26 July 2012

If you see something, say something

Anyone who lives in New York City and has ridden a bus or train in the last 10 years has heard this announcement. They have read it on signs and advertisements. If you see something, say something. It makes sense. It's about neighbours and neighbourhoods.

This may be why Voula Papachristou has been expelled from the Greek Olympic Team for a racist twitter comment, according to the Associated Press. The website Keep Talking Greece translated the offensive tweet by Papachristou (@papaxristoutj): “With so many Africans in Greece… At least the West Nile mosquitoes will eat home made food!!!”

Papachristou tweeted an apology in English on Wednesday, but it was too late. She's gone.

So is the statue of Penn State icon Joe Paterno. Why? He didn't say anything. He had done no crime in terms of pedophilia, but he had turned a blind eye to the activities of his offsider. Joe Paterno was recently found guilty of concealing information. Wow, guilty for not saying something.

This calls to mind the classic finale of TV's Seinfeld, with all four characters found guilty of not intercepting a crime in progress. They broke the "Good Samaritan" law, not helping a neighbour in need.

Last week we were shocked by James Holmes, the Denver (Aurora) Colorado shooter who planned the shooting for months, to the point where he was receiving packages regularly ahead of the shooting at both his work and home. His home was booby trapped and strewn with trip wires. Yesterday we learned that Holmes sent his notebook to the University of Colorado, where Holmes had been a student until dropping out last month, ABC News reported.
Fox News reported that the notebook was mailed to a specific psychiatrist at the university and that it contained "full details about how he was going to kill people, drawings of what he was going to do in it, and drawings and illustrations of the massacre."

No doctor reported anything. We are scandalized.

So what are you to do? If you have something to say, for goodness' sake, please say something. If you know someone is on their way to oblivion or to what we religionists call a "Christless eternity" how dare we say nothing. We owe them, we owe the world, we owe our Messiah to say something.

The world is scandalized when murders happen in a movie theatre. And rightfully so. I hope you are scandalized when death happens to a neighbour to whom you have not shared the truths of God's love and kindness. Let's tell the world.

The Bible says, "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!" (Psalm 107.2) and the prophet Ezekiel said it this way, "Hear a word from My mouth (says God) and give them warning from Me. If you give them no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand." (3.17-18) Ezekiel goes on to say, "Yet if you warn the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your soul." (3.19) The point however, is not to save your own life, but to save your friend.

Let's be about the saving of people. No statues. No scandals. Just healthy, see something, say something.

18 July 2012

What is a "new" testament?

From the Jerusalem Post today: "Many MKs opened their mailboxes on Monday morning and were appalled to find a New Testament inside, sent to them by a messianic organization. The Bible Society in Israel, a messianic Judaism institution for research, publication and dissemination of holy books, sent a “Book of Testaments,” which combines the Tanach and New Testament in one, leather-bound volume, published with references in Hebrew for the first time."

David Stern translated the New Testament into English in his Jewish New Testament a couple decades ago and still is the most popular of the Jewish views of the "New Testament" that is out there. It's English, though and the Hebrew version was sent to the parliamentary members.

Some Knesset members were not happy, but it's freedom of speech which allows such, isn't it?

Again from the Post: "MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) sent a letter of complaint to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, writing that “it cannot be that missionary materials can be distributed in the Knesset.” "Texts that were used to persecute and harass [Jews] cannot be distributed through the front door of the State of Israel,” Hotovely fumed."

The book was accompanied by a letter from Bible Society head Victor Kalisher, stating that he is proud to present the new publication featuring 90,000 annotations, which resulted from cooperation between researchers in Israel and abroad “that love the holy texts.” Kalisher wrote, “Many of the Torah’s prophecies come true in the New Testament.” Kalisher told The Jerusalem Post that some MKs already received books, and he plans to eventually send them to all 120 legislators, including ministers and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

When asked if he would send New Testaments to haredi politicians, Kalisher said: “Every enlightened man expects others to respect the Torah, and should show respect for other religions.” At the same time, the Bible Society head said he did not mean to offend anyone by sending the books.

“This is a tool to promote communication and understanding for the People of the Book,” Kalisher stated."

The "Jewish Annotated New Testament" by Amy-Jill Levine published last year is also gaining traction and as such is also filling a void in academic circles for those Jewish and non-Jewish people who want to investigate, academically or otherwise, the orientation of the Bible in ancient times among the Jewish followers of Jesus. It makes sense.

Jewish people were the first to follow Y'shua. Jewish people were the framers of the New Testament. They wrote the book, and it's a matter of cultural understanding of the New Testament (what some call the New Testimony) that is required to get it right.

If you have a copy, open it. If you don't have one, we have both Stern's and Levine's in our shop in Bondi. Or online. It's worth a read. It couldn't hurt. Or can it?

12 July 2012

Did Jesus exist?

by Craig S. Keener
Professor, Asbury Theological Seminary, and author

Jesus Existed
Contrary to some circles on the Internet, very few scholars doubt that Jesus existed, preached and led a movement. Scholars' confidence has nothing to do with theology but much to do with historiographic common sense. What movement would make up a recent leader, executed by a Roman governor for treason, and then declare, "We're his followers"? If they wanted to commit suicide, there were simpler ways to do it. One popular objection is that only Christians wrote anything about Jesus. This objection is neither entirely true nor does it reckon with the nature of ancient sources. It usually comes from people who have not worked much with ancient history. Only a small proportion of information from antiquity survives, yet it is often sufficient.

We recognize that most people write only about what they care about. The only substantive early works about Socrates derive from his followers. The Dead Sea Scrolls extol their community's founder, but no other reports of him survive. The Jewish historian Josephus claims to be a Pharisee, yet never mentions Hillel, who is famous in Pharisees' traditions. Israeli scholar David Flusser correctly observes that it is usually followers who preserve what is most meaningful about their teachers, whether the leaders were Buddha, Muhammad, Mormon leader Joseph Smith or African prophet Simon Kimbangu.

Interestingly, however, once ancient writers had reasons to care about Jesus, they did mention him.
Josephus, the only extant first-century historian focused on Judea, mentions both Jesus and John the Baptist as major prophetic figures, as well as subsequently noting Jesus' brother, James. Later scribes added to the Jesus passage, but the majority of specialists agree on the basic substance of the original, a substance now confirmed by a manuscript that apparently reflects the pre-tampering reading. Josephus describes Jesus as a sage and worker of wonders, and notes that the Roman governor Pilate had him crucified. On the cause of crucifixion Josephus remains discreet, but mass leaders were often executed for sedition -- especially for being potential kings. Perhaps not coincidentally, Jesus' followers also insisted, even after his death, that he was a king. Josephus was not a Christian and does not elaborate, but his summary matches other sources.

Writing even earlier than Josephus, Syrian philosopher Mara bar Sarapion claimed that Jesus was a wise Jewish king. Tacitus later reports on events from 31-34 years after Jesus' ministry, associating Roman Christians with him and noting that he was executed under Pontius Pilate. These and other sources provide only snippets, but they address what these sources cared about. By comparison, Tacitus mentions only in passing a Jewish king on whom Josephus focused (Agrippa I); nor was Tacitus interested even in Judea's Roman governors. Tacitus's mention of Pilate in connection with Jesus' crucifixion is Roman literature's only mention of Pilate (though Pilate appears in Josephus and an inscription).

From Jesus' followers, who were interested, we naturally learn much more. Fifteen to 30 years after Jesus' ministry, Paul wrote much about Jesus, including an encounter that Paul believed he had with the risen Jesus probably within a few years of Jesus' execution. Rightly or wrongly, Paul staked the rest of his life on this experience. Other early Christians also preserved information; some 30-40 years after Jesus' ministry, Mark's Gospel circulated. Luke reports that "many" had already written accounts by the time Luke writes. Luke shares with Matthew some common material that most scholars think is even earlier than Mark. Only a small minority of figures in antiquity had surviving works written about them so soon after their deaths. What can the first-century Gospels tell us? Certainly at the least they indicate that Jesus was a historical figure. Myths and even legends normally involved characters placed centuries in the distant past. People wrote novels, but not novels claiming that a fictitious character actually lived a generation or two before they wrote. Ancient readers would most likely approach the Gospels as biographies, as a majority of scholars today suggest. Biographies of recent figures were not only about real figures, but they typically preserved much information. One can demonstrate this preservation by simply comparing the works of biographers and historians about then-recent figures, say Tacitus and Suetonius writing about Otho.

What was true of biographies in general could be even more true of biographies about sages. Members of sages' schools in this period typically preserved their masters' teachings, which became foundational for their communities. Memorization and passing on teachings were central. Oral societies were much better at this than most of us in the West today imagine; indeed, even illiterate bards could often recite all of Homer from heart. None of this means that the Gospels preserve Jesus' teaching verbatim, but by normal standards for ancient history, we should assume that at the least many key themes (e.g., God's "kingdom") were preserved. Indeed, many of the eyewitnesses (such as Peter) remained in key leadership positions in the movement's earliest decades. One significant feature of these first-century Gospels is the amount of material in them that fits a first-century Galilean setting. That setting differs from the Gospel writers' own setting. The Gospel writers updated language to apply it to their own audiences, but they also preserved a vast amount of information. This is merely a sample; specialists devote their lives to the details.

Yet, valuable as examining such historical evidence is, we must return to where we started. Logically, why would Jesus' followers make up a Jesus to live and die for? Why not glorify real founders (as movements normally did)? Why make up a leader and have him executed on a Roman cross? To follow one executed for treason was itself treason. To follow a crucified leader was to court persecution. Some people do give their lives for their beliefs, but for beliefs, not normally for what they know to be fabricated. Jesus' first movement would not have made up his execution or his existence. How much they actually remembered about him is a subject for a future post.

From the web: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/craig-s-keener/jesus-existed_b_1652435.html

04 July 2012

On national holidays like Memorial Day, Flag Day and the Fourth of July, patriotic Americans like to fly the flag. If my Manhattan apartment had a yard instead of a fire escape, I too would participate in this custom. (This article was originally written in June 1985)

Our flag—any flag—is more than just a brightly colored piece of cloth. It represents someone or something, and demands a choice from those who see it: whether they will give or withhold their allegiance from what that flag represents.

Although I love my country, the star-spangled banner is not the only flag I choose to fly. As a believer in Y'shua, I am also under his banner. As a staff evangelist here in New York I'm part of a team that is always flying Y'shua's banner before the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel.

During Summer Witnessing Campaign many must be curious about us Jews for Jesus as they see us in our T-shirts of witness, distributing gospel literature and proclaiming our street testimonies to the passing crowds. Surely on many occasions as they note our fatigue caused by oppressive heat, sore feet, and aching backs and as they hear some of the unkind responses we receive, they must wonder why we're out there and what we hope to accomplish.

It's simple. By our presence we're raising the banner of God's love. At Campaign time we raise that banner higher than ever. We must raise it high enough and long enough so that all people, Jews and Gentiles, can see it. They must be made aware of it so they can decide for themselves whether or not they will follow the One it represents.

A case in point is a girl named Nancy. She had seen us before—probably every day—and had regularly rejected each offer of a broadside as she thought how disgusted her Jewish parents would be if she ever brought one of those things" into the house. But one balmy summer day she thought differently about it. She took one.

I answered the telephone at our New York branch office to hear Nancy's voice. "Is this Jews for Jesus?"

"Yes," I responded. "May I help you?"

"I was just handed one of your pamphlets. Now don't get me wrong. I don't believe this stuff; I just find it interesting."

As our conversation continued, Nancy told me of her Jewish background, then began asking about our group. "How many of you are there? You seem to be everywhere!"

"Enough of us to raise the issue that Jews can believe in Jesus and still be Jewish," I answered.

She left no address or telephone number, but she promised to continue reading our daily tracts. Our persistent presence on the streets of New York had pricked the consciousness of that young executive-in-training. As through our presence the banner of King Messiah continues to fly over New York, we pray that many will find the courage to give him their allegiance.

If you want to contact our office in NYC, please ring 212.683.7077. Shalom!

02 July 2012

Messianic Jewish Community (Part 2 in a series)

In this continuing series about the development of the messianic communities, I want to consider two problems (there are many) we have in such development. One of the preventions to community is the stain of bad relationships. A believer in the US wrote me on Facebook yesterday, “It seems here in (city) to be too many communities starting their own small groups, and no one wanting to reach out to the other groups because they have been offended or taken a grudge about someone or something. I hope yours is successful!” We might call these problems Offended Brothers and New Works. We’ll look at the first one today and the second tomorrow.

Offended Brothers
The Bible says, “a brother offended is harder to be won than a strong (fortified) city.” (Prov 18.19). And the verse continues, “And contentions are like the bars of a castle.” A castle is a fortress, usually high on a hill, and the bars make the castle that much more impenetrable. So Solomon is saying that an offended brother is doubly difficult (think exponential, not arithmetic) to conquer, to win, to impress, to sit with. Contentiousness is defined in many arenas. In the IT world, we have three types (there could be more). First, the contention ratio which is competition that applies specifically to the number of people connected to an ISP who share a set amount of bandwidth. There is also lock contention which is a computer science term, in which a mutual exclusion lock reduces the throughput by hindering the concurrency of a program. Finally, in design, there is bus contention, where multiple devices on a computer bus attempt to use it at the same time. All up, there is one clear meaning, that is, there is a limited space and a limited access, and sometimes things vie for the use along with others. Those competitive battles are the bars of a castle.

Applying those outside IT to our real world, contention is a deep feeling. Consider the phrase “Bone of contention.” I think it’s likely first used by Homer in The Iliad in a conversation between Jove and Juno. There “the gods were sitting with Jove in council.” Then the son of Saturn stirred Juno saying, “shall we set them fighting anew or make peace between them? If you will agree to this last Menelaus can take back Helen and the city of Priam may remain still inhabited."

Homer records, “Minerva and Juno muttered their discontent as they sat side by side hatching mischief for the Trojans.” Finally Juno was really angry and replied, “Will nothing do for you but you must within their walls and eat Priam raw, with his sons and all the other Trojans to boot? Have it your own way then; for I would not have this matter become a bone of contention between us. I say further,…” The bone of contention was what some call the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” This is the final annoyance. This is the ultimate. It may not even be the biggest bother, but it’s a bother, and it’s the last one I’m going to take.

That sounds to me like what makes someone walk away from brothers. Contention is the word that describes the ‘battle’ between Abraham’s workers and Lot’s workers. It’s recorded in Genesis 13. They both had much livestock and plenty of room, but they wanted similar turf, so Abraham said, “Please let there be no strife (Meribah) between us.”.. You choose one direction, and I’ll go the other. Seemed fair. Abraham wanted peace and relationships in the family, not strife. That’s healthy and cost Abraham the First choice. And that’s the way it’s going to have to be if we are going to have peace in the Messianic Family also.

Do a search on ‘strife’ in the Bible concordance and you will find verses that remind you of your own sin. Or at least of my sins.

For instance, there “are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him.” So right away if you are serious about following God, you don’t want to do any of these, and the summary (the 7th) is the worst of all. Here they are: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers. (Prov. 6.16-19). The final is the summary of the rest. The apostle of strife is the worst, the one that God hates. Get it?

So, a person says, “I would join your community, but don’t you know I’ve had bad experiences in the past?” A brother offended is harder to be won that a barred castle. They have copped strife. They have been talked about and ridiculed behind their back. Some who probably are not even alive or certainly are not walking with the Lord are guilty of the bad-mouthing, yet the offended brother is not willing to try again.

This is a mistake and must be avoided.

I know; it’s hard to tell yourself that ‘next time will be different’ when you know the nature of man. But God wants us together and that means it will cost you. Again. I’m sorry. You have to keep trying. I have to keep trying. We need offended brothers and sisters as much as the ones who have not found out about that yet.

My Facebook friend said, “they have been offended or taken a grudge about someone or something.” The choice of being offended is yours. The choice of harboring a grudge is yours. The people against whom you held the grudge may be long gone. “Never harbor grudges; they sour your stomach and do no harm to anyone else.” (a quote by Robertson Davies.

Whoever Robertson Davies is I’m glad for his quote from the internet. It’s wisdom, to be sure. The grudge holder is the only one who really gets harm from this. Leviticus 19.18 (the year WW1 ended) says, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.”

Who’s with me?
Who’s with Moses?
Who’s with God on that one? More tomorrow...

01 July 2012

Community? (Part 1)

Lately I have been thinking about community. We need it desperately in the messianic world in Sydney, and probably worldwide. I've been traveling representing Y'shua in Korea, Argentina, Australia, and of course the US for decades. This shot was taken in New Zealand 2 weeks ago. And the Jewish woman with me is processing the issue of Jesus, which is awesome. And one of the things that she is discovering is that Christian people (often with whom she is staying) are very welcoming to us Jewish folks. And they form together into churches and communities in all parts of the world. This 'community' nature of the people of God is important for us to ponder and process. Maybe you will work this along with me.

I've a lot of photos on my Flickr site of me with this guy, or me with that guy. And I'm happy that God gives me one-to-one conversations and even one-on-one relationships with people. I value those. I welcome those. I want more of those.

And yet.

I want us to form into communities. We need one another as Jewish believers in Jesus. We need to work together and pray together. We need to walk together and call people into relationship with US, not only with me or you or one by one. We need a community. That might look like a congregation here or there, but it goes well beyond that.

Maybe that's why I'm dreaming of the Messianic Jewish Community Centre. Maybe that's why we have begun and continue Hebrew classes. And Israeli dance classes. And Bible classes. That way we can dovetail our privacy about God into one another's lives.

Once a month we gather in Waverley (near Bondi) in Sydney as OneNewMan, Jews and Gentiles who are seeking a Jewish perspective on the Gospel, and trying to sort out who Y'shua is in this dark and desperately needy world. And that meeting is one of many pieces we need to make community happen.

We need you.

You need each other.

We are not isolated; we cannot survive in isolation. We are social animals and need one another.

Let's keep writing and working on this one. Can you help me/ us talk about this?