God at Work in Israel
About the Guest
New York Times best-selling author Joel Rosenberg talks to Dennis and Barbara Rainey about what he sees taking place among the Jewish people in Israel. Born the son of a Jewish father and a Gentile mother, Joel shares how his parents came to faith in Christ when he was a boy, and talks about his family's life-altering decision to move to Israel.
New York Times best-selling author Joel Rosenberg talks about what he sees taking place among the Jewish people in Israel. Joel talks about his family’s life-altering decision to move to Israel.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. It’s Friday, December 4th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ve had an opportunity this week to get a little bit of a jet tour of—
Dennis: —the world.
Bob: —where God is at work in various parts of the world.
Dennis: We have met some real heroes. If you haven’t listened to all of these broadcasts this week, you need to go back and listen because we interviewed some folks who are going to be great in the Kingdom.
Bob: And we’re going to get the chance to talk to one of your friends who is—
Dennis: —great in the Kingdom.
Bob: —in another part of the world before we are done.
Dennis: Oh, I’m just talking about Barbara who joins us. [Laughter] I wasn’t talking—we’re going to talk to Barbara here for a second.
Bob: We are going to do that. Then, we’ve got a phone call we are going to make a little later on in today’s program with a friend of yours in Israel.
Barbara: That’s right.
Bob: But we wanted you to come in and be a part of these conversations because you really have a heart for what God is doing all around the world—
—especially this year at Christmas.
Barbara: I do because, this year, we have created a new special edition set of Adorenaments®. Instead of doing names of Jesus—other names that are found in the Bible—we’ve taken the name, Jesus, and we’ve put it on five different ornaments in five different languages. We want families and singles—we want everybody who uses these on their Christmas tree this year—to remember that Jesus came for the whole world. Sometimes, we get very self-focused, and we think about Christmas only in American terms; but Christmas is a holiday that is celebrated by believers all around the globe.
Bob: And I’m thinking of kids who might see your Adorenaments from this year—and they’ll see the script—they won’t recognize the lettering because it’s a different alphabet—if it’s Russian,—
Bob: —or if it’s Mandarin, or if it’s Arabic—and they’ll say, “What’s that?”
As a parent, what a great opportunity you have to sit down—not only to talk about, “This is the name of Jesus,”—but to turn the ornament over and talk about this group of people who speak this language.
Barbara: Yes. I think kids will learn to recognize “Jesus” in these languages because, when we first started doing this, I would have to flip it over and see, “Which language is this?” Now, I can look at them and tell you immediately which language it is. And I know kids are much quicker than I am. They’ll begin to recognize the name of Jesus in each of these languages as well.
Dennis: And the cool thing is—they are really well-done. I love what a blogger wrote on our website—she said: “I love beautiful things, but I love beautiful things with meaning so much more. I don’t want a house full of beautiful things with no story. I want a home that tells a beautiful story.”
And you know what? Your Christmas tree can do that. It can help you tell the story of what took place in the manger and beyond—
—all the way to the cross, the empty tomb, and Christ being seated at the right hand of the Father.
Bob: I know that these ornaments have been a labor of love for you, over the last four years, as you’ve been creating these. Really, what is behind it is—at one level, it’s a desire to see a home made beautiful, and with a beautiful story behind it. At another level, it’s an opportunity for moms and dads to tell that beautiful story over and over again to their kids.
Barbara: It’s really about proclaiming Christ at Christmas. I think so many of us in America understand and sense that we’ve gotten way off track when it comes to celebrating Christmas, and we don’t know how to get back on track. The real reason for these ornaments is to help families make Christ the focus of their Christmas holiday.
By hanging these ornaments on the tree, you can have all kinds of conversations with your children about what that name means—why Jesus is our Redeemer / “Why do the Arabic people or the Hebrew people need to recognize the name, Jesus, in their language?”
It’s really about proclaiming His name, first, in your home to your family, but then, to any who visit. We all have people coming and going in and out of our homes at Christmas. What a great opportunity to invite people in. They look at your tree, and it looks very different than most trees that you see around because they can read the names and realize that your tree is all about Christ.
Bob: The ornaments that you’ve created this year—the names of Jesus in five languages—there’s Mandarin, there’s Russian, there’s Arabic, there’s Spanish, and then, there’s the Hebrew language.
And talking about the nation of Israel, we have a friend of ours, who lives in Israel, and who knows a little bit about what is going on in Israel; right?
Dennis: Just a little something. Barbara and I had the privilege of spending a little time with Joel Rosenberg at his Epicenter Conference in Jerusalem back in 2008.
Joel, I can’t believe it was that long ago.
Barbara: I can’t either.
Joel: I know. It feels like forever ago now.
Dennis: We had a lot of fun with him, along with a few other friends of his—about 2,000 of them were there. [Laughter] He did a great job of taking people—all of us—around to various places in Israel and just celebrating the nation that gave us our Savior.
Bob: Some of our listeners will recognize his name. He is the author of more than ten best-selling novels, including New York Times best-selling novels. He is a Bible teacher as well as a novelist. As I said, he is now an expat living in Israel. Joel, tell everybody why you decided to relocate and move back to Israel.
Joel: Yes, well, actually, technically, we’re not even expats.
We have become citizens of the state of Israel. I’m Jewish on my father’s side / a Gentile on my mom’s side. Obviously, as you just said, we’re followers of the Messiah—the Lord Jesus Christ. And several years ago, my wife Lynn and I—after much prayer—really sensed that the Holy Spirit was telling us it was time to join our people back here in Israel. Now, we’re dual citizens. So, we’re fully U.S. citizens and Israelis. So, we get to vote twice. It’s sort of like living in Chicago. [Laughter]
Dennis: Oh! [Laughter]
Barbara: Oh! [Laughter]
Joel: So, that’s exciting—sorry to my Chicago friends. [Laughter]
Joel: But anyway, it’s been challenging. It’s exciting, certainly, to come here and live here in the epicenter—where the Bible was written / where it’s all going to come to an end here. It’s also been very challenging for our children. We’ve got four sons.
Each of them has had their challenges—but the younger two in particular.
It all looks simpler in Genesis 12—leave your nation, leave your father’s home, go to the land I will show you. Now, we’re learning how hard that really is. But it’s a great honor to be here.
Bob: Yes, Abraham and Sarah didn’t have any children when they moved from Ur to Israel; did they?
Joel: No, they didn’t; and maybe, that was why the Lord had them be barren for a while until He was going to do something miraculous. [Laughter] But they had resources and they had faith—that’s the key.
Bob: That’s right.
Joel: And faith is the key. That’s what we are so grateful for—that we know, from the many things that God did, that this is exactly what we are supposed to be doing—hardships and all.
Dennis: Joel, you mentioned you have a Jewish father and a Gentile mother. How did you come to be a follower of Jesus Christ?
Joel: Well, the heart of that is really the salvation of my parents.
I mean, God did a miraculous work in my heart; but it’s really because I saw them changing so dramatically.
My father was born and raised in an Orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn. My mom’s family was, actually, born and raised in upstate New York in a little town called Rome. When they met and married in 1965, and had me in 1967, they really were an agnostic Orthodox Jew—I know you don’t really hear that term often—and an agnostic Methodist trying to figure out their way in the ‘60s.
But eventually, they heard the gospel clearly—and my mom, first, and then, six months later, my father became—both of them became followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. And over the next several years, I saw them change so much. I gave my life to the Lord Jesus at the age of eight.
So, that was a big game-changer in our family—especially, I have to say, my father—
—thought he was the first Jew since the Apostle Paul to believe this stuff; right? [Laughter] I mean, he’d never heard of a Jewish person who believed in Jesus. He’d certainly never met one in 1973, when he made that decision—really, there weren’t that many—but that is changing dramatically.
Bob: Joel, you’ve had the opportunity to go through December in the United States, and now, to go live through a December in Israel. How are those experiences different? How is Christmas—is it observed at all? Is it a part of the culture in Israel?
Joel: Well, you know, one of my favorite parts of growing up in the United States—and certainly, my wife’s favorite—was Christmas. We just love the season. We love going out to the woods with our boys and chopping down a Christmas tree and getting it all ready and reading the Bible stories. Even in the secularization of America—just being in a hotel and hearing Christmas carols—there is something special about it—I mean, even though we’re saddened by all the commercialization and such.
To come to Israel is quite striking, I have to tell you, because it’s as though this event never happened. I mean, the Jewish people in Israel do not celebrate Christmas. Arab Christians—and there are quite a few here in Israel—the Christians do celebrate Christmas. So, if you go to Nazareth or Bethlehem, there are Christmas trees, and lights, and celebrations; but our main holidays from the Scriptures—or at least, from Jewish tradition—is Hanukkah. That’s called the Feast of Dedication. So, that’s really the December celebration the Jews observe.
But it is a little sad to us that our people don’t know that the Messiah came and was born in the town of Bethlehem, just as the Hebrew prophet, Micah, told us He would be and so forth. Our people don’t know it.
That’s part of why we are here—to share that with anyone and everyone who will listen—and even those who would prefer not to listen but need to know that good news.
Barbara: Joel, tell our listeners a little bit about what you see happening, spiritually, among the Jewish people. I know there are some websites with stories of Jewish people who have met the Messiah and who are believing on Jesus in increasing numbers. Tell us a little bit about that—about how you do see things changing in a pretty dramatic way.
Joel: Yes—well, Barbara, that is one of the most exciting developments of the last 2,000 years. There is no way to overstate it actually.
Barbara: That’s interesting.
Joel: This is the most open the Jewish people have been to the Messiah in 2,000 years. Let me give you an example—first, by context. In 1948, when the state of Israel was dramatically/supernaturally reborn as a geopolitical nation state—
—just as the Prophet Ezekiel said it would be and the other prophets said it would be—there were only about two dozen Jewish followers of Jesus in the whole land of Israel—two dozen.
Now, in Israel today, there are about 15,000 Jewish believers in Jesus—or Messianic Jews. Then, worldwide—we’ve gone from about 2,000 to about 300,000—worldwide Jewish believers in Jesus. So, again, in a world of 14-and-a-half million Jewish people, 300,000 is not enough; but we’re moving suddenly/dramatically in the right direction. There is an openness that we’ve just never seen before—curiosity.
Again, for those of us who study the Bible, we know that the Bible prophesies say that, the closer we get to the return of the Messiah, the more hunger there will be among all people—as well as Jewish people.
Dennis: Joel, I’ve been to Israel a couple of times. The first time I went was 1971, which obviously was shortly after Israel really began to flourish as a nation. When I went the first time, I have to tell you—I really expected, as I set foot on that soil—because of reading the Old Testament and the life of Christ—I expected an intensely spiritual group of people in Israel. But their Sabbath/Saturday was just like a Sabbath we’d have here on the beach. People didn’t go to the Wailing Wall. They didn’t seem to be celebrating the Bible and what God had commanded them to do in terms of worshiping Him.
Comment on that. I know you’re talking about on the positive side; but just how far they’ve got to go, in terms of truly becoming more of a spiritual country, where the Lord, Our God, is their God.
Well, this is one of the great heartaches for my wife and me, and our kids, and our friends—is that the Jewish people, both in Israel and around the world, don’t know the very Messiah that was promised to us and who has come and has transformed so many of our lives.
Israel is a largely secular nation. Now, there is a strong Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox movement here. That’s probably less than 25 percent of the population. So, we’re still in the phase where most of the country is either secular or just not observant of the Bible; but we’re also in that phase where the Holy Spirit is moving. There is an interest and the growing acceptance of Messiah Jesus. So, it’s in fulfillment of prophecy, but it wasn’t being done because people thought they were fulfilling prophecy.
And that I think is so interesting.
Bob: We’re talking with Joel Rosenberg, who is the author of a number of best-selling books, and who lives in Israel. We’re talking about what God is doing in Israel.
Joel, in the part of the world where we live, there is not rocket-fire and mortar-fire
50 miles away from our home.
Bob: There’s not genocide going on 150 miles away from where we live; and yet, that’s what you face on a daily basis—you and your family. You are living in a dangerous part of the world.
Joel: Yes. It’s a conundrum, really, because, on the one hand, Israel is the most targeted country in the world. I mean, there are so many nation-states and terror groups that say: “We’re going to wipe Israel off the map. We’re going to annihilate the Jewish people.” That’s being said, and weapon systems and militaries are being developed in order to accomplish that. So, that’s true; and we do face terrorism and attacks, from time to time—
—that is all true. Yet, people go about their lives, day to day, and God’s hand of grace is on this country—even though not every Israeli, yet, understands the mercy of God.
But I will tell you, Dennis—it’s true that, when we moved to Israel, our flight—we booked our tickets months in advance for this preparation. We arrived in the middle of August of 2014. It just happened to be the month where 4,538 rockets and missiles were being fired at our new country.
Joel: Normally, you wouldn’t move to a country or even go to a country that was under missile attack, but God had told us to do it. We felt peace. The boys were supportive—we all did it. And I’ve got to tell you—that opened up so many doors. People said: “You’re moving here from America during a war? Why? Who are you people? We want to move there.” And this opened conversations about our love for our Messiah and opened doors in ways we wouldn’t have anticipated.
We didn’t want to move during a war / we never even thought of that; but God is doing something special here.
Look, for Israelis—there’s nowhere else to go; alright? And I think part of that is why I feel—I’m grateful that the Lord wanted us to be here—and not just be here as expats, for example, but as citizens who—yes, we have another passport / we could go—but we believe that God wants us to be here to go through what our people are going through because they are going through it without the Holy Spirit, without the peace that surpasses understanding / the hope that’s an anchor for our souls, without wisdom from above that only comes from Messiah Jesus.
Dennis: Well, I want to encourage our listeners to pray for Joel—for his family’s safety and continued cultural adaptation to another country. And Joel, I just appreciate you, as a follower of Christ, and the compassion you’ve expressed through the Joshua Fund—
—helping reach out to people in Israel with humanitarian aid as well as the gospel / as well as talking with them about Jesus Christ. Just appreciate you, as a fellow follower of Christ, and also as a friend. Appreciate your being on FamilyLife Today.
Joel: Well, Dennis, and Barbara, and Bob, thank you so much. It’s an honor to be able to talk about these things.
Let me just add one note, which is—please also pray for our Arab brothers and sisters in Christ and the Arab Muslims, here, who don’t yet know Christ. There are so many tensions between Jews and Arabs. My experience is that, only in Christ, can we find unity. As much as God is doing work among the Jews in Israel, He is working among the Arabs also. That’s a story that’s not often told, and it should be.
Bob: Didn’t Isaiah say something about Him being the Prince of Peace?
Joel: Amen! [Laughter] And that means that—not only do we have to get reconciled and have peace with God through Christ—we’ve got to have reconciliation with our brothers and sisters—
Joel: —and unity. We don’t have to agree on every issue—on eschatology / on the land—but we have to love our Arab brothers and sisters and serve them. That’s an important part of what the Joshua Fund does. We try to provide food, and clothing, and medical supplies, and build the church / strengthen the church, rather, here. We try to work with both sides.
Bob: Joel—thanks for the time today. Thanks for sharing with our listeners.
Joel: Thank you so much. Bless you guys.
Bob: See you later.
Dennis: Appreciate you. Bye-bye.
Barbara: Thanks, Joel.
Joel: Thank you. Bye-bye.
Bob: And I think, too, every time, during the Christmas season, that I look at the name of Jesus in Hebrew on my Christmas tree, I’ll think about the conversation that we were able to have today. It is exciting to hear about God at work in the land of the patriarchs—in the land of Jesus; right?
Barbara: It really is.
Dennis: And I think we need to be reminded that God is at work in Israel. We may be looking at the headlines of the newspaper—and we don’t know what’s taking place in the spiritual realm—
—but He is at work. God’s not done with them. He’s got a plan for that nation and for that section of the world, and I’m just glad I know who wins in the end!
Dennis: I know who wins, and I’m not talking about Israel—I’m talking about God. He’s coming back, and He’s not coming back to take sides. He’s coming back to take over; and He desires our lives, our sacrifice, our obedience. Bob, that’s what Christmas is all about.
Bob: Well, I hope our listeners will take the opportunity to go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and see what Barbara has created this year with Jesus’ name in five different languages on five different ornaments that you can hang on your Christmas tree.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and look at the Adorenaments, not only this year’s collection, but past years are available as well. You can order from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or if you’d like to order by phone, call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Decorate your Christmas tree with the names of Jesus—have your own Jesus tree this year. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
Something else you wanted to say; right?
Dennis: There is. Christmas is about God’s generosity toward us. We’re turning toward you, as a listener, and asking you to give to FamilyLife Today to keep us on the air. And the bottom line is—your generosity changes lives, it transforms marriages, and it creates a godly legacy for future generations.
We’re just coming to you, here at the end of the year, because over a third of our donations come in December; and we need your help / I need your help. We’re doing something that is countercultural, right now, as never before. We’re talking about God’s design for marriage and family—
—and equipping moms and dads / husbands and wives with how to do marriage God’s way. And if you’d like to help us do that—I’d like to encourage you to pick up a phone, or go online, or pick up an envelope and write out a check—and be generous because your generosity changes lives.
Bob: Well, and right now, when you make a donation to FamilyLife, your generosity will be multiplied. We’ve had some friends of the ministry who have come to us and they have offered, during the month of December, to effectively triple every donation that comes in during the month. So, when you make a donation of $10, they are going to add $20 of their own; and we wind up receiving $30 for your $10 donated.
And we’re trying to take full advantage of this matching gift that they’ve capped at
$2 million. For us to take advantage of it, we need to hear from as many listeners as possible. We’d ask you to be as generous as you can possibly be, knowing that every dollar you donate, there are two additional dollars that will come our way as a result of your generosity.
You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.” And as Dennis said, you can mail your donation to us at FamilyLife Today, PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Dennis: And Bob, I just want to remind our listeners this is an international ministry—we’ve been talking about it all week. We’re in 109 countries of the world. In the last
12 months, we’ve touched around 18 million lives. Now, we didn’t change every one of those lives—God does the changing—but I just want to remind our listeners: “When you give, that kind of ministry occurs today, it occurs tomorrow, and it’ll occur next year. Stand with us so we can make a difference for Jesus Christ in marriages and families.”
Bob: Well, and we hope you have a great weekend too. We hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. And I hope you can join us back on Monday because we’re going to have a good friend join us in the studio. Dr. Tony Evans is going to be here.
Dennis: Get your seatbelt on! [Laughter]
Bob: It’s going to be a great conversation as we talk about—we’re going to talk more about Jesus because, when you have Tony Evans on, that’s what you’re going to talk about. No matter what the subject is—you’re going to talk about Jesus. [Laughter]
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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