A few nights ago we had a special set of emergency exercises in the moshav (neighborhood) where we live. For about 4 hours or so, first responders from the Golan went through four or five possible scenarios, two of which were a severe earthquake and a terrorist intrusion. SMS messages to residents’ phones were included in the exercise to reflect the kind of texts that would be sent in case of the real event. One message I received on my phone read in part, “…report of infiltration of terrorists…must remain in your homes with doors locked…” while an explosion—for greater realism—rocked the neighborhood. How did we prepare for the exercise? Meg went to Katzrin for an hour of exercise of the physical (and painful, sweaty) sort, and I decided to watch a movie on Netflix. All in all, a typical evening.

But all the action reminded me of the bigger picture and some questions. Why are we even having these exercises? The earthquake part I can understand since we had about a dozen small earthquakes in a two-week period earlier in the summer. But the terrorists? How would they even get to where we are? The fact that I’m even asking the question shows that there’s a lot more going on around us than we’re told in the news.

Conversations that we’ve had over the past week or so indicate that many believe a war is coming—and coming sooner rather than later. This includes conversations with both Israeli Jews and Golani Druze. What fascinates me about this is that each group is coming from very different political situations and news sources, yet they are all arriving at the same conclusions. Of course, the “next” war is always being discussed here, but people really seem concerned. And these are all people who have lived through numerous wars.

All of this talk about war contradicts what I currently see and hear around us. For instance, today is Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Hebrew calendar. As of this writing, the country has literally been shut down for 24 hours already, with another few hours to go. Flights in and out of Ben Gurion Airport (TLV) stopped yesterday at about 1:30pm and won’t restart until about 9:30pm tonight. All public transportation stopped more than 24 hours ago. The roads are empty. The gates to our moshav (which sit on, and therefore closed, a main road) closed yesterday at 6:00pm and won’t reopen until 7:00pm this evening. All television channels are off the air. I cannot personally imagine such a scenario anywhere in the States outside of a catastrophe.

Other than the birds and our windchime, I can hear NO sounds outside. It’s exactly what Yom Kippur is supposed to feel like: a super-sized Shabbat, allowing the Jewish population an entire day to contemplate repentance and atonement. It was also exactly this kind of day 45 years ago when Israel was surprised by a multi-pronged attack by Syria and Egypt. Iraq soon joined in, and Jordan supported Syria in various ways. People here in our moshav told me about how they knew that a new war had just started when Syrian fighter jets flew over our moshav on that Day of Atonement in 1973.

It would be very surprising if a sudden war like that broke out today. There have been no real indications of anything happening soon, and that’s counting the nearly weekly Israeli bombings in Syria of weapons caches belonging to Iran and Hezbollah. They euphemistically call this kind of action, “mowing the grass,” which is a bit funny considering the fact that there are virtually no yards with real grass in Israel. Even with the unfortunate and somewhat ironic downing of a Russian plane by Russian anti-aircraft missiles—shot wildly by the Syrian army a couple of nights ago—everything is calm, at least on the surface.

Maybe that’s why we had the emergency exercises earlier this week. Although no one is expecting anything, they want everyone to be ready in case something does happen. How do you prepare for an earthquake that you can’t predict? You practice what to do in case it happens, so that your responses come automatically. It’s like a tornado or fire drill when we were in school. And here, they’re simply readiness exercises performed during times of quiet, and the reminders to make sure your bomb shelter is ready to go. You probably already know how we fared on that matter, but if you don’t know, you can find out here.

I wonder, are there areas in our lives that we should be “exercising,” things we need to be “practicing?” If the Lord came back suddenly, would we be ready? Are we sleepwalking through our lives—acting as if we are ready, but in reality, ill-prepared for things to come? What regrets would we have if the Lord took us home today? Where would that “home” be?

“But understand this: If the owner of the house had known in which watch of the night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. For this reason, you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him.” Matthew 24:43-44


When You Hear the Siren it’s too Late

It’s a huge part of the Good News! It’s what Jesus commanded us to do, and he’s telling us that we are living in an “immediate” zone, on the border.

One early morning while it was still dark, we were awakened by the Code Red apps on our phones telling us that a rocket attack was taking place. Normally, these attacks happen every month or so to the Israeli communities which surround the international border with Gaza, 140 or so miles away from us to the south, and so we were in no hurry to do anything other than silence our phones. It was probably just another false alarm—real enough for others but not for us. However, when I glanced at my phone’s lock-screen to confirm what I expected to see, instead it read: Rocket Attack: Golan. As soon as I read the screen, we heard a couple of explosions followed by the loud wail of the rocket siren across the street. It wasn’t just any part of the Golan, it was our part!

Throughout Israel, each neighborhood is assigned a color representing the number of seconds one has to reach his/her bomb shelter before a rocket lands—once the siren has gone off. These “defense zones” range from 1 1/2 minutes in the middle of the country down to “immediate” or “no time” for those who live near the borders of Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. We just happen to live in one of those “immediate” zones, just 2 miles from the Syrian border and 3 miles from the Lebanese border.

Of course, upon hearing the siren we jumped out of bed, threw on some clothes and headed to the bomb shelter next door. But by that time the incoming rockets from Syria (in this case Iran was the instigator) had already passed over our home or had been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system. That wasn’t the end of our hectic morning, as Israel lost an F-16i to the overwhelming number of SAMs shot by Syria at their fighter jets in a skirmish that happened just a few minutes later. We were in and out of our protective place for the next three hours as the battle raged overhead and on both sides of the border. Thankfully, this time none of the rockets—nor any of the falling debris from Syrian SAMs which were intercepted by the Iron Dome—fell on our neighborhood.

However, just a week or so before this battle took place, we had been instructed by our neighborhood security chief to check out our bomb shelter to make sure that it was ready. I.e. we needed to make sure that there was enough bottled water, snacks—flashlights and batteries—and anything else that we might need in case of an attack. To be honest, I put off the inspection for another day—for a time when I thought that a war might be a bit closer. Basically, I was derelict in my duty to make sure that we were as prepared as possible, thinking that we would have plenty of advanced warning—even though we had been given specific instructions on how to prepare. All of this brings me to the point of this post.

If Jesus had given instructions to his disciples in present-day Israel regarding his return, I think he might have used current day natural catastrophes and skirmishes with Iran and Syria in his parables, similar to how, two thousand years ago, he compared his return to Noah’s flood and the parable of the ten virgins.

Sitting on the Mount of Olives, with the old Arab man who owns the camel that the tourists ride listening in, the conversation might have gone something like this:

“Look, no one knows exactly when I will return—except my dad. For example, remember all those people in Sumatra, Indonesia? How they were eating and drinking, having beach weddings. But they were unaware that one morning the earth would quake and the sea would carry half of them off in the following tsunami. Two people would be standing together and one would be drowned while the other held onto something for dear life. So, you’ve got to be ready, because I’m going to return just like that earthquake—at a time you do not expect.

“My reign will come like that time I tipped off the IDF about a possible attack. Remember how they instructed the Golan residents to be prepared by making sure that their bomb shelters were stocked with everything—especially batteries for their flashlights and for their electronics—and to stay close to their bunkers? Then in the middle of the night, a little while later after everyone had gotten complacent because nothing had come of the warning, Iran and Syria launched thousands of rockets into the Golan. But only half of the people made it to the bunkers before the doors were shut, and fearing an invasion, the ones inside the bunkers would not open the doors, so the rest outside had to deal with both the rockets and the enemy.

“Watch out! because you don’t know the day nor the hour! When you hear the siren, it’s too late to get ready.”

Jesus has told us to be faithful during the delay of his return. We don’t know exactly when that will be, but we’re told to ‘stay awake’. What does this mean practically for us? We’ve got to prepare the church—everyone in the church—for the Lord’s return and the times leading up to it; how to be living ready and alertly. The Bible, throughout both the Old and New Testaments, details numerous signs that could happen before he arrives. It’s got to be part of our sermons, children’s lessons, ABFs, small groups and our discipleship training. It’s a huge part of the Good News! It’s what Jesus commanded us to do, and he’s telling us that we are living in an “immediate” zone, on the border.

Are we being obedient? Or, do we think, “Ah, we’ve got time…”?

RocketTrailsSyrian Rocket and Israeli Iron Dome contrails as seen from our home.DefensiveZonesDefensive Zones as detailed on Israel’s Home Front Command website.