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On Monday, the United States formally opened its embassy in Jerusalem, finalizing the relocation of the U.S. mission to Israel from the previous location in Tel Aviv. Here are nine things you should know about one of the world’s oldest and most venerated cities.

1. Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world. Evidence indicates the area within present-day Jerusalem was settled as far back as the Copper Age, sometime in the fourth millennium BC. There is also some evidence that a permanent settlement could have existed as early as Bronze Age, around 3000 to 2800 BC

2. Jerusalem is not only one of the oldest cities in history but is also one of the most contested. According to historian Eric H. Kline, the city has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked an additional 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.

3. The name “Jerusalem” occurs 806 times in the Bible—660 times in the Old Testament and 146 times in the New Testament (not including synonyms used to reference the city). The first occurrence of Jerusalem is found in Joshua 10:1 (“As soon as Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, heard how Joshua had captured Ai”). Some scholars also believe an allusion to Jerusalem appears in Genesis 14:18 with the reference to Melchizedek, king of Salem, because poetic parallel construction in Psalm 76:2 equates Salem with Zion.

4. Jerusalem is home to some of the most holy sites in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. For Christians, the city is significant because it was the location of Jesus’s Last Supper; of his arrest, trial, and crucifixion; of his nearby burial; of his resurrection and post-resurrection appearances; and of his ascension and promise to return. For Jews, the city is home to the Kotel, or Western Wall, a remnant of the retaining wall of the mount from the Holy Temple. As Erica Chernofsky notes, “Jews believe that this was the location of the foundation stone from which the world was created, and where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac. Many Jews believe the Dome of the Rock is the site of the Holy of Holies.” (The Holy of Holies, located within the Temple Mount, is the most sacred site in Judaism.) In Islam, the Dome of the Rock is where Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to heaven after being transported from Mecca to the location where the Al-Aqsa Mosque now stands. This site is the third holiest site for Muslims, after Mecca and Medina.

5. After being anointed king of Israel, King David captured the city of Jerusalem from the Jebusites (Canaanites) and made it the nation’s capital (2 Sam. 5:3-6). The city remained the capital of Israel until the Romans sacked it in AD 70. From that point until 1948, various non-Jewish factions controlled the city.

6. From 1517 to 1917, the city was controlled by the Ottoman Empire, and then from 1917 to 1947, by the British Empire. In 1947 the United Nations developed the Partition Plan for Palestine, a proposal to divide the city between Israel and Palestine. Before the plan could be implemented, though, war broke out in the region. The war of 1948 resulted in the division of Jerusalem, with the Israelis controlling West Jerusalem and the Jordanians controlling East Jerusalem, including the area known as the Old City with the religious holy sites. The city remained divided between Arabs and Jews until the Six Day War.

7. For two decades after the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, tensions remained between Israel and its Arab neighbors. In May 1967, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria began mobilizing their military forces and initiated a naval blockade of Israeli shipping and seaports. Israel responded by preemptively attacking Egyptian airfields and destroying 90 percent of Egypt’s air force. In the first three days of the war, Israel managed to capture the Gaza Strip, the Suez Canal, and the Sinai Peninsula. Although Israel had asked Jordan to remain neutral in the city of Jerusalem, the Jordanians began to attack West Jerusalem. On June 7, Israel captured all of Jerusalem and accepted a ceasefire with Jordan. Since then, Israel has controlled the entire city (Muslims in Israel have full access to their holy sites, though Palestinians in the West Bank have restricted access into the city).

8. In 1980, the Knesset adopted the “Jerusalem Law,” which stated, “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel” and that “Jerusalem is the seat of the President of the State, the Knesset, the Government and the Supreme Court.” The United Nations Security Council, which had long criticized Israeli annexation of the city, responded by adopting Resolution 478. The resolution declares the Jerusalem Law to be a violation of international law and calls upon UN member states to withdraw their diplomatic missions from the city. The resolution passed 14-0, with the United States abstaining.

9. In 1995, the U.S. Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which provides funding for the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

For the rest of the post…

One reason people stay away from Christianity is not because they don’t know any Christians. It’s often because they do.

Our actions and our words as followers of Jesus have the power to attract or repel people from Christianity.

The number of people who never go to church or follow Jesus keeps growing. And their thinking keeps changing too.

So what can we do about it?

Well, in addition to modeling humility, grace, truth, love and so many other things that describe the earliest Christ followers, we Christians can watch our words.

This post was originally inspired by a piece by Scott Dannemiller wrote, in which Dannemiller urged Christians to stop saying “feeling blessed” whenever something good came their way. He makes a thoughtful, insightful argument around that.

In that vein, here are three other things Christians should really stop saying.

1. Prayer works

Should we really stop saying that prayer works? Well, yes and no.

Most people who say prayer works these days really mean God did what I wanted him to do. As if prayer was a button to be pushed to release exactly what they wanted from the vending machine.

Prayer is not a button to be pushed; it’s a relationship to be pursued.

Prayer does ‘work,’ but it works very differently than we’d like.

It still ‘works’:

  • When we can’t trace out any direct result from our prayer.
  • When the opposite of what we prayed for happens.
  • In those moments when we feel very distant from God.
  • When we bang down the door of heaven for years and are not sure anything is going on up there at all.

There are scores of people inside and outside the church whose spirits are crushed because they prayed (fervently) and:

  • They didn’t get the job.
  • Their mom died of cancer.
  • Their child was born without a heartbeat.
  • They ended up in a car crash that left them permanently disabled.

Prayer doesn’t ‘work’ because I got what I wanted and they didn’t.

The parade of saints across the centuries would have been shocked to see prayer reduced to God-doing-what-I-asked-him-to-do-when-I-asked-him-to-do-it. God is not a puppy to be trained or a chef in the kitchen who prepares food to suit our every whim. He is sovereign.

As Richard Foster says:

For those explorers in the frontiers of faith, prayer was no little habit tacked on to the periphery of their lives; it was their lives. It was the most serious work of their most productive years. Prayer—nothing draws us closer to the heart of God.

Do things happen supernaturally when we pray? Well, yes they do. But often in ways we cannot understand or even trace out.

I think Christians can take consolation in the fact that when we pray, we often don’t know what to pray for or even how to pray, yet the scriptures tell us the Holy Spirit will translate the prayer into something better than we could phrase in the moment.

So pour your heart out to God. Pray about the things the scripture says are close to God’s heart. And when something ‘goes your way,’ be grateful and offer it back to the God who gave it to you.

And when things don’t go your way, understand that God is still very much in control and very much loves you. Just because God is silent doesn’t mean God is absent.

2. God told me to…

Often, you hear people (and pastors) say things that start with, “God told me to…”

The longer I follow Jesus, the more hesitant I am to say God told me to do anything specific. Maybe that’s an issue I need to work on, but it springs from my observation that I’ve seen this misused far more than I’ve seen it used well or authentically.

In fact, I’ve often noticed that the more outrageous the claim, the more likely someone is to say, “God told me to…”

When I hear someone claim God told them to do something, I feel like saying:

God told you to do that? Really? God himself spoke directly to you and told you to specifically build that building for which you have zero money? Or leave that church that you were in deep conflict with without resolving things? Or buy that house that’s way out of your price range? Wow!

Are you sure it wasn’t the pizza? Or the voice in your head that often tells you to do the things you simply feel like doing?

For the record, I believe there are times when God does speak to people today. But let’s be realistic. What made me put this phrase on the list is the number of times I have heard the phrase used to describe a decision that is:

  • Selfishly motivated (come on, admit it … you’re justifying your impulses).
  • Contrary to scripture (the scriptures pretty clearly suggest that what you’re doing is sinful … or at least isn’t wise).
  • Designed to shut down debate (does anyone really think they can win a “God told me” debate?).

I’m not saying God never tells us anything directly, but I am suggesting it happens far less than most of us claim.

So what’s a better course?

Say something like, “Based on what I know from scripture, I believe this is the best/boldest/wisest course of action.”

That makes sense. And then you can have an intelligent discussion.

And you don’t pull the God card to justify something about which Christians and others can have a legitimate discussion.

Or, if you’re just trying to shut down debate, just be honest. I wanted to do it, so I did it. There. Now you said it and everyone will feel better.

If you’re dead honest, you might even realize you made a crazy decision.

3. I could really feel God’s presence

You’ve heard this before. We live in an emotional age and we’ve arrived at a place where many of us feel like we’ve become mini-authorities on when God is present and when God is not.

But analyze that.

The truth is, we tend to feel God’s presence more:

  • When the band played our favourite song.
  • When the band played five of our favourite songs in a row.
  • When the room was packed.
  • When the decision went our way.
  • When we felt happy during our quiet time.

For the rest of the post…

I posted the below comments on my Facebook page earlier today. President Obama is visiting the city of Omaha today. I live there. 

President Barack Obama will visit Omaha this afternoon. His visit, along with his final State of the Union address last night, has stirred up much dialogue in the social media. Many of the comments are negative while others are positive. We do have the freedom in this nation to express our opinions and hopefully, we will respect the opposing opinions of others.

On Facebook, there are many comments directed towards President Obama. Some very negative comments towards him have been posted by Christians. What should be the attitudes of Christians towards the President of the United States? I am glad you asked that question! As I worked on this evening’s Bible study at HOBC (7:00 pm), I came up with a list of attitudes/behaviors of Christians towards our President.

By the way, I am very conservative in my political views. I have voted that way for decades (Am that I old?). I am also an evangelical, Baptist pastor. The list below applies to me and to all who claim Jesus to be their Lord and Savior.

1. We are to honor and respect the President. “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17). Back in Peter’s day, there were Roman emperors. We have a President and we are to honor him, even if we disagree with his policies and statements. We also need to keep in mind that all authorities (good or bad) are established by God: “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1. See also Daniel 2:21).

2. We are to pray for the President. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions…” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Even though we may disagree with President Obama, we are to pray for him and his family. People have told me that I have the hardest job in the world. I disagree. Being a college football coach and crab fisherman is harder, and being the President is even harder (have you noticed how the hair of Presidents gray the longer they serve?).

3. We are to be very careful with our words towards the President. Again, this applies to those who follow Jesus: “Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king…” (Ecclesiastes 10:20); “My son, fear the LORD and the king, and do not join with those who do otherwise” (Proverbs 24:21). Again, we may disagree with the President and can’t wait for the next election, but as Christians, our words about him should reflect the fact that we respect the office and that we pray for him.

Facebook has opened the door for us to slam the President. Christians can resist the temptation to bash the President through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are to honor and pray for him.

This post may generate a “lively” discussion. If we are Christian or not, conservative or liberal, let us respect each other.

A revival does two things. First, it returns the Church from her backsliding and second, it causes the conversion of men and women; and it always includes the conviction of sin on the part of the Church. What a spell the devil seems to cast over the Church today!

Billy Sunday

“The Church has not yet touched the fringe of the possibilities of intercessory prayer. Her largest victories will be witnessed when individual Christians everywhere come to recognize their priesthood unto God and day by day give themselves unto prayer.”

~ John R. Mott

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