This week, tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians have flared up again with the worst violence seen in decades. Meanwhile, the world awaits the illusive Two-State solution. Nothing happens. And neither can it. The endgame for Palestinian extremist organisations like Hamas is the destruction of Israel. There isn’t any real compromise. To them, a Palestinian state is “from the river to the sea.” So, what is happening, and why? Let’s dive into some history to find out:

The end of Israel

In the first century, war devastated ancient Israel for decades. The Roman armies destroyed much of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. Tensions and attacks on Jews around the Roman Empire led to a massive Jewish uprising against Rome from 115 to 117. In 131, Emperor Hadrian renamed Jerusalem Aelia Capitolina and constructed a Temple of Jupiter on the site of the former Jewish Temple. Hadrian banned Jews from living in Jerusalem (a ban that persisted until the Arab conquest).

In 136, the Roman Empire finally crushed any rebellion from the Jews. The Roman province of Judaea was renamed Palaestina (Palestine in English). There was no country called Palestine.

No Palestine. No Israel

From 136 to 1945, there were no indigenous nations in that region. There was no Palestinian state. There was no Israel. The land was controlled by:

  • Roman Empire (64 BC – 390 AD)
  • Christians (Byzantine period, 390 – 634)
  • Muslims (634 – 1099)
  • Crusades and Mongols (1099 – 1291)
  • Mamluks (1291 – 1517)
  • Ottoman Empire (1517 – 1917)

There were always Jews present in this region, along with other indigenous peoples. The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem was previously a church when the Christians held the territory.

In the first half of the 20th century, the Zionists who came to Palestine invested a lot of money in creating schools and infrastructure. If a Jewish state did eventuate, it would survive. At least, that was the hope.

The Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of the First World War. British foreign minister Arthur Balfour sent a public letter to the British Lord Rothschild, a leading member of his party and leader of the Jewish community. The letter subsequently became known as the Balfour Declaration of 1917. It stated that the British Government “view[ed] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” The declaration gave the British government a pretext for claiming and governing the country. An agreement between British and French bureaucrats decided on new Middle Eastern boundaries. From then on, Diaspora Jews began migrating to Palestine from many nations.

A Nation is Born

In 1947, The United Nations approved a Partition Plan for Palestine. The Partition Plan recognised an independent Arab State, an independent Jewish State, and the City of Jerusalem under “an International Trusteeship System.” Jewish people received this joyfully, but the Arab community did not agree. Civil war broke out in the region, and more than 250,000 Arabs fled. Hundreds of thousands of Jews and Palestinians have suffered for centuries. People have lost their lives, homes, possessions, and loved ones.

On 14 May 1948, the last British forces left Haifa, and the Jewish People’s Council gathered at the Tel Aviv Museum. It proclaimed the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz, Israel, to be known as the State of Israel. The USA (Truman) and Russia (Stalin) recognised the new State but not the Arab nations, who marched their forces into Israel to “drive it into the sea’. Thus began the first Arab-Israeli war.

Many Jewish immigrants, who were World War II veterans and Holocaust survivors, began arriving in the new State of Israel. Many joined the Israel Defence Force (IDF). The war ended early in 1949 when Israel signed armistices with its neighbours (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria). Israel’s new borders were internationally recognised, except by the Arab States. Land granted to Israel remained under the control of various Arab nations. There was little or no outcry from the international community about this. But in 1967, Israel took those areas back, and the international community WAS outraged.

Over the next several years, Israel grew as Jewish people returned from the nations to which they had been scattered. The new country developed its land; the desert was reclaimed, and infrastructure was built.

The Six-Day War

In the 1967 six-day war, Israel captured territories that it had lost in 1949 – the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights (from Syria), the Gaza Strip (from Egypt), and the West Bank (from Jordan). Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. The war created what we know as modern Israel.

Much has happened since 1967. Sadly, there is still no end to the tensions between Israel, the Palestinians, and much of the Arab world. The Two-State Solution is no closer to being realised. It cannot happen until all parties are willing to compromise.

Arab countries want a pan-Arabic Empire as in the days of old. But the Jewish State is in the way. They aim to keep Palestinians in displaced persons camps in Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Lebanon as pawns for a larger agenda.

The PLO and Hamas

The Intifada of the late 80s and early 90s led to Israel transferring governmental authority in the Gaza Strip to the Palestine Authority (1994). Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian government struggled with a stagnant economy, divided popular support, stalled negotiations with Israel, and threatened terrorism from militant groups like Hamas, which came to power in Gaza in 2007.

By 2005, Israel had withdrawn all troops and citizens from Gaza. Israeli settlers had to leave their homes like Palestinians did in 1948. Homes and infrastructure were left intact. The hope was the Palestinians would create a healthy state. Instead, Hamas destroyed houses and infrastructure. Much of the money donated by nations to help the Palestinians was (is) used to buy rockets and build tunnels to commit terrorist acts in Israel.

The Difference

The Covenant of the Hamas makes for fascinating (and terrifying) reading, “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” Hamas rejects any negotiated peace settlement and views every Israeli citizen as a combatant. So, in their mind, it’s acceptable to bomb civilian targets because there is no such thing as an Israeli civilian. Hence, the firing this week of thousands of rockets indiscriminately from Gaza into Israel.

Compare that recklessness with the conduct of the IDF:

  • First, they call anyone in or near a targeted building to warn them of an impending attack.
  • Next, they drop leaflets in the area, giving the same warning.
  • Thirdly, small unarmed (dummy) missiles are aimed at the roof of the building to be destroyed in a warning dubbed “Knock, Knock.”

Even with the greatest care, some civilians get killed because Hamas operatives don’t let them leave. Dead civilians get mileage with the media and create international outrage against Israel.

I spoke with a Jewish friend about the conflict recently, and he said: “We live in the hope of a free Palestine that is free from Hamas and Hezbollah and corrupt leadership.” Both Jews and Palestinians have a right to their homeland. But if things continue unchanged, it’s only a distant aspiration.

Can you disagree and remain friends?  It’s a question I’m regularly asked especially when the debate gets a little heated on social media.  My answer to the question is, “Well, yes & no” because it depends on several variables.

It depends on the importance of what you disagree about.  For example, I have a shirt that I refer to as “my pink shirt”, but Christie assures me it’s salmon.  Now to me salmon is a fish, not a colour but does it really matter?  Of course not.  Some things we can disagree on because they really don’t matter.

Some people can’t handle disagreement, and they take it personally especially if it’s a hot topic linked to their values, worldview, or theological position!  Others either argue or withdraw.  Those who quarrel sometimes find it hard to allow others to hold a point of view that is different to their own.  They debate to convince the other person that they need to change their opinion.  When this doesn’t happen, the argumentative person can become angry, frustrated or withdraw.  Remaining friends with people like that is difficult.  That’s why the Bible teaches, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”


It also depends on how you define the word “friends”.  For example, at the time of writing, I have 4857 Facebook friends (plus 4381 followers on my public figure page).  Add to that the number of people who connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, and I’d need to hire out the Melbourne Convention Centre and have a couple of sittings to fit everyone in.  But are these people really friends? I don’t know, I haven’t met most of them. 

I’m happy for these “friends” to comment and disagree, but what about when they’re continually disagreeable?  Interestingly, one of the synonyms for “disagreeable” is “unfriendly”.   I try and be patient and kind towards these people by first sending them a private message asking them to run their comments through the fruit of the Holy Spirit  (you know, things like kindness, self-control, and gentleness).  If they persist with their unpleasant behaviour, I warn them publicly.  After that, if they continue to offend, they are blocked or removed.  I refuse to allow such people the privilege of using my platform to air their nastiness.  The fact is you probably can’t remain friends with some friends who are not really friends at all.

Disagreeable Friends?

Can you disagree and remain friends?  Yes, most of the time if you disagree clearly.  State your opinion but don’t force it on others. Don’t see your goal in life as converting other people to your way of thinking. Allow others the freedom of seeing things differently to you.

Christian unity is not the same as uniformity. The Bible uses the word “harmony” to express the proper functioning of a church community.  Harmony occurs when different notes sound pleasing when they are played simultaneously.  Playing the same note over and over is boring.  Christians need to be in unity about the truths around salvation (as summarised in The Apostles’ Creed), but then they should be able to disagree about other things without breaking a friendship.  We shouldn’t have to be in total agreement on every issue to maintain harmony.

Hot Potatoes

Christians have differed about lots of things over the centuries, and nothing has changed.  We still disagree about theological and ethical issues as well as church practice:

  • Is baptism by full immersion or sprinkling?
  • Should women be allowed to teach in the church?
  • Was the earth created in six literal days?
  • Is hell really eternal torture?
  • Is the Bible the inerrant word of God?
  • Is it alright for divorced people to remarry?
  • Is it okay for two people of the same gender to marry?
  • Does the book of Revelation deal with the past or the future?
  • Which political party should I vote for?
  • What is the correct day to worship on?
  • Should we use grape juice or wine for communion?
  • Should Christians eat deviled eggs?

You get the picture! Christians disagree about lots of things, but none of the above effect a person’s salvation so why can’t we hold opposing views and remain friends?

It’s sad that, before I publish a blog or comment on social media these days I have to ask myself the question, am I prepared to lose friends over this?  Why can’t we respectfully disagree without breaking a friendship?   In fact, if you never have a conflict, you’re probably not experiencing genuine community, and your “peaceful” life could just be a sign that your existence has become stagnant.

Do Unto Others

Learn to disagree kindly and to differ without being unpleasant.  Avoid hurtful or personal comments and shun putting others down to lift yourself up.

Can you disagree and remain friends?  Well, yes and no. But if you want to stay friends, and the friendship is genuine, then the friendship is more important than disagreement.

(Take some time this week to read Romans 14 and notice all the helpful points the apostle Paul makes in helping the church work through disagreements).


Image Credits

Feature image – Even best friends have disagreements from time to timeMark Binzegger

One of the things I love about the Bible is its honesty.  It doesn’t shy away from people’s faults and failures – or successes.  It reports the good, the bad and the ugly.  I can imagine many of the Bible’s characters, if they were alive today, cringing at what God allowed to be written about them.  I mean we only want people to know the good stuff right?  There’s Noah saying, “Really God, did we have to mention the drunk and naked in the tent incident?”  Abraham would be concerned about reports of him lying – twice!  David would be mortified over the adultery with Bathsheba.  And I could go on about Moses the murderer, Paul the persecutor and Thomas the cynic but I’m sure you get the picture.

In its honesty, the Bible never shies away from the conflicts that happen between people – even good people, Christian people.  In fact, most of the New Testament letters were written to help people work through conflict situations in local churches.   One of the most helpful stories is the reported conflict between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41) because it helps us address the question: “Who’s right, who’s wrong?”  Whenever there’s a conflict the temptation is for people to take sides (and sometimes one person is totally in the right and the other completely wrong).  But more often than not we need to sift through details, personalities, points of view, previous experiences and a host of other variables in order to get clarity on the truth.

These two great men – Paul and Barnabas – had been on a missionary trip together, teaching the Gospel and starting local churches.  They’d taken Barnabas’ cousin Mark with them but things had got too tough for the young man and “he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work” (Acts 15:38).

Sometime later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing” (Acts 15:36).  Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them, but Paul didn’t think it wise to take him, because of his fickleness on the previous trip.  The result?  “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:39-41).

On the surface, it looks like the Bible sides with Paul, and Barnabas seems to fade from the picture.  But is that the case?  Who’s right, who’s wrong?  Paul was right in that Mark was young and inexperienced and had left them in the lurch on the first trip.  I understand his reticence to take him again so soon.  But Paul was also wrong because – as we will see – he failed to recognise the potential in this young man.  Barnabas was right because he did see the potential in Mark, but he was also wrong in that he most likely allowed the family relationship to cloud his judgment.  Remember that “Barnabas” is just a nickname.  His real name was Joseph but the apostles called him Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement.”  That’s the sort of guy he was.  You’d love to be around him because he always looked for the good in others – their potential rather than their problems.

The Bible eventually shows that both men were wrong and both were right.  God blessed Paul and Silas’ work of strengthening and planting local churches, while He also blessed the work of Barnabas who is recognised in Scripture as an apostle, a good man, a prophet and teacher and one through whom God worked miracles.  He faced persecution and risked his life for Jesus.  He was the one who saw Paul’s potential and sought him out to help at the Antioch Church.  And his ability to spot potential paid off when it came to Mark.

Later in the New Testament, we find out that Mark eventually became part of Paul’s apostolic team whom he sent to help the Colossian church writing to them to “welcome him.”  Sometime later Mark helped the apostle Peter who refers to Mark as “my son.”  It’s likely that Mark was with Peter working as a scribe for the Gospel that bears his name.  Mark’s Gospel is widely believed to be Peter’s recollection of the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

At the end of Paul’s life, he wrote to Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”  Why was he helpful? Because Barnabas saw and developed Mark’s potential.  So who’s right, who’s wrong?  The answer is simple – both of them were.  The wise person will learn this lesson.

I enjoy writing a weekly blog; I love tackling the tough topics and looking for ways to express my Christian faith by engaging with the issues of the day.  I also appreciate the interaction that we make available on the Bayside Church website as well as social media – at least some of the interaction.

Last week I wrote a blog asking the question, “Is Hell Eternal Torture?

In the blog I affirm the traditional view as the one I have always believed and taught, but also presented two other views that are held by Christian people.  I gave a reading list that contains books that present teaching on hell from various perspectives for those who would like to study further.  Some of the comments were constructive while others were critical.  How dare I suggest there are different views on hell?  Hell is eternal, conscious suffering and one day I’ll find out the truth of that – ouch!  “It’s a pretty pissy article, one that I’d expect to hear more of as time goes by. I have read the Bible, do read the Bible, done my post-graduate Theological and Biblical studies. It’s nice to present the various ‘views’ but one thing’s for sure – the contemporary church is getting more piss-weak as time goes by. Sure, they do a few nice things and dress a little more hip, but overall, pretty shallow and out of touch. The real legends of Biblical exposition are dying off and new generations of neo-Pagan, post-Christian era heretics are on the increase.”

One person commented, “I would have lived a wild life if I didn’t believe in hell – fear is a great motivator and anything less than hell being hell dilutes grace I would have thought?”  My reply, “But perfect love casts out fear. What a shame that people follow Jesus as a “get out of hell free” card. I’d hate to think my kids stayed in relationship with me because they feared the consequences if they didn’t.”

What strikes me the most from some interaction to my blogs, is the lack of ability in some Christians to have a mature, respectful discussion on Bible topics where different views are held.

Now I’m not referring to the key truths of the Bible – the things that affect a person’s salvation.  If I start writing blogs denying the deity and humanity of Jesus, or salvation through Christ alone, or forgiveness and pardon through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then please stop reading what I write.  When I speak about holding differing views I’m referring to the negotiable truths of the Bible.  I would put my blog on the three views of hell in this category.  Other negotiable beliefs include:

  • Varying opinions on the timing of Jesus’ Second Coming
  • Did creation take six literal days or is Genesis 1-2 is a poetic allegory?
  • Should women be allowed to teach in church?
  • Can a Christian lose their salvation or are we eternally secure?
  • What is the correct way to interpret the book of Revelation?
  • Is a divorced Christian allowed to remarry?

The church has wrestled with these and other matters for centuries.  Are you aware that there are four views on Christian baptism; four views on church government; four views on The Lord’s Supper; five views on how the Law interacts with the gospel; three views on creation and evolution; three views of the Millennium and six views on worship?  And this is just a small sample of the negotiable subjects on which Christians differ in belief and practise.

The problem is that most Christians never get exposed to various views.  Their church teaches ONE view – the RIGHT ONE of course – and when they hear something that differs from what they’ve always believed, they hurl insults and cry “heresy.”

I love it when mature Christians can have a respectful discussion on a variety of topics.  What a shame though, when people feel that “their” viewpoint is being threatened or questioned and they retaliate by making statements like “well I just believe what the Bible says” – like I don’t? Or, “I don’t like the Bible to be watered down to make people feel comfortable, warm and fuzzy.” Or, “if you studied the Bible you’d see the truth” – like I haven’t spent almost four decades diligently studying that amazing book! The all-time smack down though is, “when you meet Jesus face-to-face He’ll sort you out.” Yeah, you’re probably right. I’m sure He’ll have a few pluses and minuses for each of us like He did for the 7 churches in Revelation. I’m so glad I can rest in His ultimate grace and love though.

Having mature discussions on negotiable truths means that I will ask questions and listen more than speak.  It means I won’t spend the whole conversation trying to convince another person that they’re wrong and that they should convert to my way of thinking.  It means that we may respectfully agree to disagree, but we won’t break Christian fellowship and unity over something that doesn’t affect our salvation.  It means that I wont feel threatened because someone believes differently to me.

For those of you who are mature believers in Jesus and enjoy learning different points of view on various Biblical subjects, I recommend the Counterpoints Collection. It’s published by Zondervan and available online. I’ve downloaded and read a number of these books on my Kindle and found them interesting and very helpful in broadening my understanding of Scripture. With volumes featuring contributions from some of today’s most respected scholars, these books represent the very best in Christian scholarship.  Happy reading!

Tolerance is the new buzzword.  Google it and you’ll get 138 million results in 14 seconds!

There is a modern myth that holds that true tolerance equals agreement – that the tolerant person occupies a place of complete impartiality where each person is permitted to decide for himself. No judgments allowed. No forcing personal views.  But that is not what tolerance is all about.

According to Webster’s New World Dictionary the word tolerance means “to allow or to permit, to recognize and respect others’ beliefs and practices without sharing them, to bear or put up with someone or something not necessarily liked.

Tolerance, then, involves three things: (1) Permitting or allowing; (2) A conduct or point of view one disagrees with; (3) While respecting the person in the process.

True tolerance is not about agreement – it’s just the opposite.  If I agree with a person’s viewpoint I have no need of tolerance.  It’s only when I disagree that tolerance needs to be exercised.

Today, however, we have distorted tolerance from defending the rights of those who hold different beliefs from us to affirming all beliefs as equally valid and correct. This “new tolerance” is not only socially dangerous and intellectually debilitating it also leads to genuine intolerance of all who struggle to hold fast to their beliefs.  This is particularly true for those of us who wish to hold fast to a Biblical worldview.  Cardinal George Pell put it this way: “Ironically, intolerance of Christianity and Christian culture is proclaimed most often in the name of tolerance: Christianity must not be tolerated because of the need for greater tolerance.”

This has been seen in a number of ways in recent times.  For example, the debate surrounding the abortion law in Victoria. Pro-abortion commentators attacked “conscientious objection” as nothing more than a way for doctors and nurses to impose their morality on their patients.

Antidiscrimination laws are also raising serious freedom-of-religion issues for churches in counseling, education, the hiring of facilities, and employment of staff.

Intolerant tolerance could also threaten the belief that there is only one way to God – a view that is not only taught in Christianity but also by Islam and many other religious groups.  As a Christian I believe that salvation is only found in Jesus Christ.  People of other religious faith (or of no faith) would disagree with me.  That’s when tolerance kicks in.  I am tolerant of the fact that others hold other views and I expect those same people to be tolerant of me – and we are to be respectful and kind towards each other in the process.

I believe it’s in the area of respect and kindness that the “tolerance” debate is seriously missing out these days.  If we disagree with someone we are told we are intolerant, homophobic, unchristian, judgmental and the like. People who are crying out for tolerance are in turn intolerant of others who hold – and are entitled to – a different opinion.

Christians should be leading the way in expressing tolerance towards others because we claim to have a relationship with a God who reveals Himself to be tolerant: do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (Romans 2:4)

Tolerance comes from the Greek word “Anochēs” which means “the ability to put up with things.”  This is wonderful truth.  If you have messed up, God is not looking to get you back and beat you up. God is rich in the ability to put up with things. He is exercising patience and kindness towards you as an attractive force that ultimately draws you to him so he can forgive you.

Sadly some Christians are not tolerant. They will not put up with anything. If you sin you’re out the door. They are not tolerant because they do not know the tolerance of God.

Two Baptist pastors from the US clearly illustrated this intolerance recently.  Pastor Charles Worley told the 100 or so congregants at Providence Road Baptist Church in North Carolina, “I figured a way out, a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers but I couldn’t get it past the Congress – build a great big large fence, 50 or a hundred mile long. Put all the lesbians in there, fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals. And have that fence electrified so they can’t get out.  And you know what? In a few years they will die out. You know why? They can’t reproduce. If a man ever has a young’un, praise God he will be the first.”

About the same time Pastor Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, NC said this in a sermon, “Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch. Ok?”

God is gracious! God can put up with things – but obviously these pastors can’t.  Christians need to lead the way in demonstrating true tolerance to the world around us – not agreeing with everyone, but rather allowing others to hold different points of view while maintaining respect, kindness and patience.

In the meantime it appears that all views are equal, but some views are more equal than others!

Now, right from the start I want to make my position clear so there can be no misunderstanding from what I’m about to say (I hope!). I am Pro-Israel. I believe that God chose to work through this people group in order to bring forth the Messiah who would save those who put their trust in Him that’s what Genesis 12:3 is about – “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”  But being Pro-Israel does not mean two things:

1. That I agree with everything Israel does, and

2. That I am anti any other nation

I believe it is vital that our Pro-Israel stance does not blind us to these two very important truths, because some Christians I have spoken to are so Pro-Israel that, in their eyes, Israel can do no wrong.  These same people often speak disparagingly of nations that Israel is at enmity with, such as the Palestinians.

Regarding the first issue: Blessing Israel does not mean I have to agree with everything it does.  I love my kids; I love to bless my kids; but that does not blind me to their faults and it does not stop me from exacting appropriate discipline when they do the wrong thing.  In the Old Testament God often punished the nation of Israel for their wrong actions.  Over the years Israel has been guilty of some dreadful injustices to others.  We have some Palestinian people at Bayside Church who have recounted to me the horrors their families were subjected to by Israeli soldiers many years ago.  My point here is that just because Israel does it doesn’t mean it’s right.

Secondly, being Pro-Israel does not mean I have to be anti any other nation.  I am not anti-Palestinian; I am not anti-Arab; I am not anti-Lebanese – and neither is God.  Jesus came to save people of all nations.  Glimpses of heaven in the Book of Revelation refer to there being people of all nations worshipping around the throne of God.

One of the things I love about the church is that we start to get a glimpse of heaven on earth.  In the Church we see Jews and Palestinians worshipping side by side as well as people from Lebanon, Iraq and other nations.  We see Protestant and Catholic Irish people loving each other.  This is why heaven will be heaven.  The Church’s task now is to bring heaven to earth:  that’s what Jesus told us to pray for in the Lord’s Prayer.  Supporting injustices of one nation against another or being anti any nation creates hell on earth rather than heaven and ultimately works against the plan and purpose of God for the World He loves.