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?

25 May 2015

Honestly


What do you think when you read the acronym in a text message "tbh?" In the world of SMS coverage, "to be honest" seems a simple jargon phrase that says, "I'm telling you the truth." Of course, that kind of phrase makes me wonder about all the other phrases and other statements the person with whom I'm communicating. Were they being honest earlier? Will they continue to be honest?

On TV, the interviewer kept the slogan "Can I be honest with you?" when the Hollywood star is being challenged to tell about the latest movie blockbuster. What is the interviewer to respond? Please, be honest with me. Of course, but were you being honest earlier or will you continue to tell me the truth?

My mother used to inquire into my disclosures, when I was a young man, even a teen. She heard me tell her about my (lack of) homework or about a person with whom I had a disagreement, and she would ask, "Honest engine?" (Of course it might have been more "Honest injun?" but I have to worry about Native American reaction today.) Her inquiry had to do with a 2nd-level verification, almost like a captcha code.

Some today use the phrase, "Are you kidding me?" for such verification in personal conversation. Others would simply take the comment on board with "Wow" or "That's amazing!"

What about you? When you speak, or text, or write... do you need to say "I'm telling you the truth" or "TBH?"

I'm glad when God wanted to speak, long ago, or today to my heart, He simply spoke. He simply speaks. He calls us to know Him. And His Word is true. And truth. And reliable, verifiable, trustworthy. Yeshua said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." He said, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Freedom. Sounds good. Honestly.

11 May 2015

The Spirit and the Word bring life: A Pentecost message

A sermon by Bob Mendelsohn
Given at Servants of Jesus
10 May 2015
To watch the video check Video

Greetings
            Shalom to all my friends here at Servants of Jesus, to your leadership, to Simon,  to Joseph and Julie especially, both for this kind invitation to return to speak to you here at the community today, and for your love and friendship over the last 16 years or so… my tenure in Australia. I moved here to Sydney in 1998 from New York and may I say, your community has been continually supportive of our work and our life …for that I’m very grateful.

Introduction
Today I’m going to speak about the Jewish holiday of Pentecost, and we will look at the history of the holiday and its impact in our lives as 21st Century people.
Outside Kathmandu, Nepal was rocked with a 7.9 magnitude earthquake on 24 April, leaving over 6,000 dead and in villages 50 miles from the capital, nothing remains. The global response reminded me of Christchurch in February 2011 and of the deep human commitment, what I call the will to live. Devastation. Earthquake. And tremors that will continue for months. That quake in Christchurch was the most expensive natural disaster, in our sense of history, in New Zealand at 15 billion dollars. In total, 183 people were killed in the earthquake, making the earthquake the second-deadliest natural disaster recorded in New Zealand (after the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake), and fourth-deadliest disaster of any kind recorded in New Zealand.
Do you remember that only weeks later we saw the same thing in Fukishima Japan. Earthquake and tsunami. The nuclear reactor is still in danger some say. The people of Tokyo are only 170 kilometres south and often worried of the situation.
I don’t have to remind us here in Australia of the devastating floods in our state in April, and in Queensland a couple years ago. The floods forced the evacuation of thousands of people from towns and cities. At least seventy towns and over 200,000 people were affected. Damage initially was estimated at around 1billion. The estimated reduction in Australia's GDP is about A$30 billion. Three-quarters of the state of Queensland was declared a disaster zone.
For most of us, the will to live is a driving force, keeping and getting life, almost whatever the cost. That’s a prime driver for humanity and for us as humans, amen?
In a fortnight in Bondi and in Jerusalem and in New York City Jews will celebrate the Jewish holiday of Pentecost and eat blintzes and cottage cheese. They will stay up all night reading and praying and learning Bible, including the Book of Ruth.
What is their motivation and what can we learn from their busy-ness and their thinking? And what does God have to say to us as 21st century people about what gives us life?
Images of Mount Sinai
For that, we have to return 3,500 years to the point in Jewish and really world history, where God gave the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) to mankind, specifically to the Jews, then that the Jews might pass on the information to the rest of humanity. Pentecost is called the ‘Time of the Giving of the Torah.” Why ‘giving’ and not ‘receiving?’ Because every time we listen to the Bible read here at church or in our private devotions, on Christian radio, or wherever, we ‘receive’ the Bible’s truths. One time, God gave it, but each time we can receive it again.
The scene in Sinai was raucous to say the least. The book of Exodus unveils the scene as one of chaos. What’s there? Look, there  is fire and wind and a voice. Ezekiel 1 is read on Shavuot and it’s designed to link with and show us the exaggerated activity of a storm, a wild storm, uncharacteristic storms of high energy and God’s voice coming from within it.
Ezekiel says, “And as I looked, behold, a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire.”(Ezek. 1.4)
Later on in the Bible, the writer of Hebrews shows us even more of that scene and contrasts it with our Mt of Revelation. Listen to this quote from Hebrews chapter 12. “For you have not come to a mountain that may be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word should be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command,  “If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said,  “I am full of fear and trembling.”
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. … For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying,  “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven… Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb 12.18-29)
What a scene of awe and fear. This is stuff Spielberg would love to create. This is massive cyclone like we saw thundering across the plains in the US this year, even in my  “state of origin,” Missouri, where the tornadoes came through and many died.
The scene is described in Exodus chapter 19 as follows: “And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. And Mount Sinai was altogether on a Smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in Fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long (Tekiah Gedolah), and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake and God answered him by a voice. And the LORD came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the LORD called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up.” (Exodus 19)       You get it.
With all of Israel standing, quaking, and basically traumatized after 400 years of slavery, terror at the Red Sea, a narrow escape, and a month and a half of wandering in the wilderness, building the Golden Calf and thinking it’s all lost, then they saw the lightning and thunder and great wind, and wondered if it was all over. I would have been afraid, and I imagine I’m not alone in this auditorium.
Fear was on them. Moses returned and brought 2 tablets of stone. On them were 10 phrases. And God used those 10 commandments to define a constitution for the former slaves.
Listen, fire shakes things up. Earthquakes shake things up.  We all need a good shake up now and then, don’t we? I even heard some news presenter reviewing why the tornadoes happen in the US…he refered to Global Warming.
I believe that Sinai was one of the first places of Global Warming ever recorded. And God was heating things up for Israel and on Israel that we as Jews might take a renewed, invigorated, ‘on fire’ religion and go to the nations.
The Spirit came on the church as a fire; he came onto Jesus as a dove. Jesus needed no cleansing;  we are desperate for it.


Go to the Nations with God’s Tongue
                The story is told about who got offered the Torah. “God offered the Word to 70 nations, but each said no. He came to the Jewish people and offered us the Torah. Moses said, “How much for the 5 commandments?” God said, ‘they are free.” Moses replied, “I’ll take 10.” By the way, I can say that joke; I get worried if a Gentile does.
 Luke tells us at the beginning of Acts 2 that there were people from every nation. This would reflect the 70 nations believed to exist. And sometimes they were called 70 tongues, since a nation usually is defined not by geographic borders, but by its language.

70 nations were offered the Torah; they refused. But as a result of Pentecost, those same 70 nations will hear the Gospel.

It is significant to note that a Jewish commentary on Exodus, recalling chapter 10 of Genesis, which sketches a map of the 70 nations which were then thought to comprise humanity as a whole, leads them back to Sinai to hear the word of God:  "At Sinai the Lord's voice was divided into 70 languages, so that all the nations could understand" (Exodus Rabbah 5, 9). So too in Luke’s description of Pentecost, the Word of God is addressed to humanity through the Apostles, in order to proclaim "the mighty works of God" (Acts 2:11) to all peoples even with their differences. A clear overcoming not only of national differences, but of the Tower of Babel problem resident on humanity, the inability to speak at peace with one another.
You might think I have an acccent, but I’ve lived and worked in Sydney for 17 years having moved from New York City. And four years ago I became an Aussie citizen. So this is now officially an Australian accent.
A few years ago I was in Melbourne, and upon arrival at the airport I rang a Jewish woman I’d met on the phone a year before. She is a Mendelsohn and when our team was cold calling Jewish surnames, I rang her and dozens of others. She seemed interested and I marked her name as such on our computer. So on arrival I wanted to meet up with her. She was open and had a friend, Alice, come by from next door. Alice is a Baptist, and wanted to know how Jews, Jesus and Jews for Jesus went together.
Now my new Jewish contact is originally from Scotland, and although I’ve traveled the world, I had a very difficult time understanding her accent. I was recently in Scotland and this trouble with understanding Scottish people diminished, but I’m talking about a story from a few years back. Sure, her words were English words, but they were foreign sounding to me. It was her dialect (a Greek word meaning ‘tongue’ and used in Acts 2 of what the disciples received that day) that threw me off.
Long story short, Jane prayed with me to accept Jesus that afternoon.  She is reading her Bible now and Alice is helping her. She is being looked after by a church which meets just around the corner from their flats. God is good!
What the Tower of Babel evidences, the inability of people to speak with each other, Pentecost overcomes as people from 70 nations can hear the same words in their own language and respond in faith, amen?
Tongues divided the world in Babel; tongues unite the world in the Holy Spirit’s anointing in Pentecost.
And remember what the 120 did when they received the Holy Spirit that Pentecost day? They went downstairs and outside and preached so that the 3,000 could find eternal life. We hear the Gospel; we respond and believe and then, we go to preach it.
What is in our hearts comes out our mouths. Jesus said, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.“ (Matthew 12.34) In fact 15 times in the Newer Testament, the phrase is used of people being “filled (or baptized) with the Spirit” and each time what follows is speaking. If you believe in Jesus and have a relationship with him you will speak about him to others. And they will hear and learn and some will come to faith in Jesus.

Conversion and Pentecost

One point to mention about this holiday is its uniqueness in relation to sin. At every Jewish festival the Torah informs us that one has to bring a sin offering. Only on the festival of Shavuot is the word 'sin' not mentioned. Why? “For on the festival of Shavuot, the day of the receiving of the Torah, all Jews are like the convert "newborn", and so free of all sin.” (R Levi Yitschak of Berditchev)
What R Levi Yitschak means and what we mean may be different. Let’s be clear. We all need to be cleansed of sin. We all need shaking up. And in Pentecost we have God calling us to listen, to hear his words in whatever languages, and to be born from above. He wants to fulfill His words of Jeremiah 31. There God predicts through the ancient prophet,
 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD,  “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,  “declares the LORD.  “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD,  “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.” (31.31-34)
This new covenant is God’s promise. This new covenant was enacted on Passover,  7 weeks before Pentecost when Yeshua took up the 3rrd cup during the seder and initiated it. And in his dying and rising from the dead, we can all be forgiven of our sins, we can all be converted, we can all know God. It’s a new covenant, not like the covenant of Moses (the Old covenant). This is conversion in the best sense of the word.
And why do we read the Book of Ruth? The rabbis say we read Ruth because King David, her descendant, died on Shavuot and because Ruth was a convert and at Sinai we were like converts.  God transformed us from ordinary people to a special nation.
And why do we eat dairy products? In exilic Judaism the word of God is likened to “milk and honey” and we eat to remind ourselves of the sweetness and refreshment found in the Word of God.

Conversion brings life, not death

In Exodus 32 we read of the return of Moses with the Two Tablets of the Law. And the Jewish populace was behaving riotously and the brother of Moses, Aaron, lied about how the Golden Calf incident happened. He said, “I put the gold in and look what came out!” Moses was angry and invited the people to join him in opposition to the rioting. The sons of Levi did (Moses’ tribe too) and that day the text tells us,  “So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day.” (Exodus 32.28)
Now if you know much about Bible, you know the precision of biblical numbers is a worthy study itself. For instance, exactly how many men came out of Egypt from each family and each tribe? No round numbers here; no approximations. Even after the Resurrection, Peter goes fishing and catches 153 fish. (John 21.11)
So it’s very surprising to read the phrase “about 3,000 men” in Exodus. Is it random? Not at all.
Acts chapter two, which I encourage you to read when you get home today, shows us that as a result of the preaching of Peter, Jewish people interrupted his sermon and said, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2.37) and Peter told them to repent and get baptized and get filled with the Holy Spirit, for the ‘promise is for you, and your children, and all who are far off” (This means the Jews, the Jewish families, and Gentiles). And who responded?  “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2.41)
No coincidence here. What brought death in Moses’ day brought life in Peter’s day. And to the exact number of people.
And Paul made a point of this in 2 Corinthians 3.
Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how shall the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?” (3.5-8)
So the Spirit brings life and the Law brings death. But let’s be too simple here. What we mean by Spirit always contains Scripture. What we mean by Law contains more than Scripture. Here’s what I mean.
Paul’s use of the term, The Law may better for us be described as a checklist system, with requirements, and guilt for failure and pride for satisfaction. It starts in the Scripture, but goes past its intent. The Spirit (as Paul used the term) is God’s word enabled in our lives. It’s the requirements of the Law put into our hearts of flesh. (Jer. 31).
Spirit without the Word is Emotionalism; Word without Spirit is legalism.
But together, they are what Paul calls “Spirit” and we could say “The Spirit and the Word bring Life.” Jesus said “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” (John 6.63)
That’s it…that’s how we win in this transitory life. We trust the Spirit and God’s Words, they bring us life.  Fukishima plant technicians and US tornado survivors, and Nepalese earthquake survivors all share victories of still breathing, but what you and I can count on is that those who trust Jesus and are anointed with his fire and word, enter into life and live it to the fullest.
About 3000 folks can live; 5,000 the next day (Acts 4) and who knows how many in Sydney or Jerusalem or around Australia will hear God’s word and live, even today?
Pentecost is not Passover. On Passover we are forgiven. On Pentecost we are empowered to proclaim the Gospel. Let’s be out sharing this message. Let’s go out and tell.


09 May 2015

Hannah, her sisters, Woody Allen and me

The year was around 1985. The scene was the Upper West Side in New York City. Specifically it was inside Leo's Barbershop on 73rd and Amsterdam. About 11 a.m. on a weekday. I was inside the shop and Leo was making me look decent. His shop was unusually empty. I was the only customer in the shop. It was eerie. Like most in his trade, he depended on a steady flow of customers to pay the bills and get ahead. He had been a barber for decades, in NYC mostly, but was originally from Italy. So that I was the only one inside with him on a normal workday seemed odd. I asked him about the reason for such.

He told me that Mr Woody Allen had hired the shop from midday and that I was the last customer of the day. Seemed that Woody had hired out the shop for a previous movie he made, and that he and Leo had 'a relationship' of sorts. I did note a photo of Woody on the wall behind me. And if Woody were going to take the whole place, I wondered what movie it might be. Leo didn't know.

A few moments later, almost on cue, two men entered dismissing the "Closed" sign on the door. It was Woody and an offsider, no doubt. Wow, here was a movie legend, producer, director, writer, and here I was getting my haircut under the cape, and under the efficient tarsorial wizardry of Leo. I really wanted to speak with him. I was, after all, wearing a "Jews for Jesus" tshirt like this one pictured.  And Woody is a famous Jewish man, and dealt with stories of angst and the search for meaning and such. But he was in a class way above mine...

So I let it go. He was busy anyway, discussing so many things with his offsider. Leo finished my haircut and he took the hair-capturing cape off me. I arose from the barber chair. And Woody looked at me, or rather my shirt. He looked away. Then he did a double-take, looking back at the shirt. And that's when I should have said something. But I didn't. I'm sorry to this day that I didn't. Regrets, I have a few.

I left and didn't think about this episode particularly again for months. Then the next Woody Allen movie came out entitled, "Hannah and her sisters."  (1986) It was a typical Allen film with a great cast (Mia Farrow, Dianne Weist, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Michael Caine, Barbara Hershey, Richard Jenkins, Carrie Fisher...) and the problems of life and the meaning of life. The Allen character in the movie is (mis)diagnosed with a brain tumor and he begins seriously even investigating religion and spirituality. He is, of course, a Jewish man in the role he plays, and his search for meaning actually takes him to the Catholic church and he seeks to convert. The scenes that follow are comic, real, disclosing and helpful for anyone who wants to know what Jewish people are thinking in this consideration of conversion.

After Woody meets with a priest, we see Woody on the Upper West Side. He goes inside a book shop and buys some items. That book shop was actually Leo's barbershop! The production crew changed things around and only used the front of the shop. Perhaps the inside shots were on the cutting room floor. I never knew. So the Woody character named Mickey, returns to his home and unpacks the conversion ware. What is inside the brown paper bag? What did Mickey buy at the Catholic book shop? A Bible, of course. And a crucifix (The Catholic version with Jesus still affixed to the cross). A loaf of white bread. A jar of mayonnaise.

No wonder Woody did a double-take on that barbershop day. His film character Mickey was going to convert to Jesus and here I was inside the shop where it would happen wearing a shirt .... well, you get it.

It's not too late for the real Woody Allen to write me. I promise not to be shy and avoid his email.
I promise to answer his questions, if they persist or linger at all.

And I promise to answer yours as well. Like why the white bread and mayonnaise? Like why search for meaning and give up before you find it? Ask, you just might get an answer that works.



27 April 2015

What's in your box? What would you put in mine?

Ilan Ramon was tragically killed in the crash of the space shuttle Columbia on 1/2/03 and the remains of the 7 crew were found in Hemphill, Texas. I visited the NASA museum, which was built and is maintained by locals. One of the seven crew is Ilan Ramon, an Israeli scientist who was among those who died that day.

At the little museum, which is little more than a single lounge room, and looked like a professional science project, I was struck by the locker-sized memorials. set up by relatives of the crew. Here's a photo of Ilan's memorial, with items sent by his wife from Israel, and although she has never made it to Texas to see it, it reflects what she wants to say about his life.

So, as you might imagine, this got me thinking. What would be in my box? What would I want for the summary of my 60/70/80 years of life? Perhaps it's unfair to ask a relative to summarize my life. Perhaps it's unfair for me to depict myself, since we often get our own self-statements so wrong. But either way, at the end of my days, there will be opportunity for some to reflect, and make statements, or consider the one thing they might put in my box.

So today, I'm asking that question publicly. I'm wondering what you would put in my box if you had an opportunity. This is not morbid, but perhaps you think it is. I apologize if you think so.

Future King David said, "to (current King) Saul, “Who am I, and what is my life or my father’s family in Israel, that I should be ..." (Recorded in 1 Kings chapter 18). What is my life? What is your life? Care to share a thought or two? More on monuments and memorials later.