead of doing all that, I just want to summarise what Jerusalem means to me.
To me, Jerusalem is a city worth fighting for.
It's worth the struggle, worth the stress, it's worth fighting the battles & balagan necessary in order to survive here because it's home.
It's a place where we, as God's people can grow, thrive & build a better future. It's where we belong.
"For I will defend this city to save it for My own sake and for My servant David's sake.'" (Isaiah 37:35)
"Like birds hovering overhead, so the LORD of Hosts will protect Jerusalem. He will shield it and deliver it; He will pass over it and preserve it." (Isaiah 31:5)
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