29 September 2008

Trumpets...what's that about?

A Rosh Hashanah message.


I love holidays. Maybe you do, also. And tonight is the beginning of a seriously long holiday season. I’m not talking about wandering through David Jones and seeing how much holiday cheer is already up. The green and red of Christmas abounds …and if I remember right, it’s only September. So for the merchants of Bondi Junction, this is a seriously long holiday season. At least they hope so. And maybe for them, that makes their holidays worthwhile and bright.

No, when I mention holidays, and tonight’s beginning, I’m talking about the season of The High Holidays. It begins with Tishri. This Hebrew month is filled with strange and unusual holiday celebrations and includes tonight, 3 days from now, 10 days from now, fifteen days from now and then lasting 8 or 9 more days. There are seven holidays all up in the biblical record of Leviticus 23, and seven is the number of completion.
The holidays have odd names, too. Feast of Trumpets, Fast of Gedaliah, Day of Atonement, Festival of Tabernacles, Eighth day of assembly, The great hosanna, and Rejoicing in Torah. Nothing as clear as Anzac Day is it?

And tonight is the beginning. The name of the holiday on your Hallmark calendar is New Year, a translation of Rosh Hashanah. Now I know, some of you know that in the Bible, in Leviticus 23, we read of this day as a day of blowing of Trumpets and that it occurs in the 7th month. So there might be confusion. Fair enough.

I don’t want to belabor this, but God changed the calendar about 3,500 years ago, as he wanted us to remember our Exodus from Egypt as well as Creation. Tonight is still the new year reminding us of the anniversary of Creation, some 6,000 years ago. And the first month was changed in Exodus chapter 12 to Nisan, 6 months from now. We shouldn’t be surprised by this change. This Sunday morning in Australia we will change our clocks an hour. Now, you know, time doesn’t change, but our measurement of it does. And that’s all that God was doing in this 6-month biblical adjustment.
So let’s think about trumpets.

Trumpets? What’s that about? Next weekend in Manly is the jazz festival, so is there a biblical festival also for drums or guitars? Is there some festival for trombones or tubas? Why trumpets after all?
Let me tell you some thoughts.

Before there was email, before there was 24-hour TV news coverage, before there were mobile phones, there was the trumpet. Listen to these texts and my quick comments:
Joel 2.1: Blow the trumpet in Zion, sound the alarm on my holy mountain. Here the trumpet is used as an alarm, a strong signal to remind the Jewish people that trouble is ahead.

Matthew 6.2: “When you give charity, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues.” I suppose we could highlight the seating in synagogues even tonight, as people who have given larger sums are seated closer to the bimah. Trumpeting then is a way of showing off, of making sure people know how charitable one is. Sort of like the man who announced on national television that he was going to be teaching a course, “Humility and how I attained it.”

Leviticus 23.24: “In the 7th month, on the first of the month, you shall have a rest, a reminder by blowing of trumpets.” This trumpet was the reminder, sort of like getting a beep from your mobile or office notifications on your computer here, to help you remember the rest, and the purpose of the rest.

Numbers 10.2: “Make trumpets… and you shall use them for summoning the congregation and for having the camps set out.” Two different trumpet calls were employed here. One for calling the people together and the other as an exit notification.

Other texts of note indicate that trumpets were used for a king taking a throne (1 Kings 34.39), starting a Jubilee year (Lev. 25.9), even the announcement of the messiah’s coming (Zechariah 9.14). This is not an exhaustive list. As you can see, the Bible is full of reasons and purposes of trumpet calling.

My favourite however is the use of trumpets in the Bible book of Joshua, recorded in chapter 6. It’s one of the strangest stories in the Bible, and that’s saying a lot.
In this story, 7 priests carry 7 shofrot. The word ‘shofar’ is used for the first time in the Bible in this text. We are instructed as a people outside the walled city of Jericho what God wants us to do. Militarily, we are outnumbered. By military training we are outclassed. In strategy of defense in war, the walls are insurmountable. This is sure defeat for the people of Israel.

Even so, God opens the chapter with these words, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and the valiant warriors.” God must know what he is doing and saying, but please. Jericho? Maybe God could choose something easier for our first battle in the Promised Land? How about a clubhouse run by some Ammonites?

But like so many at the MCG last Saturday, there were many people who believed Hawthorn would take down the heavily-favored Mighty Cats. And that faith was well-founded and produced a fairly easy victory in the Grand Final of the AFL to the Hawks.

I suppose there is something similar and yet much more significant in the battle of Jericho. God was telling the Jewish people not to worry about the apparent strengths of the Jericho people. Don’t worry about being the underdog. He was saying, “Israel, you will win. I have given you the territory.”

Let me ask you, has God told you to go in and take the land? Has God told you or asked you to do something impossible? Friends, nothing is impossible with God. What about overcoming our sins? Today we enter the 10 days, the Aseret y’mei t’shuva. These 10 days we are scheduled to consider our sins and consider God’s love and hope for forgiveness. By every natural means, we would be disheartened. None of us deserves forgiveness. Did you hear the words of King David and his humility in Psalm 51? But it’s not up to us or our righteousness. Nothing is impossible with God!

Look at the method of conquest at Jericho. The Bible says the Jewish people were to march around the city 6 times, that is, once per day for most of a week. Then on the 7th day, to march around 7 times. A total of 13 trips. Each time the priests, the 7 priests were to blast the trumpets with a t’kiah. And finally on the 7th day, during the 7 loops, the 7 priests were to blast a long blast, which launched the peoples’ shouting. And it was the shout and the trump and the faith in the God who told us to do all that which eventuated in the collapse of the strong walls of Jericho and the subsequent conquest of the city.

The victory at Jericho was not about trumpets, but about the God who instructed us to blow them. And in these days we blow trumpets to remind us of that same God. Don't get distracted with the stuff which is religion. Real life is not about the prayer shawl or about the menorah or even the Bible. Real life is in the God of the Bible, the God who instructed us about the tallit or the menorah or the trumpet.
In God the impossible becomes the possible.

I’ve seen so many believers get caught up in the trappings of religion. The trumpets are reminders. They remind us to trust God, to listen to God, to learn from God. The trumpets are not there, or here, to be a talisman or amulet like a Kabbalah wristband. Listen to the trumpet and be driven to the Almighty!

And wait, there’s a trumpet yet to blast. Not only here tonight, and I thank Brian and Helen for blowing the shofrot for us tonight. But the words about the shofar blast which is yet to come is recorded for us in the Newer Testament.

Paul the rabbi turned Jesus-follower taught about the last days. He said (1 Thessalonians 4) when Y’shua returns that the angels will shout and the trumpet of God will blast. The dead in Messiah will rise first, and that resurrection will herald the consummation of all things.

When the final trumpet is blasted from heaven, believers in Y’shua will gather to meet him. And we’ll be there. That trumpet will herald a new era in eternity. And a new era for humanity. And for you and for me. And all those who trust in Y’shua as our Saviour and Lord.

Salvation comes from him. He is the Messiah who died for our sins and rose from the dead. He died that we might be forgiven and have life and have it eternally and abundantly.

You heard the story tonight of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, a story from the Book of Genesis, traditionally read on Rosh Hashanah. And you probably heard the parallels in that story with the story of the Crucifixion of Y’shua. His death… his sacrifice… is our salvation.

May the seven priests with seven shofrot send a signal to you of God’s completing his work. It is finished…all done, God has done it all in Y’shua his son.

As we conclude tonight, I hope your holiday, actually your holiday season, is full of divine joy. May you know the Lord of the Trumpets and celebrate the fullness of God’s pleasure in knowing Y’shua, in rejoicing in the one who forgives us our sins. He tabernacled with us and will come again to bring us forever. Thanks be to God. And my wish for each of you is a serious and full-of-joy shana tovah.

28 September 2008

Berlin Declaration

The Berlin Declaration on the Uniqueness of Christ and Jewish Evangelism in Europe Today

An international task force of the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) met on the issue of the uniqueness of Christ and Jewish evangelism in Berlin, Germany, from August 18-22, 2008 to consider how the Christian community might express genuine love for the Jewish people, especially in Europe. Participants included Christians from Germany and Messianic Jews. The result was the following “Berlin Declaration.”

1. Love is not Silent: The Need for Repentance

We deeply regret the all too frequent persecution of Jewish people in Jesus’ name. We do not for a second deny the evil it represents. During the genocide of the Holocaust, when the Jewish people were in their greatest peril, most Christian believers were silent. Many, such as The Stuttgart Confession of Guilt right after World War II, have apologized for the failure to speak out and for not doing more to demonstrate genuine Christian love to the Jewish people. Some of our brothers and sisters in the European Christian community suffered as well for resisting the anti-Semites and perpetrators of the atrocities. Many more today feel embarrassment and shame for the general failure to protest. As a result, there is an evident insecurity about relations with Jewish people. Also, there is a tendency to replace direct gospel outreach with Jewish-Christian dialogue.We believe that genuine love cannot be passive. Jesus taught that authentic love could not be unfeeling when other human beings are in misery and need. Honest love must include an expression of Christ’s good news in word and deed. Therefore, Christians everywhere must not look away when Jewish people have the same deep need for forgiveness of sin and true shalom, as do people of all nations. Love in action compels all Christians to share the gospel with people everywhere, including the Jewish people of Europe.

2. Beyond Genocide: The Problem of Sin

We acknowledge within the sad record of European Christian history the “teaching of contempt,” intolerance toward Jewish people and Judaism, abhorrent acts of coercion, anti-Semitism in attitude, word and deed. The historical events of the Holocaust developed within a climate of anti-Semitism. The German Evangelical Alliance out of concern for that history has expressed shame and responsibility for Christian silence and too few attempts to stop the horror.

Jewish people interpret Christian failure to speak out as complicity in their genocide during World War II. However, there were some valiant Christians who did speak up, risking and sometimes losing their own lives to save Jews.

In light of rising European anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism vigilance is necessary now. Jewish people are not the only victims of genocide as evidenced today. The Holocaust survivor, Primo Levi, warned, “It has happened. Therefore, it can happen again.” The source of all genocide is sin. This sin affects all humanity, both the persecutor and the sufferer. God’s response to sin is the gospel. Therefore, this grace must be proclaimed to every human being.

3. The Solution for Sin: The Uniqueness of Christ

We recognize that genocide illustrates the enormity of sin. God is not responsible for genocide; we humans are. God has provided the solution.

It is often seen as unacceptable to challenge another’s religious views. Nevertheless, we regard failure to share the gospel as ignoring the problem of sin. No one should ignore Jesus’ assessment of human sin. Everyone needs what God offers by his grace: forgiveness of sin and a transforming divine presence in those who respond. Jesus did not seek to dominate, but gave himself on the cross as sacrifice for sin. His death cleanses from the guilt of sin and provides a new relationship with God. This benefit is neither earned nor entered into by birth. It is received through acknowledging our deep need for God to supply what we lack.

Confessing Jesus as Messiah affirms Jesus’ uniqueness as a person, especially to Jews, because Messiah (or Christ) is a Jewish concept. He is sent as the Word, anointed as Messiah and vindicated by God to sit at his right hand. Through resurrection Jesus shares in the divine glory, task, and authority. Jesus of Nazareth is more than a prophet or a religious teacher. Rather, he is the unique Son of God, mediating and administering God’s promise. By his divine authority, Jesus extends his offer to all. He exercises the divine prerogatives of forgiving sin and receiving worship. This is why we confess Jesus as both human and divine.

God calls believers to take the gospel to the world. Everyone needs to hear this message including the Jewish people. Proclamation to Israel was Jesus’ priority. It also reflects the apostles’ practice of going to the Jew first. Nothing has occurred since Jesus came that changes the need for Israel and the nations.

4. The Call to Action: Jewish Evangelism

Christians are called to share this good news, with sensitivity and humility. Witness to the gospel should be motivated by heart-felt love and expressed in practical ways. So, we stand in solidarity with the Jewish people, opposing anti-Semitism, prejudice and discrimination. This sinful behavior is irreconcilable with the calling of Christ’s disciples.

Most of all, we invite Jewish people and all others to consider the claims of Jesus. We share this gospel with Israel and all nations, not as an attack on the integrity of others. We uphold everyone’s right to freedom of speech, freedom of religion and an open forum for all. While respecting the views of others, we still challenge them to consider the message of the Messiah.

Christians have much to learn from the Jewish people. We recognize our need to hear Jewish concerns. We affirm the importance of dialogue in promoting mutual understanding and sympathy. Dialogue provides an opportunity to share deeply held beliefs in a context of mutual respect. Dialogue and evangelism are not mutually exclusive. We reject the notion that evangelism is deceptive in claiming that Jews can believe in Jesus. We also reject the accusation that evangelism is the equivalent of spiritual genocide. We affirm the right of Jewish believers in Jesus to practice those traditions that affirm their identity, reflect God’s faithfulness to his people and uphold the Messiahship of Jesus.

We recognize the important role of Messianic Jews in the work and witness of the Church. Their special contribution gives testimony to the Jewish origins of Christianity and brings understanding of our Jewish roots. They remind us of the Jewishness of Jesus and of the first Christians. They also point to the fulfillment of God’s promises to save his people. We encourage them to stand firm in their identification with and faithful witness to their people. The Lord is also glorified in the visible demonstration of reconciliation of Jew and German in the body of Christ.

The Next Step

Therefore, as Christians concerned for the well being and salvation of the Jewish people, we call for:

* Respect for religious conviction and liberty that allows frank discussion of religious claims
* Repentance from all expressions of anti-Semitism and all other forms of genocide, prejudice and discrimination
* Recognition of the uniqueness of Christ as the crucified, resurrected and divine Messiah who alone can save from death and bring eternal life
* Reconciliation and unity amongst believers in Jesus

* Renewed commitment to the task of Jewish evangelism

This statement was developed by a World Evangelical Alliance Task Force meeting on the Uniqueness of Christ and Jewish Evangelism in Berlin, Germany. It was adopted August 22, 2008. Participants included Henri Blocher (France), Michael L. Brown (USA), Darrell Bock (USA), David Dowdey (USA), Richard Harvey (UK), Rolf Hille (Germany), Kai Kjær-Hansen (Denmark), Michael McDuffee (USA), David Parker (Chair, Australia), Eckhard Schnabel (Germany/USA), Berthold Schwarz (Germany), Bodil Skjøtt (Denmark), and Tuvya Zaretsky (USA). For further information, see http://www.worldevangelicals.org/news/view.htm?id=2025 and http://www.baptisttimes.co.uk/news3.htm. See also the translations of the “Berlin Declaration” into German and Russian.

15 September 2008

Brickner on Palin and Israel and such...

The Jewish News in Australia reported last Friday that David Brickner, head of Jews for Jesus, living in USA, spoke at the church Sarah Palin attends. That is true. The headline of the short article said that Palin disagrees with what Brickner said. That's probably not true.

Find out for yourself...


From Brickner:
There is much media furor over my remarks at Wasilla Bible Church on August 17th. The comments attributed to me were taken out of context. The notion that the terrorist, bulldozer attack in Jerusalem this summer was God’s judgment on Israel for not believing in Jesus, is absolutely not what I believe. In retrospect, I can see how my rhetoric might be misunderstood and I truly regret that.

Of course I never expected the kind of magnifying glass scrutiny on a message where I was speaking extemporaneously. Let me be clear. I don’t believe that any one event whether a terrorist attack or a natural disaster is a specific fulfillment of or manifestation of a Biblical prediction of judgment. I don’t believe that the newspaper should be used to interpret the Bible. The Bible interprets the Bible.

I love my Jewish people and the land of Israel. I stand with and support her against all efforts to harm her or her people in any way. Please feel free to read my further explanations, in my Realtime article and in the interviews I did with Christianity Today and NBC.

Sincerely,
David Brickner

03 September 2008

Reproduction

An essay on sometimes competing strands of ministry in the body of Messiah.

I'm going to be speaking at Christian City Church School of Ministry in Oxford Falls tomorrow and Harvest Bible College in Dandenong next Tuesday. Each of these colleges affords good opportunities for their students to experience many dimensions of the life of the church, including academics and spirituality and prayer and such. Then next Thursday I will speak to the Reformed Theological Seminary near Geelong. There I expect things will be a bit more academic and a bit different in style to that of these previous two.


This makes me think about what we produce at colleges and seminaries and such. What about what I'm reproducing in my ministry?

Sheep create sheep; pastors produce pastors; academicians self-duplicate and so do missionaries.

Now here's how this usually plays out. A pastor-driven church models pastoral care for the parishioners and thus home groups abound, and the maintenance and preservation of the church is vital and consistent. Outreach is usually to members of other churches and to members of church members' families. Growth is seen in personal growth and not necessarily in terms of numbers of attendants. Transfer and biological growth ensue, but usually little conversion growth. The highest title a person achieves and desires is 'pastor' or perhaps in more authority-structured churches, 'apostle.'

At universities, academics is highlighted and some Bible colleges and seminaries do the same. Their telos is to produce more academicians. A student will want to teach at a uni when he or she concludes their studies. Or they will want to gain another degree. Growth is seen as attaining more information and knowledge and of course, commensurate wisdom. 'Doctor' is the valued title, to be sure.

When missions are outreach oriented, and souls are at stake, the
development of styles of bringing others to Messiah Y'shua are
highlighted. Titles are usually dropped. Numbers of conversions are counted. Personal growth can be sidelined and so can programs of institutionalism. Academics and personal spirituality are useful tools to conversions, but not necessarily of great import to the mission. People who come to faith are tracked to become soldiers in the army of recruiters to bring in others.

So let's think about teamwork and not competition for a bit.

When I as a missionary attend an academic institution to speak about Y'shua or Jewish people from my side of things, I know I'm going against the grain. It's not wrong that the institution is self-propagating; it's the way we all work. So I have to give testimony to other angles on the same truths that they might teach. I have to share say, "Christ in the Passover" from a personal point of view, or an evangelistic point of view, or a Jewish life point of view, rather than (only) an academic viewpoint.

When I teach "Biblical Theology of Mission" I cannot duplicate the academic perspective, nor should I. What I need to bring is a Jewish highlighting, perhaps from personal experience or from historic Jonah vs. Peter at Joppa or even using Jewish objects of art to wrap around the information.

This way we are a team. The academic brings information from his or her point, the missionary from his.

Take the missionary visit to the church. We hope to help the church grow in relation to outreach which puts their neighbours in the view and life of the church. We hope that the church will include Jewish people in their thinking, outside the usual concerns of most churches and certainly outside the concern of most pastors, whose principle job is to care for the sheep.

The pastor is not wrong. The pastor in fact is doing exactly what they should do if they care for the sheep. Our role is to help the sheep see other things, to see more possible ministries in which they can participate.

We should not compete with the pastor nor the academician. We are on the same team with them.

Now that Jews for Jesus is over 30 years old, and most of our programming is moving towards developing the growth of 2nd and even 3rd generation Jewish believers, our situation of life is changing. We are moving away from direct evangelism as our singular definer and including major programs of personal growth and spirituality as well as academic growth. This is healthy and good.

So now we are looking at young adults who have grown up in the faith. Their models of growth have been pastoral for the most part. And thus, their style of ministry will encompass that aspect. Some will enjoy the rigors of academia and hope to fit in there. Good for them!

All the while, our ministry seeks to make Y'shua known to our people and has a core value of direct Jewish evangelism as our priority. And so we should.

But the young adults whose orientation has been pastoral/ congregational will need a fresh infusion of missional thinking. This will require us to think of reproduction in a fresh way. We have to 'win' the won to our cause. We have to help 2nd or 3rd generation Jewish believers to see direct Jewish evangelism as a great priority. We have to market evangelism in a different way, but always in a personal and challenging way.

It's perfectly acceptable for ministries to change foci. It's right to continually seek God to determine what He wants for us. Then we must be faithful to that desire and execute it.