Jerusalem, Israel – An early morning gathering of intercessory prayer and worship led by Robert Stearns and his team welcomed delegates to the Jerusalem International Convention Center today. It is day three of a landmark event, as The Foursquare Church gathers in Israel for the International Congress on Worship, Prayer and Our Global Witness. Pastor Jack Hayford, president of The Foursquare Church, gave direction in prayer as small groups of intercessors prayed for the peace of Jerusalem and that the long-held hope of salvation for the Jewish people would be realized through Messiah, Jesus Christ.
The congregation traveled back to the days when Jesus walked this city as Ken Medema ministered at the keyboard the story of Zaccheus from the New Testament Gospels. In his own unique blending of storytelling and song, Medema had the people on their feet laughing, cheering, weeping and dancing as he led convention delegates in worship. It was a remarkable experience for many in the auditorium, and it was clear that local staff of the convention center were intrigued by the expression of joy and hope that characterized the morning’s worship service.
In the interest of brevity and having laid the necessary groundwork in the past 12 months for discussion and engagement pertaining to business matters for this year’s convention, several items of corporate business were advanced during this morning’s session. A vote was taken to ratify by-law changes related to: (1) establishment of the Foursquare Association; and (2) timeframe of notification for a sitting president of The Foursquare Church to announce his/her availability for a second term.
Also this morning, delegates were asked to vote regarding ratification of terms for two board members. During the second session this morning, it was announced that all measures on today’s ballot were passed, and that the by-law ratification, which requires two-thirds majority, actually passed with 99 percent approval.
Pastor Jack introduced the first morning speaker, Samuel Smadja, a native-born Israeli with more than 15 years experience in the travel industry in Jerusalem. In addition to Smadja’s personal knowledge of his homeland, he is highly regarded by the government and business community within the city. Pastor Jack became acquainted with him through the tour industry and asked him to share with the convention body about the struggles faced by Jewish Christians as they attempt to share Jesus Christ with Israeli people.
Smadja began his message in Psalm 122, encouraging all believers to pray for the peace of Jerusalem—a cause that most Christians and Jews share today. It was not always that way, however. Smadja’s grandfather, a devote Jew, had been captured by the Nazis in the South of France and was among the millions of Jews who were murdered at Auschwitz. Some time later, when Smadja’s father confessed his faith in Christ to his mother, she replied: “First, the Christians killed your father, and now they are taking my son.”
Among the many barriers to Jews receiving Christ as Messiah is the historical fact that the Jewish people have suffered more persecution at the hand of “Christian” countries than from Muslim nations. This obstacle is the most difficult to address as Smadja and other Jewish Christians attempt to bring their Jewish brothers and sisters to Christ. The speaker asserted that it is through the restoration of healthy relationships between Christians and Jews that this obstacle is overcome. He expressed gratitude for people such as Pastor Jack and many other Christian leaders who are committed to helping restore these healthy relationships.
The balance of his message focused on three remaining obstacles to Jews coming to Christ. He spoke of the many ways the Hebrew Scriptures verify the claims of Jesus, and how the books of the Old Testament are fulfilled within the books of the New Testament. Jews have difficulty with Messiah dying on a cross for the sins of the world. The “suffering” Messiah is not foreign to the Old Testament Scriptures, but the concept is still difficult for Jewish people to accept nonetheless.
Another difficulty for Jews is the deity of Christ as outlined in the first chapter of John’s Gospel. Smadja referred to this passage of the New Testament as a theological “bomb” to Hebrew scholars, and he pointed out some of the necessary scriptural pathways for Jews and Christians to consider in order to bridge the theological divide.
Jews have an especially hard time with the Christian doctrine of salvation by grace as defined in the Pauline Epistles of the New Testament. Smadja shared a bit of Jewish history to give Christians better understanding of why this is so. He described the destruction of the second temple over 1,900 years ago and spoke of the Jewish religious leaders who gathered to determine how they would ensure salvation of the people since they no longer had the place of worship in which to offer sacrifices for their sins. It was at that time that salvation by works became an integral part of the Jewish religion.
He explained that the Jewish religious community of that day ultimately concluded that if the people tried hard enough, maybe God would be gracious to them and forgive their sins even though the temple and sacrificial system had been destroyed and the Jewish people were being dispersed far from their homeland. He noted that this mindset has guided Jewish religious thought for generations; anything less than salvation by obedience to the commandments, according to the Jews, carries with it the connotation of insincerity and a lack of passion for the Law of God.
Rather than offering conclusive responses to each of these obstacles, Smadja’s purpose today was to help sensitize the hearts of Christians to the history, the culture and the mindset of Jews. His hope was to help identify common ground between Jews and Christians and to help Christians find effective ways to bring the Jewish Messiah to the Jewish people rather than trying to convert Jews to Christianity.
Upon completion of his message, the congregation rose to its feet in overwhelming applause, not only validating his message, but also acknowledging that the work of grace had begun in every heart. Leaders will leave this convention this week with a different perspective on the land of Israel and a new understanding of how to pray for the people of Israel.
Tommy Walker and his band motivated the people to return on time from a brief break and the enthusiasm of the public worship continued into the final session of the morning. At the conclusion of corporate worship, Pastor Jack introduced the speaker for this morning’s second session, Wayne Hilsden, pastor of King of Kings Community in Jerusalem. Among Pastor Jack’s remarks was his acknowledgement of a ministry center founded by Wayne in the new city of Jerusalem known as The Pavilion, a profoundly strategic symbol among Jews given their focus on cultural values.
In the concluding message of this morning’s sessions, Hilsden addressed the many ways in which Israel and the New Testament Church are joined as one. He referenced multiple verses from the Old and New Testaments that promise and affirm a clear alliance between what has for generations been segregated and distinct groups of people. The overriding storyline, he said, was God’s interest in bringing people to Himself through salvation.
Hilsden offered the strategic plan of God through the illustration of a five-act play in which the drama of redemption was played out in history. Although the nation of Israel for the most part rejected the claims of Jesus Christ as Messiah, Hilsden reminded the delegates that God has not turned His back on His people. The Christian Church enjoys the present prominence of God’s favor, and this favor will continue. However, he suggested that the global witness of the nation of Israel will again be strong around the world in fulfillment of God’s promises to His national people throughout both the Old and New Testaments.
Upon conclusion of this morning’s sessions, delegates left the convention center to board buses, travel to local city parks to share lunch together, and continue tours of Jerusalem and the surrounding region.
Highlights of tonight’s general session included corporate worship once again led by Ken Medema, who skillfully brought this body of ministers together through song and fellowship. Pastor Jack then brought to the convention body what perhaps will be one of the most memorable presentations the Foursquare convention has ever hosted.
Presented by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, The Covenant recounts the miraculous story of the Jewish people. It demonstrates the reality that modern Israel, though founded upon ancient roots, has an ever-present God. Convention delegates this evening experienced a musical drama that was exceptional within the realm of art and drew the majority of its cast from international volunteers who have poured their dedication and energy into this practical expression of love and solidarity with Israel and the Jewish people.
The 2007 Foursquare Convention will conclude tomorrow at noon with the Grand Commissioning Assembly at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.