29 May 2009

Manipulation: Can Somebody Say ‘Amen?’

by Bob Mendelsohn
National Director, Jews for Jesus Australia

I’d never been to a physical therapist until last year. One Friday afternoon I slipped on some concrete and landed on my elbow. That elbow crashing into the ground forced my shoulder blade out of alignment, and my Supraspinatus tendon was torn from its rightful location. The pain was pretty severe that night and subsided over the next week or so, but it never really has gone completely away.

As a result and with some encouragement from some friends, I went to go see a physio. And the therapist seemed to help me in my visits to her. While I was standing at the reception to pay my first bill I saw the assortment of certificates and licenses that the therapist had achieved and the noble institutions from which she had graduated.

But then I saw her category of graduation and the titles of her degrees. And the one that struck me was her degree in “Manipulative Therapy.” Now I’d never heard of such a thing, and I was fascinated. All my life I’d heard that manipulation was a bad thing. Getting someone to do what they don’t naturally want to do and doing it in a deceptive manner, that seemed to be the definition, or at least the street rendering, of the word manipulation. But here I paid good money to have someone manipulate me. And that got me thinking.

There was always something inside me against television as I grew in my faith and desired to live a godly life. Oh of course there are many blessings in it. There’s no end to the possibilities of communicating the Gospel of Y’shua through the agency of television either on rented shows or hired advertisements and commercials. The beauty of film and television and telling stories is well chronicled. And Christian TV is a great boon to evangelism possibilities in Australia.

Nevertheless there are an abundance of television critics and they are increasing in number. Of note are sociologists like Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn who wrote “A Stranger’s Dream: the Virtual Self and the Socialization Crisis.” Also Sam van Eman who wrote “On Earth as it is in Advertising: Moving from Commercial Hype to Gospel Hope.” Their critique of television and its effects are well worth reading and considering.
I probably had only been a Christian for a year or two and was in an African-American church in Kansas City. Things were moving and shaking. The people were enthused about the Gospel and were clapping and shouting and making a joyful noise. They were doing everything right. However, at that time I had a view of Christianity that did not include that particular kind of expression. Why not? I really don’t remember. Perhaps I felt that the only version of Christianity that was right was the one in which I had come to faith. Perhaps it involved more young people or guitars and not organs. Maybe the style of sermon was more conversational and more of a Bible study than this kind, which was a shouting “amen-corner” experience.

Whatever the case I felt that the sermon was filled with manipulations. The pastor would say “Can I get a witness?” and everybody would shout “Amen!” At times it felt contrived. And I wondered if the people were even listening at all. I was reminded of Bill Cosby who talked about being in church and learning the phrases and responses for which he was responsible so that he could detach himself from participating in the service until those moments came. That whole matter of fitting in and looking good is for another article but for now it’s the Pavlovian requirements that can often be manipulative.

I have a friend named Steve who used to imitate the people in those churches. “Turn to the man next to you (and he would encourage us to turn) and say to them “I’m a child of God (we’d repeat: “I’m a child of God”). You’re a child of God (You’re a child of God). And God loves you and so do I (And God loves you and so do I)…” then Steve would add, “I will not (I will not) be manipulated (be manipulated) to repeat other people’s words (to repeat….).” You get it. Although it was in jest, I always felt that there was something to Steve’s perception about pastoral “guidance.”
What is it about manipulation that we detest? After all, we boast about how intelligent we have become as a human race. We read and watch the Internet; we know more about the inner workings of football clubs and scandal-ridden businesses than ever before. So if anyone is going to fall prey to manipulation, it should not be us, right?

And yet, there is a sucker born every minute, a quote (wrongly) attributed to PT Barnum. Whoever said it (MC McDonald, “Paper Collar” Joe Bessimer or Barnum’s archrival Adam Forepaugh); there is still a thought in there, which rings a bell. We recognize the nature of man to try to dominate and to make a person do what he doesn’t naturally want to do. We’ve known this since we were children and did not want to eat our vegetables contrary to our parents’ insistence. We didn’t want to write that essay or sit that exam. And yet, we did them. Were we manipulated or what?

I suppose we have to look at the differences between education or training and manipulation. We have to see the sociology of group behaviour and understand how people relate in all kinds of situations. And that’s a worthy exercise, unfortunately, not for this article. Maybe a more worthy enterprise just now would be to consider how God oversees us, makes us to do what we ought to do, and what our response has been and should be.

The apostle Paul wrote, “it is God who causes us to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2.13) Does that mean we are puppets? Not at all. The apostle continues with the command “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” and again, “I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.” (v. 14, v. 18)
We have a God who cares enough about us, who wants the best for us, that he gets involved and creates situations and opportunities for us by which our choices fall right in line with his best desires for us. And we have a responsibility and opportunity to respond to his sponsorship in this regard.

So God leads us from the inside, from our deepest spirit, to do what he wanted all along. And that’s a big difference from Old Covenant consideration. In the Torah, we see nothing of the kind.

Back in the Older Testament, Israel was responsible to perform God’s bidding. It’s almost as if we were instructed and then sent out to perform. Israel, you were… now you must be different. What’s missing? The assistance of the Holy Spirit is not there, to be sure. No wonder the prophet Jeremiah makes such a big point of the difference in Old and New Covenants in chapter 31.

Some struggle with the idea of being adjustable.

“Openness is essentially the willingness to grow, a distaste for ruts, eagerly standing on top-toe for a better view of what tomorrow brings. A man once bought a new radio, brought it home, placed it on the refrigerator, plugged it in, turned it to WSM in Nashville (home of the Grand Ole Opry), and then pulled all the knobs off! He had already tuned in all he ever wanted or expected to hear. Some marriages are "rutted" and rather dreary because either or both partners have yielded to the tyranny of the inevitable, "what has been will still be." Stay open to newness. Stay open to change.” (Grady Nutt, in Homemade, July 1990)

Rather than dominating or locking us into something we are not sure about or manipulating us, God leads us. He is the Good Shepherd who calls us to follow Him. He gives us information and guidance and although at times the pressure seems to increase in light of His information, He is ever the Gentlemen, ever the Free Will extender.
Here’s the key-- when God tells us to do something, we have the power to accomplish it, AND we ought to do it. Flee immorality, love the brethren, receive Jesus as Saviour, care for the poor, etc. Those are commands with great consequence for obedience and severe consequences for disobedience. God will allow us to make the choice to obey or to disobey. With each choice comes further choices and with each result comes further personal development and character. We become more callous or softer to His word.

I remember a brother telling me about an issue he had with me some years ago. He asked me if he could tell me something. I said, “Sure.” He said, ‘No wait, if I tell you, then you are responsible to do what God requires. If I don’t tell you, you may not know.” In other words we become responsible for what we hear, and he wanted to give me a choice. Of course, if I chose not to hear, that’s another matter, and would lead to more callousness, but that’s another story.

At the end of this article, can I get an ‘amen’ from you? Are you thinking, or simply knee-jerk reacting to the sounds of the preacher?

You decide. And that will make all the difference in the (your) world.

Bob Mendelsohn directs the work of Jews for Jesus in Australasia including Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. He was raised an Orthodox Jew in the US, and came to Christ in 1971. He is married and has three children. The family all lives in Sydney.

12 May 2009

Pope visits Israel

Is it good for the Jews? This is the number one question Jewish people ask when given almost any new situation particularly media reports about Israel. A new movie comes out and tells us about the Holocaust, and Jewish people ask, “Is it good for the Jews?” Wayne Swan our treasurer reports a new budget, and there is a deficit, and we wonder about our own situation, and then we question, “is it good for the Jews?” The pope comes to Israel and Jewish people worldwide mutter, “is it good for the Jews?” A Jewish man owns a Melbourne football club, and he comes under scrutiny from the courts. The club asks, “What is happening with our club?” but the Jews ask, “is it good for the Jews?”

The pope’s recent visit highlights the shrinking numbers of historic Christians in the region. Although there are three world religions based in that region, only Christianity and Judaism have founders who were there. Mohammed never visited Jerusalem, nor is it mentioned in the Koran. Even so, the pope sought to reach out to the Muslims in an uncomfortable way. Still, he had to notice the shrinking of Christian presence.

According to John Allen, Jr, senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and senior Vatican analyst for CNN, “in 1948, Christians represented 20 percent of the population in what is now Israel. Today, he says, less than 2 percent. (150,000) Amidst the 6.4 million Jews and four million Palestinians.

Allen cites a 2005 study in Bethlehem, where the Christian percentage of the population has fallen from 80 to 20 percent, concluded that Christians’ middle-class status and higher education were the most important contributors to their emigration. But what of Muslim pressure to leave?

Some observers believe that if Christianity disappears, the prospects for peace become that much dimmer. Though they were a minority since the rise of Islam in the 7th century, Arab Christians have long played a leading role in the region’s social, political and economic affairs. For example, Syrian Michel Aflaq, the intellectual founder of the Ba’ath Party, was born in Damascus in 1910 to Christian parents. Literary theorist and Palestinian activist Edward Said likewise has Christian parentage.

The reality of Christian influence in the region is unmistakable. Their growth in numbers, and return to the Land may be something for which Alive readers dream and pray.

Pope Benedict XVI landed in Israel in May and immediately entangled himself in the political mire, which is modern Israel. After he lauded the role of security and peace between ‘both’ peoples (Arabs and Israelis), he commented on the evils of anti-Semitism. He called for peace and then sat down. Unlike most of us, he’s not there as a single tourist. He was not a private citizen of Rome. He’s a representative of a billion people on the planet. So when a Muslim activist, Taysir Tamimi spoke for 10 minutes (unscheduled) about the evil of Israel’s occupation, the pontiff was required to respond. He did not. Tamimi said, “Christians and Muslims must work together against Israel.” That’s no security and that’s not peace.

All the while, Jewish people wonder to themselves or aloud, “Is it good for the Jews?”
David Brickner is the leader of Jews for Jesus international and wrote in the February 2009 Australian (JFJ) newsletter about the plight of the persecuted church in Israel. He too says, “The Arab church is rapidly shrinking out of existence. They are being squeezed and pummeled by an increasingly extreme and strident form of Islam, a process that currently seems to be unchecked by an Israeli government that is struggling to cope with numerous political matters.”

Brickner reminds the readers not only of the persecution of Arab Christians, but also of Jewish Christians. Today only 15,000 Israeli Jews are following Jesus as Messiah and Lord. (Reported in Time magazine, 6 June 2008) That’s a big step up from the 3,000 in 1980, but still it’s a far cry from having reached the general populace. Less than one tenth of one percent believe in our Messiah. We have a lot of work to do. He says, “I must admit I felt hesitant about pointing out the persecution that Jewish and Arab believers in Jesus undergo in Israel. I don’t want any of our friends who read this newsletter to misunderstand or jump to conclusions about who and how many are to blame.” Yet it is true, radical Islamists are pushing the envelope using political expediency and gaining world opinion about being the persecuted, instead of the Church, the true believers in the Lord of Heaven and Earth. After citing various episodes of attack, Brickner calls on all believers to pray on behalf of those in distress.

So what is good for the Jews about that?

The ‘good’ is this: according to Brickner, “more Jewish people are open to the gospel than ever before.”

Last year alone tens of thousands of Israelis heard the Gospel directly via Gospel tract on the streets, as well as via phone or mail. No doubt hundreds of thousands of others heard or saw the Gospel from bus and billboard advertisements, from the Morning Talk Shows, and radio adverts--more than ever before. Even as I write this article on the heels of the papal visit to the Land, Jews for Jesus is conducting the third of 12 evangelistic campaign outreaches in another region of Israel, Upper Shefelah. Jewish believers from Israel and from outside the Land are gathered in that historic area and proclaiming the Saviour among Jews, especially Russian Jews, like never before.
There are now over 100 messianic communities and Bible groups meeting from Dan to Beersheba (the biblical way of saying from the northernmost north to the southernmost south). Each of those is constricted by Jewish and Muslim hostility. Each of those is seeking to bring the Gospel to their own. Each of those reports growth and life from heaven as a result of believers’ prayers.

It’s not only happening in Israel, but that’s the focus of this article. We are seeing and hearing about Jewish people in Far East Russia, even the leader of the synagogue in a significant village, who have come to faith in Jesus. We have heard about Jews in Argentina, and Adelaide and Sweden who are now following Jesus. How awesome is God to bring many in the last days to Himself.

We still have a lot of work to do.

The Gospel has to go to the ends of the earth before the end comes.

Larry Derfner is a feature writer for The Jerusalem Post. Derfner admits to being left-wing and a nouveau-Israelophile. He was born in the US but moved to Israel and served in the army, got married, found a job and settled there. As a writer, he covers a wide range of topics, including most recently Messianic Jews (Jews who believe in Jesus as Messiah).

He had an opinion based on popular caricaturing of our being (Aussie term) Bible bashers and anti-government. He intended to run an exposé similar to one of another feature write for the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharanot. She had gone ‘undercover’ in three different messianic congregations and then wrote false information and painting us as unstable. Derfner’s intention was similar, but he would not go undercover. He went above board. And then what he found in his research and reporting was markedly different to the Yediot report.

He says, “they are a benign bunch- native Israelis and immigrants- who were spiritually hungry and found a new ‘faith community.’” He continues, “In a way it’s kind of ironic. They are so shunned by the Israeli establishment, but in their neighborhoods, nobody hassles them.” The “official attitude is not approval, it is disapproval.” Yet his conclusion is “the music is beautiful. People are praying and they are so into it. How can you not like that? How can you not like them?”
Reports from Jewish Christian television hosts Jeffrey Seif (Zola Levitt Presents), David Chagall (The Last Hour), Neil and Jamie Lash (Jewish Jewels) and Jonathan Bernis (Jewish Voice Today) all report significant outreach and personal ministry in the Land of Israel. We hope to write more about those ministries in the months to come. For now, rejoice with us that Jews (and others) are finding Jesus as Saviour and Lord, and although persecution comes, Jesus is indeed ‘good for the Jews!’

J Allen quotes and references from CNN online edition, World section, 11 May 2009
Brickner quotes are from Volume 10:4, Jews for Jesus newsletter, Sydney, February 2009
Derfner quotes are from Jerusalem Post, 8 August 2008)