29 September 2010

Blunder on Live TV

Shock and horror. Not the stuff you see on television. Certainly not in the era of delay and drawn-out histrionics. Every reality show from So you think you can dance to Survivor to America's Next Top Model wearies most of us. When the producers get the show and the contestants down to the final four or final three or... as last night in Australia, you would expect a point man, a particular person who has the responsibility to hand the envelope to the right person to get to the announcer. That didn't happen last night.

Sarah Murdoch, herself a model and a warm Aussie host of the Australia's Next Top Model, was being given the information about the winner of the season. The final two were Amanda Ware(pictured) and Kelsey Martinovich.

The Sydney Morning Herald this morning printed, "As the announced runnerup Amanda Ware – the show's eventual winner – made her polite second place thank-yous, a look of sheer panic hit Murdoch's face. Someone in her ear-piece was delivering the news."

Murdoch grimaced. She declared, "Oh my God...I'm so sorry about this. I don't know what to say. This is a complete accident, I'm so sorry. It's Amanda...it was fed to me wrong. This is what happens when you have live TV folks,... this is insane."

We grimaced as well. And now the YouTube of this episode will be aired worldwide for days, months, maybe years. It was Australia's worst live show moment ever.

Both girls, Amanda and Kelsey, were cordial, lovely, and gracious. Each one appeared on morning talk shows today and gave testimony to caring about the other. It was humbling to see. And the producers of Fox8 TV have paid off Kelsey with a trip to New York and $25,000 cash to 'match' the blunder with recompense.

This is the era of the Jewish High Holidays. And this is the season to ask for forgiveness and to extend it. So we applaud Kelsey and Sarah; we applaud Fox8 for their quick payoff and apologies.

Look, mistakes happen, although it's unconscionable and terrible in this instance. This shouldn't have happened, and we have some recommendations to all reality shows to prevent this ever happening again. But in the meantime, grace and forgiveness is the word of the day. Seems Kelsey and Amanda have sorted it out. Maybe you and I should as well.

27 September 2010

If they build it, they won't come

Israel. Palestine. Settlements. Peace talks. This hours ago from Reuters and the UK press, "UK Foreign Secretary William Hague will urge Israel to renew a moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank amid fears the expiry of the 10-month ban could scupper Middle East peace efforts. Mr Hague said there is "widespread international concern" that the issue could derail the latest direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Shortly after the ban expired at midnight [today], Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the Palestinians not to walk away from the negotiations, saying in a statement that his "intention to achieve peace is genuine".

There was no Palestinian announcement about the future of the talks although they asked for a meeting of an Arab League body on October 4 to discuss the situation." (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ukpress/article/ALeqM5iz6Ji9-y-WP035tqNAbFaEkpUIpQ)

It's very likely Israelis will build more settlements in the West Bank, an area that has been under Israeli control for decades since the Six Day War of June 1967. Those 'two state' proponents want the West Bank (biblical Samaria) to be given to Palestinian families. Israelis who live in the area, and whose land it is by conquest reject that plan for peace. To be fair, it's not an easy solution, no matter on what side of the fence you live.

In the West Bank settlement of Revava south of Nablus where this photo was taken, residents released 2,000 balloons in the blue and white of the Israeli flag. The balloons were meant to symbolise the 2,000 apartments that settlers claim are ready to be built immediately. Aryeh Eldad of the National Union Party is quoted on CBS Evening News saying, "We will start building as in the past. We hope that tomorrow morning we will see more new buildings."

So is it true...if they (the Israelis) build buildings, will the Palestinians come (to the peace talk table)? Or do we have to have another Field of Dreams somewhere else?


Learning to dance
Originally uploaded by bobmendo
Sukkot is the Festival of the Ingathering, it's the Season of our Rejoicing. It's the 7th of 7 festivals in the Jewish calendar and we are in it, right now. A ministry named "Heart of David" flew me up to the Gold Coast/ Brisbane to preach and teach during this time. I know they videotaped and audiotaped all the lessons. But as you can see, they also did some singing and dancing.

That makes sense this is a festive holiday. It's a time to rejoice.

Why? God preserved our people through the wilderness wandering in the days of Moses and the Exodus. Not because we were deserving either. We grumbled and complained. Our lives were well tended by the Almighty, but we didn't have certain things we had in Egypt. Certain foods like leeks, onions, garlic, none available. But then we also didn't have these other Egyptian things: slavery, taskmasters.

The Bible describes our people, the Hebrews, as testing God in the wilderness. Psalm 95 records, "Today, if you would hear His voice,
do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness; When your fathers tested Me. They tried Me, though they had seen My work. For forty years I loathed that generation, And said they are a people who err in their heart, And they do not know My ways. Therefore I swore in My anger, Truly they shall not enter into My rest.” (7-11)

Yipes, this doesn't sound like something to memorialize. I'd like to get my black highlighter and remove this section, don't you?

But there it is. The Bible also tells us that the festival of Tabernacles (or Booths or Sukkot) is to remember what God did for us. Aha! It's not about how good we were, or are, but it's about how good God is. And it's a holiday to remember His provision, His abundance, His love and care. Thank you, Lord!

No wonder the (mostly) ladies are dancing on this festival. Are you thinking you'd like to join them? Do you have reason to remember the Lord and to rejoice before him?

19 September 2010

One new man: An end of racism

Given at St Andrews Anglican Church, Lane Cove
19 September 2010
Based on the Bible: Ephesians 2

For those who don’t know, this is my home congregation, and although I’m often away speaking and teaching throughout the country and throughout the world, I sense a real support from so many here, and as a missionary to the Jewish people, let me say thanks for that support. It is so needed. And I don’t take this lightly.

Tonight Peter has asked me to speak to the subject of the end of racism. This is a tough one, as I see racism in so many places, even here in Australia. Usually it is mixed with a bit of humour and lightness. Calling someone a wog or a Leb or using other defining terms may be socially acceptable in some situations, but not in my house. Not around my kids. Anyone who has had to wear such a badge will be sensitive to the issues surrounding it. At Joondalup Golf Course where I visited last week, the function rooms carry titles of flowers and trees that are on the grounds. So one room is the Jacaranda Room and one is the Black Boy room. The director told me that next year they are changing that title to the Grass Tree room. As a Jew, who has been called kike, hymie, and Christ-killer, I appreciate that change of title for the room at the resort.

So what is racism after all? When the state of Arizona in the US enacted an immigration law earlier this year enabling the police to search suspected criminals, the buzz around the country was that the law invited racism. This from Alison Peek, a reporter from neighbouring Utah, “When Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed the toughest immigration law in the United States, she opened the door to profiling, discrimination and racism. It was one of the biggest steps backward this country has seen in more than 225 years. Members of Utah's state legislature are considering similar legislation.

“The law requires people to carry documentation that proves their legal status at all times and gives the police the ability to detain anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally.

“President Obama spoke out against the bill before it was signed, saying it threatens "to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans …" He agrees that illegal immigration is a huge problem that must be dealt with, but believes giving the police this kind of power will undermine their relationship in the communities they serve.” (http://www.examiner.com/political-buzz-in-salt-lake-city/arizona-law-invites-legalized-racism)

The law doesn’t do that at all, if I read things right, but the reporting was vast and swift and unmeasured. Governor Brewer has survived the media and Obama’s criticism and Arizona continues to survive in many ways.

So when they say ‘racist’ they mean noting someone as being from a certain ethnicity. Fascinating. You do notice that I’m an American, right? Is that racist? You do notice I’m a male, right? So is that gender profiling? Not at all. It’s observation of facts.

Racism comes to play when we deride another for being a member of that group. Princeton University says racism is “the prejudice that members of one race are intrinsically superior to members of other races or discriminatory or abusive behaviour towards members of another race.” It’s the actions associated with ‘guilt by association’ or antagonism against someone because they are a member of a group. Wow. Some Sea Eagles fans may qualify in this wide-sweeping antagonism if they pay out the Eels fans or the Panthers fans, you see? “What, you are from Melbourne? You must be …” or when a Westie pays you out for being a person from “the leafy North Shore” they are demonstrating a geo-racism. You see? It’s all subtle and complicated, but at the end of the day, racism may be defined as hostility to a person because he is a representative of something you don’t like.

Now this is not a new phenomenon. The Bible records the tone of racism in Paul’s writings to a fellow apostle Titus, “One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” (Titus 1.12)

Wow that’s pretty full on, isn’t it? And hostile. And from where is this coming? From Jewish prophets against Gentiles. Listen to the whole section in context. “For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach, for the sake of sordid gain. One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. For this cause reprove them severely that they may be sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed.” (Titus 1.10-16)

Although we Jews have copped some serious anti-Semitic verbiage, we can dish it out as well. We labeled Gentiles as dogs and each morning Jewish men still pray, “Blessed art thou, Lord our God, who has not made me a Gentile.”

In the book of Ezra chapter 10, we see Israel repenting of marrying Gentile women and divorcing them en masse. Solomon is considered the wisest of the Jewish people throughout history, but listen to this charge: “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the sons of Israel, “You shall not associate with them, neither shall they associate with you, for they will surely turn your heart away after their gods.” Solomon held fast to these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned his heart away. “ (1 Kings 11.1-3)

So we are warned again and again to stay within the ranks, and the view of Gentiles diminished from any positive level it ever had, to be at times despicable among most Jewish people in Roman times.

So maybe that helps you see our text tonight, from Ephesians chapter 2. Why was it so outlandish, so foreign to the people of Israel that the mystery of the church, Gentiles and Jews in the same worship centre, in the same family, in the same Temple?

In the first 10 verses in chapter 2 of Ephesians, Paul the apostle clearly lays out how people are saved. It is not by works of righteousness, or as we say in Hebrew teshuva (which is of major concern the last two weeks to Jewish people), not by the religious efforts of future followers, but by the grace of God and the faith of those who confess Jesus as Lord. That is found in verse 8 and 9 particularly clearly.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. (2.8-9)

Now we turn our attention to the next section of the letter. Paul says that the Gentiles, and that’s most of you guys, are without, or outside. Certainly if you are aware of the structure of most synagogues and the defining Temple in Jerusalem of Jewish worship, you would know that Gentiles were excluded.

Find these words in our text. ‘without Christ’, ‘without citizenship’, ‘without covenants’, ‘without hope’ and ‘without God.’ The Jews on the other hand brought you Messiah, are a citizenship of heavenly called people, were the recipients of the covenants, and hoped for eternity with God. Gentiles, you have no leg to stand on. No Jew would ever pass it on to you. It was territorially ours.

Although, and here’s where I often disagree with my Jewish brethren, originally God was well known to the nations. Then after the Garden of Eden, about which we heard a couple weeks ago in our sermon series from Tim, the Jewish people alone stood as beacons of the light on the One True God. Before then, Gentiles had an opportunity to know God, but they knocked it back. They chose multi-gods and chose what they could see over what they could not see.

That increases the tragedy of Gentiles being without all these things.

The “but now” in verse 13 parallels the “but God” in verse 4. In each case God butts in, interrupting the plight of wayward humanity and bringing them and us to Himself. Awesome.

And here we see what God did for you Gentiles. He reconciled you, not only to Himself (16-18), but also reconciled you to the Jewish people (verses 13-15). Wow, a double whammy. A double fix. A massive blow to Jewish racism against Gentiles. There goes the neighbourhood!

This was the scene in the book of Acts. Can we look at chapter 10 of the book of Acts, please? There you see the apostle Peter having a tough time with a vision he has from the Almighty. Peter has been preaching for 10 years and is the main man of the church in Israel. He is staying with a man named Simon the Tanner in Joppa, outside modern Tel Aviv. And there he goes to the rooftop about noon, he gets hungry and falls into a trance. In the vision he sees all kinds of things being brought down to earth, things you would find on the TV show Survivor, but never in a kosher kitchen. God tells him to ‘rise Peter, kill and eat.’ Peter refuses on the basis of his Jewishness. The voice tells him, “What I have cleansed, no longer consider unclean.’ This vision happens three times, so you have to imagine that Peter ‘gets’ it, right? Surely the apostle to the Jews, the one who hung with Jesus most of his earthly career, that Peter who has healed sick people and raised dead people, he would ‘get it,’ right?

Wrong. He didn’t get it. The Bible says, ‘Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be.’ (10.17). Wow, Peter didn’t get it. But eventually over the next few hours he did, and he took a few Jewish believers in Jesus with him. They went to Cornelius, a Gentile, who had dispatched some soldiers to collect Peter and bring him up north about 50 miles to Caesarea.

Peter approached the house, and upon being given the platform to speak said, ‘“You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for.” (10.28-29) The vision was not about bacon double cheeseburgers, but about people who eat them… Gentiles!

The vision was not to give Peter permission to eat lobster and ham sandwiches, but was about going to the Gentiles with the Good News of Messiah and to include them. They who were ‘without’ are now able to be ‘brought near.’ Aha, there goes the neighbourhood!

The legal and structural barriers that prevented Gentiles from being part of the commonwealth of Israel are now gone. Now, seriously, whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. “(Joel 2, Romans 10.13). In fact there was a wall, a barricade found in the ruins of the 2nd Temple with this inscription, “no foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the holy place and enclosure. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.’ That’s the wall which is broken down, decades before it actually fell under the Roman Titus in 70 AD.

That wall breaking, however, doesn’t mean we are ever the same. There are still Jews and there still are Gentiles. There are still women and there are still gentlemen’s toilets. There are slaves and there are free. Those ‘there is neither… nor’ statements (Galatians 3.28, Colossians 3.11) does not mean we are all the same. We still have ladies’ meetings and Onessimus and Philemon had different functions in the understanding of Paul in his letter. What the ‘neither Jew nor Greek’ phrases mean is that now Gentiles have access to the same God Jews had access to, and no race, no ethnic group, no one is superior to anyone else. That’s the end of racism. You are not better by human birth. You are not better due to color or colorlessness of your skin. God has given us all new life and anyone who names the name of Jesus (Y’shua) is a member of that family.

The result of that reconciliation is peace. Verse 14 says Jesus is our peace. Verse 15 says he ‘made peace.’ And verse 17 says he ‘preached’ peace. Getting things right with God means we will get things right with one another.

Last Friday and yesterday Jewish people worldwide observed a fast day. We celebrated the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, in Hebrew. That day is a day of reconciliation, of admitting our faults and crying out to God to forgive us. Most Jewish people who attended services last night left synagogues wondering if their prayers worked. They were not sure. They were wishful in their thinking.

But Jewish believers in Jesus and you here who confess the faith of Jesus in creed and song, you know in a great assurance that Jesus has forgiven you and you celebrate the advent of peace with Him. No wonder we feel compelled to pass that along to others. We preach peace because we have received peace.

Now we who were two are one. Paul uses that term again and again in chapter 2. God ‘made us both into one’ (verse 14), we are ‘one new man’ (.15), ‘one body’ (.16), and ‘one Spirit’ (.18)

The distance that separated us is diminished to naught. We are one nation (.19), one family (.19) and one Temple (.20-22). All that Israel was in the past, the new man, the one new man, is together in Jesus. It’s not a replacement of Israel; it’s an engrafting of Gentiles who believe into the new commonwealth of a new Israel which welcomes Gentiles.

Now neither spiritual death (verse 1) nor spiritual distance can keep people away from God. The Lord has made a way for us all.

Thanks be to God.

18 September 2010

Fear God...do not sin... is there hope?

A Yom Kippur Message:
God gave me opportunity to meet up with people of all kinds in Perth while I was out there the last week. Their responses helped frame what I’m about to tell you. I hope you see what God said in these texts above and what others are saying and note the stark contrast, or the similarities, and that you will appropriate all that the Almighty has for us on this most sacred night.

I will use first names, but not real names. Each person and each conversation however really happened. And if you wonder how I remember the details so clearly and specifically enough to use quotation marks in this letter, then you should know I took massive notes and am quoting from several emails of follow up that ensued.

Brianna is a 40-something Jewish woman who grew up in Mt Lawley, the definitive Jewish area of town, and still lives there with her partner. She is the daughter of Israeli-born parents and does advertising work for radio. We encountered each other within two hours of my arrival in town. She was awaiting her partner outside the ballet, and I was there to take photographs since it was near my hotel. I spoke with her and immediately we got into a deep conversation about God, Rosh Hashanah, and eternity. I was wearing my “Jews for Jesus” badge as I often do. Brianna’s arguments were secular and well conceived. She and I have since emailed each other about 4 times.

Her arguments against what I affirm, that God is in the business of loving humanity and restoring us, were plausible. She based them on her own thinking, to be fair, and not on a book or on a set of other people’s constructs. I appreciated her desire to plod through the information. But she is staunch.

Moses said, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” The purpose of Torah is so clearly laid out here it’s hard for anyone to miss it. But Brianna has missed it. She thinks Judaism is a good and worthy system, but not for her. She thinks God is the invention of some political leaders from long ago who wanted to dominate the masses. Of course, they were men, and powerful men, like Moses, she avers.

That said, the Bible’s avowed purpose is not to dominate and control people, but rather so that we may not sin. It’s so that the people will have self-control, and fear God, rather than fearing people.

Our Sinai verse also says that the purpose of Torah is so that the fear of God may be in us. I would say this is in contrast to the fear of man. Fear of man is a biblical phrase that carries with it the idea of worry about what others think, a desire to be men-pleasers, The very fact that we were (and this is often the case with Jewish believers in Jesus) arguing with mainline Jewish people indicates that our position is not one that leans on the fear or approval of men, but rather on the fear of God.
Shlomo is originally from Sydney and was giving a lecture which I attended during my week there in Perth. He is a respected member of the Jewish community and was speaking about the new year and went off on a tangent during his talk. The tangent related to the mosque in New York City at Ground Zero, which is not a mosque at all, but that nomenclature sells well for the opposition. Especially as Shlomo was doing, he was deriding it. He referenced the former pope, John Paul II, who disallowed the Carmelite nuns from building a prayer chapel at Auschwitz. The Ground Zero mosque, Shlomo insisted would be wrong.

But my sticking point with Shlomo was what he said about Germans in the war. “We know that all Christians were not Nazis [in WWII,] but we know that all Nazis were Christians.” Then he continued with similar, albeit misguided conclusions about Muslims and terrorists.

I approached Shlomo after the meeting and introduced myself. I told him that I appreciated some of his comments, “and you don’t know me from a bar of soap, so you can disregard this if you want, but not all Nazis were Christians.”

His response surprised me. He said that the Anglican Archbishop of York had come to Perth and spoken and Shlomo was in the gathering. He heard the Brit say, “We know that Adolph Hitler was a Christian because he was baptized.” Now this made sense. Peoplehood for Shlomo was defined by what parents did to the German madman; this is traditionally the way of entry for Catholics and Lutherans and Anglicans. People baptized are considered members of the church. They do not need to choose to be members. It’s rather like being Jewish. A little Jewish baby is born, and circumcised and voilá, he is Jewish.

There are, however, millions-- hundreds of millions-- of people in the world who would disagree with the archbishop and Shlomo. Christianity is not what others do to them with baptism or taking one to church. Christianity is a choice by an individual person to follow the Saviour. It is about Y’shua--the Jewish messiah, foretold by Jewish prophets in the Jewish Scriptures. It’s about a Jew. It’s not anti-Semitic; it’s definitively Jewish.

To argue that the Holocaust was a Christian enterprise is to defame Christianity at every level. And it’s also historically inaccurate. The SS were not the friends of the church; in fact into each town they went as front men for the Third Reich, they insisted on ruining the church first. Hitler despised the church. He was no Christian.

After a few back and forth comments, I think Shlomo understood and actually agreed with me. Too good.

Larry lives here in Sydney and we spoke on the phone and have emailed a bit since. He may be here tonight. We have not yet met in person. So Larry, if you are here, Shabbat shalom and shana tovah.

He actually found my mobile number through Telstra and has been doing research about the issue of Jesus and Jewish people for quite a while. I know it’s personal and individual, not from information learned in classes. He’s a good student, though. His major objection to the Gospel of Y’shua is simply the suffering of the Jewish people. Larry has read and sees the rabbinical understanding of the two messiahs. And in so many ways, he is already convinced that Jesus is that promised messiah. Larry actually quoted a Greek Orthodox mystic who said, “the transcendent became imminent.” And that is a dramatic picture, albeit philosophical, about the God of the universe becoming man and dwelling among us. That statement makes clear for many of us in the room tonight, the love of God in Y’shua. God cared enough about us to come and dwell with us.

And yet, for Larry, the question remains, “But why would God be so cruel to punish us? Why would the Almighty allow suffering for his own people?” Then Larry sent me a YouTube of a woman disavowing the idea of hell and Larry told me he mostly agreed with it.

But God sent Torah to us so that the fear of Him would be in us. That means something more than what I’ve told you, dear Bondi saints. It means to worry if you are doing wrong. It means God, the Righteous Judge, wants you to live right and if you don’t, or won’t, then there are consequences. Maybe we should define fear of man as ‘knowing God is with you at all times.’ When you do well, He will be smiling and when you do evil in His sight, there will be punishment.
Imagine heaven having such notables as Adolph Hitler and Torquemada and other perpetrators of evil. I am glad for the justice of God, although usually only for other people. But Larry, suffering is the plight of all people, not only Jewish people. Suffering happens to be our reality from the earliest of our memories. God’s original plan in the Garden of Eden was to keep humanity in His care and love and to keep us there. Many in this gathering tonight will know, it was we who broke that relationship. How we return is the key in this whole conversation tonight.

For some, returning is summed up in doing teshuva, that is, a system of works and charity and devotion and prayers and activities by the which we think we are pleasing God. It may involve serious study or changing out our kitchenware to allow for two sets of dishes. However you define it, it’s often the religious activities of a Jewish person who hopes to gain or curry the favor of God as a result. Of course it will involved fasting on Yom Kippur and beating our breast to demonstrate our sincerity.

In contrast, some like Brianna will insist that the issue is not religious activity at all, but serious philosophical amendment. Since, as she avers, there is no personal God, there is no need to impress Him, but there is a need to rethink who we are, and decide to do better. Here’s what she said, “as previously predicted, i am indeed unenlightened. i think it's to do with the fact that i've never felt a need for a religious system for a deeper understanding of the universe or myself. i've been through many griefs and shames and trials but have been 'delivered' through the agency of my friends and a good hard look at my own self-loathing. as the time has passed and my self knowledge has deepened, i have come to like and admire myself more and more. what comes naturally with this is an increase in tolerance and compassion.”

I agree with Brianna that trying to impress God is laughable, but I disagree with her that it’s reasonable to dismiss Him and His mandates and live in self-improvement. After all, we are the ones who got us into our mess; we need someone from outside to repair us.

Friends, please remember the whole verse in Exodus 20:20. It’s like having 20/20 vision. Without seeing the whole thing we are not seeing what God wants for us this Yom Kippur night or ever.

He says the reasons for Torah are threefold 1) to test us, 2) so that his fear might be in us and 3) so that we don’t sin. We’ve spoken about the fear of man and the inordinate need for man’s approval, especially when it’s in contradistinction with God’s approval. That helps us understand the first part of the verse where we are told, “Do not be afraid.” We who know Y’shua have nothing to fear because we are God’s people! We’ve been approved by God. How? By the blood of Y’shua. By His grace.

We’ve spent a lot of time tonight repenting of our sins, which is ever good; it’s healthy and wholesome. It’s right so to do.

God tells Moses to tell us as a people that the reason for Torah is to test us. Now that could remind you of school or uni and depending on how you scored then, this could be either an embarrassment or an opportunity for boasting. But neither is in view here. Testing, biblically is laboratory based. Let me explain.

When Abraham is tested with the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, it is not for God to see if Abraham will do something. God knows what Abraham will do. It’s for the demonstration of the faith or the activity in public. It’s for public show. It’s to let others know that Abraham was a believer, and that that faith was visible. Another translation of the word “test” is “prove” or “show forth.” We would say ‘demonstrate.’

So Torah is given at Sinai for us to fear God and yet not be afraid, to show what’s really happening inside us, and to prevent our sinning.

And now, dear friends, what do you do, when you discover this about yourself? What do you do when you find yourself sinning or not demonstrating the behaviour of the Lord? What do you do? You repent! And that’s what we have done tonight. And I’m guessing you will remember to do some tomorrow.

And that repentance brings with it God’s kindness, His favor, His love… and an overcoming of sin tomorrow. Listen, only one person ever lived on the planet who never sinned. That was Y’shua. And when he died, the world stopped. When he died the veil in the Temple was torn in half. When he died the forgiveness we had sought as a people was now brought forth. Now we could see clearly. God had opened the flood gates or the welcome gates and we could approach.

There’s nothing quite like being around a group of fellow Jewish people who have come to faith in Y’shua to strengthen each of us. Larry’s comments of rejection were summarized in this, “I feel like I’m betraying my people.” Who of us who are Jewish have never felt that one? Many who wrote our testimonies out in books we sell down the road at the bookshop or in the foyer tonight, many of us have encountered that same guilt-laden emotion of betrayal. But that’s unfair and wrong for anyone to say to you.

Everyone who has passed away is not angry at you for finding Y’shua; in fact, they are cheering for you to do so. They want you to do so, because they know who holds the future. They know who the Creator is, at this point, and they want you to know Him. And to declare him to others. And so we do.

Yom Kippur is a night and day of solemnity with God. It’s designed to help us reflect, to repent and to get right with God.

We get it wrong when we try to reform. Or to be religious. Getting right with God is not a matter of human reformation or of philosophical reconsideration, but of repentance and finding eternal life and health in Y’shua. The gap is simply too far. Only Y’shua…He alone is the One who came from the other side and can give us eternal life.

May you have an easy fast and celebrate the awesome atonement God has given us in the Beloved. On Him and Him only may you lean for forgiveness and for the power to live a godly life in this dark world, as we finish 2010, throughout 5771, and well beyond.

14 September 2010

13 September 2010

Up in smoke... Book burning, smoking the Bible

An Australian lawyer is courting controversy after posting a video of himself on YouTube burning the Bible and the Koran.

The Brisbane Courier-Mail reports that in the video, Alex Stewart from Brisbane tears pages from both books and rolls them up like a marijuana joint, to smoke them.

Mr Stewart says they're just books, and if people are getting so upset over a book then they're taking life way too seriously.

According to ABC News, "The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane has confirmed one of its legal staff has posted on the internet a clip of himself burning pages from the Koran and Bible. Alex Stewart, 29, is seen in the 12-minute clip using the pages of the Koran and the Bible to roll and smoke a cigarette.

Mr Stewart says he conducted the so-called 'scientific experiment' amid the international debate over book-burning in the US and the impact on freedom of speech.

The controversy comes after international outrage over the planned burning of copies of the Koran by a Christian pastor in the US.

QUT registrar Dr Carol Dickenson says the university is tolerant of all religions and does not condone damage to any religious artefacts. She says Mr Stewart does not associate himself with QUT in the clip. Vice Chancellor Coaldrake said Mr Stewart met university management on Monday, and has since decided to go on leave for an unspecified period."

So, is either Mr Stewart or Pastor Terry Jones right in what they considered, and what Mr Stewart did?

I recommend that we read the books, and discard any we don't like. And definitely believe what you find in The Book, about how to treat and regard others. God says a lot of times to love our neighbour, to care for them, and I'm not privy to anytime he says to burn their books. I will reference Acts 19 later.

Remember Heinrich Heine who is quoted as saying, "Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings."
(Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen)
--Heinrich Heine, From his play Almansor (1821)'

My Facebook friend, and a friend from 40 years ago, Paul Chappell wrote me, "In the early 1820s, Heine released a play "Almansor", placed in Spain in the 1500s, as triumphant Christians conquer and forcibly convert the Moors. As one Moorish character tells in horror of a Koran being burned in the marketplace, another Moor makes the immortal quote, "the burning is but a prologue: where books are burned, people in the end are burned too." Heine was referring to the cruelties of the Spanish Inquisition, but he also intended his audience to draw a more modern parallel, with the exhibitionist book-burning and rabid xenophobia of many German 'Romantics.'

Paul continues, "Heine saw the antisemetism of the Romantics at the Univ of Bonn. At one rally, speaker Wolfgang Menzel, called for applying purifying fire to books that offended and purification by excision of the alien element. Heine almost foretold of the Nazi atrocities. I don't know the details but Heine's views were so threatening, the Nazis destroyed all traces of his grave in 1941. burning books/humans says kill the message & ideas see as a threat, kill the author and source."

Book burning...it's been done to Jews too many times. It's not healthy. It's not a way to say "I respect you."

Now, some may say, "What about Acts 19.19?" For those who don't know, this is a reference in the Bible to a book burning in the Bible. Here's what the Bible says happened. "And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of all; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver." (Chapter 19, verse 19) This was a book burning in Ephesus, done by the former practitioners of witchcraft and black magic. They burned their occult books and it cost them dearly.

If you want to listen to my sermon series on the book of Acts, here's the iTunes link Book of Acts

I believe if a former Muslim wants to burn his Koran (Quran) as a statement of his seeing his former religion as false, that's his right to do so. No Christian should burn a Torah; it's the basis of his faith.

For someone outside a religion or cult to burn the books of another; that's a whole different matter.

But the mockery of Alex Stewart is radically different than the earlier position of Pastor Terry Jones.

Let's be reasonable people, making reasonable choices, full and radical choices that help others make reasoned choices themselves. That seems to be a reasonable solution in this multi-cultural world.

09 September 2010

Starting Over... a Rosh Hashanah message

A sermon given in Sydney Australia
Rosh Hashanah 5771
9 September 2010
By Bob Mendelsohn

So many global situations cause us to ache. And to worry. And to wonder. And to wish we could start over.
For instance, each week the last 2 years our ears have been hoping to hear the words, “The Global Financial Crisis is over.” But the pundits and our wallets remind us, the crisis is not over and won’t be over for a long time.
BP would probably want to do it all over again with their spot-checking on the Caribbean blow-out preventer in their oil drilling rigs.
Nine years ago, on September 11 the ugliness of terrorism hit the West, in a harsh airplane-cum-torpedo crash against the towers of the World Trade Center and the US Pentagon. And arguments persist to this day about the use of the area for a mosque or a memorial to the 2900 who died.
Every week since maybe forever, we Jewish people and so many others hope for peace in the Middle East and so far, even if Presidents Bush or Obama so declare the military mission over, there is little evident peace. Even though the large statue of Saddam Hussein fell, I’m guessing the people in Afghanistan or Iraq are wishing seriously to start over as well.

So what is it about starting over which so captivates us? I actually pondered presenting my talk today starting badly, and then literally starting over. But that would be too cute, you know?

Come 7 October you can go watch Julia Roberts in the movie, Eat, Pray, Love. I won’t be recommending that movie as the morals are too weak and the conclusions too shallow, but the theme is visible and tangible. It’s the story from the book by Elizabeth Gilbert, of a middle-aged woman who has a crisis and goes on a search, a search to start over. It’s a coming of age story, but a different age than the usual Hollywood teenage coming of age. There are so many ages, and so much coming…it’s hard to keep track.

(For those online, read this hysterical review/parody from Pete McMartin in Vancouver, Canada:

There are so many movies and books and much of our lives are spent on the theme of starting over. It’s when one world ends and another takes its place. Last year when Denzel Washington in the movie The Book of Eli walked and walked across America, he was starting over and helping the world to start over. (IMDB describes the movie as “A post-apocalyptic tale, in which a lone man fights his way across America in order to protect a sacred book that holds the secrets to saving humankind.”)

The story is not a new one. Reba McIntyre sang Dolly Parton’s 1980 song “Starting Over again” and references Humpty Dumpty and the inability of all the king’s horses and all the king’s men to put him and the older divorcing couple together again. Brokenness is a tough reality, when the world is broken, when the life we had is gone, when nothing seems in place and there seems no hope, no solution to help us get back to the Garden.

This week, we’ve finally seen our government self-organize. We have a 2nd chance to follow Julia Gillard, in her 2nd season as Prime Minister of Australia without being elected by the people. We had little to say about it, as voters, but hey that’s representative government for you.

When you want to start again, it’s good to hear the words of life coaches like this lady from the US, Barbara Waxman MS/MPA, for her insight into handling change, gaining confidence and how to deal with starting over at any age.

Q: What is the most important tip you’d give someone about starting over?
A: Be sure to have closure to whatever chapter you are ending. Recognize what you will miss and acknowledge it. Think about how you will want to add that back in at the appropriate time. Think about what lessons you've learned and what you won't repeat --be conscious of this step because as you know, many of us repeat past mistakes. Once you've experienced closure then you are ready to begin creating your next chapter. Not starting over -- but adding on to your life story.

Today’s reading from the Bible may be a good place then to hear more. It’s the story of the birth and beginnings of Samson. It’s recorded in Judges chapter 13. (For those online, the chapter is in full there)

Here we see the typical biblical yearning, the longing of a family for its own future. This is a time of captivity, similar to our Egyptian sojourn that preceded the Exodus, similar to the times of the Roman occupation in the First Century. The Jewish people were aching, longing for help. We longed for freedom from foreign invaders. We longed for God to be our King.

As if that situation isn’t bad enough, we see a family with no hope for making a difference. Into that situation this little family comes into view. Headed by Manoah and his unnamed and sterile wife, a baby is actually born. We find out later in the rest of the book of Judges, that this son will save the Jewish people by decimating the Philistines.

That’s pretty amazing. Darkness of gloom and despair. Darkness of sterility and hopelessness all around. And into that darkness comes the light of hope, in a baby. Born in Zorah.

The name "Samson" is derived from the Hebrew word "shemesh", which means the sun, so that Samson bore the name of God, who is called "a sun and shield" in Psalms 84:11; and as God protected Israel, so did Samson watch over it in his generation, judging the people even as did God. Samson's strength was divinely derived (Talmud, Tractate Sotah 10a); and he further resembled God in requiring neither aid nor help. [Zorah is also the name of an Egyptian sun god which is in line with other sun-worshiping villages in the area, Esh-Taol (valley of fire) and Beit-Shemesh (house of sun).]

In licentiousness he is compared with Amnon and Zimri, both of whom were punished for their sins. Samson's eyes were put out because he had "followed them" too often.

Friends, I tell you the story of Samson for our learning. In the book of Hebrews, chapter 11.32 we read of his name in the list called the Hall of Faith. “For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets.”

Samson is a story of starting over. And it’s a microcosm of the people of Israel as well. Now, don’t let me lose you. You may have heard a ‘starting over’ sermon 20 years ago, or last year. And if that be so, you may be growing weary of it. But think about what God is saying to you.

Every year we start over at Rosh Hashanah. We kindle candles and eat round foods. You know, the round challot and the apples and honey remind us of the circle of life, the cycles of years that start and end and keep on coming. And each year, we add another digit to last year’s total making today 1 Tishri 5771. We buy new calendars and it appears to be new, but this is not true. We are hoping for things to be really re-newed.

The story of Samson shows us a man born in time, in desperate times, needy times for the Jewish people. He gives us hope, not because he will usher in a new heavens or new earth, but he will lead us into conquest in the midst of the situation of Philistine enemies in the same dust and dirt of Gaza.

We don’t start a brand new calendar, but have a continuity. We are not creating a new diary, but continuing the old one. Don’t see that as hopeless; this is supremely hopeful.

Hundreds of years later we move along Jewish history and see another era of occupation and Jewish angst. We are looking for a hero, a deliverer. And that’s when Y’shua arrives, in equally unusual circumstances as Samson. He too has a name given by an angel. He is named particularly for his mission to come.

Y’shua lives his life in Galilee and then one day he steps into public view. His career begins officially when his cousin names him “The Lamb of God” and describes what he will do as taking “away the sin of the world.”

Now that’s unusual twice.

Then Y’shua steps up on the stage of Jewish history and like Samson performs miracles and feats beyond himself. There is no attribution to hair or something so natural. Y’shua says this is all due to His Father allowing Him to do such things. It’s not about nazarite vows, but there is something heavenly about the power to perform.

Fast forward to the end of three years of public ministry.

Friday was a tough day, in the last week of Y’shua’s life. The night before he had Passover seder with his friends, and disciples, and then all hell literally broke loose. A friend dobbed him in. A kangaroo court ensued. Justice, whatever that was, followed. The Romans ordered the crucifixion of Jesus.

The world for him ended. The world for many ended. Hopes of a messianic age and a redeemer to knock over Rome…shattered at once. The skies turned black. The earth shook, some titled it a tremor, others an earthquake. They had no Richter scale in those days, but it was massive. And darkness shrouded the land of Israel. It was over.

But for God it wasn’t over. The ground received the blood of Messiah. The earth received his depleted body as loving hands readied him for burial and themselves for the crushing reality of Shabbat without The Man. But God knew what would happen.

On the 3rd Day, Y’shua rose from the dead. He started over, and for nearly 6 weeks he encountered his own and others and shared with them the depths of the Kingdom of God and how to really live a new life, how to live a life that starts over. Then he ascended, or some say flew, into the skies and his followers stood gazing into the heavens. Their disorientation continued until the Holy Spirit fell on them and the ministry of Y’shua burst into their lives in a rich and real way. They started over. As a unit and as an unstoppable unit at that.

Listen, the world as we know it continues, through its floods in Victoria and Pakistan, through the seismic disruptions in Christchurch and Chile and Haiti, through economic downturn one after another.

All the while, God is holding out His hands to us. He longs to give us eternity as well as capacity to live a heavenly life on earth. We must choose to start over. We must live in the power of the One who literally did start over, as a resurrected Saviour

The rabbis teach us that the power to make our lives new is in our hands. We must act differently and amend our ways. I have nothing against their instructions. But they are weak. They are man-centered. The way to repair our lives is not human. The stories of Samson reminds us that human fervor and human effort is not the way to save the nation.

Only Y’shua is our Saviour. Only He can save us as individuals. In the strength of faith in Him, as the writer of Hebrews says, can any of us ever please the Almighty.

So let’s make 5771 a new year. A time to start over in confidence and love, to support each other, to make the name of the Lord known in our workplace and in our neighbourhood. Then for many, it will be a new year. For them and for us, we can all start over.

Perhaps you are new to this idea of Jewish people believing in Jesus as the Messiah. If so, we welcome you to our website and to this page. I hope you will consider what He did, in dying for our sins, and in rising from the dead. Jewish people all over the world are believing, one by one, in the person of Y’shua as our kipporah. Please come back to read/listen to our Yom Kippur message and this will all be clearer.
If you are ready to respond to God’s invitation, and receive Y’shua as your messiah, then right where you are, stop and look up to heaven. Ask God to forgive you for your sins, the things you have done wrong, and for rejecting him before now. Ask him to make you born again to a living hope. Ask him to lead you and to be your shepherd, your Saviour, your Lord and your life. And he will!
Then tell one of us, won’t you? We want to rejoice with you. Thanks and shalom.

Judg. 13.1 ¶ Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, so that the LORD gave them into the hands of the Philistines forty years.
Judg. 13.2 ¶ And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had borne no children.
Judg. 13.3 Then the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman, and said to her, “Behold now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and give birth to a son.
Judg. 13.4 “Now therefore, be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing.
Judg. 13.5 “For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”
Judg. 13.6 Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, “A man of God came to me and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. And I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name.
Judg. 13.7 “But he said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and now you shall not drink wine or strong drink nor eat any unclean thing, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.’”
Judg. 13.8 ¶ Then Manoah entreated the LORD and said, “O Lord, please let the man of God whom Thou hast sent come to us again that he may teach us what to do for the boy who is to be born.”
Judg. 13.9 And God listened to the voice of Manoah; and the angel of God came again to the woman as she was sitting in the field, but Manoah her husband was not with her.
Judg. 13.10 So the woman ran quickly and told her husband, “Behold, the man who came the other day has appeared to me.”
Judg. 13.11 Then Manoah arose and followed his wife, and when he came to the man he said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to the woman?” And he said, “I am.”
Judg. 13.12 And Manoah said, “Now when your words come to pass, what shall be the boy’s mode of life and his vocation?”
Judg. 13.13 So the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “Let the woman pay attention to all that I said.
Judg. 13.14 “She should not eat anything that comes from the vine nor drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing; let her observe all that I commanded.”
Judg. 13.15 ¶ Then Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “Please let us detain you so that we may prepare a kid for you.”
Judg. 13.16 And the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “Though you detain me, I will not eat your food, but if you prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD.” For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD.
Judg. 13.17 And Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that when your words come to pass, we may honor you?”
Judg. 13.18 But the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?”
Judg. 13.19 So Manoah took the kid with the grain offering and offered it on the rock to the LORD, and He performed wonders while Manoah and his wife looked on.
Judg. 13.20 For it came about when the flame went up from the altar toward heaven, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground.
Judg. 13.21 Now the angel of the LORD appeared no more to Manoah or his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD.
Judg. 13.22 So Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.”
Judg. 13.23 But his wife said to him, “If the LORD had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have let us hear things like this at this time.”
Judg. 13.24 ¶ Then the woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson; and the child grew up and the LORD blessed him.
Judg. 13.25 And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

06 September 2010

Radio, 24/7

It should come as no surprise that there would be some internet radio stations broadcasting all day, every day, with Christian music and teaching. I've seen/ heard those for decades on regular radio stations, both FM and AM, in Australia and around the world. And there were a couple Jewish stations I've found over the years, as well. Wonderful and ethnically comforting to be sure.

But today I found a station of Messianic Jewish music which self-identifies as having both messianic and non-messianic Jewish music. I hope this one really goes, makes a go of it, that is. I enjoyed the 30 minutes or so of music I heard this afternoon. Give a listen, if you can, www.soundsofshalom.com.

Their promo says, "Messianic Jewish songs praise and worship Yeshua (Jesus)...evoking glimpses of a biblical Israel...fragrance of roses blooming in the desert...joyfulness before God!" I'm not sure about roses blooming in the desert, but it certainly blessed me today. I'm equally not sure about glimpses of a biblical Israel, especially when they link this to the desert Jewish people, who were anything but biblical.

Of course, it's hard to ponder Israel's history without turning to a time/place of sin. Maybe that's what Elul does to me every year. As I ready for Rosh Hashanah and the commensurate apples and honey, I ponder my own sin and the sin of my people. I'm ashamed of all I do wrong. I'm annoyed with myself for the lack of love and the indifference I demonstrate all too often when God presents me with opportunities to love others.

This is no excuse, but I'm just like desert Israel. Our people fell in the wilderness, unbelieving that God would continue to be God. We tested Him again and again, and He was ever faithful to His own purposes and His own nature.

King David said in Psalm 95: "Come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand. Today, if you would hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, As in the day of Massah in the wilderness; When your fathers tested Me, They tried Me, though they had seen My work. For forty years I loathed that generation, And said they are a people who err in their heart, And they do not know My ways. Therefore I swore in My anger, Truly they shall not enter into My rest.” (verses 6-11)

Ouch, there's no way out of that one... we are in trouble if we are like desert Israel. Again the writer of Hebrews follows this OT quotation with

"Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." (3.12-13)

There was a 'today' in Moses' day [when the event in question occurred], in David's day [when he wrote the Psalm], in Y'shua's day [when the writer of Hebrews wrote] and in our days [you and I must apply it to our lives]. Wow, one verse can pack a lot of punch, to get 4 days in one 'today', you know?

That said, this 24/7 radio station might be a blessing to you, to build up your faith and to encourage you to stay faithful to the Messiah who loves us.

02 September 2010

Logos tell a story

A group named the North American Renewal Services Committee, NARSC, used a similar symbol to this for its logo back in the 1980s and I laid the dove over the Jewish star for our logo during a series of conferences they oversaw and over which I presided. Fun times.

This logo never quite caught on as a historic or popular design, although I wanted it to do so. But I'm no artist.

I am however keen on communicating and I find the layers of the design rich in meaning. The star is of course the Star of David, Magen David, which represents the Jewish people today. We are saying we are Jews. Although some will still try to shame us into thinking otherwise, our being Jews is not up for discussion. We were born Jews; we will die Jews.

The shin, the 21st Hebrew letter, is also clearly seen. It's a three-in-one symbol in its own way. Three prongs upward, and one horizontal bar to connect them. Many believers see the Trinity as so represented. Others use the Shin as the first letter of the word Shaddai (Almighty), like is often used on the mezuzah (the Jewish ornament affixed to the doorpost of a home, with a bit of Scripture inside). The Almighty is proper for us to represent as Shaddai. There are two possibilities of the root of this word. One, Yesh Dai (There is enough) means God will ever supply. And the second, from Shaddad, breast, means God is like a Mother who ever supplies us like babies with milk from her breasts.

The flame reminds us of the Ruach Hakodesh, Holy Spirit, who descended on the believers on Shvu'ot (Pentecost) in that year of Y'shua's death and resurrection.
"And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them." (Acts chapter 2, verses 2 and 3). We need the cleansing power of fire in our lives each day. “Is not My word like fire?” declares the LORD." (Jeremiah 23.29)

The dove of the Holy Spirit is seen. Wait, you say, I thought the Ruach Hakodesh was like a flame. Yes, you are right. However, for us Jewish people, who needed cleansing, He came as a flame of fire, but on Y'shua, God's Son, Saviour, who needed no cleansing, on Him he came as a dove. "And after being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him." (Matthew 3.16)

Is this enough of the story? Do you like this logo/emblem?