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Perhaps we're crazy

George is wobbling on top of a ladder, splashing away with a worn-out paint-laden brush. Eileen's somewhere below doing ditto, wishing her considerate husband of 42-years-and-never-a-cross-word would put more acrylic on the wall and less on her. The Arab cleaning-lady person is yelling (everybody yells in Israel) at us to finish so she can mop the tiled floor. Dozens of elderly residents shuffle by and get entangled with our dustsheets. And a visitor demands (in perfect English, a wondrous sound to our Hebrew-sodden ears) to know why we've come to work in Israel for a year.

Why indeed, we ask ourselves .

The first answer that springs to mind is 'anachnu meshuggenah' - we must be crazy. Masochistic, even.

Everyone is our boss, from the lawfully appointed Home director (heart of gold, unflappable), through the echelons of middle management (henna-haired Valkyries, guarding their little empires tooth and claw, each claiming us as their exclusive property), down to kitchen and cleaning staff (knife-wielding, plate-throwing, mop-toting terrorists, exploiting us shamelessly and tugging at our heartstrings in one deft movement).

Yeah, we're stark raving. But there's more to it.

And let's get one little misconception out of the way. We're not - repeat, not - do-gooders by inclination. There are always needs. There's a verse worth tattooing on your biceps that goes 'The poor you have with you always'. In other words, we can always do more, help more, whatever. It's endless.

But it's different if God says.

Perhaps that's a clue? Let's keep pondering why we're here.

Because it's Israel. Because it's Jerusalem. People are drawn to it.

And hence the attacks on it. It attracts Crusades and Holocausts, Pogroms, Intifadas and Jihads. And attacks on the intellectual level include Replacement Theology, Supercessionism, Triumphalism and Restorationism.

So what's different about the streams of Christian volunteers who come here? Regardless of bullets and stomach upsets.

When in doubt, ask the Boss. We asked. And slowly He's been getting through to us.

So, when the visitor (remember how all this started?) questioned us as to why we were on ladders and bended knees painting portions of Israel, our reply was as follows:

'To say thank you.'

What for?

'For giving us the Bible and Jesus.'

We're not insisting that Israelis accept that Christianity is right. But we're saying that some breath-taking promises (which tend to be overlooked or relegated to some future never-never-land) have been clearly and overwhelmingly fulfilled in the past two millennia.

Such as?

Being a light to the Gentiles, salvation to the ends of the earth, so in Abraham, all the families of the earth shall be blessed and his descendents be as the dust of the earth and the stars of the heavens in number. For 'salvation is of the Jews'.

It's a matter of history that the Gentiles have eagerly grabbed the message of Jesus and taken it to their hearts.

Sure, there have been any number of foul-ups on the way. Satan has repeatedly tried to organise God out of His Church. But the Word of God - in the person of Jesus and in the writings we call the Bible - has kept Gentile believers living out the life of Christ within them.

And even in the massive world-class battle between light and darkness, not only have individuals, millions of them, found the Lord, but western society - against all odds - has been modified by the light that came from the Jews. Concepts of right and wrong, care of the sick and elderly, even one day off work in seven, are directly traceable to the Torah.

And, hey, saying thanks a bundle for the Bible and Jesus sets off quite a chain reaction here in the Middle East.

Sure, there are the knee-jerk don't-want-to-know brigade. Christians haven't got an exclusive on that little failing. But there are a significant number of Jews, observant Jews, Orthodox Jews, who say it's time we talked to each other.

Look - our old folks' home allowed us seven days' holiday. Sort of parole for good conduct. So we took time out at Kibbutz Lavi, up to the left of the Sea of Galilee. Near Kfar Khana (Cana) and Nazareth.

The kibbutz makes superb furniture for synagogues around the world. Has a quality herd of Friesians that smell just like home.

It's an Orthodox kibbutz. Every last resident is an observant Jew. Kippa-wearing, kosher-keeping, Shabbat-observing, Torah-savvy.

And - wait for it - they give lectures to teach Christians and Jews to understand each other.

Wouldn't it rock you.

Dialogue. And we began to learn the what and why of Judaism. Where Gentiles fit in. The fact that Judaism isn't an anachronism, isn't obsolescent.

Hey, look - there's a song you're going to need to learn. We'll hum the tune quietly, but the title is fairly startling. Ready for it?

'The song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.'

(Revelation 15, 3-4 for the Bereans out there.)

That's a strange linkage. Moses - the servant of God - and the Lamb. This is end-time stuff, and Moses is still getting his name on the credits.

And little by little the puzzlement of all kinds of scriptures has started to change into simple sense. Promises - many of them unconditional promises - that God's peculiar people were to stay different and manifest that difference by special behavior, special clothes, special diet forever. To all generations. As long as the sun and moon keep going.

But didn't that all change at Pentecost?

No. Not for the Jews it didn't. Except that an awful lot of what they had done as an historical reminder suddenly leapt into sharp focus as pointing to what God had achieved in Jesus...

...which is why those Jewish believers didn't give a sigh of relief and chuck all their Jewishness away. They continued to be Jews with the new understanding of the deeper purpose of the Torah. In fact it was false - false! - charges of going against Moses and the Torah that were levelled at Stephen and Paul...

...which is why, when God suddenly sent the Holy Spirit upon nasty, heathen, pork-eating, uncircumcised Gentiles, the Jewish believers went into a flat spin.

Should they sharpen their little knives, give those ex-pagans a crash course in Judaism, sell 'em cut-price tefillin and mezzuzot or what? And they - and the Holy Spirit - concluded that the only rules for Gentiles were to 'abstain from things offered to idols, blood, things strangled, and from sexual immorality'.

Believing Jews and believing Gentiles were to live side by side, one in the Lord, but distinct from each other.

That's what is meant by 'there is neither Jew nor Gentile in Christ'. Doesn't mean there's no outward difference. (Hey - it also says there's neither male nor female, but, unless we've missed something, we're still pretty enthusiastic about the old vive la difference. At our age.)

Jews and Gentiles are starting to talk again. Especially as each side discovers that Jews aren't required to join the Christian religion as it has evolved over two thousand years, and Gentiles aren't required to have the little operation, keep the 613 commandments, the Feasts, the whole scene. But both lots can benefit - are benefitting - from learning, discussing, agreeing even.

So when we're called away from our painting of a million miles of corridors by some visitor for a chat in their resident relative's little apartment, we accept the fruit juice, turkish coffee or (whisper it) peach schnapps, and exchange pleasantries.

'Yes, Israel needs rain. New Zealand is a long way away.'

Then into serious discussion. With surprisingly little disagreement. On what God said and did. Or says and does.

Perhaps, just perhaps, while top-level politicians among Jews and Arabs stand off and glare at each other - as they have done for a long time - perhaps grass-roots believing Jews and Gentiles can learn to talk. Ask questions. Learn.

With no pressure to 'join us; we're right'. Let everyone stay in the state in which he is called, like the Book says.

Living side by side in a God-given harmony. That would be a genuine peace process.

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