Text as prepared for delivery at the 2012 Epicenter Conference – Albuquerque, New Mexico
Good evening, and thank you, Skip. It is an honor to be here, and I am grateful to call you my friend. Pastor Skip Heitzig has a great love for the people of the Middle East, both Jews and Arabs. He has traveled extensively in the region and preached the Word of God in Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon. He’s also led more than 30 tours to Israel.
On behalf of The Joshua Fund board and staff, welcome to the 2012 Epicenter Conference — welcome to those of you here with us in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and to those watching this webcast from Israel and around the world. We are deeply honored that you would join us.
Over the next few days, you’re going to hear from Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian pastors and ministry leaders – Jews and Arabs – about how they see enormous threats and challenges….what they see God doing in the Middle East today….and what they think the future holds.
You’re going to hear from some of the world’s leading Biblical scholars on some of the most controversial and sensitive issues concerning the theology of the Land of Israel….the worldwide movement inside the Church known as “Replacement Theology.” What does it mean? How much of the Church believes it? Why does it matter?
What’s more, you’re going to learn about Biblical prophecies that speak to the future of the epicenter….and practical ways you can make a positive difference to the lives of real people in the region – Jews, Muslims and Christians.
Tonight, I have two objectives:
•First, to define the “epicenter.”
•Second, to describe the current “State of the Epicenter.”
DEFINING THE EPICENTER
What do we mean by using the term “epicenter”? It is a geological term. But I think it aptly describes the Scriptural place of Jerusalem, Israel and the Middle East.
•Ezekiel 5:5 – “Thus says the Lord God, ‘This is Jerusalem; I have set her at the center of the nations, with lands around her.”
•Ezekiel 38:8,12 – “[I]n the latter days, you will come into the land that is restored from the sword, whose inhabitants have been gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel which had been a continual waste; but its people were brought out from the nations, and they are living securely all of them….at the center of the world.”
•Acts 1:8 – The Lord Jesus Christ said to His disciples, “[Y]ou will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
•Revelation 21:2 – “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.”
The Bible is clear:
•Israel and its capital, Jerusalem, is the geographic center of the world from God’s perspective.
•Jerusalem is the birthplace of the Church, and thus the spiritual center of the world.
•Jerusalem is also the last city ever mentioned in the Bible, and the focal point of all human attention as we approach the end of history.
This is why the eyes of the nations are increasingly riveted on Israel and her neighbors, the epicenter of the momentous events that are shaking our world and shaping our future.
STATE OF THE EPICENTER
Now, what is the State of the Epicenter in 2012?
It pains me to report tonight that great darkness is descending on the people of the epicenter. Radical Islamic militants – both Sunni and Shia – are rising to power in one country after another….lawlessness is spreading….violence against Christians and Jews and Americans is intensifying….the global economic crisis is pushing millions of people in the Mideast further into poverty and causing them to struggle even more to make ends meet…..and the evidence suggests the most devastating war in the modern history of the epicenter could be just days or weeks away.
At the same time, amidst this darkness, there is hope.
First, the Lord God is still on His throne. Still sovereign. Always a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God, a wonder-working God. That’s why we have hope.
We saw two big answers to prayer this year:
For one, Gilad Shalit came home – Shalit is the Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas 0n June 25, 2006. But God heard the prayers of His people. He showed mercy to Gilad and his family. He was released on October 18, 2011 after 1,940 days in captivity.
For another, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was released from an Iranian prison – Nadarkhani is an Iranian Muslim convert to Christianity. He faced a death sentence in Iran on charges of apostasy. But God heard the prayers of His people. He showed mercy to Pastor Youcef and his family. Youcef was acquitted on the apostasy charges. He was found guilty of sharing the Gospel with Muslims and sentenced to three years in prison. But was released in the last few days, having already served his time.
Many of you prayed for these men. Thank you. Keep praying for them. And let us take a lesson from Pastor Youcef’s example.
If you were arrested and charged with sharing the Gospel with Muslim – or anyone in or from the epicenter – would there be enough evidence to find you guilty?
Second, in Matthew 16:18, the Lord Jesus Christ said, “I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” What’s more, Christ is coming back soon and all of us who is born again by faith can rest assured that we are going to spend eternity in heaven with the Lord. That, too, is why we have hope.
The Holy Spirit is moving powerfully in the epicenter. More Jews and more Arabs and more Iranians are coming to faith than any other time in the history of the world. As the darkness grows darker, Christ is shining more brightly, and many are being drawn to the Lord.
WATCHMEN ON THE WALL
Please turn in your Bibles to Ezekiel 33:1-6.
“And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, speak to the sons of your people and say to them, “If I bring a sword upon a land, and the people of the land take one man from among them and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows on the trumpet and warns the people, then he who hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, and a sword comes and takes him away, his blood will be on his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning; his blood will be on himself. But had he taken warning, he would have delivered his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman’s hand.”’”
Two important questions emerge from this passage:
1.Will you and I be watchmen on the wall able and willing to see the threats rising, or will we turn a blind eye?
2.In light of such rising threats, will you and I act with love and honor and compassion and courage, or will we keep silent?
Since the last Epicenter Conference last summer, I’ve taken two trips that moved me deeply. Last November, I traveled with several pastors to Poland to visit the death camps in Auschwitz. A few weeks ago, Lynn and I took our boys to visit the USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor. I went to these places to remember what happens when people ignore emerging threats and don’t take decisive action.
To misunderstand the nature and threat of evil is to risk being blindsided by it.
We didn’t understand the threat posed by Adolf Hitler and the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany in the 1930s, and we were blindsided by the invasion of Europe and the death camps of the Holocaust.
We didn’t understand the threat posed by Imperial Japan in 1941, and we were blindsided by the attack at Pearl Harbor.
We didn’t understand the threat posed by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in 2001, and we were blindsided by the attacks of September 11th.
Today, too many in governments around the world – and too many in the Church – either don’t see the evil rising in Iran, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and throughout the epicenter, or refuse to take action.
Tragically, the Arab Spring has been a catastrophic failure. All hope of the rise of free nations with free elections and free economies and freedom of speech and worship have been dashed. What are rising instead are dangerous Radical Islamic regimes that will oppress millions of people and foment violence and war.
•The new leaders of Libya are Radical Islamists – members or allies of the Muslim Brotherhood.
•They are committed to creating an Islamic republic and imposing Sharia law on the people of Libya as part of the Islamic caliphate.
•They have a deep hatred for Israel and the United States.
•Yesterday, Islamic militants attacked the American consulate in the city of Benghazi. They murdered U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. They murdered three other U.S. diplomatic staff.
•The Libyan government did precious little to defend the lives of Americans.
•The new President of Egypt – Mohammed Morsi – is a senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.
•He hates Israel, despises the United States, is committed to holy war against all infidels, and has stated clearly he’s going to turn Egypt into an Islamic republic under Sharia law.
•Morsi gave a speech at Cairo University in May: “The Qur’an is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader, jihad is our path, and death in the name of Allah is our goal.”
•Last month, Morsi became the first Egyptian leader in a generation to visit Iran and begin rebuilding ties to the radical mullahs in Tehran.
•Yesterday, some 2,000 radical Muslim militants stormed the U.S. embassy grounds, tore down the American flag, raised the flag of Islam.
•The Egyptian security forces did precious little to stop them.
•This is a country to which the U.S. provides $1.5 billion in foreign aid annually.
•As of December 2011, some 3,500 Syrians had been killed in the revolution.
•Today, more than 25,000 Syrian Arabs have been killed. A number of those are Syrian military forces. But most are civilians, many of whom have been massacred – slaughtered, even – by the Assad regime.
•Today, there is growing concern that the Assad regime may use its stockpiles of chemical weapons against its own people, or allow its WMD to be transferred to terrorists groups, or lose control of its WMD and see those stockpiles fall into the hands of Israel’s enemies.
And then there is Iran.
•In the summer of 2009, millions of Iranians turned out on the streets to protest their wicked government and seek a peaceful, moderate democracy. Sadly, the U.S. government did nothing to help them, and their movement was crushed.
•Meanwhile, the mullahs are on a steady march to building the Islamic Bomb. The latest IAEA report provides more evidence that Iran is developing nuclear warheads.
•Iran has enough enriched uranium for at least five nuclear warheads.
•Iran has doubled its uranium enrichment capacity at its most secure, hardened, underground nuclear facility at Fordow, near the religious city of Qom, despite all of the economic sanctions.
•The stakes are high. If the Ayatollah acquires nuclear warheads and the high-speed ballistic missiles to deliver them, he could do in about six minutes what it took Adolf Hitler six years to do, and that is kill six million Jews.
•Keep in mind, it’s not just Israeli Jews at risk. Israeli Arabs are at risk. Palestinian Arabs are at risk. Jewish and Arab believers in Jesus are at risk.
•The most dangerous corridor on the planet right now is the corridor between Tel Aviv and Tehran. Everyone who lives in this corridor is currently is grave danger.
•That said, Iran does not seem to be taking seriously the prospect of an Israeli preemptive strike. Indeed, many in Israel and throughout the epicenter think all the talk of war is just bluster and “saber-rattling.”
•Like you and millions of other Christians around the world, I’m praying for the peace of Jerusalem. And I know that we serve a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God, a wonder-working God.
•God has heard our prayers, and I’m grateful that an Israel-Iranian war that seemed like it might break out any time in the past few years has not yet happened. This is an answer to our prayers, and we should keep praying.
•But the Bible is clear: Sometimes God allows wars to happen.
•In Matthew 24, the Lord Jesus taught us that in the last days, we will see a rise of wars, rumors of wars, revolutions, violence, and lawlessness.
•Yet He also promised that amidst all this bad news, “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world, as a testimony to all nations, and then the end shall come.”
•War and revolution can create the conditions by which hearts are more ready to hear the Gospel and receive Jesus as Messiah.
•We don’t want war. We are commanded in Scripture in Psalm 122 to pray for peace. But sometimes God says “no.” Sometimes He allows war. What man plans for evil, God can turn for good.
•In this context, I must report you tonight that I believe Prime Minister Netanyahu could be just days away from ordering a full scale attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
•I pray there is another way. Events can change things suddenly. Nothing is impossible with God.
•But evidence is rapidly mounting that Israel is going to war with Iran.
•Israel’s Security Cabinet met last week for a 10-hour meeting to discuss the latest intelligence on the Iran nuclear threat and consider Israel’s military options. The Jerusalem Post noted that this was the first time the full Security Cabinet has met for such an in-depth discussion of Iran in several months.
•A senior advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu said last week: “We are entering the most fateful 50 days Israel has faced since, perhaps, the similarly fateful days prior to the Yom Kippur War.”
•Troubling is that relations between the U.S. and Israel are deteriorating rapidly. Indeed, we have reached, in my view, an all-time low in this once solid alliance.
•On Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly announced the U.S. is “not setting deadlines” for Iran to stop illegally enriching uranium in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, and to stop developing nuclear weapons.
•President Obama and his senior aides have – thus far – refused to establish “red lines.”
•Now, we learn that the President has turned down requests by Prime Minister Netanyahu to meet either in New York City during the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, or in Washington. The White House said there simply wasn’t time on the President’s busy schedule.
•The President is, however, making time to appear on “The Late Show” with David Letterman while he’s in NYC.
•This is very disturbing behavior for an American President who says that America “will always have Israel’s back” and claims Israel is one of America’s “greatest allies.” The President should always make time for an ally facing the growing threat of a nuclear holocaust. A Wall Street Journal editorial on Wednesday morning said the White House message to Israel seems to be, “You’re on your own, pal.”
•Netanyahu’s response: “‘The world tells Israel: ‘Wait. There’s still time.’ And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?’ Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”
HOW SHOULD CHRISTIANS RESPOND?
How, then, should Christians respond? We must pray for peace, but prepare for war.
I want to take a few minutes now before we close this first session of the conference to share a video of what The Joshua Fund has been doing to prepare.
A few other points on how The Joshua Fund is preparing. Over the past few years we have:
1.Established and are assisting 12 relief distribution centers throughout Israel.
2.Providing humanitarian relief to both Jews and Arabs.
3.Equipping local believers to show God’s love and compassion in a practical way.
4.Purchasing trucks and vans for local believers to help them minister to the poor and needy.
5.The Joshua Fund warehouse staff in Israel purchases and ships/distributes approximately 45 tons per month of food and relief supplies to the poor and needy.
6.From inception, TJF has shipped 989 tons through our warehouse. By the end of October, we will hit over 1,000 tons.
7.In addition, we have helped another Christian organization in Israel purchase and distribute more than 500 tons of food and relief supplies in recent years.
Is this enough? No.
Is it more than was happening in the Land six years ago before TJF began? Yes.
Do we take any credit for the progress made? Not at all.
We are servants of a great and mighty God. We are trying to be faithful in a few things and if we are faithful, perhaps He will put us in charge of being more helpful.
The key is that God is sovereign. He is holy. He is moving powerfully. He is remembering the Jews and Palestinians that are poor and needy….and living in harm’s way….and in need of the prayers and encouragement and equipping of Christians from all over the world.
The Lord is raising up a movement of Christ-followers around the world – including many of you – who are committed to loving Israelis, because Jesus loves Israelis….and loving Palestinians because Jesus loves Palestinians….and loving Arabs and Persians throughout the epicenter because of Christ’s love for them.
This is how the Body of Christ is supposed to work – those who have praying, caring, serving those in need, and doing so in the name of Jesus Christ with unconditional love….and unwavering support.
We are to be watchmen on the walls. When we see threats, we need to warn people. We need to stand up and speak out. We need to act in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Christians may have very little geopolitical influence, but we are not powerless.
We can pray. We can preach the Word. We can proclaim the Gospel. We can encourage and equip our brothers and sisters in the epicenter. We can show Christ’s love and compassion to all in the epicenter.
Jesus commands us: Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. And love one another. At its core, that is what this conference is all about.
If we don’t obey the Lord, and love the Jews and Arabs and others in the epicenter, and shine as a light in the darkness, who will?