22 August 2015

Jarryd Hayne, the Jews, and the Gospel

Jarryd Hayne and the Jews: "Is evangelism anti-Semitic?”

By Bob Mendelsohn
Jews for Jesus, National Director

During the 2015 Hillsong Conference, Jarryd Hayne, the former Parramatta Eels rugby league star, sent out a tweet to his followers, “Jesus wanted to help people but was killed by his own people." The next day after being challenged by one of his followers, that Jesus was killed by the Romans, Hayne wrote, “The Jews were the people who took him to the Romans n forced them to give the order because they couldn't."

Because of the tweets, Jewish representatives immediately launched a counter campaign. And Hayne removed the two tweets.

Michael Koziol of the Sydney Morning Herald wrote about Jewish reaction, “Chairman of the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation Commission, Dvir Abramovich, said he was deeply concerned by Hayne's tweets and labeled them "damaging, painful and irresponsible".

"For thousands of years Jews were held in contempt and were persecuted and murdered because they were labeled as Christ-killers," he said in a statement.

Koziol reported, “Most Christians no longer hold the view that the Jewish people were responsible for Jesus' death, and persistent belief in that narrative is now associated with anti-Semitism.”

Hayne later sent out an apology tweet which was welcomed by Jewish community representatives. But the issue remains unsettling for Jews. Some of Hayne’s Twitter followers chided him for his apology, using ugly language to describe Jewish people.

Hayne is a forthright Christian, and his comments about Jewish people, inspired by a sermon to which he was listening, highlight a larger question for the ordinary Christian in relation to evangelism. Is sharing the Gospel with Jewish people by nature anti-Semitic? Can a person have a view of another’s religion that is not tolerant or sympathetic, and yet be forthright in proclamation of Jesus?

I believe the exact opposite is actually true. If someone does not share the Gospel with a person because of an apparent theological difference, it actually is the most hateful thing a person can demonstrate. What if a pair of Jehovah’s Witness knocked at my door? What if my thoughts were: Since their religion is heretical, I will have nothing to do with them, ever, and thus refuse to share what I believe with them? Or imagine if I concluded the Muslim teller at my bank, with whom I at times share social pleasantries, was not able to hear the Gospel, because, well, they are followers of Islam and thus didn’t give them an invitation to my local church’s fete or carols program? That would be a very hateful thing to conclude.

The same is true for the ordinary Christian considering sharing faith with the ordinary Jewish person. I’m not saying that each person has to pounce on every situation and each person in their life, but I’m saying that with the people in our sphere of influence, when God gives us opportunity we should extend to them a snippet of the religion we hold so dear. To withhold a segue into Gospel presentation because of their religion being different or even wrong, that’s influenced by a wrong spirit.

Here is a definition. Evangelism: Giving someone an opportunity to say “yes” to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There are two historical mistakes in sharing the Gospel with Jewish people. One: not giving them an option/ opportunity, but rather requiring the saying of ‘yes.’ This is most known in the Crusades, the Inquisition, and pogroms. Forced conversions/ baptisms of Jewish people is an ugly blight in Church history. I suppose some would say that “become a Christian or die” is an option, but it doesn’t really give the Jew an opportunity to say ‘no.’ By (my) definition if you give someone an opportunity to say ‘yes’ you are also giving them a chance to say ‘no.’ Wicked church persecution of the Jewish people prevents that ‘no’ saying.

The other historical error is more abundant in our days. Since the 1880s, worldwide, Jewish people are more in social contact with their Christian neighbours than ever before. Jewish people may enter into any field of study or occupation. Jewish academics since Schweitzer and Montefiore (around 1900) and throughout the 20th Century have “accepted” Jesus in a way that would make every Jewish scholar before more than uncomfortable. Notables in our days: Vermes, Flusser, A-J Levine, and even Rabbi Shmuley Boteach write about the New Testament and the Jesus of history with sensitive and Jewish eyes. Councils of Jews and Christians are allowing dialogue and mutual tolerance and acceptance globally.

That’s why Koziol’s remarks can be so forthright: “Most Christians no longer hold the view that the Jewish people were responsible for Jesus' death, and persistent belief in that narrative is now associated with anti-Semitism.”

With all the welcome and blame revision from the Jewish community, the 2nd great mistake Christians make viz evangelism is not giving the Jewish person a chance to say ‘yes.’ We hear officials and thus give the individual only the opportunity to say ‘no’, and thus fail to evangelize.

Either wrong is wrong. Giving the Jewish person only one option: to say ‘yes’ or to say ‘no,’ is not biblical evangelism.  Proclaiming the Gospel to each person, in language they can understand, via the personality and style of the Christian, that’s when rubber meets road. That’s when we are fulfilling the Great Commission.

To be fair, when rubber meets road much friction is caused. That’s what happened with Jarryd Hayne.  In measure that’s what you can expect from the ordinary Jewish person with whom you want to share the faith. I hear it a lot. But thousands, actually tens of thousands of Jews today, in Sydney, Melbourne, throughout Australasia and worldwide, who are now believers in and followers of the real Jesus, owe great gratitude to someone who had the character and courage to share the faith with them. And we are grateful.

Is evangelism anti-Semitic? The exact opposite is true. It’s the most loving thing a person can do with a Jewish neighbour, colleague or friend.

If you have Facebook, you can see the thread of comments here:  Hayne on FB

History of LCJE (with hint of JFJ) Australia/ What's happening

International report on the LCJE Australasia
By Bob Mendelsohn
Given in August 2015 

Shalom to my colleagues of the LCJE here in Jerusalem.  
Some history of the LCJE AustralAsian corner
In Pattiya in 1980, one Jewish believer from Melbourne, Miss Betty Baruch, a former schoolteacher, was appointed representative of LCJE for Australia.  Her participation was limited and mostly figurehead. Following her in the role was Miss Joy Hickman, an accountant and host of Israeli travelers from Auckland, New Zealand. After her tenure, Lawrence Hirsch, who heads Celebrate Messiah in Melbourne took the helm. No national meetings took place during anyone’s tenure. Each made reports to the LCJE at the international level.

In 2007, at the LCJE 8th International conference in Hungary, I was appointed AustralAsian representative, a new term with a wider geographic perspective.  This new territory includes New Zealand, Singapore and other South Pacific islands.  In Hungary, I met with the representatives of LCJE Japan and Hong Kong as well as others from Australia, and we purposed to conduct an LCJE AustralAsian conference before the next international which would take place in four years.

After meeting with some members from Melbourne a few monhts later, we decided to conduct that conference in 2009 in Sydney. This was historic.  And since 2009 we have had three other such gatherings (2010, 2012, 2014), in other words, now, every two years, with the purpose to convene those interested in Jewish evangelism along the principles and under the rubrics of the Lausanne covenant. Major speakers at these past conferences have included Darrell Bock twice, David Brickner and Wayne Hilsden. Our own representatives including Mark Warren, our prayer chiarman here at this confedrnce, as well as Lawrence Hirsch, Ashley Crane, Kon Michailidis, Paul Cohen, Scott Brown among others have brought wonderful papers and to lead discussions. Our next conference will be in Sydney in 2016 with Michael Brown as our main speaker. One of our members, Natasha Michailidis continues as our historian and reporter of our conferences to the Bulletin of the LCJE.

Prayer matters
One of the major activities at each of our four conferences is prayer. We seriously pray together. At the start of each day, over 90% of the participants gather to seek God together and to listen to one another. It sets the tone for the rest of our interactions and we also pray for our works back home and situations that might arise.
Also as we are a network we have had two different prayer chairwomen whose ministry among us, throughout the years, month by month, is to collect prayer requests from each ministry and each individual member, collate them, and distribute these prayer targets electronically. We owe a great debt to both Marion Hall and now Juanita Doody, who continues in that voluntary post.

In Sydney since 2001, every four months on average, we have a meeting of leaders we title “JOOS” (Jewish Outreaches Of Sydney). It is sort of a mini-LCJE without papers being delivered. During this fellowship evening we hear stories from one another and pray for each other. We eat together first and have dessert after the somewhat formal gathering. We move from house to house over the years. It’s a very helpful method to seriously care about each other in Messiah.

What about the churches…who gets it?
There is significant interest in Jewish evangelism among Asian Christians. The “Back to Jerusalem” movement is a Chinese-driven, 10/40 evangelism scheme, but features an ending in evangelism in Israel, even among Jewish people.  Many Israeli Jewish ministries visit Singapore each year and find good reception.  The Anglican cathedral there features “One New Man” meetings which highlight the linkage of the Christian church to her Jewish roots.
Simply put, ethnic churches ‘get it’ when we speak about Jews needing a particular outreach to them. Generic (sometimes I title them ‘vanilla’) churches don’t get us at all. This is true in New Zealand and Australia especially.

In Australia there is increasing interest in Jewish evangelism among only a small section of the Church. For most pastors, Jewish evangelism is not on their radar. The issues the opponents of Jewish evangelism raise are usually either sociological or theological. For some Christians any issue related to Jews is linked with Zionism, and in their view usually ultra-Zionism, and as such is political only and not biblical. For others, particular evangelism, that is, reaching any subset of humanity, is not in keeping with  biblical universalism, by the which I mean reaching the whole planet, without emphasis on any one people group. For them, our emphasis on reaching Jews is racist. For other Christians, Jewish people had their chance in the first century, and now are cast aside as a special people. Therefore our interest in reaching Jewish people is seen as unhistorical and certainly irrelevant. For other Christians our interest in Jewish people is theologically inaccurate since the Jewish people will be saved in a rapture-begun, dispensation to come, so our interest in them today is too early and thus a waste of resources.

All that said, within a slightly widening circle of Christians, Jewish evangelism is of notice and support. Income for Jewish Christian missions is up over the last decade in a dramatic fashion.  Both of the major missions, Jews for Jesus and Celebrate Messiah have taken on staff and increased national and regional activities. Other missions carry on good work among Jewish people and/or among the churches in teaching about Jewish people.

Mention “Jewish people” to most Christians in Australia and they will consider this something of an oddity. Most will use adjectives like rich, cheap, or the verb to jew someone down without thinking of the derogatory nature of the labels. Most Sydney Christians think all Jews live ‘over there’ in the Eastern suburbs, and in Melbourne Jews live in Caulfield, and are an enigma. They wear those ‘funny little hats’ and have different rules about eating and worship on a different day. Evangelism? Most admit, “I wouldn’t have a clue how to begin” or “I don’t know any Jews.” Anecdotally a pastor in Caulfield North told me that he wasn’t interested in having me speak at his church since none of his parishioners knew any Jewish people, because the Jews all live in Caulfield South, approximately only 8 minutes away!

Particular works
There are mostly-English speaking messianic congregations in Australia, most notably the one in Melbourne. There are two Russian speaking congregations. There are many small outreaches, each of which is faithful to Messiah’s calling to communicate the love of God to His ancient people.
For decades The Vineyard has been published by David House Fellowship, formerly “Jewish Evangelical Witness” and the previously-mentioned Mark along with his wife Robyn Warren, along with a great group of voluinteers send out loads of those witnessing tools throughout the region.
You have heard much already from Lawrence about the work of Celebrate Messiah in Far East Russia and their congregation in Melbourne if you went to those sessions. Also Celebrate is hoping to build on their current location a messianic centre and art gallery in the heart of Jewish Melbourne. So I don’t need to rehearse those good efforts.
Scott Brown among others in New Zealand in other organizations like HIT (with our friend Omri Jaakobovitch whose talk some heard on Monday night), and JFJ host Israeli tourists in their homes and camp to welcome them to NZ and to welcome them into the Kingdom of God, with commensurate discipleship.
Jews for Jesus continues to operate as we do worldwide with broadsiding creative Gospel tracts and visiting one-to-one in Jewish enquirers’ homes and offices.  But we have a couple distinctives. One, our newsletter is translated each quarter into Chinese, Korean and Spanish from Australia. And our major distinctive for the last 11 years in Sydney has been a book shop in the middle of the Jewish neighborhood, in the centre in what is called Bondi Junction. With over 800 products from Israel, England, the US and anywhere and everywhere, it’s a comfortable place for people to consider Yeshua for themselves. Each week at least one, and more often than not, several unsaved Jewish people enter the shop and enquire or argue or buy products.
Here is a typical example from Three weeks ago.
Chaim from Jerusalem came into the shop, wearing full chasidic regalia. Black and white with fringes abundant. He was wearing a fedora and on entry kissed the mezuzah. He asked if we had large kippot. I showed him our supply of kippot and he looked, but underneath his fedora he already had a large kippah! Why was he querying? Because he couldn’t come in and make a simple enquiry; he had to have a ‘real’ reason. He left with a shake of the head and a lot to consider about our message of faith in Messiah.
Some like Daniella came in and left with a Bible in her own language and she, a 26 year old Jewish woman from South America, returned every week this year for 4 months to our Bible class. She’s still not a believer, but we are delighted in her growth, in her Bible reading, in her questioning, and in her being ‘almost persuaded.’ And God’s not done with her yet.  Others like Zeke do come to faith, after having come to the shop, and meeting with our staff. It’s an expensive proposition, but we find it a great entry point for people, especially our Jewish people, to discuss what really matters in life.

To summarize
17 years ago I moved to Australia from New York City to found Jews for Jesus and have been privileged to preach in over 1,400 churches, Bible colleges and Christian schools. Along with my staff our total rises to 2,500. We are finding people who really do want to reach the whole world with the whole gospel. Jews are coming to faith in Jesus, one at a time.  Evangelism among Jews is happening in homes and in programs, in magazines and public events sponsored by David House, by CWI and JFJ and CPM and others.  God is putting Jewish evangelism on the map of Australia. This is a good sign; we are encouraged and hopeful for the next decade if Jesus’ return is delayed.

Thank you to each of you who participates in LCJE international and who guide it well. May you continue to remember the needs of the Jewish people in Australia, Singapore, New Zealand and beyond, and help us as required to make Jesus known among them.

(For more information, see LCJE)

30 July 2015

The Shema and that one!

You would have to be sleeping or texting for a long way to miss this signage. The arrows make it clear that the right lane is closed. Which lane? THAT one!

My mother and aunt used to tell a story about a baby mix-up some 60 years ago. They both married brothers, and both fell pregnant in the same town within days of each other. 9 months later, my mother had me, and 3 days later my Aunt Sarah had my first cousin Joyce. In those days, Jewish women stayed in hospital until the bris (Circumcision) on the 8th day, so my relatives and I remained at Menorah Hospital for over a week.  Good times.

One day while there, the nursing staff brought my mother a baby to breastfeed, and she began, but noticed right away, that it wasn't me. Sure enough, she checked below and found my cousin Joyce! When the nurse returned, my mother told her to "bring me my son...the other one!"

Getting it right about particular people or lanes of traffic or situations often requires us to announce this one as opposed to that one. We order food or choose putters at Putt-Putt courses by selecting one, and pointing it out to the proprietor. That one, we announce, and receive the benefits.
--> That's the thinking I have when I read the Shema lately. In the Bible, Deuteronomy chapter 6, we read, "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead, and you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." (verses 4-9)

Moses and God are saying to us, even us in 2015, "You want to talk about gods...and any particular god? I'm telling you the Lord, our God, Yahweh, the One who delivered us from Egypt, the One who called Abram, and who is a covenant-keeping god... He's THAT ONE! Go ahead and put all your tribal deities in a row, in a lineup, and let's see who is the one. I tell you, He's THAT One!

It's not a numerical 'one' but rather a pointing "one" that I read in Deuteronomy. And maybe you have wondered if the God of the Bible is the real god of the universe, or if they all have a role to play. Is any god ok? Or no god at all?

The Bible answers that. My life answers that. People throughout history have answered that. Yeshua is God's Messiah and the lover of our souls. And He will give you eternal life if you trust in Him.  Don't choose the wrong lane. Don't choose the wrong putter. Don't choose the wrong dessert and certainly do not choose the wrong deity. There is ONLY ONE, and He's THAT ONE!

18 July 2015

Farewell Jean Rixon

Jean Rixon died in June and again in July. Sounds bizarre? Actually the one pictured lived in Sydney's northern suburbs and was my friend for 15 years or so. The other lived in Canada, and I never knew her.

The Canadian one died "peacefully on Saturday June 27, 2015 at the age of 83. Beloved wife of Raymond, married for 58 years. Loving mother of Mark (Elisa Udle), Carrie (Ross Raymond), Glenn (Lynne Bowler), and Garth (Lynn Demers). Cherished grandmother of Matthew, Kalen, Adam, Duncan, Sara, Lauren, and Erik. Proud great-grandmother of Brooke. Dear sister of Allan Farmer (Mauretta Velcoff), the late Murray (Kaye) Farmer, the late Beryl Farmer and the late Ian Farmer."

The Aussie one, my friend, "Only child of Henry and Mary Rixon, born Gulargambone, NSW, 12th August 1927, departed to be with Christ on the morning of 16th July 2015. Tireless Chatswood pharmacist; beloved Pastoral Worker at St Andrews Roseville."

So in the one case, a Jean Rixon died with family abundant and generations to follow her. In the other, closer to me, she apparently left with no one even to notice.

But that's not at all true. Our tennis group was saddened to learn today of this. The people in Jean's life at the church are sad. The people whom she served in her neighbourhood are already missing her. The doctors and fellow pharmacists feel the pain of her departure. Her 'generations' are not so biological as spiritual. She touched lives and she brought joy to many.

I personally miss Jean. She always had a question for me. "How is it going?" or "How is the ministry working lately?" She would say, "Did you receive my latest cheque?" and it wasn't designed to receive praise-- she actually cared. About me; about my work; about the work of the Lord. Her compassion for the lost was evident as she would visit many in hospital and take them communion. She would pray for people early in the morning and late in the day. Little escaped her notice.

Each week we played tennis and she would always participate in both the athletic part of the games and the social part of conversation. She also was a keen trivia woman, answering questions in our weekly Quiz with aplomb and cleverness. She rarely missed anything to do with science and almost never anything to do with chemistry. That gave us great confidence in her. 

More than anything, to each of us Jean was a friend. A listening ear. A caring heart. And a servant of the Jesus who came to be a servant to us all. She made sure we understood that all her love was God's love. She lived for Him and wanted everyone to know Him personally. And when someone she knew, in the neighborhood or at tennis or in her pharmacy, didn't know Jesus as a personal Lord, she was disappointed, but that never let her stop loving that person. A woman of charity and a woman of faith. What a great combo.

Our loss; heaven's gain. Thanks Lord, for loaning her to us for so many years. We who outlive her are the generations that carry her name and her passion to the many.

Only child of Henry and Mary Rixon, born Gulargambone, NSW, 12th August 1927, departed to be with Christ on the morning of 16th July 2015. Tireless Chatswood pharmacist; beloved Pastoral Worker at St Andrews Roseville. - See more at: http://tributes.smh.com.au/obituaries/smh-au/obituary.aspx?pid=175308984#sthash.Y2hquk33.dpuf
Only child of Henry and Mary Rixon, born Gulargambone, NSW, 12th August 1927, departed to be with Christ on the morning of 16th July 2015. Tireless Chatswood pharmacist; beloved Pastoral Worker at St Andrews Roseville. - See more at: http://tributes.smh.com.au/obituaries/smh-au/obituary.aspx?pid=175308984#sthash.Y2hquk33.dpuf
Only child of Henry and Mary Rixon, born Gulargambone, NSW, 12th August 1927, departed to be with Christ on the morning of 16th July 2015. Tireless Chatswood pharmacist; beloved Pastoral Worker at St Andrews Roseville. - See more at: http://tributes.smh.com.au/obituaries/smh-au/obituary.aspx?pid=175308984#sthash.Y2hquk33.dpuf

There's a place for us

This week's parsha (the weekly portion of Torah which is read in synagogues worldwide) speaks to me of finding a place.

The tribes of Reuben and Gad (later joined by half of the tribe of Manasseh) ask for the lands east of the Jordan as their portion in the Promised Land. Why do they do this? They have a lot of cattle and the property on the 'wrong' side looks very good to the leadership.  Moses is initially angered by the request, but subsequently agrees on the condition that they first join, and lead, in Israel’s conquest of the lands west of the Jordan. And they do so, as we read later in the Bible. For a video of the parsha, see Mattot.

The forty-two journeys and encampments of Israel are listed, from the Exodus to their encampment on the plains of Moab across the river from the land of Canaan. The boundaries of the Promised Land are given, and cities of refuge are designated as havens and places of exile for inadvertent murderers. The daughters of Zelophehad marry within their own tribe of Manasseh, so that the estate which they inherit from their father should not pass to the province of another tribe. In an earlier episode, the daughters had requested their own possession of land even though they have no brothers. Moses took their request to the Almighty and He allowed their inheritance. (actual passage below)

For me the story is about going home or finding home or longing for a home. I remember ET wanted to phone home.  In Homer's Iliad, Odysseus wanted to get home. Even in the movie with George Clooney, "O Brother where art thou?" the synopsis says, "Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) is having difficulty adjusting to his hard-labor sentence in Mississippi. He scams his way off the chain gang with simple Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) and maladjusted Pete (John Turturro), then the trio sets out to pursue freedom and the promise of a fortune in buried treasure. With nothing to lose and still in shackles, their hasty run takes them on an incredible journey of awesome experiences and colorful characters."

There is something within us that longs to go home.

I believe God wants us to be encouraged that whether it's where we imagine ourselves to be, or somewhere else altogether, He has a place for us.

Of course the Bible makes it clear "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Saviour, the Lord Yeshua, the Messiah;  (Philippians 3.20). Home is where we long to be. Home is where Messiah rules. Home is where we will live eternally.

"The daughters of Zelophehad stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest and before the leaders and all the congregation, at the doorway of the tent of meeting, saying, “Our father died in the wilderness, yet he was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah; but he died in his own sin, and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be withdrawn from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.” So Moses brought their case before the LORD.

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right in their statements. You shall surely give them a hereditary possession among their father’s brothers, and you shall transfer the inheritance of their father to them. Further, you shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter.  (Numbers 27.1-8)

14 July 2015

Stories of real Jews who really find the real Jesus

In Paris
Perry is one of our co laborers in Messiah and was at St Lazare (Paris) when Roxanne, a young woman, 23 years old, asked, ‘What IS Jews for Jesus?’ I replied, ‘We are Jews who believe Jesus is the Messiah and Savior of the world.’ Roxanne has a Jewish father and Catholic mother.

She was interested in her Jewish origins and had observed the Jewish holidays since childhood.  ‘My grandmother was the first to talk to me about the Passover lamb.’ she told me. Her grandmother had even told her once in Hebrew, ‘The Passover lamb is Yeshua, for the Lord saves.’

We had quite a good conversation then I said. ‘Have you ever asked Yeshua to forgive you your sins?’ Roxanne understood what it meant and prayed with me to receive Jesus as her personal Messiah. She finished by saying, ‘My grandmother is right: Yeshua saves!’”

Michael also was working with us in Paris last month. He reports, "I was at the market next to the Charenton Schools metro with one of the members of the Church of Charenton. There were not many people there, but I handed a tract to a man my age (in his 60s) named David. ‘Are you a Jew?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘Do you believe in Jesus?’ he asked me.  ‘Yes,’ I responded.

David accepted with an open heart all that I told him. ‘Have you already received the Lord?’ I asked. ‘No,’ he replied. ‘Is  there a reason you cannot now pray to receive forgiveness for your sins? We can do it now.’ He agreed to pray, and we did.  I was so surprised he agreed to pray in the street with me that I almost forgot to get his contact information! He did leave his address and number phone to keep in touch with us.”

Sydney and Kansas
Linda and I grew up in the same schools in the middle of the US. We both moved away decades ago and found each other again on Facebook last year. She and I, both Jews, have both been on a journey of spiritual discovery. I came to faith in Jesus 40 years ago. She, only a month ago now. And her story is filled with longing and wonder and pain.  God is so kind to give us friends and contacts to help discover the reality of Yeshua. She wrote "You have helped me grow and discover the joy and blessing of Christ."  

I asked her if she noticed any changes since she received Yeshua as Savior and Lord.  "I have not been such a complainer. I'm pretty content these days. Peaceful? I think the changes I've been looking for are right under my nose and I did not even notice." She also wrote, "I guess the Holy Spirit is indeed in me! I don't know what I expected, but now I have chills. It is so cool!" 

Linda said, "If I want to proclaim Him as my Savior, I can do it aloud at home, alone, if I want, right? I don't mind in front of others, but I see this as very personal between Him and me." And she has already been telling many of her new faith.

In the USA
Mark grew up in New York and lives in the US South now with his wife of over 40 years. He's about my age and came to believe and profess faith in Yeshua in April this year. We met the Friday before that and maybe I was part of his story.  He is a professional man and came from a lecture in the afternoon to hear me speak that night. He engaged with my teaching and approached me after the meeting. "I am going to go forward in the Baptist church on Sunday." That's when people accept Jesus, receiving Him as Lord and Savior personally. And he did that. With his mother, sister and daughter watching (he had invited them specifically to be there.) What a significant time in their lives.

For you
And it can be significant in your life as well. Have you ever received Jesus as your personal messiah? Have you been considering this for a very long time? Maybe right now, right where you are, you can also say "yes" to Him. You don't have to close your eyes. You don't have to kneel. But you may. 

Say this prayer out loud, "Father in the name of Jesus, I ask you to forgive me of my sins. Dear Lord, I know you love me and you care about me and want me to know you and to know about life. I have messed up pretty badly, sinning in all kinds of ways in my youthful ignorance, and even lately. And yet, you love me. And you want to be in relationship with me. I'm so sorry for the sins that separate us.

And I understand, although it's a big concept, that Jesus died for my sins and offers me eternal life. I receive His love and forgivenss. I accept Yeshua as my Messiah and savior. I choose to follow you with my heart and with all my life. 

Help me to live for you. In Yeshua's name. Amen."

 Here is my story, Bob's story       
And here are a series of testimonies which you might enjoy seeing/ hearing. Another story

Let me know, won't you?

26 June 2015

Hardwired for relationship

What is it about reality tv shows and the human condition?
My Kitchen Rules

So you think you can dance?

It started with Survivor, and now each night on Aussie TV, and I'm guessing where you are also, the assortment of shows continues relentlessly. Australian Idol, So you think you can dance, My Kitchen Rules, The Block, The Apprentice, the Bachelor, the list continues ad nauseum. But someone thinks this makes sense. And someone else knows it makes dollars and cents. Abundantly. Why is that?

Sociologist and New York University professor Eric Klinenberg teamed up with actor/ comedian Aziz Ansari to unpack relationships in a book that was released this month. Ansari constantly chased love as wannabe ladykiller Tom Haverford in TV show Parks and Recreation, and contemplates the strangeness of online dating throughout his standup comedy.

Modern Romance, their collaborative book, used a rigorous and data-led examination of how we date. The pair conducted hundreds of interviews with people from Japan to the American midwest to gauge how love, sex and relationships have changed with the advent of networked technology.
They even set up a research forum on Reddit, Modern Romantics, which asked questions like “Has anyone tried an ‘open relationship’? What were the rules? How did it go? Would you do it again?” and “Has anyone hired a consultant to help you put together an online dating profile or worked with a dating coach? How’d that go?”

Klinenberg, meanwhile, is similarly steeped in the study of modern relationships. His book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, published last year, examined how solo living has become so prevalent in recent years that there are now more people living alone in the US than nuclear families living together.

So my question remains. What is it about reality tv shows and the human condition?

I believe we are all hardwired for relationship. 

I read a long thesis from the UK while studying for this blog. It's here online . Written by Val Gillies for Families & Social Capital ESRC Research Group, of South Bank University and published 12 years ago, the historical review of sociology is excellent and well worth a long-read. Val looks back at trends and evaluates the changes in society over generations, focusing principally from the 1960s onwards.

For instance, "Raymond Firth and colleagues(1969) also focused on middle class families, emphasising the continued significance of selected or chosen kin relationships. These studies were extremely influential and spurred a new interest in social networks, communities and more specifically kinship systems. Although such topics eventually fell out of favour they have recently been revived by social capital theorists attempting to measure the value of social connectedness. The major focus in the 1960s and ‘70s was on determining the norms of obligation and reciprocity governing such relationships, in the context of a general consensus that kinship ties are the closest and most committed (Crow and Allan 1994)" 
Gillies goes on to discuss 'companionate marriage,' "As Janet Finch and Penny Mansfield (1991) point out, the notion of ‘companionate marriage’ emerged as an ideal amid a post-war concern to consolidate and stabilise family life. Emphasis was placed on the principles of ‘partnership’, sharing and greater equality between the sexes, and the advent of a new, more home-centred family life. Sociological writings, particularly the community studies of the 1950s and 60s, commonly drew on and reproduced this companionate ideology when theorising about family."
The term "Companionate marriage" of course would widen in the next few decades into homosexual and other partnering types. But the point is that people want relationships, and although 'family' as traditional is not always the norm, the value of real people really speaking into real people's lives is continuing. 
This one section about modernity and 'individualisation' really spoke to me. "Beck and Beck-Gernsheim’s ‘individualisation thesis’ articulates a similar picture, suggesting that a new age of modernity has replaced the old predictabilities and certainties of industrial society, bringing with it new risks and opportunities (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 1995, 2002). They argue that these changes have fundamentally altered the experience of love, sexuality and family life, placing intimacy at the heart of detraditionalised life. Liberated from precepts and conventions individuals become authors of their own lifescripts, but while this process of ‘individualisation’ weakens and challenges traditional social ties of kinship and marriage, love and intimacy are ever more sought after to ease the isolation of this autonomy: ‘For individuals who have to invent or find their own social setting, love becomes the central pivot giving meaning to their lives’ (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 1995: 170).
All this to say that I believe we are hardwired for relationships. We need others. We need to know and be known by others. We want to be human with other humans. And whether these relationships are forced as in arranged marriages, or simply as two young people find each other and marry, or we are hoping for that selfie with another who is prominent in footy or The Bachelor, we want to know and be known. 
The problem of course, with the reality shows is two fold. One, they are not real. The camera crew and others on production staff also fill 'the island' or the 'kitchen' or the home to be renovated. The scripts are carefully edited; the dangers filmed but rarely truly shown. The second problem is that we might know of bit of the back story of their journey of the candidates for Dancer or Singer or Talent of the show, they in fact, know nothing of us. No relationship is actual. It is entirely voyeuristic. We know what we know about them. They know nothing of me or you. We are 'the audience' and 'the fans whom I would like to thank for voting for me. I love each of you,' says each winner, but they don't really love us. They don't know us at all.
Our desire to be known and to know is thus dissatisfied. We fail in relationships. And yet, we are still hardwired for them. So where can we go? 

I believe, as you might expect, that it all begins with relationship with God. He is to be known, and has made it clear how that happens in the pages of the Bible. He wants to be in relationship with us, but we fail a fair bit. Consider these phrases, all from the apostle Paul:
1Cor. 1.21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

Gal. 4.9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?

Titus 1.16 They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed.

Knowing God is about knowing Jesus. He said as much in his final (listed) prayer, "And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Yeshua the Messiah whom Thou hast sent." (John 17.3) This is the key to eternity. Knowing Yeshua as Messiah and knowing His Father, from whom all good things come. Yeshua said, "My sheep hear My voice and I know them, and I give them eternal life." (John 10.27-28) Knowing whom to follow and whose voice it is ... that's eternal life. Being in relationship with Him makes all things new. 

Then He gives us others, in families, or in congregations, or around the world via Skype and online LiveChat who are in fact, family.  The apostle John said, "if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1.9) This fellowship is real and deep. It's personal and much better than a cheer or cheerleader on a Television reality show. 

No wonder John said moments earlier, "what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Yeshua the Messiah." (1 John 1.3)

Hardwired for relationship? It all starts with the Almighty. Get right with Him and then you will find others, also cleansed by His love and forgiveness, with whom you can share abundantly.  Want to try that one on?

20 June 2015

Memorials (Part 2)

I wrote the other day about remembering and the power of memories. And now today we look at the central activity of the people of God who are nicknamed "The church" in their memory prodding, the event called 'communion.' This is that ceremony in many churches where a piece of bread and a sip of grape juice or wine is used. The actual ceremony begins with a reminder of a reminder. Paul wrote this to the Corinthian believers: "Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you." (1 Cor. 11.2) By keeping a good record of what Paul taught the believers there, they received a high commendation from the apostle. Like every student who learns well, when his teacher commends him, there is great joy. And the praise of the apostle is especially good given his earlier criticisms of the Corinthians.

The apostle tells them he is glad they remember him. But, as you would imagine from a humble apostle, he switches to the main thing they remember... "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Yeshua in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes." (11.24-26)

This idea of receiving and remembering is crucial. You cannot remember what you never heard (received) and receiving alone is almost useless if you don't remember what you have heard. So the apostle says that he received something from Yeshua (Jesus) and passed that to the believers in Corinth. And that they should remember as they perform a ceremony. The ceremony itself in fact, is the call to remembrance.

It all goes back to Passover. Yes, the Jewish seder meal which my people have conducted for over 3,000 years in homes in Israel, the US, Russia, here in Australia, and around the globe. And one particular night, about 30 CE (AD) or so, Yeshua had seder with his friends and did some unusual things. He said that the matzo they were eating had a special significance, not only in relation to the exodus from Egypt, but also in relation to what was going to happen to him the next day. He knew, but the disciples did not know, that he was going to be killed by crucifixion by Roman soldiers. And he took the unleavened bread and gave it even deeper meaning saying that it was 'my body given for you." What? A piece of bread is likened to a physical body of an adult human?

In the seder's haggadah (the prayer book and order of service we use each year), we say of the unleavened bread, "This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt." So the bread Yeshua took in hand was already a symbol of something else. And then He changed its meaning to yet another concept-- His body, which would suffer and be afflicted the next day on a Roman cross. The idea of affliction was certainly known to the Jewish people. And it was also a characteristic of the messiah to come as Isaiah the prophet declared, "in all their affliction he was afflicted....so he became their Savior" (chapter 63) Sure enough Jesus suffered deeply the next day and took on Himself the suffering of the Jewish people, and according to the story, all people.

The cup of salvation which we drink is the "new covenant in My blood."  When approached by the two sons of Zebedee, the following took place. Yeshua asked them, "Are you able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They said unto him, "We are able". But Jesus answered and said, "You know not what you ask." The cup of baptism was really the cup of suffering. And certainly Yeshua suffered the next day, spilling His own blood to save us, each one of us, from our sinful nature and our activities of sins. As the prophet Isaiah also predicted 700 years earlier, "he was wounded for our transgressions. The chastisement for our peace was upon him and with his stripes we are healed." (chapter 53)

The phrase 'new covenant' is something which is used only one other time in the Tenach. Jeremiah the prophet said, "Days are coming (says the Lord) when I will make a new covenant with the Jewish people, not like the one I made with them when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. This is the covenant I will make: I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”  

The new covenant will be a memorable one and the sins of Israel will not be remembered.  God will write the new covenant on our hearts and on our minds. That's about memory. And when Yeshua took up the cup on Passover night before He was crucified, He instituted the new covenant, a perpetual memory of His forgiving us of our sins and putting His Torah in our hearts.What a Savior!

So when the Corinthians who were pretty good at sinning and envying and living wrong got the remembrance of the Messiah right, that deserved high marks from Paul. And when you get it right, God will attest to your heart that you are His. that's worth everything. Remember this. 

For more on Passover and blood and bread, see http://jewsforjesus.org/judaica/passover. 

15 June 2015

Memorials (part 1)

Yesterday at LCM church (Anglican) in Sydney one of the pastors said as an aside, "God wants us to remember." It was almost a throw-away line, but seriously made me think about how often in the Scriptures the word is used and the theme of it running throughout. 168 times in 163 verses (32 in the Psalms alone) the word is used in the Bible and that's nothing to dismiss. Why the serious memory challenge? Why so much looking backwards?

Consider holidays. The Jewish people celebrate Passover and the Christians celebrate Easter each year about March/April. Each is a memorial of God's activity in the human dilemma. Jewish people escaped slavery after 400 years in Egypt and Christians note the salvation brought about by the death and resurrection of Jesus, the God-man Savior.
The first one who actually does 'remember' in the Bible though is the Almighty. He says, "I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9.15-16) This has to do with rainbows and what we see as a natural phenomenon of beauty or scientifically as mist and sunshine and right angles, God sees as a string-around-His-finger to remind Him of the flood of Noah and His own decision to "never again" do that flood thing to the whole planet.

Memorials are set up worldwide in cemeteries and on plaques in musea and in text books to help us get a glimpse of time then and for a future consideration as well.

For instance, “But lest some unlucky event should happen unfavorable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered by every gentleman in the room that I this day declare with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.”- George Washington, first president of the USA.

Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh had a brief convo about this: "Pooh, when I'm--you know--when I'm not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?" "Just me?" "Yes, Pooh." "Will you be here too?" "Yes Pooh, I will be really. I promise I will be Pooh." "That's good," said Pooh. "Pooh, promise you won't forget about me, ever. Not even when I'm a hundred." Pooh thought for a little. "How old shall I be then?" "Ninety-nine." Pooh nodded. "I promise," he said." AA Milne in House at Pooh Corner

And one more from Stephen King, “Writers remember everything...especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he'll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar. Art consists of the persistence of memory.” ― Stephen King, in Misery

So memories have purpose and a call to remember things and events and people and such has a purpose as well. If we don't remember we are destined to repeat mistakes. If we don't remember, we will think that all of life just began today and miss opportunities. We will fake our way into insignificance. Whatever it is in our lives which help us remember, and whatever sudoku and puzzling we can play to strengthen that, is for our good and the good of society in general.

Listen to these words from the Scripture, "Remember, do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness; from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you arrived at this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD." (Deuteronomy 9.7) Most parents would remind kids to forget their mistakes, but the Lord tells us to remember how we blew it and thus understand our un-deserved-ness. In other words, if you think you are doing ok, if you are sure that your compliance with biblical standards stands you in good stead with the Lord, you will miss out. "What!" you say?

Yes, when you establish a checklist system by the which you think you are afforded God's reward of heaven or at least a heavenly life on earth, then you miss out. Why? Because you are sinful. Because you fail Him. Because you are ever falling short of God's standards and thus deserving of God's punishment. But if you remember your own sin, and remember that EVEN SO, God amazingly loves you and desires to be with you, then you begin to understand GRACE. That's what the Bible calls God's unmerited favor. Unmerited in that you cannot merit or earn it.

Forgetfulness is endemic to a people, unless we set up memorials in calendars or in locations. For instance, in the book of Judges, we read, "as soon as Gideon was dead, the sons of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-berith their god. Thus the sons of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side; nor did they show kindness to the household of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in accord with all the good that he had done to Israel. (chapter 8.33-35) Forgetting who we are, and whose we are, and who has helped us in the past, caused us to dishonor the past, and break God's command of forbidding idolatry.

I love the idea of God remembering even when we forget. Nehemiah was a court official and became a prophet to the Jewish people. His words help in this regard, “They refused to listen, and did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; so they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt.
But You are a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; and You did not forsake them. (9.17)

How awesome is the Lord who remembers even when we refuse and forget.

But if we remember and keep the memory of others and their deeds, of others and their hopes, of God and His plans in our minds, then we are benefited, and we are going to make a difference in the world. The choice is yours. What's on your mind today?